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Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,538
# 10 Here's Chapter Five
06-16-2013, 12:07 AM
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.

He nodded.

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)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 06-16-2013 at 12:47 AM.