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The salty taste of gagh blood filled Toq's tongue as he bit down on the serpent worm that wriggled in his mouth.
It was the first thing he had enjoyed all day.
"What I find most irritating about Kallo is -- "
Rodek snarled, the grapok sauce that he had put on his trigak flying out in all directions. "Not again. You have done nothing but complain about Kallo since she first came on board!"
They sat at the "secondary bridge," the table in the I.K.S. Gorkon's large mess hall that was usually occupied by members of the bridge crew. At the moment, Toq and Rodek, the ship's first and second officers, respectively, were the only ones at the table.
Toq swallowed the gagh. "She drives me mad! Every morning, when the shift begins, she has some suggestion for improving operations, or improving the warp engines, or improving the style of making reports, or -- "
"I know what she does, Toq," Rodek said. "I stand right next to her on the bridge, just as you did when you were operations."
Shaking his head, Toq said, "Yes, but I did not pester Drex or Tereth or Kornan with such minutiae every waking moment."
Leskit, the primary-shift pilot, walked over to the table, carrying a plate of racht, taknar gizzards, and some trigak of his own. Before sitting, he looked at Rodek. "Is he still carrying on about Kallo?"
In a deep, dangerous voice, Rodek said, "Yes."
Shaking his head, causing the Cardassian neckbones he wore around his neck to rattle, the old pilot sat down. "I was hoping I'd get here late enough that he'd have moved on."
"I fear he will never move on from this topic."
"It is just that -- " Toq hesitated. "She vexes me!"
"Women do that, Commander," Leskit said. "It's their function in the universe, to vex men. My suggestion to you is that you either ignore her or bed her."
"I can't ignore her -- she is the operations officer."
"That just leaves the other option, then. Rodek, give me that grapok sauce."
As Rodek gave the container with the condiment to the pilot, Toq said, "The other problem is that her suggestions -- " Again Toq hesitated.
"What of them?" Leskit asked, biting down on his gizzards.
Toq shook his head. He hated to admit this out loud. "They're good."
"So they're good," Rodek said. "As first officer, isn't it your responsibility to make use of good suggestions from your inferiors?"
Toq hesitated a third time, which was three more times than he was comfortable with doing so.
Leskit let loose with one of his papery laughs. "I believe, Rodek, that we begin to see the root of the problem."
This confused Toq. "What do you mean, Leskit?"
Rodek added, "I do not understand, either."
Grinning, Leskit said, "She isn't your inferior, is she? What is vexing you, Toq -- oh, sorry, Commander Toq -- is that she is better at the job than you were."
Snatching three serpent worms from his bowl, Toq said, "That is absurd."
"She is just a child!"
Leskit laughed. "She is a child? Toq, I have a son who's only slightly less mature than you, much less Ensign Kallo."
Toq chewed on his gagh. Perhaps the old razorbeast is right, he thought. Toq had been serving on the Gorkon since its shakedown cruise nine months earlier, serving first as a bridge officer. He successfully challenged the second officer, an old imbecile named Kegren, and took his post after killing him. After Commander Kornan -- the Gorkon's third first officer since its launch -- died in battle at San-Tarah, Captain Klag promoted Toq to first officer. Klag had told him that his excellent service to the ship more than made up for his youth.
But I am not that young -- and I have earned the respect of my peers. Seeing Leskit's snickering face, he amended the thought slightly. Still, I have earned my place on this ship. And Kallo has earned hers. So why does she vex me so?
Before Toq could pursue the thought further, a tall figure approached the secondary bridge. Wearing a version of the Defense Force uniform that left his arms bare, the lieutenant stopped when standing between Leskit and Rodek and folded those arms, which were massive, over his equally massive chest. This was Lokor, the Gorkon's chief of security. He stood taller than average, with a fierce mien and long intricately braided hair that extended to the small of his back.
"Commander," he said to Toq, "I would speak with you."
"Join us, Lieutenant." Toq was curious. Lokor never ate in the mess hall. There were those who said he was an agent of Imperial Intelligence, but Toq suspected that Lokor himself started those rumors. But he was also the eyes and ears of the Gorkon, and he was the one person besides the captain to whom Toq would never deny an audience. As the lieutenant sat between the pilot and the gunner, Toq said, "Speak."
"I want to assign bodyguards to all the senior officers, and double the captain's guard."
This was not a conversation Toq expected to be having in the mess hall. "Why tell us this here in the open?"
Leskit made a small noise. "Because with all the noise in here, it's impossible to eavesdrop."
"Don't be naïve," Lokor snapped. "This is the most difficult room on the entire ship to secure. No, I came in here because I never do, and because I want it to be known that I wish to increase security."
"You haven't answered my question, Lieutenant," Toq said. "Why?"
"Because if there is a danger to the hierarchy on this ship, I want them to know that I'm aware of them."
Rodek swallowed the last of his trigak. "You think there is a threat?"
"Yes. For the first time since we launched, I feel that there are those on this vessel who do not wish to serve with Captain Klag."
"It isn't the first time," Rodek said. "There was Vralk."
Toq remembered a conversation he had with Rodek at this very table months earlier, shortly after Vralk -- a pilot who served while Leskit was off on the Rotarran -- made noises about threatening the captain's position.
Lokor barked a laugh. "Vralk was not a threat, he was an insect that I took great pleasure in crushing."
"Wasn't he your kinsman?" Rodek asked.
"That is why it was a pleasure." Lokor smiled, a frightening sight. "I'd had to put up with his mewling for far longer than the rest of you." The smile dropped. "But this is not a pusillanimous little petaQ with delusions. This is an organized campaign, being led by people who transferred from the Kreltek -- along with some whose loyalties were strained at San-Tarah."
Toq nodded. Klag had put the Gorkon in the position of fighting fellow Klingons at San-Tarah. Most of the crew was behind him, but there were bound to be those who disagreed. One of them, a bekk named Grint, had spoken out against the captain's actions on the bridge. But he died in battle. Still, there may be others.
Lokor went on: "There were many on the Kreltek who sided with General Talak. They wish to avenge themselves for the general's death at the captain's hands."
Indignantly, Toq said, "Martok himself declared the captain's actions to be honorable."
"Fine, Commander." Lokor turned a pitiless gaze on Toq, to the point that the young first officer had to avert his eyes from the security chief's. "When one of the troops aims his d'k tahg at your heart, you should be sure to tell him that, and I'm sure it will stay his blade."
Now Toq turned and looked right into Lokor's eyes. "If you wish to go on without a d'k tahg aimed at your heart, Lieutenant, you will never speak like that to me again, am I understood?"
This time it was Lokor who looked away. "You are, Commander."
"Good." Toq grabbed the last two serpent worms from his gagh bowl. "I will have to bring your concerns to the captain, but I will recommend he accept them."
Lokor nodded. "And all of you be on your guard, especially with anyone who transferred from the Kreltek. Also, be wary of Kurak."
At that, Leskit laughed, splurting his bloodwine. "Are you mad?"
"No," Lokor said, "are you?"
"Quite possibly, but I also know Kurak. The idea of her being involved in a conspiracy against the captain is idiotic."
"She is a malcontent," Lokor said, "and she has a particular loathing for Klag -- and for me."
"No, she doesn't."
"Leskit -- " Toq started, not wanting to see the pilot and the security chief get into a pointless fight over this. Any other time, he would welcome the diversion, but if Lokor was trying to make a strong show of force among the senior officers, having two of them start a duel would not aid in that cause.
However, the pilot insisted on speaking. "Trust me, Lokor, you do not need to waste your time worrying about Kurak. Our esteemed chief engineer will never, under any circumstance, participate in any kind of conspiracy against the captain."
"And you're sure of this because you share a bed?"
Toq wasn't surprised by Lokor's knowledge. Leskit and Kurak's liaisons were not secret, though some didn't believe it, despite the fact that, on one of the Gorkon's first missions, Leskit and Kurak both reported nearly naked for duty during a battle.
Leskit didn't answer Lokor's question immediately. He took a long sip of bloodwine, then chewed on his taknar gizzards. Finally, he spoke. "I'm sure of this because I've come to know her very well -- in part, yes, because we share a bed. And what I know is that her hatred isn't so simple as to be for the captain or for you or for me or for any one person. What she hates, my friends, is the Klingon Defense Force. She would not try to overthrow Klag because it doesn't do anything to help her. What she wants is to get out of the Defense Force."
"Which she cannot do until her nephew Gevnar is old enough to enroll," Lokor said.
Toq blinked. "She has a nephew?"
Rodek stared at Toq. "Is there a reason why she should not have one?"
Shrugging, Toq said, "I simply cannot imagine Kurak having a family. It is too -- ordinary."
Baring his teeth, Leskit said, "There's nothing ordinary about that woman, believe me." The pilot then looked at the security chief. "Don't worry about Kurak, Lokor. She is quite incapable of caring enough to involve herself in a mutiny."
"Perhaps." Lokor leaned back. "But there are many who do."
"Lokor," Rodek said, "the troops from the Kreltek -- they were used to fill holes in the squads, correct?"
"A pity -- they are able to sow the seeds of their discontent in a variety of squads. It would have been better to put them together in squads of their own. That makes it easier to slice them out." Rodek smiled. "Something similar happened on the Hegh'ta. We took care of it very efficiently."
Toq regarded Rodek for a moment, then looked at Lokor. "Is there any reason why we cannot do that? Rearrange the squads?"
Leskit said, "Then they'll know you suspect them."
"I already told you," Lokor snapped, "I want them to know. It might provoke them into tipping their hand sooner if they are indeed plotting against the captain. Rushing their timetable will lead to their being sloppy."
"You hope," Leskit said.
"If this were an exact science, old man, there would be no such worries on any ship."
"Enough!" Toq said. "Lieutenant, talk with the QaS DevwI' about reorganizing the troops. Which of them do you trust most?"
"Vok," Lokor said, "but I'm hardly going to put these toDSaHpu' in First Company."
"What of the lesser companies, then?"
Lokor considered. "Grotek. We have served at several posts together. He commands Twelfth Company."
Nodding, Toq said, "Have the Kreltek transfers be placed there."
"Yes, sir." With that, pausing only to give Leskit an annoyed glance, Lokor rose and left the secondary bridge, heading straight for the mess hall's exit.
Leaning back in his chair, Leskit laughed heartily. "Oh, I like him."
Dryly, Rodek said, "The feeling would not appear to be mutual."
"That's why I like him. He shows excellent taste in enemies."
Just as Toq was wondering if he was ever going to understand Leskit -- and hoping that someone would be kind enough to slit his throat if he ever went that insane -- the intercom speakers sounded with the voice of Lieutenant K'Nir, the second-shift duty officer. "Commander Toq to the bridge."
"Perhaps we've found something worthy of our attention," Leskit said.
Rodek shot the pilot a look. "Were you not the one who said you were looking forward to tedium after San-Tarah?"
"That was six weeks ago." Leskit grinned. "When you get to be my age, it takes the blood a little while longer to boil -- but it does still boil."
Rising from his chair, Toq said, "I don't intend to live to your age, Leskit. I will have died in battle long before I get to the point where it takes my blood any time to boil."
Holding up his bloodwine mug in salute, Leskit laughed again as Toq departed.
Perhaps it is another planet where we may plant the flag. It would be glorious indeed if we were to find another world to add to the empire so soon after San-Tarah.
Toq was joined at the turbolift by one of the bekks from First Squad. After a moment, Toq placed him as Beyr.
When the lift arrived, Beyr followed Toq inside, and did not indicate a deck to be taken to. Since Beyr was from the first, Toq assumed that he was now assigned to be the first officer's bodyguard. As usual, Lokor wastes no time.
Upon Toq's arrival on the bridge, Beyr moved to stand amid the aft consoles, while K'Nir, an unusually tall woman, got up from the first officer's chair, to the right of the captain's; only the commanding officer sat in the center seat. Toq had not given the second shift much thought until he became first officer. Since then, he'd come to appreciate her value in keeping the ship running during "off hours." Plus, since she reported to him, he grew to appreciate her beauty, from her luminous red hair to her muscular legs. Pity that our duty shifts make it difficult to arrange an off-duty liaison.
At K'Nir's serious expression, however, Toq put lustful thoughts in the back of his mind. "Report."
"We have arrived at the star system designated Kavrot vaghmaH. There are some indications of dilithium and diamonds on one of the moons, and we have set a course for it."
A snarl began in Toq's throat. "That is not why you summoned me here." He did not phrase it as a question.
As if appalled by the very notion, K'Nir said, "Of course not, sir. When we arrived in the system, we did a standard long-range scan. Ensign Kal has picked up a great deal of warp activity near Kavrot wej'vatlh wa'maH vagh."
Toq thought through the reports from the other Chancellor-class ships that were also exploring the Kavrot sector. "That sector was mapped by the Kravokh, was it not?"
"Yes, sir. It is where they were setting course for when last they reported in."
"When was that?"
K'Nir fixed Toq with a hard look. "That is why I called you to the bridge, sir. It's been eight weeks. The last message from the Kravokh was a report -- "
"Yes, I remember," Toq said, waving her off. He had still been second officer then, and he was the one at operations when the dispatch came in. The Kravokh had encountered an alien vessel that could detect them while cloaked and then fired on them. Captain Wirrk retaliated and destroyed the vessel, and his crew was able to translate some of the aliens' language. Their enemy was part of some kind of multiplanet nation.
Toq also remembered how the report ended: that the enemy's transmissions were directed to Kavrot wej'vatlh wa'maH vagh, and the Kravokh was traveling there to investigate.
The first thought that came to Toq's mind was of battle. He walked over to Kal at the operations console, K'Nir on his heels, to view the long-range sensor report. "Show me the scan," he told the ensign, who obeyed instantly.
All the Gorkon's sensors could determine from this distance was the presence of warp activity, but just the fact that there was enough to detect meant there had to be a lot of ships.
"Where is the captain?" Toq asked.
Without hesitation, K'Nir said, "On the holodeck."
Toq smiled. Protocol required she alert me first, but she made sure to locate the captain as well. Once again, he admired the woman's efficiency.
"Ensign Koxx, plot a course for Kavrot wej'vatlh wa'maH vagh. Ensign Kal, prepare a report to be sent to General Goluk, but do not send it until you receive orders from myself or Captain Klag."
Both ensigns gave their affirmations. Goluk had been assigned to take over Talak's duties in the Kavrot Sector expansion. If any of the Chancellor-class ships found a planet worthy of being conquered, they would begin the process, and summon the general's fleet, which would complete it, leaving the Chancellor ship in question to continue its exploration. Besides San-Tarah, two other planets, Brenlek and Nayyvrrra, had had the Klingon flag planted on their soil, the former by the K'mpec prior to the San-Tarah mission, the latter by the Azetbur two weeks ago.
K'Nir looked confused. "Will you not be summoning the captain to the bridge?"
Toq smiled. "The captain does not wish to be disturbed when he is on the holodeck. I will be in his office."
Without another word, Toq walked to the door located to the right of the captain's chair. As first officer, he was permitted to use the office when the captain wasn't on the bridge, and he needed privacy for what was to happen next.
Although his words to K'Nir were true, the captain's desire for privacy was not the real reason for his not having the captain summoned over the intercom. If Lokor was as efficient with the captain as he was with Toq -- and that was a reasonable supposition, all things considered -- then a second guard would await him at the holodeck exit. Toq had not discussed Lokor's plan with the captain yet, and did not think it would be good to surprise him with a second guard.
Beyr had taken up a position outside the door to the office. When the door rumbled to a close behind him, Toq was alone. As soon as that was the case, he touched a control on the captain's small, metal desk. "Toq to Lokor."
"Send the second guard you were going to assign to the captain to the holodeck."
"Bekk K'Varia is already there."
No surprise. "Have him escort the captain and Leader Morr to the bridge. Tell him the captain may confirm it with me."
"Of course, Commander. A wise course of action. Out."
Smiling, Toq turned the computer station around so that it faced him -- he would use the captain's office, but he would not presume to sit in Klag's chair -- and called up the long-range sensor readings once again.
The Kravokh simply cannot be causing that on its own. It could be an entire fleet.
Whoever these people were, their first encounter with the Klingon Empire was a defeat at the empire's hands. If they were massing a fleet, it could mean battle.
Toq smiled. I'll get that glorious death sooner than you might think, Leskit....
For the fifth time this week, Tenth through Fifteenth Squads checked the weapons in the Gorkon's armory.
Leader Wol of the fifteenth finished the last of the hand disruptors in her row. "Finished," she said, turning to her counterpart on the fourteenth, Leader Ryjjan. "I am happy to report that these same ten disruptors are in exactly the same condition they were in a day ago."
Ryjjan laughed. "I'm sure that the enemies of the empire are quivering in their boots at that."
Mak, the leader of the thirteenth, hissed. "Be careful what you say, fools! If the QaS DevwI' hear you -- "
"They will agree with you," said a jovial voice from behind Wol, which she recognized instantly as the QaS DevwI' in charge of all six squads currently checking the armory.
Wol turned around to see Vok's portly form and smiling face, framed by stringy brown hair. Vok had been the one to promote her to leader upon her arrival on the Gorkon when she had expected only to be simply another of the many troops assigned to the vessel. Thus far, Wol had done all she could to justify the QaS DevwI's faith in her.
Vok continued: "I do not mind, Leader Mak, if you decry the duty for being tedious. After all, it is tedious. That does not make it any less necessary." He laughed, resting his hands on his ample belly. "By all means, complain all you wish -- " Then he moved to stand face-to-face with Mak. " -- as long as you perform the duty in question."
Straightening, Mak said, "Yes, QaS DevwI' Vok!"
Grinning, Vok turned to Leader Hovoq of the tenth. "Report, Leader."
Hovoq stood up so straight that Wol feared his spine would disengage from his hips. "The inspection is complete, sir. No malfunctions have been reported, sir."
"Again," Ryjjan muttered only loud enough for Wol to hear. Wol managed to contain her reaction.
"Does this mean we can leave now?" came a voice from the narrow corridor behind Wol.
Wol turned and looked down the corridor. The walls on either side were lined with hand disruptors, and the four troops in her squad had finished checking them over. She noticed that only the newest recruit to the fifteenth, Kagak, stood at attention. Goran might have, but his great height forced him to stand stooped in the narrow corridor. Trant and G'joth, though, simply stood awaiting their orders, both looking like they wanted to be somewhere else.
G'joth had been the one to ask the plaintive question, which prompted Vok to walk over to Wol and ask, "Is there a problem in your squad, Leader?"
"Not at all, sir," Wol said without hesitation. "They are simply following your orders."
"How so?" Vok asked with a frown.
"You said for the troops to complain all they wish, sir," Wol deadpanned.
Vok stared at her for a moment; then a belly laugh exploded from his mouth. When that happened, Ryjjan and Wol laughed as well, as did two of the other leaders. Mak and Hovoq, though, remained at attention. Wol also heard some chuckles from her own squad behind her.
Eventually, Vok stopped laughing. "Certainly Bekk G'joth is best qualified to carry out that order, Leader. In fact, he is correct -- you may leave now. Report to the holodeck at the beginning of the primary shift in the morning."
That got everyone's attention. Wol hoped that meant battle drills. The tedium of maintenance and inspections was wearing on them. Vok was the first among the twenty QaS DevwI' assigned to the Gorkon, the fifteen five-soldier squads under his command comprising the cream of the crop of the fifteen hundred troops on the Chancellor-class vessel. However, the curse of being among the elite is that they were rarely given mundane assignments such as cargo duty, or assisting in engineering, or waste extraction, or any of the other duties assigned to the troops when there was no combat.
Instead, we polish disruptors, Wol thought bitterly, though they had been given cargo duty shortly after leaving San-Tarah. Officers were permitted a small section of the cargo bay to store personal items, and the items belonging to the ones who transferred over from the Kreltek had to be placed there by troops who had not been given that privilege.
Were I still Eral, daughter of B'Etakk, of the House of Varnak, I too could be an officer now. That thought was even more bitter, but she dismissed it quickly. Were I still Eral, I would never have joined the Defense Force. Were I still Eral, I would have been disgraced when my family chose to back Morjod when he tried his coup against Martok.
And were I still Eral, I would have raised my son in luxury instead of killing him on the battlefield of San-Tarah.
Cursing to herself, she shoved those thoughts to the back of her mind. She focused instead on Vok, who was still talking. "Before we arrived at San-Tarah, Lieutenant Lokor and Commander Toq devised a holodeck program that would simulate conquering a world." The QaS DevwI' smiled. "It was not utilized, as the real thing arrived soon after that. However, the program is still there, and tomorrow we shall make use of it. QaS DevwI' Klaris and I will supervise a drill during which you will conquer a small, industrial city." He turned to Ryjjan. "Do you think the fourteenth will be ready for that, Leader Ryjjan?"
Ryjjan grinned. "Absolutely, sir."
"Excellent!" Vok looked at each leader in turn. "You're all dismissed."
Vok turned on his heel and departed. The other five leaders turned to look down the armory corridors that they stood at the forefront of and dismissed their squads.
Wol, however, did not.
The fifteenth had done well at San-Tarah, but since leaving that planet, Wol had not liked the direction the squad was taking. Her words to Vok notwithstanding, there was a problem in her squad. Both G'joth and Trant lost friends at San-Tarah, and they had become more withdrawn. Kagak was a transfer from the Kreltek, but he had kept to himself. When she first took over the fifteenth, it was as solid a unit as existed on the Gorkon. But first they lost Krevor and Davok, and then they were betrayed by Trant's friend Maris, who was subsequently killed. While Davok was a tiresome malcontent, he was as nothing compared to Trant, who would have to improve tremendously to be as inoffensive as "tiresome." As for G'joth, Davok's death had put the normally jovial old soldier in a permanent bad mood.
Not that I've been the happiest of my life, Wol thought. Once again, she shoved aside thoughts of her son and her long-since-destroyed honor.
Thinking back over the past six weeks, she found that what was missing was the useless conversation. G'joth and Davok were past masters at it, and they encouraged the others. But all Trant did was whine, Goran was never much for conversation, G'joth had become withdrawn, and Kagak spoke less than Goran.
Time to change that. Thinking back on the cargo duty she'd had six weeks ago, she had an inkling of how to do so. It involved finally making use of a piece of intelligence she'd acquired while on that duty, one that simply awaited the right moment to be utilized.
Her nondismissal of the fifteenth had not gone unnoticed by the four who served under her.
"Is something wrong, Leader?" Goran asked, sounding confused.
"No," she lied, "but you are not dismissed. Instead, you are to adjourn" -- she smiled -- "to the mess hall. I will meet you there in five minutes. Move!"
The four troops exchanged confused glances, then they all moved out of the corridor and headed toward the nearest turbolift.
For her part, Wol ran in the other direction, toward the leader of the fourteenth.
"Ryjjan!" she cried when he was in earshot.
The tall, lanky warrior stopped and turned to face Wol. "Yes, Leader?"
"You are hiding four barrels of bloodwine in the cargo bay. I want one of them."
Ryjjan's mouth opened, then closed. "I -- how did -- I haven't -- " He shook his head. "You speak madness, Leader. To do such a thing would be in violation of -- "
Rolling her eyes, Wol said, "Spare me the attempt at outrage and innocence, Ryjjan. I saw the barrels in the areas designated for the ship's pilots."
The leader's hands clenched into fists. A snarl escaped his lips. "How did you find out?"
"I noticed that the bloodwine was from the Pelgren vintner."
"You know your bloodwine." Ryjjan seemed surprised that she would be able to distinguish vintners. "There are not many of our station who do."
I could hardly not be familiar with the vintner once owned by the House of Varnak, she thought. "Come now, Ryjjan, you should know by now that I'm not typical of those of our station."
At last, Ryjjan smiled. "That is certainly the case." The smile fell. "So once you recognized the vintner -- "
"I questioned Ensign Koxx. I assumed it was his or Leskit's, and the ensign has expressed a fondness for me in the past." In fact, Koxx had been drooling over her from the moment she reported on board, but she'd managed to stave off his advances. That didn't stop her from taking advantage of his infatuation when it served her purpose.
Ryjjan shook his head. "And he told you about our deal."
"He said you sent a barrel of bloodwine to each of their homes on Qo'noS in exchange for their cargo space to put your four barrels." She smiled. "Did he lie?"
Angrily, Ryjjan said, "No. I have connections -- they were selling the older vintages cheap, because they were produced by the old owners. They were supporters of Morjod's coup, so they were disgraced. The new owners don't want anything to do with the back stock, and my connection was trying to unload the older barrels. And now you want one of them in exchange for what?"
"My silence. I don't think Vok or Lieutenant Lokor would be terribly amused by your flouting of regulations."
Ryjjan spit. "If anything happens to me, it will also happen to Koxx and Leskit! They'll never -- "
At that, Wol laughed. "Do you truly imagine Lokor will care about offending the officers of this ship?"
That brought Ryjjan up short. Anyone else might hesitate to anger his fellow officers, but not Lokor.
Letting out a long breath, Ryjjan said, "Fine, you can have the khest'n barrel. But I suggest you finish it soon, before Lokor finds out and asks you where you got it."
"Thank you. I'm in your debt."
That got Ryjjan's attention. Had she simply taken the deal, that would have been all, but she knew that Ryjjan was truly doing her a favor by giving her access to the wine. Especially since my threat was an empty one -- Lokor knows all about the barrels, because he told me after I reported it to him. He couldn't care less who uses the cargo space, as long as the ship is secure.
Ryjjan's eyes traveled up and down Wol's body. "You can expect me to call in that debt very soon."
Wol sighed. She had expected something like that. Ryjjan had been more subtle than Koxx -- he could hardly not be more subtle than the ensign -- but she had noticed his interest in her. Wol preferred her bedmates shorter and with more body mass, but she supposed she could live with sharing a bunk with him for one night. Perhaps he'll surprise me.
"I'll have one of my bekks take care of it," Ryjjan said. "Where should I have it sent?"
"The mess hall. My squad is waiting there."
Ryjjan nodded. He was about to activate his communicator when Wol said, "Ryjjan, a question."
"Why have you been hoarding those barrels, anyhow?"
He smirked. "I've been waiting for a special occasion."
Wol frowned. "Our victory at San-Tarah didn't qualify?"
Sneering, Ryjjan said, "Hardly. Oh, our battle there was necessary, and honor was on our side, but we were fighting our fellow Klingons in a battle to save a species who will only be jeghpu'wI'. That is not what I would call special."
"I suppose." Wol didn't agree, but she could see Ryjjan's point. "I look forward to the bloodwine."
Grinning, Ryjjan said, "And I look forward to the payment."
Gripping the bat'leth tightly in his hands, Klag moved through the underbrush, his boots sinking slightly into the loose dirt.
The scents were muddled in this overgrown jungle. An ancient mining station was located nearby, and the fumes from its primitive workings interfered with any attempt at gaining an olfactory picture of one's surroundings. Klag found himself reduced to depending on sight and sound only.
Not that he wasn't up to the task of finding and defeating his foe. He was a Klingon warrior, a member of the Order of the Bat'leth, captain of one of the finest ships in the fleet.
A rustle in the bushes to his left caught his attention. But no, he thought after a moment, that movement is too minimal to belong to a being the size of my enemy. It is probably a small animal.
Besides, his foe was too canny to be that obvious.
The bat'leth Klag held in his hands was an ordinary one that he had replicated. Good weight, good size for his hands; it was completely adequate as a weapon. It certainly was sufficient for the task he engaged in today: to win the battle, and to do so while wielding a bat'leth.
Once, that would have been no challenge at all. Klag was as skilled with the bat'leth as any warrior, and more than most. Then came the Dominion War and the Battle of Marcan V. It was there that Commander Klag lost many things -- his beloved ship, his hated captain, and his good right arm -- but gained a label: hero. He slew several Jem'Hadar and one Vorta on the plains of Marcan V after he had lost his limb, and paved the way for victory in the Allicar Sector.
His reward had been the captaincy of the Gorkon.
Slowly, he moved out from the underbrush and took up a position behind a thick tree. Still, he heard and saw nothing. The only smell was that of the smoke that belched from the mines.
Then the clouds cleared away, bathing the area in bright sunlight. Klag saw a glint of metal in the bushes to his right, and then he knew he had his foe. Though he saw no other evidence, nor heard anything, the glint was unmistakably the sunlight reflecting off the metal of a blade.
After the war, Klag came to realize that he was less of a warrior with only one arm, and so had the arm of his recently deceased father grafted onto his body. But, although Dr. B'Oraq had successfully attached the limb, she could not make it function. That would come only with hard work.
At first, Klag had been unwilling to do the work, assuming his prior proficiency to be enough to carry him through. He made a fool of himself during his drills with his bodyguard, Leader Morr, his own position as captain preventing Morr from telling him what he needed to hear: He was not improving. Not that it mattered, as B'Oraq did tell him that, but he did not listen.
No, it took a humiliating loss to the leader of the Children of San-Tarah to disabuse Klag of that notion, and he'd spent the weeks since departing San-Tarah pushing himself to achieve the same level of skill he'd once had with the bat'leth.
Coming out from behind the tree, he crouched down and started moving swiftly in a direction parallel to where he had seen the glint. I will not reveal that I have seen my enemy until the last second.
As soon as he passed the location of the glint, he unholstered his d'k tahg and threw it to his right in one fluid motion, hoping to wound his foe.
Then he was attacked from the left.
His foe was a Klingon, one armed with a bat'leth also. Klag knew that there was only one foe, and that he was cannier than the captain had expected.
No, it is not canniness to spring a trap that is older than Kahless's great-grandmother. I am simply the fool who has fallen for it, Klag thought as he rolled with the attack, he and his foe turning over and over again on the grassy ground. His foe had left a weapon in the bushes in order to fool Klag into thinking he was there. Addled and with only one arm, I had more sense against a dozen Jem'Hadar on Marcan V, yet this one Klingon plays me for a toDSaH.
They ended with his enemy on top of him, swinging his bat'leth down toward Klag's head. Klag -- using his right arm -- brought his own bat'leth up in front of his face in order to block the blow. The sound of metal clanging against metal echoed off the flora. Klag twisted his weapon and locked the inner blades of his bat'leth with that of his foe, then he thrust it down and to his left, using his right hand for most of the power of the thrust.
His enemy's weapon fell to the ground.
"Computer, freeze program, erase opponent."
The voice belonged to B'Oraq, who, along with Morr, was supervising Klag's drills.
As the foe disappeared in a puff of photons, Klag clambered to his feet. The auburn-haired doctor stood before him, clutching the end of the braid that extended past her right shoulder. Morr stood next to her, towering over her, yet looking much more staid than B'Oraq, who carried a fierce mien even when she was relaxed.
Walking up behind them was a third person, a bekk whom Klag recognized as being a member of Morr's squad. "What is the meaning of this?" he asked.
"My apologies," the bekk said, and Klag finally remembered that this was K'Varia, "but Dr. B'Oraq terminated the program at my request. Commander Toq has requested that I escort you and Leader Morr to the bridge immediately. You may verify this with the commander if you wish."
Klag frowned. This was unusual -- Toq could have just called him. "Klag to Toq."
"Toq. Has Bekk K'Varia come to escort you, sir?"
"Yes, he has. What is the meaning of this, Commander?"
"I will explain when you arrive, sir."
Letting out a long breath, Klag said, "Very well. Out. Computer, end program."
The holodeck reverted to the simple grid pattern that indicated no simulations were running.
"It seems it is my lot in life to be irritated by my first officers."
B'Oraq laughed. "I believe, Captain, that that is the primary duty of a first officer."
"I'm not in a position to judge. I spent my unnecessarily lengthy time as a first officer being irritated by my captain." Klag spoke with a certain bitterness. Captain Kargan was an incompetent petaQ whose family connections provided him with a lofty position and also made it impossible to remove him from it. Instead, he let Klag, his first officer, do all his leading for him, a state of affairs that remained for almost a decade before Marcan V finally freed Klag from his position under Kargan's boot.
However, while Klag stayed first officer of the Pagh for nine years, he was now on his fourth first officer in only nine months on the Gorkon. Klag had gotten rid of Drex as fast as he could, and both Tereth and Kornan had died in battle. The captain had faith in Toq based on his stellar performance since the shakedown cruise, but that faith was leavened by the commander's relative youth. "I wonder now if I promoted Toq too quickly."
Smiling, B'Oraq said, "Give him a chance, Captain. I'm sure he has a good reason for his peculiar behavior."
Morr and K'Varia exchanged a glance, but of course said nothing. Klag had a suspicion that the two soldiers knew something their captain didn't.
Klag stared at K'Varia. "Speak."
The bekk gave Morr a quick look, then said, "I would not presume to speak for the commander, sir. He'll explain it all." He hesitated, then added, "But I do believe his reasons are sound, sir. Things on this ship are not what they were."
Throwing his head back and laughing, Klag said, "Things are never what they were on this ship, Bekk. Change has been the hallmark of the Gorkon since its shakedown. It would be unwise of us to expect otherwise." He moved toward the exit.
B'Oraq walked alongside him. "You did well, Captain. That thrust led with your right -- I think the new limb is becoming as strong as the old. You're also minimizing use of it, not straining it constantly." She smiled. "If you had realized this a few months ago, things might have gone differently on San-Tarah."
Klag shook his head. B'Oraq studied medicine in the Federation, and from them she had learned the tiresome proclivity for wasting energy wondering what might have been. Done was done; only a fool speculated on what could not be changed.
Still, B'Oraq is no fool. Quite the opposite. She has been my best advisor since I took command of this vessel. So much so that I am willing to indulge her tiresome speculations.
"Perhaps," was all he said in reply. "We will continue our drills tomorrow." To Morr and K'Varia, he said, "Come, let us see what it is that Toq needs me to be aware of in so mysterious a manner."
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