His name was Kang, and these days he was not a happy man.
He gazed out the window of his office in the Klingon High Command complex, lost in thought, staring at the harsh, barren plains of the Homeworld, Kazh. Broad expanses of yellowish-brown sand and rock sweltered under a pair of giant red-orange suns which burned in the flat amber sky like twin furnaces. No planet in the galaxy matched the classic description of Hell better than Kazh, but to most Klingons, the world was nothing less than Heaven.
Kang was in no mood to enjoy the strange, hostile beauty today, however. The turmoil of the windswept, empty terrain somehow matched the churning unease of his soul. He had felt this way for almost six kh'anntas,(1) now, ever since he had been 'promoted' to Admiral...and relieved of cruiser command. The big Klingon snorted derisively. A promotion! Phah! They might as well have sentenced him to death! He had an office with the fancy title Fleet Admiral, Priority Tactical Deployment. And he was suffocating from boredom. The wolf's spirit can be broken if he is locked in a cage, Kang mused.
Granted, his position was important. It was his responsibility to decide which missions were of the greatest importance to the Empire, and to dispatch the best men and ships for the job. But he hated it! He longed to roam free among the stars, a fast ship and a good, loyal crew at his command, free to do battle for the Empire once more, to fight and kill, to plunder and pillage at will. Only in space would he be truly happy again.
But times were changing.
He had not been the only battlecruiser commander to be kicked upstairs. High Command had replaced all captains of the original Klingon stock, the Segh vav(2), at about the same time he had been relieved, had replaced them with a new breed of fighting Klingon, the Kh'myr warrior. They were a bioengineering marvel. Even Kang had to admit that the new commanders were the most efficient, powerful warriors in the known galaxy. But they kept to themselves, forming an elitist society much like the Terran samurai warriors Kang had read about on an Alien Cultures visitape. And they always made it a point to demonstrate to one and all that their were far, far superior to all other Klingons who had ever walked the face of Kazh. Gradually, more and more Kh'myr filtered into the ranks, replacing most of the old crewpersons, relegating them to desk jobs or training assignments. Their coming had signalled an end to the old way of life...and an end of happiness for men like Kang.
Kang sighed and sat down at his desk. He toyed distractedly with a model of his last battlecruiser, thinking of his wife, Mara. Poor, beautiful Mara! Condemned to the drudgery of housekeeping and woman's work! She, who had been First Officer on a Klingon battlecruiser, who had fought like a tigress at his side through countless battles!
Throughout history, females had always been looked down upon as second-class citizens, as little more than cattle. Only recently had they begun to earn even the most rudimentary of rights. In very few cases could an exceptional woman such as Mara reach the lofty heights she had achieved. Now that, too, had changed. The few women in the Imperial Fleet had been removed; no more would be accepted. The Kh'myr view was even more rigid. They were good only for breeding stock, and they themselves would breed exclusively with Kh'myr females in order to keep the race pure. As for captive females, well, they were useful only if they could be tortured for information. Otherwise, they were to be ravished and murdered.
His eyes roamed the Spartan confines of his small office. It was not too likely that things would change in the near future. The new warriors had been spectacularly successful thus far. They had utterly annihilated three Federation outpost colonies since they had taken over the Fleet, and they had done it in such a way as to keep suspicion from falling on the Klingon Empire. The Federation had no proof, and thus was helpless. The Kh'myr continued to push, stretching the tenets of the Organian Treaty right up to the breaking point. Even more important, they had won the approval of the Emperor himself, Kudan Kuras the Invincible, who was, like Kang, of the original dark Klingon race. No, prospects were somewhat bleak just now.
A buzzer sounded on his intercom. It was his secretary, Kitan, a man who had once been his Gunnery Officer.
"What is it?" Kang growled.
"Commander Kral to see you," came the gruff reply.
"Send him in, Kitan." Kang clenched his fists. This was perhaps the worst aspect of his job. He did not like Kral, did not like any of the Kh'myr, for that matter, but he was forced to deal with them every day. He could not tolerate their smug, arrogant demeanor. But he had no choice.
The doors to his office hissed open, and Kral swaggered belligerently into the room. Without waiting for permission, he plopped down in a recliner facing the desk. He nodded a greeting, a patronizing smile on his face. "Kang," he said brusquely.
A vein throbbed on Kang's forehead. Kral had been in the office only a few seconds, and already he felt the anger welling up inside. "I have a title, you know," he grated. "It's 'admiral'!"
"Very well then...Admiral Kang," Kral spat contemptuously, a mocking sneer curling his lips. "Let's get right down to business. I know why you have called me here. It's in regard to the Serenidad affair, isn't it? I understand that you were reluctant to assign me to that mission."
"I was," Kang admitted. "You would not have been assigned at all were it not for the fact that you went straight to the Emperor with your grievance!"
Kral chuckled. "It pays to have friends in high places. Kudan Kuras thinks well of us, and so long as he does so, we may allow him to remain in power. For the sake of curiosity, why were you against my selection?" He leaned back in his chair and propped his boots on the edge of Kang's desk in a consummate gesture of defiance.
Kang chose to ignore the insult for now, despite the steaming rage he felt. He chose his words carefully, speaking in short, clipped tones. "It is a well-known fact that you have sworn the oath of blood against Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, the husband of Serenidad's ruler. It is my belief that this would hinder you from successfully completing your mission. However, my beliefs seem to matter little these days." He sighed, and removed a sheaf of papers from his top drawer. He handed them over to Kral.
"What's this?" the Kh'myr snarled.
"Your orders," Kang returned. "Serenidad is a veritable treasure trove of dilithium. Were it to fall under Klingon domination, we would have a decided edge over the cursed Federation in terms of military supplies. You are to succeed where your friend Commander Kyr failed. You must 'persuade' the Princess Teresa to sign a document that would make Serenidad a Klingon protectorate. The document has been drawn up and prepared by our finest legal minds. Once signed, it is perfectly legitimate, and would stand up in any court of law in the galaxy."
Kang rose and walked over to the window again, his hands clasped behind his back. "It is not expected that the Princess will sign the paper voluntarily; therefore, it is up to you to induce her to cooperate, using whatever methods necessary. I'm sure you are well qualified for this. I just hope she survives long enough to affix her signature."
"Splendid!" Kral exclaimed. "This fits in perfectly with my plans! In my oath of blood, I swore that I would ravish and torture that be'SIj right before Mendoza's eyes, so that he would die with the anguish of knowing that his delectable bride preceded him into eternity. It's simply a matter of forcing her to sign this rag before I finish her off!"
Kang whirled on Kral, bristling with fury. "I don't give a damn about how this fits into your plans, Commander! Your priority is to secure Serenidad. How you fulfill your oath is your business, provided it does not interfere with your primary mission! Is that clear?"
"Indeed, it is, Admiral," Kral retorted sarcastically. "However, I hope it's clear to you that I'll honor my oath at any cost. That bastard Mendoza will pay for his cowardly murder of Kyr! He was like a brother to me...and he will be avenged."
"One thing more," Kang continued, overlooking the outburst. "Serenidad is located in the patrol area of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which is under the command of Captain James T. Kirk. Just in case you don't know, Kirk is the finest commander in Starfleet, and is undoubtedly the most dangerous enemy the Empire has ever had."
"I've heard all about the 'legendary' Captain Kirk," Kral snorted. "For all his ability, he's still just an Earther. If he tangles with me, I'll bring you his head as a bonus."
"I warn you, Kral; don't underestimate him, " Kang rejoined. "Many have, and they have never been heard from again. I had a few run-ins with him myself...and I was lucky."
The Kh'myr commander grinned slowly. He leaned back even further in the recliner, clasping his hands behind his head. "It galls you, doesn't it, Kang? Being put out to pasture, I mean. No longer able to run free through the galaxy. You and that sweet little be'SIj of a wife. How is Mara these days? I will say one thing for you, Kang; you surely know how to pick out choice meat!"
It was too much. Kang lunged forward and grabbed Kral's ankles, thrusting them up over the surprised Kh'myr's head. Kral was unceremoniously dumped out of the chair. He landed hard on the floor, banging his head on the tiles. But he was up instantly, vaulting Kang's desk with a look of murder in his eye just as Kitan rushed into the office to see what was the cause of the commotion.
Kang was ready. He feinted with surprising agility, avoiding the enraged warrior's rush. He caught the Kh'myr by the wrist, and, with an expert hip throw, used the momentum of the charge to send Kral crashing down with savage force on top of the desk. There was a grating, splintering sound. The desk collapsed under the abuse, and Kral fell undignifiedly amid shards of lumber.
Before the stunned commander could recover, Kang whipped out his disruptor and pressed the snout brutally against his adversary's nose. "Now, 'superman,' one more move out of you and I will blow that outsized knobbed skull of yours right off your shoulders! You forget that we, too, are Klingons! Were it not for us, your sub-race would never have been developed. And would to Kahless that this had been the case! Despite the fact that you are physically superior, you are nothing more than a superb recombination of the genetic codes of those who preceded you! You and your kind forget that, however! You look down your noses at any life form that is not a Kh'myr, and as such, you tend to underestimate them, just as you underestimated me! That's why I warned you about Kirk!" He relieved the Kh'myr of his weapons and tossed them to Kitan. Then he stood up and backed away, all the while covering Kral with his pistol.
"You can requisition new weapons aboard your cruiser," Kang said. "Now, you have your orders, so get out of here! And until you and your kind can learn to live with your brother Klingons, the Empire is in danger of being divided!"
"Brothers! Hah!! You are our inferiors! At least you and your kind are dark-skinned, but those light-haired ones and those pale-skinned ones...ah, now they are too much like the Earthers! But they will be dealt with; they will be the next to feel our purifying wrath!" Kral got painfully to his feet, dusting himself off.
"What do you mean by that?" Kang snapped. He was gratified to see Kral hobbling badly as he moved toward the door, but he had been chilled by the implications of the threat the Kh'myr had just voiced.
Kral turned, smiling coldly. "You will see, Kang, just as those pale milksops will! One day soon, Admiral Khalian will become the new Emperor of the Klingon Star Empire. Then we of the warrior elite will truly rule! And I would not worry about the Empire being divided; we are more than strong enough to handle you and your kind, and the Federation and the Romulans, and anyone else who wishes to oppose us! Now, I must go--I am eager to fulfill my pledge to the memory of my brother Kyr! Farewell, Admiral Kang!" He gave a mocking salute and disappeared into the corridor.
"Thinks very highly of himself, does he not, Admiral?" Kitan queried as Kral limped away.
"Indeed, he does," Kang replied. He holstered his disruptor, then grinned broadly as he surveyed the splintered ruins of his desk. "By the Lords of Krull, that felt good!" he exulted. "He had to learn the hard way, but he learned!"
"Just like the old days, eh, Kang?" Kitan chuckled. "We had some good times!"
"We did at that, Kitan!" Kang strode over and clasped his old shipmate on the shoulder. "Call up stores and have them get a new desk in here. And then you and I are going to look up Admiral Kor. This place can run itself for a time. There's a pub not too far from here that serves the best kilvan on Kazh. One glass and you can make a raid across the Organian Treaty Zone...without a battlecruiser!" The two comrades laughed uproariously as they left the office.
In the back of his mind, though, Kang was worried. The words of Kral disturbed him greatly. He would have to secure an audience with Emperor Kudan Kuras and try to convince him of the danger from the Kh'myr before it was too late. Otherwise, it might mean more than the end of the old ways.
It might mean the end of existence.
"We are entering the fringes of the Serenidad system, joHwI'."
Commander Kral glanced up in acknowledgment of his second-in-command, Lieutenant Koret. "Slow to sub-light, then achieve standard orbit when we encounter the outermost planet." Kral looked around the Stygian dimness of the bridge, watching his men as they efficiently performed their duties. He was proud of his crew, and he was proud of his ship. The Devastator was one of the new K't'inga-class battlecruisers. It was a top-of-the-line vessel, and a match for the new, up-rated Constitution II-class Federation starships like the Enterprise. He seethed as he remembered Kang's warning not to underestimate Kirk. He hoped that they would engage the Enterprise, and that he personally would battle its captain. Imagine Kang's surprise when he returned with the starship in tow and tossed the Earther's bloody, severed head on the admiral's desk!
He rubbed his leg, grinding his teeth in rage. He was still sore from the fracas in Kang's office. One day Kazh would be purified, and that inferior bastard would pay for Kral's humiliation with his life! And as for his wife, Mara, that voluptuous slut would be in for some interesting times before he finally threw what was left of her out into the gutter to rot.
But that was in the future. For now, there was the matter of Serenidad and its dilithium. He reviewed his plan of action one last time. Once they achieved orbit around the system's furthest planet, he and Koret and nine soldiers would fly a shuttle equipped with a modified Romulan cloaking device the rest of the way in to Serenidad. The Devastator would remain out here, safe from detection save by cruisers from Serenidad's pitiful 'starfleet.' When they arrived on the planet, they would conceal the shuttle and set up a base of operations in a bunker beneath the abandoned Klingon Embassy. Then it was simply a matter of kidnapping the Princess and Mendoza. He would force her to sign the document, and then he would wreak his terrible vengeance on the two young people. The Empire would have its dilithium, and he would have his revenge.
He thought of the Princess Teresa, and an evil, ghastly grin lit his features. He had seen holovids of her. Even though she was barely more than a child, she had developed into a magnificent piece of woman-flesh. He intended to explore and violate every inch of that succulent young body! It would take him a long, long time to have his pleasure with her, and then he would listen to her scream for mercy as he slowly put her to death. Mendoza would be next; a lifetime of torture would not be enough penance to atone for that slimy coward's sin of murder, but Kral would see to it that every second of agony seemed like a lifetime! Kyr would rest easy in his grave. Kral chuckled nastily to himself. A planet ruled by a woman! And Kang had admonished him not to underestimate the enemy! This would be a veritable picnic!
"Standard orbit achieved about the outer planet, joHwI'," sang out the helmsman.
"Well done, Kryl. You have command for the duration." Kral rose and stretched as the lieutenant took over the command chair. He turned to Koret. "It's time for us to board the shuttle. I'm anxious to get on with this affair!" The two officers left for the shuttle hangar, and Lieutenant Kryl busied himself with status reports on ship's systems and the logging of energy consumption statistics. Presently, the comlink on his command console crackled.
"Koret to bridge."
"Kryl, here. Proceed, Koret."
"All shuttle systems are powered up," came the filtered voice. "We are prepared to depart."
"Acknowledged," Kryl replied. "Contact us when you achieve planetfall. Qapla'!"(3)
"Qapla'! Koret, out!"
Kryl turned to the communications bay. "Put their departure on the screen."
"Yes, Lieutenant." The communications officer complied, and the bridge crew watched as the sleek Klingon shuttle slid out into the blackness of space, gradually picking up momentum. Soon it would reach Warp velocity, and later it would land on the surface of Serenidad, undetected and unsuspected.
"Kral to Devastator. Am engaging cloaking device," came the message.
Kryl watched as the shuttle slowly became more and more transparent, finally fading out altogether. It was, for all practical purposes, invisible against the backdrop of the stars. The lieutenant settled back in the command chair. They would not have long to wait. Once the signal came in, he could appoint a relief and get down to the mess area. He was hungry, and his stomach growled with increasing frequency and intensity.
Some time later, the communications officer, Kal, swiveled around exultantly. "They have put down in a wooded area in sight of the old Klingon Embassy! Phase One is successful!"
A roar went up from the bridge crew, and Kryl grinned in satisfaction. He nodded to the navigator, "Kort, get someone up here to relieve you. I feel as though my throat has been cut, and I intend to take a meal before I drop over!" He got up from the comm, but Science Officer Kupt brought him up short.
"Lieutenant, I picked up an unidentified vessel, range fifty thousand kellicam, speed Warp Two," he reported. "Possibly a patrol vessel from Serenidad's fleet."
"Kort, belay that relief order!" Kryl snapped. He bounded over to the communications console. "Are you sure it's not the Enterprise?" he asked anxiously. He knew that the starship patrolled this quadrant, and the thought of engaging the fabled James T. Kirk was enough to give even the most battle-hardened warrior pause.
Kupt checked his sensors. "Affirmative. It's not a Constitution II-class vessel. It's an obsolete Federation design, the Verne-class cruiser, in use by Starfleet approximately one hundred fifty standard years ago. Undoubtedly part of the armaments package awarded to Serenidad when it joined the Federation." He looked up. "Lieutenant, that ship has a top speed of Warp Two point Seven with a crew complement of one hundred twelve. It would be like target practice!"
Kryl's face twisted in an evil grin. "You're right, Kupt! Transmit a frequency jamming signal so that they can't report to their home base. Then we shall have some entertainment!"
A fierce howl of joy rang out on the bridge, like the cry of a wolf pack that has scented blood. Kryl excitedly sat back in the command chair as Kupt disrupted all subspace frequencies within a radius of 90,000 kellicam. "Full power to photon torpedoes and disruptor banks!" Kryl barked. "Ahead Warp Factor Four! Attack!!"
It was no contest. The battlecruiser screamed out from behind the concealing bulk of the planet, and roared down upon the helpless, unsuspecting spaceship. The first Klingon torpedo knocked out her shields and tore a gaping, mortal hole in the main fuselage. The darkened ship drifted helplessly in space, all but dead.
"Lieutenant, I'm picking up a signal from that ship on a short range standard radio band," Kupt called.
"Any chance of them reaching home with a message?" Kryl queried.
"Negative," the communications officer replied. "Range of that signal is little more than fifteen thousand kellicam."
"Put it on visual," Kryl ordered.
The view of the crippled starship was replaced by an image of its decimated bridge; mangled corpses were strewn everywhere, and the screams of the wounded and the dying carried plainly over the pickup. The captain was a young woman. She was struggling to sit upright in her command chair. Her stomach had been torn by shrapnel, and she clutched her hands to the hideous wound.
"S.S.P. Lobo to unidentified vessel," she gasped, blood flowing freely from her mouth. "This is Captain Maria Vasquez of the Serenidad System Patrol! We surrender! I have eighteen survivors aboard! In the name of Humanity, please help us! We are no threat to you! Please! I beg you, please!!" She was seized by a fit of coughing and slid to the deck, wailing in agony.
"This is Lieutenant Kryl of the Klingon Imperial Cruiser Devastator to Captain Vasquez of the S.S.P. Pathetic," Kryl answered. "My crew needed a bit of target practice. I regret if this caused you any inconvenience!" Kryl paused as a roar of laughter rippled over the bridge. "I'm afraid we can do nothing to help you. It looks to me as though you yourself would be dead before we could beam you over anyway. I can arrange to have you all put out of your misery, however."
"Please, Seņor, I beg of you!" the young woman cried weakly. She could barely hold her head up off the floor. "Madre de Dios, what kind of fiends are you? Help us, please!"
"Sorry, bitch!" Kryl snarled. "I'm hungry, and I intend to go to dinner. I don't have time to oversee a rescue mission. Kryl, out!" He waved at Kupt, and the image of the dying cruiser reappeared on the screen. "Gunnery Officer, lock photon torpedoes on target!"
"Yes, sir!" came the reply.
"baH!!" Kryl shouted.
A split second later, the crumpled ship erupted in a flash of yellow-orange flame. Pandemonium broke out on the Klingon bridge.
"Victory! Victory! Victory!"
Kryl rose from the center seat again as he watched the last glowing atoms of their destroyed target disperse out into space. "Resume standard orbit around the planet. Kort, now you can order a relief and take command. I'm starving!" He strode over to the turbolift access and signalled for a car. He had welcomed the excitement; it had begun to look as though they would spend this entire mission circling the cold, dead world below. It had been an interesting diversion. Maybe more of those slow, ridiculous little ships would come their way before this mission was over.
His turbo-car arrived. Kryl entered, catching one last glimpse of the mainviewer before the doors hissed shut.
All that remained of the S.S.P. Lobo and her crew was a drifting, nebulous cloud of dust which grew fainter every second.
The binary moon system of Serenidad dappled the glade around Crystal Lake with a delicate filigree of silver. All was peaceful; the tranquility was only occasionally disrupted by the placid, tinkling song of a night bird. Suddenly, the glassy surface of the lake was shattered by a burst of energetic splashing. Two naked figures erupted from the water, laughing happily. They made a beautiful couple. The woman was extremely young, no more than twenty, and she was intensely, almost painfully lovely. Her lithe body glistened in the moonlight as she ran, long, flowing hair streaming out behind her like a banner of midnight. The youth was handsome, muscular, and not much older than his companion. He swiftly overtook and tackled her, pulling her down with him to the sandy beach.
"See, Carlitos! I told you that I could hold my breath longer than you!"
Her voice was like lilting music, and her large, dark eyes shone with joy and love.
"You win, muchacha!" he replied, gasping for air. "I should have known better than to challenge you!"
It would've been obvious to a casual observer that the two were lovers. What would not have been obvious was that they were also the rulers of the entire planet, for they were the Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega and her husband, Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, Prince-Consort of Serenidad.
Carlos shivered suddenly. "Brrr! The water's cold tonight! I feel like I'm turning blue!"
Teresa smiled sweetly and kissed him. "Carlos," she whispered. "I know how to warm you up. Make love to me!"
"Again?" the youth groaned in mock horror. "You're insatiable, girl! I'll look like my great-grandfather before I'm thirty if you keep this up!"
"Yeah, but think of all the fun you'll have had along the way!" she teased. She became serious suddenly, and gently pushed him down on the sand. She leaned over and kissed him in earnest. "Please, my love!" she said softly. "I want you now! Just lie back and relax...I'll do all the work."
Unknown to the two young people, their love-play was being avidly observed by three pairs of baleful, evil eyes. Lieutenant Kull of the Klingon Imperial Fleet and two soldiers, Kron and Klyn, had followed the couple to the lake. The Klingon contingent had been discreetly shadowing their every move for the past two days. It had been observed that the two youngsters slipped out to this secluded lake on horseback in the wee hours of the morning for a clandestine session of swimming and love-making. They never brought security personnel with them...for obvious reasons!
Tonight, however, they had unwelcome company.
"By the Gods of Kh'eloz!" Kron whispered as the youth responded to Teresa's oral ministrations. "I haven't seen technique like that even among the Orion whores of Xantharus Four!"
"She is exceptional," Kull agreed. His mouth was dry, and he was having trouble breathing as he watched the beautiful young princess.
Eventually, they began to make love. Klyn surreptitiously raised his disruptor and took aim.
"No! Wait!" Kull hissed. "Let them finish!"
Klyn lowered his weapon and threw the officer a quizzical glance. "Why?"
Kull grinned malevolently. "Do you think I'm completely heartless, Klyn? This will be the last chance they ever have to couple, and the least we can do is permit them to enjoy it!" He snickered. "I for one would like to sample that little princess before we take them in. After all, we're doing all the work, so why should the commander be the only one to enjoy himself? What do you say to that?"
His two companions nodded enthusiastically and turned their hungry gazes on the energetic young couple. This mission was beginning to look better all the time!
"All right, move out and get in position," Kull whispered. "And be sure to wait for my signal. Double-check disruptors to be sure they are set on stun...we want them alive!"
They split up. Kull moved through the underbrush toward Teresa and Carlos. Crawling along the ground on knees and elbows, he peered out over the top of a rock, watching them.
He was awestruck. The female moved like a magnificent wild animal. He couldn't remember the last time he had ever seen such a sensuous, erotic sight. She was incredibly beautiful, that was certain, but it was more than that. Was it her innocence, her vulnerable youthfulness, that made her so irresistible; he had to have her!
And then they were finished. Teresa collapsed on top of Carlos, breathing heavily, her superb form glistening with perspiration. She grinned wearily at her lover. "Not bad for an old man!" she kissed him tenderly. "I love you, Carlitos."
"I love you," he said. "I think we'd better be heading back soon. If your uncle ever found out what we do at night..."
She laughed. "I wouldn't be surprised if Tio Alfredo already knows about it! Carlos. Please...just hold me a while longer."
The sound of the twig snapping was not extremely loud, but it galvanized Teresa into action. She suddenly rolled off a surprised Carlos and made a head-long dive for their neatly-folded pile of clothing, coming up with her phaser pistol. Instinctively, she went a combat crouch.
The three warriors were frozen by the sudden turn of events. Teresa wasted no time taking advantage of the situation. She fired a quick burst from her phaser, and Klyn went down screaming, a massive, sizzling hole in the center of his chest. The princess whirled like a streak of lightning; she tossed Carlos his weapon and snapped off a shot at Kull, who was ducking back down behind his boulder.
Splinters of rock stung his face and eyes. He rolled over and tried to crawl away; another blast rang out, and Kull stifled a cry as a phaser bolt seared across his shoulders. He rolled into a gully and lay still, gasping against the agony, rubbing at his streaming eyes. Damnation! The girl can shoot! He had barely had time to reach for his disruptor before she scooped up her weapon, blasted Klyn, threw Mendoza his pistol, and fired at him! He would have to be more careful.
Carlos, meanwhile, was trading shots with Kron. The youth tried to lie as flat against the ground as he could. He was in a spot; he was out in the open, while the huge Klingon shielded himself behind the bole of a large tree. Teresa saw her husband's predicament. She sprinted for the cover of a large boulder right at the edge of the lake.
"Carlos!" she shouted. "Try to make it to this rock! I'll cover you!" She laid down a withering barrage of fire in the direction of Kron's tree.
Kron avoided Teresa's volley long enough to snap off a desperation shot. The air crackled with energy. Carlos grunted and dropped like a stone as the stun charge enveloped him.
Her heart was beating like a trip hammer. He couldn't be...no, he isn't dead! The youth groaned thickly, and she saw the fingers on one hand move. He was only stunned; the Klingons wanted them alive. She redoubled her fire, cursing fluently in Spanish. The hapless Kron tried to hide behind the trunk of his tree as the young woman systematically chopped away pieces of it with her phaser.
Kull, meanwhile, had recovered somewhat. He cautiously worked his way back to the edge of the beach and arrived just in time to see Teresa cut the tree completely in half. It thundered to the ground, and Kron leaped up, attempting a desperate break for new cover. Kull carefully drew a bead on the princess as her next shot vaporized the fleeing Kron's shaggy head.
Some sixth sense warned Teresa of her imminent danger. She spun on Kull, hurriedly trying to bring her pistol to bear on the warrior. But the Klingon lieutenant had her in his sights all the way. His shot was deadly accurate, catching her precisely between the breasts. The princess fell backward into the cold dark waters of the lake.
Kull cursed under his breath. He gasped as he shuffled forward with agonizing slowness. His wounds bothered him badly, but his pride had been even more severely damaged. Three of the Empire's crack warriors, humiliated and defeated by a mere slip of a girl! If only I'd listened to common sense instead of my glands! He had lost two good men; he should have let Klyn stun them while they were rutting. Kull limped forward, a sense of foreboding gripping him.
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally managed to drag himself to the edge of the lake, and his heart sank even further.
Not a ripple disturbed the dead-calm surface of the water.
He unleashed a scalding stream of invectives in Klingonese, cursing in a hoarse voice at the top of his lungs. She had fallen unconscious into the lake and drowned, sinking like a stone. This was the final blow. He was finished; Kral had wanted the female alive, and he had botched the job. If he was lucky, he would spend the rest of his life in a Klingon labor camp, but he could not count on being fortunate. Commander Kral was not very forgiving. For a wild moment Kull considered taking his own life, but the Klingon sense of duty, ingrained and drilled into him almost from birth, held sway. He must deliver Mendoza, and then faceup to his punishment, whatever it might be. But first, there was something else he must attend to.
His strength was beginning to return, and he walked somewhat more steadily to the clump of bushes where Kron's headless corpse had fallen. Kull set his pistol on full disrupt and vaporized the remains. Then, with a heavy heart, he strode toward the dying Klyn.
All evidence must be removed.
Klyn's breathing was ragged. Somehow, he was still clinging tenaciously to a spark of life despite his massive chest wound. His face was bathed in sweat. His mouth filled up with blood when he tried to speak, and all he could manage was a horrible, liquid gurgling noise. He knew he was finished. Somehow, though, the indomitable spirit of the Kh'myr would not give up without a struggle. If the Guardians of Kh'eloz wanted him, he was going to go out kicking and screaming.
Kull looked down at him sadly. "I should have listened to you, my friend," he whispered. "You must understand; if there were some other way, I would take it. With my wounds, I'll be fortunate to get Mendoza back to the embassy, even in the hovercraft. Rest easy in the knowledge that you died like a warrior! Farewell."
After all that blasting, he raised his weapon. Klyn stared resolutely at him. There was no fear in his glazed, fevered eyes, just a calm acceptance. For a long moment, Kull could not pull the trigger.
Then he fired.
As Klyn's body vaporized, Kull threw back his head and howled. The sound was terrifyingly blood-curdling. He would send send his men to the afterworld in proper fashion. Kull slowly walked back to the fallen Carlos. He reset his disruptor and stunned the youth again for good measure. The Klingon bent down and hoisted his burden across his shoulders, and the pain returned with an even greater intensity than before. He gasped in agony. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. His knees buckled; he almost collapsed, but he finally stood upright, summoning all of his reserve of awesome strength. Kull took a deep breath and began the long, staggering trek back to their hidden hovercraft.
Silence returned to the glade. For long moments, even the night creatures held their breath. Finally, the songs of darkness returned.
Something stirred in the reeds along the shore of the lake, something that gleamed white in the bright moonlight. The shock of hitting the icy water had saved Princess Teresa's life. It had counteracted enough of Kull's stun charge to allow her to painfully crawl through the shadows to the concealment of the rushes before the injured Klingon reached the embankment. She had lain there quietly, helpless, not even daring to breathe. Kull believed she had drowned, and had not searched for her any further. She had been fortunate. But poor Carlos!
The young woman lurched drunkenly to her feet. Luckily, Kull had not thought to dispose of their clothing. She was going to have enough explaining to do to her Uncle Alfredo without riding back to the castle like Lady Godiva! Teresa clumsily toweled herself dry as best she could and dressed herself. She had lost her phaser in the lake, but she spied her husband's weapon lying in the grass. The pain-befuddled Klingon had also overlooked the pistol. The young woman gratefully retrieved it after she picked up Carlos' bundle of clothes.
It was only a quarter-mile or so to the meadow where they had tethered their horses, but to Teresa, stumbling numbly through the semi-darkness, it seemed as though it was on the other side of the planet. She gripped the phaser tightly; the horror of the night's events and the debilitating effects of the stun blast had conspired to rob her of her courage. She felt like a terrified little girl, glancing fearfully about her, as though she expected to be waylaid at any moment by wood trolls or bogeymen. Or Klingons.
Finally, she spotted them in the half-light; Carlos' magnificent black stallion, Midnight, and her own beautiful, silver-white mare, Starfire. They stood together in splendid contrast, like night and day, cropping the lush meadow grass. Teresa sobbed with relief and staggered toward them. Quickly, she stowed Carlos' clothing in his saddlebags and untethered Midnight. He would follow her in without needing to be led. She swung painfully up into her saddle and leaned forward, hugging the mare's neck.
"Take me home, Starfire," she sobbed. "Please take me home."
The two horses started off down the trail at a leisurely trot. Teresa tried vainly to calm herself. My poor Carlitos! she thought. Are you still alive, my love, or have the demons already killed you? She began to weep silently, great tears rolling down her smooth cheeks. Carlos, in the clutches of Klingons, archfiends who would torture and kill women and children for a lark, much less a man! She couldn't think; she needed rest, and deep down, she knew that when her mind had cleared, she would be able to efficiently deal with this problem. Right now, however, she needed someone to comfort her, to hold her and keep her safe...and there was no one. She felt so alone! She clung even more tightly to Starfire's flowing mane. If only Papa were still alive! He'd know what to do!
The steeds clopped on toward the royal palace, instinctively heading in the right direction. The mare's rider trembled with great sobs, and exhaustion finally caught up with her.
Before too long, she had cried herself to sleep.
It had become something of a habit with James T. Kirk during his career in Starfleet, this ability to wake up almost exactly fifteen minutes to the second before the alarm was due to go off. He stretched reluctantly. This habit could be a pain in the posterior at times, particularly when one had spent most of the night and a good part of the early morning entertaining a lady, and fifteen more minutes' sleep would be a godsend!
Unfortunately, he had not been so lucky last night. No, he was just plain tired this morning. It had been two years since the Enterprise had been refitted and recommissioned for the V'ger encounter, and he and his crew had barely been able to take time out for a shower. They had been busy almost every second of the day. In addition to all their little diplomatic and public relations tours, and routine exploration, there had been the tragedy on Neural, the Klingon subversion on Serenidad, the attempted invasion by the Ph'ecdalyns, and, more recently, the narrow escape from Tinue III. He had good reason to be weary!
Kirk grinned. He wasn't fooling anyone, though. No matter how loudly he complained, you could sense how much he really loved and enjoyed all this. For, despite all the aggravation and pain, he wanted one thing in life above all else--to be the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
He stared at the ceiling, lightly dozing, counting off the seconds until the alarm signal went off. The intercom terminal on his desk suddenly buzzed jarringly, cutting through his somnolent state. He came fully awake, swinging off his bed and acknowledging the signal.
"Kirk here." The face of Lieutenant Taryn Spring lit up his 'com terminal, and Kirk smiled. Here was a sight that was definitely easy on the eyes. Half of the able-bodied males of the ship were chasing the lovely communications officer, and it was no wonder. When one considered Spring's stunning good looks, it was easy to overlook the fact that she was one of the most competent, efficient officers in Starfleet.
"Sorry to disturb you so early, sir," the woman said apologetically. "I realize the command crew doesn't come on duty for another hour, but I've received a message I think you'll be interested in."
"Go ahead, Lieutenant," Kirk prompted.
"It's from Don Alfredo Morales de la Vega, Proconsul of the planet Serenidad," Taryn Spring reported. "Crown Princess Teresa and her husband, Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, were attacked by a squad of Klingon troopers last evening, Serenidad time. Carlos has been kidnapped; the princess escaped, but was slightly injured by a stun-charge. She is safe at home and resting comfortably. There has been no ransom demand as yet." She looked up. "Then he contacted the U.F.P. Embassy on Serenidad because of the assistance you gave in that Klingon affair a few months back."
Kirk was stunned by the news. What were the Klingons up to? Was it another attempt to take control of Serenidad? And why had they kidnapped young Carlos? His mind raced furiously. They were due to take part in the coronation ceremonies of the new king of Trinar V in one-and-a-half standard days. It was an important diplomatic mission; Trinar V was strategically located near a cusp of the Organian Treaty Zone in unclaimed space, and was being furiously courted by both the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Their failure to appear might be enough to tip the scales in favor of the Klingons. On the other hand, a charter member of the Federation had made a formal appeal for help to him personally. Kirk chewed his lower lip, agonizing over his decision for several seconds. Then he set his jaw resolutely.
"Lieutenant, have Navigator Te'lok plot a course to Serenidad at Warp Twelve. It's not too far off our plot toward Trinar Five, so it's conceivable that we might be able to divert to Serenidad, clear up this problem, and still make it to Trinar Five in time for the coronation." And on my day off, I'll part the waters of the Red Sea, Kirk thought wryly. He paused. "Inform Starfleet of our situation and have them acknowledge as soon as possible."
"Yes, sir. Spring, out," the woman signed off.
Kirk sighed wearily as the terminal darkened. This was one hell of a day to wake up tired. He thought of the last time he visited Serenidad. He had been framed for the murder of El Caudillo, Don Fernando Morales de la Vega, the ruler of the planet and Princess Teresa's father. The plot had been engineered by the evil Klingon Commander Kyr, who had substituted a surgically-altered double of Kirk to commit the heinous deed. The plot had backfired, and Kyr had been slain by Carlos as the Klingon was about to gun down Kirk. A chilling thought occurred to Kirk, Klingon warriors in general, and Kh'myr soldiers in particular, were a close-knit group, at least when it came to warfare. They might fight like cats and dogs among themselves, but let an alien harm another Klingon, and they would be howling for blood. They took their vengeance seriously; if Kyr had a close friend or a brother, then an oath of blood might have been sworn. And if this was the case, it might already be too late for the young man. It could explain why no ransom demand had been made as yet, although there was still plenty of time for that.
Kirk sighed again. He may as well get started. There was no sense trying to go back to bed for the few minutes he had left. Besides, he could get a head start and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.
He reached for the alarm button just as the buzzer went off.
"Well, Koret, it appears that all is in readiness."
The Klingon commander and his lieutenant glanced around the large, almost bare chamber in a bunker below the deserted Klingon Embassy. This bunker had been carefully constructed with the most sophisticated anti-sensor scan device that Klingon and Romulan scientists had been able to engineer. In the center of the room stood a large operating table. It was rather wide, so that its 'patient' could be secured to it spread-eagled. Metal bands would be clamped around the victim's wrists and upper arms, and also around the thighs and ankles. Two troughs ending in drains ran the length of both sides of the table, their purpose being to sluice away blood after an 'operation.' Klingons often tortured their prisoners on these tables. Many times, they would vivisect the unfortunates, removing organs and slicing up the bodies of live, conscious captives.
There was not much else to see in the dank, dimly-lit room. A set of iron manacles for wrists and ankles were mounted on one of the cracked, peeling thermoconcrete walls, upon which was also emblazoned the stylized moon-and-dagger symbol of the Klingon Empire. A rack near the shining, stainless operating table contained an assortment of laser scalpels and a small, disk-shaped object that fit comfortably in the palm of the hand.
Kral picked up this last device. "The agonizer," he said, almost reverently. "The state-of-the-art in scientific torture."
"Very effective," Koret agreed, grinning wolfishly. "I once saw a savage Sirian warrior(4) reduced to a sobbing mountain of gelatin in less than twenty minutes with one of these."
"I'll shackle Mendoza to the wall," Kral said coldly. "I'll force him to watch as I rape his be'SIj of a bride. Then it will be time to torture her. I can't wait to see his face when I ravage the most intimate recesses of her body with the agonizer!"
He paused, and a frown of annoyance passed over his bearded, swarthy face. "Speaking of which, where are Kull and his men? I realize I told them to take as much time as they needed to complete their task cleanly. But they left early last evening, and it's now almost midday!"
As if of cue, a buzzer sounded in the corridor outside the chamber. Someone had entered the bunker through the secret underground entrance in the wooded area where they had hidden their shuttle. Kral and Koret glanced at one another, then hurried out into the hallway. They stopped up short at what they saw.
A bedraggled Lieutenant Kull staggered toward them, moaning under the weight of the unconscious Carlos. The two warriors rushed forward, and Koret relieved the wounded man of his burden.
"Kull, the female! Where is she?!" Kral hissed.
Kull could not look his commander in the eye. "joHwI'...I regret that I must report her death. She killed Kron and mortally wounded Klyn...I had to dispose of their corpses. She also wounded me, and when I stunned her in an attempt to capture her, she fell into the lake we had followed them to, and she drowned. After I carried Mendoza back to the hovercraft, I passed out from my injuries. I regained consciousness little more than an hour ago, and I had to be very careful when I returned here so as to remain unseen."
Kral's dark face suffused with blood. He looked like an incarnation of one of the Guardians of Kh'eloz himself. "Ha'DIbaH!"(5) he raged. "With the bitch dead, our mission is a failure! I will be forced to return to that witless Kang and report failure!" He raised his great fist as if he were about to smite Kull with a death blow, then turned on his heel, trying to contain his anger.
Gradually, his enraged trembling subsided. "Perhaps all is not lost," he mused thoughtfully. "With the death of the Princess, Don Alfredo becomes the legal ruler of Serenidad. I will simply get the needed signature from him. And I can still avenge Kyr by the death of this scum bag you have brought me." He turned to Koret, who had stood by with Carlos slung over his shoulder, watching the drama unfold. "Put him on the table! We'll start on him when he comes to."
The Klingon commander slapped Kull on the shoulder. "I apologize for my harshness. Now, go tend to those wounds of yours."
Kull turned away, dumbfounded. He was not going to be punished! He could not believe his good fortune. No Klingon had ever been so lucky!
He did not see Kral quietly pull out his disruptor behind him.
He heard the commander call out his name, and he turned around just in time to see the muzzle flash.
Kral holstered his weapon, gazing at the drifting pile of ash that had once been Lieutenant Kull. A sinister smile played about his lips. "qoH!" he spat.(6)
He laughed, and strode back into the torture chamber.
His revenge was about to unfold!
Don Alfredo was worried.
He gazed down from the catwalk overlooking the combat range his brother Fernando had built for Teresa. His niece was below, endlessly drawing and firing her phaser against computer-generated, three-dimensional holographic targets in the image of Klingon Kh'myr warriors. She had taken the security camera visitape from the night Commander Kyr had gunned her down in the basement of the palace and fed it into her games computer, ordering it to provide her with the simulated enemies. The computer responded in superb fashion. The images moved like living, breathing Klingons; they would appear out of nowhere on a random timetable, drawing and shooting at her from an endless variety of combat positions, responding with the mannerisms and awesome speed of one of the dreaded warriors.
Alfredo sighed and descended the stairs. Teresa had been trained in the ways of the military since she had been a small child. Then, before she had been wounded by Kyr, she could outdraw the best marksmen that served on the Royal Guard. Her speed was phenomenal; she could take on the best the Guard had to offer and better his fastest draw by a full two-tenths of a second! Since the shooting, though, she had practiced even more diligently against these phantom gunmen who could match the speed of the creature that had outdrawn her. Incredibly, she had almost doubled her former speed! With her youth and mercurial reflexes, she was now fast enough to draw down on one of the demonic alien cutthroats. In testimony to her speed, the computer would sound a buzzer whenever one of the holo fabrications outdrew her.
That buzzer had not gone off once in the six solid hours she had been practicing.
Teresa holstered her weapon and shut down the computer when she saw her uncle approaching. She turned anxiously toward him. "Tio Alfredo, have you any word about Carlos?"
He shook his head sadly. "No, I have half the army and most of the Royal Guard out searching. We tore the Klingon Embassy apart and turned it upside down--nothing! It's as if they have vanished from the planet."
Her dark, deep eyes misted over with tears. "I want to look for him, too! If anything has happened to him..."
Alfredo shook his head emphatically. "Teresita, my lovely little warrior! The Klingons were after you also! Besides that, you know what happens to their female captives."
Teresa shuddered as she recalled the grisly tales of rape and torture. "I know that, Uncle, but I still would like to search for him! He's my husband! And I'm a match for any Klingon!"
Alfredo sighed impatiently, a stern frown crossing his features. "No, Teresa. You of all people should know that the Klingons don't fight by any accepted rules of etiquette. What would you do if an entire squad jumped you? No, Teresa this time I'm afraid I must overrule you. You are safe here. Besides, Commander Lomberg at the Federation Embassy has informed me that the starship Enterprise is en route to Serenidad at flank speed, and should be arriving almost any time now."
Teresa brightened somewhat at the news. "Thank God!" she exclaimed. "They can scan the entire surface of Serenidad from their ship! They'll find the Klingons!"
"Teresita," Alfredo said haltingly, his expression grave. "There is...it's possible that there is a Klingon battlecruiser somewhere in our solar system. One of our patrol vessels is three days overdue from its patrol and is feared lost. There is a chance that Carlos could have been taken aboard an enemy vessel."
Teresa's face went white, and she looked as if she were about to collapse. "Please, don't even think that!" she whispered brokenly. "If that has happened, then Carlitos is as good as...as dead!" She choked off a sob and buried her face in her hands.
Alfredo put a comforting arm around her. "Come on. Why don't you go back to your room and rest? You've been through an ordeal."
She looked up at him and smiled sadly. "I'll be all right. I feel so helpless because I can't fight those monsters myself, so I take some small measure of satisfaction in gunning down effigies of them! Please, do not worry about me."
"All right," he said reluctantly. "And please try not to worry. We'll find him." He kissed her on the cheek and strode back toward the stairwell.
Teresa made sure that her phaser rode loosely in its holster, then reactivated her computer. "Give me three this time," she said tersely.
"Working," came the metallic response.
Alfredo paused on the steps, watching in astonishment as Teresa shot down three "Klingons" before they could drop their hands to their weapons!
Spock consulted the readout on his tricorder again and frowned. They had entered the boarded-up, abandoned shell of the Klingon Embassy for another thorough search, and had come up with exactly nothing. The Vulcan shook his head. "Negative scan, Captain. I have been unable to find even a trace of Klingon reading."
Kirk sighed, exasperated. He and Spock and McCoy had taken a contingent of security people with them to search the building. Princess Teresa had demanded to come along, so she and her Uncle Alfredo accompanied them. Scott, Sulu and Chekov had taken another security party with them to search the area surrounding the Embassy.
The captain glanced around the empty corridors, then looked back at his science officer. "I don't believe they've left the planet, Spock. I can't give you a 'logical' reason for it; call it intuition, if you like."
The Vulcan nodded in agreement. "It is unlikely that they were picked up by a battlecruiser. The system patrol has been on the alert because of their missing cruiser since before Carlos was kidnapped. It is not likely that such a large vessel could come in close enough to orbit Serenidad without being detected."
"What if they used a Romulan-style cloaking device?" Kirk queried.
Spock shook his head. "They would have to deactivate the device at least long enough to beam up a landing party."
"And if that was the case, we would have spotted them, Captain," Alfredo interjected. "One of our cruisers has orbited Serenidad since the missing ship alert, and besides, our planetwide space monitoring network will pick up any unidentified object the size of your fist at the distance of three astronomical units. If a Klingon ship became visible, we would have seen it."
McCoy stood off to one side, observing the young princess. He was concerned; she had sustained a nasty neural shock from the Klingon disruptor. This, coupled with the enormous mental strain she had been under, had gone a long way toward eroding her emotional well-being. She was edgy and morose, and, on top of that, she was pushing herself. McCoy feared she was on the brink of a nervous collapse, and he wanted to prevent that if he could.
Now the lovely young woman turned away from them, teary-eyed and forlorn. She bit her lower lip in agitation. "Oh, Carlitos," she whispered softly. "Please, please be safe! I don't think I could go on without you!"
McCoy walked over and took her by the hand. "Why don't you come over here and sit down for a while, Princess Teresa? Spock doesn't get too much exercise aboard the ship; we'll let him do all the work!"
She giggled and went with him, and Kirk grinned as he saw his first officer arch an eyebrow in annoyance. "Indeed! At least I do not avoid physical activity, unlike our ship's surgeon."
"All right, you two, that's enough," Kirk said, chuckling. He watched McCoy prepare a mild relaxant for the princess. The chief surgeon was extremely fond of Teresa and it was more than the attraction a man would feel toward a breathtakingly beautiful young woman. Kirk suspected that McCoy's paternal feelings had surfaced because he never had the chance to lavish love and attention on his own daughter. His wife, Heather, had been awarded the custody of Joanna at the time of their divorce when their daughter was still a small child. It had been a bitter pill for Bones McCoy. He had missed seeing Joanna grow from a little girl into a beautiful young woman, and it had hurt him badly. If it made him feel good to take Teresa under his wing, so much the better, because it could only be beneficial for her.
Kirk's communicator beeped suddenly. "Kirk here."
"Lieutenant Chekov reporting, sir!" the filtered voice of the young Russian security chief acknowledged excitedly. "We have found a Klingon shuttlecraft hidden in the vwoods near the Embassy!"
"Good work, Lieutenant! We're on our way! Kirk out."
They arrived at the scene a few minutes later. The shuttle had been concealed in a small shallow cave under a cliff hang. It was all but undetectable; brush had been skillfully piled up at the mouth, and you almost had to stumble into the craft to find it. Kirk nodded appreciatively.
"They did a good job, sir," Sulu said.
"Aye, that they did, Cap'n," Scotty put in sheepishly. "We walked right by it two or three times before I, uh, tripped over it."
The captain grinned at his chief engineer. "Good job, Scotty. I hope you didn't hurt yourself!"
"Mister Chekov." Spock asked, "Have you found any evidence of Klingons in the vicinity?"
"Not yet, sir," Chekov replied. "My men are scouring the surrounding area right now."
"How long has the ship been here?" Teresa asked quietly.
"Hard to tell, lassie," Scott answered. "Her engines are stone cold. That means they probably haven't been used for at least two days."
"Well, that tells us one thing," Kirk said thoughtfully. "If the Klingons weren't able to beam up to a battlecruiser, and if there wasn't another shuttle hidden somewhere else, they're still on Serenidad! But where?!" He looked to the Vulcan for an answer.
Spock frowned distractedly. "A good question, Captain. A good question indeed. If the Klingons are on this planet, they have found some method of circumventing our sensors. I find that fascinating."
"Well, I don't!" McCoy growled. "Jim, I think the Princess had better return to the palace. She needs a lot of rest." He turned toward Teresa, who was about to protest violently. "No arguments, young lady!" the physician snapped. "Doctor's orders! Despite the nasty things I say about him, and much as I hate to admit it, Mister Spock is the finest science officer in Starfleet. That also makes him an excellent detective. If anyone can find Carlos, he can. And on top of that, you've got Jim Kirk and his crew pulling for you. What more could you ask for?"
Teresa opened her mouth to say something, then grinned bemusedly. "All right, Doctor McCoy, " she said finally. "I surrender!"
Don Alfredo gently took his niece by the hand. "Come on, Teresita. Let's go home, and let these men do their job."
"Just a moment, Don Alfredo," Kirk said. "We'll go with you and provide a personal escort. No sense taking any chances, even though we're in plain sight of the palace." He turned to Chekov. "Lieutenant, I'd like to request a squad of your men to go with us. Oh, and post a guard around this shuttle. Put everything back the way you found it so as not to arouse suspicion. If a Klingon gets within twenty feet of this ship, I want you to nail him--alive. I intend to get to the bottom of this mystery!"
They turned and left for the imposing palace which loomed like a fortress on the horizon as Chekov began barking orders into his communicator. Kirk wished he felt as confident as he sounded. They were looking for a needle in a haystack.
And they weren't even sure if the needle was there.
Lieutenant Commander Uhura settled back in the center seat on the Enterprise bridge, sighing in frustration. They had been scanning space in long, sweeping arcs, and so far had come up with nothing. The Enterprise had worked her way out to the orbit of the fifth planet in the system. There was still a long way to go.
"Sensor scans still read negative, Commander," Science Officer Xon reported.
"Acknowledged, Lieutenant," Uhura said. "Maintain sweeps."
"Affirmative," the young Vulcan replied. He made a slight sensitivity adjustment on his instruments and returned to the task at hand.
If there was a Klingon cruiser out there somewhere, those knot-headed, bearded goons would have a lot of explaining to do, Uhura thought grimly. Her heart went out to Teresa. The youngster was undoubtedly beside herself with worry by now. She and Carlos made such a beautiful couple, and Uhura was incensed at the Klingon's savagery. If anything had happened to that boy...
Her musings were interrupted by Lieutenant Taryn Spring at the communications console. "Priority One message coming from Ambassador Grant on Trinar Five, Commander," she said, her eyes wide. "He sounds absolutely livid!"
Uhura's stomach tightened. She had heard of Grant. He was one of the best ambassadors in the Federation Diplomatic Corps. He was also one of the most blunt and belligerent. It was said that he had bullied as many planets into the Federation as he had sweet-talked in! He would make a great Klingon, she mused. "Put it on visual, Taryn," Uhura said finally.
The starfield on the main screen gave way to a lean face that could have been carved from granite. Ice-blue eyes glittered malevolently under a close-cropped shock of white hair. The man on the screen was Ambassador Charles F. Grant, and he looked as though he ate babies for breakfast.
"Ambassador Grant," Uhura said, clearing her throat. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Uhura of the U.S.S. Enterprise."
"Where the hell is Kirk?!" the ambassador exploded. "What in the name of Christ is he trying to do, sabotage my mission? He's got a lot of nerve! I'll tell you what, that lousy bastard's got exactly thirty standard minutes to get that rust bucket on its way to Trinar Five, or his ass is in the fire!"
"Ambassador Grant, surely you understand the seriousness of the situation on Serenidad," Uhura cut in. "The Klingons..."
"...have kidnapped some boy prince who's still wet behind the ears! Big hairy deal! Let the locals take care of it! If Kirk isn't on his way in one half-hour, he'll be lucky to get a job cleaning toilets on a merchant scow!" Grant paused, his face as red as a beet. "Let me quote you chapter and verse, Commander: 'By the authority invested in me under the Articles of Confederation, United Federation of Planets, Article 103a, I order..."
"I am aware of the regulations," Uhura snapped testily. "I don't think it..."
"I'll tell you what, if you don't relay the message to Kirk, wherever he is, and get this show on the road, I'm going to turn that beautiful little hide of yours into a wall hanging!! Is that clear?!!" Grant was screaming by now.
"Yes, sir!!" Uhura retorted sarcastically. "But if something happens to Carlos, I hope you'll be able to sleep at night!"
"I'll sleep just fine, Commander," the ambassador grated. "Now you get your ass in gear! Grant out!"
"Son of a bitch!" Uhura muttered as the bellicose man's image faded out. She spun savagely around to face communications again. "Taryn, raise Captain Kirk! He's going to have to call everybody back and break off the search, pronto!"
"Everybody?" Spring asked, confused. "Can't we at least leave a security contingent behind until we get back?"
"Everybody," Uhura said emphatically. "Grant quoted 103a on me; that regulation requires the entire complement of a starship to be in attendance at the ceremonies, except for a skeleton crew. And if I know Grant, he'll personally take roll call!"
"Whew!" the beautiful lieutenant whistled. "I don't think the captain is going to like this!"
That was an understatement.
"He what?!" Kirk shouted into wrist communicator.
"He quoted Article 103a, Captain," Lieutenant Spring replied. "And, with all due respect, sir, I can hear you just fine!"
"Sorry," Kirk said, grinning sheepishly. "I guess that leaves me no choice, Lieutenant. Have Chief Rand start beaming up landing parties. I'll be up as soon as I make arrangements down here. Kirk out." He clicked off his wrist 'com. "That lunatic!" he exploded. "He invokes a little-known, seldom-used, archaic regulation, arguably the dumbest reg in the book at a time like this? When we get to Trinar Five, I'm going to hang him out to dry!" The tension in Princess Teresa's room was thick enough to cut with a knife.
He turned to a middle-aged man in a Starfleet commander's uniform. Brian Lomberg was an old friend of Kirk's. He had been one of the captain's instructors at the academy, and was now the Starfleet liaison to the UFP Embassy on Serenidad. He had replaced the late Lieutenant Commander Jeff Spector, who had been murdered by Kyr the Klingon during the last incident.
"Brian, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to hold down the fort until we get back," Kirk said. "I realize you've only got twenty people to spare, but..."
"It could be worse, Jim," Lomberg replied, grinning. "Before the Kyr affair there were only six people assigned to the staff. At least they've beefed up security a little."
"I know you'll do your best," Kirk said. He faced Don Alfredo and put his hand on the Proconsul's shoulder. "I'm sorry this had to happen, sir. We'll get back as quickly as we can."
"I know," Alfredo replied. "We'll be all right. Vaya con Dios!"
"Captain Kirk," Teresa said in a small voice. "Please hurry back!
He smiled reassuringly at her. "Don't worry, Your Highness. We'll get back before you know it." He turned to Spock and McCoy. "Let's go gentlemen. The sooner we leave, the sooner we can get this mess cleared up."
"Just a second, Jim," McCoy put in. "I want to give Teresa a sedative; she needs her rest." He coded a hypospray and pressed it against her arm. "This won't hurt a bit."
"Where have I heard that before?" Teresa joked, but her attempt at light banter missed the mark. Her wan, weary expression told the whole world she was not in a joking mood. She lay down on her bed, and McCoy's sedative began to take effect almost at once. She heard the captain speaking into his communicator again.
"Kirk to Enterprise. Three to beam up."
Teresa watched them through drowsy, fluttering eyelids as they dissolved into sparkling columns of energy. She was filled with foreboding as they disappeared, and she dropped off into a fitful sleep.
In her dreams she saw Carlos, his face twisted in agony. He called to her for help.
Teresa slept, but not peacefully.
The Human passed out once again, and the screaming stopped.
Kral stepped back to appraise his handiwork. He gripped the agonizer loosely in his fingertips, holding it at his side.
Mendoza's naked, bloodied body lay shackled to the operating table. He was soaked with sweat, and there were salty patches on the table's surface where puddles of perspiration had dried.
The Klingon grinned savagely. He had brought this slime mold to the point of death countless times, only to allow him to recover again. Then, when the Human had revived, he would start the process over again. Kral sighed. It had been very entertaining this far, but he was becoming bored. If he did not invent some new torments for Mendoza, he would finish him off soon. Kral picked up a bucket of ice water from the floor and tossed it on the youth.
Carlos gasped and sputtered, coming fully awake.
"Ah, the sleeper revives!" Kral growled with mock jocularity. He pulled a long, razor-sharp dagger from a sheath hanging on his wide belt. "With this dirk I swore an oath of blood against you, Mendoza. You have killed a Klingon, and for that you will die! You are a filthy coward, and before I slit your throat and gut you from chin to crotch, I will carve you to pieces! I promise you, it will be excruciatingly painful," he sheathed the knife once again. "For now, I'll continue with the agonizer. An interesting device, don't you think? It inflicts ultimate pain without any real physical damage. Unless, of course, one applies it to certain vulnerable locations!"
"You're more monstrous than even the most vile stories I've heard about your race," Carlos said raggedly. His eyes brimmed with tears. "Do what you want to me, diablo. You have killed my lovely Teresita! Nothing else you can do would cause me more pain than that!"
"I wouldn't place a wager on that, whore-spawn!" the big Kh'myr snarled. "I have been told that if one applies the agonizer to the appropriate part of the anatomy, he can sterilize a male humanoid after just a few minute's duration. Shall we conduct our own experiment?"
Carlos cursed at him in rapid-fire Spanish, but the evil warrior only smiled. "That is what I thought you would say!" He bent toward the helpless youth, the agonizer buzzing malevolently.
"joHwI'!" Koret rushed breathlessly into the chamber. "Great news! The Princess still lives! She was seen in the company of a large Starfleet search party led by that pig Kirk and his Vulcan lackey."
Kral whirled away from the operating table, eyes wild with astonishment. "This is true, Koret?! She must have revived and hid from that idiot Kull! But how do we get her away from those 'fleet swine?"
The Klingon lieutenant grinned triumphantly. "That is no problem, Commander! For some unknown reason, the Starfleet team was forced to beam back up to the starship and leave orbit. There is only a skeleton security crew from the Federation Embassy at the palace, along with the Royal Guard!"
"Then now is the time! Take the men over there and bring that little bitch to me ...alive!" Kral demanded. "I know I can rely on you, Lieutenant!"
"Yes, joHwI'," the lieutenant returned. "I will not fail you."
"Of course, you won't!" his commander sneered. "Else you'll end up like Kull! It will be dark soon, so be prepared to strike!"
Kral turned back to his victim as Koret departed, somewhat shaken. "You have won a reprieve of sorts, Mendoza. I will shackle you to the wall so you can watch the rape and torture of your beloved one! It seems that she has more lives than a cat! But they've finally run out!"
Carlos' mouth worked painfully. "Please, Klingon...I beg of you! If there is any trace of humanity in you at all, spare my wife! Kill me to fulfill your damned oath, but let her go!"
The huge Kh'myr chuckled mirthlessly. "Mendoza, every morning when I awake, I thank Kahless that there is not a trace of 'Humanity' in me at all." He cuffed Carlos into unconsciousness. Then he unclasped the restraints and lifted the limp form from the table. The Klingon carried the youth effortlessly, took him over to the wall, and secured the manacles around his wrists and ankles.
He turned to look at the young man before he left the chamber.
"Rest while you can, Mendoza," he rumbled. "I have a feeling your pain is only about to begin."
Teresa's nightmares continued unabated. McCoy's sedative had done its work a little too well, and she could not shake off the chains of drugged sleep. She saw Carlos, his limp, unmoving form slashed and mutilated beyond recognition. A faceless Klingon stood over him, dagger stained with blood and entrails. She saw more Klingons. These had faces, and they burst into her room with disruptors blazing furiously.
With a start, she awoke into Chaos! These Klingons were real! Two of the three Embassy security guards assigned to her room lay on the floor, their bodies charred and still. The last one went down screaming. His body was afire, but he managed to gun down two of the Klingons as he died.
But there were still four more of the demons, and they were coming for her.
"Alive! The bitch is to be taken alive!" one of them screamed.
Teresa moved as quickly as she could against the drugged stupor. She drew her phaser sluggishly and managed to fire two bursts from the weapon.
Two of the Klingons met their maker before their companions overwhelmed the young woman.
Koret tore the phaser from her grasp and crushed it like an eggshell. His ugly face was a mask of feral rage. "You be'SIj!" he spat, nose to nose with the terrified Teresa. "I've lost all but two of my men coming to get you! It is a credit to their warrior spirit that all who opposed us now lay dead! There is a trail of bodies from here to the palace gates." He motioned to his comrade, who pulled the benumbed young woman to her feet. "Hold her, Kula. Kral wants her alive and unmarked, but he did not say she had to be conscious!" He drove a rock-hard fist savagely into Teresa's midriff. She gasped and doubled over, passing out from the pain.
"That's just a sample of what's in store for you, bitch!" Koret snarled. "I will enjoy watching Kral take you apart!" He slung her tiny form over one broad shoulder just as another Klingon appeared in the doorway, cradling a disruptor carbine.
"The way is clear, Lieutenant," the new arrival barked. His eyes took in the carnage in the princess' room, falling on the corpses of the four Klingons.
"Very well, Kh'eron. Have you vaporized the remains of our casualties?" Koret asked."
"All but these four," Kh'eron replied.
"See to them," the lieutenant snapped. "Then we must hurry!"
Koret and Kula hurried into the corridor. They heard the high-pitched whine of the disruptor rifle behind them, and then Kh'eron's running footsteps as he hastened to join them.
The trio strode quickly past the body of a muscular, distinguished-looking man in his late forties. A wisp of smoke curled up from his stomach wound, and blood streamed from a cut on his forehead into his iron-grey hair.
Koret spat on Don Alfredo. "You were a fool, Regent. You were far less a warrior than your niece!"
They hurried on down the great hallway. Alarms clangored everywhere, but there was no one to respond to the strident sirens.
In the now deserted corridor the Klingons had just left, Don Alfredo groaned in agony. He had worn a lightweight skin of body armor under his clothing, but it had not been entirely successful in turning aside the disruptor bolt that had hit him. The wound was extremely painful, but it would not be fatal. He knew, however, that he was suffering from energy shock. That was serious. He would need prompt medical attention.
He gasped in pain. Madre de Dios, is there no one left alive? He needed help; worse than that, the Klingons had Teresita! He closed his mind to the terrible things they would do to her.
Minutes seemed to drag into hours. Suddenly, Don Alfredo heard footsteps pounding through the corridors. He stiffened. Were the Klingons returning? No, he heard chattering voices...and they were shouting in Spanish! He felt himself blacking out and hoped that they would reach him in time.
He sensed someone kneeling beside him just as the darkness closed in. Don Alfredo's last conscious thought was, Tonight, the world really has gone mad!
"Get on your feet, you filthy little be'SIj!"
Teresa Morales de la Vega regained consciousness abruptly and painfully. She felt the roughness of a stone floor against her cheek, and a searing agony in her midsection where Koret's vicious blow had struck home. Suddenly, powerful arms dragged her from the floor.
She found herself facing a large, powerfully-built Klingon who leered lasciviously at her.
"Very nice!" Kral exclaimed. "I'm going to enjoy this, be'SIj. I can't wait to hear your screams of agony!"
Teresa gazed past her tormentor to where Carlos sagged in his manacles. "Carlitos!" she shouted. She tried to rush forward, but Kral caught her, twisting her right arm brutally up behind her back. The princess screamed. Kral propelled her forward, shoving her toward her half-conscious husband.
"Yes, let us go see 'Carlitos'!" he mocked. He motioned to Koret. "No sense to delay the festivities any longer!"
"The starship Enterprise will return," Teresa sobbed. "Captain Kirk will find you and kill you!"
"I doubt that," Koret said. He stood next to Carlos and held his battle dagger against the youth's throat. "This bunker lies deep beneath the foundation of the old Klingon Embassy building. It has been shielded with our latest anti-scan device, and can't be detected. The screens can withstand an attack by a starship's phaser banks. So I wouldn't expect any help from Captain Kirk." He grinned at her, licking his dry lips in anticipation. "Now then, bitch, you will do everything joHwI'demands of you, or your husband will die choking on his own blood!"
"Strip!" Kral snarled.
Teresa was shocked at the blunt command, but Koret pricked Carlos' throat with the dagger, drawing a crimson bead of blood. Reluctantly, she unbuttoned her jumpsuit, then removed her boots and slid out of the garment. Terrified, the young woman stood before them now, clad only in a tiny pair of brief panties. There were appreciative murmurs and coarse, foul comments about her anatomy.
Kral drew in his breath sharply. "Magnificent!" he exclaimed and grinned lustfully at her. "All right, off with the last of it!"
Tears of shame and humiliation coursed down the young woman's face, and she balked at peeling off the panties. Kral swore; he reached out and tore them off her savagely, stripping her completely naked. "Now we're ready," he said quietly. "Koret, awaken that coward! I don't want him to miss a thing!"
The Klingon lieutenant lightly slapped the youth until he became fully conscious. He gasped in horror when he saw his beloved wife, naked and vulnerable in a den of slavering Klingons. His eyes filled with tears. "Teresita, my love, I am sorry!" he whispered.
Kral snorted loudly, "I've never seen a more lachrymose pair of Humans in my life! Tears, tears and more tears!" His voice became icy. "Very well, I'll give you something to cry about!" He unstrapped his breastplate and tossed it aside. Teresa jumped, startled by the slap of the heavy leather battle armor as it hit the floor.
"No!!" Carlos screamed. "In the name of God, don't do this!"
"Gag him, Koret!" Kral snapped as he stripped off his uniform. "The only screams I want to hear are hers!"
Teresa could no longer bear to watch the lewd nightmare. She shut her eyes tightly, trembling almost uncontrollably. She could hear Carlos' muffled cries as the lieutenant thrust a gag down his throat. She could hear the rustle of the commander's clothing.
Kral wasted no time with preliminaries. He surged forward, his naked, magnificently-muscled frame rippling like a charging panther. He threw Teresa unceremoniously to the floor, knocking the wind out of her, his large, rough hands mauling and fondling at her. The Klingon cruelly forced his mouth against hers before she could catch her breath.
When he took her, the pain was more terrible than she could ever have possibly imagined. Teresa gasped, then shrieked and shrieked in mindless agony. She felt as though she was being split apart. She writhed and twisted under him, trying to escape the deep, penetrating pain, but he held her relentlessly, pinning her to the floor.
Kral twisted his head to look up at Carlos as the struggling young woman's screams increased in intensity; "See, Mendoza!" he grunted. "See what your foul deed is costing your be'SIj?"
The Klingon's evil, sneering face dissolved into a scarlet mist before Teresa's pain-glazed eyes. Gradually, she became aware that she was lying face down on the cold concrete. Kral had released her at last. Her thoughts were jumbled and disjointed. She was vaguely aware that the Klingon had been using her for a long time. Half-remembered images of the things he had done to her flashed in her mind, along with fleeting impressions of the filthy, disgusting acts he had forced her to perform on him. Her stomach lurched; she retched, becoming violently sick all over the floor.
Kral stood above her. He turned her over on her back with his foot and glared down into her tear-streaked face. "You're ill, Princess," he chuckled. "You must not have enjoyed my hospitality!" He grabbed her ankles and dragged her several feet across the floor, calling over his shoulder to Koret. "Lieutenant, have someone clean up this mess. I must, in all fairness to the Princess, 'entertain' her again. And after I have finished, you and the men may have your way with her. After all, a good host must keep his guests' needs in mind at all times!"
There was a savage howl of delight from Koret and the two surviving warriors. The room began to spin crazily around Teresa. God, no! This animal was going to rape her again, then turn her over to those other beasts! She could take no more. She felt herself slipping down into an abyss of blessed insensibility, and was only dimly aware of the crush of his weight atop her slender body.
Mercifully, she was unconscious for what happened next.
James T. Kirk restlessly paced the Enterprise bridge. Things had been happening too fast for his liking within the past few hours, and while the pacing didn't solve any of his problems, it did help him feel better.
He paused by the navigation console. "Chief DiFalco, what is our E.T.A. at Serenidad?"
The dark-haired woman traded glances with Sulu. They both knew the captain was edgy; he had just requested an E.T.A. a little more than ten minutes ago. She cleared her throat. "At our present speed of Warp Twelve, we will arrive in fifty-three point four standard minutes, sir."
"Thank you, Chief," Kirk returned. He forced himself to sit down at the conn, hoping he could somehow relax.
The business of Trinar V had gone rather well, all things considered. The new king, Fornad III, had signed an agreement with the Federation on the spot after members of the Klingon contingent had become drunk and abusive at the coronation ceremonies. Fornad had taken a liking to Kirk, in direct contrast to the antipathy he felt toward the abusive Ambassador Grant. Enterprise security personnel had efficiently handled the disorderly Klingon warriors and in grateful appreciation, the king had agreed to sign with the Federation, stipulating that Grant, whom he considered to be a boor, be removed as ambassador to Trinar.
The captain grinned suddenly. He had taken the opportunity to rub salt into Grant's wounds. The humiliated ambassador had threatened to charge Kirk with dereliction of duty for his initial course change to Serenidad. He had turned right around and reminded Grant that there was a log recording of his threats against a Starfleet captain and his communications officer, and that he, Kirk, would most certainly file formal charges against the ambassador if he pressed the dereliction charge. A shaken Grant had capitulated, and the allegation against Kirk was forgotten.
As it turned out, Starfleet had belatedly agreed to back up the Enterprise's captain, but they also had some unwelcome news. The Klingons, in an insanely bold move, had stormed the royal palace on Serenidad. Princess Teresa had been taken, several Starfleet personnel from the UFP Embassy and many of the Royal Guards had been slain, and Don Alfredo had been gravely wounded. In addition, a probe drone from the Serenidad Space Patrol had detected a Klingon K't'inga-class cruiser in orbit around the farthest planet of the star system. Starfleet had urged the system patrol not to engage the intruder. A Saladin II-class destroyer, the U.S.S. Ares had been dispatched from Starbase 26. She would rendezvous with the Enterprise, and the two Federation starships would handle the situation.
And in the meantime, all Kirk could do was sit on his hands and wish there was some way to push the Enterprisefaster than Warp 12.
The left turbolift doors swished open, and an agitated McCoy appeared on the bridge. The news that the Klingons had Teresa had hit Bones hard. All he could do was wait helplessly like the rest of them, so he spent his time alternating between pacing the confines of Sickbay and standing behind the center seat on the bridge, his eyes glued to the mainscreen.
"How're we doin', Jim?"
Kirk managed a slight smile. "Almost another hour, Bones. You know, maybe you and I would make things a lot easier for the crew if we investigated the medicinal effects of that bottle of Saurian brandy in my cabin." He stood up. "Mister Spock, would you call us immediately when we achieve orbit?"
The two of them left the bridge as the Vulcan assumed command. Spock settled back into the console, then stopped suddenly. The faintest ghost of a grin pulled at the corners of his mouth.
He had distinctly heard what several people had hoped were inaudible sighs of relief.
Time passed quickly, if not pleasantly, for Kirk and McCoy in the captain's quarters, and before they knew it Spock's call came through. They were the first to reach the transporter room. Scotty assumed command from Spock; the Ares was already orbiting Serenidad, and he would take the Enterprise out with the destroyer to engage the Klingon cruiser as soon as the landing party was dispatched.
"You know what to do, Scotty," Kirk was saying as Spock and a squad of six security guards strode into the transporter room. "The Enterprise and Ares are to engage the cruiser. It's encroaching on Federation space. Therefore, if the Klingons don't wish to come along peacefully, you are authorized to use whatever force is necessary."
"Aye, Cap'n," Scotty acknowledged. "An' good luck to ye, too, sir. I hope ye can find the two bairns alive and well!"
"I do too, Scotty," the captain said fervently. "I do, too. Kirk out."
The members of the landing party assumed their stations on the transporter platform. Kirk wished he could take more security people with him, but there was no telling how many might be needed if, God forbid, the Klingons tried to board the Enterprise. Admittedly, this would only happen if the cruiser somehow managed to defeat the two heavily-armed starships. It was not something he liked to think about, but he had to consider all options. Besides, it was not likely that the Klingons, wherever they were, had a very large contingent on the planet. He had armed the men with phaser rifles, and he hoped that they could handle whatever they found.
As Transporter Chief Janice Rand locked the coordinates into her console, McCoy said, "I never thought I'd see the day when I actually wanted this blasted contraption to work faster than it already does!"
"We cannot bend the laws of physics on a whim, Doctor," Spock intoned.
The doctor's caustic comment was lost in the sparkle of transport.
They materialized in the receiving vestibule of the palace, and were immediately ushered into DonAlfredo's room. The regent tried to sit up in his bed when he saw them. McCoy rushed over, gently but firmly restraining him. "You're in no condition to be moving at all, Don Alfredo," the physician growled. "Just rest easy."
"Gentlemen! Thank God you're back!" Alfredo gasped weakly. "Teresita has been in Klingon hands for almost a full day!"
"We got here as fast as we could, Don Alfredo," Kirk said apologetically. "Don't worry. We'll find them. I promise you!"
Alfredo smiled wanly. He looked much older, and his face had taken on the color of clay. "It's funny...I told Teresita the very same thing when she asked me about Carlos. I can't bear to think what those villains have done to her by now. Please, Captain Kirk, bring her back safely! Bring them both back!"
"We'll do our best, sir," Kirk vowed.
"C'mon, Jim. Let's go," McCoy quickly put in. "Alfredo needs a lot of rest."
They left the palace quickly, and Kirk realized the hopelessness of what they were trying to do. Teresa and Carlos could be almost anywhere. They could be anywhere on the surface of Serenidad, or they could be on board the Klingon cruiser which even now hovered like a vulture in the outer reaches of the solar system. It was also possible that the youngsters were halfway across the galaxy by now, on their way to the Klingon Empire. Perhaps they had been taken away by another ship.
He could not bring himself to think of the grisly possibility that either or both of them might already be dead. He sighed. Where on the Twelve Worlds of Rigel should they begin to look?
Spock seemed to sense his troubled thoughts. "Captain, I recommend that we make one more search at the Klingon Embassy building. I realize we have gone over it before, but we may have overlooked something. It is, after all, the most logical place for the Klingons to set up a base."
"It's also the most obvious, but I guess we could kick in a few walls to see if there are any secret passages or hidden rooms," Kirk said. "It's as good a place as any to start. As long as no one has any objections..."
"I think it's a waste of time," McCoy grumbled, "but I'm willin' to take one last shot at it."
Forty minutes later, they were once again in the basement of the Embassy. Once again they had come up empty-handed.
"Well, Spock, are you satisfied now?" McCoy demanded, glaring at the Vulcan.
"I would derive no satisfaction from the outcome of this search one way or the other, Doctor," Spock replied stonily. He adjusted the filters on his tricorder. The sensor pointed toward the floor as he adjusted a fine-tuning potentiometer on the bottom of the compact instrument, and suddenly the science officer's eyebrows rose sharply as he absently glanced at the display panel.
"Fascinating," he murmured.
"What is it, Spock?" Kirk asked sharply.
"My tricorder, Captain. It is able to probe the soil beneath the foundation of this building to a depth of approximately eleven point two meters. Below that my scans are reflected back to me."
"What would cause that?" the captain queried. "The tricorder's range is about five kilometers on widescan."
"I have verified that the instrument is not malfunctioning; therefore, something is obstructing the passage of the scanning beams."
"What in hell are you talking about, Spock?" McCoy asked, exasperated.
"Something under the foundation cannot be penetrated by my tricorder scans," Spock returned. He fiddled with the slide controls for several long seconds, then looked up at Kirk and McCoy. "A force field, gentlemen. One which blocks sensors. And, according to my calculations, it also could conceivably block the phasers of a starship as well."
"What's it protecting?" Kirk wondered aloud.
"The blocked readings extend over a range of three thousand six hundred point three square meters, and the area is almost perfectly rectangular." Spock lowered the tricorder. "It is a fabrication of some type, Captain. I believe we have found where the Klingons have set up operations."
"But how do we get in?" McCoy blurted. "It's underground! Is there any way to get into it from here?"
"Negative, Doctor. It is not attached to this building." Spock widened the field of his scan. "However, there appears to be a tunnel of some type leading underground in the direction of the woods nearby."
"That's it then," Kirk said grimly. "It's an underground bunker. The Klingons probably drilled through the floor of the basement and dug out the bunker and that tunnel with phaser bores. When they were finished, they closed up the access shaft to the basement. I'd be willing to bet that's where we'll find Carlos and Teresa!"
The trio quickly collected the security squad and hurried outside. Spock used the tricorder like a compass, following the path of the underground tunnel into the woods. After several minutes of searching, the Vulcan stopped by a craggy cliff face.
"The passage terminates here, gentlemen." He ran his tricorder along the cliff face, then abruptly thrust his fingers into a fissure. A small section of rock swung back, revealing a control panel. Spock pressed one of the buttons at random, and a huge slab of stone rolled back.
They had found their entrance.
Kirk cleared his throat. "Well, gentlemen, shall we investigate?"
"'"Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly.'" McCoy shook his head. "I don't like this, Jim."
Kirk grinned. "I don't think any of us do, Bones, but we've got to find Teresa and Carlos." He turned to a muscular, dark-haired ensign, who was the team leader. "Use maximum stun setting on the phaser rifles, Fisher. We want to make sure we drop them."
"Don't worry, sir," Fisher replied. "At that setting, they'll bring down a Spican sandcreeper!"
Kirk pulled out his pistol. He looked around the wooded area, then took a deep breath. "All right, gentlemen, " he said. "Let's go in!"
The night had been a long one, full of terror and pain.
The Klingons had spent most of the time endlessly raping her. Teresa had tried to escape into the safety of unconsciousness, but the warriors would not proceed with their vile sport unless she was awake and taking notice. Time and time again, she fainted from the horror and the agony, and time and time again the Klingons revived her.
Finally they had tired of her. Kral had strapped her spread-eagled to the operating table and left the chamber. His parting words still rang in her ears; she shuddered as she recalled them.
"Pleasant dreams, whore-spawn!" he had snarled. "Sleep well, for tomorrow you will learn the true meaning of pain!"
They had been left alone, through a long, sleepless night. Teresa sobbed quietly. They would both die today, tortured to the point of death, until the Klingon commander finally decided to fulfill the oath and slash their throats with his battle dagger. It was an ignominious way to die.
"Nooo!!" she screamed suddenly. "I don't want to die! I won't die!!" She shook her head, furious with herself as she realized what the beast Kral was trying to do to her. He was trying to break her spirit. He and his demon soldiers had raped and demoralized her and now the Klingon was going to subject her to his excruciating methods of torture. Let him do his worst, she thought grimly. If it's my fate to die, then I'll die with courage!
She heard a tortured moan off to her left. Carlos was awakening. Teresa turned her head to look over at her husband, who hung limply in his chains, and she felt a stab of anguish. Poor Carlitos! He had already suffered the torments of the Klingon pain device. As if that were not enough, Kral had forced him to watch her being savagely violated by these creatures. She had not stopped to consider how much internal damage her attackers had inflicted. She had thought that the dull ache in her abdomen had been caused by hunger, but when she tried to flex her legs to relieve the tension of her pinioned position, a searing, terrible pain flamed through her nervous system, Teresa cried out, and gritted her teeth.
"Teresita!" Carlos cried weakly. "I am so sorry! If I hadn't killed Kyr, you wouldn't be in such agony now."
"I'll be all right, my love," she gasped. "They've torn me pretty badly, but I won't die from that."
Teresa managed a weak smile for him. "Don't blame yourself, Carlitos. You had to kill that Klingon. He was a murderer and a monster! And, at least, I'm with you!" Her tears began to flow again. "I love you so much, even more than my own life. I would give up my life to this demon if it would save you, but he wants to make you suffer by killing me!"
"Don't say such things, muchacha! Captain Kirk's starship will return in time! We'll be saved!"
The princess shook her head sadly. "No, carita, I don't think so. They won't be able to find us. Just remember, no matter what happens, I love you more than anything else in the world. I only wish that our time together hadn't been so short."
"I love you too, Teresita!" he said, sobbing now. "I'll always love you!" They heard the rusty scrape of hinges. Commander Kral strode briskly into the chamber, followed by Koret. The lieutenant stood off to one side as Kral picked up the agonizer from the rack.
"Klingon! Please!! Let her go!" Carlos begged. "Your quarrel is with me, not her!"
"That's true," Kral admitted. "It's just that it's so delicious to watch your torment as she suffers. However, I have a proposition to make her." He walked to the side of the operating table and loomed over the helpless woman. "I offer you your life, Princess. It will be a short, miserable life, but you'll live a short while longer... and you won't die here. My men were quite taken with you; they petitioned me to let you live so that you could serve as ship's whore...for as long as you function."
Teresa stiffened in horror. She had heard of this; Klingons often kept beautiful captive females alive for this purpose. They rarely lived more than a few days or weeks at the most, and their existence was a living hell.
"As I said," Kral continued. "It isn't much. You'll spend every waking moment on your back in bed, yielding the pleasures of your body to my off-duty crewmen. A ship rarely has a concubine onboard; they don't live very long. Therefore, one must seize the opportunity when it arises."
He procured a plastex tube from the instrument rack and removed an official-looking document. "All you need to do is sign this little paper. It will void your agreement with the United Federation of Planets, making this ball of dust a Klingon protectorate. No matter what happens, however, your scum of a husband dies!"
"Then I'll die with him!" she shouted. She spat blood on Kral; even though she was terrified by the horrible ordeal she was about to undergo, she put up a defiant front.
The Klingon commander's face turned purple. He knotted his right hand in her hair and brutally yanked her head up off the table. A ghastly smile twisted his features as he lowered the agonizer to her naked, quivering flesh.
"It's a most unpleasant way to die!" he hissed quietly.
"Leave her alone, you bastard!" Carlos cried out. Kral nodded, and Koret moved in toward the young man. He whipped out his knife, touching its keen tip to the youth's lips.
"One more sound out of you, Ha'DIbaH, and I'll cut out your tongue and force it down your throat!" the lieutenant growled.
"Thank you, Koret," Kral returned his attention to Teresa, looking down on his helpless, frightened captive. "You will sign the document, be'SIj, whether you live or die in the final outcome! But I assure you, you will sign!" Without warning, he savagely smashed the agonizer against the nipple of her left breast.
The result was electrifying. Teresa came up off the table as far as the metal clamps would allow her, shrieking at the top of her lungs. The skin of her entire body puckered into gooseflesh, and then became coated with beads of perspiration. The pain was beyond the realm of Human senses, absolute, consummate. She felt as though the liquid fire of a star coursed through her body. Flashes of brilliant scarlet danced before her eyes like exploding suns. Even death would be preferable to this!
Kral finally released her. He had gauged just how much pain she could stand before the agonizer killed her. Now he would let her regain consciousness and start again! Slowly, her glazed eyes flickered as she issued pitiful sobs.
"Exquisite pain, isn't it, my dear?" Kral tormented her. "Sure you don't want to reconsider? The agonizer causes no physical damage, but its effects are far worse than a white-hot branding iron!"
Teresa's agony was too great to allow her to speak. She shook her head violently.
"A pity," the Klingon said mockingly. He slapped the evil, buzzing disk against her abdomen and kept it there until her screams ended in a choked gurgle.
This time, it took much longer to recover.
"Look, Lieutenant," Kral chuckled. "She trembles as though she has the palsy, and she swims in an ocean of her own stinking sweat! Why doesn't she give in?"
"I don't know, Commander," Koret returned. "These DenIbya'Qatlh(7) can be very stubborn at times!"
Carlos moaned in horror, and Koret split the skin of his lower lip. "Silence!" he spat. "Enjoy the show, but do not so much as whimper again!"
"Well, Princess?" the commander asked. "What will it be?"
Teresa groaned weakly, and her head flopped to one side.
"I take it that's a 'no'," he remarked. "Very well, then..." He touched the device to her throat.
She could not make a sound this time, and she fainted almost immediately.
"I must admit that she has stamina," Kral reflected. "The agony will soon drive her insane. I wonder if she realizes that?" He waited a few minutes. When he was satisfied she had recovered as fully as she was going to, he bent to his grisly task once again.
The Klingon did not relent. He systematically applied the agonizer to every inch of her writhing, pain-racked body. Time dragged on, and Koret's eyes grew wide with respect. No one had ever endured such a lengthy session with the agonizer! She did not capitulate. She screamed bloody murder, looked as though she was trying to tear her arms and legs free of the restraint bands as her back arched and bucked against the searing pain. But she would not agree to sign the paper, even when Kral slapped the torture device between her legs.
Kral finally stepped back, exasperated. "This is incredible!" he exclaimed. "No Human has ever stood up to such terrible torture without breaking!" He examined the limp, pitiful body stretched out before him, so open and exquisitely vulnerable. The princess looked terrible. Her face was pasty white, and her lustrous black hair lay matted and sweaty against her head. Her black eyes shone with fever as they rolled in their sockets, lines of pain deeply etched at their corners. Her mouth opened and closed. She babbled incoherently in Spanish, although the universal translators in the Klingons' belt buckles supplied meaning to the words.
"She seems to be calling to someone called the Blessed Virgin to deliver her from the demons!" Koret chuckled.
His commander snorted loudly. "What a joke! A be'SIj like her praying to a virgin!" He glanced over at Carlos, who was sobbing violently, and an idea glimmered in his mind. If he did not get the document signed, his mission would be a failure, even if he did successfully keep his oath of blood. He would not give Kang the satisfaction! Perhaps if..."Lieutenant Koret!" he barked suddenly. "I'm tired of this! Slit Mendoza's throat!"
Koret looked startled, but he caught Kral's almost imperceptible shake of the head even as Princess Teresa found her voice.
"No!" she croaked drily. "I'll do anything you want! Please don't kill him...and please don't hurt me anymore more! I'll sign!"
Sometimes there were other ways to break a prisoner.
Teresa watched through the occluding scarlet haze of a nightmare as Kral freed her right arm. She no longer had control of her will or her body. No! her mind screamed at her. You're condemning your entire planet to slavery and death!
But she could not resist any longer. Kral forced a stylus into her nervous fingers and shoved the document in front of her. She watched herself sign it, and it seemed to Teresa that someone else scrawled the signature on the paper. Her mind and conscience rebelled against the act, but her body would not cooperate, as if it knew the pain would stop once this was done.
"Very good, bitch!" Kral chortled. "You've just signed the death warrants of everyone on this planet! I hope you've learned something from all this: the strong always triumph!"
"I have learned something, Klingon," she quavered. "I've learned to hate! If I get half a chance, I will most certainly kill you!"
"Big words for such a little be'SIj!" Kral boomed ominously. "You forget that I hold the upper hand...and the agonizer!" He punched the humming disk against her temple and held it there several seconds as her piteous screams rang through the room. Finally, he pulled it away. He laughed humorlessly. "You're going to have the ultimate headache when you wake up!"
Suddenly, the entrance buzzer sounded. Koret whipped out his disruptor pistol. "Intruders!" he hissed. "Perhaps Kirk and his crew!"
"Relax, Lieutenant!" Kral snapped as he drew his own weapon. "Just keep your knife against his neck. They're obviously coming to rescue these Ha'DIbaHmey(8), and I doubt than they would take a chance on our killing them. They'll drop their weapons if they see that I will gut their little darling here!" He unsheathed the battle dagger, pressing its razor-sharp point against the smooth flesh just below her navel.
Kula and Kh'eron rushed into the torture chamber brandishing disruptor carbines. Commander Kral gestured to the two soldiers. "Over here! Stand beside us, and be prepared. The intruders will be here momentarily. Their scanners will detect the Human readings of these two."
They waited tensely for several minutes. Suddenly, the Enterprise security team poured into the room, dropping into combat positions. They were followed seconds later by Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
"I'm surprised at you, Kirk!" Kral taunted. "I thought you were more formidable! Did you honestly think that we wouldn't have a detection system here?" His tone became menacing. "All right, all of you drop the weapons, or so help me, I will disembowel this Sleeping Beauty!"
Kirk glared at the Klingon for a few seconds. Then he tossed his phaser to the floor. "Everybody, do as he says!" the captain commanded.
The members of the landing party complied, with the exception of Ensign Fisher. He gripped his rifle tightly, leveling it at the grinning Klingons. The sight of the bedraggled, tortured young people was too much for him. His finger whitened on the trigger.
"Don't," Kral rumbled. "I'll incinerate you before you take another breath."
"Ensign, put that rifle down! That's an order!" Kirk barked.
Slowly the barrel came down, and Fisher reluctantly threw the weapon aside. "Captain!" he cried. "Can't you see what he's done to these poor kids?"
"Yes, I can," Kirk said tightly. "And I can also see what he would have done if you hadn't dropped the phaser!"
"Good boy," Kral sneered. "Kula, collect their weapons while Kh'eron covers them."
"You barbarians!" McCoy shouted in rage. "What have you done to her?"
"Relax. She's still alive...for now." Kral thrust his knife back into its sheath as he appraised McCoy. "She spent a long session under the agonizer, and before that, my men and I enjoyed the banquet of young flesh. She is quite delectable!"
"Bastard!!" McCoy raged. He started forward, but Spock held him back. It took all of his Vulcan strength to detain the maddened physician.
"Doctor, control yourself!" he said urgently. "You cannot help the princess by getting yourself killed."
McCoy struggled with the first officer for several long seconds. Eventually, he calmed down. "All right, you win, Spock!" he muttered. "I won't try anything."
"A most logical decision under the circumstances," Spock returned drily.
"I'm curious, Kirk," Kral said. "Surely, a great starship captain like you had to realize we'd be waiting for you. Why did you do it?"
Kirk hesitated. He did not want to let on that they had no back-up to follow them in. "We found your place ahead of the other squads, and I thought it best to get in here right away. We didn't know if they were still alive. I thought it was worth the gamble."
"Obviously, it wasn't," Kral's eyes glittered like a wild animal's. "I promised someone back on Kazh that I would deliver your head. Thank you for giving me that opportunity!" He gestured to Kula and Kh'eron. "Separate the three officers from the others. Set up a force cube to contain them until the Devastator comes for us." The two soldiers rudely herded Kirk, Spock and McCoy off to one side, prodding them with the muzzles of their carbines.
Kral turned slowly. He eyed Fisher and the security team. "tIHoH!" he spat coldly.(9)
"No!" Kirk screamed. He lunged forward, but Kula brutally clubbed the captain across the base of his skull with the butt of the carbine. He covered Spock and McCoy as Kirk sagged to the concrete floor. Kh'eron moved toward the security men, aiming his rifle.
"You can't do this!" McCoy raged.
"Watch me," Kral snickered.
"You're in Federation territory!" the physician persisted lamely. "You've got to be insane to try this!"
"You're wrong," the Klingon chuckled. "I am not on Federation territory, and I am most definitely not insane! The Princess was good enough to sign a document turning this planet over to the Klingon Empire. It's you who are trespassing!"
"She did it under duress!" McCoy continued desperately. "It'd never stand up in a court of law!"
"Wrong again, Earther!" The commander sighed exasperatedly. "You're trying to buy time for your security team. Well, it won't work! Kh'eron, proceed!"
The soldier flipped the force dial on his carbine to maximum. He swung the weapon toward the Enterprise men, who, until now, had stood frozen in place.
"Drop and scatter!!" Fisher yelled suddenly.
It was a desperate move but it did not pay off. Kh'eron sprayed the rifle like a hose. Five of the men went down immediately, writhing and shrieking as their bodies burned from the inside out. Fisher, however, had broken free. He grimly bolted toward Kral.
The Klingon commander coolly raised his pistol and fired one short burst. The shot caught the ensign high in the chest. His dying screams echoed through the chamber seconds after the atoms of his body dissolved.
"Murderers!" McCoy shouted.
Kral looked up, irritated. "Kula, will you stun those two until we can set up the cube? That Earther is almost as melodramatic as Mendoza!"
The Klingon soldier nodded. The rifle whined twice, and Spock and McCoy slumped into unconsciousness with Kirk.
Kral turned to Koret. "Lieutenant, take the Princess and dump her in the filthiest cell in the detention area. We will incarcerate her there until the Devastator arrives for us." He grinned wolfishly, nodding at the princess. "Enjoy yourself!"
Koret's face lit up. "Thank you, joHwI'!" He began to hastily undo the metal bands that held Teresa's unconscious body to the table.
The Klingon commander glanced at the recumbent Enterprise officers. He would let them sleep it off, after which, he would entertain them with Mendoza's execution. They would be next, of course, following a session with the mind-sifter. Not only would he bring back Kirk's head, but also those of two of his senior officers and their combined knowledge! And with any luck, he would capture the Enterprise intact as well. He had much bargaining power now that he had taken these three; perhaps he could persuade the interim commander to make a deal. He sighed. If the idiot had any sense at all, he would refuse. One of the basic credos of the Klingon way of life was that promises, like treaties, were made to be broken.
Koret had freed Teresa from the operating table, and he lifted her in his arms. As he walked toward the door, Kral turned to the benumbed carlos. "Take a good look at her, Mendoza; it's the last time you'll ever see her. Soon she'll be making the men of my battlecruiser very happy--assuming she survives Koret!"
"No!" Carlos shouted. "Bring her back!"
Koret turned and grinned at the youth as he left the chamber.
"Nooo!!" The youth screamed insanely at the top of his lungs. He continued to scream until Kral silenced him with a bone-jarring punch to the jaw.
The big Kh'myr massaged his knuckles. "I'm sick of you, Mendoza. I'm glad that this whole affair is winding down!"
He heard a humming sound behind him. Kh'eron had set up and activated the cubic force screen around Kirk, Spock and McCoy. They were now imprisoned more securely than they would be in any dungeon. Kral nodded in satisfaction, and strode for the door.
Soon his vengeance would be complete!
"Lieutenant Kryl! I have picked up two ships on my sensors heading in this direction at Warp Two!" Science Officer Kupt turned excitedly from his scanner.
Kryl had been slouching in the command chair. Now he leaned forward with interest. "Battlestations!" he barked. "The Serenidad System Patrol has kindly furnished us with two more targets! Ahead Graf Factor Ten!(10) Energize disruptors and photon torpedo banks!" He rubbed his hands together. At last! Something to do! He was beginning to fear that he would spend the rest of his life circling this frozen world.
The Devastator screamed out of orbit, rapidly accelerating. Kryl watched the screen avidly. Suddenly, the two ships peeled into a battle formation, and, incredibly, also picked up speed to match the cruiser! A chill coursed down the lieutenant's spine. "Kupt, I thought you said the Serenidad System Patrol cruisers could only manage Warp Two point Seven!"
"Those aren't Serenidad patrol ships, Lieutenant," Kupt said querulously. "One is a Federation Constitution II-class starship; the other is a destroyer."
Kryl whirled around, livid. "You senseless fool! We are out-gunned! Your eyes seem to be going bad, Science Officer! If we survive this encounter, I'll rip them out of your head!!"
"Message coming in from the heavy cruiser, Lieutenant."
"Put it on audio," he snapped. He could not bear the thought of having to look at the face of the Earther commander.
"This is Commander Montgomery Scott of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Ye're trespassing in Federation territory. Ye'll have to follow us back to Serenidad, or I have orders to blow you and your ship out of space! Acknowledge!"
On the Enterprise bridge, Scotty sat forward tensely in the center seat. He watched as the K't'inga cruiser began to decelerate. The Ares moved in to flank the enemy ship.
"Message from the Klingon cruiser, Mister Scott," Uhura reported. "This ship will comply."
Scotty started to relax somewhat, but then his eyes narrowed as he kept staring at the sleek, evil-looking starship. It was not coming to a stop. Instead, it drifted closer and closer.
"Mister Scott! Look!" Sulu exclaimed.
Scotty followed the helmsman's pointing finger, and abruptly sprang out of the command chair. The interior of the Klingon ship's main torpedo tube glowed redly with the lambent fires of hell.
"My God!" Scotty shouted. "It's a trick! An' he's coasted into point-blank range on the Ares! At that distance, even with their shields..." He spun toward the communications bay. "Uhura! Warn the Ares! We're still out of range! Tell Commander Thorne..."
But it was already too late. The battlecruiser pivoted suddenly, bringing its cobra-head forward fuselage to bear on the unsuspecting Federation destroyer. It spit out a ball of hellfire which tore completely through the upper saucer, hulling it. Puffs of nebulous vapor wafted through the gaping hole as the starship's atmosphere escaped into space.
The K't'inga pivoted again. It cut into graf drive, and sailed beneath the Enterprise into open space.
"Dey are running for it!" Chekov shouted.
"Commander Scott. " Lieutenant Xon glanced up from the priviewer at the science console. "I have scanned the Ares, sir. She is dead; one hundred percent casualties. There are no survivors."
"Sulu! Hard about at Warp Twelve!" Scotty's face was dark with grief. "I'll catch those bastards if it's the last thing I do!"
The Enterprise swung around smoothly, and the chase was on. The K't'inga could match the starship's speed, but the Enterprise had the edge in acceleration. Soon she had closed the gap on the fleeing cruiser.
"This is as close as we can get unless their speed drops off," Sulu sang out. "We're both maxed out at Warp Twelve!" He deftly plied the helm controls as the Klingon commenced evasive maneuvers. Sulu matched every move they made.
"Are we close enough for phasers?" Scott queried.
"Affirmative," Xon replied. "They are at our extreme range, but a well-placed shot could disable them."
"Lieutenant Chekov, get a bead on them an' tie in the warp power to phasers at the precise instant you fire," the Scotsman barked. "We dinna want to lose any ground to 'em!"
"Aye, sir!" came the reply from the young Russian at the weapons control console. He targeted the battlecruiser on his display screen.
Suddenly the ship lurched as Chekov fired her phasers. The K't'inga's left graf unit was torn away from the fuselage.
The result was predictable; the battlecruiser had lost one engine, while her other one still operated at full tilt. She lost trim, and began to spin crazily, tumbling as she broke up. There was a brilliant flash as the enemy ship disintegrated into its constituent atoms.
"Roast in Hell, ye bone-headed bastards!" Scotty exclaimed fervently.
He turned sadly towards communications bay. "Commander Uhura, inform Starfleet that the Klingon cruiser has been neutralized, and that we have unfortunately lost the Ares, along with all hands." Commander Thorne had been a young, up-and-coming starship captain. The Ares was his first command. Until now, he had been assigned only to patrol duty in and around Starbase 26, as a sort of guard ship. Despite his inexperience under battle conditions, he had volunteered for this mission. He had made a serious mistake in letting the Klingon vessel get so close to the Ares, and he and his crew had paid the ultimate price. Sometimes, you've only got one chance to be wrong, the Scotsman reflected bitterly.
"Message transmitted, Mister Scott," Uhura acknowledged somberly. "Starbase Twenty-six will send out a ship to recover bodies and haul the Ares in for repair and refitting."
"Thank ye, Uhura," Scotty said quietly. "I think it's time we checked in with Captain Kirk."
The lovely Bantu woman worked her controls for several seconds, then swivelled around toward the center seat, a quizzical frown on her face. "Commander Scott, the captain does not acknowledge his page," she reported. "Neither do Mister Spock, Doctor McCoy, or any of the security squad!" She paused as a light flashed on her console. She listened intently, adjusting her earpiece. "Message from Commander Lomberg on Serenidad, sir."
"Put him on visual," Scotty ordered.
The craggy, friendly face of Brian Lomberg filled the main screen. "Commander Lomberg to Enterprise," he said. He was standing near a glade near the Klingon Embassy. In the background, the bridge crew could see a security squad slowly and methodically searching the terrain.
"Go ahead, Brian," Scotty urged.
"Scotty, your people have disappeared without a trace down here. Jim told me they were going to search the Embassy one more time, and that was the last time I heard from him." His face darkened with rage. "I've got a score to settle with those goons! They wiped out quite a chunk of my personnel when they attacked the palace. And if they've killed those two kids, and Jim and his men..."
"I know how ye feel, Brian," Scotty returned. "We took out the Klingon ship out here, but they got the Ares."
"My God!" Lomberg was too stunned to speak for several seconds. "I knew Tommy Thorne's daddy really well, and I had Tommy for some classes at the Academy. Damn it, he was just a kid! With experience, he would've been another Jim Kirk someday!" He seemed close to tears. "That's just one more thing we owe those bastards!"
"I'm sorry, Brian," Scotty said gently. "We're on our way in now, an' we'll give ye all the help we can. Scott out."
At the weapons console, Chekov looked stricken. "I should have been down there," he uttered. "I am Chief of Security. Fisher is a good man, but I should have headed up that team!"
"Ease up on yourself, Pavel," Sulu said. "Whatever happened down there is not your fault."
"He's right, laddie," Scotty said understandingly. "Yer place was up here at the weapons console. Ye canna go everywhere at once!" He looked over at DiFalco. "Navigator, lock in our course back to Serenidad. Helmsman, full speed. We've got to get back there as quick as we can, an' this time I'll tear the whole damn planet apart if I have to!"
He settled back grimly in the command chair. This entire bloody affair was starting to get to him. He was an engineer, not a ship's captain, and the responsibility wore on his nerves. One thing was sure; they were running out of time.
Too many people were just vanishing on Serenidad!
The first thing she felt was the terrible throbbing in her head. When she opened her eyes, the pain doubled. Teresa cried out, burying her face against the dank stone floor of the dungeon. It took several seconds for her eyes to adjust to even the dim light of the cell. Finally, though, she could open them with only moderate discomfort.
Teresa painfully struggled to her hands and knees. The sharp, piercing fire of her savaged internal tissues was growing; she wondered if she was slowly bleeding to death inside. A tear rolled unbidden down her young face. The air was cold on her naked flesh. She was in agony from the vicious sexual attacks of the Klingons, and her nerve endings still tingled with the last vestiges of the agonizer encounter. A white-hot fury seized her; she was a princess, and she was being treated more inhumanely than the worst galactic criminal. If she could only get a weapon and escape! She might be killed in the attempt, but she would take as many of the demons with her as she could. They would pay for what they had done to her and Carlos!
She glanced around her prison. The cell was small, its walls and floor built of stones set in thermocrete. The only furnishings were a rude wooden cot and a small stool. The heavy, barred door mocked her. There was no way out. The air was foul and close, tinged with the cloying stench of Human waste and disinfectant. Teresa shuddered. There had been several mysterious disappearances around the time the Klingons had been bidding for Serenidad. She wondered how many of her subjects had met an ignominious end in this Klingon chamber of horrors.
She heard a high-pitched squeaking noise, and something small and furry scuttled across her legs and scrabbled between the bars of the door into the corridor. The princess gasped, recoiling in revulsion. A rat! When man had reached out for the stars, the vermin had accompanied him, and, tenacious and adaptable as they were, they had established themselves on the colony planets to which they travelled. She frantically checked her body for bite marks, and sighed with relief when she found none. Teresa remembered Earth history tapes of the Spanish inquisition that her tutor had given her, and the grisly tales of how hungry rodents gnawed the flesh of unconscious prisoners. The young woman trembled violently. Despite her formidable courage and resiliency, she realized that she could not endure much more of this obscene horror.
Footsteps sounded outside in the corridor, and abruptly the heavy iron cell door screeched open. Lieutenant Koret stepped inside with a photon lantern, a hungry grin on his fierce, swarthy face. Her mind reeled; she knew what he had come for.
He advanced on her slowly, and Teresa knelt abjectly before him. She reached out and hugged his knees. "Please, Lieutenant, don't hurt me," she pleaded, her voice plaintive. "I'll do whatever you want."
Koret sighed. "Somehow, be'SIj, I liked you much better before Commander Kral broke your spirit. But I am sure I will still enjoy this very much." He pulled her to her feet and crushed her to him. The Klingon kissed her savagely, bruising her tender lips.
And then Teresa's hand shot out. Her fingers closed on the hilt of Koret's dagger, and she buried the blade behind his left ear, driving it into his hindbrain. The big Kh'myr grunted in surprise and dropped to the floor.
He was dead before he knew what had happened.
Teresa sobbed with relief. She tossed the bloodstained knife aside and relieved the slain Klingon of his keys and his disruptor pistol. The young woman gazed down into his sightless, staring eyes. "The only way Kral will ever break my spirit is to kill me!" she hissed.
She cautiously unlocked the door to the cell. It swung open quietly. Teresa threw the ring of keys at the corpse and eased out into the corridor, clutching the big, heavy weapon in both hands.
Teresa followed the hallway instinctively, hoping desperately that she was heading in the right direction. She grew light-headed and staggered suddenly. The young woman leaned against the wall for several minutes, resting. She was growing weaker from a combination of lack of food and her terrible ordeal. She would have to move quickly before it was too late, she thought grimly.
The princess pressed on determinedly. Suddenly, she heard Carlos screaming in agony. Every fiber of her being shrieked at her to rush forward blindly to save him, but the discipline of her military training forced her to keep her head. The young woman cautiously turned the corner. She could now see the entrance to the torture chamber, and she silently crept to the open door.
The first thing she saw was the three Enterprise officers. Imprisoned in the stasis field of the force cube, they lay as they had fallen, unable to do more than blink their eyes. The Klingons huddled around the operating table with their backs to her. Kral looked over the moaning Carlos, his dagger dripping blood.
"Mother of Kahless, Mendoza!" he swore. "I have not even begun to carve on you! If you think I am going to kill you quickly and easily, you are sadly mistaken!" He bent down with the knife, and Carlos shrieked again.
Teresa trembled with rage, but she stayed calm. She noiselessly padded into the room, moving off to one side so that Carlos would be out of the line of fire. She dropped into a crouch and leveled her weapon. "Klingons!" she shouted.
Kula and Kh'eron spun on her, startled, their eyes wide. Teresa's pistol pistol barked twice, and the two warriors slammed against the wall, dead, large flaming wounds in their chests.
By this time, Kral had recovered from the shock of this sudden intrusion. He snarled, flinging his dagger at her. Teresa dodged, but she felt a fiery stab of pain as the blade nicked her left shoulder.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Kral went for his pistol, his hand a blur. She desperately brought her weapon up and aimed at the commander. The young woman heard the shriek of a disruptor, but she did not know if it was hers or the Klingon's. She expected to feel the flaming bolt of oblivion tear into her slender body at any second.
But it was Kral who went to his knees, gasping in pain. He held the charred stump of his right wrist with his left hand. Teresa's shot had vaporized his weapon and his gun hand.
The big Kh'myr wasn't finished, though. He scrambled across the floor; his left hand shot towards the dead Kula, reaching for his pistol. Teresa's disruptor bucked again, and the warrior lost his other hand.
Kral ground his teeth in agony. He would not give the little Human bitch the satisfaction of hearing him cry out. Teresa fired a blast into his kneecap, and Kral sprawled on his back, helpless. This time he could not suppress a low moan.
Teresa stumbled forward, her eyes brimming with tears. "Now it is time to collect my payment, diablo!" She raised the weapon once more. "This is for what you did to me!"
The searing bolt of energy tore into the Klingon's groin, and he howled insanely, writhing and jerking on the floor in agony. "You bitch!" he screamed, tears running down his face. "I won't be the last! One day. we will take this planet, and a Klingon commander will hang your eviscerated corpse from the battlements of your palace! You are scum! Excrement! You are slime scraped from the walls or your mother's womb! You are..."
Teresa could listen to the obscenities no longer. With a scream of anguish, she shot him twice in the head. Kral twitched reflexively. Then he died, his evil mouth forever stilled.
The princess went to her knees, breaking into great sobs. It was over! They were finally safe. After several minutes, she composed herself. Then Teresa fearfully approached the operating table.
Carlos was unconscious. Dozens of small but deep wounds in the shape of Klingon glyphs had been carved on his chest. They bled heavily, and she cursed when she saw them. But she was relieved to know that he had not been badly injured. She stroked his damp hair. "I love you, Carlitos," she crooned. "You'll be safe again in no time!" she released the clamps that held the youth to the table. Then she turned toward the force cube that held Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and she suddenly fell to the floor.
The adrenalin rush that had kept her going was gone now that the danger had passed. Teresa felt as weak as a newborn baby. She sobbed in frustration. Somehow, she forced herself to crawl across the floor. Her trembling fingers closed on the power supply casing to the cube. She flipped the switch, and the Enterprise party was free.
McCoy rushed immediately to her side. Teresa smiled up wearily at him as the room spun wildly around her. "I'm sorry, Doctor McCoy," she whispered. "But I'm afraid I'm going to faint!" Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she passed out, the cumulative horror of the past days finally taking its toll.
"Bones, will she be all right?" Kirk asked anxiously.
"She needs some attention, Jim, but she'll make it," the physician replied. He choked down the lump in his throat and touched her soft cheek. She looked like a beautiful, sleeping child. McCoy had never seen such an awesome display of raw courage in his life, and he doubted that his two companions had either.
"Doctor." Spock walked over, carrying Carlos in his arms. McCoy still had his medikit, and he quickly applied an anabolic protoplaser to the youth's wounds. They stopped bleeding almost immediately.
"There," McCoy said, straightening. "When we get back to Sickbay, I'll get rid of those cuts with a little microsurgery. He won't even have a scratch on him." He looked down into the unconscious face, frowning. "Physically, they'll both be better than new after I finish. But it's their emotional health I'm worried about. After what they've been through..."
Kirk cut in."Gentlemen, I suggest we get the hell out of here. I don't know if there are any more Klingons around here, and I don't want to find out! We'll have to get outside before we can call the Enterprise, so let's go."
McCoy tenderly lifted Teresa from the floor, and the three officers quickly left the chamber.
Only the sprawled corpses of the Klingon warriors remained, offering mute testimony to the atrocities that had taken place.
"How is she, Bones?"
McCoy sat down wearily in a lounger in his office, rubbing his eyes. He had been in surgery almost two hours, operating on Teresa and Carlos. Most of the time he had spent repairing the savage internal damage the young woman had sustained at the hands of the Klingons. Both of the youngsters had come through it in excellent shape; it was impossible to tell that they had been injured. But that was not what was bothering Leonard McCoy.
They had been out of surgery for over three hours, and he had just come from checking on the progress. Carlos slept fitfully, but Teresa...
"Look at her, Jim--" He motioned out the window of his office, where the young woman lay on the recovery couch. Her body was as stiff and rigid as stone, and her eyes stared unblinkingly at the ceiling. "She's catatonic," McCoy said brokenly. "I was afraid of this. She's very strong and courageous, but what she's been through the last couple of days would be enough to break a Vulcan! The trauma was too much for her, and her mind just closed down in self-defense. She's conscious, but she's not aware, not responding. I can't reach her at all." He paused, and Kirk noticed tears shining in the physician's eyes. "Those Klingon bastards! They really ripped her up when they raped her! I repaired the damage they did to her body, but, damn it, I can't fix what they did to her mind! She's the only one who can do that, but she's completely withdrawn from reality." He looked up at Kirk and Spock, his face haggard. "I'm afraid she could be beyond help. And I don't think Carlos is going to be doing handsprings when he recovers either."
"Doctor, perhaps with extensive psychotherapy..." Spock ventured.
McCoy shook his head. "That could take years. She's just a little girl! She doesn't deserve this!"
"May I point out, Doctor, that this 'little girl' is the sovereign ruler of an entire planet, an excellent one at that, despite her extreme youth."
"Not any more, she isn't, Spock," McCoy muttered. "I'm afraid it's going to take a miracle to pull her out of this."
Kirk got up and strode over to McCoy's chair. He gently gripped the physician's shoulder. "C'mon, Bones, you're torturing yourself. Get away from it for a while. I think it's time we re-examined the medicinal value of that Saurian brandy again, at least until you can unwind a little. You've done everything you could so far, so don't get down on yourself."
McCoy grinned feebly. "Playing Doctor, are you, Captain?" He sighed. "Maybe you're right, but just for a little while." He got up. "Want to come along, Spock? Or are you afraid the alcohol will gum up your memory banks?"
"Thank you, Doctor, but no," the Vulcan replied. "There is a certain experiment that I need to attend to."
"It figures," McCoy snorted. "Well, have fun." He looked out at Teresa one more time, shaking his head sadly. "And pray for a miracle." He and Kirk left the office for the captain's quarters.
Spock rose from his chair. Instead of leaving the office, however, he went out into the recovery area. He approached Carlos' bed, hesitating only a second before he placed his fingertips on the sleeping youth's temples. "My mind to your mind, Carlos," the Vulcan murmured. "Relax. Release your pain to me. I will take it into myself, and you will forget. Forget." He winced suddenly. "That is good, Carlos. Good. Release all of it." After a few more seconds, Spock's expression eased. "Good. It is done. When you awaken, you will remember nothing of this incident." He removed his hands from Carlos, and opened his eyes. Then he moved to Teresa's couch.
Spock paused, flexing his fingers. Her mind was deeply buried; there was an outside chance that he could become lost in the link. But it was a risk he had to take. He would have to hope that the discipline of his awesome Vulcan mind could see him through, for without him, the young woman had little hope.
He gently touched her head, and instantly recoiled with a cry of dismay. The psychic pain was incredible! She was in serious danger if he did not help her. Spock had never encountered such agony through the mind-link in his entire life. He felt a pang of deep sympathy for Teresa, then braced himself to try again.
He felt himself sinking through a deep, Stygian pool, black as midnight. He sensed terror and despair all around him, and he reached out to it, to absorb it. Teresita, his consciousness called. Let me help you. Let me find you. You are so deep, so lost. I will remove the agony; your memories of the terror will be gone. Still he was sinking, and the effort to hang on became greater and greater. Nevertheless, Spock extended himself as he never had before, probing even deeper into the blackness.
Suddenly, he saw dim light, the bottom of the pool. Then he saw everything through Teresa's eyes, and the flood of pain seared through him like a flash fire. Images of her horrifying ordeal flew through his consciousness with staggering speed. He heard himself screaming. He saw a stunned Carlos fall by the lake, Koret breaking into her room to kidnap her, a naked and lustful Kral pouncing on her, and Koret and his men taking turns violating her. Then he saw Kral with the agonizer and the pain almost forced him to break the link. But he held on doggedly, and finally the torture session passed. He was in the cell with her. He witnessed Koret's death, and the gunplay with the two warriors and Kral. And finally he saw McCoy's anxious face over her as she passed out in the chamber.
Then there was blinding, brilliant light.
He blinked, and looked around Sickbay as though he were seeing it for the first time. His face was wet. Spock realized that he had been weeping. Her memories had all passed into him, however. He looked down at her, gratified to see that she was resting peacefully, a small smile on her lips. The link had drained him more than he wanted to admit, and he staggered as he approached her couch again. The Vulcan gently touched her cheek.
"You will remember nothing of the pain when you awake," he whispered. "It will be as if it never happened."
He heard footsteps approaching in the corridor, and it galvanized him into motion. Kirk and McCoy were returning. Spock had not realized he had been in the link so long, and he hurried to the alternate exit from Sickbay just as his two friends entered McCoy's office.
"Wasn't that Spock I saw ducking out of here?" Kirk queried.
But McCoy hadn't heard him. "Jim! Look in there!"
Teresa was sitting up on her couch. She looked confused and disoriented, but seemed fine otherwise. The two men rushed out of the office, and she greeted them with a delighted, if bewildered, smile. "Captain Kirk! Doctor McCoy! Where are we? And how did we get here?"
Carlos had also awakened, and he stared quizzically at his young wife. "Teresita! What is happening?"
"I don't know," she said, frowning. "The last thing I remember, we were making love at Crystal Lake..." She stopped suddenly and abruptly, her face flushing a deep crimson.
McCoy smiled. "How do you two youngsters feel?"
"Fine," said Carlos, a strange look on his face. "In fact, I've never felt better."
"Me, too," the young woman chimed in. "But that still doesn't explain how we got here."
"Don't you remember anything?" Kirk asked, frowning. "The bunker..."
"You both were captured by Klingons," McCoy cut in hastily. "We rescued you before you came to any harm, however, and brought you up here for observation." He glanced at Kirk meaningfully.
"Oh, yes, that's about it," the captain agreed.
Teresa was alarmed. "The Klingons...what were they doing here?"
"They were plotting to take over Serenidad, apparently," Kirk said."We stopped them. Unfortunately, they killed a number of UFP Embassy people, several Enterprise security men, and many of the Royal Guard before they were finished. Your Uncle Alfredo was wounded, but he'll be all right. He just needs a lot of rest to recover from energy shock."
"Thank God he's safe!" Carlos said feelingly.
"May I talk to him?" Teresa asked anxiously.
"Sure. We'll have Uhura patch a line through for you in a little while," McCoy put in. "He'll be glad to know you are safe."
The Princess shook her head in bewilderment. "So many things happening, and so fast! It's hard to digest them all at once!" Her eyes grew wide suddenly, her face wreathed in a child-like smile. "We're on a starship! A starship!! Please, may I see it?"
"Me, too!" Carlos exclaimed. "I wouldn't miss this for the world!"
"Well, I think that can be arranged," Kirk said, smiling. "I believe Doctor McCoy would be more than happy to give you both a guided tour."
"Thanks, Jim," McCoy said. "Princess, Carlos, across the corridor is a computer fabrication terminal. There'll be a technician in there. Ask him to punch us a set of off-duty leisure uniforms for the both of you. He'll feed your measurements into the bank, and you'll have your clothes in no time. There are dressing cubicles in the examining room." The physician beamed from ear to ear. "When you're ready, we'll go on that tour!"
The two officers grinned happily as they watched Teresa and Carlos hurry away.
Kirk turned to his chief surgeon. "Well, Bones, there's your miracle!"
"A miracle named Spock," McCoy murmured. "All that pain...I'll bet he was in mind-link with them, more than likely. It had to go somewhere."
"He took it into his own mind," Kirk whispered in awe. "It couldn't have been pleasant."
McCoy snorted. "About as much fun as a session with a Klingon mind-sifter."
"I'll have to thank him," Kirk decided.
"I wouldn't, Jim," McCoy suggested. "You know that fierce Vulcan pride of his. I don't think he'd care to let it be known that he acted from emotion instead of logic."
Kirk grinned. "I guess you're right, Bones."
The two youths came back into the recovery area shortly, and McCoy commenced his tour. Teresa walked between Carlos and the chief surgeon, taking each one by the hand.
The captain smiled.
Princess Teresa looked radiant with joy and excitement. Jim Kirk had seen a lot of bad, ugly things in his time, things that had cost him many sleepless nights. So it was nice to see something turn out like this once in a while.
He turned on his heel and left Sickbay. Right now, he was going to look up a certain Vulcan first officer who had more of a soft spot in his heart than he wanted to let on.
Admiral Kang destroyed the message, as per standard operational procedure. He leaned back in his chair, and he couldn't suppress the wolfish grin that lit his gaunt features. Kral had underestimated Kirk. He had also underestimated Princess Teresa, and it had cost him his life. Some might call his attitude unpatriotic. He could not help feeling that a Kh'myr defeat was a victory for his kind and the old way of life. But they were so few and far between as to be almost inconclusive.
He studied the document in his hands, and his grin broadened. This might be his ticket out of this stifling desk job, a ticket back into space. The Federation weaklings had allowed a Klingon vessel to recover the bodies of Kral and his men and any Klingon property that remained in the Embassy and the bunker beneath before the Enterprise's phasers razed the property. This courtesy would one day prove the enemy's downfall where Serenidad was concerned, for he now held in his hands a deed to the entire planet!
The Klingon admiral could not believe his good luck. Kitan had been cataloguing the property recovered from the Embassy when he had come across the plastex tube. He had recognized it immediately and discreetly brought it to Kang. It would earn him a first officer's post when Kang was recommissioned as a cruiser commander! Here it was before him in black and white: an agreement between Serenidad and the Klingon Empire, renouncing all ties with the United Federation of Planets. It was signed in Princess Teresa's shaky, but recognizable, hand. That made it official and legal. Kang chuckled aloud. He would have the small bloodstain chemically removed; no sense giving the Federation the opportunity to press a case for coercion! They might even try to match the stain with the Princess' blood type. The metal bands on the operating table had apparently lacerated her arms when she struggled against them.
He carefully rolled the document up and deposited it in the tube. It was his ace in the hole, and it would be locked in his safe until such time as he could best use it to his advantage...if and when that time came. It surely was not now. No Klingon ship would be able to get within twenty parsecs of Serenidad until this latest debacle blew over. And things were no different within the Empire, despite this latest defeat. The Kh'myr were still held in as high esteem as ever. The loss was simply chalked up to the fortunes of war, and would soon be swept under the rug.
Kang shook his head. No, he would have to sit tight for the time being. At least now, though, there was a glimmer of hope that he would one day return to the life he loved. It might help him to deal somewhat more easily with the insufferable Kh'myr until his turn came around again.
The intercom buzzer went off, and Kitan sounded almost apologetic. "Admiral Kang, Admiral Khalian to see you."
Kang drew a deep sigh. Another Kh'myr warrior to insult him, one who was his equal in rank. And one who considered him to be inferior in all else. He closed his eyes for a second, as if gathering his strength. Your day will come, Kang, he told himself.
"Admiral?" Kitan asked quizzically.
Kang waited several long seconds. Finally, he opened his eyes, exhaling loudly. For the present, he would just have to make the best of a bad situation.
"Send him in, Kitan."
Press "back" to return to your place in the story.
1. A Klingon unit of time equal to seven standard months.
2. Literally, "the parent race." The term is a pIqaD Klingonese term for the three original races of Klingons (the Kh'teb, the Kh'yrlov, the Kh'fjin). The form of Klingonese spoken by the Segh vav is called Hol Segh vav (language of the parent race).
3. Literally, "success."
4. "Sirian warrior" is the Klingon expression for a member of the Kzinti species.
5. Literally, "animal."
6. Literally, "fool."
7. Literally, "Denebian difficulty." A Klingon expression for the dreaded Denebian slime devils.
8. Literally, "animals."
9. Literally, "You (plural) kill them." (imperative form)
10. The Klingon equivalent of warp drive engines are known as Graf units. Increments of speed are identified as "Graf Factors." The maximum speed of a K't'inga-class battlecruiser is Graf Factor Ten (approximately equal to Warp Factor Twelve).
Free counters provided by Andale.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
2273-2275 The Second Mission.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction.
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website