"Hear me, joHwI'. Torg is your man."
"I don't trust him."
"You trust no one. Give him the test."
"And if he fails?"
"Then you will have to replace another bridge officer. But he won't fail."
"You will have an operative to do your bidding and be your shield, should the need arise."
"You're too clever by half, Valkris. Would you care to wager on that?"
"I only wager when there's risk, my lord. Torg's a sure thing."
"Why are you so sure?" Kruge's voice held more than a trace of jealousy.
"He is a cold one. He feels not the blood heat. So being, he'll balance you. My lord is feverish in battle."
"Not only in battle, vixen," rumble Kruge, reaching for her. "We'll discuss it later. Meanwhile, I think we have little use for this." Grasping Valkris' neckline, he yanked down. The ruined garment fluttered unnoticed to the deck.
"Stay, Torg. I would speak with you." The other officers, thus dismissed, left the conference room. The daily briefing was over for them.
Kruge paced the room, unable to sit. Recent political developments had him agitated.
"This can go on no longer, Torg! It must end soon; it is intolerable!"
"What is that, joHwI'?" asked Torg, though he knew very well what his commander was talking about.
"This--cowardice!" spat Kruge. "This isolation, this utter boredom. We call ourselves a nation of warriors...Bah!" The Klingon leader finally finished his pacing and flung himself into his seat, slumping with his chin on his chest.
Torg waited. He knew that Kruge had not kept him simply to discuss the ship's schedule, or the political situation in the Klingon Empire. In fact, he had been waiting for such a summons from Kruge for some time. For the past several rotations, he had noticed Kruge's eyes on him, watching his work, making comments to him off duty, asking his opinions in small things. No, this morning, his leader had some other plan in mind, and Torg was ambitious enough to be patient with Kruge's tirade in order to find out what was expected of him.
The silence continued. Kruge remained slumped, eyes focused on nothing, and Torg feared the possibility of one of the captain's rages that sometimes swept him. To avoid this, Torg prompted, "The Federation grows strong..." That pulled Kruge out of his brown study.
"The Federation grows strong because we, the tlhIngan wo' allow it to happen. We have watched and waited as they moved in and encroached into our space, taking it bit by bit, planet by planet. We could have defeated them from the first move they made into our territory, but our leaders said, 'No. Hold back, and grow strong.' This we did. Now we are strong and cunning and still we might beat back these thieving weaklings, and take what should be ours, but we are chained! We are chained like dogs in the hands of cowards who are afraid they will bite. Treaties, territories, neutral zones...these are not things that a true warrior people would tolerate! Yet they bind us everywhere!"
Kruge surged out of his chair, and covered the distance between himself and Torg.
"Something must be done!" he hissed into his subordinate's ear. "We must do something." He pulled back, and struggled to rein in his anger. He crossed back to his chair, and sat again, watching Torg from under half-closed lids. Torg knew that this was the moment.
"I need to study some communiqués I received recently. Go to my quarters and bring them to me here. They are in the sealed container on my desk--the Imperial seal, Torg."
Torg inclined his head. "I understand and obey, joHwI'."
On his way to Kruge's cabin, Torg thought about the conversation and the simple assignment he had been given. Simple? Kruge never did the simple thing. It was far too obvious for Kruge to think that Torg would try to break the Imperial seal. All knew what happened to fools who thought they could best its secret. The agonizer would be a welcome pleasure by comparison. No, there was a trick, a catch somewhere.
But what? Kruge was testing him, but to what end? Already he had proved his loyalty. Kruge was erratic, unstable, and violent--the very profile of the perfect Klingon warrior, one who, with just a bit of luck at the right time, could be sitting on the right side of the Emperor someday.
Torg knew himself, and that knowledge did not always give him comfort. He was not of that ilk, but he had convinced himself that he had an advantage. When the warriors around him were going berserk, he kept his head. He fought as hard, killed as many, but the blood lust, the pleasure in sheer destruction was not there. To him, it was an intricate and beautiful game, with a place for each piece, and each piece in its place. Perhaps, if he passed whatever test Kruge had set for him, they might move some of the pieces to suit themselves.
He had reached Kruge's cabin. At his touch on the lock, the door whooshed open, and Torg saw his test.
In his concern over matters military, Torg had forgotten about the personal side of his leader. The woman in the cabin turned in her revealing costume, a welcoming smile on her face. It died when she recognized him.
"What are you doing in joHwIs cabin, unasked? How dare you steal his code!" She pulled her dagger and moved as if to use the comm.
Torg moved just inside the door, and quickly disarmed her as it closed, but he dared go no further into the room. He knew of Valkris' reputation, and had no desire to die either at her hands, or by her accusations. He thought fast.
"Wait, Dunbe', I mean no harm." He thought a little flattery might soothe her. "I have come at joHwI''s request, to fetch his Imperial order, so that he might study it in detail. If I might..." Still not moving, Torg indicated that he knew the orders were on the desk in the alcove.
Valkris studied him through narrowed eyes, and did not flip the comm switch. Though she was little more than naked in a wrap that covered none of her beauty, standing there, hard-eyed, Torg thought she might have been wearing battle armor. At last she nodded.
"They are there," she said, moving towards the 'fresher. "Take them and be gone."
Torg let himself breathe in relief. He would not think he had passed this test of Kruge's until the orders were safe in the captain's hands, but he could not help but believe he had won. He picked up the scrolls, checking to see that the seals were, indeed, intact, and turned to leave.
It was not going to be that easy.
Valkris stood before him, blocking his retreat. She had donned a long woolly-looking robe in place of her previous woven nothing, but now the expression on her face made her seem stripped naked. She walked, undulated, oozed over to him, stopping only when he could feel her warm breath on his neck. Unbidden, sweat popped and ran down his back.
"Until last rotation, joHwI' came to visit me daily at this time. I fear I am beginning to displease him. Do you find me displeasing?"
Here was the kernel of the test. How to answer Valkris, and get back to the briefing room alive? If he answered yes, which was a black lie, for he found her "pleasing" beyond most of the females he had known in his life, he had no doubt that Valkris herself would kill him for the wound to her vanity. Yet, if he said what he truly felt, that he had admired her from afar since she had come onto the ship as HoDbe', she would surely tell Kruge, and Kruge would end his now-miserable existence. The coolness of head that Torg had so recently prized was mysteriously gone.
"Dunbe'," he began, hoping to keep her mood pleasant, "I would be as dead if I did not find you--pleasing. But joHwI' himself has told me only this morning that when this rotation is finished, and his responsibilities weigh less heavy, he plans to claim you as his own in such a way that none may question it."
Again, Valkris gave him that intent, piercing look. Then she breezed past him into the cabin, leaving the way to the door clear.
"You lie fast and well, Torg," she said, her voice laughing. Torg turned and stared. No longer was Valkris a sinister seductress, or even a beautiful and unattainable concubine. She was only a woman, attractive, intelligent and warm. Few tlhIngan woman ever reached her status, and for a moment, Torg wondered if he might have a chance...but he chased the thought out of his mind. She was with Kruge because he was joHwI' and he could offer her power and prestige. What could Torg offer her? Such were the facts and the rules by which he had to play. There could be no others.
"My lady..." he began, but Valkris cut him off.
"In private, you may call me Valkris. Although I must say I did like 'wonderful woman'. Very refreshing! Go back to Kruge. He will know that you passed. If it's any comfort to you, I wanted you to pass. More than one tlhIngan has come in here, not to come out again. But Kruge needs you, Torg. He needs your cold mind and your steady temper. I have watched you. I am the 'little voice' that whispers to joHwI', and I have whispered your name. Perhaps you can thank me later."
Suddenly, before his eyes, the seductress was back, and before he could be caught in her clutches again, Torg fled out the door and back to the ja'chuqpa', where Kruge waited for him, pacing in ever increasing rapidity.
He took one look at Torg's face, and a growl broke from his throat. "yISutteqqu'!"
Torg stared, not comprehending the order.
"Strip! Your shirt--off! Show me your back!"
Bewildered, Torg shrugged out of his uniform tunic. He turned his back to Kruge, an act that took what was left of his tattered confidence, all the while expecting to feel the cold blade of Kruge's battle dagger slide between his ribs. What were the two of them up to? Torg stood, watching the wall, feeling Kruge's eyes on his back. A strange sound filled the room, and Torg realized that Kruge was laughing, no, he was howling. Torg turned.
"By Kahless, she was right!" Kruge doubled over. "I told her you would give in in less time than it took for your shirt to come off, but she said you were smarter than that, and she was right. Come Torg, don't look like that--you passed the test. Now, get out of here, and let me do some work!"
Valkris slumped on the bunk after Torg was gone. Had she revealed too much? Did he suspect? There had been much truth in what she had told him. Too much perhaps. She had been watching him, and not just for Kruge's sake. She had been with Kruge long enough to be tired of his rages, his tempers, his beatings. She was no female slave, to be used and tossed aside. She was a kh'lai assassin. She had chosen Kruge as a stepping stone, and like a loose stone in a stream that causes a fall, he had unexpectedly slid out from under her plans.
Then she had seen Torg. His differences made him stand out, yet he did his job so well, it did not matter. She knew he had the ability, the intelligence to command this ship, and to command her, if he so wished, but she could not read him. He was hidden from her, and that was exciting.
She wanted him, but she belonged to Kruge. She was HoDbe', and though she longed to be free from the man, she had no wish to give up the position and its privileges. Perhaps, if they could work together to put Kruge in the right place, they might benefit as well. She had seen to it that he passed the "test". Now he was in her debt. It was up to her to use that situation to her advantage.
Torg lay on his bunk in quarters, and thought about what had happened to him that day. In one short rotation, he had come to the official attention of both his commander and his commander's woman. Some might envy him that, but Torg felt in his belly a churning that he had never experienced before, not even in the hottest battle; he could hardly name it as fear.
Kruge wanted his help. Good. He had long searched for a leader that he might attach himself to, to rise with. Blessed, or cursed, with strong self-knowledge, Torg knew he was not likely to rise alone. Despite Kruge's temper, he had drive, ambition, and cunning. With Torg to provide direction, perhaps they could accomplish great things.
And Valkris wanted...what? I've been watching you. Those words chased themselves through Torg's head. How had she watched him? With calculating, dispassionate eyes, thinking only of her lord's possible advancement? Or was she tired of Kruge's tirades? Did he treat her as he treated his men? Worse? Torg could not allow himself to speculate further. He tore his mind from the woman, and turned his thoughts to more fitting paths. Kruge had discussed their orders once he had recovered his composure after finding that Torg had passed his "test."
Their assignment was simple--travel as close to the Organian-imposed Neutral Zone as possible, stay there for as long as it took to find an excuse, any excuse, to promote unrest along the border. With luck, they might commandeer several scout ships to come with them, and get Starfleet to wonder what was going on. With very good luck, and timing, they might be able to draw the Federation into an all-out war against the tlhIngan wo'.
This was a task to relish. Torg could have some effect here, he knew it. But his actions must be circumspect. He had to stay in Kruge's good graces, remain worthy of Valkris' scrutiny. Now that his name had been acknowledged, now that he was Torg, and not merely jIvQIv, it would be difficult for him to fade back into his previous position of tactical officer, first rotation. He must walk a delicate line between supporter, confidant and subordinate. Any deviation from that precarious balance, and Torg might find himself a quickly disintegrating flash of molecules.
Swearing to his family founders, Torg promised himself that he would survive and succeed, soon to be in the Emperor's presence, Kruge or no Kruge. Thus comforted, he allowed himself to sleep.
He woke to his comm buzzer. Slapping it off, he growled, "nuqneH?"
"yImeHghoS!" Kruge's voice bellowed out over the speaker.
"jabbI'IDmev!" Torg barked back, but Kruge had already cut the connection. Torg ran down the passageway to the bridge, tugging on his uniform as he went. He snapped the last buckle into place as he stepped onto the bridge. Even being yanked awake at this hour was no excuse for being out of uniform.
"jIHSaH, joHwI'!" He cracked to attention.
"Take communications, Torg!" Kruge ordered. "We've been picking up some erroneous patterns, and this fool cannot follow them." He indicated Torg's second--Zirak. Zirak relinquished his seat to Torg, saluted Kruge and left the bridge before more wrath could be directed towards him.
Kruge let him go, despite the breach of protocol. "I'll deal with him later," he snarled. "What have you?"
"Something is happening in the Federation. A very secret thing. They are using none of their regular codes."
"Can you break in?"
Torg considered. "With uninterrupted help from the computer and some time alone, I can." If Kruge would give him enough time. Kruge paced around his command console. His Saj, the lizard-dog, watched him, drooling. Kruge scratched its head automatically.
"Go. Take the Conference Room. I will see that your duty shifts are covered. Don't fail me, Torg." Kruge's words were heavy with the unsaid.
"I hear, joHwI'."
Torg set up his work station quickly. He calibrated his computer and began feeding it the coded message sequences. It was slow going, and Torg, one of the more patient members of Kruge's crew, found it only tolerable at best. But the goal hung in front of him. He persisted.
At first there were no discernable patterns--everything seemed static and subspace hiss. But gradually, as he listened with an ever-diligent ear, similarities began to form. He noted them, referencing the incomplete list of Standard phrases available in the language banks. He had tried to speak some of the phrases once, but the syllables had sounded so flat and tasteless on his tongue that he spat, sickened from hearing his own voice utter the alien words.
tlhInganHol was the only true speech. This he believed.
Just as his eyes seemed ready to fail from hours of staring at the screen, a large pattern began to jump out at him. He scanned the phrases again and yet again to make sure that he had not overlooked some key sequence that would negate his translation. He could find none. He looked over the information again, almost unable to believe what he had uncovered, and took the chance. He hit the comm button. Bridge officer Kaple'q answered.
"Where is Kruge?" He had no time to waste. If what he had discovered was actually true, none of them did.
"Quarters. He's been off-duty this half-shift. Where've you been?"
"Working, fool! At his orders." Torg snapped off, biting his lip. He was surprised that Kruge had not come to the conference room once he left the bridge, but perhaps he had taken Torg at his word when he said he wanted uninterrupted time. Now was the quandary. He hated calling Kruge in his quarters, did not like the possibility that he might intrude on joHwI' during--tender moments. Truth to tell, he could not tolerate the thought of Kruge pawing Valkris, and did not want to even chance breaking in on that. But if he hesitated on this information, and Kruge found out, it could mean his life. He buzzed Kruge's cabin.
Kruge answered at once, sounding neither sleepy, nor preoccupied.
"Torg, joHwI'. I have the information."
"I'm on my way."
Torg had just finished verifying everything a fifth time when Kruge arrived. The commander lowered himself into a chair and said, "toH?"
"It seems as if the Federation has found a way to create new worlds."
Kruge slammed his fist on the table.
"That is nothing, Torg! We created new worlds--such as they are. Build pressure domes, pump in atmosphere, it's common. They can't be in such a state over that!"
"No, joHwI'. I was unclear. They can create worlds from nothing--empty space. And then--planet. Ready, fertile, to be impregnated with more accursed Humans."
"Aaaahhhhh!" For once, Kruge had no more words. Torg waited, knowing they would come. They did.
"We must have this secret, Torg. We must get it. This is exactly what the Emperor wants. With this, not only can we win a war with the Federation, but we can make our own Empire! No more scratching and scraping on worlds too poor to support pugh! I tell you, Torg, this will get us off this puny piece of metal and onto a real ship--a real command! You will receive a commendation for this. The Emperor himself will hear your name spoken in the halls of Homeworld! Now, let us plan our excursion into DivI'logh."
Valkris watched Kruge pace about the cabin. He had not been still for more than a few moments since he had returned from his meeting with Torg. She had to find out what they had discovered, but she knew his moods. She would reap the best rewards with softness now. Still, she must prod him. She knew in his present state he would be most liable to make the decision that would be the worst for them all. She thought of Torg, of his cool, analytical manner, so aloof, so--attractive. Then she pushed his presence away. Her efforts lay with joHwI' for the present.
"For once, I have received an assignment that has yielded possibilities. This will be worthy of my best efforts. I have long wondered if there were not some stain on my ancestral line, that I was always to linger in the shadows. But now--all is within my grasp!"
"All, my lord?"
Kruge stopped and stared at Valkris on the bunk. She had worn her most seductive costume for him, hoping to loosen his tongue in passion, but he might as well have been looking at the fuel consumption reports for all the response he gave.
"Consider yourself fortunate, HoDbe'! If you continue to please me, you will share in the glory. Perhaps I shall allow you to continue my line."
Fury ran hot through Valkris. She knew his line--it was no better than hers, if as good. But she could not let such emotion spoil her chances now. She must flatter him, win him over.
"A great honor, joHwI'. Can you share anything with me?"
Kruge paused in his pacing and seemed to notice her for the first time. She lay across the bunk, open to his raking eyes. She watched as the desire rose; it was a look she knew well how to engender, but one she had come to dread. This time, she watched it grow with triumph. Now she had him, and in his weakness, she would find strength.
Kruge was out of uniform and pressing her back on the hard bunk. "I'll share this with you woman! No more talk."
Valkris turned her mind to Torg, and endured.
It had worked. She knew enough. Enough to know that Kruge must send an operative into the Federation to steal proof of the information that Torg had intercepted. And that operative must be her.
Valkris watched Kruge as he went about the cabin, gathering up his uniform. She noted with satisfaction that he moved heavily, almost with exhaustion. She had worked well this night. His resistance was down, his thoughts, never quick to begin with, at their slowest now. Now, she could work her way with him.
"Who will you send?"
"To get this information." He had let slip only that the DIvI' had secrets that could raise him to the High Council if he could get his hands on them. She cared nothing for what those secrets were, only that she might rise with whoever owned them.
Kruge paused in his dressing ritual.
"Foolish be'! I will go. Who else?" Valkris went to him, sliding her whole length against his half-clad body.
"Brave, joHwI'! This is not a K't'inga ship of brotherhood, with sworn support to the leader. You are Kr'anya's master, and mine. Neither of us would have you leave us in the care of another leader for even so much as a day."
Kruge pulled her close and ran his hands over her substantial flesh, as he considered her words.
"The one who gets this information will receive much glory. Would you have me give it up?"
"Who brings it to you is unimportant, so long as you get it. You will be the one to take it to the Emperor. That is the real glory."
"Then I must send someone trustworthy. Perhaps Torg." Valkris felt her heart shift. Why could he not see even the simplest plan unless it was fed to him?
"As you wish, joHwI'. But he was clever enough to discover the secret of the DIvI' code. Perhaps you should have him here to aid you. Is there no one else you might send?"
Kruge resumed pacing, trying to think, hitting one open palm with balled fist. "Why do you care what happens to him?"
"I care not what happens to him, joHwI', but what happens to you. Once the word is afoot of what you have discovered, there will be many out for this information. Torg has proven himself worthy. It might be more effective to have him at your back, I think. Besides..." She let her voice trail off as she made for the sleeping alcove, glancing back over her shoulder. As if on strings, Kruge followed her, his face clouded.
"Besides what, woman?"
"If you were to catch a Human in our sector, in a scoutship, say, and bring him aboard, what would you do with him?"
"Why ask such a foolish question?"
"I want to hear your answer, joHwI'. I ask humbly."
"I would use the QIghpej, of course, until he spilled his worthless guts, then slit his throat. You know procedure."
"Of course. And if this Human you captured were a female?"
"Human female? Bah! They stink. Besides, they would never be out of the protection of their even smellier men."
"Don't rant. Tell me what you would do with one." Sometimes she could get away with ordering him.
"I'd follow procedure. The QIghpej, until she talked. Not that she'd have any information I would want, anyway."
"Then would you kill her?"
"I would turn her to the negh. She'd die quick enough. They always do."
"But would you not kill her?"
"A female does not deserve death with honor. If she lived through her service to my crew, I might carry her back to post and sell her. Who knows? One has never lived that long."
"What do you think the Federation would do with a tlhIngan mang if they caught him?"
"Talk much and act little, but eventually they would execute him."
"And joHwI', what do you think they would do with a Klingon female who was desperate to get away from the master who beat her till she was close to death?"
"What...?" The gist of Valkris' questioning finally began to make its way into Kruge's mind.
"You see, my lord. This is the way. We must fool them. They are on guard against force, but in their arrogance, they are always too willing to help the weak. Send me, I beg you. They will not kill me. They are soft for their females--they will be soft for me. I will bring this secret back to you, and you will take it to the Emperor, and your name will be engraved on the pillars in the great Hall of Kahless. Send me!" Unawares, Valkris had sunk to her knees at Kruge's feet. She knew where her destiny lay, at last.
Kruge stomped across the cabin. He shook his head, but before he could refuse outright, Valkris spoke again. "Do not say no, my lord. Think. Think, if you must, as a Human. Think how they would see me, and how they would see a warrior, and then think who would have the better chance. You have said it--you must have that information. I can get it for you. Do not say no."
She stood before him, afraid of him for the first time, because now he had power over her; power to block her from the path she must take. He took her by the shoulders and held her back from him, looking into her eyes as if he would rip the truth out of them. But when he spoke, his voice was mild.
"I must make the rotation. I will give you my decision later."
Then he was out the door, and she sank shaking to the bunk.
Two rotations passed, and Kruge remained silent to Valkris. They had not lain together; instead, he had made her sleep at the foot of the bed, naked, with no covering. She took this as a good sign, but time was slipping away, and with it the advantage of surprise. She grew impatient with his stubbornness, even as she outwardly became more compliant to his every whim.
At the beginning of the third rotation, he rose, pulled on his uniform and paused at the door. "You will be given a scout, and all the necessary instructions and information. We will release you on the border of the Neutral Zone. As you go, we will fire on you. I may instruct the gunner not to miss. You should be in the correct frame of mind when you reach those Human slime."
With that he was out the door, and silence ruled the cabin.
Valkris flew to her feet, unbelieving. He was going to let her go! She would have her chance to bring glory to her Empire, and to her family. She wondered what she would be bringing back, but that could wait. Kruge said she would have all necessary information. She must ready herself, prepare her mind and body...
She thought then of Torg. Kruge had the position and opportunity to be so much more, but even with the advantage of what she was about to fetch for him, would it be enough to overcome his blindness in some matters? Should she perhaps align herself with someone of a different nature--just for safety?
She remembered how Torg had looked at her the first night he had entered Kruge's cabin. What she had told him was true--she had been watching him. With Kruge's surveillance equipment, she had followed him on duty from daily conferences, to bridge rotation, to disciplining his own subordinates. He intrigued her, because she could not read him. Even as he gazed at her with desire plain on his face, she watched his struggle to hide it.
His discipline was tight. He did not rant, or rule his department by fear, but he ruled it. Of all the tlhinganon this ship, he was the one, other than herself, that might have been able to obtain the Human secrets and bring them back with his skin intact.
Yet, of them all he must not go--he was needed to remain here to steady Kruge, to assure that the Emperor received the information and that it was acted on.
Valkris stopped pacing, unaware that she had started. Her small things were gathered before her; she would travel light. She had no idea when Kruge would act on what he had just told her, so she knew she had to be ready whenever the whim took him. She hoped she had a few hours, at least.
Taking a steadying breath, she went to the alcove where the ghoqwI'jan was kept. Adjusting the settings for maximum secrecy and difficulty of interception, she checked Torg's quarters. He was there, at rest. Her fingers trembled as she turned off the device and reached for the comm switch, setting it to scramble. Her decision was made. She could not go back, and she must work fast.
More than anything, Torg wanted to go through the door before him, and at the same time, he wished he were anywhere else in the Empire. Why had she called him? Another test? The questions chased themselves around in his mind like animals. Then, not wanting to risk being seen by any chance off-duty personnel, he punched for entry and let the door slide quietly closed behind him.
"You are prompt, Torg. I appreciate that." She was dressed simply, in black pants and tunic. Torg felt somewhat relieved. She did not look as though she were about to seduce him. What did she want?
"joHwI' has told me of your discovery. I wanted to offer my congratulations."
"I thank you, Lady." This was why she had called him here? To risk his life for simple thanks? He had stayed too long already.
"Does not begin for several hours. I checked. Listen to me Torg, I must speak quickly and say much. I said I had watched you. I spoke the truth. You keep your temper. Despite temptation, you remain calm, and I see you look for alternatives. joHwI' must have someone to go and fetch this prize that he seeks, and I feared he would send you."
"You fear for me, Lady? I am honored."
"I fear for the future of our Empire. If Kruge cannot obtain this whatever-it-is he desires, and get it before the Emperor, we may be lost as a people. Without your...unique temper, he may be tempted, distracted from the ultimate goal that we both see, by others who might want to use him."
Torg had never heard Valkris say more than a few words in his presence. Her outpouring confused him. Why would a female talk of the Empire's future? And yet, she had always seemed intelligent, cunning even. He tried to concentrate on what she had told him.
"If I am to stay here and see to Kruge, then who is to be the one to breach the Human Federation? You would have me do both? Would that I might live up to your thoughts of me." His tone was light, jesting. Serious talk of honor and duty before a female made him uncomfortable. She made him uncomfortable, and her reaction to his jest made him back up a step.
"Of course not, fool! You are to be here with joHwI'. I am to be the one to go!"
Torg said nothing for a long moment. He could not have heard her right. Thoughts of banter left him, and he struggled to say something that would not offend her, and bring Kruge's anger down on him for insulting his HoDbe'. He failed.
"You--a female? How will you succeed? He might as well send the Saj!"
Her training as a kh'lai had been thorough. Valkris had been sitting at the conference table. At his words, she surged to her feet, sending the chair over to its back. She was across the room and in his face in a single lunge.
"How will I succeed?" She was inches from him. "By will...by wit, and by this," she hissed into his ear, and stepping back, released her scent.
For Torg, it was as if the main hull of the ship had been breached and all the atmosphere had been sucked out of his lungs. But instead of empty vacuum, it was replaced by the scent, the odor, the essence of the woman before him.
He knew then that the previous test had been a sham, something with which to fool Kruge. Had he been mortally wounded by a disruptor blast, the scent of Valkris would have kept him alive long enough to feel her arms encircle him and pull him down to the deck. Burying his face in her wealth of hair, he could not even wonder if the door were locked.
Torg's rotation was almost upon him. Kruge would be waiting, and all vestiges of Valkris must be gone if he wanted to live two steps beyond the door to the bridge. He checked his uniform to reassure himself that nothing was out of place. He must get to his quarters so that he could take his usual route to the bridge. Somehow, he must keep this from Kruge. Since he wanted badly to live, he knew he would find a way. Valkris watched him from the alcove.
"Torg." Her voice stopped him. He wanted to be alone in his quarters, to re-live what had just happened, to put away and secrete every moment and nuance of their time together, to settle it permanently in his memory. He knew he would not see her again, but there was no time to remember now. He must be on the bridge.
"Torg," she called again.
She came into the main room. "I am HoDbe'. I will honor joHwI'. I will go to the Federation to find the information that he wants and that will make him honored in the Empire, even though you were the one to discover it. You will stay beside him and see that he succeeds. Swear this."
"I swear," answered Torg, without hesitation. He felt none. This was his duty. He had been bred, sworn, and ascended to it. He would support his joHwI' with his life. By this, he could see that they could all reap greater glory together, than they could alone. Yet, what would he lose when he stepped through the door?
Her upraised arms stopped him from saying more. As he watched, she clenched her fists so hard blood started from her palms. "I have made my choice. I have lived as HoDbe', and now I will die so. Keep your memory Torg; I renounce you."
Crossing her arms at the wrists, she pulled them hard into her chest. She spun around, giving him her back, and Torg felt as though he had been captured, and not allowed to die.
He made a short reaching motion with one hand, but the distance between them had always been too great. There was nothing left for him to do, but gather his honor about him and be on time for his duty shift.
So he went.
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