Literary Challenge #45 : Freestyle
View Single Post
Join Date: Jul 2012
Shadows of the Past
06-26-2013, 01:13 AM
Your love is cradled in knowing,
Eyes in the mirror,
Still expecting they'll come,
And sensing too well, when the journey is done
There is no turning back, no,
There is no turning back on the run...
- Robert Plant, Big Log
Virinat smelled like green. And fertilizer, of course, but mostly green. Nniol tr'Keiniadh took a deep breath of the air. It had been a day of hard work, not unusual on a Rihannsu colony world, especially since the loss of ch'Rihan some twenty cycles before; it had also been a little bizarre, what with the behavior of the bugs and that strange cybernetic insect Nniol had found in the cave. That was someone else's worry, though. Nniol had been practicing not worrying about things for almost a local year, and he was starting to get pretty good at it.
Tonight was no night for worry anyway. Harvest Festival! A night of partying, gorging as if food had never been in short supply, and perhaps an evening with a lovely young lady or two - the entire colony had been looking forward to this night. Word was that D'Vex had even smuggled in some fireworks, harmless but made contraband recently by the increasingly-aggressive Tal Shiar, the new
government of the Empire under Sela, that half-breed-- Nniol consciously stopped himself, taking another deep breath.
Not your problem these days, remember, Nniol? Let someone who's still under her thumb worry about that...
Nniol's comlink beeped. He activated the screen; his young friend Tovan, a technician from the starport repair facility, looked out at him.
"Are you done in the fields yet, Nniol?"
"Yes, I finished up about half an hour ago."
"Great. Come meet me at the square - they're about to open the new vintage of ale!"
Nniol grinned. Rumor was that someone had managed to tweak the fermentation of the khellid nectar to make something that actually tasted like proper Romulan ale! "I'll be right there, Tovan. Save me a mug!"
"No promises, Nniol,"
"Better get over here before I drink it all myself!"
"On my way!" Nniol signed off, then started jogging toward the square.
"My friends! Welcome to Virinat's Harvest Festival!" The Maiori, smiling like a born politician, droned on from the podium, going on about "new friends" and "old losses"; the crowd was tolerant, but clearly far more interested in decanting the new ale than listening to his speech. At last the old man wound down. "And so, without further ado, let the Festival begin!"
The cries were loud and lusty as the fireworks began erupting overhead; abruptly, however, the cries turned to screams as a strange black ship loomed overhead. A green ball of plasma burned its way through the sky, exploding as it hit a nearby silo.
"Nniol! Nniol, are you all right?"
Nniol blinked, and blinked again, clearing away the haze. Tovan knelt over him. "How did I get down here?" Nniol asked, stunned.
"The explosion. We're under attack, Nniol! I have to get to the port and help get the shuttles ready to evacuate! Go round up people and send them to the field! And see if you can find the milita!"
Nniol shook his head to clear it. Tovan ran off toward the field as he got up. Nearby, he saw a group of the local militia, unused to fighting anything but the local fauna, trying desperately to look cool and confident as they grasped their plasma rifles. At that moment, another explosion struck, blinding Nniol; as the dust cleared, he saw that the entire group had been felled. Feeling trapped in a dream, he saw himself running forward, grabbing one of the rifles, shouldering it expertly, and firing at the point the grenade had come from. A warrior in the uniform of the Tal Shiar fell from the rooftop, screaming momentarily.
Tal Shiar?? How did they find me-- no, Nniol. That's not important right now. Get these people out of here while there's still time!
His comlink beeped.
"Nniol? Nniol, are you there?"
He pulled it up. "I'm here, Tovan. I think most of the militia are dead."
"Elements! Listen, Nniol, we have to evacuate the colony. But we need help, too. Can you get to a comm panel?"
"Probably, but the power's down. I can't get a signal out."
"Sure you can. Get to one of the cameras in the market, get a battery out, and jack that into a comm panel. Then hit the Distress button. That should give you enough power for at least a moment or two; it's not like you're delivering a speech to the Senate, just screaming 'Help!"
"Okay, I'll give it a try. tr'Keiniadh out." He replaced the comlink at his belt, realizing a moment too late that he'd closed with precise military phrasing.
I'll probably have to explain that one later, if the Elements favor us. I'd better try to think up a good story first.
The plaza was crossed with beams and bursts of plasma, as the colonists tried vainly to battle the far superior Tal Shiar forces. "To the field!" Nniol shouted. "Everyone to the launching field! We have to evacuate! Move, move,
" Colonists began heading toward the launching fields, as Nniol provided covering fire with his rifle. Long-ago training, virtually unused for over six cycles, came unbidden to him:
Lead the target; blast speed is affected by local magnetic fields. Aiming software activated - thank Fire and Air this unit's equipped.
identify your target before shooting.
As the crowd moved away, Nniol worked his way across the plaza, dashing from cover to cover, picking off Tal Shiar along the way. At last he reached a wall overlooking a silo entrance next to the market; a camera hung there, its optics charred and blasted in the attack.
Air and Earth watch over me,
and let the battery be untouched!
He jimmied the case open, and found his prayers answered. A few moments' prying, and his prize lay in his hand.
Now for the next part - where's a comm console? Ah, over there.
Firing one-handed now, Nniol crossed to the comm panel at the market's exit, frying down the two Tal Shiar assigned to guard it. He stepped over their heated corpses, wrinkling his nose for a moment at the stench of burned flesh and boiled copper and the ancient memories it revived, then accessed the battery panel, plugged the battery in, and powered the console up. "Attention, any ships within range!" he said into the mic. "This is Virinat Colony, Nniol tr'Keiniadh speaking. We are under attack, I repeat, we are under attack! Mixed forces, Tal Shiar and unidentified aliens! Don't bother replying, just respond to our location immediately, please! Location beacon will remain active as long as possible! Repeating..." He switched the console to autorepeat, then began making his own way to the launch field.
A new wrinkle emerged; Nniol saw colonists flying into the air, seemingly unsupported.
Then he saw the creatures, similar in shape to the cyborg insects he'd seen earlier, but much larger, grasping people by their torsos and dragging them screaming toward the massive black ship that still hovered overhead. He tried to shoot some of them down, but between their speed and the hostages he feared harming, he might as well have been shooting at spirits. He redoubled his efforts to reach the launching platform.
Finally he reached the ramp to the platform. "Thank the Elements!" Tovan shouted. "I'm pretty sure we've got all the survivors aboard the shuttles. We're headed for the ships in orbit. Get aboard - we'll take D'Vex's old Warbird, he's shown me some tricks we can use!"
"Just a moment," Nniol replied. Turning, he burned down the three Tal Shiar soldiers who'd been trailing him. "Okay, here I come!"
Hordes of spacecraft, from bulk haulers that had been planetside for repairs to tiny shuttlecraft holding barely a dozen (but nearly all critically overloaded), struggled into the sky over Virinat. The space immediately above blazed with plasma beams and explosions, as the Tal Shiar in orbit picked at the fleeing refugees. Many of the shuttles were reaching orbiting ships - but not enough. As Tovan piloted their shuttle, Nniol listened helplessly to the pleading on the radio -
because of me,
"Attention, hostile craft! This is Virinat Shuttle Five! We are a civilian craft! We are unarmed! Accept our surren--"
Shuttle Five blossomed into a ball of fire.
Tovan cursed. "They're killing
This doesn't make any
"In a twisted way, it may make more sense than you know, Tovan."
"What? What do you mean?"
"Later. When we're out of this. One moment, we're getting an encoded transmission..."
"Shuttle Twenty-Three, this is Shuttle Twelve. Tovan, we're blocking their sensors. When they get us, it'll look like you got caught in the explo--"
Static hissed, as the explosion of Shuttle Twelve rocked their small craft.
"Cut thrusters, Tovan," Nniol ordered, in the tone of one used to obedience. "They're right - at this angle, we'll look like debris. We can shape orbit for the warbird when the attack ship goes away."
Tovan shut off the ship's thrusters, and the little craft went dark."Okay, Nniol, but I sure hope you know what you're doing."
"So do I."
Several tense moments passed, until the
-class frigate moved away, seeking other easy prey. When its attention was firmly elsewhere, Tovan reignited the thrusters, and in a matter of moments the shuttle and its load of refugees was navigating the debris field in which D'Vex had concealed his old warbird, the
. The automated docking mechanisms were still in good shape, and the shuttle locked firmly to the main airlock of the aged starship.
"Everybody move!" Nniol ordered over the intercom. "We need to get inboard the
and get her moving
people! Move, move, move!"
"Come on, Nniol," Tovan said. "This way to the bridge."
"Thanks, Tovan, but I know my way around a T'liss. Get to Engineering - you know more about that than anyone else aboard. I can run the bridge until you get things set up."
Tovan gave Nniol a look. "Well, all right," he said reluctantly, "but when all this is over, you
owe me a story."
"I'll try to make it a good one." The turbolift doors closed behind Nniol, and soon reopened on the ship's bridge. He walked slowly into the room, memories filling his mind as he ran his fingers over the consoles. After a few moments, he regathered his thoughts, sat at the helm console, and began tying ship's functions into his controls.
Tovan called from Engineering.
"I've got the singularity core spun up. You'll have partial impulse in a few moments, and full impulse not long after that. It'll be a while before we have warp, however. Oh, and the weapon systems should be online. You'll want to familiarize yourself with them - D'Vex changed a few things out over the years."
Nniol called up the weapons display, and ran down the list.
Plasma torpedo, standard; forward plasma beam banks, okay, I'd have used an array, but... Turret aft? I see you're a straight-on fighter, D'Vex. I can work with this.
"Thanks, Tovan. When you're ready, I could use a hand up here - piloting
shooting's a bit much." He switched to all-hail. "Attention, all hands," he announced. "This is Nniol tr'Keiniadh, currently in command. If anyone here has any experience in running a ship, any ship, please report to the appropriate department. I'm especially looking for someone who can keep an eye on a standard singularity core. Also communications, medical - anything, really, it's just me and Tovan Khev up here. Thanks." He switched the intercom off.
There, that should have been folksy enough. Having to explain things to Tovan's going to be bad enough.
's engines lit, and the little ship moved slowly away from the debris field that had been concealing it. As Nniol began to familiarize himself with the ship's maneuvering capabilities, the lift door hissed open and Tovan emerged. "I've got a skeleton crew in Engineering," he reported. "They used to work on the colony's power plant, so they at least know something about what the gauges mean. We're pretty much unstaffed everywhere else. I've managed to boost the torpedoes, though - there's a capacitance system wired in, so every so often it'll build up enough charge to fire off a heavy torp. And there's a repulsor field that charges off the quantum uncertainty values of the singularity, so it recharges while we're in combat. Not much, but it might be enough to distract someone while we rescue the survivors. We, um,
going to go rescue the survivors, right?"
"Like I'd let them fall into the hands of the Tal Shiar. There's nobody in Virinat that I hate that badly."
Tovan took the communication officer's seat. "I'm getting a lot of hails on the emergency channels," he said. "I've highlighted the locations on your HUD, so you can pick your targets. Oh, and full impulse is online now."
"Good. I'd hate to keep them waiting." Nniol slid controls, and the ship accelerated smoothly toward the nearest signal, a bulk carrier under attack by a single drone. The lightly-shielded robotic craft made it through only a single barrage from the
's guns, before exploding in a gout of flame. Quickly, Tovan beamed the survivors aboard; when scans showed the cargo ship was empty, Nniol turned to his next target. This was a bit more challenging, as the drone was accompanied by a T'varo-class ship, but given that it was little more capable than the T'liss-class
, and that the
sported augmented weaponry, the battle wasn't so very much longer. They had rescued the occupants of three ships, and Nniol had begun to worry about the
's total capacity, when the screens were abruptly dominated by an ugly black-and-green shape.
"It's a spacecraft," Tovan reported, "but not of any design I've ever heard of. Computer's coming up empty, too. I recommend we get in a little closer and scan it."
"Just what I'd been thinking. Keep those shields up, though."
moved closer to the alien craft. Nniol activated the main scanners - and the ship was buffeted by energy waves. "Deflectors are offline!" Tovan shouted. "Weapons, too! I can't even get the ship to move now!"
"Tovan!" Nniol called. "Signal that ship! Ask them what they want!"
Tovan complied, then held the earpiece to his ear. "They're replying," he said, "but it's just part of our broadcast, chopped up."
The ship's speakers hissed with static, and the oddly modulated tones of what had been Tovan's voice, modified by the alien craft:
"Want... you. Want... ship."
"Well, that's not good," Nniol said.
"It gets worse," Tovan replied. "There's a Tal Shiar ship uncloaking."
As the great
-class battleship wavered into visibility, the enormous black alien craft peeled away.
"They're calling us," Tovan said.
"Put them on the screen. Let's see just how bad it's getting."
A face appeared on the viewer; a face Nniol hadn't seen in almost ten years, one he'd hoped never to see again. The bald visage of once-Captain Hakeev leered at them.
"I'd heard from our Elachi allies,"
"that some of the 'colonists' on this world had escaped them. But you cannot escape your obligations."
Then Hakeev leaned closer to his screen.
"You! You look familiar. tr'Keiniadh, isn't it?"
"You know who I am, Hakeev. How in the Elements' Names did you find me here?"
"Oh, vain little man. You think this is about you? I have much greater ambitions than that, and much greater concerns than any petty revenge you might be seeking. Finding you here, and at my mercy, is just a bonus. Would you like to surrender now?"
"Surrender this! Tovan, kill that channel! Full power to weapons!"
The plasma banks spat emerald lines of destruction toward Hakeev's ship, as a ball of plasma formed in the torpedo emitter. At that moment, another craft uncloaked as well.
"This is Commander Temer of the Romulan Republic. We have come in response to a distress call from this colony. Tal Shiar ship, stand down and prepare to be boarded."
Hakeev's ship replied with the fire that had once been intended for Nniol. Temer's craft responded in kind, and the
joined in from the other side. The great double-hulled battleship shuddered under the impact of the other ships' weapons. Abruptly, the screen flared back to life, Hakeev wincing and snarling.
"So, the insect still has a sting! I have other meetings to attend, but know this, tr'Keiniadh - you have cost me an eye, and I will claim its price from you in full! When there are no others to protect you from me--"
"I don't need anyone's protection, Hakeev. Now get out of my sky!"
The D'Deridex, which had already been pulling away, abruptly jumped to warp; Nniol didn't think for a moment that his demeanor had had anything to do with it, but it would have been nice to believe.
"The other ship's hailing us," Tovan said.
"Put them on."
"As I said earlier, we came in response to a distress signal. What happened?"
"A Tal Shiar attack. Virinat's a peaceful farming settlement, but they came in shooting, and they had some aliens working with them that we'd never seen before. We've got holds full of refugees, and there are a lot of other ships out here too. Some of 'em are going to be running short on air very soon. Any chance of a rescue fleet?"
"I'll signal the Flotilla immediately. We should have ships here inside the hour. Meanwhile, I would like to invite you to come to the Flotilla and discuss the situation. We just might be able to help one another."
"Well, I'm none too keen on being drawn into your war, but then again it doesn't look like I've got a lot of options. Send us the coordinates, and we'll meet you there.
Tovan's fingers played over his console. "Okay, they've relayed the coordinates to us, and I've laid in a course. At top speed, we should be there in about three hours, give or take." He leaned back in his seat, lacing his fingers behind his head. "Which means we've got some time. You promised me a story, if we got through that mess back there."
"Now, now, I never said I promised anything." Nniol pretended to flinch under Tovan's glare. "But you're right, I do owe you that much." He sighed. "Okay, the short version first - we can spin out the whole thing over drinks later, if you insist. It was back about ten years ago or so; I used to be in the Imperial fleet, a Subcommander. I was chief science officer of the
- not a prestigious posting, but a good one, and my family didn't have the connections to get me on one of the big ships. Hakeev was just a captain in the Tal Shiar back then, but he was working with Praetor Taris on some big project. He was using our ship as a base for a mission, and I'd detected some odd radiation emissions coming from the cargo bays. I checked them out, and found evidence that Hakeev was working with non-Romulans. Didn't have anything else to go on, but I reported what I did have to the Commander. Next away mission, she was dead, supposedly from a failure of her EV suit. Except those things are tougher than our ships - that suit should have been good for another five years continuous duty. So the first officer took over - and after I talked to him,
died. So we headed to dock - and the dockmaster and station commander were arrested for 'actions against the Empire', only no charges were ever filed, they just disappeared. Then a Senator, someone whose only sin had been to speak to me after we returned, turned up dead. And then a cargo transport tried to fall on my head, and a random shot in a crowd missed me because I'd bent over to pick up a coin, and someone tried to knife me but didn't know how good I was at infighting, and it became clear these weren't random occurrences. Someone wanted anybody who knew about those transmissions dead." Nniol rubbed his forehead. "So I took off. Abandoned my post, left the Empire, started looking for any work in space that kept me away from anywhere the Tal Shiar might find me. I ran ale with a Ferengi trader to Argelius, smuggled black tar from Risa to Qo'noS for somebody named Torg, shifted cargo for anybody who didn't look like me, and tried to drown the memories. When D'vex caught up with me, I was broke, unemployed, and exploring the bottom of a mug of Klingon bloodwine on Drozana Station out in the ass-end of nowhere. He convinced me that if I came back with him, I could get a fresh start, where nobody would ever look for me." He looked away. "I guess he was wrong. This is all my fault."
"Self-centered much?" Tovan snorted. "Or were you just too busy reliving the past to listen when Hakeev was talking? He wasn't looking for you!
He didn't even know you were here!
It's the Elements' own joke that you just happened to come along! And the punchline was the Republic ship showing up - I mean, now that he
know where to find you, I guess it's nice that we've got some backup too. I think when we get to the Flotilla, I'm going to sign up. It's not like I can just go home, after all. How about you? Might be a good idea."
Nniol sighed. "It just might be, at that. Think they'll let me keep the ship? I mean, since I have military experience and all?"
I'm old enough not to care too much about what you think of me --
But I'm young enough to remember the future, the way things ought to be...
- Rush, "Cut To the Chase",
Last edited by jonsills; 06-27-2013 at