Nomad, with Linda McInnis
He would have felt much safer in a pit crawling with Denebian Slime Devils.
Admiral Kang, Chief of the Tactical Development Wing of the Klingon High Command, surveyed the hostile face glowering at him across his desk. It was no secret that the Kh'myr warrior commander he had called to this meeting despised him. His kind hated all life forms that did not belong to their superior, genetically engineered sub-race. Kang could not help feeling uneasy. He drew a deep breath before he continued.
"For the last time, Commander Korak, you are to confine your forays to this side of the Klingon-Federation border for now. Starfleet has stepped up patrols on their side of the boundary near your patrol sector thanks to your recent raids. You have been lucky thus far, but no one's luck can hold out forever."
Commander Korak's smile dripped contempt as he leaned back in his recliner. "It is more than luck, Admiral. I leave nothing to chance. I have totally obliterated three major Federation outposts, weakening their strength in that sector. In all cases, I have completely jammed their communications before they could report and left no survivors. I have punched a hole in their defense perimeter in Quad L-14 big enough to send our entire battle fleet through. We could destroy the Federation utterly if you and the other weak fools at High Command would give us free rein."
"So you and your cohorts could bring about the downfall of the Empire!" Kang snarled. "Do you think those meddling Organians would stand idly by while the Empire and the Federation fought an all-out interstellar conflict? Their attention is not caught by skirmishes and even individual battles, but the Organians stop a war. And as we would be the aggressors, we would suffer the consequences."
"Phah!" Korak swore, his eyes burning in his swarthy, bearded face like red-hot coals. "Let me take a strike force to Organia. I will destroy those meddlers and their planet, and then I will crush the Federation."
Kang shook his head slowly. "You are indeed a fool, Commander. Worse, you are a dangerous fool. If you are given half a chance, you will destroy the Empire." He glared at the Kh'myr. "You are relieved of battlecruiser command, effective immediately."
"I don't think so!" a voice thundered from the rear of Kang's small, tidy office even before Korak could voice his own protest.
The startled Kh'myr commander whirled around, his dark face breaking into a huge, savage grin.
"Hail, Khalian!" he shouted, raising a fist in salute.
Kang exploded from his lounger, his face clouded with fury. "How dare you come in here unannounced and countermand my orders! Get out of here at once, or I'll--"
"Or you'll what?" Admiral Khalian strode menacingly toward the desk,his muscular, monolithic bulk in full battle armor dwarfing even the formidable Kang. Both of his huge hands shot out suddenly and disarmed Kang, relieving him of his disruptor pistol and his combat dagger. The giant Kh'myr tossed the weapons to Korak.
"Your orders no longer carry any weight with High Command, traitor," Khalian spat. "Your adjutant, Kitan, was apprehended for failing to show proper courtesy to his Kh'myr betters. I thought it might be interesting to put him under the mind-sifter to see if you might have some secrets or information that would be of use to me. Before he died, he revealed the existence of a very interesting document you keep in your office safe."
Kang paled as Khalian moved to the wall behind his desk and tore down the Perspex star map of the Klingon Empire, revealing the recessed wall safe. The Kh'myr glanced speculatively at Kang.
"I'll never give you the combination!" Kang grated.
Khalian chuckled contemptuously. "I don't need it," he hissed. He gripped the handle and yanked savagely, tearing the heavy, reinforced durasteel door off its hinges with a screech of tortured metal. The Kh'myr tossed the ruined door aside, then reached into the safe to pull out a plastex document tube. He unrolled the paper inside and read it quickly.
"Well, well, well!" Khalian exclaimed, shaking his great knobbed skull from side to side. "What have we here? This document is an agreement between the Klingon Empire and the Federation planet Serenidad. It would seem that Serenidad has renounced all ties with the Federation and wants to be a Klingon protectorate. It is signed by the Princess Teresa herself. Why have you kept this information secret, traitor?"
"Serenidad!" Korak exclaimed, his eyes widening. "That planet's dilithium stores are immeasurably vast! And he was sitting on this?!"
"It would seem so, Commander," Khalian rumbled. He turned his attention to Kang again. "I asked you a question, Kang. Why?"
"I have nothing to say to you," Kang muttered sullenly.
"I'm not surprised." Khalian clapped his gauntleted hands together, and two Kh'myr security guards appeared in the doorway, their disruptor carbines at the ready. "Admiral Kang is under arrest for treason. I have arranged for him to be incarcerated in the deepest, filthiest hole at the Kragyr penal colony." He turned to Kang. "Feel fortunate, Kang. You'll be permitted to live. At least you fared better than your little be'SIj of a wife."
Kang's head snapped up in alarm. "What have you done to Mara?!!"
Khalian's face twisted into an evil leer. "I had her sent to the Kh'alu'don death camp. She was executed at midday--beheaded."
Kang's face went white. "You lie!" he whispered, his voice a dry, tremulous croak.
"Indeed?" Khalian snapped his fingers. One of the guards left the office and returned within seconds carrying a torn, ragged woman's tabard. Kang recognized the tunic immediately. It was the one Mara had been wearing that morning when he had left their habitat.
The collar, shoulders and front of the garment were soaked with blood.
With an incoherent, despairing cry, Kang leaped at Khalian, but the big Kh'myr caught him in mid-air and slammed him brutally to the floor. Kang tried groggily to rise. He was too slow to avoid Khalian's savage kick, which took him on the tip of his chin and snapped his head back. Kang collapsed.
He did not get up again.
"Take him away," Khalian growled. "Put him on the next prison ship to the Kragyr colony, and see that the tunic is placed in his cell to remind him of his dear departed wife--"
The two guards unceremoniously dragged Kang from the room by his heels, trailing a ribbon of blood from the unconscious admiral's split chin behind them.
Commander Korak set Kang's weapon down on the desk. "Khalian. Mara--did you really..."
The Kh'myr admiral sneered. "Korak, my friend, you're a fool indeed if you think I'd let a sweet, little prize like her slip through my fingers! I made her a proposition. If she would agree to be my consort, I would spare her life and Kang's as well."
Korak snorted. "You drive a hard bargain, Admiral! Did Mara actually believe you would keep you promise?"
"She had little choice, wouldn't you say?"
"Then what about that blood-stained jumper of hers?" Korak asked.
"Oh, that." Khalian chuckled. "I brought the tunic with me to Kitan's interrogation, and when I slit his throat, I splashed his blood on the fabric to make it appear as if she had indeed been beheaded." His features hardened. "I just wanted to give Kang something to think about in the confines of his cell. The traitor thinks Mara is dead. He has no inkling of the valiant sacrifice she made to prolong his miserable existence."
Khalian's last words fairly dripped with sarcasm. He rolled up the Serenidad document again, replaced it in its tube and handed it to Korak.
"On to more pressing matters, my friend," the Kh'myr said. "You, Commander Korak, will claim Serenidad in the name of the Klingon Empire. This document is perfectly legal and cannot be contested by the Federation. I can only afford to send you and your ship right now. In most cases, I would fear that this was not nearly enough manpower, but, knowing you and your abilities as I do, I am confident that you are more than equal to the task."
Korak's chest expanded with pride under his armor. "I will not fail, Admiral!"
"I know you won't," Khalian concurred. "Standard occupation procedures will apply. Survive and succeed, Korak!"
"Qapla', Admiral!" the commander exclaimed, returning the salutation. He turned smartly on his heel and briskly strode from the office.
The admiral watched him leave. It would soon be time for him to return to his own cruiser. He was looking forward to his evening, as he had ordered his staff to prepare Mara for him. Khalian smiled in anticipation.
He could think of no more pleasant way to spend the night.
It was a star, she decided finally, a painfully bright, blood-red pinpoint of light in the direct center of a universe of velvet blackness.
How strange, she thought. Only one star. It had no companions; no other stars, no planets, no moons. It must be very lonely. She watched it, strangely touched, somehow, by its aloneness.
Suddenly the star began to pulse and throb and grow. It swelled into an ugly, bloated sun, roaring and hissing with elemental sound like angry waves breaking on the shore, drowning out her terrified screams, expanding until her entire universe was consumed in a haze of blood and flame. And in the midst of the maelstrom, the hideous face of a Kh'myr warrior leered and laughed at her...
Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega awoke in a cold sweat, shrieking at the top of her lungs as she sat upright in her bed.
And even as her screams died away, all memories of her terrifying nightmare fled from her consciousness like water swirling down a drain, leaving her with only a sense of some nameless horror.
The lights flared on as Carlos burst into her bed chamber from his adjoining room. Alarmed, he rushed to Teresa's bedside. She collapsed in his arms, sobbing uncontrollably as she buried her face against his chest.
"It's all right," he crooned, stroking her hair. "I'm here now. You're safe."
"Oh, God, Carlitos," she groaned."I'd had a nightmare but I don't remember any of it, just like all those other times! All I know is it was terrifying!"
"You don't remember anything?" Carlos asked, distractedly tugging at the new beard he now sported.
"Nothing," she replied. She stopped weeping, but her sobbing would not abate, and her lower lip trembled incessantly. Am I going insane? It's been like this ever since...ever since..."
"Ever since the Klingons came," he finished quietly.
She closed her large, dark eyes, shuddering. "Something awful happened to us when the Klingons captured us, I know it! I can feel it, but I can't remember anything about that time--can you?"
He shook his head disconsolately. "You know I don't. All I remember is that we were making love out at Crystal Lake, and we woke up in the sickbay of the starship Enterprise two days later." He frowned, his eyes haunted. "Everything else in between is a blank."
"But at least you're not having these horrible nightmares," she countered. "Something happened. The Klingons did something so brutal, so unspeakable to us that we dare not remember it. Our minds have buried whatever happened."
Carlos gazed down into her lovely tear streaked face. She was so beautiful, so vulnerable--his heart went out to her; he wanted to help her--but he couldn't even help himself. If only it could be the way it used to be between them...
"Try to get some sleep," he whispered. "Remember, you have to get enough rest for two now!" He patted her tummy, swollen and burgeoning now with the new life growing inside her.
She lay back down, managing a weak smile for him. Carlos kissed her cheek hesitantly. He turned to leave, then paused a moment, as if he wanted to say something more. But then he heaved a deep sigh and left her room, snapping off the lights behind him.
Teresa rose almost immediately, struggling awkwardly against the unaccustomed burden of her new, ever-expanding shape. She shuffled slowly across the room and sat down on the window seat.
Serenidad's twin moons flooded the palace gardens below with a serene silver glow. It was a beautiful sight; it should have been soothing to her, but Teresa could find little solace there. She knew she would be unable to drop off to sleep again. Even if she did, it would only be a matter of time before she awoke in an ice water sweat, blind panic tearing screams of horror from her. And as always, she would have no memory of the terror that preyed upon her as she slept. And Carlos...
Tears streamed down her cheeks again. Something had come between her and Carlos which threatened to destroy their once-perfect relationship, a wall of tension that had developed almost immediately after their rescue from the Klingons by the Enterprise crew--and concurrent with the beginning of Teresa's nightmares. Her unexpected pregnancy hadn't helped at all. She should have been happy, she knew, but she was filled with an inexplicable sense of foreboding about the impending birth of her child. For one thing, she did not want a baby; at seventeen, she was having enough trouble adjusting to the awesome burden of serving as the sovereign ruler of an entire planet. Carlos seemed happy enough, but she could sense that he was not overjoyed at her condition, either. Both of them were so very young. They had agreed to wait several years before assuming the responsibilities of parenthood. Maybe he resented the new duties that would soon be thrust upon him, she didn't know. What she did know was that, more than anything else, neither of them could understand how it could have happened at all.
Teresa shook her head miserably. She had always religiously received her semi-annual contraceptive inoculation, ever since her fifteenth birthday. Medical science had all but eliminated surprises like this. It was just her luck that her case was that one-in-a-million fluke that caused physicians to shake their heads in bewilderment.
She stood up, stretching, trying to ease the dull pain in her lower back, and thought of her husband again. Poor Carlos! She still loved him! But since the Klingon incident, she could hardly bear to have him touch her. When they tried to make love, Teresa invariably froze, suddenly filled with a numbing terror and revulsion. She tried. Once she valiantly fought back her inexplicable fear. She urged Carlos to go on, even though he had wanted to stop when he sensed her rigid tension, her lack of readiness. But it finally overwhelmed her. When he tried to penetrate her, the physical pain and mental terror left her screaming, hysterical with fear.
It was the last time they had tried to make love, and it wasn't very long after that Carlos began to sleep in the adjoining guest room instead of with her.
Teresa bit her lip. It was ironic, almost funny in a way. She knew there were people in the court who raised their eyebrows at her behavior, which many considered to be just on the respectable side of promiscuous. Wouldn't they wag their tongues if they knew she almost had to force herself to kiss her husband, her lover, the man who marvelled at her stamina and appetite! It broke her heart. There were many times, before the baby had rendered it impractical, when she had desperately wanted him to take her--but she couldn't relax and give herself to him. She could imagine his frustration; her own needs and wants hadn't changed, and often times built up to an unbearable peak. And, she mused ruefully, her own urgent, probing fingers were a poor substitute for her husband's body.
Teresa gazed out the window again, startled to see the first crimson streaks of dawn painting the sky. She hadn't realized she'd been up so long. Wearily, she climbed back into bed, turning down a collar point of her blue cotton night dress that had flipped up against her cheek. She pulled the covers up to her chin and tried to rest.
Today was going to be a big day. The U.S.S. Enterprise would be arriving to take her Uncle Alfredo to a Federation symposium on new dilithium mining techniques on the nearby planetary system of Galen IV, The starship was delivering some drilling equipment to Galen, and as a courtesy, Captain Kirk had offered to transport Alfredo there when he had learned of her uncle's intention to attend the seminar. Dear Tio Alfredo! As regent, he had helped ease some of the burden of leadership off her small shoulders. She didn't know what she would do without him.
Teresa's eyes drooped and closed as total exhaustion set in. She was too tired even to worry about the mysterious nightmares that plagued her. She thought again of the Enterprise and her crew, particularly of the ship's kind, gentle Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Leonard McCoy, and she brightened somewhat. Perhaps he could heal her. She would talk to him today.
A rare, contented smile played about Teresa's soft lips as,
in spite of herself, she drifted off to sleep.
Captain James T. Kirk strolled into the main transporter room, waving jauntily to Chiefs Kyle and Rand as they ran through a final console calibration check behind the heavy protective shielding. He felt good; for a while, at least, their schedule had lightened. No Klingons, no Romulans, no mush-brained bureaucrats. Finally, they had a chance to engage in exploration and enjoy a nice little excursion like this cargo drop. He smiled, enjoying the pleasant vibrating sensation under his feet as the transporter circuits thrummed with standby power.
As he turned to the platform, Kirk's smile broadened into a wide grin. Doctor Leonard McCoy, whose aversion to the transporter process was a minor Starfleet legend, already stood on a pad, anxiously fidgeting from one foot to the other. He scowled impatiently at Kirk as he nervously tapped his fingers on his medikit carrying case.
"In a hurry, Bones?" Kirk teased.
"I just want to get this damned atom scrambling over with," the physician grumbled. "You know how much I enjoy this."
"I see. You're not looking forward to visiting Princess Teresa, then?"
Kirk was in a good-natured needling mood. He was well aware of McCoy's affection for Serenidad's pretty young princess, and decided to have some fun.
McCoy stared straight ahead as Kirk mounted the pad next to him. "Purely professional, Captain, sir," he said levelly. "Don Alfredo requested that I do a complete workup on the princess."
Kirk's joviality vanished, his buoyant mood immediately replaced by deep concern. "I didn't know that. Is something wrong?"
"He didn't elaborate."
Kirk realized now that his chief medic's urgency to beam down was initiated as much by worry as it was by eagerness. He mentally chided himself for teasing McCoy.
"Let's go see what's up, Bones." He nodded to Kyle and Rand. "Energize."
They materialized in the palace gardens in the midst of a copse of trees that swayed in the gentle breeze of a perfect day. Kirk's eyes wandered over the lush, meticulously landscaped parkland, and he was suddenly homesick. So beautiful, so Earthlike; the stately, spired mass of the royal palace looming into the clear azure sky in the middle distance lent a fairy tale quality to the scene. Kirk closed his eyes, breathing in the sweet scent of row upon row of wild flowers
Don Alfredo hurried through the maze of hedged paths to meet them.
He was a tall, trim man, easing gracefully into middle age; his deep blue softsuit and purple brocaded cloak imbued him with an air of regal authority. He greeted them warmly, but his expression was creased with worry.
"Gentlemen, it's good to see you again," he exclaimed, shaking hands with them.
"The pleasure is ours, sir," Kirk returned.
"Let me offer you some refreshment," the regent said. He led them to a rustic screened-in gazebo situated in the middle of a thick, green, rolling lawn. The two Enterprise officers sank down into softly-padded contour chairs at a round perspex table while Alfredo busied himself at a portable bar.
"What can I offer you?" he asked. "I know that you gentlemen enjoy Saurian brandy. I regret that I have none. However, I do have Canopian brandy."
"That'll be fine, Don Alfredo," McCoy said, as Kirk nodded in agreement. "I've always told Jim that the Canopian blend is a lot mellower than that firewater he likes."
Don Alfredo chuckled as he poured their brandies and selected a dry wine for himself. He joined them at the table.
"I'm grateful that you have agreed to ferry me to Galen Four for the symposium, Captain."
"Our pleasure," Kirk returned, smiling. "Serenidad is almost directly on our flight path to Galen. Besides, it's always a treat to visit your beautiful planet and you, your charming niece and her husband."
"Yes." Alfredo sipped his wine, his expression suddenly glum. His eyes flickered to McCoy. "Doctor, I hope you didn't mind my request for an examination for Teresita. She...she isn't well, and I know she trusts you. Did you know she's pregnant?"
"Pregnant?" McCoy blurted.
"Yes," Alfredo returned. "But she's not at all happy about it. And I can't convince her to seek regular medical care. She saw the palace physician only once, to confirm the pregnancy. After that, she refused to go again."
"But that's dangerous!" Kirk exclaimed. "Now, of all times, she needs extra attention."
"And not just for her," McCoy chimed in. "There's the baby to think about as well."
"I know," the regent agreed. "However, you know Teresita. My sweet, lovely little niece is the most headstrong young lady I have ever known!" His eyes narrowed, and he ran a hand through his receding mane of black hair. "It's more than just the pregnancy, though? She..." He hesitated.
"Go on," McCoy prodded gently. "I'd like to know as much as possible before I see her."
"She's changed," Alfredo continued. "After the Klingons...after you rescued her and Carlos from those monsters, she began having terrible nightmares, nightmares she can't recall upon awakening. She hardly ever sleeps, she eats very little, and..." Tears shone in his eyes. "Doctor, Captain, you told me that Mister Spock's mind-meld erased her memory of the filthy things they did to her. Is it possible he wasn't entirely successful? Maybe he didn't erase those memories so much as bury them, and they still torment her in her subconscious mind? Her troubles did begin just after the Klingon captivity."
"I don't know," McCoy mused. "The Vulcan mind-meld is a very personal, private thing. Spock doesn't discuss it much. It's something to consider, though."
"You never told Teresa and Carlos what happened to them in that bunker, did you?" Kirk asked warily.
"No." Alfredo's voice broke, and he rubbed his eyes. "Sometimes I wonder if they have a right to be told. Carlos seems to be holding up all right, but poor Teresita..." His voice trailed off in a deep sigh.
"Don Alfredo," McCoy said sympathetically. "I can see how this is upsetting you. Is there anything else you can think of to tell me, though. It would really help."
Alfredo smiled wanly. "There is so much, Doctor McCoy, that I don't know where to begin. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that Teresita and Carlos are not getting along at all. They are uneasy with each other and they quarrel a great deal--something they never did before. It's almost as if it's something beyond their control. You can see them trying so hard to reach each other. Somehow, though, it's just too much for them." He shook his head. "I'm afraid that if it goes on like this much longer, their marriage will be destroyed. Carlos is not even here right now. He said he was going down into the city and won't be back until this afternoon."
"I'm sorry to hear they're having trouble," Kirk murmured. "They seemed like such a happy, beautiful young couple."
"Yes, they were." Alfredo frowned tightly. "Doctor, there is one other thing. Her weapon. From the time she was a small girl, Teresita followed a rigorous military training regimen. She frequently favored military attire, and always, she carried a hand weapon in a holster. And yet two days after you brought her back to us from the Klingons, she took off her weapons belt and has not touched it since. That was five months ago."
McCoy took a pull on his brandy and sat back, deep in thought. "I'd like to see her soon."
"She had a late breakfast," Alfredo said. "There's a lake not far from the palace. She often goes there to rest; you'll probably find her there now."
The physician stood up. "Thank you, Don Alfredo. Now if you gentlemen will excuse me?"
"Go ahead, Bones," Kirk nodded. "Don Alfredo and I have to discuss arrangements for the trip to Galen Four anyway."
He started at a brisk pace down the path Alfredo had indicated, barely aware of the warm sun and the gentle, balmy breezes. McCoy's mind churned; he was very disturbed by what Teresa's uncle had told him, and he didn't know what he expected to find when he examined her. The princess, it seemed to him, had always had the best of everything. She was a stunningly beautiful young woman and though somewhat impulsive, she was also extremely intelligent and possessed the courage of a lioness. Alfredo had described a terror-stricken, fearful waif on the verge of a breakdown. McCoy had trouble accepting that.
He wandered through a clearing in the trees and stopped short, stunned.
Princess Teresa sat on a marble bench at the lake's edge, staring blankly out over the placid surface of the clear, blue water. The long-sleeved beige shirt she wore over the loose-fitting brown slacks and knee-high leather boots did little to conceal the fact that she was very, very pregnant.
But it was her face that had captured his attention.
Her beautiful features were pinched with apprehension; those deep, dark, lovely eyes--bloodshot, red-rimmed, and ringed with blue-black isometric smudges from lack of sleep--shone dully, as if they were focused on some dreaded inner torment. She was so pale and gaunt that McCoy could barely look at her, remembering the bubbly young woman they had returned to Don Alfredo, healed--or so he had thought--from her harrowing ordeal at Klingon hands.
McCoy stepped forward slowly, in full view so as not to startle her. She turned at the soft sound of his footfalls; a smile burst radiantly over her delicate features, like a sun shining through rain clouds. For a moment, at least, she was transformed again into the Teresa he had always known.
"Oh, Doctor McCoy!" she exclaimed. "It's so good to see you again!" She tried to rise, but he hastened to her bench and put a restraining hand on her shoulder.
"No need to get up, Your Highness," McCoy murmured. "And it's good to see you again, too."
He took her small hand in his and kissed it in a customary show of respect, but was surprised when Teresa impulsively threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. She was trembling; he could feel the tremors coursing through her tiny body as she clung to him for dear life, as if trying to draw strength from his very presence. Touched, McCoy returned the embrace, then gently disengaged himself.
"I'm here to help," he said softly. "Will you let me?"
She hung her head, tired, defeated, dejected. "Yes, I will," she murmured. "I know my uncle asked you to look at me, but I was going to seek you out myself when I heard the Enterprise was coming." She gazed up at him through a mist of tears. "Oh, Doctor, am I--am I losing my mind? Those nightmares, and..."
McCoy held up a hand. "Whoa, there, one thing at a time! Let's get you straightened out physically first, then we'll check into those nightmares."
He broke out his medical tricorder and began scanning her. "By the way, young lady, what's this your uncle tells me about you refusing to get prenatal medical care?"
Teresa flushed guiltily. "It's true. I...Doctor, I don't want it. I don't want a baby."
"A little late for that, isn't it?" McCoy said, immediately regretting the remark.
Her eyes flashed fire at him. "I've received all my shots," she said evenly, barely controlling her icy fury. "You can check my medical records if you like. I'm not an irresponsible little tramp--despite what some people might say or think."
"I'm sorry," McCoy apologized. "That was uncalled for." His intense blue eyes crinkled at the corners as he grinned contritely. "Still friends?"
She smiled back. He was only trying to help, she thought, and I tried to take his head off. "Still friends," she said. "I'm sorry, too--I shouldn't have snapped at you. I'm just so edgy these days."
"Don't worry about it," McCoy said. He snapped off the 'corder momentarily. "Well, Princess Teresa, you're in fairly good shape--considering that you're over-stressed, fatigued, and slightly malnourished. I'm going to give you a couple of vitamin boosters and a tranquilizer. We'll have you back in top condition in no time at all."
He coded a hypospray with the proper dosage of a stokaline-formazine compound and pressed it against her right arm. She flinched as the cartridge discharged with a hiss.
She's really jumpy, McCoy thought as he replaced the hypo in his kit. I may have to increase the promazine tranquilizer until I can work her through what's bothering her.
The physician reprogrammed his tricorder. "Okay, let's check on the little one. I'm going to do an in-utero scan."
Teresa appeared apprehensive. "Will it hurt, Doctor McCoy?"
"No, it won't. You won't feel a thing." His smile was gentle, reassuring. "Just breathe deeply and relax, Your Highness."
She touched his wrist tentatively. "Umm, Doctor, would you just call me Teresa... please?"
McCoy was taken aback by her simple, earnest request. Teresa smiled softly. The injection was taking effect: she already seemed calmer, more relaxed, more like her old self. Color had returned to her face. He marvelled again, as he had the first time he had ever seen her, at just how lovely and exciting this young woman was.
"All right--Teresa," he heard himself say. "I think I'd like that."
A warning bell went off in McCoy's head. He had one standing, cardinal rule--don't get involved with your patients. But this is different, he argued with himself. In some ways, this beautiful, little princess reminded him of his daughter Joanna. He had missed being a father to Jo, and he was transferring his need to express his paternal affection, his protectiveness, to Teresa. That's it.
He fumbled with his tricorder controls, his hands shaking, suddenly afraid to acknowledge the realization that hit him like an ice water slap.
You're falling in love with her, McCoy.
She's married, she's young enough to be your daughter, and you're falling in love with her. McCoy pinched the 'scan' button almost viciously, hoping she hadn't noticed. "Well, now, let's see what's going on here," he mumbled, trying to keep his voice from quavering.
McCoy scowled sourly. God damned thing must be on the fritz. These readings couldn't be right.She was supposed to be only five months along, and yet the fetus was positioned low, near the entrance to the birth canal. And it was so big! He had thought Teresa looked so large because of her tiny, petite frame, but now...
"How far along did you figure you were?" he asked distractedly.
"About five months. Is there something wrong, Doctor?"
"Oh, no, no," McCoy answered. "Just checking. Let's see if you're getting a boy or a girl. Have you and Carlos thought about what you'd like?"
Her face fell, and he cursed himself for his tactlessness once again.
"Carlos and I haven't discussed it much," the princess murmured. "I don't really want it, and I don't think he does, either. And I still don't know how it happened!"
McCoy tuned the sensitivity and tried to scan the fetus--but now there was definitely something wrong. Either this 'corder is totally defective, or...
His eyes widened suddenly; he completely recalibrated his sensors and watched with growing, dawning horror as one by one the readings stabilized and came into line--heart rate, respiration, reticular activation level. A male child. Yes, it all makes sense now. Oh, God, what a macabre, gruesome joke! How am I going to tell her?
"What's it going to be?" Teresa asked, curious in spite of herself.
"Huh? Oh--a boy, Teresa. A son." McCoy's words echoed hollowly in his ears. Yes, a boy, he thought bitterly.
"I thought so," Teresa said, rubbing her swollen tummy. "He kicks like a horse!"
McCoy snapped off his tricorder. "That's it for now. I want you to get some rest; the promazine'll help. We'll start delving into your nightmare problems later."
"Will you walk me back to the palace? I'm feeling a little sleepy already."
"Good," McCoy said. "You need to catch up on your sleep. I want to get you back up to par as soon as I can."
"I feel better already, just having you here." She held out her small hand to him, and he helped her up from the bench. She had changed. She had always been so spirited, so full of fire. Now she was so listless, almost timid. She badly needed someone to lean on, a far cry from the gritty, determined soldier-princess who had faced down and beaten a Klingon war party just a few short months ago.
McCoy glanced down at his little patient now as they slowly walked up the path to the gazebo. Her mental health was so fragile, so precarious. How could he even tell her that she carried a monster, demon seed in her womb? That her baby's father wasn't Carlos, but one of the filthy Klingon fiends that had violated her?
"You look so serious," she said. "Are you sure nothing's wrong?"
"What? No, everything's fine," he lied. "Look, here's your uncle and Captain Kirk."
They had reached the gazebo. Kirk and Don Alfredo rose to greet them as they approached.
Kirk bent down and kissed Teresa's hand. "So nice to see you again, Your Highness."
"The feeling is mutual, Captain." Teresa returned, smiling.
"Don Alfredo's ready to go, Bones. The belongings he needs for the trip have already been beamed aboard."
"Uh, Captain, could I have a word with you?" McCoy asked.
Alfredo caught the physician's eye and took the hint. "I'll escort the princess back to the Palace," he said. "If you will excuse us?"
But Teresa looked glum. "Now?" she asked forlornly. "You just arrived."
"I'll be in to see you before we leave--I promise," McCoy said.
She brightened at that, and went along with her uncle.
As soon as they were out of earshot, McCoy turned to his captain. "Jim, I'd like to stay with Teresa while you take Alfredo to Galen Four. She's really run down, and I'd like to keep an eye on her. Christine can run things in my absence."
"Sure, Bones. We're not that busy, and God knows you've got the leave time coming." He paused. "Will she be all right? I mean, with the baby and all..."
"It's not that simple," McCoy sighed. "Physically, I can pull her through. A few more stokaline shots, some rest and good food, and she'll be fine. No, it's her mind I'm concerned about."
McCoy took a deep breath. "Jim--Teresa's baby. It's going to be half-Klingon."
"Oh, God, Bones! How can that be?"
"I couldn't figure out at first how she could even be pregnant at all," the physician said. "She kept her injections current. Apparently, the sperm of those damned super warriors is immune to her birth control mix."
"Are you going to tell her?" Kirk asked gently.
A long silence. "She has a right to know. I don't know how to break it to her, though, I have no idea what she'll do when she finds out." She paused, troubled. "I'm awfully fond of her, you know. Maybe too fond."
Kirk frowned. "Are you all right, Bones?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'll be fine, Jim; I've just got a hell of a lot to think about."
Don Alfredo was returning from the palace. Kirk saw him approaching and raised his wrist communicator to his lips. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Uhura, have the transporter room stand by to beam up Don Alfredo and myself. Doctor McCoy will be remaining on Serenidad until we return."
"Acknowledged, sir," came the reply. "Standing by."
Alfredo joined them. "Teresa is in her room, Doctor. She must have reminded me a dozen times to tell you to be sure to come say goodbye to her before we left."
"I'll be staying behind to keep an eye on her, Don Alfredo. Don't worry; she'll be fine."
The regent looked relieved. "I'm glad. I'll rest easier knowing she's being well taken care of." He turned to Kirk. "Shall we go, Captain?"
Kirk nodded, glancing at McCoy. "Take care, Bones," then, "Kirk to Enterprise. Two to beam up."
They were gone then, vanishing in a pillar of sparkling energy, and he was alone.
McCoy strode wearily into the gazebo and sat down. He helped himself to another glass of brandy. He wasn't ready to go to her yet; in his Starfleet career, he had been faced with many difficult decisions and unacceptable choices, but it had been a long time since anything had bothered him this badly. He was going to tell a troubled young woman that the child she carried, a child she didn't want in the first place, was going to be a half-breed Klingon monster.
And what of his feelings for her? Seeing her today, her dark loveliness, only served to shockingly convince him that his affection for her was more than paternal. He couldn't do that to her right now--tell her. She was so vulnerable. Would she laugh at him, this crazy old man trying desperately and unsuccessfully not to fall in love with a child? He thought not; he could sense that she had feelings for him, too, which may or may not have been precipitated by her falling-out with Carlos. Were he an unscrupulous sort, it would be very easy for him to take advantage of her right now. But he wouldn't; she had enough trouble right now as it was.
McCoy took a long pull on his brandy. He slouched down comfortably in his chair, too distracted to enjoy the friendly, dappled, late-morning sunshine, or the aerobatics of the bird-like creatures called "skimmers."(1) He had his hands full, that was sure. His first concern, of course, was for the physical and mental well-being of his young patient. But the rest of it--the personal concerns--would be like walking on eggs.
And he wondered if he could do it without crushing anything!
McCoy polished off his drink and reluctantly pulled himself up out of his chair. It wasn't getting any earlier, and he had work to do. He drew a deep breath to steel himself.
Then, slowly, he made his way down the path to the Palace.
Commander Korak stood behind his bridge throne, watching the stars slide by on the viewscreen. The Targa was not a happy ship, and Korak was concerned, although he didn't let the worry show on his seamed, leathery face. His vessel was an uprated K't'inga-class D7-C battlecruiser, designed to comfortably carry 400 warriors. However, it was the only ship that could be spared for the Serenidad mission, and because he required an adequate strike force to occupy the planet, crew quarters were double and triple billeted. Some of his twelve hundred warriors who now crowded the sleek cruiser were even sleeping in the corridors. Friction abounded, and normally volatile Kh'myr tempers flared at a constant boiling point. Several fights had broken out; one crewman had been killed. Korak had executed the assailant himself, which had restored discipline and order. Thank Kahless their voyage was nearing an end!
Korak stalked around to the front of his chair and sat down. Rodok, the navigator, glanced over at his commander.
"Report!" Korak barked.
"On course at Warp Three," Rodok complied. "No contacts within range of our sensors."
Good. We crossed the Organian Treaty Zone nearly twelve standard hours ago, and still have not sighted a Federation starship. The Guardians of Kh'eloz are with us! "Estimated arrival time?"
"Fifteen kudynes(2), My Lord."
The Kh'myr commander turned to the helm/weapons console. "Status?"
"Fully operational in stand-by mode, Lord Commander."
Korak smiled. Lieutenant-Commander L'yan was the only Kh'myr female ever accepted into the battle fleet, the only female of any Klingon race now on active duty. L'yan was his second-in-command--and his lover, a fact of which, only a few of Korak's closest aides were aware. L'yan's way had not been easy. She had challenged for entrance into the Battle Academy. The last opening in any given class was open to challenge. Rejected applicants and others who would not normally be admitted--such as females--could vie for that last spot in hand-to-hand combat. L'yan's fellow "applicants" were three hulking brutish Kh'myr males. The moderator smirked as he called L'yan into the pit for the first match. So did her opponent! He welcomed this chance for a quick kill, so that he would be fresh for his combat with his other, stronger opponents.
He died quickly, his throat slashed from ear to ear, before he could even clear his dagger from its sheath.
Korak had been an upperclassman at the academy then, and he was at the arena that day to watch the matches. He remembered the undercurrent of amazement that had swept the grandstands. But L'yan was quick and agile, and an expert with the big, dangerous combat dagger. Her second opponent offered her a little more trouble than the first, and even managed to inflict several superficial wounds on the spirited young woman's lithe form. But he, too, was dispatched to the Afterworld of Kh'eloz with an efficient thrust to the heart.
By now, there were even a few scattered, begrudging bursts of applause for this upstart female. They could not fault her courage, at least, but it seemed that this alone would not be enough to save her. She had to be tired now, and her last adversary was big and dangerous-looking, and carried himself with the confidence of a born predator.
Indeed, he was more than a match for L'yan. For all his size, he was just as fast as she was, and his reach was much longer. As the contest wore on, L'yan grew more and more weary, until finally, inevitably, her opponent got under her guard and laid open her abdomen, coming within mere centimeters of disemboweling her. A groan went up from some of the spectators, but it was drowned out by the rousing cheers of the majority who were relieved that the Academy's all-male status would be maintained. Korak and his companions rose to leave.
L'yan's assailant stood over her for a moment, resting, savoring his victory before taking her head as a grisly trophy.
His face contorted in surprise and dismay when L'yan drove her blade up into his groin. The big Kh'myr howled, dropping to his knees, his blood puddled in a steady stream on the parched ground. Those who had been leaving were forcefully drawn back to watch the final act of the drama.
L'yan managed to get up on her knees, face-to-face with her would-be murderer. She tore her weapon free; the Kh'myr bellowed again, and fell forward. L'yan drew her knife back for the death stroke. The Kh'myr knew he was finished, but he was too transfixed by pain to even try to roll out of her way. L'yan's blade sliced through his throat and almost beheaded him.
In a final gesture of defiance, she slit open her victim's britches and castrated him, flinging his mutilated genitals into the grandstands in an eloquent expression of just how she felt about the academy's all-male status. Then she collapsed in a pool of her own blood.
The entire assembly was for her now, and roared its approval. Orderlies hurried down into the pit and hauled L'yan away to the ministrations of a battle surgeon.
As he left the stadium, Korak made a mental note to check on L'yan's progress if she survived, convincing himself that he was more impressed with her courage and tenacity than he was smitten by her beauty.
L'yan did more than survive. She graduated first in her academy class and went into the fleet with the rank of lieutenant, an unheard-of achievement. And she also distinguished herself as a Kh'lai(3)assassin. Korak himself was very, very good, but he was an amateur compared to her. Indeed, there were only seven others in the entire Empire. Such skill was not easily attained, and it was quite possible that L'yan would not have lived to reach the rank of lieutenant commander without it. The predominant philosophy of the Kh'myr race was that a female was good only for bearing children, and for the pleasure that the various orifices of her body provided a warrior. L'yan had won many admirers in her quest for equality, but for every supporter she gained, there were ten who hated and resented her. Several attempts had been made on her life at the academy, several more since she joined the fleet.
Not one of her attackers had lived to try again.
Korak was whisked back to the present as the bridge doors hissed open, signalling the arrival of the relief shift. He was about to stand dawn for Lieutenant Klysar, his relief, when Rodok tensed and hunched over his navigation board. "My Lord, I read a contact at extreme sensor range!" he sang out.
"Cloak!" Korak commanded. He strode to Rodok's console as the device was activated, dimming the bridge lighting with his ravenous demand for power. "Identity?"
"Unknown, joHwI'. Too far away to be certain. They are continuing on course; it is doubtful that they scanned us!"
Korak flashed a quick feral grin. Perhaps a starship! A battle would be a perfect morale booster for the crew. And while Kang had forbidden him to engage enemy ships, Khalian had given no such order. He came to a decision. "Battle alert!" he snarled.
His bridge crew whooped as the alarm sounded and bent to their assigned tasks. Kozan, the communications officer, jammed the entire spectrum of subspace bands from his board, blacking out their target's communications. Rodok plotted a high-speed intercept course, and L'yan brought her torpedoes and disruptors up to full-load status.
They were ready.
Korak leaned forward as the enemy ship swelled on the screen, growing from a tiny white speck into the familiar configuration of a Federation starship.
"Registry number and identification confirmed, My Lord. A Miranda-class frigate, NCC-1852, the U.S.S. Courageous."
"L'yan, a quick kill," Korak said. "We must not be deterred from our primary mission."
"Understood, My Lord." L'yan gripped her firing controls, her fiercely beautiful features etched in concentration, and Korak felt a surge of desire in his loins. He cursed under his breath and fought it down. He waited, sensing the impatience of his crew, holding back until the ship's registration number and saucer deflector grid loomed large on the screen.
"baH!" he shouted at last.
The cloaking device dropped, and L'yan unleashed all the lethal weaponry at her command. The hapless, unshielded Courageous was caught in a withering hail of photon torpedoes and disruptor bolts and exploded, annihilated even before her crew saw their attacker.
The bridge crew roared in victory. Korak raised a fist in salute, a broad grin lighting his savage face.
"Well done!" he exclaimed. "Bridge crew, stand down for your relief. You have earned it well!"
Korak rose, yielding his throne to Klysar. L'yan favored him with a veiled half-smile as she walked past him.
Lieutenant Klysar seated himself. He turned to Korak. "Instructions, joHwI'?"
"Standard watch," his commander replied. "Keep sensors on widest possible scan, and call me immediately if another contact is made. We are closing in on Serenidad now, and will engage in further combat only if the risk is small."
"Understood." Klysar saluted, and Korak returned the gesture as he left the bridge.
He strode down one of the long corridors of the main access boom, acknowledging the salutes of his men as he passed them. His mind was on Serenidad. The task would be difficult. He had one ship and twelve hundred warriors to control an entire planet. A figurehead from the existing government, while not absolutely necessary, would help allay the people's fear--perhaps the Princess Teresa herself, or her husband Carlos. He had a mind-sifter unit in storage, aboard the Targa, and a ch'luge module that could transform the device into a mind-shaper. It did not work on every subject, but the Princess and her husband were weak Humans. He was convinced they would be broken. If not...
Korak arrived at his cabin and entered with relief. Once the doors slid shut behind him and he was out of sight, he heaved a deep sigh as he attempted to shake off the tension that had settled. It was then that he noticed his cabin lighting was much dimmer than he had left it.
Korak smiled to himself, showing his sharp, pointed teeth. L'yan! He sensed the reflexive quickening of his pulse.
He walked softly into his bedchamber, and was not surprised to find his second-in-command already there. She was naked, sprawled across his bunk. Her smile was lascivious.
"You are a presumptuous little vixen, L'yan," he rumbled. "You seem quite certain that I would be in the proper mood for what you have in mind!"
"I thought perhaps My Lord would wish some recreation after the battle," L'yan purred. "Combat has a tendency to arouse him."
Korak chuckled. "You know me too well for my own good, female!"
The Kh'myr undressed as quickly as his heavy, clumsy battle armor allowed. Within moments, he joined her on his bed. They lay side by side, locked in a fierce embrace. L'yan's kiss was hungry, savage.
"Only here," she gasped. "Only here in your arms do I feel truly safe, only here can I be soft--and only here will I deign to be submissive to a man! Take me!"
She rolled over on her stomach and drew her knees forward, raising her exquisitely-rounded backside to him. Her pungent scent filled his quarters, intoxicating him, increasing his urgent need for her until he was sure his loins would burst from wanting her. He entered her from the rear. L'yan groaned aloud as his maleness filled her. Korak fell into a steady, pumping rhythm, and all his unspoken fears and unacknowledged tension about the mission fled from his consciousness. For now, there was only L'yan and his aching need for her.
There would be more than enough time to concern himself with those other matters later.
Another nightmare--or was it just a dream?
She was free, surrounded by gleaming, shimmering shrouds of mist. She knelt down, trying to peer through the fog. It was so thick she could hardly see her own body, but she knew she was naked. When she squinted down at herself, she could see her pregnant belly staring back at her.
In the mists, a figure stirred. It rose and staggered towards her. Even though she could not see who or what it was, the aura of menace it radiated was cloying, and against her will, a scream rose to her throat.
Suddenly, the mist parted, and she knew who faced her. It was Commander Kral, as he had been after she had killed him in the bunker: scorched, seared and smoldering. He stumbled forward, falling on his ruined knee, and raised his handless stumps to her in a grotesque parody of one begging for mercy.
"You took my hands--you took them!"
She heard his voice as if he spoke through water, but his mouth never moved.
"If I had them now, I would tear off your head and use it for target practice!" The stumps reached futilely for her.
"Please..." Teresa moaned. "Please leave me alone! You're dead! I killed you!"
Kral's corpse chuckled--at least, the deadly laughter seemed to emanate from his body. But soon the sound shivered through and around her completely, threatening to consume her sanity.
"It doesn't matter" he cackled. "I'll still live. You gave me death, but you'll give me life."
"What do you mean?" she quavered. He couldn't mean...no, he couldn't!
"You carry my life in your body, my seed. You will bear my child, and I'll have my vengeance."
"No! NO!" Teresa felt her whole body heave with disgust. "It isn't true; it can't be!"
He raised his arms and pointed the stumps at her. Teresa gasped at the sudden flash of pain. She lay back, her stomach rippling with contractions.
Through the pain, her terror grew as she looked down the length of her body. She saw a hand rising up above her swollen stomach, snaking its way up and out from inside her tortured being.
A hand clad in the ringed leather of a Klingon battle gauntlet.
Teresa screamed until she felt her head would burst. The hand was followed by an arm, a shoulder, then a great, knobbed Klingon skull. Within moments, the huge form of a Kh'myr warrior stood over her. A bloody cowl obscured his face, but his hand lifted deliberately and tore it aside.
It was Kral--whole and full-formed again.
"You see?" he whispered as he towered above her. "I will have my due!"
He bent down towards the Princess, his hands closing over her throat with easy force.
Teresa's screams weakened, and the mists around her turned red. She was dying.
"Teresa! Princess! Wake up!!" Leonard McCoy shook his hysterical patient vigorously, his ears still aching from her screams. She fought him hard, beating him with her balled fists--then her eyes blinked, and the wildness left them as she realized who he was.
"I...I... I...had another dream...they won't leave me!"
"Teresa, tell me, quick, before you forget!" McCoy urged.
"He was--I was.... Oh no! It's gone! Oh, doctor, why can't I remember? There's only the fear--and the hate!"
Her voice was so plaintive and broken. McCoy could do nothing but fold her in his arms and wait for her sobs to subside.
She pulled away and looked up at him with glistening eyes. "Doctor... you know, don't you? You know why...I'm like this."
McCoy forced himself not to look away. "If I told you what I know, it could be very dangerous for you. Something happened to you that your mind could not accept. You were in a catatonic trance, almost a coma, and you'd still be like that if..."
"If what?" Teresa's black eyes flashed cold flame. "I have a right to know! I demand to know!"
"All right." McCoy drew a ragged breath. "The last time the Enterprise visited Serenidad, five and a half months ago, you and Carlos were captured by a Klingon war party. They...did things to you, to Carlos. The Klingon commander had sworn a blood oath against your husband."
She paled. McCoy took her hands in his own, as if trying to transfer his strength to her. "What did they do to me?"
"They...they raped you. God help me, there's no way to sugar-coat it. They used you and tortured you 'til you were more dead than alive, then they dumped you in a cell. Somehow you got away and saved us all. Captain Kirk, Spock and I were captured trying to rescue you, and you turned around and set us free."
"Oh, no." Her voice was tiny, almost inaudible. "I...don't believe it! Why can't I remember?"
"Spock. He mind-melded with you while you were in the trance and tried to erase all the terrible memories. Unfortunately he wasn't entirely successful..." His voice trailed off as he struggled for the courage to tell her the one last, horrifying truth she had to know.
"Teresa, your baby. It's...Carlos isn't the father. The child will be half-Klingon."
She shrank away from him, her eyes wide with horror. "No! No no no! Oh, God, you're lying! You've got to be! Please say you are!!"
"Teresa, please! If you can face this dreadful thing, we'll be on the way to getting you better!"
"No--I can't! Oh, Doctor, if I thought one of those filthy things had...had violated me--that I'm carrying a monster-child..."
McCoy's tone was quiet, convincing in its softness. Teresa staggered back a step.
"No," she sobbed. She gagged, covering her mouth with her hands as she broke into an awkward run to the lavatory.
Blasted Vulcan mind-melds, McCoy thought. She doesn't believe me because she can't remember. Well, I handled this one with all the finesse of a sledge hammer.
He waited discreetly outside the bathroom until the tortured retching sounds ceased and he heard her turn on the basin faucet. Teresa was toweling off her face when he ventured in.
She spun on him. Her eyes blazed like ebony diamonds, accented by the chalky paleness of her face.
"You stay away from me!" she hissed. "This planet was peaceful, and my people were happy until those wretched dilithium crystal deposits were found. Ever since then, Serenidad has been in a tug of war between your greedy Federation and those Klingon bastards! If they hadn't come, I wouldn't be..."
He tentatively reached to comfort her, but she batted his hand away. "Get out! Get out of here! I hate you!!"
McCoy looked stricken. He stood frozen for a moment, then his hand dropped to his side. He turned to leave. "I'll be staying in the guest wing," he murmured. "If you need me..."
"Leave me alone!!!"
He left without another word. The door slammed, and a great sob broke from Teresa's throat.
"Oh...I didn't mean it! What have I done to him? I didn't mean it." She sagged to her knees, miserable and alone. This was worse than any nightmare she could imagine. It couldn't be true; she refused to believe it.
But...what if it is true?
What would she tell Carlos? He would hate her, even if it wasn't her fault that her baby would be...would be...
She said it aloud. It felt so vile, so filthy on her tongue. No! Doctor McCoy has to be wrong! God wouldn't let such an unnatural thing happen. She would miscarry, or die, and the baby would die with her. Better to die than to give birth to an unholy creature.
And the child in her womb kicked once, then again, as if defying her to take its life.
"Stop it! No! Stop it, please!"
Teresa collapsed, wracking sobs shaking her. She couldn't go on like this; it was slowly killing her. She would talk to McCoy again. Maybe he...
She pushed herself up on her hands and knees, exhausted, but determined now. Perhaps McCoy could help her. She would talk to him after the Council meeting.
The Council meeting.
Teresa struggled to her feet, pulling herself up with the aid of a nightstand by her bed. She had completely forgotten the meeting! She was due in the Main Council chambers in less than forty-five minutes. Ordinarily, she would have been looking forward to chairing a Council session all by herself; with the help of her uncle, she had become more and more assertive, more competent over the past months, and was now fully prepared to direct the Council on her own.
But today, her heart just was not in it.
Teresa hurried into the bathroom again, pulling off her shapeless tunic as she walked, stopping only for an instant to shrug off her boots and trousers. She caught a glimpse of her naked, bloated form in the full-length mirror.
She shuddered in disgust and turned away, hastening into the sonic shower before the sight of her pregnant body sent her screaming from the room. Teresa punched a knob on the control panel, sending a streaming spray of water cascading over her. If only she could relax, if only she could slow down the frantic, jackhammer beating of her heart. This had to stop! She would send an attendant to summon Doctor McCoy to the Council chambers; she wanted to speak with him as soon as she could.
She closed her eyes and let the hot, pulsing water massage her face, and her lips moved in a silent prayer that everything would be all right.
The walk had not helped Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza's disposition in the least. The colorful bazaars and markets of Castillo Nuevo depressed him today, as did the crowds. He was oblivious to the chatter of buyers and vendors, the merchants hawking their wares, the shoppers hunting for bargains. He strode through the crush of people, his sullen eyes staring straight ahead. Unaware that he had ignored several friends and acquaintances who hailed him as he passed, he stalked down Calle de Oro until he left the outskirts of the city behind.
What was he going to do? Teresa had become a stranger to him. Sometimes he feared she was going mad. Her nightmares and mood swings were bad enough, but now there was the baby...
Carlos walked faster. He didn't know what to think of the baby. They had always been so careful, especially Teresa. She would never have taken a chance on becoming pregnant unless she wanted a baby, and judging from her behavior, she certainly did not want a baby. And she would have at least consulted him first.
He struck out along a side path off the main road. The woods grew thicker, and Carlos slowed his pace. His tense features eased into a smile. Where is it? If he remembered correctly...Oh, yes. There it is.
Behind a curtain of overgrown brambles and concealing weeds, the mouth of a small cave beckoned. Carlos eased himself past the thorny underbrush and through the small opening, and stepped into the past.
His smile expanded into a happy grin. This had been his secret place long ago, before Teresa. As a little boy, he had come here to play. As a young man, he had come here to play, too--but not with toys.
He thought of Angelita. Aside from Teresa, Angelita Martinez was the most intensely sexual woman he had ever known. It seemed like only yesterday; they had come here often during warm, sultry summer evenings to experiment with the arts of pleasure! He would explore the secrets of her soft, young body, savoring the delicate scent and the sweet, clean taste of her. She, in turn, would surprise him with her savage appetite and passions.
Those had been good times. Angelita had been his last great love before he had met Teresa. Somehow, they had drifted apart. He couldn't explain why, or if it had been his choice or hers. All that mattered now was that they no longer saw each other.
Carlos' thoughts returned to the present, and he experienced a sudden, brief pang of regret.
He strolled around the small cavern a few moments longer, reminiscing, until the fond memories served to remind him how unsettled he was now. He turned to leave.
He was startled by the sound of branches.
A slim, graceful feminine form stood in the entrance, backlit by the brilliant sunshine outside. She strode into the cave, and as Carlos' eyes adjusted to the change in lighting, they also widened in surprise.
"I thought you might come here, Carlitos," she whispered, her soft voice caressing his name. "It's been a long time."
Carlos was speechless; his jaw sagged, and when he did try to speak, he could only manage a halting stutter.
Angelita Martinez was, if anything, more heartbreakingly lovely than she had been that last bittersweet night they had spent together. Soft masses of golden curls framed her face, held in place by a scarlet headband. Her clear green eyes regarded him candidly; the bow of her mouth turned up at the corners in a half-smile. She wore snug-fitting black breeches and knee-high boots, and a blousy, white, see-through tunic. Always the free spirit, Angelita wore nothing underneath. The tips of her breasts seemed to stare back at him, protruding through the diaphanous fabric.
"What's this?" she teased. "Not even a 'hello, how are you?' for an old friend?"
"I'm...sorry," Carlos managed. "I didn't expect to see you here. I was just thinking about you."
"I saw you in the city." She stepped closer. "I tried to catch up with you, but you were stalking around as if the Devil himself was after you."
"I didn't realize." He smiled ruefully at her. "I'd have stopped if I'd known it was you."
"How are you, Carlos...really?" There was concern in her eyes, and they mirrored an affection for him that he had thought was long gone.
"I'm fine," Carlos answered. "Just fine."
"That's not what I hear."
"What do you mean?"
"People talk, Carlitos. The activities of the Princess and her Prince-Consort are always newsworthy."
He chuckled. "Don't believe everything you read, Angelita. Those gossip newsfax services tend to exaggerate."
"Oh, I don't read them. I only know what I've seen first hand." She hesitated. "You aren't getting along with her--the Princess--are you?"
"I don't think that's anybody's business," Carlos bristled. "If I..."
"Come on, Carlitos. This is me, remember? The two of you aren't even sleeping together."
"Angelita, really! Teresa's pregnant! We can't--"
"I'm not talking about making love. You're sleeping in separate rooms."
Carlos swore. "Where are you hearing all this nonsense?"
"You forget--the palace staff is made up of common people like me. They live in the city, and they talk."
"Common people." Carlos' mouth turned down in disgust. "We're back to that again, huh?"
"Yes!" Her voice was tinged with bitterness. "That's why you married Princess Teresa instead of me, isn't it? I should have known that a young nobleman would never take one of the riff-raff for his bride."
"I love Teresa!" Carlos protested.
"Do you? More than you loved me? Or do you love the power she had, and the prestige it gives you." Angelita's eyes glittered.
He growled something inarticulate as his temper snapped like a frayed rubber band. He slapped Angelita with a vicious backhand, and she staggered back, gasping in shock and pain. A rivulet of blood trickled from her split lower lip.
Carlos felt as if he had just been splashed with a pail of ice water. Sick and ashamed at what he had done, he reached out to help Angelita. He walked right into a roundhouse punch. Angelita's fist smashed into his chin. The force of the blow rattled his teeth and sent him reeling against a wall of the cave.
Angelita pressed her advantage. She threw her arms around the stunned Carlos in a bear hug.
But instead of hitting him again, though, she kissed him hard.
"You bastard!" she sobbed. "Don't you understand? I still love you. And I can be just as much of a slut as she is!"
Her battered lips crushed against his. Carlos could not help responding to her. Oh, it had been so long! The sweet nearness of her overwhelmed him. Their tongues met and caressed each other, and her long, lovely fingers gently fondled the now-bulging crotch of his trousers, sending shivers of delight down his spine. Without warning, Angelita knelt down in front of him. She undid his pants, freeing his straining member from its confinement.
Before Carlos could even gasp in surprise, her warm, wet mouth closed over his hardened flesh.
He groaned, trying to keep his hips from moving in time to her bobbing head, but it was no use. His climax was explosive and quick, fueled by his urgent need. His back arched in a pleasure spasm; the world winked out of existence for those few ecstatic moments, and he was conscious only of the intensity of his release and the sound of Angelita swallowing.
She gently put everything back in its proper place, refastening the front of his pants before she stood up. She wiped her mouth dry with the back of her hand, then smiled at him. "See? Nobody can please you that way better than I can--not even her. I remember how much you liked me to do that. You used to beg me for it. When's the last time your little Princess did that for you?"
Dazed, Carlos tried to speak, but Angelita put a finger against his lips. "Shhh! Don't." There were tears glistening in her eyes. "I want to tell you something first. I'll always be yours. If you ever get tired of her and your royal lifestyle, I'll be waiting."
He took her hands in his own. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "She's my wife, just as we said in our vows: 'for better or for worse.' What we did here was wrong; I shouldn't've let you. It's my fault--"
But Angelita would hear no more. She kissed him one last time. Then she turned and fled from the cave, covering her ears with her hands as he shouted after her.
Carlos breathed a deep sigh, feeling suddenly foolish and guilty. The small cavern oppressed him now. He had to get back; he'd been gone a lot longer than he had planned. And Gold help him if Teresa ever found out! Angelita had all but attacked him, so it wasn't entirely his fault...
His mouth quirked in a mirthless smile. No, that wasn't true. He had enjoyed it. His groin still tingled. He could have pushed her away, but he had not; it had felt too good.
But that didn't make it right.
And perhaps more disturbing than anything else were the things his former love had said. The questions she had asked raised doubts in his mind, and brought to a boil a kettle full of misgivings that he had been brewing for some time.
Did he still love Teresa?
Had he ever?
Carlos hurried from the cavern and headed for the main road, wondering if he really wanted to discover the answers to those questions.
Commander Korak would have been quite happy to sleep through the next watch. The gods knew he was bone weary, and he needed the rest.
But the gods were conspiring against him; something--or someone--was tickling his nose.
Korak's eyes sleepily fluttered open. "My Lord wished to be awakened before we entered the Serenidad system."
L'yan's nimble fingertips traced the curve of his nose, then brushed upwards along the crest of bone that ran over the top of his skull. Korak was struck by the fact that these same, gentle, loving fingers had also sent the crew of a Federation starship to a fiery death just hours earlier.
"So soon?" Korak asked. He pulled L'yan to him and kissed her. The warmth of her naked body aroused him yet again, and he responded in typical fashion.
But L'yan pulled away. "Korak, my love, nothing would please me more than to love you again, but we must prepare ourselves. You know how efficient Klysar is. He might come down here with a security force to make sure you're all right!"
She rolled over on her side to get up from the bunk. Korak grabbed for her, missed, and settled for giving her bare bottom a playful nip. L'yan yelped. She hopped to the floor, fixing Korak with a reproachful glare.
"joHwI'! If your superiors at High Command could see you now..."
"They would compliment me on my fine taste in females!" He smiled at her, an expression that was more like a pleasant snarl. "Just once more."
L'yan sighed in exasperation. "Please, Korak! When the invasion's complete, and Serenidad is ours, you can use me all you want. I promise!"
"No one uses you, L'yan." Korak's voice was almost a whisper. "Your promise is good enough for me. I'll wait. And you're right--it is time we prepared ourselves."
"My Lord is very wise," L'yan responded with a sly smile.
Korak sat up and stretched, trying to focus his thoughts on the upcoming invasion --a difficult task compounded by the presence of his lovely mate. He marveled at her supple musculature. L'yan possessed the lithe, graceful frame of a dancer. She was incredibly strong for her size; the discipline of the Kh'lai enabled her to compete in combat without the grotesque mass of a body builder. He had seen her defeat a warrior more than twice her size on more than one occasion. In a one-on-one test of sheer strength, of course, she would have been no match, but her deadly speed and agility adequately made up for other differences.
She bent over to retrieve some of her scattered clothing. Korak drew in a sharp breath. He remembered how much he had hated the required engineering courses at battle command school, and he ran over one of those boring equations in his head--anything to take his mind off L'yan's beautiful, fetchingly-displayed backside!
It worked, to a greater or lesser degree.
L'yan picked up her panty briefs, and Korak noticed a small, curved dagger in a curved sheath secreted in the crotch of the tiny garment. She caught his speculative stare. "My last line of defense," she chuckled. "My weapon of choice is the blade, in all its sizes and shapes. I have three others hidden in my armor, in addition to my combat dagger."
She snugged the panties up between her legs, where nature provided a perfect concealment for the tiny weapon.
"Would that I were that blade!" Korak breathed.
L'yan laughed aloud. "I came upon that idea when I led a raiding party on Ceraan. We looted a temple in the capital city, and the maidens there wore such weapons to protect their virtue--to be used against their attackers, or, failing that, to take their own lives." Her eyes twinkled. "Needless to say, their measures were ineffective. When my troops had their fill of those females, they slew them with their own weapons. I kept one of the blades for my own use. A novel idea, wouldn't you say?"
L'yan began to wriggle back into her uniform. Korak watched with regret as the delightful contours of her body disappeared into the unflattering bulk of Klingon battle armor. She tugged her breeches up over her hips, cinching the waistband just below a long, puckered scar that marred the otherwise smooth perfection of her flat tummy. L'yan traced the hard tissue with her fingertips.
Korak shrugged into his own trousers. "You could get rid of that--the scar, I mean. A little cosmetic surgery..."
"No, I would never do that." L'yan's voice was distant, and her eyes were clouded with memories of a time and place in her embattled past. "It reminds me of who I am, of what I had to endure to get where I am. If ever I grow complacent, I only have to see this scar or touch it, and my resolve returns ten-fold."
Something flickered in the depths of her dark eyes. She returned to the present. "Does the scar disturb you, My Lord? Do you find it...ugly? If so--"
"No." Korak rose from the bed to clasp her hands in his own. "From this day on, it will serve to remind me only of your courage--and what you have achieved."
He released his grip, and they finished dressing, testing the straps and cinches of each other's breastplates and tabards. When they were ready, Korak strode to his desk-mounted comm panel and flipped on the "intraship" switch.
"This is Korak. All invasion forces will meet in the assembly hall for briefing immediately." He punched another button. "Korak to bridge. Position report."
"Klysar here, joHwI'. We are forty-one standard minutes from the outer boundary of the Serenidad system, eight hundred sixty-eight kellicam from its sun."
"None within range of our scans, sir."
"Good. I will be on the bridge following the briefing. Notify me immediately of any status changes. Korak out."
The assembly hall was filled to capacity when Korak and L'yan arrived. They strode forward through a veritable sea of heavily-armed, silent warriors and mounted a dais in the front of the vast chamber. Another Klingon detached himself from a small knot of soldiers standing to one side of the platform and joined them. He raised a fist to salute, but his bearded face twisted into a cold, disdainful sneer when he glanced at L'yan.
"Lieutenant Commander Mord reporting, joHwI', for the glory of the Empire!"
Korak acknowledged the salute, then turned to face the assembly. He was encouraged by what he saw. The faces of his men reflected excitement, eagerness, and determination. They stood at attention, gripping disruptor carbines attached to auxiliary power packs by flexible cables. They were also armed with their standard disruptor pistols and daggers, and whatever hideaway weapons they chose to carry. Korak was reminded of an old Earther expression he had once heard: "loaded for bear."
He had no idea exactly what a "bear" was, but he was certain his men would have been more than equal to the task of dispatching it!
"We have very little time left, so I won't waste it on preliminaries," Korak began. "Our mission is to take the planet Serenidad, and to claim it and its dilithium deposits for the Empire. It won't be an easy task. We have only twelve hundred troops and one battlecruiser--but we are Klingons!"
The assembly hall rang with shouts of approval at those words. Korak smiled and continued his address. "Our attack will be two-pronged. Lieutenant Commander L'yan and I will take the Starfleet compound located near the palace, while Lieutenant Commander Mord and his forces attack the palace itself. Even though the two previous missions to Serenidad ultimately failed, we gained valuable intelligence information from them. We have coordinates to beam our strike forces right onto the grounds of our intended targets."
He motioned to a warrior manning a control console. The huge holoscreen behind him lit up. Images swam and coalesced into focus. The screen depicted a middle-aged man with regular features and grey-streaked blonde hair. He wore a Starfleet commodore's uniform. His visage was joined seconds later by those of a young couple--a tiny, black-haired beauty with enormous dark eyes, and a handsome young man whose brown hair and beard could not conceal his youthful years.
"Study these faces--know them well," Korak barked. "The Starfleeter is Commodore Paul Westlake. The little female is the Princess Teresa herself; the other one is her husband, Prince-Consort Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza. These three are to be taken alive, and I will have the head of the warrior who harms any of them!! Westlake is the new Starfleet base commander on Serenidad; we will make a public example of him after we are in control to show the populace of the planet what happens to enemies of the Klingon Empire. The princess and her husband will be subjected to the mind-sifter for reprogramming. If one or both of them can be re-shaped without having their minds destroyed, they will be useful allies. I can use them as figureheads to help deal with the people until we are firmly established."
Korak bared his teeth in a wolfish grin. "If they cannot be...persuaded to join us, then they, too, will become 'examples.'"
The Kh'myr gestured toward the console again, and the screen dimmed.
"One more thing: Except for these three, all other Starfleet personnel and all of the palace security forces are to be slain, to the last man and woman. No survivors. It must be done quickly and efficiently. We must not alarm the general populace until we have taken the royal palace. Once we are in control and have erected a force field around our base, we will announce the change in government to Serenidad and the Federation. Now, I know you are all prepared for our glorious quest. Landing forces--to the cargo transporters! Stand by for further orders. Survive and succeed!"
With a roar, the massed warriors echoed their leader's salute. They began to file out of the great hall, eager for battle, thirsty for blood. The intercom buzzed for Korak's attention. "Bridge to Commander Korak."
"Korak. Proceed, Klysar."
"joHwI', our scanners have detected the ring of sensor drones just beyond the orbit of the outermost planet of the Serenidad system. Contact in fifteen kolans."
"Excellent!" Korak exclaimed. "We will be on the bridge momentarily. Cloak at once, and instruct Kozan to disable those drones. And keep watch for system patrol ships."
"Understood, My Lord. Klysar out."
By the time Korak and L'yan reached the bridge, the Targa had maneuvered close to a sensor drone. The small satellite spun placidly on the viewer. Lights played across its gleaming cylindrical surface, dancing and flashing as its sensors and sophisticated circuitry scanned the ether for unauthorized vessels and contacts. Klysar yielded the command throne to Korak. L'yan assumed the helm/weapons station, quickly scanning her panels and targeting grids.
"Status," Korak barked.
"No ship contacts as yet, My Lord. Sensor drone has not detected us. Kozan is now attempting to determine the transmission frequency these units employ."
"If I can find the side band these drones use, I can amplify and feedback their own impulses to destroy their circuitry," Kozan supplied from his communications panel. "The satellites communicate to one another through their microprocessors. If I can destroy one of them, the entire network goes down."
"How many drones are in place?" Korak queried.
"Two hundred and fifty, My Lord," Kozan answered."They encircle the Serenidad system and scan a full spectrum in all directions. They literally provide a sensor sphere which protects this system...Ah! I have a match! The frequencies are now in phase."
The Kh'myr communications specialist stabbed a series of buttons on his console. A low hum vibrated across the bridge for several long seconds."
On the viewscreen, the sensor drone stopped its slow rotation. One by one, its myriad array of lights winked out as its internal computers crashed, until it went completely black. It hung in space as dark and dead as the frozen, pitted moons of the outermost planet.
"The sensor network no longer functions, My Lord," Kozan stated simply.
"Well done, Kozan!" Korak exclaimed. "Proceed inward, helm. Now there is no risk that we will be detected by some accident. The element of surprise is ours!"
The Targa glided in toward the sun, invisible inside its cloak, closing on the unsuspecting planet Serenidad. Korak hunched forward, his intent gaze glued to the screen.
"I am picking up communications, Lord," Kozan reported. "Two Serenidad patrol cruisers. They are wondering why the sensor web is inoperative."
"Two contacts at extreme range!" L'yan sang out. "Undoubtedly the patrol ships."
"Plot an intercept course," Korak ordered. "Slip up behind them; Humans are notorious for not watching their backs. Be prepared to take them both out with one salvo. They appear to be cruising in tight formation, so the task should not be too difficult."
"Yes, joHwI'." L'yan powered up her weapons banks and waited. The targets grew in size on the viewer and in her weapons monitors until she could make out the configuration of the two vessels. "Surplus Federation starships," she reported, "Saladin-class destroyer-scouts."
Korak's eyes widened. "So...Starfleet has upgraded the Serenidad System Patrol's equipment since our last incursion. No matter. The pair of them are still no match for the Targa."
"Look how closely together they fly," L'yan murmured in a voice icy with contempt. "If one is destroyed, the other will be annihilated when the first one's engine goes up!"
"Take no chances," Korak snapped. "Target them both!"
"Yes, joHwI'," L'yan responded. She slowed the Targa as the two starships glided beneath the Klingon vessel, then skillfully pivoted the great battlecruiser around so that it now pursued its intended victims. "Torpedoes locked on the left target, starboard engine disruptors locked on the other," L'yan whispered. Her nostrils flared with excitement, her index fingers hung poised over the firing buttons on her panel.
"Get closer," Korak directed. "Re-cloak immediately after attack. Steady...Now!!"
L'yan fired. Bursts of photon and disruptor energy blasted into the primary saucer hulls of the two starships, and they erupted with one glaring--and most satisfactory--fireball.
The bridge crew noisily saluted the kill, raising their fists to the viewscreen. Kozan swiveled around toward Korak's throne. "They were communicating with each other when they were hit, Lord. They were cut off in mid-sentence--never even had a suspicion they were doomed!"
"Excellent!" Korak said. "Only the ground forces stand between us and our goal. L'yan, proceed to Serenidad and assume standard orbit. Kozan, jam all surface transmissions; Westlake may try to raise Starfleet Command now that those cruisers have been eliminated."
He rose from his command chair. "L'yan, I will be in Cargo Transporter Bay Three. Join me there when orbit is achieved."
"Yes, joHwI'. Qapla'!"
"Qapla'," Korak returned. He smiled a tight, controlled smile. Yes, he would succeed--finally--where the others had failed. Only a handful of Starfleet and palace security guards stood in his way. They would be swept aside by the ferocious might of his warriors, swept aside and ground to dust.
He glanced around his bridge one more time, then stepped into the lift that would take him to the main access boom corridor--and, ultimately, to success.
Something was very, very wrong.
"Commodore Westlake! We've lost all contact with the Serenidad System Patrol ships. They were going out on a wide sweep to investigate a breakdown in the system's sensor drone network, and they just vanished from our screens!"
Lieutenant Jenni Harris twisted her earpiece tuner as she tried to boost her signal again. "I'm sorry, sir. Nothing on subspace bands, either."
Commodore Paul Westlake glanced at the sensor screens, a tight frown creasing his face. "Okay, that tears it, Jenni. I don't like this at all! We'd better put the station on--"
He never got a chance to finish.
A concussion that felt like a small earthquake rocked his office, nearly knocking him off his feet.
"What in hell was that?"
"Oh my God, sir--look!!"
Harris pointed at the bank of security monitors mounted high on the walls. There were Klingons everywhere, spraying disruptor fire from their carbines as if they were wielding garden hoses, lobbing photon grenades, cutting down the hapless unprepared Starfleet personnel like a pack of wolves falling upon a flock of penned-up helpless sheep.
"Where did they come from?" Westlake demanded. "Gods, there must be hundreds of them! We don't stand a chance!"
"They must've beamed in!" Harris gasped. "What are we going to do?"
They heard the whine of a disruptor in the corridor just outside the office, and a scream.
Westlake grabbed Harris by the wrist and bolted for the door, but he didn't get very far. A huge Kh'myr Klingon barred his way with a drawn disruptor pistol. Westlake could tell by his sash that he carried the rank of battle commander.
"You are Commodore Paul Westlake," the Klingon growled. "You are a prisoner of the Klingon Empire on whose territory you now trespass."
"What?!" Westlake sputtered. "Serenidad is...what are you talking about?"
But Westlake's captor ignored him. Korak pointed to Harris. "L'yan--yIHoH!"(4)
A Kh'myr woman stepped in from the corridor. She was beautiful, but her lips were drawn back over her pointed teeth like a rogue beast that has tasted blood, and cannot help but kill.
"No!" Westlake jumped in front of the terrified Harris who backed up against her comm console. The woman L'yan did not hesitate. She grabbed the front of Westlake's tunic with one hand and tossed him over his desk. He crashed to the floor; when he tried to get up, the Kh'myr commander fired a disruptor blast into his right kneecap. Westlake shrieked and collapsed on the floor.
L'yan had backed her prey into a corner of the room. Her battle dagger snicked from its sheath; its long, thick curved blade was a deadly razor-keen diamond as it caught flashes of room light.
"No--please!" Harris sobbed. "Oh, God, don't kill me!"
L'yan only grinned a little wider. She waved the weapon back and forth and Harris' wide-eyed gaze followed it like a moth mesmerized by flame. Suddenly, in a movement almost too fast for the eye, L'yan slashed the blade across her victim's throat.
Westlake watched in confused horror. The lieutenant's skin was unmarked. How could the Klingon woman have missed?
Magically, a ribbon of scarlet beaded from Harris' slit throat, a ribbon that quickly cascaded into a crimson torrent. She drew in a sharp, short breath--her last--and sagged to the floor. The blood, the pain, and her death had been delayed a few scant seconds by the preternatural keenness of L'yan's blade.
The Kh'lai slid her weapon back into its scabbard, turning away from Harris' twitching corpse.
"Why?" Westlake moaned. "She was unarmed! She couldn't have harmed you if she wanted to!"
"She was an enemy," was L'yan's simple reply.
She hauled Westlake roughly to his feet as a Klingon warrior stomped into the office, saluting the commander. "The station is secure, Lord Korak. All personnel have been slain, per your orders, sir!"
"Excellent! Gather the troops and proceed to the palace. Offer Mord any assistant he requires. L'yan and I will be there shortly."
"You butcher!" Westlake spat. "You slaughtered eighty-five people without mercy!"
"On the contrary, Earther," Korak retorted. "I was most merciful as you will come to appreciate when your fate is revealed to you. You will be executed slowly and horribly, as an example to these sheep of Serenidad." The Klingon chuckled. "By comparison, your subordinates are much better off!"
Korak waved a hand imperiously, and L'yan bundled the wounded, limping Starfleet officer from the room.
The Kh'myr commander holstered his disruptor. Lieutenant Commander Mord should have little trouble dispatching the palace security team. They posed a much smaller threat to his plan than had the Starfleet force and they had been dispersed like a k'i'ljan(5) seed pod in a stiff wind!
Korak glanced down at Jenni Harris' sprawled form. How unlike L'yan this weak, pathetic female had been! No pride, no courage--she had begged for her life instead of accepting the inevitable. Here was a coward's death, dishonorable, full of shame. Once again he realized how fortunate he was to have his tigress as his second in command.
He smiled. Once this invasion was complete, he would show L'yan just how much he appreciated his good fortune!
Leonard McCoy gazed out the arched window of his guest quarters, down onto the parapets and walls and gardens of the palace grounds, then out onto the city of Castillo Nuevo itself. The architecture suggested medieval Spain, but as was often the case, appearances were deceiving.
Serenidad was a curious contrast of old and new. Behind the ancient facade of the houses and buildings were the most up-to-date utilities and environmental control systems. At one time, the palace guards had worn Spanish armor of another age, much like the ceremonial Swiss guards at the Vatican on Earth. Of course, that had been before the Klingons had shown them that their role could no longer be ceremonial. The security teams had been outfitted with phasers and trained by Starfleet advisors. You can only take simplicity so far, he thought. Eventually, someone comes along and complicates things.
He sighed. Teresa's words had stung--and maybe, to a point, she was right. Serenidad had been a peaceful, beautiful planet until the dilithium veins had been found. Then, motivated by greed and the ever-present balance of power, the galactic superpowers began their--what had she called it?--tug of war. Technically, the Klingons had no claim--but, technicalities had never bothered the Klingons. They had brought nothing but misery. When Teresa's father was assassinated, an awesome burden of responsibility had fallen on her young shoulders. Then her kidnapping and the rape and torture...it was a wonder she had not collapsed completely from the strain.
His door chime sounded. "Come in," McCoy called.
The door swooshed open. A young woman is her mid-twenties, not much older than Teresa herself, stood at the threshold. McCoy remembered her being introduced as Carmen Velasquez, one of the princess' attendants. She could have been Teresa's sister--a petite smoldering beauty with dark eyes and ringlets of blue-black hair. Velasquez undoubtedly turned a lot of male heads on Serenidad. McCoy made a mental note to find out who hired the palace help--and congratulate them on their good taste.
"Doctor McCoy, I'm sorry to disturb you, but My Lady wishes to talk to you," Velasquez said. "She is in the Main Council chambers right now, chairing a Council session. She asked if you would come immediately. The meeting is almost over, and she wants to talk with you as soon as possible."
"Is it all right to go?" McCoy asked. "I mean, a Council session..."
"They're open to the public--not that anyone goes," Velasquez replied, chuckling. "She seemed most anxious to see you, and very repentant."
McCoy's eyes widened, but Velasquez wouldn't elaborate. She turned away with an enigmatic smile and left him to his own devices. Well, that's encouraging, anyway. At least she'll talk to me again.
McCoy hurried through the long corridors until he came to one that opened into the massive Main Council chamber. He found a bench toward the rear and sat down. He was the only "spectator."
Five people sat at a rectangular oaken table in the middle of the hall. Teresa was seated at the head; there was an empty chair next to her where her uncle, Don Alfredo, usually sat. She seemed calm and collected, under control. Lord, she's so beautiful. McCoy mentally castigated himself. He had to drive thoughts like that from his mind. It could never work.
Teresa glanced around the table at the other Council members. "Is there any other new business to discuss?" she asked.
"Yes." A portly, middle-aged man with short, wavy black hair and a wispy moustache raised his had.
"The chair recognizes Don Pedro."
"Your Highness," he began. "We have not yet approved the appropriation for the new dilithium mining equipment for the Sierra del Oro sector. It seems..."
"I said new business, Don Pedro!" she shouted. "Or have you been sleeping? One of the reasons Don Alfredo went to Galen Four was to see if there are less expensive methods to mine that territory! I will not tolerate having the agenda of these sessions disrupted! Is that clear?"
No one spoke; they all simply stared back at their young princess, dumbfounded by her sudden outburst of temper.
Teresa's face reddened. "Forgive me, Don Pedro. I...have not been myself of late." She glanced out over the railing that separated the Council table from the benches, her gaze fixing on McCoy. "I have been attacking my friends for no apparent reason, and I apologize. I do hope they forgive me in turn."
McCoy smiled at her and inclined his head. Teresa returned her attention to Don Pedro. "The whole dilithium project has been a sore spot with me," she continued. "I understand what a boon it has been for our economy, but it has also had its dangers. The Klingons are very interested in our planet--that has caused us nothing but grief. Some...very unfortunate incidents have grown out of that situation."
"Granted, Your Majesty, but we are not committed to the project," Don Pedro pressed. "The Sierra del Oro territory would yield some of the richest hauls of dilithium ever mined here. Every day we delay is that much production lost."
Teresa heaved a weary sigh. "So this is what it comes down to, eh? Production, riches--greed. Serenidad's people were happy, well off. They didn't need to be rich, too. Sometimes I think we've lost sight of the reason our ancestors colonized this planet. It was supposed to be a peaceful haven from war and conflict. This place has been anything but peaceful since we started mining dilithium."
She rubbed her eyes, then gazed at Don Pedro. "I'm sorry. We will wait until Don Alfredo returns before we make a decision on the appropriation. Now, if there is nothing else to discuss, I think we shall adjourn this session. Agreed?"
There were no objections. Teresa picked up a small wooden gavel and rapped it on the table. The Council members stood up, then began to file out of the room. Don Pedro conversed with one of his fellows in low whispers, and the two of them cast quizzical glances back over their shoulders at the little princess. McCoy waited until they had cleared the room before he left his seat. He noticed how Teresa's shoulders slumped wearily once the Councilmen were gone.
"I don't know how I managed to get through that meeting," she murmured without looking up at the physician. "After what you told me before..."
"I thought you handled yourself quite well," McCoy said. "You kept control of things. That's more important than anything else."
"Oh,I don't know." She gazed up at him with a wan smile. "I'm still on trial here. The rest of them aren't sure if I'm cut out for the position. They don't know yet if I'm a competent administrator or a spoiled brat who just happened to back into the job by virtue of birth and title. And then there's my reputation."
"Your reputation?" a puzzled McCoy asked.
She laughed, a short, bitter sound that was unpleasant to hear. "Don't you know? I'm a slut. I know what people think of me. I've had to fight that since I've grown up. And it's partly my own fault. Since I was a little girl, everyone always told me how 'beautiful' I was. When I got a little older, I was not only beautiful, but 'sensuous' and 'sexy,' too. My people have a soft spot for rogues and rascals, and I guess they love me because I'm 'naughty.' And I listened to them and played the part."
"Teresa, you are beautiful, and sensuous, and sexy. Where's the crime in that?"
She cast a curious glance at him. McCoy felt his ears burn. Had he actually said that to her? He couldn't tell whether or not she was angry, confused or flattered.
"There's more to it than that," Teresa continued. "Carlos and I...used to, uh, do things that people normally do in the privacy of their bedrooms in...public places. We weren't very discreet about it either, I'm afraid. It only enhanced my so-called reputation." She paused, blushing. "You know Don Pedro, the fat one that was here today? I overheard him talking to one of his friends not too long ago. He was talking about me. His exact words were, 'She'd fuck anything with a heartbeat.' Now, isn't that wonderful? This is a member of the Serenidad Council. My credibility is practically nil. So, do you see why I have to prove I can do the job?"
McCoy sat down next to her in Don Alfredo's chair. "You'll prove it to them. I think you already are proving it. Despite what you may think, you are wise beyond your years. The responsibility you bear is tremendous, and the things you have suffered..."
His voice cracked. He had to turn away, and when he could look at her again, Teresa was startled to see unshed tears glistening in his eyes. "You don't deserve any of the pain you've had to endure, or the slurs of people who don't really know you," he continued in a hoarse whisper. "You're very special, Teresa. I've probably said more than I should have, but I can't help it. If there was some way I could save you from ever being hurt again, I would. Believe me."
She was near tears herself now. She gripped his hands and squeezed them, trying to gain control of herself. "Oh, Doctor, you are so kind to me, and since you've come here again, I've treated you like dirt. I like you...very much. I don't want to lose you as a friend. Please forgive me for what I said before--and for what I'm about to ask you."
Teresa sat back and released her grip, steeling herself with a deep breath. "The reason I called you here, Doctor, is to discuss my...baby." She lowered her eyes. "I want an abortion. I want you to take it now...and kill it."
Her head snapped up, and there was something almost challenging about her stare. But if she had been expecting McCoy to react in shock or anger, she was disappointed. He just sat there, saying nothing, his expression unreadable.
"Please don't hate me for asking that," Teresa finally whispered when she could bear his silence no longer. "It's not really going to be a baby--it's going to be some kind of unholy thing."
"You don't know that, yet, Teresa," McCoy answered, sighing. "I can't do it."
"You've never done an abortion?"
"I have performed them a few times--but only when I felt the mother's life was in danger--and then only with great reluctance." McCoy stood up and walked over to one of the great stone-studded windows behind the Council table. "You see, I believe life is sacred, any kind of life. Starship duty teaches you that. Diversity abounds in the universe. Even something which seems ugly or evil to us has a place." He paused, meeting her eyes.
"However, Teresa, if you'd like to pursue this, I'm sure there are any number of doctors here on Serenidad...or, if you'd like, you could discuss this matter with Doctor Chapel or..."
"But it will be a Klingon!" Teresa quavered. "Klingons are monsters--look what they did to me! I hate them!!"
McCoy turned around to face her. "You have every right to hate them, Teresa. Believe it or not, I hate them, too--but I hate them for what they do, not simply because they're Klingons. This little infant will come into the world with a clean slate. Why not give it a chance?"
Teresa stood up with surprising quickness, turning her back to the table. "You won't do it, then?"
"I can't," McCoy answered. "And I honestly don't think that another doctor would either. You're just too far along, Teresa. You'd risk losing your life, and that's unacceptable."
A sad, resigned smile tugged at the corners of Teresa's mouth when she faced him again. "I should have known as much. I waited too long. Now you must hate me for asking you to end a new life."
He rose and walked over to stand next to her, almost reaching out to touch her soft cheek in a gesture of comfort. He thought better of it. "I could never hate you, Teresa," he murmured. "I'm not going to stand here and tell you that I know how you feel, but I can understand how you could ask, 'specially after all you've been through. It's all right."
"Then I must ask one more thing. Since you can't do...what I asked, will you deliver the child when the time comes?"
He chuckled. "It's been a long time since I worked in an obstetrics ward, but I think I can handle it. I'd be honored."
"Thank you, Doctor..." She paused a moment. "I'm afraid. I'm afraid of it. I'm afraid of what might happen to me. I don't know how to tell Carlos, or how he'll take it."
"If it'll help, I'll go with you when you break the news," McCoy offered.
She brightened. "Oh, could you? I'd feel a lot better if you did. He should be back soon--I haven't seen him all morning."
"Well, I'll stick by you. Anything you--"
McCoy was cut off by the sound of distant screaming somewhere inside the palace, and the unmistakable whine of energy weapon fire. He heard guttural shouts, running feet--many, many feet--and another scream, much closer this time. A high, thin, female shriek that shivered with terror and pain.
"What the devil--"
Velasquez staggered into the entrance of the great hall, leaning against the massive doorframe for support. Her face was chalky, pinched with agony. Wide, terrified eyes fixed on Teresa. "My Lady...you must...fl-flee," Velasquez gasped. "K-klingons!!"
She managed a few stiff-legged steps into the huge room as McCoy started toward her. A splotch of blood stained the front of her tunic over her abdomen; in the center of the stain, a tip of shining, razor-sharp metal poked through the soaked cloth like some horrible jewel in her navel.
Carmen Velasquez collapsed, falling face forward just as McCoy reached her. She had been run through from behind by a Klingon combat dagger. Only the handle of the huge, deadly weapon protruded from the small of her back. How she had even lived long enough to warn them was a miracle in itself.
But her warning had come too late.
McCoy lifted his eyes from the dead young woman as a shadow fell across him. Not surprisingly, he found himself staring up into the barrel of a Klingon disruptor rifle--and the fierce visage of the barbarian warrior who wielded it.
"Another Starfleeter," the Klingon snarled. "Die, Earther!"
McCoy's eyes flickered past his assailant. Another Klingon stood in the doorway, a massive, thickly-muscled warrior whose craggy features bore the unmistakable stamp of authority.
"Don't harm that one, fool! Don't you recognize the insignia on his tunic? He's a medicine man--a nada."(6)
The first warrior lowered his weapon. McCoy let out a long, slow breath. He had often wondered if the Klingon reverence for physicians extended to the Kh'myr sub-race, and now he knew.
Fortunately for him.
Dozens of armed troops were now massed in the corridor outside the Hall. A Klingon stepped forward and saluted the one called Mord as the warriors began to file in. "The palace is secured, Lieutenant Commander. We have slain every guard we have encountered. Some of them have fled to the lower levels of this complex, but we have a platoon in pursuit to finish them off."
"Well done, Lieutenant Raan." Mord gestured toward Teresa, who had literally frozen in fright upon the appearance of the first Kh'myr soldier. "Bring the Princess to me--gently!"
Raan strode forward. Teresa paled; she retreated a step, her mouth opening in a soundless "O" of terror.
"Keep away from her!" McCoy raged.
Raan did not even pause to look at him, and Mord threw up one great, thewed arm, blocking the physician's way. "You won't be harmed, nada, so long as you don't interfere. Our regard for any nada has its limits." His voice was a rumble of controlled thunder; it stopped McCoy as effectively as the ring of carbines suddenly aimed at him.
Raan grabbed Teresa by the wrist. The terrified young woman made a strangled sound deep in her throat and fainted dead away. Chuckling, the Kh'myr lieutenant caught her, effortlessly sweeping her up in his arms. "I don't believe she is very fond of us," Raan said.
"At attention!" a voice in the crowd snapped. "Lord Commander Korak!"
A Klingon wearing a commander's sash stalked into the room. He was, however unlikely, even larger and more imposing than the impressive Mord. A forest of arms shot up in salute. Raan hastily laid the unconscious Teresa out on the Council table and duplicated the gesture of his fellow warriors.
"All hail, Lord Commander Korak!" Mord shouted.
"Victory! Victory! Victory!" the troops responded.
Korak saluted in return. "You have done well, my warriors. Your brothers have taken the Starfleet headquarters with ease. All of our enemies there were slain, save for their commander, and he will soon be publicly executed in a display of our authority!"
Victory shouts echoed from the cavernous beamed ceiling. Korak strode to the Council table and gazed down at his new captive. "So, this is Princess Teresa. She is as beautiful as our intelligence holos depicted her--and with child. It would be a pity to slay a pregnant female." A thick clawed forefinger traced the line of her jaw. "Sleep while you can, be'SIj. Soon you will face the most difficult choice of all--join us, or die."
He whirled around at the sound of a commotion in the doorway. More Klingons poured into the Hall. They were led by a stunning, savage female in battle armor. Her left hand grasped the tousled hair of her prisoner, a bearded young man with his hands cuffed behind him. The warrior woman released her grip, and the cursing youth tumbled to the floor.
"Carlos!" McCoy exclaimed.
"Doctor McCoy! Teresita, is she all right?"
"She's fine." McCoy helped Carlos to his feet. "She just fainted when one of these knot-headed goons grabbed her."
"The Prince-Consort," the woman said. "We found him hiding out on the grounds. He must have seen Mord's strike force beam down."
"Excellent, L'yan!" Korak enthused. "All has gone well."
"What do you want here, you bastards?" Carlos shouted. "You've invaded us! Serenidad is a Federation protectorate!"
The Kh'myr commander chuckled deep in his throat. "You're wrong on both counts, Mendoza. Serenidad is not a Federation protectorate. Your lovely little wife here deeded your planet to the Empire. How can we be invading our own territory?"
"You're lying! Teresita would never do such a thing!"
"Oh, but she did! She signed a document I have brought with me. It is perfectly legal and will stand up in a galactic court."
McCoy started. The document. He had forgotten all about it. It was presumed destroyed when the Enterprise's phasers razed the former Klingon Embassy. The fat's in the fire for sure now! "The Princess was forced to sign that," McCoy grated. "She was raped and tortured, and your Commander Kral was going to murder her husband."
"It is of little consequence how her signature was obtained, Qel(7)," Korak retorted. "The simple fact is that the document was signed--and Serenidad belongs to the Klingon Empire."
"Doctor McCoy." Carlos' voice was hushed, strained. "When did...that happen to Teresa? I don't remember..."
"It's a long story, son," McCoy replied. "And an ugly one. Maybe later."
Korak snapped open his communicator. "Korak to Targa. All is secure here. Send down the mind-sifter and the ch'luge module to these coordinates, and have Kozan prepare a high-power channel for me. We must inform the Federation that the government of Serenidad has changed hands. Also, I need an engineering crew to set up some forcefields."
"Hija', joHwI',"(8) Klysar's filtered voice answered. "All hail, Lord Commander Korak, Military Governor of Serenidad!"
"Signal me when the hyperchannel is ready. Korak out."
The big Klingon folded up his communicator just as the high-pitched whine of a transporter carrier wave warbled through the room. Something coalesced into solidity--two somethings--what looked like a large computer console and...a chair. It reminded McCoy of an old-fashioned dentist's chair he had once seen in a museum, only this chair sported wrist and ankle restraints, and a sinister-looking helmet over the headrest.
"The mind-sifter," Korak intoned. "You and your little Princess will take turns in the chair, Mendoza. With any luck, you will both become fast and loyal friends of the Klingon Empire."
Carlos looked as if he were about to spit. "You're wasting your time, Klingon."
"It is my time to waste. For your part, consider this--the alternative to the conversion is death."
The Klingon gestured to two of his warriors. "Kilat, Tronn--assemble the mind-sifter so we may begin the procedure."
The two subordinates saluted and fell to their task. Behind them, McCoy noticed another soldier bending over Velasquez. The Klingon gripped the handle of the combat dagger and tore it free. He kicked the bedraggled corpse in the head, knotted a hand in the dead woman's hair and dragged her body from the room.
McCoy glanced away, sickened. He was familiar with the standard procedure of Klingon occupation armies. Velasquez and the other victims of the attack would be taken outside and dumped in a nameless pit, discarded like so much garbage. No one would be there to mourn them, or say a few words over them, when the hole was filled with earth.
A harsh buzz shattered the gloom of McCoy's thoughts. Korak's communicator had squawked for attention. "Korak here."
"Klysar, My Lord. Your hyperchannel is ready. Shall I transport you now?"
"A moment, Klysar." Korak stabbed a finger at McCoy. "You--Qel! Revive the Princess. She will be the first to sample the tuQDoq.(9) L'yan, Mord, watch them all closely until I return."
The two officers acknowledged his order with upraised fists. Satisfied, Korak raised his communicator to his lips once more. "Now, Klysar. Bring me up."
The commander's form sparkled in blood red and shimmered, and then was gone.
McCoy walked over to the table. Teresa was still unconscious. Her heart-shaped face was peaceful, composed. Revive her. Wake her up so her nightmare can really begin. He bent over his patient. He began to rub her hands, stimulating her circulation. The irony of the words he had said to her just a short time ago hit home.
If there was some way I could save you from ever being hurt again, I would. Believe me.
"That'll teach me to make promises I can't keep," he muttered. "I'm sorry, Teresa--truly I am."
Jorge Vilas triggered off another burst from the mini-phaser cannon he had commandeered. Just a little longer, he thought. A few more minutes and the rest of the survivors will have escaped from this tunnel to the outside.
He could hear the harsh, angry shouts of what was left of the Klingon platoon that had been following him and the remaining members of the palace security force, shouts of consternation and disbelief.
How is this possible? thought a Klingon serjeant.(10) One upstart Human has pinned down a troop of the Emperor's finest warriors in the damp bowels of this accursed palace--and has slain several of us! It's unthinkable. He took aim again.
A disruptor blast ineffectually chipped away a chunk of the wall across the corridor, striking sparks on the hewn stone. Vilas tensed. If this is anything like before...
Three of the Kh'myr charged down the hall in a berserker kamikaze attack. Vilas leaned on the firing button. The cannon stuttered thunder; glaring spheres of energy arced through the air, chopping the luckless, screaming Klingons into pieces of smoldering flesh.
The voices from around the corner grew more subdued. Vilas shifted to a more comfortable position and felt a cold, sticky wetness against his right thigh, soaking the leg of his powder-blue uniform jumper.
Blood--but not his own.
He risked a glance at the slim, crumpled form that lay next to him in the corridor, and his eyes blurred with tears. Elena would have been his wife soon. They had been making plans, had even named a date.
But that had all changed.
Most of the top of Elena's head was gone, sheared off by an errant disruptor bolt.
Vilas cursed and returned his attention to the corridor. He didn't know how many of the Klingons still lived. If they all decided to rush him at once, he would probably be killed. But he didn't care anymore. He would take as many of them with him as he could. They would pay for all his friends they had slaughtered and for Elena...
It was time. The rest of them were far from the Palace by now. Vilas locked his hands around the end of the cannon's barrel and twisted until it clicked. A low whine from the power pack, building in intensity with each passing second.
When the cannon blew, it would bring down the ceiling, blocking the tunnel and cutting off any chance of Klingon pursuit.
Vilas picked up his phaser rifle, holding it at the ready. He began to back steadily down the corridor, stealing one last glimpse of Elena. "Goodbye, Elena," he whispered.
Then he turned and broke into a dead run.
He heard a cry of triumph behind him. Disruptors howled, and Vilas ducked and weaved as the air around him sang with energy. A searing pain tore into the back of his left leg, and he went down. He rolled and came up in a crouch, spraying his phaser rifle back up the corridor. Half a dozen left. They were oblivious to the overloaded cannon. One of them fell; his companions flattened against the wall.
The phaser cannon flew apart with a flash and a thunderclap of elemental noise, drowning the death screams of the last remaining Klingons. Vilas staggered to his feet and ran as fast as he could on his bad leg. Tons of shattered thermocrete and stone cascaded down from the collapsed walls and ceiling. Panic seized him. He wasn't going to make it! Chunks of broken rock and cement bounced off his head and back. He could feel and hear the rumble of an avalanche behind him, quickly overtaking him.
And then he saw the light.
The exit! In desperation, Vilas lunged forward and was outside. He left his feet in an awkward jump that carried him into the lower branches of a tree like a broken-winged skimmer. The mouth of the tunnel disgorged massive slabs of the corridor. They slid partway down the hillside where he would have been running, tearing up the earth, uprooting trees and shrubbery.
Finally, there was silence.
A thin miasma of dust settled atop the broken jumble of gray concrete. Vilas released the breath he had been holding and stiffly clambered down from his creaky perch. He was safe now; the Klingons were gone.
But so was Elena, and many of his friends.
He fought back a sudden surge of tears. He owed the Klingons something. He vowed to pay them back in full for the death and destruction they had wrought. Vilas tested his injured leg. It didn't bother him too much. It was stiff, and he'd be hobbling for a day or two, but it didn't matter. He'd fight the Klingons on crutches if he had to. Right now, he needed to be moving on. He would link up with the other surviving members of the Palace Guard.
They had a job to do.
The Klingons had undoubtedly captured the Princess by now and it was the sworn duty of the Guard to protect her at any cost. There were dozens of secret tunnels like the one through which he'd just escaped. The Klingons could not possibly hope to guard them all--they'd be lucky even to find them. He and his friends would go back in to free the Princess.
"And this time, it won't be me running for escape tunnels," he mumbled. "We'll be back."
Vilas slung his phaser carbine over his shoulder and picked his way over the pile of stone as he headed down the gentle incline that led into the woods.
James Kirk finished dictating his log, then sat back to watch his crew complete final preparations for leaving the Galen system. He sighed. Back to routine patrol. Granted, it was relaxing and they needed a rest. But he was becoming bored. Oh well, enjoy it while you can, he thought. Soon things would heat up again and the lull would be over.
"Captain, I'm picking up a very strong message, hyperchannel one," Uhura said. "Audio and visual."
"On screen, Commander."
The view of Galen IV wavered out of focus, and there were gasps and muffled exclamations as a new image took shape and sharpened.
It was the bridge of a Klingon battlecruiser. At the command throne sat a big, fierce-looking Kh'myr warrior. "This is Battle Commander Korak of the Imperial Klingon cruiser Targa, and Military Governor of Serenidad. We are in orbit around Serenidad and have implemented standard occupation procedures. The document you are about to see gives the Klingon Empire free and legal claim to Serenidad and voids any previous agreements. It was signed by Crown Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega-Mendoza herself."
The image shifted, and the document filled the screen. There was Teresa's signature in the lower right hand corner.
"Spock, can computer verify the authenticity of the signature?"Kirk asked.
"Scanning," the Vulcan returned. "Coming through now, Captain. Computer indicates a ninety-nine point nine-nine-six percent probability that the signature is indeed Princess Teresa's."
"Damn! They forced her to sign that when they held her captive in the bunker. How could Federation search teams have overlooked it?"
"Diplomatic courtesy, Captain. If you recall, the Federation Council allowed Klingon representatives to remove Klingon property from that bunker after the incident."
Korak's face came back on the screen. "By now your Federation computers have verified the truth of my words. Additional holo copies will be submitted to the Federation Council. I am presently negotiating with the High Council of Serenidad to arrive at a form of government mutually beneficial to them and to the Klingon Empire."
Korak's lips stretched back over his teeth in a snarl. "We have established a territorial sphere around the Serenidad system with a radius of zero point eight parsecs and with Serenidad's sun as its center. Any Federation vessels venturing inside these limits will be destroyed, without warning and without recourse. Further communication will be initiated only if it is deemed necessary. Korak out."
"Succinct," Spock commented. "It also leaves us with a very interesting problem, Captain,"
"I don't know if I'd call it 'interesting,' Spock, but we do have a problem." Kirk swiveled to face Uhura's station. "Get me a direct channel to Starfleet Command, Uhura, on hyperchannel two scrambled."
"Sir, there's a message from Starfleet already coming in for you," Uhura reported. "It's...Admiral Nogura himself, sir."
Heihachiro Nogura's wizened white-haired visage filled the screen. "Well, Jim, I take it you caught our Klingon friend's message."
"Yes, sir. Surely there's something we can do about this."
"Not at the moment," Nogura returned. "Serenidad lies within disputed territory. It belongs to whichever side makes a pact with the Serenidad government. Right now, the Klingons seem to have the upper hand."
"But Princess Teresa was forced to sign that document under torture!" Kirk protested. "That should void the agreement."
"Not unless we can prove it some way, and the Klingons aren't likely to let the Princess speak. She's probably already dead."
"I hope you're wrong about that, sir."
"I hope so, too, Jim." Nogura leaned back in his chair. "The Enterprise is being pulled off routine patrol. You are to proceed to the Serenidad system at top speed; however, you are to remain outside the boundaries established by the Klingons and are to take no provocative action. You are there merely to observe, Captain, and to be ready to move in against the Klingons if the Federation Council gives the go-ahead."
"Which will probably be in about fifty years," Sulu muttered under his breath.
"Understood, Admiral," Kirk said. "Is there anything else?"
"One thing. We've lost contact with the starship Courageous. It was on patrol in Quadrant M-12."
"Between Serenidad and the Klingon border," Kirk murmured.
"Yes, Jim. Keep your eyes open for any sign of her, or any message from her. Good luck. Nogura out."
Spock compressed his lips, lifting his right eyebrow as he stood down next to Kirk's chair. "We do not appear to have many options, Captain."
"None, Spock. None whatsoever." He stabbed a button on the arm of his chair. "Kirk to Engineering."
"We'll be warping out of orbit in a few minutes, Scotty. I'll need Warp Twelve all the way back to Serenidad."
"We'll be ready, sir. Standin' by fer your orders."
"Thank you, Mister Scott. Kirk out."
"Course change to Serenidad plotted, sir." Navigator DiFalco reported.
"Helm laid in and standing by, Captain," Lieutenant Commander Sulu announced.
"Phasers and photon torpedoes at full load status, sir," Chekov reported from the weapons/security station. "Also standing by."
"Then we're almost ready." Kirk turned back to communications. "Uhura, patch me through to the seminar on Galen Four and raise Don Alfredo. I want to inform him of the situation and see what he wants to do."
Inform him of this situation, Kirk thought. Sir, I don't know how to tell you this, but your planet has been invaded by Klingons--a full-scale takeover this time. Your niece and her husband were taken prisoner if they weren't immediately executed. Although, knowing the way the Klingons operate, they're probably better off dead. And Bones is right in the middle of it.
"Sir, I have him," Uhura said.
"Thank you." Kirk took a deep, calming breath, then cleared his throat. "Don Alfredo, this is Captain Kirk..."
The mind-sifter technician shook his head. "Her resistance is surprisingly strong, joHwI'. I'm already up to the fourth level, and still I can't probe her thoughts."
"Impossible!" Korak blustered. "Her mind should be an open book to us by now, and yet the visual display is blank. Is the equipment functioning properly, T'olar?"
T'olar's nod was rueful. "Affirmative, Lord Commander. It seems there is some type of psychic barrier or shield in her mind."
Korak snarled, his face livid. "Rip it down, Technician! I'll waste no more time with this pregnant cow!"
In the mind-sifter chair, Princess Teresa sat stiffly. Her eyes were blank, but her face was twisted with pain. Beads of perspiration popped out on her face and forehead.
T'olar clicked the force selector dial two more notches. Teresa gasped aloud, her body twitching as if she had just been hit by a heavy electrical charge. "No!" she sobbed. "Must forget. Forget, Teresita, forget!"
"Stop it!" McCoy shouted. "If you go any further, you'll kill her!"
"I just might," Korak said. "Don't interfere, nada, or my L'yan will butcher the be'SIj right before your eyes."
"joHwI'!" T'olar exclaimed. "I'm starting to receive images!"
Korak whirled to check the huge screen behind the console. It was awash with light and swimming with half-perceived shapes, where before it had been dark.
"Three more notches, T'olar!" Korak barked. "I will know what it is she must forget. When that barrier is gone, we'll be ready to attempt programming her mind."
T'olar slid the dial forward; Teresa arched up out of the chair, frantically straining against the heavy straps that bound her wrists and ankles. She could no longer fight it. The mind-sifter tore into her subconscious like a spike through an overripe melon. All the fear, the terror, the pain that had been suppressed for months came flooding to the surface. The images on the display began to coalesce, to sharpen.
And Teresa's memory returned. She screamed and screamed until her vocal cords bled, and her voice deserted her in one last, hoarse moan of despair.
"We have broken through, joHwI'!"
Technician T'olar sat back, relaxing far a moment at the mind-sifter's control console. He rubbed his hands exultantly. "She could not remember. There is a psychic shield of some sort protecting her from her memories. You can see why."
Commander Korak glanced at the visual imaging screen. It swam with clear, graphic, almost cinematic images of ugly, violent scenes: scenes of rape, and savage, unrelenting torture--and death. "Hmm. It would seem the Princess has good reason to hate and fear us."
Korak's gaze shifted to the mind-sifter chair where Teresa's twitching body sagged limply. Her eyes were rolled back into her head, showing white, and her mouth hung open in a silent scream. She appeared to be unconscious.
But her mind burned, for now she remembered.
All those terrible things the Vulcan Spock had buried, the stuff of her nightmares, came crawling to the surface, scrabbling from a would-be slave like a rotting, revivified corpse.
She relived them as they whirled through her tormented mind, a high speed playback of a holotape. The violation, the torture, were as real to her as the night they had happened.
Somehow, she found enough voice to manage a hoarse scream.
T'olar looked up at his commander. "I can attempt to program her now, Lord."
Korak sighed. "I doubt we'll be successful, Technician. Her will is strong, her hatred great. However, since you have come this far--proceed."
Leonard McCoy stood by in helpless rage, transfixed with revulsion as the chronicle of obscenity and atrocity paraded by the screen. Tears blurred his eyes as he finally realized just how much Teresa had suffered. Now sickened, he could stand by no more.
McCoy lunged forward, breaking away from the guards who had been avidly watching the young woman's torment on the viewer.
He nearly made it to the console.
A lithe, armored figure suddenly blocked his way. L'yan let the onrushing doctor slam into her forearm. McCoy went down, stunned.
L'yan grabbed the back of his collar and hoisted him aloft as easily as one would lift a child. She set him on his feet, twisting an arm up painfully behind his back.
"Let go of me, you blasted amazon!" he gasped through gritted teeth.
The warrior woman chuckled deep in her throat. She thrust McCoy forward, propelling him back to the two guards who had let him get away.
"You two!" Korak snarled. "When your duty shifts are over, report to Lieutenant Commander L'yan--with your agonizers! L'yan--one standard hour of punishment for each of them!"
The warriors exchanged uneasy glances. One of them thrust the barrel of his carbine up under McCoy's chin. He would not escape again!
As if on cue, the sentry watching Carlos imitated his comrade's gesture. The Guardians help him if the young prince slipped away as well!
Korak spun on McCoy. "You tempt fate, Qel. You test our taboo against killing or injuring a healer." He drew his lips back tightly over sharp, snaggled teeth. "Bear in mind, Nada McCoy, we Kh'myr Klingons are highly unpredictable. If you do not behave, you may meet with an untimely...accident."
Satisfied that there would be no further disturbances, the Klingon commander nodded to T'olar.
The tuQDoq operator thumbed a series of touchsensors on a smaller console that piggybacked onto his main board. "The ch'luge module is now operational, joHwI'," he reported. "I'm removing the painful memories. Her mind is now a blank. We can attempt to program her."
In the chair, Teresa's agonized, twisted expression relaxed into a neutral mask of peaceful non-feeling. Thank God--the pain is gone! And those awful memories...what memories?
A note of puzzlement crept into her mental voice. There was no pain here, no suffering or worry. Neither was there happiness, but anything was better than the living hell she instinctively knew she had just escaped--even though she could not remember. She could stay like this forever, lost in this silver void of glowing, molten mist.
But they wouldn't leave her alone.
Another voice, soothing, cloying, almost seductive in its smoothness.
Teresita. You must help us. Please.
We are here to help your people. The Federation has told you lies about us. We are not evil. We want to help.
Who are you? I can't see you.
My name is T'olar. I will show myself to put your mind at rest.
A figure detached itself from the shifting mists. It wore a long white glowing, flowing robe. Male--it was a man, handsome, his face smiling and pleasant and shining like the sun. For a moment, Teresa thought it was an angel of God.
But something was wrong.
The angel had a ridge of protruding bone running over the crest of his huge, hairless skull.
No! Stay away from me! I'll kill you! I hate you!!
No! No! No! You don't look like that. You're an evil, ugly hideous beast! You're trying to fool me, but I won't let you!
We only want to help...
Bastard! Monster! I'll kill you, Klingon, so help me!
An expression of incredulous pain wavered on the transfigured T'olar's face.
You hate us so much that you would kill? Very well--let's see if you can.
The Klingon "angel" waved a hand, and a huge-bladed Klingon dagger appeared in it. T'olar passed it over to Teresa handle-first. He knelt in front of her, closing his eyes as he tilted his head back.
Can you really kill someone who only wants to help you?
Without hesitation, Teresa plunged the huge weapon into the notch at the base of the apparition's throat. She tore it free, in a blind fury, and began to hack and stab her 'victim' screaming out her fear and hatred.
Finally, she stopped. She stood back, panting, brandishing her bloody weapon. Are there any more of you out there? she screamed. Come out! I'll kill you all at once, or one at a time--it doesn't matter! I hate you all!
Suddenly, the mutilated 'corpse' of T'olar sat up. Teresa's flesh crawled as the bloody mouth worked. It is as you feared, joHwI'. Her hatred of us extends to all levels of her mind, conscious and unconscious. She cannot be programmed.
Terminate cycle, a savage voice grated. But let's give her a little something to remember this session. Maximum feedback for five seconds.
T'olar was slow to respond. Are you sure, joHwI'? There is a risk of brain damage.
Not for such a short duration. Follow my orders.
The reality of the Great Hall slowly took shape within the silver fog. Just as Teresa's eyes began to focus, a piercing elemental pain stabbed through her head. She felt as if a hundred laser drills were boring into her skull, and it hurt so badly that she couldn't even scream.
As darkness claimed her, the last sight Teresa saw was the leering visage of Battle Commander Korak, laughing down at her in triumph and derision.
There was nothing to do now but wait.
Lieutenant Commander Pavel Chekov sat down at the command console on the Enterprise's darkened, deserted bridge. They were still a good fourteen and a half hours from the boundaries of the "sphere of influence" the Klingons had established around the Serenidad system.
And when they got there, they would probably have more waiting to do.
Chekov settled back in the conn, trying to make himself comfortable. He, Sulu and Scott were splitting the "graveyard" command shift. The Russian had relieved Sulu forty-five minutes ago. Working the middle leg of the shift at least gave Chekov a chance of sleep before they all had to be back on duty for the alpha command shift. Poor Scotty got the worst of the deal. His tour overlapped the first shift--but everyone knew the Scotsman never slept anyway!
Chekov watched the star field on the mainviewer, then closed his eyes for a moment. It was hard to believe that he was back here on the Enterprise, just as it was hard to believe those really were lieutenant commander's stripes he now wore on his sleeve.
He had transferred off the Enterprise and onto the newly-refitted U.S.S. Lexington a little more than one month ago. The Lexington had been assigned to patrol the quadrant where Starbase 27 was being rebuilt after its destruction by a Klingon sneak attack.(12) Six days out, however, the starship had wandered into a gravitic minefield her sensors had overlooked. She had been virtually destroyed and had sustained heavy casualties.
Chekov had been one of the lucky few to come through unscathed.
As for the Lexington, the gutted hulk of the once-proud starship now hung in Starbase 27's drydock while a time/parts estimate was run to determine the economic feasibility of restoring her. But it was a safe bet to assume she'd be scuttled. The surviving crew members had all been reassigned--Chekov himself would soon be transferred to the U.S.S. Reliant under Captain Clark Terrell--and besides that, Starfleet Operations had become "scrap-happy" of late.
Chekov glanced fondly around the bridge. This old girl will never be outmoded. He had spent his early years as a junior officer right here, happy, exciting, sometimes dangerous years. He had a lot of good memories of the Enterprise; the best friends he had ever made still served here. But...
The time had come for him, personally, to move on. He had to grow if he ever wanted to command a ship of his own. Captain Kirk had given his blessing and let him go. Chekov knew he had made the right decision.
But now, sitting on this bridge again with that strange mixture of nostalgia and déja-vu fluttering in his stomach, he wasn't so sure.
He couldn't sleep.
Captain James T. Kirk threw off his covers and sat on the edge of his bunk, running a hand through his tousled hair. The Serenidad situation weighed heavily on his mind. Bones was there; he might be all right if the Kh'myr warriors adhered to the Klingon belief of reverence for all healers.
But God help that poor young woman and her husband!
Kirk got up and dressed quickly. He would patrol the ship. If he did something, maybe he wouldn't have to think so much.
He strode down the corridors with the purposeful, hell-bent gait his crew had come to know so well. There weren't too many people out and about; the lighting was dimmed to simulate night on this deck, and the ship's mostly Human crew who bunked on this level were asleep. Kirk decided to stop in the officer's lounge and enjoy the glorious view of the stars the chamber's huge portals offered.
Someone else was already there.
Alfredo did not turn away from the viewport. "This is a wonderful place to come when you can't sleep, isn't it, Captain?" the nobleman queried. "The stars--they seem so peaceful, so beautiful."
Kirk stood alongside the regent of Serenidad. Alfredo looked ten years older in the dim starlight. Worry had dug furrows in his brow, added tight lines around his puffy eyes. Neither man spoke for some time.
Then Alfredo turned away from the great metalglass port. "Why did this have to happen, Kirk?" His tone was anguished, almost pleading. "Teresa is surely dead by now, Carlos, too. Or they'd be better off dead if they're not..."
"Now, Don Alfredo, we don't know that," Kirk began soothingly.
"What do we have to know?" Alfredo snapped. "I've seen Starfleet reports of Klingon atrocities. They wounded me and left me for dead--and I saw what they did to poor Teresita. It took your Doctor McCoy most of the day to repair the ghastly injuries she suffered at their hands!"
He paused for breath, and Kirk could see tears shining in his eyes. "She's pregnant, Kirk, pregnant! And that fact will be nothing to them! They'll rape her again, or worse...They're monsters--murderers!"
Kirk felt a stab of guilt. He knew that the young princess was pregnant because of the Klingons. He grabbed Alfredo by the shoulders. "Pull yourself together. We know nothing at this point, only that they've invaded Serenidad! You've got to stay calm, Don Alfredo. The Federation will do everything in its power to end this crisis."
"As well it should!" The regent's eyes fairly blazed. "The Federation helped cause this crisis. My brother, Fernando, thought Serenidad should move into the Twenty-third century when dilithium was discovered on our planet. Now he's dead--assassinated by a Klingon agent who never would have been on Serenidad if the Federation and the Klingon Empire had not been vying for protectorate and mineral rights!"
He pulled away from Kirk's grasp and gazed out the port again. "Understand, Captain Kirk--I bear you no ill will. You've been our friend, and you've done everything you can for us time and again. But I have to laugh when I hear how the Federation will take care of us. They've done a damn poor job of it up 'til now, wouldn't you say? The Klingons come and go as they please!" Don Alfredo turned abruptly away and departed without another word, leaving a speechless Kirk in his wake.
He stood there a long time, just watching the stars. He realized there was nothing he could do or say to ease Alfredo's anguish--except rescue Teresa and Carlos unharmed, and liberate Serenidad from the invading Klingons.
And that was a tall order, indeed, especially since his hands had been tied by the Federation Council.
Kirk raised his arms over his head, stretching as he breathed a tired sigh. He was bone-weary; it was time to head back to his quarters and try to get some rest.
Rest, maybe, but he knew he would not sleep tonight.
"What did you do to her?" Leonard McCoy raged as he struggled in the iron grip of his sentry.
"I gave her a maximum dose of the feedback circuit, nada. It is how we control our subject during programming. Wrong-thinking is punished by a sharp burst of pain until the subject changes his or her mind. Since the Princess could not be programmed, I thought it only fair that she experience that stimulus."
Korak snickered at the expression of agonized alarm that seized McCoy's features. "Calm yourself! She is only unconscious. But when she awakens, she will swear her skull has been crushed into tiny pieces!"
The Kh'myr commander whirled on Carlos. "Take him," he snapped.
The young prince was bundled toward the mind-sifter chair by his guard. T'olar preceded them; he unstrapped the unconscious Teresa, then unceremoniously dumped her body in a heap on the floor, where she was ignored. He assisted the sentry in securing his struggling charge. Carlos cursed and fought uselessly against the restraints. Then T'olar returned to his console.
"Full power to the tuqDoq, T'olar, but only for a brief duration," Korak instructed. "We do not want to destroy his mind. Don't let him relive the events, as you did with the Princess. We can sort through the information he gives us while his mind is blanked out."
T'olar did not hesitate this time. He slid the force-setting all the way over.
His work was rewarded by a piercing, unearthly scream. Carlos rose up out of the chair as far as the straps would allow and hung suspended for the several long seconds the mind-sifter ripped through his thoughts.
Blessed relief! He was alone, afloat in a silver-gray sea of nothing-mist. The pain of the mind-probe was gone. Silence for what seemed like ages.
This looks interesting, Technician. Who is this female?
Mendoza knows her as Angelita Martinez, apparently an old love of his--although his recent patterns indicate he had a tryst with her...today, it seems!
Interesting indeed! Augment!
I sense guilt over this feeling, but also an uncertainty that he still loves the Princess...and...hmm. Concern over the Princess' reputation. He has never believed the stories about her promiscuity, but again there is doubt!
Uneasiness gripped the pit of Carlos' stomach. He was too alone, afraid. Who are these people, these disembodied voices?
Excellent! A woman now. We can use his guilt and jealousy to program him, My Lord!
His anxiety is nearing its peak, joHwI'. We should commence programming as soon as possible.
Proceed then, T'olar!
He was smothering, couldn't breathe! He wanted to scream.
Be calm, Carlos. We're here to help you.
The voice was gentle, soothing. Carlos' tension abated somewhat, but he was still frightened.
Help me! I...I'm so lonely...confused!
You want to know the truth, don't you, Carlos--about Teresa, about the Federation?
The truth isn't pretty, Carlos. Teresa has lied to you. She's unfaithful. She goes through men as often as she changes clothing. And the Federation has lied to you as well. They aren't here to help you. They will steal your planet's riches, oppress your people, selling them to the Orions, and offer nothing in return. They are greedy and dangerous, Carlos. The galaxy is littered with the corpses of ravaged planets they have victimized.
I don't understand.
We'll prove all these things to you, Carlos. We'll expose Teresa for what she really is--a rutting, rapacious slut. We'll show the Federation's true face to you, also, expose them as the outlaws they are. Remember, Carlos, we will stand by you; no matter how painful it is for you, we'll be there to comfort you. Do not despair--everything will be all right.
Carlos drew some assurance from that, but he was puzzled. None of this is real...
A sudden twinge of pain in the center of his skull twisted his face into a wince.
No, it's real.
We're going aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Carlos. That's where you will find Teresa--and the truth.
The silver mist dissolved.
Carlos stood in the middle of one of the great starship's corridors. He recognized it from the time he'd been given a tour of the Enterprise. There was a cabin door in front of him, flanked by two Enterprise security guards in protective armor.
The wall plate next to the doorframe identified its occupant Captain James T. Kirk.
Suddenly, Carlos heard a soft, seductive moan from within the room, a moan that segued into a lustful purr. A young woman's voice, one he recognized.
She always made sounds like that when they...when they made love!
Carlos bolted for the door. but one of the redshirts blocked his path. "Where do you think you're going, twerp?"
"My wife is in there--Princess Teresa," Carlos blustered.
The other guard smirked. "You mean she was your wife, chump. She belongs to Captain Kirk, now. He liked what he saw, and he took it. That's the way the Federation is. Didn't you know that, stooge?"
Carlos put his head down and charged past them. The doors hissed open.
He had found Teresa--and wished he hadn't.
She lay entwined in a lewd embrace with Captain Kirk on his bunk, both of them naked and mating like dogs in heat. Her face was heavy with make-up, contorted in a lascivious grimace of passion. He had never seen her like this. She looked like a whore.
And, yet, she was so desirable!
Carlos was suddenly lifted off his feet as each guard grabbed him under an armpit.
"Sorry about this, Cap'n, one of them growled. Want us to take the little shit out and blast him?"
"No, leave him alone." Kirk smiled congenially, never missing a stroke. "Hi there, Carlos. Come for a visit?"
At the sound of Carlos' name, Teresa managed to stir from her lust-crazed stupor long enough to raise her beautiful, painted face. She forced her eyes to focus on him. "Oh, hi, Carlos," she breathed. "I'm a little--unghh--busy right now. Stick around, though, and maybe--oh, God, Jim, that feels so good!--maybe we can chat."
Carlos felt as if he were on fire. Shame and humiliation struggled with hurt and anger for control of his emotions. His beautiful young wife shamelessly coupling with this starship captain right before his very eyes!
But something else is wrong!
He watched Teresa's lithe beautiful body gyrating with each thrust.
That's what's wrong! Her belly was bigger now; she was pregnant.
Another lance of fiery pain, burning in his brain like a brand!
Teresa's body glistened with a fine sheen of perspiration--her perfect, supple form. Perfect--just as it had always been and was now.
It was more than Carlos could take. He found his voice. "Teresita--what do you think you're doing?"
"What am I doing?" she gasped. "What does it look like, stupid? I'm fucking him!"
She screamed suddenly as her taut stomach rippled with spasms of pleasure. Kirk grunted and bowed his back, climaxing just a few seconds behind her. Then they both collapsed, panting, sweating, slowly cooling down.
Carlos watched them through eyes misty with stinging tears. "Teresita...how could you do this to me?" he muttered brokenly.
"It was easy, Carlos. He's a big, handsome, virile starship captain. You're just a...boy. Besides, he's with the Federation. He wanted me; he took me. That's the way it is in the Federation. He didn't care that I was your wife. It didn't matter to him. He's the Federation!"
"I've got to hand it to you, Carlos," Kirk said, his smile mocking. "She's about the finest piece of ass I've ever had. Serenidad's been really good to me. Not only has it given me a randy little princess to play with, it's going to make me as rich as Croesus. We'll gut the planet. By the time I sell off all the dilithium and mineral stores, chemical rights, timber supplies--hell, I'll be set for life! And that's not even counting how much I'll make by selling the people of your planet to the Orion slave markets."
"Then you did lie to us," Carlos raged. "You're here to exploit Serenidad!"
"You got it, kid--for every credit it's worth." Kirk chuckled as he sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "You know what they say...the rich get richer..."
Teresa rolled off the bunk and knelt down between Kirk's legs. "I'm hungry, Jim," she purred. She winked at Kirk, then glanced over her shoulder at Carlos. "Watch what I'm going to do now, Carlos," she said, a teasing lilt in her voice.
"Less talk and more action," Kirk growled. He shoved Teresa's head down into his lap, forcing her to swallow his erect organ. She gagged, but quickly recovered, falling to her task with glee.
Carlos could only watch in helpless despair as Teresa voraciously serviced Kirk, until the explosive moment when he filled her mouth with his seed. She turned around and sat on the floor, gulping down the last of his juices.
"She's something else, Carlos," Kirk taunted. "Too bad she's not yours anymore. He stood up, motioning to the two security guards. You men want sloppy seconds? I need a break from this little hellcat!"
The guards looked at one another. "All right!" they exclaimed in unison. They shoved Carlos out of the way as they stormed past him, stripping as they ran. "Just one more thing, Cap'n," one of the sentries sang out. "Get the wimp out of here!"
Kirk grinned. "A pleasure, gentlemen." He grabbed Carlos by the collar and bodily dragged him to the cabin door.
"No, wait! Please?" Carlos begged. "She's my wife!"
"Not anymore," Kirk sneered. "She's mine now--mine and the Federation's."
Behind him, Carlos heard Teresa squeal in delight. The security guards wasted no time; they dived in eagerly, and the princess was only too happy to accommodate them.
The doors suddenly parted, and Kirk literally threw him out into the corridor. The youth landed face down, hard. Stunned by the fall, he struggled up onto his hands and knees and shook his head to clear it.
When he opened his eyes, he was alone again, alone in the shifting silver mist. "No-o-o!!" he screamed, tears of rage and hate coursing down his cheeks. "I loved you! I trusted you, and you threw me over for that snake Kirk and his slimy Federation! I'll kill you--you and him both!"
Someone was standing in front of him. It was Angelita! She smiled down at him, her face suffused with love and pity. "My poor Carlos," she whispered. "You don't need her anymore. I told you I'd be here for you and I am."
"She's a bitch, Angelita," he sobbed. "I want to kill her! I want to drive Kirk and that accursed Federation off this planet!"
"You can, darling, but you need help. You need the Klingons!"
"They want to help us," the blonde girl crooned. "They know best how to develop our planet, how to take care of our people. Their methods may seem hard, brutal, but they are efficient. They'll drive the Federation away. And they'll see that Teresa is properly punished."
"Teresa--yes!" Carlos snarled. "I want to see her killed!"
"They will execute her," Angelita said. "It's what she deserves for cheating on you, my darling."
"Yes! Yes! She deserves death--a horrible death!"
"Are you ready to join the Klingons, now, Carlos?"
"Yes, I am--now!"
Carlos got to his feet. Angelita had disappeared. Instead, he found himself facing the imposing bulk of Klingon Battle-Commander Korak.
"Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza," the Kh'myr rumbled. "I am here to help you. We will do what is best for Serenidad. Angelita is right; our ways are harsh, but we only do what we must do. Will you trust me?"
"I...yes. Yes, I will."
"Good! Your princess will be executed. I will need you to help me speak to your people. Will you do it?"
"Anything--so long as the ground runs red with her blood."
"Then take my hand in a clasp of friendship and trust," Korak commanded.
Carlos slipped his smaller hand into the Kh'myr Klingon's huge one.
Korak was unbuckling the mind-sifter chair's restraining straps. Dazed, Carlos glanced around the Great Hall. There was the technician T'olar at the console, the woman L'yan, the guards...
His jaw clenched in anger.
McCoy! A Federation lackey! he thought. And he was standing next to... "Teresa! You bitch!!"
He sprang from the chair before even the startled Korak could stop him, launching himself at his groggy wife. They went down in a tangle of flailing arms and legs. Carlos gripped her throat and squeezed, all the while banging her head on the stone floor. The princess's face began to turn blue, and her eyes bulged from their sockets. He could hear McCoy raging at him to stop.
Someone broke his grip and pulled him off her. "Carlos--no! Not yet" Korak hissed. "She'll die in good time. We will execute her, make a public spectacle of her. We'll teach the people a strong lesson. We reward and care for our friends, but woe be to our enemies!"
Carlos was somewhat mollified. "When? When will she die?"
"Soon. We will make a public statement to the people of Serenidad in the morning and beam it out to the Federation," the Klingon commander said. "Once that is finished, we will execute her and the Starfleet security force commander, this Westlake. They will die by the blade, slowly and horribly."
McCoy helped the sobbing, coughing Teresa to her feet as he massaged her tortured throat. He glared daggers at Korak and Carlos. "You can't execute her, damn it! She's pregnant!"
L'yan snickered. "If that troubles you, nada, I'll rip the child out of her womb first--then she will no longer be pregnant!"
Korak and the guards burst into crude laughter, and even Carlos joined in.
"You bastards! All right--I'll tell you why you can't kill her." McCoy stared fixedly at Carlos. "The child's father was a Klingon!"
But the expected reaction never came. The physician frowned in puzzlement. Carlos didn't seem to care that Teresa's child would be half-Klingon. But Korak's bushy brows shot skyward.
"Oho! Now isn't that interesting? An heir to the throne of Serenidad who is flesh and blood of the royal princess--and yet of Klingon blood as well." The Klingon commander thought hard for a moment in concentration. Then he looked up and favored McCoy with a fierce grin. "I will have my battle-surgeon test your claim, nada. If you tell the truth, your little female wins a temporary reprieve, but only until the child is born."
"I want her dead, Korak!" Carlos insisted, unmoved by McCoy's declaration.
"Oh, she will die. I promise you," the Kh'myr commander said. "As soon as the child is pulled from her womb, she will be dragged to her execution. But the infant will be half-Klingon and must be born." He turned to her guard. "There are dungeons in the lower levels of this palace," Korak continued. "Secure the princess in one of the cells until we decide what to do with her."
"I want to go with her," McCoy cut in. "She's been banged around a lot to day. I want to make sure she's all right."
"Permit the nada to examine her, but watch him closely."
The guards started to herd Teresa and McCoy from the hall, but the physician paused in front of Carlos, determined to make one last desperate effort. "Carlos, please! Try to remember who you are. They're lying. Don't believe them!"
Korak leaned forward. "You waste your breath, Qel," he whispered close to McCoy's ear. "If I told him that black was white, he'd believe me."
"Get this Federation scum out of here!" Carlos raged. "He makes me sick!"
One of the guards shoved McCoy forward, hurrying him and Teresa out of the hall.
Korak turned to Carlos. "Will you take L'yan to the throne room, Carlos? I'll be along shortly. We'll plan our broadcast to your people to inform them that the Federation has been overthrown."
"The sooner, the better!" the youth exclaimed. He motioned to the Klingon warrior woman, then headed toward the door. Then he paused, puzzled. "Where's Angelita?"
"She'll be along shortly, too," Korak said hastily. "Run along now. We've a lot to do. She'll be here later."
This time, L'yan gripped Carlos' elbow and led him out.
Korak heaved a relieved sigh. "He is volatile, that one. The tuqDoq has a strange effect on the Human psyche."
"True," T'olar agreed. "But he is converted. What are your orders now, joHwI'?"
"We must find Angelita Martinez," Korak said. "Can you do that? She will keep Mendoza busy while we implement our occupation procedures."
"I will scan the tape the tuQDoq made of Mendoza," the technician said. "I believe she lives in the city of Castillo Nuevo, not far from this palace, and I think the exact location will be on that tape."
"Excellent! See to it at once!" He spun on his heel and strode away, leaving his mind-sifter expert to his machine and tape.
T'olar sat down at his console. He snapped Carlos' cassette into the feeder and rewound it. He would scan the hard data readout of Mendoza's mental impulses to find where Angelita Martinez lived, but he would go back and watch the visual imaging portion of the tape as well--for purely scientific reasons, of course.
Besides, watching the little princess bestow her oral expertise on the starship captain made his loins tingle!
It was growing dark.
Jorge Vilas crouched in the underbrush as he watched the rock-strewn clearing. This was their meeting place. He would have to make a decision soon if he wanted a warm place to sleep tonight.
Hesitantly, he pursed his lips and whistled a descending three-note call--their signal.
He was immediately answered.
Vilas tightened his grip on the phaser rifle. What now? Are they friends? Or have the Klingons captured one of them and tortured the signal--and the location of this hideout--from them? Will I be welcomed by handshakes or a volley of disruptor fire? No time like the present, he thought.
He cautiously stood up, moving as stealthily as he could with his game leg.
"Jorge? It's me--Maria!"
Vilas nearly collapsed with relief. He had made it. He lowered his rifle and painfully limped toward the rock shelf.
Maria Valdez seemed to simply materialize from the shadows. She lowered her own weapon and embraced him with a warm hug.
"Oh, thank God you're all right!" she exclaimed. "You're limping, though."
"I'll be okay," Vilas returned. "C'mon, let's go inside."
But Valdez pulled him up short. "Wait a minute--where's Elena?"
Vilas could not look at her. "They got her."
Valdez's only response was a shuddering sob. She sank to her knees, helpless with anguish.
Vilas gently pulled her to her feet. "C'mon, chica. Let's go inside." He put his arm around her and supported her, guiding her through the narrow crevice between the boulders that led to the nearly invisible mouth of their cave.
Inside, it was warm and well-lighted. A dozen or so of the surviving palace guards bustled about, checking supplies. They halted their activities when their commander appeared. The nearest guard, a tow-headed young man with a bloody bandage plastered to his forehead, glanced quizzically at the sobbing Maria Valdez, who was led over to a bunk by another young woman.
"Elena?" he asked.
Vilas just shook his head.
The young man closed his eyes.
"Tomás, can you take the watch for a while? Are you up to it, I mean?"
Saldano tapped the stiff bandage on his forehead. "This? Just a scratch. I'd like to say I got it in hand-to-hand combat with a Klingon, but, truth is, I tripped over a tree root in the woods and split my head open on a rock!"
Vilas managed a chuckle. "Good. There aren't any Klingons following me. I imagine they'll be busy at the palace for quite a while, too, but let's not take any chances."
Saldano shouldered his rifle and headed back toward the cave entrance, but Vilas stopped him momentarily. "How many?"
"Only twenty-seven have made it here so far," Saldano answered, his expression grim. "The way the Klingons were cutting us down at the palace, I don't expect anymore either."
"Good God," Vilas groaned. "Those bastards! We'll make them pay."
Saldano solemnly squeezed his friend's shoulder, then hurried off to his guard post.
Vilas turned to face his troops. A handful of young men and women, and they were going to take on a horde of bestial, bloodthirsty, brute warriors. Their dirty faces were numb with shock and pain and horror. They needed him to be strong for them, and he didn't feel strong enough for himself.
"All right, people, let's get organized," he snapped with as much authority as he could muster. "Emilio, what's our firepower status? How's the stockpile here?"
"We've got enough arms and grenades and extra power packs to outfit an army," Emilio answered, running his fingers through a mat of black, curly hair. "All we need now is an army."
"We'll get one. We'll filter back into the city tomorrow and start recruiting as carefully as we can. People will get a bellyful of those knot-headed fiends very quickly. But our first order of business is to get the Princess and her consort out of there."
He paused as he took in the dubious expressions that greeted his pronouncement. "You heard me--it's our duty. There are tunnels back into the palace that even the royal family doesn't know about, 'cause we dug 'em in the unlikely event that this would happen. Well, the unlikely event is a reality. So, tomorrow, after dark, I'll lead a small team back in there, and we'll rescue Princess Teresa and her consort Carlos."
"How will we find them?" someone queried.
"The Klingons will probably keep them in a cell down on the lower level. They won't want to risk moving them from the palace, and that's the only prison area in the building. If not, we'll just keep looking until we find them. We know the layout of the palace better than they do."
"What if they kill them?"
Vilas whirled to face the speaker. His eyes glittered dangerously. "Keep that kind of crap to yourself, Delgado. We don't need any negativism. Even the Klingons wouldn't murder a pregnant woman or the father of the child!" I hope, he fervently thought to himself.
Delgado looked properly chastened. "Sorry. I just..."
"Never mind." Vilas rubbed a fist across his tired eyes."We're all beat. It's been a hellish day, so what do you say we get some sack time and regroup?"
The small band dispersed, heading for different crannies of the huge cavern to set up bedrolls. Vilas hobbled over to the cot where Valdez lay. A pretty young blonde girl anxiously watched over her. "How's Maria, Isobel?"
"I sedated her," Isobel replied. "She was pretty shaken up about Elena."
"Maria would have been our maid of honor," Vilas whispered.
Isobel's candid green eyes met his. "How 'bout you, Jorge? You all right?"
"I'll be fine." I've got to be, he thought. "I'm going to hit the sack," he announced. "I'm bushed."
He walked stiffly to a supply rack and selected a sleeping bag and lantern.
He turned back toward Isobel.
"Listen, if you need anything, I'll be right here with Maria."
Vilas smiled. "Thanks. I'll remember."
He limped off toward the rear of the cave, as far back as he could go, away from the other survivors. Finally, he found a little niche in the rock wall that was just inside the fringe of the artificial lighting that had been set up.
He climbed into his bedroll and stretched, yawning. He had hoped the palace guards would never need to use this cavernous shelter-cum-armory. Elena always said...
He fought it as hard as he could, but it was no use. A great sob forced its way out of him. He turned over and buried his head in his pillow.
And Jorge Vilas, captain of the Serenidad palace guard, quietly cried himself to sleep.
Leonard McCoy sat on the bunk in the cramped store cell, cradling Teresa's head in his lap. The Princess sobbed quietly from time to time. He had given her a light sedative and a palliative for her headache. What she needed now was rest.
He had bought her some time--how much, he didn't know. The Klingon physician confirmed that Teresa's baby would indeed be half-Klingon and filed an excited report with his commander.
So Teresa would live a while longer, but only as long as she carried the child.
And the catch was that the baby could come any time now.
"Oh, Doctor McCoy, how could he do this?" Teresa sat up, pulling away from him.
McCoy had lost count of the times Teresa had asked that question. "It's not his fault, honey. The Klingons twisted his mind with that infernal machine of theirs. I've seen it in action before."
"But...I fought it off," she sobbed. "Why couldn't he?"
"Maybe he couldn't muster up enough hatred as you did, or maybe the Klingons used a different approach after they failed with you. Just don't blame Carlos."
"I can't help it." She drew a ragged breath. "He'd kill me in a minute if they left him alone with me, you know that? Well, he'd have a fight on his hands. Belly or no belly. I'd go down swinging!"
"How's that?" McCoy asked, startled. She sounded so feisty, almost like her old self.
"If any good at all has come out of this, it's that I feel alive again," Teresa responded. "As horrible as those memories are, I had to face them. That night in the bunker--Oh, God, I don't know how I lived through that!"
"Shhh! Take it easy," McCoy whispered.
"No, it's all right. I can handle it now." She closed her swollen lids over her liquid dark eyes. "That Commander Kral--I think he was the father. He was the first one to...do it to me. I know that doesn't mean anything; it's just a feeling I have. God help the child--it's father was a monster--no matter who he was!"
She had become more agitated.
"Easy," McCoy soothed. "You don't have to go on if you don't want to." He stroked her hair, and it had the desired effect.
She inhaled a calming breath. "All right. I'm all right. It helps to talk. I know I really survived that horror, and I'm still here."
McCoy kneaded the tight muscles in her neck. He felt some of the tension go. He let her talk. It would help heal her.
She continued, "I killed Kral--and I'm glad! I wish he were here right now so I could kill him again."
Teresa struggled up into a sitting position. "We've got to get out of here," she grated. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to sit here waiting to be butchered. If it wasn't for this extra weight I'm carrying, I'd take a chance on jumping a guard and trying to get his gun away from him."
"Don't even think it, young lady," McCoy growled. "Even if you weren't pregnant and were in top physical condition--which you're not--you'd be taking a hell of a chance against a Kh'myr Klingon."
"I did it once before," she challenged. "The beast thought he had a helpless little female in his clutches. Then he tried to rape me, and I stuck his blade right in his ear."
"Don't do anything foolish," McCoy admonished. "If I know Jim Kirk, he's already on his way back with the Enterprise. He'll get us out of this." But I know the Federation Council, he silently thought. God help us!
"I just don't want to die, Doctor." Her voice quavered as the tears flowed again. "Not like this! Not like a rat in a trap."
He wrapped her in his arms, trying to offer her some small comfort from the horror that enfolded them. Her tiny body shook with sobs until she cried herself out.
Finally, she pulled away from him, wiping at her eyes. "Thank you," she whispered. "I'm okay now."
They heard a noise outside in the corridor, heavy, trampling footsteps, coming nearer, echoing off the damp, dank stone walls.
A Kh'myr guard peered in at them through the heavy, ornate door. "Time to go, nada."
"I'm staying here with her tonight," McCoy shot back.
The sentry hesitated. Normally, the warrior would have forced any other prisoner to leave or clubbed him senseless and carried him out, if necessary.
But this Human was a holy nada. What should he do? The Klingon absently toyed with the handle of his battle dagger as he tried to think, sliding the huge blade part way out of its sheath. A pained expression settled in on the warrior's face, which seemed an indication that he had reached a decision.
"Suit yourself, nada. They had a nicer place picked out for you."
The Klingon stalked off, slamming the door, leaving them alone.
"Ugly beast," Teresa said, shivering. She yawned suddenly, and her eyelids drooped.
"Can't fight it any more," she mumbled. "My head still hurts too much...I've got to sleep."
The princess stretched out on the hard wooden bunk, trying to make herself as comfortable as possible. Almost instantly, her breathing became more even and regular as she drifted off into a deep sleep.
Out like a light, McCoy mused. Good. It's probably the only way she can gain any real peace right now.
He sat down on the cold stone floor next to the bunk, his back against the cobbled wall. The cell was like something out of a medieval nightmare of the Spanish Inquisition--all stone and iron grates and chains and fetters. The stink of mildew prevailed; the stones were covered with a slick green moss in places.
Teresa had said this whole level of the castle was an authentic reproduction of an Inquisition cell block right down to the most minute detail. It was supposed to be a museum; real prisoners were housed in a modern detention center in the city.
Leave it to the Klingons to find a use for the dungeons.
McCoy gazed down at Teresa's sleeping form. She looked so beautiful like that, so innocent, like a small child. After all she had been through, she still kept bouncing back, drawing on some elemental inner strength unlike anyone he had ever known. He had seen some of her old fire tonight. Terrible, though it had been, the mind-sifter ordeal had been a catharsis for her, freeing her from her nightmares and her uncertainty.
But it had also condemned her to death as she could not be converted.
McCoy yawned wearily. It had been a long day for both of them. He rested his chin on his chest. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a few moments...
He fell asleep illogically wishing Teresa could remain pregnant forever--and cheat her executioner.
Lieutenant Commander Mord flinched as Korak's stentorian bellow reverberated off the low ceilings of the palace throne room.
"I abase myself to report this, joHwI', but...yes, it seems a number of the palace guard corps got away alive."
The Kh'myr commander's face registered incredulous consternation. "We sent a whole platoon after them--a platoon, by Kahless!! What happened to our warriors?"
Mord shifted uneasily from foot to foot. "Ah...dead, sir. All dead. They were ambushed by a small phaser cannon. It was left on overload and destroyed the escape tunnel, burying our soldiers."
Korak howled in fury. "Fools! Incompetent bunglers! Must I do everything myself?!"
"Shall I go after them, joHwI'?"
"No--I've got more important things to worry about right now than a handful of security guards! They should have been dealt with properly the first time." Korak drew a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "We'll take care of them later. They probably scattered all over the countryside, burrowing in deep like rodents. We will have to bide our time."
Mord rendered a crisp salute and hurried from the room. He was a savage, ruthless warrior with but few equals in the Empire, but even he did not wish to tarry when his commander's wrath was aroused. Best to make himself scarce just now!
Korak seethed with rage. The rocky muscles of his arms tensed and trembled and finally, when he could bear it no longer, he smashed a fist down on a decorative end table, splintering it into tiny bits of polished wood.
It helped somewhat, but his hand hurt.
He gazed around the throne room. All was in readiness for the broadcast he and Mendoza would make in the morning. The Federation flags had all been torn down and destroyed except for one which would be symbolically burned. Imperial banners with the Klingon moon-and-dagger crest now hung side by side with the royal blue and white pennants of Serenidad.
He eased himself down into the throne. Mendoza would sit there tomorrow during the broadcast, but, of course, that was merely symbolic, a ploy to allay the people's suspicions. He was the real power on Serenidad now, even though he only bore the official title of "military governor."
The huge oaken door to the throne room creaked open. L'yan had returned. She had doffed her armor and was now attired in a loose-fitting tunic with slacks and knee-high boots. She still wore her weapons belt with disruptor and battle dagger, and she undoubtedly had her other blades concealed about her well-formed person as well.
"Our errant guards have been attended to," L'yan reported. "I doubt they will be lax in their duty again."
"You punished them thoroughly, I trust?"
She laughed. "They were doubly punished, joHwI'. Their own anxiety tormented them as much as the agonizer."
"How's that?" Korak demanded.
"They knew of my reputation, and...well...they feared I would castrate them!"
The Klingon commander guffawed, sweeping L'yan into his arms in a crushing bear hug. "Oho, that is rich!" he exclaimed. "All I need do to maintain discipline is threaten to unleash you, L'yan! 'Mind your place if you value your manhood!'"
He kissed her once, then exhaled wearily. "A long, eventful day, my dear. Is Mendoza secure for the night?"
"Yes, Lord," L'yan replied. "He was somewhat worn down after his session with the mind-sifter, so I had him put to bed after we set up the holocam system for tomorrow's broadcast."
"And we should be abed as well," Korak returned. He released her from his embrace but took her hand in his own, a wicked grin playing about his lips. "Mendoza's visual tape--that interesting mating custom the Princess and the starship captain engaged in. What is it called? Phi-late--?"
"Fellatio, joHwI'," L'yan supplied.
"Yes. I would like you to experiment with that custom tonight."
L'yan's smile was impish. "Agreed. However, since joHwI' is a noble and just lord and believes in reciprocation, I am sure he will return the favor as well!"
Korak roared with laughter and playfully swatted the warrior woman's backside.
"You are prepared for anything, aren't you? All right--agreed!"
He threw his arm around her and guided her out of the throne room.
"Slow to sublight, Mister Sulu, and engage thrusters at station-keeping. Raise all shields, all weapons at full power in standby mode."
A chorus of "Yes, sirs" responded to his orders, and James T. Kirk leaned back in his command chair. He had done all he could for now, but he was taking no chances. Starfleet scientists had not yet found a way to penetrate the latest, improved Klingon version of the Romulan cloaking device. To go into a situation unprepared was to court death.
Kirk half-turned his head to the communications bay. "Uhura, patch me in on in open channel."
"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise to Starfleet Command. We have reached the Serenidad system boundary and will investigate. Please advise us of any change in the situation. Kirk out."
Spock stepped down next to the command chair. "A little fishing expedition, Mister Spock," Kirk said.
The Vulcan cocked his right eyebrow. "If I understand you correctly, Captain, your move is calculated to draw the Klingons out of hiding."
"Right. And it seems we've already got a nibble, just like clockwork. Look," Kirk pointed to the mainviewer.
A patch of the star pattern in the screen shimmered and wavered until it gradually coalesced into the familiar sleek outlines of a K't'inga-class battlecruiser, its forward torpedo tube glowing with photon fire. The ship slowed to a halt not more than a few hundred meters away.
"Klingon warship has been automatically targeted, sir," Chekov sang out.
"Helm ready to cut into warp drive and evasive at your command, sir," reported Sulu.
"Thank you, gentlemen. Stand by."
Uhura swiveled her chair toward the conn. "Message coming in from the Klingon cruiser, Captain."
"Right on schedule," Kirk murmured, glancing at Spock. "On screen, Uhura."
The gnarled, impassive countenance of a Klingon lieutenant replaced the battlecruiser's image on the viewer. "Enterprise, this is the Imperial Klingon cruiser, Targa, Klysar in command. You are perilously close to invading Klingon space. Should you drift even one meter closer in this direction, you will be destroyed. You will leave this area immediately!"
"This is Captain James T. Kirk. It is you who are trespassing, Klingon. Serenidad is a Federation protectorate. You will withdraw at once and release all prisoners and hostages, or we will destroy you."
Klysar's lean, wolfish face tightened into a sneer. "Not likely, Kirk. I am sure you heard Lord Commander Korak's official proclamation yesterday. Serenidad belongs to us now, in every legal sense of the word. And now, since you doubt our sincerity..." He turned his head away, snarling, "baH!"
"Klingon vessel firing torpedo!" Sulu exclaimed.
"Stand tight," Kirk commanded. "Full power to shields!"
The Enterprise trembled with a mild shudder. The Klingon projectile had barely grazed her forward shields.
"A near miss," Spock commented. "A warning shot."
Kirk nodded as Klysar returned his attention to the screen.
"Our next volley will be a direct hit amidships, Enterprise. Withdraw to a more comfortable distance or we will blow you to atoms! Klysar out."
Typical Klingon, Kirk thought in frustration. All bluster and arrogance and impossible to deal with. "Withdraw to a distance of one hundred fifty kilometers, Mister Sulu," Kirk said. "DiFalco, plot and lay in a course that will give us our closest approach to Serenidad without violating the boundary."
"Yes, sir," the navigator complied.
Kiri leaned back in his chair, swiveling around so he could face his first officer. "Analysis, Spock?"
Spock seemed perturbed. "We have very little data as yet, Captain. We know only three facts for certain. We know that the Klingons have Serenidad, we know that they have at least one starship-class vessel patrolling the system, and we know that they are prepared to deal with any incursion into their territory. Among the myriad facts we do not know are how much military strength the Klingons have invested in this venture, the fate of the people of Serenidad, or the fates of Doctor McCoy, Princess Teresa, and Prince Carlos."
"Yes," Kirk murmured. "Well, we'd better get busy and find out some of those things, Spock. Is our new course ready, Chief DiFalco?"
"Yes, sir--plotted and laid in."
"Very well. Mister Sulu, ahead Warp Factor Six. Stay as close as you can to the boundary without drawing fire. I want to give that Klingon lieutenant fits!"
"Aye, sir. Warp Six," the helmsman responded.
For the next two and a half standard hours, the Enterprise cruised steadily around the Klingon boundary sphere, making for the coordinates that marked her closest approach to the planet Serenidad. The battlecruiser Targa dogged her every step of the way, matching her move for move, speed for speed.
The starship had nearly reached her destination when Uhura received a strong transmission at her communications post. "Sir, I'm picking up a high gain general broadcast going out over all subspace bands and hyperchannels."
"Put it on screen, Uhura."
The starfield on the mainviewer faded out of existence, and the scene that replaced it brought Kirk to his feet. "Carlos!"
Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza sat on a plush brocaded throne in the Serenidad royal palace, resplendent in purple robes and a powder-blue tunic. His youthful, bearded face looked somehow different. Kirk decided it had something to do with the angry set of his jaw, and the malevolent gleam in his eyes that had never been there before. Kirk definitely did not like the looks of things.
He liked it even less when a huge Kh'myr Klingon warrior in a cape and full dress armor moved into the picture, flanking the right side of the throne.
"People of Serenidad and the Galaxy," a disembodied voice intoned in Klingon-accented English. "Prince Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza and Lord Commander Korak, Military Governor of Serenidad."
"Good morning," Carlos began."I come before you today to announce that a new era has begun on Serenidad. New facts have come to light that prove the United Federation of Planets does not have legal claim to protectorship of our planet. There was a conspiracy involving high-ranking Federation and Starfleet officials, including Commodore Paul Westlake of the Starfleet security station on Serenidad, and, much as it shames me to report this, my own wife, Teresa Morales de la Vega-Mendoza, formerly the crown princess of Serenidad."
Kirk heard a set of turbolift doors hiss open behind him. Within seconds, Don Alfredo was at his elbow. "Captain, what's going on?"
Kirk politely motioned the regent to silence as Carlos continued his address.
"I can't give you all the details. There are too many, and it pains me greatly. Briefly, the Federation, through Starfleet Command, conspired with Teresa to rape our planet, strip it of every last fragment of mineral wealth and natural resources. Our people were to be rounded up and sold like cattle at slave auctions in the Orion territories. These heinous deeds were to be carried out by Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, one of my unfaithful ex-wife's numerous lovers."
Kirk's jaw dropped, and Spock favored his captain with a wide-eyed, raised eyebrow. "Don't look at me!" Kirk blustered. "This is the first I've heard of it myself!"
"This is ludicrous!" Don Alfredo exclaimed. "Does he really think this ridiculous tale will be believed?"
"The Federation and Starfleet officials, including the villainous Kirk, were found guilty of conspiracy, subterfuge and subversion in absentia last night by a tribunal of the Serenidad and Klingon governments," Carlos went on. "Commodore Paul Westlake and Teresa Morales de la Vega-Mendoza were also tried. Both were found guilty; Westlake of conspiracy and subversion, Teresa of conspiracy, subversion and the murder of four Klingon nationals on Serenidad last year. Both will be executed."
A collective, horrified gasp arose on the Enterprise bridge.
"He is mad!" Don Alfredo sputtered. "The boy is mad!"
"Not mad, Don Alfredo," Spock intoned. "The Klingons are obviously exerting some kind of mental control over him."
"The mind-sifter?" Kirk conjectured.
"A distinct possibility, Captain. With a slight modification, the device can shape minds as well as read thoughts. The Klingons have been known to use it for just such a purpose."
Carlos spoke again. "Because of her condition, my wife will be permitted to give birth to her child before she is executed. Westlake will be publicly executed later today."
Carlos paused and leaned in closer to the holocam. "We must put Serenidad back on the right track as soon as we can. I'm asking each and every one of you to do your part to help repair the damage done by the Federation. I'm also asking for your trust. There will be hard times ahead, but drastic measures are necessary if we are to succeed. Military Governor Korak will speak now to tell you what must be done."
Carlos arose and walked out of the camera's field of view, and Korak moved to stand directly behind the vacated throne. "My message will be brief," he growled flatly. "We Klingons believe in discipline; discipline must be maintained at all costs. A list of rules and regulations will be posted in all the major cities of this planet. They will be strictly adhered to. Our measures may seem harsh or even brutal to you, but it is the most efficient manner in which we can make Serenidad a productive and prosperous planet once again. The execution of the princess and Commodore Westlake may also seem excessively harsh. Bear in mind that they are both state criminals and traitors to Serenidad, and must be dealt with accordingly. Perhaps their deaths will discourage others from following their misguided path."
And with that, Korak concluded his address and strode away. The mainviewer went dark and the familiar, shifting star patterns of deep space returned.
No one spoke for several moments after the end of the broadcast. No mention had been made of their friend and shipmate, Leonard McCoy, and they had been subjected to the shock of hearing an obviously deranged Carlos condemn his wife to death.
Kirk finally broke the silence. "Uhura, get me a scrambled hyperchannel direct to Starfleet Command--Admiral Nogura," he said quietly.
"Aye, sir." She stabbed a series of button on her console, then, "Your channel is clear, Captain."
Heihachiro Nogura's wizened grim-faced visage swam into focus on the screen. "Hello, Jim. I've been expecting your call. Before you ask, yes, I saw the broadcast, and no, your orders haven't changed."
"Why not?" Kirk demanded. "It's madness to let this charade continue."
"You're forgetting something, Captain. The Klingons have a legal, signed document giving them free claim to Serenidad. The Federation Council's legal team is hard at work on it, but so far it seems ironclad."
"That could be tied up in red tape for years," Kirk was livid, unconsciously clenching his fists in anger. "If I don't do something now, a lot of innocent people will die, including Princess Teresa and Commodore Westlake. And we don't even know what's happened to Bones--Doctor McCoy."
For the first time in his life, James T. Kirk saw the invincible Admiral Nogura's shoulders slump in defeat. He seemed suddenly even older than his considerable years, tired, beaten. Kirk marvelled at how much he looked like someone's lost, old grandfather.
The image made him uneasy.
"I know that, Jim," Nogura finally said. "I'm sorry--there's nothing I can do. The Council has forbidden--"
"To hell with the Council!" Kirk exploded in uncharacteristic rage. "I won't sit idly by and watch this happen!"
Nogura's almond eyes blazed with glacial fire. His moment of weakness had passed. "You will do exactly that, Kirk," he grated, steel in his voice."You will do exactly that, or you will consider yourself relieved of command! Do I make myself clear?"
In an instant, Kirk realized he had pushed too far this time. He knew full well that Nogura was not bluffing. He did not want to risk having the Enterprise pulled from the quadrant and replaced by another starship. The only expedient thing to do was back down and play by the rules.
"You make yourself perfectly clear, Admiral," Kirk returned. "I apologize for my loss of temper, but I respectfully submit that something better be done about this mess, and soon."
Nogura couldn't help smiling. "Bend but never break, eh Jim? You're as stiff-necked as ever! But this is one time I can't loosen the reins."
Alfredo stepped next to Kirk and addressed Nogura. "Admiral, I am Don Alfredo Morales de la Vega, Regent for Princess Teresa of Serenidad. I urge you to heed Captain Kirk's request. My niece's life is in danger. She is the sovereign ruler of a Federation protectorate, and I charge you to fulfill the promise of protection the Federation made to us when we joined."
"I sympathize with you, Don Alfredo," Nogura murmured. "The problem is, Serenidad does not at the moment belong to the UFP, or so it would seem. The Council is afraid to risk interstellar war with the Klingons when there is a very good chance we would be in the wrong."
"I see." Don Alfredo's face clouded with barely contained fury. "So my planet and my people will be sacrificed, if need be. And then what happens the next time this occurs, Admiral, and the time after that? Soon the Klingons will have vanquished you, and your precious Council will no longer have to concern itself with legalities!"
The regent stalked off the bridge before Nogura could respond to his accusation. He wearily shook his head. "Believe me, Jim, I know how he feels and how you feel about this. The best I can do is let you remain in the quadrant and send the U.S.S. Challenger in to back you up. Unless you hear otherwise, however, your orders stand. You are to observe only. Understood?"
Kirk sighed. "Understood, sir. Kirk out."
He plopped down in the command chair. Now it was his turn to feel defeated. He couldn't defy Federation Council directives but he couldn't abandon his chief surgeon and all those innocent people to the Klingons either. There has to be a way...
But he couldn't think of any.
And Commodore Paul Westlake was about to die because he could do nothing.
"We have reached the locus of our closest possible approach to the planet Serenidad, Captain," Spock reported. "Your orders, sir?"
"We hold station, Mister Spock, and we wait," Kirk murmured. "We wait until the Federation Council comes to its senses and allows us to act." And in the meantime, he thought, Hell will freeze over, or at the very least, the galaxy will make another complete rotation on its axis!
The sun would be on the zenith in twenty standard minutes. There was much to do in that short time. First and foremost, however, he should check in with his ship. Battle Commander Korak flipped open his squat,compact communicator. "Korak to Targa. Report."
"Klysar here, joHwI'. Status unchanged. Enterprise has not moved since taking up its close-approach position. It's just sitting there, waiting, shield and weaponry on standby."
"Any sign of other Federation vessels?"
"No, joHwI'. Scanners are clear."
"Good. Hold your position as long as the Enterprise does. If she moves one kellicam closer, destroy her."
"Understood, joHwI'. Any further instructions?"
"No. Inform me immediately of any change in status." Korak closed his communicator. The Kh'myr commander sat down at the long council table in the Great Hall, which he had appropriated as his occupation headquarters. Everything was going as planned. The only mishap in his invasion thus far had been the escape of a few of the palace guard corps, but that was an insignificant setback at best. Now that the powerplant was operational and the forcefield was in place, he was invincible. Serenidad was his!
L'yan strode into the Hall, saluting as she stood before Korak. "T'olar has located the Martinez female, joHwI'. He has brought her to the palace." She smiled slyly. "Mendoza will be extremely busy today."
"Excellent!" Korak enthused. "How have the people taken to their new government? What do our street patrols report?"
"No problems whatsoever, joHwI'. They are terrified of us and offer no resistance. Some of them are puzzled by the turn of events, but Mendoza's address has lulled them into an uneasy sense of security. A few are resentful, but still do not resist our edicts. This city is the largest population center on this planet, so we should have no trouble maintaining order. Especially after annihilating the city of San Marcos with a neutron bomb," she chuckled.
"Sheep!" Korak snorted. "Phah! A planet of two and a half million sheep so docile a mere twelve hundred of our warriors can hold them in check! You see now, L'yan --we Klingons are meant to rule this galaxy! The Humans are weak; one day we shall sweep them all aside!"
"Yes, joHwI'." The warrior woman gripped the handle of her battle dagger. "The time draws near for Westlake's execution. I shall begin promptly at midday and deliver the death blow precisely at sunset."
Korak flashed his teeth in a wolfish smile. "I'll leave that matter in your more than capable hands, my dear. When the sheep of Serenidad witness your expertise with the blade, they will realize how foolish it is to run afoul of Klingon justice."
"Thank you, Lord Commander," L'yan returned. "I'll make an example of him. I promise you his death will be slow and terrible, as will the child Princess, when her time comes."
"Ah, yes, the Princess." Korak sighed. "She really is an exquisite little creature, you know. It's almost a shame to have to kill her. She would make a fine addition to my harem back on Kazh."
"joHwI', you cannot be serious! She is little more than a child, a pale-skinned little girl! She doesn't deserve you, the greatest of all warriors!"
"You're jealous!" Korak's bushy eyebrows shot upward in surprised amusement. "My tigress, jealous of that little slip of a Human female? Oho, L'yan, you are full of surprises! I would never have suspected you of feeling insecure."
His second-in-command bowed her head. "joHwI' knows of my feelings for him."
Korak got up and pulled L'yan to him. "Listen to me. You are my woman, my first consort. My harem on Homeworld I keep for convention's sake more than anything else--a battlecruiser commander is expected to maintain one."
"You find no pleasure there?" she challenged.
"Of course I do, but it is transitory. The females in my harem are constantly changing, and I see them only on those rare occasions when I am home. You are with me always. There is no one before you. Remember that!"
"I will, joHwI'." L'yan managed a tentative smile. "I beg your forgiveness."
"For what?" He chuckled. "I find it refreshing that my invincible warrior woman has a soft spot." He glanced at the rapidly diminishing shadows in the courtyard beyond the huge windows. "You'd best hurry if you wish to begin the HoHtaj(13) on time. The sun will soon be high in the sky."
"Yes, joHwI'." She saluted then hurried from the Great Hall and down the long stone steps to the dungeon.
Her guard contingent was already pulling Paul Westlake from his cell. The wounded security chief put up a valiant struggle but he was no match for two Kh'myr warriors. One of the guards snarled and clubbed Westlake with the butt of his disruptor carbine.
"Not too hard, Grid," L'yan admonished. "I want him alive."
"Yes, my lady," the warrior named Grid grunted. He slung a thick, muscled arm around the semi-conscious commodore and bodily dragged him down the corridor. His companion loped alongside. Kuhr was eagerly anticipating this execution. Lieutenant Commander L'yan's skill at HoHtaj was consummate. He had watched her do this once before to an Earther female who had slain two warriors when they attacked the Federation outpost on Delta Aurigae IV. The bitch should have expired long before the gutting death blow. But L'yan had kept her alive, alive and suffering horribly, right up to the bitter, bloody end.
Kuhr hoped that today's would be as good.
L'yan paused before the only other occupied cell in the dungeon keep. Princess Teresa and the Earther nada stood gripping the grate of their cell door, watching them. She is lovely, very lovely, L'yan thought as a sharp pang of uncertainty stabbed at her self-confidence. Even bloated and swollen with child, she possessed a rare alien beauty that just might have caught Korak's eye.
The Princess seemed different since the tuQDoq as well. She was no longer the terrified little waif she had been when they had first beamed down. She glared back at L'yan, her dark eyes challenging and unafraid.
Hatred blazed through L'yan's being like the searing suns of Kazh. She could not yet slay this little bitch, but she wanted to hurt her, frighten her.
"Bring her along!" L'yan growled.
"No!" McCoy protested. "Why do you want her?"
"She should witness the HoHtaj ordeal, nada. She should see the way she'll die when her time comes!"
A chill cursed down McCoy's spine. HoHtaj. He had heard of the Klingon ritual. "Like sliding down a razor blade into a vat of alcohol," someone had once said. They were going to do that to Westlake, then someday soon, Teresa.
Kuhr had been fumbling with a key ring. Now he selected one. It rattled in the lock, and the door squealed open on rusty hinges.
McCoy started forward when the sentry grabbed Teresa's wrist, but he was easily shoved back into the cell by a massive, thrusting arm.
"I'll be all right, Doctor." Teresa called out as the cell door slammed shut.
"Listen to me, L'yan," McCoy grated. "If anything happens to the Princess, I'll kill you. Somehow, some way, so help me God, I will kill you."
There was something unnerving to the Klingons about the intensity in the healer's bright blue eyes. "I believe that you would try, nada," L'yan softly murmured. "But you will never get the opportunity."
Westlake groaned. He was stirring, coming around. "Move," L'yan snapped. "Our time grows short."
The guards herded Teresa and the doomed security chief down the corridor.
"Klingon!" McCoy shouted. "Remember what I said!"
He was not answered.
Empty threats, he thought. What can I do? Even if I had the chance, I could never kill her. Even if she kills Teresa before my very eyes. He plopped down on the hard, wooden bunk, angry and sickened by his own helplessness and apprehension.
Meanwhile, L'yan and her party had left the palace. They hurried across the lush grounds to an open-air amphitheater. It was a beautiful summer day. Sometimes on days like this, the Royal Serenidad Theatre Troupe would put on a play in the round here on the bare ground, without a stage.
But the grisly drama that would unfold here today was such that no one should be forced to witness it.
"Secure him!" L'yan commanded.
The two guards shoved the awakening Westlake over to two large wooden posts sunk into the ground at the center of the amphitheater. They stripped him completely naked, then they bound his hands and feet so that he hung spread-eagled between the posts. He hung there in that excruciating position, suspended and helpless, his toes mere centimeters off the ground.
L'yan drew her long-bladed battle dagger. She drove it into the dusty earth, and the shadow it cast was barely an inch long. Then she walked around behind Teresa and quickly bound the girl's wrists together with a length of rope. "When the shadow is gone, the ritual begins, bitch," the Klingon woman hissed. "You will stand here and watch. One of the guards will see to it that you don't look away."
Kuhr had finished his part in securing L'yan's victim. Now he picked up his carbine and strode back toward Teresa. As he approached, his gaze was candid, openly appraising and boldly appreciative. L'yan could not help noticing the little shiver that coursed through Teresa's body, nor the barely-perceptible flicker of fear in her eyes. She remembered the visual playback of Teresa's tuQDoq scan and smiled grimly as she recalled the interminable ordeal of rape and torture. Frighten her. Play on her deepest terrors!
"bu'(14) Kuhr, this little Princess is a beautiful female for a Human, is she not? Perhaps you would like to use her for a while tonight? I can put her in a cell in the farthest corner of the dungeon where no one will hear her scream."
There was open terror in Teresa's eyes now, and her breathing came much more rapidly.
But Kuhr was not playing along. He stared blankly at L'yan, blinking in bewilderment. "Surely my commander realizes that a warrior is forbidden to mate with a pregnant female. Her woman-flesh is unclean it that time. Lovely as she is, I must decline."
Teresa visibly relaxed as L'yan snarled, "QI'yaH!"(15) The thick headed fool had not caught on!
"qoH!(16) vIghIjlI'qu'!"(17) L'yan spat in Klingonese. "She doesn't have to know about your quaint little warrior's taboo!"
"Damn you to hell, L'yan," Teresa whispered with quiet venom. "I know what you were trying to do. Well, you can do your worst to me when the time comes. I may scream and cry and howl, but I'll never give you the satisfaction of begging for mercy."
"So--a contest of wills!" L'yan exclaimed. "We'll see who wins, little bitch!" She spat in Teresa's face, then cast a withering stare at the befuddled Kuhr as she bent to retrieve her weapon.
For the sun was now directly overhead, and the shadow was gone.
Holovid cams stationed around the grandstands whirred into life as L'yan sidled to the center of the amphitheater like a hunting beast stalking its prey. She moved in, crouching low, waving the battle dagger slowly back and forth. Sunlight gleamed off the mirror-bright blade, flashing on the hapless Westlake's naked form. He was wide awake now. He put up as brave a front as he could muster, but his fear showed. L'yan feinted once, twice, and again. Each time Westlake flinched as the huge dagger went past his chest without so much as grazing it.
Teresa swallowed hard. It was a gruesome fate, barbaric and terrifying. The humiliation of nakedness and the psychological anxiety of not knowing when the tormentor would strike only served to intensify the horror of the execution. She shuddered as L'yan moved behind Westlake and made a few more false passes before coming around front again.
Suddenly, the Klingon woman struck, her arm a blur of slashing motion. A hoarse gasp tore itself free from Westlake's throat. Blood beaded from half a dozen shallow nicks on his bare chest.
Teresa shut her eyes. "Oh, God, help him," she whispered.
She was nearly knocked to her knees as Kuhr prodded her from behind with his carbine. "Watch," he snarled.
L'yan attacked in earnest now. Again and again and again her knife sliced crimson weals into Westlake's quivering flesh, and his cries became more and more strident. The blade flashed in the sunlight, laying open a bloody groove on the security chief's face that ran from his left temple down across his forehead and the bridge of his nose, over his right cheek to the jaw.
"Please!" Westlake sobbed. "Stop! Stop it!!"
"Hah! Already you beg, Earther? You have hours to go!"
L'yan duplicated her last maneuver on the opposite side of Westlake's face, completing a ragged, scarlet "x" on it.
Westlake positively shrieked now. It was a high, thin, reedy cry that made Teresa break out into a cold sweat.
"He screams like a woman, My Lady," sneered Grid, who stood near L'yan's bleeding victim. "Unman him, so that he dies as a woman!"
L'yan chuckled. She lowered her dagger, pressing the point of the blade against a testicle until the skin broke and blood spurted.
Her victim fainted.
"Not just yet, Grid," L'yan said. "I'll cut them off just before I strike the death blow. Revive him!"
Grid picked up a pail of ice water sitting nearby. He splashed some in Westlake's face, then took a short drink from the bucket.
Westlake sputtered back to consciousness--just in time to feel L'yan's steel skid across his ribs like molten fire. He could only draw in a sharp breath this time.
Teresa felt the gorge rise in her throat. She turned her head away.
Kuhr immediately knotted a huge hand in her hair and yanked her head back, around, nearly twisting her neck. "Watch!"
She raised her eyes above the gory scene, focusing on the stately bulk of the palace on the hillside above and beyond the amphitheater. Kuhr must have thought she was watching the execution, for he no longer bothered her. Now, at least, she no longer had to witness the bloody spectacle.
But she couldn't cover her ears.
She could still hear the hissing sound of the keen blade. She could still hear screams. They grew fainter and more ragged each time the Klingon woman cut him.
Finally, he no longer screamed at all.
Angelita Martinez could not remember when she had ever been more frightened.
Two brutish Kh'myr warriors appeared at her house just a little before noon, pounding on the door and demanding she come with them--by order of Prince Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza. Her terrified parents could do little but agree; the Klingons were heavily-armed and seemed to be looking for an excuse to commit mayhem.
So Angelita had been whisked away to the royal palace by her savage escorts. She was not a prisoner, it seemed, but it was very evident that a refusal to see Prince Carlos would not be tolerated.
She had never been inside the palace before, but her fear would not allow her to enjoy the ambiance of the lofty, vaulted rooms and opulent chambers. She did not know what to expect. The Klingons froze her blood, and Carlos...
He had seemed almost...evil when he had made his address that morning. And he had condemned the Princess to death without so much as batting an eye. Angelita did not know what to make of that. Princess Teresa had the reputation of being the headstrong, spoiled daughter of El Caudillo. It was hard to believe she was a ruthless, cold-blooded killer and traitor, though.
But if she had done all those terrible things, then the state was within its rights to execute her.
At the end of a long corridor, they came to a massive, polished oaken door with a leaded glass panel. One of the Kh'myr guards rudely shoved Angelita into the room. She staggered to keep her balance as the door slammed shut behind her.
Angelita nervously glanced around. She was in a spacious bedchamber, richly appointed, but in a tasteful fashion. Intricately woven wall hangings and carpets decorated the stonework of the walls and floor. Two immense arched windows flooded the room with sunlight, and as her eyes adjusted, Angelita could see that the boudoir was dominated by the largest, most comfortable-looking bed she had ever seen. They were quarters fit for a queen.
Or a princess...
The door to an adjoining room swung slowly open.
Prince Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza stood framed in the doorway. He was attired casually in a powder-blue jumpsuit, appearing surprisingly relaxed, considering that the government of his planet had just changed hands.
There was something different about him. His eyes--they seemed so hard, so unforgiving. They glittered like specks of glowing coal. "I'm glad you came, Angelita," he said. "I thought about what you said yesterday--if I ever grew tired of Teresa, you'd be there. Well, I want you here now."
He advanced on her, and she backed off a step. Carlos stopped, looking genuinely hurt. "Angelita! You're afraid of me!"
She couldn't meet his piercing gaze. "I-I'm sorry, Carlitos," she murmured. "So much has happened since yesterday. Those awful Klingons have taken over our government; you've condemned the Princess to death..."
"She's a whore, Angelita," Carlos spat. "You were right. I was a fool not to see it sooner. She's prostituted herself with that Federation scum, Captain Kirk. I saw it with my own two eyes. She slips out at night and puts out for him. And his men, too."
Before she could protest that the Enterprise hadn't been in orbit for months, he took her in his arms. His eyes seemed gentler now; the hardness was gone, and she could see real tenderness there. "I want you to be with me, my love." he whispered. "You'll be the new Princess of Serenidad, at my side forever. I love you. Say you'll be with me."
He kissed her, and Angelita felt her resistance and doubt melting away like snow under a spring sun. Oh, yes--this was the Carlos she knew, the man she had loved and wanted for years! Could it be true? Would he finally, be hers?
He gently pulled away, leaving her breathless, her face flushed and hot. Effortlessly, he unbuttoned her blouse. The silver white tunic slipped from her shoulders as he caressed her full, rounded breasts with the palms of his hands. Angelita moaned aloud as her nipples hardened under his erotic massage. He stopped abruptly, leaving her on the edge as he slipped off her boots and trousers. She was almost sobbing as he hooked his thumbs into the waistband of her panty briefs. He slid the tiny silken garment over her hips, and let it slide down to her ankles.
She lost touch with her senses then. The next thing she knew, Carlos hovered over her, naked and needing her. He entered her smoothly, bringing her to a screaming climax.
Angelita wrapped her legs tightly around his waist as their bodies intertwined and meshed into one. Their tongues met, locking in a molten kiss.
She tried to ignore the niggling questions that still lurked in the back of her mind. This was wrong; Princess Teresa was going to die, and Angelita could not bring herself to believe she deserved death, no matter how much she wanted Carlos for herself.
But a wave of lust washed away Angelita's doubts. She screamed as she came again, only barely aware of the sensation of his hot seed flooding inside her.
She sighed contentedly. Relaxed, she closed her eyes, allowing herself to surrender to the warmth of the afterglow.
"I love you," she heard Carlos whisper.
"Love you, too," she managed.
His lips softly brushed over her eyelids, her eyelashes, then down to her open mouth. Angelita responded with a lingering kiss that spoke of caring and affection rather than the hot, probing intensity of passion. It had all been so romantic, so perfect, like some beautiful dream of love she never dared hope would happen.
And if this was a dream, she thought, she would live it to the fullest until the time came to awaken.
All was secure.
Lieutenant Commander Mord's keen eyes made one last sweep over the terrain adjacent to the royal palace. He nodded to himself in approval. His warriors had done a good job in the short time since the invasion. The outer part of the perimeter was now impregnable. Thanks to the pre-fabricated power plant they had installed, the Palace and the fifty acres of grounds inside its walls were covered with the invisible dome of a forcefield. Guard details circulated through the city of Castillo Nuevo, making themselves highly visible. No sense letting these sheep realize just how short-handed we are.
The Kh'myr warrior strolled back toward the Palace a little more leisurely than usual. It was a beautiful evening, and he was enjoying it. The first, bright stars were making their appearance in the sky.
This planet was green and lush, so unlike the harsh wastelands of Kazh the Homeworld. It was good to breathe fresh air again! Even a hardened soldier like Mord needed an occasional respite from the cramped, recirculated life of a Klingon battlecruiser.
The ornate entrance foyer of the Palace came into view as he rounded the corner of a high hedge row. The massive archway was bathed with a soft, golden light. Lieutenant Raan, his old friend and Battle Academy mate, stood guard. He was talking to L'yan. Her slender form was dramatically backlit by the banks of floodlights mounted along the walkway.
Mord gritted his teeth. He stopped in his tracks, his hand unconsciously gripping the butt of his disruptor pistol. Someday! Someday soon he would get her alone and send her on the long, endless journey to meet her ancestors in the Afterworld of Kh'eloz!
For Mord was nothing if he was not ambitious. He wanted command of his own ship someday. As a first officer, he would have a much better chance to realize his dream.
But L'yan stood in his way.
She was Korak's second-in-command, a position Mord coveted. That someone else of equal rank out-pointed him was bad enough--but a female!
L'yan was going inside now. Raan saluted as he moved off, then returned to his at-attention stance.
Mord strode forward into the light.
"Lieutenant Commander!" Raan hailed. His right arm shot up in greeting.
Mord waved him off. "ngeD,(18) Raan. That isn't necessary between you and me." He showed his sharp upper teeth in disgust. "What did the whore of joHma'(19) want?"
"She's going down to the dungeon to check up on her next victim." Raan chuckled. "You really don't like her very much, do you, Mord?"
"She's Korak's second," Mord shot back. "That place is rightfully mine. I've earned it!"
His friend shrugged. "Look at me. We both came out of the same Academy class, and I'm still just a lieutenant."
"But she's a female!"
"And that's where she has an advantage over you, my friend," Raan said. "You don't have a nice, warm, furry slice of be'SIj to spread for joHma' at the end of the day!"
Mord did not respond to his companion's light banter. He silently stared at the twin crescent of Serenidad's moons hovering over the trees, brooding over his lot in life. "Don't breathe a word of this. I'm going to catch that be'SIj alone, and I'm going to kill her," he finally murmured.
"toH!"(20) Rain exclaimed. "You really are serious about this! She might be hard to handle. No matter how you feel about her, she is a Kh'lai assassin. We have both seen her in action. She's deadly, Mord."
"I know." Mord's eyes caught the light and reflected red, like in animal's. "I hope I can count on your help. These palace grounds are perfect for what I have in mind. There are large areas out there that are empty, with nothing standing but a few sheds here and there. She would simply disappear."
Rain pursed his lips. "I'm with you, but, by Kahless, you'd better make sure we can do the job! I have no great love for her myself, but I want to live--and if we botch this, and she doesn't kill us, joHma' most certainly will!"
"Don't worry. I've been waiting for this for a long time. I know a place beyond that big stream west of here where there's an old ground water well. We'll dump her down that. No one will ever find her."
"Soon," Mord replied. "After it quiets down around here. We'll round up a few soldiers and lure her out to that well. Who knows--perhaps we'll sport with her a while before we kill her."
"That would be interesting," Raan admitted. "She is a beautiful female."
"Good." Mord's piercing gaze drilled into his friend's eyes. "I trust you, Raan. Do not betray that trust. Even if joHma' should kill me, I have other friends who would avenge me."
Raan was genuinely shocked. "You know me, jupwI'.(21) I'd never betray you!"
Mord's gaze did not waver or evince even the slightest hint of friendship. "See that you don't."
Mord turned away and trooped into the palace, leaving his friend open-mouthed in hurt astonishment.
Raan shook his head, bewildered. Maybe Mord was losing his sanity, but if he was determined to kill L'yan, Raan would do his best to help him. He owed him that much.
It might be worth the risk, too, if it meant a chance to slice into that little she-cat's woman-flesh.
The last feeble dying embers of twilight smoldered outside the barred window of Princess Teresa's cell. She was alone now; Doctor McCoy had been taken to the quarters the Klingons had prepared for him. He would be allowed to come by and examine her a little later, but, Oh, God, she needed someone to talk to now!
Teresa stared dully, unseeing out into the approaching night. Her face was ashen, and her eyes held the haunted look of one who had gotten one more glimpse of Hell--and had had far too many recently as it was.
Commodore Westlake had died sometime late in the afternoon. It had made little difference to the Klingon warrior woman, L'yan. She continued to slice and hack as if he were still alive, screaming under her relentless torture.
As the last ruddy rays of the setting sun dipped below the horizon, she had castrated the stiffening, mutilated corpse and gutted it from crotch to chin.
Teresa had fainted then, but L'yan revived her and forced her to take one last look it Westlake's bloody remains.
There was little left but a sodden heap of shredded flesh and exposed bone.
"This will be you, little bitch," the Kh'myr woman had hissed. And now the words were running through mind constantly. "You're next."
Then she had been escorted back to her cell, and Westlake's body had been dragged into the city and hung by its heels in the town's plaza.
And right now, this filthy, cramped, little cell was as welcome a haven as she had ever known.
The access door at the far end of the corridor slammed, its echo reverberating thunderously off the stone walls.
Teresa frowned, puzzled. Something heavy was being rolled over the floor on wheels or casters toward her cell. She struggled to her feet, battling curiosity, the forces of gravity, and her own unwieldy pregnant shape as she tried to rise. She reached her cell door and gazed out into the hall.
Her eyes widened in surprise.
L'yan stood outside her cell next to a large-format mobile holovid viewscreen. 'Flatscreens' they were called, as they were only a few inches thick. Their self-contained electronics made them totally portable. They could tie into broadcast and satellite networks, or closed-circuit holovid systems.
What the Klingon woman was doing with one down here was beyond Teresa's comprehension.
The Princess apprehensively stepped outside as L'yan unlocked the door and rolled the screen into the cell. "I thought you might be in need of some entertainment, be'SIj," she answered. "I brought you this."
Before Teresa could even voice her bewilderment, L'yan pushed the viewer near the back wall and activated it. The screen flickered with light.
Teresa gasped in shocked dismay. Tears welled up in her eyes. She sank to her knees, stricken, as a choked sob burst from her throat.
On the screen, her husband Carlos, a man she no longer knew, lounged on a disheveled bed. He was propped up on his elbows, half-sitting, half-lying down, and a blonde haired woman she didn't recognize lay with her head in his lap. Both of them were naked. The woman sprawled lewdly on the mattress. Her vagina glistened like the petals of a moist, pink flower. They were in her room, on her bed.
"Enjoying yourself?" L'yan goaded, "They certainly are. They've been at it since midday."
"Why?" Teresa's voice was broken, betrayed. "Why do you have to show me this?"
"I owe it to you," the Kh'myr woman growled. "joHwI' finds you beautiful, and I am his woman! I want to hurt you. I want to torment you until the moment my blade slits open that pale, fragile body of yours!"
"You've succeeded," the Princess sobbed. "You've hurt me more than all your agonizers or weapons ever could."
"I'm pleased." L'yan glanced at the screen and snickered. "The Prince has good taste, at least. She's a beautiful female by Terran standards!"
"Get out of here," Teresa whispered.
"As you wish," L'yan returned. She paused at the door, giving the spiked handle of her battle dagger a meaningful pat. "I'll be waiting for you. As soon as you give birth, you're mine!"
L'yan curled her upper lip in a sneer. She rendered a mock salute, then let herself out of the cell, leaving Princess Teresa alone in her misery.
She couldn't watch the screen. She heard the soft moans and cries that indicated Carlos and the young woman were making love again. "Oh God, Carlitos! I love you!" the woman cooed.
With a whirl of rage, Teresa picked up a crude wooden footstool that served, in addition to the bunk, as the "furniture" in her cell. She hurled it awkwardly into the lightweight plastex optics shield, and the viewer went dark as a shower of sparks issued from it.
"To hell with you both!!" Teresa howled. She collapsed on the bunk as the dying holovid screen indignantly sputtered a last protest.
A shooting pain coursed through her stomach. Teresa drew a sharp, quick breath, but the cramp was already gone. She wondered if she had pulled a muscle when she threw the footstool.
She was still wondering fifteen minutes later when the pain returned. This time, however, it began lightly across the back, rising to a crescendo as it streaked across her abdomen. Teresa moaned aloud and bolted to her feet, squeezing her eyes tightly shut as the pain clawed at her for almost a full minute.
Slowly, very slowly, the agony subsided.
As she opened her eyes, Teresa became aware of a gush of warm liquid coursing down the insides of her legs. For an embarrassed moment, she thought she had lost control of her bladder.
Then realization set in like the first hard freeze of winter, prickling the skin on the nape of her neck. Her water had broken! The onset of labor, the moment she had been dreading, had begun.
Her baby was coming.
"No!" she sobbed. Oh, God, where is Doctor McCoy? I need him now! Frantically, she wrung her hands then sat back down in the bunk, forcing herself to relax. Teresa drew a deep breath. She realized with consternation just how much she didn't know about having a baby. The water bag could rupture it any time, she knew. That usually occurred late in labor, but it could happen earlier, and it was not unheard of for the sac to break a day or even more before delivery.
The labor pains were the key. The closer together, the more intense they were, the sooner the birth would occur.
And then it dawned on her that she was dealing with a total unknown. No Human woman had ever birthed a half-Kh'myr infant--it least none on the Federation side of the Organian Treaty Zone. How long would it take? Would the usual warning signs even apply now? Labor might last a week, for all she knew, or it might take less than an hour.
The minutes dragged on. Teresa sat ramrod-straight, her back against the stone wall. She felt as if she were hanging on tenterhooks.
The next stab of pain doubled her over, bringing tears to her eyes and a muffled scream to her lips. It hadn't lasted quite as long, but it was much sharper.
Oh, God, where is Doctor McCoy? He was supposed to come down here and check me over. He'll know what to do. And if the Klingons find out first...
If the Klingons find out first, I'll be given to L'yan.
She had to hang on until McCoy got there. Then, somehow, they had to escape, or she was finished.
The door at the far and of the dungeon chamber scraped open. Footsteps sounded in the corridor, and Teresa's heart hammered in her temples.
Someone was coming.
The Klingon battlecruiser Targa hung suspended on the viewer in James T. Kirk's cabin. There was something almost mocking about the belligerent v-sweep of the ship's 'wings.' If one could ascribe Human attributes to an inanimate object, then the Klingon vessel seemed to be thumbing its nose at the great, impotent Enterprise, her lethal firepower held in check, like her captain and crew, by a legal technicality.
Kirk cursed and rolled over on his bunk, turning away from the screen. He hated waiting games. The situation on Serenidad had gone to Hell. The Klingons held the planet in their enslaving grip, somehow converting Prince Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza to their cause. Of "Bones" McCoy, there had been no word. All they knew for certain was that Princess Teresa would soon die, just like Westlake--slashed and sliced and skinned alive.
He shivered, remembering the grisly scene in that open air amphitheater. The computers taped the entire execution for the record, but Kirk ordered Uhura to break off visual imaging to the crew shortly after Westlake's ordeal began. Kirk had reviewed the holotape later. The savagery of the Klingon female had raised the hair on his neck. She enjoyed killing, seeming to derive an almost sexual pleasure from her butchery. Westlake had died slowly, his gruesome death an example of the ferocity the Klingons afforded to their enemies.
Kirk tossed and turned a few moments longer, then rolled off his bunk. It was no use; trying to sleep would be an exercise in futility. He sat down at his desk, thumbing the comm button on the control panel. "Kirk to bridge."
"Anything to report, Spock?" Kirk asked.
"Status unchanged, Captain. We are maintaining our pre-selected distance from the Targa and the Serenidad system, and there have been no further messages from the Klingon vessel or the planet."
"Any word from Starfleet Command?"
Spock shook his head. "Negative. That, too, remains unchanged. Our orders stand."
"I see." Kirk sighed, rubbing wearily at his eyes with balled fists. "I'll be up there shortly, Mister Spock. I'm not having much luck getting to sleep."
The Vulcan's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps Doctor Chapel could prescribe a soporific for you. If I may say so, Captain, you appear to be somewhat fatigued."
Kirk chuckled. "Your gift for understatement is priceless, Spock. I'll be fine. I'm going to grab a quick shower, and I'll be on my way. Kirk out."
He stared at the darkened screen. Spock was right; he was exhausted. He had hardly slept since the Serenidad crisis had begun, and then only in short, fitful snatches. There was a danger that he wouldn't be at his peak if things started happening, but Kirk found that adrenalin had a way of banishing fatigue from his system. Besides, if he had to sit on his hands and do nothing, he'd prefer to do so on the bridge.
Kirk stiffly got up and moved toward his sonic shower cubicle, hoping the mix of hot water and hypersound would at least temporarily revive him.
The Klingon Imperial palace was his at last! Lord Admiral Khalian surveyed the smoky throne room, littered with the corpses of now-deposed Emperor Kudan Kuras' guards and retainers. His smile was that of a ravening wolf that had at long last seized its prey.
Something caught his eye, a shiny, metallic something lying discarded on the floor at the foot of the plush royal throne.
The Emperor's crown.
Khalian bent to retrieve the golden circlet. He regarded it for a long moment, mesmerized by the play of light across its bejeweled surface. Then slowly, reverently, he placed it on his own head.
His troops roared in approval, raising triumphant fists in the air. "q'eylIen voDleH Hoy'!"(22) they shouted.
Khalian returned the salute. His warriors cheered again as he seated himself on the throne. There was a sudden commotion at the vaulted entrance to the chamber. A squad of soldiers pushed through the press of men around the throne. Two of them dragged a prisoner between them.
"joHwI', the coward has been captured! Kudan Kuras is yours!"
"toH!" Khalian spat. "My troops have dug you out of your hole, eh? Very good! With your death, my triumph is complete!"
Kudan Kuras sagged between his captors. Beaten, bloodied, his soiled robes torn and disheveled, he looked for all the world like a frightened old man. It was hard to believe he had once ruled all the Klingon dominions. "Please, Khalian," he quavered. "I beg you--don't kill me!"
"Look at you!" Khalian snarled. "You and your kind call yourselves Segh vav--the 'Parent race.' A cosmic joke if there ever was one."
"Our engineers developed you," Kudan Kuras bleated. "They made you strong, unconquerable. You owe us allegiance for that."
"We owe you nothing! You are weak! Even now, warriors of the Q'mIr(23) hunt down and slaughter your people by the hundreds of thousands on the planets of the Klingon systems. Soon your kind will all be gone, and we will rightfully rule--as we always should have."
He stood up, looming over the cowering Kudan Kuras. "It seems the 'children' have turned on their 'parents!'"
One of the guards drew his battle dagger and passed it over to Khalian handle-first, but the new emperor declined, shaking his head. "No. The taj batlh(24) is too good for him. His should be a coward's death."
"Please--no!" the fallen emperor squealed.
Khalian grinned wolfishly. "Perhaps I should relent. All right, Kudan. Kiss my boot, and I'll let you live."
Kudan Kuras unhesitantly went to his knees and prepared to do as he was instructed.
But Khalian pulled his foot away and smashed it down on his victim's head, grinding Kudan's face into the stone floor, crushing the old man's skull under his heel. He did not relent until Kudan Kuras' head had been reduced to a blob of bloody pulp.
"There--squashed like the insect he is!" Khalian bellowed. His warriors howled with derisive laughter; one of them moved forward to drag Kudan's corpse from the room. "Impale him on the flagpole overlooking the Palace battlements," Khalian commanded as he sat on the throne once again. "Leave him there until the flesh falls from his bones."
A courier stepped before him and saluted. A message for him, no doubt. "Bridge to Lord Admiral Khalian."
Slowly, the beautiful dream dissipated. Khalian groggily opened his eyes. He forced himself up on his elbows, then swung his thickly-muscled legs over the edge of his bunk. He sat there, naked and shivering as he tried to clear his head.
"Bridge to Lord Admiral Khalian. Ensign Tark here, sir."
Khalian growled, swatting the "receive" button on his comm console. "What?"
The earnest young face of communications officer Tark filled the screen. "Word of Serenidad, joHwI'. Battle Commander Korak has successfully occupied the planet. The Federation security forces there have been wiped out and their commander publicly executed in the HoHtaj ritual."
"Good!" Khalian exclaimed. "What of the Princess, Teresa?"
"She is being held prisoner. Her husband Carlos was converted with the tuq Doq, and has been installed as the nominal head of Serenidad's government--a puppet, of course."
The Lord Admiral frowned. "A moment, Ensign. Why hasn't the Princess been executed? If she has not also been converted, then--"
"She is pregnant, joHwI'," Tark responded.
"So? What of it? Has Korak gone soft?"
"Her child will be half-Klingon. Korak affirms she will be executed once she has given birth."
Khalian's bushy brows lifted. "Interesting indeed! A Klingon child with the royal blood of Serenidad in its veins. Our claims to the planet would be cemented. Korak was wise to delay the execution." The Admiral paused. "Any Federation reaction?"
Ensign Tark chuckled. "The expected, joHwI'. The Council has forbidden any action until their bureaucrats come to a decision. At present they seem to feel the Empire's claim is legitimate. The starship Enterprise has been dispatched to the system, but is there merely to observe. All is quiet."
"Kirk," Khalian whispered.
"Your pardon, joHwI'?"
"Nothing. Thank you for your report, Ensign. Keep me informed. Khalian out." He switched off the comm unit then glanced over at the naked, broken form of the female lying sprawled on his bloodstained bunk.
Kang's mate, Mara, had fought like a Capellan powercat at first--the deep, painful grooves her fingernails had clawed into his back attested to that. But she had been too fragile in the end. Khalian sneered. The females of the Segh vav were as breakable as Earther women, and Mara was no exception. Her body was as pale as the sheets she lay on; blood streamed from her broken nose and smashed mouth. He could no longer detect the breath of life stirring in her.
Snarling in disgust, Khalian shoved Mara's body off the bed with his foot. She fell in a sodden, unmoving heap on the floor. He got up from the bunk, quickly shrugging into his uniform and battle armor. There were other things to consider. The news that Kirk and the Enterprise would be patrolling the outer boundaries of the Serenidad system was unsettling. It seemed the Klingon Empire had little cause for concern; the Federation Council had forbidden Starfleet to intervene in the situation.
But Kirk's penchant for changing the rules and "bending" orders was well-known to friend and foe alike. He was a sorcerer in battle, always prevailing over the most overwhelming odds. He was a force to be reckoned with, the most dangerous Earther Khalian had ever known.
The Kh'myr Admiral dropped into his desk lounger. He would key up his battle computer and arrange a surprise or two for Kirk should the maverick starship captain decide to take matters into his own hands.
First, however, he should dispose of that lump of carrion lying next to his bunk. "Khalian to ropyaH."(26)
The face of Qel Kronn appeared. Khalian's face twisted in disgust. Segh vav. Kronn was an excellent battle surgeon; too bad he was of an inferior breed. "Kronn here, Lord Admiral. What do you wish?"
"Bring an attendant and a litter, nada," Khalian rumbled. "I have a corpse for you to pick up--a female, a traitor's mate who was not equal to my...amorous advances."
Kronn's lips tightened into a thin line, but he said only, "Understood, My Lord."
The screen darkened, and Khalian returned to his computer. "Tactical deployment."
"Functioning," came the metallic reply.
The viewer lit up, displaying a roster of ships' names, their commanders, and their sector locations. Khalian keyed in the Targa's coordinates, and the computer fed back the names of the two cruisers in closest proximity to Korak's ship: Q'rok and Zoden.
Zoden, Commander Malenc's ship. That would be his choice. Malenc was an able captain. He would back up the Targa, but in reserve, revealing his presence neither to the Federation starship nor to Korak. Khalian grinned. Korak had done an excellent job of occupying Serenidad. No sense telling him he was getting support; he might slack off his efforts.
The door buzzer sounded.
"Enter," Khalian said.
Kronn and a Kh'myr orderly stepped through the open door with an antigrav litter. The physician knelt by Mara's crumpled form. He broke out his medical scanner and made a perfunctory pass over her. He snapped it off, unable to veil the hatred in his eyes as he glanced up at Khalian. "She is dead, Lord Admiral," he murmured. "You did your work well."
"She is of no consequence," the Kh'myr returned. "You may dissect her, or jettison her out a torpedo tube. I don't care what you do with her shell."
"I will see to her body," Kronn countered, challenge in his voice as he enunciated the word "body."
Khalian's smile was dangerous. "As you wish, Kronn. But take care. Your race lives on borrowed time. You are protected only because you are a nada, but do not push me too far."
Kronn said nothing. He motioned to his assistant, and they gently lifted Mara onto the stretcher. Wordlessly, they departed with their burden.
Khalian frowned. What was he going to do with Kronn? The purge of the inferior races would begin very, very soon, all throughout the Klingon systems. Yet the nada and all his fellow physicians would be protected. There had to be a way to destroy them. The admiral sat down again at his desk. He would give the matter a good deal of thought. Perhaps he could reach a decision in the few weeks left before he put his plan to seize power into operation. But for now, his problems were more immediate. He switched on his comm link. "Khalian to Tark."
"Tark here, joHwI'. What is your command?"
"Clear a hyperchannel for me, Ensign." Khalian paused. "I want to speak to Commander Malenc on the Imperial Klingon Battlecruiser Zoden."
The footsteps came closer, echoing in the dank stone corridor of the dungeon keep like a death knell.
Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega-Mendoza sat stiffly on the rude wooden bunk in her cell, trying to slow down the frightened hammering of her heart. She had been sentenced to death by Klingon Commander Korak, the military governor of Serenidad, but had been given a reprieve only to allow her to give birth to her child. A boy, Doctor McCoy had said.
A little baby boy who would be half-Klingon.
But now the child's birth was imminent. Teresa's labor had begun. Once the Klingons knew, she was finished. After she delivered, she would be given to the warrior woman, L'yan, stripped naked, and slowly butchered.
The footsteps halted outside her cell door. A key rattled in the lock, and Teresa's blood roared in her ears. A heavily-armed Kh'myr sentry swung open the door and ...allowed Doctor Leonard McCoy to enter the cell.
It wasn't until the guard slammed the door and retreated down the hallway that Teresa released the breath she'd been holding. "Oh, Doctor!" Her voice broke in a ragged sob. "It's happening!"
"Easy," McCoy soothed. What could he possibly do to help her now? If L'yan found out, there'd be Hell to pay. The Klingon bitch would be champing at the bit to get on with her butchery.
Teresa was only--what, five months pregnant? This shouldn't be happening yet. But it was. Just like the fact that she shouldn't be pregnant in the first place; it was impossible for Klingon sperm to impregnate Human ova. Of course, the genetic engineering of the Kh'myr sub-race seemed to have changed that simple fact of biology. He shook his head; if only he had administered an abortifacient. He hadn't because there had never before been an instance of Klingon-Human hybridization, and because he was more concerned with repairing her extreme physical damage and her deteriorating mental condition. Maybe he should have scanned for pregnancy--but he hadn't. Damn it all!
"How far apart are the pains, Teresa?" the physician asked.
"I...I don't know. Fifteen, twenty minutes maybe."
"Okay, then we've still got some time to get out of here; with this being your first child and all, it could be a good ten to fourteen hours before you deliver."
"Or it could be ten to fourteen minutes!" Teresa countered. "How can you know? This child will be Klingon!"
"But you are Human, and you're carrying it," McCoy said. "Unless I miss my guess, you'll run true to form for a first pregnancy."
She gasped suddenly and doubled over. "Another one...oh, God, is it supposed to hurt this much?"
McCoy gripped her hands in his own. "Breathe in slowly...listen to me count, Teresa: one, two, three, four..."
He struggled to mask his concern as the contraction dragged on. Too long, and far too intense for this early in her labor. Tears dribbled from the corners of her tightly-clenched eyes; her face was as white as a sheet of paper. Her strong fingers crushed his own so excruciatingly that he wanted to cry out. She was in great pain, and he could do little to relieve it. The Klingons had taken his medikit.
Finally, it was over.
The Princess exhaled a long, tortured breath. "Ten to fourteen hours of this?"
McCoy smiled--encouragingly, he hoped. "I'll get you through it," he said. "In the meantime, let's see what we can do about escaping. Can you get out of the Palace if you can get out of this cell?"
"Sure," Teresa responded. "There are all kinds of hidden tunnels and passages out of the lower levels. Some of them lead to the caves and hills on the outskirts of the city. But we've got to get out of here first, and that doesn't look very promising. If I could only get my hands on a phaser..."
"Maybe there is a way out," McCoy mused. "The guard is bound to come along sooner or later to check on us.
"What are you going to do--ask him to let us out?" Teresa's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Wait a minute--you're not thinking of being a hero, are you?"
"If I can jump him, keep him busy long enough, you could get away."
"No you don't! He'd kill you in an instant!"
The physician smiled. "I'm a nada, remember? He wouldn't dare harm a hair of this old gray head."
"You know better than that." Teresa shuddered. "The Kh'myr are animals! You get his bloodlust aroused, and he won't stop until he's torn you limb from limb...nada or no nada. I won't have that on my conscience!"
McCoy grabbed her by the shoulders. "Listen to me, young lady," he snapped. "If we don't do something you'll be dead soon--and I won't have that on my conscience! You're in no condition to fight now, even though under normal circumstances you'd probably outclass me by a lightyear with your combat training. So, as our Mister Spock is wont to say, I am the logical choice."
She pulled away from him. "I don't like it," she said. "It seems I remember you giving me the same lecture not too long ago--about not trying anything foolish. I...I just don't want anything to happen to you."
"Neither do I." He took her by the hand and led her to the bunk. "You just try to relax and let me worry about the Klingons."
She started to protest; McCoy firmly but gently pushed her down. "All right--you win," she sighed.
McCoy regarded her clinically. Stress was taking its toll on her. Giving birth was no picnic under normal conditions, much less in this nightmare. Somehow, though, she was holding up. Now if he could just get her out of here. He returned his attention to the oaken cell door. Just what was he going to do when the guard showed up? He had an excellent knowledge of Human anatomy and pressure points, and his familiarity with Klingon physiology was above average. But he would be dealing with a Kh'myr Klingon. That damned battle armor they wore didn't help either. His only chance was a head shot--fists against the ears, and hope the guard would be stunned enough to drop his weapon.
The physician allowed himself a nervous smile. What odds would Spock assign to a battle between himself and a savage, battle-hardened Kh'myr warrior? He could see the Vulcan's face clearly in his mind's eye, the famous raised eyebrow, the expression of bemused consternation. Astronomical, Doctor--astronomical.
He heard a strangled sob behind him. "D-Doctor," Teresa gasped. "Help..."
McCoy rushed to her side. "Relax, Teresa," he murmured. "Let's slow down that breathing. One, two, three...."
The doubt was creeping back.
Through the gentle warmth of afterglow, it chilled her like an ice cube on her bare skin. She wanted it to go away and leave her alone--she was so happy now. But was she? Could she ever really be happy as long as this doubt--and guilt--plagued her?
Angelita Martinez opened her eyes. Yes, she was still in the royal boudoir, naked, in Princess Teresa's bed, with Princess Teresa's husband. She gazed at Carlos. He slept next to her, exhausted and happy and blissfully unaware of any turmoil.
Angelita suddenly realized she had fallen asleep fondling his now-flaccid penis. She pulled her hand away, feeling even more guilty. Something was very, very wrong. The Klingons were evil; no matter what Carlos said, she knew in her heart that they were merciless killers. They had somehow changed Carlos--brainwashed him probably. Angelita had heard the Klingons had a machine that could read minds. Maybe it could brainwash people too. Maybe that was it.
Because the Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza she had grown up loving never would have willingly handed over their planet to these savages--or so callously condemned the Princess to death, no matter what she had done.
"Carlos," she gently nudged him. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe he hadn't changed, and this was all just a bad dream. "Carlitos, wake up."
Carlos muttered something inarticulate. Then his eyes flickered open--those hard, unforgiving eyes.
This was no dream; it was a nightmare.
"Angelita." He smiled, but it was a smile without warmth. "I'm not quite ready to go another round, yet. You wore me out."
She smiled back. Her clear blue eyes regarded the face of a stranger, and she tried not to flinch. "I'm not ready, either. I just wanted to...talk."
"You." Angelita drew a deep breath. "Carlitos, what have the Klingons done to you? They're going to enslave Serenidad, and you're helping them."
Carlos' cold smile dimmed. "You're a great fuck, Angelita. But don't ask too many questions, or you'll end up joining Teresa." He rolled over, turning his back to her.
Tears welled up in Angelita's eyes. He could not have hurt her more had he driven a dagger through her heart. If she crossed him, or if he even had a whim, he'd kill her, too. But at least now she knew what she had to do. She eased herself up off the bed.
"Where are you going?"
"I...I need a drink of water," she answered. Her voice almost squeaked, and she was sure Carlos could hear her heart pounding.
"Well, hurry back." Carlos chuckled. "I'm getting horny again."
"Okay." She favored him with a weak smile as her eyes searched the room for Carlos' scattered pile of clothing.
She bent down and pulled his personal phaser from its holster, keeping her back to him. She clicked the force dial to its heaviest stun setting. Then she turned around.
Carlos saw the weapon in Angelita's hand. His heavy-lidded eyes flew open. "You stupid cunt! What do you think you're--"
She fired. The stun blast caught him full in the chest before he could so much as move a muscle. Carlos grunted, his head lolling to one side.
Trembling, Angelita flipped the setting to 'disrupt.' She dressed as quickly as her shaking fingers allowed. "I'm sorry, Carlos," she whispered. "I know it's not your fault. I may not be able to do anything else, but I'm not going to let them murder the Princess."
She slipped out into the darkened corridor. Empty--that was good. But she realized there were bound to be Klingon guards about, even though it was very late. Angelita's resolve nearly faltered when she considered that frightening prospect. Then she realized there was no turning back. Carlos would surely kill her now. Her only recourse was to get down to the cell block and release the Princess--and then run for her life. Once she escaped from the Palace grounds, she could hide out in one of the caves that honeycombed the hills around the city.
And then what? Angelita drew a shuddering breath. One thing at a time, girl, one thing at a time.Gripping the phaser tightly in her trembling fist, she headed off down the hall, hoping she wouldn't get lost searching for the dungeon. She didn't have time for that.
It had been dark for hours now. The waiting was wearing on Jorge Vilas' nerves. He and five other survivors of the palace guard corps hid in the undergrowth not fifty yards from the massive outer wall encircling the Palace grounds. They might as well have been on the other side of the galaxy had they been contemplating climbing over that wall; the Klingons had erected an impregnable force field around the entire Palace complex. A microbe couldn't have slipped through it. But there were other ways into the Palace which did not require going over the wall.
"How long has Tomás been in there?" Vilas asked, exasperation edging his voice.
"Easy, Jorge," Isobel Montez whispered. "He's been gone about an hour. It takes a while to get in and out of there, even using our tunnels."
"And he's got to watch out for Klingon guards," Valdez put in.
"I should have gone in to do the reconnaissance," Vilas grated. "Damn this bum leg anyway!" He absent-mindedly massaged his left calf, where a disruptor bolt had grazed him as he escaped from the Palace after the Klingon takeover. Today had been a little better than yesterday. They had managed to recruit fifteen volunteers to their ranks. Forty-two now...forty-two would-be warriors to take on a force of hundreds of Klingon soldiers. More of the alien savages on the ship where these had come from. And what if the Klingons have other ships?
He repressed a shudder. Shouldn't think like that. They might be few but they could do a lot of damage with hit and run tactics. They had the element of surprise. They could come and go as they pleased, utilizing the network of well-hidden escape tunnels to slip in and out of the Palace under the Klingon's vaunted force field. That's what he had told his troops; if he kept thinking like that, he might even convince himself.
Vilas shifted his position, trying to ease the strain on his ailing leg. Prince Carlos' galactic address with the Klingon military governor had rocked Serenidad. He had known Carlos for years, even before he married Teresa and became the Prince-Consort. He couldn't believe his old friend could ever behave that way of his own volition. The Klingons had done something to him--that had to be the answer. And it might be something that couldn't be remedied. Just one more item to add to the growing list of crimes those knob-headed demons had to pay for.
Vilas was about to check the charge on his phaser carbine when their lookout whistled softly. "Someone's coming," the youth named Emilio hissed.
"Is it Tomás?"
"Don't know yet. I think it is--yes, it's him."
Tomás Saldano glided noiselessly through the underbrush. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, as if he had been spontaneously formed from the night mists. He looked shaken, and more than a little scared.
"Tomás--you all right?" Vilas asked.
"The Palace is crawling with Klingons! Saldano returned in a hushed whisper. "There are lots of them on guard on the grounds. I found their barracks. God--there were hundreds of them, row after row of them, sleeping in the Great Hall."
"What about Princess Teresa?" Vilas asked impatiently.
"She's down in the dungeon level. I only saw one guard, but they've already installed a couple of security monitors down there." His thoughts drifted back to the Klingons. "Ugly bastards! If I'd had half a dozen photon grenades, I could've wiped out most of their occupation force while they slept."
Vilas shook his head. "No. Let's keep it simple. Our job is to get in there, rescue the Princess, and get out. If we can do it without even one shot being fired, so much the better."
"But Jorge--they're sitting ducks!" Saldano protested.
"I said no!" Vilas' eyes blazed. "You weren't supposed to go sightseeing anyway! What the hell were you doing up in the Great Hall? We figured the Princess was somewhere in the sub-level--and she was!"
"You never know," Saldano answered sullenly.
Vilas turned to face the rest of his band. "I know you all want revenge on the Klingons; believe me, so do I for what they did to my Elena. But we're not ready yet. We need to recruit more troops from the people. We need to get them stirred up against the Klingons. Right now they're afraid to say 'boo' with all those guards hovering around the city. We move before we're ready, and they could wipe us out. Everyone agreed on that?"
He surveyed the ring of faces. He saw no dissent there. "Tomás?"
Saldano locked gazes with him for several long seconds before finally nodding in agreement. Vilas smiled. His friend might be the best fighter among them, but sometimes his impetuous nature got the better of him.
"All right, let's go," Vilas said. "Get into the tunnel as quickly as you can; watch the moonlight when you cross open ground. Remember--let's make this quick and easy. No shooting unless absolutely necessary."
They began to move out. Vilas stopped Saldano and pulled him to one side. "I didn't mean to come down so hard on you, Tomás," Vilas said. "You're my best man. I couldn't afford to have you get picked off on some cockeyed hunting trip. No hard feelings?"
Saldano grinned. "No--forget it. I was out of line."
Vilas clapped his friend on the shoulder, then hobbled off to reach the head of his line of troops.
Saldano unslung his phaser carbine and followed after him. He nearly ran into Isobel Montez. "You could have been killed, you know," she whispered.
"Jorge is crazy to pass up an opportunity like that," Saldano countered. "I'm serious. With some photon grenades, we could blow 'em all to Hell before even one of 'em could wake up. I mean, I can understand where Jorge is coming from, but it would be so easy."
"What about all those guards on the Palace grounds?"
"They wouldn't be expecting an attack from within. They'd be so disoriented; we'd be out of there before they even knew what was going on." His lips tightened into a thin line. "You could do it with two people--or I could even do it myself."
Montez grabbed his wrist. "No," she said firmly. "Not by yourself. I couldn't stand it if something happened to you."
Saldano's eyes flew open in surprise as Montez flung her arms around him and planted a quick kiss on his lips. "Don't do anything stupid," she whispered, then turned to follow the departing column of troops, walking away with an unhurried pace.
Damn, Saldano thought. He had always carried a torch for Montez, but had never had the courage to tell her. He, Tomás Saldano, who thought nothing of storming a Klingon barracks, became tongue-tied and weak-kneed at the mere sight of this young beauty. And now, in the midst of Klingon occupation, he discovered she felt the same.
He hastened after his compatriots. His mouth felt dry, and his heart was beating a lot faster than usual. It wasn't because they might have to confront the Klingons, he realized. No, it was because he would now have to face a pretty young woman and tell her how he felt.
Somehow, that thought terrified him.
bu' Grid shivered, cursing the fates that had inflicted this miserable duty shift upon him. The dungeon keep was damp, devoid of warmth and almost totally bereft of light. There wasn't even someone else to talk to.
Why? he asked himself. He was not needed here. There were several security cameras installed on this level. If someone attempted to free the Princess, he could have a platoon down here before that someone could get her cell door open. Besides, a force field now enclosed the Palace compound like an invisible metalglass dome. No one could get in here. And even if they could, who in their right mind would be foolish enough to risk the savagery of the tlhIngan wo'?(27)
Serjeant Grid slouched against a clammy wall, setting down his disruptor carbine. He was meant for better things, but an order was an order. He envied the other members of his nawlogh, sound asleep in their barracks. He heard something like a light scraping on the stone floor.
The Klingon grinned. Probably one of those furry little vermin the Humans called "rats." He had blasted several of them out of boredom until he got a call from Lieutenant Commander L'yan to cease wasting disruptor charges. Now there was a female! Unlike the pathetic Earthers, his culture had no concept of Hell, but being cooped up for months on a battlecruiser with that sleek little she-cat prancing around--and being unable to do anything about it--that had to be what Hell was like!
He heard the noise again, much closer now. No, not rats. Cursing, he grabbed for his rifle. The last sight bu' Grid ever saw was a searing, blue-white flash a micro-second before the atoms of his body were violently converted from matter to energy.
Angelita Martinez lowered her weapon, wild-eyed and trembling. The phaser's shriek reverberated in the cavernous corridor like a banshee's howl. She fully expected to be swarmed over and killed by a regiment of Kh'myr warriors, but her terror froze her in place. Surely they had heard!
Nothing happened. No alarms sounded.
She swallowed hard. She willed her quivering legs to move forward one faltering step at a time. Up ahead, down a branch corridor, she could make out a feeble square of light cutting through the dimness. As her eyes adjusted she saw the light that emanated from the grate of a cell door.
Angelita flattened against a wall, bringing her phaser up. She had never killed anyone before, but when she had seen that Klingon sentry, her survival instincts had taken over. She would do it again if she had to.
Long moments dragged on before Angelita realized the voices came from inside the cell. She cautiously edged down the corridor, scanning along the ceiling for monitor cameras. There was one almost directly across from the cell. It swiveled slowly to and fro, tracking first one way down the corridor, then swinging back in the other direction. A key ring hung on a rusted hook below the camera.
Angelita timed the camera's rotation. As it began to turn away from her, she drew a deep breath and rushed down the last few yards to the cell. Frantically, she grabbed the key ring and peered through the cell door's grate.
She had the right one. Princess Teresa and an older man in a Starfleet uniform were inside. Angelita hurriedly unlocked the door and let herself in.
McCoy and Teresa stared dumbfoundedly at her. Angelita found herself hyper-ventilating from sheer terror. She gasped for breath. "You're free," she panted. "There's a camera outside; you'll have to take off when it's pointing in the other direction."
"You," Teresa spat. "Is this some kind of trick?"
"Teresa," McCoy urgently interposed. "Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. C'mon!"
"This bitch stole my husband! How do we know he isn't waiting out there, using our escape as an excuse to kill us?"
"I came on my own!" Angelita's eyes blazed challengingly. "You can think whatever you want about me, but if the Klingons catch me, I'm in as much trouble as you are. They'll kill me!"
Teresa's expression was dubious.
Angelita could see how pale she was, that she was fighting back pain. She's very brave, and very beautiful. No wonder Carlos loved her.
"Why are you doing this?" Teresa asked.
Angelita did not reply, but she lowered her eyes, looking decidedly guilty. She whirled to the cell door. "I'm getting out of here," she whispered, watching the monitor camera. "You two are on your own now."
She waited, poised like a sprinter, her muscles tensed and ready. When the camera turned away, she bolted down the corridor, back the way she had come.
"Wait!" Teresa gasped. "The tunnels are the other way!"
"Too late," McCoy said. "She's gone. She's so frightened; I doubt if she'd listen anyway."
"Then she's dead," Teresa murmured.
McCoy took her by the hand. "C'mon, Teresa, we've got to get out of here ourselves. I can't believe this level isn't crawling with guards by now." He sobered as he thought of the young woman who had freed them. "All we can do is wish her Godspeed."
"To the left," Teresa said, her voice weak. "The tunnels lie in that direction."
"We've got to hurry. If you can't make it, I'll carry you."
"I'll make it. I have to!"
McCoy flashed her a quick, tired smile. He was proud of her grit and determination. She was very special; it only served to make it harder to deny the feelings he had for her.
The monitor camera's cold, glassy eye inexorably swept down the corridor in the direction Angelita had fled. "Now!" McCoy snapped.
They ran hard, not looking back. She kept up with him. He could hear her choked sobs of pain with each jarring footfall, but bless her, she stayed with him! They ducked around the corner of a crossing corridor just as the camera rolled back in their wake. "Made it!" McCoy exulted.
Teresa collapsed into a sitting position against a wall, weeping silently. McCoy crouched down beside her. "You all right?"
"A-another pain," she sobbed. "The running...must have t-triggered it." She squeezed his hand for a long moment. Then she relaxed her grip, drawing a deep breath. "It's going," she whispered.
"Which is what we'd better do." McCoy glanced around. "I keep expecting unwelcome company."
He helped the Princess struggle to her feet, frowning as she swayed unsteadily after she stood up. "I'll be all right," she gasped. She motioned down the corridor, which grew even darker as it receded into the distance. "That way...the tunnels and passages are that way." Teresa took a couple of deep, calming breaths. "Doctor ...I-I'm afraid I won't be able to run again. That last sprint was all I had left."
"That's all right," he reassured her. "If we're lucky, we won't have to dodge any more monitor cams." Lucky. So far they'd been luckier than any two people had a right to expect. Now, if only their good fortune would hold out a little longer! McCoy put his arm around her for support, and Teresa gratefully sagged against him. They headed down the hall at as brisk a pace as they could manage under the circumstances. Time was running out on them. He had to get the Princess out of the Palace and quickly.
Because there was one certainty in this nightmare of uncertainty: Teresa's baby was coming, and soon. And no power in the Galaxy could stop it.
Ensign Makkor's heavy-lidded eyes popped open as he snapped back to wakefulness. Sleeping--Kahless protect him, he had fallen asleep at his post! Small wonder though. His duty station was lethally boring. Nothing was happening in the bowels of Serenidad's royal Palace. The Kh'myr snickered. At least he could relax in a warm well-lit room and keep tabs on a bank of monitor screens. Poor bu' Grid was stuck down in the mouldering corridors of the dungeon level, with vermin and insectoids crawling all over! He leaned forward in his chair, to check his viewscreens, chuckling as he contemplated the serjeant's predicament.
All of Makkor's smugness evaporated, however, when he surveyed his monitors. A queasy, nameless sense of dread settled into the pit of his stomach like clutching fingers. bu' Grid was nowhere to be seen--and the door to Princess Teresa's cell stood mockingly open.
He was finished! Makkor, if nothing else, was dedicated to the Klingon Way. His life was now forfeit for allowing the Princess to escape, but he could atone and regain his honor through q'yta.(28) Quickly, Makkor tied in to monitors on other levels of the Palace. Kahless only knew how long the Princess had been free. Perhaps he could locate her.
Several fruitless scans netted him nothing. Makkor snarled in frustration. He punched a button that activated the scanners on the Palace grounds. There is something! No, not the Princess. A beautiful blonde female crouching in the hedges far from the main gates. She gripped a phaser and she looked terrified. Makkor recognized her. The Martinez woman--Mendoza's whore. He drew his lips back over pointed teeth. Someone freed the Princess and the Earther nada. At least he would go to the Afterworld secure in the knowledge that she would die as well.
Makkor flipped open his communicator. He was resigned to his fate, and he would face it like a warrior. "Makkor to Lieutenant Commander Mord."
"This is Mord. What is it?"
Makkor dragged a deep breath to steel himself. "Princess Teresa and the nada have escaped, sir. I can find no trace of them on any monitor in our complex."
"What?!" Mord's voice crackled with livid rage. "You fool! Do you realize what this means?"
"HIja', qaH.(29) I am prepared for q'yta," Makkor answered levelly.
"Where is Grid?"
"I cannot locate him, sir. I believe he is dead, killed by the female who freed the Princess, Angelita Martinez. She is hiding in the undergrowth in Sector Four, by the main gates."
"At least you know where she is," Mord growled sarcastically. He paused, and his voice was almost regretful when he spoke again. "I must do my duty now, Makkor. See that you do yours--before your relief arrives."
"yajchu'(30)," Makkor replied. He snapped the communicator shut.
Then he drew his disruptor. He closed his eyes as he pointed the hand weapon at his head, swallowed hard once, and thumbed the trigger button.
When his relief arrived moments later, all that remained in the empty monitor cubicle was Makkor's pistol, lying on the floor amidst a fine dusting of ash.
Angelita Martinez ran for her life. They were all around her; she could hear the shouts and curses of Klingon warriors pursuing her through the dense Palace. She crashed through the thickets, heedless of the noise, unmindful of thorns and branches whipping her face and arms.
Suddenly, she saw them in the bright moonlight. Two fearsome Kh'myr warriors were picking their way through the trees. They apparently could not see her. Angelita aimed her phaser, steadied her shaking hands, and squeezed off two shots. The soldiers dissolved in a shower of atoms, their dying screams fading to a ghostly echo.
Suddenly, a tree just to her right exploded in flames, and the air sang around her with howling disruptor bolts. Angelita screamed in terror as she was violently flung to the ground. Her phaser flew far off into the brush.
"vIlegh!"(31) a Kh'myr shouted.
The stunned woman was galvanized into action by the harsh, metallic voice. She rolled over onto her stomach.
That action saved her life; the earth exploded where she had been lying just a split-second earlier, ravaged by a well-aimed disruptor blast.
"Fool, use some restraint!" a new voice bellowed. "I want her taken alive!"
All thought of trying to retrieve her weapon vanished from Angelita's mind. She scrambled into the bushes on her hands and knees, snaking her way through the concealing undergrowth.
The Klingons were still behind her, but they sounded a little farther away now. Could she actually be winning this deadly game of hide and seek? She heard one of her pursuers shouting in the distance, and she shivered. There was no mistaking the note of triumph in that feral howl.
Angelita's heart thundered in her ears. What was happening? It was as quiet as a tomb out there in the woods. Had they gone?
Minutes dragged on. Angelita did not so much as blink, freezing like a rabbit hiding from a predator. Nothing disturbed the sepulchral stillness. She drew a deep breath and cautiously crept forward. She was not challenged.
Angelita kept crawling as noiselessly as she could until gradually the brush thinned out into a clearing. She saw the pathway. Broad and mulch-lined it was, and at the end of the path, less than fifty yards away, a stone wall beckoned. Beyond that wall lay freedom.
Angelita's heart leaped. It was now or never. The wall was about six feet high. She could jump high enough to get a fingerhold on the top ledge and vault over it. She made her decision. She burst forward, pounding down the path with all the speed her long legs could muster.
Behind her, a harsh Klingon voice shouted in English. "Stop her! Don't let her go that way; we need her alive."
Even as part of Angelita's mind puzzled over the Klingon's command, the terrified woman saw a patch of ground almost beneath her feet, darker than the rest of the path, that didn't look quite right in the moonlight.
Realization struck her far too late. She tried to twist out of the way, but the earth opened up beneath her, and Angelita tumbled headlong into the pit. Her horrified scream was cut off with brutal finality.
The Klingon squadron drifted silently out of the shadows of the woods. Lieutenant Commander Mord hurried to the edge of the pitfall and peered down into it. Serenidad's twin moons were almost directly overhead, so he could see everything with crystal clarity.
Angelita Martinez hung impaled on a dozen meter-long, sharpened wooden stakes. A veritable lake of blood glistened on the floor of the trap beneath her still-twitching body.
Battle-hardened and bloodthirsty as he was, Mord still could not repress a shudder at the grisly sight. "ghIH,"(33) he muttered. Stupid bitch. Even if she had cleared the wall, the force field would have stopped her. He turned away from the pit to face his squad. "We're wasting time," Mord growled. "Fan out through the forest and search for Princess Teresa and the nada. Remember, they are to be taken alive. Report any findings to me, and I will coordinate with the squadrons searching the Palace. Now go!"
As the warriors scrambled off to do his bidding, Mord wearily pulled out his communicator. joHwI' will not like this, he reflected. His bitch will like it even less; she couldn't wait to carve up that little Princess!
"All right, joHwI'," he grunted aloud. "Let us see if you can pull out of your slut's be'SIj long enough to deal with this!" He raised the communicator to his lips and pushed the 'send' toggle.
The pain had become her constant companion, an old friend, the only reality left in a world that was swiftly tilting towards oblivion. The mental torture she had endured for the past months, her terrifying, unexplained nightmares, her unsettling pregnancy, her difficulties in her new marriage, all these previously important things paled in comparison to the pain that wracked her body now, urgent, insistent, demanding to be noticed.
"Doctor!" she gasped, just barely choking back a scream. "Stop! I can't go on. The pain--could it be time?"
McCoy was at her side instantly, easing her into a sitting position, gentle hands probing, soothing. "Princess, you're only five months along, but..." He trailed off as another contraction shuddered through the woman beside him, causing her abdomen to tighten under his hand, and making her face an ashen gray.
"Don't care how far along I am!" she panted. "It's coming now."
"You're sure right about that!" McCoy muttered under his breath, wondering how in Hell the two of them, stranded here on Serenidad, on the run from the Klingons, were going to find a safe, quiet place for Princess Teresa to have her baby. Not to mention some place that's even halfway sanitary, McCoy continued with his mental monologue, more to calm himself than to reassure his half-conscious patient. He was worried and scared. If the Klingons caught them, only the fact that he was a physician would save him. And if Teresa had already given birth by then, her life wasn't worth the amount of energy it would take a blaster to disintegrate her.
McCoy gently urged Teresa to her feet. "Princess, we can't stay here! We have to find some place--anyplace--safer than this. Do you know anywhere we can go?"
Teresa forced herself to focus on McCoy's face. So kind, she thought dimly, so kind and gentle. He'll take care of me. She fought her way to full consciousness. "Yes, this way. There's an old passageway and guardroom. If we're lucky, nobody's put a monitor camera in there yet."
As Teresa haltingly led him through the maze-like Palace, McCoy blessed the young woman who had freed them from their cell earlier. Whatever her reasons had been--he had caught guilt and fear above everything--he could only be glad they had forced her to look long enough to find them and let them go.
Finally, after McCoy was totally lost, and convinced that they had actually left the Palace hours ago and were wandering in some underground walkway, Teresa slipped behind a slight jog in the stone wall, which led into a dank, narrow corridor ending in an ancient, scarred wooden door.
As she sagged against it, exhausted, it swung open with surprising silence. "Thank God it's not locked," she whispered faintly.
McCoy noticed her colorless face and the pinched look around her nostrils and the corners of her mouth. She was in great pain, he knew, and marveled at her ability to keep going. "Is there a light?"
"There should be. Feel around the wall. I can't quite make it to my feet again."
McCoy fumbled around the inside of the door frame, finally grasping a switch. He flipped it, and the room was illuminated by a single, dingy old-style incandescent bulb. He looked around in dismay. The room was tiny, barely six feet by six, mostly filled by a mouldering mattress and some old rags.
But, he thought after checking corners and joists, there aren't any camera eyes, and I doubt that even Teresa's uncle knows where this room is, much less the Klingons. And that makes it better than a starbase hospital.
A soft moan drew his attention instantly back to the door. He lifted Teresa's body to the 'bed' and shut the door behind them. There was no lock, but if they were found, no mere lock would help them.
"Doctor--I---the pains are getting worse. I don't want it, Doctor; I don't want it..." she trailed off into a louder moan.
McCoy lifted her up by her shoulders, gently but firmly. "Teresa, listen to me. I know we're in a secret place, but you've got to be very quiet. I wish I could sedate you, but those bastards took my kit. So you'll just have to bear up. From what I can tell from the pains, it shouldn't be much longer. Now, lie back, breathe deeply, and let me examine you. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Doctor. I'll be quiet. It just hurts so much and I don't even..." Her last words were lost in a swift intake of breath as another contraction clamped down. McCoy laid her back on the bed and piled some of the rags under her spread knees to ease her position and offer him a better work area.
His compulsive inner monologue began again. Doesn't want it, she says, and by God, I don't blame her. Raped by those knob-headed fiends, I wouldn't want it either. Leonard McCoy, you've dedicated your whole career to helping save lives, but if this--this--this thing shows the least sign of complications, I'm putting it aside. This little Princess comes first, and to Hell with the Hippocratic Oath! His hands were flying as swiftly as his thoughts as he readied Teresa for her ordeal as best he could. He loosened her clothing, propped her up to a sitting position, applied gentle pressure to pain points to ease the cramping, but his main worry was her physical condition.
Not dilating, she's not ready, and this brat's gonna come now, damn it. Only five months along, my foot, somebody can't count! She's too young to be birthin' anyway; no hips to speak of--no way to do a Caesarean, no way to force dilation, no way to do nothin'! Wait...wait...there was a way...
He bent to Teresa again, wiping her sweat-drenched face with one of the least dirty rags he could find. "Teresa, Teresa, listen to me. Teresa, can you hear me? It's Doctor McCoy, Teresa, it's me, Leonard," he said her name over and over, softly, almost crooning it, knowing that a gentle voice cut through pain stupor more effectively than a loud one.
Her eyes fluttered open. "Wh-what is it, Doctor? I'm so tired."
"I'm going to try and help you, but you'll have to help me first. Here, hold my hand, that's right. Now look into my eyes, just my eyes, my baby blue eyes, and listen to what I say, just what I say. Now, Teresa, breathe deeply, that's right, watch my eyes and breath deep, deep, relax, and relax. Hold my hand and relax, loosen your muscles, relax your muscles, let the baby come, let the baby come."
She shook her head ever so slightly. "Don't want..."
"Now, Teresa," McCoy soothed. "It's got to come. Let it come, relax, relax. Hold my hands, watch my eyes, listen to my voice, just listen..."
He continued to talk until he saw the glazed, depthless look of hypnosis come into her eyes. He laid her hands on the pallet, and checked her again. Yes, it was working. Her face still held the pain lines, and her color showed little improvement; he could only do so much, but she was dilating and would soon be able to deliver.
Good thing, too, he thought, watching her bulging stomach convulse with yet another contraction. Whatever this child may be, right now it's determined to be born. And with mingled concern, curiosity and clinical detachment, the doctor bent to the task before him.
Teresa came back to herself slowly, aware that, somehow, she felt light, relieved, free. She checked herself mentally to find the reason. No pain. Just as a deafening silence follows the crash of breaking china in a restaurant, the cessation of Teresa's pain had brought her to consciousness. But before she had a chance to revel in her feeling, a loud, strident noise forced her eyes open.
McCoy sat in the corner of the little room holding a blue-wrapped bundle. he had removed his shirt since it was the cleanest garment available, and looked both cold and vulnerable against the stone wall. He noticed Teresa's eyes on him and scooted over to her. "Well," he said softly, "here he is."
She closed her eyes again. "Yes." He. A son. Something to be proud of, and to show off. She knew she would never show him to anyone. His incessant, harsh wailing went on. "Can't you make him stop crying?" she asked weakly.
"He's not crying. Hasn't cried yet. See, not a tear." He offered her the bundle and finally, against her will, fighting the impulse, she looked inside.
To face a pair of large, liquid black eyes, completely focused on her, a wide open mouth, round ears, and a smooth--smooth!!--head with a faint dusting of black hair. He looks so normal! Teresa thought wildly. Why, his eyes look just like mine!
Hesitantly, he reached out and brushed her hand over his head. Soft, so soft. She rubbed again, a bit firmer. Yes, his head was smooth, but underneath she could feel the lumps, the knots of bone that were tiny now, but waited to grow large with her son. She bent her head to hide the tears. "It's true, then."
McCoy could only nod in sympathy.
The baby showed no sign of quieting, and Teresa, watching McCoy hold him, became aware of a heaviness across her breasts. "Doctor, is anything wrong with him?"
"Not from what I've seen." He was beginning to look a bit strained himself.
"Then why won't he be quiet?"
"Well, I know he's only hours old, but he sounds like he's at least three weeks. And from my experience, a three week old only cries like that when he's hungry."
A lifetime of being raised to assume duty and responsibility weighed heavily on Teresa now. He was her baby, regardless of his father, and it was her job to feed him. She held out her arms to McCoy. "Give him to me," she said resignedly.
"You're sure?" McCoy wished he could do something, anything to ease her pain.
"I'm sure. Give him to me."
He was heavy, heavier than he had ever felt while inside her. Had he grown even in the few hours since his birth? He paused in his wailing to look up at her--a direct gaze. She felt the innocence of his eyes--no discontent, no hate, no mistrust. If only she could keep him that way. She guided his head to her exposed nipple and as he began to suck, one tiny hand escaped from its wrapping and grabbed a strand of dangling hair. The swell of feeling inside her then, the love, the defiance, the near-pulling apart was too much.
She faced McCoy with blazing eyes. "I don't give a damn who his father was! He's mine now. Do you hear me? Mine!!"
Korak was content.
The first light of dawn stole into the boudoir, suffusing the room with an almost mystical scarlet glow. He gazed at the supple, naked form of his sleeping mistress. L'yan's magnificent breasts rose and fell regularly. Her well-muscled body shone with a fine sheen of perspiration; tiny droplets glistened like miniature diamonds on her dark skin.
From time to time, she growled deep in her throat, and a smile played about her lips, enhancing the savage beauty of her face. She was no doubt re-living the primitive passion of their lovemaking. At times like this, the commander longed for a different kind of life, one that was not so dedicated to war and death and duty. But he passed these rare moments off as a sort of temporary insanity, a momentary lapse into weakness. He was tlhIngan q'mIr(34); he was bred for combat, for struggle, and it was the only way of life for him.
As if to remind him of the path he had chosen, his communicator quietly beeped for attention. Korak was instantly alert. His men knew better than to disturb him except for matters of grave urgency. With catlike grace, he rolled silently off the bed so as not to awaken L'yan, and padded across the room to the bureau where his communicator lay. "nuqneH?"(35) he whispered. "yIja'!"(36)
"This is Mord, joHwI'. Princess Teresa and Qel McCoy have escaped. We are searching for them now, but have had no success thus far."
Korak uttered an explosive curse. L'yan immediately came fully awake and rolled into a combat crouch. She relaxed when she saw Korak with the communicator. "How did it happen? Who was on duty station in the dungeon levels?"
"bu' Grid was at station, joHwI'. He has disappeared, and is presumed dead. The prisoners were apparently freed by Angelita Martinez. She is dead. She fell into one of the perimeter pitfalls and impaled herself. Two of the perimeter guards are also missing, presumed dead."
"That little bitch!" L'yan hissed. "I would never have believed she had the backbone for something like this!"
Korak motioned her to silence. "Who was at the monitor post, Mord?"
The lieutenant commander hesitated. "Ensign Makkor, joHwI'. His relief reports he chose q'yta."
"As well he should," Korak growled. "Has anyone located Mendoza?"
Mord was taken by surprise. "Why...no, Commander. Do you believe he is involved?"
"I would not think so. I just wonder if the Martinez female dispatched him as well. I will investigate. Continue searching for the prisoners."
"jIyaj, qah," Mord returned.(37)
Korak snapped off his communicator as she reached for his uniform.
L'yan was already donning her battle armor. "We must recapture the Princess, joHwI'," she said urgently. "Now more than ever she must die. Her execution must be yet another example of the price of defiance."
Korak allowed himself a dour smile as he pulled his breast-plates over his head. "Patience, my dear. There's nowhere for the Princess to go. She can't get off-planet, so we'll find her. And then she'll be yours; I promise."
He strode out the door, strapping on his weapons belt with L'yan barely half a step behind him. They ran through the empty hallways until they arrived at Princess Teresa's boudoir. Korak tried the knob, and the great oaken door swung open with just the lightest touch.
Instinctively, Korak and L'yan drew their disruptor pistols as they eased into the dimly-lit bedroom. They whirled in unison at the sound of a soft moan. Korak holstered his weapon when he saw Carlos' naked form sprawled on the bed.
"At least he's alive," the Kh'myr grunted. He peeled back one of the youth's eyelids. "Probably stunned--looks like mild shock. Get me some water."
L'yan hastened into the lavatory. She turned on the tap and drew a glass of water, then soaked a washcloth in the basin. She returned to the bedroom and handed the glass and rag to her commander. She couldn't help noticing how puny, how poorly-endowed Human males were. How can they even copulate and reproduce with such tiny genitals--and only two testicles at that?!
Korak patted the icy cloth over Carlos' face and forehead. The newly-proclaimed Prince of Serenidad gasped aloud as consciousness flooded back. He tried to struggle up off the mattress, and Korak helped him into a sitting position. "Carlos--what happened?"
"Angelita stunned...me with my...own phaser," Carlos managed, his voice thick. He blinked owlishly, as he suddenly became aware of his surroundings. Klingons!
A thrill of fear coursed through Carlos. What were they doing here? Wait, he remembered them. Korak, the commander, and the woman's name is L'yan. Carlos self-consciously pulled the bedsheets up over his lower body. Enemies of Serenidad have invaded the planet! A blinding stab of pain crackled through his skull. No--Klingons are not enemies; they are friends.
And yet...somehow, deep down, he knew Klingons were evil. He was so confused, as if part of his being had been ripped from him. Angelita's phaser stun had shaken him up more than he thought.
"Angelita!" Carlos exclaimed aloud.
"Dead," Korak supplied. "She freed the Princess and McCoy before she had the misfortune of skewering herself in one of our pit traps. The prisoners are still free, but I vow they shall be taken."
Angelita dead. Carlos was going mad. Angelita had become an enemy of the Empire by liberating Teresa and McCoy; therefore, she deserved to die. Then why did he feel horror--and grief--at the news? Something was happening to him, and it would be best not to let on to the Klingons until he sorted out all this confusion for himself.
"I'm...a little shaken up," Carlos mumbled. "I'd like to rest a while, if I could."
Korak glanced at L'yan. "Of course, Carlos," he answered. Take as long as you like, Human, the Klingon thought. You'd only be in my way as it is.
"Do you want me to send up a battle surgeon?" the Kh'myr continued. "Perhaps you should be examined after that phaser stun."
"No!" Carlos returned hastily. "I'll be all right. I just need some rest."
"As you wish."
Korak motioned to L'yan, and the two Klingons left the bedroom.
As soon as they had departed, Carlos shakily got up on his feet and stumbled into the shower. He did not activate the sonics unit, choosing instead a cold water shower. The shock of the icy spray invigorated him, but did little to clear his head.
Who was he--or rather, what kind of person was he? He knew that he was Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, that he possessed Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza's memories and experiences. And he was fairly certain that he remembered Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza was a gentle, decent--if somewhat impetuous--young man.
But there was the Other.
This Other Carlos was a reflection of his Self. The Other did not control him just now, but he could feel Its presence clawing at him, trying to wheedle Its way back into his being, a wolf scratching at the door, howling in Its rage and frustration. It had been rudely thrust outside of him, and It wanted to consume his soul and master his will once again.
But who was this Other, this thing that reveled in rape and torture and murder, like Its Klingon allies? It wasn't Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, couldn't be.
No, he decided forcefully. The Other would watch avidly as his beloved young wife was butchered, would nod approvingly as drop after drop of Teresa's blood moistened the parched earth of the amphitheater. The Other had the sensibilities of a Klingon.
In a flash, it came to him. He remembered the mind-sifter, how it emptied him, and how the emptiness had been filled by the Other. Klingon mind programming--there was no real Other, just a twisting of his own morals and behavior by the accursed Klingon machine.
As quickly as realization dawned on him, the pain came flooding in behind it, searing his brain. Carlos gasped, dropping to his knees in the shower stall.
And the Other was there now, real and savage and triumphant, throttling him, swallowing his being with Its piercing, soulless eyes.
Carlos shrieked and convulsed, falling on the wet, slippery floor of the cubicle. He got up slowly, flipped off the shower and activated the air dryer. He had quite a headache--probably from Angelita's stun blast. He shook his head. Dumb bitch. The best lay he had ever had--outside of Teresa, of course--and she got herself killed in a Klingon perimeter trap.
Carlos shrugged. It didn't matter. He was Crown Prince of this whole stinking planet. He could have anything he wanted; if he saw a cute little piece in the city, Korak would send a squadron of soldiers to get her for him. Or maybe he would go visit the brothels down in the red-light district. That might be fun. The whores were clean, medically certified from disease.
His lips stretched in a mirthless smile. Better still, perhaps he could persuade Korak to let him fuck Teresa after they caught her again--if he could suppress his urge to kill her long enough, and if she still wasn't porked up from carrying her half-breed bastard.
Carlos ambled out of the shower unit. It shut off behind him, and a comfortable, cream and beige soft-suit formed over him as he exited, He sat on the edge of the unmade bed. He leisurely pulled on a pair of black leather boots, whistling softly to himself. There was no hurry. Let those Klingon brutes run all over the place looking for Teresa. He'd help them later--if he felt like it, and if he thought of someplace she might be hiding.
He stood up. A scanty pink triangle of cloth under the bed caught his eye. He bent down to retrieve it. It was a pair of the tiniest, briefest silk panties Carlos had ever seen--more like a G-string, actually. Teresa's, lost under the bed after a night of passion.
He remembered. She had been very playful that night. She had danced on the bed for him, an impromptu striptease, and the skimpy briefs were the last to come off. She demanded he pull them off with his teeth. Somehow he had managed, but it hadn't been easy--especially since Teresa was laughing so hard she could barely stand up. But he did it. Then they had fallen together in one of those torrid, savage sessions of lovemaking that had been the hallmark of their relationship.
Carlos turned the tiny garment over in his hands. He felt a sharp twinge of something--remorse, remembrance, longing, he didn't know which. Somewhere down inside himself he heard the voice crying out, trying desperately to be heard. "No!" he snarled.
No, he would not let that weakling surface again! He was in control; he would decide.
Furious, Carlos tore the silken briefs into little pieces, letting the scraps flutter to the floor. There--that made him feel better. If he ever got his hands on Teresa, he'd do the same to her!
He glanced out a huge, vaulted window. The sun was up; it was full daylight now. He realized he was hungry. Time for some breakfast, then maybe he'd see if he could help the Klingons in their search for Teresa. He'd never rest until he saw that double-crossing little bitch dead.
Carlos strode from the bedroom, not even bothering to close the door behind him.
The child was asleep.
It would be a long, long time before Teresa got used to that idea. He looked so innocent now in his makeshift crib, long, black lashes like her own, closed over huge dark eyes like her own. He was beautiful. Oh, why couldn't he have been a child born of the love she and Carlos had once known, instead of the spawn of God-only-knew-which member of a Klingon war party that had raped her?
She was surprised to discover she could love this little baby. All the time she carried him in her womb, she despised him. She wasn't ready for a child, she told herself. She was too young. She resented how he would disrupt her life, and she berated Carlos--and herself--for making such a stupid mistake. Then, when she realized the child would be half-Klingon, she reviled it all the more, and wanted to end its unborn life.
Teresa swayed unsteadily. She braced herself against a wall of the dingy little room where they had taken refuge, and she had given birth to her son. She shouldn't even be on her feet; she was very weak, and in some pain--although it was nothing like she had experienced during the delivery.
Doctor McCoy would have read her the riot act.
But Leonard McCoy was fast asleep, curled up on the floor and snoring lightly. Exhaustion had finally claimed him.
It was just as well; he would never permit her to do what she was now going to do.
The Klingons wanted her child; they would not harm him. Because he was the half-Klingon son of Teresa by a Kh'myr warrior, he was an heir to the throne of Serenidad. McCoy would be protected by the nada tradition, which even the fiendish Kh'myr observed.
But they would kill her.
Teresa shuddered. Even though L'yan wanted to take her alive and butcher her in the HoHtaj ritual, there was always a chance a trigger happy warrior would claim the kill of the Crown Princess for himself.
And there was a chance that McCoy or the baby--or both--might be caught in the crossfire. No, if she had to die, she would die alone, and these two innocent lives would be spared. She would leave them, try to get out of the Palace complex, and take her chances. She felt guilty about abandoning them, but she really had no choice. At least if they were captured, they would be allowed to live.
She would be given no such option.
She bent down gingerly and planted a soft kiss on the sleeping infant's cheek. Tears stung her eyes. Oh, God, it hurts so badly! She could not bear to leave him, this little child she had once abhorred as a monster.
But she had to leave now. She fought down a sob. "Goodbye, little one," she whispered. "I love you, and I hope I see the day when I can take my place as your mother."
The baby stirred, opening his eyes for a moment. He gazed unblinkingly at Teresa, then drifted back off to sleep.
She had to turn away before the pull of newly-awakened motherly love made her change her mind and stay, dooming herself and possibly them all. She crept quietly past the sleeping McCoy, not daring to breathe. I love you, too, she thought, wondering if she would ever see this kind, gentle man again.
Teresa tried the door. It swung clear without a sound, so she opened it just enough to squeeze through, then closed it silently after her.
She was on her own.
She made her way down the corridor at a deliberate pace. Now that her mind was clear of the awful pain, she knew exactly where she had to go.
The going was slow. She tired easily, forcing her to stop often to rest. Once a Klingon search party clattered noisily down a crossing corridor, passing mere yards from where she had flattened herself against a wall with her heart clinging to the roof of her mouth. They must not have been using scanners, because they kept on going.
Finally, she arrived at her destination.
Teresa reached up and twisted an ornamental vane on a dusty, forgotten oil lantern. A section of the stone wall swung inward, opening into the passageway she had been seeking. She hurried into the breach, and the wall closed seamlessly shut behind her.
The light was even dimmer here, almost non-existent. Teresa rested for a few moments. Her eyes gradually adapted to the dark. She could breathe easier now. Though still in the Palace, she was much safer in the secret passageway. Unless someone saw her work the oil lamp, they would have a very hard time finding this tunnel.
Teresa could see well enough to move on. She would be tender and sore for quite a while, and the pain forced her normally brisk stride into a brittle shuffle.
But at least she was alive.
Gradually, the tunnel sloped upward. Teresa had to rest much more frequently, but she pushed on. She finally came to a rude stone stairway. She climbed it, one slow laborious step at a time until she reached the top. Another lamp. She twisted again, and the rock wall opened outward.
Teresa knew this place. It was a small cave about half a mile from the Palace, nestled in the thick belt of forest that ringed the city of Castillo Nuevo. She sighed gratefully and sank down on a smooth, rounded boulder to relax and collect her wits.
She had never stopped to consider what she would do if she escaped the Klingons. Going down into the city in daylight was out of the question; there were Kh'myr guards everywhere. Were she in her usual top physical condition, she could hide out in these hills for months, or indefinitely, foraging, living by her wits and her rigorous military training.
But she could barely move. She would need help to survive. But who--and where would she find them?
Teresa rose stiffly on her wobbly legs. Wonderful, she thought. She'd be lucky to outrun a turtle, much less a Klingon search party. But she had to do something; she couldn't just sit here and wait for Fate to lend a hand.
Besides, fate had not smiled upon her much lately.
The mouth of the cave loomed ahead. Teresa cautiously approached the entrance. Good. It was quiet outside. She allowed her eyes to adjust to the filtered sunlight streaming like golden water through the bright green canopy overhead.
Then she stepped outside.
The forest was silent, except for the chirping calls of skimmers gliding through the high branches. Teresa glanced quickly in all directions. She seemed to be alone in the woods, but she remained where she was for several minutes to see if anything--or anyone--would stir in the brush.
The Princess picked her way through the undergrowth. Several meters from the cave she found a wide path. Winded, she paused a moment, cursing at how weak and helpless the birth of her child had left her. When she felt strong enough to continue, she stepped out onto the pathway and headed in the general direction of the city. She had many friends there; perhaps she could find refuge until she was strong enough to fend for herself.
She realized that by now, the Klingons had surely discovered her escape and were tearing apart the Palace searching for her. After that, they would descend on the city and the forest area surrounding it. She might be forced to hide out here for several days before risking a trip into town, even at night.
Finding sanctuary was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated.
Teresa forced down a rising surge of panic. She realized she had to get help by tonight; she couldn't last much longer in her present condition. She would have to take her chances after dark.
The trees to her right thinned out. Down the hillside, through the clearing, Teresa could see the stately Palace looming over the city. A wave of ineffable sadness washed over her. She had spent most of her life there. Most of her memories, good and bad, were linked to this monolithic structure of stone and steel. The mother she had never known, her beloved father, assassinated by a Klingon hand, her Uncle Alfredo nearly getting himself killed in a futile attempt to save her from her Kh'myr kidnappers.
Now the Palace was an impenetrable fortress, holding Doctor McCoy and her newborn baby prisoner--and promising her a slow, lingering death were she to return.
And worst of all, Carlos was there, lost to her forever, screaming for her blood alongside the Klingon invaders.
She fought back tears. "Oh, Carlitos," she whispered. "How did they break you? How could you let them turn you against me and your people and your world--everything you loved?"
Behind her, up the path in the direction from which she had just come, a twig snapped, loud and sharp in the stillness of the woods.
Teresa froze, trying to listen for something other than the pounding of her own heart in her ears. Another branch cracked, then another. Now she could make out the tramping of booted feet and the sound of muffled voices.
No! They couldn't be this close already!
She tried to run, broke into something between a walk and a painful jog. No good; she'd never escape like this. She had to get off the path. Teresa risked a glance over her shoulder. That was when the gnarled tree root seemed to reach up out of the ground and grab her by the ankle. She sprawled headlong on the trail, landing hard. Her head glanced off the trunk of a tree.
She was blacking out. Teresa struggled to remain conscious, but it was a losing battle. The forest spun crazily around her, growing dimmer by the second. The voices were louder and closer, and excited.
Her escape had been for nothing.
The last sight Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega saw as oblivion closed over her like the waters of a black lake, was the squared, scuffed toe of a boot just inches from her face.
Somebody kicked him in the rump, not too hard, but enough to get his attention.
Leonard McCoy sat up, groggy and disoriented.
His heart sank when he managed to focus his bleary eyes. Their little hideaway was swarming with Klingons--Korak, L'yan, Mord and as many warriors as could fit into the crumbling little room. He had failed to save Teresa.
"Where is she?!"
L'yan was livid. She lunged for McCoy's throat, and only Korak's restraining arms saved the physician from being picked up bodily and throttled. He glanced around the room. The infant still slept in his rude crib despite all the commotion as if his physiological makeup rendered him oblivious to all but the loudest sounds.
But Teresa was nowhere to be seen.
McCoy's emotions went on a rollercoaster ride. He was elated she had escaped, then furious that she had left him behind. For the moment, she was safe.
"L'yan's question bears repeating, nada, although perhaps less excitedly," Korak said. "Where is the Princess?"
McCoy stared the big Klingon straight in the eye. "Believe me, I honestly don't know. I was exhausted and made the mistake of falling asleep. She must have left while I was out cold!"
"He lies!" L'yan raged. "He knows where she is! He helped her escape!"
"Okay then, why did I stay behind and let myself get captured?" McCoy shot back.
"Let the tuQDoq tell us the truth, joHwI'," L'yan pleaded. "We must find the Princess!!"
"What the hell's a 'took dock'?" McCoy asked apprehensively.
Mord chuckled. "You Earthers call it the 'mind-sifter.' It seems to me the lieutenant commander is interested in recapturing the Princess because she is bortaS choQ,(38) not because she's a wanted criminal."
L'yan howled, her hand snaking toward her battle dagger.
"peyap!"(39) Korak snarled. "I will not have my officers fighting amongst themselves! yaj'a'?"(40)
The infant startled into wakefulness at the sound of Korak's bellow. He began to cry, a strident wail unpleasant to the ear.
"Damn it, now look what you've done," McCoy muttered. "Woke up the baby!"
The infant stopped crying as soon as the physician picked him up. No tears. Still no tears. The baby regarded him with huge dark eyes that echoed the beauty of his mother's. Little boy, if you only knew what you've gotten yourself into, you'd start crying again, McCoy thought.
He turned to face the Klingons, cradling the child on his shoulder. "Listen, Commander, if it'll make you feel any better, I'll sit in your mind-sifter chair. I've got nothing to hide. I really don't know where she is."
Korak sighed. "Our laws forbid us to place the life of a nada in jeopardy, no matter the cause. I believe you, McCoy. It matters little anyway. We have search parties out that may have already apprehended her. She can't go far in her condition, unless she received medical attention--and you had no choice but to induce a natural birth. Am I correct?"
McCoy nodded reluctantly. The Kh'myr was right about that. If he could have used his medikit, Teresa would now be as good as new. Now she was on her own.
"I thought as much," the Klingon said. "I have just one question. You had nothing to fear from us, McCoy--why did you escape?"
"The door was open," the physician said simply. "You didn't really expect me to just sit there, did you?"
Korak blinked, then loosed a laugh that was more like a howl of merriment. He slapped McCoy so hard on the back the physician staggered, clinging to the child for dear life. "McCoy, for an Earther, you are almost tolerable. I could almost like you. Even so, I must insist that you remain in your quarters, and I will insure that with a force-field at the doors."
"So I'll be almost free, huh?"
"You might put it that way." Korak's eyes narrowed into piercing amber slits. "It might interest you to know that the little be'SIj who freed you is dead. She fell into a pit trap and impaled herself. What's left of her will be extracted from the pit, stripped, and displayed in the city with the corpse of the Starfleet officer."
The Kh'myr turned away from the horrified McCoy and gestured to L'yan. "Take the child."
"Why must I do this, joHwI'?" she bristled. "Why not..."
Korak sighed. "Please just do as I say," he begged in a grating whisper.
L'yan grudgingly pried the infant from McCoy's grasp. Behind her, Mord muttered something about 'woman's work.' If L'yan heard the comment, she chose to ignore it. She held the baby out stiffly in front of her at arm's length, as if he were a bomb due to explode. "Ugh!" she growled, shuddering. "He's ugly! He looks like a Human--like her."
"Rest assured, my dear, despite his loathsome appearance, he is half-Klingon. Hopefully, his looks will change as he grows." He whirled around, gesturing to the warriors gathered around. "Resume your search for the Princess! See if you can find one of those fabled secret passages. Mord, you, L'yan and I will escort the nada back to his quarters.
Mord fell in behind McCoy and prodded him with the barrel of his carbine. The group marched from the tiny room, and it was all McCoy could do to keep pace with the loping strides of his Klingon captors. He thought of Teresa. God protect her and keep her from falling into a trap like the poor girl that rescued us! If only he could help the Princess.
As they hurried along, the infant, his huge eyes quizzical, reached up and stroked L'yan's cheek with his tiny fingers. The gesture went unnoticed...or ignored...by the warrior woman.
For some reason, that sent a chill up and down McCoy's spine.
James Kirk pulled his eyes away from the huge metalglass portal in the Enterprise rec room. Spock gazed at the captain over the Tri-D chess set, one quizzical eyebrow raised, his arms folded expectantly in front of him.
Kirk chuckled. Still irritating after all these years, he thought fondly. He held his hands palm-out in a gesture of submission. "Your game, Mister Spock," he said. "Again."
The Vulcan frowned. "Perhaps my suggestion for an evening of chess was ill-considered, Captain."
"No, no, I'm grateful, Spock, I really am," Kirk returned. "You know me--can't keep my mind off business. It's hard to concentrate on my game when I'm like this. Tell you what, we'll set up the board again some night when I'm in a better mood, and I guarantee I'll beat the pants off you."
This time both eyebrows shot up as Spock pondered Kirk's metaphor. "Indeed. I would find that undignified and most humiliating, Captain!"
"Just a figure of speech, Spock," Kirk laughed. He watched the Vulcan carefully dismantle the Tri-D game, packing it away in its carrying case with expert precision.
"Spock, there's something I've been meaning to ask you ever since this Serenidad affair started." Kirk cleared his throat and fidgeted nervously. "It's somewhat personal, so I'll understand if you don't want to talk about it. But it might help the present situation."
Spock snapped the case shut. "I will endeavor to be of assistance, Captain."
"Good." Kirk drew a deep breath. "After we rescued Teresa and Carlos from their Klingon kidnapers, Teresa was almost comatose from her...ordeal. Yet later on, she was fine. Did you...help her in some way?" Kirk knew the answer, but with Vulcan etiquette as it was, he was compelled to be circumspect about approaching the subject.
Spock stiffened imperceptibly, but otherwise betrayed no emotion. "I...mind-melded with the Princess and her husband. I extracted from them the memories of their ordeal to facilitate the healing process. The Princess might never have recovered without some form of outside intervention."
"McCoy and I suspected as much," Kirk sobered, pausing, not wanting to ask the next question. "Spock, Princess Teresa signed the accord with the Klingon Empire, we know that much. She was probably tortured into signing it, but we have no eyewitnesses. Can you...'relive' what happened to her?"
"I do not have voluntary recall of the incidents. However, since I did meld with her, her experiences are a part of my subconscious."
"Can you retrieve these 'experiences'?"
Spock's nod was slow. "I can induce the mind-meld trance, then search through my memories of past bondings until I recover Teresa's thoughts. I believe I can find what was learned through the link."
"I imagine it had to be an unpleasant experience for you, but if you could remember what happened to her when she signed the agreement, it may help us build a case against the Klingons." Kirk gazed out the portal, searching space for the gray star he knew was the battlecruiser Targa. "I'm tired of sitting around."
It is not a thing a Vulcan does lightly, Captain, and I would not choose to do it at all," Spock said. "However, given our circumstances, I will attempt it."
"I can't ask any more than that," Kirk said. "Thank you, Spock."
Spock rose, tucking the chess case under one arm. "I shall be in my quarters, Captain. I shall require...complete privacy."
"I understand. You're off-duty now anyway, Spock. I'll see to it that you're not disturbed unless absolutely necessary."
The Vulcan left the rec room with his long, unhurried strides. Kirk watched him go. He felt a twinge of guilt; he knew what he was asking of Spock. He would experience the same gruesome tortures, the same unspeakable pain, as young Teresa had during her captivity. She would have died had she not received medical attention when she did.
Now Spock would relive her agony, suffer the physical and psychic pain again, in hope of finding some evidence to present to the Federation Council that would allow them to break off this stalemate with the Klingons. He had no right to ask his friend to submit to such an ordeal. But he had--and Spock had agreed, because he, too, realized what was at stake.
Spock entered his cabin. His eyes gradually adjusted to the dim light of the Vulcan flamepots. He returned the chess set to its customary place in the bottom drawer of his bureau, then strode to a small wardrobe closet recessed into an outside wall.
Even as he donned the jet-black meditation robe he found within, he began to clear his mind, banishing all outside influences and distractions. He knelt on the polished slab of Vulcan granite that was his meditation stone. He folded his hands, lowering his head slightly so that his chin rested on them, and almost immediately drifted into a light trance. Years of practice and experience had enabled Spock to achieve altered states of consciousness with such ease. He focused all his senses inward until they merged and became one. He was a stone, sinking into the depths of a cool, dark lake. The trance deepened, until finally, he floated in total pitch darkness. Now he probed outward with his one Sense. He searched the blackness for flares of elemental lights, the light of mind-links he had achieved.
Bright, bright light, almost impossible to bear, too overwhelming for the mind to comprehend.
V'ger. Danger here. Total logic is not the answer. Empty. Sterile...alone.
He swam away from the intensity of V'ger's awesome mind.
There. The brightest of the other beacons.
Jim's link. Of course. T'hy'la. Forget, Jim. Rayna--forget. Kirok? No--you are Kirk You are...Kirk. You...are...Kir...Kirok...KIRK!!
Teresa. Must find Teresita.
The bullets are not real, Leonard. They cannot harm you. They are as insubstantial as the wind...
Kollos. Mind of infinite beauty and order, but your Medusan appearance drives to insanity.
Ah, Miranda, she walks in beauty, like the night.
He saw light, fiery red, crackling with terror and agony.
Teresa! Must join with her again, help her. Cannot fear the pain. Must join.
Spock plunged into the heart of a blazing red sun.
No! Too much pain! Cannot stay here!
But he knew he must. Slowly, Spock edged forward into the maelstrom of agony, his Vulcan training shielding his mind, with limited success, from Teresa's nightmare of fear. Images exploded in his brain; visions of savage beatings, violations, torture.
Suddenly, he was Teresa. He looked down at himself and saw, without surprise, a naked female body strapped to a table as the Klingon commander savaged "her" with an agonizer.
There. This is what I went to find.
He saw the document lying on a table even as he heard screams shatter the air. Whose were they?
If I can only hang on...
The Klingon slapped the torture device between spread legs. Spock felt himself, as Teresa, arch up off the table, straining against the bonds that, in reality, were not there.
The Kh'myr whirled away, growling in exasperation. He stabbed a finger at a guard who held a knife at Carlos' throat. "Kill him!"
Nooooo!! Please--I'll do anything you want! she sobbed.
Spock felt tears run hot down his face. He managed an instant of separation.
Logical. When the subject fails to break, threaten what is dear to the subject.
The ploy worked.
Spock felt the manacle come free, and grasped the pen as he shakily signed the agreement that had doomed Serenidad.
He found himself weeping, trembling from having 're-lived' Princess Teresa's ordeal. Every nerve ending of his body tingled and screamed, as if he had been ravaged with the agonizer. He found it difficult to believe that anyone could have endured a night of such terrible torture--and survived.
The Vulcan rose stiffly from his meditation stone. He felt weak and disoriented, as if he had been kicked and beaten savagely for hours. He felt as Princess Teresa had felt after the Klingons finally finished with her. He had not physically sustained multiple injuries as she had, of course, but the pain was just as real. The stress of the trance had exacted a ghastly toll.
Wobbly knees buckled uncertainly as Spock shuffled toward his bunk. He did not need a glance at his too-pale face in the wall mirror to determine that he was not well. His body fairly shouted that information at him. Rest--he just needed some rest.
Spock attempted one, two more faltering steps before realizing, to his extreme astonishment and chagrin, that he was losing consciousness.
Kirk paced back and forth as if the effort might help Spock come to faster. "Well?" he asked for the dozenth time.
"He may be coming around, sir," replied M'Benga. "But it could still take a couple of hours. I'll call you when he's awake. Your presence here won't help, and your frustration level could interfere with the trance. You'll have to go."
M'Benga's call came just as he was sitting down to a late lunch--his only mean in two days. He raced to Sickbay, chicken sandwich forgotten.
Spock was awake, staring at the ceiling. He didn't turn as Kirk went in.
"Spock?" He sat lightly on the chair beside the bed. No answer. "Was it that bad?"
As smoothly as if he had only been resting, Spock rose to a sitting position. Kirk could tell by the sheer blankness of his face that Spock was fighting hard for control. "'Bad' is a relative term, Captain. I did what was necessary. I will not speak of it at this time. Permission to return to my quarters."
Kirk glanced at M'Benga, who nodded slightly. "Very well, Spock."
"I shall be on duty by next shift, sir." The Vulcan walked steadily out the door, leaving Kirk to wonder just what Spock had gone through in those few minutes. He prayed it would not be for nothing.
"Is she all right, Doctor?"
Doctor Charles Zeiss did not answer immediately. He checked his tricorder readings once more before nodding in satisfaction. Princess Teresa had been through the mill, but she would be all right. The physician leaned back in his chair, then turned to face an anxious Jorge Vilas. "She just had a mild concussion, Jorge," Zeiss said. "She's fine." He shook his head. "It's a miracle she got away from the Klingons and made it as far as she did."
"Bastards," Vilas spat. "They said she'd be executed as soon as she delivered her baby. Well, they'll be howling for her blood now."
"I wonder what happened to the baby?" Zeiss mused aloud. One of the small handful of colonists not of Spanish descent, Zeiss was a trim, middle-aged man, with thinning iron-gray hair and a neat beard. He had come at Vilas' request after a squad of Palace guards had found the injured Teresa in the forest earlier in the morning.
"I don't know," Vilas answered. He watched the sleeping Princess, recalling how much she reminded him of his Elena. How long had his betrothed been dead? A little more than a day?
Her eyes fluttered open, her deep, dark eyes. Teresa blinked once, disoriented. Then she sat upright as panic seized her. Zeiss caught her by the shoulders. He eased her back down on the bed.
"You're safe, My Lady, and you're all right."
"W-who are you?"
"Doctor Charles Zeiss, My Lady." He smiled reassuringly. "Jorge called me when his patrol found you out in the forest."
"Jorge?" She turned, seeing him for the first time, and her face broke into a bright smile. "Jorge! Oh, thank God! I...I thought the Klingons had found me out there. I must've fallen and hit my head."
"You're okay now, My Lady," Vilas said. "Doctor Zeiss took good care of you."
"You sustained a mild concussion, My Lady," Zeiss returned. "I treated that. I also gave you standard post-partum treatment. I sealed all uterine and internal tissues, injected you with hormonal balancers, vitamins, even tissue elasticity restoratives, to put all your muscles and organs back where they belong. Your muscle tone was good to begin with. By tomorrow morning, it will almost be as if you were never pregnant."
Teresa's smile was weary. "Thank you, Doctor. I feel wonderful, except I'm so tired."
"You need to rest," he said. "Delivering a baby is no easy task, especially the way you were forced to do it."
He shook his head. "Imagine how barbaric things were even two hundred years ago. Women had to suffer all sorts of post-partum woes--bleeding, depression, hair loss. Not to mention the fact that it took weeks, even months to get their bodies back into shape, and it took hard work to do it. Now we can do it all with a few simple injections."
The Princess shuddered. "It was awful enough as it was. Thank you again, Doctor."
"Don't mention it." Zeiss paused a moment. "How is your baby?"
Teresa's face tightened. "He's fine," she answered, her voice small. "The Klingons have him I'm sure, but Doctor McCoy will watch over him."
"The Klingons!" Vilas exclaimed. "My Lady, how can you be certain the child will be all right?"
She lowered her eyes. "Believe me, Jorge, he's perfectly safe. And please don't ask me how I can be so certain."
"I see," Zeiss murmured. "Do you want me to give you something to inhibit lactation? It will be quite uncomfortable for you otherwise."
A long moment passed before the Princess answered, and then her nod was slow. Zeiss removed a hypospray from his medikit. He pressed it against Teresa's bare forearm. "There," the physician said. "Don't worry about the child, Princess. If he's with a doctor, he'll be all right. The Klingons have a superstition. It's taboo to harm a physician--one of our fringe benefits!"
Teresa thought of McCoy, trapped in the Palace. "I hope you're right, Doctor. I pray to God you are."
Zeiss stood up. "I've got to go now. When you get up tomorrow, My Lady, you'll be able to resume virtually all normal activities. There are very few restrictions and those only last two or three days. I've left a little guidebook on your nightstand."
"Thank you again, Doctor Zeiss," Vilas said. "I'll have Emilio escort you back to the main road."
"I'd appreciate that. And Jorge, don't hesitate to call if you need anything else."
"I won't." He walked Zeiss to the door. It hissed open, and Vilas gestured to Emilio, who was helping stack crates of weapons onto an airtruck out in the main cavern. The youth nodded. He hurried over to take the physician back to the city.
Vilas turned back to Teresa. "I imagine you'd like to get some sleep, My Lady. I'll be going now."
"No, wait. Please stay," Teresa begged. "I don't want to be alone. Can't you stay and talk a while?"
Vilas smiled. "Sure. I'd love to. Can I get you something to eat first?"
"No, I'm fine. I'd like to talk, though. Where am I, and what was all that noise I heard when the door opened?"
"This is our emergency armory and hideout. It's the big cave south of the Palace. We're in the process of moving out our weaponry. I want to disperse our arms and supplies among several different locations so we don't have all our eggs in one basket."
Teresa glanced around the rock-hewn chamber, taking in the tasteful furnishings. "Not bad for a cave." She patted the comfortable mattress on her bed for emphasis.
Vilas chuckled. "This is the 'V.I.P. suite'. Only the best for you." He leaned against a wall. "You had us worried," he said tentatively. "We went into the Palace to free you, but somebody beat us to the punch."
"It was a young woman," Teresa answered tightly. "Blonde, very pretty. Carlos certainly seemed to like her well enough. She let us go--"
"McCoy, the doctor from the Enterprise, and me. Anyway, she went the wrong way when she tried to escape. I don't know what happened to her after that."
"Her name was Angelita Martinez." Vilas' voice was sober. "She's dead. She fell into a Klingon pit trap and was impaled. Those demons brought her body down to the Plaza del Sol and hung it up next to Commodore Westlake's."
"Oh, God, no." Teresa closed her eyes and her chin trembled. "That poor girl. I...I hated her because she had...well...she and Carlos--"
"Don't blame Carlos--and don't blame her, either," Vilas said. "I can't believe he'd act this way of his own free will. The Klingons must have done something to him."
"They brainwashed him. They have a machine that can read your mind, every last little detail and scrap of information--even your subconscious thoughts." She shuddered at the memory of the mind-sifter's agonizing probe. "They...they can empty you out and reprogram you so you'll think like them, act like them, believe in the things they believe in."
"And that's what happened to Carlos?"
She nodded. Carlos and Jorge had been friends; the captain of the guard deserved to know the whole truth. "They 'converted' him to their cause. They made him think I was unfaithful to him by planting images in his mind of me making love to Captain Kirk from the Enterprise. That made him hate me, and Kirk, and, by extension, the entire Federation. It was easy to twist him to their way of thinking after that. They tried it on me, but I fought it off. Guess I just hate the Klingons too much."
"I hate them, too," Vilas' voice cracked.
Teresa glanced up, surprised to see tears welling up in Vilas' eyes, but they did not spill.
"Those bastards slaughtered my comrades, my friends. They killed Elena."
Teresa swallowed hard, shocked by the news. "I'm so sorry, Jorge," she murmured. "There's nothing I can say or do that will ease the pain you feel, but you have my sympathy."
"Thank you, My Lady." The tears were gone, replaced by a fierce, burning glare of hatred. He paced across the room, back and forth. "They'll pay, I promise you that. They managed to kill all but twenty-seven of the guard corps, but we've almost doubled that number with volunteers just in the short time since the Klingons invaded. Each day our numbers swell as more people summon the courage to fight the Klingons. And you will be an inspiration to the people! With you to lead us against the Klingons, we'll--"
Teresa stiffened. "I...I can't do that, Jorge."
"Why not?" Vilas stopped in his place and frowned in puzzlement. "My Princess, you are a better shot than anyone else in the guard! Your skill is well-known! Why can't you?"
"I'm afraid." She lowered her eyes. "I'm...not the warrior you remember anymore, Jorge. The thought of even picking up a phaser terrifies me."
Vilas sighed. "I guess I was fooling myself. I saw it months ago. I saw the terror in your eyes, the way your hands trembled, the way you flinched at shadows. What happened to change you so?"
"I can't tell you."
Vilas pulled up a chair. "I want to help," he gently urged. "I can't if you won't let me."
Teresa sighed. "Please, Jorge, don't. You wouldn't understand."
Teresa met his gaze. His blue eyes were kind, sincere. Could she trust him? They were friends, after all.
For a time, the room was silent. Then, Teresa haltingly began her story. "It was almost six months ago, when that Klingon war party invaded Serenidad and kidnaped Carlos and me. I'm sure you remember that."
Vilas' nod was grim. He had been made Captain of the guard shortly after that. Juan Lopez, the former commander, had been slain when the Klingons stormed the Palace to kidnap the Princess. A lot of seasoned men and women had died during that attack, leaving him to lead a young, inexperienced--but conscientious--cadre of troops.
"The Klingon Commander, Kral, had sworn an oath of blood against Carlos," Teresa continued. "They tortured Carlos. They...tortured me as well, and forced me to sign an agreement making Serenidad a Klingon 'protectorate.'"
"I knew it!" Vilas exclaimed. "We all knew you wouldn't voluntarily ally Serenidad with those monsters! Those bastards tortured you!"
"I almost died." She closed her eyes and shuddered. "That wasn't all they...did to me, Jorge. They..."
Tears slid down her cheeks. Vilas watched helpless, not knowing what to say. She raised her head, and his blood chilled at the anguish on her face. "My baby is half-Klingon!"
She began to sob as she held out her arms to him. Vilas took her in his own. She buried her face in his chest. He held her gently, felt her small body shake as the sobbing wracked her, felt his head swim at the horror at what had been done to her. The Princess of Serenidad--his Princess--raped by those alien demons! His stomach churned at the thought, and for a moment, he feared he would retch. He managed to fight off the reflex.
"God!" Vilas groaned. "I had no idea! When you and Carlos came back to the Palace after being rescued by the Enterprise crewmen, we thought everything was fine."
"Not hardly," she sniffed as she struggled to control her quaking voice. "They broke me, Jorge. They raped me and nearly killed me, but worse than that, they tore out my soul. I used to think that I could protect myself from just about anything with my combat training and my skill at weapons. The Klingons certainly shattered that illusion in short order!"
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Vilas said. "The Klingons are the most savage warriors in the Galaxy. Even though what they did is too loathsome for you to bear, it's not a disgrace that you lost to them. Everyone has foes that can't be defeated. But when you are beaten, you have to get back up and dust yourself off."
Teresa glanced up at him. Her eyes were hard. "They didn't just knock me down, Jorge! They took me against my will and left a child growing in my womb. Klingons dominate their females. It would have been better for me if I had been submissive and compliant like their concubines who accept being violated as a fact of life. At least then I would not have seen my dream shattered--that I could defend myself against such horror."
Vilas shook his head. "I can't believe that you of all people would accept defeat so easily. Are you so terrified of what happened to you that you can turn your back on what you are?"
"What I was..." Teresa's voice was all but inaudible. "Once something is broken, even if you can put it back together again, it's never as strong as it was before it was shattered."
This time, he could think of nothing to say to her that would comfort her.
She pulled away. "Thank you," she whispered, "for listening to me blubber. You see what it's done to me? I don't think I'll ever be the same again."
"Can't you at least try?"
Teresa was silent a long moment. "I don't know," she finally replied. She knuckled her gritty eyes and yawned. "I think I'd better get some sleep now. I had quite a night, and I'm bushed."
"Good idea," Vilas agreed. "We're moving you at first light. The Klingons will be tearing this planet apart looking for you. Thank heavens the reason they're interested in Serenidad in the first place, the veins of raw dilithium all over the planet, distorts their scanners." He stood. "Take it easy the rest of today and tonight."
The Princess climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. "Don't go too far away, okay, Jorge?"
"I'll be right outside if you need anything."
"Thanks," she mumbled. And fell almost instantly asleep.
Vilas turned and slipped out the door as quietly as he could so as not to awaken her.
"We have scanned the Klingon vessel, sir," Navigator Theras reported. "It is holding station one hundred fifty megameters from the Enterprise. Both vessels appear to be at yellow alert status, weapons systems primed and standing by." The Andorian turned toward the center seat. "They both seem to be waiting for something to happen."
"Thank you, Mister Theras."
The captain swiveled toward the communications bay. Mister Hammond, send to Enterprise: 'U.S.S. Challenger has arrived at Serenidad system and is in place for patrol duties. Captain David C. Garrovick, commanding.' And send my personal regards to Captain Kirk."
Garrovick settled back in the conn. He was nervous. Years ago he had been a raw ensign aboard the Enterprise. He had grown up there and become a fine, resourceful officer, thanks in no small part to the advice and leadership of Captain James T. Kirk. Garrovick had gone on to distinguish himself in the field, his rapid rise through the ranks culminating in a starship captaincy at the relatively tender age of thirty years and two months. Only one other man had achieved that rank at a younger age: James T. Kirk at twenty-nine years and six months.
And now David Garrovick felt like a Starfleet Academy alumnus who had proven himself and was coming home to meet his favorite teacher for the first time since graduation. How would he stack up? What would Kirk think of his protegé? He owed Kirk a lot. The man had been like a second father to him after their rather rocky beginning during the Tycho IV incident. More than anyone else, James Kirk had made it possible for him to be sitting where he was right now.
"Challenger has reached her specified closest approach locus, sir," Helmsman Eileen Stanhope sang out.
"Very well, Lieutenant. Thrusters at station-keeping." And now, just like the Enterprise we wait, Garrovick thought.
For what, only God knew and only time would tell.
Not very far away, another starship commander surveyed his patrol area. "rojyuQ Hovtay' 'ellI' Dos,"(41) the Kh'myr navigator said.
"maj!"(42) Malenc exclaimed. "ray''a'?"(43)
The navigator nodded. "HIja', qaH."
Malenc leaned back in his throne. So the fabled Enterprise has company! This might prove interesting. Then again, the Klingon commander considered sourly, it might not. It was highly unlikely that the Zoden would see any action during this mission. Before too long, the weaklings on the Federation Council would call off their watchdogs, robbing him and his men of any chance for glory in battle.
He sensed a presence at his left elbow. His executive officer, Taak. "joHwI', we will not engage them?" Taak asked, his heavy-lidded eyes a bit wider than usual.
"qoH!!" Malenc spat. "We are not supposed to be here! Not even the Targa is aware of our presence! Be assured, should battle be joined, we will get our share of combat."
Taak seemed to shrink into himself. "I abase myself, joHwI'. I ask forgiveness."
Malenc ignored him. "Serenidad has a twin lunar system. We will hide ourselves in a tight synchronous orbit around the larger moon so we can conserve power to the cloaking device."
The commander glared at Taak. He drew his lips back tightly over his teeth. "QI'yaH!" he hissed, his tone contemptuous.
Taak blanched. "HIja, joHwI'," he muttered, then hastened back to the weapons bay.
Malenc shook his head. How Taak had ever achieved the rank of lieutenant commander was beyond him. His lack of intelligence was appalling; he was as obtuse and plodding as a common foot soldier. But the executive officer had one saving grace. He handled the weapons console better than anyone Malenc had ever seen, second only, perhaps, to that bitch L'yan on the Targa. And planetside, in hand-to-hand combat, Taak was a juggernaut. So the commander could afford to be somewhat tolerant of his other failings.
But not too tolerant.
His baleful gaze swept down into the work pit. Good, he thought; his crew cringed with the proper degree of obeisance. "So'wI'!"(46) he snarled.
The helmsman stabbed at his control panel, nearly breaking a finger in his desperation to comply. Amidships in Engineering, telltales and gauges flashed into life as the battlecruiser's mighty engines rechanneled energy. Power hummed and throbbed; the deckplates vibrated as the cloaking device greedily siphoned off its life source. Slowly, the Imperial Klingon Battlecruiser Zoden faded from sight, and only the stars remained visible to the naked eye.
Battle Surgeon Karval studied the computer readout of the data his medical scanner had compiled on Teresa's infant. "Antigen scan is accurate to point nine-nine-six-three percent, joHwI'," the Kh'myr physician reported. "The child is the son of the late Commander Kral."
Korak smiled. By Kahless, at least this little half-breed pretender to the throne of Serenidad is the offspring of a Klingon officer! "Is the child healthy?" The Klingon commander's gaze darted back and forth between Karval and Leonard McCoy, who had been 'requested' to assist with the baby's examination.
"If he were a Human infant," McCoy began, "I'd say he was the healthiest specimen I'd ever seen. He has the reflexes and motor development of a six month old. He's alert, he can focus and see as well as a Human adult. He's one of a kind, though. I've got nothing to compare him to."
"There are a few others like him, McCoy, on our side of the Treaty Zone," Karval put in. "There have been...laboratory experiments with Human females--slaves and Starfleet prisoners."
He ignored McCoy's shocked, angry glare and addressed Korak. "According to the results of experimental data, joHwI', this child is within the developmental norms of a Kh'myr infant--although on the low end of the scale. The gestation period of his mother lasted five and a half standard months, as opposed to four months full term for a full Kh'myr child."
"Four months?" McCoy blurted. "A full-term pregnancy only lasts four months?"
Karval allowed himself a smile. "Kh'myr biology is geared toward survival, McCoy. Survival demands that an organism reproduce as quickly and efficiently as possible."
McCoy glanced over at the child. He slept in a crib that had been waiting for him in this room--which was to have been his nursery. Five and a half months ago, this little boy began to grow in his mother's womb after her unholy coupling with the Klingon Commander Kral.
Now he slept in this bright, airy room, its windows streaming late morning sunshine, looking for all the world like a normal, healthy Human baby. Healthy he was. But he was not Human.
The baby awoke. He did not cry, but turned his head to look at McCoy. His gaze was alert, and evinced an awareness that should have been far beyond his newborn abilities. McCoy shuddered.
The nursery door swung open. L'yan strode into the room, and the Kh'myr present could not help but stare. It was going to be a hot day, and L'yan was dressed for the weather. She wore a skimpy, sleeveless halter made from a metallic fabric which displayed the swell of her full breasts to excellent advantage, briefs made of the same cloth, and knee-high leather boots. Although she was apparently off-duty, her ever-present weapons belt hung around her waist, holstering her disruptor and battle dagger. She sported two other smaller knives as well: one strapped to her upper left arm, the other to her left thigh.
How can she be so beautiful and so deadly at the same time? Karval wondered.
L'yan halted before Korak and saluted. "Our search parties have found no trace of the Princess, joHwI'," she reported, favoring McCoy with a venomous glare. "I have just spoken with bu' Kuhr. She is no longer in the Palace or on the grounds, unless she's holed up in one of those cursed escape tunnels we have been unable to find. The planet's dilithium makes sensor readings impossible down in the subterranean levels."
"Have the search patterns been expanded?"
L'yan nodded. "Several squads are searching door-to-door in the city. Others are combing the forests." She sighed. "It is a large area, joHwI'. She could be anywhere. But we will find her."
"And when we do, you may have the pleasure of executing her, my dear," Korak said.
The warrior woman's smile was savage as she closed her fist over the spiked handle of her battle dagger. "I await that opportunity eagerly!"
"What of a wet nurse for this whelp?" Korak queried.
"Mord was attending to that. He should..."
She hesitated at the sound of a scuffle outside in the corridor. The door burst open. Mord stalked into the room, shoving a pretty, red-haired young woman ahead of him. Her clothes were torn, disheveled, and her Klingon captor had twisted her left arm up painfully behind her back. Another guard held a small child in his grasp.
"The female for the child, joHwI'," Mord growled.
The woman turned to McCoy. "Please help me!" she sobbed, tears coursing from her green eyes. "They kidnaped me and my baby...and beat my husband!"
"You bastard!" McCoy lunged forward and pulled the woman away from the Klingon's grasp. She sagged to her knees, weeping, and McCoy knelt beside her. He broke open his newly re-acquired medikit. No one tried to stop him. "Take it easy, honey," he soothed. "What's your name--and what happened?"
"I'm Juanita Baca. These creatures came out to our house and took me and little Paco away. My husband Arturo tried to stop them and this one--" She nodded at Mord. "This one...beat him."
She swallowed hard, and the tears flowed more freely. "Then...oh, my dear God, they pulled me out and brought me here!" She buried her face in her hands. "Poor little Paco! He is only five days old! Please don't let them hurt him!!"
McCoy gave her a sedative. He was numb. The savagery of the Kh'myr Klingons never failed to amaze--or appall--him.
He had barely finished examining her when Mord roughly hauled Baca to her feet. "That's enough!" he snarled. "She will be fine!"
"How would you know, you big gorilla?" the physician raged. He bolted to his feet, but Korak came between him and Mord, firmly steering McCoy toward the door.
"You!" the commander snapped at a sentry in the hallway. "Escort the nada back to his quarters."
The guard herded McCoy none too gently down the corridor. "Damn you, Korak!" the physician shouted. "Damn you all and your empty souls!"
Korak turned away from the door as McCoy's diatribe faded into the distance. "toH--this is the female who will nurse the child?"
Mord nodded. "She appears to be well-equipped for the task," he snickered. He tore off Baca's blouse, then yanked away her nursing bra, leaving her naked to the waist. The distraught young woman tried to cover her bare breasts, but Mord pinned both of her arms behind her. "See?" he chuckled. "She is full and ripe."
"Nooo-oo!" Baca shrieked. "Please just leave us alone!"
With that, the infant began to cry--or more accurately, howl. It was a harsh, demanding, strident wail, full of anger and impatience. It was not a pleasant sound.
Baca stared numbly at the crib. "W-what's wrong with him?"
"He appears to be hungry," L'yan offered.
"That's not what I m-mean," Baca quavered. "He doesn't sound like a baby."
"Stupid bitch," Mord muttered. "What does he look like--a Denebian slime devil?"
"He's the son of Princess Teresa by the mighty Klingon Battle Commander Kral," Karval the physician explained. "He is a Human-Klingon hybrid."
"No!" Baca shrank away in horror. "Oh, God, no! Our Princess carried a Klingon child!"
"And you will feed him--now!"
"No, I will not! Don't even get that monster near me!"
Mord slapped Baca with a vicious backhand. She staggered, dazed, but she did not fall. She wiped blood from her split lip. "You will curb your insolence, woman. You will feed the heir to the royal throne, or your own child will be killed."
"No!" Baca sobbed. "I'll d-do anything y-you want! Just don't h-hurt Paco!"
"He will be well-attended. And if you balk or refuse at any time from now on..." He strode over to the child, brandishing his dagger. "Then your infant will pay the price. Understand?"
"Y-ye-es-ss. I will do as you say."
"Of course you will," he grated. He spun on his heel and stalked toward the nursery door.
"L'yan!" he shouted over his shoulder. "Give her the whelp to nurse! If she does not behave properly or tries to harm the half-breed, use your dagger on her own child! See to it that the son of Kral is fed!"
Before L'yan could protest, Korak gestured at Karval. "You come with me, Qel! One of our squads rounded up the last remaining member of the Serenidad Council earlier this morning--a fat pig named Don Pedro Almeira. The councilmembers are to be executed shortly, and I need you to certify their deaths. And you Mord--" He whirled on his junior officer, shaking his fists in his fury. "Get back out there and find that little be'SIj Princess Teresa. DaH!"(47)Then he stormed from the room with Karval hurrying to keep pace as best he could.
Mord lingered a moment after the pair had left. He took Paco from the guard and gave the infant to L'yan, favoring her with a smirk. "At least you have finally found your proper niche, L'yan."
He observed her outraged expression as he turned to go. "'See to it that the child is fed!'" Mord mocked in a fair imitation of Korak's commanding voice.
Something sharp painfully nicked his right ear as it whizzed past him and embedded itself in the doorframe with a loud 'thump.' One of L'yan's small daggers still vibrated, buried nearly to the hilt in the wood.
Mord spun around, shocked, his fingers sticky with blood from his cut earlobe. His first instinct was to go for his pistol, but L'yan already had him covered with her own disruptor. "Ha'DIbaH!" she spat. "I could have put my dagger between your shoulder blades, Mord. Next time, I will."
"I'll be waiting," Mord growled. He clenched and unclenched his fists, barely able to contain his murderous fury. "Listen to me, be'SIj! I'll catch you alone, when Lord Korak isn't around to protect you, and I'll kill you as slowly as I can!"
L'yan's thumb whitened on the firing button of her handgun. "I don't need Korak's protection! Now get out before I put you out of my misery!"
Mord turned away, covering his wounded ear with one hand and making an obscene gesture at L'yan with the other. The warrior woman made certain he was long gone before she locked the door and holstered her weapon. Mord was extremely dangerous. She did not fear him, but she respected him. Of all her enemies among Korak's crew, he had the ability to make good on his threats. She would have to be even more vigilant.
The half-breed infant's screaming grew more insistent, and the wet nurse's own child had added its own cries to the noise. Cursing under her breath, L'yan hauled the Kh'myr-spawned infant up from its crib and thrust it at Baca.
"Here, bitch," she muttered. "Make yourself useful!"
Baca took the child mechanically, listlessly pressing him to her bosom. She was in deep shock; her body trembled as she thought of Arturo being beaten by these fiends that held her captive. The Princess' child did not seem to care. He nursed voraciously, sucking the entire nipple and aureole into his rooting mouth.
L'yan sank down in a lounger to keep watch. The episode with Mord had upset her, but more than that, she had been stung by Korak's command. See to it that the child is fed. She, L'yan, the finest warrior on the Targa charged with the child's nursing! Princess Teresa was running around free somewhere. She had been promised the right to execute the troublesome bitch; she should be permitted to assist in her re-capture! Perhaps Korak assigned her to this thankless task only because she was off-duty. Surely joHwI' doesn't consider me an ordinary female, good only for mating and the bearing of young, she thought. I am an officer in the Imperial Fleet, his executive and a q'laI assassin!
L'yan tried to make herself comfortable in the lounger. She was disturbed. She wanted to tear something apart, to kill it, just to relieve her frustration. Her gaze lighted on the numb Juanita Baca's infant now in her arms. No. This soft Human child is useful as a means of forcing its mother to nurse the half-breed. She sighed. Perhaps she would go into the city later and burn a few dwellings to the ground. She smiled at the thought.
Leonard McCoy gazed out the large window of his suite. His anger bubbled and broiled inside him, helpless fury that ate away at his insides. Damn it all, where is Teresa? She shouldn't be moving yet. With his medikit, he could have healed her up and brought her back to normalcy in a matter of minutes. But he hadn't had his kit. Teresa had been weakened by the ordeal. She would bleed for days, and if she was out trekking around the countryside, she might hemorrhage.
But the alternative was far worse; capture by the Klingons meant a sure, slow death at L'yan's hands. That sweet, beautiful woman. Why couldn't they leave her alone? Why did she have to die--because L'yan was jealous? Because for all her strength and ferocity, the Klingon woman was intimidated by Teresa's soft beauty? No, that couldn't be it. Teresa, in her weakened condition, might have thought that preposterous scenario to be the case. L'yan couldn't fear that her lover Commander Korak was infatuated by the Princess. True, perhaps the Klingon thought the Princess would be an interesting place to 'dip his wick', but McCoy thought it truly unlikely that a killer like L'yan would have such an illogical flaw. Surely L'yan didn't think she'd be eliminating any 'possible competition' by killing Teresa.
No, the Klingon hierarchy wanted Teresa dead because she was a threat to their rule of Serenidad. As long as she lived and could not be converted to their cause, she could turn the people against them. Perhaps L'yan had concocted the whole story as a form of mental torture. Who knew why the Kh'myr did things the way they did?
The late afternoon sun dappled the forests beyond the castle walls with gold. Farther out, the tile roofs of Castillo Nuevo glistened and shimmered. It was a deceptively peaceful scene. Even now, search parties of brute Kh'myr warriors ransacked house after house, terrorizing the citizenry as they hunted for Teresa. They arbitrarily seized goods and took prisoners for "interrogation."
McCoy had seen a group of these prisoners herded into the Palace not long ago. A dozen or so young women had been taken down to the cell level. All of them were pretty, and all of them were terrified. The physician shuddered. It took little imagination to realize what sort of "interrogation" they would undergo.
McCoy turned away from the window. It was obvious that the Federation Council had given up Serenidad to the Klingons. Jim Kirk would have been here long ago otherwise. He could almost see his old friend, angrily pacing the decks of the Enterprise to ease his frustration, his hands tied by diplomats and bureaucrats.
His own situation was not much better. He was a prisoner of luxury. The Klingons had given him one of the finest, most spacious rooms in the Palace. He had a plush bed, comfortable furniture, a breathtaking view of the countryside. Any kind of food or drink he desired was his for the asking. He had everything he could possibly want.
Except his freedom.
He plopped down in an easy chair. What am I going to do? Teresa's baby was now in Klingon hands. They would raise him as a Klingon, twisting and corrupting him with their savage, militaristic way of life. And that poor woman they had kidnaped to nurse the baby. They had beaten her husband and brought her and her son to the castle, probably using the baby to force her to comply with their demands.
McCoy got up and began to pace. He could do nothing to help either of them. The heavy oaken door of his room was locked and bolted. Even if it weren't, it would do him little good. There was a force-field at the entrance to the room, with an armed guard outside. He could go nowhere without an escort.
And what about Teresa? She could be lying dead or dying out in the forest, or hiding in the city just waiting for a Kh'myr search party to recapture her. What if he never got the chance to tell her he loved her? Did he love her? He wasn't even certain of that. He thought he did, but it had been so long since he had been in love with a woman, he wasn't even sure he could trust his feelings. The pain of his messy divorce, so many years ago, was still as raw as yesterday's wound. He had cut himself off from anything resembling commitment after that. Oh, there had been quite a number of women over the years, but few had been special, and none had meant anything to him.
Now he was stuck here in this velvet prison. People were dying out there, being raped and tortured and murdered, while he languished in luxury.
Unable to bear it any longer, McCoy threw himself on the bed. He buried his face in the pillow as he tried to shut out the horror and insanity that ravaged this once-tranquil planet.
The sky was achingly blue. A few fleecy white clouds floated by, filtering the golden sunshine into brilliant slanting shafts. It was hot, but the green forest was cool, an emerald shelter from the later afternoon heat.
Two young people made their way through the forest, dressed in camouflaged jumpsuits, scanning with tricorders. Only the night before, they had consummated their love in one of the recesses of the rebellion's huge, sprawling cavern-base. "Oh, Tomás, why did we wait so long?" Isobel Montez asked softly. "Last night was fan-tas-tic!"
Saldano smiled. He took her hand and kissed it. "Chalk it up to my cowardice," he chuckled quietly. "Klingons don't bother me, but you...well, you used to scare the living daylights out of me, chiquita."
Montez glanced uneasily around the glade. She directed her tricorder toward an area of dense thickets. "Speaking of Klingons, I hope there aren't any around here."
"Don't worry. I've got our tricorders set on a three-sixty widescan setting. Those knob-headed demons can't get within half a kilometer of us without the alarm going off."
They quickly kissed and resumed their scanning. "I love you, Tomás," she whispered.
No more words were necessary.
Patrol. Looking out for the Klingons. Tomorrow, we might be dead, thought Saldano. Something caught the youth's eye. Smiling, he bent down and plucked a trumpet-like pink flower from a creeping vine. He handled it to Montez. "For you. A moonblossom."
Montez cupped the feathery, delicate bloom in her hand. Moonblossoms loved dim light, shunning bright sun as they bloomed in the twilight of dusk and dawn. She sniffed the sweet fragrance of Saldano's exquisite gift. "I love it. It's beautiful."
"Not as beautiful as you are," Saldano whispered. "I love you."
"I love you, too, but we really should keep our minds on our duty."
Saldano sighed. "You're right, Isobel. If Jorge catches us goofing off, there'd be Hell to pay." He advanced toward a suspicious looking clump of vines. Montez paused a moment longer to enjoy her flower. A dreamy smile lit her beautiful features.
Suddenly, a shrill whine filled the air, and she dissolved in a shower of red Hellfire.
Tomás Saldano stood there dumbfounded. He shook off the anguished petrification that had gripped him, and rushed to the charred spot where she had stood, completely ignoring the menace that now stalked him silently from the edge of the forest. He stood there staring at the smoking ashes, then he turned to face her murderers.
A dozen Kh'myr Klingon warriors stood in a clearing, bathed in blood from the dying sun. Their leader, taller and more muscular than any humanoid Saldano had ever seen, flashed a sardonic smile.
The barrel of his disruptor rifle still glowed. "Sorry about the be'SIj," he chuckled. "We didn't need her. But you will come with us."
Saldano howled in insane rage. He bared his teeth and charged, knowing that it was suicidal, but not caring anymore. Isobel!
The big Kh'myr's smile only broadened. He did not move as he awaited this foolish Human. Just when Saldano was about to leap on his quarry, the Kh'myr side-stepped. He whipped the barrel of his carbine against the back of the onrushing youth's skull with a resounding crack.
Saldano crashed limply to the ground.
"qoH!" Mord exclaimed. "You could have saved yourself a headache if you'd come quietly." He gestured to one of the warriors. "Bind him hand and foot in case he regains consciousness before we return to the Palace."
Lieutenant Raan pointed to the dropped tricorder and the phaser holstered in the youth's belt. "Starfleet issued equipment. This one must have been with the Palace Guard. You were right."
Mord nodded. He punched a button on a scanner attached to his weapons belt.
Immediately, Saldano's tricorder emitted a series of ear-piercing beeps. Mord hit the scanner switch again, and the 'corder became silent. It had been a wise precaution to activate the nullifier field around his squad when they had picked up the Human lifeform readings. These two little ones had rigged an alarm to go off when the tricorder detected Klingon life signs. The ignorant fools! They obviously had no idea of how advanced was the current Klingon electronic counter measure technology.
Mord glanced about the nearly dark woods. "There might be a base around here where the remnants of the Palace Guard are hiding."
"Shouldn't we hunt for it?" Raan asked.
The lieutenant commander shook his head. "We don't know the area well enough. It would be dangerous and stupid in the dark." He hooked a thumb toward the unconscious Saldano. "Besides, he'll tell us everything we need to know. We can come back in the morning."
"Do you think the Princess is with them?"
"I'm not sure, but it seems likely. She disappeared as thoroughly as the Palace Guard did. The tuQDoq will tell us."
Saldano was now securely bound. The warrior who had tied him easily hoisted the youth over his shoulder.
"Let's go," Mord commanded.
The Klingons melted ghostlike into the brooding woods, leaving the glade empty and silent.
A stiff breeze kicked up just as the last dying embers of sunset flickered out. The wind wafted a yellow moonblossom into the air, skipped it across the ground and into the lake. It floated, drifting along on the wind-driven current until its bell-shaped flower filled with water. Then the blossom sank beneath the surface.
Kirk had called his senior officers to the briefing room to discuss the situation; there was little more that he could do about it and the frustration tore at him. He was not good at playing the waiting game that was so often necessary for plans and situations to develop to fruition. He wanted to attack--now! But he held his emotions in check; a superior officer must always set a correct example. He didn't think it fooled anyone.
"So. Uhura, I want a constant monitoring of all channels on the planet's surface. Put Cryptanalysis on it, too. Who knows, maybe someone will have presence of mind to send out some kind of message in code. And be sure and record everything. We have to have evidence to show the Federation Council if we do get a break. Anything else?"
There were negative head shakes around the room, and Kirk knew that the whole situation was telling on all his crew. "Back to stations, everyone. Uhura, post a new six-hour duty-shift; I don't want anyone going off their head with boredom--we've just go to get through this in top form. And make sure all recreation facilities are fully functional."
"Yes, sir," she responded.
The officers left the room, eager to get back to their posts. But Spock lingered behind. "Captain, you mentioned evidence. I was able to recall the events of Princess Teresa's capture by the Klingons."
Was his friend ready now? "Yes, Spock?" he coaxed.
"Telepathic evidence is rarely, if ever, admitted into Federation judicial proceedings. Only a Vulcan court would consider my testimony valid. There is a good chance that my experiences will be negated."
"You mean--" That Kirk had asked his friend to suffer that ordeal for nothing was more than he wanted to think about.
"I was there," Spock said hoarsely, trying to keep emotion out of his voice. "I saw, I felt what they did to her. Even now, I cannot look at my own flesh without wonder that I am not scarred. But there is no 'hard evidence.' And I do not think I could withstand mind-melding with all the members of the court to show them what I have seen."
"Then it was all for nothing? Spock, I'm so sorry."
Spock turned away from the naked sympathy on Kirk's face. "Perhaps not all for nothing. As you know, the Klingons employ the mind-sifter to read thoughts and motivations. The Federation has long employed psycho-tricorders capable of twenty-four hour regressive memory checks, but they are not capable of recalling long-past events. However, using a combination of the two could lead to the development of a device that is capable of not merely scanning long-term memories, but recording these as well. Such a device could easily be developed with tricorder equipments and brainscanning elements. Simply--"
"Spock, do you know what you're saying?" Kirk was horrified.
"Captain, the technology exists. I do not postulate a Federation mind-sifter, merely a recorder so that, if necessary, the Federation Council can witness the atrocities that the Princess had to endure. Then, logically or emotionally, I do not see how they could refuse to act."
"I see. How long will it take to construct this machine?"
"I cannot say accurately. Several days to complete construction, then more time for preliminary tests."
"And the danger of using this machine?"
"Negligible. It will be like using as standard psycho-tricorder, except that the user would not even have to think about the events; the machine would record both a visual and aural copy that may be played back at will."
Kirk hesitated only for a moment. If nothing else, it would be something to take his mind off the situation below. "Okay, Spock. You may start construction whenever you're ready. If only..." he trailed off, aware of how uncomfortable his wishful thinking made Spock.
But Spock understood this time. "If only what, Jim?"
"What's happening down there, Spock? If only we knew what..."
"Where are they, Tomás? If you tell us, we won't hurt you any more. You don't want to be hurt any more, do you?" To hear a Kh'myr Klingon's voice trying to croon was enough in itself to cause Saldano to twitch in anticipation of more pain. So far, he had told them nothing, but he hurt, oh, he hurt.
Isobel, how could I have been so stupid?
Raan, the lieutenant who had captured him in the clearing came around from behind the machine that was attached to Saldano's head and faced the anguished boy.
"Tomás." His voice, though gruff, was even toned and matter-of-fact. "You must tell us where the rest of your friends are. We need them here in the Palace. And the Princess, too, she's with them, isn't she, hmmm? She must come back; she has her baby to think of. Tell me, Tomás, where are they?"
Raan returned to the machine and made a few small adjustments in the controls. Saldano's head seemed to swim with the question; there was nothing else in the world for him.
Where are they? Wherearethey wherearethey? Tomás, tell us tell us tellus tellus tellustellustell!
And with each word, the pain grew and swelled until his head felt as though it were stuffed into a hive of ant-wasps and they were stinging him to death. He couldn't help it, his mind pictured the place of hiding and the Princess even though his voice had long since lost the capacity even to scream.
Raan nodded to Mord, satisfied. "See, I told you it wouldn't take long. That's why I suggested we wait the night. Many times the captive's own fears will weaken him even more, makes the interrogating time very swift. Ah, yes, here. You were right; the place is very close to where we found this one yesterday. See--the camouflage here, and here."
Raan turned back to Saldano who was beginning to convulse. He lowered the strength on the dials. "Is there anything else you wish to know?"
Mord shook his head. Raan was a genius with the tuQDoq, even he had to admit it. And unlike T'olar, whose loyalties were to Korak and L'yan, Raan was devoted to him. Saldano was still twitching, and as much as he enjoyed watching Human slime writhe, any more torture was simply a waste of power. "Enough. He's given us all he can."
Raan carefully turned off the power and detached the electrodes from Saldano's head and chest. Then, in an almost-afterthought, he aimed his disruptor at Tomás Saldano and vaporized him. "Pathetic Human."
Mord smiled. Daggers were well and good for in-fighting, but they were so messy to clean up after. Give him a good disruptor any time.
"joHwI' will be pleased, Mord. And now that his bitch is doing female's work for a change, you can attain your rightful place by his side."
Mord gave his lieutenant a sideways look. "You mirror my thoughts, Raan. I plan to gather a party now. We'll reconnoiter and catch the whole nest by surprise. Be ready with your machine." He strode out, eager to catch the prize Korak coveted.
Jorge Vilas crept through the thick trees, mindful of every step he took. He was beginning to be worried; he was due to relieve Saldano and Montez on watch and he had yet to see them. He had checked nearly all the usual posts to no avail. He came to a small clearing and stood motionless for several minutes, gauging the safety of the place. When he was sure that no one, friend or foe, was close, he stepped into the treeless circle. And stopped.
His foot struck the charred edge of a tricorder, the kind the Palace guard had always carried. Dragging his eyes over the ground, he saw a large scorched path of earth several feet in front of him. He bent to examine it and went no further. Lying shiny and new, in gross contrast to the burned ground that surrounded it, was a scrap of cloth. Brown, green and gray swam in Vilas' vision. Camouflage cloth--the kind that Saldano and Montez had worn when they left the cave to go on watch.
Vilas sank to his knees, biting his lips to keep from groaning. Even now the Klingons might be lurking to see if anyone would follow the path into the clearing. His two friends, blasted into death by his world's invaders. More death, more destruction. Would they never stop? If they want everyone dead, why don't they just blow up the whole damned city and be done with it? Vilas' eyes were dry; he could find no more tears to shed. But he had to do something, that these deaths would not be in vain.
He headed back to the cave. He would call a council a decide what was to be done.
But the cave was empty. Then Vilas remembered--he himself had sent everyone out on recruiting duty. It was imperative that they have help from the civilians--even the small help of silence. Hence, everyone was to contact as many friends and acquaintances as possible and enlist aid from them. They had agreed to meet back in the cave after dark and compare notes. Until then, Vilas would be alone. Alone with his memories, with his grief.
He threw himself on one of the rough sleeping pallets and tried to weep, but again, he could not. He sat up and tried to think, to concentrate on anything but the black, burned dirt that he had seen in the clearing. No good. Vilas feared he was losing his mind. He could sit still no longer.
He strode to the back of the cave, where they kept their small store of weapons. An idea, born from one of Saldano's comments days ago, began to grow in his mind. Saldano had been in the palace complex, had fooled the surveillance system enough to get into the main audience room unseen.
Tomás, if only I had listened to you then! You were right--the more of those bastards we can kill, the better. We have to fight on our own terms, not theirs...you were right, you were right, I was a fool! Oh, Tomás! Weeping, finally, for his friend's death, for his Princess who had been so brutally treated and at last, at last for Elena who would have been his wife by now, weeping, shedding the tears of an entire world, Vilas gathered up what weapons he could without depleting his comrades' store.
Half a dozen photon-grenades would do the trick, he decided. Taking one of the precious phasers to protect himself until he could complete his mission (he cared nothing for what happened to him afterward), he slipped from the cave and disappeared back into the woods. If he were lucky, and clever, by the time his forces met this evening, they would have plenty to talk about.
Mord strode through the lower levels of the Palace, arranging his plans as he went. He thanked all the War Guardians, the dreaded Lords of Kh'eloz, that Korak's manipulative bitch was sweating out babysitting duty. He could almost feel sorry for her. Because if his plans worked out, he would be in his rightful place by his lord's side by this time tomorrow, and that posturing female would be where she belonged--out of sight in the women's quarters.
He reached the day-room where most of the on-duty officers took their meals. He was in luck--there was a large contingent of his own followers. "Ma'akor, Korin, to me!" he called in Federation English.
They fairly leaped to his side. "Yes, sir?"
"We're in luck. The captive that Raan questioned revealed the hiding place of what's left of the Palace Guard, and," he paused for effect, "the Princess is with them. We'll go now. You two gather up twenty-five of our best men, and be ready by the gates in fifteen minutes."
"But what of Korak?"
"I have no time to inform him--we must act on this information with no delay. Besides, do you think I want to share my glory with the be'SIj? No, we will go, we will be the ones to bring down the last shreds of Serenidad resistance. Once the job is done, Korak can't help but be pleased. Now, move!"
It took less than fifteen minutes. Mord's faction was fiercely loyal, and all of the officers wanted to see their leader triumph over their lord's "pet." Her fighting abilities aside, L'yan had done very little to change the male Kh'myr's thought that females were only food for physical pleasure and continuing the race. There was not one crewmember who would be disappointed at her downfall.
Mord and his men moved silently through the forest, heading for the freedom fighters' cave. Unless an observer had been stepped on by one of the warriors, they would never have discerned their presence.
At last, the group arrived at the cave-site. Using the Kh'myr ghopHol,(48) Mord set his men at strategic locations around the area. Once inside, no one would be able to leave again undetected.
Mord's hands flashed again. We wait. No moves until everyone is inside. On my signal only, if you value your lives. Ease yourselves.
He hoped they would not have long to wait.
The sun seemed at a standstill. Vilas was positive it had not moved for the last two hours. The waiting was becoming unbearable, but wait he must. Even he realized that he could not attack the Palace in broad, glaring daylight. He had been hidden in this place for hours now, trying to decide how best to use the grenades he had removed from the cave. His grief and anger over Montez's and Saldano's deaths had not diminished; he felt as if he must scream, but he knew he could make no noise at all. His only action could come after dark.
But where? The main Palace? Surely it was crowded enough now, in daylight, but how many Klingons would remain after dark? He had only one chance and he had to inflict the most damage possible. Just then, a mass of movement caught his eye. A stream of Klingons was moving out of one of the out-buildings, moving with deliberate purpose.
As he watched, fascinated, he saw another column move towards the building. He saw the salutes, and watched as some of the Klingons took off their armor as they entered the audience hall. That's it!! That must be the barracks. How perfect! He would plant the grenades with their timers on and blast the Klingons even as they slept.
His quick euphoria faded. The force field. He couldn't get past it. Or could he? He recalled Teresa's tale of escape from the lower levels. Now that they had no prisoners, perhaps they would not be monitoring them so closely. Tonight, then, he would find the entrance to the tunnels, navigate them and bomb the barracks. With any luck, he would be able to wipe out at least half of the occupation force while they slept. How ignominious! He almost laughed aloud, but caught himself in time. There would be time enough for laughter once the job was done. He began tracing the route to the tunnels in his mind. Once the sun started going down, he would be on his way.
Vilas flattened himself against a stone wall for what seemed like the millionth time. He didn't know how far he had come through the tunnels, but he knew he must be nearing the surface. The air was less stale and the walls not as damp. He thanked all the gods he could think of he had not yet been detected. He rounded a corner and faced a door. This must be it. He was at the ground level.
Approaching the door on silent feet, he listened at the cracks but heard nothing. What the hell, he thought, and tried the knob. It turned easily. Taking a breath and placing his other hand on his phaser, Vilas inched the door open enough to peer through it.
Again, his luck had held. He saw a dark room with covers thrown over massive pieces of furniture and at least an inch of dust on the floor. He recognized it as one of the sitting rooms that had been shut up when El Caudillo, the King Don Fernando Morales de la Vega, Teresa's father, had been assassinated. It was evident that no one had been in here since.
Vilas stepped into the room and tried to orient himself. He had rarely been in this part of the Palace, but if he remembered correctly, then there should be a path out of--yes! That window there. He moved over to the window, crouching to stay below the sill. Again he peered in all directions to see if there were any Klingons about. The path was overgrown, and the weeds very high. Landscaping was obviously low on his enemies' priority list, but that would work to his advantage, giving him a much needed camouflage.
He tried to raise the window. It stuck. Still crouched beneath the sill, Vilas pushed until he thought his veins would burst. The window refused to budge. Forcing himself to relax, Vilas checked all around the frame and finally found the problem --the window was nailed shut. Cursing, he pulled out a small knife and began working away at the nails. It was not yet completely dark, but he didn't want to waste any time finding his destination. Finally, the nails were out and so was he, through the window and into the grass.
His memory of the layout of the Palace was coming back to him, and he knew that just outside this courtyard was the parade field and across it, the barracks. He worked his way to the edge of the building and sighted his target.
Twilight was dimming the outlines of everything, but he could hear trampling feet, raucous laughter, and every now and then, faint, feminine screams and cries of protest and denial. He knew, from talking to people in the city, that the Klingons often went into town and randomly took whatever women might attract them at the moment, but until now, he had managed not to think about it.
He felt the sweat run down his face as he bit his lip to keep from crying out. I'm glad Elena's dead, he thought fiercely, glad she'll never have to go through that.
Calm. He must be calm. The Klingons were formidable enemies, and he knew if they caught him here, he could not even look forward to a quick death. So he must not give in to temper or revenge. This was a job he had to do. He would not botch it. For all he knew, the Klingons could sense emotions in the very air, so he strove for total control. Dark was already falling and soon even Klingons must sleep. Then he would strike...
Teresa moved from doorway to doorway, always being sure to stay out of sight and to stay still long enough for attention to pass her before she made her next move.
She was on her way back to the cave, and she was shaking with fatigue. In spite of the treatment the doctor had given her, her body was telling her in no uncertain terms that she was not over having a baby and that she'd better get some rest, soon.
It had been a long day. She started out with two of the small party of resistors, Charles and Ada Zeiss, in order to find others who would help them in their fight against the Klingons. It was the first time that Teresa had ventured out into the city since she had learned she was pregnant, what seemed like a lifetime ago.
The change in the atmosphere and in the people, what few they saw, shocked Teresa as much as any of the more violent Klingon atrocities. No one recognized her, because no one would look her in the eye. There were huge signs posted all over the shop windows informing citizens of the new rules they had to obey: no gatherings of more than two people, shops open only two hours a day, total curfew every other day, off the streets by sundown otherwise.
The people were cowed. They hurried along, eyes down, heads covered, trying to call as little attention as possible to themselves.
Teresa moved with the rest of them, but in her heart she wanted to run into the street, to scream at them, tell them to fight back, to disobey, to do anything but what the enemy said to do. And she did nothing. She, too, walked with her head covered, sneaking into alleyways, talking sotto-voce to anyone whose attention she could hold for more than a few seconds. She did not tell who she was, and no one asked, but she knew that some recognized her. A squeeze on the hand, a quick bow, they showed that they knew the Princess was fighting for their world.
The afternoon was waning, and she must meet with her companions to return to the cave. She did not know her way alone, an added security measure that Vilas had demanded. What she did not know, she could not reveal if caught.
Charles was waiting for her at the appointed place. "Ada returned with two recruits. They had weapons to add to our store. Let's go."
They didn't talk at all until they were almost at the cave; Teresa was too saddened by all she had seen that day. For the first time, she realized that it was not just the government, or the Palace guard that was suffering under the Klingons, but every citizen on Serenidad. The knowledge tore at her. Somehow, she must help find a way to get them off her world.
The woods were dark, and Teresa felt an unexplained rush of fear. She stopped Charles before he reached the entrance of the cave and told him.
"Don't worry, your Highness," the physician replied. "The signs are all intact. No one was here that wasn't supposed to be." His disappeared into the cave. Teresa was not comforted, but she knew that rooting around for possibly nonexistent spies would only give their position away. She, too, ducked through the camouflaging bushes.
The men were getting impatient, Mord could sense it.
They wanted to attack, to take the resistors now, but only twenty or so Humans had entered the cave, and the Princess was not one of them. Above all, Mord wanted to take Teresa captive. If he was the one to bring her to Korak, then by all tradition, he should be the one to execute her.
And that would frost the witch-woman's slit! Mord even allowed himself a rare flight of fancy and imagined the scene as he would have it. Rich! He would put her in her place and maybe Korak would even allow him to have his pleasure of her. He was sure he could show L'yan a few things that even Korak didn't know!
He could already taste the victory, and it was as sweet as what lay between L'yan's thighs.
Enough! He must concentrate on his task. As he set himself to watching the path once again, a faint rustle alerted him to more people coming up to the cave.
A group of five Humans was carefully approaching. Too bad all their caution was for nothing. Ah! Mord scanned the group and spotted the Princess. She was checking out the area and her gaze passed directly over his hiding place. Was it imagination or did her eyes linger longer than necessary on that clump of bushes?
"I don't like it, Charles," Mord picked up Teresa's words easily, even at this distance. "I just have an eerie feeling and I don't like it."
The young man she had spoken to shook his head and pointed to something Mord could not see. "Look, Sarah and the others are back already. Even the Klingons would not know this symbol. Come on, let's get inside."
They disappeared into the cave, only to be followed in several minutes by two other small groups, each from a different direction.
Mord was satisfied. That should be nearly all of them. Raising up, he signaled again. We wait one hour from when the last group went in. Then attack--remember, only on my signal!
Mord stepped out once the time was up. No other groups of Humans had entered the cave since the Princess' arrival. Again, using hand language, he gathered his men at the entrance for one decisive rush. He did not know if there was another entrance to the cave, but he was doubtful, as it had not shown up during Saldano's torture. In any case, he wanted this to be quick and bloodless--the more captives he could deliver to Korak, the better he would look.
He gave the signal. His men flowed into the cave like water. Hiding in the shadows, they worked their way back until they could make out the little band of fighters. Mord counted forty and smiled to himself--he might have brought half the number he had and still have no problem. These puny Humans were painfully easy targets.
Mord's hand moved and suddenly the cave exploded with action. The warriors flew into the center of the cave, where most of the people were around several tables. Still not speaking, they grabbed people and threw them face down on the cave floor, grabbing anything that might conceivably be used as a weapon and tossing them into a pile by a far wall.
For Teresa, time seemed to have flowed into some bizarre slow motion nightmare. She stood, paralyzed, watching her companions be hurled about like rag dolls around her. A movement caught her attention and she saw a young boy, Emilio, inching his way forward with a stun grenade in his hand. A soldier spotted him and drew his disruptor. The boy stood defiantly and refused to put the weapon down. There was a flash and Emilio was gone--grenade and all.
Lucky boy, thought Teresa. She turned back to see a Klingon step out of the shadows and come towards her. Reaching somewhere inside her soul, she found just enough courage not to faint.
He stopped and looked her up and down, as she stood before him, her weapon belt empty. "I don't understand it," he rumbled. "How could someone as little and weak as you have killed Kh'myr warriors?"
He reached out and took her arm, not roughly, but with a power that she knew would turn vicious if she resisted. She did not resist. He turned and barked something to the other Klingons. They prodded their prisoners to their feet and locked their hands, one over the shoulder and one behind the back, in force rings.
The leader spoke in English again. "Come quietly, and my lord Korak will decide your fate. Try to resist, and I will see that you beg for death long before it ever comes."
To Teresa, he said more quietly, "You are my prize. With your capture, I have won a place by my lord's side. I promise you, your death will be quick, and L'yan will not touch you. Come."
My son, thought Teresa. I'll never get to know him. And then, At least there's finally going to be an end to the pain.
She allowed the Klingon leader to pull her to her fate.
Vilas felt as though he had exhausted a lifetime supply of sweat, and still more poured out of him as he inched his way into the heart of the Klingon barracks. It was dark. He had waited until he could barely see the outline of his hand in front of his face before he had moved from his hiding place, and his trip over the last hundred yards, from the parade ground into the audience hall had taken several hours.
His eyes were by now accustomed to the almost total dark, and he could make out the shapes of the sleeping Klingons as he searched for the right place to detonate his grenades. He was not a demolitions expert, but he knew he must be near a key support in the building or the blast would only cause minor damage. He wanted the entire structure to collapse.
He had reached a pillar close to the center of the building. From it, the ceiling rose to a high arch supported by flying buttresses. This was the place.
Vilas slapped one grenade to the pillar itself, and placed one other at the highest joint towards the ceiling he could reach. Just as he was turning to seek out a resting place for other grenades, his luck ran out and he tripped over several pieces of armor that had been stacked by the pillar.
The noise could not have been very loud, but to Vilas, it was deafening. At once, he could sense a complete metamorphosis in the atmosphere. No one had moved that he heard, but he knew that every Klingon in the building was awake, and watching him.
He crouched by the pillar waiting for a light, a voice bellowing accusations, anything. Time slowed to a snail's pace, and suddenly, he knew he must detonate the bombs now, or they would kill him before he knew they were there.
Breathing a prayer and a blessing to those he left behind, the last thing that Jorge Vilas, of the Serenidad Palace guard, saw was a blinding flash of light outlining the bulky figures of a circle of Klingon warriors in front of him.
McCoy was beside himself. There had been no word of Teresa, no word about the Enterprise, no word about anything. He was about to go crazy with boredom. True to their word, the Klingons had not harmed, or even threatened him once they had returned him to his "quarters." They had even allowed him to treat the terrified wet nurse for Teresa's baby, and had given him free rein of the upper floor where his room was.
But it was little comfort. He could not turn his mind from Teresa. How could she be so brave? To run, to leave her child, whom she had sworn to protect? But perhaps she was protecting him by leaving, McCoy argued with himself. After all, if she had been there, he wouldn't have a mother now. At least there's still a chance.
He was in the baby's room, sitting with Baca while she nursed the two boys. Even though the young Prince-to-be was an infant and still appeared to be completely Human, poor Juanita Baca cringed with terror every time L'yan thrust the baby at her.
McCoy could not decide if it were fear of the baby who was actually touching her flesh, or fear of L'yan who never left the woman alone while she nursed him. McCoy admitted that L'yan was enough to scare even the bravest, and the new wet nurse was shaky at best.
Even now, as the baby sucked, the imperious Klingon woman strode up and down the length of the room, snarling, "Korak has another thing coming to him if he thinks I'll be content to watch you from now on, bitch!"
Baca cringed back even farther in her seat.
"I'll see to the safety of this brat, oh, yes, and when I catch that little slit, I'll butcher it in front of her before I slice her into cold cuts!"
McCoy thought better of reminding L'yan that Korak had announced plans to use the existence of the baby to further cement Klingon claims to Serenidad. He was positive that was not what she wanted to hear. L'yan whirled to face him suddenly, as if she had read his thoughts. It took all his self-control for him not to cringe in his seat.
"Nada, I hold you responsible. You will watch this one while I go and seek out my lord. I cannot bear this any longer. He must let me go and search for that cursed, puling Princess. I warn you, if harm comes to the brat from her or any other, I'll slit your throat and drink your blood myself."
Once L'yan strode from the room, McCoy and the wet nurse breathed easier. He walked over to her and checked the infant. "I think he's had enough for now, Juanita. Go ahead and feed your own baby now. He needs you, too."
Baca's eyes glimmered with tears. "Graçias, graçias, doctor. This one wants to take all my milk so there is nothing left for Paco. Now, at least he can get his fair share."
As Baca held and cuddled her own son, the tension in the room lessened considerably. McCoy wandered over to a chair by the window. Trying to keep his mind off Teresa, he tried to imagine the scene now taking place between L'yan and Korak. He didn't know which one to feel sorrier for.
Korak belched. One thing he could say for this planet of sheep, they knew how to cook. No self-respecting Kh'myr would admit to the vice of gluttony, but even the most battle-toughened warrior enjoyed a fresh meal now and then. Now, if he could only get the ingredients for ghrItlha,(49) and a cook who could read Klingonese.
The commander raised from his lazy lounging position in the comfortable fireside chair when L'yan stalked in. Her expression was one that Korak had come to know well in the heat of battle, but so far he had never seen her use it on him. He thought he knew why she wore it.
"Korak, we must talk."
"What happened to 'my lord'?"
"A title of respect is due only to those who treat me with respect."
Korak felt his temper gauge creeping toward 'critical.' It had never happened with L'yan before, and he was unsure how to proceed. "And how have I not?"
L'yan's laugh was ugly. "I am the best fighter you have. I have proven my skill and my value to you as your second in command over and over again. Yet, when the most important prisoner we have on the planet escapes, you will not let me search for her. Instead, you set me to watch a worm of a woman feed a bastard child. This is respect?"
"L'yan, the Princess is as dead. I know you have sworn personal revenge on her, but actually she is of no true importance. The child is. Remember--of Klingon blood is he. And a male-child. Serenidad will be his cradle, and finally, we Kh'myr will have a home that can support us. Then we can become the power we were meant to be. Can you not turn your vision to that day?"
L'yan stared into the fire. She felt as if it burned in her belly. "Not while she lives," she grated.
Korak shook his head. He had never seen her so obsessed, and it saddened him. It made her weak, and that made her a liability. He went to stand by her. In a rare gesture, he slid his arm about her waist and pulled her to him. "Put aside this jealousy, L'yan. It does not become a Kh'myr or a Kh'lai assassin. It must stop."
L'yan did not move, but Korak felt her tremble, and he knew how much it took for her not to rage and scream. He knew it was not easy for her, even though he did not truly understand her hatred. Being Kh'myr was a heavy burden at times, when the urges ruled and the only thing that eased was death and burning, but it was the only burden he knew, and L'yan would learn to bear it, too, if she was to remain in the battle forces. It was that simple.
L'yan was just beginning to relax and to lean slightly against him when the clatter of heavy-booted feet pulled them both from the fire.
Mord ran into the room and nearly collided with them.
Korak was angered. "Where have you been? You were reported absent hours ago. Be thankful, Mord, that you have proved your value to me, or you would have been dead even before you reached this room!"
Mord flung himself at Korak's feet. "I abase myself, joHwI'. There was no time to tell you. The prisoner revealed all this morning and victory is ours. Even now the Princess and her would-be forces are in the courtyard, awaiting their fate at your hands."
Before Korak had the opportunity to register surprise or approval, L'yan had leaped in front of him and had lifted Mord up by the throat. Her knife flashed up from her thigh in a deadly arc, but before it reached its target, the room rocked in a resounding explosion. All the Klingons in the room were flung to the floor, and furniture broke and splintered in the upheaval.
Korak recovered first and struggled to a window. He was not injured, but the floor refused to steady itself under his feet. Finally, he was able to make out a large cloud of ash and flame across the review grounds. He let out an explosive curse. "It's the barracks! How many were there?"
Mord struggled to his knees. "At this time, my lord, more than half."
The sound that came from Korak's mouth was one no Human would have recognized. But they wouldn't have stayed around long enough to find out what it meant.
"Quickly! Gather the prisoners, and take them to the parade grounds. L'yan, with me; Mord, find a communications officer and override all broadcasts--we'll execute the bitch and her followers in front of the entire planet and the Federation. Then we'll bring out the baby and claim the planet for its new Prince. Move!!"
Nursing duty is tiresome, especially when you aren't the one doing the nursing, thought McCoy. He wanted to move, to get out, to be free, and the close quarters of the nursery were stifling him. He checked on the infants once again. They were both asleep, and Juanita Baca was nodding off beside her son's crib.
He shook her shoulder. "Juanita, I'm going to have a look up the corridor." He glanced at the young Prince's bassinet. "I can trust you, can't I?"
"I am not a monster, Doctor. I don't like that baby--he horrifies me. But he is a baby. He has drunk my milk and lain in my arms. If harm comes to him, it will not be from me."
McCoy nodded. He knew he couldn't ask for more. He'd just have to take the chance that no one would come up here for a while. "I won't be long. I just want to snoop around as much as I can." He closed the door softly after him.
The Klingons had given him free run of this floor of the Palace, which was large, but they kept every stairway and exit guarded at all times. Tonight was no exception. The guards made no threats, just moved their hands a bit closer to their weapons to show him that they knew their orders. McCoy knew better than to approach within speaking distance. Most of them probably didn't speak English, anyway.
After checking the entrances, McCoy decided to stroll down a corridor he had overlooked before. He walked slowly, peeking into rooms, opening doors, anything to keep his mind occupied.
One room in particular drew him. He opened the door wider and saw a large, gilt bed, canopied in heavy, cream-colored silk. The carpet was the shade of fine champagne, and when he stepped on it, he thought it would go up past his ankles. The furniture was real wood and solid, shining in the low light with a fine glow of its own. As McCoy walked farther into the room, still drawn by an unknown force, a desire to see more of the place, he noticed several pieces of clothing lying about.
He bent down and scooped one up. A night gown. It was almost transparent, and weighed nothing in his hands. Without conscious volition, McCoy brought the garment to his face and breathed in its scent.
He was suddenly overwhelmed with her presence. He knew this was her room; it suited her. It had as many contradictions as she did. The sensuous bed combined with the heavy, practical furniture. The gossamer gown and the well-scuffed riding boots in the corner. He wanted to get in the bed and cover himself with the same sheets that she had slept on, anything to be closer to her.
He remembered her as he had last seen her, drifting off after she had given birth. Where was she now, his heart cried out. I can't even get out and look for her. He threw the gown down in frustration and stalked over to the door. Before he had a chance to wrench it open, he heard a soft noise from the other side of the door.
Crouching, looking for anything he could use as a weapon, he moved carefully to its source. He spied a riding crop in the corner with the boots and grabbed it as he heard the noise again, a little louder. He crept toward the door on the other side of the room, thankful for the carpet that muffled his steps. The sound grew louder, becoming a moan. McCoy didn't think he would need the crop, but he kept it anyway.
Finally, he was at the door. He pushed it open and stepped into a well-designed bathroom. He paused only long enough to ascertain that there was no one in it, and moved to the connecting door.
This must be the suite that Teresa and Carlos had shared once they had given up sleeping together. Carlos! McCoy had not seen him since he had been brought here from the dungeons, and he had not heard that the Klingons had tortured him, but if that was him on the other side of the door, then he was a man in great pain.
McCoy was a doctor, so he had to help. Slowly, so as not to alarm whoever was on the other side, McCoy opened the door.
The room was a wreck. The furniture was similar, and the same lush carpet covered the floor, but there the similarity ended. Where Teresa's room looked as though she had just stepped out after hurriedly changing clothes, this one looked as though its occupant had not left it for weeks.
Dirty clothes and towels were everywhere. Toilet articles and broken glass lay on the rug, and there were great stains of the walls where bottles had been hurled. The place stank of men's cologne, sweat and fear.
McCoy took another step.
Carlos was on the bed. McCoy recognized him, but he was nothing like the young man he had once known. This man was haggard, almost starved. He worn a once-fitting pair of pants that now hung on his bony frame. His beard straggled all over his face, and his eyes--McCoy could not meet his eyes. He had seen animals in torment, unable to voice their pain, and their expression could never come close to the agony in Carlos' face.
McCoy became the doctor once more and rushed to the bedside.
Carlos squinted up at him. "Who...?"
"Hush, now. Hush. It's me, Carlos, Doctor McCoy. I'm here to help you. Just lie still."
"Yes. Help." Carlos' body relaxed briefly for a moment, then convulsed upward to a sitting position. "Help!?" he almost shrieked. "I know just how'll you'll help. You'll help her into his bed again. I know it. And then--then they'll come and--and--ohhh, my head!" He sank back.
McCoy had no idea what Carlos was talking about, but he knew he had to get Carlos to calm down. Fumbling in what was left of his kit (they had taken his kit, determined what was in it, and let him keep some harmless items--diagnostic tools and some mild tranquilizers that wouldn't affect them), he made a quick and dirty diagnosis.
Malnutrition, obviously, a few leftovers from earlier torture, and...some odd brain wave patterns.The equipment wasn't sophisticated enough to even tell him to what extent, but at least he had a clue.
Damn! The mind-sifter! He knew it in his gut. They had twisted Carlos' mind and turned him into this helpless thing. Never mind what story they told him, it was enough to wreck whatever effectiveness he might have had as a planetary leader and turn him into an easily controlled puppet.
McCoy made a decision. Shooting the last of his sedatives into Carlos' arm, he pulled the young man into a sitting position and propped him against the headboard. "Now listen to me, Carlos, and listen good. Teresa's not been in anybody's bed, and you'd better believe it. She's had her baby, and he's safe and well. She got away, God knows how, but she did, and the Klingons are going crazy trying to find her. So you better get up off your butt and pull yourself back together!"
Carlos made an effort to focus. "Head--feels better. Thanks. Just--so worried 'bout her. I love her, but they make me want to hate her. I try to fight, but..." His face twisted in pain again, but it was not so intense.
"Well, try harder, damn it! I know they've messed with your brain, but remember, it's your head, and you can fight back if you want to hard enough. They're not around now to stop you; I'll help you if I can, okay?"
Carlos saved his strength and merely nodded.
McCoy patted his shoulder. "Just listen. We need to get to Korak. Do you think you could get in there and just listen to find out what their plans are?"
Carlos nodded again. "They--tolerate me. Kind of like a stupid pet. They wouldn't think anything if I just wandered in and out."
"Good, now here's what we do..."
McCoy opened his mouth to tell Carlos of the plan he had in mind when the world fell in on him. He heard a roar and felt pressure on his back, and then he only knew darkness.
McCoy came to with something heavy lying across his back. He didn't know if he'd been out for hours or minutes, but he knew he had to get up and find out what was going on. He felt a movement underneath him.
"Carlos?" His voice as a whisper. "Carlos," he called again. "Are you all right?"
There was a muffled sound that he took for an affirmative, and he struggled to find out what was on top of him. Twisting, he saw that the canopy had collapsed on the two of them. He managed to turn on to his back and using his legs, push the heavy beam off the floor. He sat up and checked himself. No broken bones, thank goodness, but there was a loud ringing in his ears. An explosion? He went to the window and looked out.
Half the Palace was in flames, it seemed. He tried to orient himself as to where he was in relation to the fire and decided it was the audience hall wing that had been hit. Hell, that's where the off-duty Klingons bunked. At this hour, there must've been hundreds of them.
He whirled back to Mendoza. "Carlos, come on! We've got to get down there. This could be our chance." He pulled the man to his feet.
Carlos shook his head. "Guards at the stairs. Won't let..."
"Never mind the guards; I'll handle them. Come on!!" He practically dragged Carlos out of the room after him. Once in the corridor, McCoy remembered the babies. They had to be protected. He led Carlos to a chair and sat him down. "Don't move!" He ran to the nursery and burst in.
Baca was in the corner with both babies against her. She opened her mouth to scream, but when she saw him, she let out her breath. "Oh, Doctor, what is it? Have they come to get us?"
"I don't know, Juanita, but we can't take chances with you or the babies. Here, there's a storage closet that's big enough for you to lie down in. Help me put the mattress and some pillows in it. Then I'll block the door with this trunk. I doubt if any Klingon is going to come up here to check up on you anytime soon, but there may be another explosion. I think the door and thick walls will protect you."
In no time, he had the woman safely tucked into her hiding place. He gave her a quick hug and kissed both boys, and hurried back to Carlos.
Mendoza was still in the chair, looking dazed. McCoy hoped he wouldn't have to carry him down the stairs, but he might make a good excuse to get past the guard. It didn't matter. The guard was no problem as he wasn't there. The explosion must have drawn them all from their posts to the more immediate emergency.
That problem out of the way, McCoy paused to regroup. "Carlos, I think there's been an explosion at the great hall. That's where most of the soldiers bunked. If they've had a lot of men killed, where would Korak gather the rest of them? Think, man!"
Carlos gave the impression of a man trying to draw breath after several minutes under water. "Arena--parade grounds. Amphitheater. Where they hold executions. Could get them all together then. Ahhhh!" The last sound was a soft moan and Carlos' hands went to his temples, rubbing, rubbing.
They must have been unconscious for longer than he had thought, McCoy decided; the sedative was wearing off. He had to hurry. "The parade grounds it is, then, come on!"
The prisoners were gathered in the arena. Unconsciously, they had grouped around Teresa, as if trying to protect their Princess by presence alone.
Korak stood with Mord and L'yan, looking the group up and down. "A poor bunch to try and fight us," Korak snorted. "Mord, I approve of your action. Poor as they are, they might have incited others to their example. And you found the Princess." He glanced at the group again. "Where is she, by the way?"
One of the guards shouldered his way through the small group and dragged Teresa out to the front.
Korak walked slowly around her. "Well, well. It seems that child-bearing has agreed with you. You are not so skinny as you once were." He reached out and turned her face up to his. "I do not usually find Human females remotely attractive, but in your case, I could be persuaded. Would you like to carry another child for the Empire? If it were a male, I might even let it live."
Teresa tried to stare him down, but physiological reaction took over. She jerked her head from his grip and vomited at Korak's feet.
He slapped her into the dust. "Be thankful none of your foulness soiled my boots, or you would have licked it off. Szarin, are the cameras ready? And the deep space broadcasters? I would hate for the Enterprise and the Federation to miss this exhibition!"
"The technicians signal readiness, my lord," bu' Szarin called out.
Korak took his place in front of the main camera. "Citizens of the Klingon state of Serenidad, attention. This night, there has been an attempt on our headquarters. The effort has failed, and we have captured the would-be perpetrators, among whom is your so-called Princess Teresa. It seems that she thinks she is an example to her former subjects. Let me show you, those who would follow her, just what kind of example we will make of her."
Korak turned, and with the camera following, went to stand before Mord. "K'myrth Mord, as an ambitious officer who seeks the glory of his Empire above all, I reward you with the life of this female who thinks she is fit to rule."
"No! My lord, you cannot! I will not be cheated, even by you!" L'yan leaped out into the space between Teresa and the two Klingon leaders. "I should have known better than to trust you. You are a male and you can never be loyal to an oath sworn to a 'mere' female. I should kill you both, but I will cheat you--I will kill her."
L'yan reached for her disruptor before Korak or Mord had any chance to react. Just as she had it free of her holster, an unearthly shriek caused all the heads, Klingon and Human alike, to turn.
Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, Crown Prince of Serenidad, was bowling the last remaining Kh'myr warriors between him and L'yan out of the way. As he reached his last foe, he shoved the Klingon in the chest, and grabbed the disruptor out of its sheath. He took up a fighting stance with the weapon aimed at L'yan's head.
"No, you won't, you bitch! Never! I hate you! You thought you could twist me, use me to kill my own people, or let me sit by while you did. No, you were wrong! I will not let you kill her, I will not, I WILL NOT!!"
Carlos' head whipped from side to side as though it wanted to come off, but his aim never wavered. Squeezing the trigger, he let loose a stream of disruptor energy that took L'yan straight in the middle.
As L'yan watched, her own body disintegrated in front of her. Another blast, and what had been the fiercest Kh'lai assassin of the Klingon Empire was only the memory of a scream.
"No!" This time the cry came from Korak. He launched himself at Carlos in a flying tackle, taking him off guard.
They landed in a heap, and Carlos' disruptor went flying. Before he could even look after it, Korak was up, with his knee planted firmly in Carlos' chest. "So, Human, you think to fight as one of us? You think yourself an equal? Think again."
Korak leaned down until his face was only centimeters from Carlos'. "Human men are soft and weak--weaker than our own women. When you shot L'yan, you took more than an officer. Would you like to take her place?" Korak moved even closer.
Carlos' eyes were rolled back into his head with pain and fear.
Korak raised up suddenly. "Phah! You make me sick!" He swooped down and bit Carlos hard on the face. Blood spurted, and his scream rent the air. "Yes, weakling, scream now. It's the last chance you'll get."
Raising himself off Carlos, Korak pulled his disruptor and turned the power to full. One charge was enough to render Carlos into his separate molecules, just as McCoy ran up in his wake.
"No! Oh, no! Korak, I tried to stop him..."
Korak whirled. "One more word, Nada, and your death is assured." He looked around to what was left of his men. "Fools!" he shrieked. "Must I tell you everything? Cut the cameras--we do not need to let the galaxy watch this pitiful fiasco. Guard the prisoners. Mord, come with me. I must call the ship."
They left the prisoners as they were, wondering what would happen next. Teresa stared at the ashes that had once been Carlos only for a moment, then closed her eyes. Carlitos!
Kirk had almost got used to the inaction and the boredom. He sat slumped in the command chair, anticipating another shift of ennui. Even as he allowed himself to relax, Spock's voice came from the science console. "Captain, there has been an explosion on the surface of Serenidad."
"Confirmed, Captain," added Uhura, her hand holding her earjack in place.
"Location?" Kirk was instantly alert; this could be a chance to finally do something.
"Indeterminate at this range, sir," responded Spock.
Uhura spoke up. "Transmissions are very garbled, sir; they're trying to get the news out before the Klingons start scrambling everything. It's the main hall, sir, where the off-duty warriors bunk."
Kirk banged his fist on the arm of the chair. "Good shot! At least somebody down there can think."
Uhura shook her head. "The Klingons are scrambling now, sir. The official version is that the attempt was futile--minor damage at worst. They say--" Uhura had to pause to gather her composure. "They say they've captured the so-called resistors and--the Princess is with them. It's coming on now, sir. Mainviewer."
Captain Kirk faced the large viewer with a sinking stomach. He'd had his fill of these Klingon exhibitions when they'd butchered Paul Westlake. It had been bad enough to watch that--a man from the 'fleet, but if he had to watch innocent people and, worst of all, Teresa, well...all Starfleet and Federation be damned; he just wouldn't sit by and watch.
Korak came into focus. Even at this distance, the Klingon commander made a forceful presence. He listened to Korak's bluster and made a supreme effort to keep his temper. It didn't work.
Just as he turned to Uhura to order Red Alert, she pointed to the screen. "Look!"
The sound went out as the formidable Klingon woman that Kirk had seen during Westlake's execution jumped out into the arena. Even though he couldn't hear the words, Kirk knew that she was furious about something. She pointed at Korak and another male officer and back to Teresa. Then she reached for her disruptor.
Kirk was on his feet, straining towards the screen in a futile effort to do something, anything to stop what he knew was going to happen. His eyes were drawn away from the conflict by a commotion in the Klingon ranks. Something, some force was shoving them aside like toy soldiers. A young man came into view.
Kirk thought he looked familiar, but it was Uhura who called his name first. "It's Carlos! How did he get there?"
Before Kirk could even speculate, the young man had grabbed a disruptor and blown the Klingon woman to bits. At once, Korak was on him.
In another minute, Carlos, too, was gone.
The screen went blank.
The bridge complement sat for several seconds, stunned by what they had just seen. Spock was the first to speak. "Shall we alert the Federation Council, sir?"
Kirk shook his head, coming to a decision. "Hell, by the time they get the message, there won't be anyone left on the planet to care about whatever decision they make. Uhura, sound Red Alert. Chekov, energize all weapons and set deflectors on full."
"Sir, surface transmission--tight beam to the Targa."
The Klingon ship turned and headed for Serenidad. "They're calling for reinforcements. Sulu, take us in--attack course, full speed. Chekov, target that ship. No prisoners."
As they bent to their tasks, Chekov couldn't help hoping that he would not have another ship blown out from under him like the Lexington had been. This is the last, the very last time I ever do a favor for anyone, he thought. Then reflexes took over, and he had no time for thought.
The Targa hung in space before them, growing by the second, as was Serenidad.
"What's their status, Spock?"
"Shields are up, sir. Weapons fully charged. They are preparing for battle as well. With shields up, they cannot cloak if we engage them now."
"Then let's engage them. Mister Chekov, full photon torpedoes to their engine section. Fire!"
"Aye, Kyptin. Firing," reported Chekov, and then, "A hit, sir! Dead on!"
As they watched, the Targa's engines took on a strange shimmer, the ship swinging about. Then a ball of energy flew from each unit towards the Enterprise. "They're returning fire, captain," reported Spock. "Disruptor impact in three seconds."
"Fire second salvo. Shields at max. Evasive maneuvers."
It seemed as if everything happened at once. The ship shuddered violently as the shields absorbed most of the damaging energy, and the screen dimmed as Targa erupted in a silent, glaring explosion.
"We did it," breathed Kirk quietly. "I can hardly believe it. Uhura, alert Challenger that we are moving in on the planet to claim it for the Federation. Chekov, lower shields to conserve power. Spock, damage report?"
"Moderate damage to forward and port shields. If we encounter no further resistance, we should be able to repair them in twelve hours, standard. Phaser power is down one-sixth, photon torpedoes on stand-by."
"Excellent, Spock. If the explosion on the surface was as successful as I think it was, we should have no trouble subduing..."
Kirk turned from Spock to face the screen again. And stared into the reincarnation of the Targa."What the--"
"They must have had a ship cloaked and waiting, sir," deduced Sulu.
"Damn! I should have known. Shields up. Uhura, tell Garrovick--"
It was the last thing Kirk could remember for a long time.
The bridge was bathed in brilliant light, and all sound seemed miles away. Kirk never lost consciousness, or at least he thought he didn't, but his body refused to answer his mind's shouted commands.
At last he managed to drag his head up and take in his surroundings. Spock lay over the bridge railing, an expanding green stain forming under him. Uhura had collapsed across her board as though hugging it; the others were out of sight. As for himself, he was pinned in the chair under what seemed like tones of debris. Looking up he could see into the guts of the bulkhead as sparks sizzled and popped. A direct hit on the bridge...
He managed to move one finger to the command console. "Scotty? Scotty?!"
There was an interminable pause.
"What's the word?"
"I--can gi' ye one shot--heavy stun a' most. 'Twill do nothin' to the beastie out there."
Kirk's mind raced. Maybe he could buy some time for Garrovick. "Give me that stun, Mister. But aim it at the planet, specifically the Palace and surrounding city."
"Aye, sir. 'Tis best t' go down fightin'."
Kirk thumbed the button off. He could feel nothing from his chest down, not even pressure. He knew he didn't have long, even if the other Klingon ship ceased their attack. The viewscreen was out; its elaborate components were still smoldering. And when the ship vibrated as Scott sent the last stun shot on its way, the Enterprise's captain was, at last, unaware of anything.
Captain David Garrovick of the U.S.S. Challenger played the waiting game well, but this one was beginning to tell on him. Why, he wondered, had the Federation sent him here to back up the Enterprise when neither of them was going to be allowed to do anything? He had not witnessed any of the incidents that the crew of the Enterprise had, but his anxiety regarding the Klingon vessel hovering near his ship was no less. He simply didn't trust them.
Garrovick turned to his exec. "What's going on down there, Michaels?"
"Unchanged, sir. There's the standard propaganda broadcasting. I've been scanning for weaker signals that might mean some kind of resistance building, but so far, nothing. I imagine there hasn't been enough time for that kind of movement to gain momentum," she conjectured.
"I see. What about..."
The captain's next question was interrupted by Michaels' coming to attention. The first officer moved over to the communications console and began adjusting dials. After a murmured conversation with Lieutenant Hammond, the communications officer, she turned back to Garrovick. "There's been an explosion, sir. We're a bit too distant for a good visual pick-up, but the reports are the palace itself has been hit. Apparently they've caught the ones responsible and are going to execute them." She listened to her earpiece again, and her face grew even more serious. "Sir, they have the Princess."
"Oh, shit. Now Kirk will really blow his top," said Garrovick. "Alert all hands. Be ready to move on my order."
The air on the bridge seemed to ionize, there was so much energy pouring from the crew. Garrovick sat motionless, staring at the screen where the Enterprise sat, opposing the Klingon ship, but his mind never stopped weighing options and alternatives. He had to make the right choices based on Kirk's actions. He hoped Jim would show some sense, but he knew the captain, and had a strong feeling that they would see heavy action soon.
"Sir!" It was Helmsman Stanhope. "Targa moving towards Serenidad. Enterprise on pursuit course," she reported.
"Ahead Sub-light Factor One, Mister. Let's see what's happening, first."
The bridge crew of the Challenger watched the brief exchange between the Enterprise and the Targa. A shout went up when Targa exploded. They watched as the Enterprise assumed orbit above Serenidad.
"Sir," reported the communications officer, "message from Captain Kirk. He requests that you accompany him--" The message broke off as they watched the Zoden materialize out of nothingness, weapons bays glowing in readiness.
Garrovick made his decision without thinking. "Red Alert, Red Alert. Ahead full sub-light speed, arm photon torpedoes, phasers on full power."
The whooping siren only served to increase the adrenalin flow around the bridge. This was a well-trained crew, and they were ready for a fight.
The Challenger swooped in behind Zoden trapping it between the two Federation ships. There was no indication that the Klingons knew, or even cared, about their existence; they were too intent on destroying the Enterprise.
Garrovick watched as a disruptor bolt tore through the top section of the main primary hull. They had known to go for the brains first. Damn! he thought. "Fire torpedoes one and two! Phasers maximum to engine section. Don't hold back!" There was that critical few seconds after firing when the power had to come up again. Garrovick hoped to catch the Zoden in its weaker phase.
It worked. Blue-white shimmers exploded out of the nacelles and from the bridge area of the Klingon craft. Captain Garrovick thought he had never seen anything so lovely. The explosions continued until there were only large chunks of the ship left hanging in space. It would be useless to hunt for survivors. His duty lay with the badly wounded Enterprise. "Contact Kirk."
"Trying, sir. I can't raise them."
Michaels' head popped up again. "Sir, I read one last discharge from the Enterprise. A heavy stun shot directed at--the planet's surface."
"At least we know someone over there's still alive, then. Michaels, get a medical team over there at once. An emergency repair team, too." He punched the console on the center seat. "Conroy, this is the captain. Get me a force of your best security guards, well-armed and ready. We've got some mopping up to do. Head for transporter room seven, on the double."
The prospect of finally seeing some action put all thoughts of danger out of Garrovick's mind. He couldn't wait to get down there.
"Mopping up" was an apt phrase.
Once Garrovick and his crew of nearly one hundred security people materialized, they realized their work was cut out for them. The entire city was unconscious, people having fallen wherever they were when the stun hit.
Garrovick assigned the largest contingent to searching through the Palace and the ruins of the great hall for stray Klingons. He decided not to search the city. If one or two strays had escaped, with both ships gone and all the subspace communications equipment here in the Palace, what harm could they do in the long run?
It was heavy work, but the men finally had all the Klingons from in and around the Palace rounded up on the parade grounds. "I think this is the last one, sir," grunted one young officer, as he and two others tossed a limp form into a row. "I never knew these bastards were so heavy!"
"Make sure you strip and search them, Mister. I don't want them left with anything that even remotely resembles a weapon. I'd like it if we had time to pull their teeth and cut their fingernails!"
Garrovick had been talking to his chief engineer during the round-up, and now had a portable force-field generator beside him. At a nod from the head of the search, he flipped the switch and a slight blue shimmer surrounded the two hundred-fifty Klingons who were just beginning to regain consciousness.
Not taking any chances, Garrovick had his men draw their phasers and hold them at the ready. The captain of the Challenger had not had enough experience with Klingons to be able to tell them apart easily. But when one stood up and came towards him, he knew instinctively that this was their commander.
Oddly enough, without the bulky armor, the Klingon was even more massive. As he walked, his muscles bunched and rippled the way other men's did under extreme exertion. The knotted head and flowing hair only served to make an even more intimidating figure.
Garrovick knew the force field would stop him if he tried anything, but he still had a strong urge to take about three steps back. He fought it down. How would it look to show fear before captives? Especially when the captives were Kh'myr?
The Klingon stopped when he was within inches of the barrier. "You are the commander?"
"Captain Garrovick of the U.S.S. Challenger."
"Commander Korak of Targa. My ship?"
"Destroyed by the Enterprise. The Zoden crippled the Enterprise before we arrived. Zoden was destroyed as well."
There was a long pause, and Garrovick thought the Klingon would go and be with the rest of his men, who had come to and were kneeling in the dirt, watching them intently. Finally, Korak spoke again. "Gar'ik?"
"My men have never been conquered before. It is not an easy fate."
"I'm sure it's not." Garrovick was really at a loss; he had no good idea of what exactly would happen to these captives, and was not inclined to offer encouragement to sworn enemies.
Korak seemed to be thinking, weighing alternatives. Finally, he straightened. "I do not beg," he said without preamble, "but the honor of those I lead overshadows mine. If you must have a prisoner, have me. Kill the others. Say in your report they died in battle, in glory. Then I will go where you will."
Garrovick was stunned. He had not known that Klingons would have such high ethics when it came to a way of death. "I'm sorry, Korak, but I have orders."
"Orders," Korak repeated. "Well, I know orders. I have abased myself enough. No more." He turned his back on the guarding hemisphere of phasers, faced his men, raising his arms as though in benediction. At once, the Klingons formed ranks and dropped to their knees.
A murmur went through the Challenger's security force.
"I had no idea the Klingons prayed," one whisper reached Garrovick.
As they watched, a high keening sound lifted up from the captives. Low at first, it rose to a hair-raising crescendo that had the Starfleet members aching to cover their ears. Garrovick took a half-step forward as if to try and stop it, and realized the futility of the gesture.
As abruptly as it had started, the howling stopped. At a growled command from Korak, every other rank turned and faced the one behind it. Another command and the faced-off Klingons grasped their comrades around the throat.
One last command. "HoHchuqneS."(50)
As the shocked troops looked on, the captive Klingons proceeded to strangle the life out of each other. One by one, a rank dropped dead to the ground, only to turn and be dispatched with efficiency by the rank behind it.
It was over before Garrovick could hardly realize it was actually happening, and only Korak and one other Klingon were left standing. He knelt at Korak's feet. Korak spoke several harsh sounding words over his head and choked him, too.
With a gentleness that was hideously out of place, Korak laid the body on the ground and approached the barrier again. "So. It seems I had my orders, too. I allowed my men to be caught, now I have given them the chance to have honorable deaths at the hands of their own kin. I am now your captive."
Closing his eyes, as though he could not bear to see himself do such a thing, Korak knelt and bowed his head to Garrovick.
Garrovick was stunned. It was one thing to fight the Kh'myr in the heat of battle, quite another to see a race so proud that they would willingly kill themselves before becoming captives. He felt a grudging respect grow for the Klingon commander.
Something he had read once came to his mind. He turned to the tech who was handling the generator. "Turn it off, Mister. We have his word."
The youngster blanched. "But, sir--"
"That's an order, Ensign!"
"Yes, sir!" The blue glow increased faintly then died all together.
Korak knelt alone, surrounded by the bodies of his men.
Garrovick walked over to one of the piles of weapons and drew out a battle dagger. He had never seen one this close; it was as long as his forearm and heavy enough to drag his wrist when he tried to lift it. Never taking his eyes off Korak's face, he went back and stood in front of him. He held out the dagger, handle first. "I give you an honorable death." It was the only thing he could think of to say.
Korak stood and took the dagger, hefting it in his hand. Like a snake striking, the hand snicked out, and a thin line of blood grew and spread under Garrovick's left eye. Every man moved a step forward, phasers ready. Garrovick held up his hand. "You are a man, Gar'ik. That is my mark. Now all who see you will know you fought Kh'myr--and lived."
Stepping back, Korak raised the dagger, and without hesitation, buried it in his chest. He was dead before he hit the ground.
Garrovick shook himself to regain composure. One of the medics ran up with a cloth and began mopping blood. Taking it out of the man's hand, Garrovick waved him away. "Well, I hope the Federation will be pleased not having to spend tax money on prisoners. Let's see if we can help these citizens. Have you found Doctor McCoy yet? I know Captain Kirk was worried sick about him."
"Here, sir!" A security ensign stood over several people who were struggling to fight off the stun effects. McCoy, Teresa and some of her former Palace guards fought to sit up.
Garrovick had seen pictures, but this woman didn't look much like them. "Your Highness? Is it you? Are you all right?"
"Hell--no. Not all right. But God damn, if it ain't good to--see the cavalry come over the hill!" That was McCoy, for sure.
Teresa was throwing off the helpful hands that tried to keep her still. "Baby, my baby, where is he...oh, Doctor..." She fell back, unable to get up.
Garrovick took charge. "Doctor, do you know where the baby is?" McCoy nodded, and the captain of the Challenger turned to a medtech. "Collier, take the doctor wherever he tells you. Get the child. Let me know, and we'll beam up to the ship. The rest of you, spread out, make a house to house and see that these people are informed of what's happened. We'll make a general announcement over the news stations in six hours. Move it!"
The Starfleet forces moved out, leaving only a heap of Klingon bodies and material for years of bad dreams.
McCoy watched the Princess sleep. He had not left her side in the Challenger's sickbay since they had brought her aboard, two days ago. She had regained consciousness in the arena just long enough for him to tell her she was safe, then her body had taken over, forcing her to rest.
He checked the vitals on the screen above Teresa's head for the thousandth time. Someone had given her post-partum treatment, that was sure. Her hormones were balancing nicely, and she was well on her way to recovering her strength. Rather, her physical strength. How her mental or emotional state would be was something that only time would tell.
Teresa's head turned slightly and her eyes fluttered open. He didn't know if she saw him, but she looked around the clean, well-lit sickbay. Finally, her eyes rested on his face. "I--I never thought I'd see you again." One tear rolled out of her eye towards the pillow.
McCoy reached and brushed it off lightly. "Well, here I am. Here we both are. You made it again, Teresa. You're going to be fine."
She closed her eyes as if the news were too much for her to take in. Then she struggled to sit up. "My baby, where--"
McCoy gently eased her back to the bed. "He's fine, too. In the next room, waiting for mama to see him when she's ready. Honestly, Teresa, I've never seen a child with such an appetite. We've got the food processors on double-time making formula!"
Teresa smiled through her tears. "I wish he could stay a baby. Then no one would be able to hate him for what he is."
McCoy could think of nothing to say that would comfort her, so he took her hand instead; she squeezed back. "There's someone else here who wants to see you," he said by way of changing the subject. He motioned to the door and an elderly man entered quietly.
Teresa uttered a soft cry and held out her arms. "Tio Alfredo!"
Don Alfredo ran to embrace his niece.
"I didn't know you were still on the Enterprise, Uncle."
"Yes, I was on my way back from the conference to help you with your duties when we got news of the Klingon invasion. Captain Kirk forced me to stay aboard, where I would be safe. I was furious with him at the time, but now I can say I am truly grateful."
"Where is the captain? I must thank him. Once again, he has saved my life."
McCoy's face grew grim. "We're not on the Enterprise now, Teresa. This is the Challenger, a different Federation starship. Jim had strict orders not to interfere in any way with what was going on planetside, but when the Klingons made that last broadcast, he couldn't take it any more. He attacked the ship the Klingons had left patrolling the perimeter of the system, and was coming in to help us, but those bastards had kept another battleship cloaked. She shot the hell out of the Enterprise."
"The captain's not..." Teresa bit off the question.
"No, he's not dead, and I think he'll pull through fine in the long run, but it was touch and go for a while. A whole panel from the bridge ceiling fell on him. He lost a lot of blood, and there was some spinal damage. We got to him in time, but it'll be a while before he walks without aids. He's going to need weeks of therapy."
"Is he in here?" She looked around as much as her horizontal position would allow.
"We did the surgery here. But Sickbay on the Enterprise remained pretty much intact, so we've turned that whole level into a hospital for the wounded. The ship is pretty useless otherwise. The Challenger's going to have to tow it in."
"Then you're leaving soon?" Teresa's eyes filled again.
McCoy sighed. "We're waiting for orders. Captain Garrovick of the Challenger sent a complete report yesterday. They'll have to mull it over at Headquarters, but I expect an answer within the next forty-eight hours."
He looked at Teresa and Don Alfredo. "You'll want some time alone. I'll give you another fifteen minutes, sir, then I'll send a nurse. Teresa needs rest more than anything right now. You can talk again later."
Planting a soft kiss on the Princess' wrist, McCoy left to beam over to the Enterprise.
It was not a pleasant sight. Crewmembers lay everywhere. The most serious cases were on the diagnostic beds, or hooked up to scanning equipment, others lay on hastily erected cots, or on the floor. It looked like something out of the dark ages.
He made his way back to intensive care. Kirk, Spock and Chekov lay unmoving. Once Chekov regained consciousness, McCoy felt sure he could be moved to the main ward, but the other two would be in here until they were back on Earth. Spock had lost so much blood, and there was not enough T-negative for transfusions. They had made do with plasma, until he had gone into trance. Now M'Benga stood watch, should the Vulcan need him.
"Any change?" McCoy asked.
"Not enough to worry about. I'd say from the readings that he'll begin surfacing out of trance within three days. Everything else seems normal."
"What about after he wakes up?"
"He had severe lacerations of the kidneys, and his lungs had started to congest. That alone will take him some time to fix. And you know he'll refuse all medication."
"We'll see for how long," McCoy growled. He moved over to Kirk's bed. The captain of the Enterprise lay pale and still. A long scratch down his face that he had gotten in the skirmish stood out in relief against his white skin.
McCoy moved to the end of the bed and took one of Kirk's feet. He ran his fingernail down the middle of the sole and watched the reaction. Not good. Further surgery might yet be indicated, but that could wait until they were in a planetside facility.
Damn the Klingons, McCoy raged, and damn the Federation, too. If they hadn't tied Jim's hands, this whole thing need never have happened.
He sighed. He knew they'd all face the music once the orders came in. Right now, the only thing they could do was wait.
The waiting was over.
McCoy stood with Captain Garrovick outside the royal residence of the Palace. Teresa and Don Alfredo joined them for their goodbyes. It was time to go home. They would leave a world that was more cautious, if not disgusted, about its protectorate status with the Federation. There was even talk of granting full membership status to Serenidad, an unprecedented act for such a relatively new alliance, to appease the government of the planet. Starfleet had even sent the U.S.S. Hornet to the area to maintain vigil until further notice.
After the formalities had been exchanged, Teresa took McCoy's arm and drew him aside, leaving Garrovick to converse with her uncle about politics. They walked silently for a minute. Hundreds of things that McCoy wanted to say to her flashed through his mind, but he couldn't get any of them out before Teresa spoke.
"I'm having a monument built to honor Carlos."
"Do you think that's a good idea? He--"
"No one will ever know all the story. Not even me. They tortured him, and he became their tool. But in the end, when he knew I was in danger, somewhere he found the strength to fight them. If he hadn't given up his life in the arena, all of us would probably be dead. I'll never have his child. The least I can do is give him a monument."
McCoy could say nothing in the face of the truth. "Teresa, I--"
"Will you ever come and visit me?" Her voice sounded like a lost little girl's, and McCoy ached to hold her in his arms.
"Try and keep me away," was all he could get out.
"You and the captain, and Mister Spock, you all mean so much to me. You tried to help. Will you be in too much trouble?"
"Me and Spock, no. But Jim...well, I don't know what they'll do. I don't think they'll go for a court-martial, but they'll probably take him out of the line, and that might be worse."
"On my account," Teresa said softly.
"No, not on your account. What happened here could have happened on any planet that the Klingons set their sights on. I'd be surprised if it's not happening right now on some other planet. You can't blame yourself."
Teresa nodded. They walked a little further. He asked, "How's the baby?"
"He's fine," answered Teresa. "My newly appointed ministers are already after me to give him up. But who would I give him to, even if I could? Unless I sent him off-world. And I can't do that."
"It won't be easy."
"I'm used to difficulties by now."
Yes, thought McCoy, but can you live with them for the rest of your life? Parenthood is not a temporary condition. He said none of this aloud. Teresa would have to fight her own battles with her son from now on.
McCoy turned back and saw Garrovick beckon. "Your Highness, it's time to go."
She looked up at him, her eyes dry. "I know. I can't hold you any longer."
Gathering up his courage, McCoy took her hands. "Oh, no. You'll always hold me. I think you know that."
She smiled, some of the old mischief shining in her eyes. "I'm glad," she whispered. Moving closer to him, she went on tip-toe and kissed him softly, but firmly, on the lips.
McCoy felt time stop.
Finally, she broke out of the embrace. "Please come back whenever you can."
McCoy, too moved to speak, only nodded and headed for Garrovick. Never taking his eyes off Teresa, he watched her fade into the transporter effect. The gray walls of the Challenger solidified around him, and he brought himself back to the real world and his problems. With help, Jim would walk again, Spock would come out of his trance, and the others would recover as well. After all, the physical side of things was minor.
What would the Federation do to Jim Kirk? To Spock? To him? He had had enough troubles lately; all he wanted to do was get back to Earth and try to forget this whole fiasco.
Except for Teresa. How could he forget her? As he headed for Sickbay, he had a strong feeling that their troubles were only beginning, that fighting the Federation bureaucracy would be much more difficult and dangerous than fighting Klingons, but he knew one thing for certain.
He had left his soul on Serenidad.
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1. skimmers--gracefully acrobatic, beautiful bird-like creatures native to Mu Herculis V; similar to the Archaeopteryx of prehistoric Terra (they belong to the same classification and subclassification); have jaws with teeth, long tail feathers, and fingers
2. A Klingon measure of time equal to eighteen standard minutes
3. Hol Segh vav term for a sect of female Kh'myr assassins, similar in ability and mystique to the Ninja of old Earth; they have formed a sisterhood comparable to that of the Amazons of old Terran legends; with few exceptions, all of their members are born into the guild, sired only by the sperm of the fiercest, strongest male Kh'myr warriors selected by the women; they are as skilled in the arts of love as they are in the arts of death; their discipline enables its assassins to compete in combat, usually without the grotesque mass of a body builder; they are quite graceful and lithe; known in pIqaD Klingonese as q'laI
4. Literally, "You kill him/it/her!" (imperative)
5. a type of plant on Kazh which reproduces with seed pods carried by strong winds; similar to the Terran dandelion plants
6. Literally, a Hol Segh vav term for a surgeon. This is the Klingon equivalent of a doctor; all doctors are revered by most Klingons, and they never will allow one to come to harm (except under special circumstances); the term comes from the name of one of the ancient Klingon gods of healing, Nada; the pIqaD equivalent is Qel, which is derived from the name of another god of healing, Kohl
7. pIqaD term for "doctor"
8. Literally, "Yes, my lord."
9. Literally, "orange clothing" but the term is pIqaD for the mind-sifter. The pIqaDorigins are obscure, but probably are a borrowing of the phonetics from an archaic Hol Segh vav term for "mind probing."
10. Hol Segh vav term for a Klingon rank, roughly equivalent to that of "sergeant" in the Starfleet Marines
11. Literally, "I understand perfectly, my lord."
12. See The Daystrom Project, by Nomad, available from ORION PRESS.
13. a Klingon execution ritual, literally translated as "kill with the blade"; the victim is strung up naked and repeatedly slashed with a battle dagger hundreds, even thousands of times; lasts from planet midday to sunset (whether the victim lasts that long or not); shock and blood loss usually lead to a quick death of most non-Klingon victims; at sundown, the final cut is made as the victim is gutted from sternum to groin, with most males being emasculated as well; one of the most horrible sights in the galaxy to behold
14. pIqaD expression for the Klingon rank equivalent to that of a sergeant
15. literally, "military station"--apparently a pIqaD expletive equivalent to the Terran expression "go to hell"
16. pIqaD expression meaning "fool"
17. Literally, "I am trying to scare her!"
18. Literally, "at ease."
19. Literally, "our lord." Care must be taken in its usage. Under some connotations, it can be considered as sarcastic and critical which can lead to execution.
20. Literally, "so" or "well"
21. Literally, "one who is a friend."
22. Literally, "Congratulations, Emperor Khalian!"
23. pIqaD form of the Segh vav word, "Kh'myr"
24. Literally, "honor knife"--Klingons practice the custom of offering a blade to their respected foes, allowing them an honorable way to die: suicide.
25. Literally, "I understand clearly, my lord."
26. Literally, "infirmary." The Klingon equivalent of a sickbay.
27. Literally, "the Klingon Empire."
28. A Klingon ritual suicide committed by those Klingons who have failed their commander; by committing this ritual, a warrior can assure himself of at least obtaining a place in Krull, the Klingon purgatory, if not the Afterworld of Kh'eloz itself. Also known in Segh vav Klingonese as "kh'ytar."
29. Literally, "Yes, sir."
30. pIqaD Klingonese for "Understood!"
31. Literally, "I see him/her/it."
32. Literally, "I have her phaser."
33. Literally, "messy."
34. Literally, "Kh'myr Klingon"
35. Literally, "What do you want?" A Klingon greeting.
36. Literally, "(You) Report!"
37. "I understand, sir."
38. Literally, "revenge-meat." Term applied to those from which the Klingons wish to extract revenge, usually in the form of the bloody HoHtaj ritual.
39. Literally, "Enough!"
40. Literally, "Understood?"
41. Literally, "Target is entering star system of Serenidad (Peaceful Planet)." A call to his superior that some object (presumably a target) is entering the Serenidad system.
42. "Good (expressing satisfaction)."
44. "Two Federation battlecruisers."
45. Literally, "So! Only two?"
46. Literally, "Cloaking device!"
47. Literally, "Now!"
48. Literally, "hand-language." A form of sign language, used by some Klingon warriors when non-verbal communication is needed to avoid detection or when silence is required. Only used by trained Klingon warriors.
49. A Klingon animal roasted and served in a barbecue-type sauce.
50. Literally, "Kill one another with honor."
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