Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,352
# 11 Act Two: Same Old Story
09-22-2013, 02:28 AM

Keep you in the dark
You know they all pretend
Keep you in the dark
And so it all began

Send in your skeletons
Sing as their bones go marching in
Again
The need you buried deep
The secrets that you keep
Are ever ready
Are you ready?
I'm finished making sense
Done pleading ignorance
That old defense
Spinning infinity, boy
The wheel is spinning me
It's never ending
Neverending
Same old story

What if I say I'm not like the others?
What if I say I'm not just another one of your plays?
You're the pretender
What if I say I will never surrender?

...In time, or so I'm told
I'm just another soul for sale
Oh well
The page is out of print
We are not permanent
We're temporary
Temporary
Same old story...

I'm the voice inside your head
That you refuse to hear
I'm the face that you have to face
The mirror in your stare
I'm what's left, I'm what's right
I'm the enemy
I'm the hand that'll take you down
And bring you to your knees
So, who are you?
Yeah, who are you?

...Keep you in the dark
You know they all
Pretend...


David Grohl, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett and Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters - "The Prentender"




A C T . T W O :

S A M E . O L D . S T O R Y




IKS Y'Ton, Qo'noS System - Stardate 85845.72 (11.04.2408, 1608 hours Qo'noS time)


The first rule of fighting is always about initiative - the second, is nerve. Battle is not just blindsided slaughter. It is a contest of willpower - who will blink first, who will blink too late.

"I'm getting hails from Central Command, Major - they want us to shift to the mining structures".

"Who is it?" she demanded "if it's not the Chancellor himself, we're not following those orders."

"You can be discommendated for that," Kogh noted. "They could court-martial you..."

"They may feel free to do so if we live," she said. "Target, fifteen hundred kellicams, adjust course thirty degrees port, down angle fifteen, full thrust, Talash, Heat the disruptors to one-twenty percent and stand by for hard maneuvering... Kogh, make something up to get that whiner off my net."

"CentCom, CentCom... we aren't reading you clearly, there's too much distortion on this channel and we ca-" he cut the channel off, "Better, ma'am?"

"Superb. Any results on finding someone who actually knows their ass from a hole in the ground out there?"

"Commander Maddox on the Norgh'lw seems to." he said, "They're having...'radio difficulties' as well."

"Hail them on a sideband and ask to link to their tacnet," D'Moj ordered, "then keep scanning for ships that aren't hearing orders clearly."


KDF Central Command HQ, outer courtyards

Nine beamed down facing the corner of the outer wall and made a mental note to execute his transporter operator for incompetence. He heard screaming and shooting behind him and spun, his disruptor rifle at the ready.

"AHHH!! GET 'EM OFF ME!!" someone was screaming.

"Sir, there are..." Reader fired his pistol into a fangy mouth that jumped up at him "things all around us!"

"Not for long," T'Rrak, the chief engineer announced as he strode forward with a disruptor minigun.

Warrior Hrrki pounced on something, smashed another with the butt of his weapon and then fired his pulsewave rifle, sending half a dozen burnt little bodies flying through the air. The screaming Klingon died and the things that were eating him scrambled forward, looking for new victims. They were cut down in a hail of disruptor fire from Nine's security troops.

Advance.

"Let's push on to the headquarters," Reader ordered the men, as more of the guard force joined them.

* * *

Sway's assault force deployed in an expanding ring in front of the main door. The first six stood with their backs to each other and fired their pulsewaves all at once, in an overlapping field of deadly fire. Then others appeared in front of them and fired their autorifles, clearing out the immediate area of hostiles. Finally Sway beamed down along with engineers and armory officers to erect turrets and barricades and deploy mines to insure that the front door remained clear of hostiles.

"Reader," Sway called into his communicator, "The front door is secure, where are you?"

"Behind you, sir, we see your position."

"We're not waiting around." Sway looked up and nodded to a pair of Ra'wiqs who rammed the doors open with their massive bodies. Moving behind the hulking Gorn females, Ferasan scouts and Nausicaan sharpshooters slipped into the main entrance.

"Too quiet," growled Scout-Warrior.

Sway sniffed. "They're in there. Perimeter team, move up, provide suppressing fire." The assault team sprayed the anteroom with disruptor bolts, producing a few satisfying screams... then the enemy rushed forward. Sway glimpsed nearly-nude bodies that resembled the orcs from stories his father had read to him. He fired his disruptor pistols into the surging mass. Then with terrifying, hellish shrieks other things bounded towards them. Larger, mammalian females, with grotesque, fang-filled mouths that wrapped halfway around their heads. One bit Scout-Warrior on his arm before one of the Ra'wiqs bashed it away with a piece of furniture. The assault team held their ground and drove back the wave of unarmed creatures. "Ghuy'cha, what in the Great Father's name were those things?" Sway wondered.

Scout-Warrior slumped groaning to the floor, cradling his wounded arm. "I don't... think I... I can't..." he gasped.

Sway tapped his communicator. "Medical team, beam down!"

"Sorry sir," Lt. Reyned called down from the Norgh'Iw. "We had to raise shields."

Nine's team caught up with them. Dr. Malhul spotted the downed Ferasan immediately. "What happened?"

"Something bit him," Sway answered.

"I can't move my arm," Scout said.

"Let me see..." Malhil shifted the wounded assault crewman into a sitting position and scanned him.

Sway turned to the rest of the group. "Shralak, move them out, secure the ground level. Hrrki, defend the door. Don't let them touch you!"

Malhul frowned at his medical tricorder. "He's been envenomated with a paralytic neurotoxin."

"What can you do for him?" Sway asked the Orion doctor.

Malhul hit Scout with a hypospray and checked his tricorder again. His frown deepened and he tried another. Scout's breathing grew ragged and he slouched forward. "I don't know. Dylovene and Melorazine had no effect."

"Can't... breathe..." Scout wheezed.

Reader stepped forward and raised the young Ferasan to his feet. "If you are going to die, you will die fighting."

Scout forced his lungs to fill and let out a roar that was more of a desperate gasp, and unsteadily stepped forward, one step, two steps, each step an act of will, every movement nothing but raw determination. he struggled again to snarl his challenge. I see my fathers and my mothers and all who came before me...

"Let's find something for you to kill," Sway declared. "Sker? Do we have a target?"

They wait for me, beyond the veil...

The Nausicaan youth checked his tricorder, which he'd already modified to detect the enemy's unusual lifesigns. "Up the stairs, to the left."

They wait for me in the honoured lands, and I must come to them.

You will join them soon, young one, Reader told him, and telegraphed his thoughts to his commander.

Nine stepped forward, grabbed Scout by the scruff of his neck and half-dragged the dying Ferasan to the stairs.

My Will is strong, I will bring them one last prey.


Y'Ton

"The enemy's landing troops, ma'am." Kogh said.

"Well, if we don't do something about their ships, any ground action's going to wind up meaningless." D'Moj said, as if explaining to a child. "Keep looking for ships that aren't run by morons... B'Tara, MARK."

The Y'Ton slid out of cloak and fired her salvoes - again before the decloaking was complete. Her engines roared into overdrive and she banked hard to starboard while the enemy ship - an escort class of some sort - returned fire even as it was swallowed in megaton explosions.

Two others turned and attempted to give chase, as the Ki'Tang bird of prey made a thirty-seven degree up-angle turn and re-cloaked.

D'Moj turned port in a hard maneuver federation fighter pilots call an "Immelmann turn", bringing her across their bows and behind them again.

"Tap the batteries and... MARK!"

"We've got net to the Norgh'lw, Ma'am." Kogh reported, "Cha'qu'... and we're getting inquiries from theDormey HeghDaj, the Qorwi', and the Jajlo' mupwIjDaj - two medium birds of prey and a D-7 retrofit."

"Bring 'em online," D'Moj ordered. "Staggered formation, no less than five kilometers separation, there's a concentration of enemy ships moving toward the planet at bearing forty mark seventy-five, at nine hundred kellicams and closing... Everyone cloak up, this will be hit-and-pass. Norgh'lw and Jajlo' mupwIjDaj will be the bait once we make the first pass, objective is to break up that formation and pick them off in detail... Cha'qu', you will support Norgh'lw and the other cruiser on point defense - keep those fighters off of them. Execute."


CentCom, Main Level

Sway shot one of the nasty she-orcs in the face before it could sink its fangs into Sker's neck.

"Put down your tricorder, kid," Malhul told him, hefting his plasma rifle. "It's killing time."

"Scout, get up here!" Sway called back. He could see and smell the little orcs lurking in the shadows, waiting for the soldiers to lose focus. "Scout, we must press forward. Your orders are to hold the stairs for as long as you can. Do you understand?"

Scout couldn't speak. "He understands," Reader announced.

I see my ancestors back to the first, the spark of all that was. He shook off the supporting arms, and forced his numbing hands to grip his rifle.

Sway watched the Ferasan, and nodded grimly. "Alright, let's move out. Main administration is this way."

Reader and Nine left Scout-Warrior to his destiny. I will tell your kin of your glorious death, young one, Reader assured him.

The Fanged God calls to me, to join with my kin, and I hear that call. Scout took another step. I come, but first I must prove my worth. He reached the top of the first flight of stairs. I will stand in the twilight of rich territory.

Something snarled off to his side. He spun, aiming his rifle toward the sound. For some reason, it made him think of the young mate he'd left on Ferasa, pregnant with his kits. The thing charged. He fired nearly blind, and the she-creature tumbled to his side. My genes will continue. My offspring will be named.

The disruptor fell from his hands, too clumsy now to hold it. He forced his claws to full extension, and through constricting lungs, managed another growl - more of a weak mew, but it was a growl, as the form of something large loomed in the smoke ahead of him.

To Glory, with HONOUR, I COME!!! Somehow, Scout managed to leap onto the monstrous thing's torso with enough force to knock it on it's back. Digging in with failing claws, he raked with his hind feet and bit with the savagery of his race's ancestors. The thing bellowed and howled... acid-tasting blood gouted out of its wounds. The monster bled messily to death, as Scout-Warrior died with it, his feet-claws dug deep into it's abdomen, hand-claws sunk into it's chest and shoulder in a death-grip, jaws still clamped around the thing's throat.


Y'Ton

Against Federation Starships, you want to be nose-on. They're built for broadside combat. Against escorts, you want to cross the "T" - to hit them from their weak flanks. And D'Moj had already noticed that this enemy liked to arm their ships like escorts, with forward-firing heavy cannons, torpedoes, and mines. The telemetry she sent to the other ships in this ragged taskforce focused on crossing the "T" - driving into the flank of the enemy's formation, and straight through to the other side for a breakaway.

"wait for it...wait for it...Mark-all ships Mark!" she ordered coolly, and triggered her weapons. The coordinated strike stripped the enemy group of it's carrier, and two of the four escorts, leaving only the corvettes to attempt to respond. "Rally and turn, second pass," she commanded. "Wait for them to be in torpedo range of the cruisers."

The Norgh'lw released a dense cloud of warp-plasma as the enemy corvettes - and the few of their fighters that survived the first pass - closed in on her. Then she, and the D7-R K't'rika-class beside her (separated by 6 kilometers' distance) opened up with beam weapons firing off in all directions in a 'disco-ball' effect - between the pair, they cleared the chaff leaving only the corvettes - which four birds of prey and raptors that had noticed the organized resistance happening, cleared in an array of brilliant explosions.


CentCom, Administration Level

A disruptor bolt punched into the wall next to Nine's head. "Hold your fire!" Malhul called out. "We're on your side!"

Staff Sergeant Gh'gel lowered her disruptor rifle. "They rushed us twice already," she said. "The second time, those monsters threw up some sort of acid all over the place."

Sway stepped forward. "Where is Brigadier Ssharki?"

"He was heading for the command center," she told him. "He told us to hold the floor-"

Sway tapped his communicator again. "Shralak, status?"

"We got the ground floor mostly cleaned out, we found some bekks holed up in the armory. The enemy has us cut off from the barracks. Sir, the barracks are full of bekks who have never seen combat before-"

"I know. Can you push through?"

"I don't think so... It's a real mess down here, sir. The enemy is burning things as they go, and they've collapsed the access tunnel. It'll be a while before we can dig our way through."

"Understood. Leave a few men to guard the perimeter and make your way upstairs."

"Yessir. Um, we lost Kotra."

Sway sighed through his teeth. "Understood. Sway out." He turned Gh'gel. "Is there another way to reach the barracks?"

"Yes, down to the main level, across the challenge floor, down and to the left. But the command center is above the-"

"I know." The Gorn turned to Commander Nine. "Sir, you take your men on to the command center if you want, but I for one am not about to allow those bekks to die."

Nine glanced at Reader who said "Neither are we. We'll stick with you."


Y'Ton

"What's our count now?" D'Moj asked.

"We have twelve ships all-told," Kogh announced. "Mostly lighter vessels - raiders, ships without squadrons and a few Academy training ships."

"Good. Keep looking." D'Moj ordered, selecting another target, "Is CentCom still cluttering the channels with nonsense?" D'Moj's voice was hopeful.

"Yes, but not so much," B'Tara said from the EW board. "They've just been repeating the same thing since the landings started"

"Compile a new SOI and broadcast it to friendlies on the net," D'Moj ordered. "We need a common channel for coordination. We need to reduce the friction of this battle on our side, while increasing it for our... guests."


CentCom, Command Level

Ssharki kicked a jabbering little creature out of his path as he made his way through the blinding smoke to the command center. He pushed a guard aside and demanded "Who is in command here?"

Frightened guards and techs looked at each other. "Um, you are, sir?" said a Klingon wearing a Captain's sash.

Ssharki stared down at the familiar face of the youngest son of his former commanding officer. "K'Ragh. What were your orders? Where is Marek?"

"We were ordered to keep the equipment operational while General Marek and the command staff secured the council chamber."

"Idiots and cowards..." Ssharki looked around at the transmitter gear. "Who is giving orders? What are they saying?"

Captain K'Ragh flipped a switch, and Marek's voice called out to the fleet "Secure the outer spacedocks and the mines. The communications relays are not a priority. Norgh'Iw, come in, you are out of position..."

Ssharki growled and turned to a guard. "May I borrow your bat'leth for a second?"

"Of course, sir."

"Thanks." Ssharki brought the blade crashing down on the transmitter system - and the power couplings and the relays and the ODN junctions and anything else that looked like it might be connected to it - to make sure those transmissions were stopped. "You can have this back... if anyone needs me, I'll be in the Council Chambers having a word with Marek. You all might want to take up better defensive positions."

"You can keep it if you would, sir, you might need it." the guard said with a grin. Several of the officers present looked relieved.

"Thanks again." Ssharki turned on his heel and stomped out the other end of the now-trashed command center.

Captain K'Ragh looked at the other staf.f "We'll wait about twenty minutes before we begin... repairs," he said. "After all, it's an emergency and technical crews are... busy." He drew his sidearm, and fired several shots at the walls. "Pity the aliens managed to get in here..."


CentCom, Main Level (above Barracks)

"There, down there," Reader pointed.

Sway put in his eyeshields to see through the smoke. "Hmm. Looks like the bekks have got themselves barricaded pretty well-"

"Not for long. See what those big ones up front are doing?"

"Hmm." Sway observed the two monstrous troll-things alternately spewing acid at the heavy door and bashing it with their sickle-shaped weapons. "So the big ones puke acid and carry pole-axes, the females paralyze you with their venom... what do the little ones do again?"

"The little ones just eat you alive," Malhul said.

"Right. There sure are a lot of them down there, all bunched up together... T'Rrak, you have additional power cells?"

"Yessir."

"Lemme see half a dozen of those... and sealing tape?"

"I wouldn't be much of an engineer if I didn't carry a roll or two..."

Sway taped the power cells around a concussion grenade, set it for ten seconds, primed it, and tossed the whole package into the middle of the alien horde. "Let's move back a little, and cover your ears..."

"Say AAAAAH!!" Malhul reminded the others, to equalize the pressure.

In the confines of the narrow corridor, the concussion grenade on its own was deadly enough. The secondary blast from the breached power cells was enough to rattle the entire building to its foundations. But the stone walls and duracrete floors held, and channeled the blast down the corridor, sending pulverized alien corpses tumbling away in both directions. The shockwave slammed the two monster-things into the door with enough force to liquify their bones.

A belch of flame and dust shot up the stairwell, followed by silence. Silence that was broken by hysterical laughter from T'Rrak.

"I think that did it," Sker said, checking his tricorder. "Yep, they're all dead..."

"There's no kill like overkill," Sway said with a cruel smile.

"Sway! Commander! Are you alright?" Sergeant Shralak called.

"Yeah, we're good," Sway said as he made his way down stairs.

"What the hell was that?"

"It was the sound of FUN," T'Rrak said, grinning madly. "We have GOT to get more power cells..."

The doors opened from within, and bekks came stumbling out, clutching their ears.

"Are you guys okay in there?" Sway asked them.

A bekk stared at him and shouted "WHAT!?"

Dr. Malhul groaned and shook his head... "Eardrums..." he muttered.


Y'Ton

"I've got four more ships asking to link to our network, Major," Kogh announced.

"Do it. Link them in," she ordered, making note of the movements of the enemy - now much clearer thanks to CentCom going off the general channels.

"This is Commander T'Bagah of the IKS Do'Haq, who leads here?" someone hailed over the net.

"Major D'Moj of the Third Reserve Fleet's reconnaissance wing." was Commander Maddox' reply over the common channel.

"Whatever, we have a location on some kind of alien portal-the enemy is coming in through it-and possibly others." T'Bagah stated.

"Really interesting," D'Moj said quietly. "Norgh'lw, form up with the Do'Haq, the TInghanjaq, the Bogh vIqvaD and the Dormey HeghDaj, go close that portal. ElI'jaH, Jajlo' mupwIjDaj, take the Qorwi' and the TulDaj Qoh and sweep low-orbitals of enemy trash..." She consulted the listing of remaining ships. "Cha'qu', Qadwi'qu', DIb pumwi', you're backup for the ElI'jaH's group. Chech ro', and HeghmoH Qagh,are with me, we're playing interception games while the portal team and the orbitals team do their jobs, VIlonQo', JItluHtaH, MIlQo' 'etlh, HoHwI' ramDaq and Heghro' vagh nItlh, maintain defense at the Shipyard and coordinate repair efforts for stragglers-if the enemy counterattacks, that's where they'll do it. Those yards must remain operational. Execute."

"That's most of the cruisers, Major." Kogh pointed out.

"I know, and yes, I know cruisers are heavy firepower - which is why they're on the defensive at the yard... That, and those five are the most heavily damaged ships - keeping them there keeps a strategic reserve and provides latecomers with a point to rally to."


CentCom, Command Center

"Captain K'Ragh, have you seen my father?" Sway asked.

"Your father? Yes I think I he came through here... Valk, was that before or after the aliens came in here and smashed the communications gear?"

"I don't remember," the guard said. "Everything was such a blur..."

T'Rrak looked around at the slashed ODN lines and bisected consoles. "Aliens did this?"

"Yes," Valk declared. "I tried to stop them, but I lost my bat'leth..."

"Captain, where is Brigadier Ssharki now?" Reader asked.

"He should be in the Great Hall now, with the rest of the command staff."

"What are they doing there?" Sway wondered.

K'Ragh stroked his beard to cover a smile. "I believe they are attending Uncle Marek's execution. Now if you'll excuse me, I must see to repairs..."


Norgh'Iw

While the TInghanjaq drew enemy fire and the birds of prey picked off enemy frigates, Cmdr. Maddox guided Ssharki's ship around the furball to launch a bioneural torpedo at the first portal. The detonation of the tricobalt warhead caused a ripple through subspace which close the rift.

"There's a second portal on the other side of the moon," LCdr. Dou'gal reported from the science station. "I also detect several enemy frigates and corvettes."

Maddox glanced at the tacplot. "Cloak us. Helm, those three corvettes look like they intend to intercept the Tinghanjaq. Let's intercept them first... Hunter, lock up the targets and fire all beam weapons on my mark, ready to follow up with a torpedo spread... Dou'gal, can you give us a graviton field pulse?"

"Any time."

"In firing range," Hunter-Commander reported.

"Do it, Dou'gal. And... Mark!"

The graviton field held the targets motionless while the Norgh'Iw's disruptor beams slashed through their shields and quantum torpedoes pulverized their hulls.

"Ghuy'cha, new contacts!" Dou'gal exclaimed. "Bearing one-nine-six mark one-four-seven! I make two corvettes and a carrier..."

"Helm! Bring us about, emergency evasive! Engineering, divert auxiliary power to the inertial dampeners... all hands, brace for impact!"

Concentrated antiproton beams slammed into the battlecruiser's hull, carving gaping wounds into her back. The armor plating - dual layers of diburnium and tetraburnium alloy - held up enough to protect the most vital areas of the ship, but the radiation bursts from each impact wrought havoc with internal systems.

"Broken fangs," Hunter cursed. "Sir, we've lost the disruptors. The induction coils are fused..."

"Engineering, get the weapons back online!" Maddox commanded.

"We're leaking atmo," Dou'gal reported. "Emergency forcefields are... there they go. Internal sensors show thirty-eight crew missing."

"Noted," Maddox snapped. "Dou'gal, do you have any more tricks to show our friends out there?"

"I think they'll be impressed by this," the science officer said, as he dumped excess power from the disabled weapons into the deflector dish and fired off an isometric charge. The charge was basically a self-contained ion storm, which bled electrical energy from the carrier's shields and structural integrity field before jumping to the nearest corvette. Amped up by the increased charge, it dealt crippling damage to that ship before jumping to the other corvette, which was simply torn apart as its structural integrity field was inverted.

Dou'gal then used the Norgh'Iw's tractor beam to slam the surviving corvette into the carrier's side, and then push the carrier into a nearby piece of moon debris. Then he locked the tractor beam onto another asteroid and shoved that on top of the carrier. The two space rocks collided and an ugly fireball blossomed between them.

Maddox grinned. "You're a real artist with your tractor beams, my friend. Helm, bring us in range of that other portal..."


Great Hall, War Room

Ssharki paused outside the door for a moment and stood, panting, after running flat-out from the KDF Command Center. "Are you alright, Brigadier?" asked one of the Yan'Isleth - the Brotherhood of the Sword - guards of the Chancellor and the Great Hall.

"Yeah. Fine." After gathering his strength, he threw the door open.

"Ah, Ssharki, glad you could join us," said Lt. General K'vera.

The Gorn ignored her and pointed to Marek with Valk's bat'leth. "You. What are you? An idiot? A coward? A traitor?

"Not now, Brigadier." The Dahar Master didn't even look up from the plotting table. "I am trying to organize the defense of this city."

"And a fine job you're doing of it. I assume there is some vitally important battle going on somewhere that's forced you to withhold troops from defending Central Command? Or the Great Hall itself?"

"Central Command is defended," M'chal pointed out, "and we are defended here."

"You have been deceived," Ssharki announced. "I just came from the headquarters and I did not see one soldier of the Empire on my way here. Instead I saw citizens fighting the enemy in the streets with antique weapons and butcher knives! This 'urmoHbej petaQ is trying to give us over to the invaders! He is giving the fleet useless orders and sending our soldiers away from the battle!"

"Qovpatlh, bInepbej!" Marek shouted. "This is a trick of Temek to attempt to dishonor me and my House!"

"I am sponsored by your House, taHqeq!" Ssharki countered. "To dishonor Woldan would be to dishonor myself." He looked around at the gathered members of the High Council and the Central Command staff. "All of you, look into my eyes, and see if you can find a lie within them!"

"I could never tell with your kind," Councilman Terrath said, "but your words are spoken with conviction."

"Let us settle this matter with a duel of honor," Woldan declared. "I cannot abide this division in my House."

"There is no time for this!" General T'Kell stated.

"Agreed," J'mpok said. "Yan'Isleth, remove the Brigadier until this crisis has past."

"But if Ssharki is right-"

"You must listen to me," Ssharki insisted, elbowing the guards away, "or all will be lost! Chancellor, override Marek's input commands. See his true orders, see where your troops and ships are really gathered!"

"Enough!" Marek shouted. "The Chancellor has spoken! Guards, take him away!"

"NOOO!!" Ssharki shoved one of the guards out the door. The second attacked him her ceremonial bat'leth, slicing into his ribcage. Ssharki grunted painfully as air escaped from his punctured lung through the wound. He used Valk's weapon to slap the guard's sword away, and reached for her sidearm. Marek drew his own and fired it into Ssharki's right shoulder. Ssharki fired back, and Marek lost his form as he tumbled to the ground.

Marek quivered and screamed as he reverted into his true shape.

"A qa'meH quv!" J'mpok gasped. "Yan'Isleth, stand down! I have been deceived!"

"As have we all, Chancellor," Ssharki said as he dropped his borrowed weapons. "Now, the truth is known."

"Computer, override Marek's input commands, authorization J'mpok-Q-X-J-zero-zero-zero."

The Generals gasped when they saw the chaos Marek had created. "He... he ordered every available soldier to defend the Orion quarter," K'vera observed in dismay.

"Well, at least the brothels are secure," Councilman Kriton noted.

Marek's Undine coughed.

"QI'yaH, he's still alive!" M'chal drew his D'k tahg and stepped forward.

"Don't kill him!" a voice roared. Reader-Lieutenant came sprinting into the room, followed by Nine, Malhul and Sway. "We should interrogate him!"

"Father!" Sway exclaimed, seeing the blood oozing from the gash in Ssharki's side.

"I'm alright," he wheezed.

"No, you're not," Malhul observed, consulting his tricorder. "Your left lung is collapsed and your right shoulder has been shattered."

Reader's ears perked, he sniffed the air and spun around, raising his pistol. "We have company."

An eviscerated Yan'Isleth tumbled through the doorway, followed by a hulking alien, wearing little besides a metal helmet and carrying a wicked double-headed pole-axe. It took one step into the room and died in a blizzard of disruptor fire. Then horrible things poured into the room behind it.

"Don't let the females bite you!" Sway shouted, as he leaped onto the plotting table, firing his pistols in two directions.

One of the females bounded across the room behind him, making a beeline for J'mpok. She opened her fang filled mouth, and then her head disappeared in a haze of green energy and purple smoke, courtesy of Nine's disruptor rifle.

Sway fired until his power cells were drained. Another she-orc rushed toward Woldan. He intercepted the thing in a flying leap as he drew his mek'leth, seperating her head from her torso before they hit the floor.

The attack was over as quickly as it began. The few surviving little hordelings scampered off to regroup with their bigger kin.

"I was afraid... something like that would happen..." Ssharki gasped out.

Sway returned to his father's side.

"Take him to the Council infirmary," J'mpok ordered. He pointed to Reader "You; get this abomination out of my presence. And General T'Kell, get this mess sorted out, and call some troops to defend the Great Hall before we are overrun."

"Yessir," T'Kell said with a salute. "Qapla'!"

Nine and Reader each took one of the Undine's arms and Reader spoke into his communicator "Cha'qu', three to beam directly to the brig."

Sway helped Malhul steady Ssharki. "Come on, father, let's get you some help."

"He will receive the finest medical care," J'mpok promised. "A true Hero of the Empire deserves no less."


Y'Ton

"The Norgh'Iw reports that they've closed what appears to be the final portal," B'Tara announced.

"That leaves us with what's in the system and no more... assuming that was the last of the portals," D'Moj stated. "Okay, let's clear these qIv'ochmey from our sky..."

The mopping up continued for a while longer before the Y'Ton's torpedo systems went 'winchester' - completely depleted.

"Um, Kogh... how big is our tactical net?" D'Moj asked, studying the holodiagram and the forward viewscreen.

"We're at twenty-nine vessels, covering six cardinal points, the planet, and the Yard," Kogh announced.

"I'm aware of how much area we're currently covering, but I... somehow didn't realize how many ships we were coordinating." She looked embarrassed.

"Ma'am, you mean to tell me you didn't realize you were commanding a fleet?" Kogh asked with wide-eyed surprise.

"Nope... didn't realize it... I didn't think they would have that many junior officers running ships..." she noted a blinking icon on her display, and keyed that ship's channel. "ElI'jaH, you're showing depleted ammunition, fall back to the shipyard for resupply, QorwI', TulDajQo', assume pattern alpha patrols in your sector, and conduct search-and rescue for escape pods. As reinforcements arrive you need to report to the yard for repair and resupply."

This went on for another twenty minutes - D'Moj would check the condition/status and either reassign, or forward for resupply and repair, vessels - sometimes only knowing their condition monitors and their transponder data.

"We're out too." Talash pointed out.

"Um... yeah - but someone has to keep this mob organized while Central gets their **** together." D'Moj said, "We can resupply... later?"

An enemy corvette tried to sprint for the belt from a knot of debris. "Mark!" D'Moj fired the Y'Ton's disruptors and gave chase, only to see it caught - and dispatched - by a Peghqu' destroyer her board indicated was the IKS ElI'jaH.

"We're being hailed by the ElI'jaH." B'Tara said.

"On-screen..." D'Moj said calmly.

A Klingon in Brigadier's sash appeared on the imager. "Major, let me speak with your commanding officer. I presume he is off your bridge for a reason?"

"Um... I am the CO of the IKS Y'Ton," D'Moj told him. "Shouldn't you be at the yard getting restocked now?"

The Klingon blinked, "I am Brigadier Koldor... and I am... shocked. I assumed you were some General's auxiliary command ship... Who is your superior?"

"Oh... that... yeah... the General in command of Third Reserve Fleet died at Norgh two days ago... with the rest of the fleet. I was just returning for debrief, reassignment, and possible stand-down... when this broke. Same opponents. Nobody seemed to know what to do, the command channels were stuffed full of targbaQa'... so I took the inititiative, linked tacnet to a couple of ships and next thing I know, I'm running the show..."

"So... you were not relaying the real orders from Central Command? And those irrational orders we were ignoring were not a battlefield deception?" he pressed.

"No sir," D'Moj said, "at least not as far as I know... as for the orders, well, it was me, and Cha'qu', and Norgh'lw originally, then ships just started joining... No else seemed to want to take command... Why, is there a problem, sir?"

He rolled his eyes. "'Is there a problem' she asks... Yes, yes, there is a problem. Not your problem, but there is a problem. Fall in on my port side, Y'Ton, and follow me to the First City. There is a problem and I will see that it is dealt with."

"What about coordinating the ships?" D'Moj asked.

"Transfer - no, delegate that responsibility to Colonel D'minik of the Jajlo' mupwIjDaj," he instructed. "The crisis is in the abatement phase, and you need to be present on the ground when I make my report..." he paused. "One thing - your communications seem to be fully operational and you managed a fleet action with some pretty primitive systems - were you violating your orders by taking charge in that battle?" His tone was canny and cunning.

"Yes sir" D'Moj said without hesitation. "I acted in violation of the orders received over the command channel and instructed others to do the same. I assumed they could court-martial me if we lived, sir, but if we didn't fight that battle - if we lost that battle, nobody would be around to be offended that I elected not to obey direct orders from Central Command."

Koldor nodded. "Keep that quiet - very quiet - until I tell you otherwise..." He smiled and said, "I was certain I saw Ssharki's hand in those tactics... Stand by, Y'Ton."

The link muted on the Eli'jaH's side. "So, does that mean we're not going to be court-martialed?" Kogh asked.

"No, well, maybe," D'Moj answered. "Gods help me, why did I confess so readily?"

"Because he's a Brigadier from the House of Woldan, and you're just a Major?" Kobor suggested. "Or that you've gone and studied the writings of Kahless so much that you don't know how to lie to a superior officer when he asks you a direct question anymore?"

"I vote our Major's got a serious death-wish," Talash said from the weapons station, "and so do we, because we follow her."

"I'm giving him the credit," D'Moj said, "If it comes to it, they'll take the defense being coordinated by Brigadier Koldor a hell of a lot easier than finding out an Orion Ha'DIbaHbe' was shuffling them around like strategema pieces."

The sound came back on. "Really?" Koldor shook his head. "I can read lips..."

"Apologies sir." D'Moj said, flushing dark brown in embarrassment.

"You're not going to say anything, Major. You're just going to be quiet until I tell you it's safe to speak on this. Hopefully the fool who was giving those irrational orders has been, or will be, removed by the time we land."

"Not taking transporters?" D'Moj asked.

"I hate taking transporters," he said. "But as a Brigadier, with diplomatic and political credentials, I am in a position to decide how I want to arrive - and with enemy on the ground, I want to arrive with all the firepower I can."


Cha'qu', Brig

Nine and Reader stared at the unconscious Undine, separated from them by a level-10 force field and two security officers. You will interrogate it when it wakes up? Nine asked.

I will try, Reader answered. The Undine are powerful telepaths. And my thoughts are... easily distracted.

Do you want to bring in a Lethean?

Perhaps. There is a Lethean interrogator on the Norgh'Iw...

Right, Lieutenant Bedza.

Reader looked to his commander in surprise. "You remember Bedza?"

Nine glanced at him. Remember who?


Great Hall, Council Chambers

"This emergency session is called to order," J'mpok announced. "Worf, son of Mogh, thank you for joining us on such short notice. You will speak for House Martok?"

Worf nodded.

"Then we have a quorum. Six of the ten Great Houses: Martok, Kriton, Terrath, Woldan, and I speak for my own House and the House of Duras. Councilors, we must discuss the emergence of this threat to our empire."

"I heard the Loresingers in the courtyard of the Great Hall," Worf announced. "They are saying it is the return of the Fek'Ihri."

"Bah," Kriton spat. "The Fek'Ihri are nothing more than a tale mothers tell their misbehaving children."

"Perhaps," Woldan said, "but then again, behind every myth there is a nugget of truth."

"The Fek'Ihri are the stuff of nightmares," Terrath stated, "but the creatures that attacked our city were certainly real."

"Perhaps they are nightmares brought to life," Worf suggested. "By technological rather than supernatural means."

"Perhaps," J'mpok mused. "Perhaps it would be wise to consult with the Loresingers... Yan'Isleth! Bring us the Loresingers, Tiran and B'Alea!"

"What else were they saying, Worf?" Woldan wondered.

The gin'tak to House Martok wore a rare expression of amusement. "They said, that to defeat the Fek'Ihri, we must have a warrior who wields the Sword of Kahless."


The Streets of First City

Koldor's crew led the way through the dying chaos, and D'moj followed behind. Compared to KDF regulars from a powerful house, her own weapons were... less well-made, and far less powerful, and with the personnel losses from the Norgh battle and then subsequent fighting in Qo'noS space, she had only a small contingent anyway. Not that she needed either - the ground action was mostly just mopping up...

"It would appear we have missed most of the... fun," Koldor told her.

"I don't miss it," she said. "You can't miss what you never had."

He laughed. The Barracks were ahead, and workers were already clearing away bodies, debris...

"Stick close," he told her. "I will have need of you soon enough."

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"I want to check on my Uncle - check in with him, and decide how to write up the after-action report. For that, I will require your presence," Koldor told her. "After all, I didn't actually arrive until an hour into it..."

"Klingons won't accept that I led the battle," she said, "I know that much."

The Brigadier nodded. "Exactly. And yet, you did. So, we will have to... assemble a truth that my people will accept."


Council Infirmary

Dr. Moowir examined her handiwork through the gaping hole between Ssharki's ribs. "The lung is sealed," the massive, red-haired alien pronounced. "Try not to take any very deep breaths for... at least another day. This injury will heal, in time, if you let it." She closed, using bioflex adhesive to seal the incision - both the initial wound made by the Yan'Isleth's sword and her later cuts to better access the damaged lung.

"Thank you, doctor," Sway said.

"You knew to use bioflex on him," Malhul nodded appreciatively. "I'm impressed. Not many KDF doctors would have known that-"

"That dermal regenerators are ineffective on reptilian tissue?" Moowir gave the Orion a condescending smile. "My training is a bit above-average compared to typical Klingon physicians. That's why I am assigned to treat the Chancellor, and the High Council. And there is a Gorn on the High Council, you know."

"Two, if you count Ambassador S'taass," Ssharki said, pulling down his undershirt and putting his ripped leather jacket back on. "Thank you, doctor."

"It was my pleasure to treat such a magnificent specimen."

"Right. Uh. I need to be going now..." Ssharki knew only one thing about her species, and it had to do with their violent mating habits. "Goodbye, and thanks again!" he called, as he dragged his son out the door.

Moowir smiled and said, "If you ever tire of living, look me up." and then she winked.

Malhul made a hasty exit as well. "We have other plans," he announced from the corridor.

As soon as the door closed, she chuckled. "Men."


Council Offices

D'Moj paced restlessly, aware of the eyes on her. Ghuy'cha, I must be the most over-dressed Orion this building has ever seen... She looked down at her ruined uniform and reconsidered. Maybe gloves? she smiled. Definitely - bare hands don't work with the heavy sleeves. She noticed an Orion functionary - wearing the hip-tabards of a servant to House Kriton. The girl was staring openly at her. D'Moj smiled, and not in a nice way. That's right, dear, I'm a predator. She stared the other Orion down. The Kriton aide dashed off after a moment, leaving her bored again...

She kept an eye on the door to Councilman Woldan's office, wishing Koldor would come out soon. A Gorn walked in after a while, and he wore a Brigadier's sash... was that General Ssharki? She had heard of Ssharki's victories against the Borg, and Talash practically had a crush on him, but she'd never really paid any attention beyond reading the bare text and diagrams of the battle reports.

After what seemed like ages, Koldor emerged from the office. He looked stunned, and somewhat ill, as though he'd just been told of a death in the family. As it turned out, that was exactly what he'd been told. "My uncle," he whispered hoarsely, "Uncle Marek... was a qa'meH quv.."

D'Moj frowned, "No, your uncle was replaced by a qa'meH quv, which means he needs to be avenged." she said. her eyes glittered, "I knew those orders were false..."

"You don't understand. Every order he gave, for the last... five, six years, maybe longer... is now suspect. The entire war with the Federation... I see it so clearly now. He was pushing us into a war of attrition."

D'Moj just... frowned. "That makes a horrible sort of sense... but now the... thing that murdered one of my personal heroes is revealed. Marek never lost his touch, the enemy just replaced him."

"Indeed." Koldor steeled himself and straightened his uniform. "Well, come along, Major. We have a report to write up... and by the way, I've been given permission to... retroactively promote you to Colonel. It will make things easier for us..."

"Yes sir," she said crisply, and fell into the "aide's" position at his side as they walked from the office. "A colonel's rank will make it easier when my hearing comes up," she noted.

"Easier?" he asked.

"I'm facing an extradition by my mother's syndicate - they have a boon before the Council to have my Klingon citizenship stripped so that they can (or so they claim) draft me into the Orion fleets... It's a cover - Mom wants to either brainwash me or geld me and put me on the block, either as a *****, or breeding stock..." she spat both terms. "A Colonelcy means it elevates - they can't do it on a simple majority and the High Command doesn't hand over Colonels easily."

"Geld?" Koldor asked.

"You know those Orion whores that can't spell their own name or can't calculate their own fees? Those're 'gelded.' They lobotomize criminals, overdrive their hormones surgically, then leave just enough that the victim remembers who they used to be - what they used to be able to do - when the hormones burn off. It's called 'gelding' and it's what they do to runaways." She glared at another functionary who scuttled out of their path. "I ran away to join the KDF. I ran away and got my Klingon citizenship the hard way. I'm not giving up my freedom."

"Wait..." Koldor stopped in his tracks, "You weren't purchased or consigned?" he asked.

"No sir. I freely defected to the Empire almost sixteen years ago. My name-change is about halfway through civil court, my citizenship was awarded when I finished my first enlisted tour, and after I was sponsored to the Academy, it looked neutronium clad..." she sighed. "Then Melani Di'an joined the Empire, I was safely anonymous for years, now it's all in danger again."

"The Empire absorbed the Orions in '94..." he said.

She nodded, "Yeah, but up until two years ago, I was just a number. Then some brightboy at central command sent the announcement that I got promoted to Major... to my 'nearest living relatives'." She made a sour face. "Since then, I've been dodging capture teams on every shore-leave... And mother finally got the smarts to file a formal request, so now I'm also fighting the bureaucrats."

"Hrm. Fighting bureaucrats happens to be a speciality of mine," Koldor told her with a wink.

She relaxed a bit. "It would be so nice if we could just shoot them," she sighed. "So much more efficient... or if I could just get away with shooting her."

"Let's deal with one coverup at a time, shall we?"


Office of Councilman Woldan

"How long have you known that Marek was... well, not himself?" Ssharki wondered.

"I didn't know anything until you shot him," Woldan answered. "But I've had my suspicions about my cousin for a while. Starting with his insistence on continuing the war with the Federation after the Borg attacked the Beta Quadrant."

Ssharki grunted. "D'Ward shared a similar suspicion at about the same time. He actually came right out and told me he suspected that Merak was a qa'meH quv after the planning meeting for the Ker'rat offensive. I didn't want to believe it... the man is - was - a living legend. As a child I studied the strategies he perfected in the war with the Romulans. And in the Dominion War, his fleet had the highest kill/loss ratio of all the alliance forces..."

"The man hated you, Ssharki. You don't need to apologize for him."

"The Undine hated me because I was a threat to him."

"No," Woldan countered, "My cousin has always hated you. Unless he was replaced over twenty years ago." He sighed and refilled their mugs with bloodwine. "At any rate, I am in need of a new advisor. I need your help, Ssharki."

Ssharki almost dropped his mug. "Me? But I'm a-"

"An outsider, I know."

"Why not D'Ward? Or Koldor?"

"My brother has been hunting saber bears in the wilderness for the last week and is out of contact. He's enjoying his retirement a little too much I suppose. At any rate, he never cared much for House politics. And his son Koldor avoids the subject as much as possible."

"That's why we call him 'The Wise'," Ssharki grunted.

"But you see, I need an outsider to provide me with a fresh perspective. Marek has poisoned my ears for too long. But you... You served my brother loyally for nearly two decades, and have brought much honor to my house despite my gin'tak's attempts to defame you. I know I can trust you."

Ssharki dipped his head. "You honor me, Councilman."

"And though you are an outsider, you understand the Klingon people. Tell me this - are the loresingers right? Do we need the Sword of Kahless to defeat these... things that claim to be the Fek'Ihri?"

"I believe in the power of belief," Ssharki answered. "It is said with faith, one can move mountains. If the Klingon people have a sacred symbol, like the Sword, as a manifestation of their faith, then they cannot be defeated no matter how grim their enemy may be."

"Hmm. Worf knows of the Sword... Ssharki, you are injured; you cannot undertake this quest, but perhaps you can give direction to another. Worf trusts you. Will you speak with him? Ask him about the Sword?"

"I will do anything you ask of me, Councilman. But who shall we send to search for it?"

"Worf told me that it was too dangerous to be held by any Klingon but Kahless himself," Woldan told him. "Were you not wounded, you would be the ideal candidate..."

"What about D'Moj, the Orion?"

"Hmm. She has a valorous heart, and she is a gifted warrior."

"And it would be wise for her to leave Qo'noS after the events that have transpired," Ssharki said.

"You're right. Very well, D'Moj it shall be. Speak to Worf, ask him about the Sword, and pass the information on to Major D'Moj. But Ssharki, keep this operation quiet. If anyone finds out that the Sword of Kahless is in the hands of an Orion..."

"Don't worry," Ssharki told him. "I know how to be discreet."


Outside the Great Hall

"Why do seek the Sword?" Worf asked.

Ssharki stared at his Klingon friend, confused. "What do you mean? The Loresingers said-"

"I know, the Loresingers tell us that only with the Sword can we be saved. But why do You seek the Sword?"

Ssharki sighed. He knew where this was going. "Not for myself. I can't even go on a quest for it - I've been hurt. But there is a warrior, an Orion female, who seeks no glory or fame for herself. On the contrary, all she wants to do is to serve the Empire in anonymity. I will send her, if you just tell me where to look."

Worf looked up doubtfully at the Gorn. "I would trust no one with to hold the Sword but its rightful heir - Emperor Kahless son of Kahless himself. Its power over the hearts of all who hold it is too great."

"Worf, your people have just been attacked by a race of beings that came straight of their nightmares. They need to see a sign - a symbol - that their faith in the Empire has not been misplaced."

Worf laughed. "And you think they would accept an Orion slavegirl holding their most sacred icon as that symbol?"

"Major- no, Colonel D'Moj is Nobody's slavegirl," Ssharki said with a wince.

"Nevertheless, it would be sacrilege. Even someone as well-known as you... there are many who would see the Sword in your hands as a sign that all is lost. No, my friend, this is not the way."

"Then guide me, Worf. What shall we do?"

"Have her fetch Kahless himself," Worf said. "The Emperor must bear the Sword, you say the Sword must return... so have her fetch Kahless."

"But what about the Sword?" Ssharki pressed.

"With any luck, both will be together," Worf told the Gorn. "I revealed to Kahless the last known location of the Sword, drifting through space in the Gamma Quadrant. He left some years ago in search of it, and then he returned to Klingon space some years later. He has been out of contact with the High Council, and Central Command, but I receive periodic updates on his whereabouts... making an appearance at a colony here, turning the tide of a battle there..."

Ssharki grinned. "You are a clever one, Worf. Where is he now?"

"The last I heard, he was en-route to the Sanek System." Worf frowned for a moment. "Ssharki, advise your messenger, this Colonel D'Moj, that Kahless is in fact nothing more than a symbol. He is not a god, he is not a savior. He is not the true Kahless. What he is, is a means to an end. Bring him here, and we will give the people their symbol."


CentCom, State Affairs Liaison Office

"The Empire holds together thanks to Klingon pride," D'Moj was saying. "I can't have that much exposure."

"It's 'co-credit'," Koldor told her. "From a political perspective, I'm seen as rewarding a loyal and intelligent subordinate for carrying out my will - the traditionalists will simply see it as a sop to the subject races - typical politics. The Warriors who were there, won't feel it to be a snub, regardless of how much they know about what really happened, and it's not precisely an untruthful statement - you delegated leadership of part of the action to me during the battle, albeit without knowing who I was."

"So, as it happened," D'Moj summed up, "only you and I were able to decipher Central Command's actual orders, while everyone else was confused by the enemy's countersignals operation."

"Now you're getting it," Koldor beamed. He handed her a PADD.

"'And tragically,'" D'Moj read out loud. "'Dahar Master General Marek was killed by enemy forces when they assaulted the High Council's war-room. Were it not for the swift response by General Ssharki's security forces and Marek's brave sacrifice, half the High Council and the Command Staff may have been lost.' Sounds good to me - a fitting tribute to a good man, and it preserves his reputation while nodding to Ssharki's actions - another nod to the loyal subjects of the Empire."

"I may make a politician of you yet, Colonel," Koldor said with a grin.

"Maybe." D'Moj bit her lip. "There's still going to be a few... problems while I'm here on Qo'noS. Once this press release goes out... hell, once word circulates in the Orion quarter I'm on-world..."

He still smiled. "That can be dealt with. How would you like a nice, long-distance assignment until the press dies down?"

"I like that. Where am I going? Recon the Terrans again? Hit Vulcan with a raid? Prisoner rescue at their most dangerous facility?" she asked - almost too eagerly.

"No... you need to go somewhere... else," he said. "The Orions have too many operatives in Federation space. You would be too easily abducted from that area."

"Where, then?"

"One thing at a time, Colonel," Koldor told her. "I'll talk to Ssharki in the morning. We'll come up with something for you to do..."

The work done, and a new assignment tantalizingly dangled, they left Koldor's office and went their separate ways... and D'Moj noticed something on the wall.

She stepped over, as Koldor continued on his way, and she examined it.

The paint was wet.

It was in Orion Script.

Gallau'un'kotha'dee...

And she felt a sense of dread she hadn't felt through the entire battle - even during the massacre in the Norgh system.

"The Masters Are Coming"

She reached down, and checked the powercaps in her disruptor, before walking calmly toward the transporters... but she felt her Mother's shadow lingering over her.


Cha'qu', Brig - six hours later

The Undine was dead. Bedza, the Lethean interrogator, was alive, barely. Before he lost consciousness, Reader read his thoughts. The Ferasan's eyes filled with horror. Ssharki must know this at once.

He ran through the ship, making his way to the Commander's ready-room. Nine was regenerating in his quarters. He called Ssharki on his Emergencies-Only channel.

The veiwer flickered, and a sideways Gorn glared at him. "I'm violating my doctors orders by answering this, so this had better be very Hu'tegh important.

Reader gulped. "Sir, the Undine we captured- I mean you-"

"Spit it out, Spitz."

Reader swallowed again. "He was not the agent of the aliens."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean he wasn't working for them," Reader explained. "They were working for him. Him or his masters."

Ssharki blinked twice. Then he asked "What are they? What do they want?"

"They are the Fek'Ihri, the demons of Klingon lore. But they are... more. They were created to be... someone's instruments."

"Instruments of the Undine?"

"Uh, I don't think so," Reader said. "I think they both serve the same master."

"And what does this master want?"

Reader licked his nose. "Everything."



* * * * *

To Be Continued...
...


"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 11-24-2013 at 07:57 PM. Reason: Koldor and his office...
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Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 1,208
# 12
09-22-2013, 10:23 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by sander233 View Post
I think it has to do with the atmosphere on Nausicaa having a low oxygen content, and native Nausicaans are so adapted to it that they actually can't survive in an atmosphere with ~20-25% oxygen content. Oxygen is, after all, a metabolic poison. If nothing else kills you first, a lifetime of breathing oxygen will. I'd imagine space-borne Nausicaans or those who have lived off-world for long enough would have acclimated themselves to a more oxygen risk environment, and no longer need their filter masks.
I see...very novel explanation, and creative.

I'd figured it in my universe to be a precaution taken in combat to avoid being gassed or subjected to unknown atmospheric toxins while boarding an enemy vessel. But a few kept the masks all the time as a sign of an oath; these are Nausicaans who stand for a certain set of principles and code of battle conduct.

That was actually the scene I saw so clearly in that dream: Krantak standing there, desolation in his eyes, on what looked like it could be a Federation world, slowly removing his mask and realizing that all of his attempts to behave honorably within the context of his own people had failed, and he faced the choice to surrender to the dishonor, commit suicide, or defect.

Quote:
Yeah, that's another tough one. For Ssharki, that's one of many episodes in his life that he deeply regrets.
I'll bet. For Ssharki, was it similar regret in that he killed someone not afforded a fair opportunity to fight back?

For Krantak, I think that succumbing to the pressure to do things the Klingon way in that incident really ate at him.

While I think that before the absorption of Nausicaan interests by the Klingon Empire, he was a soldier of fortune as were many Nausicaans, I get the impression he solicited and accepted contracts based on what he deemed to be the worthiness of the cause, and that he was strict about how he was going to get the job done. I suspect the Moabites, had their troubles begun earlier, would have been an example of those he would deem worthy.

Quote:
Your character sounds fascinating, and I would love to see him fleshed out in the LCs.
I am not sure he would feature as a main character, ever, but I do know what became of him once he defected, and he could appear as a side character in a story.



BTW, just read the latest installment. The Ferasan Scout's death is very well done. I also found Sker quite endearing as well, getting absorbed in his tricorder readings even in the middle of battle.

The revelation about exactly what gelding entails was chilling. Somehow I imagine that if Nine received a report from Dr. Mahlul about the evidence he found of that implant, meant to lead to such an outcome for D'Moj, he would not be a happy customer. I think that would hit awfully close to home.
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Posts: 3,352
# 13
09-23-2013, 02:25 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by gulberat View Post
I'll bet. For Ssharki, was it similar regret in that he killed someone not afforded a fair opportunity to fight back?
No, he really doesn't have a problem doing something like that if the person (in Ssharki's opinion) deserves it. He also doesn't have a problem with torturing someone to death if they have information he needs. But what conflicts with Ssharki's sense of decency and honor is taking a life without just cause. In his backstory (buried somewhere in LC #40) we see the event that earned him his Klingon name, which translates to "Killer Without Honor." He recounted that day in "The Chase" so the consequences of doing that sort of thing definitely stick with him.

Quote:
For Krantak, I think that succumbing to the pressure to do things the Klingon way in that incident really ate at him.

While I think that before the absorption of Nausicaan interests by the Klingon Empire, he was a soldier of fortune as were many Nausicaans, I get the impression he solicited and accepted contracts based on what he deemed to be the worthiness of the cause, and that he was strict about how he was going to get the job done. I suspect the Moabites, had their troubles begun earlier, would have been an example of those he would deem worthy.

I am not sure he would feature as a main character, ever, but I do know what became of him once he defected, and he could appear as a side character in a story.
I really hope you get a chance to share him with us, even a little but.

Quote:
BTW, just read the latest installment. The Ferasan Scout's death is very well done.
It was really cool writing that with patrickngo. We were working on the googledoc together late one night, I'm working on the ground action while he's handling space stuff, and then I let Scout-Warrior get bitten by a Fek Ravager (virtually always fatal, in our world - death by paralysis. And I'm basing my Ferasan's on Patrick's depiction of the species through K'Tirr, who we'll see in a bit) So we have this chat window open for passing notes and I type in "So, I've got a dying Ferasan Mountain Clanner here..." So he drops what he's doing and he starts typing in Scout's thoughts while I keep going with the action, interspersing my characters actions dialog with what's going through Scout's mind as he's dying, ultimately ending with the team setting Scout up to die with honor. When we finished writing that scene we were both like "Whoa."

Quote:

The revelation about exactly what gelding entails was chilling. Somehow I imagine that if Nine received a report from Dr. Mahlul about the evidence he found of that implant, meant to lead to such an outcome for D'Moj, he would not be a happy customer. I think that would hit awfully close to home.
It's been mentioned elsewhere by Patrick and our other collaborators in The Chase but yeah, those Orions can be nasty. But then, so can anyone else...

I don't think Nine would even be able to process his emotional reaction to something like that, thanks to the damage to his amygdala. But you can bet if he was ever put in the same room with people who do that sort of thing to sentient beings, there would be blood.


...


Act Three is almost ready to post - we'll be putting the final polish on it tomorrow (its 2:30AM for me) A good chunk of this is basically a remastered version of patrickngo's LC44 entry, so that saved a lot of time getting this next part out. The final two acts probably won't drop so quickly, but we'll see how things go.

Thank you all for reading along so far!


"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 09-23-2013 at 02:34 AM.
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,352

Demons of Hades wait for my pride
On wings of glory I'll fly brave and wild
I'll stop your madness, your thirst for blood
To bring them peace where love must reign

A while ago the elder told
Dark will fall again
My land will see the light no more
My beloved Algalord
My horse run wild, the beast is back
To conquer my reign
The sea, the hills, rivers and lakes
Call my holy name

Fight your holy war
Raise your mighty sword and ride
You're the chosen
Face the evil
Son of holy ice

Mighty warrior
For the legend, ride again
From the hills (for peace and love)
To the sea of gold
My land must be free

I cross the forest of the elves
While my heart pounds fast
Sky is grey wind no more
Time has stopped its race...

March to hell, my vanguard brothers
Together we'll face the flames, fearless and brave
On the grass where blood we'll shed
Flowers of real hope will bud again...

Now leave your castles, united we'll be strong
I'll lead you to this holy war to save all of our thrones
To give our people the joy to be free
To see our beloved sun shine again

Mighty warrior
For the legend, ride again
From the hills (for peace and love)
To the sea of gold
My land must be free...


Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli of Rhapsody - "Warrior Of Ice"




A C T . T H R E E

F O R . T H E . L E G E N D . R I D E . A G A I N




IKS Y'Ton - The Morning After the Battle of Qo'noS (11.05.2408)


She slept poorly, every creak jerked her awake, disruptor in hand. Half a dozen times, she checked the airlock and the ramp-guards. Her dreams were filled with aunt Essa's crooning idiocy, and the darker memories of who Essa had been when she was too young for anyone to believe she could remember - and the laughter of the Enforcers as they bred her aunt for the entertainment of her mother's guests. In her nightmares, she was caught at the cargo-lock by Enforcers... "Make you like her, you ugly little girl..."

By 0400, D'moj gave up on sleep.

At 0900, her computer console toned, alerting her to an incoming message. She cautiously approached, and opened it.
Quote:
__|\_________KDF CENTRAL COMMAND________.|\
_<^>__INTELLIGENCE ADMINISTRATION BUREAU__<^>

=CLASSIFIED=EYES-ONLY=

From: The Office of Brg. Gen. Ssharki, CentCom IAB
To: Col. Damojena Massana
RE: Reassignment Orders

- Colonel, as the Third Reserve Fleet has been declared defunct by order of Gen. T'Kell, Supreme Commander, Central Command (pending official stand-down and review hearings) your command, the IKS Y'Ton and your crew are hereby reassigned as a direct-reporting unit to this office, effective immediately. (Official unit reclassification pending.)

- You are hereby ordered to report to Qo'noS One Shipyards for repairs, rearmament, and assignment of new personnel.

- Once complete, you are to proceed immediately to the Sanek System.

- Further orders will be transmitted en-route via secure channel.

May Success Always Find You.

- signed: Brigadier General Ssharki
- countersigned: Brigadier General Koldor

D'Moj smiled, as she keyed her communicator. "Kogh, recall all shore-leaves, and prep for boost to Qo'noS One shipyard in thirty minutes," she ordered. You won't get me today, mother...


First City, Hella's House of Hasperat

Ssharki and Koldor both liked spicy food. They ate here often, though despite the Generals' patronage, Hella's Bajoran-Klingon fusion restaurant wasn't nearly as popular as the Khitomer Fried Tribble franchise across the street. But this also meant that the two friends could eat and speak in privacy.

"She's gonna be working for me," Ssharki said, between bites of his House Special Haspe-Racht Wrap, "so she's gotta have the best gear. Mark-ten disruptors, including quad-cannons... Quantum torpedoes, with Morath's Fist high-yield warheads... New tachyon deflector with structural integrity and shield system tie-ins... Adaptive resilient shield grid... If we weren't in such a hurry to get her out of here, I would've had them drop in a new warp core and upgrade the impulse engines as well. Now, about her crew..."

"Her crew's mostly taken care of," Koldor declared. "I'm transferring thirty capable bekks and a half-dozen experienced sergeants to her to replace her combat losses. But we still don't have a CMO for her."

"I've been told that's being arranged," Ssharki informed the Klingon, before slurping up an escaping raHta'-worm


Orion Quarter - 1647 hours

"Councilman, you have a call."

Kriton looked up at Madame Myami.

"Why are you disturbing me with this?"

"Because I want to stay in business," she said, passing him a hand-held communicator.

Kriton grumbled and groused irritably as he extricated himself from between the bodies of the females and raised his torso out of the mud bath. He placed his goblet of firewine on the floor and took the communicator. "Kriton. Speak."

"If your wife knew where you were right now you'd be in deep baQa', Councilman."

The voice was either computer-generated or electronically scrambled. But Kriton had heard it often enough to recognize it. "Methos. How'd you know I was here?"

"Ways and means, Councilman. Can we speak privately?"

Kriton pointed to the door and mouthed yIjaH Hur - Get out. He watched the muddy, nude Orions leave, then he found the button on the communicator which projected a sound dampening field around him. "We can now."

"Are you certain that no one there can hear you?"

"Yes," Kriton sighed. "Now tell me you want from me and let me get back to my vices."

"Very well. There is a particular dangerous criminal at Rura Penthe who is not an inmate. She is a doctor, and she's there to conduct experiments for B'Vat, using the prisoners as her test subjects. Do you know who I'm talking about?"

"I think so... a young Human woman named Mary Moriarty?"

"Not so young and not so Human actually, but you have her name right, at least."

"What do you want with her? Do you want her killed?"

"No. I want her to be remanded to the custody of Colonel D'Moj."

"For what reason?"

"Since you're a man of many secrets I can tell you - I want D'Moj to have a doctor who cannot be persuaded to implant a tracking chip in her head like her last doctor did. You will arrange Moriarty's transfer?"

Kriton sighed again. "Yes. I will arrange it first thing in the morning. I'm not sure what I'll tell Ambassador B'Vat though-"

"You'll think of something. Methos out."

Kriton put the communicator down and settled deeper into the tub. "Girls, get back in here!" he yelled. "Girls?" He remembered the dampening field, reached for the communicator and switched it off. "Oh girls..."


Rura Penthe Prison Colony - Next day, 1308 hours, Qo'noS Standard Time

The Prisoners spread dark rumours about the "doctor," but really, when didn't prisoners serving a death sentence suspect the person ostensibly there to see to their welfare? Then again, Dr. Mary Moriarty was someone dark rumours followed anyway... and not just because the Empire saw fit to assign her here.

"Hold still," she instructed. The Nausicaan on the table held still - the sign at the door said it all, in seven different languages: Patient patients get treatment. Impatient patients get experimental treatment.

She extracted the stone fragments and cleaned the wound. "Alrighty, now I shall stitch thee closed. It may hurt toward the end a bit."

The truth was, she was idling between projects now. B'Vat had a new mad scientist to work on his "augment" project, and Mary found the man detestable for his self-righteousness. So, she kept busy while she waited, providing actual medical treatment for the condemned to extend their usefulness as mining robots and occasionally back-checking and reviewing Amar Singh's work for errors in theory or execution. But the mad scientist reputation, and her framed accusations of unethical practices kept the prisoners from being too difficult - even the few Gorn prisoners were reluctant to cross her.

She finished sewing the wound closed, and wiped it down with antibacterial wash before applying the dressing. "Don't pick at it," she told him. "If thou'rt here because thy fingers could not resist, I may have to do something about thine fingers... thou'rt free to go back to work now."

The Nausicaan stood and left the improvised infirmary - really her laboratory, in haste, no doubt relieved she wasn't in a "testing" mood.

She returned to her review of Amar Singh's current results. "Inefficient... that's going to shorten their lifespans... poor choice of donor genes," she muttered, and began making notes. Going to need some Klingon patients to test this series on... I guess it's time to talk to the warden.

Mary may have been accused of unethical practices - certainly her use of live subjects was one that made even the Klingons nervous at times - but she still had her standards. Singh's hypothesis for synthesis was just credible enough to be worth testing. His methods, however, left her doubtful - the man's statements about results were... pretentious. They ignored obvious flaws in his reasoning.
"The man's probably wasted more useful material following blind alleys than..." she sighed heavily, and got up from the desk. Time to see the Warden... dammit. She didn't like wasting test-subjects on blind alleys. The Imperial justice system did supply her with plentiful fresh specimens, but she didn't like wasting her time, and the quality was extremely variable.

She pulled on her cold-weather jacket, and headed for the door, only to have it open before she reached it. Governor B'okon, the Warden, greeted her with a frown and two armed guards. The old, discommendated Klingon was technically assigned here, but it was every bit as much of a sentence as any convict's.

"You've been reassigned," he said, and then his frown spread into a smile. "I don't have to deal with you any longer."

"Oh, but I thought we had a good working relationship - I do my work, and thou dost provide me raw materials to do it on," she said lightly.

"Nevertheless, you're... leaving here," he told her. "Maybe you'll come back as a guest, but you're off the staff as soon as the transport is finished offloading the latest batch of new labor."

She sniffed. "That would be why thou'rt smiling... Okay, I'll pack my belongings. I assume thou'rt keen to get the building back into it's prior use?"

"As soon as I have a new staff interrogator, yes," he said. "In the meantime, for old time's sake, I think I'll leave the sign on the door - you don't mind, do you?"

"Not at all." Packing her belongings took roughly five minutes - everything in the lab was supplied by B'Vat's contacts, and most of the equipment would be too large to carry off. So she cleared the datacore's memory of her experimental notes and communications, leaving only basic patient files. She stuffed her spare clothes in a shoulder-bag, and took her tricorder, PADD, and her desk knick-knacks - most of which were or contained substances that would be kept by other scientists in a sealed stasis-cabinet or armored safe.

B'okon handed her a PADD with the necessary information on her orders.

"Chief Medical Officer?" she read aloud, then regarded him. "'Tis a good thing I have some recent practice doing basic doctoring." Before she left, however, Mary did the governor one - last - favor. She handed him a small phial. "Thine antidote," she said.

"For what?" he asked.

"For the poison thy cook hath been slipping into thine food," she said. "Telltales around thine eyes - Klingon eyes don't accumulate shiny copper rings around the irises unless through poison - and the molecule that doth do so doth not appear naturally."


Qo'noS One Shipyards - Five days later

D'Moj examined the "repair" slip with some skepticism - the replacement of her older model dual cannons with quads, he installation of an improved main deflector and shield grid, upgrades to the power systems and... "This was a LOT of work!" she said.

The Renwl' who handed her the slip just shrugged. "It was in the order sheet you submitted."

"Um... no?" she said.

"Well, someone submitted it then - look, just smile and sign, okay? The work's done and the chit's already been paid in." He smiled and told her "You'll be happier anyway - that Ki'Tang's spaceframe is now beefed up to Haj spec, with an extra fore weapon hardpoint. And it's practically a Hegh'ta anyway - just without the buggy power distribution network and bad plumbing."

She signed numbly, and the RenwI' in turn hit the docking clamp releases. "Colonel, unless you want a paint job..."

"No, I'm fine... thank you." She headed for the transporter pad. It had been a very strange week at the Yard. "Kogh, any word from KDF Personnel Admin on that Medical Officer requisition?" she asked as she stepped up to the transporter.

Kogh, her exec, now a full Commander, stood on the pad next to her. "No, Colonel, they say someone's on their way, but they won't give me a timeframe, just 'before you leave'."

Wonderful. She stepped off the pad inside the Y'Ton. "Were the lights in here always this bright?"

Kogh shrugged as they walked to the turbolift.

"Colonel, we're getting a point-to-point request from the Prison Freighter QuvHa' toy'be'," B'Tara announced as soon as D'moj and Kogh reached the bridge. "They say they have someone with orders..."

"Well... tell them to beam them over." D'Moj said. "This must be our new doctor. Better go back down to meet her..."

The curious bridge crew piled into the turbolift with her. "I wonder who it'll be - a Nausicaan maybe?" Kogh speculated.

Talash grumbled, "A Gorn, surely."

Kobor shook his head. "Ten darseks says it's a Lethean - they're supposed to be pretty good doctors..."

A red flash on the transporter pad announced the arrival, then cleared away, revealing the new CMO. She was about armpit-high to D'Moj, with red highlit hair, and pixie-ish features with a pale, almost white complexion. She was accompanied by a stone-faced Bekk in the uniform of Rura Penthe's guard contingent. "I have your doctor here, Colonel." the Bekk said.

"A... Human..." Kobor said in a stunned voice.

"A...Criminal?" B'Tara looked disgusted.

D'Moj felt a deep sense of familiarity looking at the Human medical officer wearing a white lab coat over KDF leathers. she should be in flannels and denim... a deep, deep sense of familiarity. "Meeree?" she murmured.

The smiling woman stepped off the pad, lugging two heavy-looking bags. "Salutations to thee - and permission t'board this fine ship?"

"Permission... granted..." D'moj said, again feeling numb. She hated the feeling that came with her not being in control of her life...

"Mine qualifications," the woman said, setting down a bag and extending a PADD, "and mine orders."

D'Moj glanced at the assignment- no, remanded custody order? She found the name. Not Meeree... Mary. "Kogh, take her luggage to her quarters. Come with me, Doctor, we need to... talk," D'Moj finally said. She glanced at the Bekk. "You too."

This was unusual. The rest of the staff gave each other concerned looks, but D'Moj led the Doctor and the Bekk to her ready-room... and everyone else returned to their duty-stations.

"Prithee, do be careful with mine affects," Mary warned Kogh as stepped into the turbolift.


IKS Norgh'Iw

Dr. Xyoosix had no difficulty tracking the mostly-Human lifesign from the prison ship to the Y'Ton. The Norgh'Iw was docked very close to the bird of prey and her sensors were sophisticated enough to pick out a lifeform at a million times this range. I'd better let Methos know that his care package has arrived, she thought. She composed a brief message.
Quote:
MM has arrived safely on DM's ship.
DM is in good hands.
- X


Y'Ton, Ready room

"I thought ye looked familiar," the doctor said, "Essa's girl, art thee not? All grown up?"

D'Moj just stared. "Meeree," she said.

"Only Essa called me that... and her toddler girl. I wondered what happened to her."

"They gelded Essa Masaana," D'Moj said quietly.

"'Twas nae my doing," Mary told her. "I got out when she warned me..."

"Did my aunt have a child?" D'Moj asked.

"To my knowledge, Essa Masaana had a daughter who would be about thy age - Di'al was pregnant when I last saw her - her daughter would be about two years thine junior," Mary said firmly. "I worked for that family briefly, mostly assisting on some very interesting physics and engineering work."

D'Moj shook her head. "I was raised as Di'al's oldest. Aunt Essa was... Gelded."

Mary looked ill. "What a waste-she was a first rate intellect when I knew her - brilliant in ways one doth not normally encounter amongst thy kind. To cut that mind out is a crime."

"I have no intent of letting them get me," D'Moj declared.

"I'll aid thee in that," Mary said emphatically. "Mine orders are to be thine physician. Specifically to serve thee, as my... sponsor feels that thou'rt a valuable person as thou art - as in healthy and in full possession of thine faculties."

"Orders..." D'Moj looked down at the PADD. "What is this about 'Remanded custody?'"

"Aye, thou hast become my new probation officer." Dr. Moriarty watched as the Bekk that beamed aboard with her handed D'moj a small, black, plastic box with a red toggle. "That is the detonator switch," she told her matter-of-factly.

"Detonator?" D'Moj repeated.

"For the explosive that the KDF's prison board put in the base of my skull," Mary said. "I was convicted of... unethical experimental practices. 'Tis a crime to remove the bomb, and I find that having it builds a measure of trust among people I really need to trust me - such as patients whom are counted as valuable by Methos."

"Um..." D'Moj paused at the mention of her mysterious benefactor's name. She looked at the box again. "So... I can just push this button-"

"And I die, aye," Mary said a little too cheerfully. "I give the Klingons marks for efficiency in that - theoretically 'tis painless."

"One last question, Mary... you look... young," D'moj said. "If what you say about working for my family is true, then that was... a long time ago."

Mary grinned impishly. "I come from a family that is... long lived. I may even tell thee how, someday, when thou dost trust me sufficient not to need the remote." She pulled a medical tricorder out of one her lab coat's pockets. "In the meantime, thou'rt overdue for a proper physical examination and readiness report - and I will need to conduct physicals of the crew as well. I am told this is a long-range scouting ship, bound off on a secret mission, which means no access to Central medical once we are under-way."

D'Moj looked at the Bekk. "What's your assignment when you've handed her over?" she asked.

"I'm supposed to report to First City's military police branch for reassignment," he said.

D'Moj nodded. "Get to it. You know your way out."


First City, Military District, Ssharki's apartment

Ssharki reached the end of a chapter and looked up at his audience. Sway and Naja were sitting on a couch across from him, both wide-eyed, and expectant.

"Can we read another chapter?" Naja asked.

"Sure," Ssharki said with a smile. "You know, I was afraid you two would be too old for this book, especially with the way Sway kept over-analyzing The Lord of the Rings."

"I like this book better," his son replied, settling his head back into Naja's lap. "This story's funny!"

"I'm confused about the Elves, though," Naja said. "I thought they were supposed to be good."

"They are," Ssharki explained, "but remember, these Elves live in Mirkwood, one of the darkest and most evil places in Middle Earth. They are isolated there, partly by choice, but they have no contact with outsiders. So when a bunch of Dwarves come through-"

"They assume Thorin is a hostile and throw him in the dungeon," Sway piped up.

"Exactly. But bear in mind, these Elves are expert hunters. Legolas, from The Lord of the Rings, was a Wood Elf. They could have easily killed Thorin and the rest, had their king not shown restraint. Even though the Wood Elves are good, they are still very dangerous."

"I understand," Naja said. "They're sorta like how the Ferasans used to be."

Ssharki nodded. "More or less. Alright then... Chapter Nine: Barrels out of-" he was interrupted by his communicator. "Sorry, kids," he grumbled as he picked it up. "nuqneH?

"Sorry for intruding on your evening, General," Dou'gal replied, "But you wanted to be informed when the Y'Ton departed, and, well, she just did."

"Thank you, Commander. Is there anything else?"

"No, sir. Goodnight, sir."

"Goodbye." Ssharki tossed the communicator behind his chair and opened the book again. "Uh, here we go, Barrels out of Bond..."


IKS Y'Ton, approaching Sanek System - three days later

"...a letter from our daughter B'Tama at the Academy." Kobor was proudly passing the missive round the dinner table.

"Has she found a man yet?" Talash teased, "or are the young Bekks too soft to handle her?"

B'Tara laughed and shook her head. "No suitors yet," she said. "Kobor will have to wait to give someone 'the speech'..."

Life was good again, for D'Moj - at least, for the time being. She had her crew - her friends, and they had their mission. "I'll be fascinated to see what kind of man your daughter finds to continue the line, Kobor," she said. "Whoever he is going to be, he'll be remarkable in some way." She drank from the cup - but only water. They were, after all, on a mission, and she lacked the Klngons' high tolerance for alcohol.

"The new Doctor scares some of the crew," Kogh said calmly. "That could be a problem..."

"Oh, nonsense - it will prevent malingering!" B'Tara countered.

"We don't have a lot of that on this ship," D'Moj pointed out. "Never really have. My last post on the Bah'ud Kor had a lot more problems than we've ever had with crew issues... Kogh, you remember that Lieutenant... whatsisname... Klur? Always whining about his back hurting when there was work to be done?"

"I remember you tossed him around the challenge pit like a ragdoll - then passed him to Talash, then... was it Lursatal?" Kogh laughed. "Three women beating up a security lieutenant for slacking. The enlisted crew were laughing for days over that."

D'Moj nodded. "Lursatal, yes. I miss her. But I understand Klur's become less of a whiner since those days."

"Keeping tabs?" Kogh asked, interested.

"I always keep an eye out for people who might have a problem with me," D'Moj reminded him. "So... our Human Doctor Moriarty scares some of the crew... interesting."

"How are you doing with her?" Kogh wondered. "I noticed you spend quite a lot of time with her..."

"New suppressor formula," D'moj said, "or haven't you noticed?" She slurped up more gagh.

Kogh looked puzzled for a moment, then, "Yes... I have," he said. "You're more energetic, and you've been eating better."

"You pay entirely too much attention to me," D'moj said with a grin. "We need to find you a wife."

Kogh laughed at that. "I have a job - what do I need with a wife? I'm not Kobor, whose energies are endless and without bounds, I am merely a mortal man!"

An alarm chime sounded. "Enemy contact!" The officers rose as a unit, and headed for the Bridge.


IKS Herdthinner, Pelia Sector - Stardate 85874.24 (11.15.2408, 0521 hours)

Commander of Scouts had no name. He had a service number courtesy of the Klingon Defense Force, and a rank, but no name. Among the less traditional Lowland clans of Ferasa, the practice of earning names had fallen long out of favour - a concession to the Klingons who held dominance over his race. But among the Mountain Clans, the Traditional Clans, a name had to be earned and given.

Without a name, among the Mountain Clans, there would be no honor to the Family, and breeding rights would be restricted to the lesser or the least - a harsh reality to face.

Scout-Commander stood beside his Captain, Kurn of House K'Lek, who called him "Scout" in the way that Klingonoid beings, with their dim hearing and weak eyes nicknamed everything that had no proper name. And Commander of Scouts tolerated this treatment, for he was a Warrior first, last, and always. And holding the rank would, if nothing else, elevate his future offspring's chances to earn the honor of at least a Partial name among the Mountain Clans.

"What do you think, Scout?" Captain Kurn asked. "Is it worth the effort?"

"They are enemy ships," Scout-Commander said, "Freighters, but Federation registry, and their escort is... careless... too careless."

"Too careless?" Kurn repeated, looking at his Ferasan first officer, who licked his lips and nose. "Explain."

"We have intercepted signals traffic that insists there is a hostile presence - a Borg presence, in the system, Kurn-K'lek-Captain," Commander of Scouts replied, using the style of his people - something that the Klingon and Gorn crewmen often found amusing. "As much as we would wish otherwise, Starfleet is never so... careless, in enemy territory."

"Quite right. This looks like bait for a trap," Kurn said after a moment. "Science officer, shrouded scan. Are those truly freighters or are they what our opponents call 'Q'-ships?"

"Their movement indicates more mass than they should have for mere freighters; their impulse drives are running at a very high power for their rate of acceleration." Science Officer was a lowland Ferasan, her public name was actually K'rrana, but since the Mountain Clanner had joined the crew, she had to chafe under traditional restrictions that were humiliating - being addressed only by her position or her rank on the bridge.

"Those are the prey, then," Scout-Commander said. "Federation combat-modified freighters, designed to lure unsuspecting raiders into a trap."

Kurn smiled. "I concur... battle stations, charge weapons and transfer control to my console. Scout-Commander, plot a decloaking strike and put it on my display."

Scout-Commander typed in a series of adjustments, both to engine power, and weapons systems, along with a set of preplot course changes designed to hit the armed enemy ships.

"I'm picking up Neutrino emissions, Captain!" Science Officer suddenly announced, "also random particle bursts near the targets..."

"On screen," Kurn ordered. "Scout, your evaluation?"

Scout-Commander dialed in a series of readout feeds directly off of Science Officer's station, and overlaid it on his attack plan. "The source is coming from off the enemy's port bow, approximately twenty thousand kellicams, and it is intensifying. Do we break off the attack?"

"No. Execute battle plan. If this is another ship, we must get it scanned and recorded to warn the rest of the Fleet," Kurn ordered.

"Executing," Scout-Commander stated. They began the attack run.

Scout Commander had interpreted the scan data differently than Science Officer had - he noted where the "cargo" holds seemed to have extra doors, where he would put targeting arrays, launch points for warheads, and most importantly, phaser strips. Kurn in turn used this preplanned data with the flawless efficiency of a Warrior Born. The bird of Prey dropped her cloak at full engine power, and cycled disruptor beam and cannon fire to strip the first enemy ship of his weapons. The enemy's deception was met with disruptor and torpedo fire, jackhammering into systems intended as a means of ambushing, rather than coping WITH the ambush.

The enemy responded in kind, hammering the old Hegh'ta-class ship with withering return fire, and with linked fire from the other Q-ships. The bridge boomed and echoed as grav-plating flickered and integrity fields thrummed.

The first false freighter tumbled as it died in the silence of space, but the Herdthinner was outnumbered, and outgunned. A flash hammered the bridge itself, combined energy and projectile weapons striking with uncanny precision to tear a rent in the hull of the bridge, and shining actinic light across the Captain's station. Captain Kurn howled briefly as vacuum sucked away air, only to be stopped midway when emergency force fields activated.

Not, however, before the Klingon's body tumbled outward into the revealed starfield.

Scout-Commander leapt across the bridge to the captain's helm, and started working with the savaged console to restore backups. "Engineering, maximum power to shields and engines, new course, one-twenty-eight mark forty," Scout-Commander snarled into comm.

"We can't cloak," Science Officer observed.

"I know. We have to [i]outmaneuver/i] them." K'Tirr looked up. "What is that?" A gigantic torus of light shone through the tear in the hull where the bridge monitor had been.

"Wormhole," Science Officer told him, adding "The prey are falling back from it..."

"Do we have communications?" Scout-Commander demanded.

"Um... yes, from the same direction, we are receiving a distress call from... from the Emperor's ship, Scout-Captain."

"Then, that is where we must go." Scout-Com- no, not anymore! Scout-Captain turned to his scientist, then to the engineer - a Gorn - and then to the only Klingon left on the bridge, a Lieutenant. "Engineer, we are going through that wormhole. Get whatever team you can to slap a patch on our broken hull. We have more important business than raiding shipping."

"Yes, Captain." the Engineer hissed.

The Lieutenant fingered his D'k tahg, but remained at his station, as Scout-Captain favoured him with a Ferasan smile, displaying the long killing fangs of the Mountain Clans of Ferasa - framed in the lynx-like features that distinguished them from their lowland cousins. "Do you wish to challenge my authority, Klingon? Or come to the aid of your Emperor as you know you ought?" he asked.

"I serve the Emperor," Korag, son of Kurn, said stiffly.

"Then see to your post - I want full weapons systems ready for whatever we find on the other side of that wormhole," Scout-Captain told him.

"We are heavily damaged," Engineer observed.

"That hole won't stay there forever - we must go through it while it is here," Scout-Captain said simply.

"Adjusting wings for warp, then... we should be able to cross that barrier in twenty seconds," Engineer said, "assuming, that is, that we survive the transit."

"Science officer, do you have any information that might aid us in making that transition?" Scout Captain demanded.

"Yes, I am remodulating our deflectors to ease our passage through..." Science Officer informed him.

"Here we go..." Engineer said, and down the hole they went.


IKS Y'Ton

"Breen... where in the S'Yahazah's name did THEY come from - and why did they come here?" Talash wondered.

"Cloak, we're going after the cruiser on the Balth's portside lower flank first," D'Moj said coolly. "That should take some of the pressure off of them - or at least expose a couple of those corvettes to return fire."

"Hell of a way to find the man we're looking for," Kogh commented.

"The Emperor - he's obviously a magnet for trouble and danger," B'Tara noted. "I'm reading additional incoming warp-signatures, none of them sound on the pattern for KDF standard engines."

"I guess we're going to have another sustained battle - how's our torpedo magazine status?" D'Moj asked.

"Fully loaded. We can fight for days with what they loaded on us," Talash declared confidently.

"Oh, good. I would hate to go empty in the middle of another battle."


Herdthinner

The wormhole spit them out... somewhere else. "Science Officer, where is the Emperor's ship?"

"Working on that, also trying to establish a fix on our position. Sensor telemetry is going to be off unless we know where we are...

Scout-Captain growled irritably. I can't hunt if I'm blind! "Lieutenant, are we still receiving that distress call?"

"Yes, sir. Lightspeed only... the IKS Batlh reports that she is under attack by... Breen warships? What in Kahless' name-"

"Can we respond?"

"No, sir. Our transmitter used to be... right over there." Korag point toward a welded-over patch in the side of the bridge.

"Right... Science Officer, a fix on our position would be good right now," Scout-Captain snarled.

"I'm working on-HHHHHHHTTTT!!!" her tail straightened and her ears laid back as she slammed the console with a clenched paw. "There we go." She tabbed a few more keys. "We're in the Sanek System," she said, "which makes the breen presence quite remarkable-"

"Can it - get our nav back online, then see what you and Engineer can do about rigging some kind of communications - belay that, Engineer, I want transmitters now. Find a way." He turned his attentions to Korag. "Who are our friends out there?"

Korag checked the tactical sensor readouts. "Looks like a K't'Inga-class, some sort of raptor, and obviously the Emperor's Negh'var, the Batlh... And it looks like a heavy bird of prey just came out of warp from the other side of the system..."

"Condition of allied ships?"

"The K't'Inga is squawking core-breach warnings, and deploying escape pods, The others are... well, the Emperor's ship seems to be functional for the moment, but the escort is showing severe battle damage."

"And the enemy? Missing mothers... WHERE IS MY NAV PLOT!?"

"Coming on... now," Science Officer reported.

"Linking tactical to your display," Korag said.

"Chel Grett-type cruisers, supporting Plesh Brek frigates... Weapons, charge up. Engineer, our cloak system is active?" Scout-Captain asked.

"Yes, Captain," the Gorn hissed.

"We may die, but we will die with our honor," Scout Captain said. "We will engage the nearest cruiser first. If we survive that, we can aid the Emperor in mopping up the smaller craft..."

"Why the enemy's cruiser? the frigates are the more immediate threat!" Korag asked.

"Because the smaller vessels are not strong enough to take the Emperor's flagship alone - they require that Chel Grett to provide them covering fire and shield support. We kill him, they will be forced to withdraw - or if they do not, they will die semi-honorably," Scout-Captain stated. "Range?"

"Five thousand kellicams... the cruiser seems focused on the Emperor's flagship," Korag said.

"Good, bring weapons charge to three hundred percent, and load a tight spread volley through the fore torpedo system, proximity and impact detonators only."

"Nothing fancy this time?" K'rrana-Science Officer asked.

"Only if you have something fancy to add," Scout-Captain told her. "DO you have something to add?"

"Tachyon beam pulse is ready off the forward deflector - it may help with their shields..." she told him.

"At least we have patching over the hull here," Scout Captain observed. "Disengage cloak on my mark... Mark!"

The displays turned from red to yellow, and Scout Captain fired all weapons from his own console.

The Breen cruiser's attentions were focused on protecting the smaller, harder-to-hit frigates chewing at the Emperor's flag-vessel, and this strained her shields and power systems. The combined volleys from cannons and turrets firing at double-rate and the deep burst damage from overloaded heavy disruptors slammed her shielding to the breaking point - just as the tight spread of torpedoes hit her hull at the point Scout Captain determined her warp core had to be in order to fit the asymmetrical shape.

They flew through the resulting explosion with the crew braced for impact, re-cloaked in the shining waves of energy from the enemy cruiser's death, and turned to face the next target - one of three enemy frigates.

"Weapons power?" Scout-Captain demanded.

"Down to fifty percent, but rising," Korag told him.

"Load another salvo in our torpedo launcher." He turned to the Science Officer. "Status of the Emperor's vessel?"

"Shield systems portside are down, she's taken a beating and I read uncontrolled fires on four decks," Science Officer announced.

"Downed shields... means they probably have a boarding party or three on that ship," Scout-Captain surmised. "Ready to engage the secondary targets, one at a time if possible, begin with the outliers. No reason to give our prey more warning than they already have."

"Who would- why would there be Breen here?" Science Officer asked idly.


Y'Ton

Having dealt with the other Breen cruiser, the D'Moj turned her attention to the other ships engaged in battle.

"Both Breen cruisers are destroyed, but their reinforcement group is inbound hot." B'Tara announced. "The Bat'leth T'obe' is burning, they're going to lose warp core containment."

D'Moj nodded, "We'll have to cover their evacuation, hopefully the Bo'Degh'a' can finish mopping those lighter ships before the enemy's second group arrives."

"I'm picking up something strange at nine AU out," B'Tara said. "Neutrino emissions, massive gravimetric sheer..."

"File it for later. In the meantime, prepare for cloak - that second group isn't going to give us time for search-and-rescue operations... Medbay, keep standing by, we're going to need your talents fairly soon, Doctor." D'Moj tabbed to the battlespace layout on her station-viewer, "Engage cloak, come about twenty-three degrees by forty-five negative angle... Talash, overcharge forward disruptor mounts by twenty percent over nominal, we have to trim off one of those cruisers right off the get-go."
"Bo'Degh'a' just went down," B'Tara announced as the icon for the aging raptor vanished.

"Decloak and fire on my mark..." D'Moj gripped the helm controls. "Mark."


Herdthinner

"How are our friends doing with that second Breen group?" Scout-Captain wondered.

"IKS Y'Ton is still operational - according to the computer she is with the Third Reserve, under command of Maj-er, Colonel D'Moj, but the battlecruiser Bat'leth T'obe' and the raptor Bo'Degh'a' are no more, and obviously, the Balth is still barely holding them off."

"Transmit my compliments to Colonel D'Moj, and ask if they care to coordinate our efforts... Engineer, we do have a transmitter now, right?"

"We modified one of the sensor probes and hardwired it into the comm system," the Engineer replied proudly.

"Wonderful. Meanwhile, hard to port, increase engine power by twenty percent and begin overcharging the disruptors," Scout-Captain ordered. "We're going to take out that frigate right over... there."

It was almost predictable; the Breen vessel started banging away with active sensors, revealing a build up in graviton charge - they were readying tractor beams.

"Five kellicams! Decloak!" The Herdthinner rippled into view of the Breen frigate on a shower of bright, eye-searing light from her disruptor banks and cannons.

The Breen ship's commander locked on with the tractor - just as the volleys slammed his shielding away and paved a path for a cluster of photon torpedoes to meet with his bare hull. The tractor beam vanished as its source evaporated, and Scout-Captain hauled the yokes around, bringing her through a snap-roll and into an Immelmann maneuver that lined up a second Breen ship in her gunsights.

The Breen reacted as any rational being would, they engaged their tractor-beams and fired off a heavy cluster torpedo unique to their particular engineering culture. Unfortunately for them, the IKS Y'Ton, loaded with heavier weapons, came at them from their now-unprotected flank, smashing the small Breen vessel like a bottle of Sshrowwl under a forgehammer's blows. Its guidance telemetry lost, the transphasic cluster bomb sailed off harmlessly into space.

For the next few minutes, the two Birds of Prey systematically wiped out the Breen who lacked wit to flee, until only the Emperor's flagship remained.

"Prepare for boarding actions. Engineer, you will take the conn," Scout-Captain commanded. "Try not to get the ship killed if the Breen rediscover their courage."

"We're being hailed by Colonel D'Moj" Science Officer announced.

"Um... on my terminal, since we no longer have a screen..."

The face was unexpected - green, female, Orion.

"Good fighting, Scout-Captain," the Colonel said over the link. "What fleet sent YOU?"

"Um... we were responding to a distress call. We're normally assigned to Eleventh Fleet's scout section," Scout Captain replied.

"I thought the Breen had jammed the subspace channels- wait. The Eleventh... that's...sweet Maker, that's all the way over in the Pelia Sector!" D'Moj said in open surprise. "Were you in for refit?"

"Negative, we... fell down a wormhole," Scout-Captain told her.

"Whatever - I am prepping to beam aboard the Batlh. We have reports of Breen on the ship," the Colonel said.

"Then we will coordinate - I will bring a team to assist in suppressing them," Scout-Captain told her, "IF you feel it would be of use."

"Well... we're on an actual mission to speak with the Emperor, so I'll take that offer - you focus on suppressing the Breen and clearing our path."

"Agreed." Scout-Captain used the klingonoid nod to express assent. "See you over there."

"What about the Y'Ton?" Science officer asked, joining Scout Captain and three Bekks at the transport pad. "They were supposed to be here - something about fighting a new threat to the Empire, and needing to consult the Emperor directly."

"We are their backup," Scout Captain stated. "We weren't supposed to be here, but we are."

Science officer joined him on the pad, and the transporter energized...


Y'Ton

"But I should go with thee!" Dr. Moriarty insisted.

D'Moj shook her head, "I need my CMO here, taking care of the wounded." She turned to Talash as she buckled her cuirass. "Talash, you have the ship," D'Moj announced, checking out a disruptor rifle from the rack by the bridge door. "You should... contact Brigadiers Koldor and Ssharki and tell them what's going on - use the channel they sent our mission orders on."

"Yes ma'am- wait. You want ME to contact Ssharki?"

"Or Koldor," D'Moj replied, checking her pistol. "Whichever answers first. I'll be back...Try not to embarrass yourself by going fangirl in front of the Brigadier - and don't drool on the comm panel!" the turbolift door closed.

Talash stared at the door. "Riiiight."

"Pray, what was that all about?" Moriarty wondered.

"You... wouldn't understand. It's a- nothing."

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks..."

"Don't you have hurt people to look at, Doctor?" the Gorn snarled.

"Aye. Remember, Lieutenant, thine physical is scheduled for a fortnight hence." Mary said, "We can talk then."

"S'Yahazah, help me," Talash muttered. She started tapping at the comm panel. I'll try Koldor first.


KDF Central Command HQ, Administration Level

Ssharki had been given his own office. His job title hadn't changed, nor had his function, but at least he wasn't sitting at a desk in the middle of the main admin floor. And better yet, his new office was across the corridor from the one belonging to the State Affairs Liaison, his good friend, Koldor.

He was in Koldor's office now, planning out how they would spend their next block of leave time. Koldor was trying to get a hold of his sons, and Ssharki was examining his walls. Koldor's job entailed the coordination of garrison and reserve forces with the Empire's vassal states as well as planning occasional "show of force" missions to various annexation prospects. His walls were decorated with pictures of the tributary worlds, chronometers set to the local time zones of the capital cities, and several quotes which Koldor said gave him insight into the different species. One of the quotes in the Gorn Hegemony section was attributed to Ssharki himself.

The Gorn brigadier was now looking at the Ferasa section, and reading the quotes that summed up their culture for Koldor.
Quote:
[To have a name is to be someone,
to be important, to have status.
The Nameless are uncounted millions,
only the BEST have a full name...
Our names come to us from our Heroes.
Listen now, to the tale of K'Tirr Raollriit,
the unconquerable one, the last Ferasan Warlord,
who fought the Klingons until they offered us,
the children of his followers, power over our
destiny...


-Mountain Clan Ferasan Naming Ceremony, verse one.
(trans. Rw'rakki-Reader)

Quote:
["The Ferasan word - among the mountain clans - for 'Alien'... they have two words:
One is 'Klingon.' The other translates as 'food that talks.' They are our most barbaric cousins. They are accursed, you see - monstrous and vicious."


-H'rrakrawwl, Caitan sociologist, explaining some of the cultural divides that separate Caitian from Ferasan.

"I wonder what's taking J'mkek so long to respond," Koldor muttered impatiently.

"Isn't the Qul chenmoH in the T'Ong Nebula right now?" Ssharki asked. "They probably have subspace interference."

Koldor's viewer toned. "Ah, this must be him now."

It wasn't. "Hello, Brigadier? This is Lieutenant Talash of the Y'Ton."

Ssharki frowned. "D'Moj would contact us herself to report success," he surmised. "Since you are not D'Moj, you must calling to report a problem."

Talash stuck out her lower jaw and sucked air over her tongue, which both Generals recognized as the Gorn shamefaced expression. "I am- ah- there is- are- were... Breen, here."

Koldor stared. "What."

"Lieutenant, stop," Ssharki said, patiently. "Back up. Start over. Where are you?"

Talash tried again and this time the words came out rapid-fire. "We reached the Sanek System and the Emperor was here but so were the Breen and the Breen attacked the Emperor and destroyed his escorts more Breen came in and we attacked them and there was another bird of prey with I think a Ferasan captain and we destroyed the Breen but they boarded the Emperor's ship so the Colonel and the Ferasan took away teams to save the Emperor and she told me to contact you."

Ssharki looked at his Klingon colleague. "I got about half of that."

"I think I understand," Koldor said. "The Breen are trying to kill or capture Emperor Kahless, and D'Moj... and a Ferasan, are trying to stop them."

"Yessir," Talash said breathlessly.

"Thank you for informing us, Lieutenant. Please notify me on this channel if the situation changes."

"Yessi-" Koldor cut the channel.

"A real credit to your race," Koldor muttered.

"She's just a kid," Ssharki told him. "Twenty-four, twenty-five maybe... Anyway, any idea what the Breen would be doing in the Sanek System?"

"Trying to kill or capture the Emperor, obviously."

"Yes, but why?"

Koldor shrugged. "The Breen have never liked us... we kicked their qIvDu' in the Dominion War, we wooed the Orions away from an alliance with them, and then there's the recent "interference" in the Orellius sector block - do you still have Thot Trel's frozen head on a wall in your ready room?"

"I see your point," Ssharki said.

"Yeah, they've been looking for an opportunity to retaliate... They sure picked a ghuy'pu' inconvenient time to try it though."


IKS Batlh, Engineering Deck

The Breen like it cold - this bothered the Klingons in the boarding party far more than it bothered Scout-Captain, his muzzle sticky with alien blood, his claws dipped in Breen fluids... He smiled again. The smile of a Ferasan is not a gesture of friendliness. It is the display of fangs - and the mountain Clans held on to their fangs, kept clean and polished with careful dental treatment. He licked blood from the fur on his hands, and from around his muzzle, tasting the Breen's fear. "Advance," Scout-Captain ordered.

K'rrana-Science Officer, being from the more civilized lowland tribes, did not, as her captain did, indulge in releasing the fury, did not taste the spoor of fear from their foes, nor tear their foes' flesh with tooth and claw once the range had closed. But the ferocity of the Mountain Clans was what made the Klingons respect them, it was what allowed the 'primitive' minority on Ferasa easy access to the Klingon military.

Captain of Scouts hunted, leaving his boots behind - they were in the way - as he moved with oily speed through frozen decks. His ears - feline ears - swivelled to seek out heartbeats, and breathing sounds, speech and clicks of equipment, and when he found them he stalked them...

Three Breen were trying to force a terminal in the Engineer's office. Claws tore the armored helmet from the one standing guard, and disemboweled him with feline speed, then Scout-Captain leapt and came down on the biggest of the remaining two - latching with his hands and raking with his feet, literally running through the Breen's torso in a shower of blood and gobbets of flesh while the smaller one released the smell of their alien urine, and tried to flee the sound of it's screaming comrade. Scout-Captain unleashed a hunting roar, and the last Breen ran right into the fire-triangle of the ambush.

Not that Scout-Captain, himself had forgotten weapons... not hardly - but fear is a powerful tool, and humanoid species, no matter their sector of origin, still live with certain primal fears that could be exploited... Three more such ambushes, and the Breen were in a collective panic. They gathered in an open area with good sight-lines, and set up a perimeter well designed to protect from a wild beast.

Unfortunately for them, beasts are not particularly clever, but Ferasans and Klingons are. "Use grenades," Scout-Captain ordered, "then lay down a pattern of fire to herd them and force them to keep their heads down."

The slaughter opened a path to the engine room, which Colonel D'moj's team had already secured. "You look a sight," the Orion said. She wasn't dressed like an Orion - she wore leathers from neck to toe, bulky and utilitarian.

"Had a snack on the way in," Scout Captain joked.

"Obviously - we're going up to the Bridge level. You think you can put some shoes on?" she asked. "It's the Emperor, after all."

"Yes, Colonel D'Moj," Scout-Captain replied. Science Officer handed him his boots with an amused flick of her left ear and tail. She also gave him a handiwipe to use before putting them on. While he was busy, she treated the thousand minor cuts and wounds he'd accumulated. Scout Captain purred appreciation, but only received a sniff in return from his science officer, a reminder that there would always be a class divide between the technically sophisticated lowlanders, and the mountain-dwellers.

"Two pronged attack again?" Scout-Captain asked.

"No. First of all, there is only one working turbolift, and it would take you too long to go up the tubes. Secondly, your warriors still have unused munitions, and third, you had the wit to bring a science officer. We're probably going to need her to support the assault."

"Understood."

"Also, I don't need you throating everything you see or 'snacking,' Scout-Captain - this is Kahless' ship. Try to control your... urges," D'Moj ordered.

"It was just a tactic to frighten the enemy - those at the command level are unlikely to be so easily...frightened," Scout-Captain stated.

"Keep that in mind. Disruptors and blades... though I suppose your claws might be effective."

The team boarded the turbolift...


Y'Ton

"I can't believe I did that," Talash murmured. "I had one chance to impress Ssharki, and I can't even speak coherently to him. He'll always remember me as the fem who couldn't talk."

"If he remembers you at all," B'Tara told her. She laughed at the Gorn's fierce glare. "Oh, relax. We work for him now, remember? You'll get another chance... Anyway, isn't he a little old for you?"

"It doesn't really matter for Gorn - we can live for hundreds of years, remember - a thirty-year difference would seem like that much after a few centuries."
"Huh."

"But it's hopeless. I'm just awkward, ugly girl who happens to be a junior officer under his command - what was I ever thinking..."

"You had hope," B'Tara told her. "Hold on to it. You never know what hope may bring you." Her console beeped. "Ah, they've reached the bridge."


Batlh, Command Level

In spite of the Orion Colonel's warning, Scout-Captain wound up tearing several Breen apart on the way from the lift to the bridge-deck. It was fast, and the way it got the enemy's attention allowed the rest of the force to make it through relatively unscathed - only three warriors dead, and only superficial wounds to the rest.

Kahless himself was everything the legends held him to be - unflappable in battle, wise, a natural leader that even Scout-Captain, whom had met many Klingons, would follow in an instant. Truly a Chief of all Chieftains, a Lord of Lords, a warrior's saint.

"You have done very well," Kahless told them as the last Breen lay moaning and dying, and the Klingon crew commenced removing the bodies and returning the ship to full operation. The Emperor stepped aside, and spoke with D'Moj, Kogh, and Kobor.

"I bring a request by the High Council to the Emperor," D'Moj said quietly.

"What do they want?" Kahless asked, looking her over.

"The homeworld was attacked by enemies claiming to be the Fek'Ihri," she said. "I have full documentation if you need it - the High Council is of the belief that the people need the Sword of Kahless -and as the only rightful bearer, they therefore need the Emperor Kahless to return and lead his people."

"WIth, no doubt, some small guidance from... the Council," Kahless said wryly.

"Not for me to say, Your Majesty - my oath as a Klingon citizen specifies loyalty to the Empire, and it's Emperor... in that order," D'moj told him. "Being as I consider my freedom, mind, and life dependent on upholding that oath..."

"You value your freedom over your life?" he asked.

"I value my word over my freedom, and both over my life," D'moj declared. "I gave my word when I swore the oath... and the Empire needs you..."

"You believe that?"

"I saw the... Fek'Ihri," she said, "I also saw how people reacted, both during and after the fighting." She frowned. "They need a leader they trust, someone they believe in to hold them together, especially now." She nodded at the carnage of the bridge deck, "things are that bad, and they're going to be worse."

He smirked slightly. "What about J'Mpok? or the Gorn king... Slathis? or Melani Di'an? they're all very prominent leaders..."

"The Empire is forged of Klingon pride, Klingon pride holds it together and Klingon honor guides it... or should. The pride is injured, only a Klingon Hero, the rightful ruler, can save that pride. And without that pride, the Empire is lost in a generation. Politicians can't give them what you can."

"So why did they send you?" he asked. "Why not send a Klingon?"

"Because my glory is not for myself. I don't want to be famous, or sung about. My glory is my service, and my freedom," D'moj told him. "I don't care if my successes are never noted, because my payoff is from a bigger thing than stroking my personal pride."

And Kahless laughed. "There is nothing you can not accomplish if you don't insist on taking the credit!" he quoted himself.

"Precisely, Majesty," D'Moj stated. "Will you heed the Council's call for the Empire's sake?"

"Return to your ship and prepare to fly as my... escort," he said. "We will return to Qo'noS... it is a pity you weren't born Klingon."

"I feel the same way," D'moj confessed, then she dropped to a knee, and bowed, before saluting and leaving.

Scout-Captain heard the entire conversation... but it was irrelevant. He wanted to get back to his ship, to get the gore and the blood out of his gray and black fur, to be clean again.

After a bit, the Emperor dismissed the others, and turned his attention to Scout-Captain, Science Officer, and their remaining Klingon Bekk.

Scout-Captain knelt in a posture of respect, eyes down and ears forward.

"Stand up, let me see you," the Emperor said, pointedly at Scout-Captain in the dialect of Trade. "What is your Clan, Ferasan?" The Emperor Asked.

"I am from the Many Waters clan," Scout-Captain said, in Klingon, respectfully.

"What is your Name?" the Emperor enquired.

"I have no name, for I have not earned one," Scout-Captain told him.

"Not even a Partial Name?" Kahless asked, "You command a ship of the fleet!"

"I have a service number and a rank, but I have not earned so much as a partial name," Scout-Captain told him.

"You... remind me... of someone I... I knew, I met, in battle. Same humble manner, same mad courage, same... same markings even. K'Tirr. You look like K'Tirr."

"I am deeply flattered, Dominant One," Scout-Captain said, "but K'Tirr is a treasured name, none has carried it since-"

"Since my ancestor's day. I know. A name can only be given by a Clan Chief... but I am Chief to All the Clans, am I not?" Kahless asked.

"Yes, Dominant One, ever since you defeated K'Tirr Raoullrrit in a single combat that ended the war," Scout Captain said. "You were his only defeat, and you pronounced him undefeated over his dead body."

"You know your traditions and your history... now know this - I expect you to do your utmost to live up to the honour I am about to impose upon you - a name is more than a source of respect, it is a statement of responsibility to all who look up to you. You are now K'Tirr. You have the partial name K'Tirr, and your records will show it by the end of the day. By the end of the week, all of your people will know that you are K'Tirr. You will have to earn the rest of a full name, but this I give you as your charge, your duty, and proof of your honour... Now, return to your ship, and show the universe what I see in you, live up to your Name." Kahless smiled. "Besides, you and your Colonel will be escorting me back to Qo'noS... won't that be fun?" The Emperor's eyes glittered with some secret joke.


The Great Hall of Qo'noS - Two days later

The entire High Council was gathered, along with the command staff, and at Kahless' request, the heroes of the last two weeks of action.

"As you all know," the Emperor began, "I have been brought here because the Empire has been attacked by ancient and powerful evil. An evil so great, that it threatens to consume our people, from without and from within. To counter this evil, you need an ancient Sword, and the bearer of that Sword. The Sword his HERE!!" He drew the Sword of Kahless and raised it high over his head. Even the Gorn in the room were awed by the sight of it.

"And I am here to bear this Sword into battle," Kahless said. "But one mere man can not face an army alone. And despite what any of you may think of me, I am simply a mere man. I am the heir to Kahless. I carry his memories. But I am not the one who forged this Sword and slew Molor with it all those centuries ago. I can lead the Empire to victory, but the citizens of the Empire will need to seize that victory for themselves."

"We stand ready to fight by your side, my liege!" exclaimed M'chal, son of Kriton.

"You wish to fight, but you do not yet know how or where," Kahless stated.

"You are the Emperor, where you point, I will go." Koldor said simply.

"What if I pointed you to the gates of Gre'thor itself?"

The chamber fell silent.

"Ah. I sense doubt. Skepticism. IS Gre'thor real? Yes. My ancestor has been there. Is it true that those who die in that place are destined to forever remain? Also yes. And if any of you falls by my side, even I may not be able to reclaim your souls for Sto'vo'kor. So tell me, great warriors of the Klingon Empire, will you die in the heart of Darkness for me? ME, a mere man, a... pretender to the throne as Gowron once called me?"

Again, there was silence.

"I will go." K'ragh, son of D'Ward finally said, and looked around him. "I will go - I AM the great Fool... - who else can we afford to lose - permanently, but a Captain who failed to defend the Headquarters?"

"And only a fool would fight in a burning house," Kahless said with a laugh. "But I know your heart, son of D'Ward. You did not dishonor yourself that day. But there are those among you, I know, who do not fear what Klingons fear. And it is you who I turn to now to aid me." He looked around the room. "For ALL the Empire! Klingon and outsider alike! Yes, Gorn, Orion, Ferasan... you have a stake in this as much as much as any Klingon. And so I call on you..."

He walked up to Nine of Nine. "You were Lan, son of Krad, of the House of Krech. Now you are no one. A number. Your mind was taken from you, and returned broken. You don't even remember what it is to be a Klingon. You do not fear dishonor."

Kahless turned to K'Tirr. "K'Tirr-Scout-Captain, your warrior's heart burns fierce. Your kind was once known to mine as 'the fearless beasts,' and you have the courage of the last to bear your name You do not fear evil."

The Emperor stepped towards D'Moj. "Damojena Masaana, you told me you value your word over your freedom, and your freedom over your life. Your word is your oath to defend the Empire, against this foe who seeks to strip our freedom. You do not fear death."

Finally, he approached Sway. "S'fyrnamokarrn, Sweet Delight of R'kssathln and Royrork, par'Mach'kaI of Naja, chosen son of Ssharki. Though you are but a boy, you have faced many dangers that would turn any Klingon's heart cold. And you have triumphed over them all. You, my boy, do not fear LIFE."

Kahless stepped back. "You four, are Dark Horses, those that no one would choose for your background, your race, your past, or your future prospects. The ones that no sane man would bet on. But I know your true hearts. I know that you were all destined for this one great deed.

"And so I ask you now: WILL YOU RIDE TO GRE'THOR WITH ME??"



* * * * *

To Be Continued...



"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics
Starfleet Veteran
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 542
# 15
09-24-2013, 09:38 AM
Nice work so far.

Definitely liking how things're all coming together, and I look forward to Part Four.
Originally KiraYamato before the Account Linking - True Join Date August 2008

"In the game of war, there are no clear rules you can follow." - Andrew Waltfeld
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,352
# 16 Act Four: Before the Dawn
09-27-2013, 03:46 PM

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn

And I've been a fool and I've been blind
And I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around
Our love is pastured, such a mournful sound
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground
'Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
But it's always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out
Shake it out, shake it out...

And it's hard to dance
With a devil on your back
So shake him off

I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart
'Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn...

And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back?
It's a fine romance but it's left me so undone
It's always darkest before the dawn

And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope
And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope
It's a shot in the dark and right at my throat, cause
Looking for heaven
Found a devil in me
Looking for heaven
Found a devil in me
Well what the hell
I'm gonna let it happen
To me...


Florence Welch and Paul Epworth of Florence + the Machine with Kid Harpoon - "Shake It Out"




A C T . F O U R :

B E F O R E . T H E . D A W N




The Great Hall of Qo'noS - 11.17.2408, 1723 hours


"You four, are Dark Horses," Emperor Kahless had said. "...I know that you were all destined for this one great deed. And so I ask you now: will you ride to Gre'thor with me?"

Cmdr. Nine of Nine simply nodded.

K'Tirr-Scout-Captain saluted and said "I will."

D'Moj dropped to her knees and lowered her face, "I will go." she said.

LCdr. Sway gave an exuberant "YES!!"

To which Ssharki said "NO!!' He raised his hand to squelch his son's protests as he approached the Emperor. "You expect to storm the gates of Gre'thor with four men-"

"Ssharki, it will be enough," Kahless assured him. "With these four, and their companions, it will be enough."

"I want to you to explain your plan fully before I authorize any mission," J'mpok declared. "These are officers of the KDF and they are under my authority, Emperor, not yours. Will you discuss your plan with the Council and the command staff?"

"Typical politician," Kahless groaned. "When a crisis demands action, you want to discuss it in a committee... very well, I will explain how we will save the Empire from its imminent destruction at the hands of Molor..."

"You four," Ssharki pointed to Kahless' chosen warriors, "leave us."

"Get up, I can handle them," Kahless told D'Moj. "I will send for you once the decision has been made by the Council." She stood, and left the room with a salute to the Emperor, then the council, then the others.

"But I-" Sway started, then stopped, silenced by his father's glare. He turned away and followed the other three out.

Once they were gone, Ssharki stood before Kahless again. "Emperor, I know you are wise and that you will lead us all to victory over this enemy. But I forbid my son to go with you."

"Young Sway has made his choice," Kahless told him.

"It is not his choice to make. I am his commanding officer as well as his father. He is still a child by my people's reckoning, and in no place to make such a grave decision on his own. The decision is mine alone. Sway will not go with you."

Kahless looked up at the huge Gorn and smiled. "You are thinking as any loving father would. You have guided and protected your son well, and yet he thirsts for danger. You know this. You have allowed him to seek danger at every turn on your missions-"

"That is different," Ssharki said, interrupting the Emperor.

"In what way?"

"Because I was with him. Or I sent him. And I knew where he was going. What perils he would face. You ask me to allow you to send him into the unknown."

"Perhaps we should hear more about Gre'thor, and what Kahless thinks Sway and the others will find there," Woldan suggested.

J'mpok nodded. "Family matters aside, I am loathe to send valuable officers to needless deaths. Tell us, Emperor if you would."

"Very well," Kahless said. "The journey to Gre'thor must begin on Boreth..."


Outside the Great Hall

D'Moj headed off to sit on a bench near one of the Loresingers - she dropped darsek coins in their cups, and listened as they told her tales of the age of Kahless. While she listened, she ate her supper - two bars of field-ration and a cup of water. As she listened, she made notes and compared the descriptions to what she knew of warfare, the Fek, and technology.

K'Tirr prowled the courtyard impatiently, while Sway and Nine stood off to the side with Reader. "I want to be in there," Sway said. "I want to know what father is saying about me... Reader, can you pick up anything?"

"I can, but I won't," the old Ferasan told him.

"Why the hell not?"

"Respect," Reader said simply.

Sway fell silent, and looked at his feet. He folded his hands behind him and flexed his toes. "You're right," he said after a while.

K'Tirr stalked by, flexing his claws impatiently.

"What's his story?" Sway hissed.

"Did you not see the Herdthinner's report?"

"I have a whole battlecruiser to run security for. It wasn't a priority."

"Hmm. Three days ago, he was the first officer of a ship that was supposed to be patrolling the Pelia Sector. He had no name, and was unlikely to earn one - at least without dying in the attempt. Now, he is captain of his ship, and Kahless himself gave him the first name of Ferasa's greatest hero." Reader flicked the Gorn youngster with his tail. "It's an interesting story. You should read it."

Sway grunted. He saw Nine wandering off. "Where's Lan going?"

"He wants to be alone for a while," Reader told him. "He has a lot on his mind." Reader glanced at the door, and sensed - without reading anyone's mind - the mood inside the Great Hall. "They're going to be in there for a while. Let's find somewhere to eat."

"Good idea." Sway caught K'Tirr's attention. "Hey, Scout, we're gonna get some dinner. Wanna come with us?"

K'Tirr chafed at the way the junior officer addressed him but he restrained his ire. He was hungry, and he disliked the taste of lizard-flesh... "Sure. Let me ask one of my officers to join us..."

* * *

After eating, D'Moj had taken the transporter up to the shipyard. Being in space made her feel safer, somehow. But even here, she sensed someone watching her, as she walked the corridors. She glanced back - and saw Nine. His attention was on her, and he was obviously following - or at least, going the same direction. "Commander," she nodded to him.

He nodded an acknowledgement back in silence. They walked out into outer docking bay together.

"Your translator isn't with you?" she asked.

He shrugged, and made a dismissive gesture.

"Yeah, it's sometimes nice to have some alone-time away from the crew," she admitted. "Time to think, daydream, speculate... or plan."

He nodded. they passed into a control room lined with fixed vid display - windows overlooking the yard complex, and Nine stopped, he gently indicated he would like D'Moj to stop as well. She joined him in looking out over the spacedocks. He pointed to his ship, and then, to hers. In the darkness and distance, the workers loading and tuning the ships were mites around beasts.

"They're good ships, with good crew," she said.

Nine smiled with pride, and nodded. Next he pointed at her, then at an Orion carrier, a question in his eye.

She shook her head in denial. "Never. I'm not like them... I never was. I may look like them, but..."

He frowned deeper, a look of attempting to comprehend something.

"I'm free," D'Moj explained, "I am not a slave, not an instrument, or property, not a commodity to be bought and sold or a dependent to be 'taken care of' by a system that thrives on exploitation and dependency. My consequences aren't for others to bear, my actions and my choices are my own, both the good, and the bad. Only a free person can be responsible, only a responsible person can have Honor."

Comprehension dawned in his one natural eye. He gestured to the Orion ship again, and shook his head, another questioning look.

"No, they can't be honorable," she told him. "They can do all of the cosmetic things of honor - they can own up to their assurances, never lie, never cheat, and they still would have no honor - because it wouldn't be their choice - they are not free. My race sacrificed its Honor thousands of years ago for 'stability' and 'safety', for a system of cradle-to-grave security that denied the individual the right to choose their own fate, and the right to face their own consequences. Without consequences, without that right to choose, you can't be free - and without freedom, your honor is meaningless..." she made a dismissive gesture, "Tomorrow, their masters could tell them to turn on the Empire - and being good slaves, they would," she added, "because they do not choose, they only obey. The responsibility isn't theirs..."

He pointed down, then pointed at her, then drew a line across his neck, and gave another questioning glance.

"If we die down... If I die, you mean?" she asked. "In Gre'thor?"

He nodded.

"I die free - because I chose the path knowing the price. I made a promise - with an understanding that whatever the price, I would bear it... You did the same."

He frowned.

"You're not part of the collective. This mission is purely voluntary, you could go with Reader to Kahless right now, and refuse it - but you won't," she said, "you won't, because you're free. And you are, at your heart, honorable, and you know what we've chosen is right."

She took his arm, and he let her, and they walked. "We are who we are - we are who we choose to be."


Streets of the First City

"Oh yeah? Well if you're so smart, how come Ferasan science and medical officers are all Lowlanders?" Sway aked. He was slightly drunk, and he and K'Tirr had left Reader and Zimehoz trailing a short distance behind walking back to the Great Hall from the restaurant. They continued an argument that had begun over some trivial perceived slight.

The Gorn was trying K'Tirr's patience. "They choose to focus their intellect on those fields," K'Tirr explained. "The Mountain Clans focus on warfare."

"Really. So you think you're a superior fighter to someone like me?"

"Think?" K'Tirr snarled, "that would imply some doubt." calm... calm... "Science Officer could defeat you in single combat."

"Please. You have no idea what I'm capable of. And I've sparred with Reader often enough."

"He was taking it easy on you," K'Tirr said. "You don't have scars." Maybe if he did, he'd have some discipline...

"They heal quick. My point is, you all talk big, but you're all just mammals. A full-grown Gorn could crush you with just one toe."

"It's cold where we live - Gorn are strong, but you're slow. You're also vulnerable to weather."

Sway contemptuously puffed air through his teeth. "You try and fight me, and I'll show you how slow I am."

K'Tirr was getting quite irritated now. Definitely needs a taste of discipline...

"The Gorn have survived for a thousand millennia," Sway went on. "You think weather bothers us? I'd like to see how you handle a sand storm. Our empire once extended across a thousand worlds in a dozen sectors."

"And after the Gorn regressed, Ferasa dominated this quadrant - many of our ancestral worlds were taken from the Gorn in the ancient days." I won't admit that it was the Lowlanders who were the conquerors - my own people were "aboriginal cast-offs"... but he shows such ignorance of history...

"And yet you were defeated by Klingons..."

"So were the Gorn."

"We were betrayed by Undine. What's your excuse?"

That did it. "Can it, <food-that-talks>," K'Tirr growled.

"Make me, mammal," Sway snapped back.

K'Tirr pounced, and was met by a kick to the ribs, which slammed him to a wall. Before he could move, Sway had a hand around his throat, lifting the bigger Ferasan off the floor.

"Still think I'm slow?" the young Gorn sneered.

K'Tirr's ears flattened against his head and he said, in a terrifying tone, "Release me, or I'll add your eyeballs to my collection of my enemies' body parts."

"You reach for my face, and you'll be reaching for me through a hole in that wall," Sway told him, as a disruptor pistol appeared in his hand.

A doublethump and K'Tirr's boots were on the floor, and Sway was holding his entire body weight as foot-claws planted where it would hurt a lot, even on a Gorn. "Pull the trigger, or let go - otherwise your generations stop," K'Tirr said calmly.

Sway hissed and pressed his disruptor into the same approximate area on the Ferasan's body.

"Enough!" Reader shouted. "Sway, put the damn pistol away. And YOU" he roared and the younger Ferasan, "are NOT living up to your new half-name."

K'Tirr backed down first, releasing his toehold, and placing his feet on the duracrete. "My apologies," he said - to Reader, not Sway. "I am humbled, Elder."

"As well you should be. Sway..."

The young Gorn holstered the disruptor and pushed K'Tirr away.

"Soldier Boy... come here for a moment," Reader said. "Scout-Captain, you have somewhere else to be?"

K'Tirr took the hint, and walked away with Zimehoz - politely out of hearing.

"Your father would have my pelt if I let him disembowel you," Reader told the Gorn youngster with a barely controlled anger. "His feet are as dangerous - if not more, than his hands. You should know this. You are fortunate that that one thinks ahead occasionally - another Mountain Ferasan would have left your entrails a shredded mess on the floor - even as they died." Reader placed his paw on the boy's shoulder. "Next time, box, don't grapple."

"I will remember."

"You should also know better than to insult a Ferasan."

"He started it," Sway grumbled.

* * *

"He started it," K'Tirr growled to Zimehoz. "I was just trying to show him some proper... discipline."

"You let him get to you, didn't you?" Zimehoz asked softly.

K'Tirr shrugged. "Not so much - he's still intact," he said.

"You let a kit get to you - admit it," the Lethean doctor chided, "and you let it get physical."

"I stopped, didn't I?"

"Yes, you've improved your skill at holding your temper - but you should never have let it get to that point..." Zimehoz reminded him. "You have obligations now."

"I'm starting to realize that," K'Tirr said quietly. "At this rate I'll be nameless and shamed before we clear dock. It's my commoner's temperament. Who am I trying to fool?" His tone was glum. "I got promoted by being lucky, not good."

"Stop it," the Lethean hissed. "If that were true, I wouldn't be here... You know, it's that damned self-doubt of yours... It may make you cautious enough to be smart, but sometimes it blinds you to the facts. For instance, the fact you don't have to compete with that little Gorn back there. He's a juvenile - his head-spines haven't even grown out yet. He's not in a position, much less inclination, to try and take your position in the pack."

"You think this is about dominance?" K'Tirr asked incredulously.

"When is anything involving a Ferasan - especially a traditionalist, not about dominance?" Zimehoz asked.

"Only when... oh... I've been handling this all wrong."

"Yes, yes you have. That boy is the son of Brigadier Ssharki. I think he may have been adopted, but that changes is nothing. You assaulted the only child of a Gorn - one who some of the most powerful Klingons respect and even fear. Had you harmed the boy, you would have been turned into a throw rug within an hour."

K'Tirr's nose twitched as he pondered the implications. "How do you know this?"

"Your eyes were on his body, sizing him up as an opponent. My eyes were on his uniform, sizing up his background, to determine how a Gorn juvenile could even become a Lieutenant Commander in the KDF. His sash bears three Klingon House badges - the House of Martok, the House of Woldan, and a third I didn't recognize. The only way he could have those House connections is by being Ssharki's son."

K'Tirr flicked his tail. "You expect me to fear him because he has a powerful father?"

"No, I expect you to be afraid of the consequences of hurting the son of General Ssharki," Zimehoz told him. "You don't need to fear the boy, or even be nice to him. Just... next time he gets confrontational, take the high ground. Don't let him get to you."


Great Hall - three hours later

"I'm still not sure I understand," J'mpok declared.

"It's alright if you have your doubts," Kahless told him. "But do not allow your doubt to cloud your judgment. Time grows short. The qa'meH quv are working with our enemy, and if they could infiltrate the highest level of Central Command and the High Council, they could be anywhere. My presence here will have been noticed. The Fek'Ihri will have been alerted."

"Which makes this plan all the more foolish," Terrath said.

"If you have an alternative, I'd be delighted to hear it," Woldan replied. "Kahless is right about at least one thing - this crisis demands action. His plan may seem foolhardy to us, but at least it is a plan of action!"

"The foolishness of Kahless would make our wisdom appear childish," Worf stated. "Two weeks ago, any of us who claimed to have seen the Fek'Ihri would have been called a madman. In light of our enemy, only a mad plan would be sane."

Kahless grinned. "Well spoken, friend."

"If our enemy lurks in Gre'thor, then no fleet or army can defeat them," General T'kell declared. "I can defend our homeworld, but only Kahless may assault theirs."

"Very well," J'mpok sighed. "Emperor, I give your mission the Chancellor's blessing. You may take whatever KDF military assets you require to complete your task."

Kahless nodded his head. "Thank you, Chancellor." He turned to Ssharki, who had been largely silent throughout the discussion. "General, I must ask your permission to take your son to fight by my side."

"Why him?" Ssharki asked. "Why not me?"

"YOU have too much to lose," Kahless told him, "And not enough to fight for. You would have to be willing to surrender your position, your authority, your power, your plans and hopes... and your family. And to gain what? Respect? Prestige? You have that already, and you will gain more in time. But you know as well as I do, this journey is not for you to take.

"Your son, on the other hand... In a way I need him most of all. The others will all fight for themselves, each having something to prove. D'Moj, her loyalty to the Empire. K'Tirr, his worthiness to bear his name. Nine simply doesn't want to let you down. But Sway will fight not for himself, but for everything that he loves. His motives are the most pure. And while you do not lack for strength, Sway is stronger where it counts. And he is braver than you will ever be. You know I speak the truth."

Ssharki nodded grimly. "But if he dies-"

"But he will not, so long as he remains true to himself, and chooses his second wisely."

"Second?" J'mpok repeated.

Kahless looked back to the Chancellor. "They will each have to face their own demons, and these demons will test them harshly. On their own, each of them will fail. So they must have a companion, one closer than kin to them, who will guide them and give them courage to face their darkest fears."

"Could I-" Ssharki started.

"It will be up to Sway," Kahless stated, "but I fear that you will not provide the courage he will need. He feels weak when he is with you, which is good, at times. He is still a child, in need of correction, and protection. You give him wisdom, and comfort. But to face his demon, he will need someone who gives him strength... someone who has seen him through his time of greatest despair."

Ssharki knew who Kahless meant, and he felt his heart break. He fell to his knees, and buried his face in his hands as he broke down. But he could feel the truth behind the Emperor's words. "Take them," he said, helplessly.

"Thank you, Ssharki," Kahless said, placing his hand on Ssharki's head. "I give you my word, they will return."

Ssharki looked up at the Emperor. "Let me talk to my son, first."

"Of course. I know things seem dark to you now. But it is always darkest before the dawn. Send them to me in the morning, and they will see they have nothing to fear."


IKS Y'Ton - 2213 hours

D'Moj sat on her bunk in her darkened quarters, exhausted but not willing to sleep while she waited for the Emperor's summons. Finally her communicator beeped. She read the text-only message.
Quote:
The High Council has authorized our mission.
The hour grows late, and you will need rest.
I will brief you at 0800 in the wardroom aboard the Batlh.
You must choose someone you trust with your heart and soul to accompany you.
Tomorrow we ride to destiny.
- Emperor Kahless

Someone I trust with my heart and soul? "Mary," she whispered.

Why Mary? she asked herself.

Because... she seems to want me to trust her... and of all the crew, she's the only one that Kogh could get along without if we fail to return. Talash is... too important to the ship. It has to be Mary.

The thought brought her some strange sense of comfort. She lay down and fell asleep, and for the first time in a long while, had a dream that was not a nightmare.

In her dream, Essa wasn't dull-eyed. She was bright, and she was singing with Meeree in the garden.

D'Moj slept well that night.


IKS Norgh'Iw

Sway reached his quarters after a brief stop by the medical bay. How he managed to get four puncture wounds on either side of his ventral pubic cloaca required some explaining. Fortunately there was no real damage done to the soft organs located under the skin just below the claw marks. He would be sore for a few days... Not much worse than a good night with Naja though.

Fang growled as Sway opened the door, smelling the Ferasan's scent on him. The jackal mastiff gave a confused whimper when he saw his master enter the room. Naja looked up from her PADDs and smiled at him. "Hello, my sweet."

"Good evening, bangwIj. What are you working on?"

"Oh, just going over some test results from the genetics lab... these Fek'Ihriqoq... their DNA is similar enough to Klingon that we could have shared a common ancestor, but some of these markers are clearly artificial."

"Augmented?" Sway asked, removing his shoulder pads, sash and uniform jacket.

"No... more like engineered by someone with very specific designs in mind." She put the PADDs away. "But enough about that - you saw Kahless?"

Sway nodded.

"What did he have to say to you?"

"He has a mission for me... and Lan and some others. But father doesn't want me to go."

"What sort of mission?"

"Well..." his communicator chirped. "Just a sec." He tapped it. "Sway here."

"Son, could you please come to my quarters?" Ssharki requested. "And bring Naja with you."

Sway looked up at his par'Mach'kai. She nodded. "Sure," he said. "We'll be right there."

The General's quarters were at the forward end of the corridor, not far from where Sway and Naja slept. They entered and found Ssharki, still in his formal uniform, pacing the deck. "Sit down, please," he told them. He gazed at his son for a long minute, studying his eyes, seeing his eagerness, and uneasiness. "Have you told her about the Emperor's mission yet?" he finally asked.

"I was just about to when you summoned us, sir."

Ssharki waved his hand. "I didn't call you here to speak as your commanding officer. Right now I am simply your father... and future father-in-law." He glanced at Naja before looking at his son again. "The High Council has approved the Emperor's mission... and so have I."

"You mean... you'll let me go?" Sway asked, nervous excitement creeping into his voice.

His father nodded. He turned to Naja and explained. "Emperor Kahless believes the only way to defeat the Fek'Ihri is to descend to Gre'thor itself and challenge its masters. He has called on four warriors who do not fear to die there as a Klingon would. Sway is one of them."

Naja took her par'Mach'kai's hand. "I'm coming with you."

"NO!" Sway protested.

"Yes," Ssharki declared. "She must go with you, Sway. Kahless said that you must face a demon there, which will destroy you unless you have the right person by your side. That person is Naja."

"But... she is a Klingon! She can't-"

"I'm not afraid, Sway," Naja told him. "As long as we are together, there is nothing we can't face. I told you after I declared my love for you, that we could take the world together. I suppose we can take the underworld too."

"But-" Sway stared at her. "If anything happens to you there..."

"And what if something happens to you and I'm not there with you?" Naja demanded. "I may be damned if I go, but I'd be damned if I don't."

Sway sighed through his teeth and looked pleadingly at his father.

"I'm not happy about this either, son. I don't want to lose either of you. But Kahless was adamant. He can't defeat the Fek'Ihri without you, and you can't survive without Naja. But he gave me his word that as long as you remain true to yourselves and to each other, that you would both return."

The young lovers looked at each other and nodded. "When do we leave?" Sway asked, not breaking eye-contact with his mate.

"Kahless will brief you aboard his ship at 0800," Ssharki told them. "Get some sleep, you two."

Naja stroked Sway's crest. "We will."


IKS Batlh, Wardroom - the next morning, 0758 hours

Sway and Naja were the last to arrive. K'Tirr glowered at the young Gorn, but Sway just flashed him a smug, toothy grin.

Naja whispered "Is that the Ferasan who-"

"Uh-huh," Sway said as he pulled out two chairs on the other side of the table.

At 0800, Kahless entered the room. Everyone rose and started to bow. "Be seated, please," the Emperor instructed. "I have much to tell you and not much time. I will be departing for Boreth immediately after this briefing in order to make the necessary preparations. Your ships shall follow in one day. You will need that time to prepare yourselves. But before we begin, there are some of you I have not yet met. Would you mind introducing yourselves?"

Reader stood first. "I am Reader-Lieutenant, of the Evening Glades clan. I am security chief of the IKS Cha'qu' and executive officer to Commander Nine, and I am his voice."

"Thank you, Reader," Kahless nodded, and glanced at the Lethean.

"I am Doctor Zimehoz - Klingon Intelligence, currently assigned to the IKS Herdthinner. I have served with... K'Tirr since he was 'Scout-second' aboard the IKS Ba'hud Koloth... I suppose I am chosen because I know him best."

"Thank you for joining our quest, Zimehoz," the Emperor said, before he turned to the Human.

"I am Mary Moriarty, Doctor in a variety of... disciplines, at present CMO of the Y'Ton. Colonel D'Moj hath her own reasons for choosing me, perhaps it is that I be well travelled," she smiled demurely.

"That you are," Kahless said with a slight smile. "Thank you, Mary."

"And I am second Lieutenant Naja, daughter of none, and heir to the House of Methos." D'Moj and Mary looked up sharply at that. "I am a biology officer aboard the IKS Norgh'Iw, where I have served under Brigadier Ssharki since he selected me out of the Academy three years ago. And I am here because I am Commander Sway's par'Mach'kai."

K'Tirr shook his head in amazement. well... at least she's not a Human. He eyed Mary with distrust.

Mary eyed Naja, and Sway speculatively...

"Thank you, Naja," Kahless said. "I had hoped that you would join us, despite the danger to your eternal soul. But I can assure you both, that no dishonor may ever stain the soul of one who fights for true love. And when two hearts beat as one, as yours do, then there is no god or demon that can stand against them."

Naja sat down, and heard Sway's almost inaudible sigh of relief. She placed her hand on his thigh and gave it a squeeze.

"Now then," Kahless pointed to wall display which showed a diagram of the Monastery at Boreth. "Our destination - or at least, our point of crossing - is the Shrine of Kahless, in the lava caves beneath the monastery. This is where I - or rather, my ancestor - crossed over into Gre'thor to rescue... his brother's soul. Now, it is likely the Fek'Ihri will be anticipating our plan, so we may find ourselves in for a bit of a fight in the caves. You should bring down additional security, and medics, to hold the area near the Shrine..."


Dining Hall, Qo'noS One - D -20 hours, 47 minutes

"... I still don't like that we can't come to the Shrine with you," Kogh told his commanding officer as they sat down in the mess hall.

"The Emperor was pretty specific in his briefing," D'Moj said. "I need you, Kobor, B'Tara and Talash on the surface once we're there to keep any uninvited visitors off our backs - think of it as preparation for when you finally promote out from under my command and start building your own House."

He regarded her "Do you really think that will happen? I'm from a commoner family-"

"So was Martok, and he made Chancellor," D'moj said. "You've got talent, Kogh, you're a good officer and a good man."

"And you're leaving me on the surface," he said.

"Because you're a good man," she told him. "Where we're going, if a good man dies, he doesn't come back."

"DO you believe?" he asked.

"I believe that Kahless believes, and the people believe in him," she said. "That's good enough for me."

He frowned. "You knelt before the Emperor even knowing he was just a man. You never kneel or bow your head to anyone."

"He's the Emperor," D'Moj said. "The Emperor could be a drooling idiot child and I'd still bow to him."

"For honor's sake, why?" Kogh asked.

"Because I took an oath," D'moj said. "You've noted, I trust, the rarity of my promises? And their limits?"

Kogh nodded. "You never promise anyone anything... ever."

"I did once... three times," She said. "The first time was my oath of fealty to the Empire - and it's Emperor. I made that promise when I was a thirteen year old runaway." She accepted the plate of the lunch special. "The second time, was my oath of Enlistment... the third time, was the oath I gave when I became an Officer. Everything I am now, is because of those oaths. When I made the first one, I had nothing - only my word. The first secured my freedom, it made me not-a-slave. The second time, all I had was my word and my freedom - it was the first major free choice I made - and it was a choice only a free person can make. Consignment slaves are assigned; they don't enlist, they don't choose to serve, they merely do as they're bid." She poured him a cup of denatured wine, then refilled her own.

"And the third?" Kogh asked.

"The third time, is because I believe in what the Empire stands for," she told him. "For all it's flaws - and make no mistake, the Empire has many flaws - I believe in what it stands for, and what we do." She finished her meal. "And the Empire believes in it's Emperor. The politicians may or may not, but the Empire is it's people, and they believe." She stacked her dishes neatly, "How could I not?"

A group of Orions walked into the hall and filed toward empty seating at a nearby table. "Let's go, suddenly it stinks in here," D'moj said, standing with her plates stacked on her tray. Kogh looked at his unfinished lunch, and sighed.

She shrugged. "Eat up, Kogh. I'll meet you on the ship - we have preparations to complete before undertaking the mission..." she glanced at one of the vixens. "You might even get lucky with one of them if you play your cards right... I remember that the Dhukov trading house has a reputation for producing... vigorous... courtesans."

D'Moj passed their table on her way out, and one of them let slip..."Ohn'gallau..."

The Colonel stopped and turned, the redheaded one in vice-matron stripes spoke up. "Race Traitor - I hope you DIE there." Her eyes were narrow and her lips twisted in a sneer.

D'Moj smiled and inclined her head. "And a fine morning to you, too, slave." And she left.


Medical Supply Logistics, Qo'noS One - D -16 hours, 23 minutes

"So, which one of us is team doctor?" Mary Moriarty asked. "Do I give thee MY patient files to study for this mission, or dost thou give me thine? Mind, I've been on an extended research programme covering Klingon, Gorn, Human, Orion, and various other DNA research for... military purposes... And I can probably name organs in thy body thou hast forgot."

They were going over the 'get lists' for their captains.

"I've been working on Gorn, Klingon, Ferasan, and Orion bodies for several years in a field environment, Doctor," Zimehoz said, "and I'm senior to you in grade... and I don't have a mark from the Klingon Science Establishment for unethical practices."

"I will expect strictest confidences from thee, then," Mary said. "Mind that where Colonel D'Moj is concerned, thou'rt MY backup - she still be mine primary patient. I am... bound to her, as 'twere."

"Oh.... that's right, you're slugged," Malhul said. He was selecting his supplies for the triage area in the fire caves.

"I disarmed it eight months ago," she told him. "The remote I turned to an area-wide toroidal stunner - she can trigger it, and be the only person still standing when it goes off."

The Lethean looked at her. "Aside from the criminal implications... you..." he focused. "You would have taken this job without it."

"In my life, I find few enough dear friends," Mary told them, "and she is kin to a dear friend of mine I could not save. It makes her dear to me. Sooth, if I'd known her whereabouts earlier, I might have avoided two years of crushing boredom re-examining someone else's shoddy genetics work." She finished the second inventory, "Doctor Malhul, wouldst thou be a dear and confirm the count I have here for thine ship? It doth seem... shorted."

"I would ask what you're doing looking at my requisitions, but I'm afraid to know the answer," Malhul joked. "Your ship's count is good based on the list you gave me last night - why so much Melorazine?"

"Immune boosters," Mary said. "Colonel D'Moj is drying out from the atrocious suppressants her last doctor was giving her, since she still insists on using suppressants of some sort, her immune system needs boosters until her body's finished flushing the residues from the other formula."

"You're taking her off Sterol?" Malhul asked.

"Aye," Mary said. "She was showing evidence of Throngo's Syndrome in her last pap smear. I have her on xiticix for now, it suppresses the slua and acts as a cleansing agent."

"Throngo's... that's pretty rare." Malhul said.

"Nae so much amongst the upper level Traders - where inbreeding is common," Mary reminded the Orion. "Line purity and all that rot."

"I'm surprised I missed that when I was treating her," Malhul confessed.

"Thou'rt not looking for it at the time," Mary pointed out. "If the writeup I was given is pure and clean, thou wert too busy keeping her from bleeding out through tears in her arterial walls from a pair of compound fractures in her legs. Hardly time to be digging into the health of tertiary skin glands or reproductive systems."

"Say..." Zimehoz glanced up from his PADD. "Where's the antivenin for this Fek neurotoxin?"

"There is no such thing," Malhul told him.

"Neurotoxin?" Mary queried, sounding intrigued.

"The Fek fem-types - the Norgh'Iw assault squads called 'em 'Ravagers' - secrete a nasty paralytic venom."

"Ah, yes, I've heard rumors," Mary said, as she started taking notes. "Might I trouble thee to describe the effects?"

"Paralysis spreads from the bite site until it reaches the heart, lungs or brainstem," Malhul told her. "It's always fatal. Klingons die inside of a minute - I suspect the ravagers were specifically engineered to overcome Klingon's toxic resistance. Nausicaans drop faster. I'm afraid to imagine it would do to a Human..."

Mary shrugged him off. "What of Orions?"

"Orions... and Ferasans, last about three to five minutes, from what we've observed. The Gorn seem to be the most resistant. The Norgh'Iw didn't lose any Gorn but several civilians were bitten in the streets. It seems that they last anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours, depending on their physical condition and mass." Malhul glanced at Zimehoz. "I haven't heard anything about the effect on Letheans."

Zimehoz gave a dismissive look. "But no antivenin."

"I worked with the Norgh'Iw's staff to try to synthesize one, but you need a pure venom sample to start with. The ravager specimens were... uncooperative. And their corpses decompose too fast. We don't have anything to work with."

"Pity, that," Mary said. She was already planning the experiments she could perform if she could get her hands on a live-capture.

Malhul went back to double-checking his req sheet. "QI'yaH," he swore. "They shorted our requisitions for Aptamine!"

"I thought so," Mary said. "'Tis an expensive med, muchly used as a basis for Sezz... also used for treating victims of assimilation - it replaces some of the neurochemical processes the Borg yard out..."

Malhul nodded grimly. "Nine needs it."

"Plan?" Zimehoz asked.

Mary shrugged, "'Tis nae Rura Penthe, I canna threaten them with 'experimental research'...but perhaps..."

"I've got this," Malhul said, and tabbed his communicator. "Malhul to Reader, direct line... Reader, yeah, I know, you're busy with the Captain... Reader, they shorted our Aptamine requisition... Yes, I'm looking right at it... Oh... okay. Tell the Brigadier I said 'thanks'." Malhul looked at Mary and Zimehoz. "When in doubt, beat them with the chain of command," he said.


Dark Horse Task Force, approaching Boreth System - two days later

"General! The Batlh reports a Fek battle group just dropped out of warp down-spin from the planet!"

Ssharki was on the bridge of the Norgh'Iw, which led the four-ship task force. He growled irritably at his tactical officer. "They must have broken through blockade line. Very well, tell the Batlh we will deal with them. Signal the task force to cloak and match our heading. Helm, change course to intercept." He opened a direct channel to D'Moj. "Colonel, we will decloak first, draw them in, and hit them with a few... surprises. You and the other two will move in for the kill in the confusion. Hit-and-cloak tactics."

"It's nice to work with a professional," D'Moj replied. "Orders acknowledged and understood. Over."

"Dou'gal, any idea what we're dealing with?" Ssharki asked his science officer.

"Sensor telemetry from the Batlh is coming through now. It looks like one dreadnought-class, two smaller carriers, half a dozen mixed escorts."

"Lovely. Maddox, give me a vector plot to hit that dreadnought from behind, with a corkscrew pattern to draw the escorts into a warp plasma cloud. Dou'gal, stand by to hit one of the smaller carriers with an isometric charge. I know those are a bit... unpredictable, but I'm hoping it will bounce around a little before it hits the dreadnought. Darr, stand ready to give me a full spread of quantums and prep a bioneural package, targeting the second carrier. Lomeg, give me everything you've got from the beam arrays." He steepled his fingers and grinned. "It's time to kill things..."

Dou'gal matched his CO's expression. "Sure beats doing paperwork, eh, sir?"


Y'Ton

"...There's our opening. Herdthinner, pack-tactics, wagon wheel strike," she ordered over the tacnet. "Cha'qu', you're the fulcrum. By the numbers on the marks, we hit that carrier and fade like the Brigadier told us, no hanging around, just pop and gone."

The first time she'd faced the Fek, they'd eaten a fleet for breakfast in front of her because the Brigadier in command believed in "wall of fire" tactics. The second time, she'd tried to look like a whole task force of ships, picking at the enemy's stragglers. This time, it was time to imitate a flock of carrion-killers, and she had a lot more help...

"Mark."

From an omniscient perspective, two birds of prey slid out of cloak in a hail of fire from radically different directions, while a raptor dove down at ninety degrees to the enemy's formation. Their target was a Fek carrier, already weakened by the Norgh'Iw's isometric charge. As the three ships passed, they left burning debris tumbling behind them. The pattern created is called the "wagon wheel" because each ship's path describes a spoke. At the far side of their runs, each of the three re-cloaked.


Herdthinner

"Energy levels at fifty percent for weapons," Engineer reported.

"Batteries," K'Tirr ordered. "Wait for the mark..." The first pass had been good.

"Power is at ninety percent and rising, auxiliary is stable," Engineer announced.

"Wait for it..." K'Tirr said, selecting his next target for the next pass. He lined up on the dreadnought, angled to strafe along its port shield facing.

"One hundred, one -twenty..."

"Mark." came over the tacnet.

K'Tirr hit the decloak and squeezed triggers while Engineer hammered the throttles to full power and began dumping Deuterium through the manifold...


Norgh'Iw

Darr watched the onboard camera view from his bioneural warhead as it bored in on its target. The carrier's small craft - including some ghostly-looking red things with claws and fanged faces, swarmed toward it. They were destroyed by the missile's point defense turrets, which then turned their fire on the carrier's already-weakened shield facing. The huge torpedo buried itself in the middle of the carrier's flight deck before detonating. Darr glanced out the viewports ringing the bridge and watched the multigigaton chain of explosions engulf the carrier and two nearby escorts. "Bah," the Hirogen hunter muttered. "This creature died too quickly. I long for worthy prey..."

"Try that dreadnought, Darr," Ssharki ordered. "It's shields should be coming down right..." he waited for the Herdthinner to finish its strafing run. "Now."

The fore launchers flashed as four silver-blue orbs launched toward their target, gouging a huge hole in the armored flank of the massive warship.

"Nine," Ssharki spoke into his comm panel, "Release your package now."


Cha'qu'

Nine punched the drop command, and Sodoq banked hard-down-and-right into a dive, narrowly avoiding the antiproton beams the Fek dreadnought was spearing towards him. His "dumb" tricobalt bomb sailed cleanly through the gaping wound it its side, and the entire massive ship disappeared in a blinding flash of sickly orange light.

Through his ocular implant, Nine could actually see the entire cascade reaction occur in slow motion. The ship glowed bright yellow from within for just an instant before a sphere of radiant energy ripped through the the fabric of space-time and took the dreadnought apart with it.

"Nice shooting, sir," Kanan remarked.

Nine just smiled and searched the tac plot for his next target. There was nothing left but a handful of scattering escorts now.


Y'Ton

"Beautiful," D'Moj said. "Group Lead, this is Y'Ton Actual, is the door open, over?" she asked, meaning am I clear to make a landing pass?

The KDF used surface ranks for a reason - the same reason that the Bird of Prey is such a ubiquitous design. Establishing beachheads for ground assault is one of the primary purposes for a captain of such a vessel. Starship combat was really considered her secondary role.


Norgh'Iw

Ssharki watched as the last enemy frigate was crushed like an empty can with Dou'gal's cruel manipulation of the tractor beam emitters. "Affirmative, Colonel. You may begin your landings." He nodded to his conn officer. "Gorut, bring is in transporter range."

"We'll be in range to transport in ninety seconds, sir," the Klingon replied.

Ssharki hesitated a moment, then tapped his intraship comm switch. "Sway, we will be inserting your assault team as soon as the LZ is secure. It's a safe bet there are enemy forces on the ground."

"Understood, sir."

"Don't worry, we'll take care of each other down there," Naja said over the channel.

Ssharki closed his eyes. "I know."


Y'Ton

"Stand by all hands for transatmospheric insertion," D'Moj ordered over the intercom. "Secure all luggage, body parts and anything you don't want turned into vibratory paste in three... two... one." She handed the landing to Kogh, who brought the Y'Ton in using... frequently warned-against course and methods.

According to the owner's guide, bringing your bird of prey into an atmosphere on a ninety-degree heading is considered to void the warranty. Such a maneuver is also frowned upon by every instructor-pilot who's never had to land ground forces under fire. It is, however, smiled upon by KDF assault forces whom have had to land and establish a beachhead against fortified opposition from the Romulan front to the Dominion Wars, to the present war with the Federation.

Kogh has accomplished MANY such landings.

Alarms barked as internal inertial compensation strained and SI fields threatened to buckle. The whole experience lasted roughly five minutes. Then, he translated the extreme downward vertical airspeed into horizontal, level flight, driving everyone's stomach down into their bladders. A few of the "greenies" actually pissed themselves or worse, but that was only momentary.

The Y'Ton scraped the volcanic mountainside with her impulse diffusers and settled down with a flared flourish after 'clearing' a patch of terrain with a quantum torpedo.

"Y'Ton is grounded, we're setting the perimeter now," D'Moj informed the task force, then she stood up. "Another smooth ride," she complimented Kogh.

"Not so smooth," he said, checking the engine warnings. "We're not taking off again - not without major repairs... by Kahless' beard, I crashed."

"Fix it while we're inside," She told him. Then she got on the intercom and announced "All assault troops, we have incoming hostiles. Let's make a nice little beachhead for our buddies in orbit!" She headed for the personnel ramp, passing a platoon of recently-assigned warriors. "Move it, yopwaH'baQa', I know you got your na'ran popped today, but there is work to be done!" she prodded the line forward out the lock before stepping down herself.


Cha'qu'

The stubby raptor swooped through the atmosphere, strafing the enemy horde and driving them off the side of the mountain. "Away team, we're ready to insert you as soon as we get the all-clear from the Colonel," Ts'chirok announced.

"Acknowledged," Reader replied from the armory. He watched Nine test his new weapon. The black handle extended with a flick of his wrist, and the nanopulse laser-blade activated with a hum, as purplish energy filled electromagnetic wave-guides in the shape of a traditional 116cm duelist's bat'leth. "T'Rrak, did you make that?"

"Yup. Same principle as a laser scalpel, really, just bigger." The Gorn grinned. "And deadlier."

"Nice," Dehdii said with a grunt.

Why aren't you bringing your sword? Reader tacitly asked the commander.

What sword?

The one on the wall in your quarters.

That sword is not mine. It belongs to Lan.

You have everything else that belonged to him, Reader reminded his friend.

The sword is different, Nine thought. I... I can't hold it yet. Perhaps after we complete our mission, I will have earned the right.

The only thing stopping you is your own doubt, Reader told him. But I understand.


Beachhead

Talash returned from checking the perimeter and nodded to D'Moj.

"Norgh'Iw, you are clear to beam down," the Colonel said into her communicator.

The air shimmered red as six squads of soldiers materialized in the middle of the LZ. LCdr. Sway stepped out of the middle of the group and started shouting orders. "Alright, Laura, get your team out to reinforce and extend the perimeter. Korloth, clear the monastery of hostiles. Shralak, help the assault team get the monastery locked down, then follow us into the caves to secure the Shrine. Remember, engage them at range if you can! A bite from the females is a kiss of death, and the big pI'qIvDu' will spit acid on you. If they get any on your armor, peel it off right away!"

A Human, a Klingon and a Gorn led their parties off to handle their respective tasks, but Talash kept watching Sway admiringly. He appeared younger than his twenty standard years, but he carried himself with such confidence and spoke with such authority... and his skin was a lovely shade of emerald green and wrapped a lithe and lean frame... Sway walked right up to a young Klingon woman who was checking her various instruments. He nuzzled her cheek and she turned and kissed his snout, then she knelt and pet the dog that was following Sway.

Talash sighed and looked down at herself - her big-boned structure, her misshapen scales the color of dirt... Well, if a Klingon can land herself such a handsome young male, maybe there's hope for me still...

"Cha'qu', Herdthinner, you are go for insertion," the Colonel called into her communicator.

K'Tirr and Zimehoz beamed down first, and the Cha'qu's party appeared a short distance away.

"Alright, Dark Horse team, let's make our way to the shrine," D'Moj ordered. "The entrance to the lava caves is just under the monastery..."

"Kahless is down there?" Naja asked.

"He should be."

Sker opened his tricorder. "I'm picking up thirteen Klingon lifesigns in a cavern a hundred and fifty meters below us," the Nausicaan reported. "I'm also detecting almost a hundred Fek'Ihri between us and them... perhaps we should go down with additional security."

"We're fine," K'Tirr growled.

"Agreed," D'Moj said. "Our security teams are needed where they are. Let's move out!"

They reached entrance to the caves. "Nine wants to know who's taking point," Reader announced.

"Why not let the invincible lovers go first," K'Tirr suggested, gesturing to Sway and Naja.

"Sure, why not." Sway drew his weapons - a mek'leth in one hand and a disruptor pistol in the other. "Fang, come."

The jackal mastiff bounded after his master, prompting a sigh from Colonel D'Moj. "Why'd you bring a ghuy'pu' dog with you?"

"Fang'll keep the ankle-biters off of Naja and me," Sway told her. "He'll also make a great booby-trap detector, perimeter alert sensor, rescue pointer and an emergency locator beacon."

D'Moj shrugged, indicating her acceptance of Fang as part of the team.

Sway led about twenty meters down into the cave and called a halt. He sniffed the air. "Fek around the corner."

K'Tirr could taste the scent of death and decay in the air. "Want me to deal with them for you?"

"We've got this, right Naja?"

The Klingon pulled a polyluminum sphere from her pouch. "I wonder if anesthizine will have any effect on these things?"

"Only one way to find out," her mate said with a shrug. She lobbed the gas canister down the tunnel. It bounced and rolled around the corner. "Have I ever told you that you throw like a girl?" Sway teased.

"Just every time we run your father's baseball holoprogram."

Gruesome creatures staggered out of the gas cloud, coughing and looking dazed, but still standing.

"That didn't seem to work too well," Sway remarked, slipping his mek'leth behind his back and producing a concussion grenade from his belt. "Betcha this'll work better." He whipped it down the tunnel with a sidearm curveball. The overpressure liquified the Fek and sent a wave of foul air rolling up the tunnel.

"Yech." Mary wrinkled her nose. "Yon creatures doth stinketh."

"Let's go," D'Moj said. "I'd rather not keep the Emperor waiting, especially if he's fighting off these things."

"Of course." Sway proceeded further down the tunnel, with Naja and K'Tirr at his heels.

"More Fek ahead," Sker called out from the rear.

"This time just shoot the petaQpu' and be done with it," the Colonel ordered.

Sway drew his other pistol and blasted little hordelings out of his way. Naja added fire from her wide-beam sidearm and K'Tirr disintegrated a ravager with his pulsewave rifle. Up ahead, the tunnel opened up into a wide cavern and Nine, Reader, T'Rrak and Dehdii joined them at the front of the group.

"The prey is spread throughout this cavern," K'Tirr announced.

"Squad cover tactics," D'Moj ordered. "Moriarty, support the point element. Reader, set that rifle for high-density and keep it there, you're designated marksman one. Dehdii, you're designated marksman two. T'Rrak, you're tail-end charlie and heavy support position." D'Moj racked a grenade into the underbarrel launcher of her Mk X assault weapon. "Five meter separation minimum - those acid splashes have an area of effect roughly the same as a MK V grenade. We move forward using a bounding overwatch pattern with grenadiers-" she nodded to K'Tirr, "in support of the alternating forward elements, I'm taking grenadier two position."
The pattern she ordered placed full fire-pressure in the direction of their movement while exposing the fewest members of the team. It was classic infantry assault tactics.

Sway and Naja's fire stirred up the nest ahead and red-fanged shades spread out. Mary fiddled with her tricorder as T'Rrak opened fire over the heads of the team. D'Moj popped a grenade from the launcher down the corridor to bounce it off the far wall into the area just beyond, where the round's 'firecracker' fragmentation produced some gratifying death-screams and confusion.

"Two Element, move up, First Element in support!" she barked.

Sway felt a stab of recognition - these were the OpFor tactics from the Academy Graduation exercises, where he and Naja and the rest of his class had to hold a fixed defense against a smaller force. His portion had held, Naja's had held - but the others in his class failed it by underestimating the attacker's numbers and determination.

Naja passed him at a low-crouched dead run, and snuggled to a section of rough stone wall ahead that really should NOT have been adequate cover... yet it was. She added crossfire to Sway's sweeping pistol shots and the pair cut down half a dozen little hordelings. One got through, only to be pounced on and ripped apart by Fang.

"K'Tirr?" D'Moj barked. "What are we dealing with?"

The big cat, tucked behind an outcrop on the far side, poked his nose around and swivelled his ears. "Hurr... They have spread out... two big fat ones, six- no, seven fems and it sounds like four goblin packs," he said.

Sway sniffed. "Eight fems," he corrected, as he cracked open his modified disruptor auto-pistols to replace the power cells. "Maybe a third pI'Hegh as well. This cave stinks too much for there to be just two."

"Trade your pulsewave to Sway," she ordered. "He's going to need it more than you do..." she motioned to Nine, "Move up and get ready to lay fire support. Naja, you've got Sway's back. Keep anything small off him from the sides. Shoot at groups, let the dog handle loners." She motioned to T'Rrak, "Bring up the minigun. Here's how we're going to run this play - Sway, you're first around the corner behind the grenades. All I want you to do, is fire that big-damn gun at the first thing you see moving, and keep firing - from a kneeling position. T'Rrak, you're laying fire about..." she crossed a line at the level of her breasts, "this high and up to the ceiling, cover the room, focus on the airspace and the exits... Naja, don't shoot me once we're in there, I'll be right with you on the left. Reader, Dehdii, suppressing fire down-field."

Sway frowned at the heavy assault weapon as he moved into his assigned ready position. Fortunately, accuracy didn't matter so much with a pulsewave - it would take down anything caught within a forty-five degree cone.

"Why's Sway up front again?" K'Tirr asked, as he checked over the Gorn youngster's pistols. Even he had to admit, the modification work to the autocyclers and compressive inducers was impressive.

"He's small enough for T'Rrak to miss," D'Moj stated. "Pop smoke, and execute!"

K'Tirr, Nine, and D'Moj all lobbed smoke grenades into the chamber around the corner as Sway and Naja dashed forward into the room, firing.

Sway's first shot knocked a she-devil off her feet and sent a pack of goblins tumbling in screaming death. Naja spotted four trying to flank her, and laid into them. Then the rest of the Fek in the room charged, and the fight rapidly shifted to a close-quarters engagement.

"Oh, scat, here they come!" Reader called out. He slung his rifle and pounced on a ravager that was rushing around his flank.

Nine faced a hulking slavemaster driving a pack of hordelings ahead of him. He drilled three of the little hobgoblins with his split-beam rifle and then produced his other weapon. He snapped the handle out, striking the slavemaster in the chest. Then he flicked the switch to activate the nanopulse blade, slicing into the Fek brute's ribcage. Nine kicked the dying thing away and swept the humming energy blade around in a sweeping arc, bisecting the remaining hordelings.

Sway and Naja switched to their melee weapons as well, fighting off a trio of ravagers and a swarm of the smaller "ankle-biters." Sway had just driven his mek'leth up through the open mouth and out the skull of one of the vile female creatures.

"DUCK!" Naja cried out, switching to English. Sway did, dropping under the leaping dive of another ravager and Naja's bat'leth, which she swung like baseball bat chasing a sinker and cleaved through the ravager's thorax.

"Thank you, my love," Sway said, as he unslung K'Tirr's pulsewave and blasted the last venomous female. Fang, meanwhile, was a blur of white teeth and fur as he dashed around the couple, clamping his powerful jaws around the scampering hordelings, shaking them like rag dolls, dropping them as they died and leaping after the next one.

Another slavemaster came barreling through the forward line, rushing T'Rrak who was trying to pick hordelings off the ceiling. The monstrous creature spewed it's stomach acid at the Gorn engineer, missing him but fusing the barrels of the minigun. T'Rrak bashed the Fek's face with his useless weapon, causing the corpulent beast to stagger back - and into K'Tirr's extended Yan blade.

The Ferasan pulled his sword free and flung it across the cavern, pinning a ravager to the wall before it could pounce on medics. Then he lashed out furiously at any and every hordeling that came within range of his claws.

The melee brawl seemed to last forever, but it was actually over in just a few minutes, after D'Moj fired a grenade into the open mouth of that third and final pI'Hegh slavemaseter. "CLEAR!!" she finally barked, standing up from her position. "Drink water, check your power levels and check your buddy for wounds."

Sway and Naja turned to each other and began to check each other over - finding a few minor nicks and injuries, mostly from spalling. Fang's fur was matted with his own blood and that of the Fek hordeling's but he wasn't complaining. Naja gave the dog an antibiotic hypo and passed a dermal regenerator over his wounds. Sway crouched protectively over his mate and nuzzled her hair while she worked. She finished treating the mastiff, and tilted her head back to kiss her lover's cheek and reached up to stroke his crest.

Dr. Moriarty observed the couple with amusement, before looking over at Colonel D'Moj. "Ah, dearie..."

D'Moj waved her off. "Not now, let me check my unit." Mary chased the Colonel as she moved from team member to team member, "Never miss a chance to drink, piss, eat, or sleep," D'Moj lectured Nine. "Malhul, your captain has a leaker."

Nine looked down and realized he had a minor injury to his right leg - and a piece of a Fek's rib hanging out of it. Then, Nine pointed to D'moj, and let out a sound kind of like a laugh - she looked down, and noticed she, too, had a wound. Most of a little goblin's head was wrapped mouth-wise around her left calf.

"Huh. That is going to hurt," she said, "just as soon as the adrenaline wears off..."

"'Tis what i was trying to tell thee!" Mary scolded. "Sit thee down, Colonel..." D'Moj sat on a piece of large debris, and Mary pried the hordeling's jaws off of her, and then started doing what can only be described as "ditch medicine."

"Yeesh," Naja muttered, looking over the wound. Part of the calf looked like orange hamburger. "Will she be alright?"

"Aye, she'll be right as rain - well, right enough..." Mary extracted one of her "knick-knacks" from her satchel and set it on the basalt floor, while K'Tirr and Sway took control of the squad, helping T'Rrak and Dehdii set up a short-term perimeter minefield and turrets.

"What's that?" D'Moj asked.

"Thou'lt learn in a minute..." Mary started cutting the damaged flesh with a knife. Then, she opened her 'knick-knack' while Malhul finished with Nine and came over to assist.

"Where did you get biomimetic gel?" Mal asked.

"I made it," Mary said. "Lots of time in Rura Penthe, not a lot for me to do with mineself... the devil's hands are idle playthings and all that..." she applied the gel to the wound, then she plugged a chit into her tricorder and ran a program which used EM fields to stimulate the gel until it took on the appearance of Orion flesh. "Dost thou have a spare can of skinseal?" she asked.

Malhul passed over a canister. She shook it, and sprayed it over the wound and mock-flesh, then tuned and fiddled with her tricorder for a moment. "It will be numb for a bit." she told her patient, "but it will support thy weight - most of the injury was in the fatty layer. Thy muscles should handle the strain right 'enou'."

Mary handed Malhul back the skinseal, but he handed it back to her, "You're going in, remember?" he said. "Do you have more of that biomimetic stuff?"

"Aye, and Zimehoz has yet more of it than I," she added, "along with most of the right gear for serious wounds." She waggled a finger at D'Moj. "THOU must be more careful - these Gr'upps bite."

"Alright, five minutes is up, check each other's gear and form up for the next push," D'Moj ordered. "Sker, status on your scans?"

"I'm seeing a variation of between fifty and seventy enemy lifesigns ahead, with the same thirteen Klingons I detected earlier," the young Nausicaan announced. "No power sources though - which is damn strange."

D'Moj frowned. "I'd assume that Kahless has his power sources insulated from scanning... as for the enemy... these things don't seem to use a any technology with their ground forces - at least, not that we've seen so far. Okay, Doctor Malhul, T'Rrak, Sker and Dehdii, this is where you're holding - it's the critical intersection to cover our escape, I'm pulling Talash off my boat and Nelioth off the Herdthinner's team to join up with the Norgh'Iw's guard force when they get down here. T'Rrak, set up a repeater station here. We're going deep in and communication's going to be buggy as hell with the surface - and set up pattern enhancers in case we need to beam someone out. Dehdii, deploy additional turrets and a minefield to protect the comm gear."

"Uh-huh," the Nausicaan armory officer grunted as he unzipped his bags of "stuff" and pulled out a large bundle explosives with a transphasic amplifier strapped to it. "I'm gonna set up my bombs inside the mines, here, there, and over there," he pointed.

"Just don't bring down the whole cave on us," Sway told him.

Sker poked at his tricorder. "The rock strata should hold, assuming those are standard-yield transphasic devices... they are, aren't they?"

"Not really," Dehdii admitted.

"Umm, force field domes," T'Rrak spoke up. "I'll put up force field domes."

D'Moj briefly wondered how Ssharki could tolerate such a lack of professionalism. But then she shook her head and called out her new op plan. "K'Tirr, Sway, you two don't like each other and frankly, I don't give a **** about that. You're our two best sluggers. Naja and Zimehoz, you're playing support to those two for this. Mary, you and Reader work up your support plan for Nine and me. "

Nine and Reader exchanged looks, and Reader asked, "Why this rearrangement?"

"One sharpshooter and one grenadier per fire team, one medic per fire team, both teams get heavy physical melee capability and both teams end up with... special warfare tools and at minimum one veteran who can act as team leader should the squad be separated" she told them. "Now, let's get moving. My team takes the right wall, K'Tirr's takes the left."

It got warmer as they descended into the cavern system, and the Fek started appearing in roving groups - almost as if they didn't know anyone was coming. Or, perhaps, didn't care.

"Ya want your pulsewave back?" Sway asked the fire team leader.

K'Tirr flicked an ear, and offered Sway's pistols back to him. "Fine work," he said, "keep the pulsewave as a backup." Then, he shucked his boots.

"Take them, kid," Zimehoz told the Gorn youngster. "I don't think he'll be needing them."

Sway shrugged, slung the assault weapon and retrieved his sidearms. "Thanks," he said. He looked across cave and sniffed. "There's a bunch of Fek up in that crevasse..." Fang quietly growled as he picked up the scent.

K'Tirr pulled a cylinder out of his pack, and flicked his wrist - the Tsunkatse blade snapped open to its full size. The Ferasan's ears seemed to swivel for a moment. "I hear them," he said. "Cover me. I take point now - you kill anything I miss."

"Whatever you say, chief," Sway said with a mischievous smirk.

Naja held back on the urge to "love tap" her beloved for the provocation.

K'Tirr's claws skittered as he seemed almost to run UP the wall, and then along it and into the crevasse... until he was surrounded. Then, he let out a hunting scream and... well... it was ON.

Sway sprinted ahead of the crevasse and slid down on his knees with both pistols drawn, waiting for... whatever to come out, as Naja and Zimehoz scrambled into a perpendicular crossfire position.

The big blade mowed the small ones away from K'Tirr's target. When the disruptor bolts started flying around him, he dropped it, and leapt, landing on the back of the Slavemaster leading this pack.

Sway found new targets as soon as the big Fek was in trouble, as ravagers rushed out of their hiding places to rescue their leader. One skidded to a stop and sniffed in Sway's direction. "Fang, kill" he snapped to his dog, as he focused his fire on defending the team leader. The mastiff sprang from his crouch, bounded and leaped for the ravager's throat, latching on with his broad fore-tusk and canine teeth as his momentum whipped his body over the ravager's shoulder. The she-creature fell to the ground, dead before she could scream.

K'tirr set his claws in the huge Fek's back and shoulders, and was rewarded with thrashing attempts by it to drive him off. He opened his mouth wide, revealing the blade-like fangs of a Mountain Clanner, and bit down - the way his ancestors would have bitten down on a Great Beast in the ancient days - digging through the back of the neck to the base of the skull, tearing out the spine where it joins the brain. He rode the body down, raised his blood-caked maw, and ROARED. Hordelings scattered in utter terror only to be fried in their tracks by a pair of wide-beam disruptor pistols.

This told K'Tirr and Zimehoz one thing-whatever else, the Fek'Lyr retained the hominid instincts common to nearly every klingonoid or humaniod or orionoid in the quadrant-the hardwired fear of the Apex Predator.

Zimehoz emerged from their cover first. "You scared them, Captain," he announced, a smile showing in his features.

"Hurr..." K'Tirr rumbled, his eyes were WIDE as he came down from the primal rush of the hunt. "They... taste... terrible."

"I could have told you that from fifty meters away," Sway said as he came to his feet. "Or is your olfactory lobe not connected to the rest of your brain?"

K'tirr rumbled with laughter... it was not a comforting sound. He then washed his mouth out with a shot from his second canteen. "I didn't think it would taste good..." he said, "But it's nice to see who or what ever these things evolved from, still has the same basic hardwired fears as other Hominids. A fear you seem to lack, little lizard."

Naja glanced back and forth between the terrifying, blood-soaked Ferasan and her fearless lover Sway, and she understood why Colonel D'Moj had sent them off together. "Shall we... continue the hunt?" she suggested.

"Yes," K'Tirr said. "They can feel fear - we can break them. Let's get moving."

* * *

K'Tirr and Sway were laughing together, swords in their hands as they rounded the corner and saw the Shrine of Kahless, with the Emperor himself and the Colonel glowering at them. K'Tirr quickly tried to wipe blood from his muzzle with the back of his paw. "Colonel..."

"Don't tell me," D'Moj cut him off. "I know. 'Snacking.'"

Kahless and his warriors guffawed loudly at that. "We are all here?" the Emperor asked, doing a headcount. "Very well." He turned to his men. "You know your charge. You must guard them while they make the crossing."

"Qapla'!" the warriors of the Order of the Bat'leth all shouted in chorus.

The Emperor gestured to the shrine. "You must meditate here, think of why you came here, what you must accomplish. And when you have achieved total clarity of your purpose, then you will find yourself on destiny's shore."

Sway and Naja looked at each other and stepped up to the Shrine. The others followed. Nine held back though, looking at Kahless with a question in his eye.

"You're not coming with us?" Reader asked for him.

"I have already found my destiny," Kahless explained. "One cannot seek for what one has already found." He placed his hand on Nine's smooth head. "But I will see you on the other side."

Nine of Nine nodded, and knelt on the stone between Reader and D'Moj. For everyone who believes in me, and who is counting on me... for the ones I must not let down...

For my friend, Reader thought, for his troubled soul... and for my own...

D'Moj settled down on the stone, and started to focus... it wasn't exactly a thought that could be put into words, it was almost more of a primal drive. But she knew it - she'd felt it... always. Because it is my choice.

Mary knelt, and held out a knick-knack - it was a tiny porcelain doll made mostly of rags, faded and decayed. For Essa's sake, and Miri, and To'm, and Je-Je....

K'Tirr felt the turning of the worlds, and knew his purpose. For the nameless who live in hope, for my father and his father back to the beginning... for The People and their sakes... and for the honor of my name...

Zimehoz dwelt on his own calling. Because I must, because they need me, because there will be pain, and suffering, and fear and wounds, to salve the hurt and stop the hurting...

Sway held his head below his knee, feeling the weight of his mission, but his heart felt light. His thoughts were simply: For those whom I love...

Naja rested her hand on her par'Mach'kai's head. Her prayer was even simpler. For my true love...

There was a sound like a rushing wind that came from the Shrine, though no breeze moved them. It was accompanied by the smell of blood and burnt flesh, but not of death or decay. The ground rocked beneath their knees and the soles of their feet, and they were taken...

...someplace else.



* * * * *

To Be Continued...



"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 06-23-2014 at 12:01 AM.
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,352

I've made my mistakes
I've seen my heart cave in
I got my scars
I've been to hell and back again

Born for the blue skies
We'll survive the rain
Born for the sunrise
We'll survive the pain

We're singing:
Hey, you can't count us out
We've been running up against the crowd
We're the dark horses
We're singing:
Wait, it's not over now
We've been down, but we've never been out
We're the dark horses
The dark horses

We found a way out
The city takes everything it can
But outside the crowds
I can feel my lungs again...

Born for the blue skies
We're born for the sunrise
We'll survive the rain

We're singing:
Hey, you can't count us out
We've been running up against the crowd
We're the dark horses
We're singing:
We don't care what they say
We know we'll find a way
We're the dark horses
The Dark Horses


Jon and Tim Foreman of Switchfoot - "Dark Horses"




A C T . F I V E :

B O R N . F O R . T H E . S U N R I S E




Someplace Else


Naja looked around. The eight of them were all there, on the back of a... watercraft, it looked like, made of a combination of wood and bone. The sky and the sea were the same shade of blood-red. "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto," she whispered. We're on the Barge of the Dead...

Sway grunted acknowledgement, as he checked over their companions who were groggily rising to their feet. "Speaking of Toto, it doesn't look like Fang came through with us."

Mary overheard their conversation and shot the pair another amused look. "It's cold," she said, as she stood up. "All this fire, and it's cold." She bent and shook D'Moj awake, then helped the Colonel to her feet. "Tha' almost didn' make it," Mary chided.

"I made it eventually," D'Moj said. "So... it's real."

"Apparently," Zimehoz looked around their surroundings with a skeptic's eyes.

"Where's Kahless?" Reader wondered. "He said he'd meet us on the other side."

"Probably waiting on the far shore." K'Tirr said, remembering his schooling.

"Who's that?" Sway wondered, pointing to another, very old Klingon man who was walking up the deck toward them.

"That is Koltar, the First Klingon," Naja explained. "He slew the gods who created him, and as punishment, he must ferry the souls of the damned for eternity.

K'Tirr whispered, "I wondered if he would look like the tales."

"WHY are you HERE?" Koltar demanded. "This Barge is for the Dead and the Damned. You are NEITHER."

"We must defeat the dark lords of Gre'thor," D'Moj told him, remembering Kahless instructions. "You will grant us passage."

"NO. THAT is not my PURPOSE. This Barge is for the DEAD and the DAMNED. You are NEITHER! Now return to where you CAME from."

"The Damned, thou sayest?" Mary asked, stepping forward. "Look close, Klingon." she clutched the doll in her right hand, and held it up, "How damned am I?"

"Mary, what the ****," D'Moj started.

"Very WELL," Koltar declared. "YOU may STAY. The rest, may not continue."

"They stay with me." Mary told him, "We have a mission, thou shalt not impede it."

"Why are we arguing with this yIngtagh?" Sway wondered. "Why don't we just shoot him?"

"Kahless did say we must force the Ferryman to submit..." K'Tirr mused.

"You WILL grant us passage, Ferryman." D'Moj growled. "You will do so, whether you feel it your purpose, or not."

Mary crossed her arms, "Dost thou wish to test us one at a time, or all at once?" she asked.

The seven warriors behind her leveled their weapons at his chest.

"YOU can not kill ME!" Koltar declared, "I am ALREADY dead."

"I'm willing to wager we can hurt you though," D'Moj remarked. "And we can hurt you a LOT."

The Ferryman glanced from the eyes to the disruptor barrels to the blades... fangs... claws... "ENOUGH! I will submit. I will ferry you to the shores of Gre'thor. But whether you are allowed to disembark... that is not up to me."

"Thank'ee kindly, fine sir," Mary said, and she skipped down the barge, looking for an empty seat... Her eyes searched the faces of the dead, as if she were looking for someone in particular. Whoever it was, she did not find them.

The others followed. "Mary, just out of curiosity..." K'Tirr began, "How damned ARE you?"

"We'll discuss it later." Mary said. "Suffice tha' I have done things I can nae undo."

"Okay, so now we have to fight Herron, the Lord of the Dead," Sway said, recalling the briefing. "Right?"

"Yes. He accepts the dishonored dead into Gre'thor," Naja told him, and reminded the others.

"Kahless suggested we might recruit some of the departed spirits to aid us in the fight against Herron and to storm the gates," Zimehoz remembered.

"No time like now." Mary quipped. "So, what art thou in for?" she asked one of the Dead at the rowing bench.

The Klingon corpse looked at her listlessly. "In life, I was too concerned for my own personal gain, and forsook honor for easy advancement, I betrayed those that trusted me. I took the credit for other's successes and passed off my own failures."

"If thou fight with us, thine honor can be cleansed anew - thou wilt, at least, stand with thine honor restored, even in this dark place," she said. "What hast thou to fear in taking the risk?"

Following her lead, Sway and Naja crossed to the other side of the barge. "What have you done to wind up here?" Naja asked a group of scarred soldiers.

The Dead looked at each other. "We fled from battle, trading our honor for our lives," one of them wearing a sergeant's stripes spoke up. "Now we have neither."

"Fight with us," Sway encouraged them. "Show the Lord of the Dead that you are not afraid of him! You can't reclaim your lives, but you can take back your honor!"

The Dead soldiers rose together. "Qapla'!"

* * *

"what did you do?" D'Moj asked a Klingon in Colonel's uniform.

"I ordered the killing of civilians," he said. "I led the butchery of non-combatants for the possessions in their homes."

"We can wash that stain off, Colonel," D'Moj told him. "You can regain your honor as a warrior, and face eternity with your pride restored. Come with us, fight with us, against the demons that hold the fortress of Gre'thor, sacrifice your dishonour and bring back your good name - join us in battle against Evil, and regain your honor."

The Dead Colonel looked into her eyes. "There is hope?" he asked.

"There is always hope, where there is a choice, and you can choose." she said. "Choose to fight along our side, and regain your honor!"

* * *

"How did you get here?" K'Tirr asked a Klingon in workman's leathers.

"I... allowed myself to be abused and taken advantage of - I shied away from challenges and absorbed insult after insult, abuse after abuse... I was too timid to stand up, and now..."

"Now, you CAN," the Ferasan told him. "What have you got left to fear - join us, be the man you should have been, stand up for what is right, and fight the demons of Gre'thor at our side. And then you will be able to face eternity in a way you can tolerate - with the honor I know lies within you."

* * *

"What have you done to bring yourself here?" Reader asked an old man in a Dahar Master's cloak. "How could you have fallen to this place?"

"I allowed myself to be murdered in my sleep," Dahar Master General Marek replied, "murdered and replaced by a qa'meH quv! The foul shapeshifter has gone on to do horrible things in my name, leading to the needless deaths of billions, with billions more to come. My dishonor is compounded by inability to defend myself."

Nine knelt and saluted.

"Join us," Reader told him. "There is a way for you to defend your name. Fight for honor now, and you join the fight to vanquish those who sent the Undine to replace you. Let your name be known in the hallowed halls of Sto'vo'kor!"

"I doubt anything I do here will overcome the dishonor that thing has done to my name," Marek announced. "But I will fight, because I know how, and I know you need me."

Nine placed his hand on the Klingon's knee. "Perhaps," Reader said for him, "that will be enough."

* * *

And on down the lines of the Dead they went. Any Klingon, given a choice, would choose to fight with honor than to suffer disgrace. By the time the barge reached the shore of Gre'thor, every fallen soul aboard stood ready to fight - some thirty altogether. "And this, is what we call a 'prison riot'," Mary quipped.

"How DARE you oppose me!" a voice spoke, rumbling, howling and shrieking all at once. A massive, tusk-toothed Fek'Ihri manifested at the bow of the barge. "I am GOD of this place! YOU have entered MY realm! You will SUBMIT to my RULE!!"

"That would be Herron," Naja announced.

"We will NOT submit!!" D'Moj declared.

The evil titan stared her down. "Who are YOU to DEFY ME!?"

"WE who have NOTHING to LOSE, have NOTHING to FEAR...and don't forget, gods can die. but the dead do not die.." Dahar Master Marek shouted.

Mary Moriarty just lifted one of her "knick-knacks" and said, "Bonk BONK GRUPP!!" and a sudden thermal inversion surrounded the airspace around Herron...

And Herron laughed. "So you play with FIRE, witch?"

"I play wi' everything." she triggered the second setting.

"You play, you dabble, but I am Fire's MASTER!!" Herron raised his hands and a ball of flame came crashing down from the blood-red sky, incinerating a group of damned souls and catching Nine on the fringe.

"Enough talk," D'Moj ordered. "TAKE 'IM OUT!" she slid an impact-fused antiarmor round into the grenade launcher, and took careful aim...

K'tirr and Sway nodded to one another as Mary held the huge creature's primary attention, and moved to the flanks. Sickly green energies coursed through the zone around Herron, and everything seemed... dimmer. "Nice fireball, foul fiend, but thine accuracy is pathetic," she said, trotting along the deck.

Herron howled with rage as disruptor shots from Reader, Naja and Zimehoz tore into his flesh. He staggered forward, out of the hazy field of radiation... and into D'Moj's sights. She fired her armor-piercing grenade into his chest. "Fire in the hole," she muttered.

The shaped charge blew a pretty substantial chunk out of his torso. He stood... dazed for a moment, and then glared at D'Moj as his flesh grew back. "You should have aimed for my HEAD, you worm..."

"Headshot," K'Tirr hissed to Sway. The Gorn nodded, and they charged, swords drawn, digging their claws into Herron's back as they scaled towards the target.

Herron's arm twisted unnaturally to reach back and pluck K'Tirr off of his neck. The Ferasan dropped his blade as he was thrown howling to the other end of the deck.

But Sway was able to snatch the weapon from the air as he reached on Herron's shoulders. He drew back with his mek'leth in one hand, and K'Tirr's sword in the other, and brought both forward with all the force his body could muster. It wasn't slick, or smooth; it was the raw strength and reptilian power of the Gorn - millennia and aeons of power, the might of a race that once strode the stars while the mammalian species grovelled in the rocks. The blades crossed inside of Herron's skull, and the tips of the blades broke out through his eyes...

And with of a final scream of "NOOOOO!!!!" the god of Gre'thor died. Sway leaped free as the Fek crumbled to the deck, surrounded by cheering damned Klingons.

"You see!?" Marek shouted. "We have nothing to fear of these vile creatures! We are not trapped in here with THEM!! It is THEY who are locked down here with US!"

Mary went to K'Tirr, and checked his injuries while Zimehoz worked on patching Nine's burns. Do you feel this? Zimehoz asked Nine telepathically.

The mute one nodded. I do...you are applying skinseal?

"Debriding the wound first, then gel, then seal. You may have some nerve damage for a while - nothing on the motor nerves, but you may need to take care since you won't feel any injuries to this arm or this portion of your chest for a while."

"Are you alright, my love?" Naja asked, finding Sway trying to pry his mek'leth out of the dead Fek overlord's skull.

"Just FINE," Sway said through clenched teeth, finally yanking his sword free. K'Tirr's tsunkatse blade came out much easier.

"I am... humbled," K'Tirr announced. "Sway, you are, indeed, stronger than I am. Good work."

"Hell, I'm just lucky he grabbed you instead of me," Sway said with a shrug, as he handed the Ferasan his sword back. "We'll save the weight-lifting contest for when we get outta here... Speakin' of which..."

"Yes, we have docked before the Gates of Gre'thor," Marek announced. "We cannot remain on the Barge."

"Any sign of Kahless?" D'Moj wondered.

He won't be here, Nine thought.

You can't know that, Reader told him.

K'Tirr climbed up the Barge's side. "I don't see him. But the Gate has guards..."

"Only Herron is allowed to open the Gate," Naja told the rest of the group.

"Who cares what's allowed at this point?" Mary said, "We hath killed Herron, we can force the Gate."

"Well, if anyone else operates the controls, then every Fek around will try to destroy us."

"You mean shows up to die." D'Moj said, "Right Marek?"

The Dahar Master nodded. "We will hold off the Fek while someone opens the gate. But it will require great strength and agility to move the levers."

"Sway, K'Tirr, you're our door-openers. Mary, see if you can't whip up some force multipliers for the Klingon Army here... Nine, Naja, Reader, Zimehoz, we're final protective line." She looked to Dahar Master Marek, "I wish I'd served under you in life, sir. Shall we go kill some demons now?"

"For honor!" he cried, and Barge crew rushed the guards, attacking the slavemasters and their hordelings with the ferocity of men with nothing to lose.

Sway and K'Tirr sprinted after them, and stopped in front of the wall of gate controls, staring up dumbfounded. "NAJA!!" Sway called. "There's like fifty levers here! Which ones do we pull?"

"Uh, I don't know..."

"Perhaps she can scan the internal mechanism with her tricorder," K'Tirr suggested.

"Yeah," Naja muttered, as she whipped out her device.

"Better hurry," Reader told them, listening with his ears and his mind. "We're about to have visitors..."

Outside the gates of Gre'thor itself there was a whole continent, covered with Fek'Ihri whose purpose it was to guard the fortress-city. They started to pour into the narrow space between the gateway and the dock, and howled with anger when they saw what had happened to Herron and who and what was trying to force their way into their world. Not even thirty Klingons fighting for their eternal souls could stand for long against such an army.

"Force-multipliers she says, 'Mary whip up some force-multipliers'..." Mary dug into her rucksack. For being the smallest member of the team, she had the largest and heaviest pack. She pulled out some strapping tape, and some power cells. "Force multiplication... wire..." she pulled the doll out, and unscrewed the thing's head, extracting what appeared to be a gelatinous silver object. She poked into her tricorder, still muttering "Force multiplication..."

The Fek were getting closer to the line of the Damned.

"Let's see them get a load of this..." She connected the improvised antenna and power booster, then lobbed the silvery gelate over the heads of the Klingons and straight into the onrushing horde. Then she tabbed 'power on' and 'broadcast'.

The nanites ignored dead flesh, and spread out in a fine mist to intersect the onrushing Fek. Where they landed they devoured and multiplied, and spread. Mary watched delightedly as her gray goo did the only thing it could do.

"WHAT The **** is THAT ****?" D'Moj demanded.

"Believe me, thou dost not want to know."

Meanwhile, Naja tried to direct the gate-operators. "No, no, K'Tirr! Higher! The next one higher up!"

K'Tirr looked down. He was already sixteen meters up the wall. "How could Herron even reach this?"

"I don't know! But you have to pull that one above you, while Sway pushes the one in front of him up!"

"Just try not to fall off again!" Sway called up.

K'tirr growled, "ON Three!" He set his legs and feet, gauging the distance. catch the prey...catch the prey...flying bird on a cliff face...

"On three," Sway agreed. "One!"

"Two!" Naja shouted.

"THREE!!!" K'tirr Leaped straight up, claws extended,body stretched out in mid-air, he caughtt he handle, and...

Sway thrust upwards with all of his might from a squatting position, just as K'Tirr's weight brought the top lever down. There was a loud CLANG! and series of clicks and groans as rusty cogs and gears engaged.

"Is that IT!?" K'Tirr called, still dangling from the lever.

"Uh, yes, that did it!" Naja snapped her tricorder closed. "Come on down!"

'Come on down', she says... K'Tirr looked at his toes, now dangling eighteen meters above the courtyard, and slowly inched his way back up the handle to the wall.

Mary set the nannie cloud to home on specific elemental compounds in Fek flesh, and broke down the improvised control rig.

she left one more present, however. She set the extra power cells she'd used on a cascading loop - in a few seconds, they would overload with a bang, and she lobbed them at the Horde before running for the gate.

"I thought the Gate was supposed to open" Sway said.

"You just unlocked it," Naja told him. "Try pushing it."

Sway leaned his back against one of the massive doors. "A little help here, guys?"

"How about a LOT of help." D'Moj said, "Physics seems to work okay here..." she pulled out a concussion grenade, and a roll of strapping tape.

Sway grinned. "I love the way you think, Colonel."

"Stealth is no longer an option in any case..." she rigged the grenade to one door, then pulled another for the other door.

"We'll need some way of directing the blast," Naja said. "There's no cover out here..."

"Standing wave," Mary huffed, and slung her rucksack back to the ground, "We need a standing wave to... why art thou looking thusly to me? Everyone knows, way too much ne'er be enough when playin' wi' explosives... or graviton waves."

"I really don't want to rush what I'm sure is a delicate operation," Zimehoz said. "But even with your... assistance, our Klingon friends are about to be overrun."

She dragged out several innocuous-looking objects. "Set these between us and them," she pointed at the two grenades, "and someone help me hook up the power..."

"I'm almost scared to ask what else you can do," D'Moj remarked as she started up a small portable generator.

"Carry forty kilos of sundry odds and ends nobody else thought to bring with them," Mary said, "Though 'tis getting considerable lighter now - thankee for asking." She triggered her tricorder, and that, in turn, triggered the three powered devices. The standing graviton wave contained and channeled the concussion from the grenades into the door, then collapsed - the emitters burnt out. "Well, that worked better than I thought it would."

The doors were open, and would remain so, until half a dozen giants came along to re-hang them.

Nine reached down, and picked up Mary's pack, weighted it in his hand, and put it on. "You walk too slow with this thing." Reader told her, "Stay close."

"Go!" Marek called out. "You will not be followed! We shall fight them for eternity if we have to..."

"Let's move it, people!" D'Moj ordered, leading the way into Gre'thor's gate.

Mary searched her pockets as she followed closely behind Nine. "Dammit."

"What?" D'Moj asked.

"Lost my book...'twas a good one too." she said.

"You're thinking of that NOW?" Sway asked.

"It was a very good book, for a Klingon translation. 'Twas Paradise Lost... I 'as just finishing the first part - Lucifer's ruminations on heaven and hell... I think I lost it on the boat."

"Sway, doesn't your father have a copy of that?"

"Yeah, perhaps you could borrow it, AFTER we get out of this place..."

"Where exactly are we, anyway?" Zimehoz asked.

"Gre'thor," K'Tirr growled. "Haven't you been paying attention?"

"I know we're in Gre'thor - or at least we think we are - but are we really? I mean, how did we get here? One second we're kneeling in a cave on Boreth, the next we're on the Barge of the Dead? It doesn't make any sense."

"Uh, shared dream maybe?" Sway suggested.

"Nae, we have crossed out of space and time and entered the realm of thought," Mary informed them with a giggle. "So we really are here, because we think we are here."

I don't get it, Nine thought.

"Explain, please," Reader requested.

Mary sighed, and quoted:
"The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."

She grinned. "I was reading that on the trip down to Boreth."

"...So, we created this in our minds?" Sway asked, confused.

"Not us," Naja told him. "Molor, Herron, and Fek'Ihr. We defeat them, and this world disappears."

"The collective subconscious," Mary stated, "we are in the realm of the Dreamtime - and it is our foe's dream we walk within." She seemed almost in a trance state. "Fek'lhr gives it the power, Molor gives it form, Herron gave it control, Belief gives it tangibility... And our thought ties it to our reality. What havoc we wreak here hath consequence in what we call 'the Real World'."

"We defeat the Fek here, and they stop threatening us out there," D'Moj summed up.

"But if none of this is really real, then is Nine really burned?" Reader wondered.

"Silly, of course he is," Mary said. "The universe is made of energy-energy is thought, thought is energy - even in our 'real world' many times the 'discovery' is as much a matter of widespread belief, as it is of actual observation." Mary smiled weakly, "Sometime I shall hold forth to thee the joy and mysteries of subquantum mechanics."

"In other words, 'yes, we can still die.'" Zimehoz muttered.

"I'll try to avoid that," Sway said.

"A battle is won or lost before the first shot." K'Tirr said quietly, "Sway, there was a reason I wanted to know if the Fek feel fear...and what they fear."

Reader's ears perked. "Time to put that to the test," he whispered, as he unslung his rifle.

Sway sniffed. "I don't smell anything-"

"They're there," Naja told him. "I hear them too."

"Ears." K'tirr tapped his head, and readied his pulsewave. "One way in which my species is most definitely superior to yours."

Mary took her pack back from Nine, to free his hands for battle.

They came from the air - howling ghostly things, long arms and claws connected to a squat torso and a typically ugly face, mounted on... nothing. The bottom half of these creatures ended in a shapeless purple mist.

"SHOOT!" D'Moj ordered. A blizzard of disruptor fire cut into the floating wave. And then more came behind them rushing swiftly toward the mortals.

Reader felt one pass through him and he shivered, suddenly feeling intensely cold. "Don't let them touch you!" he warned.

A bluish dome appeared around the team as Zimehoz triggered something from his kit - and the mist seemed to... lose it's energetic nature as the howlers crossed into it, slowing them and making them vulnerable. Pulsewave rifles and wide-beam pistols shot the things down in droves. Nine drilled the things three at a time with his weapon. And still they kept coming.

Sway's arms were a blur as he fired his pistols at every ghostly shape he could see. He spotted a thick knot of the things approach behind Naja - he wrapped his arms around her and killed the ghouls that threatened his mate, as she shot down a large bunch that were approaching from behind him.

Mary held a flare over her head as she watched the couple. "Hast thou considered making babies?" she asked them abruptly. "I hath developed techniques which would allow thee to produce thine young by natural means."

The Klingon and the Gorn looked over with shocked expressions. "We were... uh... going to adopt," Naja stated.

"Well, if thou dost change thy minds..."

"MARY!" D'Moj yelled. "Now is NOT the time!"

Gradually though, the tide of ghosts receded. Once the final waves had broken, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"What the hell were those things?" Sway demanded.

"They were... were Klingons once," Reader announced, in a horrified tone. "Those were the tortured souls of the dishonored dead."

The group all looked at each other.

"None of us is going to end up like that," D'Moj declared. "Let's keep moving."

The floor...if one could call it that, grew rougher and more broken. And hotter.

"Feels like my feet are on fire," Sway muttered.

"That mean's we're getting closer to Molor's chamber," Naja told him. "Straight on ahead."

K'Tirr stopped, and pulled on his boots.

"It's getting stinky again," D'Moj remarked, as she chambered another grenade.

"Uh-huh," Sway said, sniffing. "Ravagers, and... something else."

"Where?"

"Not sure. The scent is... confused. Ahead, somewhere, but..."

"They're waiting for us," K'Tirr said.

Sway nodded.

"No, they're not," Reader announced. "They're waiting for something to happen to us."

They continued on, until the corridor opened out into a wide chamber, about fifty meters in diameter. Fek-things watched from the walls, but did not approach them. And on the far side of the chamber, there was another door. "Molor," D'Moj declared. "Let's get the petaQ."

But as they crossed the center of the chamber, walls of flame shot up from the floor, splitting the team. "Colonel!" Reader called out.

"I hear you," she called. She and Mary were alone. "K'Tirr?"

"Zimehoz and I are together," he told her. "Sway? Naja?"

"We're fine," Naja yelled back.

"Everybody just stay calm," D'Moj said. "Wait for the flames to-" There was a bright flash, and the wall of flames disappeared, leaving D'Moj and Mary alone. "Oh, ****."

* * *

"What the hell?" Sway looked around. They were alone. "Where'd everybody go?"

Naja opened her tricorder. "I'm not picking up any of their lifesigns."

Sway looked at where the flames had been and gulped. "Were they... incinerated?"

"No, there'd be carbon residue. I'm not picking up any trace of them-" things started to scream all around them. "Um, we have another problem..."

The ravagers leaped down from the walls, shrieked and charged.

* * *

"We have a serious problem," Zimehoz said.

"Tell me about it," K'Tirr growled, as he unslung his pulsewave and stared down the Fek. He released a roar, which made them jump back a bit, but they had him in the open, and outnumbered. They circled him, and slowly advanced.

* * *

Nine and Reader found their chamber completely empty. No team members, no Fek. I guess we try the door? Nine thought.

"Might as well... I can't feel them at all. It's like they were removed from our... dream-state."

No choice but to go on. NIne pushed on the door.

"AH. SO YOU'VE ARRIVED AT LAST." A Klingon stood there on the other side, wearing the garb of an ancient warlord. His eyes burned like coals, and his face was twisted into an evil grin. "WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE."

[center]* * *[center]

D'Moj brought her rifle up and fired an area-effect round while Mary finally did something she had not done through the entire mission so far - she drew actual weapons.

"You're out of tricks already?" D'Moj asked.

"Saving the best for later," Mary replied, her back to her commander's. "These be only ravagers after all - their boss is certain to nae be placed far from us, and I as soon would have a few tricks left when it arrives."

D'Moj slammed a creature's face with the but of her weapon and fired a pulsewave shot. "One of your tricks might be helpful..."

"Aye, very well." Mary holstered one of her pistols and drew her tricorder. "Ambient conditions are nae ideal for an exothermic induction field, however..." a ring of fire appeared around the two women, frying the screaming ravagers in their tracks. "For creatures born in the pit of hell, they doth burn easily."

"THEY ARE ALL DESTINED TO BURN," a sick and evil voice remarked. "AS ARE YOU."

"Who said that?" D'Moj demanded.

A shade appeared, Klingon in form, but demonic in spirit.

"I AM THE BLADE IN THE BACK. I AM THE WHISPERED RUMOR THAT DESTROYS HONOR. I AM THE ALLIANCE MADE WITH THE ENEMY. I AM THE VICTORY WON THROUGH DECEIT. I AM THE PLOT TO HARM A FELLOW WARRIOR. I AM THE SOUL SOLD FOR LATINUM. I AM TREACHERY, AND I LIVE IN THE DARKEST PART OF YOUR HEART."

* * *

Pistol bolts fired in all directions, Sway's aim guided by his sense of smell more than anything else. Naja got off two wide beam shots before the ravagers descended upon them. She dropped her pistol and drew her bat'leth. It was a beautiful blade, one hundred and eight centimeters of hand-forged damascus steel, created by the Norgh'Iw's half-human chief engineer to celebrate her engagement. She whipped it around with reckless abandon, slashing into every moving thing she saw that wasn't green.

Sway had dropped one of his own pistols and drew his mek'leth, fending off the fangs and claws of the vile she-devils. He heard his mate grunt as she was tackled from behind, and her sword clattered to the floor. He spun on his heel and shot the ravager before it could sink it's fangs into his lover's neck. Then another wicked beast sprang out of the darkness and clamped it's jaws over his left wrist. He thrust his blade into it's throat and kicked it away, ignoring the numbing sensation that set in around the bite.

Naja came to her feet and hacked away another ravager that was coming up behind Sway, as he shot the last two pale shapes. "I think that's the last of them," he announced. He holstered his weapons and knelt to pick up his other pistol. It slipped from his numb fingers. "Uh-oh..."

"What?" Naja noticed the mauled flesh of his forearm and gasped. "Were you bitten?"

"Yeah." Sway tested his left hand, wiggling his fingers. "I can move them, but I can't feel them..."

"Oh, no..."

"I'll be alright, Sway assured her. "Dr. Tr'vayn said it would take about an hour before the venom killed me, and I don't think I got a full dose. As long as we're out of here by then, there's nothing to be afraid of."

"THAT," a dark voice spoke up, "IS WHERE YOU ARE WRONG."

Sway's mek'leth returned to his good hand. "Who are you?" he asked the emerging spectre.

"I AM THE VOICE OF YOUR INNER DOUBT, TELLING YOU TO FLEE FROM THE FIGHT. I AM THE HAND THAT CLOSES YOUR THROAT BEFORE BATTLE, SO YOU MAY NOT SPEAK YOUR MIND. I AM THE COLD HEART THAT TELLS YOU TO KILL THE DEFENSELESS. I AM THE COWARD WITHIN YOU."

* * *

Blood and viscera dripped from K'Tirr's claws as he glared down at the shredded mess he had made of the last ravager.

"Is it just me, or were more of them before we all got separated?" Zimehoz wondered.

"You are right. There were more - at least three times this many..."

"AND YOUR FRIENDS MUST FIGHT THEM WITHOUT YOU."

"What the-" Zimehoz raised his pistol. "Who said that?"

K'Tirr's ear's swiveled. The voice came from all around. "What are you?" he demanded.

"I AM YOUR FAILURE AND REGRET. I AM THE CHALLENGE NOT GIVEN, AND THE INSULT ACCEPTED WITHOUT RESPONSE. I AM THE NAMELESS DESCENDENTS YOU SHALL BEAR. I AM THE ANCESTORS YOU ARE DESTINED TO DISAPPOINT. I AM DISHONOR. KNOW ME, AND SURRENDER YOUR HEART TO DESPAIR."


Molor's Chamber

What have you done with the others?

"NOTHING," Molor said. "YOUR FRIENDS ARE FIGHTING DEMONS OF THEIR OWN MAKING, LEAVING YOU TO FACE ME ALONE." The ancient Tyrant laughed. "YOU SHOULD FEEL HONORED, SON OF KRAD. YOU ARE THE LAST OBSTACLE STANDING BETWEEN ME AND MY GLORIOUS RETURN. IF THAT FECKLESS CLONE OF KAHLESS MAY WALK THE SACRED GROUNDS OF BORETH AND QO'NOS, SO TOO SHALL MOLOR!"

Not if I have anything to do with it. Nine snapped open his bat'leth and the energy blade hummed to life.

A burning chain appeared in Molor's hand, and he lashed out at Nine with it, wrapping it around his weapon and yanking it away.

"YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT IT IS TO BE A SLAVE. KNOW THAT I SHALL ENSLAVE YOUR ENTIRE RACE WITH THESE CHAINS, SON OF KRAD. I SHALL RULE AGAIN!!"


Spectre of Dishonor

"I know I've made my mistakes," K'Tirr said. "But I've paid for every one of them with atoning blood."

"YOU WILL MAKE MORE," the demon told him. "AND YOUR DISHONOR WILL COMPOUND UNTIL YOU CANNOT PAY IT OFF. YOU WILL LOSE YOUR NAME, AND YOUR HONOR. YOUR FAMILY WILL BE SHAMED FROM THE FIRST TO THE LAST."

"No..." K'Tirr said the word with a conviction he did not feel.

"YOU KNOW THE TRUTH OF MY WORDS, YOU MISERABLE TODSAH, YOU COMMONER. YOU ARE UNWORTHY OF YOUR NAME!!"

"I..." K'Tirr felt the weight of the demon's words grip at his heart. "I know..."


Spectre of Cowardice

"I AM THE SPECTRE OF COWARDICE," the demon screamed. "LOOK UPON ME, FRAIL THING, AND KNOW YOUR DARKEST FEAR."

"I do not fear you," Sway insisted. "I am not afraid of anything."

"AREN'T YOU?" the Spectre reached out and seized Naja, raising her off the burning floor, and engulfing her with its flaming grasp.

"Leave her ALONE!!" Sway shouted. "This is between you and me, demon."

The Spectre released Naja and gave Sway a cruel smile. "I SAW YOUR HEART CAVE IN WHEN I THREATENED YOUR LOVER. YOU DO KNOW FEAR, PATHETIC LIZARD. AND THAT IS WHAT YOU FEAR MOST. YOU FEAR TO KNOW FEAR. YOU FEAR TO SHOW YOUR COWARDICE. BUT IT IS YOUR CONSTANT COMPANION. IT WAS WITH YOU AT THE ACADEMY, WHEN YOU PLOTTED TO KILL YOUR ENEMIES. IT WAS WITH YOU IN THE STREETS OF THE FIRST CITY, WHEN YOU FOUGHT AGAINST K'TIRR. EVEN NOW, AS PARALYZING TOXIN FLOODS YOUR VEINS, YOU FEAR TO ADMIT YOUR FEAR OF YOUR IMMINENT DEATH. YOUR HEART IS FILLED WITH FEAR YOU DARE NOT SHOW. BUT I AM ALWAYS WITH YOU. YOU FEAR ME, GORN."

Sway looked at his hand, now stiff and cold. "I am afraid to die," he realized. "Afraid of losing Naja, father..."

'YOU ARE AFRAID OF FEAR, AREN'T YOU? ADMIT IT!!"

"Y-yes," he squeaked.


Spectre of Treachery

"YOU ARE THE EMBODIMENT OF ALL I REPRESENT."

"No. I am no traitor-"

"YOU LIE TO YOURSELF. YOU TURNED AGAINST YOUR TREASONOUS FAMILY. YOU BETRAYED A TREACHEROUS PEOPLE, AND YOU HAVE YOUR SCARS TO SHOW FOR IT. A TRAITOR OF TRAITORS IS A TRAITOR STILL."

"One must be trusted before one can betray that trust." D'Moj stated, "I chose my side, and having chosen it, those that do trust me are secure in that trust..." she smiled wickedly, "but it is not possible to betray an enemy, and my blood-kin, led by my mother, have been my enemies always. Try again, Shade."

"Stupid little girl, disobedient." her mother's voice came from all around her, "I gave you Everything and this is how you repay me?"

D'Moj cringed. The voice cut her with painful memories, but she remained defiant. "Repayment... interesting that you would think I was capable of feeling guilt for her - you should have chosen a false-face that wasn't still alive."

Mary gave a sideways glance. D'Moj twisted right, and brought up her rifle in a parry - and the polearm of the Spectre banged against it, sending shock down through her arms with enough force to nearly knock her off of her Orion feet. A gloomy mist descended upon her.

"YOU WILL BETRAY ALL YOU HOLD DEAR." the shade hissed from her left.

"Not today," D'Moj growled.

"YOU WILL, FOR ONLY A BETRAYAL CAN EARN YOU WHAT YOU TRULY DESIRE. YOUR FREEDOM. IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN FREE, YOU MUST MAKE YOURSELF UNTOUCHABLE. YOU MUST MAKE ALLIANCES WITH YOUR ENEMIES, AND BETRAY YOUR TRUEST FRIENDS. BUT YOU WILL HAVE SECURED YOUR PLACE AMONG THE RANKS OF HIGH COMMAND, WHERE EVEN YOUR MOTHER CANNOT REACH YOU."

D'Moj was struck by a horrible realization of a simple truth. The one thing she had never sought - personal glory, fame, power - could buy her the one thing she wanted most.

"I CAN GIVE YOU YOUR FREEDOM - FOR A PRICE... SUCCESS IN YOUR MISSION, POWER, INFLUENCE... ALL YOU HAVE TO DO, IS SACRIFICE THIS ONE."

The murk cleared, and D'Moj could see the shade holding Mary in twisting bonds of energy.

"STRIKE THIS ONE DOWN. YOU HAVE THE MEANS ON YOU... AND BETRAY THE OTHERS, AND VICTORY WILL BE YOURS FOR THE ASKING. ALL YOU NEED TO DO, IS BETRAY A TRUST. IMAGINE, NO MORE FLEEING FROM YOUR MOTHER'S LACKEYS, THE FREEDOM TO GO WHERE YOU WILL... WE ARE GENEROUS TO THOSE WHO SERVE US. TREASON NEVER PROSPERS AND HERE IS THE REASON - BECAUSE IF IT PROSPERS, NONE DARE CALL IT TREASON!" The thing laughed.

D'moj looked at the broken lava-field of the cavern, and dug the remote from her pocket. "This?" she asked. One push... and we can make your problems go away... it was so very, very, tempting... and the pain in her head was making it harder to resist temptation.


Molor

Nine sprinted across the floor and dove for his weapon. Molor cackled as he batted it away with his chains. Reader leaped up onto a pedestal and fired a high-density blast with his rifle into Molor's back.

"I WILL DEAL WITH YOU NEXT, FERASAN!" Molor launched a loop of chain at Reader, lashing him down to the pedestal.

Nine finally reached his bat'leth. Face me, Molor. I'm not afraid of you.

"YOU DO FEAR ME, I KNOW IT. YOU FEAR ALL THAT I REPRESENT."

I have already been to hell and back again, Nine thought. Why should I fear you?

"BECAUSE I AM EVERYTHING THAT YOU FEAR TO BECOME," Molor declared. "YOU LOST WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A KLINGON. YOU WILL BECOME LIKE ME, CONSUMED BY BITTERNESS, JEALOUSY, PRIDE, DECEIT AND HATRED. WITHOUT HONOR, YOU WILL FOLLOW MY PATH. BEHOLD, I AM THE MONUMENT TO ALL YOUR SINS."

Nine gazed at Molor, as comprehension dawned on him. And in that moment, he knew fear.

The Tyrant laughed aloud. "YES! EMBRACE YOUR SINS!! EMBRACE YOUR FATE! JOIN WITH ME, AND YOU WILL BE CHIEF OF MY SERVANTS!"


Dishonor

Zimehoz whispered softly, "Remember why we're here - and why I stick around, Scouter." The nickname dated for the two of them to their service on the Ba'Hud Koloth. Back to a time when K'Tirr had only his brittle ego, when he was alone among aliens - aliens that saw him as a backwards bumpkin unworthy of respect... only the Lethean had believed in him then... "We will not fall in darkness! We were born to fall under blue skies! Rise to his challenge! Rise to the honor of your Name!"

"YOU SHALL FALL!" the demon declared. "AND YOU SHALL FALL DISHONORED!"

"That IS possible, but it won't be today, creature." K'Tirr said, "I could fall from the path..." he drew his blade and it snapped to full extension, "...but I will not do so today." He stepped forward. Even commoners have Honor. Zimehoz had told him that one night while enemy patrols had their squad pinned in a muddy ravine. He could still smell the coppery tang of enemy blood and the smell of the squad-leader's festering, headless corpse beside them.

"YOU WILL DIE HERE, WITH NO OFFSPRING" it said, "YOUR GENERATIONS WILL END WITH YOU... BUT YOU CAN FLEE, AND LIVE TO SIRE YOUNG..."

"Then I die," K'Tirr said, "With my honour intact."

His blade met the Spectre's weapon with the thunder of stones breaking, as Zimehoz rolled between them and thrust upward with the spear-point tip of his war-trophy vulcan fighting blade. "We commoners stick together," The Lethean added as the Lirpa's pointed-end found a soft spot below the spectre's armor and dug in.

The thing howled, and weakened. K'Tirr slapped it's axe away and sprang forward, and up, sliding his sword under the thing's chin and with savage twist he removed its head from its shoulders.


Cowardice

The demon laughed, as it struck the floor with its weapon, exposing the lava that flowed beneath. "BEHOLD YOUR DOWNFALL, COWARD!!"

Sway cradled his damaged arm, and stared at the spectre, feeling that familiar, hated sensation of fear fill his heart.

"Everyone fears, beloved," Naja whispered, just closely enough for Sway to hear her words. "Courage is not letting the fear rule you."

Cowardice is fear perverted into evil. Sway remembered it from... somewhere. He swallowed and gave a resolved nod.

"We can destroy him," Naja said assertively, holding out her bat'leth, "together."

Sway touched the tip of his blade to hers. "Together," Sway repeated.

"FEEL YOUR FEARS RAINING DOWN UPON YOU!" the spectre gloated.

"We'll survive the rain," Naja declared. "And we will teach you to fear our courage!"

"NO!" the Spectre slashed at them with it's sickle-like pole-arm. Naja rolled under it, Sway leaped up and over. It aimed a cleaving blow at Sway's head. He caught his opponent's blade in the guard-loop of his own sword, and pressed up and twisted, breaking his enemy's weapon.

Naja aimed a vicious swing at the creature's knees, and it roared in pain and rage as it collapsed to the floor. It raised it's hand toward Sway and unleashed a blast of... some sort of energy, which threw him across the chamber. It swung the staff of its sickle into Naja's head, knocking her sprawling.

"YOUR COURAGE IS WASTED!" the Spectre loomed triumphantly over Naja. "YOU CANNOT OVERCOME ME!!"

"Wrong," she said, as she raised her tricorder. The device emitted a powerful sonic pulse, which hurled the thing through the air and landed him in the river of lava. The demon screamed and thrashed as it burned and died. Naja ignored the death throes as she ran to Sway's side.

"Nice one," he whispered.

"Oh my brave, sweet love." She helped him to his feet.

He groaned as he stood. "What now?"


Treachery

"YES, END THIS PATHETIC CRIMINAL, AND POWER, INFLUENCE, AND FREEDOM THAT THEY BRING CAN BE YOURS." It was eager, hungering under the voice...

D'Moj looked at the device, and then, at Treason itself. "She has kept faith with me, Demon." D'Moj said, "Meeree is the one that taught me what freedom is, and she came back into my life to remind me - just in time to face you."

Mary groaned in the bondage field, her eyes clenched tight, her limbs straining and paralyzed. "I will always be true to you, child," she said through gritted teeth, dropping her accent. "Together, we will survive whatever pains your family may put you through."

"OR BE DONE WITH PAIN ALTOGETHER!" the Spectre cried out, sounding almost desperate. "END HER! CLAIM YOUR POWER AND GLORY!"

"No," D'Moj said, "I won't - Glory doesn't matter, power doesn't matter, service to your kind is still servitude, and acceptance of responsibility is the core tenet of freedom - I am responsible for my choices, I accept the consequences freely." She tossed the remote into the lava far from either of them, and watched as the molten stone melted it to vapor. "I choose to defy you, I offer this as my counter-offer, flee, or die fighting, Slave."

The thing lashed out with its polearm, and D'Moj deflected it with a clash like thunder from a stormy sky.

Mary fell from the bonds of energies, and rose with a hiss, her eyes were bloodshot and red, and her pack lay on the ground... "Time to play bonk-bonk with my very good frieeeeend at my side." She clutched a non-weapon - a collapsible fire-axe, the sort carried by damage-control personnel on starships throughout the Alpha quadrant. Variations were used by the Empire, the Federation, even the Romulans. as D'Moj parried Treachery's blows, Mary lashed out with the axe - and behind her stroke, orange flickers crawled along the spectre's body.

"WHAT!??" it sounded astonished, as the infection spread over it.

"Wha'? Thou thought we'd fight thee fair?"

It twisted to thrust at her, and D'Moj stepped lightly in from it's exposed side, and thrust her blade into the exposed flesh, now crawling with orange... specks.

It bellowed and murk started to distend raggedly - only to be dispersed by Mary's scanner. It lashed back, and the blow hit, revealing D'Moj's armour through torn cloth and drawing a 'whoof' from the Orion.

Mary brought the axe around as if chopping a tree, and shattered it's knee from behind. The fireaxe struck bone underneath, and stuck with a thuynk.

It howled, and D'Moj took the opportunity, and lobbed a grenade up into the open maw of its mouth.

There was a Whump! sound, and the spectre shuddered headless to the floor, then dissolved.

"Bonk, bonk." Mary said, clapping delightedly. "Your score, D'Moj."

"I'll give this one half to you," D'Moj said, and sank to the floor with an exhausted sigh.

"Let me check thy wound - it could have broken bone with that."

There was a sudden bright flash, and K'Tirr and Sway and Naja and Zimehoz stood with them.

Sway looked around. "Lan?"

D'Moj staggered back to her feet. "Door," she said, pointing forward.


Molor

We are who we are. We are who we choose to be. Reader sent the memory Nine had shared with him days earlier. He doesn't know that, but you do. Reader added.

And if I am what he says I am? Nine stood. How can I resist my fate?

You resisted the Borg, Lan. You resisted them to the end.

The Borg killed Lan for his resistance.

"But you were reborn," Reader spoke aloud. "You were born again to be something greater than what you were. You were born into the darkest night, to rise with the sun. And you were born to make this one choice: who will you be now?"

Nine of Nine knew he had the choice. He knew... he looked to Reader. I don't know what I am, or what I will become... but I will not become HIM.

"PATHETIC, WORTHLESS FOOL," Molor raged. "YOU COULD HAVE JOINED ME AT MY RIGHT HAND, BUT NOW, YOU WILL LANGUISH HERE FOREVER ALONGSIDE THAT WEAKLING KAHLESS." His chain struck Nine in the chest, hurling him against the wall. "I SHOULD TAKE MY TIME WITH YOU, BUT I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH MY DESTINY, AND I CANNOT DELAY TO GIVE YOU THE SLOW, PAINFUL AND DISHONORABLE DEATH YOU DESERVE." The chain wrapped around Nine's neck. "LOOK INTO MY EYES, SON OF KRAD, AND KNOW THE MAGNITUDE OF YOUR FAILURE..."

Nine stared... and saw his world burning. His ship, his crew, his friends, Ssharki, the High Council, the Emperor, all consumed and enslaved by Molor's reign. NO. He activated his nanopulse blade and cut through the chain. He swirled the glowing weapon in the air as he ran, fending off Molor's evil fetters. He slashed through the bonds imprisoning Reader and turned back to face his foe. I AM KLINGON. I am FREE. I WILL RESIST!!

"THEN YOU WILL DIE!!" Molor charged, extending links of burning steel. Nine whirled the bat'leth, knocking away Molor's weapons, and lunged forward, burying the blade in the evil one's chest.

YOU die now, Tyrant.

"NO!! HOW CAN THIS BE!? I, DEFEATED BY A MORTAL!?"

Nine flicked the blade up, splitting Molor from his sternum through his skull.

Reader heaved a sigh. "It's over."

The door opened behind them, and D'Moj, K'Tirr, Sway, Naja, Zimehoz and Mary entered.

"Sorry we're late," D'Moj said, looking at Molor's corpse.

"I see thou didst unalive the famed Tyrant," Mary said with a strange smile.

The world shook, and the chamber crumbled around them. "Everybody stand together!" Naja called out, as darkness surrounded them...

* * *

...and faded away leaving them standing in... "The lava caves of Boreth?" Zimehoz asked, raising his head. "Are we back?"

"Feels different," Sway said, groggily. "And I still can't feel my arm..."

"It's warmer than it was," D'Moj declared. "If we're back, we must be below the Shrine, closer to the heart of the volcano."

Mary popped her tricorder open, and scanned. "Not the caves -a place very akin to them-as they were before the Klingons built the shrine."

"This tunnel only leads down," K'Tirr noted. "Shall we proceed?"

"Thou sayest such lovely things! Of course we shall proceed - the game's not over yet, and I'm behind on my score."

They went on, winding deeper into the heart of the mountain, until they reached a familiar face. "Ah, my friends!" Kahless greeted them with a beatific smile. "You made it!"

"Where the hell were you?" Sway wondered.

"Here, on the other side, where I told you I would be. You have faced your destinies. Now we shall face mine."

"Fek'Ihr," Naja said.

"Yes. He is made flesh, and he waits ahead. Come!" Kahless led them through the hot caverns, and brought them to a chamber that resembled the one that held his shrine, but this room had one crucial difference. In place of the shrine, there was an Klingon trefoil, inverted, and burning. "Fek'Ihr will come through there."

Mary handed out powercells to the team-members that were low from her heavy pack - reducing its by another few kilos. "Well, who would have thought he would be a fan of the Federation?" Mary quipped.

Sway stared at her, glassy eyed. "Huh?"

"Oh, dear... you got bit," Mary said. "Here, have a neural stim with some melorazine. It will perk thee right up..."

"Erm... will that work?" Naja asked.

"Tis formulated for reptilians," Mary said. "'Twould kill thee, but it should work on thy lover - temporarily, leastaways."

Sway injected the hypo into his neck, and his eyes brightened. He extended his left arm, and flexed his fingers.

"What's in it?" Naja demanded.

"Sova root, nepata extract, PCP..." Mary stopped counting, "one secret ingredient, but I remind thee - it would kill thee or me."

"Good stuff," Sway said, drawing his mek'leth. "Let's kill this Fuk'Ihr before it wears off."

"****-ler?" Mary said with a giggle. "Sorry, I do indeed enjoy the most juvenile humour..."

"You will not falter, Sway," Kahless promised. "Remain true to yourself, as you always have..." He turned and faced the burning, profane emblem. "Fek'Ihr! Guardian of Gre'thor! You have failed your charge! Your world lies in ruins! Face us, and seek your revenge!"

The ground shook.

"Somethings coming," K'Tirr announced.

"Thanks, fur-brain, I noticed," Sway hissed.

"It's big," Naja whispered, glancing at her tricorder.

"Ready yourselves!" Kahless shouted, as he raised his Sword.

"Five meter spread," D'Moj ordered. "Something that big can probably hit multiple close-packed targets... Mary, now would be an EXCELLENT time to come up with something creative."

"We're working on it," Zimehoz answered in Mary's place.

With a savage bellow and a furious crash, Fek'Ihr burst through the wall. Standing some eight meters high, with blood-red skin, brandishing a burning pole-axe, he was by far the most fearsome creature they had yet faced. He spoke with a voice that sounded like someone gargling hot tar. "YOU DARE TO ROUSE ME!? I WILL KILL YOU ALL!!!" The room seemed to explode as unholy fire radiated out from him in all directions. "KILL! KILL! KILL!"

Mary triggered a neutralization field, and the oppressive energy radiating from the monster seeped down, clearing the perceptions of the rest of the team. It was still there, but it was bearable now.

The cruel beast didn't seem to notice. It took a thundering step toward Kahless and swung its pole-axe. Kahless blocked the blow with his bat'leth but was still flung across the cavern.

"SHOOT!!" D'Moj ordered. "Suppressing fire!!"

K'Tirr muttered 'Ready to climb, lizard?' and sprinted forward as the others opened fire, Sway close on his heels.

The monster howled with rage from the stinging impacts of disruptor fire. It lumbered forward, toward D'Moj, identifying her as the group's new leader. It raised its weapon for a malicious cleaving blow.

"Scatter!" D'Moj shouted, and dashed at a forty-five to the beast's course, plinking at it with her pulsewave and occasionally popping grenades.

K'Tirr scrambled up the thing's leg, with Sway right behind, digging into Fek'Ihr's corpulent flesh their claws. "Watch it!" the Gorn shouted a warning, as the vile creature reached down to swat them off. K'Tirr jumped to the other leg, and Sway swung on Fek'Ihr's loincloth iand kept climbing.

"Let's see how this thing likes to be tickled," K'Tirr purred maliciously as he reached the inside of Fek'Lyr's thigh. He took a big bite of foul flesh, and spat the gobbet out, then stuffed an armed grenade into the wound, and covered it with strapping tape before climbing further up, and inward.

"You're one sick cat, K'Tirr," Sway laughed, as he hacked out a chunk of Fek'Ihr's hip with his mek'leth.

"I KILL!! I KILL YOU ALL!!!"

Nine had his rifle set to rapid fire and he aimed for the creature's eyes. He hit one, and the abomination dropped its axe and howled in pain and rage.

K'Tirr could see the place the legs joined the torso - and like any LIVING thing, there was somwehere he could... suppose an object. He armed another grenade, leaving a bit of tooth enamel on the surface, dug toe-claws and bracing hand-claws into the thing's flesh, and punch-shoved the plasma device into that spot, forcing it past the muscular ring that normally keeps such places closed, then he shifted to gripping with his hands ahead of the opening, and raked what was dangling in front of him with the claws of his feet.

Imagine the sound made by a tea kettle crossed with an erupting volcano. That's about what Fek'Ihr's pained screaming sounded like. The enraged creature grabbed K'Tirr and dragged him... right to minimum safe distance.

The explosions were somewhat muffled by all of the layers of fat and muscle and internal organs, but were quite sufficient shatter Fek'Ihr's pelvis and bring him howling to the floor. Sway ran up along the thing's spine and drove his blade into the space just under the wicked creature's skull. A huge handknocked him away, as the still-alive abomination tried to recover its strength. But the plasma fires in his bowels continued to burn, slowing his regeneration.

"NOW!!!" D'Moj shouted, and Mary, Zimehoz, and Nine rushed the crippled, dying giant, and set to work. They worked like ancient pioneers clearing land, cutting and torching and chopping to remove it's head.

Naja and Reader helped Kahless to his feet, and the three rushed to join in on the final kill. "Whether it be perverse science or Gre'thor itself that birthed you, YOU ARE FINISHED!!" the Emperor cried out. And with that the Sword of Kahless separated Fek'Ihr's skull from his spine.

"Bonk, Bonk, Emperor! Thou knoweth the best games!" Mary said with a tired huff. "I think I'm ready for a nap and a snack now..." She walked to her abandoned pack.

Sway and K'Tirr staggered up from where they'd been thrown, and flashed each other a look of both amusement and amazement.

Zimehoz had his tricorder out already, and was scanning the fallen monster's corpse. "Fascinating," he muttered. "This... thing is showing a quantum resonance pattern normally associated with ancient Hur'q technology."

"Ooh, lemme see!" Mary forgot how tired she was, and scampered back with her tricorder. "I concur with thine assessment," she said. "Though I'd add resonance from Iconian devices to tha' as well... see how the Theta band runs?"

Naja ignored the scientific discovery and held her lover. "It's over now, right? We can leave?"

"The quest is complete," Kahless announced. "But your journeys have only begun..."


The Shrine of Kahless

Fang whimpered and whined, and licked at his master's face.

The eight opened their eyes, and slowly rose from where they'd been kneeling.

"So... it was all just a dream," Zimehoz said.

"No," Sway coughed. "It wasn't." His left arm hung limp and useless, and he clutched his ribs with his other hand. "My left side..."

"Check him," D'Moj ordered Mary.

"Oh dear, he doth need medevac," Mary said firmly. "He be comin' down hard off the stim I gave 'im, and we dinna' have the tools to treat this here."

"Come, love," Naja said softly. She knelt and picked him up by his knees and shoulders. "Let's get you back to the extraction point." Fang barked and followed them.

"Will he... will he be alright?" K'Tirr asked Kahless, concern in his voice and in his eyes.

"The boy is strong," Kahless said simply. He returned his Sword in it's place in the Shrine. "Now, D'Moj, you know the truth about this icon. The Sword is just a sword. It's power is the in the one who forged it, and his lasting influence over his people. Let it remain here, and await it's creator's return."

D'Moj nodded. "You are the Emperor. What you say is good."

The Emperor smiled at her. "You have made the right choice."

Kahless turned to Nine of Nine. "You have found yourself, son of Krad. And now you must find your calling."

He stepped to K'Tirr. "You... have earned your name today. And you are no longer a Commoner."

"Do you have a message for Sway?" Reader asked.

The Emperor smiled. "Tell him, and Naja, that true love conquers all, even death itself."

Mary pulled out one last package from her bag, and opened it. "Who wants a na'ran-fruit and nut crunch with chocolate icing?"

"You actually brought [/i]cookies[/i]?" Zimehoz asked.

"Aye... Emperor? They're tasty..." she offered the bag to Kahless.

"Mary, we're going to need to catch a ride home," D'Moj said, "I just got off the comm with Kogh - the Y'Ton's engines are scrap. She's never going to lift again - at least, not as a ship. Maybe as salvage..."


IKS Norgh'Iw

"Clear me a biobed!" Dr. Tr'vayn shouted to her staff as Sway, Naja and Malhul materialized in the middle of her medical bay. "What's the patient's status?"

"Ravager bite to the left carpus," Malhul reported, "approximately forty-seven minutes post-envenomation."

"Spirits walk with him," Dr. Xyoosix whispered, overhearing.

"Attempted treatment?"

"Dr. Moriarty of the Y'Ton gave him a hypo of... something," Naja said. "He injected the whole thing."

"Effect?"

"Temporary invigoration and muscular motivation."

Sway was laid out in a bed and connected to monitors. "Scan his nervous tissue," Tr'vayn ordered one of her medics. "Let's see how far the venom's progressed..." she looked at his vitals as they came up on the display. "Heart rate, forty-nine bpm, okay... blood pressures, one-sixty-six over one-oh-eight, good... respirations, six per minute... O-two sat, ninety-two percent, temperature, twenty-eight-point three... H'rassa, keep an eye on him, let me know if his O-two levels fall below ninety." She plugged in a stethomonitor. "Looks like his left lung isn't fully inflating. The paralysis must've already reached him there..."

"Here's the report from Moriarty," Xyoosix announced, handing off a PADD.

"That's... um, quite a formula. There was enough prednisone in that shot to kill a screech rhino, but... just enough to get ninety-kilo Gorn back on his feet." Tr'vayn lowered the PADD and looked down at Sway. "You're lucky this Dr. Moriarty knew what she was doing. I doubt I could have done any better for you with three years of testing."

"Otter," Sway croaked.

"Water? Yes, you would be severely dehydrated, with all that nepata extract-"

"No," Sway shook his head. "Father."

Tr'vayn nodded. "Of course." She stepped back and tapped her commstrap. "General Ssharki, you're needed in the medbay."


IKS Cha'qu', en route to Qo'noS - three hours later

Dr. Malhul has returned from the Norgh'Iw, Reader told his commander. He wants to look at your burns.

Very well, Nine answered from his quarters. How is Sway?

Holding on. That concoction from Mary delayed the effects, but its too dangerous to use again and nothing else seems to be doing much good. At this point, it's only his own regenerative enzymes that are keeping him alive, according to Mal.

Check on him, won't you? Nine requested.

I'm on my way over now. I was going to pass on Kahless message... did you have anything else you wanted to add?

Tell him that I... that Lan hopes he feels better soon.

...Yessir.

Nine of Nine put Lan's old bat'leth back in its place on the wall, and left the room to head down to the medbay.


Norgh'Iw - six hours later

"Raktajino?" Tr'vayn offered, "or red leaf tea?"

"Raktajino, please," Naja said, gratefully accepting the hot beverage. "Is he make it?"

"I've never seen or heard of anyone lasting this long before," Tr'vayn told her. "But... his condition is deteriorating. We have him on life support, so... at least he's getting oxygen to his brain for now. We're getting some pretty interesting data on how the venom works - its a bioelectric suppressant as well as a neurotoxin. It killed too fast for us to see that before."

"Will Sway make it though?"

Tr'vayn sipped her tea. "I wish I had an answer."

* * *

Mary stared at the monitors and kept making notes - occasionally she would sip from a cup of red leaf tea. Periodically, she would draw a sample from the life-support cycler, and run molecular testing on what was in the blood.

Ssharki had been hovering over his son for nine hours, watching the numbers slowly tick down. Sway had fallen asleep five hours ago... his last words had been slurred, and had been spoken in the Gornar language... it sounded like he'd said "<I don't want...>"

"Is there anything more we can do for him?" he asked the Human in a hoarse whisper. "Anything we haven't tried?"

"He's a strong boy," Mary told him. "I've done all I dare to do, Xyoosix hath done all SHE doth dare to do, Malhul the same... I thought about trying to replicate his regenerative enzymes, but we lack the equipment, time, and frankly, data to do so." She set the cup down. "As a researcher, this is fascinating, but as a doctor, it is infuriating. His enzymes are far more active than normal for your species, and therin lies the rub. If we were to simply inject enzymes from you or anyone else, it would probably slow him down. We have to let him decide if he's going to overcome this - only his natural abilities are left on the table now. He either makes it on his own... or he doesn't. Though I am betting he will."

Ssharki gazed down at his son. Even unconscious, he wore a look of grim determination. "He wants to live," the General declared. "He has too much to live for..."

Mary nodded. "The desire to live is usually the deciding factor in terminal cases - those that have a strong desire usually recover. Those that don't... don't."


Seven hours later (2322, ship's time)

Naja slept alongside her lover - the biobed could hold a full-grown Gorn like Ssharki - it was big enough for the two of them. Ssharki himself had nodded off in a chair nearby.

"How's he doing?" D'Moj whispered.

"Still critical," Mary yawned. "But progression of the venom is much slower than the projections."

"He's the toughest and bravest being I have ever known," K'Tirr spoke softly. "He will survive this."

Four hours later

Naja could feel scaly fingers stroking her cheek. She hummed softly.

"Naja," Sway whispered.

Her eyes opened, and she saw her par'Mach'kai's eyes staring back. "Sway?"

"I can feel my lungs again."

She closed her eyes as she wept tears of joy. "I knew you'd make it. I knew it!"

"Sssh," he hissed, pressing his finger to her lips. "Father's still asleep." He reached his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer to his side.

"Love conquers all," she whispered.

Sway nuzzled her face. "Even death itself."


Qo'noS, The Great Hall - one week later

Ssharki emerged from Woldan's office, and held the door. "You do me great honor, Councilman. I hope I can live up to your expectations."

"All I expect from my new gin'tak as that he shows the same loyalty and wisdom that he always has," Woldan told him as he stepped out. "I know that you will advise me well."

They entered the council chamber, and took their places before J'mpok. "This council is now in session," the Chancellor announced. "General T'Kell, your report?"

"The Third and Sixth Home Guard Squadrons confirm that the Fek'Ihri have retreated into their rifts in the Norgh system," the Supreme Commander said. "The threat of Fek'Ihri invasion is, for now, over."

"Excellent news, General... the next item on the agenda is ruling on a case that is... strangely related." J'mpok turned. "Kriton, I understand you were handling this investigation?"

Councilman Kriton stood. "In the matter of Masaana Di'al vs. Damojena Masaana the lower courts held that this was not a matter to be decided on a judicial level. As a result, the Masaana Syndicate obtained a boon from the Queen of the Orions to petition this body to redress her claimed grievance - namely to rescind the grant of Klingon Citizenship on the Orion birthnamed Damojena Masaana. Since I handle the Orion desk..." Kriton shrugged, "I have to ask for a floor vote. Now, before I do that, I want to make a few things clear about this case." Kriton looked around the assembly. "The primary thing I want understood, is that if the vote is in favour of the petitioner, she is under no legal obligations to fulfill any assurances to the Klingon High Command regarding treatment of the defendant. In short form, if we vote to rescind Damojena Masaana's Klingon citizenship, she will be under Orion law, and hold no protections or privileges derived from her service in the KDF prior to that holding."

"Does this mean that, should the Council vote in favour of the plaintiff, she could do anything she wished to the defendant?" Woldan asked.

"It does," Kriton said. "By rescinding the defendant's citizenship status, she reverts to the bond-slave property status she is accused of running away from."

"And what is the punishment for a runaway slave?" Woldan enquired.

"The term is 'gelding',"Kriton stated. "The defendant will most likely be lobotomized, have her hormone levels increased exponentially, and be sold to a pleasure-house or other establishment as cheap entertainment."

"So... a distinguished officer, one with a commendation from the Emperor himself, could wind up a brain-damaged sex toy?" Woldan asked bluntly.

"Yes," Kriton acknowledged.

"What is your recommendation to the council?" J'mpok asked.

"I recommend we vote no," Kriton declared. "It sets a poor precedent if we vote in favour of the plaintiff... and the Queen agrees with me."

"All in favour?" J'mpok asked. No hands went up.

"Abstentions?" Two hands raised.

"And against..?" the Chancellor held his hand nodded at all the others. "Very well, the motion is denied, Colonel Masaana will retain her citizenship... next order of business?"

"On another related note," General T'Kell stepped forward again, "We have a proposal to form a new special reconnaissance squadron, endorsed by General Koldar and myself, and by the Houses of Woldan, Martok, T'Kell and Methos. The ships initially assigned to this squadron will be the battlecruiser IKS Norgh'Iw, currently on detached assignment reporting directly to CentCom; the raptor IKS Cha'qu', same orders; the bird of prey IKS Herdthinner, formerly assigned to the Eleventh Fleet Forward Reconnaissance Wing; and the IKS Val'gyr, new construction.

"This squadron will be under direct command of Brigadier General Ssharki of the Intelligence Administration Bureau, and will undertake specialized assignments at the discretion of Klingon Intelligence, Central Command and the High Council. Based on the recent battle records of the ship commanders in question, I believe we can expect excellent results from this unit."

J'mpok nodded. "General Ssharki, you will of course be looking to expand this squadron; what sort of recruitment profile you be using for your commanders?"

"Chancellor, my squadron will be composed of those rare individuals who achieve stellar results, yet do not quite fit the KDF mold. Commanders like Colonel D'Moj Massana. If I may borrow the Emperor's expression, I intend to create an elite squadron of 'Dark Horses' who will undertake the tasks that most of the Empire's warriors either would not or could not do."

"We cannot have such a squadron dominated by Woldan!" K'lek declared. "And if Martok is supporting this, then House K'lek will share equal interest!"

"As will Kriton," said the head of that House, glaring across the room at K'lek. "I have my own so-called 'dark horse' warriors, and I would want them to be included!"

"House Terrath will not allow such a squadron without our input! OUR warriors are certainly good enough to be part of this 'special missions' unit!"

"IF this squadron is approved," T'Kell said, raising his hands, "You may certainly provide whatever funding you wish and submit your candidates to General Ssharki for his review. I am sure that we can all count on our Gorn friend to be impartial where matters of Imperial defense are concerned."

"All those in favor?" J'mpok raised his hand.


Observation room, Klingon Intelligence

Koldor and Temek watched the monitors as the Leaders of the Great Houses danced to their tune.

"I sure do know how to paint a fence," the Cunning General murmured.

"Hmm?" the spymaster glanced at him quizzically.

"Oh, it's just something from a book... that reminds me, I need to return that one to Ssharki's collection... I wonder if the second book in the series is as good as Tom Sawyer?"


Great Hall

"Lastly," J'mpok announced, "It gives me great pleasure and honor to announce the latest recipients of the KDF's highest award, and at Emperor Kahless' request, to name them honorary inductees into the Order of the Bat'leth..." J'mpok chuckled, "One or two of them this body may be familiar with from prior business. Yan'Isleth! Summon the Heroes of the Empire!"

Sway entered first, walking steadily, fully recovered now from his near-fatal bite.

"Lieutenant Commander S'fwyrnamokaarn," J'mpok pronounced carefully, "chosen son of Ssharki, of the House of Woldan, receive this honor for you, and your House."

Sway knelt before the Chanecellor and let the medal be draped over his neck. He then stood and saluted. "Qapla'!

"Qapla'!" J'mpok looked to the next honoree. "Commander Nine of Nine. Receive this honor for yourself."

Nine approached the Chancellor and completed the ritual, and stepped aside next to Sway.

"Captain K'Tirr Rr- uh, Rall- Raollrrit," J'mpok's face twisted comically as he tried to emulate the growl-hiss of the Ferasan name.

"'Ree-Orr', sir," K'Tirr said softly, kneeling in front of the Klingon. "The short form for non-Ferasans is 'Riorr.'"

"Thank you... Captain Riorr, of the Many Waters Clan - receive this honor for you and your clan."

"Qapla', sir."

"Qapla'! And finally, Colonel D'Moj Massana... of the House of Methos..."

D'Moj approached, but did not kneel.

"...Receive this honor for you, and your house."

"Qapla', Chancellor," she saluted.


CentCom, IAB Office - two days later

"Too many candidates... not enough qualified candidates..." Ssharki grumbled. "Listen to this: 'Dependable slave, good with with weapons, follows orders.' That's it. That's the resume for this guy from K'lek. That Hu'tegh yIntagh?"

"Sounds like we need our own training establishment," Koldor said wryly.

"You'll be needing more than that," Temek remarked. "You will also need a mission."

"We'll need a lot of missions," Ssharki said, nodding toward the PADD with Koldor's funding pledges. "I suddenly have a massive budget to justify."

"Scutwork," Koldor said quietly. "Missions nobody wants - there's a backlog of missions that are high-risk, low reward, long-range or long term."

Temek shrugged. "You and I will be purging those to find missions that are actually useful to the Empire. In the meantime, Koldor, take Ssharki's applicant list back to K'lek along with a copy of D'Moj's record and explain to him again what sort of candidates we're looking for."

Koldor nodded and left.

"I wasn't actually talking about those kinds of missions," Temek told Ssharki once they were alone. "I meant A mission, a single, overarching objective, and you are just the man to for the objective I have in mind."

Ssharki put down his PADD. "I'm listening."

"The qa'meH quv. The Undine. The Fek'Ihri... And whatever their 'masters' are - you have uncovered the tip of a conspiracy that threatens not only the Klingon Empire, but the entire Beta Quadrant, and beyond. Your mission, Ssharki, your end-goal, is to get to the bottom of this." Temek handed Ssharki an isolinear chit. "Don't tell Koldor of this. Tell no one, unless I authorize it. If they were able to get to Marek, then anyone could be compromised."

Ssharki frowned, but he said "I understand." He plugged the chit into his old Starfleet-issue PADD - the one containing all of his personal files. He read the OpOrder. "Operation Mountain Road..."


* * * * *

Curtain

But the story continues...




"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 09-29-2013 at 06:09 PM. Reason: /i
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 2,735
# 18
09-29-2013, 05:14 PM
well, it was fun to work on...
"when you're out of Birds of Prey, you're out of ships."
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 208
# 19
09-29-2013, 06:03 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by patrickngo View Post
well, it was fun to work on...
and damn good to read! Well done, very shiny!
"It may be better to be a live jackal than a dead lion, but it is better still to be a live lion. And usually easier."
Starfleet Veteran
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 542
# 20
09-29-2013, 06:17 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by knightraider6 View Post
and damn good to read! Well done, very shiny!
Indeed--nicely done, you two.
Originally KiraYamato before the Account Linking - True Join Date August 2008

"In the game of war, there are no clear rules you can follow." - Andrew Waltfeld
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