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Part of SS Vondem Rose: Killing Strangers

Killing Strangers – 17

Ayer's Rock
April 2401
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The sun was hanging high and oppressively overbearing in the sky as the team from the Vondem Rose finally made their way out of the Maze Valley and into the vast depression beyond. The bowl was nestled amongst gentle hills that eventually gave rise to a mountain range just visible from Landing, but from here truly dominated the skyline. Hardscrabble gave way to green and trees, eventually turning to white as the mountains pierced upwards into the sky.

As for the bowl itself, it was easy to see why it had been a contender for the site of Landing by the original colonists. It was either remarkably flat or gently rolling landscape for as far as the eye could see in most directions, the hills most evident towards the mountains. A river of glacial melt ran through the hills and into the depression, carving its way towards the Maze Valley and then out to the plains where Landing sat. It was cooler on average which lent it towards being greener as well and whoever was living here had opted to farming in this more moderate climate.

And it was here, amongst the wheat and barley fields, that they encountered their first live person since Sidda had gunned down Manfred a day and a half ago. Two men were standing on the trail that led between two large fields, wheat half as tall as they were on either side and from the rustling likely held a few more companions in hiding.

And just like Sidda, they two were wearing wide-brimmed hats against the sun, though theirs were larger sombreros, casting them in shadow against the high sun for now and hiding some of their features for now.

“Bet you all feel silly now,” Sidda muttered to her companions as she adjusted her recently acquired hat once again and urged her horse out in front of their little pack and towards the rifle-armed men on the road.

“They make their hats look good,” Orelia quipped. “Yours is just stupid.”

“Bitch,” Sidda snapped back to her cousin with a smile before turning towards the welcoming party. “Gentlemen, mind if we pass?” she asked, not trying to imitate the local drawl at all, but slowing the cadence of her speech at least.

“That we do actually,” the man on the right said, his own words a curious blend of accents that was distinctly not from Ayer’s Rock. “No one comes onto our lands without us knowing who and why.”

Sidda didn’t react when she heard a hissing sound from behind her, the sound of hoofs approaching behind her. She expected Deidrick, or maybe Trid, with Orelia hissing at them to get back. She wasn’t expecting R’tin to come up beside her, leaning forward on his horse to try and get a better look at the two before them. “Where are you from, friend?” the Romulan engineer asked, sitting up straight in his saddle and winking at Sidda.

“Here,” came the response.

“Before here,” R’tin countered. “Because the Melk’ril accent is a doozy to get rid of.” R’tin then turned to face Sidda. “He’s from Romulus,” he said, pointing at the one who had done all the speaking so far. “Or Tormel, which was settled mostly by people from the Melk’ril region.”

“That so?” Sidda asked with a smile. “Curious to meet a Romulan out here on Ayer’s Rock.”

“We’re the ones doing the asking,” the other man growled.

“Don’t look at me,” R’tin responded as Sidda turned to him. “Melk’ril was a day trip from home for me. I have no idea what accent he’s got.”

“Well, enlightening as this all is,” Sidda said, “I would like to continue on my way. So, I’m Sidda, this is R’tin, Orelia, Trid and Deidrick.” She pointed at each in turn. “And I’m here to see my old commander, Brett Gavalore. So, either get out of my way or take me to him.”

The two on the road turned to each other, whispering as they discussed something which threatened a few times to get heated. “We won’t stop you,” the first to speak said after a minute, “but if needs be, we will stop you from leaving.” Then he grabbed his partner’s arm and pulled him off the road. “Keep going down the road, you’ll get to the homestead in a few more hours.”

“Much obliged,” Sidda answered, before once more continuing their trek.

“For what it’s worth boss, I think the other guy was Romulan as well,” R’tin had informed her during the trip. “Just not sure where.”

And as they neared the homestead, R’tin’s suspicions likely were right as they started to pass a few people either on the road or working in the fields just off of it. While most were wearing hats as well against the sun, a few weren’t and the pointed ears of Vulcanoids could be seen as folks stopped to watch newcomers going past them. “An awfully lot Romulans for a backwater human colony,” Deidrick had remarked. “What’s that all about I wonder?”

“Guess we’ll find out soon enough,” Orelia answered.

The homestead, as the guards had called it, was in fact a village. What Landing would have looked like in its very early days no doubt – a collection of houses and barns, pens for horses and oxen, farm equipment here and there. No formal roads like in Landing but natural pathways worn here and there where the groundcover had given up attempting to grow for now. Most of the smaller buildings looked like houses clustered around a single large structure that seemed, by how everything had grown around it, to be the prominent structure of the settlement.

And everyone present – man, woman and child – was Romulan.

“There’s a couple of hundred people here,” Trid said. “That’s a school,” she said while pointing at a building with a fenced-in area to the side and a gaggle of kids enjoying an afternoon in the sun under careful supervision.

“This just got complicated, didn’t it, cousin?” Orelia asked.

Sidda didn’t say a thing, but her jaw was clenched, her focus dead ahead. Tension was visible in the set of her shoulders, the rigidity of her back. Simple vengeance had been rendered complex right at the last few moments.

“Anyone else hear something odd?” Deidrick asked, casting his gaze upwards to the clear blue sky.

“Oh good, thought it was just me,” R’tin answered.

“Not now,” Sidda growled as she continued to lead, eyes locked on the large ranch house at the centre of this village. “Fucking bastard.”

It didn’t take long for them to close within shouting range of the house. But by then, before raised voices and harsh language had to be exchanged, a single individual had emerged from the house, across the porch and down the wide steps to the ground outside. He wasn’t the large and somewhat imposing Commander Brett Gavalore that Sidda remembered, or the vigilante turned pirate turned would-be murderer she last saw either.

This man had aged in the last thirteen years. Hair had started to grey, wrinkles started to make their presence known on his face. His skin had taken on a darker hue from years working outside in the elements, far from the soft comforts of Starfleet or the Federation. He’d gotten rounder as well, not as lean as he was in his heyday.

He stood there, feet shoulder-width apart, jeans and a flannel shirt with a towel thrown over one shoulder like he’d just emerged from the kitchen. Thumbs hooked in loops on his jeans as he studied the riders before him, scrutinising each of them in turn before his attention finally settled on Sidda. “Took your time,” he finally said, the edge of command in his voice long dulled from time. “Honestly, I expected to see you coming up that road years ago.”

“I didn’t care enough to track you down,” Sidda answered.

“And now?”

“The Last Pirate King is dead.” She urged her horse forward from her fellows. “He’s cleaning up loose ends.”

“Didn’t take you to be his bootlicker,” Gavalore said. “Then again, didn’t think my insult to him warranted being killed. But for a Vulcan, he was a bitter, vindictive bastard.”

By now villagers had started to arrive, some having flowed in behind Sidda and her people, others having emerged from nearby houses, barns and workshops to see what all the spectacle was all about. Trid’s estimate of numbers was about right.

“Bastard,” Sidda spat out.

“Yes,” Gavalore answered. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“For what? Spacing me, or shooting Shreln?”

“Spacing you,” he answered. “Should have just dumped you on some space station somewhere. Only real thing I regret in my life. As for T’Halla…well, she had it coming.”

Sidda’s draw was fast, the disruptor pulled from her holster and a shot fired into the ground right in front of Gavalore faster than most could register, let alone react. Then she slowly raised the weapon to point right at him. “This had better be good,” she hissed.

Gavalore didn’t even flinch at the small explosion of dirt at his feet, or the angry-looking Klingon disruptor now pointed at him. Just shrugged, looked up at the sky quizzically for a moment, then back to Sidda. “You got a ship nearby?”

“Fuck that! T’Halla Shreln. Why?” Sidda wasn’t steady, but her aim was.

“She was acquiring biomimetic gel behind the captain’s back. Lots of it too. And a dozen other medical items of ill intent.” He unhooked his thumbs and held out his hands, palms open as he tried to present himself as not a threat to the armed person before him. “She was wanting to find a way to hit at the Romulan authorities that let the disaster unfold as it did. People we never stood a chance at getting to. She was talking about bioweapons we could cure as soon as the targets had been killed, or designed to specifically hit a bloodline and leave everyone else alive.”

“She would never!” Sidda near-shouted at him. “She was a Starfleet officer! She was our friend!”

“She was angry,” Gavalore answered. “And something in her broke when Higgins started to pull his support after the supernova. She wanted to strike at the Romulan authorities who got themselves out of the line of fire and left billions to die.”

“Boss,” R’tin spoke up. “Seriously, something’s not right.”

Sidda spun on her engineer and saw all her people were looking up, a good number of the villagers too. She turned back to Gavalore to see he was as well once more but in a particular direction. As she followed his gaze she could see what was the source of the noise barrelling on them – a small craft heading in their direction at what could only be called suicidal speeds. It was plunging from high in the sky, straight at the village. It was fast enough that the sound reaching them indicated it was far behind what they could see.

“Well shit,” Gavalore uttered deadpan. “You aren’t the suicidal sort, so who’d you piss off?”

“Manfred,” she uttered barely above a whisper, but seemingly loud enough for Gavalore to hear, to utter a curse in response of his own. “Fucking Manfred.” Then she looked to her people and while most were looking at the small craft barrelling in on them, R’tin and Deidrick were both looking straight up instead, squinting against the bright sky.

And so her own gaze shifted upwards as well to the clear blue sky. Nothing was there, nothing she could see at least. And then the cloaking field above them started to pull back, the field’s complex bending of light flickering away to reveal the massive bulk of a Klingon battlecruiser hanging a few kilometres above their heads, a dark shape silhouetted against the sky that was already moving to interpose itself between the oncoming ship and people on the ground.

There was a snapping sound that went with the appearance of that ship, a faint shimmer in the air around it for a mere moment before it flared into a green shell as battlecruiser and runabout collided in the sky above Gavalore’s homestead. The runabout didn’t even attempt to dodge before it slammed into the Vondem Rose’s shields, wasting all of its efforts on the ship’s shields, collapsing one side and pelting the hull with spent debris that did nothing more than bounce off the hull before raining down on the fields below and far from the village, all of its deadly kinetic energy wasted on shields meant to blunt the worst of the Empire’s enemies could muster.

There were collective gasps, panic even from some of the children at the sudden appearance of the Vondem Rose above their heads. More than a few people were seeking cover while others were pushing forward, bringing weapons to bear on Sidda and her people while Gavalore merely looked up, watching the ship as it lazily circled above before coming to a stop, no longer blotting out the sun, the purple of the hull now visible.

“You know, I’m getting sick of seeing my ship,” Sidda said calmly before shouting in the direction of the Rose, “inside an atmosphere! Space! Ship!”

And as if on queue, rigged up from the last time the Rose decided to descend from the heavens, the ship emitted a long, blaring bellow reminiscent of an old ship’s horn. No doubt someone up there was answering her yells, watching everything below. Confirmed when another horn blow followed after she gave the ship a one-fingered salute.

And then her attention turned back to Gavalore, glaring at him for a five-count before her gaze spun around the village centre, at the armed posse surrounding her people, at the frightened people beyond them. “They’re all refugees aren’t they?” she finally asked as she turned back to Gavalore.

“As many as I could get out of the Empire before it got too hard. Then as many as I could help before your reappearance convinced me I should seek a new career.” Gavalore shrugged, his own gaze going around the people present. “We failed the Romulan people, so I did what I could. And I was too much of a coward to face you, so I ran and hid. Turned all my loot into supplies and equipment and settled on this rock far, far from your operations at the time.”

“Fuck,” Sidda muttered, then holstered her disruptor. “Fuck you Gavalore.”

“I deserve that. Worse even really.”

“You deserve me shooting you here and now,” she spat back at him. “You fucking left me in the void to die you bastard!” She stopped, took in a deep breath, let it out. “Brett Gavalore is dead. You hear me? Dead.”

“Just plain ol’ Brett,” the man answered, laying on the Ayer’s Rock accent thickly. “No Gavalore here.”

“Don’t,” Sidda warned him. “Just don’t.” She shook her head and looked around once more. “You ever leave this rock, I’ll push you out an airlock myself. I will track you down and space you. I might even be kind enough to put you in a suit too.”

“Reasonable,” he answered. “As far as the galaxy is concerned, I’m not coming back. Got a life here now. Galivanting across the cosmos is a young person’s game.”

They stared at each other for a full minute before Sidda started to turn her horse away from him. “Fuck you Gavalore. Just…fuck you.”

“Again, I’m sorry Sidda,” he said to her back as she returned to her people, the crowd around them parting and flowing towards Gavalore, no doubt demanding their own answers from him. Answers he likely couldn’t give, but they would still ask for anyway.

They left the village, not the way they came but towards the Vondem Rose, a shuttle departing the ship for the ground as they approached.

“Don’t you have to kill him?” Orelia asked. “To protect some dark secret you refuse to tell us about, yeah?”

“I was sent to kill a man that died years ago,” she answered. “Fat, greying, tired bastard.”

“A few of those kids had somewhat rounded ears,” R’tin spoke up. “Unless there are some other humans around we didn’t see, he’s got his own kids.”

“Huh,” Sidda replied. “Well, that’s punishment enough then. And fuck T’Rev. He wants to expose my secrets, fuck him. I’ll do it myself. ” She reached into her jacket, fished around in an inner pocket for a moment and then flicked what she found towards Orelia.

The silver arrowhead caught the sun as it sailed towards the larger Orion woman, who caught it and turned it around properly to look at it. As recognition flashed across her face at the Starfleet delta in her hand, she held it up, the others all being able to see it properly.

“What the actual fuck!” Orelia barked as Sidda kept riding away.

Comments

  • Not the encounter I was expecting and yet oh so fulfilling! I, like Sidda, was expecting a duel and to see Gavalore laid to rest, but what we got from him after all this build up was far more interesting. And the reveal at the end too, the secret they came to protect… I want more!

    August 15, 2023