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[2010: JUL-AUG] *WINNER* Righting the Past


Tal Tel-ar
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Righting the Past

Tal stepped down off the shuttle and looked around. His 6’4” athletic frame allowed him to look over the heads of the other security personnel in front of him. Not that there was much to see.

The buildings were a drab gray, with a stained and weather worn look that made them seem shabby. Even the sky was dull and depressing. Then the smell hit him and his antenna twitched and jerked. There was a subtle stench of decay mixed with and in some cases overpowered by the reek of uncontrolled industrial pollution.

Still and all Tal was sadly disappointed by what he was seeing. His first diplomatic mission and it was smack dab in the center of an industrial waste site on a back water world that barely had the technology for manned space flight.

All in all not exactly a wonderful world to be visiting, especially as they were still gripped in the deadly grasp of a civil war that had been running unchecked for close to 30 years.

Which explained why he was here? Now that the old Dictator had died there was hope that a cease fire could be negotiated. One that would hopefully lead to a peaceful solution to their current and ongoing differences.

It would not be an easy thing. Not if all the reports of atrocities committed by the old government against various minority factions were true. In fact according to the briefing he had attended before this mission started it was these acts that were still the cause of numerous violent outbreaks.

Still that had been two weeks before. Now he was bored stiff. He had spent hours standing guard while the different factions had argued, shouted, insulted, threatened, demanded and then started all over again.

So it was no wonder that he had jumped at the chance for a change of pace at the first opportunity. And now here he was. Walking along with a dozen native troops and an equal number of paper pushing file clerks to retrieve a newly discovered collection of documents that would in detail name, names and detail just what kinds of acts the old government had ordered done.

It did not take that long to reach the building and even less time to blow the doors so that they could gain entrance. Once inside it was as expected. Boxes upon boxes of documents. More than you could possible read in one lifetime.

Again time seemed to stand still as he assisted by moving boxes while they searched. The air was still and musty. Even worse the more boxes they moved the more dust that filled the air. It was starting to irritate his antenna.

Suddenly the air was rent by the loud explosive whooshhh sound as numerous firebombs were tossed, fired into the room. In seconds there were numerous fires. Way more than they could hope to put out and the fires blazed up quickly into a dangerous inferno that could not be contained.

Coughing and blinking past the smoke that stung his sensitive eye’s Tal moved to join the rest. As they moved towards the exit Tal felt a tightening in his chest and a series of violent coughs raked his body as the air became saturated by foul pollutants.

When he finally reached the exit and joined the group of stumbling, gasping troops there, Tal was as surprised as they were by a second wave of loud, harsh, banging sounds. The explosive pops were followed by a deadly rain of tiny metal slugs that smashed into anything in their way.

As soon as Tal realized they were under attack he dropped low and tried to sprint towards the closest cover.

He never made it. His leg was struck by what felt like a red hot poker and he lost his balance and started to go down. That’s when he was hit in the shoulder and his phaser was smashed from his grasp.

A quick glance showed the weapon was now useless. Random sparks danced and fizzled around the cracked energy casing. A clear indicator that it was just a fancy paper weight now.

As for the men he had been with. Some of them were already down. Others fought on regardless of their injuries. It was obvious that surrender and mercy were not options.

Just then one of them was hit. The force of the projectile blew a hole in him big enough to shove a child’s arm through. It also lifted him off his feet to land with a bone jarring thud right on top of Tal’s leg wound.

The sudden shock slowed him down enough that by the time he had fought past the pain and shoved the corpse off his leg, he was just in time to hear the sudden approach of someone. Looking up Tal saw the butt end of a rifle speeding towards his head. He started to lift an arm to block.

Unfortunately he was too late.

**************

When he came to he was somewhere else. Someplace that was quiet. Not an artificial quiet but one more in tune with nature. One where subtle sounds revealed the wind caressing leaves and birds singing softly in the distance. So even before Tal opened his eyes he knew the bleak concrete buildings had been replaced by a more tranquil setting.

When he did open his eyes it was to see towering trees and a sky that was less gray, almost clean. Looking around he saw that he was lying on the ground in a slight hollow that was maybe twice the size of a shuttle.

He was alone except for one man standing nearby. From the looks of things he was of above average height and musculature for a male of the native species. It was also obvious that he was no beginner but a well trained soldier.

He glanced over at Tal then returned his gaze towards the forest around them. He stayed like this for over an hour. When he did move it was with an easy, relaxed manner that showed he knew what he was doing.

He remained quiet. His face an immobile mask of granite indifference. The face of a man completely sure of himself. Even as he cooked a quick meal over a smokeless fire he maintained a safe distance while watching both Tal and his environment.

When the meal was finished he carried a plate over and set it down close to Tal. Even now he never let his guard down. He was ready, prepared for the unexpected.

Tal ate in silence. The food was different. It had a strange taste and was very bland. Typical soldiers fare. Nourishing, but nothing else.

It was only later when it began to get dark that Tal finally spoke, asking the questions that hopefully would give him some indication of just what was going on.

“May I ask what you intend to do with me?”

For a few minutes it seemed like the man was going to ignore Tal. He remained where he was, calmly watching the surrounding terrain. Eventually he did reply. His voice was hard with a hidden rage, yet controlled. Like he was seeking the right words to best explain the situation.

“You will be tried and executed as an enemy of the people.”

“I see.” Tal considered the answer before he replied. “And just what crime have I committed?”

“What crime!” He exclaimed in a stunned and disgusted tone as he spun to glare back at Tal. “I should have just killed you.”

“Maybe. Still you did not answer my question. What crime?”

“Murder. I know the truth. The Federation has been trying to take over our world for years. Your death squads have killed countless thousands of civilians and placed the blame on our government.” He snarled.

“I see.” Again Tal considered the reply. It made no sense but at the same time seemed to hint at a deeper truth. “I take it you have proof?”

“Your own people have provided it now that you have come out of the shadows and demanded we surrender our rights in order to become a part of your Empire.”

“A strange way to put it. I take it you have not watched or listened to the various debates that have taken place over the last few weeks?”

“Why waste my time with staged performances. We both know our leaders do exactly as you wish. If not you will kill their families.”

At that statement Tal allowed one eye brow to rise. It was the first sign of any reaction that he had given since arriving on this dreary world.

“If that is the case why did you destroyed the government records regarding all the atrocities that have been committed over the last 30 years?”

For a second the man seemed confused. Maybe even a little startled as his eyes seemed to reflect a sense of uncertainty.

“Records? What records?”

“The records that your firebombs destroyed.” Tal let him think about that for a couple moments before adding. “Which raises the question why did you bring firebombs if your objective was not to destroy those records?”

“Your lying. There were no records!”

“You saw the fire. For that matter you must have been watching us when we arrived. Did you not find it strange that half of the group were civilians. Men with recording devices, scanners and other data gathering machines?”

For the first time a look of uncertainty crossed his face just before he turned to stare out into the darkening gloom. Tal remained silent. Best to let the man think about what he had seen.

After a while he turned to look at Tal again. The faint glow from the fire did not reach far but was enough for them to see each others face’s. Even if it did leave small shadows behind that masked any subtle expressions.

“I was ordered by Golnel Mal’eck. He is a hero of the people. Hand picked by The Primier to investigate subversion and terrorist acts.”

“Did you assist in these investigations?”

“I was lucky enough to be selected to be a part of one of his units.”

“This Golnel Mal’eck had more than one unit?”

The man fell silent as he turned his gaze back outwards for a few moments. Then he turned back as he spoke again in a tired, soul weary tone.

“There were 5 units under his command. I was a member of one of the 4 small response teams. He would send us to investigate the various locations where terrorists had killed civilians.”

For a moment he fell silent again as he turned away. This time when he spoke he continued to stare out into the gathering night.

“Golnel Mal’eck had a special team. We called them the shadow squad. No one knew who they were or how many men were members of this elite team. It was there job to track down and kill any and all terrorist cells.”

“Did you investigate these sites as well?”

“No.” He seemed to sigh as his shoulders hunched a little bit. Then he turned to look back at Tal again as he spoke. “I’ve never heard of anyone who has ever examined one of the shadow squads, mission sites.”

“I see.” Tal allowed this information to float between them. The implications were easy to grasp. Only then did he speak again. “In regards to these talks. Your people will not be allowed to join the Federation. You are not ready.”

“Then why are your people here?”

“Hopefully as an impartial third party the Federation can act as observers and moderators. In that way peace for your people may finally be achieved.”

Again he fell silent. It was obvious that his thoughts were troubled. The earlier silent air of confidence was gone. Even his relaxed casual movements had been affected.

“You could be lying.”

“True. However I am a soldier like you. I live and fight by a code of honour. As such regardless of what your people do to me I will still retain that honour. Can the same be said of you?”

That one simple question disturbed him more than any thing else that had been said this evening. He suddenly paced back and forth. The shadows playing across his face like silent watchers to this tense self inspection.

Then he suddenly whirled and drew his long knife. The blade caught the light, forcing Tal to concentrate on the advancing man. He was unsure how he could defend himself. He was secured to a tree and his legs were staked down. Even without that his wounds and blood loss would surely slow down his reflex’s.

Tal watched as he stalked forward and suddenly dropped to one knee. The blade slashed out cutting through the bonds securing his legs with ease. With a few more quick easy moves all the ropes were cut and Tal was free.

Tal watched the man’s face as he slowly moved his legs. The tingling sensation that heralded the return of normal blood flow in his legs was a welcome feeling.

“Now what?” Tal asked. Curious as to what he planned to do now.

For a moment he remained silent, as if he had not thought out his actions in full till this moment. When he spoke his voice had regained some spirit.

“Now we need to get away from here before Golnel Mal’eck arrives.”

“I fear we may be too late for that.” Tal replied as he detected the subtle sounds of walking feet.

The man reacted instantly. His body in motion even before Tal finished speaking. The quick sure movements of a professional soldier, one who is trained to handle any emergency showed as he grabbed his rifle and started to stand up.

His movements were stopped by the harsh gravely voice of one who was use to being instantly obeyed.

“Oblich Nov’ik. Why is the prisoner not secured?”

At the sound of that voice both Tal and the man looked towards where it came from. There he stood. His face hard with an inner strength of will and a glint of vindictive meanness around his eyes. Near him were 4 other soldiers. Rough duplicates of the man kneeling near Tal but in some way less worthy of his respect.

“I am freeing him sir. He is not the enemy.”

“The enemy is who ever I say they are soldier. Remember that.”

“I do Golnel.”

The silence stretched between them as they all stared at each other. A silence that was broken by a sudden metallic sound. Suddenly everyone was moving and shooting. As Tal scrambled for cover he saw from the corner of his eye as all 4 of the Golnel’s guards were cut down.

The only reason the Golnel survived was because he quickly stepped behind one of his men and used him as a shield. It was from this location that he returned fire. Holding the dying man in front of him until he was sure that his target was down.

It took only one look to see that his aim had been good. Tal’s captor was down. He lay partly on his front. From where Tal crouched behind a tree he could see the faint sheen that reflected from the spilled liquid that was his life’s blood.

It pooled onto the hungry ground which sucked it up.

After a moment the grizzled old soldier let go of the soldier he had been holding up. The body flopped onto the ground and slid a couple feet down the slight hill until it came to rest in a jumbled pile.

With no concern for his men he stalked forward. The muzzle of his weapon steady on the target. Stopping by his body he lashed out with one foot and kicked his rifle away. Only then did he bow down to make sure he was dead.

Tal could see it clearly as the downed soldier was rolled onto his side. The slight response as the Golnel realized the man was not quite dead yet. Then his indifference as he spoke harshly to him.

“You should have obeyed orders.”

“Maybe I… should have… sir… but no matter… what. You… taught me … well.”

For a moment Tal was surprised and shocked by the older man’s reaction. He tried to pull away but the younger man reached out and grabbed on. As he did Tal spotted the small object held in his other hand. He was unsure what it was until the sudden blinding flash of light and deafening explosion stunned him with it’s intensity.

When he did look towards them again it was obvious that both were dead. Nothing could have lived through that blast. Not at that range.

Standing Tal watched them for a few moments before he turned and limped off towards the faint glow he could spot in the distance.

Maybe now the two sides could bury the hatchet and work towards a mutual peace. One that would respect the rights of all the people. Tal hoped so. It would be a good epitaph for a brave man who deserved so much more.

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