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Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
# 11 Here's Chapter Six
06-20-2013, 09:26 PM
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg

CHAPTER SIX --

The doorway slid open, and an older Reman entered. He looked old enough to be either my father or grandfather. Reminded me a little of Hu'ajat, but dressed more formally. Almost no hair on top. Dark eyes. Angled dark eyebrows. But he seemed calm enough in demeanor that he probably could've weathered a bad storm without a single fear. A flash of lightning, a rumble of thunder. No qualms whatsoever.

Graz looked first at T'kav, then at me. "Am I interrupting something?"

Her eyes had widened a little when she saw him, but she didn't say anything.

"Depends, sir," I said. "What were you expecting to happen in here?"

"Repair and augmentation work," Graz replied. "Or so I was told."

By who? G'mel? One of the many Tal Shiar onboard? Maybe the empress herself, though that possibility seemed the least likely.

"We were taking a break," I said. Not quite true, but close enough. "What can we do for you?"

"Then this shouldn't take too long," Graz said. He looked back at T'kav. "You are Yi'aju?"

T'kav shook her head and pointed at me.

"My thanks," he said. "It would be difficult for someone to tell the difference between you. You could be sisters. Or twins. Fraternal, if not identical."

I didn't think I looked anything like T'kav, but perhaps I was biased.

"How do you know my name?" I asked Graz.

"Your engineering abilities are well known onboard this ship," he replied.

I shrugged. It was a job, not a vanity project. "But you didn't come here for that reason. Or you would've brought whatever it was with you. Your hands are empty."

"True," Graz said. "I am here to collect an item, actually. Something that was stolen from my office yesterday."

T'kav didn't look at him, kept her eyes on the workbench. Ah. So it hadn't been G'mel that she'd stolen from. He'd warned me not to trust her, after all. How right he was.

"And you think it was brought here?" I asked Graz.

"It seemed the most likely of possibilities," he replied.

"Unless it was mechanical in some way, it would hardly have been given to me to work on," I said. "I think you've come to the wrong place. Perhaps a systems engineer might help you better."

"I think not," Graz said. "This wasn't modern technology. It was obsolete. Decidedly so."

"All the more reason it would not be here," I said. "I don't work on out-of-date technology. I don't have the tools for it. Why not tell me what the item was?"

"In case you happen to see it?" he countered.

I shrugged.

"A video recording," Graz said. "Not the entire recording. About a minute or so was torn off by the thief."

"I'll let you know if someone brings it here, then," I said.

He sighed. "Why won't you just admit it?"

"Because I've nothing to confess to," I replied. "I didn't steal it."

"I didn't say that you did," Graz said. "Perhaps your subordinate could illuminate us both. By telling us where she was yesterday evening. Before going to your suite in the Underground."

T'kav looked like she couldn't perpetuate the subterfuge any longer. "You knew it was me, sir. You knew it when you came here."

"I merely needed to wait for you to admit to it," he told her.

"And then I'd just go, fetch it, and give it to you," T'kav said.

Graz nodded.

"You really think I'm that easy to push around?" she asked him.

"Do you want to survive, or does death hold no fear for you?" he replied.

"Don't threaten me," T'kav said.

"I have no desire to," Graz told her. "I merely wish to repossess the recording and leave here with it. Preferably the sooner the better."

"But now that you know it's here," I said, "what would stop someone else from finding that out as well?"

"If you're suggesting the empress, Sela wouldn't cross me," Graz told me. "I know her better than anyone else onboard."

Interesting. But she didn't trust anyone that much. Not even me. Yet she let him call her by her name, not by her title or by both title and name. Who was he really?

"Or perhaps I shouldn't have said that," he added, looking a bit uncomfortable.

"Too late," I said. "How well do you know her? If I'm allowed to know?"

Graz glanced at T'kav.

I nodded, then turned to her. "Private conference. Return in thirty minutes. In the meantime, do not mention this to anyone else. Not even the empress. Is that understood?"

T'kav didn't look happy about it, but nodded and left the workshop.

There was no way to guarantee she would follow my orders, but hopefully fear of punishment from
myself or possibly the empress herself, would keep her silent. I should've had her leave when Graz first arrived. Why hadn't I? Because I hadn't known who he really was, even if she seemed to.

I could only hope that thirty minutes would be enough.

"Where shall I begin, then?" Graz asked.

"We can begin with what I can deduce right now," I replied. "Your name. It isn't Reman. Nor is your appearance, however much you've tried to tone down the obvious features that anyone would notice on first seeing you. Your face is Reman enough, but your forehead could be mistaken for a Klingon's. The rest of you might be also be Reman. Not the most attractive mixture of features, but a child can't decide what to keep and what to get rid of. We are the combination of genetics from our parents with some random modifications thrown in."

"I thought you were an engineer, not a scientist," he said.

"My brother is the scientist, and he's been willing to discuss scientific subjects with me," I said. "In return, I've discussed engineering subjects with him. It's been a productive exchange of information over the years."

Graz nodded. "You are correct about my name. It's Klingon. I was named by my father, Chuq'graz. The Klingon half of my genetic ancestry."

"As a half-breed, I can't imagine that either species wanted anything to do with you," I said.

"True," he said. "My childhood wasn't the most pleasant, to put it mildly. I encountered hate far more often than acceptance. I learned to fight younger than most Klingon children are required to. And when I did encounter acceptance, it lacked what humans call 'love'."

"I'm surprised that you weren't killed outright just for existing," I said.

"My father taught me what I know of Klingon hand-to-hand and weapons warfare," Graz said. "The latter included the Bat'leth. I became adept at how to disarm opponents with it, even when they were armed with pistols and rifles. Otherwise, I would've been dead many times over. In return, the Klingon Council on Qo'nos declared my father to be dishonored. They imprisoned him, even though he demanded execution. When he wished to be tried in court again, he was exiled instead. I never knew to which asteroid, moon, or world. My mother and I never saw him again."

"How could your father and mother have fallen in love with one another?" I wondered.

"It's not the first time such cross-breeding has happened," he said. "Ambassador Spock was one of the earliest on record, half-Vulcan, half-human."

"And more than most Vulcans, he tried hard to deny his human side, his human emotions," I said.

"But failed," Graz said. "A Klingon who cannot care for another Klingon is as much a myth as a Vulcan without any emotions. Lies that are perpetuated by both species."

"Because to admit the truth would be far too humiliating for them," I said.

Graz nodded.

"You know more about me than just my name," I told him. "Where did you learn it from?"

"Let us say, I have my sources," he replied.

I shook my head. "You'll have to do better than that."

"You're as stubborn as your mother," Graz said, looking unhappy. "All right. What else?"

I didn't remember much about my mother. And what little I could remember didn't include stubbornness. She had done her best to raise me, straightening me out whenever it was necessary. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed her until the Tal Shiar killed her and my father. I remembered even less about my father.

"If I'm in the onboard system, how were you able to access my files?" I asked. "Who gave you permission?"

"Who else?" Graz replied, as if it should've been blatantly obvious to me.

I wasn't sure I believe it, though. "The empress?"

He nodded.

But why would Graz himself be interested in me? Because, like Hu'ajat, I was a Reman? Or was there some deeper reason? One that he might or might not reveal to me?

"She can be reasoned with," he said, "if one knows how to bargain for something that she wants."

"What did you offer her?" I asked.

"That is between her and myself," Graz replied. "Let us proceed to the reason why I came here. The video recording."

"T'kav said that she'd stolen it from G'mel's office," I said. "You're saying that that isn't true. That she stole it from yours."

He nodded. "Do you trust her?"

"I've been warned not to," I replied. "And I'm not sure I believe the warning."

"Perhaps you should," Graz said.

"Not without good reason," I said. "Which no one has really provided just yet."

"We're running out of time," Graz said. "If we haven't already."

"Don't pressure me," I said, frowning. "I could just as easily destroy the recording. What would you do then?"

"So you do have it," he said.

"But you still don't," I said.

"It isn't safe here," Graz said.

"Why?" I asked. "What is so dangerous about it?"

"I didn't say the recording was dangerous," he replied. "I said having possession of it was. There are those who don't want it to exist anymore than they want T'kav to exist. It would definitely be safer if I had it, instead of you. Sela has already been searching for it. She hasn't looked here. Not yet, anyway. But that could change at any moment."

Again "Sela". As a close friend or family member might call her. What did that make him, then? What was his position onboard? And why did it give him more freedom, and protection from possible consequences, than even myself? After all, it wasn't exactly normal for Romulans and Remans -- or clones and half-breeds for that matter -- to treat each other so equally, with such familiarity. Or so Hu'ajat had told me.

"Assuming, of course, she doesn't pursue you next," I said. "She almost executed both my brother and T'kav. What would keep her from executing you, if she found that you had possession of the video recording? Diplomatic immunity, perhaps?"

"You're asking for information I'm not sure I can divulge," Graz said. "Let us say that there are areas that Sela and I have an understanding about. Areas where we do not agree with one another. We merely agree to disagree. Which is the closest to a compromise that we can manage to grant one another."

"The recording might be safer with you," I said. "But I wouldn't necessarily place any bets on it. The empress has eyes and ears all over this ship. If she's heard any of this conversation, or my conversations with my brother yesterday, my own safety could be in jeopardy. And yours as well."

He shrugged, and held out his hand. "If you don't mind?"

I didn't budge. "You made a bargain with the empress. Why not make one with me as well?"

Graz sighed. "You're making this difficult for me. At least tell me this much: have you viewed the recording?"

"I might have," I said.

He sighed. "You really shouldn't have."

"Too late now," I said. "Now, then. The bargain I proposed."

"Does this mean that you trust me?" Graz asked.

"I might," I said. After all, he hadn't seemed to lie to me. At least, not yet.

I wasn't sure that the empress had any friends. If she did, Graz seemed about as close to being one of hers as anyone else had the chance to be. Even more likely than if I were her friend. Was it possible, then, that he was more than that with her? And that allowed him to call her "Sela"?

"Why don't you make me an offer?" I suggested.

"Such as?" Graz countered.

"I won't know until you say it," I said.

"Proof of my honesty," Graz said. "I could answer a question you might have about the recording. But if it's too sensitive, information-wise, I would have to refuse. Would that be fair enough?"

"You could categorize anything as being too sensitive," I said. "No. Not fair enough."

"Try me," he said. "I might surprise you."

I sighed, and thought about what Hu'ajat and I had seen yesterday evening, right here in this workshop. I avoided looking at where I had stored the video recording. Graz seemed smart enough to see through any prevarication I might throw in his way. If he was being honest with me, I should at least try to be honest in return.

In my mind, I could see the empress with a baby in her arms. Someone else, just out of sight. The empress about to hand the baby to them, but suddenly noticing that there was a video recorder aimed at her and the baby. Nothing terribly dangerous in itself. In any case, the recorder couldn't have been as obvious as G'mel's viewer had been. Something subtle enough that it could be camouflaged, even if only temporarily. Yet she'd seen where it'd been hidden.

"You shouldn't have come here," I realized suddenly, wishing that I hadn't discovered the torn video recording on the table in my suite. Wishing that T'kav hadn't brought it there, only to forget to bring it with her when she'd left. Or had she intentionally placed it there, not so much in the hopes that I'd find it, but that the empress wouldn't?

"And why not?" Graz asked, as if sensing what was going through my mind. "How else would I be able to retrieve the stolen video recording? Or would you rather risk that Sela might gain possession of it first?"

"You said that she'd already tried to get it back," I said.

He nodded. "Haven't you been aware of any unusual behavior on her part? Especially yesterday?"

Of course.

The test run. That was probably one of the attempts to recover what I hadn't known at the time was practically right under my nose. T'kav brought the recording to my suite, probably with the empress or one of her guards practically on her heels. Scared, but not enough to reveal exactly what she was afraid of. More afraid that the empress already knew. And since I didn't know the recording was there at the time, it was safe. If only temporarily. Had the empress suspected where T'kav might've taken the recording to? If so, then I was in more trouble thanks to T'kav than I thought I was.

And still wondered: Why had T'kav stolen it? There had to more to her reasons for doing so than she'd told me. Maybe she wanted to plant the stolen recording on me, therefore making me the culprit rather than her? Would the empress have believed that, though? Or would the truth have come out much too late to save me? And then, here in this workshop, T'kav hidden in the storage closet, while G'mel asked me where the recording was. Knowing that it was probably here, and not minding if I was punished for hiding it, for not giving it to the empress. But G'mel had wanted it too, I could sense. What did he want to do with it? Had he tried to steal it from Graz's office, but T'kav had preempted him?

I nodded.

"Centuries ago on Earth there was a term, 'the purloined letter'," Graz went on. "It was said that the best place to hide something was in plain sight. So obvious that Sela didn't think to look right in front of herself. You must've been more suspicious."

"No, just lucky," I said. "I happened to see it. I wasn't searching for it."

"And all this wouldn't have happened if I'd found a sufficiently secret place to hide it," he said. "Distractions will do that for you. Force you to take your attention off of what you need to take care of."

"What were you distracted by?" I wondered.

"Nothing terribly important," Graz said.

"You said that T'kav and I look quite similar to one another," I said.

"And you do," he said. "Sisters, or maybe twins."

"But why shouldn't I trust T'kav, if she's so similar to me?" I asked.

"Similar isn't identical," Graz replied. He sounded like Hu'ajat did when he was explaining something I didn't know about. He didn't dumb it down. He just tried to find language that I understand and explain it that way. "A clone has no memories, just like a non-clone baby doesn't. But without nurturing and teaching parents, and a nurturing environment, clones can't save memories like a non-clone can. Which is why a clone must have someone's memories downloaded into them. These memories are usually unmodified. It's safer to use unmodified memories. Perhaps T'kav's were modified. Even to the point of changing her considerably from how you are to how she is."

"Hu'ajat said her memories were taken from him," I said. And not voluntarily either.

"Which would explain why she knew about the colony on Virinat," he said. "But where there are gaps in his memories, there would be similar gaps in hers. Source material is never infallible."

"But she isn't a clone," I said. "Only Hu'ajat and I are."

"Has anyone else said that T'kav isn't a clone?" Graz wondered.

Good point. "No. No one has. Just me."

He seemed satisfied with the extent of our discussion. "I believe we have already gone far beyond the parameters of terms for your bargain."

"I disagree," I said. "There are still holes in what I know."

"That will never change," Graz said. "You're only Romulan, after all. Even Vulcans --"

I stared at him. "What did you say?"

"I said that you're only Romulan, and even Vulcans --" he replied, and paused at the same spot, this time apparently aware that he'd said too much. Honesty will do that to you. Open mouth, insert foot. Or the entire leg, if there's room enough inside the mouth.

"But I'm not Romulan," I said. "I'm Reman."

"Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?" Graz wondered. "Lately?"

I thought I had. Each morning I'd been onboard this ship. Or had I really seen myself reflected?

"That obviously isn't a mirror in your bathing room," he said. "It's a screen. Showing you what you were meant to see. Until you believed it had to be true."

Why would someone want to hide what I really looked like from myself? And who? The why, I wasn't sure of just yet. The who, seemed more and more likely to be the empress.

Looking at him, I reached up and touched my own face. It didn't feel like his looked at all. I had hair on top, for instance, shoulder-length hair. He didn't. Our eyebrows were steeply angled in roughly the same way. But his face looked like it had weathered rough storms in a desert area, while mine was softer. Possibly only because he was male and I was female. But we definitely weren't of the same species. He was definitely Reman, and I was definitely Romulan. Well, mostly Romulan. Okay, partly Romulan. There was the Klingon forehead pattern, less distinct on me than on a full-blooded Klingon. I wondered what parts of me were Reman.

"Then I am the real one?" I asked. But which was the real one: T'kav, or Yi'aju?

Graz nodded. "But you mustn't let her know that. Or anyone else. Especially onboard this ship."

And I understood who he was referring to. "Hu'ajat already seems to know, though."

"For certain?" he asked.

I thought about, but had to shrug. "I'm not sure. Perhaps he only suspects."

"Then let him continue suspecting when he returns from Mol'Rihan, without confirming his suspicions," Graz suggested. "Now, then, as I said not too long ago: I have done my part of our bargain. And then some. Now you have to do yours. The video recording." He held out his right hand.

I looked at it. And grabbed it as I remembered something else from the recording. The hands that the empress was about to place her baby into. Not a Romulan's hands. But hands that weren't too different from --

"There was a Reman in the recording," I realized. "A male Reman." I looked up at his face. "Was that you?"

"I will neither confirm nor deny it," Graz said. "It could've been one of her staff."

"Does she have any Remans working for her, though?" I asked.

He didn't answer. Maybe he couldn't say "yes" because it might get back to the empress. So he didn't have as much freedom as I thought he had. She could turn on him just as she could turn on me. It made me glad I was me instead of him.

"Will I ever know who you really are?" I asked.

"I've said who I am," Graz replied, gently but firmly releasing his hand from my grip. "You also heard what the system identified me as. Since it cannot lie, it must be true." He held out his hand again, but out of my reach this time. "The recording. T'kav will be returning soon, if she isn't already waiting outside your workshop. I would rather leave with it, before she learns that I have it."

"One more thing, and I'll give you the video recording," I offered.

"I've already given you more than I should've," he said. "I've been more than fair with you. Be the same with me."

"What did you name the baby?" I asked.

He made a face. "You're making this more difficult than it needs to be. I should've been gone twenty minutes ago. Maybe I should've just taken the recording from you. Taken it and run."

"But you aren't the type to," I said. "Is the baby's name something that the empress also doesn't want anyone to know?"

"Perhaps," Graz said.

"Entry requested," the system interrupted. "T'kav."

"I must leave, with the recording," he said.

"I know," I said. "The baby's name. I won't tell anyone."

Graz shook his head. "I can't tell you. You have two names to choose from. Pick the most likely of the two."

"Yi'aju is Reman, but T'kav could be Romulan -- or Klingon," I said.

"The recording," he said. "Now."

I nodded, realizing that I'd pushed him as far as he was willing to be pushed. I didn't want to turn him against me. After all, I might need his help again in the future.

"Repeat: entry requested," the system said.

"One minute," I said.

"T'kav has been notified," the system said. "Further instructions?"

"In one one minute," I said. "Not right now."

"Understood," the system said.

As I went to get the recording, I remembered more of what I'd seen in it.

The expression on the empress' face. Not that she was ashamed of who she'd chosen as her baby's father. But that someone else might find out. And she couldn't bear to have anyone else know the truth that she'd given birth to Reman-Klingon-Romulan child. Being who she was, she quite naturally started covering up the lie. Eventually spending years at it, probably. Covering every track that led back to her. Making sure that no one could find out where it had all begun. Where was that baby, though? How old was it now? Old enough to want to search for who its real parents were? And would those parents want to be found?

I returned with the recording. Graz looked relieved, but a little harried. His problem, not mine.

"The baby," I said. "It's alive."

He nodded.

"It was given up for adoption," I went on.

"Her, not it," Graz finally spoke, correcting me. But he looked as if he wished he hadn't. Worried, no doubt, that I would ask still more questions, when there was no time for them. But his correction confirmed my suspicion. Those had been his hands in the recording, accepting the baby from the empress.

And the baby was a girl. That hadn't been obvious in the recording. The recorder hadn't been close enough to identify the baby's gender.

"One last question," I said.

"One," Graz allowed. "Only one."

"Which world?" I asked.

"Virinat," he replied. "To keep her as far away from us as possible. Not my decision, but Sela's. I wanted to visit my daughter. She didn't want to visit her, or allow me to. Felt it was too dangerous."

"Thank you for your openness," I said, and handed him the recording.

"In return, remind me to never bargain with you again," Graz said. "You're almost as difficult to bargain with as Sela is."

"Like mother, like daughter," I said. Not my foster mother, but my birth mother. Something I would have to get used to, without letting anyone else know that I definitely knew. "But thankfully there's enough of you in me to keep things in balance. If I could ask one more question, it would be: Will I ever see my father again?"

"And I would answer: I can't guarantee it," he replied. "Take care."

"Entry permitted," I told the system.

The workshop's doorway opened, and T'kav entered as Graz left. I confess that I'd almost expected that there would be Tal Shiar with her, or Gorn, or Hirogen, or G'mel, or even the empress herself. But none of that happened, which surprised me. It was just T'kav there.

T'kav and Graz didn't speak to one another. She had one glance at him, just before the doorway shut, and he was already out of sight. Running that fast, he'd reach his office in a few minutes. He was definitely built for speed, and it was probably one of the reasons my mother had been attracted to him. If only they weren't so opposed to one another on so many issues.

Then T'kav looked at me. "He has it?"

I nodded.

"And it's safer with him?" she asked.

I shrugged. "I can only hope so." I sighed. "So -- where were we when he interrupted us? I think I was working on that disruptor rifle. The one with the intermittent sighting problem." I picked it up from the workbench, inspected it from as close as possible. "Oh, and by the way, order two meals for us, to be delivered here."

"We're both working through midday meal?" T'kav asked.

"Afraid so," I replied. "But I won't make a habit of it."

"I don't mind, just as long as you warn me," she said.

"You can count on it," I said, grabbing a modulation tool and getting back to work.

At least now I knew who my birth parents were. No matter how much worse that might make things for me, it was worth the risk. Definitely worth it.

(written 6-18-2013, 6-19-2013, 6-20-2013, and 6-21-2013)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 06-20-2013 at 10:00 PM.
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
# 12 Here's Chapter Seven
06-22-2013, 05:40 PM
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg

CHAPTER SEVEN --

T'kav and I worked past the end of shift. The incoming work-load simply didn't slow down, making us both wonder whether there had been some military action recently or there would be in the near future. The empress reminded us that overtime wouldn't earn us any unusual awards. Commendation for excellent work done would be entered into our files, though.

Better than nothing, I thought. That last job trying to fix and reset a subsystem of one of the ship's plasma torpedo launchers had meant at least two or three hours bent over, until my neck and shoulders hurt. T'kav found the painkiller spray that Hu'ajat had once used on me. He must've left it in the workshop knowing that I would definitely need it again, even if meant that it might've been found and returned to the sickbay.

When I'd gotten back to my suite in the Underground, I all but collapsed into bed, without changing clothes first. Sleep was dark and dreamless, except for one in which I was perpetually searching for someone in the farm fields on Virinat. Someone who definitely didn't want to be found.

I was woken out of deep sleep by a series of tones from the system. Pushing myself up into a sitting position and rubbing my eyes, I looked at the chronograph next to my bed. It was past midnight, ship's time. I decided to leave the lights off. Even though I now knew I wasn't a full-blooded Reman, I'd had enough of bright lights today. The darkness was comforting. Not like returning to the womb. Just comforting.

Waking me up in the middle of the night had better be for a good reason.

"I'm awake," I announced, trying not to sound as impatient and tired as I felt.

"Incoming trans-light audio communication, for you only," the system said.

It hadn't come from anyone onboard, then. But who else needed to reach me, and as privately as possible?

"Source?" I asked.

"Mol'Rihan," the system replied. "Hu'ajat."

Then I remembered that the empress -- which I would call her until I got more used to thinking of her as my mother, and which wouldn't reveal that I knew more about her than she assumed I did -- had informed me yesterday morning that as long as Hu'ajat was on Mol'Rihan, working under D'Tan, I would be receiving his reports and passing them on to her once I'd reviewed them. But what about this message? Wait and see, I told myself.

"Playback," I said.

"Communication is live, not recorded," the system said. "There will be a time-lag. Do not respond until informed that you may do so."

"Understood," I said.

"I don't know what time it is onboard the empress' ship, Yi'aju, so I can only hope I haven't reached you at an inconvenient time," Hu'ajat's voice said.

Pause.

"I was only asleep," I said. "It's after midnight here."

Pause.

"My apologies," he said. "This comm link can only show Mol'Rihan local time."

Pause.

"Apology accepted," I said. "What is your message?"

Pause.

"Surprise attack -- command center attacked and occupied by Elachi," Hu'ajat said. "Repeat: surprise attack -- command center attacked and occupied by Elachi. Embassy badly damaged."

Pause. While I tried to absorb the information. Had there been any warning of Elachi activity anywhere in Tau Dewa sector? Certainly none that I had been told of. And possibly no one onboard knew of it. Except me now.

"Have you been taken prisoner?" I asked.

Pause.

"No," he said. "We're hiding in the ruins of Ops. So far they haven't seemed to notice us. The comm link I mentioned earlier was made of parts from what was left of the environment control terminal. Hopefully --" Nearly silent hiss, followed by garbled words, then more hiss. "-- two of them just entered. A tall one and a shorter one."

What had been lost in the drop in communication? Nothing too important, I could only hope.

Pause. I didn't know what to say, so I kept quiet and waited.

"They're humanoid, glowing as they float upright through the air," Hu'ajat went on. "They're --" Another drop. Frustrating to wait for reconnection. And worrying about what had been lost in transit. "-- another terminal destroyed. They apparently don't want anyone to send messages off-planet. They've turned and --" Another drop. I forced myself to be as patient as possible. Not easy to do just then. Not easy at all. "-- D'Tan -- esca -- brea -- uh -- have -- end --"

Then suddenly nothing more.

"End of communication," the system said. "Further instructions?"

"Save message," I replied. "Do not forward to anyone else."

"Saved; further access restricted," the system said. "Further instructions?"

"Not right now," I said.

It was worse knowing that things had gone wrong on Mol'Rihan, even though I knew that Hu'ajat wasn't really my brother. But he didn't know that I was his sister ? or did he? I still wanted to know he was alive. And he was still the best friend I had, even if sometimes I wasn't sure whether I could trust him or not.

No time to hesitate. I needed to act, and act fast.

"Instructions," I said.

"Waiting," the system said.

"Contact Graz, private," I said.

"Contacting," the system said. "Incoming audio."

"Identify me to him," I said.

"Identified," the system said.

"Yi'aju?" Graz sounded more sleepy than I had. But he'd just been woken up, and I'd had that communication and its unknown reason for disconnection to keep me from getting sleepy again. "I thought we agreed that --"

"I've heard from Hu'ajat," I said, and told him what I'd heard. I may have missed some minor points, but I remembered the main ones.

"And you don't think Sela should be made aware of this?" Graz asked.

"I can only hope she wasn't anywhere nearby when you asked that," I replied.

"I'm alone," he said. "She didn't come back to our suite last night."

"Good," I said. "No, I don't think she should know about it. I know that goes against the orders she gave me yesterday morning, but I'll risk making an exception this time. Brother or not, I want to find out what else has happened to Hu'ajat."

"That likely means going to Mol'Rihan yourself," Graz said.

"I know," I said. "And I'm not sure that the empress will permit it. Even if she does, I don't want to go there alone."

"You want me along," he said.

"Yes," I said, wishing he hadn't sounded so hesitant. "Not for protection, though."

"But you might need that protection," Graz said. "Much as I do not condone what you want to do -- as your father, I am willing to use what my Klingon father trained me to do to protect you."

"But if she does permit me to go to Mol'Rihan, what guarantees that she'll permit you to accompany me?" I wondered.

"Let us assume that both permissions were granted by Sela," he said. "How soon do you need to leave?"

If you don't know where she is, I thought, how do know how to reach her? Sometimes my parents seemed to have a magical way of knowing how and where to contact one another. Did I have any such ability, or would it have to wait until I became a parent myself, if I ever did?

"Five minutes," I said. "Maybe sooner."

Speed would be of the essence. I confess that I didn't do much running on Virinat. Except when I'd almost been caught for stealing food. But someday I'd have to see how fast I was, even if I wasn't as fast as my father was. It might just save my life, and maybe someone else's as well.

"Where do I meet you?" Graz asked.

"Is there still a shuttle in the shuttle-bay?" I replied.

"One moment," he said. The quiet felt so long that I almost worried that he'd disappeared as well. But he returned, and I sighed with relief. "Yes. We'll have to commandeer it."

"I don't mind in the least," I said.

"What about T'kav, your subordinate?" Graz asked.

Good point. "System -- notify T'kav at 0500 that the workshop will be closed today, but not to let anyone else know this." Whether that would do any good remained to be seen.

"Understood," the system said. "Further instructions?"

"Not right now," I said.

"I'm not sure if I can, but can you trust T'kav?" Graz asked.

"I think so," I replied.

"I hope you're right," he said.

Same here. But I didn't say it aloud.

"Meet you in five minutes in the shuttle-bay," Graz said. "Be careful. The Tal Shiar guards might be overly suspicious when they see you out and about so late at night."

"I can take care of myself," I said. "Out."

I took one set of clothes, put them in a small dufflebag. Then went into the eating area, wondering what food I could take along with me.

Which was when I saw something that I'd missed somehow. Something that had been put there the night before last. When Hu'ajat had been here. His phaser. How had he hidden it here without either T'kav or myself seeing him? No matter. He'd thought, like Graz would've, that it might be more useful to me than to him. It might've protected him during the Elachi attack. But it also might've provoked them into killing him. So it probably was better that it was here with me.

I stuffed the phaser into the dufflebag, covered up by the clothes. No need to let my father know that I had it with me. I would only use it whenever he was unable to protect me. As I'd told him, I could take care of myself. I always had. Since the orphanage on Virinat ? would I ever be able to forget that place? Probably not.

I had the system lock my suite until I returned, and headed for the shuttle-bay.

Father had been right. There were more Tal Shiar about than usual. Surely the empress didn't suspect that I might try to get off of her ship tonight. What, me? Innocent, little old me? If I'd been her, I probably would've been even more suspicious.

I managed to avoid most of the patrols, except for one. The three guards outside the shuttle-bay.

Father was nowhere to be seen. But I saw a few distant beams of light down the corridor to my right. Followed by more beams, and an explosion. Just what we needed before escaping, a warning for the entire ship as to what we were doing. Couldn't he have just knocked them or something as quiet? Then again, maybe the Tal Shiar had forced the issue on him.

Then I saw him running towards the shuttle-bay. The guards there turned towards him. Three quick shots and they fell. But I could see more guards running after Father.

No more delays. We had to get into the bay, onto the shuttle, and leave as soon as possible.

Father was breathing hard. "They ambushed me outside my suite. Someone must've told them I was leaving, or they just made a good guess. I suspect the former."

Which might or might not've been T'kav. I hoped it wasn't, and tried not to mistrust her every time things went wrong onboard this ship.

Father looked behind him. The guards were closer and firing at us. Then he turned to the control panel next to the doorway. He took a long bar with a flat nose at one end out of his jacket, and used the bar to lift the panel's cover. Under the cover was a circuit board and a tangled nest of wires. Why hadn't he just pressed the "open" button on the panel? He grabbed a blue wire, yanked one end of it free, avoiding the spray of sparks that jumped out. The doorway slid open half a meter.

He used the bar to force the doorway open enough to let us pass through. Then the doors shut by themselves. Just in time. The guards were outside, pounding on it and firing at it. Which did them no good.

"The doors are locked now," Father told me. "I needed them to work temporarily, before the emergency auto-shut mechanism activated."

"I do hope you haven't had a life of crime that I'm not aware of," I said.

He smiled, shook his head. "Where did you think your engineering skills came from? Not from Sela."

Which made me wonder where Hu'ajat's scientific skills came from, if he wasn't my brother. Maybe they'd been downloaded into his clone-mind? If so, whose memories were his skills part of?

The shuttle-bay was empty of Tal Shiar, thank goodness, and of anyone else for that matter. Security
was more lax than I expected. Or maybe the Tal Shiar outside the bay had been sent here by Sela or someone like her. If so, the dispatch order had come a bit too late.

We ran for the shuttle, parked with its nose pointed at the bay's external doorway. The shuttle's entry doorway was locked, so Father forced it open with his bar. Once we were inside, he tried to push it shut. It slid most of the way, but not the last few millimeters. Hopefully the shuttle's shields would keep the atmosphere inside as intact as possible until we grounded on Mol'Rihan. Or else this was going to be a very short trip.

Father got into the pilot's seat, starting the onboard systems as if he'd done it before. Perhaps he had. There were still gaps in what I knew about him, small gaps and big ones. This was probably one of the latter.

"Get seated and belted," he told me, gesturing at the co-pilot's seat. "This launch is going to be a bit rough, I'm afraid."

"I don't mind," I said, doing as he'd said. "It's better than living a life filled with more lies than I ever want to hear for the rest of my life."

"I'll try not to add to them, then," Father said with a smile. "Ready?"

I nodded.

With one hand on the throttle controls, he used the other one to drop a pair of levers sitting between us. Two phaser beams shot out towards the external bay doors. Holes appeared, but nothing significant. He dropped another lever. The holes grew, more quickly this time, and the phaser beams were larger. Hopefully they'd be powerful enough to do the job.

There was a crash that even we could hear inside the shuttle, and in the rear-view screen on the console in front of us, we both saw the internal doorway fall forward. Followed by a rush of Tal Shiar guards, firing as they ran towards the shuttle. Some of the shots seemed a little too close for comfort. For me, at least.

Father ignored them, which I hoped wasn't foolishness. The holes in the external doors finally seemed large enough that the shuttle could fit through them. None too soon. Then he pushed the throttle controls forward as far as they would go. The shuttle leapt forwards, forcing us back into our seats. It felt like a huge, hard hand lay atop of me, unwilling to release me. I couldn't turn my head to see how it affected my father. It can't have been easier for him.

The shuttle barely fit through the opening the shuttle's phasers had made, scraping some of the exterior paint off. Not that we cared. We were free. From both the ship and the centrifugal force that had pushed us into our seats.

We now had a good view of the size of my mother's ship. Huge, to say the least. Father identified it as a Scimitar. The most powerful or one of the most powerful ships in the Reman fleet or in either of the Romulan fleets. Somewhere down near its keel was the Underground and the suite that I had come to know as the best home I'd ever had. I would definitely miss it, if we never returned here.

Now to see what my mother's reaction would be, assuming she was still onboard. Father pressed a button on the console in front of him as the Scimitar slowly turned around, hampered by its sheer bulk. I knew that a bigger ship might have had better shields and armor, but it usually also meant that it didn't have the maneuverability of a smaller ship, like this shuttle. Why hadn't it fired at us yet, since it obviously had rear-facing weapons? Did it have anything to do with what Father had just done?

Then, like being caught too close to a star's surface, those weapons did fire. Beam arrays fired in all directions, as if they weren't sure which direction we'd gone in. Torpedoes sailed past us, sometimes close enough that I thought I could touch them. But none of them seemed to be aimed in any particular direction.

I looked at Father and he smiled at me. "Okay," I said. "What did you do?"

"Cloaking device," he said. "Not usually built for shuttles, but apparently this one has been modified. Possibly on Sela's orders, but don't hold me to that. It could've been for entirely different reasons."

"Maybe she stole it from whoever originally owned it, and they were the ones who'd had it modified," I suggested.

"Perhaps," Father said. "So -- shall we leave?"

The beams and torpedoes were still being fired all around us.

"If you can manage it without our getting hit, yes," I said.

"Not a problem," he said, did something to the console, and the stars rushed past us. "Welcome to hyperspace, T'kav."

I could only hope that the Scimitar couldn't track us here, or if they knew where we were headed to. That saved message from Hu'ajat probably wasn't as safe from my mother as I'd wanted it to be.

Then I turned to him. "That's the first time you've called me that."

"It is the name I chose for you," Father said. "I definitely prefer it over Yi'aju, your mother's choice." He checked the instruments. Everything seemed to be in order. He switched off the cloaking device, since we wouldn't need while in hyperspace. I could only hope so. "We have about four hours to reach Mol'Rihan. I suppose you have some more questions for me?"

I nodded. "And maybe this time you won't be so evasive about some of them?"

"I can't promise that," he said. "But you can try and see."

"You didn't get permission from my mother, did you?" I asked.

Father shook his head. "Parent's prerogative to sometimes do things that the other parent disagrees with."

"But when we get back to her ship," I asked, "what then?"

"Who said we're going back?" he replied.

"Of course we are," I said. "We have to."

"We do?" Father replied. "And why would you want to put yourself back in the trap that you just escaped from?"

I thought about T'kav -- the clone with my Klingon name. And I thought about my mother.

"We should've at least brought T'kav with us," I said.

"She's probably already notified Sela," Father said. "Why else do you think I didn't suggest that she come with us? I did warn you that with modified memories come modified loyalties. I'm afraid that T'kav -- the clone -- wasn't as trustworthy as you are. She hasn't had the practice, or the motivation, to be so."

"How do you know so much about her, much more than I do?" I asked.

"Because I was there when she was created," he replied. "Even if I wondered why Sela would want a clone of the daughter that she'd given up for adoption. The daughter that she hadn't wanted anywhere near her."

"But she not only cloned me," I said, "she also had me -- and Hu'ajat -- brought back from Virinat to her ship. Does that make sense to you? It doesn't to me."

"I haven't been influenced by your drugged water," Father said. "Just as Hu'ajat apparently hasn't been. My memories are as clear as they've always been. Yours may never be that clear again."

"And my mother wanted -- needed -- me that way," I said. "To make me more malleable for whatever she planned for me to do for her."

He nodded. "I would say that sounds like what Sela would do. Even if it meant that she had chosen to do so to her very own daughter." He reached out, gently took my left hand in his right hand. "She wasn't always this way. At least not to me. She was kinder when we first met. Or perhaps she merely wanted me to think she was. She's hidden quite a bit from the people around her." Then he let go of my hand, as if worried that he might've held it too long and the gesture be misinterpreted by me. As if. I had more sense than that, and thought that he also did.

"But not from you?" I asked.

"She probably even lied to me," Father replied. "There have been -- instances -- where I thought I understood what was going on in her head. And now, in hindsight, I'm not so sure anymore."

A light on the console, next to the throttle, started blinking.

"Incoming communication," he said. "I wonder who it is." He flipped a switch above the light.

"Graz, why you dirty, low-down excuse for a half-breed." The voice was my mother's.

"Well, look what the targ dragged in," Father said, somewhat sarcastically. "This is such a surprise, Sela. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"You weren't to interfere," my mother said, just barely angry, but I could sense it wasn't going to abate anytime soon. "We had an agreement. Hands off."

"We didn't have an agreement," Father corrected her. "We had a bargain. I fulfilled my part of it; you didn't."

"I what?" she said, as if surprised, then laughed a bit. "All that I did, and I didn't do my part? Why you hypocrite."

"Hardly," he said. "Why don't we go back to the beginning and start politely? Greetings, Sela."

She sighed. "Greetings, Graz. Where is she?"

He looked a little amused. "That was two seconds. A record for you. I was betting on one second, wasn't I, T'kav?"

I nodded. "You lost. Pay up."

"Answer the question," my mother interrupted, sounding like I did when I didn't want to be pushed around. Stubborn. Obstinate. Not the most flattering of reflections, but only a fool denies the truth in front of them.

"If you mean Yi'aju, she's still onboard your ship," Graz lied.

"Not quite," she said. "Bring her back, and explain what you were doing in my private file section. Those are off-limits as well."

"And if I don't?" he asked.

"I'll destroy that little shuttle," she said. "With very great pleasure. Would you like a shot across the bow, if you don't believe me?"

How close was the Scimitar? I looked at Father. He pointed at a screen between the throttle control
and the console in front of him. Two ships were visible on the screen. Our shuttle was a tiny dot. A much larger dot, getting closer by the moment, was the Scimitar.

"Are you sure you can hit a target this small?" Father asked her.

"Would you like to see me try?" she replied.

"If I agreed to stop here, would you answer a question from me?" he offered.

"That question or that one and another?" she replied.

"That and another," Father said.

"I'll be in transporter range in -- about five minutes," she said. "This better not be a trick."

"Your answer to the first question?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied.

"My second question is: what made you think it was ethical to experiment not just on our daughter, but on her DNA as well?" Father asked, almost as angry as she seemed to be. "I agreed to let her be adopted on Virinat. Because you couldn't bear to have a mixed-breed child on your ship. More mixed-breed than I am. But that wasn't enough for you, was it? You went back there, attacked the colony, killed most of them. All just as an excuse to take her back to your ship. More as a possession, a war prize if you will, than a fellow Romulan. And then you used your memory-modification drugs to turn her away from me, and almost away from Hu'ajat. Until she didn't quite know who she really was deep down inside. And this was all seen as well within the parameters of a parent-child relationship? Are you insane, Sela?"

"That's more than one question," she pointed out. "But since you're being so agreeable, I'll answer them. Just this once."

"Don't believe everything she says," I whispered to Father.

"You think I would?" he whispered back.

"The Reman cloning experiment only had one success: Hu'ajat," my mother explained. "T'kav has been a difficult experiment to monitor since her birth. Her loyalties have been and continue to be unreliable. She is no more loyal to me than she would be to anyone else." I didn't agree, but I didn't say so aloud. "I needed Romulan DNA that I had some control over, and the only expendable source was our daughter. It wasn't supposed to've harmed her. I only needed one copy of her DNA."

"But Romulan DNA is inherently unstable in cloning environments," Father told her. "We both know that. Over the last century, there has been one failure after another. Which is why it's well known that Reman DNA is the best source yet for cloning. However, since our daughter is only one-third Reman, there would only be a 33.3% chance of success with her DNA, if that much. But to turn her away from me and almost away from Hu'ajat ? was that really necessary, or just your vanity that wouldn't dare let her get close to anyone, except you? Until you got the results you wanted?"

"Would you rather I left her in that orphanage on Virinat?" my mother inquired.

"That wouldn't have been necessary if you hadn't had her foster parents killed," Father said, having some trouble controlling his temper. "Right in front of her. It's a wonder that she even barely trusts anyone onboard your ship, Sela. Much less yourself. If it weren't for your memory-modification drugs, she would've tried to kill all or most of the Tal Shiar that served on your ship. And Hu'ajat and I would've helped her."

"I'm aware of that," she said. "That is why the memory construct of Yi'aju was created. To suppress the memories of T'kav. T'kav the Romulan, not the clone. With Hu'ajat's -- assistance -- I was able to do this." Assistance? Is that what you called it? I thought. Would you like to hear how he described it to me? In his words? I don't think you would. "Distracted, she wouldn't notice that DNA was extracted as soon as she was onboard. She would be focused on her work as an engineer in her workshop. If you remember, I was more than kind to her. Kinder than I really needed to be. And who knows -- she might have the potential to inherit the Romulan Star Empire when I am dead and gone. She certainly seems to."

"Then why go to all this trouble?" Father wondered. "Pursuing us. Threatening us with destruction. Preventing us, if you can, from reaching Mol'Rihan. What do you stand to gain from it?"

"You'd rather risk capture by the Elachi, and possibly death as well, rather than being forced to return to my ship?" she asked. "A suicide mission instead of mild captivity. I must admit I'm a bit confused as to why you're leaning towards the former."

"I'm not sure you'll ever understand," Father said. "You prefer absolute control over the universe around you. Even it means destroying parts of it from time to time. I've never wanted any of that. I'd rather have the choice to risk my life or not as I please. And I believe T'kav here feels the same way."

I nodded.

"Let us go, Sela," Father went on. "We aren't any threat to you. Not here, not on Mol'Rihan."

"How can I be assured of that?" she asked.

Bargaining. I could sense it. And Father was right. My mother and I did bargain in very similar ways, but not identically. If I were in her position, I would be asking for the same thing, the same assurance.

"Being half-Klingon, I have a strong feeling of honor," Father said. "Something you lack, but you don't seem to mind that. I will not attack you directly. I will not threaten you directly. Will that do?"

"I will bind you to it," my mother said. "If you break it, your life is mine. Understood?"

He sighed, nodded. "Understood." And he wouldn't ever break that bond. That was the sort of person he was. I was glad that I hadn't had to abide by it myself.

"Out," she said.

"Well, that went better than I expected," Father said. "I almost thought that she would just destroy us and have done with it. But she backed off at the last moment."

Is that what she had done? It hadn't seemed like it to me. But, then, he knew her far better than I did.

We watched as the large dot on the screen slowed down, then banked away, heading back the way it came. She was letting us go. At least, for now she was. I was told not to trust the cloned T'kav. But I found it was harder to trust my mother. My father wouldn't break their agreement ? would she, though?

"I wish she hadn't persisted that far, though," Father said. "I was hoping she wouldn't."

"Then how can you help Hu'ajat -- or me?" I asked. "If she won't let you?"

"There are ways to deal with it, just not directly," he replied. "That's why I said 'not directly' twice."

"I just hope you know what you're doing," I said, not exactly as confident as he was.

"Well," Father said, not sounding too confident after all. "We'll have to wait and see, won't we, T'kav?"

With that, we continued on our journey to Mol'Rihan. But our own conversation, prior to my
mother's interruption, wasn't continued. Not entirely. And I felt like I had more questions than ever. Questions that he might or might not be able to answer.

"I'll make it up to you, though," Father finally said.

I shrugged. He was probably just making chit-chat. To ease the tension created by the conversation with my mother.

"Ever wanted a pet?" he wondered, and he did sound and look serious.

"What sort of pet?" I asked, remembering what I'd seen on Virinat. There hadn't been any pets there. Just farm animals, the khellid drones, and -- if any Klingons visited -- targs. I couldn't remember back far enough if there had been any pets on the Romulan homeworld. Had there been any? Had I had one? No idea.

"An epohh," Father said. He tapped on the screen in front of him. It changed from the view of space around the shuttle to short videos of wildlife. He stopped at the one with a little furry animal with long, thin ears. Hadn't there been something called rabbits on Earth? If so, that's what these epohhs reminded me of. "There are four types. River, Mountain, Forest and Ruins. And if you're lucky, while raising them, they might evolve into a new type of epohh."

"Why would I want one, though?" I wondered. "I couldn't take it back to the Scimitar, could I?"

"You could try, but I wouldn't recommend it," he said. "They're happier in terrestrial environments, rather than on ships and stations."

I wasn't sure if I was too old for a pet like this, but since I'd never had a pet before, what harm could it do?

"I'd like one, then," I said. I wondered if I'd get to name it or not. Did they already come with names?

"I thought you might," Father said. "The Romulan epohh researchers on Mol'Rihan will teach you how to take care of it."

"When were you last on Mol'Rihan?" I asked.

He didn't answer for so long, that I thought he didn't want to. But then he shrugged. "When I first
met your mother. At the embassy. I thought that she was the most beautiful female Romulan I'd ever seen. And, apparently, the attraction was mutual. I looked much better back then than I do now."

"Tell me more," I said.

"There's time to, I think," Father said. "It was evening. Sunset. The sky was filled with beautiful colors. The moons were low on the horizon. If I'd been an artist, I would've done a painting of it. I wish I had, because I don't remember another evening quite like that one.

"I arrived with a delegation of scientists from Vulcan, where I'd been a student there for several years. Under T'Dara, one of their best. Ambassador Spock and his father both studied under her. She chose not to accompany us, however. In hindsight, I think she was right not to. But I had to go, so she assigned several scientists to travel with me. Not as interesting to converse with as T'Dara was, but better than no one at all.

"Once we landed, we were led up the stairs to the embassy. Inside, we met not only D'Tan -- who was more open and friendly than he is now --, but Sela as well. We knew nothing about each other then, or at least I knew less about her than she knew about me. I found out later that she'd done considerable research on me, finding out things that in hindsight I wish she hadn't known about.

"Retina-scanned, hand-printed, and DNA-scanned at the front desk area, we went to the dining hall upstairs. D'Tan and I'd talked a bit, but he seemed uncomfortable. He suggested that perhaps I might enjoy talking with Sela more. I didn't see any harm in that and agreed. Once the food and drink was served, we all sat at the table. I sat at one corner, near the end that Sela sat at. D'Tan was down at the opposite end, talking with one of the Vulcan scientists. Some of the Romulans there didn't seem to approve of this, but arguments were forbidden at mealtime. Before or after, yes, but not during.

"Sela was almost childlike when we talked, as if delighted to meet a Romulan who wasn't from Mol'Rihan. She hadn't established the Tal Shiar then, so she was kinder, as I said before. She and D'Tan weren't so opposed to one another then. It was only when she publicly suggested that there but just one Romulan Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and no Romulan Republic, that they diverged. And not exactly pleasantly, either. But getting back to that time, before their split, she seemed so open and willing to help. Anything to bring Romulans back to the galactic stature that they so richly deserved and had so cruelly been deprived of when Hobus went supernova, destroying the home-world. I wasn't so sure that such an ambition were absolutely necessary, since I was already more in D'Tan's position than in hers. A republic made more sense to me than an empire did.

"After the meal, there was music -- ancient traditional and modern Romulan compositions played by a small orchestra of maybe twenty musicians. Sela suggested we walk out on the terrace at the rear of the embassy. Lightning flashed in the distance, bursts of pale light in the darkening sky, the sunset long gone. The nearer, larger moon was about twenty degrees above the horizon, while the farther, smaller moon was about twice that high. It all seemed so casual, peaceful, and ordinary.

" 'You should come here more often, Graz,' Sela told me. 'Things seem to be more interesting when you're here.' We were already on first-name basis, far more quickly than I was used to. But, in the spirit of diplomacy, I accepted it.

" 'I come when I can, Sela,' I said. 'Science isn't done just on one world. There are so many worlds. In Tau Dewa. In the Alpha Sector as whole, as well as the Beta Sector and the Gamma Sector. Space stations didn't attract me. I preferred solid ground beneath my feet and a sky above my head.'

" 'Did you ever think of becoming a poet?' she wondered.

" 'That or a painter,' I said. 'But they don't pay well, so I chose to study science instead. Besides, one wouldn't expect Vulcans to write poems or do paintings.'

" 'They're much too serious for that,' Sela said.

"I laughed softly. 'How true. And so are Romulans. But not you. You're so different from the rest. Why is that?'

" 'Maybe I don't like being boxed in against my will,' she suggested. 'And with the dreary politicians and diplomats that I usually have to meet and deal with, boredom is unfortunately unavoidable. Are your Vulcan scientists like that?'

" 'Not all of them,' I said. 'My teacher, T'Dara, refused to teach as if she were the verbal equivalent of a Vulcan desert or boulder. What is the point of education if one loses the attention and interest of one's students? she used to ask in the classroom. Why teach if the student sees no reason to learn?'

" 'Mol'Rihan could use individuals like her,' Sela said. 'Not like them.' And she pointed at two Romulans at the far end of the terrace ? possibly female, but I couldn't tell from this far away. They were leaning close to one another, but didn't seem to care about the view around them. The privacy seemed more important to them.

" 'Who are they?' I asked.

" 'The one on the left is Taris,' she said, but sounded ever so slightly angry when she said it. 'The one on the right is Donatra.' And that made her sound even more angry. But she suppressed it well enough both times.

" 'Not friends of yours, I take it,' I said.

" 'Friends?' Sela repeated, and tried not to laugh out loud. 'I can only wonder what D'Tan was thinking when he invited them here.'

" 'Possible that they invited themselves?' I suggested. 'They haven't exactly been eager to make connections ? much less friendships ? among the attendees. They've kept mostly to themselves.'

" 'They aren't romantically attached,' she said.

" 'I wasn't thinking along those lines,' I said. 'Do you think they're a threat to D'Tan?'

" 'They're a threat to anyone that gets in their way,' Sela replied. She turned to me, put her arms around me. 'Let's put on a show for them. If you don't mind.'

" 'Any reason why?' I asked, not returning her gesture.

" 'Does there have to be one?' she replied. 'I want them to see that you're mine and D'Tan's, not theirs.'

" 'Then you don't have to do it this way,' I said, gently removing her arms from myself.

"Sela looked at me curiously, then went back inside the embassy. I followed her, but neither of us
spoke. I must've surprised her, and she was trying to think how to respond, without making it overly obvious to anyone else."

"What did she think she would get from you, if you agreed to the trick she wanted to play on Taris and Donatra?" I asked.

"I think she hoped to get me emotionally attached to her," Father said. "The sooner, the better. Back then I had just been promoted to Head Scientist on Vulcan. Very unusual for a non-Vulcan. It meant that I would have more contacts with both Vulcans, as well as Romulans, Remans, and Klingons. It meant that I could be useful."

"To someone like her?" I asked.

He nodded.

"But you did finally fall in love with her, as humans say," I said. "When did that happen?"

"Much later," Father replied. "And it caught us both by surprise."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because by then the Tal Shiar had been established, and I had no desire to be attached to anyone in charge of them," he replied. "But she wasn't one to be discouraged. She persisted. And eventually I gave in."

"What bargain did she offer you?" I asked, with a grin.

"Now, T'kav," Father replied. "How could you think of such a thing?"

"Well?" I prompted, not willing to give in. "What did she want from you?"

"My silence," he said.

In exchange for what, though? I wondered.

(written 6-22-2013 and 6-23-2013)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 06-23-2013 at 12:52 PM.
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
I apologize for having to make some belated corrections (nothing major; mainly a sentence or two that obviously needed fixing and some other minor fixes), but I think it reads better now.
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
# 14 Here's Chapter Eight
06-24-2013, 09:36 AM
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg

CHAPTER EIGHT --

Father didn't elaborate. He changed the subject, and we spoke about other things the rest of the way to Mol'Rihan. When I tried to redirect the conversation topic back to the bargain he'd made with my mother, he'd shake his head. And I knew that I'd trespassed where he didn't want me to be. It was something that, if I could, I'd have to learn by some other route. The route through him was closed.

Before we came out of hyperspace, Father reactivated the cloaking device. Whether the Elachi could see us with it active, neither of us knew. But he didn't want our arrival to be voluntarily advertised to anyone that didn't already know we were coming.

"Except," I told him, "wouldn't it seem strange to any ground-based observers, seeing an incoming fireball?"

"Maybe they'll just assume it's another meteor," Father said. "There are some asteroid-sized planetoids in the system. Not as close in as where we're going, though."

"Let's hope they're fooled, then," I said.

Mol'Rihan in all her beauty floated in space ahead of us, a great big blue globe. It was hard to believe that beneath her clouds an invasion had already taken place. Many dead, and many in hiding (hopefully more than just Hu'ajat and D'Tan). The embassy where Father had met my mother was down there, heavily damaged, possibly still burning and sending smoke clouds into the sky.

He pointed at the screen, which now showed the topography of the terrain below the clouds. Forest, river, mountains, waterfalls, sea. The command center stood between the sea and the landing field. There were at least half a dozen dots on the landing field. The sea was, in contrast, both quiet and ignored. Lightning flashes appeared here and there out in front of the shuttle, followed no doubt by the thunder we couldn't hear from outside the atmosphere.

"No orbiting satellites," Father said as he widened the view of Mol'Rihan to about twenty thousand kilometers. "Not yet, anyway. Either the Elachi destroyed the Romulans' satellites or the Elachi haven't seen any reason to launch any of their own."

"Or both," I suggested.

He nodded.

I hadn't worked on satellites back on my mother's Scimitar. Just weapons systems, both hand-held and ship-borne. There hadn't been much free time in the workshop to study beyond that, to whatever else I might've been curious about. Also, I wasn't sure if my mother would frown upon our using the onboard system to study other things. She probably had already blocked access to them. To keep us focused on what she wanted us to be focused on.

Father put the shuttle into descent mode. As we came closer to the atmosphere, the ride got rougher. Much rougher. The window turned white, then yellow, and finally red, as the friction built up. Front deflector shields protected us against the heat, or we probably would've been incinerated in seconds. When we dropped beneath the higher clouds, the roughness went away, the heat from friction faded, and we could see ahead again. Father hadn't seemed to mind, but my stomach was much happier with the return of smooth flight.

It was late evening, local time. Mol'Rihan's sun had set, and the larger moon hadn't risen yet.

The shuttle banked, coming in lower. But not aimed at the landing field. Father was too cautious to choose that. Besides, there were several strange Elachi ships there. I also saw, on the roof of the embassy, partially obscure by columns of smoke, several small craters, some with fires still burning inside them, and the crumpled remains of orbital-tracking radar dishes and comm link towers destroyed in the attack. How had Hu'ajat been able to relay his message from here to the Scimitar?

We glided past the ruined embassy, passed over mountains, an old stone bridge, and then headed another few kilometers to the distant trees, to an area Father called Paehhos Crater. Uneven surface in a bowl-like area created by a huge meteor that hit Mol'Rihan millions of years ago.

Here and there, I could see large feline-like and lizard-like wildlife, feeding and searching for food. Two of the lizard-like ones came face to face with one another, maws open, challenging, until one backed off. I wondered what it was like during mating season.

But I couldn't see the embassy anymore. Assuming we could've seen it from it, the tall trees would've obscured the view.

As we unbelted, he turned to me. "Are you armed?"

I remembered Hu'ajat's modified phaser in my dufflebag, and nodded.

"Good," Father said, not asking to see it. Trusting that I knew how to use it. Perhaps not as well as he would've, but well enough. I watched him pull out a Romulan plasma assault rifle. I'd only seen one of those in the workshop. He holstered it, letting rifle and holster rest against his back. "Leave your bag onboard. You won't need it just yet. It's possible that the only threats we'll have will be from the wildlife."

"But no humanoids," I said.

"I didn't encounter any here during one of my earlier visits," he said. "That doesn't mean that there weren't any. I just didn't see them."

I nodded again, opened the bag, removed the phaser. I shoved the phaser down behind my belt, covering it with my shirt. Then closed the bag and left it on the co-pilot's seat. The phaser felt good in my left hand. I silently thanked Hu'ajat for leaving it in my suite, even if it meant that he'd likely been unarmed when the Elachi had attacked the embassy. I promised that I would give it back to him. If he was still alive.

Father had to manually open the shuttle's entry door and I helped. But even with both of us, it wasn't easy sliding the door aside.

Outside, I turned around and the shuttle was almost entirely invisible. Hopefully it wouldn't be too difficult to find it again when we needed to leave Mol'Rihan. It might seem strange to see two people emerge from thin air, as if by magic, though.

"Are there any lubricants onboard?" I asked, before we tried to shut the shuttle's door again.

"You're thinking it won't close this time?" Father replied.

"Just in case," I said.

He searched the shuttle and came back to me, a small bottle in one hand. "Found this in the back. Some sort of natural oil. Grain-based, possibly. Not sure what it might've been used for, outside of food preparation." He offered it to me.

"That should do," I said, taking it. "Something to grease the bottom of the doorway. Should slide more easily that way."

And it did. There was only the thinnest of cracks between the door and the doorway this time. Much better than when we left my mother's ship. Also, much harder to see unless you were very close to it.

"Good thinking," Father told me, pleased.

I nodded, glad to be doing my part.

I buried the bottle in the dirt at my feet, then straightened up and took my first deep breath of the air on Mol'Rihan. I found that I could smell things that I had never smelled before. Not on Virinat, since it was a rocky, mostly barren planet. Pollen wafted through the air, like tiny fluffy clouds. An ongoing melange of animal sounds seemingly coming from everywhere.

About fifty meters away, what looked like a giant-sized, blue-furred feline. Father identified it as a Vivver cat. Fairly common on Mol'Rihan, he said, but it preferred this crater and the woods around it. I watched as it fed on the grass, occasionally sticking its nose up to sniff for anything unusual. I wasn't sure if its eyesight was strong enough to see us from where it was. Not unless we moved really obviously, which I didn't think we were going to.

But then beyond it, I saw something golden-brown with leathery skin. It was walking towards us, making me retreat a little, and then it stopped, and it also fed on the grass. It didn't seem as comfortable around us as the Vivver cat was. Father identified it as an armored hatham. Also fairly common, but stayed in the same areas as the Vivver cats did.

"Don't scare them and you'll have nothing to fear from them," Father quietly told me. "And stay upwind if you can."

A footstep on a branch. I looked down. Not me, not Father. Someone else was here. The wildlife with their soft, padded feet were almost silent compared to this.

I turned and saw an up-slope behind the shuttle's rear, sparsely covered with bushes, trees, and odd, large pink-flowered plants (for lack of a better term). Someone was standing there, pointing something at us.

I touched Father on the arm, and he turned and also saw them.

"Don't usually get visitors this far from the embassy," a male voice said, deeper than Father's. "And certainly not ones that appear out of nowhere. Now suppose you tell me who you are and what you're doing here."

"We're from offworld," Father said.

"You're one for the obvious statement," the stranger said, sounding mildly amused. "Try again."

"More specifically, Virinat," Father said.

"That's quite a distance from here," the stranger said. "That shuttle wouldn't make it this far. Not designed for it. You must've come from somewhere closer. No more lies. I want the truth now."

"She's from Virinat," Father said, pointing at me. "I'm not."

"More," the stranger said.

"We're here to rescue a friend and take him back with us," Father said.

"If he was at the embassy, he's probably dead," the stranger said. "Elachi don't usually take prisoners. You don't want to know what they do to the few they do keep."

I shook my head. "He isn't dead. He contacted me from inside the embassy. That's how we knew what had happened, and why we came here."

"And you think you can just sneak in there, without the Elachi seeing you?" the stranger asked, and laughed harshly. "If you're that foolish, you might as well go ahead and try. Wouldn't bother me much. Better that way, because they'll be focused on you and won't notice me."

Running away, no doubt, I thought.

"Assuming you come with us," Father said. "Which it doesn't sound like you want to."

"I'm not a coward," the stranger said, frowning at him. "I'm just not stupid like you both seem to be."

"Why not come with us and see whether we're really as stupid as you think we are?" Father suggested. "We might surprise you."

The stranger came forward, more visible now. Tall man, almost as tall as Father, shoulder-length grey-black hair, dark eyes. Pointed ears, but hard to tell whether he was Romulan or Vulcan. Dressed in ragged clothing. Burn marks, holes here and there. Torn shoulder. Worn boots. Must've been out in these woods at least since the Elachi invasion. Armed with a disruptor rifle. Which might be enough defense. I didn't know what the Elachi were vulnerable to or impervious to. He sat himself down on a nearby rock, his gun on his lap, still pointed at us.

"Wouldn't happen to have any provisions with you, would you?" he asked us. "Haven't eaten since before the Elachi came."

He did look hungry. And tired. His staggered sitting posture didn't seem like an act.

"Onboard our shuttle," Father replied. "If you don't mind my getting them for you?"

The stranger nodded, his gun more on me than on Father. "Don't do anything foolish."

"I don't know you," Father said. "Why take the risk?"

"Just making sure," the stranger said. "Lost two of my buddies when we fled the embassy. Shot from behind by the Elachi. Big burn holes in my buddies' backs. I shot back. Got one of the Elachi, and almost got shot in return by another. Drones aren't too much of a threat. Betas are worse."

Father nodded and went back inside the shuttle, the doorway sliding open quickly.

While he was in there, I kept my distance from the stranger, but made sure I was where the latter
could see me. I sat down on another rock, a few meters away, trying to relax. I didn't like the thought of someone seeing our arrival. Someone we knew nothing about. Someone who could be an ally ? or an enemy.

"Got a name?" the stranger asked me. "Either of you? Or are you nameless?"

"T'kav," I said.

"Romulan or Vulcan?" the stranger asked.

"Romulan," I said. He didn't need to know it wasn't all I was, genetically. It wasn't any of his business.

"And your friend?" the stranger asked.

"My name is Graz," Father replied, leaving the shuttle, carrying a box of provisions. He shut the doorway behind him.

"Klingon?" the stranger asked.

"Partly," Father replied, and handed him the box. "The food isn't poisoned."

The stranger didn't look like he believed Father, but he tore open the box with his free hand, his eyes widening as he saw the food. "Where did you get this stuff? This isn't typical ship provisions." He began to eat it, though, if somewhat messily.

"That's private information," Father said. "We didn't steal it, if you must know. But we didn't exactly ask for it, either. We borrowed it."

"Funny way of saying steal, then" the stranger said, mumbling a bit around the food in his mouth.

Father decided not to argue the point, changed the subject instead. "What's your name? After all, you know ours now."

The stranger hesitated, then said, "K'truk."

"That's a Klingon name, like mine," Father said. "But you don't look Klingon. More likely Romulan."

"What's that to you?" K'truk demanded, gun aimed at Father, finger hovering around the trigger. "It's
my name as much as your names are yours. No right to poke your nose into what doesn't concern you."

"And your speech patterns aren't Romulan, or Klingon for that matter," Father observed. "You've come into prolonged contact with humans. Possibly from Starfleet."

"And what if I have?" K'truk asked.

Father sighed. "Since you got what you wanted, may we go?"

K'truk looked curious, but wary. He lowered his gun, laying it back on his lap again. "You're still determined to get inside the embassy, no matter what?"

We both nodded.

"You're crazy," K'truk went on. "Won't get in alive without any help."

"And you would know where we could get such help?" I asked, assuming he hadn't been referring to himself.

K'truk nodded. "From me." So he had meant it that way. "I could show you both a way in. The same way I escaped. Elachi weren't watching it before, so probably still aren't now. That is, if you trust me any."

Odd how he was hinting that we might not trust him, while he seemed the mistrustful one. And the Elachi probably knew that he'd escaped, but he hadn't seemed important enough to them. They probably had enough hostages as it was. I was glad that Hu'ajat and D'Tan weren't hostages. But they probably wouldn't be too safe in what was left of Ops. The Elachi would probably search, if they hadn't already done so. the entire ruined embassy from roof to basement. Looking for any survivors.

Father glanced at me, shrugged, then looked back at K'truk. "I suppose we'll have to. Just as you'll have to trust us."

"Didn't say I didn't trust you," K'truk said, angrily. "Been shot at in and around the embassy. Almost got killed by a Hirogen hunting in the woods near this crater. Trust gets to be rather fragile after awhile."

Another armored hatham approached us, apparently smelling the food scent in the air.

K'truk waved his gun at it. "You stay away from me. This isn't for you. Hear me? Get away!"

The armored hatham almost seemed willing to argue the point with him, then gave up and wandered away, making wistful noises.

"Damn things," K'truk said. "You'd think all they did was eat and sleep. I'd rather have a targ with me than one of them."

"Before we head for the embassy, I have one question," Father said.

K'truk shrugged, finished eating, and shut the box. He looked as if he wasn't sure where he could safely store it for the time being. Father offered to put it back inside the shuttle. K'truk almost refused, but then agreed. The box would be out of the reach of the wildlife here. Even if they could smell it, they couldn't get to it.

"When did the Elachi attack Mol'Rihan?" Father asked.

"Before dawn today," K'truk replied. "When it was still dark. They like operating in darkness, I think. Landed on the landing field. Six or seven ships. At least a dozen Elachi per ship. No guns. They don't need them. Floated up the stairs and through the doors. Didn't even have to open them.

"Lighting went out inside the embassy. No power in the lobby area. Might be some nearby, though. Weren't sure then. Security guards opened fire, took out a few Elachi, but then the guards were killed by some sort of electric attack. The Elachi fanned out. Never saw your friend. Too busy trying to stay alive, trying to find a way out of the embassy without being attacked by the Elachi. Two of my buddies weren't dead yet.

"Lift was working a little. We took it down to the basement. But it shut down before it reached there, with almost a meter of space between the top of the doorway and the floor of the lift. We wiggled through, and dropped to the floor of the basement. It was dark there, but at least no Elachi. Not immediately. Then a few floated through, pausing, as if they could sense our presence. Then floated on, disappearing through nearby walls. We could hear a little of the fighting up on the main level."

"Any idea why the Elachi attacked?" Father asked.

K'truk shook his head. "Not as if they'd bother to tell us."

"But it can't have been an isolated incident," Father persisted. "Elachi don't make random attacks. And certainly not on an entire planet like this one."

"Not sure they're everywhere on Mol'Rihan," K'truk said. "Seem to keep mostly to the embassy and the landing field. Don't seem too interested in anything else." He looked at Father, curious. "You think someone might've sent them here? Maybe told them that they could come and do whatever they wanted to the colonists?"

Father nodded, grim-faced. He looked at me. "This may end up being more than either of us is ready to handle. We might not live to return to the ship."

"Ship?" K'truk interrupted, interested. "You mean whatever you arrived in?" He pointed at where the doorway had been.

Father shook his head. "Much larger than that. A Scimitar."

K'truk's eyes widened. "And they just let you leave it and come here? To fetch your friend and return?"

"They didn't just let us leave," Father said, defensive. As a half-breed, he must've been misunderstood so much in his life that it became a subconscious reaction. His father might've been the only one that accepted him as he was, when he was a child. It made me wish, more than ever, that I knew more about him, his past, his travels, his battles, anything else. Maybe, in time, I would. Unless he continued to keep it bottled up inside him. "In fact, I had to promise the Scimitar's commander that I would provide no direct assistance once we arrived here."

"Then you'd better not even think of going to the embassy," K'truk recommended. "Can't go there, much less inside it, with your hands tied behind your back. Might as well just kill yourself and have done with it."

"There has to be something I can do, in spite of my promise," Father said, determined.

"What if you had to break it?" K'truk asked. "What if you had no other choice?" He saw the look on Father's face. "You shouldn't have bothered to come, then. Just a damned suicide mission for you. And you drag your friend here with you -- what did you say your name was ? T'kral?"

"T'kav,"? I corrected him. "He didn't drag me along. I chose to come with him."

"T'kav," K'truk repeated. "But you didn't make any damn-fool promise, did you?" he asked me.

I shook my head. Though I'd had my share of experiences onboard mother's ship that I had no desire to repeat. Perhaps Father was right. Perhaps it was better if we didn't go back to her Scimitar. If we could manage it, without her learning what we actually did. The Tal Shiar were aware of most if not all of what happened not only onboard, but elsewhere. It was possible they were even here on Mol'Rihan, though Father hadn't said so.

"At least one of you has some sense, then," K'truk said, standing up. He looked up at the almost pitch-black sky. Overcast clouds must've been obscuring the view of the two moons and the stars beyond them. "Now's not the best time to go there. Elachi don't like working in daylight, or light of any kind. They'll be stronger and harder to fight in the dark."

"We have to go," Father said.

"Armed?" K'truk asked him.

Father nodded.

"And you?" K'truk asked me.

I nodded.

"Might keep you alive a little while longer, then," K'truk said. "I'm a fool for agreeing to help you. Probably get myself killed doing it. But that's better than hiding out in these woods. There's worse in them than Vivver cats and armored hathams. Big orange-colored crystalline spider-like things. Never seen them before I came here. Attacked so fast that there wasn't time to defend ourselves. Clouds of bright orange smoke. Killed my two buddies. I managed to run and get out of range."

But not without damage to your clothes and to yourself, I thought.

"I know what they were," Father said.

"And what's that?" K'truk asked. "Sound like some great big encyclopedia, you do."

"Tholians," Father said.

What else had Father seen on Mol'Rihan during his earlier visits here? I wondered. Were there more mysteries here that I was unfortunately ignorant of, but he knew enough about?

"Thought they'd all died out," K'truk said. "Except on Nukara Prime."

Father shook his head. "Your information is in error. Mol'Rihan isn't the only world they've hidden themselves away on."

"You saw them when you were last here?" I asked him. Which was how long ago? Before I was born, or maybe since then?

Father nodded, lips pursed, silent. Then he sighed, and tapped me on the shoulder. I stood up next to him. "Time we got going to the embassy, T'kav. Still coming with us, K'truk?"

K'truk nodded. "I still think you're crazy, but maybe you know something I don't. Not just about those Tholians."

"I might," Father said.

Along the way to the embassy, we had to stop at least a dozen times, hide ourselves in the bushes. Watch Hirogen hunters pass us by, some in armor, some not. A few so close to us that I was surprised that they didn't see us. Maybe they were hunting for someone else and wouldn't be distracted from their prey.

Didn't see any Tholians, but I thought I might've heard one. Couldn't tell which direction it was in. It was being just as careful not to be heard and seen as we were.

But we did see one Gorn with one group of Hirogen. He seemed in charge of them, even if they weren't exactly happy to be in the Gorn's control. They seemed to prefer hunting alone usually, occasionally in twos, much more rarely in threes. Some Hirogen were obviously armed, others not so. But even if they weren't armed, they certainly seemed capable of defending themselves with hand-to-hand combat.

We not only avoided using the transporters (K'truk didn't trust them), but also the ruins where the Tholians were more prevalent. Instead, we took the route up into the mountain range called Vastam Peaks, crossing the old stone bridge on the way. From Vastam, we headed back down-slope, towards the cluster of small buildings, the large mass of the warehouse, tiny (from here) tents, even tinier terminals, and large storage containers that lay about the landing field and the Elachi ships there. Beyond all that was the massive edifice of the embassy itself, or what was still intact.

Damage was obvious even from a hundred meters away, and without any binox. Almost all of the windows destroyed. Burnt and broken trees fallen near and against the embassy's exterior walls. The walls had taken the brunt of the Elachi attack, and it was a miracle they were still standing. Bodies of dead Romulans lay scattered about. The embassy's interior must be in far worse shape, from what Hu'ajat had managed to report to me last night before the comm connection was lost or deliberately broken (but not by him, I felt sure).

Three Elachi were floating back and forth at the base of the damaged staircase, while another three were at the top of it. Could they see or sense us from there? It didn't seem like it. One of them abruptly turned and floated through the embassy doors, disappearing from view. Two more floated out, though, replacing it.

"You weren't thinking of a frontal assault, I hope?" K'truk asked us.

"Wasn't sure that they would have guards on the outside," Father replied. "Thought that they'd be mostly concerned with the interior."

"Don't know as much about them as you do about those Tholians, then," K'truk said. "I've fought both them and the Elachi, so I know a little about them. About all I want to, to be honest. When aliens attack by surprise and kill almost everyone you know, leaving you to survive alone, you aren't necessarily that interested in learning more about them."

"Can't fight what you know nothing or little about," Father said.

"Also can't be killed by them if they can't find you," K'truk countered, then muttered to himself: "Damn fool. Should've stayed at the Crater. What good do you think you could possibly do here? Imagine the howl of laughter from V'vot and Z'gul if they were still alive. Escape, only to return? What were you thinking, K'truk? Fool, fool, fool."

I didn't comment, even though I could hear his muttering. Father looked as if he could hear it too, but he was still looking at this side of the ruined embassy.

"If the front way is impossible, isn't there usually a back-door?" I asked Father.

He smiled. "I was thinking along those lines myself, T'kav. The other side of the embassy faces the sea, with a small stretch of sward and a low-walled terrace."

The terrace (if any part of it was still intact) where he and my mother had spoken and she'd tried to pretend that she already liked him, to trick Taris and Donatra at the other end of the terrace. But he hadn't given in to her. Not yet. What had made him change his mind about my mother? What had the empress said or done or both?

"Think we can reach it?" I asked.

"We can try," Father replied. "You game?"

I smiled, laughed a bit. "Always."

He smiled, turned to K'truk. "What about you?"

"If you think the Elachi aren't watching both sides of the embassy, you're a bigger fool than I thought you were," K'truk said.

"We won't know until we go around it and see for ourselves," Father said. "And I plan to, and so does T'kav. Whether you come with us or not."

K'truk looked up at the sky, as if wondering how he'd let himself be dragged into all this. Then he
nodded. "All right. But keep an eye out in all directions. Elachi can approach from anywhere, pass through anything."

"So you've said before, and so we've seen for ourselves," Father said. "Let's go."

(written 6-23-2013 and 6-24-2013)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 06-24-2013 at 10:14 AM.
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg

CHAPTER NINE --

The route to the back side of the embassy was anything but easy. We either had the choice of a route up through the low mountains on the opposite side of the warehouse from the embassy, or trying to cross over the closer rocky slopes on either sides of the embassy, or descending into the Reman colony on the embassy's left end, and then up again on its seaward end. in the hopes that it was a shorter, if not easier, route (and so it was: shorter, but definitely not easier).

We scrambled up and then down the rocky slope on the between the Reman colony and the left end of the embassy. It was chosen because it had the advantage of having no Elachi guarding its way. At least, none that we had seen -- yet. Once on the far side of the embassy, I got my first view of one of the few seas on all of Mol'Rihan. The beauty almost took my breath away. But the engineering part of me -- unfairly, I thought -- redirected me back to the task at hand. I would have to play tourist some other time.

Turning to look at the back side of the embassy, I noted that it seemed to've been built using local stone. This side had survived the attacks of the Elachi far better than the front side had. Five or more meters above us, the terrace looked mostly intact, with what military officers would probably call negligible, collateral damage here and there. We couldn't see the metal-and-glass archway that led into the command center from where we stood on the grass below the terrace.

To our left and right, as well as behind us, there was a scattering of trees here and there. The minority of them were almost as tall as the embassy itself, while the majority weren't much taller than myself. I almost thought about climbing one of the larger trees, but none of them was close enough to the terrace. Not for someone who couldn't do a standing broad-jump from at least five meters away.

I sighed. "Is nothing ever easy?"

"Would you rather land on top of a mountain, or hike there?" Father asked me.

"Seems like I've always taken the hard way," I replied. "Even when an easier way presented itself."

"You prefer to work for your goals," Father said.

I nodded. "I've never liked handouts." Stealing food in the colony on Virinat didn't count. I hadn't begged for the food I took. Though I had begged for the farm job from S'hon. Consistent I am not.

"Which side of the embassy did you escape from?" Father asked K'truk.

The latter pointed at the wall to the right of the terrace.

There were burn-marks there. Big ones. A pile of rubble at the base of the wall. Someone had used something stronger than electrical attacks. Energy cannon. Maybe a dual cannon. Maybe heavy. Which didn't sound like the Elachi, from what K'truk had told us.

"There isn't any exit there," Father said.

"Behind the rubble," K'truk said. "If you want to waste your time trying to remove it, be my guest."

"The Elachi weren't the only attackers," I said. "Possible they didn't know you were there, but someone else did. Someone who tried to make sure you didn't live to bear witness." I explained my theory to them. "The Elachi had help. Whether they needed it, or requested it, is moot. The help was there."

"Think they're still here, inside the embassy or nearby?" Father asked me.

"We'll have to climb up to the terrace and see for ourselves," I replied.

"With what?" K'truk asked me. "I didn't bring any climbing equipment."

"But I did," Father said, and showed us an anti-grav disk. "This should be powerful enough to get us up there before it burns out. Grab onto my arms, one for each of you."

We did so.

Father activated the anti-grav disk, and we slowly floated straight up, keeping close to the wall. With any luck, we wouldn't be seen until we reached the terrace. Once there, we stepped down onto the small wall that followed the perimeter of the terrace's topside.

"We'll have to do it the hard way from now on," Father said, tossing the burnt-out anti-grav disk aside, and arming himself with his plasma assault rifle.

Taking his cue, I armed myself with my phaser, and for the first time it felt inadequate. I wish I had something more powerful.

K'truk did the same, holding his rifle in both hands.

Across the terrace, the multi-braced metal-and-glass archway around and above the rear entrance was devoid of glass, but otherwise seemed undamaged. The glass had been blown outward by something ? or someone. Glass shards and glass-powder lay scattered across the terrace. That was the good news. The bad news was that there were more dead Romulan guards, sprawled at the doorway between the terrace and the command center. Some had marks from electrical attacks, some didn't.

I crouched down next to one of the dead bodies that hadn't been hit with electricity. The back had a burn hole punched into it. I didn't have a tricorder with me, but it seemed likely that the hole had been made by a plasma weapon. Perhaps an assault rifle like Father had. Disruptor, tetryon, and polaron didn't do this kind of damage. And a phaser weapon would've just vaporized them.

Father came over to me, K'truk following, but the latter with his eyes looking inside at the remains of the command center. Father crouched like I had.

"I can't guarantee it, since I don't have a tricorder," I explained. "But I think this is from plasma."

"And if it is, who would most likely use a plasma weapon?" Father wondered. "Not Remans. Definitely not Elachi."

"Romulans?" I suggested.

"Internal power struggles are nothing new," Father said. "Sela's rise to power wasn't exactly bloodless. There were -- and still are -- those who would love to see her fall. And as far as possible."

"You mentioned seeing two female Romulans on this terrace when you came here from Vulcan," I said.

Father nodded. "Taris and Donatra. They were having a private conversation. Neither Sela nor I could hear what it was about."

"Enemies of the empress?" I asked. I fought against the urge to say "my mother".

I hadn't mentioned who my mother was or that Graz was really my father since we'd met K'truk. As far as K'truk knew, Father and I were just friends trying to rescue a mutual friend of ours. Call it a fundamental lack of trust, but K'truk wasn't Father. Neither of us really knew who and what K'truk was. Until we did, who my parents were was off-limits to him.

"Certainly not friends," Father replied. "Allies would be more accurate, if one knew exactly what their plans were."

"Would they stand to gain if this embassy were attacked and occupied by the Elachi?" I asked. "As well as D'Tan being taken prisoner?"

He nodded. "I wonder if they were the ones who invited the Elachi to attack here."

"If so, how did they convince the Elachi it was worth their while to do it?" I asked. "Elachi seem to do things for their own reasons. The reasons of other species don't seem to matter to them. Unless --"

"This would give the Elachi a permanent base in the Tau Dewa sector?" Father finished for me. "Offer someone something in their own selfish interest, and watch them take the bait."

"Bait -- not a permanent gift?" K'truk interrupted, interested, making me wonder how closely he'd been following our conversation.

"That's an unsettling thought," Father said. "Convince someone to support you, but then refuse to reward them. Sounds like Romulan thinking to me."

"Besides the embassy, is there anything else on Mol'Rihan that would've interested the Elachi?" I asked K'truk.

K'truk thought about it, shook his head. "They've pretty much ignored the Hirogen, Gorn, and Tholians. I've never seen the Elachi in Isha Forest or Paehhos Crater."

"Someone wanted D'Tan to fail, and as spectacularly as possible," Father said. "Looks like they got their wish."

"Would Taris and Donatra go this far to bring D'Tan down?" I asked him.

Father nodded. "And not just him, but likely Sela as well. If they could manage that much."

"Then we have motive," I said, standing up. Father did likewise. "What we need is evidence. And that evidence is likely inside the embassy."

"If it hasn't been destroyed already," K'truk said.

"We won't know from out here," I said.

He nodded, as did Father.

The interior was dark, except for a few emergency lights. From them, it wasn't easy to see clearly. But it looked obvious that the command center must've been hit by the equivalent of a ferocious storm. Just about every terminal around us was overturned, and damaged as much as possible. The only terminal that could've been used wasn't just offline, but powerless. The central island's plants and flowers were badly burned. The tree that once stood in its middle was a shattered stump. What had happened to the rest of the tree was anyone's guess. The long, dark shapes on the floor scattered about the command center were probably more dead Romulan bodies.

There were burn-marks in every wall around us. The stairs on the far side of the island were intact, with only minor damage. Hard to tell what lay beyond the doorway at the top of the stairs. The lift doors to the left of the stairs were open, but the lift was no longer usable. As K'truk had said. For the reason he'd said, though? Or had someone gone back after he and his buddies had escaped from the embassy and made the lift definitely useless? There was a door to the right of the stairs, but it was shut and none of us could get it open again. Closer to us, on either side of the room, were long hallways, each with a sharp turn after the first five or so meters.

A glow approached from the hallway to our right. We ducked behind the island, stayed as low and as quiet we could. The glow turned into an Elachi. If it had noticed us, it didn't bother to stop. It just floated across the room, down the hallway to our left. We watched as it ignored the sharp turn and chose to go straight through the wall ahead instead.

Not only weren't we a threat to them, as far as I could tell, they didn't seem to be in much of a hurry at all. After all, this was the most powerful building in the colony on Mol'Rihan, and they were in control of it. Maybe they thought -- with five guards in front of the embassy, two on the terrace between the front doors and the front stairway, and another three at the bottom of the stairway -- they could relax and concentrate on whatever they needed to do? Who would be so foolish as to attack them?

Still seemed overconfident to me. I shrugged.

As ever, an unsettling silence all around us. So unlike the near-constant waves of animal-created sounds at Paehhos Crater and the woods around it.

Father tossed something at me, and I barely caught it time. An electric torch. He tossed another one to K'truk, who caught it.

"Don't keep it on all the time," Father said. "Possible that the Elachi can sense infrared radiation. The beams from our torches would only make our presence even more obvious to the Elachi."

I nodded, as did K'truk.

We stood up, ready to move around the central island.

Just then, another glow approached, coming through the doorway at the top of the stairway. The Elachi floated down the stairs and was about to turn to its left, when it stopped. It pointed itself at us, arms and hands parallel to the floor. I couldn't tell if it had hesitated or was just taking its time.

Father didn't hesitate. Two quick shots from his rifle and the Elachi vaporized. A small cloud of plasma remained there, fading slowly.

"Hopefully that hasn't caused an alarm among them," Father told me and K'truk. Father looked at K'truk. "You've encountered them more than we have. Do they seem to have a mental path-web, something that connects them to one another?"

"You mean, like the Borg?" the latter asked.

The who? I thought.

Father nodded.

This is what happens when you grow up on an out-of-the-way world like Virinat. There is so much you haven't learned yet. And after you learn what seems like enough, there's always more lurking just ahead. Perhaps I could ask one of them to tell me about the Borg. Not now, of course. Later.

"Seems like it," K'truk said. "Never had time to investigate it more thoroughly. Survival mattered more. But I wouldn't kill any more of them. They seemed to gravitate to wherever one of them had just been destroyed."

"Like flies to sources of light," I said.

"But definitely not as harmless," K'truk told me.

Obviously, I thought, irked that he'd thought I needed to be told.

More glows appeared to our left and right, coming down the hallways towards us. There seemed to be two or three in each hallway, maybe five in all.

Before they reached the central room, we hid back behind the island. The Elachi paused on its other side, the only source of light in the room. Almost as if they were discussing what to do next. Two went up the stairs to the room at its top. The other three loitered, as if waiting for us to make an obvious move.

"You said that there were about a dozen per ship?" Father quietly asked K'truk.

The latter nodded, also keeping his voice low. "And about six or seven ships. At least seventy of them in all, including the five in front of the embassy. Assuming they're still there, that is. Three vs. seventy. Not the best odds, I'd say."

"All the odds we've got," Father said. He checked his rifle, looked at K'truk. "The more we kill, the more we attract."

K'truk nodded again. "I warned you."

"Is there anything else that also attracts their attention?" Father asked him.

"Power sources," K'truk said. "There's one on the level below this. A ground-based version of a singularity sphere in a room directly below us."

"Maybe that's what they were promised, then," I quietly suggested. "But what would they do with it?"

K'truk shrugged. "I got a glimpse of several of them hovering around it, doing something to it. But that was as we were running away from them, trying to get out of the embassy."

"You didn't mention that before," I said.

"Never said my memory was perfect," K'truk said. "I'm not a computer system, after all."

I straightened just enough to see over the top edge of the island. One of the three remaining Elachi was gone. No idea where it'd gone to. Two left.

"I don't think we have a better choice," I said. "We'll have to risk it."

Father nodded. "Left and right."

I also nodded. "Try not to miss."

"Likewise," Father said.

We both stood and fired. Both Elachi reacted, but not in time. There was nothing where the right-hand Elachi had been, but there was a small cloud of plasma where the left-hand Elachi had been. I could only hope that we'd gotten them, and they hadn't escaped through the floor. That inspired an unpleasant thought: Could they travel vertically as well as horizontally? None of us for sure, since none of us had ever seen an Elachi do it.

Father turned to me. "We don't have much time. More of them could be on their way here right now. You and K'truk find a way up to Ops. Find Hu'ajat and D'Tan. I'm going up those stairs."

"You think it's safe to separate, since there's so few of us?" I asked him.

"We can't be in two places at once," Father replied.

"And if we need to contact each other?" I asked.

Father looked around, knelt down next to a dead Romulan, removed a comm badge. Then did the same to another two dead Romulans. He handed one to me, another to K'truk, who stood as he accepted his, and kept the third one. We put them on our chests, on the left side.

"This should still be functioning, since they don't require an external power source," Father said. He
checked his badge, it chirped. "Good. It works. Try not to use them too much. It's possible that the Elachi could track us down from the badge's signals if I we do."

I nodded, as did K'truk. "Be careful," I said.

Father smiled. "Always." Then headed up the stairs, through the doorway, and out of sight. Where two of the Elachi had gone. Were they still there?

"Where is Ops?" I asked K'truk.

"Two levels above us," he replied. "First there's the lobby level, then above that Ops, then above that the dining area, and finally the shuttle-bay at the top."

"But how do we get up there without the lift?" I asked. "You said it wasn't working anymore when you were escaping here."

"Are you an engineer?" K'truk replied.

I nodded.

"Maybe you can fix it," he suggested. "Even if it's only temporary."

I frowned. And walk on water, too, I suppose, I thought. What did he think engineers were capable of? Miracles? I would have to explain that not all engineers were as brilliant as the late Commander Montgomery Scott.

"Keep an eye out for the Elachi while I'm busy," I said, heading for the lift doorway.

"Don't worry," K'truk said. "I will."

Worry. That which overinflated even the most miniscule of concerns. I'd always thought that it was something that only humans suffered from. That Romulans didn't worry. Wrong. We just don't admit it aloud, and try to act like it doesn't bother us. Seems to fool non-Romulans easily enough.

The lift car's lights were faint, but still visible. It was where K'truk had said it was. Almost level with the section of the embassy below the command center. How many levels were there? He'd mentioned four. Had this one not been on the original blueprints and been added later? That seemed likely. No doubt D'Tan and his immediate subordinates knew of its existence.

I carefully lowered myself the three or four meters to the top of the lift car. I took out my phaser and aimed downwards. It felt like hours but I managed to create a rough square, wide enough to permit me to drop through it. I punched at it and it fell into the lift car. I landed inside a moment later.

Darker than outside it. I turned on my flashlight, scanning each wall around me. The control pad was on the third wall. No damage, but no power. Power it would have, if I could manage it. A lift wasn't the same thing as a weapon, but it might obey the same rules on a fundamental level. And, thankfully, it did. I rerouted the power from its original pathway to a new pathway. At first it didn't activate. I gave it a swift kick with my left booted foot. It activated. Not quickly, but good enough. I certainly wouldn't have gotten any extra points for my solution if I were in the Romulan Fleet.

The lift juddered as it rose upward, stopping almost evenly at the command center level. Not bad at all. K'truk was already there.

"See anything?" I asked him.

"A pair of Elachi," K'truk replied. "They approached me."

"You shot them?" I asked, not quite angry, but not pleased.

"They were about to shoot me, so I acted first," he replied. "You didn't argue when Graz shot one earlier, or when you both shot two of them. Why does it matter when I do the same thing?"

I sighed. Either we still weren't much of a threat to the Elachi, or there were plenty more where these had come from. "I guess it doesn't matter. Not really. All right. Get in."

K'truk didn't argue. The lift rose again. We passed the lobby level. Ops was next.

The doors opened slowly, as if tired. But we squeezed between them. It was quiet here too. A circular walkway around a lower and equally circular area. There were terminals both on the walkway and in the lower area. Most of the ones on the walkway level seemed to be working, but I couldn't reach any worthwhile menus. They kept freezing, then rebooting back to their main screens.

There wasn't any sign of Hu'ajat or D'Tan. Hu'ajat had said that this was where he'd contacted me from, when I was on my mother's Scimitar. Where had he and D'Tan gone to, then? I didn't think that they'd been killed by the Elachi or their allies. A dead body is useless in negotiations. A living prisoner, on the other hand, was more than just useful. They could be used as leverage, if one were clever and cunning enough.

I looked up just as an Elachi came out of the wall section across from us. It floated down to the lower
circular area, then descended out of sight. So they could travel vertically. I would have to warn Father about that, if he wasn't aware of it already himself.

"Wish I knew what they were up to," I said quietly.

"Would be nice, but that would be much too easy," K'truk said.

I chuckled softly. "How true." I tapped my comm badge. It chirped.

"Graz here," Father's voice said quietly.

"Any progress?" I asked.

He sighed. "The transporters are a mess. Someone came through and destroyed the consoles. No way to recover and reactivate. Trust me, I tried. I shouldn't have bothered. Find Hu'ajat and D'Tan?"

"No," I said. "Unless they're dead, who knows where they might be. Oh, and be careful: Elachi can travel through walls as easily as floors and ceilings. We saw one do it here in Ops."

"You're definitely the bearer of bad and worse news," Father said.

"I'd give you good news if there was any," I said.

"I know," Father said. "Good news from here: The two Elachi who went up the stairs before I did weren't in the room at the top when I got here. Possible they're still scouting the entire embassy, from top to bottom."

"For intruders, or for something else?" I wondered.

"Maybe both," Father replied. "The backup generators seemed to be working here. The transporters are online." Pause. "One of them is, anyway. I'm going to try to use it to get to the room with the singularity sphere."

"Be careful," I said.

"Always," Father said. "Contact me there if you find anything. Especially Hu'ajat and D'Tan."

"Will do," I said, and tapped my badge.

Damn. Father had made that promise to my mother -- no direct involvement, no direct assistance -- and he'd already broken it at least twice. Maybe he figured that if my mother could lie to him, then he could lie to her. Or did he wonder if the rules of abiding by one's promises only applied to the promise-giver, not the promise-receiver?

I tapped my badge again.

"Graz here," Father whispered. "I hope it's important. There's an Elachi practically breathing down my neck."

"Don't forget your promise to the empress," I whispered back.

"I haven't," he said.

"Or your promise to me," I added.

"I didn't make one to you," Father said. "I agreed to help you. Of my own free will. That wasn't a promise." Sound of an assault rifle firing. "Correction: Scratch one Elachi."

I sighed. "Just don't break any promises you make to me. I'm not the empress, after all."

"I know," he said. "I won't." And broke contact.

K'truk looked at me, curious. "You're more than just friends, aren't you?"

I nodded.

"Lovers?" he asked.

I shook my head.

"What, then?" K'truk insisted. "If I'm going to put my life on the line, I at least deserve to know who I'm doing it for."

Certainly didn't sound like a coward now, did he? But hadn't K'truk denied being a coward before? Yes. Maybe being around Father and me had brought out his better qualities. I certainly hoped so.

"Sorry," I replied. "You're going to have to ask me other time." I saw another Elachi come through the wall section to our right. "?We have company."

This Elachi was smaller, almost child-sized. It floated across, intent on wherever it was going and whatever it was doing. But then it paused, and turned toward us. There was nowhere to retreat in Ops, except back into the lift. And the lift was halfway between the Elachi and us.

"Lock and load?" K'truk quietly asked me.

I shook my head. "Not just yet. Let it make the first move -- provided it doesn't threaten us."

"I hope you know what you're doing," he said.

"Same here," I said.

The Elachi floated closer, as if curious, but it was hard to know for certain from its expressionless eyes. If it did sense us via infrared radiation, it already knew that we weren't dead. Or we would've appeared dark in its vision, not red from our body heat.

The closer it came, the colder it felt. Almost as if we were in the presence of the dead. Or like a Klingon traveling to Stovokor on a barge. But there was no feeling of a threat.

The Elachi paused a meter away from us, lifted one long arm and long-fingered hand. I moved my left hand down toward my belt, near my phaser. Just in case.

But I couldn't stop watching it, as if mesmerized. Its fingers and palm of its hand reached towards me, touching my forehead. Cold fingertips, cold palm. The tingle of electricity. And then I heard soft echoes inside my head, as if I were in a cave. The echoes grew louder, and I realized that it was trying to learn how to communicate with me, in my language. Only without moving its mouth.

"You -- are -- not -- human," an alien voice observed. Unusual rhythms, emphasis, accent. But the only way it knew how to communicate with a species such as ours.

"Correct," I said.

"You trust it?" K'truk whispered to me.

"For now, yes," I whispered back. "If it tries to kill us, then I won't trust it anymore. Satisfied?"

K'truk nodded.

"Not -- too -- quick -- ly," the Elachi said. "Your -- mind -- processes -- quick -- ly. Yet -- you -- speak -- with -- your -- facial -- orifice."

"My mouth," I said, trying to slow down, but not too much. It wasn't stupid; just ignorant. It was learning pretty quickly, though, by imitating my voice, only an octave lower. Grammar sometimes still tripped it up, but I didn't complain (after all, I probably had no hope of trying to speak whatever its language was). There were still pauses between words, though. As if there were so many words to choose from now that it needed to think before choosing each one. I'll record it here without too many pauses.

"Mouth," it repeated. Then abruptly: "What is Rihan?"

Where had the Elachi learned that from? Had it accessed more than just words from my mind? Had memories, old and new, come with the language, as if inseparable?

"Our homeworld," I said. "Where we lived. Before here. It was destroyed."

"Star exploded," the Elachi said. "Not many escaped. Some came here. Some to Virinal --"

"Virinat," I gently corrected.

"Virinat," it repeated. "You -- T'kav -- are from Virinat."

I nodded, and saw the Elachi bob its head, trying to replicate what I'd done. The gesture might've seemed as strange to it as my words must be.

"But --" and it turned to K'truk, pointing at him with its free hand, "you -- K'truk -- are not."

Did the Elachi need contact with the person whose mind it communicated with, or had I just assumed it?

K'truk made a face. "Correct." Where was he from? From what he'd said at Paehhos Crater, it hadn't seemed likely that he was from Mol'Rihan. Then which world, in which system, in which sector?

"You think we destroy -- do not save," it told him.

"You killed two of my friends this morning," K'truk said, his anger simmering a bit. I shook my head at him. He made a face at me in return. "Why should I trust you?"

"What is 'trust'?" the Elachi asked, and turned back to me. "Thought -- or emotion?"

"A little of both," I replied. "In order to trust someone, they have to earn your trust first."

"But what is 'trust'?" it persisted. "I do not understand. Elachi trust -- or not?"

This was taking longer than I'd expected. Part of me wanted to take the lift down to the level below the command center, to where both the singularity sphere and Father were. But I also needed to find out where Hu'ajat and D'Tan were. Hopefully neither of those would require me to jeopardize the progress that this unexpectedly nonviolent contact between the Elachi and ourselves.

I looked at the Elachi, wondering what it was thinking of. What makes you so different from the others we'd seen, both the ones that had ignored us and the ones we'd killed because they'd seemed threatening to us? Are you younger than the rest, is that why? And since we didn't try to kill you, you felt safe near us? Had another of the Elachi sent you here, a truce between opposing combatants, in an attempt to learn more about us? Or had it simply come of its own volition? This last one seemed the most likely. To me, anyway.

"K'truk," I said. "Why don't you take the lift down to where Graz is? I'll stay here in Ops for the time being."

He looked as if he were about to argue about it, but then nodded. "But you'll be safe?"

"I think so," I said. "Report back to me. And tell Graz where I am."

"Should I also tell him who you're with?" K'truk wondered.

"Only if he promises not to come here armed," I said.

He shrugged. "Do what I can." Then he hesitated. "Watch yourself. It could be leading you into a trap."

"I don't think so," I told K'truk, and saw the look on his face. "I'm not crazy."

"That's debatable," he said, and headed for the lift. He entered, its doors slid shut behind him.

"Why did it not stay?" the Elachi asked me. It sounded puzzled.

"He, not it," I gently corrected. "He is male. His name is --"

"K'truk," it said. "And you -- are you male?"

I shook my head. "I am female."

"What is male -- female?" the Elachi asked. If its species were hermaphroditic, then concepts of sexual dimorphism would be meaningless. Any Elachi could mate with any Elachi. Assuming that they mated. Who knows -- they might just keep it simple by doubling in size and dividing in two like amoebae did.

And why hasn't there been another Elachi here in Ops since this one's arrival? Since the beginning of our conversation? Were they observing us and listening from somewhere nearby? Or weren't they entirely aware of what this Elachi had chosen to do? Did that mean that they would punish it, possibly destroying it?

"Many thoughts -- in your mind," it said, sounding amused. "You have -- many questions. I also do."

I nodded. "Yes. Is there somewhere where we can ask and answer?"

"I think -- yes," the Elachi said. "Come with me." With its free hand, it pointed back the way it had come. "It is safe -- there. For you -- for me. Tell me trust. I tell you Elachi."

I wasn't sure how much it would be allowed to tell me, but it seemed a fair trade. "Agreed."

When we reached the wall area it had emerged from, I had to stop. I couldn't go any further.

The Elachi seemed puzzled again, then understood. It swept a hand across the wall in front of us. An opening appeared, with a passageway beyond it. It entered, and I followed.

There was no way for me to tell how far we traveled from Ops. The passageway was lit from above, but I couldn't see any artificial lighting. The walls were smooth and devoid of doors and cross-passages. It felt like we were going to some other world, if we weren't there already.

Then we stopped, turned to our left. The Elachi swept its hand across the wall and a door appeared, just like in Ops. But this time we left the passageway and entered a large room.

It reminded me of the library at the orphanage on Virinat. Only there were no books. Anywhere. Instead, I saw row after row of narrow glass flasks, like tubules, each about half a meter long, all resting at the same upward angle, their bases in pools of some sort of liquid. They seemed to be organized by the colors in the pools. Were these, then, their ?books?? Or did they serve some other purpose?

"Are we still in the embassy?" I asked the Elachi.

"Not," it replied. "In a ship -- outside."

That must mean we were on the landing field, outside the front side of the embassy. The passageway had been longer than I thought it was, but not as long as to take us all the way back to Paehhos Crater.

"This -- our knowledge -- our thoughts -- our memories," the Elachi went on. "We learn -- we store here. Many of your years."

I felt like a baby in its presence. It may have looked young, but I didn't think it really was. Not in how its own species measured time. Perhaps it was the youngest of its species. That seemed possible. But it still was far older than I was.

"T'kav," the Elachi said. "Your name -- not you."

"Are you named?" I asked.

"Named?" it repeated, as if it had never thought of it before. "Graz -- T'kav -- K'truk."

"Your name, not ours," I said. "What is your name? What does your species call you?"

Then the Elachi seemed to understand. "I am --" and it said something that could not even remotely be repeated by me or anyone else that was non-Elachi. "I do not know -- how to say it -- as you speak." It sounded apologetic. "I will make -- I will try."

I thought quickly. "Is there a shorter form?" I gestured with my hands. Far apart, and then closer to each other. "Shorter."

It watched my hands, then bobbed its head, its imitation of my nodding. "Short -- not whole."

"Correct," I said.

Another pause, while it seemed to be thinking hard. "Is -- Phu'ai -- short?" it asked.

"It is short," I said. "Phu'ai." And hoped that I was pronouncing it correctly. It didn't correct me, so I think I was close enough to be understandable.

"Your names are -- different," the Elachi said. "They do not -- describe you."

"Do yours?" I asked.

"Yes," it replied. "When conceived -- first name. When mature -- second name. When parent -- third name. When body is discarded -- last name. Phu'ai is -- second name." It looked at me, curious. "Is T'kav -- first name?"

"I only have one name," I said. "Graz is his only name. And K'truk is his only name."

"How -- named?" the Elachi asked.

"Names are given to us by our parents when we're born," I explained.

"Born -- conceived," it said, bobbing its head.

"And if we don't agree with their choice of name for us, we must keep it, and honor their decision as best we can," I said.

"Honor," Phu'ai repeated. "Is like -- trust?"

We hadn't finished that topic of conversation yet. Like a child, it had so many questions, so many things it wished to learn, so many things that must be so very different from itself and the Elachi as a whole.

"For some species, yes," I said. "Like the Klingon."

Phu'ai had heard of them before. "Not nice -- kill much."

Which described many Klingons, but not all of them. As in any other species, there were always exceptions to the stereotypes. And sometimes it was the stereotype that was the exception.

My comm badge chirped. I tapped it. "T'kav here."

"Where are you?" Father asked, sounding both worried and annoyed. "K'truk and I are back in the command center's central room. There's no one here but us."

"I've made contact with one of the Elachi," I said.

"I thought I told you --" Father began.

"Plans can change," I said. "That's true for you and the empress, so why can't it be true for me as well? I'm not a child anymore."

"At least tell me where you are," he said.

"I'm onboard one of the Elachi ships, on the landing field," I said. ?We came here via a passageway from Ops."

"I still think you should've stayed inside the embassy," Father said stubbornly.

As if it were safer there, with Elachi abruptly appearing at any moment, either to ignore us or to threaten us. Sometimes I wondered if parents wanted their children to stay children forever, rather than mature and become adults.

"Plans changed," I said. "Making contact and coming here seemed like a good idea. And I still think it is. I'm definitely safer here than inside the embassy."

"You're sure?" Father asked.

"I'm sure," I replied. "And if you don't believe me --" I turned to Phu'ai.

"You need -- help?" it asked me.

I nodded.

"Would help -- I spoke?" Phu'ai asked.

I nodded again.

It reached forward and touched the badge on my chest. "Phu'ai. Elachi." I could only imagine Graz's and K'truk's reactions when they heard the words echo in their minds. I'd sort of gotten used to it, but it was still new to them. "You -- Graz -- K'truk."

"Yes," Father said.

"You are more -- than Graz," Phu'ai said.

"Yes," Father said again. Rather than explain, he asked, "May we come to you? Where you are?"

Phu'ai paused, then bobbed its head. "Come -- here. Yes." It swept its hand across the air between us.

And abruptly, Father and K'truk were standing next to me, their weapons holstered, a little startled by the transition. More sudden than how I'd come here. Perhaps Phu'ai had its reasons why we'd come the long way, and they hadn't.

I saw the expressions on Father's and K'truk's faces, and it reminded me of what I'd learned of humans and wolves on Earth. For millenia, humans had had an irrational fear of wolves and done their best to exterminate all wolves. The wolves barely survived extinction several times. Until finally the only wolves left lived in wildlife preserves. To protect them from the humans. I could imagine how equally afraid humans would be of the Elachi, if they ever encountered them, and how hard they would try to exterminate all Elachi. But I wouldn't. I couldn't. Not after meeting Phu'ai.

(written 6-26-2013, 6-27-2013, and 6-28-2013)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 06-28-2013 at 07:36 PM.
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
# 16 Here's Chapter Ten
07-03-2013, 05:40 PM
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg

CHAPTER TEN --

"I am not -- your enemy," Phu'ai told Father and K'truk, sensing their thoughts and feelings far better than I ever could. "I am -- friend -- of T'kav."

"But she isn't Elachi, nor are we," Father pointed out.

"Must a friend -- be same -- as ourselves -- before we trust?" Phu'ai asked him, and I think the Elachi now understood the term better than it had when we'd first met inside the embassy. "You appear -- strange to me. Yet I trust -- more than you. I will not -- kill. Not without -- reason."

We flesh-and-blood types had a great deal to learn from those like the Elachi. And yet we had killed them, simply because we were scared ? like children are scared ? and because we felt threatened. I wondered: Had they really meant to kill us, or had we assumed it? And therefore murdered them -- in cold blood, or whatever temperature their bodily fluids existed at ? rather than defending ourselves?

"Do -- not," Phu'ai told me. "You cannot change -- what was. Only learn -- from it."

I nodded, but the feeling of shame and guilt remained.

"If I were -- you -- T'kav -- I would also -- fear -- the unknown," Phu'ai went on. "But I am -- Elachi. I can see -- your thoughts -- your feelings. You are -- so young -- to be so far -- from your home. You know -- so little -- of this universe. Only one universe -- of many -- that we Elachi -- have seen."

I think it was forgiving us, accepting our limitations, our frailties. Without anger, without the need for vengeance. Perhaps Vulcan monks would have reacted similarly. But the rest of us in this galaxy -- I wasn't so sure. So much anger passed on from generation to generation. Never assuaged, never satiated. If not full-blown, at least simmering just under the surface, ready to explode at a moment's notice.

If only we deserved such forgiveness from a species that had apparently been in existence millenia, or perhaps eons, longer than humans and non-humans had. Maybe that was the point. We were like babies compared to the Elachi, still learning how to walk, to talk, to think, to feel.

"You -- understand," Phu'ai told me. "You see more -- than these do."

I nodded again. "It doesn't help much, though."

"One must begin -- somewhere," Phu'ai said. "Even we Elachi -- began. Young -- ignorant -- curious -- imperfect -- but willing to learn."

What about the ones who had helped Taris and Donatra? I thought. Had they been more less willing to learn, more willing to feed off of the fears of the Romulans they attacked and killed?

"We did not -- attack," Phu'ai said. "There are -- Elachi -- who do. They are not -- us. We did not -- come to hurt. We came -- to learn. To help -- if asked."

"How many others feel as you do?" I asked.

Phu'ai looked at me, hesitant, as if not quite understanding. "One Elachi -- each ship. We have -- many parts -- one whole. My parts -- are here -- in this ship."

Like worker bees and drone bees serving their Queen, I thought. Each a copy of her. But one hive, one whole.

"Yes," Phu'ai said. "Like -- Borg."

The Elachi sounded as if it disliked the Borg even more than it disliked Klingons. Where had it encountered the Borg, and what were the Borg that they instilled such fear and anger in those that opposed them?

Even I, in my ignorance, felt a twinge of fear when I heard their name and what others thought and felt about them, but I couldn't figure out why. I'd only heard about them for the first time today. Never on the Scimitar; not even once. As if I were being insulated from that knowledge while I'd thought I was Yi'aju, working in my workshop and in G'mel's sickbay, enjoying the cave-like atmosphere of the Underground. But what good did it do to leave me in such ignorance?

"Borg want to assimilate every species they come into contact with," K'truk said, his voice hardening. "You aren't like them."

"We do not -- need to incorporate -- other species," Phu'ai said. "We learn -- we absorb knowledge -- we do not -- destroy."

"Scientists," Father said, nodding his understanding. "Explorers. But why did you agree to come here, to Mol'Rihan?"

"We did not -- agree," Phu'ai said. "Embassy was -- attacked -- before we arrived. We -- investigated -- after."

Oh. Then whoever had attacked the embassy had done so before the Elachi arrived. The Elachi had come, wishing to learn from one of many younger species. Did they even know who the attackers were?

Had the motive I thought I'd figured out outside the embassy been accurate after all?

"Attackers -- like you," Phu'ai told Father. "Romulan." Pause. "More specifically -- Tal Shiar."

Tal Shiar. Of course. Taris and Donatra were Tal Shiar, just as my mother was. But my mother wouldn't have ordered this attack -- or would she? She hadn't said she wouldn't. We didn't know how much she had allied herself with Taris and Donatra -- or had she? Mutual goal, mutual destruction? Or were there still other motives here than just those? Probably.

I looked at Father. "You said the empress wasn't with you when I contacted you last night."

He nodded, looking thoughtful.

"And today -- after we escaped from her ship -- she came after us, made you promise not to give any direct help to the victims of the embassy attack," I said.

Father nodded again, still thoughtful.

"And I remember repairing more weapons yesterday than usual," I said. "Not just ground weapons, but ship-based ones as well. As if an attack had already occurred, or soon would occur. Perhaps this very same attack?"

"Love does make one blind to the unpleasant sides of the one we love," Father said. "There is much to Sela that I try not to think about."

"Like what she did to me," I said.

"Yes," he said. "Not forgetting that I agreed with her to send you to the orphanage on Virinat."

But you wanted me back with you, as father and daughter, while she didn't, I thought. At least, she didn't then. Not until I was older, not until I was mature, an adult. Why wait? And then use me to experiment on. All the while, Father hadn't stopped it once. Was he overtly complicit, or the silent partner, opposed but unwilling to do anything. Until Hu'ajat contacted me, warning me about the embassy attack, where he and D'Tan were hidden. Then Father had agreed to involve himself, to help me.

And, as if it had snuck back under my mental radar, I wondered yet again: Where were Hu'ajat and D'Tan? Brother you may not be, Hu'ajat, but I wish you were here, not wherever you are. Please -- please -- don't be more than you appeared to be. I know you had to lie because you were ordered to. That the memories of who I thought was Yi'aju, who I thought was me, came from your memories. You had to play along, in the hopes that the drugs would wear off, and that the T'kav part of me would return, reassert itself, and I would be myself again.

But was I really myself even now? It seemed like it, but how could I be entirely sure? I couldn't. I could only wait, observe, and judge for myself. Perhaps I would never be my real self again, but I could at least try to get close to it. Perhaps, like brain damage, there were lasting aftereffects that would be there for the rest of my life.

Was this what my mother intended, how she wanted me to be? Or did she have other reasons, and this was simply an unintentional side effect, like collateral damage in a war?

Father looked at me, and I could only hope that he hadn't guessed what was going through my mind just then. "I don't ask for your forgiveness, T'kav. Only acceptance for things I wish I hadn't done, and things I wish I had done. Perfection and parenthood are mutually incompatible concepts. We do our best, warts and all."

I nodded. "I know."

"Then how do we reach Hu'ajat and D'Tan?" K'truk asked. "That is why we came all this way, you both from your ship, and me from Paehhos Crater, isn't it?"

I turned to Phu'ai. "We need your help."

There was a long pause. "We -- will help," Phu'ai said. "Wait -- please." It disappeared.

It felt strange being left in an Elachi ship with Father and K'truk. Here, we were the strangers, the foreigners. And we hadn't been threatened once. We had been accepted, with an ongoing desire to learn from us.

"You kill what you fear, and you fear what you do not understand," someone once said centuries ago; how apt. I'd seen it in one of the last physical books from the 22nd Century.

A seat appeared suddenly in front of me. It grew into a bench, wide enough for all three of us to sit on. Tired from standing so long, I sat down. Father sat on my left, K'truk on my right. The bench felt warm, as if it were alive. I thought I heard laughter once, but it hadn't come from any of us. Had it come from the bench? Was the bench part of Phu'ai, or part of the ship, or were they all one organism, but with many parts?

"I'm sorry, T'kav," Father said, taking my left hand in his. I guess he thought an apology wasn't the same as asking for forgiveness.

"So am I," I said, wondering if we were apologizing for anything similar. I released my hand from his, laid it in my lap, looking at it as if it were some strange appendage that didn't belong to me at all. I wiggled the fingers, made a fist, opened it. No, it was my hand.

"If we have time now, would you like to hear about how your mother and I fell in love?" Father quietly asked me, trying to keep it between us, hopefully not loud enough that K'truk could hear.

I shrugged. This didn't seem like the right time for it, but maybe there just wasn't a right time for it. After all, he'd probably been heading towards this decision since we'd met on the Scimitar. When he'd come for the torn-off piece of video recording. And I hadn't even know who he really was at first. I'd had to think my way to it. Had my mother sworn him to silence, to not tell me the truth? What had he suffered for breaking that promise? Had she even known he'd broken it?

"It was a year before you were born," Father went on. "My studies on Vulcan had ended. T'Dara had been pleased with my progress. No doubt she thought that I would've done even better had I been a Vulcan like herself. She referred me to Starfleet Academy on Earth, where I found a job as an instructor. I'd been there for at least five years by then. Each time I'd been offered vacation time I'd refused. I was doing work I enjoyed, teaching a subject I enjoyed teaching. Quantum singularity physics. But finally the head administrator ordered me -- yes, ordered -- to take a vacation. Two weeks. On any world in the sector. Risa was recommended, but not mandatory.

"In the library, I researched Risa. Learned that it was a popular vacation world. Tropical climate, warm temperatures most of the year. Weather mostly pleasant, with occasional rainstorms, and rarely, hurricanes -- rather like the equatorial regions on Earth. One large island, many archipelagos scattered about it, some close by, some further, the most distant at least three thousand kilometers away. Not a place for serious contemplation. A place to relax and enjoy each moment as it came. If one were able to relax that much.

"I packed a dufflebag with what I hoped were appropriate clothes for a tropical climate, and booked passage on a freighter that was delivering goods to Risa. Along the way there, the captain kindly elaborated on what my research had taught me. Fireworks. Jet-packs. Dancing. Martial arts. And whatever else one could imagine, one could do. Either alone, or in company. One could even raise tropical birds, if one wished to, though I couldn't see much reason for it. Not then.

"The freighter arrived in the morning, local time. I went down in a shuttle, landing just offshore of the large island, at the end of a long pier. On the island, I saw a large palace-like building. Architecture that reminded me of ancient Russian churches that I'd seen on Earth. There were also two lighthouses, but I'd only seen them when we were at higher altitudes. They were hidden behind mountainsides and palm trees when we landed. But I did see, off in the distance, a natural archway. One of two, like the lighthouses.

"I grabbed my dufflebag and disembarked along with several others, two humans, a Reman, a Romulan, and a Klingon. I hadn't seen them onboard before now. Perhaps they preferred keeping to themselves. Their choice. Waiting for us on the pier was a group of pretty young women, each wearing a large flowered ring on their head, a colorful shirt that was barely long enough to protect against inclement weather, short pants and skirts, and barefoot. They were holding flower necklaces larger than the rings on their heads. We were each offered one necklace. I accepted mine, and was surprised to receive a kiss on the cheek as well. The humans did likewise, not surprised by their own kisses, so I thought maybe they'd been here before. The others politely refused to be so adorned.

"There were huts connected by other piers, including an outdoor transporter pad. I followed my fellow passengers down the main pier to the large building, and inside it. Clusters of vacationers here and there. A dancing area between the two arms of the building, filled with happy dancers. Not my kind of music, but I was they at least seemed to enjoy it. I went deeper into the building, past vendor counters, two Ferengi tradesmen, and finally to the receptionist who processed any guests who weren't just there for the day.

" 'Welcome to Risa, sir,' the receptionist told us. Human, male, pale curly hair, sunglasses, bare-chested, suntanned, long pants, and probably barefoot but I couldn't tell from where I stood. 'I hope that you'll enjoy your stay.' Then he glanced at me. 'Your first visit here?'

"I nodded, as did the Reman, Romulan and Klingon, but the two humans shook their heads.

"The receptionist took care of the two humans first, and it was fairly quick. The humans wished us well, and went on their way. I was next, then the other three.

"My room was two floors up, overlooking the front of the building, with a good view of ocean, beach, piers, beach-houses and that dancing area. I wondered if it'd been assigned to me on purpose. Just to remind me of why I was here. That I was to relax and forget my work as much as possible.

"I dropped my dufflebag on the bed, sat down next to it. I wasn't used to vacations. Time to learn how to vacate.

"I changed into a white shirt, white pants, no shoes, since they seemed unnecessary on Risa. Or at least, unnecessary in this part of the world. I looked at the flowered necklace, and decided to leave it off. For now. I could only imagine the look of disapproval on T'Dara's face if she had seen me wearing it. But I wasn't on Vulcan anymore. I wasn't even on Earth now. So the usual expectations could be dispensed with, if only temporarily.

"Back downstairs, I went to the eating area, chose something that didn't look too odd, something to drink, and found myself a seat in an archway, on the right side of the dance area. I watched the dancers while I ate, wondering if I'd ever have the courage to join them. Eat first, then play.

"Then I saw a female Romulan in the midst of the dancers. Long curly brown hair, flowering ring on her head, white sleeveless dress that reached to just above her knees, barefoot. Well, aren't you a pretty one, I thought. You wouldn't happen to available, would you? She suddenly turned to look at me, as if hearing my thought, and I knew why I'd noticed her instead of anyone else in the crowd: It was Sela.

"She looked startled, but pleased. She smiled, and waved. Much more relaxed. Different from how she'd been on Mol'Rihan when we'd first met. Perhaps vacations did that. Brought out a mellower outlook, a mellower side to one's personality. I watched as she squeezed something in her right hand, rose into the air, lifted by the jet-pack on her back, and then flew towards me. She came in for a landing, and shut off the jet-pack.

" 'Graz?' she asked, if not quite sure, or simply surprised to me here, or maybe both. 'How wonderful to see you here.'

"I nodded, and tried to be equally polite. 'Likewise. I didn't know you would also be here, Sela.'

" 'I thought you were still at Starfleet Academy,' she said. 'Teaching.'

"Her sources of information were accurate. Were there Romulans at the Academy, not just to study, but to keep an eye on me? Sent there by Sela?

"I nodded again. 'I'm here on vacation. Mandatory, I'm afraid.'

"Sela chuckled. 'With you, it would have to be. Being with Vulcans has made you almost just like them. How long are you here for?'

" 'Two weeks,' I said. 'Just checked in.' I pointed up the front side of the building. 'My room's up there.'

" 'I have an idea,' she said. 'Why don't you get a jet-pack and we can go on a flight together? There's so much to see on just this island.'

"I couldn't exactly refuse. She was the only one I knew on Risa. Besides, I hadn't promised anything more than just being friendly and willing to have fun with her. At least, I was grateful to see, no sign of Taris or Donatra. Unless they were somewhere else on Risa, I wouldn't have to bump into them.

"I nodded. Getting the jet-pack was easy enough. Putting it on my back and adjusting the shoulder-straps, was easy. Especially with Sela's help.

" 'There,' she said. 'Now you look ready to have some fun.' She squeezed the handle in her right hand, and rose into the air. Just like before. Only this time not alone.

"I imitated her and went up past her by a hundred meters or so. Oops. I let go of the handle in my right hand, and hovered. Sela laughed -- something I would have to get used to -- so very different from before, as I've said. Then she rose up to my altitude, hovering in front of me.

" 'Don't grab it too hard,' she said. 'A little goes a long way. Like floating in zero gravity. Push too hard and you go faster and further. But even when you let go of the handle, momentum will still carry you along. Often well past where you wanted to stop.'

"I nodded. But I'd spent more time in zero gravity than I had with a jet-pack on my back. She didn't seem to know that, and I chose to keep quiet about it. What I did under the aegis of Starfleet ? when I wasn't teaching ? wasn't for public consumption anyway. Especially not for her ears. At least, not yet.

" 'So,' I said. 'Where do we go next? After all, I'm the stranger here.'

" 'Follow me,' Sela said, and I did so.

"We flew over the top of the building -- this time I did as she'd instructed and found that it worked quite well --, away from the beach, toward a dormant volcano near the center of the island. A sea of palm trees passed beneath us, with occasional glimpses of pathways.

"I wasn't used to spending time alone with a member of the opposite sex. Partly due to work taking up so much of my time, and partly because there were so few females even remotely interested in me. And those who were friendly without being overly so usually weren't single and available. At least they were intelligent, kind, and far from boring.

"Sela pointed to the top of a smaller mountain, one of several near the dormant volcano. There was a wooden walkway that crossed a wide, deep gap, to a small, narrow tower of rock, with a large hut on it, and then another wooden walkway that continued on its other side to a larger mountain. I thought I could see a cave there, but hard to be sure from high up. We slowly descended, until we landed on the first section of wooden walkway. It swayed a bit, as passing gentle winds played with it, like a child with a toy.

"We walked in silence to the hut, so far from any beach. It felt like an island in the midst of an island, halfway between ground and sky. Various colorful birds flew past, both fledgelings and adults, but all without any curiosity about us.

" 'This is where I'm staying,' Sela explained, inviting me inside the hut. 'It's quieter here.'

"I followed her inside it. 'You seemed to be enjoying yourself on the dance floor.'

" 'It's easy to lose yourself in the music, in the different dance patterns,' she said, removing her jet-pack, laying it on a table across from the entrance, next to a window. I removed mine and laid it next to hers. There was a small cooking area next to the table, and a bed past that. A lounging chair to relax in. A small heater near the chair, for the occasional cool night. All in all, not much this far from the rest of the island, but perhaps that was an advantage in this day and age. Too much automation, and you forget what life can really be like. 'What do you think?'

"About the hut? About her? I wasn't sure what to say. Be polite, if not exactly honest? Or be truthful? I decided to be truthful.

" 'I like it.' Meaning the hut. 'If I'd known places like this were available on the island, I would've requested one of these instead of letting the receptionist assign me a room inside the main building.'

"Sela smiled. 'I was lucky that this hut was available. It's usually booked most of the time, I was told when I arrived on Risa. There are others on top of mountains and hills, the ones you no doubt saw on the piers and on the beach. But I prefer this one.' She walked over to the entrance. 'I apologize for not contacting you after our meeting at the embassy that night on Mol'Rihan. One gets busy, and forgets that there are peripheral things that can be equally important.'

"I knew the feeling. I was rather similar.

" 'I finally decided I needed some time away from Mol'Rihan -- and especially away from D'Tan and all his plans for the Romulan Republic,' she went on. 'I would almost call him obsessed with it. But, then, I guess we're all obsessed from time to time with what matters most to us. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Provided it doesn't take all your attention. My second-in-command suggested Risa. Far enough from not only Mol'Rihan, but Tau Dewa itself.'

" 'You trust your second-in-command?' I interrupted. 'Maybe they just wanted you out of the way.' Which wasn't too farfetched, if they were Romulan like her.

"Sela frowned. 'Yes, I trust him. He's saved my life more than once. But don't expect me to give you his name. You are not one of us. Yet. When you are, you will know more than you already do.'

"I suppose that was a fair response. Not as if I was in any position to pass information to D'Tan. At that time, I wasn't in favor of either group, but I was leaning more towards D'Tan's. And possibly she sensed that and wasn't pleased.

" 'It's given me time to relax,' she went on, the frown fading, 'and -- no surprise here, I suppose -- time to think. I'm not really in favor of D'Tan's path. I would prefer another one. One that is more evocative of the Romulan Empire that was before Hoban went supernova. Something to be proud of, not something to run away from, to hide from, to be ashamed of. And I don't seem to be the only one.

" 'After yet another argument with D'Tan, I decided I'd had enough and broke off from his Republic-to-be. I was tired of being told that I was blind, ignorant, and unwilling to move forward in the way that D'Tan wanted to. He was opposed to monomaniacal ways of thinking. But in a way, wasn't that what he was doing himself? I gathered those who agreed more with me, and we left Mol'Rihan. Though I did leave some behind, to keep an eye on D'Tan and his plans, and report back to me. I thought that someday our two plans for the Romulan people would merge, becoming one powerful Romulan Star Empire.' She sighed. 'But that hasn't happened. Not yet.'

" 'Maybe it never will,' I suggested.

"Sela shrugged. 'Maybe it won't. But dreams are like that. They are unreasonable, willing to wait any length of time, provided that the goal is worth it.'

" 'Is it?' I asked.

"She came over to me, looked me carefully up and down, then looked up at me, without staring. 'I should not've spoken so freely, Graz. But it's comforting to have someone to share these thoughts and feelings with. There are so few in my group that I can be like this with. And none are like you.' She laid one hand on my chest, looking down at her hand, watching it instead of me. 'Have you never found someone that suits you?'

"I shook my head. She must've felt the increase in my heartbeat. I tried to remember what she'd been like at the embassy on Mol'Rihan, but here-and-now blotted that out. We had never been like this on Mol'Rihan. I hadn't wanted to. Not then. But now?

" 'Likewise,' Sela said. 'You and I -- we don't always see eye to eye. But there is something in you -- perhaps you also see it in me -- that calls to me. That tells me that there is you and no one else.'

" 'Even if I never join your group?' I asked.

" 'Even if,' she replied. 'I would be willing to take the risk. Yes, even with someone who isn't a full-blooded Romulan.'

"I glanced at her. I hadn't told her that. That I wasn't just Romulan. Where had she learned it from?

" 'Perhaps it's the mixture of Romulan and Klingon in you that I'm attracted to,' Sela went on. 'The forbidden in both species.' She tilted her head up, to look at my face again. 'Would it not be a shame if we couldn't combine ourselves to produce something even better?'

" 'If you're suggesting what I think you're suggesting,' I replied, 'maybe ?'

" 'Am I being too forward, then?' she wondered, half-puzzled, half-angry. 'Is that what bothers you? That I am not submissive enough? That I am too strong for you?'

"I shook my head. I wasn't sure what to say anymore. But I'd agreed to come to this hut on this thin, narrow mountain with her. She hadn't forced me to. What had I thought would happen? This is what comes of not planning ahead, of improvising, I reminded myself. Now what?

"Sela pursed her lips, the frown returning. 'Maybe we should go back to the beach. To the main building. Maybe you would feel more comfortable there. Or, if you prefer, you can go back there by yourself.'

"I went over to her, stood beside her, looking outside. Clouds were gathering, growing darker.

" 'I don't think I'd better,' I said. 'At least, not until the storm passes.'

" 'Ours?' Sela wondered, and her frown didn't seem sure whether it would stay this time or go again.

"I shook my head. 'The one over the island.' Our own storm might abate in the meantime. I hoped so.

"We both watched the first flashes of lightning, the rumbles of thunder, and the sudden downpour of rain. I could imagine the dancers at the main building running inside, to take shelter from the storm. Those with jet-packs on were probably descending, looking for somewhere to wait it out. Up here, we retreated a bit inside, while the rain lashed the beach-house's exterior and the platform it stood on. Fronds on palm trees drooped. Then the wind came, blowing the rain sideways, and the palm trees started bending, like slow-moving dancers. We moved further inside as the platform around the hut darkened from the rain.

" 'Why does it have to be so difficult?' Sela asked quietly, the frown gone. Perhaps for longer this time. 'I didn't think I was asking for so much.'

"I looked at her. Saw what looked like tears on her cheeks. This vulnerability, this lowering of defenses, like everything else today, had seemed so atypical for Sela. Too much effort to be fake. It had to be real. The real person buried deep inside her. Revealed to me. Probably more than to anyone else she'd ever known.

" 'Sela,' I said softly. She turned to me. Dark eyes and eyelashes wet, curious, hopeful. 'I suppose it isn't easy for either of us. We hide so much of ourselves, fearful of how others will see us if we're too open. But when we do reveal ourselves, there's a terrible risk in being rejected. And it hurts worse when you're that open and someone doesn't care, doesn't return your offer, your trust, your honesty. Then you bury it even deeper, and it becomes ever more difficult to let it out the next time. Because you keep expecting it to turn out badly. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy.'

"She nodded, more like a little girl, than an adult. But her inner strength was that of an adult, not of a child, and it lurked just beneath the surface of her public face. The face that everyone saw -- not the face I was now looking at.

" 'I suppose what I'm really asking is this: Are you willing to risk the rejection that comes, not from me, but from those others around you?' I went on. 'The ones who might look down their noses at you, criticizing you for daring to listen to your heart, not to their opinions? And children, should there be any, would be even more mixed-breed than I am. They would have to face even greater hurdles. Would you wish them to have such a hard life? Would you think it was worth it?'

"Sela's eyes widened as she listened to me. That smart mind of hers processing everything I was saying. It wasn't as if I'd agreed to anything long-term. Or even short-term. Just wondering how far she'd be willing to go, if things got off the ground and running.

" 'You mean it?' she asked. 'No more advance and retreat?'

"I nodded, feeling like I'd taken a huge leap -- like a jet-pack flier using the main building on this island as a launching pad -- from where I'd been hours before, or even just minutes before, into an unknown I'd never experienced before. Perhaps, in a way, I'd been asking myself the very same questions I'd been asking her. For years. And finally found an answer. There was no sense in worry about what the future would bring. One could only wait, and see, and hope.

" 'No more games,' I agreed. 'No more smoke-and-mirrors. No more bait-and-switch. All or nothing. Are you willing to risk it?'

" 'I think I am,' Sela replied calmly. 'I just wasn't sure that you would still want someone like me. After all, you probably know me better than anyone else does. Even if we haven't spent much time together. You probably thought I was childish on the embassy's terrace, wanting to play my trick on Taris and Donatra. Maybe I was childish. But when you're in my position, sometimes you want to break the pattern, be different once in awhile, let your real self out to see the day, rather than imprisoning it in the shadows inside.'

" 'For the time being, we probably should keep this a secret,' I said. 'I can't be sure how Starfleet or your group will react. Wars could start, long and bloody wars. I wouldn't want that on my conscience, or on yours.'

" 'A secret sounds like a good idea,' she said. 'It certainly wouldn't be the first that I've had to keep inside me. You wouldn't believe how many of those there are.'

" 'I can imagine,' I said.

"Sela smiled, not as openly as she had when we'd met at the main building here on Risa. But most worthy of trust than she had been at the embassy on Mol'Rihan. I wondered what had triggered the change in her, or if it had been a simple progression towards maturity, towards adulthood. I'd thought she had reached it by then. But now it seemed that she had definitely reached here and now.

" 'You don't have to go,' she said softly. 'There's room here for two.'

" 'I've left my things in my room,' I said.

" 'You can pick them up tomorrow and bring them back here with you,' Sela suggested. She put her arms around me, laid her head on my chest. In return, I put my arms around her, feeling her physical strength, the warmth of her body. She seemed pleased by my reaction. 'Now I'm really relaxed. I don't have to pretend with you. I can be myself.'

"I looked down at the top of her head. She looked so different with long hair. Would she return to the short military Romulan haircut when she left Risa? I hoped not. This was a definite visual improvement. I leaned over and kissed the top of her head, inhaling the scent of whatever she'd used to wash her hair with. Or perhaps that was simply were natural body odor. I wondered why I hadn't been aware of it until now.

"She laughed softly, looked up at me. 'You've never done that before, Graz.'

" 'I've never wanted to before, Sela,' I said.

" 'Is there anything else you'd like to do?' she wondered.

" 'Eat,' I said, feeling hungry at that very moment. Poor timing on the part of my stomach. But I was only Romulan/Klingon after all.

" 'Just eat?' Sela asked.

" 'Eat first, then see where things go,' I suggested.

" 'Fair enough,' she said, and let go of me. I watched as she went over to the cooking unit. She didn't ask what I wanted, but I wasn't fussy.

"I went outside, saw that the rain was ending. White clouds were multiplying, while darker clouds shrank. The air felt and smelled clean. As if the island had had a bath. Which I probably would need quite soon, not having had one except for the sponge bath on the freighter on the way to Risa.

" 'If you need to wash up,' Sela said, with her back to me, 'there's a stream at the base of this rocky tower. Don't take long, though. Food will be ready soon.'

"I nodded, grabbed my jet-pack and flew down to the stream. It was probably larger than normal, due to the rain. But it was just cool enough to clean and refresh. I felt like I'd lost twenty pounds. Okay, at least ten pounds. I tried to comb my hair with my fingers, without much success. By habit, I noticed that I didn't have any clothes to change into. What I'd put on in my room at the main building still seemed clean enough, so I put them on again. Then the jet-pack, and flew back up to the hut again.

"Sela was putting a few trays of hot food on the table, having already removed her own jet-pack from it. The table was lower, just a few centimeters above the floor. I put my jet-pack on the chair, and helped with what little serving was needing to be done. There weren't any alcoholic drinks, I was grateful to see. This was hardly the time to get mildly inebriated, unable to control what I wanted to do next. Adult hormones and ethyl alcohol could be a heady mixture under any circumstances. It would probably have been more so with her there.

"There was a little smile, different from the others I'd seen on her face today, and it seemed to try to hide itself. But failing that, it stayed, lighting up her eyes, her cheeks, the rest of her face.

"We sat down, cross-legged, on either side of the table, serving ourselves, and trying not to make too much eye contact. But the same thing that bubbled up inside of Sela seemed to be bubbling up inside of me. We just gave up, letting our eyes do whatever they wanted, chatting about whatever inconsequential topics that occurred to us. The weather, the beach, the dancers, flying with jet-packs, funny jokes we'd heard and hadn't had anyone to share them with. That sort of thing. It was a happy meal, the happiest I'd had in a very, very long time. I almost wished that the meal at the embassy meeting on Mol'Rihan had been this happy. But politics and real feelings rarely coexist.

"When the meal was drawing to a close, Sela asked, 'Have you visited any other places on Earth, besides Starfleet Academy?'

"I shook my head. 'Too busy teaching, and all that requires a teacher to do. I've seen videos, though. The ancient cities of Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Great Wall, the Great Barrier Reef, the Rocky Mountains, the Moscow and Kiev Kremlins, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, the Taj Mahal, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower. Many others.'

" 'At least you saw them,' she said. 'I brought this table with me. It originally belonged to my father. He'd received it as a gift from a friend from Kyoto on Earth. The table is supposed to be several centuries old.'

" 'Certainly looks like it,' I said. 'Still as beautiful today.'

" 'Not real wood, of course,' Sela said. 'Trees were banned from harvesting for furniture and housing by the time this was made. It was made from recycled plastic, made to look like wood. Fools the eye, doesn't it?'

" 'Indeed,' I said. 'It definitely fooled me.'

" 'I wish I could have another one made for you,' she said, 'but there are so few living furniture artisans in Asia today. Furniture is made in robotic factories. The quality is good, but nowhere near this level. Handmade will always be better than machine-made.'

" 'Agreed,' I said. 'But I wouldn't mind a machine-made one. I wouldn't have to be so careful around it then. This one looks like it really belongs in a museum.'

" 'A museum?' Sela repeated, looking at me in surprise. 'You've been around humans too long. Only a human would think of enshrining ancient things in a museum, so that they could be stared at by generation after generation of visitors. We Romulans have lost too much. Especially after Hoban went supernova, destroying both Romulus and Remus. It's difficult to become attached to material items now. One never knows if one will lose them, so one treats them more diffidently.'

"Except for this table, I didn't say aloud. You kept it, despite the risk that you might not have it all your life. Even you aren't consistent, Sela, however much you try to act as if you were.

" 'Nothing wrong with a museum,' I said. 'Preserving cultural artifacts before they all cease to exist allows study of the history with more than videos and virtual documentation. Sometimes hands-on experience is best. Even if it means touching copies of the originals. I've enjoyed my times in Starfleet Academy's museum. Learning about the different versions of the USS Enterprise, for instance. How the Academy was first established. How humans first came into contact with the Vulcans. And so on.'

" 'There's more history than just Starfleet,' she reminded me.

" 'Which is why the Academy's museum also has links to all the major museums elsewhere on Earth,' I said. 'Allowing for greater breadth of exposure to all of human history and prehistory. I remember asking my Vulcan teacher T'Dara why Vulcans preserved only religious and scientific artifacts, letting the rest decay into dust. She explained that there are two major subjects for Vulcans: religion and science. And these two subjects coexist, as they must, for they are dependent on one another, but not to extent of using the other as a crutch. All other subjects of learning are unnecessary in her opinion.'

" 'I'm certainly not that narrow-minded,' Sela said. 'Discarding a tool simply because it does not fit in with one's cultural perceptions is a bad mistake, born of ignorance. The ancient Moors understood that better than those tried so hard to destroy them, including members of their own faith. Increasing one's base of knowledge was seen as destructive to one's religious beliefs. The destroyers and Vulcans have sometimes seemed similar to me, in thought, if not in deed.' She paused, looked amused. 'I thought we were going to enjoy some time together, and we get into a lengthy, involved discussion of scholastic subjects instead.'

" 'I wasn't bored,' I said. 'Were you?'

"Sela shook her head. 'But aren't there other things you're interested in? More down-to-earth subjects, you might say?'

" 'Such as?' I replied, wondering if she meant what I thought she meant.

" 'Let's clean up first,' she suggested.

"Afterward, we took the chair out onto the platform the hut sat on. The chair was just large enough for both of us to sit in it, side by side. A bit crowded, but not uncomfortably so. We cuddled as best we could, enjoying the view -- and each other's company.

"It seemed difficult that I hadn't been on Risa twelve hours yet, but it felt like an entire day. Earth seemed like it was on the other end of the galaxy, as did Mol'Rihan. I was glad I had been ordered to go on vacation here. Not just to relax, but because Sela was here."

Father paused, because I'd gotten up. Restless. Impatient, if you will. Wondering what was taking Phu'ai so long. With the ability to travel through any solid object, and mind-to-mind communication, the Elachi should've been back awhile ago. Or had it not been that long? It was hard to tell inside Phu'ai's ship.

"Maybe I should continue it later," Father suggested.

I nodded. "Not that I'm bored of it."

K'truk hadn't said anything, but no doubt had heard much, if not all, of what Father had told me about his time on Risa with my mother-to-be.

"Perhaps we should try to get out of this ship and see what's happened," K'truk suggested. "I'd feel a lot less claustrophobic outside it."

"But is there any way to exit it?" I wondered. "Have you seen any doorways? I haven't."

He shook his head, as did Father.

Then abruptly, Phu'ai returned. "I have found -- them. It was not -- easy."

"Are they all right?" I asked.

"They are -- alive," it replied.

Father stood up, as did K'truk.

"Do you know where they are?" Father asked Phu'ai.

The Elachi's head bobbed. "Reman city -- below ground."

"And you think it's safe there -- for us?" K'truk asked.

"I do not -- know," Phu'ai replied. "They did not -- see me. Not -- at first. I stayed in -- shadows. Watching -- listening -- learning. No mention -- of Hu'ajat -- or D'Tan. Much talk -- about Romulans -- about Tal Shiar. Finally -- one mentioned -- Hu'ajat. Said he -- is not well. Needs help -- needs doctor -- not Reman. D'Tan -- offered to -- find this -- doctor. Argument -- loud talking. I worried -- they would fight -- and Hu'ajat -- might die. I searched -- for them -- found them -- but must be -- careful. They do not -- know me. I tried to -- speak to -- D'Tan. He listened -- told me -- about Hu'ajat -- about attack -- on embassy -- about communication -- with T'kav. They escaped -- not from -- Elachi, but from -- other Romulans. Romulans who -- attacked embassy."

"Did he identify them?" I asked.

Phu'ai's head bobbed. "Taris -- Donatra. Not -- friends."

"We need to get to Hu'ajat and D'Tan," I said. "As soon as possible. I don't want Hu'ajat to die either. Can you take us to them?"

Pause. "This I -- can do," Phu'ai said.

"I would suggest right now," K'truk said. "Can't you hear that?"

Buzzing sounds. Loud explosions. More attacks on the embassy, or on something else? Meteor strikes? But these didn't sound like solid objects hitting the ground. These sounded like energy weapons. Large, powerful ones.

"They do not -- attack embassy," Phu'ai said. "They attack -- our ships."

"Taris and Donatra?" I asked.

Phu'ai's head bobbed. "From orbit."

Very loud buzzing sound. And an even louder explosion. Phu'ai's ship shuddered violently, shaking all of us, making it difficult to stay standing. Somehow the ship stayed upright. Phu'ai, though, didn't seem to be physically affected by any of it.

"Get us out of here," K'truk told the Elachi. "You might survive whatever is going on out there, but we won't. It could kill us."

Phu'ai looked at him, then bobbed its head. "I will -- do this."

The ship disappeared from around us. We found ourselves standing between the landing field and the edge of the cliff overlooking the Reman city. Beams of bright light sliced down from high above, damaging, then destroying one Elachi ship after another. Craters filled with wreckage looked like a war zone, only without any dead bodies. Then Phu'ai's own ship was destroyed in a brilliant fireball. The light-beams suddenly ceased, leaving an empty, uneasy silence behind.

Had Taris and Donatra not only ordered the attack on the embassy, but also this attack on the Elachi's ships? The Elachi hadn't agreed to help them -- had this been punishment for it? And if Taris and Donatra had gone this far, what would they decide to do next? If their onboard sensors could detect us from orbit, they must've known that we were the only humanoids outside the embassy, except for the Remans, Hu'ajat, and D'Tan. Would they risk attacking the Remans next? And why hadn't my mother opposed them? Had she helped, or stayed out of it?

And what about the Elachi inside the embassy? What would they do, now that their ships were destroyed? I hadn't seen any of them, not even on the front terrace of the embassy. Had they gone back inside, to try to decide what to do next? Or perhaps it didn't really matter to them? After all, they could just build new ships, couldn't they? If not, were they trapped here?

Unlike them, we still had our shuttle, hidden by its cloaking device. We could still escape from here, once we rescued Hu'ajat and D'Tan. Hidden, hopefully we wouldn't be picked up on orbital onboard sensors. Hopefully we'd at least reach orbital altitude, with a chance to jump to hyperspace. But that was all still in the future. It would have to wait, provided the here-and-now turned out all right.

I turned to look at Phu'ai. It was so silent and impassive that Father murmured that it would've made an excellent Vulcan monk. K'truk agreed. The Elachi seemed to ignore them. It merely looked once more at the wreckage on the landing field, then turned and led us toward the cliff-edge, high above the Reman city.

(written 7-1-2013, 7-2-2013, and 7-3-2013)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 07-03-2013 at 06:13 PM. Reason: Need to fix punctuation (quotes and dashes turned into question marks)
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
I don't have one. I'm terrible when it comes to titles. Whether it's an improvised musical composition, or a poem, or prose like this, the choice of title comes dead last. And it usually leaves me hoping that the title I did come up with doesn't sound completely uninspired.

If you have already thought of a good title, feel free to post it in reply here. Or maybe it's still too early, since the story is still evolving (and, believe me, I don't know exactly where it's going to end up; I'm just going to wait and see, as ready as I can be for the surprises that I know will come again and again -- usually when I think I just might know what will happen next). Either way, I'm all ears ... sharp, pointy ones, or soft, round ones.
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
# 18 Here's Chapter Eleven
07-09-2013, 07:56 PM
Copyright 2013, by Philip Clayberg

CHAPTER ELEVEN --

As we stood at the edge of the cliff, looking down at the Reman city, I could only wonder about Phu'ai's thoughts about the destruction of its ship and the other Elachi ships. Its face revealed nothing, or at least in no way that I could decipher. A code that might or might not be breakable.

In the research I'd done to supplement the little that the Virinat orphanage gave me and my fellow ?inmates?, I seemed to recall stumbling across a reference to Mycenaean Greek. Lingua B to give its proper scientific name had been discovered on ancient clay tablets on Crete, an island south of the Greek mainland. For several decades it was thought to be unbreakable, until the mid-20th Century when a male human named Michael Ventris found the solution, that it was in fact ancient Greek.

Sadly, Ventris would be dead a year or two later in a vehicular accident, so one can only wonder what he would've deciphered had he lived longer. But, I suppose, no living human or human-like being is completely immune from failing to take their future and its potential for granted.

Back to the present: Did the Elachi even consider vengeance for the wrongs done to them? Or were they fatalist, and whatever happened was supposed to happen and no rebuttal of any kind was possible, whether in words or in actions? Or was the answer entirely alien, something far beyond non-Elachi understanding?

Glancing at K'truk, I saw an amused look on his face. "Care to share it?" I asked.

"I was just wondering," he replied.

"About?" I prompted.

"Is this what you usually do?" K'truk asked.

"What do you mean?" I replied, noticing Father's interest in our conversation.

"Go out of your way to rescue people," he said. "I mean -- what is he? Your lover?"

I resisted the urge to grab him and throw him over the cliff edge, to see how many times he bounced before hitting bottom.

"For your information," I said, trying not to lose my temper verbally and barely succeeding, "Hu'ajat is my brother." Was. Never was. Either way, it was none of K'truk's business. "And this is my first time. He was the one who rescued me from Virinat when it was attacked by the Tal Shiar. I thought it was fair to return to favor. Understood?"

K'truk silently nodded. I hadn't meant to shut him up like that, but sometimes it was difficult to tolerate fools, whether Romulan or not. Maybe my mother had the same problem. My father seemed to've found a balance between acceptance and frustration. Or maybe he just acted like it. It was hard to tell sometimes.

Father smiled, but also said nothing.

Not that I really needed his approval, but it was nice to know I wasn't seen as egotistical. Then again, how much did I really know about my own species? What I'd learned on Virinat, on my mother's Scimitar, and here on Mol'Rihan. Not the most thorough of educations, true, but the only one I'd had about Romulans so far. And they hadn't exactly consistently provided the most positive of examples for me to aspire to. Then again, I hadn't exactly been overly exemplary myself thus far. Before giving the Elachi a chance to defend themselves in words and deeds, I'd chosen to kill them. It showed that I had a great deal to learn, and much room for personal improvement.

Then I paused, realizing something: If Taris and Donatra were, as Phu'ai had said, behind the destruction from orbit of the Elachi ships here on Mol'Rihan, why hadn't they attacked us as well? Or were we just too small of a target to hit without collateral damage all around us?

I looked up at the dark, overcast sky. Were Taris and Donatra still in orbit in their ship or ships? Or had they left Mol'Rihan? If the latter, where had they gone? And did my mother know? (It was still difficult to know which side of a situation she had placed herself on. I felt like I barely knew anything about her, beyond what I'd learned onboard her ship and what Father had told me about her on the way here and before the attack on the Elachi ships.) In which case, had she helped them to escape from any possible counterattack. Which counterattack hadn't taken place. Or at least, not by us. I had no idea if the Elachi had. Phu'ai was still silent.

It felt like we were descending deeper into a dark unknown. I had only ever been in Romulan designed and populated places like Virinat and my mother's Scimitar. What would it be like in a Reman city? Would we be seen as invaders, as spies, or perhaps they might see as we really were? We wouldn't know until we took the path along the left side of the embassy, away from the sky, away from the surface of Mol'Rihan. Down into a different world, a different civilization, a different species.

The Remans had been enslaved for millenia by my Romulan ancestors, though that wasn't how it was seen by one of my few non-machine teachers at the orphanage. Remans were still seen by some modern-day Romulans as good for nothing better than being slaves and cannon fodder. When the Remans had revolted in the 23rd Century, the Romulans were for the most part shocked. What ? why hadn't the Remans simply accepted the status quo? What was so wrong about it? They apparently had never bothered to ask the Remans for their own view of the situation. Until too late. And now the Remans were here, on Mol'Rihan, rebuilding to something greater. I wished them success. After all, I knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of negative opinions. Indeed, all too well.

It reminded me that it was my mother who had ordered the deaths of my foster parents on Virinat. And that she'd ordered the Tal Shiar to force me to watch. Had my father opposed it, or not? Either way, like my father, I'd tried hard to accept the negative parts of my mother that I didn't agree with, and tried to focus on the positive parts. There was much grey to her, as with anyone ? including me.

Did D'Tan and the other Republican Romulans think of the Reman city as a sort of underworld? A place where, mythologically, one might go to after one's body died? Like Klingons who traveled by barge to Stovokor. The pale blue lights on poles certainly did give an otherworldly impression. Then again, it was possible that, for the Remans, this was as bright a light as their eyes could naturally stand. How many times had they had to suffer when taken away from places like this to serve and fight in brilliant daylight?

Indeed, the Reman city seemed as silent as a graveyard. More necropolis, than metropolis. Low, sprawling buildings, with occasional skyscrapers here and there breaking the surface tension in their attempt to reach the physical shield above, and ? anachronistically, I thought -- what looked like two ancient temples. One on a small island just outside the city ? at the near end of a long inlet that seemed to lead out to the sea that surrounded the rear of both the city and the embassy above it -- and the other near the opposite end of the city. What deities did they worship at these two temples, if indeed they were temples?

"They certainly don't seem to be expecting anyone," K'truk finally said. He pointed at different spots in the city. "No guards anywhere."

"Absence of proof isn't proof of absence," I told him. "How much do you want to bet that they're there, hidden from us?"

"Do you ever lose bets?" K'truk asked me.

"I've never made one before," I replied, turning to Phu'ai, hoping that this wasn't bad timing. "Do you sense them? Any of them?"

The Elachi's head bobbed. "They are -- grouped. Mostly inside -- some outside."

I looked, but still couldn't see any. "Where?"

Phu'ai pointed at what looked like a gateway. Two tall wooden poles, with another wooden pole across their tops. "There -- they see us."

"Were they there before?" I asked. "When you went there the first time?"

The Elachi shook its head. "They felt me -- could not see me. Fear -- much fear. Threats against me -- but no action. I ignored them -- searched for Hu'ajat and D'Tan. And found them." Phu'ai pointed to a building deep inside the city, against the far cliff wall, where it was darkest. "There."

I suddenly smelled ozone. As if someone had just fired a weapon. But I hadn't heard anything. I was about to turn around, when Father stopped me. He shook his head.

"More come," Phu'ai said.

"Elachi?" I asked.

"Romulans," Phu'ai said. "Tal Shiar."

They hadn't left Mol'Rihan after all. I was hoping they had. Perhaps Taris and Donatra wanted to make sure that there was no more resistance down here? Or perhaps my mother had sent Tal Shiar down here to find us. Either way, it meant that there wasn't time to waste, whether Hu'ajat was still alive or not.

Weapons fire. But not towards us. Not yet. Was it towards the embassy? If so, had the Elachi there defended themselves? More weapons fire. Then silence. If the Elachi at the embassy were dead, the Tal Shiar were probably using their tricorders to see who else was still alive in the area. Which would lead them straight toward -- us.

I started down the path to the Reman city, as fast as I could go. Which seemed to've caught Father and K'truk by surprise. But they couldn't stop me. I was already out of their reach. I glanced back. Father was on the path, long legs quickly carrying him towards me. He would reach me before I reached the Reman city's gateway. K'truk and Phu'ai were still at the top of the path. K'truk turned towards whoever was behind them. He fell prone, beams of light slicing the air above him. Phu'ai gestured at K'truk, and the two of them disappeared. And reappeared next to me.

"We have more -- enemies than before," Phu'ai said. "These people hate -- more than Elachi do."

"And who knows how the Remans will react to us," I said. "I can't guarantee that they'll appreciate your return to their city."

"They do not," the Elachi said. "But they hate -- Tal Shiar more. They might -- listen to us."

"I sure hope so," I said.

At the bottom of the path, we faced the city's gateway and beyond it, the waterfront -- which wasn't that large, considering how little space they had to work with. What looked like a temple off to our left, just outside the city's edge, a walkway connecting the temple to the city. Past that, a canal that seemed to cut the city almost in half, before turning left and disappearing into the rock wall that bordered the city's left edge. The city's buildings were difficult to see in the dim, pale blue light. Dark, tall, long, narrow masses. No windows, or at least none that I could see from here. Perhaps they felt more secure without any way for anyone to see inside from without. To our right, the city stretched deeper, almost as if trying to reach the sea on the other side of the embassy. Which made the city more like a large town on a peninsula, or maybe an isthmus.

The gateway -- now I could see that there was a long, tall panel of wood above it. Covered with dreamlike artwork. Floating people like ghosts, linked by long, snakelike silver cords. Burning suns. Faded moons. Colony ships. And suddenly I realized what I was looking at. It was a representation of the destruction of Remus (as well as Romulus) when Hobus went supernova. The attempt to evacuate as many Remans as possible. Some of whom had come here to Mol'Rihan, to found the Romulan Republic under D'Tan, while others chose other worlds to colonize. As if it was a combined statement: Never forget that this is where we came from; this is where we chose to go; we are slaves and battlefield expendables no more; this is where we will stay and rebuild, and -- if necessary -- fight and die.

I could sympathize. My own statement about my independence from and hatred of the Tal Shiar wasn't that different. It was only my mother's drug-manipulation of my memories that had made any tolerance of life aboard her Scimitar possible for me. Perhaps I should be grateful for that much, and perhaps she should also be grateful. After all, otherwise, she might've been the only other Romulan left alive on her ship. I would've guaranteed it. Without a doubt.

And, as Phu'ai had said, we had company waiting for us on the other side of the gateway. Out of the shadows, the Remans appeared. Armed. Uncertain. Suspicious. Misty, dim beams of light like the lights that lit the city itself reached out to us. As if inspecting us, one after the other. They paused at Phu'ai. Perhaps the Elachi's previous visit hadn't been so unnoticeable after all.

As the Remans looked at Phu'ai, I looked at them. Tall, hairless heads, dark eyes, functional clothing. No children. Or, at least, none that I could see. Perhaps the children were hidden elsewhere in the city.

Then the Remans looked at K'truk, then at me. Finally stopping at Father, as if sensing that the latter were the leader of our group. How very typical. In their thinking, why would a female lead? Which gave me a not very subtle hint about Reman social structure. Females weren't in charge; not even a little bit. How very backward.

"State your purpose for being here," the Reman in charge ordered. A male. Of course.

"We have two friends in your city," Father said.

"Identify them," the Reman ordered.

"Hu'ajat and D'Tan," Father said.

The Reman frowned, taking something out of his jacket. A tricorder, or tablet, or something similar. "What if they are not here?"

Father pursed his lips, eyebrows closer together now, more deeply angled than usual. "If we gave you proof, would you take us to them?"

"Perhaps," the Reman said. "What is your proof?"

"One of them, a Reman like yourself, is very ill," Father said. "We do not wish them to die. They need a doctor. Urgently. With your permission, we will take them to one."

Back on my mother's Scimitar? I thought. Not the best choice, but definitely better than Hu'ajat dead. Assuming, of course, that my mother would even let us come back onboard within insisting on conditions that would entrap Hu'ajat and me even more thoroughly than before. I wasn't sure how she would treat Father. Better, or just as badly?

The Reman still didn't look too certain. "We have doctors here. Why wouldn't a Reman doctor be sufficient to assist? Do you think we are still inferior? Idiots."

"No, no," Father said, sounding as if he were trying to find a diplomatic solution. "Normally, a Reman doctor would be enough. But not this time."

"Why?" the Reman asked. "If this is true, explain why. Otherwise, I will assume it is just another Romulan lie." And probably execute us on the spot.

"He speaks -- the truth," Phu'ai finally said. "More truth than -- the Tal Shiar -- are known for."

The Reman's nostril's flared, eyebrows frowned like Father's had. He looked like he was about to throw Phu'ai into the inlet. "Elachi are not welcome here. Ever. You will depart. Immediately."

"I will not," Phu'ai said. Stubborn. Perhaps imitating me when I was. Not too flattering to me, but at least it was honest. "I have come -- to help them. I will not leave -- without Hu'ajat and D'Tan. I can -- encourage -- if you insist."

Is that how the Elachi had succeeded at searching the city the previous time? There was definitely far more to Phu'ai than the tiny bits that I'd already learned about. And I doubted that I would learn all of it even within my own lengthy lifetime.

The Reman retreated a few steps. Then angrily waved us past. "I will take you to them. But then you will leave."

"Understood," Phu'ai said.

The Reman looked past us, up the path. "You didn't come alone. Are they with you?"

We turned and saw, halfway down the path, about a dozen or so Tal Shiar. And they, in turn, saw us looking at them. Phasers and rifles were pointed at us.

"No, they aren't," I said. "If they reach us, they will kill us."

"You are certain?" the Reman asked me. "We have been lied to before by Romulans."

"As certain as I am that you will not kill us," I replied. "They are not true Romulans. They are Tal Shiar."

The Tal Shiar chose that moment to open fire. A few of the Remans near us fell. We returned fire, hitting two of the Tal Shiar. They fell into the inlet.

"Get inside any building," the Reman told us. "We will protect you."

"Then you believe us," Father said.

"We have our proof," the Reman told him. "Don't just stand there and be killed. Run!"

We ran, Father first, then me, then K'truk, and Phu'ai following. The nearest building's entrance opened. Slightly brighter inside lights. A group of Remans -- mostly children, a few adults here and there -- looked at us, then at the battle between the gateway and the path beyond it. I looked back. More Tal Shiar were running down the path, to replace those who had already fallen. We were taken inside, without argument, without asking anything of us. That we were in danger was sufficient in their eyes.

Inside, we were shown to chairs around a low table. It was obvious that non-Remans rarely visited this city. But at least they gave us food and drink, which was rather good, considering my lack of experience in Reman cuisine, and gave us the energy we needed.

The battle outside continued, from what we could see from the building's entrance. The Tal Shiar had managed to get through the gateway, but didn't seem to know where we had gone. Squads of six or seven were sent to different buildings. One headed towards ours. We shut the entrance.

"You cannot stay here," one of the Remans, an older female said. "This is a school, not a barracks. We have no weapons to protect you from the Tal Shiar."

"I know," I said.

Hammering at the entrance. Yells for us to open it. Then someone outside shot at the entrance. It didn't give. But it probably wouldn't last long.

"Show us a way out of here," I said.

The Reman female nodded, gestured at one of the children. He reminded me of the Reman male at the gateway. Perhaps they were related. Perhaps the one at the gateway as dead now. Some rescue mission this was turning out to be.

"Na'hul," she said. "The emergency exit. Take them there. Now." She pointed out the way.

The boy nodded. "But what about you?"

"Don't worry about me," the Reman female said. "I'll be all right. You just watch yourself."

Na'hul nodded again, understandably not happily.

"Thank you," I said. "I hope they won't kill you for helping us."

"They will not take us alive," the Reman female said, and there was a determined look in her eyes. "We will be free or we will die."

Not the response I'd expected, but then I remembered the artwork above the gateway. How else would she have answered?

I sighed, wishing things had been otherwise. Then grasped her by the forearm. She seemed to understand, but pointed towards Na'hul. Don't waste time here. Get away. And the four of us ran after Na'hul, who was almost as fast as Father was.

Behind us, the entrance crashed inwards. The Reman female, whose name I wish I'd known, stood with the rest of the children and two other Reman adults. Blocking the Tal Shiar's way. Not letting them pursue us. Then the Remans fell, both adults and children. Until only the Reman female stood. Then she fell.

I fought away the tears. I would avenge these Remans. Right then and there, I promised myself I would. No matter what stood in my way. The Tal Shiar's killing of innocents had to stop. And I was determined to do the stopping, whether anyone else assisted me or not. Even it meant having to go face-to-face with my mother, Taris, and Donatra.

"They will not -- be forgotten," Phu'ai told me. "I will not -- forget them."

"Neither will I," I said.

At least Na'hul had escaped, but only because he was with us. He wouldn't forget, either. I was sure of that.

We reached the emergency exit, with seconds to spare. We could hear the Tal Shiar behind us, getting closer. Na'hul opened the exit, and we ran through. The exit had barely shut when the Tal Shiar fired at it. It was stronger than the front entrance had been, buying us precious moments.

From the side of the school building, we paused, forced to stare. The entire city was lit up. Brighter than the usual pale blue lights. From ground-based gunfire. From orbital attacks, no doubt from the same ship or ships that had attacked the Elachi ships. But also from flames. Because every building was on fire. Smoke made it difficult to see clearly. An evacuation was being attempted, as it had been back on Remus, but less successfully this time.

A small group of adult Remans saw us and thought we were Tal Shiar, but Na'hul explained and they let us past. What Na'hul had said, I didn't know. It must've been in Reman, which I'd never had the chance to learn. And now probably never would have the chance to.

Somewhere in all this chaos was where Hu'ajat and D'Tan were. But where?

Phu'ai pointed at a building near the far, innermost end of the city. "In there." The building was burning less than the rest, which wasn't saying much. "They cannot escape -- not without Hu'ajat."

"Tell D'Tan," I said, coughing from the smoke. "Tell him we're coming. As soon as we can."

Phu'ai paused. "I have told him."

The exterior of the building next to us began to fall outward, right towards us. Phu'ai shoved his hands at us, and we were pushed out of the way, almost sprawling on the ground in the process. The building's exterior fell right through the Elachi, without hurting Phu'ai at all, rubble piling up in all directions. Of course. If one can pass through a wall without harm, then the inverse is also true.

"Thank you," I told Phu'ai. Na'hul, Father and K'truk did the same.

"You are welcome -- friends," the Elachi told us.

If I could return the favor to Phu'ai as well, I would. And with all that was happening around us, it was easily possible I'd have that chance. Maybe more than just once.

We kept going, avoiding collapsing building fronts where we could. Phu'ai pushing us out of the way, when we couldn't avoid them. And eventually reached the rear of the city, the building where Hu'ajat and D'Tan were. Hopefully were this time, unlike when K'truk and I had gone to Ops in the embassy only to find it ruined and abandoned.

"Hospital," Phu'ai said.

Which made sense. What better place to take a sick Reman than a hospital?

The front entrance was already open. Nurses and a doctor or two tried to crowd into the entrance, watching the destruction of their city. It must've reminded them of the destruction of Remus. Fewer would die here, but still, twice was twice too much.

"Come in, come in," they said, and retreated to let us enter. They shut the entrance. "Any wounded?"

We shook our heads. "We're here for one of your patients. Hu'ajat. If he's here."

"He is," a female doctor said. "D'Tan is with him. Shall I take you to them?"

"Please do," I said, coughing.

The female doctor gave me some medicine for my cough, and it faded a little. I thanked her.

She smiled, then grew serious again. "How many are dead outside?"

"We don't know," Father replied. "Dozens, hundreds. Maybe more."

"Who is attacking us?" the female doctor asked.

"Tal Shiar," Father replied.

"Then they won't stop at destroying the rest of the city," she said. "They will destroy this hospital also. They will not let any of us survive."

"Take us to our friends, and then we'll leave," I said. "Hopefully they will follow us, and let those of you in this hospital live."

"Or punish us for helping you," the female doctor said. "So be it. This is why I became a doctor. To help those less fortunate than myself. Come with me." We went to a transporter pad in the corner of the area nearest the entrance, and stood as closely together as possible. Only Phu'ai didn't, assuring us it would join us where we were going. "Energize."

The transporter officer nodded, and we disappeared.

We reappeared several floors below where we'd entered the hospital. There must've been a transporter pad at this location on each floor. Remember that, I reminded myself. And we ran down a hallway until we reached the doorway to Hu'ajat's room. Phu'ai was already waiting for us. The door slid open and D'Tan stood there. He saw us, probably surprised that it wasn't just Father and me -- and probably especially surprised to see Phu'ai with us ? and then stepped aside, to let us enter.

There in the bed was Hu'ajat. Not sick, but definitely not well enough to move under his own strength. It wasn't an illness. His left leg had been broken, probably back in the embassy, maybe while trying to flee from it with D'Tan. It had been set, with a protective cast around it.

D'Tan must've been like a human crutch to Hu'ajat, until they reached the Reman city. Stopped like we'd been stopped at the gateway. And then the Remans had learned what was happening, and brought them here. The argument that Phu'ai had heard during the Elachi's previous visit was apparently not anger at the two visitors, but how to protect them in case the Tal Shiar should come after them. The Remans had a great deal to teach Romulans, humans, and other human-like species. I promised myself to be the best student I could be.

"You came," he told me. "I'm sorry I can't get up to welcome you."

"You do have a habit of not being where you say you'll be," I said, and tried to smile but failed. "I was afraid you wouldn't be here, either. I'm sorry but we're going to have to get you out of here. Right now. I hope this won't hurt you too much."

Hu'ajat shrugged. "I'll be fine."

I wasn't so sure, but I didn't argue.

"But what's going on?" D'Tan asked, and I was thankful when K'truk did the explaining, while Father and I helped the female doctor carefully transfer Hu'ajat from the bed to a power wheelchair. Hu'ajat winced a few times, but didn't complain, which was good.

"They can't get rid of me that easily," Hu'ajat said, and took one of my hands in his. "You may not be my sister, but I wish you were."

"And I wish you were my brother," I said. "In a way, you are. Just not genetically."

"How much time do we have to get away from here?" D'Tan asked Father this time.

Father gestured at me. "Ask her. She's in charge."

I am? I hadn't minded that Father seemed to be in charge. Not really. But he was letting me take over?

"Trust," Phu'ai said, and I nodded.

D'Tan repeated his question to me.

"Maybe a minute, maybe less," I said, and turned to the female doctor. "How close are we to an exit?"

"From the hospital, or from the city?" she replied.

"Both," I said.

"There's a transporter pad just outside the city," the female doctor said.

"The temple?" I asked.

"It may look like one, but it isn't," she replied. "The few of us that still worship do so in their homes."

"And from there?" I asked.

"There are usually a few small boats, moored next to it," the female doctor replied.

"We didn't see them from above," I said.

"They're camouflaged," she said. "In case of emergency. The ones we use for fishing are moored deeper inside the city."

We gathered at the transporter pad in the hallway, and disappeared. Reappearing inside the ?temple?, right where the female doctor said we would. The fighting was continuing, but not as violently as before. Either the Tal Shiar were running out of targets, or they'd figured that we weren't in the city anymore. If this saved any Reman lives, I was grateful. But it was possible that the Tal Shiar preferred to wipe out every Reman that might've helped us, and might've born witness against the Tal Shiar.

We removed the camouflage coverings. The boats were just big enough to hold us, two to a boat. Hu'ajat and me in one. His wheelchair, D'Tan and Father in another. K'truk and Phu'ai in the third one. We urgently suggested that the female doctor join us, but she refused (Na'hul had almost refused, but then got into the third boat).

"My place is here, in my city, with my people." the female doctor said. "Even if it means I die today, it's worth it to see you escape alive. Remember us." She grabbed each of our hands in turn, then let us go.

"We will," I said. "We will."

As we floated away, the female doctor was still standing there, watching us go. She waved once, then turned away. As she did so, a Tal Shiar fired at her, and she fell.

The nameless Remans at the city's gateway. The female Reman at the school, the other adults. The nameless Reman doctors and nurses at the hospital. But especially this nameless doctor.

"The Klingons have a saying," Hu'ajat told me, hurting far worse than me but still trying to calm me, when he saw how angry I was. It didn't help much, except to clarify my vision of the future. "Revenge is the best kind of revenge."

I watched the burning city slowly disappear from view, and clenched my fist. "Then let my vengeance begin here."

(written 7-7-2013, 7-8-2013, and 7-9-2013)

Last edited by philipclayberg; 07-09-2013 at 08:21 PM.
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Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 375
# 19
07-10-2013, 09:20 AM
Your going into too much detail, not leaving my imagination to wander. you want to 'abuse' your reader in this way. Tell the story as if the person listening annoys you greatly, like they don't deserve to hear it's precious utterances. Also last thing, your speaking from 1st person, are you telling me how your day went o are you telling me the greatest story you've ever heard?
Lyndon Brewer: 20% chance to capture enemy ship for 60 seconds on successful use of boarding party.

cause sometimes its party time!
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Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,274
# 20 Lykum,
07-10-2013, 10:01 AM
Thank you for being so honest about how you see the story. I really appreciate it.

A draft is imperfect by nature, but at least this one hasn't fallen apart on me, like so many others have. When I go back to redraft this story, I will keep your message and others like it nearby. Whether I will be able to implement any of what you said, I don't know. (That is up to the story itself, more than it is up to me.) But it will definitely add to my ongoing thoughts. I believe that critiques (not criticisms) from others that wish to help story-writing in a positive way can only improve the mixture.

From my viewpoint, I thought my major problem was pacing. Too slow was as bad as too fast. How to strike a balance somewhere in the middle. I suppose, as any story gains layers and complexity, there is always more than an author is able to see with their own eyes. And I know that, like Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" and Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", there will always be stretches of text that will undoubtedly be removed, possibly to an appendix of some sort. While other parts that no longer fit at all will be deleted without regret, in the hopes that it will make the overall story stronger.

"... greatest story I've ever heard ..." This certainly seems to be the best one I've yet written in my entire life. Having written many bad (and sometimes laughably bad) stories, it's easier to notice when a story eventually comes along that is better than the rest. I can only hope that this one will continue, improving as it goes. Creativity is an ongoing, lifelong process, where one shouldn't be ashamed of mistakes because they are there to be learned from.
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