Personal log: Tylha Shohl, officer commanding, USS King Estmere, NCC-92984
The lounge that Public Relations has selected is a small one, well-appointed, with soft furnishings in neutral colours; one wall is entirely transparent, offering a view over the city, out towards the grey-green bulk of the Vastam Heights in the distance.
The human journalist stands up as I come in. "Whoa!" he says, apparently startled. He's tall, rather heavily built; one of the dark-coloured human ethnic groups, with skin the hue of well-aged wood. "Vice Admiral Shohl? Um, I'm Thad Willison from Trans-stellar Independent News." He blinks a couple of times. "Um, I have my holo-recorder going," he says, indicating the device on the low table beside him. "I hope you don't mind."
"It's what Public Relations sent me for," I say. I pick a chair and sit down. He follows suit.
"I'm sorry about, um, the 'whoa'," he says. "It's just, well, you weren't quite what I was expecting...."
"Oh, the uniform." I look down. "It's for practical purposes, mostly. My new ship is a converted Tholian Recluse carrier, and we have the internal environmental controls set as high as possible, to minimize thermal stresses on the structure. The Vulcan crew are happy - the rest of us, well, we need to dress lightly. My old ship, the Sita, had historical files for Mirror Universe uniforms, and so...." So, the short skirt and the abbreviated top. "It does, sometimes, seem to bother our new Romulan friends, I admit."
"You don't look like my image of a Starfleet Admiral," says Thad. "Between the outfit, and the scar, and the..." he gestures at the Ferengi energy whip on my hip, "... well, you look like some kind of pirate."
"The whip, I admit, is mostly for effect," I say with a grin. "Though it does seem to have a psychological impact on the Hirogen."
"The Hirogen," says Thad, in a more serious tone. "Well, then. The official Starfleet line is that the Hirogen are being contained... are you saying different?"
"They're a problem," I say. "Not an insoluble one, though."
Though possibly more intractable than PR wants me to admit. Of all the chaotic blunders resulting from the breakup of the Romulan state, Sela's devil's bargain with the Hirogen has to be the biggest single mistake. "The thing that bothers me about the Hirogen," I say carefully, "is that, at the moment, we're engaging with them, culturally, on their terms."
"I'm sorry?" Thad blinks, apparently baffled.
"I mean that, as far as they're concerned, we're still... prey. Extremely dangerous prey, certainly - we may yet convince them completely that we're just too dangerous to hunt. But we need to get to deal with them on our terms, as sentient beings with a culture as valid as their own."
"Or, um, just... wipe them out?"
"That's not our way." Never mind whether or not it should be, sometimes... it isn't.
"Well, that's more like Starfleet," says Thad with a light laugh. "More the traditional image... 'we must respect the values of other cultures', all that. 'Tea, Earl Grey, hot'."
"Not entirely my style," I say. I turn to the replicator. "Dh'syara tunnel wine, Kidane Province, standard, two... please, join me. It's not intoxicating, and it's entirely safe for humans."
Thad eyes the glass of warm, milky liquid rather uncertainly, before tasting it. "Hey," he says, "not bad. Kind of, I don't know, citrus-y."
"Oh," I say, "an Earth fruit? Something like that." It's best not to discuss the origins of Dh'syara with humans, I've found, or at any rate not to tell them where the fungus is traditionally grown. It doesn't bother Vulcans, they think of it just as efficient organic recycling. But humans have this terrible tendency to spit it over the carpet when they hear about it.
"So," Thad says, "the Hirogen are... a problem. What else is there? I keep hearing rumours...."
"Haven't you been outside the city to look for yourself?"
"Like I say," says Thad, with a nervous little laugh, "I keep hearing rumours. The official line is all, like, 'see the beauties of New Romulus', and then people tell me stories about Hirogen, or Tholians, or bugs that will eat you alive...."
"You have bugs on Earth, don't you?" I say. "I've heard stories about a place called... L'weezyanabeiyuu... they make the virhranen swarms here sound mild. It's true, if you're venturing into some areas, you need to take insect repellent. But, well," I point to myself. "Am I dressed like I worry about biting insects?"
In the field, of course, I'm dressed in polyalloy weave armour, and even so the virhranen are nothing to mess with... but no need for Thad to know these details. "I've never applied for an exit visa to leave the embassy area," he admits. "I mean - we sort of feel it's down to, you know, the military to pacify the area fully...."
"There are plenty of Romulan civilians working outside the city." And not all of them are plants for the Tal Shiar, even. No need to trouble Thad with that detail either.... "Seriously, the main problems are not pacification, but simple logistics. There is an enormous amount of work to be done... both in building the city, and in investigating the planet's past." That last seems to be what the Tholians are here for, as far as I can see. But who knows what the Tholians' motives are? Sometimes I wonder if they know themselves. "The effort involved is vast, and just about everyone is pitching in. You're quite likely to see me out there myself, lending a hand with shuttle maintenance or geological surveys."
"That, well, it doesn't sound so much your thing, Vice Admiral. Um, if you don't mind me saying so." He gives another one of those nervous laughs. "You've got quite, um, a reputation. As something of a fire-eater, even. Is it true you've been sentenced in absentia for war crimes on Nukara Prime?"
"Tholian propaganda," I say firmly. "They've done these show trials for a lot of people who've been involved in the Nukara incursion. Believe me, it's just bluster. The last thing the Tholian Assembly wants," I add, in dark tones, "is people like me standing up in a court and testifying to some of the things that have happened on Nukara."
"Well," says Thad, "I guess we better not get into that now... we're supposed to be talking about New Romulus, right? And the deals... the neutrality deal with the Klingons, for example? The one they're breaking? How many actions has your King Est-may-ray seen already, against the KDF?"
"King Estmere," I correct him. "And, none - against the KDF. There are breakaway groups among the Klingons, the Gorn and the Nausicaans who aren't respecting the agreements. Just like there are still some die-hard fanatics among the Tal Shiar. They've been keeping us busy, I'll admit it. So far, though, the KDF has kept up its side of the bargain, here on the planet itself. Frankly, I think some of the Klingons are as sick of the war as we are ourselves."
"Are they, though? And are you, Vice Admiral? You Andorians are a warrior culture... I guess this 'King Estmere' must have been quite a fighter, right? Though I didn't know Andorians had kings."
"We've had most forms of governmental structures, in our history," I say. "But King Estmere isn't from Andorian history - it's a composition by a human musician I happen to admire. I've named all my ships that way."
That surprises him, I can see. What, does he seriously think Andorians are nothing but blinkered militarists, even today? Amazing. "The thing is," I continue, "there are fanatics on all sides - yes, even ours - but the overwhelming bulk of people are tired of fighting, tired of losing, tired of seeing what they've worked for and lived for destroyed. New Romulus is a chance for all of us to join together and build something. Even we... warrior cultures... understand the appeal of this. The Romulans, especially, have lost so much - the chance to make something new for themselves, well, it is one they have to take."
"That's certainly D'Tan's party line," says Thad with a dubious look. "Do you believe in it? In him?"
Oh, human cynicism. Of course, it's only wise to keep a weather eye on those who lead us, to make sure they remain fit to do so... but humans seem so ready to assume the worst of their leaders, to ascribe every sort of moral failing and squalid ulterior motive to them, and then they follow them anyway. "I've met D'Tan," I say. "To me, he seems genuine. But what would a simple warrior like me know?" Let's not get into the matter of the recordings, the ones that show D'Tan's relations with the Tal Shiar in a very definite light... wherever those recordings come from. "He's speaking for those Romulans who want to rebuild... and speaking, very effectively, to the people whose help they need. To us, to the KDF, to the Remans." I smile. "If we ever are to engage the Hirogen on our terms, D'Tan might be just the person to do it."
"Wow," says Thad. "You seem... kind of impressed."
"I am," I say. "Kind of."
"So," Thad says, "if D'Tan's genuine, and serious about wanting peace for reconstruction... what about the big question, then?"
"You know," says Thad. "The big one... Reunification."
"Ah." It might be big, but it's not one I've thought about all that much. "I don't know," I say. "It's been talked about for a long time... but both the Romulans and the Vulcans have considered it, well, as welcoming their errant siblings back to the right path. I don't think it's possible under those terms... you can't just turn Romulans into Vulcans, or Vulcans into Romulans for that matter. Vulcan culture couldn't assimilate Romulan pride, Romulan passions, without changing in itself. And Romulans wouldn't take the baggage that comes with Vulcan attitudes... I think."
"So you think they're doomed to go on as two divergent cultures?"
"That's kind of a strong word, 'doomed'," I say. "I think... there might well be room for both of them, as part of a larger whole. An alliance between the Romulans and the Federation... it would have been unthinkable, even a few years ago. But times change, and if New Romulus works, it will prove our cultures can work together."
"And you seriously believe that? That different races can respect each others' cultures and stil work together?" Thad sounds almost amused.
"Of course I do," I say. "I'm an Andorian flying a Tholian ship with a mixed-species crew and a Terran name, remember? If there is one thing the Federation can do, it's take disparate cultures and bring together the best of all of them."
"Oh," says Thad. "Right on the party line, huh?"
His human cynicism is starting to annoy me; I hope I'm not letting it show. "If I didn't believe in the Federation's principles," I say, as mildly as I can manage, "I couldn't be a Starfleet officer."
"Why?" asks Thad. "I mean, for you guys, Starfleet is just a continuation of the military tradition, right? Just the successor to the old Imperial Guard?"
"I was never part of that tradition," I say. "I was born on an Andorian colony world, I guess maybe something like New Romulus itself, in a smaller way." I raise my hand to the scars on my right cheek. "I got this the night it was destroyed. I lost my home, two of my parents and a chunk of my skull that night, and I learned that sometimes you can't just walk away from a war. So I've spent my career since then walking towards it, trying to fight it and win it. But, believe me, I'd rather be building. So would D'Tan and his people. If it's nothing else, New Romulus is a chance to do that."
"Well, I guess that answers my questions," says Thad. He stands up. "Thanks, Vice Admiral Shohl, for your time - and your frankness."
"You're welcome," I say, as I get to my feet too. "But I think you'd get more answers if you went out in the field. Get that exit visa - I'll countersign one for you myself, if you like. Come outside the city walls and see what they're trying to do, for yourself."
He looks out over the city. "I might just do that," he says. "From here, it does look kind of impressive...."
"Anyone can build a city," I say. "Just punch in the program and turn the industrial replicators on. What the Romulans are trying to build here, though, is a home. That's a lot more work, and they need our help. They deserve our help. And, if it's up to me, they're going to get it."
He laughs. "I'm sure as hell not going to argue with you! - Thanks, again, Vice Admiral Shohl."