Episode 703: Dar Al Tabr, Part Five
She opens her eyes and sees her ears heard right. The man is crying. Why? She touches his arm gently.
Rina: (softly) What is it? (looks down at herself) I'm sorry, I—.
Al Tabr: (pained) You have many scars.
Rina: Well, you….
She remembers he has a thing for scars. Of a sort. But she's not entirely sure where this is going. She looks at the Sheikh and he looks back.
Al Tabr: You were hurt, I see.
Rina: I cannot lie. It's true.
Al Tabr: (troubled) Were these all … in war?
Rina: Yes. (a beat) But it depends on how you define war.
Al Taber says nothing. Then:
Al Tabr: But … you are safe. Well, you're … No one is doing this to you now? None of these look … fresh. Well … (pauses, puzzled) Is your husband …?
He asks the question oh-so-delicately and comprehension hits her. Rina knows what she has to say, both to reassure him of her well being and to persuade him to our cause.
Rina: (sincerely) No. He is a good man. It's because of him that I am alive today. My crew is the reason I am alive today. In more ways than one.
The Sheikh listens, his eyes glistening with tears … and he begins pulling off his robes. Rina blinks but stands her ground, not sure where this is going but feeling no threat coming off him. He turns around and reveals hideous scars crossing his back. As an engineer, Rina is no stranger to burns and recognizes those made by hot metal when she sees them. Sometime in his past, Al Tabr had been branded like an animal—worse, even—and pity slams her hard.
Rina: What … happened to you?
Al Tabr: (whispers) My father … did this.
Rina: … Why?
Al Tabr: When he discovered that … I liked boys, he did this to me. And … He killed my mother. For having me. And since then I have … collected … injured strays from around the Verse. Paid princely ransoms for some of them and perhaps slit a few throats for the others. To provide them … peace.
The Sheikh's personal injuries and his resolve to save others as no one had saved him or his mother quite simply floors Rina. She can't go back and tell the crew to go through with the coup. Even if Al Tabr decides to remain neutral and sends us away empty handed, there is no way she could stomach overthrowing the man. Or course, the fact she had been ready to believe the stereotype Al Tabr pretended toward makes her feel worse. Presented with the truth, there really is only one thing she can tell him.
Rina: It looks like you and I are not quite so different after all.
Al Tabr: I would think you weren't, but you have probably suffered … If you were still in danger I would have offered you a place here, but you seem to be … You don’t need it.
Rina: (small smile) Not anymore.
Al Tabr: I can see … a look … in every woman who's been abused. I can see the same look that I saw in my mother's eyes and I saw it in yours, which is what drew me to you.
Rina: I must say, I … (fails)
Al Tabr: You can put your clothes on. I am sorry. I do not mean to embarrass you.
She pulls her clothes back on, sensing she's free to go. But before she leaves, she walks over to Al Tabr and hugs him and whispers in his ear.
Rina: (very softly) Thank you. You told me everything I needed to know. (off his confused look) You are a very good man. I had my doubts. Where I come from, having so many women is not … viewed kindly. And I was a little worried if I would be able to walk out of here. I saw you looking at me.
Al Tabr: You're … (moved, gets a grip) … If I may. It's important that I maintain this exactly as what you think, because many of the times to obtain … to rescue … these women, people must believe that I am a kindred soul. If they thought I was trying to do something … if I was condemning them or if I was possibly threatening them, they would not …
Rina: That subterfuge, I definitely understand.
She sighs and with the empathy born of hard knocks, they trade a last look and then she leaves. She doesn't linger in the halls but goes right back to the suite where her crew is waiting. They look up as she enters, closes the doors, and pushes off it, visibly worked up.
Rina: We can't do it.
Nika: We can't do what.
Rina: Uhn. (bites tongue) Okay, riding right past the part how I got the information—
Arden: I think we picked that part up.
Kiera: We don't need to know.
Rina: He's a good man. He's rescuing these girls from abusive situations and doing it under the fiction of being the rapacious dirty old man that he … lets everyone see.
Arden: So what can't we do?
Joshua: The coup.
Rina: We can't do the coup.
Nika's already reconfiguring what we know.
Nika: So he is using us.
Arden: The …?
Nika: Companion. El Sahir. He wants control of the mine. And he's possibly working with one of the women in there.
Kiera: Yeah …. that's what the word 'fool' meant.
Rina: For what it's worth he … he … A man's wealth is measured, from what I understand, not only by material riches but by … his children.
Rina knows she's treading close to the secret she's promised to keep but it also carries information her crew needs.
Arden: Which might be something I can help with.
Rina: He hasn't any.
Arden: Yeah. Which means there may be a medical solution.
Rina: Or it may be because he's sly.
By saying maybe, Rina hopes she's revealed the secret as a hypothesis rather than confirmed fact.
Arden: He's sly?
Joshua: Now there's a good term. I haven't heard that one used in a while.
Arden: So he's sly and that's why he doesn't have any children?
Damn, it's a good thing she's not a politician. The Verse would have crashed and burned ages ago. Sunk, Rina gives up trying to hide anything.
Rina: Yes. But he has to maintain the fiction that he's randy … (please take the hint!) … To keep his standing in the culture.
Arden: I don't care. (off her look) I really don't care.
Rina: We can't blow his cover.
Arden: He can have it injected in the women.
Artificial insemination's come a long way since the dark ages of the 20th century. Kiera backs Arden up on the suggestion we offer this service to the Sheikh.
Rina: All right. We can help his fortunes there but it … we …. We cannot expose—
Nika: No, you're right. Absolutely. I'm on board with that.
Rina: (relieved) Thank you.
Arden: My focus is more on his medical problems than his political problems. That's your job.
Rina: All right. I'll …. I'll leave you to discuss it.
Rina's upset and not for herself but for the Sheikh, as well as the fact that she'd gone in halfway ready to kill him if necessary. Reaction sets in and she strides for the door of her suite.
Rina: I … I need to take a bath now.
Arden: You need to take a bath now? Oh, by the way, your buttons are on crooked.
Joshua: Really? Really, Arden? You really had to tell that to the person who could beat you into a solid pulp?
Arden: It wouldn't have stopped me from saying to anyone else.
Kiera: No, Arden. (air quotes) She just got dressed funny this morning.
Arden: Uh, huh. I just noticed it.
Rina leans against the doors and has to pull herself together. Nika eyes her engineer and asks quietly:
Nika: Hey, Rina. Are you okay?
Rina: (through her teeth) He … he undressed for me, Nika. You should have seen his … his back ... (fails) No. I am not okay. Give me a minute.
Rina slams out of there and Joshua looks at Nika, gets the nod, and he follows his wife into their suite. In the quiet that follows, Kiera says what everyone is thinking.
Kiera: So we need to get rid of El Sahir.
Nika: (musing) So … an offer he couldn't refuse.
Kiera: Yeah. And it would explain why the woman said 'fool'. It may be what I needed to hear. So you know, she might accidentally get shot but that's okay.
Nika: Oh, I was thinking of telling him about El Sahir. It might amuse the Sheikh.
Beglan: You … you wanna just tell him?
Kiera: Then you're going to need a description of the woman. She's part of it.
Kiera describes Salah to Nika.
Nika: So at least one of the women is backing Sahir.
Kiera: Yeah, they can't all be pure. So one of them, obviously, is teaming up with him.
Nika leaves and asks for a word with the Sheikh and she gets word back that she may see him. Nika takes Arden with her. They are ushered in to see him. Nika doesn't waste his time but gets right to the point. Arden remains silent.
Nika: Sheikh, I have something that I need to talk to you about and I fear that you are going to not like it, and frankly I am not entirely certain you're going to believe me.
Al Tabr: Is this about … Mrs. Drake?
Nika: No. Actually it's not. She told me that she had the opportunity to speak with you and that you were hoping to leave a legacy that was worthy of your name. And I admire that, very much. However, I am concerned that you are going to be deposed from your position before such a thing can happen.
Al Tabr: What? Who here would attempt to do this?
Nika: I have been approached by your advisor El Sahir, and though he was quite subtle about the query, he seems to be … well, he made a point of indicating to me that your women were very much mistreated and that they were in slavery, such that … my past would lend me to—
Arden: All of our pasts.
Nika: (continuing) all of our pasts would lend itself to our attempting to take you out of power in order to rescue them.
Al Tabr: He said I mistreated my wives?
Nika: Well, he certainly—
Arden: He was trying to play us.
Nika: He certainly made a point of allowing for the hypocrisy of my flying for the Independents and yet allowing a hundred and sixty-plus women to be enslaved under your hand.
Arden: And he almost succeeded in playing us.
Al Tabr: You have some evidence of this?
Arden: Just us telling you. I don't think we actually have evidence. Though …
Nika: There is a woman in your harem.
She gives him her name and description as Kiera described her.
Nika: (continuing) … who fed additional information to my doctor when she was attempting to find out whether this was the truth or not.
Arden: (not me!) The other doctor.
Nika: Because to make such a move, at all, I wanted to make sure it was the right thing to do. If your women were being mistreated I would have felt it very much necessary to help them.
Al Tabr listens to everything Nika and Arden tell him and calmly motions one of his guards over.
Al Tabr: Bring her.
Before the woman is brought before the Sheikh, Arden speaks with him privately about medical options for future children. It's not a long discussion. There is a discreet knock on the door and Nika and Arden bow out. They return to the crew suites and pass the rest of the night unevenfully—though not without some sleepless hours wondering if we've done more harm than good.
Thursday, 15 Jul 2523
The next morning as we gather for breakfast the mood of the room is less convivial. El Sahir is there, as are the Blue Sun reps. Al Tabr is holding court with a hand on Salah's shoulders. The woman isn't bloodied or bruised but she has the look of someone who has nevertheless been broken. He wordlessly points to her and El Sahir stiffens and you can see it in his face that he knows he's lost. Al Tabr levels a look at his advisor and signals the guards to take him away. As they march him out, El Sahir cuts loose with a hissed comment, filled with loathing.
El Sahir: The things I had to do with you. All for nothing ….
Ahhh. So that's the arrangement, huh? No wonder Salah said 'fool'. The rest of our stay goes pretty much by the book. The cargo is unloaded and inspected and judged acceptable. We are able to send word to our superiors that we'd completed delivery and tell them that for now, the mine is in neutral hands with the door left open for further relations.
Before we lift off, the crew hears a joyous scream from the bridge.
Arden: Must be a full moon. She's turning into a werewolf.
Scrambling to our Captain, we find her dancing on the deck, an absolute monkey dance of happy. She sees us and sings out.
Nika: Boots on the ground in Boros! Boots on the ground in Borrrrrrrrrrrrr-os!
A blinking cursor on the comms screen catches our eye and we read the short message there. It's from Nala Earhart Johannsen:
The Independents have boots on the ground in Boros.
Arden: I guess that's a good thing.
Rina: Oh dear …
Joshua: I was about to say.
Rina: It could be nasty.
Nika: (agreeing) It's going to be ugly. It's going to be awful. But you know what? (reverently) We've got Independents on the ground in Boros.
Arden: I'm not sure that's really a good thing.
Joshua: It's both a good thing and a bad thing.
Nika: Yeah, gonna say it's a good thing and a bad thing but lemme tellya what—for a planet that's been primarily under the thumb of the Alliance because of the shipyard—?
Nika: (big-eyed nod!) Yeah!
Arden: That's not going to be pretty.
Nika: That is not going to be pretty at all.
Arden: We're not going to Boros anytime soon?
Nika is thrilled and appalled, horrified and hopeful. She sends a message back to her sister to confirm if she's okay at this point. Communications might be spotty due to the fighting on the ground but she sends her love and her prayers forward. Rina's with her on the bridge when the message goes out.
Rina: (lightbulb!) Oh my God … The Underground Railroad is going to be really busy right now, getting the civilians out of the line of fire.
Nala is running a station on that railroad, if not spearheading the entire operation. Hence the love and extra prayers. As it turns out, Nika isn’t the only one firing off messages before we leave. Kiera sends one off to her father and Rina sends a handwritten note to the Sheikh. Neither of the women mention it to the crew.