A Collection of Short Stories

Kirina ir-Artaleirh t'Nalah
Broht & Forrester / Bolarus IX 2421

For the hope of a better future.

Chapter 1: Promotion Day


It was cold. Colder than the rest of the ship. The otherwise sterile gray walls were littered with pipes and conduits running to consoles and devices around the room. It was dark. The lights were intentionally dimmed, all but the center of the far wall. In the light, one could see the intersection of a great number of those pipes and conduits, terminating at a small platform. The platform, such as it was, was nothing more than a raised section of floor, about half a meter above the surrounding area. In fact, it would have been completely unremarkable if not for the forcefield generator hanging above it.

I stood in the center of this room. This cold, sterile room; this horrible room. I knew that once I walked through the door, I would never again see this place; this place that I had become so accustomed to. I reveled in it.

Moving beyond the security door, leaving it behind for the last time, I entered the main research area. This well-lit room was cluttered with workstations, each complete with its own console and work materials, in varying states of disarray. At the far end was another door, leading out to the rest of this ship. A few other researchers were still present, working late. As I passed on the way to my desk, they each offered me their polite congratulations.

By the time I arrived to begin packing away my things, a small group had entered from the ship-side door. The familiar Commander Galan led the group, followed closely by Major K’haeth, our Tal Shiar project leader, and finally a young woman that I didn’t recognize. She was such a small thing, quietly taking in her new environment. She could have almost looked innocent, if not for the neatly pressed Imperial Military uniform she was wearing.

The timing was impeccable. The sort of thing you come to expect from people like these. As I packed away my last piece of personal property, lifting my bag from the now emptied workstation, the men led the unfamiliar face over to me.

“…and right over here, this is wh-… oh, Doctor Merik.” That’s when it dawned on me: She’s my replacement.

“I’m glad I was able to catch you before you left,” K’haeth continued, “I wanted to offer my congratulations on your promotion. You’ve certainly earned it.”

It was a lie, of course. K’haeth and I clashed constantly. All he cared about were his results. Absolutely no regard for prudence, safety, or morality. No regard for the warnings and objections of his senior physician.

It didn’t matter. My assignment there was at an end. My wife and daughter were meeting me there, and then we’d travel together to Llaiir Prime. It was a long way away, I know, but the promotion promised an assignment sufficiently declassified as to allow my family to join me. It was a difficulty journey, but I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in the end.

A few polite greetings later, and I was on my way. Mirroring my heading towards the exit, the newcomer was shepherded towards the security door. She has no idea, I thought. I wanted to warn her. Tell her to turn around, run. Run fast, run far away, and never look back. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t my place any longer. I was finally free.

Through the door, escorted by a guard, leading me to where my family was waiting. Through a second door, down a corridor. Another and another. Finally, a security door. A wave of relief passed over me as the guard entered his authorization code.

In the next room, I found myself in a prolonged embrace with my beloved wife, Raha, and our beautiful S’anra, barely six years old. It had been nearly a year; long since we’d all started to worry that this day would never come.

As Raha began to recount what she’s heard of Llaiir Prime, how safe and wonderful, I noticed the guard over her shoulder. He’d pulled his rifle from its resting position on his back.

Only I could see him as he took aim.

My promotion was at hand. I closed my eyes.

“At last, this nightmare is over.”

Chapter 2: Paralysis


Lights. Flashing, moving.
On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.

Constant, droning, thunderous noise.
Barely audible, a periodic sharp ‘beep’ sound. It repeats.
Again and again, every few seconds.
Always there.

I’m laying on something.
I can feel everything.
The imperfections in the metal against the palms of my hands.
The fabric band around my head.
The lack of physical restraints.
The small rectangular device attached to my chest.

I can’t move.
The device that beeps when I breathe. No. I breathe when it beeps.

Beep. In … Out.

I can feel the wind against my face.
No. No, no no, wait. I remember.
I’m on a ship. It’s not wind, can’t be wind.
I’m moving.
I’m falling?

Beep. In … Out.

I get more clarity as the motion slows.
I’m not falling, I’m horizontal.
The lights aren’t flashing, they’re moving past me, above me.
In and out of my field of view.
The sound, the hum of an anti-gravity device keeping me afloat.
I’m on a stretcher.

Beep. In … Out.

I can’t turn my head.
I can’t lift my arms.
I can’t move anything at all.
I can’t blink.
I can’t breathe - except at the beep.

The ceiling lights have turned.
I’ve turned.
Moving into a room.

Beep. In … Out.

It’s so bright. I can’t see a light source, but the ceiling is all white.
Cold. Colder than the metal I’m laying on.

I can’t shiver.

Clanking metal.
Movement all around.
Other people!
But I can’t talk. I can’t move. I can’t ask for help.

Beep. In … Out.

Finally a glimpse!

There’s another Romulan! At least I’m still among my own people.
She’s standing over me in some sort of… it’s a surgical outfit.
A doctor. Was I injured?
Can she help me?

Beep. In … Out.

There’s noise.
There’s pain.

My arm! Sudden and unbearable pain.
I’m trying to scream. I can’t scream.
There’s more noise around me. A strange low droning. Drilling.

Beep. In … Out.

I can no longer feel the cold of the table under my arm.
Instead, I feel a different sort of cold metal just below my shoulder.
Jagged, uneven. All around, like a sleeve.
A strange sensation, beyond the pain.

My cheek is wet.
A small droplet, running down my face, pooling at my ear.

Beep. In … Out.

“I’m sorry, Tafv, I know it hurts, but we’re almost done.”
The voice is close.
It must have been the doctor.

“You forget yourself, Subcommander!”
A louder voice.
Decidedly male, barking in reprimand.
"You are not in Rihan, and this is not a hospital!
It’s not?

Beep. In … Out.

“It is specimen number two six four, and it is already dead. Stop wasting time.”
Are they talking about me?
I’m not dead!

“Major, he’s not-”
Yes! Tell him!

“IT is already dead. Do not make me regret your assignment here. Alert me when your work is complete.”

Beep. In … Out.

There’s more noise.
A door.
Slam, closed.

Fehill’curak… I’m sorry, Tafv.”
I can hear the exhaustion in her voice.
I can feel it too.
I still can’t move.
It’s getting harder to try.

It’s getting harder to think.

Beep. In … Out.

My shoulder is moving!
But I’m not moving it.

There’s still pain, but it’s dulled.
I feel nothing below my bicep.

“Stage One Complete. Grafting… unsuccessful. Nerve damage indicates that subject will not retain control of the prosthetic without nanoprobes. Proceeding to Stage Two.”

Beep. In … Out.

She’s standing over me now.
I can see her clearly.
For one brief moment we make eye contact.

It gives her pause, but only temporarily.
She begins her work.

There’s more pain.

Suddenly it’s dark.

Beep. In … Out.

Time has passed.
I don’t know how much, but I can see it in her.
Her face is sullen, her eyes are dim.
Her once pristine white garment now notably stained green with blood.
My blood.

“Stage Eight Complete. Grafting continues to be unsuccessful. Cardiothoracic structures unable to support implantation without major modification. Maybe… maybe we’ll have better luck with two six five. End Report.”

Beep. In … Out.

Bedah, Tafv,” she says quietly as she finishes her recording, Bed aoi.”

I hear the sound of the door.




Chapter 3: Delenda Est I


It took a few months for the bug Aurelia planted in the monitoring system to become fully operational. Time was the price one paid for getting around the Tal Shiar. It would only allow for seventeen minutes of observational time in the secret lab before she’d need to delete it to avoid detection.

She already knew that something was happening there. A ship was a small place, after all, and an intelligence officer well experienced in picking out Federation transponder signals in the mess of subspace could certainly tease apart the things said in a lower-decks dining hall. Plus, there was the matter of the influx of doctors and engineers to a primarily military vessel, and the work her team had been doing.

She’d been transferred here under the Commander Galan to serve in signals intelligence, to find where Federation military targets were assisting rebel groups to organize, and advise the commander on how best to destroy them. The ship, after all, was heavily armed and her commander quite experienced – the pride of the service. But last year, after the new political officer came on board, things changed inexplicably. Her team was shifted over to ground work and the ship itself was assigned to anti-rebel operations. Aurelia and the other operators were told that they were now involved in the support of “the project.”

That’s all the political officer called it, always in the reverent, frightening tones of an experienced Tal Shiar agent.

Aurelia’s part of the project involved hunting rebel criminals that deserved execution, but it didn’t take her long to realize that something was horribly wrong. The intelligence her team was given – they were not allowed to gather their own, but only to act on the intelligence given by the political officer – was atrocious. They surprised the first target while he was milking his animals; they found mild Reunificationist literature in his home, but not the illegal weaponry the political officer’s intelligence had pointed out. The second target was just as much of a sad sack as the first, picnicking on the top of a mountain alongside his wife and adult children; the only weapons to be spoken of in his residence were an old kinetic bolt gun that wouldn’t even scratch a soldier in body armor, let alone advance the war of the disgusting D’Tan.

Aurelia had no problem being the raptor’s claw when it came to the true enemies of the Empire. In a world where Romulan culture and society teetered on the verge of oblivion, it was absolutely important that everyone band together to support the Empress and the People.

But the thought passed unbidden, anyway: What if they are innocent?

When the third target surrendered to them in the middle of his cornfield and Aurelia could find no record of his following trial or execution on the official justicar’s banns, Aurelia went back to the bathroom in the centurions’ quarters and wrote the bug that would tap into the feeds without alerting the Tal Shiar, and sat down at the project doctor’s table the next day at lunch.

The doctor was about her age, with a young family. Aurelia established a baseline by getting him to talk about his wife and his daughter, and, once he felt comfortable with her, she asked about his work. The man went sallow, refused to talk to her and continued to refuse as the months passed. But a baseline was a baseline, and she’d examine him as they passed in the hallway. The more she saw him, the more she was convinced that he hated his work.

Then, one day, he was gone. Promoted, they said.

The man’s replacement was a tiny little doctor, a quiet woman from Rihan, with observant, intelligent eyes. The day the bug went live, Aurelia’s team had cornered a violent Reunificationist and terrorist in a bathroom. At the handoff, as Aurelia turned off her personal shield and slid off her rifle to hand to the security guard, she met the woman’s eyes for a long moment – and was absolutely convinced that she felt the same way as the last doctor had.

And that night, when the bug finally routed a copy of the project feeds into her hacked personal wristcomm, she excused herself from the games her team was playing and retreated into the one bathroom stall where she could be sure nobody was watching. She saw the sick green cables crawling up the walls, the dark, slithering circuitboards that had replaced the bulkheads, the alien signature of one of the People’s greatest enemies, right there on the ship. And she watched the little doctor do her work, and the political officer observe with interest, and realized just how in over her head she truly was.

Her team laughed at her when she arrived back to the card game.

We heard you. Ajoi, Aurelia. Vomiting is for the weak, they said. You’d better not be sick. Why don’t you get some rest? We have a pickup tomorrow.

Chapter 4: Delenda Est II

Late 2407

They are on a pickup again.

The team is walking to the extraction point. There are four targets this time – all women, all reunificationist, all engineers pinned for taking down the bridge that supplied the Imperial depot on the colony with primitive, improvised explosives. There were no explosives in the houses, of course, Aurelia found. No evidence. There was never any evidence. The women trudge alongside Aurelia’s team with the heavy footfalls of people who know they are damned. The small town behind them will wake to a mystery tomorrow; rumpled sheets in one house, blood in another, shattered glass in a third.

The colony, located close to the Klingon border, is rich. It has an almost-impenetrable dampening field, meant to keep bands of marauders from engaging in a straight beam-in assault. It had the secondary effect of keeping out Imperial surgical-strike teams, as well, and so this brisk walk to the hills outside the colony was a necessary evil.

She looks up for a moment as she walks, her rifle still trained on the four captives. She looks towards the colony’s dark sky, trying to pick out the flash of the orbiting warbird among the peaceful, twinkling stars. The Project had been slowly outgrowing its original home in the long-term medbay, stretching out into the rest of the ship, corridor by corridor, long fingers reaching out, grabbing room by room, going dark and upsetting the work of the rest of the ship. She thought of the sick-looking doctor, walking those corridors in the shadow of Major K’haeth, her eyes always on the ground. Sitting in the dining hall, staring blankly out into space, being whittled away just as slowly and surely as Aurelia felt.

Unbidden, she thinks of her mother and father, and if they’d taken this kind of walk to an extraction point.

If they’d even made it this far, she thinks. They’ve probably long since gone to dust. No, this is nothing like what happened to them. I have no choice in this matter. I am not allowed to fail. I’ll be punished if I refuse these orders. I am not anything like the Tal Shiar.

Then, in the back of her mind: No. You are just like them, as long as you continue their work.

“Centurion, we’re at the extraction point.”; The mission’s second officer.

"Now!; An unfamiliar voice. Not her team.

Aurelia looks down quickly enough to see one of the women – the one in the red tunic – coming at her from nowhere, using the heavy restraints on her wrists as a battering ram. Pain lances through her jaw; she stumbles back, drawing her disruptor, firing. Luckily, her team isn’t full of complete idiots, and a few seconds’ work has the four of them on their knees, two unconscious, and Red with blood at her temple, looking up at Aurelia with utter hatred.

For three terrible seconds, she almost wishes they had been successful.

“Save it” Aurelia breathes, advancing, her disruptor at her side. “That’ll do you no good. You chose to go up against the Empire and you will now pay the cost for your disloyalty.”

Red laughs bitterly. “… I had nothing to do with the bridge, kllhe,” she spat. “Those culprits are long gone. I – we – we’re innocent. I would never hurt my colony.”

Aurelia walks closer to her, weighing the gun in her hand. “It’s not my job to determine guilt or innocence. Now, shut up, before I end up having to knock you out and drag you.”

Red’s eyes are bright in the starlight, and fearful. “No, it’s not your job, people like you, it’s never your job – you’re – just a functionary, and when you’re done, they’ll feed you to the machine, too. I know this. This is black-ops, darkside high-level, isn’t it, and you’re just a worm with a gun. What do you think is going to happen to you?”

Aurelia forces herself to put a smirk on her face, for the sake of her men. “Something far more comfortable than what’s going to happen to you, I imagine.”

“Are you sure?” Red says. “Are you damned sure, you-- you monster?”

“Centurion,” one of the Uhlans registers. “Ready to beam up, on your orders.”

The other woman who was awake wavers, cries, but does not fall. “Shut up, Tallana! I’m innocent,” the woman begs, “I never believed in reunification, I’ll never speak against the Empress again, just let me go!

Aurelia walks over to her and brings the butt-end of the disruptor down on the side of the woman’s head. She crumples. Red continues to stare, but says nothing else as the team tags the captives for transport. She continues to say nothing even as she is pushed off the transporter pad and into the waiting arms of K’haeth, the little doctor with her sallow sick-face and the ever-present silver-coated Tal Shiar retinue. The doctor keeps her eyes on the floor, of course, where they seem like they are always trained, these days.

She hands off her gun, like she’s done dozens and dozens of times before, to the waiting security Uhlan, and, off-mission, walks back to the lounge, mentally berating herself for thinking of things she hadn’t thought about for years, things that she’d long since put to rest, things that distracted her from the mission at hand. But a lot was distracting her these days, she knew: the knowledge of what was going on behind those closed doors, the lack of advancement she’d been promised, her own participation in what she was starting to realize was the shedding of innocent blood, Romulan blood –

I can’t do this alone. Not anymore.

It was time to talk to the little doctor.

Chapter 5: Convergence


It was a lonely position. A position filled with depressing work. Horrifying work. Classified work. I saw the way the rest of the crew looked at me. It was not unexpected, and I didn’t blame them. Spending most of your time with a Major of the Tal Shiar, working on a secret project… it tends to have that effect.

I knew the work was important. I knew that I was good at it. I knew that someone had to do it, for the sake of our people. If the cost was the whispers in the halls and in the lounge; if the cost was a few strange looks; if the cost was some trouble sleeping? So be it.

It was a surprise when she approached me.

Aurelia walks into the ship’s lounge and looks around, like she does three times a day. This time, though, the place is nearly empty. In the last booth, alone in the corner by the window, sits the crew’s most recent addition. A half-finished plate of viinerine and an untouched glass of Kali-fal sit on the endtable beside her. After watching the woman for a few seconds, Aurelia makes a decision. She walks over to the replicator and emerges with an unusual plate of food.

“Are you eating with anyone, Doctor? My team has, sadly, already been through.”

The doctor barely looks in Aurelia’s direction as she answers, otherwise just staring out through the window. There’s nothing there, in particular, that she might be looking at. Just space. Aurelia pokes at her dish, as if arranging it on the plate. It’s not something that most on this ship would eat. It’s something… colonial.

“Want company? Eating alone is so boring.”
“If you’d like.”

The quiet woman motions vaguely to the opposite bench. She definitely takes a look at Aurelia’s choice of food, but doesn’t really react to it in any meaningful way. She does actually seem a bit taken aback by the Centurion’s nearly-friendly demeanor as she slips into the booth.

“I was thinking. If I’m going to see you at every… er, handoff, I should at least know your name.”
“… Kirina.”
“I’m Aurelia.”

Kirina’s response, and the use of her given name has a hint of innocence to it, in a strange sort of way; especially considering the source. Aurelia grabs her utensil, taking a bite of the odd food that’s only likely to be recognized by someone who grew up on Ralatak. Her attention turns towards Kirina’s unfinished plate.

“I find the viinerine on this ship… lacks something.”
“It’s replicated.”
“I can’t remember the last time I had real food. Maybe… three years ago? Before the Project?”

Kirina’s gaze out into the stars is broken as she looks down at her plate. She takes note of the stated length of time, in reference to the Project. Aurelia continues to eat, responding between bites of food as the doctor finally volunteers a morsel of information.

“That’s a long time … I was on Rator, before coming here. In Rihan. It’s been… quite the transition.”
“I’ve been there. Oh, that’s right, you took over from that other doctor. The one that got promoted.”
“Sent off to some cushy Chief of Medicine job, I heard. He must’ve been good. The Major is… not easy to please.”
“I wouldn’t know. We try to stay very far from the Major, in our department. …Is that what you want?”

Kirina is brought to a faint smile at the mention of her predecessor’s promotion, but that quickly fades as Aurelia directs the conversation to her work. She looks away, staring at some indeterminate point on the ground. The Intel Officer, in contrast, seems quite interested in her responses.

“What, a promotion? This was my promotion.”
“Really? Are you enjoying it?”
“It’s… a different sort of work.”
“Well, yes, it’s been different for me, as well. I think it’s different for all of us.”
“What is it that you do?”

Aurelia seems distracted for a moment, playing with her food. Considering her response.

“Oh! Signals Intelligence. Finding Federation targets, you know, in subspace.”
“You know… all of those… Federation targets we’ve found over the past few months.”

Aurelia actually still seems rather cheerful, for a Romulan. Totally conversational, as if this is perfectly normal casual dinner conversation. Still talking between bites of her meal. Kirina is the perfect contrast: distant, skeptical, feigning a Vulcanesque emotionlessness.

“Federation targets? I don’t know anything about… Federation targets.”
“Well, you know. Orders.”
“I mean, I was put on this ship to track Federation targets. I’m good at that. That’s why I’m here. And you know, we’ve tracked so many lately.”
“That’s… very interesting.”
“Are you all right, Kirina?”

With that, the conversation changes. Kirina snaps out of her trance-like window-staring and looks directly at the Centurion. Her quiet, dry tone becomes sharp and defensive. In response, Aurelia looks even slightly offended. Her leisurely conversational inflection changes in response as well, now cool and purposeful.

“I’m just fine. It’s been a long day.”
“I just asked. Maybe I shouldn’t have. I understand.”
A pause.
“So tell me about Rator. Has much changed since I was there last? Three years ago?”
“It’s growing all the time.”
“Well, I’d imagine so. It’s the capital, isn’t it?”

As Aurelia finishes her plate and pushes it aside, she continues to prod with the tone of a dedicated Imperial. Kirina’s responses grow slower, more measured. She chooses her words meticulously, like she’s being tested.

“It’s been the capital for ages. I was there fourteen years, before the transfer.”
“I’ve only been there on and off, myself. But every time I dock, there’s a new building or a new statue or a new plaza. I don’t know; whenever I arrive home, it’s… new streets where I thought there were none, new ways to get places. I’m sure you know.”
“Like I said. It’s growing all the time.”

“Well. I’ve… got to be getting back to my duties.”

Aurelia stands, steps out of the booth. She takes a look around the room before turning back to the doctor.

“If you ever want to talk about your day, people tell me that I’m a good listener.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Jolan tru, Aurelia.”

Kirina manages to put on a small smile, for the Centurion’s benefit. Once she’s alone, she downs the glass of lukewarm Kali-fal and goes right back to gazing out into the void.

It was a short conversation at the end of a long day. A Centurion getting curious about my work, about The Project, no doubt. It was inconsequential. I thought it meant nothing. But… she was different than the others, somehow. There was something in her eyes.


I assumed I’d never see her again. I was wrong. Every day, every meal, she’d return. She’d sit, and she’d talk, and she’d eat, and she’d ask questions. I was skeptical. I thought she was a test. But besides my work on The Project, I had nothing to hide. I didn’t tell her anything that she couldn’t have found out through other means. Where I’m from, what happened to my family, my favorite food. Triviality.

Her persistence was baffling. Days became weeks. Weeks became months. It became a routine. I’d even started to look forward to it, though I’d never have admitted it at the time. And certainly not to her. I didn’t ask for a friend. I didn’t want a friend. But, at the end of the day, it was nice to be able to sit and talk about something other than the work, even if only for a few minutes.

Then everything changed.

Kirina sits alone in her usual corner booth, idly poking at a plate of food sitting on the endtable. She’s at least a few minutes into her typical late afternoon pastime of staring out into space. Before too long, as she usually does, Aurelia makes her way across the lounge floor, pausing to greet people as she goes. Whether Kirina likes it or not, she puts her plate down and slides into the booth across from her.

“Jolan tru.”
“Jolan tru, Aurelia. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming today.”

Kirina doesn’t seem at all surprised as the Centurion once again joins her, uninvited. She continues staring out into the black. As Aurelia speaks, she seems to be having some trouble with her food. Apparently the familiar smell of a traditional dish from Artaleirh was enough to catch Kirina’s attention. She pulls herself away from the window for just long enough to point at Aurelia’s plate with her own utensil.

“The pickup went a little longer than normal. It happens, you know.”
“Other way. Problems?”

Aurelia looks from Kirina’s fork to her own dish, and then – Ah! Yes. She stabs the end, twirls, and it’s off to the races, dinner-wise. This earns her a slight smirk from Kirina as the quieter woman takes a rare bite of her own food. Aurelia opens her mouth to speak again, but pauses for a moment. She’s searching for words.

“No… No problems at all. This time we found the literature, the weapons, the tracts. This time.”
“That’s unusual?”
“The target was actually a Reunificationist rebel. … After all this time.”
“It’s a shame, that despite everything that’s happened, some are still capable of fighting amongst our own.”
“I wasn’t aware you actually had opinions.”
“Everyone has opinions.”
“Not on this ship, they don’t. But you know that.”

Aurelia calmly continues to eat as Kirina becomes the one forced to take a few seconds to process what’s been said and search for words. Finally, she repeats herself. It’s simultaneously softer and more confident.

“Everyone has opinions. Is it really that unusual to find the actual evidence with the terrorists?”
“Since you asked… yes, it is quite unusual. However, I’m sure the Commanders have a good reason for their interest in these people.”
“They’re violent people. Extremists, Saboteurs, Murderers. Only the farthest beyond help.”

Kirina’s response was a recited line, if there ever was such a thing. Aurelia sets her fork down on the table. Her voice is quieter than most anyone else’s in the room, although she still looks casually cool to the passing viewer. She fixes the smaller Romulan with a gaze.

“I think I know why you sit in this booth every day, Kirina.”
“I like the view.”
“It’s the same fvadt view anywhere else on the ship. There’s a broken camera here that… never really gets fixed.”
“Hadn’t noticed. What’s your point?”

“As far as I can tell, they’re all innocent. Every single one. Oh, maybe one of them talked to an evangelist… but they’re all innocent. They are not terrorists. They’re schlubs whose only crime was to live far enough from a transciever hub that they wouldn’t be missed.”

She holds that last breath, there, before letting it out, as if she’s sure it’s the last breath she will ever take. Before she’s even finished though, Kirina shakes her head and laughs.

“That’s ridiculous. There have been hundreds! …Exactly how much Kali-fal have you had today, anyway?”
“Yes, Kirina,” Aurelia says quietly, “There have been hundreds.”

Kirina shakes her head, growing less amused by the second, as she delivers yet another recited line. This one, though, with less certainty. Like she’s waiting for Aurelia to deliver a punchline to a bad joke, or to admit that she’s pulling some sort of prank.

“Come on, that’s enough. They were violent criminals. After you pick them up, they’re given a chance to… serve the Empire. That’s all there is to it.”
“They were violent criminals? Then how did I never see any- … why was there never any civil unrest when we arrived at a colony? We never logged more than, oh, fifteen illegal weapons, all accounted for. Farmers, terraforming engineers, beggars, look --We were told that this one killed a governor’s assistant on Abraxas. He never even made it off his own colony, let alone halfway across the sector.”

Aurelia unhooks her wristcomm, switches it over and passes it across the table. On it are pictures of Tafv Anikhev, with his family, at a park on his home colony. If Aurelia picked this set of pictures at random, she really hit the jackpot. Kirina mumbles the man’s name, long before she could have seen it listed anywhere in the file. She doesn’t even get through half the pictures before looking back up, pointedly.

“Where did you get this?”
“From his house. Back then, we took all the data we could for the so-called ‘trial.’ He was one of the first. I remembered him. I thought you might, too.”

Aurelia smirks as she straightens up, snatching the wristcomm back. When she looks across the way at Kirina, it’s with a very dangerous look. Kirina, in contrast, just goes back to staring out the window. After a prolonged silence, her voice is quiet. She speaks without turning her head.

“There was no trial.”
“… I didn’t think there was. I … I never saw them being offloaded at port.”
“Quite a risk you’re taking, starting this conversation. Some might even call it sympathizing.”

Aurelia lets out a quick laugh with her riposte. She’s watching Kirina with a challenging gaze, but there’s something behind it. She’s frightened. Her grip on her wristcomm is white-knuckled as she stops just short of clipping it back on. Kirina remains perfectly still. She’s slow to respond, and barely audible.

“The others are drinking together at the bar. You are sitting here.”
“Why tell me this?”
“Are you going to tell K’haeth? Might as well call him now, if you want to go down that road. But I’m… I’m gambling that you don’t.”
“…No. No, I’m not going to call K’haeth.”
“That’s why I told you, then. Because there’s something going on. Something that is just killing you.”

Several minutes pass in silence as Kirina blankly watches the stars. Aurelia sits like nothing is wrong. She leans forward, crossing her arms in her lap, acting like she’s just listening to a story – in case anyone is watching. But nobody is; Kirina is the quiet doctor and Aurelia is an unimportant intel-lackey. They eat together quite a bit, don’t they? Nothing is out of the ordinary in the lounge today.

“It’s not your fault, you know. You and me, we were just… we were lied to.”
“You don’t understand… They’re… “
”… What’s being done back there? Those people – they aren’t in the brig, they haven’t been put out at the station, they just… disappear. What’s going on?”

Kirina laughs. It’s an odd sort of laugh. The laugh of someone actively repressing the memory of the very same thing she’s describing. She speaks quickly, professionally, as if delivering a report, at least at first.

“After they’re dropped off, we administer a paralytic and connect them to a respirator. After that, we…” another short, strange, chuckle, "I perform a series of … ‘surgical experiments.’ Most don’t survive more than a half dozen procedures. The ones that do… probably wish they hadn’t. Once we- "

It’s not long before Aurelia begins to look… yellow. Sick. She places a hand up on the table when she’s heard enough.

“… and they told you that they were criminals…”
“Ones that were scheduled for execution anyway.”

Aurelia, now, looks out the window; out into the void that Kirina seems so fond of watching.

“… Did you know, Kirina, that I was told all my life that my parents were violent terrorists? And I believed that, for a long time. A very long time. After they were taken away, dragged up to a ship like this one.”

She averts her gaze from the outside, looking back at Kirina.

“They have been telling these sick lies for fifty years.”

There is a long period of silence, broken only by a tone of despair.

“What can be done?”

“I’ve run scenarios. Many scenarios.”

Aurelia lays her hand on her wrist-comm.

“One can’t do – one can do fvadt. Two, however…”

She looks back at Kirina.

“Two can accomplish quite a bit.”

Chapter 6: A Brand New Day


Kirina sits cross-legged on her bed, slouched over. The room is dark, save for the blinking of her desk computer, indicating a waiting message. Time passes. Suddenly, the lights come on, dim as they are. A sharp tone pierces the still air. The computer speaks, “The time is 05:00”


She jumps out of bed. Maybe the fastest she’s moved in months. In record time, she’s gone in and come out of the sonic shower, tossed on her uniform, and headed out of her quarters. A short walk down the hall, through the security checkpoint, and into the heart of The Project’s confiscated section of the ship. She passes Commander Galan on her way into the research area.

He looks angry again today. Maybe there’s something he can do.

Over to her desk. A new sample is waiting. The night crew never fails to deliver. Kirina slides the sample of modified nanoprobes into her microscope and takes a look. Before long, she slides in a piece of organic material. The little robots quickly latch on and begin destroying it.

Six hours. Taking into account our detection and containment measures, it would take nearly six hours for these to spread throughout the ship and incapacitate the crew. Too slow.

Radiation. Gravimetric, Hyperonic, Polaric, Analeptic, Baryon, Thoron, Thermionic. Failures. Thalaron… effective, but with no chance of recovery. Subnucleonic… causes degradation over time.

Radiation. Too slow; too easily detected. Thalaron… Thalaron could work. In a ventilation shaft. Five minutes. Maybe six.

Kirina looks up. Time has passed. Hours. The faces have changed. K'haeth is present now. He walks over.

“Progress today, Subcommander?”
“Subnucleonic Radiation shows some promise. It’ll need to be tested.”

Perhaps you’d like to volunteer?

“Excellent. They’re bringing up a group of four this afternoon. They’re all yours, Kirina.”
“Thank you, Major”

Kirina neatly packs away the spent test samples and carries them over to the waste receptacle. Before long, she finds herself back in the corridor. She idly looks around at the twisted, exposed circuitry running along the walls. The signature eerie green glow of the conduits is the only lighting in this section of the ship. Sure, there are other ways to reach the lounge, but this is the way she’d always choose. A reminder.

Fifteen minutes, at best, before they’d drag one of The Project’s engineering specialists out here to fix a ruptured Plasma Conduit. They wouldn’t risk letting one of the ship’s regular crew come in here.

Through the checkpoint, into the standard corridor. The air quality has changed. It’s easy to forget how stale it seems inside, sometimes. A few turns and a short turbolift ride later, Kirina is entering the lounge. She stops at the counter and receives her meal. She’s not too picky, whatever’s being served today is what she’ll eat.

They’re staring again. The ones that don’t know are curious. The ones that do are disgusted. How can I eat before going in there, right?

Kirina takes her tray over to her usual seat by the window. No Aurelia today. She’ll be off collecting this afternoon’s lucky winners by now. The doctor shovels down a few bites of her food, followed by a sip of her drink. It only takes a few minutes for her to finish the portion of her meal that she’s actually going to eat, and begin her staring out the window.

Explosive decompression can cause incapacitation within a few seconds. Would need to be coordinated throughout the ship for maximum effect. Probably not viable in this case.

Kirina’s comm beeps. The Major’s voice comes through, “They’re here.” She checks the time as she stands and heads for the door. Nearly two hours have passed. Back into the hall, through the checkpoint, into the research area, into the small room. Opening up a small wall locker, she changes into her pristinely white surgical outfit and then heads back out into the hall where she is soon joined by Major K’haeth and eight silver-clad officers. They move just beyond the security checkpoint, out into the normal section of the corridor. Several minutes pass in silence as they wait for the new ‘subjects’ to arrive.

A transporter 'accident.' It would be quick, at least.

Aurelia emerges from the transporter room, handing off her rifle to one of the security Uhlans. She’s followed by her team, escorting a group of four Romulan colonists, just as K’haeth promised. Two by two, The Major’s hounds take custody of the subjects. Aurelia and her team move away, as Kirina and the rest escort the colonists to a holding area. Three are sent inside immediately, while the fourth receives a hypospray injection from Kirina. After that short delay, he’s sent in with his ‘co-conspirators,’ and the door is sealed behind him. Kirina and the Major walk into a control room to observe.

I’m so sorry.

It’s only a few short minutes before the first event of note. A metallic implant sprouts from the hand of the man that Kirina injected, designated ‘Subject 989.’ He cries out in pain. The others rush to him, presumably to see if there’s anything they can do to help him. A bad decision. A second implant bursts through the man’s left cheek, at about the level of his nose. A third on his upper arm. By the time the others realize what’s happening, the partially converted man has grabbed ‘Subject 992’ by the throat. Two tubules emerge from the hand-implant and puncture the other man’s neck.

Within 45 seconds of the appearance of the first implant, ‘989’ had injected all three of the others. At 92 seconds, the first piece of exo-armor began to form. At 156 seconds, all four subjects were back on their feet, attempting to leave the sealed room. Kirina floods the cell with subnucleonic radiation.

Two minutes and thirty six seconds for one to become four. Estimate three minutes to be on the safe side.

At 315 seconds, ‘991’ began attempting to construct a transmitter. K’haeth erects a dampening field and further secures the room with a heavy security door. By 423 seconds, the drones had broken through the inner door of the cell and discovered the Major’s countermeasures. At 546 seconds, ‘990’ reaches for the monitoring camera linked to the control room.

Multiply. In six minutes, one drone becomes sixteen. Nine minutes after that, there are over a thousand…

“We are the Borg.”

… Irix has a crew of fifteen hundred. It would take just shy of twenty minutes, under ideal conditions…

“Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own.”

Conditions are never ideal. There will be resistance.

“Resistance is futile.”

Chapter 7: Delenda Est III


She finds a place for the guilt.

She must find a place for it, file it away, smother it. There is no room in the unfolding plan for any suspicion to be placed on either of them. They have to do the work. They have to look invested. They have to believe. They have to trust each other – as much as two rihannsu can, in any case.

So the guilt gets locked away where the truth used to be.

The truth. She has to face it, now. She has to confront the memories that were long sublimated by Imperial discipline. Her mother’s smile, pushed away by the lies of her teachers. Her father, silhouetted by a yellow-blue Ralatak sunset. The warm welcome of the village where they lived, filled with faces she barely remembers.

The night of the warbirds, the soldiers, the screaming.

It is like she is awakening from a dream, every single day she spends on Irix. The more she picks at the loose threads, the more the tapestry falls apart. The story she was told – that she told herself – no longer makes sense. For years and years, she could imagine that the Empire saved her from being raised by traitors, when the reality was this: she had done to hundreds what they had done to her family. She was the blade in the night, the evil that created a world built on blood. She was the traitor to the Romulan people.

She now knows it to be a lie: the belief that the Empire was built on the faith and the sweat and the passion of the people, and that she was one of the brave and the chosen. Maybe it would have been this way, once upon a time. It certainly wasn’t that way now.

Her first solution to the Problem – as she’s started to refer to the Project in her own mind – is to code a solution, like she’d done for her work before being assigned to Irix. The problem is there’s never enough time to do it quite right, and the Tal Shiar programmers are simply better than her; there’s no way she could slip a bit of malicious code into the servers running the Project without setting off a thousand alarm bells. There’s kinetic damage, of course; she could place charges, but she wouldn’t be able to avoid the Tal Shiar surveillance, and execution would be swift. And there were all of the things she didn’t know about – things Kirina wasn’t even familiar with, terrible things the researchers had locked in bins and closets and lockers, and she hated going into a battle with no knowledge of the enemy.

The guilt nags at her. It makes her stay up all night, running scenario after scenario on her head, over and over. She’s missing something.

One day, her target defends himself with his family’s old dathe’anofv-sen. She takes him down easily, and the weapon gives her an idea.

When she gets back to the barracks, she opens up the bottom drawer of her storage area, paws through the meticulously-folded shirts and tablets and the rest of her meager belongings to find the only weapon she was allowed to keep on her person, and only for ceremonial purposes – her family’s own honor blade. She’d always been ashamed of wearing it, but without it she looked like just another lower-class wannabe.

The Veras family had never been very important; they had always skated on the lower end of the social spectrum, even though they fought to keep the honorific in their name. Even before her parents fled to Ralatak, the family fortunes had long since faltered. Selling the house in the older part of Mhiessan was a formality, an acknowledgement of the truth that they were done with ch’Rihan and all it had to offer, and netted just enough for Anra and Chavek t’Veras to pay off a few dock officials and smuggle themselves and their children onto the colonial transport.

She had nothing of theirs. Just their name, the blade, and the lies.

She turned over the blade, thinking of her brother and how badly their last conversation had gone. It had been years. She’d begged him to join the service, told him about the good they could do to rebuild the colonies. She’d been so angry when he’d turned his back, walked away, and got on that transport to Artaleirh.

She thought about how easy it would be to get a message to Artaleirh, next time she was on a planet. Maybe he had a shuttle.

She thought about how her brother would probably forgive her. They were blood, after all.

She turned over the blade, examining it. She thought about the old Klingon story about the warrior that slew an army of four thousand in one night. She thought about how much easier it would be to set charges if certain people were out of the picture. She thought about how much she wanted to see Major K’haeth beg for the mercy he hadn’t shown the innocent Romulans he killed. She sat there, running the scenario in her head, over and over again, and smiled, because this time, it worked.

I’ve been going about this the wrong way, she thought. Maybe I should be a little more… traditional.

Chapter 8: The Gathering Storm


The Azure Nebula. Oxygen, argon, theta-xenon, fluorine, sirillium, combining to create a beautiful swirling blue cloud in open space; visible from lightyears away. The I.R.W. Irix sits inside.

Something big is coming. K’Haeth knows, but he’s not saying. Four more engineering teams have come aboard in the last two weeks, and our ‘enhancements’ have spread to twenty-two decks. Nearly half the ship. We’ve upgraded the research labs and expanded the surgical units. Given enough staff, we could handle hundreds of ‘subjects’ at a time.

We arrived in the nebula over a week ago, and have been just sitting here ever since. No new pickups, no orders from Command. No work to be done. Just waiting.

Sitting at my window, it wasn’t long before I saw the other ships starting to join us. Two additional D’Deridexes, Ishae and Okhala, each showing signs of the same sort of modifications that Irix has received. Five Mogai Warbirds. Areinnye, Dekkona, Fraire, Koval, Terrinex. A smattering of smaller warbirds and support vessels. An assault fleet.

And it was only the beginning. On our tenth day, a second fleet appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. It wasn’t like any cloaking technology I’d ever seen. And these ships were different; unfamiliar; alien. Dark, angular hulls interspersed with large green glowing sections. No visible windows. This must have been what we were waiting for. Once the aliens fell into formation, the entire fleet was jumping to warp.

The stars blurred past and the hours ran quickly. The alarm sounded, the crew bustled to stations. I didn’t move. Following the familiar jolt of our massive vessel dropping out of warp, I watched the rest of the fleet streak into existence and begin to spread out, standing in stark contrast to the ever-present backdrop of the nebula. Mere moments later, I caught my first glimpse of our destination.

Jouret IV.

Chapter 9: Delenda Est IV



Jouret IV.

A former Federation colony, populated now by Romulan separatists. Independents. There is talk of weapons of mass destruction, of a credible and pressing threat to Imperial security, but Kirina has told me of the extra surgical bays that have been installed below my feet, and the extra personnel transferred on quietly at Rator.

They are not for the strange alien ships that have joined us, I think.


K’haeth is speaking on the shipboard comm as we put our armor on and secure our personal shields and rebreathers. We are supposed to obey the commander alone, but I’ve known for months that Galan’s power has been effectively siphoned away by the needs of the project and the major’s desires. After all, he’s taken away the power of my team, kicked us out of the War Room, made us common soldiers again – and my team is angry with it, trigger-prone and desperate to make their name, thinking it was their fault they were pushed out and replaced with Tal Shiar flunkies.

On the comm, the twist of K’haeth’s fingers as he stands behind Galan speaks of power, of surety –

“We will not beg,” he says. “We will not bow. We are proud and we are powerful.”

“Together, we will advance the cause of the Romulan people and restore our birthright to the Way of D’era. We will retake the Empire and re-establish our rightful place in the galaxy.”

My rifle is in my hand. At least this feeling is familiar.

00:22Jouret IV, Tai Settlement

The settlement is new – angular prefab buildings in dark greens and greys, scattered across a hilly landscape hundreds of miles from the shipyards. The colonists had farmed here, but now the fields were ablaze.

The smoke makes it hard to see, but that’s the point. We have visors in our helmets. Our targets do not.


The alien walker does all the work – it whirrs and whines, and then fires on the big prefab, cracking the front wall and window like an eggshell, the crescent weapons-fire hitting in definitive concussion. The inside of the house is suddenly brimstone and terror. We move in to clear the building. No-one in the front room, no-one in the kitchen; ah, there’s a sound in the cupboard –

It is Salara that opens the door and screams for the family to come out. When the head of the household refuses, clutching his dathe’anofv-sen, she shoots him without orders. The children are tagged and transported, the servants dragged out by a walker and tossed into a transport that lifts off the ground with grim efficiency.

H’daen, the Tal Shiar officer babysitting our patrol, commends her initiative.


The community center is burning.

It is the only building on the block constructed in the traditional way, with wood and metal. Hit by strafing fire, the brown beams of the ceiling catch fire immediately. The walkers surround the building and do nothing. H’daen orders a full stop, and for a few seconds we hear only the crackling of the fire and the whine of the alien shuttles above –

“Sir,” I finally say, “there are twenty life signs in there. Give the order, we’ll go in and tag them.”

The commander silences me with a wave of his hand and orders charges set to help the fire along. About half of the poor bastards make it out.

That is apparently enough for H’daen, who motions for the squads to tag them and move on.


Nniol is only an Uhlan, but he snaps if we’re too slow, sneers at the screaming townspeople being yanked up to the transports by the alien walkers, is a little too handy with a headshot. I imagine he will make a fvadt good Tal Shiar agent someday.

He is winning the game. He has fifteen points in the game, Salara five, H’daen twelve, and me – zero.

I am not sure how much longer I can refuse to play.


I have known Hleidra for a long time. I did not know that she had become like the rest of them; that she had drank the atmosphere and the propaganda of the Project so deeply that she would treat the bodies like that.

The Romulan bodies. Like they are nothing, like they are alien.


The Maiori and his staff are penned up in the town hall. We have split-beam rifles, plasma grenades and pulsewaves; the Maiori has two outdated disruptors and a table across the door.

It is not much of a fight, and we end up tagging them like all the others. Like most of the others.

Galan himself drags the Maiori behind the building. I do not see them again.


After the mission, I spend a long time in the bathroom – but not long enough that my team will suspect that something is wrong. When I come out, they want me to drink, but I do not think I can stand to put anything in my stomach, let alone allow my defenses to tumble thanks to the warm comfort of kali-fal, so I plead off like I am exhausted from the day and go to my bunk and stare at the ceiling for three hours, thinking of Jouret, of what the Tal Shiar has made me do, of what the Tal Shiar has made me do my entire life. Everything is wrong, I think, everything is wrong and nobody else can see it.

I am drifting off to an uneasy sleep when –

– It is Shiarrael, the grounded one, the realist, who lets out a whoop.

“Ha! Are you sure the vector the ship is on is taking us there? Really? It’s about time! Artaleirh! I can’t wait to try this on a real planet! Fvadt those farmers, we’ll show 'em that you can’t mess with the Empire!”

Artaleirh, I think.

My brother is on Artaleirh. And Kirina –

I have to tell Kirina.

Chapter 10: Mission Accomplished



“…What was that number again, t’Nalah?”

“Eight hundred sixty-five, sir.”

“Ah yes. So that brings us to… let’s say four thousand. The Elachi will take their pick of the rest. Mandukar should be making her broadcast shortly, and if the ground teams are on schedule, we’ll be ready to depart at the six hour mark. Just as I promised, Admiral.”

“See that you are, Major. We have a schedule to keep. Lokaev out.”


“Attention all colonial ships, this is Commander-”

“What happened? Who was that?”

“It just cut out. Not one of ours, Major.”

“Get it back! Now!”

“She’s not responding, sir. I have the second ship on sensors, just out of visual range. Looks like… one of the colonial ships. An old T’Varo…”

“They’re no threat to a D’Deridex. What is she waiting for?”

“They’ve moved in close now, I can barely… Major! We’ve lost the Okhala! The T’Varo is gone too!”

“Impossible! How-… Fvadt ungrateful Colonials must have rammed them!”

“Sir… your orders…?”

“Send to the rest of the fleet: No survivors.”

It’s all quiet now. There’s a serene sort of quality to it; The slow, effortless tumbling of the debris; The low droning of crewmembers at work; The rhythmic hum of the great ship’s power generators. The aliens have gone, taking a third of Jouret’s inhabitants with them. Their fate will be no better than those taken aboard the Imperial vessels. The dead are the fortunate.

Okhala floats, crippled and burning. K’haeth decides to forego rescue and recovery in favor of keeping his timetable. Ishae has gone, with Areinnye, Fraire, and Koval, to join a fleet near Virinat. Ground teams have returned to Irix. She sits in wait with her two Mogai escorts. As the mission clock ticks 06:00, they streak into warp.

“Mission Accomplished, Admiral.”

(( Another perspective: Mandukar: A Shadow Over Jouret IV ))
Chapter 11: Memento Mori


15:00 Hours

Promoted? To where? On whose authority? The Tal Shiar is a political organization, you can’t just arbitrarily reassign my officers! I have a crew of over fifteen hundred, you can’t just transfer three Department Heads off the ship and expect my command structure to remain effective!”

Major K’haeth stands in the Commander’s office aboard the Irix. His calm smile serves as a stark contrast to the screaming Romulan behind the desk.

“Commander Galan, as always, I find our conversations most enlightening. Unfortunately, these promotions were necessary to further the goals of The Project. As I’m sure you’re aware, we have a schedule to keep. Please ensure that your ship and crew are operating at peak efficiency by the time we arrive at our destination. Twelve hours is ample time to select and assign replacement officers.”

Fvadt your timetable. Fvadt your precious Project, and fvadt you. You’ll be the death of us all.”

Leaving the Commander alone to continue digging his fingernails into his desk, K’haeth simply turns and exits the office. Second shift should be on duty by now, he thinks, perfect time for a progress report.

As he walks through the ship, he maintains that sick smile of his, flashing it at a passing crewmember. His victim, a young Sublieutenant, grimaces, bows her head, and moves away as quickly as military courtesy allows. K’haeth takes the long way to the lab, staying in the ‘normal’ decks of the ship, making his presence known to as many as possible. He revels in the fear.

Finally, through the security checkpoint; and then the second. Into the darkened, green-lit, twisted corridor. Down the long hallway and into the lab. He doesn’t expect the silence he’s met with.

A few moments pass as first shift clears out. When the last pair has finished lingering, Kirina moves around the room collecting a wide assortment of devices and hypospray vials, depositing them into a bag she has slung over her shoulder. She’s certainly taking her time, keeping an ever-vigilant eye on the door.

Second shift was supposed to be checking in with her in the lab to receive their individual assignments for the day. None reported for duty today. Aurelia had done well.

Kirina moves into the control room and waits behind the glass.

K’haeth finds himself in a very perplexing situation. As soon as he enters the lab, the door closes behind him and seals him in. Across the lab and through the glass separating him from the control room he’s met by the face of his own head researcher. The woman has that same sick and twisted sort of smile that he’d been sporting mere moments earlier.

“t’Nalah! Hwiiy dyypan veruul! What’s going on in here!”

The girl presses her palm against the glass, fingers extended. She’s waving, and she almost looks innocent. Almost. The moment comes and goes. Kirina seems to take great pleasure in slapping her hand down on the console.

In an instant, K’haeth finds himself swept off his feet. One of the wall panels breaks away, revealing a modified escape pod hatch. His own emergency protocol, working as intended, quickly blowing the contents of the lab out into space. So many questions run through his mind as he helplessly gasps for what little air may be passing near him. Before too long, his field of vision becomes filled with the ever-majestic exterior view of the Irix’s port bow.

… The seconds pass … 3-4-5-6 …

I’ve been betrayed, he thinks, expecting these thoughts to be his last, She must have had help…

… 13-14-15-16 … and then there was nothing.

“Seventy-Five. Seventy-Six. Seventy-Seven. Seventy-Eight. Seventy-Nine,” The computer speaks inside the control room.

“That’s plenty. Energize. Disable monitoring.” Kirina switches off the console, collects her bag, and moves into the adjoining surgical unit. K’haeth is on the table, pale, frigid, immobile. Apneic. The doctor appears to be in no particular rush as she leisurely wheels her instrument tray over and begins laying out her things. Each item has a place, of course, and it must be perfect before she can begin.

Finally finished, she loads three hyposprays and injects the Major with two of them in quick succession. In response, he gasps in a breath of air and his eyes open wide. She places a small rectangular device on his chest and then leans over the table so that he can see her without having to move his head much. She’s taken on an expression that resembles complete and utter glee.

“The Romulan Star Empire acknowledges your honorable service. Bed aoi.” Kirina injects him with the third hypospray. His breathing stops abruptly and a sort of generalized flaccidity sets in. His eyes frantically move around the all-too-familiar room, searching for any glimmer of hope.

“Computer, begin dictation: Subject Number Six-Thousand Two-Hundred Eighty-Four…”

Beep. K’haeth takes a breath.

Chapter 12: Sub Rosa I


13:00 Hours

She takes longer than usual to look at herself in the mirror.

This will be the last time she wears the uniform of the Imperial Navy, she knows, no matter if the day ends with her on a shuttle to Artaleirh or bleeding out on the floor of the Irix bridge. The silver-checked waistcoat, the severe lines running from shoulder to shoe, the carefully-shorn hair, even the thin chain of rank of which she’d been so proud. She has been so long wearing this, she thinks, that she does not know if she will even exist without it.

There is only one change today – the dathe’anofv-sen in her jacket, placed right over her breastbone.

I am going to betray them all, she thinks. I am a monster. But there is no other way.

That is answered by a voice from long ago, as soft and as far away as her conscience waking up – Aura, sweet, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

One of the unimportant Uhlans who works in the armory is addicted to eihssinhhre – a contraband substance in the Imperial Navy but relatively available on planets further from the baleful eye of Rator, if one knew where to look. She’d found just enough in the home of Subject 3938 to buy the attendant’s silence and the use of one disruptor minigun and small breacher pod, both small enough to conceal, and a sworn oath to have it back by the end of the man’s shift.

She leaves him greedily tearing open the baggie of alien crystals, stuffing them up his nose as quickly as he can. It will keep him high for the next hour or so, Aurelia knows, but the comedown will be a 'thrai – they’d find him at the end of his shift sprawled dead beside the pulsewave rifles.

He’s the lucky one, she thinks.

Her next stop is the quarters of Subcommander Khaul, the Tal Shiar squad leader who’d replaced her as lead tactician in the war room. She knows exactly what his capabilities are and what systems his codes allowed him access to – because they had once been hers. Even his quarters had once been hers.

So she has been subtly indicating her interest in him for weeks, now, ever since she and Kirina made their pact. It is nothing that would be noticed by others, of course, and nothing that would cause undue harm to either of their stellar reputations. So when she arrives at his door, and compliments him on the efficient and daring way he planned the Jouret attacks, he responds by lifting his chin and asking Aurelia to stop playing games.

“Turn off the security cameras and I’ll do whatever you want,” she whispers.

Khaul does so, then takes her by the wrist and drags her into his quarters, pushing her up against the wall. He tells her she is beautiful. He tells her she is worth his attention, even though she’s just a common soldier. She tells him to close his eyes as she reaches for the fastening at the top of her waistcoat.

The fvadt fool closes his eyes. Serving something as powerful as the Project has made him cocky. He is expecting her to shed her waistcoat like the other women do. He is not expecting her to draw an honor blade and stab him through in the way of a traditional ritual suicide. He does not even have time to ask why she is doing it.

She sets him carefully on the ground, and goes about her work.

First, to his bedside, where she finds his own family’s dathe’anofv-sen. She puts her gloves on, picks it up, bloodies it and arranges it exactly how it would look if Khaul had committed suicide.

Second, she opens Khaul’s official terminal. For a Tal Shiar agent, he is remarkably clumsy with code, but it still takes her longer than she wants to crack the root access. There, she is able to use his biometric signature and authorization to lock the ship’s internal sensors against a few very specific types of energy weapon without raising an alarm.

Third, a cursory search of his drawers nets her the thing he’d been boasting about in the lounge last week: a prototype interrogation device. It is very much like the one the Tal Shiar already used, but half the size. She slips it down her shirt, near the blade.

Fourth, she heads to the bathroom, and the loose tile at the top of the sonic shower. She holds her breath – and it’s still there, the lot of it, all five poisons she’d been keeping for a rainy day. Good – she won’t have to go to medbay. Those go in the left pouch with a sigh of relief. A moment later, she thinks about it and leaves one of them in the bedside drawer, implicating Khaul for the next thing she was about to do.

She washes the dathe’anofv-sen in the sink and returns her waistcoat to its immaculate state in the sonic shower.

She examines herself in the mirror.

The point of no return.

Although the lab workers on the second shift spend most of the time in the offices behind the Project checkpoints, they live together in a barracks room closer to the lounge alongside the general ship’s population, and would be on the schedule for rack time at this point. The room abuts a maintenance tube, which Aurelia enters between passing sublieutenants; she dials down the breacher pod to its lowest settings and uses it to punch a hole in the wall.

She hesitates, listening for the sensor alarms that do not come. It is enough to entertain the slightest bit of doubt.

They are Romulan. This is wrong, she thinks.

And then: Kirina told you what they did to those colonists. These ryakna made them Borg; they stripped them of all dignity, tortured them, and killed them when they were no longer any use.

Before she can stop herself, she installs the poison vials into the aerosolizer, turns it on and drops it through the hole.

They will not awaken again.

Crawling back out into the hallway, she straightens her uniform and heads towards the command area of the ship. She sees Major K’haeth rounding a corner towards the area of the ship the Project has devoured, a sick smile on his face. She finds herself holding her breath, thinking of Kirina, knowing what is to come.

We’re pulling this off. Ajoi, we are pulling this off.

Feeling emboldened, she pushes forward, heading closer to the bridge than she’s been in a while. If K’haeth has just come from making his shift’s-end report to Galan, as she suspects, Galan will generally head back to his quarters to calm down before he takes it out on the crew. So she hangs a right towards the commander’s quarters, drawing out her PADD from the pouch at her side, typing a message on it.

Galan is indeed in his quarters. Despite the commander’s many failings, he is a conscientious captain that cares for his crew, so when she rings the bell and tells him that she has early reports from the probe data on Artaleirh’s defenses, he rings her in, even though she’s not exactly the person tasked to report it. She stands at perfect, respectful attention as he looks away to read the PADD, and the message she’d placed on it.

When he looks back up at her, there is a disruptor in his face.

“Don’t move. Don’t call for help,” she says.

Galan’s face twists. He stands quietly, splaying his fingers open on the desk, daring her to shoot, attempting to make himself look bigger than he is. A long time ago, the tactic would have frightened her straight into submission. Today it does the opposite, dragging up the anger harvested over the past hundreds of missions. It has the dual effect of showing Aurelia he has no weapon – and instructing her that he thinks he is still in command. “I will see the Irix burn before I give you access to that.”

“Why not? Are you worried about the lives on this ship, sir? The Romulan lives?”

Galan sneered at her. “All except yours, traitor. Who has put you up to this? The Federation?”

She tightened her grip on the minigun. “Six thousand two hundred and eighty three innocent Romulan lives. That is the blood on your hands, and what comes next is only what you deserve. Give me the codes for that closet, or I will fire.”

He stares at her. “I had no choice. The Tal Shiar --”

“We all have a choice! And this is mine. I stand for the Romulan people, for the glory of what the Empire used to be, not the regime of the Tal Shiar! You will not see the Irix burn. You will not even live that long.”

She fires. Galan crumples, the command leached out of him as he becomes nothing more than a rumpled pile on the floor. She holds her breath – but her work in Khaul’s quarters stands; the sensors do not register the internal gunfire. So she moves forward, kneels, and rolls him over, checking his pulse. Just as she hoped, he is not dead. She looks at her chrono; no-one will search for Galan for hours.

She reaches into the bag and takes out the Tal Shiar device, securing it tightly on the commander’s temples. Galan feels the connective electrical impulses even as wounded as he is, and he rouses to a sleepy half-stupor, his limbs leaden from the stun, just awake enough to realize what he is doing. He tries to scream, but she covers his mouth with one hand. With the other, she activates the device.

“Tell me the codes, and I will make it stop,” she says. “I will show you the mercy you did not show the six thousand.”

He does not tell. It will be a long few hours for him.

There is only one more place to go, now.

Aurelia walks the halls of the Irix as she has always done, nodding respectfully to passing officers, making small talk, telling people how excited she is to be attacking Artaleirh, a standard gym bag dangling from her shoulder. At the fifth junction past the astrometrics lab, she turns and ducks into a very particular secondary armory that isn’t on any of the public D’Deridex schematics. Unlike the primary armory, this one is guarded not by rihannsu soldiers but by the command codes and biometric readings of an elite few – K’haeth, Galan, and the first officer, who is currently on the bridge, completely unaware.

Galan’s bio-information and codes get her through the first door, and then the second. When the third opens, she finds herself breathlessly staring at a shelf neatly stacked with small silver boxes. Forbidden boxes, full of the power of life and death, the power to turn flesh to stone, the thing she had come this far and this long to obtain – field-issue thalaron radiation generators.

She puts the bag on the floor and starts filling it carefully, one by one, reviewing her distribution plan. Halfway through, she takes a shuddering breath and hits her wrist-comm.

“t’Veras to t’Nalah,” she says, “I’m on my way to dinner.”

I am a monster. But there is no other way.

Chapter 13: Numbers


It all came down to numbers.

3.14 Billion. Artaleirh is not some small farming settlement or refugee camp. It’s been an established Romulan colony for centuries. Nearly a quarter of the entire Romulan fleet was produced by the shipyards at Artaleirh. Since the destruction of the homeworld and Remus, the planet also found itself being one of the major remaining suppliers of dilithium in the Empire. By all rights, it was one of the most valuable colonies to the Romulan people; Then they declared independence.

Now, they were a threat. The Star Empire allied with the strange aliens, and attacked independent settlements. Those settlements formed The Republic, and if Artaleirh joined, it would be a major setback. The Tal Shiar’s price for preventing this? Those 3.14 billion Romulan lives. This could not be allowed to happen.

The aliens had joined us again. Ten ships, ready to join us in the attack. Even if we’d managed to stop Irix, we had no way to stop the Elachi. We needed allies…

Kirina walks down the long hallway. This is wrong. She passes a number of doors, opening each as she passes. They’re innocent. She reaches the end of the line and taps the comm panel. There is no other way.

“Bring them in.”

Kirina watches as a heavily armed security detail escorts a group of terrified Romulans into each of the holding areas that she’d just opened. People of all sorts. Adults, children, elderly; some look ready to fight, others are barely capable of standing. Trails of blood remain on the deck as each successive group shuffles into it’s respective cage. This is all that remains of Ecurai Colony.

“Bring me one from each.”

Nearly an hour passes, before all of the cells are filled, one hundred colonists each. The soldiers bring twenty-six of the healthiest-looking survivors over to Kirina. At gunpoint, of course, they each receive a hypospray injection that seems to have no immediate effects. When they’ve all received their treatments, they are escorted back to the cells, one into each.

As the screams begin, Kirina leads the soldiers into the main lab. “Wait here just a moment,” she says, “I have one more task for you.” With that, she strolls into the control room, and promptly flushes the security team out into the vacuum of space.

Kirina watches through the camera monitors in silent horror as each of those rooms, full of Ecurai survivors, transforms into an army of drones.

19:00 Hours.

Twenty-six hundred survivors from Jouret IV, give or take a few dozen.

Everything comes down to numbers, and the arithmetic was simple. Twenty-six hundred, to save over 3 billion.

I would do it again.

Chapter 14: Fruition


21:00 Hours

Major K’haeth strides into the shuttlebay. There is no sign of his usual smug superiority. His expression is blank and lifeless. He screams in his thoughts, but he is only an observer in his own body.

Kirina sits in the control room, carefully entering the commands being transmitted to the Major’s new cortical implant. She watches as her K’haeth Drone orders the bay cleared of all personnel. Once he is alone, he enters a shuttle and sits in the pilot’s seat. Using the bioneural interface now embedded in his arm, K’haeth connects to the shuttle’s main computer.

Kirina smiles as she gains remote access to the small vessel. Her next sequence of commands disables K’haeth’s motor functions and activates a number of video feeds on the console he is sitting behind. She wants him to see everything.

She transfers the shuttle’s transporter control to her handheld device.

“t’Veras to t’Nalah. … I’m on my way to dinner.”

23:59 Hours

It’s time. Aurelia should be in position.

The twenty-six groups of drones are ready. There are thirty Elachi vessels. It will have to be close enough.

Kirina returns to the control room, using K’haeth’s access codes rather than her own, this time. She pulls up the Major’s private communication line to the alien vessels, using it to pinpoint the spatial coordinates of each, without needing to use the Irix sensors.

Arhem usae.” she says collectively to the group of monitors displaying the holding cell interiors. She taps the console and with a green flash, all 26 monitors show empty rooms.

And the she waits. 37 seconds later, the first Elachi vessel’s warp field collapses – followed shortly thereafter by a dozen others. Within a minute of the transport, the familiar jolt of Irix dropping out of warp can be felt throughout the ship.

It’s started.

00:02 Hours

Chapter 15: Sub Rosa II


23:34 Hours

The success of the plan now rests entirely on Aurelia’s own conviction.

After successfully placing the silver-box thalaron generators around the ship, she returns to Galan’s quarters to make her final preparations. The dead riov's command codes and biometrics make everything easier than it should have been: slaving the detonation protocols to her tablet and quietly changing out the command authorizations to her own voiceprint and codes to make it look like Galan himself had done the transfer.

She checks her tablet; Kirina has indeed, as promised, sent full biometric scans for her Tal Shiar “patient.” Aurelia dives into the code surrounding the security feeds for her first entrance into Galan’s quarters, changing her visual and biometric records to better reflect those belonging to Major K’haeth. She grabs one of Galan’s holomatrices, loads the program, drops it in an empty silver thalaron-generator-case, locks the door behind her and heads to the transporter room.

Once there, she calls her team. Shiarreal, Salara, Nniol, Hleidra. They are faces she trusted, faces she’d been with for years, faces that changed on Jouret as she watched them casually murder the innocent. So she tells them her story, the one she’ll spring on the bridge officers in just a few minutes. She shows them the holoprojector in the silver box. She informs them that there is no-one to be trusted but their small cadre, and that they are to transport to the smaller vessels on Galan’s command and wait for more instructions. She tells them that they are patriots.

She gives them each a small silver thalaron generator. She says it is a holoprojector that will open only on her command.

They trust her, of course, and go. She has never led them astray.

00:00 Hours

Aurelia waits in the transporter room until she feels the familiar disorientation of the ship falling out of warp. She straightens her uniform, fixes her hair and lets her feet carry her to the bridge of their own volition. She passes the bridge guards with the disruptor and dathe’anofv-sen carefully concealed, and takes an as-yet-unnoticed place at the back of the bridge. The command codes quietly accept her presence.

The bridge is complete, uncontrolled chaos, and Aurelia is thrilled to see the main viewscreen showing the careful, tight line of alien vessels breaking out of formation, spinning and drifting, one by one going dark, one by one losing communications. The aliens are distracted. The first officer – a man chosen more for his loyalty to the Tal Shiar than his command ability – has no idea what is happening, and is screaming his lungs out at the sensors officer, who is calling fruitlessly for Commander Galan to come to the bridge.

Void,” breathes the sensor officer, “I’m reading Borg signatures on the allied vessels!”

The bridge unravels as the officers attempt to make confirmation. The first officer turns on the weapons centurion; the other officers bend over their consoles, unwilling to risk the wrath of the first officer. It is her chance. Aurelia tears herself away from the wall, raises her gun, and fires it point-blank at the first officer’s head. He topples over and smokes on the floor, no longer breathing.

The bridge goes deathly silent. It is a testament to how much the man is liked that the guards do not move.

Time for the show.

Aurelia draws out the generator box with the holomatrix inside and places it on the first officer’s console. It flares into life, and the bridge officers watch in growing horror: the K’haeth-figure stalks into Galan’s office, raises his disruptor, and then applies the Tal Shiar device to the commander’s forehead. Only Aurelia recognizes her own body movements, her hands, her face where K’haeth’s now live.

It’s a stretch. I have to sell it.

“I found him,” Aurelia says, allowing her voice to break. “He has killed our beloved commander in cold blood and betrayed us all. The first officer was his creature; you knew that. All Tal Shiar on the ship are his! We must take back our vessel or we will all die. Look! Look at the viewscreen! I am trying to save you. I am riov now. I know what is coming and I can save you.”

Her voice is iron. She lifts her finger, her voice commanding – no time to stop now, this is committal, she has to keep on going. The pickups have been an open secret for months, and Jouret had been confirmation. Everyone knew what was going on belowdecks, now. Everyone laughed. “The Borg signatures. He beamed over the traitors to the alien vessels to see how fast they would assimilate them. And when they are done with them, they will come for us.”

The officer at conn looks nervous. “I’ll get the third officer.”

“No!” Aurelia snarls. “That lazy hlai! He is not even here and he was summoned five minutes ago! Does it look like we have the time to wait for him? This was their plan all along! To take the traitors and use them thus! The Irix will be the first Khnial-class destroyer, and none of us will be witnesses! The Tal Shiar care for nothing but themselves! They wish us all as part of their experiment, to find out just how long it takes for a warbird to be assimilated – and I will not allow this to happen! I am riov now! Commander Galan trusted me, he gave me the codes before he died; check them yourselves and you will find me authorized!”

She looks around, holding the disruptor, narrowing her eyes. Each of the bridge officers is career military. Each of them knows her as a competent tactician. Each of them has been nursing the fear K’haeth instilled until it turned into into anger and paranoia; each of them had thinks they would be replaced just as the department heads had been. And so it really does not matter if they all do not believe her. All she needs is one stone to roll down the hill, and she would have her avalanche.

The communications officer clears his throat. “Riov,” he says, “We have a transmission from the Elachi cruiser.”

Riov. She holds the disruptor, slowly sitting in the commander’s chair, as if she is afraid it would burst into flames. She can hardly breathe. I thought I would be dead by now. “Put it on speakers.”

“Ae, riov,” he responds.

The voice they all hear is doubled, tripled – it is the voice of two, of thousands. Romulan voices, the Jouret survivors. No, not them – the voice of the Collective was impossible to fake, impossible to fool, recognizable from the first instant to any spacefaring sentient.

I am going to hear this every night for the rest of my life. She swallowed, her throat dry as bone.

“We are the Borg. Resistance is futile. Your culture will adapt to --”

The bridge officers look back to their consoles, immediately working to counter the alien ships, which have now begun to sputter back into life. Aurelia can already see the blocky, snaking green-and-black Collective build seeping from the sleek blue sides of the alien vessels. She hits the comm-toggle on the arm of the chair. “Acting Commander t’Veras to rihannsu fleet, command authorization hwi mnei rhi ulhei mosaram. The alien vessels that are our escorts have been infested with experimental Borg drones by the traitor Tal Shiar agent K’haeth. If allowed to escape, the Borg drones will board our ships, assimilate our crews, and bring chaos to the Empire. We cannot allow that to happen. Prepare to engage, attack pattern nei’rrh-hwi.

She holds her breath as the other ships match the command codes to those she changed in the Irix database in order to ratify her orders, and hits the comm toggle again.

Araram, Clania, Shalyar. Flank the lead alien cruiser; destroy it. Irix, Incepteris, the frigates and corvettes. Nei’rrh-hwi, now!”

The weapons officer yelps. “Void! They’re attacking each other!”

Aurelia takes a breath. “The aliens are trying to keep their vessels intact! We all know how quickly a ship can fall, no matter how powerful its crew! Keep firing! We will not fail the Empire here!”

Irix turns, weapons alight, on the alien ships. At first, the ships fight back, but as the Jouret survivors advance with one mind through the alien halls, turning the crews with Kirina’s experimental nanites, searching for the Collective that was so far away, they begin to sputter and fail; in turn, the Romulan weapons-fire finds easy purchase, tearing down the alien shields and punching holes in the hull. Fires erupt into vacuum and fell back just as quickly.

When it is over, Irix drifts, surrounded by the burning husks of the dead alien vessels. Debris floats across the viewscreen, and Aurelia finally allows herself to breathe.

“All targets destroyed,” says the weapons officer. “All Borg signatures gone.”

The third officer chooses this moment to show up. His eyes are blood-green and he is clearly hungover, the result of the drugged ale Aurelia gave him earlier. She simply bows to him and rises from the commander’s chair.

“I cede the bridge and the codes to you, rekkhai,” she says, respectfully. “I am but a humble servant of the Empire… one who has done her duty and who now will return to her place.”

The bridge, once again, is as silent as the grave.

“Get off my bridge,” the third officer snarls, seeing the hulks of the burning ships outside. “Before I brig you.”

It won’t be long now.

From the bridge, Aurelia runs pell-mell down to the shuttlebay, lost between small gaggles of engineering officers and enlisted techs making repairs, moving to stations, shouting, hollering; runs past flickering hull-breach forcefields covering the dizzying, gaping maw of space; past spitting, ruptured plasma conduits; past the Project checkpoint and the lounge and the barracks and everything that makes her what she is.

The shuttle door is open. Kirina is waiting for her. Seeing the woman’s head bowed while making final preparations for takeoff, it finally occurs to her how easily she could have been betrayed and used; how easily Kirina could have lifted off without her, sailed off to Artaleirh, left her there to die.

She feels something she has never experienced before; she is breathless with it, shaking, a balled-up mess of disbelief knotting up in her chest.

I knew she was a friend, but this… is this what true alliance feels like?

No time to think about it now. She runs into the shuttle. “It’s done. Go.”

Chapter 16: Freedom I


“It’s done. Go.”

Aside from some garbled screams, those would be the last words ever spoken by the crew of the I.R.W. Irix.

The small shuttle’s single door slid closed behind Aurelia, and the craft lifted off. Even before it had totally cleared the massive Warbird’s hangar doors, a faintly sparkling green mist began to fill the air. And not just in the hangar bay. Every room and every corridor of every deck. Every member of the vessel’s 1,730-Romulan crew, save the two traitors and their Tal Shiar hostage on the departing shuttle, looked around in awe of the slowly descending mist.

A few among them recognized it for what it was. Some screamed and ran, with nowhere to go. Others sat down or cried or otherwise resigned themselves to their fate. On the bridge, the ship’s Second Officer, in command, frantically attempted to order self-destruct, but it was far too late.

The thalaron generators hidden throughout Irix’s ventilation system were well placed and numerous. Deck by deck the crew’s skin began to dry, then harden, then crack. Screams filled the air for just a few moments before the dusty remains fell to the ground. For a time, the low hum of the ship’s systems was the only sound aboard.

Outside, the rest of the Imperial assault fleet drifted lifelessly among the debris of the proceeding battle, their crews having succumbed to the same deadly radiation that neutralized the Irix.

As the escaping shuttle flew steadily away from the aftermath of it’s occupants’ escape, the final piece of their plan erupted behind them. All at once, fire broke through the hull of twenty-three decks of the D’Deridex warbird. The whole ship appeared to buckle as decks collapsed upon each other. The science and medical experimentation labs, the prisoner holding areas, the Borg-adapted equipment, all erased in the immolation. As the flames receded, the ship remained. Battered, burned, and empty.

The again silent fleet, freed from its Imperial masters, drifted in waiting. As the shuttle reached the edge of visual range, one of its three occupants was flushed from an airlock. The Romulan man in pristine Tal Shiar uniform, Major K’haeth, was finally allowed to die.

Chapter 17: Freedom II


There was a kali-house in town, popular with the university crowd, sporting a fairly nondescript front and a hipster-utilitarian interior; the owner, an émigré from some nowhere colony, had brought throw pillows to cast about on the spare Imperial benches and added touches of rustic wood and iron to the metal-fab walls, embellishing the loyalist art with splashes of colonial paint (“Only on Artaleirh,” the traditionalists would cluck, moving on to a more respectable establishment).

On Friday afternoons, this particular kali-house usually became an impromptu salon for the hugely popular archaeology professor Ahnar tr’Veras and the students that waddled after him like baby dhael. He would speak rapturously of the temples of the Debrune and the mysteries of the Iconians; he would discuss politics without pushing illegal agendas, shutting down any talk of reunification; he would, instead, ask the students how they planned to serve the glorious way of D’era. The police had looked at Ahnar tr’Veras many times, due to his parents’ background and his refusal to serve in the military past the required time. They had never found anything untoward, and figured him for a loyal milquetoast.

Ahnar, however, had picked the kali-house for more than the decoration, or the place's penchant for serving cheap student-grade liquor.

During her last period of leave, Aurelia had discovered a fault in the kali-house’s billing program, and noted that she was able to hack a line of text printed on the online receipt from her own computer. She hadn’t expected to need to use it; but, she’d noted quietly in the silence of Ahnar's tiny studio apartment, there were strange things happening aboard the ships she was serving on, and she’d wanted to be able to reach him outside the censors in case something happened.

So he went to the kali-house regularly.

He’d received only two messages over the two years she’d been aboard Irix.


and, six months later:


This Friday, Ahnar paid for his drinks, went home, checked his receipt and received a third message.

ALL BLACK FOR 2 – 394.203.911 ECURAI

He sat in his grey little studio, blinking at the receipt, before he connected the word Ecurai with a journal article he’d read once about an independent Romulan colony that had incorporated interesting takes on common areas throughout, including an amphitheater that had been particularly admired by traditionalists and modernists alike. He ran the numbers through a search engine and noted that they corresponded with an asteroid field a number of light years from the colony.

His sister was asking for a ride, and she had a passenger.

He then called the shuttle-share service.

The police had looked at Ahnar tr’Veras many times, yes. They had looked at his politics and his parents and his past. They had rooted through his lectures and his salons and his students. They were right about much of his life and his leanings.

But they were wrong about two very important things:

Ahnar tr’Veras had never given up on Reunification.

And he was certainly not a milquetoast.

Chapter 18: ...Or So We Thought

December 2409

“If you’d just let me speak to Commander Temer again, I’d…”

“The Commander is extremely busy right now.” Without allowing the doctor so much as another word, the security officer quite literally shut the door in Kirina’s face. She stepped quickly backwards, only narrowly avoiding a broken nose.

Months had passed since the brutal assault on Artaleirh that never happened. Months, since a group of assimilated Romulan colonists were sacrificed to halt an Elachi advance. Months, since the IRW Irix and her fleet were set adrift, after their crew’s thalaron-induced demise. And months since two Romulans risked everything to safeguard billions of innocent lives.

They could have stayed with the fleet they’d just decimated and taken credit for their work, but Aurelia t’Veras and Kirina t’Nalah weren’t looking for fame or glory. They wanted to do what was right, and best for their people, and they wanted to survive. They left the abandoned fleet intact, to be salvaged, and were picked up in a small shuttle. It was weeks before they managed to make contact with the only-months-old Romulan Republic. They strode aboard, hoping to join a cause.

Instead – after a short meeting with the Commander in charge – they were separated and confined.

From that point on every week was the same, for Kirina. One day of debriefing. Three of isolation. One day in the medical bay. Two more of isolation. She offered what she knew freely, but she was only met with hostility. Where she expected to be welcomed with open arms, she found instead skepticism and paranoia.

To an extent, she understood it. Reports of her experiments – and those of similar scientists – had begun to leak out of the Empire. Kirina couldn’t blame the Republic for being angry. In their place she might have felt the very same way. But she wasn’t in their place. She was stuck. Waiting.

It was maddening.

Maybe Aurelia’s having better luck, Kirina thought to herself.

Chapter 19: Isolation

December 2409

“This is simply unacceptable, doctor.”

The Republic Centurion was clearly not pleased. “You claim to want to serve the Republic, and you claim to have severed your connections with the Tal Shiar and Star Empire, and yet you sit here and protect their secrets!” He shook his head and slid a PADD across the table. “Give me the interlink frequency that you used to tap into the Borg subspace relays.”

“These are not the Empire’s secrets. They’re mine.” She slid the PADD back across, “Some things shouldn’t be known by anyone.”

The Centurion, in his anger, swatted the PADD right off the table, stood up, and headed for the door. As usual when the door opened, two guards entered, folding up the table and both chairs and removing them from the room. And then they were all gone. Though the motions were familiar, Kirina felt something was different this time.

Kirina sat down on the small cot and looked around at her familiar surroundings for the umpteenth time. The walls were gray and barren. The room’s single underpowered light was situated in the center of the ceiling, casting the corners in darkness. She watched the door, waiting for the Centurion to return. She expected him to barge back in, as he did many times before, with some new incentive or threat of punishment. But he never did.

March 2410

“How long has she been like that?”
“About two weeks.”
“Shouldn’t we… tell someone?”
“Nah, the Centurion’s been checking up on her every few days.”

The two guards stood outside Kirina’s cell, chatting idly. The newer of the two, a young Reman sublieutenant, turned to peek through the small viewport in the door. The Romulan doctor was curled up in the corner, opposite the cot, still and quiet.

“She doesn’t look so good.”
“Yeah, no kidding. She been refusing to eat. Last month they had to bring her down to medical.”
“Why is she even in there? Are they doing this for everyone who defects?”
“No, no,” the older Romulan chuckled, “Just her. Apparently she was into some top-secret nonsense and won’t spill the details.”
“So they’re just gonna keep her in there until she talks?”
“Above my paygrade, my friend.”
“True enough! Any idea what they’re serving for lunch today?”