"Sitanooooo!!!" Leonard McCoy jerked upright at his desk, his blue eyes wide with horror. Tears streamed down his stubbled cheeks.
Another nightmare about Teresa. Each one had been more horrible than the last. Each one depicted Teresa being butchered in some grisly fashion by that Klingon bitch Vetara and her henchmen.
But...they seemed like more than nightmares. Much more. They were far more vivid than any dream he had ever had. They were more like...visions of some kind. Like those induced by Sybok all those years ago, perhaps. It was if he was there on the Klingon homeworld of QonoS, watching the horror unfold, but unable to intervene. He could actually feel the desert sand around the Durit compound sting his eyes, and clog his nose and the back of his throat. He could smell the riotous green growth of the nearby terraformed jungle, hear the fearsome shrieks of the wildlife that inhabited the green tangle of vegetation tough, lethal desert creatures that had merely shrugged and quickly adapted to their new environment. He could feel the blast furnace heat of QonoS twin sunshell, he half-expected to look in a mirror and find that his skin was red and blistered.
And he could smell Teresas blood when they butchered her.
Teresa was alive in these nightmaresalthough every one of them had ended with her execution. This, of course, was impossible. You couldnt kill a dead woman. Teresa had died eleven months ago, killed by the vile, parasitic mantril in the qlaI arena. The deadly creature had gnawed its way into her belly and devoured her entrails while a shrieking Teresa, her wrists bound behind her, had run, staggered, and finally fallen in the sand, writhing and jerking and bleeding until her limbs convulsed, and then relaxed.
McCoy blinked back tears. The Klingon bastards had holotaped her execution in gory detail. An overzealous INS news bimbo had gotten hold of the tape and broadcast part of it on the air before INS Chairman Brad Bashaw had pulled the plug himself. Unfortunately, the disgraced and fired anchor woman, Sienna Gillette, had bootlegged a pirated copy of the holodisk, and by now, billions of beings throughout the galaxy had witnessed Teresas final moments.
McCoy had forced himself to sit through the gruesome holo just once, just so he could know what had happened. Most poignantly, he remembered how a hovering holocam had mercilessly focused on Teresas naked, blood-spattered corpse lying spread-eagled in the sand, a gaping wound in her stomach, the beautiful dark eyes staring glassily, fixedly at the suns overhead. The unforgiving lens had robbed Teresa of any last shred of dignity, displaying her most intimate anatomy for the entire galaxy to see, freezing on that gory tableau for several long moments until a horde of screeching scavengers attacked her corpse en masse, leaving behind a gnawed skeleton in a matter of minutes.
McCoy wiped his eyes and sagged back in his lounger. He glanced blearily around his office. It was a messjust like he was. He had taken the Starfleet Surgeon Generals post immediately after Teresas death, and had basically been living out of his office for the past eleven months. He gazed blankly out the huge picture window. The morning fog was lifting over the bay, and the upper superstructure of the Golden Gate Bridge loomed in the uniform grayness.
And why shouldnt he become a hermit here? Why not? He had endured more tragedy in the past eleven months than many men suffered in a lifetime. First had come the loss of two of his closest friends. Jim Kirk had died heroically saving the U.S.S. Enterprise-B in the Nexus debacle. Scotty had disappeared when the S.S. Jenolen, the ship ferrying him to a retirement colony on Norpin V, had simply vanished from Federation scanners, presumably a victim of a Tholian expansion deep into Federation territory. Then had come the cold blooded murders of his and Teresas little sons, Davie and Jimmy, andthe final nail in the coffin lidthe bloody execution of Teresa herself.
McCoy sighed. His life, his world had been destroyed by those terrible events. He had descended into a vicious cycle of self-destruction: industrial strength drunkenness by night, detoxification and cleanup in the morning; workaholism by day. His colleagues marveled at the way he drove himself, the unparalleled service he afforded his patients, the aggressive way he tackled and solved administrative problems.
"What a dedicated physician!" they all exclaimed.
Dedicated, my ass! McCoy thought sourly. Im just doin it to keep from goin crazy!
Crazy was one thing he was notat least, according to the Starfleet psych wizards. They allowed that he was under incredible, almost unbearable stress, but he was completely sane.
And removed. He had not spoken with Joanna or her family in months. He would not allow them into his life. After all the tragedy, he could not, would not allow himself to get close to his own daughter or her children. He would have nothing to do with them. Nothing.
So where did that leave him with these nightmares of Teresa?
McCoy shuddered. He had dreamed of Teresa right after her death. Those, however, had been pleasant dreams. Teresa, the boys, Jim and Scottythey were all still alive. He and Teresa would steal off to their favorite hideaway at Lago de la Crístol on the palace grounds of Serenidad and would make passionate love under the stars above.
Then he would awaken, and the overwhelming grief and loneliness threatened to crush him.
He plunged into his alcohol-induced haze shortly thereafter, and had quit dreaming altogether about anything.
Until five days ago.
McCoy suddenly stiffened. He realized now what the horrible nightmares reminded him ofand why they troubled him! They were almost identical to the mental impressionsthe thought or the sense that someone elses consciousness was in his mind with himthat had tormented him when he had carried Spocks katra in his head.
But that was impossible! In every nightmare, Teresa called out to him for help just before she met a horrible death. She had shrieked his name when Vetara had driven the razor-sharp blade of a dk tagh between her legs and gutted her at the end of the HoHtaj. She cried out for him an instant before the headsmans axe decapitated her, and again when that bastard Khareg thrust his huge phallus down her throat and broke her neck with his climactic thrust. She screamed his name in agony when she was burned alive at the stake, and again today, when Khareg shattered her leg as she hung on the cross, killing her.
Each time she died, she called for him.
But that was impossible; she was already dead. Had been for eleven months.
McCoy didnt care what the psych-docs thought. He was fairly certain he was going crazy. There was no way Teresa could possibly be alive. He had scanned her pitiful remainsa skull and a gnawed ribcageand had positively identified them in the qlaI arena.
These are just very morbid, very grisly nightmares, Leonard, he thought forcefully. After what youve been through, youre lucky you can think at all.
He hadnt convinced himself. The dreams were very real, but very bizarre. Teresa, for examplethe strange hairiness of her body, her smaller breasts, the strangely long nails. Why would he consistently dream of her looking like that? And Vetara, grossly pregnant in every dream. She hadnt been pregnant in the holotape of Teresas execution. And why Khareg? He never had met any such Klingon that he could recall.
Why couldnt he just chalk up these nightmares as the by-products of a tortured subconscious? He could prescribe some Hypersomanthan for himself to prevent him from dreaming and be done with it.
"Because theyre too damned real," McCoy growled aloud.
For even now, while he was wide awake, he could swear he heard Teresa calling out to him, deep in the back of his mind. He sensed vague confusion and dread at first, giving way to abject terror, agony, and thennothing. And then later, it would start all over again. He tried to focus on these mental impressions, to pin them down, but it was like trying to grab hold of quicksilver; they kept slipping through his fingers.
"Ive got to be cracking up," McCoy decided. "Thats the only answer. Hell, Im even talking to myself." And yet, every fiber of his being was screaming at him to hop the first transport that would take him to the Klingon Empire. He felt driven by forces beyond his ken, just as he had been driven to go to Mount Seleya on Vulcan when he had carried Spocks katra in his mind...
The thought occurred to McCoy that he had not been tested for ESPer capacity since he had been the keeper of Spocks katra.
"Spock, you Vulcan son of a bitch!" he groused affectionately. "If you were here right now, Id ask you to perform one of those blasted mind-melds I hate so much, just to see if you could tell me what the hell is going on! Or at least..."
He snapped his fingers. Of course! Spock was on Vulcan right now, having just returned from an ambassadorial assignment to the Beta Quadrant. He had returned from the Enterprise-B with all due haste aboard his warp shuttle for reasons known only to himself or his family. Well, he thought, nows as good a time as any to have a little chat with an old friend.
McCoy tapped a touch-sensor on his BellComm terminal. His assistant responded almost immediately. "Yes, Doctor?"
"Jeannie, I need to get hold of Spock. Hes on Vulcan right now, probably at his villa on his parents estate. Use a hyperchannel. His code is..."
The call from Leonard McCoy had disturbed him more than he wished to admit. The vivid nightmares McCoy had reported involving his dead wife, Princess Teresa, seemed, on the surface, to be just thatterrible dreams and nothing more.
Except that Spock himself had recently begun sensing what he could only describe as vague "psionic echoes."
At first, the Vulcan had written them off as residual echoes of a past mind-meld with Teresa, brought on perhaps by his mental encounter with the angelic felinoid in the Beta Quadrant, but they had persisted. He had not had full-blown nightmares about the princess as McCoy had had, but he, too, sensed unformed flashes of terror, blinding pain, and then nothingness.
And the cycle repeated itself again and again, just as McCoy reported.
Spock could sense that the thought traces were indeed those of Teresa. It was as if she was calling out to someone, although not necessarily him.
And, of course, Teresa was dead, brutally murdered eleven months earlier. To think that he could possibly be sensing thought impressions from her was absurdtotally illogical.
Or so he had thoughtuntil he had spoken to McCoy.
Spock exhaled slowly. He had tried to reassure his old friend, even as he could not reassure himself, that Humans were not prone to having such vivid sensory impressions when they dreamed. McCoy had reported he could feel the heat of QonoS suns, smell the newly created jungle, feel the sand in his eyes. The physician had always been psi-null; still, he was a very empathic individual. And, as McCoy had pointed out, he had not been psi-tested since he had carried Spocks katra. It was possible that McCoy had acquired some rudimentary ESPer abilities from that experience.
What, then, was happening?
Both he and McCoy were sensing thought emanations, purportedly from Princess Teresaand in McCoys case, extremely graphic nightmares about her. This, of course, was patently impossible. She was dead.
And yet, he could not deny the evidence of his Vulcan psionic abilities.
Spock shook his head imperceptibly. For all of his logic and mental disciplining, there were many things he could not explain. For example, Jim Kirk. The captain had diedsupposedlyin the Nexus incident aboard the Enterprise-B, and yet Spock could still sense faint threads of the mind-link he had shared with his closest friend. It should have been severed with his death. Spock had been so distressed by the incident that he had submitted to a complete mental and physical examination, fearing an early onset of Bendii Syndrome, the Alzheimer-like dementia that had claimed so many males of his fathers family. The tests were all negative; Spock was in perfect health.
Therefore, the only logical explanation, as improbable as it seemed, was that somehow, somewhere, James T. Kirk was still alive.
And Princess Teresa?
Spock had watched some of the distasteful holovid of Teresas execution. McCoy himself had scanned her scattered remains on QonoS and had filed her death certificate upon his return to Serenidad. She was quite dead.
And yet, Spock himself was living proof that death need not always be the final curtain. Could Teresa possibly be aliveand, if so, how? Spock had tried to allay McCoys fears; his friend had been under enough pressure the past eleven months. But Spock himself had doubts about what the two of them were sensing, and if....
Spock frowned, his brows knitting together.
McCoy was a very impulsive individual. It was quite likely that he might take it upon himself to go to QonoS to investigate firsthanda course of action that would not only be extremely foolhardy, but also extremely dangerous.
He activated a hyperchannel and punched in a series of codes. Presently, the face of a coolly beautiful young Vulcan woman sharpened into focus on his screen. She raised her hand in salute. "Live long and prosper, Spock."
"Live long and prosper, TSela," Spock intoned, returning the gesture. "Is my father available?"
"Yes, he is," she replied. "Please hold."
The image of the young woman wavered, to be replaced by the imposing figure of Ambassador Sarek, resplendent in the robes of his office. Father and son exchanged greetings, and Spock quickly outlined what had been occurring with McCoy and himself. When he finished, Sarek cocked an eyebrow, but his expression was unreadable.
"Fascinating," the elder Vulcan murmured. "How do you account for this phenomenon, Spock?"
Spock pursed his lips. "I...am at a loss to explain it at this time. I have no hypothesis. Princess Teresa is dead, and yet I am sensing mental emanations from her consciousness. I recognize them, since I once mind-melded with her. But no, I cannot explain why or how this phenomenon is occurring."
"Indeed." Sarek paused. "Iweowe McCoy much. What would you have me do, my son?"
"I am...concerned that he may do something totally illogicalyet totally Human. He may attempt to investigate the phenomenon himself by going to QonoS since all his nightmares were set on the Klingon homeworld."
"I see. Upon what do you base that assumption?"
Spock looked almost embarrassed. "I am, as Captain Kirk used to say, playing a hunchfollowing up on an illogical deduction."
Sarek almost smiled. "As I recall, the good captains hunches were correct more often than not. I will be in Paris for two more days, but I must return to San Francisco on Thursday for a Federation Council meeting. I can pay McCoy a visit at that time, if you wish."
"That would be most kind."
"If McCoy asks the purpose of my visit?" Sarek queried.
The Vulcan hesitated. "Tell him...I was worried about him, and asked you to check up on him," Spock answered. "Tell him the truth."
Sarek arched an eyebrow, but did not comment. "McCoy is a worthy individual," he said. "I will do whatever I can to assist himand you."
"Thank you, Father."
"Live long and prosper, my son."
"Live long and prosper, Father."
Spock broke the connection and sat back, once again staring at a blank screen. Meditation was in order; his thought processes had not been in so much turmoil for a long time.
He rose slowly, making his way to the meditation stone in his bed chamber with cat-like, purposeful strides so as not to awaken TLiba, his bondmate.
And as he walked, he thought he sensed, deep in his mind, a womans whimper of confusion and terror that segued into a long, strident, agonized scream.
And then silence.Starfleet General Hospital
Hell, he knew the Vulcan better than either of them wanted to admit since he had shared Spocks katra after the Genesis Incident.
McCoy took a breath. He was more energized than he had been in months. He had showered, shaved and packed in record time. He had arranged for transportation to the Klingon Empire once he got to Starbase 27 on Trylias and acquisition of the rather illegal weapons and hardware he would need once he got to QonoS.
Only one minor detail needed attentiongetting out to Trylias.
His BellComm terminal beeped for attention. Right on schedule, he thought. "Whats the good word, Jeannie?" McCoy rasped.
"Well, Ive got good news, and Ive got bad news," the soothing contralto voice of Jeannie Morgan, his personal assistant, responded. "Good news: the U.S.S. Saratoga under the command of Captain Shoop is actually heading out to Trylias, and would love to take you there for your inspection of Starbase Twenty-Sevens medical facilities."
"Great!" McCoy enthused. "Sherrys an old friend of mine! So whats the bad news?"
"The bad news is that she leaves orbit in twenty-two minutes. Theres no way I can get a shuttle from Starfleet Command to get you up there in time."
"So have her beam be up," McCoy returned without hesitation. "Whats the problem?"
There was a long silence. "Let me get this straight," Morgan said finally. "Did I just hear Admiral Leonard H. McCoy, M.D., Ph.D., Starfleet Surgeon General, noted technophobe, reviler of the transporter and all things mechanical, request to be beamed up?"
"Yep," McCoy replied. "The sooner, the better. No time like the present."
"Are you okay?"
"No, Im not okay," McCoy answered brusquely. "Im just in a hurry."
"Im sorry, Len," she said. "I know the stress youve been under. I didnt mean to"
"I know, darlin," he said softly. "Its all right. I dont think Ill ever be okay again. Thats not your fault. Sorry."
"No problem. Ill contact Saratoga to beam you up." Morgan paused. "Len, be careful out there."
McCoy chuckled. "Im just goin out to Trylias to inspect the hospital at Starbase Twenty-Seven, then maybe take a little RnR."
"Yeah...right!" Morgan snorted derisively. "In a grand total of forty-five minutes, you arranged this inspection, got ready and made several scrambled, hyperchannel calls to places I dont even want to know about!"
It was obvious to him that she was crying. "Just arranging a little vacation," he soothed. "Theres nothin to worry about."
"Im going to worry anyway. Pleasejust take care of yourself. I mean it!"
"I will," McCoy affirmed. "Love ya, doll."
"Love you, too," she sniffled. "Ill get that beam-up arranged."
He glanced around his office, wondering if he had forgotten anything. His gaze fell on his liquor cabinet. "How could I forget?" McCoy muttered. He pulled open the door, selected two bottles of Romulan ale, a Canopian brandy, and a Saurian brandyJim Kirks favorite.
Then he stopped.
He returned the bottles and flasks to their shelves. "No," he repeated. "Dont have enough room for em, anyway."
His console bleeped again. "U.S.S. Saratoga to Admiral McCoy. Ready to beam you up, sir."
"Acknowledged," McCoy responded. "Im ready."
"Here goes nothin," the doctor muttered as the transporter sparkle enveloped him, and he vanished from the room.U.S.S. Saratoga
A nightmare he shouldnt have had in the first place.
McCoy frowned. He had given himself a full dose of Hypersomanthan right before he had dozed off, and yet he still dreamed. This one had been the worst yet. Before, he had always had the sense that someone elseTeresawas in his mind. This time, he had been in her mind. It was as if he was Teresa, watching everything through her terrified eyes, feeling the horror and the excruciating agony of being impaled on an eight foot long sharpened wooden stake as it pierced her rectum and drove up into her body.
McCoy pulled himself up to a sitting position and sagged against the side of the bunk, drained, Gradually, he composed himself. He stopped trembling, and rose unsteadily to his feet. He shambled to the compu-chef, urge to mosey down to Sickbay and see if he could borrow a bottle of brandy for medicinal purposes, and selected iced Altair water instead.
McCoy sipped his drink. He glanced out the huge transparent aluminum portal of his guest stateroom, and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. The distorted stars of subspace whipped by at a dizzying rate. Drawing on his many years of spacefaring experience, McCoy estimated they were going at least Warp 8 and maybe faster. Shoops haulin ass!
Still shaking from his harrowing experience, McCoy tottered into the bathroom and took a quick shower, mixing about half water and half sonics. As a fresh uniform materialized around him, he brooded about what had just happened. He didnt even want to consider what it all meant.
His comm terminal chimed for attention. "McCoy here."
"Len? Youre finally up?" The face of Captain Sherry Shoop crinkled into a smile on the viewscreen.
"YeahI had kind of a rude awakening."
Her brows narrowed. "You okay? Anything I can do?"
"Naw, thats okay, Shoop. Im about as okay as I can be under the circumstances. Im looking forward to some RnR on Trylias after I do my inspection." McCoy hoped she couldnt see him crossing his fingers behind his back.
"Well, youre gonna get there a little quicker," she said. "Weve been doing Warp Eight since we left the Sol system. The crew could use some leave time, too, so I thought the sooner we got there, the more time wed have. Our ETA is about two hours forty from now."
McCoy broke into a grin. "Wow, thats great, Shoop. I really appreciate it."
"No problem." She paused. "Listen, if theres anything I can do..."
"Youve already done it. Thanks, Shoop."
The screen darkened, and he strode back over to the portal.
Somewhere out there, among the streaking starsand not too distantwas the homeworld of a race of angry, alien warriors who would be none too happy to find him trespassing on their planet.He didnt care. He would go to QonoS and get to the bottom of the mystery that had plagued him for the past six days.
Or die trying.ShiKahr
Spock regarded the image of his father on his comm screen and nodded. "As I expected," he said. "However, I seem to have miscalculated the amount of time it would take McCoy to organize his expedition. I underestimated him; I did not believe he would be able to leave so quickly. I was hoping you could dissuade him, or at least delay him until my arrival."
"According to his administrative assistant, he left directly after he spoke with you," Sarek supplied. "He left aboard the starship Saratoga, bound for Starbase Twenty-Seven on Tryliasan interesting choice for the Starfleet Surgeon General to visit to conduct a routine medical inspection, wouldnt you say?"
Spock nodded in agreement. "Indeedespecially if he intends to use Trylias as a waystation to launch a foray into Klingon territory. Did his assistant offer any other information?"
"She said only that McCoy claimed it was his duty to inspect the new medical facilities at Starbase Twenty-Seven. No Surgeon General has been there since the starbase was rebuilt after being destroyed by a Klingon sneak attack."
"I see. So, out of the blue, to use a Human expression, Doctor McCoy decides to visit a starbase hospital on a planet that just happens to be one of the Federation worlds nearest to Qo'noS"
"A fascinating coincidence," Sarek commented dryly. "Doctor McCoys assistant claimed he would be taking some leave time after the inspection."
Spock nodded approvingly. "Logical. Trylias is well-known for its recreational facilities. As it is located at the edge of Federation territory, Starfleet created quite a facility there for the morale of the ships on border-patrol duty in what is arguably the most dangerous tour of duty in Starfleet. Doctor McCoys decision to take leave there is quite a clever ruse."
Sarek hesitated. "I...took the liberty of making some arrangements for you, my son. A long range warp shuttle has been reserved for you at Vulcan Space Central. You will be able to intercept the U.S.S. Excelsior in approximately one point two five days. Captain Sulu has received sealed orders to take you to QonoS on a diplomatic mission."
Spock canted an eyebrow. "Indeed."
"As part of their agreement with the Federation to offer financial aid and assistance with terraforming their world, the Klingons have agreed to allow diplomatic inspection visits, whenever the Federation wishes. Chancellor Azetbur has assented to allow you and the Excelsior access to QonoSreluctantly, I might add. Captain Sulu has the proper recognition codes to allow you safe passage in and out of the Klingon Empire."
Spock allowed himself a ghost of a smile. "So, in essence, my inspection will be as much a sham as Doctor McCoys."
"Indeed. Normally, I would attend to this myself, but I have pressing duties elsewhere. I hoped you would not mind." Sareks expression was almost sheepish. "I...assumed you would which to intercept Doctor McCoy before he comes to harm."
Spock could not disguise the gratitude in his voice. "I appreciate your gesture, Sarek," he said. "I hope I am in time."
"As do I," Sarek agreed. "Live long and prosper, Spock."
"Live long and prosper, Sarek of Vulcan."
Spock straightened in his lounger. His worst fears had been realized. The probability that McCoy was on Trylias preparing an illegaland extremely dangerousmission to QonoS was extremely high. There was, of course, the outside chance that he had simply gone there for rest and recreationalthough that was not very likely.
Spock suppressed a sigh. It would only take him a few minutes to get ready for his journey, and another thirteen point four to inform his bondmate and allay her concerns. Perhaps he could make one last attempt to dissuade McCoy from undertaking his emotional, illogical quest.
He activated his comm unit. "Get me a hyperchannel to the hospital at Starbase Twenty-Seven on Trylias. I wish to speak with Surgeon General McCoy."Qo'noS I cant see!
Panic gripped her. She was blind!
She felt a cool, cushioned surface under her body, and her wrists and ankles were restrained by what felt like soft cuffs. A bed, or a cot? She got the impression that the restraints were there to protect her rather than to imprison her; they werent all that tight or restrictive.
She was unusually confused and disoriented. She was having difficulty remembering her name. Terri? Terise? TeresaTeresa Morales something something something.
She could see light now, and she relaxed a bit. It was a soft, uniform green glow growing brighter by the moment.
Now she could see shapes. She blinked once, twice, and her vision cleared.
"Subjects vision now functional," a harsh, computerized male voice practically snarled. "Subject now free to move about her enclosure."
She felt the cuffs unlatch. She sat up abruptlyand immediately wished she hadnt. Dizziness caused her to flop back down. Her stomach lurched.
"Subject is experiencing inner ear dysfunction. Reverse peristalsis is imminent."
She gagged and retched, but her stomach was empty; there was nothing to bring up. Gradually, she brought her nausea under control. She sat up again, slowly this time. She was still a bit dizzy, but it was manageable. She opened her eyes and glanced around.
She was sitting on a medical diagnostic bed in an otherwise bare, white, antiseptic room. It appeared to be some sort of holding cell. There was a doorway that opened into a very high tech scientific laboratory.
The energy barrier that hummed and sparked in the doorway shattered the illusion that she was free to go wherever she wished.
Her memory cleared and sharpened now as well as the fog lifted from her brain. She was Teresa Morales de la Vega Ruiz Mendoza McCoy, Crown Princess of Serenidad. Her last conscious memories were of being held prisoner aboard the Klingon bird-of-prey QIH, under the command of Captain Vixis and her all-female crew of qlaI warriors. The Klingon women had sexually abused her and tortured her, and threatened her with a bloody, agonizing death in the qlaI arena when they reached QonoS. They had also...
A sob caught in her throat and tears streamed down her cheeks. The ridge-headed bitches had murdered her babies, Davie and Jimmy, in cold blood! She wept inconsolably for several long moments, her shoulders shaking. Gradually, she composed herself. She wiped her eyes, casting her gaze around the cramped confines of her cell.
Well, this wasnt the qlaI arena, but she was probably on QonoS. Klingon glyphs were emblazoned on the diagnostic panels. A chill quivered down her spine. What if they had been experimenting on her? This looked vaguely like a medical lab. Klingons only used the healing arts to patch up warriors so they could be thrown back into battle, or to repair the dreadful injuries of a young Human girl who had been sexually abused to the point of death, just so she could be raped againas had happened to her all those years ago as a prisoner of Khalian.
She swung her legs off the table and took a few cautious steps. So far, so good. In fact, she felt wonderful! She felt so loose-limbed and agile. She was a trained athlete who worked out several hours a day keeping her superb body in top condition, but it had been years since she had felt this good. Occasionally, the bionics Leonard had used to rebuild her knees, elbows and ankle joints after Khalian had butchered her acted up, got a little stiff. Nothing major; it didnt impede her from doing whatever she wanted to do, but it was a mild annoyance that was becoming a little more noticeable as she got older.
As she edged closer to the doorway, she caught a glimpse of herself in a full-length mirror, and she gasped.
She was nearly nude. She was dressedmore or lessin a spidery, translucent garment she had seen some of the qlaI wearing aboard the QIH. It reminded her of a very skimpy bathing suit; it was little more than a collection of gauze-like strips, help up by gravity and good intentions. The front straps barely covered her nipples; her aureoles peeked out on either side of the tiny strips of cloth. The straps plunged down to a triangle of fabric that didnt quite conceal her pubis. Her buttocks were essentially bare; a string encircled her waist and disappeared between her cheeks, like a thong. Her captors had apparently depilated her as well; her legs and underarms had been shaved. They had grown somewhat stubbly during her captivity aboard the ship. Her hair was styled in Klingon fashion, combed back from her forehead and piled atop her head in an intricate jumble of braids and beads.
The shock of her appearance wore off, only to be supplanted by an even more wrenching surprise. Díos Mio, how had I not noticed this first? Her breasts! What had they done to her breasts?
She stared at the reflection. Her big, beautiful, awe-inspiring breasts were slightly less than half their normal sizeor rather, they were their normal size, the size they had been before shed had her spectacular breast enhancement surgery two decades earlier. She blinked and stared again. They were very nicefull, round and perfectly formedbut much less massive than she had grown used to. What had they done to her?
She stepped closer to the mirror and frowned.
She did not have on a stick of make up, and yet her skin was absolutely flawless. She was a very beautiful woman, but she was almost forty, and was not ashamed to admit she needed a little help from time to time. Not as much as most women her age, but a little assistance with the fine lines around her eyes and mouth.
Except that now, even the fine lines were gone. Her skin was literally glowing, as smooth and unblemished as a newborn babys. She stared even closer, making sure it wasnt a trick of the dim light. No, her skin really was that soft and smooth.
She trembled. As gratifying as this was, there was something vaguely disquieting about it. It was not natural.
She heard footsteps shuffling out in the main laboratory. Someone was coming! She drew her lips back over her teeth in a snarl and clenched her fists. They were more than likely coming to kill her. Let them come! She was not going down without a fight. She would make them pay for what they had done to her.
For what they had done to Davie and Jimmy.
She flattened against the wall, ready to spring. The forcefield deactivated. She pounced, and then stopped short. "You!!" she spat. "I never thought Id see you again!"
The Klingon male was a little over six feet tall and slightly builtdefinitely not a warrior. He wore the umber-colored tunic of a healer. The face was older, seamed with wrinkles, and his hair was almost totally white, but she knew him right away.
Qel Kyrlaag, the doctor who had repaired her body several times while she was in Khalians clutches, only to have the insane admiral ravish and nearly destroy her yet again as he impregnated her first with a daughter, and then twin sons. Kyrlaags eyes were flat, dead-lookingalmost soulless. He had the look of someone who was very weary of life.
"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded, gesturing at her body. "What have you done to me?"
He stared at her. "You are a clone of Princess Teresa, ruler of Serenidad," Kyrlaag told her right out. "A perfect clone, I might add, but a clone nonetheless."
Her eyes widened. She began to laugh incredulously. "You are insane! I know who I am! I just want to know what youve done to me. My breasts"
"Those are the breasts that developed naturally from your genetic code, Little One," Kyrlaag cut her off. "Your ridiculously oversized implants were not part of your DNA. Neither were the bionics that were used to rebuild you. You have a perfect bodyno implants, no bionics, no organ transplants. You are an adult female who was, for all intents and purposes, born a little over two standard hours ago."
She glared at him. "I am Princess Teresa!" she raged. "I told youI know who I am!"
Kyrlaag chuckled mirthlessly. "They all say thatand in many ways, youre right. You possess all the memories, the emotions, the engram traces of Teresa. You are a perfectand I emphasize perfectclone of her. I have solved the problem of replicative fading. I have found a way to impress the engrams and brain traces of the original subject on each of the copies. So in many ways, yes, you are Princess Teresa." He paused. "But Princess Teresa died horribly in the qlaI arena nearly one of your years ago!"
"I...I dont believe you!"
"You never do," Kyrlaag said, almost sadly. "But it is true. It has been possible to manufacture a perfect physical replica of an individual for a few centuries; however, it has not been possibleuntil nowto imbue a clone with the essence of the person being duplicated; the personality, the memories, all the things that make an individual who he or she is."
"And you claim youve found a way to do that?" she asked, skeptical.
"I have found a way," Kyrlaag asserted. "Using mindsifter technology. I developed an auxiliary unit called the ghlukso module, which scans and records a subjects engrams. The module can also transmit and imprint those same engram traces into the brain of a clone of that individual. Because the physiology of each brain is different, the engrams can only be impressed on a clone of the original subject. My engrams, for example, cannot be imprinted into a clone of you."
She looked stunned. "I...this is crazy! I remember everything that ever happened to me!"
"Yes, you do," Kyrlaag agreed. "If you could access them, you have memories from before you were born, in your mothers womb, up until the end of your captivity on the Bird-of-Prey. Or, I should say, you have all the memories of your original predecessor. It can be very confusing. Even I cannot help thinking of you as Princess Teresaand I created you! I cannot begin to imagine your bewilderment. It is a strange dichotomyyes, you are Teresa, and no, you are not Teresa."
"But I was never mindsiftedat least not in the last twenty years!" she protested.
"But you were," Kyrlaag countered. "Thinkwhat is the last thing you remember before you awoke here today?"
"I was aboard the QIH," she said. "I was...raped by Vixis and Valias, and their band of female warriors. Then they tortured meshoved agonizers up inside me. I...I passed out."
Kyrlaag nodded. "While you were unconscious, Vixis had you mindsifted, looking for secrets about the Serenidad planetary defenses to use for future invasion plans. When Lady Vetara discovered that the ghlukso module could be used in conjunction with cloning technology, and that the QIHs mindsifter had a complete engramic pattern of Princess Teresa, she became obsessed with creating clones of youof her. Vetara has the princess gold-plated skull mounted on a display stand at her estate. Thats where the DNA material for you was secured. There is enough there to generate millions of replicas of you."
"Why? Who is Vetara, and what have I ever done to her?" she asked.
"Lady Vetara qoln Durit is perhaps the most powerful individual on QonoS and one of the wealthiest. She is also quite mad," Kyrlaag spat, the venom in his voice raw and undisguised. "The chancellor, the members of the Senate, all quake at the mere mention of her name. No one who has ever defied Vetara has lived to see the next sunrise."
"I dont know the woman," she said, puzzled.
"Nobut you knew her older brother, Commander Kral qoln Durit of the Imperial Klingon Fleet."
She paled. "No," she whispered. "Kral! He raped me and impregnated me with my son, Miguel..."
Kyrlaag nodded again. "And you killed him, thereby earning Vetaras undying enmity. Her insane thirst for vengeance will never be quenched. Each day, she slaughters one of you, only to resurrect another replica of you the next dayand butcher her as well. She is always looking for ever more inventive and bloody ways to murder you, using methods of execution from QonoS and from all over the galaxy. Your immediate predecessor was impaled, and her predecessor was crucified. Another was gang-raped to death, and still another was burned at the stake. And, of course, there was one which suffered the HoHtaj. So you see, the cloning process affords her with an eternal supply of victims." He shook his head. "Of all the uses to which that technology could be applied, she squanders it on bortaS!"
She hugged herself. Her eyes were wide with disbelief. She shook her head and held up a hand. "Wait a minute," she said, her lower lip quavering. "If I am a clone, and Im not convinced that I am, what happened to the real me?"
Kyrlaag heaved a weary sigh. "You ask me that every time."
The physician took a small silver tube about the size of a cigar out of the pocket of his tunic. He released it, and it hovered in mid-air. A light glowed at one end of the cylinder, and the holding cell filled with sound and images.
She gasped. A holographic projector! The scene was an arena filled with jeering Klingon women, hundreds of them screaming for her blood, screaming for death. And she saw...herself. Teresa was in the clutches of her half-Klingon daughter Valias and Captain Vixis of the QIH. The Klingons in the arena were there to watch her die.
"This is a holovid of the real Princess Teresas execution," Kyrlaag murmured. "It is not for the weak of stomach."
She watched, transfixed in horrified fascination. She was as she remembered herself. She was naked, her wrists bound behind her. Her massive breasts bobbled as she was shoved roughly over the sand.
"Its...its me!" she whispered. "I...I dont remember any of this!"
"This occurred shortly after you were mindsifted," Kyrlaag supplied. "Or rather, after the real Teresa had been."
She could not tear her eyes away as the gory vignette unfolded. She watched as the real Teresa was led before an elderly Klingon woman in ceremonial robes, who pounded a heavy staff on the ground as she condemned Teresa to die. She flinched as Valias slashed Teresas abdomen with a razor-sharp dk tagh, pressed a cage containing some sort of crab-like creature against the open wound. She looked on in horror as the creature chewed its way into Teresas belly through the wound and devoured her entrails until the princess finally collapsed in a bloody heap on the ground.
And finally, the bile rising in her throat, she listened to the roar of the crowd rise to a thunderous, joyful crescendo as the image of her breathed her last, and an army scavengers stripped the flesh from her bones.
The images faded.
"Oh, my God," she quavered. "Oh, my God."
Kyrlaag gently gripped her elbow. Numb with shock and horror, she followed him out into the lab like a sleepwalker.
Then she screamed.
They had come to a dimly lit antechamber. Row after row of large tanks stretched into the distance. And in each tank, floating in clear emerald fluid, was a clone of Teresa Morales de la Vega Ruiz-Mendoza McCoy.
She staggered backward, recoiling in horror, and nearly fell. Kyrlaag caught her.
A number of the clones were fully formed and looked just like her, except that they were covered with body hair, and had long, curled fingernails and toenails. Others were in various stages of development. Some were recognizable, but a few had the appearance of adult-sized embryos.
"I had time to get you cleaned, shaven and manicured," Kyrlaag said. "You should be allowed some modicum of dignity. Most of the time they drag them out of here naked and dripping with generative fluid. They achieve awareness just in time to die."
"You bastard!" she hissed. "Maldito! Madre de Díos, what have you done? This is vile, horrible, unholy! Do you willingly go along with this...this obscenity?"
"Willingly?" Kyrlaags tone was brittle. "Not willingly, no. As it was with Khalian before, I am now a thrall to Lady Vetara. I do her bidding, or the lives of my loved ones are forfeit. She will kill them."
He chuckled. It was a sad, despairing sound. "Ironic, is it not? With Khalian, I was charged with keeping you alive. With Vetara, I must ensure that you dieagain and again and again..."
"What...what will they do to me?" she asked tremulously.
"I do not know," the Qel admitted. "All I can tell you is that, with Vetara, it will not be quick or painless. Your fate has yet to be decided."
"Except for the fact that I am doomed," she said, unable to keep the sob from her voice.
Kyrlaag lowered his eyes. "Yes," he muttered. "I am sorry, Little One."
Heavy footsteps echoed in the laboratory, moving fast and coming closer. Three huge Khmyr Klingon males stepped out of the gloom. She whimpered and moved behind Kyrlaag to shield herself from them. The biggest of them flashed an ugly smile full of yellow, broken teeth. Pouncing like a cat, he grabbed the now screaming woman with one hand and stripped her with the other. He flung her to one of his comrades, who gripped both of her wrists and immobilized her.
"Was that necessary, Khareg?" Kyrlaag asked.
"She wont be needing this for whats going to happen to her, Qel," Khareg snarled, tossing aside the torn, flimsy garment he had ripped from her supple body. "Targs dont like to eat fabric. You just mind your little clone factory and make sure that Lady Vetara has an endless and fresh supply of bortaS choQ."
Khareg turned his attention to the naked Teresa-clone and licked his lips. "By the guardians of Kheloz, they are beautiful when you shave them, Qel. They excite me." He loomed over he and brushed his fingertips tips over her as she squirmed in terror and revulsion. "Did you know that you clones are virgins, besIJ?" he hissed. "Nice and tight. Vetara let me have a clone to tlhap to death a few days ago."
Kharegs eyes smoldered. He bent down and bit one of her nipples, drawing a yelp of pain and fear from her. "Noooo!" she screamed.
"All right, Khareg. Thats enough!" Kyrlaag snapped, yanking the giants hands away from her. "Isnt it enough you are going to kill her? Do you have to degrade her as well?"
Khareg snarled and raised a clenched fist, but held back his blow. "You are fortunate that you are a Qel," he spat. "Dont ever touch me again, or I will kill you!" He gestured to his companions, and they began to herd their captive out of the room.
"Kyrlaag!" the Teresa-clone cried. "You once told me that not all Klingons were like Khalianlike animals! When did you change? If you let them do this, youre no better than they are!"
The physician flushed guiltily, unable to meet her gaze.
"Kyrlaag!" she screamed. "For Gods sake, please help me! Do something!"
A huge fist caught her flush on the jaw. She saw stars just before the blackness swallowed her.
She came to lying face down on hot, scorching sand. She crawled up onto her hands and knees, shook her head to clear it, and squinted against the glare of the suns. Her hand closed on the rough wooden trunk of a small tree. She looked up.
And screamed in horror.
The tree was a sharpened wooden pole, and the bloated, gore-clotted corpse of a naked Human female hung on it. The stake disappeared between her buttocks and exited from her open, silently screaming mouth. A cloud of black, flying insects swarmed over the body.
She scrambled backward, shrieking and gagging as the stench of decaying flesh reached her nostrils. Madre de Díos! she thought. What a horrible way to die!! She knew the identity of the body, even though the scavengers had made it nearly unrecognizable. It was her. Or rather, it was a clone of the late Princess Teresa of Serenidad.
"Yesterdays kill," a rough female voice chuckled. "We had to jerk her head back and guide her body as it slid down the stake so we could get it to come out through her mouth. She looks rather like a targ on a spit, ready for roasting, wouldnt you say?"
The Klingon woman was tall, her belly huge with child. She was beautiful, but her eyes were cold and malevolent. This had to be Lady Vetara. She strode across the sand, accompanied by the giant Khareg. She paused next to the impaled corpse. "She lived a lot longer than I thought she would. The force screens surrounding the compound have kept the big scavengers off the carcass, or else nothing would be hanging there now. Her eyes grew even harder. "Now to deal with you."
The Teresa-clone whimpered in terror. She tried to run, but Khareg easily caught her and pinioned her arms behind her back.
"Take her to the pit," Vetara commanded. Khareg nodded in assent, and bodily pushed his tiny captive along.
The "pit" was rather more elaborate than a simple hole in the ground. It was perfectly circular, fifteen meters in diameter. Eight foot high walls of gleaming durasteel formed the outer boundaries. As they approached, a loud cacophony of grunts and squeals echoed in the air. They stopped at the edge of the pit, and the Teresa-clone gazed down, gasping in horror.
Half a dozen large pig-like animals milled about. They were covered with brown, bristling, shaggy fur. Dangerous-looking razor-sharp tusks protruded from the sides of their porcine snouts. Even though they were very bulky, their ribs were showing, and they appeared to be somewhat emaciated.
When the creatures saw the three humanoids standing at the edge of the pit, they charged the wall below them and vainly tried to climb up the sheer metal surface, growling and gnashing their fangs, and foaming at the mouth.
"Targs," Vetara said. "These are the wild variety. They are omnivorous; they will eat plants or fleshanything that gets in their way, actually. Including the clone of a little Human beSIj!"
The Teresa-clone recoiled, eyes wide with terror. She paled at the sight of the snarling beasts.
"We have starved these animals for several days," Vetara said. "They are mad with hunger. They will make short work of your skinny, little carcass."
"Theres not nearly enough meat on her bones to satisfy them," Khareg rumbled, tightening his grip on the clones wrists as she began to struggle.
"I know," Vetara said. "I have already ordered Kyrlaag to send up another one." She smiled tightly, drawing out a huge dk tagh battle dagger from within the folds of her tunic.
"Blood will fan the flames of their frenzy even higher," Vetara hissed. "It should be interesting!"
The Teresa-clone stared in horror as Vetara brandished the huge blade. It gleamed wickedly in the bright sunlight. Twin "claws" snicked out on either side of the handle.
It was a weapon designed to do maximum damage, and Vetara knew how to use it well. "This is how you die today, beSIj," she whispered, her eyes glintly insanely. "How will you die tomorrow?"
Without warning, Vetara savagely thrust the dagger into her victims lower abdomen, twisting it from side to side before ripping it free. Khareg released his grip on the Teresa-clone, laughing at her agony as she sank to her knees.
The pain was beyond comprehension; she could not even scream. "N-no," she managed, choking on her own blood as it filled her mouth.
"The wound is mortal," Vetara said conversationally. "Usually it means a very slow and painful death; however, the targs will finish you off first." She chuckled. "In a way, I am being merciful to you, beSIj!"
The clone collapsed weakly on her side as the parched sand soaked up her blood. Im dying, she thought. Leonard... She was numb with shock and blood loss, and was only dimly aware that Vetara had nudged her with a boot, and she was tumbling headlong into the pit. The targs were on her before she hit the ground.
She found her voice then. She shrieked in agony as the targs tore her apart. Her screams did not last long. Soon, the only sounds in the pit were those of grunting and noisy chewing.
Vetara turned to Khareg, an almost beatific smile on her face. "Glorious," she purred. "These clones are very hardy; they seemed to last much longer than I expect them to, no matter what we do to them."
They heard a commotion behind them, and turned to see two of Vetaras Klingon henchmen dragging another struggling Teresa-clone toward the pit. Unlike her predecessor, this one had not been shaven or manicured, and was unkempt and hairy and covered in the green generative slime from the cloning tank.
Vetara smiled, drawing out her dk tagh again. "They are still hungry," she whispered, and advanced on her terrified prey.
The cold wind whipped around the desolate plateau. Gray, everywhere. Everywhere he looked. Gray rocks, gray cliffs, gray sky. He had not seen the sun for weeks.
Miguel Morales de la Vega, presently using the pseudonym Kralek, gazed up into the gloomy sky and scowled, blinking against the rain that pelted his face. He towered nearly seven feet tall, trim and muscular. His long black hair was combed back and tied in a pony tail, and his forehead crest flared in annoyance as a gust of wind blew rain under his poncho and down his back.
Miguel was a Klingon-Human hybrid, and a handsome youth, even by Human standards. As well he should behe favored his mother, who had been one of the most beautiful women in the galaxy.
Grief and rage welled up in him again, as they had many times these past eleven months. Like his stepfather, Leonard McCoy, Miguel had watched his mothers execution holovid only once. It still haunted his nightmares, as did the image of her skull and gnawed ribcage lying on the floor of the qlaI arena. He was also haunted by a vision of the tiny corpses of his brothers, Davie and Jimmy, their throats cut from ear to ear, stretched on a slab in the morgue in the basement of Serenidads royal palace.
Hot tears leaped unbidden into his eyes, and he swore. It was a weakness; it humiliated and embarrassed him. It was the one genetic trait he had inherited from his mother that he despised. A full Khmyr Klingon had no tear ducts, and couldnt cry. The Segh vav could, and even Kahless himself purportedly cried a river of tears. But the Khmyr had been engineered without this weakness. And yet he wept anyway, and he threw his head back and roared out his rage and sorrow, bellowing until he was hoarse.
His screams echoed off the crags and outcrops for several moments. Somewhere in the distance, rocks tumbled down a cliffside, dislodged by the reverberations.
Miguel wiped his eyes. The boredom of this place was driving him insane. He had been given asylum here at the monastery on Boreth after his mothers murder. He had slain HoD Vixis and his half-sister Valias for their part in Teresas execution, but had later learned that the Lady Vetara had been the driving force behind her capture and death.
When he decided to launch a vendetta again Vetara, however, his allies in the Klingon government, particularly Ambassador Kamarag and Admirals Kor, Kang and Koloth had dissuaded him from following that course of action by sending him in energy cuffs to Boreth. "Protective custody," Admiral Koloth had called it.
He was not a prisoner, but he often times felt like one.
It was getting dark. Miguel turned and clambered back over the jumble of rocks that served as a "path" back to the monastery complex. The only good thing that had come from his stay was that he was now in the best physical condition of his entire life. Negotiating the rugged terrain of Boreth was the best exercise he could imagine.
He made it back to the main gate just as darkness fell. The guard nodded perfunctorily at him as he entered.
Miguel sighed. He felt so isolated here; he had no one to talk to, and there was certainly no one else with whom he had anything in common. Most people here barely tolerated him. There were a great number of clerics and quite a few serious students. There were also religious zealots who flirted with lunacy and derelict drug addicts who ingested great mounts of hallucinogens to help them find a religious epiphany, to "find Kahless," or so they claimed.
Miguels footsteps reverberated in the ancient halls. Flamepots and torches were the only source of illumination in the dim corridors. Someone staggered toward him out of the shadows. Miguel tensed, then relaxed. It was only Kolar, a hopelessly addicted pilgrim. Clad only in a tattered loincloth, his emaciated body lent him the aspect of a death camp prisoner. His head seemed much too big for his scarecrow-like frame; long, unkempt hair scraggled everywhere. His wild eyes stared fixedly, the pupils dilated to pinpoints. Miguel wrinkled his nose. The creature reeked of body odor and ghlar, the most potent hallucinogenic fungoid known to Klingons.
"I...Ive seen Kahless!" Kolar cackled.
"Phah!" Miguel spat. "No doubt you have! Given the amount of mushrooms youve ingested, you probably have been seeing flying targs!"
Kolars spinning eyes blazed. "You young whelp! You do not believe me! I have seen Kahless! You mock me!"
"I do not have time for this," Miguel grumbled, brushing past the frail pilgrim.
From somewhere within the filthy folds of his loincloth, Kolar produced a sheathed, stiletto-like dagger. He drew it out and stalked after Miguel with silent, murderous intent.
Some sixth sense warned the young man. He whirled and dodged just as Kolar struck with his needle blade. Instead of burying itself deep in Miguels back, the dagger glanced across his ribs. Miguel drew in a sharp breath as fiery pain streaked across his side. Then he reacted instinctively.
Miguels left hand shot out and wrapped around his attackers forearm before the pilgrim could strike again, and his right hand gripped Kolars throat. He twisted, and the corridor was filled with the brittle sound of snapping bone as wrist and neck broke simultaneously. The insane light in Kolars eyes died as his body went limp.
With a snarl of contempt, Miguel tossed the rag-doll corpse into an alcove. The side of his tunic was soaked with blood, and the wound hurt. He glowered at the broken body of his assailant. The scrawny Kolar had been no match for his brute strength, not really. He experienced a brief pang of remorse. Then he remembered that he probably would have been killed if Kolars dirk had found its mark, and his scowl deepened.
Miguel strode down the corridors, ignoring the curious glances at his blood-stained tunic until he reached his quarters. He gingerly stripped off his tunic and laid it across the back of a chair. His thickly-muscled upper body rippled as he strode into the bathroom. He dug a can of liquid antiseptic suture spray out of the medicine chest. The wound wasnt excessively deep, but it was bloody, and it took several applications to stop the bleeding. He carefully cleaned away the blood from around the wound, wincing as his washcloth abraded the tender flesh. He glanced at himself in the mirror. The skin around the wound was pink, with a jagged, slightly darker line in the center. It would heal with only a minor scar.
As he walked back into the living area, he noticed a green light flashing on his computer console. A starmail. He frowned, wondering who might be calling him. No one knew he was here except for... He punched up the message, but it was scrambled.
Glowering at his terminal, Miguel de-scrambled the starmail, and found another layering of scrambling. After four more levels of frustration, Miguel was ready to destroy his computer and wring the neck of the sender of the starmail.
Suddenly the screen cleared, to be replaced by the insignia of QIval, the most feared and deadly intelligence agency on QonoS. Miguels eyes widened.
"Identify for retina scan," the computer demanded harshly.
Miguel sat still as a crimson laser danced over his eye.
"Identity confirmed. You are Miguel Morales de la Vega."
The QIval insignia dissolved to be replaced by the gnarly face of a Klingon admiral. Miguel was impressed. "Koloth," he whispered.
"Greetings, Miguel," he said almost pleasantly. "I must apologize for all the cloak-and-dagger theatrics, but Kang, Kor and I felt that you should be made aware of this." His face clouded. "What you are about to see is surveillance holotape that was filmed at the Durit compound on QonoS just days ago. I warn youwhat you are about to see is gruesome in the extreme, and you will find it personally upsetting. But, as I said, we believe you have a right to see it."
Miguel felt his stomach tighten into knots. He saw a sandy courtyard, part of an opulent estate on QonoS. Beyond the high stone walls, the thick, green foliage of terraformed trees waved in the light breeze. The holocam scanned in for a closer view of the courtyard. A giant, well-muscled Khmyr male stood shirtless in the blinding glare of the twin suns, casually leaning on the handle of a headsmans axe. The blade glinted in the bright light, the steel obviously sharpened to a lethal edge.
"They are bringing her out," a guttural female voice proclaimed.
A tall, very pregnant Klingon woman strode into view. The beauty of her face was marred by a patina of evil.
A growl rumbled deep in Miguels throat as he recognized her. "Vetara!" he howled. "You murdering beSIj!"
Lady Vetara flashed a feral grin. "Your blade will soon taste blood and flesh, Khareg."
The giant smiled, displaying yellowed, broken teeth. "I can hear her coming," he said.
Miguel could hear her, too. A woman, shrieking at the top of her lungs in abject terror. She was dragged into view by two of Vetaras minions, an Andorian male and a Klingon female. She appeared to be a naked Human woman, but she was covered with a slimy green substance. The mane of her hair was nearly a meter long, and kinky and tangled as though it had never been brushed. Her finger and toenails were long and curved, gnarled like misshapen branches or roots of a tree.
Miguel wouldve thought her to be a neglected prisoner except for the fact that aside from her appearance, she appeared to be in excellent physical condition. She was short, but had the body of an athlete. Clearly, she was neither emaciated nor malnourished. Her arms flailed mightily, as she fought like a Capellan powercat, screaming and howling in rage and sheer terror. Kicking and clawing with her long nails, she struggled to free herself. Her captors were extremely strong, but they clearly had their hands full with the tiny spitfire.
The Andorians face twisted in anger and hatred, and he raised a balled fist, as if to smash the prisoner into unconsciousness, if not kill her outright.
"No!" Vetara growled. "I want her awake and taking notice when she is beheaded!"
The struggling woman found her voice. "Por favor! Please!!" she cried. "Dont do this! I dont want to die!"
Miguels blood nearly froze in his veins. That voice! He knew it better than his own! The prisoner shook her hair out of her face, and he got his first good look at her. He bellowed in consternation. "Computerfreeze image!"
Miguel was in shock. When he found his voice again, it was weak and quavering. "Computer, augment face," he ordered, although he had recognized her instantly. "No! Miguel quavered. "Thisisnotpossible! She is dead!! I saw her remains, lying in the sands of the qlaI arena! What kind of obscenity is this?"
It was his mother, Princess Teresa, impossibly alive on QonoS, eleven months after her gruesome death.
And she was about to dieagain.
Miguel shivered. "Computer, resume holo transmission."
Her shrieking filled the room again, increasing in its intensity as her terror mounted when she spied the lethal battle axe. Vetaras minions wrestled with her, and the Klingon woman finally succeeded in lashing Teresas wrists behind her back. She tackled her prisoner around the waist and bore her to the ground by the stump of a large tree. The stump was crisscrossed with axe cuts and stained dark with the blood of a myriad of alien races.
A chopping block! realized Miguel.
The Andorian viciously grabbed his mothers hair and immobilized her head on the block, his superior strength unchallenged at last.
"Be careful with that axe, you oaf!" the Andorian growled at Khareg. "I like my hands!"
Miguel tensed, staring in numb horror at his mothers pale, terrified face. Khareg grinned and raised his weapon high over his head.
"yIHoH!" Vetara snapped.
"Noooo!" Miguel howled.
The blade flashed in the sunlight as Khareg swung it down with brutal force. It sliced easily through its victims neck with a meaty "chunk" and buried itself in the wood with a hollow "thwack". Teresas head fell one way, and her body fell another. Her headless corpse jerked and convulsed several times, and then lay still.
Vetara reached down and picked up the dripping, severed head, her features twisted into a scowl. She spat in Teresas dead face. "Disappointing," she snarled. "Too quick, too easy, too...painless. She did not suffer enough."
Miguel wiped away tears of grief and rage. Then he started. He could hear his mothers voice again, shrieking in terror and cursing!
"Malditos! Take your filthy hands off me!"
Miguel stared at the screen incredulously. He was losing his mind!
Another Teresa was bundled into view by two enormous Klingon males. Unlike her predecessor, however, this ones hair had been cut and styled just as his mothers had been just before she died. She had been manicured, and cleaned up.
Miguel frowned. How is this possible? He steeled himself and looked at the decapitated corpse lying in the background. Suddenly, it dawned on him what was happening.
Vetara brandished the severed head in the face of the new Teresa, who screamed and recoiled in horror. Teresa turned her head away, gagging and retching as Vetara impaled the head on a sharpened stake planted in the ground.
The Klingon woman turned to Khareg and gestured to the new arrival. "This one is for you, bangwI," she purred. "You may tlhap her until she dies!"
The screen faded to black briefly, only to be replaced by the grim face of Admiral Koloth. "You need not see anymore," he said. "He raped her and sodomized her many times until he suffocated her by forcing his choQetlh down her throat." His eyes narrowed. "By now, youve probably realized what is happening here. Vetara is involved in illegal cloning experimentation."
Miguel nodded. He had surmised as much. The obvious fact that he had seen two identical duplicates on Princess Teresa on the holo was all the evidence he needed for such a conclusion.
Koloth looked as though he had eaten something which had disagreed with his stomach. "I need to tell you, Miguel, that this is not your garden variety cloning. One of our leading researchers has perfected a process of copying and transferring the engram traces of an individual into a clone of that individual. Every memory, every thought your mother ever possessed, from the moment she first achieved awareness to moments before her death, has been implanted in these clones." He paused. "It is an abomination. Each of these clones is your mother, resurrected only to be slain by Vetara."
A thrill of hope flared in Miguels chest. If he could rescue one of them alive, before Vetara killed her... He cursed himself and quashed the illogical thought. It was more important to utterly eradicate this technologythis abomination, as Koloth rightfully called itand to kill Vetara as well. He resolved right then and there that he would do just thateven before he heard Koloths next words.
"QIval has been forbidden by Chancellor Azetbur from taking any action, other than observe, even though cloning on this level is outlawed all over the known galaxyeven here on QonoS. Vetara is so powerful that Chancellor Azetbur and the others on the Council are terrified of her. She could wreak havoc with the governments of our enemies with her clones, but Kang, Kor and I are more concerned that she will eventually replace members of our government with programmed clones. So far, however, Vetara has limited her use of this technology to petty vengeanceas near as we can tell."
Koloth growled in frustration. "As I said, our hands are tied. However, it a private citizen of the galaxy, particularly someone who has a vested interest in the situationsuch as yourselfwere to take matters into his own hands, we would look the other way. In fact, he would have our tacit blessing."
A brief smile played about Koloths lips. "Qapla, Miguel. And be careful." The screen went dark.
Miguel shook his head, chuckling as he hastily began to gather up the few possessions he had brought with him to Boreth and pack them in a travel bag. The admiral knew him too well! He knew thered be no stopping him from going to QonoS to investigatehed like to see anyone try to stop him!"
His door chime rangnot unexpectedly. "nuqneH?" he demanded.
"A word with you, Kralek," a muffled voice spoke from beyond the door.
"Come," Miguel said as he continued to pack.
Cleric Reghar entered the room. His florid features were darker than usual. "I see that you already realize that you must leave Boreth," the priest said evenly. "I have already made travel arrangements for you, and received dispensation from Admiral Koloth on your behalf. No charges will be filed against you since you acted in self-defense, but there is no room for violence here!"
"Indeed!" Miguel exclaimed with a derisive snort. He held up his slashed, blood-stained tunic for Reghars inspection before he tossed it into a disposal chute. "Perhaps if Kolar had been aware of your non-violence policy, he would still be alive!" Miguel commented dryly.
He took a tunic out of a chest of drawers, and carefully shrugged into it. "It matters not anyway," Miguel rumbled. "I have personal business on QonoS that needs attention, and I must leave immediately." He turned to face Reghar. "I thank you, Father, for allowing me to stay here this while. But now it is time to go."
Miguel strode toward the door, but Reghar caught him by the arm.
"I sense anger and violence in you, young one, and a thirst for revenge," the cleric said. "Be careful, Kralek. They will be your undoing."
Miguel shook his head, his eyes blazing. "No, Cleric Reghar, they will not be my undoing. I will need all of those feelings if I am to accomplish what I must do." He shrugged away from the priests grasp and stormed down the corridor.
Reghar stared after him, shaking his head sadly, convinced that he was charging headlong to his doom. He had hoped the youth would be different, but like so many others of his age, his blood burned as hot as the twin suns of QonoS.
Reghar sighed as he glanced around the now-empty room. Then he turned off the lights and pulled the door shut behind him as he left.
But Leonard McCoy could not relax.
He had just awakened from another harrowing nightmare of Teresatwo of them, in fact, back to back, seemingly simultaneously, as if they were overlapping. He watched in horror through Teresas eyes as she was brutally stabbed by Vetara then flung into a pit of ravenous, boar-like creatures. The beasts tore her apart, eating her alive as her shrieks rang out in the pit.
And even as one of the horrific animals ripped out her throat, a new set of images intruded upon his subconscious. Another Teresa was dragged in front of Vetara, and soon met the same grisly fate.
McCoy shuddered. His nervous system was raw and screaming. He had experienced what Vetaras victims had felt, as if it were actually happening to him. He was in their minds as they died, and it terrified him. Because as he lived in these minds during his nightmares, he realized that he was indeed in the mind of his late wife, each and every time.
His BellComm unit beeped for attention. "Incoming CommPic," the computer intoned.
McCoy frowned as he strolled back into the cabin. Couldnt be Slattery unless he was really earlyhe wasnt due for another half hour.
A lopsided grin lit his face when he saw the message originated from ShiKahr on Vulcan. He had wondered how long it would take Spock to figure out what was going onalthough he had a feeling Spock had known the score right from the start. McCoy flipped on his viewer.
"What are you doing on Trylias, Doctor?" the Vulcan demanded without preamble.
"Im fine, Spockthanks for askin," McCoy replied, chuckling. "And how are you today?"
"Forgive my lack of protocol, Doctor McCoy," Spock said. "However, given our last discussion, it is fascinating to find you on the one Federation starbase that is closest to QonoS, the Klingon homeworld."
"Medical inspection of Starbase Twenty-Sevens Sector General Hospital, Spock," McCoy answered blandly. "Part of the duties of the Starfleet Surgeon General."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Really, Doctor?"
McCoy exhaled slowly. "Okay, Spock, you got me," the physician admitted. "The inspection is just a cover."
The Vulcan nodded. "As I surmised."
"Its a cover that will allow me to take a little RnR," McCoy continued. His face tightened. "After all the...garbage thats happened to me in the past year, I need a vacation...badly. And this is the best place in the galaxy to take one. You ever been here? Its beautiful."
Spock looked dubious. "I suspect that you have a different agenda, Doctor. I would implore you not to do anything foolish."
"Dont worry, Spock," McCoy returned. "Im just going to sit on my deck. Im too old for climbing the cliff face of a mountain or sub-orbital skydiving."
Spock sighed. "Indeed. I see that I am wasting my time by endeavoring to ascertain your true motives. Just be careful...Leonard."
McCoy hesitated, touched by his usually stoic friends show of concern. Should I tell him what Im up to? Ask him for help? he thought. Hell, he probably already knows whats going on, but hes too far away to stop me.
"Spock, Ill be fine," the doctor reassured his friend. "Im gonna do a little hikin and swimmin, but other than that, Im just gonna sit on my deck in this wonderful rockerbut I like I said, thanks for checking up on me." And he closed the CommPic frequency without a further word.
Hurrying into the bedroom, McCoy checked his gear one last time. In a carrying case the size of a footlocker, he had stored enough of an arsenal to obliterate a small continent. He had a short-barreled Mark IX blaster carbine, a phaser II pistol, forty-eight photon grenades with time delay fuses, a personal deflector shield, long-range communicator, night-vision goggles, night-vision binoculars, a medi-kit and rations. He would be a veritable one-man army.
He would need to be on QonoS.
McCoy had called in several decades worth of favors to outfit his little sortie to QonoS and to arrange transportation for it. Dex Slattery, the captain of the Jean Lafitte, a mercenary vessel, would take him through the Organian Treaty-imposed Neutral Zone to the edge of Klingon space; Slattery had been the first mate aboard the Lafitte when McCoy and Jim Kirk had hired the ship to take them to QonoS to rescue Teresa from the clutches of the mad Khmyr Klingon, Admiral Khalian, twenty years earlier.
Slattery was to transfer him to a Klingon freighter with the unimaginative name of tepqengwI, under the command of HoD Kraagar. Actually, McCoy mused, the name of that Klingon freighter isnt so bad. He had heard of one whose appellation translated into "Dirty Underwear"!
McCoy was a little nervous about hiring the Klingon, but Slattery vouched for him. And he had little choice; it was the only way he could get to QonoS. Kraagar was going to beam him down to the planet in a shipping crate. McCoy would materialize in a cargo bay just a stones throw from the Durit compound, and from there he would be on his own. Kraagar would have to break orbit immediately. He would not return for at least ten days, and he promised to try to contact McCoy on a coded channel when he returned.
Assuming that the physician was still alive, of course.
McCoy sat on the edge of the bed, wearily rubbing his eyes. He hadnt thought about it much, but he really did not expect to return alive from QonoS. Once, a long time ago, he wouldnt have batted an eye. Ten days on the Klingon homeworld? A walk in the park, a breeze. "The Magnificent Seven," some obscure INS reporter with a love of ancient Terran holos had once dubbed the command crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Jim, Spock, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura and McCoy. Time after time, they had done the impossible, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, saved the galaxy again and again. They had laughed in the face of Death, cheated Death. Hell, one of them had even come back from the dead. Death was something that happened to other people, not to the Magnificent Seven.
Not anymore, though. Death was stalking them anew, and with a vengeance. Jim, Scotty, Connor Randolph, Davie and Jimmy.
Oh, God, Teresa.
McCoy buried his head in his hands. So what if he didnt come back from QonoS? Without Teresa, life wasnt worth living anyway. He missed her so. She was so vivacious, sexy, bright and funny. She was ethereally beautiful and incredibly insatiable. It wasnt just the sex he missed. She was fun to be with. All the time. Making loving, gardening in the back of the Palace grounds, decorating their bungalow, Hell, watching holovids and doing the laundry. It didnt matter. She was just a joy to be around.
Now she was gone.
McCoy wiped away a tear. Life went on. You were supposed to get over it, get on with your life, move one. Well, it wasnt that easy. Besides that, he didnt want to get over her, or get on with his life, or move on. Life was nothing without her.
And if he died on QonoS, at least his remains would be in the same soil as hers. In a way, they would be together again. McCoy set his jaw. Once he got to QonoS, he would, with any luck, get to the bottom of these terrifying nightmares. He would feel like an absolute fool if it turned out that he had, in fact, just been having a series of gruesome dreams.
But he somehow doubted that would happen.House of Durit Compound
And then Lady Vetara had executed all of them in one fell swoop.
The physician took another swallow of the potent liquor. Vetara had thrown a lavish dinner party for the rich and famous and powerful of voDleH veng, the Imperial City. Not all of the guests were particularly happy about being there, but no one refused an invitation to dine with Vetara unless they had a death wish. Four long, ornate tables were set up in the great dining hall, laden with tempting, succulent foodstuffs from all over the galaxy.
Standing on each table on a large block of ice was a naked clone of the Princess, each with her hands lashed behind her, a noose cinched tightly around each ones neck. The ice, of course, slowly melted until eventually the clones swung free at the ends of their ropes, slowly strangling.
The dinner guests had been highly discomfited. They were mostly traders and merchants, business peoplenot warriors. They were unaccustomed to the violence, the mayhem, the bloodshed that came so naturally to Vetara and her subordinates. They had dined with forced conviviality as the corpses twitched above them, bloodshot eyes bulging from their purple faces, swollen, blackened tongues protruding from their open mouths.
After the soiree was over, the bodies had been cut down and flung into Vetaras targ pit, where the voracious ovinoids devoured them, bones and all, in less than a rep.
Kyrlaag sighed and downed another gulp. For two decades, he had been in denial. He was a victim, he reasoned, a puppet first of Khalian and now of Vetara. His family would die if he went against the wishes of his masters. But now he realized he was just as responsible for the death and carnage as his insane overlords. No, he decided. No more.
Kyrlaag took another sip from his bottle. No more would he be a pawn, a puppet. The decision, once made, had been easier than he would have thought. His sole regret was that he might not see his family one last time.
He cast his gaze out the transparent aluminum window which overlooked his lab, and upon row upon row of receptacles containing the clones of Teresa Morales. His gaze locked on the nearest one, on the serene, lovely face. He was reminded of the Terran childrens fable of "Sleeping Beauty" he had once read while on Nimbus III.
Tomorrow night, he would awaken one last clone. This one, however, would not fall into the clutches of Vetara qoln Durit. This one, he vowed, would be given a chance to resume the life that had been so brutally stolen from her in the qlaI arena eleven months ago.
Kyrlaag rose unsteadily to his feet and staggered to his bunk. He no longer feared Vetara, nor did he fear death. He was, indeed, weary of lifeat least this life. He could not purge the guilt he felt for all the death and carnage he had not prevented in the past, but he swore by Kahless that he would not fail tomorrow.
He fell asleep in his clothes, a peaceful smile on his face.
"Its like deja vu all over again," Captain Hikaru Sulu murmured as he watched the Vulcan warp shuttle on approach to dock with his massive starship.
"Thats redundant, babe," Doctor Ariel Cord, Sulus CMO and lover, said as she playfully squeezed his arm.
Sulu smiled. "Sorry. When Spock intercepted the Enterprise to join us for the Vger mission all those years ago, he flew in on the same model warp shuttle. For all I know, this is the same shuttle he used then."
Sulu and Cord moved away from the transparent aluminum portal as the pilot made his final approach. There was a gentle thump, and the hiss of the airlock pressurizing. Sulu watched, bemused, as several male members of the honor guard cast quick, furtive glances at the stunningly beautiful Ariel Cord. No matterin a moment, they would have eyes only for their famous visitor.
A bosuns whistle sounded as the door slid open, and there was Spock, resplendent in his ambassadorial robes. "Permission to come aboard, sir," the Vulcan intoned.
"Granted, sir," Sulu said, smiling as he raised his hand in the Vulcan salute. "Welcome aboard Excelsior."
Spock returned the gesture. "Thank you, Captain Sulu. I regret that it was necessary to divert you from your current mission."
"No problem, Ambassador," Sulu said cheerfully. "Weve been mapping gaseous anomalies. Ive got crewmembers going crazy from boredom."
"Indeed." Spock allowed himself a slight smile. "How much do you know of your new mission?"
"Only what I was givenwere to proceed to QonoS at maximum warp, and you will provide details upon your arrival."
"And you have no problem with that?"
Sulu shook his head. "Ive known you a long time, sir. I trust you implicitly."
"Very well." Spock glanced around. "If we could retire to your ready room, I will provide the details."
"Ive got rounds to make," Ariel Cord announced. "Ill leave the cloak-and-dagger stuff to you boys. Ive had my fill of that."
But Spock held up a hand. "Doctor Cord, if you pleasea medical perspective would be greatly appreciated."
The chief medical officer shrugged. "Okay, Ill turn rounds over to Doctor Viger."
After Cords brief call over the comlink to her assistant chief medical officer, Spock, Cord and Sulu took a turbolift to the bridge where they were momentarily delayed by a round of greetings. Sulu left Commander Janice Rand with the conn and ordered Helmsman Boris Lojur to proceed to QonoS at Warp Nine. Then Spock , Sulu and Cord adjourned to the ready room through the corridor on the port side of the bridge.
The three of them quickly settled in around a small bamboo table in the center of the floor, sitting on the pillows provided. Spock seemed almost uncomfortable.
"Captain Sulu, Doctor Cordthe reasons for this foray to QonoS are not rooted solely in logic. Some of them are based on, for the lack of a better term, a hunch. We may be on the proverbial wild goose chase." The Vulcan hesitated. He took a deep breath, then launched into an account of his CommPic discussions with McCoy. He told them everything, even described his own experience of receiving psionic echoes of Teresa. When he finished, Sulu and Cord sat back, stunned.
"My...God!" Sulu whispered. "Spock, are you saying that somehow Teresa is alive? Ariel and I both saw her remains on QonoS. How can this be?"
Spock rested his chin on tented fingertips. "At this time, without hard data, I can only conjecture, Captain. My...best guess is that somehow, the Klingons, or more specifically the House of Durit, have developed a perfect cloning process wherein the replicates are indistinguishable from the original. I suspect that this may be a variation of their mindsifter device, but I have no evidence to support that suspicion."
"Her memories, her thoughts are somehow intact in this clone," Cord concluded. "If thats so, a clone like that would actually be Teresa."
Spock nodded. "Precisely. A difference which makes no difference is no difference." The Vulcan paused. "On my journey here from Vulcan, the thought impressions I have been receiving have grown stronger as we traveled closer to QonoS. I mindmelded with Teresa once, and I can attest that these psionic emanations I have been sensing are indeed from her."
The Vulcan closed his eyes for a moment. "These emanations have been highly...unpleasant. It is a repeating patternit is as if she is achieving awareness at first, and her thoughts are confused and disoriented."
"Gods!" Cord exclaimed. "Like a clone being born!"
"Precisely," Spock said. "Then follows sheer terror and indescribable agony, followed by a nothingness that resembles death."
"And that pattern repeats itself?" Sulu queried.
"Oh, Gods," Cord said in a small voice. "Then Leonards nightmares are real, right? The House of Durit is awakening clones and torturing them to death, only to do it over and over, each time with a new clone. Why?"
Spock shook his head. "I do not know. The head of the House of Durit is Lady Vetara. She is reported to be completely insane. Her thirst for revenge could be so great that she must execute Teresa over and over."
"Havent they been through enough?" whispered Sulu softly, staring out the portals. "Bones McCoy and Princess Teresa didnt deserve...dont deserve whats happening."
Cord turned white as a sheet. "That Klingon bitch has got to be stopped!"
The Vulcan nodded slightly. "My...hunch is that Leonard McCoy is on such a mission at this time. He is very resourceful, but he is not accustomed to this type of action. We must be prepared to extricate him as he could be in great danger."
"Are we under orders to put a stop to the cloning?" Sulus gaze turned to face the Vulcans.
Spock shook his head. "Negative. That is beyond the purview of this mission, Captain. Chancellor Azetbur is allowing us only the opportunity to rescue the good doctor. Regrettably, as much faith as I may have in him, he is only one man. The odds of his successfully ending the cloning are..." He was about to quote a number, but he obviously stopped himself. "...are infinitesimally small. But we are not to render any aid or assistance to him, even though it is my considered opinion that they would be extremely grateful to anyone who could...remove Vetara."
"Good Gods!" Cord muttered. "Is this Vetara so powerful that even the Klingon Senate is afraid of her?"
"Yes," Spock and Sulu answered simultaneously.
"Guess that answers that," the doctor sulked.
"Or main objective is to ascertain that Doctor McCoy is indeed on QonoS," Spock said. "It will be necessary to isolate his bio-signs from the high level of background radiation still present on QonoS from the explosion of Praxis. It will be extremely difficult, but not impossible. It is also possible that his subcutaneous transponderwhich all Starfleet admirals are required to havecould be located."
"Ill get Ensign Tuvok on detecting Human lifeform readings and Commander Rand on the transponder. If hes down there, well find him."
"Hes there," Cord said. There was a faraway look in her eyes. "He loved Teresa with every fiber of his being. If there was even an outside chance he could find her alive, hed move Heaven and Earth."
"We must be prepared for any eventuality," Spock stated. "Chancellor Azetbur is not particularly happy that we are...paying her a visit."
Ariel Cord wrinkled her nose. "Im not too fond of her myself," she said. "Shes a petulant, spoiled bitch. Shell never measure up to her father, Gorkon."
"It is not uncommon for offspring to be compared to their parentsand found wanting," Spock said cryptically.
"Well," Sulu said, "whatever the case, wed best be about our business. At this speed, well be on QonoS in no time!"
As he followed Sulu and Cord out of the ready room, Spock thought of Leonard McCoy. What was he doing right now? The Vulcan did not share Ariel Cords romantic notion that McCoy was going to the Klingon homeworld on the chance he would find his dead wife restored to life. He might just as likely be going there to destroy what he would consider a crime against nature, an aberration like the mythical Frankensteins monster. The thought of McCoy attacking the Durit stronghold aloneno matter how well-equipped and well-prepared he wasgave the Vulcan pause. Vetara had purportedly surrounded herself with a cadre of the most vicious thugs and killers and terrorists in the galaxy. Many of them were Khmyr Klingons. A highly trained Starfleet Intelligence operative would have little chance against such odds, let alone an ol country doctor with little background in counterintelligence operations.
Spock was not certain what McCoy would do or how he would react.
He only knew that he feared for his friends life.Outside the House of Durit Compound
Since the Praxis explosion, however, and the introduction of Federation technology, the hot, steamy jungle had grown by leaps and bounds. The fear that numbers of desert species would not be able to adapt to the new environment had proven unfounded. Of all the myriads of creatures on QonoS, only two had become extinct, and most of the other animals had flourished and increased in number in the new jungles.
Like most everything else on this planet, McCoy noted, the critters were very, very tough.
Dusk was approaching. The scrub he was hiding in provided good cover, and his deflector field prevented his detection by sensors. There werent too many patrols; it was if Durits people could not conceive that anyone would have the audacity to attack the compound. All he had to do now was wait for nightfall, and then...
McCoy scowled. He hadnt quite figured out what came next.
His worst nightmares had been confirmed. Everything was as he had dreamed it. One of the first sights he had seen through his binoculars was the gruesome image of Teresas rotting, impaled corpse. Clouds of Klingon glob flies flocked around it; it was even more bloated and decayed than in his nightmare, but it was still recognizable. A scan of the body positively identified Teresas DNA.
McCoy had seen Vetara of the House of Durit, too, huge with child, and her gigantic henchman Khareg. Both were just as he had imagined them.
So it turned out he hadnt been dreaming at all. Everything he had seen in his nightmares had actually occurred here on QonoS. Vetara was bringing clones of his late, beloved wife to life, only to horribly execute them for her own pleasure.
And he was going to put an end to it, come hell or high water.
McCoy checked his arsenal again. He had a number of very illegal devices on his person which would surely get him executed were he captured. The sawed-off blaster carbine lay on the ground, a few inches from his hand as he scanned the estate again with his binoculars. It was quieting down inside the compound. He had a field attenuator that would disrupt the strongholds screens long enough to let him in; the only problem was it was unlikely the disruption would go unnoticed by the compounds security forces.
McCoy suddenly got the impression that he was not alone. He heard the sand shift slightly behind him. Even as he reached for the carbine, a huge, ham-sized hand pinned his wrist to the ground, and he felt a razor-sharp blade press against his Adams apple.
"The steel is cold, is it not?" a familiar voice hissed in his ear. "Tell me what you are doing here, or by Kahless himself, I will open your throat from ear to ear!"
McCoy smiled, despite his predicament. "Hey, boy," he drawled. "Is that any way to say howdy to your poor ol step-daddy?"
Miguel Morales de la Vega pulled the dk tagh away from his stepfathers throat and sprawled down next to him on the ground. McCoy pulled back the hood of his camouflaged windbreaker and grinned.
"What in hell are you doing here?" Miguel demanded. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
"I imagine Im here for the same reason you are," McCoy whispered, gesturing toward the corpse skewered on the sharpened stake beyond the wall. "I take it you know about the clones?"
"Yes," Miguel nodded gravely. "I have...friends inside the Klingon military who sent me an encoded stargram depicting the execution of one of the clones, and he gave me some background information." Miguels eyes glittered brightly. "Leonard, this goes far beyond mere cloning. Every time one of them is born, my mother lives again! If we could rescue one of them alive and unharmed..."
McCoy held up a hand. "Whoa, boy," he said gently. "Son, your mother died nearly a year ago. You saw what was left of her. These...things..." He pointed in the direction of the corpse. "...are not your mother or my wife. Theyre soulless travesties of nature who do an injustice to the memory of one of the most beautiful people who ever lived."
"You do not know that!" Miguel protested. "I saw a holovidI heard her speak. It was my mother, exactly as I remember her, in every way!"
"Look, I know you miss your mom. I miss her, too, and your little half-brothers about as badly as Ive ever missed anyone in my life. Would I be happy if she somehow, miraculously came back to life? You bet I wouldId be ecstatic! But Im not going to get my hopes up. Ive encountered clones before, and Ive never yet seen one that doesnt suffer from replicative fading, and I definitely havent seen one that replicates the personality and consciousness perfectly. What is happening here is an obscenity, and we need to put a stop to it!"
"These are supposedly perfect clones," Miguel said stubbornly. "At least according to Klingon intelligence reports. I would be willing to give it a try."
"Well, I certainly wont, but we can argue about that later. Right now, we need to get in there." McCoy opened his duffel bag..
Miguels eyes widened in appreciation when he caught a glimpse of the hardware McCoy had brought with him. His already high estimation of his stepfathers resourcefulness grew exponentially. "Where did you ever get such marvelous toys?" Miguel gasped. "Everything is state of the art."
They heard grunting and squealing off in the distance. Alarmed, McCoy brought up his carbine, but Miguel gripped his forearm. "Wild targs," he whispered. "They shouldnt bother us. Your deflector will help."
McCoy turned back to the task at hand. "In answer to your question about how I got my gadgets, lets just say I have connections." He glanced toward the compound. "I can get us in there, but theres bound to be an alarm of some kind when we zap their shield."
"I have an idea," Miguel whispered. "Wait hereI will be right back."
McCoy glanced around; it was almost fully dark. "You bet Ill wait here," the doctor muttered. The terrifying screams of predator and prey suddenly filled the early evening, as if someone had flipped a switch. McCoy was glad he was going to have some company on his dangerous little foray. The thought that he just might survive this trip after all crossed his mind.
The grunting and squealing of the targs he had heard earlier grew more strident, accompanied by a sound like the galloping of hooves. One of the targs began to scream in something akin to sheer terror. It was a shrill, hair-raising noise, and it ended suddenly with a sound like the brittle snap of a limb. Then a brief, blessed silence reigned over the jungle.
McCoy slipped on his night goggles and waited. A few moments later, Miguel crept stealthily toward him, a huge, bulky shape slung across his shoulders. He flung it on the ground, and McCoy recoiled in distaste. So this is a targ, he mused. This was one of the pig-like creatures that had devoured two of the Teresa replicates. Its enormous! It was a boar, probably, about eight feet long, and it must have weighed nearly five hundred pounds. It was a magnificent beast. And Miguel had carried it on his back as if it were a sack of feathers. This one was more massive than the pathetic, starved animals in Vetaras pit.
McCoy stared at his stepson in amazement. "What did you do?"
Miguel shrugged. "I ran him down, tackled him, and broke his neck," the half-Klingon youth said matter-of-factly. "He is an alpha male. He will get us into the compound."
McCoys eyes widened. "This I gotta see," he said. "A dead critters gonna get us through the screen?"
"No, your field attenuator will get us through the shield. The targs body will provide a plausible explanation for the sudden breach of screen integrity."
"Hows that?" McCoy asked, puzzled.
"Male targs, especially alphas, have been known to charge into deflector screens. They always lose! One theory states that they can sense the presence of the field and consider it a territorial challenge. Another claims they are irritated by the resonance of the field generators and charge in anger. At any rate, he will be our ticket in."
"Whatever you say," McCoy said. He pointed across the wall behind the screen. "I think were really close. Ive picked up scads of readings of Teresas DNA signature, second building back. Theyre inertnot alive yet."
Miguel nodded. "Thats where the clone lab is purported to be, according to the information Ive been given. Lets go."
McCoy held him back. "Miguel, I want to seed these babies all over the place, not just the clone factory." He held up a belt of photon grenades. "I want this place to be a slag pit."
Miguel stared at the grenades. "It will be if you hit it with those jewels. Lets go."
McCoy scanned ahead of them with a tricorder as Miguel easily dragged the big targ after them. The physician threw up an arm suddenly. "Shields right here," he whispered.
They stood about three meters from an high stone wall which surrounded the Durit compound.
"On the other side of that wall, there is a small shed about five meters east of this spotI saw it from the hill," Miguel supplied. "It would be prudent to hide there until theres a response to the shield breach."
McCoy stared dubiously at the eight foot high wall. "I might have a little trouble getting over that."
Miguel grinned. "Its a good thing I happened along, eh, step-daddy?" he chided. "Dont worry about the wall." He nodded at McCoys field attenuator. "Open the shield."
McCoy tapped the devices control padd, and sparks flew. The quickly jumped through the breach, and Miguel dropped the targs body so its shoulders were on the boundary line of the shield barrier. Without warning, Miguel picked McCoy up under his left arm, like he would a child. The half-Klingon youth sprang into the air and vaulted the wall without hardly touching it. When the screen sealed up, the animals carcass jerked as arcs of crackling energy enveloped its head and shoulders. The stench of charred fur and flesh filled the air as McCoy and Miguel landed with a jarring thump on the far side of the stone rampart.
McCoy stared goggle-eyed at his stepson. "Good God, boyhow many hours a day do you work out?"
Miguel chuckled. "I lived on Boreth for eleven months, exiled there by those who sought to protect me. Other than wasting time meditating, seeking the image of Kahless, working out is about the only thing you can do there. Come, make for the shed."
It was a ramshackle outbuilding. They quickly scanned it for bugs or alarms or boobytraps and found none. Apparently, it was just what it seemed. Miguel and McCoy settled in, peering out the window to observe the reaction to the shield breach.
They didnt have long to wait.
A hover sled quietly skimmed through the air about four meters above the ground. A scruffy Tellarite and a slovenly-looking Klingon rode on its deck, disruptor carbines at the ready. "Theres the problem!" the Tellarite bellowed in his rough voice. "A targ tried to break through the screens. Stupid beast!"
"Is that any way to speak of your kinfolk, targhloD?" the Klingon quipped in a deceptively mild voice. "That could be your loDnI down there!"
"My brother?" the Tellarite spat an obscenity at his companion. "Grul-uk, Kolaag! I bear no resemblance whatsoever to that smelly, filthy creature!"
Kolaag wrinkled his nose and sniffed. "I beg to differ with you, Grthak," the Klingon said. "You are rather odiferous at the moment, my friend."
"You are probably smelling yourself, you ridge-headed oaf!" Grthak shouted. He raised his rifle and blasted the targ into atoms, and the sparkling shield settled back into normalcy.
"You have been wearing the same set of clothes for the last three yearsand youve never once laundered them," the Tellarite continued as the sled glided away. "Theyre starting to rot off..."
"They are gone," Miguel said after several moments. "Goodthey never suspected it could be a ruse." He stared at McCoy. "Are you all right?"
The physician looked decidedly chagrined. "Im an old fool," McCoy mumbled. "Theydve shot me while I was tryin to get over that wall. What in hell made me think I could do this? Youre the one whos cut out for this, boynot me."
Miguel clapped him on the shoulder. "You are the one who acquired this magnificent arsenal, not me. I dont have that kind of clout, those kinds of resources to draw upon. Yes, I am physically more capable for an undertaking such as this, but I would still be out in the desert figuring out a way into this compound. You had the courage, the strength and the determination to come here. You are quite a remarkable man, Leonard McCoy. I think it is accurate to say we make a good team."
McCoys lips trembled. "I hope so, son. I hope so."
Miguels eyes narrowed. "I never askedhow did you find out about this? How did you learn what was going on?"
McCoys expression was sheepish. "I...had dreams about itnightmares, actually. Only they werent dreams. They were apparently some kind of psionic images because everything I dreamed about, all those bloody executions of the clones, actually happened here."
Miguel smiled. "She was calling to you. Mother loved you very much, Leonard. A bond that deep is strong enough to span the galaxy. Her mind sought out yours in that final moment of extreme terror, the moment of death."
"Thats a load of bull! Im not even slightly telepathic"
Miguel snorted. "You say you do not believe any of this, yet you cross the galaxy and put your life at risk to find out what is happening. You stubborn ass! She was calling to you for help. My mother, your wifenot an insensate clone! How can you explain your psionic images any other way?"
McCoy lowered his eyes. "I...I cant."
Miguel nodded triumphantly. "toH! As I thought, you cannot! I dont know about you, but if the opportunity arises, I will do everything I can to rescue my mother from this horror!"
McCoy jumped, startled by the vehemence with which the youth spat out the words "my mother". He sighed wearily. "Son, I hope youre right. Id dearly love to have your mother back, but Im just now beginning to come to grips with the fact shes gone, almost a year later. Im a lot more cynical than you are. Ive seen too much. I dont want to get my hopes up only to have them dashed. This last years been hell on me. Its not just Teresas death, Your little brothers were murdered. Jim Kirks dead. Scotty, too. I dont think I can take anything else. I dont really want to live without Teresa, but Ive started getting used to the idea shes gone. If I saw her alive now, Jesus, it would be like seeing a ghost or a vampire or a reanimated corpse." He paused. "I sort of figured I was gonna die here, and it didnt bother me a bit." Tears glistened in the physicians eyes.
Miguel gripped his shoulders. "You are not going to die here." He broke out a high power tricorder. He crept outside, clinging to the shadows, and McCoy followed cautiously. Miguel slowly scanned the entire compound, pursing his lips as the supersensitive scanner displayed its readouts. "They only have twelve perimeter guardsI cannot believe the arrogance! The second building back is the complex with the clone lab and Vetaras living quarters. Im picking up one lifeform in the laband three in the living areaall Klingon."
"Vetara and Khareg," McCoy offered. "Who else?"
Miguel snapped his fingers. "Her infant daughter." He checked the screen again. "Our biggest problem is herethe barracks. Im picking up eighteen readings. Thats the rest of Vetaras personal security complement. I can take them out with a photon grenade, but..."
"There goes the element of surprise," McCoy finished.
"Exactly." Miguel rummaged through McCoys pack. "Lets see if theres anything a little more subtle than that." The half-Klingon youths eyes widened suddenly. He picked up a gleaming cylinder about the size of a cigar. His hand was shaking almost imperceptibly. "Did you know this was in here?" he asked, his tone hushed.
McCoy shrugged. "They just told me I had everything I needed to do the job. What is it?"
Miguel studied his stepfathers face. "Leonard, how committed are you to this task?"
"Whats going on here is an abomination against Teresa, against Humanity. Im going to put a stop to it, and if lives are lost, then so be it, Hippocratic oath be damned." He studied his stepsons face. "Miguel, believe me, if I thought there was a chance of doing this without killing anyone, I would. We both know thats not possible. Now, whats in that canister?"
"It is psethene," Miguel said. "A lethal Kzinti nerve gas. The gas is active for only about thirty secondswhich is twenty-eight seconds longer than it will take to kill everyone in the barracks. It wont affect Humans, just Klingons and Aaamazzarites."
McCoy flinched but held steadfast to his course of action. "Do it."
Miguel pulled out a breather mask and put it on. "Ill be back in fifteen minutes."
"Fifteen? Where all are you going?"
Miguel grabbed a belt of photon grenades. "Im going to take care of the barracks, seed the grenades around the perimeter, neutralize any guards, and cut power to everything but the lab and living quarters."
"All by yourself?" McCoy asked incredulously.
Miguel grinned grimly. "qaStaHvIS waram loS SaS Hugh SijlaH qetbogh loD!"
"Four thousand throats may be cut in one night by a running man." Miguel patted the handle of his dk tagh meaningfully.
"Stay in the shed until I get back, and keep your eyes open," Miguel directed. "Call me if you see anything unusual, or if you feel threatened."
With that, he was gone.
"Keep the old man out of harms way," McCoy grumbled as he reentered the shed. "Or just keep him out of the way, period!"
McCoy watched for what seemed like an eternity. Nothing moved on the grounds.
Then it suddenly got a lot darker. The only lights still lit were in the clone lab and in the living quarters, a rather spacious if roughhewn bungalow.
"Ill be damned," McCoy said. "He did it!"
Several more long, agonizing minutes dragged by before he saw a shape approaching the shed. McCoy tensed and brought his carbine up. His night goggles bathed the figure in green, and McCoy finally relaxed when he recognized Miguel. The half-Klingon youth slipped back into the shed and sat down next to his stepfather, exhaling quietly. "It is done," he murmured. "They are all dead. Only the three in the living quarters and the one in the lab still live." His eyes looked haunted as he peeled off his breather. "The guards in the barracks never stirred. They drew in perhaps two breaths after the psethene hit, then they perished."
McCoy lowered his head. "I wish thered been another way."
"There was no alternative. The perimeter guards were all incompetent louts, without honor. All but one." Miguel paused.
"You okay, son?"
"She was an Andorian female, youthful, beautiful," Miguel continued. "She looked so fragilewhich was deceptive. She would have been the most ferocious of them all. I sensed a great spirit emanating from her. She could have been a magnificent warrior. It is to her shame that she ended up here with these animals." He fingered a splotch of inky blue blood on his tunic. "She never knew what hit her."
Miguel shook himself and brought up his tricorder. "Lets make sure I completed the job."
McCoy aimed his scanner as well.
"maj!" Miguel exclaimed. "Four life signs. Khareg, Vetara and her daughter, and I assume the researcher in the clone lab. All Klingon life signs...toH! What is this?"
"I see it," McCoy whispered, a chill coursing down his spine.
The tricorder readout said it all. A new lifeform detected. Female. Human. McCoy recalibrated for a DNA scan. "Teresa?"
Miguel apparently had done the same. "Mother!" he breathed.
"A clone," McCoy said tersely.
Miguel ignored the correction. "We must get to her before Vetara decides to execute her. Still, we must use caution. Khareg would be a very formidable opponent."
"You sure youre not related to Spock, boy?" McCoy asked. "Hes got a gift for understatement, too. That damned Khmyrs a walking mountain!"
"Nonetheless, he will die as will Vetara," Miguel snarled. He gripped McCoys arm, and the expression on the young half-Klingons face was one of the most terrifying sights McCoy had ever seen. "Leonard, Vetara is mine! I have sworn the Ip Iw against her, and she must die by my hand. I will have bortaS for my mothers death."
"Youll get no argument from me, boy," McCoy returned. "I just want to put an end to this cloning bullcrap and get the hell out of here!"
Miguel nodded. "Lets get this over with before the sun rises again."
"One more thing, son. The child is not to be hurt. Suffer not the children to the sins of the father."
"That is not how a Klingon sees things."
"Im not Klingon, and I wont be party to the killing of a child. These maniacs are responsible for the deaths of Jimmy and Davie, but Ill be damned if I stoop any lower to their level...any more than I already have, that is."
They slipped out of the shed and into the night, melting into the darkness.U.S.S. Excelsior
Even their planet looks angry, Lieutenant Commander Boris Lojur thought as the image of the planet QonoS floated on the mainviewer. The Excelsior had arrived at the Klingon homeworld without incident, thanks to the recognition codes supplied by Ambassador Spock, and her helmsman skillfully inserted her into standard orbit.
Not without company, of course.
A wolfpack of three Ktinga battlecruisers surrounded the mighty starship, flying a seeming arms length away from Excelsiors port and starboard nacelles, and hovering above her saucer-shaped primary hull.
Lojur was on edge. Klingons made him nervous. He didnt care that an uneasy truce had been hammered out with the Klingons. He had never seen anything good come from an encounter with the knotheads.
"You have perhaps half a day before Azetbur realizes I am unnecessarily distracting her," Spock was saying to Sulu. "Hopefully, in that time you will be able to ascertain if Doctor McCoy is indeed on QonoS, as well as locate him and extricate him."
"Well do our best," Sulu said. He looked worried. "Are you sure you dont want a security escort, Spock?"
The Vulcan shook his head. "I will be fine, Captain Sulu. Besides, I always have my panic button." Spock fingered a small, unobtrusive green gem on his robe.
Sulu nodded in approval. "Punch that baby, and youll be instantaneously beamed aboard." Sulu hesitated. "Well...good luck, Spock."
"Thank you, Captain. The same to you." Spock turned, and left the bridge.
Sulu frowned. No pithy comments like Luck has nothing to do with it, Captain Sulu. As an ambassador, Spocks record was less than glowing. He was like a fish out of water. Gone was the confident, almost invincible science officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. In his place was a cautious, almost hesitant ambassador who seemed to be feeling his way along. It was almost as though the death of Jim Kirk had rendered Spock less than whole.
The captain of the Excelsior shook his head ruefully as he turned back to the conn. "Mister Tuvok, use low level and passive scans that wont be easily detected in the background subspace radiation. I need you to find a single Human reading down there, get a transporter lock on him and beam him up."
The Vulcan science officers right eyebrow canted. "Indeed," he said. "Location of search?"
"Commander Rand has the coordinates," Sulu replied. "Youll be checking the area of the Durit compound."
"That should not be extremely difficult," Tuvok remarked.
Rand snorted. "Wait until you try to pierce that subspace background radiation down there. The explosion of Praxis has made a hash out"
"Janice," Sulu interrupted, "any luck in picking up Doctor McCoys transponder frequency?" As Surgeon General of Starfleet, McCoy (like the rest of the Admiralty) had been equipped with a subcutaneous transponder.
"Not yet, sir," she replied. "The noise is a mess down there. Its like looking for a needle in a planet-sized haystack."
"Well, keep looking, both of you. And good hunting."
Sulu settled back in his command chair. Nothing to do now but wait. He hated waiting, but at the moment, that was about all he could do.
He watched the planet QonoS rotate slowly below them, and he sighed.QI'val Headquarters
Kor sipped from a steaming mug of tujyuch as he regarded the monitor. He pursed his lips in approval at the sweet taste of the beverage. "A warriors drink," he announced.
On the screen, he watched Miguel and McCoy as they stealthily crept across the darkened expanse of the Durit compound. The night vision telephoto lens on the spy holocam hovering three hundred dillicams above the compound tracked the progress of the two invaders in tack-sharp, close-up detail.
"If hes so good, why hasnt he detected the holocam?" Koloth sniffed disdainfully.
"He is not supposed to notice it. We cloaked it, Koloth!" Kang growled. "Give us a little credit!"
"Well, he never would have gotten in had it not been for the old nada from the Enterprise and his lInDabluch," Koloth persisted.
"I think he would have found a way," Kor responded. "His use of the targs carcass was ingenious. Ill admit, having Kirks physician along did not hurt him, but Miguel is very resourceful."
"Kirk." Kangs tone was somber, almost sad.
Koloth sighed. "At least he died with honor."
"Phah!" Kor spat. "Yes, he died with honor, but he did not die gloriously! A great warrior like Kirk should have gone out waist-deep in a river of blood, the corpses of his enemies piling up at his feetnot saving the hide of a fool of a ship captain, a bunch of green cadets and a horde of reporters!"
Both Kang and Koloth scowled and spat. "He deserved better," Koloth said.
"I hope when my time comes, I fare better than Kirk," Kang said. "I want to go out swinging my batlhetlh in a great arc, listening to the dying screams of my foes ringing out around me. And I would be honored if the two of you were at my side doing the same." Kangs expression was unreadable.
"Sounds like fun," Koloth said sourly.
"It would be glorious!" Kor enthused. "They would write songs about us! It is the only way to die!"
"Speaking of Kirk, does anyone else think its odd that his chief medical officer and first officer are both on QonoS, and one of his protégés and heirs, Captain Sulu, is in orbit with his starship?" Koloth queried.
"I would wager it is not a coincidence," Kang admitted. "Spock may very well be here for the same reason McCoy is."
"I disagree," Kor said. "Vulcans do not believe in bortaS. Now, Miguel and McCoy have a reasonTeresa Morales de la Vega was their mother and wife, respectively."
"Perhaps Spock is here to rescue McCoy," Koloth mused.
"If you ask me, Lady Vetara is the one who needs rescuing," Kang muttered.
Kor shook his head. "All these years," he murmured. "All these years we have been forbidden to strike. Had we known that the House of Durit was actually a house of cards, we could have eradicated this pestilence long ago. She is not nearly so formidable as we were led to believe."
"Possessing that cloning technology makes her the most dangerous being in the universe, if you ask me," Kang said with a scowl. "Wealth and power may have made her arrogant and complacent and careless, and much less dangerous than her father, but at some point, she would have tired of her game of bortaS with the Teresa clones, and realize she could use the technology to subvert planetary governmentsperhaps even our Empire itself."
"What makes you so sure she already hasnt?" Koloth asked softly.
Kang and Kor turned slowly to stare at their friend, aghast.
"How do we know for sure?" Koloth persisted. "She probably has not, but can we be absolutely sure? We should have known that her compound was more vulnerable than we thoughtwe did not. Perhaps we could have pushed harder for permission to attack. And she is still deadly. Durit is the wealthiest House in the Empire, and wealthas much as we may scorn itequals power. She has agents seeded through all levels of the government and the militaryall levels of Klingon society actually."
"But, if we kill the brain, the body dies!" Kang snarled, gesturing at the viewer. "And the brain is about to die. Her agents will cease to be effective once that happens."
A muscle clenched in Kors jaw as he watched McCoy and Miguel creep from bush to bush in the Durit compound. "If by some chance they fail," he said, "I say we go in and finish the jobthe Senate and Azetbur be damned!"
"Agreed!" Kang returned.
"I concur," Koloth added. "She must be stopped here!"
Kor took another sip of his drink. It was still agreeably hot, and it pleased him immensely, for some reason. "Speaking of someone who needs rescuing," he began, "shall we see what progress our Vulcan friend is making with our esteemed Chancellor Azetbur? Koloth, activate the auxiliary viewer."
A smaller screen to their right wavered into focus. They had a view of the main Senate chambers. Spock was seated at a long, polished table, a long suffering expression on his normally inscrutable face. Azetbur was pacing back and forth, gesticulating wildly.
There was no sound.
"Sorry," Koloth said sheepishly. "Her voice gets on my nerves."
"We dont need audio anywayI can tell you what she is saying," Kang put in with a chuckle. He raised the pitch of his voice until it resembled a shrill, strident female. "The Federation must rebuild our world," he mimicked. "After all, when you developed the Excelsior and Constellation class starships, the Klingon Empire was forced to begin its own military build-up in response to your threats. So the explosion of Praxis is actually the fault of the Federation and Starfleet, as is the current emergency within the Klingon Empire. The Federation must supply all out needs and wants and desires..."
Koloth turned up the audio feed. "...and in exchange for meeting all of our needs and wants and desires, the Klingon Empire will not attack the Federation, except in self-defense," Azetbur finished.
The three Klingons roared with laughter had how smoothly Kangs mockery of the chancellor had dovetailed into her actual speech.
On the screen, Spock exhaled slowly. "Madame Chancellor, may I point out that, due to your current emergency, you are in no position to attack anyone? As for the Federation supplying all the Empires needs and wants and desires, the current agreement to help you terraform your planet is more than equitable."
Azetbur drew a deep breath and clenched her fists. "Forgive me, Ambassador. I have not been myself lately. I have been irritable and tense."
"Perhaps a good laxative would be beneficial," Spock said, his expression bland.
The three eavesdropping Klingons started, their expressions shocked. "Did he just say what I thought he said?" Kang asked.
"Did the Vulcan just make a joke?" Kor queried. "I thought Vulcans lacked a sense of humor!"
"I do believe the good ambassador has just told the chancellor of the Klingon Empire that she was full of shit!" Koloth exclaimed.
They all started to bellow with laughter, but paused when Azetbur began to speak. "What would really be beneficial, Ambassador Spock, is some sleep!" The chancellors tones were clipped. "In case you havent noticed, it is the middle of the night here on QonoS!"
"She missed it!"Koloth was chagrined. "It went right over her head!"
"I met with you in deference to your office, Ambassador," Azetbur continued. "However, if you will excuse me, I find it necessary to get some rest. I will return in the morning, and we will continue our discussion."
Kor shook his head as she stormed from the chamber. "She will never be the chancellor her father was. However, she does show some promise. Perhaps someday, she will be a capable administrator."
"If she ever gets through her yIn choH!" Kang growled.
The three friends howled with laughter. Kors wide smile gradually tightened into a frown as he watched Spock still sitting at the table, toying with a padd. "Why is he here?" he wondered aloud. "His father was just here for a diplomatic conference less than a jar ago. I know it is a ruse. Is he here to help McCoy?"
"Most like hes here to find McCoy," Kang answered. "I doubt that Starfleet wouldve sent a physician to do an assassins work." He studied the screen. "Admirable. Kirks people are still very loyal to one another, even after his death."
"The Vulcan looks as if he would rather be doing anything else in the galaxy than speaking with Azetbur," Koloth offered.
"Go get him," Kor ordered. "Bring him here. I would really like to know what hes up to. I will keep an eye on our two friends here." He jerked a thumb at the adjacent viewscreen that displayed the images of the Durit compound. "Spock might be interested in their progress."
The Vulcan ambassador remained seated at the table, wondering if McCoy was indeed on QonoS and, if so, what he was doing there. His session with Azetbur was not going well at all. In the words of Ariel Cord, the Klingon chancellor was indeed a petulant, spoiled bitch. Spock had discovered, to his great distress, that his Human half was becoming more dominant as he grew older, and he found it increasingly difficult to hide the way he truly felt. He had become quite perturbed at Azetbur and her petty outbursts. It was fortuitous she had decided to go to bed; it had bought him several hours in which the Excelsior crew could find McCoy. The laxative remark had been most unfortunate, and he was certain that had one of her diplomatic retinue been present, he would not have gotten away with it.
Heavy footsteps echoed in the chamber, approaching at a rapid pace. Spock glanced up.
Two Klingons were bearing down on him. The taller one was dark, with a fierce expression and eyes that blazed like coals. The other one was a bit shorter and less muscular. He was pale-skinned with affable, almost friendly features. Even though their faces and foreheads were now gnarled with wrinkles and wisdom ridges, Spock recognized both of them.
Kang and Koloth.
Koloths face split into a grin. "My dear Ambassador Spock!" he exclaimed.
"My dear Ambassador Koloth," Spock returned. "And Admiral Kang."
Kang grunted non-committally. His two visitors sat on either side of him.
"To what do I owe the pleasure, gentlemen?"
"We have been monitoring your discussions with our esteemed Madame Chancellor," Koloth stated.
"Not a very auspicious beginning," Kang growled.
"Indeed," Spock allowed. He was not at all surprised he had been under observation. "Your chancellor can be a very vexing individual."
"There are some on QonoS who feel she is the most dangerous, unpredictable lifeform in the galaxy," Kang added.
"And how is Admiral Kor?" Spock answered, knowingly.
Koloth seemed fit to burst. "Spock, you must tell me. Your laxative commentit was a joke, was it not?"
Spock sighed. He seemed almost embarrassed. "It was an attempt at sarcastic humor," he murmured. "The Klingon concept of humor is most difficult to master. My remark was lost on Chancellor Azetbur. My timing must have been off."
"Your timing was impeccable!" Kang smiled the toothy grin of a predator, which, while fearsome, was at least genuine. "It was a great joke! Azetbur has no sense of humor!"
"Besides, if she had gotten the joke, she would have gutted you!" Koloth added. "Or at least, would have had one of her guards do it for her!"
The two Klingons howled with glee, and Kang heartily pounded Spock on the back, much to the Vulcans dismay.
As the laughter subsided, Koloth grew serious. "We are...curious...as to why you are really here, Spock," he said.
"We think we know why," Kang added. "We have something to show you which will be of great interest to you."
Spock appeared hesitant, and Koloth held his hands palms upturned. "On my word as a warrior, no tricks, no subterfuge," the Klingon said. "I think we have a common goal hereor at least our goals are completely compatible. You have nothing to fear from us."
"The Federation and the Empire are at a state of détente, remember?" Kang asked, sounding as if he were chewing on bullets. "While peace is not at hand, neither is war." He gestured to Spocks robes. "You may call the Excelsior, if it will make you feel any better."
"Unnecessary." Spock stood up, straightening his robes. "Shall we go?"
The trio strode down the long corridor, their footsteps echoing on the blood marble floor. Spock was curious, wondering what it was the Klingons wished him to see.
And he wondered, too, where Leonard McCoy was, and how he was faring.Clone Lab of the Durit Compound
Kyrlaag stood by awkwardly as her sobbing slowly subsided. She sat in his recliner, beautiful and vulnerable, her tiny body lost in the huge chair like a little girl. He had cleaned her up and trimmed and styled her hair in the fashion the Princess had favored. He had dressed her in a short, silken, wraparound robe and soft-soled boots.
He had told her everything, shown her the holo of the execution in the qlaI arena. She was slowly coming to grips with the truth, that she was a replica of the person she believed herself to be: Teresa Morales de la Vega Ruiz-Mendoza McCoy, the Princess of Serenidad.
What she would not have come to grips with, thankfully, was the she would soon be gruesomely executed by Lady Vetara qoln Durit. He was not going to allow that to happen.
She looked up at him, sniffling, her eyes red and swollen. "W-why are you h-helping me?" her voice quavered.
"Because of all the times I did not help you before," Kyrlaag answered. "Because I should have helped you twenty years agowhen Khalian had youand I did not. I told you I was not a HaDIbaH like Khalian, and I mean to prove it...Teresa."
She shook her head. "Im not Teresa, remember?"
Kyrlaag shrugged. "Who are you, then? You are as much Teresa as the originalevery cell, every thought, every emotion. You are she."
He held out his hand to her, and she took it. "Time to go," he said. "It is the middle of the night. We will never have a better chance."
She rose from the chair just as the doors to Kyrlaags lab hissed open.
Khareg loomed in the doorframe, filling it. He loosely gripped a nearly empty bottle of qilvan by its neck. He was decidedly drunk. His eyes burned like red coals as he leered lasciviously at the woman. There was no mistaking what he had come for.
"No." Teresas voice was tiny, terrified.
"I used to tlhap Vetara all the time until her husband impregnated her," he slurred. "She still let me have her, but now says shes too close to her delivery time for that." He patted his bulging crotch. "I need a female. You are the only one around. You will give me the only thing you are good for, you Human beSIj." Khareg set his bottle on a night stand and lumbered toward her.
Kyrlaag stepped between them. "Khareg, I cannot allow"
The giant Khmyr snarled and swept Kyrlaag aside with a crushing backhand blow that lifted the physician off his feet and slammed him against the opposite wall. The doctor slide to the floor, groaning in agony from several cracked ribs.
Khareg stripped down to a loincloth, kicking aside his boots, breeches and tunic. Grinning, he reached around to unclasp his last remaining garment.
Suddenly, he bellowed in pain and doubled over. Kyrlaag had managed to crawl across the floor and slam his fist into the huge Klingons groin.
"You annoy me, insect!" he hissed. "I mean to tlhap this little beSIj to death, and you are getting in my way!" Khareg smashed the bottle down across the physicians skull with all his might, and it shattered into flinders of glass. The physician went limp, bleeding heavily from a deep gash on his domed forehead.
Khareg turned and advanced toward Teresa, who oddly enough stood before him smiling. "Sweet little beSIj. You are looking forward to it, arent you?"
She untied her robe and let it slip off her shoulders, exposing her breasts to his hungry gaze, distracting him as the garment slid to the floor. He took a step toward her, as she cocked her head seductively. "I want you," she whispered.
Khareg roared in laughter. "Indeed, the stories of your wantonness are not exaggerated!"
Suddenly, unexpectedly, she thrust her hand forward. "I want you to die."
Khareg looked down and was stunned to see his own dk tagh slashing upward from his groin to his ribs. His bowels emptied out of the gaping hole onto the floor as he collapsed on them. He roared, this time in agony and disbelief. Bright, fuschia-colored blood was everywhere.
With a shriek of fury, Teresa drove the blade to the hilt into the Khmyrs neck. Khareg fell forward, his lifeless body twitching. "No one is ever going to rape me again," she promised softly. Looking at the blood on her body, she stepped to a lavatory next to the lab, and rinsed off in the shower. Quickly dressing in a brown jumpsuit she had found among the clothing selection of the replicator, she stepped back into the clone lab.
She donned the soft-sole boots, grabbed Kharegs weapons belt and cinched it down so it fit around her tiny waist. She withdrew the dagger from the Khmyrs neck, and after wiping the blood from it, she sheathed it. She adjusted the disruptor holster so it rode low on her hip, the way she liked it.
Teresa drew the disruptor. It felt good in her hand, even though it was far heavier than she wouldve liked and of an alien design. Her thumb rested lightly on the mounted trigger button.
A low guttural moan of pain shivered through the room. Teresa whirled back toward Khareg, but the Klingon had not moved. She glanced across the room to see Kyrlaag struggling to sit up among the shards of glass.
"Kyrlaag!" Teresa exclaimed. "I...I thought you were dead!"
"I am somewhat sturdier than you give me credit for," the physician gasped. "I am...glad to see you alive and well."
She rushed to his side and helped him to a kneeling position.
Kyrlaags gaze fell on Kharegs mangled remains. "By Feklhrs hooves! You butchered him! How did you manage that?"
"He had thrown his weapons belt aside when he was stripping down," she explained. "While he was dealing with you, I slipped his dk tagh out of its sheath." She chuckled mirthlessly. "The rest was simply manipulating the situation. I guess its true that all men think with their dicks."
Teresa cupped the startled physicians face in her hands and kissed him tenderly. "Thank you," she whispered. "You tried to save my life. You could have been killed! Diós, look at you!"
Kyrlaag winced in pain. "My...medikit is on the shelf. Could you...?"
Teresa stood up, and the room spun around her. She stood still, her knees wobbly, until the vertigo faded. "WhoaIm a little woozy myself," she said as she handed the kit to Kyrlaag.
The physician frowned. "Let me take a look at you after I make myself functional again." He broke out a protoplaser and closed the wound on his own forehead. "Did he hit you?" he asked as he ran a bone knitting laser over his ribcage. He coded a hypospray for a blood regenerator, a stimulant and a pain killer, and injected himself.
Within seconds, the tight lines of pain around his eyes eased, and his color improved. He exhaled. "Not as good as new, but it will do for now," he said. He scanner her with a medical tricorder.
"Youre in shock," he announced. "Fortunately, its not too serious." This treatment should take care of it within a few minutes." He placed a whirring device against her temple.
"I wondered if it was the beginnings of proxodone withdrawal," she said, referring to the drug which counteracted the effects of Klingon aphrodisiacs.
He shook his head. "That is one of the benefits of being a clone, little one. You are free from the addiction that plagued the real Princess Teresa." He recalibrated his device, and tucked it into his kit. "There," he said, satisfaction in his tone. "How do you feel now?"
"I feel wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Thank you!"
Suddenly, the doors slid open again. A large, muscular Klingon male stood in the shadows of the doorway, a Mark IX blaster carbine in his hands. With a cry of consternation, Teresa brought up her disruptor.
"MotherNo!" a familiar voice commanded.
"M-Miguel?" Teresa stammered. "Miguel, is that you?"
He moved into the light so she could see his face. There were tears in his eyes, and his expression was a blend of love, wonderand fear. He glanced at Kyrlaag, and his features hardened. "Move away from her, Qel!" he snapped.
Teresa stepped in front of the physician. "Miguel, no! Hes a friend."
"A friend?!" Miguel sneered in contempt. "He is the one who brought you and all the other clones of my mother to life so they could be butchered by Vetara! How many times have you died because of him?"
"He was forced to do this," Teresa said. "Yes, I have no doubt that many clones have died at Vetaras bloody hands, but Im here with you now because of him."
Tears stood in her eyes. "Isnt that enough for now? Pleaselet me hold you!"
They embraced and kissed, and Miguel finally broke down, almost sobbing. "Oh, MotherI was sure that you were lost forever! And nowto have you back..."
"It is me," Teresa whispered. "Its a new body, but inside, Im still the same person." She stroked his hair and shuddered. "Pleasetake me away from here!"
The doors slid aside again, this time revealing an out-of-breath Leonard McCoy, also cradling a Mark IX blaster carbine. "Good God, son, Im about to have a heart attack just tryin to keep up with you!
"Leonard!" Teresa delightedly squealed. She disengaged herself from Miguels embrace and rushed toward the doctor, arms wide open.
"Hold it!" McCoy shouted. "Stay right where you are!" He brought up his rifle and aimed it at Teresas chest. His blue eyes were huge with something very akin to sheer revulsion.
Teresas face crumpled. "Leonard, no," she quavered. "Youre here to save me!"
Miguel stepped between them. "Leonard, stop. This is mother."
"Shes Frankensteins monster is what she is," McCoy snarled. He gestured toward Kyrlaag. "And this, I take it, is Doctor Frankenstein himself."
"I am the creator of the cloning process, if that is what you mean," the Klingon responded.
"Well, boy, the partys over," McCoy growled. He handed Miguel a pair of photon grenades. "This ought to be enough to turn this building into a slag pit. Plant em right in the middle of the clone crèches, boy. I dont want so much as an atom to remain of these...creatures!"
The Starfleet doctor scowled, his expression growing even darker. "This is an abomination against Humanity, against Life itself!" He pointed his weapon at Teresas head. "Youyou get out there with them. You belong with themblown to bits when this place goes up. Youre a monster!"
With a snarl, Kyrlaag stepped forward. "You fool!" The Klingon raged. "Listen to yourself! Are you out of your mind?" This is your wife, perfect in every detail. Believe me. Each time one of her clones was murdered, they would call out your name as they died! Your wife has been restored to you. You would travel halfway across the galaxy to destroy her?"
"No!" The raw pain in McCoys voice was palpable. "I came to destroy this obscenity!" He gestured toward the tanks at the far side of the lab.
Kyrlaags expression softened. "You have been given a rare gift, McCoy. Your beloved was slain; now you can be with her again. Accept the gift!"
Tears slid down McCoys cheeks. "Dont you think I want to?" he choked, his voice cracking. "Dont you think I want to give in to the illusion when I see her, looking like thisexactly like my Teresa? But my wife is dead." He wiped his eyes and glared coldly at the clone. "Youyoure a freak of science, a travesty of genetics, and if you werent already sentient, Id leave you here with these...these...things!"
"Leonard." There was an odd note in Miguels voice.
McCoy frowned. "What is it, boy?"
"These clones," Miguel said, waving his tricorder at the tanks. "Theyre all dead."
McCoy hurried over to one of the tanks. For the first time, he noticed that there was no green generative fluid inside. The naked body was the color of putty, not the healthy pink of a living thing. The lips were peeled back over the teeth in a grinning rictus of deathan early sign of decay.
"I drained the tanks and shut off life support hours ago," Kyrlaag supplied. "I deleted her engram memory patterns and the program itself as well." He gestured to the Teresa clone. "She is now the only Princess Teresa in existence."
"Lets keep it at that," McCoy said tersely. "Once we blast the bodies of these clones to Kingdom Come, no one should be able to duplicate this horror!"
"Drop all weapons!"
They had not heard Vetara enter the lab. The disruptor rifle in her hands did not waver as it aimed unerringly at Teresas midsection. The Klingon females face was contorted with rage. Miguel and McCoy still grasped their carbines. "Drop them...or the beSIj dies!"
Miguel tossed his weapon aside, but McCoy still clung to his. The half-Klingon youth wrenched the rifle from his stepfathers grip and flung it to the floor. The physician glared at Miguel.
Teresas right hand surreptitiously crawled toward the disruptor pistol slung low on her hip, but Vetara caught the almost imperceptible motion.
"Dont!" the Klingon woman growled. "I know that you are very fast, but all I need to do is press the trigger. Ease it out of the holster and throw it away."
Teresa did as she was ordered, then raised her hands.
"toH! A touching family reunion!" Vetaras scowl deepened. "I will give you credit for getting past my mercenaries and guards. I would like to know how you managed that."
Miguel smiled wolfishly. "Your guards have been...neutralized."
Vetara snorted. "You fancy yourself a comedian, half-breed? You and this weakling Human Qel dispatched all my security force? Were I not so angry, I would laugh at that notion."
Miguels grin grew smug. "Call them, if you do not believe me."
Something about the young mans self-assurance chilled Vetara. She glanced down for an instant to unclip her communicator from her sash, and as she did so, Miguel seemed to flow forward in one, long , smooth, sliding step. Good! He was almost close enough. He balanced on the balls of his feet, ready to strike if the opportunity arose.
"Khulag, report!" Vetara snapped into her communicator. "Stera! Grulka! Mordor! Anyonereport now!"
Her only answer was static.
Vetara paled. "I...I do not believe this! How did you...I cannot believe that Khareg did not stop you! The drunken lout! He is probably passed out in a corridor somewhere. Khareg!!"
As she screamed into the comm grid, Teresa chuckled, "You wont need that. He cant hear you anymore."
"What...what do you mean? Where is Khareg?" the Klingon woman stammered.
Miguel stepped aside, sidling another step closer to Vetara as he did so. He gestured toward the body of the fallen henchmans corpse.
Vetaras banshee wail of primal anguish made the hair on McCoys neck stand on end. "You!" she shrieked at Teresa. "You did this."
"Yes. Yes, I did," Teresa countered defiantly.
"You did more than simply kill him!" the Klingon woman raged. "You, a Human woman, you have denied him entrance into the warriors paradise of Sto-vo-kor! He will be scorned by the spirits of the great warriors who have gone before him. He will be forced to spend eternity in the limbo of Grethor! Feklhr will taunt him until the ends of time for being bested by a Human female!"
Vetara raised her rifle. "For that, you will die now!" she hissed.
Kyrlaag threw himself forward, knocking Teresa aside. The disruptor blast caught him fully in the chest; he disappeared in a spray of atoms, his dying shriek echoing in the chamber.
"Kyrlaag!" Teresa wailed. "Nooooooo!"
Miguel had started moving as soon as the doomed physician had lunged forward. He grabbed the barrel of Vetaras weapon and wrenched it from her hands, and knocked her to the floor with a vicious backhand slap. Vetara sprawled on her back, dazed, wiping blood from her split lip.
Miguel threw the rifle away and drew his dk tagh. The claw blades snicked out with a metallic click. "Now, its your turn, bitch!" he snarled. "I have sworn the blood oath against you. I am going to gut you from crotch to chinonly the merest fraction of the pain you have inflicted upon your victims! But, unfortunately, I can only kill you once!"
"Noplease!" Vetara begged. "Your mother is returned to life! There is no need to slay me! And I carry an unborn sonsurely, you would not kill a pregnant female!"
"Nits make lice," Miguel growled. "He must die as well!" He stood over her and reached down to grab her by the hair.
Vetara timed her kick perfectly. She smashed the toe of her boot into Miguels unprotected groin. He bellowed in pain and dropped to his knees.
The Klingon woman scrambled out into the corridor, screaming. She struggled to her feet and ran as fast as she could, cursing the ungainly bulk of her clumsy, grossly pregnant body. She staggered out into the darkness.
The horizon was brightening with the first light of dawn. She would have to find a hiding place, and quickly. The screams of jungle predators rang out in the dying night. Vetara shivered.
Power was out, and the compounds screens were down. She wondered if any deadly beasts had come over the walls. Behind her, she head the crunch of boots, and the heavy, unhurried tread of footsteps relentlessly stalking her.
The beSIjs son! Her eyes still unaccustomed to the pitch blackness, she ran about twenty paces before she tripped over something soft and yielding. Vetara sprawled headlong into the dirt.
She had stumbled over the body of Sreeta, a young Andorian female who was one of her better mercenaries. The girls throat had been slashed from ear to ear.
With a cry of dismay, Vetara lurched drunkenly to her feet, realizing that the sound of her fall and her subsequent scream had given away from her position. She charged blindly forward, disoriented, terrified, panting heavily from the unaccustomed exertion. She glanced over her shoulder, and now she could make out Miguels muscular form in the gathering light, following her at the same steady pace, supremely confidence in his ability to overtake her.
Suddenly, the ground dropped out from under Vetaras feet, and she stepped out into nothingness. She shrieked helplessly as she fell.
By the time Miguel reached the edge of the targ pit, the blood-curdling screaming had ceased. The edge of the first suns blazing disc had leaped over the horizon, flooding the compound with harsh, garish light.
Miguel gazed down into the pit and grimaced. The targs had torn Vetara apart, and were devouring her bloody, scattered remains. One of the beasts raised its bloody snout toward Miguel, snorted, and returned to its grisly feast.
Miguel heard running footsteps behind him. His mother, followed by McCoy. "Stop!" he commanded, holding up a hand. "Dont come any closerits dangerous!"
"Vetara?" Teresa queried.
"She is no more," Miguel rumbled. "She was eaten alive by her own pack of targs."
Teresa covered her mouth. "Oh, mio Diós!" she exclaimed. "How horrible!"
Her son shook his head. "A gruesome death, but well-deserved," he said. "Much quicker and more merciful than the fates of most of her victims."
A panting McCoy handed Miguel his blaster carbine. "Cmon, boy, lets get outta here," he drawled. "Lemme set the timer for those grenades." He pulled a palm-sized controller from his pack and gasped. "My God!"
"What is it?" Miguel demanded.
"This timers already rollin," the physician exclaimed. "We got three minutes and twelve seconds leftand we gotta be at least a kilometer away from here when this place goes up!"
Wordlessly, Miguel scooped up McCoy and Teresa, one in each arm, as if they were children. He did not waste time asking how the control pad had been set, how the grenades had been armed.
He just began to run.
He ran like the wind, faster than the fastest Human in the galaxy could ever hope to move. He pounded over the ground of the Durit compound, his powerful legs driving like pistons. When he came to the wall surrounding the grounds, he paused just long enough to blast a hole through the stonework, and charged into the jungle.
The tangled undergrowth slowed him down; still, he kept plowing forward. His two terrified passengers clung to him for dear life as he blasted a path through vines and thickets and carnivorous plants and luckless predators who dared to challenge him.
Finally, Miguel had to stop. His chest heaved as he fought for breath, and sweat drenched his body. "How...how far?" he panted.
"A little over a mile," McCoy answered dejectedly. "Were about half a mile short with fifteen seconds to go." He glanced down, his face dark with guilt and remorse. "I...Im sorry, boy. I was a fool to think I couldve done this alonean old fool. Now Im gonna get us both killed."
Miguel clapped him on the shoulder. "It was an effort worthy of a warrior. Even though you are Human, they wouldve written songs about it, songs that would last forever. I am glad to have known you, Leonard McCoy."
The doctors smile was rueful. "Me, too, Miguel. I just wish things had turned out differently."
Teresa, still clinging to Miguels neck, reached out an arm to McCoy to include him in the embrace, but the physician pulled away. "Leonard, please!" she sobbed. "I love you."
The earth shook then, and a column of blinding, incandescent white energy erupted several hundred feet into the air, like a geyser of light. The pillar collapsed upon itself, and a fifty meter wall of energy spread out across the ground, a tidal wave vaporizing everything in its path, spreading like the ripples of a pebble thrown into the pond.
They stood and watched as death approached, transfixed as much by fascination as by horror. A cloud of dirt and debris fled ahead of the energy wall. A gale wind and an elemental roar of sound, like a tornado, nearly knocked them off their feet. Teresa buried her face in her sons broad shoulder. Miguel and McCoy blinked against the sting of flying dirt and gravel and struggled to stay on their feet.
Something heavy landed at Miguels feet. The young Klingon glanced down to see the smoked, scorched shield of the Durit coat-of-arms. He nearly laughed aloud at the irony of it. McCoy closed his eyes against the blinding arc-light glare of the energy wave. This is it, he thought. Teresa, Jim, Scotty, boysIll be with you in a few seconds.
And then he felt the familiar tingle of a transporter beam seizing the molecules of his body. There was that brief instant of disorientation and nothingness, and then the sound, the wind, and the light were all gone. It was blessedly quiet.
McCoy opened his eyes with a fair amount of trepidation.
The first thing he saw was a flag, a big one, emblazoned with the moon and dagger insignia of the Klingon Empire. The stone walls were festooned with shields and very nasty-looking weapons sporting various combinations of razor-keen blades. Beyond that, the room was spartana large desk, a few chairs. McCoy assumed it was the office of a Klingon warlord.
He was right.
"Welcome to Klingon High Command, Doctor McCoy," the tall, well-muscled Klingon behind the personnel transporter console growled.
Like his two companions who stood to either side of him, he was older now, and grayer, his brow and forehead gnarled with the wisdom ridges of advancing age. All three of them wore full battle armor with trappings that denoted the rank of admiral.
McCoy recognized them all. "Admiral Kang," he said, nodding fractionally to the warrior at the console. "Admiral Kor, Admiral Koloth."
A figure in ambassadors robes stepped from the shadows.
"Spock!" McCoy exclaimed, his face splitting into a huge grin. "By God, Im so glad to see ya, I could kiss ya! Come to think of it, I will kiss you!"
Before the startled Vulcan could react, McCoy grabbed Spock in a bear hug, and planted a smacker on his victims cheek. Spocks eyes widened and his brows climbed toward his hairline.
"What took you guys so long?" the physician demanded.
"We had been tracking you, but we lost you when you went inside the clone laboratory," Kor supplied. "When you came outside again, you started moving very quickly. It was fortunate we finally got a lock on you when you stopped running."
"Not a second too soon," McCoy grumbled.
Miguel had set Teresa on the floor, and she slowly turned to face them.
Spock nearly gasped aloud. "Teresita," he whispered. "Quas-i-tu?"
"Yes, Spock. It is me," she replied.
He approached her, stretching out his hand toward her temple. "May I?"
"Of course," Teresa replied. "You need to verify"
"Verify what?" McCoy grated. "That you are a genetic experiment gone amok?"
Spock ignored the tirade. "My mind to your mind," he murmured, placing his fingertips on her face to initiate a mind meld. "My thoughts to your thoughts."
After several long moments, Spock pulled his hand away, his face wreathed in an almost beatific smile. He embraced the woman tenderly, then turned toward the Klingons and McCoy. "Gentlemen, this is Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega Ruiz-Mendoza McCoy of the planet Serenidad."
"I was going to say, if shes not the Princess, shes a dead ringer," Koloth commented.
"Doctor...Leonard..." Spock began gently. "This is Teresa. This is your wife."
"My wife is dead," McCoy spat.
"I hate to break this up," Kangs voice was a near snarl, "but Chancellor Azetbur has ordered McCoy and Miguel to report on the...incident at the Durit Compound."
"Incident?" the doctor snorted. "I guess thats one way to put it."
Miguel brandished the still smoldering coat-of-arms that had beamed in with them. "Yeslet us go report to Chancellor Azetbur."
"A moment," Kor held up his hand. "The three of us will go with you. It would not do for the Princess to be seen by anyone else, however. She would be...difficult to explain."
"I have an aide who can be trusted." Kang pressed a button on a desk-mounted intercom panel. "Korvak, report,"
A young Segh vav Klingon entered the office within moments. His eyes widened when he saw Teresa, but he said nothingalthough it was clear he recognized her.
"Korvak, no one is to enter this office until we return, and no one is to see the young lady," Kang rumbled. He leaned in almost nose-to-nose with the slightly shorter Klingon. "And if I ever hear anyone say that they know who was in this room today, I will assume your tongue was waggingand I will tear it out by the roots and let you drown in your own blood. Understand?"
Korvaks expression did not change, but he swallowed hard. "Understood, my lord," he answered.
They left for the Council Chamber at a brisk pace. Miguel led the pack with his long, effortless strides. The three admirals were right behind him, and McCoy practically had to run to keep up with them.
The half-Klingon youth flung open the doors to the chamber and barged right in without waiting to be announced. He strode boldly up to the dais where Azetbur sat enthroned.
"What is the meaning of this?" she indignantly demanded. "How dare you"
"You ordered us to report, Madame Chancellor," Miguel cut her off. "We are reporting."
"Be that as it may, there is protocol to be"
Miguel tossed the smoking Durit coat-of-arms at Azetburs feet. It landed with a loud clang. "She is no more," he grated. "The House of Durit is destroyed. You need no longer cower in fear at the mere mention of her name."
Several senators leaped to their feet, bellowing in outrage, but Azetbur silenced them by pounding on the dais with the dragons tooth scepter. "How did it happen?" she asked quietly.
"She was eaten alive by a pack of wild targs," Miguel replied.
"What of her child?"
Miguel shrugged. "It was devoured along with her."
"I realize that," the Chancellor said. "What of her infant daughter?"
"My God!" McCoy rasped. "That poor little baby!"
Miguel looked stunned. "I...by the Lords of Kheloz, in all the excitement, we forgot about her! She surely perished in the explosion!"
Azetbur tossed her head, dismissively. "It matters not. If she survived, she would have been discommodeda Klingon without family, without honor. She would have been left in the jungle as nourishment for the predators."
McCoys blue eyes flew open wide in shock. "Thats inhuman! Its barbaric!" he sputtered indignantly.
Azetbur regarded him coldly. "No, it is not Human," she conceded. "It is the Klingon way, Doctor McCoy." She began to pace slowly and deliberately. "What of the...experiments that were being conducted at the compound?"
"Everything there was destroyed in the attack," Kang said smoothly. "Nothing remains. Had she succeeded, Vetara could eventually have replaced every member of the ruling body with her clones."
"The researcher who Vetara blackmailed into performing the experiments, Kyrlaag, also died. I would like to see to it that his family is notified that he died bravely and with great honor," Miguel said.
"So be it," Azetbur closed her pacing and stared piercingly at them. "Gentlemen, you have done us a great service. You have removed the specter of Vetaras power and enabled us to absorb her vast wealth into our treasury. You have removed a sharp, poisonous thorn from our side. We are in your debt. Name your reward."
"Well, I just want to get home and forget about all this," the doctor wearily rasped. "Yall can do me a favor, thoughreinstate my boy here as the Federation liaison between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Due to his heritage, he has a unique perspective on both our peoples."
Azetbur nodded, a smile playing about her lips. "It is done. Miguel-neS, you may resume your duties whenever you wish."
An astonished Miguel opened and closed his mouth several times before he found his voice, taken aback by his turn of good fortune and Azetburs use of a Klingon honorific with his name. "I...I am honored, Madame Chancellor. I will need a week or two to get my affairs in order, and I will report to QonoS."
"maj!" Azetbur said. She glanced at McCoy again. "A noble gesture, Qel. Are you sure there is nothing you want?"
"Nope. Just some peace and quieta no disrespect or offense intended, but I need to get away from here to find it."
"I see." The Chancellors eyes narrowed. "Doctor, did you find what you were looking for on QonoS?"
McCoy regarded her with bright blue eyes. Without hesitation, and in all truthfulness, he answered, "No, maam, I did not." He did not see Spocks almost imperceptible frown at his choice of words.
"Then by my decree, I declare IpIw rInquneSmeHthe honorable end to the blood oaths of all involved. Honor has been served; the bloodshed must end."
"Thank you, Madame Chancellor." He bowed deeply and turned to leave.
The Vulcan moved to follow his friend, but Azetbur halted him with a clipped command. "Spockmev!" she exclaimed.
Spock turned slowly to face her.
"Ambassador, your visit here was a ruse, a deception. It is a serious breach of protocolone which I will overlook this time because of the fierce loyalty you demonstrated toward your friends. However, I will not tolerate such subterfuge again! yaja?"
"Understood, Madame Chancellor," he intoned. The Vulcan quickly caught up to the others with long, unhurried strides.
Miguel and McCoy were engaged in a heated argument. "...understand why you cannot accept it!" the young Klingon growled. "Yes, it is a miracle! Yes, it is difficult to believe! But believe me: my motheryour wifeis back!"
"Youre crazy, boy!" McCoy raged. "She aint no more your mother than Spock here! I dont wanna discuss it any more! Period!"
McCoy stalked into the room behind the three Klingon admirals, with Miguel and Spock bringing up the rear. He moved as far away from Teresa as he possibly could, pointedly ignoring her.
A fresh tear slid down the womans beautiful face. "She is not safe here," Kor said, motioning to Teresa. "Even though détente now exists between Federation and Empire, old hatreds die hard. There are many who would slay her on sight."
Suddenly, there was a clang of surgical-sharp steel as Kang tore his dk tagh from its sheath. Miguel growled as he brought up his blaster, and Spock turned, ready to spring.
But the big Klingon only sliced the palm of his hand. "Her secret is safe," he snarled. "No one will speak of her existence outside these chambers!"
Kor and Koloth extended their outstretched palms, and Kangs aide Korvak slowly followed suit. Kang slashed three more times, and the four Klingons joined hands, their blood mingling. "Swear the blood oath that you will not speak of the existence of the resurrected Princess of Serenidad to anyone other than those present in this room, and only within these shielded walls."
"I swear," each of his cohorts declared.
"I swear," Kang repeated. He wiped his blade and sheathed it, then thrust his palm at a flaming torch on the wall to seal his wound. "No one will know," the Klingon stated flatly.
"You have my gratitude, Admiral Kang," Miguel said. He turned to Spock. "Ambassador, perhaps we should get Mother off planet immediately."
"Agreed," the Vulcan returned, nodding. "I shall contact Captain Sulu and beam up first. He will require some...preparation." He flipped open his communicator, raising an eyebrow as he noticed that Leonard McCoy had found something fascinating to observe beyond the window in the dense terraformed jungle just beyond the High Command complex. "Spock to Excelsior," he intoned. "Captain Sulu, please..."
Hikaru Sulus headache had a headache. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Let me get this straight," he said wearily. "You dont want anyone in the transporter room when the landing party beams upnot even me or my chief medical officer?"
"Affirmative," Spock replied. "I am quite capable of handling the transporter console myself."
"Im well aware of that," Sulu said. "Its just that...why cant we be here to see who beams up?"
"What weve discovered on QonoS is...extraordinary," Spock answered. "It would be prudent to limit the number of individuals who witness what we found."
"Thats pretty cryptic, Ambassador," Sulu commented. "Care to elaborate a little?"
Spock pursed his lips. "I would rather not at this point."
Sulu rubbed his eyes. "You want me to let you beam up God knows who or what aboard my ship, and Im not even allowed to be there?"
The Vulcan sighed, nearing exasperation. "Captain....Hikaru, you have ascertained that I am who I claim to be. I am not going to explode. I have not been brain-washed or programmed. I am not going to pull out a concealed weapon and start firing away. You have known me for thirty point three years. I have never jeopardized any starship. I have never jeopardized any lives. Why do you not trust me on this matter?"
"I do trust you, Spock," the captain of the Excelsior replied. "However, you of all people should realize that, as the commanding officer of this ship, I am responsible for everything that happens aboard her. Im not comfortable with this scenario, even when its you who is involved. There are still too many terrorist organizations and fanatics on QonoS for my tastes."
Sulu paced slowly around the spacious briefing room. He paused in front of the huge transparent aluminum portal and gazed down at the slowly spinning orb of QonoS far below.
He came to a decision. "All right, Spock. Ill clear the transporter deck, and you can handle the controls."
"Thank you, Captain," Spock began. "I will"
"However," Sulu continued, "I will be present in the transporter room with you. Thats the dealtake it or leave it."
Spock hesitated. It was obvious that Excelsiors captain was not going to budge. The Vulcan sighed. "As you wish," he finally conceded. "I would also request that the corridors be cleared of all personnel from the transporter room to the VIP cabins where I would like to sequester the landing party. I would additionally request that the areas adjacent to those quarters be declared off-limits for the duration of our return journey to Earth."
Sulu raised and eyebrow in a fair imitation of the Vulcan ambassador, and directed his voice and spoke toward the ceiling mike. "Sulu to Security."
"Brai here, Captain," came the chief security officers reply.
"Lieutenant, clear Transporter Room One of all personnel. I also want you to clear all corridors from there to the VIP deck. Corridors adjacent to the VIP quarters are to be off-limits to all crew until further notice."
There was a long pause. "A strange request, Captain," the Rigelian Kaylar finally said.
"That wasnt a request, Mister. That was an order," Sulu snapped.
In the background, Transporter Chief Kyoto Hamilton began to make his feelings known. "Captain, what the hell kind of bullshit is going"
"Belay that, Chief!" Sulu commanded. "The orders apply to you as well. Everyone off the deck and out of the corridors! Sulu out."
The captain closed the channel and grinned ruefully at Spock. "I hope youre happy with the arrangements, Mister Ambassador," he said. "I am going to get my ears blistered by my security chief about potential security risks once your guests are ensconced in their cabin."
Spock allowed himself a slight smile. "My apologies, Captain Sulu, for the inconvenience. And since youve made it clear that you will be present, shall we adjourn to the transporter room?"
Three pillars of light shimmered into existence, then focused into Doctor Leonard McCoy, his half-Klingon stepson Miguel, and... "My...God!" He stepped forward and embraced Princess Teresa, tears stinging his eyes. "Incredible! We thought you were dead! Im delighted to find you alive and well!"
The captain turned to a scowling McCoy. "Doctor, Ill put you and Teresa in the stateroom, of course. Would you like your stepson in an adjoining cabin?"
"Itll be a cold day in hell when I let that...abomination in my cabin, Captain. Does this ship have a rec room?"
Sulu nodded. "Of course, Doctor. The forward section Deck Five has a large recreation room and dining area."
"Is there a bar there?"
Sulus eyes narrowed. "Yes, sir."
"Ill be there if you need me." The doctor stormed out the door, leaving a tearful Teresa and an angry Miguel in his wake.
"Did I say something wrong?" asked Sulu.
"Ill go talk with him," the Vulcan answered. "Please see to the Princess and Miguel."
"There you are, Doctor," Spock said, as he approached his friend.
McCoy, showered and shaved, sat leaning against the transparent aluminum portal frame, staring out into space. He hadnt touched the glass of Romulan ale the pleasant deck manager in the big floppy hat and purple outfit had poured him an hour ago. She had tried to get him to talk, but he really had nothing to say. Not to her, not to that thing that thought it was Teresa, not even to Spock.
"Go away, Spock."
The deck manager glanced at the two legends, and directed everyone else out of the forward recreation deck, closing and sealing the doors behind her.
Spock nodded in appreciation at the gesture, then turned his attention to McCoy. "You must address this matter at some point, Doctor, and when you do, I will be waiting." The Vulcan assumed a stance of infinite patience.
Realizing that the Vulcan would probably stand there until Hell itself froze over, McCoy decided to correct his friends misperceptions. "Shes not Teresa, Spock. My wife died a year ago on that planet we left behind an hour ago."
"Doctor...Leonard, I feel obligated if not compelled to tell you that the clone, for all intents and purposes, is Teresa."
"Spock, that...that creature is not my wife!"
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "Then I am not Spock."
"What the hell are you talkin about? Of course youre Spock!"
"I died in the Engineering room of the starship Enterprise, NCC-1701, on Stardate 8135.2 just as Princess Teresa died on QonoS on Stardate"
"Thats preposterous, Spock, and you know it! That thing is an abomination!"
"Then I am an abomination as well. I was resurrected by the Genesis Wave. In a similar way, Teresa herself has been resurrected by the cloning process. Both of our bodies are replicas, even though they appear to be our original forms. But the essence of what makes me Spock...and what makes her Teresa...is intact and has been implanted into our current physical forms. Only the processes through which we were revived are different. You accept me as Spock. Why can you not...why will you not accept her as Teresa?"
For once in a very very long time, Leonard McCoy was speechless. Hed never even thought of that.
"A difference which makes no difference is no difference," Spock stated categorically.
The Vulcan glanced around the empty rec deck. "Leonard, I would be more than willing to mind-meld with you to prove to you that Teresa has in fact been returned to you."
Reluctance flooded McCoys chest. "I really hate mind-melds, Spock. Do you know that?"
"Having shared your being for a brief time, I assure you that I am aware of your antipathy toward the technique. Ive never understood it."
The doctor chuckled mirthlessly. "Its because youre digging around in someone elses head, and that just isnt natural, Spock. But more importantly, in this case, its my head youre wanting to dig around in. And Im not sure youre going to like what you find."
"You are most likely correct. However, for your well-being, and for hers, I am willing to do this...if you will let me."
McCoy stared into the Vulcans piercing eyes. "All right, damn you, all right. Mind-meld with me, for all the good it will do."
Spock gingerly reached out with his fingers and with his mind. Suddenly, he recoiled in horror at the raw, psychic pain in McCoys mind. He understood the torment. McCoy had literally lived through each of the clones deaths. It was utterly a testament to the strength his friends will that he was still sane! He pulled away from the physicians mind.
"Told you it wasnt going to be pretty, Spock."
"I had no idea, my friend, of your torment. Had I truly understood, I wouldve immediately come to Earth and escorted you myself on your mission to QonoS. I beg forgiveness."
McCoy looked at the tenderness in the Vulcans eyes, and tears threatened to well up his own. Steeling himself, Spock placed his hands on McCoys face and temples. "Release your pain," Spock urged.
Suddenly, a torrent like a tidal wave of anger, hatred, pain and fear, washed over the Vulcan.
For a moment, he was fearful he would drown in the emotions released, but soon, the Vulcan found himself on the surface of a calm sea, sitting in a small bass boat with Leonard McCoy who had a fishing pole in one hand and a glass of sweet tea in the other. "Thought Id lost you there for a moment, Spock." "Indeed. I thought I was going to perish." The Vulcan looked at the sea. "How do you deal with such a flood of emotions?" The doctor chuckled. "I guess because the alternativethe dry arid desert of your non-emotional mindis so devoid of life, of what it means to be alive." Recognition flashed through Spocks mind. "The old man and the sea! Is that how you see yourself?" "Took you long enough." McCoy laughed. "Well, I think its time we moved on to the main event." The water in front of them roiled and coalesced, and gradually morphed into vaguely Human shapes. From out of the waves, figures arose. The doctor recognized Teresa as a child, happily sitting with Don Fernando Morales de la Vega, the sovereign king of the planet Serenidad. She was so happy as a child, he knew. Her only regret was never having known her mother. The scene shifted to a young woman being raped by the headmaster of her finishing school. McCoy felt her horror and the piercing pain she experienced and sensed the secret, guilty shame she had carried with her since. I never knew that, he thought with dismay. She never told me. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, she grew into a wild, promiscuous teenager, indiscriminately coupling with men and boys of all ages, experimenting with her body, using it to get what she wanted. Suddenly, a young man rose above the waves and took her hand and her heart. Carlos, McCoy recognized the youth as Teresa settled down. Suddenly, a figure looking like James T. Kirk rose from the waves and gunned down the figure of Don Fernando. The assassination. The Klingon agent had been made to look like Jim. The figure transformed into a Klingon who was gunned down in turn by Carlos. And then all hell broke loose. McCoy watched in horror as Klingons captured Teresa and Carlos. He saw her raped and tortured in the hands of their war party. The utter violence threatened to overwhelm both Spock and McCoy. He witnessed the occupation of Serenidad, the birth of Miguel and the death of Carlos. He saw Teresa as Khalians sex slave, forced to bear the mad Khmyr admiral a daughter and twin sons. He saw her sliced to pieces in the blood HoHtaj ritual, saw himself and Jim Kirk and a band of mercenaries rescue her from QonoS. He saw himself at her side, perform countless surgeries on her, restoring her horribly mangled body to its original beauty and grace. He saw her waving to him as he returned to the Enterprise, leaving her behind to raise her half-Klingon son on Serenidad and felt the wrenching of her heart . He saw his return to Earth, his wedding to Teresa, the births of their two sons. He sensed the abject shame she felt for all the times proxodone deprivation drove her to the strip clubs and brothels of Serenidads capitol city, Castillo Nuevo, where she vainly sought to quench her uncontrollable sexual desire. He watched as faceless men and women took advantage of her condition, a level of sexual depravity he was sure hadnt been seen since Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. He shared Teresas sick horror and cried out aloud as he witnessed the murders of their little sons, Davie and Jimmy. He felt her empty satisfaction as Teresa killed the female Klingon fiend who committed the atrocity. He experienced her terror and agony as he watched as the female qlaI captors raped, tortured and abused her aboard a Klingon bird of prey. He felt her dread as she sat in the small cell, waiting for her death on the planet QonoS. He felt her confusion as he watched her awaken in Kyrlaags clone lab, and the rejection she felt whenever he looked at her. But through all the pain and terror, one thing shone through: Teresas undying, unswerving love for Leonard H. McCoy. He watched as her form sank into the waters of the sea, and watched as the waters receded, leaving the boat containing Spock and himself on a small island. "Ive been a fool, Spock," the doctor said, putting down the fishing pole. "Yes, you have," the Vulcan readily agreed. "I was so sure that having just finally put her ghost to rest that this would all end up being just another cruel trick by fate. That I would lose her all over again." "You have never lost her. And you never will."
Spock broke the link. There were tears on the faces of both men. McCoy threw his arm across his eyes and wept, sobbing aloud.
The door buzzed in her stateroom. "Come in," she said softly as she stared out the portal, watching the stars streak by. She did not dare to turn to look at him. She could not bear to be rejected again. "Do I have a soul?" she sniffled. "All those other replicas of me that Vetara killeddid they have souls?"
"I dont know, Sita. Only God himself could know that."
Teresa turned to face Leonard McCoy. "I am so confused. I believe I am Teresa Morales de la Vega Ruiz-Mendoza McCoy, and yet I know that I am not. I grieve for our murdered sons, and yet I never gave birth to them. I am Teresa, and yet, I am not. Its so hard for me to accept what I am!"
"It was so hard for me to accept you for who you are." The physician stepped forward and took her in his arms, kissing her forehead gently. "I am so, so sorry for the way Ive treated you. I was just so afraid that it would turn out that it wasnt really you. I know better now. Spocks right: A difference which makes no difference is no difference."
She gazed up at him, tears on her eyelashes.
"You have never looked more beautiful," McCoy said softly.
She kissed him and hugged him tightly. "I need you," she whispered. "I want you. Make love to me, Leonard." A mischievous smile crossed her lips. "And please be gentle; its my first time."
They made love. It was intense and completely reaffirming. It was passionate, and full of the very joy of life, a celebration of living.
As they collapsed into each others arms, McCoy chuckled.
"Whats so funny?" Teresa asked.
"I was just thinkingI just deflowered a virgin who knows more tricks and techniques than a green Orion animal woman!"
She playfully swatted him with a pillow. He felt backwards onto the bed, and pulled her down to cuddle. Suddenly, he grew very serious.
"Teresa, its been eleven months since you died, and theres really no way you can return to Serenidad. The Council is now a fledgling democracy, and the Palace itself has been turned into a museum and library and the new seat of the new-government.
"Whos in charge?" she asked.
"Presidente Tomás Mendoza," he answered. "Hes a good and honorable man, Teresa. Hes good for Serenidad."
She nodded in approval. "Tomás is indeed a good man, unlike most of the rest of Carlos family."
McCoys eyes conveyed a warning. "But if you return, thered be a civil warnot to mention a lot of explaining to do. Your people still love you fiercely. Theyd demand the overthrow of the government to put you back in power, and riot if their demands were not met."
She sighed heavily. "Then its best that Princess Teresa remains dead."
"And what of you, then, Teresa?"
She smiled seductively. "In a...past life, I was married to a wonderful, wonderful mana bit of a curmudgeon, but a real sweetheart. Ive often wondered what it would be like to live on the beautiful family estate in Toccoa Falls he always used to mention. It would be nice if we could find out together." She looked hopefully at him. "Len, will you marry me...again?"
McCoys face lit up in a huge grin. "Teresa, you know I"
She put a finger to his lips. "Call me Teri. I need to change my name, a least a little. Ill need to change my appearance, too. If it ever got out that I was alive, Id be a marked woman. Every relative of the House of Duras would be out for my blood."
The physician shook his head. "Chancellor Azetbur called for an end to the blood oaths. Honor has been satisfied, she said."
"And Im sure she means it. But the House of Durit has many friends, friends Id just as soon never know that Im alive." She snapped her fingers. "Ive got it!" She sauntered into the sonic shower. "Back in a minute," she promised.
Mesmerized by her full, rounded backside, McCoy slowly dressed in a white medical softsuit. He checked his messages, and quickly read and answered one from Spock with "Were okay. Really."
The sonic shower opened, and Teri came strolling out. She had changed the color of her hair to platinum blond. Dressed in a burgundy kimono, she stopped in front of a mirror and checked her appearance. "I figured maybe you could tweak my skin pigmentation a little, give me a lighter complexion. And green eyes, Ive always wanted green eyes. Make me a little less ethnic, as it were."
McCoy was transfixed by her transformation. "Umm, yes, it can be done."
She gazed at his groin and smiled at his visible excitement. "Shall we see if we can answer that age old question?" She unfastened the front of his softsuit and slid it off him.
"What old question is that?" She pushed him back on the bed, straddling him as she peeled off the kimono. "Is it true that blondes have more fun?"
The forward recreation deck was virtually empty for security reasons. Standing there, hands entwined, were McCoy and Teri. To the side were Miguel, Spock, and before the couple stood Captain Sulu, readying himself to perform a marriage ceremony. He was entering data into his padd, when he stopped, puzzled. "Teresa, uh, I mean, Teriwhat do I enter for a maiden name?"
"Put down TeriTeri Hatfield."
McCoy groaned aloud. Spock raised an eyebrow and came close to rolling his eyes.
"Oh, honey, that is bad!" the doctor exclaimed. "That is really, really bad, even for you. But I like it!"
"Indeed, Teri, your choice of surname is truly, in a word, awful," Spock chimed in.
Sulu stared blankly, and Miguel looked equally mystified. "Okay, what did I miss?" the captain asked. "Whatever this is, Im not getting it."
"Nor am I," Miguel added.
"What?" McCoy was astonished. "Youve never heard of the infamous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys?"
"They were two families of what were colloquially referred to as hillbillies who resided in the Ozark mountains of the old United States on old Earth," explained Spock. "They carried on a feud of such ferocity and interminability that the two clans virtually hunted each other to extinction. While the story is generally considered apocryphal, the legend of the feud is still told even today."
"I thought of hyphenating and going by Teri Hatfield-McCoy, but that was a little too cute," Teri said. "And I considered just going by Teri Hatfield, but I think Leonard would kill me. So I think Ill just be plain ol Teri McCoy."
Sulu blinked, then let loose his infamous machine-gun guffaw. Miguel followed suit with a hearty roar of his own.
After everyone settled down, Sulu finished punching in the information into the padd. "Planet of origin?"
"None," Teri answered. "Im just a hitchhiker you picked up on QonoS."
Raising his hand, Spock was about to object, but one glare from Teri caused the Vulcan to lower his hand and quashed any dispute he might have had.
Sulu tried hard not to stare at McCoys beautiful bride. So youre going to be just plain ol Teri McCoy, eh? It was impossible to imagine this woman being just plain ol anything. The transformation had been startling. Teresa had always been an ethereally lovely woman, but now, with golden blonde hair, green eyes, and a creamy complexion, she was even more riveting and exciting than before. Reluctantly, Sulu tore his eyes away from the beautiful vision and opened the file on the padd.
Holding it up to read, he began, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to unite this man and this woman..."
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