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The Sisters

Valley of Chula, Romulus
 
Previously: Dramatis Personae

Valley of Chula
Romulus

It was nighttime on Romulus. The air was mildly warm, with the sound of cicadas in the distance. Camping in the rocky Valley of Chula, N'Tal gazed upon the dark sky and the two great moons in orbit. She always came here when she was on leave; it was quiet and mostly empty, and she sometimes had to trek the ravines for days before encountering another lifeform, much less a person.

There was only one town in the Valley, a sleepy desert town seated next to the only large body of water in the vast desert. The night sky was beautifully reflected upon the still water. N'Tal was above on a plateau, looking down at the town and enjoying its coziness from afar. Someone was roasting meat on an open fire; she could smell the smoke on the breeze.

In all her years of coming here, she'd never once set foot in town.

She'd looked it up though; it was called Liha and had less than a thousand families. Most of its infrastructure and overall standard of living were antiquated, but the Lihans apparently preferred it that way. They didn't use transporters or replicators; they hunted and grew their own food, and made everything by hand. They even revered the old gods.

Without ever having visited, N'Tal planned to retire there some day. She planned to change her name and everything. She imagined it would be a peaceful, simple life.

"Colonel R'Mora to Major Aiyar."

N'Tal blinked. In all her years of coming here, she could count all times her boss interrupted her on one hand. The last time the Colonel reached out was to announce the Romulan Star Empire was joining the Federation in a war against the Dominion.

"N'Tal here."

"Please prepare for transport."

Fuck the gods. What could it possibly this time? N'Tal rose to her feet, gathering her few belongings and hoping she didn't look and smell too much like the wild.

"Ready."

In a flash she was at the Tal Shiar headquarters in the capital. Its halls and carpets were as a gray as the uniforms of the officers, as gray as the Romulan heart...or so the saying went.

She drew few looks; it wasn't completely out of the ordinary for an agent to be summoned in the middle of the night, wearing whatever they were wearing when they got the call. During the war, one particularly irate Colonel was still in his dressing gown when he had to drop everything and transport to the headquarters. N'Tal was just wearing camping clothes, though now that she was back, she could smell the desert on her skin.

Colonel R'Mora, her direct superior, was a black-haired Romulan woman with dark brownish olive skin and a neutral pair of brown eyes. Clad in full uniform at this ungodly hour, she was standing by her window on the ninth floor overlooking the city, drinking Klingon coffee (of all things), and reviewing some type of report. When N'Tal arrived, she gave the junior officer a onceover.

"Chula?" she asked, returning her eyes to her report.

"Yes, sir."

"Do you ever go anywhere else?" The older woman always spoke in a dry, deadpan tone that only ever faintly betrayed her sarcasm".

"No, sir."

"Next time, try visiting the Hireen Springs on Ligon II. The skies are lovely shade of red, and the waters will soothe any ache."

"Thank you, sir."

"I just received news that your mother, the intrepid Ambassador Aiyar, has been assigned to Bajor."

N'Tal only slight raised her left eyebrow. "Deep Space 9?"

"No, no; I mean Bajor," R'Mora clarified. "She negotiated for an estate in the actual capital."

N'Tal's face betrayed nothing. Sounds like my mother.

"Your assignment is to take the rest of your leave on Bajor at your mother's residence," R'Mora informed her.

N'Tal tried not to look or sound alarmed. "Sir?"

"In the wake of the war, our resources are stretched thin," the Colonel reminded her. "Our last asset on Bajor died during the war; replacing him has been rather difficult. Your mother's latest assignment makes things easier."

N'Tal stood up a little straighter, hands clasped behind her back. "Sir."

When R'Mora was first told she was getting a half-Romulan, half-Vulcan agent, she'd been skeptical. When she heard the agent was also an Aiyar, she was certain N'Tal would never last in the Tal Shiar.

And though it was said Vulcans had to be taught about logic and neutrality from an early age, it appeared those things ran in N'Tal's blood. For Komera Aiyar was a insufferable blue blood and all her daughters were said to hate her, yet the young agent didn't hesitate to accept the assignment.

"You are to leave for Bajor at once; passage has been booked aboard the commercial Lissepian vessel Kaela, currently in orbit. You'll find the guest quarters to be adequately comfortable; captain's an old acquaintance of mine. Dismissed."

***

Romulan warbird Ankor
En route to Bajoran Space

During the war, Dr. Ziryn Aiyar had spent her time on Romulus, conducting research of classified data collected by stealth vessel. She'd wanted for nothing and had never been in fear for her life, so the toll of the war hadn't registered until she boarded her sister's warship.

The Ankor was still being repaired, even as she sailed through space at a humble warp four. There seemed to be at least one engineer on every deck, repairing damaged bulkheads, recalibrating sensors, or replacing wiring. The lights seemed dimmer than usual upon the grayish green walls, the temperature a little cooler as she made her way to the Commander's mess. Ziryn could smell the steamed mollusks and viinerine before the door slid open.

Ah, she mused. Comfort food.

Commander Zithi Aiyar wasn't eating, however; she was leaning back in her chair at the head of an empty table, drinking a tall glass of kali-fal. It must have been at least her second or third, because the accompanying decanter was half-empty.

"Kali-fal?" Ziryn blinked. "On an empty stomach."

Unlike her light and bubblier sister, Zithi always spoke in a low, grim voice. "Not as hungry these days." She sat up, painfully, briefly touching her lower left side.

"You should be in bed," Ziryn gently told her. "If you're going to insist on getting back on duty, the least you could do is get more rest."

"We're stretched thin," Zithi replied. It was a statement Ziryn heard every single day now. "Shipyards are backed up, repairs are behind schedule, patrol ships are working double, and the death toll during the war has...deterred sufficient recruitment."

Ziryn nodded gravely, serving herself some mollusks. "I heard the military missed its quota by 32%." After a beat she added, "When was the last time your crew enjoyed shore leave?"

"We'll enjoy it at Deep Space 9," Zithi replied, taking a swig of her pale blue drink. "We were stationed there for a while. I got blitzed one night and lost a whole bar of latinum at Quark's, so now that devious little Ferengi and his rigged tables owe me."

She finally started eating, taking a jumbo mollusk, tearing a piece and stuffing it unceremoniously into her mouth. She chewed without blinking, as though not tasting and no longer taking comfort in her favorite childhood food.

"Remember when Father would take us to the shore," Ziryn reminisced, "and that old woman with the stall would braise the mollusks for us in wine and mushroom oil?"

"While Mother was on a distant moon somewhere, still running our lives from there," Zithi nodded, still not blinking, staring at nothing.

"She's on a Bajor now," Ziryn said, taking a mollusk for herself. Steamed mollusks were fine, but these lacked seasoning. When they arrived at Deep Space 9, she planned to treat her sister to some proper food.

Zithi snapped out of her daze, her head turning towards her sister. "Mother? On Bajor?"

"She didn't tell you?"

"No," Zithi blinked, before turning away and falling back into her daze. "We don't speak."

"Still?"

"We have nothing to say to each other anymore, Ziryn. Nothing that hasn't already been said a thousand times: she's disappointed in me, and I don't care." Pause. "At least she'll be on the planet, not the station."

Ziryn's whole body stiffened as she hesitated to speak. "It would be...odd, if both daughters of the Romulan Ambassador didn't visit her. People will talk."

Zithi snorted; it was the closest thing to laughter Ziryn had heard from her in a long time. "Then it's good thing neither of us became politicians."

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