101
7109
1966
36
880
11.03
1954
03
6.08
241
309
7.08
1935
12.20
53
1961
2.16
102
8102
1987
044
0051
1968
704
10.31
1984
1954
764
1940
9.9
1972
815
4.12
2023
103
714
1993
0222
4.4
1969
2450
91
56
21
716
801
417
602
5618
238
1443
104
6104
1995
3.22
1931
0.0
0000
1701
1984
218
908
10
85
1888
27
2879
213
105
08
2001
713
079
1977
LV
426
105
10
1642
1979
402
795
361
0852
984
106
31
2017
429
65
871
24
541
656
M
113
12.6
27
05
85
12.25
7884
107
5
2022
784
3304
42
733
1224
5801
23
1015
84
36
029
24
318
12.24
108
23
174
91
947
28
527
04
0469
2200
88
1985
540
3121
308
9571
404

Please understand the following disclosures before reading "Chegh JubwI' (The Immortal One's Return)."

"Author's personal log, supplemental.

Klingon Empire The Undine (Species 8472)

“This is the second of three unmonetized fictional stories based non-canonically on Star Trek ™, created by Gene Roddenberry. Set in 2380 AD, the Benmata Chronicles trilogy focuses on how the allied factions in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants struggle to maintain a working peace after the Dominion War (2373-2375 AD). This second installment of the series reveals how the return of Kahless’s bat’leth sparks a storm of unrest in Klingon society and the repercussions that has for the Federation Alliance. As K’Lira of House Trestian questions her own future, she finds herself in unwilling conflict with Chancellor Gowron, who’s being manipulated against her. With help from alien rogues, she must find a way to save her friend without bringing the Empire they both love to an inglorious end.

"Computer, end log."

Michael Rosado
April 22, 2020

As I said in the introduction to “A True Way Resurgence,” I’ve written these stories non-canonically because I generally prefer the liberty of my own imagination, and I don’t necessarily agree with every aspect that canon dictates. Canonical sources sometimes conflict. Even Ambassador Spock said, “Canon is only important to certain people because they have to cling to their knowledge of minutiae. Open your mind! Be a Star Trek fan and open your mind and say, ‘Where does Star Trek want to take me now?’ “ – L. Nimoy (Reuters, May 2009). I heartily endorse the sentiment. Here are some of the more significant ways this story departs from Star Trek canon.

Correlating Star Trek's stardates is messy business. There’s no one canonical timeline for everything Star Trek. Many such calendars exist, and people disagree on their underlying assumptions, but I’ve decided to use TrekGuide.com’s TNG/DS9/VOY stardate calendar.

The Treaty of Algeron merely established the Romulan Neutral Zone. It didn’t forbid the development or use of stealth technology by the Federation.

While Worf had his disagreements with Chancellor Gowron during the Dominion War, he never slew him. Rather, Gowron remained Chancellor of the Klingon Empire until well after the war.

Martok remained a KDF general in good standing and the leader of his House after the Dominion War, and he eventually became a member of the Klingon High Council.

Michael Rosado
October 26, 2022

CHAPTER 1: THE WORST LAID PLANS

The I.K.S. Ak'voh flew through deep space at warp 4 on its way to Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld. The Negh'Var-class warship's armored hull shone dully with reflected sunlight as the ship passed a nearby star, and its red nacelles left glowing traces of drive plasma in their wake. The Ak'voh was nearly always in some state of repair, but it was a sturdy vessel with a competent crew.

It was also Matron K'Lira's flagship courtesy of Chancellor Gowron himself. She’d commanded it ever since he’d promoted her to brigadier general during the Dominion War. She was proud to have added much to the ship’s storied legacy and glad that Gowron had allowed her to keep it after she’d retired from the Klingon Defense Force in 2375. Now captained by her best friend and former science officer B’Etera, K’Lira’s command was merely honorary, and the crew continued to obey her orders as long as they didn’t conflict with B’Etera’s.

K’Lira was in the Ak'voh's only VIP cabin. It was spacious compared to the ship’s other berths, even B’Etera’s. It was three rooms long, but narrow, and furnished well for a vessel designed for combat rather than comfort. She sat a few seconds in front of a terminal to gather her thoughts, preparing to make a personal log entry. Such entries were not required of her since she technically wasn’t part of the crew anymore, but she was used to doing so.

“Personal log, Matron K’Lira of House Trestian reporting,” she began in accented Klingonese, her lilting alto voice echoing quietly in the big room.

“The Ak’voh continues to Qo’noS at moderate speed. It could do better, but there’s no need. At this rate, it’ll be several more days before we reach the Gamma Orionis Sector, and I, for one, am glad of the time en route.

“Kahless’s bat’leth is under heavy guard in the ship’s hold. Once considered irrecoverably lost, the Emperor’s prize weapon is a profound boon to the Klingon people. My husband’s mentor, Federation Ambassador Aegis honored me greatly when he chose me to return it to the Empire, and I won’t forget it. It was recovered in the Mariah System in the Alpha Quadrant, but Federation records show that it was last seen deep in the Gamma Quadrant. We may never know how it got sofar afield, but the Empire will soon have it again anyway, thanks to Ambassador Aegis’s…agent,” she finished with mild distaste.

“That one’s a curious cur. A native human with Ferengi-like values and instincts, it was Flinz Parper who actually found and recovered the bat’leth for the ambassador, then sold it to me at Quark’s bar. I hear his penchant for negotiation is well deserved and after meeting the “Rat” on Deep Space 9, I’m inclined to agree. He got 500 latinum bars from me and 500 from the ambassador for his services, and he was just as glad to be rid of the sword. The weapon’s priceless, of course. Mr. Parper’s services always come at a large price. My husband’s people sometimes say that loving money is evil, and I hope not to need that baktag’s services again. At least the ambassador seems to regard him.”

She sighed and continued. “Speaking of whom, Aegis said he’d arrange the sword’s reception for me. He fears that the High Council or someone else will try to use the sword’s reputation for themselves. I’m not sure I share his concern, but for my part I’ll wait for Gowron to contact me so that I might judge his attitude towards seeing me in person again. I’ve been so long away from First City that I wonder how I’ll be received by some of the councilors. Will they remember me or regard my House?”

There was no way to tell. She’d have to see how things went when she brought Gowron the sword of Kahless.

The air outside the Great Hall on Qo’noS was chilly and damp from recent rainfall, the pallid sky a gray overcast, unusual for a summer evening. The Hall within was alit with yellow firelight from brazziers in the walls that seemed to glow brighter as evening progressed, but that did little to warm the proceedings. The air itself was thick with wood smoke and the light scent of burning incense. The crowd in the main chamber held some High Council members and their entourages, a few bodyguards, and various advisors and attendants. They were scattered about in small clusters, talking amongst themselves about their plans regarding matters of state.

Chancellor Gowron sat on his throne at one end of the huge room, observing them as he listened idly to one of his courtiers brief him about the latest news. His attention wasn’t as much on the conversation as it was on the audience. His narrowed gaze flitted around the room as though looking for somebody, but his expression never changed. Whomever or whatever he was searching for wasn’t present, and his patience was wearing thin.

The courtier eventually noticed Gowron’s lack of attention. “Pardon me, Chancellor,” he said. “Am I boring you?”

Gowron quickly looked up at him in mild annoyance. “No. No, not really,” he growled. “I’m just...distracted.”

“I see. Should I come back later?” the courtier offered.

As Gowron considered an answer, he noticed another Klingon walking quickly up the steps of the dais towards him. It was one of the Yan-Isleth, a member of the Chancellor’s guard. This one also served as his personal attaché.

Whatever he wants, it must be important for him to risk interrupting me unannounced, Gowron thought.

“Yes, later,” he said gruffly, waving his hand dismissively.

The attaché stopped just below the throne as the courtier obediently left.

Gowron stared down at the attaché and waited, but the attaché stood at attention and waited for him instead.

“Well?” Gowron finally asked, widening his eyes in exasperation. “Out with it!”

“Sir, you have a private communiqué...from Starfleet Intelligence,” the attaché said. “It’s on the monitor in your office.”

That wasn’t what Gowron was expecting. Apprehension chased surprise across his expressive face. The Klingon Defense Force’s own intelligence assets normally interfaced with foreign military agencies and kept him informed of the results. He wondered why Starfleet’s intelligence division would want to speak to him directly. While he knew of many issues involving the Klingon alliance with the Federation, nothing he knew of warranted a private call. This intrigued him.

“I’ll take it,” he said, getting up to go to his office, which was in one of the Hall’s private wings.

As he walked, Gowron tried to anticipate the upcoming conversation by reviewing the situation with the Klingon-Federation alliance and the most recent happenings in the Alpha Quadrant. The alliance between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets was a holdover from the Dominion War in the mid-2370s. It had been necessary to combine their military assets with the Romulans’ to re-take Deep Space 9 from the Dominion and their allies and thereby free Bajor. The Dominion had been defeated in 2375, Deep Space 9 was in allied hands, the Alpha Quadrant was in recovery, and Bajor was now part of the Federation.

However, all was not well in the Alpha Quadrant. The Cardassian people had suffered the most losses in their alliance with the Dominion. In the wake of the war, their economy was ruined, their government was fractured, and their holdings were much diminished. Tha Maquis settlers along the border of Cardassian and Federation space were also disillusioned with their fare. Most significantly, a rogue faction of the Cardassian military had formed a coalition known as the True Way, referring to their mission to restore the Cardassian Union to their version of its former glory. In recent weeks, the True Way had attempted to become a galactic superpower by developing an isotopic weapon that could destroy an ecosystem at the genetic level. They’d successfully tested it on several uninhabited moons in Breen space. Starfleet had mounted a surveillance mission to discover the weapon’s whereabouts, and the information trail had led to an outback area deep in Cardassian space known as the Mariah System. A Federation task force had just made a preemptive strike against the True Way facility and forces there. The enemy base had been raided for any evidence about the weapon, and the entire True Way fleet in orbit had been destroyed, ending the immediate threat to the alliance’s designs in the region. While the weapon itself wasn’t there, the recovered files showed that the True Way had used that facility to develop improved delivery systems for it, including one that could be fitted to a torpedo casing.

Shortly after the task force returned to Deep Space 9, a True Way ship had entered the Bajoran wormhole under cloak to set off a series of silithium-laced explosions that had destroyed the wormhole from within. The ship escaped just before the wormhole collapsed. The U.S.S. Kaiser gave chase and had confronted it near the Betreka Nebula but had lost it when it escaped into deep space. The rumor was the True Way ship was a Klingon Negh’Var battlecruiser called the Ghogh jaghDaj, but the KDF’s records showed that she’d been lost with all hands under mysterious circumstances in the Badlands over 3 years ago. Thus far, neither Klingon nor Federation resources had been able to pinpoint her position or figure out how to reestablish the lost wormhole. Both were matters of great concern to the alliance.

Gowron entered his office and locked the door. Approaching his desk, he flung his furred overcoat over the back of the chair and sat down. A blinking light on the monitor told him the caller was still waiting, so he pushed a button to open an encrypted channel.

An old Tellarite with an office interior behind him appeared on the screen. His full head of hair shone shockingly white with a thick moustache and a very full beard. His bright blue eyes stared worriedly out from sunken sockets lined with circles dark from stress and lack of sleep. He wore an ambassadorial badge on the lapel of his white jacket.

Gowron didn’t recognize him, but he assumed the Tellarite knew him at least.

“Yes?” he asked bluntly.

“Chancellor,” the Tellarite said in a deep baritone, “thank you for taking my call. I’ll try not to take up much of your time.”

“Do that,” Gowron agreed. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“My name is Morlo Aegis,” the Tellarite continued. “As a member of Starfleet’s Diplomatic Corps, I work with other federal offices to monitor developments in the Alpha Quadrant. As I’m sure you’re aware, the True Way has recently acquired anti-genetic technology with the specific intent of developing a weapon that can destroy planetary ecosystems from orbit. I coordinated the surveillance mission that discovered the True Way base on Mariah IV where they developed its delivery system.”

“I’m aware,” Gowron confirmed.

“What you may not yet know, Chancellor, is that I also oversaw a sidebar salvage operation in the Mariah System that will have deep repercussions for you and the Empire: Kahless’s bat’leth has been found...again.”

“The Emperor’s sword...was in the Mariah System?” Gowron asked, incredulous. Then his eyes narrowed. “Why are you telling me this?”

Morlo smiled magnanimously. “Because I’ve arranged to have it returned to the Empire.”

Gowron was thunderstruck.

The greatest warrior in Klingon history was Kahless the Unforgettable. Over 1,500 years ago, he’d forged a unique broadsword, the first bat’leth, out of molten lava and his own hair. He used the mighty weapon to defeat an evil tyrant named Molor and to unify the Klingon tribes into a single nation under his rule. Thus, the Klingon Empire became one of the greatest powers in the Beta Quadrant.

Kahless used the sword in other ways, each time increasing its legend and notoriety in the eyes of the people. It was said that whoever possessed it couldn’t be defeated in battle. It had been passed down for generations in Kahless’s line as a symbol of his family’s rulership until the Hur’q stole it, removing it to the Gamma Quadrant in the 14th century. It had remained lost until Dahar Master Kor recruited a pair of Starfleet officers (Commander Worf and Lt. Commander Jadzia Dax) to help him recover it in 2373. They succeeded in finding it, but Kor and Worf had diametrically different views about how to use it. They’d fought nearly to death over custody of the sword and, in doing so, realized that it was too tempting as a trophy. They beamed the bat’leth into deep space in the Gamma Quadrant rather than let it fall into the hands of any would-be tyrant. Apparently, it had either been found by an unknown party or simply fallen through the wormhole on its own and lost again somewhere near the Mariah System.

“One of my agents recovered it from the system’s asteroid belt just before the Federation raided Mariah IV,” Morlo added. “I’ve arranged to have it transported back to Qo’noS by K’Lira, whom I believe you know.”

Gowron’s mind reeled again.

It had been a millennium since any but a few had seen the bat’leth. Now, not only was the famed sword of Kahless found, but it was being returned to those to whom it belonged by one of their own.

“I do,” Gowron confirmed. “She was my adjutant until the Dominion War started. Then she became a general and served with some distinction. I regret that she retired from military service afterwards to raise a family on Deep Space 9.”

Gowron’s relationship with K’Lira was older than he’d let on, but he didn’t see the need to tell the ambassador that. One never volunteered personal information to anybody affiliated with an intelligence organization. Still, the mention of her name brought back many memories.

By 2370, three years into his chancellorship, Gowron had already heard of K’Lira, then a colonel in the Klingon Defense Force. She was the founder of her own small House, one named Trestian, and a fine warrior by reputation. However, it then came to light that she’d hidden her true nature for decades: K’Lira was an augment. By ancient law and tradition, Klingon augments were considered anathema by regular Klingons. Augments had no rights in Klingon society, which is why K’Lira had used prosthetics to disguise her appearance for fear of rejection. A nemesis from her youth, the same who’d tricked her into becoming an augment as a teenager, threatened to reveal her secret to the High Council. K’Lira had pleaded with Gowron for leniency as she was already a great warrior by then and she’d been deceived as a girl by the enemy’s disinformation. After much debate, the Council, under Gowron’s direction, decided to clarify the law against augments rather than punish her for being one. Gowron forgave her and granted her amnesty permitted she remained loyal to the Empire’s leadership, which she already was.

Gowron found much in K’Lira that pleased him, and he decided to keep her services as a warrior close at hand. Thus began her career in the Yan-Isleth. He assigned her to his personal guard and saw to it that she received instruction from the best tutors the Empire had. She excelled in most areas and eventually trained others in philosophy and personal combat arts. She became a trusted member of his inner cadre of advisors, and he took her with him throughout the galaxy as he often visited other worlds in and out of the Empire to deal with matters of state.

The Klingon-Cardassian War began in 2372. Gowron gave her command of a raptor. She and her crew comported themselves well in several engagements during that short-lived campaign.

In 2373, the Dominion became a rising power in the Alpha Quadrant. The Cardassian Union was then too weak, and the Federation’s presence on Deep Space 9 was minimal. Gowron correctly anticipated that there’d soon be another outbreak of hostilities involving Bajor and its nearby wormhole, so he sent K’Lira to Deep Space 9 to conduct a series of war simulations with the Federation’s help. That’s when she’d met a newly minted human intelligence officer named Davir Benmata. In working on the simulations together, their relationship soon turned social, then romantic. Gowron found himself on the outskirts of K’Lira’s attention, which he privately resented as he’d distantly entertained a notion to eventually court her. He hoped her friendship with Davir would come to naught, but when she married Davir a short time later, he knew in his heart he’d failed himself by letting her get away. However, there was no time to mourn his feelings because the Dominion War broke out immediately after their wedding, and everything in the Alpha Quadrant changed forever.

The war was bloody, long winded, and not at all glorious early on. Deep Space 9 was occupied in the opening months and remained in enemy hands for most of the war. The Dominion regularly ran roughshod over the Bajoran, Federation, and Klingon forces in the Alpha Quadrant. It made inroads with unaffiliated factions like the Romulans, Ferengi, and Deferi, which made it harder for the Empire and its allies to move fleets through certain territories to support the war effort.

In 2374, due to an attrition of qualified field commanders, Gowron promoted K’Lira to brigadier general and gave her command of her first capital ship, a Negh’Var-class battlecruiser named Ak’Voh. K’Lira fought magnificently in space and on the ground, taking her ship and crew into many engagements from the attack on the Dominion shipyards at Forcas III to the eventual recapture of Deep Space 9. The tide of war finally started to turn after the Romulans began supporting the alliance, and by the time it ended in 2375, no surviving Klingon commanders had more victories than she did except General Martok. Her renown had been noteworthy before the war, but she was legendary afterwards. Drinking songs of her achievements abounded, and Trestian was the House many new warriors asked to join.

Gowron was grateful and very proud to call K’Lira “friend” as she was one of his best warriors and most faithful supporters, but the war changed them both, as it did everybody it touched. Over his career, he’d been challenged politically by some of his peers, those who regarded him as an outsider for leadership of the Empire. They’d questioned the necessity of the Klingon-Cardassian War, and openly blamed him for starting it. They’d frequently complained about his strategies during the Dominion War, viewing them as not aggressive enough. He’d tolerated most of their doubts and dissent equably, surrounding himself with capable leaders like K’Lira and Martok. While his decisions weren’t always seen as wise or particularly successful, they were universally obeyed, and he was considered a fair-minded chancellor but not a very popular one.

As the notoriety of Martok, K’Lira, and other warriors increased during the Klingon-Cardassian and Dominion Wars, Gowron became distrustful of their intentions and influence, especially Martok’s, whose reputation exceeded even K’Lira’s. Gowron began to view them both as political rivals, potential candidates for the chancellorship, and he feared their popularity as such would eclipse his. Chancellorships often changed by right of combat, not election, and Gowron, while a good fighter, knew he had no fair chance in personal combat against the likes of Martok, never mind K’Lira; both of his top generals were beyond his skill at arms. He grew cold and calculating and began sending Martok into the thickest fights, secretly hoping his greatest rival wouldn’t return, but that backfired. Martok found ways to survive, if not win, though he suffered more personnel losses than most. This increased his popularity. Gowron was pleased with Martok’s close calls, but he feared Martok’s rivalry all the more. In contrast, Gowron refused to treat K’Lira in the same offhand manner despite her comparable prowess. He kept her close to him instead, imagining that her safety was worth more than Martok’s, a distant way of expressing his forlorn affection.

As months then years passed and her House became famous, Gowron noticed K’Lira grew proud, then arrogant. She, like all Klingons, suffered from the ambitious flaw of honor at almost any cost, but she was careless with her own life. As a Yan-Isleth, the Chancellor’s safety was her direct responsibility, and she’d performed that duty many times in combat by Gowron’s side. She’d singlehandedly defended his life in desperate circumstances, and twice she’d been killed by Jem’Hadar troops, but each time she’d resuscitated and healed herself with scars as proof. Her fellow Yan-Isleth nicknamed her JubwI' because she was hard to kill permanently.

Gowron felt ambiguous about K’Lira. On the one hand, she’d been his friend for over a decade. She was a great commander, a wise confidant, and an honorable soul. She was Klingon at heart despite being an augment, and her loyalty was unquestioned. It was hard for him to not favor her in the sight of others.

On the other, she’d fallen in love with and married Commander Davir Benmata, and therein lay the rub: Gowron had wanted her for himself. He’d been incensed by her decision. How could a Klingon warrior, especially one as prominent and upcoming as K’Lira, marry outside her station and her species!? Granted, it had (rarely) been done before, but never by one so...well,...such as she. K’Lira was no ordinary warrior. She was the founder of a strong House and one of his closest friends. He felt the loss of her more than a little. Under different circumstances, Gowron had hoped she might marry him instead, so he was jealous of Davir even though he didn’t know him at all. Although she’d invited him, Gowron couldn’t bring himself to attend her wedding on Qu’Vat, citing the excuse to prepare Deep Space 9 against the Dominion.

Five years ago, shortly after the Dominion War had been won, K’Lira had decided to finally retire from the Klingon Defense Force and the Yan-Isleth to start a family on Deep Space 9 with her human husband. She still visited her Klingon family on Qu’Vat with her two half-breed children. Although Gowron had given her standing permission to come to the Great Hall on Qo'noS, she’d neglected to do so since moving to Deep Space 9. He’d long since ceased pining for her company, and he thought she could sense that, too, as she’d never been more than cordial to him after her retirement.

Done reminiscing, Gowron returned his attention to the ambassador. “K’Lira’s coming here with the sword?”

Morlo nodded as his smile faltered. “That’s indirectly what I need to talk to you about, Chancellor.”

“How do you mean?” Gowron asked expectantly. He narrowed his eyes as he folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his seat.

“Are you alone?” Morlo asked cautiously. “Is your side encrypted?”

Gowron nodded once in confirmation.

Morlo leaned forward, lacing his fingers in front of his bushy chin.

“Chancellor,” he began quietly, “everyone understands the value of Kahless’s sword to the Klingon people. There isn’t a warrior alive who hasn’t heard how Kahless forged it himself, then used it to defeat Molor and establish the Empire.”

“We teach such stories to our children, yes,” Gowron agreed.

“I imagine it’s also told how the Hur’q stole it from the archive on Boreth centuries ago, and that Kor and Worf found it in the Gamma Quadrant a few years back?” Morlo asked.

Gowron shrugged noncommittally. “To me, that doesn’t have as much significance in the telling, but it happened. Get to the point.”

Morlo nodded again. “Soon, Chancellor. Do you remember specifically what happened after they found it, why they didn’t bring it back?”

Gowron paused as he began to see where this was going. “I believe Worf said he and Kor left it in the Gamma Quadrant because they couldn’t agree how best to use it,” he answered carefully. “There are still those in the Empire who regret that decision,” he added.

“You touch on it there, Chancellor,” Morlo said gravely. “They fought each other fiercely for custody of it, in Kor’s words, ‘like two starving targs over a soup bone.’ Afterwards, they realized the sword was too much of a temptation for one Klingon to have. Such a man would risk usurping the Council to rule the Empire himself as Kahless did, and chaos would be the likely result.”

Gowron mused briefly. It was clear the ambassador was afraid the same fate would befall whomever had the sword, and Gowron could easily see why. He thought he’d seen as much in Martok, K’Lira, and others: the prideful ambition to accrue personal honor at any price, even Gowron’s life. It didn’t matter that his generals were loyal. His greatest fear was that one of them would rise to the chancellorship by killing him to take his place. It was often the way of transferring power in Klingon politics, and possessing Kahless’s sword was a long stride in that direction.

Now, if I had it..., he thought, then he stopped himself aggressively. NO!

The idea of setting himself up as emperor using the bat’leth had slid casually into his mind like an easy solution to a simple problem. While he appreciated its perfect symmetry, its intent left him aghast at his own hubris. He shook his head to clear it and returned to the conversation.

“I see your point, Ambassador,” he growled, “yet you return one of our most precious treasures to us by the hands of one of our own. Aren’t you tempting fate by doing so?”

Morlo had anticipated that presumptive logic. “I’ll make a deal with you, Chancellor,” he replied.

“What do you propose?” Gowron asked cautiously.

“I’m intentionally giving the sword to the Klingon people generally,” Morlo clarified, “as an artifact of their cultural history, not as a trophy. I seek no reward, but I request two concessions of you.

“First, I stipulate that no one must ever claim the sword by right of anything including being Kahless’s descendant or heir. It may be his sword, but the empire he founded with it benefits all its people. In a way, they all own it, so no one person can keep it.”

Gowron saw the wisdom of that. “And the second?” he asked.

“Is like it,” Morlo finished. “Keep it available to the public somehow, but not in a private collection, especially your own.”

Gowron considered that prudent, too, and nodded. “You’re a shrewd man, Mr. Aegis. You have my respect.”

“I understand the Klingon heart,” Morlo acknowledged.

“Are we agreed, Sir?”

“I will do as you ask in this matter,” Gowron said.

“Now, Ambassador, if there’s nothing else, I have other matters to attend to, and I’m sure you must as well. Thank you for your gift...and your advice.”

“Thank you for your time, Chancellor,” Morlo acknowledged, then he closed the channel.

Gowron stared at the dim screen on his desk, still amazed at what had just transpired.

The Emperor’s sword is coming home at last, he thought anxiously. I should tell the Council, but first I must call K’Lira myself.

The I.K.S. Ak’Voh flew smoothly through empty space, heading for the Omega Leonis Sector. The Negh’Var -class warship was still several days out at its current speed, but there was no need to hurry. K’Lira had made the long trip from Deep Space 9 in the Bajor Sector many times with her husband and their children to visit her Klingon family in Qu’Vat City in the Gorath Sector. They normally used a shuttlecraft as it was inappropriate to “borrow” a capital ship for personal vacations. This time, however, she was headed to Qo’noS alone on state business with Kahless’s bat’leth under guard in the ship’s hold. It was the first time she’d been back to Qo’noS since she’d retired from the Klingon Defense Force five years ago. When she’d been active in the military, she’d often been to the Great Hall in First City. She wasn’t averse to returning there, but she’d had no reason to until now.

The sword of Kahless, the most iconic artifact from the first emperor’s era, was temporarily in her custody. She’d acquired it for a finder’s fee on Deep Space 9 from a human merchant named Flinz Parper who’d recovered it in the Mariah System at Ambassador Aegis’s behest. She’d admired it briefly when she bought it from Flinz. It was a magnificent weapon in appearance and mystique. Almost two meters long, the huge crescent blade had five long, sharp tines, a two-handed grip on the spine, and a pair of one-handed grips outside of that. It was made of volcanic minerals and said to be laced with fossilized strands of Kahless’s hair. Covered tip to tip with arcane Klingon runes and scratched by use in its early years, the polished metal shone in the hold’s red light as though covered in blood. The first bat’leth ever made was over 15 centuries old and still regarded as the mightiest example of its kind. With it, Kahless defeated Molor and the Fek’lhri , skinned the terrible serpent of Xol, harvested his father’s fields, and carved a statue of his wife. It was an honor just to have it aboard.

K’Lira was glad Morlo had selected her to transport it back to Qo’noS. The trip had been uneventful so far, and she expected no difficulties for the remainder of it. The crew was aware of the ship’s cargo and destination. She knew well the temptation the sword presented for she’d almost claimed it herself on Deep Space 9. Lt. Shunora, one of her tactical officers, had reminded K’Lira of her duty, restoring her sanity. K’Lira didn’t want to risk the same sort of weakness in the crew. She was sure she’d be blamed if anything happened to the sword, so she’d carefully chosen her most trusted security personnel to guard it.

It's shaping up to be a perfect run, she mused, relaxing in her chair upon the command dais of the bridge.

The communications console beeped quietly.

“Incoming call for you, Ma’am,” the comm officer said. “It’s flagged private.”

K’Lira raised an elegant eyebrow in mild surprise. Ambassador Aegis had explained to her that he would be calling Chancellor Gowron about reintroducing the sword to Klingon society since he’d had a hand in obtaining it. She was just its courier, and she fully expected Gowron to want to discuss this development.

That’s very Gowron.

“I’ll take it in my office, thank you,” she answered.

“B’Etara, you have the ship,” she said to her first officer.

“Yes, Ma’am,” B’Etara said and moved to the dais as K’Lira got up to leave the bridge.

The door at the back of the bridge slid open as she approached, and K’Lira stalked down the long hallway beyond to her quarters, which doubled as her office. The Ak’Voh was a Klingon warbird, not a Federation exploration cruiser; its interior was austere, efficient, functional, and dim red. She appreciated that. For quick access to the bridge, the captain’s quarters were just down the hall on her left.

She entered her room and went to her desk. The console upon it had a blinking light indicating an unanswered call. She disliked sitting on her waist-length hair, so she quickly threw it to one side and sat down. She touched the blinking button to receive the call, and the screen alit with the High Council’s insignia, confirming her expectation.

Gowron appeared next, robed, resplendent, and dominating, every bit a warrior.

“General,” he began tersely, “I understand you have something of great value for me.”

For him? K’Lira thought. She folded her muscular arms across her broad chest, and her purple eyes took on a stormy shade as she glowered.

“I have something valuable to all the Klingon people, Chancellor,” she admonished in low tones.

Gowron’s face faltered. “Yes, General, that’s what I meant,” he clarified.

K’Lira sighed, relaxing. “Chancellor, you know I’m retired – use my name.”

He smiled kindly. “I know, and you may use mine.”

“Thank you, Gowron,” K’Lira acceded, nodding.

“It’s been a long time,” he said.

“Five years is not so long,” she replied.

“You never visit,” he observed.

“My life is with my husband and children, whom I sometimes take to visit my family on Qu’Vat,” she explained.

“I’m aware,” Gowron said. “I meant you never visit me.”

K’Lira deftly parried his implied question. “Until now.”

Gowron took her meaning, and his face tightened excitedly. “Is it safe? May I see it?” he asked eagerly.

K’Lira shrugged. “Yes, of course.”

She put a few commands into the console, piping the hold’s video feed into the call so Gowron could see the bat’leth, too.

“My science officer confirmed its authenticity using Ambassador Worf’s scans of it when he found it in the Gamma Quadrant. 100% match – it’s real,” she said proudly.

She watched Gowron’s expressive face carefully, noting his characteristic wide-eyed stare and salacious grin. His pupils gleamed with the sword’s reflection, and she saw the deep desire in them: he craved it. She understood that as well as Morlo did. There wasn’t a Klingon alive who wouldn’t want the renown a weapon like that could bring just by possessing it, never mind using it.

Then she felt a qualm in her own heart, just as she had when she’d acquired the sword from Flinz. Gowron was the Klingon Chancellor, a man elected to a position of high command and accustomed to power. What if he became emperor? What would the Empire become if he did? She’d been consumed by that same vice, and Shunora’s counsel had brought her back from the ruinous precipice of the answer. Gowron was her erstwhile friend. Whose counsel would he take if it came to that? Hers? Martok’s? Would he listen to anybody at all? She shuddered inwardly.

Leaning forward, K’Lira stopped the video feed from the hold.

Anger instantly flashed across Gowron’s face at the interruption. “Why did...” he began.

“You’ve spoken with Ambassador Aegis,” she interrupted him. “Your reaction is proof why we should be cautious how to introduce the sword of Kahless back into mainstream Klingon society, Chancellor.”

The anger disappeared, replaced by understanding and a touch of humility as he checked himself.

The lure for power is still in his heart, she thought, but he’s strong enough again to resist it. We’ll see for how long.

“Do you have a recommendation?” she asked, referring to her earlier caution about presenting the weapon to the Klingon people. “How do we return the sword without tempting every would-be tyrant in the Empire to take it?”

Remembering Morlo’s request, K’Lira already had a good idea, but she wanted to give Gowron a chance to offer his own.

“It belongs in a museum,” he said.

Her heart gladdened by degrees – that’s what she’d hoped he would say.

“Under guard,” she advised.

“Of course,” he agreed. “I’ll commission a special contingent of the Yan-Isleth exclusively for that assignment. It’ll be their greatest honor to serve thus.”

“No doubt,” she said wistfully.

The Yan-isleth were a closely knit cadre of several hundred KDF warriors hand-picked by the Chancellor. She fondly remembered being one of its senior agents in the early 2370s, training and being trained, guarding council members and their attachés, attending celebratory functions in the Great Hall on firelit nights, and campaigning gloriously across the Alpha Quadrant. While it had boosted her reputation as the founder of her small but growing House, being in the unit carried no prestige by itself. Rather, the Yan-Isleth lived humbly, performing any assignment they were given by the High Council. Many emeriti eventually went on to become Dahar Masters, the highest social rank a Klingon could attain.

“What’s your ETA?” Gowron asked.

K’Lira looked at the ship’s chronometer. “I’ll reach the Qo’noS System in 50 hours,” she answered.

“Can you be here by tomorrow?” he asked.

K’Lira smirked. “Don’t want to give the Council much time to consider this?”

Gowron raised his eyebrows in wry surprise. “You know me too well,” he said. “No, I don’t.”

K’Lira nodded. “I’ll increase speed.

“Was there anything else, Chancellor?”

“Negative,” Gowron replied. “Report to the Great Hall upon arrival.”

“As you wish, Sir,” she said. “Ak’Voh out.”

She closed the channel and immediately opened another one to the bridge.

“Helm, this is Ak’Voh One. Adjust speed to arrive at Qo’noS in 26 hours,” she ordered.

“Acknowledged,” the pilot said.

She closed that channel and waited. After a few seconds, she heard the slight hum of the warp engines change as the pilot put on incremental speed. Correspondingly, the ship’s flight time shrank to 25.99 hours.

CHAPTER 2: DECISIONS UNDER THE INFLUENCE

Talmok finished listening to the conversation between Gowron and K’Lira. The sword would arrive on Qo’noS soon, a boon to the Klingon people and the House of Kahless, but that House had long since been diluted amongst the others in the Empire. Kahless had myriad descendants by now. Talmok doubted anyone could claim the famous weapon as a family heirloom anyway, and he didn’t care. His mind was on larger matters affected by that.

As Gowron’s chamberlain, Talmok was familiar with the High Council and its inner workings. He knew its members well, and often served as a buffer between Gowron and the rest of the Klingon court. It was a busy job, handling the Chancellor’s personal needs, running his errands, coordinating his plans, deflecting unnecessary distractions, etc. He was well placed and highly trusted, and he had Gowron’s ear on many matters.

He was also an Undine.

The Undine were aliens from a parallel universe that was fluidic in nature, where they were the dominant species. Powerfully telepathic, they had the ability to mimic the physical appearance of any lifeform. They made excellent spies because they could hide in plain sight while reading and projecting thoughts and emotions and observing happenings without anyone realizing what they really were.

The Undine were malevolently bent on dominance. They’d already conquered their own universe. Having discovered how to make dimensional portals from their fluidic realm, they’d secretly entered the prime universe sometime after the Klingon-Cardassian War ended in 2373 AD. While infiltration and surveillance were their best tactics, given their abilities, they’d been briefly discovered by the Borg while exploring the Delta Quadrant. That conflict hadn’t ended as well as they’d hoped. They’d regrouped, then explored the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, insinuating themselves into the strongest native factions, gathering intelligence, and working to destabilize power structures on a galactic scale.

The Undine were preparing a full-scale invasion of the galaxy. To preclude that, they wanted to weaken the major powers in the area: the Dominion and the Federation-Klingon-Romulan alliance. The Dominion had recently been cut off from military reinforcements and Ketracel White supplies because the best passage from their native Gamma Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant was the now-defunct Bajoran wormhole. His Eminence, an enthralled ally, had seen to that by destroying the wormhole’s stability. When it collapsed, it took the Prophets, their Emissary, and the Celestial Temple with it. That released the Pah Wraiths from their underground prisons on Bajor, which taxed the relationship between the Bajorans and their allies. If the alliance fell, its factions would be uninclined to aid each other, making it easier to divide and conquer them in turn.

Talmok had been Gowron’s chamberlain for most of a decade. In the interim, he’d accrued much value to his fellow Undine because he had access to highly placed officials in the Klingon imperial court and was still undiscovered. He often telepathically read the minds of the courtiers with whom he interacted, learning their suppressed fears and unspoken intentions, sometimes putting his own thoughts into their minds when he believed it advantageous to do so, and preying on their weaknesses, all without revealing his insight or influence.

They’re afraid whoever gets the sword will try to rule the Empire as Kahless did, he thought carefully. Many on the High Council don’t like Gowron. Someone will almost certainly use this opportunity to contest his leadership, perhaps challenge him for control of the Empire. No matter who wins, that by itself would divide the Council, the KDF, and the people likewise. The alliance would soon be bereft of its strongest soldiery.

He began planning to subvert the High Council’s reaction to the sword’s return.

The main council chamber was brightly lit with yellow torches and white lamps. The High Council was in full session as all the representatives of the great Houses and their attendants were present at Gowron’s behest. Gowron approached his throne at the front of the room, turned, and sat down. The other representatives then sat deferentially in chairs arranged in a circle below his dais.

“Thank you for coming,” Gowron began. “I apologize for the short notice, but I’ve quite recently received news of great import that must be shared with all of you.” He paused dramatically. “Kahless’s sword is returned to us today.”

He’d half expected the room to erupt clamorously. Instead, a pin drop could’ve been heard in the silence that followed his announcement. It was as if everyone had stopped breathing. Gowron felt perplexed at that.

Toral of House Duras, who’d unsuccessfully tried to retrieve the sword for himself in 2372, spoke first. “Where is it,” he asked, “and who found it?”

Gowron briefly explained what Ambassador Aegis had told him. “K’Lira of House Trestian is bringing it here as we speak,” he finished.

There was a murmur of assent at that. K’Lira, It seemed, was still well regarded by the council members who remembered her.

Toral wasn’t satisfied. “Starfleet told you this?” he asked incredulously. “Has this been verified?”

“K’Lira’s science team checked the bat’leth’s authenticity when she received it,” Gowron said testily. “She’ll be here any minute, and you may verify it yourself when it arrives.”

Impatient, he addressed the whole council. “Regardless of how it happened, the emperor’s sword is back. I called this meeting to tell you what I’ve decided about that.”

General Martok cleared his throat. “Is it strictly your place to decide that for us, Chancellor?” he asked pointedly. “That weapon is an heirloom of the family of Kahless the Unforgettable, whose bloodline is in the veins of everyone here. We should all have a say in this.”

There was another round of murmured approval at that.

Gowron’s eyes widened angrily. I knew it – Martok’s challenging my authority! Does he think he knows best how to handle this? Does he think I don’t? I’M Chancellor.

He took a breath to calm himself. “I’ve already decided to return the sword of Kahless to the monastery at Boreth where it once was. The monks there can keep it safe and available to the public.” He raised a hand to preclude any verbal backlash. “I know, the Hur’q stole it from Boreth once; what’s to stop them or someone else from doing so again? We will not allow this: I’ve assigned a contingent of the Yan-Isleth to guard it.”

Just then, the communicator in his armchair whistled, and Gowron pushed a button to answer it. “Yes?” he asked.

“Chancellor, the Ak’Voh has entered orbit, and K’Lira indicates she’s ready to beam down,” someone said.

Gowron grinned. At last!

“Tell her to beam directly to this chamber,” he said, closing the channel. Then he stood and waited.

Martok, Toral, and the rest of the council stood as well.

The red shimmer of a Klingon transporter effect appeared in the center of the room, and two figures materialized from it: K’Lira and her science officer B’Etera.

K’Lira stood proudly before the High Council, her imposing 1.9-meter frame taller than most of them. She was dressed in her finest dueling garb, tailored to show off her impressive physique. The leadership insignia of her House featured prominently on the brooch she wore at her graceful neck. Jet black hair, tinged with gray roots, sprang thickly from her forehead, tumbling in long braids to just below her waist. Her purple eyes glanced quickly around the room, contacting each council member, finally resting on Gowron. She smiled winningly and stepped forward, cat-like, B’Etera in tow.

The science officer carried a long suitcase in her hand – the bat’leth was inside.

Gowron wistfully watched K’Lira approach the dais and came down to meet her, stopping on the first step to keep his head at the same height as hers.

“Welcome home, Matron K’Lira,” he said loudly.

“Thank you, Chancellor,” she responded gratefully. “It’s been a long time.”

“Too long,” he agreed.

He glanced at the suitcase B’Etera had. “That’s it?”

“Indeed,” K’Lira affirmed.

She turned to B’Etera. “Do the honors, Commander,” she invited.

“The honor is mine,” B’Etera said. Stepping forward, she opened the suitcase and brought forth the first bat’leth ever made.

The council members inhaled sharply at its magnificence.

Almost two meters long, the crescent-shaped broadsword shone brilliantly in the lurid firelight. The edges of its five razor-sharp tines gleamed, and the runes carved into its darkly polished blade almost glowed with significance. It looked venerable, powerful, dangerous, and sleek because it was. It simply had no equal in its type anywhere.

B’Etera knelt before the Chancellor and silently held it up to him.

K’Lira knelt, too, bowing her head, and she heard rustling as others did likewise around the room. The poignant moment hung long in the air.

Gowron was touched and torn. The part of him that knew his duty warred against the part of him that coveted the weapon’s prowess. He knew he’d made enemies over the years. One couldn’t be Chancellor long without incurring the disfavor of those who felt they’d be a better one. His fear of being deposed in combat drove that forward. The peerless bat’leth tempted him strongly. With such as that in his hand, he could defeat any challenger, even Martok, and the rest of the Council would fall in line...or else.

K’Lira looked up at Gowron, noticing that his face was tense with desire, and an insane gleam was back in his widened eyes.

Gowron caught her concerned gaze and paused. His face slackened as he remembered their earlier conversation. Her opinion of him mattered because he valued her friendship and loyalty. He’d earned both when he’d forgiven her in 2370 for hiding her augment nature. She’d proven her fervor as a Klingon was unmatched before and since that time, and her loyalty was now above reproach. She was Dahar Master material, in his opinion. If he failed her now, if he claimed the sword for himself then and there, he dreaded to think how she would react. Would she still regard him as a friend? Could he continue to trust her?

She’d abandon you. Martok would destroy you, and Toval and the others would follow him instead, he thought.

There was no doubt in Gowron’s mind, and that certainty made him shiver. His stubbornness somehow rose to the fore. He assumed a stony demeanor and took up the famous blade, holding it aloft by one of its grips for all to see.

“The bat’leth of Kahless is home at last,” he intoned. “May we never lose it again.”

He turned aside. “Do you still doubt it, Toral?” he asked. “Now’s your chance to examine it.”

“I still have Worf’s scans in my tricorder,” B’Etera added quietly, “if you wish to borrow them.”

Toral looked uncomfortable. “I..., no, thank you,” he whispered.

Smug, Gowron turned to the chamberlain. “Secure this for transport,” he said, giving it to him.

Talmok took it and moved back.

Gowron glared around the room. “Bo’dIj che’,” he growled with finality, ending the meeting. Then he stalked to one of the side doors and disappeared towards his quarters.

The hall immediately became abuzz with conversation about the sword’s advent, Gowron’s unilateral decision, and his frame of mind.

Toral of Duras, predictably, was petulant about being shamed into accepting the sword’s veracity on Gowron’s word. He had no faith whatsoever in Starfleet’s purportedly good intentions, and Morlo’s stipulations about the sword’s use felt like Federation interference in Klingon cultural affairs to him.

While some of the other leaders thought as Toral did, more expressed troubled opinions about Gowron’s decision to send the sword back to Boreth without consulting the High Council. As Martok had seemed concerned about that in the meeting, they pressed him for support, but he wisely kept his peace and said nothing.

Instead, he gestured to K’Lira that he wished to speak to her. They entered an empty room to one side of the hall, and Martok closed the door. They were alone.

“There are two matters I would discuss with you, Matron K’Lira,” he began gravely.

She waited, a dim foreboding in her heart. Martok didn’t often request privacy or mince words. If he needed to talk in secret, she was sure the unusual precaution was warranted.

“I would first ask your opinion of Gowron’s recent behavior,” Martok said.

“You mean regarding the sword?” she asked.

“Partially,” Martok agreed. “While he’s never been confident of his supporters, Gowron seems worried lately that he’s losing control of the Council. His ire seems especially against me and even you, though he hides it well. In your opinion, is his fear justified?”

K’Lira thought carefully. She and Martok were similar in many ways. Both had known Gowron for years, but Martok had known him longer. Martok was a powerful general in the Klingon Defense Force and had been an influential member of the High Council since 2377. She’d served with him in the KDF during the Klingon-Cardassian and the Dominion Wars and had been in Gowron’s inner circle of advisors until she’d retired in 2376. Martok was a contemporary warrior with an even more blooded reputation than K’Lira’s. Like her, he led his own House, but his was large enough to warrant a seat on the Council whereas hers was quite small by comparison. They were highly regarded by the Council, but he was of greater renown, given his longer service record and larger holdings. She’d heard that there were sentiments on the Council that Martok should be chancellor instead, but she’d never been one to credit rumors. Gowron, though, was.

“With the sword in play, it may be,” she answered slowly.

“As for his outbursts,” she continued, “He reacts easily to any provocation of his authority or judgment, as any leader would.”

“You seem to tolerate it well,” Martok observed bluntly.

“I’ve been away from court for several years, so I haven’t needed to practice that,” she said. “When I was in the Yan-Isleth, and Gowron would make a request I didn’t like, I would usually get one of the others to handle it for me, then report that I had done it. Not honest, I admit.” She shrugged.

“But prudent,” Martok said approvingly.

“During the Dominion War,” he continued, “I was increasingly tasked with unreasonable odds against the Cardassians or the Dominion. I swear on my life, I don’t know how I survived some of those battles. When I realized that Gowron kept doing that because he feared me as a political opponent, I was hurt that our past camaraderie had come to mean so little to him. I feel the same way towards him now. He’s unsure of his generals’ loyalty. You haven’t seen this?”

“As I said,” K’Lira answered, “I’ve not had a reason to spend time around Gowron. I retired and moved to Deep Space Nine five years ago, and haven’t been back to the Great Hall…until today.”

“And now that you have?” Martok asked.

“He’s definitely changed,” she replied. “He’s less confident of his support, as you say, and thus more demanding of others. His fear erodes his confidence, and his impatience with procedure comes easily. He told me he didn’t want to debate with the Council about the sword. That’s not the man I used to know.

”Now, with the sword of Kahless among us, his fear grows as he senses his support waning. He’s going to become more paranoid and erratic.”

“Yes,” Martok agreed.

“How do we help him?” he asked.

“He needs to regain confidence in his supporters,” K’Lira advised, “you, in particular.”

Martok sucked in his cheeks and sighed. “That may prove difficult. Gowron, in effect, tried to have me killed by the enemy many times during the Dominion War. I won’t forget it or put anything like that past him again. The truth is I no longer trust him as a field commander. Do you?”

“I may no longer be in the KDF or the Yan-Isleth,” she said, “but my continued loyalty to the Empire assures my citizenship, so I have no choice. Gowron saw to that when he forgave me a decade ago.” She paused, remembering.

K’Lira had been born with a deadly genetic defect that slowly weakened her body. Her childhood was riddled with sickness and injury. Finally, she’d turned to a mysterious doctor who’d promised to cure her. Desperate beyond caution, she’d unthinkingly agreed to his offer without telling her parents. The procedure worked, but it permanently altered her genome, turning her into an augment, a version of Klingon that, by ancient law, was shunned by Klingon society and had no rights. She’d spent the following two decades trying to make up for that horrible mistake. Fearing rejection, she’d hidden her augment features behind prosthetic disguises and often lied by omission about her background so she could move freely about the Empire. In 2370, she’d been forced to reveal the truth to the High Council to save herself and her House from the one who’d turned her into an augment in the first place. Gowron showed her leniency by forgiving her for lying about being an augment on the condition that she remain unwaveringly loyal to the Empire. Afterwards, she’d fought a ferocious duel against the evil doctor in the Great Hall itself and killed him.

Martok nodded. “I was there – you were...magnificent.”

She smiled. “I still am,” she said softly.

He smirked. “And as brash as ever, I see.”

She chuckled demurely, then returned to the matter at hand.

“Martok, you must find it in yourself to forgive Gowron,” she said. “If you don’t, he’ll use that as an excuse to never trust you again. Your mutual mistrust will irreparably divide you both and the Council with you.” He heard the prophetic truth in her words, but resentment still festered in his heart.

Why should I be the first to offer the olive branch? he thought.

“Gowron will always see me as a threat,” he said doubtfully. “Why would he believe me if I try?”

K’Lira tilted her head to one side. “You’re his oldest ally. Though he fears you as a rival now, he still respects you as our greatest general, and you were best friends once. Rediscover that with him.”

Martok nodded, musing. “I’m glad to receive your wisdom, Matron.”

“And I’m glad you have ears willing to do so, General,” she said, returning the compliment.

“What was the other reason?” she asked.

“Hmm?” Martok said, momentarily confused by the subject change.

“You said you had two things to discuss with me,” she clarified.

“Yes, that,” he said, remembering.

He pulled a PADD from his belt and paged through several things, looking for a specific report. “You’ll recall that the Federation attacked a True Way research facility in the Mariah System last week,” he began.

“Yes,” K’Lira said. “My husband was injured in that raid.”

Commodore Davir Benmata had been reconnoitering the Mariah System before the raid. His crew aboard the U.S.S. Phantom, a prototype intelligence escort, had discovered that the True Way was using a research facility at Mariah IV to implement an orbital delivery systemn for an illegal mega-weapon that destroyed genetic material. The Jem’Hadar discovered their presence, and Davir lost the Phantom just as the Federation fleet arrived in the system. He and some other Phantom officers had been captured by the True Way, and he’d been tortured for information before Federation ground forces rescued them. He’d been brought back to Deep Space 9 afterwards for treatment of his injuries.

“Is he well?” Martok inquired.

“He’s recovering,” she said. “Thank you for asking. Does this concern him?”

“No,” Martok answered, “I was just being polite.”

“After the Federation fleet returned to DS9, a rogue Klingon ship apparently working with the True Way sabotaged the Bajoran wormhole, collapsing it unrecoverably,” he said. “It escaped the Bajor System, fleeing towards the Betreka Nebula. A Federation vessel gave chase but was unable to capture it, and the ship flew into deep space. We’re still trying to find it.”

K’Lira waited, saying nothing.

Martok found what he was searching for and handed the PADD to her. “Have a look at that.”

The tablet had a long-range sensor record from the U.S.S. Kaiser, the Federation ship that had chased the rogue ship into the Betreka Nebula. The Klingon ship itself was cloaked, so the Kaiser hadn’t been able to detect it directly, but the rogue left a temporary tachyon trail in its wake, so the Kaiser had followed that. As the ships passed the Trivas System, the rogue had sent a high bandwidth data burst towards Trivas III’s moon. The Kaiser’s sensors additionally had recorded some strangely phase-shifted transmissions from there. The Federation had shared its data with the KDF’s intelligence division, and the information had since been decoded: the signal ciphers were True Way in nature.

K’Lira didn’t immediately put things together, and she gave Martok a quizzical look.

“We’ve yet to find that rogue,” he said, “but it inadvertently gave away the position of a True Way base in the Trivas System – I’m sure of it.”

“Trivas is very near Bajor,” K’Lira said worriedly. “If the True Way strikes from there and uses that genocidal weapon of theirs, losing Bajor would be catastrophic to the quadrant.”

“I’m fairly certain it won’t come to that,” Martok said, “but you’re not wrong about the result.

”I’m planning an assault on the True Way forces in the Trivas System, and I intend to wipe them off the face of the Alpha Quadrant.”

K’Lira was uncertain of his assessment. “That’s a big gamble, General. What if you fail?”

“I won’t,” he said confidently.

“We’ve already received intelligence from Deep Space 9 confirming the enemy’s assets. Having been alerted to the signals coming from Trivas, Starfleet intelligence continues to pick up transmissions about True Way ship deployments, fuel reserves, and other items, indicating it’s a major staging area with at least one ground-based facility on the moon itself, maybe more.

“The alliance needs to eliminate the threat of that super-weapon once and for all. It wasn’t at the Mariah System as Vice Admiral Jantson had hoped when her fleet attacked it. Now that we know where they’ve been staging themselves, though, we can cripple them by destroying the weapon if it’s there. We simply cannot allow a rogue faction like the True Way to retain superpower status for the foreseeable future. Either way, a preemptive strike is called for.”

K’Lira was still ambivalent about the idea. “I don’t disagree with you, General, but this is a major undertaking. You’ll need carriers to bring in enough assault troops to overwhelm the ground forces on the moon, and a large fleet to do the same to the enemy ships in orbit. Whoever you have in charge on the ground is certainly going to have their hands full. If Trivas is as important to the True Way as you suggest, they’ll surely be expecting an assault from the Alliance.

“Do you have a plan?” she asked, handing the PADD back to him.

“I most certainly do,” Martok said.

“We may not have any serviceable carriers in that area, so I’ve arranged to “lend” several Klingon cloaking devices to Admiral Jantson at Deep Space 9 so she can use them on a few old cargo ships she’s acquired for this operation. Our cloaks are better than the Federation’s. The additional advantage of ship stealth will allow us to sneak into the Trivas System undetected. I’m going to lead a combined fleet of Klingon raptors and Federation escorts against the True Way flotilla in orbit of Trivas III. Our smaller ships will easily be able to outmaneuver their larger ones. We’ll have several battlecruisers in support to do the heavy lifting.”

K’lira nodded. It was a good plan.

“What about the ground assault?” she asked. “The True Way facility will certainly be on high alert once your ships decloak and start attacking.”

“Indeed,” he agreed. “The assault teams will need a capable and robust commander who knows how to defeat Jem’Hadar and Cardassian soldiers and defensive emplacements. Otherwise, the battle will be lost before it begins.”

She nodded in agreement. “Whom do you have in mind for that, General?”

Martok smiled widely and let the boot drop. “You.”

K’Lira snorted dismissively, certain that he was joking or that she’d misheard him, but then she saw that he was serious.

“No, General,” she insisted stubbornly. “I’ve already told you – I’m retired!”

Martok stepped close to her. “You once told me, ‘True warriors are always prepared to fight.’ I’ve not forgotten your prowess. You were one of our best generals during the Dominion War. I may have won more battles, but that’s because I was in more battles than you. I regret Gowron held you back for personal reasons, but I think you were always the more capable warrior. You’re an artist in personal combat. Even Jem’Hadar Firsts fear facing you.”

He snapped his fingers pensively. “What was it the Brotherhood used to call you?” he asked.

“JubwI',” she answered in a small, shocked voice.

“Yes,” he said, remembering, “the immortal one. So called, I believe, not because you’re difficult to kill (though that’s true), but because you tend to not stay dead.” He raised an eyebrow. “A fearsome trait, indeed.”

K’Lira flashed back six years to the Dominion War wherein she’d been a KDF general while serving as a top agent in the Yan-Isleth, the Brotherhood of the Sword. The war hadn’t gone well in its early months. In 2374, to break the Alliance quickly, Dominion assassins had twice tried to kill Chancellor Gowron while he was touring the front lines in the Alpha Quadrant. The Yan-Isleth in accompaniment had done their duty defending his life with their own in Klingon fashion, and K’Lira had been killed by Jem’Hadar soldiers while helping clear his path to safety. Her body had been recovered from the field of battle afterwards. Although the Klingons were sure she was dead, her corpse was soon seen to have some residual brain activity. Also, her healthy cells were cannibalizing dead flesh to create new flesh, closing her wounds. A few hours later, amidst an ak'voh vigil, she’d begun breathing, awakening with no memory of having been dead. She was whole again in a few days. The doctors had no medical explanation for her regenerative powers, but after the second such episode, her fellow Yan-Isleth nicknamed her the immortal one, and the moniker had stuck.

Martok arched up on the balls of his feet and made his best pitch. “The Jem’Hadar may fight fiercely because they believe victory is life, and the Cardassians are wily, too, but none among the True Way can match your heart. As you say, this is a major undertaking, so I want the cunning and courageous JubwI' leading the ground mission.” He put his hand on her beefy shoulder. “What would induce your return to serve the Empire one more time?”

For one of the very few moments in her life, K’Lira felt tiny. Martok, ever the shrewd politician, was playing to her pride as a Klingon and a warrior, and she knew it was a good ploy. Klingon warriors were naturally proud of their battle prowess, and she was a typical example with lots of experience and a penchant for leadership. He and others tended to think of her as one of the Empire’s best warriors, loved by her friends, respected by her enemies, renowned among Klingons. That persona had worked well as the founder of House Trestian when a legendary warrioress was all she’d wanted to be. Now in her middle years, she’d become used to the idea that her military career was long passed, and she just wanted it to fade into the background of her family life. Marriage and motherhood had come late to her, but she’d taken to both and cherished them. Her well-toned body remained strong, and her eidetic mind was as sharp as ever, but she was deeply in love with the husband and two small children who were awaiting her return to Deep Space 9, not to the KDF. Taking up the bat’leth now would threaten their futures, too, not just hers. That gave her pause.

We’re already in danger, she countered thoughtfully. The kids just don’t know it yet.

If she didn’t try to stop the True Way when she could have made a difference, and the True Way attacked Bajor with their biological weapons, billions would die; not just the people – every living thing would perish. There was no guarantee her young family on Deep Space 9 would escape.

I’d never forgive myself, she realized.

She looked at Martok.

“I...honestly don’t know how to answer that, General,” she replied. “I really should speak to my husband.”

Martok released her. “Understandable. Well, it’ll be several weeks before we’re ready to strike Trivas, so I can give you a few days to decide. Go home and talk to him, but don’t use subspace to speak about our plans. Do that only in person.”

“Of course, General,” she said. “Thank you for this opportunity. I’ll let you know soon what I decide.

”Was there anything else?”

He shook his head. “No, Matron. Thank you for your time.”

She bowed hers in deference. “By your leave, Sir.”

Martok left the room.

K’Lira stood there, pondering recent events as they lay in her mind like a giant tridimensional chessboard.

It had been five years since she’d been to the Great Hall. In retrospect, some of the courtiers had been distant towards her. She knew their names, but they acted as if they didn’t know her. The room itself was subtly different, too, but she couldn’t quite see how. Gowron seemed warm enough, but he was afraid of losing the Council’s support due to the contrasted popularity of his generals, Martok’s in particular and probably hers, too. The Chancellor had no real reason to be mistrustful – his generals were loyal.

Where was his angst coming from?, she wondered.

Martok was bent on ridding the galaxy of the True Way and their anti-genetic super-weapon. It was a campaign several years in the making, ever since the Dominion War ended and those who’d felt the Cardassian Union would never return to its former glory had broken away to form their own faction. The True Way, as it called itself, was a motley bunch of malcontents, in her opinion, and she shared Martok’s desire to take their super-weapon out of the math for everybody’s sake. The galaxy simply didn’t need another tyrant with a crazed agenda sitting next to Bajor. While she still couldn’t quite credit Martok’s desire for her participation in this action, she felt ready to fight for the right cause, and his was a good one.

But what would Dav think?, she asked inwardly, shrugging because she had no answer to that.

She brought her wrist communicator up. “Ak’Voh, HIjol,” she said quietly.

The red glow of a transporter beam enveloped her, and she disappeared.

FOOTNOTES

Bo’dIj che
Klingonese: Court dismissed.
Ak'Voh, HIjol
Klingonese: Ak'Voh (the name of K'Lira's ship), beam me up.

CHAPTER 3: THE TRUE WAY'S TWILIGHT

K’Lira awoke in the cramped quarters of a Federation cargo hauler en route to Trivas III. The tiny room was one of hundreds, and most had multiple bunks. The makeshift troop transport was overcrowded, but she was one of the few passengers priviledged to have a berth to herself. The ship’s constant machinery noise was pervasive. She could feel it in her bones although the ship wasn’t at high warp. The air was warm, still, and a bit rank, as if the environmental equipment wasn’t quite up to the task of providing clean air for over 400 soldiers.

Well, it’s old and probably not worth refitting for just one op, she thought.

The ship was one of several cloaked transports en route to the Trivas System with the best of General Martok’s fleet in accompaniment. Starfleet had recently found a True Way staging area on one of Trivas III’s moons, passed that information to Klingon Intelligence, and Martok had organized a preemptive strike with the help of engineers from Deep Space 9. The combined fleet’s mission was to destroy the True Way assets in the Trivas System, including the enemy’s super-weapon, an isotopic bomb capable of destroying planetary ecosystems at a genetic level from orbit. The threat of such a device, never mind its actual use, couldn’t be ignored, especially as close to Bajor as Trivas was. The enemy had a large fleet in orbit of a reinforced facility on the moon’s surface. This was undoubtedly where the True Way super-weapon was kept as the moon was heavily defended.

A month ago, Martok had approached K’Lira and expressed his need for an experienced battalion commander to lead the ground attack part of this mission. He’d selected her even though she was retired from military service, citing his admiration of her expertise and valor during the Dominion War. As a Klingon, she’d been tempted by the chance to earn additional glory for herself and her House, but she was also part of a very young family. She didn’t want to risk leaving them motherless, so she deferred Martok’s invitation until she could speak to her husband, Starfleet Commodore Davir Benmata, on Deep Space 9.

Davir and K’Lira had agreed that the extreme threat of that super-weapon demanded a response. The chance to protect the Alpha Quadrant by putting the True Way down permanently was too great to ignore. The risk to their family was already the same risk every family on Bajor and elsewhere faced. The options were straightforward. If they didn’t do anything and the True Way used the super-weapon on Bajor, the resulting catastrophe would be unthinkable, and the quadrant would never recover. If they did nothing and the True Way didn’t use the weapon, things would continue as they were, but the quadrant would still be under threat. If they tried and failed to end the True Way now, there’d be nothing to stop the enemy from threatening everybody in the quadrant, including her family, so that was the same result and likely worse. The only solution that offered improvement was to win. They were in a position to do that, therefore obligated to try, and K’Lira, in particular, was the best choice for the job. She’d agreed to come out of retirement and lead the ground assault as part of Martok’s raid.

Martok’s goals were simple: 1) destroy the super-weapon, and 2) leave no survivors. His fleet had three Negh’Var cruisers at its core, each with a general in command, Martok among them. They would concentrate on the True Way’s heaviest ships as their escorts dealt with the enemy attack ships and fighters. While the fleets engaged each other, K’Lira’s cloaked transport would approach the moon and beam down assault teams to enter the base and sabotage the shield protecting it from orbital attack. With the shield down and the True Way ships already distracted, the other transports would then beam down their troops to rejoin K’Lira’s and eliminate all ground opposition. Their primary target was the super-weapon believed to be stored in the base.

This was a joint allied operation. Commodore Benmata had already received orders to meet Martok outside the Trivas System with his own fleet of Federation escorts, recently including a newly-refitted Galaxy X-class dreadnought, the U.S.S. Venture, as his flagship. This was the ship's first action since being refitted as a dreadnought. she and the rest of the Federatio's fleet would act in support of the Klingons.

Now that K'Lira was part of Martok’s operation, she’d been reinstated with her former rank of brigadier general, and she had a staff meeting right after breakfast. She glanced at the chronometer above the narrow door: it was zero five thirty, ship’s time. It always took a while to braid her extremely long hair after a shower, so it was best to start the day early.

Ah, the joys of life in the military, she thought, sighing ruefully as she arose to begin her routine.

She used the head, then undid all her braids, shaking out their graying ebony locks to make them easier to clean, and got into the sonic shower. The one in her quarters on the Ak’Voh was adequate, but space on this ship was more limited, so everything about it was smaller. She had to hunch her muscular, 110-ish kilogram frame because the tiny stall wasn’t designed for larger people. In her youth, it had been easy to maintain a bodybuilder-like physique, thanks to her diligence at exercise and augmented genes. That was harder now that she was over 50 and had borne two children. She still liked to exercise often, but she doubted there’d be time for that today. The shower’s barely audible ultrasonic pulses tickled her scarred, lightly tanned skin as they removed sweat and residual particles from her voluptuous hair and body. The sound bothered her a little because the hearing aid surgically implanted above her right ear was more sensitive to those frequencies than her normal left ear, but she tolerated it. Showering didn’t take long anyway. Re-braiding her hair afterwards took most of an hour, though. As an augment, she didn’t have a ridged, hairless pate like normal Klingons did. Her hairline started at her smooth forehead like a human’s and tumbled in long, wavy ringlets to her waist. The follicles were thick and could be rebellious sometimes, but her expertise normally made quick enough work of it. She donned leather clothes and wore her recently polished armor over that. She left most of her weapons on the bed as she wouldn’t need them for breakfast and a simple staff meeting, but she always wore a d'k tahg at her hip.

K’Lira left her quarters and headed towards the ship’s mess, which doubled as a briefing room because it was the only place on the ship big enough for both. There was already a crowd in the room when she arrived. She sat by herself and pondered the day ahead as she ate. It would certainly be challenging, and their success at Trivas was hardly assured. Trivas III was a gas giant with a class Y moon, and the True Way’s base was on the latter. Its gravity was about 70% of Qo’noS’s. Class Y was also called “demon class” because the moon’s atmosphere was toxic, its surface temperature was well above normal limits, and thermionic radiation discharges were common. She’d brought a good environment suit to survive on the ground.

After breakfast, Martok called her ship to review the crew’s battle deployments. He was on his Negh’Var-class flagship, the I.K.S. Kor’gun, but the transport’s mess had a large video screen on one wall so they could teleconference. “Your attention, please,” he said.

“My fellow warriors, we embarked on this historic campaign to rid the galaxy of a dire threat: the True Way and its anti-genetic bomb. Their base on Trivas III’s moon is heavily defended, but our fleet is strong and well equipped. The Cardassians and their Jem’Hadar allies will fight hard, I’m sure, but we will fight better for we are Klingon! Some of you may not survive this battle, but your memories will live on in our songs as we celebrate your arrival in Sto’Vo’Kor.”

“Company captains,” he continued, “meet your commanding officer. Cheghta’ JubwI'.”

He looked at her through the viewscreen. “Brigadier General K’Lira of House Trestian, front and center, please.”

The crowd murmured excitedly as she obeyed and stood confidently before them now.

“I’ve personally selected her to lead the ground assault against the True Way,” Martok endorsed. “She has my full confidence as battalion commander. Obey her as you would me, and she’ll lead you to glorious victory!”

“General,” he addressed her, “your transports carry three companies of infantry, each with medical personnel and logistical support. Based on the comm traffic we’ve intercepted, the moon’s base has up to 500 troops, plus support staff. It’s both the True Way’s main research facility and the closest staging area they have to Bajor and its trade routes. The base itself is protected from orbital assault by an energy shield, which we’ll need to drop before our capital ships can bombard the surface. That, General K’Lira, is your assignment.

“The moon’s class Y, as hostile as it gets, so everyone will be using environment suits. You’ll also have personal cloaking devices reverse engineered from Jem’Hadar examples. While my fleet engages the enemy ships in orbit, your transports will approach under cloak and beam your warriors to the surface. The thermionic discharges in the area should mask your transporter signatures. Even if they don’t, your stealth shields should prevent early detection by the enemy. The base’s thermal exchangers transfer ambient heat away from the base and are therefore not shielded. You’ll enter through those and invade the base.

“Your goals are twofold. First, find and disable their shield grid so we can attack the base from orbit. Second, find and either destroy or dismantle all their anti-genetic weaponry and delete their research files, including all backups. It’s critical that the True Way never rises to superpower status again. You’re the tip of my d'k tahg on this operation, General. Qapla’.”

She put her fist over her heart, smiled, and bowed slightly. “SoH je, General Martok,” she replied.

He nodded and closed the channel, and the room was hers. Her pulse increased.

K’Lira’s presence on board had hardly been a secret, but she’d stayed in her cabin most of the time. Few had seen her. Scanning the faces in the crowd, she saw many were very young, others older (like her), but all were eager. A few looked curiously at her augment features, but she was used to that. While she didn’t recognize any of them, she guessed none had ever met her either, but that most remembered her by reputation.

Five years isn’t that long, after all, she thought. That should make commanding their respect easier.,/span>

“Warriors,” she began loudly, “while your obedience to Martok’s leadership is obligatory, I understand your respect for mine is voluntary. I’ll engender both by the day’s end.” She picked up a goblet of blood wine. “JItlhutlhneS qapmajpu’ pIvmajpu’ je!” she yelled and drained the cup. It warmed her blood further.

The crowd erupted with cheers, many drinking in response to her toast.

“Colonels, to me,” she ordered. She touched a control on her wristband, and the viewscreen behind her alit with a topographical map of the area around the True Way’s base. “We’ve a ground assault to plan...”

FOOTNOTES

Cheghta’ JubwI'
Klingonese: The immortal one has returned.
SoH je
Klingonese: You, too.
JItlhutlhneS qapmaj pIvmaj je
Klingonese: I'm honored to drink to our great success and health.

Commodore Davir Benmata’s fleet warped into the vicinity of General Martok’s fleet near the Trivas System. Both flotillas were cloaked and operating under subspace silence, per their orders. Neither could detect the other, but they were supposed to rendezvous for this operation, so each knew approximately where and when the other was supposed to be. The commodore’s fleet sported a new flagship, the Galaxy X-class U.S.S. Venture, and this was Davir’s first time taking her into combat. The rest of his ships were five escorts with veteran crews ranging from the advanced escort U.S.S. Aegis to the Akira-class U.S.S. Tandrilüs.

Rather than risk being overheard by the enemy in the nearby star system, the Venture dropped a class one probe that used a ship-to-ship frequency. Such transmissions were weak and strictly sublight, useful only between very nearby vessels. The I.K.S. Kor’gun immediately picked that signal up and acknowledged in kind so Davir’s fleet could verify the Klingons’ relative position and form up without decloaking. Both fleets then continued at impulse into the Trivas System.

Legate Oran Marek, the True Way’s military leader, sat at his desk aboard a Kedron-class Cardassian cruiser in orbit of Trivas III’s moon. He was reviewing fleet deployments in the area. Most of the True Way’s naval assets were there, comprising some 50 escorts and attack ships of both Cardassian and Jem’Hadar make. The Dominion assets were led by a Vorta aboard a battleship, and that’s where most of the fighter support lay. As Trivas III was a staging area, many of the True Way ships were being fueled, outfitted, or repaired, including his own.

The True Way was planning a major foray into the Bajor System to challenge Vice Admiral Jantson’s resolve in defending Deep Space 9. The Federation’s recent campaign against the True Way’s research facility on Mariah IV had set Marek’s forces back a good bit, but Oran knew that Admiral Jantson’s task force was also recuperating at the Bajoran space station from that engagement. Starfleet would be ill prepared for a large retaliatory strike so soon afterwards at such an important outpost. If the True Way could unseat the alliance’s grip on Deep Space 9, Bajor would easily fall, and Cardassia itself would be held in the True Way’s dissident sway.

The Union’s mismanagement of our forces and foolish neglect of our interests during the Dominion War will finally be avenged, he thought. We just need to finish...

The alert klaxon sounded, breaking his train of thought, and he reflexively slapped the comm button on the desk to call the bridge. “Report!” he demanded.

Through the connection, he could hear chatter coming in from the fleet, indicating that something was very amiss. He heard weapons fire, explosions, shouts and screams, and the general chaos of a space battle.

“I SAID REPORT!” he roared.

“The Klingons are attacking!” someone finally answered, panicked. “Our ships at the docking yard are under heavy attack from enemy birds of prey! Klingon battlecruisers are hitting the escorts that aren’t yet underway! Their heavy cruisers are engaging the Dominion battleship!”

“Where the hell did they come from?” Oran asked, mostly to himself.

The bridge answered anyway. “We never saw them coming, Legate! We’re not even sure how many there are. The smaller ships keep cloaking to escape while others decloak to attack. Only the heavy cruisers are staying visible, and that Dominion battleship is taking a beating!”

Oran stood to leave. “Battle stations!” he ordered. “I’m on my...”

The ship rolled hard as it took a powerful torpedo barrage on the port side.

“RAISE SHIELDS!” he shouted. “Prepare to...”

A burst of static screeched from the comm as a thunderous roar shook the ship. He heard the unmistakeable sound of air escaping, followed by bulkhead doors slamming, then the connection went silent.

“Bridge?” he asked. “Bridge!? SOMEONE ANSWER ME!”

Oran never got the chance to save his ship – a second torpedo explosion opened the duranium of his outer office wall and spaced him instantly. Mere seconds later, his ship exploded in a brilliant fireball as its warp core cataclysmically ruptured, taking a nearby Jem’Hadar attack ship with it.

Martok grinned with battle lust. The sneak attack was going splendidly. His captains were making quick work of the enemy ships caught in various stages of unreadiness. They’d heavily damaged the only Jem’Hadar battleship in the area and had even destroyed a Cardassian capital ship before his Negh’Var cruisers could reposition to engage it. He felt like singing, but there’d be time for celebration later.

The easy part’s over, he thought.

He checked his tactical display closely and noticed a large crowd of tiny blips making a flanking run on his fleet: inbound fighters.

“Set course, zero one zero, mark twelve!” he ordered. “Ahead two thirds. Engage broadside beam weapons on those ships!”

His battlecruiser obeyed with what alacrity it had, but his escorts were smaller and therefore nimbler; they got there first. Yellow disruptor arcs flashed in a bizarre cross-section in front of the incoming Jem’Hadar ships, destroying several outright. The rest came on, aggressively returning blue polaron fire and the twang of photon torpedos. The escorts took the brunt of it, and several of them were disabled temporarily while others took moderate damage. The Kor’gun shook violently as many torpedos slammed into its shields, draining them below 50%, but it was otherwise unharmed.

“Emergency power!” he shouted. “Stand to all weapons. Fire at will!”

Each of the battlecruiser’s beam arrays spewed multiple arcs at as many enemies as the ship could target, but there were more ships to shoot at than it could handle. It couldn’t cause enough damage quickly enough to fend them all off. One of the fighters collided with the aft shield near the battlecruiser’s drive area. A second bounced off the weakened port shield near the warp pylon. Both Jem’Hadar vessels exploded at close range, and their shrapnel caused much damage despite the shield’s best efforts to deflect debris.

Martok picked himself up from the floor of the bridge amidst the whine of the battle klaxon, the shouts of crew members fighting fires while trying to man their stations, and the hiss of smoke and steam spewing from vents in the walls. The reddish lights were dimmer than normal, but that was offset by the ominous brightness of the fires in the area. The uncomfortably warm, smoky air held the tang of ozone and fire retardant.

They’re making suicide runs! he thought, astonished. The petaQ are that desperate.

He climbed back into his chair atop the command dais and re-checked the staticky tactical display on the viewer.

The attackers were circling quickly back around for another pass, and he knew his ship wouldn’t survive it. What was left of his damaged escorts were too far away to run interference this time. Worst of all, the Jem’Hadar battleship had somehow managed to rejoin the fray and was making straight for his ship at slow speed. Its shields were lower than his, but its weapons pods glowed menacingly.

“All available power to the structural integrity field,” he ordered quickly. “Prepare to come ab…”

From the aft quarter, a thick stream of yellow nadeon energy crackled through the space between the Kor’gun and the Jem’Hadar battleship, slamming into and instantly collapsing the enemy’s much weakened forward shield. A split second later, a heavy barrage of quantum and photon torpedoes shot past Martok’s bridge and buried itself explosively all over the battleship’s exposed front quarter.

The result was spectacular, like the finale of a large fireworks show. The front of the hull was vaporized, secondary explosions rippled back towards the engineering areas as the ship’s systems failed catastrophically, and the battleship lit off even more brilliantly than Marek’s ship had. When the glare finally abated, the battleship, the nearby dock, and most of the accompanying attack ships were gone, completely atomized by multiple warp core breaches. The Venture paused above the Kor’gun, its phaser lance still glowing as Commodore Benmata’s escorts began picking off the fighters that had been damaging the Klingon heavy cruiser.

“We’re extending our shields and beaming over damage control teams,” Davir said over the ship-to-ship comm. “Do you also require medical assistance?”

Martok sighed, relieved. “Likely, Commodore. We’re still assessing things over here, but I think we have the critical problems under control. Thank you for your help.”

He paused, remembering that Davir had learned some Klingonese from K’Lira. “Tell your tactical officer from me, ‘MajQa bach’a’vetIh!’,” he added, smiling lopsidedly.

Davir took a moment to unravel the syntax, then he grinned. “Quchbe’! Luq, qaHneS,” he replied in his best Klingon accent. “Let us know if you need anything else. Max, out.”

He closed the channel, then half-turned in his chair to look at the big Betazoid officer using the tactical station behind him. “Loso, the General sends his compliments about your timing.”

Lt. Commander Sgiza looked momentarily surprised, then smiled triumphantly. “Maj, Sir,” he rumbled proudly.

Apparently, I’m not the only one K’Lira’s been teaching, Davir thought, pleased.

That reminded him of his wife's assignment. How's she doing down there? he worried.

K'Lira stood below one of the transporter pads on her modified carrier, eager to hit the ground. The ship had sneaked into planetary orbit above the moon base under cloak while the Klingon fleet had easily decimated the enemy flotilla. She’d been waiting for Martok’s signal to do her part and accomplish the main goal of the raid.

Her entire contingent was in armored environment suits, fully prepared for combat in a class Y environment. The suits could withstand temperatures above 600 degrees Fahrenheit, several times normal atmospheric pressure, and toxicity strong enough to kill a bull targ in minutes. Each also had a Dominion-style personal cloaking device. Dressed to kill, she had a full auto blaster rifle with a scope, her bat’leth was strapped across her back, and a d'k tahg was in one of her suit’s pockets. She also had a small tricorder and her multifunctional wristband. Her unusually long hair was tightly braided and tucked down her back inside her suit. She’d personally selected a squad of the finest shock troops available to accompany her inside the base as she led the first of three companies of warriors. The colonels in the rest of the battalion would lead the other two companies parallel to hers, and she was fully confident of them. All was in readiness as they waited.

A yeoman’s whistle sounded over the ship’s intercom. “General K’Lira,” Martok said, “SuH, begin landing your troops. Qapla’!”

Her heart rate quickened, warming her blood to the task, and her eyes turned a darker shade of purple in response. She whistled sharply to get her squad’s attention. “Ha’! Forth to battle!” she shouted.

She climbed onto the pad as her squad filed in behind her and turned to the transporter chief. “Jol yIchu’,” she ordered. A few seconds later, K’Lira and her squad became the first Klingons to set foot on Trivas III’s moon.

The first thing she noticed was the gravity: it was somewhat less than what she was used to aboard her ship, about 2/3s or 3/4s that of Qo’noS. She felt light on her feet, but that was the only appealing thing about the place. The air was like an oven, and the landscape was blasted and barren. There was no water or vegetation anywhere, just rolling foothills of gray, glazed rock covered with windblown dust, all bathed in the pale glow of Trivas’ solitary white solar giant. Trivas III was below the horizon; otherwise, it would’ve been brighter but not better. Fiery fumaroles kicked up clouds of sulfuric dirt as they scoured the hills, and her suit’s sensors showed dangerously high levels of thermionic radiation and sulfur dioxide in the air. It was easily the most inhospitable place she’d ever visited.

Which is probably why the True Way have a secret base here, she reasoned. Who would think to look for that in a place like this?

Looking about, she saw they were on a shallow rise overlooking the True Way base in the near distance. Most of the installation was underground, but the squat buildings on the surface were connected to a landing pad above a protected bay. An energy shield completely overshadowed the base, precluding orbital attack. It also prevented beaming. There were towers stationed around its perimeter, all of them with turrets that faced outward, constantly scanning the nearby terrain for movement. She was glad her troops’ enrironment suits had been fitted with personal cloaking devices to preserve the element of surprise; otherwise, they’d already be under attack.

As a demon-class planetoid, the moon was geothermically active. Anything built underground would be subject to extreme heating, so the base had three thermal exchangers that went through the shield to vent the facility’s excess heat to the surface. Since the Klingons couldn’t beam through the shield, the plan was to invade the base via its cooling ducts, then storm the facility to achieve their objectives.

That’s our way in, she thought.

The mission called for comm silence until the base’s perimeter had been breached, so no one said anything. She couldn’t see her fellow warriors either as they were cloaked, but each environment suit had a short-range transponder that sent a coded signal she could see on a minimap inside her faceplate, so she knew where everyone was. When all three companies had beamed to the surface, she started towards the nearest vent. The colonels leading the other two companies saw that on their maps and started moving in on the other two vents.

The turrets in the towers couldn’t detect the cloaked Klingons, so her squad reached the first vent unchallenged. It was a tall, rectangular bellows connected to a flanged tunnel that led underground into the hillside. As she approached, it opened and blew a blast of superheated air that nearly knocked her off her feet. Her sensor said it was over 200 degrees and gusting to nearly 40 kilometers per hour. The lower gravity made it harder to keep her balance, so she knelt to wait it out. It blew past for about 30 seconds, then started to abate, so she stood up, leaning into the wind.

Immediately, a hail of blaster fire erupted from the tunnel beyond. She dodged quickly behind a nearby rocky outcropping, wondering if they’d been detected somehow. She took a tricorder reading to see if there were any enemy soldiers in there.

The tricorder registered no life signs inside the tunnel. However, there were several electronic devices spaced evenly along its length.

They’ve got turrets lining the entrance, she realized, but how do they know what to shoot at?

She remembered a similar engagement in the Klingon-Cardassian War where the enemy had used sensors that detected airflow obstructions in enclosed areas. While the Klingons were invisible, their bodies disturbed the airstream as long as they were standing in it. The burbling effect could be detected by heat sensors and used as targeting information for the turrets. The best way to defeat them was to stay down while the wind was blowing, then move when it wasn’t.

There was no help for it – she would have to break silence to warn her team. She switched her transponder from beacon to voice to keep the coding intact. “The guns in the tunnels look for heat turbulence. Stay down until the wind stops, then proceed and disable them. Time your advances, and switch to the alternate frequency now.”

The Klingons changed their transponders in acknowledgement as she did likewise, hoping the enemy hadn’t been alerted to their presence.

The vents cycled regularly, and K’Lira’s team led the way down the tunnel. It was dim and steamy within, and her visibility was limited to just a few yards. The metal in the floor and walls was slimy and uncomfortably hot to the touch even through her suit’s protection. She reached and examined the first turret quickly. It had an access panel on one side, but it was locked. She struggled to pry it open with her dagger, but just then, the wind began to blow. Instinctively, she flattened herself against the floor, gripping at a series of handholds embedded in its metal plating. She hoped the other warriors did the same.

The heat was even more intense inside the tunnel than it had been outside, almost 300 degrees Fahrenheit. We’re getting closer to whatever’s generating it, she thought.

The turret didn’t shoot, and the wind died.

She resumed attacking the panel and managed to get it off. Within, she could see isolinear circuitry and power feeds going into the turret. She didn’t have time to be cautious, so she stabbed repeatedly at it with the dagger, causing showers of sparks as small electrical explosions marked the turret’s demise. Her suit protected her completely.

She took out her tricorder and scanned the area again. There was another turret about 50 feet further along, and another after that. She could tell from the transponders that there were already warriors working on them. Beyond the last turret were narrow pipes that bled heat into the tunnel: that’s where all the hot air was coming from.

The heat exchangers for the base’s geothermal power plant must be down there, she thought.

By her estimate, they were already within the shield’s perimeter, but they hadn’t breached the base yet. She’d assumed that the enemy would be guarding the power plant’s cooling system as it was the only way into the base aside from the landing pad above. The plan called for some misdirection to distract the enemy. One of the warriors at the last turret had explosives with him to blow up the far end of the shaft in a fake attempt to gain entry there. As the True Way reacted to that, her group would cut through the vent wall and enter the base some distance from the machinery room. The other two companies would do likewise. The Klingons would then flank the enemy and storm the base to clear the objectives. Hopefully, Martok’s fleet would eliminate the True Way ships, and her cloaked transports would be standing by. Everyone in the base would meet below the landing pad for egress as the shield would be down by then, too, and Martok would bomb the base to rubble. Everything hinged on getting into the base, then finding and destroying the super-weapon and all data associated with it.

K’Lira cycled her transponder in a specific way, indicating to her team to begin the entry phase of the operation: two clicks, pause, one click.

One of the warriors went to the left wall of the tunnel and began slicing through the durasteel with his cutting laser. His cloak concealed the tool but not the beam itself, so the green laser looked like it appeared out of thin air. It took a few minutes to cut a large, round hole in the wall, held in place by little more than molten metal.

K’Lira signaled again via transponder: Blow it.

The first explosion took place at the end of the tunnel where the pipes were. The Klingons there, having set their charges, had backed off to avoid the area. The tunnel shook violently as several dozen pounds of high explosive ripped the entire terminus to shards of jagged metal. The Klingons ducked flat as superheated steam and smoke blasted down the tunnel at them and continued into the landscape outside.

In the same moment, smaller explosives dropped the cutaway door, creating a makeshift entrance into the base proper. The larger explosion’s cacophany covered the noise from the smaller one.

K’Lira could see enemy life signs on her minimap scattered about the rubble at the end of the tunnel. The True Way soldiers were inspecting the damage and looking for the Klingons, but the rubble prevented them from searching the tunnel itself.

Still, she thought, it’s a sure bet they know we’re in here somewhere.

She cycled her transponder to start the attack: two clicks, pause, two more clicks: Begin the assault.

The Klingons streamed through the hole in the wall, K’Lira at their head, blaster at the ready, looking for signs of the enemy.

The hole opened into a wide hallway that was part of the base’s outer perimeter, a circuit of underground rooms surrounding the central part of the base. These areas were used primarily for staff quarters and utilities storage, and the corridor connected them to the base’s interior at regular intervals like wheel spokes. Small teams of Cardassian and Jem’Hadar soldiers patrolled the corridor, but they hadn’t expected the Klingons to breach there. As hoped, the enemy’s attention had been on the machinery area at the ruined end of the tunnel, so those in the corridor were not on alert.

The Klingons came out firing, using various outcroppings for cover and shooting at anything that moved. Their personal cloaks gave them the element of extreme surprise, and their tactics supported their efforts to move ahead as one team covered the next team’s advance. While the Jem’Hadar had cloaks, too, they were trained with the presumption of being the only ones who did, and they couldn’t see their cloaked fellows. To avoid fratricide, they tended to verify, then shoot. The Klingons had no such handicap, thanks to their transponders. They sped rapidly in both directions down the circular corridor in stairstep fashion, blasting open locked doors, checking rooms, killing anything not wearing a transponder, visible or not. Their rear guard quickly dispatched any cloaked Jem’Hadar who managed to get behind them. The floor was soon slick with blood stains, the damaged lights flickered erratically, the air stank of ozone, and the corridor rang with the sounda of shouts and screams, blaster fire, and exploding grenades. It was a turkey shoot.

K’Lira was lost in her battle lust, moving fluidly from lucidity to berserkery. Leading her squad, she’d long since spent her blaster’s ammunition, so she’d dropped it, unslung her bat’leth, and started killing with practiced, precise strokes. Her deadly craft was born of decades spent crusading in the outer reaches of the Empire while studying combat arts under various Dahar Masters. She’d fought in two long wars and spent years instructing in the Brotherhood of the Sword. She’d faced thousands of opponents in that time, from Andorians to Yridians, and she’d defeated most of them, many with great difficulty. She’d been killed twice in hand-to-hand combat defending Gowron from alien assassins, and she’d resuscitated herself each time. Though she had no idea how that had happened, she bore her moniker as proudly as a Dahar Master. She’d been out of the Klingon Defense Force for the last five years, but her passion for skill at arms hadn’t waned at all, and she was in high form this day.

As the battle progressed towards the shield generator in the base’s interior, it became clear to the other Klingons in her squad that General Martok had chosen their ground assault leader well; K’Lira simply had no equal. Every time the True Way tried to fortify a position against them, she found a way to flank it. When the enemy charged, her nanopulsed bat’leth spun hungrily through the air, blocking blaster fire and piercing both armor and flesh with equal ease. All who tried to stand against her perished quickly and miserably. When they retreated from her terrible fury, she screamed and threw debris at their backs, then chased them down and slew them anyway, giving no quarter. She sent no further orders as there wasn’t time, seeming instead to instinctively know how to counter whatever the True Way would do next, and she was always right. Her leadership inspired her warriors to valor, then praise, and they found themselves chanting in time with the beating of their hot hearts as they followed in her glorious wake: JUBWI’, JUBWI’, JUBWI’!

Half an hour had passed since the Klingons had beamed down, and K’Lira found herself panting on a catwalk overlooking the room with the shield generator. She had no recollection of finding it, just fading memories of the battle en route. She recognized the aftermath of her berserker mindset and shook her sweaty head to clear it of the ugly vestiges.

The shield room was big and round, over fifty feet across to a similar catwalk on the other side of the chamber. The air was not as warm here, and the machinery in the area was raucous with loud coolant pumps. The generator itself resembled a giant hive half buried in the metal floor, its curved dome reaching nearly to the ceiling a dozen feet above her head. Its surface was a patchwork of curved metal ribs interlaced with rows and stacks of slits brightly lit from within. Floor consoles lined its circumference, beeping repeatedly as they regulated the generator’s output. The device was the base’s largest power load, and its output went through the ceiling via a sealed conduit to a series of antennae on the roof.

She heard rather than saw the rest of her squad approach from behind.

JubwI’neS,” one of them said respectfully as he removed his helmet so she could see him, “your suit, your cloak...”

Startled, K’Lira examined herself.

Her visor was cracked, and the readouts indicated that its environmental system had failed. The only thing keeping her alive was the base’s own environmental system, which was still running. The suit itself was blackened with blaster scars and slick with Cardassian and Jem’Hadar blood. Her armor was bent and full of holes, burned through in many places, exposing the layering beneath. Then she realized she could see herself. Her cloaking device was gone – she had no idea where it was or how long she’d been without it.

“How…?” she began uncertainly. “I didn’t...don’t know...”

Without stealth, she didn’t have the element of surprise. Yet, she’d led the fight to this point, slaying everything in her path with grave efficacy. She wasn’t even injured.

Dare I believe it myself? she wondered fearfully. Am I really...immortal?

The Klingon put his helmet back on, stepping invisibly back to his fellows. “General...,” he started.

“There she is!” someone shouted from the room below. “KILL HER!”

Sparks erupted from the catwalk railing behind her as a hail of enemy blaster fire forced her to duck instinctively. Three groups of True Way troops ran across the floor, shooting as they came. One group each went for the staircases that led up to the catwalk, and the Klingons ran invisibly to meet them at the top of the stairs. The last group ran to the generator, still shooting crazily at the only Klingon they could see.

Snarling, K’Lira gripped her broadsword in one hand and leaped from the catwalk even as the section she was on collapsed with a groaning snap under the strain of blaster-induced metal fatigue. Waving her arms for balance, she landed on the generator and slid down its steeply curved shell. Her feet hit a horizontal beam and stopped her progress about 20 feet from the floor. Looking quickly over her left shoulder, she saw eight enemy soldiers taking aim behind nearby consoles. She stabbed her bat’leth’s tines into the generator for use as a brake and jumped off the ledge, tearing a long swathe through the shield’s thin skin as she slid towards the floor. She must’ve hit a sensitive part of the generator’s internal mechanism because a large explosion suddenly ripped through the wall behind her, roughly flinging her off the wall. She landed just past the consoles’ perimeter and tumbled forward, losing her bat’leth. A Cardassian’s smoking corpse lay behind her, caught in the explosion that was now spilling glowing coolant onto the floor.

K’Lira’s momentum carried her back to her feet, and she immediately attacked the nearest soldier with her fists. He shot her in the chest at point blank range with his gun, but that was all he had time to do; she was too fast to dodge. What remained of her breastplate took the brunt of the blast and finally gave up, shattering as it fell to the floor. She never felt it; her blood boiled, her heart raced, her mind fogged up, and the only thing her stormy eyes could see was the enemy. She knocked him down, ripped his throat out, grabbed his gun, and stood up, all in the same attack.

There were six large brutes left before her: five footsoldiers and a Jem’Hadar Second, all armed with blasters and each angrier than the last. They looked like a vengeful firing squad as they raised their weapons as one.

She pulled the secondary trigger on her stolen gun, hoping for a wide beam setting, but nothing happened.

“KILL…!,” the Second screamed.

Instantly, everything slowed down for K’Lira as she turned into a whirling dervish, spinning her way into the small crowd almost before they could defend themselves. Blaster fire ripped into her suit at extremely close range, but what would’ve dropped a bull targ barely slowed her. She flew crazily from soldier to soldier, knocking them down or into each other with powerful kicks and punches, twisting away from their fields of fire, using consoles and their own bodies as makeshift cover and anything that came to hand as a weapon.

Her squad, having dispatched the other two groups, ran invisibly to her aid, but they slowed as they surrounded the fight, staring in amazement at the sheer beauty in her martial art.

Crazed as she was, K’Lira knew what was happening around her. All her senses were heightened. Her blood ran colder because she had no adrenalin left, so she could think more clearly. She was extremely tired, but she knew that as long as she maintained her speed and power, likely no one would be able to pace or repel her.

Her luck held as well as her stamina – the True Way soldiers couldn’t touch her. Every single one of them fell before her in miserable fashion until only the Second was left.

Panting heavily, covered helm to boot in blood not her own, she stopped about 10 feet away to assess him as an opponent. He was a giant of a Jem’Hadar, easily more than half again her own considerable size. Long legs, wide reach, heavy build, she thought. Best beware his radius, but he should be slower than these sorry petaQ.

She noticed that though he had a blaster rifle, he’d refrained from using it, probably to avoid hitting his own men until he had a clearer shot. Why doesn’t he try to shoot me now, then? she wondered.

The Second’s face was a mask of barely controlled fury. He’d watched K’Lira’s tactics prevail in slaying his fellows, but they were much weaker than he was, and he’d seen enough to believe he could take her single-handedly. He discarded his gun, drew a machete-style knife from his belt, and held it up menacingly.

“I’ll make First for killing you, surely,” he growled vengefully, settling into a guarded crouch. “Ghos ’op Suq, ” he hissed, challenging her in a poor attempt at her own language.

Unimpressed with his Klingonese, K’Lira glared coldly as she pulled her d'k tahg from its harness and opened the dagger’s tines with a sharp click. “wa’Dich nID moj jajvam jaj qab,” she replied, raising an eyebrow as she beckoned in challenge with the tip of her blade, “’a nID reH!

The Second had no idea what she’d said, but he gathered from her arrogance that she’d rebuffed him somehow. His temper finally failed and he charged headlong.

15 seconds, K’Lira thought, predicting the length of the fight.

He roared thunderously as he swung his knife at her head.

Too soon, she admonished, and from too far away.

Rather than parry the strike, she simply stepped back, letting the machete whistle past her visor.

He tried to reverse the strike, but she slapped the back of his elbow as it went by, forcing him to continue his motion away from her while throwing him slightly off balance. He stumbled down towards her.

12 seconds, she thought, counting down. He’s vulnerable.

Taking advantage of his carelessness, she drove her right knee up into his groin, uppercutting him in the chin with her right fist in the same motion.

He howled in pain and staggered backwards, dropping his weapon.

8 seconds, she thought. Take ‘im down.

She spun quickly to her left for momentum and leaped atop a nearby computer console, then jumped seven feet into the air to land on his shoulders. She caught his head and throat in a leg vise, and her weight forced them both to the floor behind, but K’Lira didn’t release her grip on his neck as they fell. She landed atop his wide chest with a heavy thud, knocking the wind out of him, but her leg vise partially restricted his gasping for air.

5 seconds. Kill him.

She took the dagger in her left hand and stabbed him through his open mouth, pinning his head to the floor. Then she twisted the knife vertically and slapped the d'k tahg’s handle, driving the edge of the blade straight through the top of his head, splitting his skull like a lobster tail.

He died instantly.

1 second...

K’Lira slumped to one side and lay there, panting for air herself because of her broken environment suit, which was covered in so much enemy blood she could barely see through its damaged visor. Her bsrserker rage was spent. The thumping of her heartbeat slowed in her ears as she relaxed back into lucidity.

Around her, the Klingons in her squad removed their helmets and deactivated their cloaks. Their sensors showed there were no enemies left in this part of the base – K’Lira’d slain over 100 herself. A lieutenant helped her to her feet while another returned her bat’leth and her d'k tahg. More Klingons from her company appeared around them, staring at the carnage she’d wrought, remembering much the same elsewhere in the base. They wondered at her survivability and said nothing, but the ones in her squad, who’d witnessed the entire feat, couldn’t restrain themselves.

“QAPLAAAAA’!!!” one of them roared in victory, brandishing his dagger aloft.

JUBWI’, TRESTIAN!” others began to chant in discordant unison.

Two of them tried to put K’Lira on their shoulders, but she shoved them rudely away. Exhausted as she was, her wider senses were returned to her in that moment, and she thought she saw her destiny through their eyes.

She was the founder of the small but ascendant Klingon House of Trestian, then slightly over a thousand warriors strong. It was the nature of Klingon fantasy to laud prowess in combat as a measure of one’s self-worth, especially as a military leader. The more battles you won, the more prestige you’d earn as a warrior. Do that often enough, and you’d garner a following and, perhaps, form a House. Stay that course, growing the honor of one’s House and the size of one’s holdings, and you’d eventually rise to a position of prominent leadership, such as a High Councilor or perhaps Chancellor or even...Empress. It had happened before. While K’Lira was proud and happy to serve her House at need, she was averse to being on the Empire’s ruling council or leading it in any sense. She imagined there were some who were born to that, but she didn’t see herself in that mold. Apparently, though, some did, and there’d be more after word of this victory got around.

But am I just seeing my own hubris, she wondered, writing my ego upon their hearts and hearing my secret desire on their lips?

She couldn’t credit an answer, and she wouldn’t request these warriors’ allegiance despite their praise. She told herself not to assume anything, and she told herself why.

K’Lira looked around at their faces. The ones who’d attempted to parade her around the room were standing a very short distance away, uncertainty in their eyes; she could address that. Most of her squad were still cheering her moniker in wild excitement at their mutual success. She was fine with that, too. The rest of her company were backfilling the shield generator room by then, and everyone was watching to see what she would do next.

Strike while the anvil’s hot, she thought. Give them something to focus on besides me.

She rose to full height. “Warriors,” she shouted over the din, “we’ve come this far together, and our victory Is indeed nigh! But it will be for naught if we don’t accomplish our objectives in coming here!” She pointed with her bat’leth at the damaged shield generator nearby, which was still running. “YIjor!” she commanded.

The uproar was intense as everyone in the room cheered in response.

While explosives experts set charges around the generator, K’Lira stepped aside to use the communicator in her personal wristband because the one in her broken suit no longer functioned. There was no point in secrecy anymore.

“Companies Two and Three, this is General K’Lira,” she said. “The shield will soon be down. What is the status of our objectives?”

The second company had been tasked with discovering and deleting all the True Way’s research into anti-genetic weaponry. The colonel commanding company two reported that they’d reached the base’s computer core with some difficulty as that area was rife with automated defenses. The Klingons were still in the process of downloading data files. A computer virus was prepared to go into the True Way’s network to destroy it. He needed about 10 more minutes.

The third company had been assigned the most important goal of finding and destroying all examples of the True Way’s super-weapon at the base, including its delivery systems. The colonel in charge reported that his troops had suffered heavy losses as the True Way had left the rest of their garrison guarding their weapons stores. The enemy had eventually been defeated, though, and the Klingons had found the super-weapon in a vault at the bottom of the research wing. He and his remaining troops were already en route to the hangar with all the super-weapon examples, the intent being to destroy them from orbit after the Klingons had left the moon’s surface.

The question of casualties interested K’Lira. As the ground operation’s overall commander, the ground troops’ lives and safety were her responsibility. The easiest way to verify who remained was to check the transponder system: dead Klingons would register no life signs. K’Lira’s visor no longer functioned, so she called one of her lieutenants over whose suit still did.

“My helmet doesn’t work,” she explained. “I need a headcount. How many casualties are there by company?”

“Give me a moment, Ma’am,” he said, checking his readouts. “Each company had 430 warriors. Company three reports 289 casualties, and company two reports 104 casualties. That’s 393 deaths out of 1,290 warriors. Survivability ratio’s 70%.”

Something was missing. “What about our company?” she asked. “Company one?”

The officer paused, frowned slightly, then re-checked his readouts. “There are no deaths, Ma’am,” he finally said. “All our transponders are green...except yours, of course.”

K’Lira sat down involuntarily, weak from stress, shocked and pleased at the stunning result. As far as she knew, never in the history of Klingon warfare had a major ground offensive gone without casualties. Granted, this operation was bigger than just her company, but that accomplishment was still unheard of. She was privately thrilled but cautious.

“I’ll want those results double-checked after we’re away from here,” she ordered.

“Of course, Ma’am,” he replied.

Another lieutenant approached. “Charges are set, Ma’am. We need to leave,” he said.

K’Lira stood. “Get everyone into the corridors outside and seal the doors. We’ll head up to the hangar bay to meet the other companies, then blow the generator so we can beam everyone out of this abysmal place,” she ordered.

Her lieutenants obeyed with alacrity, knowing that destroying the generator would likely take out everything it was connected to. No one would want to be around for that.

Company one soon arrived in the hangar bay, which took up nearly all of deck two. The other two companies were already there, so the huge room was filled with warriors, both injured and whole. The dead had been left where they’d fallen as the super-weapon would dissolve their remains anyway. All honor would be afforded to them posthumously.

K’Lira touched her wristband communicator. “General Martok, this is General K’Lira. Stand by.”

She turned to her explosives teams. “Detonate!”

Several floors down, the shield generator flashed once as a power surge sent electric arcs crackling around the device. A moment later, all the charges went off with an earth-shaking roar, and the electric storm rippled out through the ceiling conduit to the antennae on the surface, where it could go no further. The antennae exploded, spewing sparks and debris in all directions, and the shield fell. In the underground hangar, the lights flickered and went out, plunging the entire base into darkness. The emergency power came on automatically, but that wasn’t enough to reactivate the shield.

K’Lira touched her communicator again. “All companies ready to beam out,” she reported.

In space above the moon, the cloaked transports began bringing the Klingons aboard a dozen at a time as Martok’s heavy cruisers moved into high orbit, preparing to bombard the base. The evacuation took several minutes, and K’Lira was among the last to leave.

She materialized on the cargo transporter pad with a group of injured Klingons and went straight to the ship’s main corridor. Her battered armor clung in shards to her body, and it clanked as she hastened to the bridge. She could hardly wait to get out of her useless environment suit; it reeked of sweat, burned fabric, and dried blood, but that would have to wait.

This isn’t over, she chided herself. That base must be destroyed and the super-weapon with it.

The bridge was little more than a flight deck: a command dais with only two ops consoles in front of it, nothing else. It had an efficient layout, but it was too small for her liking. She missed the Ak’Voh’s bridge.

K’Lira walked up to the captain, who saluted fist over heart.

“General,” he greeted, getting up, “I understand it was a successful raid. Do you wish to sit down?”

She saluted, then waved him back down. “No, Captain. Sit. I won’t be staying long.” She pointed at the viewer. “Get me Martok, please.”

One of the bridge officers tapped a comm control, and Martok appeared, tight-lipped but excited. She could tell he was in his element.

He was always best in space, she thought.

“Matron K’Lira,” he said, saluting as he used her formal title, “are all the survivors aboard?”

“All objectives attained, General,” she replied, saluting proudly, “and all surviving personnel are accounted for. You may begin the bombardment. The primary target is in the hangar bay on deck two. Open the doors, destroy the super-weapon, and no one will be able to recover anything from the base.

”We’re clearing the area now,” she finished, nodding to the captain to affect that instruction.

“Excellent,” Martok said, smiling in anticipation as he turned to his tactical officer.

“Fire at will, Lieutenant.”

The viewer automatically switched back to an overview of Trivas III’s moon. Dozens of warheads poured out of the heavy cruisers’ torpedo launchers. The bombs hit the hangar squarely, and the concussions visibly sent shock waves racing across the blasted landscape as the bay doors disintegrated. Without a functioning shield, there was nothing to keep the demon-class environment out, and the inclement weather instantly encroached, setting fire to everything in the hangar including the canisters of anti-genetic isotopes the Klingons had intentionally left in the open. The super-weapon’s uninsulated containers began to cook under the assault of several hundred degrees of atmospheric heat. It took only a few minutes for them to start exploding, one after another, spewing their radioactive contents all over the base and its surroundings.

No one will ever go down there again, K’Lira thought grimly. If the True Way’s test results were accurate, it’ll be uninhabitable for centuries even with environment suits.

Martok reappeared on part of the viewer, grinning widely, and Davir Benmata aboard the Venture appeared on the other part.

“General, Commodore, I salute you,” Martok said, raising a cup of blood wine. “Today, we’ve changed the face of the quadrant for much the better. Thank you both for your help.”

“On the Federation’s behalf, Sir, thank you,” Davir said.

“My compliments to you, General,” K’Lira acknowledged, “and to you, husband.”

“The summary reports I’m getting are very favorable,” Martok continued, “especially from your unit, K’Lira. The battle record shows there were no casualties in it – quite remarkable.”

“I’m glad, General,” she said simply.

Davir beamed at her but didn’t interrupt.

“I’ll schedule a debriefing later,” Martok said, “but that’s a formality at this point. I already know what I need to tell the High Council. In the meantime, I’m hosting a small celebration tonight aboard my flagship to honor those who fell in battle and to recount our victory in true Klingon fashion.”

He looked at Davir. “You’re invited, too, of course.”

The commodore opened his mouth to reply, but K’Lira spoke first. “I’ll attend, General, but right now I’m exhausted and quite in need of a proper bath and a meal.”

She turned to Davir. “May I come aboard?”

Davir smiled lovingly and nodded. “Your VIP quarters are ready. The replicator has your favorites – programmed it myself.”

She smiled gratefully. He knows me so well, she thought.

She returned to Martok. “By your leave, General?” she asked, saluting.

“Of course,” he said, returning her salute.

K’Lira turned towards the doorway at the back of the bridge, intent on getting over to the Venture to be with her husband.

“I’ll keep the blood wine warm for you,” Martok added.

She grinned and kept walking. The door opened ahead, and she pointed upward in emphasis as she passed the threshhold. “I like mine spicy!”

Martok guffawed as the door closed behind her.

FOOTNOTES

MajQa bach’a’vetIh!’
Klingonese: That big shot was fantastic!
Quchbe’! Luq, qaHneS
Klingonese: Agreed! I will, honored sir.
Maj
Klingonese: Good.
SuH
Klingonese: Okay, ready.
Ha'
Klingonese: Let's go.
Jol yIchu’
Klingonese: Energize the transporter.
JubwI’neS
Klingonese: Honored immortal one.
Ghos ’op Suq
Klingonese: Come get some.
wa’Dich nID moj jajvam jaj qab, ’a nID reH!
Klingonese: Today's a bad day to try to become a First, but try anyway!
JubwI’, Trestian
Klingonese: Immortal one! 'Trestian' is the name of the Klingon House that K'Lira founded. It doesn't have a translation.
yIjor!
Klingonese: Blow it up!

CHAPTER 4: FRAMED!

The I.K.S. Kor’gun flew alongside the U.S.S. Venture at low warp back through the Alpha Quadrant towards the Omega Leonis System. Martok’s fleet had been temporarily repaired well enough to make the trip provided no additional fighting ensued, and none was expected.

The Kor’gun’s wardroom was nearly full because every ship commander in their navies was there to celebrate their outstanding victory over the True Way and to honor those who’d perished in the action. The warm air was abuzz with conversation, drinking toasts, and laughter. The heady scent of blood wine added to the festive atmosphere; a steaming vat of it occupied the center of the room, and the tables surrounding it were laden with food of all kinds.

General Martok stood near the bard at the front of the room, looking resplendent in his armor as he laughed joyously at the camaraderie and conversation in his vicinity. Commodore Benmata and Commander Nerayerku, the Venture’s intelligence officer, were nearby in Starfleet dress uniforms. Lt. Commander Sgiza, his security chief, was there, too, in similar attire. K’Lira stood next to Davir, nearly a head taller than her husband. She’d bathed, then changed into a new set of leather clothes with new armor atop that. A golden circlet with the symbol of her House brightly adorned her brow amidst long locks of indigo hair that tumbled unbound in thick rivulets to her waist. The colonels who’d led companies two and three were nearby in their full regalia. Everyone was celebrating happily while the bard played his instrument and sang of the battle of Trivas III.

Martok eventually rapped his empty goblet on a nearby table to get the room’s attention, and everyone quieted expectantly.

“My fellow warriors and our Starfleet friends,” he said, “as you know, we’re about two purposes tonight. We celebrate ourselves and we celebrate those who’ve honorably preceded us into Sto’Vo’Kor this day. Their contribution to this victory will be remembered forever in our loremaster’s song and in our heghtay.”

He paused deferentially. “While this isn’t normally allowed in the company of non-Klingons, our Federation allies helped save this ship and win the battle, so I’m permitting them to participate, if they wish.”

He bowed his head in silence for a moment. Then, suddenly, he and the other Klingons threw their heads back and screamed inarticulately at the ceiling for several seconds.

“RAWRRR!!!”

Davir joined in, knowing from K’Lira what to expect, but Nerayerku covered her ears at the din, and Sgiza looked slightly uncomfortable.

When the shouting abated, Martok walked to the vat in the middle of the room, refilled his goblet, and turned to the Federation officers. “I’m sure you’ll find this next part more akin to your...sensibilities,” he chided, smiling lopsidedly.

Many of the other Klingons refilled theirs, a few of them chuckling at the general’s humor.

Martok raised his goblet and toasted, “HeghvaD batlh!”

As one, the Klingons drained their mugs of blood wine, then roared in happiness at their mutual success: “Qapla’!”

“Be seated!” Martok shouted. “Let's eat!”

The evening progressed as dishes of traditional Klingon and Federation foods traveled about the room while the bard plied the crowd, singing versions of his tale to see what people liked and what still needed work. The Klingons added to this by regaling each other with tales of their exploits, each trying to surpass the glory of the last. Although the loremaster often asked K’Lira to clarify her part in the battle, she was strangely quiet about that, preferring instead to recount the glory of others’ successes rather than her own. She knew he could get better tellings of her deeds from her warriors. She ate little, having already had a meal aboard the Venture, and her weariness was heightened by blood wine on a full stomach. She watched the festivities through half-closed eyes, her attention wandering aimlessly about the room as she gradually lost track of time.

Martok’s communicator beeped in a way that alerted him that he’d received a high priority communiqué, so he paused in his revelry to read it silently. The message was from the Chancellor’s office, and it concerned the disposition of Kahless’s sword: apparently, it had yet to arrive at the monestary on Boreth. The Council had received information that it might’ve been taken aboard one of Martok’s ships, so Gowron wanted him to investigate to see if that was true.

Martok was shocked and his face fell.

Who amongst my crew would do such a thing? he wondered incredulously.

Federation agents had recently recovered the bat’leth from the Mariah System and returned it to the Klingons with the stipulation that no one should ever purport to own it. K’Lira herself had brought it to the Great Hall on Qo’noS from Deep Space 9 a month ago and presented it to the Chancellor. Gowron had ordered it sent to the royal archive on Boreth for safekeeping where it would be guarded by the Yan-Isleth, the Brotherhood of the Sword. Martok had just assumed it was there, though he’d heard nothing of it since...until now.

“Excuse me, please,” he said to the guests at his table, and he left the room to see to this mystery.

Kahless’s sword had a specific isotopic signature due to its unique composition, and internal sensors could be calibrated to detect that unless it was shielded. It didn’t take long to sweep the Kor’gun – the sword wasn’t on sensors. He was considering having his security teams conduct a room-to-room search just to be sure when another report arrived. The bat’leth’s signature had been detected on one of the troop transports Martok had used to bring an army to Trivas III.

Relieved, he immediately ordered the sword retrieved and the party culpable for having it arrested.

He was devastated when a security team reported that they’d found the sword in K’Lira’s cabin.

Certain there’d been a mistake, he watched the team’s video record of the retrieval, then re-checked their scans. It verified that Kahless’s sword was found underneath her cot, and they were bringing it back to his ship, as instructed.

He still couldn’t believe it. He decided he wouldn’t until he’d exhausted every investigative avenue. He ordered her room to be searched thoroughly for any signs of intrusion or evidence that someone other than K’Lira had been there, but that would take time. Meanwhile, his duty was clear: he had to detain K’Lira for having the sword of Kahless illegally.

His heart heavy, he requested a security team meet him in the wardroom with instructions to arrest K’Lira.

Three security guards met him at the wardroom’s door. He could hear that the celebration within was still going strong. He hoped this could be done unobtrusively, but he doubted that. Knowing K’Lira, she wouldn’t come quietly if he confronted her directly.

“Set your weapons to heavy stun,” he advised. “Follow my lead.”

As the guards checked their disruptor pistols, Martok opened the door, and the noise spilled into the hallway. He stood in the doorway and looked around. He remembered K’Lira’d been sitting to his left, just opposite Commodore Benmata, and that she’d seemed sleepy.

Has she retired in the interim? he wondered.

The Federation officers the commodore had brought with him were still present, and he quickly found K’Lira standing next to her husband as Davir was discussing something with them.

Martok walked slowly up to the group, his guards in tow. “Excuse the interruption, Commodore,” he began quietly.

“Of course,” Davir said, shrugging equably. “We were just about to call it a night, if that’s all right? I’ve been ordered back to Deep Space 9.”

Martok nodded. “We need to speak to Matron K’Lira.”

Davir looked curious. “What about?”

“It’s a private matter,” Martok answered obliquely.

He opened his palm to K’Lira. “Matron, come with us, please.” His tone left no room for debate.

Davir shared a concerned glance with his wife but said nothing.

K’Lira noted Martok seemed uncomfortable and out of sorts, quite different from when she’d last seen him. She looked behind him and noticed that the guards were tense and sweating as though wary of her. While their weapons weren’t drawn, the holsters were unbuckled, and she could see that their guns were set to stun.

Not the company you bring to a party unless you’re expecting a fight, she thought.

The hair on the back of her neck tingled. Something was amiss and it somehow involved her.

Martok won’t say what in front of Davir, K’Lira thought, which led her to believe that he thought either it wasn’t any of Starfleet’s business or the commodore would object if he’d known. Whatever it was, the general was being intentionally secretive. That never boded well, but Martok was her superior officer, and she trusted his judgment.

“Very well,” she said, and they left, trailed by the guards.

A few seconds passed.

“Well, that was...weird,” Davir said, puzzled.

He turned to his Betazoid security chief Losozola Sgiza. “Did you sense anything?”

Losozola sighed. “Deep concern from the general, nervousness and fear from the guards, all very focused on her. By the way, she’s as confused as you are and somber – I can still feel her from here. Whatever’s going on, she’s clueless but not expecting it to be good.”

Davir looked in the direction his wife had gone and frowned, wishing he’d accompanied her, but it wasn’t his place to intrude as Martok had requested privacy.

Mildly frustrated, he tapped his comm badge once, and it chirped. “Venture, this is the commodore. Three to beam aboard.”

Meanwhile, Martok, K’Lira, and the guards arrived in the ship’s brig. The wide room was split by an aisle between two rows of four cells each. The solitary console at the back of the room was where the cell controls were. All the cells were empty.

We didn’t take any prisoners, she remembered, so that makes sense.

“What’s wrong, General?” she asked anxiously.

Martok sighed deeply, looking forlornly at the floor. He’d been reviewing the evidence against her in his mind as they’d walked, desperately trying to find a way to avoid needing to arrest her for a crime she’d allegedly committed. He finally met her gaze and was momentarily struck by how vivid her eyes were. He knew their shade changed with her mood; he wasn’t sure what bright purple meant, but he was sure it would change when she heard what was on his mind.

There are times when I truly regret my responsibilities, he thought remorsefully. Maybe I should’ve retired, too?

“Matron,” he began, “you’ll recall that Gowron ordered Kahless’s bat’leth sent to the Boreth monestary.”

K’Lira nodded, remembering. “We were there.”

“Yes,” he agreed, then he continued. “Well, the Yan-Isleth have reported that it never arrived.”

K’Lira stared at him silently, not knowing what to say.

She knew that Morlo Aegis, the Federation ambassador who’d coordinated returning the sword to the Empire, had stipulated that Kahless’s bat’leth should be presented to all the Klingon people, not to a specific House or person. She and Gowron had agreed with his wisdom. Morlo’s greatest fear was that someone would use it to set themselves up as a dictator or tyrant, then disband the Federation Alliance. Now it dubiously seemed someone had taken the first step on that terrible path.

Lost...again! Stolen en route! she thought, jumping to conclusions, then questions. By whom? How? Why!?

Her face whitened as her heart skipped a beat, and she slumped, catching herself against a nearby wall.

Martok saw her distress and felt badly for causing it. How will she react when she hears the rest? he thought as he quickly reached out to her.

“Are you ill, Matron?” he asked.

She took his hand gratefully, breathing heavily to recover herself. Her color quickly returned, and she stood up. Rather than answer him, she placed her hand over his heart and anxiously asked, “They found it, yes?”

Now it was Martok’s face that paled.

Nodding, he gave her his PADD with trembling hands, the security team’s file already set for replay.

She took it in hers and watched in growing dismay as its awful accusation played out.

K’Lira’s reputation as an exemplary Klingon warrior, the worthy founder of House Trestian, a famous Yan-Isleth instructor, and a notable general was well deserved but tenuous. She’d accidentally become an augment as a teenager. By ancient law and tradition, augmented Klingons had no rights. They were Houseless outcasts, pariahs amongst their own people, forbidden to trade goods and services or to fight alongside normal Klingons. She’d spent the next two decades making up for it by garnering a grand reputation performing many heroic deeds in the Empire’s fringes, but she’d used prosthetics to look more normal for fear that others would reject her if they knew she was an augment.

Finally, 10 years ago, K’Lira’s comeuppance was that she’d been forced to reveal her nature to the High Council. Gowron’s forgiveness for lying about that had secured the leniency she needed to remain a Klingon in good standing, but he’d conditioned that benefit upon her continued loyalty to the Empire. She’d happily agreed as she was already loyal, and her security and pride in being an honorable Klingon had been untouchable since...until today.

Gowron will surely condemn me for grand larceny. My honor, my House and its warriors and holdings, all I value as a Klingon is in jeopardy now, she realized, horrified. It was her worst nightmare.

“Matron K’Lira of House Trestian,” Martok said regretfully, “you’re hereby placed under arrest for illegally having the sword of Kahless. A trial...”

His words were like icy daggers stabbing at her soul, but she mercifully never heard the rest of it as her heart stopped again, and she fainted dead away.

K’Lira awoke with a splitting headache on a cot in one of the cells. Disoriented, nauseous, and groaning in pain, she put a hand to her clammy forehead and rolled off the bed to a squatting position. The chill in the flooring bit into her feet and knees, and she realized her crown, weapons, and armor were gone. Suddenly, her memory came back: the great battle, the raucous party, Martok’s incriminating video, its awful consequence, all of it. She pitched forward and vomited.

What really happened? she wondered angrily as her stomach finally stopped flipping. How did it get in my room? Who’s framing me and why?

There were no answers to be found kneeling in her own bile, and she started to stand.

“The headache will stop soon,” a dulcet voice said behind her.

K’Lira whirled, reaching instinctively for her absent dagger. She saw no one, but her inner ear churned nauseatingly, and she hit the floor again on all fours, dry heaving.

“As will the nausea,” the female voice added.

A slim hand touched K’Lira’s right shoulder, and she looked up to see a lovely Orion woman in a white medical uniform kneeling next to her.

“Who...?” K’Lira asked between spasms.

Smiling, the woman stood up and stepped away. Her movements were noiseless, and she suddenly disappeared, then reappeared in another part of the cell. Walking quietly back to K’Lira, she said, “I’m the ship’s emergency medical hologram, of course, the only person allowed in your cell. I was told you were distressed and instructed to help you.”

She knelt again and looked closely at K’Lira, appraising the patient. “You’re physically unharmed despite your ordeal,” she observed. “By that, I mean the battle. Your current state is a result of overstressing your heart.” She cocked her head to one side. “Did you know you have an atrial murmur?” she asked. “We can fix that.”

K’Lira had finally had enough. Her emotional turmoil couldn’t be assuaged by a hologram’s condescension, nor could her legal woes be redressed by a medical program. Her eyes darkened dangerously as her ire rose, and she shoved the nurse rudely away, causing it to vanish. She stood, stalked to the force field blocking the cell, and addressed the guard at the back of the brig.

“I want to talk to Martok!” she yelled.

“He ain’t here,” the fat slob of a Klingon muttered with his mouth full of lunch.

“Tell him Matron K’Lira requests to speak with him immediately!” she tried again.

“You don’t give orders in here,” he sneered, then he returned to his meal, simply ignoring her.

Apoplectic, K'Lira swore violently and struck the force field repeatedly. “HEY, PETAQ, I’M TALKING TO YOU!” she exploded.

The field predictably absorbed and dissipated her best efforts, and the guard continued as before.

Waste of time, she told herself despondently as she gave up. He’s instructed not to listen to me.

It would take the ship several days to reach Qo’noS at low warp unless Martok accelerated home ahead of his fleet, which was unlikely. She’d never been jailed before, and her soul ached at the thought of what this would do to her family. She didn’t even know if Davir had been told of her predicament. Ugly words like “thief,” “convict,” and “prisoner” plagued her mind, and she tasted bile rising again at the idea that they apparently applied to her. She knew she was completely innocent, and it vexed her greatly that she could do nothing until her trial. She’d see all the evidence and meet her accuser then, but she was sure whoever had framed her would meanwhile try to make sure her trial was a sham and her conviction was a foregone conclusion. She could only surmise that whoever had stolen the sword then planted it in her cabin wanted her out of their way for a reason, but she had no clue who or why. That troubled her most of all.

Frustrated and overwhelmed, K’Lira sat on the floor, hung her head between her knees, and started to cry. Her long hair hid her face, and she initially failed to notice the EMH had returned, standing unobtrusively in a corner.

The holographic nurse noiselessly approached the distraught Klingon, knelt, wrapped her arms around K’Lira’s shaking shoulders, and wept, too.

K’Lira was so emotionally spent she forgot holograms were just programmed force fields and photons. While they could emulate behaviors, they were incapable of actual empathy or emotion. Even with psychological subroutines, it was unlike any standard EMH to share in a patient’s emotional outpouring. In that moment, though, it was exactly what K’Lira wanted, and she didn’t mind the difference. She pulled the nurse in and sobbed into her shoulder.

FOOTNOTES

Heghtay
Klingonese: Death ritual. The Klingon ritual to warn the honored dead that another warrior will soon arrive in Sto'Vo'Kor.
HeghvaD batlh
Klingonese: To the honored dead.

“Don’t speak, Matron,” someone said quietly, “just listen.”

K’Lira’s eyes fluttered open, and she found herself still on the cold floor of her dingy cell. Her clothes and hair were sticky and reeked of vomit. She had no idea who was speaking to her, so she sat up and looked around. In the dim light of the cell’s solitary lamp, she saw the nurse was back in one of the corners of the little room. K’Lira remembered crying herself to sleep in the hologram’s embrace, and she didn’t know how much time had passed, but the EMH was the only other person there. Even the security guard was gone.

“Who…?” she asked sleepily.

“SHHH! Listen!” the voice insisted. “There’s little time – the guard will return soon.”

The voice was male, and she noticed now that the hologram’s lips were moving, though it was otherwise still. Someone was clandestinely speaking to her through the EMH.

Fully awake now, K’Lira watched the hologram closely. “Who are you?” she couldn’t help asking.

“My name isn’t important,” the voice said, “but what I have to say will change everything for you. Gowron, too. I know who framed you.”

Galvanized, K’Lira’s heart raced. She had no idea who this person was or how he’d hacked the EMH, but she was glad he had and instantly memorized his voice. It had a lilting trill she found hard to place.

“The Kor’gun’s being trailed by another ship whose crew are working with the True Way. Their leader’s called His Eminence – I don’t know his real name. He got Kahless’s sword from a Klingon court official who told him to frame you with its theft.”

K’Lira nearly screamed for joy: Someone else knows I’m innocent! This was the break she hadn’t dared hope for. He needs to testify on my behalf, or I must somehow corroborate what he’s saying, she thought. She wanted desperately to ask question after question, her mind was so full of them, but she told herself not to interrupt.

The voice continued, growing staticky. “There’s more, much more I need to tell you, but there isn’t time. I need asylum. Tell Martok to look...escape pod...”

The EMH suddenly stopped talking, its mouth frozen in mid-sentence.

K’Lira immediately stood and went quickly to the hologram, suspecting something had gone wrong unexpectedly, perhaps on the hacker’s side. She snapped her fingers in front of its face – no reaction. She tapped it on the forehead – still nothing. “Computer, deactivate the EMH,” she said. The hologram remained, its open mouth almost comical in appearance.

Either it’s programmed not to take orders from me, or it’s broken, she thought.

Her heart fell. She was sure whatever else the hacker had intended to say, it would’ve added value to what he’d already told her, but that chance was passed. Still, she felt vindicated that someone was willing to risk helping her prove her innocence, even if she didn’t know who or why, and she was even more desperate to talk to Martok.

She turned back towards her cot to wait for the guard’s return.

“Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we?” the EMH’s now-female voice said brightly behind her.

K’Lira realized the program had evidently reset itself, and the hacker was truly gone.

His Eminence’s battlecruiser, the Ghogh JaghDaj, flew under cloak next to the Kor’gun. The Enemy’shrone had been trailing the general’s fleet since the battle of Trivas III. The crew was mostly Klingons with some vassal aliens, none of whom were loyal to the Empire; they were all mercenaries. The warship had an austere interior typical of Klingon architecture designed for military efficiency: dim red lighting, warm temperature, metallic walls and flooring, few windows, trapezoid doorways, and Spartan furniture.

In a dark crawlspace near an unused storage room, a male Lethiian and a Gorn sat next to a female Ferasan named Sathran. Her narrowed yellow eyes reflected the light of the PADD she was furiously using to check the connection she’d made through the ship’s navigational array. She’d been illicitly using it to send carrier signals to the Kor’gun’s main computer, embedding it with command protocols to hack its holographic projection system. Apparently, the Ghogh JaghDaj's automated security system had discovered her activity and shut down the array.

“Connection’s been broken...on our side,” she muttered, annoyed, and handed the PADD to the Lethean. “What now, Rimic?” she asked him worriedly.

Rimic took the PADD and looked for himself, confirming her fear. Their plan needed to accelerate.

Dissatisfied with their prospects in working with His Eminence, the three mercenaries had recently decided to defect to Martok’s House. To arrange that, they needed to ask his permission to seek asylum in exchange for their insight into His Eminence’s operations. To avoid tipping off His Eminence, they’d devised a hack into the Kor’gun’s computer and tried to use its EMH to privately ask him to beam them aboard while the Ghogh JaghDaj's shields were down. The problems were that the EMH could only go where there were holoemitters and that Martok rarely went to those places, so he was proving too difficult to isolate. Time was running out.

Their backup plan was to appeal to Matron K’Lira on the same basis, hoping her friendship with Martok would play out in their favor. She had clout within the Empire as a House leader, but she’d been difficult to isolate, too, until she’d been thrown into Martok’s brig. Sathran had quickly discovered the reason for her incarceration, and Rimic realized he had additional leverage in K’Lira’s case.

All three aliens knew that His Eminence had long been working with a rogue faction in the Klingon Empire, and that one of his goals was to disrupt the Federation Alliance to its breaking point. Other than the ones aboard the Enemy’s Throne, they didn’t know who or where the other rogues were, just that cells existed throughout the Empire. The advent of Kahless’s sword had provided another lever, and someone purporting to be connected to the High Council had given it to His Eminence with specific instructions to frame K’Lira. Rimic had overheard the conversation himself. When he realized Martok was almost unreachable but that K’Lira was alone in the brig, accused of a crime he knew she hadn’t committed, he’d switched to plan B and used the EMH.

His Eminence would soon learn that someone aboard his cloaked ship had tapped its navigational array in a way that might’ve given away the ship’s presence. He’d surely sweep the ship, looking for whomever had done that to make an example of them. Sathran was right – they’d run out of time and needed to adapt.

Their original plan to escape from His Eminence’s ship had involved Martok arranging a site-to-site transport while the Ghogh JaghDaj's shields were down. They were always down while in stealth mode because they were detectable through the cloak. As for the Kor’gun, Rimic couldn’t beam over as long as its shields were up because he didn’t know the shields’ modulation frequency, so the transport had to be initiated from the general’s side. All of that now had to change. K’Lira was their only contact, and there was no way she could help them from Martok’s brig. The aliens would have to escape His Eminence’s ship on their own and hope K’Lira could make Martok understand what to do. Rimic had been in the middle of that explanation when his connection to the EMH had been disabled.

“His Eminence will have already disabled the transporter system,” Rimic said to Sathran. “Shuttle bay’s gonna be heavily guarded, too. The only way off is to use the escape pods. They’re never locked down.“ He shrugged. “It's all we've got.”

“What if K’Lira can’t talk to Martok in time?” Sathran asked.

Rimic shrugged again. “We need to buy her time. Otherwise, we’re screwed.”

He turned to the Gorn on his other side. “Rogazh, we need a distraction so we can get to an escape pod. You’re an engineer – any ideas?”

Rogazh’s large black eyes stared lidlessly at them both while he thought.

Creeps me out, Rimic thought. Can’t tell if he’s looking at me or past me.

“I’m a diagnostics engineer, Rimic,” the Gorn finally hissed, “but I think the best way to distract His Eminence long enough to launch an escape pod is to disable its weapons and transporters so that our pod doesn’t get shot or we don’t get beamed back aboard before Martok can reach us. Also, pods can’t be launched at warp – they’re strictly sublight because they don’t survive the transition back to normal space. That means the Ghogh JaghDaj needs to drop out of warp, which likely means Martok would have to do so first.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Rimic agreed. “How do we do all that without getting caught?”

“I can access any terminal on this ship as long as it’s not locked down,” Sathran chimed in. “Just tell me which system to touch, and I can do all the damage we’ll need with my PADD.”

“Doing a level five diagnostic on the warp core or the transporters would automatically require disabling them long enough to finish it, which is why we don’t do it at warp. I know which fault codes would take the longest to fix, but I don’t know how to fake them authentically. Do you?”

Sathran grinned, her feline fangs shining in the dim light, and handed him the PADD. “Show me what to put where.”

Rimic watched as the Gorn and the Ferasan worked, privately gratified that he’d been brave enough to include them in his plans to defect to the Klingon Empire. He and they made a trio of perfect misfits. While they’d had different reasons for joining, Sathran and Rogazh were a formidable team of talented specialists. Rimic was the mastermind of the group with his knowledge of the Ghogh JaghDaj's general operations. Together, they felt unstoppable. Rimic hoped his sentiment wasn’t that much of an exaggeration because they’d need more than luck to pull off this ruse.

K’Lira lay awake on the cot in her cell. The nurse had replicated an ordinary tunic and pants with simple leather boots and a belt for her, all black. She wore no armor or other accessories as those weren’t allowed, but everything was fresh and clean. The nurse had even arranged to wash the bile from K’Lira’s hair, and the cell smelled normal again.

A different security guard was on duty now at the back of the brig, and K’Lira had resolved to treat this one more respectfully than the last. She was feeling better about her prospects since talking to her mysterious benefactor via the EMH, so she’d asked the guard to pass a message to Martok about needing to speak at a reasonable convenience as she had new information to share with him, and the guard had agreed to do so. That had been several hours ago.

He must be sleeping off all that blood wine, she thought ruefully, but there was nothing to do except wait. She closed her eyes.

The guard’s voice came over the cell’s speaker. “The general’s coming down in a few minutes,” he said.

K’Lira started awake and realized she’d dozed off. She got up quickly, then remembered that she didn’t have access to the amenities in her cabin, so she couldn’t freshen up.

Well, Martok’s seen me covered in gore. If my worst state doesn’t faze him, nothing will, she concluded, shrugging.

A few minutes later, the brig door opened, and General Martok walked in accompanied by two bodyguards. He looked haggard as though he hadn’t slept much.

“Matron,” he asked, stopping before her cell, “are you well?” He sounded tired, too.

“Under these circumstances, well enough,” she said.

Martok looked slightly abashed. He regretted the necessity of jailing her until they reached Qo’noS, but protocol demanded it. He was sure she wouldn’t forgive him, and he could live with that, but it had preyed upon his mind all night and haunted his fitful dreams.

“If there were any other way,” he started, “I’d...”

K’Lira held up her hand, stopping him. “General, I brought you down here to tell you that someone else knows I’m innocent.” She told him about the conversation she’d had with the mysterious hacker during the night.

“Have your technicians check the EMH program for signs of tampering,” she advised. “The hacker specifically said he needed our help. If that’s true, he might’ve left clues about that in your computer system.”

Martok was amazed. A cloaked ship close aboard? A nameless hacker begging for asylum who’d managed to remotely invade a complex computer network to tell him to look for a pod? Someone who allegedly had evidence of K’Lira’s innocence? It was hard to credit. Still, he’d known K’Lira for over 20 years, and she was the most level-headed person he’d ever met. It was completely unlike her to make up such an outlandish tale even to save herself (assuming she was guilty), so he was inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. It did no harm to check it out.

He nodded musingly. “I’ve already updated Gowron about your situation, but this warrants another report. I’ll have my best systems engineer check the computer network and the EMH specifically.”

K’Lira was relieved that Martok had listened to her, gratified that he was willing to help, and hopeful that he’d find what they were looking for. Her eyes brightened by degrees. “Thank you so much, General.”

He started to leave, then turned back. “Are you hungry?” he asked.

“Starving!” she agreed.

Martok smiled. “Your husband isn’t the only one who knows how to program a replicator. I’ll serve you from my own table,” he said and left, taking his guards with him.

A few hours later, after a lovely full-course breakfast, Martok returned to the brig, triumphant and eager. He went straight to the guard’s station at the back of the room. “Release Matron K’Lira,” he ordered.

The guard didn’t even question Martok’s instruction and dropped the force field in front of her cell.

K’Lira stepped forth quizzically.

“You were absolutely right,” Martok exclaimed, gladly confirming her suspicion. “The network’s been hacked and by an apparently very clever person. The EMH has numerous irregular command protocols in it. We’re reviewing them now, but it’s clear they were added quite recently and not by anyone aboard. Given what you told me, it seems likely that someone wants your attention...or mine. Either way, there’s enough reasonable doubt about your guilt to warrant reducing your incarceration to a form of house arrest until we can officially clear your name.” He paused. “You’re restricted to quarters aboard my ship until we reach Qo’noS tomorrow evening. Will you comply?”

K’Lira’s heart fluttered. It wasn’t everything she’d hoped for, but it was enough and a good start to her defense. She still didn’t know what to make about the hacker’s attempt at asylum, but it was clear Martok believed her innocence could be proven, and he was doing his part. She realized he was duty bound to keep her under guard while she was in his custody, and she had no intention of making that difficult for him as long as she wasn’t a prisoner.

Her gratitude overwhelmed her, and she surprised him by pulling him into a bear hug, her powerful muscles making his back creak in protest as she squeezed.

“Oof!” he grunted.

K’Lira recovered herself and released him. “Of course,” she said. “You’re a good friend, General.

“If I may ask,” she continued, “have you told my husband about my situation yet?”

Martok looked uncomfortable. “I haven’t.” He held up a hand to forgo her protest. “Not because I didn’t want to, but Gowron specifically told me not to discuss the sword’s theft with anybody in the Federation. He sees this as a strictly internal matter and wishes to avoid potentially embarrassing the Empire publicly.”

K’Lira frowned, pinching her lips into a line. She wasn’t convinced of Gowron’s logic in keeping his cards close to his chest. She resented that his decision necessarily kept Davir in the dark, and she hurt for him because he had no idea she was in trouble. She wasn’t sure how he could’ve helped her legally, but his presence and compassion would’ve comforted her, and she missed him terribly.

Martok noted her sour expression and sighed. “I’ll try again,” he promised resignedly.

K’Lira softened. “You must feel as though I’ve got you wrapped around my finger, eh?”

“It just seems like the right thing to do,” he answered.

She smiled gently. “Again, I thank you.”

Martok straightened. “If there’s nothing else, Matron, the guard outside will take you to your quarters. We’ve brought your personal belongings there. You’re required to stay there for the duration. Any requests you may have should be addressed to the deck officer on duty.”

He waved openly to the doorway, and K’Lira left, glad to exchange imprisonment in a tiny brig for house arrest in an unused crew berth.

FOOTNOTES

Ghogh jaghDaj
Klingonese: Enemy's Throne. It's the name of His Eminence's ship.

His Eminence had been trailing Martok’s fleet under cloak since Trivas III. Aboard the Enemy’s Throne, Rimic, Sathran, and Rogahz were crammed into one of the Negh’Var battlecruiser’s escape pods, finally ready to risk everything to seek asylum on General Martok’s ship. The plan was to force the Ghogh JaghDaj to drop out of warp long enough to jettison their escape pod, then rocket off in Martok’s direction, hoping he would beam them aboard before His Eminence’s ship could get underway again to catch them. With Rogahz’s help, Sathran had pre-programmed a series of false faults in the Enemy’s Throne's computer, which would require taking the ship out of warp for diagnosis and repair. Rogahz had disabled the ship’s tractor beam and transporter systems in the same way. As an added measure of protection, Rimic had brought a transport inhibiter with him in case the Ghogh JaghDaj managed to get its transporter running before Martok could reach them. Once they were safely on his ship, they would barter their insight of His Eminence’s operations for asylum in Martok’s House. If that didn’t work out, they’d do the same for asylum in House Trestian.

In K’Lira’s case, Rimic had additional value regarding her legal defense. He knew she’d been framed by someone connected to the High Council for stealing Kahless’s sword, which would be scandalous news when it broke. He also knew K’Lira was in prison aboard the Kor’gun, and he was anxious to talk to her in person, too.

“We’re almost out of time, Rimic,” Sathran said. “Martok will reach Qo’noS tomorrow, and he and K’Lira will be impossible to reach then. It’s now or never.”

Rimic glanced at Rogahz, who said nothing, then he looked back at her and shrugged. “Do it.”

Sathran pulled out her PADD to link to the pod’s unsecured computer, then used its hardline to hack to the Ghogh JaghDaj's network from there to run the modified diagnostic routines Rogahz had recommended.

In the ship’s engineering area, a series of fault codes related to the port nacelle’s performance appeared on the chief engineer’s console, indicating the nacelle wasn’t developing a warp field properly. The computer recommended dropping out of warp until the nacelle’s issue could be resolved. As long as warp power was available, the ship’s cloak would keep it hidden, but the Enemy’s Throne would fall behind as Martok continued on to Qo’noS, unaware he’d been followed by the most wanted ship in the galaxy for its part in the Bajoran wormhole’s demise.

The engineer called the bridge to tell the captain about the computer’s recommendation.

While he and the captain discussed options, Sathran used more of Rogahz’s engineering knowledge to make the nacelle scram itself, forcing it to fail, and everyone except the rogues in the escape pod was surprised when the ship’s warp field collapsed asymmetrically. The Enemy’s Throne lurched hard to port, and only the inertial dampeners kept the crew from being tossed wildly about as it tumbled back into normal space, leaving behind subspace ripples even the ship’s cloak couldn’t hide.

The Kor’gun’s scanners detected a large sensor ghost close aboard that fell away aft, and the general was immediately summoned to the bridge. He’d been forewarned by Rimic via K’Lira to look for an escape pod. While there was no way a pod could create a subspace disturbance that big and chaotic, it obviously bore investigation under the circumstances, and Martok ordered his battlecruiser to come about while the rest of his fleet continued to Qo’noS.

Aboard the Enemy’s Throne, the crew recovered themselves as the ship came to a full stop a short distance from where it had fallen out of subspace. The port nacelle was dark, but the other systems were working, including the cloak. The captain could already see the Kor’gun approaching on the tactical viewer. He knew His Eminence valued the Ghogh JaghDaj's secrecy above all else, so he ordered the ship to clear the vicinity on impulse power to avoid discovery.

That’s when Sathran played her next trick. Tapping into the bridge’s tactical display, she watched the Kor’gun approach to get the timing right, then tapped a button on her PADD, jettisoning every escape pod on the Enemy’s Throne including the one she and the other two rogues were in. The jarring jolt and sudden acceleration away from the hull pressed her into her seat, and she almost dropped her PADD. The star field outside the pod’s only window spun crazily as the vehicle tumbled away from the invisible battlecruiser. The thrusters fired, and their trajectory stabilized after a few seconds.

She turned to Rimic. “Turn on the inhibiter.”

Rimic obeyed, and the Klingon device began to glow redly as its particle disruption field enveloped the little pod. Now, the only way to recover theirs was to tractor it.

“You sure you disabled their tractor beam?” he asked Rogahz.

The Gorn started to hiss in reply, then stopped and pointed out the window.

Rimic turned to look, hoping to see Martok’s ship in the near distance. Instead, a cloud of escape pods met his view, dozens of them. Still more appeared as they emerged from the ship’s cloaking effect. He couldn’t count them all, and he was sure the ship’s crew couldn’t tractor so many of them anyway.

He turned to Sathran in mild shock. “You launched ALL of them?”

She looked up, smiling in feigned innocence. “Oops.”

Rogahz hissed, laughing, then he turned to Rimic. “Yes, I’m sure their tractor beam won’t work.” He handed Rimic an odd-looking mechanical component. “It’s the tractor’s emitter regulator. It won’t work without one, and I spaced all their spares before I took that one out.”

Rimic smiled in satisfaction as things were going well...so far. He checked the pod’s sensors. The Kor’gun was closing fast on the cloud of escape pods. The real danger at this point was His Eminence’s fully armed ship. If the captain opened fire to prevent their defection, their pod would be destroyed very quickly. Rimic was betting that His Eminence didn’t want to reveal his ship’s presence by dropping the cloak long enough to power the weapons, not with a hostile warship actively scanning the area. While he couldn’t see the Enemy’s Throne, he was sure it was lurking in the immediate vicinity, and that its Klingon captain was seething that he could do nothing to prevent Martok from picking through the escape pods.

Martok needs to find us quickly¸ Rimic thought. He turned to Sathran and opened his mouth.

“Way ahead of you, Boss,” she interrupted.

She retrieved her PADD and picked up the emergency frequency for the escape pods. Sending an SOS broadcast command, she soon had all the others chirping in unison, but she left theirs silent by contrast. If anyone was scanning the pods, the lack of an SOS from theirs would seem oddly conspicuous.

The Kor’gun stopped about 10 kilometers away and scanned the field of drifting escape pods, looking for life forms.

Without waiting for the scan to finish, Rimic deactivated the transport inhibiter, hit the pod’s rhrusters, and flew directly towards the Kor’gun, trusting that K’Lira had convinced the general that the rogues were friendly and should be allowed aboard.

The Kor’gun opened its shuttle bay, locked onto their escape pod with its tractor beam, brought them straight in, and closed its bay. A red haze surrounded the rogues as a Klingon transporter effect removed them from the pod.

Rimic, Sathran, and Rogahz materialized in the brig in separate cells, a normal security precaution when dealing with uncertainties.

Rimic slumped down onto his cot, relieved they’d made it aboard the Kor’gun without major incident.

She did it! he thought, referring to K’Lira.

“Rimic...?” he heard Sathran call nervously from the next cell. “Tell me this was part of the plan.”

Before he could reply, the voice of the guard at the back of the brig sounded over the speaker system. “The prisoners will stand and remain silent. The general will arrive shortly.”

Prisoners! Rimic thought. Definitely not part of the plan.

He stood and looked around curiously, noting the other cells were unoccupied.

Where’s K’Lira? he wondered, unaware she’d been moved.

The brig door opened and Martok strode in, accompanied by two guards. He went straight to Rimic’s cell and stood there, taking the three prisoners in with his one-eyed gaze, unsure what to make of his catch. Based on K’Lira’s information, he was fairly certain one of them had been the one who had spoken with her the night before and told them to watch for a pod. The request for asylum could wait until he determined their identities and the value of any information they had to offer in exchange for that.

“I am General Martok,” he said by way of unnecessary introduction.

“Who are you?” he asked, looking at Rimic first.

“Thank you for rescuing us, General,” Rimic replied. “I’m Rimic, and these are Sathran and Rogahz.” He indicated thw others in turn. “We can talk all you want later, but I should warn you that a nearby cloaked ship armed with isotopic torpedoes like the kind you destroyed at Trivas is recovering from the sabotage we conducted to escape it. It’ll likely attack your ship as soon as possible to eliminate us. You must leave immediately! Rejoin your fleet and flee to Qo’noS! It won’t follow you there.”

The strong advice didn’t startle Martok as he’d already heard the suspicion of a cloaked opponent in the area. He didn’t understand how Rimic and the others related to that enemy, but the news that the True Way’s super-weapon was still in the game filled him with frustration and dread. He was frustrated that his successful attack on the True Way base hadn’t eliminated all examples of their superweapon, and he was afraid that the mysterious enemy ship would use it on a populated world to avenge his attack. He couldn’t risk that, nor could he risk standing toe to toe with an enemy vessel armed with anti-genetic isotopic torpedoes. His ship was still somewhat damaged, and if one of those weapons got past his shields, he was sure his crew wouldn’t survive the result. It seemed prudence was indeed the better part of valor.

He brought his wrist communicator up. “Bridge, this is Martok. Rejoin the fleet, then make best speed to the homeworld. DaH!

“Executing, Sir,” the helmsman affirmed, and the Kor’gun went to warp.

Rimic sighed, visibly relieved. “Thank you, General,” he said.

“You can thank me best by answering my questions,” Martok said gruffly. “Start with why you’re here.”

“In short, we’re defecting to your House,” Rimic answered.

“From where? And why should I grant any of you asylum?” Martok wanted to know.

“That’s...complicated,” Rimic admitted hesitantly.

“Make me understand,” Martok challenged, folding his arms expectantly.

Rimic sighed again and sat down, knowing this would take a while.

“I am...or was an intelligence officer on His Eminence’s ship. Sathran, the Ferasan in the next cell, is a computer specialist, and Rogahz, the Gorn over on the end, is a diagnostics engiineer.”

Rimic explained that the three of them had been recruited to salvage an abandoned Klingon ship found drifting deep in the Badlands in 2377. The Ghogh JaghDaj's had suffered some damage from the adverse elements, but almost none from anything else. Its warp core had been ejected, and it was unclear what had happened to the ship’s crew, but the ship was otherwise spaceworthy. The salvagers rigged up a replacement core and tried to fly the ship to a Deferan shipyard, but pirates led by His Eminence commandeered it en route, and the three of them had been annexed into his crew. While it was worthwhile work due to their expertise, Rimic, Sathran, and Rogahz eventually became disillusioned with His Eminence’s agenda against the Alliance, his antithetical fascination with the Bajoran wormhole aliens, and his partnership in turning the True Way into a galactic superpower. They’d been looking for a different line of work for months, and they’d decided Martok was their best chance.

“You were this Eminence person’s intelligence officer?” Martok asked.

Rimic nodded. “And the ship’s second officer,” he confirmed.

Martok nodded musingly. A highly placed command officer with insight into the enemy’s operation and resources was definitely a boon, so he could easily see Rimic’s value in the campaign against His Eminence and the True Way.

He moved on to the Ferasan’s cell and opened his mouth to address her.

Sathran raised a furry hand preemptively. “I can hack anything with an interface. it was I who broke into your ship's network, then reprogrammed its EMH. I also sabotaged the Enemy Throne’s computer to prevent His Eminence from recapturing me...us. And...”

“Do you always interrupt your superiors before they get a word in edgewise?” Martok asked, annoyed.

Sathran shrugged proudly. “I’m a Dahar Master when it comes to hacking computers, so I don’t have a superior.”

Martok decided not to rebut that because she wasn’t actually a member of his House or the Empire, so technically he wasn’t her superior officer. Also, hacking the Kor’gun’s computer network was, in his estimation, quite a feat at that, and he wasn’t averse to crediting her success in doing so. A computer specialist with mad hacking skills and troves of data from His Eminence’s files was another asset Martok coveted, even though Sathran apparently had an arrogant streak.

He moved on to the last cell, stopping in front of the Gorn engineer.

Rogahz just stared back at Martok with his lidless, black, multifaceted eyes and hissed slightly as he exhaled.

“And what do you offer in exchange for asylum, Mister Rogahz?” Martok asked.

“I know His Eminence’s ship well,” Rogahz replied. “It’s an older Negh’Var than yours, and I made modifications to its defenses, modifications I’d share with your engineering team in exchange for asylum.”

Martok considered their petitions. His own engineers were top notch, but if Rogahz could help them find weaknesses in the Enemy Throne’s defenses that could be exploited in battle, that would also be worth the exchange. However, what these three had done to get away from His Eminence, they could do to his ship, too. He decided to be magnanimous but cautious.

“Very well. Mister Rimic,” he said, returning to the Lethean’s cell. “I hereby grant you and your companions asylum in exchange for your professional services to the Empire and my House. I also grant you amnesty for the dishonor inherent in betraying your former master when you decided to defect.”

He took a breath and tried to annex them himself. “It’s common for new crew members, particularly raw recruits, to go through a probationary period to evaluate their skills and placement and to let them acclimatize to working aboard a warship. You three clearly aren’t recruits, and you’ve served on a warship like this one for several years, but you’re new to this crew, so a probationary period is still appropriate to see where and how well you fit in. A month should suffice. I’ll have my first officer draft your orders tomorrow. Is that satisfactory?”

Rimic frowned slightly. “Not really, General,” he answered. “Let me explain. We do want amnesty in House Martok in exchange for our particular skills in your campaign against the True Way, but we’ve had our fill of serving on warships. We don’t want to join your crew. We just want to help and to have the freedom to choose our own way within the Empire. Is that reasonable?”

Martok found himself amenable to anything that provided what he needed against the True Way and its allies. He was used to leveraging his warriors to that end, but if Rimic and his friends were more interested in being consultants, that still worked for him. “Of course,”he answered, “as long as you make yourselves available to the Empire’s need of what you know and do.”

Rimic nodded assent. “We have an accord, Sir,” he agreed.

“Now that that’s out of the way, what can you do about our accommodations while we’re aboard?” he asked.

Martok shrugged. “You’re not actually prisoners,” he said. “The brig was just a precautionary measure intil we could confirm your intentions. I’ll have the deck officer see to your guest quarters.”

Rimic nodded again, then he had a second thought. “Speaking of the brig, where’s General K’Lira?” he asked. “I understood she was being held in here, too.”

That’s none of his business, Martok thought warily. How’d...? Then he remembered. The EMH, of course.

“She’s restricted to quarters,” he answered curtly without further explanation.

Rimic took his emphasis, but he also remembered his earlier conversation with her via the EMH about her being framed for stealing the sword of Kahless. He anxiously wanted to speak with K’Lira so he could tell her what he knew about that. He decided to press the general anyway.

“Is she allowed visitors?” he asked. “It’s very important that I help with her legal defense.”

“Only with my approval,” Martok replied. “I’m aware of the matron’s legal issues. What do you want to tell her?”

“Matron…?” Rimic asked, confused. “She’s not a general?”

“Her military rank was temporarily restored for the action at Trivas III,” Martok briefly explained. “Her rank is rescinded because that operation is now over, but she remains the founder of her House.”

“I see,” Rimic said.

“Well,” he continued, “I intended a private conversation, but I wanted to tell her what I know about who framed her for stealing Kahless’s sword.”

Martok knew that such a witness would be eminently useful to K’Lira’s defense. As her friend, he’d been lenient with her accommodations while still complying with Klingon protocols for transporting prisoners. When they got to Qo’noS, he would deliver her to the High Council for pre-trial proceedings. His duty then fulfilled, he’d have to distance himself to preserve his objective candidacy as a character witness in her case. Rimic could be her leading witness, assuming his testimony could be proven. That determination had to start now while the evidence was available on board.

“I’ll arrange it,” he said, turning to leave.

“Most satisfactory, General,” Rimic said, leaning back on his cot to wait for Martok to keep his word.

FOOTNOTES

Ghogh jaghDaj
Klingonese: Enemy's Throne. It's the name of His Eminence's ship.
DaH!
Klingonese: Now!

K’Lira’s berth on the Kor’gun was typical of its kind. The trapezoidal door was the only way into the room, and the deck officer had assigned a guard to make sure she stayed in her cabin. The rectangular room was bigger than the berth she’d had on the transport she’d taken to Trivas III, but its accommodations were almost as severe. A single light fixture was embedded in the ceiling, uncomfortably reminding her of her recent stint in the similarly lit brig. The metallic walls and floor were completely bare and reflected the chill in the air, but she had a proper bed instead of a cot. The bed fully occupied the wall nearest the door. The living area in the middle of the room had a small desk with a computer. The replicator was in the wall on the other side of the doorway, and the entry to the bathroom was next to that. The sonic shower was thankfully bigger than the one on that transport ship, so she could use her full height when taking a shower. Overall, it was as comfortable as could be expected on a Klingon warship, and she was pretty sure Martok’s own quarters were not much more than hers.

K’Lira lay on the bed, thinking dourly about her precarious situation. Her computer access was limited to the ship’s library files and communication network, and the replicator would dispense only food, water, and ordinary clothing; armor or weapons of any kind were strictly prohibited. She was fine with all of that, but she had no access to information from outside the ship, so she was unaware of the wider happenings in the Empire. She was frustrated that she couldn’t contact Qo’noS for additional information about the evidence against her. For now, she would have to continue relying on Martok.

She had a lot to lose if she was found guilty of grand larceny. Her honor was fundamental to the House she’d founded over 30 years ago. Its present retinue was a little over a thousand warriors strong with a small space fleet including her flagship, the I.K.S. Ak’voh. She had some land holdings on both Qu’Vat and Qo’noS. Although she hadn’t led her House since she’d retired, her stellar reputation still drove it to prominence, and it was a popular choice with recruits from the Klingon Defense Force Academy.

There was also the unusual matter of her status as an augment. By ancient law, Klingon augments found disloyal to the Empire were not citizens, but were cast out of Klingon society. Only Gowron’s forgiveness for her lying about being one kept her from losing her rights under Klingon law, and that forgiveness was contingent upon her continued loyalty. A guilty verdict would be the most damning thing imaginable to her as she would then lose everything that she valued in being Klingon – her honor, her citizenship, her House and holdings..., everything. While her human family would remain, being bereft of her Klingonhood would, to her, be worse than dying...again.

The doorbell to her quarters chimed, thankfully giving her the excuse she needed to put that ugly train of thought quickly out of her mind.

She sat up, eager to have visitors. Has Martok brought news? she wondered.

“Enter,” she called.

The door opened, and the guard stood in the doorway. “You have visitors, Matron,” he said.

She watched curiously as a Lethean, a Ferasan, and a Gorn followed the guard into the room. The small crowd filled the space in the middle of the cabin, and she took up the stool in front of the little desk so the visitors could use the bed because it was longer. “Please, sit there,” she indicated.

The guests sat down as the guard left, closing the door behind him.

K’Lira watched them silently for a moment. She was sure she’d never met them before, and she sat still, letting them take their own impressions of her while she did likewise of them.

The Lethean was tall but slight of build, and he had the same air of command about him that she did. She knew Letheans were telepaths; his black eyes watched her carefully, and she felt the tickle of his mental presence at the front of her mind as he probed instinctively.

You probably can’t help it, she thought at him as she closed her mind to protect her privacy.

Surprised, he blinked and looked abashed for a moment, and she turned to the next visitor.

The Ferasan had short black fur and yellow eyes. Pale fangs protruded from the sides of her mouth, and her wiry frame fidgeted nervously under the matron’s purple gaze.

The Gorn next to her was the most enigmatic, breathing but otherwise still and expressionless as a rock and built just as solidly. She could make little of him at a glance, and she was sure he preferred that.

She remained on her guard, especially around the Lethean.

“I’m K’Lira of House Trestian,” she began by way of introduction, then waited expectantly.

Rimic had never met such an imposing Klingon leader. She gave him the impression of being confident, fearsome, and winning all at the same time, and he was sure there was more to her. He’d tried to read her psyche to get a sense of her mood, but she’d surprised him by detecting the overt attempt and shutting him down. He’d thought Klingons couldn’t do that, and he wondered what else was unusual about her.

“Thank you for seeing us, Matron,” he replied in his typical lilting tone. “I’m Rimic and these are my friends Sathran and Rogahz.”

K’Lira’s eyes widened. “I recognize your voice!” she exclaimed. “We spoke through the EMH last night.”

Rimic smiled wanly. “Yes, Matron,” he affirmed. “I apologize for the brevity of that conversation. The connection was cut off.”

“Not my fault!” Sathran objected suddenly, her tail twitching.

K’Lira glanced at her, then returned quizzically to Rimic.

He sighed and explained their involvement in escaping from the Enemy’s Throne as he had told Martok.

“And now you’re fugitives?” K’Lira gathered.

“Not anymore,” Rimic said. “Martok’s granted us amnesty in his House, so we’re citizens of the Empire.”

K’Lira nodded understandingly. “In exchange for…?” she asked.

“Our help against the rogue faction that supports His Eminence’s alliance with the True Way,” he answered.

“I’m sure General Martok could use all the help he can get there,” she commented.

“He’s not the only one we can help, it seems,” Rimic hinted.

K’Lira got down to the business at hand. “Who framed me?” she asked pointedly, a note of anger now in her tone. She’d already decided to leverage Rimic’s insight on that crucial matter, and she hoped he understood that her wrath was directed at the situation, not at him.

“Someone on or near the High Council,” Rimic answered.

K’Lira frowned as her eyes darkened a shade. Rimic was the only person who could objectively help prove her innocence because his message indicated he knew who was trying to frame her. She’d expected a name, a description, and maybe even a reason why. His indistinct answer to her direct request was disappointing.

“You don’t know who?” she asked impatiently.

Rimic squirmed, knowing what was coming. “Not by name,” he answered hesitantly, trying to avoid her glowering stare. “That is, I didn’t recognize him,” he explained quickly, “but I feel I would if I saw him again.”

His lack of precision was devastating to her case. She needed an indisputable eye witness with hard evidence to avoid being convicted and thereby losing her honor and her rights. Rimic’s message said that he’d known who framed her, but it now seemed he couldn’t identify her real enemy except on sight. Even if he accompanied her into a Klingon courtroom, she couldn’t imagine that any prosecutor would put the real criminal on the witness stand, knowing that a Lethean on the defense’s team could recognize who’d set K’Lira up.

That’s almost useless, she thought. There’s no way to be sure he’ll ever see that person again!

She made a concerted effort to compose herself and tried again, desperate for any headway. “What do you actually know?” she begged.

Rimic leaned forward conspiratorially. “I accompanied His Eminence when he received the sword of Kahless and was told to frame you with its theft,” he said.

“That makes you my star witness,” K’Lira agreed, “but you’ll have to do much better than that. The judge will ask many questions. I want names, dates, places, anything specific you can remember. You don’t know the name of the person who gave the sword to His Eminence, so we don’t actually know who stole it. I can get an alibi for whenever the sword was stolen, but I don’t know when that happened. You say you were there when His Eminence received it, but he isn’t in custody, so he can’t be cross-examined. Why were you there anyway? I can’t even explain how the sword ended up in my quarters, and I have no clue why anyone would frame me for stealing it."

She sighed. “Let’s start at the beginning. What is...or was your relationship to His Eminence?”

Rimic explained that he’d been His Eminence’s intelligence officer aboard the Enemy’s Throne, the Negh’Var battlecruiser he’d helped salvage in the Badlands three years ago. His Eminence’s rogues had captured it while en route to Defera, and Rimic with Sathran and Rogahz had been annexed into His Eminence’s faction and served as his crew until their recent escape.

“This faction you described,” K’Lira mused, “can you tell me who’s in it? How big is it? What’s their agenda?”

“I was privy to much information as the ship’s intelligence officer,” Rimic answered, “but His Eminence kept the wider issues much to himself. Like the True Way, his faction is a mixture of Klingons, Cardassians, Maquis and others disenfranchised by the way the Klingon-Cardassian War and the Dominion War ended. They operate secretly in cells throughout the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. The Ghogh JaghDaj is the only warship I ever served on, but I don’t think the rogues have anything larger than that, which is why His Eminence uses it as his flagship. Their main goal is to disrupt the Alliance between the Empire and the Federation, but I don’t understand why. I can tell you that arming the True Way with that isotopic super-weapon was His Eminence’s idea and, in his opinion at least, his greatest achievement. His Eminence is a geneticist and a genius. His ship has a full complement of torpedo types, including that one, and he hates the Alliance. We’re all in great danger as long as his ship remains at large.”

She nodded. “General Martok has orders to stop the True Way and their allies. While I support that, my priority must be on remedying my legal situation. Let’s return to that.

“When and how did His Eminence receive the sword, and what was your role in that?”

“Last month,” Rimic answered, “around stardate 56780. His Eminence had received a private message asking him to go to Qo’noS. I don’t know who sent it, but His Eminence often asked me to accompany him when he needed me to protect him telepathically, so I did. We shuttled to the Omega Leonis System, snuck past the Klingon sensor nets, and stayed in the Praxis asteroid field until a bird of prey decloaked right in front of us, and we were contacted to come aboard via the airlock.”

“Why the airlock?” K’Lira interrupted. “Why not the transporter?”

Rimic shrugged, puzzled. “I didn’t think to ask.”

She let the oddity drop. “Continue.”

“A Klingon met us inside the bird of prey’s airlock and gave His Eminence the sword,” Rimic finished.

“That’s when you saw him,” she said, “the one who stole it. What was he like?”

Rimic shrugged. “Like most Klingon men I’ve met,” he said equably, then his tone darkened. “But this one was much more...menacing. He was quite tall, over two meters, and robed head to toe. I don’t think he was as heavily built as you, but he had hidden prowess, I’m sure.”

Now K’Lira shrugged. “We Klingons always pride ourselves on our battle prowess. By itself, that’s not much of a distinguishing feature. Describe his face, if you can.”

Rimic struggled. “It was long in shape with widely spaced eyes that moved a lot, as though he was nervous. They were dark brown in color. I couldn’t see his skull plate because he wore a large hood that covered it and his hair. Speaking of which, he had a thin, gray moustache and a goatee with nothing on the cheeks. His voice was very low, almost bass, and he spoke with gravity as though everything he said had extra meaning. But it was his mind that was menacing.”

“How do you mean?” K’Lira asked.

“I’ve touched many minds,” Rimic said pensively, “and I’ve sensed a lot of things in people, but the malice I found in that...thing was powerful and profound. It was hatred personified.” He shuddered. “I hope I never sense that again.”

K’Lira was silent. She had the date of the theft and a description of the real thief including a psychic impression of his personality. While that and an alibi were enough to cast doubt on her alleged guilt, it wasn’t enough to convince a court she was innocent. She needed the thief’s name. If she could find him, she feared she’d have to ask Rimic to expose himself to that same malice to confirm his account of the encounter, though it pained him. The only other eyewitness to the sword’s theft and transfer was His Eminence. She had nothing there; even if he were captured, she was sure he would lie to the court to condemn her out of spite. No, it was Rimic or nothing.

Something else occurred to her. “You said he was a courtier, Rimic,” she said curiously. “How do you know?”

“From the pendant he wore underneath his hood,” Rimic said. “I saw it when he turned to leave the airlock. You’d recognize it, too, I’m sure. Anyone would – it was the High Council’s symbol.”

“Only High Council members and their attendants are allowed to wear that,” she said eagerly. “Whoever the thief is, he’s highly placed, so the list shortens. This is scandalous, but now we’re getting somewhere.

“If only you’d heard the thief’s name,” she muttered to herself, “or recognized him.”

“The Council and its retinue are a matter of public record,” Rogahz interjected. “Can you bring up that database?” he asked, indicating the computer.

K’Lira’s face brightened by degrees. “Absolutely!”

She spun in her chair and opened the computer link, shortly bringing up a photographic list of current officials on or associated with the Klingon High Council.

Maybe Rimic will recognize the right one, she hoped.

She got up to let the Lethean sit at the terminal while she stood at his shoulder. “Take your time,” she advised. “You must be certain.”

Rimic obediently began paging through the pictures, quickly dismissing most while pondering a few as possible matches. It took almost an hour as there were several hundred besides the councilors themselves, but he finally sat back, a puzzled look on his face.

“He’s not in there,” he concluded quietly.

K’Lira was disappointed and at a loss about how to proceed with her investigation. She was quickly running out of leads.

Rogahz cleared his throat, a wheezy whistling sound from a Gorn. “Show her,” he said simply.

Everyone turned to look at him, confused.

“Show me what?” K’Lira asked.

Rimic paled, suddenly taking his friend’s meaning. “No,” he refused adamantly. “It’s too dangerous.”

“What is?” K’Lira asked anxiously.

Rimic held up a hand to calm her. “You already know Letheans can communicate telepathically. We can share memories that way, too, not just thoughts. What Rogahz is suggesting is that I share my memory of the encounter in the airlock with you telepathically so that you can see the thief as I remember him. You were in the Brotherhood of the Sword for years, and you worked closely with the High Council. You know more people in their circle than I do. It may be that while I didn’t recognize the courtier, you might.”

“Don’t I have to be telepathic, too, for that to work?” she asked.

“Well, aren’t you?” he responded, shrugging.

“No,” she objected.

Rimic looked hard at her. “You’re quite sure about that?” he queried pointedly. “When I read your mind earlier, you shut me down with all the facility of a trained telepath. If you’re not one, you’ve at least got some latent skills in that area. Have you ever taken an esper test?”

K’Lira frowned. She knew that espers (people with extra-sensory perception) were feared throughout the galaxy as menaces to society. The prowess that resulted from their mental powers often also brought their vagrant personality traits to the fore, leading to conflicts with normal people. Many espers had been killed because they’d proven too difficult to control.

“Never,” she answered, offended by the implication. “Why would I?”

Rimic leaned forward. “You might be surprised,” he whispered, touching his finger to the side of his nose.

K’Lira was unsure how to take that, so she filed the idea away for future reference and returned to Rimic’s earlier refusal. “What’s so dangerous about Roghaz’s suggestion?” she asked warily.

Rimic sighed. “Letheans transfer memory engrams electrically by touching the temples. We have tissues in our brains to prevent the electric discharges we generate from causing damage, leaving only a psychic impression in a person’s mind. That’s how it works with Letheans.

“The problem is, Matron, you’re not Lethean. The same process would likely kill you or leave you brain damaged. That’s why I won’t do it.”

K’Lira nodded again. “I see.”

Rimic tilted his head slightly. “There may be a different way, though,” he said thoughtfully. “Does this ship’s medbay have a psionic reader?”

K’Lira had no idea what that was. “You’d have to ask the ship’s doctor,” she answered to hide her ignorance.

“What’s the other way?” she asked.

“A psionic reader is a device that records engrammatic activity in the brain and, with the right baseline, translates it into isolinear code for a computer or a holodeck. I thought if you had one on board, we could use that to download my memory of the thief, then run that through a facial recognition program to identify him,” he explained.

“We’re scheduled to arrive at Qo’noS tomorrow,” K’Lira said. “How long would that take?”

Rimic shrugged. “The engrammatic download? I don’t know – I’ve never been through that procedure before.”

“But you’re sure it’s the best way to identify the thief,” she asked, “and you’re willing to undergo the procedure?”

Rimic sighed. “Yes, and I am,” he acquiesced.

Reaching past him, K’Lira touched the comm button on the desk. “Deck officer, this is Matron K’Lira...”

FOOTNOTES

Ghogh jaghDaj
Klingonese: Enemy's Throne. It's the name of His Eminence's ship.

CHAPTER 5: A CONFLUENCE OF MINDS

Aboard the Ghogh JaghDaj, His Eminence fumed at Rimic’s defection. Losing his intelligence officer left a deep wound in his confidence that everyone in his retinue was loyal to his cause. The apparent gap left room for others to think otherwise, and His Eminence was keen to close it.

He entered his private quarters and went straight to the communications suite esconsed on one side. A dim yellow lamp lit the little room as the narrow door closed behind him. He sat down on the red satin pillow in the middle of the octagonal floor and opened the top drawer of the tiny cabinet to one side. Removing a facial mask with a voice modifier in it, he put it on, then touched a button on the nearby wall to Open a Channel to First City on Qo’noS. A squat pedestal slid out from the adjacent wall panel with a screen atop it. The symbol of the Klingon High Council appeared on the screen, and Talmok, dressed in resplendent clothes, answered the call.

HoS taH,” he said in Klingonese.

'Ej wIghojmoHchu'bogh pujvetlh,” His Eminence replied in kind.

“Report,” Talmok said curtly.

“The Klingon Defense Force’s attack on our main base at Trivas III was devastating to the True Way,” His Eminence began. “All their isotopic warheads were destroyed, and the contamination level on the moon means no one will be able to survive on the surface for the foreseeable future. I doubt the True Way will recover from the attack, but all is not lost on that front. I retain a full complement of isotopic torpedoes aboard my ship and the research data to make more. We just need to reattain the resources to do so.”

“Do you have a plan there?” Talmok asked.

“There are a number of groups abroad that have the scientific wherewithal to accomplish this,” His Eminence answered. “I plan to approach them next.”

“What of K’Lira and the sword?” Talmok asked. “The Chancellor’s support weakens daily, but the Alliance must reach a tipping point before we begin supporting you openly.”

“We planted it in her cabin, as you asked,” His Eminence said. “It was an easy matter to beam it aboard under cloak because her transport’s shields were down as it retrieved troops from the moon’s surface. Your tip about it being on one of Martok’s ships was a stroke of genius.”

“It can’t be traced to me,” Talmok affirmed. “I placed that thought in the mind of a Yan-Isleth who was supposed to take it to Boreth.”

Now His Eminence squirmed nervously on the pillow. “About that,” he cautioned, “it might be traceable.”

Talmok frowned. “How so?” he growled menacingly.

“I’ve...lost several of my crew,” His Eminence said.

“Lost?” Talmok asked. “Whom did you lose, and how is this consequential? Explain quickly.”

“My intelligence officer and two of his cohorts defected to House Martok today,” His Eminence answered.

Talmok frowned again, trying to remember. He’d made His Eminence’s acquaintance several times over the years while forming cells of rogue factions throughout the Klingon Empire, so he knew what His Eminence looked like without the mask. While he’d incidentally met some of the Ghogh JaghDaj's crew, he found he couldn’t recall the ship’s intelligence officer, never mind Rimic’s friends.

“I don’t remember that person,” he said. “What does his defection mean to us?”

His Eminence sighed and briefly explained Rimic’s background along with Sathran’s and Rogahz’s.

“He’s a Lethean, a telepath. Although you don’t remember him, he’d remember you psionically no matter your disguise. He was with me when you gave me Kahless’s sword.”

Talmok immediately saw the danger. As an Undine, he could read and manipulate minds and change his form to look like anybody he’d seen, including other aliens. He normally wore the guise of Gowron’s chamberlain Talmok, but when delivering the sword to His Eminence, he’d used the disguise of an earlier chamberlain who’d been dead for almost a decade because it was unlikely anyone would’ve remembered him. While normal people used just outward appearances to recognize each other, the danger was that telepaths recognized others both by sight and by sensing the person’s mind. Talmok knew that no two living minds were exactly alike, so that’s primarily how telepaths identified others. Rimic likely wouldn’t have failed to sense Talmok’s mind when they’d been in the airlock. Secrecy was not an option because he could identify Talmok as an Undine in any guise, and he’d witnessed Talmok’s exchange with His Eminence.

“Why did you bring him with you!?” Talmok asked angrily.

“To protect me from telepathic attacks such as yours,” His Eminence immediately retorted, “and to reveal the hidden intentions of the people I negotiate with. I thought he was trustworthy.” He shrugged. “I was wrong.”

Talmok was incensed. This was disastrous to his long-term plans. The point in using the sword was to erode the trust between the Klingon Empire and the rest of the Alliance by causing unrest within the High Council itself. Pitting K’Lira against Gowron by making him think she was trying to usurp him was a good way to do that. Talmok had been playing the long game by manipulating Gowron against his generals for years, but the advent of Kahless’s sword had presented a new advantage, a faster means to the same end. Talmok had enlisted His Eminence to help him leverage that. The plan depended on secrecy at the highest levels so that no one would suspect that Gowron’s chamberlain was a telepathic alien instigator bent on anulling the Empire’s alliance with the Federation and the Romulan Empire. Now that secrecy was threatened by a telepath who could recognize Talmok’s psionic signature and place him at the exchange used to set K’Lira up as a scape goat.

“The matron’s under arrest aboard Martok’s ship, which is due to arrive at Qo’noS tomorrow evening,” he reasoned. “If I know her, she’ll protest her innocence in court using every alibi she can come up with in her defense. If this telepath becomes part of her legal team, his memory of you receiving the sword will form the core of her defense since he’ll remember that K’Lira was intentionally framed for stealing it. However, I used a prior chamberlain’s form during that exchange. Would your disreputable petaQ of a telepath know him?”

His Eminence sounded thoughtful. “It’s hard to say,” he answered, “because I found him and his friends in the Badlands only three years ago. As I recall, the chamberlain prior to you died long before then. It’s possible the telepath might have seen him in the news, but very unlikely he’d have met him in person.”

Talmok looked relieved. “Then even if the telepath sensed my mind in the airlock, he’d associate my signature only with the prior chamberlain, not with me, even if he knows the difference,” he concluded. “I just have to be careful not to use the prior chamberlain’s form around him.”

His Eminence shook his head. “It’s not that simple,” he said ruefully. “He may have seen your other form and sensed your mind then, but you really need to keep your distance from him entirely as he’d now recognize you psionically in any form you use. We really need to take his eyewitness testimony away from K’Lira so that her remaining defense is purely circumstantial in nature.”

Now Talmok looked taken aback. “What do you propose?” he asked.

His Eminence guessed Martok would transfer K’Lira to protective custody when the Kor’gun arrived. If Rimic was also part of that transfer because he was a material witness in her case, the best time to eliminate him was between his arrival and the time he and K’Lira reached a safehouse. After that, he’d be too well protected.

“Contact one of your cells in First City,” he answered. “Have them eliminate the threat tomorrow night. Quickly.” He sent Talmok a picture of Rimic and closed the channel.

FOOTNOTES

Ghogh jaghDaj
Klingonese: Enemy's Throne. It's the name of His Eminence's ship.
HoS taH
Klingonese: The strong will survive.
'Ej wIghojmoHchu'bogh pujvetlh
Klingonese: And the weak will perish.

K’Lira and Rimic beamed down to a side court just outside the Great Hall in First City the next evening accompanied by one of General Martok’s security details. The capitol’s massive government building loomed above them in the twilight of the setting sun, austere and daunting. Braziers flamed at the courtyard’s corners, doing little to warm the dry night air, and the cool breeze instantly made goosebumps on K’Lira’s bronzed skin.

She was conflicted about returning here. On one hand, she’d been to the Great Hall a few weeks ago to happily deliver the sword of Kahless to Chancellor Gowron, but prior to that it had been five years since she’d set foot inside the building. Now, less than a month after bringing Kahless’s sword, she was little more than a prisoner, accused of grand larceny for stealing that very artifact. To her distress, it had been discovered in her shipboard cabin right after the battle of Trivas III, and General Martok had been forced to arrest her. She’d no idea how it had gotten there, and she knew she was being framed for stealing it, but she didn’t know by whom or why.

That’s where Rimic came in. She noticed the Lethean seemed unfazed by the cold air, the imposing surroundings, and her unspoken tension.

Then again, she thought, he’s not being framed, so he has nothing to lose. Still, I’m glad he’s on my side.

Rimic had seen His Eminence receive Kahless’s sword a few weeks ago from someone affiliated with the High Council who’d given instructions to frame K’Lira with it, so His Eminence had secretly transported the sword into her cabin while she was fighting the True Way on Trivas III’s moon. That testimony was the key to defending her innocence, but Rimic hadn’t recognized the person who gave the sword to His Eminence. He had a memory of that person’s face and voice and a telepathic impression of his very hateful alien mind, but not his name. Finding the real thief with only that to go on was proving difficult, but K’Lira was confident that Rimic’s eyewitness account of events would at least cast doubt on her alleged guilt.

A guilty verdict would be especially damning in her case because she was an augment. By ancient law, dishonored Klingon augments were stripped of their rights and holdings and cast out of mainstream society. As the founder of House Trestian, K’Lira stood to lose much more than her personal rights and honor. Her House’s prestige and properties, indeed its very existence, were at stake, too, as her reputation affected everybody in it, so she was well motivated to succeed on behalf of her clan.

A small contingent of KDF warriors met them in the courtyard. “Come with us, Matron,” their lieutenant said, then he nodded at Rimic. “You, too.”

K’Lira and Rimic fell in step as the squad led them towards a windowless van.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“To a safehouse,” the lieutenant replied. “Your trial begins tomorrow afternoon. Protocol requires that you be kept under house arrest until then.”

“Am I in house arrest, too, then?” Rimic asked, curious.

The lieutenant looked askance at him as they reached the van. “Only the matron’s under arrest, but your House leader requested we safeguard both of you until the trial, and the easiest way to do that is to keep you together.”

Rimic shrugged. Makes sense, I guess, he thought.

The van’s side door opened, everyone got inside, and the vehicle went towards a safehouse on the far side of the city.

A Nausicaan assassin sat at an elevated apartment window across the street from the front of the safehouse, waiting for Rimic to arrive. His Eminence had taken out a contract with Talmok on the traitorous intelligence officer. Talmok, privy as he was to most of the High Council’s dealings, didn’t know which safehouse Rimic would be using, so he’d stationed his henchmen at all the ones he knew of. He’d forwarded Rimic’s picture so the assassins could identify the target. The contract’s terms were simple: kill the target, nobody else; leave nothing traceable. The Nausicaan’s beam rifle had a scope for precision. He wore a light environment suit to keep the scene sanitary, but he had no helmet. The apartment’s lights were off, and the windows were closed against the night’s chill except for the one he was using.

He sat silently as foot traffic on the street passed below his station, his eyes flicking back and forth in predatory fashion. He heard the van coming before he saw it turn a nearby corner and park in the safehouse’s driveway. He raised the rifle and watched through the scope as the lieutenant got out first, followed by Rimic.

“Target acquired,” he whispered into the microphone built into the neckline of his suit. “Prepare for extraction.”

Traitorous bastard, he thought as he curled his index finger around the trigger.

Rimic stepped out of the van and looked around. The safehouse was a suburban Klingon home with a front lawn bordered by thin flagstone paths on all sides. The porch stepped up to a darkened entryway with a peephole. He could see a dining niche through the bay window next to that. The garage door was open, and the garage itself was cluttered with odds and ends as though the house was occupied, but he knew that was just a front. Safehouses were often dressed up to disguise their intent.

I’ll bet the weapons are locked in the basement, he thought casually. It doesn’t much matter since I’m...

“Rimic...,” K’Lira said idly, looking up as she started to step out of the van.

FZZZAP! The bright green arc from a disruptor rifle flashed through the air, drilled right through the middle of Rimic’s chest, and charred the garage floor next to the shocked lieutenant.

K’Lira watched in frozen horror as her star witness and the only man who could independently vouch for her innocence stumbled while turning to look at her, morbid surprise on his face. She could see through the smoking hole in his chest. NO!!!

Rimic pointed behind her and tried to say something when a second shot ripped past her and blew his right arm off at the elbow, dropping him to the floor in a bloody heap.

BachwI'!” the lieutenant screamed in warning. “Get them inside!”

Several KDF warriors who’d been expecting them ran out the front door at the commotion.

“Across the street! Up there!” the lieutenant directed them as his squad helped K’Lira past Rimic’s prone form and into the house’s living room. The lieutenant dragged an unconscious Rimic into the same room and left him in the middle of the floor, then cautiously took up station next to the window facing the street, looking for their assailant.

K’Lira was beside herself with fear, wrath, and regret. She hadn’t expected to be attacked en route to the relative safety of KDF custody. She was afraid because she didn’t know if she would survive this. Her fear drove her anger at being unable to prevent Rimic’s death, which she deeply regretted. She was weaponless but hardly helpless. The safehouse had no weapons other than what the KDF warriors had brought with them. Her house arrest meant that she wasn’t normally allowed any weapons anyway, but these circumstances were hardly normal. She got up and started rummaging madly through the kitchen, looking for a knife with which to chase down and kill whoever had slain Rimic by shooting him like a coward. She felt her berserker state rising to the fore at that.

He deserved to die facing the enemy in battle, she thought angrily.

“Matron...,” someone whispered.

K’Lira spun around and Rimic’s black eyes met hers.

“How are you alive!?” she gasped, quickly kneeling next to him. “MEDIC!”

Rimic knew he was dying. No one could save him – he’d lost too much blood. He rasped past the gurgle in his throat, and coughed blood as he tried unsuccessfully to speak. He wanted to give K’Lira the help she needed, but there hadn’t been a chance to download his memory of the infamous exchange in the airlock between Talmok and His Eminence. Engrammatic downloads were so rarely performed that the Kor’gun’s doctor had no experience with such an exotic procedure, and the ship’s medbay didn’t have a psionic reader anyway. Rimic realized he had no choice. Mustering every erg he had left, he flailed his remaining arm, grasped K’Lira’s hair at the side of her face, and instinctively discharged his memories into K’Lira’s mind...all of them.

Blue arcs of electricity shot out of his hand and wrapped themselves around K’Lira’s head and body, paralyzing her muscles, whitening her hair, and rendering her unconscious before she could scream in surprise. Electric tendrils ricocheted all over the kitchen, leaving scars in the floor, walls, and ceiling. Light fixtures and other electric appliances started exploding wildly. The warriors in the adjacent living room shouted in consternation at the din and flung themselves behind the furniture for cover. The electric light show vividly lit up the whole front of the house with brilliant flashes of blue and white light. Electric fixtures on the outside of the house also blew out explosively, scattering sparks and debris on the patio and the lawn. The storm lasted about 10 seconds, then it stopped as suddenly as it had begun.

The lieutenant and his fellow agents came out of hiding, staring wide-eyed at the aftermath, uncertain what had happened or why. The other warriors who’d been sent across the street to catch the assassin also returned, shocked and wondering, but emptyhanded. Everyone tried to take it all in, but they were afraid for they didn’t know the cause. The house stank of smoke, blood, and ozone.

Rimic was utterly gone. His clothes were burning, and there was little left of his shriveled corpse underneath.

How am I going to explain this to my captain? the lieutenant wondered.

“Put these fires out,” he ordered in a small voice, looking for K’Lira as his warriors obeyed.

She lay face down against a wall several meters away where the last electric explosion had flung her prone body. At first, he thought she was dead; she didn’t appear to be breathing. Then she moved slightly and let out a small groan.

“Ohhh..., my head...,” she whispered painfully. She tried to get to her hands and knees and failed, slunping heavily to the floor.

“Matron!” the lieutenant exclaimed, relieved, and went to help her up. He rolled her over by the shoulder and leaned her back against the nearby wall so that her head fell back, allowing him to check her condition.

K’Lira’s tough clothing was sooty and stained with Lethean blood, but not burned like Rimic’s. Her exposed skin had pale new scars where the electricity had pierced her. The right temple had severe electrical burns where Rimic had touched her, and the hairline there was burned down to stubby white roots. Her pulse was strong and a bit rapid, her forehead was warm and dry, and her breathing was returning to normal.

What surprised the lieutenant were her eyes: the uveas were white and pulsing. He’d heard the scuttlebutt that K’Lira had striking purple eyes that changed shade with her mood. It was widely regarded as one of her more enticing traits. He remembered noticing how vivid they were when he’d met her for the very first time in the courtyard and thought the same, but he didn’t know they could be this bright or oscillate so quickly. It was mysteriously captivating. Even as she stared up at him, they flared brilliantly, then settled to their normal medium purple hue.

K’Lira felt her strength return then. So did her memory of recent events, and her expression broke.

“Rimic!” she mourned, leaning forward to hide her tears behind her long hair as she wept.

The lieutenant took stock of the situation. One of his charges had been killed, but the lieutenant didn’t understand Rimic’s importance. He just assumed the hitter had killed Rimic to get to K’Lira, whose value he knew. He needed to keep her safe to stand trial, but the safehousing system had been compromised. He called a dispatcher at KDF headquarters to report the incident and get a squad to lock the safehouse back down.

“What’s the matron’s condition?” the dispatcher asked.

The lieutenant hesitated, thinking fast. He wasn’t sure how a sniper knew where K’Lira would be staying, but he suspected an informant and no longer trusted the KDF’s witness protection service. He needed someplace off that grid. “Safe,” he simply answered and hung up.

“Matron,” he addressed the woman crying softly before him, “we didn’t catch your friend’s killer, but whoever did it will likely try to kill you next, and he knows you’re here.” He stood and extended his hand down to her. “We have to leave.”

K’Lira sniffed and wiped her nose with her wrist, then looked up. “To where?” she asked forlornly.

Again, the lieutenant thought quickly. The next closest safehouse was about 10 blocks away, but using another one was likely not feasible. If the killer was after K’Lira, he’d probably strike again while they were in transit. If they went there by land or air, their vehicle could be easily attacked. It would be quicker to use a public site-to-site transport to the next safehouse, but the killer might cause a transporter error to degrade her pattern, leading to a horrible death. He needed a safe destination the killer wouldn’t expect. The germ of an idea percolated in his mind.

He raised his wrist comm. “Videssan, cha'jujol,” he ordered.

A fuzzy red haze surrounded them both, and they disappeared, rematerializing in the transporter room of a ship.

K’Lira stood up and looked quizzically at the lieutenant.

“Welcome aboard the Wanderer-class O.S.S. Videssan, Matron,” he said by way of explanation. “We’re currently under cloak in the Praxis debris field. Your compatriots Rogahz and Sathran are already aboard and waiting for us in the wardroom. This way, please.” He waved her towards a nearby door in invitation.

Things were happening too quickly for K’Lira to acclimatize herself. She’d thought to be guarded in a witness protection program by now, working on her case in a room of her own, not whisked away to an unfamiliar ship by someone she didn’t even know. She needed medical attention for the aching burn on her forehead, time to assimilate Rimic’s memories, information about any additional evidence arrayed against her, and a long rest to recover herself physically. Her trial was scheduled to begin tomorrow. How was any of this going to help her?

“This is an Orion ship. If you were a KDF warrior, you’d be on a Klingon vessel, so I gather you’re not really KDF,” she guessed. “What’s your name?”

The lieutenant arched up and thrust his chest forward. “Erak, formerly of House Grilka,” he said proudly. “I may not be in the Klingon Defense Force, but I am your friend, and that’s more important right now.”

K’Lira leaned forward, still about a foot taller than him. “I choose my friends more carefully, Erak,” she growled, then leaned back, “but I admit you’ve made a good impression...so far.”

Erak gulped. Well, it’s something that she doesn’t think of me as her enemy, he thought.

Again, he extended his hand towards the door. “If it pleases you, Matron,” he offered.

K’Lira followed his lead, continuing to converse to fully understand the situation.

“Why are we here?” she asked.

“You needed protection,” Erak replied simply. “Whoever killed Rimic was likely going to attempt to kill you again since he failed to do so the first time. Public transportation was unsafe, so I opted to bring you here off the transporter grid. No one knows this ship exists. We’re linked into the planetary computer network and the KDF main grid, so you can get any information you wish. You should be safe enough...until the trial, then all bets are off.”

“Why then?” she queried.

Erak looked up at her, surprised. “You really don’t know what you’re up against, do you?” he asked.

“What’s going to happen to me at the trial?” K’Lira asked anxiously.

Erak stopped walking and sighed deeply. “You already know you’ve been framed for stealing the sword of Kahless,” he begam. “That’s bad enough.”

She nodded, waiting.

“That, dear Matron, is the tip of the d'k tahg,” Erak continued. “While you and Martok were galavanting all over the Alpha Quadrant, the Empire was descending into turmoil over the sword’s advent. Half the Council members alone want to lay claim to it themselves and said as much. People from all over our once great Empire flocked to Boreth, hoping to see it in its archival setting, dreaming likewise about its prowess. When it didn’t show up, they were disappointed and suspicious, quickly raising concerns about where it could be, who might have it, and what their intentions were. To avert mass hysteria over that, an investigation was conducted into the Yan-Isleth who’d been assigned to transfer the sword to Boreth. After several grueling weeks of public hearings, one of them gave the Chancellor’s chamberlain a tip that one of Martok’s ships might have it aboard. I think you know what happened then.”

K’Lira’s eyes darkened as he spoke. Never in her life had she been accused of a high crime. Her loyalty to the Empire and the Chancellor had been unquestionably above reproach until now. Anger overshadowed fear as she thought about who had stained her reputation and what evidence they had against her. She was certain the sword had been planted in her cabin. If there was any other evidence, she was still unaware of it, but she needed to form her defense and soon.

“Indeed,” she agreed with Erak.

“Who accuses me of this wrongdoing?” she asked.

“Gowron, for one,” he answered quietly. “He ordered it sent to Boreth. Talmok, for another, for he was tasked with getting it there.

“You have to understand, Matron,” he continued. “Tensions in the Council are at an all-time high while trust between its members is scarce. Your return is a lightning rod for controversy for no one knows what to make of you.

“Consider this carefully. You were a mighty general for years before you consigned leadership of House Trestian to your cha’Dich, retired from military service, and moved to a Federation space station in another quadrant to raise a hybrid family. To some, that means you abandoned your role in the Empire. Then, years later, you returned to help end the True Way in grand fashion at Trivas III. News of your resounding victory has had the knock-on effect of causing the Council to focus on you, especially Gowron, who questions your ulterior motives. A common sentiment among our people is that the battle at Trivas III was successful, at least in part, due to the sword’s presence aboard your ship, that it somehow added its power to your prowess while you were attacking the moon base. There are those on the Council who wonder what it could likewise do in their hands instead. That’s their jealousy and it’s born of fear.”

He sighed, then finished. “The High Council fears you because many of them no longer know you. The fact that the sword was found in your room strongly suggests to Gowron, Talmok, and others that you intend to depose the Council and set yourself up as the de facto leader of the Empire. You’re not accused merely of grand larceny, Matron – you’re being tried for attempted treason.”

K’Lira could hardly believe her ears, but she finally saw the big picture. Gowron, once her friend, was now opposed to her presence in the Empire as it presented a potential end to his chancellorship and, perhaps, his life. He was afraid she would challenge him for leadership of the Empire and use the sword to defeat him. It didn’t matter that she’d always been loyal to him – it mattered only that he now believed she was willing to usurp him.

He’s protecting his power and pride, she realized. He thinks eliminating me as a rival is the best way to do that, and he’s using this farce of a trial as an excuse to accomplish it.

Rage exploded heavily in her mind, but she beat it quickly back until it became a cold and calculating eagerness to anger.

“Their fear is unwarranted,” she objected, her tone unintentionally menacing. “I’ve never been disloyal a day in my life, I’m not going to usurp anybody, and I didn’t steal the sword.”

“I’m not the one you need to convince,” Erak said flatly, “but yes, those are the points of your defense.”

He resumed walking, K’Lira in tow. “The hospital’s here,” he indicated, pointing. “Let’s get your burns treated.”

After that, Erak took her to the Videssan’s wardroom. It was a long space with several narrow bench tables. The room was sparsely occupied. K’Lira immediately spied Rogahz standing in a corner. He was hard to miss as his mottled, scaly yellow and gray skin clashed with literally everything in the dim room. Sathran sat cross-legged in a cushioned lounge chair nearby, her black fur blending seamlessly with the dark furniture so that only her yellow eyes stood out as she flicked her feline gaze about the room. They turned to greet K’Lira as she approached.

Rogahz said nothing, typically stoic as he was.

“Well, look who’s here!” Sathran exclaimed, rising. “The would-be Queen of the Klingons.” She made a deep curtsy. “Your Majesty.”

K’Lira resisted the sudden urge to snap the Ferasan’s neck while it was bent in mock subservience.

“Sathran,” she greeted cooly, “and Rogahz. Erak told me you were aboard. While I understand his duty to protect me, I don’t understand your presence here?”

“Martok made us citizens of the Empire,” Rogahz said. “While we can go where we please, Rimic told us to stay close to you.”

“Where is Rimic anyway?” Sathran asked curiously. “He was supposed to meet us here, too.”

K’Lira hesitated, then looked at Erak. “Maybe you should...?”

Erak sighed and caught them both up on recent events. “I thought it best to bring her aboard for safekeeping until tomorrow,” he finished. “The KDF knows she’s safe but that’s it.”

Rogahz sadly bowed his head as Sathran sat down hard on the lounge chair, her normally wry humor silenced in shock. Neither had anticipated losing Rimic, and they wondered how it had happened. Erak hadn’t understood the lightning show in the safehouse, so Sathran and Rogahz didn’t know Rimic had given K’Lira his memories psionically.

“Rimic asked us to help him defect because he wanted to stop His Eminence and help you at the same time,” Sathran recalled forlornly. “Without him, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”

K’Lira softened. Rimic would certainly be missed, but his value lay primarily in what he knew of His Eminence’s operation and, for her, what he knew about how and by whom she’d been framed. She had that knowledge now, but his memories were deeply buried beneath hers and difficult to resurface, like trying to remember the specifics of a long-faded dream.

“Don’t despair for that,” she said, then she explained what had happened in the safehouse.

The others listened silently, amazed at the implications of her revelation.

“So that’s what that was,” Erak said softly. “I had no idea Letheans could do that.”

“It’s very rare for them to try it with non-Letheans,” K’Lira answered, “but it does happen.”

“I thought Rimic was unwilling to psionically transfer his memories,” Rogahz said, “because it was too dangerous.”

“That’s right!” Sathran exclaimed. “Why did he change his mind? How did you survive it at all?”

K’Lira exhaled and shrugged. “He was dying – he had no choice. I’ve no idea how, but I have his memories now.”

“What’s it like,” Erak wondered, “having another person in your head?”

“It’s not like living with a real person inside your mind,” she clarified. “I have Rimic’s memories – that’s all. His personality, his soul, if you want to call it that, is gone. It’s like having lived two lives, but only mine continues now. It’s hard to tell mine apart from Rimic’s sometimes, but I have a naturally eidetic mind, so I can compartmentalize things I want to recall. I have his knowledge but not his intuition or understanding. Given time and study, I think I can regain both of those.

“An attempt was made on my life today, and Rimic paid the price,” she said sadly. “Clearly, someone doesn’t want me to come to trial or they don’t want me to have Rimic’s help. For my sake, no one else must know what Rimic did. Whoever killed him might try again to kill me to destroy the information he gave me if they knew I have it now. Are we agreed?”

The others nodded quickly.

K’Lira put her hand to her forehead tiredly. “I just wish I had time to finish sifting through Rimic’s information. What would he do now?”

Rogahz stood silently aside, thinking. “It’s hard to say what he would advise, Matron,” he finally offered, “but I don’t think he wanted us to just give up on you. I understand your trial is tomorrow? We should all rest first. If nothing else, you’ll need all your wits about you when you meet your accuser and see all the evidence then.”

Erak nodded as K’Lira sighed. It had been an extremely taxing day, and she was indeed exhausted, sad, and anxious. “That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day,” she agreed wearily.

Then her stomach growled, and she brightened. “What’s for dinner?”

FOOTNOTES

BachwI'
Klingonese: Shooter or sniper.
cha'jujol
Klingonese: Two to beam up.
cha’Dich
Klingonese: Second.

K’Lira tossed as she slept fitfully on the lower bunk in the cabin she shared with Sathran. The O.S.S. Videssan was not designed for diplomatic transportation, so it had no private cabins. As with most military vessels, space was at a premium, so the berths were shared between crew members in shifts. The cabin was sparsely furnished and dark with only the computer console on the far wall lending its dim light to the tiny room. The chilly air left goosebumps on her clammy skin as she slept atop the lower bunk’s coverlet.

Yesterday, her friend Rimic had psionically transferred all his memories to her as he lay dying in her arms, so K’Lira now had the recollective wealth of two lifetimes (hers and his). Rimic had been His Eminence’s intelligence officer for several years before defecting to the Klingon Empire. He was of special worth to her because he had firsthand knowledge that His Eminence had framed her for stealing Kahless’s sword, considered a high crime in Klingon culture. His eyewitness account was the key evidence K’Lira needed to prove her innocence and protect her honor. Now that Rimic was dead, His Eminence felt secure in the belief that K’Lira had no choice but to take the fall for the crime she’d been framed for. At this point, no one except K’Lira, Erak, Sathran, and Rogahz knew that Rimic had psionically transferred his memories to her, thereby saving his value to her case. The problem was that his and her memories were jumbled together, and it was hard for K’Lira to tell them apart when she was awake. Asleep, her subconscious struggled to do exactly that. Rimic’s memories tended to surface more easily in her sleeping state, and that’s what she was dreaming about.

Seen through Rimic’s senses, K’Lira found herself in a Klingon airlock. The only windows were in the closed doors on either end of the tiny room, but they were opaque. Status indicators blinked and chirped quietly on a computer console in one wall, and K’Lira noticed the stardate: 56780.

Her skin felt cold, and she shivered as she suddenly realized Rimic wasn’t alone. A man stepped up next to him, and K’Lira got the impression that Rimic knew him.

Dressed entirely in black, His Eminence moved to stand in the center of the small room. K’Lira couldn’t see his face because he wore some kind of mask with an odd-looking mouthpiece.

What kind of name is “His Eminence?” she wondered idly. What’s his real name?

Apparently, Rimic didn’t know, and the dream shifted vaguely forward.

From Rimic’s memory, K’Lira understood that he often used his Lethean telepathy to protect His Eminence on away missions. His Eminence had received a message a few days ago from a highly ranked Klingon official, asking His Eminence to come to Qo’noS on private business. Rimic didn’t know who’d sent it or why, but His Eminence didn’t want to refuse. He’d brought Rimic with him in a shuttle to the Omega Leonis System, and they’d docked with a Bird of Prey warbird. Now they were waiting to meet with the person who’d invited them to Qo’noS.

The room suddenly chilled in a way that had nothing to do with the temperature as a strong, malevolent telepathic presence approached the airlock’s outer door. Rimic had never sensed such a powerful mind or a more hateful one. It was mountainous, dominant, and predatory. He instinctively recoiled.

“Someone...or something evil’s here,” he whispered to His Eminence.

“I’m aware,” His Eminence replied, his voice sounding mechanical through the mask. “Do your job.”

Rimic cautiously reopened his mind to protect His Eminence telepathically.

The newcomer’s mind instantly quelled itself and waited.

The airlock opened and the silhouette of a Klingon giant appeared in the doorway. His physical stature almost matched his mind. He was over two meters tall and weighed at least 140 kilograms. He was robed head to foot, but K’Lira saw he wore the High Council’s symbol on a gold necklace. He had a long suitcase with him, which he set against the wall.

As the Klingon and His Eminence began speaking to each other, Rimic found the messenger’s constant mental probing distracting and offensive. It was hard to concentrate on the conversation or his assigned duty, and Rimic came back to attention only when the giant picked up the suitcase.

“I’ve acquired the sword that once belonged to the first Klingon Emperor,” the Klingon said, picking up the case. “Take the sword and use it to frame K’Lira of House Trestian for stealing it.”

K’Lira’s mind reeled at the revelation, and she memorized what had happened as His Eminence handed it to Rimic. The rest of the dream sank back into her subconscious.

K’Lira lay on her cot in the wee hours of the morning, pondering the dream’s troubling implications and the upcoming court case about her alleged theft of Kahless’s sword. She’d discovered that it had disappeared from custody on or shortly before stardate 56780. She’d gone over her movements during that time to compile an alibi, but that was all she could do for now until her hearing began later in the day. To bolster her defense, she’d also learned that Rimic, a Lethean defector to House Martok, had witnessed the sword given to His Eminence, who’d then used it to frame her for its theft during the battle at Trivas III. That’s why she was being tried for grand larceny and treason. Rimic had been killed before he could testify, but not before he’d psionically transferred all his memories to her, hoping she could use them in her legal defense. She’d just dreamt of the sword’s exchange from his point of view. He hadn’t recognized the Klingon courtier who’d given it to His Eminence, but she saw that he’d worn the High Council’s emblem. That implied that whoever had given the sword of Kahless to His Eminence with instructions to frame her with it had been either a High Councilor or someone who worked for a High Councilor’s office. K’Lira didn’t want to believe it, but it seemed that the High Council, at least in part, was corrupt and bent against her.

The additional problem was that her only evidence of that was inside her mind, psionically placed there by a now-dead eyewitness. That had some objectivity to it, though; it was Rimic’s memory, not hers. Still, citing someone else’s recall when that witness couldn’t be cross-examined would be difficult to handle in court. She didn’t think the prosecution would tolerate that, but it was the core of her defense. K’Lira needed time to explore Rimic’s memories and see if he had remembered anything else useful for her defense.

That’s my best recourse, she realized resolutely. Convinced she was right, she pulled up the coverlet and went back to sleep.

CHAPTER 6: THE FALL OF HOUSE TRESTIAN

Sheer, ebony walls of rough-hewn rock formed the tall, circular courtroom and arched up to the spotlight far above. The room remained dim despite the lamp’s brilliance as it illuminated the dirt floor in the middle of the chamber and little else. The judge’s bench had its own spotlight and sat in a stony alcove about 5 meters above the floor. Stone benches carved into darker, tiered alcoves above that allowed a live audience to view the proceedings below. The dull murmur of a crowded room thrummed hungrily in the background. Klingons enjoyed the execution of their own laws, and the archaic and chilly courtroom conveyed an imposing air as intended.

The judge presiding over K’Lira’s case was known for his lack of sympathy and as imposing as his courtroom. His craggy brown features stood out in sharp relief in the bright spotlight, and his dour expression suggested his mood. Despite the High Council’s intent, word of the sword’s theft was galactic news by now, and it was impossible to find a Klingon who didn’t have an opinion. The frenzied attention that invoked had turned his courtroom and this trial into a circus. Fully half the people in the room were news agency affiliates.

I hate reporters, he thought, disgruntled, but I hate disloyalists more.

There were foreign visitors, too. Sitting above and to one side of the judge were K’Lira’s husband, Federation Commodore Davir Benmata, and two of his most trusted officers, Commanders Nerayerku (his Deltan/Betazoid intelligence officer) and Losozola Sgiza (his Betazoid security chief). When Davir realized his wife was in legal straights and somehow unable to contact him, he’d taken a leave of absence and flown to Qo’noS. Plying the High Council gave him only rudimentary information about what had happened after the battle of Trivas III, but he was determined to be by K’Lira’s side no matter how her trial turned out.

Our shuttlecraft is standing by for us, he thought, but I don’t know how we can help K’Lira.

Opposite the judge sat Chancellor Gowron, his intense gaze focused on a doorway to one side of the floor, behind which waited court officials, counsel, accused, witnesses, and bailiffs, everyone needed to conduct the trial. His head steward, Chamberlain Talmok, was Gowron’s closest advisor and an expert in Klingon law; he would be prosecuting the case and cross-examining K’Lira’s witnesses. Gowron was confident the evidence against her was airtight and damning – the sword of Kahless was found illegally in her cabin after he’d ordered it moved to the Boreth archive. There could be no better evidence of K’Lira’s disloyalty. In his mind, mere possession of the sword itself spoke of her treasonous intent. This trial was only a formality to him. Seething with distrust, he’d already decided her fate and spoken to the judge.

Discommendation will force her to flee the Empire, never to return for fear of capture and execution, he thought gleefully. My throne will never suffer her or her upstart House again.

K’Lira and her court-appointed counselor were in an interior office, discussing preparations for her hearing. She knew what to expect generally, having attended other hearings as the leader of House Trestian. While it was unusual for Gowron to attend them, this case was very important to him, so his presence was expected; it just wasn’t welcome. Ever since Erak had explained that Gowron had accused K’Lira of treason, she’d regarded the Chancellor as an enemy prima facie, her former friendship with him notwithstanding. Gowron’s opinion carried much weight on the High Council, but this was a lower court. She needed to convince the judge to give her additional time to find the sword’s real thief, then use that to exonerate herself despite Gowron’s foregone conclusion. Otherwise, she was doomed.

“What do you intend to say to the judge?” the lawyer asked.

K’Lira explained that she had insight into how the sword had been used by enemies of the Empire to frame her for stealing it, but she didn’t know why, nor did she disclose how she’d come by that knowledge. Engrammatic memory transfers were almost unheard of, she was still recovering from the aftermath of her experience with it, and she was sure she’d be in mortal danger if it was common knowledge that Rimic’s memories were hers now.

“Do you know who these enemies are?” the lawyer asked.

“I know of one of them, yes,” she said, “the very same who’s been helping the True Way against the Alliance. His Eminence has conspirators, likely among us, and I need time to discover them.”

”You claim he framed you, presumably with the help of disloyalists,” the lawyer said. “You’ll need either a confession or other undeniable proof they did so.”

“I can get it, I’m sure,” K’Lira confirmed. “I just need time.”

The lawyer sucked in his cheeks doubtfully. Conspiracy theories, even plausible ones, were frowned upon as very unprovable defenses, and he was afraid the court had assigned him an unwinnable case. Still, it was his duty to advise his client towards a provable hypothesis.

“Do you have alibis for where you’ve been since the sword was stolen until it was found aboard your ship?” he asked.

“Mostly,” she said. She hadn’t had time to recollect alibis for every day in that span, but she had an eidetic memory and was sure she could fill in the gaps.

The lawyer sighed, relieved. “Tell that to the judge,” he advised. “If you can materially account for how you spent the intervening time, the judge will likely consider that a credible defense and afford you additional time to form the rest of your defense. Avoid anything that sounds like a conspiracy theory – he won’t credit that. Neither will the prosecutor.”

“Chancellor Gowron?” K’Lira asked.

“No,” the lawyer clarified. “Head Chamberlain Talmok.”

K’Lira frowned, confused. “What’s Talmok’s stake in this?”

“He has much legal expertise,” the lawyer said. “It was he whom Gowron tasked with getting the sword to Boreth, so it was he who suffered dishonor when it was reported stolen. Since his personal honor’s at stake, Gowron granted him dispensation to prosecute your case.”

K’Lira nodded, unsurprised.

She’d first heard of Talmok nine years ago when she was a colonel in the Brotherhood of the Sword. Back then, he was a thoroughly unremarkable bekk in service to House Gowron. Shortly after the Klingon-Cardassian War began in 2372, he’d found and returned the deceased body of Dahar Master Ashtan, reportedly slain in battle though his body bore no wounds and was unpoisoned. Afterwards, Talmok had applied himself to studying Klingon history, culture, and law, rising meteorically amongst his peers to acquire Gowron’s notice. The Chancellor made him a steward, and Talmok quickly achieved a leading role there. Five years ago, around the time K’Lira had retired from military service, Talmok had begun to worm his way into Gowron’s inner circle and by now was privy to most matters of state. She had no idea an Undine changeling had killed both the real Ashtan and the real Talmok, then assumed Talmok’s identity to eventually subvert the Klingon leadership and weaken the Empire from within.

In the courtroom, the judge pounded his gavel. “Bring forth the accused and her counsel,” he said loudly.

“Here we go,” K’Lira’s lawyer said, standing to walk towards the door. “Stay focused.”

K’Lira followed grimly, her every step haunted by the spectacle she knew awaited her.

The darkened courtroom looked menacing when viewed from the defendant’s point of view. K’Lira shuddered as she entered it through the door. The raucous crowd above clamored at the sight of her; many jeered, others shouted in indignation, but everyone hushed when the judge rapped the gavel again.

“Bring in the prosecutor,” he said.

From another door opposite hers, the chamberlain entered the room. Talmok was an ordinary 1.6 meters tall and weighed only 85 kilograms soaking wet, but his manner was proud, and his air was supremely confident. He wore the robes of his office as Gowron’s head steward, his resplendent clothes shimmering in the brilliance of the spotlight. He was in his element. The crowd shouted again, as confident as he in his case against her.

In an alcove above, Loso was very disturbed. As a Betazoid, he normally practiced discretion with his natural telepathy, avoiding intruding on the minds of others, preferring instead to be passively open. The courtroom was filled with angry Klingons, so he normally would’ve closed his mind to keep out their chaotic thoughts and emotions, but the commodore had asked him to leave it open, hoping Losozola might sense something that could help K’Lira’s case.

The moment Talmok strode into the room, Loso felt the atmosphere change in a telepathic way. Talmok was like a bubbling cauldron, seething with malicious heat. He was completely focused on K’Lira and didn’t seem to realize there was an empathic telepath in the audience. His heart boiled over when he saw K’Lira, and his black and unrelenting hatred blinded Loso with its intensity. The Betazoid recoiled instinctively, but just before he did, he sensed Talmok’s emotion had a distinctly inhumanoid source behind it that Loso couldn’t fathom as though Talmok was thinking in a language the universal translator couldn’t interpret. Loso closed his mind to protect himself, leaving the mysterious chamberlain to his own formidable mental devices.

He leaned towards the commodore’s ear. “There’s something different about that Klingon,” he whispered harshly.

“Which one?” Davir asked, confused by the unclear reference.

“The prosecutor,” Losozola clarified. “His mind is very strong and...distinctly not Klingon.”

Davir glanced worriedly at his security chief. Loso’s forehead was beaded with sweat despite the chill, and he looked pained.

He put a hand on Losozola’s shoulder. “Understood,” he said. “Let Talmok go. Focus elsewhere,” he advised.

Losozola quickly relaxed as the trial began.

The judge loudly pounded the gavel on the stone table before him. “Presentt your accusation and evidence to the court,” he said.

“Yes,” Talmok responded.

“The defendant, K’Lira of House Trestian, is accused of stealing the sword of Kahless with dishonorable intent to use it to usurp Chancellor Gowron,” he began.

K’Lira snorted derisively at that, and Talmok glared at her.

So did the judge. “Matron, keep your peace,” he commanded. “You’ll have your chance.”

He returned to Talmok. “Continue, Prosecutor.”

“To begin,” Talmok resumed, “it must be noted that K’Lira, strictly speaking, is not a Klingon in the conventional sense. She’s an augment but not by choice. She was transformed into an augment by an Undine geneticist as a young girl. While her record as a warrior and former KDF officer since was otherwise impeccable, she was caught hiding her augment nature from general knowledge in 2370. Chancellor Gowron forgave her for that on the condition that she remain loyal to the Empire and its leadership. Failure to do so would compromise her citizenship and expel her from the Empire according to the ancient law about dishonorable augments. This case will prove that K’Lira has demonstrated her dishonor in violating Chancellor Gowron’s order to keep the sword of Kahless at the archive on Boreth and, as such, no longer deserves Gowron’s leniency and protection.”

The crowd murmured excitedly as the judge pounded the gavel again. “Present your evidence,” he said.

Talmok replayed video footage of K’Lira delivering Kahless’s bat’leth to the High Council, noting to the court that Gowron had received it on behalf of the Klingon people, then ordered Talmok to prepare it for transport to Boreth.

“It never arrived,” he concluded.

“How not?” the judge inquired.

“The Yan-isleth assigned to safeguard it did so,” he answered, “but they reported it missing the next day, shortly after K’Lira’s vessel left Qo’noS. It’s unknown how the sword was apparently removed from custody without observation – that’s still under investigation. What’s unmistakeably clear is that it was found in K’Lira’s possession about a month later.”

Talmok replayed Martok’s footage describing the sword’s discovery underneath K’Lira’s cot on the troop transport she’d taken to Trivas III.

“General Martok dutifully apprehended the accused and confiscated the sword before she could escape with it,” Talmok said. “The sword is now under guard in the royal archive at Boreth, which is where it should’ve been all along.

“K’Lira possessed the means to take the sword for it was she who’d acquired it from a Federation agent on Deep Space 9 before she brought it here. Even after the Yan-Isleth received it into custody that day, it’s presumable that she, as a former member of their order, would be familiar with their measures and practices in securing it and, thus, somehow able to defeat them. There is, in fact, footage of her carrying it aboard the ship she took to join Martok’s forces in the Trivas System.”

Surprised at that, K’Lira remembered boarding the transport while it was on a landing pad in First City. She watched as Talmok played another clip clearly showing her boarding the rickety ship while carrying a large bat’leth-shaped suitcase in her hand, the very one she’d used to bring Kahless’s sword to Qo’noS. She’d kept it because she’d needed a good case for her own bat’leth, which she knew was the only thing in it at the time despite the prosecutor’s presumption.

Talmok said, “It was this evidence that prompted a Yan-Isleth warrior, questioned under oath, to suspect it might be aboard one of Martok’s transports. That turned out to be true, obviously.”

K’Lira privately conceded that Talmok’s point was incriminating and well played. She still couldn’t objectively prove that Rimic’s memory of how the sword came to be in her berth was true. Even Rimic hadn’t witnessed the sword being transported into her room – he’d only known that His Eminence had done so.

“K’Lira also possessed the motive to use the sword for her own ends,” Talmok went on. “She founded House Trestian in 2348 and has spent decades in its service. She’s worked as tirelessly as any House leader would to increase its stature and holdings at every turn. While House Trestian is successful, only the 24 most powerful Houses are on the High Council, and hers is historically regarded as too insignificant to attain a seat. Thus, Trestian remains unrepresented at the highest levels of the Empire. In Klingon tradition, there are two ways to remedy an impasse like that. One is to make alliances with the Houses on the Council, and the other is to defeat a High Councilor in personal combat to win their seat. K’Lira is known to respect Martok and his House, but she’s been closely supportive of House Gowron and the Chancellor since it was his grace, which I referred to earlier, upon which her citizenship rests even now. Yet, it’s known among the High Council members that K’Lira’s relationship with Gowron was strained, and Trestian has declined somewhat since she retired. After five years absent from our midst, her recent advent to return Kahless’s sword could be seen as a flailing attempt to bring her House back to the prominence she undoubtedly feels it deserves. With such a weapon in her hand, she might even challenge Gowron for the chancellorship. This was surely the secret thought of her heart.

“Martok’s campaign against the True Way was all the opportunity she needed, so she took the sword to Trivas III to plausibly prove her worth with it there.

“The sum of it amounts to both grand larceny and, presumably given her implied intent, treason,” he concluded.

As the crowd’s jeers filled the room in response, K’Lira was incensed by the tempting leaps of illogic Talmok had so easily woven into his accusation. While she was certainly proud of her House, it wasn’t in her heart to be disloyal to Gowron even though she’d disagreed with some of his decisions and policies over the years. She’d actually died (twice) defending him. She wouldn’t have done that for anybody she’d secretly regarded as an enemy. Her retirement from the KDF had nothing to do with any bad blood based on House rivalry. She’d married Davir just before the Dominion War. When it was over, they’d decided to finally start a family, but Davir intended to stay in Starfleet, and her House constantly required her attention. She’d made the very difficult decision to retire from military service and to pass leadership of House Trestian to her second so she could focus on her marriage. They’d since had two children, and she couldn’t be happier with that, but she hadn’t imagined or intended that distancing herself from the Empire would foster such hostility between her and its leadership. Having intentionally retired from public service, it made no sense to suggest that she now secretly aspired to return to leadership at Gowron’s expense. Her participation in the battle of Trivas III had been a concession born of need, not greed. She was glad she’d helped defeat the True Way, but she now saw that her return to prominence had unexpected negative consequences. Gowron, reminded of her prowess in battle, feared she’d use the sword against him. No one knew Talmok had been telepathically inciting Gowron against her for years, not even Gowron himself.

In the audience, Davir was afraid for his wife’s future. He knew her Klingon heritage was a core value to her, indeed, the basis of her self-worth. K’Lira had long ago explained M’Rek’s law about disloyal augments to him so that he understood how Gowron’s forgiveness guaranteed her citizenship as long as she was loyal. Sword or no sword, it had never occurred to either of them that their mutual decision to help Martok with the battle at Trivas III would conflate to a false charge of treason against K’Lira. He’d never met Talmok personally, but he found himself hating the chamberlain’s negative attention towards K’Lira, and he wanted desperately to somehow save her Klingon dignity. He simply didn’t know what he could do, and he listened in growing fear and disgust as Talmok made his case against her.

Such utter lies, he thought angrily. Most of his evidence is circumstantial and presumptuous. If he knew her half as well as he thinks he does, he’d repent immediately and beg her forgiveness for falsely accusing her so egregiously.

He looked apprehensively at the chancellor across the room. Gowron had an inscrutable expression on his face. Apparently, he was satisfied with Talmok’s summary, and felt the case was off to a fine start.

Davir turned his attention back to the proceedings as the judge pounded the gavel again for silence. “Defendant, present your arguments,” he yelled.

K’Lira’s lawyer stepped forward. “Your Honor,” he began, “the defendant, K’Lira of House Trestian, humbly begs the court’s indulgence. Our defense against the charge of grand larceny is incomplete at this time, pending the results of the Yan-Isleth’s investigation into the sword’s apparent theft. We need additional time to provide K’Lira’s alibis for her whereabouts from the time Kahless’s sword was returned to the Klingon Empire to the time it was discovered aboard her transport.”

“I see,” the judge said. “While a verified account of her movements in that interim would be helpful, the Head Chamberlain has already presented visual evidence of her taking the sword aboard with her. Are you prepared to refute that or the fact that it was discovered in her cabin shortly afterwards?”

“Again, no,” the lawyer answered.

“Let me guess: time?” the condescending judge asked.

“Yes, your Honor,” the lawyer replied abjectly.

“And treason,” the judge continued, “what of that charge?”

K’Lira’d finally had enough. Despising the lawyer’s pandering, she felt she could do a better job defending herself against Talmok’s spurious accusations and presumptive arguments. “I’ve done nothing treasonous!” she objected loudly.

Everyone in the room stopped, startled.

“What my client means, your Honor...,” the lawyer began.

“Is exactly that!” she finished for him.

“Your Honor, I formally request to represent myself in this case,” she said.

The judge sucked in his cheeks in response as the lawyer stepped back. “On what grounds?” he asked.

“In my experience as the leader of a House, I’ve spent years arbitrating disagreements,” she said. “I understand the severity of the charges against me, but I have evidence my lawyer’s not aware of, and I can argue my case now without my attorney’s help.”

The judge sighed. He’d heard a lot of defendants make the same claim in lesser cases than this one. This case was already a media circus, and it was no help that K’Lira was a prominent public figure with enemies in high places. He didn’t want to allow the defendant to take a course likely to make managing this case harder, but K’Lira was within her rights to refuse counsel.

“I don’t recommend this, Matron,” he advised grimly, “and I doubt your attorney does either. Is this truly what you want?”

“Yes, your Honor,” she affirmed.

The judge turned to the lawyer. “You’re dismissed, Counselor,” he said resignedly.

“Matron,” he addressed K’Lira, “the floor is yours.”

As the lawyer left, K’Lira stepped forward to make her rebuttal.

“Thank you, your Honor,” she said gratefully.

“The court’s aware of the manner of the sword’s arrival and the concessions made upon its return,” she began.

“It is,” the judge said guardedly. “What of it?”

“Federation Ambassador Morlo Aegis specifically selected me to be its agent in returning it to the Empire. I would ask the court’s opinion of that choice?”

“And I would ask the Matron to explain the relevance of her question,” Talmok interrupted angrily.

K’Lira warily regarded her opponent and opened her mouth, but the judge replied before she could.

“In this court’s opinion, it was a convenient choice,” he said. “It’s commonly known that you’re one of the few Klingons to live on Deep Space 9, which was where you acquired the sword. It makes sense to use a Klingon to interface with the Empire, and you were available and willing to complete the transfer.”

“It was more than convenience, your Honor,” K’Lira said. “I’ve worked with Ambassador Aegis before. He’s a Tellarite, and not one prone to trust easily or repeatedly. That bat’leth is a supreme weapon, and Klingons are known to covet prowess in battle, yet Morlo entrusted the sword to my care. I felt personally honored to bring it to our people. If I were the treasonous thief the prosecution believes me to be, it occurs to me that the trip to Qo’noS would’ve been the best time to abscond with it to serve my supposed ambition. I did not. Objectively, I can be trusted to handle priceless artifacts without dishonoring myself. Morlo already knew, which was why he chose me.”

K’Lira stood there, triumphant in the surety of her argument.

“My Lord Chamberlain,” the judge said, “rebuttal?”

“Defending one’s own reputation is self-serving and, in this case, irrelevant, your Honor,” Talmok replied smugly. “Citing someone else’s opinion to that end, especially a non-Klingon’s, doesn’t help either. She stole, then took the sword with her to Trivas. We found it in her cabin after the battle. Any honor she might’ve had at that point, objective or else, is consequently gone. While the sword’s presence aboard the Ak’Voh enroute to Qo’noS a month ago is explainable, its presence aboard her transport a few days ago isn’t. I’ll ask the defendant to address that, if she can.”

Let her try to contest that, he thought.

The judge sat back expectantly as did many in the crowd. Even Gowron watched in anticipation, his narrowed gaze fixed on her.

K’Lira understood this moment, the pivotal point on which her hope rested. Rimic had told her she’d been framed by His Eminence, but not exactly how or especially why. Yet even with only partial answers, she felt confident she could convince the judge to afford her the chance to discover the rest. She hadn’t had time to finish reviewing Rimic’s memories, but telling the judge about engrammatic transfers was outlandish science to most and likely to gain his disfavor. She knew she was on thin ice there. She remembered her erstwhile lawyer’s advice: Don’t say anything that sounds like a conspiracy theory – he won’t credit that.

She smiled quickly over at her beleaguered husband and did a swan dive into the rest of her defense.

“As to grand larceny,” she answered, “there’s absolutely no direct evidence I stole Kahless’s sword. The chancellor himself gave it to the chamberlain after I delivered it, and that, I swear, was the last time I saw it until Martok discovered it in my cabin. I’ve no idea when it got there, but I didn’t bring it aboard with me. The suitcase you saw me carrying onto the transport was indeed the one by which I delivered Kahless’s bat’leth. I kept the case because I liked it and needed one for my own bat’leth. That’s what was really in it when I boarded. Both it and its contents were confiscated along with Kahless’s sword when I was arrested, so the court can verify that I speak truth just by opening it. The prosecution’s claim that Kahless’s sword was inside it is a baseless presumption. Believe what you actually saw, not what the prosecution wants you to imagine.”

Talmok stood by impassively. He’d known his accusation was weakly based on an assumption of K’Lira’s guilt and the suitcase’s presumed contents, which no one could prove or disprove just from the video. He hadn’t expected that argument to withstand cross-examination anyway. What mattered was that His Eminence had planted the sword as instructed to incriminate K’Lira.

I must end House Trestian. That would devastate her, he thought savagely.

Across the chamber, Chancellor Gowron fumed in frustration, his lips pressed into a thin line. He’d hoped Talmok’s second line of evidence would be more convincing.

Talmok needs to do better than that, he thought nervously.

Meanwhile, K’Lira continued, oblivious to Talmok’s internal scheming.

“The charge of treason is also presumptuous in that it assumes my intent in having Kahless’s sword. It may have been found under my cot, but I’ve also testified that I didn’t steal it and have no idea how it got there.”

She knew the last part was a lie, but she didn’t want to risk alienating the judge by disclosing that she knew she’d been framed because she now possessed the memories of a dead Lethean.

“The sword’s theft is still under investigation,” she said. “I’ll fully cooperate, of course. Hopefully, catching the real thief will dispel any thought of my involvement.”

She can’t know I gave it to His Eminence, Talmok thought, a nagging doubt creeping into his mind about that.

“The defense rests, your Honor,” K’Lira finished, “for now.”

“I see,” the judge said flatly.

It was clear Talmok’s arguments were thin and based largely on the presumption that K’Lira has stolen Kahless’s sword for herself. While the theft was still being investigated, the question of who’d actually taken it was open, so K’Lira couldn’t (yet) be convicted of stealing it without direct proof she’d done so. The grand larceny charge wasn’t baseless (the sword had been found in her cabin), but it was premature and warranted additional time for the pending investigation to close. Also, the larceny charge depended causally on the treason charge as there would be no reason to steal the sword unless one presumed that K’Lira intended to use it treacherously. Aside from the sword being found in her cabin, there wasn’t actual proof of that intent in her record. K’Lira’d been a loyal, successful warrior of the Empire for many years. Only Gowron and Talmok were contesting that, so the burden of proof was on them, and Talmok’s assumption of disloyalty without corroborating evidence wasn’t the proof the court needed. What no one could explain (without assuming theft) was how the sword turned up in K’Lira’s cabin. Until that was cleared up, she remained merely a suspect, not a convict.

The judge cleared his throat and pounded the gavel for silence.

“It is the considered opinion of this court that the prosecution’s charges of grand larceny and treason are not supported by sufficient objective proof that the defendant actually stole Kahless’s sword or that she possessed it with treasonous intent. The ongoing investigation into the sword’s disappearance and reappearance needs to shed its light on the facts of this case before a verdict can be rendered. Until then, the defendant is remanded into protective custody in First City pending another hearing after that investigation is done.”

The room erupted as the crowd shouted and screamed in dismay or vindication. Davir was relieved. Gowron, oddly, still wore an impassive expression.

Talmok was incensed but silent. Time for Plan B, he thought.

K’Lira, of course, was elated. She’d lost so much to get to this point that the deferral of her case felt like the payout of a long-awaited and hard-earned victory. Her ordeal wasn’t over, but it felt like she’d reached a milestone. All she needed was time to put Rimic’s information to its best use.

The only bad thing about the judge’s decision was the part about being placed back into protective custody. Rimic had lost his life because the KDF’s witness protection program was insufficient to the task. K’Lira knew whoever had killed him would likely try again to kill her. She needed to stay alive long enough to exonerate herself and her House, so she appealed to the court.

“Your Honor, by now, the court’s aware that I was attacked at a safehouse yesterday?” K’Lira asked the judge.

“The KDF filed a report, Matron, and yes, we’re aware,” the judge answered testily.

“Then the court also knows that there was one casualty in that attack, a Lethean, shot dead by an assassin across the street from the safehouse. The KDF warriors who accompanied me didn’t catch the killer, but I’m convinced the culprit meant my death instead and missed. He’ll likely try again. Since the safehousing system is likely compromised, I beg the court’s permission to remain in protective custody in a different way; let me stay under house arrest aboard the Ak’Voh.”

“Preposterous!” roared Talmok. “The crew are undoubtedly loyal to her. They’ll break orbit the instant she beams aboard!”

“The court can order the Ak’Voh's warp drive and cloaking systems to be disabled for the duration,” she offered placatingly. “I’ll accept any security officers the court sees fit to add if they’re vetted by the Yan-Isleth. I’ll even always wear a locator beacon.

“Your Honor, I’m trying to be cooperative, but I sincerely believe my life is in danger. It does me and the court no benefit to lose the case and my life because a hitman who apparently knows our safehousing system found me again. My ship is the only place I can guarantee my personal safety until this is over.”

The judge paused. He knew about the KDF’s incident report, but he hadn’t read it, so it was news to him that protective custody had recently been compromised with deadly consequences. He needed K’Lira to stand trial again when the Yan-Isleth’s investigation had finished, but Talmok had a point, too.

“Matron,” he began, sighing, “your request tests the court’s tolerance mightily. If you’re not safe in First City, I doubt you’d be safe anywhere else. But the court’s not completely averse to your suggestion about security. The Ak’Voh will do as long as it’s disabled to prevent it from leaving orbit. All crew and visitors will be vetted by the Yan-Isleth. You’re restricted to quarters while you’re aboard.” He checked his calendar. “Your next court appearance will be scheduled by...,” he started.

CONDEMN HER! Talmok intoned telepathically. House Trestian must fall!

A shadow fell across the courtroom floor as Gowron rose from his seat, his wide-eyed glare upon the judge. “Hold,” he commanded sternly.

The judge looked apprehensively at him. It was unusual enough for the chancellor to personally observe a lower court case, but the judge understood Gowron’s interest in this one. Gowron had spoken to the judge before the hearing and made it clear that he already considered K’Lira to be completely guilty. The judge had agreed to take Gowron’s opinion under advisement but nothing more. He hadn’t expected the chancellor to interrupt the court’s process, though, and he wondered what the chancellor wanted.

“As chancellor, I hereby overrule this court’s decision and pronounce K’Lira guilty on all charges,” Gowron said.

The cavernous room erupted again, shouts echoing long and loudly, and it was almost a minute before the judge could make himself heard above the din.

“ORDER!” he screamed hoarsely. He struck the stone gavel so vehemently that it shattered, and he had to pound the desk with his fist instead. “I WILL HAVE ORDER OR I’LL CLEAR THIS COURTROOM!”

Opposite Gowron, Davir sank into his seat, gravely disappointed in the Klingon justice system. The Empire was a feudal oligarchy of royal Houses, most of which had their own judiciary. The top 24 Houses were represented on the High Council with the chancellor at its head. As such, the chancellor was the highest legal authority in the Empire. He could pardon any convict...or convict anybody he thought guilty. Davir realized the awful truth: Gowron was the real enemy, and he’d just condemned K’Lira despite the judge’s opinion.

He can’t be allowed to get away with this, Davir thought. She was winning! He instantly swore he would somehow find a way, legal or not, to make Gowron pay for summarily misjudging his wife and destroying K’Lira’s hard-earned reputation.

Gowron wasn’t done.

“My forgiveness for hiding her augmented nature some 10 years ago was predicated upon her continued loyalty, which is now void,” he continued icily, “and I rescind my grace and her citizenship. House Trestian is hereby dissolved, its holdings and fleet (including the Ak’Voh) confiscated by the Empire. Its members are discharged but not dishonored for K’Lira’s guilt is hers alone, and they may join any House that will have them.”

He resumed his seat. “vInoHpu’,” he finished with grim finality.

Talmok, privately pleased with the result of his mental manipulation, wisely kept his sentiment to himself. He didn’t need telepathy to read K’Lira, though, whose attention was on Gowron.

She was livid. Her eyes flashed darkly. Condemning her without sufficient proof was bad enough, but disbanding her House was a deeper evil. She’d spent decades building House Trestian’s reputation. Her second ran it now since she’d retired, but her honor as its founder still supported it. If she’d lost the case, she’d hoped the judge’s sentence would be confined to her alone, but Gowron, in his mysterious hatred, had bypassed all her efforts and condemned her and her House. Now, the lives of hundreds of warriors and their families, people who’d heretofore respected her leadership, would be disrupted, perhaps permanently. She wouldn’t blame them if they never forgave her for that, but she blamed Gowron for taking it that far.

She realized this also made it impossible to use her flagship and its crew since they weren’t hers anymore.

The Ak’Voh's gone, she thought anxiously. How will I protect myself now? Where can I go?

Helpless, she turned to the judge. “Your Honor, please!” she begged.

The judge was as displeased as K’Lira was but for his own reasons. In fairness, he wasn’t convinced the Matron was innocent, just that the evidence against her was very subjective and circumstantial. Any verdict he might’ve rendered on that basis would’ve been suspect anyway, not to mention premature. The Klingon spectators were the usual riffraff who filled courtrooms just to jeer at convicts, and this was a high-profile case, attracting the worst of the lot. The judge had long since lost control of the crowd in the stands, and trash now littered the court's dirt floor, tossed down by the spectators as they roared in combined anger and disgust at the various proceedings. Then there was the press. News agencies loved negative drama, and Gowron’s stunt was perhaps the most theatrical thing that could’ve happened.

This is a complete disaster of a trial, he thought, and I sincerely wish I weren’t presiding over it. Frustrated, his threadbare patience with the whole affair down to its last strand, he glared down at K’Lira and felt sorry for her. This case may be a fiasco, and I may end up being the laughingstock of my profession for taking it, but I’ll be damned to Grethor if I fail to get her to trial safely, he thought. This will end, but how?

Suddenly, he had an idea.

“Matron K’Lira, formerly of House Trestian,” he began, “it isn’t in this court’s power to countermand Chancellor Gowron’s judgment. His word is indeed law.” The judge glanced obliquely at Gowron, who was watching him closely.

“However,” the judge continued, “proper jurisprudence is how verdicts are reached and true justice is dispensed, which is our highest form of law. The Chancellor may disfavor you in this case, Matron, but even his judgment must comply with jurisprudence. As the prosecution’s case depends upon actual proof you stole the sword, I’ll grant a stay of execution on your sentence pending the result of the Yan-Isleth’s investigation.”

Satisfied, the judge sat back and pounded the stone table before him once with his hand since he didn’t have a gavel. “vInoHpu’,” he said smugly.

Gowron had done all the damage he could. He fumed but said nothing and stood to leave.

Neither did Talmok. While he held Gowron in his mental sway through long association, he had no power over the judge’s mind.

K’Lira must not discover my larger designs, he thought privately. Rescinding her rights and disbanding her House will force her out of the Empire for her perceived disloyalty and divide the High Council besides. The chaos from that will render the Empire’s military ineffective as a unified force. When the strongest member of the Alliance weakens, the Alliance will fracture, and my brethren will invade this universe more easily.

While he knew that, he was sure His Eminence and the remaining True Way dissidents didn’t see the big picture. Talmok wanted it to stay that way, too. He needed His Eminence’s disruptive influence on the Alpha and Beta Quadrants to keep the Alliance off balance and preoccupied while Talmok telepathically worked Gowron and the High Council in secret.

Devastated, K’Lira simply stood in the middle of the floor as Talmok, too, left the room. She swept her extremely long hair forward to hide her face as she wept, holding a hand up to shade her eyes against the bright spotlight far above. She couldn’t believe Gowron’s unfairness in summarily judging her when the case against her was incomplete and baselessly presumptive. She knew she’d been framed, but she’d hoped that he would see through the weakness of Talmok’s evidence and agree with the judge’s decision to wait and see. In condemning her, Gowron had taken everything she valued about her heritage: her honor, House, fleet, holdings, and rights. All but convicted of disloyalty despite the judge’s abeyance, she couldn’t appeal to the court, her ship’s crew, or her friends to help her; no Klingon would risk dishonor by association to try. All she could do was wait for the Yan-Isleth’s investigation to finish to see how that would bear on her sentence.

“I’ve no choice but to remand the accused to protective custody,” the judge said impassively. “Please leave the courtroom as I need to try the next case.”

K’Lira looked forelornly up at the judge’s craggy face, half hidden in shadow. She knew he, too, could risk nothing more than what he’d already done for her, and she was grateful enough for the delay. It simply did nothing to assuage the loss of her rights meanwhile. Still, she didn’t blame him – she blamed Gowron.

“Yes, your Honor,” she said meekly.

She turned and saw Davir in the stands. She shared her husband’s agonized gaze for a long moment, and an unspoken understanding passed between them: he would help her in any way he could. “Meet me outside,” K’Lira said, then walked through the doorway she’d entered by, closing it behind her.

The commodore and his Betazoid companion excused themselves, working their way into the network of corridors outside the courtroom, looking for K’Lira. Davir was anxious to commiserate with her about the dire situation Gowron’s verdict had caused, but she wasn’t waiting for him outside the courtroom. In fact, she was nowhere to be seen.

Worried, he stopped a nearby bailiff. “Have you seen Matron K’Lira?” he asked. “She just came out and was supposed to be placed into protective custody.”

The Klingon frowned. “I have not,” he said, “but if she’s supposed to be processed for that, she’d be in the waiting room at the end of that hallway.” He pointed down a nearby corridor. “Last room on the left. That’s where we tag them with locator beacons so we can track them. The clerk there will know.”

Davir nodded gratefully. “Thanks.”

He and Losozola walked quickly down the hallway and entered the indicated room. It was a narrow compartment with bench seating on one wall, a closed door on the far one, and a windowed alcove opposite the bench. There was no one waiting on the bench, and only a female Klingon standing on the other side of the window.

Davir walked up to her. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” he began. “I’m looking...”

Just then, a Klingon warrior burst into the room from the opposite door. Breathless, he dashed past the commodore, practically shoving Davir out of the way to get the clerk’s attention.

JaH’pu K’Lira!” he cried excitedly. “Jolegh’pu chongwi’ tuQmoHlaHpa’!

Confused, Davir watched as the woman behind the window snarled in disgust and struck the general alarm control on her desk. Doors slammed shut, transporter inhibitors activated, and bootsteps thundered down the corridor outside as the building went into lockdown.

“Stay in this room!” the lady told them, then she and the warrior left to join the vain search for K’Lira.

Davir and Losozola sat on the bench, bewildered by this unexpected turn of events.

The commodore understood that K’Lira’s honorable Klingonhood meant everything to her, but with that now gone, he wasn’t sure how far she’d go to get it back. He guessed she knew the Klingon Defense Force’s methods and capabilities well enough to take advantage of them. Had she planned her escape without telling him? Did she have help? Where had she gone? Would he see her again soon? How could he help her now?

He didn’t know anything, and his helplessness mounted as he was sure K’Lira’s had when Gowron had judged her so harshly.

The KDF will surely want to question me, but she’s truly on her own, he thought forlornly. Good luck, bangwIj.

FOOTNOTES

Bekk
Klingonese: Private (as in rank).
Ak'Voh
Klingonese: It's the name of K'Lira's ship.
VInoHpu’
Klingonese: I have judged..
JaH’pu K’Lira! Jolegh’pu chongwi’ tuQmoHlaHpa’!
Klingonese: K'Lira's gone! She beamed herself before she could wear a tracker!.
BangwIj
Klingonese: My love.

CHAPTER 7: EMPIRE IN CHAOS

The Videssan’s transporter pad lit up, and K’Lira materialized upon it.

“She’s aboard,” a male operator said into the transporter console’s communicator.

“We’re almost there,” a female voice replied.

Surprised, K’Lira looked about and realized where she was. There could be only one explanation – her friends had intervened.

She turned angrily to the operator and stepped down to his console. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” she shouted.

Before he could respond, the door opened and Erak entered the transporter room, closely followed by an Orion man and a Orion woman whom she didn’t recognize.

“Matron,” Erak began, “calm…”

“Send me back this instant!” K’Lira interrupted, heading towards the pad.

“If we do that, you’ll die,” Erak answered, “and the Empire with you.”

K’Lira stopped. She was still angry with his interference but confused by his reply. She understood her own peril very well and Gowron’s role in it, but what was this about the Empire falling? She trusted Erak’s judgment because he’d protected her after Rimic died, but she’d not known him to lie or be overly dramatic.

“How do you mean?” she asked.

Erak sighed. “There’ve been...developments, Matron,” he answered, “things you don’t yet know.”

K’Lira folded her thick arms across her broad chest and leaned back, glowering. “What now?” she growled. “And who are they?” she added, indicating the two Orions.

Erak nodded to the first Orion and stepped back.

“Honored Matron,” the Orion man said, saluting as he stepped forward, “I’m Captain Vaza, and this is my Chief of Operations, Silernna,” he said, indicating the Orion woman. “It’s a pleasure to have you aboard again.”

Somewhat mollified, K’Lira returned the salute, fist over heart. “Captain,” she greeted.

She returned to Erak. “What’s happened?” she asked.

Erak opened his mouth to reply, but Vaza interrupted him. “Perhaps this conversation should be moved to a more private setting?” he asked, nodding towards the door. “The Videssan’s conference room isn’t far.”

The four of them walked down the hall to the conference room, a narrow room with a long table and dim lighting. Vaza took the chair at the head of the table. Silernna sat next to him as K’Lira took a seat next to Erak and waited expectantly.

“To begin, Matron,” Vaza said, “your trial has sparked a rebellion, the underpinings of which have been brewing for a long time.”

K’Lira frowned mightily. It was as if she’d been accused of insurrection herself though she knew otherwise. She held her peace and waited for him to explain further.

“After the trial, cells of rebellious Klingons, Orions, Gorn, Ferasans, and Letheans staged attacks on government and military facilities across the Empire and its vassal states. The apparent intent is to overthrow the rulership on every world in the Empire at once, but it’s unclear who’s leading the rebellion or how best to put it down and restore civil order. The Klingon Defense Force is also showing signs of fracturing as units on various worlds are reporting dissension within their own ranks. Finally, the High Council itself is distressed by the advent of open rebellion and divided in the use of its power to stop it. Some Houses want to use their own paramilitary forces rather than risk the apparent instability of the KDF. Others are begging Gowron to either put down the rebellion or immediately step down as Chancellor and let someone else do the job their way. In short, the Empire is falling apart along political lines.”

K’Lira was stunned. While she’d always known that Gowron had enemies on the High Council, his rulership had been heretofore unchallenged, and his leadership uncontested. The news that the High Council was openly split to the point of being ineffective at controlling dissident groups within its own military was extremely disconcerting. The KDF was the strongest arm in the Alliance. Its fracturing undoubtedly spelled the Alliance’s doom unless the damage could be repaired and soon.

That thought brought a new one to K’Lira’s shrewd mind. “You said a rebellion’s been brewing for a long time,” she said. “How’s that so and what else do you know of it?”

Vaza looked at Erak. “Maybe you should explain?” he offered.

Erak sighed. “It’s not such a long story in the telling as it is a long time in the making. The truth Is Gowron’s support as chancellor has been waning for nearly a decade. He was elected when Tmpec died, but he was a political outsider who won on a reformist platform. Over the course of the Klingon-Cardassian War and the Dominion War which followed, he reformed little enough, and many on the Council and the KDF opposed the military decisions he made. Granted, that happens to every chancellor, Gowron suffered it more than most before him. Things nearly came to a head when it became obvious he was abusing General Martok’s success in battle. He kept sending the general into the thickest, most unwinnable engagements, hoping Martok would be killed by the enemy. He’s always feared Martok’s popularity over his own and thought to rid himself of a political rival the easy way.”

K’Lira may have retired, but she was still Martok’s contemporary and, by his own admission, a more skilled warrior than he. She knew about his grudge against Gowron because of How Gowron treated him during the Dominion War, but she didn’t understand the importance of that in the current insurrection.

“What’s that have to do with this rebellion?” she asked.

“It’s part of the larger unpopular sense that Gowron doesn’t deserve the chancellorship anymore, if he ever did,” Erak answered. “Martok’s only offense against him was in being exceptionally good at his job. Many in the Empire feel that trying to kill your best general just because you fear his rival popularity is dishonorable. Coupled with dissatisfaction at the early defeats and high casualty rates the Klingon Empire sustained during the Dominion War and the ease with which the Founders infiltrated our highest military offices, dissidents throughout the Empire are uniting to remove the Chancellor in favor of Martok.” His voice grew small and hesitant. “Or someone else...like you,” he ended, seemingly embarrassed to even suggest the possibility of bidding her for the chancellorship.

K’Lira had never sought leadership beyond her House, Trestian. That didn’t matter now that it was bereft of honor and assets, but what apparently mattered to some was that Gowron had dishonored himself again by stripping a popular House of honor without conclusive proof its founder had done anything dishonorable. So upsetting was Gowron’s spurious conviction of K’Lira that many were willing to risk open rebellion to finally depose him. To them, it was the last in a long list of straws that fostered their discontention and distrust of Gowron’s judgment. The High Council didn’t trust him either and had split its support along dissident lines, some siding with Martok, some with other leaders, but none with Gowron. Even his own House was divided.

K’Lira was aghast. In forcing her demise, Gowron had condemned himself in the eyes of his countrymen in one go. The Klingon Empire was crumbling around him, and everything seemed to revolve around her. In a private flash of contempt, she asked herself why she even cared as she wasn’t legally a Klingon anymore anyway, but she just as quickly shrugged off the self-pitiable thought. Her earlier advice to Martok about forgiving Gowron came to mind, and she bitterly realized it also applied to her, but she found she wasn’t ready to do that. She wanted strongly to continue hating Gowron for what he’d done. Her self-righteousness fueled the hardening of her heart and provided the merciless justification she needed now.

“I don’t care if the rebels manage to depose Gowron or who replaces him,” she growled through gritted teeth. “He can rot in Grethor. I just want my honor back. If I have to slay him myself to do that, so be it.”

Spoken like a true Klingon, Erak thought, bemused.

He hadn’t seriously considered K’Lira to replace Gowron even if she had a reason to challenge him for the chancellorship. He actually agreed with the judge’s decision to wait and see what the Yan-Isleth discovered about how the sword had been stolen, hoping it would exonorate K’Lira, but he knew that wouldn’t change Gowron’s verdict anyway. No matter what else happened in court, the only avenue to legal restitution involved confronting Gowron, in this case, in the context of open rebellion.

Will we survive? And what will the Empire be afterwards if we do? he wondered.

“Be prepared,” Vaza said to K’Lira. “It may indeed come to that.”

“A true warrior is always prepared for battle,” K’Lira replied menacingly, “though I wish I had my weapons.”

Silernna sighed. “Well, if we’re gonna be renegades, I’d best prepare the crew,” she said in a light alto voice.

She turned to Vaza. “Captain?”

He nodded at her and stood. “Dismissed.”

K’Lira raised a hand to stop them both from leaving. “One other thing,” she said.

“Yes, Matron?” Vaza asked, turning.

K’Lira looked sheepishly up at him. “Do you know any good Lethean doctors?”

The High Council was in emergency session, but, due to the rebellion, only a few councilors were in attendance. Gowron sat in the chair at the head of the room. Talmok stood behind him. Seated around the room were Toral of House Duras, Grilka of her own House, Martok of his own, and a few other House leaders. Less than half the Great Houses were represented.

“We aren’t a quorum” Gowron noted, “but this session must proceed anyway, so I’m dispensing with protocol. The Empire is in chaos and peril. How should we proceed against our fellows?”

Toral flexed his slim shoulders, an arrogant look upon his narrow face. “Like the traitors they’ve shown themselves to be,” he replied. “I recommend mass discommendation, Chancellor.”

Most of the councilors nodded in agreement. Rebelling against the Chancellor or a House leader was grounds for dishonorable discharge from one’s House or the Empire unless the rebel won his cause in honorable combat. Since the rebellion was widespread, it was functionally easier to publicly declaim all the rebels. That would certainly distance the High Council from the rebellion, but it wouldn’t stop the infighting. Indeed, most of the missing councilors were absent because they were busy doing exactly that with what resources they had.

Talmok said nothing, preferring instead to listen telepathically to the audience and especially Gowron, his slight mental touch directing the Chancellor’s mind. Keeping the Empire distracted and off balance worked in his favor as that would make it easier for his Undine brethren to destroy the Empire when they invaded.

Find the ringleaders, he thought, and make examples of them.

“I won’t tolerate insurrectionists,” Gowron said vehemently. “We must make an example of their leaders.”

Martok cleared his throat. “We have to find them first,” he advised.

“Yes,” Gowron agreed, “and have them executed for treason.”

“My forces are already engaged in rooting them out here in First City, Chancellor,” Grilka said. “I have forces abroad doing the same, but the Empire is vast. I’ve received reports of similar rebellions in our vassal states where I have no military presence. What of them?”

Gowron considered briefly. “I’ll ask the leaders of the vassals to assist in putting the rebellion down as quickly as possible, violently, if needed,” he said.

“The rebels are disorganized and apparently operating in cell groups,” Martok said. “It’ll be some time in getting to all of them. Meanwhile, our countrymen will die in this pursuit as will the rebels themselves.”

“You sound sympathetic, General,” Toral sneered. “Are you afraid as well?”

Martok wisely let the snide accusation pass, knowing the only opinion that mattered was Gowron’s, but he didn’t know Talmok mentally had Gowron’s ear.

Use Martok, Talmok thought maliciously. If he fails, he dies.

During the Dominion War, Gowron had succumbed many times to Talmok’s telepathic suggestion to send Martok into lopsided battles, hoping he’d die, yet the general had somehow survived, growing more renowned with each victory. Gowron’s jealousy returned, and he surrendered again.

“The rebels have chosen Grethor, General,” Gowron said. “Use whatever resources you need to discover them,” he ordered, “and bring them in chains to our court that we may dispense justice.”

Fine words from a cold heart don’t convey bravery, Martok thought grimly. I’ve no choice but to obey him. Will my fellows respect me in Sto’Vo’Kor for this?

He put his misgivings aside. “Of course, Chancellor.”

“Qapla’, General,” Grilka offered as he turned to leave the council chamber.

Martok paused, doubtful, but said nothing and left the building.

Many light years away, in a basement office in Starfleet Intelligence’s reconnaissance wing, Ambassador Morlo Aegis was watching the galactic news. The elderly Tellerite looked more haggard than usual as he sat at his broad desk, loudly tapping a porcine hoof as his ignored coffee mug slowly cooled. His head researcher, Lt. Commander Victoria Alain, stood behind him, trying to look calm despite being nervous at the distracting tapping sound the ambassador’s foot made. They were very worried by the news coming out of the Klingon Empire.

“The Klingon Empire is apparently in the early throes of what has the potential to be called a civil war,” the briefing said. “Details are still sketchy, but there are increasing reports of open opposition to Chancellor Gowron on every Klingon planet and major outpost in the Beta Quadrant. The Empire’s vassal states are also reporting uprisings in their territories. Chancellor Gowron has made a statement disavowing the rebels and calling on all true Klingons to reaffirm their loyalty to the Empire by turning in any rebels they find. Other House leaders can’t be reached for confirmation or comment, implying that the threat requires the Council’s full and undivided attention. The KDF is being fully mobilized, but it’s unclear to what extent the Klingon military may or will be used to handle the outbreak. The reasons for the rebellion are unknown, but there are unconfirmed rumors that it involves the theft of Kahless’s sword last month and the more recent downfall of the House of Trestian, dubiously linked to the crime.

“Given the scope and severity of the situation, the United Federation of Planets has issued a temporary ban against travelling to the Empire, pending an end to the civil unrest, citing the safety of Federation citizens and others as a priority. However, Starfleet operations are unaffected by the ban.

“We’ll keep you appraised as this story develops,” the briefing finished.

Morlo’d heard quite enough and angrily punched the off button on the monitor, killing the feed. Victoria watched warily as fear, wrath, and calculated logic warred for dominance on his expressive face.

“Bastard,” he rumbled. His baritone voice rose as he continued. “I thought this might happen. I KNEW IT!”

Victoria knew he meant Gowron.

Morlo had warned the chancellor upon bringing Kahless’s sword to him that the famous weapon would be a tempting target for any Klingon with aspirations of becoming the next leader of the Empire, so it had to be protected. When news of its theft had finally been leaked to the public, Morlo’s heart had fallen, and he knew it was inevitable that someone would blame Gowron. Worse, he feared someone would depose Gowron by using the sword to defeat him, raising their House to prominence by winning the chancellorship in battle. Gowron had helped form the Federation Alliance that had finally defeated the Dominion in 2375, and he’d been a reliable proponent of peaceful cooperation in the Alpha Quadrant since. Morlo shuddered at what the Alliance would become without a strong and stable Klingon Empire at its core. But what had caused such a disturbance?

Morlo had tasked K’Lira of House Trestian to convey the sword to Qo’noS. The briefing had referenced her House in connection with the sword’s theft, but Morlo knew K’Lira very well and couldn’t believe she’d stolen it herself.

Maybe one of her warriors went rogue and took it? he wondered. Either way, I need to know what happened.

“Get me K’Lira,” he said to Victoria. “Security protocol one. Now.”

“I’ll try, Ambassador,” she replied, “but you heard the broadcast. The High Council’s being very hush-hush and Gowron’s incommunicado right now. What if I can’t reach her?”

Not whom I asked for, Morlo thought, but maybe he can help.

“Secure the channel and put him through,” he ordered.

“Stand by,” she responded.

“Ambassador,” Davir greeted as his image appeared on Morlo’s computer. His low tenor was quiet and weak.

He sounds worse than I feel, Morlo thought.

“Dav,” he asked, dispensing with protocol, “what the hell’s going on on Qo’noS?”

The commodore sighed heavily, then proceeded to catch Morlo up on recent events from his experience, everything through K’Lira’s recent escapade. “I don’t know where she is, Morlo,” he finished forlornly. “She’s a fugitive, and I don’t know how to help her.”

Stunned, Morlo didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t expected anything like this would befall his protégé’s wife, and he empathized with the commodore, but lamenting it didn’t solve the main problem. The sword was back in custody, but no one on the High Council trusted Gowron’s judgment. That distrust extended throughout the Empire and its vassals. His dishonorable treatment of House Trestian's founder had erupted a political caldera that had been building since the Klingon-Cardassian War.

Gowron’s anomalous behavior has been worse since the Dominion War ended, he thought. He’s up to something, but what? he wondered.

“Í’m deeply sorry for her loss, Dav,” he began, “and I hope you believe me when I say that I never meant to bring this upon your family when I recruited K’Lira’s help in returning that damned sword.”

“No, of course you didn’t,” Davir agreed.

“I just wish..., I don’t even know what I wish,” the commodore continued. “Everything that could’ve gone wrong since the sword’s return has gone very awry. Well, everything except beating the True Way at Trivas, but even that happy day was marred by her being arrested. It’s like...someone has it in for her in a very bad way, and they’re using Gowron.”

Morlo was suspicious. There was no reason to presuppose Gowron was being manipulated against K’Lira, but if he was, that would explain everything except who was doing so and why. Looking back across long interactions with Gowron and the High Council, it occurred to Morlo that the chancellor’s averse behavior towards his fellow leaders went all the way back to the way he abused Martok’s successful track record during the Dominion War.

Is he merely jealous? Maybe it’s deeper than that, he thought.

During the Klingon-Federation War in 2372, changeling Founders from the Gamma Quadrant captured several prominent Klingons and replaced them with imposters to weaken the Alpha Quadrant preparatory to invasion. The imposters made certain plays that gave away their nefarious intent over time. The ruse ended when Starfleet exposed the changeling pretending to be General Martok in 2373. (The real Martok was discovered in a Dominion prison camp and repatriated later that year.) The other imposters were ousted, and the Empire agreed to a cease fire shortly thereafter. The similarity between that episode and this one was too uncanny to ignore.

Are the Founders at it again? he wondered. When they lost the Dominion War, they agreed to stay on their homeworld and not interfere in Alpha Quadrant affairs. The Dominion must know we’d be wary of more changelings sent among us. Why risk it? He wasn’t even sure he was right about the Founders, only that a changeling imposter or other external influence would explain much of Gowron’s recent aversity.

“The last time the Empire was in such a state was during the Klingon-Federation War,” Morlo mused aloud. “At the time, we suspected Dominion interference and that Gowron was a changeling spy bent on conquering the Alpha Quadrant. We were half-wrong; disruption as a prelude to war was the motive, but Martok was the real spy, and he was motivating the chancellor against us.”

Davir said nothing, remembering those events from afar. He’d been the second officer on the U.S.S. Tandrilüs at the time and not involved in that affair himself, but he was just as glad that war hadn’t lasted long, less than a year.

Predictably, the Dominion had invaded the Alpha Quadrant in mid-2373 before anyone had had time to recover. The Dominion War had lasted another three years and devastated the Cardassian Union by the time it ended in hard-won victory for the Federation Alliance. Davir had spent the last five years dealing with the aftermath. As far as he was concerned, the only good things to come of it were that the war had earned him a promotion to commodore and had brought him and K’Lira together.

Morlo’s reminder had given Davir’s nebulous fear of Gowron’s antipathy a new shape, something to focus on. “Do you suspect the Founders might be interfering with the Empire again?” he asked worriedly.

Morlo sighed. “I do but that’s not proof. Fortunately, I know how we might get what we need.”

Davir looked up hopefully. Odo..., of course.

Odo was a changeling, one of 100 young ones sent out centuries ago to explore the galaxy. Discovered and raised by a Cardassian scientist on Bajor in the 2360s, he became Deep Space 9’s arbiter (later constable) from the Cardassian occupation of Bajor to the end of the Dominion War. Unlike other changelings, he was sympathetic to the Bajoran cause and loyal to the Federation and its allies as long as they supported Bajor. He was now with the other Founders, teaching them to respect “solids” for their better qualities, being a role model for a less fearful, more tolerant Founder society.

“The Founders are all changelings, creatures who can meld together to form a large gelatinous pool they call the Great Link. In that state, they can share their knowledge with each other,” Morlo said. “If anyone would know if they’ve started interfering with the Empire again, Odo would.”

Odo lived on the Founder’s homeworld in the Gamma Quadrant. The Bajoran wormhole was the only fast way to get from the Alpha Quadrant to the Gamma Quadrant. His Eminence had sabotaged it several months ago, so transit and communication between the two quadrants had been hampered since.

“How will you bring him back now that the wormhole’s gone?” Davir asked.

“Oh, I just need to talk to him,” Morlo corrected.

“Again, how?” Davir pressed.

Oddly, Morlo didn’t reply. He just stared at the commodore.

Davir recognized the ambassador’s poker face and realized the answer was outside his clearance. If Morlo can’t answer that to me, it must be quite a secret, he thought cautiously. Best not hound him. It’s enough that he has a plan.

“I see,” Davir concluded, implying the opposite. “Well, qapla’ with that, then.”

Morlo relaxed a bit. “I’ll keep you informed, Commodore,” he said. His old eyes softened kindly. “And if I can help your wife’s situation in any way, you know you just have to call.”

Davir smiled wanly. “Of course. Benmata out.”

The channel closed, and Morlo sat silently at his desk for almost a full minute before he called Victoria.

“Get me Chairman Koval of the Tal Shiar on a secured line,” he ordered, “priority one protocol.”

Chancellor Gowron sat proudly at the desk in his dim office in First City. The wall behind him was cluttered with accolades of his past exploits. Someone had groomed him for his upcoming press release by reducing the emerging gray in his otherwise brown hair, slicking it with oil until it shone. His chest was adorned with many medals, and a brooch with his House’s symbol was pinned to a lapel. His heavy, fur-lined cloak was draped across the back of his chair. His expression confident, Gowron looked every bit the picture of a strong national leader.

Head Chamberlain Talmok stood behind him, comparably regaled and holding the sword of Kahless for Gowron. Resting upright on its tip and gleaming in the red lighting, it, more than anything else in the room, was the undeniable symbol of Klingon leadership. As far as anyone else knew, Talmok merely completed the ensemble for the audience, but his stoic expression gave away none of his inner mind.

He’d arrived as an Undine in the prime universe from the fluidic one in 2370, found and killed the real Talmok and, later, Dahar Master Ashtan, then used his changeling abilities to assume Talmok’s identity and secretly insinuate himself into Gowron’s court as his personal chamberlain. He’d spent the next decade working to weaken the Federation Alliance by causing distrust between the leaders of the Empire, especially Gowron and his military advisors. The Klingons historically had the strongest fleet and soldiery in the Alliance. If their Empire fell into disarray or ruin, the Alliance would lose its strong right arm. His plan was to weaken it to the point of easy conquest by the rest of Species 8472 (the Undine) when they invaded. Klingons were a contentious lot, prone to warfare to define their overwhelming need for personal honor, so he’d focused his early efforts on outbreaks like the Klingon-Cardassian War, the Klingon-Federation War (both 2372-2373), and the Dominion War (2373-2375).

In those four years of open warfare in the Alpha Quadrant, Talmok learned the High Council’s inner workings and especially the way Gowron thought of his enemies. He’d telepathically preyed on the chancellor’s fears and pride so well that he soon had complete comtrol over Gowron’s emotional state and now shaped much of the chancellor’s policies around his natural fear of losing the chancellorship to a rival House, like Martok’s. He’d also found certain Klingons and vassals who disliked the current chancellor and yearned for political changes that would prosper them. He’d recruited them into hidden cells and nursed them along, swelling their numbers into the hundreds of thousands, waiting for the best time to unleash his ambitious horde onto an unsuspecting Klingon Empire.

As a mastermind, he’d long been watching the behavior of Houses on and off the Council, hunting for potential problems. Martok was the most obvious contender for the chancellorship, and there were others. One had to have many resources to warrant a seat on the High Council, but many smaller Houses had capable leadership. K’Lira, House Trestian’s leader for much of Talmok’s tenure as chamberlain, was an augmented warrioress whom Gowron had once fancied but never courted. Talmok had been in Gowron’s courtroom in 2370 when the chancellor had forgiven K’Lira for lying for years about being a normal Klingon, this for fear she’d be ostricized. At the end of the trial, K’Lira’s accuser had challenged her to vitHay, and she’d been forced to fight in defense of Gowron’s verdict. She’d nearly lost, but she slew her accuser, only for everyone to discover that he was not a Klingon but an Undine. And Talmok knew him.

The Undine had known how to travel between universes since the early 24th century. Talmok had traversed a transdimensional portal to arrive in the prime universe in 2370, and he knew he hadn’t been the first Undine to do so.

Decades earlier, a squad of Undine had come to the prime universe to explore new frontiers for potential conquest. Posing as a Klingon geneticist, one had settled in Qu’Vat City on K’Lira’s home world. K’Lira, then a sickly teenager in House Brom, had sought his help to cure herself of a genetic disorder she’d suffered from her whole life. If she’d known he was an alien spy, she wouldn’t have trusted him, but he took advantage of her desperation and naïveté to formulate a retrovirus by combining her DNA with his alien DNA. The experimental serum worked by turning her into an augment unexpectedly. Klingon augments were considered dishonorable pariahs in the Empire. K’Lira went on to found House Trestian and become a renowned warrior, but she never revealed her augmented nature to anybody for fear of being publicly ostricized.

Like an Elachi , the doctor left Qu’Vat to continue his clandestine experiments, but he never managed to repeat the success he’d had with the Klingon girl he’d turned into an augment, and he envied that. Concluding that K’Lira’s DNA was uniquely suited to his research, he revisited her in 2370 to ask her to donate some of her unmodified ova. Surprised and appalled by his audacity, K’Lira refused. Enraged, the doctor repented of ever curing her and swore to avenge himself upon her and House Trestian by exposing her as an augment. K’Lira couldn’t allow that dishonor, and she rushed to the High Council to avert the doctor’s revenge. Instead, he challenged her to a trial by combat, and she accepted. The bat’leth fight that resulted in the council chamber was still the stuff of local legend. The doctor’s fury drove him to heights in combat even he didn’t know he could attain, and he mortally wounded K’Lira, but it ended when she killed the doctor after the chancellor’s interference distracted him.

As changelings, Undine couldn’t disguise themselves after death. The doctor’s corpse reverted to its natural form, and the councilors realized they’d been duped by a qa’meH quv impersonating a Klingon. Now that the Empire was alerted to the presence of Species 8472, the naH’ta’ was out of the proverbial bag, and Talmok had to be extra cautious not to give away his true nature.

The Undine geneticist was Talmok’s friend and colleague. They’d worked together on many innovations, including the transdimensional technology that created portals between the fluidic universe and others. When he learned about the doctor’s demise by the inferior, ungrateful hand of one whom he’d cured, Talmok swore to avenge his friend. It had taken years to psychologically turn Gowron against her, and that might’ve been enough for Talmok at first, but K’Lira had retired from House leadership five years ago, leaving him unfulfilled as House Trestian was still honored even as she was. It was unfair – he wanted her dead or discommendated and her House disbanded. The advent of Kahless’s sword by the very Klingon who’d killed his friend was the perfect opportunity to finish it. That deadly thought preoccupied Talmok whenever she was on his mind, and it was deeply rooted in the soil of his hateful heart.

The transmit light on the monitor lit up, indicating that the chancellor was now online with the whole of the Klingon Empire.

“Attention, loyal Klingons and vassals of the Empire,” Gowron began sternly, “I am Chancellor Gowron.”

Give them confidence in you, Talmok thought to Gowron.

“The Empire is presently in unprecedented turmoil due to a revolt caused by traitors seeking to usurp me and the High Council and plunge our great state into chaos. The dissidents are scattered throughout Klingon space and loosely organized into cells. I and the Council are united against all forms of national dissent, of course. In our shared duty to protect the Empire, we’ve deployed defense forces in every sector to seek the traitors out and bring them to justice. As I speak, Klingon fleets and squadrons are moving into position to deploy ground troops and intelligence resources in every major city and outpost in the Empire to that end. You may remain confident that they will be successful and our state will soon return to normalcy.”

Focus on K’Lira, Talmok thought, stoking the chancellor’s mind with his prejudice. Tell them what to do. Warn them not to help her.

“The rebellion began after Matron K’Lira’s trial,” Gowron continued as Talmok brought forth the bat’leth. “It’s well known that the augment founder of House Trestian brought the sword of Kahless back to us over a month ago. It was subsequently stolen, then found aboard her ship after the Trivas III incident. I consequently discommendated her, disbanded her House, and confiscated its assets, but K’Lira herself escaped custody before she could be sent to Rura Penthe. She’s currently at large. If you know her whereabouts, you’ll be rewarded for that information. If you encounter her, detain her until security forces arrive to take her into custody. But use caution – she’s as dangerous as any warrior, especially now that she’s an outcast.” He lowered his tone and glared menacingly. “For those of you with doubts, if you aid her, you will share her fate.”

FOOTNOTES

vitHay
Klingonese: Truth test.
qa’meH quv
Klingonese: One who exchanges honor for dishonor. It's a Klingon euphemism for a changeling.
naH’ta’
Klingonese: Feline. One shouldn’t presume that this word refers to a cat from Earth, just to something resembling a feline.

On Earth, Ambassador Morlo Aegis listened to the chancellor’s broadcast with a heavy heart.

The Klingon Empire had descended into civil war, due in part to his generosity in returning a prized artifact of their history. The emissary he’d chosen to return it to Qo’noS had apparently been framed for stealing it and was now a fugitive from her own government. Even her family didn’t know where she was. The chancellor’s speech was intended to calm the populace and bring the war to a swift end, but Morlo feared it would have exactly the opposite effect. Gowron might as well have set a bounty on K’Lira’s head himself by it. Morlo was sure there’d be bloodshed by the end of it.

Will the Alliance survive? he wondered.

Starfleet’s forces were being mustered to the Klingon border to protect Federation interests in the area. That bold move would, no doubt, be viewed provocatively by the Klingons as tensions between them and the Alliance were escalating.

Morlo had recently spoken to several Romulan officials, including Consul Toval of the Tal Shiar, about managing the Alliance without being able to rely upon Gowron’s forces. The Romulan government was cautious about maintaining the security of its borders as it had lost territory before to the predations of Klingon rebels, and it was uncomfortable with an unstable, historically aggressive neighbor. Toval had confessed he was pessimistic about avoiding conflicts with Klingon fleets near the Neutral Zone should the Klingon civil war spill over its borders. He was committed to protecting Romulan forces and outposts with every resource he had.

Which means the Romulan fleet will have fewer ships operating in the center of its own empire, Morlo realized, and the same will be true for the Federation. That could become a tipping point. His thick brow furrowed even more deeply, and he wondered, Is that really what this is about? Who could (or would) take advantage of the situation?

He hadn’t connected that thought with any specific faction because he didn’t know Talmok was an Undine spy or that he and His Eminence had collaborative goals. Morlo certainly didn’t suspect that an invasion from the fluidic universe was imminent. While he knew that K’Lira claimed she’d been framed to get her out of the way, there was no direct evidence the Klingon civil war that had erupted in the wake of her episode was part of a larger design against the Alliance. It just seemed like an unfortunate consequence.

Still unsatisfied, Morlo cupped his chin in one hand and rubbed his white beard as he considered Gowron’s words. Something didn’t sit right about any of this, but it definitely felt like someone was manipulating the players to intentionally distract the Klingons on a grand scale. He had no proof of who or why, only a nebulous fear that he was right. It occurred to him that he should warn Starfleet Intelligence, but one didn’t elevate suspicions to high command without good evidence.

Time to get some, then, he thought.

Morlo touched the comm on his desk. “Lt. Commander Alain,” he addressed his aide, “has the Klingon court released a transcript of Matron K’Lira’s court case yet?”

“Let me check, Sir,” Victoria replied.

A few seconds later, she answered, “Yes, Sir. Shall I forward a copy of it?”

“Absolutely,” Morlo said, “along with the list of court officials and attendees.”

“Of course, Sir,” Victoria said, complying.

Morlo reviewed the transcript at length, replaying certain segments, looking for clues and clarity. He didn’t fully appreciate Klingon law or the form of its jurisprudence, but he understood that Klingons valued personal honor above all else. By the end of it, Morlo was convinced that the trial was a sham, the easiest way for Gowron to convict someone he’d precluded was guilty. The trial exemplified exactly why Morlo was glad Federation law presumed the innocence of the accused rather than the opposite. The chancellor’s word was law. Morlo was intensely sorry he’d indirectly placed K’Lira squarely in the High Council’s limelight by asking her to bring back that damned sword, thereby making her the next target for Gowron’s fearful antipathy.

I had no idea Gowron was so impossible, he thought morosely. No matter how this turns out, I owe her a huge apology.

Morlo perused the listed attendees next, noting that Commodore Davir Benmata had been in the audience with his Security Chief Losozola Sgiza.

Makes sense, Morlo thought idly. He’d known Davir very well for years and assumed that wild targs couldn’t have kept him away from First City’s courthouse that day.

Morlo also recalled that Davir had a habit of always having at least one telepath on the bridge crew of every ship in his fleet, usually in a support role. While Morlo was ambivalent about it, he understood that Davir considered telepathy to be an advantage, especially in tense situations.

Like trials, Morlo thought, an idea germinating in his mind.

His flag’s on the Venture, he remembered.

Curious, he looked up the Venture’s current bridge roster, and noted that Losozola Sgiza was a highly adept Betazoid, a telepath. Morlo knew he’d struck latinum.

“Get me Lt. Commander Sgiza on the Venture,” he ordered over the comm, “priority one.”

Victoria didn’t even bother to acknowledge the request. She simply worked magic at her console.

“Here he comes, Sir,” she said and transferred the call to the ambassador’s computer.

Losozola appeared on Morlo’s monitor, his broad shoulders nearly filling the screen’s width. Davir’s security chief and resident telepath was a big fellow, standing about 1.9 meters tall and weighing around 115 kilograms. He was bald except for a short, blond mohawk, a thin moustache, and a goatee. His bright blue eyes blended well with his lightly tanned skin. The russet Starfleet uniform he wore struggled to contain his muscled frame, and its stiff collar barely fit around his throat. If he shrugged, Morlo thought the rank pips might pop off.

Losozola was standing at his bridge station behind the Venture’s command dais. Morlo could see people milling about behind him, and he decided he wanted privacy for this.

“Hello, Lt. Commander,” he greeted. “May we speak privately?”

Losozola recognized Morlo on sight and nodded, but he couldn’t leave his bridge station unattended, so he beckoned to someone offscreen. "Lieutenant, take over, please,” he said.

Then he approached the commodore’s chair. “Sir, may I borrow your office for a bit?” he asked.

Davir, busy with a status update from a yeoman, barely looked up with a curt nod. “Sure.”

Losozola entered the Ready Room and locked the door behind him. Then he went to the admiral’s desk, and re-opened the commodore’s channel from there.

“What is it, Mr. Ambassador?” he asked.

“Is the channel encoded on your side?” Morlo returned cautiously.

Losozola touched a button to that effect. “It is now.”

Morlo had never interviewed Lt. Commander Sgiza before. Crew selections were strictly a commanding officer’s job, and he didn’t want this inquiry to become an issue for either Losozola or Davir.

“Lt. Commander, I need information that you might be uniquely able to provide, but before I begin, I want you to know that anything you tell me will be held in the strictest confidence, per Starfleet Intelligence general orders. I’m sure you’re familiar with that.”

Losozola felt a qualm in his gut. Secrecy about top-secret matters was commonplace between high-end officers, but he was unsure why the ambassador had called him for a classified conversation.

“Yes, Sir,” he answered.

Morlo smiled. “You may call me by name, Loso,” he offered gently.

The big man didn’t budge. “What’s on your mind, Sir?” he maintained stoically.

Well, that’s fine, I guess, Morlo thought equably.

“I understand you’re a telepath,” he began, “and it’s that insight I want to utilize in one of my investigations.”

Losozola sighed. He’d been through this before. Starfleet Intelligence types always coveted telepathy in their industry. He understood Commodore Benmata’s background in diplomacy had a crossover skill in espionage, but Losozola wasn’t a fan of using telepathy to that end. He wasn’t surprised that few telepaths worked for Starfleet Intelligence. Betazoids were taught that a person’s mind was sacrosanct, the venue of one’s own sense of self where privacy was paramount. Invading it was akin to rape, often with consequences for both the target and the telepath.

“Don’t bother asking,” he replied flatly. “The answer’s no.”

Morlo was slightly confused. He hadn’t anticipated Losozola’s refusal and didn’t understand its basis. Losozola’s record indicated he was used to going on away missions with the commodore in the role of a guard with telepathic prowess.

Then Morlo put two and two together and smiled again.

“You misunderstand me, Lt. Commander,” he clarified. “I don’t need you to spy telepathically for me. I just wanted to ask you what you remember.”

Losozola was nonplussed. “About what?” he queried.

“K’Lira’s trial,” Morlo answered.

Losozola’s face darkened as a torrent of painful memories came back to him. He couldn’t think of a single good thing from that episode, and heartily wished the ambassador hadn’t brought it up.

“That’s in my report,” he said truthfully, shrugging the request aside.

“So I’ve read,” Morlo countered. “I noticed you didn’t mention any mental impressions you might’ve had or been exposed to. Why was that?”

“That’s irrelevant,” Losozola said quickly.

“I differ,” Morlo countered instantly. “It matters greatly because, if my suspicions are correct, your telepathic insight may provide the information I need to save our Alliance with the Klingons. May I continue?”

Losozola was upset at the ambassador’s preoccupation with an experience that was still a sensitive one in his own mind. He didn’t understand what the ambassador’s suspicion was or how he might be able to help with that, but he was curious enough to cooperate.

“Err..., all right,” he said nervously.

“Relax, Lt. Commander,” Morlo reassured him. “I’m just going to ask some pointed questions. Answer them as honestly as you can based on what you recall.

“When the trial began, the prosecutor presented his charges. As the trial progressed, K’Lira managed to refute the spurious accusation that Talmok had any evidence she’d stolen Kahless’s sword. Even without using your telepathy invasively, you would’ve been aware of the general tenor of the other minds in that courtroom. What was Gowron’s reaction?”

Loso remembered briefly, then replied, “The chancellor seemed nervous when K’Lira refuted one of Talmok’s arguments against her. I think he was hoping the court would believe the evidence as Talmok had presented it rather than see through it. Talmok was angry about that, too. He seemed angry all the time, that one.”

Morlo nodded thoughtfully and continued, “Talmok later presented videographic evidence of the sword being found in her cabin, the one she’d stayed in before the battle at Trivas III. K’Lira denied she even knew it was aboard. How did that declamation affect Gowron?”

“He was smug, confident, almost gleeful,” Loso replied quickly. “I’m sure he thought that was the most damning bit of evidence used against K’Lira, and Talmok felt the same. I got that sensation from them both at almost the same time.”

Again, Morlo nodded musingly. He could see a behavioral pattern developing between Gowron and Talmok, but he needed evidence of a causal connection, so he pressed on.

“At the end of the trial, K;Lira’s defense rested on the observation that there was no direct evidence she’d stolen the sword of Kahless, but she couldn’t explain how it had appeared in her room. While the judge agreed that the evidence against her was largely circumstantial, the only lenience he was willing to give her was time to prove her innocence. Gowron was the one who then summarily condemned her. Do you know what prompted him to do that?” he asked.

Loso didn’t even hesitate. “Talmok made him do it.”

And there it is, Morlo thought triumphantly.

“How so?” he asked quietly.

“He’s telepathic,” Losozola explained. “I noticed it as soon as he walked into the courtroom. He has a strong psionic signature, much stronger than most other telepaths I’ve met.”

“I see,” Morlo replied. “What was his mind like during the trial? Did you sense his thoughts? Did he sense yours?”

Losozola began to open up, relieved to be getting this off his chest. “He was powerful, yes, and highly focused on K’Lira. All his animosity was on her. I don’t think he even knew I was there. Frankly, I’m glad; he was...hateful.”

“And Gowron, did he know Talmok’s a telepath?” Morlo queried.

Losozola paused. “Maybe, but I doubt it,” he replied slowly. “He didn’t seem to anticipate Talmok’s reactions. He just sort of jumped whenever Talmok sent a psionic outburst. That’s what I meant when I said Talmok made Gowron condemn K’Lira. He practically screamed a telepathic command into the ether. I doubt any other telepaths in the building could’ve missed that, if there were any.”

Morlo considered something else. “Did you sense any other telepaths in the vicinity?”

Losozola shook his head. “No, there were none. Just Talmok and me.”

Morlo nodded understandingly. “I’ll defer to your judgment on that point, Lt. Commander. Outside of your species, I’ve heard that telepathy in humanoids is very rare, especially Klingons. It can be induced, but that’s even rarer.”

“It’s unheard of, really,” Losozola agreed. “What are the odds?”

“Practically nil,” Morlo confirmed.

“And you suspect Talmok’s manipulating Gowron against K’Lira?” Losozola asked faintly.

“I suspect he’s been doing that a long time, Lt. Commander, and the chancellor’s unaware of it,” Morlo replied. “It would explain quite a few odd behaviors and decisions he’s made over the years.”

Losozola didn’t know what to say. Now that he heard it from someone else, it rang truer in his own mind, and he realized he’d suspected as much in that courtroom.

Then he remembered another observation.

“Ambassador, there’s something else I think I should tell you,” he added cautiously.

Morlo raised his bushy white eyebrows curiously. “What’s that?” he asked.

Losozola shifted uneasily in his chair. “Over the years, I’ve met thousands of telepaths, most of them Betazoids like me, but other kinds, too. I’ve never had a problem understanding any of them psionically. On that level, I understand everyone perfectly well because there are no definitive barriers when one speaks telepathically. Everything is clear.

“Not so with Talmok. Not only is he the only Klingon telepath I’ve ever encountered, his mind was most unusual. He seemed outwardly Klingon in every way. Inwardly, he was as unKlingon as could be. I understood little of his psionic presence because he guarded himself extremely well, but no one can hide his true self perfectly all the time, and Talmok’s outbursts revealed something of himself to me. He’s…not Klingon. I don’t know how to describe the difference, but whatever else he is, it’s nothing like his fellows. I’d be wary to meet him openly.”

Morlo sat in silence for long moments, pondering Losozola’s warning carefully. The lt. commander’s fear mimicked his own uncertainty about Talmok’s nature. That belied Talmok’s intent towards Gowron, K’Lira, and to his fellow Klingons, if he himself could be called Klingon, that is.

“I’ll take that under advisement,” he replied seriously.

“Lt. Commander Sgiza, thank you for cooperating with my inquiry,” he said, sitting back and crossing his arms atop his broad belly. “Your insight has provided much food for thought. Again, anything we’ve said is to be taken into strict confidence and classified under our current intelligence protocols. Don’t even tell your commanding officer what we’ve said, if he asks. Understood?”

Losozola nodded. “Yes, Sir.”

Morlo closed the channel.

Over 20 years of experience working in Starfleet’s Diplomatic Corps with Starfleet Intelligence came to bear. He’d known Gowron since before he’d become chancellor. The man was always considered an outsider for the role, but when he’d won the election, he’d had nearly the unanimous support of the High Council. Gowron had made many controversial decisions leading to Klingon involvement in several wars in the 2370s. Perhaps his most controversial had been starting a war with the Federation in 2372 while Bajor was fighting the Cardassian Union for its independence. Then there was the conflicting ways he’d treated his generals during the Dominion War, especially Martok and, to a lesser extent, K’Lira, who until now had always been Gowron’s staunchest supporter. Even Worf, the Federation’s ambassador to Qo’noS, openly favored Martok to replace Gowron. It was no secret, then, that Gowron’s support, once unquestioned, had waned greatly, especially in the last few years.

Looking back on it in light of recent events, Morlo had to concede the possibility that Gowron’s decline had been engineered by his enemies with the help of someone innocuously close to him. A chamberlain would be the perfect cover for such an agent, and a telepathic one would be insidiously dangerous. Talmok apparently fit the bill. Morlo had never met him personally, but he now realized that was an advantage; Tellerites had no innate protection against telepathy.

He’ll need to be questioned, Morlo realized. If I’m wrong, it’ll likely just be a diplomatic incident, but if I’m right, it might avert another war with the Klingons.

Morlo rememnered the human analogy about the heaviest head being the onw that wore the crown. I’m no regent, but there are days when I can relate, he thought grudgingly.

He touched the comm on his desk again, keying a special code that opened a secure line to Starfleet Intelligence. A moment later, an officer in a black uniform appeared on the screen.

“Yes?” the officer inquired simply.

Morlo sighed resignedly. “I think I finally understand Gowron’s behavior, and we’ve got a bigger problem than I thought.”

CHAPTER 8: BEING OF TWO MINDS

The O.S.S. Videssan was hiding in the depths of the Yan Nebula in the B’Moth Sector of Klingon space. The area had historically been contested ground between the Klingon and the Romulan Empires, but those days were past with the advent of the Federation Alliance. Even though B’Moth Sector was not frequented by either fleet, the Videssan’s commanding officer, Captain Vaza, thought it best to use the nebula’s signal masking properties to avoid the probing sensors of any passing ships. He didn’t want his primary passenger to be found aboard his ship by the KDF or anybody else, and neither did she.

K’Lira had recently suffered the indignity of losing her Klingon rights, House, and properties in one fell afternoon when Chancellor Gowron had summarily condemned her for stealing Kahless’s sword with treasonous intent, a crime she knew she hadn’t committed. The evidence against her had been specious and circumstantial for the most part, and the Yan-Isleth’s investigation into the sword’s theft was unfinished. Given the weakness of the prosecution’s case (or perhaps because of it), Gowron had overridden the judge’s decision to wait for additional evidence from the Yan-Isleth. K’Lira felt that Gowron had prejudged her before the trial ever began, so it didn’t matter what the judge thought; Gowron was going to find her guilty regardless.

Being a former House leader, K’Lira was an accomplished arbiter. She knew if she couldn’t prove her innocence, Gowron’s misjudgment would stand, and she’d never be able to regain her Klingon honor unless she fought him to the death in vengeance. If she won, she’d have her honor and her House back...and become chancellor herself. She had no wish to become chancellor by right of combat or any other method. Pained though she was, her heart simply wasn’t in that. No, her recourse lay in the judge’s lenience in staying her sentence long enough for her to gather the evidence she needed to exonerate herself.

Therein lay the problem: the only person who knew she’d been framed for stealing the sword was dead. A Lethean named Rimic who’d been privy to His Eminence’s designs against the Alliance had been present when His Eminence was given the sword and told to frame K’Lira with its theft. That insight was her salvation. K’Lira had wanted Rimic to testify in her defense, but he was shot before he could be protected. As he lay dying in her arms, he used the last of his strength to deposit his entire memory into K’Lira’s eidetic mind, then died.

K’Lira now had the sum of two lifetimes: hers and Rimic’s. The Lethean’s memories were hidden deeply in her subconscious, but they tended to surface while she dreamed. In that way. K’Lira had already witnessed Rimic’s memory of how His Eminence had obtained the sword and received instruction from a Klingon official to frame her with it. She knew that Rimic would’ve told her more had he lived to do so. Now, the only way to access the evidence she needed to win her case was to mine Rimic’s memories while she slept.

Time was of the essence. K’Lira had been granted a temporary stay of execution by the Klingon judge who’d tried her case, and her next court appearance was only weeks away. Also, having two sets of memories in her head was confusing. Even when she was awake, K’Lira would sometimes flash back to one of Rimic’s memories rather than her own. She found herself thinking unlike her normal self and sometimes acted oddly. More and more, it became increasingly difficult for K’Lira to tell what part of her history was hers and what was Rimic’s. She felt like she was suffering from a mild form of schizophrenia that was getting worse, and it worried her greatly. She didn’t want to go on like that.

Before Rimic died, he’d spoken of a kind of medical device called a psionic reader that could extract memory patterns directly from a person’s mind. The procedure was not well known and rarely used on non-telepaths, but Letheans, being natural telepaths, were familiar with it. At K’Lira’s request, Captain Vaza had found a Lethean doctor named Deika who had a reader and was willing to try to extract Rimic’s memories into a holographic program matrix and save her sanity. The only other medical issue she’d told Doctor Deika about was a murmur in one of her atrial valves.

The Videssan’s small med bay was the only onboard facility that could be equipped for such procedures. The memory part would be several days of tests to establish a psychiatric baseline of K’Lira’s brain waves. Rimic’s memories followed a different engrammatic pattern. The idea was to stimulate K’Lira’s dream state to make specific memories surface while she wore the reader. The device would then store Rimic’s memories for future use and wipe them from K’Lira’s mind in the process. She was confident the evidence she needed to win back her honor was already in her head. The more of it she remembered, the more complete Rimic’s story would be on the computer and the less confused her mind would become. Doctor Deika had assured her she’d be normal again by the end of it.

K’Lira slept on a biobed in the hospital’s recovery ward, wearing only a full-length white gown underneath her coverlet. The room’s only other bed was empty, and the console they shared beeped quietly as it monitored her vitals. The rhythm of her light breathing almost matched the console’s cadence.

Doctor Deika sat at his computer on the other side of an observation window, reviewing K’Lira’s pre-op results. To prepare to fix her malfunctioning atrial valve, he’d collected a complete physiological workup on K’Lira, and he was impressed with her general state. She was extremely fit for a Klingon in her early fifties with a history of extreme combat behind her. While she wasn’t immune to anything, she also looked like she’d never suffered illness, just injury. Indeed, she had many scars, including a severe one atop her left breast which matched an exit scar in her upper back, the vestige of being run through with a bat’leth. He suspected the weapon had nicked her valve, but the medical team that had saved her hadn’t repaired the damage properly or perhaps not noticed it at all. It wasn’t life threatening, just a minor nuisance and easy to fix. Klingons certainly were hardy stock, and K’Lira was a great example. He expected it had to do with her augmented genes.

Curious, he did a deep scan of her genetic profile from her blood and noticed something odd. K’Lira’s genes had extra pairs arranged in a triple helix format. As far as he knew, all humanoid genes were arranged in a double helix structure. He had no idea what the extra genetic material did or where it had come from, so, concerned it might affect her surgery, he consulted the Videssan’s medical database. After long searching and comparing, his computer simply classified the extra pairs as anomalous, effect unknown, origin unknown.

Deika clicked his mouth talons in dissatisfaction and widened his search parameters to include extraterrestrial medical databases.

The first of many matches was a Borg database from the U.S.S. Voyager when the famous Federation ship had finally returned from the Delta Quadrant. The Borg there had encountered an alien race they’d called Species 8472 whose genes had a triple helix structure like K’Lira’s. The pairings were not a match, though. The analysis still returned anomalous results and unknown effect, but at least he had some idea where it might’ve come from. The next question was how.

“Doctor?” a female voice called.

Looking up from the computer, he saw K’Lira was awake and watching him. He picked up a medical tricorder and went to her bedside. “How do you feel?” he asked, scanning her briefly.

She took off the psionic reader she’d been wearing and gave it to him. “OK, I guess. Here.”

He took the reader and shuffled nervously.

“What is it?” K’Lira asked cautiously, propping herself up on her elbows.

“Well, Matron,” he began, “your physical results came back. You’re in great shape, perfectly fit for surgery, but...” He paused, uncertain how to address his question. K’Lira didn’t help him, so he continued. “In preparing your bloodwork, the computer noticed some anomalous genes in your cells. It seems you carry traces of DNA from Species 8472. I’m completely unfamiliar with that genome, and I’m worried about the effect it might have on your surgery. Do you know anything about it?”

K’Lira lay back and smiled. “Plenty, Doctor. When I was a young girl, I was afflicted with a genetic malady from my mother’s side of the family. It weakened every bodily system to the point that my parents were very overprotective of me due to my condition. When I was 18, a physician in Qu’Vat City was doing cutting edge research into genetic resequencing. I sought him out, hoping he could cure me. He made a serum by combining his blood with mine, then administered it to me. The serum worked by transforming me into an augment, but he didn’t expect or explain that result beforehand. He just used me as a lab rat, then disappeared. I found out years later that he wasn’t a Klingon – he was an Undine from the fluidic universe posing as one of my kind. His alien DNA eradicated the genetic defect I inherited from my mother, and it has other effects, too, but they’re not dangerous. I assure you, Doctor, I’m as Klingon as can be. The only thing I can’t do is donate my blood to others, just to myself.”

Deika nodded musingly. Genetic defects were one thing, but alien DNA used as a cure? He knew he was out of his league. “I’d like to consult with another doctor about this,” he said, “someone who...”

K’Lira suddenly became anxious as fear crossed her face, and her adrenal gland went off. Her purple eyes shone brightly as they dilated due to a drop in blood pressure. She tensed as her heart rate increased, and the beeping monitor increased its rhythm alarmingly.

“Matron, calm...,” he began earnestly.

“DON’T finish that,” K’Lira warned.

She gripped the bedpost and made a conscious effort to take his advice anyway, breathing deeply to dissipate the adrenalin surge. After a few moments, her heart rate went back down, her muscles relaxed, and her eyes returned to their normal hue. Her breathing eased and she sighed.

“I’m sorry, Doctor, but I can’t let you do that,” she said quietly. “I’m easily recognized as the only Klingon augment of prominence, and Gowron’s made me a public enemy. From out here, the only way to contact a Klingon doctor for help is to use the Videssan’s long-range comm. The KDF monitors all commsats in the Empire. If you mention anything about me, they’ll trace your signal to find this ship.”

Deika understood her fear.

“Well, this doctor’s not Klingon,” he replied. “He’s Romulan, a xenobiologist. We’ve been distant colleagues for years. Thing is, he’s hiding from the Tal Shiar, so he doesn’t use open subspace channels either – same reason. I use a mutually trusted contact when I rarely need his help. I wouldn’t mention you specifically, so it’s a good bet the KDF will ignore my innocuous message to the contact. You OK with that?”

K’Lira considered, then relented. “I’ll ask you to clear this with Captain Vaza first, Doctor,” she answered, “but your precautions are reasonable. All right, call him.”

Deika smiled. “I’m sure Professor Sendu will help me better understand your slightly alien genome,” he said, starting to walk towards the med bay door.

K’Lira sat up, an odd look on her face. “Sendu, you say? Jehn Sendu?”

Deika turned, surprised. “You know him?”

K’Lira shrugged noncommittally. “Not well, no. It’s best to say I know of him, but my husband knows him better.” She briefly explained that Davir Benmata and Jehn Sendu had been friends since 2367, several years before she’d met and married Davir. Jehn had attended their wedding at Davie’s request. While she’d never spoken with Jehn, she knew he’d been an officer in the Romulan Imperial Navy for many years, attained the rank of subcommander, then became a medical professor at a military academy on Romulus. He’d had a falling out with the government over Romulan involvement in the Dominion War and incurred the disfavor of Tal Shiar chairman Toval. He’d been in hiding since.

“We haven’t seen or heard from him in five years,” she finished, “but I think that’s intentional.”

Deika whistled softly through his sharp teeth. “What are the odds?” he wondered aloud.

“Well,” he added, “I don’t know where he is. I know someone who gets a hold of him for me. Then Jehn contacts me, not the other way around.”

K’Lira nodded. “If that’s the only way to get his attention, I accept whatever help he can give.”

“I’ll arrange it,” Deika said.

“Are you hungry?” he asked her.

K’Lira grinned. “You read my mind,” she answered.

“I would never, Matron,” Deika replied, smiling. “The replicator’s in my office. I don’t think it makes Klingon food but help yourself. I’ll be back in a while to begin the next recording session.”

He left as K’Lira climbed out of bed to get dressed properly and eat breakfast.

A couple of hours later, K’Lira was asleep in her biobed again and wearing the psionic reader. She’d already worn it long enough to help Doctor Deika establish her baseline brain wave pattern for reference. The secondary pattern was Rimic’s residual psionic signature. The goal now was to use a form of lucid dreaming to isolate Rimic’s memories with that engrammatic signature, store them in a holographic matrix, then wipe them from K’Lira’s subconscious to heal her mind. To that end, Doctor Deika had given her a mild sedative to help her stay in REM sleep. He’d also decided to go with Rimic’s most prominent memory, which K’Lira had already dreamed about, the episode where Rimic had seen His Eminence receive Kahless’s sword from a Klingon. A clearer version of that memory was essential to her defense.

“She’s dreaming,” a technician confirmed. “The reader’s nominal. Datalink standing by.”

“Isolate the secondary pattern and let the reader get as much data as it can,” Deika instructed. “Now we wait.”

K’Lira dreamed that Rimic was at his console aboard the Ghogh JaghDaj’s bridge. Looking through his eyes, she was amazed at how much more clarity her lucid dreaming technique provided. The first time she’d had this dream, the small details were non-existant, and she’d been aware only of general happenings. Now, she was much more aware of Rimic’s surroundings and sensibilities, and she was in directional control of the passage of events. The dream was still Rimic’s, but she knew and felt everything he did, so it was at once both submersive and oddly esoteric.

The comm beeped as a classified message arrived. It was addressed to His Eminence. As the ship’s intelligence officer, Rimic was third in command of the vessel. While he knew better than to open His Eminence’s private messages, he noticed that this one was sent from the Klingon High Consulate on stardate 56779. and it was marked urgent. He watched as the comm officer transferred it to the flag officer’s inbox. “My Lord, you have a priority communiqué from the Klingon homeworld,” the lieutenant said.

His Eminence typically stayed in his quarters, preferring to let the crew attend the ship. “I see it,” he said over the intercom.

His Eminence read the message privately while shipboard operations continued apace, and Rimic thought little of it. Then, the relative silence was broken as the message klaxon sounded, indicating an incoming order from His Eminence.

“Captain, make best speed to Qo’noS...immediately,” His Eminence said, “and engage cloak.”

“Acknowledged,” the captain replied, then gave the appropriate orders to change course and speed.

The scene shifted as dreams normally did, flashing forward to the memory K’Lira was already familiar with and needed to record. Using lucid dreaming techniques Doctor Deika had taught her, she continued concentrating on the details while merely observing the happenings through Rimic’s senses. The psionic reader did the rest.

Rimic stood next to His Eminence in the chilly airlock of a shuttle they’d taken to meet the sender of the message to come to Qo’noS. They were deep in the Praxis asteroid field, and a Klingon Bird of Prey had decloaked to complete the rendezvous. While Rimic hadn’t known the contents of the message, whoever had sent it was apparently not someone His Eminence wanted to disappoint. The trip to Qo’noS had been done at high warp while under cloak.

His Eminence had specifically requested Rimic’s solitary company on this away mission. That wasn’t an unusual request. His Eminence often used telepaths on away missions for the advantage of psionic protection. He didn’t like telepaths poking around inside his head, but he trusted Rimic.

Rimic felt the arrival of a strong telepathic presence on the other side of the airlock door. Whoever it was, his mind was mountainously powerful, well protected, and threateningly evil. His Eminence seemed oblivious, but Rimic mentally recoiled as the telepathic presence flicked about, sensing the pair inside the airlock.

“Be very careful,” Rimic quietly warned His Eminence.

“I’m aware,” His Eminence replied testily. “Just do your job.”

Rimic swallowed nervously and guardedly reopened his mind, enveloping His Eminence’s at the same time.

The messenger’s mind reacted immediately, quelling itself without becoming any less imposing, and Rimic got the impression it was waiting for something.

The airlock beeped once in warning, then the door opened, and a slight breeze quickly equalized the difference in air pressure. The room seemed to chill further in a way that had nothing to do with the temperature as a male Klingon giant stepped through the doorway. Rimic’s first impression was that the messenger’s physical stature easily matched his mental girth. Nearly 2.2 meters tall and around 145 kilograms, his bulk dwarfed Rimic and His Eminence. He was dressed in thick robes of splendorous make. His skull plate had three boney ridges, one on each side of his pate and the third down the center. Locks of gray and dark brown hair fell to his wide shoulders, oiled and shiny. Dense eyebrows overshadowed his sunken, dark brown eyes. His crooked nose bent well down over his upper lip, nearly touching his short moustache, which was attached to his thin but full beard, both mostly gray. He wore the High Council’s brooch on a gold chain at his thick neck. He had a long, narrow suitcase with him, which he placed against a nearby wall as he stood to nearly the airlock’s ceiling.

Ashtan!? K’Lira thought, amazed. She had no time to recover herself because the Klingon began speaking with His Eminence, and she needed to concentrate on the conversation. It was vital that the psionic reader caught everything exactly as it happened.

“Greetings, Eminence,” the Klingon said in bass tones.

He glanced at Rimic. “Who’s this?”

“My trusted second officer,” replied His Eminence.

Rimic felt the messenger probe his mind like cold fingers down his spine, deft and direct. It was just exploratory, not invasive, but there was nothing gentle about it.

Apparently satisfied, the Klingon turned his full attention to His Eminence.

“The High Council approaches a tipping point as Gowron’s support wanes. He will soon descend into paranoia and distrust. This is the goal we’ve been working towards for nealy a decade.” He put a hand on the suitcase and continued. “Recently, I’ve come into possession of a means to accelerate that result.”

“How’s that?” His Eminence asked.

The messenger looked down at the suitcase. “I’ve acquired an artifact of great value to the Klingon people: the sword that once belonged to their first Emperor, Kahless, called the Unforgettable. It’s said to have the mystical power to make its bearer undefeatable in battle.” He glanced up. “I don’t credit such fables, of course, but there are those on the Council who do, and Klingons tend to value prowess in combat quite highly. Gowron covets the sword as much as anyone would, but he fears what it could do if it fell into the hands of his enemies.

“I have an assignment for you, if you’re willing to undertake it,” he finished.

His Eminence nodded.

The messenger picked the suitcase up. “General Martok’s planning a major offensive. While he’s recruiting many Klingons to his banner, there’s one, a mighty warrioress, whom he greatly desires to lead the ground assault.” He presented the suitcase to His Eminence. “Take the sword and use it to frame K’Lira of House Trestian for stealing it. I’ve already convinced Gowron that she could usurp him. The consternation her theft causes should confirm his suspicion, erode his remaining faith in her loyalty, and divide the Council. When the Alliance realizes its strongest partner is too weak from civil turmoil to respond effectively to the threat we present, it will fracture, too. Then we’ll strike openly.”

His Eminence nodded again and took the suitcase, handing it to Rimic. “An agreeable plan indeed.

“How will I know where to find this K’Lira?” he asked.

“Martok must coordinate his plans with Gowron and other generals who have the resources he needs, K’Lira among them. I’ll forward her arrangements when I have them,” the messenger answered.

“Satisfactory,” His Eminence acceded.

The rest of Rimic’s memory faded into the ethereal disarray common to dreams as K’Lira fell into a deeply restful state.

FOOTNOTES

Ghogh jaghDaj
Klingonese: Enemy's Throne. It's the name of His Eminence's ship.

K’Lira had just finished dreaming of the sword’s exchange from Rimic’s point of view. While he hadn’t recognized the Klingon courtier who’d given it to His Eminence, she finally had, and that was the problem.

K'Lira’d spent most of her adult life in the Klingon Defense Force. In that time, she’d founded and led House Trestian to prominence while earning a stellar reputation as a consummate Klingon warrior. She’d advanced to being an instructor in the Yan-Isleth, the Brotherhood of the Sword, for several years during the early 2370s. She’d often sparred with a member warrior named Ashtan while she was in that unit, growing to respect his skills as a weapons specialist. She’d performed the ak’voh after he’d been mysteriously killed in 2372 near the end of the Klingon-Cardassian War.

Yet it was he who’d given the sword to His Eminence in the airlock – she remembered being shocked at recognizing him in her dream of Rimic’s memory.

How could Ashtan have given it to His Eminence a month ago if he’s been dead for eight years? she wondered.

The conundrum perplexed her because it made Rimic’s account of events impossible to believe, which cast doubt on his credibility as a witness. if I can’t explain how Ashtan was there, Rimic’s account will be picked apart under cross-examination, and the judge will dismiss it, she thought. I could give Rimic’s account anyway and explain to the judge that Rimic didn’t know who the messenger was. Just because it looked and sounded like Ashtan doesn’t mean it actually was the Yan-Isleth’s old weapons master. Klingons have been impersonated before.

The Dominion had captured Klingon leaders during the Dominion War to weaken the Alliance by replacing them with changelings obedient to the Founders. The most famous example was the one who’d impersonated General Martok from 2371 to 2373, dragging the Empire into war with the Cardassian Union and nearly so later with the Federation. The unexpected rescue of the real Martok from a Dominion internment camp in 2373 had implied the imposter’s presence, leading to the changeling’s demise.

K’Lira wondered if that’s what had happened to Ashtan. Is a changeling involved? she wondered. What about Rimic’s impression of Ashtan, if it was him? That didn’t seem like my old friend at all. Ashtan was strict but not evil. Whoever that was in the airlock, it wasn’t the Ashtan I knew.

She had Rimic’s memory but no other proof to support her suspicion.

I need to find and question that imposter, she thought. Getting him to confess his complicity is the only other way to prove I was framed and get my honor back.

She turned her considerable intellect towards finding a way to do that.

K’Lira was walking towards the Videssan’s med bay from her quarters. She’d just finished breakfast and had been thinking how best to get some exercise when the comm in her wristband had chirped. Doctor Deika wanted to see her as soon as possible.

“There’s someone I’d like you to meet,” he’d said without explanation.

The hospital’s door swished open, and she saw Deika using the computer in his office. She knocked on the window to get his attention, and he let her inside.

“Come to this side,” he said, indicating his screen.

K’Lira walked around his desk and looked down at the monitor.

Jehn Sendu’s pale green eyes returned her gaze. He had graying brown hair cropped shortly to his head in typical Romulan style. The four bony ridges on his forehead were slightly visible as they striated from his eyebrows towards his hairline. His narrow, slightly greenish face bore a placid but curious expression. He hadn’t seen K’Lira since her wedding, and he wondered if she even remembered him.

“Doctor Sendu, Matron K’Lira,” Deika introduced. “I’m told you already know each other?”

“It’s been a few years, I think,” Jehn answered in a light tenor voice.

“Doctor,” K’Lira greeted, nodding.

“Tell her what you told me,” Deika said, getting up so K’Lira could take his seat.

Jehn watched as she sat down.

“Matron,” he began, “Doctor Deika asked me to review your genome as it contains a small amount of Undine DNA, and he’s concerned if that in any way compromises your upcoming heart surgery. You should know that I believe the answer is no, and he now knows that. That’s the easy part.”

K’Lira frowned expectantly. “What’s the hard part?” she asked.

Jehn looked uncomfortable. “Forgive my poor choice of words, Matron. By ‘hard,’ I meant that I need to have a difficult conversation with you about the social repercussions of combining Klingon DNA with DNA from Species 8472.”

K’Lira pressed her lips into a thin line. This topic had been her bane for most of her adult life. Klingons didn’t generally trust augments, ever since a band of them had nearly overthrown the High Council’s rulership during Chancellor M’Rek’s reign in the mid-23rd century. Many Klingons still treated augments as outcasts from mainstream society. K’Lira had spent much of her life proving herself as a genuine Klingon warrior despite her DNA. It had taken Chancellor Gowron’s forgiveness for K’Lira to preserve her Klingon citizenship in 2370. At this time, her hybrid family was still frowned upon by some Klingons. The last thing she wanted was for her two children to grow up afraid of what people thought of them, and she was grateful that she and Davir had chosen to raise them on Deep Space 9, away from that veiled hostility against anything unKlingon in the Empire.

She sighed discontentedly and folded her arms. “How do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, it’s been all over the Empire’s news,” Jehn answered. “You’re public enemy number one for being on the run after being convicted of stealing Kahless’s sword.”

K’Lira glowered and bit her tongue. Jehn was just framing a question, nothing more. It wouldn’t do to interrupt by arguing the evidence Talmok had brought against her in that misbegotten trial, never mind what Gowron had done as a result. The past couldn’t be undone.

“Your point?” she asked testily.

“Is that Klingons are good at holding grudges,” Jehn finished softly. “I understand what you’re doing. Even if you succeed in exonerating yourself, you’d remain a pariah to most just for being at the heart of a rebellion you didn’t start.”

That thought had already occurred to K’Lira. She hated that her personal honor had been stained so egregiously, and she feared she’d never live that down even if she proved she’d been framed for a crime she hadn’t committed. She knew the rebellion wasn’t her fault, and it irked her to realize many other Klingons would never forgive her for being used as an excuse to rebel.

“What do you suggest?” she inquired. “I can’t control what others think of me, never mind command their respect. I’ve no stature left from which to do so.”

Jehn sighed sadly. “You need to resign yourself to the idea that you might never do so again, Matron. You and your family may need to live in ignominy as far as most of the Empire’s concerned.”

K’Lira fumed. She knew in her proud heart that Jehn was probably right, but she wanted that to be her last resort. She was on the run, exoneration her only goal. It certainly did her plans no good at all to advance on Jehn’s suggestion.

“You’re lucky you’re my husband’s friend,” she growled menacingly, “and not actually here.”

Jehn let the implied threat pass – he’d expected it from a Klingon, and it wasn’t actionable anyway.

“Matron...,” he resumed.

“Stop,” she interrupted him. “It’s enough that having Undine DNA doesn’t threaten me medically. I don’t need non-medical advice from you.”

Jehn sighed again. “As you say, Matron,” he answered, backing down. “I wish you success in your endeavors.”

K’Lira didn’t even bother with a parting salutation. She simply closed the channel with dissatisfied finality.

She already knew there were Klingons who would never accept her in society again even if she proved she’d been framed. It disturbed her that non-Klingons knew that, too, and objectively didn’t hope she could reattain her stature. Just as in her youth as an untested warrioress, her heart hardened around the resolve to prove herself worthy of the name Klingon...in every context.

The Lethean coughed lightly, and she remembered Deika was waiting nearby.

She sighed resignedly, stood, and turned to the doctor. “Prepare me for surgery,” she ordered. “Let’s get this over with.”

APPENDIX

STORY

PICTURES

ILLUSTRATORS

WEBSITE

HAILING FREQUENCIES CLOSED
David Warner (1941-2022)
Gary Graham (1950-2024)
Louise Fletcher (1934-2022)