Serenidad was the planet's name, a haven, a place of peace. It had been settled by colonists from New Spain who had sought refuge from the bloody civil wars of the late Twenty-First century. Not willing to live under the oppressive iron fist of a military dictator, they had fled by the hundreds of thousands in warp-powered space arks, until they had encountered this gemlike planet a scant 25.2 lightyears from Earth. Serenidad circled a placid, class G, Sol-like star, Mu Herculis A, in an orbit upon which the star's red dwarf companions had no effect.
The planet was ideal for colonization; it was Earth-like in the extreme, harbored no dangerous plant, animal or microbial life, and best of all, was uninhabited.
The Spanish colonists swiftly set about claiming their new world, which was ruled by a benevolent monarchy. As star-faring civilizations spread out among the galaxy, Serenidad could always be counted on to extend a hand of friendship and hospitality. The planet became known as a pleasant locale to while away a shore leave; the people were friendly, the food, wine, and hospitality excellent. Except for these amenities, however, Serenidad held little else of interest.
The U.S.S. Enterprise swung in a lazy orbit far above the beautiful blue-green globe. In the center seat on the bridge of the great starship, First Officer Spock, temporarily in command, mulled over the chain of events that had led them here.
Serenidad's population consisted of a few million inhabitants sprawled comfortably over the temperate zone of the planet's largest continent. There were still many regions of the world that had yet to be explored. Consequently, when a geologic survey had discovered unfathomably vast deposits of dilithium in the northern reaches, there was a ripple of excitement that rolled like a tidal wave throughout the entire galaxy. During the past nine standard months, the governing body of Serenidad had been bombarded with requests and proposals of affiliation from the Federation, the Klingon and Romulan Empires, and even the Barrier Alliance, of which the "unaffiliated, neutral" Orions were suspected of being a driving force. In the end, King Don Fernando Morales de la Vega had decided upon the Federation. The peace-loving peoples of the galaxy heaved a sigh of relief, and the disgruntled representatives of the Empires and the Alliance had packed their bags and left explicit instructions with their embassies on Serenidad to watch carefully for any Federation misstep which might be turned to their advantage.
Which led to this day, the official incorporation of Serenidad into the United Federation of Planets. Spock mentally shook his head. Admittedly, securing new supplies of dilithium was extremely important to the continued existence of Starfleet and the Federation. Yet the Vulcan found it fascinating and somewhat amusing to observe supposedly intelligent, dignified official representatives behave like lovesick schoolboys pining after their first crush at the mere mention of the mineral.
"The ceremonies are about to begin, Mister Spock," called out Uhura.
"Very well, Lieutenant Commander. Put the telecast on the viewscreen."
Uhura patched into the local holovid network and the image of the peacefully floating planet was replaced by a formidable-looking dais upon which sat officials from various planets of the Federation and an uncomfortable Captain James T. Kirk in full-dress uniform. A man in his early fifties clothed in the royal robes of Fifteenth century Spain approached the microphone.
Serenidad was an interesting study in contrasts, Spock mused, a mixture of the old and new. The planet possessed a modest starfleet, and was equipped with the latest in technology and hardware. Yet her inhabitants lived in housing that exactly duplicated the architecture of Spain in ancient times, although the stone buildings were provided with the latest word in energy sources. Many of the people also preferred to wear the old-style clothing as well, and while the police and military carried phasers, they strapped them to the belts of their Fifteenth century body armor.
The camera pulled in for a tight close-up of the man who was undoubtedly El Caudillo. He had a bronze, rugged face framed with iron-gray hair, a face that spoke of great wisdom and strength of character. His piercing, coal-black eyes surveyed the crowd as he began to speak.
Spock was momentarily distracted as the left turbolift doors hissed open to admit Doctor Leonard McCoy. The physician stepped down to stand beside the conn.
"Hope I'm not too late. I always love to watch Jim sweat it out in one of his monkey suits!" McCoy chortled.
"Unfortunately, Doctor, the 'monkey suit,' as you call it, is a necessary part of the ritual demanded by protocol," Spock returned.
"We've been drawing a lot of these 'diplomatic missions' since that V'ger thing, haven't we?" McCoy asked quietly, his face suddenly serious.
Spock nodded, his eyebrows knitted in a tight frown. This was a sore spot with Jim Kirk. Since the much-publicized V'ger incident, the Enterprise and her already-celebrated crew were now looked upon as galactic super-heroes. Starfleet used every excuse it could muster to drag them out on display for every little diplomatic function that came along. It never failed to impress; the Enterprise, completely refitted and refurbished, and her crew of legend. But the reaction of their adoring public was somewhat overwhelming. "Sometimes I think they expect me to walk into a crowd of lepers and heal them with the laying on of hands," Kirk had complained, only half in jest. Starfleet needed its heroes, of course, but along with the already heavy load of exploration and research duties, not to mention patrol duty, the Enterprise was one busy ship. These diplomatic forays reminded Spock of the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
"Yes, Doctor," the Vulcan replied, resting his chin on tented fingertips. "They have occupied an inordinate amount of our time."
El Caudillo had reached that point in his speech where he spoke of a new day dawning for Serenidad when the bridge crew saw something that riveted their attention to the screen.
James T. Kirk left his assigned seat to stand directly behind El Caudillo. He drew a concealed phaser from his dress tunic, held it out at arm's length, and aimed carefully. Then, in full view of the thousands of people gathered in the public square and millions more watching the holovid hookup, the starship captain vaporized the wise and benevolent ruler at point-blank range.
Uhura's scream rang out amid the cries of consternation on the bridge. On the screen, Kirk made use of the horror and confusion to leap from the dais. Police officers in full armor blocked his path, but were annihilated by another phaser burst before their could draw their own weapons. The renegade captain bolted into the maze of the crowd and disappeared, making good his escape.
A young woman who looked to be no more than seventeen or eighteen leaped onto the rostrum. She was a vision, startlingly, incredibly lovely, despite the fact that her beautiful face was streaked with tears and her body shook with sobs. But her voice was firm as she brushed back a cascade of her jet-black hair and addressed a security detail.
"Sanchez! Take your men and track him down! And be careful! I want the murderer of my father alive!!"
The camera swung to an ashen-faced announcer.
"Break off the hookup, Commander Uhura," Spock ordered.
"I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes!" stammered Sulu.
"I cannot believe that vwas Kyptin Kirk!" Chekov was almost shouting. "He would not do such a thing! It was an imposter!"
Chief DiFalco sat at her station in a trance, while Uhura shook her head slowly in denial. A stricken McCoy turned to the Vulcan.
"Well, Spock! We all saw it! What do you think?"
Before the first officer could answer, Commander Montgomery Scott burst onto the bridge, waving his arms in distress. "Mister Spock! Doctor McCoy! Tell me it isnae so! The cap'n dinna assassinate their king, did he?" The chief engineer's face was flushed, and he was breathing heavily.
"Calm yourself, Mister Scott. We have no answers as yet." Spock rose from the command chair. "You have command for the present, Engineer. Doctor McCoy, you and I will beam down to Serenidad. I will need someone to assess the captain's physical and mental state should we reach him before the authorities do. Also, if there is an imposter about, we must locate him to prove the captain's innocence."
"Spock, what if there is no imposter?" McCoy asked.
Spock gazed levelly at the physician.
"If that was Jim Kirk, Doctor, he is either a sick man or a cold-blooded murderer..." The Vulcan's voice trailed off momentarily. "If he is a murderer, then no matter how much it pains us personally, he must be handed over to the authorities in the name of justice."
He thumbed a comlink on the command console. "Spock to Transporter Room. Chief Rand, tie in the coordinates of the Federation Embassy on Serenidad. Two to beam down."
Lieutenant Commander Jeff Spector, Starfleet liaison to the UFP Embassy on Serenidad was very ill at ease as he stood by the transporter platform awaiting the arrival of his two visitors. The friendship among Kirk, Spock and McCoy was legendary in Starfleet circles, and he wondered how the Vulcan and the physician had taken the news of Kirk's murder of the king. He would not have to wait long to find out, as the platform lit up with two columns of flickering energy.
Spock and McCoy immediately stepped down, and the doctor perfunctorily shook hands with the young, dark-haired officer.
"I'm pleased to meet you, gentlemen. I've heard a lot about you. I'm sorry it has to be under such circumstances."
Spock nodded brusquely. "Commander, has Captain Kirk attempted to return to the Embassy?"
"No, sir," Spector replied. "And he couldn't get back in unless he was cleared through security, and then we'd have him. "He shook his head sadly."I saw him leave about a half-hour before the ceremony. I never thought he'd do something like..."
"We don't know that he's done anything, yet, young man!" McCoy barked a little too sharply.
"I suggest we examine the captain's quarters," Spock interposed. "Perhaps we will uncover something useful."
They took the turbolift up two flights and reached the room within minutes. Spector keyed the door code. They entered, and stopped up short.
On the small bunk in a corner of the room, helplessly bound and gagged and clad only in underclothing, lay Captain James T. Kirk...or an identical facsimile thereof.
The three men quickly rushed over and untied the captive. Kirk sat up gratefully and rubbed a painful knot on the back of his head.
"Whew! Somebody really got the drop on me," he said ruefully.
"Jim!" McCoy exclaimed. "Do you have any idea of what's been goin' on around here?!"
"Jim," Spock said quietly. "Don Fernando has been assassinated. Furthermore, he was apparently murdered by you in full view of millions of people."
"My God!!" Kirk sat quietly for a moment as the enormity of the terrible news sank in. Then he spoke again. "Spock, you don't think I..."
"Not if you are James T. Kirk, no," the Vulcan answered. "There is a way I can verify this, of course."
"The Vulcan mind-meld!" McCoy said excitedly. "That would prove Jim's innocence!"
"At least to us, Doctor," Spock cautioned. "Whether the authorities would accept it is another matter. " He turned to the man who might or might not be his captain. "Jim...if you are Jim, please understand. I do not doubt your word, but I must resolve that you are who you claim to be before I can proceed further. I have reason to believe that an impostor took your place on the rostrum today, but I need proof."
"I understand, Spock." He smiled. "Go ahead."
Spock turned to McCoy and Spector. "Gentlemen, if you please."
They left the room as the Vulcan flexed his fingers and lapsed into a deep trance of concentration.
"He needs complete privacy," McCoy explained. "That way he can achieve a perfect state of fusion." He looked at the younger man and smiled. "By the way, I'm sorry I bit your head off there before. I'm afraid all this craziness has me a little bit edgy."
"That's okay, Doc!" Spector returned the grin. "I can understand what you're up against. Doctor, I've been thinking. There might be another way we can check to see what really happened with the captain. "
"Let's hear it."
"Well, our master computer makes visual tapes of everything that goes on in this building during the course of the day, from the main reception area to the latrines." He reddened with embarrassment at McCoy's shocked expression. "Oh, don't worry; it's all above board. There's no direct visual hookup; the only way you can see anything is to view the tape on a scanner, and then you can only do that in an emergency and with the approval of the person involved. So you don't have to worry about someone peeping on a particularly good-looking young lady or young man in the shower."
"But why have it at all?" McCoy queried. "That's almost an invasion of privacy."
Spector sighed. "The diplomatic corps is a little different breed of cat than Starfleet, Doc. The only 'fleet personnel here besides myself is my exec, Lieutenant Melissa Stroble, and a half-dozen yeoman-grade assistants. It took us a while to get used to the way they do things." He frowned. "There are a lot of things that go on that you and I would call illegal, but they don't even raise an eyebrow. And it's not just the Klingon or Romulan diplomats, either. Ours are mixed up in it too...they have to be. You know the old saying: 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.'"
"Yeah, I know another one, too," McCoy drawled. "'Fly with the crows, get shot with the crows.'"
"Point well taken, Doc," Spector grinned. "At any rate, the computer-scan setup was designed for a situation like the one Captain Kirk's in now. There's a lot of covert activity that goes on, and if one of our diplomats suddenly finds his butt in a sling, he's in a lot better shape if he has a comp tape showing he was somewhere else when whatever it was took place."
"I see. Can you isolate Jim's tape prior to the time we found him?"
Spector nodded. "It'll take a while, though. I'll have to run through the tapes of the entire day to find it. Everything that goes on here each day, at every second, in every room, hallway, or closet, is on tape. If anything funny went down, we'll have proof of it."
"And that should be enough to convince a blind man!" McCoy exulted.
Just then, the door opened behind them, and Spock walked out into the corridor. "Gentlemen, this man is James T. Kirk, and he did not murder Don Fernando. "
"The question now is who did?" said Kirk. He was shrugging into a powder-blue duty shirt.
"Commander Spector, here, has an idea..." McCoy began.
They were interrupted by a young blonde woman who wore the uniform of a Starfleet lieutenant. She hurried down the corridor just ahead of a trio of armored Royal security guards with their phasers drawn.
"Jeff! I couldn't stop them! I..."
The leader of the group roughly brushed past her to confront Spector. "Seņor, I am Commander Luis Sanchez, Primary of the Royal Guard. I've been given dispensation to enter the Federation Embassy by Her Royal Majesty, the Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega, who is now La Caudilla, and the daughter of the man this scum murdered!!" He glared at Kirk. Sanchez was a burly man whose thick, black, droopy moustache was flecked with white. There was blood in his eye. Very dangerous, Kirk concluded. Definitely not a man to argue with.
"James T. Kirk did not kill Don Fernando," Spock said calmly. "He was overpowered and detained in his quarters while an imposter, most likely a surgically altered double, took his place. We found the captain here thus indisposed approximately thirty minutes ago."
"Tapes from the embassy's master computer will prove this," McCoy added.
"That is for the magistrate to decide," Sanchez snarled. "For now, Kirk, I arrest you for the murder of El Caudillo! You are to be remanded to the Magistracy for trial. It's my fervent hope that you'll swing from the end of a rope at dawn!"
"We wish to accompany him as legal counsel," Spock stated, and McCoy nodded vigorously in agreement. "It would seem that justice is swift on Serenidad...perhaps too swift."
"Not swift enough, Offworlder!" the Primary growled. "If I had my way, I would've burned him down the moment I laid eyes on him!" He manacled a stunned Kirk with energy cuffs and prodded him down the hall. "There is a hovercraft behind the Embassy, pig! A considerable mob has gathered in front, and much as I would like to, I can't release you to them, because they'd tear you limb from limb...and your friends as well! Now let's go!"
"Better get to work on those tapes, Jeff!" McCoy called over his shoulder as they moved to the turbolift that would take them to the rear exit. "If they're all as thick-headed as this one, we don't have much time!"
"Right, Doc! Melissa and I will work around the clock until we find what we need." Spector turned to the young woman. "Are the screens on full power, Lissa? We don't need that mob breaking in here!"
She nodded. "Everything's safe. Besides, they'll probably leave when they find out the captain's gone."
"Then we'd better get going," the lieutenant commander sighed. "We've got a long night ahead of us!"
Magistrate Juan Lopes y Garcia pursed his lips and frowned.
"There's a chance that what you're saying is true, seņores." He was a rotund, elderly man whose shock of white hair, snowy beard and twinkling blue eyes brought to mind images of Santa Claus. "However, it's all so incredible! Yet, your record is inestimable. Captain Kirk...all of you gentlemen are legendary...and it is well-known that Vulcans are among the most honorable and truthful races in the galaxy. But..."
"But if there is truth to it, Juan, then they deserve a chance to prove it!"
The speaker was Don Alfredo Morales de la Vega, El Caudillo's younger brother. Although slighter in stature, he was otherwise a carbon copy of the slain ruler, with the same noble face and intense eyes. "No one wants to see Fernando's murderer brought to justice more than I, but I have a gut feeling that these men are telling the truth! If there is an imposter, and we condemn Kirk, the blood of an innocent man will be on our hands!"
"I have killed no one!" Kirk added. "I stand on my honor..."
"You can stand on your honor when you go to the gallows, murderer!" snapped a furious voice behind them. "It will drop out from under you as surely as the trap door will!"
They all whirled to face a grief-stricken Princess Teresa. Even now, when her raw emotions tingled like exposed nerves, her breath-taking beauty commanded instant attention and respect. McCoy, in particular, gaped at her, momentarily forgetting the grave danger that faced Kirk. At that moment, he firmly believed he had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life.
Teresa was attired in tight-fitting blue jumpsuit of a style that did little to hide the ripe curves beneath it. She wore a phaser holstered low on her right hip, almost gunslinger style. She obviously knew how to use the weapon extremely well. She stood with her hands on her hips near the railing that separated the judge's chambers from the now-empty auditorium.
Spock was the first to break the silence. "Princess Teresa, we grieve with you. However, there is an impos..."
"I've heard your fairy-tale, Vulcan!" she spat, her large, dark eyes blazing furiously. She stormed down upon Spock; her tiny, five foot frame did not quite reach the level of his shoulders, but she stood toe-to-toe with him anyway, staring relentlessly up into his face. "I was there!!" she raged. "I saw him! This is the same man!"
"Princess..." Kirk began.
She spun on him, her gun hand tearing her phaser from its holster in a speed-draw too fast for the eye to follow.
"Shut up, you son of a bitch!" she said coldly. "You're lucky I don't blast you on the spot! But my father would not have approved..." Slowly, she lowered the pistol and holstered it, much to the relief of everyone else in the chamber. "One thing's certain, I have no intention of honoring the agreement with the Federation! I'll propose to the Council that we align ourselves with the Klingon Empire!!"
"Teresita!" Don Alfredo objected. "They are monsters! They subjugate entire races, entire planets! When they make war, they kill every last man and child of the conquered race, if their death camps and slave stockades are full! And the women..." He paused, his eyes haunted. "You can't mean we should ally ourselves with them!"
"You forget, Tio Alfredo. I am La Caudilla now," she returned, her eyes brimming with tears. "It's not something I wished for, but it was forced upon me by the actions of this monster Kirk!"
Teresa strode over to face the captain again, her voice bitter. "And since I am La Caudilla, my decrees are now law. Therefore, James T. Kirk, I decree that you are guilty of the murder of my father, and that at dawn two days hence, on Lunes, you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead! I declare it thus in the hall of the Magistracy of the city of Castillo Nuevo, capital of the continent of Dorado, and capital of all Serenidad!"
The men in the hall cried out in protest but the princess silenced them with a wave of her hand, all except the Magistrate who persisted.
"This is an outrage! You can't condemn a man without a fair trial!" Garcia exploded.
"I just did!" she sobbed. She turned on her heel and quickly ran from the chamber.
McCoy turned to the judge. "Seņor Garcia, Your Honor, surely you can countermand this!"
Garcia shook his head sadly. "I can't. A Royal Decree can't be overturned. It's a deficiency of our legal system that has never had to be tested!"
"Gentlemen," Don Alfredo said, "my niece is a very headstrong girl, but she's a good girl. She is distraught. I'm sure that if I talk to her, I can change her mind."
Spock lifted his right eyebrow."I sincerely hope, sir, that you can prevail upon her before the weekend is out."
Garcia rapped down his gavel.
"James T. Kirk, you are to be held in the Royal Prison of Castillo Nuevo, capital of the continent of Dorado, and capital of all Serenidad. Unless evidence is uncovered in your favor, you will be executed in accordance with the Royal Decree at dawn, two days hence, on Lunes. I am sorry, sir!"
As two armed security guards came forward to lead him away, Kirk turned to his two friends, trying his best to keep rising panic out of his voice.
"Gentlemen, I definitely do not wish to be railroaded to the gallows, but if you don't work fast, I may find myself at the end of my rope...and no pun intended!"
As he was taken away, McCoy said, "I don't know how we're gonna do it, Spock, but we've got to find that imposter!"
"Agreed," the Vulcan said. "We had best secure temporary quarters at the Embassy, and let us hope Spector can isolate the tapes!"
Jeff Spector rubbed his eyes wearily. Spock and Mccoy had secured a berth at the Embassy and had left to search for the Kirk imposter several hours ago. They had dressed in civilian clothing, and intended to scour every inch of the city, if necessary, for they really had no idea of where to start looking. It was all being left to chance, and Spector doubted that they would ever find him in time, and that was assuming he was still in Castillo Nuevo. Spector shook his head. No, the only real chance Kirk had lay in the computer tapes.
He yawned and stretched, taking a sip from a steaming mug of coffee. He felt as though he were getting warm; it was just a matter of searching until he found what he needed.
A little more than fifteen minutes later, he hit pay dirt.
"Hot damn!" he exclaimed, elated. "Computer, give me a visual of Locus 23-C at 1310 hours, and superimpose a visual of Locus 227-A at that identical time frame."
"Working," came the metallic monotone. A split-screen showed on the display, and a heartbeat later, an image of James T. Kirk in full dress uniform moving toward the front exit piggybacked with a scene of James T. Kirk bound and gagged on his bunk.
"This is it!!" he exulted. He suddenly became aware of a presence behind him that left his scalp tingling. He spun in his chair and came face to face with one of the most awesome, terrifying sights he had ever witnessed.
Lieutenant Commander Jeff Spector had never been in field service. Consequently, he had never seen a Kh'myr Klingon in the flesh. Now one stood less than a meter away, covering him with a disruptor pistol. He was a monolithic specimen, one of the warrior elite. Spector had heard of them, and his flesh crawled. They were the product of a Klingon bio-engineering project that had ended about thirty standard years earlier. All the traits that the warrior society deemed admirable--strength, speed, agility, cunning, ruthlessness, brutality--had been selected, and had culminated in this, the ultimate Klingon warrior. They were taller, twice as strong as the other three Klingon sub-races, with thick musculature. Their language, pIqaD, was guttural and harsh. Their tempers were fiery. The Kh'myr were totally amoral, without a doubt the most dangerous and efficient killing machines the galaxy had ever seen.
And now one of them stood an arm's length away from him. "How--" Spector began.
The Kh'myr gestured him to silence. "Stand up slowly," he hissed. His voice was harsh and guttural.
The Embassy liaison did as he was commanded. Spector stood six feet tall, and this frightening apparition towered a full head above him. The Klingon was attired in full battle armor. His large head was bald on top, but thick hair grew in profusion from the sides and back. A startling, segmented ridge of bone, an extension of the spinal column, came completely over the top of his skull and ended at the bridge of the nose. Bifurcated eyebrows grew over a thick brow ridge. He twisted his bearded face into a terrifying grimace that apparently passed for a smile among his kind.
Spector almost screamed aloud, but he fought down his terror. If he could just get to the security alert button... "How did you get in here?" he demanded, cursing himself for the quaver that he couldn't quite keep out of his voice.
The Klingon's grin broadened. "There are ways in and out of here that you've never dreamed of! My battlecruiser was in orbit here several months ago. A prominent architect disappeared about the same time. I kidnapped him and took him aboard. A ten minute session with the mind-sifter gave us everything we needed to know about this building. Naturally, the poor man's mind was destroyed. We discarded him out an airlock." The big Klingon chuckled. "No doubt, one of the falling stars you Humans wish upon was probably him!"
"Quit stalling!" he barked. "We planted a Kirk double to murder the king. Kirk is convicted, he is executed, and Starfleet and the Federation are discredited not only on Serenidad but throughout the galaxy as well. We take control of Serenidad and its dilithium, gain a strangle hold over the Federation, and are rid of our most hated enemy in one fell swoop!"
"Very neat," Spector said. He suddenly lunged for the alarm button, gambling that someone so big could not move quickly enough to stop him.
With the speed of a striking cobra, the Klingon caught the commander with one huge hand, clipping him across the right temple with the butt of his pistol. Spector fell heavily to the floor.
The Kh'myr looked down at the fallen man and sighed. "You present me with a pretty problem. Now I have to make the cause of your death seem plausible."
His finely-attuned hearing caught the sound of footsteps approaching down the corridor. Swiftly he got to one side of the door just as they hissed open. It was Lieutenant Melissa Stroble.
"Jeff, do you want me to...oh, my God!"
A sinewy arm wrapped around the young woman's slim neck, constricting with a force capable of crushing stone. Stroble thrashed wildly as her windpipe was shut off. Still, the Klingon continued to exert pressure until he heard a crack as her neck snapped like a rotten twig. She crumpled to the floor like a broken rag doll. Her head lolled at an impossible angle on her twisted neck.
An idea was rapidly forming in the Klingon's mind. "Computer malfunction!" he said aloud. "Explosion, fire...they never had a chance!"
He moved quickly to the display terminal and ran back the tapes. Just for good measure, he would erase all the segments from that day showing the two "Kirks" in case the tapes somehow survived the fire. Now there would be no way for the real Kirk to prove his innocence. A great thorn would be forever removed from the side of the Klingon Empire! His task completed, the Klingon went to his hands and knees to look under the console for the protective cover panel that guarded the incoming power cables. If only he could remember...there it was!
"W-what are you doing?"
The surprised warrior whirled around to see a groggy Spector trying to get up. With a feral snarl of rage, the Kh'myr exploded into motion. His fist whistled through the air. The luckless lieutenant commander was killed instantly by the lethal blow.
The Klingon moved even more quickly now. He removed the cover panel, then dragged the two bodies as close to the exposed circuitry as he could. A pity, the woman had been beautiful, for an Earther. She might have provided him with an interesting diversion before he killed her, if he had had the time. He shrugged, backing toward the door. He fired a quick burst from his disruptor into the heart of the power cables and was rewarded by a shower of fat sparks. Spouts of flame shot up the side of the computer bay as he ran from the room.
He hurried down the corridor to the large ventilation duct cover that led to the dummy air shaft he used to get in and out of the Embassy. Only the designer of the building had known about this shaft that ran the entire length of the building and now it was his secret. He could come and go as he pleased to disrupt Federation planning, as the computer's visual scan did not function here. Of course, he had seen to it that, in a matter of seconds, the computer's visual scan was not going to function anywhere.
As the Klingon pulled the ventilation grid closed behind him, a tremendous concussion rocked the building. The Klingon grinned, satisfied. It had been an extremely powerful blast; there would not be enough left to scoop up with a spoon! He heard the shouts of the other Starfleet lackeys as they ran to combat what was by now a raging inferno. The Kh'myr snorted. Six! Six other staff members besides the commander and his exec! Such a puny force! One evening before his cruiser returned to pick him up after completion of this espionage mission, he would have to slip in here one more time and murder everyone on the premises, just for sport!
He chuckled to himself as he descended the shaft. Soon all would be well. Kirk would be dead, and he would be a hero to the Empire for securing a planet with such a wealth of dilithium. He smiled wolfishly.
"Admiral Kyr....It has a nice ring to it!" He roared in laughter.
The soft, pale glow of Serenidad's twin moons washed Princess Teresa's room with a gentle light. Teresa was a superb athlete who followed a rigorous daily regimen of exercise. She had vowed that, despite the tragedy, today would be no different. She had gone so far as to don a leotard for her strenuous gymnastics routine.
Somehow, though, her heart wasn't in it. And then Carlos had come by.
Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza was the son of a powerful nobleman of Castillo Nuevo. He was also Teresa's lover, although this was not common knowledge. A handsome, muscular youth of twenty, Carlos cut a dashing figure in the city and was considered a prize catch among the eligible young lovelies. But his heart had been ensnared by the fiery beauty of Don Fernando's lissome daughter, and the feeling had been mutual. They had hit it off well right from the start. Now he cradled her in his arms on the sofa in her room as she finally unburdened the sorrow that had been building all day.
Teresa wept softly for a time, her tiny form racked with sobs. Finally, she subsided, and smiled up at him through her tears. "Only with you can I let down," she whispered. "I have to be strong, hold myself together in front of everyone else. No one wishes to see their leader falling to pieces!" She entwined her fingers in his crisp brown curls.
"What will you do now about the Federation alliance, Teresita?"
She frowned. "I...I'm not sure. This afternoon, I was so full of hatred that I swore I would sign a treaty with the Klingons."
"No! That's crazy! You can't do it!"
"I know, " she sighed. "And yet, if this man Kirk murdered my father, I can't in good conscience honor the pact. The people wouldn't stand for it. What can I do?"
Carlos' green eyes widened in surprise. "You said if Kirk murdered Don Fernando. I thought you were sure!"
"But today in the magistrate's chambers, he seemed so sincere," Teresa returned. "Tio Alfredo says he has an impeccable reputation, and he does not seem the type to commit murder. And what would he gain by it? Serenidad had already joined the Federation." She lowered her eyes. "I did a foolish thing. I must revoke the Decree tomorrow. "
Carlos smiled and kissed her. "I'm glad. You're too beautiful to be cruel!"
She laughed, then paused as if trying to gather her courage. "I don't want to talk about official matters any longer. Now that I'm La Caudilla, I must attend to something. It's my right to name a consort." She hesitated. "You will be my husband, won't you, Carlitos?"
He chuckled softly. "That's a foolish question, muchacha! Of course, I will! Then I won't be forced to sneak off to Crystal Lake with you in the middle of the night! Think how scandalized the people would be if they knew that their Baby Princess skinny dips in the moonlight and makes love under the stars!"
"Baby Princess?! I'm going to be twenty soon--and I'll still want to make love under the stars!"
They laughed and kissed happily. He held her close, and they were silent for a long time. Teresa was at peace. She still felt sorrow, of course, but she also realized that life must go on. And it would go on, with Carlos.
At length he bent his head and kissed her again, but this time the kiss was deep and lingering. She could feel the urgent need behind it.
"Teresita, forgive me," he breathed. She felt his strong fingers close on the zipper of her leotard.
"Please! Not here, and not now!" But she felt herself responding to him in spite of herself. He kissed her again, and she groaned. '"Yes!" she sobbed. "Oh, yes! God forgive me, but I need you, too!" She felt his strong sure hands gently strip off her suit.
Her face lost its look of innocence to be replaced by the raw sexuality that seemed to always be burning just below the surface. Her dark eyes smoldered; slowly, sensuously, she ran the tip of her tongue across her upper lip, knowing that this always enflamed her lover with a frenzied lust.
He was all over her then, wild, insatiable, his hungry mouth probing hers. For a moment, she thought he would take her right there, standing in the middle of her boudoir. But then he lifted her in his arms and carried her to her bed.
They lay naked in the pastel moonlight, her smooth, pink-tipped breasts gently rising and falling almost unbearably lovely. She smiled shyly, her eyes shining as she stretched seductively on the sheets.
"I burn for you, Carlos," she whispered. "Take me!"
The affairs of state could wait until dawn. For now, there was only a romantically moonlit bed chamber, its silence disturbed only by the soft, gentle sounds of two young people expressing their love for one another.
Primary Luis Sanchez of the Royal Guard was a big man who feared little. He trembled now in the presence of this awesome alien warrior who looked as though he had ridden straight from Hell.
"Good job, Sanchez," Kyr rasped, tossing a sack of gold coins to the fearful guard commander. "If not for you, I might've overlooked the Embassy's computer tapes. You'll be rewarded with a high position when the Klingon Empire is allied with Serenidad. We'll make you forget the snub you felt when Don Fernando overlooked you for a seat on the Council!"
The Kh'myr's heavy boots clicked on the floor, their sound echoing off the thick stone walls of the dimly-lit guard room. A sliver of cold moonlight filtered in through a barred window. He turned again to Sanchez.
"If not for your wish for revenge, we wouldn't have an inside man here at the palace."
"I didn't think you'd murder him," Sanchez said with surprising force. "I just thought you'd topple him from power. I wanted to see him in disgrace! After all the years I served him..."
Kyr's lips curled in a mocking sneer. "Believe me, Sanchez, it was the only way. El Caudillo was very powerful. Even in disgrace, he would've commanded enough followers to make life miserable for us. Is 'our' Kirk safely hidden?"
"Yes," Sanchez replied. "He's holed up in an abandoned gardener's shed in Trillo Park; it would be hard to explain another James T. Kirk!"
The Klingon chuckled. "Koth is a good man. He belongs to the fair-skinned sub-race of our people. His vital statistics are almost identical to Kirk's, and he volunteered to undergo surgical alteration for this mission. I must visit him and pay him for his work." Kyr's dark eyes glittered. "However, I don't think Koth is expecting the kind of payment I'm going to bring."
Sanchez's eyes widened in shock. "You'd kill your own man? What kind of monster are you?"
"A practical one," Kyr said menacingly. "You'd best remember that if you want your association with the Klingon Empire to be a lasting one." He stopped pacing, drumming his fingers thoughtfully on a large wooden desk. "Things are going in our favor. Even the princess is ready to ally your planet with us."
"She's is no one's fool," Sanchez grated. "She was almost insane with grief today. She may not feel the same way after she's had time to think!"
The Klingon grinned sardonically. "In that case, I'll be forced to 'persuade' her, and that's something she will probably not survive. She can be handled, although I'd prefer that she cooperate peacefully."
Before Sanchez could express his outrage, a soft voice sounded icily in the chamber. "You are very sure of yourself, aren't you, Klingon?"
Princess Teresa stood just inside the doorway. The phaser pistol in her right hand never wavered.
Sanchez blanched when he saw her. Even though he knew the princess was a crack shot, his fear and shame were so great that his hands dropped to the buckle of his gun belt, which he unfastened and tossed aside. It never occurred to him that she might cut him down.
But Teresa was not even concerned with the Primary. She had eyes only for Kyr, who so far had done little else but register a look of mild surprise.
"Forgive me!" Sanchez babbled. "I've been a fool! I don't deserve to live!"
"Shut up, Sanchez!" she snarled, never once shifting her gaze from the Klingon. "My father trusted you! And you're right, you don't deserve to live! I could remedy that situation myself, but I'd rather let the hangman have you! Just keep your hands on top of your head!"
"You're biting off more than you can chew, be'SIj!" Kyr rumbled.(2)
She ignored the Klingon's remark, and he was amazed that she showed absolutely no trace of fear.
"I wouldn't even have discovered you, except I noticed that the security camera to this room had been disconnected. I hooked it up again and overheard the two of you. I decided to wait until you had spilled all the facts. You'll both be thrilled to learn that everything you said is on visitape!" Her voice hardened. "So it's true! Kirk is innocent, and you had my father killed! And if I hadn't been restless and decided to go for a walk, I would never have learned this."
"Damn your restlessness!" Kyr spat.
"All right, that's enough!" Teresa said. "Draw your pistol out slowly, butt first, with your left hand, and throw it to me. One sudden move, and I'll incinerate you!"
Kyr turned to face her, and did as he was instructed. Suddenly, in the time it takes to draw a breath, he flipped the pistol, caught it in mid-air, dropped to one knee, and fired!
Even Teresa's keen reflexes were no match for the supernal speed of the Kh'myr. She desperately tried to twist out of his line of fire, snapping off a shot as she did so. But she could not outrace the speed of light, and the energy bolt smashed her to the floor, where she lay stock-still on the stones. Thick black smoke poured from a smoldering patch on her midriff, and the air hung heavy with the stench of burning flesh.
Kyr's face exhibited genuine astonishment as he ruefully surveyed his seared left shoulder where her shot had slammed home.
"She almost got me!" he exclaimed incredulously. "I burned her down, but she almost got me!" Grudging admiration crept into his voice.
"You killed her!" Sanchez whispered in horror.
"Mother of Kahless!" Kyr swore. "We've got work to do, Sanchez." He adjusted the setting on his pistol to 'full disrupt.' "This'll destroy all traces of her carcass."
Sanchez had recovered his phaser. "Don Fernando was right! You're all nothing but a bunch monsters! I was wrong to oppose him! But I will redeem myself now!"
"Don't get excited, Primary," Kyr snarled. "This bitch would have died anyway, as soon as we took over."
"Took over?" Sanchez echoed.
"We Klingons don't ally ourselves with anyone; we rule!" He sighed slowly. "It's just as well, Sanchez. I don't think we could have found a place for you after all!"
It was a hopeless mismatch.
Even as the royal guard's finger whitened on the trigger, Kyr threw himself to one side and began blasting away. Sanchez screamed, disappearing in a flash of light.
And the alarms sounded, klaxons blaring through the corridors of the great palace. Someone had reactivated them! If he could just grab the security camera's visitape and escape, the plan to eliminate Kirk and take over Serenidad could still be salvaged.
But Kyr was in for a rude surprise.
The loading door of the camera stood open, the empty magazine inside mocking him! Either the princess had been bluffing, which was not likely, or someone had the tape. He had no time to consider his options. Running footsteps sounded in the distance.
Cursing his sudden turn of bad luck, and deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Kyr began to run swiftly for the exit to the garden. He had to escape.
Besides, there was the matter of Koth, the Kirk-imposter.
It was just an hour or so before dawn when Spock, with a dejected McCoy in tow, arrived at the royal palace. They had been hastily summoned from the charred ruins of the computer station at the Federation Embassy by Lieutenant Ramirez, Acting Primary of the Royal Guard. With the deaths of Spector and Stroble, and the destruction of the computer tapes, there seemed little hope of Kirk's exoneration. Both wondered what could be so important to call them to the palace.
As soon as they entered the receiving vestibule, an armored guard pulled the physician to one side and earnestly conferred with him for several seconds. McCoy cocked an eyebrow in surprise, nodded, and swiftly went off with the man.
Spock's own eyebrow canted, but before he could follow them Lieutenant Ramirez, a stocky young man with a red beard, bustled up to him.
"Mister Spock! Would you come with me, please? There's a hovercraft waiting outside. I'll explain on the way. All charges against Captain Kirk have been dropped! He's already aboard."
The interim commander swiftly briefed Spock on what had taken place in the guard room.
"The tape was brought to us by Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, Princess Teresa's suitor. He was too late to stop the gunplay, but he realized that the entire incident was on visitape." He paused, shaking his head. "It's terrible! But it proves who the real murderer of El Caudillo is. Now we must hunt him down, and you and the captain are more familiar with the Klingons than we are."
"Where is the young man now?" the Vulcan queried.
"As soon as he gave me the tape, Carlos swore he'd avenge the Princess. He stormed out of the palace before I could stop him!"
"He is in great danger," Spock said, frowning. "A Kh'myr Klingon like this Kyr will cut him down as casually as if he were swatting an insect."
They had reached the shuttlecraft. There were four of the palace guards on board with Kirk, who warmly greeted his first officer as he climbed in.
"I think we should check out the gardener's shack in Trillo Park, the captain suggested. "Kyr might head there first to get rid of the imposter."
"It would be gratifying to capture him as well," Spock added. "However, we may be fortunate if we can simply recover his body."
They were too late.
James T. Kirk was subjected to the ghastly experience of seeing 'himself' slumped in a corner of the decrepit, dingy shack, 'his' throat slashed from ear to ear. The shock of it turned his stomach, and he nearly retched. He fought for control and won.
"Jesus!" he said, his face white as he turned away. "How many more will he butcher before we get him?"
Spock bent down to examine Koth's body. "Captain," the Vulcan said in a low voice. "He is still warm. I would estimate that he has only been slain in the past few minutes."
Ramirez's eyes widened. "Then Kyr might still be..."
It was then that all hell broke loose outside.
They heard the unmistakable shriek of a Klingon disruptor amid a cacophony of screams from four dying men. Seconds later, a titanic blast hammered them to the floor as the hovercraft exploded. Flames roared through the tiny building, which went up like a tinderbox.
"Grab Koth's body, and let's get the hell out of here!" Kirk yelled.
Spock slung the limp corpse over his shoulder, and the trio rushed outside, gratefully gulping draughts of fresh air. Through streaming eyes, in the light of the brilliant flames, Kirk saw the gigantic form of Kyr the Klingon weaving his way rapidly through the trees toward the edge of the park. Wordlessly, the starship captain bounded off in hot pursuit.
"Jim! Wait!" Spock shouted. The Vulcan turned to Ramirez speaking rapidly. "I will try to assist the captain. Will you stay here with Koth's body?"
"I will!" he affirmed. "Hurry, Seņor! He might not be able to stop that beast alone!"
Spock started off after them, but pulled up short. They were out of sight, and he wasn't exactly sure which way they had gone. He strained his supersensitive hearing, trying to pick up their footfalls.
Kirk was rapidly gaining on the Klingon. All the frustration, the helplessness, and rage he had felt while confined in the prison were focused in a white-hot fury directed at Kyr. He ran like a man possessed. The creature would pay for all the victims he had slaughtered!
Kyr had reached the street. He loped along with an easy, untiring gait alongside a two-meter high retaining wall, oblivious to the fact that the captain ran just above him. Kirk launched himself into space. His full weight smashed into the small of the Klingon's back, and he crashed to the cobblestones.
Kirk tumbled lightly and sprang to his feet.
Only Kyr's tremendous strength saved him from being killed by the fall. As it was, he lurched drunkenly to his knees. Blood poured from a vicious gash on his domed forehead. He did not know how many ribs he had shattered, and his left wrist had been broken when he fell on top of it. Still, half-conscious and frightfully injured as he was, he prepared to do battle with this upstart Human who had the audacity to take him on one-on-one.
But Kirk pressed his advantage. His right leg lashed out in a brutal kick, the toe of his boot catching the Klingon on the point of his bearded chin. A Human's neck would have been snapped cleanly, and it did stagger the warrior, but he continued to rise to his feet, desperately fighting off unconsciousness.
And then Kirk's towering anger got the better of his judgment. Instead of drawing his phaser, he waded in with fists flying, raining blow after blow to the reeling Kh'myr's head.
Suddenly, great arms shot out, embracing Kirk in a deadly bear hug. The breath was forced out of the captain's body. A haze of red occluded his vision, and he knew that if he did not break the hold immediately, his spine would be broken in a dozen places. Somehow he balled his hands into fists and slammed them savagely against the Klingon's tender ears.
With a bellow of rage and pain, Kyr released Kirk, flinging him to the pavement. The captain slowly got to his feet, staggering, drawing his breath in sobs against the burning pain in his ribs.
When his vision cleared, he knew it was over.
Kyr's disruptor was out. The Klingon swayed unsteadily, but his lips were drawn back in a feral snarl of hatred.
"The Klingon Embassy is just down the street," he gasped. "But before I go, I will destroy you utterly!"
Suddenly, a phaser roared, and the gigantic warrior shrieked in agony. His pistol clattered on the ground, and he stumbled forward.
A fist-sized hole had been punched clean through Kyr's body. Miraculously, he was still standing. He turned stiff-legged to confront his assailant.
"Diablo!" Carlos sobbed. "Now it's your turn!"
Kyr's lips trembled. "W-who are y-you?" he managed, collapsing to the stones as the overwhelming weakness set in.
Tears streamed down from the youth's swollen face. "I am Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, you bastard! You murdered my beautiful Teresita!"
Kyr knew that he would be dead in minutes. Still, he would put up a show of defiance before these puny Humans. It was the Klingon way.
"Ah, yes," he coughed. "The p-pretty little be'SIj at the palace. I spit on her corpse! May she rot unburied in the sun, and may the carrion-eaters strip her bones!"
Carlos howled with incoherent rage, and the phaser flashed in his hand. Kyr disappeared in a flash of red flame, his screams echoing in the air like a lost soul's. Spock arrived just in time to see the Kh'myr die. His eyebrows lifted as Carlos flung away his weapon.
"She was so beautiful, so beautiful!" he choked out, over and over.
"Come on, Carlos," Kirk said softly. "Let's get away from here."
They did not look back at the drifting crimson dust on the pavement. Slowly they headed back toward the palace, supporting the distraught young man between them.
It was a splendid wedding, Kirk concluded, a match made in Heaven. Two beautiful young people, Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza, and his hauntingly lovely bride, Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega. The captain, Spock, and McCoy were honored members of the wedding party, selected by the couple in gratitude for uncovering the Klingon plot against Serenidad. It was hard to believe that a standard week had passed since that terrible weekend. The Klingon Embassy had been closed down, its ambassadors deported, and Teresa and Carlos had planned their marriage.
The reception in the Great Hall of the palace was getting into full swing. Kirk stood off to one side sipping a glass of Saurian brandy, letting everything just wash over him. He watched the deliriously happy young couple dance, and suddenly realized that he felt a touch of envy, with perhaps just a pinch of self-pity thrown in for good measure. They had something he might never attain: a life together with someone to love. He was married, too, but his bride was a sleek, gleaming starship. The loneliness of command precluded any but the most casual of relationships with the opposite sex, which had gained him the undeserved reputation of being an interstellar Don Juan. Beware of James T. Kirk, girls, the saying went. The 'T' is for 'Tomcat!' He knew that his glum mood would soon put a damper on the party, so he decided he was going to do what McCoy was doing: get falling-down, slap-happy drunk! He downed the rest of his brandy with one gulp, and the fiery liquid brought tears to his eyes.
He became aware that his slightly inebriated chief surgeon swayed somewhat unsteadily next to him.
"Isn't she about the mos' beautiful sight you've sever seen, Jim?" McCoy slurred. "Why, a man could get arrested for what I've been thinking. Besides, she's a married woman now!"
Kirk grinned. "Besides which, you're old enough to be her father, Bones!"
"You don' have to remind me," McCoy winced. "Seriously, though, it's a good thing her reflexes weren't a millisecond slower, or she wouldn't be here today to enjoy this. Kyr's shot grazed her as she twisted away; the wound looked worse than it was. Some tissue was burned, but with an application of medifoam, it didn't even leave a blister. We almost lost her from energy shock. The guard pulled me over as soon as Spock and I got to the castle. If we'd been five minutes later..." He let his voice trail off.
Spock had come over to join them, a glass of specially-prepared organic juice in his hand. He seemed to be regarding the behavior of the revelers in general, and the Enterprise crew in particular, with something very akin to amusement.
"Totally illogical, but quite refreshing," the Vulcan said, the shadow of a smile pulling at his mouth. "The amount of abuse the Human organism will subject itself to in the name of pleasure never ceases to fascinate me."
"Better watch it, Shpock, or I'll spike yer orange juice!" McCoy bellowed. "I bet it'd be 'quite refreshing' to watch you crawlin' around on your hands and knees!" Kirk and McCoy laughed as Spock's rate of eyebrow ascent shot off the scale. For once, the science officer did not seem to have a proper comeback.
Kirk raised his glass to the two young people out on the floor.
"To them, gentlemen, and here's hoping that Serenidad can resume living up to its name!"
Three glasses clinked together in a heartfelt toast to the future.
Not everyone shared the sentiments of James Kirk's salute.
Somewhere in the magnificent, velvet blackness of the Perseus arm of the galaxy, the Klingon K't'inga-class cruiser Devastator knifed through the desolation like a sleek ebony ghost. In his private quarters aboard the ship, Commander Kral was digesting some disturbing news. The viewscreen on his desk depicted a holovid gleaned from a galactic news service. It was a picture of Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza and his new bride, Teresa Morales de la Vega, La Caudilla of the planet Serenidad.
"Why wasn't I informed of this before?" he asked coldly. The Kh'myr's great knobbed head gleamed dully in his cabin's dim light as he turned to face his visitor.
Lieutenant Koret felt great fear of his commander, but, as was required by the code of the Kh'myr, he gave no outward sign of it. "The incident occurred while you were recuperating from the wounds you received during the takeover of the planet Alonit, Exalted One. Communications Officer Keras felt that news of Kyr's death would impede your recovery."
"Keras is very solicitous," Kral snarled. "You must thank him for his concern before he is executed. You will see to it. " He paused in recollection. "Kyr was like a brother to me. We were raised together, trained in the ways of the Kh'myr together, even received our first cruiser commands at the same time. We were both born from the Kalut cell group.(3) News of his death pains me greatly. He will be avenged!" He stood up and removed a bejeweled ceremonial dagger from a weapons display on his wall. "Leave me now. I must swear a blood oath so that his warrior spirit will rest easy in Kh'eloz!"(4)
Koret's eyes widened despite himself. The Klingon blood oath was the most serious, binding pledge a warrior could make. Once sworn, only death would sway its maker from fulfilling it. Carlos Ruiz-Mendoza was a marked man!
"I will go to the bridge, joHwI'," the lieutenant said.(5)
"Very well," Kral returned as he lit a censer of incense. "I will follow shortly."
After his underling had left, Kral murmured an ancient prayer, a chant of vengeance. He raised his eyes to the ceiling of his cabin and slashed a deep cut on the palm of his hand. Then he intoned the words of his oath.
"I swear upon the spirit of my cell-brother Kyr that I will avenge his death at the hands of the coward Mendoza. I also pledge that he will suffer great agony of spirit before he slowly dies, for I will violate and torture his be'SIj before his very eyes! These things I will fulfill as promised, or die in the attempt, as it was in the times of the Father of us All, Kahless the Unforgettable!" He held his bleeding hand over the censer, letting the precious drops of life mingle with the incense. Then he turned away, laying the bloodstained knife on his desk. He bound his hand, staring fixedly at the holo-image.
"Enjoy your life together while you can, whore-spawn!" he growled. "You will both wish you had never been born!"
He turned on his heel and left for the bridge, clicking off the overhead lighting as he exited.
In the feeble red glow of the cooling censer, Kral's dagger seemed to shine with a life of its own, as though gleaming in anticipation of the day it would again taste blood. But when that time came, and if Kahless was willing, it would slake its thirst with the lives of two innocent victims.
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1. the language of the Kh'myr subrace of Klingons; harsh, guttural
2. Literally, "woman-slit." A Klingonese vulgarism for a portion of a female's anatomy.
3. A Kh'myr genetic group and creche which has produced several notably dangerous Klingons. All are extremely ruthless and prone to violence.
4. The Klingon concept of the "Afterworld"--a Netherworld, of sorts; it is guarded by the Lords of Kh'eloz, demi-gods who honor only those who have perished bravely. Cowards are not admitted into Kh'eloz.
5. A Klingonese honorific. Literally, "One who is lord." Akin to "Lord Commander."
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