Therran and J’Iral wore black. The patterned Tal Shiar field uniforms were accented with dark sashes, resting across their torsos with imperial pomp. Rank insignia glinted on each collar. Their boots clomped as they strode between two columns of Romulan soldiers. Each stood to attention as they passed by, shouldering their disruptor rifles. The two operatives turned smartly upon reaching the head of the lines, giving them a direct view down the aisle towards the landing pad. Behind them rose the smooth adobe walls of the administration compound. Its central turret looked down over all, emblazoned with the imperial eagle. One taloned claw clutched at Romulus, the other Remus; embattled symbols of the old ways hanging beneath the raptor’s vengeful glare.
There was no more need to remain in the shadows. Free State control was unchallenged. Arms behind their backs, they waited as the shuttle entered the upper atmosphere. It began as a dot. Growing steadily to a dark green ball, two small wing-like protrusions became visibly silhouetted as it descended through fluffy white clouds. Coming in at a steep angle, the craft arced low and wide, settling at an altitude shared by the native hawks and buzzards that hovered in search of prey. Thick jungle outside the settlement swayed in the morning breeze. The shuttle’s engines compensated, tiny maneuvering thrusters firing as it maintained a position above the landing pad. Therran and J’Iral’s eyes tracked down in unison as it lowered gently. With a hiss, the rear door inched open, forming a ramp as it touched the smooth earthen surface beneath.
His huge frame stood bulky and wide, blocking the entirety of the shuttle’s interior from view. Dressed in the typical grey tiled uniform of the Free State, darkened shouldering emphasised his general officer rank in the epauletted style of an old-Earth military. A corpulent form stepped forward, following Therran and J’Iral’s path between the guard of honour still snapped-to and at the ready.
They each knelt on one knee. As he approached, a self-satisfied smile formed across his bloated features. Creases in the corners of his eyes, grew larger like the folds in the loose skin of his neck as he looked down at them. His teeth stuck out in all directions, accentuating the vicious form of his angled eyebrows and prominent forehead ridge.
“General Prelyat, we stand ready to serve the Free State,” Therran obsequiated, not looking up.
“Arise, good officers of the Tal Shiar,” he made a sweeping gesture, beckoning them towards him, “You have done well.”
Despite being on their feet, still their necks craned as they looked up at the imposing Romulan, “Thank you, General,” J’Iral bowed her head once more for good measure.
“Tell me,” Prelyat took an indulgent pause, “has the entire Star Empire contingent been expunged?”
A sudden gust took hold of Therran’s white hair, “Almost. A few have scattered to the forests. Trackers on all continents have been activated to root them out.”
Prelyat’s eyes lit up, “Mmmm, very good indeed! I hope to see them terminated within the day. Now, what of this singularity business, hmm? Why were we not told to expect this?”
“That…” J’Iral began, her young eyes betrayed her as she immediately broke eye contact.
“Took some work to get under control,” Therran finished.
“Some work, hmm?” Prelyet scoffed, “Subcommander Spolodor informed me that it was the Remans who deactivated it! Is this true?”
“It is, sir,” Therran gritted her teeth, “fortunately, the Remans saw a way to improve their situation by aligning with us. We have their leader and the Empire veruul who activated the singularity.”
“Bring them to me,” the General commanded.
“As you wish,” Therran bowed her head again. She nodded towards J’Iral, who activated a device produced from a uniform pocket. Norvult and the Adjutant materialised before them in a shimmer of green, the latter wore manacles forcing his hands behind his back.
Tyrothan stood motionless, the wrinkled grey skin of his face showed no sign of emotion. His own formidable height allowed him to meet the General’s gaze. Prelyet looked away, down to the Adjutant who had collapsed in a heap before him.
“P-please, I beg of you,” came a whimper, “I had no wish to activate it. They forced me. The Free State is the future of the Romulan people! Long live the Free State!” his words became lost in a frenzied, choked cry.
Prelyet cocked his head to one side, as if curiously imagining how a being might be reduced to such a state, “Oh, and I suppose you’ve harboured these rebellious thoughts throughout your service in the Star Navy, hmm?” his expression hardened, the Adjutant’s words no longer recognisable, “No. I suspected not. You can die on your feet, or sniveling as you are now.”
“Please! I had nothing- they made me-”
A disruptor beam lashed out as Prelyet fired the pistol from his hip. Therran and J’Iral couldn’t help but flinch as the Adjutant disappeared. The fine carbon dust of his atoms floated for a while before settling, indistinguishable from the smooth orange clay underfoot.
“So it is for all who cannot break from the old ways,” Prelyet looked up, meeting Tyrothan’s gaze once more, “Will it be the same for you, Reman?
“Will the old ways change for us?” Tyrothan, unruffled, asked back.
“That depends on what you can do for us,” Prelyet returned to a glib tone, smoothing a displaced hair across his brow, “The Foshirrans are a problem.”
“Sir,” J’Iral interjected, “the Foshirrans have been crucial to this operation’s success. Without them we could have never deactivated the planet’s defence grid.”
“You say this as if we have an endless supply of resources. You’re surely aware of the chaos at Velorum, our broken supply lines have already limited available food for Romulans, let alone the others,” he waved a hand vaguely in Tyrothan’s direction, “These Foshirran creatures are merely hungry mouths sitting on top of our arathamite.”
Therran continued the protest, “General, the Foshirrans have a history of sustainable agriculture. With minimal assistance they could easily-”
“NO!” Prelyet’s affable demeanour dissolved instantly into red-faced rage, “You two,” an accusatory finger wavered from Therran to J’Iral, then back again, “Have clearly spent too much time amongst the lesser beings of this planet. LEAVE MY SIGHT and wipe them out,” spittle flew past his crooked teeth and wobbling chin, “Or meet the same end as that dyypan,” his finger whipped down to the patch of dirt before them, still churned up from the Adjutant’s groveling.
The Tal Shiar pair needed no further encouragement to leave. As they turned, a buzz from Prelyet’s communicator gave them pause, “Sir, a Federation Starship has just entered the system,” came the disembodied voice from orbit, “it’s a light cruiser. Cheyenne-class,” there was an incredulous pause, “Should we destroy them, sir?”
“Negative, hold position. Await my orders.” Prelyet cursed under his breath and closed the channel, “Why are you still here?” he barked towards Therran and J’Iral, “Go!” he turned to Tyrothan, “As for you… Would you rather be of use to the Free State, or another mouth to feed? I suggest you have an answer for me by the time I get back,” he raised his finger once again as if lecturing the Reman, “Think very carefully about what that means for you and your people. Prelyet to Gereldas, begin transport.”
Tyrothan, statue-like throughout the entire exchange, remained expressionless. His eyes met the General’s for as long as they could before Prelyet faded from view. Two shallow footprints in the dusty earth marked where the Romulan had stood. Tyrothan took two steps towards them. For a second, an angry twitch flashed across his face. He leaned forward, face angled towards the ground, and spat.