Chapter 20: "Wishful Thinking"
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"I wish we had more time..." Arhea let out a sigh.
"Ie. It was all too short," Hvaid agreed. For a moment, he studied his little sister's face. "I haven't seen you in fifteen years, and now we already have to part again."
"Always on the move," she smiled up at him, touching his arm gently, "it's how the military is. We both knew it would be hard to keep up with family when we joined."
"Even harder after you disappeared into the ranks of the Tal'Shiar." He couldn't keep his displeasure from showing on his face.
"And to learn that you have been living within the Federation for all that time..." Hvaid's frown increased. "Infiltrating Starfleet. A dangerous game to play. You could have easily been discovered and killed."
"The Federation doesn't necessarily make it its policy to kill its enemies," she countered mildly.
"Starfleet's Intelligence Division does," he insisted adamantly.
Once more, she let out a prolonged sigh. "Look, Hvaid, I did what I felt was the right thing to do back then. The right thing for the Rihannsu empire..."
"But... now I see things slightly different."
"There are many that would consider you a traitor, Arhea," Hvaid's voice was ominous.
"You haven't told anybody that you've seen me, have you?"
"No. Not yet." He hung his head and turned away from her, staring out the viewport for a long moment. "Not even Admiral Taris... but I should. It's my duty."
Her jaw tightened. "Far be it from me to keep you from doing what you must., but..." her voice quivered slightly, "all official reports show that I died at Abraxas." She swallowed the tears back that wanted to come up, thinking of those crew members on the Excelsior again she hated to deceive like this.
"Abraxas?" He turned back to face her. A quizzical look in his eyes. "What do you mean, you died there?"
"Miro... I mean, D'Nal," she began to explain, "had an information chip implanted into my brain. He had told me it was there to mask my Rihannus identity, but in truth it was also storing every bit of data I've came across in the fifteen years of my undercover work in Starfleet. He wanted it back. I wasn't about it give it to him. D'Nal was ready to take it by force, even if it meant killing me in the process." Her brow furrowed. "Commodore Greco realized the danger and... well, he replaced me with a clone of myself, one that he had brought to live on the Paladin."
"A clone?" Hvaid looked even more puzzled.
Arhea nodded. "Greco felt I was too important to the mission to apprehend Admiral Michaev to risk my life unwarranted. So, he put my clone on the Excelsior just before we headed to Abraxas. And he was right..." She frowned. "D'Nal recalled 'me' with a secret access signal to that chip and my clone went down to the planet with a shuttle... unauthorized." Her green eyes flashed with pain. "He killed her... coldly and brutally taking that chip." A forceful sigh. "It could have been me."
Hvaid put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Arhea."
"It's ok." She gave her brother a halfhearted smile, then shrugged. "Officially, I'm dead. Which... at the moment means that neither the Tal'Shiar nor SFI is looking for me. I would like to keep it that way." Her eyes met his with a plea. "I'm sure Commodore Greco and Timir would be most grateful for that as well."
He clenched his jaw, averting his eyes from hers for a moment. She was asking a lot of him.
Her voice was but a whispered when she continued. "I'm asking you... not as an officer of the Galae, or of the Tal'Shiar, but... as you sister... please, Hvaid, keep my being alive to yourself."
"I'm not sure that's possible. Some of my bridge crew saw you," he began pacing, "And you know, if it would be discovered that I've aided you, my life would be at risk, too, as well as the lives of all our family."
"I know." She watched him, wringing her hands. "I trust you'd find a way."
Hvaid stopped his pacing and regarded her with concern. "I would gladly bear that burden and even risk handling the situation with the bridge crew for you, Arhea, but what about our family? Father. Mother. Jaron. Rai... the children. The Tal'Shiar would have no qualms..."
"The Tal'Shiar don't know where they are," Ahrea countered.
"Neither do I, come to think of it," he noted.
"Maybe it's better that way."
He looked pained.
"Hvaid, please don't give me that look," she grimaced, "I've told you they're alright. I promise you. I will let nothing happen to them." She held his gaze for what seemed an eternity.
"Alright." He exhaled. "I will keep your secret."
A smile lit up her face. "I knew I could count on you." She moved to his side and grabbed his hand. "I promise you, I'm done with the Tal'Shiar for good."
"What about the secret division your beloved Commodore Greco belongs to?" Hvaid gave her a slightly reprimanding look.
"Well," she glanced at him sideways, "if you mean, will I continue working for Greco in this capacity? I'd have to say... no. I'm not planning on it."
"Mmhmm." Again, he gave her that same look, but this time he couldn't hold it for long in all seriousness before a smirk spread on his lips. "What about that Timir guy? You're planing on settling down with him and have a family?"
"Hvaid," she blushed slightly, "have you completely forgotten who I am in the past fifteen years?" She gave him deadpan look.
"How could I?" He sighed in mock exasperation. "I was just hoping you had changed."
"Ha!" A broad grin spread on her lips. "Wishful thinking."
"Can you blame me?"
She eyed him for a minute, then chuckled.
Her amusement infected him for but a moment, then his face became serious again. He pulled her into an embrace. "I'm going to miss you... again." Releasing her a bit, he looked back into those big green eyes. They were just as sparkly and mischievous looking as when she was a little girl, and yet there was a lot more poise and determination in them these days as well.
"I'll miss you, too, Hvaid. I will be careful," she smiled, "and I will see you again. I promise."
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The Spectre Class warbird Greiirh had long jumped to warp with its companion ships, but Arhea's gaze still hung on the spot in space where it had disappeared from her sight until the Paladin itself departed and moved to warp speed.
Timir stepped into the darkened room and walked up to the window. His arms reached around her from behind. He pulled her to his chest and held her tight, his cheek pressing against hers. His eyes followed hers out into the dark void as he spoke, "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but... we're on our way to Federation space."
She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. "You seem especially apprehensive about that."
"I have reason to be." He released her and stepped back, exhaling with force.
Arhea turned to face him. "You don't think Starfleet Command will hold up their end of the bargain? I mean, I don't see why you should worry, you're bringing them the information they've asked you to gather. Didn't they say you'd be exonerated?"
"Well... yes. I'm suppose to be a free man then."
She waited a moment after he fell silent before she spoke again, "Look, if Tony has any say-so in this, you know he'll demand them to keep up their..."
"I know. I know." Timir stepped to the couch and flopped onto the cushions. "I'm just..." he glanced past Ahrea and to the window.
She moved to his side and sat. Her hand went to lay on his thigh. "Timir," she waited until he looked back to her before continuing, "tell me, what's troubling you?"
"It's just... the only time I've been on Earth was during my imprisonment and subsequent operative training," he confessed, "the place doesn't exactly hold fond memories for me." He shook his head. "Maybe I'm just being silly."
"You were pretty young back then. Only what... fifteen?"
He nodded, placing his hand on top of hers. A light smile. "I suppose I should look on the positive side. Like you said... I'm giving them what they sent me for, and if they have only a portion of the honor that you believe the Federation and Starfleet has, they should hold up to their end, right?"
"I see no reason why they wouldn't. Although..." A giggle escaped her mouth.
"Although?" Timir's brow raised with concern, despite the giggle, or maybe because of it.
"I do feel sorry for you to have to come face to face with Sauerpuss again." Arhea bit her lip, trying to keep back an outright laugh.
"Sauerp... oh, Admiral Sauer." He let his head fall back against the couch with an grunt. "Don't remind me." His head fell to the side, looking at Arhea. "You're terrible, you know that?" he scolded. "This is not fair."
"What's not fair?" A completely innocent expression on her face.
"That you can hide on the ship, while I have to face that woman." He shook his finger at her.
"Hey now," she countered, waggling her own finger in his direction, "I had to deal with her several more times after we had that little conversation in your presence that day. I had all I can take of her charming disposition. It's your turn."
"I still don't think it's fair."
Arhea shrugged. "You'll have Tony with you. You can suffer together." She tried to bite back another chuckle.
"You're enjoying this far too much." Timir frowned, rolling his head back to look back up to the ceiling. "How long will it take us to get to Earth?"
"About three weeks."
"Well, at least that leaves me some time to prepare."
"You could always re-create her on the holodeck and then expose yourself to her every day," Arhea suggested, "I believe they call that desensitizing."
A moment of silence. Then he suddenly burst out laughing. He sat up straight. "Leave it up to you to come up with a weird way of handling the situation."
"Are you saying my ideas don't have merit?" She pouted.
He chuckled. "Don't give me that look. It makes me want to scoop you up in my arms and kiss you."
Timir pulled her close. "Trouble maker." He leaned in, but didn't quite kiss her. "You know, speaking of the holodeck..."
"Mmhmm." He smiled, touching her nose briefly with his. "I wanted to take you to have sushi in that Japanese restaurant program. I'm still perfecting my grasp on the use of chopsticks. I need practice."
This time she chuckled. "Sounds good." She slipped from his grip and stood. "Under one condition." An impish smile formed on her lips. "We combine that program with the one for the outdoors bath facilities... for afterward."
"Ohh..." He stood, his amber eyes sparkling. "I like how you think."
Her grin widened. "No holographic occupants," she started toward the door, "just me... and you."
He darted after her. "I like that even better."
Ie = Yes