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Commander
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 497
# 32
05-17-2013, 02:41 PM
On yet another summer day under the harsh Brean sun, the raptor was out hunting again.

From her lookout on the mossy clifftop, Ta'nara watched, her one natural green eye sharp and bright with interest as she observed the bird circling over the distant forest canopy. Her other eye-- a grey, glimmering augmetic replacement for the eye she'd lost at Xanitla-- whirred, taking in air currents, vital signs, thermal information and projected speeds and trajectory as it ran calculations on the bird. If the Brean raptor was aware that it had an audience, then it made no indication as it circled in the distance, borne aloft on elegant, arched wings as its own keen eyes scanned the canopy below.

The Brean raptor was a magnificent bird, its wingspan greater than the height of an average adult Rihannsu. Its grey-green feathers, made from diamond-hard ultralight keratin strands, sparkled emerald under the morning sun, and its beaked head, framed by a helmet-like crest of feathers, cocked from side to side as it glared at the ground below. The raptor was the apex predator of Brea's skies, with a flight speed unmatched by any of the planet's other avians. Ta'nara had studied it long enough to know that its talons and monomolucular-edged feathers were capable of slicing through steel, and that its eyes were adaptable enough to see clearly in any light variation. This particular raptor must have made its nest not too far from Ta'nara's makeshift camp on the plateau, as she had seen it soaring periodically in the distance for the three days she had been here.

She sat down against a nearby rock, the birdwatching making her feel relatively calm and at ease. She remembered the stories and rumours she had heard years ago about the raptor's origins-- of how it was not truly native to Brea III, but was the ancestor of a Vulcan bird brought here by S'Task and the first Rihannsu. There were even stories that the Brean raptor was a close relative of the Rihannsu raptor-- the same great avian predator that the old Star Empire had taken as its symbol, and had been lost, along with everything else the Rihannsu had held dear, when ch'Rihan was destroyed.
It was because of this that the Brean raptor now held a special significance to the Rihannsu people: it reminded them of the magnificence and glory that their civilization had lost. It was an image that was at once tragic and patriotic.

Patriotic. It had been a long time since Ta'nara had felt the word meant anything. She had certainly felt patriotic all those years ago when, as a starry-eyed girl fresh out of the science academy, she had enlisted into the military to fight under her girlhood heroine Donatra against the oppressive regime of Praetor Tal'aura. She had felt patriotic again when, in the aftermath of the Hobus detonation, after working fruitlessly for a year at a refugee camp, she had joined the Tal Shiar-- the only institution left of the Star Empire that was actually doing something to make things better. And she had felt patriotic when, as an operative of the Tal Shiar, she had rooted out terrorists, dissidents, foreign agents and every other enemy of the Rihannsu people, and had put her keen scientific background to use in interrogating and breaking them.

And where had her patriotism led her? Here, in the darkest depths of the jungle lowlands of Brea III, on the run from other, patriotic, Rihannsu.

With a terrible, bone-chilling screech, the raptor suddenly swept its wings back and dove, dropping in the blink of an eye and disappearing under the jungle canopy. Ta'nara imagined the horrible, wet tearing sound of the bird's razor-sharp wings shredding its prey, before the raptor flew up from the canopy again, an indistinct carcass clutched in its thorny talons. As the bird began to disappear into the horizon, Ta'nara sighed, stood, and prepared to resume her own journey. She had quite a climb ahead of her if she wanted to get off this plateau, though she'd need to get to higher ground again soon afterwards if she wanted to avoid the local predators. With luck, she could reach the valley by dusk, assuming she didn't become a part of the Brean food chain by then.

You should never have opened that message, she thought to herself for what felt like the millionth time as she knelt down and began to roll up her sleeping pack. Typically, when a mid-level official like her gets a mysterious message on their computer, and when the sender is a colleague who has been presumed killed in action, the correct choice would be to either delete the message or to report it. That would have been the smart thing: to keep her head down and not get involved in things she knew nothing about. Instead, though, like an idiot, Ta'nara had given in to her curiosity and had opened the damned message.

And what a message it had been. The entire file had been packed with alpha-clearance communiques to and from the Tal Shiar's central command. Their seals had been broken, and against her better judgement, Ta'nara had read through them. In the space of a minute, Ta'nara learned that the current head of the Tal Shiar had been compromised by an alien influence. Exactly what that alien influence was, she still didn't know-- he could have been an agent of the Federation or Cardassians, a mind-controlled puppet of the Ktarians, or even an imposter sent by the Dominion or Species 8472. All Ta'nara knew was that whoever Central Command was sending all of those carefully coded communiques to, they definitely weren't Rihannsu.

And so, Ta'nara had packed what things she could and had run, knowing that the information leak would be traced back to her before long. When she discovered that Brea's spaceports had been declared off limits for "emergency inspections," she had instead run out into the planet's lowlands, hoping to evade capture out in the tangled green wilderness of the Rihannsu base-world. That had been a month ago, and in spite of their best efforts, neither the Brean wildlife nor the Tal Shiar had killed her yet.

She knew, though, that it was only a matter of time before she was caught. Even out here, far from civilization, the Tal Shiar would inevitably find her. Even though she had taken the procautions of disabling all traceable equipment and implants on her person, and even though she knew some of the Tal Shiar's best search methods, she also knew that her former colleagues had other tricks and methods at their disposal. Even in the aftermath of the Hobus disaster, the Tal Shiar remained one of the most effective intelligence agencies in the galaxy, and no dissident, however determined, escaped them. The thought made Ta'nara's gut twist uncomfortably. For sixteen years, she had been a member of the Tal Shiar, and now here she was thinking of herself as a 'dissident.'

She had just finished rolling up her pack when she heard a faint, almost inperceptible crack of twigs from the nearby treeline. The sound had been slight enough that it could easily have been a scurrying rodent. Ta'nara knew that that was precisely what it was supposed to sound like.

She closed her eyes and took a few deep, silent breaths to slow her heartbeat. "Hello, Colonel," she said, not bothering to look at the treeline.

Her keen hears heard the more distinctive sound of boots crunching on undergrowth. Slowly, Ta'nara turned and saw four hazy outlines emerging from the treeline, making it look as though the forest was shimmering and blurring. Shroud fields and sound dampeners, she thought. Of course. There was a sound like a ghostly exhalation of breath, and the four images suddenly became clear and distinct. Standing in front of her was a party of Rihannsu, all clad in the standard-issue dark green fatigues of Tal Shiar mountain gear. Three of them were only adolescent young men, uhlans most likely, with the fierce gaze of newly-promoted officers with something to prove. They were all carrying disruptor rifles, though a quick analysis from Ta'nara's augmetic eye told her they had plenty of backup weapons and equipment as well.

The fourth, however, stood at the front of the group, a head taller than the uhlans with a more broad-shouldered, imposing figure. He was immediately recognizable for his bald head, his hard, scowling face, and for the cybernetic implant that swirled around his right eye like some twisted black blossom.

Hakeev, of course. The Colonel wouldn't have risked letting someone else handle this, not when such critical information was at stake. Hakeev was here, Ta'nara knew, to eliminate the loose end in person.

"Hello, Ta'nara," Hakeev said, his scowl transitioning into a triumphant smile. "You've led us on quite a chase."

Even as the uhlans all pointed their disruptors at her, Ta'nara remained seated, keeping her expression calm and serene. Interrogator Verok's words came back to her from her novice days. Never let them see your true face, your true emotion. We of the Tal Shiar must always wear masks, and let our enemies see only what we want them to.

"I'm surprised it took you this long to catch up," she replied quietly, remembering the shuttle she had seen circling the mountains this morning. "Even though I had a day's head start, I didn't think it would take you an entire month." She gave Hakeev the closest approximation to a smile that she would allow.

Hakeev's scowl creased a little, and she knew that she had stung his pride. "I sincerely hope you didn't believe you could escape, Ta'nara," he said stiffly. "You know as well as I that no traitor escapes the Tal Shiar."

She inclined her head towards Hakeev. "Which of us is a traitor is a matter of some debate, Colonel," she replied. She glanced at the uhlans. "I suppose you've told them all about me and my various crimes against the Star Empire? Have you also told them that you plan to dispose of them afterwards, like you did Vrianu, Senra and K'ten?"

The uhlans remained stern and expressionless in the face of this comment, though Hakeev allowed himself a grin. "They are loyal agents of the Tal Shiar, Ta'nara, unlike you," he sneered. "Talk all you want, they'll know your lies for what they are." He folded his arms. "Of course, we'll have plenty of time to sift the truth from your lies when we return to the main base."

"Oh please." Her palms dug into the moss of the rock she was sitting on. "We both know the reason why this hunt has been going on, and you don't need to waste time in an interrogation chamber to hear it. I've been branded as a traitor because I publicly disagreed with this whole grand plan of yours, Colonel, and because I was not afraid to call you a power-mad lunatic."

Hakeev raised an eyebrow-- an action that caused the pale flesh around his implant to crease unpleasantly. "Really, Ta'nara, I had thought that you of all people would support my plan," he said, adopting the tone of a disappointed parent. "We should have done something about the Havransu ages ago. We have tolerated their existence for centuries, and what have they given us in return? Terrorism, kidnappings, and murder. This is for the good of the Rihannsu people, Ta'rana, you know this."

"The Rihannsu people are the only ones who can determine what is right for the Rihannsu people," Ta'nara replied, suddenly aware of the bitterness present in her voice. She waited a heartbeat before continuing, to keep herself under control. "Not you, Colonel, or your alien masters."

The Colonel made no reaction to this other than a disappointed sigh. "I don't think that there's anything to be gained from this continued banter, Ta'nara," he said. "You know what happens next. It would probably be better if you didn't resist."

At a nod from the Colonel, the three uhlans advanced on her, keeping their rifles trained on her all the while. Ta'nara remained calm and seated...and chose that moment to close her eyes, and press her thumb against the the tiny, thumbnail-sized emitter she had kept hidden under her palm.

One learned all sorts of interesting things in the Tal Shiar. Ta'nara had learned, for instance, that a standard comm badge could be traced from a long distance, but with the right amount of tinkering, it could be disabled be rendered undetectable. But with even a little more rewiring, tinkering, and a few add-ons, your average comm badge could be converted into a short-ranged flash bomb small enough to hide under, say, one of the scattered tree-leaves that the uhlans had just strode over.

There was a keening whine, followed by the trilling pulse of the communicator erupting. Ta'nara heard Hakeev and his men cry out as they were blinded by the flash. She opened her eyes, took a split second to take stock of the situation, and sprang into action.

The foremost Uhlan was was still reeling and clutching his eyes when Ta'nara was upon him. He forced his eyes open and raised his rifle a second too late-- Ta'nara had already whipped her combat knife free of its wrist-sheath and had buried it into her opponent's windpipe. The young man looked at her in wide-eyed bewilderment, and could only give a startled gurgle before Ta'nara kicked him free and lunged at the next two. Damn you, Hakeev, forcing me to kill a bunch of juveniles...

The second uhlan recovered much faster, and managed to raise his rifle and fire at Ta'nara before she could close the distance. Moving on instinct, Ta'nara ducked low, the emerald beam hissing past her ear, before she sprang up and grabbed at her opponent's wrist, twisting sharply. The uhlans gasped as his arm was twisted painfully, his aim veering and sending the emerald beam slicing across the treeline...before impacting solidly with the chest of the third uhlan, felling him instantly.

Green as he was, the second uhlan still had Tal Shiar combat training, and did the smart thing by dropping his rifle and using his free hand to whip his knife free. Ta'nara's quick reflexes saved her as she arched back, narrowly avoiding a kill-strike as the silver blade slashing above her face. Releasing her opponent's trapped arm, Ta'nara lashed out with a booted heel, and felt it crunch solidly against the juve's kneecap. The uhlan doubled over, the motion fouling his next knife-strike-- reacting quickly, Ta'nara caught her opponent's knife-hand under her arm and stabbed forward with her own blade. She felt a shock of impact run up her arm as her knife drove itself hilt-deep into the young man's eye socket. He didn't even make a sound as he went still, his brain stopping instantly.

That was three down, and only one left. And Ta'nara could hear that last one drawing his pistol behind her.

Twisting around, Ta'nara spun, getting the body of the last uhlan between her and Hakeev the moment the Colonel fired. There was the chemical reek of plasma incinerating flesh as the dead uhlan took the hit, lurching as the front half of the body was ionized. Gritting her teeth, she kicked the corpse away, leaving her knife stuck where it was, and burst into a run, using the body as a springboard as she launched herself, feet first, at Hakeev. The Colonel's implant-maimed face twisted as he tried to bring his plasma pistol up to fire again, only for Ta'rana's sweeping kick to knock it from his hand and send it clattering uselessly into the undergrowth.

The loss of his firearm, Ta'nara knew, didn't handicap Hakeev in the slightest: he was well known as one of the most fearsome close combat experts in the Tal Shiar. The Colonel exploded into movement, and Ta'rana barely had time to block a vicious arm sweep at her head, the impact against her forearm nearly knocking her off balance. Hakeev didn't even give her time to grab his arm for a counter, backing away a step and forcing her to sidestep a furious left jab. Refusing to let Hakeev retain the initiative, she rotated her body and snapped a kick up at the Colonel's face-- a kick which he easily caught on his forearm, forcing Ta'nara to spin to avoid being tripped to the ground.

The two of them engaged in a furious duel on the clifftop, punching, kicking, chopping and blocking at a dizzying pace. Breathing a tight, controlled pace, Ta'nara found herself slowly being forced onto the defensive, unable to keep up with Hakeev's superior speed and stamina. As she ducked a vicious forearm chop that would have knocked her out,she could have sworn that she had saw Hakeev smiling, enjoying having to get his hands dirty for a change.

Then, after almost half a minute of hand-to-hand duelling, Ta'rana spied an opening as she sidestepped a brutal kick from Hakeev, getting an angle to the Colonel's exposed side. Lunging, she lashed forward with a flat, chopping palm-strike that would have severed the carotid artery of the Colonel's exposed neck. Too late, she realized Hakeev had been feinting: his own arm shot out, clamping hard on her elbow and trapping her extended arm. Alarmed, Ta'nara tried to lash out with a kick to force Hakeev back, but Hakeev acted first, shooting a knee up, hard, into Ta'rana's outstretched arm with the force of a swinging hammer. Ta'nara felt, rather than heard, the bones of her forearm shatter under the blow, and an unimaginable pain shot through the limb and danced down her spine.

She barely suppressed the urge to scream. Barely. But the pain left her immobilized for several seconds-- several seconds that Hakeev needed to whip his knife free and bury it deep into her midsection.

Ta'nara gasped, the sound coming out as a rasping gurgle as she felt something liquid flecking her lips. She stumbled back, one hand clutching at the knife handle protruding from her gut while her other arm hung, useless and broken, at her side. Hakeev smiled at her-- a vicious, sadistic smile that seemed extended by his swirling implant-- and lashed out, hammering one, final kick into Ta'nara's chest. She felt the air erupt from her lungs, along with several droplets of blood, as she was propelled backwards by the force of the blow.

And she fell, and kept falling, as the edge of the cliff zoomed past her vision...


******

Hakeev watched with satisfaction as Ta'nara tumbled over the cliffside, disappearing from view as she fell to an undoubtedly messy end. She had put up a good fight, but Hakeev had expected no less-- Ta'nara had been one of his top operatives before she had gone rogue. It was unfortunate, he thought, that she had recieved the files stolen by the late K'Ten in the first place, otherwise Hakeev might have considered letting her live.

He straightened his arms, letting himself relax a little after that brutal spar. That was one less loose end he had to take care of, and it felt rather satisfying to have delt with it personally. He glanced at the bodies of the three uhlans, noting with satisfaction that Ta'nara had prevented the need for him to kill these three as well. With Ta'nara dead, his secret could stay a secret, and the next stage of the Masters' plans could go on without interruption.

He turned, and was about to head back down the mountain path when his keen ears heard a familiar hum in the distance. The hairs prickled on the back of his neck and he whirled around in the direction of the sound. In the distance, a round, limestone-green shape was rising steadily over the treeline. He instantly recognized it as a shuttle. His shuttle.

Slowly, Hakeev's eyes drifted away from the rising shuttle to one of the bodies that lay at his feet. Rathan, the uhlan whom Ta'nara had impaled through the eye, was barely recognizable after taking a direct hit from Hakeev's plasma pistol. But even in his semi-disintegrated state, Hakeev could see that Rathan's comm badge was missing. A comm badge which, when activated the right way, would allow emergency transport back to the shuttle. A comm badge which Ta'nara must have ripped free when she and Rathan had been fighting...

It all suddenly became clear. Why Ta'rana had set up camp on a cliffside where she would be easy to detect. Why she had seemingly been waiting for Hakeev. She had allowed herself to be caught, all so that she could gain access to a shuttlecraft and escape out into space. With a sinking feeling, Hakeev realized that the one, crucial loose end had slipped right through his fingers.

Hakeev's yell of frustrated rage echoed across the canopy as the shuttle took off, disappearing into the skyline.


******

A few days later, perimeter alarms at the edge of the mol'Rihan system went off as an unregistered warp-jump was detected.

In an instant, ships from the nascent Rihannsu Republican navy swooped in to intercept, fearful that Sela's raptors had come for them at last. Instead, they found a solitary Tiercel-class shuttle, its hull scorched and battered from numerous weapons discharges. As the Republic's ships circled the shuttle warily, a communication was broadcast on all frequencies.

"Attention Republic vessels. I am Subcommander Ta'nara, formerly of the Tal Shiar, and whether you desire it or not, you need my help."