Secrets cannot stay hidden forever… no matter how deeply they are buried.
Written by Michael B
Release 20 Apr 2003
"Suejj d’nothrall," said Katrina Kim proudly, trying her best to draw out the proper pronunciation.
"D’nithraall," Dr. Tila Saldeed corrected her with weary exasperation. The older Romulan slouched back in her chair behind her desk, while the young girl–
"Isn’t that what I said?" asked Katrina.
"Child, there’s a world of difference between asking where the exit is and whether or not the door tastes good."
"Oops," the girl giggled with embarrassment. "I guess I need to work on my pronunciations a bit more."
"To say the least," Saldeed retorted. "You may find yourself visiting Romulus one day. You don’t want to sound like you’re some kind of ignorant vhenn-herder from the Iuruth Plateau, do you?" The Romulan physician then got up from her desk where she had sat patiently during Katrina’s recitation and walked over to the nearby replicator. "And if you don’t care about yourself, then at least think about how your inability to speak your native tongue will reflect poorly upon me."
"Okay," Katrina groaned. "I get the point. You know, you sound a lot like my mother when you talk like that. She doesn’t let me get away with anything either."
"Your mother is obviously a very intelligent woman," said Saldeed. "After all, she’s not the one sitting here listening to you mangling the most elegant language in all the known worlds."
"With more ginky ways to misspell a word than English," Katrina griped.
"Quite," Saldeed smirked as she turned to face the replicator. "Citra leaf tea. Warm." She glanced over at the girl, the smirk still on her face. "Shall I order two?"
"Uh, sure," said Katrina, surprised by the gesture. Despite her efforts to extend herself to Saldeed since the journey began, the doctor hadn’t exactly responded to her overtures with the warmest of affection. In fact, Katrina wasn’t really sure what Dr. Saldeed’s reasons were for agreeing to help with her Romulan language studies. If anything, she seemed to be motivated more by the amusement of seeing her fall on her face than any sense of altruism. Katrina wanted Saldeed to genuinely like her, and not just because she was the captain’s daughter. After all, if her father’s own Chief Medical Officer couldn’t take her seriously as a Romulan, then how would other Romulans accept her as one of their own?
Perhaps it all would start with taking a sip of tea.
"Yuck!" Katrina cringed as she sipped at the tart brew. "This stuff tastes like acid."
"It’s a bit tart by human standards," said Saldeed. "Even Romulans find it’s an acquired taste. But you’ll learn to like it in time. It’ll put some spine in your step."
"Just what I needed," Katrina replied drolly.
"For what it’s worth," Saldeed said as she took her tea back to her desk, "I had more than my share of trouble learning English. I kept thinking that it was an easy enough language to speak, but what a nightmare it was to read!"
"Yeah," Katrina agreed. "Some of the spelling rules can be a bit confusing." But then something occurred to her, something that didn’t seem quite right. "Say, when did you learn to speak English anyway? I thought that Romulans weren’t encouraged to learn about alien cultures."
"It was…helpful for my career. Let’s just leave it at that."
Harry Kim learned quite early on, long before he had assumed command of the Enterprise, that a starship captain was at his busiest during the times that seemed most quiet. They were still in transit, having just completed a survey of a T-Tauri-Class nebula, light years from any hostile sectors. It was one of those rare moments since their arrival in the Delta Quadrant where the crew had the time to sit back and process the results of their mission to date.
And for Harry, it was a chance to catch up on his long-overdue paperwork.
He was just in the middle of reading the latest status reports from Engineering when the chirp of the intercom roused his attention.
"Captain," came the brusque voice of Commander Kalan, "we are receiving a hyperlink signal from Admiral Janeway, Priority Alpha. She is requesting a full holographic conference."
"Thank you, XO," Harry replied. "Transfer the link to my private holocom." He got up from his desk and moved to the doors to the aft of his ready room. Although there were holocoms scattered throughout the ship, as captain he had the privilege of a small, personal conference chamber connected to his ready room for occasions such as this.
The thought of a Priority Alpha signal from home worried him. What could be so critical as to warrant holoconferencing across galactic distances? A conference implied that there would be multiple participants, quite possibly scattered across great distances. Who else found it so necessary to speak with him? Whomever it was, he would know the answers soon enough.
Harry stepped into the empty room, a cylindrical chamber five meters across with walls adorned only with the standard crisscross of a holoprojection grid. Once the door was shut behind him and the privacy seal engaged, he called out to the computer.
"Engage conference," he ordered. With that, the hologrid walls faded away, replaced by the cool pastels of a Starfleet-standard office, creating the illusion of a room much larger than the one he was actually in. Before him, seated behind an impressively wide desk, was the familiar face of Admiral Kathryn Janeway, her silvery-white hair highlighted by the panoramic view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge through the large observation window behind her. Standing on opposite sides of her desk were two unfamiliar figures, both dressed in dark formal robes. At first glance they appeared to be Vulcans. But as Harry looked closer, he could see that the two were in fact Romulans. If the heavy brows didn’t give them away, then the worried looks on their faces surely did.
In fact, the expression on Admiral Janeway’s face had Harry quite concerned about the reason for her call. Normally, when she contacted him it was with the lighthearted familiarity of two officers who were practically family. In this case, the graveness of her features told him this would not be good news at all.
"Admiral," said Harry as he sat in the holographic chair across from her. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Captain," she nodded with uncharacteristic formality. "I wish this call came under better circumstances. Unfortunately, a serious matter has come up that needs to be addressed."
"It concerns a member of your crew, Captain Kim," said one of the Romulans, a male who looked familiar to Harry, but he wasn’t immediately able to recall where.
"Captain," Janeway interjected, "I believe you’ve already met Ambassador Terrek."
"Of course," Harry replied, now remembering the Romulan Republic’s representative to the Federation. They had briefly met during the flurry of diplomatic events prior to the Enterprise’s launch.
"May I present my colleague, Senator Vahal," said Terrek as he gestured towards the other Romulan, a younger-looking female with a more intense gaze. "Senator Vahal serves as chair of the Senate Truth and Service Committee."
Harry glanced over to the Senator and noticed how there seemed to be miniscule pause before each of her responses. It was clear that unlike Terrek, who was likely in the same room with Admiral Janeway on Earth, Vahal was conferencing via hyperlink from another location, most likely Romulus itself. "Senator," Harry greeted Vahal with a polite nod. "I don’t believe that I’m familiar with your committee."
"That’s understandable," she said. "The Truth and Service Committee is concerned with domestic issues. Our mandate is to find those guilty of crimes against the Romulan people and see that they are brought to justice."
"I…see," said Harry, somewhat put off by Vahal’s stridency. "May I ask what this has to do with me or my ship?"
"As I said before, Captain," said Terrek, "it concerns a member of your crew. Dr. Tila Saldeed."
"Dr. Saldeed?" said Harry, wondering what concerned the ambassador about one of his own nationals. "What concerns you about her?"
"I’m afraid, Captain," Terrek stated grimly, "that Dr. Saldeed is not who she claims to be."
Harry had to let that statement sink in for just a few moments. "I’m sorry?"
"We have reason to believe," Vahal joined in, "that Dr. Saldeed’s real name is S’anra Vor, and that she was at one time a highly ranked operative with the Tal Shiar."
"What?" Harry couldn’t believe what it was he was hearing. The name of the Tal Shiar was well known to him and anyone else who had studied Romulan history. They had once been the dreaded secret police and espionage branch of the old Romulan Empire, responsible for employing utterly ruthless means of ensuring the loyalty of the populace, including surveillance, arrests without trials, torture, and assassinations. Thankfully for the Romulan people, the Tal Shiar were long gone, eradicated in the chaos of the civil war that led to the birth of the Republic and never replaced. Saldeed might not have been on one of his favorite people, but the idea that she could have once been party to such crimes was too much to accept. "Senator…you can’t be serious. My Chief Medical Officer? A spy?"
"I assure you, Captain," said Terrek, "the evidence against her is quite compelling. We’ve recovered records showing her frequenting with known Tal Shiar operatives during the time that comprised Vor’s career, plus evidence of trips taken off planet for events that we’re certain Vor was present for. Not to mention we’ve had experts go over Saldeed’s military and service files, and there’s indications that sections have been altered and deleted. For years it was believed that Vor had perished in the final assault on Tal Shiar headquarters during the civil war. But now it would seem that she’s alive and well and in hiding aboard your starship."
"And just what is it that this…Vor…is supposed to be guilty of?"
Senator Vahal looked at Harry incredulously. "She’s…Tal Shiar! Isn’t that crime enough?"
Terrek, however, was more diplomatic. "Tell me, Captain, have you ever heard the term ‘Inquisitor’ before in regards to the Tal Shiar?"
"I can’t say that I have, Ambassador."
"The Inquisitors were the special interrogators of the Empire," the diplomat went on to explain. "The worst of a bad lot. The Special Projects branch of the Tal Shiar had the responsibility of extracting information from their…subjects. By whatever means necessary."
"You mean torture, don’t you?"
"Among other things," said Terrek. "We can’t be certain. So much of the Tal Shiar’s methods were cloaked in secrecy and few records remain intact. None of their victims are able to tell us much. Interrogation by an Inquisitor was invariably followed by a secret trial and execution."
"And S’anra Vor was no ordinary Inquisitor," Vahal added. "She was the protégé of Dhivael Nar herself, the director of Special Projects. Now that’s a name that’s known to every Romulan who had a loved one taken in the middle of the night. If your Dr. Saldeed worked directly under her, then she shares in her crimes."
"But…it makes no sense!" Harry objected. "If Saldeed really is…who you say she is, then why would she choose to join up with the Delta Fleet? Why risk that kind of scrutiny if she’s trying to stay hidden?"
"Who’s to say?" said Terrek. "Perhaps she was arrogant enough to believe she’d never be found out."
"Or perhaps she thought a journey to the Delta Quadrant would take her beyond the reach of Romulan justice," Vahal added. "In which case, she might have considering jumping ship when an opportunity presented itself."
"I…I still find all of this hard to believe," Harry said, his mind still flummoxed by the revelation. "Senator, Ambassador, what exactly are you asking of me?"
Vahal took a deep breath, collecting herself before continuing. "What we want, Captain, and what the Romulan people want, is justice. If the Republic is to rid itself of the lingering stench of Praetorite poison, then it is vital that we root out all those who oppressed us and hold them accountable for their actions. "
"In other words, Captain," Terrek continued, "what we want is for Saldeed to stand trial for her crimes."
"Stand trial?" said Harry. "Via hyperlink?"
"Absolutely not!" said Senator Vahal. "The Truth and Service Committee has never rooted out a living former Tal Shiar of this rank until now. Such a trial must be held before the Senate on Romulus, so that representatives from across the Republic will have a chance to stand in judgment!"
"Admiral," said Harry as he turned to Janeway, who had remained silent while the two Romulans made their case, "surely you’re not asking Enterprise to come home after just a few months, are you? We still have a mission. We can’t just put that on hold just to deliver a prisoner halfway across the galaxy."
"I agree, Captain," said Janeway. "Delta Fleet Command doesn’t want your mission interrupted by this business any more than it has to be. But clearly this situation has to be addressed. Your orders are to relieve Dr. Saldeed of her duties and confine her to quarters. You’re then to return to Delta One as soon as possible where she will be held until a transport can be made available to return her to Romulus."
"But, that could be a long time. None of the ships of the fleet are scheduled to return for at least another five years."
"Under the circumstances, Captain, that’s the best we can do," said Janeway. "We can’t allow a trial to disrupt your mission. I’ve been assured that the facilities at Delta One will be adequate for her. If not, we can always make a request of the Talaxians that she be relocated to one of their facilities on Talax."
"In other words, a prison," said Harry
"Yes," said the admiral. "Ambassador, Senator, I understand your eagerness to proceed with this matter, but I hope you can appreciate our position."
"This is not an ideal situation, Admiral," Vahal said frostily. "The people demand swift justice. To be made to wait for five years…"
"Perhaps it will be for the best," said the ambassador, adopting a more placating tone. "It will give the committee ample time to gather evidence for the trial ahead. Given that it’s been fifteen years since anyone has seen S’anra Vor alive, this will be a difficult prosecution."
"I see no difficulty, Ambassador," said the senator. "There’s no doubt in my mind that Saldeed and Vor are one and the same. She will be exposed before the people for what she is and be made to pay."
"Ambassador, Senator, I thank you both," said Janeway. "Now, if that will be all, there are matters that Captain Kim and I must discuss."
Harry waited patiently as the Romulan ambassador said his farewells and exited the field of view. Senator Vahal was more spare with her goodbyes, her image quickly fading away as the connection to Romulus was severed. Once they were alone, the admiral eyed him sadly, the earlier formality fading away.
"Admiral, you realize what they’re asking, don’t you?" Harry protested. "They’re talking about incarcerating a woman for years before she’s even had a chance at a trial."
"I know it may seem unfair to us, Harry," Janeway said, "but the Romulans are dead serious about this. We have to respect their wishes on this matter. And if there’s even a chance that they’re right about Saldeed…"
"I know," said Harry grimly. "I just can’t believe it. Saldeed, a Tal Shiar? A war criminal?"
"Harry, what’s your sense of all this? You’ve worked with her these past few months. Do you think she really could be this S’anra Vor?"
"Honestly, Admiral, I couldn’t say," he said with resignation. "She’s good at her job and she’s a smart-mouthed pain in the ass. But beyond that, I don’t really know the woman. I can’t say I’ve warmed up to her. She’s mostly kept to herself until now."
Janeway smiled warmly at her former protégé with knowing eyes. "I understand what it is you’re feeling, Harry. She’s a member of your crew and your first instinct is to come to her aid." Her expression then turned more serious as she went on. "But you may have to face up to the fact that everything about this woman may be a lie, and that refusing to accept that could put the rest of your crew in jeopardy. Back on Voyager, I didn’t want to believe that we had a traitor in our midst. I accepted Tuvok’s caution and allowed him to investigate, but maybe if I had moved a little faster, if I’d been less reluctant…then maybe Seska wouldn’t have gotten away from us. I know that you more than anyone can appreciate the consequences of that decision."
Indeed he did, thought Harry, as he considered the monstrous offspring that Seska had managed to produce with the Kazon who had offered her refuge as a reward for her treachery.
"You know, I can’t think of anyone among the crew she’s spent any personal time with," said Harry. "She jousts with Vorik everyone once in a while, and I know she’s spent time with Miral during their last away mission. The person who probably talks with her the most is…"
"Katrina?" Janeway added, seeing the disconcerted look on his face.
"My god," mumbled Harry. "She’s with her right now. They’re taking language lessons together. She’s sort of latched on to Saldeed as her teacher about all things Romulans. God only knows the sort of things she’s been filling Katrina’s head with." With that, Harry slapped his combadge and opened up a channel to Security. "Mr. Krell," he said authoritatively.
"Captain?" came the security chief’s voice over the intercom.
"Meet me outside of Sickbay in twenty minutes. Bring four of your guards with you. And make sure none of them are Romulan."
"You need to practice your inflections," said Saldeed as she and Katrina stepped out into the corridor. "It could mean the difference between a casual conversation and an offer to mate."
"I’ll remember that," Katrina laughed.
The two were headed down towards the turbolift at the end of the hall when it opened before them. Cyrus Krell stepped out with two security guards, all of them quickly moving out in an unfriendly fashion. Katrina glanced to her right to see that another guard was coming up along the corridor they had just passed. A glance to the left saw another from the opposite direction.
"Katrina," said her father, who had just stepped off the turbolift behind Krell, "come here right now."
"Dad? What’s going on? Why…"
"Don’t ask questions," he said sternly, almost anxiously. "Just do as I tell you and step away from Dr. Saldeed."
"Dad, I don’t…"
"Do it now!" he said, raising his voice in a way he had never done before with her. Katrina looked at him in shock, like he was a stranger.
"Captain," Saldeed broke in, "could you tell me what this is all about. This is all looking very peculiar."
"Just stay right where you are, Doctor," said Krell in his usual laconic tone. "We just want to make sure that the girl is safe first. Don’t make any sudden moves."
Saldeed considered her options and considered it best to say nothing in response. She leaned over to a confused Katrina and whispered into her ear. "Just do as your father tells you. Don’t ask any questions. I’m sure that this is just ship’s business. I’ll be fine."
Nervous at this bizarre turn of events, Katrina slowly made her way over to her father, her eyes pleading for some kind of answer. As soon as she was within arm’s length, Harry pulled her away from Saldeed and behind him. He quickly turned to her. "Go back to our quarters. You mother will be there waiting for you. I’ll explain everything later. Just go, now."
She glanced back at Saldeed over her shoulder as Harry rushed her into the turbolift, hoping understand what was happening. But she saw nothing except for Saldeed smiling bravely at her before the doors slid shut.
As soon as the turbolift was away, Harry strode forward until he was eye-to-eye with the Romulan woman. He looked her over, trying to see some trace of her attempt at deception, to read her expression and know if this was the face of a war criminal. But he saw nothing that he hadn’t seen before over the last several months, an attractive woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties, even though her service record indicated she was actually older than he was. But could he even trust that? For all he knew, she could be older than his own father.
"Can I assume that these guards are here for me, Captain?" said Saldeed, showing no fear.
"Doctor," he replied coolly, "I’ve been ordered to relieve you of your duties and confine you to quarters until we arrive at Delta One. Please go with these officers quietly."
"I see," she said. "You do realize that my government might object to this?"
"Doctor, it was your government that insisted we take you into custody. You’re to be sent home as soon as there’s a ship available."
"Really?" she said, raising an eyebrow in a Vulcan-like fashion. "Is someone back on Romulus not happy with my work?"
"You could say that," said Harry. "Does the name ‘S’anra Vor’ mean anything to you?"
Harry waited to hear something, anything that would give him some cause to believe that she was innocent. He was prepared for her to claim innocence, either honestly or as a lie. What he didn’t expect was her actual response.
"Oh," she said with resignation, "that."
"Yes," he said, his fury and feeling of personal betrayal tightly coiled inside. "That." He didn’t want to say any more than he had to, not in front of the security team. They had been ordered to keep quiet about this, so as not to let rumors spread throughout the ship before Harry could think of a way to explain this to the crew. "Go with the officers, if you please, Doctor. Rest assured that you and I will be having a conversation about this later."
"I won’t cause any trouble, Captain," said Saldeed. "I imagine you’ll have quite a few questions for me."
"I will," said Harry, his voice chilled with restrained anger. "But you’ve just answered one of them already."
Harry watched coldly as Saldeed was escorted down the corridor with the two security guards. Krell came up to him, his voice low to stay out of earshot of the other guards around him.
"My team’s been told to keep a lid on this," he said. "Just as you ordered, sir."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," said Harry. "There’ll be a briefing at 1900 hours with the senior staff. Minus one, of course."
"Tell me, Cyrus. Did she ever give the slightest hint that she wasn’t who she said she was?"
"She kept her secrets well, sir. If a person wants to stay hidden badly enough, they’ll find a way."
"I suppose," said Harry. "I just wish I knew for certain what it was she’s guilty of."
Saldeed sat quietly in her room, easing comfortably into her lounge chair while the HPADD novel floated before her. Simple hand gestures were all that were needed to advance the pages, as though she were reading an actual printed book. It was a rare chance for her to catch up on her reading, since she had no duties to perform. She might have thought it all quite relaxing, were it not for the knowledge that there were two guards posted outside her door.
The door chimed and she watched them slide apart. Captain Kim entered the room, his brow furrowed and his arms behind his back. Lieutenant Krell was at his side, those golden eyes never leaving her for a second. The captain’s emotions were unmistakable. Krell, on the other hand, was much harder to read.
"We’ve changed course," she said, looking up from her book, not bothering to get up.
"We’re heading back to Delta One to drop you off," said Harry, the coldness in his voice hard to miss. "We should be there in two days."
"Good. I should be finished with my book by then."
"It’s all just a big joke to you, isn’t it?" he spat. "You are guilty, aren’t you? You really are what they say you are."
"Captain, it really doesn’t matter what it is they say about me," she replied wearily. "I’ve prepared myself for the possibility that this day would come. I had a pretty good run of luck until now. Frankly, I’m surprised it took them this long to find me. In the old days, a fugitive like me would have been caught in just a few weeks."
"So you really are S’anra Vor," he said. "Everything about you, your name, your entire record, it was all a fabrication."
"Not at all," she said. "Everything you read in my service record is true, including my name. Vor was the pseudonym, not Saldeed. We all had false names in the Tal Shiar. It was a standard practice, to compartmentalize our work life from our regular lives. I can assure you that my military record, my medical credentials, my residency at the Mhiessan Clinic, my published papers, all of them are authentic."
"I see," Harry snaped back. "You simply chose to omit your extracurricular activities from your resume."
"Wouldn’t you?" she answered back.
"My god," he said, shaking his head. "You’re a doctor. I don’t know what that means to you, but among my people it’s supposed to be something sacred, an oath to cause no harm to a living being. If half the stories that I’ve heard about the Tal Shiar are true, then how could you even consider working for them?"
Saldeed tried to stop herself, but the captain’s words struck her as so delightfully…naïve that she just couldn’t contain herself. She burst out in a sharp exultation of laughter before getting herself under control.
"Did I say something that amused you?"
"Captain, you have no idea," she said, as she let her laughs subside. "No one chooses to become Tal Shiar. The Tal Shiar chooses you."
Stardate 41342. 9 (May 5, 2362)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Tal Shiar Headquarters
"You may enter," said the gruff female voice.
Tila Saldeed nervously stepped into the dark and sterile office, hoping that her uniform was up to standards as she subtly adjusted her wide shoulder pads with a shrug. The room was cool, a few degrees less than the corridor outside. She wasn’t sure if that was a reflection of the room itself or her own anxiety.
"Don’t be afraid, child," said the voice. "We are all servants of the Empire here. You have nothing to fear from me."
Taking a reassuring breath, Saldeed walked into the office. It was larger than any she had seen before, with gray metallic walls and the great seal of the Empire at the far end, depicting the sacred vas’hatham with its wings outstretched and the Twin Worlds grasped in its talons. Beneath the crest was a wide curving desk, behind which sat a powerfully built woman with graying hair and facial demeanor to match.
"Come here," said the woman. "Sit." Saldeed gradually came forward and eased herself into the chair directly across from the woman. Up close, she seemed almost gentle, like her distant memories of her mother. But Saldeed knew this was no kindly housewife, but Dhivael Nar, the director of Special Projects, the most secretive division of the Tal Shiar.
And she had summoned her personally to meet with her.
"Khre’eredh Tila Saldeed," said the woman as she glanced at a PADD in her hands, addressing her by her service rank. "A very impressive record. Top honors in all your classes, earned the Raedheol Prize for Academic Excellence at fifteen, and made senior cadet in your training unit. All very impressive, indeed."
"Thank you, Director Nar," said Saldeed humbly.
"Tell me, child, what are your plans once your Serona has been completed? Have you considered re-enlistment? Making the Fleet your permanent career?"
Saldeed bowed her head modestly, considering what would be the best answer to give her. Under the Empire, all citizens were required to do a minimum of five years compulsory military service before either going on to either university or the Imperial War College. "I…had hoped to apply to the Ihhliae Medical Academy, Director Nar. I wish to be a doctor."
"A noble calling," said Nar. "The Empire always has need for more physicians. You have high ambitions indeed, Saldeed. Ihhliae takes only the best and the brightest into its ranks. Even with your academic and service record, I fear you may find acceptance to be…challenging."
"Because my family is not of noble standing," she said quietly.
"Yes," said Nar. "I see that your father just retired from his own term of service. Fifty years isn’t a very long time to serve in the Fleet, especially as an Ante-Centurion."
"He did not wish to become an officer, Director," said Saldeed, feeling honor-bound to defend her father, despite his many flaws.
"Yes, and I’m sure his low status and excessive fondness for ale had nothing to do with it. But that needn’t be a barrier. Even those of modest birth have been able to enter the hallowed halls of Ihhliae. With the proper allies, a few spoken words from influential friends, no door need be closed to you."
Saldeed looked up with amazement. Was Dhivael Nar herself offering to help her get into Ihhliae?
"Of course, talents such as yours need not be limited to medicine," Nar continued. "You will be able to do so much more for the Empire as a part of the Tal Shiar, especially here in Special Projects."
"I…I don’t see how I could be of help to you, Director. Surely you must have fully-qualified doctors already in your employ, ones far more skilled than I could ever hope to be."
"You are too modest, Saldeed," said Nar. "Besides, it’s not your medical talents of which I speak."
"I…I don’t understand."
"Oh, I think you do, child. I’ve watched you for some time." Nar then held up the PADD, and smiled proudly. "I’ve gathered quite a dossier on your foibles and eccentricities, Saldeed. I know your secrets. Your life is an open book to me. Tell me, child. When did you first realize that you had a natural talent for telepathy?"
"Director, I…I don’t know what you mean."
Nar chuckled at the young woman’s flustered discomfort. "And here I thought you were so intelligent. Don’t you know that I’m absolutely the last person in the Empire you want to lie to."
"I…I’m sorry, Director. Am I going to be…purged?"
"What?" Nar laughed. "Don’t be silly! Why would I want to see that happen after going to all the trouble of bringing you here? Your talent is a part of our people’s Vulcan heritage. If it can be harnessed to serve the Empire, then why should we be afraid to use it?"
"…Are for common people," said Nar. "And you are most definitely not common, Saldeed, despite your birth. Part of my duties here at Special Projects is to find young prodigies such as you, those who have the gift and the intelligence to use it in the service of the Empire. Join us, Saldeed. You will be trained in the ways of the Tal Shiar. It is an opportunity any citizen would kill for, the honor of helping to guide the Romulan people along the Way of D’era, the path to glory."
"But…what of my studies, Director?"
"By all means, pursue them. You will still need a life outside of these walls, one completely separate from that which you will adopt here. In fact, I insist upon it. You will be an Inquisitor, Saldeed, the Empire’s most essential and secretive weapon against those who would corrupt us from within. Your medical studies will be of vital use to us in conjunction with your mind talents." Nar then stood up from behind her desk and leaned forward in a predatory fashion. "So what say you, child?"
"I…I don’t know, Director."
Nar stood back and gave the young woman a crooked smile. "I do hope you are considering your options carefully, Saldeed. The Tal Shiar usually considers refusal to serve with us as politically suspect, both for you and your family. Not to mention that to wield the forbidden arts of the mind and not be one of us is a dangerous place to be. Do consider that before reaching your final decision."
Saldeed turned pale, knowing that her fate was now decided for her. She was Tal Shiar.
Harry trundled back to his quarters, mentally drained by the day’s events. He had hoped that coming home would provide some refuge for him, some measure of peace. But he knew there was no peace waiting for him inside.
"Dad," Katrina stormed over to him as soon as he entered. "What did you do to Dr. Saldeed? Is it true what they’re saying? That you had her arrested?"
Harry sighed, looking past his daughter to see Annika sitting patiently in the living room. He had hoped to contain the rumors about Saldeed long enough to brief the rest of his staff and come up with a plausible story for the crew. He knew what would happen if the crew, especially the Romulans, were to learn that a former Tal Shiar was aboard ship. Someone who might have once had relatives who were lost to the Empire’s loyalty purges might decide to exact revenge.
"It’s complicated, princess," he sighed.
"Dad, stop talking to me like I’m a stupid child!"
"Katrina!" Annika raised her voice. "Do not speak to your father in that tone."
"It’s all right," said Harry, raising his hand, trying to bring calm back to a place that was his refuge. "Dr. Saldeed is…well, she’s in trouble with her people back home. They want her back to answer some questions."
"And that’s why we’re going back to Talax?" asked Katrina skeptically. "If they have questions, why can’t they just ask her over the hyperlink? How much trouble is she really in?"
"They…they don’t want her on Enterprise anymore, princess," he said. "I’ve been given orders. We’ll be dropping her off at Delta One and then proceed on with our mission. That’s just the way it is."
"But…it’s not fair!" Katrina insisted. "What are they saying she did? Whatever it is, it can’t be true! You have to do something, Dad!"
"There’s nothing I can do, Katrina," Harry said tiredly. "I have my orders."
"You’d do something about it if you really wanted to!"
"That’s enough," he said. "You have to understand that there are people that I have to answer to. When they give me an order, I follow it through."
"I…I have to go see her," said the girl.
"No!" said Harry, his voice louder than he intended. "I don’t want you anywhere near her. She’s dangerous."
"So, you really do think she’s guilty," Katrina said harshly.
"She is guilty, princess," said Harry.
Katrina looked at him, her face a mixture of anger and confusion. She looked ready to burst, but instead she held her tongue and spun about to retreat to her room.
"She hates me," he sighed. "Saldeed may have committed God-knows how many crimes, yet I’m the bad guy here."
"She does not hate you, Harry," said Annika comfortingly as he seated himself next to her on the couch. "She does not know what to think."
"I just…didn’t know what to say to her. She’s grown so attached to Saldeed, I just…how do you tell someone you love that a person they’ve come to trust has been lying to them all along?"
"There is something else that bothers you," she said as she placed her hands upon his.
Harry gave her a crooked smile. How well she knew him, he thought. "We were all starting to gel, this crew. That unity, the familiarity, the kind of synergy we had on Voyager… it was there. I could see it all starting to come together. And now this…"
"The crew will overcome this," said Annika gently. "They will look to you for strength, and you will provide it for them. Perhaps you should let Katrina visit with Dr. Saldeed. Either she will have the words that you do not, or Katrina will see her for what she really is."
"No, I…I can’t take that risk," said Harry. "I don’t want our daughter near someone like that. She’s just too dangerous."
Annika looked over at her husband with intense eyes. "If you will recall, I too was considered dangerous once, but others gave me the chance to redeem myself. Including a certain young ensign with a kind and loving heart. And whatever your feelings about the Tal Shiar, I know you feel the injustice of someone being sentenced to prison before they are given the benefit of a trial."
"It’s not the same thing," Harry insisted. "You were a drone being controlled by the Collective. You had no control over your actions. Saldeed was a sentient being with free will. She could have made a choice if she had listened to her conscience."
"I wonder," said Annika, "how much choice anyone had under the Romulan Star Empire."
Cyrus Krell stepped into the holocom on Deck 14 as soon as he went off duty. He had just come from checking on Saldeed and seeing if there was anything she needed. Considering that her carefully constructed life was now coming apart and that an almost certain execution awaited her on Romulus, she was remarkably calm. It was almost as if she was beyond caring about her fate. Or confident of her innocence. Or both.
He inserted an isolinear chip into the access panel and keyed in a series of commands, among which were some that only a handful of people knew. He waited for the hyperlink connection with the Alpha Quadrant to be established and the holoemitters to engage. He took in a deep breath, uncertain if this was a conversation he really wanted to have. Instead of being enveloped in a full immersion environment, the bare walls and their hologrids remained in place. The only projection in the room was a single individual, a youthful-looking man with dark wavy-hair wearing a black jumpsuit and no insignia.
"Cyrus," the man greeted him jovially. "I had a feeling I’d be hearing from you sooner or later."
"Hello, Zack," the security officer replied. "I guess you know what this call is about."
"What, you aren’t reaching out to an old friend?" the man replied. "By the way, you did secure this connection, didn’t you?"
"Give me some credit," Cyrus snorted. "I still remember my training. As far as anyone checking the records can tell, I’m calling my folks on Vulcan. There’s no way they can trace this to you."
"Glad to hear it," said Zack. "So, I’m guessing this is in regards to Tila Saldeed. Am I right?"
"You’ve heard already?"
"Are you kidding?" Zack exclaimed with awe and amusement. "It’s all everyone’s talking about. S’anra Vor herself, and right under your nose."
"And you didn’t know anything about it?"
"That Saldeed was Vor? I swear, not a thing."
"I find that hard to believe," said Krell. "Weren’t we practically running the Tal Shiar at one point?"
"The Tal Shiar, maybe, but not Special Projects. You know as well as I do that Dhivael Nar ran it like her own private kingdom. Section 31 was never able to get one of our own past that force field. Besides, you know how hard it is to fool a room full of telepaths. Now, how about you tell me what it is you really want to know."
"I just need to know if it’s true," Cyrus asked him, his tone exasperated. "You must have some records about the goings on at Special Projects. Just look into the matter, that’s all."
Zach smiled amiably at Krell, "I’ll see what I can do. Say, is this something personal for you? I mean, from what I hear the Romulans have a sure-thing case against her."
"The evidence is that strong?"
"Who said anything about strong evidence?" Zack laughed. "The Senate wants a Tal Shiar to convict, no matter what. It looks like that’s exactly what they’re going to get."
Harry stood at the front of the briefing room, looking out upon his senior officers, with one seat at the table in particular being noticeably empty.
"And that’s the situation, people," he said with a sigh. "It’s important that we’re all up to speed on what’s happening before we decide what announcement to make to the crew."
"I…I can’t believe it," Miral Paris muttered from the back of the table. "Are you sure these charges aren’t fake, sir?"
"Admiral Janeway is convinced they’re authentic, Ensign," said Harry.
"Dishonorable taHqeq!" Kalan swore. "To not only deceive her crew, but to be party to such disreputable acts. We are well to be rid of her!"
"Captain," Naomi Wildman spoke up, "has there been any decision as to who will replace Dr. Saldeed as Chief Medical Officer?"
"Commander Kalan and I will need to discuss that," said Harry. "For now, Dr. Zey will be assuming Saldeed’s responsibilities pending a final decision."
"Excuse me," Bartok chimed in, "but am I the only one who has a problem with what it is we’re doing here? We’re helping to guarantee that Dr. Saldeed will be practically convicted before having her day in court."
"We have our orders, Finn," said Harry. "What other choice do we have?"
"Well," the counselor pondered, "we could convince Delta Fleet Command that Saldeed remain here on Enterprise until we’re slated to return. At least she’ll be able to do some good while she’s awaiting her trial back home."
"And let her stay on as our Chief Medical Officer?" Naomi chimed in alarm. "Not a chance! I could never leave my daughter alone with a woman who was once a professional torturer."
"You’ve let her examine Sabrina in the past and she never did anything wrong," Bartok responded. "Do you really think she’d try anything, especially now that she knows she’s being watched?"
"I’m not prepared to take that chance!"
"Everyone settle down," said Harry. "I’m sorry, Finn. But the decision has been taken out of our hands, and I’m not particularly inclined to argue on behalf of a crewmember who’s lied to us all about something so fundamental."
Bartok then glanced over to Vorik. "Commander, you spent some time on Romulus. What’s your sense of all this? Do you think she’s guilty?"
The Vulcan engineer seemed deep in thought as he considered the question. "It is possible. During my assignment with the Romulans, I heard much talk of the Inquisitors. I had presumed them to be disinformation spread by the Empire to instill fear. But it would seem they are quite real."
"But…telepathic interrogators," said Bartok. "It all seems so hard to believe."
"On the contrary, Commander. Prior to the founding of the Federation, the act of mind melding was considered distasteful to Vulcans, forbidden to all except masters of the Kohlinar. Even today there are conservative elements in Vulcan society that disapprove of the practice. But there are those within the population, a genetic minority, who possess a natural genetic adeptness at melding without the need for prolonged mental discipline. Assuming a similar genetic diversity existed within the founding population of the Romulan people, it is possible that Dr. Saldeed may be one of these recessives."
Harry looked over at his chief engineer, his concerns not abated. "Vorik, I’d like you to do a complete diagnostic on the engines and auxiliary systems. It’s possible that Saldeed might have left a few surprises behind."
"You suspect sabotage, Captain?"
"If her intention was to jump ship out here, then she’d need some way to cover her tracks. It’s a long shot, but I’d feel better having one less thing to worry about."
"Yes, sir," Vorik replied.
Harry looked out at the concerned and confused faces around him. "Listen, everyone. We were all dealt a serious blow today. But we will recover from this. We’re still a crew, and a fine one at that. Our commitment to this mission, our purpose for being out here, that hasn’t changed."
Stardate 43725.11 (September 22, 2366)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Tal Shiar Training Center, Special Projects
"There is an image in my mind," said R’halla. "Find it."
Saldeed sat across the table from her trainer in the darkened, featureless room. Years of experience had taught the Tal Shiar than minimizing input from the other senses helped to focus the mind and sharpen an agent’s telepathic skill. She had found the training rooms to be intimidating at first, but soon she had come to value the darkness. It helped to conceal the fear and dread she felt whenever she touched another mind.
For five years she had been put through a battery of tests, both physical and mental, all to prepare her for the demands that service as an Inquisitor would place upon her. This alone would have drained her, even without the added pressures that her grueling schedule at medical school gave her.
Director Nar had kept her promise. No sooner was her discharge from military service complete that she was contacted by the headmaster of Ihhliae himself requesting her presence for an interview. A week later, she was accepted.
She lived two lives now. She was Tila Saldeed, medical student and devoted daughter to her ailing father. But she was also S’anra Vor, telepath and agent trainee of the Tal Shiar. One of the first things she had been given upon her assignment to R’halla’s training class was her t’ressave, her shadow name. All agents of the Tal Shiar lived under false names to keep their public and professional lives separate. Within the corridors of the Tal Shiar, Tila Saldeed did not exist. Here, she was S’anra Vor.
"Concentrate, Vor," R’halla commanded. "Your talents are useless without focus. What if the information in my mind was vital to the security of the Empire, if it could save the life of the Praetor himself?"
Reluctantly, she leaned over the table and reached out to R’halla’s right temple. Once she came in contact with the skin, she allowed her mind to probe forward, snaking its tendrils into the twisted paths of his nervous system, up to the cerebral cortex…
"I see it!" she exclaimed. "The Fire Falls of Gol’Gathong…it’s springtime. I see birds soaring over the water. There’s…"
"Go on," urged R’halla.
"Something’s not right," she said, her expression one of puzzlement. "This image is just a distraction. You’re thinking about something else, aren’t you?"
"You tell me."
"I see…numbers. Twelve digits. I…can see them coming into focus. 5-4-88-208-1763-2…no, the last digit is a 6."
R’halla smiled in satisfaction and leaned back in his seat, breaking the mental connection. "Very good, Vor. Most trainees never see past the imagery on the first try."
"A critical lesson," came a familiar voice from behind. Director Nar had entered the room without making a sound to reveal her arrival, her arms neatly folded behind her back. "Never trust what is on the surface. Even the mind can be deceptive. An Inquisitor must be capable of delving past random thoughts and mental distractions so that they can find their true quarry. Remember, Trainee Vor, an enemy of the Empire will use any means at their disposal to mask their true thoughts, to hide their secrets from you. You must be smarter than them, and more determined."
Nar looked over at the instructor, and offered a crooked smile as she folded her arms over her chest. "Tell me, R’halla. Do you think our young trainee is ready for a greater challenge?"
"She’s raw, but she’s made tremendous progress, Director. I believe she’s capable."
"Very well," said Nar, as she slapped her combadge and barked out an order. "Bring in Hakkan."
The door slid open and two hefty security guards entered, dragging in a third man, one who had obviously run afoul of the Tal Shiar. He was swollen with bruises, with dark green bloodstains staining his face and clothing. The man was pale with fear, probably so paralyzed that the guards were necessary just to get him to move. He was dumped unceremoniously into the chair that Saldeed had just vacated. The two guards stood on opposite sides of the prisoner, their eyes never leaving him.
"This unfortunate specimen," said Nar as she read off a PADD she removed from her belt, "is Sub-Centurion Galol Hakkan, formerly the assistant quartermaster assigned to the supply garrison at Torrana V. It seems that Sub-Centurion Hakkan has an unseemly appetite for Ferengi gold-pressed latinum. He was apprehended diverting several crates of disrupter rifles and photon grenades to an unregistered cargo transport, one that was no doubt set to rendezvous with his compatriots. Obviously, young Hakkan could not have been the mastermind behind this operation. This is where you come in, Trainee Vor."
"W-what is it you wish of me, Director?" Saldeed asked meekly.
"This is your first test, Trainee. We want you to meld with his mind and discover who his confederates are."
Saldeed nearly panicked at the order. She had never linked with the mind of a prisoner before, an unwilling mind. She had melded with her instructors and her training classmates, of course. But their minds were open, disciplined, focused. Here, she would be forcing herself upon someone who was obviously not a willing subject, one overcome with terror and panic.
"You are ready for this, Trainee. I am confident of that. Reach into his mind and retrieve the information we need."
Slowly, anxiously, Saldeed stood over the pale, trembling man, seeing just how young and frightened he really was. She reached out with both her palms, her fingers stretched outward as she clasped onto both his temples.
Harrak looked up at her with pathetically desperate eyes. "Please…" he begged.
"Ignore him," Nar said with a whisper as she leaned in close to Saldeed. "The more he resists you, the more painful it will be for him."
And for her, Saldeed realized, as the tendrils of her consciousness began to intertwine with that of her unfortunate prisoner.
The sensation of fear hit her like a disruptor blast, as her subject’s terror cascaded through her own nervous system and into her mind. She struggled to fight down the overwhelming panic, being almost tempted to break off contact and flee desperately down the hallway. But the rational side of her mind prevailed. However much her instincts – and it wasn’t even her instincts, but those of Hakkan – told her to run, she knew that was not an option, not with Dhivael Nar standing over her.
"Good," whispered Nar, "you’re exerting control over the fear. Remember that these are not your emotions. You are the Inquisitor. You are the one in control, not him. As soon as you accept that these sensations are only illusions, it will free you to go forward and master the mind of your subject. And through such mastery, your own emotions can be then channeled to your will."
Hearing the icy but steady words of Director Nar served to steady Saldeed’s nerves. The fear subsided to a manageable current where once a major flood had roared. It was through the haze of worry and fear that images began to crystallize in her mind. Faces, dates, it was all coming at her too quickly for her to absorb. But gradually, as she mentally prodded him for a reaction to these numerous identities, names started to form foreach of the faces.
"Nillum…Centurion Nillum," said Saldeed, pulling the name from the depths of his panic, while fighting to contain those same feelings within herself. "I…see…another. Darhen. It’s his…brother. No, his cousin."
"Yes," Nar exclaimed gleefully. "Well done, Vor. Terminate the meld."
It took several seconds before Saldeed could answer. The fear was pulling her in, not wanting to release her. Herrek’s despair was mirroring her own fears, her own thoughts…
No, she thought violently. Her thoughts could never be known. Not by Herrek, not by anyone. With an abrupt motion, she severed the link to his mind, almost stumbling backwards as she did.
"W-what happened?" she asked.
R’halla looked her over with an amused paternalism. "The melding brings together not just thought, but emotions as well. You weren’t adequately prepared for the sensation of living another man’s fear."
"There is no way to prepare," said Nar. "Not until you have experienced it for yourself. That is why this test was so important."
"On the contrary," said Nar proudly. "You did far better than R’halla and I could have expected. I thought you might need rescuing at one point, but you extracted exactly the information we wanted, despite your emotional state." She glanced over to the two silent guards and curtly gestured towards the door. "Take him," she ordered, her eyes falling on Herrek with contempt. The soldiers quietly complied, gathering up the petrified young man, his body trembling even more than when he had first been brought to the room. Herrek’s eyes never left Saldeed’s as he was dragged out to the corridor.
"R’halla," said Nar to the instructor, "leave us." The older man nodded quietly at her and Saldeed, turning on his heel crisply and departing.
"You seem troubled, child," said Nar, her voice softening just a bit. "The experience was unnerving for you, wasn’t it?"
"Director…what will happen to Herrek?"
"Him?" Nar laughed. "Why, he’ll be executed, of course. Right after he’s been made to publicly denounce his compatriots. Theft of the property of the Romulan Empire cannot be tolerated, of course."
"Of course, Director," Saldeed mumbled, realizing the implications of what her abilities could lead to. "I only hope that the names I learned were accurate."
"No need to worry about that," said Nar. "We already knew the names of Herrek’s associates."
"This was a test for you, Trainee, to see how well you would do. The truth is that Herrek broke quite easily under more…conventional interrogation. We needed a control, a way to test your abilities against known results, on a subject who wouldn’t provide too much of a challenge on your fist solo meld. What’s important is that you succeeded in learning in just five minutes what it would have taken five hours to learn through a physical interrogation."
"He was so terrified, Director," said Saldeed. "I could feel it. Not just about what would happen to him, but about me. He was terrified of me." She looked over to her superior with concern. "Will it always be this way? Will I always taste that fear?"
"In many case, yes," said Nar, "Some will fight you, others will despise you. You’ll be feeling their hate, their despair, all their personal torments and weaknesses. But by mastering those feelings, the more you will be able to control them. When you are an Inquisitor, you enter a subject’s mind not merely as a visitor, but as a conqueror."
"So what do you think about all this, sir?" asked Krell, as he and Vorik walked down the corridor towards Saldeed’s quarters.
"May I assume that you are asking what my opinion is regarding Dr. Saldeed’s disposition?" the Vulcan engineer weighed in. "I am decidedly conflicted on the matter, Lieutenant. On the one hand, the inherent trust that must exist between a starship crew has been broken. On the other hand, I find myself quite skeptical regarding the substance and motivations for the case against the doctor."
"You think she might be innocent?" asked Krell.
"Most likely, not," said Vorik. "By the captain’s own words, she has not denied her affiliation with the Tal Shiar. As to the extent of her involvement and the specific nature of her crimes, that would require a more objective investigation than the one she is most likely to receive on Romulus."
When they arrived at Saldeed’s doorstep, the two guards let the officers in. They entered to see Saldeed sitting back quietly on her couch. Vorik noted the serene calm that permeated the room. It had an almost Vulcan quality to it.
"Gentlemen," said the doctor. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? More questions?"
"Actually, Doctor," said Krell, "we’re here to perform a security sweep of your quarters."
"We will also need to access any personal devices that are not interfaced with the Enterprise’s network," added Vorik.
"I see," said Saldeed. "Do these orders come from Romulus? To help gather information on the case against me?"
"On the contrary," said Vorik as Krell quietly went about his tricorder sweep of the room. "The orders come from the captain. We are here to ensure that you have not inserted any malevolent viruses into the network or made any plans of sabotage against the ship. Nothing of a personal nature will be given over to anyone else."
"Oh, for Element’s sake," Saldeed groaned. "Is that what you all think I was planning?"
"It is purely a precautionary measure, Doctor," said the Vulcan. "It is not an accusation."
"Fine," Saldeed snorted. "Conduct your search. I have nothing to hide."
"If you had nothing to hide, Doctor, then you would not be in your current predicament," he replied.
"How very Vulcan of you, Mr. Vorik," said Saldeed dryly. "Always needing to get in the last word."
Vorik said nothing and went over to the nearest replicator to begin his own security scans.
"What, no clever retort?" she called over to him. "No pithy comment of your own?"
"You seemed perturbed by my predilection for having the final word in our verbal sparring," came the reply. "Therefore, I thought to indulge you in not offering any response of my own. Apparently, you did not find my gesture gratifying."
Saldeed was about to say something when she heard the cough coming from Lieutenant Krell. It sounded almost like he was trying to cover up a chuckle. But from her perspective, Krell didn’t have much more of a sense of humor than did Vorik.
"So," she called out to both officers, "What are they saying about me?"
"They being the crew?" asked Vorik. "Very little. The captain has not yet made a formal announcement regarding your circumstances."
"But people have to be saying something, right?"
"There are all kinds of rumors floating around the ship," Krell piped in. "Some people think you’ve contracted a disease and are in quarantine. Others are thinking you were possessed by a non-corporeal entity and tried to kill the captain’s daughter. And there are those who think you’re really the long lost Emperor’s daughter and that you’re being called home to be made the new Praetor."
"Unbelievable," Saldeed chuckled. "People with too much time on their hands will say anything. And what about you, Commander?" she asked Vorik. "What are your thoughts on my disposition? Do you feel outraged and offended by my hidden past?"
"Outrage and offense are not sensations that I would choose to indulge in, Doctor," he replied. "In fact, upon reflection of your behavior to date, your past affiliations should come as no surprise."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Since coming aboard Enterprise, you have made every effort to isolate yourself socially from the rest of the crew. You have used humor and sarcasm as a means of preventing your colleagues from learning more about you or forming any sort of close bonds. In fact, the closest social connection that I have observed you form to date has been with Katrina Kim, a relationship in which you, as the adult, have greater authority and control, and even then was forced upon you by her insistence. You have made it quite clear that you did not wish to become closely acquainted with anyone, for reasons known only to you. In retrospect, your affiliation with the Tal Shiar not only makes you behavior aboard Enterprise explainable, but entirely logical."
Saldeed’s eyes narrowed sharply at the Vulcan. "You know, Commander, you should stick with your engines and leave counseling to Mr. Bartok," she said.
"Perhaps," he added. "You asked for my observations, and I have offered them to you." A beep from his tricorder informed Vorik that his scan of the replicator was complete. "There would appear to be no major reprogramming or alteration of the security codes on this unit."
"I told you that you wouldn’t find anything. Other than lie on my service record, I’ve done nothing underhanded since coming on board."
"So you never had any plans to jump ship in the Delta Quadrant?" asked Krell, looking up from his own security sweep.
"Absolutely not," said Saldeed. "Is that what those idiots from the Republic told the captain?"
"What do you know of what the captain was told?" Krell said archly.
"A reasonable guess," said Saldeed. "It’s been almost fifteen years since the civil war ended and the Republic was formed. If someone wanted to come after me, they could have done so anytime since then. Someone is obviously looking to boost his or her career. Exposing Praetorite sympathizers is a popular political sport back home. Why else do you think they’re so eager to have me brought back to Romulus instead of trying me via hyperlink?"
"That is not logical," said Vorik. "Of what benefit could you be to anyone’s political prospects if you are forced to wait five years in a cell in the Delta Quadrant awaiting transport?"
"Romulans are long range planners, Mr. Vorik. You should know that. Plots within plots. The fall of the Empire hasn’t changed that much about us. As long as I’m being held somewhere, then my accusers can take credit for having exposed me. And they’ll have five years to prepare the public for my infamous return to Romulus. By the time I’m brought before the Senate I’ll probably be accused of more crimes than Zora of Tiburon. It will be the crescendo of a brilliant political maneuver, and all it will cost is the life of one former Tal Shiar."
"Fascinating," said Vorik, "that one’s cynicism could extend to the resolution of one’s own life. Were I more emotional, Doctor, I believe I would pity you."
"I don’t need yours or anyone else’s pity, Commander," she hissed. "If I’m not acting the way anyone is expecting me to or believes I should, its because I accept the fact that whatever will happen to me is out of my control and there’s nothing I can do about it. My fate is not my own," she sighed. "It never was."
Stardate 48286.44 (April 15, 2371)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Tal Shiar Headquarters, Special Projects
Inquisitor-Centurion S’anra Vor stood waiting in the stark dimly lit room, fiddling with the PADD she wore at her belt. She wore the black uniform of a fully commissioned Inquisitor, the insignia of her recent promotion displayed proudly on her lapel. She paced the polished floor quietly, as she awaited her next scheduled interview.
She wondered what this next mind would feel like. Would she be forced to wade through another flood of terror, or be pierced with the razor sharp lances of hate and defiance? In either case, she had her ways of dealing with them. The few nips of ale she sipped before work helped to calm her nerves before each session.
The door slid open, and two heavy guards from the Internal Security Division trod in, both gripping the arms of an older man. They forced him inside and into a metallic reclined chair, the only furnishing in the entire room. The Inquisitor gestured quietly with her eyes and the two guards took positions on either side of the chair as they bound the man’s wrists, ankles, and neck firmly into place.
"Delon Radaik," she said as she coolly read the name off her PADD. "Observed by Internal Security as distributing seditious material in violation of Imperial edicts."
"I…I’m not a traitor," the man pleaded. He was older, his hair graying, which put him well over the century-and-a-half mark. It was strange, she thought. Usually it was the young and naïve who were brought to Special Projects for crimes such as these. Older citizens usually knew better.
"Of course you’re not a traitor," she quipped. "This has all been one terrible misunderstanding. That’s why you’re here with me, Mr. Radaik, to help clear up all this confusion."
"All I do is tell people the truth," he said weakly, trying to sound defiant, but only revealing more of his desperation.
"What a coincidence, Mr. Radaik," Vor smiled cruelly as she moved into his personal space and griped the sides of his head, glaring straight into his eyes. "That’s precisely what I do."
Vorik, having found nothing of consequence in Saldeed’s quarters, went to continue his analysis of Saldeed’s computer files, leaving Krell to continue his sweep of the quarter’s furniture for anything hidden as a possible weapon or espionage device.
"Why are you wasting your time like this?" Saldeed asked as she stood behind Krell while he scanned her kitchenette area. "I told you I wasn’t plotting anything."
"I’m doing this because the captain ordered it," said Krell. "And frankly, your word doesn’t carry a lot of weight these days."
"Point taken," she replied. "You know, you haven’t asked me what it is I’m actually guilty of."
"You were an Inquisitor," he said gruffly, still intent on his work. "You melded with people’s minds in order to learn their secrets. What else do I need to ask? Those people were all executed as a result of the information you dug up."
Saldeed was silent for a moment. "Most of them, probably."
"So," he added. "You went to a lot of trouble to stay hidden. Why wouldn’t you want to keep on running where no one could find you?"
"Because Romulus is still my home," she said. "Do you think I could actually live my life out as an exile on some alien world, knowing I could never go back? Enough of my life has been turned upside down by the Tal Shiar. All I wanted was to take it back, to be Tila Saldeed again, and not…"
"S’anra Vor?" Krell said, finishing her thoughts.
"Yes," she said. "You were raised on Vulcan, weren’t you?"
"That’s right," he said sternly. "After my parents died, I was adopted by close friends of my family. They raised me since I was eleven."
"So you know what it’s like to live among telepaths," she added. "Didn’t you ever feel left out as a child, like everyone else was in on a big secret that no one would share with you?"
"Not really," said Krell. "Vulcans aren’t like Betazoids. Telepathy isn’t a big part of their everyday lives. To fully share thoughts with each other requires a lot more close contact than most Vulcans are comfortable with on a casual basis."
"But it’s still a part of who they are," said Saldeed. "On Romulus, telepathy has been all but forgotten. The Empire forbids it to everyone except loyal agents of the state. As far as ordinary people are concerned, mind melding is practically…witchcraft."
"I guess that put you into a very difficult situation, didn’t it?" he asked.
"It must have been difficult," said Saldeed. "Living in human society your whole life and then suddenly having to adjust overnight to a whole new culture, one where you could never fully express yourself, one where you had to be in control over your true feelings."
Cyrus Krell stood up from his work and for the first time turned around to face the Romulan woman. "I had a lot of adjustments to make that year. Like losing my parents and my sight and having to get used to these," he said, pointing to his golden cybernetic eyes. "Vulcan discipline was tough at first, but it helped me to harness my feelings. I wasn’t so angry at how life had screwed me over."
"In some ways, that’s what the Tal Shiar was like for me, Lieutenant," she said. "We’re not too different, you and I."
Krell arched an eyebrow and let the corner of his mouth curl up in a grimace. "You think so? You might be more right about that that you know."
Stardate 51472.4 (June 22, 2373)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
The young woman walked among the crowd, feeling like herself for the first time in a long while. Tonight, she was Doctor Tila Saldeed, the youngest fully accredited researcher of xenobiological medicine at the Mhiessan Imperial Clinic. Inquisitor-Centurion S’anra Vor would be left back at headquarters tonight.
Although there would be no delving into anyone’s thoughts this evening, the temptation to partake of ale to steady her nerves was strong. Here she was – a girl born to a modest family from the Nhoreen Quarter – attending the Travelers Day reception hosted by the city fathers of Ra’tleihfi, at which the most powerful and influential people in the Empire would be gathered.
Saldeed felt the cool night air against her skin, soothing her anxious nerves. There were dozens of people around her, Senators, admirals, faces that she had only seen once as images on the public news broadcasts. The outdoor gardens were lit by glowbulbs and torches, while Reman slaves carried trays of drinks to the guests, clad in light-goggles and ridiculously florid period costumes meant to emulate the fashions of the early settlers of ch’Rihan. Now here she was, a part of their circle, even if she did travel within its outermost fringes, and then as the unseen S’anra Vor.
"Dr. Saldeed!" a familiar voice called out to her from across the gardens. She looked to see the smiling face of Director Nar, standing with two gentlemen of obvious importance, given the fact that two guards from Internal Security were standing watch over them.
"Ah, child," Nar greeted her, "I’m so pleased that you were able to pull yourself from the Clinic. I don’t believe you’ve ever had the honor of meeting Senator Vreenak."
She looked up at the two men standing with Nar. Both were middle-aged Romulans, tall and thin, but beyond that all resemblances ended. Senator Doren Vreenak, secretary of the War Plans Council and Vice Chairman of the Tal Shiar, had the lean and pointed face of a hunter, with narrow eyes that seemed perfectly suited for sizing up weakness in an opponent. The other, by contrast, was sallow with pockmarked skin. His eyes were both weak and cruel, a balance that many a dangerous man had held throughout history.
"Of course," said Nar graciously, "I’m you know our esteemed Chairman."
For a brief moment, Saldeed went pale at the mention of Koval, chairman of the Tal Shiar, but she quickly recovered her composure. "Yes…of course. An honor, esteemed sirs." She saw how Koval maintained a distance of at least one step behind Vreenak at all times. If the Senator had the look of a confident bird-of-prey, a predator, then the Chairman looked to her more like a carrion-eater.
"Dr. Saldeed," Vreenak acknowledged, "a pleasure to finally meet you in person. So you are Nar’s young protégé? I’ve read much about your accomplishments over the years." He then leaned in closer to whisper into her ear. "And those of S’anra Vor. Most impressive indeed, Inquisitor."
As Vreenak leaned back from her personal space, Saldeed felt a moment of overwhelming…something. She didn’t know if it was fear or pride at being singled out for praise by someone so powerful. "Your work has not gone without notice among the circles of power, Doctor. Many on the Continuing Committee read the reports of your discovery of the network of traitors smuggling our citizens out to the Federation. It is thanks to your efforts that an insidious attempt to slander the Empire was crushed."
"Khlinae arhem," she said with a quiet bow of the head. "I…I exist to serve, Senator."
Vreenak seemed amused by her show of deference. "You’ve taught her well, Nar," he said jovially. "She seems to understand the principles of the Way of D’era. Duty. Vigilance. Obedience. Service. Sacrifice. These we will need more than ever in these troubled times. Wouldn’t you say so, Koval?"
"Yes, Vreenak," Koval replied listlessly, his attention wavering between Saldeed and occasional glances at Nar. "Between the Dominion and this renewed alliance of the Federation and the Klingons, the Tal Shiar faces more threats to the Empire than ever before. We are needed more than ever now to keep our people on the path to greatness."
"How interesting that you brought up that particular point," said a bemused Vreenak. "Tell me, Saldeed. What are your thoughts on the debate in the Senate on whether or not we should ally with the Federation and the Klingons against the Dominion?"
Saldeed panicked upon realizing how effectively Vreenak had trapped her. He was clearly attempting to ascertain her reliability and loyalty based upon the answer that she gave him. The Senator’s own hostility towards the idea of Romulans fighting alongside vaehkh – aliens – was no secret. The safe answer would be to mirror his own public statements and pander to his vanity. It would be easy, were it not for the fact that the Vreenak’s views were so dangerously shortsighted. It was obvious to her that the Dominion posed the greater long-term threat to the Empire, whatever risks allying with humans and Vulcans might pose to the purity of Romulan culture. But Vreenak was a man far too astute for such obvious currying of favor, she thought. He wanted an honest answer, but with the kind of honesty that he wanted to hear.
Fortunately, she was rescued by laughter coming from behind their assembled group. "Vreenak, shame on you. Talking politics at what should be a festive occasion." Saldeed looked past her interrogators to see a handsome older woman approach, with an even more handsome younger man following at a respectful half-step distance behind her. Saldeed recognized the woman from her many public appearances as well as the intelligence briefing from her work. Senator Saeihr Cretak was a rising star within the Upper House of the Senate and was a leading voice of support for joining the growing alliance against the Dominion.
"Ah, Cretak," the Chairman responded with amusement. "Nothing in life is ever free of politics. Even pleasure has a political tempo all its own. Surely you of all people can appreciate that." Vreenak then remembered that Saldeed was still in front of him. "I believe that my esteemed colleague requires no introduction, eh, Saldeed?"
"Very good. Senator, I believe you know everyone else here, except for the good doctor. May I present Tila Saldeed, from the Mhiessan Imperial Clinic, and a good friend of Director Nar."
"Indeed?" Cretak replied with delight of her own. "And here I thought that the good director had outlived all her friends. Saldeed, is it? Tell me, Doctor Saldeed, what field of medicine do you specialize in?"
"I…trained as a clinician, Senator," she said. "But now my research efforts are focused on xeno-anatomy and physiology."
"The study of aliens?" said Cretak with delighted surprise. "The times have certainly changed. I remember not so long ago when interest in anything alien would have meant the death of one’s career."
"A necessity of the times, Senator," said Saldeed. "Many hospitals have been given new research directives to prepare for any coming hostilities. Regardless of which side the Empire chooses to fight. I’ve thought it best to prepare for all eventualities, depending on the decision of the Praetor."
"Well said, Doctor," added Vreenak, as he held up a glass of ale, and looked to Nar with a wicked display of mirth.
"Quite," the Senator added. "A young woman who has gauged the mood of the times. You’d do well to listen to these young people, Vreenak. They know that Romulus cannot remain hidden behind the Neutral Zone forever. History is being played out by the other great powers of the quadrant. If the Empire doesn’t take an active role, then others will be deciding our future for us."
"Sometimes, Cretak," Vreenak replied, "the Way of D’era counsels patience, rather than action. Let the lesser races fight amongst themselves, I say. When the time is right, and the other fleets are weakened from war, then Romulus will be in a better position to chart its fate, and not by subjecting our soldiers to human libertines, Vulcan pacifists, and unwashed Klingon savages."
Saldeed was grateful for the chance to be out of the field of scrutiny of these two powerful luminaries, and was able to step back and watch the verbal banter from a position of safe distance. She hardly heard the man who came up alongside her.
"Don’t let this bickering fool you," said a voice both deep and gentle. "The two of them really are the best of friends. As well as being the bitterest of enemies."
"An interesting paradox," she replied. She looked over to see that it was the young man who had accompanied Cretak. He appeared even more sharp and refined up close than when he had first made his appearance with the Senator. She had at first thought him an escort of some kind, but she could see now that he looked far too polished to be anything but professional.
"Such is politics," he answered her, smiling charmingly at her. "Jhalon Favel, chief of staff to Senator Cretak. I think you managed to impress her tonight, Doctor. Quite an accomplishment, considering the Senator doesn’t impress easily."
"I was simply being honest," she said. "I imagine that’s something that Senators don’t hear very often." She startled herself at her unintentional slip. She hadn’t meant to say something so impolitic in front of this man, and an aide to a Senator no less. How could she have done something so stupid? If anyone in the Tal Shiar were to hear such impertinence towards a member of the Imperial government from her…
But instead of being of being offended, Jhalon seemed…well, charmed. "You have no idea how right you are. You must really be well-connected with Director Nar if you can feel comfortable being so direct."
"It’s…a flaw in my character, I suppose," she said. Elements, she thought. Was she actually blushing?
"Oh, I doubt you have any flaws at all, Doctor," he said, offering her a smile that warmed her against the coolness of the night.
While she and Jhalon continued with the dance of acquaintance, Dhivael Nar stood quietly from a distance, smiling at the two young people with a maternal pride. She barely acknowledged the presence of Koval, who quietly crept alongside of her and leaned in with a conspiratorial glance.
"You really have trained her well, Director," he added softly into her ear. " Your Inquisitor managed to answer Vreenak’s question without actually answering it. If the Tal Shiar proves too limiting for her, you might want to consider encouraging her in a career with the Senate."
"I assure you, Chairman," Nar replied proudly. "She’s far too valuable a resource for Special Projects to ever relinquish."
Stardate 52108.6 (February 9, 2375)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Tal Shiar Headquarters
S’anra Vor, now Inquisitor-Line-Centurion, walked past the junior operatives bustling through the corridors on her way to Director Nar’s office. Headquarters was a lot more active these days, what with the war being in its active phase. The Tal Shiar’s primary focus these days was on supporting the Empire’s participation in the war with the Dominion. Vor shook her head in amusement, thinking back on that Travelers Day gathering two years earlier. Poor Senator Vreenak was no doubt railing from the depths of Vorta’Vor at the thought of his people fighting and dying alongside humans and Klingons.
Vor arrived at Level Five, where no one below the rank of Line-Centurion was permitted. Nar had called her in for a meeting in a most unexpected fashion. The Director rarely requested anyone from Special Projects to come to her office, preferring instead to visit the interrogation chambers in person and watch her Inquisitors at work whenever she had anything to say. Dhivael Nar liked to work hands-on with her people, and see first hand the results of their efforts.
Nar’s executive secretary escorted Vor down the final corridor to the Director’s office, a scene that was so reminiscent of a similar visit more than thirteen years earlier. She stood at the door, waiting to be granted permission to enter. But instead of hearing Nar’s voice over the intercom, the doors simply opened.
And Chairman Koval stepped out into the corridor, smiling like a nei’rrh bird about to feed on dead flesh.
"Inquisitor," Koval greeted her with a nod of his head. "The Director will see you now."
"Thank you, Chairman," she answered him, trying to keep her composure about her.
Vor stepped into the dark office, seeing Nar seated comfortably behind the same desk from all those years ago. "You sent for me, Director?"
"Come in, Line-Centurion," Nar waved her in, gesturing to the seat across from her. "There’s a matter we need to discuss."
"Is that why the Chairman came to speak with you in person, Director?"
"Very astute, child," said Nar. "Yes, it does concern the Chairman. I’m sure that you are well aware that Chairman Koval is being considered for appointment to the Continuing Committee."
"Yes, Director. It’s…a great honor for him, I’m sure."
"It’s a great honor for all the Tal Shiar," replied Nar. "Never before has the Tal Shiar been brought in to sit this close with the inner circle of the Praetor’s advisors until now. This is a positive sign for the Empire, a recognition of how important our role is in keeping all Romulans on the path of D’era at a time when we must associate so closely with the vaehkh."
"I understand, Director. But surely that’s a decision to be made by the Praetor and the Committee. What is Special Projects involvement in all of this?"
"There are interests that are at stake, Line-Centurion. As you know, Chairman Koval has never been pleased with the fact that Special Projects enjoys a certain…independence…from the rest of the Tal Shiar. He has lobbied unsuccessfully with the Committee to be granted greater oversight into our activities. I’m sure you must be aware of this."
Vor nodded silently. "I have noticed the tension that has existed between you and the Chairman over the years, Director."
"It’s of little consequence. Koval is ambitious, I’ll grant you that. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were the one responsible for doing away with poor Vreenak and not the Dominion."
"Director!" Saldeed gasped, nervously looking about the room. "Isn’t it…dangerous…to say something like that."
"Don’t concern yourself with my safety, child. This room is safe from surveillance. I have no fear of Koval. It’s only by pure luck that he wasn’t purged with his predecessor after that debacle of an attack against the Founder’s homeworld. Ultimately, the Chairman of the Tal Shiar is a political appointee. I’ve outlasted seven Chairmen during my tenure with Special Projects. This division, you, the other Inquisitors, you’re all my children. I made Special Projects, and I won’t allow our purpose to be thwarted by those who can never fully comprehend what it is we do here. Too many fools out there still believe childhood stories about mindwalkers coming in the middle of the night to invade their dreams. What nonsense! Chairmen come and go. But I’ve survived, child. And I intend to outlast Koval, especially if he is appointed to the Committee."
"But…if the Chairman is appointed, won’t that give him more power to wield over us? It will make oversight a certainty."
"Not if I’ve managed to strike a bargain with him," said Nar.
"I…I don’t understand."
Nar took in a deep breath and stood up from behind her desk. "The Chairman is concerned that there are those in the Senate who would try and block his appointment, political enemies who would rather that the Tal Shiar not be given a seat on the Committee."
"Does the Chairman have anyone in particular in mind?"
"I don’t have to remind you that Senator Cretak has taken a number of positions that have been contrary to our interests. She’s been far too supportive of this alliance with the Federation, and less than concerned about its potential implications for the populace."
"Director," Vor stammered, worried about the direction this conversation had taken, "I don’t think there’s any cause for concern over the Senator’s loyalties. Both the Investigations Branch and Internal Security have thoroughly vetted her. Her patriotism is without question."
Nar smirked ever so subtly at her subordinate’s protestations. "I’m sure the fact that your sleeping with her chief of staff has nothing to do with your convictions."
"Director, I…certainly not. My personal feelings for Jhalon would never cloud my judgment."
"I would hope not, Line-Centurion. Your relationship with Mr. Favel has been given my personal blessing because I’ve had no cause to doubt the loyalties of anyone on Senator Cretak’s staff, and because you’ve been so scrupulous in compartmentalizing the personal life of Tila Saldeed from the work life of S’anra Vor. If I should have any reason to reconsider that…"
Vor went pale at the thought of it. The lives of Tal Shiar operatives were so constrained that one had to receive permission from one’s superior in order to pursue a personal relationship after a heavy background check on all parties concerned. A negative word from Director Nar would literally mean the end of her relationship with Jhalon, the one good thing in her lonely life these days to counterbalance the emotional drain of her daily interrogations. The two had become lovers not long after that party two years back. The two had become inseparable whenever their schedules were able to coincide. Jhalon’s star was rising along with Cretak’s as her popularity rose in the Senate and among the populace. Likewise, between her work for Special Projects and her career as Dr. Tila Saldeed, her own personal moments were becoming fewer and fewer, which only made the times that she and Jhalon could spend together that much more precious to her.
Although it was too uncertain at this point, the two had talked of marriage when the war was over. Jhalon was organizing Cretak’s bid for chair of the Senate Diplomatic Council, which would put her in a very favorable position to join the Continuing Committee a few years down the road. She herself would have both tenure at the Clinic and perhaps a promotion to sub-major in Special Projects. Once she reached the rank of Major, she would no longer be performing Inquisitions herself, but would assume a more supervisory role. The nightmares, the eating disorders, would all go away, she reasoned. A sense of normalcy could return to her life, despite the lie she was required to live with Jhalon.
"What is it that you ask of me, Director?" asked Vor.
"As I’ve said, child, I’ve worked out a bargain. We find something to use against Senator Cretak, something that she would rather not have known, and in exchange, the Chairman guarantees our continued autonomy. Even the Continuing Committee will leave us in peace."
"But how are we to find anything if Internal Security gave the Senator a positive report?"
Nar gave Vor a winning smile of her own, which on the Director only managed to come across as menacing. "My dear Inquisitor," she said, "surely you know how to look in certain places that others can’t."
Vor was appalled, but she could not refuse Nar. Sitting there behind her desk, she now seemed less like the imposing Director of Special Projects, fearsome and cruel, and instead was like the half-forgotten face of her mother, a surrogate mother who had taken her in at a time when she was so uncertain and taught her clarity of purpose. Her hidden talents were a burden and at times, a torment. But it had opened doors for her, created opportunities for her that would never have been available to her had she been left to become an Inquisitor.
"I live to serve," came the reply. In the Tal Shiar, there was simply no other.
Stardate 52108.7 (February 11, 2375)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Dallafa Quarter, Apartment Block 18
Tila Saldeed luxuriated in the feel of the mogai-pelt sheets against her skin. It was rare for her to experience this kind of comfort, or this kind of happiness.
"You’re so tense," Jhalon whispered into her ear as he slid alongside of her, caressing her shoulders. "I’ve told you that you work too hard."
"There’s a war on," she replied teasingly. "We all have work to do. Besides, what sort of politician’s aide are you, extolling the virtues of laziness?"
"Not laziness, e’lev. Just happiness. The clinic takes so much out of you. I see it every time we’re together."
"So in other words, my first priority should be my own happiness?" She rolled over to face him amidst the expanse of the covers. If only he really knew what torments she experienced every day at her real workplace. But of course, it was something she could never share. "That sounds like something a human might say," she teased.
"No, h’levreinnye," he teased her back. "Your happiness is my first priority. That’s something a Romulan would say."
She reached up to run her fingers along his brow ridges, moving along towards the points of his ears. "Then you’re doing a fine job of it. I couldn’t be more happy than I am when I’m with you."
Jhalon offered her that warm, flawless smile of his, the one that made her forget about her other life. She could almost believe that S’anra Vor and Dhivael Nar were someone she could walk away from. But she knew that was not possible, not ever. And so the price of her happiness, to spend those precious moments with this beautiful man, was to live a lie.
"I love you," he said, but the words were not in Rihannsu. They sounded alien, short and soft, but completely lacking the lyrical qualities of her mother tongue.
"Did you just tell me you loved me…in English?"
Jhalon jerked his upwards in surprise. "You understood that? I was just trying to be clever. Where did you learn a human language?"
Saldeed cursed herself silently, realizing that she had let knowledge slip that she should not have in a moment of weakness. As part of her training program, she had mastered English, Chinese, Andorian ub An’ed, Kardasi, and Klingonese, Few Romulans outside of government service were encouraged to learn the languages of outsiders. Some languages, such as the various tongues of Vulcan, were actually forbidden. Of course, such rules, like telepathy, were for ordinary people, not the Tal Shiar.
"I…uh, part of the war effort," she said. "We’ve been working with a lot of Federation medical databases at the clinic, so I’ve been reading up on some of their languages. Some of the phrases stuck in my mind. It’s funny how many of their medical terms come from a dead language that no one on Earth speaks anymore, except for doctors and lawyers" Seeking to deflect her lover’s inquiries, she changed the direction of the conversation. "So what prompted your interest in human languages?"
"Oh, the reception for the Starfleet delegation," he shrugged. "Senator Cretak thought it best we familiarize ourselves with their language without depending on universal translators. Weren’t you at the conference held by Doctor Bashir?"
"The one about Dominion metagenic weaponry? Not my field. Some of my colleagues were there, though."
"You should have been there," he said. "Some of those images were chilling. There was quite a bit of attention. Even Chairman Koval was there."
"Koval? From the Tal Shiar?" In truth, it didn’t surprise her in the slightest that the Chairman of the Tal Shiar was interested in new and exciting ways to kill people.
"Well, it’s been a big success, this delegation," said Jhalon proudly. "The Senator’s profile is rising."
"And yours along with her," she added slyly.
"I won’t deny I have my ambitions," he smiled at her. "Senator Cretak might be nominated to the Continuing Committee someday soon if the alliance succeeds. And after that, who knows? Maybe even Praetor. Tell me, e’lev, how does it feel to make love to the future chief advisor to the Praetor of the Romulan Star Empire?"
"I’ll settle for making love to Jhalon Favel," she answered. "But maybe you should hedge your bets and learn to say ‘I love you’ in Dominionese." Then looking at him more seriously, she went on. "Does Cretak really hope to make it to the Committee?"
"She has strong support in the Senate," he replied. "She’s got a lot riding on the bridges she’s been building with the Federation. She’s even scheduled a private meeting with the Starfleet doctor, Bashir."
Now that got her immediate attention, as she sat up, pulling the sheets around her. "A private meeting with a human? A Starfleet officer? Isn’t that potentially…dangerous?"
"What could be dangerous about that?" he laughed. "There’s no political issue with that. And we vetted this Bashir through Internal Security. He’s bright, but harmless."
"Of course," she added, troubled with the decision she was now being forced to make. Every instinct her training had helped develop was telling her that there was potential information here that Director Nar would find extremely valuable. But to coax it out from Jhalon directly would elicit too much suspicion from him. That meant only one other option was left to her to learn what she needed to know. But could she cross such a boundary, violate the trust this deeply of the man she loved?
Of course she would, she sighed inwardly. She had no choice. And she knew that Dhivael Nar was counting on that.
"I think that you may be a little tense now, my dear," she whispered sweetly.
"You think so?" he laughed. "I feel perfectly relaxed, especially now."
She flashed an affectionate smile of her own right back at him. "I know something that will make you feel even better. An old folk remedy that’s been receiving a lot of research interest." She then disentangled herself from the bed sheets and shifted herself behind her lover, so that her torso was pressed against his back.
"I’m loving it already," he chuckled.
"Don’t be naughty," she smiled at him. "Now, just lean your head back and relax."
"Hey, what are you doing with your hands?"
"Just rubbing your temples, h’levreinnye," she answered. "It’s all part of the treatment. Now, think about something very positive for you. A safe place, somewhere you are confident and in control."
"It sounds like you’re describing my work," he said softly, as the subtle connection to his mind gradually exhausted him.
"Yes, your work," she whispered into his ear seductively, not letting the tear collecting in the corner of her eye show. "Think about your work. That will do quite nicely."
Stardate 52108.8 (February 14, 2375)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Tal Shiar Headquarters
S’anara Vor was drained, both mentally and physically. It had been three days since she had deceived Jhalon and melded with his mind. Thankfully, she had been adept enough for him not to realize what was happening, thinking that she had lulled him into a blissful meditative state. But she hadn’t been able to sleep since that night. She had dodged his calls to her home out of shame. But at least the Tal Shiar had been given something potentially useful to use.
"Good morning, R’halla," she groaned as she entered the briefing room for her morning appointments.
It was funny, she thought. In all the years she had known R’halla, it had never occurred to her that his name was probably just as false as that of S’anra Vor. Yet she couldn’t imagine calling him anything else. He was probably the closest thing to a friend that she had here in Special Projects, yet she knew nothing about him. Just as he probably knew nothing about her. And the sad part of it all was that was how it was likely to remain.
"Did you hear the news?" he said gruffly, looking up from his cup of citrus.
"Senator Cretak," he said. "She’s been arrested. Something about accessing classified files and passing them off to someone in the Starfleet delegation. I should have known the humans and their lackeys would try something like this. Anyhow, they’re talking about adding treason to the list of charges."
Vor went dead inside, as everything over the last few days started to fall into place. She reported to Director Nar what she had gleaned from Jhalon’s mind the other night, and expected it would to a bit of harmless under-the-table blackmail. But matters had clearly gone beyond that now.
"Elements, no," she gasped. "Jhalon!" She immediately ran for the exit, hoping there was still time to stop what she had started.
"Wait, where are you going?" the older man called out to her.
"I’m…going out," she blurted. " It’s an emergency. A matter of life and death."
Stardate 52108.8 (February 20, 2375)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Dallafa Quarter, Apartment Block 18
Saldeed rushed through the main security gates of the apartment complex, her identity badge automatically vouching her clearance as the automatic gate opened for her. She was nearly out of breath when she reached the atrium leading to Jhalon’s apartment. Her instinct was to use her identity badge to access the lock on the door, but that proved unnecessary. The door had been smashed open already.
She nervously stepped inside, hoping, praying, that she would find her lover inside, frightened after a visit from Internal Security, and none the worse for wear. But she knew that would not be the case.
The apartment was a shambles, with bookcases being overturned, windows and viewscreens smashed in, pillows and sheets torn to shreds. Every drawer and cabinet had been pulled open, every painting pulled down. Ugly gaping holes had been punched into the walls, as though someone was desperately trying to find something. And burned into the wall was a glyph, a symbol that was all to recognizable. The ro’hul, a warning to others that this had once been the home of an ‘unperson.’
"No," she sobbed, seeing for herself what her actions had brought about. And not just Jhalon. How many others over the years were made to disappear based on the information she pulled from people’s heads? Hundreds, maybe thousands of unpersons had been purged in this manner. She had never thought about it before, as they had all been strangers, not even real faces, but just random images conjured up during the mind melds.
"I’m sorry that this had to happen, child," a familiar voice spoke from behind her. Saldeed spun about, and saw Dhivael Nar standing in the broken doorway.
"Wh-hat happened?" Saldeed spoke through the tears. "Why did they do this? Jhalon was loyal to the Empire! He committed no crime!"
"Senator Cretak was formally charged with treason by the Continuing Committee," Nar explained patiently. "You know how these things go. Everyone associated with Cretak has been purged."
"No…" Saldeed pleaded with her mentor. "You can stop this. You have the power. All you have to do is make a few calls…"
"It’s too late, child," said Nar forcefully as she gripped the younger woman by the arms in order to shake some sense into her. "Nothing can be done for him now."
Saldeed said nothing, her face a mixture of sorrow and disbelief.
"Believe me when I tell you that I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this," said Nar in an attempt at sympathy. "Cretak was growing powerful within the Senate. I facilitated the union between you and Jhalon in hopes of forging a stronger bond between her people and the Tal Shiar. Unfortunately, our interests came to diverge. For the Empire to become stronger, Cretak had to fall."
"And how is the Empire stronger because of this?!" Saldeed shot back. "An honorable Senator is charged with treason. Loyal men and women have been rounded up. How does this benefit anyone?"
"Don’t fall apart on me now, child," said the director harshly. "I need you to be strong, just as I’ve taught you, now more than ever. You just don’t see the larger picture. Koval’s appointment to the Continuing Committee is all but assured now. We will sit at the right hand of the Praetor himself, directly guiding the policies of the Committee and the future of the Empire."
"And Jhalon died for this?" Saldeed wailed. "For politics?!"
"For Romulus!" Nar shouted back. "These are dangerous times for the Empire, Inquisitor, perhaps the greatest danger we have ever known. Vreenak was right, you know. He might have been blind to the immediate danger of the Dominion, but he had good reason to fear the Federation as the greater long-term threat.
"Think of it, child. Thousands of our soldiers are fighting side-by-side with humans and Vulcans, absorbing a variety of unorthodox ideas, far beyond our reach to monitor and discipline. Now think of those thousands of misguided fools returning home after the war, their heads filled with human notions that run counter to the social order. It will be chaos! It will make Unificationism seem like a mild doctrinal disagreement by comparison. Such notions will spread through our population like a disease, unless we are there at the seat of power itself to stop it.
"That is our role, young one. The Tal Shiar. The Defenders of D’era. It falls upon us to keep the Romulan race disciplined and free from alien thoughts that would weaken and divide us. It is exactly as I’ve taught you. The path to glory can come only though sacrifice and service. Without our stern but loving guidance, the people would fall prey to temptation and weakness. And I will not see that happen, to see our beautiful homeworld turned into a cesspool of individualism and hedonism! I would sooner see Romulus burn than become another Vulcan or Earth!
For a brief treasonous moment, Saldeed wished herself that Romulus would burn. Let it all burn, she cursed at the universe. Let it burn for Jhalon, just as my heart grows colder.
"That is why I need you to be firm and resolute, my dear. I need my strongest people about me for the difficult days ahead. I knew you would become the greatest of all of us as soon as I saw you. You had the strength to make the difficult choices, and you did. You chose service to your Empire over your love for one man, and I’m proud of you for it."
"I…I don’t know how to live after this," said Saldeed weakly.
Nar put her arm on Saldeed’s shoulder in a moment of unexpected compassion. "Live to serve, Inquisitor Vor. The life of a Tal Shiar is not one where personal happiness can be expected. The few comforts you will receive come from your knowing that we’re making the Empire stronger as a result. It will all be well again. You’ll soon see."
Krell found himself back on the holocom once again, as soon as he received word from the bridge that a call had come in from his ‘mother.’
"Hello, sonny," Zack greeted him with a toothy grin as soon as his avatar materialized within the bare-grid walls of the room. "Have you been eating your vegetables?"
"Cute," Krell replied dryly. "So what have you found out?"
"Honestly, Cyrus," the agent smiled as he shook his head, "you’re losing more and more of your people skills every time I speak to you. Aren’t you the one who asked me to do you a favor?"
"You’re right," Krell said. "Don’t take it personally. It’s just getting a little edgy out here."
"Well, I guess that’s the closest I’ll ever get to hearing an apology from you," Zack replied. "Anyhow, to answer your question, I wasn’t able to learn very much. The Tal Shiar knew how to clean up after themselves. I was able to locate an old image taken at a Traveler’s Day reception from twenty-five years ago. It shows your friend, the good doctor, chatting it up with a collection of some of the old Empire’s finest."
A flat-screen image manifested itself in the air next to Zack, showing a young woman who was definitely Doctor Saldeed, standing in the midst of a social circle which included some old faces from before his time, faces that he had been required to study long ago during his tactical briefings on the Romulan Star Empire and its collapse.
"Senators Vreenak and Cretak," said Krell as he studied the faces. "Dhivael Nar, and…is that Koval?"
"The big man himself," said Zack proudly. "Quite possibly the greatest intelligence coup in Section 31 history, turning a Vice Chairman of the Tal Shiar over to our side."
"Yeah, right," Krell sneered. "Our side. You blackmailed an opportunistic sleaze with proof of his fetish for xeno-pedophiliac holoporn and threatened to destroy his career and get him executed if he didn’t help us. Don’t make him out to be some kind of patriot or hero. He did what he did to save his own skin and then milked every opportunity we tossed his way for his own benefit."
"Please, Cyrus," said Zack. "It’s true that Koval benefited from our arrangement quite nicely. He never would have risen to Chairman or been picked for the Continuing Committee without the information we fed him. Besides, blackmail is such a crude word. We prefer the term ‘cultivating an intelligence asset.’ And before you get too high and mighty, Lieutenant, you did your own share of cultivation back in the day."
"Don’t remind me," said Krell, the bitterness in his voice leaving an aftertaste in his mouth.
"Anyhow, regarding Saldeed," Zack continued. "If Vahal and her committee have this picture, and we’re pretty sure they do, then it’s pretty damning evidence that she had some kind of relationship with the Tal Shiar."
"It doesn’t mean anything," said Krell. "Lots of people on the outside cultivated friendships with insiders in the Senate and the military. That’s how careers were made in those days, right?"
"It’s not such ancient history, my friend," said Zack. "Saldeed is caught in the vice of a Senate turf battle. Vahal is looking to chair the Exterior Relations committee during her next term. I’m guessing she’s planning to serve Saldeed’s head on a platter in order to help make a name for herself."
"So it is all about politics," said Krell.
"Are you kidding? Cyrus, these are Romulans we’re talking about here. They’re taught to master politics and backstabbing before they’re even toilet trained."
"And here I thought we were all supposed to be allies together."
"Why?" Zack replied sharply. "Because they’re calling themselves a Republic now? Because they’ve tacked on a few token civil rights to their constitution and it suits them to host tourists from Earth and Tellar each year instead of maintaining a Neutral Zone? All the more reason to spy the living daylights out of them. You really have been out of the game for too long, my friend."
"You were always the one who had a taste for that kind of intrigue," said Krell. "Me, I was the go-to guy, the one they sent in to get things done, no questions asked."
"Yeah," said Zack wistfully. "Those were the days. Tell me you don’t miss it."
"I don’t miss it," he countered.
"Like hell you don’t. Can you really stand there and say that you’re happier being a regular Starfleet boy scout, doing diagnostic sweeps and chasing after teenagers breaking curfew?"
"It has its moments," said Krell. "But at least my hands are cleaner out here."
"So you say," said Zack. "But I can’t help but think that you have an ulterior motive for taking an interest in this Saldeed business."
"You think so?"
"Yeah. I think that maybe you’re looking to get back onto the court, be an active player again."
"Those days are over, Zack," said Krell firmly. "This is where I belong."
"Fine," said Zack with a diffident shrug. "Suit yourself. I’m just looking out for you, you know. If you want to waste my time and yours by sticking your neck out for a woman who’d sell out her own boyfriend for a promotion to submajor, that’s your business."
"Whatever. Thanks for the call, Zack. If you should dig up anything else…"
"Then you’ll get another call from your mother," Zack chuckled back. "See ya."
Krell let the holographic interface disappear, but as Zack’s avatar faded away, a curious thought crossed his mind. Selling out her boyfriend? How could Zack have possibly knows about that when Saldeed herself had only just confessed the deed to him just moments ago. Zack claimed that Section 31 had never been able to insert an agent inside of Special Projects. But unless Saldeed’s betrayal had been a topic of cafeteria conversation on Romulus those many years ago, it was clear that Zack knew more about the inner workings of Special Projects than he was letting on.
Stardate 55750.35 (April 10, 2378)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Tal Shiar Headquarters
The slap echoed across the prisoner’s face, as her head jerked backward in response, and a pale green welt began to form.
"I told you not to speak," said the Inquisitor, her voice flat, eyes numb and dead. "Get her out of here and bring in the next one," she said to the two guards standing by.
Inquisitor Submajor S’anra Vor moved listlessly to a small cabinet at the back of the room while the prisoner was dragged out of the room. She removed a small flask and popped off the cap before taking a brief swig. The ale was becoming more and more necessary each time she melded with a new subject. It hadn’t reached a point where it affected her work, yet. If anything, the numbing of her emotions made her even more productive. She felt no fears, no doubts, no remorse, no regrets…
And no love.
She briefly wondered if this was how it began with her father, gradually anaesthetizing himself from the memories of battles fought long ago and the grief of her mother’s death. Would she end up like him, she wondered, dying sick and drained of all passion, to the point where death was a welcome respite?
Too much introspection, she thought dismissively as she put away the flask. It didn’t to think too much about one’s self in this place.
"Submajor," the guard’s voice spoke over the intercom, "we have the next subject. He’s proving a bit difficult…"
"He’s just another piece of meat," she said coldly. "Bring him in and strap him down."
Moments later, the guards returned with their prisoner. As indicated, he was not coming along quietly, and he had the bruises and welts to prove it.
She was intrigued by the fact that he still had so much fight left in him, considering how heavy a beating he had obviously taken. She glanced at her PADD and refreshed her memory as to who her latest subject would be. Subcommader Vaelon Dharo, assigned to the Third Deathstriker Wing, accused of accessing Mnesa-Level security files, and then refusing to answer to a military interrogation.
She could see why Dharo had been brought to Special Projects. A high-ranking officer peeking into places he shouldn’t made lots of people nervous.
"All right, Subcommander," said Vor. "Suppose you save me a lot of time and headaches and tell me what you were looking for and who you were planning to give it to."
Dharo stared her down, defiant to the very end. "I know what you are, mind-witch. I’m not afraid of you. I survived three months in a Jem’Hadar POW camp on Chintoka Five. I can take whatever you give me."
"I think you’re confused about how this works," she said evenly. "You’re the one who’s going to give. I’m the one who’ll be doing the taking." She then leaned over and gripped both sides of his head and glared deeply into his eyes. "Now, think about something interesting."
Vor reached out with her mind through her fingertips, allowing her consciousness to meld with that of Dharo. She had to concede that he was strong willed and knew how to put up a good fight.
"Look at you…" he grunted through the exertion. "Relying on mind tricks instead of your own brains. This is what the Empire has come to. You’re just like a Vulcan."
She ignored his taunts and focused on the matter at hand, diving into the depths of his mind and seeking out what he was trying to conceal.
"I…can see it in your eyes," Dharo whispered. "You don’t feel any emotions at all. You really are a Vulcan at heart, aren’t you, mind-witch?"
Now that seemed to set something off within the Inquisitor. In less than a second, she conjured up all her feelings, her rage, her frustrations, and focused them into a narrow point beamed straight into Dharo’s brain. The prisoner screamed in agony as he felt the focus of her fury burrowing into his mind without the benefit of senses to act as a filter.
"Would a Vulcan do that?" she taunted back. "Let that remind you just who is in control here." Satisfied that she had not only shut him up, but had weaken his concentration, Vor dived in deeper into his mind, past stray distracting memories, following an intriguing thread of thought to see where it lead.
"I must see the Director, immediately!" Vor demanded.
"I’m sorry, Submajor," the secretary stammered. "But Director Nar is in the middle of a very important meeting. She said…"
"I don’t care about that!" the Inquisitor snarled. "Director Nar will want to hear this!"
"Out of my way, idiot!" Vor snarled as she shoved the frightened underline out of the way and accessed the door panel. The heavy metallic doors swung open and she stormed right into the Director’s office.
Nar was seated behind her desk, looking every bit calm and unperturbed by the intrusion. The face of whomever she was meeting with was not visible, his back facing her while seated across from the desk. Vor stomped into the center of the office, while the secretary rushed up from behind to try and catch up with her. "I’m so sorry, Director Nar. But the submajor…"
"It’s all right," Nar said coolly, raising her palm reassuringly towards the receptionist. "You may go now." Her gaze then focused on her protégé. "Come in, Vor. I trust you have a valid reason for barging in the middle of a closed meeting."
"I do," said Vor brusquely. "Director, I believe I may have uncovered a plot against the Senate itself."
"Indeed?" said Nar, "Do go on."
"Yes," came a familiar voice from the seated figure. "I’d like to hear more as well." The chair spun around, and Vor could see that it was Chairman Koval. His gaze focused tightly upon hers, presenting that glare that had chilled her so many times before.
"Of…course, Chairman," Vor fumbled before regaining her composure. "Inquisition Subject 448-032 revealed under interrogation that a conspiracy exists among elements of the Third and Fifth Deathstriker Wings to aid in the assassination of the Praetor and the leading members of the Senate."
"The Third and the Fifth, you say?" said Nar in a strangely patronizing tone. "That’s quite hard to believe, Submajor. They were among the most decorated units of the fleet during the Dominion War."
"It’s even more unbelievable than that, Director," Vor continued frantically. "The subject is apparently some kind of courier between the Third and the garrison station on Remus. Their co-conspirators…they’re Remans! Imperial naval officers working with Reman revolutionaries! I had to meld with the man three times before I could be sure he wasn’t misleading me. It sounds insane, but…they’re actually planning to put one of the Reman leaders into power! On Romulus! And this leader…this Shinzon…is actually…"
"A clone of a human Starfleet officer," Koval continued. "I presume that you checked with Foreign Operations to confirm the identity of this Reman leader?"
"Yes, Chairman," she answered, feeling more confused than ever. "I do have Gal’Ruta Ultra-Secret clearance." How could the Chairman have known, she thought. And did the Director know as well?
"Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Inquisitor," said Koval. "But there’s no need for you to be concerned. The matter is well in hand."
"I believe, Chairman," Nar spoke up, "that Inquisitor-Submajor Vor has demonstrated her loyalty and resourcefulness sufficiently to justify full disclosure. It would be best if she knew the full story rather than base her assumptions on limited facts."
"Very well, Director," Koval said reluctantly. "Submajor, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the penalties if you were to repeat what I’m about to say to you now."
"The fact is, Vor, we’ve been aware of this conspiracy for some time. As a matter of fact, I’ve sent emissaries to Shinzon’s people assuring them that the Tal Shiar will make no effort to interfere with their coup."
"I see," she replied. "In other words, we’ll be drawing them out only to lead them into a trap."
"On the contrary," said Nar. "It is our intention to allow the coup to happen."
"What?!" Vor sputtered injudiciously. "Director… you can’t be serious! These people…they plan to wipe out the entire Senate. Surely you can’t…"
"But we can, child," Nar answered grimly. "The day of reckoning that I told you about years ago has finally arrived. The rot has already begun. Accomodationist sentiments have not only trickled down among the populace from our returning veterans, but have infiltrated the highest levels of government. Proconsul Hiren’s ouster of Praetor Neral is but the latest example. There’s already talk of allowing a permanent Federation embassy here in the capital. Soon that will lead to the easing of restrictions along the Neutral Zone. Not just commerce, my dear, but ideas and people. It would mean the end of the Empire as we know it."
"But…the Praetor…" Vor spoke up weakly.
"…Is but one man," replied Nar. "The life of a single man, or even an entire room full of men, is secondary to the greater good of keeping the Empire true to the Way of D’era."
"Naturally, we could not eliminate the Praetor and his allies in the Senate ourselves," said Koval. "It would be…unseemly…for the Tal Shiar to take on such a role. But to allow others to do our work for us…"
"But Chairman," Vor pleaded, "surely we can’t allow…Remans…to hold the seat of power of the Empire? It would destroy us! The people would go insane!"
Koval and Nar both laughed in unison, another thing that seemed disturbing to her. "Oh, child," laughed Nar, "surely you don’t think we’d allow a deranged human clone to remain Praetor over us for longer than absolutely necessary, do you?"
"Shinzon was designed with an inherent genetic flaw," Koval added. "He will attempt to seek out his human original, Jean-Luc Picard, in order to heal himself. We are confident that he will fail at this. In any event, Shinzon will not live long in his new position. With his death, his cohorts will start to crumble, and military units loyal to the Tal Shiar will be able to step in and eliminate any resistance among the conspirators."
"But what of the Empire?"
"The Empire, Submajor, will be ours to mold." Nar concluded. "A new Senate, and a new Praetor, will be placed into power, one that will show greater interest in the glory of the Romulan people, and less preoccupation with being…agreeable neighbors."
It was madness, Vor thought. Destroy the Empire in order to save it? And what would they be saving? If this was the Way of D’era, then perhaps the Romulan people truly had lost their way.
"It will be the greatest operation ever performed by the Tal Shiar," Koval stated proudly. "The complete cleansing and resurrection of the Romulan Star Empire."
"And who will lead this new empire, Chairman?" Vor replied impertinently. "Who would the Tal Shiar see as fit to follow the Way of D’era?"
Nar seemed uncomfortable with her tone, but Koval seemed actually amused, his smile looking especially creepy on his normally dour face. "Why the Tal Shiar itself, of course, along with its more trustworthy allies. Who knows, Inquisitor? This could become a tremendous opportunity for those whose loyalty is without question."
More than ever she wanted out, but she knew that there was no escape from the Tal Shiar. The Empire was fully enveloped in its insanity now, and there was no safe place to hide. Where else could she run, she thought? To flee Romulus and defect to the Federation or one of the non-aligned worlds? To forever live out her life in exile while her homeland descended into chaos? No, that was not an option for her, even if she could escape, which wasn’t possible. She was too important, too closely watched. An Inquisitor couldn’t just disappear, not while the eyes of Internal Security were constantly upon her. But there would come a time, she thought, when no one would be watching, when everyone’s attention would be focused elsewhere. When that day came, she would be ready…
Her musings were cut short by the sound of the door chime. "Enter," Saldeed instructed, and the door slid open to allow Captain Kim and Lieutenant Krell to enter.
"I still don’t know quite what to make of you," said Harry, his voice tight and controlled. "But I know someone would like to hear your side of things. And so would I."
The captain stepped aside to allow someone new to enter the room through the still-open doorway. Katrina nervously poked her head inside the room, standing close to her father for support. She looked at Saldeed as if it were for the first time.
"Is it true?" she asked. "Did you really do what they say you did?"
Saldeed was quiet, not sure of how best to answer. She quietly nodded her head, feeling that words would never be able to adequately make the impact of the truth any less palatable.
"Why? Why indeed, child? I did it because people who had the power to make my loved ones and I disappear summoned me and told me that this was who I was going to be for the rest of my life. That’s why."
"But…I don’t know. Couldn’t you have fought back? Run away? Done something! Anything but hurt people like that."
Saldeed gave the girl a weak but affectionate smile. "You couldn’t possibly understand, child. All your life you were raised in a society that told you that you could be anything you wanted to be, that you had unlimited choices. That was never the case where I came from. Romulans do what they’re told, even today."
"But…that’s not true," Katrina said weakly "Everyone has a choice."
"Not Romulans, my dear," said Saldeed. "You wanted to know about our people. Well, that’s our blessing and our curse. We’ve been blessed by the Elements to live our lives with more honor and passion than any other race in the galaxy. But that passion comes at a price. We’re fools for ideologies and lost causes. We’ll rush headlong into defending what we consider to be orthodoxy even if it means our entire society has to jump off the cliff with us."
"I don’t believe that," Katrina replied. "If everyone thought that way, they’d never have overthrown the Empire and created a Republic."
"The Republic," Saldeed snorted. "They never overthrew anything. Romulans don’t walk away from authority. We just create a new one whenever the old one stops working. If Shinzon and his cohorts hadn’t wiped out the old Senate, we’d still be living under an Empire today. Nobody would have tried to change anything, no matter how much they hated the old system. For Romulans, its just about having a system, not whether it works or not. Believe me, in fifty years, the Republic will have a need for a Tal Shiar of its own. And there will be another poor girl who will be made to be its Inquisitor."
Katrina looked on at Saldeed with disbelief, trying to comprehend the depths of her cynicism. "Did you ever…I mean…did you ever kill anyone?"
Saldeed let out a sad, regretful sigh. "Not with my own hand. But through my actions, because of what I was able to learn, thousands were probably put to death. Some of them were murderers and thieves who got exactly what they deserved. But the others…some of them were guilty only of reading the wrong books. Or having the wrong allies." Everyone in the room was silent while Saldeed tried to compose herself, quickly wiping away the tear at the corner of her eye before anyone could see it. "Someone very…special…to me was lost because of what I did."
"I never knew this was a part of being a Romulan."
"You wanted to know the truth, so I’m telling you. Be happy with what you are, child. Don’t try to be something else. All this time you were jealous of me and my knowledge and experience. Don’t you realize that it was I who envied of you?
"Me?" Katrina said in disbelief.
"You’re young. You have an infinity of choices available to you. No one will ever tell you who you have to be or what you have to think. Do you have any idea how rare that is in this universe?"
Katrina said nothing, looking like she was about to cry.
"I don’t know if that answers any of your questions," said Saldeed. "Sometimes things turn out the way they do, and there’s nothing you can do about it."
"Are…you going to be okay?"
"I’ll be fine," she answered. "I have some time before they’re able to ship me home. A lot can happen in five years."
"Yeah," said Katrina, not really believing it either. "I’ll…see you later." She turned away sadly and walked out the door. Harry wanted to go after her, but there were still some things that needed to be said here.
"Lieutenant," he said, turning to Krell, "would you mind waiting outside. I need to talk to the doctor alone for a few minutes."
"Of course, sir." Cyrus then excused himself, leaving the captain and the captive to their own devices.
"I appreciate what you said to her, trying to make it easier for her," he said solemnly. "Katrina told me what you did for her, when she had her ba’shen. For reasons I don’t truly understand, she seems to have grown quite fond of you."
"I’m not sure I understand it either," said Saldeed. "But I meant what I said. She’ll be much happier when she realizes what she has."
Harry shook his head in weary bewilderment. "I meant what I said also. I still don’t know what to make of you. Are you a monster or are you just a victim of circumstance? I honestly don’t know."
"I imagine most monsters usually are," she replied.
He sighed as he paced back and forth before Saldeed, who remained seated on the couch the entire time. "Years ago, someone once asked me how I could possibly marry a woman like Annika, knowing what she had done as a drone. In truth, it was partly because of what she had done as a drone that I was drawn to her in the first place. After what she had been through, I felt that she more than anyone needed someone to care for her. And to forgive her."
Saldeed looked up at Kim with surprise. "Are you saying that you’re…forgiving me?"
"Let’s not go that far, Doctor. You were hardly a mindless drone when you became an Inquisitor. I’m still appalled by what you were, but I suppose I can understand how few choices you had available to you. I just want to know that while I have my orders to drop you off at Delta One, I’ll do whatever I can to see that your trial is expedited as quickly as possible. Maybe Starfleet can put some pressure on the Senate to agree to try you via hyperlink."
"Wonderful," she said wryly. "And if I lose, I could be the first intra-galactic execution." Then looking back at Harry, her tone softened. "Tell me, captain. Why would you do this for me, if I am such a monster?"
He shrugged as he walked over to the door. "Because whatever you did on Romulus years ago, right now, at this moment, you’re still a member of my crew." He then activated the door and exited to the corridor, allowing Cyrus Krell to come back in. He saw the mystified look on the Romulan woman’s face, and walked over to see what had surprised her.
"I don’t know what it is about humans," she muttered. "Any self-respecting species would shoot someone like me out the airlock for safe measure."
"We’re a pretty confounding bunch," Krell said with a subtle smirk. "I couldn’t help but overhear some of what you were talking about with the captain’s daughter. Mind if I ask you a question? There’s something that’s been on my mind for a while."
He leaned in, giving Saldeed a conspiratorial grin, one that seemed quite uncharacteristic of him. "Did you ever meet with Hanaj Koval?"
"As in Chairman Koval?" she said in alarm. "What kind of a stupid question is that, Lieutenant? He was the head of the entire Tal Shiar. I’d say that I ran into him more than a few times while I was there."
"Let me be more specific," he continued. "Did you ever meet with Koval privately? Before you officially joined with the Tal Shiar?"
Stardate 41124.32 (October 11, 2361)
Hellguard Fleet Supply Base
Cadet Tila Saldeed stood terrified before the imposing figure before her, while the fierce winds of the planet Hellguard whipped against the bare metallic walls of the warehouse. It was just a week ago that she was promoted to full Eredh and undergoing her compulsory service aboard the Warbird Shiarrael. Then the mysterious orders came in, transferring her to another ship, forcing her to be dropped off at this backwater supply depot in the hinterlands of the Empire while waiting for her new assignment. It was only when the base commander directed her to the warehouse did she realize that her ‘orders’ had actually been due to a summoning by a Vice Chairman of the Tal Shiar.
"You understand, girl, that you have no choice in the matter," said Vice-Chairman Koval coldly. "Many Romulans would consider it an honor to serve in such a capacity."
"I…I’m grateful, Vice-Chairman," Saldeed stammered. "But…surely there is someone more suited for this, someone who…"
"I didn’t just pick your name off the roster at random, you stupid twit," he snapped at her. "I know all about your abilities. I know your secrets. You’re precisely what Dhivael Nar is looking for. Special Projects has been run without scrutiny for far too long. It’s time that Nar learned that there are limits to her autonomy."
"But…I’m not a spy. I don’t know how to…"
"All you have to do is listen," Koval said impatiently. "I’ve arranged for everything. Over the next few months, Director Nar will come to learn of your existence. She’ll have Internal Security do a surveillance and background check on you. And then, when your tour of duty is near completion, she will reach out to you and bring you into the family. She will take you under her wing and share with you all her secrets. Once you are situated, I’ll reach out to you and you will tell me all I want to hear. Further debriefings will take place on an ad hoc basis."
"But…spying on a Director of the Tal Shiar," she muttered nervously. "Isn’t that…dangerous?"
"I didn’t arrange this meeting so that you can reject my offer, girl," he said sourly. "I can make certain that your father disappears, or the friends you went to primary school with. And then, one by one, when you’re cut off and all alone, when you have no one to turn to but yourself, it will be your turn to become an ‘un-person.’
"So you see, it’s far more dangerous for you to be crossing me than her," he concluded.
"It was all because of him, that bastard," Saldeed muttered. "He found me somehow, and put me on Special Projects’ viewscreen."
"How do you think Koval found out about you?" asked Cyrus.
"I have no idea," she replied. "He told me that he had eyes and ears everywhere, even outside the Empire. I was inclined to believe him." She then looked at him more skeptically, trying to fathom the security chief’s motives. "Now what’s your interest in all of this? And how do you know so much about what does on among the Tal Shiar?"
Krell cleared his throat, mentally preparing the cover story that he had so carefully concoted. "I did a brief stint with Starfleet Intelligence just after the Academy. Besides, historical espionage is something of a hobby with me. The Tal Shiar, the CIA, the An’la’Shok, the Obsidian Order…I’ve always been fascinated by the inner workings of clandestine organizations."
"A hobby," she said warily. "Right."
"So what did you do?"
"I did what I was told. I kept my eyes and ears open to what went on in Special Projects. Every once in a while Koval would contact me and I’d tell him what I knew. I don’t think he ever used any of what I gave him against Director Nar. I think he just needed to have someone to keep him in the loop."
Cyrus listened patiently, putting together the facts as Saldeed laid them out. The doctor would have had no way of knowing that everything she relayed to Koval was being forwarded directly to the Federation and Section 31.
"Tell me, Doctor," Krell continued, "did you ever get a sense from Koval that there was something…not quite right about him?"
"What, you mean aside from the fact that he was a ruthless sociopath who would have killed me and my father to get what he wanted? What could be not quite right about that?"
"I’m serious," said Krell. "Did you ever pick up some kind of feeling off of him, something that made you think that Koval wasn’t quite who he said he was?"
"You mean…telepathic? Koval never let me meld with him."
"I don’t necessarily mean melding. It’s a common misconception that Vulcanoid telepathy operates only through touch. Physical contact is the most reliable and potent means of sharing thoughts, but its not limited to that. Trained adepts are able to receive and project thoughts over short distances, longer if there’s a special familial bond. Some can even tune into especially strong feelings and emotions from strangers. Mind you, its nowhere near as powerful as it is for Betazoids or Deltans, and modern Vulcans don’t usually tap into this facility. But I figured that with your training…"
"And the fact that I’m not emotionally repressed?" she replied. "To be honest, there was always this strange…intuition…I had about him. At first, I thought it was just the fear I felt around him. But later, after the Reman coup with Shinzon, he started hanging around Special Projects more often. I started to feel, well, suspicious. I mean, to allow the entire Senate to be massacred…it was unreal. Nar, I could understand. She was a true believer. She honestly felt that the Praetor and the Senate had betrayed the Way of D’era. But Koval seemed much too cynical for that kind of zealotry. It felt to me like he had some other kind of agenda."
"Yeah," said Krell, keeping his thoughts to himself.
"Whatever it was," she added, "it was tearing the Empire apart. And I knew that if I didn’t find a way out, I’d be pulled down with the rest of it."
Stardate 62009.04 (January 4, 2385)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Tal Shiar/Praetorite Headquarters
The walls shook heavily as another barrage of photonic artillery hit the outer defense grid, causing everyone to momentarily scatter for cover. But the bombardment was only fleeting, given the limits on the weapons that the Senatorials were able to bring to bear within the city boundaries of the capital. Orbital bombardment was out of the question, of course. Neither side was willing to devastate Ra’tleihfi any more than it had already been, not if they hoped to have any legitimacy with the people once the fighting was over. Both factions hoped to still have a capital city to rule from once a victor had emerged.
The civil war had been going on for nearly five years. S’anra Vor was now a full major in the Tal Shiar, even thought titles and promotions were being handed out like party favors these days. There was no longer any real government to offer incentives or rewards for service, only cadres and factions that offered the promise of power when victory was achieved. Given the lack of prospects and security among the citizens today, it made perfect sense for many desperate people to join up with one of the factions, even if was only as cannon-fodder.
Vor stood before a holographic star map of the former Romulan Star Empire, unperturbed by the recent bombardment. The tactical evaluation room was located deep within the bowels of Tal Shiar headquarters, displaying a continuous update of allied troop positions and friendly territories. The mission of Special Projects had changed with the civil war. Instead of policing the thoughts of the citizenry for signs of disloyalty or treason, they now worked closely with Tactical Operations interpreting battlefield data and gleaning information from captured POWs.
Dhivael Nar came up to Vor, watching her focused on one particular point of light that now radiated with a friendly blue color.
"So you’ve heard the news, then," she said. "The Constanthis sector has declared for the Praetorite Alliance. Day by day, we grow stronger. Soon we will have the Senatorials exactly where we want them."
"We shouldn’t overestimate the level of support we’ve received," said Vor. "These so-called allies have only a shallow loyalty to us. They’ll switch sides the moment they see our strength start to waver."
"I wouldn’t worry about that," said Nar confidently. "The logic of this conflict works to our advantage. The longer that the chaos and uncertainty lasts, the more the people hunger for strong leadership and a firm guiding hand, instead of the weak and irresolute government the Senatorials offer."
Vor did not share her superior’s certainty as to predicting the will of the people. If anything, the mood she was gauging from her ventures into the outside world was an increasing disgust with all things Imperial. So far, the Tal Shiar’s track record with predictions had been mixed. Despite Koval’s earlier assurances of a quick seizure of power in the wake of Shinzon’s coup, there had been no less than eleven different factions claiming the right to form a new government. When no agreement on sharing power could be reached, the faction quickly fell into fighting among themselves.
After nearly three years of anarchy and conflict, the factions had coalesced into two opposing groups: the Praetorite Alliance and the United Army of the Senate. The Praetorites, of which the Tal Shiar was one of the key members, believed in a renewed Empire with a powerful Praetor wielding the equivalent influence of one of the old Emperors. The so-called Senatorials, on the other hand, wanted a much weaker Praetor, one who was little more than a figurehead, the real power residing in a self-perpetuating oligarchy of elite Senators.
Needless to say, neither faction had bothered to consult the people what form of government they would prefer.
"The Chairman wants to see you in the main conference room," said Nar. "Something to do with our last engagement with the Senatorial irregulars."
Vor blinked in surprise. "They took a prisoner?"
"Apparently so," said Nar. "And not just some street urchin they handed a phaser rifle. A field commander. With the recent step up in our offensives, we’re going to want to know what’s in store for us as soon as possible."
Nar was obviously thrilled at the prospect, but Vor could feel no enthusiasm for this interminable fighting that seemed to drain the energy from the lives of the citizens, as well as herself.
They said nothing as they walked down the bustling corridors on their way to the meeting. Since the war, headquarters had become a much denser hive of activity, compared to its earlier sinister stateliness.
"They bombed my old neighborhood," said Vor unexpectedly. "Last week. The apartment I grew up in, gone."
"The Linhase District?" said Nar. "That area was a hotbed of Senatorial sympathizers. Besides, isn’t that part of your life in the past, child? This is who you are now."
"Romulans slaughtering Romulans? This is what we we’ve become? How did we come to this?"
"It’s the price we must pay for following the Way of D’era. The other factions…they simply can’t see it as clearly as we do. That is why our victory is so essential for the Romulan people. We are needed to provide the guidance and discipline they lack. Anything less condemns our people to an existence of mediocrity." The older woman turned to Vor, her eyes weary and hurt. "It saddens me that you don’t feel it in your heart so passionately, Inquisitor. I’ve never doubted your loyalty, but I worry about your commitment."
"Don’t concern yourself with my commitment," said Vor. "I want to see this war end as much as anyone." It was not as if she had anywhere else to go, she thought. The Meissan Clinic had shut down during the chaos of the fighting. As far as the outside world was concerned, Tila Saldeed was one of the unaccounted-for millions uprooted by war and uncertainty. S’anra Vor had no respite anymore.
The two arrived at the heavily guarded conference room and were escorted inside. Chairman Koval sat at the head of the briefing table, with representatives of other Tal Shiar divisions and Praetorite allied factions in attendance.
"Excellent," said Koval."We can begin." He turned to the huge screen behind him which displayed an overhead map of the city and the surrounding metropolitan area. "As you all know, our partisans succeeded in advancing into the Linhase District last week and took several Senatorial safe houses and weapons caches. Control of all of Ra’tleihfi is essential if we are to be perceived by the colonies as having the popular support needed to form a new government."
"That still leaves more than half the city under Senatorial control," said Subadmiral Tomalak, who commanded the Seventh and Ninth Deathstriker Wings.
"They lack the manpower to consolidate their holdings," countered Major Sela, a frightening looking woman from the Foreign Operations division. Her light hair and blue eyes had fueled rumors that she might actually be half human, although her fanaticism and devotion to D’era surpassed even that of Dhivael Nar. "Every encounter with our partisans leaves them weaker and more vulnerable. They won’t be able to hold on to their victories for very long."
"One could say the same for our side," said Commander Donatra. "We’re losing our own ground and space forces to attrition, and our ability to rebuild and re-equip is growing less the longer the fighting continues. We’ve been able to smuggle some weapons in from Ferengi and Yridian arms merchants, but not enough. And the quality of the partisans we’ve been arming has been well below par."
"All the more reason why this war must be ended quickly and decisively," said Koval, stifling all dissent. "We’ve needed a symbolic blow against the Senatorials as a demonstration to the undecided masses that the Praetorite Alliance is indeed the ordained victor. And it would seem that that time is now at hand." He then gestured with his hand and a section of the wall slid down, showing a transparent window into an adjoining chamber. Inside the chamber was a badly beaten and scruffy looking Romulan male, strapped down to a table with two guards standing watch over him.
"We took a high ranking prisoner this time," Koval announced proudly. "A regional field commander of the Senatorial irregulars."
"Another intelligence success, Chairman," Tomalak said respectfully. "Indeed your eyes and ears truly are everywhere. My congratulations. Has he provided anything of use to us?"
"That’s precisely what Inquisitor-Major Vor will determine for us," said Koval proudly. "Major, if you will do us the honors?"
Vor saw that all eyes were upon her. It had been a long time since she had been asked to perform a melding in front of an audience. She entered the adjoining chamber through a small side door and approached the prisoner. The two guards promptly stepped out of her way, giving her space to do her work.
She leaned in to touch the man’s temples. He was badly wounded, given only cursory treatment for his battlefield injuries. She wondered if he’d even survive the stress of a melding. But he had to, for her sake.
It took several minutes of probing and sifting before Vor was able to finish her task, but in the end, he had given her exactly what she wanted. The prisoner, of course, came out of it trembling, his mind even more confounded than before, despite his useless efforts to resist.
"Well?" Koval demanded as soon as she reentered the conference room.
"I have it," she replied. "The fighting in Linhase was just a diversion. The Senatorials are gathering a large attack force along the marshlands of the Tleihaffa River, the bulk of their surface forces here on Romulus. They’re planning lightning advances against four major Praetorite strongholds in Ra’tleihfi, including here."
"What?" said Koval incredulously. "That’s impossible. Such a maneuver goes against every bit of intelligence data we’ve gathered."
"You mean what you’ve gathered, Chairman," said Sela pointedly. "Are you certain that your sources haven’t been compromised?"
"It seems odd," Nar spoke up. "Until now, the Senatorials have been rather cautious. They’ve never attempted anything this bold before. It makes no sense for them to change tactics like this."
"On the contrary, Director," said Tomalak. "It makes perfect sense. The Senatorials understand the need for a quick victory as well as we do. Perhaps it is because of their strategic weakness that they are attempting such a bold and desperate gambit."
"It still seems peculiar," said Nar, visibly troubled by the news.
"I don’t like it," said Koval. "I want someone else to meld with the prisoner."
"Chairman, that is unnecessary!" Nar exclaimed. "Major Vor’s capabilities and loyalty are without question. I hardly think…"
"And I think," Koval interjected harshly, "that I have no intention of committing our ground forces to strike at an army that all our pre-existing reports managed to miss, simply on the word of a single Inquisitor. I want confirmation of this before I make any decisions."
"Very well," said Nar, her tone ice cold. She nodded towards another one of her Inquisitors standing to her side, a young Centurion named Jhitta, and ordered her into the room with the Senatorial prisoner. The assembly waited several minutes before she too emerged from her session, and confirmed everything that Vor had reported earlier.
"So," said Koval, scratching his chin, "it would appear that an opportunity has presented itself. Strange that it has appeared so unexpectedly."
"Serendipity often is, Chairman," said Tomalak. "This could be the decisive moment of which you spoke, a change to mortally wound the Senatorial forces here on Romulus"
"We would be fools to ignore it," Sela joined in.
Hearing the nods of assent from around the table, Koval looked up to see one single face that seemed unconvinced. "Director Nar, what say you?"
"I exist to serve, Chairman," she said dispassionately. "My purpose is to gather information, not to provide interpretation. Be advised, however, that such an attack carries risks of its own. We will be committing most of our own partisans to counter their forces. We could take heavy losses of our own."
"Not if we have surprise on our side, Director," said Tomalak.
"Very well, then," said Koval. "We will have to move quickly on this." Turning to the nearest Internal Security guard, he barked orders at him. "Take the prisoner back to the battlefield where he was captured. Shoot him and leave his body behind before any of his Senatorial comrades arrive to retrieve him. If we act fast, the Senatorials will never learn that we took any captives. They’ll remain completely ignorant that we’re aware of their plans."
"Then we intend to strike?" asked Donatra.
"Oh, indeed we will," said Koval. "Forcefully and ruthlessly. We will leave nothing standing, and the Senatorials will learn quickly whose vision for the Empire will prevail."
And through all the debate, S’anra Vor, the messenger of their good fortune, had been all but ignored and forgotten. Which was exactly how she wanted it.
"Incredible," said Cyrus with amazement, as the woman’s tale unfolded before him. "You’re talking about the Battle of the Tleihaffa. You were actually there at the discussions about the turning point of the Romulan Civil War?"
"Not only was I there for the Praetorites’ decision to commit," said Saldeed. "I was there for the aftermath as well."
"What was all that you were saying about Chairman Koval’s eyes and ears?"
"Koval had his own network of informants that proved remarkably accurate," she said. "He claimed that they were resources he had cultivated personally. They were obviously from outside the Tal Shiar, possibly even from outside the Empire."
"You really think so?"
"Who knows. He’s dead and gone now, and whatever secrets he had died with him."
"You were actually there? You saw him die?"
"You might say that," she said cryptically, and let the matter drop.
"Well, maybe you could answer me something," Krell persisted. "After a string of so many brilliant intelligence maneuvers, how could the Praetorites have ended up making such a tactically suicidal decision like they did at Tleihaffa?"
Saldeed offered a weak smile in response. "Let’s just say that they had a little help."
Stardate 62009.06 (January 8, 2385)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
Tal Shiar/Praetorite Headquarters
The barrage of artillery fire pounded the walls of the building, only this time the defensive grids were not strong enough to blunt the onslaught. Sections of the ceiling and the walls crumbled around them as the people tried to find shelter from the attack. She tried not to look back at the body of several Tal Shiar operatives, including Chairman Koval, all crushed beneath the weight of a large ceiling pylon. She almost wished she had had the opportunity to kill him herself, even though, in a manner of speaking, she technically had.
Everything had gone terribly wrong in the past week. The Praetorite attack force that had been dispatched to the marshes of the Tleihaffa River had expected to find Senatorial armed irregulars hidden in concealed shelters. Instead they had found nothing but abandoned trenches. But by congregating together in one open spot, they had made themselves vulnerable to Senatorial suborbital hoppers that had been brought in, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on any large concentration of Praetorite forces.
And with the bulk of their ground troops pinned down along the Tleihaffa, the main Praetorite command and control centers were now vulnerable to irregulars who were camped outside among the ruins of the city, also waiting for the right moment of vulnerability.
S’anra Vor grabbed what few possessions she could fit in her duffle and ran past the fleeing crowds. At this point, everyone was more concerned with their own survival. She knew that Senatorial irregulars fighting their way into the building would pick most of them off. She, however, had already planned her escape route through the Special Projects emergency tunnels over the past week.
There was, however, one final obstacle in the way. Dhivael Nar was standing in front of her only escape route.
"Where are you going?" Nar demanded. "You’re not going to stay and fight?"
For the first time in her life, she finally had the freedom to say what was on her mind. She had nothing left to lose anymore. "No, I’m not. I’m getting out of here while I still can. I’d advise you to do the same."
"This is our final stand! A chance to beat back…"
"A stand?" she laughed cruelly. "A stand for what? There’s nothing left to fight for anymore, except maybe our own lives! I intend to live, Director."
"You knew all along, didn’t you?" Nar gasped. "You’ve been planning this. You knew from the very beginning that the Senatorials were waiting for us. You told Koval exactly what he needed to hear to send our forces into an ambush. How were you able to…? Jhitta saw the same information that you did."
"I’ve learned a few tricks over the years, Director," she said proudly. "A meld doesn’t just let you take information out. You can also put information in."
"You…were you working for the Senatorials all this time?"
"I wasn’t working for anyone. I saw a chance to create a diversion for my escape, and I took it. If I managed to get a little revenge for what this place has done to me over the years, then so much the better."
"I…it’s like I never knew you, child," said Nar in disbelief. "I took you in, I trained you, I gave you the keys to the centers of the Empire’s power, and this is what you do?"
"You knew me?" she snapped back. "You never knew me. You knew S’anra Vor, a creature that you created. My name is Tila Saldeed, daughter of Tobass Saldeed, a poor girl with telepathic talent from the Nhoreen Quarter. And lover of Jhalon Favel. You may have forgotten, but I never have."
"Unbelievable," said Nar. " I even kept you close to me when I knew you were reporting back to Koval."
Vor, or rather, Saldeed, blinked in surprise. "You knew?"
"From the day I met you. Koval isn’t nearly as clever as he thinks. I kept you close to me so that you would feed back to him exactly what I wanted him to know. I didn’t survive seven Chairmen by being easily fooled, child."
"I…I never had a choice," said Saldeed. "You know that, don’t you?"
"Of course I know that," said Nar, the weariness in her voice now obvious. For the first time, Saldeed had a sense of just how old the Director really was. "None of us ever had a choice. Why else do you think service and glory to the Empire matters so much? It’s the only consolation people like us have for lives that are preordained for us."
"Well, for the first time in my life, I’m making a choice," she said. "I’m choosing to head down that tunnel and make my way to freedom." After a moment of consideration, she continued. "You should come with me."
"Why do you care if I do? You obviously hate me."
"I suppose I do," said Saldeed. "But you’re also the closest thing to family I have left."
Nar said nothing, sighing as she took in the destruction unfolding around them. The announcement over the intercom warned everyone that intruders had entered the building. "What will become of our people, child? What will they do without the Tal Shiar to guide them?"
"You may not want to hear this," said Saldeed, "There was one thing I saw every time I melded with a subject, and it wasn’t fear. It was hate. They hate us, Dhivael. They always have. They hate us with the passion of a thousand white-hot suns. Today is the day that the Tal Shiar is going to die, and there won’t be a single person who’ll be sorry to see us go."
There was silence between them for the longest time, as the rumbling of the artillery and sizzle of disruptor fire echoes through the halls. Nar put her hand on Saldeed’s shoulder. "Go, child. You may be able to find a place for yourself in whatever Romulus becomes. But there won’t be any place for me in it."
"If you stay, you’ll be killed," said the younger woman.
"That’s a part of the Way of D’era, my child. Sacrifice. Now go." Saldeed hesitated for a moment, but quickly turned into the nearest maintenance tunnel and ran into the darkness. She heard the sounds of disruptors behind her. But she didn’t look back.
Krell was back on the hyperlink again, using the same back-channel signal router to cloak the destination of his transmission. It took several minutes, but he was finally able to find Zack. His old friend did not look pleased to see him.
"Years go by before you bother to call, and now you’re trying to reach me in the middle of the night?" Zack rubbed the exhaustion from his eyes, straightening up his disheveled appearance.
"I know what Section 31 was up to," said Cyrus coldly. "Never had one of your people inside Special Projects…like hell. You had someone in there all along. You had Koval recruit someone for you."
"I see," said Zack. "I should have figured you’d put it all together. That’s what made you one of the best."
"Did you know what Koval threatened to do to Saldeed if she didn’t work for him? You put her in Special Project’s sensor sights, Zack. She’s in this mess because of us."
"She’s in this mess because she was born a telepath in the Romulan Empire," said Zack dismissively. "It’s their backyard, their rules. Koval just played them the way they were supposed to be, that’s all."
"Then what rules say that we were supposed to step in an help the Praetorites win their civil war?" Krell retorted. "Intelligence data, weapons shipments…I figured out that little secret too."
Zack merely chuckled in amusement at the security chief’s deduction. "I forgot how good you were, Cyrus. Are you sure you’re not wasting your talents over there?"
"Don’t change the subject."
"Fine," said Zack. "Yes, I admit it. We were providing support for the Praetorites to help them win the war."
"I can’t believe it," Krell muttered. "The Praetorite agenda called for creating an even more centralized tyranny on Romulus than before. How could that have possibly been in the Federation’s best interests?"
"It would be if our man was the tyrant," said Zack smugly. "After all, what’s better for our side; having control over the chairman of the Tal Shiar, or the Praetor of the Romulan Empire?"
"And if that man has to murder and repress millions in order to hold on to power, then that’s not our problem?"
"Like I said, Cyrus, it’s their backyard, their rules. If Romulans are going to kill and oppress each other anyway, then why not make it work to our advantage?"
"And you wonder why I went inactive," Cyrus shook his head. "Any decent church would have burned bastards like you years ago."
"Don’t get preachy at me, Cyrus Krell," said Zack, his grin melting away. "You may think wearing a uniform wipes the blood off your hands, but it doesn’t. You’ve done more than your fair share of breaking the rules over the years."
He said nothing, bowing his head low in shame, knowing deep in his heart that Zack was right. Did he really think that by pretending he was a paragon of Starfleet virtue, he could pretend that the past never happened? Was that what Saldeed thought as well?
"What, no clever response? No moral judgments from the honorable Starfleet officer?" Zack taunted.
Krell looked up at the holographic avatar of his old "friend," his eyes seeming to take on a brighter, more determined glow. "Make it go away."
"These charges against Saldeed. Make them go away. I know you and your friends have the power to do it. You’ve had more than a decade to get your tentacles into the Republic. Make something happen."
"In other words, interfere with the administration of justice by an allied foreign power and risk exposure of our organization. Now why would we want to do something like that?"
"I’d think that would be obvious, Zack," said Krell. "Are you sure you really want Tila Saldeed to testify as to what she knows, considering how it was Section 31 that brought her into Special Projects. Can you imagine the damage to the Federation if it should ever come out how we controlled the Tal Shiar chairman, or even worse, that we interfered in their civil war?"
"What are you talking about?" said Zack dismissively. "She doesn’t know anything about us."
"Are you so sure about that?" said Cyrus. "She is a telepath. She was there with Koval during the final hours at the Tleihaffa debacle. Who knows how much she really knows? Considering everything she risked trying to hide her identity, can you really take a chance that she doesn’t have one final ace up her sleeve?"
Zack’s brow furrowed with worry as he paced back and forth through the confines of the small holocom chamber. "Then maybe," he said, looking askance at him, "it would be in our interests if Saldeed never makes it back to Romulus."
"You’d better not be saying what I think you’re saying, Zack," Krell threatened back. "Because if anything should happen to her, someone else may decide to step forward and tell all."
"You?!" Zack stammered. "You’d actually tell the rest of the universe about company business? Do you have any idea the world of hurt you’d be bringing on yourself?"
"Yes, I do. Of course, I’m seventy thousand light years away. You can’t touch me. And I’d be a lot more determined if anything happened to my friends and family. Do you have any idea what mess I could cause for you?"
"Nobody would believe you," said Zack evenly.
"Enough might," he replied. "Enough to cause you plenty of headaches trying to cover yourselves. I don’t want to force a showdown between you and me, Zack. And I know you don’t want that either. Of course, there’s a simple way to prevent all of this from happening. Make it all go away."
Zack glared at him, then shook his head in disbelief, his wild tangle of hair fluttering in a non-existent holographic breeze. "I’ll see what I can do. I can’t make any promises." He then looked up at Cyrus curiously. "I don’t get it. Why are you going to all this trouble for Saldeed? What’s in this for you?"
Krell sighed heavily and reflected upon his own life, as he considered his answer. "Let’s just say I know what it’s like to come in from the cold."
It was later the following day that Harry Kim received another urgent call from Starfleet Command requesting a holocom conference. Seated in the holographic simulation of Admiral Janeway’s office, he once again met with his former captain, Ambassador Terrek and Senator Vahal. But this time, the news from home was the last thing he expected.
"I beg your pardon?" Harry flustered in disbelief.
"We deeply apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused," said Terrek obsequiously, "but as you can see from this latest information, we’ve made a terrible mistake."
"It would appear that Dr. Saldeed is not S’anra Vor after all," Vahal continued. "There’s compelling evidence to show that she did, in fact, die in the final bombardment of Tal Shiar headquarters after the Tleihaffa battle."
"But…after what you said…" Harry was still trying to come to grips with this unbelievable turnaround in attitude. How could they be saying right to his face – or at least its holographic equivalent – that Tila Saldeed was never a part of the Tal Shiar when she had admitted everything to him?
"Naturally, there was much confusion with our records during the chaos of the civil war," Vahal continued. "It’s quite likely that Dr. Saldeed’s identity was appropriated to lead enemy factions along a false trail so that Praetorite partisans could hide in safety."
"In any event, Captain," Terrek said, "we’ve found much more information verifying the doctor’s whereabouts during Vor’s tenure with Special Projects and during the fighting on Romulus. We’re satisfied that the two could not possibly be the same person. Please convey our apologies to Dr. Saldeed and inform her that all charges against her have been dismissed."
"We hope, Captain," added Vahal, "that the events of the last few days have not undermined her position about your ship. I need not remind you the importance that the Republic places on having a Romulan among the Senior Staff of the flagship of the Delta Fleet."
"I…understand completely, Senator," said Harry, even though he didn’t understand a thing.
"Ambassador, Senator," Janeway spoke up, "I thank you both for bringing this oversight to our attention. Now, if you’ll both excuse us, Captain Kim and I have much to discuss."
"Of course, Admiral," said Terrek with a respectful bow. "And again, Captain, on behalf of the Romulan Star Republic, we apologize for this terrible misunderstanding." As soon as he and Vahal faded away from the holographic office, Harry turned to Janeway with a look of complete exasperation. "Admiral, what the hell just happened here?"
"Harry, I’m just as confused as you are. I can’t explain why they decided to drop the charges, but they did. The Senate has apparently considered the matter closed."
"But, Admiral," Harry sputtered, "she…confessed! She is S’anra Vor! And they know it!"
"They probably do," said Janeway. "For whatever reasons they find compelling, they’ve decided its best to let the matter drop. There’s nothing we can do about it, Harry. It’s an internal matter."
"But what about my ship?" he asked. "Am I supposed to just let Saldeed return to her duties, knowing what she is? She’s already broken the trust of the entire senior staff."
"I wish I knew what to tell you," said Janeway wearily. "Legally, you have no grounds to punish her for anything she’s done on Romulus. So unless you can find some cause for anything she’s done aboard Enterprise…"
"Other than the fact that she lied to us?" Harry groaned. "I’m not even sure I have grounds there. Technically, she lied to the Republic, not me."
"You can request another doctor replace her as Chief Medical Officer," Janeway counseled. "But given the politics of the situation, you’re going to have to keep a Romulan somewhere high up in the ship’s hierarchy. Unless you’re prepared to completely reshuffle your command staff, your only other option is to wait several years for the Republic to ship in another Romulan doctor."
"In other words," Harry said, "I have to hold my nose and keep her on board until another option presents itself."
"It looks that way," said Janeway sympathetically. "Try to see it from another perspective. On Voyager, we had to bring together a variety of crewmembers, some of whom had very different agendas from the rest of us. I can think of at least one crewmember who managed to find her place aboard ship and put her past behind her. I hear she did rather well for herself in the end."
"I’m what?" Saldeed exclaimed in disbelief.
"You’re being released," Harry said calmly as he paced before Saldeed in her quarters. "All charges against you back home have been dropped. As far as they’re concerned, the whole thing never happened."
"I see," she said as she stood and walked over to the captain, while Lieutenant Krell stood quietly at the back of the room. "Am I to assume that that’s not the case here aboard Enterprise?"
"You assume correctly, Doctor," Harry replied icily. "I know you’re guilty, but there’s not a thing I can do about it. Whether I like it or not, I’m stuck with you. So for now, you’re still the Chief Medical Officer aboard this ship. But I want you to know that you’ll be watched very carefully. Your position on this ship is very precarious. One slip up, one violation of ship’s protocol or regulations, and I’ll have you sent to the brig, regardless of what the Republic thinks about it. Is that understood?"
"You couldn’t possibly have made yourself more clear, Captain," she replied, her expression completely unperturbed. "May I ask…how much does the crew know about…?"
"I’ve managed to keep it under wraps," he replied. "No one outside the Senior Staff knows the full story, other than my daughter, and that’s how it will stay. No Romulans aboard have learned the truth, so you needn’t worry about anyone coming after you looking to avenge a relative."
"I see. Thank you, Captain Kim."
"Don’t thank me, Doctor. You’ve betrayed a lot of people on this ship. You’re going to have to work very hard to earn back that trust, assuming that ever happens."
"I understand, Captain. Believe me, I just want to do my work and do it well. That’s all I’ve ever wanted."
"You know, Doctor," said Harry, as he went towards the door. "That’s precisely what frightens me most about you." He then glared back at her one last time before departing. "And one final matter, Doctor. You’re not to be left alone with my daughter ever again. Ever. I find you anywhere near her except for a medical emergency and I’ll make you regret it and to hell with the consequences. Are we clear?"
"Absolutely," she replied. As she watched the captain depart the room, she glanced over to Lieutenant Krell. "So how do you suppose this all happened?"
"I have no idea," he shrugged. "You must have some powerful friends back home."
"Any powerful friends I might have had died a long time ago," said Saldeed. "It’s funny, Lieutenant, but I think that somehow, you might have had a hand in this."
"Me?" said Cyrus, with a muted smirk. "I don’t have any pull with the Republic."
"Don’t ask me how, but I know that you’re somehow involved. You said yourself that you did a stint with Starfleet Intelligence."
"Yes, but I was just a lowly ensign on assignment. Besides, I doubt Starfleet Intelligence would have interceded on your behalf."
"Still, it is rather curious," she said playfully. "I know that Koval was getting help from the outside. It’s the only way he could have risen to power the way he did. At one point, I figured it had to be either the Federation or the Cardassians. They were the only governments besides the Empire who had the intelligence apparatus on a scale that could have helped him. At one point, I was sure he was selling out to the Dominion. But after the Dominion War, when he was still receiving support, I knew that could only leave the Federation. But I just couldn’t believe your people would be capable of that kind of deviousness. It just doesn’t seem to be in your nature."
"Perhaps you’re right," said Krell. "After all, interfering in another state’s government would be a violation of the Prime Directive."
"Of course," she answered slyly. "Your people would never tarnish your good image like that, at least not openly. Of course, if you were to have another intelligence organization, one that operated in the shadows the way Special Projects did for the Tal Shiar…"
Cyrus looked at her pointedly. "You do realize how ridiculous that sounds, Doctor."
"Yes, of course," she said. "The very idea is just ludicrous."
Stardate 62009.34 (February 18, 2385)
City of Ra’tleihfi, Romulus
The fighting had finally died down, and what was left of two mighty armies had broken apart into aimless armed gangs. The Senatorials had managed to wipe out the main command centers of the Praetorites, but the cost in manpower had weakened both sides irreparably. The city, like much of the planet, was in anarchy, and it was up to the people to fill in the gaps where the government had failed them.
Tila Saldeed looked up from her work to see the burnt out remains of Tal Shiar headquarters. Once a mighty symbol of the Empire’s power and omniscience, it was now a reminder of a failed regime. What the Senatorials had not destroyed, waves of looters had picked apart, either for vengeance or for profit.
She silently wept inside at what had become of Romulus and its beautiful capital city, once a paragon of art and culture throughout the quadrant, now reduced to savagery. But she knew that this was part of the people’s righteous anger, their hate for the old order now bubbling to the surface beneath the veil of fear.
Despite the chaos, she had found it remarkably easy to reclaim her old life. There were no records of S’anra Vor that could be traced to her. Whatever hadn’t been lost with the Tal Shiar, she had done her best to eliminate prior to her escape. She had found several community groups that were in need of doctors to help the needy, run by, of all people, the Unificationists. The Vulcan-lovers had taken advantage of the Empire’s collapse to come out of hiding to organize shelters, food banks, and free clinics. She had recognized a few of her former colleagues from the Mhiessan Clinic who vouched for her. And so it was for a time that she had a cot to sleep on and food to eat.
She had taken a break from her workgroup after many long hours of digging out survivors from the most recent spate of bombings. She sat quietly as she took in the surroundings, watching the ruined buildings and the rubble of once mighty statues standing in harsh contrast to the setting sun. It had indeed been a beautiful city once, and she knew that it would be one day again.
"Coming to the meeting?" a youthful voice spoke up behind her. Saldeed turned around to see a young man, his hair unkempt in a fashion that would never have been tolerated in the old days. His face showed signs of hope and optimism, which struck her as odd considering he had every reason to feel despair in the midst of this destruction.
"I beg your pardon?"
"There’s a block meeting tonight at the school center in the Ghanima District," he said. "It’s hosted by the Unificationists, but you don’t have to be one to come."
"What kind of meeting?"
"Well, there’s talk about organizing a new government, a Republic. They say we’ll be able to vote for our own Senators this time. Not just old families either. Everyone gets to vote."
"Sounds very…egalitarian. Are you sure that the Federation isn’t pushing this?" she asked.
"Oh, no," said the youth. "It’s all home grown. Though they say that Ambassador Spock might be at the meeting."
Spock! Now there was someone that Special Projects would have loved to get their hands on back in the old days. Of course, he had always been one step ahead of the Tal Shiar, and in the end had managed to outlast them, exactly as his followers had predicted.
She laughed politely and shook her head. "Thank you, but I think I’ll decline. Frankly, I’ve had my fill of politics." She turned to leave the lad and his hopeful dreams of the future. If there was to be a new government, this…Republic, then it would have to be the work of young dreamers like that boy and his generation.
She herself had much work of her own to do in order to start over again.
"I don’t know how you did it, Zack," said Krell as he stood before the hologram of his old colleague from Section 31, "but you managed to pull it off. Thank you."
"You’re thanking me?" Zack grunted. "You’ve got one hell of a nerve, Cyrus. Do you have any idea how many people are furious with you back home? A lot of assets had to be used up in order to bury this indictment, lots of favors had to be called in. We expended intelligence resources in the Republic that we’d been cultivating for over ten years. In some cases, we have to start over from scratch."
"Maybe its for the best," said Krell. "It’s a chance for Section 31 to start fresh with the Republic, deal with them on an honest basis."
"Oh, please," Zack snorted. "The head office is not very pleased with you, Cyrus. You cost us a lot, and there will be an accounting. Make no mistake about that."
"I figured that might happen," he said solemnly.
"Yet you put your butt on the line anyway," said Zack with a grudging smile. "Just so you know, we could have gotten to you if we wanted to. Some of the boys upstairs wanted to do exactly that. I convinced them that it was worth our while to keep you in place aboard Enterprise. As it turns out, I was right. Now you’re indebted to us."
But Cyrus was more interested in something else that Zack had just said. "What do you mean, you could have gotten to me? What are you saying? Does Section 31 have people placed in the Delta Fleet?" Then his blood went cold as the further implications sank in. "There’s someone else from Section aboard Enterprise, isn’t there?"
"Now, Cyrus," Zack smirked. "I never said that. But hypothetically, if we did have one of our players on board your ship, do you really think that I’d tell you who it is?" He leaned in to give the security officer an especially wicked grin. "Sleep well, old friend."
As the holographic avatar faded, leaving him alone in the holocom chamber, Cyrus Krell realized that his life was now about to get a lot more complicated.
Harry Kim sat silently in his ready room, dreading the meeting that was about to come. During his time as a starship captain and a first officer, he had sent junior officers on many a dangerous mission. But never had asked a member of his crew to perform a duty such as this.
"Enter," he spoke as he heard the door chime.
The door slid open and Nurse Norma Jean Baker entered the room. She looked uneasy, since it was rare for non-officers to be called before the captain like this, without consulting their immediate superiors. "Reporting as ordered, sir."
"At ease, Nurse," said Harry. "Please, sit down." Hesitantly, Baker eased into the seat across from her captain’s desk. He looked over the holographic woman, studying her anxiety. He had never really gotten a chance to know Nurse Baker before today, even though he was sure his friend Tom Paris would be familiar with her face, copied as it was from a popular celebrity of the mid-20th century.
"Nurse Baker," said the captain as he leaned forward. "I’m sure you’re aware that Dr. Saldeed was briefly relieved of her duties for the last two days."
"Yes, sir," Baker replied. "But she’s been reinstated, hasn’t she?"
"For now, yes," said Harry. "Nurse, what I’m about to ask of you, I’m requesting that it remain in this room. You’re not to discuss what I’m about to tell you with anyone."
"Of course, sir," she answered, still ever more anxious.
"I can’t go into full details, Nurse, but I can tell you that Dr. Saldeed is more than she appears to be. She has skills and experience that go beyond that of any ordinary physician. It also turns out that she is…telepathic."
"That’s right. And there’s reason to believe that she may not have the ship’s best interest at heart. That’s why I’ve asked you to come here. This is a purely voluntary mission, Nurse, and you’re free to refuse it if it makes you uncomfortable."
"Sir, you…you want me to…spy…on Dr. Saldeed?"
"Not necessarily spy, Nurse," said Harry, trying to reassure her. "Just keep an eye on her. Keep alert to anything out of the ordinary. You work closer to her than anyone else in Sickbay. I presumed that if Dr. Saldeed were to engage in any questionable behavior, you’d be in a position better than most to spot it."
"I see," she said guardedly. "Sir, what exactly do you think Dr. Saldeed might try to do? Would she…harm a patient?"
"I certainly hope not," said Harry. "It may be all for nothing. I’m just trying to be cautious and foresee all possibilities. And I certainly don’t want to undermine your ability to work with Dr. Saldeed. It’s just that until I’m confident that there’s nothing to fear, I’d like to be kept apprised of any suspicious activities."
"Sir, permission to speak freely?"
"Go ahead, Nurse."
"Sir, was my being a hologram a factor in your decision to request my assistance?"
Harry sighed, knowing how he was now treading into very sensitive territory. "Yes, Nurse. As I said before, Dr. Saldeed has demonstrated telepathic abilities and we can’t be certain of her intent to use them. As a hologram, you would naturally be immune to any telepathic influence."
"But, sir," she replied, "what if Dr. Saldeed were to…access my program matrix? I mean, it’s supposed to be encrypted, but if she can override that…"
"I considered that possibility," said Harry, and he reached into his desk to pull out a small isolinear chip. "This chip has been encoded with a high-level encryption protocol, one that will complement your existing matrix security. You can incorporate it into your program with no ill effects and provide a password of your choosing. It would take a dedicated hacker more than three hundred years to decrypt it and access your system parameters."
"I…see, sir," said Baker.
"Nurse, as I’ve said before, this is purely voluntary. If you feel that this is something you can’t do, then there will be no reflection on your service record. You’ll be free to return to your duties and no mention will be made of this again. I can ask someone else to watch Dr. Saldeed."
"But, that someone else would be humanoid, wouldn’t they, sir? They’d be more vulnerable, wouldn’t they?"
"Nurse, you have to consider what’s best for you," he said. "Other arrangements can be made…"
"That’s all right, sir," said Baker. "I…I can do it. I volunteer, sir."
"I…thank you, Nurse." For a moment, Harry had almost wished that Baker had refused the assignment. As least then her hands would have clean and so would his. But there was no turning back now. He had officially ordered that a member of his crew be spied upon. Perhaps it was justified, perhaps not. But he had started down this road, and there was no knowing where it would take him.
The bond of trust that he had dreamed of when he first took command now seemed more distant than ever. He hoped it would return to his ship sometime soon. But it would be a long time coming.