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Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,621
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg


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."

He nodded.

"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."

Hu'ajat shrugged.

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."

Hu'ajat nodded.

"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.

(written 6-6-2013)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 06-06-2013 at 01:36 AM.