Chapter One (story so far) - if you like it, I can write more
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg
CHAPTER ONE --
The Tal Shiar are not my friends. Know this about me first.
When your mother and father are cut down in cold blood right in front of you by so-called ?freedom fighters? who served the causes of Empress Sela, it is difficult to forget. Do not ask me to forgive them, because I will not. Not now. Not ever.
Orphaned and poor, I grew to adulthood on Virinat, a world colonized by the Romulans who survived the Hobus supernova and its destruction of our race's home-world: Romulus. The government's orphanage could help those like myself only so much. I cured my ignorance by learning all I could from the limited educational resources (Always preferring machines instead of people. At least a machine could only do what it was programmed to do. It couldn't betray me. It couldn't tear my heart out, and either stomp on it or vaporize it with a phaser). And what the orphanage was able to feed our stomachs with was often little better than starvation.
I found myself spending more and more time on the colony's streets, trying to avoid the gazes of my fellow Romulans. Being taller than almost all of them, it was difficult not to stand out. Ducking my head and shoulders only helped a little.
Sometimes, overwhelmed by hunger and desperation, I would snatch food from carts, stuffing it inside my jacket, and run. It was rare that I was pursued, even rarer that I was caught. Once I'd found a hiding place, I'd taken the food out and eaten it, trying not to stuff myself to the point of choking.
After each such meal, back on the street, loneliness would re-emerge, a silent shadow from the exterior walls of the shops and buildings around me. I could never escape it, and sometimes I didn't want to. But other times, I longed for the sight and sound of another Romulan. Someone who wouldn't make more demands of me than I was willing give. But how to express this, when my willingness to speak out loud was almost nonexistent.
Eventually, however, I knew I had to find work to do. Work that had a purpose. Not mindless servitude. Occupational openings were listed on terminals scattered about the colony. Most were well beyond my abilities. All that was left for me to do was farm-work.
No sense complaining. I walked across the colony until I reached the irrigated fields. A supervisor was checking the screen of her tablet with the names of those who had volunteered to help out. I joined the line, and when it was my turn, she looked up at me, then at her tablet, and frowned. Her eyebrows were narrower and less slanted than mine were. Otherwise, we looked vaguely similar.
"I am Supervisor S'hon," she said, checking her tablet. "You don't seem to be on here. Name?"
"T'kav," I said.
She added it to her list. "Surname?"
I didn't know that, so I shrugged. "T'kav."
S'hon sighed, but made a note of it. "Age?"
"Twenty," I lied. I didn't know my real age either.
"You don't look that old," she said, recording it. "Parents?"
"Dead," I replied.
"Does the orphanage know you're here?" S'hon asked.
I said nothing.
She looked carefully at me. "I could get in trouble, you know, T'kav. If I put you to work and they find out, I could lose my job."
"Then don't tell them," I suggested.
"You think you're worth that kind of risk?" S'hon asked.
"I need a job," I said.
"You also need to bathe," she said, wrinkling her nose. "Clean clothes. Food. A place to stay." She glanced at me jacket and pants. I thought she was going to frisk me, but she didn't. "Are you armed?"
I shook my head. "Orphans aren't usually assigned weapons."
"Would that have prevented you from stealing one?" S'hon asked.
"Please," I said, hating to beg. Romulans don't beg. Not if they can help it. "Let me work for my room and board. You won't regret it."
She sighed again. "I'd better not." And turned to look across the nearest field. Fountains of water sprayed upwards from irrigation pipes, partly hiding a worker from view. A male, or so it seemed to me. She tapped something on her tablet. The male looked up, glanced at her, nodded, and stood.
He walked over to us. Taller than her, but not quite as tall as I was. Dressed in comfortable, if worn, work-clothes and boots. "Problem, supervisor?" Then he saw me. We were almost the same height. A relief for me. "Another new one? Only twelve today?"
S'hon nodded. "Hopefully tomorrow more will turn up."
"We need all the help we can get," he said.
"I know," she said. "We're falling so far behind."
"Those quotas are pointless," he said. "How could any Romulan ever hope to achieve them?"
S'hon didn't argue. "For the time being, this one needs to clean up, newer clothes, food. Then bring her back here. You'll need to do extra work to make up for the lost time."
"Understood," he said. No complaint. Just acceptance.
She introduced us. "T'kav, this is Hu'ajat. He works under me as overseer of these fields. You'll work under him, along with the other fourteen."
"I hope you don't plan on trying to escape," he told me.
I shook my head.
"Good," Hu'ajat said. "Only three stayed out of yesterday's batch of new ones. Six were killed by khellid drones. The rest fled."
"Is there a hive somewhere nearby?" I asked.
He nodded, interest in his expression. As if he hadn't expected that sort of question. How mindless and ignorant did he expect farm volunteers to be? If so, he was in for a surprise with me. Which he already seemed to sense.
"Anything else, supervisor?" Hu'ajat asked S'hon.
She shook her head. "Dismissed."
We left the field, heading back towards the center of the colony.
The main square had a large, wide, roofed stage on one side, with tables between it and the vendor stalls that filled most of each edge of the square, lights on wires that were strung from the roof of the stage to each building. We stopped to take a look around. Hu'ajat suggested it. We watched as colonists were headed this way and that, sometimes stopping to talk, but usually focused on their tasks. It all seemed so completely normal.
And then I remembered: Of course. The celebration tonight. The first anniversary of the colonization of Virinat. It hadn't seemed terribly important to me. I had planned to stay away from it, if possible.
"Don't worry," Hu'ajat said. "You won't be required to attend. Unless you want to."
"No thanks," I said. "Not the type."
"I didn't think so," he said. "A female like you probably would rather spend time in libraries."
I glanced at him. "How did you know?"
"Not hard to guess," Hu'ajat said. "I had a sister like you. She loved the ancient books. The scanners didn't interest her. She preferred to hold what she read."
"Had a sister?" I prompted.
"She's dead," he said softly.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't know. I didn't mean to intrude."
"Don't apologize," Hu'ajat said. "She lived her life the way she wished to."
"Raiders," I said.
He nodded. "Tal Shiar. She wasn't the only one who died that day. Hundreds were killed."
"When was that?" I asked.
Hu'ajat told me. I knew the date all too well.
"My parents were killed that day too," I said. "I saw it. I was forced to. By the Tal Shiar. They wanted me to know what would happen to anyone that opposed them and Empress Sela. I could tell that they included me. When my parents died, the Tal Shiar just walked away. As if that was all that was needed to keep me silent and apathetic."
"Didn't work, though, did it?" he asked.
I shook my head. "I have no intention of avenging killing with more killing. But I won't forget what happened to my parents. Ever."
"Same with my sister," Hu'ajat said. "Supervisor said that you needed somewhere to bathe, change into better clothes, eat something. I have a small room a few streets away. You could borrow what used to be my sister's clothes. You're about the same size, if a bit taller."
"If that wouldn't bother you?" I said.
He shook his head. "I have all the mementos of her that I want."
"Thank you," I said. As I spoke, I saw several male heads turn towards us. I hadn't spoken that loudly, but they must've had sharp hearing. "Those aren't colonists."
Hu'ajat glanced in the same direction, then looked away, nodded. He almost whispered. "Tal Shiar."
I tried not to stare at him, tried to act nonchalant. "How can you be so sure?"
"Would you forget what one of them looks like?" he replied.
"No," I said. "I just didn't expect them to be so open."
"They aren't that open," Hu'ajat said. "Plastic surgery. Subtle genetic manipulation. Enough to resemble one of us."
"Except that we recognized them," I said.
"We have reason to," he said. "There were only two surviving relatives of that massacre. Us." He laughed as if I'd told a good joke. "Come on. The sooner we get to my room, the better. I don't want to get arrested by them again."
"Again?" I asked, as we walked across the square, careful to keep as far from the Tal Shiar as possible, without being overly obvious about it.
Hu'ajat nodded. "The one who arrested me looked right at us. We know who they are, and they know who I am."
"Do they know who I am?" I asked.
"Let's hope not," he replied as we ducked down a side street, out of sight of the Tal Shiar and everyone else in the square.
No alarm sounded. No shouts of pursuit. No phasers fired in our direction.
Either they knew where we were going, or we weren't that important. At least, not just then. Maybe they'd already forgotten who I was, since I'd tried to keep a low profile. Maybe they just didn't care.
Another few hundred feet and we entered the building that Hu'ajat lived in. It looked just like the others on the street. A mixture of traditional Romulan architecture and more-bland-and-purposeful-than-attractive. His room was up on the fourth floor, facing an alley.
"Not much, but at least it was available," Hu'ajat said, letting me enter ahead of him.
I wasn't used to such courtesy.
Romulans tend to treat one another equally, whether one is male or female, whether they like you or not. Like the bullies at the orphanage. Who, when I looked back with hindsight, I think were reacting to the conditions there. Their victims weren't chosen out of any desire to be vicious. They wanted to feel, even if only in their imaginations, that they had some sort of control over their environment. I preferred to react to life in the orphanage in a more positive way, without condoning the bullies' behavior the least little bit.
The room was larger than I expected, without any wall decorations of any kind, and several light-tubes overhead. At least five meters by ten meters, not counting the cooking and washing areas.
One corner was dominated by a small bed. At its foot was a small shelf with a dozen or two books on it. They looked old enough to be in the colony's library. Hu'ajat switched on the light-tube over the bed. He pulled a wide, flat, open box out from under it. The box that was filled with clothes. Not a male's. A female's.
His sister's, I realized at once.
Hu'ajat sorted through them, glancing at me from time to time. He laid out a few shirts, two pairs of long pants, some underclothes. They were a bit wrinkled, but far better than anything I had worn in a very long time. I felt overwhelmed by his kindness, whether it was impelled by his supervisor's order or not.
"I'll program a small meal for us," he said, heading for the cooking area. Nothing more than just a portable stove, some pots, pans, plates, cups, and utensils. They looked like they'd seen better days a long time ago. "Can you wash in about a minute or two?"
"Good," Hu'ajat said. "There isn't much water supply here. And it'll be cold. Sorry. Hot water is a luxury I haven't had since before the massacre."
I honestly didn't know what to say. How to express my appreciation. ?Thank you? seemed hopelessly inadequate. I just nodded, went over to the washing area, undressed and cleaned myself. The dryer wasn't powerful, but it dried me quickly enough. My shoulder-length hair was as uncooperative as usual. I ignored, also as usual. By the time I was dressed in my ?new? clothes, he announced that our meal was ready.
Sitting down across from him, I still felt as if I should say something, anything, but didn't know what. So I kept quiet as we ate.
Hu'ajat seemed to recognize what was going on inside me. "It's been a long time since I've been able to be nice to someone, without feeling that I was going to be immediately taken advantage of in return. Thank you for the chance. And thank you for reacting differently."
"I never knew what it was like inside the colony's orphanage," he went on. "My sister used to work there. Some days she'd come home trying not to cry. What she saw and heard there just broke her heart. But whenever she tried to complain, they would threaten to dismiss her and make sure she couldn't work anywhere else. Like you, she had to keep quiet. Even when she didn't want to be quiet."
"Have you ever been inside it?" I asked.
Hu'ajat shook his head. "I thought about it before the massacre. But not since then." He gave me an angry look, and I wondered for a moment what I'd done wrong or failed to do. Then realized it wasn't me he was angry at. "I'd shut it down, though, if I could. Maybe a miracle will happen one day, and the Tal Shiar will destroy it." Then the anger went away, and he laughed a bit. "But knowing them, they wouldn't attack it."
"And you'd want to get all the children out of it first, anyway," I added.
"True," he said. "Even if some of them aren't as nice as you are."
I almost said that I wasn't as nice as he apparently thought I was (I knew I wasn't the worst of the bunch, but I certainly wasn't the best either). I didn't. The illusion perpetuated itself. Maybe it was better that way. I'm still not sure.
We finished eating and he put everything in the cleaning oven. It turned on automatically as soon as he shut its door.
"Better get back to the fields," Hu'ajat said. "You don't have to work as late as I do, if you don't want to."
"I'm not sure how long I'm supposed to work," I said. "It's my first day, after all."
"Stay as long as I do," he said. "Then come back here with me."
Startled, I backed up a bit, onto my haunches.
"Nothing permanent, nothing intimate," Hu'ajat went on. "I'll put up a curtain to separate your sleeping area from mine. To give you the kind of privacy you probably never had at the orphanage."
"Why?" I asked, a bit sharper than I'd meant to. "Because I remind you of your sister?"
He looked at me. "Maybe. Or maybe call it regret for all that you've suffered."
"You've suffered too," I said. "My parents died in the massacre, so did yours and your sister."
Hu'ajat shook his head. "We never knew our parents."
"Adopted?" I asked.
"Cloned," he replied. "But that's strictly between you and me. No one else knows that except us. Got me?"
I nodded, getting to my feet. "And my staying here?"
"You don't have to," Hu'ajat said. "I just thought you deserved something better than homeless on the streets." He saw the look of surprise on my face, nodded. "I've seen you. Not today, but other days. Like a tree trying to pretend it's a little bush. And about as unsuccessfully. When a vendor would complain about your food-thefts, I suggested that they allow them. You were too hungry, too thin, to starve even more than you already were."
"And they agreed?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied. "Enough talk. I don't want to get off work after midnight again. It's more dangerous then."
"Again?" I said. "This has happened before?"
Hu'ajat nodded, a finger to his lips. He dropped his voice, and I wondered if his apartment was under surveillance. Suddenly, I didn't envy him his four walls, floor, and roof. "We'll miss some of the celebration tonight. Can't avoid that. But the fireworks don't go off until midnight. I'd like to see them."
"So would I," I said.
"And I'll tell you why it's dangerous here late at night," he said.
"Promise?" I said.
"Promise," Hu'ajat said. "But for now, we work."
I nodded. "Understood."
Returning to the fields, we took a longer way. He didn't want to risk getting seen by the Tal Shiar again. S'hon wasn't pleased by our tardiness, but she seemed glad we'd come back. I suppose she thought we'd become two more jumpers, unwilling to do the hard work. She obviously didn't know me very well, or Hu'ajat for that matter.
It wasn't hard, learning what he taught me to do in the fields. At first, he gave me a phaser to kill the khellid drones with. I found that I was good at that. Quite good, actually. They mostly left us alone after that. But he said not to trust it. They'd return. Usually in greater numbers and more aggressive.
The hive, Hu'ajat explained, was just outside the colony. In a deep, large cavern. That our fellow Romulans mostly avoided, even when they were armed. But someone, someday, had to go in there, and keep the khellid drones and their queen from growing until they swarmed over not just our colony, but all of Virinat.
An hour before our shift was up, I made a suggestion. You should've seen Hu'ajat's eyes grow wide.
"You're crazy, T'kav," he said. "Everyone who's gone in there has never come back. Either the drones kill them or their queen does."
"Unless there's a different way," I said.
"There's no other entrance," Hu'ajat said.
"I didn't mean that," I said, remembering what I'd learned about the khellid drones. That they weren't invulnerable. They had their weaknesses. Or at least one weakness. But no one had learned what it was. "A different way of approaching their hive."
"And you've thought of one?" he asked.
"Maybe," I replied.
A weakness implied that the frontal attack might fail, but a peripheral attack might work. The cave had one entrance. Did the hive have only one access point as well? Hu'ajat was certain of it, but I wasn't. The khellid drones might come and go through the front way, but if they were smart enough, they'd make a back way. That they could retreat through if an attacker or attackers proved too powerful.
Obsolete programming sometimes included what used to be called "back doors". These weren't there for the sake of the user. They were there for the sake of the programmer. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not.
Hives were like the computer system that the colony's terminals were all connected to. Only natural, rather than artificially constructed out of silicon or gallium arsenide. Distract the front, and perhaps the back would be unprotected. But no way to test it without doing the real thing.
"After work, then," Hu'ajat finally said, since I wasn't willing to elaborate aloud. "Together. Armed with phasers. Might not be enough, but it's all we've got. They won't allow us access to anything more powerful. They trust us almost as little as the --" He paused, aware of what he'd almost said.
I put a finger to my lips, nodded. "Don't. Say it. Aloud."
In the darkness, we both saw the pale light-beams, possibly coming from the flashlights of other workers. Or guards. Or someone else. And just as hard to tell from here what they were doing. Somehow I didn't think it was S'hon. Maybe it was her superiors? Maybe I was just overreacting?
Two pale eyes, larger than a Romulan's, looked right at us. I recognized them now. They belonged to a khellid drone. A bigger one than usual. Almost the size of their queen. Strange.
Even stranger, what was it doing out of its hive? Why hadn't it just sent one of the scores of smaller drones? And why was it interested in us?
The eyes suddenly jumped upwards and towards us. Not enough to reach us in one go, but close enough. Only about a fifty feet separated us from it. It seemed ready to jump again, if it could only be sure of where it would land. Its night-vision might probably wasn't much better than ours.
Which was when I realized it wasn't a large drone. It couldn't be. Drones never grew that big.
It was the khellid queen herself.
"I think our shift just ended," I whispered.
Hu'ajat nodded. "How fast can you run, T'kav?"
"Pretty fast," I whispered, hoping that that was true.
"When I say 'run', then, you run that fast," he whispered. "Okay? Don't wait for me. Run."
At the same moment, the queen jumped at us.
"Run!" Hu'ajat yelled.
More it is. Here's Chapter Two.
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg
CHAPTER TWO --
Everything seemed to happen in slow-motion. There was time, when there shouldn't have been. Better not waste it, then, I thought.
I shook my head, held out my left hand. "Got a better idea. Give me your phaser."
Hu'ajat stared at me. Dark eyes that probably wondered if I was crazy. "What? Run!"
"No," I said. "Give me your phaser."
He rolled his eyes, but did as I asked.
A moment later, I pointed the phaser at the queen in mid-jump, and fired.
She didn't vaporize, as I'd hoped she would. Instead her eyes turned to steaming black pits. And she screamed as she passed over our heads, landing behind me. I spun around, saw her struggling to stand, but unable to. She collapsed, her eyeless face looking at me. As if wondering why I hadn't killed her, instead of just blinding her.
"She's still alive," Hu'ajat said.
"I know," I said, and handed the phaser back to him.
He was about to take it, when we both heard a voice behind us. It wasn't S'hon, though. I quickly hid the phaser inside my jacket, hoping no one but us saw me do it.
"How very disappointing," the voice calmly said, as if reporting on a weather forecast that hadn't quite turned out the way they'd expected it to. The voice was male, I absently noted, wondering why it mattered. "I go to all the trouble of forcing her out of her hive, out of her cave, and over to these fields. And you go and blind her. Haven't you a shred of decency? Either of you? Now I'll have to go to all the trouble of finding another way."
"You could always kill us," I suggested, not turning around. Hu'ajat also didn't turn around. His eyes were on me. No longer assuming that I had a lack of sanity. Wondering. He wasn't the only one. "Your only witness would be S'hon and she wouldn't tell anyone. She'd be too scared to. She wants to work, to survive."
"That assumes, of course, that she's still alive," the male voice said.
"Is she?" I asked, but immediately knew the answer before I heard it.
"I'm afraid not," the male voice said. "She's as dead as Hobus, though not as violently and dramatically. One must do what one must do, after all."
The cold reasoning of an assassin. Not of a soldier. And definitely not of a Virinat colonist.
"Then why keep us alive?" Hu'ajat asked. "Wouldn't we be more useful dead?"
"That would be the logical conclusion," the male voice said. "But sometimes logic must be dispensed with, if only temporarily."
Hu'ajat laughed shortly. "Only a Vulcan would put it that way."
"I've met my share of them," the male voice said. "Not always pleasantly. Cousins they may be, enemies they are."
I glanced at Hu'ajat, mouthing, "Tal Shiar."
"Get up," the male voice ordered us.
We didn't move.
Someone jumped down to the row we were in, shoving their way past the plants, cursing when thorns caught on their clothes and skin. I fought the urge to laugh, and shook my head and smiled instead. That someone grabbed me by collar and hauled me to me feet. Then did the same to Hu'ajat. Turned us around to face them.
It was one of the Tal Shiar that we'd seen earlier in the central square. A head shorter than me, and apparently disliking the fact even as it managed to amuse me. Dark eyes like Hu'ajat's frowned at me, then at Hu'ajat. Then the Tal Shiar marched us back to their superior, where they stood on the topmost terrace of this section of the fields. There were three other Tal Shiar there.
Well, isn't that nice, I thought. You all came out here. First to try to kill us, and now you're forced to capture us. Or maybe you didn't want us dead; maybe a little torture, a few painful injuries. But then you had to improvise, change tactics. I wonder how pleased Empress Sela will be with you. With any luck, not at all.
"You are Hu'ajat, son of Na'iru and Ve'uda," the Tal Shiar said. "You had a sister. Yi'aju."
But I was aware of something that hadn't occurred to me until now: Clone he and his sister might be -- but their names. Those aren't Romulan names. Those are Reman names. What in the name of our exalted ancestors were two Reman clones doing on Virinat?
"And you are T'kav, only child of A'tef and K'yun," the Tal Shiar went on.
"Your network is very well informed," I said. "My congratulations."
The Tal Shiar frowned, then lashed out, slapped my left cheek with the back of their hand. Their nails, however well they took care of them, were sharp and left small marks behind. Marks that would remind me where I'd gotten them from. From this Tal Shiar.
"You would do well to be more respectful of your captors," the Tal Shiar said.
"You kill me parents, you kill his parents and sister, and you expect us to respect you?" I asked, wanting to laugh. "Didn't your education include the definition of 'contradiction in terms'?"
"Laugh, if it pleases you," the Tal Shiar said. "But you won't be laughing later."
"Let me guess," I went on. "You contacted the colony's orphanage. And they, helpful because they didn't want to suffer your displeasure, told you exactly what had happened to me, and where you might be able to find me. So far, so good?? The Tal Shiar said nothing. ?You weren't in the central square by accident, were you? You were on the hunt for me. And you were surprised that I wasn't alone anymore. That I just might possibly have a friend. A friend who dislikes you almost as much as I do." I looked at them. "Oh, come now. It didn't take a genius to figure that out."
"You knew what we were when you saw us," the Tal Shiar said. "None of your fellow Romulans did."
"No harm in being observant," I said. "I have eyes and a brain, after all."
"And your -- friend -- also noticed us," the Tal Shiar said, looking and sounding angrier by the moment.
"Your plastic surgeon wasn't entirely successful in hiding your facial features from view," I said. "What do you think, Hu'ajat? Should they go back and demand a refund?"
He smiled, mostly with his eyes. "Or arrest the surgeon for failure to produce the necessary result. I wonder if the surgeon did it deliberately. Probably didn't like you much either."
There was a distant explosion, followed by trails of light and smoke climbing into the dark sky. Bursts of multi-colored flowers and stars. The fireworks had started. A bit late, true.
"They will be too busy watching the sky to see us," the Tal Shiar said. "We go now, and you will precede us."
Something hard and sharp jabbed me in the back.
"A little encouragement should you need it," the Tal Shiar added, both frowning with their eyes and smiling with their mouth.
It triggered a memory. I knew I'd seen that expression before. A long time ago. Then I inwardly froze. Of course. The Tal Shiar who had forced me to watch as my parents were murdered was the same one who was in charge of our captors. I was sure of it. But did they realize that I knew it, or did they think I'd forgotten all about it?
We were marched away from the fields, first towards the central square, then off onto a side street.
Closed store after closed star, each with darkened windows. Everyone had gone to the celebration. Everyone except us. There were ornamental trees in front of some of the shops, decoratively grouped in their large clay pots. I felt a breeze begin, and then the wind began to rise, making the ornamental trees sway. Above the rooftops, I thought I could see one of Virinat's four moons, traveling on its way from horizon to horizon.
We passed a smaller square, with a decorative pool and waterfall at its far end. An architect's idea to have an artificial example of what they thought a bit of nature looked like, and ending up with a sculpture-in-motion instead. I wondered why they even bothered, but I guessed that some of the colonists didn't mind it. They might even like it. I didn't.
I preferred real waterfalls, the ones that still existed in the wilder areas of Virinat, that I'd seen in still-pictures in scanners in the colony's library. There had also been still-pictures and a few videos that had survived the destruction of Romulus, that had been brought to Virinat, so that our home-world would never be completely forgotten.
Offices passed us by. Also closed, also dark-windowed. Except for one. A light. Someone sitting at a desk, working at a terminal. Head perked up, turned towards us, a glance, and then back to their work. Did they even know what was happening? Did they even care?
We stopped a block later, under a tall tree, surrounded by a narrow walkway. A better part of the colony. But still empty. Not even birds and land-based animals were about. Had they decided to investigate what all the noise was in the central square? Or were they just asleep, wherever they'd made their homes?
The Tal Shiar in charge, turned to his subordinate. "Disable any alarms, and then kill them."
The subordinate nodded, gathered in another Tal Shiar with his eyes, and the two headed back the way we'd come.
Three left. And us.
Not terribly comforting, but better than it had been. Until the other two returned. I kept hoping they wouldn't, but was resigned to the fact that they undoubtedly would.
The landing area was on the opposite end of the colony from the fields. Surrounded by elegant buildings that were some of the oldest on Virinat. I'd seen it from a block away one day, not long after I began to spend time away from the orphanage. There had been guards at each of the five corners of the landing area that day. Would there be guards tonight? Maybe. Maybe not.
The street began to slope upwards, and I knew how close we were to the landing fields. Just another thirty or forty meters. We wouldn't have come all this way if there hadn't been a shuttle waiting, I knew. These Tal Shiar did nothing without reason. Even if Hu'ajat and I disagreed with that reason. Which we would've if we'd know what it was.
The landing area was unlit, and occupied. Both by a shuttle and two guards armed with assault blasters. Overkill. But then that was the Tal Shiar. Why do it halfway, when you could do it all the way? Like pressing a doorway's visitor-button with a photon torpedo instead of using your thumb.
"They should be here by now," the Tal Shiar in charge said aloud. The other two Tal Shiar nodded.
Then an explosion roared, shaking the ground, sending flames, smoke, and debris high into the air. Obscuring the fireworks. But the explosion hadn't come from the central square. It had come from the offices we had passed.
The Tal Shiar in charge snarled, went over to one of the guards at the shuttle. The guard handed their assault blaster to him. The Tal Shiar in charge came back over, absolutely furious, the gun pointed right at us.
"I should've just killed you when I had the chance," he said. "Why the empress insisted on having you captured alive and brought back to her, I will never understand. Get inside the shuttle. Now!"
I glanced at Hu'ajat, and he nodded. We both did as ordered.
There was another guard inside, who kept her gun aimed at us, but said nothing. She pointed at the seats behind the cockpit. We walked sideways down the narrow aisle. I sat down in one seat and Hu'ajat in another across from me.
There were two small windows on both sides. A luxury in a spacecraft. Most shuttles lacked them for safety's sake. I wondered who this shuttle belonged to. Perhaps Empress Sela herself? But, if so, why had she allowed them to borrow it? Unless she had traveled here in it. I shook my head. No. She wouldn't put herself in harm's way. That was for her subordinates to do. They were expendable, unlike herself.
"Stay here," our guard told us, and then went to the shuttle's doorway and looked outside.
I tried to look through the window next to me. There wasn't much of a view through it. Or maybe I was too tall to get a good view. I leaned down, and straightened up again almost immediately.
"Something wrong?" Hu'ajat quietly asked me.
I nodded, pointing out the window. He tried to see it too, but couldn't.
"?You'll have to describe it to me," he said, still quietly.
I leaned back down again, and looked outside the window. "It's as if Stovokor had released all the dead Klingons in one go. An absolute madhouse. Even the orphanage never got this crazy. That explosion can't have been the only one. Something else must be happening. The Tal Shiar are probably unable to keep to their timetable because of it."
Hu'ajat smiled. "Good. Nice to know that things can go wrong for them too."
I nodded agreement. "I can't see our captors, except the one onboard this shuttle. Maybe they've gone back to where the explosion occurred."
Our guard ducked her head back inside the shuttle. "We can't delay any longer," she told us. "We're leaving."
"Without your comrades?" Hu'ajat asked. "Won't they be angry about it?"
"Then they can get explain themselves to the empress," our guard replied. "I'm following her orders whether the other Tal Shiar like it or not." She belted us down as tightly and as uncomfortably as possible. "If you try to get up, I will shoot. Understood?"
We both nodded.
Our guard went to the cockpit, starting the pre-flight checks, but as far as I could tell, skipping over some. Being in a hurry wouldn't do her any favors, I thought. Something was bound to go wrong because of it. I hoped. The engines started up, quickly increasing in power and volume. The shuttle was already lifting off vertically.
Now I could see down the street from the landing area, back toward the offices. Streaks of light criss-crossed, silently cutting through the darkness. But there weren't any other explosions, as far as I could tell. Whoever had been in that one lit office might've been the one who set off the explosion. Perhaps they had done more than just look at us. Perhaps they'd known who we were, and that we were captives of the Tal Shiar. Or maybe I was just hoping again.
Hu'ajat touched my left shoulder, pointing out his window. "The three Tal Shiar just came back, and they're definitely angry. The one in charge is yelling something, and gesturing that we're supposed to descend again. I hope he doesn't get angry enough to start shooting at the shuttle. A perforated shuttle will explode when we reach orbit."
No shots were fired. At least, not right at the shuttle. As if they were trying to scare us to return to the landing area. But we didn't return.
We saw khellid drones arriving at the central square, dropping as they attacked any colonists still there. More streaks of light, and some of the drones fell dead from the sky. But more khellid drones arrived. Their queen was blinded, but definitely not helpless. She would unintentionally do some of the dirty work that the Tal Shiar wanted her to do. And then return to the cave, to the hive, living in as much darkness inside it as outside.
Not that I was sorry about blinding her. I was just sorry that the Tal Shiar had forced her out of the khellid hive, then out of the cave, and to the fields to attack us. True, I had planned, together with Hu'ajat, to investigate that cave, and perhaps the hive itself. But I doubted that I would've had the wherewithal to actually destroy the hive, the queen, and her drones. I'm not a warrior.
In orbit, we could see flares of light, getting brighter, and then one giant-sized flare, followed by total darkness. Both of us knew that that must be the end of the colony on Virinat, whether it had been caused by the Tal Shiar or not. And we knew that none of the Tal Shiar on Virinat would ever get off-planet. That explosion must've destroyed the colony's only two shuttles.
"Survivors yet again," Hu'ajat said quietly.
I nodded, wondering what it was better to survive, but be only one of two, or whether death with the rest of the colony would've been better. And I'm still not sure. Not even today as I record these memories for posterity.
I would never have to return to the orphanage, even I'd wanted to. The bullies I'd suffered under would never be able to hurt me again. It was an improvement from before, but at what price? And would it eventually push me towards the vengeance that I'd sworn myself not to indulge in? I hoped not.
"I don't think that we're docking with a warbird," Hu'ajat quietly said. "I can't see one. But I can a satellite approaching." We could both feel the nudges from braking jets and adjustments to our course from the attitude jets. The guidance computer must be handling it. This didn't feel like it was manual, unless our guard was a professional pilot and we just didn't know it. "Must be one of the Tal Shiar's. Ugly enough."
"Is it as big as one of the Federation's starbases?" I softly asked, never having been in space before.
He shook his head. "Too small."
"Then why take us there?" I asked.
Hu'ajat thought about that, and shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe they store their prisoners there until they can be picked up later by a Mogai?" It sounded like he knew a little bit about being in space, but probably hadn't actually been there either. Comforting to know I wasn't alone in my unavoidable chunks of ignorance of the universe around me.
The engines shut off as we docked with the satellite. It easily dwarfed the shuttle, no matter how much smaller it was than a starbase. All I could see through my little window was one section of one exterior cylindrical wall. The solar arrays and communications must be somewhere above us. It definitely made me feel small and humble.
The engines shut off. Our guard floated back to us, unbelted us with one hand while the other pointed her gun at us. We floated up, and pushed ourselves along, using the seats and other parts of the shuttle's interior as leverage, being as careful as possible not to do it too hard. Or we would've sailed right past the shuttle's door and right into the cockpit and probably its windshield as well.
We floated through a horizontal tube and into the satellite's interior. There was an opening at the bottom of the cylinder's interior, probably down where the propulsion systems were. And above us, another opening, probably where the navigation systems were. And then a walkway that connected two identical crawl-spaces halfway in between the top and bottom of the satellite.
Not exactly what I'd imagined as an improvised prison. Where was everyone? Or was it all on automatic?
Have to improve your education, I told myself. Too many things you just don't know. And if they won't teach you, you're going to have to teach yourself.
"This way," our guard said, pointing at one of the crawl-spaces.
It didn't look big enough for us to fit inside it. But when we were floated towards it, getting a closer view, we could see that there was just enough room for us to squeeze into it. No sense wasting precious space if you didn't have to. Then what was all the central area for, then?
Ten meters down the crawl-space and we abruptly floated into what seemed like a storage room. No seats. Just handles scattered all over it.
"Your temporary jail-cell," our guard said. Then she floated back into the crawl-space. A shimmering curtain appeared behind her.
I floated over to it, and carefully reached out and touched it. And got a shock. Mild, but enough to remind me not to do that again.
"I thought you might insist on curing your curiosity," Hu'ajat told me, amused. "Otherwise, I would've warn you not to bother."
"You've been a prisoner before?" I asked.
"Once," he replied. "But not on Virinat, or in a satellite like this."
"Well, we've got plenty of time to chat," I said, kicking off the wall near the shimmering curtain. Which almost sent me past him. He grabbed me, stopping my forward momentum. "Thanks."
"Enlighten me," I said, floating next to him.
"You're going to have to get used to weightlessness," Hu'ajat explained. "You still have mass, so a little effort goes a long way when you're weightless. Try too hard and you saw what nearly happened to you."
"That isn't what I meant," I said. "Enlighten me as to when you were a prisoner before now. Was it before or after the Tal Shiar killed your clone-sister?"
"Before," he said. "And she was a prisoner with me."
"Was that where you were cloned, or somewhere else?" I asked.
"The former," Hu'ajat replied. "I think we were supposed to be the first two of a large batch of clones. But that didn't happen. Production stopped after us."
"Or maybe that was what they'd intended?" I wondered.
He shook his head. "I'm fairly certain, there were supposed to be at least another hundred or maybe a thousand."
"What stopped it?" I asked.
"Would you rather do more question-and-answer, or would you rather I gave you the long explanation?" Hu'ajat replied, a little amused.
I shrugged. "Pick one."
"The long explanation, then," he said. "The Tal Shiar had always tried to increase their armies, but wartime attrition prevented it. In the pauses between wars, there was little time to do it via natural childbirth. They decided to develop a cloning laboratory on one of Korvat's moons. Why they chose a location so close to a Klingon colony, I'm not sure. Maybe they enjoyed the irony of it. That the Klingons would unintentionally provide protection for both themselves and the Tal Shiar cloning lab. I was grateful it was the Klingons, not the Hirogen or the Jem'Hadar. Or, worst, the Borg."
"I've heard of the Klingons, but not the others," I said.
"Orphanages aren't the place for a mind like yours," Hu'ajat said. "They should've transferred you to another Romulan colony. One with the educational resources you needed."
"Like the Tal Shiar, it probably didn't matter to them," I said. "They probably had other things on their minds. Wee little, poor, starving orphans were way down their list of priorities."
"And I thought that the Borg could be cruel," he said. "Apparently you Romulans can be also." He saw the look on my face. "Ah. You noticed. Not only were my sister I clones. We weren't Romulan clones. We were Reman clones."
I nodded. "I hoped that I would have the chance to confirm my guess, but I didn't think it would happen so soon."
"So many things have happened sooner than expected," Hu'ajat said. "This is just one of many. Back to my explanation?"
"If you don't mind," I said.
He chuckled. "You remind me so much of my sister. Yi'aju could make me laugh when no one else could. Especially when I didn't feel like laughing." He looked wistful for a moment. "Maybe we got that from our clone-source, but I guess I'll never know."
"Why?" I asked. "Why won't you ever know, I mean."
"The clone lab was destroyed by the Tal Shiar," Hu'ajat said. "There was no way for clone-production to continue. The source DNA was lost in the attack. Which, in hindsight, was a good thing. Fewer victims for the Tal Shiar to do with as they please."
"But that doesn't explain how you and Yi'aju ended up on Virinat," I said.
"I know," he said. "I hadn't gotten that far yet."
"Sorry for jumping ahead," I said. "Please continue."
"I think the Tal Shiar had planned to steal our clone lab and relocate it somewhere closer to their own world," Hu'ajat said. "But someone must've gotten impatient. Or angry. And ignored orders to not destroy anything at the lab. By the time they were stopped, it was too late. The Tal Shiar have probably tried to reverse-engineer how my sister and I were produced, but their own DNA isn't stable enough. Ironically, the Remans that they hate even more than the Romulan Republic are the best source for cloning."
"Have they tried using human or other sources of DNA?" I asked.
"I don't know," he replied. "Most of this is my guesswork. Based on what little I know, and much more than I know nothing of. But I know something of the Tal Shiar and their reasoning, what they want the future to become. It isn't too hard to extrapolate. I just can't guarantee that my extrapolations are anything like the truth. Truth is always far stranger than fiction."
I nodded. "How did you survive the destruction of the clone lab?"
"Our section was nearest the escape pods," Hu'ajat replied. "In the confusion of the attack, we joined two scientists in their pod. We were a thousand kilometers away from the attack when they noticed that we weren't also scientists. At first they tried to ignore us. That didn't work. Then they tried to treat us like slaves. That definitely didn't work. Eventually we had to compromise, non-clones with clones. Probably the first time it's ever happened outside of any possible liberated Borg serving alongside non-Borgs."
"Which probably has never happened," I said.
"One never knows," he said. "One never knows." He sighed. "We were picked up a few days later by a passing freighter on its way to Virinat. The scientists worked for their passage in far better conditions than that which my sister and I worked in for our passage. It gave me new appreciation into the concept of servitude, whether indentured or enslaved. And I found that I hated both, but definitely slavery far more. We arrived at Virinat, took a shuttle down to the colony, and looked for work. We found it easily enough. The fields needed strong arms and backs. I volunteered for that. Yi'aju wasn't as physically strong. She was told to work in the orphanage."
"You arrived before the next Tal Shiar attack," I said.
Hu'ajat nodded. "It was relatively quiet and peaceful. Soon I was promoted from worker to supervisor's subordinate. S'hon had seen my potential. That I had a brain and used it. She taught me how to fix the irrigation conduits. How to kill the khellid drones quickly and easily. A week went by. Then two. And then you arrived, looking for work. I had no idea that you were also smart. I figured you were just another lazy Romulan looking for an easy job to do. I'm sorry that I assumed that but, considering the lack of quality in the workers I had working under me, you understand why I did."
I nodded in turn, then paused. He also paused, seeing and hearing what I saw and heard.
The shimmering screen disappeared. Two trays of food and drink, with basic utensils, were pushed towards us. Then the screen reappeared. I was surprised they even trusted us that much.
Watching Hu'ajat, I found it was easy enough to catch the trays. The containers on them were small. One was some sort of glue-like mixture of fruits and vegetables. Another was a mix of protein and bread. The last one was water. Not too different from my diet at the orphanage.
"They want to keep us alive for a little while," he observed. "Someone is following their orders, if the orders are coming from Empress Sela. I wasn't looking forward to be starved like last time." He started eating.
I did the same. It didn't take long to finish it. We pushed the trays, empty containers, utensils and all, towards the shimmering screen. It faded, the trays were pulled through by no means that we could see, and then reappeared. Computerized, probably.
As we went on floating, I noticed that even our guard never returned. Had she been punished, transferred, or what? Hu'ajat didn't seem to mind her lack of appearance. Did he hope that she was dead, or didn't care what happened to her?
Then a terminal screen slid out of a wall opening that we hadn't seen before. It floated in front of us, just a meter or two away. A face appeared on it. Not our guard's, though. A male face that looked old enough to be my grandfather, bordered by short white hair. Real or virtual?
"Which of you is Hu'ajat?" the man asked us, flat and unemotional. Almost real, but not quite.
Hu'ajat pointed at himself.
"And you are T'kav," the man told me.
"I'm the only other person here," I said. Which should've been blatantly obvious.
"Are you T'kav or not?" the man asked, as stubbornly mechanical as a computer system.
"Yes," I said, wanting to sigh, feeling frustrated, wanting to fight back. Maybe computers as teachers wasn't the good idea I used to think it was. Someone should've programmed this one with manners.
The screen went dark, the terminal staying where it was. Just like an uninvited guest.
I've really been enjoying all of the different adaptations of the Romulan tutorial, and yours is particularly engaging. Please keep it up!
Here's Chapter Three.
Thanks, Sander233. Had I known that you were also interested in my story, I would've started this chapter alot sooner. Being a creative improvisor, making up things isn't too difficult for me. Making it self-consistent is another thing entirely. *That's* the part that takes most of the work. Making it up is the easy part.
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg
CHAPTER THREE --
We didn't expect to have to wait long. Maybe a minute or two at most. But even that long would've felt like an eternity.
"I don't feel too well," I told Hu'ajat, holding my stomach. I felt ill. Maybe I'd eaten too quickly? Or maybe the food wasn't digestible by Romulans? But they need us alive. They can't risk poisoning us. Or can they?
"Same here," he said, doing the same. "Don't trust the Tal Shiar. I should've remembered that."
I nodded. "Hunger can make you do things you might not ordinarily do."
"Like eat whatever is given you," he said.
My eyes kept trying to close, and I felt like I needed to sleep. But I hadn't been tired before we'd eaten, so why now?
"I think they --" I said. Without warning, I fell unconscious.
If I dreamt, I didn't remember any of my dreams. I spent my time floating in darkness, inside some cave, not knowing which way was up, down, left, or right. Is this what a womb was supposed to be like? If so, I wasn't exactly impressed by it. Reaching out didn't do much good. The walls weren't close enough to touch. Perhaps I was still too small, as babies are known to be.
Someone shook me. I ignored them. They shook me again. This time I tried to push them away. And almost fell. There was gravity here. Of course. Why wouldn't there be?
Then a male voice spoke. One that I thought I recognized. "Wake up, T'kav. She's waiting for you."
I struggled out of the darkness, opened my eyes, and saw I was in a large room, about mid-way between ceiling and floor. Plain walls, plain furnishings with one exception. This definitely wasn't my sleeping chamber, nor was it my workshop. This was the official audience chamber. I couldn't remember how I'd gotten here, when I last remembered being in the meal room, sitting across from -- who? I couldn't remember that either.
I noticed I wasn't alone. There was a male Reman next to me. He must've been the one who'd spoken to me. He gestured ahead of us, at a large seat, like an ancient throne. In it, sat a white-haired woman wearing a typical Romulan's uniform, only made from far superior materials. I immediately checked to make sure everything was in place, hoping that my appearance was acceptable. This was our boss, after all.
"Feeling better, T'kav?" the woman asked me. She didn't sound concerned. More likely social politeness, which she normally didn't indulge in.
I nodded. "Thank you, your highness. I apologize for my illness. It was unexpected."
She turned to the male Reman. "And you, Hu'ajat?"
"Same, your highness," he said. "Perhaps the food we ate on Virinat changed what sort we could and couldn't digest. We should've kept to our native diet. We will do so from now on."
"Unfortunately, your illnesses have delayed things somewhat," she told us. "We have had to move things forward sooner than we'd initially planned to. Because of this, your current jobs have been terminated. They are no longer necessary. Understood?"
We both nodded, and said, "Yes, your highness."
"Good," she went on. "You will report to G'mel in Sickbay. He will give you your new set of duties Remember, though: I will be watching and assessing. And I will not hesitate to terminate your existence if you should fail me again. Understood?"
Again we both nodded, and said, "Yes, your highness."
"Dismissed," she said and the screen went black. The terminal went into a wall slot and disappeared from view.
"We should be grateful for her kindness," Hu'ajat said.
"Indeed," I said. "But I doubt that they will investigate and punish our poisoners. We are still not that important in the Romulan Star Empire."
"Agreed," he said.
We left the audience chamber, and walked down a long corridor. We passed by workstations and terminals used for engineering, the horticulture room filled with plants and a male scientist tending them carefully but without undo emotion, a large meal room, a workshop (my own? possibly), and then entered the Sickbay at the end of the corridor.
A light-brown-haired female doctor stood next to a sickbed, of several sickbeds. A patient lay in this one, looking worse than we had prior to our conversation with our boss. More food poisoning perhaps? The monitoring system made beeps that seemed to've been designed to comfort the patient. They certainly did not comfort me. I wished that they would stop. A red light pulsed steadily and silently. That was more like it. The doctor was speaking to a patient lying on a sickbed in front of her. Her orders were clear. Had they been directed at us, we would've had no problem following them. I had no doubt that her patient would be equally capable.
Finished, the doctor turned to us and introduced herself. "I am G'mel."
"T'kav," I said.
"Hu'ajat," my coworker said.
The doctor handed us a tablet, with a list of duties on it. I accepted it and we waited. "This is what must be done by the end of today. If you finish them early, come to me and I will find more work for you. You will report to me from 0600 to 2100 each day until the end of this week. Then you will return to Empress Sela for new instructions. Acknowledge."
"Understood," we both said.
G'mel nodded and promptly went to the next sickbed, occupied by an injured female Romulan.
We went into the doctor's office, and inspected the duty-list on the tablet. Mostly nothing too terribly difficult. Finished, we looked up as a tall, strong-boned, muscular, bipedal reptilian in warrior's garb entered the office, reporting of pains from combat. Gorn. In a deep, raspy voice he identified where and how much. Thus we took care of the first item on the duty-list. And so the day went, only pausing in the middle for a quick meal (ten minutes, which seemed overly long, but unavoidable; there had been a problem in the meal preparation software, which was fixed while we waited, a line of other diners lengthening behind us). Back in Sickbay, I reminded myself that medicine was definitely not the profession for me. I couldn't say the same for Hu'ajat. Sometimes his face was greener than that first Gorn's. But we'd both managed to keep a straight face when we'd had to take care of a Hirogen, whose problem seemed more psychosomatic than actual. Otherwise, a failed attempt at invading a star system called Nimbus had, all by itself, brought in the most patients. It had been an interesting day, all told, if tiring.
My shoulders and back were aching, but at least we were down to the last item. Which was when Hu'ajat notified me that it was almost 2100. Would G'mel report that our efforts were inadequate? We had done our best, but it had been a very busy first day in Sickbay. We could only hope to do better tomorrow.
Returning to G'mel, I handed the tablet to him. The doctor looked at, noticed the one item left at the bottom. "This will be added to your duty-list tomorrow, and I will report it to Empress Sela. Do not ever make me apologize to her again. Dismissed."
We nodded, and left Sickbay for our sleeping chambers. I stretched and rubbed my lower back as we walked along.
"Nothing escapes her attention," Hu'ajat said.
"Nothing," I said.
"Evening meal and then sleep?" he suggested.
"Sounds good to me," I said. "Nothing too heavy, though."
"You shouldn't have tried to lift that skinny Reman," Hu'ajat said. "You should've let me do it."
"You were busy at the time," I said.
"Still," he said. "You will need all the sleep you can get. I'll inject you with a painkiller when we return to our chambers. It will make you drowsy and accelerate the healing process."
I made a face just before we entered the meal room. "You shouldn't have stolen it. G'mel will notice it's missing when he inventories his supplies in the morning."
"And I will explain that you needed it in order to do your job," Hu'ajat said. "If he argues, he can tell our boss, and she will likely be more angry with him than with us."
"Which wouldn't bother me much," I said. "Seeing how he doesn't like having us around as it is."
Inside the meal room, we headed for the food service area, and entered our choices into the a meal programming unit. The cooking was quick, if not exactly accurate. Not the machine's or software's fault, I thought. Someone must be wanting us workers to suffer as much as possible.
"Did you see the look on his face when you took care of that Aenar's symptoms when he couldn't do it himself?" Hu'ajat asked, amused. "I thought he was going to explode, he was so angry."
"But that was why we couldn't finish the duty-list in time," I reminded him as we took our food-trays to one of the tables next to the windows opposite the food service area. At the table to our right, three Romulans were sitting, eating almost entirely in silence. At the table to our left, two Gorns and a Hirogen sat, arguing and punching the air above them and gesturing at each other more than eating. And I didn't really want to know what they were eating. We sat down on opposite sides of our table and started eating. "If it weren't for G'mel practically breathing down my neck, I would've referred the Aenar to him," I went on "I wish I had."
"If you hadn't, you probably would've still gotten into trouble with him," he said. "Damned if you, damned if you don't. G'mel has his way of running his Sickbay, and don't you dare try to challenge him. Especially in his choice of nurses." He shook his head in disgust.
"At least the Aenar was pleased with the service," I said.
"And said so loud enough that G'mel could hear," Hu'ajat added.
"I wish the Aenar hadn't, though," I said. "I think I've already had enough of G'mel's dirty looks. Good thing he isn't a programmer. I wouldn't trust him not to try to poison us when no one was looking. And we still have four more days with him. Wonderful."
"Careful," Hu'ajat said quietly. "And don't drink that water."
I'd lifted the container and was about to put my mouth to its top opening. I paused and looked at him, and equally quietly asked, "What do you mean?"
"Put it down first," he said.
I did so, wondering what he was thinking and why I wasn't thinking the same way.
"You aren't sounding like a properly subservient and obedient Tal Shiar, that's why," Hu'ajat said. "I think G'mel suspects, but I'm not sure if he'd risk telling our boss. Anyone that doesn't toe the line has a tendency to disappear. Permanently. As in, out the nearest airlock."
"You're not exactly a shining example of a Tal Shiar yourself," I reminded him.
"I'm a Reman," he said. "Romulans usually don't look down far enough to notice us. Or at least they didn't use to."
"There's nothing wrong with you," I said.
"Then you're the exception to the rule," Hu'ajat said. "Look, Yi'aju --"
I shook my head, looked around us. No one seemed to've heard what he'd just said.
"T'kav." I said. "But only between us. Remember: Yi'aju was killed by the Tal Shiar on Virinat. If they find out that I'm still alive --"
Hu'ajat nodded, not willingly, not happily. "Understood. T'kav, then. But someday someone will notice the differences, however slight they might be. And then what?"
"I'll face that day when it comes," I said. "Being your sister has its disadvantages sometimes."
"At least we've never had any birth-parents to deal with," he said. "I can't imagine what that must be like."
"Someone to nurture you, to care for you, to educate you," I said. "Such small, unimportant things in a person's life. Not like a machine that teaches as mechanically as possible, that has no sense of humor, that wouldn't care whether you went on living or dropped dead on the spot. I couldn't imagine anyone choosing that sort of education. I'd rather have a living being, imperfections and all." I finished my meal, noticing that he'd finished his quite a bit sooner than I had. "Must've been hungrier than I was."
Hu'ajat nodded, and got up. I did the same. We took trays over to the recycling system, pushed them into the drawer.
The chronograph above us said that it was 21:30.
"Let's go back now," he said, as quietly as he had at the table.
"Yours or mine?" I asked, imitating his drop in volume.
"Yours," Hu'ajat said. "At least we know it isn't being bugged."
"Not entirely sure," I said. "Just because we didn't find anything doesn't mean it isn't there."
He sighed. "True."
"Besides, if we do hang out together, we won't get much sleep," I said. "Not with all the talking we do."
Hu'ajat smiled a bit. "Your mouth moves just as much as mine does, remember."
"You can always tell me to shut up," I suggested.
"Cloned or not, I wouldn't do that to my sister, my only sister," he said. "If you're silent, how am I supposed to argue with you? Yelling at the equivalent of a wall isn't any fun."
"Do you need immediate feedback that intensely?" I asked.
Hu'ajat shrugged. "I'm only Reman."
Which was exactly why we had decided not to say that about myself when we'd joined the Tal Shiar. Officially, I was a Romulan orphan, and he was a Reman orphan. Enough information. We would only elaborate if we absolutely had to to survive. And only as little as we could get away with.
Back in my chamber, I sat down on the bed, cross-legged, and Hu'ajat pulled up a float-chair and sat in it. It was easy to forget for a moment that there were IR beams everywhere in here, even if they couldn't hear what we said. The Tal Shiar in charge of domestic surveillance would know that there were two warm bodies in this chamber, when there were supposed to be one. But G'mel knew that we sometimes sat together in Hu'ajat's room, talking, so he'd said so to Empress Sela, and she'd gotten domestic surveillance to back off of demanding that the only-one-person-per-room be enforced. Not that it made our daily lives any easier, however.
"I'm glad you didn't die in the attack on Virinat," he said softly. "I don't know what I would've done if I'd found myself alone, without any friends, without any help."
I nodded. "Same here. It was such a relief to find that the orphanage wasn't too far from the fields. That we could meet each day for mid-day meal. When you have no friends, and you're far from your home-world, having a brother nearby is comforting."
Hu'ajat smiled. "And non-clones think that we don't think that way."
"They're idiots," I said. "Insufficiently educated. Soaked in ignorance up to their ears."
"You still think like that," he said.
I glanced at him. "Of course I do. When did you think I'd ever change that position?"
"Never," Hu'ajat said. "One moment. I forgot something in my chambers. Don't go anywhere."
I nodded, watched him leave the chamber. It suddenly felt empty. Devoid of life, of everything but echoes. Reminders that loneliness may suit some beings, but not all beings. Just because you have to be alone, doesn't mean that you always enjoy it.
Then he returned, and I felt relieved.
"What did you forget?" I asked.
Hu'ajat took something from inside his jacket. It was the same one he'd brought with him from Virinat, never telling the Tal Shiar that he had it.
I stared at it. "Put that phaser away," I hissed. "What if they catch you with it?"
"Would you rather I disposed of it, then?" he replied.
I shook my head. "Keep it. But hide it as well as you can. The IR beams inside each room could pick it up if you ever turned it on."
"Which is why I leave it off," Hu'ajat said. "Most of the time, anyway. And thank you again for the modifications to it. Good thing you worked in the workshop at the time."
The modifications made the phaser more powerful than it had been designed to be. I wasn't the type to leave something alone, if I could make it better. Here they didn't mind it so much as they had at the orphanage on Virinat. The orphanage had made their -- displeasure -- all too clear to me. I had no wish to cross that line again while I was there. One of the few things I was grateful for when we'd joined the Tal Shiar. Working in the same ship as my clone-brother was another.
"Not anymore," I said.
"My apologies," Hu'ajat said. "Covert activities don't always stay covert."
"No kidding," I said. "Next time you put your head on the block, instead of mine."
"Agreed," he said. "I owe you that much. And more."
I shook my head. "Not here, not now. My life as Yi'aju has to be kept as quiet as possible. I am T'kav and have always been T'kav. And it has to be that way for now."
"I know," Hu'ajat said. "Would it be all right if I slept on the floor in here?"
"Is there a problem with the bed in your chamber?" I replied.
He shook his head. "I would just feel safer in here."
From what, though? I wondered. The other Tal Shiar? Our boss?
I signed. "All right. Stay. But only tonight."
Hu'ajat smiled a bit. "Thank you. I owe you one."
"I'll be sure to remind you of that the next time you get me into trouble," I said.
We got ready for bed. I gave him the only pillow the bed had, choosing to use one of my arms as a makeshift pillow. He complained, but I complained right back. And then we had to get quiet again, since loud voices might carry outside my chamber. I set the chronograph alarm to 0500 and whistled off the lights, and the darkness was almost as palpable as it had been when Hu'ajat had woken me from my sleep before we'd spoken with our boss. But at least here it didn't feel like a womb. I wasn't alone here.
The next morning the alarm didn't go off. I got up, worried, and then saw why. My brother had turned it off, with a finger against his lips. He nodded at the wall that separated my chamber from his. His chamber had noises in it. The noises of feet, hands, and voices. Tal Shiar. Were they looking for Hu'ajat or something in his room (like his modified phaser) or something or someone else? I couldn't believe that they could possibly be looking for me. I was innocent this time. Or was I?
Was this why he'd wanted to spend last night in my chamber? Did he know it was going to happen? Or was it just a lucky guess? Something that humans were supposed to be better at than Romulans or Remans.
"It isn't here," someone next door snapped, deep, gruff, disappointed. "I thought you said surveillance had detected it."
"It did," someone else snapped back, annoyed. "I showed you the report on my terminal. I wasn't lying."
"And of course computer systems can't lie either," the first voice said, not sounding convinced.
"She won't be pleased with this," the second voice said.
"Your problem, not mine," the first voice said. "I'm off to talk to G'mel. And he'd better be more open than he was the last time, or else I'll reacquaint him with my shock-probe."
"You could stand next to me," the second voice said. "Show some sort of loyalty."
"I'm a Gorn," the first voice said. "You're expecting something out-of-the-ordinary from me? Don't be stupid like the rest of your Hirogen race." A pause. "I have my orders and you have yours. I won't disobey mine."
"And I won't disobey mine," the second voice said.
"You'd better not," the first voice said. "If you know what's good for you."
Their footsteps left Hu'ajat's chamber, not bothering to shut the door behind them. For a moment, I thought they would check my chamber next. But, oddly, they didn't. Maybe they knew who and what they'd find, and that wouldn't help them? Or maybe part of their orders told them to stay away from me?
"I'm going to change the parameters quite a bit, T'kav," my brother said. "Things you need to know."
I looked at him. "Now? Why now?"
"Because we're not going back to G'mel's Sickbay," Hu'ajat said. "That's over and done with."
"We have four more days," I insisted. "I do think you're the crazy one this time. I'm definitely not."
"If we go back there, we're dead," he said. "Do you understand why?"
I shook my head.
"All this is a lie," Hu'ajat said. "A well-constructed lie. Enough truth mixed in to make it convincing. I don't mean the ship. Or G'mel. Or his Sickbay. Or the rest of the ship. Or the empress."
"There isn't much left, then," I said. "So whatever is left must be . . . you and I."
He nodded. "Correct."
"And you're absolutely serious about this," I said, wondering if I was crazy to believe it even a tiny bit.
Again he nodded. "Correct."
"But how do know what you know, then?" I asked.
"Because I overheard G'mel talking with our boss when you were busy with that Romulan patient," Hu'ajat said.
"The one that wouldn't stop complaining," I said, remembering.
He nodded. "That one."
"What did you hear?" I asked.
"This," Hu'ajat said. "They're trying to figure out who and what I actually am. If they can, they're going to try to get DNA samples from me. They think that that will help them start their own cloning lab."
"Will it?" I asked.
He shook his head. "There's too much missing. Hardware, software, experience, knowledge. They're like babies trying to learn what an adult has spent a lifetime learning."
"They're fools," I said.
"Agreed," Hu'ajat said. "But more they want more than just my DNA."
I couldn't imagine what else we could possibly have that they'd want so intensely. But I had trouble reaching back in my mind to before the darkness-in-a-womb unconscious that he'd woken me up from. Before we'd spoken with our boss.
"Do you remember arriving at the Tal Shiar satellite, in orbit above Virinat?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Is that where we are? I thought we were onboard a Tal Shiar ship."
"We are onboard a Tal Shiar ship," Hu'ajat said. "We were brought here from the satellite."
"And I'm not Reman," I said.
"No, you're not," he said. "You're Romulan."
"Just like the Tal Shiar are," I said.
"No," Hu'ajat said. "Definitely not like them. You might be able to walk and talk like them, but you don't think and feel like them. I can tell."
"But how do you remember what came before all this?" I asked.
"Because I faked being poisoned," he said. "I ate the food they gave us at the satellite. But I didn't drink the water. You did, though."
"And they set up all this, just for us?" I asked.
Hu'ajat nodded. "To get us to give them the information they needed."
"And like the assumption that having Reman DNA is good enough to start a cloning lab," I said, and he nodded.
"They miscalculated," he finished for me. "Their egos won't let them admit to failure. They've never made any mistakes. That's for us lesser, fallible beings."
"Then what do we do?" I asked. "I only know what I know on this ship, and a life that apparently was never mine. I was never Yi'aju. I was only ever T'kav."
"Your thinking is leading you in the correct direction," Hu'ajat said. "Your memories will return."
"When?" I asked.
"When the medication in the water passes through your system," he replied. "It's already happening."
"Because I didn't drink the water, because you told me not to," I said.
Hu'ajat nodded. "They did a better job constructing your imaginary past than they did with me. Well, not an entirely imaginary past. They dug out my memories of my sister and put those in you, telling you that you were her, not T'kav. And you believed it. Maybe you still do."
"Not so much," I said, and it was true. Echoes in my older memories were strengthening, solidifying. Just as not quickly as I would've liked them to. So I had to trust him even more than I usually did. "I can only hope you're right, that all of my real memories will come back."
"They will," he assured me. "This medicine doesn't cause permanent effects, only temporary ones. It has be replenished or it fades completely."
"Then what do we do?" I asked. "We're inside a Tal Shiar ship. We can't just try to escape. We'd be caught, if they didn't kill us first."
"They can't kill us," Hu'ajat said. "They need us alive. Me for my DNA. And you --"
The chamber's door slid open. G'mel stood there, with a Gorn on his left and a Hirogen on his right. G'mel had a phaser pointed at us.
"You should've come to my Sickbay," he said. "Much less suspicious, much less incriminating. But you had to do it the hard way. Fine. Get up."
Hu'ajat got off of his float-chair and I got off of my bed. Then we looked at each other, and he nodded.
I ducked and rolled to my right. I heard Hu'ajat's modified phaser fired several times. The Gorn fell, as did the Hirogen. Either dead or stunned. G'mel looked astonished, unable to fire his own phaser. The Tal Shiar must indoctrinate their "volunteers" as they had done with me, to the point where you believe any lie the Tal Shiar tell you. Because it sounds like the truth, and it couldn't be a lie, could it?
"You -- stupid -- little --"? G'mel said, and finally aimed his phaser at Hu'ajat and fired. It missed.
But Hu'ajat didn't. G'mel fell, sprawling across the bodies of the Gorn and Hirogen.
Then Hu'ajat shoved me out of the chamber and into the corridor outside it, following right behind me. The corridor was briefly empty, but I knew that that wouldn't last long. When he stopped pushing, he turned and fired at the door controls. They exploded in a little burst of sparks and smoke.
"That should do for a bit," he said. "You're right, T'kav. You couldn't be my sister."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because she couldn't shoot, not even a khellid drone in self-defense," Hu'ajat replied. "I tried to teach her how to fight, but she just wasn't interested." He paused because two Tal Shiar suddenly entered the corridor ahead of us, from a side corridor. And they were both definitely armed.
Here's Chapter Four.
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg
CHAPTER FOUR --
But that wasn't what made me uneasy. It was the chuckling. And it didn't come from Hu'ajat. It came from someone who had just walked into view behind the two Tal Shiar. It was Empress Sela. And she couldn't have been more pleased by what she saw.
"My, my, my," she said, amused. "This has turned out far better than even I expected." She turned to Hu'ajat. "Well done."
"You're welcome, your highness," he said. "And if you aren't needing my services anymore, may I be dismissed?"
"Not just yet," the empress said.
I also turned to him, but not with pleasure. I clenched my fists, wishing I could kill him. Slowly. Painfully. "You what? I trusted you, and you betrayed me? So all that you said about faking the poisoning, about me not being your sister, and everything else -- that was all a lie. You bastard!" I closed the meter or so between us, furious, looking him in the eye, daring him with all I had into provoking me into attacking him. Just one shot from his phaser and it would all be over for me. Better that than having to live with the dishonor of what he'd done to me. "If you weren't my brother, I assure you, you'd be dead right now."
"I followed my orders, Yi'aju," Hu'ajat calmly said. "What else could you expect me to do?"
"Indeed," G'mel's voice said from behind us. He was standing there, his guards flanking him. "I didn't think you had the wherewithal to go through with it. There is definitely some unused potential in you Remans. A shame you don't demonstrate it more often. Think what you could accomplish if you did."
"My thoughts exactly," the empress said. "Yes, now you are dismissed, Hu'ajat. Thank you also for keeping me informed overnight. That made arranging all this so much easier for me. You are to remain available for possible further use should I need you."
"Understood," he said, and left us.
"And now," the empress went on, facing me, "what to do with you, Yi'aju. All that I did for you, and this is how you show your gratitude? And all that silliness about T'kav. Pretending you were a Romulan. Pretending that you hated the Tal Shiar. Pretending that your brother meant anything to you. Dear me. And you expected us to believe it? We're more intelligent than you give us credit for."
I didn't know what to say. I looked down at my feet.
She stepped forward, placed a hand under my chin, lifting it until we were eye to eye. "If you perform well, and don't rebel, I might even give you back your job in the workshop. This time to augment Tal Shiar weaponry, not just the silly little phaser that your brother has."
So he'd told her about that too. Was there anything he hadn't told her? Probably not. If she'd asked him for my chest-size, leg-length and foot-size he wouldn't have hesitated to reveal them to her. Bastard. Double, triple, quadruple bastard.
"Tell me," the empress continued. "Did you ever notice anyone unusual in that orphanage on Virinat?"
I thought back, tried to remember. Shook my head. "The staff never changed. Only the children did, as each reached adulthood and had to leave."
"We were watching you back then also," she said. "To see whether you might be suitable someday as a member of the Tal Shiar, as a citizen of the Romulan Star Empire."
"I'm sorry that I've failed, then, your highness," I said.
"Failed?" The empress tried not to laugh. "Far from it. That brother of yours is about as trustworthy as a Klingon. You had every reason to distrust him. The little spy thought he had us all fooled, even you and me." She turned to one of her guards. "Have him thrown in the brig. You'll probably find him near one of the escape pods. If he fights back, execute him."
He nodded and left us.
"Well," she said, quite satisfied. "Now you can progress in the Tal Shiar as far and as quickly as you like."
"But in doing what?" I asked. "I'm only an engineer."
She backed away, half-turned from me. "Not just an engineer, Yi'aju. Oh, I can think of the possibilities ahead of you. So many things. Perhaps even one day -- if all should go well -- as my -- heir?"
"If you think so, your highness," I said. A Reman to become the next empress? Ridiculous.
"And I do," the empress said, facing me again. Then she looked past me. "G'mel, please take Yi'aju here to her new quarters, and acquaint her with her new responsibilities. She will still be working in the workshop, however."
"Yes, your highness," he said.
The empress smiled at me. "Oh, we are going to get along so well together, you and I. Just you wait and see, Yi'aju. You'll forget your work at that orphanage, and learn to look down at your worthless brother before you know it."
I could only hope so.
"Dismissed," she told us.
G'mel and his guards escorted me away. Behind us, I thought I heard a short bit of conversation.
"Any reports of her brother?" the empress inquired quietly.
"Yes, your highness," her guard replied, also quietly. "He was in the meal room, and didn't put up a struggle."
"I wonder why he didn't try to escape," the empress murmured. "Never mind. We have other things to do. Come with me."
"Yes, your highness," her guard said, and they headed away from us.
My new quarters were a suite of rooms, each larger than my sleeping chamber had been. The bed could've held several people, and I wondered if it had prior to my arrival on this ship. This ship. It must be simply gigantic. Larger than most Klingon and Federation vessels were said to be. I did wonder where it was headed, or whether it had stayed in orbit about Virinat.
But then my late breakfast arrived, hand-carried by a Gorn, and my hunger for food pushed most of my other thoughts aside. The Gorn laid the tray on the table in the room next to my bedroom, bowed, and left. Odd, because neither my brother nor I had ever bowed to the empress, nor had she requested that we do so.
I sat down at the table, and began to eat, enjoying food that was far better than any I'd ever had before, both on this ship and on Virinat. I'd never know that food could taste so good, that I didn't even care if anyone had hidden a drug in it. Not after all that had happened thus far. And the glass of fruit juice left a tingle on my tongue and in throat. Fermented, perhaps. If so, it had only improved the flavor for me.
Finished, the Gorn returned -- how had he known? -- and collected the tray before leaving again. If the empress needed to keep an eye on me elsewhere in her ship, surely that would change here in my new suite.
New suite. Not like my clothes. I looked down at myself. Was it possible that there were clothes stored somewhere in here? Anything would do, just as long as it was clean. It felt like ages since I'd changed into these clothes in what probably wasn't even Hu'ajat's room on Virinat.
I couldn't find any control panels, so I said aloud, "Hello?" Hoping I didn't sound too silly doing it.
"Waiting," a low-pitched female voice said. "Request?"
"Clean clothes," I said. "Where are they?"
"One moment," the voice said. A narrow, tall doorway opened opposite the foot of my new bed. A rack of clothes slid out of it. The doorway closed. "Further instructions?"
"Not right now," I said, walking over to the clothes-rack. Being an orphan, and then a prisoner, I'd never known what real clothes could be like. Clothes that weren't hand-me-downs, weren't almost worn out. These almost looked new to me, but they couldn't be -- could they?
I went through the clothes, automatically organizing them by type. Pants here, skirts there, shirts here, blouses there, a few dresses, underclothes. All in subdued colors, naturally, but beautiful all the same. So unusual for a Reman to have choices like this. Which one? That one? This one? All of them? Oh, don't be ridiculous. Besides, you need to bathe first. Never get dressed in clean clothes if you yourself aren't clean.
"Instructions," I said aloud.
"Waiting," the voice said.
"I need to bathe," I said.
"One moment," the voice said. "The bathing unit is in the corner of the room opposite the one you are in. Please go there and I will tell you how to use it."
I left my bedroom and went into the bathing unit. It was large enough for at least three people. Above the tiled floor was a pipe and perforated upside-down bowl. No controls here either. Apparently wealthy Romulans didn't require control panels in their private residences. In any case, I definitely wasn't use to this level of opulence, having been a poor Reman girl for most of my life.
"Please undress," the voice said.
I did so.
"Stand under the shower-head," the voice said.
Is that what it was, then? I stood beneath the upside-bowl, just a half meter or so between us.
"Hot, warm, cool, or cold?" the voice inquired.
"Warm," I said, never having had a warm shower before.
Warm water, like a summertime rain, fell on my head, spilled down me, all the way down to me feet. It was followed by body-cleansers, and then more warm water. Finally, hot air from unseen holes in the walls around me dried me off.
"Sufficient, or do you need more?" the voice inquired.
"Sufficient," I said.
"Further instructions?" the voice asked.
"Not right now," I said, and walked back to my bedroom, afraid that the rack of clothes might've disappeared in the meantime. This had all the qualities of a dream. A dream beyond my wildest imagination. But the clothes-rack was still there, and so were the clothes on it.
I chose a pair of bluish-grey pants, a light-blue long-sleeved shirt, white underclothes, and a pair of bluish-grey boots to go with the pants. The fancy dress shoes didn't do much for me. I would save them for situations more important than just being in my suite.
"Reminder," the voice said. "Your workshop is open and ready for you. Please report there soonest."
"Thank you, I will," I said, put on a light jacket, and left my suite. I didn't want to go, because it was just so overwhelmingly wonderful. But at least I knew that it would be there at the end of my work-shift.
When I arrived at my workshop, I found someone waiting inside it. Someone I had hoped to never see again. Hu'ajat looked up at me, seemed genuinely surprised by my new appearance, then stood and bowed.
"I thought you were supposed to be in the brig," I said coldly.
"I was released just a few minutes ago," he said.
"I can have you taken back there, you know," I said, still cold. "It's not as if you serve any useful purpose here."
Hu'ajat nodded. "Understood. But I would rather work here. For you."
"Why?" I asked, thawing ever so slightly. Like a Spring that was delayed by the tenacious grip of a Winter that did not want to leave.
"Before your change in onboard status, I thought we were like friends," he replied.
"I thought so too," I said. "Apparently I was quite mistaken. You took me for a fool, and kept fooling me. It won't happen again. Is that understood?"
"Good," I said.
I looked around us, trying to avoid looking directly at him. He was no longer at my status level; he was below me. And I planned to keep him there. The workshop, however, was more pleasant to look at. New machinery; new tools, all organized just the way I would've done it; and they hadn't removed the worktable. It was the same one that I'd enjoyed working on before.
The workshop's door chimed.
"Enter," I said.
The door slid aside, and a male Tal Shiar entered, shorter than most, extremely short sand-colored hair, dressed in the same uniform that the rest of the Tal Shiar onboard this ship wore. He held an assault gun in his hands. He promptly ignored Hu'ajat, came over to me and saluted.
"I was told that you could repair this," the Tal Shiar said.
I inspected it. Saw where it was still functioning, and where it needed to be fixed. "Two hours," I said.
The Tal Shiar nodded, saluted again, turned on his heel, and left the workshop.
"That shouldn't take you that long," Hu'ajat said.
I'd almost forgotten he was there. I forced myself to look at him. "And how would you know?"
"You were faster than that before," he replied. "You let me watch once. That's how I know. With this equipment, it probably wouldn't even take you an hour." He paused. "That is, if you'll let me assist you."
"If you think I can't do it alone, you're sadly mistaken," I said.
"I didn't say that," Hu'ajat said. "Of course you can do it alone. But with two working on it, the repairs will be finished even sooner."
"And why should that matter to me?" I asked.
"Because you're not the type to waste time unnecessarily," he replied. "At least, you weren't before."
I sighed, trying to keep my temper cool. "We'll see." I told him which tools I needed at the worktable. He fetched them for me. "I'll work on the projectile guidance system. You work on the ammunition delivery system."
"Understood," Hu'ajat said.
Which was how we spent my first day back in the workshop. I handled the more difficult repair jobs, and he handled the simpler ones. And, yes, he was quite right. It did go faster -- and also more smoothly -- with both of us working together. Much as I hated to have to admit it to myself (I didn't say so aloud to him; it wasn't necessary to do so). Perhaps he wasn't as worthless as I thought he was.
The end of the day came sooner than I'd expected. With a sore back, that I rubbed as best I could, and sore shoulders. Too much bending over, using the microscopic viewer and miniature waldoes. But some of the jobs had to be like that.
"Need any pain relief?" Hu'ajat inquired. He'd learned not to get in my way, and to phrase his questions as calmly and politely as possible. My temper wasn't something he enjoyed experiencing.
"I'll go see G'mel for some," I replied.
"I have some," he said. "But it's in my sleeping chamber. Which had its entry code changed after I was put in the brig."
"What do you expect me to do about it, then?" I asked.
"Perhaps you could ask G'mel to let me in?" Hu'ajat suggested.
"And what would he say when he found that you'd stolen something from his Sickbay?" I asked.
"True," he replied, looking resigned.
"Can anyone else let you in?" I wondered.
"The empress probably has all the entry codes stored in the onboard security system," Hu'ajat said.
My eyebrows rose, less slanted now. "And you think that I'll just go up to her and ask her for the one for your chamber?"
"You certainly have considerable gall in asking for a favor from someone you betrayed," I said. "Not just anyone, but your very own sister."
"True," Hu'ajat said quietly.
I sighed. Was there no easy way out of this? Coldness was one thing. Indulging in cruelty was quite another. And I never saw myself as a cruel female Reman.
"All right," I said, hoping this wasn't a mistake. "Just this once I will assist you." I frowned and held up my right forefinger. "Just this once." He nodded. "But do not ever ask me for this sort of help again. Is that quite understood?"
He looked pleased, but cautious. "Yes."
"System," I said, trying not to sound annoyed, lest it be misinterpreted by literal programming.
"Waiting," the female voice said.
"Contact Empress Sela," I said. "Inform her that I wish to speak with her."
"One moment," the voice said, and then I heard the empress's voice. "Good evening, Yi'aju. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Yes, your highness," I said. "My -- brother -- has asked if he could retrieve something from his chamber. His previous residence. But the entry code has been changed."
A pause. "He can access the chamber. For five minutes, as of right now. Then he must depart it."
"Understood," I said. I looked at Hu'ajat. "Get going."
He nodded, and ran out of the workshop.
"Thank you, your highness," I said.
"Anytime, Yi'aju," the empress said. "And I commend on your excellent weapons repair work today."
"Again, thank you, your highness," I said.
"Out," she said.
"Further instructions?" the female voice asked.
"Not right now," I replied, and then shut my eyes as I rubbed a particularly sharp pain in my lower back. I definitely needed to set up something to make bending over at the worktable less uncomfortable if I had to do it for more than an hour at a time.
Less than four minutes later, Hu'ajat returned, the anaesthetic spray in hand. He applied it where I asked him to, and each time the pain abated considerably.
"That feels much better," I said. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said.
"I suppose you think that after this I owe you one," I said.
"You owe me nothing," Hu'ajat said.
"Liar," I said. "I promise I won't have you sent back to the brig. You've earned your release from it. Will that do for starters?"
"It wasn't necessary," he said.
"Liar again," I said. "I believe I owe you something for helping me today, work-wise and pain-relief-wise. Join me for evening meal."
"In your residence?" Hu'ajat asked.
"Where else?" I replied. "You don't think I'd want to eat in the common meal room, do you?"
"I suppose not," he said.
"What they eat there would deprive me of a healthy appetite in all the most unpleasant ways," I went on. "I'd rather starve. Ready to close down for the day?"
"System," I said.
"Waiting," the female voice said.
"Lock the workshop entrance door after we depart," I said. "We will be returning tomorrow morning, 0600 ship-time."
"Understood," the voice said. "Further instructions?"
"Not right now," I replied.
I put on my light jacket as we left the workshop. The door slid shut and locked behind us. It was a further walk from here to my new residence than it had been to my previous one, but I didn't mind. As we did so, we passed other Tal Shiar. Each of whom saluted me. As well they should. The empress would have them thrown in the brig for failing to respect the future heir to the Romulan Star Empire.
Turning down a side corridor, we stepped into the lift. It took us down from the workshop level to what I'd learned was called the Underground. There were two higher-status residential levels. The empress lived on the one near the top of the ship. I preferred living down here. It felt safer and more comfortable.
The Underground wasn't as brightly lit as the level that the empress lived on. Which suited me fine. I wasn't that interested in the more brightly lit areas of the ship. Only in the workshop did I need bright lights for my repair work, and then only in certain areas, and then only shining as far away from my eyes as possible.
Inside my suite, I took off my light jacket and laid it on my bed. A long-armed waldo came out of the nearest wall, picked up the jacket, and disappeared with it. Of course. I should've been neater with it, but the system made allowances for me. Well, long days will make one forgetful about good manners, even towards inanimate objects.
Hu'ajat looked impressed by the scale of my suite. "This place is huge!"
I shrugged. "It will suffice. After all, I spend more time away from it than in it, so it doesn't need to be more than it is."
I went to the meal-programming unit in the eating room, and picked something not terribly interesting, but at least tasty. I wasn't in the mood for anything fancy, food-wise, and certainly wasn't about to make any extra effort for my -- brother.
"Where do you live now?" I asked him, trying to sound remotely curious.
"Near the brig," Hu'ajat replied. "About the same as what I had before, only not as comfortable."
"You should feel lucky," I said. "It was either that or the brig itself."
"True," he said. There were several chairs around the table. They hadn't been there earlier, and I didn't recall requesting them. "May I sit down?"
"Be my guest," I said, and then regretted it. I was becoming more polite, and wasn't quite sure what was compelling me to do so. Easing my back and shoulder pain shouldn't equate to this sort of behavior from me towards him. Watch it, I reminded myself. You're above him, and don't you forget it.
"Thank you," Hu'ajat said and sat down.
"If you think I'm going to back off and start treating you like an equal, don't," I said.
"Did I say so?" he asked, one eyebrow raised. "One would think that we didn't share the same cloned DNA."
"We are identical only in that way, in that we are both Reman, and in no other," I said.
"I know," Hu'ajat said. "I appreciate that you were willing to invite me here. Even though it's just for evening meal."
The meal-programming unit warned me that the food was cooked and ready to serve. I acknowledged it, and let it serve the food onto the table. Without warning, a bottle of dark-red Reman wine and two slender wineglasses joined the food.
"I did not request wine," I told the unit. "Please remove it."
"Incoming communication," the ship's system announced suddenly.
"No, but I did," a voice said through the system. The empress. "I thought you both might enjoy something that came from your home-world. Virinat wines are good, but hardly of this high level of quality. I didn't think you'd mind."
"Thank you, your highness," I said, and Hu'ajat echoed me.
"If you don't mind, I would like to join you after your meal," the empress continued.
"Is there a problem?" I asked. At that moment, I couldn't imagine any other reason for her request. Not that I would've refused it.
"No, no problem," she replied. "May I join you then?"
"Certainly, your highness," I said. "I would be honored by your presence."
"Likewise, your highness," Hu'ajat said.
"Thirty minutes, then," the empress said. "Enjoy your meal, and especially the wine. Out."
"Communication terminated," the system said. "Further instructions?"
"Not right now," I said.
Hu'ajat glanced at me. "Do you allow conversation during meals?"
"I suppose I did so before?" I replied.
"If you insist," I said. "But I'm tired, so don't expect lengthy, detailed, coherent conversation from me."
"I'll remember," Hu'ajat said.
"So -- what would you like to discuss?" I asked.
He paused, as if not quite sure how to answer. "They found her body."
I put down my fork, looked at him. "Whose body?"
"Yi'aju's," Hu'ajat replied. "They found it on Virinat. After the second raid. She was thought to've escaped in a Tal Shiar shuttle. But now they know that isn't true."
But wasn't I his sister? So how could it be my body that had been found? More lies, then.
I sighed. "The empress said that you aren't exactly known for being honest. Why should I believe this information you've just given me? For all I know, you've made it up, just to see how I'd react."
He shook his head.
"Then where did you get the information?" I asked. "Only then will I believe it, and you."
"Entry requested," the system interrupted.
The empress was a bit early. But I suppose that was an empress' prerogative.
"Permitted," I said.
"He got it from me," a voice said in my suite's front doorway. The voice seemed remotely familiar, though. Where had I heard it before?
We both turned, and saw a tall, short-and-dark-haired Romulan woman approach us. She was dressed similar to what I was wearing. Tal Shiar like us, I assumed, but I wasn't entirely sure.
"The empress will be along shortly," she told us, sitting down on Hu'ajat's left without my permission.
"Have we met before?" I asked.
"Perhaps," she replied. "I am T'kav."
You have me interested, and confused.
Trying to clarify without spoiling it for the reader.
Since I'm still drafting this story (aka improvising and editing as I go along), I haven't worked out everything yet. But so far, below seems to be what's happening:
Hu'ajat and Yu'aji were cloned for a reason. Something is in Reman DNA that is *not* in Romulan DNA or any other species' DNA. Something that makes them different, possibly at a fundamental level. What and why? Not sure yet. Working on that.
T'kav is more than just a Romulan orphan, who currently thinks that she is Hu'ajat's sister (she shouldn't have had anything to drink; whatever drug is being used is dissolved in liquids and imbibed that way). There must be *some* truth to what Hu'ajat has told her, just as there must be *some* truth to what Empress Sela and her minions have told her. What and how much? Not sure yet. I'm guessing that T'kav might've been adopted by her parents, who died in one of the Tal Shiar raids on Virinat. In which case, who are *really* her parents? Working on that too.
Empress Sela is doing whatever she can to obscure things, twisting them this way and that, in the hopes that the information/help that she desires will be revealed. Torture might be more useful, but might damage not only the source of information but any future assistance it may provide. She is willing to play the game of confuse/betray/lie for as long as it takes, provided she gets the results she wants. If Yi'aju/T'kav becoming her heir helps things along, then so be it. Then again, there may be even more to her motives than meets the eye. Never expect a Romulan to be straightforward and trustworthy. Especially the head of the Tal Shiar. (After all, in STO, even D'Tan hasn't revealed all that he knows and all that he's planning for; who knows what lurks in his mind?) The path to a goal is rarely the straightest one.
And that discovered body, supposedly T'kav's? More smoke-and-mirrors? More deception? Perhaps. I haven't started Chapter 5 yet, so I can only go by what my imagination is churning. Hopefully something interesting, surprising, and worth waiting for. It has already surprised me in this story more times than I can count.
Sorry that I don't have anything more definite than that, but I don't want to spoil what comes next for either the reader or for me. I'm not the kind of writer who outlines a story from beginning to end. I prefer to learn as I go. As I if I were a detective investigating a mystery, rather than the all-knowing author writing about it.
Hope this helped somewhat.
For those following the story:
I've finally gotten a decent draft of Chapter 5 going (have to somehow bridge from one scene to another, and then see how the rest goes). Took me at least four or five failed attempts over the past week. Sorry for the delay, but I was unwilling to post anything I didn't think was good enough. Thank you for being patient. I think it'll be worth it.
Here's Chapter Five
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg
CHAPTER FIVE --
I stood there, arms crossed on my chest, looking at her. "And why should I believe you?"
"I'll motivate you," T'kav -- or whoever she actually was -- said. She stood up, crossed behind Hu'ajat, and faced me.
"But how do you propose to do that?" I asked.
She smiled a little. "How difficult was it, an orphan working at an orphanage? You knew what they were going through because you'd been there yourself. Suffering, starving, lonely. Perhaps you'd been deceived."
"By whom?" I asked. "Someone like you?"
T'kav shook her head. "Deception makes it difficult to trust, doesn't it? Who do you turn to, when you're not sure whether they're being honest with you or lying to you? Can you even turn to your family?" She gestured at Hu'ajat. "To your brother?"
"You leave him out of this," I said, borderline angry, but not full-blown. She was good at getting a response out of others, but I wasn't going to let her know she'd almost succeeded with me.
"Yi'aju --" Hu'ajat began, as if sensing what was going on inside me.
I shook my head at him, but not quickly enough. She'd seen it.
"Just a brother?" T'kav wondered. "Or more than that?"
"And I suppose you would know, having had one yourself?" I asked.
"I've neither had a brother nor a sister," she said. "I've always been an only child, never wishing to be lonely. You're lucky, Yi'aju."
"Am I?" I said. If I was, it certainly hadn't felt like it.
T'kav nodded. "But do you know why?"
"Tell me, since obviously you know," I said.
"Entrance requested," the system interrupted.
I didn't answer. I was still looking at T'kav. "That's probably the empress this time. Would you be willing to tell me why in front of her?" In fact, if it wasn't the empress, I would be more than willing to evict them. With my left foot against their rear end.
She said nothing. So be it.
"Permission granted," I said as flatly as possible.
The front doorway slid open, and Empress Sela stood there. Dressed in subdued colors, as usual; dark grey vest and black pants. She didn't seem the least bit surprised to see T'kav in my suite. Of course not. If she'd actually sent T'kav ahead of herself. But had she?
"Further instructions?" the system inquired.
"Not right now," I said.
"I must say, you do keep avoiding the reactions I expect you to make, Yi'aju," the empress said as she entered. "I thought T'kav would be dead by now, or at least injured. Is it possible that you trust her? I wouldn't, you know."
"I'm not you, your highness," I said.
"The Underground has been making bets," the empress went on, as if she hadn't heard me. "To see how long you'd last. And you've lasted beyond even the most hopelessly optimistic of projections."
"I'm a survivor," I said.
"Of course," the empress said. "You survived your parents' deaths. The orphanage. Our attacks on the misguided colony on Virinat." She went over to T'kav, walked behind her, then faced her from there. "If you were a clone, I would expect you to be similar to your brother. Similar thoughts, similar feelings, similar motives. But you're not." She laid a hand on T'kav's right shoulder, spun her round until they were face to face. "It would be tempting to punish you. To see how far you can be hurt until you surrender."
"I wouldn't surrender," I said.
"I know that," the empress said, running the back of a forefinger down T'kav's left cheek. "But I wasn't speaking to you."
"I -- I did what you asked, your highness," T'kav said, trying to stay calm, but failing little by little.
"Of course you did," the empress said, soothingly.
"I would never disobey you," T'kav said, trembling.
"Of course you wouldn't," the empress said. "You were created for one purpose: to serve me."
"And I have," T'kav said, unhappily.
"You couldn't do otherwise," the empress said. She looked over at me. "What do you propose? Destroy her and start over?"
"Is she of any further use?" I replied.
Empress Sela looked at T'kav, shook head head.
"Destroy her, then," I said.
"But --" T'kav turned from the empress to me. "Have mercy on me."
"Romulans aren't merciful," I said.
"But Remans can be," T'kav said. "Please. Let me live. Don't let me be destroyed."
I said nothing, just as she had done earlier.
"T'kav," the empress interrupted, none too pleased. "Report to G'mel. Immediately. Is that understood?"
"Y -- yes, your highness," T'kav said and left.
I'd never seen a Romulan look so vulnerable and unhappy. Angry, yes. Vulnerable and unhappy were alien concepts to Romulans as a whole. Leave those sorts of things to the weak and mundane. Like the humans, like the Federation.
"Another test run wasted," the empress said, looking disgusted.
"My apologies, your highness," I said. Not for her having chosen to run it in my suite, without forewarning me, though. For which she needed to apologize to me. But she wouldn't. That would be admission of imperfection. And, naturally, Romulans never make mistakes. It made me thankful that I wasn't one of them. That I was Reman.
"The first one never made it out of the lab," the empress said. "I had hopes that this one might be more successful."
"Is cloning usually so difficult, your highness?" Hu'ajat asked her.
I'd almost forgotten he was there. For the empress, it was if he didn't exist. Perhaps she wished it could be so. Why did she dislike Remans so much? Indoctrinated from an early age to dislike them? Or some other, deeper reason that she was unwilling to disclose?
"For non-Remans, yes," Empress Sela replied. "There is an instability in the human DNA duplication process that makes it unlikely that any humanoid species will ever be cloned. Perhaps it's time to expand our test pool beyond Romulans. Perhaps Klingons, Gorn, Hirogen, or Aenar might be more usable."
She didn't mention Earth's humans. Quite likely she had her reasons why, and again preferred to keep them to herself.
"And if you finally succeed?" he asked.
"Then we won't need Remans like you anymore," she replied, smiling coldly. She looked at me. "See me before you go to your workshop tomorrow morning, Yi'aju."
I nodded. "Yes, your highness."
With that, she left, the front doorway sliding shut behind her.
"If only she had told me," I said, finally letting some of the anger out. "Couldn't she trust me to give an honest response?"
"That would be risking influence on the outcome of the test," Hu'ajat said, sounding like he was quoting someone but I didn't know who. "The test subject must be ignorant of being tested, increasing the potential for a better result than knowledge does."
"Is that from one of your science courses?" I asked.
"Na'ushk," he explained. "Late 23rd Century Reman physicist. Like the ancient Earth mathematician Archimedes, Na'ushk refused to be drawn into a war that he saw as pointless. This time the war was between the Remans and the Klingons. He was in the middle of an experiment, when a Klingon ordered him to stop and leave his lab. Na'ushk ignored the order. So the Klingon killed him. It was later learned that the Klingon commander had asked that Na'ushk be captured alive. The one that killed Na'ushk was declared without-honor and executed."
Which was more about that culture than I'd ever wanted to know.
"I can understand why we wouldn't trust the Klingons," I said. "But what about the Romulans?"
"Who destroyed the lab we were created in," Hu'ajat reminded me. "And all the scientists working in it."
"That was the Tal Shiar," I said.
"Who you are currently a member of, just as I am," he said.
I nodded. "I guess I'll never learn."
"Or maybe that's the price of being the exception to the rule," he said. He checked the food on the table. "It's cold. Reheat it, or recycle it and start over?"
I sighed and nodded. "Recycle it and start over. Same items?"
Hu'ajat shrugged. "Why not?"
"Is the wine safe, though?" I asked as I told the food programming unit to repeat the previous order. Something made me wonder if I were remembering something he'd said earlier today, or maybe it was yesterday? Something was affecting my memory. Almost as if -- no, it was gone again. Frustrating, but no doubt the least of my priorities. "Didn't you say not to drink the water?"
He nodded. "The fermentation process destroys the drug's effectiveness." He picked up the wine bottle, reading its label. "Definitely drink the wine. It's one of the better vintages."
The drug. We'd talked about this before, I was fairly sure. Not a hallucinogenic drug; one that affected the memory areas of the brain. Mine in this case. But "memory" triggered other thoughts. Such as wondering why sometimes it felt like my "memories" weren't quite my own. Maybe my brother would be willing to discuss it again. I hoped so.
"We should be grateful to the empress for that much," I said.
"But not for anything else?" Hu'ajat wondered.
"Careful," I warned him. "For a remark like that, you could be re-incarcerated." But not by me, I didn't add aloud.
"That's why I only said it to you," he said. "I wouldn't dare say to anyone else. Especially not Empress Sela."
And he believed that I wouldn't be so cruel as to punish him for it. More than believed, he trusted me. What had I done to deserve that? I sighed. Sometimes brothers could be so difficult to deal with.
As before, we spoke as ate.
"I suppose only the real T'kav would know a fake one," Hu'ajat said.
I looked up at him. "What do you mean by that?"
"Technology hasn't progressed to the point where consciousness transferal has become possible," he explained. "Not even in the Romulan Star Empire. But what if another kind of mental transferal were possible?"
"You're referring to memory transfer?" I asked.
Hu'ajat nodded. "Nothing new. But no more stable than cloning humanoid DNA. More failures than successes."
"Science," I said. "So very very fallible."
He smiled. "My final professor would've disagreed with you. He believed that there was nothing that science couldn't do. Especially Reman science." He paused, looked at me. "Is that why you went into engineering? Because you didn't agree?"
I nodded. "And I prefer being able to touch and manipulate what I'm working on."
"No workshop at the orphanage?" Hu'ajat asked.
I shook my head. "Why waste educational resources on orphans?" I paused. Had I said something like that before? It seemed as if I had. "It wasn't until I joined the Tal Shiar that I had the resources to learn what and how much I wished."
"They aren't all good, Yi'aju," he reminded me.
"Nor are they all evil," I countered. "They could've executed you, but they sent you to my workshop, to work under me. You should be thankful that you're still alive."
"Maybe they need me alive for a little while longer," Hu'ajat suggested.
"A little less pessimism wouldn't hurt," I suggested in turn, picking up the glasses, dishes, utensils, and taking them over to the recycling unit. The wine bottle was still half-full, so I corked it and stored it on the counter between the food programmer and the recycler.
"Like you, I'm a survivor," he said. "What good would pessimism do me?"
Finished, I turned to him. "You know more about me than I do, correct?"
Hu'ajat nodded. "You're my sister."
"That isn't what I meant," I said.
"I know," he said. "If only we didn't have to keep having this conversation."
"I get thirsty sometimes," I said.
"No water, no juice," Hu'ajat said.
"That only leaves wine, which is an intoxicant," I said. "I prefer to keep my thoughts as clear as possible."
"What do you want to know this time, then?" he asked.
I was about to reply, when I saw something on the table. Something thin enough to be almost invisible, maybe a centimeter or two long. A thread? I touched it. No. It felt more like plastic. I picked it up.
"I wonder if T'kav this behind," I said. "If so, was it deliberate on her part, or merely accidental? Perhaps I should report it to Empress Sela."
Hu'ajat looked at it. "Maybe someone wanted to avoid a record in the onboard system, so they turned to obsolete analog technology. I didn't know that anyone still manufactured anything like this. Could be ancient."
"Doesn't look like it can be more than a minute or two long," I said. "And it's torn at one end. Whatever is on it might've been quite a bit longer." Had someone stolen it when its owner hadn't been looking? Otherwise, they might've taken the entire piece?
"Would you rather ask me about yourself, or deal with this?" he asked.
"Both," I replied.
"No surprise there," Hu'ajat said, amused.
"In any case, I'm not sure that there's a machine onboard that could play this back," I said. "The empress doesn't seem the sort to dabble with anything obsolete." Then I paused. "Wait a moment. In my workshop. Someone dropped off something to be repaired just before the end of the shift. I said I'd work on it tomorrow."
"What was it?" he asked.
"I couldn't tell immediately," I replied. "Definitely not a weapon, like all the rest."
"Do you remember who dropped it off?" Hu'ajat asked.
I tried to. Then shook my head. "Not a soldier. Maybe a technician."
"Probably an engineer like you," he said. "And probably didn't want to attract any -- unwanted -- attention to himself."
"Might not be a male," I said. "Could've been a female."
"Either way, we could continue this discussion there, then," Hu'ajat suggested.
"Safer than here?" I asked.
"Perhaps, perhaps not," he replied. "I think we'd better stay quiet about it in the meantime."
I nodded. "I left my jacket in the workshop," I said quietly, hoping that the system couldn't hear me.
Neither of us mentioned that my jacket had already been put away by the suite's mechanized housekeepers.
"Perhaps we should go back and get it," Hu'ajat said, as quietly.
The system let us back inside the workshop, but did inquire why we were there after-hours. Of course it would ask. It was programmed to. By those who made sure they kept an eye on every person on this ship.
I lied that I'd had some unfinished repair work to do. Work that couldn't wait until tomorrow.
It accepted that, but I knew that a report had already reached Empress Sela. We didn't have much time. Hopefully we'd be back in my suite before anyone came to the workshop, demanding an explanation from me.
The object that I was looking for was still where I'd placed it on the workbench. It was an unassuming box shape. Ugly plastic with metal braces at each edge. Narrow slot on two faces, opposite one another. On the top face, if that was its top, was a clear window about a centimeter across. Underneath it seemed to be a light source.
"If this isn't ancient, then someone has gone to an awful lot of trouble to make a present-day copy of it," I said quietly. "But why bother?"
"Does it work?" Hu'ajat wondered.
"Needs a power source," I said, and placed it on top of one of several power pads on the workbench. Nothing happened. I grabbed a tool, and opened the box. Inside, I searched for the power supply system. It looked like the nanovs on Mol'Rihan that I'd heard of from Hu'ajat (he'd heard about them from G'mel), only with eight narrow arms instead of just two wide arms. I deduced what they might need to be connected to, and barely managed to avoid burning it out. Definitely not my area of expertise. I reconnected the ones I'd connected in error, then closed the box, and placed it back on the power pad on the workbench.
This time the window lit up, a beam of light shining into my face. I blinked away dots in front of my eyes, turned the box halfway around, so that I could see one of the slots. I put the thin piece of plastic into it, and then pointed the window at the wall opposite the workbench. The square of light grew, and we both saw that there was an image in the light.
The image sharpened, and we both saw that it was of the Empress Sela, only much younger than she was now. Behind her was a view of Mol'Rihan. But not as it was today. As it was at least twenty years ago. The empress was holding a dark-haired baby in her arms, a blanket wrapped around it. There wasn't any sound, but we could tell that she was talking to someone not in view. Perhaps the baby's father? She was about to hand the baby to whoever it was, when she turned and looked at us. She was about to reach towards us when the baby cried. The screen went black.
I took the box off of the power pad, to let it cool, removed the plastic strip, and wondered about what we'd just seen.
As a cloned experiment, T'kav wouldn't have had access to something like the video recording. Maybe she'd seen it somewhere onboard, on her way to my suite, and stolen it, not knowing what it was. But why steal it, then? She must've had some sort of hint as to what it was, or she wouldn't have taken it. She wasn't stupid, after all.
And the box. Who did it belong to? That at least would be easier to answer, since the owner would be returning to collect their repaired device tomorrow.
"I think we'd better stop for now," Hu'ajat said quietly.
I nodded agreement, and put the box back where I'd stored it. I put the plastic strip in the front pocket of my pants.
"But where can we talk about this?" I quietly asked.
"Your suite, and not louder than this," he replied.
"I hope you know what you're doing," I said.
"I think so, and it might answer your other question, I believe," Hu'ajat said.
"About what you know about me," I said.
With that, we closed up the workshop, and returned to my suite in the Underground.
We relaxed as much as we could in leather-upholstered lounging chairs opposite a long, narrow wooden coffee-table. The system had even added a fake fireplace with equally fake flames (making me wonder what else it could do). A little heat, but not too much, flowed out of the fireplace. And, since there was outer space around the ship, there was even cold that was colder than Virinat's worst winter to make us grateful we were here on the inside, cozy and warm. I curled up in my chair, my feet and lower legs under me. It wasn't as uncomfortable as it must sound.
"I'm a clone," I said, continuing our conversation. "Like you. Not like the baby that the empress was holding."
"What do you think a clone looks like when it's created?" Hu'ajat asked. "Certainly not like an adult. We clones start out as babies, just like non-clones do. We even learn the same way."
"You're saying that Empress Sela was holding a cloned baby?" I replied. "Then she's already succeeded. Why does she need either you or myself?"
"She hasn't succeeded," he said. "The fact that she captured us is proof that she's failed before and will try again and again until she succeeds. No matter what it costs."
"Even to the point of genocide of the Remans?" I asked. "If Reman DNA is so important, then she can't risk going that far."
"Freeze it for future use," Hu'ajat suggested.
"Unless it breaks down while frozen," I said. "Maybe that's why she needs a living warm body."
"Then I certainly won't be giving her more than I already have," he said.
"She might not give you that choice," I said. "She probably has already taken advantage of you when you couldn't refuse. Who knows what else she might demand of you."
"Like my memories?" Hu'ajat wondered.
"Information is important, no matter what shape or form it comes in," I said. "Think what she could do with your memories."
"She couldn't build up someone else's life with them," he said. "I don't remember everything."
"Not consciously, no," I said. "But if she could access your subconscious, there might be a considerable amount of information that she could extract and put to her own uses."
That was an unsettling thought. Had the empress already done so? Possibly.
"Without damaging the source?" Hu'ajat asked. "I doubt it. The brain is easily damaged by those who seek to intrude without taking the proper precautions. And even then, they can do more harm than good."
I shrugged, and yawned. It was much later than I was used to be active at.
"Perhaps I should leave," he said.
"Perhaps you should," I said, probably not as polite as a host should be, but I was tired.
"Could we meet for mid-day meal at your workshop?" Hu'ajat asked, standing up.
"Aren't you going to be there?" I replied, also standing up.
"I'm not sure yet," he said. "I've heard hints."
"About?" I prompted.
"That's what I need to find out about," Hu'ajat said. "Sleep well, Yi'aju."
"And you," I said.
He gave me a hug, which surprised me, since I couldn't remember it ever happening before. At least, not in a very long time. And then he left my suite.
The system turned off power along the way as I headed for my bedroom. It seemed unreal that I had ever lived anywhere else, either onboard this ship or on Virinat. This seemed like the only home I'd ever had, and I was quite enjoying it.
In the morning, I went to the empress' offices, as requested by her. She was busy when I arrived, so I stood.
Once she was nearly done, Empress Sela greeted me as she stood up from behind her desk. "Good morning, Yi'aju. My apologies for making you wait." I saw that she had a tablet in one hand, and seemed to be finishing something on it. Then she laid it back on her desk.
"Good morning, your highness," I said. "And there's no need to apologize."
"I suppose not," she said. "Slept well?"
"Well enough," I said.
With that, apparently the social courtesies were dispensed with.
"Good," the empress said. "I have decided to re-assign Hu'ajat. I trust that this won't cause you any major problems or delays?"
Then that must be what he'd referred to last night. I wondered how soon he found out after leaving my suite.
"As long as I am assigned another assistant, no," I said.
"You will have one," she said. She picked up the tablet again, entered something. "They will be outside your workshop, waiting for you."
"Where is Hu'ajat going?" I asked. "If I am allowed to know, your highness."
"He will be working under D'Tan," the empress said.
"But D'Tan isn't part of the Romulan Star Empire," I said. "He is the leader of that so-called Romulan Republic on Mol'Rihan."
"Exactly," she said. "And what better place for Hu'ajat to be? I need more eyes on Mol'Rihan, and he will be one pair of them."
"What if D'Tan finds out what Hu'ajat is actually doing there?" I asked.
The empress looked amused, shook her head. "You're giving far too much credit to D'Tan. He doesn't have the edge to his suspicions that he once had. He's much too trusting. Who else would be so foolish as to ally themselves with both the Federation and the Klingons?"
"Perhaps he thinks there is a benefit to all three groups?" I suggested.
"If he does, then he's more blind than ever," she said. "In the meantime, you will be the receiver of Hu'ajat's surveillance reports. At the end of each day, you will bring them to me."
"You don't wish to receive them more directly?" I asked.
"If D'Tan does find out about Hu'ajat's real purpose for being on Mol'Rihan, the path back will only reach you, not me," the empress said. "He will suspect, but not be certain."
"Understood," I said. "Anything else, your highness?"
"I have decided not to destroy the cloned female Romulan, Yi'aju," she replied. "She may prove more useful as your assistant. And if the next clone is more stable, then we can eliminate the current one. No need for more than one at a time, after all. Dismissed."
I nodded and left.
Like yesterday, I arrived at my workshop to find someone waiting for me. This time it was T'kav, not Hu'ajat. She looked concerned, as if not quite sure of me. Understandable. She'd just barely avoided death, and no doubt would do whatever she could to stay alive. As long as she didn't do or say anything foolish or stupid, we ought to get along just fine.
"Greetings," I said.
"And you, your highness," T'kav said.
"I'm not the empress," I reminded her.
"Not yet," she said.
I made a face. It was none of her business what I was. That wasn't why she was here.
"System," I snapped.
"Waiting," the voice calmly said.
"Open workshop door," I said. "And include T'kav on the list of those allowed to be on the premises."
The doorway opened.
"Done," the voice said. "Further instructions?"
"Not right now," I said as we entered. The doorway slid closed behind us.
T'kav looked around, getting her bearings. She didn't seem too confused by where she was. Perhaps she'd been in a workshop before. If so, that was to her advantage.
"What do you do here?" she asked me.
"Repair and augment weapons," I replied. "Weren't you informed of this?"
T'kav shook her head. "I was just told to report to you here. And if I was even remotely late, I would be punished."
"Have you ever done this sort of work before?" I asked.
Again she shook her head. "I was never allowed to at the orphanage. I could only watch from outside its workshop. Not the best way to learn, though."
Wonderful. At least Hu'ajat had had some experience. I would have to teach T'kav as well as keep up with the workload. I wish that the empress had forewarned me, more than simply saying who my new assistant would be.
"What sort of work have you done, then?" I asked, and then added quietly: "Or is stealing video recordings something you do on the side?"
She looked startled. "Excuse me?"
"After you left my suite yesterday, I found something you'd left behind on the table in the eating area," I said. "A thin plastic strip. A video recording."
"I don't know what you're talking about," T'kav said.
"I think you do," I said. "Where did you get it from?"
"Please don't get me into trouble again," she pleaded.
"I won't -- if you tell me where you got it," I said.
"It was in the lab," T'kav said. "On G'mel's desk. When his back was turned, I grabbed it. But I only managed to tear off part of it."
"But why?" I asked. "What compelled you to do that?"
"I'd overheard him talking with the empress," she replied. "That a certain recording had been found during an interrogation of a Romulan Republic spy. I'm guessing that they were captured on Mol'Rihan while trying to escape from the Tal Shiar. Was G'mel sure of it? Mostly. But he needed the machine to play it back on. The machine was missing. Somewhere onboard. She ordered him to find it. And destroy both it and and the recording."
"You figured that it was too important to be destroyed, and stole part of it," I said.
T'kav nodded. "That was part of what the empress was angry at me for yesterday. It wasn't just that I'd failed to fool you and your brother."
"But she assigned you to me, to work here," I said.
"In the hopes, probably, that I would reveal it to you, and you would tell her," she said. "Please don't."
"You're playing in a dangerous game," I said. "Not that my own position isn't any safer." I sighed, and raised my voice to normal volume. "System."
"Waiting," the voice said.
"Please contact Hu'ajat," I said.
"He is currently out-of-communication on Mol'Rihan," the voice said. "I can locate him for you, if you wish."
"No thank you," I said. Locating him without being able to talk with him was pointless. And I didn't want to leave him a message. I needed his advice.
"Further instructions?" the voice asked.
"Not right now," I said. I looked at T'kav, and lowered my voice again. "I haven't gotten you into trouble this time. You've gotten me into trouble. And I don't appreciate it."
She didn't look too happy about it either.
"Entry requested," the system said.
"Identification," I said.
"G'mel," the system said. "The owner of the box that was dropped off yesterday."
"He's the --" T'kav said quietly, eyes wide.
"Sh," I whispered to her. Then louder: "One moment before admitting him."
"Understood," the voice said.
"He must've built it to view it," I told T'kav quietly. "No other explanation makes sense."
"But he must know by now that --" T'kav said.
I nodded. But if by chance, he didn't? A long shot, agreed, but I'd never abided by a gambler's instincts.
Looking around, I saw the small closet that was used for storing tools and equipment. "Get in there," I quietly told T'kav. "Don't move a muscle until I let you out. Understood?"
She nodded, and ran for it, shutting the door softly behind her.
"Permission granted," I said aloud.
The workshop's doorway opened, and G'mel entered. He hadn't been the one who'd dropped the box
off yesterday. He must've sent someone else to do it. Because I would've remembered that it had been G'mel.
"Further instructions?" the voice asked.
"Not right now," I replied, and went to get the box. "It wasn't easy to repair, but it seems fully functional now."
"I was assured that it couldn't be repaired except by its designer and builder," G'mel told me as I returned with the box.
"But why else bring it to me?" I asked.
"Because you're a clever engineer," he replied.
"No need to compliment me," I said. "I did my job. Good day."
G'mel was about to leave, when he paused. "T'kav was supposed to be working with you today."
"Maybe she wasn't feeling well," I suggested.
He didn't seem to believe that. I guess I'm not much of a liar. "Don't trust her."
"One must trust someone sometime or nothing gets done," I said, not sure who I was quoting. I'd seen it somewhere. Maybe onboard this ship, or maybe in the orphanage.
"She's a thief," G'mel said. "She stole something valuable from me."
"I will inquire, once she arrives," I said. "I trust she will be honest about it."
He seemed to want to continue, but then decided to give up, and left, carefully holding the box in both hands. Perhaps he'd sensed that there wasn't any point in arguing further with me. Besides, he'd gotten what he came for. Just not all of it.
I took a deep breath, let it out. And went to the storage closet. I opened it and saw that T'kav was crammed inside it, with barely enough room to wiggle her fingers and her toes.
"The sooner you're out of my workshop, the better," I told her.
"Was he angry?" she asked, as I helped her out of the closet.
"Not as much as I am," I replied, fighting the urge to throttle her for all that she'd put me through.
She stood up, stretched, and rubbed wherever it was sore from being cramped.
"Once we're done today, your position here is terminated," I said.
"But I will be destroyed if that happens," T'kav protested. "How can you be so cruel --"
"Maybe it's rubbing off of the empress and onto me," I said. Not the most pleasant of admissions to make, but at least I was honest about it.
"You'd almost think that she was your --" she said, but didn't finish.
"Friend?" I finished for her. "Hardly. One's boss need not be one's friend. It isn't one of the requirements for employment."
She said nothing, but her eyes never left my face.
"Entry requested," the system said.
I almost screamed, wishing that I were Klingon, dead, and in Stovokor just then. I couldn't be back in the ship's Underground and in my suite soon enough. This day had definitely overstayed its welcome.
"Identification," I said angrily.
"Name: Graz," the system said. "Gender: Male. Species: Reman."
Which was more than absolutely necessary. But I had insisted, hadn't I? Learn to curb your temper before opening your mouth, I reminded myself. And then I thought: Reman? There were only two Reman onboard this starship, weren't there? Hu'ajat and me. Where had this third one come from?
"Permission granted," I said, temper much subdued, but curiosity definitely kindled.
(written 6-15-2013 and 6-16-2013)
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