It's a slightly archaic variant spelling that's more common in British English than American. What can I say? I'm British and slightly archaic.
From the spelling of some words (one ended in "-tre" instead of the "-ter" I'm more familiar with) in your story, I figured you were either Canadian, Irish, Northern Irish, Scottish, Welsh, British, Australian, New Zealander, or South African. Well, I got one of those guesses right.
American English has been said to be more archaic than British English (since the two deviated from one another in the 1600s and each evolved in their own way), though some have said that the inverse is true.
I'm American (born in US Army hospital in Munich, Germany) and my ancestry, as far as I know it is: Irish, Scottish, Welsh, British, Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, with possible bits of French (Huguenot), Swiss, and Cherokee. Or, as someone once said, "Mutt". I've been called "precocious", "eclectic" and "eccentric" (and "genius", but I don't really agree with it).
Enough babbling. Your audience is impatient. Where's the next chapter?
Last edited by philipclayberg; 09-19-2013 at 03:10 PM.
*/*---audio input above threshold level---consciousness to waking mode---somatic response[y/n]n---audio on*/*
"I think she's still asleep," Tallasa says. "What in the name of the Infinite is this stuff?"
"I do not recognize these file headers." Saval's voice. "The text file, though - a novel, early Earth twentieth century, entitled 'Pale Horse'. Do you recognize it?"
"A horse is an Earth riding animal," Tallasa says doubtfully. "It seems a strange subject, even for the Admiral."
My eye opens. "Oh, for crying out loud, you two," I say, "it's relevant. Though this be madness, yet there's method in't."
"Sir," says Saval. "We did not realize you were awake."
"Never realize," I say. "When you realize, you make a real out of... I and zee... hang on, that doesn't work. Never mind." I swing my legs off the ready room couch and stand up. Do I have pants on? Yes, I do. Today will be a good day.
"'Pale Horse'. Know who rode a pale horse? Death. Death, in the Book of Revelations. And Hell followed close behind. Boris Savinkov," I owe them a lecture, "the author of this little drollery, was a political fanatic during the upheavals in the country known as Russia, after Earth's first world war. The winners of that struggle established one of Earth's nastier dictatorships. Savinkov was one of the losers... and, when you learn a little about him, you realize - oops, sorry - that that was actually a good thing."
"How is he relevant, sir?" Tallasa asks.
"Because he was a terrorist. A believer in the theory and practice of terror for the furtherance of political ends. In case you haven't worked it out yet, that's the kind of person we're dealing with. Terrorists are prepared to do unthinkable things, my friends, not for the sake of the things themselves, but for the response they get."
"I believe I understand," says Saval.
"It's the key to understanding what our man's after. We need to work out what response he wants from us - from Starfleet, from the Federation as a whole. Then we need to not give it to him. Does he want us to take revenge? Then we extend olive branches until everyone's sick of olives. Does he want us to run scared? Then we come out fighting."
"Question, sir," says Tallasa.
"What makes you sure it's us he wants a reaction from? Why not the Klingon Empire? I'm assuming you think this was the work of a rogue operative - why can't he be aiming at the Klingon hierarchy? To cause an upheaval there?"
Damn. There's an actual brain at work under those two blue coathooks. I mean, I hadn't thought of that wrinkle. "Never assume," I say. "When you assume, you make - oh, the heck with it. Yes, you might be right. And there's no way to dictate which way the Klinks will jump... so, if you are right, well, there's not much we can do about it."
Tallasa nods, soberly, thoughtfully.
"So let's do Starfleet stuff," I say. "We all happily linked up with Sixth Fleet now?"
"Holding station at defense grid marker buoy epsilon 473," says Tallasa. "The fleet is almost at full strength, with only the Yukoku and the Warspite to report in. Admiral Gref has ordered you to report aboard the flagship Taras Bulba at 1530 hours, to attend the preliminary strategic briefing."
"Joy of joys," I mutter. "What time is it now?" */*0937*/* "Twenty to ten, never mind. Plenty of time. Oh, hi there, face-ache, what the hell do you want?" This last, to the communications ensign, who's standing at the ready room door with his mouth hanging open. I double-check; yes, I was right, I'm wearing pants.
"Sir," he says, "there's a communication for you - um, it's got a Starfleet priority - but, um, there's no origin code, we don't know who's sending it -"
"Spooky spooky spook stuff!" I carol happily. "Put it through. Let's have a seance, talk to the spook. Stick around, kid, you may learn something. On screen."
The desk console lights up, revealing a human */*species 5618*/* face, with a scar across one cheek that looks like it was done by Dr. Frankenstein, in the dark, while drunk. "Frankie, baby!"
"Vice Admiral Grau," says Franklin Drake. "I think you ought to know that your access rights to some comms channels... lapsed, some time around the year 2300."
"Oh, don't come that tone with me, Frankie. I remember you. I used to dandle you on my knee when you were a kid." He looks sceptical. "All right, it might have been some other kid. There was definitely dandling involved, though."
*/*species 5618---specific unit designated---Franklin Drake---priority for assimilation and memory retrieval due to specialist knowledge---*/*
Put a sock in it, Two of Twelve. "Anyway, yeah, you can help me out. When did the IKS Shara'nga change its name?"
Drake narrows his eyes. "Ronnie," he says, "don't meddle. You won't do any good if you meddle, and you could do a considerable amount of harm."
"Shara'nga," I say, "is a perfectly good Klink name, some Klingon general probably named it after his favourite targ, or mistress, or both. But, five months ago, according to those handy intelligence digests you keep in the dusty corners of Memory Alpha, the name was changed, to the QIb laH'e'. That's a cool name. Translates roughly to 'Heart of Darkness', doesn't it? Very Joseph Conrad."
"I'd prefer 'Heart of Shadow'," says Drake.
"I bet you do. Anyway. It's a Klink thing, isn't it? Ships with appropriate names. My ship doesn't have an appropriate name, but then I'm not a Klink. The IKS Heart of Darkness... as if it's getting ready for a deed of darkness. Am I right? I don't have to be, there's more. Planet wrecking munitions, who carries that much ordnance normally? Again, your intelligence digests have lots of good stuff about movements of industrial technology in the Empire. And who's this Commander Kysang, when he's at home?"
"Kysang is dead."
"Mistah Kysang - he dead. Right." I lean forward and narrow my organic eye at the screen. "There's a terrorist rogue agent at work in the Klink hierarchy, and it's someone a lot higher up than one carrier commander. Right? Look, you don't have to tell me anything, I'm out here on the front lines. But the girl on the spot is that psycho-smurf Shohl, and she probably needs to know about some of this, at least. So are you going to tell her, or shall I? Tylha Shohl, do you know her?"
"I know everybody," says Drake. "And you shouldn't worry about Tylha. She's already reached some of the same conclusions you have, and without breaking in the back door of Memory Alpha. Her preliminary reports make that clear. And she has additional resources that you don't know about... actually, that she doesn't know about. Yet." He smiles, a sly untrustworthy smile. "Don't worry about Tylha," he repeats.
"Frankie says relax, huh? Better be right, Drake. Too many people dead already, and with this much firepower gathering out here, there's gonna be more. When all the shooting's over... I'd hate to think the people who started it got away scot free."
"I wish I could promise that won't happen," Drake says. "But this is the real world, Ronnie, and we have to live with its imperfections. Bear that in mind." And the screen goes dark.
Klur's head snapped round. "Disruptor fire... one shot only, so far... officers' quarters, deck six, corridor nine," the security officer reported.
"First Officer. With me. Bring weapons. Ops, you have the conn." And Klur left the bridge at a run. Tayaira paused long enough to draw a disruptor rifle from the rack, then followed.
The dark corridors of the carrier rang with their urgent footsteps. They paused, panting, at the door to the officers' quarters. Tayaira checked the charge on the disruptor rifle as Klur keyed the intercom. "Report. Any more shots?"
"No, sir," the security officer replied.
Klur glanced at Tayaira. "On the count of three," he said, "inside. Weapons ready." His disruptor was in his hand. "One. Two. Three!"
The door slid open and they burst through. Tayaira levelled her rifle - and stopped. There was no one in the room.
But there was something on the floor, by one of the bunk beds - Tayaira's eyes widened.
A severed hand, still oozing Klingon blood, lay on the deck, next to a bloodied d'k tahg blade, and a datapad. Nearby, the deck plates were scorched, as by a sudden energy release. Klur holstered his disruptor. He stepped forward, stooped, picked up the datapad.
"'I go now to Gre'thor'," he read out, "'but I will not take with me the hand that murdered a world. D'Elara, daughter of Skor, operations officer, IKS QIb laH'e''." He shook his head. "Stupid. Stupid."
Tayaira lowered her rifle. "She cut off her own hand," she said, "and then shot herself?"
"So it would appear." Klur touched his communicator. "This is Captain Klur. Stand down security alert."
"She cut off her own hand," Tayaira repeated.
"It took courage, and strength of will," Klur said. He spat. "And these things were wasted. Such foolishness...."
"Sir," said Tayaira, "we need to talk. Morale is bad, sir, and this - this -" She shook her head. She could find no words for what had happened. "Sir, this will worsen things yet further. We are listening on the channels you designated, but there are no transmissions. We must -" She stopped. She had no idea, any more, what they could do.
"We remain concealed and silent," said Klur, "until there is word that we may return to Qo'noS safely. It will come. Starfleet will never find us here."
"What does that matter," Tayaira snapped, "if we start to kill ourselves?"
Klur turned on her with a warning glare. She glared back. "We must do something," she said, "to prove to the crew that there is hope."
"What do you suggest?" Klur demanded.
She thought. "My House had contacts in the Federation. Perhaps we can seek out someone who can provide us with more information.... It is the waiting, sir, for a message that never comes, that weighs most heavily on our minds."
"The message will come," said Klur.
"You have confidence, sir, but the crew must be convinced."
"We cannot break communications silence ourselves, and we cannot safely leave this asteroid field. What, then, do you propose?"
"Perhaps, if we sent out an auxiliary vessel - your Chariot, sir, for instance - it might not be recognized, and might reach a non-aligned world nearby...."
Klur nodded. "It is a possibility. I will consider it." He looked round, as a shadow filled the doorway. "Yes?"
The Nausicaan warrior stood gaping at the scene. "I," he said, and gulped. "These are my quarters, and Lieutenant D'Elara's...."
"Yes," said Klur. "Jikkur, is it not? Lieutenant D'Elara is dead. You are now elevated to her rank and responsibilities. Serve well and bravely."
For one brief instant, the Nausicaan hesitated, and a strange look came into his red eyes. Then he raised his fist in salute. "Yes, sir!"
"Arrange for this place to be cleaned," said Klur. He still held the datapad in his hand; now, he dropped it to the floor. "We shall return to the bridge." He strode off down the corridor, and Tayaira followed.
As soon as they were out of earshot of Jikkur, Tayaira said, "Sir, did you see him? He hesitated when you gave your command."
Klur nodded shortly. "I saw. I cannot currently afford to dispose of any crew members - not while I cannot receive replacements. But watch that one. Watch him closely."
What can I say that I haven't already said? If you'll keep writing, I'll keep reading. I promise.
Addicted reader's polite request: Would it be all right if I save a copy of your story/chapters to my PC, so that I can reread it/them when I'm offline? I'll add "Copyright 2013, by Shevet" at the top of each chapter.
Last edited by philipclayberg; 09-20-2013 at 04:14 PM.
King Estmere's needle-pointed prow is turned towards the planet, aimed straight at the roiling masses of grey and white clouds that - mercifully - cover most of the land surface. I stare moodily into the viewscreen.
The bridge is more densely populated than usual. The Orion renegade, Kluthli, is standing by chief science officer Zazaru as they work through the final details. Nearby, Anthi and the Reman scientist Temerix are working on another holo-display. This one shows the evidence we have gathered; the path of the IKS QIb laH'e' around the planet, the devices it deployed, their trajectories into Bercera IV's atmosphere... all annotated, with links to sensor recordings and communications logs. If Captain Klur ever comes to trial, the display is a neat summary of the case against him.
Also on the bridge, staring at the screen, are two civilians: Koneph Phoral and Osrin Corodrev. I turn to them, now. "We're ready to proceed. Is this... the best way forwards?"
Corodrev nods. "It's the best chance for the planet as a whole," he says. His voice is resonant, commanding - well, it would be, his genetic augmentation makes him the perfect image of the noble, manly Andorian thaan. His father thought in those sorts of stereotypes. Beside him, Phoral nods agreement. To some extent, I think, Phoral is a stereotypical chan, too, the witty, wisecracking wingman, the charming second fiddle to the thaan hero. No doubt there should be a pushy aggressive shen and a dependable, nurturing zhen somewhere in the equation, too....
"Recorders are running, sir," Anthi Vihl reports.
"Satellites deployed and in position," Kluthli says. Beside her, Zazaru just looks at the screen with sad brown eyes. Sometimes I worry that my science officer is too sensitive for our sort of work. But, then, we are all of us too sensitive for this.
I look towards Corodrev once again. "Are you sure there are no more survivors? I could pull back my auxiliary craft and do another sweep...."
"If anyone's still down there," Phoral says, "then they're somewhere we can't find them... and they'll be dying already from chemical or radiation toxicity." The toxins released into the planet's atmosphere, both from the initial bombardment and the subsequent vulcanism, have made it a nauseous chemical soup in a staggeringly short time.
"It's... kinder... this way, I think," Corodrev adds. I nod. I take in a deep, reluctant breath.
"Synchronize all disruptors and fire when ready," I order.
My android science officer, Amiga, handles the weapons controls with her machine precision. If she is troubled by what is happening, it doesn't show. "Energizing now," she says, flatly.
King Estmere seems to shudder as the disruptors cut loose. They are devastating enough weapons in normal combat; now, their energies are being aligned with the main deflector, channelled into a force-field web strung between the satellites we've positioned. They will create, not localized bursts of destruction, but a planet-wide field, tuned to a very specific setting.
The verdict from the science teams was in; the suspended tricobalt dust in the atmosphere would poison what remained of the planet's ecosystem as it settled. The only solution - to burn it off, now. The disruptor field affects tricobalt, and only tricobalt, making the atoms of that frightful substance undergo spontaneous decomposition, turning it into relatively harmless fission byproducts. The catch, of course, is that as this happens, the tricobalt gives up all its stored energy.
So, my ship's weapons fire, and for the second time, Bercera IV's atmosphere burns.
It is necessary, to preserve the remnants of life in the deep oceanic trenches. But it is the coup de grace for the rest of the planet; it is death to anything that breathes.
From this high up, it looks uneventful, at first. Perhaps the clouds roil a little on the sunlit side of the planet; perhaps there is a faint stippling of dots of ruddy light on the night side. Closer to, we would see the infernos that have suddenly sprung to life, hear the concussive blasts of the terrific explosions among the clouds.
Then - "What's that?" Anthi says.
"The aurora," Phoral replies, quietly.
Energised particles, striking the planet's magnetosphere. Normally, they come from space, in the form of the solar wind; this time, they are striking up from below, released by the fury of the tricobalt disruption. Ghostly greenish-blue light ripples across the upper atmosphere, wrapping the dead world in an eerie glowing shroud.
"Tricobalt reaction confirmed," says Amiga. We watch in silence, otherwise, until the lights die away.
"So," I say, heavily, at the end. "We've done all we can, here, then." I try to make my voice brisk. "What's the status of the survivors?"
"All the serious cases have been transferred to our hospital ships," says Corodrev. "There's a few left in your sickbay, awaiting transport - your Dr. Beresford's been a huge help, by the way. Thank you for that."
"We'd better finish up those transfers, then," I say. "The patients will be glad to be off a military vessel, I'm sure... and I can take King Estmere off on the hunt for the Klingons."
"We'll get going and arrange the final transports," says Corodrev, and then frowns. "Ah. If someone could show us, again, where your sickbay is...."
"Oh, yes," I say, "it took us a while to get used to the layout of a Tholian ship. Come on, great-grand-uncle, I'll take you myself."
As we walk towards sickbay, Corodrev says, "I wish you wouldn't call me that. It makes me feel ancient. Besides, my father edited my genome so much... genetically, I have barely anything in common with you. We're the same species, and that's all."
"Oh?" I say. "I'd have thought he'd be keen to preserve his bloodline, or something."
"Preserve and improve," says Corodrev. "Have you ever seen pictures of my father?"
"I looked him up," I say. "I must admit, he didn't look much."
"He was a runt," says Corodrev. "Small, sickly and feeble. It's one of those - psychological things. He hated his own weaknesses, and he projected that hatred onto the things he thought were making Andoria weak. In his mind, the Federation."
"I'm surprised he let you develop that level of insight," I say. "What with trying to raise you as an augmented elite...."
"He was a lot better genetic engineer than he was a practical psychologist," says Phoral. "Besides, by the time we'd grown to adolescence - and were really into the rebellious, questioning-authority, stage - he had pretty much lost his grip. Of course, then the Nausicaans took us over... that wasn't fun."
"Can't have been. Well," I say, "I guess I can sympathize, in a way. I'm sure I'd be a disappointment to my thaan-father, too."
"Disappointed in a Starfleet officer?" says Corodrev.
"He wasn't into the military," I say. "He helped set up the original Gimel Vessaris colony - it was supposed to be a post-industrial, post-military, eco-friendly and socially harmonious place. Fine ideals. Unfortunately, they didn't count for much when the Nausicaans came and kicked the place over. So, as soon as my head healed up... I decided I'd join the outfit that stood between the idealists and the Nausicaans."
"Oh," says Corodrev. "Funny, I'd always thought of you as military through-and-through. The old Andorian way."
"That's Anthi, not me. My exec. She's old Imperial Guard to the core."
"You said your head healed up," says Phoral. "Is that where you got -?" He touches his right cheek, where the scars run on mine.
He smiles at me. "Maybe you should get that fixed."
"This is fixed, I'm afraid. As fixed as it gets."
He looks as if he has more questions. But he never asks them, because right then the alarms go off.
"Admiral," Anthi's voice says on the intercom, over the clamour, "we have a sensor contact at the fringe of the system. Definitely Klingon, and looks like a Kar'fi carrier."
I swear, and hit my combadge. "Anthi. Get us moving, schedule a rendezvous point with the fighters." All King Estmere's auxiliary ships are out scouring the Bercera system for traces of the QIb laH'e''s warp signature. "Maximum combat readiness."
"Acknowledged," says Anthi's professional voice. I hit the combadge again. "Engineering. How soon to reconfigure the disruptors for normal firing?"
"We address the matter with the utmost expedition!" Commander Thirethequ's voice comes back. "Our efforts, paltry though they are, will be crowned with success after no more than fifteen minutes have elapsed!"
Corodrev is looking puzzled. "Jolciots," I explain. "They're good people, but they're strong on the flowery language. Well, I think this is where we say goodbye. Get those civilians off the ship and head for safety. If that's Captain Klur returning to the scene of the crime, I'm damned if I'm letting him take another crack at them."
Corodrev opens his mouth, but Phoral tugs at his sleeve. "Let's not argue with the nice lady, Oz," he says, "I don't think she's in the mood."
Shevet: I've numbered the posts you've already made as "CHAPTER ONE --" through "CHAPTER ELEVEN --" (with three to four chapters per text file), copyrighted by you at the top of each chapter. The directory name on the hard drive even includes "copied with permission by Shevet". Credit where credit is due.
If this were a TV series, I'd be practically glued to the screen, frustrated that each episode couldn't be written, filmed, edited, and broadcast quickly enough. I'm so spoiled that you post more than once a week, and sometimes even twice a day. Heavenly!
I'm also trying to imagine what it would be like if I were able to collaborate on an STO story with you ... but my self-confidence keeps telling me that I'm just not good enough. I'll just have to continue being a happy audience member instead.
"Excellent." We have made good time - especially considering our circuitous path through Federation space. "Drop out of warp. Are our diplomatic credentials still in order?"
"Broadcasting our ambassadorial status on all channels," Ch'gren reports from the ops console Like K'Gan, he is Klingon - possibly too Klingon, sometimes. It is clear he is nervous about having no more protection than a diplomatic status code. If the truth be told, I am a little concerned myself.
Truth.... "Tell me," I say. "Suppose you were part of a gathering, and you had guilty knowledge of something that others did not. Would you speak at this gathering, or remain silent?"
K'Gan frowns. "Guilty knowledge of what?"
"It is not important. I ask for your... general... feeling."
K'Gan's frown deepens. "An honest man speaks freely, from the heart," he says, eventually. "If I were guilty of something, dishonour would seal my lips."
"Those who conceal something in their hearts would fear to let it slip," Ch'gren agrees.
"So, the honest man would speak, and the dishonest would keep silent. I see. Interesting."
They are Klingons, honest, and plain soldiers. I exchange glances with Sano, the science officer, an Orion woman like myself. We both know the conclusion that inevitably follows; that the man who wishes to appear innocent will speak freely. So, how am I to judge between the honest speakers and the dissemblers?
A problem for another time. "I have a sensor contact," Sano announces. "Correction. Multiple contacts. But, I think, only one that matters."
"Several low-powered vessels in orbit around the planet - my judgment is, they are civilian craft associated with a relief effort. But one is moving, and that one reads high in mass and energy. Very high...." A frown of puzzlement crosses her face. "It does not appear to be a Starfleet configuration...."
"Well," I say, "we ourselves would appear to be the despicable Fek'lhri, at first glance. Cross-reference with all available data files - and, Ch'gren, try the obvious; see if you can get a transponder code."
"More contacts," Sano says. "Scattered, at various points throughout the outer system... low mass, now moving at very high speed."
"Ah," I say, "that will simplify your search. The large ship is clearly a carrier, and it has dispersed its fighters to search for traces of the QIb laH'e'. See if the configuration of the fighters yields any clues."
Sano bites her lip. "This is.... Sir, the fighters are Romulan Scorpions, of that I have no doubt. But the carrier... the closest match is a Tholian Recluse, but the screen frequencies and the power distribution curves are wrong."
"I have it!" Ch'gren exclaims. "It is a Starfleet vessel, whatever the Orion says." Should I be offended, or gratified, that he apparently does not consider his commander an Orion? Or just amused? "Code is for the USS King Estmere, NCC-92984."
"What is known of this vessel?"
"Retrieving intelligence digests," says K'Gan. A pause, and then he laughs. "You are both right," he says. "The King Estmere is a Tholian carrier modified and converted by Starfleet's Experimental Engineering division. Known to be using shields and weapons derived from technology exchanges with the Romulans and Remans...." His smile fades away. "Participated in the action at Gimel Vessaris, when Starfleet recaptured that system from the Nausicaans. Data readouts from there give it a high threat level. Commanding officer of record is an Andorian, Tylha Shohl, Starfleet Vice Admiral. Sir, combat with this vessel would bring much honour and glory, but it might also significantly impede our overall mission."
Which is as close as he can come to saying don't pick a fight with this one. "I do not anticipate combat," I say. "This is a Starfleet ship; this Shohl will doubtless recognize our diplomatic status."
"Should we not deploy fighters, in case of hostility?" K'Gan suggests.
"No. S'kul fighters are... not diplomatic."
"I have a transmission from the carrier on Starfleet frequencies," Ch'gren says.
"Then let us be diplomatic. On screen."
The image forms on the viewscreen; a Tholian bridge, with Starfleet additions. The woman - I think a shen, the Andorian intermediate-female sex - in the centre seat is tall and spare, with a severe-looking blue face, too severe to be attractive even if one discounted the curving scar on her right cheek. "Klingon vessel," she says, with that faint whine Andorians have, when they try to sound aggressive. "You are trespassing in Federation territory. Identify yourselves."
"Vice Admiral Shohl? You should by now have received our diplomatic status codes." I make a show of examining the opalescent film on my fingernails. "We are here on a mission from the High Council, and I suspect it... dovetails... with your own. Forgive me," I smile sweetly at the screen, hoping to get her antennae in a knot. "This is the IKS Garaka, and I am Lieutenant General Shalo."
She narrows her eyes. She is about to speak, when another voice sounds from behind her. "Shalo?"
I turn, astonished. Kluthli has risen from the science console, her eyes wide, her statuesque body almost shuddering with anger.
On the screen, the other Orion woman's eyes suddenly widen in response. "Kluthli?" And she stops examining her nails like some haughty debutante, so that's a mercy at least.
"Shalo," Kluthli spits. "So you've come to this, working for the people who ruined us!"
"At least I remained true to my people!" Shalo screeches. I look rapidly from one to the other. I can't see the family resemblance - both green, and supernaturally good-looking, but that's about it. Evidently they're family, though.
"You sit there wearing a KDF uniform and claim to be true to your people?" Kluthli's voice drips with scorn. Shalo appears to be wearing some cold-weather variant of the Klingon uniform, all white leather and bits of fur. I guess Kluthli's entitled to stretch a point, though. I can almost feel the anger coming off her, in waves.
So can others, it seems. Amiga stands up. "Commander Kluthli," she says, "I fear you may be losing control of your pheromone emissions - it is affecting the organic crew members."
Kluthli blinks. "Oh," she says. "Yes. I'm sorry, sir," she says to me, and draws in a deep breath. She shoots another poisonous glare at the Klingon commander.
"Well," I say, "I hate to break up a family reunion, but I'd like some answers from you... Lieutenant General."
Shalo seems to be regaining control of herself. "Of course, Vice Admiral," she says.
"F'hon," I turn to my comms officer, "do those diplomatic codes of hers check out?" The Bolian nods. "Well, then," I say, turning back to the screen, "it looks like I'll have to wait for you to make a hostile move before I blow you out of space. How long will you make me wait?"
"I am not your enemy," Shalo says, "for today, at least. My instructions are to track down the rogue Captain Klur and... require an explanation from him. I imagine Starfleet is also anxious to hear him account for himself."
"So that's the line the High Council is taking, is it? It won't wash. How much tricobalt do you have aboard your ship?"
Shalo has clearly got herself back under control. "I do not favour the use of tricobalt explosives, myself, although this vessel is designed for them. However, I appreciate your point. Part of my mission, therefore, is to ascertain how Klur acquired his plentiful stock of destructive munitions. Vice Admiral, you must realize that the destruction of this world was not a policy decision of the High Council -"
"Someone decided it," I say.
"This is one of the reasons why Captain Klur must explain himself."
"I think you'll find," I say, "that the Federation is perfectly capable of getting an explanation from Captain Klur."
"And you will find," Shalo replies, "that I can assist you very considerably in the search for him. Vice Admiral, I have all the technical data on Klur's ship - warp signature, emissions profile, transponder codes, everything. With that information, I am in a better position to track him down than you are, sifting through subspace contrails at the fringe of this system."
"So transmit that information," I snap at her, "and we'll take it from there."
She examines her fingernails again. I have the feeling I'm going to lose patience with that trick. "And render myself unnecessary? I think not. But consider, Vice Admiral, that my search will progress much faster if I am accompanied by a Starfleet vessel - and, you will be in a position to see that Captain Klur is properly dealt with."
"By which you mean, taken into custody and submitted to a Federation court for trial, of course."
"We can discuss that when the time comes," Shalo says. Those fingernails must be fascinating. "By way of a gift, and to prove my good intentions, I will provide you with another piece of information. That creature on your bridge is not the only renegade from the House of Sinoom involved in this. Our mutual cousin Tayaira is Captain Klur's First Officer. I mention this for whatever good it may do you."
I shoot a quick look at Kluthli. She looks stunned.
"I'm going to consult with my officers," I say. "You - hold station. If you make any move that I even think is violating your diplomatic status... you'll find out exactly what this ship can do."
"We can't possibly trust her," Kluthli says. She still seems agitated.
"The KDF must have sent her because of the family connection," Anthi says. "With this - Tayaira, I mean. There's no way they could have known we'd have a relative of theirs on board... is there?"
"I don't see how," I say. "Just one of those freaky coincidences, I guess."
"It's not too unlikely," says Kluthli. Her composure is coming back. "The Houses of the Orions... they're not quite like Klingon Great Houses or Andorian clans... they're as much a business enterprise as a, a genetic grouping. When the militarist faction crushed the House of Sinoom, a lot of us had to make choices about what to do next. And no small number chose the Federation." She looks ready to spit. "I would never choose as she did. She threw in her lot with the people who destroyed us!"
I gaze, pensively, at the image of Shalo's ship on my console. The Kar'fi carrier is ugly even by Klingon standards, with its ungainly shape and its many protruding fins. I remember seeing a fish, in the aquarium at Starfleet Academy, a brightly coloured thing the humans called a lionfish. The Kar'fi looks like one of those fishes, except blackened and gaunt and dead. A cooked lionfish.
One of those ships killed Bercera IV. The Klingons no doubt thought it was fitting to send an evenly matched ship to - confront - Klur. But with King Estmere along for the ride, the odds would definitely be on Shalo's side... if it came to a fight.
If it came to a fight with Klur.... I'm reasonably confident we could take one Kar'fi in a straight fight. I'd be a lot less sanguine about two. But what would that accomplish, for the Empire? Taking out my ship wouldn't make a dent in the forces now being marshalled against Klingon space....
"The High Council," I say, "at the very least wants us to think that Klur's gone rogue. So, Shalo is bound to act... in support of that idea. I know, you're right, we can't possibly trust her. But there is just the possibility we may be able to use her."
"Sir," says Kluthli, in bleak tones, "the chances are good that that's exactly what she's saying right now."