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Valaa worked furiously. The oppressive heat of the live plasma streams combined with the roar of the energy transfer beam was making this place a good approximation of hell. Sweat flowed in rivers from her skin. It made her grip slippery. She fumbled several times trying to attach the explosives to the junction.

Valaa didn't notice the pool of moisture forming on the support beam at her feet. She took one step trying to get closer to a power conduit when her boot slipped. It nearly sent her tumbling to her death. She fell forward hard and caught herself on another support strut at the last moment. However, her disruptor pistol slipped out from her holster and plummeted end over end into the abyss. It hit the deck right next to the Reman technicians before shattering into a dozen pieces.

"WHAT! Look up there!" one of the workers shouted with a series of hideous clicks.

"What is she doing?!" another one shouted.

"Get her!" one of the guards screamed.

They all raised their weapons, but the lead technician yelled out with his telepathic mind:

"DON'T SHOOT! YOU'LL HIT THE PLASMA LINES!"

Valaa's heart pounded as she saw the guards break and run to ladders on either side of her. The Remans, used to subterranean maneuvering in mine shafts, climbed incredibly fast. In less than a minute she would be completely surrounded. To make things even worse, she didn't even have a particle weapon to defend herself with.

Valaa looked down at the Scimitar below. She knew that Rellas was onboard.

"I hope you're doing better than I am, Boss," she whispered crestfallen.

The Remans were almost halfway up the ladders now. She was running out of time. Her eyes drifted back to the anti-matter explosives. They were already armed. She just had to prime the detonator. Unfortunately, there was no way to set a timer that the Remans wouldn't deactivate before the explosion.

Valaa considered running away. She could hit her emergency transporter and beam back to the shuttle. Then, she could flee and leave Rellas to fend for himself. She could leave all this nonsense behind, get out of the Romulan Empire, and try to scrape out a new existence somewhere. Maybe she could find someone like Mama Traxi. Maybe she could take a job as a lodubyaln again dancing for tips in a seedy bar for the rest of her life…

"No," she said rejecting that terrible thought. The fact she was still strong enough to do it brought a smile to her face. "I'm not a slave. I'm not a concubine, and I'm worth more than a man's latinum. I am Valaa. My life was short, but I'm gonna make it count."

She felt tears streaming down her face.

"Good luck, Rellas. Catch you on the flip side."

She closed her eyes and pressed the detonator.

****

Shinzon and Rellas were locked in combat. Both men's knives clanged and clashed as they tried to land a death blow on their opponent. Rellas parried a strike from Shinzon, but the general grabbed the Gralluscan's wrist and pulled him in close.

"How do you think this ends?" Shinzon asked spitting right into Rellas face. "You've lost, you're soldiers are dead, and you're trapped on my ship!"

Rellas didn't hesistate.

"It ends with my hands around your throat!" he shouted back.

Suddenly, there was another bright flash outside the window. An explosion ripped through the hull of the thalaron rig. A pulse of energy shot straight down the beam of particle drill and into the core of Hobus. For a brief second, the star grew dimmer and its surface contracted rapidly by several hundred thousand kilometers. Then, in an instant, the star expanded again to its full size and brightness. The pulse returned up the particle beam with a thousand times its initial energy straight inside the thalaron rig. The entire cylinder exploded in a giant fireball of burning stellar plasma. The shockwave slammed into the Scimitar sending the whole ship flying.

Rellas and Shinzon were thrown across the observation deck and hurled hard into the ground. Alarms echoed through the compartment as bulkheads collapsed and emergency force fields activated. The Reman found himself on his hands and knees. His whole head spun in a daze. Shinzon realized that his dagger was gone. He furiously felt around the deck plating for his weapon before looking up to see Rellas in a similar state. However, the Gralluscan's knife was still in his grasp. Rellas climbed to his feet through the smoke and haze and set his sights back to the general.

Shinzon caught sight of his blade on the ground, but it was well out of reach. Rellas had already started moving towards him. Then, the Reman felt a small object next to his hand. He looked down and saw that it was Krokal's thalaron sphere. Shinzon picked up the tiny object and threw it as hard as he could at Rellas' feet. The red shell shattered and a tiny wisp of green and white particles rose up and enveloped the Gralluscan. Rellas immediately stopped as every nerve in his body started tingling as if his limps were going to sleep. Then, his muscles tensed and cramped uncontrollably. He dropped his knife to the deck.

Shinzon calmly rose to his feet and dusted off his robes.

"Your hands around my throat, eh?" he asked as the Gralluscan felt the tingling transform into a horrific burning sensation. It was if he had been doused in burning oil. Rellas gritted his teeth in pain as he felt his flesh sizzle. "I think this ends with you being the first victim of my new power."

Rellas' eyes watered as he desperately looked towards the grinning Shinzon. He felt his body dying as the toxic thalaron coursed through his veins, but somehow with all his might, he wanted his last breath to wipe that arrogant smirk off the Reman's face. The images of the Gralluscan's life flashed through his mind. Rellas saw his mother in their childhood home. He saw her screaming, crying face as Romulan slavers dragged him away to be sold at market.

"My father raises his hand to me…" Rellas spoke calmly through the agony. "My mother opens her arms…"

"What was that?" Shinzon said cupping his hand to his ear. The Reman took several steps towards Rellas still triumphant in his mannerisms. "I couldn't quite hear you."

Rellas saw his fellow gladiators at the ludus. They trained hard and formed a bond of brothers in arms. Together, they won victories in the arena and mourned their friends who fell. He saw the Son of Tigranian arrive. He saw his life change as he realized his own sense of worth. He saw this human and Lady Laria saving him from the clutches of Selonia. He saw his fellow slaves rise up and fight back against the Romulans.

"I see my family together, generations standing as one. They beckon me to cross the River of Blood!"

Rellas saw his army's many victories against the Star Empire. He saw the faces of his friends who had sacrificed their lives. His flesh began to transform into a black ash that slowly crawled from the soles of his feet and up his legs. Somehow, Rellas still managed to force his muscles forward in a mighty step towards Shinzon. The Reman's arrogance instantly dissipated as he froze in horror. Miraculously, Rellas took another step and then another. The ash was now up to his waist, but still he refused to give up.

"That should be impossible!" Shinzon shouted as the color drained from his face.

"To the gates of Sto'Vo'Kor'!" Rellas roared as he reached out one hand and clenched it down on Shinzon's throat. The general gasped as the Gralluscan's mighty grip crushed his windpipe like an empty beverage can.

"Where the honored dead…"

Rellas lifted Shinzon clear off the deck. The Reman futilely kicked his feet and pounded on Rellas' arm as the ash continued to climb up the mighty warrior's torso.

"WILL LIVE…"

Shinzon began to lose consciousness as Rellas literally squeezed the life out of him. The burning ash was now up to Rellas neck. The thalaron flame began burning its way up Rellas' arm.

"AGAIN!"

The Gralluscan warrior fully immolated. Shinzon's last view was Rellas' stern face filled with righteous fury as it froze into ash. Finally, the Son of the Western Stars broke apart into pile of black powder. His empty clothes fell to the ground.

Shinzon dropped down onto his hands and knees clutching his shattered throat. He desperately gasped for air, but soon realized that he was breathing in Rellas' desiccated remains. He jumped up in horror and ran to a corner before vomiting with a mix of terror and disgust. Then, after a moment to compose himself, he wiped off his armor, picked up his dagger, and walked back to the bridge.

****

"Damage Report," Shinzon croaked through his bruised neck as he walked back towards his command chair.

"We have damage on Decks 27 through 42, but emergency force fields are holding," Vkruk answered. He chose to save his questions about Shinzon's injuries for a later time. "Repair estimates are 3-4 days."

"While they're at it, have the engineering teams overhaul our security network as well," Shinzon said. "I think the intruder detection grid may need some work," Shinzon growled through gritted teeth. "What about the thalaron rig?"

Vkruk and Krokal exchanged glances.

"Completely destroyed, Sir," Vkruk said. "No survivors."

"How much thalaron we were able to collect before the explosion?" Shinzon said turning to Krokal. The engineer hesitated and looked down to his console. "KROKAL!" Shinzon roared.

"We were able to collect enough particles to fire the Scimitar's main array once. Maybe twice if one of the targets is small."

"We should prioritize our target carefully, My Lord," Vkruk said. "If we can only attack one planet, than I believe it should be Earth."

"One planet and then the Scimitar is useless," Shinzon growled. "ONE WORTHLESS PLANET!"

The general stumbled backward and started convulsing with the pain of an attack. His veins pulsed and throbbed so hard, Shinzon felt like every vessel on his body would explode. He writhed around screaming in pain and rage for a few seconds before Vkruk ran over and managed to stabilize him. Slowly, Shinzon climbed back to his feet wiping a line of spittle from his mouth.

"Thank you, Viceroy," he said regaining his composure. His demeanor completely changed as if he had taken a hit of narcotics. "It's no matter, Krokal. You will rebuild the particle drill and we will refine more thalaron. To be taken seriously, we need the capability to use our array on a galactic scale, not just in a single attack."

"We can't, My Lord," Krokal replied firmly. "The collection rig's destruction caused an energy surge that destabilized Hobus' entire stellar core," he paused and then looked at Vkruk. The viceroy nodded for him to continue his report. "The star will destroy itself. It could be a year from now. It could be a century from now. There's no way to know when for sure. However a supernova is inevitable."

"Then we'll rebuild it around another star!" Shinzon replied angrily. "Surely there must be another suitable one somewhere in the Romulan Empire."

Krokal finally had enough

"Don't you understand!? Hobus will explode!" he desperately shrieked. "The subspace shockwave will obliterate half this sector. Even Romulus and Remus could be in the path of the destruction!"

"IS THERE ANOTHER STAR OR NOT!?" Shinzon roared fighting back another attack.

"No Sir. There is not another suitable star in this entire quadrant!" Krokal said throwing his shoulders back. "And even if there was, I wouldn't tap it for you. I've caused enough destruction for one lifetime."

The general took a deep breath. Then he reached down and felt the hilt of the dagger on his belt.

"Then it seems I no longer have a use for you."

Shinzon threw his blade as hard as he could straight into the middle of Krokal's chest.


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