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They came at night, as N’Vel knew they would.

After the latest contentious council meeting it had merely been a matter of when and not if. Not even where, for the Tal Shiar would, of course, want her murdered in her home to maximize the terror of their message. They inserted low, their stealth-modified intra-atmosphere shuttle flying nap-of-the-earth over the desert, glittering black even against the dark of night. The shuttle ran on sensors alone, without any external light, appearing as only a dark blot against the distant aye mosaram—the “white winds” off the western cliffs, where phosphorescent particles were stirred up by the biannual winds from the northern plains into luminescent brushstrokes against the landscape.

That’s what got them.

N’Vel knew from long and bitter experience that the Tal Shiar were exceptionally good at strategy, but not tactics. Of course they would think masking their approach was enough, and of course the trio of assassins who leaped from the shuttle a short distance from her estate’s perimeter would be wearing sensor-deflecting jumpsuits. The Tal Shiar had the best technology, after all.

But sometimes the old ways were better. N’Vel’s surveillance drones had a visual on the blot the shuttle made against the aye mosaram, and, flagging it as anomalous, activated the ground’s pressure sensors. The assassins’ suits could shield them from active and passive sensors looking for lifesigns, movement, or changes in ambient, temperature, but they couldn’t do anything about the weight of footfalls. When the first assassin vaulted over the decorative wall to the estate, the wearable interface on N’Vel’s cheekbone sent a signal to her cerebral cortex, waking her immediately from her exhausted sleep, and projecting its data at her left eye line.

She rolled out of bed, and slid her feet into the tough, varanus-hide slippers she kept at her bedside. They were lined with orthopedic foam for comfort and support, while still being as tough as the massive reptiles themselves. The soles were a polymer optimized for traction and stealth.

The surveillance system was still relaying data to her left eye, and she saw pressure readings from three points at the west wall, moving toward the garden which dominated the center of her estate. Clearly, they knew the layout and where she spent her evenings. She could already see their plan: a man entered from either side of the bedroom unit, while one went straight in through the open-air walkway. A solid plan, if unimaginative. N’Vel reached over to the bedside table and scooped up the old, chemical-propellant projectile pistol she kept there. It was reassuringly heavy in her hands in a way that a disruptor was not. Holding it before her at high-ready, she darted out of her bedchambers into the bathroom, and out the small access hatch hidden behind the shower.

She rolled onto the soft cushioning of the lettier grass she’d had transplanted from the Northwest hemisphere and came up in a tight, shooter’s crouch. A de-prioritized part of her mind marveled at how the muscle-memory endured from the days of basic training in the distant past. The cool, dry air of the desert night raised the flesh along her arms and on the back of her neck, and N’Vel imagined it heightening her senses like a neuro-stimulant. The system in her cheek continued to relay data: one of the assassins was moving toward her position from her left. N’Vel pivoted in her crouch and brought the gun’s holographic sights up to eye-level.

Assassins, N’Vel knew, relied on stealth, surprise, and the myth those two elements garnered. Remove even one of those elements and put them in a stand-up fight and that myth fell away like a thin layer of mist on the desert plains. The one she tracked was no different, sprinting along the walkway, barely a silhouette in his light-absorbing jumpsuit. But he wasn’t invisible. N’Vel guessed his distance at fifteen or so meters. An easy shot, even with a pistol. She gently pressed the trigger and heard the gun cough as its stabilizing gyros compensated for the recoil and kept the sights on target.

That target, N’Vel saw, spun and fell like a cut tree. She didn’t waste time going for the safety shot through the face. The expanding slugs would have laid waste his chest cavity. If he wasn’t dead now he was certainly no longer mission-capable, and that was all the mattered. Besides, if they were as professional a team as they seemed they’d be monitoring each other’s vital signs, and were now well-aware that their colleague no longer had any.

N’Vel pivoted on her heel and sprinted to the edge of the structure which contained her bedchambers. It was a large hexagon connected to the various other portions of the estate by the long, open-air walkways that ringed her elaborate gardens.

She hoped the bastards weren’t trampling any of her rarer plants.

Stopping at the edge of the structure, she steeled herself with a deep breath. This was the tough part--but also the critical one. She braced her soles against the soft grass, then pushed off in a dead sprint toward the tentacle-like branches of the otheoloke tree twenty-five meters away to her 11 o’clock. She was about three meters away when she first heard the shrill whine of a disruptor and felt the air around her roil with heat.

Not good enough, she thought as she dove for the branches--they were barely dim outlines in the night, and they scratched and tore at her thin garments and skin. It was worth it for the cover. She knew the assassins likely had thermal-imagers, and that right now all they showed was a tangled mass of heat emitted from the otheoloke tree’s branches. They were cool to the touch, owing to the tree’s insulating bark, but the photosynthesis at work within the tree was at such an advanced rate it raised the plant’s core temperatures to nearly that of a Romulan’s body.

More disruptor bolts sizzled through the air, tearing into the tree a meter or so above N’Vel’s head and sending burning embers showering down on her head. She crouched lower amid the branches, made herself small, but also aimed out in the direction of the vivid blue beams.

It was why she used a slug-thrower: true it wasn’t as accurate or versatile as a particle-beam weapon, but it didn’t give up the shooter’s position, either. Most soldiers and security operatives had never used anything but particle-beam weapons and as such never knew a time when enemy fire was invisible. But N’Vel was a military historian.

She squinted through the holo-sights at the direction of the next wave of bolts and fired three quick bursts in a tight group. The opposing fire ceased, and the only sound in the cold night was the rustling of her trees. After a moment, N’Vel used the touch-sensing film on her fingertips to remotely access her estate’s systems and launch a groundskeeping drone. She moved it over the area where the two assassins had been and was saw their forms splayed on the ground.

“Lights!” she called out, and instantly the emergency lights came out, flooding the grounds with rough, white incandescence. Against the bottomless dark on the night sky, they made everything look hyper-real.

N’Vel stood up to the full two-meters of her height for the first time since being woken up and walked over to where the two of the intruders lay. The closer of the two had been hit in the throat and cheek and nearly decapitated, his night-vision helmet shattered and pulped into what was left of his skull. She didn’t pay him any mind, but walked over to the other. He writhed feebly on the long grass, clutching at a wound in his abdomen, his fancy jumpsuit growing greener by the moment.

“Tell ProConsul K’prek that it will take more a few assassins in the night to bring the military under his control.” She couldn’t see the assassin’s face, but his head turned to face her and she heard hoarse gasps as he attempted to summon the strength and aptitude to answer her.

“You know what?” she said. “I’ll tell him when I see him,” and put a shot through the helmet's visor. N’Vel dropped the gun, suddenly exhausted, and trudged back to her home.

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