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Praetor's Villa: Romulus

Stardate: 54451.3

The praetorian guardsmen saluted with their teral'ns as Proconsul Semachs walked past and out onto the terrace overlooking the Apnex Sea. A frail Romulan man with a long beard and sunken eyes sat on a wooden stool in front of an easel. He held a pallet with oil paints in his left hand and a brush in his right. Semachs watched silently for a few moments as Neral gently placed a bit of light blue onto on his brush and carefully applied it to his magnificently detailed landscape of the coast. However, the proconsul's eyes drifted to the lower left corner of the painting and the image of a young woman with long blonde hair. Her silhouette gazed out over a marble railing towards the waters. Her back was to the artist, forever hiding her face from his eyes. For the briefest of moments, Semachs actually felt a twinge of real pity for Neral's loss. It was obvious how much he longed for his fallen wife, no matter how much damage he had allowed her to do to the Star Empire. Now, she only existed in his memories and in the brushstrokes of the art he made while locked in his secret house arrest.

"You are getting much better, Praetor," Semachs said finally breaking through the silence.

"I've had much time to practice…" Neral muttered, barely acknowledging the proconsul's presence as he continued his work. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? Are you finally here to kill me?"

"Sadly, no," Semachs said taking a few cautious steps closer to Neral. "At the moment, you are still more valuable to us alive than dead…" he paused briefly before cocking his head to the side, "…but only slightly. The Romulan people are actually embracing the story that you have begun a cloistered prayer vigil for their sake. They find it quite moving, or so the Tal Shiar tells me."

Neral scoffed.

"Be very wary of what the Tal Shiar says," he replied. "I actually believed that they were on my side. As it turns out, they were only out for themselves."

"They still serve the Senate and People of Romulus," Semachs said curtly, "which is more than I can say for you."

"We all serve in our own ways," Neral countered. "Yours is a lust for power, mine is a desire to regain what I've lost." Semachs noticed his gaze dropped back down to the recreation of his wife.

"How little esteem you hold me in," Semachs said. "You really believe that what I do, I do for myself. I'm keeping this country afloat."

"Justify it however you must," Neral said gazing back over his shoulder. "Trust me, it provides no comfort in the end."

"I know this will shock you," Semachs continued, "but I actually do care. You are, after all, the Praetor of the Romulan People. I am here because I wanted to ensure you were still cared for and in good health."

"You have a strange way of showing your care for your praetor," Neral said still placing a few finishing touches on his painting. "However, if that is why you are here, I assure you, I'm fine."

Semachs shook his head and turned to leave.

"What did you really think you were going to accomplish by killing Martok?" Neral called after him before he departed. The proconsul froze.

"How did you know about that?" he asked.

"I may be confined, but as you said, I am still praetor," Neral replied calmly. "Did you think that your scheming would plunge the Klingons into another civil war? That they and the Federation would pull their forces from Cardassia? That finally our fleet would be free to put down the slave revolt? Forgive me, Semachs, but that kind of na´ve thinking is really quite amateurish for a man in your position."

"We had to do something!" Semachs spat back at him. "We no longer have the resources to fight a war both at home and abroad. A war at home, might I remind you," he said walking up behind Neral, "that your blunders started!"

"Perhaps you should have me imprisoned!" Neral said starting to laugh.

"It was a mistake to come here!" Semachs said turning back around. "I should just leave you to rot like the crazy old man you are."

"Your real mistake," Neral said cutting him off, "was trusting the Duras to carry it out. They have failed time and time again."

"Do you have a better suggestion for jackals that can do our dirty work?" Semachs asked sarcastically.

"I do not," Neral said shaking his head, "but I know someone who might…"

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