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Join Date: Sep 2012
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# 6 Here's Chapter Four.
06-08-2013, 07:09 PM
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?"

Hu'ajat nodded.

"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?"

He shrugged.

"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?"

Hu'ajat nodded.

"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.

He nodded.

"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."

(written 6-8-2013)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 06-09-2013 at 07:37 PM.