Literary Challenge #42 : I Am the Legacy of Romulus
Hello and welcome to another edition of our writers' challenges! :cool:
Today we start the two-week run of the forty-second Literary Challenge: I Am the Legacy of Romulus
This is the writer's thread -- only entries should be made here.
The Discussion Thread can be found HERE.
We also have an Index of previous challenges HERE.
The rules may change from one challenge to another, but I'd like to remind everyone what the base rules are. These may grow as we move on, so also feel free to give feedback!
To: Colonel Hakeev
From: Sub Commander Velka
Re: Transcript from FNN
As expected former Admiral Tilitus Gell is on Earth to gain support for D'Tan and his upstart Republic by enlisted Federation support. This is a transcript from one of their open source news services. It gives fascinating insights on the direction that Gell wants to take the Republic. I believe he seriously wants to use it to challenge Empress Sela.
Kathy Swift-"Welcome to tonight's episode of Illuminating the City of Light on FNN. This is Kathy Swift sitting in for Pol Grevia who is away on maternity leave. We here at FFN and the program wish him a swift recover from his delivery."
"With us tonight is acclaimed lecturer and retired Admiral of the former Romulan Star Empire, Tilitus Gell, who is in Paris this week speaking with the Federation council on behalf of the fledgling New Romulan State to encourage diplomatic and economic ties. Admiral Gell, it is a pleasure and welcome to the program."
Tilitus Gell-"It is my pleasure to be here, Kathy and please call me Tilitus, I haven't been in the military for decades."
Swift- "Certainly and again thank you for being on the program. Tilitus, before we discuss your work on behalf of New Romulus I would like to discuss a bit of your past as part of the Romulan Empire. You held a pretty prestigious position in the Star Navy but gave it up shortly after the death of Preator Shinzon. Why did you leave when it looked like Romulus needed you the most?"
Gell- "Well Kathy, Shinzon's coup took many of us in the military by surprise. At the time I was a ranking member of the Tal Diann, that is Romulan Military Intelligence. I took it personally hard since I was one of the ones responsible for the Reman conscription program during the Dominion War. Shinzon and his ambitions slipped through the cracks. I must confess that I felt perhaps if I had been on top of my game and saw the early warning signs Shinzon would not have happened and thus the Empire would not have been thrown into such chaos afterwards. So I retired to Rator III to spend well deserved time with my family"
Swift- "That seems like a harsh assessment seeing how most believe even the Tal Shiar missed the threat of Shinzon."
Gell- "Perhaps but it was more than just Shinzon. The Empire I served and loved was not heading in a direction I felt was the best for the Romulan people. However, my loyalty to the Empire was greater than my own self interest so it was time to turn the reigns over to younger souls than I."
Swift- "So you retired to Rator III and that was where you were when the Hobus Incident happened. Correct?"
Gell- "I don't think that any Romulan forgets where they were when they heard that the heart of the Empire was burned that day. Yes, I was on Rator and just finishing up a sub space call to my eldest son when Romulus was destroyed. Sorvan was commanding a warbird in the Homefleet and was in orbit of Romulus when the wave hit."
Swift- "I am sorry to hear that."
Gell- "He died doing what my family had done for generations, serving the Empire."
Swift- "After Hobus the Empire was really in chaos. From my understanding both Sela and Donatra approached you to rejoin the military on one of their sides. However you refused to come out of retirement. Why?"
Gell- "Donatra represented the direction of Romulus that I was opposed to while Sela let her personal ambitions get the better of her, also she was not pure Romulan. I was not about to get in the middle of their plans. I had given the Empire decades of service as well as the lives of 6 of my 8 children. That was more than enough service."
Swift -"Pardon my saying so Tilitus, but your statement about Sela seems a bit racist."
Gell- "It would seem so, but I did not mean that she was an incapable leader because of her mixed heritage. You have to understand that her desire to be more Romulan than a Romulan and a self loathing of her human ancestry drove her ambition, not a desire for the supremacy of the Romulan people and culture."
Swift- "So if you felt you had given enough to the Empire, why then after so many years would you accept D'Tan's offer to join the colony on New Romulus and become an advocate for it's statehood?"
Gell- "D'Tan approached me and offered me something that neither Donatra or Sela could. He offered me a chance to rebuild the Romulan people not into what they once were but into what they could be. Everyone else was focused on returning to the past glory of the Empire. D'Tan and I will add, myself, believe now is the time for the Romulan people to demonstrate the full meaning of what it is to be Romulan."
Swift -"That is surprising considering that you and D'Tan share a very opposing view on a sensitive subject for the Romulan people. Reunification."
Gell- "That is correct. D'Tan believes in Reunification of the Romulan people with the Vulcans. I believe that it is no possible and not the best future for the Romulan people."
Swift- "And why is that?"
Gell- "The way Reunification is currently understood and taught is the Romulans learn and adopt Vulcan teaching and culture. It is about changing the Romulan people to be more like Vulcans. There is no impetus or requirement that Vulcans learn to embrace and adopt the culture and teaching of the Romulans. For Reunification to be a reality not only must the Romulan people change but the Vulcans as well. The Vulcans are not willing to accept that."
Swift - "So if you oppose D'Tan on one of his core beliefs why join him on New Romulus?"
Gell - "I feel that it is time for the Romulans to become navigators of their own course. Like I said this is not about restoring the past Empire but forging something new. Call it a New Romulan State or Romulan Republic, but it will be new and it will be uniquely Romulan. We have so much to give to the galaxy, but we must stand on our own to do so."
Swift- "That is why you also advocate a middle of the road approach when it comes to the Federation and the Klingon Empire."
Gell- "Yes, by working with both governments and giving allegiance to none we help erase some of the animosity that the Federation and Klingons have built up over the years with us. Also this gives both sides a chance to not look at us as either a threat or pawns to be exploited but partners in a new beginning for our corner of the galaxy."
Swift- "What about threats from Empress Sela that the Romulan Republic will not be allowed to exist?"
Gell- "Well she sees us as a threat to her power and we are. I believe that those partners in peace I just spoke of will have a stake in what she can or cannot do to us."
Swift- "It sounds like you are advocating manipulating the Federation and the Klingon Empire to fight Sela as New Romulus's proxies."
Gell- "Not at all. That is just the reality. The rebirth of the Romulan people is very fragile. Just as it is a threat to the Old Empire it is vitally important to the Federation and the Klingons that we not only survive, but thrive as well."
Swift- "So your participation in D'Tan's government is strictly as a civilian advisor? What about the rumors that you are helping to build a military force for New Romulus?"
Gell- "D'Tan sees the wisdom that New Romulus needs to be able to defend itself. Like I said we are to be partners with the Federation and Klingons, not dependents. As for me any new military force would not need an old Admiral commanding ships, maybe if they open up a position for a 'seasoned' ulan or centurion to polish the plasma torpedos while young Commanders chase after glory, maybe I will sign up."
Swift - "I am sure the last thing a young Commander wants is be ordering a legend to scrub plasma conduits. Tilitus I am afraid that is all we have time for. Please stop by again."
Gell- "Kathy it has been a pleasure. I hope to be seeing more of the Federation very soon and I look forward to speaking with the Federation Council tomorrow."
Swift - "Thank you and we look forward to hearing that speech. Tilitus Gell's speech to the Council will be broadcast tomorrow morning at 9AM. That is all for this segment of Illuminating the City of Lights. Stay tuned for the Starfleet Report and thank you to our guest tonight Tilitus Gell. On behalf of FNN this is Kathy Swift have a wonderful evening and a bright tomorrow."
(Somewhere close to the earth year 2390)
Governess Ynala Hvalli steepled her hands in front of her face and rested her hands against her palms staring at the picture in front of her. The afternoon sun had peaked through the ordinarily dismal gray clouds that shrouded Hraja, the Capitol City here on the Romulan agrarian colony of Colius II, and glinted off the glass of the picture frame, creating a halo above the smiling face of Kim Sharp. Absently, she reached to the back of her neck, and the wisps of raven colored hair that had freed themselves from their captive bun and tickled her flesh defiantly. It was as though the warmth she felt from this cold, distant world was the warmth she had felt that day among the spring-kissed mountains of the Ildaareen province. The day when she snapped this photo when Kim wasn't looking.
She was smiling softly at something Ynala had said, her eyes loving, but bashfully aimed at the grass, and her delightful European cheeks blushed with the flattery of a woman's love. A Southern wind had kicked up around her and wild strands of her wavy golden hair had come loose in a graceful fashion that was a betrayal to the strong, military character that Kim projected outwardly. It was a side of Kim that she loved to see, and only she knew.
The reflection of the high clouds moving in from the East and the gloomy, darkened hull of a cargo hauler descending from orbit in the glass brought her back to the reality that she now found herself in. She felt numb for a moment, half hoping and half wondering if she was merely trapped inside the worst kind of nightmare. Any moment, Kim would turn over and wake her, and she would look over and listen to the wind jostle the vines in the yard and the fences y the Kali-Fal distillery. Safe, at home.
Ynala turned to the bay window behind her and watched the cargo ship make its way to the landing pad at the granary. Its shadow grew smaller the closer to the ground it got, and the trees nearby began to flail wildly as she turned on her thrusters to maneuver in position. Whoever was at her helm was a bad pilot. If Kim were here she'd have something to say.
But she wasn't here, and she would never be. She was gone. Swallowed into the fire along with Romulus, and to be remembered only through a photograph.
She was angry and heartbroken all over again, and the tears came just as they had been for the past six months. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the glass . Horrific images flooded her mind, and made her want to cry out in anger. She balled her fists, and looked at her reflection in the window, only Kim stared back at her.
"How could you?" She whispered through a clenched jaw.
The sound of the door chime knocked her out of her thoughts and once again back to the reality of cold, dismal Colius II. For a split second in her pent up rage, she was tempted to overturn the desk, but then suddenly seeing the ridiculousness of that action couldn't help but laugh at herself, only it wasn't light laughter, it dripped with sadness and self-loathing.
"Enter." She said amidst her laughter. She wiped her eyes with the thick, dark blue fabric of her tunic, and hoping that somehow that mere gesture would disguise the fact she had been crying, looked up to meet the familiar, tall, demure figure of her favorite Orion, Captain Janei Nori.
Captain Nori raised a brow quizzically, and cautiously entered the room. She wished that she could say she had seen this sight before from Ynala. The tall, gracefully framed Romulan woman, clutched the back of her gray, plush chair as though she were about to murder it. Her eyes were green and puffy, and the corners of her mouth curled in that of sad laughter. She wore the same midnight blue tunic with silver piping, and matching robe bottom that seemed more like an elegant dress than a robe, that she had worn the day before and the day before that and the day they all had landed here on Colius.
Recognizing that this was not the state that she wished her guests to see Governess Hvalli in, she turned to the two women standing behind her, on the other side of the door, and gestured quickly for them to remain outside a moment.
Turning around, Janei curtsied slightly and addressed her. "Mistress," she said in cautious tone. She moved forward, allowing the door to hiss shut.
Ynala frowned suspiciously, and glanced at the door.
"Who was that?" She asked.
"Governess, I need you to take a moment to comp--"
"Janei, I asked you a question?" Ynala asked sternly, feeling raw anger bubble to the surface as she looked back at her long time friend.
"--And what? You were told not to bring people here without my authorization!--"
"--If you woul--"
"--If I would what? If I would just capitulate to you--"
"--YNALA TR-ILDAREEN T-ILURREEN S'HVALLI SHARP! Stop."
Stunned, Ynala was quiet enough for Janei to finally speak.
Captain Nori's heart thudded in her ears, and she stared across the dark, mahogany colored desk and glanced at the drawer in front of the Romulan woman where she knew she kept her disruptor pistol. She wasn't moving to it.
"I have an explanation, and you have no reason to be alarmed."
The suspicious scowl remained on Ynala's fair complexion. Much had changed in the weeks that had gone by since she last encountered her employer. The Ynala Hvalli she knew of old had been so kind and gracious on Romulus had never been so tormented. She had been filled with hopes, dreams, and the silly notion that the darkness in the Universe could be overcome by the flick of a light switch. Like so many people, Ynala Hvalli seemed to have died with her homeworld.
Janei knew more sorrow than good, though, like Kim Sharp had been taken in by Ynala's infectious love of the brighter side of life, and had even gotten to a point where she had begun reconsidering her salty view of the Universe. That was all past, but unlike Ynala she knew how to cope with the heartache, the disappointment, and the shocking imagery that came with death and destruction. She also had never really known what it was like to have a gun pointed at her head everywhere she turned. In spite of the coldness which she prided herself on, she felt a measure of sorrow.
"Governess, if it were anyone but me you'd have a right to be suspicious." Janei said in a disarming tone. "We have been friends far too long, and I have shown you nothing but loyalty. Why would I start trying to betray you now?"
Ynala kept her cool, green, almond-shaped eyes on Captain Nori, but relaxed her posture.
"Before I get to that, I brought back the figures from Dentan II, and Alhala Prime as you asked."
Ynala watched the Orion reach into a pouch about her Klingon utility belt and procure a PADD. The leather of her "borrowed" Klingon defense uniform creaked as she set the PADD at the end of the desk.
Ynala met Janei's crystalline gray eyes which were contorted with a mixture of exasperation, hope, and exhaustion. She felt a measure of regret at how she had behaved and recalled the request. She picked up the PADD and frowned angrily at the figures.
"This is telling me a third of our shipments to them are making it through."
"Yes Mistress, and according to Governor Vrrhai the Tal'Shiar are extorting him. Maybe a third of that make it to his people. The Alhalans are in similar shape, but they have some semblance of a Navy that every now and then gets a lucky punch in. I also made some trips to Lvhhei, Mol'Vrhia, Orhheu, and some of the colonies closer in. Seems as though the Tal'Shiar is getting their hands on what they can and just hoarding it for themselves."
Ynala sighed in frustration and straightened her posture. She ran a hand through her dark hair and felt the rage return.
"Our people just had their world wiped away, and yet they wish the suffering to go on."
"You know, Ynala, we've had this talk before. We're not shipping Hvalli Label Ale anymore. These other worlds look to you, because you are the only one giving them a chance to survive. If we were to band with them...I could certainly use the Alhalan Navy's numbers. We've been lucky, Governess, but we can't live on luck. I know the Tal'Shiar's tactics well enough to stay ahead of the game, but you know they adapt quickly."
"Why doesn't Dek do it? You know General Vrrhai is capable."
"He's not the leader your people need."
Ynala skewed her lips and her eyes went to the photograph she had been lamenting over earlier.
Following the Governess, Janei added. "We both know if she were here she would have already done it."
"Yes..." Ynala said, her voice distant. "I always envied her strength, and her devotion."
"And she envied yours."
Suddenly remembered Janei's direction for the two unknown guests to remain outside. "What about--" She gestured to the door.
Janei smiled. "I was just getting to that. If I may?"
Governess Hvalli nodded. "By the way, it's 'Hvalli', not 'S'Hvalli.' Don't mistake us for the stodgy aristocrats of the past."
She gave Janei a humorous smile.
The door hissed aside revealing the familiar, husky figure of Janei's younger sister, Tevnu, and a tall, lithe, dark haired Trill wearing the tattered remains of a Starfleet Commander's uniform.
Her eyes went wide and she went to Janei.
"Don't be alarmed, Mistress." The Trill spoke, bowing her head slightly.
"My name is Zadari Iminei, in case you don't know me I am the former First Officer of the USS Majestic. I'd like to help."
I Am The Legacy Of Romulus
(This is from the actual account of the Romulan colonist Sarik Karzinak)
My name is Sarik Karzinak and I am one of the survivors on the distant colony world of Shikar and have been living here since I was a youngling. My mother is one of the original survivors of the destruction of our homeworld gave birth to me as while her ship escaped the shockwave from the planet's destruction. My father, unfortunately didn't survive the the destruction of our homeworld. My mother has told me stories of Romulus and what our original home looked like and I have often dreamed of what Romulus looked like and what our home looked like.
Now here on Shikar, we are slowly continuing to rebuild our lives with the help of our friends and families who did survive the the destruction of our homeworld. My friend Darok was also born during the destruction of Romulus and for him he has often wondered what life is like out there in the stars and I admit I too have the same curiousity about the stars. My mother though says that "curiousity can get the catarik" but most of the time I would not listen. Life was starting to look up for us and the people of Shikar or so we thought.
On the 7th year of the Kara cycle, a mysterious force came from the heavens and started to take over the colony. I heard whispers from the elders saying that they are the Tal Shiar. My mother has told me that the Tal Shiar were once a secret organization bent on finding technology and even killing our own people by any means necessary. The Tal Shiar started to recruit and oppress us and many of the elders and the young ones started to rebel. My mother was one of them and like she told me, they were relentless and started to shoot all of the protestors. My mother protected me from the wrath of the Tal Shair and ended up getting killed herself. My mother died believing in peace and freedom and I was at first filled with a terrible resolve, but Darok's mother told me my mother died beleiving in peace and freedom and from that time forward I devoted myself to the philosophy of peace and freedom that were instilled in me by my mother.
But, these are dark and perilous times for Shikar. Now on the 9th year of the Kara cycle, our people are continuously being harassed and oppressed by the Tal Shiar and a new and mysterious ominous force has threatened the lives of not only my friends and family but also other outlying colonies. My friend Darok and I have decided enough is enough and decided to join the ranks of the fellow rebels called the Shikar Trune (Shikar's Freedom Fighters), but for Darok and I, we continue to maintain the philosophy of peace. Hopefully one day, our actions will cause the people of Shikar to stand up and fight for what is right: for the colony, for peace, and for freedom.
Day 29 9th Year of the Kara cycle:
On the planet Shikar, the streets are quiet in the province of Sevan, my friend Darok and I continue to elude the Tal Shiar while supplying the Shikar Trune with massive amounts of thyredozine and stockpiles of weapons. My comrades of the Shikar Trune are hard working and dedicated to their cause of peace and freedom. Many of them are very friendly and think very highly of me, saying that I have the wisdom of that of Ambassador Tulsen. Others say I also have the capability of top rank commander and I should command a ship of my own. I myself of course had never considered commanding my own ship, let alone being a top ranking Captain. Many of my comrades, including my friend Darok continued to persuade in taking up command. Even I knew that it was inevitable to have them change thier minds, I willingly decided to join command.
Day 31 9th Year of the Kara cycle:
Through the persuasion of my comrades of the Shikar Trune and my friend Darok, I took up command and became ensign of the SRW Valtor (Shikar Romulan Warbird Freedom). Under the command of Captain Silvest, we headed off to assist the outlying colonies under the oppression of the Tal Shiar. But, before we headed off to the other colonies, I made a personal request to the Captain if Ensign Darok could be transferred from the ground forces of Shikar to the Valtor, for I knew that Darok was one of the best officers in the field of science. His way of thinking outside the box can help us get out of very tight situations. After looking at his files and careful consideration, he granted the transfer of Darok to the Valtor.
Day 35 9th Year of the Kara cycle:
We were continuing our liberation of the colonial planet Caparx from the Tal Shiar. Captain Silvest ordered the helmsman to decloak the ship and to disable the shields and weapons of 2 of the Tal Shiar's ships. This threw the commanders of those ships completely off guard and didn't give them enough time to order a counter attack. We were victorious and began to deploy reflief aid and clothing to the colonists. A few hours later in the mess hall, I was eating my usual Spicy Plomek Soup when Darok came over on a happy note. As usual my curiousity has gotten the best of me and I asked "what in Surkon's name are you happy about Darok?" He told me that he overheard one of the senior officers talking about promoting me to Lieutenant. I almost spit out my Plomek soup on my friends face. I knew that I was in good terms with the Captain and also he also knew that I had potential in becoming the next commanding officer. At times he would come to my table and began to talk philosophically about freedom whether it was a concept or not. We began to go in a heated debate and we both knew that no matter how hard we try to up the ante, we always ended up laughing. After the debate I showed him some new tactical maneuvers that we can use against the Tal Shiar. Silvest was rather impressed and he said that he would take it up to his senior officers for consideration. Little did I know, that those ideas would one day be put to the test.
Day 39 9th Year of the Kara cycle:
On my way to the bridge, I began to take notice of officers standing still and saluting me as I walked to the bridge. When I arrived at the bridge all the senior officers, my friend Darok, and the Captain were saluting and waiting for me. As I walked up to the captain, he began to express that he was truly honored to have a fine young officer who was tactile and willingly risking his own life for the cause of liberation and freedom. So on the behalf of him and his senior officers, they bestowed upon me the rank of lieutenant. After the salute and thanking the Captain, all the crew members clapped and gave the traditional music of "Saruk de Tompare" (Pomp and Circumstances). After the celebrations were over the Valtor's commicator notified the captatin that we were receiving a distress call from one of our Trune frieghters at the nearby colony of Tansalak IV and Captain Silvest ordered the helmsman to set a course and engage at maximum warp. When we approached our destination, we dropped out of warp, but all we saw was debris and the void of space. Silvest told the helmsman to continue hailing them and asked Darok to continue scanning the area for lifesigns, but as we were searching, 2 Tal Shiar warbirds and 1 mysterious ship decloaked and begin to fire at us at full strength. This caught all of us completely off guard and a couple of consoles exploded rendering a couple of the Valtor's officers unconscious. The captain ordered us to take evasive maneuvers and to continue firing all weapons. But, as we were firing, the two warbirds split off and the mysterious ship fired a mysterious energy beam that overloaded a few more of our consoles and one of them exploded in front of the captain, his first officer, and most of the senior staff, leaving myself, Darok, and 4 other ensigns . We knew that all of the senior officers were dead and I was the only one with the highest rank to take command of the Valtor....
To be continued...
Tamsu gazed down at the face of a dead man. It seemed that the years had been kind to Sorall's roguish features. The shuttle crash, less so.
She had not seen Sorall since her university days; when they were young and hopeful, and when the Tal Shiar had, no doubt, first marked them as 'agitators'. It was not a great surprise to see him here; Sorall never did like facing his fears alone, and had had a knack for finding people who didn't want to be found. The only mystery is why he thought the Tal Shiar would allow him to disappear to a far away backwater this late in the game.
It was stupid for her to be here. Not that there was much choice really. As an acquaintance of the deceased, and as the commander of Serriena's small town security department, her avoiding this responsibility would have drawn the wrong sort of attention all too quickly. Tamsu had been working very hard to avoid drawing attention of that kind lately.
Patrolman Ansavi, one of her very few subordinates, shifted restlessly by the door. 'I do not wish to rush you Commander, but the doctor wants to lock up for the night soon.'
Tamsu sighed wearily. 'Of course. I confirm, for the record, that this is indeed Sorall Dhesh.' Ansavi nodded and made a note on his PADD. 'We are certain it was an accident?'
The Patrolman nodded again. 'We have checked everything we can, given the damage. No signs of foul play.'
She accepted that without comment. If there had been signs of foul play, it would mean the Tal Shiar probably hadn't been involved; not much chance of that under the circumstances. Tamsu bade Ansavi goodnight, and started walking; and thinking. Twelve former students; once a close circle of friends with high ideals. Twelve one time campaigners for change and reform. Eight were now dead.
D'Elon, and Sahen, taken by the Tal Shiar for 'questioning' and never seen again.
Nveid, supposedly murdered by the Hirogen; even though poor fat Nveid Hweirai, and his heap of a merchant ship, would surely have been no sport for the Hunters.
Vaoben apparently killed confronting an armed intruder in his home; despite him being both a pacifist and a coward, who owned little worth stealing.
Hannam, Llran, and Hanajh, one by one, simply gone. Vanished without a trace.
And now, Sorall.
Of the four who remained, Lovok had defected to the Federation, perhaps the catalyst for all of this, and who knew where the ever adventurous Erren wandered? Erren never left traces; he was as safe as could be. Only Tamsu and Yhea were still in danger. She had thought them well hidden here, but the Tal Shiar were certain to wonder why Sorall had chosen to come to this world. If they didn't already know where she and Yhea were, they soon would.
Whatever they thought, there was no conspiracy. No fiendish plan to topple an Empire. Her student days on Rator Prime were far behind her, and contact with most of her companions of old had been infrequent and perfunctory for over two decades now. Only Yhea remained amongst her friends these days; and Yhea had never been more than casually involved in the student protests. But the Tal Shiar's paranoia was going to kill them both if they let it.
Yhea answered the knock on her door to find Tamsu gazing up the stars with troubled eyes. Her old friend spoke without looking at her.
'It is time to go.'
"Who are you?"
So many possibilities in a question of three words. So many opportunities for misunderstanding, or revelation. So heavy a weight those words can lay upon one's heart. But then, we of the Rihannsu have become familiar with the heavy heart over the last cycles.
When I was asked this question by a Federation Officer who failed to recognize the robes that are obligatory for one of the vest'ualu, it was truely a shock. Never had anyone presented me with such a request for what all could see, and it was this that firmly brought to me how the destruction of ch'Rihan has changed all of us. It also caused me to think on his question during the passage from the starport to the place I have been for several months now.
Like other Priestesses, I was taken as a child into the Temple and made an alcolyte to the services of the Five, the great Elementals that form and bind this universe together, and to the Stars that were the embodiment of their purity. It was my life's work to seek their sanction for our glorious Empire and its great work, and I performed those duties with the precision expected of the vest'ualu. To the People and the Lower Castes, I was the image of grace and dedication.
In private chambers, however, the other Priestesses complained that I wasted time that should have been used in seeking greater understanding of the Five instead learning useless things such as space tactics and the great battles of the Empire. I paid them no heed, for I was but a foolish child who dreamed of the great heroes forging our path to the Stars. What child did not dream of those great men and women who ever sent our glory onwards? It was this lack of caution that, I now believe, led to the Aug-vest'ualu to reassign me to far-off Rator III. A small world at the time, and far less important a Temple than one of my lineage should have had, but this was my penalty for not disguising my ambitions as well as the others did.
There I was when ch'Rihan fell to the anger of the Stars, and there I continued to serve for the years that saw my maturity into a full Priestess. I comforted the refugees as best I could, and explained how the Five had judged our world and found it lacking. Even the Havrannsu did I permit to speak of their own loss, to the displeasure of my sisters for who cared what the undercaste thought? I also used the connections all vest'ualu aquire to divert the increasingly scarce resources from what remained of the Empire to those projects and initiatives the Temple found most inline with our goals.
But the day came, after the new Capitol had been established and the present emergency had stabilized, when those of the Tal'Shiar remembered we existed. Our pressure on several members of the new Senate seemed to have been subverted, for we found no allies among that august body when the day came that the Tal'Shair decided we were no longer needed in the society they wished to make, and began razing our Temple. I alone escaped the slaughter, aided by the few contacts within the High Command who were au'Unn to me, settling their life-debts by arranging for my travel to a new world, and a new life as a common colonist on the frontier.
It was no doubt the will of the Stars that I was approached a year later by one who had heard the words of D'tan. In a field where I was planting cruli, of all things. How far I had fallen. In any event, I was struck by the...well...honesty, I believe the Humans call it....of this lone man. I had never encountered anyone with that quality of openness and lack of desire to entrap others in their plans, and it intrigued me. I accepted his offer to travel to Mol'Rihan, and begin again in a place strange to my ears. Certainly, it seemed better than awaiting the attacks on other colony worlds that had been reported by the few transport ships to arrive on my current planet.
When I arrived on Mol'Rihan, I quickly deduced that this was, indeed, a new world. Here, those of the Federation and those of the Klingon Empire worked with our people to bring forth a new way of being. I had never been one to accept the Unification, yet here I saw for myself that it was possible. More, I knew my path had also changed when I met D'tan himself, and saw the Rihan'iLu'vorr, the Wings of the Eagle upon him. Perhaps it was simply an illusion of the mind brought on by the strangeness of my surroundings, but I did not think so and do not still. I saw what I saw, and am as watchful as any Rihannsu of the illusion and obscurification that is always about us. It was a true vision, and I am not one to discount the will of the Five lightly.
When our conversation ended, I left his office in my traditional robes, the first time in over a year that I had been allowed to wear them. I understood his intent, a statement that the Five had granted their acceptance of this new world as the true heart of the Empire, and did not disappoint him. With word and gesture, I gave to the lost Rihannsu and Havrannsu the familiarity of our ancient traditions, the rememberance of the days gone by.
Perhaps I should have realized more would be expected of me. I do not know how D'tan obtained the secret journals of our Temple, but it is clear he has remained as careful as any Senator in retaining sources within the Empire. I had no idea what he desired of me when I was asked to board a Federation shuttle and travel to a place on Mol'Rihan I had never been, and except for the question asked by the Federation Officer piloting it which had so made me think, the passage was uneventful.
That was five months ago. I no longer wear the robes of a vest'ualu, and no longer speak for the Five. This does not concern me, as I know they look upon my new task with eyes bright with promise. For, did they not proclaim to my people at the dawn of our race that we were destined to rule the Stars as we are now ruled by them? Now, I will have my chance to contribute to that duty.
As my shuttle climbs out of the atmosphere, I write this as my final entry into my thon'ro, my chronicle as a Priestess. When my hand strikes the command to end it, so ends my life before, and begins my new life of Duty. So, I will simply state what all who have walked where I now walk have known.
The Vulcans have referred to us as 'Those Who Walk Beneath Raptor's Wings'. But they do not understand. For, while it is true that we revere the Great Bird of the Galaxy whose claws brought forth the eggs from which the first Rihannsu emerged, we do not seek to walk beneath his wings.
As I look out the forward viewport at the T'liss class Warbird that is only one of many being brought to our service by agents within the Empire, I know the truth. The truth the Tal'Shiar will learn all too soon.
We will become the Raptor.
End recording and file.
I was actually in the Tal Shiar, you know? Back in the old days. Not for any grand reasons of strategy - I was part of that generation that was just of age when they saw Shinzon slay the Senate and throw himself cheerfully onto the spears of the Federation, and what that taught me was that the military was for fools and children, and that their generals and commanders were nothing but particularly charismatic fools and children. So I resolved that my service to the Empire would be through cleverer means. When I had finished my medical training, I volunteered for the Tal Shiar's Medical Service, and after passing a few exams that tested my cleverness and loyalty to the state, I became a doctor for the Tal Shiar.
What's that, you say, the Tal Shiar had doctors? Of course they did - what officer would trust himself to a ham-handed military surgeon, or worse some too-clever civilian? Competition in those days was fierce, oh yes, but mostly for the prime posts in Intelligence. If you wanted a 'lesser' job and pressed for it hard, you could get what you wanted with only a few enemies to walk over on the way. I remember I was so excited when I received my first assignment - assistant physician to the new prison they were building in the Rator system. It was exactly the easy job I had always dreamed of - tending the minor wounds and ailments of prison guards, assisting in the interrogation of worthless political scum, and perhaps wooing some lovely sub-lieutenant to bear me some fat children.
That must make me sound so old to your young ears. Oh yes, my friend, there once was a time when Romulan children were fat and happy, when we reclined in the sun like so many well-fed serpents, digesting an empire of mice without ever noticing the farmer's boot about to come down on our necks.
I never made it to Rator. Our ship was diverted by Hobus, first to a rendezvous of Tal Shiar ships in deep space (that was the first time I saw the Empress - fascinating woman, but proof of the dangers of interbreeding if you ask me), then back to the Homeworlds for the last mad dash of evacuation. I remember the captain of our transport ship, an old field agent, an interrogator who had lost an arm fighting the Dominion, a lean-faced, poison-eyed man whose chief entertainment was telling hilarious stories of what Klingons could be made to do under mind-torture - I remember the way he wept openly when the ship was full to capacity on each evacuation run and we had to fly away and turn off the comms that pled with us for rescue, the way hard-faced Tal Shiar agents gave up first their comforts, then their quarters, then sometimes even their place aboard ship to save another civilian.
We were one of the last ships in the system. I remember I was holding a baby, not more than a few weeks old, whose mother had pressed him into my arms when we were evacuating Intelligence Headquarters, and when I heard the cry over the intercom - it was the captain, the hard-faced old monster, crying in grief and terror! I looked up from the place I'd found in sickbay and saw our planets break in half on the monitor...I am not ashamed to say that I wept then, too. I actually saw a ship that may have been the so-famous Narada, but it looked nothing like the abomination of Borg technology that made all the comms - we were warping away too fast to tell.
Afterwards, we put the bodies of the suicides in the cargo bay and vented it to the Elements. There was no time for anything else. There were so many of them - by honor blade, by poison, by strangling. By exposure to hard vacumn. By an officer's disruptor against the temple. I could not blame them. I know they were by no means the only ones. Suicide was our most common cause of death for some time...I lost track of the infant some weeks after we arrived at Rator, what had been a prison now our greatest stronghold. I am sure he grew well, I left him with a creche raising the orphaned sons and daughters of agents lost when Romulus fell. He would be now just a few years younger than I was the day I first stepped aboard that transport craft. I think of that, sometimes.
Why do I wear no mourning colors? I did once, when I was younger, as so many of us did, but they have since become political. We are all in our own way in the shadow of Nero. Wearing the colors came to mean more than just mourning - they came to mean rebellion, strife, a war against the Federation for Spock's betrayal and a war against the Klingons for standing between us. For a galaxy that we sought to set aflame in cold revenge for planets lost to fire and ash. I could not let the memories of those lost be tainted by the actions of one man, so I had them removed and carry the marks in here, over my heart. All of us who were there on that day will carry those until the Elements claim us and we are dead.
Death. Yes, let us speak of death, and life that arose from it. I learned many things in those years on Rator - how to build field hospitals with no supplies, how to treat plagues once extinct in our space, how to tell parents that their children were dying of malnutrition because there were no supplies to spare for Remans. They say that Remans don't have emotions the way we sons and daughters of S'task do, but I saw the grief on their faces as those small bodies were lowered into the charnel pits. I had trained to be a healer at the pinnacle of our civilization. Now I was watching as that mighty edifice slipped through my fingers like so much ash.
And what did our former allies do while all this was happening? Nothing. Or worse than nothing, in any event. Oh, the Federation came with their aid and their promises of friendship. But what Romulan would take the aid of the Federation in those years when people cursed the name Spock and all of Vulcan? Only the desperate, who it was too easy to brand as traitors to the Empire for choosing a full belly over a flag. And so we fought amongst ourselves, not to _take_ Federation aid, but to make sure others could not have it. But we judged Spock too harshly. Romulans should know better than anyone how easily one man can be defeated by the inertia of five billion.
And the Klingons. Feh. You know, we are close enough to the border that we occasionally get Federation comms, and you should hear the things they have to say about J'mpok. Now, I can understand that - the man is a blustering bully who had helped embroil the quadrant in war, but you expect that. The man is a Klingon. But the man he replaced, Martok? Martok was worse than a Klingon. Martok was a traitor. Did you read his speech in your primary schools? "No hand that does not hold a blade," indeed. Why, because Nero destroyed Klingon ships? Because a man maddened by vengeance destroyed his enemies and gave Klingon warriors honorable deaths? Feh. There is much to dislike about the Federation, oh yes, but they are what they appear to be. Klingons have no honor.
But enough of galactic politics - you were asking about me. There was no one thing that made me finally leave Rator, really. Too many bodies, too much death, too many fat officers watching as men starved in the back alleys, too many grim reports of exploitation and horror from the colony worlds. The day after I sat in on a physician's panel that debated whether or not to secretly sterilize the lower 50% of the Reman genetic bracket to ensure there would be no further competition for resources, I took a medical kit, boarded a freighter, and left. I traveled afterwards, moving from world to world, sometimes as a healer, sometimes as just another laborer, going as far as from Rator as I could.
It was easy enough to leave. Our struggles with the Undine had been less...vigorous than those of our former allies against the Dominion, but our already-disordered state had made the authority of the Empire particularly weak in those critical years. Do I think the Empress was secretly taking orders from the Undine? Oh, no, she may have allowed alien trash from the Delta Quadrant to hunt in our space, but even Sela with her mixed blood would draw the line at an alliance with the three-legged fiends from fluidic space. No, the truth is, much as Romulans may hate to admit it, is that we had nothing, and no one, worth stealing. Why go to the trouble to replace some high-ranking officer in the military or the Tal Shiar when doing the same on Qo'nos or Earth could gain you so many more men, so many more ships, and so much more power?
Oh, we had our conflicts - I still remember that Tethys monster that appeared in the skies over Rator and scorched the eastern continent, it must have been, what, eleven, twelve years ago now? What a panic that was. That was the last time I was aboard a military vessel, deep in the sickbay of a wretched old T'Liss, trying to hold the crew together even as that terrible yellow plasma scorched their flesh. If that maniac in that D'deridex hadn't simply rammed his burning starship into that thing's guts, perhaps we wouldn't have an empire to fight over even now. Oh yes, it was a great victory, and I am grateful for the sacrifice of the Tomalak, but you know such things have consequences. When heroes die, and vipers live in comfort in their burrows, what does that mean for our people?
No, I think you've been listening too much to the stories told by your elders. The Reunificationists are hardly vipers - they are not nearly so interesting as a serpent. The older generation, the men of my father's and grandfather's day, they saw the whispered promise of Vulcan as something to fear, something to suppress and drive into the shadows. But what did that do but make it something forbidden, something secret, something to learn about in hidden caverns or back rooms. I think that if Neral and his predecessors had been wise enough to simply let Spock speak freely on the Homeworlds the day he first arrived on Romulus, that movement would have died aborning. But we Romulans do love our secrets, don't we?
When I was younger, I might have favored reunification on our terms, a liberation of the Vulcan soul from millennia of logic to a more...enlightened perspective. But those are dreams of a long-gone empire, and we must discard them. For today, if they seek to be Vulcan, why, let them emigrate there! And if that world should reject them, as it has rejected so many Romulan entreaties over the years, perhaps that would be a fine lesson to them about the true nature of the cold, unfeeling logic they so covet. By all means, let the would-be Vulcans bring the Remans with them - give them the equality they so crave, but do so as far from us as they can. With no Remans in the Empire, Romulans can learn the value of honest labor and Remans can learn that freedom is not so easy a thing as they imagine it is.
But again I have let myself fall into politics - how foolish when we are so far from the Empire's heartland! Indeed, this world is at the very edges of our space. Despite my desertion, I had thought I had escaped the Tal Shiar's attention entirely until you came to my door. Oh, don't look so shocked - I may not have been a field agent but I know that lean and hungry look all too well. Are you beginning to feel cold despite the heat of yon fire? Yes, you should not trust ale given freely this far from the military's worlds - the only reason I would share it with a stranger here is to hide the taste of the paralytic. Don't look so frightened, either, in those widening eyes of yours. I am a healer. When I have killed, it has been in battle, not a guest under my roof.
I will instead let you rest in that chair by the fire and think while I begin packing my bags for the trip offworld. I could have killed you easily here, so easily, or turned you over to your masters and let them punish you obscenely for being too obvious in how you came to an old healer in the woods. But how many of our people have died already for Sela, or Donatra, or Shinzon, or Rehak- how many more will die until the killing stops? We have been jackals too long, I think. It is time for us to become raptors again...
Ash And Dust
I'm waking up to ash and dust
I wipe my brow but I sweat my rust
I'm breathing in the chemicals
I'm breaking in, and shaping up
Then checking out on the prison bus
This is it, the apocalypse
I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
I'm radioactive, radioactive...
I raise my flag, don my clothes
It's a revolution, I suppose
We're painted red to fit right in...
All systems go, the sun hasn't died
Deep in my bones, straight from inside...
Dan Reynolds and Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons - "Radioactive"
ASH AND DUST
STS Storm Station (Lunar Orbit over the Oceanus Procellarum) - Stardate 88077.42
"Just sit back and relax, Captain," K'Jetsk instructed. "This neural scan should take no longer than three hours."
Frank Grimes settled comfortably into the examination chair. "Did you already scan Ming and Fozz?" he asked.
"Yes, but I don't believe they were as traumitized as you were. After I compare your scan to their baseline, hopefully I'll have enough data to help Dr. Espinoza formulate a treatment for Commander Traa'cee."
"How is she now?"
"Unchanged," K'Jetsk announced. "Comatose, very low neural activity."
"Well, lets get on with it so you can figure how to help her."
K'Jetsk activated the scanner. "You'll need to actively use your limbic system for this to work. Talk to me."
"Whatever. Your life story."
Grimes laughed. "That would take longer than we have. Besides, most of it is so highly classified I can't even look up my own files if I start to forget parts of my life. And there are a lot of parts I'm trying to forget."
"You can't. It's impossible to destroy a memory engram. They can only be supressed, and that doesn't work on all species. Even humans can be trained to resist. But even if you suffer total amnesia, all of your memories and experiences are still stored somewhere in your mind." K'Jetsk picked up the Tal Shiar neural interface. "That's what the people who designed this device were counting on."
"You seem to know a lot about the Tal Shiar and their technology," Grimes remarked.
"That's what comes from spending my adult life fighting them," K'Jetsk replied.
After a moment, Grimes asked "Does it matter if I'm doing the talking or just listening?"
K'Jetsk pondered the question. "I don't think so. It should make no difference whether you're accessing long-term memories or creating new ones; the limbic system is active either way."
"So could we talk about you instead of talking about me?"
K'Jetsk slowly nodded. "Alright. Where to begin..."
* * *
I might as well start at the beginning I suppose. I was born on Remus in 2385. I don't remember the homeworld at all. My people were forced to evacuate the planet the following year due to overmining. Most of the Reman people moved to Crateris, but my parents found better work digging tunnels on Talvath. The colony there was expanding, especially after the Hobus event destroyed Romulus and Remus. Life was good for a while. Though we were second-class citizens, we weren't treated badly. I was even allowed to attend school with Romulan children. I grew up in daylight, which is why I am not uncomfortable with it now.
Soon though the political turmoil that gripped the Empire reached Tavarth. The governor was unwilling to pick sides, and in 2390 he actually petitioned the Federation for Starfleet protection. Some leaders were even talking of joining the Federation. Well, my parents were among those who didn't really trust the Federation. My family moved to Rator III, to aid the construction of Taris' new capital city. My mother's brother, Obisek lived there, and he was overseeing the construction of the aqueduct system.
Unfortunately, the citizens of Rator III clung to the old ways when it came to dealing with Remans. Conditions for us degraded quickly. We were even evicted from the home my father had built because some Romulan officer thought it was "too good for a Reman." By then of course we weren't allowed to leave. We were slaves, for all intents and purposes, and I was put to work as soon as I was big enough to carry tools. I think I was eight. We served the rusting underbelly of the capital city, inhaling the toxic chemicals and dealing with the radioactive byproducts of their industry.
Well, we weren't the only Remans on the planet, and we certainly weren't the only ones who didn't like the way we were treated. In 2395 we banded together and went on strike. Every night we'd protest in front of the senate building. Several sympathetic Romulans joined us. You can imagine what the military thought about that. At first it was just a few light beatings and we were shoved back to our hovels. But the protest movement got more aggressive, and so did the Romulan response. Eventually they started killing us to force us to leave the streets and get back to work. My father was among the first to die.
So we went back to work, but life in the tunnels was worse than ever. Uncle Obisek was arrested, because the Romulans pinned him as the instigator of the protest movement and with his knowledge of the aqueducts they figured he was a security risk. So for eight years we toiled away, and plotted our escape. When I turned twelve I was employed by one of our higher-placed Romulan sympathizers. His name was D'Tan, and he served as an aid to one of the senators at the time. Since I could stand the daylight, I was used a go-between by the resistance movement and our Romulan friends. We didn't really make any progress though. The Tal Shiar had rebuilt itself by then and their oppression made any sort of organized resistance rather difficult.
Still, that was an important time for me, personally. I was able to study the Tal Shiar and the military, and learn their tactics. There was this one Romulan priestess who was rather well-connected, and she looked upon me kindly. She taught me about history and how the Elements are supposed to guide us. D'Tan also taught me the teachings of Surak, and kindled my interested in science and medicine. D'Tan became a senator before too long. He believed then that Romulan Empire must change from within. He could have moved to Tavarth and lived comfortably under the Federation's protection, but his goal was for every Romulan and Reman to live in peace, without fear of the Tal Shiar or the Klingons or the Federation. At the time I thought he was naive. The Tal Shiar seemed too powerful to defeat. But they had killed my father, and so I vowed to try to defeat them anyway.
Then in 2403, Sela came back to overthrow Taris. We saw our chance to escape in the chaos, but my people were still under heavy guard. That night, while the forces of Sela and Taris were still fighting in orbit, my mother kissed me goodbye for a final time, strapped on a jacket stuffed with mining explosives, walked up to the guardhouse at the entrence to the tunnels, and blew it up. I don't remember what exactly happened right after that. I was... suffering, from the loss and... I don't remember. But we were able to get off-planet, with help from D'Tan and some others. Uncle Obisek was released somehow. We stole two ships, a D'Deridex-class warbird and a Mogai escort. Not enough to start a revolution, but enough to start something.
We made our way to a frozen little world called Dera IV. We landed the warbird on the surface and built our base around that, and kept the Mogai-class in orbit. Obisek named it the Zdenia, after my mother. I joined Uncle Obisek and we fought for a few years to free our people. We had some success. Our numbers grew, and we also earned the attention of the Tal Shiar. By 2409, they were letting us know it. And worse, we had discovered that their leader, Colonel Hakeev, was operating under the influence of the Demons of Air and Darkness. We had to stop Hakeev, somehow, before he not only destroyed us but plunged the entire quadrant into chaos. We had amassed a sizeable fleet by then, but mostly birds-of-prey and cargo ships - not nearly enough to take on the Tal Shiar.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the Human saying goes. We broke into the Vault - a massive space station in the Haakona system, and managed to steal thalaron weapons technology. Barbaric devices. But they helped Shinzon take over the entire Romulan Empire, and I suppose they could have helped us do the same, if we ever got the opportunity to use them.
Fortunately, we didn't have to find out. Our presence in the vault got Starfleet's attention. They dispatched Admiral LaRoca to investigate. He and Hank Miller managed to sneak into the heart of the facility in a single Manta-type fighter. He confronted Obisek, and Obisek tried to kill him. But they escaped, fighting their way out past Scorpion fighters, a bird-of-prey, and even a warbird we had in the system. Needless to say, Obisek and I were fairly impressed by the Admiral's resourcefulness.
Well, we got away with the thalaron weapons, and we were preparing to use them on a Romulan mining colony that housed a Tal Shiar listening post when Admiral LaRoca tracked us down in Dera IV. Obisek granted him an audience, and he told us that he already destroyed the listening post we were targeting, and used it to find us. We realized if he could find us, the Tal Shiar could too. Sure enough, they arrived in orbit and started beaming down to our base. We formed an alliance with LaRoca and made our escape. Eventually, LaRoca and some friends of his in the KDF helped us destroy the Tal Shiar's base on Brea III, shatter the Iconian gateways, and kill Hakeev.
At that point, Uncle Obisek was through fighting. He returned to the Vault and fortified it, and opened it as a haven to all oppressed peoples. Eventually of course he joined D'Tan to help found New Romulus. But I wasn't done fighting. Not as long as the Tal Shiar remained out there. I knew the death of Hakeev was not the end of them. I knew we had not cut off the head of the snake; we had only cut off one head of the hydra. I reached out to Admiral LaRoca and asked to join his crew. I respected his skill and cunning as a warrior, and I knew he saw the Tal Shiar as I did, and that he too desired peace and freedom for all peoples. And I've fought the enemies of peace and freedom by his side ever since.
* * *
"So that's how I ended up here," K'Jetsk concluded. "Still fighting the Tal Shiar. A few weeks ago, I was blasting them with a disruptor rifle to stop them from stealing your technological achievements. Today, I am attempting to thwart their attempt to destroy Traa'cee's mind." He sighed. "The Legacy of Romulus."
"How's that?" Grimes asked.
K'Jetsk made a short laugh that could be mistaken for a cough. "You, me, Traa'cee. We are the Legacy of Romulus. Everyone who has been harmed by the Tal Shiar, or their Iconian puppet masters. Everyone who lost someone when the Homeworlds were destroyed. Every other planet reduced to ash and dust by that same unholy cataclysm. Everyone still living on Rator III or one of the other Empire colonies, leaderless, forsaken, left to the mercy of the Tal Shiar or whatever fleet commander has declared himself that world's "protector" - every victim of the whole endless tragedy of our peoples - we are the Legacy of Romulus."
Grimes stared in K'Jetsk in silence.
K'Jetsk looked over his instruments. "Ah, excellent. You can get up now, Captain Grimes. My readings are complete."
Frank Grimes slowly rose, and pulled on his uniform jacket. "What about D'Tan, and Obisek, and those who have joined their work on New Romulus? What about Admiral LaRoca, and Ambassador Xean, and General Ssharki, and the others helping them build a new world? Where to they fit into the legacy of Romulus?"
Obisek stared out the window, past the Tiburon floating near the station, past the Lunar horizon, and Earth beyond, toward a tiny star called Tau Dewa. "Hopefully, they will build us a new Legacy. And I will fight to protect it."
* * * * *
all of our tomorrows...
"...the dream is always the same dream, I see my mother's face as she pushed me into the cargo lock, I see the doors close..."
D'Vra Mossk, Romulan Refugee poet, 2406
[i]" the term 'father' has many synonyms in the Romulan language. The hardest one is the one that translates as 'father of my heart'..."
USS Louis B. Puller, Stardate 2409.10.27, Orellius Sector...
Sa'ana sat in Cargo 2, with the bodies as the old Escort cruiser plowed through space, bound for the Sol system, where these dead would be transshipped to their loved ones.
all but one, and that one was why Saana was here on her off-shift, instead of in the Holodeck or crew rest areas.
"Huh, thought you'd be here." Lt. Leone joined her, sitting awkwardly beside her. "Counselor's worried about you, so is Commander Foxworthy."
"I will be fine." Sa'ana told him, "I just wish..."
"Why this one?" Leone asked, knowing the answer already, but trying to fill the silence.
"I was a refugee, a child, rescued from a leaking cargo-ship by a Federation operated freight-runner, El Hidalgo there, he saved the few of us that hadn't frozen to death or suffocated...he brought me home with him, to meet his wife, to live..."
she looked at him, "I couldn't believe it when I heard he re-entered Starfleet, it seemed so...silly..." she allowed the tears to come, "He saved me twice-as a child, and then, on...on that world...I have lost everything, Leo, I lost my planet, which I was too little to remember, I lost my family-people I vaguely recall if I try hard enough, and now, I have lost my FATHER..." she kept weeping for a time, then dried her eyes, "I have no home." she said.
"You have Starfleet..?" Leo countered.
she barked a bitter laugh, "Starfleet, right... they sent my father to the same war they sent me to, under the command of a woman who was too...incompetent for words to fully describe." she spat, "We had to be rescued by Klingons and...and he knew the Borg were going to attack, he KNEW..." she looked at the man she'd been friend to since the Academy, "did you know what they killed him with? nothing! he just kept fighting until his heart gave out."
"What are you going to do, then?" Leo asked.
"Resign." she said, "Resign, take him back to El Casa and bury him there, with his wife in the orchard...after that?" she shrugged, "I don't know. But I'm through with 'Starfleet'."
"You could always try New Romulus." Leo offered lamely, "Of course, you'd have to stay in long enough to get a transfer there, but you are Romulan...maybe-"
"Shut up. I thought of that." Sa'ana said, "What would I be? a puppet for the Federation's public relations, maybe? putting a Romulan face on bad policy?" she shook her head, "I'm not sure-but I KNOW I don't want to be anybody's puppet."
"You're still angry, Sa'ana, rest a bit, think a bit...maybe ask yourself what Enrico there would tell you you should do." Leo told her, "but don't cut all your cords before you know what you want, okay?"
Tau Dewa Sector Bloc, 2410/04/15, 1500 hours, USS Lewis B. Puller...
"Leutenant Sa'ana, what do you make of that?" Captain Ellen Domingo asked, "Hell of a sight, isn't it?"
"Looks like a D'Derex warbird...not exactly a new class, Sir." Sa'ana reported from her station, "Also looks like he's got engine trouble-too much Neutrino flux."
"I mean, he's hailing us as our escort, Leutenant." Ellen said.
"Could be a trap." Sa'ana responded instantly, "Somehow I doubt the 'Republic' lets their ships go that long between maintenance cycles, and he's not broadcasting visually."
Ellen frowned, "Raise shields to fifty percent, and start cycling them, we'll have to get closer-"
The 'warbird' shifted and beams stabbed out from the cluster of alien vessels revealed.
"Told you, sir." Sa'ana worked the tactical station, "I count three...four ships, they're using a holoprojection system." she reached over to Leo's science station and continued, as her right hand worked datafeed links by touch.
"Sa'ana!!" Leo snapped. She ignored him, and kept working the stations, "They're flying-fish, sir, I think the keldon in the middle is probably the viable target...Permission to explain to them that their second ruse is no more convincing than their first one?"
"Disable it, Leutenant-Piracy's a problem out here, but we don't go killing people randomly." Ellen barked.
"Your choice, Captain." Sa'ana manipulated the targeting console, and barked, "Ensign Collins, I want a freq spread off this data from my ping on their shields-modulate the directed energy from our Phasers along the fat portion of the curve, understand? Nothing on the fringes, we're going to plow through their shielding by brute force on my mark."
"Aye aye, Leutenant..." the Ensign was a new recruit from Starfleet's engineering programme, assigned specifically to assist the Tactical department.
She waited for the targeting pips to shift from red, to green, before triggering the Puller's Fore-mount Beam banks.
The group of raiders vanished, leaving only a lone, Cardassian built ship floating.
Sa'ana triggered a second strike off the plot data.
"Now's a good time, sir, their shields are down and I just killed their engines-if they've got a good engineer over there, it'll take about three minutes to restart either one..." she said.
"Take a Tac Team with you, and take that ship-whole if you can." the Captain barked.
"Aye Aye, sir." Sa'ana stood up, "See ya Leo." she said, "I'll be back by lunch."
the dash from the turbolift to the transporter was short-she stopped just long enough to pick up a Phaser rifle and set of Body armor before joining 'her' marines at the beam0out point.
The First real surprise was what was waiting for her on the other ship.
They materialized at her targeted coordinates-no point in fighting through an entire vessel when you can seize the unshielded bridge, after all.
"EVERYBODY ON THE DECK NOW!!!" Sa'ana barked it AS she was materializing-and it was a good thing she WAS only partially materialized as the plasma bolt passed through her pattern, giving a slight pain and burning in her shoulder.
Reflexes honed from a ninety day tour in the Defera invasion kicked in, she rolled and brought the rifle to aim, firing before she'd consciously identified her target.
Veterans of combat with the Borg tend to have certain set reactions-they become adept at switching from 'stun' to 'kill' in the same motion that their fingers press 'fire', they immediately begin cycling frequencies on their weapons after the first shot...
and they shoot anything that comes close.
In the ensuing gunfight, Sa'ana killed four Romulan officers with about the same amount of thought one reserves for swatting flies.
it wasn't thought, or intent-it was pure, honed reflexes.
The fifth one didn't die, because she didn't shoot him, he managed to rush her-so she commenced straight to melee fighting-trying to shoot a Borg drone that is in your face, is futility and the very definition of stupid unless it is a VERY slow drone, and you are VERY lucky-to avoid being assimilated, you have to knock him off of his feet, and back far enough to trigger your next shot...
"LEUTENANT!!! STOP!!!" Commander Schwarz was standing behind her, having beamed in behind the tac-team.
The Romulan on the floor looked terrified and held both hands up, pleading to her in the Romulan tongue NOT to kill him.
"Sir." Sa'ana realized her pulse was throbbing with Adrenaline, then, "Mu'ok, Smertz, arrest this man...take him into custody, Hamid, treat their wounded?"
"No wounded on the bridge, Ma'am...you killed them all." the Denobulan medic said with a note of disgust, "What the hell is in you?"
"What about the rest of this tub?" Schwarz, the XO of the Puller reasserted his authority.
"Team two and four have the engineering spaces, and the rest of the crew either ditched in the pods, or surrendered, sir-Puller has the pods." Mu'ok was from a minor race in the Federation, but he was a superb NCO,having been raised in a militant culture.
Their prisoner was secured, and Mu'ok pulled at the man's tunic, exposing a mark that Sa'ana immediately recognized. "Tal' Shiar? REALLY??" she turned to the XO, "so, about writing me up for excessive force..?"
"Leutenant, I'm half a mind to recommend charges, because that WAS excessive force-jesus on a handcart..."
"Ninety days on Defera, and they pulled plas weapons." she countered, "What in hell did they THINK I would do? what ANY of us that were down there would do??"
"It's LITERALLY the only reason I'm not going to recommend charges, Leutenant, but don't push your luck." Schwarz told her, and gestured at their prisoner, then the damage to the ship's decking, "They had no way of knowing who you were."
"Sa'ana Vre T'geren." the prisoner said, clearly, staring at her, "You are Sa'ana Vre T'geren, and we made a mistake." then he looked at Schwarz, "The Empire wants you to know, we would welcome your skills back into the fold, you would be welcomed among your people."
"Hell of a first impression." Schwarz cracked.
Sa'ana sighed in agreement, "Why did you fire on my vessel? why did you make this necessary?"
"we didn't know you would be so...effective. My commander's orders were to take you alive...along with any OTHER lost children among your crew." he said.
"Whoever gave those orders was an idiot..." She looked at his tunic, "Subcommander, I suspect Captain Domingo is going to turn you over to D'Tan's authorities at our destination, I expect you'll be wanting a Consul to represent you...assuming, that is, that he and Obisek have agreed on Romulan legal theory predominating in their new Justice system, as opposed to Reman style punishments."
"Leutenant, see if you can't crack the ship's databases." Schwarz told her, "See what you can dig up?"
Sa'ana saluted and went to work.
Twenty one hours of work later, aboard the USS Lewis B. Puller...
"...over fifteen thousand names, descriptions, even service records, both with Starfleet, and the KDF. it's practically a gold mine of info on Klingon operations-not to mention OUR operations." Sa'ana paused, "what? You don't look surprised, Captain?"
"I am." Ellen Domingo said, "Actually, shocked and horrified by how detailed that information is-as WELL as being surprised...this had to be a plant, nobody with that level of information would be so...stupid as to try and run a bungled operation like this-the Tal'Shiar aren't a bunch of blind bumblers."
"Deeper plan then?" LtC Schwarz asked.
"I think so...Sa'ana, get some rest, you have an appointment with the ship's counselor in eight hours to undergo examination for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome-your moves might've been the right ones this time but all it took was some plasma-fire to send you into blind-killing-mode, if that had been a freighter with a nervous captain, during a routine stop..."
"Yes Ma'am..." Sa'ana replied.
"Get some rest, Leutenant." the Captain told her, "Sleep, and get some food down you before you go, Dismissed."
Cargo 2, USS Louis B. Puller, 1500 hours...
"You're supposed to be resting." Leo sat down next to her on the deck.
"I was Going to resign." Sa'ana replied, "SO, technically, I'm not even supposed to be here."
"Needs of the Service, you speak Romulan without needing a translator, and Starfleet's got those 'reserve activation clauses'..." Leo said, and passed her a bottle.
"This ****'s illegal." she reminded him, and drew a belt off the Romulan Ale.
"Not where we're going." Leo reminded her, "Maybe not much longer, anyway...what the **** happened out there?" he asked.
She sighed, "Leo...I'm not sure. One second I was on a ship, then next, I was back in Defera city."
"THAT much was obvious-what do you think triggered it?" he pressed.
"Not sure." she replied, "for some reason I can't fathom, I still want to finish that bastard in the Brig." she looked at him levelly, "what in hell's happened to me?"
The Betazoid scientist took his turn at the bottle, "Not sure, what do you think you were feeling while it was going on?"
"What do you mean?" Sa'ana asked.
He looked at her wryly, "We've been pals since the Academy, there's always been a little part of you that you kept walled off, some of it is damn scary-I know, I touched some of it that...night, on Risa, but tonight, your walls are a LOT thinner than they were, say, two days ago."
"I'm scheduled to talk to Korin about that, Leo." Sa'ana said, "Not my buddy from the Academy who chickened out the one night I got drunk enough to try and let him into my pants."
He grimmaced, then chuckled, "We're both glad I chickened out." he told her, "You know it, I Know it, Amanda knows it too."
"Got any letters from her?" Sa'ana said, spotting the opening to change the subject.
"She's doing fine, our Daughter's doing fine..." he shrugged, "Enough rotation points and I'll be able to join them at Starbase eighty-two."
"You've got, what, seventy more to go?" Sa'ana asked.
"Sixty five, I should be able to make it by next christmas...would've been earlier if they hadn't taken us off the front lines." He sighed, "To be honest, I think an extra six months where I'm NOT at risk of being Assimilated or plasma-bolted to death is a fair price-Little Sanna's just about three now, she's still young enough for me to be 'daddy' instead of 'that stranger sleeping with mommy'."
"I still think that was a dumb name-you could have named her something better than retreading mine." Sa'ana commented, taking the bottle from him, "My life's been bad luck since I was four, after all."
"Except Pops." Leo observed, "Gotta say he was good luck for you."
"He was." Sa'ana said, "Though, if I weren't all emotionally vulnerable right now, I'd make you eat that stupid nickname...I think he knew what would happen down there." she added, "everyone dies for me."
"not everyone." Leo told her, "but you really SHOULD think about why you went ape**** over there, somehow I don't think the old Cavalier would approve of you ducking whatever demons drove you."
2419/04/19, 31 hours out from New Romulus...
The sessions with Korin were about as effective as Sa'ana thought they'd be-which is to say, not at all. They'd gone over the fighting on Defera, her feelings in the Academy, her raising by El Hidalgo Enrico Montoya and his wife Dolores on Nueva Castile, every step of her childhood that she could consciously recall, and back to Defera again, with no progress whatsoever.
Not no progress... Sa'ana decided, looking at her journal. There was a list of names there now-people she'd known, people she'd loved...but nothing seemed to put the parts together in a way that made the events of the 15th make any sort of sense.
Captain Domingo finally relented after days of this, and she was back in 'her' station on the Bridge as they met their real escort from the Republic.
The ship was a battered looking, obviously heavily used, D7 cruiser-a ship from the batch the Klingons sold to the Romulan empire over a century before Hobus.
This one had 'telltales' of Reman re-engineering all over it, and the captain of the ship did not hesitate to show his pale, lumpy, somewhat mutant-looking Reman face on the comms.
There were no odd neutrino spikes around the ship, no mysterious emnations from her shields-which were up, no behaviours that triggered any of Sa'ana's well-honed instincts to read as "Hostile intent'.
"Welcome to the Republic, USS Louis B. Puller, I am Captain Shadrak, of the Republican Forces, we're going to escort you in."
Captain Domingo offered the Reman a tour of the Puller, and a seat at the Captain's Mess, and he accepted the Starfleet traditional courtesy with a rough grace.
"Leutenant, meet our guests at Transporter room 2, and try not kill anyone?" Domingo's tone was only half joking.
"Aye aye, Captain." Sa'ana said, and turned her station over to Ensign T'Choll, a Vulcan whom, like her new Captain, had NOT 'seen the elephant' at Defera.
Captain Shadrak was an impressive figure on the transporter pad, his officers cut a similar figure-they stood with a kind of "Kick me if you dare" stance, and made grumbling, dark jokes in Rihannsu.
"Jolan Tru" Sa'ana said, catching their eyes, "Captain Domingo sent me here to guide you to her ready-room."
The joking stopped cold, and she felt them staring at her..staring into her.
"Very good, Leutenant." Shadrak broke the silence, "Lead on."
As they walked, the Reman Captain addressed her, "Are there many refugees in Star Fleet?" he asked.
"A few of us." Sa'ana replied, "Most choose science fields, or engineering-the market once you leave the service is better for scientists and engineers. Very FEW choose military careers."
"Sensible, practical, which I suppose offers the next question, if it is not indelicate-why did you choose a Tactical path? was it for command opportunities?" He asked.
they reached the turbolift, and Sa'ana answered, "No...I was...inspired by a man whose family took me in-he was a Tactical officer who retired, then..." she sighed, "He re-upped for the Klingon conflict while I was in the Academy...he died on Defera, fighting the Borg."
"Dead-dead?" one of the other Remans asked-out of order.
Sa'ana ignored the breach of normal Romulan ettiquette and answered the question, "Yes. I brought his body to Nueva Castile to be interred with his wife in the vineyards."
"Good for him." Shadrak said, "better to be free of this life, than a slave to a collective."
"I agree." Sa'ana favoured them with a practiced smile, "but I miss him...he was the only father I ever knew."
She realized she'd spoken in Rihannsu, and worse, the honorific was...
Shadrak's reman face communicated something she did not expect-sympathy.
"You did not want to come here." he observed.
"I was drafted...how did you know?" Sa'ana replied.
"That would be...complex. I think I may have known the man who...your biological father." he told her, "I think...as a matter of fact, that a LOT of Remans knew your biological father."
"I pray that the memory is not a horrible one..." she said, "after all, there are four of you and one of me, and the turbolift is rather...tight quarters."
Shadrak laughed, a boom within the tiny lift, "No...do you know your family?" he asked.
"no." Sa'ana said, "I know a name, I have...few memories of before the...flight, and sometimes, I dream..."
"You should spend more time with us, Leutenant, you should...it would be...good for you." he told her, "It might help you-Starfleet has sent you where you most need to be."
Three moons' light cast difficult shadows as Darus loped across the rocky ground, skirting the edge of the vast canyon that crossed the desert's face like a scar. Darus's own face was set, intent, feverish with concentration. One misstep - he knew these rocks, he knew them well - but one misstep would be enough -
And that was the least of his worries, of course.
His ears were alert, painfully alert, to the sounds of the night. There was the inevitable scuff and rattle of his own feet on the dry stones... was there something else? Animals lived in the desert, somehow; tiny hairless foxes, and slow torpid lizards, and nameless things with too many legs. But there was something else, too, echoes of his footsteps... that weren't echoes.
They were close. One of them was close. Darus fought to keep his nerves under control. He knew they were close - he had to let them close - once, at least -
Six hours to sunrise. By sunrise, it would be over, one way or another. He would reach the perimeter, he would find a transporter station... or he wouldn't.
Footsteps. Not his own. Very close, now.
The hunter loomed out of the shadow of a rock, features twisted in a grin of triumph; tall, black-armoured, a weapon in his hands. Darus slowed almost to a stop, his eyes narrowing, judging the situation.
"Halt!" the hunter commanded.
Darus's mouth was very dry. He breathed heavily, sucking at the thin dusty air of this world. The Hirogen stood there, his body armour blending with the shadows. A young one, Darus thought, an initiate, puffed up with pride at his first kill.
He pointed to the Hirogen's gun. "Are you hiding behind that, hunter?" he said, putting as much scorn into his voice as he could manage.
The Hirogen looked down as if seeing the weapon for the first time. "This?" he said, his scorn more than matching Darus's. "This is for dangerous prey." He tossed the weapon aside. Darus took the opportunity to sidle, inconspicuously, a few steps left.
"For such as you," the hunter continued, "I will use only my hands." He gestured with his balled fists. They were lethal enough weapons, Darus thought. His body tensed, but he kept his voice level as he spoke.
"You should be sure you know where you stand, hunter."
The hunter's eyes glittered in the moonlight as he stared. "I stand with my pack!" he answered. "And the pack stands with your Empress, who gives us hunting grounds - and prey, in traitors like you, Romulan!"
"That wasn't quite what I meant," muttered Darus.
His rangy body seemed to explode, to uncoil itself into a leaping kick, a martial arts strike that hammered into the Hirogen's massive chest. It was delivered with Darus's full strength; an unarmoured foe would have fallen with his sternum caved in. The Hirogen staggered at the force, took a step back. His foot came down on a rock, which moved underneath it. Arms flailing for balance, the hunter took another scrambling step, then another; then, finally, his foot came down on a rock which wasn't a rock at all, only a shadow. With a shriek, he toppled and fell, vanishing over the lip of the cliff.
Darus stood up, every limb trembling. He wrapped his hand around a fist-sized rock and advanced, cautiously, to the edge of the precipice. Poised to throw, he looked down. It took a moment, in the dim light, to make out the scene. The Hirogen's lumpish shape was hard to pick out among the other lumps, of rocks, some twenty meters below. Darus relaxed, a little.
One down. One pursuer down, out of how many? But at least the odds were fractionally less against him. And at least, now, he had a gun.
He retrieved the weapon from where the hunter had thrown it, checked the charge and the settings. It was enough to make his spirits rise. Just a little.
"Damn you, T'laihhae," he said aloud.
Two days before.
"Damn you, T'laihhae," Darus said cheerfully, "why not at least try it?"
The slim young woman looked up at him, dark eyes watchful. "Your rock climbing? I don't care for broken bones, even if you do."
"So you'd rather stay here?" Darus made an expansive gesture which took in the whole of the dusty compound, the blocky administration building, the stark shapes of the barracks. "This has got to be the worst outpost in the entire Empire! Damn it all, at least climbing rocks is good for something. What else do you want to do? Sit around and work extra shifts? Listen to the educational broadcasts from our glorious leadership?"
T'laihhae's eyes flickered from side to side. Her voice dropped a little as she said, "Please don't speak disrespectfully of the leadership."
"Oh, come on," said Darus. "It's just you and me here... haven't we known each other long enough to speak freely?"
T'laihhae's gaze dropped. "Sometimes... you speak too freely, Darus. You should not be so - so critical."
"Why not? Honest criticism's needed sometimes. Like when someone's too repressed to try a new experience, say."
"Don't make light of it, Darus. Please. We should -" The young woman drew in a deep breath. "We should respect our leaders... because they're all we have. All that's left, after...."
Her voice trailed off. Darus remembered just how many of her family had died, in the disaster, in the painful aftermath.
His voice dropped. "Maybe not all we have," he said. "There are alternatives."
"Such as what?" asked T'laihhae with asperity. "Refugee status on some Federation world? As well sell ourselves as slaves to the Klingons."
"There's always D'Tan's people."
T'laihhae opened her eyes wide in astonishment. "The pipe dream of Mol'Rihan? Under the leadership of that... that academic idealist?"
"There must be more to him than that," Darus said thoughtfully. "Obisek's terrorists are prepared to work with him... and nobody ever accused them of idealism. Besides, have you noticed how much time on those educational broadcasts is devoted to rubbishing him? The powers that be wouldn't devote so much time to putting him down, if he wasn't a real challenge."
"You shouldn't say things like that," T'laihhae reproached him. "Besides... how could we even reach him? It's as much a fantasy as D'Tan's politics."
"Well, now," said Darus, "that isn't strictly true, is it? The whole point of this outpost is to maintain the transporter network... beaming supplies from the mines and refineries to the orbital stations, for transfer to trading ships from all over the sector. Maybe in the old days they could monitor everything, but now they haven't a hope. Think about it, how easy it would be. An extra transporter signal or two, routed through the system onto a neutral ship - a claim for diplomatic immunity, or maybe a straight-up bribe to some captain - and anyone here could be on their merry way to Tau Dewa inside a week!" He grinned at her. "You mull that over. Me, I'm going to climb some rocks."
Cold and gritty, the rocks tore at the palms of his hands as he pulled himself up. Teeth bared in a grimace of effort, Darus reached the top of the rock spire, wriggled across it, lying flat, trying to keep the sounds of his movements indistinguishable from the night sounds of the desert.
He peered out, over the edge of the rock. Light stung his dark-adapted eyes. The Hirogen had built a fire. Two of them were standing by it, bulky bodies silhouetted against the flames; a third sat on a flat stone, staring into the blaze.
It reeked of complacence, of overconfidence.... It was meant to, of course. It was a trap.
All right, Darus thought. I can see three, the bait. Where are the ones I don't see? If I were them, where would I be waiting?
The rock spire was a natural marker; he had spotted it by the dim red reflection of the firelight.
They wouldn't expect him to have the gun. They would expect him to come in cautiously, to tackle the ones by the fire... the one who was sitting down, now, he would have his back to the direction they expected him to come. A broad, tempting expanse of Hirogen back... and hunters in cover waiting to gun him down as he made for it. In cover where?
At the base of the rock spire, of course. Darus grinned. He must have passed within meters of them already - but they were so limited, the Hirogen, they saw only what they expected to see, heard only what they expected to hear. He was Rihannsu.
If there is one thing we know, as a people, he mused, it is the strength of being unexpected.
Cautiously, hardly breathing, he worked his way around the top of the spire, eyes straining in the uncertain light of moons and fires. Complex shadows lay around the base of the spire, but eventually, he had them. Two hunters, crouching in makeshift foxholes, weapons ready, waiting to shoot... along the path they expected.
One of them was beneath an overhang of the rock. Darus reached out and down, found a loose stone, a chunk twice the size of his head. It made a faint grating as he dislodged it, it dropped silently, it hit with a dull, solid thunk. One hunter left. One of the ones by the fire looked around, troubled, but not quite alerted. Darus moved into position, forcing himself to do it quietly, silently. Every lesson he had ever had in mental discipline came back to him, now, guiding his limbs, his eyes, his breathing, even the beating of his heart.
He was in position. He leaped. He dropped.
The armoured body of the second ambusher didn't make for a soft landing, but Darus was braced for it and the Hirogen wasn't. He recovered first; his hands shot out, seized the hunter's thick neck, twisted with force and precision. The Vulcans had a word for this sort of killing, he thought. He couldn't remember it right now.
There was no time to think. He knew he'd made too much noise, this time. Now, he had to announce his presence. Decisively.
The gun was in his hands, spitting blue lightning across the night. One Hirogen dropped where he stood. The others had time, just, to reach their own guns -
Cold rage mounted in Darus, the controlled fury that was the legacy of his people. Shots flared into the darkness. Rocks shattered in blue fire, an instant after his body left them. For a few brief moments, there was a storm in the desert, a storm of lightning and death.
And, at the end of it, the Hirogen lay dead, and Darus pulled himself up to his full height.
At the end of the fight, the Rihannsu was the only one left standing. It was always the way.
One day before.
Darus stood, rigid, at attention, while Colonel Vorkov's cold eyes appraised him.
At length, the colonel turned his long, doleful, threatening face to one side, towards T'laihhae. "Centurion T'laihhae. You will relate the topic of conversation between yourself and Centurion Darus. You know the incident to which I refer."
T'laihhae's face was graven in stone. "Centurion Darus believes he has discovered a flaw in our security, Colonel," she said flatly.
"Yes," Vorkov said, and turned to look at Darus again. "A means of desertion. With so few of the loyal military left, desertion is an exceptionally heinous crime." His gaze switched back to T'laihhae. "Why did Centurion Darus discuss the matter with you? You have no security responsibility."
"I -" A muscle jumped, just briefly, in T'laihhae's rigid face. "I believe Centurion Darus's ideas in this respect were not fully formulated, Colonel. It was - a speculation. Nothing more."
"But you reported it to the security authorities," Vorkov said. "As was your duty."
"And Centurion Darus did not so report it."
"I do not know, Colonel." T'laihhae's face was under control again, blank and impassive.
"I know. He did not." Vorkov's cold eyes were on Darus again. "Why not, Centurion Darus?"
"I -" Darus racked his brains. "It was as Centurion T'laihhae says, Colonel. It was idle speculation on my part. I did not - I did not consider it worthy of security attention."
"You do not have security responsibility. That was not your decision to make."
"I -" Darus knew he was trapped. "I am in error. I accept your judgment, Colonel."
"An error." Vorkov's voice was almost kind. Darus knew that was when his superior was at his most dangerous. "Such an error might be misinterpreted, might it not? A suspicious mind might think that you yourself intended to exploit this security vulnerability."
"I am a loyal soldier of the Empire." The lie was almost palpable.
"Centurion T'laihhae is a loyal soldier of the Empire. She has demonstrated that. You, Centurion Darus, will be given an opportunity to demonstrate your loyalty. Centurion T'laihhae, you are dismissed."
For a brief instant, Darus thought he saw something in her eyes... fear, shame, grief? Then she saluted, turned briskly on her heel, and left.
Darus and Vorkov were alone. For an instant, Darus thought of attacking the man, taking his disruptor, fighting his way out of the building - Stupidity, he thought. He wouldn't stand a chance.
"You may consider yourself under arrest," Vorkov informed him, in that kindly voice. "You may protest... you may continue to describe yourself as a loyal soldier. You will be given a chance to be of service."
"Sir." Darus could think of nothing to say. Colonel Vorkov leaned back in his chair, steepled his hands in thought.
"You may demonstrate this security vulnerability. You will be taken to the perimeter of this base, and you will be released to make your way to a transporter substation. Should you reach the station and abscond, the vulnerability will be demonstrated. Should you abscond and return, voluntarily... then your loyalty will be demonstrated." Vorkov stared hard at him. "I tell you frankly, I do not expect this."
"I am a loyal soldier of the Empire."
"So you say. There are others in the service of the Empire - or allied to it." Vorkov actually smiled. "Our allies will be engaged, for the purposes of this exercise, to ensure that you do not attain your ends. It will be good for them. They grow so restive when they do not have the opportunity to hunt." The smile broadened. "So, Centurion Darus, one way or another, you will be of service to the Empire... whether you like it or not."
The transporter substation was a glowing jewel laid on the dusty bosom of the desert. Crouched beneath a boulder, Darus stared at it, longingly.
They knew he was making for it. It was as much a trap as the fire by the rock spire, perhaps more so. It was the one place they knew he had to come. There was no chance of reaching the next closest station, not before sunrise - and, in sunlight, he would be fully exposed; the hunters would find him, if the desert didn't kill him first.
The substation was maybe three hundred meters away. Darus ran through the options in his mind. Vorkov would already have changed the override codes, revoked his security clearance - that didn't matter. He could open an access panel and toggle in the settings he needed; Vorkov would need to replace the system's entire hardware setup to stop that. It would take maybe three minutes. He had to cross three hundred meters of desert, and buy three minutes of time at the end of it.
It would have been so much easier with help.... I'm sorry, T'laihhae, he said to himself. I shouldn't have damned you. You trusted your superiors, you trusted the system, the world you live in; how could you know it was this bad? That it was ruled by merciless thugs like Vorkov, that Rihannsu lives could be traded to the Hirogen for favours? I will come back, he promised. I will come back for you, T'laihhae, and I will make you see the truth. By the Elements I swear it.
Three hundred meters. His gaze swept across the ground, over and over again.
At least he had more equipment, now; spare guns, two knives, a Hirogen personal shield. Darus thought furiously, then unslung one gun from his back. His fingers worked busily for minutes; then, he placed the weapon carefully on the ground, scraped a loose layer of sand over it, and scuttled away from it on his hands and knees. He was committed, now, he had to move quickly.
There was another large boulder, some fifty meters closer to the substation. Darus reached it just in time, vaulted over it, crouched behind it -
The force chamber explosion of a Hirogen tetryon carbine, set on overload, made a very bright flash, a very loud bang, and an entirely satisfactory diversion.
This was no time for stealth; Darus ran, his breath burning in his chest, his feet somehow finding the right purchase, never stumbling on a shifting stone or tripping over a half-glimpsed obstacle. The desert was alive with blundering black-armoured shapes, dazzled by the blast, confused, some of them firing at shadows. Amid the confusion, there was a chance, just a slim chance -
He was almost at the transporter when the air ahead of him shimmered blue, then turned solid.
The Hirogen grinned down at him, towering above him; a massive, monstrous Alpha of the pack, securely confident in his own invulnerability.
This was it. This was the final fight. Darus felt himself grinning back.
The outpost was bleak in the colourless dawn light as T'laihhae followed Vorkov down to the perimeter fence.
"Loyalty," the Colonel said, "is always paramount. But its importance may be said to increase in troubled times. It is in troubled times that we show our true selves. Any person may be steadfast while they are not confronted with challenges. It is in the meeting of those challenges that our character is revealed."
T'laihhae stared at the black shapes approaching in the growing light. Hirogen hunters, striding along the ground for the most part, but a few were riding a battered military hover-truck. There was something on the truck's flat bed....
"For those who demonstrate loyalty," Vorkov continued, "there is advancement and preferment. The truly loyal do not yearn for such things - their service is enough in itself - but the rewards are the natural consequence of their actions. For those who demonstrate faithlessness - there is punishment, of course. And such punishment as will serve as an object lesson, for others whose loyalty is... more delicately balanced."
The hover-truck came to a halt. The hulking Hirogen leader stepped down.
"A good hunt!" he crowed, and slapped a balled fist into his cupped palm. "Fine prey, strong, brave and clever. The pack is stronger for his culling of our weaklings!"
T'laihhae could see the shape lying in the truck, now. The Hirogen had done... things. His head was mostly intact, the features still recognizable. Of course, T'laihhae thought, the Hirogen pack leader would want a trophy in good condition.
Vorkov nodded, briskly. "We are grateful," he said. He turned to T'laihhae. "We shall discuss your opportunities for advancement, later. For now, though, attend to the details here. And see that this vehicle is properly cleaned." He sniffed, audibly. "Our equipment should not be tainted with the blood of a traitor." He turned on his heel and stalked off, back towards the administration building.
T'laihhae addressed the Hirogen Alpha. "Please take whatever trophies you require," she said. "I will then take the vehicle and return it to the transport pool."
She did not watch what the Hirogen did next. She stood impassive, her eyes fixed on some distant point beyond the horizon, until the snarling, laughing pack had finished and loped away.
She was still staring into the distance when she reached up and took hold of the rank badge on her tunic. She pulled it away from the cloth, held the metal raptor in the palm of her hand, closed her fingers about it. Her hand became a fist, her knuckles turned white. Olive-green blood seeped between her fingers, trickled to the edge of her wrist, became a droplet that fell to the dusty ground. One drop, another, a third.
T'laihhae opened her fist and looked down for the first time. The raptor badge was bent and twisted, green and sticky with her blood.
"Tainted," she said aloud, "with the blood of a traitor."
She dropped the badge into the dust. With a sudden, savage movement, she crushed it into the ground with her boot heel.
Then she got into the hover-truck and drove away, never looking back.
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