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Old January 15 2013, 01:06 AM   #15
Rear Admiral
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)

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Imperial Romulan Cruiser Aidoann
Command Deck

“Centurion,” the gravelly-voiced Reman at the operations console addressed him. Gakket, still relishing the debris the battle cruiser’s weapons had made of the Starfleet shuttle.

“What is it Oallea?” He snapped, not turning around in his seat to look at the creature. He refused to call the man by his rank. Despite serving with the Remans during the war, Gakket believed that they were a subspecies and despised having them serve on his bridge.

Of course, he hated serving on this rust bucket himself, but Gakket was grateful at least that his transgressions hadn’t resulted in a complete demotion, expulsion from the Navy, or execution.

In a way though, he felt being ordered to serve with the pallid, animalistic Remans was even worse. He didn’t know if he would ever be able to wash their stench away once he had served his penance.

The servile Remans at least were ready targets for his frustrations. “Speak bug!” He prompted, using the true meaning of the slave’s name.

“The shuttle ejected a communications buoy before its destruction,” Oallea reported, “Our sensors were momentarily impaired due to the radiation from the shuttle’s destruction.”

“On screen,” Gakket ordered. The main viewer shifted from flotsam to the spherical beacon streaking through space, at full impulse.

“The buoy is transmitting a coded message,” Oallea said, “I have yet to decipher the code.”

“Of course you haven’t,” Gakket sniffed, “It is doubtlessly beyond your purview,” he said with a sigh. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Sir,” Oallea ventured after a long pause, “Shall I block the transmission?”

“No,” the centurion said, drawing curious looks from many of the Remans and few Romulans on the bridge.

“But sir,” a young lieutenant at the helm, her verdant blush making her literally as green as her age and experience, piped up, “That beacon is likely alerting Starfleet to what just happened to the shuttle.”

“I am aware of that Lt. Didia,” he said, with more tact this time, “And that is exactly what I want it to do.”

Didia tilted her head at him, her expression quizzical. Gakket merely smiled.
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USS Rushmore
Captain’s Private Quarters
Dominion War Memorial
Benzar System

Captain Dylan North didn’t feel much like eating. He scraped at his veal cutlet, spearing an asparagus before setting it back on the plate.

“I understand how difficult this must be for you Captain,” his dinner guest replied, her tone sympathetic. “Being back here; dining with me, it must bring back a lot of painful memories.”

North thought it would be disrespectful to deny it, so he merely kept his mouth shut and tugged his head down sharply in acknowledgement. Barya absently touched the full rust-red pledge stone hanging from her neck. The Benzite woman was dressed in the somber dark blue robes of the Birthing Technicians association. Her skin covering was a gentle greenish-blue.

“I have since gotten remarried, but I will never forget Larpek,” she said, “However I had to move on, and so must you.”

“So must we all,” he smiled weakly, his stomach grumbling not from hunger, but unease. Dylan had never gotten to settle things with his captain. The man had died as they tore out of Benzar, with the hounds of hell on their heels.

Larpek had succeeded in saving many Benzite luminaries, including his wife Barya, but had lost his own life in the process. In the span of a nanosecond North had gone from wanting to cashier the man out of the service to putting him on a pedestal.

His sacrifice, along with those of so many others, had inspired North to take command of Rushmore once it was offered, and it had made him stay on as CO after the war ended, much to the consternation of his wife Audrey.

At times Dylan felt a strange symmetry with his fallen commander. While Larpek had been willing to sacrifice his career to save his marriage, North had put his marriage on the rocks for his career. Or at least that’s what Audrey charged.

The dark thought brought out a scraping bit of laughter. Barya’s look was inquisitive. She stopped picking at her own meal, a half-eaten tuber root salad. “Captain, I don’t think I could ever express, in words, art, or song, what my gratitude.”

“And you don’t have to,” he said, and he meant that. His gaze shifted away from the woman, as he gathered his thoughts. His eyes flickered to his large viewport. Outside the ship floated the tangled, metallic remains of ships from both sides of the war, some still with corpses inside that hadn’t been recovered. It would take months, maybe years to account for all the dead and to give them a proper burial.

Finding his courage, he looked at her again. “I didn’t want to go to Benzar, I wanted to stay and fight,” he admitted. “If Captain Larpek had listened to me that probably would’ve resulted in this ship and crew resting among the hulks outside, and you being executed. I’m not hero.”

She reached out and tentatively patted his hand. She smiled, “You seek forgiveness where you don’t have to. You did rescue me, and many others. You might have disagreed with my husband, but you stuck by him, and did your duty. After his passing, you continued to do so, as you do now. You have nothing to be ashamed, or sorry for Captain North, not in my eyes.”

The words hit him like a sonic hammer. His head jerked slightly and he blinked rapidly, absorbing what Barya had just said. He felt a closed fist inside his chest open for the first time in years. He reached out and grasped her hand, his eyes moistening. “Thank you Technician Barya,” he said, “You don’t know what that means to me.”

“It is my hope that it gives you some peace,” the woman’s smile was weary, and a bit all knowing, “But I fear that it has not given you enough.”

He sighed, as other murky thoughts began to surface, “You are right on that account.”
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