Even though B'Elanna knew she was not here to be disciplined - quite the opposite, in fact - walking into what amounted to a review board was somewhat intimidating.
As fleet commander, it was General Zargh Thalekh's right to oversee the proceedings, so it was no surprise to see him at the head of the table as she entered the conference room she'd been instructed to report to this morning.
Unsurprisingly, Sub-Commander Krattak, Zargh's adjutant, sat to his left, and on his right was a thoughtful-looking Klingon male wearing a much more elaborate version of a battle engineer's dress. B'Elanna had never met him, but assumed this must be Fleet Engineer K'tarn, who was responsible for every Battle Engineer in the KDF.
She came to attention and saluted Zargh, as the most senior. "Lieutenant B'Elanna sutai-O'Brien, reporting as ordered."
Zargh returned the salute gravely, then motioned for her to sit before speaking. "Lieutenant. We are here to review your claim to command of the Hwacha' by right of challenge, and the events which lead to your capture of the prize ship D-7M-3C509."
Once he finished the required formalities, the general's grave aspect gave way to a surprisingly eager grin. "From what we can discern from the Hwacha''s internal sensor logs, I suspect this will be one of the more interesting afternoons I have been compelled to spend ashore of late."
For the better part of an hour, B'Elanna explained how she'd gone from half-napping in the J-tube to challenging Jurdak on the Hwacha''s bridge. In most cases, her audience allowed her to speak without interruption, but K'tarn and Krattak occasionally asked for a point or two of clarification or explanation, while Zargh remained silent.
"You rode the TDU?" K'tarn's voice was a mix of surprise and admiration, his eyes shining with glee. "HAH! I've wanted to try that since I was a bekk!"
"It was...quite a ride."
A few minutes later, she had finished giving the board an account of Captain Jurdak's final moments. After a moment where all three seemed to pause to appreciate the traitor receiving his due, K'tarn glanced over to Zargh, nodding slightly, and the general spoke for the first time since she began her report.
"Your challenge was well-made, Commander." B'Elanna's eyebrows rose in surprise at the declaration of her new rank, but before she could speak, Zargh continued. "Now, if you don't mind, tell us how you went from that challenge to arriving in Klinzhai space with a captured battlecruiser."
After a deep breath to collect her thoughts, B'Elanna began to explain.
I have a message from another time...
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Undocumented Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
Technical Difficulties: Retaliation
by Matt Wagner
with Benjamin D. Hutchins
© 2015 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
The Hwacha' didn't have a dedicated medical officer (such was rare even on larger KDF ships), but the Science Gorn was, as he put it, 'a sufficient substitute'. At his insistence, B'Elanna sat in the hastily cleaned command chair on the bridge and allowed him to take a brief tricorder scan, and after a moment of thought, he produced a hypospray from his utility kit, loading as he spoke.
"Your injuries are relatively minor, but your vitals show signs of major fatigue. Your hybrid physiology is, unsurprisingly, somewhat different from that of a full Klingon, but a mild Melorazine solution will still help." Before B'Elanna could say anything more, he pressed it to the side of her neck with a quick, sure movement, and she felt a brief coolness as the medication was discharged.
"The one would suggest you take a brief rest cycle. Vokaan and I can determine the loyalty of the remaining crew, and now that the ship is under cloak, we are unlikely to be detected."
She could feel the ache in her muscles ease a bit, but after the day she'd had, a little quality time in a bunk that was unlikely to be disturbed sounded pretty good (particularly as it would be the first such she'd had in around a month).
"Fine," she said. "I'll be in my new quarters." B'Elanna stood, taking in all both of her new bridge officers. "Vokaan, secure that boarding craft. Science Gorn, after you've finished getting what's left of the crew organized, I want you to start breaking down sensor logs to find where they came from. Keep us under cloak and get us off this sector's main spacelanes. Action!"
Both saluted her, Vokaan with more respect than she could ever remember him saluting Jurdak with. "Acting!"
She felt a bit odd walking up to Deck 4 and entering what had, until very recently, been Jurdak's quarters; but it was certainly closer to the bridge than her old quarters, and it wouldn't hurt to turn over the late traitor's files and see if there was anything of use.
In the end, the lure of the computer console sitting atop the desk was more attractive than the bunk, though that also looked a lot more comfortable than the standard hard, flat niche set into a wall. With her newly acquired command access and a pass of her icebreaker to crack the few personally encrypted files, it wasn't long before she found a set of messages sent between Jurdak's private channel and an anonymous message box. The last one was particularly interesting.
JURDAK: We are prepared. Approach from 247 mark 25 absolute, but continue to avoid the Eastern border of your patrol sector. Maintain warp speed until notified and our smallcraft will make rendevous as arranged. Once the lontai-Klavaar is secured, you will be beamed aboard from the bridge. >MESSAGE ENDS<
B'Elanna sat back in her(?) chair, and drummed her fingers on the desk for a moment before punching the comm panel. "Science Gorn, report."
"All remaining crew present and accounted for, Captain," the Science Gorn's voice replied. "Two of the bekk showed less-than-total enthusiasm for the change in command. Vokaan has placed them in the brig until their morale improves."
"Mm. Any luck on the sensor logs?"
"Moderate - the modifications to the boarders shuttle serve to disrupt some of their more obvious sensor traces when in flight, but I am working to reconstruct their approach vector."
"And the traces indicate that they came out of our own patrol sector to intercept us within Klavaarite space."
"... Clairvoyance is not one of the listed side effects of Melorazine. A most interesting drug interaction," the Science Gorn mused dryly.
B'Elanna chuckled. If she'd been able to meet the Science Gorn before this, serving on the Hwacha' might have been almost tolerable. "I've been taking a look at some of Jurdak's files. It seems he was deliberately avoiding the sector's spinward border."
"Interesting. I will re-task the high-resolution sensors accordingly."
"Very well. In the meantime, cloak and get us underway. I want to start running down the most likely points of origin. Action."
"Acting, my lord."
That was going to take some getting used to.
After a brief nap, B'Elanna returned to the bridge to find the Science Gorn at his station, while Vokaan sat at the helm.
The weapons officer stood to face her, saluting before he began to speak, then declared gravely, "The targ have eaten well this day, my lord."
B'Elanna regarded him expressionlessly for 3.24 seconds, then said, "About the shuttle."
"Ah. Yes. The shuttle has been secured - I have detailed one of the trustworthy bekk to stand watch at the hatchway. There were no obvious clues to their point of origin, but I did determine what their next step was going to be."
B'Elanna raised an eyebrow as she took the center seat. "OK, I'm listening..."
"The Toron has a tricobalt charge aboard - with enough yield to destroy a decent sized planetoid, let alone the Hwacha'." He gave a dark little smile. "The one used his own initiative, and removed the detonator and priming modules before reporting to the bridge. It isn't safe, precisely - tricobalt explosives never are - but we are in no danger of it being triggered."
B'Elanna let loose a low whistle. "Talk about using a sledgehammer to swat a fly."
"Indeed," said the Science Gorn, "A curious choice. A properly placed photon torpedo would have been enough to do the job with the ship's shields and engines disabled."
"Let's be thankful they didn't get that far." B'Elanna turned back to Vokaan, still turning that information over in her head. "Anything else?"
"No, my lord."
The Science Gorn tapped his claws on his terminal, then provided his own update. "Based on the information you provided, there are four systems at the spinward border of grid 449 which would be possible candidates for a forward base or rally point, due to the lack of regular KDF or civilian traffic. We are currently en route to the first, Lutyen-094, under cloak. ETA four hours at present speed."
B'Elanna nodded. "OK. Once we're within range, start scanning for any unusual activity - might as well keep an eye out for residual tricobalt readings too. In the meantime, I'm going to head down to the Engineering spaces and put as many systems as I can into emergency automation, given that we're down almost half the crew at this point, and I suspect I'm going to be a little busy."
"A reasonable precaution," the Gorn allowed, "I will notify you when we come into sensor range."
B'Elanna nodded, and had made her way almost to the bridge entrance when she stopped, as if remembering something, and turned around. "Oh. Vokaan?"
"I found a box of... printed materials... in the Captain's quarters. I've placed them in the corridor outside. I don't care what happens to them, and I don't need to know, so long as I never see them again."
Vokaan made an uncomfortable grimace. It wasn't hard to imagine what she'd probably found, and part of him wanted to laugh, but the rest of him remembered what she'd done to Jurdak, and realized his new captain probably wasn't in a joking mood. "... I believe I understand, Captain. I will remove them immediately."
"Very well. Carry on, gentlemen."
With that, she turned and left the bridge, rezzing up her omni-tool as she walked to start figuring out how much of the Hwacha''s systems could be managed remotely. Four hours wasn't a lot of time, and she had a lot of work to do.
By the time the Science Gorn had called her back to the bridge, B'Elanna was reasonably satisfied with how much she'd been able to set up in Engineering. Since the Koloth class had followed the same design rules as the B'rel, that meant it was, at heart, a ship designed to be operated by a minimal crew - even a single person in a real emergency. Between the systems that already had options for automation, some furious coding work on her omni-tool, and a lot of cursing at the Klingon designers who had bastardized the Predator-class blueprints in the first place, she'd been able to route control of almost everything she'd formerly maintained from Engineering either to the bridge or her omni-tool.
As she settled into the center chair on the bridge, the Science Gorn nodded to her, then began pulling up information on the main viewer. "Captain. After making long-range scans, I believe I have something."
The display came up as a chart of the Lutyen-094 system. "The system itself is unpopulated. An unremarkable F2-V yellow-white star, a few class H and J planets, and a one class L planetoid. But when I scanned for starship traces..." The Gorn tapped a few keys, and suddenly green trails crisscrossed the map. "There is far more traffic than you would expect, even taking the possibility of smugglers or reconnaissance flights into account."
B'Elanna nodded to show she was following him. "Did you happen to spot any activity as you swept the system?"
The Gorn shook his head. "No, but if ships operating out of the system are under cloak, that's not unusual." His mouth turned to a fangy grin. "What is unusual, however, is what I found when I searched for signs of tricobalt processing." The map changed again, and now a bright red dot appeared, with almost all of the sensor traces crisscrossing through it. "It would seem someone has been rather busy. This level of processing byproducts indicates they have created enough tricobalt compounds for hundreds of warheads."
B'Elanna considered the map. "So they're processing on the planetoid?"
"Yes," the Science Gorn replied, "If the one had to guess, it is likely they set up a series of prefabricated habitats, and mined their way beneath the the surface once they needed to expand."
"Well, that explains what's going on, but that still seems like a lot of traffic, given how little livable space they're likely to have. Even if they're shipping warheads back to Qo'noS, it looks like they're getting a visit from someone almost every day."
The Science Gorn made a low rattling sound, which B'Elanna figured was his version of a thoughtful hum. "Processing ore into tricobalt compounds is quite dangerous without proper protective gear. Exposure to tricobalt resin, in particular, is toxic for most carbon-based life forms - including Klingons. Given the sheer volume of output...it is entirely possible that they are using forced labor." The Gorn looked over, a faintly disgusted tone in his voice. "Prisoners, most likely, or slaves. If they are taking no particular care or safeguards, it is plausible that they would require regular replacements."
They spent the better part of a day preparing to infiltrate the base. Some of that time was spent gathering as much sensor data as possible, to give their little commando crew as much of a floorplan of the facility as possible, and some of it was spent on more practical matters.
One in particular was the problem of B'Elanna being rather identifiable - even if her Uncle's forces weren't expecting her to appear on their base, it was likely that she would be recognized.
The last time she tried to radically change her appearance, it had been a literal transformation at the hands of her former roommate, thanks to the dusty pages of one of Mia's old sorcery textbooks. Sadly, the KDF didn't have an "on call" magician, so she was left to go the old fashioned route.
Part of the solution was the simple, if morbid, trick of raiding Karodis's former closet, and using the ship's limited laundry facilities to help alter one of her uniforms down to B'Elanna's size. Pigment microcapsules provided by the Science Gorn changed her skin tone to a duskier shade, and a little bit of tinkering provided a false eyepatch that actually served as a tiny data terminal for her omni-tool, allowing her to gather and review data even with the holographic controls in passive mode.
The final step was the most dramatic, but actually took the least amount of time. Since long before she began to attend DSM, B'Elanna had preferred to keep her hair in a fairly simple cut, parted around the middle or just to the side. The length had varied, but she'd never really gone far from what she found easy and comfortable to maintain.
Now, however, she (or more properly, the Science Gorn), had shaved nearly all of it to the scalp, save for a small section at the back, which had then been stimulated to grow until she could braid it into a warrior's queue.
Taking a look at herself in the mirror, it was a striking change. In some ways, she found she actually liked it quite a bit.
"Anyone who looks at me for a while could potentially figure it out, but I probably won't be shot on sight."
The Science Gorn nodded. "Indeed. Though it would be best if you avoid any lengthy encounters, as that will likely mean you have been captured and placed into a holding cell."
"Well, that's a cheerful thought. C'mon - it's time to go beam into a covert installation filled with unstable toxic explosives."
"I see you chose to keep the hairstyle," Krattak commented dryly, "though I can understand why you dispensed with the eyepatch."
B'Elanna smiled. "It was fairly useful - once we infiltrated the planetoid, I was able to get a decent map of the facility through passive scans, and being able to keep an eye on that, so to speak, was a big advantage."
"So," K'Tarn asked, "What was your next move?"
"Getting in was pretty easy. We slipped down in their own shuttle, then entered the base through one of the tapped out quarries at the surface. We left the bekk to guard what we had planned to be our escape vessel, and the Science Gorn was sent to find access into the Klavaarite data systems." B'Elanna smirked slightly. "Meanwhile, Vokaan and I slipped into one of the prisoner deliveries."
The holding cells were exactly what you'd expect for a place like this: Caverns hewn out of the planetoid's bare rock with a few 'choke points' where guards controlled force fields that would let prisoners in or out. Barrels filled with flammable materials for warmth. Rudimentary sanitary facilities. An area where ration packs were dumped in, likely intended to cause the maximum possible chaos and sow resentment among the prisoners as the stronger ones fought to hoard food, and the weaker were pushed away to starve.
Which made it all the more surprising when B'Elanna heard someone shouting over the general din in oddly accented klingonaase as the current "shift" of miners and workers returned.
"FORM LINES! FORM LINES FOR FOOD!"
The mass of bodies slowly evolved into a fairly orderly queue - one line that mostly seemed to be Gorn, another of Klingons who appeared to have been mining, a third of those who seemed to be smaller or sicker, judging by the way they stood or sat, and the last of the other races who had been forced into labor - B'Elanna spotted a couple of Romulans, a few humans, and to her surprise, a bedraggled looking Salusian, still wearing what was left of his Navy trousers, blouse, and a seriously distressed jacket.
She motioned Vokaan to line up with the miners, then walked over to that last specimen. "I am Karodis of the Hwacha'. Can you tell me what is going on?"
The Salusian seemed a bit surprised to be addressed by her, but gave her a respectful nod. "Marcus Satori, HMS Implacable. It's chow call - the lunatic is running things."
B'Elanna gave him a skeptical look with her visible eye. "The lunatic?"
Satori offered a hint of a smirk. "Well, I certainly think he's crazy - he claims to be a Klingon, but I never saw one who looked like that - but since I've been here he's been trying to make sure things stay orderly and that everyone gets fed. Gives a fair share to the sick or injured. Not exactly what I expected to find in a Klingon gulag."
"No..." Her face tugged down into a slight frown - a mix of personal surprise and attempting to 'keep in character' - "And the other prisoners allow him to do this?"
Satori shrugged. "Well -" he paused as a sound of challenge came from near the front of the queues. "See for yourself."
She left the Salusian and worked her way to the front, pushing a few out of the way to get a better look. There was a bearded man in front of the ration pack chute in what looked like the remnants of a ringmail tunic over a snug-fitting turtleneck and some utilitarian trousers. After a moment, she realized it was, or had once been, a twenty-second-century Klingon Imperial Navy uniform, just like the ones Koth's crew wore on the old holodrama Battlecruiser Vengeance.
The man in the archaic outfit seemed too small to be a Klingon, and certainly didn't have any of the distinctive features, but he radiated confidence and authority as he faced off with a burly specimen in some kind of leather and fur outfit - after a moment B'Elanna realized he was a Nausicaan who must have been sent to work the mines.
"I don't listen to you, little scrap! I take what I want!"
Still speaking in the older Klingon tongue, the man looked entirely unimpressed as he stared up at the taller, more obviously muscular alien. "Get in your line and I will not hurt you."
"BAH!" The Nausicaan lunged, drawing what looked like an improvised shank. His opponent didn't seem terribly fazed by this, however. Instead of dropping back or trying to evade, he stepped into the charge, shifting his weight slightly so the blade would pass him, then dealt a bladed-hand strike to the Nausicaan's throat.
With a sound like a drain being stopped, the big guy dropped to his knees, weapon falling to the ground as his hands came reflexively to protect his neck, struggling to breathe through his collapsed windpipe.
The man in the old uniform leaned down, still perfectly composed, and plucked the shank up off of the floor. Casually, he examined it, then crouched in front of the Nausicaan, locking eyes.
"Because this was the first time you tried to challenge me, I will allow you to live. Your throat will heal - I would suggest that you do not try to speak until it does." The man raised the blade, lightly tapping it against the Nausicaan's forehead. "I'm keeping this knife. Attempt to take more than your share of food again, or bring another weapon in here, and I will plant this blade in your skull. Do you understand?" He waited for the Nausicaan to nod, carefully, then stood. "Very well. Go to the back of your line and I will allow you to take a half share of food."
B'Elanna gave a low whistle to herself. OK, she thought, that explains how he's making this work. She loitered at the back until everyone else had been given a ration pack, then approached the apparent leader of the camp. As she got closer, she took note of the slightly canted eyebrows, tone of his skin, and the torn remnant of what looked like an old Klingon sigil on his sleeve. The question of "Crazy?" was yet to be determined, but the details added up with his archaic uniform to suggest an Augment genemod: one of the victims of a crazed forced-eugenics scheme inflicted on the Empire back in the 2100s. B'Elanna had never seen one in person - they were all but extinct nowadays - but the actor who played Sub-Commander Dorn, the human character on Battlecruiser Vengeance, had a cosmetic version of the mod. The Salusian obviously wasn't a fan.
Dragging up some of the older forms of klingonaase address from Professor Kralgh's lessons, she raised her hand as he made eye contact. "Hail, warrior. I am Karodis. Are you in command of this place?"
The Augment's lips quirked, and he gave B'Elanna another surprise as he addressed her in Standard. "Your accent is terrible, Karodis, but I appreciate your attempt at a civil tongue. I am Karn vestai-Karrath. I do not command anyone... but I could not stand this place becoming a rabble." He swept a quick glance over her, and B'Elanna got the strong impression that he'd just figured out exactly how to take her apart if needed. "You are new here. You've obviously been in a fight, but your clothes show no sign of being down in the mines." Karn shook his head. "When I arrived, they simply dumped the ration packs through the chute, and encouraged the others to fight over them. Wasteful. Disgusting. These scum who call themselves the Empire in this time have no klin in them. I... applied discipline."
B'Elanna nodded. "So I saw. You're right - I arrived today. A few of my crew are with me. What can you tell me about this place?"
Karn motioned to a shelf that had been cut into the rock, pocketing his newly acquired weapon as he sat down as well. Once she had settled across from him, he gestured out to the exits. "They will come in six hours for the next shift. Anyone considered healthy enough will be sent into the mine. You will be given some insulated clothing, drills, tools. Everything is tagged with screamer circuits - it cannot be taken back with you." He turned slightly, looking over at where several prisoners of various races were huddled around one of the fires, all of them unnaturally pale. "Those who become too weak to mine, or who they feel will be too likely to cause problems with a work crew are 'promoted'. You are likely to be taken with them because of your size. You will be given gloves and goggles, but no filters, and made to process the ore."
His eyes locked on hers again. "You will become sick. Some take a few days to begin feeling the effects of the poisons from the processing floor. Some succumb within hours." His voice was clipped, but not cold - simply offering an honest assessment. "It is a death sentence. I am sorry."
"You've obviously lasted long enough to make an impression here."
"I am Klingon. I was born to survive. It is my duty."
B'Elanna leaned in, her voice going quiet. "The first duty of any prisoner is to escape."
Karn gave her a bemused look. "I would like nothing more. But we have few resources - and the only ships to enter or leave this place are short-range shuttles and transports. Nothing with the speed or capacity to reach safety."
B'Elanna smirked. "Don't be so sure."
Karn's eyes flashed with approval. "It could be possible for a small group to overcome the guards when they arrive, and gain access to the main corridors. This place is not truly set up to prevent escape. Our captors place much stock in the assumption that we have nowhere to go."
Not long after, she took her leave and began to investigate the cavern, allowing her omni-tool to take more passive sensor readings to help gauge the surrounding area. It took B'Elanna some time to find a relatively private area in the cavern, and after a few minutes Vokaan arrived, having worked his way around from the opposite direction.
"Better not call me that here. Keep using Karodis."
Vokaan nodded. "Very well. For now... there are some with some fighting spirit left, as you saw. But obviously too many to take with us - even if we stuffed the cargo bay on the Hwacha' full, many would be left behind."
B'Elanna frowned. "That's a problem. I don't like the idea of leaving anyone in this place - particularly anyone suffering from cobalt poisoning who could still be saved." Vokaan shrugged. She hadn't really expected him to have much interest in that, but for the moment, his personal investment in the matter was irrelevant so long as he kept following instructions. "We may have to settle for gathering as much information as we can, and then withdrawing to organize a strike with the rest of the Fleet."
Before she could try fleshing out that idea, her omni-tool buzzed beneath her wrist for attention, and the "Incoming CALL" graphic displayed inside her eyepatch. Taking a second look from both sides to make sure the coast was clear, she tapped the omni-tool to life, bringing up a tiny "Audio only" graphic.
"I have secured access to the computer core," the Science Gorn said without preamble, "as a result, I believe I have determined what this facility is doing."
B'Elanna caught herself nodding even though the Gorn couldn't see her. "Excellent. Report."
The Science Gorn sat at a terminal in the computer center, the body of a thoroughly neutralized Klavaarite laid out on the floor. His claws tapped quick queries in as he spoke into his shielded comm unit. "As we suspected, this facility is manufacturing tricobalt devices from the ore being processed by the labor camp, and delivering them to a series of cargo ships - mostly registered as commercial freight haulers, not military vessels."
"Mm. It appears the prisoners load the devices into standard cargo modules, which are then loaded aboard. Once the freighter is fully stocked, it is placed on autopilot, and enters a wide orbit of the system's perimeter. That likely explains much of the residual traces we detected during our approach."
B'Elanna's voice was thoughtful as she considered that. "So they're planning to smuggle them in - some kind of suicide insurgent strike? That doesn't sound very much like my uncle." Then, she paused. "That doesn't explain why they're keeping them in system, though. Can you see if they have any information where those freighters are supposed to go?"
A few moments later, the Gorn's breath hissed out in dismay. "Klinzhai Prime."
"No. Every single freighter has prepared falsified flight plans for Klinzhai Prime. Some approaching from most direct vector, others taking a circuitous route, but all converging upon Klinzhai Prime. I'm showing documentation for...15 vessels. If those were all loaded to capacity..."
B'Elanna finished his thought: "The planet would be rendered uninhabitable for decades. Maybe centuries."
"I believe this has escalated beyond simply acquiring intelligence."
"Damned right it has. Time for a prison break."
The Science Gorn gave a brief rattle of approval. "I believe I may have something to assist in that, as well."
B'Elanna had a keen edge of interest in her voice. "Go on..."
"Level 3, section D has been sealed under highest security clearance. I do not believe I can co-opt the cameras or facility sensors nearby without risking detection, but I show signs of auxiliary oxygen feeds being routed in, heavy levels of water recycling, raw protein solutions..."
Vokaan spoke up, dawning awareness in his voice. "They are supplying a ship there. Obviously something more dangerous than a cargo vessel."
The Gorn's satisfaction was unmistakable. "And a great deal larger, based on these readings. The one suspects we would find it useful."
Not long after that, B'Elanna emerged from the back of the caverns. While the Science Gorn prepared to aid their efforts from the outside, Vokaan moved off to start sounding out his likely candidates for mounting an escape attempt, while B'Elanna sought Karn out again.
He wasn't terribly hard to find. Aside from his look and dress, the other prisoners provided the Augment with a rather wide berth. He didn't quite look at her as she approached, but she could see his eyes shift, making a quick judgement of her intent. "Karodis."
"Vestai-Karrath. Walk with me." Deliberately turning away, allowing him clear access to her back, she walked back towards the spot she and Vokaan had found. If Karn was the kind of Klingon she thought he was, he would be curious, and deliberately putting herself in a vulnerable position ought to be taken as confidence, not foolishness. She hoped.
Once she had reached the relatively secluded space, she settled back, waiting, and was rewarded by Karn's arrival a few moments later.
"Were you followed?"
"The other prisoners know better than to attempt that."
Nodding, B'Elanna took a moment to think about how to begin, then decided to ask the easy question first. "How did you end up here, Karn?"
Karn looked bemused, but game. "I am... or was... the Tactical Officer aboard F-42, the Rage of Kahless. We were making a survey of a previously uncharted system within the D'Kel cluster. I was leading a survey team on one of the planets that showed signs of being habitable." He gave a sigh that almost seemed wistful. "It was actually quite pleasant. Most of the worlds we evaluated for future expansion were barren, at best, but this one had a temperate zone, potable groundwater, ample plant and animal life. There were signs of a previous civilization, but orbital surveys only showed evidence of ruins... or so we thought. I was sweeping one such building when I encountered an... artifact... and was lost."
B'Elanna's eyebrows rose. Perhaps he was crazy, but it seemed bizarrely plausible - certainly back in the days Karn appeared to be from, weird artifacts causing trouble was an Occupational Hazard. "The D'Kel cluster is in territory held by the usurper, now."
Karn's laugh wasn't terribly pleasant. "Yes. It was obvious that a great deal of time had passed when I left the chamber. I was suddenly in an established fortification - and the occupants were not pleased to discover me." His arms crossed. "I gave a good accounting of myself, but there were too many to battle alone. Eventually, I was captured, interrogated, and deposited here after I refused to swear loyalty to the so called 'Emperor Kahless XII'."
B'Elanna smirked slightly at that. "So. You obviously aren't much of a friend to House Klavaar. That means that even if you aren't really part of the Klingon Union, we have a common enemy - not just militarily, but in fighting for the true klin." Karn looked guardedly interested. B'Elanna figured it was the best she could hope for, and pushed on. "You were right - my crew and I were in a fight. But we didn't get captured - we defeated the enemy and followed them back to this pit, intending to gather intelligence before we returned to the Fleet. But we've found more here than we expected. This is no longer a reconnaissance operation."
Karn didn't respond verbally, but his eyes had narrowed and his stance had straightened slightly. His attention was focused entirely on her words as she continued.
"The ore that's been mined and processed here is being turned into tricobalt charges. Big ones. Loaded on cargo pods daily, as you've seen. But what you couldn't see is that the freighters those pods are being loaded on are being prepared to black-glass Klinzhai Prime."
Karn frowned. "I don't know what you mean by that term."
Just as he asked for that clarification, Vokaan arrived, and it was he who answered. "tar'meQ ghor. Burning a planet's surface and sowing it with poisons to render it permanently uninhabitable. The ultimate act of cowardice."
Karn whirled, the knife he'd taken earlier appearing in his hand, but B'Elanna spoke before he could strike. "Easy now - Karn vestai-Karrath, this is one of mine - Lieutenant Vokaan."
The knife disappeared again, though Karn gave his rough counterpart a suspicious look. "You should not have done that."
Vokaan gave Karn an appraisal of his own, and whatever he found made him take a half step back, offering a respectful nod. "The one apologizes, vestai-Karrath."
"If we could get back to the matter at hand, gentlemen?" Both turned, focusing on her. "We can't allow the Klavaarites to destroy Klinzhai Prime. It wouldn't just mean the death of the Union - it would mean the death of the Klingon people. Klaavor's ways would crush their very souls, and what would be left might still call itself a Klingon Empire, but there would be nothing worthy of that name."
B'Elanna focused on Karn with her one visible eye, offering him a hand. "My crew and I are going to do everything we can to stop this. We need to destroy those freighters, reduce this base, and get as many of these prisoners to freedom as can be saved. It's a tall order no matter what... but it gets a little easier when we have some help we can count on."
The augment considered her words, and it was clear he was laying it all out in his head. It didn't take a genetically enhanced brain to figure how tough their odds were, but it didn't seem to bother him. Instead, Karn smiled that little sardonic smirk once more, stepped forward, and took her forearm in a warrior's clasp.
"Perhaps there are still some in this time with the klin in them after all. I do have one question, though."
"You hesitate every time you approach an object that requires depth perception. That means you have not adjusted to having one functioning eye, and there are no indications of a fresh wound. That likely means it is part of a disguise. So, 'Karodis' - what is your real name?"
B'Elanna smiled. "I guess I couldn't expect to get that past someone a bit smarter than the average guard. My name is B'Elanna sutai-O'Brien, captain of the Klingon Union bird-of-prey Hwacha'. Pleased to meet you."
Kraal, son of Korrg, was not terribly pleased with his situation. Oh, it was was an important task, and certainly better than being interrogated or imprisoned in a labor camp, as he had spent the years between the Amar's capture and the Emperor coming to power, but running this base was no worthy duty for a warrior.
From the command center, he spent most days reviewing progress reports from the tricobalt refinery, watching the slow ballet of shuttles and freighters exchanging prisoners and weapons, and drinking blood wine. Once the work of preparing the decisive strike was done, however, he would be given his proper reward. The Emperor had promised to give him a place at his right hand during the attack, crushing the so called "Klingon Union" beneath his boot and securing control over the Empire.
All he had to do was endure a few more weeks of boredom.
As the bekk prepared to send out the morning work assignments, he sat at his desk, set on a raised platform above the rest of the consoles and monitor stations, sipping his morning raktajino as it steamed from his tankard.
Flipping through overnight reports on the freighter loading operations, he barely noticed the sounds of his subordinates speaking to each other until their voices changed in pitch. At first excited, then concerned, then confusion. He set his drink down and was about to ask what was going on when one of them was good enough to do it for him.
"Something odd is going on. At first it appeared to be a simple dispute over food at Daymeal, but it seems to be escalating. We have signs of several organized groups attacking each other."
Kraal considered this. They encouraged dissent among the workers - among other things, by keeping their anger directed at each other, it prevented them from focusing on their captors - but there were limits. Since the next shipment of prisoners wasn't due to arrive for another 36 hours, losing too many of the current batch could mean falling behind, and he wanted to be off of this forsaken rock as soon as possible.
"Dispatch a squad from the garrison - break it up, and bring me the ringleaders. We will use them to set an example. Action!"
It really hadn't been difficult to arrange a riot.
After Vokaan had set up a few pockets of Klingons to begin fighting as the food arrived, some of the Nausicaans had decided to chip in once it was clear Karn was not taking any action to stop it. After they joined in, several of the Gorn prisoners decided to "even the odds", and before long almost everyone was picking up a dance partner.
Or so it appeared.
Anyone who was watching closely would see quite a few pulled blows, near misses, or deceptively ineffective grapples, particularly among the prisoners nearest to the entry points. There were exceptions, of course - prisoners who hadn't been informed of the plan, or simply didn't stick to the script. One of the latter caught B'Elanna's attention as she saw the big Nausicaan from before running towards Karn with a nasty-looking chunk of loose rock in his hands, clearly intending to get some payback.
Karn was turning, and B'Elanna saw a glint of steel as he pulled his knife, but before either could do anything else, the Nausicaan was yanked backwards by Marcus Satori, who had wrapped his hand around the pirate's injured throat and squeezed hard.
The Nausicaan's hands opened by reflex, dropping the rock as he half turned, half fell. Satori released his grip, let his opponent hit the floor, then turned out the lights with a well-aimed kick to the temple. Locking eyes with Karn, the Salusian gave him the briefest of smiles, then ran forward to join the faux melee.
Moments later, there was an audible electric "pop" as the holding area forcefields were cut by the technicians in the base control room, and the sound of bellowed challenges as the guards began to pour in, armed with pain sticks, shock batons, and bat'leth.
Before they could begin to establish some kind of order, however, the garrison troops were caught completely flat-footed by the entire front mass of the "rioters" turning towards them and charging forward as soon as the force fields had dropped.
Facing what they now realized was a well organized counterattack, the Klavaarites attempted to close ranks and push the prisoners back so that they could be contained again, but they were badly outmassed. The security detail might have been enough to manage disorganized, disoriented captives, particularly with so many of them suffering from poor food and cobalt poisoning, but they were never equipped to defeat a mass uprising.
Those who could separate themselves from the oncoming wave fell back, attempting to reach their fallback position near the main corridor where they could use the disruptor turrets mounted there to help quell the assault.
Unfortunately, when the guards arrived, they found the turrets active...and aiming at them.
The Science Gorn stood, disruptor in one hand, tricorder in the other, waiting behind the small armored wall that the guards had intended to use for cover. Giving them an entirely mirthless smile, he tapped a control on the tricorder with one foreclaw, and the garrison was suddenly sandwiched between fire from their own emplacements on one side and the rapidly advancing escapees on the other.
It was over in moments.
As the escapees reached the turrets, the Gorn deactivated them, then began to look through the front ranks. A moment later, B'Elanna managed to push her way through, and the saurian gave her a respectful salute.
"Science Gorn. Nice work."
Karn looked quizzically at B'Elanna. "Science Gorn?"
"(Later)", B'Elanna answered, sotto voce.
The Gorn looked over at Karn, raising an eye ridge. "It is a sufficient descriptor." Turning back to B'Elanna, he gestured to the corridor. "The one is always pleased to be of service. The secured docking bay is this way."
As they began briskly storming through the corridor, Karn came up to move roughly alongside B'Elanna, staying where she could see him with her unobscured eye.
"I thought you said you had a ship."
B'Elanna nodded. "I do. But my uncle was kind enough to leave something better here, so we're going to go relieve him of it."
"Will you not have anyone crew your own vessel?"
She smirked slightly. "Leave that to me."
"My Lord, the garrison squad was overrun!" The console tech was frantic as he attempted to gain control of the situation. "We have signs of a data intrusion - riot gas and intruder suppression systems are offline!"
Kraal growled as he stalked to the console, his face set into a glower. "How is this happening?"
"I don't know - all of our access permissions seem to be revoked. Whomever has control routed all access through the main computer core maintenance consoles." The tech turned, his face drained with shock. "He must have penetrated the station and physically accessed the system."
Kraal's eyes narrowed. "If he had access to the computer core..." He turned, heading for the door. "Have the remaining garrison forces meet me on level 3!"
When B'Elanna and her impromptu assault force reached level 3, the additional security was obvious. Where most of the areas they'd moved through had either been created from prefabbed components or simple adaptations of the planetoid's bare rock, they now faced a heavily reinforced blast door. Opening up her omni-tool. B'Elanna began to work on breaking the security, while Vokaan, Karn, and some of their new recruits set up a defense around the access lifts.
They broke through that door, then another, without encountering any sign of the Klavaarite defenders.
"I don't like this," Karn observed as they moved up to the door for section D, "The only reason to leave this area undefended is if they are preparing an ambush."
B'Elanna nodded. "I'm almost certain that's the case." She tapped several commands into her omni-tool, loading up another program and leaving it active on her eyepiece display before swapping back to the icebreaker.
"You seem oddly unconcerned about walking into a trap."
"Not unconcerned, just prepared." The icebreaker sounded a cheerful tune, followed by the door grinding open, revealing a much larger chamber.
This "room" had most likely been an open crevasse in the planetoid's surface before the Klavaarites arrived. They'd added catwalks and docking apparatus, a boarding gangway, some of the ubiquitous hex lights used in shipyards and other construction zones, and then set up an atmospheric containment field over the "mouth".
If the docking slip had been unoccupied, there would have been an incredible panoramic view of the black void from here, spotted with pinpricks of distant stars, the occasional bit of nearby debris, or the passage of the planetoid's neighbors as it moved around this system's star.
However, since the slip was occupied, what B'Elanna and her new crew got instead was a panoramic view of a k't'Inga-class battlecruiser.
B'Elanna's eyes lit up with undisguised pleasure. "Ooo. Hello there."
Her front element (consisting of her crew from the Hwacha', Karn, Satori, and a couple of the larger Gorn) were about halfway around to the gangway entrance when a clearly amplified voice bounced off the walls of the cavern.
"That's far enough."
B'Elanna turned, looking up to what she now saw was a second shelf cut into the cavern, about a story up, that suddenly held what must have been every Imperial Navy trooper in the place.
The officer who had spoken took a half step forward, sweeping a furious gaze over the group. "Someone leads this rabble. Show yourself!"
Without hesitation, B'Elanna took a step towards him, her visible eye narrowing. "I do." Then, her brows quirked upwards in faint recognition. "I know you...you were aboard the Amar. Kraav? Kragg? No - Kraal!"
Kraal frowned down at her. "The Amar? How would you know about that...unless..." It was his turn to experience a sudden realization, as he got a better look at her face. "Impossible!"
He leapt from his perch, landing with a hard thud before straightening and striding towards her. B'Elanna could hear movement behind her. A brief look from the corner of her eye showed the Science Gorn moving a little closer, ready to support her.
The escapees between them backed away as Kraal approached, pistol drawn, stopping just a few feet away. His eyes bore into her, and she could see him mentally wiping away her disguise.
"You were supposed to be on your way to Qo'noS by now, lontai-Klavaar."
B'Elanna couldn't help but smirk a bit. "If my uncle wanted my life so badly, he should have relied on better help than Jurdak."
Kraal's glower turned to some dark relative of a smile. "Perhaps so. No matter - I think he will be satisfied to see you brought to him in chains once he arrives. Perhaps he will allow you to watch as the Fist of Klavaar reduces Klinzhai Prime to a poison wasteland."
B'Elanna took a quick glance at one of the readouts being projected into her eyepatch, then back up into Kraal's eyes. "Oh, is that what he's called over there? That won't do." She looked back over her shoulder to the Science Gorn, and noted both Karn and Vokaan having joined him, ready to jump when given the word. "Make a note: First thing we do after we leave in that ship is change the name."
Kraal gave a sarcastic laugh. "I do not think you are in the position to make any plans, lontai-Klavaar. Your efforts to organize these prisoners were impressive, but numbers are no advantage when we have wide-angle disruptors and you don't."
"That's true. You're absolutely right." B'Elanna's fingers on her omni-tool hand moved almost imperceptibly. "You'd definitely have the upper hand if all I had was numbers."
The space at the open mouth of the docking bay rippled as the Hwacha' decloaked. Silently waiting in the vacuum just outside the atmospheric containment field, the distinctive glow of a primed and ready to fire photon torpedo emanating from his forward launcher.
"As it is, I'll see your rifles and raise you," said B'Elanna. "I'd like to see you top that." She paused, giving him an opportunity to do so, then tilted her head mock-inquisitively and said, "No? Hm." Shaking her head, she told him with a cold little smile, "Kahless the Unforgettable teaches us, Kraal - never bring a gun to a ship fight."
Kraal's face was set in a skeptic glare. "You wouldn't dare, lontai-Klavaar."
"I'm getting awful tired of you calling me that." B'Elanna twitched her pinky finger just slightly against a keypad that only she could see, and the turret mounted disruptor on the Hwacha''s dorsal hull clearly traversed to lock in on their pursuers. "Care to push your luck?"
For a long moment, the two sides waited in their standoff. Nervous energy crackled on both sides, as tension built. The only question was who would break first.
Kraal took a step back, holstering his disruptor, and the soldiers above them did the same. "This is not over. My lord Emperor will have your life, and those of all around you."
B'Elanna gave a slight jerk of her head, motioning her crew to start heading for their new escape vehicle. "It's nice to want things." Turning, she strode for the gangway, with Vokaan covering her back and Karn flanking her.
As they approached the ship, Karn leaned in to speak without being easily overheard. "I thought you told me that your surviving crew were all on this planet."
B'Elanna smiled. "They are." She gestured briefly to her omni-tool, the displays now showing in normal visual mode. "Do you have any idea how long it took me to set up a remote rigging program for that thing?"
Karn's eyebrows rose. "Impressive."
"The only problem is that we're going to need an engineer for this guy - and I'll be a little busy up on the bridge."
As if on cue, Marcus Satori pulled even with her. "Pardon me for eavesdropping, but I think I can help with that, Captain."
"Mr. Satori - you're a ship's engineer?"
"Yes ma'am. Mostly, anyway. I was apprenticing under Lt. Kreld in Implacable before sitting my final Engineering Officer's exam." With a rueful smile, he added, "That would have been last week."
B'Elanna laughed as they crossed from the gangway and into the battlecruiser's main boarding lock. "Well, I guess you'll just have to see how well you can figure out the power management systems downstairs. I should be able to give you a bit of a hand once we're in the clear, but I'm going to need warp power yesterday."
"Aye aye, Captain!"
"Oh, and Marcus?"
"Thanks for the assist back there."
The Salusian drew himself up and offered his best salute, which came off a bit oddly given his otherwise ragged condition. "My pleasure, Captain." Then, after giving one of the ship's status maps a once-over, he turned and started making his way towards a turbolift that would get him down to Engineering.
By the time B'Elanna and Karn arrived on the bridge, the Science Gorn had installed himself at the appropriate duty station, while Vokaan took the helmsman's seat. A few of the escapees had taken up stations, but it was easy to see the one conspicuous absence as she settled into the center chair.
"Mr. Karrath, I believe you'll be comfortable at Tactical."
Karn gave a pleased smile as he found the station's configuration not terribly different from how things had been laid out in his own time. "Thank you, Captain. How do you say it now? The one stands ready to serve."
"Excellent." B'Elanna had to crane her head slightly to see the Science Gorn at his sensors. As soon as they had a chance, she noted to herself, the eyepatch had to go. "Science Gorn - what do you have for me?"
The Gorn tapped a few commands, then rattled with satisfaction. "We have full control of the ship, Captain. I've altered the computer core's prefix codes and removed the previous designation from his IFF."
"Well done. I'm going to signal the Hwacha' to begin moving off station. Vokaan, as soon as there's clearance, get us out of here and start charting a course that will take us back to Klinzhai Prime. Action!"
B'Elanna sent a set of commands that instructed the rigged bird-of-prey to back away and turn, preparing to leave the system. A few moments later she felt the thrum of power that signaled the ship switching to internal systems, and as Vokaan bent to his station, they began to clear the docking slip and enter open space.
"Captain," the Science Gorn observed, "I am detecting smallcraft launching from the far side of the base. A mix of fighters and armed shuttles."
"We'll use the Hwacha' to help fight them off. I'm sending him out on an intercept vector."
The Gorn raised a brow ridge. "I was under the impression your remote controls were too rudimentary for combat - or plotting warp travel."
"When I was running it off my omni-tool, sure, but if we can provide the Hwacha' with the firing solution from our own tactical computers, it should work." B'Elanna frowned. "As for warp travel... I haven't quite gotten there yet. Let's cross that bridge after we've eliminated the potential pursuit."
Turning in her chair, she looked over to Karn. "Think you're up to handling targeting for both ships?"
The Augment smiled. "It will be no difficulty at all." He turned to his displays, and nodded. "I have them. Six craft on intercept vector, heading 042 mark three."
She nodded, then tapped in a series of commands as she linked her omni-tool into the ship's wireless network. "All right. I'm setting this to provide combat systems information to your console. Target and fire at will. Action!"
"Acting!" Karn assimilated the new information as it spread across his displays, then got down to business. "Hwacha' showing disruptors at full combat charge and torpedoes hot in forward and aft tubes. Locking on lead elements and firing disruptors as they bear."
The Klavaarite fighters and shuttles were more agile, but they didn't have the power to knock either of the larger vessels' shields offline without concentrating fire from several vessels, and once Karn realized that, he made sure to prevent it, sending arcs of disruptor fire or the occasional torpedo to break up attempts by the smaller ships to get into position.
As they whittled down the Klavaarites' numbers, B'Elanna took at look at the tactical plot. "Sensors - do you have readings on where they've stashed the suicide freighters?"
"I can do better," the Science Gorn announced. "It appears this ship was configured to act as the controlling craft for their suicide run. They are reporting position, heading, and status."
She could feel a wicked smile spreading across her face. "Excellent. My uncle must have been planning to take this ship in under cloak, then posture about his victory once the strikes were underway. Typical."
"A likely scenario," the Gorn agreed, "Orders, Captain?"
"Remove them from the equation - set course on all ships to head directly into Lutyen-094 at best speed."
"Uploading new course and speed...now. Course confirmed as computed and locked for all ships."
Without a word, the Science Gorn put a long-range sensor plot of the system up on the main viewer. Numbered tags appeared on each freighter, and over the course of a few moments, each ship began to move. Sluggish, perhaps, but gathering speed as each ship locked onto its terminal course.
Once B'Elanna was satisfied that the bombers were permanently out of the picture, she turned back to Karn. "Status on the Hwacha'?"
"Some damage, but none of it grave. The ship would need a day in the yards to be returned to full effectiveness - perhaps two."
B'Elanna nodded. On the one hand, sending over what would essentially be a prize crew was an option, but getting one over there would take time. But perhaps...
Tabbing a key on the arm of her command chair, she leaned down slightly towards the comm unit. "Mr. Satori, how do you find the engine room?"
"I'd say I've done a decent job of figuring out what all the levers do, Captain. Warp power is ready at your signal."
"Excellent. Question for you - do you feel comfortable expanding our warp field to encompass a smaller ship under tow?"
The Salusian's voice was thoughtful, and she could hear him tapping a few commands into the system. "I think we can manage that, sir. The nice thing about Klingon shipwrights - they build them like tractors, and there's not exactly what one might call a 'health and safety' culture... but they always have power to spare. She'll make it work."
B'Elanna smiled. "He'll make it work, Mr. Satori - you're aboard a Klingon vessel now, not a Salusian one."
She could almost hear Satori rolling his eyes. "Duly noted, Captain. We'll be ready at your signal."
Cutting the comm, she looked over to Vokaan. "Activate tractors and bring the Hwacha' under tow. Co-ordinate with the engine room to make adjustments to the warp field. Action!"
"Acting!" Vokaan plied his board, and after a few minutes, the larger battlecruiser had taken the bird-of-prey under tow, ready to make their way out of the system.
As they maneuvered to depart, the Gorn tabbed a control in response to an urgent tone. "Captain, the Klavaarite base is hailing us."
"Oh, this should be good. On viewer." Standing, B'Elanna couldn't help but smile as Kraal's face came up from what must have been the base's control center, glowering with fury.
"What have you done?!"
"Well, that depends how you look at it. Are you referring to the fighters we trashed on our way out, the freighters that are being destroyed, or the toys that we took away from you?"
If looks could kill, Kraal could have taken out Klinzhai Prime himself, with no need of any other weapons. "This is not over, lontai-Klavaar. You will pay for this, and everything else you have done."
Now it was B'Elanna's turn to glower at Kraal, unleashing some of the fury that she'd kept bottled up since learning of her Uncle's plans. "I am not ANYONE's property, or some prize to be won! And if that little threat was supposed to scare me, you might want to take a look at your track record - you're not exactly lighting it up in the retaliation department."
B'Elanna's anger cooled momentarily as a thought occurred to her. "Hmm. Retaliation. Retaliator. noDwI'. Yeah. That's a much better name for a ship like this." She settled back into her chair as Kraal continued to smoulder. "Much less pretentious than 'Fist of Klavaar', that's for sure."
Then, as if remembering something, she turned her focus back onto the viewscreen.
"Oh," B'Elanna smiled darkly as the Klavaarite officer stared furiously at her through his viewscreen, as if his gaze alone could return his stolen vessel, "I think you left something aboard my old ship. I took the liberty of returning it to you."
Kraal's face evolved from emasculated anger to puzzlement, and then a slowly dawning terror before he broke, turning and running straight out of the viewer's pickup.
Within the prison camp's magazine, a tricobalt device sat on one of the racks waiting to be packaged and loaded aboard one of the suicide freighters, a black oblong shape among dozens of identical brothers.
However, unlike his fellows, the status lights on this device beneath its inspection hatch, invisible to the casual observer, were a deep violet, rather than the normal standby red, and a small counter set into the controls fell rapidly towards triple zero.
Moments after the newly renamed noDwI' went to warp, the planetoid that had housed the Klavaarite operations in the Lutyen-094 system ceased to exist. The blast was observed by sensor arrays and gravimetric observatories as far away as Rigel III, and ranked nearly as catastrophic as the destruction of Praxis.
As she watched the explosion and shockwave radiate out on the rear-angle viewer, B'Elanna mused as if to herself, "I almost hated to kill Kraal."
"Your sentimentality surprises me," Vokaan grunted, a note of faint disapproval in his voice. At his station, the Science Gorn made his amused little rattle.
"Sentimentality? Ha," said B'Elanna casually. "No, it's just that if he had lived, that would've been two battlecruisers the Order of the Rose has taken off him. It would've been interesting to learn what my uncle made of that." She sat back in her conn with a theatrical sigh. "Perhaps if he hadn't called me 'lontai-Klavaar' that last time... ah, well."
"I... retract my earlier remark," said Vokaan, eyeing her with new respect.
All things considered, B'Elanna would call that a fairly reasonable day's work.
"...we made our way back to Klinzhai Prime from there, and that's about where you came in."
As she concluded, B'Elanna relaxed, her hands falling to rest at her sides. Even before all this, she'd had to spend most of her time since joining the KDF in a state of constant watchfulness - because of what she was, and who she was, she had no shortage of challenges - but since returning with the noDwI', she had noticed a lot less of them. If anything, she'd noticed people making an effort to give her a bit more room as she moved around, and a bit more deference when she went to file reports or get something to eat.
Well, I guess I know what I have to do to get some respect around here.
Zargh Thalekh hadn't really spoken since she'd started explaining everything that had happened. She found herself meeting his eyes, which were giving her a cool, speculative look. She held the contact, and that seemed to help him come to a conclusion.
"Bold actions, Commander." Zargh's face split into a wide smile. "Bold... and deserving of recognition." He opened a small drawer beneath his place at the table, and drew a small black case, sliding it across the table.
When she opened it, she found three items. The first two were a pair of rank insignia disks, marked with the three-spoked device of a full Commander.
Below THAT glittered a disk of vizorium and onyx, hung on a silver-and-violet-edged black ribbon.
"Commander B'Elanna sutai-O'Brien of House tenjoH, it is my distinct pleasure to award you the Heart of Kahless, for your exceptional valor in extraordinary circumstances. All the Klingon Union hails you this day. Kai kassai!"
As the shock wore off, B'Elanna smiled back at the assembled officers. "Thank you. So....what are my orders?"
Zargh sat back. "noDwI' was yours, Commander, from the moment you named him. As to your orders...I could use a ship with a reliable commander who could act as a roving troubleshooter within the Fleet. Shore up areas when needed, investigate reports of unusual enemy activity, and co-ordinate with allied forces when called." He smiled. "It occurs to me that you have considerable experience operating in such a fashion."
B'Elanna could feel a matching smile spreading on her face. "I suppose I do at that."
Zargh nodded, then continued. "You may keep the crew you assembled. If any of the civilians you conscripted wish to remain, they will be enlisted appropriately. Any replacements you require will be provided from the fleet's requisition office. That includes the mad Augment; his insanity is evidently no impediment to his loyalty or his usefulness, and so of no consequence to me," he added with a very faint smile.
Krattak cleared his throat. "That still leaves the matter of the Hwacha', my Lord."
Zargh nodded. "So it does." He gave B'Elanna a thoughtful look. "Lt. Vokaan seems to have redeemed himself while under your command. Do you think that, with the influence of a better officer, he could continue to serve the Union well?"
B'Elanna considered that. "It would need to be someone who Vokaan will respect. Jurdak encouraged his worst habits, and so he had no reason to improve. If his commander is respected - disciplined - and pushes him, I think he'll do fine."
Nodding, Zargh looked to Krattak. "Very well. Lt. Vokaan will be ordered to take command of the Hwacha'. His orders are to act as part of the noDwI''s new independent operations squadron, reporting directly to Commander O'Brien." He turned back to B'Elanna, his smile a bit crooked. "I believe that you will meet those qualifications - and should find a supporting vessel useful, given your mission."
B'Elanna settled herself into her command chair as the noDwI' prepared to leave port. He hadn't needed too much work to flush out the Klavaarite backdoors in his software and bring him up to KDF standards. She'd acquired a replacement for Vokaan at the helm, and after a few discussions with the Royal Salusian Admiralty, she'd secured herself a permanent engineer as well.
"Mr. Satori," she called down, "are we ready to head out?"
"Aye, Captain," Satori reported back, "Reactors at full power, all systems green across the board. He'll be ready for whatever you need."
"Excellent." Turning her attention back to the bridge, she smiled as the ship came to life around her.
"Signal from the Hwacha'," the Science Gorn reported. "They are ready to get under way."
B'Elanna nodded, unable to keep a smile off her face."Well, then. Gentlemen, General Thalek has ordered us to be troubleshooters." She paused, then signalled for the dock to clear all moorings. "So let's go find some trouble."
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
Technical Difficulties 2: Retaliation
in order of appearance
The Science Gorn
Kraal, son of Korrg
Prisoners #481 through 682
Benjamin D. Hutchins
and the aid of
The EPU Usual Suspects
E P U (colour) 2015