Author: Anthony Butler
Lieutenant J’hana could tell that something was amiss.
The Main Shuttlebay was empty. No crewmembers around to handle preflight procedures, nobody to see her off or give her any last instructions. Actually, J’hana liked that idea, but it smacked of sabotage. She had the distinct impression she was about to be ambushed, and she was none too pleased about it.
She had important business to attend to.
Dwanok the Large was lying, comatose, in the Imperial Hospital on Kronos, two and a half months after he was impaled by a beam on his crashing ship, the Devagh II. Since then, J’hana had been to visit him four times, drawing substantially on her accrued Starfleet personal days and vacation days.
This would be the fifth time, but this time the thing that was drawing her to Kronos was not concern for her former mate’s wellbeing. It was, instead, suspicion that his so-called wife, Kessica, was planning something. And J’hana had no plans to let her succeed in whatever it was she was planning. Kessica was a major irritant. Until Dwanok’s coma, J’hana hadn’t even known about Dwanok’s wife. Apparently, they were, for lack of a proper Klingon term, “separated.” They had married when they’d been young, not long after Ascension.
Dwanok was wealthy, having inherited lands and other assets from his father, who’d perished in a battle with seventeen angry Tarkalian razorbeasts on Tarkalia Six. Kessica was a street wench from the First City, who Dwanok first took in out of pity. But that pity grew to lust, and eventually, for Kessica, greed. And Dwanok, being lucky in the ways of battle, till then, and honor, but unlucky in love, gave in to her every wanton desire.
Kessica left Dwanok shortly after he fell out of favor with the High Council, and just before he left for the mission in the Fruitlands, which ultimately lead to him being stranded in the Delta Quadrant, and running across the Explorer, and J’hana. The wench, however, still claimed she was wedded to Dwanok, and had decision-making rights about his welfare.
J’hana wasn’t interested in Kessica’s reason for claiming rights over Dwanok. She didn’t recognize Klingon custom or tradition. There was just too much at stake. With Dwanok, she knew best. And if the Klingons did not understand that, she’d just have to explain it to them in her own terms.
But enough of that. J’hana had been so deep in thoughts of Dwanok, she’d barely noticed the shuttlebay was empty, and she wanted to know why.
The thing that surprised J’hana about nobody from the Explorer hanging around to bid her goodbye was that, since their return from the Alpha Quadrant with Captain Dwanok’s insensate form in tow, everybody had bent over backwards to try and make J’hana feel better. That, of course, had the opposite effect of making her feel horrible, and wanting to slash out with her bat’leth and gut each and every one of them.
But, J’hana thought, as she keyed open the entry hatch on the runabout Irawadi, at least they meant well.
Speaking of meaning well, there was Lt. Commander Ariel Tilleran, sitting on the edge of the conference table in the aft compartment, with nothing but a shimmering and partially see- through nightgown draped around her. She grinned playfully at J’hana.
“You didn’t really think I’d let you leave without saying goodbye, did you, Jan? Hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of having the room cleared.”
“I should have heard your footsteps as you followed me,” J’hana asserted, setting her duffel down on the deck and stepping toward Tilleran.
“I beamed in. You don’t really think I’d walk around the ship in my nightgown, do you?
J’hana came closer. “I was hoping maybe you were.”
“You must be distracted,” Tilleran said, slipping off the conference table and wrapping her arms around J’hana’s waist. “You should have picked up our Imzadi bond from meters away.”
“Yes. Distracted,” J’hana said, and ran her fingers through Tilleran’s hair. “My sweet, sweet telepath. I will miss you.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Tilleran grinned. “Just come back soon so we can continue this…ever so platonic relationship.”
“Yes,” J’hana said simply, leaning forward, kissing Tilleran fully on the mouth.
Tilleran pulled back, touching her lips. “Comm me when you get to Kronos.”
J’hana bowed. “Of course.”
Tilleran smiled as she stepped through toward the forward compartment of the runabout. J’hana heard the hum of a transporter, saw light, and sighed.
The good thing about Tilleran was that she wasn’t jealous. She realized J’hana and Dwanok had a relationship distinct and separate from the relationship she shared with Tilleran. Both relationships were rife with lust..and maybe, J’hana told herself grudgingly, love.
J’hana walked through into the cockpit, right where Tilleran had been, and wasn’t surprised at all to find no one there.
She sat down in the pilot’s seat, punching controls. “Explorer, this is Irawadi, requesting permission to depart.”
“Irawadi, this is Explorer,” came Commander Chris Richards’s voice. “You’re clear, J’hana. Godspeed to you.”
J’hana tapped another control that activated the Irawadi’s engines. The runabout lifted off the deck and pivoted around toward the opening shuttlebay doors, and drifted, gently, out into space.
The room they kept Dwanok in at the Imperial Hospital, like most rooms on Kronos, was dark. The great, massive hulk that lay motionless on the shelf-bed at the center of the room was bathed in an amber overhead light. Nearby, monitors buzzed with information, all in Klingon, about the subject’s life signs. This information was the same, J’hana thought, ever since Dwanok had been brought aboard the Explorer and “saved” by Doctor Holly Wilcox.
She’d told J’hana then that, although they’d been able to repair most of the damage to the Andorian’s large lover, it was possible that he’d never awaken again.
So Kessica, wife to Dwanok, had come to the Explorer, holding all sorts of legal documents pertaining to her rights to claim Dwanok’s body. Captain Baxter had tried to hold on to him, because he knew it was important to J’hana, but an eventual appeal from Kessica to the highest levels of Starfleet command eventually ended the debate. Dwanok was shipped off to Kronos, where Klingon “doctors” could better care for the large one. Or that was what Kessica told her, anyway.
J’hana was aware of Dwanok’s wife. Klingons did not believe in divorce. Kessica was a remnant of a relationship that once, maybe twenty years ago, brimmed with life and lust and longing. Now she was merely an accessory, a drain on Dwanok’s resources, as he once said. She did him no good, he’d tell J’hana. She’d never even bore him any children, to J’hana’s knowledge.
And now she thought she could just waltz in and take over?
That some marriage certificate, some law thing, gave her rights over the life of the Great Dwanok?
J’hana chortled at that, as she stood at the foot of his bed, watching the immovable mass that was her lover.
She would just stand there and glower, looking at him, watching for some sign he would arise. When he did, she wanted to be there. She didn’t want him to see the scowling face of that woman Kessica, that leech, that plotting shevath, why, she…
She was standing right behind J’hana. The Andorian’s antenna could detect her Essence of Targ’s Hoof perfume.
“What do you want,” she said flatly, without turning around.
“I think you know what I want, offworlder,” Kessica said in a low, unwavering voice. “You know what must come, what must now be. Leave this to us. You are not wanted or needed here, Andorian.”
J’hana still didn’t look at Kessica. “I know him far better than you ever will, you realize.”
“You are mistaken if you think that bothers me in the slightest.”
“If I wished to bother you, you would be dead,” J’hana said in measured tones.
Kessica moved next to the Andorian, bracing her hands on the foot of Dwanok’s bed-shelf. “You are a stranger on this world, J’hana. You know nothing of honor, or our ways. All Andorians
care about is violence and death. They know not honor, or guile, or
wit. Surely, you can see how someone of that ilk would not be
J’hana finally turned to face Kessica. “You are, of course, welcomed to try to remove me from the premises. She held her hands out wide. “I am weaponless. It should be an easy task. Just push me out the door.”
Kessica whirled, heading back toward the door into the hospital hallway. “Be advised, Andorian! Dwanok will die soon, whether you want him to or not!”
J’hana circled the bed-shelf, reached down and touched the hand of the sleeping giant, Dwanok. She squeezed it. “That remains to be seen.”
“So…Dwanok’s common-law wife Kessica seems hell-bent on pulling the plug on his life support machines,” J’hana said, sighing and leaning back against her stiff chair, in the room she’d rented at the Honor Lodge, in the First City. The rental complex was just on the outskirts of town, a place where lowlife Klingon mercenaries went to hide from authorities. Where honorless thugs plotted and schemed to move the will of the High Council. Where offworlders went to hide from the rest of the populace.
But J’hana didn’t think of herself as hiding. She thought of herself as embracing the hatred with which Klingons viewed offworlders. She certainly wouldn’t do a thing to try and bridge the gaps between her culture and the Klingons. No, that would certainly be the Federation way, but it wouldn’t be J’hana’s. She’d rather not have a thing to do with most Klingons. Just one. A very large one.
Tilleran was just coming out of the shower, by the look of her damp, bare skin that was draped in a skimpy satin robel. J’hana watched her with great interest as she moved about her cabin on the Explorer, gathering her clothing and drying her hair with a towel. “But forget about my piddling problems,” she said. “What is going on over on your end, Imzadi?”
“Oh, a whole lot of nothing,” Tilleran said, wrapping a towel around her mane of hair, hugging her robe around her. She looked thoughtful. “You know, same old. We’re docked at Waystation right now.” J’hana watched her look behind her, arching around and seeming gravely interested in something off-screen. She turned and looked back at J’hana with determined, deep black eyes. “J’hana, I’ve got to go…”
J’hana bristled at that. What could be so important as to interrupt their subspace call? Was the Explorer in danger? Without her there to defend it? There were so many things she wanted to tell Tilleran. But she thought better of it, and said only, “Yes, well, I suppose I’ll return to tending my comatose boyfriend. It is all right that I have a boyfriend, isn’t it, Ari?” She narrowed her eyes and searched for a reaction in the Betazoid.
Instead, all she got was: “I’ll catch up later. Something’s wrong…”
How about that, J’hana thought to herself. She wished she knew what was going on. Sometimes she wished to the Hive Mother that she had telepathy of her own. Sure, she could sense Tilleran, but she couldn’t read her thoughts. Not like Tilleran could read thoughts.
J’hana decided not to think about that any longer, and, instead, decided she would take a walk.
The avenues of the First City of Kronos were right up J’hana’s…well…alley. They were dank, dark, and most important of all, dangerous. Few walked alone on the streets of the First City. And if offworlders went out at all, they covered themselves up in cloaks and the like.
J’hana found that whole notion laughable. She was regaled in her casual outfit, a tight-fitting leather pants and tanktop number that accentuated all the right places, and proudly displayed her toned and well-developed biceps.
Her hair was arranged in its characteristic mop, with stray braids of white hair crisscrossing down her back. Only occasionally did she let these braids down. When she was off duty, on vacation, or just unwinding after a long day of providing ship’s security.
The avenue J’hana walked down reeked of dying meat, of rottenness and fetidness, of putridity. Like Commander Conway’s office before Richards had it steam-cleaned.
It was a dark-as-pitch night, like most nights on Kronos. The days, as a matter of fact, weren’t much brighter.
J’hana liked that, too. Gave her plenty of opportunity to keep to her thoughts, without being distracted by her surroundings.
Or the people sneaking up on her.
She stopped in her tracks and bent her arm backwards, catching the wrist of a potential assailant. She heard a grunt of surprise as she whipped around and twisted her would-be attacker’s arm behind his back. She leaned down in his face, which was framed in traditional, blooming Klingon locks. His breath stank of blood wine.
“Who sent you?” she demanded.
“Kill me!” he ordered, and J’hana twisted his arm harder.
“Not until you tell me what I want to know, p’tak!”
“You will not make it off this planet alive,” the Klingon choked out.
“Were I only so fortunate,” J’hana said. “However, I have a lot of unfinished business to attend to.”
“That is where you’re wrong,” the wiry Klingon spat as J’hana bent him over. “Your business here is finished. Leave, while you still can. You won’t be getting another warning.”
“You weren’t going to warn me. You were going to kill me.”
“Well, it was going to be sort of a murder-warning,” the Klingon stammered.
“I don’t find you amusing in the least,” J’hana hissed, and slammed the Klingon foward into a nearby cement wall, rendering him unconscious. He dropped to the floor and J’hana turned, just as two more Klingons sailed through the air at her.
She grabbed the steel-toed foot that was flying at her face and twisted it, and the Klingon it was attached to, in mid air. As gravity did its job, dragging the second attacker to the ground, J’hana twisted his leg around backwards until she heard a satisfying snap. Then she slammed his head into the hard rock ground, knocking him out, just as a bat’leth came swinging at her neck.
She ducked, grabbed the back of the bat’leth, and used it to flip over her third attacker, a woman with wild, frizzy, high hair, and biceps twice the size of her own.
The woman hit the ground and J’hana ripped the bat’leth out of the startled Klingon’s hands, bringing the blunt end down on her head.
“You are all too incompetent to be awarded the good fortune of death,” she said, looking at the array of unconscious Klingons that surrounded her.
An old Klingon woman scuttled by, glanced at the scene, and scuttled along even faster.
“There is nothing more to see here!” J’hana called out, then headed back to her apartment, whistling an old Andorian synth-death tune.
She arrived at the Imperial Hospital the next morning to find Kessica talking to Dr. Yorn, the Klingon physician who’d been assigned to Dwanok.
“Your messengers of death failed sadly in their task!” she announced, walking up to the pair, who stood just outside the door to Dwanok’s room.
“They did? How’d you know I was trying to kill my cousin?” Yorn asked, raising an eyebrow, causing his whole ridged head to crinkle.
“I was referring to HER messnegers of death,” J’hana said, pointing at Kessica.
Yorn frowned. “Oh. Well, be specific next time. A lot of us have messengers of death out there.”
Kessica smiled toothily at J’hana. “Doctor Yorn and I were just discussing the hopelessness of Dwanok’s condition.”
“Oh, his chances of waking up are certainly slim to none,” Yorn said easily. “The level of brain activity barely registers on our sensors. Dying is merely a formality for that one.”
“Keep talking,” J’hana said. “Perhaps you will even be able to repair yourself after I am through with you.”
Yorn grimaced at J’hana. “I knew I should have gone into the military service. Why did I think becoming a doctor would make my parents proud?”
“Because you are a fool,” Kessica said.
“I was trying to help you!” Yorn said stormily.
“You can help me by killing that Dwanok. Spare him an honorless, unconscious life,” Kessica sneered, turning her gaze on J’hana. “We’ll even let you watch.”
J’hana’s hands curled into fists. She could feel her fingernails cutting into her palms. “I am going to enjoy watching YOU die, Kessica.”
“My, J’hana, Dwanok was right. You do have a lot of growing up to do,” Kessica said, and walked off down the hospital corridor.
Yorn glared at J’hana a long moment. “You know, offworlder, you’d do well to say your goodbyes to Dwanok now. He’ll be dead by tomorrow.”
“You don’t know that,” J’hana spat at the doctor.
“Oh, I can assure you of that.”
“You will have to kill me too,” J’hana said.
“Well,” Yorn said. He looked around. “I’m due in surgery. Enjoy your stay!” And he dashed off. J’hana’s surmise was correct. Only the truly pathetic Klingons went into the medical arts.
J’hana walked into Dwanok’s room, reaching into a pouch at her thigh and withdrawing a large blade, curved and serrated with Klingon inscriptions carved in it. She’d purchased it from a Klingon memorabilia stand at a fleamarket in the Dartona system, where the Explorer had recently been on assignment.
“I was saving this until you woke up, Dwanok,” J’hana said, placing the blade on Dwanok’s chest. “But I think it’s important I share it with you now. So when you awake, you can stab your traitorous s’vettchl of a wife right between the eyes. And I will be there to see it.” She grabbed Dwanok’s hand. “This I vow to you, oh Large One.”
She couldn’t be sure, but she swore she felt him squeezing back.
“This call is a courtesy you don’t deserve. Don’t take it likely,” Kessica said over J’hana’s viewscreen in her cramped room at the Honor Lodge.
“What reason could you possibly have to do me a courtesy?” J’hana asked, rubbing svvix cream on her hands. It was almost time for bed.
“Because, for whatever reason, Dwanok obviously had affection for you. It was probably naked lust and nothing more. Still, you were part of his life. You deserve to be there when he dies.”
“You are nothing if not single-minded,” J’hana grunted.
“When I set my mind to something, it gets accomplished,” Kessica said. “Of that, you can be certain.”
“I have told you many times, you will not be permitted to remove Dwanok from life support. He has a seat on the High Council. He is respected by many of the great men of Kronos.”
“Martok doesn’t like him.”
J’hana stared at Kessica “So, you brought the Chancellor in on this.”
“You gave me no choice. The master record-keeper of the High Council is writing a decree as we speak, praising Dwanok for his long service to the Empire and ordering his immediate termination. The decree should be passed unanimously in Council Chambers tomorrow.”
“And you are telling me this…why?” J’hana asked, peering skeptically at the face on the viewscreen, a face she was growing more and more to hate.
“Because you at least deserve the right to watch Dwanok die, of course,” Kessica said with a jagged grin. “Since you shared so much…of your bed…with him, it’s only fitting that you be there for his send off. How do you like that?”
“I do not like it at all.”
“I do not care if you like it,” Kessica replied. “You have no say in this.”
“On the contrary! As his parma’chai…”
“You are NOT his parma’chai! You are no better than a backwoods slevut who would sleep with Ferengi! Your relationship with The Large One meant nothing!”
“I beg to differ, Kessica,” J’hana said stormily, as she stood and approached the monitor. “Dwanok and I…we shared many things. Much more than just a bed. More than you could ever understand.”
“Dwanok is never waking up,” Kessica sneered. “He has no chance of honorable death. I must gather up the shambles of his house and proceed with my life. Dwanok will be removed from life support, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
J’hana cracked her knuckles, her antennae twitching with growing anger. “We will see about that, you putrid shevath!”
“Ptooook!” Kessica cried, and the channel went dead.
J’hana glared darkly at the screen, gritting her teeth with barely consumed hatred. The time for reflection and thought had passed. She must take action. Now.
Suddenly, the viewscreen, which had just gone dim, bleeped.
“Incoming subspace transmission from U.S.S. Explorer,” the voice of the space-to-land operator broke through.
J’hana tapped a control on the wall panel. “Go ahead.” Lt. Commander Tilleran apperared on the screen, leaning forward, with a bubbling Tamaran fizz in her hands, sipping sullenly. “Imzadi, I’ve had the worst day. Can we talk?”
J’hana felt for her Imzadi, that she’d had a bad day, but her other love’s life was at stake, and she had to act to save him. Tilleran’s problem would wait.
“I would love to help you, Ari, but I will have to call you back,” J’hana said, turning to grab her duffel bag off the rock hard bed.
“Where…where are you going?” Tilleran asked, leaning in toward the screen.
“To war,” J’hana said, and punched the channel closed.
Captain Andy Baxter leaned back in his chair, in his readyroom, and steepled his fingers. Something about having the President of the United Federation of Planets sitting across from him, in one of the two chairs that faced his desk, made him feel really powerful.
“Can I get you anything to drink, Mister President?” Baxter asked, gesturing to his private replicator slot.
Bradley Dillon shook his head. He was dressed in the same dapper, crisp charcoal suit with deep blue lapels that he wore when he met with Baxter on Waystation. It shocked Baxter to realize that it was just earlier that day that everything had happened. That he’d learned that Bradley Dillon was transferring his office onto the Explorer, and charging Baxter and his crew with the responsibility of seeking out an enigmatic and mysterious race known as the “Bast,” and settling up with them on an unpaid bill for some circuitry that the President didn’t even own anymore. It all made Baxter’s head spin.
Still, here he was, late in the afternoon, staring across his desk at the Federation President. At the Federation President who had taken up residence on HIS ship.
“So,” Baxter said, taking a sip from his cup of orange pekoe. “What can I do for you?”
“I came to discuss arrangements,” Bradley said, sliding a padd across Baxter’s desk. “These are the specifications I’m requesting for my deck.”
Baxter nearly choked on his tea. “You’re taking a whole deck?”
“I believe I mentioned that to you earlier today.”
Baxter glanced at the padd. “I guess I wasn’t really listening.”
“Indeed,” Bradley said. “You do of course understand that these kinds of alterations will take a few days in spacedock at minimum.”
The captain stared vacantly out his office window, noting the blue hulk of Waystation sitting just outside, just a few thousand meters removed, thanks to the docking arm to which the Explorer was presently attached. Baxter knew that the U.S.S. Tracker, captained by his friend Anna Kimmel, was attached to one of the lower docking arms, being worked on right now, after a run-in with some nasty Gorn who, Baxter was glad to hear, were being towed, along with their ship, to a Federation judiciary board in the Terran system. Whatever happened, Baxter was sure they’d get a fair deal, and hopefully be banished beyond all capability of bothering him or Kimmel ever again.
“So…you’re not just talking about staying on the ship for a few weeks,” Baxter said slowly.
“I’m glad we understand each other on that point,” Bradley said with a small smile. “My stay is…indefinite.”
“Well, I’m sure Admiral Baxter has some missions lined up for us.”
Bradley nodded. “I spoke with Nelson myself. He understands the situation and is cooperating fully. He feels that the mission to locate the Bast is fully compatible with the goals of the Explorer Program. This assignment has his full support.”
No surprise there. Baxter’s dad also gave his full support to the plan to send the Explorer to the Gamma Quadrant for a year.
“Your crew is uniquely qualified for this task, Captain,” Bradley was saying, but Baxter was barely hearing him. “They’ve exhibited, on more than one occasion, the ability to operate far from Starfleet jurisidiction. Bast space is a long way off, and contact with Starfleet will be minimal. Your people shouldn’t have a problem with that.”
“No, Starfleet pretty much hates our guts, so I think that’s fine, I just…” Baxter trailed off, thinking of Kimmel. “I just feel like the Explorer may be needed elsewhere.”
“The Aerostar, Tracker and Pathfinder are all quite well- equipped to handle Explorer Project missions.” Bradley narrowed his eyes at Baxter. “You don’t think any of those ships are…incapable… of handling anything that may come along, do you?”
“Of…of course not,” Baxter stammered, flipping the padd over on his desk.
“Now, to the matter of my entourage. They will require…”
Suddenly, the door to Baxter’s office slid open, and Tilleran stood in the doorway, her hands braced on it. “Captain!”
“Um…hi, thanks for knocking,” Baxter said. “What do you need, Commander?”
“J’hana…she’s in trouble. I can feel it!”
“Those telepathic senses tingling, huh?” Baxter asked.
The Betazoid shook her head. “Something like that. Anyway, I was just talking to her, and I got an impression of…”
“J’hana. She’s that Andorian tactical officer, am I right?” Bradley asked.
“Yes,” Baxter said.
“Glad you like her.” Baxter looked at Tilleran. “What gave you that…impression, Tilleran?”
“She said she was going to war. She actually said ‘war.’”
Baxter leaned back in his chair. “Well, you know as well as I do that J’hana looks at everything as a war, even indigestion. She was probably just being melodramatic.”
“I’m not so sure,” Tilleran said, and ducked out of the office.
Baxter blinked. “Hmm.”
“Shall we continue?” Bradley asked.
J’hana was not surprised to find a garrison of Klingon ground troops guarding the double doors that led to the Ward of High Ranking Warriors. She’d prepared for it, in fact, and as she rounded the corner toward those doors, she lifted five blades out of her duffel and tossed them at the crowd of milling Klingons.
Four were hit square in the chest, or neck, and dropped. The fifth, unfortunately, received the blade in his forehead and just looked angry. He lunged at J’hana, along with the other six warriors.
She tossed her duffel to the ground, grabbing her bat’leth from it, and spread her legs in a combat stance.
She swung her blade at the first Klingon dragged it upwards, gutting him like a fish, sending him to his knees. With a graceful swing, she slammed the dull side of the blade into his back, knocking him on his face.
The next two Klingons hurled themselves at her, and they each met one end of the bat’leth, head on. J’hana then removed it from their chests and swung it behind her, catching one of the advancing Klingons right in the stomach. She shoved harder, then pulled it out, and swung it in another delicious arc, slamming it into one, then the other Klingon, felling them both.
At this point, people were shouting. Klingon doctors and nurses, clad in their chainmail labocoats, were rushing to and fro, closing doors, sounding alarms.
J’hana didn’t notice any of this. She just pressed forward, swinging her bat’leth at any Klingon who cared to get in the way.
She plowed through those double doors to the ward, picking up her duffel on route.
From the duffel, she retrieved a handful of concussion genades, which she tossed, one by one, in her wake, felling what few Klingons attempted to follow her.
She next pulled a phaser rifle from the duffel, then dropped the empty bag behind her. She’d never even thought to pack a change of clothes.
J’hana swung the phaser rifle up with her left hand and blasted, just as a Klingon guard advanced on her from a side corridor. He hit the ground.
With her right hand, she slung the bat’leth at an on-rushing nurse, a big fat Klingon woman who must have had some kind of reckless need to die honorably. J’hana indulged her.
Everything was silent and calm for J’hana as she strode toward the doors to Dwanok’s private room and blasted them open with the phaser rifle.
She found, in there, Doctor Yorn and Kessica.
“How long have you been here?” Kessica asked absently. “I barely heard your approach.”
J’hana spat at Kessica. “Silence, she’vath! If you attempt to hamper me in any way from retrieving The Large One, I will kill you.”
And, just as Yorn approached from behind her with a hypospray, J’hana swung the phaser rifle behind her and pointed it at him. Without looking at him, she said, “And that goes for you, Doctor.”
She stared at the bed with Dwanok in it. He lay still, motionless, at total peace. And flatline.
“VSHNITTTTTTTTTTTTT!” J’hana shouted at the ceiling. She stared at Kessica, daggers beaming in her eyes. “You will die for this, fwarking fwarz-sharsher!”
Before Kessica could respond, J’hana threw her bat’leth in the air, slapped her combadge, then caught the blade. “J’hana to Irawadi, energize!”
Kessica lunged at her, but did so a few moments too late. She turned around quickly to find that Dwanok, too, was gone.
“She is a tremendous fighter,” Dr. Yorn said.
“Shut up!” Kessica snapped, withdrawing a communicator from the folds of her dress. “Kessica to Cha’Vel! Transport me aboard!”
Yorn sighed as Kessica beamed away. She could have at least invited him along.
“Leave orbit, and lay in a course for Federation territory, maximum warp!” J’hana ordered the computer as she walked back to the conference lounge in the rear of the Irawadi, where Dwanok lie inert on the table.
She stared at him a long moment, growling low, and to herself, curses erupting from her lips only as angry gurgles.
“Computer!” she finally announced. “Establish a subspace connection with the U.S.S. Explorer.”
“Send a priority communication to Janice Browning, Civilian.”
J’hana ran to the foreward section and grabbed a medkit, then dashed back to the aft section where Browning was already sitting on the viewscreen, white sauce smeared all over her face and the front of her apron, holding a spatula.
“Browning here, what can I….J’hana!”
“Doctor, I need your help,” J’hana said simply, holding up the medkit. “I did not know who else to turn to. Dwanok is dead. You must help me revive him.”
“J’hana, I’m flattered, but…what? He’s dead?”
“His heart monitor went flatline just before I beamed him out of the Klingon hospital.”
“You…beamed him out?”
J’hana nodded. “Suffice it to say, it is all very complicated. You must help me to revive him.”
“Okay,” Browning said, nodding. “I’ll do what I can. I’m not an expert on Klingons, and I’m up to my elbows in bernaise sauce, but…”
“DOCTOR!” J’hana shouted, waving the medkit at the viewscreen.
“Right. Well, first, pull out the hypospray and set it to deliver a 15-cc injection of cordrazine. That should get his heart pumping again.”
J’hana slapped the case on the table next to Dwanok and pried it open. She rifled through the hypos and injectors. “Hmmm….which one is the cordrazine?”
“It’s the orange stuff. Looks kind of like marmalade.”
“Oh. Of course.” J’hana grabbed the orange vial and shoved it into the hypo, then punched a key sequence into the back of the instrument and shoevd it into Dwanok’s neck. “Thank you, Doctor. I’ll just be…”
“Wait!” Browning said. “You have to see if it worked. Get the medical tricorder and scan him.”
“Scan. Right. I can do that.” J’hana pulled the medical tricorder out of the kit and ran it over Dwanok, calmed by its serene buzz. “I believe he is showing faint heart signs.”
Browning thoughtfully tapped her forehead with the spatula. “Okay. Well, you’ll need to get him on life support quickly. A cordrazine injection every thirty minutes will keep him going until then.”
“How soon is quickly?” J’hana demanded.
“Very soon. He needs life support, J’hana. He’s in a coma.”
“Understood. I will find him life support. J’hana out.”
“But…” Browning said as she disappeared from the screen. Just then, the Irawadi shook with the tremors of disruptor blasts.
“Fwark it all,” J’hana rumbled, and ran to the foreward section. “Computer, bring up tactical view.” She leaned over the screens at the pilot’s seat, and sure enough, two B’rel class Birds of Prey were closing on her, firing disruptors. She punched some controls, pulling the Irawadi around and taking it straight toward one of the two Birds. She opened fire with phasers and torpedoes, closing the distance before the enemy ship could retrain its targeting scanners. She quickly whipped the Irawadi around again, and, before the Klingon ship could turn to face her, she hit it with another volley, disrupting its shields. She punched some controls on the console, watching the readouts of shield modulation. She began tweaking the Irawadi’s shields, trying to get them in sync. The other Bird of Prey, meanwhile, soared over the runabout, pounding it with its weapons.
“Computer, return fire, continuous, on target bearing oh-five- seven mark oh-oh-seven.” Still standing, J’hana maneuvered the Irawadi around behind the first Bird of Prey, as the second one continued hammering it with disruptors.
“Shields down to thirty percent,” the computer called out.
“Just a little more…” J’hana said, focusing on the ventral section of the Bird of Prey, its soft underbelly. She fired phasers and another spread of torpedoes, modulating the phaser frequency to vibrate sympathetically with the shields on the Bird of Prey’s underbelly. “Just a little more, you fwarking rhashard!”
As sparks poured out of panels all around her, J’hana heard the characteristic bleep of shield alignment, just as she guided the Irawadi between the down-swept wings of the Bird of Prey.
She punched several more controls, programming a transporter sequence that would put her and her comatose lover aboard the other ship, just as more blasts pounded the Irawadi, blowing one of its warp nacelles off and blowing a giant hole in the side of the smaller vessel.
J’hana didn’t care about the explosive decompression that ripped its way through the Irawadi, however, because she and Dwanok had just beamed away.
“I hope this meeting has left you with some…feelings of assurance,” Bradley Dillon said, as he and Baxter exited the readyroom.
Baxter stretched, listening to the cracks and pops that cascaded down his spinal chord. “Yes, I feel quite comfortable, Mister President. Bring on the….presidency.”
Bradley ducked into the aft turbolift. “Your crew will adjust to these changes. I think you will see this will ultimately be quite the…profitable venture.”
“Oooh. Profit! Just what I’ve always wanted!” Baxter exclaimed sarcastically, as the turbolift shut on Dillon. Then, he just seemed to deflate. “That man just took a whole deck of my ship!”
“Poor boy,” Lt. Commander Vansen said from the command chair. “Now where will you keep your comic book collection?”
“The comics are stored on Deck Seventeen, thank you very much,” Baxter snapped. “But thanks for your concern. Speaking of which…” He glanced over at the science console, where Lt. Commander Tilleran was staring at something with rapt fascination. “Commander, did you find out anything more about J’hana?”
“Sort of…” she said in a low voice.
Baxter put his hands on his hips. “What the hell does that mean?”
“On….screen…” Tilleran mumbled, tapping another button. The foreward viewscreen came to life with the image of a hallway cluttered with dead or unconscious Klingons. Blood spattered the walls.
“This is the scene at the Imperial Hospital on Kronos, where just a few minutes ago, a rogue Starfleet officer cut a swath of destruction in order to free her former lover,” a female voiceover narrated as the camera winded along the hallway and finally settled inside a large room, with a large, empty bed, and a lanky Klingon doctor standing by the bed, looking useless.
“Doctor Yorn,” the voice said from off-screen. “I am Tynara of Krinokom News Network. Can you please tell me what happened here?”
“A force of nature,” the Klingon doctor said vacantly. “An awesome destructive energy unlike any I have ever seen.” He stared into the camera lense. “Flee. Flee! Or she’ll get you too!”
Baxter looked at Tilleran. “J’hana,” they both said.
“So you waited to show HIM this but you couldn’t have shown ME,” Lt. Commander Vansen said, crossing her arms.
“Shut up,” Baxter said. “Baxter to Hartley. How soon can we get out of here?”
“I just opened up a hole the size of a small forest moon in Deck Fourteen to start making President Dillon’s new ‘accommodations,’ and you want to take us to warp? Not to mention the fact I’m getting married in six days…”
“A simple ‘forget about it’ will suffice, Commander,” Baxter said. “Carry on.”
“The Escort,” Tilleran said.
“Guess there’s no choice,” Baxter said. “Come on.”
“Now wait just a…” Vansen said, following Baxter to the back of the bridge.
“Vansen, you’re in charge,” Baxter said as Tilleran followed him into the aft turbolift.
“Well, when you put it that way…” Vansen said, stopping at the quarterdeck and watching as the doors closed. “I’m in charge. About damn time.”
“YugoH, this is the Cha’Vel. I repeat: Do you need assistance?” Kessica’s voice echoed through the vessel’s corridors and compartments, including the sickbay, where J’hana loomed over Dwanok, leveling a phaser rifle on the one YugoH crewmember she’d left conscious. The rest of the complement of sixteen had been either knocked out or slaughtered in a symphony of chaos, swinging blades, weapons fire, and destruction that she’d conducted shortly after beaming aboard. It had taken ten minutes.
“Perhaps…perhaps you should advise her of the situation?” Gonch, the medtech aboard the YugoH said as his shaky hands maneuvered an array of shiny metal and blinking instruments over the insensate Dwanok.
“I don’t care what she thinks,” J’hana said. “The longer she is confused, the better.” J’hana stared at the readout on the wall of monitors next to Dwanok. The sickbay on Dwanok’s personal-use B’rel- class Bird of Prey was nowhere near as well-equipped as the Imperial Hospital, but it was equipped to keep Dwanok’s vital signs stable. And the first-year medtech that worked aboard the YugoH was adequate to the task of hooking Dwanok back up to the machines that would keep him alive.
“YugoH. This is your last warning,” Kessica’s voice said. “Respond now or we will assume you have been captured by the enemy and we will open fire. I repeat: We will open fire!”
“Do your worst,” J’hana sneered. Then her eyes beamed at the readouts as they pulsed with bleeps.
Gonch lifted his hands from Dwanok and looked at the readouts. “There. I have stabilized him for whatever journey you have in mind for him. I would warn you that Kessica is a very single- minded woman. I doubt you will be permitted to carry out whatever you are planning. Moreover, you will probably die.”
“I believe our business is finished,” J’hana snapped, and fired her phaser rifle at Gonch, dropping him to the deck. She walked up next to Dwanok and squeezed his hand. “Everything is all right, Large One. Consider yourself rescued.”
Just then, a blast rocked the YugoH, and J’hana had to hold on to Dwanok’s medtable to stay upright.
“Sit tight, my giant bedfellow!” J’hana shouted, and ran out of Sickbay. “This will be a battle to savor!”
Richards was still pulling his uniform jacket on as he stepped onto the cramped bridge of the Escort. “I knew it would come to this. We should have seen the signs.”
“Take helm, Chris,” Baxter told him. “Tilleran, you’ve got sciences.”
“What a novel idea,” Tilleran muttered, and sat down next to the command chair, behind the science console.
“I’ll take tactical!” Counselor Kelly Peterman said, stepping out of the entrance hatch and onto the bridge.
“H-honey…” Baxter stammered. “How’s it going? Care to help us clean up the bridge of the Escort? It’s gotten awfully dusty lately!”
“Stop with the charade, Andy. I know you’re going off to rescue J’hana, and you weren’t even going to tell me.”
“Janice’s babysitting Steffie,” Peterman said. “She called me right after she had a very interesting subspace chat with J’hana.”
“J’hana called….” Baxter trailed off.
“Janice,” Tilleran finished for him.
Peterman nodded. “Seems she needed help resuscitating an almost-dead Dwanok.”
“And that brings you aboard how?” Baxter asked.
“Because the computer told me you were coming here.”
“Damn computer! I don’t know how you got it working for you…”
“And because, above all else, you will need a counselor on this mission.” Peterman sat down at tactical. “Now, we could argue all day about this, or you could disembark, before Bradley Dillon realizes you’ve left the ship without his authorization.”
Baxter folded his arms. “I don’t need President Dillon’s authorization to leave the ship.”
“You didn’t read that clause in the mission brief?” Richards said, turning around in the helm seat.
“This just keeps getting better and better,” Baxter sighed. “Chris, disconnect umbilicals and magna-lock. Start your engines and lay in a course for Klingon space. Don’t wait for the word, just go!”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Richards said, cracking his knuckles and staring at the conn. “Now, if I could just remember which button engages the warp engines.”
J’hana stood behind the arched tactical console at the rear of the YugoH’s bridge as sparks rained down upon her from multiple panels.
“J’hana, stop this insanity this instance!” Kessica’s voice trilled over the comm system. “I don’t want to destroy you and Dwanok in this manner!”
“No, you want to destroy Dwanok in another manner altogether. A less honorable manner!” The Andorian fired another spread of photon torpedoes from the YugoH’s aft launcher as, on her tactical screens, the blip that represented the Cha’Vel closed on her position.
“Don’t you see, this is a hopeless excercise, Andorian?” Kessica spat. “You’re just dooming yourself! Let me have my titles, I mean…Dwanok’s honor!”
“Hah!” J’hana snapped back, firing disruptors. “Now it comes out. You are not afraid to admit you are just an ambitious wench trying to take control of a once proud house!”
“How little you knew Dwanok,” Kessica chortled as the YugoH’s decks rattled with blast upon blast from her weapons. “His house was a laughing stock!”
“LIAR!” J’hana shouted, pounding back with every ounce of firepower she had.
“Dwanok was a throwback. The only one of the Klingon upper echelon who could stomach him was Kahless, and we all know Kahless is just an empty, tired figurehead! The rest of the Empire pitied him for his old and plodding ways. The man understood honor, to be sure, but he knew nothing of scheming or plotting. He insulted and turned away every High Council member worth knowing. He took us to the brink of bankruptcy! Let us salvage what little remains of the man…if not for me, then…for the children!”
J’hana’s hands rested on the weapons console. “There are…children?”
“Three. D’vorak is near the age of ascension. Tesla and Dwanok Junior aren’t far behind!”
J’hana blinked. “I had no idea that Dwanok had children.”
“Consorts are usually not informed of those matters.”
“I am NOT a CONSORT!” J’hana shouted and returned fire again. She jerked the YugoH into a stomach-churning roll that momentarily evaded the Cha’Vel’s wrath. That would buy her a little time…get her to where she hoped she could find an ally. Not to the Explorer. No, this was none of their business. But toward the only people who possibly cared enough to help her, and might protect Dwanok while J’hana dispatched Kessica.
“She’s heading to Andor,” Tilleran surmised, looking at her readouts.
Baxter whirled in the Escort’s command chair. “Andor? Why would she possibly be headed there?”
“Seeking asylum?” Peterman offered, seated at tactical, on the other side of Baxter.
“Andorians don’t seek asylum,” Tilleran replied. “J’hana certainly wouldn’t.”
“She might be trying to buy Dwanok some time, though,” Richards said from the helm. “Especially if she has Dwanok’s wife and Klingon security forces on her back.”
“There are no signs that Klingon security forces have been mobilized to go after her,” Tilleran said. “As a matter of fact, all Klingon channels are reasonably silent.”
“They’re letting J’hana and Kessica sort this out themselves,” Baxter said, then harrumphed. “Honorably.”
“Figures,” said Richards.
“So what can we do to help?” Tilleran asked.
“We can keep Kessica off J’hana’s tail,” Baxter said. “By any means necessary.”
“Open fire on the Klingons?” Peterman said. “Andy…wouldn’t that be…you know, warlike?”
“It could be interpreted that way, I suppose,” Baxter mused. “Anybody have a problem with that?”
The bridge was silent.
“And another thing, I think your hairdo is a disgrace, the way you braid…” J’hana cut off Kessica’s connection before she could finish flinging her insult. With a few button-taps, J’hana had established a comm channel with Andor, and tracked down her third sister-cousin Hirrah.
“Ninth hive, this is Hirrah, how may I attack you?” the stonyfaced, older Hirrah replied.
“Hirrah. Time is short. I need you to mobilize the family defenses and take on an enemy of the Klingon state for a day or so while I kill some people.”
Hirrah cocked her head quizzically. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
“J’HANA!” the Andorian bellowed. “My sixth mother and your tenth father are cousins, remember? We met at the family jamboree three years ago.”
“Oh. J’hana.” Hirrah’s face remained moribund, but she at least seemed to register vague recognition. “Now what is this about harboring an enemy of the Klingons?”
“Dwanok…my…boyfriend. He is aboard. He is in a coma. The Klingons want him dead. You must help me.”
“Sure. We can kill him. I’ll get out the good knives. Just beam him down to the Family Killing Room in block D of our complex and I’ll do the rest.”
J’hana growled low and steadily. “I don’t wish to kill him, shevath! I want to save him!”
“Whatever for? You said yourself he is in a coma.”
“But I love him.”
Hirrah laughed. “Is it Prank Day, and nobody even told me? You must be joking, J’hana. Save a cripple, who probably has very little chance of meaningful recovery? It is not our way, and certainly is not the Klingon way either.”
J’hana watched as Hirrah continued, but the words barely registered in the Andorian’s mind.
“Honorable death means everything to both our cultures, J’hana, and you think you can simply circumvent that because of some childish feelings you have? Are your antennae broken? You’ll find no safe harbor here, J’hana. The best your friend Dwanok can hope for is to be blown up in a fantastic explosion. Otherwise, he will simply die when his life support machines are turned off, and how pathetic will that be?”
J’hana didn’t see Hirrah’s face as she said that last bit, because she’d smashed her fist into the small screen her sister-cousin had been projected on. She slammed her hand on a control, silencing the audio, then brought the YugoH around, determined to defeat Kessica, or die trying.
Bradley Dillon stepped out onto the bridge of the Explorer, where Lt. Commander Nell Vansen sat, in the command chair, reading a padd.
“Commander,” Bradley said, walking around the command center. He sat down in the chair next to Vansen. Vansen’s chair.
She looked up at him, eyes narrowed. “Yes?”
“I was wondering if you’ve seen Captain Baxter.”
Vansen rolled that thought around in her mind a while. “Hmm. Have I seen him. Yes, yes I have.” This could be fun. She could completely discredit the captain in Dillon’s eyes. She could tell him Baxter went on a foolish trip, that he disregarded Starfleet regs and put crewmembers in jeopardy.
She sure didn’t owe anything to Baxter.
“So. Where is he?”
“On temporary leave. Signed the paperwork myself,” Vansen said suddenly, then returned to her padd, mentally beating herself senseless for what she’d just done. Why did she do that?
Bradley looked at Vansen a long moment, then shrugged. “Well, as long as he’s not embroiled in that situation between the Klingons and your tactical officer. Keep me posted on that, please. I’ll be belowdecks.”
Vansen looked up, gulped.
“Nice try, Commander,” Keefler said from tactical.
“Shut up, Ensign,” said Vansen.
J’hana blinked sweat out of her eyes and focused on the tactical controls, watching system after system go redline. The Che’Val was picking the YugoH apart, piece by piece. Kessica was not only going to destroy J’hana and Dwanok, she was going to take her time doing it, as if it were a chore to be relished. Whatever she said about wishing to spare J’hana’s life was simply a smokescreen.
What weapons J’hana had remaining, she poured at the Che’Val. To be sure, she’d inflicted her share of damage. But the Che’Val had a full crew. That meant people to keep the weapons at peak operating capacity, and people to fix things down in the engine room as they were damaged. J’hana had to do everything herself, from the bridge. And, formidable warrior though she was, she was no engineer. Nor was she a ship commander.
“Lower what shields you have left and surrender, J’hana!” Kessica bellowed over the comm channel. “End this, before you go down in flames along with that pathetic, dying nepok over there!”
“NEVER!” J’hana cried. “I will see you rot in the eternal afterlife!” She set her controls for ramming speed. If she and Dwanok were to die, they’d take Kessica along.
“You will never visit the halls of the honored dead!” Kessica shouted in response.
“I don’t care. I go wherever Dwanok goes. That is what a wife does. It’s what you should have done. Instead, you abandoned him. And for that, you will die, I promise you that!”
“And how do you plan on backing up that promise?”
“I…” J’hana said, and stopped talking when she saw another contact swoop in on her sensor screen. She pushed aside a dented panel and cleared soot of the screen. Sparks showered. The tiny blip orbited her ship and the Che’Val, and then she saw that blip fire on Kessica’s ship, and her face broke into a grin. “Does that answer your question, you putrid shevath?”
The comm system bleeped. “J’hana, this is Captain Baxter. May we have a word with you?”
“Of course, sir. After you help me blow up that Bird of Prey.”
“Now…that’s not my intention.” Suddenly, J’hana heard a rattling blast, and the connection fizzled for a moment. “Hey, cut that out! Fire back, honey!”
“Honey?” J’hana asked wryly. “Who is firing the Escort’s weapons, and why did you not bring the Explorer?”
“Be glad we came at all!” Baxter replied. “You’ve crossed way over the line, here, J’hana!”
“I have done so for love, sir. Now help me destroy Kessica.”
“That’s not going to solve anything.” Another crash hit the Escort. “Kelly, shoot! No, the other button. There, that one!”
J’hana covered her face.
“Beam off that ship, and we’ll take you back to the Explorer with us.”
“Can Dwanok come?”
“Well, of course.”
“Kessica will not permit you to lower your shields long enough to complete the transport, anyway. You must destroy her.”
“We could disable her ship,” Richards’s voice broke in.
“Disable,” Baxter said to himself. “Hm. That has a nice ring to it. You can’t start a war by disabling a ship, can you?”
“Of course not, Captain,” said J’hana. “Do the Starfleet thing. Disarm only the shields and engines of Kessica’s vessel.”
“Thanks for the recommendation, Lieutenant. Now sit tight. Escort out.”
J’hana watched with barely restrained glee as the Escort, fresh with weapons and fortified shields, pummeled the Che’Val, which J’hana had done a fairly good job of disabling already. In moments, the Che’Val’s shields and engines are inoperable.
J’hana punched a button, opening a channel to the Escort. “Thank you, Captain. You may leave now.”
“Now, wait one…” Baxter started.
“J’hana!” Tilleran’s voice came over the comm channel.
“Don’t worry about me, Imzadi. I will be fine. It’s Kessica you should worry about.”
J’hana holstered her hand phaser and picked up her bat’leth, then ran down to the YugoH’s transporter room.
J’hana materialized moments later in the center of the Che’Val’s bridge. Her phaser was out, and she swung it around the bridge in a long arc. Klingons stood at each station, chests thrust forward proudly.
“You may kill us, but you will not succeed in your duty,” the Klingon at the helm said. “Kessica has won. She is now the sole head of the House of Dwanok.”
J’hana grimaced at the Klingon. “And what makes you say…” J’hana’s eyes widened. She was a fool. A ridiculous, incompetent fool. “J’hana to YugoH! Return transport immediately!”
J’hana ran down the corridor toward Sickbay, then slammed her bat’leth in between the doors and wedged them open, not even bothering to try and jimmy the lock.
She found Kessica there, leaning over Dwanok, running her hand over his forehead. J’hana saw that the medical panels surrounding the gargantuan Klingon were all dim.
J’hana leveled her phaser at Kessica, the bat’leth hanging menacingly in her other hand. “Restore life support to Dwanok immediately!”
Kessica looked over her shoulder at J’hana and smiled toothily. “Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary.” She stepped aside, and to J’hana’s horror, revealed that a bat’leth was embedded deep in Dwanok’s chest. “I claim the rite of Mauk-to’Vor, you irrelevant concubine. I’ve restored honor to Dwanok by the only means at my disposal. Killing him.”
The phaser clattered to the floor, and in one smooth motion, J’hana brought her bat’leth twisting into the air and, screaming, lunged at Kessica.
The Klingon woman was ready. She reached behind her corseted dress and withdrew twin mek’leths, and wheeled her arms around toward J’hana as the Andorian lept at her.
“VAHHHHHHHHHHHSHARRRRRRRRRRRR!” J’hana cried as she slammed into Kessica, and the two tumbled against the deck, rolling end over end, their blades only casting glancing blows on each other, since they were both to close to do any real damage. This wasn’t fighting. This was just venting.
Kessica rolled over J’hana, straddling her, pinning her wrists down with one mek’leth and swinging her other hand up, no doubt, to slice the Andorian’s head off. “Do you have any last words before I end your existence, as I did your lover’s?”
J’hana’s mouth twisted with hatred. Her eyes clouded, her head rang, and then she heard a low, gutteral groan.
She and Kessica both glanced over at the medtable, as Dwanok, in all his largesse, leaned up and swung his legs around.
“TopaH!” he shouted at Kessica, staring down at the blade that protruded from his chest. “You are without honor!” He then looked to J’hana, and his face brightened somewhat. “I see you have met my wife.”
“Large one…” J’hana said, inclining her head toward Dwanok’s chest. “You are… impaled.”
“Indeed I am…urrgh…” Dwanok said as he gripped the blade with both hands and forced it out of his chest. “It…would appear…you need this more than I.” And he flung the blade at J’hana, then fell back against the bed.
Kessica’s mouth gaped in surprise, and J’hana took that moment to wrench her wrists free, grab the bat’leth out of the air, and slam its dull side against the Klingon woman’s head, knocking her to the deck.
J’hana lept to her feet, looming over Kessica, swinging the bat’leth high over her head. “Look in my eyes, murderer! Look into my eyes and know I will be the last thing you ever see. You…you are not worthy to beg at the gates of Sto’vo’kor. And, by the Hive Mother, may you never get there!”
“J’HANA!” Commander Richards shouted, standing in the doorway to the YugoH’s sickbay, with Tilleran beside him. He had his phaser raised. “Stand down! That’s an order!”
“Imzadi, don’t…it’s not worth it!” Tilleran echoed.
“But one more honorable slaying and I get a free set of blood wine mugs!” J’hana protested.
Kessica stared up at J’hana as blood dripped down into her eyes. Her mouth pulled back into a snarl. “They’re right, Andorian! You haven’t the–”
And J’hana swung the bat’leth down, embedding it in Kessica’s chest, pinning the shocked Klingon woman to the floor. Her task complete, the Andorian released the blade and watched Kessica’s wide eyes get wider and, ultimately, go vacant, as her body likewise went limp.
J’hana wordlessly turned toward Dwanok, stepping close to him, lifting his wrist, feeling for a pulse. Her hands crept up his face to his eyes, then as Richards and Tilleran looked on, she forced his eyes open, stared at the ceiling, and roared.
“Don’t you feel like you’ve seen all this before?” Richards quietly asked Tilleran. “Like, you know, somewhere else?”
“Can’t say I have,” Tilleran said distantly, and crossed the distance to J’hana’s side in an instant, touching the Andorian’s shoulder. “Imzadi…Jan…talk to me…”
J’hana, her face an emotionless mask, turned to stare at Tilleran. Her eyes narrowed. “Nothing needs to be said between us, Ari. Nothing ever did.” And she turned around and walked off down the corridor.
Richards walked up next to Tilleran, who just stared, rapt, at the Andorian walking away. “What now?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but I am damned sure going to find out,” Tilleran replied, walking past Richards, and after J’hana.
Alone now, Richards thought of all he’d seen, the look in J’hana’s eyes. The fierce set of her jaw, the snarling, the ruthless precision with which she’d executed Kessica. And he realized there was hurt there too, and that J’hana was far more than just a warrior. And, with that, Richards felt what he could only describe as…something.
Peterman and Baxter met Richards in the Escort’s cramped transporter alcove…little more than a walk-in closet.
“Chris!” Baxter said. “What the hell happened over there?”
“Dwanok’s dead,” Richards said distractedly, and stepped off the padd. He walked out into the corridor beyond. “So’s Kessica. J’hana killed her. Dwanok got into Sto’vo’kor, and I think J’hana earned a set of mugs.”
Baxter and Peterman turned and followed Richards into the corridor. “Wait…” Baxter said. “Where are Tilleran and J’hana?”
“They’re still aboard the YugoH. They’ve claimed the ship according to Klingon salvage laws. Apparently, when you kill somebody, you get to keep their stuff. Anyway, they’re going to bury Dwanok on Kronos, and then, I don’t know where they’re going from there. But they gave me a message for you.”
“Yeah?” Baxter said. “Well, don’t leave us in the dark.”
Richards reached the hatch at the end of the corridor and turned around. “They said they’d be back.”
TWO DAYS LATER. . .
“What’s that?” Lt. Commander Tilleran asked, pulling her opaque white robes around her as the winds on the Plain of Kodos picked up a bit, whipping treebark and debris past her face. J’hana, clothed in similar traditional Klingon burial ceremony attire, stood next to her.
“It is a Klingon mummification glyph,” J’hana rumbled in reply. The pair stood in front of an immense boulder the size of a shuttlecraft, to which a golden plaque, ornate with twisting pipes, spiral symbols, triangles, and Klingon inscriptions, was affixed. The mummification glyph.
Beneath the boulder, meters below, lie Dwanok the Large, ruler of the House of Dwanok now, J’hana hoped, fighting eternal battles in Sto’vo’kor.
J’hana and Tilleran were alone on the Plain of Kodos.
“I thought Dwanok had more friends,” Tilleran said softly.
“Many on Kronos still believe he died dishonorably,” J’hana replied. “It would dishonor them to set foot near his grave.”
“But, didn’t Dwanok have a stellar career, by Klingon standards?”
“He did, until he was lost in the Delta Quadrant. Until he met me. It seems I caused his fortunes to take a turn for the worse.”
“You can’t really believe that, can you?” Tilleran asked.
J’hana turned to the Betazoid. “You tell me.”
“I think what you did,” Tilleran said, slowly and softly, “was the most romantic, brave and pigheaded thing you’ve ever done.”
“My attacks on the Imperial Hospital and Kessica’s ships will be stuff of legend and song, whether the Klingons agree with my reasons or not. But, in the end, I still was not able to save Dwanok.”
“Maybe not,” Tilleran said. “But he came out of his coma long enough to throw you that bat’leth–”
“That was stuck in him,” J’hana reminded her.
“That was stuck in him, that ended up saving you. So, if there was any doubt before that Dwanok had a place in Sto’vo’kor, there isn’t anymore.”
“You may be right,” J’hana said. “Regardless, we must complete the burial process.”
“Except we have no idea how the Klingons do that,” Tilleran said. “Shame the groundskeeper left after he dropped that boulder on top of Dwanok’s grave. He seemed in quite a hurry.”
“He wished to avoid dishonor. I cannot fault him for that.” J’hana searched the inscriptions on the glyph, scanning it for some sign of Dwanok, some impression of the man he’d been. But all he saw were a few brief mentions of his honorable combat, all during the years of his youth, before he knew her.
J’hana didn’t even know he had a wife, until the Explorer had returned from Dominion space with a comatose Dwanok in tow.
“I think, whatever the ritual is, it doesn’t apply here,” Tilleran said, finally. “I think you’ve honored Dwanok incredibly. You fought to save his life, overcame incredible odds, and almost succeeded.” J’hana audibly gritted her teeth when Tilleran said “almost.” “The point is, J’hana, this ceremony is more for you than for Dwanok. It’s for you to say goodbye.”
J’hana looked at Tilleran long and hard, then turned to look at the boulder. “P’chaath,” she said softly.
With that, she turned and walked away from Dwanok’s grave.
“What did you say?” Tilleran asked, following J’hana.
“It is Andorian. There is no translation. It does not, however, mean goodbye.”
Mirk and Hartley have been waiting over a year to get married. Careful planning has gone into making sure the day goes off without a hitch. Of course, wouldn’t you just know, there are some forces at work that will ensure everything does not go smoothly.