“Today, Praetor Shalin expressed his confidence that the Romulan people will exceed the quota of verithium output devised earlier this year. The Praetor said he expected an exceed of at least 2%. Verithium is a rare resource needed by the Defense Force to manufacture new weapons which will keep the barbarian hordes of Earth in check.
by _r_ & Count Zero
In response, Marik Chal, the Governor of Kratak, one of the Empire's most reliable sources of verithium, vowed to exceed the output quota by at least 5%.
The Statistics Commission released their annual report...”
Governor Shelbeth switched off the news, feeling anger surge up inside him. Of course, Chal had to go and make that vow, just to be on the Praetor's good side. Where did that leave him? His world, a peaceful and insignificant agricultural colony until recently, had been picked to become the Empire's main source of verithium. Chal's imprudent vow bound him, too. They would have to up their output considerably. If only he knew how.
Sighing, he got out of his chair and walked over to the window, which offered a splendid view over the outskirts of town and the lovely surrounding countryside. They weren't yet visible – and they might never be from his window – but from the reports he received and his own tours all over the planet Shelbeth knew what effects the mining and processing of verithium were having on his planet.
In a patriotic fervour, many farmers had left their fields to 'do their share for the Empire' by working in the mines, while the hastily set up processing stations were operated with little regard for the environment, poisoning fields and pastures beyond recovery. He dared not think about it, but deep in his heart he knew that all this would end badly. Chal's vow and the verithium quota were really the least of his worries. Something had to happen or people would start dying, soon, starving on a planet once considered the region's bread basket.
The Governor walked over to a small cabinet on one of the walls and took out a bottle of Romulan Ale which promised a special kind of oblivion. When the prospectors had first told him of the planet's richness in verithium, he had felt elated. He downed a quarter of the bottle's content in one go, not even bothering with a glass. All the possibilities. It had sounded so good.
Shelbeth couldn't quite decide how to feel. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he had finally come up with a plan, like a true Romulan, which filled him with modest pride. The plan was simple, really, but the details not yet worked out did little to abete his anxiety. Hearing footsteps in the corridor, he tried to compose himself as much as he could. This is it. Time to look your very best. Gods, this was so much easier when this was just a boring backwater planet.
A tall, brown-haired man entered the Governor's office, his footstep so elastic it almost inspired Shelbeth to smile. The elegantly clad man greeted him cheerily before taking his seat in the cushy chair in front of the Governor's desk.
“Jolan tru, Mr. Debure. Well, it seems you have quite the reputation concerning your skills as a trader. I've heard it said you could obtain a bottle of water in the middle of the Sari
The middle-aged trader grinned. “I like that. It is a gross exaggeration, though.”
“A drink, maybe?”
At his nod, Shelbeth got up and fetched the half-empty bottle of Ale and two glasses. As he poured the drinks, he noticed his hands were trembling. But Debure smiled politely, either not having noticed or pretending he hadn't.
Back in his seat, Shelbeth continued, “I require your services in a rather delicate matter. You see, the Commission for Economic Planning wants us to stock up on our food reserves. I know it sounds absurd, I told them myself it wasn't necessary. Apparently, it's a part of their emergency response system.”
“I'm sure it's a prudent decision.”
Unable to tell whether Debure meant it or whether it was just a phrase, the Governor carried on, “As you can imagine, this is a matter that requires the utmost discretion. If word got out, the people might start to worry and believe we have a food shortage on our hands.”
The best way to hide the truth is in plain sight.
He had read that somewhere.
“I understand.” Debure replied, simply.
Shelbeth wondered. His doubtful look must have registered with the trader, who added, “Don't worry, Governor. I'll be discreet. I have just the idea where to acquire what you need. But the trading post lies beyond our borders.” Smirking, he added, “For now.”
Shelbeth let out a nervous laugh. “I have the permit here, of course.”
He made a show of getting the unwieldy laminated paper from one of his desk drawers and putting it on the desk. The various holograms printed on it for verification shimmered in the colours of the rainbow.
“What do you think you'll need as payment for the goods?” he asked. Now came the hard part. Surely, this free trading post Debure mentioned only dealt in precious resources. And he didn't have much to offer besides rotting grain and verithium he needed himself.
The trader thought about it for a moment. “The easiest way would be latinum, of course.”
“Mmh. I can't provide that, I'm afraid. Let me think about what we've been allocated.”
He grabbed a random padd on his desk and stared at its screen, thinking hard. What could he come up with that wouldn't be missed and at the same time wouldn't raise any suspicions with Debure about the legitimacy of his mission? Suddenly, it hit him.
“How about two containers of dilithium?”
He saw the trader's face light up. The stray containers had been sitting in a hangar outside town for months. No one would miss them, but apparently, many primitive nations needed them for their ship's engines. He really should have remembered that earlier. Maybe he wasn't such a good Romulan, after all. Well, that much is obvious, isn't it?
“That will do, too.” Debure said.
“Good.” Shelbeth said matter-of-factly, as he filled out the forms that would allow Debure to take the dilithium. First forgery, now theft and fraud, and all in a day's work.
“Are you sure this will work?” he couldn't help asking, though it probably sounded suspicious. After all, his life depended on it.
Debure replied evenly, “I promise you I'll get the food.”
A certain restlessness had taken hold of him, the reason of which Debure couldn't quite discover. Was it the job at hand? Earlier, he had inspected the dilithium and found it to be of low quality, which would make his job considerably harder. However, he was confident it would work out, so that couldn't be it.
His conversation with the Governor still lingered in his head. For a Governor, he had been uncharacteristically nervous. And to some degree, this deal seemed odd, though it was nothing obvious. Debure got up from the bed in his apartment and walked the few steps to his desk to once again examine the permit and papers he'd received. They were perfectly legitimate.
The Governor's story might not quite add up but he decided he didn't need to know whatever was happening in the background. In fact, it was better not to. Life was much simpler that way. He had the permits and that was all that mattered.
That settled, he realised what really had him worried – the Commission ordering food reserves to be stocked up, more precisely what this order implied. They expected something bad to happen. Maybe a war? Lately, the news were full of subtle hints. Probably the Earthers again. Why couldn't they just leave the Empire alone? As if they hadn't already done enough damage.
Debure thought about his father, that confident, maybe slightly too happy man he had hardly known, murdered at Cheron. Slaughtered like the rest of the fleet by Archer. At least, that barbarian had received his own serving of ironic justice, killed by gangrene. Served those humans right for rejecting science and progress.
No one even knew what they looked like, only that they despised everything the Empire stood for so much they were hellbent on destroying it anyway they could, despite their primitivity. When he had been younger, he had imagined them as hideous monsters, half-beasts even. But what if they looked just like us?
The idea made him shudder. They could be among us everyday.
He sighed. These scenarios were silly. He should just concentrate on his mission, leave these worries to the military and the politicians. Should the Empire call upon him in case of war, he'd be ready to do his duty.
“Ki'Balan, you're cleared for landing. You're assigned to docking bay C 2. Please follow the instructions of flight control at all times.”
The metallic voice of the station's translation software sounded like music to Debure's pointy ears. After losing a lot of time at the border check point, he was eager to get this transaction over with as soon as possible. As usual, the travel and trade permit was only valid for a short period of time, leaving little margin for unforeseen incidents. Fondly, he remembered that one time where he'd needed to make the route to Draken and back in an impossible four days after a lengthy engine repair.
He was still reminiscing about his travels when he stepped out of the airlock. The corridors leading to the core of the station were tight and low, filled with the smell of food and the effects of wildly differing views on personal hygiene. As soon as he left the crampy corridor, he was surrounded by a bunch of brawny Bolians.
“Hey, Mr. Pointy Ears, have some fun with us.” One of them yelled.
Debure refrained from making any remarks about head bulges and blue skin after sizing them up and determining he wasn't a match for them.
Another one lay his arm around the trader's shoulders, saying in a softer voice, “Yeah, come party with us. We've just made the deal of our lifetimes.”
Debure decided it would be easier to go with the flow for now and slip out of the party later. Any resistance now might be met with rash actions on the side of the Bolians, judging from their breaths reeking of alcohol.
“What kind of deal?” he asked politely.
“Ah, you know, we're miners...”
“Were!” the first Bolian interjected, grinning wildly and lifting the bottle in his hand.
“On Crucis IV no less!” a third miner mumbled from behind.
“Yeah, it's a horrible place, fucking cold and you have to wear a breathing mask whenever you go outside because of the damned storms.” the Bolian with his arm around Debure said, almost in a wistful tone.
They arrived at several benches and tables outside a bar, apparently the Bolians' destination. He was gently pushed on one of the benches while one of the miners went to get their drinks.
“I presume you found something of value, then.” Debure said, after their drinks had arrived. Out of the corner of his eyes he noticed he had been served Vulcan brandy, which was mildly disconcerting.
“You can say that out loud.”
The miner who had urged him here leaned over to him and whispered in a confidential tone, “I'll show you what we found.”
He held out his hand in a fist, then opened it. Debure gasped. A dilithium crystal of a quality he had never seen before.
“I kept that one as a souvenir.” the Bolian said. “We've mined 20 tals of it.”
Debure blanched. His possible deal had just evaporated.
The Roz Havash
was probably the seediest bar on the whole station. But that didn't matter to Debure anymore. There was no way he could make it anywhere else to trade the dilithium in time. Stuck in a dead end. After all these years, it had finally happened to him. Failure.
What's worse, he had given his word to the Governor. What a disgrace. He could imagine all too well what his father would have said, the disappointed look on his face. He would bring shame to his family, to his name. The prospect of returning home – something he always looked forward to – now seemed horrible to him, something he couldn't bear to face.
The bartender just dumped a grimy brown bottle in front of him, its content smelling like the detergent he sometimes used on his ship. Oh well, what does it matter, now?
After having downed the bottle, he got another, then another. He thought of getting yet another, but he felt as if his intestines were slowly dissolving.
“Rough day, huh?” a bald, red-skinned alien suddenly popping up next to him asked. Debure just stared at it, bewildered.
“And not much of a talker. I see. You know, I don't want to say anything against this fine establishment, but you really should reconsider your choice of drinks.”
It looked at him expectantly, but he still had no idea how to react properly. The alien sighed, turned to the bartender and said something in an incomprehensible language. After a few moments, the bartender came back with two big glasses filled with a sparkling, thick, red liquid.
“There you go.” the alien said.
He nodded and managed a polite smile, while he desperately tried to figure out what insidious designs the alien could have. The golden-eyed being lifted its glass in his direction before drinking from it. Still confused, Debure chose to mimick the gesture. The bubbling beverage, despite its exotic appearance, tasted pleasantly and somewhat familiar, like alal juice mixed with something else he couldn't place - and alcohol, of course.
“So, what's your story?” the alien asked. When he hesitated, it went on, “I'm the only one of my kind here. You can imagine how boring and lonely that can be. So I couldn't help noticing you. There isn't anyone else like you on the station, that's fascinating. So I'm just curious, I guess. My name's Krk'khana, by the way.” After a few moments, she added, “You do understand me, do you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Thank God, this would have been pretty embarrassing otherwise.”
They both laughed.
“Krk'khana,” he struggled with the pronunciation. “Is that a female name?”
“Yes.” the alien answered, smiling brightly.
“We have these enemies, bent on destroying us,” he heard himself say, unable to stop himself. “And I promised to buy food here but no one wants to trade for my dilithium and now I don't know what to do.”
He chastised himself for being so foolish, but Krk'khana just smiled gently at him.
“Can't you go somewhere else to get the food?” she asked sincerely.
“No, I... it's complicated, I have to be back soon.”
She sighed. “What's this galaxy coming to? People start giving their stuff away for free, no wonder it's destroying the market.”
He blinked at her, confused. “What do you mean?”
“There's this new organisation, called 'United Planets' or something, they passed through here a few days ago, and they just gave away food, blankets, tents and stuff to the people on Rebiko.”
“Because the Rebiko...ans, Rebikans, the Rebiko guys asked them for help. I mean, it's a regular hellhole, but still... They said they don't use money and only work to better themselves and the rest of society. Which means they're probably crazy.”
She grinned but was met by Debure's stare, who was struck by an unexpected surge of hope. If he could reach those people they might be able to help him.
“How exactly were they called? When did they pass through here and where did they plan to go next?” he asked urgently.
“Um...” she was obviously thinking hard. “It was a pretty silly name, mmh, something with 'Federation'... Ah! United Federation of Planets. They left here the day before yesterday, in the evening. As far as I know, they were headed home, but I have no idea where that is.”
Debure sprang up from his bar stool, thanked her effusively, even hugged her and was out the door before she could say anything.
Turning back to the bar, Krk'khana shook her head and muttered, “You're welcome.”