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Ensign
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 28
# 16
04-27-2013, 05:32 PM
"Nalah, give up. Plants hate you."

A loud snap punctuated Ael's sentence. Nalah stood up straight, half the handle of a spade in her hands, and sighed.

"And it's not the only thing."

Nalah narrowed her eyes at Ael and threw the broken handle at his head. He dodged it. He was good at dodging things.

She sighed again. She was no farmer. She knew it. Ael knew it. Even the soil of Mol'Rihan knew it.

She'd been fighting that soil for a while now and, she had to admit, it was winning. As long as the old rusted out gravity sled had been working, she'd been able to use it to pull a plow and the odds were at least even. But, a few days ago the sled started shuddering, lurched to one side, gave out a puff of smoke and finally died. Now it was little more than an ugly garden sculpture and she was reduced to turning the soil over by hand.

She looked at Ael again, a hand cupped behind one ear. "Don't I hear your mother calling?"

He shook his head sadly. "Oh, Nalah. You try that one every time." Then he smiled sweetly. "You know how much you like to have me around."

"Excuse me..."

Nalah spun, grabbing the figure behind her with one hand. With the other, she swung the edge of the spade up to its throat.

After a fraction of second, she realized with a sick feeling that she was staring into the wide-eyed face of the village Preceptor. She stepped back and dropped the spade, her hand still shaking slightly. She hadn't heard him walk up behind her. She was getting soft.

"I'm....I'm sorry, Preceptor Nov." Her heart was beating much faster than it should have been. Definitely soft. "I...well...I'm just a little jumpy today I guess. My apologies. Jolan tru."

Nov was a large man, which made it all the more humiliating that he'd been able to lumber up behind her. He must have made a racket walking up the hillside. But she'd been too focused on Ael, who was now loudly and unsuccessfully stifling a laugh. "Go on and do it again, Nalah," he whispered loudly.

"Ah, yes, well, apology accepted, of course," Nov said as he absently rubbed his throat. "Don't be concerned at all. We're all a little jumpy these days. I can completely understand."

"Thank you, Preceptor," she said, bowing her head.

Nov then turned his attention to Ael, who was still giggling. "As for you, young man, you should be off to school." His voice was especially harsh. "Go on. Join the other students now. I'll be along very soon. In the meantime, Nosath will be leading your calesthenics this morning."

"But...but, Nalah was teaching me about farming..." Ael protested.

"Enough!" The Preceptor said sternly. "Off with you, now! You young ones don't know the hardship ahead of you. Go, now!"

Ael reluctantly slid off the rock he'd been sitting on and began to walk down the hillside, shoulders slumped.

"Now, Nalah," Nov turned to her, his face still red from the climb up the hill, "I have something very important to talk to you about."

Everything Nov had to say was important, at least to him. Nalah scolded herself inwardly at the thought. She'd been talking with Ael too much. "Please continue, Preceptor."

Nov seemed to be calming down at her show of deference. "Yes, thank you Nalah. Do you mind if I sit?" He motioned to the same rock that Ael had perched himself on.

"No, please, Preceptor." She stepped aside and he walked past her and settled himself down.

After a moment to collect himself he began to speak. "I trust you've heard about some of the recent...attacks on the village?"

She had. A gang of thugs had ransacked one of the local homesteads several nights ago. The prevalent theory was that they had a hideout in the mountains and were coming down when they needed supplies. A few rumors suggested they were Tal Shiar, but Nalah had had enough experience to know if that were true, no one would be talking about them at all.

"Good, very good." He paused, carefully considering his next words. "Rinna told me that you'd been in the Tal Shiar."

For the first time, she looked straight at Nov, her eyes hard. "No. No, I was not, Preceptor. And I think I need to correct Rinna on that point before she tells anyone else..."

"Ah, I see. Well, don't correct her too harshly." His awkward joke drifted off into the silence. He cleared his throat. "Yes, well, you were in the Imperial Navy, yes?"

"Yes."

"Ah, good. Well, I've come asking for your help. The residents of this village are simple people. When I was a professor at the Imperial University, I came to understand them."

Nalah braced herself for another story about Nov's professorial days. But, thankfully, he continued on.

"Perhaps you saw many of them in your tours of duty. They're easy prey. They always have been. That was the value of a strong government, to protect the plebians..."

"With all due respect, Preceptor, and as much as I'd enjoy it, I doubt you came here to offer a civics lesson."

"Ah yes. Quite right, Nalah." He smiled at her. "Yes, we understand each other. Now where was I? Yes, I recall. We could use your help."

"With the attacks?"

"Yes, with the attacks. You have training that none of us have. We need someone to take charge of protecting the village, a strong hand to keep everyone in line."

Nalah cringed a little at his last statement, as if it had anything to do with protecting anyone. "I'm not a naval officer anymore, Preceptor."

"No, no, of course not. And I'm no longer a professor at the Imperial University. Life has changed for us all, Nalah." He paused. She saw the far-away look in his eyes and almost felt sorry for him.

"I'm no hero, Preceptor. I'm just a farmer now. All of us are."

"Yes, but..."

"I'm sorry, Preceptor. There's really nothing I can do to help."

Nov sighed deeply and stood. "I understand, Nalah. I'm sorry, but I understand. All of us lost so much..." He let the thought trail off. "Well, if you have a change of heart, please let me know." He stood and straightened his robes. "I wish you the best, Nalah."

She watched Nov walk awkwardly down the hill.

- - - - - - -

It was three days later that they came to her house. She was preparing dinner when they smashed though her door.

That was her first mistake, she thought. Anyone who knew anything would have showed up in the early hours of the morning. And they would have picked the lock, if the mechanisms on the doors of the local cottages counted as locks.

She turned, a frying pan in one hand and a knife in the other, and watched them file through the splintered door as if they'd achieved some major victory.

"Can I help you?" she said calmly.

That seemed to take a little bit out of them. The last one through was obviously their leader, if only because he had the least number of holes in his clothing. "Yes," he said with a smirk. "You can help us."

She decided she'd kill the one off to the left first. It would be unexpected. "What is it you want?"

The leader shot her a lopsided grin. Half of his face was scarred and one eye was a milky white. "A lot of things." He looked her up and down, while his men snickered behind him.

"What do you want?" she said again, adjusting her grip on the knife.

"We heard you talked with the preceptor the other day."

"And what of it?"

The leader of the thugs narrowed his one good eye. "He asked for your help?"

She saw no advantage to lying. "Yes."

"And you said no?"

Again, she weighed her choices. "Yes."

The leader took a step toward her, his hand on the pistol holstered at his side. "Good. You should have."

She was too busy calculating the chances that she could deliver a concussion with the frying pan before he drew his weapon to answer. Nalah was sure from the look in the leader's eyes that he was making the same calculation. He wasn't Tal Shiar, but he must have been military.

"Good," he said again, as if buying a little time. He'd come too close to her, and he knew it. "Good."

"And I'll continue to say no," Nalah said finally, "under one condition. You don't attack any of the homesteads within 5 kilometers of me."

She knew she'd taken a risk. She'd put him on the spot in front of his men. They were all looking to him now.

He looked around at the cottage as if he owned it. Still, she could see the fear in his eye. "Nice place."

She decided she'd be nice and offer him a way out. "There's a shed out back. It has most of my food."

Obvious, but maybe he'd accept it. His smile got more grotesque. "You don't say." He signaled his men and several slipped outside in search of the shed. "So I think we understand each other?" he said quietly.

"Yes," she said just as quietly.

He turned without any preamble and walked through her shattered front door. It was only when the silence of the night returned that she dropped the frying pan and started to breath.

- - - - - - -

Nalah was packing, stuffing clothes hapharzardly into her duffle bag when the Preceptor stepped through her door. She hadn't bothered to repair it.

Nov cleared his throat. "Nalah...Nalah?"

She continued to punch clothing...or whatever...into the bag.

"Nalah...have you heard?"

She turned, and slung the duffle over her shoulder. Instead of bowing her head, she gave Nov a hard stare.

"They attacked the homestead of Ael's parents last night. Shiya and Rast are both dead. Ael is in the village infirmary. If he doesn't have any brain damage, he may be ok..."

It was a message. To her. Now she knew they weren't Tal Shiar. A Tal Shiar would have accepted the deal, at least until something better came along.

"There was nothing you could have done. They're animals..."

She wished she'd had the old broken spade now. "Shut up."

Nov took a second to register what she said.

"I can't do this anymore. I can't." Nalah clenched her fists. "I'm not a farmer. And there's no more Imperial Navy. There's nothing. I was a fool to believe anything else. I've been on planets too long. It makes you soft."

She stared into Nov's wide eyes.

"And there's no Imperial University." She walked past him, slamming her shoulder into his. "Get used to it."

She walked down the hillside.

- - - - - - -

There was something appropriate about it, Nalah thought. She'd arrived on the planet in the capital city. And she was going to leave from here.

Mol'Rihan. The presumptuous of the name made her want to laugh.

But she didn't. She walked purposefully down the street, half-finished buildings to either side of her. Pedestrians, schooled by decades of life in a police state, recognized the way she carried herself and gave her a wide berth on either side.

The sounds of new construction filled the air, but she was deaf to them. She hated planets. She always had. She belonged in space. Perhaps she could find a position on a freighter, anything to get her back out among the stars. Things were simpler there, cleaner.

She nearly didn't notice the large Romulan male who stood in her path, like a large rock, even as the civilians parted. She decided not to kill him.

She stopped.

"Nalah Veris?" he asked.

She stared at him and he took her silence as affirmation. "Someone wants to see you."

"Fine," she said. She'd kill them, instead.

He turned and led her into a side alley. At first, it was crowded, filled with ramshackle stalls and bustling shoppers. She kept a hand on the knife on her belt as they moved through the crowd. Ordinarily, she'd be more circumspect, worried about harming an innocent civilian, but, she told herself, she didn't care anymore. No one was innocent.

They came to an alcove and the big male lead her in. They paused as he scanned his retina at a small wall console, then proceeded through a large metal door.

She tracked every twist and turn as they moved deeper into whatever structure they'd entered so she could find her way back out.

Eventually they emerged into a large room. There was a door on the other side, and a transparent aluminum booth beside it. She recognized automated guns lining the walls to either side. She'd have time to kill her escort. She took some comfort in the fact that her own end would be quick.

The male walked up to the booth and stood still for a moment. Something scanned him and the door opened. "This way," he said. She followed.

After a few more minutes, they arrived at an ordinary looking door. It slid open and she saw an ordinary room. In the center of it was a medium sized desk, and sitting at the desk an unexceptional Romulan male.

Her escort waived her in. She hesitated for a moment and then stepped in and took a seat in the chair facing the desk.

It was just her and the man behind the desk.

"I'm D'Tan," he said, matter-of-factly.

She sat silently. Of course she knew who D'Tan was. He was the reason she'd come to Mol'Rihan. Him and all of his promises. She clenched her fists as she sat there looking blankly at him.

"And you are Nalah Veris?"

She sat silently. He knew her name. She wondered what else he knew.

"We need your help, Nalah."

She nearly laughed at the serious look on his face.

D'Tan steepled his fingers in front of him, considering. Then he spoke again. "You may know, Mol'Rihan is not yet safe. We are under attack from many directions, though I believe that all these threats have their source in the remnants of the Tal Shiar."

He waited for her to respond, but she did not.

"We need someone like you to help us defend our new home..."

Finally, Nalah spoke. "Let me stop you there, D'Tan. I can't help you. No matter what you think. I'm no hero. I'm just a farmer."

"No, Nalah. You're wrong," D'Tan said slowly. "We're all heroes now. All of us. We have to be."

For the first time in as long as she could remember, Nalah had nothing to say. She stared at D'Tan, waiting for him to waiver or laugh or look away. But he continued to watch her.

She waited to speak until she knew her voice wouldn't crack. "I'm sorry. I'm not who you think I am. I've done things..."

"Yes, we know." D'Tan tapped a PADD on his desk. "I have your file right here. I know all about you, Nalah."

So, she thought, they brought her here to kill her. She relaxed a little at that. At least it would be over soon.

"And I don't care. Every Romulan deserves a second chance now."

Nalah looked at D'Tan for a long time.

Against all reason, she heard herself speak. "Alright."

D'Tan smiled and waited. He was still enough of a Romulan to know that more was coming. "And?"

Nalah smiled. It felt a little like the old days. "I need three things from you. First, there is a boy in a village infirmary. I need him to get the best medical help on the planet."

"Done," D'Tan said without hesitation. He tapped at a console on his desk and gave the order for a medical shuttle to be dispatched.

"Second, I want to name my own ship."

D'Tan considered for a moment. "Highly unusual, but I am willing to grant you this. And third?"

"Third, I need your help to make a deal..."

- - - - - - - -

Sorat and his men were waiting at the site their government source had indicated for the weapons exchange when they hear the whine of a transporter.

He'd expected to see a crate full of small arms materialize. D'Tan thought his government was so noble. But it was as full of corruption as the old Empire. A few bars of latinum he'd found in the secret compartment of a farmer's shack would buy him enough sidearms to take over the entire valley.

It took him a moment to register the five figures there instead, and a moment more to see that four of them had plasma rifles aimed at him and his men.

A viscous wind suddenly whipped across the rocky hillside where they all stood. Sorat looked up, shielding his eyes from the flying debris to see a warbird hanging there in the sky.

He laughed.

"So, Nalah, you think any of this is impressive?"

Nalah took a deep breath. The wind pushed at her, but she did not move. "I don't really care. Be impressed or not."

Sorat laughed again. "Such studied indifference. The rumors must have been right. You were Tal Shiar."

"Shut up," Nalah said quietly. Her voice could barely heard over the noise around them, but, still, Sorat and his men became still.

"You're going to kill us?" Sorat asked.

"You're going to leave this valley and never come back."

"Or what?" The smirk was back on Sorat's face. "Or what? If you aren't going to kill us now, you aren't going to kill us at all." She saw the hate fill his one good eye. "Besides, there's nothing you can do to me. You think you've lost so much?" He spat at the ground at her feet. "The Tal Shiar killed half my family. Hobus took care of the rest, and gave me this," he motioned to his scarred face, "to remind me."

Nalah said nothing.

"I know your kind." Sorat was screaming now. "You think you're better than us. You're not a Romulan. Go join Starfleet. Or the KDF, though I think they'd eat you alive. But you're not. You're not a real Romulan. You're not better than us."

Nalah just stared at him.

"And you know what you and your kind taught me? Only the strong survive." Sorat sneered at her. "Fine, fine. We'll leave. We'll move to another valley. And we'll do just what you'd do. We'll threaten everyone until we get our way. You're not better than us." He turned to walk away.

And he was engulfed by a flash of light.

Nalah had turned the energy level of her disruptor pistol so high, it was painfully warm in her hand.

"Elements forgive me," she said quietly to no one in particular. "I'll be better tomorrow."

Instead of holstering her disruptor, she trained it on Sorat's men. "Leave, now. If I hear anything about any of you, there won't be enough left for an epohh to nest in. Do you understand?"

The men nodded, and slunk away into the rocks.

Nalah's communicator chirped. "Captain. The Ael can't take much more. We need to leave the atmosphere."

"Very well," she said. "Beam us up once you're in orbit."

"Yes, sir."

She watched her ship streak away, up and into the darkness beyond the sky.

Last edited by fu11ofstars; 04-28-2013 at 06:11 AM.