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Nomad, with  Elizabeth Knauel


"You have a daughter, joH' wI'."

Lord Admiral Khalian's bushy eyebrows knitted in a frown. "A be'," he growled. "Phah! Could you not have manipulated the chromosomes? I need a boy child--an heir! I cannot believe you didn't know this earlier!"

Qel Kyrlaag sighed. "Lord, this is still very experimental. The child is perfectly healthy and her developmental norms are consistent with a full-blooded newborn Kh'myr infant. With this accelerated gestation process, she was born after only one month instead of the usual five."

Interest flickered in Khalian's eyes. "I must admit I did not believe you could do it so quickly, Qel. Now we will be able to spawn warriors at an even faster rate. You said her norms match a full-blooded Kh'myr? toH! Even though she's half Human, she will not be a weakling?"

"No, joH'wI'," Kyrlaag replied.

Khalian came to a decision. "Summon Veraas, the q'laI mistress. She is in the antechamber, waiting to see the results of your experiment. I promised the child to her if it was a girl."

As Kyrlaag hastened away, Khalian peered through a perspex partition at his newborn daughter in the nursery of the medical center at his citadel.

The baby rolled over on her stomach and lifted her head to examine her surroundings. By this time tomorrow she would be crawling. A week from now she would be able to pull herself up into a standing position, and in a little more than a month, she would take her first step.

She gazed directly at him curiously and unafraid. Large, dark liquid eyes regarded him candidly. The baby had olive skin, not as dark as his own, but darker than the be'SIj that was her mother, and thick black hair. She was strong and healthy and, he had to admit, beautiful.

"Valias," he murmured. "That will be your name. One day, you will be the greatest of all the q'laI warriors, my daughter."

Kyrlaag returned with a tall, slim woman dressed in the black robes of a q'laI mistress. SoS(1)Veraas was still beautiful, even though her black hair was shot through with streaks of iron gray. A nurse wrapped the infant in a blanket and brought her in from the nursery. She presented the bundle to Veraas.

"She is destined for greatness," Khalian rumbled. "The blood of Khalian courses through her veins!"

Veraas inspected the infant doubtfully. "She looks so Human--like her mother."

"Her forehead crests will develop as she grows, my lady," Kyrlaag stated. "Her norms are full-blooded Kh'myr."

Veraas cocked a thick eyebrow, impressed. "Indeed? If it is as you say, Qel, then I can train her."

"Her name is Valias," Khalian said. "I commend her to your care, Veraas."

The q'laI mistress inclined her head. She rubbed her fingertips firmly over the baby's forehead, starting at the bridge of her nose. Gratified when she felt the tiny knots of bone under the infant's smooth skin, Veraas allowed herself a fierce smile. "She may become a great warrior at that, joH'wI'," she said. "I will see to her training."

She bowed and left immediately for the q'laI compound.

Khalian turned to the physician. "What of the be'SIj, Kyrlaag? When can she be bred again? I need a son!"

Kyrlaag frowned. "She has had restorative surgery, joH'wI' and we used the equipment to accelerate her healing process. However, it has only been a few hours since she gave birth, and."

Khalian howled with rage, grabbing the hapless physician by the front of his tunic. For a wild moment, Kyrlaag was certain he had breathed his last.

"I asked a simple question, Qel! Give me a simple answer, or die! Can I flarg the Human bitch now?"

"Yes," Kyrlaag replied hastily.

Khalian set him back down and smoothed his tunic. "There, see? Was that so difficult?"

"joH'wI'," Kyrlaag began tentatively. "Why are you so set upon striking your seed in this girl? She is a Human. Why not your mate?"

"Phah!" Khalian spat. "She is barren. She has no interest in mating. Her loins are sealed with a wall of solid ice! Besides, this be'SIj is a young beautiful bitch, even if she is Human. She excites me. I enjoy seeing her terror when I flarg her. I love to hear her scream, and I love to watch her bleed!" His eyes narrowed. "And I do it for bortaS--revenge! Three times my agents have attempted to conquer the planet she rules; three times they have failed. I have failed! I have never failed in anything as a warrior--until this! When I finally tire of breeding her, when I finally string her up and skin her alive, I want the agony of her death to be doubled by the knowledge that she has given me heirs with her blood in their veins--heirs of mine that can lay claim to the throne of her dilithium treasure vault of a planet!" He turned to go, fumbling with the crotch flap of his trousers as he ran.

Kyrlaag shook his head. Khalian was going to undress on the way to the slave compound! He was a rabid Ha'DIbaH! He grabbed his medikit. The Human girl would probably be near death again when Khalian finished with her, and gods help him if she died and could not birth an heir.

He would be ready. The insane admiral would be enraged if he arrived before his master had taken his pleasure.

But he would be ready.


Her captors called her be'SIj. They said it was her name; it was an obscenity, a vulgarism, in their tongue. It meant 'woman-slit.'

She shook her head sadly. That's all she meant to her master. She was a package of taut flesh, with three orifices to satisfy the unholy lusts of Lord Admiral Khalian--and nothing more.


No--that wasn't her name. It was...Ter...Teri? Terry? No, not quite. Ter...Ter-e-sah. Teresa!

Like a torrent of ice water running down her back, Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega of Serenidad regained her memory with a shock of clarity. The drug-induced fog that had plagued her for weeks had lifted. They must have stopped giving her the drugs when she went into labor. God knew they hadn't given her anything for the pain.

She glanced around her. She was naked, in chains, back in her slave pen, a make-shift wooden cage constructed of tree limbs and vines from the surrounding artificially-grown jungle. It was hot, tropical-hot; the jungle was one of the few green spaces in the city of voD'eH veng.

She was on Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld.

She hadn't always been here.

Teresa concentrated, and the last wisps of fog cleared in her brain. She could feel her skin starting to crawl with the jittery onset of withdrawal, but it was worth it to be able to remember.

She focused on the time before her captivity. A great sob rose in her throat.

They had materialized in a sparkle of transporter energy--half a dozen Orion pirates. Slavers from Xantharus IV.

They caught her totally off-guard. Their captain stunned her with a livestock prod, the kind Orions used on their slaves. She was unable to reach her blaster, or even cry out. She could not even warn the palace maid who had walked in on them. Teresa's scream of anguish was mute. They hauled her to her feet, dragged her past the body of Carmen Herrera, who lay gray-faced, not moving, not breathing, in a rapidly-spreading lake of her own blood.

Her memories were disjointed and hazy after that. They clapped an obedience collar around her neck, manacles and chains around her wrists and ankles. They pumped her full of drugs; aphrodisiacs to keep her in a continuous state of sexual arousal, obedience drugs to keep her submissive and compliant.

She remembered being on the auction block in a huge stadium in the Xantharus city of Gracchos before a hundred thousand people. She remembered being sold for the record sum of 75 billion drekons to a syndicate of Andorian "businessmen." They branded her and took her back to Andor, where they forced her to work as a prostitute in one of their high-class brothels. For six and a half days, her young body had been used for the benefit of the syndicate, performing acts that even her inventive mind had never conceived.

Then, the last night there, Lord High Admiral Khalian arrived with a raiding party.

Teresa shuddered.

The Klingons. Always the Klingons.

Stung by the failure of unsuccessful takeover attempts of the planet Serenidad, insane with revenge, Khalian kidnapped her and took her aboard his Bird of Prey. The ship rained plasma bombs as it departed, leveling the brothel where Teresa had worked--and the entire surrounding city of T'L'ongat.

Khalian raped her--once--on the flight to Qo'noS. He changed the Orion drugs she had been force-fed to their even more lethal, addictive analogs--Klingon l'gagh aphrodisiacs and torl'a obedience drugs.

After the ship landed on Qo'noS, Teresa was taken from her cage and dragged to a lab in Khalian's citadel. She was hooked up to a sinister array of machinery. She was pregnant as a result of the rape--and aided by fertility drugs that were also fed to her to insure that she would ovulate whenever he raped her. The equipment kept her nourished and exercised and rested. It also accelerated her pregnancy so that she could carry and give birth to a full-term baby in less than a standard month, as opposed to the normal five-month Kh'myr gestation period.

Another half-Klingon child.

And what now? Now that Khalian had humiliated and degraded her by forcing her to bear his child, would he kill her to avenge the loss of face he had suffered in his failed attempts to conquer Serenidad? Teresa shuddered. Surely he would put her death slowly, horribly. HoHtaj, the grisly "death by a thousand cuts." Or worse.

She glanced over her shoulder and gasped in horror.

He was inside her cage. Unlocking her shackles, he stood back, expectantly.

Teresa whimpered. He was clad only in a pair of gray-green military briefs, and she could see the huge bulge that stretched and strained against the thin fabric. His thickly muscled body shone with perspiration. The lascivious leer on Khalian's face told her all she needed to know.

"This time you will give me a boy-child, Human be'SIj. Give me the one thing you're good for."

He tore off his briefs. His erect penis sprang free like some thick, dark, evil root. His three testicles, heavy with seed, hung low.

Teresa shut her eyes, sickened. The thing stood straight up from its nest of wiry black curls, almost touching his flat, rock-ribbed belly. It looked as long and big around as her forearm, with corded veins as thick as her little finger. The ugly club-like head seemed to be as large as her fist.

"joH'wI'," she quavered. "Please! No!! Not again!"

"Give me the one thing you're good for, Human be'SIj!" he repeated as he advanced on her.

She screamed.


Kyrlaag sat on a stone bench outside the slave compound, trying to ignore what was happening within. The noises curdled his blood. The female slave shrieked and screamed as if she were being dismembered. Khalian had reverted to Ha'DIbaHqempa, roaring and howling in Hol'qempa, the ancestral tongue, spewing obscenities at his victim. The physician could hear crashing and thrashing as the insane admiral pushed and pulled and dragged and threw the luckless Human girl about her cage. Wood splintered and cracked as he repeatedly slammed her into the bars. Kyrlaag could hear the sodden smack of a clenched fist against tender, bare flesh again and again and again.

"toH, bitch!" Khalian raged. "Are you prepared to cooperate now? Open your mouth, wide, or I'll break your jaws and force it open! That's a good be'SIj. Ahhh, yes. That feels good! No teeth now, or I'll pull out every one of them!"

Kyrlaag heard the female slave gag.

This went on for several long moments. Finally, Khalian loosed a long, ecstatic moan, and the female retched and vomited.

"Now we are ready," Khalian growled. "Get on your hands and knees, be'SIj. I intend to take you like the Ha'D you are."

"N-no, p-please, joH'wI'," she sobbed. "I've s-satisfied you. P-please, nuh-no m-more!"

"Satisfied me?" The vicious, back-hand slap echoed like the crack of a whip in the humid air. The slave yelped. "Stupid slut, you haven't even begun to satisfy me! Get down there and stick your rump in the air! That's it. You're going to give me a son this time."

Khalian grunted. "Unngh! Nice and tight!"

The female's scream was so strident, so full of agony and despair, that Kyrlaag shot to his feet, startled. Her ragged, keening wail made his flesh crawl; icy beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. Lords of Krull! Khalian was going to kill her! Then what would happen to him?

"Oh, my God, stop!!" she howled. "NOOO."

Her shrieks tailed off into a horrible, gurgling moan.

Soon, she made no more sounds at all.

Kyrlaag shivered. All he could hear now was Khalian's pig-like grunting as he ravished and ravaged his favorite slave.

After a while, Khalian let out an explosive roar of pleasure and the morning became silent, save for the sounds of awakening jungle creatures.

Soon, the cage door creaked open, and water splashed. Kyrlaag ventured tentatively into the slave compound.

Khalian's genitals and midsection were drenched with thick, sticky red Human blood. He was washing himself in the trough that held the slaves' drinking water. He grinned, somewhat sheepishly at the physician. "I am afraid I've left you with a bloody mess, Qel--even worse than last time."

Kyrlaag peered into the cage and drew in a sharp breath.

Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega lay face down in the straw. Her body was covered with her own blood. Her knees were tucked under her, thrusting her rounded backside into the air. She did not move; she was breathing, but he did not like the shallow, impure sketchy sound of it.

Behind him, water tinkled as Khalian urinated into the trough. "Let it be a challenge for you, Kyrlaag," the admiral called over his shoulder as he shook the last few droplets from his massive penis. "I know you're equal to it. Hook her up to the machines when you've repaired her injuries." He left without another word.

Kyrlaag stepped into the cage to examine his patient more closely. He bent down to look between her legs, and he winced.

Khalian had destroyed her vagina. The gory ruin that remained resembled a gaping wound stuffed with raw, ground targ meat. Gently, he eased her over onto her back. He grimaced. Khalian had beaten her savagely about the body, bloodying her, raising ugly welts and bumps and bruises. His mediscanner confirmed she had suffered dozens of broken bones, and crushed ribs, and massive internal injuries. He would be able to save her; he could make her as good as, even better than, new.

But it would be a long day's work.

He unclipped a communicator from his belt. "This is Qel Kyrlaag," he said. "I am at the slave compound, in the pen of the Human female who just gave birth. Bring a litter and a portable life support unit. Out."

She stirred at the sound of his voice. Her eyes struggled to flicker open. Curiously, Khalian had not damaged her face. It was smeared with a filthy mixture of dirt and blood and semen and sweat, but beyond a black eye, a puffy lip and a couple of bruises, it was, thankfully, otherwise unmarked. No broken bones or dislocations.

"Uhhhhurts" she moaned.

"Shhh. Here, I've got a painkiller for you." Kyrlaag's hypospray hissed against her arm. After a few moments, the lines around her eyes eased.

"Thank you," she whispered. "But...please, let me die. I...I don't want to have another one of his babies."

Kyrlaag shook his head ruefully. "I cannot, little one. He would kill me, but that does not trouble me as much as the thought of what he would do to my family." The physician shuddered. "No, I'm afraid your good health is inextricably linked to the welfare of me and mine."

He bathed her face with an alcohol pad, cleansing the filth that marred her smooth skin. By the gods, she was beautiful, especially so for a Human. He clenched his teeth.

"You do not deserve this. He is Ha'DIbaH, that one. We are not all like him. We are a war-like race, it is true, but even we are not all...beasts like him. Those who inflict so much pain and cruelty upon your people are Kalut." Kyrlaag glared, shaking his head. "Something went very wrong with the genetic strain that produced him and his crèche mates. They are insane, irrational monsters."

He gazed down at her, his eyes desperately pleading for her understanding. "We are not all like him."

"Yeah...right." She wearily closed her eyes.

The med techs arrived with the stretcher. One of them swore when he saw the damage that had been done to her. "Gods!" he spat. "What did he use on her loins--the handle of his d'k tagh(2)?

"No, but he might as well have," Kyrlaag replied, sighing. "We'll have to sacrifice one of the female Starfleet cadets we have in cryo storage in the lab. I know, we were going to experiment on them for medical research, but this takes precedence. Khalian will cut out our livers and feed them to his Saj if anything happens to this slave!"

The tech shook his head. "toH! He nearly kills her, and we must keep her alive!"

"In any case, find a female whose blood type is compatible with the slave's for transfusions. I will have to remove any organs we need for transplantations from the cadet; I will also have to excise her genitalia and graft them to the slave." He pursed his lips. "Fek'lhr knows there is no way I can repair the bloody mess Khalian made of hers!"

The technicians nodded. He and his partner engaged the life support unit and rushed Teresa from the slave pen.

Kyrlaag watched her pale, chalky, beautiful face as they carried her away. "We are not all like him," he echoed plaintively.


"You're a lucky man, Bones."

James T. Kirk settled back in his lounger, sheltered from Serenidad's late afternoon sun by the gazebo which sat in the middle of the royal gardens. Behind him the imposing bulk of the Serenidad royal palace loomed on a grassy hillside. Kirk took a sip of his Saurian brandy as he gazed out beyond the gardens to a lush meadow that seemed to roll on forever. Two little boys romped in the tall grass with their mother, who was one of the most beautiful women in the galaxy--and Doctor Leonard McCoy's wife.

"Now that's a picture," Kirk said. "Two beautiful little boys, a gorgeous wife--what else could you ask for?"

"Nothing," McCoy admitted, flashing his trademark crooked grin.

"How old are your kid's now?"

"Well, let's see," McCoy pondered. "David is five, and Jim's three."

"My godson's three already?" Kirk asked. "I have lost track of time!"

"You should visit more," McCoy countered, mild reproach in his tone.

Kirk chose to ignore the barb. "Looks like retirement and the domestic life agree with you, Bones."

"I'm doin' fine," McCoy answered. "What about you, Jim? What've you been doing since they decommissioned the Enterprise?"

"Nothing much," Kirk replied guardedly. "Some rock climbing. Went deep sea fishing on N Hydra Three. Hunted a titanosaurus on Vega Ten. I'm going sub-orbital sky-diving back on Earth next Wednesday."

McCoy's eyes widened in horror. "You're what?!"

"I'll be wearing a tile suit," Kirk protested defensively.

"Blast it, Jim! Why do you go out of your way to try an' kill yourself?" McCoy exploded. "Like that time rock climbing El Capitan in Yosemite--if Spock hadn't been flittin' around in his moon boots, you'd've been a grease spot on the forest floor! We'd'a been scrapin' you up with a spatula!"

"But you didn't have to," Kirk countered, a testy edge to his voice. "I'm still here, Bones. It's not my time yet."

"Well, that may be, Jim, but you're sure goin' outta your way to roll snake-eyes." McCoy tossed back a slug of his mint julep. "You still haven't answered my question--why?"

"I don't know." Kirk's hazel eyes were distant, focused as much on another time as another place. "A big part of me is empty now, Bones. I guess I'm trying to fill it. I'm trying to find something that will make me feel as alive as I did in the center seat of the Enterprise." He sighed. "So far I haven't."

"Quarterdeck breed," McCoy grumbled.

Kirk shot him a withering look. "Bones, don't start that again. I don't."

"Damn it, Jim. You know as well as I do what your problem is. You're a quarterdeck breed. You were born to command a starship; hell, you've probably got a damned gene for it! Starship command was the peak experience of your lifetime, your 'first, best destiny,' as Spock said, and there's no substitute for it. So the way I see it, you can do one of two things--get command of a starship again, or resign yourself to the fact that it's over, and try to lead a normal life before your number comes up and your 'chute doesn't open."

The woman in the meadow had noticed the heated exchange between the two men. She sent the little boys off to create their own adventure for a few moments, and strolled toward the gazebo. Kirk could not disguise his appreciative stare.

If anything, Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega was even more breathtakingly beautiful now than she had been nearly two decades ago, when, as a headstrong spoiled nineteen-year-old, she had been forced to assume the role of ruler of the planet Serenidad after the Klingon agents assassinated her father. She was just now entering her prime. Her loose-fitting softsuit could not obscure the lithe contours of her clean-limbed athlete's body--a body kept as firm and taut as that nineteen-year-olds of twenty years ago by a murderous, daily two-hour regimen of gymnastics. Kirk had watched, goggle-eyed, as Teresa performed her torturous routine, realizing with chagrin, that if he tried to duplicate her moves for even five minutes, he'd be in traction for a month.

She smiled as she approached; clear dark eyes shone in a lovely, heart-shaped face that evinced little or no make-up. Her skin was as fresh as a school-girl's and after all she had been through.

Kirk's answering smile faded. After all she'd been through, it would have been understandable if the strain had aged her and ravaged her dewy complexion.

Teresa brushed a stubborn forelock of wavy, midnight-black hair off her forehead.

"Problem here, boys?" she queried as she selected a bottle of Aldebaran mineral water from the portable bar. "You're getting a little noisy."

"'Sita,(3) this jackass is goin' sub-orbital sky-diving next week," McCoy fumed. "He's bound and determined to break every bone in his body--unless of course, he's lucky enough to land on that thick skull of his!"

Teresa chuckled she sat on the arm of McCoy's chair and ruffled his hair with her free hand. "C'mon, Leonard. Jim's a big boy. He knows how to take care of himself. Besides, I've always wanted to try that myself. Sounds like fun."

McCoy glared at her. "Thanks a lot, 'Sita. Don't encourage him. 'Sounds like fun.' Yeah--and if you come in too steep on your approach dive, you're burnt toast--tile suit or no tile suit. They oughta outlaw it!"

"Bones, I--" Kirk began.

McCoy held up his hand. "Save it, Jim," he said with a weary sigh. "I'm wasting' my breath. You're gonna do it anyway, no matter what I say. Life's too short to argue."

Teresa bent to kiss him. "Good advice, honey," she said. "You should listen to yourself more often."

Kirk glanced at his wrist chronometer. "Whoa. I've got just enough time for one more. I agreed to do a PR tour of the U.S.S. Yorktown(4) for Bill Smillie. Uniform and all. I guess they like talking to relics." He winced. "I hate these things."

"Will you be back in time for dinner?" the princess asked.

"Probably not, Teresa," Kirk responded. "They're having a reception afterwards. Be here for breakfast, though. I really don't feel up to this, but I owe Bill a favor since he's decided not to put me behind a desk."

"I take it, then, that you're going to skip the christening of the Enterprise-B next week," McCoy probed.

"You're damned right I am," Kirk snapped. "There'll be a hundred reporters there--and you know how I feel about reporters. I hate them. Scotty and Chekov are going, and they've been hounding me to death about it. They won't give up."

Teresa sat down in an empty chair. "Sure you don't want to go, Jim? It is a ship called Enterprise and there's no doubt about who's the most famous Enterprise captain of all time."

Kirk allowed himself a wan smile. "Thanks," he said. "But, no, I think I'll pass. You know, I go back aboard a starship--like this shindig tonight--and it feels wonderful--great. I'm in uniform, it's almost like old times. Then comes the letdown; it's just a special appearance. I don't think the 'high' I get from it is worth the crash that follows."

"Mommy, Mommy, come on--we found a nest of baby flitters!" a small voice called.

"Davey, don't you touch them!" Teresa called out. "I'll be right there!" She stood up, excusing herself. "I'd better go, before the kids upset the balance of nature." She leaned over to squeeze Kirk's hand. "Don't worry, Jim. It'll be okay."

Teresa turned and strode off. Kirk watched her and swallowed hard. It was difficult to believe that a woman could look so good just walking away. He turned to see McCoy grinning at him like a jack-o'-lantern.

"Banjo-assed," he chuckled. "My banjo-assed little princess."

Kirk flushed, then grinned sheepishly.

"Admit it," McCoy crowed. "You're jealous! Captain Don Juan of the cosmos is jealous of a little ol' country doctor! Admit it!"

"Okay, I admit it, Bones," Kirk returned. "Hell, who wouldn't be jealous? Teresa is one of the most beautiful women I've ever known--and I've known one or two lovely ladies in my time."

"She's the most beautiful woman I've ever known," McCoy murmured. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening. Seven years together, now." He sighed. "Who'd thought I'd get hitched to the galaxy's loveliest woman!"

Kirk smiled. "It is. I'm glad you're so happy, Bones."

"So am I. Maybe that's what you need, Jim. Find a beautiful woman and settle down."

McCoy regretted the words as soon as he said them.

Kirk's face fell. "I almost did a while back. There's been nobody since Cheryl."

Way to go, Leonard, McCoy thought. Open mouth, insert foot.

Kirk and Commander Cheryl Saunders, Security Chief of Starbase 27 had been lovers. They had seriously discussed entering into a marriage contract.

Then, Tanith Brok, daughter of the Director of Barrier Alliance Consortium, kidnapped Cheryl as bait to capture James T. Kirk, whom she blamed for the death of her father. "Come alone and unarmed, or you'll never see Saunders alive again."

Of course, Tanith Brok had already beheaded Cheryl Saunders by the time Kirk had gotten the message. Kirk barely escaped the same fate himself.

"Sorry, Jim," McCoy muttered. "Didn't mean to--"

"It's okay, Bones," Kirk responded briskly as he got abruptly to his feet. "I have to get going anyway. See you at breakfast tomorrow."

McCoy watched him go and shook his head. God, Jim. I hope you find peace some day, he thought. He watched Teresa play with the kids, trying to forget the troubles that plagued his longtime friend.

After a while, his wife came sprinting through the meadow, did a cartwheel, and landed at his feet. "Ta-da!" she exclaimed.

McCoy applauded. "Very impressive. What's the occasion?"

Teresa threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, then breathed in his ear. "Got this idea," she whispered. "We drop the kids with Rosalita Nuñez at the Palace, ride out to Lago del Cristal on the horses, go skinny dipping, and top it off with a whole lot of loving on the beach." She ran her tongue across her upper lip. "Mmmm, it's great."

"I wouldn't know," McCoy said, eyes wide in mock horror.

She giggled. "I guess you wouldn't! Okay, you lie on the blanket, and I'll do the work--as long as you promise to return the favor!"

"You wouldn't have to ask me twice," McCoy said. "Let's see what develops."

What developed, as it turned out, was that they dropped the kids with Rosalita Nuñez, and settled for some love-making on their rooftop patio under a one-way privacy field. Teresa, as usual, turned him every way but loose. She brought him to climax three times in short order with a hunger that surprised him.

McCoy stared at her aghast. "Honey, what are you trying to do? Kill me?"

She pursed her pillowy lips in a mock pout. "I'm just a healthy, growing girl, Leonard. I'd never do anything to hurt you."

"Well, this time, I don't think even you can do anything about it. I'm spent. I think you sprained it!" He pulled a light blanket over them to ward off the chill of early evening. The first stars were winking on.

"Hmm. Let's see the patient, Doctor," Teresa murmured. She reached down, took hold of his maleness, and stared at a nonexistent chronometer on her other wrist, mimicking an old-fashioned physician taking a pulse. She let his organ flop back limply against his belly. "He's dead, Jim," she intoned gravely.

They both laughed, then kissed each other. Teresa snuggled close to him, and McCoy drank in the beauty of her superb, naked body. Content, they lay in silence, watching the night sky. "I feel so sorry for Jim," Teresa said after a while. "He seems so lonely."

"He's always been lonely," McCoy said. "He's a starship captain. They're born to be lonely; it comes with the territory."

"He misses the Enterprise, doesn't he? He misses his crew."

McCoy nodded. "He's unsettled. Commanding a starship is the only thing he's ever done that he really loved. But, you know, everything comes to an end; he had to expect that. We've all moved on. Spock's working on some hair-brained diplomatic project to forge a treaty with the Romulans. Scotty and I have retired. Uhura's considering leaving Starfleet to teach full time in Nairobi. Sulu has his own ship, and Chekov's working with the PR department at Starfleet. It's him that's keeping Jim busy with all these inspection tours. The ol' gang's been broken up. But Jim wouldn't have to head out to pasture if he didn't want to. Hell, Bill Smillie would give him a ship in a minute."

"Then why doesn't he ask for one?" Teresa queried.

McCoy shrugged. "Who knows? He's the most thick-headed man I've ever known--next to a certain Vulcan. He just doesn't want to talk about it."

She sighed. "He's miserable. He doesn't even have anybody to come home to, the way I've got you."

"That's a whole 'nother can of worms there, honey," McCoy said. "He hasn't had any kind of serious relationship with a woman since Cheryl Saunders was murdered. Hell, that's been nearly fifteen years. Oh, there have been plenty of women, but no relationships. He told me he met a woman named Antonia a few years back. That seemed to be going somewhere for a while, but it seemed to fizzle out, too. Then there's Kate Logan who seems to be as much of a maverick as he is, but with two people as dedicated to their careers as they are, things just don't seem to be able to work out."

"Is he afraid of getting tied down?"

"No, it's more than that," McCoy murmured. "Most of the women he's ever truly loved have turned up dead. Edith Keeler, Miramanee, Tayla, Cheryl--they all died. I think Cheryl's death was the last straw, the gruesome nature of her murder. He was afraid that any level of commitment would end up in tragedy."

Tears filled Teresa's eyes. She sat up, clutching her pillow. "Oh, I had no idea. That's so sad! No wonder he's the way he is."

He hugged her. "I know. And about all I can do for him right now is lend an ear on those rare occasions when he want to talk about it. I just hope he gets it all turned around."

Teresa hugged him more tightly. He noticed she was trembling. "Just hold me," she whispered. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

McCoy kissed her. "The feeling is mutual, 'Sita," he said. "I love you." He cradled her in his arms as the sky grew dark and the stars blazed.


Moonlight washed the ancient stonework of the amphitheater, bathing it in gold. Newborn jungle encroached on the arena; a little more than a DIS(5) the terraformed(6) rain forest had spread over a hundred miles of what had once been the largest desert on Qo'noS.

Hundreds of Kh'myr women lined the seats in the circular grandstands. The select group of deadly warriors and assassins known as the q'laI sisterhood was about to initiate a new member.

A young girl stood in the very center of the amphitheater. Her lissome, naked body gleamed in the hellish glow of a flaming cauldron. She was beautiful beyond description. All the members of the q'laI were genetically bred to be graceful and lovely, but this youngling was especially fetching. Her features were softer and smoother and her forehead crests less pronounced than her sisters, reflecting the Human half of her heritage. She stared straight ahead, her clear dark eyes unreadable. The other females in the assembly regarded her straight slim body and perfectly formed breasts with a touch of envy and more than a little lust(7).

A stately figure in black robes approached, and the low murmuring of the crowd ceased. SoS Veraas, the q'laI mistress, pulled back her cowl, revealing her shock of snow-white hair.

"Puqbe''(8)Valias, you have fulfilled the requirements of full membership in the Sisterhood. You have learned the arts of love and the arts of death. You have borne a daughter for the Sisterhood, and have slain her father with your bare hands, as prescribed by ritual. You have attained the age of wa'maH Hut(9). Are you now prepared to take the final step to become a full-fledged adept?"

"I am, SoS," was the soft-spoken reply.

"Who stands as sponsor for this child?"

"I do, SoS Veraas."

A tall, muscular female dressed in the battle armor of a captain of the Klingon fleet strode from the shadows.

"HoD(10) Vixis, you shall be responsible for the child's welfare. Assist her in maintaining her courage, but be prepared to slay her should cowardice be displayed during this final test. Are you ready?"

"I am, SoS," Vixis replied.

"Very well. Begin."

Vixis suddenly produced a length of heavy rope. She bound Valias' wrists behind her back as another female warrior came forward carrying a crystalline container. Valias said nothing but her eyes widened when she saw what was inside the transparent case.

A mantril! Did SoS Veraas mean to kill her? Had she committed some unknown crime against the Sisterhood, or was it simply her fate to die? Valias could not believe that her years of training and dedication would come to such a bloody end! She gazed at the hideous beast and tried not to show her revulsion and fear.

The creature was about eight inches long, with its slender, whip-like tail comprising half of its length. It was a nightmare's amalgam of reptiloid, insectoid, and amphibioid. It was covered with scales; its tail was segmented, as were its five pairs of legs. The rounded, eel-like head was eyeless, and seemingly lacked a mouth, although Valias knew appearances were deceiving.

As if it could read her thoughts, the mantril dislocated and distended its jaws, and its blunt snout folded open into a maw the size of a man's outstretched hand. Rows and rows of inch-long, needle-sharp teeth gleamed in the cavity.

Valias shuddered. It was a horrible way to die. The parasitical creature gnawed its way into its host's belly. It could metabolize flesh at an incredible rate; it could devour most of the organs and entrails in a humanoid stomach in about half a rep(11)while its victim suffered unspeakable torment. After it had eaten its fill, the beast would work its way out of the body, sometimes exiting through the bowels, but more often forcing its way up through the throat and out the mouth, usually breaking jaws and teeth in the process.

Of course, by the time this occurred, the victim no longer cared.

Vixis stepped forward, the huge blade of her d'k tagh gleaming in the cauldron's red-orange flames. Without a word, she made a slash in Valias' flat tummy, midway between the girl's navel and her pubis. Valias flinched, but did not cry out.

toH! She would die with honor as bravely as she could. She did not understand why, but she did not question her fate. Dark blood streamed down her belly, down the front of her legs, and puddled in the sand. Vixis accepted the mantril's glassine cage from the other warrior. She pressed the container against Valias' wound; then she pulled open a sliding partition.

Valias shut her eyes.

The scent of blood aroused the mantril. It made a sound like the screeching of rusty gate hinges and scrabbled forward. The beast's fangs sank deep into the Kh'myr girl's tender flesh. It shook itself from side to side, ripping and shredding, its foreclaws trying to get a purchase so that it could open the wound further and force its way inside her body.

The agony was too great; a scream ripped from Valias' throat. She staggered backward, trying not to fall. She wanted to die on her feet.

Suddenly, an arc of energy crackled in the air. This time the mantril shrieked. It loosened its death grip on Valias and flopped to the ground, stunned. Valias sank to her knees, weak from blood loss, afraid to look at the gory wound the beast had made.

A physician rushed forward with a protoplaser and tended to Valias' injury as Vixis collected the unconscious, blood-covered mantril and stuffed it back into its container. Within moments, Valias' abdomen was smooth and unmarked once more. Vixis extended a hand and pulled the younger woman to her feet.

"I--I screamed," Valias whispered shakily, battling shock.

Vixis smiled. "Do not feel so bad. I did, too. Every warrior in this arena probably did as well, and anyone who says differently is most likely lying!"

Valias' eyes widened. She gasped and almost laughed, but her pain had not yet subsided completely. Vixis helped her turn to face SoS Veraas.

Pride shone in the q'laI mistress's eyes. "You have passed your test," she intoned. "Welcome to the Sisterhood, be'nI' Valias!"

Cheers and roars of approval split the night. Vixis beamed, her eyes not only mirroring Veraas' pride, but also shining with love. had all been just a test, a test to measure her courage in the face of death. Valias nearly shivered as she realized how close she had come to dying. Had the mantril succeeded in forcing its head and foreclaws inside her, she would have been doomed.

The ceremony was over. Veraas strode away without another word, flanked by her retainers, and the women in the assembly filed out of the amphitheater.

Soon Valias and Vixis were alone. "There is much we need to discuss," Vixis said somberly, "about who you are, and what you must now do."

Valias stood on tiptoe and kissed Vixis hard. "Please, be'nI'wI',(12)" Valias pleaded. "Make love to me first."

Vixis frowned. "Here? Now? After what just happened?"

"I am a Klingon!" Valias grated. "I am a q'laI now, and I'm excited. I want you to love me now!"

"You must wait," Vixis said firmly. "There are things you must know. Now that you are be'nI' you have new responsibilities that must be addressed. Indeed, there is a matter that has been awaiting this day."

She took Valias by the hand and led her to a row of stone grandstand benches, where the two of them sat down. Vixis fought down her own lust. Her young ward looked so beautiful and vulnerable in the soft glow of the moonlight. At least Valias had the courtesy not to release her scent, or Vixis would have been lost.

"I will listen," Valias said, drawing close to her sponsor.

Vixis drew a deep breath. "Nineteen seasons ago, a great admiral of the Klingon fleet mated with a Human female captive and impregnated her. He did it for two reasons: to make her the test subject of a medical research experiment involving accelerated pregnancies; and for bortaS--revenge. The female bore him a daughter and twin sons in the space of two jarmey.(13)"

She paused. "The warrior was Lord Admiral Khalian. His daughter was Valias. You."

Valias leaned forward, her eyes wide. "Khalian was my father? One of the greatest warriors who ever lived?!"

Vixis nodded. "He was betrayed, dishonored, and slain by the weaklings who now control the Council, the emasculated ones who seek peace with the Federation. He and his family were discommoded, and killed; he is called the 'Nameless One' now. It is forbidden to speak his name aloud--though none would dare challenge our right to do so here in our own domain."

"Khalian--my father!" Valias whispered.

"There is more," Vixis continued. "After the puqpu'(14) had all been born healthy and normal, the experiment was considered a success. It was determined that the process would be safe to perform on Klingon females since the Human be'SIj had survived with no ill effects. Khalian decided he would execute her to get revenge for the loss of face he had suffered because of her."

"A Human female caused Khalian to lose face?" Valias snorted. "How?"

"Her homeworld was rich in dilithium, and she was the ruler of her planet. Three times, Lord Khalian engineered plots to take over her planet, and three times his operatives failed. So, at last, he had her as his prisoner, and meant to execute her for bortaS. She was taken to the desert and strung up naked on the bep Sor.(15)"

"And he slew the be'SIj--slowly, I hope!" Valias exclaimed, her eyes blazing with outrage. "Who was she?"

"Patience, bang wI'. The be'SIj hung from the tree's branches for half a day while Khalian's operatives butchered her in the HoHtaj ritual. It was mid-afternoon; she was near death." She snarled, gritting her teeth. "That DenIbya'Qatlh(16) James T. Kirk appeared, with his Qel--who was also the bitch's lover--and a raiding party. They rescued the female and escaped--another dishonor for Khalian."

"Of course, he pursued her and wrecked his vengeance," Valias stated hopefully.

Sadness clouded Vixis' eyes. "No, little one. After the female was spirited away, a faction, led by that wretched Sa(17) Kusan, petitioned the quprIp(18) to forbid Khalian from ever again taking action against your mother or her home planet, since he had failed so many times and was becoming, as they said, an embarrassment. And when he refused, he was discommoded, and his family destroyed. Khalian died without fulfilling his oath to destroy your mother."

Vixis' eyes blazed. "And so, Valias, as his only living family, the task of fulfilling the 'Ip'Iw(19)falls to you. You must destroy the be'SIj who dishonored your father!"

"Who is she?" Valias asked, her eyes narrowing in suspicion, "and why haven't you told me before this? You've been evasive, be'nI'wI', and that's not like you."

Vixis averted her eyes. "You will not like the answer, my love. Your mother is Teresa Morales de la Vega, princess and ruler of the planet Serenidad."

"No..." Valias paled. "Oh, no, no--it can't be! I knew that my mother was Human, but her? After James T. Kirk, she is the most hated enemy of our people in the galaxy. She is the symbol of the shame, the dishonor, the failure that the Empire has suffered attempting to conquer that accursed planet rojyuQ.(20) No!"

Valias sprang to her feet. She threw her head back and howled, venting her rage and frustration. She grabbed Vixis' d'k tagh from its sheath and made a slash in the palm of her left hand. She clenched her hand into a fist and raised it toward the moon as blood ran down her arm. "I, Valias, daughter of the great Khalian, swear the 'Ip'Iw--I will avenge my father's honor by fulfilling the oath that he was forbidden to keep. I will slay Teresa Morales de la Vega in the most horrible of fashions. By the Lords of Krull, she will die!!!"

Her eyes glowed red , like an animal's and her lips were drawn back over her teeth in a feral snarl. Her breasts heaved with rage.

"The mantril will feast on her organs," Valias hissed. "It is a death more hideous even than HoHtaj; for she deserves a fate of the worse kind! I will capture her and bring her back here. Teresa Morales de la Vega of Serenidad, my mother, will die in this arena, on the very soil where I swore my oath!"

Vixis sat up, her hands on her thighs. She nodded in approval. "My ship, the QIH,(21) is at your disposal. He's a good ship, a completely up-rated Bird-of-Prey, and thanks to a little assistance from Sa Klaa, he has been equipped to fire while cloaked. My crew is all female; many of them are q'laI, and there is not a woman aboard my ship who would not be delighted to see the Human be'SIj die. We can leave in a Hogh."(22) She bowed her head. "We stand ready to assist you."

Valias knelt down in front of her, a smile of gratitude on her face. "Thank you, be'nI'wI'," she whispered fervently. "I knew I could count on you."

She bent forward, and the two women shared a savage kiss. Vixis stripped off her battle armor as quickly as she could, baring her magnificently-muscled body. Her huge, naked breasts rose and fell in a steady rhythm. No longer constrained by duty, Vixis released her own scent. Powerless before the pungent pheromone, Valias cried out and staggered as if she had been struck by a physical blow.

"Now it is time to love!" Vixis hissed.

Their demonic howls of climax shattered the calm of the night--and froze the blood of anyone who might have heard them.


Leonard McCoy would remember the day for the rest of his life.

It was beautiful morning. The clear air was pleasantly warm and lacked the sultriness it would possess later in the day. Serenidad's sun was just climbing over the Sierra del Oro mountains. Skimmers glided from tree to tree, whistling their beautiful bird-like calls as they soared.

He was in the solarium of their bungalow, enjoying a breakfast of ham and eggs, fortified with juice and strong coffee, when he heard Teresa scream in the kitchen. He raced inside, alarmed, not knowing what to expect.

She stood staring at the holovid. Tears streamed from her huge eyes, and she covered her mouth with her fists.

McCoy stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the image on the screen. It was the interior of a starship deflector room, but something was terribly wrong. There was a huge rip in the outer bulkhead, and stars shone against a black canvas. It was open to space.

The words of the commentator began to register. "...still not sure exactly what happened. Apparently, the newly-christened U.S.S. Enterprise-B, out on a ceremonial shakedown run, encountered a strange space/time disturbance which nearly destroyed the vessel."

The picture shifted. The head and shoulders of the anchorwoman came into focus. She was young, beautiful, with blonde hair and blue eyes. McCoy was not surprised to see the Intergalactic News Service logo in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Another B.B.B., he thought wearily, applying the irreverent abbreviation the late Admiral Harry Morrow had coined for the INS's seemingly endless supply of sleek blonde anchorwomen--Brad Bashaw's Bimbos.

And he still had no idea what had caused Teresa to scream. He turned toward her quizzically.

"'Sita, what's..."

Teresa pointed to the screen, sobbing. McCoy turned back and his blood froze.

In the upper left corner of the screen was a black-framed portrait of Jim Kirk in uniform. The legend beneath it read:

Captain James T. Kirk, Retired
2233 - 2294

"Once, again, in case you've just joined us, the new Enterprise-B was involved in a tragic accident which claimed the life of the man who was arguably the greatest starship commander of all time, Captain James T. Kirk. Born in Riverside, Iowa, in 2233, James Kirk rose quickly through the ranks to become the youngest admiral in Starfleet history. He was something of a maverick..."

McCoy shut his eyes.

"I've always known I'll die alone." Kirk's words came back to him.

"I'm sorry, Jim," McCoy whispered. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you at the end."

Grief settled in his throat like a lump of lead. He hugged his wife, comforting her, then he steered her to a chair at the kitchen table. He took her hands in his own, and they stared numbly at the screen.

"...understand we have a live report from Willis O'Brien at Spacedock where the crippled Enterprise-B has just arrived. Willis?"

The scene shifted. A mob of reporters clustered around a group of people clad in the burgundy uniforms of Starfleet officers who were attempting to reach the haven of Spacedock's Control's office. McCoy singled out two familiar faces in the crowd.

Willis O'Brien's disembodied voice shouted to be heard above the meleè. "Sienna, I see Captain Pavel Chekov and Captain Montgomery Scott coming this way! I'm going to try to... Captain Chekov! Captain Chekov! Can you tell us what happened out there?"

Chekov appeared to be in shock. His tear-streaked face was pasty pale, and his eyes were glassy, unfocused. "Please," he mumbled. "Please just let me through. I have not'ing to say. Kyptin Kirk was a great man..."

Chekov broke down, unable to continue. An armored, helmeted security guard forced his way through the crowd, roughly pushing people aside, knocking hovering holocams out of the air with his baton. He cleared a path for Chekov and escorted him through the throng.

Willis O'Brien was not to be denied. He maneuvered his holocam until it was right up in Scott's face. "Captain Scott, tell us what went wrong! How did Captain Kirk die?"

Scotty glanced up sharply. His lower lip quavered in anger, under his gray mustache. "Ye should nae be talkin' like that, laddie! We dinna ken for sure he's dead. We did nae find a body; scanners did nae even pick up carbon residue. If I know Jim Kirk, he found a way to survive!"

"All right, you bloodsuckers, clear out!" a booming voice commanded. A squadron of security guards waded into the mass of reporters, herding them away. The image on the screen whirled and darted crazily as Willis O'Brien's camera futility attempted to lock onto the chaos around it.

"You can't do this!" O'Brien protested. "We're the press! We--get your hands off me, you asshole! I'll--"

The holocam zoomed in on the close-up image of a fully-equipped security guard. A huge, distorted hand reached toward the lens. Static replaced the picture.

The anchorwoman reappeared, somewhat flustered. "Well--uh, we seem to be experiencing technical difficulties at Spacedock. We'll return you to our regular headline news reports, and we'll break in as soon as we have any new information on the death of James T. Kirk. This is Sienna Gillette reporting."

Teresa turned off the holovid.

"Damn it!" McCoy exploded. "Of all the rotten luck! The man falls off mountains and drops out of the sky in a tile suit, then gets killed in a starship taking a spin around the parking lot! It's not fair!"

"Daddy, what's wrong?" a tiny voice asked.

David stood in the doorway, his dark hair tousled, wiping sleep out of his intense blue eyes. He stared quizzically at his father, with all the guileless earnestness of a five-year-old.

"Is your brother awake?" Teresa asked.

"Yeah. He's afraid to come out though, 'cause he heard you scream, Mommy." He looked concerned. "You're crying, Mommy. What's wrong?"

She bent down and hugged him. "It's all right, honey. Something sad has happened, but Mommy and Daddy are all right."

The door chime sounded at the kitchen door. Teresa peered out to see Rosalita Nuñez standing there. She ushered the plump, matronly woman inside. "I had the news on," Rosalita said, shaking her head sadly. "I thought you might need some help with the kids."

"Oh, thank you, Rosalita!" Teresa exclaimed fervently, squeezing the older woman's hands in gratitude. "Please keep an eye on Jimmy for me. I let out a pretty healthy scream when the news came on, and I scared him. I'll come and talk to him after I've had a chance to settle down a little, but right now..."

Tears ran down her cheeks, and she covered her face with her hands. "Jim was a g-good friend," she quavered. "I owe him my life, and more than once."

Rosalita hugged her in a motherly embrace. "There, there, dear," she comforted. "I'll take care of things here, don't worry."

David looked frightened. "Mommy, what's going on?"

"Go with Rosalita, honey," McCoy said. "She'll get breakfast for you and Jimmy. We'll be fine."

Rosalita took David's hand. "C'mon Davey; let's go get Jimmy and have some breakfast," she said. "After that, we can go down to your treehouse by the creek. Won't that be fun?"

The little boy didn't answer. He gazed back over his shoulder at his parents, frowning, until he left the room.

McCoy exhaled a long, shuddering breath. He stood up and pulled Teresa to him. "C'mon, honey," he said. "We've got to pull ourselves together. We're gonna scare the boys to death."

"I know," she sighed. "It's just that it's such a shock. You know, I always thought Jim would live forever. I know that's silly; nobody lives forever. There was just something about him, I don't know. He seemed larger than life. He exuded this confidence, like there was nothing he couldn't work his way out of."

"Yeah," McCoy murmured. "I-I can't believe he's gone. He always managed to cheat death somehow. Not this time..."

The BellComm terminal chimed, and Teresa jumped, startled.

McCoy thumbed the "activate" touchpad, and the face of Connor Randolph, Teresa's special security consultant, flickered into sharp focus. McCoy remembered that Randolph had been a graduate student of Jim's at Starfleet Academy until she was dishonorably discharged and court-martialed for a security code violation. "How're you guys doing over there?" she asked.

"It's rugged right now, Con, but we'll be okay," Teresa responded. "We'll have to be."

"Your BellComm's been ringing off the wall," Randolph said. "I've been diverting the calls; I figured you didn't need to deal with that right now."

"Thanks, Con," Teresa said. "And you're right. Jim was like family to us. He was little Jimmy's g-godfather..." She broke down and had to turn away.

McCoy put a comforting arm around his wife. "Who are the messages from, Con?" he asked.

"A lot of them are your standard condolences messages, Doc," she said. "I filed them for you. I sent a message to Miguel at the Klingon-Federation Liaison Office at Camp Kitomer, but I imagine he's probably gotten the news by now anyway. There is one message you'll want to answer, though. It's from Captain Hikaru Sulu of the U.S.S. Excelsior. He was en route to Sol system to take on crew replacements, and he offered to transport you and the Princess to Earth for the expected memorial services for Captain Kirk. He'll arrive about 8 p.m., local time."

"That's very kind of him," McCoy said, touched. "Tell Captain Sulu we would be very grateful if he could pick us up. Con, thanks for handling all of this for us."

"Don't mention it," Randolph returned. "My condolences to you and Teresa, Doc. I'll keep you posted as to what's going on. Talk to you later."

"I guess we'd better get rolling," Teresa said. "I'll check to see if Rosalita can take care of the kids while we're gone. We'll have a little better idea of what's going on after they announce when the services will be."

"I imagine they'll wait a couple of days at least," McCoy said. "There'll be people coming in from all over the galaxy. Jim was a legend." He sighed. "If you're feeling up to it, why don't you go talk to the boys? I think Jimmy would be really happy to see you're okay. I'll see them in a little while."

Teresa nodded. "Sounds like a good idea. You gonna be okay?"

He shrugged. "As okay as I can be."

Teresa managed a small smile of sympathy. She kissed him and hurried off.

McCoy wandered back out to the solarium and sat down at the table. His breakfast was cold now, but it didn't matter. He couldn't have eaten anyway.

Jim. Gone. He shook his head.

It didn't seem right. He had lost the best friend he had ever known, and he had never felt so empty. But he would make it, he was a survivor.

A lone tear tracked down his cheek. He let it follow its own course, not bothering to wipe it away. Then he stood up, steeled himself, and went back inside.

Bird Of Prey QIH
In orbit above Qo'noS

HoD Vixis eased back in the lounger in her ship's cramped briefing room, studying the small assembly of q'laI adepts who sat by, expectantly awaiting her orders. There were only four others present: T'urana, her gunner, the most experienced hand aboard the QIH; Lara, the navigator; Tula, the helmsman; and the virginal, beautiful Valias, her lover. She wanted to see how her officers would react in the presence of the young beauty who had so recently been allowed into the inner sanctum of the q'laI.

"toH. We break orbit in four leS.(23) It is time to finalize our strategy for the capture of the hated be'SIj of Serenidad." Vixis paused, glancing at her audience. "This will be a stealth mission. We will enter the Serenidad system fully cloaked. We beam down, capture her, beam back to the ship and return her to Qo'noS for execution."

"What of the starship Yorktown?" Tula asked. "It is on patrol in that system."

"We let it go," Vixis returned. "We do not wish to complicate matters. We kidnap the female and get out."

T'urana snarled like an enraged Saj. "We hit and run like cowards?" she howled. "We can fire cloaked! The starship would never know."

"We let it go," Vixis repeated evenly. "This is a matter of honor, a personal thing. Since Praxis, the Empire is in no position to engage the Federation in war, and there are still those in Starfleet who would use any excuse, any provocation, to crush us. Now is not the time. Let the Federation weaklings rebuild our resources for us; then when the time is right, we turn on them and destroy them utterly. Them and the traitors who now rule the quprIp."

"Better to go out in a blaze of glory than to die on the vine," T'urana grumbled.

Vixis slammed her fist down on the conference table, her eyes blazing. "My orders are clear, T'urana! No action is to be taken against the Federation battlecruiser Yorktown!" She gripped the handle of her d'k tagh suggestively. "Any questions?"

"No, HoDwI'" T'urana replied, her expression sullen.

"HoD, how do we get down to the surface of Serenidad?" asked Lara. "The entire planet is surrounded by an energy shield."

"We will be able to fly close enough to employ a field attenuator that can defeat a section of the shield large enough to beam our landing party down and up," Vixis replied. "Also, we have an operative on Serenidad who was implanted by Valkris almost twenty ben,(24) whose services were never utilized. We accessed this operative two Hu,'(25) and the brain chip is still viable. We were provided with exact co-ordinates of the Princess's living quarters near the palace, and a listing of her normal routines. It should be easy!"

"Famous last words," T'urana interjected with a fierce grin. "When the section of the shield drops to allow us to beam in, will not Federation operatives detect it with their sensors, either aboard the starship, or at the Starbase at San Marcos?"

Vixis shook her head. "The power drop should be minuscule, and for a very short duration. Remember, we are talking about attenuating a section of their force field no bigger around than the circumference of our transporter beam."

T'urana frowned. "Seems easy enough. Why, then, am I uneasy? Could it be because the Nameless One(26) failed to destroy the be'SIj three times, even though he was the greatest warrior, even when he had her in his clutches right here on Qo'noS?" She glared at Valias. "And this beautiful little halfling is going to prevail? Forgive me for being skeptical, but..."

Valias shot to her feet in anger, but Vixis held her back.

"She will have our help, T'urana," Vixis growled. "I would think you would be glad to have the opportunity to help end the life of the one responsible for the death of your lover L'yan all those years ago."

"L'yan favored Valkris," T'urana said bitterly. "I was acceptable as a lover only when Valkris was not around. But I loved L'yan as much as any of her sisters, even as much as Valkris. I would have died for L'yan. I grieve for her, even now."

T'urana gazed venomously at Valias. "I was not permitted to swear the 'Ip'Iw to avenge L'yan because the Nameless One had already sworn the oath. Now I am cheated again because of a family bond, cheated by this mere slip of a girl, this...this...puqbe' who did not even know the Nameless One was her sire!"

"I am a full-fledged adept, just as you are!" Valias snarled. "I am your equal in battle!"

"yItam choH!(27)" Vixis raged. "T'urana, you are relieved of duty until further notice! Confine yourself to quarters!"

T'urana was taken aback, but she did not protest. She saluted and exited the briefing room.

Vixis sat down, and urged the visibly upset Valias to take her seat as well. "She will come to her senses after her anger cools," Vixis said, but her tone was doubtful.

The comm buzzer blared in the room. "This is Vixis. nuqneH?(28)"

"HoD! Exciting news! James Kirk is dead! It was confirmed by Federation news sources! He was killed in some kind of space accident! Details are sketchy, but one thing is certain--Kirk is dead!"

Howls of joy rang in the conference room, and Lara actually jumped up and down with glee. Vixis pulled Valias to her in a crushing hug. Then she punched the air with her fist. "An omen, my sisters!" she roared. "It augurs success for our mission! The greatest enemy of our people is now dead, and the be'SIj's turn is next!" She turned to the comm panel. "Thank you, Korla! That is indeed great news! Contact us with any further developments. Vixis out!"

Calm gradually returned to the briefing. There was one more item that still needed attention. "I am going to show you a holo of our quarry, so there will be no problem identifying her." Vixis pressed a touchsensor on her control board. "This is Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega of Serenidad."

A collective gasp went up from the other three q'laI warriors. Vixis watched Valias carefully; the girl had never see a picture of her mother.

The lovely, oval face that was a near mirror image of Valias snapped into focus on the holoscreen.

"'IH!(29)" Lara breathed. Aroused by the holo of the Princess, she began to excrete her pheromone. Vixis, sitting next to her, struggled to ignore the scent. She fought for control, and won--but barely.

"She... is beautiful," Valias whispered. "She looks just like--me!"

"Your modesty is overwhelming, little one," Tula said with a laugh. "Actually, since she is your mother, you look like her. That is how you would look were you Human. But she is beautiful--as are you."

"bang'wI'," Vixis murmured in a low, dangerous voice, "Does her beauty weaken your resolve? Do you still wish to kill her?"

Valias' face transformed itself into a mask of hate. "More than ever, my lady!" she snarled. "I was caught off-guard by our resemblance, but nothing more. She will die horribly, the mantril crawling about inside her belly."

"'maj!(30)" Vixis exclaimed. "Nothing is more important than your oath." She stood up. "We are ready. Qapla!"

Valias lingered after the others departed. After they were gone, she embraced Vixis and kissed her fiercely. "bang wI', I burn for you!" Valias hissed. "I need you now! My anger has aroused me!"

"You must quench your desire for a time," Vixis returned. "I must go to fleet headquarters to ensure that all the necessary programs are in place to cover our tracks during our illegal foray into Federation space. I will return as soon as I can, bang'wI'."

Crestfallen, the younger woman trudged down the corridor toward the ship's living quarters.

Vixis glanced over her shoulder at the retreating form of her lover. She would much prefer lying in love with that young vixen than what she now had to do.

She strode into the transporter room and dismissed the technician. Then she programmed a scrambled set of co-ordinates which she had memorized into the console, activated the controls, and leaped into a harsh barren patch of desert. She wrinkled her nose; she doubted if even the qor'wI'(31) beetles could survive here. Nothing but sand and rock and howling wind, with only a dark mesa about a hundred yards off to break the monotony of the flat landscape. Vixis squinted against the sand stinging her eyes.

Otherwise she might have seen the scarlet disc suddenly appear on her chest, just to the left of center as the tracking laser of a disrupter rifle's sniper-scope locked onto her.

A heavy stun charge crackled over the keening of the desert wind. Every hair on Vixis' head stood on end; she uttered a sharp cry and dropped like a stone, unconscious.

A large, sleek cargo ship, the source of the heavy 'wind' swirling around the fallen q'laI warrior, decloaked and appeared over the desert. It hovered low; grappling tractor beams seized the prone form of Vixis and drew her into its cavernous loading bay.

Rough hands dragged Vixis over to an engine parts inspection table and unceremoniously dumped her upon it.

"Get energy cuffs and a collar on her," a gruff voice snarled. "This bitch is a q'laI warrior. For all we know, she's got a thermonuclear device up her be'SIj! Scan her and relieve her of all weaponry!"

"Yes, joH Tumak."

Tumak stood back to supervise as his mixed crew of Klingons and Romulans shackled Vixis in cuffs and scanned every molecule of her body. They relieved the unconscious woman of her disruptor and d'k tagh, a needle gun under her breastplate, a boot knife, her belt buckle boot spikes, and gauntlets.

"That's all?" Tumak asked, obviously disappointed. "Not even a photon cap in one of her teeth? I was hoping I'd have to strip her and do a body cavity search! Can't be too careful!"

His Klingon underlings guffawed loudly. The Romulans just stared, stone-faced. But Tumak did notice one of them staring longingly at Vixis' rear, which was thrust enticingly in the air after her search.

"You like what you see, S'Tarn?" Tumak queried. "I do, too. It's the finest DubDop(32) I've seen in ages. I must tell you though, this is HoD Vixis of the QIH. She is Sa'be'(33) to Lord Klaa. He's well-known for buggering his women. You could probably shove your fist up in there without touching anything, for all the stretching Klaa's done to her poor little bunghole!"

"Right--and then she can run to the q'laI compound and have some pretty little female kiss it and make it better!" a voice rasped.

The Klingons roared with laughter.

"That's right," Tumak cackled. "She has the best of both worlds--she sucks the choQ'etlh(34) by day and eats be'SIj by night! All right, stations everyone! There's no booby trap on or in this healthy specimen. Set course for the Durit stronghold. This be'SIj has an appointment with Lady Vetara!"

Tumak flashed crooked yellow teeth in an evil grin. "Who knows, S'Tarn--if there's anything left of this one after Lady Vetara finishes with her, I'll let you shove it up her ass--provided I'm finished with her!"

S'Tarn stole another glance at Vixis as he headed for the bridge. She was pretty, for a Kh'myr female, though somewhat muscle-bound. He wondered what was going to happen to her.

He shivered.

He decided he didn't want to know.

The House of Durit

Lady Vetara was beautiful, spectacularly so.

For a Kh'myr female, Sub-Commander S'Kal almost added, then thought better of it. No, Vetara is beautiful--period.

They lay together on Vetara's sinfully comfortable bed, Klingon and Romulan, locked in a naked, lewd embrace. S'Kal admired her body; it was soft and supple with rounded surfaces in all the right places--but as strong and tensile as tellurium alloy.

He did not love her. She was beautiful and she excited him and he had enjoyed every hot, sweaty moment of it, but he did not love her. Vetara had commanded him to make love to her.

And when a member of the House of Durit said "Jump," one asked, "How high?"

The Durit family was the most powerful clan on the planet Qo'noS. The late Emperor Kudan Kuras paled at the mere mention of the name. Even Chancellor Azetbur and the new quprIp tried, not always successfully, to steer clear of involvement with them. The Durit had been instrumental in arranging the uneasy alliance between the Klingon and Romulan empires. It was they who had obtained cloaking technology for the Klingons.

They were not to be trifled with, and S'Kal always kept that fact in mind whenever he dealt with them.

She traced his ear with a long, sharp fingernail. "So elegant," she whispered.

S'Kal bent down and sucked an erect nipple into his mouth.

Vetara moaned and squirmed delightedly; then she sighed with regret. "I'm afraid we must be about our business, Sub-Commander," she said. She led him to a sunken whirlpool tub in the center of her opulent chamber. They bathed without a word, then got out and dressed quickly.

The Romulan Sub-Commander sank down in the lounger designated for him.

Vetara's dark eyes, which only moments earlier had smoldered with passion, were now cold and business-like. "A glass of Romulan ale, Sub-Commander, to warm your chilled bones? I understand you romuluSngan find our climate to be somewhat on the cool side."

"I thank you, Lady Vetara," S'Kal said. He picked up the proffered goblet of electric-blue liquid from the table, sipped it, then decided to cut right to the chase. "I understand you contacted the Praetor, with an offer of new technology."

Vetara's bright chuckle belied her severe expression. "So impatient, S'Kal, my love," she murmured. "Learn to be still, and you will live a longer life."

Vetara slid a small plastex cube across the desk toward the Romulan. He opened it with curiosity.

Half a dozen computer info disks gleamed in their storage slots.

"A gift for your illustrious Praetor," Vetara murmured. "On those disks are contained the theory and technology of the programs the scientists of Emperor Kjimeg developed to genetically engineer the Kh'myr sub-race. If your scientists implement the technology immediately, they could begin the development of your own race of super warriors within a year."

S'Kal raised an eyebrow. "This is a priceless gift indeed, Lady Vetara," he said. "What do you wish in return?"

"Always so direct," she laughed. "I like that--up to a point. I wish nothing in return--for now. But I am quite sure I will think of something!"

S'Kal kept his expression neutral. He was about to address Vetara again when he heard a commotion at the rear of the chamber.

"Ah! A diversion," Vetara said. "Bring her to me."

A Klingon female in energy shackles was half-dragged and half-shoved through the room. S'Kal noticed that she was tall and muscular--and beautiful. She was unceremoniously pushed to the floor at Vetara's feet.

"Ah, HoD Vixis," Vetara said. "I would hear your report concerning the be'SIj of Serenidad."

S'Kal could see it in the female Vixis' eyes. Fear--pure, growing, unrestrained fear, fear like she had never felt before. He could tell it was an unaccustomed emotion for her, and he could also see that it was growing too large for her to control. But she was brave, this one, and she tried to put up a bold front. Even so, her face was drained of color, and her lower lip quivered.

"Mistress Vetara," she quavered, "I must protest this humiliating treatment! I was stunned by that Ha'DIbaH on the cargo ship! It was not necessary."

Vetara's boot shot out, kicking Vixis in the face. She toppled over backwards.

"yltamchoH!" Vetara snarled. "Be glad Tumak did not kill you! You q'laI fancy yourselves as being so powerful! Phah! You are simply my toy'wI'--my slave. I could crush you and your child-lover, Valias with a snap of my fingers! The q'laI are nothing when compared to the House of Durit. You serve me and my family! Yaj'a'?(35)"

Vixis nodded her eyes wide with terror. If she had tear ducts, S'Kal mused, she'd be weeping like a baby now.

"Now--tell me, Vixis is all in readiness?" Vetara asked with deceptive softness.

Vixis nodded shakily. "Y-yes, my lady. Valias has been told of her heritage--that she is the daughter of the great Khalian and the be'SIj, Teresa Morales de la Vega of Serenidad. She has sworn the oath. The be'SIj will be dead in a Hogh from now. I swear it!"

"For your sake, she had better be!" Vetara grated. "I have persuaded the government to look the other way while you complete your mission. You will be unhindered from that standpoint, so failure will be inexcusable. Now get out of my sight!"

Vixis was hauled out as roughly as she was brought in.

Vetara motioned to Tumak, who bowed before his mistress. "Tumak, the bitch Vixis still has too much insolence in her. I think she needs to be...chastised before she is released." She smacked a fist hard into her other palm.

Tumak smiled his yellow smile and nodded. "I was hoping you'd say that!"

"Oh, and Tumak--I think she needs a reminder of just who her mistress is, something she'll always be able to see. Take care of it."

"jIyaj," Tumak said. He saluted and left the chamber.

S'Kal gazed after him. "Lady Vetara," he said, "this on-going Serenidad affair--I understood it to be a dead issue. Lord Khalian's failed attempts to conquer the planet occurred twenty years ago! You have just now decided to kill the Princess Teresa again--two decades later? Why?"

"bortaS bIr jablu' DI' reH QaQqu' nay,(36)" Vetara whispered.

S'Kal nodded. "Ah yes, revenge. Even unto the seventh generation."

Vetara nodded. "Khalian was a good and loyal pawn of ours. We do not forget his service to us. He is dead; the be'SIj still lives. He died before he could fulfill his oath to slay her--nay, he was forbidden to do so by the government weaklings. Now his daughter has reached the Age of Ascension--at least the q'laI equivalent of it. She will be the perfect tool to achieve vengeance. So what if it is a generation later?"

S'Kal shook his head. Revenge, perhaps the sole motivator of the Kh'myr psyche. But the House of Durit had taken the concept to a new level. Even he was appalled by the cold-bloodedness of it. He repressed a shudder--or tried to.

"You are still cold, Sub-Commander?" Vetara solicitously asked. "Here, have some more ale."

She refilled his goblet, and S'Kal gratefully drained it in one gulp.

Bird Of Prey QIH
In orbit above Qo'noS

Lieutenant Taras was lounging at the transporter console of the QIH when the signal came in. It was HoD Vixis' frequency, but she sounded strange. "jolyIchu'!" came the muffled command.

Taras frowned. With one hand gripping her disruptor pistol, she slid the dials forward. She nearly screamed when her commander materialized on the transporter pad. "Qel Razar to transporter control, quickly!" Taras stood rooted in place.

Vixis lay sprawled face down on the platform. She had been brutally beaten; her naked body was covered with blood and bruises and contusions.

The pneumo doors hissed open. Razar arrived on the run, her medikit ready. The sound of the compressed air released Taras from her trance. She rushed forward just as Razar knelt beside their fallen commander. "She's alive," Razar grated.

Taras noticed that Vixis' bloody buttocks were glazed with a sticky pearlescent fluid. She grimaced in disgust when she realized what it was. "She's been raped!" Taras howled, enraged. "Some filthy son of a targ sodomized her!"

"Several sons of a targ," Razar corrected. "I am picking up at least a dozen distinct semen traces, some Kh'myr Klingon, and some...romuluSngan. Vaginal and anal penetrations. I imagine her mouth and throat are full of it, too."

She checked her mediscanner. "Whoever did this was an expert," Razar said. "She will heal. No broken bones, no internal injuries. Mild concussion, but no permanent damage. I can heal the cuts and bruises immediately. She'll need rest, and she'll be sore for several days. This is not as bad as it looks. She'll be all right. Physically, at least."

"But, she is a q'laI adept! Who would dare attack and violate such a fierce warrior?" Taras demanded indignantly.

Razar gently rolled Vixis over on her back--and gasped.

Taras screamed.

"They would dare," Razar whispered, a quaver in her voice.

Taras stared in horror at her commander's face.

Vixis' left cheek had been branded. Her face was marked with angry, blistered tissue that would pucker into a scar. But Taras had not cried out because the burn was exceedingly ugly or disfiguring; she had screamed because she recognized the intricately filigreed brand.

It was the crest of the House of Durit.

"They would dare," Razar repeated.

"Oh gods," Taras moaned. "What has she done? Qel...can you...?" Taras touched her own cheek.

"I could remove the brand with microsurgery--but I dare not. HoD Vixis will wear the brand for the rest of her life, until the day qor'wI' beetles strip the flesh from her bones!" She motioned to two med techs who had entered the room; they quickly scooped up their captain and spirited her to Sickbay, with Razar in their wake.

Taras sat on the edge of the transporter platform, hugging herself, staring at the bright pink blood of HoD Vixis spattered on the deck. For the rest of her life, she would remember the horrible sight of her commander's battered face--the blood, the bruises, the blackened eyes, the vile coating of semen--all paling into insignificance next to the sinister brand that scarred her cheek.

The House of Durit.

The transporter chief shook her head.

How had HoD Vixis gotten herself involved with the House of Durit? Surely she had not done so willingly!

Taras shuddered.

If Vixis had worked with the Durit family of her own volition, Taras hoped the gods would take pity on her spirit!

U.S.S. Excelsior

Dinner in the captain's quarters was usually a festive occasion; complete with good food, good conversation, a good time. It was an honor and a privilege.

But tonight, it was more like a wake.

Not that they hadn't tried. Captain Hikaru Sulu had commissioned a lavish feast comprised of delicacies from all over the galaxy. The cooks had done an excellent job of preparing the meal, and the food was top-notch.

But none of the dinner guests had much of an appetite.

The death of Jim Kirk cast a pall over the proceedings. It was never far from their thoughts, and it seemed to lurk in every corner of the spacious cabin. Sulu sat on one side of the table with his lover, Commander Ariel Cord, his chief medical officer. Across from them sat Doctor Leonard McCoy and his wife, Princess Teresa Morales del al Vega of Serenidad. McCoy's commission had been temporarily reinstated for the upcoming funeral service. He wore his wine-red Starfleet uniform, as did Sulu and Cord. Teresa was stunning in a formal gown of sea-green turalon. Ariel Cord kept stealing furtive glances at the Princess, in a manner of one beautiful woman sizing up another--sizing up the competition.

Sulu finally pushed his plate away.

"Damn," he swore softly. "Its such a such a waste. The Enterprise-B wasn't ready to be towed out of spacedock, much less go for a shakedown run. I talked to Demora. She said Captain Kirk had to all but take command away from Harriman, or they'd have been destroyed."

"Harriman did ask Jim for recommendations, honey," Ariel Cord pointed out gently.

"I know," Sulu answered. "But it doesn't change the fact that Harriman was no more ready to command the Enterprise than the Enterprise was ready to leave the dock."

"I still can't believe he's dead," Teresa said with a sigh. "He was almost like some mythical figure."

"He was," McCoy murmured. "But he was also a mortal human being, just like the rest of us, subject to the same physical laws. The biggest law of all, the law of averages, finally caught up to him. He had more close calls and narrow escapes than any man had a right to expect. I guess we can take some small consolation in that."

No one spoke for a long time. Sulu finally broke the silence.

"The memorial service will be the day after tomorrow at 11:00 A.M., San Francisco time. They'll have a photon torpedo casing and the Federation flag. They're recommissioning the Enterprise-A for the service, and they'll launch the tube from her toward open space. Of course, it'll be symbolic, since they don't have a body"

"No body," Teresa murmured. "I hate that! You can't say goodbye. Papa's funeral was like that, and Carlos'."

"And Janet's" Sulu finished, his voice breaking on her name. Ariel Cord squeezed his arm, and Sulu covered his eyes with his hand. McCoy looked away, uncomfortable.

"I'm sorry," Sulu said, regaining his composure. "It's just what you said, Teresa, about not being able to say goodbye--that's exactly what happened when Janet was killed in the Kelvan War. I didn't get to say goodbye, and it hurt so bad--it still hurts."

"It always will," Teresa whispered.

The gloomy silence returned, and began to stretch on interminably. McCoy decided that perhaps idle conversation was a possible solution. He favored Ariel Cord with his most charming, crooked smile.

"I've read a lot of good things about you, my dear, and heard a lot of good comments from Captain Sulu. You're as excellent a physician as you are beautiful. Why so quiet?"

Cord cleared her throat nervously. "I'm a doctor, and I'm a woman," she said. "I'm sitting across the table from two people who outclass me in both departments--the most famous doctor in the history of Starfleet and possibly the most beautiful woman in the galaxy. I'm...a little intimidated."

Teresa blushed, then chuckled. "I'm honored, Ariel," she said. "But, with all due respect, Leonard and I put on our undies just like everybody else!"

"And take 'em off the same way, too," McCoy added, twisting his face into a mock lecherous leer as he draped an arm over his wife's shoulders.

Cord burst out laughing, but she was soon drowned out by Sulu's staccato, machine-gun fire guffaw.

That broke the ice, McCoy thought. Life goes on. There'll be more than enough sorrow and grief at the funeral service. We don't need to pound it into the ground now.

The rest of the evening proceeded more smoothly. By the time the party broke up at midnight, ship's time, Ariel and Teresa were chatting like long-lost sisters, promising to meet in the gym the next morning.

McCoy and Teresa strolled back to their cabin, hand in hand.

"Honey," Teresa began tentatively, "isn't Ariel a be such an accomplished physician? And isn't she a little, um, young, for Hikaru?"

McCoy chuckled. "Now there's a case of the pot calling the kettle black, my dear. Let's're May, and I'm December, if I remember correctly."

"Touché," Teresa returned, averting her eyes. "Point taken, Doctor. It's just...she's so beautiful. She can't be more than, what?--twenty-four? twenty-five? She doesn't look any older than that."

McCoy nodded. "She's looked the same for about the last thirty years."

"Wha?" Teresa stared up at McCoy dumbfounded. "You're joking, aren't you?"

He shook his head. "Nope. Doctor Ariel Cord, Avalon University, Planet Chrysalis, class of 2262. She had a long affair with Captain Chris Pike, the skipper of the Enterprise before Jim."

"All right, Leonard," Teresa said sharply, stopping abruptly in the hall pointing a finger at him inches from his nose. "a joke's a joke. That's enough. That girl can't be any more than twenty-five years old, tops. Stop it."

"It's no joke, 'Sita," McCoy defended himself. "Check it out if you don't believe me."

" does she do it?" Teresa queried almost plaintively, burying her head on his shoulder.

"She says good genes," McCoy answered as he wrapped his arm around her, gently moving her toward their cabin, thinking of a 5000-year-old Human named Flint that the Enterprise had encountered all those years ago. "Did you know she's a porno holovid actress, too?"

"I gotta sit down," Teresa muttered, shaking her head. "A porn starlet?"

"Sulu told me she's done over two hundred and sixty X-rated holofilms so far. Still does a couple or three every year or so, when she goes on furlough." He looked down at his wife, innocence covering his face. "She's supposed to be quite good, too, from what I understand--not that I would know."

Teresa reached up and nibbled his earlobe. "Damned straight, buddy!" she growled. "Your life is a porn film with me around!"

They finally reached their cabin and entered. The red light on the small comm panel caught McCoy's attention.

"Wonder what this is?" A frown etched itself on his face as he tapped the 'play' button.

"Message received 20:12, ship's time," came the filtered, recorded voice of communications officer Janice Rand. "Point of origin, city of San Francisco, Planet Terra."

The familiar face of Captain Montgomery Scott sharpened into focus on the screen. "Leonard, lad, Ah'm sorry Ah have to contact ye this way, but m' ship leaves in forty-five minutes. Ah'm headed for th' retirement colony on Norpin V aboard the Jenolen. This came up kinda sudden, an' Ah dinna want to miss out." He paused, his dark eyes growing distant for a moment. "It's time. Ah've had enough o' blastin' around th' galaxy. Time t' rest now. Ah'm sure Ah'll hear about it on the newsfax, but, call me when they rescue Jim." My BellComm code is 13-MS-405-365C. Hope t' hear from ye soon. Good luck!" The screen darkened.

McCoy shook his head, sighing. "He's in denial," he finally said. "He can't face the fact that Jim died out there. Who knows, though--maybe he's got the right idea. I know I'm not looking forward to the memorial service." He yawned, stretching. "I'm bushed. You 'bout ready to turn in?"

"Not quite," Teresa answered softly from behind him.

Unclasping the shoulder strap of her dress, she let it slide from her body to swirl around her ankles like foamy sea foam. As usual, she had nothing on under it. Her slender, naked form seemed to glow in the soft cabin lighting. Reaching up, she undid the clasp in her hair and the intricately woven braids tumbled to her shoulders in thick, midnight waves.

McCoy's breath caught in his throat. "Y'know, I was wondering what you were talking about when you told Ariel you put your undies on like everybody else. I happen to know you don't own a single undergarment."

"Ariel probably doesn't either, being a porn starlet and all," Teresa returned. Her smile turned impish. "Or, if she does, they probably have holes in all the right places!"

McCoy burst out laughing. Peeling off his clothes, he pulled her into the circle of his arms. His kisses were soft and slow, and he hunted gently over her body with his lips until Teresa was beside herself with lust and frustration.

"Enough!" she finally moaned. "Enough!"

McCoy picked her up and carried her to their bed and continued until he arched his back in ecstasy.

As he subsided, Teresa kept going, continuing to thrash and gyrate, screaming at the top of her lungs as she continued to stimulate herself. McCoy stared down at her in aghast. There was no sign that she was slowing down. Her eyes rolled back as she convulsed in the throes of something that resembled an epileptic seizure.

With dawning horror, McCoy realized what was happening. Springing from the bed and rummaging through his ever-present medikit, he came up with a hypospray, quickly coded it and discharged it into her flailing arm.

Gradually, her paroxysm quieted. Her eyes came into focus, and she stretched, her chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath.

"Whoa," she finally managed. "That was intense!"

McCoy glared at her in disapproval. "All right, my dear--when did you give yourself your last proxodone injection?"

Teresa flushed guiltily and glanced away. "Last night--I think," she finally answered in a small voice. She rolled onto her stomach, and McCoy had to struggle to keep from being distracted by her well-formed backside.

"You think!?" he exploded. "You think!? That means you've missed two doses! Honey, you know, you have to stay on a proxodone maintenance dose for the rest of your life to counter the addictive effects of that poison Khalian pumped into your veins." McCoy shook his head. "Every cell in your body is impregnated with that crap. You skip enough doses and you'll go into withdrawal. Keep going and you have seizures which will finally lead to respiratory distress or arrest, and a coma, and then you'll die!"

"It was only two doses," she protested, child-like. "I wanted to be extra horny for you."

McCoy rolled his eyes in disbelief. "Baby, you were born horny! You don't need any help there. It's all I can do to keep up with you under normal circumstances. You don't need any enhancements!"

He coded the hypospray again, and, without warning, discharged it into the rounded globe of her right buttock.

"Hey! No fair!" she squealed.

"Couldn't resist," he grinned devilishly at her. "It was just too tempting of a target." Then, turning serious, he added, "Now you're all caught up. From now on, one dose in the morning and one at night every day, without fail. Okay?"

"Okay," she agreed contritely, bowing her head. "Are you sore at me?"

He kissed the top of her head. "No. You know I can't stay mad at you for long. I just got scared, that's all. I worry about you, 'Sita. Those Klingon aphrodisiacs are deadly, tricky drugs, and I don't want you to play with your medicine. You take your two doses a day, and you can hold off the effects of the drugs; you don't..." He shrugged.

"I'm sorry," she whispered meekly. "I promise , I won't do it again."

"Yeah. Where have I heard that before?" McCoy growled good-naturedly.

Dimming the lights, he joined her in the bed, pulling the sheets over them. Teresa snuggled close to him with a contented sigh. McCoy started to drift into sleep.

"Honey?" Her voice filtered through his semi conscious brain.

"Hmm?" he responded.

"I'm still horny."

McCoy groaned aloud, aroused from the near-sleep state he'd been in. "'Sita, you gotta be kidding! Your recharge time is a lot shorter than mine. I hate to disappoint you, but I just don't think I'm up to it--no pun intended."

She smiled seductively. "I bet I can do something about that."

"No way!"

"Wanna bet?"

McCoy sighed in resignation. "Okay, you're on."

"Loser scrubs the winner's back an extra five minutes in the shower."


She kissed him hungrily, and went from there.

As usual, McCoy lost the bet.

But, somehow, he didn't seem to mind.

Aboard the QIH

"She's resting comfortably," Qel Razar whispered. "She's under heavy sedation, and the painkillers have taken effect as well. You may speak to her, but do not stay long. I cannot promise she will hear you."

Valias stared with wide, horrified eyes at the recumbent form of HoD Vixis beneath the sheets of her sickbay bed. Her face. What had they done to her beautiful face? It was swollen and puffy; the brand on her left cheek glowed an angry red.

Razar patted Valias sympathetically on the shoulder, then withdrew to give the Kh'myr girl privacy.

"HoD Vixis," Valias whispered, silently cursing the quaver in her voice. "It is I, Valias."

Painfully, Vixis rolled her head toward the sound of her lover's voice.

"bang'wI'," she croaked with a thickened tongue.

"I am here," Valias clasped one of her captain's hands in her own, wincing at the sight of Vixis' blackened eyes, now swollen shut. "I am here."

"I only screamed once, bang'wI'," Vixis slurred. "I did not scream when they violated me, or when they beat me." She hesitated, and her voice cracked. "Only when they branded my face--when they ruined it--did I cry out. It hurt so much." She turned away. "I am disfigured," she whispered. "Surely you now find me repulsive. I release you from your bond to me. You need not be the lover of a--a monster."

Valias gently turned Vixis' face back toward her. Caressing the blistered skin of the brand, she shook her head. Then she lowered her head and kissed the wound. "You are still bang'wI' to me," Valias murmured. "It matters not. What matters is that those who committed this unspeakable deed pay for their crimes."

"No!" Vixis objected with surprising force. "No! You must not, Valias. They will kill you."

"I will not let them get away with this," Valias grated. "Now, tell me!"

"No!" Vixis shut her swollen eyes. "We will speak no more of this. I forbid it."

Valias stepped back from the bed. "Forgive me for this, bang'wI', but I will avenge this."

She released her scent. Vixis convulsed on the bed, moaning, overwhelmed by the power of the girl's musk.

"N-no. Do not do this!" Vixis pleaded.

"Tell me now," Valias demanded. "Who did this to you?"

Struggling desperately, Vixis tried not to respond. Finally, unable to resist, "T-T-Tumak," she gritted. "Tumak and his men. They raped me. Tumak, and a romuluSngan crewman named S'Tarn sodomized me. It was Tumak who branded me."

"How do I find them?" Valias demanded.

"They are aboard a cargo shuttle that patrols the desert near the Durit citadel. They work for the House of Durit. If you beam down to planetary grid coordinates 24.7C by 68, you will trigger a signal that summons them."

"Thank you, bang'wI'," Valias whispered. "I will deal with them."

"No! No! You must not," Vixis protested weakly, attempting in vain to break through her drug- and pheromone-induced fog. "No one defies the House of Durit. No one! Not even the q'laI! You will die, bang'wI!"

"Sleep now." Valias bent to kiss her captain, applying gentle pressure behind Vixis' left ear as she did so, rendering her unconscious. "You will sleep long enough for me to do what I must."

Leaving the sickbay, she hurried to the transporter room. Favoring Taras with a brilliant smile, she threw her arms around the q'laI's neck and kissed her. An instant later, the technician was sprawled on the deck.

"I am sorry, Taras," she looked down to the fallen form. "I do not wish to involve you in this."

Programming the console, Valias stepped onto the pad as the beam activated.

Desert materialized around her. Acting quickly, she stripped off her clothes, folding them neatly and stashing them behind a large rock. Then, standing completely naked, and apparently weaponless, she waited.

But she still possessed her most potent weapon--her body.

She didn't have long to wait. A low rumble sounded off in the distance beyond the mesa. A cargo ship landed in a windstorm of sand and flying rock. As the dust settled, a portal opened and a ramp settled onto the desert floor with a crunch.

Valias strode forward boldly.

"That is far enough be'SIj!" a gruff voice bellowed.

Valias halted as a huge, scraggly-looking Kh'myr Klingon cautiously descended the ramp, training a disruptor carbine on her. He was flanked by another equally large and scruffy Klingon and a somewhat better groomed Romulan. Both of them also aimed rifles at her.

Valias spread her hands helplessly. "I am unarmed," she called out.

"I can see that," the leader snickered. "What do you want?"

"I seek the one called Tumak."

"I am he," the first Klingon stated. His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What do you want? How did you know where to find me?"

Valias' lips parted, feigning arousal. "I saw what you did to my sister, Vixis," she whispered in a husky voice. "It excited me!"

Tumak's eyes widened. "Being flarged raw and then beaten to a bloody pulp excites you?" he asked incredulously."

"Well, perhaps not to that extreme," she admitted, smiling a seductive smile, "but I do like it rough."

"A moment, joH Tumak," the other Klingon placed a hand on Tumak's shoulder. "This be'SIj must be a q'laI if she calls Vixis her sister. She could be dangerous!"

Tumak snorted. "This little bit of a thing? She is as naked as the day she was born, Lorag. She is little more than a child. Look, the pob(37) around her loins is as fuzzy as the down on a d'rlaQ(38)hatchling!" Tumak licked his lips. "I say we give her everything she wants--and more!"

Lowering his carbine, he motioned her on board. "Come on aboard, little bitch, if you dare!"

Smiling sweetly, Valias strolled as casually as she could toward the freighter, trying not to display her inner tension. Swaying seductively as she walked, she made sure the appropriate portions of her anatomy were in full undulating motion. The two Klingons stared goggled-eyed as she passed them on the ramp. Even the Romulan was beginning to exhibit signs of strain.

As Valias entered the ship, Tumak nodded imperceptibly at the other two. They pounced on her, pinning her arms. Tumak was on her like a cat, pawing and groping her, kissing her savagely. His breath reeked. Valias fought down her revulsion as she returned his ardor. Tumak's teeth broke the skin on her neck as he nipped her, then his mouth found her erect nipple.

Playing along, Valias moaned, feigning arousal as he suckled her. His probing fingers found the most intimate recesses of her body.

"toH! She's no virgin, but she is still good and tight, and ready!"

Valias smiled fiercely. He was playing right into her hands. Just a few more minutes

"Ugh" Tumak grunted, staggering backward. "What in Fek'lhr's name! I am dizzy."

Tumak's two henchmen appeared equally distressed.

"Release me," Valias commanded coolly.

The pheromones she had released had gone to work. They were totally at her mercy. Lorag and the Romulan stepped away from her obediently.

"Drop all your weapons over here," ordered Valias, motioning to a table near the portal. Taking Tumak's carbine, she held it at her side, ready to fire. "Now, summon all your men here," she dictated. "Tell them there is going to be a party."

Obligingly, Tumak activated a comm terminal. "This is Tumak. All hands to the cargo bay. There is a beautiful be'SIj standing here, stark naked, who says she wants to have a party with us. Hurry down here."

"Very good, Tumak," Valias smiled. "Now, stand there, don't move until I tell you to."

They were soon joined by the cargo ship's crew. There were a few Romulans among them. Their eyes lit up hungrily at the fetching vision of naked Kh'myr girl.

"Is this all your crew?" Valias asked sotto voce counting twelve males surrounding her.

"Yes." Tumak's voice was thick. "Everyone is here."

Valias looked them over. One by one, their expressions blanked as her scent overwhelmed them. They would do anything she wanted. She wondered why HoD Vixis hadn't released her own pheromones to avoid the defilement that had befallen her.

"This will be wonderful," Valias cooed. "Such strong, handsome warriors! Now," she went on, "I need all of you to take off your clothes. I want to see how virile you are. Then I want you to stand in a line. I will only do one of you at a time, but you will all get a turn. Tell me what you want me to do for you as I come to you."

The crewmen hurriedly complied, then formed a tight line. Valias chuckled silently when she saw they were all achingly, helplessly erect.

"Impressive!" she exclaimed. "I hope I can survive all this magnificent maleness!" She hid the carbine with her body as she walked down the line, picking the Klingon at the far end. "You are so big!" she breathed, staring at his organ. "What should I do with it?"

The Kh'myr smiled crookedly, his eyes unfocused. "Eat it, be'SIj!"

Valias smiled back. "Eat this, son of a targ!" she snarled.

Raising the carbine, she pressed the trigger, spraying lethal energy like water from a garden hose. The beam seared through the line of massed warrior, cutting them in half at the waist. Romulan and Klingon torsos and lower bodies tumbled to the floor like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. There was no blood; the disruptor's beam had cauterized arteries and veins as it sliced through the bodies.

Only Tumak remained. She turned the carbine on him. Before she could fire it, he charged her, released from the musk-induced trance by the sight of his men's deaths.

Valias pressed the trigger, catching Tumak in the abdomen. His howled and flew backwards, then slammed into a bulkhead. He lay still on the deck.

Valias shook her head in disappointment. He had died too quickly. She had wanted him to suffer more for what he had done to her beloved Vixis. Lowering her rifle, she strode over to Tumak's prone form and kicked it in the head.

The 'dead' Tumak suddenly exploded into life. Valias shrieked as he gripped her ankles, pulling her legs from under her. The carbine went flying as her head slammed hard on the metal deck. Tumak pressed his advantage, beating Valias mercilessly about the head and upper body. Somehow Tumak was still alive. His stomach was little more than a charred hole, with the fused ends of burned organs protruding from the blackened wound. Still he fought on, howling with rage, smiling with satisfaction as he felt her soft flesh give way under his rock-hard fists.

Valias felt consciousness slipping away. With a desperation that overrode her revulsion, she plunged her hands into his open stomach, grabbing a mass of slippery intestines, tugging with all her might. Tumak shrieked as she tore out what was left of his insides.

He thrashed on the deck in agony as Valias crawled drunkenly away from Tumak, her blood-soaked hands slipping on the deck plates, gasping and sobbing from the pain of the beating she had taken. Her hands found the carbine and she aimed it at Tumak's still-erect member.

"Now, you suffer the fate of any male who would dare sodomize a q'laI warrior," she spat. "I will destroy your maleness and send you to the afterlife as a be'. The demons of Gre'thor will ridicule you and force you to take your place with prostitutes and other disgraced females!"

Horror displaced the pain in Tumak's eyes. "No! Please do not!" he managed to croak.

Valias smiled grimly, firing the carbine. Tumak's genitalia exploded in a burst of mangled flesh and fuchsia-colored blood. Tumak howled and writhed on the deck as smoke curled from the wound between his legs. Burning flesh sizzled. Tumak thrashed for a few more moments, then was seized by a spasm. He stiffened and lay still, his eyes open, glazed.

This time, Tumak was really dead.

Valias staggered into a nearby locker room. Entering a shower stall, she sagged against the wall as sonics and water washed over her. Feeling somewhat refreshed, she dried off, then studied her face in a mirror. It was bruised, and puffy; her mouth and nose were bloodied, but her teeth were all intact, and nothing seemed to be broken. She would heal without a scar.

Now all she had to do was devise a way to get back aboard the QIH. And try to explain this to Vixis.

Valias strode back down the ramp out into the dry heat. She peered cautiously around the surrounding desert. She seemed to be alone. Satisfied, she strode to the rock where she had hidden her clothes.

She felt the impact of the blow before she heard the shriek of the disruptor. The beam hit her full in the chest, driving the air from her lungs. She was slammed onto her back, every nerve ending tingling with numbness.

As blackness claimed her, the last sight she saw was the face of Lady Vetara Durit glaring down at her with murderous fury.

Dungeon Cell
The House of Durit

Valias swam to consciousness slowly. She was still naked, her arms suspended over her head by shackles, holding her lithe form off the stone floor. Her feet, also shackled, were spread apart and could barely touch the cold rock.

She opened her eyes slowly, taking in her surroundings. The dungeon cell was damp, dank, and foreboding. Valias closed her eyes again in defeat. There was nothing anywhere near her that she could use to free herself from this ignominious position.

A noise caught her attention. She opened her eyes again, and met the glare of the regal Kh'myr female who was standing in front of her, seething with anger and hate.

Valias stared back at the female, all the while attempting to release her musk-scent, only to be frustrated at her inability to do so. Stubbornly, she continued to try and secrete her pheromone to seduce the woman standing in front of her.

The woman chuckled evilly. "Having trouble, puqbe'(39)?" Vetara walked around the young q'laI, then stood in front of her again. "We have found that the disruptor beam paralyzes the nerves leading to the scent glands for quite a while. It will be several more hours before you can do any more seducing with your scent." Her expression grew hard as she moved closer to the bound girl. "You murdered my crew!" she stated coldly. "My hand-picked, well-trained crew. For that you will pay, and pay dearly, q'laI bitch!" Her face was inches from Valias' own. "I guarantee you will suffer for your crime, and then I will kill you. Slowly and horribly. Before I am through you will wish for HoHtaj."

"You will not kill me," Valias managed to say calmly. "You need me. You need me because I will be the one to deliver the be'SIj Teresa Morales de la Vega to you for bortaS."

Her head snapped violently to one side as Vetara struck her face with her open hand. Then she felt her head jerked backward as Vetara grabbed a handful of hair, glaring into young Kh'myr's eyes. "Yes," she breathed roughly. "Yes I do need you, alive. But you will not go unpunished."

Brutally she released Valias' hair and walked over to a far will. Valias' eyes widened slightly as she sighted the rack of tools along the wall. Some were ancient tools of torture, some more modern. Vetara's fingers brushed lovingly over each one, her tongue licking her lips in anticipation. Valias controlled her breathing as her heart hammered in her chest.

Finally, Vetara's hand rested on a large, long black cylindrical object. Valias swallowed a mouth full of bile as she recognized the latest model of the Klingon agonizer. This model was shaped like a male organ, but much fuller, much larger than any male organ she had ever seen. The settings had been made much more painful than the older models had been. It had been said that not even the toughest q'laI could withstand the highest setting without crying out in agony.

"You q'laI pride yourself on your strength," Vetara returned to the girl, fondling the instrument like a lover's organ. "We will see how strong you really are."

Setting the agonizer on medium, she slowly, deliberately placed it against Valias' abdomen. Valias bit back the scream that flooded her throat. The pain continued to flood her nerves as Vetara slowly, purposefully, moved the instrument up to nestle between her breasts, then travel along her side, down her back, along her inner thighs. Then the pain faded as the instrument was removed, only to flare up as the tool was place in contact with other parts of her body. Valias managed to choke back the cries of anguish that threatened to break free. She felt herself slip into and out of consciousness, yet she kept her teeth clenched.

Some time later, Vetara removed the machine from Valias' body and stared into her drooped eyes. "You, q'laI really are trained to suffer pain. Good." Vetara's face twisted into a cruel grin. "Now, for the final touch, puqbe'."

Valias watched in horror as Vetara turned the setting to high, not knowing if she could remain silent much longer. Grimly she tightened her jaw, waiting for the instrument to begin its cruel trek along her body again.

Suddenly she felt the probe jammed angrily between her legs, forced deep, deeper into her innermost self. Then the searing pain filled her body.


The Klingon female swam out of darkness some time later, whimpering. Though the probe no longer was present between her legs, the agony remained. She could feel the dried blood on her legs and knew that she would need repairing before she could enjoy her lover's touch. Surprisingly, she could also feel dampness on her face, down her cheeks. She bitterly cursed her mother's genes that had betrayed her with weakness.

"So, the q'laI can be humbled." Vetara forced Valias' head up, making her look directly into Vetara's barbarous face. The blood-stained probe was lifted into Valias' field of vision, and she shuddered in spite of herself. "Remember this lesson well," Vetara snarled at her as she placed it back on the rack.

"Everyone has a weakness," Vetara continued returning to stand in front of Valias. "Even you, puqbe'." She lifted the girl's chin again. "And while it is true that I need you, I no longer need Vixis. She is of no further use to me. Perhaps I will finish what Tumak started."

"No!" The word escaped Valias' lips.

"I only need the crew. And you." Vetara persisted, grasping the girl's jaw firmly.

"No!" Valias cried, attempting to free herself from the vise grip.

"Yes!" hissed Vetara.

"NO!" Valias finally broke free of Vetara's hold. "Please--don't kill her."

"A q'laI--begging?" Vetara's eyebrows arched viciously, the sneer on her face filling Valias' vision. "How delicious!"

"Please, Lady Vetara, do not kill her. I need her." Valias closed her eyes in pain. "I need her."

"And how bad is this need of yours, puqbe'?" taunted Vetara. "Enough to swear your allegiance to me and my household?"

"q'laI only swear allegiance to the Sisterhood," Valias whimpered. "No one else."

"Then Vixis is not that important to you." Vetara turned to leave the cell. "She will be dead by morning. Khareg!"

"NO!" gasped the shackled Kh'myr. "I swear! Just please--do not kill Vixis!"

Vetara turned slowly back around to face the prisoner. "You swear?" she moved back to stand in front of Valias who was silently crying, the tears slowing moving down her face to drop on the stone floor. "Swear it, loudly, puqbe'. I would hear you swear fealty to me and my house."

Valias choked, misery filling her being.

"Very well." Vetara turned back toward the doorway.

"I-I swear!" Valias' voice halted the Klingon in her tracks. "I, Valias, daughter of Khalian, swear allegiance to the Lady Vetara and the House of Durit."

Vetara turned back to face the broken q'laI., a calculating gleam in her eyes. "That is better, puqbe'. Just remember, from this minute on, your life is mine to command."

"Yes, my lady," Valias whispered, broken.

"There is still the matter of payment for killing my crew. Twelve hand-picked men, all dead at your hands." Vetara paused as a giant Kh'myr male entered the cell.

He had to bend low to enter the door. Standing upright, he was a full two heads taller than Vetara, who was at least a head taller than she. His arms and legs were the size of giant trees, and he exuded power. Slowly he began to drop his battle armor to the floor.

"I am still, q'laI," Valias managed to protest, her voice stronger. "I choose when, and to whom I breed for the Sisterhood."

"You are mine!" Vetara corrected her harshly. "If I choose for you to bear Khareg's whelps, you will and gladly, asking me only how many and what gender! But, you have no fear of that today, puqbe'." She smiled as Khareg stood naked by her side in front of Valias. The smile widened as his organ began to swell to full engorgement and Valias' color paled when she noticed its size. "He has--different interests--in the female anatomy." Her hand trailed up his thick, muscular leg before coming to rest on his groin, then playing with the organ. Her smile deepened as his breath became ragged, and the organ began to pulse as if with a life of its own. "Khareg, she is yours to enjoy as you will." Vetara moved to stand in the doorway. "Just remember, I need her alive."

"Yes, Lady," he rumbled as he moved behind Valias. "She will be alive when I finish with her. Today."

Valias felt her legs widen as the chains attached to her leg-irons were cranked by the behemoth behind her, spreading her as wide as possible without splitting her asunder. Then the tension on her arms was lessened and her body lowered so that her feet were now touching the cold stone of the cell. Unable to help herself, she slumped forward, her legs too weak from her ordeal and from being spread wide to support her properly, putting her in a vulnerable position.

Valias heard him move close to her body, feeling his body heat on her back. Then a mammoth hand tightly clamped onto her well-formed breasts, kneading them roughly, forcing her body against his as his other hand gripped her abdomen and moved lower, fingers pushing deep into her.

"No!" Valias raged fearfully.

Vetara chuckled in pleasure, nodding contentedly as the giant's hands continued to grope and paw the small female's body, fingers exploring deeply every orifice with coarse skill. She noted his breathing was becoming more ragged as he continued to poke around Valias' body.

Valias' position made it impossible for her to get away from his ministrations, and any struggling she attempted only made her body more accessible to his giant digits which made his mauling all the more painful to her. Valias found herself holding as still as possible, praying he would soon be finished with her body.

"You will find that I reward those who do my bidding, just as I punish those who thwart my will. There are twelve men you must pay for, little puqbe'. Khareg has done me a service," she went on, watching as the gigantic Kh'myr increase the speed of his pawing, one hand firmly wrapped around a breast, the other buried deep between her legs, a dreamy expression covering his face, "for which I need to reward him. And you, puqbe', are his reward."

She threw back her head and laughed as Khareg finally settled himself into place behind her, feet firmly planted between Valias' legs. Valias felt the huge legs brush her inner thighs, forcing her to spread herself even farther, then his immense hands grasp her buttocks and spread her flesh wide. Then she felt his manhood against her flesh.

Vetara continued to nod as Valias struggled to escape his grip, terror etched deep on her young face. "Take your pleasure, Khareg. You have earned it."

She turned and started up the stone stairs, waiting until she heard the deep satisfied animal grunt from Khareg, letting her know that he had finally entered the woman-child in his fashion, and the high pierced scream of anguish from the q'laI.

Vetara nodded to herself and proceed up the stairs to her quarters, her smile wide with satisfaction. "Yes, little puqbe', you will learn your lesson well. Khareg is an excellent teacher."

The Desert on Qo'noS

The hot desert wind blew sand in the air, hitting the four figures that were scanning the mesa. Vixis winced as several grains were blown into her face, striking her still-healing brand. Qel Razar moved close to the q'laI captain and was relieved to see that there was nothing else wrong with her. That she was here, now, had not made the Qel happy, but Vixis had been adamant and had refused any more healing until Valias was found.

"She should be here," Vixis snarled, frustrated. "These were the coordinates she forced from me." She cast a worried glance over the horizon. "And we do not have much time to search for her. Our arrival here will signal them, and they will come." She shuddered in spite of herself.

"HoD!" Tula, who had taken the point suddenly stopped, her tricorder aimed at an outcropping of rocks. "I have a signal. From behind the rocks!"

Taras and T'urana immediately stopped their search to join Taras, their weapons ready, just in case it was the Ha'DIbaH who had abused their captain and kidnapped their comrade.

The three q'laI rushed around the outcropping and stopped dead in their tracks. Vixis felt the blood drain from her face and her knees weaken. They were too late!

She sagged against the healer momentarily, then determinedly stiffened her knees and continued on. If Valias were dead, she would see the remains to howl over them, then discover who had done the deed and kill them, even if it meant her own life were forfeit.

The three q'laI were still standing by the rock formation, horror etched over their faces. Roughly, Vixis pushed the three to one side so that she could see her young lover's remains.

The small slender form was face down on the sand. Marks of manacles were predominant on both wrists and ankles. There were bruises over her torso and back, along her legs and thighs, burn marks along her body from an agonizer, and blood--so much blood!--all over her buttocks and down her inner legs. Vixis closed her eyes in regret. To have such a life destroyed at such a young age

It was Qel Razar who heard the small, child-like cries. Rushing toward the fallen q'laI, she pulled her medical tricorder out and ran it over the girl's body.

"She lives," Razar assured the others as they rushed around their fallen comrade. "She has been abused horribly," she added, looking at Vixis, a worried expression in her eyes. "I will have to perform surgery, much surgery. They used her," she answered the unasked question. "Or rather, only one used her, but he used her most thoroughly, most viciously, and many times. She is even more injured than you were," Razar added unhappily, finding it hard to meet Vixis' gaze.

Vixis closed her eyes in pain and cradled the girl's head in her lap, keening quietly as the Qel began to clean off Valias' body. Her hands stopped as she finished with one buttock and she inhaled sharply.

"What?" Vixis' eyes shot open to meet the fear-filled eyes of Razar. "What?"

Mutely, Razar pointed to the strange mark on the girl's buttock. Vixis gaze moved to where the shaking finger was aimed. Her eyes widened, then closed in misery as she keened low, rocking back and forth in the sand, holding the girl's head even closer.

On her buttock, for all to see was a large, red, intricate brand. It matched the brand on Vixis' face. The crest of the House of Durit.

"No, Qel, they've done more than used her," she finally said. "They have done much more."

She flung her head back and howled in frustration and anger, then gently picked up the still-unconscious form and held it close to her body as the transporter beam enveloped them.

Starfleet Headquarters
San Francisco, Earth

The shuttle docked at the pier, then opened its hatch. A tall Kh'myr Klingon, dressed in stately robes, emerged and paused to observe his surroundings. Two security guards who'd been patrolling the area stopped and stared at the royally garbed Klingon who was reading the signs overhead. Casually they approached him, their hands never far from their weapons.

"And what have we here?" the sandy-haired man asked his partner, a taller, dark-haired female.

"Looks like a Klingon," she responded. Inhaling deeply, she wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Smells like one, too."

"Now, I gotta ask myself," the man circled the Klingon who was standing still, his arms folded across his chest, "what would a Klingon be doing here on Earth, at Starfleet Headquarters? What do you think, partner?"

"Causing trouble, Joey," the woman answered, standing in front of the Klingon, her feet apart, balancing her body weight. "Causing trouble. That's all Klingons can do."

"That's true, Jackie," Joey nodded. "But then, maybe he's lost."

"Lost?" snorted Jackie. "That'll be the day. Hey, Klingon, you lost?"

"No," the Klingon rumbled calmly. "I am where I am supposed to be."

"You here to cause trouble?" Jackie challenged.

"No." The Klingon stared at them, a frown causing his crest ridges to become more pronounced.

"A Klingon this close to Starfleet Headquarters, and not going to cause any trouble?" Jackie persisted. "I don't buy it. What do you say we run him in and check him out?"

"Sounds reasonable," Joey agreed. "Come on, big guy. Let's see if you're telling the truth or not."

"No," the Klingon refused.

The guards moved in to pinion his arms, and the Klingon gracefully sidestepped them. A low growl began to emanate from his chest as they moved to attempt to restrain him again.

"Is there a problem here?" A commanding voice from behind them stopped them in their tracks.

They whirled around, then snapped to attention when they spied the dress uniform of a Starfleet captain.

"Is there a problem here?" the captain repeated, his tone low and demanding an answer.

"No sir!" the two guards answered in unison.

"We are just detaining this Klingon until we can verify his story," Jackie added.

"I see," the captain nodded as he rocked back and forth on his heels, his hands clasped behind his back. "And what is his story?"

"He claims he belongs here," Jackie shot the now-placid Klingon a murderous glare. "Klingons don't belong here at Starfleet Headquarters."

"And where do they belong, Lieutenant?" the captain asked.

"On their side of the Neutral Zone," she answered, careful to keep her body at attention.

"Did you bother to check his credentials?"

"Credentials?" Jackie's eyebrows shot up. "A Klingon with credentials? And what kind of credentials would a Klingon have?"

"This kind." The captain's hand was held out expectantly, and the Klingon obligingly dropped the diskette into it. The captain held it up for them to see. "Diplomatic credentials. Federation diplomatic credentials. You would do well to check these things out before you do something stupid, like start an intergalactic incident."

"But, sir," Joey protested, "they could be faked! The Klingons have always wanted to conquer us. And getting this close to Headquarters--"

"Yes, I suppose any credential can be faked," the oriental officer snapped, "but these aren't. Which you'd have found out if you'd have followed procedure." Turning to face the Klingon, his face erupted into a grin and his arms opened wide to embrace the tall Klingon. "Miguel!" He paused and stared up at him, "My how you've grown! The last time I saw you on Serenidad, you were barely this high!" He held his hand at his midsection. "And now look at you. It's been a long time, Miguel."

"It has indeed, Uncle Hikaru," the Klingon returned the embrace, causing Hikaru Sulu to gasp as the breath was momentarily squeezed out of his lungs. "I haven't seen you, Uncle Scotty, Uncle Pavel, Aunt Chris or Aunt Penda in years!"

"I know," sighed Sulu, shaking his head. "It's not easy to get us all together at the same time." He closed his eyes in quiet pain. "Unfortunately, it seems the only thing that can draw us all together is a funeral."

"Excuse me, sir, but you know this Klingon?" gasped Joey.

"This--Klingon--is Miguel Morales de la Vega, the son of Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega of Serenidad," Sulu snapped at the guard. "And the official liaison between the Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire." He glared at the two young lieutenants. "You would do well to control your prejudices. As of now, there is a truce with the Klingon Empire. They are not 'the enemy,'" Sulu continued to drill the two officers with his piercing eyes. "And right now he is here to pay his respects to an old family friend. Consider this a lesson," he eyed them. "Don't judge anyone on looks alone. Now get back on your patrol. And the next time you confront a Klingon," he suggested, "try to remember we're no longer at war with them."

"Yes sir!" They nodded and hurriedly disappeared down the concourse.

Sulu shook his head in sorrow. "I was hoping to see you again, Miguel, but not under these conditions," he continued as they strolled along.

"True," Miguel nodded, "but at least he died a warrior's death."

"This is one hell of a way to get the old crowd together again," Sulu commented.

"I could think of better reasons," agreed the delegate as they went to the transporter area.

Signaling the transporter chief that they were ready, the two men waited until they materialized on the pad aboard the Enterprise-A. Janice Rand moved from behind the controls, her eyes red-rimmed, but dry. She embraced him then joined them on their way to the memorial service in the torpedo bay.

The room was already filled with a number of Starfleet officers of various ranks, and official delegates from the Federation. James T. Kirk had cut a wide path in the universe, touching many lives. Sulu noted that his old crew mates were crowded around together, filling most of the area. Well, Kirk had commanded the Enterprise, and Enterprise-A, for a long time, mused Sulu, and there were bound to be a large number of officers wanting to be here, and be together. They were wiping tears from their eyes, hugging each other, comforting each other, trying to put on a strong front, and failing. Christine Chapel entered behind him and immediately was encircled by old friends. Commander Bailey and Captain Garrovick were already there, their ships flying escort to the older vessel in silent homage to their former commander.

There were others, less notable that had wanted to come to the memorial service, Sulu knew, but since the starship could only hold so many, safely, many had been refused aboard. Instead the service was transmitted to a large stadium at the Federation Headquarters, where a black-draped viewscreen showed all the proceedings.

A Federation flag, draped with black bunting hung down from a railing. A large black photon tube lay in the center of the room, a flag draped over it.

Sarek of Vulcan made his way through the crowd to stand in front of McCoy and the others. He nodded briefly, taking in the entire entourage with his dark eyes, then stated, "We grieve with thee."

"Thank you," McCoy nodded back at the elder statesman.

Sarek nodded again, then returned to his delegation at the back of the torpedo bay as Sulu and Miguel made their way through the throng to join McCoy and Princess Teresa.

"Mother," Miguel placed a kiss on the woman's forehead, and embraced her gently.

"Oh, Miguel, I'm so glad you made it!" Teresa buried her head in his wide chest. "I just wish--"

"I know, Mother, I know," he nodded, wrapping his huge arm around her shoulders.

"It's just such a waste!" she snapped. "Why? Why did he have to...?"

"Because he was James T. Kirk," Sulu said soberly. "And he would never let his ship or his crew be destroyed without a fight."

"Yes, that was Jim, all right," she nodded miserably. "Still, I never thought--"

"None of us did," Sulu interrupted her. "None of us ever did."

"Honey," McCoy placed a gently hand on her shoulder, "the others are going to hold a wake after the service and torpedo launch. I think," he paused, then went on, "I think I better hang around. Some of 'em aren't taking this too well. I think I need to be here for them."

"Of course, Leonard," she nodded. "How long do you think you'll be here?"

"About a week," McCoy sighed. "Most of 'em can't be away from their posts for longer than that. The universe still goes on."

The quiet buzz of many small conversations suddenly quieted to dead silence as the door swished open and closed. Sulu looked over to the doorway, and his expression hardened.

Captain John Harriman walked over to where his bridge crew had been huddled, pausing only once to look at the ensemble, then drop his gaze, unable to meet the accusing looks directed at him.

Ramrod straight, Sulu marched over to him, the deadly expression becoming nearly vicious. "You dare show your face here?"

"This is a memorial for Captain Kirk," Harriman began, "open to all Starfleet officers and delegates. I think I qualify."

"You're not a diplomat," snarled Sulu. "And you're a poor excuse for a Starfleet officer."

"Now wait just one minute!" Harriman objected, feeling a flush of red climb up his neck.

"Since when does the murderer go to the memorial service of his victim?" Sulu snarled.

"I did not murder Captain Kirk!" Harriman protested. "I did everything I could"

"And we see how much that was!" Sulu interrupted him. "You're not man enough to sit in the center chair of any starship, let alone the center seat of a ship such as the Enterprise! Why, if we weren't here to honor a great officer, I'd take you out back and show you exactly the kind of man you are."

"Now see here," blustered Harriman as Admiral Bill Smillie entered the bay.

Smillie stopped as the door closed behind him. His gaze rested on the two captains who looked more like two fighters ready to begin another round. Striding over to them in less than a second, he placed his body between them, effectively stopping any physical altercation.

"Gentlemen," he stared at both of them with a no-nonsense look, "we are here to commemorate a fallen comrade. Try to remember that." Sulu felt a flush of red touch his ears as Harriman's gaze dropped back to the floor. "I'm glad that's settled. Take your places."

Sulu spun on his heel and returned to his old comrades. A hand touched his arm. Looking down, he met the dark eyes of his daughter. His expression became quizzical, but Demora Sulu just shook her head. His eyes shifted to where the rest of the Enterprise-B crew had been standing, only to find no one there. They had disappeared into the crowd, leaving Harriman to stand alone, a pariah.

The toll of a ancient's ship's bell quieted the ensemble. The bosun's mate whistle brought the group to attention. A disembodied voice gave the assembly permission to stand at ease as Captain Spock stood by the casing.

He stared over the sea of faces, noting the familiar ones that he had served with for so many years, and the others who were paying respect to the legend. "Vulcans," he began in his calm, unemotional voice, "do not show grief. But Vulcans do understand loss, and mourn the passing of a fellow being. James T. Kirk was a great man, a leader of men, and," he paused briefly, "my friend. His like," he let his gaze shift over to where Harriman was still standing, alone, and for a moment, Sulu could have sworn that a glint of something akin to anger flashed, but only for a moment, "will not be seen again. It is a loss to the universe."

He bowed his head briefly, then stepped back, and stared for a moment at the torpedo then stepped back into the crowd. McCoy stiffened his back and took Spock's place by the photon case.

Staring out at the sea of Humans and non-humans, he took a deep breath, wondering who had convinced him to deliver a eulogy for his old friend. Then his eyes met Teresa's warm brown eyes and the fear that had begun to twist his insides melted away.

"I know many of you from our long years of service together," he started. "And I know that most of you are hurting at the lost of Jim Kirk. But," he let his eyes cover the entire assembly, "don't grieve very long over Jim Kirk. He wouldn't want you to. He enjoyed living, and living to the fullest, taking any and every chance," he momentarily remembered the El Capitan and sky-diving episodes, "that was thrust in his path. He wanted to keep on living," he went on, "but, if he had to choose a way to die, it would have been this way--saving a gallant ship and crew." He paused, then continued on, "So remember--no, celebrate--his life. Don't mourn his death."

He closed his eyes, bowing his head. Then he rejoined his wife and stepson.

Admiral Smillie strode over to the tube, letting the gentle hum fade away before he gave his portion of the homage to Kirk. "James T. Kirk was a man among men," he began. "He sought to live the mission of Starfleet--to seek out new life, new civilizations, to go where none had gone before. He often put his career on the line to do what he believed was proper and right. Some times he was wrong. Many times, however, he was right. There is no way to replace a man such as he. We will not even try."

The bosun's whistle sounded sharply again, and the ship's bell tolled as the torpedo casing was slowly moved down the ramp on its way to the sun. The assemblage came to attention as an honor guard barked, "Atten-shun!" A few older folks, who remembered the reason for doing do, saluted as the casing glided.

"Fire," Smillie ordered softly.

The torpedo shot out of the torpedo tube, arched then and soared through the vacuum until it disappeared into the corona of the yellow star, a small bright flare showing where it had entered the fiery ring to be consumed by the heat.

"Dismissed," Smillie's voice ordered after a few moments.

Slowly, quietly, the crowd dispersed, still clinging to each other.

Smillie tilted his head at Chekov who was still with his old crew mates, then marched over to the lone officer. Chekov excused himself and joined the admiral, a gritty expression on his face.

"John," Smillie began, "you've been relieved of command until a court of inquiry is convened."

Harriman's eyes snapped up to stare into Smillie's hazel eyes. "And after that?" he demanded.

"That will depend on the findings of the court," Smillie stated neutrally. "You know how it goes, John. An incident like this needs to be looked into. We can't just sweep it under the rug. The reporters won't let us, for one thing. Officially, you're on leave until further notice. Captain Chekov will be in command of the Enterprise-B. The court will be meeting tomorrow morning at ten hundred hours. I'll expect you both there." He nodded at the two men, then left the room to return to Starfleet Headquarters.

Chekov glared at the shrunken man, his fists clenching and unclenching repeatedly. "You are a cowardly murderer," he uttered softly. "If it vweren't for you and your craven behavior at the Nexus, Kyptin Kirk vwould be alive today."

Chekov spun on his heel to join the admiral and the others, paused, and turned back to glare once again the defrocked captain. He shook his head as if in silent argument with himself, then shrugged and let his fist soar to connect solidly with Harriman's jaw. The officer found himself on the floor, holding his broken jaw as Chekov left the room, a spring to his step.

Aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise-B

Harriman materialized on the transporter pad, still holding his injured jaw. He wondered idly if there were anyone in Sickbay who could repair the bone, then decided against it. He didn't want to have to explain how he'd wound up with a broken jaw at a memorial service.

He hadn't wanted to go on the ship. He knew what everyone else thought of him, of his actions at the Nexus. Hell, if he'd had his way, he'd have stayed in his cabin and gotten drunk. But no, his father, the great Vice-Admiral Burgess Harriman had insisted that he go, made sure he was one of the few that could get on board the ship, letting him know it wouldn't look right if he didn't pay his respects.

He paused outside the transporter room for a moment, still contemplating which direction to take, then let his feet take him to his cabin. He had all the time in the world now.

The door to his quarters slid open at his approach, as though welcoming him, even if it was for the last time. The lights were dimmed to quarter power, the way he liked them. A warm, soft welcome when he finished his watch. A warm welcome no longer. After tonight it would belong to another, just as the ship would be under another's command.

Unbuttoning his jacket, he ran a hand through his brown hair as he got his carry-all. Angrily he stuffed his clothes into the bag, then began to throw in other items in as well.

He stopped as he picked up his medals, the few that he had. Running his fingers over them, he recalled the ceremonies that had bestowed them on him. Mostly they had been given as a favor to his father. His career was nothing like Kirk's, but then, no one's career was like Kirk's. His father's dream had been that his son captain a starship, especially since he himself had not been able to get one, a case of too few ships for too many officers. John's academy instructors had tried to discourage his father from pushing him into so lofty a position, suggesting instead that he pursue science, but no one argued for long with Vice-Admiral Burgess Harriman, not if he wished to have a career in Starfleet.

When the Enterprise-B was commissioned, Burgess Harriman campaigned long and hard to get John its center seat, arguing that in a peace-time universe, the captain needed to be a peaceful person, not a war-monger such as Kirk had been. He'd managed to convince a few top officers that his son would think before firing a weapon, thus maintaining peace in the Federation. He forgot that sometimes one had to act first, using instinct instead of intellect, even in peace.

And so it was, that John Harriman had been given the coveted center chair of the prized Enterprise-B over other candidates who most likely were better suited to Command. And he had been encouraged, (ordered might be a better word) by his father, to take the ship out on that cursed shake-down cruise when even he felt that it was too soon, just because the press wanted to see the new Enterprise in action, with the legendary Kirk as its passenger. Kirk, he knew, would never have been coerced into moving the ship out of dry-dock until it was ready for deep space just to whet the media appetite.

Harriman threw the medals into the bag, sighed deeply, and returned to cleaning out his desk, and bureau. His career, once on the fast track to the top, was now on a fast track to nowhere. A man could lose a crewman, the entire crew, his ship, a battle, even the entire war and probably salvage his career.

Kirk had done all that, and still had his ship, his command, his career.

But lose a legend...

Lose a legend and lose your professional life.

His hand brushed against a small metal item. Pulling it out, he gazed down at his personal phaser cradled in his hand. He walked back to the bed, continuing to stare at the phaser, at the carry-all, at the stars outside his cabin window.


Yeoman Carla Bell was returning to her quarters after standing her watch. She shook her head sadly. The scuttlebutt had it that there would be a big shake-up after that debacle at the Nexus. She shook her head. Such a waste.

Not that she didn't understand the need for the shakeup. Her family had been Starfleet for as long as there had been a Starfleet, and Navy before that. A man didn't have his ship damaged, and lose a celebrated hero on a shake-down cruise and not answer for it. She was just sorry that it had happened to John Harriman. He wasn't the greatest captain in the universe--that spot belonged to Jim Kirk--but he had potential, if only he had the chance to develop it, without his father interfering.

A whine caught her attention. The whine of a phaser on disrupt.

She slammed her hand against the nearest com panel. "Security! I have phaser fire on G Deck, near the Captain's quarters."

Without waiting for a response, she rushed to the captain's door and pressed the chime to gain admittance. "Captain! Captain Harriman!" she yelled, not caring that she might be waking a few sleeping souls.

She continued to beat on the door, hit the chime and shout for the captain until a large security officer in full defensive armor lifted her out of the way. A smaller security officer slid into the spot she had been forced to vacate, his fingers playing over the keypad next to the door.

"You said there was phaser fire?" a guard demanded.

"Y-yes," Bell answered, tears streaming down her face. "One burst. One long burst. From the captain's quarters. I know there were a lot of people who blamed him for what happened, but--"

"Anyone leave?" the guard continued his interrogation.

"No. No one."

The door slid open and the security contingent piled in, leaving Carla Bell alone, frightened, in the corridor. She moved closer to the door, peering inside. The guards stopped short, their weapons no longer at the ready, but instead, pointed to the deck. Bell cautiously crept in behind them, maneuvering around the large armored bodies to peer at what had stopped them so abruptly.

The scream escaped her throat as she crumpled against a guard, then rushed to the bathroom. Soon the sound of retching was heard.

"Better get a medical officer up here," the chief security officer finally said, turning away from the ghoulish scene on the floor in front of him. "I want a guard posted outside this door. No one but the doc gets in. One of you take the yeoman to Sickbay. Keep her under guard. She doesn't talk to anyone without my okay."

"Sir?" a sick-looking ensign asked him.

"We don't want word of this to get out," the security chief answered as he stared back down at the headless form of John Harriman, the still-warm phaser inches from his limp fingers. "Not yet, anyway." He shuddered as the squad left the room, one security guard supporting the weak Carla Bell out the corridor to a turbolift. "I pity the poor sod who has to tell his old man what happened. I'm just glad that person won't be me!"


Teresa felt the ropes bite into her wrists as the hot sun burned her back. She tried to open her eyes to look around her, finding it difficult against the white-hot light.

After a second attempt she was able to look down at the stained sand below her body. Beneath her were skulls and bones, some picked clean by the scavengers, other with wisps of hair and flesh still attached.

A whimper slipped past her lips as the burning rays continued to sear her tender flesh and muscles. She tried to move to a more comfortable position. The bindings on both her arms and legs made that impossible.

Teresa groaned as her memory returned. She was in the desert on Qo'noS, prisoner of Khalian.

Not two days ago, she had given birth, the second time in as many months. This time she'd given Khalian the son he had demanded. In fact, she had birthed two sons for the mad Kh'myr. She remembered hearing his roar of triumph as their births were announced and wondering in fear if he would visit her again, to force yet another pregnancy upon her.

Khalian had visited her slave pen again, beating her soundly, as he always did, before forcing his penis down her throat, and then sodomizing her and then finally raping her. He'd roared in triumph with each thrust about his twin sons. Once, when he paused between thrusts, he asked her if she would like to try for triplets the next time. His crude laugh as forced her head down into the dirt and her buttocks up in the air to make it easier for him to ram his organ into her, let her know he was only tormenting her even as he raped her.

She was then dragged from her pen to the barracks and given to a selected cadre of his soldiers for their amusement, and they had taken her every way imaginable, and few she hadn't imagined. By the time they were finished with her, her face was hardly recognizable as human, and her genitalia were little better than bloody pulp.

Then Khalian had returned, stopping their play, reminding them she needed to be alive for him to extract bortaS upon her. He dragged her from their midst by her long black hair, forcing her to walk on weakened legs to the ground car which carried her, Khalian and two huge Kh'myr soldiers to the desert, to the tree of death.

Khalian had let the two rape and abuse her in the back of the car as they traveled to the desert, laughing as she had screamed from the pain of the two enjoying her at the same time. He had personally strung her up on the tree, taking his time, prolonging her agony until she was secured at the proper height. Taking out his d'k tagh, Khalian circled her hanging body and slowly drew the blade along her body, peeling the flesh expertly from her muscle. He continued to flay the flesh from her body, not stopping even when her screams faded into whimpers.

"See that she suffers," he commanded the two executioners as he climbed back into the ground car. "I will return tomorrow to cut down her body for the qor'wI' to feast on."

Her eyes wandered to the only spot of shade in the desert, an overhang of stone that came straight out of the land. The two soldiers, now stripped to their loincloths, sat in the shade, sipping on a canteen of water. Her parched, swollen tongue attempted to lick her lips, unsuccessfully.

"Look!" the younger Kh'myr pointed to her, "the be'SIj is awake again."

"So she is." The older one approached her, his battle dagger out, the three blades open. "So she is." He snickered as he let the tip of the blade touch muscle before he twisted it sharply. "You must be waiting for rescue. Who is going to even try and rescue you? That DenIbya'Qatlh Kirk? You will have to die to see him again! He's dead, be'SIj! As dead as you soon will be!"

His head was thrown back in laughter as his blade found her damaged vagina, sliding in up to the hilt of the handle and turning viciously in the damaged cavity.

"True, be'SIj," the younger joined his companion, his blade finding her rectum. "The DenIbya'Qatlh died in an ion storm, rescuing weaklings like yourself. He cannot rescue you. No one can rescue you now!"

Teresa's head slumped in defeat, hardly feeling the knives as they continued to cut off bits of her, letting the meat fall to the sand below. Then one knife hit a still-sensitive area and she screamed in pain.

"Well, the be'SIj still has a little life in her," noted the younger one as he let his dagger sink deeper into the muscle, snicking bone.

"True, but not for long," the older responded with a knowing look. "See how white her limbs are? There is no more life's blood left in them. Soon it all be soaked up by the sand beneath her."

"How much longer will she last, do you suppose?" the young Kh'myr questioned as he pulled a loose piece of flesh from her body with his bare hands.

"She will not see sunset," the older one answered. "She won't last more than an hour."

"Well, then," the younger soldier shrugged, "it won't hurt if I deliver the final blow now, will it?"

She felt the blades sink into her belly, bury itself deep, then deliberately work its way up her body, cracking the sternum as it continued up her body, leaving only when it reached her neck. She had screamed with the first blow and continued to scream even as she felt her intestines seep out of her wound, helped by a vicious tug from her tormentors

Teresa's scream woke her from the nightmare, trembling, soaked with sweat. For a long moment she stared into the darkness, fearful of what might be in the shadows.

Grabbing the robe at the foot of her bed, she wrapped it around her, shivering in terror. She hadn't felt like this since...

Since her capture by the Orions over twenty years ago. Suddenly, she secured the robe to her body and raced down the hall to the boys' bedroom. Standing in the doorway, she exhaled a sigh of relief to see the two sleeping forms under their covers, their breaths slow and even in sleep.

Cautiously, Teresa returned to her room, still fearful of a nameless, faceless something. She couldn't return to bed, to sleep. Instead, she sat in the window seat, staring out at the moonlit pasture beyond house. The twin moons were both up, and both full tonight.

Staring up at them, she recalled her last days on Qo'noS, how Khalian had brutalized her one last time after she had given birth to the twins, then let his men amuse themselves with her body, and finally the torture of the HoHtaj in the desert until Kirk and McCoy had appeared to save her.

Kirk and McCoy. She hugged her knees to her chest. Always it had been Kirk and McCoy to the rescue.

They had taken leave, hired a scraggly crew of men from the fringes of the Federation with their ship, outfitted it for a foray into Klingon space, and proceeded to search for her, not stopping until they'd found her, more dead than alive, hanging from the barren tree in the desert. The mercenary fighters had killed the two torturers while Kirk and McCoy had taken her down, gently, from the tree, beaming her back to the ship into a life support capsule until they got to Federation space.

Once there, Kirk and McCoy had transferred her to a hospital where she began her long, painful road back to the land of the living. Kirk had made sure the mercenaries and their ship were out of the reach of inquisitive reporters before he returned to active duty.

McCoy, on the other hand, had taken a sabbatical, staying with Teresa during her ordeal. He had been there as she underwent each transplant and graft, helping her learn to use her limbs again, being there when she faltered, when the thought of even one more operation threatened to overwhelm her in despair. His was the shoulder that she cried on in terror when the nightmares refused to let her sleep, his the arm that supported her when she finally took her first steps, his the advice she sought when she didn't know what to do next.

And it was to him that she turned to teach her to love again.

At first, she knew, he had felt she just wanted someone safe, someone who would make no physical demands on her. After all, he was no Jim Kirk who had bedded nearly every available female in the known galaxy. McCoy's knowledge of lovemaking was not overly imaginative, but she was not interested in technique or skill, not then. She wanted pure, unadulterated lovemaking, and McCoy had provided that and more.

When Kirk had visited McCoy months later with the news that Starfleet was not going to reprimand them for their unofficial raid into Klingon territory, she and McCoy were already falling in love. Once he'd gotten over the shock of their romance, he had become their staunchest supporter, urging McCoy to follow his heart not his head, and to ignore the ribald and cruel remarks about their age difference.

Teresa sighed, running a hand through her black hair. The moons were still high in the sky, lighting the field, but refusing to lighten her black mood. She slid back in between the sheets, curling around a pillow, wishing it were Leonard instead of the cushion.

It would be another week before he got here, she sighed sadly. The starships had rushed at maximum warp to get to Earth in time for the memorial service; there was no need to rush back, with a few notable exceptions. Sulu's ship wasn't one of them.

But sleep refused to come. Morning was a long time arriving.

Aboard the QIH

"ja'(40)!" Vixis commanded as Valias joined the bridge crew.

"We are entering the Mu Herculis system," Tula stated. "The Yorktown is off our port bow."

"Have they spotted us?" Valias questioned sitting by her commander.

Vixis noted she still settled into the hard seat gingerly. She really didn't belong out of the healing stasis yet, but she had been adamant before going in that she be allowed out long before they got to Serenidad. The hollow, gaunt look still covered her lovely features, causing an ache in Vixis' heart. The wounds were healed--physically. Emotionally, they were still open and raw.

T'urana moved to the weapons' panel, giving the young q'laI a wide berth as she did so. Her smooth face still sported a bruised eye, courtesy of Valias when she had approached the younger Kh'myr from behind. The girl's reaction when T'urana had placed her hand on the girl's shoulder in welcome had been swift and vicious until Valias had looked into the face of her fellow warrior. Then she had curled in on herself, not speaking, not meeting anyone's glance.

"No," T'urana informed them. "They have not."

Mutely, Valias nodded an acknowledgment as she returned her wearied attention to the viewscreen.

Valias, Vixis knew, hadn't been able to sleep soundly since being removed from the stasis tube. Every night she had been awakened by Valias' anguished screams of pain as she relived her defilement in her dreams, something she had yet to speak about aloud.

It had taken Valias most of the trip from Qo'noS to Serenidad to finally permit any intimate touch from her lover, and even then, she had nearly pulled away when Vixis' hand had wandered too near her buttocks. Only Vixis releasing her pheromone had kept Valias from leaving her bed and crawling off somewhere to relive her rape and defilement.

Vixis felt her fist tighten, then release. Though she wanted to demand revenge for her young lover, she knew that would never happen. The House of Durit would never permit it--they had, after all, caused it.

Approaching Valias from the side so the q'laI could see her, Vixis placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"Soon, Valias, soon, you can exact your revenge on the one who has brought your family so much pain."

"Yes," she nodded, forcing a grin on her wan features. "Soon."

T'urana looked over at her commander, her fingers twitching over the firing stud. Their eyes met briefly, T'urana's in mute request, and Vixis' in firm refusal. Slowly her hand moved away from stud, and Vixis rewarded her with a warm smile.

Tula pressed a button on her com panel, triumph over her features. "The device is still working, HoD. Our contact will be waiting for us when we beam down."

"toH!" Vixis fist shot in the air in victory. "An auspicious omen for us!" She turned to her bridge crew. "Tula, T'urana, Lara, Taras, Valias!" Her voice rang out their names. "To the transporter!"

The warriors stood and joined Vixis and Valias in the turbolift.

"Soon," Valias breathed. "Soon."

Quarters of Connor Randolph

The two bodies entwined around each other under the bedcovers. The tall Andorian male's antennae straightened as he climaxed with his Human lover.

"Baby," he finally said when he could get his breath, "how do you do that?"

Connor laughed and embraced the slender Andorian's body with arms and legs, "Xarthebian muscle control, Thiel. I keep telling you, Xarthebian muscle control."

"Yeah, well I wish you'd give me some!" he complained. He rolled to one side, freeing himself from his lover's body. "Do you realize we've been like that almost two hours!?"

"Is that a complaint I hear?" she moved to roll on top of him, her hand caressing his body, stimulating him to arousal.

"Hell no!" he protested weakly succumbing to her ministrations. "I just don't want to drop dead on top of you!"

"Yeah, but what a way to go!" She covered his protests with a demanding kiss.

"If you want another round out of me, Lover, you're gonna have to loan me some of that whatever it is--"

"Xarthebian muscle control," she mumbled in his ear, then began to toy with his antennae.

"Whatever," concluded Thiel as he rolled out of her reach.

"Sorry, Thiel, it's something you have to be born with," Connor slapped his rump lightly as she got up.

Groaning, Thiel looked at the chronometer on the dresser. It was still early, 0430 hours. The twin moons were still shining brightly over the landscape even as one was beginning to set. Three hours before he had to report for duty. Three hours before she had to report for duty.

"What gives, Con?" he asked as she headed for the shower. "We got plenty of time before we have to get up."

"I don't know, Thiel," she sighed, leaning against the door jamb. "I just don't know. Seems like the only times now that I feel something besides the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof is when I'm making love to you." She stared out the window into the moonlight. "Don't worry, Honey. It's probably just a Human thing. Probably a female Human thing. At any rate, I thought I'd get an early start. Burn off some of this restless energy." He groaned and rolled over, burying his head under the pillow. "Thiel, you don't have to join me," Connor said softly. He stayed under the pillow. "Thiel, this is me, Connor, talking, not Security Chief Randolph. If you don't want to come along, you don't have to."

An antenna peeked out from under the pillow, followed shortly by one pale eye. "Honest?"

"Honest," she nodded.

"Good, because your damned Xarthebian muscle control robbed me of at least an hour's worth of sleep, which I intend to try to catch." His voice became muffled as he disappeared back under the covers and pillow.

"Funny," she shrugged as she slipped under the shower, "you didn't act upset when we started."

When she got out of the water shower several minutes later, she heard the gentle buzz of a snore. Connor sighed as she put on her uniform. She really had been using Thiel lately to help dissipate her nervousness. She'd been like this ever since--ever since the death of Jim Kirk, she realized. So far, Thiel hadn't complained about her using him--he'd been more than accommodating, in fact. But while he had a great deal of stamina, even he needed time to restore his energy levels.

"Rest up, Lover," she whispered as she placed a kiss on his blue forehead. "After our tour, I intend to find out just how long you can keep going. We're going for a personal all-time record."

In the antechamber Connor was adding her duty belt when the flash on the console caught her attention. She flipped a switch, modulating the volume so that it would not carry into the bedroom.

"Connor," Teresa's voice came from the taped message, "I'm going to Lago del Cristal with the boys for a swim. We're taking the horses. Please don't be too mad at me--I just had to get out of the house. Why don't you drop over for coffee during your rounds? And bring Thiel with you."

Connor felt a wave of displeasure wash over her. "How can I do my job if you won't help me?" she moaned. "Princess, there are times when I wish your father was still alive so he could give you a royal spanking for disobeying orders. Hell and damnation."

She slipped out of her quarters and marched angrily to the shuttle hangar. From the outside it resembled the ancient stone stables of a Spanish fortress. Inside, it housed a modern shuttle bay with a few security runabouts.

Still fuming about the sudden lack of security for the royal monarch of Serenidad and what she was going to do to said monarch when she got her hands on her for slipping out without a security patrol, she reached the nearest shuttle and prepared to get in when a strange voice brought her up short. Moving to the shadows, she flattened herself against a wall, holding her breath, then crept closer to the source of the voice.

"You said she'd be in her bungalow," a strange voice snapped.

"She usually is," Doña Antonia snapped back defensively. "She hasn't been the same since she returned from the memorial service for Captain Kirk. This morning she just decided to go to the lake. I can't be held responsible for her sudden whims."

"We'll have to take a shuttle," another strange voice stated. "We will have only one more chance to use the transporter, and we need to save that for when we capture the be'SIj."

Connor felt her anger nearly get out of control. Klingons! And with Doña Antonia! Pulling her blaster, she moved out of the shadows, toward the small cadre of Klingons.

"No one's going anywhere," she stated forcefully, letting the blaster settle on one of the Klingon females. Without taking her eyes off the one she had targeted, she snarled at Princess Teresa's former sister-in-law, "I've always wondered about you, Doña Antonia. I know you hate it that Princess survived when Don Carlos didn't. And that she was found after being kidnapped. Tell me, did you help the Orions kidnap her twenty years ago?"

"No," the older woman answered. "But that doesn't mean I wasn't happy when she was kidnapped. I only wish that she had never been found."

"You're a traitor to your people," Connor said coldly. "Traitors don't deserve the right of trial. Merely execution."

The tingle that numbed her fingers, as well as the rest of her body caught her off-guard. With legs no longer able to support her, Connor dropped to the hard ground as the blaster fell from her hand and skittered across the floor under a shuttle. She fought against losing consciousness as she cursed her failure to watch her flank.

Rough hands pulled her to her feet, supporting her as the stun effect started to fade. As her vision cleared, she found a face almost in hers. Except for the crests on her forehead, it looked a lot like--

"P-princess Teresa?" Connor gasped.

One of the hands holding her released her, but only momentarily as it clamped firmly over her mouth. The young Klingon who so resembled the princess moved even closer to her, a battle dagger drawn and the blades open wide.

"No," she said simply. "Valias. Her daughter."

Connor felt a cold chill run up her back as the Kh'myr stood directly in front of her, the blade held up in front of her face in a mock salute. Then she felt the blade sink deep into her stomach. Connor gasped as the sharp metal nearly exited out her back, severing her aorta, then was pulled out of the wound after a quick twist, causing more internal damage.

The hands from behind released her, and Connor sank to the ground, blood welling out of the wound onto the stone floor. As if trying to stop the precious liquid from pouring out of her, she grabbed her wound, all the while watching the small cadre of Klingons and Doña Antonia.

"Get a shuttle!" commanded one of the females. "Now! Before something else goes wrong."

"jI'lob(41)," another strange female voice answered.

Connor watched the Klingons get into a shuttle from the ground. She knew she was dying; with the damage caused by the blades entering and exiting, and the loss of blood, she would have had to be in a top-notch medical facility almost at the time of the injury to have any chance of survival. Fighting the urge to close her eyes and lay her head on the cool floor to rest, she continued to observe the shuttle as it took off for Lago del Cristal.

Once it disappeared in the distance, Connor groaned and finally closed her eyes in defeat.

"I'm sorry, Princess, Len," she whispered. "I'm so sorry. Thiel--"


Thiel rolled over, flinging his arm out to catch Connor in an dreamy embrace. The empty bed jarred him to full wakefulness as he remembered the early morning events. Checking the clock, he saw he still had over an hour before he had to report for duty. By now, Connor would have already done half her rounds.

He groaned again, rubbing his eyes as he rolled out of bed. Well, if he stepped on it, he might catch her before lunch and convince her to take an extended break. And perhaps, he mused as he took a quick shower, he'd show her some Andorian tricks that he hadn't gotten around to using just yet. Something that might give her Xarthebian muscle control some competition.

He grabbed a power wafer for breakfast as he finished dressing in the anteroom. As he was checking his utility belt, he saw the flashing light on the communications console and hit the replay button. Once he heard Princess Teresa's message, Thiel groaned again.

"Lady, you just made my life that much more difficult," he said to the air. He knew there'd be more Xarthebian muscle control at work tonight.

Thiel trotted over to the shuttle hanger, and noted one was already out. Connor on patrol, he thought, and he knew exactly where she was headed. Maybe he could get there before the two women exchanged much in the way of fireworks. Maybe, but not likely.

Running to the nearest shuttle, he tripped over a large object and began swearing as he hit the stones. "What damned fool left equip--" he began angrily as he rolled over to see what had waylaid him.

"Oh my God! Connor!" Thiel moved beside her limp body, noting the dried stain around her form. "Oh God," he repeated as he turned her over gently. "Con?"

Vacant dark eyes stared back at him, unseeing. He felt for a pulse, but already knew that it was useless, especially when his hand found the gaping hole in her abdomen.

"Oh, God, Connor, what the hell happened?" he buried his head in her hair, letting his tears fall. "I wish you could tell me who the bastards were, so I could get my hands around their necks and show them some Andorian stretches"

He paused as he stared into her lifeless eyes. "You can tell me, if you got a look at them," he finally said. "Your record chip."

Connor had been one of the few Security officers to submit to the record chip implant. At first, he'd been a little leery of it, but she had made it plain that she could turn it off and on, and when she was on her own time, it was off. Of course, she had offered to leave it on once during one of their more inventive moments so that they'd have a personal record of their accomplishments, and Thiel had almost agreed.

He fumbled with her utility belt, trying to avoid the gore and sticky blood as he sought the replay device. Once he found it, he hit replay, and waited for the small holovid to show him the face or faces of Connor's killers.

"You said she'd be in her bungalow," a strange voice snapped.

"She usually is," Doña Antonia snapped back defensively. "She hasn't been the same since she returned from the memorial service for Captain Kirk. This morning she just decided to go to the lake. I can't be held responsible for her sudden whims."

"We'll have to take a shuttle," another strange voice stated. "We will have only one more chance to use the transporter, and we need to save that for when we capture the be'SIj."

"No one's going anywhere."

Connor's voice sounded strange in the holovid. He stared at what she had been looking at: four Klingons in battle armor and Doña Antonia. His fingers curled in anger.

"I've always wondered about you, Doña Antonia. I know you hate it that Princess survived when Doñ Carlos didn't. And that she was found after being kidnapped. Tell me, did you help the Orions kidnap her twenty years ago?"

"No," Doña Antonia answered. "But that doesn't mean I wasn't happy when she was kidnapped. I only wish that she had never been found."

"You're a traitor to your people. Traitors don't deserve the right of trial. Merely execution."

The picture suddenly jumped and blurred, then cleared again. As it did, a younger Klingon female approached Connor, and Thiel gasped in amazement.

"P-princess Teresa?"

Connor's voice was full of disbelief as the young female who so resembled the princess marched over toward her, the battle dagger drawn and the blades open wide.

"No," she said simply. "Valias. Her daughter."

Thiel heard Connor gasp and the picture jumped. He swallowed hard as he realized this was the death blow. Then the holovid's image began to move as, he realized, Connor had sunk to the ground, attempting to maintain consciousness with her eyes open to get all the evidence needed.

"Get a shuttle!" commanded one of the females. "Now! Before something else goes wrong."

"jI'lob," another strange female voice answered.

The cadre of six Klingons, and the Doña Antonia climbed into a shuttle. The vessel's motor's powered up, and slowly exited the hangar, then climbed into the sky, headed for the lake.

The holovid went black. For a long moment there was silence, then, a soft whisper was heard.

"I'm sorry, Princess, Len. I'm so sorry. Thiel--"

Thiel cradled her head a moment longer. Then he got up, found a tarp and covered her body.

Pulling his communicator off his belt, he began to snap orders, the way Connor had always done.

"All units, this is Thiel. We have a Security One Alert," he stated. "Klingons have managed to penetrate the force shield. They are headed for Lago del Cristal. I want a team there pronto! All other units, keep an eye out for them in case they plan an escape off planet. Shore up all areas of the shield." Not waiting for any sort of response, he thumbed the communicator to a different channel. "Yorktown, this is Thiel, acting Security Chief of Serenidad. We have a Security One Alert. There are Klingons on the planet. I repeat, there are Klingons on the planet. Get that bucket over here now!"

He snapped the device off and sprinted for the nearest shuttle, revving the engines and heading toward the lake, praying all the while he was in time.

Lago del Cristal

Teresa's head broke through the surface of the ice cold water. She swam leisurely toward the shore. Jimmy and Davey continued to splash around in the shallows. They hadn't left the shallow water, mindful of the rule to not go out into the deeps without an adult nearby.

"Mommy! Mommy!" Jimmy shouted as Teresa neared them. "Lookit! I can hold my breath for two!" Taking pudgy fingers, he held his nose and sat down on the lake bed, his head under the surface of the lake while his brother meticulously counted to sixty two times, then tapped the submerged head. Standing up, gasping, he beamed at his mother, "See? I holded it for two!"

Braving the chill of the early morning air, Teresa stood up and scooped the child up, hugging him tightly. "You are growing up so fast!" she cooed. "Before long, you'll be holding your breath for four!"

"I can hold my breath for four!" Davey patted her thigh, jealous of the attention his baby brother was getting. "Wanna see?"

"Okay," Teresa laughed as she set Jimmy back in the water. "I'll count for you. Jimmy, you help me count. That's two times two," she reminded him.

Davey immediately sat on the sand and submerged his head under the clear surface. When he finally came back up, gasping for air, Teresa smiled and cuddled him in much the same way she had Jimmy.

"Now, Mommy's going to sit out in the sun and rest for a little while. You two stay here and play," she placed Davey back in the water next to his brother. "Think you two can do that for Mommy?"

"Of course," Davey said matter-of-factly while Jimmy nodded his head vigorously and said, "Yes, Mommy."

Good." She planted a motherly kiss on each soft cheek, then walked out of the lake to her chair and towels.

Sighing deeply, she wrapped the warm cloth around her chilled body then sank into the webbed lounge chair. Stretching her head back, she stared up into the clear blue sky, watching the clouds drift by. She had hoped the swim would help clear her mind, but so far, all the swim had done was manage to relieve some excess energy.

"Oh Len, when are you going to get home?" She closed her eyes and bit her lip, holding back the tears that were welling in her eyes. It wouldn't do to have the boys see her cry; it always scared them.

A droning in the sky caught her attention. Shading her eyes against the morning glare, she spotted the small black figure in the distance. Another sigh escaped her. Connor, no doubt. She had left the message on her com panel because Leonard would have given her a tongue lashing if she hadn't. He's still probably give her heck for leaving without a security detail, she mused. Ever since her capture by the Orions, he'd been worse than an old mother hen. Not that she really blamed him. She grabbed the terry robe and waited for the shuttle to land in the clearing by the lake.

The shuttle raised little dust as it settled on the ground. A quick glance at the children let her know that they were still enjoying the early morning outing. Resignedly she started toward the ship, hoping to stop Connor from reading her the riot act. Again.

Her feet suddenly rooted themselves to the ground as the first person stepped off the shuttle.

Klingons! Again, the damned Klingons!

Teresa whirled and raced back to the cabana for her clothes and blaster. A body tackle brought her to the ground. She rolled, grabbing the female's hair, trying to slam her fist in the face.

T'urana brought her hand up, blocking the blow, then used the same hand to strike the princess. Hauling the woman to her feet, she sank her fist into the Human's stomach, then kicked her in the jaw as the princess doubled over. Snatching the woman by her hair, T'urana whipped Teresa around as the others joined her.

Teresa focused on the group. Her eyes narrowed as she spotted Doña Antonia. Now she knew how the Klingons had managed to get through the force shield.

"Antonia, how could you?" Teresa demanded. "We are family!"

"Bah!" Antonia spat back. "We are not family! You have dishonored my family and Carlos' memory by bearing that bastard half-breed and raising him as your heir."

"All this because of Miguel?" Teresa stared at Antonia dumbfounded. "Antonia, I did not choose to have a child of a Klingon. It was forced upon me! But once he was begun, how could I abandon him? He is a child of my body!"

"He is still a half-breed bastard," Antonia snarled. "You could have sent him away, had another raise him where he would not be an embarrassment to our families."

"But he was my baby!" Teresa argued, not aware that T'urana was no longer holding her. "My baby!"

"If you had truly loved Carlos," Antonia declared, "giving up the child of his murderer would have been easy."

"No," Teresa shook her head sadly. "Giving up a child is never easy."

She stared at the group as they surrounded her. When her glance rested on the smallest Klingon, she gasped in shock.

"Dios mio!" she breathed. "It cannot be!"

"Oh, but it can," said the youngest q'laI as she walked up to the princess. "Hello, Mother."

A hand appeared from nowhere and connected with her jaw. Teresa fell to the soft ground.

"Come." Valias grabbed Teresa by her long hair, then grabbed an arm, forcing the woman back to her feet. "We have all we came for. Call for the beam up."

"Wait!" T'urana's voice sounded from the lake. "We are not done yet."

Everyone turned toward her. Teresa felt her mouth go dry and her heart leap into her throat. T'urana was standing behind the two boys, frozen into two tiny statues in the water as they had watched the strangers attack their mother. Teresa shook her head mutely as she watched the q'laI warrior draw her battle dagger from her belt. Her eyes widened as the d'k tagh's blades were snapped open. With one swift smooth motion, the Klingon warrior slit their small throats, then laughed as the bodies toppled face-down in the lake.

"NO!" Teresa screamed as T'urana's howl of victory shattered the morning. "NO!"

She broke free from Valias' grip, then raced to the bodies, pulling the boys close to her breast. "My babies!" she cried, sitting on the sandy bottom, keeping the bodies close to hers. "My babies!"

Doña Antonia stared at the Klingon as she marched out of the water to rejoin her comrades, the battle dagger still open, dripping red blood. "Why?" she asked. "The niños were no threat to you."

T'urana lifted her head and Tula caught Antonia's arms behind her. "Because," she hissed, advancing on the woman, "I wanted to. We need the be'SIj alive. We do not need the puqpu(42)." Moving closer to the older woman, she raised the dagger to eye level. "And now," she breathed, "we no longer need you!"

The dagger sunk deep into Antonia's stomach, twisted savagely before cutting upward, stopping when the blade hit bone, then was drawn out. The woman's shrieks died as her lifeblood poured out on the green grass. T'urana lifted the lifeless body over one shoulder and returned to the lake's edge. With no effort at all, she tossed the limp form into the deeper water.

"There!" she laughed as the body floated on the water's surface. "Enjoy your swim!" Her head flung back and she screamed in victory.

Teresa, still in the shallows, stopped rocking and stared up at the Klingon who was now laughing maniacally at her little joke. The eyes narrowed, and low animal growl started somewhere in her chest, building until it erupted from her throat, a wild, savage roar. She burst forth from the water, arm stiff and outstretched, knuckles rigid and locked. Her feet flew as they left the water and touched grass. T'urana, still laughing with her head back, was unaware of the coming figure.

Her laugh was suddenly cut off as Teresa's fist connected with her throat and continued on, crushing the cartilage of her larynx. A surprised look crossed her face as T'urana sank to the grass, a strange, gurgling noise sounding in her damaged throat.

The others stared at the scene for a long moment, then rushed to help their fallen comrade, rushing the princess, howling in fury and rage. Teresa, still incensed at the murder of her children, persisted in attacking the warriors, connecting with whatever body part was handy. Shocked, the Klingons scrambled to defend themselves from the spitfire female. Vixis, the strongest and the best of the warriors, even had to protect herself from the flying arms and legs.

Then Teresa slumped to the ground. Valias reholstered her disruptor, staring down at the twitching form. Valias looked at T'urana's form. Fumbling for the first aid kit at her belt, she rushed to the still form.

"We should have brought the Qel," she said bitterly. "But who would have thought that a mere Human could harm a q'laI."

"Leave her," Vixis told her wearily.

"But HoD, Vixis," Valias stared up at Vixis, her face mirroring her anguish. "She may yet have a chance--"

"No," Vixis shook her head as she picked up the inert form of the Human. "She is dead."

Valias stared back at the inert form as the last gurgle sounded from her crushed larynx. "No!" She looked up into Vixis' face. "How? How is this possible? She is only Human!"

Vixis settled the unconscious female better on her shoulder. "She is Human, and be'SIj, but she is also a mother. No matter the species, the mother is a most formidable foe when enraged. T'urana should have remembered that before killing the puqpu."

"This be'SIj has much to answer for," Valias snarled.

Then, with the others, she threw back her head and howled. Vixis drew her disruptor, and aimed it at the dead q'laI. The blast turned the Klingon into ash.

"Vixis to QIH. Beam us up."

The hum of the transporter beam broke the quiet of the lakeside, and the six figures shimmered into nothingness.


Thiel sat the shuttle down close to the lake, his heart hammering in his chest. He'd seen the bodies floating in the water, and hoped to heaven that he was not too late. On the way to the lake, he'd been kept apprised of the progress of the search for the Klingons and the Princess. They hadn't been promising. The transponder had been working, and present on the scanners, then lost without a trace.

As the shuttle handed, he darted out the door, barely giving the machine a chance to stabilize its landing gear before opening the hatch. Thiel rushed to the lake's edge, pulling the bodies to the shore, praying he still had time to resuscitate them. When he flipped the bodies over and saw the gashes in their throats, he knew he had rushed for nothing.

Taking off his utility belt, he dove into the water and swam to the last body. Turning it over, he discovered it was not Teresa, but Doña Antonia. Then he found the gaping hole in her abdomen.

He swam back to shore slowly, bringing the body with him. He carefully arranged the three bodies on the grass side by side, covering them with towels and robes from the cabana. Then he stared down at them, blinking back tears.

"Damn!" Grabbing his communicator, and opened the grid. "Acting Security Thiel to the Yorktown," he said, his voice barely steady.

"Yorktown here."

"They've got Princess Teresa, and they didn't take the shuttle. I doubt if they're still on the planet," he reported wearily.

"Please confirm your report," the officer requested blandly.

"The scanners are blank, there's no transponder signal in the area, we have an anomaly blip on the security shield, and the princess is nowhere in sight," Thiel snapped.

"Understood," the captain responded. "We will set a course to intercept. Yorktown out."

"You damned well better," Thiel breathed softly. Flipping a switch, he continued, "Thiel to all units," he said tiredly. "Get out to the lake with three body bags."

"Body bags, sir?" a tremulous voice asked. He recognized the voice of a new officer, one that had idolized Connor.

"Yes," Thiel snapped irritably. "Body bags." He paused, then went on, more controlled. "Doña Antonia and the kids are dead, and the princess has been kidnapped."

He closed the communicator. Moving away from the bodies, he sat down on the grass and drew his knees up under his chin, staring across the lake, shoulders slumped and antennae drooped.

Aboard the QIH

The Bird of Prey soared out of orbit at maximum warp. Behind them, the Yorktown bore down on them, closing the distance between the two starships.

"They are closing HoD," the helm officer reported.

"There is an Oort cloud ahead," the navigator shouted in triumph.

"Enter it," Vixis commanded. "Then slow to impulse speed."

They disappeared in the gaseous matter, the ship slowing to a crawl. Everyone held their breath as the larger vessel raced by them, waiting until the ship had turned back and began a search pattern in the area.

"Set a course for Qo'noS," Vixis ordered as she headed for the turbo. "Once we clear the cloud, resume maximum speed."


Teresa Morales de la Vega regained consciousness as she was being dragged down a corridor. The swearing was all Klingonese, dashing all hope that she had been reliving a nightmare. She choked back a sob, not wanting to appear any weaker in their eyes than they already believed her to be.

Her babies! She closed her eyes and bit her lip, drawing blood, as they roughly shoved her into a holding cell. Her precious babies! So what if she had managed to kill the bitch who had murdered them? Her babies were still dead.

She looked at the doorway, eyeing the Klingon females crowding around the entranceway. Their expressions told her all she needed to know--she would pay for the death of the Klingon warrior, and painfully. She wondered idly if she could rush them with enough viciousness so they would be compelled to kill her outright to defend themselves, then decided they would merely stun her again, and make her torture that much more agonizing.

A Klingon female joined them, moving past them to enter the cell. Standing over the Human with her hands on her hips, she stared down at Teresa, a hard glitter in her eyes. She grabbed Teresa by her hair, hauling her to her feet, and ripped first the robe and then the swimsuit from her body.

The others were now in the cell surrounding her. One grabbed an arm and slapped a manacle around it, as another repeated the action on her other arm. They threw her against the wall where the manacles secured themselves to it. Soon her feet were similarly bound.

The one who had stripped her, the one she heard called Vixis by one of the others, approached her with a hypospray. Teresa shuddered as the Klingon deliberately approached her, a smirk on her dark face.

"I asked Qel Razar to make the l'gagh twice as potent as usual," she spoke to the cadre that was still crowding around her, then turned back to Teresa, a wolfish grin on her face. "It should make things interesting."

Unable to help herself, she flinched as the hypospray was planted firmly against her rounded buttock. She shuddered as she felt the medicine begin to course through her body, awakening her sexual appetite.

They remained around her as Teresa's body began to respond to the aphrodisiac. Her fingers curled and straightened in frustration as she attempted to free her hands so she could masturbate, a cry of anguish escaping her lips. The q'laI laughed, watching her gyrations in the shackles with open lust, as another agonized cry left Teresa's throat.

Suddenly Vixis grabbed Valias and kissed her heatedly, fully, not four inches from the aroused Human. She tore the battle armor from Valias' body, then from her own, continuing to kiss the younger Klingon deeply. They were soon in a roused, passionate coupling, joined by the other q'laI. Teresa closed her eyes to the scene, wishing she could close her ears to the sounds of the Klingons' orgy.

Soon she felt another stimulant to the drug they had pumped into her system. The Klingons, now in full arousal, had released their pheromones, sending it wafting through the cell driving them, and her, to a higher state of stimulation. Teresa threw her head back, screaming in rage as her body continued to demand satisfaction.

Sometime later, Teresa was aware they were no longer coupling in front of her. She stared at them with pain-dulled eyes, begging for release. Soon her body renewed its demand for satisfaction, something she could not give.

"Perhaps we should help the little be'SIj," whispered a throaty voice in her ear.

Teresa felt her heart begin to hammer wildly in fear, not believing what she was hearing.

"Yes," responded another husky voice in her other ear, increasing her panic.

Starting with Vixis, the others approached her, crowding closer and closer. She whimpered as a finger trailed up her thigh, then another along her inner leg, a third up her back and another up her abdomen and several more begin to fondle her breasts. The manacles were loosened, and arranged to permit them better access to her body. She heard their hoots and jeers as her body responded to their touch, begging for more. Soon the fingers were joined by lips and tongues. Teresa closed her eyes, not wanting to see which of them was using her and making her use them even as her body begged for release, climaxing again and again until she was no longer able to consciously respond.

A long time later, a slap aroused her. Valias sauntered toward her, a belt and some metallic wands in her hands.

"Mother, dear," she sneered. "You have some very interesting techniques. A pity you won't be able to teach them to me. They seemed to satisfy Vixis completely. They seemed to satisfy us all quite a bit."

Teresa felt her face turn red with shame. She didn't want to remember that she had not only had homosexual acts practiced on her, but been forced to commit the same acts on the warriors--and enjoyed them--physically. She especially didn't want to think that she had even committed incest with her daughter.

"Oh no, Mother," Valias glared at her, making the word an epithet instead of an endearment. "You have not yet felt the shame and pain you should. Believe me, I know. And when I'm finished with you, so shall you."

Teresa felt the belt secured snugly around her waist. The two thongs hung, one down the front and the other down the back. She watched in growing dread as the two phallic-shaped devices were secured to the thongs, then coated with a liberal amount of gel.

The scream escaped Teresa's lips as one was shoved angrily and deeply into her vagina. Another scream followed as she felt Valias continued to ram it deep into her body until it felt like it was being forced it halfway up her body. She had never felt anything so large, or painful since...since...since Khalian had raped her, she realized crying from the agony between her legs. She waited in fearful anticipation for the vibrations to begin and throw her into the deadly paroxysms that McCoy had warned her about.

"I'm not finished, dearest Mother," Valias whispered throatily into her ear. "Not yet."

Teresa screamed with torment as she felt the second rod jammed into her rectum, moving further and further up until it too, was as far as Valias could get it. Then the thongs to the rods were tightened, snugging them close to her body, making sure they would not be dislodged.

"Now, Mother," Valias smiled into Teresa's pain-filled face. "Now you will feel pain and humiliation. As I have."

White hot flames of pain erupted in her belly and along her back as Teresa shrieked, begging for pity. Her body bucked with spasm after spasm of climatic agony. Through an anguished haze, she saw the females again in couples, laughing at her torment, even as they began another round of their orgy.

Aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior

McCoy stood behind Sulu's chair on the bridge of the U.S.S. Excelsior, gripping the seat with white-knuckled hands. Knowing his friend was pushing the ship's engines to their limits didn't stop him for wishing for more speed.

Once the week-long wake had ended, McCoy and Miguel had managed to catch a ride back to Serenidad with Sulu. They were still reeling from the news of John Harriman's suicide. Starfleet had managed to keep the exact nature of his death from the press, more to protect the service than to protect Burgess Harriman's feelings.

McCoy had been the only one to express any regret over the captain's death. He'd never known the man, and couldn't fathom what could have forced him to take such action. Sulu had been tight-lipped when he heard the news, only stating, "He just proved I was right about him all along."

As the ship finally slid into its orbit, McCoy moved to the turbolift with Sulu right behind him. Sulu had been staying rather close to him as his duty permitted, ever since he'd been forced to break the terrible news to his old friend.

As the turbolift carried them to the transporter room, Sulu relived the day in his mind.

Janice Rand had been on duty when the message had been forwarded to them from the Yorktown. She had called her relief to replace her early, then had taken the message, not to McCoy, but to her captain. By then, the tears were streaming down her face as she handed Sulu the compuclipboard with the message.

Sulu had read the note briefly, and she had seen his color pale. Nodding to her, he went to McCoy's cabin. There he found McCoy, with Miguel, planning a party or something for the five of them at the lake. When he saw Sulu in the doorway, he'd invited him to sit a while and help them get the small stuff worked out. The gaiety left his face when he saw the look in Sulu's eyes.

Bones had listened to Sulu's cracking voice as the news of his sons' death and wife's kidnapping was related. A muscle in his jaw had jumped once, then a stony expression had settled over his craggy faces. His eyes misted briefly, then dried. Turning to Sulu, he'd merely asked, "Can we get there any faster?"

Sulu had put the ship on Yellow Alert, then had ordered Maliszewski to push the ship at flank speed, not to stop until either the ship entered orbit around Serenidad, or the engines exploded.

Since then, either he or Ariel Cord was always close to the doctor. He remembered the hell he'd put himself through after Janet's death, and vowed that his friend would not suffer the same self-imposed purgatory.

Ariel Cord and Miguel were already in the transporter room, waiting for them to beam down to the surface. Her expression was grim; she didn't like it when the victims were children. His expression, on the other hand was deadly, enhancing his Klingon heritage.

"We've been cleared to transport into the castle," the transporter chief reported.

"Get us down there, then," Sulu said shortly.

The three officers with Miguel were met in the castle foyer by Charles Zeiss, a drawn expression his weathered face. McCoy gripped his colleague's hand firmly, then let himself be drawn into a comforting embrace.

"I'm sorry, Leonard, Miguel," he finally said as they walked to the makeshift morgue. "We don't know a lot about what happened. We know the Klingons are involved," he avoided Miguel's narrowed glare, "that they killed Randolph in the hangar bay, stole a shuttle, and proceeded to the lake where they--killed--Davey, Jimmy, and Doña Antonia."

"There are signs that there was a fight," Thiel joined them. "And, we can't find the Princess anywhere on the planet. We have to assume they've kidnapped her." McCoy's face tightened in pain. "The Yorktown is searching for the Klingon vessel, but they seem to have lost it in that damned Oort cloud."

McCoy put his hand on the touch plate and started to enter the small room. Zeiss put a restraining hand on his arm. "You don't have to do this, Leonard," he told McCoy.

"I know," McCoy's voice was raspy, but steady, as was the look he gave the court physician. "I want to."

Removing his friend's hand, he walked into the cold room. Four bodies were on three tables, all covered with sheets. Two small forms shared a table and a shroud cover. It was to that table that McCoy moved.

Gently, he folded the sheet down, exposing the serene faces of his two precious sons. A finger traced the outline of each face, tapping each button nose, brushing their hair, still damp from their romp in the lake, into place. If he didn't look at the gashes in their throats, he could almost swear they were sleeping.

"That'll be fixed before the funeral," Zeiss said softly.

McCoy mutely nodded his thanks as he covered them back up.

Sulu studied McCoy as he gazed down onto the pale faces. The small muscle in his jaw twitched, then tightened, and tears glistened in his eyes as he covered the boys back up.

Tears flowed freely down Ariel's face. Sulu moved over to her. Keeping an eye on McCoy, he gave her a reassuring squeeze. McCoy moved to the other tables, giving first Randolph's, then Doña Antonia's body, a cursory examination, then covered them back again.

Ariel had managed to slow her tears, wiping her face. Her eyes widened as she noted the large amount of coagulated blood on the covering over the two women. She lifted the sheet over Doña Antonia and swallowed hard as she examined the gaping wounds. She turned to study Randolph's body, shuddering as she saw a similar wound.

"Yes," Miguel said from behind her. "A Klingon d'k tagh caused that. And that," he waved a hand at the other body.

McCoy left the morgue with the others close behind him. Thiel led them to the security office, motioning them into seats as he slid a small chip into a player. The room was silent as the scene unfolded. Then--

"Dear God!" McCoy gasped as Valias approached Randolph with a drawn dagger.

"What?" Thiel demanded hitting the pause button.

"I don't believe it," McCoy's voice was hushed in dread.

"I know," Thiel stared at the Klingon's sneering face. "I noticed the resemblance to the Princess myself. Some coincidence."

"Coincidence hell," McCoy said flatly. "That's Teresa's daughter."

"Her daughter?" Sulu stared at the McCoy.

"She said something to that effect," Thiel responded as he turned off the chip. "But I didn't believe it."

"Believe it," McCoy sighed.

"My sister?" Miguel asked faintly.

"Half-sister," McCoy corrected him. "Your father was Kral. Her father was Khalian." Sighing deeply, he explained to the others. "When Teresa was kidnapped, Khalian raped her. That girl is the result of that rape. I just thought--"

"What?" Sulu asked.

"I just thought she was dead."

"Why would you think that?" Thiel asked.

"Khalian was discommoded over nineteen years ago," Miguel explained. "His family was purged." He stared at the others. "Killed," he added bluntly.

"Obviously she managed to escape," McCoy stated flatly. "Khalian's found a way to strike back from the grave at Teresa for causing him to lose Serenidad, to lose honor."

"She is q'laI," Miguel declared. "A warrior sect," he elucidated. "Very deadly, owing allegiance to the Sisterhood, and then to the Empire."

"Khalian couldn't kill her, but--" McCoy's voice cracked.

"She's not dead yet," Miguel pronounced forcefully. "She will be taken to Qo'noS, to their compound, tortured, and then killed."

"Then we have no time to lose." Sulu pulled his communicator out. "We'll just have to get there before they kill her."

"No, Sulu!" McCoy's voice rang out as he shook his head. "No! You're not going to risk you crew, your ship, or your career over this! That girl means business. She's out for blood!"

"And so am I!" Miguel's deep voice snarled, blood dripping from a fresh cut on the palm of his hand. "If Teresa Morales de la Vega is killed, sister or no, her blood will flow as freely as the blood of Connor Randolph, Tia Antonia, and my brothers!" He glared down at Sulu. "I will be going with you."

Nodding, Sulu activated the communicator. "Sulu to Excelsior."

"Excelsior aye."

"Three to--"

McCoy interrupted Sulu. "Make it four. Might as well," he shrugged. "I can't do anything here."

"Four to beam up," Sulu corrected.

As soon as they materialized on the ship, Sulu began barking orders. Cord grabbed Miguel, directing him to Sickbay while McCoy and Sulu went to the bridge. The sleek ship was clearing the system as the doors whooshed closed behind them.

As Sulu sat in his chair, Tuvok reported, "I have found an ion trail, consistent with a Klingon Bird of Prey. It is approximately one hour old."

"Let's get on it and cut that time factor down," Sulu said. "Helm, flank speed." He tapped a button on his chair's arm. "Bridge to Maliszewski."

"Maliszewski here. How hard are you going to be pushing my engines, Cap?"

"Hard, Maliszewski," Sulu said. "Damned hard. Keep 'em on line for me. Whatever it takes, you do it."

"Okay, Cap," Maliszewski said, almost fatalistically. "Just don't pop a blood vessel when you don't get fresh coffee and doughnuts from the replicators."

Sulu let a ghost of a smile play on his lips. "Okay, Chief."

Janice Rand turned from her station toward Sulu. "What are we going to do when we get to the border?" she asked. "We're going to draw more than just a little attention when we cross the border at flank speed, you know. And I don't think that they're going to just let us in, just because we're who we are."

Stepping off the turbolift, Miguel approached Rand's station. "I believe there is something I can do to keep our crossing from becoming an incident. I will speak to Chancellor Azetbur."

"Chancellor Azetbur?" Rand's eyebrows crept upward. "You can do that?"

"Of course." Miguel sounded almost miffed. "However, I will need to borrow your station, and I will require privacy."

Rand looked in askance at Captain Sulu.

"Privacy?" he questioned.

"I will be using codes which, for the sake of the détente that now exists between the Federation and the Klingon Empire must remain secret."

Sulu nodded. "Very well, Miguel. Commander Rand."

Rand stood and moved from her station. Miguel slid into the vacated chair, tapping on the smooth surface. Soon a static-filled picture filled the viewscreen. After a few more taps, the picture cleared and the impressive figure of Brigadier General Kerla filled the screen.

"nuqneH, Liaison?"

"I would speak to Chancellor Azetbur." Miguel demanded.

"She is not to be disturbed, Kralek." Kerla's response was short as he moved to end the transmission.

"You will tell her that Liaison Kralek must speak to her." Miguel's tone was close to a fierce snarl

"Bah!" Kerla snorted.

"You will tell her, or suffer the consequences!" Miguel's voice raised in anger.

Kerla stared at Miguel for a brief instant, then waved a hand at someone off-screen. Soon Azetbur, looking tired and harried, appeared. She dismissed Kerla, then turned to the screen.

"What is it?" she demanded shortly.

"I have need to enter the Empire, Chancellor," Miguel stated. "My mother has been kidnapped and I am sure that she was brought to Qo'noS for execution."

"Kralek, the matter concerning your mother and--others of the Empire--is not a political matter but a matter of family honor," she stated, a sympathetic tone in her voice. "I cannot officially interfere."

"I know, Chancellor," Miguel answered gravely. "I do not require your assistance in my quest for rescue and bortaS. But I will need approval for myself and this vessel to enter the Empire."

Nodding in understanding, she responded, "True. And in that I can give my assistance. I will transmit to you my personal recognition codes. They will allow you to pass the border and travel in our space unchallenged. And you will be allowed to transport to the planet's surface." She stared at him intently. "But that is all I can, or will, do, Kralek, to assist you. Beyond that, my hands are tied." She raised a hand, cutting off the question, "Do not ask, Kralek. It is a matter of honor for me."

Miguel bowed his head. "I require no more, Chancellor."

"Good hunting, Kralek," she said as her picture faded from the screen.

Stepping aside to let Rand handle the downloading of the codes, he stared at the blank viewscreen.

The Excelsior continued on at flank speed toward Qo'noS.


Moreg groaned as he continued to stare at the star-filled screen in front of him, wondering for the millionth time who he had offended to be ordered to the border station. Especially for his first official posting.

"There are times I wish I were on board a battlecruiser," he muttered. "Nothing ever happens here."

"True," the older Klingon, and only other person in the station agreed. "Not like before Praxis. Now those were the days when border patrol was a challenge!"

"That was only a year ago," Moreg reminded him bluntly

Kreed ignored the young soldier. His eyes took on a glint, and his body began to move as he began yet another story of the 'good old days.' "I was here when the Enterprise crept over the border to try and rescue that old rascal, James Kirk, using a Klingon dictionary and a bad accent." He chuckled, "That was one of their better ruses. For the most part, the Federation ships would approach the border at barely impulse power, trying not to be seen"

"You live in the past, you old fool," Moreg snorted at the older Klingon.

"I know," sighed Kreed, dropping into the chair next to Moreg. Then he looked at the young soldier, a bittersweet smile on his lips, "But they were glorious times!"

Suddenly a sound rarely heard at the outpost station roused the two from their lethargic woolgathering.

"Look at the speed!" Kreed gaped as he began tapping buttons on the console. "At least Warp 11!"

"Closer to Warp 12," Moreg corrected.

"It must be a Federation starship!"

"Shall we challenge it, bu'?" Moreg begged eagerly.

"With what?" snorted Kreed. "Our little shuttle and hand disruptors?" Looking down at the board, he added with a wistful sigh, "Besides, they have the Chancellor's private codes. We dare not challenge them!"

"Dare not?"

"Not if we ever want to get off this damned station," Kreed answered. "Just log it, as we usually do."

Aboard the QIH


She opened her eyes as wide as she could, but only a bank of three telltale dots over the door to her cramped, freezing cell provided any illumination. Three dime-sized indicators--amber, green and blue--were the only lights in her universe now. She huddled in the fetal position on her rock-hard cot, a question mark of quivering naked flesh, shivering as much from the withdrawal symptoms as from the numbing cold. She clenched her teeth to keep them from chattering.

Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega was in a bad way. Very bad indeed. She hadn't had a dose of proxodone since the morning of her kidnapping. The Klingons had injected her with a hypo full of the aphrodisiac before they had had sex with her, and ultimately tortured her. She wasn't sure how long ago that had been, but she knew she needed a dose of one or the other, and soon, or she would experience the full spectrum of withdrawal, then die in respiratory failure. Her addiction would kill her.

But, she was going to die soon, anyway. As soon as the Bird of Prey achieved orbit around Qo'noS, they would beam her down to the q'laI compound, where she would be executed.


So, it didn't really matter if she got a dose of the medication or not. Nothing really mattered anymore.

A tear rolled down Teresa's cheek as she shivered in the dank cell. The q'laI bitches had killed her babies, and now, she didn't care if she lived or died. Even the thought of seeing Leonard again could not rekindle her will to live.

A sob caught in her throat.

Davey! Jimmy!

They were just two little boys! Why hadn't they blasted her with the disruptor then and there, when she'd killed the murdering bitch and be done with it already? Shaking her head sadly, she knew that it would never be that easy. Klingon pride demanded she suffer before they let her die.

The ship was slowing down. Teresa sensed the shift in the resonance of the thrumming of the deck plates, and an ebbing of the creaking and clanking that had rattled and vibrated throughout the Klingon vessel. The Bird of Prey seemed to be held together with little more than bailing wire and joint sealant tape. At one point, Teresa had honestly wondered if the small scout ship would even survive the journey to Qo'noS, or if it would blow itself to atoms, sparing her whatever fate the Klingon females had planned for her.

Teresa sat up, swallowing hard, her heart hammering in her throat, and her breath coming in short stentorous gasps. She realized, sadly, that even though she no longer really wanted to live, she was very much afraid of death.

Especially the kind of death that a bloodthirsty Klingon mind would devise for her.

She heard a clank outside the cell in the corridor. Someone was coming. Someone who would lead her to her doom.

Teresa shrank back against the bulkhead as the ponderous durasteel door thundered open with a reverberation, sounding very much like a stone being moved away from the mouth of a tomb. Warm air and dim light flooded into the dark chamber. The sudden change in temperature raised goose flesh on her body.

A silhouette loomed in the doorway. Teresa attempted to cover her body and hide her nakedness from whomever was in the doorway even as she realized that whoever was there had probably enjoyed every intimate inch of her body during the orgy that had been held at her expense.

The glowpups mounted in the ceiling of the cell flared on with a flash. Painfully, Teresa squeezed her eyes shut against the brightness. She opened them gradually, allowing her tortured pupils to adjust to the light slowly.

When Teresa could focus again, Valias stood before her with a hypospray and a rag.

"Proxodone, Mother," the Klingon girl murmured. "It would not do to have you collapse in the middle of your own execution. And something to clean yourself with. We do not want the scent of your blood to call a scavenger to your body before your execution even begins."

Teresa laughed bitterly. "Oh heaven forbid!" she spat. "The Klingon gods of etiquette would be horrified! Just what are you going to do?" She glared at her daughter as she used the damp rag to removed the dried blood from between her legs and her buttocks, knowing if she didn't, Valias would, and she couldn't bear to have the half-Klingon touch her so intimately. Not again. "String me up for HoHtaj? Are you planning to keep my breasts from being injured during the ordeal so you can hack them off later and make them into souvenirs? Or will it be just the nipples? Or just the private parts?"

Even though Teresa was putting up a bold front to hide her mounting terror, she realized that her half-Klingon daughter was no fool; she could sense her fear, perhaps even smell it.

Valias smiled enigmatically. "I am more inventive than that, Mother," she finally said. "Nothing so mundane as HoHtaj." She let a finger trail along her mother's jaw line tenderly, sending shudders down Teresa's spine. "There are other, more elegantly horrible ways to die; ways that make the HoHtaj seem like a day in your countryside by comparison!" Her wolfish grin widened. "As for cutting off any of your body parts, I would not dare cheat the scavengers of such tasty morsels of yours."

Valias reached forward and pinched one breast as she discharged the hypospray into her arm, then reached down suggestively between Teresa's legs, removing the rag from her hand. Almost immediately, Teresa felt a waning of the edginess and irritability as the drug coursed through her system.

"Why?" Teresa asked. "Why do you have to kill me?"

Valias sighed patiently, dropping the rag into a corner of the cell. "It is a matter of honor. I am duty-bound to fulfill my father's blood-oath against you. When you are dead, my duty to my father will be discharged."

"I'm your mother," Teresa said urgently. "What of your duty to me?"

"I never knew you," Valias snapped, backing away from the Human.

"You never knew your father either," Teresa persisted.

"He was Kh'myr. I am Kh'myr."

"You are also Human," Teresa stated softly.

Howling in rage, Valias struck Teresa. Her brutal slap rattled Teresa's teeth and knocked the naked woman to the hard deck.

"Get to your feet, be'SIj" the girl growled. "We are in orbit around Qo'noS. It is time to meet your destiny. Time to die!"

Grabbing her mother's arm in a vise-like grip, she pulled her out the door and down the corridor. When they arrived at the transporter room, Vixis, Lara and Tula were already waiting on the pads for Valias and Teresa.

Triumph suffused the scarred face of HoD Vixis. "It is a great day for the q'laI, and for the legacy of Lord Khalian," Vixis enthused. "Elusive though you have been over the years, be'SIj, today you die!" She beamed at Valias. "And your daughter will be the instrument of your death!"

She turned to Taras at the transporter controls. "jol ylchu'(43)!"

The beam seized them, materializing them in the center of a giant amphitheater set in the newborn jungle that was gradually overtaking the desert. Bright sunlight and dry heat staggered Teresa.

A roar from the seats filled her ears. She gasped and blinked. She could see many Klingons in the seats of the arena. Even though there was a tentative peace with the Federation, there were still apparently many who followed Khalian and his crazed, war-mongering sect. Enough to fill the stands and the aisles.

"Hegh! Hegh!" she heard them scream in a chant. "Die! Die!"

All these people came here, just to see me die, Teresa thought numbly. How they must hate me.

"Bind her!" Vixis snarled.

Lara stepped forward, and with a thick coil of rope, cruelly tied Teresa's wrists behind her back, cutting off circulation to her hands. When she had secured the knots, she reached around Teresa's body to fondle a bare breast.

"Umm, I am going to miss these, " she sighed huskily in Teresa's ear, real regret in her voice. "They are so soft!

The ear-shattering roar of the crowd suddenly stilled. Puzzled, Vixis craned her neck to see what had prompted the silence. She blanched, then gasped.

Teresa had never seen a q'laI warrior show fear before. She followed Vixis' gaze curiously.

A regal, beautiful Kh'myr female, escorted by a half dozen armored bodyguards, had entered the arena by an access tunnel under the grandstands. She strode purposefully toward Teresa and her captors.

"Vetara!" Lara whispered from behind Teresa, a tremor of fear in her voice. "The House of Durit."

The newcomers walked up to Teresa, looming over her. The princess took an involuntary step backwards, nearly stumbling as she collided with Lara's body.

"toH! So this is the little be'SIj who has caused so much trouble for us," the female looked down at the Human, her eyes studying the naked frame frankly. "She is even more beautiful than her holos." Vetara let her fingers caress Teresa's taut belly. "I am looking forward to watching the mantril devour your entrails, bitch! After too many years, justice will finally be served! Just think--you and Kirk, both dead and gone. Our enemies are falling like rotten trees in the forest!"

Vetara spun on her heel to face Vixis. She smiled as the large q'laI flinched. "Well, Vixis, as much as I hate to admit it, you have done well." Her smile tightened. "I suppose I am going to have to let you and your band of little helpers live--even this bold little be'SIj who killed a dozen of my best men." Vetara stroked Valias' cheek and was rewarded to feel her shudder under her touch. "It's a pity, Vixis," Vetara continued. "I had promised Khareg that he before I finished you off. He's very disappointed."

A low growl from one of the bodyguards took their attention off of Vetara to take in the huge Kh'myr who towered two and a half full heads taller than the formidable Vixis. Khareg drew his lips back over stained, broken teeth in a sneer of displeasure.

"Like your male lover, Admiral Klaa," Vetara stated, "Khareg likes to bugger his women. But," she added, "they usually don't survive. Your little playmate must be made of sturdy stuff indeed." She favored Valias with a condescending smile. "She lived, although he stretched her wide enough for his fist to fit in. Khareg really did enjoy your time together, Valias, short as it was. He would have preferred a much longer session with you, but he knew that you were on a mission for me, so he settled for that short time you had together. But he's looking forward to a repeat performance, and of a longer duration." She laughed as the young q'laI paled. "Many repeat performances, in fact. And a real mating as well. And soon."

Vetara laughed uproariously as the q'laI stared at her stone-faced. Her cohorts joined in, and the warriors stiffened their pose. Vetara shrugged, then turned to Teresa.

"Die like the coward you are, be'SIj," she growled.

Vetara spat in Teresa's face then stalked toward the seats of honor, front row center. The bodyguards followed suit as they followed her to the seats. Spectators in the vicinity scattered as they approached. By the time they sat down, they had the entire section to themselves.

SoS Veraas entered the amphitheater with her entourage, using the same tunnel that had admitted the Durit retinue. Making her way across the sandy floor of the arena, she stopped in front of Teresa. She pounded her staff on the ground three times, slowly.

"Teresa Morales de la Vega, Crown Princess of Serenidad. You are charged with multiple crimes against the Klingon people, including murder, all of which are punishable by death. You have been found guilty on all counts and are condemned to die. The sentence is to be carried out at once." Veraas pounded the ground once again. "Bring forth the mantril!"

Tula strode to the center of the arena, cradling a crystalline tank in her arms. Teresa's eyes flew open in horror when she viewed the hideous creature. Its gaping maw yawned open, displaying rows of glistening fangs.

"No!" Teresa shook her head, her voice barely a whisper. "Oh God, please don't do this!"

"toH! Now you are afraid!" Vixis gloated. "Good! The creature can smell your fear. Your death will be even more excruciating! Your terror will arouse the mantril even more than the smell of fresh blood."

"With the death of the Human female, the spirit of the Nameless One shall finally rest easy," Veraas droned. "She will take his place in Gre'thor, with the dishonored dead, and he will be raised up to Sto-vo-kor in Kh'eloz where he rightly belongs." She raised the staff and let it drop to the ground one last time. "Release the mantril!"

Teresa's knees buckled from sheer terror, her eyes rolling back in her head as she fainted. Vixis grabbed the limp form and propped her up on her feet. Tula handed the cage to Valias. Standing before her mother, she drew her d'k tagh and drew it across Teresa's abdomen.

The pain brought Teresa around. She moaned, then her eyes widened as the cage was pressed against her bleeding flesh.

"Please!" Teresa begged tearfully. "I don't want to die like this!"

Valias shook her head. "A debt must be paid, Mother," she said softly.

She raised the sliding door, opening the cage for the animal. The creature turned around in its tank, drawn by the scent of the blood to the Human's stomach.

It struck.

Razor-sharp fangs slashed into the tender flesh of Teresa's smooth stomach. Searing pain, like a fiery knife, hit her. Teresa realized that the little beast had torn her open. She drew in a sharp breath, then screamed in consummate agony.

Like a monstrous grave worm, the creature began to slither inside the bleeding wound, forcing its way into her abdomen, stretching the opening wider with its foreclaws and clamping onto the muscle tissue for purchase. Teresa clenched against the violation of her body as the tears streamed down her face. The horror was overwhelming; the stabbing, excruciating pain caused Teresa to move around the stadium on unsteady limbs, attempting to escape the agony. The screams escaped her lips uncontrollably. Fangs tore into a coil of intestine, and Teresa staggered against a wall, unable to scream.

The crowd roared its approval as it watched the Human's torment. Blazing sheets of pain ripped through her naked body. The horrific damage the mantril wrought as it leisurely gnawed its way into her vitals took its toll on Teresa. Sobbing hysterically, her eyes glazed with unbearable anguish. Only the creature's tail and last three pair of legs protruded from her gory wound. Blood streamed down her abdomen and over her trembling legs.

"Madre de Diós, let it end!"

Drawn by the scent of blood, the scavengers of Qo'noS trickled into the arena. qor'wI' beetles arrived in ever increasing numbers; t'oroQ, strange mammal-like animals the size of a small dog, skulked near the perimeter, keeping a respectful distance, but ready to close in when the time was right. Overhead, the rargH, pterosaur-like fliers, circled like vultures, soaring on the thermals, their deadly curved beaks poised to tear flesh. The smaller Qa'r dipped and flitted like lizard bats. The bold d'rlaQ, feathered reptilian creatures, dove to within inches of Teresa's bobbing head.

Teresa stumbled away from the wall and sank to her knees. The unspeakable beast was molten lava and boiling oil in her stomach. She was in shock, weakening from the loss of blood.

Another pair of legs disappeared inside the woman's body. Teresa's eyes closed and the tears flowed down her face.

The noise of the throng receded into the background. Teresa began to shiver; feeling cold and clammy. She was in deep shock now, her body's systems shutting down as it shunted the essential life forces to sustain the heart and brain even as the beast continued to consume more and more of her viscera.

Suddenly a terrible pulling and ripping sensation erupted in her belly. She gasped, then a wet shriek of agony bubbled from her lungs. Blood streamed from her mouth, geysered from her throat , splashing over her torso. It spurted from her belly wound in a torrent. Teresa collapsed onto the ground, her limbs twitching uncontrollably. Her breath came in thin whistles through the constant white hot agony as waves of dizziness and nausea crashed over her. Weakly she rolled to her side, then to her back.

Qel Razar aimed her medical tricorder at the fallen victim. "She is finished," Razar said. "She will not last long now. Her blood volume is falling rapidly."

Teresa's mind struggled to comprehend the horrible magnitude of her internal ravaging. Her entire body was afire with flames of agony that never quite consumed her, but always tortured her, like the fires of Hell.

Only the last inch or so of the mantril's tail was still outside her body as its maw continued to clamp and tear at her insides.

Gradually a lethargy calmed her tormented mind; the physical torture became sublime, almost blissful. Bright lights danced before her eyes, growing more and more intense until her entire universe was a swell of incandescent flame

And then she was no longer lying in agony on the floor of the arena.

She was at Lago de Cristal, her favorite place on Serenidad--and the site of her greatest tragedies. Only it was a transfigured Lago de Cristal, transformed by a golden white celestial glow. All her loved ones who had died were there. Her little boys ran toward her, squealing in delight when they saw her. Carlos was there, as were Tio Alfredo and Don Fernando.

Standing by Don Fernando was a beautiful woman she knew only from holopictures.

"M-mama?" Teresa quavered, an arm reaching out to the woman. "Mama, is that you?"

"Yes, my daughter," the woman smiled at her, her arms open wide. "I am so happy to see you."

"Come home, Teresita," Alfredo urged, waving his arm invitingly. "You have endured more than your share of pain. Join us."

"Oh yes," she sighed. "Oh yes! I'm coming!"

A tug in her stomach brought her back to the amphitheater as a red curtain of pain occluded the vision. Was it just a pain-induced hallucination, then? Teresa sobbed softly. She desperately wanted to go back, to go where she would finally find an end to her suffering.

The tip of the mantril's tail disappeared from view. Teresa moaned feebly as the fangs sheared through more viscera. Her vision dimmed again.

Good bye, Leonard, she thought, realizing death was merely moments away. I will love you always.

A brief lance of agony tore through her body, then, to her joy, she saw the flood of brilliant light return. Her eyes suddenly cleared with the final understanding that Death was calling to her.

"Yes," she whispered, a smile on her blood-flecked lips. "Yes. This time, I am coming, coming to stay."

Some time later, Teresa Morales de la Vega died, the calm, serene smile still on her face, smoothing the furrows of pain.

Her dark eyes, once so full of emotion glazed over. A last shuddering breath left her lungs and a gurgling death rattle filled her throat. Her limbs twitched once, then everything became flaccid.

The crowd rose to its feet, sensing her final moments. The roar built to a crescendo of anticipation as the Qel walked over to the lifeless form. Hundreds of qor'wI' beetles crawled slowly, unerringly toward the corpse, their preternaturally keen senses detecting the minute chemical changes that had already occurred seconds after her death. The roar was joined by their mandibles, razor-sharp, clicking in anticipation.

Vixis jerked the limp form to a sitting position, letting Valias cut the cords from her limbs with her d'k tagh. Vixis released her hold on Teresa's hair and let the lifeless form flop down hard on the sand. Tula delivered a vicious kick to the Human's head, then laughed.

As prescribed by ancient ritual, Qel Razar gripped Teresa's wrist, searching for the pulse, and found none. Flinging the slack arm down, she took out her scanner, waving over the once beautiful body which lay unmoving as the blood seeped out of severed vessels onto the parched ground.

All readings were flat.

Razar glanced up at SoS Veraas, nodding her head once as she put the scanner back.

The crowd's how of triumph split the air, shaking the ground like thunder. It could be heard for miles around. A great disgrace had been purged from this group of Klingons. The dishonor was gone.

Overhead, a rargH with an eight-foot wing span circled lower, impatiently waiting for a chance to taste the flesh of the mantril's kill. The flier usually had to settle for flesh that was long-dead, rotting and baking under the sun for too long. It would be good to eat fresh meat for a change.

Vixis and the other q'laI were even more jubilant over Princess Teresa's death than they had been over James Kirk's. Roaring with pleasure, their fists shot in the air as they embraced one another or butted heads, ecstatic to be rid of yet another hated enemy.

Valias raised her fist and roared with the others, but her eyes kept returning to the cooling form on the sand as a turmoil of emotions roiled within her.

Why did she suddenly feel an emptiness in her? She should be happy that her late father's blood-oath was fulfilled, and that the honor lost by the Serenidad debacle had been restored. And yet...

And yet she felt...pity? sorrow? loss?...when she gazed at the naked blood-splattered body of her mother, at the hideous wound in her belly and the beautiful dead face turned up to the sun.

"Look!" a voice in the crowd shouted. "It is coming out of her!"

The stomach shimmered as the mantril moved within her, seeking exit. It had sensed her death when the heart had stopped pumping fresh blood. The flesh rippled and bulged as if with contractions as the creature moved mole-like, tunneling under her flesh. Finally the gore-clotted head popped out of the entry wound, sending more coagulating blood to the sand below.

"toH!" Vixis laughed. "We have a lazy one here! It is coming back the way it came!"

Several pairs of legs were now exposed. With a final rush of blood and gore, the mantril plopped heavily to the ground, bloated and engorged from its feast so that its feet could not touch the sand.

Picking up the torpid creature by its tail, Vixis stuffed it back in its tank as it squawked indignantly. She wiped the blood from her hands, using Teresa's hair to cleanse them.

The q'laI were now dancing around the corpse, pulling it up and posing with it for the cameras that were present, eager to have a holopic of them with their fallen foe. Others were kicking at the limp form, eager to share in the victory over Teresa.

Only Valias stayed in the background, her emotions still churning within her. She had to turn away when the desecration of her mother's body became a parody of an orgy while the crowd roared in laughter.

"Look!" Lara's voice brought her attention back to Teresa's form.

Several of the qor'wI' beetles had finally reached the corpse. Crawling up her limbs, they began feeding, their lethal pincers easily slicing through the tender flesh. A black tide surged relentlessly forward. The q'laI hurriedly put distance between them and the body. It now belonged to the scavengers.

A t'oroQ hopped tentatively forward, sniffing the black hair, cocking its head quizzically. With a soft squeak, it bent down and with a quick shake of its head, tore a ragged chunk of flesh from her face, then another.

The scavengers attacked en masse, realizing they would have only moments before the qor'wI' forced them away. The corpse disappeared under a seething mass of fur, feathers and slashing claws and fangs and beaks. Yowling and screeching and hissing, they fought each other for the best portions of the kill.

The giant rargH swooped and landed, driving its deadly beak into the bodies of its competitors, slashing and ripping. When its head was raised, it came up with a huge hunk of body meat. The bird flapped away to land in a nearby tree and enjoy its trophy.

A tiny t'oroQ dove into the melee and darted away with a prize clutched triumphantly in its jaws.

From the jungle a wild Saj padded lamely into the arena. The right front leg was badly deformed as though twisted and broken and healed wrong. Normally predators, this Saj had been unable to hunt and had to become a scavenger, competing with the others for food. The Saj headed straight for the bloody heap that had once been the lovely princess. The others yelped in protest but gave ground before the big animal. It might not be able to hunt, but it could still kill at close range. The powerful bone-crushing jaws of the animal severed a mangled leg from the body. Satisfied, it picked up its trophy and limped back in the jungle to dine in peace.

The main wave of beetles had finally arrived at the body. One of the t'oroQ managed to make off with a juicy tidbit before the beetles covered the body like a black shroud. Their slashing, clacking jaws discouraged the other scavengers from feeding any further.

By now the crowd had thinned. Most had left when Teresa had been pronounced dead, but a curious few had remained to watch the scavengers feed. And now, there was nothing to see but a mound of black beetles.

Valias continued to stare at the form under the insects, her face expressionless.

Goodbye, Mother. Perhaps...if circumstances had been different

Savagely, she quelled the thought, surprised to find her eyes watering.

Phah! This is stupid! Teresa Morales de la Vega is dead, a fading memory. Her shell is as nothing under the mound of beetles.

Vixis suddenly embraced Valias in a bear hug, kissing her deeply. When she did not get the desired response from the younger Klingon, she released her scent, and Valias fell forward, weak-kneed and helpless, against her lover.

"Come," Vixis whispered. "Let us go back to the compound. There is much to celebrate!"

"Yes!" Valias hissed, her eyes smoky with desire from the pheromone. "Yes! Let us go. Now!"

A shadow fell over Vixis' face and she paled. Valias turned her head and gasped.

Vetara stood behind her, her bodyguards watching their love play with amusement, and lust.

"It amazes me," Vetara shook her head, "the way these q'laI have cultivated a taste for female flesh. I thought only a strong male warrior could stomach unwashed loins. But the way they behave, perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I should sample a taste or two." As the two warriors paled even more, Vetara's eyes went cold. "Both of you have done well, this time," she admitted grudgingly. "The Human be'SIj is dead. And Khalian is vindicated. But remember, should either of you ever fail" She let her gaze turn to Khareg. "He is waiting for that day when he can enjoy you and not worry about if you will survive his encounter." She grabbed Valias' face and stared in her eyes. "Remember how it felt when he took you his way for the first time, and showed you a different form of sex, little one? Remember how he taught you that pain could be just as arousing? Remember the pain, and tell your lover about it."

Vetara turned to Vixis, letting her hand caress the brand on her cheek. Vixis recoiled from the touch, bringing a glint of anger to Vetara's eyes.

"Remember who owns you both!" she snarled.

Vetara grabbed Vixis' face and forced her to endure a kiss on the brand, then she patted Valias playfully on the buttock that bore her brand. Finally she strode away, giving the roiling swarm of beetles a cursory glance as she walked past.

The two q'laI clung to each other. Valias whimpered and closed her eyes while Vixis shivered uncharacteristically.

"Come," Vixis finally said. "Let us leave this place."

Gripping Valias by the elbow, they headed for one of the tunnels. Valias paused, suddenly, and looked back at the form one last time, a sad expression on her face.

The larger carrion-eaters had given up. The qor'wI' were the pre-eminent scavengers of Qo'noS. Once again, they had prevailed. Their sheer numbers were too great for the others to overcome.

Vixis steered Valias toward the tunnel. Valias followed her, head down, without another backward glance.


As it is everywhere else in the universe, so it is on Qo'noS. Nature is a continuous cycle of life and death. It did not matter that Teresa had once been a loving and beloved wife and mother, a person with hopes and dreams. She was now only carrion, waste material to be recycled for a new generation.

Nothing less. Nothing more.

And nothing would go to waste.

As the sun climbed toward the zenith, the qor'wI' beetles alone remained in the amphitheater, performing the task for which nature had selected them.

Aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior

The sleek starship dropped out of warp as it approached the Klingon homeworld. It found itself with an escort of battlecruisers and Birds of Prey as though it were carrying a visiting dignitary. They had been trailing the vessel from the border, barely able to keep up with the Excelsior until it had dropped to impulse speed.

Janice Rand looked up from her board. "We've been given clearance to establish orbit," she replied.

"Standard orbit," he ordered the helmsman.

Tuvok bent over his board, then looked up. "I have picked up a transponder signal. Its signal frequency is the same as the one that is in the implant of Princess Teresa, according to the information given us by Doctor McCoy."

"Give the coordinates to the transporter chief," Sulu commanded. He tapped a few buttons on his chair. "Sulu to Security. Mister Brai, I want a platoon of guards, in full body armor and armed with Mark 4's, ready, now." Without waiting for a response, he tapped a few more buttons. "Sulu to Cord. Get your field kit and get down to the transporter room." Getting up, he motioned to Miguel and McCoy. "Let's go."

They materialized in an abandoned arena in the center of a jungle. The security guards, in their white armor and their Mark 4 Nanopulse Phaser Assault Rifles, took up defensive positions around the pit, their eyes on the trees and the empty stands.

Ariel pulled her tricorder out and began to sweep the area. "The signal's still here," she reported, worry in her voice. "But I'm not picking up anything else."

"Maybe they found out about the transponder and yanked it out," Sulu reasoned, "then took her somewhere else."

"I'm not picking up any other Human lifeforms but ours," she shook her head. "And I'm using the maximum scan."

"Then recalibrate the damned thing!" Sulu exploded. Seeing the pained expression on Ariel's face, he added in a gentler tone, "Perhaps they have a shielded area where they're hiding her. See if you can find a blind spot in the scanning area--"

"No." McCoy's voice interrupted Sulu. "No, Sulu, you won't find a shielded area where they're holding her. She's here."

Sulu turned to where McCoy had walked with his tricorder. He was crouched low to the ground where some black beetles were milling over a lump, his shoulders hunched against the world. Sulu and Ariel moved from the center of the arena to where McCoy was.

"You found the transponder?" Sulu questioned.

"No." Bones stood up stiffly, staring out at the empty seats, blinking back tears. "I found her."

"Oh--my--God." Ariel's hushed voice sounded from behind Sulu.

Sulu's gaze followed her outstretched arm. Under the black blanket of beetles that were now thinning was a skeleton. The ribcage and the skull were intact. The limbs, however, were scattered; some were gnawed open and the marrow already sucked out. Sulu felt the blood drain from his face. He stared at McCoy, then at Ariel, his mouth open in shock.

"What--what could have done this?" he finally got out. "And how could it have happened so fast? We weren't more than an hour behind them the whole damned way."

McCoy turned away from the stands to stare at his old friend. "I don't know, Sulu. To tell you the truth, I don't think I want to know." He looked down at the skull with a few strands of black hair remaining on it. "But, this is Teresa." He closed his eyes, then turned back to Sulu. "What's left of her, anyway. She's been dead just under an hour."

A rumble and a loud war-like scream shattered the almost church silence of the amphitheater. They turned and saw Miguel behind them, his head thrown back, a fist in the sky as another scream left his throat.

He looked at them, a dangerously near-mad glint in his dark eyes. "She will be avenged!" he bellowed. "I have sworn it!"

Grabbing a phaser rifle out of the hands of one of the startled guards, he stormed out of the arena into the jungle.

"Miguel! Wait!" Sulu commanded. "Brai! Take a couple of men and bring him back!"

"NO!" McCoy bellowed. "Sulu, your men wouldn't stand a chance out there. They won't last five minutes!"

"And what about Miguel?" Sulu demanded.

"Miguel's been here before," McCoy snapped. "Teresa let him come here for studies when he was a kid. She wanted him to be proud of both his parents' cultures. Hell, how do you think he got to be a liaison between the Klingon Empire and the Federation?" He shook his head. "Just--let him be."

"We can't leave him here!" argued Sulu heatedly.

"We can. We must," McCoy replied stubbornly. "He's Klingon enough to survive. We aren't." He glared at Sulu. "It's his choice, Hikaru."

They stared at each other for long minutes, then Sulu's gaze dropped to the sandy floor.

"What about--Teresa?" he asked. "We can beam her--her remains--back to the ship to for burial on Serenidad."

"No, don't bother." McCoy stared down at the bones, then started to walk toward the beam-down point.

"Why not?" Ariel asked as she and Sulu trotted to catch up with him.

"Remains?" He stared at them, then at the small mound. "What remains? Some bones, a few wisps of hair? No. Leave her here." He shook his head sadly. "She always wanted to be one with nature, Hikaru, and now she is. Let her rest in peace, at least."

"You sure?" Sulu asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure." McCoy nodded. "I know she hated empty coffins. And she'll probably hate the fact that hers is empty, but I can't see disturbing her any more."

"All right," Sulu nodded. "Sulu to Excelsior. Ready to beam--"

The whine of a disruptor interrupted him, sending the entire landing party scattering for cover. One guard zigged instead of zagging, running right into a beam. He dropped to the ground lifeless. A second guard tackled Ariel, removing her from the path of an incoming blast, taking the burst square in the back. Lieutenant j.g. Brai snapped orders at his remaining squad and began returning fire.

As a bolt came perilously close to Sulu, McCoy felt something snap. Roaring almost the way Miguel had, he raced to one of the dead guards and grabbed the Mark 4 from his lifeless hands. Pressing the firing button of the phaser rifle, he began to spray the trees and stands with the pulsed-phased discharge, spinning in a circle.

A scream of agony accompanied the thud of a body falling from a tree, followed by another scream and a second body thrashing in the bushes. A third cry sounded and a third q'laI toppled from the stand.

Then there was only McCoy's weapon firing, its powerful blast cracking the stones of the grandstand and causing the trees to shed large branches. Finally, realizing there was no longer anyone firing at him, he released the trigger, and let the weapon drop from his hands as he stared at it blankly, as though not knowing how it had gotten into his hands.

Sulu and the others crawled from cover. Brai reached McCoy first and retrieved the weapon, then he and the others took up defensive positions in a tight circle.

"Sulu to Excelsior!" Sulu snapped into his communicator. "Lock on our signals and beam us the hell up!"

As soon as they were safely on board, he flew off the transporter pad and hit the com panel. "Sulu to Bridge! Raise shields and get us back into Federation space. Maximum warp!"


Miguel crashed through the jungle toward the compound. He no longer resembled the unruffled diplomat that had been rescued by Hikaru Sulu in San Francisco from over-zealous security guards. The robe was gone, shredded many kilometers ago by the unforgiving brush. Clad only in his rent softsuit, he resembled his father's forebears as his anger continued to play over his Klingon features. Several jungle animals had tried to stop him from his mission, and the Mark 4 rifle had quickly shattered their skeletons and turned their organs into liquefied mush, leaving them hapless victims for the black tide of beetles.

Miguel stopped for a moment under a jungle tree to catch his breath. No one knew exactly where the compound of the q'laI was. It had been a jealously guarded secret since the first q'laI cadre had been formed and trained. Still, he knew it was close--their amphitheater would not be too far from their home base.

His ears caught the hint of a sound, then he spotted some of the q'laI rushing away from the arena. Miguel smiled ferally as he moved to intercept the last female, slinging the rifle over his shoulder.

He dove for the fast-moving Klingon's legs, spilling the female to the ground. Before she could react, he pinned her body to the jungle floor with his own, nearly crushing hers with his weight. One arm encircled her throat as the other arm came around it from the opposite direction, then slowly both began to apply pressure to her windpipe.

"Listen well," Miguel snarled. "You will take me to your compound, and you will do so now."

Gasping for air, and struggling to break free from his hold, the q'laI snarled back, "No male is taken to our stronghold except as a captive for breeding, before we kill him!"

"I suggest that you make an exception," Miguel growled softly, increasing the pressure ever so slightly, ignoring her attempts at escape. "Or you will never see the compound again."

"Then so be it!" she spat. "I will not betray my oath!"

"As you say," Miguel intoned, twisting his arms suddenly. He was rewarded with the snap of bone, and the body beneath him abruptly falling limp. Standing up, he stared down at the body. "I will find it without you."

He trotted in the direction she had been running, the rifle once again in his arms, resting easy, but ready for use when needed.

Then, in front of him, a small building rose.

Once a citadel in the center of a desert, it now was fortress shrouded with green growth. The q'laI had cleared a section around the edifice, but let the jungle plants rise above it and encircle it, creating a natural camouflage.

Miguel paused in the brush before the clearing, waiting until he was as sure as he could be that no more q'laI were coming from the direction of the arena. Then he marched to the old wooden door and slammed his giant fist against it.

A long minute passed. No answer.


Miguel raised the Mark 4 and aimed it at the door. When his finger was removed from the trigger, the door was little more than splinters on the ground.

He stepped through the hole he had created and stormed down the corridors, occasionally smashing open doors to see what was behind them, and continuing on when he discovered that what he sought was not in that room.

He finally came to a large room, probably their great meeting hall. He found it very similar to the one in the capital, only smaller in size. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by dozens of females, all with disruptors pointing at him. An older woman walked through the ranks to him, ignoring the rifle in his arms.

"You have violated our sacred place," she said coldly, the staff in her hand pointing at him accusingly. "No male is allowed here, save those we chose for breeding." She stared at him, eyes narrowed in hate. "Do you wish to breed with us, loD(44)? And then suffer the fate of a breeder?"

"I am here for only one purpose," he roared. "bortaS. I have sworn it against those who murdered my family."

The older woman brought the staff back upright and her gaze studied him closer. "bortaS? Against a q'laI?"

"As I have said," Miguel nodded, a red glint of hate and anger in his eyes. "Because of her, I have no family. And I have sworn 'Ip'Iw." He glared at the woman. "My family will be avenged. Here and now, or at a later time and place, I care not which. But know this, be', my family and my honor will be avenged, even if I have to destroy this place and all in it."

Veraas motioned with her head, and the weapons were lowered. "A blood oath is something I will not interfere with." She walked closer to him. "What do you propose, loD? How will you carry out your revenge?"

"A challenge," he answered. "A fight to the death." He raised an arm and indicated the armament on the walls of the room. "We have all the weapons here we will need."

"A challenge," she agreed. A small smile played over her lips. "My q'laI are skilled warriors. They are seldom, if ever defeated by outsiders; and never in their own arena."

"There is a first time for everything," Miguel smiled tightly back at her. "Even defeat."

Veraas stared at him soberly, her gaze never wavering. "No male has ever left here alive," she said.

"And if the one I challenge can slay me, no male ever will," Miguel answered. "But if I slay her, I leave, return to my life. I give you my oath, Lady, this place will remain a secret to all outsiders."

Veraas nodded. "It shall be as you say, loD. You will have your chance at bortaS. And, should you win, you will be allowed to leave this place, unharmed."

Tossing the rifle in a corner, he walked around the room, staring at the warriors who were staring back at him, some with open, passionate interest. He moved to the wall and picked out a weapon, a large batlh'etlh. Then he continued to move among the women until he finally stopped in front of Valias.

Valias looked up at him in surprise. There was something familiar about him. Something she couldn't put her finger on.

"You challenge me?"

"Yes," he snarled. "You."

"Why?" she demanded as a chill went down her spine as his eyes bored into hers.

"For the death of my brothers and mother," he said coldly.

The room became deathly still. Valias' eyes widened.

"You would challenge me because I carried out the blood oath of my father?" she finally said. "Against that be'SIj--"

"Enough!" Miguel roared. "You will never call her that again! You have called our mother be'SIj, but your father was discommoded by our people! If you had been secreted away anywhere else but here, you would have shared his fate!"

"My father," Valias screamed, her voice trembling in fury, her fist raised, ready to strike, "was a great warrior! It was only because of--of her--that the weaklings on the Council discommoded him, and purged his family. Because of her," she choked, her clenched fist against her chest, "my brothers were killed."

"And you have claimed your revenge against her for that," Miguel answered, his voice low and threatening. "And now, it is my turn." Spinning on his heel, he marched to the center of the room. "Choose your weapon, puqbe'."

Valias glanced over the weapons, finally choosing another batlh'etlh, her own.

"Prepare to die, loD," she snarled as she swung on him.

Metal clanged against metal as Miguel's batlh'etlh met hers and swept its sharp blade away from his body. He maneuvered his body and swung his blade at her. Valias brought her weapon around just in time to stop the point from slashing her.

The two continued to circle, more wary of each other now as the other q'laI formed a circle around the combatants, shouting words of encouragement to their comrade. Valias suddenly whirled and slashed at his legs, only to hear the blade whistle against wind, his legs no longer there. Instinctively she rolled on the ground, raising the blade as his came crashing down from behind her. Cautiously she regained her feet, her eyes wide and her breath rapid and shallow as she studied him.

For the first time since she had become a novitiate, she felt terror in the arena. This male knew how to fight. With sheer effort of will, she regained control of her breathing, as she let the blade arc around her. Soon the familiarity of the exercise calmed her, readying her for another attack.

Miguel let his blade move in mirror action to Valias' own. Slowly he advanced on her until he was within blade's reach. Then his weapon swung, dipped, and slipped around Valias' defensive parry.

There was dead silence as Valias stared down at the point of the batlh'etlh in her stomach, then at the one who had wielded the weapon. Questioning confusion etched over her face. Miguel pressed harder, forcing the blade deeper, then pulled it out of the wound. A river of dark pink blood followed the blade, staining the old wood of the floor. Weakly Valias swung her blade, faltered, then fell to the floor, dropping her weapon.

Vixis was the first to recover. Howling in fury, she rushed to the young Kh'myr, cradling her head. "No!" she keened. "No! This is impossible. Razar! Attend us!"

"V-Vixis," Valias struggled. "I-it hurts so much! I never knew it could hurt so!"

"Hush," she rocked the form. "The Qel will soon put all to rights again."

"Th-this is how m-my m-mother m-must have f-felt," Valias whimpered, tears running down her cheek. "Sh-she did not cry out as m-much as I th-thought she would. I-I th-think she w-was braver than we gave her credit for."

"Hush," Vixis repeated. "Save your strength."

She stared up at Razar, her gaze saying more eloquently what words could not. Razar put her tricorder back on her utility belt, mutely shaking her head. Vixis' face mirrored her anguish as the Qel slid back into the crowd. She shook her head and lipped a silent agonized "No."

"Vixis," Valias called, her voice weakening, "I'm so cold!"

Pulling the dying Kh'myr closer to her, Vixis wrapped her arms around the small frame. "I will warm you bang'wI," she whispered in her ear. "I will warm you."

Valias' hand lifted to grasp Vixis' arm, then fell limp to the wooden floor.

Vixis stared down at the lifeless eyes that stared back at her, then around the room, meeting the stunned expressions of her sisters. As one, they raised their fists and howled the death scream. With the second shout, Vixis stared at Miguel. The third shout found Vixis on her feet, her battle armor stained with the dark pink of Valias' blood, Valias' batlh'etlh in her hands, as she rushed toward the lone male.

Miguel blocked her first blow, twisted and spun to block the second attack from the enraged q'laI. Vixis pulled back, then swung the blade again. Miguel slid around the blade and let his weapon find its target.

Vixis stared at him in surprise as the blade severed her aorta, then was pulled roughly from her body. She dropped to her knees, her hands holding the wound in her stomach attempting to stop the rush of pink blood. Lifeless, she flopped to the floor on her face.

The howls from the females reached a crescendo as Vixis' blood mingled with Valias'. Taras moved from the circle to Vixis' body, and reached for the batlh'etlh.

"pemev(45)" Veraas ordered, her staff hitting the ground as Taras reached for the dropped weapon.

"But, SoS!" Lara objected. "He has murdered our comrades!"

"A challenge was made and accepted," Veraas looked at the q'laI. "He has earned his freedom."

"Then I swear--"

"NO!" Veraas' voice thundered in the hall. "You will not!"

Lara stared at her leader. "But SoS--"

"There has been enough bloodshed over this affair," Veraas stated coldly. "I do not wish to lose more daughters to it." She glared at the warriors, pointing at them with her staff. "I have spoken. I will hear no more of it!" Veraas turned to Miguel. "I have given my word, and it will be fulfilled. Leave this place loD, and never return. If you do," she leveled her staff at him, "I will see to it that your blood stains this floor."

"As you say, Lady,"

Miguel hoisted the batlh'etlh up in the air, staring at the blade with undisguised desire. Then he walked to the wall to return it to its rightful place.

"No." Veraas' voice halted his action. "No, it no longer belongs there. It is yours, loD. Take it and go."

Miguel picked up the phaser rifle and slung it over his shoulder as he swung the blade into the crook of his arm. Without a backwards glance, he left the compound, moving through the jungle to the capital city.

Aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior

McCoy staggered from the bathroom to the stuffed chair. He managed to sit down in the chair before he fell over his feet.

Once down he sighed and reached for a glass, missing it entirely the first time, nearly tipping over the second time, and finally snagging it on the third attempt. Scowling, he stared at the bottle of Romulan Ale on the table in front of him, wondering how many tries it would take to get it. Carefully aiming, he accomplished the feat on the first try. Slowly, so as not to spill a single drop of the light blue liquid, he poured himself another glass and put the bottle securely on the table.

McCoy let the fiery beverage slide down his throat as he stared at the holopicture of his wife and children at Davey's last birthday party. He had to blink several times, and squint before he could focus properly on it.

"Dam' shtuff is shtronger than I thought," he mumbled aloud. "That or I need another dose of Retnax V." He shook his head, then, as the room began to spin, shut his eyes, and held still until the universe had calmed down. "Don' try that again Lennie boy," he scolded himself. "Bad for the shtomach."

The door chimes, usually soft and inviting, sounded vaguely off-key to the doctor. He chose to ignore the noise and continued to stare at the picture, now in his hands. The chimes sounded again, sounding more urgent to his besotted ears.

Scowling at the door, he growled, "Whoever you are, go 'way. Thish is a private wake."

"Leonard, it's me," Sulu's voice answered him. "Let me in."

McCoy put his glass down, carefully, next to the bottle. He continued to stare the holopicture. "I shuppose if I don' he'll use his damned override code to get in."

"Leonard." Sulu's voice was more insistent.

"Enter," McCoy slurred loudly.

Sulu walked over to another chair across from McCoy. Sitting down, he noted the bottle, raised an eyebrow half an inch, then shrugged, found himself a glass and helped himself to some of the illegal liquor.

"You look like hell," McCoy commented as he took a sip of the ale. "Thought I tol' you to get some shleep."

"I'll sleep," Sulu promised.

"Yeah?" McCoy managed to pin him with a sharp glare. "When?"

"When I'm ready." Sulu blinked as the first of ale burned down his throat.

"When's that gonna be?" McCoy demanded. "We've been in Federation shpace for two days now, and you shtill haven't managed to find your bed." Attempting to stand up, McCoy found his balance precarious, and lowered himself back in the chair, settling instead to point an accusing finger at the captain. "Do I hafta make that an order, Captain?"

"Don't," Sulu warned him. "I can't sleep now. Later--" He stared at his glass, not wanting to meet McCoy's glance. "Right now, I can't sleep."

"What 'bout Ariel?" McCoy took another sip from his glass.

"She's asleep," Sulu answered. "Not peacefully, by any means; but, she's asleep." He poured more of the blue ale into his glass. "I had one of her staff slip her a little something in her tea."

McCoy let his eyebrows raise up in surprise. "You had one of her doctors shlip her a Mickey Finn?"

"Seemed like the thing to do," Sulu nodded. "And before you try it on me, just remember, you're not my C.M.O."

"Nooo," McCoy shook his head, slowly to keep the room steady. "An' I can guarantee that when your C.M.O. is awake, she's gonna take your guts for garters."

"What about you, Leonard?" Sulu asked. "When will you sleep?"

"When it's all over, Hikaru." McCoy felt himself starting to slip sideways in the chair, and carefully righted himself.

"Can I do anything?" Sulu put the empty glass back on the table, glad he was going off duty instead coming on duty.

"No, there's nothing anyone can do right now," McCoy stared down at the picture on the table. "I jus' need to be alone. Short things out."

"You sure?" Sulu asked, remembering his own grief over the loss of Janet Rachelson.

"I'm sure, ol' friend. Right now, all I need is my good friend Romi here," he leaned forward carefully and picked up the bottle, bringing it close to his chest, "an' a tall glass." He stared up at Sulu, trying to decide which of the two figures he saw was the real one and which the product of his inebriated state, then decided it didn't matter, either would do. "I jus' want to get fallin' down, shtinkin' dead drunk. An' I want to do it alone."

Sulu bit back what he was about to say. Nodding to the drunken man, Sulu walked out of McCoy's cabin. In the corridor, he paused, staring at the door silently for a few moments. Perhaps, he decided, this was his way of dealing with the shock and grief.

In the cabin, McCoy poured himself another glass full and stared at the pictured, his fingers trembling as they traced the outline of the young woman between the two boys. "Ah, 'Sita. Ain't life a bitch?"

The q'laI Arena

Darkness shrouded the jungle. Sounds of wild roars and shrill shrieks punctuated the silence. Branches cracked under heavy boots as two figures entered the empty arena where, two days before, thousands had witnessed the grisly death of the Human female.

The Klingon in the lead, tall, broad and powerfully built, exuded confidence as he strode into the arena. Kalt, captain of the Bird of Prey QeH, marched into the center ad stared up at the seats now vacant.

Kuran, his aide, followed him. Shorter than Kalt, and of slighter build, he kept near the towering walls, continuously studying the darkness. He did not like this place.

"joH'wI', why are we here?" Kuran finally asked.

"We are seeking a gift for someone special." Kalt began to search the sandy floor.

"A gift? In this place?" Kuran stared at his captain, wondering what he'd been imbibing of late.

"Yes, Kuran. Here." Kalt stopped abruptly by a mass of bones. "This."

"That?" Kuran moved from his somewhat safe position to join Kalt, certain he had been ingesting a most potent concoction, one strong enough to addle his reasoning.

"Specifically," Kalt flicked a few remaining beetles from the eye sockets of the skull, "this."

Grasping the skull firmly in one hand, he attempted to remove it from the rest of the skeleton. He grunted in surprise when the spinal column and a few ribs started to come with it. Turning the skull over, Kalt studied it for a moment, then snorted as he pulled out his dagger and carefully severed the few remaining ligaments that had held the skull in place.

"Who would want that as a present?" Kuran wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"The tastes of the powerful are strange, Kuran." Kalt held up the skull, letting the white, polished bone glisten in the moonlight. "toH! Not one mark on it! Perfect!" He wrapped his prize in a velvet cloth and placed it in a thickly lined sack. "The things one must do to obtain their favor are equally strange. My family is an old and noble one." Kalt's hand rested on Kuran's shoulder, a wistful tone creeping in his voice. "But there is room for only one Head of House. I am a younger son, Kuran, with no hope of gaining the Head of House. And my brothers will not help me establish my own House. I cannot even claim a mate from the established Houses because I have no standing." His hand gripped Kuran's shoulder tightly. "I will have a mate and a House, Kuran, even if that means an alliance with a House less honored. And this," he patted the sack, loosening his grip on the aide's arm, "will be the means of forging an alliance with that House."

"How will a skull," he questioned, distaste present on his face, "align you with any House? And which House?"

Kalt laughed heartily, slapping Kuran on the back. "You will see, Kuran. And as to who, you may not want to know."

A scream from a wild predator sounded close to the compound.

"joH'wI', it might be wise to leave this place, now." Kuran's darted furtively into the darkness.

Kalt squinted, studying the moving shapes approaching the arena. "Perhaps you are right, Kuran."

They slipped away into the jungle as silently as they had come.


The royal compound was draped in black. A small canopy was set up near two open graves. Two coffins, one adult-sized and one smaller child-sized, sat side by side on the frames awaiting internment. 

Leonard McCoy led the official mourners from the chapel to the graveside, dressed in a dark suit. He'd often complained about the formal, official functions that he'd been forced to attend as Teresa's consort. Sometimes she'd let him skip the function, knowing he wasn't comfortable mingling with the nobles and wealthy. He wished he could skip this one.

He barely glanced at the people who followed him. They were all that was left of Teresa's family, and most of them were extended family members.

Hikaru Sulu, Ariel Cord, Janice Rand, and the senior officers of the U.S.S. Excelsior were in the group surrounding the graves, offering their silent support to their friend. Next to them were the members of the Serenidad High Council, Charles Zeiss, and a large number of nobles of Serenidad. McCoy stared out at the faces, wondering if Teresa had really known all those people, or if they were just names on the official guest list that she had invited to functions of state. He decided he didn't care.

Father Diego Anaya stopped on his way to head of the caskets to place a comforting hand on McCoy's shoulder. He'd done the same thing in the chapel after the service, and McCoy still hadn't felt much more than numbness. Finally, Father Anaya stood in front of the coffins, quieting the crowd with a look.

McCoy barely heard the words, staring the whole time at the coffins, one empty, one with two small bodies lying side by side. They'd been nearly inseparable in life, and he decided they should remain that way in death.

He had heard that Antonia had been buried quietly the day after her death. The autopsy had shown that her treasonous actions were not of her own volition, which had cleared her name, legally. The behavioral chip in her brain had proven to be of Klingon design, and still viable. Still, it had been decided to put her to rest quietly, without fanfare. She had still been the cause of the loss of the First Family, after all.

Connor had been buried several days later. It took that long for Thiel to convince Starfleet to let the Yorktown send her to her final rest in the sun that had warmed her body for so many years.

A clearing throat brought him out of his reverie. McCoy's gaze left the coffins and looked over to Father Anaya, then back at the caskets. The priest nodded at McCoy, then at the coffins. Belatedly he realized that the priest had finished speaking and was waiting for him to do perform his part of the graveside ceremony.

Slowly walking over to the coffins, McCoy placed the two small yellow roses he'd been holding tightly on the boys' coffin, then walked over to the empty coffin of his wife. For the first time, he felt regret that he hadn't allowed Sulu to bring her remains home. Somberly he put the white rose he still had in his hand on her coffin, then backed away.

The coffins slowly descended into the ground. When they were down, McCoy picked up a small handful of dirt and dropped it on the caskets. The others in the retinue followed suit, then with Father Anaya in the lead, McCoy close behind, they left the graveyard to return to the castle and the wake.

As he was about to enter the foyer, Don Rolando Alcalá, elder statesman and a member of the High Council, put a gentle, restraining hand on McCoy's arm. "A moment of your time, Señor McCoy," he murmured softly.

McCoy waved the others on. He didn't feel like attending another wake anyway. "What do you want?" he asked gruffly.

"I don't wish to seem crass, Señor, but there are affairs of state which can not wait for the mourning period to end." If Don Alcalá had been affronted by McCoy's tone, he didn't show it.

"Yeah, go on," McCoy sighed. If there was one thing about his life with Teresa he hated it was the politics, he decided, then the damned fancy shindigs he had had to attend. "What about the state?"

"At this point, we have no one to take Princess Teresa's place on the throne," Alcalá stated. "Unless--?" He stared at McCoy.

"Unless?" McCoy prompted him.

"Unless, perhaps, you claim it," Alcalá finished. "As Consort, it is your right. And the people would not oppose you as Prince."

"Me? A prince?" McCoy stared at Alcalá in shock, his voice raising in near indignation. "Not on your life, buster. I'm a country doctor and I intend to stay a country doctor. Besides," he added, "there's nothing for me here any more."

"I see." Was it his imagination, or did the good councilor seem relieved.

"Of course," McCoy went on, "there's still Miguel, her son"

"But he is lost on Qo'noS," Alcalá objected. "Possibly dead."

"Now don't you count that young pup out just yet," McCoy admonished him. "Just because we haven't heard from him doesn't mean he's dead."

"I have legitimate concerns," Alcalá stated, slightly offended. "Our people need leadership. For many centuries, the monarchy has been our leader. Now that position is vacant, and our people cry for leadership."

"Okay," McCoy sighed. "Point made."

"If he is alive, you don't suppose he would make a claim, do you?" Alcalá asked worriedly.

"No," McCoy shook his head. "I don't think so. Miguel likes being his own person; he couldn't do that as a head of state."

Alcalá sighed and smiled. "Good. For years there has been talk of setting up a Republic, but as long as there was an heir to the throne, it was difficult to convince the Council to take that step. Now, though, with no heir, it might be possible." Alcalá looked into McCoy's concerned face. "There would be no change in our status with the Federation, Señor. We still need the Federation to protect us from the Klingons."

"Of course," McCoy answered, biting back the sarcasm that threatened to break through. "Go right ahead. Be my guest. It's your planet, your government. Have fun with it."

McCoy walked away, avoiding the castle and the large group of well-wishers and mourners. Instead he headed for the bungalow.

He paused at the door, unsure if he could enter it again. The furnishings, the knickknacks, the designs--all had been carefully designed and overseen by Teresa. She'd made the small domicile a home, a place to return. Now--

Gritting his teeth, he entered and made his way to the bedroom. Their bedroom. The scene of many nights and days of wild, passionate, devoted love. Now it was an empty room, devoid of character. She was no longer there to bring it to life.

He picked up his carryall, packed and ready for travel, waiting for him on the bed. Rosalita must have had one of the others pack his things for him. She'd know he wouldn't want to stay here one moment longer than necessary.

On the way out, he stopped once, at the small cabinet, studying the holopictures that were arranged ever so perfectly. He spotted several he'd forgotten about, several that Connor or Jim had taken of him with his family. He picked them up and studied them closely, then opened the case and set the holos inside.

McCoy looked around the room one last time, then walked out the door, not even bothering to close it behind him.

In the castle grounds, he found Sulu mingling with Alcalá and other dignitaries. Seeing McCoy, Sulu gracefully disengaged himself and went to join him.

"I was beginning to wonder where you'd gone to," Sulu said. He hadn't forgotten that McCoy had gotten thoroughly smashed on the way back to Serenidad and had remained in a drunken stupor until Ariel Cord had used her override codes and given him a very large dose of the anti-inebriate medicine only a few hours before the funeral.

"Just gettin' my things together," McCoy answered. "Think I can bum one last ride from you?"

"You know we're headed back to Earth," Sulu said. "Minor refit and new assignments."

"Yeah," McCoy nodded. "I know. It's as good a place as any."

"We'll be leaving shortly," Sulu warned him.

"And now's as good a time as any."

House of Durit

Lady Vetara sank into her lounge chair, staring dully at her trophy case, then up at the ceiling. She was bored. For long years, the House of Durit had been plotting and praying for the downfall of the Serenidad be'SIj. And now--

Now the Human was dead, and Vetara had nothing to occupy her time or her mind.

"You have a visitor, Lady," a servant announce.

"Who?" she sighed. Not that it mattered. Any diversion would be welcome.

"Kalt, son of Kyrag, House of Krun," a deep voice boomed.

Vetara elegantly swiveled herself upright, sitting on the edge of the lounger, watching as Kalt, in full battle armor, forced his way into the great room, her bodyguards close behind him. A large box was in his hands, held protectively close to his chest. Stopping a few feet from Vetara, he planted his feet on the tile, daring any to move him.

She eyed Kalt coolly, noting he was nearly as tall as Khareg, and as broad in the shoulders. His jerkin accentuated his hard muscles. His eyes were hooded, focused on the box, making it difficult to read his expression.

"The House of Krun is an old one. I have heard of it, and of Kalt," she said neutrally.

What she had heard was that Kalt was the youngest son of the House, with no chance of inheriting what little remained of the family estate. He had no mate, and no female of any of the wealthy or influential Houses was interested in aligning herself with him. She smiled faintly as she let her eye run down his form, concentrating below his waist. Well, she was in need of a little diversion, and he looked very diverting. And, if he proved to be entertaining, she might consider making him her vassal. A vassal with the lineage of the House of Krun would be an asset to her.

"What brings the House of Krun to the House of Durit?"

"I bring a gift, Lady," he answered, extending the box toward her, his eyes still lowered.

Vetara gazed at the box, then at her guards.

"It has been scanned, Lady. There is no danger from it," Khareg rumbled. Then a grin creased his face, "I think you will enjoy it, Lady."

Rising regally to her feet, causing her shift to shimmer over her form suggestively, she strode toward Kalt. Lifting the lid, she stared at the contents. Her head came up, and her eyes tried to read his bland face still bent over the box. With trembling hands, she lifted the object out, her mouth open in amazement. The skull of Teresa Morales was gold-plated, and mounted on a lacquered base, complete with an inscription on a metal plate.

Teresa Morales de la Vega of Serenidad
Vanquished by Lady Vetara of the House of Durit

"It is beautiful!" she breathed as she walked to the case, placing it gently in the center of the top shelf, then running her hand along the smooth surface in an almost loving caress.

Kalt let his eyes rise as she moved to the shelf, his lips lifting in satisfaction as her hips swung invitingly under the silken material. He'd come here prepared to have sex with her if it would gain him her patronage and a chance to establish a House and gain a mate. He'd heard she was a demanding partner, controlling the act from start to finish, and he was willing to allow that if would advance his cause. As he watched her supple form, he felt his pulse quicken and his body respond to the stimulus of her body, deciding it would not be a chore at all. She was all but inviting him to take her with the guards still in the room. If that was what she wished, he would accommodate her.

Dismissing the guards with a wave of her hand, she ordered, "Do not disturb us unless I summon you."

Khareg bowed his head in obeisance, then closed the door behind him.

Vetara sauntered slowly and sensually toward the captain, her eyes smoldering with frank lust. She hadn't had a good coupling in a long time. After a while, when the males performed on demand, there was little satisfaction, merely gratification. A new male would change that, she licked her lips as she continued to study his body. It always did, at first. And if he were as endowed as his form suggested, she might be sated for a long time. She smiled at the passion that was burning in his eyes.

Her smile widened as he dropped his battle armor to the floor, exposing his already erect member, even larger than she had hoped. Her smile turned to shock when he reached out and tore the shift from her, letting it crumple in a heap around her ankles. He grabbed her firmly by her shoulders as he stared into her wide eyes. But instead of crushing her to him in a cruel embrace, as she expected, he shoved her backwards onto the lounge chair, causing her to trip, her legs splayed wide open.

He was suddenly on top of her, his hands securely holding her hands above her head, his massive chest pinning her body to the chair as he rammed his organ fully into her vagina with one thrust, forcing a cry of astonishment from her lips.

Vetara struggled against his animal rutting, snarling oaths of vengeance against him. He laughed as she described in detail what she would do to him when he finished with her. They seemed to goad him on to harsher and rougher thrusts. She tried to pull her hands free from his vise-like grip in vain; any movement she made just seemed to amuse him all the more and make it easier for him to continue his abuse of her.

And then, quite suddenly, she felt his rhythm change, no longer abusive, only powerful and demanding. His hands released her wrists and crushed her body closer to his, pushing her pelvis into his. A strange tingle began to form in her loins and gradually grew to encompass her entire being as she found herself meeting him thrust for thrust, not caring any longer that each lunge caused her to feel agonizing pain between her legs, not caring that he had taken her without her permission.

They continued on for what seemed like an eternity, never seeming to get enough of each other, until she finally felt her climax build and shrieked in ecstasy, then climaxed again as he climaxed with her. He fell on top of her, spent.

Vetara slowly rolled from under him, her limbs still weak from their recent exertion. It had been a long time, too long, since she had felt like this after a coupling. A smile formed on her lips as she started to rise from the chair. She would definitely be enjoying his company for some time to come.

A hand clamped on her waist and pulled her back to the chair. She found herself under him again, his hot damp chest flush with hers as he took her again.

"We were not finished yet, Lady," he rumbled in her ear.

"No?" she panted.

"No, Lady," he grunted as one hand kept her pelvis close to his while the other explored her rounded breasts, his hot breath tickling her ear as he seemed to bury his organ deeper into her. "I have just begun!"

He continued with his lunges, Vetara moaning as she met him thrust for thrust, and finally, after another eternity, climaxed again with him.

After a few moments, she felt him straddle her legs. Looking up, she saw his eyes fixed on her body, still afire with lust. His hands began to roughly knead her breasts, forcing another gasp from her as her body shifted of its own accord and began to respond. A grin started at his lips and filled his eyes as he let his hands roam her body at will, grasping and squeezing as they went. Vetara could hardly believe that such crude actions were eliciting such a powerful sexual response from her.

"Are you finished, yet, Kalt?" She tried to keep her tone neutral, as his fingers began to move between her legs.

"It will take some time to finish with you, Lady," he grinned wolfishly as his fingers probed deep into her vagina, causing another groan of passion to escape her throat as her body moved invitingly under him. "A very long time."

"Indeed?" she murmured huskily as her hands slowly began to explore his body in return. "And how long is that?"

"Does it really matter, Lady?" he asked as he lowered his head and nipped an erect nipple as his fingers continued to move in her enticingly.

"No," she managed to get out as she positioned herself to make her body more accommodating, straining with desire for him. "No, it does not matter."

He stopped his foreplay, catching her rotating hips in his hands, holding them still, then plunged his penis deep into her, forcing her to arch toward him in painful pleasure. "I thought not."


Vetara sighed as she basked in the hot water. She could not recall ever experiencing a time of passion such as the one she had spent with Kalt. Kalt had taken his time enjoying her throughout the rest of the afternoon and far into the night, never seeming to be fully sated, never seeming to tire of her.

He'd finally left at dawn, after taking her in one last forceful, painful, yet pleasurable coupling. Before leaving her, he'd announced he'd return at noon to continue where he'd left off, and she'd best be ready for him.

A moan escaped her lips as the hot liquid entered her private parts. Vetara had not felt so raw since she had lost her virginity in a night of orgy at a party in the barracks of her father's soldiers.

Once dressed, making sure all the bruises from Kalt's massive hands were covered from inquisitive eyes, Vetara went to the great hall to take care of business before Kalt returned. Once he entered her domicile, she knew, that sore or not, the only business she would be dealing with was Kalt's desires. A shiver of anticipation raced down her spine, ending between her legs.

Noon could not come soon enough.

She stopped short, staring at the regal q'laI who stood in the center of her hall. Vetara had never fully felt comfortable in Veraas' presence. The q'laI matriarch had always treated her with the deference and respect due her as the House of Durit, but she did not fear Vetara. Without the fear, she could not control Veraas.

Vetara studied the majestic warrior through narrowed eyes. Did she know that Valias was her vassal as well as Vixis? And was she going to demand that they be released from their oath to her?

"What brings you here?" Vetara demanded haughtily.

"I had thought to send you a message," Veraas began coolly. "Then I decided that what I had to say should not be written on parchment, but told face to face."

"Then say it and be gone," Vetara commanded.

"Vixis and Valias are no more," Veraas stated stonily.

"What?" Vetara demanded.

"They are no more," Veraas repeated.

"How?" Vetara snarled, her back to the q'laI mistress, staring out a window.

"They were challenged, and lost," Veraas answered.

"That is impossible!" Vetara whirled back to stare at Veraas incredulously. "Vixis was your most experienced warrior, and Valias was her protégé."

"True," Veraas inclined her head in acknowledgment. "Still, they were defeated."

"Who?" Vetara demanded.

"His name does not matter," Veraas shook her head, "since there will be no vengeance sought."

"No vengeance!" Vetara shrieked.

"No." Veraas turned to leave the hall.

"No?!" Vetara caught Veraas and forced her to turn and face her.

"No," Veraas repeated coldly, removing Vetara's hand from her body, causing a grimace to crease Vetara's face. "I forbade it."

"You--" Vetara stared into Veraas' stony face. "You forbade them?! How dare you! You will begin to seek their vengeance against this male, at once!"

"No, Lady, I will not. Nor will my warriors," Veraas retorted, her eyes flashing angrily. "They were challenged honorably, and lost, honorably. There will be no revenge."

"There must be vengeance!" stormed Vetara.

"No, Lady," Veraas' nostrils flared dangerously. "There will be no vengeance. The time for killing has passed. It is now time to heal."

"Bah! You sound like the weaklings that command the Council," Vetara snorted. "I demand to know who killed Vixis and Valias!"

"No, Lady," Veraas refused. "If I tell you, you will seek his life. And the Council will forbid it."

"Yes, I will seek him out," she seethed. "And when I find him, I will make him suffer. Even if it takes a generation! The Council will not oppose me!"

"No, Lady," Veraas contradicted her. "They will forbid you to take action against him."

"Phah!" Vetara tossed her head proudly. "As if I care what those old men say."

"They will forbid it," Veraas continued. "And if you persist, they will discommode you, destroy your House, and give your wealth to another."

"Let them try!" Vetara challenged.

Veraas looked at Vetara, a calculating glint in her eyes. "So, the House of Durit is all powerful."

"Yes!" Vetara hissed into Veraas' face. "Powerful enough to punish those to destroy what is mine! I will obtain the revenge you are too weak to seek."

"Are you powerful enough wage a war, Lady?" Veraas asked calmly. "A war with the Federation?"

"A war with the Federation?" Vetara blinked in surprise, pulling away from the q'laI mistress. There was only one male that was so aligned that she knew of. Kralek, son of the be'SIj.

"Yes, Lady," Veraas nodded. "A war with the Federation. For that is what will happen if you are successful in revenging my daughters. Can the House of Durit wage a war against the Federation?"

"Of course not!" Vetara snapped irritably.

"I thought not." Veraas smiled smugly at the shaken Vetara. "There will be no vengeance against the loD who defeated them."

"Damn you!" Vetara snarled. "Leave this house!"

"As you wish," Veraas tipped her head minutely then turned to leave, then paused and turned back to Vetara, a flash of anger in her eyes. "And do not attempt to entangle any more of my daughters into your Household, Lady. I would be most displeased to see another daughter forced to choose between the Sisterhood and the House of Durit."

Before Vetara could respond, Veraas glided from her presence.


Kalt returned to the Durit compound, his step light, his mood ebullient. Things had gone quite well, he smiled smugly.

He still wondered what had possessed him to take the initiative and force himself on her, taking her his way. He'd thought that she would have him gelded when he finished with her, listening to her tirade. She probably would have done so if he had not suddenly changed tactics and succeeded in seducing Vetara.

Kalt's smile broadened as he remembered how she had become his willing slave the rest of the day and into the night, her eager body beneath his, above his, beside his, begging for more even as they both reached climactic ecstasies.

Entering the great hall, he noted Vetara was seated at a large dining table, set with meal that the old Emperor would have found satisfying. Her body was wrapped in a simple shift that did nothing to hide her form from him. Kalt found it hard deciding which morsels tempted him more.

"Won't you join me?" she asked throatily, her eyes suggestive even as she waved an inviting arm toward the chair across from her.

"I would be delighted, Lady," Kalt answered, allowing her to direct the events, for now.

They ate and drank as married couples are wont to, deriving pleasure from each other's company. They even shared in what the Humans call "small talk" to pass the time as they consumed the delicacies Vetara had had prepared.

Suddenly, Kalt stood up, and cleared the table with a massive sweep of his hand.

Vetara glared up at him. "What are you doing?" she demanded harshly.

Moving to her side, Kalt jerked her to her feet, crushing her to his hard chest, noting with satisfaction that there was nothing under the shift but Vetara. Quickly twirling her around, he forced her torso over the table, flipping the hem of the shift up over her hips, exposing her well-rounded posterior to his greedy gaze. She felt his hands open her and soon felt his pulsating member filling her.

"Why, Lady," he chuckled as he moved masterfully within her, awakening her desires all over again, "I merely cleared the table so we could enjoy dessert!"


"So you have lost your pawns."

They had moved from the great hall table to the floor, then on to the bed chamber. They had tumbled onto the large bed and proceeded to couple until the early evening hours. A servant, wise to the ways of his mistress, had prepared a tray of delicacies for them to enjoy between each bout of sex.

Kalt held a squirming gagh over Vetara's lips, then dropped it into her open mouth. "A pity."

"Yes," Vetara sighed deeply, reciprocating with a even larger worm for Kalt. "It will not be easy to get any other warrior to pledge fealty to me. Veraas will, no doubt, make sure that I am never given the opportunity to hold influence over her warriors."

"You say they were killed by the Liaison?" Kalt questioned, crunching on the soft body noisily.

"Yes," Vetara laid back in the bed, another sigh escaping her. "It seems he had sworn the blood oath against his own half-sister."

"So the little vixen was slain by her half-brother," Kalt helped himself to another juicy worm, then held out one for Vetara.

"And then he turned around and killed her lover." Vetara let her lips capture Kalt's fingers suggestively before she took the worm and bit into its body. "Actually," she moved the tray out of her way and moved her body closer to Kalt's, "I think the news has upset Khareg more than it has me."

"Khareg?" Kalt let his eyebrow raise questioningly as he let Vetara straddle his body.

"Yes, Khareg," Vetara nodded as she began to caress his chest. "I had promised him that the halfling was his for his amusement." She shook her head. "Now I shall have to find him another. That will not be easy."

"And why is that?" Kalt let his hands slowly move up from her hips to her breasts.

"He is not very gentle with his females," she laughed throatily. "They rarely survive one bout with him. And even though I had commanded that she survive her time with him, I could tell that he would have let Valias live without my orders. He wanted her as his own, for his own pleasure. He even told me he wanted to breed her."

"And what is so strange about that?" Kalt fought to control his breathing as she let her hands wander lower.

Vetara laughter shook her chest enticingly. "Khareg prefers buggering females to breeding them." Kalt's laughter joined hers. "And since he is so greatly endowed," she added, "he usually rips them apart. So you see, finding a replacement for little Valias is not going to be easy." She let her hands surround his stiff organ, "And Klaa is going to have choose another female to share his bed as well."

"Knowing Klaa," Kalt groaned pleasurably, "he will find one to accept his advances, even if he has to beat her to do it."

"And probably will," Vetara nodded.

"He may even have already has one lined up," Kalt grinned up at her, enjoying her touch.

"Still," Vetara pouted, "I have no means to gain control of the q'laI now."

"No means?" Kalt asked pointedly.

"Vixis was in line to succeed Veraas," Vetara stopped fondling his member, staring off toward the wall. "Now, only Kahless knows who will take her place when she must step down. And unless I control that q'laI, I will never control them."

"So find out who is next in succession," Kalt told her shortly.

"Kalt," Vetara stared down at him, perturbed, "I have told you, there is no way that Veraas will ever let me near one of her precious warriors again. The only way that I could even hope to take control of the warriors is if one of my daughters was to become q'laI and and she wear the mantle of SoS."

"Well, then," Kalt grabbed her hips and moved her over his organ, then forced her on it, smiling when she gasped at the penetration, "perhaps you should think about bearing a daughter."

Comprehension filled Vetara's eyes as he flipped her onto the bed, rising above her.

"Yes," she nodded wrapping her legs around him as he moved slowly, deliberately in her. "Perhaps I should."

Sector One General Hospital
San Francisco, Earth

Leonard McCoy walked into the opulent office of the Surgeon General of Starfleet. Windows faced the bay and the ancient bridge shrouded in a fog bank. A giant mahogany table took up most of the center of the room and was angled so that when the person sitting behind it was tired of staring at the monitor, he or she could see the inlet.

Slowly he shrugged out of the red jacket, staring for a long moment at the braid on the shoulder that denoted his rank.


Technically, Vice-Admiral.

And more technically, Surgeon General.

Hanging the jacket up, he trudged to the window and stared down at the bay, one hand on the window sill, the other deep in his pocket.

He'd never wanted an administrative post before. Years ago, he'd managed to browbeat Harry Morrow into getting him off-planet when it looked like he'd be "promoted" from the surgery ward to being the hospital's administrator, just a step away from becoming Surgeon General. He'd told Harry it would be a cold day in hell before he'd take that position.

"Well, Harry," he sighed, "Hope you're not rolling over in your grave. I know, you always said you could see me in this spot. And you know what I thought of that idea. And, for your information," he added, remembering the chilly wind that had seemed to cut through his jacket as he walked from his apartment to the office, "it is a cold day in hell."

McCoy had returned to Earth with Sulu and the Excelsior, then had walked into Bill Smillie's office. When he'd walked out, he was no longer a civilian, but once again a member of Starfleet, and Surgeon General Susan Blair was ready for retirement, and he was the most qualified officer to take the position.

That had been two days ago.

Leonard shifted, staring up at the hills surrounding the bay. Hell, he should be ready for retirement too. Only, unlike his predecessor, he had nowhere to go, and no one to share that time with. Not anymore, anyway.

He closed his eyes, willing himself not to think about her. If he thought about something--anything--else, it didn't hurt so much.

That, he realized, was why he had allowed himself to placed into the Surgeon General position. It gave his mind something to do besides dwell on the past. Dwelling there would only destroy him.

Sighing wearily, McCoy reread the message he'd received earlier this morning.

Jenolen lost en route to Norpin V. Search has been called off; no sign of ship or survivors found.

First, Jim. Then, his family. And now, Scotty...

McCoy shook himself, then pulled himself away from the window and headed to his desk. Work awaited him. And God knew that he needed the work to keep his mind from dwelling on things best not thought about.

So far, the only good news he'd received had been a short message from his step-son from somewhere in the Klingon Empire called Boreth.

Vengeance has been meted out. She who brought such pain to our house is no more. I will not return to Serenidad again. I am safe, and I will be safe while I am here. Perhaps one day I will return to Federation Space and we will meet again.

McCoy settled heavily in the plush chair.

Miguel had the right idea. He'd never go back to Serenidad either. And he'd never go into space again; at least not on an assignment. His place was now here, behind a desk, sending younger men and women and whatever else there was in the Starfleet to the stars on the ships.

Never go into space on a starship again

His eye caught a glint from the corner of his eye. Turning, he saw several holopics on the corner of his desk.

Teresa's bright smile, and the playful grins of three-year-old Davey and one-year-old Jimmy seemed to grow out of the holo until it filled his entire vision.

Shakily, he reached out and touched the holo gently. His vision blurred. He inhaled sharply, feeling a pain deep in his chest as hot tears streamed down his face. Then he was holding the holo close to his chest as he sobbed uncontrollably. All the pain that he'd been holding back since Teresa had been taken from him surfaced and billowed out.

When he finally couldn't cry any longer, he got up and went to his private bathroom and washed his face letting the cool water shrink the puffiness around his eyes. Walking back to his office, he stared at the holos. With trembling hands he picked the holos up and placed them carefully into a bottom drawer.

"Sorry, 'Sita," he said softly. "I-I can't do it with you there. Not now." As he closed the drawer, he added, "One day, Honey, I promise, you'll be back where you belong. It'll take awhile, 'Sita. But, one day, you'll be back."

Six Months Later...

House of Durit

Vetara screamed in agony as the contraction rippled through her body. The curse that left her lips promised severe retribution to Kalt. She wanted to seriously unman him. He would never touch her again, she swore as the pain crested.

He'd seduced her multiple times, proving himself to be her master in the art of sex. He'd convinced her he was the perfect mate for her, the perfect consort for the Head of the House of Durit and she had agreed, willingly. The move had taken the entire Empire by surprise, and stopped several distant relatives from wresting control of the House from her grasp. It was, she had believed, the best of both worlds for her.

He'd convinced her to breed, to bear daughters to enter the q'laI and sons to hold the House strong.

And she, the fool, had let him breed her.

He'd pretended to feel sympathy for her as her abdomen rounded full with child, making her an awkward caricature of her former regal self, and share the joy and anticipation of the child's arrival, but now that the child was entering the world, where was he? Here, sharing her pain as the child fought to leave her body?


Was he pacing anxiously outside her chamber as she endured each contraction, more painful than the last wracked her body?

No, he was not. He was nowhere near the bedchamber, unable to stand the sound of her agony as the labor progressed.

So where was that the son of a targ?

He was in the courtyard, swilling down barrel after barrel of bloodwine and carrying on with fellow captains and officers.

The wave of pain dulled momentarily, letting the female rest, then began to build again. Vetara screamed as the contraction, more intense than the previous ones, threatened to tear her asunder.

"Soon, Lady," the midwife encouraged her. "Soon."

Vetara felt pressure in her pelvis as the pain continued to build.

"Now, Lady!" the midwife commanded. "Push!"

Vetara needed no encouragement. She pushed into the pain, through the pain.

Then suddenly, the pain was gone, the pressure was gone and a cry that was not hers filled the room.

The midwife wrapped a blanket around the child, cleaning the amniotic fluid from its face and mouth. Handing the infant to her assistant to clean, she finished with the birthing process, removing the placenta from Vetara's vagina and cleaning the blood from her pubis and legs.

"Tell me," Vetara whispered in exhaustion as the sheet covered her nakedness.

"Tell me," Kalt's shaking voice, full of concern and worry, echoed at the door where he had been standing silently as his child was being born.

The midwife took the child from her assistant, now dry and clean, wrapped in a blanket. Placing the child into Vetara's outstretched hands, she looked at Kalt.

"You have a daughter, joH'wI."

press back to return to your place in the story

1. pIqaD Klingonese for mother or mistress

2. pIqaD Klingonese for "little dagger." The handle of the weapon is topped with a spiked ball mace. The spikes are extremely sharp. Klingons have been known to perform vaginal mutilations on female prisoners with the mace ball.

3. A shortened form of Teresita, which is a diminutive for of Teresa.

4. Currently patrolling the Serenidad sector.

5. A Klingon year.

6. The Federation has supplied technology to help save the Klingon homeworld after the Praxis disaster.

7. q'laI are bisexual and enjoy having sex with other females as much as they do with males.

8. Literally, "daughter." Novices are called puqbe' and full-fledged q'laI are addressed as be'nI, or "sister."

9. Nineteen years old.

10. Literally "Captain."

11. A Klingon hour.

12. Literally, "my sister," although this usage implies that the one addressed is a lover.

13. Months.

14. Children.

15. Tree of Agony, a petrified tree where prisoners are executed.

16. Denebian Slime Devil.

17. General or Admiral [rank].

18. Council of Elders.

19. Blood Oath.

20. Serenidad.

21. Destruction.

22. A Klingon week.

23. Days from now.

24. Years ago.

25. Days ago.

26. Khalian.

27. "Be silent!"

28. "What do you want?"

29. "She is beautiful!"

30. "Good!"

31. Scavenger.

32. Backside.

33. Admiral's woman.

34. Kh'myr slang for male genitalia.

35. "Understood?"

36. "Revenge is a dish that is best served cold."

37. Body hair.

38. A flying scavenger that resembles a feathered reptile.

39. pIqaD Klingonese for girl child

40. "Report!"

41. "I obey!"

42. "children"

43. "Activate transporter!" or "Activate beam!"

44. pIqaD Klingonese for "man"

45. "Stop!" (plural form)

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