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Starfighter Command is a pending trademark of R. B. Chandler and the Galactic Enterprise - Copyright: 2001, Last Revision: 2015 R. B. Chandler

For Entertainment Purposes Only  

Star Trek Stories / The Empress’s Guard

   I have borrowed the names we all know so well.  No copyright infringement is intended.  Paramount should be used to this by now anyway.


Foreword:

   There will always be critics but some Star Trek fans can be among the worst. Note to some of those critics: Sensors are only as good as the writers want them to be. It doesn’t matter if it is 5 feet or 500 light years the sensors will only see or not see what the writers want them to see. Yes, I can list examples from both the TV series and the movies if necessary.

   This story was originally written as a screenplay and was based on situations created at the end of Vonda N. McIntyre's book: Enterprise, The First Adventure. For those that think writing for Star Trek or for anything is easy, try taking a small sentence from the bottom of page 349 or another page from any other novel and write an entire story based on an obscure reference from within that novel and make it fit within the Star Trek universe while creating a whole new world of characters in the process. It is not as easy as you might think.

   This story was designed to be a movie or adapted into something like a graphic novel. But, it was in need of refinement that I never got around to doing. So for about 30 some odd years it sat around gathering dust. Along came personal computers and the ability to scan typed pages into word documents. Converting a visual story into mini-novel has not been easy and the refinements continue. It is what it is. ~ R. B. Chandler


~~~


   It was a spacecraft born of function and logic that glided silently through the blackness of space. The sides of the ship held spaces for detachable containers and its bulky design marked it as a Vulcan merchant ship.

   The Klingon battlecruiser bridge was a flurry of activity as they track the Vulcan spacecraft. A young Klingon girl about 16 years old sat in the captain’s chair. The Captain stood next to her. Behind them stood two Klingons in black uniforms, the traditional uniform of the Empress’s Guards. This marked the girl sitting in the chair as a member of the royal family, a direct descendant of Kahless the Unforgettable. Though this trip was little more than an inspection cruise, the captain of the battlecruiser was not about to let the ship on his view screen getaway. “Report,” he said.

   “It’s a Vulcan merchant ship Captain, she on a course for Re Mar 7 in the Federation Neutral Zone,” a crewman reported making the word “federation” sound like an insult. The Neutral Zone was more of an invention of the Federation to act as a buffer between them and the Klingons. The Klingons on the other hand had never really recognized the Neutral Zone and they tended to violate the treaty that created zone often.

   “What is your is pleasure Princess?” the Captain asked. “Shall we let it pass or take her?”

   “My tour of the Neutral Zone would not be complete without a demonstration of the skill and combat readiness of this crew, and the firepower of this vessel,” Ashalara, daughter of the Klingon Empress replied.

   “As you command,” the Captain said with a wicked smile. He would have found an excuse to take the ship even if the Princess had not given him permission. “Battle stations, prepare to disengage cloaking device. Gunner target the engines, I want that vessel whole. Boarding party to the transporter room; begin jamming all transmissions.

   “Boarding party standing by,” the intercom crackled.

   “Gunner fire the moment we de-cloak,” the Captain said as he looked at Ashalara waiting for the final permission he did not really need to begin the attack on the Vulcan ship.

   “You may precede Captain,” she said.

   “Disengage cloaking device. Fire!”

   The Klingon battlecruiser materialized behind the Vulcan merchant ship and a split second later fired its weapons. A direct hit on the intended targets and merchant ship’s engines exploded causing the ship to drop out of warp. The battlecruiser dropped out of warp also as it over shot the ship and began a 180 degree turn that brought it quickly back within transporter range.


   Tara, the 15 year old daughter of the Vulcan owner and captain of the ship strolled leisurely down the hallway. For her this was just another boring trip and perhaps some part of her longed for some kind of adventure, but the way of logic does not have a whole lot of room for adventure. One moment everything was fine and the next she was slammed hard into a bulkhead wall and bounced back across the hallway into the opposite wall. Sliding down the wall she lay in a crumpled heap unconscious.


   On the bridge of the Vulcan spacecraft the Captain and crew were getting back up on their feet or into their chairs. “Status report,” the Captain said in an urgent but logically controlled tone of voice.

   “Both warp engines have sustained severe damage and no longer function and engineering does not respond. Impulse power is offline. Life support is intact. Emergency systems are all operational except in engineering,” a crewman reported as he regained his chair.

   “Send a distress call,” the Captain said just as the door slid open and a group of Klingons burst onto the bridge killing everyone in sight.


   Tara staggered to her feet and began to run down the hallway toward the bridge. As she rounded a corner she ran headlong into a small group of Klingons. “Well, what do we have here?” one of them said as he grabbed the girl.


   The Vulcan spacecraft’s bridge was quickly cleared of dead bodies before Ashalara and the Klingon Captain beam onboard the ship. “The ship is yours Princess,” the Captain said.

   “No Captain, the victory is yours; I have no need of anything on this ship. I am only an observer here,” Ashalara replied. “What will become of the ship now?”

   “Even as we speak the cargo is being loaded into our own hold and charges are being set that will blow this ship into space dust,” the Captain replied as one of his men entered the bridge dragging a young Vulcan girl behind him. He threw her to the floor before the Captain’s feet.

   Tara’s face was bruised, battered, and bleeding. Trying to salvage some self-dignity she held her torn clothes together the best she could. “Something we found in the hall,” the Klingon soldier said with a laugh.

   “Kill her.”

   Tara’s eyes met Ashalara’s and for a moment they were as one. Ashalara felt the pain and suffering the Vulcan had endured and the silent plea for her life and she knew the depravation Tara had endured was not an honorable act and she was in part responsible. “Hold,” she said as the soldier drew his disruptor. “Captain, I know I have said I am just an observer here, but, Vulcan slaves are hard to come by. I pray that you would grant me this one indulgence.”

   “Princess, your wish is my command,” he replied. “She is yours, gift from me to you, a symbol of my faithfulness to you and your mother the Empress.”

    

Two Years Later:

   The Enterprise moved through space at something of a hurried pace. Sensors had pick up a Klingon battlecruiser closing on their position. Sulu was on watch when the ship was detected and was sitting in the captain’s chair. “Go to yellow alert. Increase speed to warp five,” he said as the elevator door opened.

   “Status Mr. Sulu,” James T. Kirk said as he and Spock stepped onto the bridge together.

   “We have detected a Klingon battlecruiser on an intercept course with us. She was closing on us at warp 5; I’ve increased our speed to match them.

   “Report Spock,” Kirk said as he sat down in the now vacant chair.

   “A Klingon heavy battlecruiser D-7 series does appear to be trying to overtake us. It has just increased speed to warp seven. I am also picking up trace exhaust particles that may indicate that it is not alone. Possibly two other ships, cloaked, one off our port side just out of range, and the other on our starboard side and forward of us also out of range at this time.

   “Thank you gentleman,” Kirk said. “Sulu I believe you are needed at the helm. Go to red alert. Sulu, warp eight. Raise shields. Chekov standby to fire phasers. On my command I want a broad pattern of photon torpedoes the moment it becomes clear they intend to attack us. Target the ship on our starboard side.”

   “The battlecruiser has gone to warp eight. The ship on our port side is now in range. It has disengaged its cloaking device,” Spock reported.

   “Hard over Sulu, take evasive action.”

   “Scout class vessel has fired photon torpedoes,” Spock said.

   “Chekov fire. Lock the phasers on the scout and return fire.

   “Captain the second ship is a battlecruiser. Minimal damage from photons torpedoes,” Spock reported.

   “Fire a photon spread to the rear. Lock forward tubes on the forward battlecruiser and fire as we come to bear,” Kirk responded

   “Both battlecruisers have fired photon torpedoes.”

   “Hard to port, fire forward tubes!” Kirk yelled.

   The Enterprise shook hard as the photo torpedoes impacted with the ship’s shields. The rear shields collapsed as another torpedo hit the shuttle bay.

   “Damage report.”

   “Shuttle bay has been destroyed and Starboard engine has sustained some damage,” Uhura reported.

   “Get me Scotty,” Kirk said. “Sulu, slow to warp one, bring us about one hundred and eighty degrees. Chekov, prepare to fire photon torpedoes and phasers after we come about. Uhura advise Starfleet of our situation.”

   “Mr. Scott, sir,” Uhura said.

   “Captain, we’ve all but lost the starboard engine. It’s a miracle that it is still works at all. I can still give you warp drive if you don’t go faster than warp three,” Scotty’s voice crackled over the speaker.

   “Coming about sir,” Sulu reported

   “Fire when you have a target Chekov,” Kirk said.

   The Enterprise’s photon torpedoes and phasers found their mark and nearly cut the lead Klingon battlecruiser in half. “K’Vort class Bird of Prey coming up hard on our rear,” Spock said

   “Chekov, lock aft phasers on the scout and fire.”

   “The Bird of Prey and battlecruiser are firing torpedoes.”

   “Warp three now, Sulu bring us about again. Return fire,” Kirk said.  

   Phaser fire caught the Bird of Prey amidships and must have hit something vital; the ship exploded a moment after it had fired another round of photon torpedoes.  The Enterprise took a glancing blow from the torpedoes shaking the ship hard.  

   “Damage report.”

   “Shields holding, minor damage to outer hull. Main sensors are offline. Switching to secondary sensors now,” Spock replied. “The Klingon battlecruiser is breaking off and has gone to warp eight.”

   “He knows we’re hurt and he’s going to try and make a high speed pass. Sulu take us away from him at warp two,” Kirk said as he hit the intercom button. “Scotty you there?”

   “Ah sir.”

   “Can you give me warp five?”

   “I could, but you could only sustain it for a few minutes at the most,” Scotty replied.

   “Thanks Scotty, that’s all I’ll need,” Kirk said. “Warp five Mr. Sulu; prepare to come to a full stop on my command. Chekov the Klingons should overshoot us. Fire everything we got at them as they go by.”

   “Klingons have gone to warp eight point two. Two hundred thousand kilometers and closing. One hundred thousand, fifty thousand, twenty thousand, ten thousand, one thousand, in range...”

   “Now Sulu, all stop. Chekov, fire.”

   The Klingon battlecruiser fired just one moment too late as the Enterprise came to an abrupt stop. Its photon torpedoes missed cleanly and sailed past well in front of the Enterprise. However, everything the Enterprise fired found its mark and the battlecruiser turned into a ball fire and metal debris.

   “Direct hit,” Chekov reported with a touch of pride.

   “Good shooting Mr. Chekov,” Kirk replied. “Set course for the nearest Starbase warp one. Get me Sickbay.”

   “McCoy here,” the speaker crackled.

   “How many Bones?” Kirk asked.

   “Sixteen dead, twenty three in serious condition, and forty seven minor injuries so far. Could have been worse Jim.”

   “There is still the question of why they attacked us in the first place Bones,” Kirk said.

    

   Qam-Chee, the First City of Qo'noS, the royal palace and traditional home of the Emperor and Empress of the Klingon Empire was the epitome of barbaric splendor. Many of the structures were more than a 1000 years old and were blended almost seamlessly with modern additions for the sake of sentiment and tradition. What passed as the royal family in the Klingon Empire was more symbolic than a politically functioning part of the Empire. In truth, no emperor has sat upon the throne for more than 200 years and it was claimed that the recognized royal family were direct descendants of Kahless the Unforgettable and were awaiting his return. Hence, the Royal House of Kahless had status but little power to affect the outcome of any decision the Klingon High Council might make.

   Because of the expected return of Kahless no male family member was allowed to rule the House of Kahless. While women were not normally allowed to rule any of the houses of the Klingon Empire, for more than millennia an unbroken line of women directly descended from Kahless and the Lady Lukara kept the Royal House of Kahless in a state of readiness awaiting their master’s return. To these women were given the honorific title of Empress. Despite the wealth and a small but elite army known as the Empress’ Guards, the Empress had become a meaningless symbol around which all the great and small noble houses of the Klingon Empire revolved.

   Even though the Empress was but a flag that was taken out and waived on special holidays; she was still a cherished symbol of the Empire. The possibility of peace with the Federation did not sit well with many of those within the great houses of the Klingon Empire. There were those within the palace wall that sought to destroy the fragile peace.

   General K’lgar was as ruthless as Klingons come and he had wormed his way to the top of the pile by supporting the House of Duras. Now he was a general that commanded the might of the Klingon Empire. “Nothing must go wrong,” he said. “One mistake, someone talks, our heads will adorn the palace walls.”

   “Nothing can go wrong General, all are loyal to the cause,” Brigadier Kratok said. That the Brigadier had an office in the royal palace spoke to the fact that he was in some small way related to the House of Kahless, a relationship he exploited to its fullest.

   “Loyalty can be bought or sold,” K’lgar said.

   “Not to fear. With the exception of myself, all others are in space and will stay there until we destroy the Empress and her guards and seize control of the Empire for ourselves,” Kratok replied.

 

   Tara had spent much of the day hunting with Ashalara and now she was returning from the kitchen with drinks and snacks for the two of them to enjoy before retiring for the evening. While officially Tara was a slave, neither Ashalara nor the Empress, her mother, ever treated her as they did the other servants. Some part of her thought of herself as part of the royal family. As she passed one of the many doors in the palace she heard someone mention the Empress and she stopped beside the door to hear more.

 

   “What of those still loyal to the Empress, have you disposed of them yet?” K’lgar asked.

   “I have sent them, and anyone else that might cause us problems, out to hunt down Kirk in the name of the Empress and the Empire to punish the criminal for his well-known crimes against the Empire,” Kratok replied. “Kirk has not disappointed me; he has destroyed three ships full of loyalists. Those who find Kirk will most likely die. Those who do not will be out of the way anyway. Any who are left will die with the Empress.”

   “There is still much that can go wrong between now and the time the Empress tours the Neutral Zone,” K’lgar said as he notice the shadow of someone at the door. He walked quietly over to the door

   “I have planned for everything General, what could go wrong?” Kratok asked.

   Jerking the door open K’lgar grabbed Tara and threw her to the floor inside the room and shut the door. “We could be over heard,” he said.

   “Let’s kill her and be done with it,” Kratok said as he pulled his disruptor from his belt.

   “No, not here, this is Ashalara’s slave. She would turn the palace upside down to find her. Kill her, get rid of her, do whatever you like, but not here, not now. In fact, it would be wiser to find someone else to do the deed,” K’lgar said. “If someone must point a finger it would be a good idea if that finger could be pointed far from us, don’t you agree Brigadier.”

   “I know just the man,” Kratok said. “His greed knows no bounds. If he does not kill her she will wish she were dead.”

   “Good, I’ll leave her in your in your hands,” K’lgar said as he turned and left the room.

   “Vulcan slaves do bring a high price,” Kratok said with a smile as he adjusted his disruptor to the stun setting and pulled the trigger.

    

   Davison’s planet in the Neutral Zone was home to cutthroats, pirates, and other criminal and mercenary types. If it was illegal or immoral and could be sold you could buy it. Dave’s Town was the principle city on Davison’s planet and also the only spaceport. Most of the planet was unexplored and sparsely inhabited.

   Downtown Dave’s Town had the look of an urban ghetto cobbled together out of steel shipping containers. Most of the businesses consisted of bars, brothels, and motels with smattering of mercantile and starship parts and repair shops thrown in for color. Down one of the many dark and dirty streets that radiated out from the town’s center a man suddenly came flying out of a tavern window. He got right back up, shook some of the glass off, and reentered the tavern through the now broken window. A moment later he was ejected from the building again through another window. This time he got back up a little more slowly and walked back over to the window and stood there for a moment debating the wisdom of reentering the tavern and the ongoing fight inside. He stood there for only a moment when phaser fire erupted from inside the building starting with a blast just above his head at the top of the window sill. The man drew his own phaser as he dove for cover and rolled to the other side of the window and looked quickly inside to see if someone one was trying to kill him or if it was just a stray shot. Inside the tavern the bartender was shooting at some of the already broken furniture and a few select customers in order to stop the fight.  

   Darrel, short for Darien Rellen, was a big powerful man who stood out in most crowds. It had taken a couple of men to push him through the window the first time. The second time it was his own fault as he lost his balance avoiding a chair that was flung in his direction. As he stumbled backward he tripped over an unconscious patron lying on the floor behind him and that sent him crashing through the other window. “I need to be going anyway,” he said to himself as he holstered his phaser.

   Pulling a well-worn black cloak about himself Darrel began to wander the streets of Dave’s Town. He stopped and chatted with shopkeepers and friends along the way. Occasionally he would stop in a bar here and there for a drink and to listen to the rumors whispered in the dark corners of those places. Such information was useful in his line of work.

   Just outside the spaceport he stopped in an open air market. The largest shop in the market belonged to slavers and it was here that the market for slaves flourished in this section of the galaxy. Darrel’s hatred for the slavers almost showed through his mask of indifference. A young woman was sold at auction as he watched.

   “Now we have a very special prize for you,” Auctioneer announced. “A rarity not often seen here, a young female Vulcan.” Tara was lead up onto a small platform where she stood in tattered clothes next to the auctioneer. “See how beautiful she is, how delicate, with skin ever so soft. Rumor has it that she was once a slave to the Empress herself. Now who will start the bidding?”

   “A hundred darseks,” came one bid from the back the gathered crowd.

   “A hundred darseks is an insult. She is easily worth ten times that,” the Auctioneer replied.

   Darrel moved toward the platform and Tara. “Now that would depend on how you came to have her in your possession. I’ll give you two hundred darseks and take my chances that the Empress doesn’t come looking for her,” he said.

   “Three hundred darseks,” someone yelled out.

   “I have three hundred darseks. Do I hear four?

   “Four hundred.”

   “Five hundred.”

   “One thousand darseks,” Darrel said trying to bring a quick end to the bidding.

   “I have one thousand darseks. Who will make it two?” the Auctioneer asked.

   “Fifteen hundred.”

   “Two thousand.”

   “Twenty five hundred,” someone shouted. Darrel began to suspect there was at least one shill in the crowd to drive up the price when needed.

   “Three thousand,” responded one of the more persistent bidders.

   “I have a bid of three thousand decals. Do I hear four?” the Auctioneer said. “No? Three thousand once. Three thousand twice...”

   “Five Thousand darseks,” Darrel bid. He was tiring of this game.

   “Six thousand,” was the rebounding bid.

   “Ten Thousand.”

   “Eleven thousand.”

   “Twenty thousand darseks!” Darrel said hoping he had put the bid beyond the reach of the man bidding against him

   “I have a bid of twenty thousand darseks. Do I hear more?” the Auctioneer asked. “Twenty thousand darseks once. Twenty thousand darseks twice. Sold to the gentleman for twenty thousand darseks. Sir, see the man inside to settle the account.”

   Darrel walked around the auction platform and entered the shop behind the auction block as Tara was led off and taken back to her cell. Inside other men and women of various alien species were waiting in cells to be sold. Some prospective buyers were looking them over. Darrel walked over to a small man seated behind a desk. “Can I help you?” he asked.

   “I’m here for the Vulcan woman,” Darrel replied gruffly.

   “Oh yes, twenty thousand darseks. Cash card sir?” the man requested with a smile. Darrel handed his card to him.

   “Oh my,” the man said as he saw Darrel’s credit balance.  

   “Something wrong?” Darrel asked.

   “No sir, too bad we don’t have four more just like her,” the man replied.

   “Five ex-slaves of Empress, that would be something to see,” Darrel said. “The Empress would turn this planet into space dust if she found out where they all went.

   “I take your point, name please.

   “Darrel.”

   “Occupation?”

   “Do you really need to know these things considering slaves are illegal almost everywhere but here?” Darrel asked.

   “Normally we don’t care sir, but the seller seems to care and has paid us to collect that information,” the man explained. “So your occupation please?”

   “Which one?” Darrel replied. “Bounty hunter, mercenary, or Guard to the Empress?”

   “Guard to the Empress?” the man repeated with a little fear in his voice.

   “Good choice. Nice title isn’t it, kind of catchy. I got it when I saved the Empress’s life a few years ago. I don’t have much use for it, though it has gotten me out of confinement a few times.”

   The man behind the desk relaxed a little. “Guard to the Empress, I never met one. You can pick the girl up back there in the holding cells sir,” he said handing Darrel his cash card back.

   “Thanks.” Darrel walked back to the holding cells. “I’m here for the Vulcan girl” he said to the guard.

   “Yes sir, this way,” the guard replied as he led Darrel to Tara’s cell and turned off the force field. “You out!” he yelled at her.

   The moment Darrel and Tara exited through the back door Darrel took out his communicator. “Phoenix this is Darrel, two to beam up,” he said.

   The Phoenix, Darrel’s spaceship, looked like a hybrid of a dozen different ships mostly Klingon and Federation in design. Warp drive engines sitting side by side with only a narrow section between them. The Phoenix could do speeds up to warp fifteen for a short time with a sustained rate of warp nine. The front section and the two wings that held the warp engines contained the sensors, four forward photon torpedo tubes, and ten phaser canons with two photon torpedo tubes in the rear of the ship. It was a small heavily armored ship armed to the teeth, designed for heavy combat. Inside, the ship had ten two man cabins, four single cabins and the captain’s quarters. The transporter looked small but could beam up twenty five people at once and hold them in buffers while beaming ten more down at the same time. Darrel and Tara materialized in transporter room.

   “Follow me,” Darrel said as he stepped off the transporter pad.

   Almost robotically Tara followed him out of the room and down the narrow hallway to the ship’s bridge. Fate had stripped her of who she was and now only an empty shell remained. She had already suffered a fate no woman should have to endure and expected the same kind of brutality from the man before her.

   “Pick a chair,” Darrel said as he sat down it the captain’s chair. Tara just stood there with a sad blank look on her face waiting for whatever fate had in store for her.

   “What’s your name?” Darrel asked softly when the girl did not sit down.

   “Tara.”

   “Tara, please sit down. I have a few questions I need to ask you.”

   “Questions?” Tara replied confused as she slowly sank down into a nearby chair.

   “Were you a slave in the Empress’s household?” Darrel asked.  

   “I served her daughter.”

   “Ashalara?”

   “Yes, she was my friend; she saved my life a long time ago.”

   Darrel had never met Ashalara’s slave, but he knew of her. He knew enough about Ashalara to know she would never punish a slave by sending her off to be sold on Davison’s planet. “Tara I must ask you questions now that may cause you pain in the remembering. I have not been permitted official entry into the Klingon Empire for some time now. In times past I came and went with ease. I must find out what happened, do you understand?” he asked.

   “Yes.”

   “How did you get here?”

   “Spaceship.”

   “I asked for that,” Darrel said with a smile meant to put the girl at ease. “What I mean is who brought you here and what is the reason behind your being here? I need to know names and places. It would be best if you would start from the time you were at the Empress’s palace and tell me everything that has happened to you from that time forward.”

   “I was on my way back to my room from the palace kitchen when I heard or rather overheard two men talking,” Tara replied. “One had just said something about the destruction of the Empress and her guard. People loyal to the Empress were being sent out to hunt down someone named Kirk. This was expected to get them killed. This Kirk is some sort of criminal and is wanted for crimes against the Empire. He must be a very dangerous man; he has already caused the destruction of three Klingon ships. Those that this Kirk does not kill are supposed to die with the Empress. I was caught listening.”

   “Do you know who the men are?”

   “Yes, General K’lgar and Brigadier Kratok.”

   “What happened after you were caught?” Darrel asked

   “I don’t know I was stunned,” Tara replied. “Kratok gave me to another Klingon and told him to tell A’chan that he wanted to know who it was that bought me and wanted a percentage of whatever they sold me for. The Klingon injected me with something that put me to sleep. I did not wake up again for what may have been many days.” Tara was silent for a while in the remembering of what A’chan did to her. “For what A’chan and his men did to me they will die very slowly should we meet again,” she finally said.

   “Phoenix analyze the statement just given,” Darrel seem to say to the air.

   “Analysis complete,” Phoenix’s computer replied after a moment of thought.

   “Report.”

   “General K’lgar and Brigadier Kratok and others yet unknown intend to kill the Empress, her personal guards, and anyone loyal to her. Possibly an attempt to gain control of the Klingon Empire for themselves or some other person yet unidentified. According to records orders were given to find and destroy the Enterprise and James T. Kirk.”

   “Brigadier Kratok is in command of what?”

   “He is in charge of the central administration of the Klingon Military High Command and is the liaison between the royal house and the military. It should be noted that he is distantly related to the House of Kahless and briefly served with the Empress’s Guards.”

   “And K’lgar?”

   “He is the military commander of the Klingon Empire second only to the Chancellor. He is of one of the many minor houses of the Klingon Empire. It is not known to which of the great houses his loyalty lie. It is reasonable to assume that he could not attain his current position without the aid of one or more of the great houses.”

    

   Kratok was talking to the face on his office view screen. “A’chan, my friend, how did the sale go?” he asked.

   “Better than expected, twenty thousand darseks. Twice what she was worth my friend,” A’chan replied.

   “Did you find out who bought the girl as I requested?”

   “A mercenary by the name of Darrel.”

   “I’ve heard that name before,” Kratok said. “What’s his listed occupation?”

   “By all the Gods it’s not possible,” A’chan replied with great surprise.

   “What’s not possible? What does the man do?”

   “He listed his occupation as Guard to the Empress.”

   “I knew I had heard the name before,” Kratok said rather agitated. “Computer display the record of Empress’s Guard Darrel.”

   “Darrel, human, last name unknown,” the computer said as it began to spit out facts. “He received appointment to the Empress’s Guard for saving the life of the Empress at great personal risk to his own. The Empress has summoned him to her on three known occasions for reasons unknown. He has also fought in six campaigns for the Empire and aided in putting down two rebellions. Decorated six times, three by the Empress herself. Major occupations: mercenary, bounty hunter, information broker and is suspected as a spy for Starfleet Command although no proof has been offered to substantiate this claim. Darrel is still listed as an active member of the guard, holds the rank of Commander and is the highest paid of all the guard members.”

   “Damn you A’chan, the worst possible person... Find out where he is now and report back to me,” Kratok snapped at the Klingon on the view screen.

   “Who is this Darrel person? Surely his occupation is a jest on his part,” A’chan said.

   “A’chan you have just sold a stolen slave of the Empress’s daughter to the only guard the Empress would totally trust with her life,” Kratok said. “We are all walking dead men unless Darrel can be killed.”

    

   “Why are we going to Earth?” Tara asked. “We have to warn the Empress.”

   “If we tried to go through the Empire we would be dead long before we could warn anyone,” Darrel replied. “I am not exactly unknown to the Klingon Military High Command. The Empress will start her tour of the Neutral Zone soon.”

   “How do you know that? Only the Empress, Ashalara, and the personal guards to the Empress know when she will leave.”

   “I know. Empress’s Guards all know the Empress’s itinerary. As a member of that guard I received her schedule three months ago. The Empress, her daughter, the guard, seventeen members of the Klingon High Council including the Chancellor will visit the Neutral Zone. We have time to get to Earth and back before K’lgar springs his trap.”

   “I am picking up two Klingon scout ships and a battlecruiser on long range sensors,” Phoenix announced.

   “Identify.”

   “B'rel class Birds of Prey GhochwI’ and Da’nal, light battlecruiser GhetwI’.”

   “Communications, Phoenix calling GhochwI’. Come on Celestial Tracker, I know you’re out there O’mri, answer me,” Darrel said.

   “Darrel I always thought you were a spy,” the stern looking Klingon on the main view screen replied. O’mri was from one of the minor houses of the Klingon Empire but he was a Klingon who embraced honor and duty to the Empire above all else. His crew was a reflection of himself and though they served a minor house in the Empire their pride in their house was without question. O’mri and his men were true Klingons who lived to serve for the good of the Empire.

   “Is that any way to greet a friend to whom you and half your crew owe life to?” Darrel asked with a smile.

   “Do not evade the issue Darrel,” O’mri replied. “We have our orders.”

   “I know the orders that sent you out here and I can guess at the orders you must have now. With the life of the Empress hanging in the balance I have no time to stop and play. You still have the scrambler I gave you.”

   “Yes, what did you mean when you said the Empress’s life hangs in the balance?”

   “O’mri I’ll have to talk to you later,” Darrel said. “We are getting too close together. Phoenix target the port engine of the GhochwI’, both engines of the GhetwI’, and center mass of the Da’nal. O’mri?

   “Yes.”

   “Stay uncloaked so I can make this shot as accurate as possible,” Darrel said. “I’m tracking Da’nal’s exhaust now and unless he turns off his cloaking device I will have to shoot him center mass.”

   “Sure why not, you know we’re here anyway,” O’mri replied.

   “Thanks, talk to you later. Phoenix go to warp fifteen now. Fire on my command... Fire.”

   The firepower of the small ship caught the Klingons by surprise. Photon torpedoes turned the GhetwI’s engines into twisted chunks of scrap metal and they spun helplessly out of control. The Da’nal got caught in a turn and was hammered into scrap metal by a half dozen photon torpedoes.  The Phoenix cycled through its phasers to cut its way through shields and armor plate to severe the Gnocchi’s left wing and engine from the ship.

   “Phoenix reduce speed to warp five,” Darrel commanded. “Phoenix calling GhochwI’, O’mri you all right?”

   “Yeah, were ok, you hit us pretty hard though,” O’mri said as he came on the view screen. “I knew the Phoenix was fast, but warp fifteen, I expected warp eight or ten.”

   “Turn the scrambler on.”

   “It’s on.”

   “O’mri if you throw a tractor beam on your engine you should be able to pull it in and reattach it well enough to give you warp drive again.”

   “Warp two if I push it.”

   “I want you to go to Starbase 11,” Darrel said. “You’re four days away at warp one. They will be waiting for you. They will fix it so your ship looks worse than it does now, but they will also repair your ship so it can do warp three or better. I want you to go back home and stay as close to the Empress as you can get. If I’m right you will be assigned to her escort when she goes to the Neutral Zone. If you have any trouble at the Starbase the code: alpha 1, priority red one, condition red one, alpha 1117 bravo, told exactly as I have phrased it to any computer console should clear everything up. Or, at the very least put the Starbase on red alert which can only be downgraded to yellow at the starbase commander’s discretion. If you play your cards right you should be able to return home a hero.”

   “If your right and I end up in the Empress’s escort what am I looking for?” O’mri asked.

   “Bad guys pretending to be good guys. I’m betting nothing will happen until you reach the Neutral Zone. You guys relax and have a good time while you’re at the Starbase, it’s on me. I will send you an encrypted memory-chip. It will explain to you and your men what is going on and what I need you to do. Trust me.”

   “I still think you’re a spy, but I’d trust you with my life,” O’mri said.

    

   Federation starship Wasp traveled at a leisurely rate outbound from Earth ferrying some minor diplomats home after a Federation conference. “Captain, I’m tracking an unidentified ship on course to Earth from the Klingon Empire moving at warp eight,” the crewman whose duty it was to monitor the ship’s sensor station said.

   “Open haling frequencies. This is the captain of the Federation Starship...”

   “...Wasp,” the voice said finishing the sentence. “This is the Phoenix and I have no time for this.”

   On the bridge of the Phoenix, Darrel set his coffee cup down. “Phoenix transmit the command code for the Wasp and go to warp ten; lock them up so they can’t bother us as we go by.”  

   The bridge of the Wasp was now very active as they tracked the small ship. “Captain, the ship just went to warp ten,” a crewman reported.

   “Phoenix I must insist that you reduce speed and identify yourself. Prepare to fire a warning shot on my command,” the Captain said.

   “The ship has increased speed to warp fifteen.”

   “Fire the warning shot, bring us around and lock on target.”

   Suddenly the ship seemed to go dead. “Captain, helm doesn’t answer control,” the helmsman said as he stabbed at buttons on his control panel trying to get them to work.

   “Fire controls are locked,” the weapons officer reported. “We couldn’t shoot a fly Captain.”  

   “Vernon, sorry to lock your ship up like that but I’m in a hurry.”

   “Who the hell are you, how do you know my name?” the Captain asked. “Where’s the ship now?”

   “Just leaving scanner range.”

   “Call Starfleet and tell them they have a ship coming at them doing warp ten plus,” Captain said as his ship began to come back to life. “Tell them the ship was identified as the Phoenix. Also advise them that the ship has some kind of device that enabled them to disable our ship.”

    

   Starfleet Headquarters Communications Center was alive with activity as they tracked a small inbound ship headed directly for Earth at high warp. The Admiral walked into the room looking half asleep and in truth he had been waken out of a sound sleep. “Admiral on deck,” someone yelled.

   “At easy,” the Admiral responded with a yawn. “Now someone bring me up to speed.”

   “A ship named the Phoenix is calling Admiral, he’s coming at us at warp nine,” the officer in charged replied from his station. “He won’t talk to anyone but an admiral and threaten to use an alpha code if I didn’t wake one up. Hell, I had to look it up to see what an alpha code is. I’m sorry I had to wake you up sir.”

   “It’s alright son, you did the right thing. Now let me talk to him,” the Admiral said. “Alright Phoenix, you got your admiral.”

   “About time! I’ve got an alpha priority here. I need you to get a couple of people for me. First, Captain James T. Kirk, tell him he can bring anybody he wants with him. Next, find an engineer nickname Scotty I don’t know the rest of his name, never asked and I needed them on Earth yesterday...,” the voice on the speaker replied.

   “Now hold on son, I’m not going to get anything or anyone until I find out who you are,” the Admiral interrupted.

   “Are you nuts? I’m not going to tell you anything on an open channel. Put a headset on and go to a coded channel.”

   “Well, I’m not going to do a damn thing until you tell me who you are.”

   “Alright, you asked for it,” the voice said. There was the sound of a high pitch squeal of computer talking to computer for a moment. “Computer this is an alpha red one alert priority, red-1-condition-red-1-red-red-red, computer command control code, red-1-1-1-A-red, acknowledge.”

   “Acknowledged,” the computer replied.

   “Admiral you want to change channels and put on a headset now?” the voice asked.

   “Well, a...,” the Admiral stuttered as he began to speak.

   “Acknowledge admiral. The final computer code will take it out of your hands and leave all of Starfleet in red alert.”

   “Acknowledged, this had better be good,” the Admiral said. “Get me a headset and a coded channel.”

   “My name is Darien Rellen, code name Darrel, I’m a secret agent for the Federation Security Council,” Darrel said after Admiral switched over to a secure channel. “The possibility of war with the Klingon Empire should be a good enough reason. With the right people and equipment I think I can stop it.”

   The Admiral frowned, he knew the Federation Security Council had secret agents in the field but he had never met one until now and the news he brought was real bad news. “Alright Phoenix, give me your list again,” he said.

    

   At Starbase 4 the Enterprise was undergoing repairs from its recent encounter with the Klingons. On the bridge Kirk sat in his chair doing nothing in particular as he stared at the main screen view. He glanced over when he heard the elevator door open. A young office in a starched uniform he did not know stepped onto the bridge and headed his way.

   “Captain Kirk I have sealed orders for yourself and Commander Scott,” the officer said as he came to a halt.

   “Scotty to the bridge,” Kirk said as he palmed the intercom button. “My orders Lieutenant.”

   “Yes sir.” The officer handed the Captain one of the two packets he was holding.

   “This must be some kind of a joke,” Kirk said after reading through the papers in the sealed packed. “Sealed orders just to return to Earth?”

   “This is no joke sir. Starfleet Headquarters is on yellow alert,” the officer said with all seriousness.

   A few moments later Scotty stepped through the elevator door. “What do you wana see me for Captain?” he asked.

   “Give him his orders Lieutenant,” Kirk said.

   “It says I’m to return to Earth to overhaul the Phoenix. I thought Darrel was a somebody, but not this kind of a somebody,” Scotty said a bit puzzled after reading his orders.

   Kirk pushed the intercom button on his chair again. “Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and McCoy meet me in the transporter room one,” he said. “Well Mr. Scott shall we go?”

   “Now Captain?”

   “That’s what the orders say. Lieutenant after you,” Kirk said.

 

   “What’s up Jim?” McCoy asked as he entered the transporter room.

   “Your guess is as good as mine Bones,” he replied

   “Where are we going Captain?” Chekov asked.

   “Back to Earth.”

   “How are we getting there sir?” Sulu asked.

   “Courier ship,” Kirk replied.

   “Fastest in Starfleet,” the Lieutenant said as he took his place on the transporter pad. “She can do warp fifteen to Earth and back without even working up a sweat.”

   “Energize,” Kirk said once everyone was in place.

   Courier ship’s transporter room was small but it looked and smelled like it was new. “Welcome aboard Captain,” the ship’s captain said greeting his guests.

   “Valdez isn’t it,” Kirk said as he remembered the face.

   “Yes sir, it’s a long away from the helm of the Enterprise, but I like it.”

   “It been a long time,” Kirk said.

   “Five years sir,” Valdez replied.

   “That long? Maybe you can tell me what’s going on.”

   “Not much to tell,” Valdez said. “A small ship named the Phoenix came screaming in at warp nine. Starfleet HQ has been on yellow alert ever since. An hour after the Phoenix got in they sent me out to Starbase 11 with an encrypted memory-chip to give to a Klingon Captain O’mri with instructions that the base commander was to view it with them. Sure enough when I got there there was a Klingon ship in port. Starbase 11 was on yellow alert also. I almost got my ass shot off coming in. My lieutenant found the Klingon captain in a loud rather heated debate with the base commander over the repair of his ship. We ate dinner at the Starbase and before we left they must have had every engineer in the Starbase working on that Klingon ship. I must admit I’ve never seen a ship being repaired with hand phasers. I went from there to here to pick you and Mr. Scott up. I’m supposed to run armed from this point on. You’re what I would call a hot potato. I have a chip for you too. The Lieutenant will show you to a room you can use to view the chip. Now if you will excuse me I have a ship to run.”

   “This is damn peculiar,” McCoy said.

   “You can’t fix anything with a hand phaser,” Scotty said.

   “Spock any comments?” Kirk asked.

   “Insufficient data Captain, although it may have something to do with why the Klingons attacked us,” Spock replied.

   “Let’s go see what’s on the chip. Then maybe we can get some answers to some of the questions that keep popping up,” Kirk said as he followed the Lieutenant out of the transporter room and down the hallway to a small lounge.

   “Command the computer when you’re ready,” the lieutenant said as he handed Kirk the memory-chip. “I must leave you now.”

   Thank you Lieutenant,” Kirk said. He plugged the memory-chip into the slot next to the computer. “Well, everyone get comfortable. Computer this is Captain James T. Kirk run the chip.”

   “Voice print verified,” the computer replied.

   The face of Starfleet’s commanding admiral appeared on the screen. “Jim by now you’re wondering what is going on,” he said. “You have been recalled to Earth to command a Klingon B’rel class Bird of Prey by Darien Rellen, a Federation Security Council agent, code name Darrel. It seems the Klingons loyal to the Klingon Empress have been sent to kill you in an effort by the Klingon High Command to have them killed by you in combat. This is part of a plan to kill the Empress and all those loyal to her. It is believed the Empress will be killed near the Neutral Zone in the very near future and we stand a good chance that Starfleet will get the blame. Darrel seems to think that you and he together can save the Empress and stop the takeover by General K’lgar and others. You should arrive before the Federation Security Council convenes in an emergency session to deal with this. Just between you and me I think you’re going to need a plan. I don’t think Darrel has one. If Darrel is right, and I believe he is, and you don’t save the Empress, we will have to go to war with the Klingons. Good luck Jim.

   “We’re going from the frying pan into the fire,” Chekov said.

   “Where is Starfleet going to get a Klingon B’rel class Bird of Prey?” Sulu asked.

   “I believe we solved that problem ourselves not too long ago,” Kirk replied. “Scotty you haven’t said much.”

   “I’ve been thinking Captain, my orders have assigned me to the Phoenix,” Scotty replied. “I know Darrel and I helped build the Phoenix...”

   “Scotty you built the Phoenix,” Kirk interrupted.

   “Aye sir that I did, and if ever there was a bucket of bolts, but fast and armed to the teeth. If I know Darrel he’ll be using the same junkyard we built the Phoenix in.

   “What’s Darrel like? What kind of man is he?” Kirk asked

   “He’s a good man in a fight,” Scotty replied. “He’s a save the universe type and would like nothing more from life than for everyone to live in peace and harmony with each other. That’s almost word for word what he told me one night after two bottles of some of the finest scotch I have ever had. I can’t believe he doesn’t have a plan Captain. And Captain, he’s worked alone most of his life, so if he’s got a plan you’ll have to pry it out of him.”

   “I wonder how he was able to get information on an assassination plot inside the Klingon Empire?” Spock asked. “I’m certain the Klingons didn’t tell him. To know when and where the Klingons' Empress will be is not something even most Klingons would know.

   “A setup Spock?” Kirk asked.

   “It would seem so without knowing more facts,” Spock replied.

   “Captain we could be walking into a trap if Mr. Spock is correct,” Uhura said.

   “If I am incorrect and we get captured the effect will most likely be the same,” Spock said.

   “Provided we don’t save the Empress,” Kirk amended.

   “Looks like we’re in for another course on how to read Klingon,” Sulu said.

    

   In an old spaceship junk yard filled with wrecks of every kind sat two ships. One Klingon B’rel class Bird of Prey that looked as though it might have stopped over for spare parts. The other ship looked as if it belonged there among the rest of the junk. Everybody was fascinated with the variety of junk.

   “They’ve got ships here that I’ve only read about in history books,” Chekov said looking at one ship.

   “I could spend days just looking around here,” Sulu said. “I wonder how many of the more intact ones work.”

   “Fascinating,” Spock mused to himself

   “Jim, you have got to see the sickbay in this one ship I was in,” McCoy said.

   “Captain...,” Uhura began to say before Kirk interrupted her.

   “You too Uhura. Can someone tell me what’s going on? We’ve got a job to do, and where’s Scotty?

   Darrel jumped down from a nearby pile of junk where he had sat listening to his guests and measuring them as people. He instinctively liked them all. “I think I can help you on all counts,” he said. “My father was a dealer in junk. There are ships here that are over two hundred years old. I can even show you a spacecraft from the mid-twentieth century. I even have spacecraft from early Vulcan history Mr. Spock. One day....no I’ll save that tale for another time. I’m Darrel, Captain.”

   “You’re not at all what I expected,” Kirk said as he looked over the big man standing before him.

   “This is my home, I relax a little more here than when I am on the outside. It’s been three years since I was here last,” Darrel said.

   “I think I’d like to hear the tale you told to get everybody at Starfleet hopping.

   “The short or long version?” Darrel asked

   “I think the short one will do for now,” Kirk replied.

   A few days ago I bought a Vulcan slave girl in the Neutral Zone,” Darrel said as he began to tell the story. “She was at one time a slave to the daughter of the Klingon Empress. She overheard something she should not have. It was because of Klingon greed that she was not killed on the spot. After I heard her story I knew how it would be done, I came here for help. You see some time ago I had the chance to save the Empress, which I did. I was given the highest honor the Klingon Empire has to give; I was listed as a member of the Empress’s guard. I had private talk with the Empress, as a result, I know the whereabouts of the Empress at all times as does any other member of the guard listed on the active rolls. I chose you because you’re listed as a member of the guard on the inactive rolls. You see I work for both sides for a better end; I’m a spy of sorts. I keep the Federation posted as to the goings on of the Klingon Empire and I also trouble shoot for the Empress which sometimes takes me into Federation space.”

   “So what’s the plan?” Kirk asked.

   “The Empress will soon begin a tour of the Neutral Zone. When she does the bad Klingons will try to kill the good Klingons, Empress included. All we have to do is make sure the bad Klingons don’t win, and save the Empress,” Darrel replied. “Simple isn’t it? The real battle comes tomorrow. We have to face the Federation Security Council and get their blessings. There the enemy will be deep rooted hatred and indifference. Come what may we will lift off in two weeks with or without their blessing. Later tonight you will meet Tara and hear her story for yourself if she is willing to repeat it again. I must leave you now; I fear that Scotty may be having a little bit of trouble with Phoenix.” The beeping in his ear was persistent.

   “I don’t think there is anything left to do except check on our ship,” Kirk said as he watched Darrel walk off toward the other ship.

   “Don’t you think his plan is just a little too simple sir?” Sulu asked.

   “There ought to be more to it than the bad guys verses the good guys,” Chekov said.

   “I like it,” Kirk said. “There are for the most part only two sides to any battle or war, the good guys and the bad guys. From our point of view we’re the good guys. I feel like there is more at stake here than we can even begin to guess at. If we win we will win big. If we lose, we’ll probably be dead so we won’t have to worry about fighting in the war that follows.”


   Scotty was standing next to the Phoenix trying to get the ship to open the hatch. “Alright you over grown bucket of bolts if you don’t open this hatch right now I’ll tear the hatch off at the hinges and come in there and take you apart chip by chip,” he said angrily.

   “I would not recommend such an action as I would be forced to defend myself,” Phoenix replied.

   “Having trouble?” Darrel asked as he walked up.

   “Yes sir. This person when denied access began to make extremely unpleasant threats directed toward a great variety of my parts,” Phoenix responded.

   “Why you oversized scrap pile...,” Scotty said.

   “See, he’s calling me names again,” Phoenix interrupted

   “I now know the one thing I could fix with a hand phaser,” Scotty said.

   “Now he’s threatening me again,” Phoenix said. “Should I zap him or maybe I should use the transporter on him and then lose him in one of my transporter storage banks for a while.”

   Darrel started to laugh. “I don’t find this at all funny,” Scotty said.

   “I’m sorry Scotty,” Darrel said trying to stifle his laughter. “Phoenix have a little respect, Scotty helped build you.”

   “I find that hard to believe,” Phoenix replied.

   “Phoenix let him in anyway and give him whatever aid he might require.”

   “I can fix that pile of microchips for you,” Scotty said as the hatch opened.

   “No thanks, I like Phoenix just the way she is,” Darrel replied.

   “Just what is it you want me to do to this...a... ship?” Scotty asked.

   “I need warp fifteen.”

   “The Phoenix can do that now.”

   “Yes, but she can’t hold it for long and I need the speed. The Klingons are coming out with new ships that will be able to match the Phoenix as she is now, and then there are the ships like the courier ship you came in. The Phoenix couldn’t even begin to catch one. There are also a few missile pods and a few other things I would like to attach to the outside,” Darrel said.

   “Missiles?” Scotty looked a Darrel like he had lost his mind. “Nobody uses missiles anymore.”

   “These missiles can travel at speeds up to warp five and carry ten one pound magnetic mines with tracking devices and high explosive charges in them; plus fifty pounds of what is essentially shredded aluminum foil to add to the smoke screen. I've found that most technological advanced races don't handle clouds of scrap metal coming at them very well. The foil tends to scatter standard radar and laser based sensing equipment. Dust embedded with the foil forms a cloud made up of some really nasty minerals that distort or block the more sophisticated sensors, add a certain amount of magnetic distortion, and by the time they figured out it usually too late,” Darrel replied. “It’s a lot like chaff countermeasures used by jet aircraft in the 20th and 21st century only a little more high tech. Each pod holds twenty missiles, I have ten pods.”

   “I would begin to think you expect to be out numbered.”

   “By ten to one, I will also need heavier shielding.”

   “Then you do have a plan,” Scotty said.

   “Sure I do. Can you keep a secret?” Darrel asked.

   “If the price is right,” replied Scotty.

   “How does four cases of scotch sound?” Darrel asked.

    

   Later that night Kirk and the others sat around a small fire talking among themselves, they were waiting on their host to arrive. Darrel and Tara were not so far away that they could not be overheard. “No, I will not tell it again,” Tara could be heard saying. “I’ve told it ten times already. Those old men were more interested in my life as a Klingon slave than they were in the fact that K’lgar will kill the Empress and all those loyal to her.”

   “Please Tara...,” Darrel said.

   “No! Those dirty old men made me relive the things A'chan did to me over and over again and I hate them for it. I will not go through it again.”

   “As you wish, tonight just relax and forget,” Darrel capitulated.

   Darrel and Tara walked into the small clearing surrounded by junk. Darrel set the box he was carrying down gently. “Tonight my friends we relax and get to know one another better. Scotty catch,” he said as he tossed him a bottle of scotch. “Here Captain you have one too. Four hundred year old scotch my father and I found in the hold of a pirate ship we salvaged. In truth, there were eight cases in all. Among other things Mr. Chekov I believe that pirate was Russian.” Darrel tossed Chekov a bottle.

   “Vodka,” Chekov said with a touch of surprise.

   “We found the wreck on Io, it had been there for about two hundred years. Dr. McCoy I am told you have a passion for ale from Romulus,” Darrel said as he handed McCoy a bottle.

   “This is six hundred years old. How did you get it?” McCoy asked.

   “That is another story Doctor. If we make it back I’ll tell you it over another bottle twice as old as the bottle you hold in your hand.” Darrel walked over and handed Sulu a small bottle. “Mr. Sulu off the coast of Japan in the eighteen hundreds an English ship sank. Most of the cargo rotted in the water. All that remains of that ship can be seen in a museum in Japan. Well, almost all that remains of that ship, except a few choice bottles.”

   “Sake, how?” Sulu asked.

   “My grandfather was on the salvage crew a long long time ago,” Darrel replied. “Mr. Spock I know Vulcans don’t normally drink but they do go in for fruit juice.” Darrel tossed Spock a bottle and then handed Tara one. Uhura your records don’t show you if you drink. I think you’ll find Vulcan grapes delightful if you want to share with Tara or perhaps you could talk one of these gentlemen into sharing some of their libations with you.”

   Darrel walked back to stand next to Tara after passing out glasses to everyone. “Tonight my friends, if I may call you my friends, we relax and drink together and recount tales of old times gone by,” he said. “A toast we need a toast, Captain if you would do the honors.”

   “My friends, old and new, I think I’m beginning to catch glimpse of what our new friend here sees,” Kirk said. “We are players in a game. This time the stakes are the highest we have ever played for and the odds are against us, but we’ve been there before and come away victorious. So to good times yet to come; to the good guys may they always win; to a victory for peace.”

   “Here, here,” Darrel said as everyone raised their glass. “To a victory for peace.”

    

   The next day Darrel sought out Spock for a bit of advice. “Mr. Spock I wonder if you could help me,” he asked.

   “Certainly,” Spock replied.

   “It’s Tara, she a Vulcan and you’re a Vulcan, so I thought you might be able to give me some advice,” Darrel said.

   “I am not certain....,” Spock said as he started to reply.

   “Shame on you Spock for jumping to a conclusion without all the information,” Darrel said with a smile before continuing. “Tara is consumed with hatred Spock for some of the things that have happened to her. I fear that her hatred will eat her up unless something can be done to help her. She has no family except a sixth or seventh uncle or something like that. It seems that he’s the Vulcan ambassador. I haven’t been able to reach him yet. I thought maybe you could talk to her. What do you say; want to give it a try?”

   “Yes, I will as you say “give it a try,” Spock said.

   “Thanks. You’re a good man Spock. Just remember when all else fails try love.”

    

   In the Federation Council Chamber the President banged his gavel. “It is the Council’s decision not to interfere in the matter at hand,” he said as he set the gavel aside.

   “So you’re going to sweep it under the rug just like that. Hide your head in the sand and hope it all goes away. Well, I can’t, I have friends I have already sent in and there is no way out for them now. The least I can do is go die with them,” Darrel said angrily.

   “We can have you stopped,” the President of the Federation replied.

   “Try it! I am a member of the Empress’s Guard and the Empress owes me her life. Don’t make the mistake and think I cannot draw on the power of what that means,” Darrel said just before he stormed out of the Council chamber.

   “Captain Kirk I trust you will talk to him and make him see reason,” the President said.

   “Talk to him. I plan to help him!” Kirk said. “Just knowing Darrel has reaffirmed my belief in mankind. Which is more than I can say for you gentleman here. Darrel sees everything in black and white, good and evil. For him and men like him there are no shades of grey. If we truly believe that we stand for good and have found the true measure of what civilization is really about then we cannot stand idly by and let what is about to happen, happen. If we know of a crime that is about to take place and do nothing then we would just as guilty as if we ourselves had committed the crime. In this case the crime that will be committed is murder.”

   “I have worked for the good of the Federation all my life and I believe in the things that it stands for,” Kirk continued. “I’ll be damned if I’ll let some bureaucrats who lack vision enough to know the difference between right and wrong throw it all away. I’ll resign first.” Kirk turned and followed Darrel out without as much as a glance backward.

   “Captain Kirk...Captain Kirk...” The doors shut behind him as the President of the Federation tried in vain to call him back.

   Standing in the hallway Darrel gave him a one man applause. “Good speech,” he said. “They won’t dare to stop us now. They still won’t do anything, but they won’t stop us either.”

   “Will we still get the help we’ve been getting so far?” Kirk asked.

   “I don’t know. The Klingons pay well; we’ll still get the help we need even if I have to pay for it myself.

    

   Spock found Tara in one of the hanger buildings in the junkyard looking at a small Vulcan merchant ship Darrel kept out of sight. “I knew your father; he was respected as one of the great merchants of Vulcan,” he said

   “He flew a ship a lot like the one before us only larger,” Tara replied. “We had no warning, I would have died too had it not been for Ashalara. I owe her my life. Strange the twists of fate. I hate the Klingons with all my being for what they have done to my family and for what they did to me, and yet I owe my life to a Klingon. Ironic isn’t it.”

   “Hate is an emotion,” Spock said. “If you let it, it will eat away at you until it destroys you.”

   “Hate? I don’t just hate I want to kill a man with my bare hands. I want to watch him die real slow. Yes Spock, I have come to know what hate is and it is something that can help you survive when all hope is gone.”

   “Your logic is flawed. On what do you base your data?” Spock asked. “Do you hate all Klingons?”

   “No, but...”

   “How many do you hate? Do you hate a hundred Klingons?”

   “No, but...”

   “Do you hate fifty Klingons? Given the data of the reasoning of the behavior patterns of the Klingons, would you say you hate twenty Klingons? Ten?” Spock asked.

   “Ok, I hate three Klingons, but one most of all,” Tara said.

   “Then you don’t hate all Klingons, and yet you do hate all Klingons, but you don’t, but you do. Your logic goes nowhere and has no end,” Spock said.

   “It has an end Spock. In the Neutral Zone between the Klingon Empire and Federation Space,” Tara said.

   “Your logic will fill up your mind long before then.”

   “Damn your Vulcan logic. My parents are dead, I’ve been raped, and then I’ve been worse than raped. How could you know what it is like?” Tara asked angrily. “You what to know what hate is Spock? I’ll show you my mind to yours. See what I saw, feel what I felt. Reach out and touch my mind Spock.”

   Spock reached out and touched Tara’s head gently with his fingers. For a moment he was one with Tara and knew what she knew, felt what she felt, and then Tara replayed and re-felt the horrors of riding in A'chan’s starship. Spock recoiled from the violence of what was done to her and the hate that filled her mind. Tara’s mind griped his and tried to keep his mind from pulling away from her. With some effort Spock broke the mind-meld and Tara dropped slowly to her knees sobbing. Spock stood there looking at her for a moment not sure what to do and then he knelt down and pulled Tara to him and held her as she cried.

   “Do you feel better?” Spock asks gingerly after a while.

   “Yes,” Tara replied as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

   “Can you tell me about this ship?”

   “Yes, it seems Darrel’s family has been in the junk business for six hundred years. The grandfather took this away from some pirates in the Neutral Zone a hundred and twenty years ago. Darrel’s even got all the parts to a Klingon battlecruiser around here someplace.” Tara tried to smile but the sadness that remained in her eyes tore at a part of Spock’s soul.


   “Darrel I’m afraid you’ll need new engines for sure,” Scotty said meeting him and Kirk on their return from their meeting with the Federation Security Council.

   “Is there any way to make do?” Darrel asked.

   “No, and I’ve looked almost everywhere for parts.”

   “Did you look in the two canvas covered buildings next to the main building?”

   Kirk, Scotty, and Darrel all walked over to the buildings and Scotty looked in. “Oh my...The things I can do with you two... Where on earth did you get these?” he asked.

   Kirk stepped into the building right behind Scotty and then backed quickly out of the building. “Where on earth did you get those?” he asked too.

   “When they were trying to invent a transwarp engine a lot of experiments in warp drive got scrapped,” Darrel replied. “These were among the scraps. You can drive a ship at...”

   “...Warp twenty five and hold it there for couple of days before it would start to get warm,” Scotty finish as he stepped out of the building.

   “Could you use the old engines to add more power to the shields?” Darrel asked.

   “Sure no problem,” Scotty replied.

   Scotty called in some favors and a whole army of student engineers descended on the junkyard for nearly two weeks for some hands-on training. Darrel’s junkyard was more museum than junkyard and he let some of the engineering students talk him into letting them come out and try to get some of the more intact ships running again.

   “Captain you should see the Phoenix’s communication section,” Uhura said as she sat down with the others to watch the sun set. “The Phoenix monitors all bands at all times. There is nothing the Klingons can say that is not heard and understood by the Phoenix. The one thing I don’t understand is how you broke the Klingon codes?”

   “I didn’t break them. I was given them,” Darrel said as he set the box he was carrying down and began to pass out cups. “You might say I have friends in high places in the Klingon Empire.”

   “And they just gave you the codes?” Sulu asked in disbelief.

   “It may not be vodka but it’s about the only thing we’ve got left,” Darrel said as he handed Chekov a bottle of scotch. “The Empress and I have an agreement and so I am supplied with whatever I need as one of her guards. Would you like to know what you are about to fly into and what it is all about?”

   “What would be helpful is to know how many ships we will be fighting?” Kirk asked

   “At last report thirty two,” Darrel replied.

   “How many ships will be on our side?” Chekov asked

   “Counting us, a maximum of seven,” Darrel replied. “The odds are about five to one.”

   “Four point five seven one four to one to be a bit more precise,” Spock amended.

   “Actually, the odds are 4.5714285714285714285714285714286 to 1,” Darrel said. “My mother was part Vulcan Spock. There are 32 ships at present in an area only about 10 light years across just inside the Neutral Zone. The Empress will pass through this area in 37 days. At warp 6 we should make it in time. The Empress’s ship is a heavy battlecruiser with extra shielding with 2, possibility 4, K’Vort class Birds of Prey as escorts. Of the 32 ships so far there are 8 K'Vort class Birds of Prey and 3 B’rel class Birds of Prey, 12 light cruisers, 5 heavy cruisers, and 4 yet to be identified. Fifteen are on the ground; three are in spacedock for minor repairs, and the rest are in space just sitting there waiting.”

   “I’m curious as to how you are able to obtain this information when all of Starfleet could not?” Spock asked.

   “I listen to everything they say,” Darrel replied. “Given enough time the Klingons will tell you what you wanted to know. I also have a list sent to me that tells me where everybody is supposed to be. They are not always there, but at least I know where they should be. Right now there is a whole bunch of Klingons that aren’t where they should be.”

   “You said you would tell us what it is really all about,” Sulu said.

   “On the other side of the Empire the Klingons are fighting a war and they are losing,” Darrel replied. “The Empire itself is on the verge of economic collapse and there have been a few rebellions on worlds they control that didn’t amount to much.”

   “The Empire at this time is held together by the Empress even though she is little more than a symbol around which the Klingon Empire is gathered. If the Empress were to die it is possible that K’lgar could unite the Empire by blaming the Federation for all their troubles and then if he could blame the Federation for the Empress’s death on top of it all. War with the Federation would be the outcome.”

   Darrel continued. “If we save the Empress and stop K’lgar. There will be no war. It is likely that a trade agreement with the Klingons would be reached which would help their economy. The war on the other side of the Empire would be stopped and peaceful contact with those people could be tried. In time, a lasting peace with the Klingons might be reached.”

   “So you see Sulu it’s all about and over power. K’lgar or someone he works for wants it and the Empress sort of has it but can’t really use it. She can only work within the limits of her power which is very limited because she is a female, but it is enough to keep the Klingon Empire from falling apart. K’lgar is trying to steal and consolidate all the power in the Empire for himself or someone else. One way or the other in thirty seven days, ten hours, and forty-three minutes it will all change.”

   It was early morning just before the sunrise that two heavily armed ships prepared to get underway. One was a Klingon B’rel class Bird of Prey that was sleek, clean, and looked like it just rolled off the assembly line. The other ship in contrast looked like a fat flying junk pile, some bastardized creation of a demented mind made up of a dozen different ships. Things folded out and retracted from its side as the two ships prepared to liftoff.   

   “Bounty this is the Phoenix calling. Isn’t the sunrise beautiful?”

   “It is, isn’t it,” Kirk replied over the bridge speaker.

   “Phoenix, pre-flight check,” Darrel said. “Scotty, how are things going?”

   “Almost done, I’m fine-tuning the transporter sensors now,” Scotty replied.

   “Last call, all a shore that’s going ashore,” Darrel said. “Now everyone sit back and enjoy your free vacation to the Klingon Empire. This includes a brief stopover in the Neutral Zone at no added charge. Tell them what else they’re getting in their free vacation package Scotty.”

   “We’ll give you your very own starship to fly to the Klingon Empire in. She may not be a fast ship but she won’t be a slow one ether at warp eight. High powered phasers are a nice compliment to the twin auto-load photon torpedo tubes.”

   Darrel continued where Scotty left off. “And so you won’t be bored we’ll give you forty photon torpedoes and all the phaser power you can use for a little target practice along the way.

   “With us as the targets,” Chekov muttered.

   “I heard that,” Darrel said. “I prefer to think of them as sitting ducks. How can we not hit something? For each shot that misses they risk doing more damage to each other than to us.

   “It’s the shots that hit I worry about,” McCoy said.

   “Darrel, I remember you said you had friends in the Empire,” Kirk said as he took one more look around the bridge of his ship for signs of trouble.

   “Yeah, so?”

   “What are they doing about now?” he asked.

   “All systems are green for launch, launch when ready,” Phoenix said interrupting the conversation.

   “Bounty you ready for launch?” Darrel asked.

   “As ready as we’ll ever be,” Kirk said. “About those friends of yours?

   “Phoenix prepare to launch in five, four, three, two, one, beginning lift off,” Darrel said. “If all’s gone well they should be heroes about now.”

    

   A very battered looking B'rel class Bird of Prey drifted rapidly toward their home world on a course that would take them to the capitol city and the Empress. “This is flight control, do you hear me GhochwI’?” There was a long empty silence. “This is flight control, this is a red alert. This is not a drill; crash teams to your stations, fire control stand ready. We’ve got a hot one coming in. GhochwI’ say again, you’re fading out again, we can barely hear you.”

   “This is Guard Command,” a booming voice in the flight control tower interrupted. “GhochwI’ hears you just fine Flight Control, but they seem to be experiencing some kind of malfunction as their transmissions are bleeding over onto one of our frequencies. GhochwI’ has been trying to tell you that their port engine is about to come off and that they have an unexploded ordinance lodged in their outer hull near their landing gear.”

   “Thank you Guard Command,” the flight controller said. “GhochwI’ you’re looking good. You should see the landing field any moment now.”

   “They see the landing field Flight Control,” Guard Command relayed.

   “Good luck GhochwI’,” the flight controller said.

   The GhochwI’ came down like a rock hard over the city but seemed to regain control at the last moment. They over shot the landing pad, then pulled back a bit before starting to settle on the pad. The port engine chose that moment to fall off which overbalanced the ship causing the starboard engine to hit the ground before settling badly on its landing gear. Inside the GhochwI’, O’mri and his crew stood waiting for the hatch to open. “We’ve practiced the story and the drill all those times for this moment. Remember the life of our Empress depends on us,” O’mri said.

   Outside the GhochwI’ as the hatch opened Klingons came running out. O’mri stood at the top of the ramp yelling, “Out everybody out, this thing is going to blow.” O’mri followed the last man out. Everybody was running like bat out of hell. “Run, run!” he continued to yell as he stopped to help a crewman that had twisted his ankle and fallen down.

   “Go on leave me,” the crewman said.

   “I don’t leave men behind,” O’mri said as he helped him up and carried him away from the ship just as the base of the GhochwI’ near the hatch exploded blowing the ship off its landing gear. No one was hurt badly. Fire crews went to work and a medical transport flew in to check for wounded. Kratok was on the transport.

   “I thought you’re supposed to be hunting down Kirk.” Kratok said.

   “Well, we’re back,” O’mri replied somewhat irritated. “What the hell was that little ship you wanted stopped anyway?”

   “Oh..., oh yes. A federation spy.”

   “Needless to say we didn’t stop him. GhetwI’ is still stranded out there. Da’nal was destroyed. If he had made a second pass we’d all be dead.”

   “You should have stayed out there and followed your orders,” Kratok said.  

   Two floating gun platforms set down silently behind the medical transport. Followed by a larger ship. Out of the night in the early morning mist walked the Empress dressed in grey and black.

   “...Should still be out there!” O’mri snapped back. “How the hell can you understand? Do you even know what it’s like to live with death? I don’t mean the we could get killed doing this kind of death. I mean a useless kind of death that having an unexploded bomb under you might bring. Thinking today could be the day I die and die so uselessly without a chance to look your enemy in the eye and spit in his face. Would it be a quick death or a very slow one? Stay out there and do what? Die without a fighting chance. If we had to die why do it in the loneliness of space? We chose to die here on our own home world near the Empress to whom we have all pledged our loyalty and our love.”

   “Your love is returned Captain O’mri, I have heard good words of you,” the Empress said as she stepped into the light.

   “Empress,” Kratok said startled almost as though he had been caught doing something he should not have been doing.

   “My Lady, we live to serve you,” O’mri said as he and his crew knelt before the Empress.

   “And I you Captain,” the Empress replied. “We must all learn service. Captain you must dine with me tonight, and do bring your crew. Kratok see to it that they are given rooms at the palace and new clothes are brought to them at once. Brave men need a reward.”

   “I think the brave part comes later,” O’mri said under his breath as the Empress turned to leave but his words, not meant to be heard, were not lost on her.

 

   In the palace at dinner O’mri and his crew were surprised to find they were the only ones dinning with the Empress and her daughter Ashalara. “Captain how is the food?” the Empress asked.

   “Great!” O’mri replied with his mouth full of garbat.

   “What news do you bring me Captain?”

   “My Lady?” O’mri was unsure what he should say.

   “I see through your story Captain,” the Empress said gently but firmly. “You were broadcasting on a channel that is a long way from the one you were trying to talk on. You could have stopped anywhere and been beamed off your ship. Why come here? Spare me the garbage you told Kratok. Who sent you?”

   “There is no lying to you, is there?” O’mri said.

   “No, there isn’t,” the Empress replied. “You were on a channel reserved for one person in my guard and for his use only. Now start talking Captain.”

   “We were ordered to stop a ship called the Phoenix at all cost. It was to have been carrying secret information vital to the Klingon Empire. We tried to stop the Phoenix but the Phoenix was faster and more heavily armed than I expected and it got away. We went to Starbase 11 for repairs.”

   “You went to a Starbase for repairs?” the Empress asked in disbelief.

   “Darrel told us to,” O’mri replied almost apologetically. “Empress, he has got to be a spy for Starfleet. He knows codes that can turn a Starbase upside down.”

   “I like to think of him as my Federation bodyguard.”

   “Then you know he’s a spy?

   “He is a spy and then he isn’t,” the Empress said. “He’s not after our secrets. Darrel is more or less the Federation keeping a watchful eye on us. Like an advanced scout, but he works both ways and he has done a few odd jobs for me from time to time. Captain, Darrel’s loyalty to me is without question and will come even before his duty to the Federation. So while I may know he works for the Federation, I doubt very seriously he had any secrets vital to the Empire. So tell me what it is you are trying hard not to tell me.”

   O’mri could think of no way else to say what had to be said. “Darrel thinks someone will try and kill you when you tour the Neutral Zone. He thinks we can catch them all if we stick to the plan.”

   “What is the plan?” the Empress asked.

   “Well, first I need to be in your escort...,” O’mri replied as he began to tell her of Darrel’s plan.  

    

   K’lgar and Kratok met together in one of the many rooms in the place. K’lgar was standing at the window looking out deep in thought at the report Kratok had just given him. “I tell you he knows,” Kratok said after K’lgar’s silence stretched out longer than he thought necessary.

   “If he knew we would both be dead right now.” K’lgar said. “No, he knows nothing. The Empress herself asked if it couldn’t be arranged for O’mri to be in her scout escort. No sane man would go with her if he knew what was going to happen. I think I will have Captain O’mri lead the escort and let him pick the men that will fly the escort with him. As the humans would say, few extra birds when we throw our stone.

   “It is a trap,” Kratok said

   “It’s a trap alright and they’ve walked right into it,” K’lgar replied.

   “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said. The Empress will want proof of our treachery before she acts. What better way than to let us hang ourselves?”

   “To do that she would have to go to the Neutral Zone wouldn’t she. There is no one that could reach her in time even if she called for help yesterday. The only way that would work is if she had changed her plans; which she has not done.”

   “And what of Darrel?” Kratok asked. “What do you think he’s been doing all this time? He’s had time to ask the Federation and Starfleet for help.”

   “The Federation will do nothing. That is their way,” K’lgar replied. “They might send a warming to the Empress, but the time is long past for the Federation to have sent such a message. At the most Darrel might be there. If he can find out where there is.”

   “Are you forgetting Darrel’s ship?”

   “I’m forgetting nothing. Not even Darrel and his ship could withstand the fire power of thirty-seven ships. Kratok, I want you there to make sure nothing goes wrong.”

   “As you wish General. Let us proceed with caution, our lives hang in balance.”

   “I am always on my guard, my friend. At least you be in a ship and can run if things go wrong. I have nowhere to run in case things go badly.”

    

   O’mri stood in a small class room on a military training base outside the capital city Qam-Chee. Before him stood the best pilots and gunners in the Klingon Battle Academy. “Be seated,” he said to the cadets. “How many of you are willing to die for the Empress? All of you I hope. I want, no, I need volunteers to man scout ships. Now, before all of you volunteer I must tell you that at some point the Empress will ask you to sacrifice your life for her. I know I am a dead man and my death will count for nothing. The Empress goes to meet her death and is in need of an escort. Now who will go with me to die? Come and stand with me that I should know I will not die alone.”

   There was some hesitation by those in the room. Klingons love a good fight to the death but O’mri was asking them to throw their lives away. In the end only enough men stood with him to barely man two scout ships. “The Empress thanks the rest of you for your time. You may leave,” O’mri said and waited for the room to clear before turning to face those who remained. “If you’re real good it’s possible that you might live,” he said. “Combat training will begin at sunrise. Be at the landing field at that time.

    

   On the bridge of the Phoenix, Tara stood defiantly before Darrel seated in the captain’s chair. “This is far enough,” she said. “Remember your promise.”

   “Jim will need her,” Darrel said.

   “I’ll not have what happened to me happen to her. Do you stand by your word or not?” Tara replied.

   “I’ll standby what I said then,” Darrel said. “That does not mean I have to like the idea now...Wouldn’t hurt.... Phoenix simulate a short in your communication equipment... Bounty this is the Phoenix; I seem to have a problem here.”

   “This is the Bounty. What kind of a problem?” Kirk asked relaxing in his chair on the Bounty’s bridge.  

   “I’ve lost communications with the Klingons and I have to be able to talk to some of the Klingons. Could I borrow your communications officer for a short time?” Darrel asked. “I need an expert. I’ll get her back to you as soon as I can.”  

   “I’ll see what I can do Phoenix,” Kirk replied. “Uhura?”

   “It shouldn’t take me long sir,” Uhura replied to the unasked question.

   “Phoenix, I’m sending Uhura over. Take good care of her,” Kirk said.

   “Thanks Jim. I owe you one. Oh, by the way, everyone over here flies first class. Uhura is in good hands, trust me.”

   Phoenix chose that moment to interrupt the conversation. “Long range scanners show multiple targets closing on four ships.”

   “Stay cloaked. I’ll go in and get their attention” Darrel said. “You sneak up behind a few of these ships and introduce yourself.”

   Darrel glanced over at the door as it swished open and Uhura walked in. “Scotty are we all ready to go?” he asked.

   “Aye, just checking the shields again,” Scotty replied.

   “Uhura on behalf of the captain and crew I’d like to welcome you onboard the Phoenix. I hope your stay with us will be a pleasant one. Now, please take your seat,” Darrel said. “Phoenix, go to warp ten.”

    

   McCoy sat at the communication station filling in for Uhura while she was on the Phoenix. The others were busy at their stations. “The Phoenix’s shields are powering up and it has just accelerated. Speed is now warp ten,” Spock said

   “We’re never going to catch him,” Chekov said.

   “Sulu, warp eight,” Kirk said. “Chekov, man your guns. Spock, a course to the nearest ship we can come up behind.”

    

   On the Phoenix’s bridge Uhura was trying to locate a very stubborn short in the ship’s communications system. Just when she thought she had it, it vanished.

   “Phoenix to GhochwI’. Talk to me O’mri,” Darrel said.

   “Darrel, welcome to the party. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” O’mri replied.

   “What? Throw a party and then not show up, parish the thought,” Darrel said.

   “What now?” O’mri asked.

   “Start shooting, you got thirty seven ships surrounding you, all cloaked,” Darrel said. “Phoenix, I need a direct link with the Empress.”

   “I can’t find a short anywhere. As far as I can tell the system is working perfectly,” Uhura said when she finally gave up trying to solve the problem.

   “I promised Tara that I would not let the Klingons capture you. That’s why you’re here,” Darrel said.

   “You can’t keep me here,” Uhura said angrily, mad that she had been so easily tricked.

   “You would best serve Jim by staying here,” Darrel said. “In any case, it’s not me you need to be talking to. I would send you back if it were not for Tara.”

   “Tara, I’d like...,” Uhura started to say something but the look of deep pain she saw in the girl’s eyes stopped her. She looked over at Darrel.

   “I have a daughter somewhere about Tara’s age...,” Darrel said leaving things unsaid hanging there.

   “I am tracking multiple ships with cloaking devices engaged,” Phoenix interrupting everyone’s train of thought. “No shots have been fired during the time I have been scanning them. All ships are out of range of one another at present. The scouts around the battlecruiser are moving out for a battle drill.”

   On the bridge of the GhochwI’ the crew was preparing for battle. O’mri had the other ship commanders on his main view screen and was addressing them with one final pep talk. “This is it,” he said. “The Empress’s life depends on our action here today. If all goes well I shall see you again. One way or the other we shall be remembered forever for what we lived or died for this day. Remember to break when I give the command and head for Starbase 11. From this point on you are members of the Guard; guard the Empress well!”

   “Now tracking all thirty seven ships,” Phoenix said

   “Now O’mri, fire...,” Darrel said more to himself. “Shoot.... Now!”

   “The Empress’s escort have just fired 3 photon torpedo spreads and have started random disruptor fire,” Phoenix reported.

    

   Communicated as a battle drill so anyone listening would not suspect anything was amiss until it was too late the escort ships, 3 K'Vort-class Birds of Prey, began what seemed like random firing of their phasers and photon torpedoes cloaking and de-cloaking between each salvo fired. The battlecruiser they were escorting fired its weapons in counterpoint covering the smaller ships as they re-engage their cloaking device. The MaQmIgh, the Dark Omen of Hell as the ship was sometimes called was a front line capital ship with all the firepower needed to go with her name.  

   Kirk watched the scene unfold on the Bounty’s main view screen. “The three scout escorts to the battlecruiser have begun random firing of phasers and photon torpedoes,” Spock reported.

   “I do believe that is our cue,” Kirk said. “Chekov, standby to fire phasers and photon torpedoes.  Disengage the cloaking device.”

   Bounty appeared behind a battlecruiser just after it de-cloaked. “Fire,” Kirk ordered. The Bounty fired its disruptors and photon torpedoes which hit the battlecruiser dead center in the rear and was turned into three very large pieces of scrap metal.  

    

   It did not take long before the attacking ships realized that their little surprise attack was not quite the surprise they thought it was when the MaQmIgh and its escort ships began scoring hits on cloaked vessels. Suddenly they found themselves in a knock down dragged out kind of fight shooting at three scout ships and a heavy battlecruiser fighting for their lives.

   Things began folding out from the sides of the Phoenix as it raced toward the battle. “I have reached the Captain of the MaQmIgh,” Phoenix reported as it connected Darrel with the battlecruiser.

   “Phoenix put it on the main screen,” Darrel said.

   “This is the MaQmIgh,” the Captain of the battlecruiser replied.

   “This is the Phoenix. I am Darrel, personal guard to the Empress, I must speak to her at once,” Darrel said.

   “We were expecting your call Commander.”

   The Empress stepped into view on the Bounty’s view screen. “My Lady,” Darrel said with a slight bow of his head to show his respect.

   “Darrel, still saving me I see,” Empress replied.

   “It’s my favorite full time job,” Darrel said with a smile.

   “Darrel, Ashalara is with me...,” Empress said letting her words trail off knowing she could say no more.

   MaQmIgh’s bridge was filled with activity as the battlecruiser returned fire from the pounding it was taking. “Darrel,” the Empress said softly when she could not gauge the reaction of the man on the view screen and he did not reply immediately.

   “She wouldn’t have been safe in the palace alone,” Darrel said. “More bate for the trap. Are you both wearing the necklaces I gave you?”

   Yes, Ashalara would never part with it. She wears it all the time. She feels her father watches over her through the necklace,” Empress replied.

   “I need you both on the bridge to make it easier when I beam you onboard the Phoenix,” Darrel said.

   “The GhochwI’ has been hit and has lost all power,” Phoenix said cutting into the conversation. “A light battlecruiser is now targeting the MaQmIgh.”

   “Phoenix arm all missiles,” Darrel said. “Go to warp twenty, standby to deflect photon torpedoes... Fire four missiles target the light cruiser... Lock transporter on all living crew members of the GhochwI’ and beam them onboard.

   “Transporter activated. Cruiser powering up to fire photon torpedoes,” Phoenix said in a flat tone that belied the urgency of the situation.

   “Full power to the shields. Intercept the photon torpedoes,” Darrel commanded.

   “Firing four missiles,” Phoenix said as the ship raced toward the MaQmIgh.  

   A light Klingon battlecruiser fired a spread of photon torpedoes at the MaQmIgh before veering away to avoid any return fire. Moments before the photon torpedoes would have hit the MaQmIgh a small ship flew right into their path.

   “System check, Scotty how’d we do?” Darrel asked.

   Scotty looked at the displays on his console. “Not even breathin’ hard. No power loss and shields are still at maximum,” he reported.

   “Main systems check ok,” Phoenix said reporting on its overall systems. “I am checking for the source of an intermittent power loss in one of my minor systems now.”

   “Scotty check it out,” Darrel said.

   “Checking now, I don’t show a power loss... No, there it is. Damn gone again. This could take a while,” Scotty said.

   “Make it a short while,” Darrel said.

   The bridge door opened and O’mri stepped into the room. “You really should get that first step fixed. Although being bounced off a transporter wall is much preferred over being dead,” he said.

   “Noted, I’ll have the walls padded first chance I get,” Darrel replied.

   “I’m getting to old for this shit,” O’mri said.

   “You and me both,” Darrel said. “Well, pull up a chair, guaranteed front row seating for the show. Be seated quickly though the show is about to begin.”

   “Two heavy battlecruisers, four light cruisers and seven Birds of Prey are closing to kill range,” Phoenix reported.

   “From the cooking pot into the fire, catchy title,” O’mri said sarcastically.

   “Phoenix lock transporter on the Empress and her daughter and beam them onboard on my command. Target all incoming ships with missiles, five each, I want them to run into a wall; fire when ready. Come about and prepare to intercept or target photon torpedoes with phasers. I want to talk to the Empress on the MaQmIgh,” Darrel said.

   The Empress appeared on the view screen the young woman standing next to her was her daughter Ashalara. “Darrel?” she said questioningly.

   “Sorry for cutting you off before my Lady. Please standby to be transported onboard,” he replied.

   “In coming photons torpedoes, I’m tracking now, missiles firing. Firing phasers at two of the torpedoes. We will intercept the third. All others will miss the MaQmIgh,” Phoenix said.  

   The missiles from the Phoenix exploded in front of the enemy ships before they could be targeted. Shredded aluminum foil coated with various elements designed to disrupt ship sensors and fifty small round magnetic balls formed a wall of mines through which each ship must pass. The balls punch holes in the hull as they impacted on the ships and then exploded a moment later tearing gaping holes in the surface of the ship.

   The Phoenix rocked hard as the photon torpedo impacted against the shields. The lights flickered for a moment before going out completely. “Do something,” O’mri said when the lights did not come back on.

   “Power should have come on by now,” Darrel said. “Standby to go to manual... now.” The lights blinked a couple of times before coming back on. A console came up from the floor and surrounded Darrel. “Scotty to the transporter room now. Uhura you can set the transporter controls from your consul. Make sure we’re still locked onto the Empress and her daughter. Then see if you can get Phoenix back online. “O’mri you’re sitting in the gunner’s chair shoot something. Tara monitor for him.”

   “We’re going too fast, I can’t lock on,” Uhura said after a few moments.

   “Scotty?” Darrel asked

   “Uhura is right we’re going too fast to lock on manually. What happened?” Scotty asked from the transporter room. The lights should have come right back on.”

   “The manual override did not activate automatically. I had to use my switch to activate the manual controls,” Darrel replied. “I can’t slow down or they might get a lock on us. I need the Phoenix back online.

   “The main power circuit and the circuit that switches to secondary power must have burned out. I’ll have to go and change circuits,” Scotty said.

   Scotty quickly rummaged through the spare parts in the engine room until he found what he was looking for and then opened the panel where he knew the damaged circuit would be.

   “Hurry Scotty I need Phoenix back online,” Darrel said.

   “I’m goin’ as fast as I can,” Scotty said.

   “I need Phoenix now Scotty, I show seven ships coming in range and a dozen more right behind them,” Darrel said.

   “Just one more moment,” Scotty said as he pushed a bundle of wires out of the way so he could get at the old circuit board.

   “Five ships are just now coming into range,” Tara reported

   “Scotty...”

   “One more second.”  

   It was a rather long second. “Transporter standing by,” Phoenix said as the computer came back to life.  

   “Phoenix your back!” Darrel said.

   “I never went anywhere,” Phoenix replied.

   “Good work Scotty,” Darrel said

   “Seven photon torpedoes have been fired,” Phoenix reported.

   “Beam the Empress and her daughter onboard now,” Darrel ordered.

   There was hardly time to blink an eye before photon torpedoes pulverized the MaQmIgh turning it into a very large fireball in space for a brief moment.

   “Welcome aboard your Highness,” Scotty said after the Empress and her daughter materialized on the transporter pad.

   “You must be Scotty builder of this fine ship. Don’t I know you from somewhere..., hmm,” the Empress said.  

   “I don’t see how you’re...,” Scotty started to say before the Empress cut him off in mid-sentence.

   “Take note Ashalara of who are friends are. I remember now Commander Scott. I must tell you, you don’t act like one of the most wanted enemies of the Empire. I’m also told that you are the best engineer that Starfleet has. I dare say that there are a few things you could teach us. Commander Scott I leave my daughter in your care. I have to talk to Darrel,” the Empress said.

   “The bridge is...,” Scotty said.

   “I know my way Commander,” the Empress said cutting in again before he could finish.

    

   This was not going according to carefully made plans. Already they had lost more ships than expected. Kratok was not happy at all. “Report,” he said not bothering to hide his irritation.

   “The GhochwI’ has lost all power and there are no life signs onboard. The MaQmIgh has been totally destroyed. I have an indication that someone was beamed off the MaQmIgh before it exploded,” a crewman replied.

   “Darrel, damn him,” Kratok said to himself. “Have all ships target the Phoenix.”

   “Brigadier there seems to be another ship,” the communications officer said. “I am receiving transmissions from a sixth ship.”

   “On screen,” Kratok said. A picture of the bridge of the Bounty appeared on the main view screen.

   “Sound,” Kratok said staring at the officer like he had done something wrong.

   “None sir. The picture seems to be some kind of bleed over from another channel,” the officer replied.

   “James T. Kirk,” Kratok mused to himself. So Darrel got the Federation to help him after all, he thought. “Advise all ships. I want Kirk alive at all cost, but I want the Phoenix destroyed first.”

    

   Kirk stared at Darrel on the main view screen. “Things are starting to get pretty thick. You’ve got the Empress let’s get out of here,” he said.

   “Ok,” Darrel replied. “We’re going to need some cover fire. I’ll send the two scouts out first and cover their withdraw. Then I’ll fall back to your position and cover you as you withdraw.”

   “Are you keeping track of the ships that are left?” Kirk asked.

   “Sure, you’ve killed six, I’ve killed one, and disabled seven and damaged six more. Twenty three out of thirty seven can still shoot,” Darrel replied

   “The odds are getting better. Kirk out.”

   “I get the feeling he’s hiding something,” McCoy said once communications were cut.

   “What do you mean Bones?” Kirk asked.

   “Something’s wrong Jim. He’s got a ship that can do warp twenty plus and armed with more weapons than you can find on any starship in Starfleet and he has only made one kill. It’s like he doesn’t want to shoot anyone,” McCoy replied.

   “Captain, I must agree with Doctor McCoy,” Spock replied.

   “You do?” McCoy asked in disbelief.

   “Yes Doctor, I do. Though badly stated your logic is quite correct,” Spock replied.

   “Explain Spock,” Kirk said.

   “As Doctor McCoy pointed out Darrel has a ship that can travel at warp twenty plus and so far he has yet to use that advantage to any effect,” Spock said as he started his explanation. “The Phoenix is armed with advanced weapons yet Darrel has only used missiles against the Klingons. Commander Scott said he could not believe that Darrel did not have a plan, and I must agree with him. Though his plan may have seemed simple I now believe it is far more complex than he has told us. In fact, I believe we do not know what Darrel’s real plan is.”

   “Spock, if Darrel was using the Phoenix’s weapons and warp drive to full effect what would the outcome of this battle be?” Kirk asked.

   “I cannot be certain, but consider, between our two ships we have destroyed or disabled more than a third of the ships we are currently engaged with,” Spock replied.

   “Captain if we could win why run?” Sulu asked.

   “Maybe he doesn’t want to ruin perfectly good junk,” Chekov injected.

   “What?” Kirk asked somewhat perplexed

   “He‘s a junk dealer and he has a whole junkyard full of intact starships. I’m sure he didn’t get them by blowing them into scrap metal,” Chekov replied.

   “Now that I think back, I don’t remember seeing anything that looked like scrap metal, more like junk parts,” Sulu said.

   “Chekov I think there is more to it than that though that may be a part of it,” Kirk said.

    

   Darrel stared at the readouts on the console that now wrapped around his command chair before looking up at the main view screen. “Phoenix slow to warp ten and fade the power to the outer shields,” he said.

   The bridge door slid open and the Empress walked in. “Darrel it has be a long time...,” she started to say before she noticed Tara sitting in one of the station chairs. “Tara... Where? How?... Darrel?”

   “My Lady, Ashalara is she...?” Tara left her question hang open-ended  

   “She’s fine Tara, I left her in the Transporter room with Commander Scott,” Empress replied.

   “Darrel?” Tara said asking for permission to leave the bridge by inflection.

   “Go ahead, I’ll call if I need you,” Darrel said motioning with his head in the direction of the door.  

   Tara stopped in front of the Empress. Her eyes were filled with emotions she could not express. The Empress reached out and brushed a strand of hair from Tara’s face. “Go on,” she said softly and watched as the door closed behind her. “Darrel where did you find her? We searched everywhere for her.”

   “I found her on a slaver’s auction block on Davison’s planet,” Darrel replied. “She overheard K’lgar’s plan for your reception in the Neutral Zone. She would be dead except for Kratok’s greed. Kratok is the weak link in K’lgar’s plan. He will want Kirk alive, which is why I brought the Captain and his crew along.

   “That would mean Captain Kirk would have to be captured by the Klingons. You can’t,” Uhura said somewhat shocked by what she was hearing.

   “I must, if Jim knew what is about to happen he might not react the way I need him to, and now onto business at hand. Phoenix I wish to talk to the commanders of the remaining escort ships,” Darrel said to the omni-present computer.

   “On screen,” Phoenix replied.

   “Lieutenants, my name is Darrel. I’m at this time in command of the Empress’s Guard. You may now disengage from the battle,” Darrel said.

   A picture of each ship’s captain took up half the Phoenix’s main view screen. “With all due respect we wish to stay and die with our Empress so she will not have died alone,” Lieutenant Gi'ral said.

   “That’s not the plan,” Darrel said with a frown.

   “Let me talk to them,” O’mri said.

   The Empress walked around behind Darrel and rested her hand on his shoulder. “I commend your wish to die with me but I am not dead yet...”  

   “Empress you’re not dead. Thank the Gods,” Lieutenant B'elan interrupted.

   “...Nor do I intend to die,” the Empress continued. “You have your orders Lieutenants. You know your part of the plan, carry it out now. I would not have you die needlessly in any case.”

   “Have a good time at Starbase 11.” Darrel said. “You have an open account at the Starbase, try not to get too carried away, Phoenix out.” The images of the two Lieutenants on the view screen were replaced once again with a view of space. “Phoenix target all enemy ships with one missile each standby to launch on my command. Launch five missiles each to cover the escort ships’ withdrawal.” Darrel was in no mood to play any longer than necessary.  

   “Incoming photon torpedoes,” Phoenix reported

   “Evade, full power to shields,” Darrel: commanded.

   “Missiles launched,” Phoenix reported. “Bounty is calling.”

   “Tell the Bounty I will talk with them in a moment. Scotty is everything ready?” Darrel asked.

   “Aye, when you fire the missiles on all the remaining ships the Bounty’s warp drive will fail leaving them with impulse power and shields. The power that would have gone to the warp drive will be diverted to the shields and impulse engines,” Scotty replied.

   “Better than expected Scotty,” Darrel said.

   “Mr. Scott, do you know what you have done?” Uhura asked. “Darrel you have to tell the Captain what you’re doing.”

   “I don’t have to tell anyone anything except the Empress,” Darrel replied.

   “You’ll get the Captain killed. Is that what you want? Uhura asked.

   “Phoenix what are the odds that Captain Kirk will be killed?” Darrel asked the computer.

   “None. Orders have already been given that he is to be taken alive at all cost,” Phoenix replied.

   “O’mri remove her from the bridge and put a guard on her,” Darrel said. O’mri waved at two of his men standing by the bridge door. “I’m sorry Uhura, I’ll explain later, right now I don’t have the time and you might try something in the way of trying to warn Jim and I can’t have that. It could get us all killed. Phoenix I’ll talk to the Bounty now.” Kirk’s image appeared on the view screen a moment after Uhura was taken from the bridge by the Klingon guards. “Jim what can I do for you?”

   “You can tell me what the hell you’re up to? When are you going to start shooting at some of these ships out here? Kirk said.

   “I am shooting the ships. I just don’t destroy them,” Darrel replied. “Scrap metal is too hard to salvage. Each missile will imbed a tracking device into the ship it hits so I can hunt them down later. You may be surprised to find out that you are fighting almost a full third of the Klingon fleet.

   “That’s impossible the Klingons have more than a thousand ships,” Kirk said.

   “No Captain that is not impossible,” Empress said. “K’lgar started a war with the blessing of the Klingon High Council. We have lost almost nine hundred ships in three years and have built few to replace them. It is one of our best kept secrets. It is not my wish to have only sixty ships with which to defend the Empire. So in keeping with my wishes Darrel is trying not to destroy any ships, but rather than destroy he is disabling them.

   “I understand Empress,” Kirk said.

   “Jim you ever wonder why I called my ship the Phoenix?” Darrel asked.

   “No, I can’t say that I have,” Kirk replied.

   “Well, think about it. Phoenix out,” Darrel said. “There’s your clue Jim. Figure it out and you’ll know the whole plan.”  

   You shouldn’t have told him that much. He might put it all together too soon,” O’mri said.

   “K’lgar will not want the truth from Kirk. They will not be questioned,” Darrel said.

   “If K’lgar did anything it would try and get them to admit to a lie,” Empress added.

   “Multiple ships closing on us,” Phoenix said interrupting. “Incoming Photon torpedoes.”

   “Standby to fire all missiles,” Darrel said. “Scotty get ready.”

   “Two hits, outer shields holding,” Phoenix reported.

   “Drop power to outer shields 80 percent, full power to main shields. Reduce speed to warp five,” Darrel said “Standby to go to warp twenty five.”

   “Incoming photon torpedoes,” Phoenix said.

   “Fire all missiles pods,” Darrel said.

    

   “That’s damn peculiar,” Kirk said more to himself than to anyone on the Bounty’s bridge.

   “Sensors indicate that the Phoenix was just hit amidships by two photon torpedoes,” Spock said relaying what his sensors were showing him. “Shields show an 80 percent power loss. Phoenix has decelerated to warp five.”

   “Put them on screen,” Kirk said.

   “More incoming photon torpedoes.  Phoenix is firing all remaining missiles. Maximum of three photon torpedoes will hit the Phoenix in eight seconds the shields will not hold... Fascinating,” Spock said a bit perplexed by some of the sensor reading.

   “Punch it Darrel. Get out of there,” Kirk said to himself as he watched the scene unfold on the main view screen.

   Pounded by disruptor fire and three photon torpedoes the Phoenix exploded. Now empty missile pods, two engines, and other assorted bits of junk drifted away from the blast zone now obscured by smoke and debris.

   “Fascinating,” Spock muttered to himself as he studied the sensor readouts. The smoke was not behaving as one would expect smoke to behave. The reading indicated it was more dust cloud than actual smoke which should have dissipated quickly.

   “Scotty, Uhura, no... Sulu get us out of here.” Before Sulu could touch a thing the instrument panel exploded along with other instruments around the bridge. “What the...Were we hit?” Kirk asked.

   “No damage to the outer hull. Shields at maximum,” Spock reported.

   “Damage report,” Kirk roared.

   “Warp drive doesn’t answer to helm. There appears to be a massive short in the warp drive controls,” Sulu said.

   “We still have phasers and photon torpedoes online. Shields still at maximum,” Chekov reported.

   “Power to warp drive is being automatically diverted to the shields. We have full impulse power,” Spock said.

   “Spock how long to repair?” Kirk asked.

   “If we had the parts, which we don’t, it would take a week to rewire everything,” Spock replied. “Klingons closing on our position.”

   “How far to the nearest planet?”

   “Four hundred and twenty seven thousand kilometers. Class M atmosphere, thin but breathable.”

   “Chekov, fire a spread of photon torpedoes to cover us. Sulu, get us down on that planet,” Kirk said trying to beat the odds one more time.

   “Klingons will close to killing range in ten minutes,” Spock said.

   “How long before we reach the planet?” Kirk asked.

   “E T A twenty five minutes at full impulse,” Sulu replied.  

   “We‘re dead,” Chekov said.

   “We’re not dead yet,” Kirk said.

   “Twenty of the Phoenix’s missiles have just come around from behind the planet. They are headed toward us and should reach our position in two minutes and seven seconds,” Spock said.

   “Killed by our own side,” Chekov said abjectly.

   “Hold your course Sulu,” Kirk said. “If I’m right those missiles will explode behind us and in front of the Klingons. The minefield they will lay down should buy us the time we need. Spock, see if you can rig a time delay self-destruct that will blow this ship up. Bones give him a hand. Sulu crash land, a soft landing won’t look right for what I have in mind.”

    

   Kratok paced back and forth on the fleet flagship bridge. He stopped only to look at the battle unfolding on the main view screen.

   “Phoenix destroyed Brigadier. I am tracking incoming missiles fired from the Phoenix before she was destroyed,” one of the crewmen reported.

   “Gunner destroy those missiles,” Kratok commanded.

   “Brigadier I’m receiving damage reports from the other ships. They vary from minor to major damage. A few of our ships do not respond to our signals at all,” another crewman reported.

   “Gunner the missiles destroy them now,” Kratok said angrily.

   “I’m trying sir. I can’t lock on,” the gunner replied.

   The missiles grew larger on the view screen. Kratok had a bad feeling. “Now gunner fire,” he yelled.

   “I can’t get a lock...,” the gunner said as he fired wildly hoping he would hit them with sheer luck. Much to his surprise the missiles exploded.

   “Good shooting,” Kratok said.

   “I didn’t hit them,” the gunner said. “They exploded on their own.”

   “I’m getting conflicting reports, something about missiles,” the communication officer said.

   “Hard over helmsman. Full power to shields,” Kratok yelled. “Brace for impact.”

   “I’m getting a reading of outer and inner hull penetration on our port side. Sealing the sections now,” someone said as explosions rocked the ship.

   “Air pressure has been lost on the port side. I show major damage to the port engine,” a crewman reported.

   “A new kind of space mine no doubt,” Kratok said. “Order all ships to converge on Kirk. Remind them I want him and his crew alive.”

   “Scanners indicate Kirk’s ship is no longer using warp drive. Impulse power only. Shields still up. They’re firing photon torpedoes.  He’s trying to run for it Brigadier.”

   “We got him now. He can’t out run us on impulse power,” Kratok said.

   “He’s trying to make the planet,” one of the crewmen said.

   “Twenty missiles have just come from behind the planet on a collision course with Kirk’s ship if he holds his course.”

   “Even dead the Empress strikes out at us,” Kratok said to himself.

   “Kirk has not changed course.”

   “That can’t be.... Is he trying to kill himself?” Kratok asked no one in particular.

   “Perhaps to save the Federation from embarrassment,” someone suggested.

   “The missiles have passed him and are headed toward us.”  

   “Bring us about helmsman,” Kratok said having already tasted what those missiles could do.

   “The missiles have just exploded,” a crewman reported.

   “Advise all ships of the minefield those missiles lay. Tell them to go around the field,” Kratok said. “Kirk can’t go far on impulse power.”

   “Brigadier, something else those missiles carry prevents our scanners from scanning beyond the minefield. I have lost track of Kirk’s ship.”

   “No matter, there are only two places he could be; open space or on Skellos. No place to hide in open space. He will land on Skellos,” Kratok said.

    

   Chekov and McCoy entered the Bounty’s transporter room carrying backpacks where the others had already gathered and were waiting on them. “Sulu did you set the automatic controls,” Kirk asked.

   “Yes sir, impact in eighteen minutes,” Sulu replied.

   “Spock?” Kirk said questioningly.

   “The ship will explode ten seconds after impact,” Spock replied.

   “Well, now that the food’s here...,” Kirk said as McCoy and Chekov set the backpacks, one for each person, on the transporter pad.

   “Should be enough to last us a week; maybe more if we stretch it,” McCoy said.

   “Coming up on our mark Captain,” Spock announced.

   “All ashore that’s going ashore,” Kirk said as he picked up one of the backpacks and took his place on the transporter pad.

   “Couldn’t we have gotten just a wee bit closer to the spaceport Captain?” Chekov complained.

   “We don’t want to show up too soon. Skellos will soon be overrun with Klingons all of which will be looking for us. I’m hoping they will give up after a while,” Kirk said. “Try and think of it as an extended camping trip Chekov.”  

   “I hate camping,” Chekov replied.

   “Cheer up it could be worse,” McCoy said.

   “I don’t see how,” Chekov said.

   “Just think we’ll get to experience the primal nature of an unexplored planet,” McCoy said.

   “The way our luck has been lately, we’ll probably get eaten by some primal life form,” Chekov replied as he slipped on his backpack.

   “Ten seconds,” Spock announced just before he pushed the button that would send them all down to the planet. He took his place on the transporter pad and a few seconds later they were all standing safely on the planet. Fifteen minutes later the Bounty slammed into the planet and exploded.

    

   Kratok beamed down to the crash site with others of his crew. “They must be dead, nothing could live through that,” one of the Klingons said.

   “That is exactly what Kirk wants us to believe,” Kratok replied. “I want the forest searched centimeter by centimeter from here to the spaceport.”

   “That could take days,” one of the crew grumbled.

   “Then the sooner you get started the sooner we can leave,” Kratok snapped back. “See if the transporter controls can be found. We might save ourselves a lot of work if the control circuits are intact.”

    

   Kirk stared up at the trees of Skellos. “Have you ever seen such trees?” he asked.

   “Paradise lost,” McCoy replied kind of sarcastically.

   “The trees here must be close to seven hundred meters tall,” Sulu said.

   “What do you say now Chekov? Nothing has jumped out to eat us,” McCoy said.

   “Yet,” Chekov added. “Reminds me of a forest back home. Only the trees are a bit taller here.”

   “Spock which way?” Kirk asked

   “That way Captain, one hundred and sixty three kilometers,” Spock replied pointing in the direction of the spaceport.

   “Well, let’s get started. Remember we’re not in a big hurry to get there. So everybody take it easy. Spock be sure to point out the major points of interest as we go along,” Kirk said.

   “The major point of interest on Skellos is the trees Captain,” Spock said. “The average height is six hundred and eighty six meters. There are some trees well over a kilometer in height. The trees are most valued for their sap which is an unusually pure natural poly resin. Because Skellos is in the Neutral Zone this source of natural poly resin has gone almost untapped. The wood is extremely hard, and can only be worked with lasers. This is due in part to the tree’s poly resin sap. The trees support a wide variety of life. Ranging from the smallest flutterby to an ape like creature that is rarely seen...”

   As interesting as it was after an hour Spock’s monolog was tiring. By the end of the day... “Spock give it a rest,” McCoy finally said. “How far have we come?”

   “Approximately sixteen kilometers,” Spock replied.

   “We’ll stop here for the night,” Kirk said.

   “Spock you have got to be the longest winded person I have ever known,” McCoy said as he slipped off his backpack and dropped it on the ground.

   “I found it quite fascinating doctor,” Sulu said. “Mr. Spock, you said the purest of the sap is found near the top of the tree.”

   “Quite correct Mr. Sulu. Ninety nine point nine nine seven eight three percent pure in the average tree,” Spock replied.

   “This would be a great place to retire,” Sulu said.

   “Who’d want to retire here?” Chekov asked as his legs gave out and he sank to the ground totally exhausted.

   “You don’t understand...,” Sulu said.

   “I understand,” McCoy interrupted. “You have a planet full of trees filled with liquid plastic for sap. A great place Skellos.”

   “Poly resins are used in everything Doctor. From some of the armored glass in spaceships to micro-circuits,” Sulu said. “Right Mr. Spock?”

   “Correct,” Spock confirmed. “It is in micro circuits that it is most valuable. Using present refining techniques we can only produce organic poly resins that are ninety two percent pure. At present, the cost of doing so is quite expensive, about sixteen hundred Federation credits an ounce. It is the cost of refining that prevents us from converting from silicon chips to poly resin chips which are twice as stable and require less shielding than their silicon counter parts. Currently, the sap sells for about twice that amount.”

   “Three thousand Federation credits an ounce. I think I could learn to like it here,” Chekov said.

   “Retire here later gentlemen. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow. Chekov you have first watch,” Kirk said. “Three thousand Federation credits an ounce for tree sap Spock?

   “Current market value is 3,742 Federation credits an ounce,” Spock replied. “This would be greatly reduced if this planet could be worked. Even if trade agreements could be reached with the Klingons, it would be some time before the full potential of this planet could be reached.”

   “This might not be a bad place to retire,” Kirk said to himself.

   The next day was as easy walking as the day before. The ground was a soft somewhat soggy spongy carpet of decayed leaves. Only the massive roots of the giant trees stretching out sometimes a hundred meters before plunging into the ground hampered their journey. Things were going well up until mid-afternoon brought them to a halt on the edge of a swamp.

   “Spock can we go around?” Kirk asked.

   “Unsure Captain. There is something on Skellos that interferes with the tricorder. It has been with some difficulty that I have been able to hold the course we are taking using the beacon at the spaceport,” Spock replied. “The survey report of Skellos indicates that most of the surface is swamp a few centimeters deep to several meters in depth.”

   “How deep is the water here?” Kirk asked.

   “Uncertain Captain, the tricorder cannot register anything below the surface of the water. There is something in the water that prevents sensors from registering anything,” Spock said.

   “It doesn’t look deep Captain,” Chekov said. To prove it he walked out into the swamp. For a time Chekov proved himself right and then without warning he disappeared beneath the surface of the water as he stepped in a hole.

   “I don’t think we’re going to be able to walk across,” Kirk said trying not to laugh at Chekov floundering in the water.

   “We’re going to need a boat,” McCoy said.

   “Mr. Spock what are these plants that look like really tall bamboo?” Sulu asked looking at a stand of plants some of which were nearly 10 meters tall and almost 30 centimeters in diameter.

   “They seem to be some sort semi-rigid segmented plant the soft interior of which seems to be made of some kind of natural polystyrene foam,” Spock said after studying the readout on his tricorder.

   “Is this whole blasted planet made out of plastic?” McCoy asked.

   “That’s it Sulu,” Kirk said. “We don’t need a boat Bones. We can make a raft.”

   “Well move over Huckleberry Finn,” McCoy said sarcastically.

   “Spock is there something around here that we can use for rope?” Kirk asked.

   “I believe there is,” Spock replied. “The vines that are growing up the base of some of the trees have properties similar to nylon rope.”

   “Good,” Kirk said. “Sulu you and Chekov cut down some logs about 6 meters long. We need enough of them to make a raft 3 meters wide. We’ll also need some poles to push with. Bones give them a hand. Spock let’s go collect some of your vines.”

   “No, no, no,” McCoy said shaking his head after watching Chekov and Sulu try and work out the engineering for their raft. “It’s obvious neither of you have ever built a raft before. The cross piece needs to go on top or you’re going to hang up on the first underwater obstacle you come across.” McCoy made them take everything apart before putting the raft back together properly.

   “It’s a fine looking raft Bones,” Kirk said once they were done.

   “It’s a long way from being the kind of rafts I’ve used back on the white waters of Earth,” McCoy said.

   “It will do just fine,” Kirk said.

   “But, will it float?” Chekov asked.

   “Well, we’ll find out in the morning,” Kirk replied.

   In the morning they pushed raft out onto the water. “See it floats just fine,” McCoy said smugly. Even with the weight of 5 people the raft sat lightly upon the water.

   “All right everybody push,” Kirk said as he dipped his pole into the water and the raft began to move. “Push....Push.... I think this is going to work just fine.”

    

   Kratok tapped his fingers on the armrest of his command chair angrily; he was not a patient man. “With all the equipment and men of twenty ships I think you could have found Kirk and his crew by now,” he said after hearing the latest report.

   “We are doing our best Brigadier,” the crewman replied.

   “That’s not good enough!” Kratok snapped back angrily. “We’ve been here five days. K’lgar grows impatient. We have within our means to present the Klingon people with a Federation assassin whom we may blame the death of the Empress on, only we can’t find him.

   “There is something on the planet that renders our sensors inoperable near the surface,” the crewman tried to explain. “In some places it’s worse than others. If they were on a land mass we might detect them. If they’re in the swamp which covers most of the surface of the planet we might never find them unless one of our men actually sees them. It is only a matter of time before we find them. We know about where they beamed down. We have men working their way toward the spaceport even as we speak. There are also men making their way through the swamp from the spaceport. Three days, four at the most if luck is not with us, is all the more time we need.”

   “I don’t want excuses! I want Kirk found!” Kratok said impatiently.

    

   Three days later everyone was tired of endlessly pushing their raft along with the long poles they had cut for just that purpose. “How much longer do we got to keep this up?” Chekov asked.

   “Spock?” Kirk asked.

   “Three more days at our present rate of travel,” Spock replied.

   “At least Huckleberry Finn didn’t have to pole his raft all over the Mississippi river,” McCoy grumbled.

   “Mr. Spock I’ve been wondering, how could the plants on this planet have evolved to become the way they are?” Sulu asked

   “I’ve been wondering the same thing. Everything seems to be some form of natural plastic,” Kirk said

   “I must admit that I too have found this planet somewhat perplexing,” Spock replied.

   “Plastic trees, plastic plants, plastic flowers, I’ll bet the animals are plastic too,” McCoy said.

   “You’re quite right Doctor. Everything I have encountered so far has been made up of some form of living poly resin. There is no logical explanation,” Spock said.

   “How about an illogical one?” Kirk said.

   “This planet may have been an experiment in some form of genetic manipulation,” Spock said.

   “An artificial planet Spock?”

   “Most likely. It is the only explanation that would agree with the known data.”

   “Land,” Chekov said with a lot of relief in his voice.

   “Damn, I can’t find the bottom with my pole,” Sulu said when he almost lost his pole.

   “I think we can use the poles like paddles well enough to get to shore,” Kirk said. It might have been funny watching them splash around in an effort to paddle to shore with the po1es but no one was in the mood to laugh.

   “Captain, I think I just felt the bottom,” Chekov said. He pulled his pole up only to find it somewhat shorter. “What the...”

   “Son-of-a-bitch, we got company!” McCoy yelled.

   Out of the water appeared a large head that was mostly a mouth of long sharp teeth set below two large black eyes. It is attached to a long serpentine neck.

   “Use the poles to try and keep it back,” Kirk shouted. “We’ll use our phasers as a last resort.”

   The monster snapped at the ends of the poles offered him. Little by little their long poles kept getting shorter and at the rate the creature was going it wouldn’t be too long before the poles were useless. Kirk darted in and hit the creature hard across the snout with what was left of his pole. The beast slid quickly beneath the water to avoid any more abuse at the hands of the humans.

   “Let’s get to shore now,” Kirk said. Before they could even try to move the creature attacked the raft from the bottom spilling everyone into the water. The few moments the enraged creature spent destroying the raft gave everyone a chance to swim to shore.  

   Sulu was the last to reach the safety of the shore or so he thought. Finished with the raft the monster turned its full attention on the pitiful creatures that dared to disturb its nest. Distracted by the floundering humans trying to get out of the water the creature struck little off center and bit Sulu in the left shoulder, arm, and upper chest. Sulu pulled his phaser as the creature lifted him from the water and fired point blank into the creature’s head to no real effect. The creature released Sulu shaking its head to clear the temporary blindness caused by the phaser. Chekov upon seeing his friend’s predicament swam back for him. Spock still in the water only a few feet from shore drew his phaser and fired at the creature in order to cover Chekov and Sulu only to find his phaser had no effect on the creature. Kirk reached shore the same time as Spock. “Fire at its head!” he yelled.

   Blinded by the phasers the creature submerged. McCoy was still standing in waist deep water a little ways from Kirk and Spock. The creature emerged from the water right in front of him. McCoy tried to back away from the creature but his foot got caught on a root or something and he tripped and started to fall backward into the water. As the creature’s head snaked toward him two man-ape like creatures rush past him in the water with long wicked looking spears. Two more ape-men grabbed McCoy and pulled him to shore. More of the semi-humans appear from out of almost nowhere some to help Chekov and Sulu, the others to help keep the creature at bay with their long spears. A moment later the sound of gun fire or more like that of a small cannon was heard from two guns. Shells exploded in the head and neck of the creature which died after a half dozen more rounds all but completely severed the head from the rest of the creature’s long winding body.

   “Bring him quickly. The poison will kill him if he is not treated right away,” one of their obviously human rescuers said as he slung his gun back across his shoulder. The ape-men pick Sulu up and follow after the man and the young woman with him. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Chekov follow in their wake.

   Kirk and others entered a clearing around the base of one of the trees. A native village was built into the base of the trees and extended upward for three hundred meters. The ape-men put Sulu on the ground and one of them began to apply a plant poultice mixed with mud on Sulu’s wounds. “What the hell are they doing? You don’t put mud on an open wound it will cause infection,” McCoy said as he started forward to stopped them.

   McCoy was stopped by the human in the group before he could reach Sulu. “Don’t interfere,” he said.

   “Get out of my way,” McCoy growled at the man.

   “I understand your concern. But, I cannot let you interfere or your friend will die,” the man replied.

   “What they are doing to him will cause a major infection to his system,” McCoy snapped back.

   “The infection is something you can treat. The poison of the Long Neck is something you cannot even if you had the time and all the equipment of a Starbase Medical Center,” the man said calmly. “The poison is not detectable with our present equipment. Without this treatment your friend will most certainly die as the poison is very fast acting.”

   “Your timely assistance was most welcome. I’m Captain Kirk...” Kirk said.

   “The Captain Kirk?” the man interrupted.

   “Yes I am, and might I inquire as to who are?” Kirk asked.

   “I’m honored to meet you Captain. I’m David Sarday and the young woman with me is my daughter Sara,” David Sarday replied.  

   “Doctor David Sarday?” Spock asked.

   “Guilty, I’m afraid,” Dr. Sarday replied.

   “The name sounds familiar, have we met before?” Kirk asked.

   “No, not that I know of,” Dr. Sarday replied.

   “Dr. David Sarday, xenobiologist, his work on the Rejellian lifecycle shook the very foundation of xenobiology,” Spock said. “Much of what xenobiology is today as well as many other related fields is due to his work Captain.

   “Yes, I remember now. You created quite a stir when you disappeared Doctor,” Kirk said.

   “I got tired of it all one day,” Dr. Sarday said. “The people, the crowds, the speeches, so I picked a planet off the beaten path that needed studying and moved. I just didn’t leave a forwarding address. I could easily spend the rest of my life here and never touch the surface of what could be learned. This planet is both a xenobiologist’s dream and nightmare. They should be done with your friend soon.”

   “Just what does this treatment consist of?” McCoy asked skeptically.

   “The treatment for the Long Neck poison is administered in three phases,” Dr. Sarday replied. “What you are seeing now is the second phase. The first phase is given orally while the person can still swallow. They did that right after they pulled him out of the water.

   “What if he can’t swallow?”

    “The second and third phases would not be needed,” Dr. Sarday replied. “First, a liquid is given orally. It is made from a plant that grows on land near the swamp’s edge. It can’t be found inland. The second phase is a kind of a mud pack that is applied to the bite. This I have been told helps to draw out the poison. I think it neutralizes any remaining poison in the area of the bite. It’s mixed one part mud four parts plant. Besides the base plant two other plants are used. The third and final phase takes place about three hours later. At that time the wound is washed with a diluted version of what the person drank earlier. There will be an infection, but that is something that can easily be treated. I have seen what the Long Neck’s poison can do to a person if he is not treated. There is no one on whom I would wish such a death.

   One of the natives approached Sarday and signaled that they were done with Sulu. Sarday signaled back. Two of the ape-men picked Sulu up and start to carry him off.

   “Where are they taking him?” Kirk asked

   “To my camp on the other side of the village,” Dr. Sarday replied. Another native approached Sarday and handed him an earthen jar; Sarday thanked him. They all began to follow the natives carrying Sulu. “Tell me Captain what brings you and your friends to Skellos?”

   “Klingons.” Kirk said.

   “Klingons?”

   “We came here to try and save the Klingon Empress from an assignation planned by the Klingon High Command.

   “Did you save her?” Dr. Sarday asked.

   “No, we came so close too,” Kirk replied. “The lives of a lot of good men and two of my closest friends were lost. The Klingons will probably go to war with the Federation. The Federation will win but not before many lives are lost.”

   “So how did you get here?” Dr. Sarday asked.

   “My ship lost warp drive over Skellos,” Kirk said

   “The Klingons pretty much own this planet. It’s not likely you’ll be able to get off Skellos in time to catch the war,” Dr. Sarday said.

   “Now that would depend on whether or not the Klingons catch us,” Kirk said.

   “You’ve got Klingons after you?”

   “Most likely.”

   “What happens if they catch you?” Dr. Sarday asked.

   “We will be made the assassins of the Empress and held up before the Klingon Empire to help incite the masses into going to war with the Federation,” Kirk replied.

   “Then it’s best if you keep moving,” Dr. Sarday said. “All though you can go nowhere tonight. Your friend cannot be moved. My advice is to stay in the swamp if you can. I’ll be happy to show you some common plants you can eat to make your rations last longer.”

   “Thanks, we need all the help we can get,” Kirk said.

    

   A Klingon studied the readout on screen as he scanned the planet below. He reached out and pressed a switch on the panel. “Brigadier Kratok to the bridge,” he said as he continued scanning the area. A few minutes later Kratok answered the summons; the doors closed behind him as entered the bridge.

   “Brigadier we have detected a surge of energy on the surface of the planet,” the crewman said.

   “Is it Kirk?” Kratok asked.

   “Unsure Brigadier, but the energy signature may be that of a handheld phaser and it is approximately in line with the crash site and the spaceport,” the crewman replied.

   “Beam some men down to investigate,” Kratok said.

   “That is not possible,” the crewman said. “We have been unable to scan the area in question well enough to supply the transporter with coordinates.”

   “How long before we could get some men into this area?”

   “Eighteen hours, a little sooner if no one runs into any trouble.”

   “What kind of trouble?” Kratok asked.

   “Swamp creatures,” the crewman replied. “We have already lost 5 men to them. The creatures are unaffected by energy weapons of any kind.”

   “I’ve waited seven days so far. I can be patient a little while longer,” Kratok said.

    

   Dr. Sarday’s camp, if you could call it a camp, was part of the main native village located in the center of a triplex of giant trees that were lashed and cabled together. Compared to the stick frame dwellings that dotted the tree on the outside the central core of the village was far more modern looking. The main house and research lab were built into the base of one of the giant trees and looked like giant bubbles of sand. “Welcome to my base camp,” Dr. Sarday said with a smile. “The main research faculty is 300 meters above us where it should be safe.”

   “This is amazing doctor,” Kirk said. “You would never guess something like this could exist here judging by what I saw earlier.”

   “How was it constructed?” Spock asked. “I know of no known method of construction that could duplicate this.”

   “I have no real idea,” Dr. Sarday replied. “The natives did this all for me without my asking. I helped a little in the final stages of construction, but most of it was built almost overnight. I watched and recorded what I could but the bulk of the construction was done before I even knew they were building anything. As a researcher I was in heaven.”

   “You’d never guess it. If they build this, why do live in the shacks we saw on the other side of the tree?” McCoy asked.

   “They don’t really live in those shacks as you call them,” Dr. Sarday replied. “Certainly some of the village life takes place on the other side of the trees. It is like they move out into the country during the day and return to the city at night. I’m not entirely sure why they do that.”

   “Doctor you said your main research faculty is 300 meters above us where it would be safe, safe from what?” Chekov asked.

   “The wrath of the Gods or the war of the Gods or something like that,” Dr. Sarday replied. “It is a time when the face of the world is changed and the trees walk and the water rises up and cleanses the world, or so that’s the story the natives tell.”

   “This is a most puzzling planet Doctor. It raises more questions than there are answers,” Spock said.

   “Doctor it seems that you know more than you’re telling,” Kirk said.

   “I can see how you gained your reputation Captain,” Dr. Sarday said. “You are quite right I do know more than I’m telling, but it is a tale best told after you have had time to rest and eat. Ah, here’s my daughter now.”

   “Dad I’ve laid out some sleeping mats in the library and used the guestroom for a sickbay, if that’s ok?” Sara said.

   “That will be fine Sara,” Dr. Sarday replied. “I must leave you now Captain, I have work that I must attend to. Sara will show you all to the library where you may rest. Dinner will be in about five hours.

   “We are most grateful Doctor,” Kirk said.

   “Sara they’re all yours,” Dr. Sarday said.

    

   Dr. Sarday turned on the lights in the library and found three phasers facing him held by Kirk, Spock, and Chekov. McCoy was still fumbling around looking for his phaser. “Whoa, relax, I’m a friend,” he said with hands raised out to his sides.

   “I sorry Doctor, we’re a little on edge,” Kirk said as he clipped his phaser back on his belt.

   “Understandable,” Dr. Sarday said. “I thought I’d bring dinner to you. Sara pushed a floating cart full of food past her father still standing in the doorway. Kirk and the others gathered around the cart and piled the steaming hot food onto their plates.

   “I believe you were going to tell us about what you have found on Skellos Doctor,” Kirk said after he satisfied some of his hunger.

   “Dad...,” Sara said leaving the rest of what she wanted to say unsaid.

   “It’s all right Sara. I think Captain Kirk can keep a secret,” Dr. Sarday replied. “I must have your word that you will not repeat the things I’ll tell you tonight. I will in time report the findings of my work here but until that time I wish our work here to remain a secret.”

   “You have our word Doctor,” Kirk said.

   “I believe that I have stumbled across two more intelligent life forms, one of which may be the first major non-human intelligent lifeform found in some time,” Sarday said.

   “On what do you base your data Doctor?” Spock asked.

   “I will come to that in due course Mr. Spock,” Dr. Sarday said. “First, a little history. A hundred years ago an outpost was set up here on Skellos. Almost fifty years ago all contact was lost with the outpost. There is no knowledge as to what happened to it. Forty years ago a new outpost was set up and in time it became the small spaceport that it is today. I shall not go into the kind of animals that inhabit it.”

   “A certain amount of luck has been with me from the start,” Dr. Sarday continued. “The natives I found to study are the prime factor. First, the chief is a young man open to new ideas. Second, the natives here serve the Gods. What I mean by that is the natives here help the Gods do things; primarily in construction of the Gods’ cities. In return the Gods reward them for their efforts. When I found the natives here they had just returned from one such construction project. That was two years ago.”

   “I must say that I do not believe that the Gods are real Gods only that the natives think of them as such. If I am correct I have seen one of the Gods. It’s a crab-like looking creature. I have caught only brief glimpses of it. I believe I am correct in this when one considers the spider like description of the Gods given by the natives.”

   “Once I’m certain one followed me as I went out to collect samples. After that ether the natives or the Gods have helped collect samples for me. Many times I have found plants or animals in cages outside my front door. The natives say only that they are gifts from the Gods to me.

   “Aside from you, has anyone seen one of these Gods up close besides the natives?” Kirk asked

   “I have,” Sara said. “One saved me from a Long Neck. They have firepower that make our guns seem like toys. The poison of the Long Neck makes you wonder if what you’re seeing is real. I still only half believe what I saw.”

   “Sara was out on one of our floating trucks collecting samples when she was attacked by a Long Neck,” Dr. Sarday said. “It took us a day and a half to find her. You might be interested to know Dr. McCoy that the Gods’ treatment for the Long Neck’s poison is similar to the native’s cure only much more antiseptic.

   “I should hope so,” McCoy said.

   “It pulled me from the truck wreckage and injected me with something. After that it used a spray on the wounds which also stopped the bleeding,” Sara said. “It stayed with me all that night and sprayed my wounds again the next morning before leaving me. Not long afterwards Dad and some of the natives found me.”

   Spock caught a glance of a pair of eyes on the end of what looks like long thin poles staring at him from the library window. “Just what exactly does this creature look like?” he asked.  

   “At first glance it looks like a large ocean crab from Earth,” Sara replied. “They have 8 legs, two claws or pinchers, and soft puffy sides between the top and bottom shell. It has four eyes, two on fixed antenna and two on retractable antenna similar to a snail’s. It also has something like hands and arms near its head which retract against the bottom of its shell.”

   “If one of the creatures is carrying any equipment it will be attached to its shell near its head,” Sarday said. “They are a bit like decorator crabs on Earth and they are masters of camouflage disguise.”

   Spock watched as another set of eyes rose up next to the eyes on the poles. “Spock what are you looking at?” Kirk asked as he caught a glimpse of the eyes at the window for a moment before they disappeared. He walked quickly walked quickly to the window followed by Spock. They both looked out but they saw nothing of the creature that was there a moment ago.

   “I often wonder who is watching who here,” Dr. Sarday said.

   “You saw those eyes?” Kirk asked.

   “Not this time, but I have on other occasions,” Dr. Sarday replied.

   “Doctor is this planet an artificial world?” Kirk asked.

   “That is a possibility,” Dr. Sarday replied. “The native legends tend to support that theory. It might well be an ongoing experiment by the Gods or some kind of colonization effort that may have gone terribly wrong.”

   “If it is an experiment, to what end?” Kirk asked.

   “You’ll have to ask a God that question Captain,” Dr. Sarday said. “All I know is that there may be a periodic catastrophic event the natives on this planet have learned to live with, and if I am correct that may have interrupted the colonization effort on this world by both of the native species here. Now, it has been a long day and I could use some sleep.”

   “If you don’t mind, I’d like to check on Sulu,” McCoy said.

   “By all means doctor,” Dr. Sarday said.

   “I’ll show you the way,” Sara said.

   Kirk watched Sara and McCoy leave the room followed by Dr. Sarday. “Something strange is going on here and I’ll be damned if I can figure out what,” he said to himself.

    

   Even though it looked like it was early morning the sun was well up in the sky. Blocked by the leaves of the giant trees very little light reached the ground leaving the surface of Skellos in a kind of bleak perpetual shadow that in the morning light was almost total darkness. Sara had long become accustom to the darkness and no longer needed the night vision goggles she had to wear when she first came to the planet. However, this morning had other surprises in store for her and a Klingon grabbed her as she exited the building. “Silence or you die,” he growled quietly in her ear as he clamped his hand over her mouth.

   The Klingon with Sara stood waiting as Kratok with a dozen bodyguards materialized in the center of the village. “You in the building come out; come out or the female dies, I will not ask again!” he shouted.

   Dr. Sarday stepped out from one of the other buildings rifle in hand and aimed it at Kratok. “If she dies, you die,” he said.

   Chekov glanced quickly out the window. Even in the dim light he recognized the men standing outside. “Klingons,” he said confirming what they already knew.

   “Bones, Chekov go get Sulu. Spock let’s see if we can find another way out of here,” Kirk said.

   Outside the standoff lasted for only a moment. With a slight nod from Kratok one of the Klingons with him pulled the trigger on his disruptor. Set for heavy stun Dr. Sarday dropped like a rock. Kratok turned and faced Sara. “Where is Captain Kirk and those with him?” he asked

   “I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Sara replied.

   Kratok backhanded her hard across her face nearly knocking Sara from her feet. “I don’t have the time or the patience for this human. Now where is Kirk?

   “I don’t know who you’re talking about,” she said again.

   Kratok was about to hit her again but changed his mind at the last minute. “Kirk, Captain Kirk, I know you are inside one of these structures. You are surrounded. I will kill everyone here if you do not surrender beginning with this female. I give you to the count of ten to decide. One... Two... Three... Four... Five... Six... Seven... Eight... Nine...”  

   Kirk stepped out the door. “Ok, I give up,” he said. “You may have won this battle Brigadier; I doubt you will win the war.”

   “I have no doubt that we will win the war as well. You humans are too soft,” Kratok replied. “Now, throw down your weapons and come out in the open where I can see you all.”

   Kirk, Spock, and the others the others stepped clear of the building tossing their weapons on the ground from where one of the Klingons quickly scooped them up.

   “You led us a good chase Kirk,” Kratok said.

   “Not good enough it seems. Now what happens?” Kirk asked.

   “I take you to stand trial for your many crimes against the Klingon Empire,” Kratok replied.

   “Among which will be the assassination of the Empress,” Kirk said.

   “Of course, I would be willing to say that it would top a long list of grievances compiled against you and the Federation,” Kratok said with a wicked smile of satisfaction on his face. “Beam the prisoners up.”  

   “You’re not going to let us go, are you? Sara said once Kirk and the others were gone.

   “No, I’m not. You might warn the Federation.” Kratok looked at the Klingon holding Sara. “Take what you want and destroy the rest,” he said as he activated his communicator. “Beam me up.”

   It would be hard to say what the natives in the village thought about the little drama being played out between the Klingons and the Humans in the early morning. They seemed almost amused as the Klingons prepared to massacre everyone in the village. The Klingon spun Sara around and ripped apart the front of her blouse. He had always wondered what it would be like with a human and now he would get a chance to find out. He only hoped she would put up a good fight.

   Sara tried to get away from what she knew was coming but stumbled and fell backward. She hit the ground hard. What happened next was forever burned into her mind. She saw the Klingon grin as he stepped toward her, but it was a step he never finished. Something tore a hole through his chest the size of a man’s fist.

   At first it sounded like a loud single shot from a cannon. Then Sara realized it was actually multiple guns fired simultaneously and not a Klingon was left standing, and like the Klingon now laying on the ground next to her they all had massive holes all the way through their chests. Then she saw them.

   The Gods appeared out of nowhere. Giant crab-like creatures with two enormous guns mounted on the bottom of their shells. So swift was their attack that even the few remaining Klingons had no chance to signal any of the ships in orbit above the planet. Sara watched as one of the Gods approached her. It held out a claw to her to help steady her as she stood back up. They stood there watching one another for a few moments. “Are you alright?” the God finally asked.

   “You can talk,” Sara said in amazement.

   The crab just chuckled a bit. “Yes, we can talk,” it said. “Learning your language was not that difficult. But, there is no time for all the questions I know you must have. We must get you and your farther up in the tree as quickly as possible. This world is a ball of water on which the trees float. In less than 37 of your hours the sun and moons of this world will start to come together and cause a gigantic tidal surge. This world will rotate through that surge as it builds to the point of the full alignment in 3 days’ time. Nothing on the surface of this world will survive and even the trees will be moved about. Only high in the trees do you stand a chance.”

   Less than two days later all communications with the planet Skellos ceased and the one Klingon ship that had landed on the planet vanished, along with the spaceport, while searching for a missing scouting party that failed to report in 35 hours earlier. Klingon ships sent to investigate reported finding no signs of intelligent life left on the planet and only a few remains of what might have once been part of the spaceport.

    

   A lean mean version of a once overly bloated pile of junk materialized in front of the main spacedock door of Starbase 11 and waited as the double doors slid open. An honor guard met the occupants of the ship when they beamed onboard the Starbase in the main transporter room. “My thanks Captain for this welcome,” Empress said. “I am sure you have made arrangements for my entertainment, and I do not wish to discourage you, but I am in the midst of a fight to save the Empire from total destruction. I have little time for such things at present. My guards and I are exhausted from our journey. Phoenix is in need of repairs and many other things must be done before we leave here.”

   “I understand,” the Starbase Commander replied. “This Starbase is at your disposal Empress.”

   “Good, I have a long list and thirty six hours to fill it,” Darrel said.

   “Thirty six hours?" the Starbase Commander repeated questioningly.

   “I’m sure that we will have time to have at least one dinner together Captain,” Empress said smiling ever so sweetly. “Commander Scott and Darrel will see that our needs are met. If you can tell me where I can find the nearest bed I would be most grateful.”

   “Of course, this way my Lady,” the Starbase Commander said. The Empress accompanied by Tara and Ashalara followed the Starbase Commander from the transporter room as he personally escorted them to their room.

   “Shouldn’t someone go with her,” O’mri said.

   “There’s no need, the Empress is safer here than anywhere else, and we have much to do,” Darrel said.

 

   The Empress listened to the reports as she, Darrel, O’mri, Scotty, and Uhura were walking down a hallway. “The repairs to Phoenix are almost complete,” Scotty was saying. “The scouts’ engines should be ready on time. The modifications you wanted have not been easy.”

   “As long as they can hold warp 8 Scotty,” Darrel said.

   “Aye, they’ll do that and perhaps a wee bit more,” Scotty replied.

   “Uhura how are the uniforms coming?” Darrel asked

   “Already onboard the Phoenix,” Uhura replied.

   “How about the laser communications system?”

   “I’m still working on it. It will be ready on time. It won’t be pretty but it will be a secure system.”

   “O’mri, you still think it is wise to use the kids?” Darrel asked.

   “They are not kids Darrel. What other choice do you have?” O’mri asked in reply.

   “None.”

   “Darrel you have told me so often that trust must begin somewhere,” the Empress said.

   “I know my Lady and I do trust them,” Darrel replied. “It’s just that I will be sending them against seasoned troops almost leaderless.”

   “I can understand how you feel Darrel, but it is the only way,” O’mri said.

   “If one must die and we all must die. It is best to die for something we believe in,” the Empress said.

   “There is no good way to die. If I could find another way...,” Darrel said as he let the sentence trail off with thoughts for which he had no words.

   “Even if there was another way the outcome would be the same, men would still die my friend. All we can do is try and find a way to minimize the losses,” O’mri said.

   “Yeah, I know O’mri,” Darrel said. “I know.”

    

   They stood facing one another in the middle of the large living room in the quarters reserved for very important diplomats. A certain amount of satisfaction burned inside of Tara when she told Ashalara her father was dead. “It’s not true. My father is alive,” Ashalara replied not wanting to believe what Tara was telling her.

   “Your father is dead,” Tara said. “You said your father was one of your mother’s guards. Darrel told me all the Empress’s guards died over Skellos when your mother’s ship was destroyed. If you don’t believe me go ask Phoenix.”

   “It’s not true, it’s not,” Ashalara said as tears began to fill her eyes.

   “Go ask Phoenix if you don’t believe me,” Tara said.

   Ashalara ran from the room crying as the Empress, Darrel, and the others entered. “What was that all about?” O’mri asked after being pushed aside as Ashalara ran through the door.

   “I’ll go see to Ashalara,” the Empress said.

   “I find out what happened and joined you later,” Darrel replied as he watched the Empress try and follow after Ashalara.  

   “Do you want to tell me just what the hell is going on here?” Darrel asked as he turned his full attention on Tara.

   “She had my parents killed. I just told her, her father is dead,” she replied. “Now, we’re even on all counts.”

   Darrel pushed Tara up against the nearest wall hard and held her there. “Where did Ashley go?” he demanded of her.

   “I sent her to Phoenix...,” Tara replied rebelliously.

   “With all the wrong questions no doubt,” Darrel interrupted. “What gives you the right?”

   “She had my parents killed.”

   “Ashley did not kill your parents. She merely granted a request of the ship’s commander,” Darrel said. “If she had not given her permission for the attack the captain would have found another reason for attacking your father’s ship.

   “How would you know? You weren’t there,” Tara said.

   “Oh, but I was,” Darrel said. “Do you think that the Empress would allow her daughter to go anywhere alone? If you like I can have Phoenix play back everything that was said on the bridge of the Klingon vessel that attacked your father’s ship. Ashley made a mistake, a mistake not really of her making, and she has tried to make it up to you the best she knows how.”

   “Was she trying to make it up to me by making me her slave?” Tara asked indignantly.

   “Until you overheard K’lgar you had no idea what being a real slave in the Klingon Empire was all about,” Darrel replied. “The Empress raised you like her own daughter. Your title of slave was in name only. All that hate inside you will eat you up. I know you would like to hurt those that have hurt you, but the only thing you’re doing is hurting the ones that love you the most. You hate so much you don’t even think straight, if you bother to stop and think at all. Ashley’s father is not dead.”

   “He’s not dead?” Tara repeated in disbelief. “But, you said that all the guards died.”

   “There is one guard left Tara,” Darrel replied.

   “You’re the only guard left.”

   “I know. Ashley would spend the rest of her life trying to make up for the wrong she thinks she has caused you if you would let her. Her whole world has been torn apart. You are the only friend she has right now and you’re trying to drive her away. Ashley has been there when you needed a friend. Now it’s your turn to be there for her.

   “I can’t,” Tara said.

   You can’t or you won’t,” Darrel snapped back. “Tara, you better find out who your friends are before you wake up one morning and find out you don’t have any.”

   Darrel released Tara from where he had her pinned against the wall and jogged out of the room on his way to the Phoenix leaving O’mri, Scotty, and Uhura a bit stunned at the scene they had just witnessed.  

    

   Ashalara sat in the new command chair on the Phoenix’s bridge. “Phoenix have all my mother’s guards been killed?” she asked.

   “No,” Phoenix replied.

   “How many are left?”

   “Two.”

   “Who are they?” Ashalara asked.

   “Captain James T. Kirk and Darrel,” Phoenix replied.

   “Then Tara was right,” Ashalara said as she buried her face in her hands and began to cry.

   Darrel appeared in the doorway behind her and walked around and knelt down in front of her. “Ashley it’s alright,” he said softly.

“You don’t understand, my father is dead,” Ashalara cried.

   “Tara is wrong and you’ve come here and asked all the wrong questions,” Darrel replied. “Tara has been hurt in a way that no woman should ever be hurt. Now, she feels the need to hurt someone, so she strikes out blindly hurting everyone in her path.”

   “She can’t be wrong. Phoenix just said all the guards are dead and my father was a guard.”

   “What does your heart tell you? Phoenix will answer any question put to it from only three people. All others would have their questions answered within limits. Ashley you are one of those three people. Ask the questions of your heart.”  

   “Is..., is my father dead? Ashalara asked nervously with tears still in her eyes.

   “No,” Phoenix replied.

   “Ashley is that all you want to know?” Darrel asked.  

   “How do you know my secret name?” Ashalara asked in reply.  

   “I have been your mother’s guard for a long time,” Darrel replied.  

   “Phoenix who is my father?” Ashalara asked without taking her eyes off of Darrel.

   “Commander Darien Rellen, owner of Rellen Salvage of Earth, Federation Council agent, Klingon Empress’s personal guard and trouble shooter. Commander of the Phoenix the most advanced ship of its kind...,” Phoenix replied.

   “That’s enough,” Darrel said to stop his ship from rambling.

   “Father?”

   There were so many questions in that one word as Darrel wrapped his arms around his daughter. “I use to hold you on my lap and tell you stories when you were very small,” he said with tears in his eyes. “Your mother hated it when I’d call you Ashley.”  

   “I still do,” the Empress said softly from where she was standing in the doorway.

   “Mother,” Ashalara said looking up at her.

   “I know it has been hard for you Darrel,” the Empress said as she knelt down next to Darrel where she could look him in the eyes. “We steal moments where we can my love. Ashalara no one must know Darrel is your father.

   “Damn it, I wish we could live together like normal people,” Darrel said bitterly.

   “We could stay here or go to your home on Earth and live,” Ashalara suggested.

   “That too is a dream of mine but there are people who depend on us. To fulfill that dream we would destroy the Empire. It may well be that we will only prolong the inevitable, but many lives might be saved in doing so,” the Empress said.

   “Ashley we will have other times together when this is over, I promise,” Darrel said.

    

   Two Klingon K’Vort class Birds of Prey and the Phoenix sat in their respective repair bays inside the Starbase. Robotic arms, gantry pads, and various other pieces of equipment began to fold back out of the way as the ships were prepared for departure. “Captain, I hate to eat and run but I have this small war I have to stop,” Darrel said as he shook the Starbase Commander’s hand. “Thanks for the ride to the Neutral Zone too.”  

   “I had to go out of my to pick you up so what’s one more little side trip or two? Better than sitting still for thirty-six hours,” the Starbase Commander replied matching Darrel’s firm grip with one of his own.

   “Yes, many thanks for the time saved Captain,” the Empress said. “Each hour saved is counted in lives that may also be saved and is very dear to me.”

   “You are most welcome your Highness,” the Starbase Commander said. “Commander Scott, you have impressed my engineers. Where did you get such vast understanding of Klingon technology?”

   “From a junk yard,” Scotty replied.

   “From a what?” the Starbase Commander asked in disbelief.

   “A junk yard,” Scotty repeated. “The trouble with fixin’ one Klingon ship word gets around. You’ll find everybody wants you to fix their Klingon ships too.

   “Scotty’s Spacedock, repairs while you wait,” Darrel said. “Klingon ships would line up around the solar system waiting to be repaired. A few bright lads to work for you and you could rake in the credits.

   “You’re kidding?” Scotty asked never really sure when Darrel was joking.

   “No, I’m not,” Darrel replied. “It would be a good way to retire, if you could find a few bright lads to do all the work. If you need a silent partner let me know.”

   “You have a fine engineering staff Captain,” Scotty said. “I borrowed two of them; I’ll try to get them back to you as soon as possible.”

   “Ah, Scotty time to leave,” Darrel said.

   “Two engineers?” the Starbase Commander said questioningly.

   “Got to go,” Scotty said as he stepped onto the transporter pad.

   “Phoenix transport,” Darrel said. Darrel, Scotty and the Empress dematerialized.

   “A list of stores and equipment we gave to the Klingons sir,” a Yeoman said as she handed the Starbase Commander the list.

   “Hundred and thirty phasers! Seventy uniforms, two dilithium crystals..., forty two micro-generators with beam inhibitors..., two field mess units..., four holographic projectors. What the hell did they need holographic projectors for?” the Starbase Commander asked no one in particular. “Yeoman you can add two engineers to the list, and remind me to nail things down the next time they’re here.” The Starbase Commander skipped through several pages to the last page. “Thirty thousand eight hundred and sixteen man hours!”

   “The report does not reflect the man hours spent by other engineering crews from ships that are presently in port or the things that were taken from them,” the Yeoman said.

   “Give them whatever they want is what the order said. Next time, I don’t care what the order says, my chair on the bridge stays put,” Starbase Commander growled.

   “Yes sir,” the Yeoman replied as she watched as the space door open. The Phoenix slowly exited the Starbase followed by the two Klingon K'Vort-class Birds of Prey. The Klingons certainly did liven things up while they were here, she thought.  

    

   The Bird of Prey commanders were on split screen on the Phoenix’s main viewer. “Lieutenants you and your crews are members of the Empress’s Guards. From this point on you serve only the Empress and her family and no other,” Darrel said.

   “As my guards you must conduct yourselves accordingly. For you represent what is best, most beautiful, and noble in the Klingon Empire,” the Empress added.

   “Speaking for myself and my crew, we pledge our lives to you my Empress,” Lieutenant Gi’ral said.

   “On behalf of my crew we too pledge our lives Empress,” Lieutenant B’elan said.

   O’mri stands from where he was sitting on the Phoenix’s bridge and faces the Empress. Kneeling before her, “My Lady, I too pledge my life in your service as do my crewmen,” he said.

   “I should never have come to this if I had guards such as you have proved to be. I should call you all my children. Darrel...,” the Empress said expecting Darrel to give them the command that would take them into battle.

   “Gentlemen warp eight, engage cloaking device. Remember, radio silence until we are in orbit,” Darrel commanded.

    

   Inside the cabin assigned to Ashalara the door chime sounded. “Come in, it’s open,” Ashalara said as the door swished open. “Tara?”

   “Ashley,” Tara replied using the name she only used with Ashalara in private.  

   “Ashley I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Tara said with tears in her eyes.

   “I know,” Ashalara said softly.

   “Still friends?” Tara asked.

   “Better than friends, sisters,” Ashalara said as she hugged her best and dearest friend.

    

   “Something troubling you my friend?” Darrel asked O’mri as they sat on the Phoenix’s bridge alone in the night.

   “Ashalara is your daughter, isn’t she?” he said.

   “To ask a question like that you must have already guessed the answer,” Darrel replied.

   “You could be emperor of the whole Klingon Empire if you wished,” O’mri said.

   ‘The Empress rules, I have no desire to do so even if it would be allowed,” Darrel said. “I am content to serve her, for she is my life and my love.”

   “If the shit hit the pan as you humans are so fond of saying, whose side would you be on?” O’mri asked. “Do not take offense my friend, I ask only as a guard concerned for the welfare of his Empress knowing that you are a spy for the Federation.

   “I cherish the moments of time we have together. I feel deeply the pain of being apart from her. My love for her and her love for me is a bond stronger than any claim that the Federation might have on me,” Darrel replied.  

   It would have been hard to say how long the Empress was standing in the doorway. “Darrel serves my needs, my wants, and my desires Captain,” she said. “His love for me is as strong as my love for him. He is my husband and his job is to protect me as is yours.”

   “I would be on whatever side that I would best serve in doing that job,” Darrel said.

   “I like to think of Darrel as my own personal spy inside of the Federation,” the Empress said.

   “I had to ask,” O’mri said.

   “I understand,” Darrel replied. “At this point, I would have been surprised if you hadn’t.”

   “The words that have been spoken here must remain in this room. Our love must remain a secret Captain,” the Empress said. “All that we have worked so hard for would be lost if anyone knew.”

   “Your secret is safe with me my Lady,” O’mri said. “Your choice of a husband was well made, I wish you well. Darrel, my friend, my Lord, I knew you aimed high... I wish you much happiness.”

   “Our thanks Captain, as you are Darrel’s friend so also do I call you friend and such friendship will not go unrewarded,” the Empress said as she turned and left the two men with the night.

   “How long?” O’mri asked.

   “Long enough for Ashalara to be my daughter,” Darrel replied.

   “This explains much,” O’mri said. “As a Klingon I cannot say I truly approve of what has passed between you and the Empress, but given current events it is a good thing that the Empress has you for her husband. I owe you my life a dozen times over. Your secret is safe with me my friend.”

    

   Compared to a detention cell in the Federation, the holding cell Kirk, Spock, and the others found themselves in lacked certain amenities required by the Federation. To say that a detention cell in the heart of the Klingon Empire was less than comfortable would be understating the obvious. The fact is that Klingons will go out of their way to make their prisoners as uncomfortable as possible. Uneven slabs of stone served both as beds and a place to sit. A bucket to relieve themselves in was the only other amenity. A Klingon might have found the detention cell quite comfortable, but certain members of the Federation did not.

   “Jim if we don’t get Sulu some help soon he’s going to die,” McCoy said.

   “What went wrong Bones?” Kirk asked more of himself than his friend.

   “What in deed Captain,” General K’lgar said from where he was standing outside the detention cell. K’lgar nodded and the guard turned off the force field. “I have always wanted to meet you. Mr. Spock you too are well known in the Empire. Commanders Chekov and Sulu. Commander Sulu you don’t look well. Doctor McCoy you should take better care of him. And here we have the great Captain Kirk. You humans have a saying,” Hold all the cards,” do you know the saying Captain?”

   “The cards can always be reshuffled,” Spock said thoughtfully.

   Kirk looked at Spock strangely for a moment. It was such an odd thing for him to say. “What he means is we like to play the game down to the last card,” he said.

   “I understand, and I can respect that,” K’lgar said. “It is in my power to save you, but it is up to you. Confess to assassinating the Empress and I’ll spare all of your lives.”

   “We can’t do that,” Kirk said.

   “No matter, after your trial you will all die,” K’lgar said casually.

   “There’s going to be a trial?” Kirk asked sarcastically.

   “No one told you about the trial, for shame,” K’lgar replied. “You Captain will stand for yourself and your crew, and answer for your many crimes against the Klingon Empire. Because of the nature of your crime your trial is being held in the Great Hall before the Grand Assembly of High Councilors.”

   “All your eggs in one basket,” Kirk said.

   “What? Oh yes, I had not thought about it in that way,” K’lgar said. “Thank you for the suggestion Captain.”

   “Well, if you need any more suggestions you know where to find me,” Kirk said.

   “By the way, I will be the one prosecuting you,” K’lgar said.

   “Why am I not surprised,” Kirk said.

   “So you can see I do hold all the cards,” K’lgar said. “When I’m done with you, it will be all I can do to keep them from rushing off to war with the Federation. It is too bad you will not live to see it.”

   Kirk watched as K’lgar left the detention cell with a smug sense of himself and his belief he had achieved a total victory. “Spock you know something I don’t?” he asked once he was sure K’lgar was gone.

   “The Phoenix may not have been destroyed Captain,” Spock said.

   “The Phoenix was destroyed Spock, we all saw it,” Kirk said.

   “What do you humans think of when you hear the word Phoenix?” Spock asked.

   “A Phoenix is a mythical bird that is supposed to be reborn from its ashes,” Kirk replied. “You should know that.”

   “Indeed I do Captain, but I am still certain the Phoenix was not destroyed. Remember Darrel asked you to think about why he named his ship Phoenix.”

   “Yes, I remember. I didn’t think anything about it at the time although I did think was a rather odd thing to say,” Kirk said.

   “When the Phoenix exploded the mass detected from the explosion did not match the mass of the Phoenix. Eighty percent of the Phoenix’s mass was unaccounted for,” Spock explained. “The missiles that shielded us long enough to reach Skellos were controlled. Also our ship was sabotaged.”

   “Darrel?” Kirk asked.

   “No Captain, it had the look of Mr. Scott’s work,” Spock said.

   “Scotty? Why?” Kirk asked.

   “I believe it has all been part of a very elaborate plan,” Spock said.

   “Darrel’s been using us,” Kirk said angrily.

   “Probably to buy time for him to re-group re-arm and attack K’lgar here while his forces are still scattered trying to recover from our recent encounter,” Spock said.

   “Say I believe you, how many men would Darrel have with him?” Kirk asked.

   “Three K’Vort-class Birds of Prey, twenty plus crewmembers each, Sixty to seventy plus or minus,” Spock replied.

   “I think General K’lgar is in for a big surprise,” Kirk said.

   “I hate to point out that even if Darrel is alive, seventy men will not be enough to storm the palace,” McCoy said.

   “Dr. McCoy is quite right. Reinforcements could be brought up from the spaceport,” Spock said.

   “Darrel is well aware of this I’m sure. He’ll find an army somewhere,” Kirk said.

    

   Outside Qam-Chee, the First City of Qo'noS, the Klingon Empire’s capitol city sat an ancient military outpost. The old buildings creaked and whisper the ancient customs, traditions and the ways of honor of the Klingon Empire from every stone. This was home to the Klingon Battle Academy which tradition held was an offshoot from the Order of the Bat'leth. In the later years of her life the Lady Lukara realized the need for an organization to train young Klingons in the ways of honor as her husband had envisioned. So, she established the Klingon Battle Academy shortly before her death. True there were other larger Klingon battle academies, but none of them were directly connected to Kahless the Unforgettable. It was here where real Klingon warriors were made.

   It was late at night and the officer of the night watch was fast asleep in his chair as was the runner. Five people shrouded in black cloaks entered the office and walk silently over to stand before the still sleeping officer. One of them pulled his disruptor and covered the runner. Darrel reached out and gently tapped the officer’s shoulder. “No effect,” he said.

   “Let me try,” O’mri said. He grabbed the sleeping officer by his hair and pulled him forward slamming his face down hard into the desk and then threw him back into his chair sticking a disruptor into his face at the same time. “Don’t move!” he commanded.  

   The officer woke with a start only to see the barrel of a disruptor in his face and hear a voice that sounded like thunder, it scared him half to death. He did the only thing he could do; he fell off the chair as he tried to jump backward.

   “He’s awake now,” O’mri said.

   “You are the officer of the night watch?” Darrel asked.

   “Yes,” the officer replied not sure how to address the human surrounded by the Klingons before him.

   “I want this base on red alert,” Darrel said.

   “What reason do I give? No, I cannot do this thing,” the officer replied.

   “We are guards to the Empress and need no reason,” O’mri growled.  

   “But the Empress is dead,” Officer said.

   “We waste time Darrel, kill him,” the Empress said.

   “At once Empress,” Darrel replied as he pulled his phaser.

   “No, Wait! Wait..., I’ll do it,” the officer said.

   “Good. Darrel don’t kill him,” the Empress said. “I want this base sealed and on red alert. If asked tell them that the alert is a readiness test by high command.”

   “At once my Lady. Please forgive....” the officer said.

   “Sleeping on guard duty, questioning the orders of a member of my guard,” the Empress interrupted. “I’m sure if I had more time I could think of a few other things you are in need of forgiveness for.”

    

   On the small landing field of the Klingon Battle Academy the entire academy personal stood in formation before a floating platform. More than a dozen cloaked figures guarded the base of the platform. Five more cloaked figures were standing on the platform. One of them stepped forward. “Who dares to stand before the Empress? I’ve never...,” he said. O’mri pulled his disruptor and fired it into the ground. “On your knees and give honor to the Empress and the House of Kahless the Unforgettable to whom you have pledged your life.”

   All but one of the Klingons began to knell before the Empress. “We have no need to honor the dead,” he said.

   “In times past none would question the commands of the Royal Guard,” Darrel said.

   “The only guards left are two escorts that deserted the Empress to save their own lives,” the Klingon before them replied. He was the academy’s executive officer loyal to the House of Duras and General K’lgar. “You guard the dead and have no power in this world. A new age is coming.”

   “To guard the dead one needs to be dead,” the Empress said as she threw back the hood of her cloak. “In life or death my guards have power. If you would not honor me in death then you did not honor me in life. I cannot make you honor me in life, but I you will honor me in death, kill him.” Darrel pulled his phaser out killed the academy executive officer almost before the order was given.

   General Gorkon was old and a little slow getting to the formation that stood before the Empress. “On your knees and beg forgiveness of your Empress,” he commanded from the back of the formation where he had seen and heard all that had transpired. He walked through the now knelling cadets and knelt before the Empress. “Please forgive us, Empress. News of your death has unsettled many of us.”

   “Forgiveness must be earned,” the Empress said “I have need of an army to replace members of the old guard that have passed beyond this world.”  

   “We are yours, my Lady, command us,” General Gorkon replied.

   “This is Darrel, he is the commander of my guard,” the Empress said.

   “But, he is a human,” General Gorkon said with a bit of distaste in his voice.

   “Yes he is, but I can trust him, that is more than I can say about some Klingons right now,” the Empress replied.

   “I begin to understand,” General Gorkon said knowing the remaining guards that surrounded the Empress were in no mood to deal politely with any who would oppose them.

   “I must retake the Guard’s armory and the spaceport at the same time we attack the Detention Center and the Great Hall,” Darrel said. He looked out at those before him and raised his voice. “Hear me and hear me well. My name is Darrel; I am the last of the old guard. I command the new guard until the matter at hand is resolved. I should like to tell you what is going on, but first I want you to remember a couple of things. In case you haven’t noticed I’m human, there are a few other humans and a Vulcan you might run into also. Don’t shoot us; we are on your side. We should all be wearing black uniforms of the Empress’s Guards. I don’t have the time to worry about being shot by the side I’m on, besides, the Empress needs a few hundred new guards and I get to pick them. So I will be monitoring your performance. Fifteen days ago thirty seven Klingon war ships jumped the Empress’s convoy near Skellos in the neutral zone. I rescued the Empress and her daughter just in time. We lost the Empress’s battlecruiser and two scouts one of which crashed on Skellos. That ship was manned by humans. They are the best I could get from Starfleet. It was intended for them to crash on Skellos. They eluded capture for eight days. We went to Starbase 11 for repairs. How great the dishonor for the Empress to turn to an enemy for help. But, when friends try and kill you, what choice is there? I have proof that General K’lgar is trying to gain total control of the Empire. With your help the Empress will regain control of the Empire and expose K’lgar for the traitor he is. You are pledged to defend the House of Kahless and the Empire. K’lgar has tried to kill the Empress and bring down the House of Kahless. Because of K’lgar the Empress has lost face before her enemies and suffered much dishonor. You will help the Empress regain her honor. For the glory of Kahless the Unforgettable and for the glory of the Empire he created, prepare for battle!”

    

   Three ships sat cloaked in geosynchronous above Qam-Chee, the First City of Qo'noS. Onboard the Phoenix a number of officers gathered on the bridge stared intently at the battle plans on the main view screen. “Because there are beam shields in place that protect all the buildings from what we are about to do. Ashalara, O’mri and his crew will try a quiet takeover of the Guard’s armory. A company of the cadets will standby for close support and to man the equipment in the armory once we have taken it,” Darrel said. “Tara, Scotty and Uhura and Lieutenant Gi’ral will take two squads of guards and two squads of cadets and attack the Detention Center.”

   “General Gorkon you will command the main strike force,” Darrel continued. “You must capture the spaceport and hold it at all cost. I will try and reinforce you as soon as I can. The Empress and I will take the remaining guards and two squads of cadets and deal with K’lgar in the Great Hall. No one is to begin their attack until O’mri has secured the armory or shooting starts. We are going to use the transporters of our three ships to try and transport you all as close as possible. Now we wait. I want everything online and standing by.”


   Ashalara, O’mri and twenty other Klingons beam onto the garden path that led to the armory from the palace. A moment later a company of Battle Academy cadets were also beamed down. O’mri’s crew quickly jumped to either side of the path and the company of cadets spread out behind them. O’mri checked his men and then looked around for Ashalara. To his horror he saw her walking down the path toward the armory. He ran after her, two of his crew followed after him. “Princess please wait,” he begged in a whispered tone.  

   “I will not cower in my own home,” Ashalara replied.

   “This is not the way Princess,” O’mri said.

   “This is not a debate guardsman,” Ashalara said. “We four can get closer than all 160 of us could together.”

   Two guards standing watch at the armory entrance took note of the small group approaching them. “Halt,” one of the guards said when they were close enough.

   “Who dares to command the daughter of the Empress in her own home?” Ashalara spat back in disgust.  

   “Princess Ashalara?”

   “Who questions?”

   “We heard you were dead Princess,” the other guard said.

   “Perhaps I am dead, come to haunt the living. Stand aside and death will pass you by,” Ashalara said as the three personal guards with her pulled their weapons and aimed them at the two men guarding the armory. Ashalara held out her hands to the two very surprised guards. “Your weapons or your life,” she said. The guards quickly handed her their weapons.

   O’mri quickly disabled the beam shield from the control panel by the armory door before opening the door. “Phoenix beam the two guards here to a holding cell,” he said to his communicator. A moment later the guards vanished.  

   “See Captain O’mri, quick and quiet,” Ashalara said a bit smugly as she walked through the armory door.

   O’mri watched as Ashalara entered the armory before speaking into his communicator again. “Darrel, we’re in the armory, no noise... I think Ashalara will make a fine empress one day,” he added.

   “Ok, everybody move out and good luck,” the voice on the communicator replied.

    

   Scotty set the explosives on the front door of the Detention Center then stepped to one side of the door pushing the button on the detonator switch in his hand. Those with him did not wait for the smoke to clear as they rushed through the door. The firefight inside the building was brief but intense.

   “I think the marines have just landed,” McCoy said as he jumped back away from the door.

   Beams of energy flashed through the hallway followed by a dozen Klingons dressed in black. Two of them stop in front of the door. “Scotty?” Chekov asked not entirely sure the man dressed in black standing in the doorway was his friend.

   “Uhura you’re alive,” McCoy said stating the obvious.

   “We just stopped by to bring you some new clothes and see how you’re doing,” Scotty said.

   “We’ll have you out in a moment,” Uhura said as she pushed the button on the panel by the door that turned off the force field. “Where’s the Captain?”

   “The Klingons took him to stand trial,” Chekov replied.

   “What’s wrong with Sulu?” Scotty asked.

   “He’s got a bad infection, from an animal bite on Skellos,” McCoy replied. “If I don’t get him some help soon he’s going to die.”

   “Darrel this is Scotty, Sulu is hurt, everyone else is alright,” he said into his communicator.

   “Have Tara and ten guards take McCoy and Sulu to the nearest medical center. The rest of you join me at the Great Hall,” the communicator replied.

    

   From the spaceport control tower General Gorkon watched the battle below. Facing battle hardened soldiers of the Empire his cadets were doing much better than he had expected. “We have control of the spaceport and are holding our own for the moment,” he said into his communicator.

   “Reinforcements are on the way,” it replied.

   Just when Gorkon thought the battle might go the other way a company of cadets and battle hardened soldiers appeared with a lot of heavy equipment. Moments later the fight for the spaceport ended. Gorkon realized that the relative ease at which he was able to capture the spaceport meant that the enemy’s forces were stretched thin and worried that the main body of forces might be elsewhere. He sent any troops he could spare to reinforce Darrel and the Empress at the Great Hall.

    

   Lieutenant Gi’ral and ten guards followed Tara and McCoy as they carried Sulu into the medical center. Almost all the medical personal were shocked and confused to see the Empress’s Guards. “This man needs help,” Gi’ral said.  

   “He’s a human,” one of the doctors said.

   “Yes, he is human but he is also one of the Empress’s Guards and requires medical attention now,” Gi’ral growled back.

   “Just show me where the antibiotics are and I’ll treat him myself,” McCoy said.

   “I’m not about to...,” the doctor started to say.

   Gi’ral backhanded the Doctor hard enough to spin him around and knock him to the floor. “The streets of the city will soon run red with the blood of all those who oppose the will of the Empress,” he said as he drew his disruptor. “Perhaps your blood should mingle with the blood of the traders who will die this night.”

   “For God’s sake don’t kill him,” McCoy said somewhat alarmed. “Wounded are going to start pouring in any time now. We will need all the help we can get.”

   Gi’ral glared at the Klingon physician. “You are correct Doctor. I can always kill him later if need be,” he said. “I spare your life because you might be instrumental in saving the lives of others. Do not give me cause Doctor. I will not spare your life again.”

   “I need the strongest antibiotic you’ve got,” McCoy said. “After you get it start setting up to receive the wounded that will be coming in.”

    

   Outside the Great Hall Darrel and the Empress with her guards silently removed the Klingons that were guarding the building. Inside the Great Hall Kirk’s trial had begun...

   “How long will we ignore the crimes of the Federation as they seek to destroy the Empire that we have fought long and hard to establish?” K’lgar said as he began to lay his case before the assembly. How many times has the Federation stolen from us the things that should have been ours? How much humiliation will we suffer at the hands of the Federation before we say enough is enough? I tell you now we can no longer look the other way. The Federation has dealt us a blow aimed at the heart of the Empire with hopes of destroying the Empire from within.”

   “Some time ago Captain Kirk seized a Klingon Bird of Prey while the commander of the vessel was engaged in his duty of protecting the Empire,” K’lgar continued. “Kirk then killed the commander and his crew that there should be no witnesses to his crime. Eighteen days ago with the blessings of the Federation, Captain Kirk using that Bird of Prey assassinated the Empress and her daughter as they toured the regions of the Empire near the Neutral Zone. Captain Kirk was aided by a known Federation spy whose ship was destroyed by ships of the Empress’s escort and other vessels that were able to answer the Empress’s distress call. The ship that Kirk was in was damaged in the subsequent battle but not before Kirk had destroyed eight ships and damaged a dozen more. Sadly one of the ships destroyed was the Empress’s battlecruiser despite the efforts of the defending vessels. Captain Kirk and his crew were captured on Skellos where the ship crashed.”

   K’lgar paced back and forth for a moment before continuing. “Captain Kirk has taken the lives of the Empress, her daughter, the entire royal guard, and many valiant Klingon warriors some of whom sat on this Council. To call for the death of Kirk, a long time enemy of the Empire, is not enough. I call for the destruction of the Federation who sent him. For only with the destruction of the Federation can our dead rest in peace.”

   “Captain Kirk a speaker on your behalf has not been found and all through these proceedings you have remained silent. You have not even entered a plea on your behalf. There is little doubt in my mind of your guilt but Klingon justice allows you the chance to prove your innocence,” said Council Speaker and judge chosen from among the members of the High Council to preside over the trial because of the death of the Chancellor and no replacement had yet been decided upon. “So far you have not done or said anything to prove or disprove the charges against you. Do you wish to give a final statement on your behalf?”

   Kirk watched as the guard on the door of the Great Hall vanished only to be replaced by a cloaked figure. He could not help but notice as other cloaked figures slipped silently into the back of the room. “Yes, I think now is the time to speak out,” he said.

   “You may stand and address the council,” the Council Speaker said.

   Kirk stood up from the small stool on which he had sat through most of his so-called trial. “I have sat here and watched and listened to the evidence against myself and I too would think I was guilty of the crimes which I stand accused if I did not know better. I am an explorer. My mission has been to seek out new life and new civilizations and to explore and study the new worlds I find. Because I am a Starfleet officer I have often be called upon to defend the interests of the Federation. In times past I have found myself at odds with the Klingon Empire. I have on those occasions successfully defended the Federation’s interests. Some of you here know me a little more personally than you might care to admit. I ask you who know me, is what you have seen and heard here today fit in well with the kind of person you know me to be? Is assassination my style? Can the rest of you believe that I am such a good warrior that I can defeat more than twenty ships single-handed? What would the Federation gain by the assassination of the Empress, the collapse of the Empire? The Empire is already near economic collapse. I ask; who stands to benefit the most by the Empress’s death? Who now controls the Klingon Empire?”

   “You’ve killed our Empress and now you seek to fix the blame elsewhere, I’ll not stand by and let you do even more damage to the Empire by casting suspicion on members of this council,” K’lgar interjected.

   “I did not mean those that govern the Empire stand to gain anything by the Empress’s death. I do not believe that this council which is supposed to govern the Empire is in control,” Kirk retorted.

   “So you still seek to shift the blame,” K’lgar said. “You have been caught in your own web of lies. Admit the truth Kirk and meet your death as a warrior. We are all warriors here and can all understand the actions of a warrior though he be an enemy. Do not shame yourself by laying the blame for your actions elsewhere.”  

   “Perhaps the truth of the matter does indeed lie elsewhere,” a loud voice from the back of the room said.

   “Who speaks?” the Council Speaker asked.

   “I, Darrel, commander of the Empress’s Guard speak. K’lgar by order of the Empress I am to take you into custody to stand trial for the attempted assassination of the Empress.”

   “What kind of a joke is this? The Empress is dead,” K’lgar said.

   “The news of my death has been greatly exaggerated,” the Empress said as she threw back the cloak she was wearing so all could see that she still lived.

   “Empress!” It was a one word decoration of surprise. K’lgar was at a loss for what to do next.

   “It is a sad day in the history of the Empire when I the Empress of the Klingon Empire must turn to my enemies for help. Why have you done this to me K’lgar?

   “What would you have me do? Let you and the others here sell the Empire out to the Federation,” K’lgar said. “You have become soft as the humans Empress. Killing you would have been the salvation of the Empire. We would have destroyed the Federation once and for all.”

   “War with the Federation is your answer to all our problems. War with the Federation at this time would only destroy the Empire forever. There are other ways to conquer an enemy,” the Empress said.

    “Yeah, I see how you would conquer an enemy with a Federation spy at your side,” K’lgar spat back.  

   “Yes, he is a spy, but not entirely for the Federation. Darrel’s loyalty to me and the Empire is without question, which is more than I can say for you and half those in this room,” the Empress snapped back barely containing the fury within her.

   “What would you fight with K’lgar? The Federation out numbers the Empire ten to one,” Darrel said. “You aren’t winning the war you are fighting now and you want to go start another one?”

   “You think you have all the answers. I have planned for just such a problem as this,” K’lgar said as he pulled his communicator from his belt. “Kill them all now,” he said into it. Disruptor fire erupted from the walls behind K’lgar. To K’lgar’s surprise disruptors that should have been directed at the Council members from the back of the Great Hall were now directed toward him and those behind him. Everyone dove for cover.

   At the first sign of weapons fire Kirk dove for cover and found himself caught in the middle of the battle. Darrel and the other guards fought their way toward the platform at the front of the Great Hall.

   Surrender K’lgar, the Great Hall is surrounded’ There is nowhere to run,” Darrel yelled above the pandemonium.

   K’lgar found himself with a clear shot at Darrel and the Empress behind him. “If I am to die then I shall not die alone,” he mumbled to himself as he took careful aim.

   Forgotten Kirk was able to work his way around behind K’lgar and jumped him before he had time to pull the trigger. K’lgar still managed to get the shot off but the blast from his disruptor went wide and high missing pretty much everyone. Those of K’lgar’s men left realized they were outnumbered and the fight was a lost cause. They began try to flee for their lives. Most of them were cut down as they tried to exit the Great Hall; others chose to go down fighting. In the end all of K’lgar’s men were hunted down and killed.  

   There was a brief struggle for the phaser as K’lgar and Kirk rolled across the floor. Kirk ended up on top and sent a couple of hard right punches straight into K’lgar’s face before the Empress’s Guards could reach them and disarm K’lgar. “It’s over General, you lose,” Kirk said brushing at non-existent dirt on a filthy uniform as he stood up. “The next time you think about playing cards I suggest you make sure of who’s doin’ the dealing.”

   “Perhaps, but I think you’re like me, a card in a much larger game. This hand has been played out but the game is not over,” K’lgar said just before he pulled the belt knife out from one of the guards and drove it deep into his chest before anyone could stop him

   “What was that all about?” Darrel asked as he looked down on the now lifeless body of K’lgar.

   “Ever go fishing?” Kirk asked in reply

   “Every now and again,” Darrel replied.

   “You pulled in the net a little too soon and the big fish got away,” Kirk said

   “That is sad to hear. I had hoped to have gotten them all,” the Empress said.

   “Well, it will be a while before that fish will dare to stick his head above water,” Darrel said.

   “Darrel after things have settled down a bit you and I have some unfinished business to settle,” Kirk said softly so those around them would not hear.

   “I think I can find a suitable place,” Darrel replied.

   Spock and a squad of cadets searched the back rooms of the Great Hall for any remnants of K’lgar’s men. Spock rounded a corner and collided with a Klingon going the other way. He recognized the Klingon immediately as A’chan captain of the ship that took Tara to be sold as a slave. They say Vulcans don’t have emotions, but they do, sometimes. Hate for this man burned strong inside Spock. Before A’chan could use his disruptor Spock tore it from him and crushed the disruptor in his hand before throwing it aside. Spock had nearly beat A’chan to bloody pulp before Darrel and Kirk and the others found him.  

   “That’s enough Spock,” Kirk yelled as he and Darrel tried to pull him off A’chan  

   “I’d just as soon let you kill him but I’ve promised him to Tara,” Darrel said as they held Spock pinned against the wall opposite from A’chan. Holding onto the wall A’chan slowly pulled himself up. Darrel let Spock go and looked over at the Empress. She just shook her head no. “I think this is one promise I won’t keep,” he said as he pulled the knife from his belt. The side blades of the knife snapped open just before Darrel plunged the knife deep into A’chan’s stomach. He twisted the knife before pulling it out again. A’chan’s intestines poured out onto the floor as he slowly slid back down the wall.

   It was over in a single night. Half the Klingon High Council were either dead or badly wounded. The Chancellor and several members of the council died when the Empress’s battlecruiser was destroyed so the High Council was for the moment leaderless. Several of the remaining members of the Council had declared their allegiance to the Empress and their ships now ringed the planet. For the moment the Empress held the power of the Klingon Empire in her hand.

   The Empress stood in the Great Hall and looked out at the remaining council members before her. That she did not sit in the chair normally reserved for the Chancellor spoke to the fact that she did not intend to seek power for herself. “The events of the past few days could not have transpired without the aid of some of you within this hall,” she said with bitterness in her voice. “Many have died and for what? Greed and power. What have we come to when Klingons seek to kill other Klingons? The Federation has no need to try and destroy us. We will destroy ourselves. We destroy everything in our path and then wonder why we have so little. We have sought to blame others for the problems we have brought upon ourselves. I say no longer will we do as we have in the past. We will now make friends where there were once enemies. In battle a friend you can trust is worth more than a dozen you cannot though you are all on the same side. I am shamed through the actions of my own people that caused me to beg for help from our enemies. Though the Federation would not officially help they did allow their greatest warrior to come to my aid. So now I must honor friend and foe alike.”

   “Stand and with me now and give honor to those that have served me and the Empire,” the Empress continued. “Captain Kirk, please bring your valiant crew and come stand before your Empress. Kirk, Spock, and the others walked over and knelt before the Empress.

   “We are ever your servants your Highness,” Kirk said.

    “Few times have members of the Federation been honored by the Klingon Empire. Captain Kirk it has been said that you are our greatest foe. Yet, I call you friend and wonder why you our greatest enemy would save my life?” the Empress asked.

   “I saw a chance to further the cause of peace between our two peoples, nor could I stand by and let you be killed least the blame for your death fall upon my head,” Kirk replied.

   A path of honor that only Kahless himself would have walked. How many here stood idle while you took action?” the Empress asked no one in particular. “Captain Kirk and those that stand with you shall be forever listed as members of my guard with all the rights, privileges, and rewards that befit your rank.” The Empress placed a metal medallion around Kirk’s neck. It was the highest medal of honor that a Klingon could hope to receive. Then in turn she passed out metals to Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and McCoy.  

   “General Gorkon, Captain O’mri, Lieutenant Gi’ral, Lieutenant B’elan, come,” the Empress commanded. General Gorkon, O’mri, Gi’ral, and B’elan came forward and knelt before the Empress. “General Gorkon in times past you refused the honor my mother would have given you, and I know you would do so now. I cannot help but show my gratitude for your part in the past events.” The Empress smiled as she placed the medal around the General’s neck.

   “Captain O’mri you with Lieutenant Gi’ral, and Lieutenant B’elan and your respective crews are to whom I owe my life and you shall all be listed among my guards and shall be the center around which I shall build my new guard,” the Empress said as she placed medals around each of their necks.

   “Darrel.” Darrel came and knelt before the Empress. “Darrel what am I to do with you?” she asked. “There is no honor that I could give you that you do not already have. You command my guards so I could not even give you that. It was you who uncovered the plot on my life and it was your plan by which the traitors were caught. Though you are human and an enemy of the Empire I know your loyalty to be without question.”

   “I live but to serve you my Empress,” Darrel said.

   “You have but to wish and I will command it to be so,” the Empress said.

   “I would wish that you would give heed to my counsel,” Darrel replied.

   “Speak and your Empress will hear,”

   “The Empire is in need of a new supreme commander and chancellor that can rebuild the forces of the Empire; General Gorkon I believe is a true warrior equal to the task,” Darrel said. “I can best serve you my Lady as something other than as the commander of your guard. This honor I would give to Captain O’mri, he is better suited to command than I. Then there is the matter of Tara. She has suffered much and is the true reason for your being here today.”

   “It shall be as you say,” the Empress said daring any of the remaining members of the Council to challenge her. “Tara come.” Tara came forward and knelt before the Empress. The Empress reached down and gently raised Tara to her feet. “Tara much evil has been done to you and I know you have suffered much through these past events. Yet, you have return only good for the evil done to you. I know that you have lost your family. I would that Ashalara and I should become your family and that you would no longer be call a slave but rather now you shall be known as my daughter. The Empress wrapped her arms about Tara and hugged her. “In truth you have always been my daughter now go stand with Ashalara,” she whispered.

   “Hear me oh people of the Empire,” the Empress said as she stood before the High Council feeling equal to the power she held in her hands as the rest of the Empire watch on through the live video feed to the whole Empire. “We stand at the crossroads. One path leads to war and our own self destruction. The other path is the road to peace and prosperity unlike the Empire has ever known. Any fool can destroy. It is more of a challenge to build. As long as I live I will strive to build in hopes that I will build an empire that can last forever. I cannot build a strong and lasting empire alone. It will ultimately be you the people of the Empire that choose the destiny of the Empire. It is not my place to lead you for that I leave to General..., Chancellor Gorkon, I can only guide you on the path you should go.”


   Darrel and Kirk walk into one of the hangers of the Empress’s Guard. Inside sat a brand-new K’Vort-class Bird of Prey. “Jim about that unfinished business...,” Darrel started to say.

   Kirk hit Darrel with a hard right cross before he could finish what he was saying. The punch was hard enough to spin Darrel around and knock him to the floor of. “Next time, if there is a next time, you damn well better tell me the whole plan or count me out,” he said angrily.

   “I had that comin', but if I had it to do over I’d do it exactly the same,” he said from the floor as he massaged the pain from the side of his face with his hand.

   “I probably would have done the same thing,” Kirk said as he gave Darrel a hand back up. “So what did we gain by all this?”

   “I would hope we have gained a better understanding of one another and perhaps a chance for peace,” the Empress said as she walked into the hanger followed by Gi’ral, B’elan, and O’mri.

   “Empress,” Kirk said as he bowed slightly in acknowledgement of her presence.

   “It’s time for us to part ways Jim,” Darrel said.

   Scotty walked down the ramp of the new Bird of Prey and joined the others standing by the ship.

   “You’re not coming back to Earth?” Kirk asked.

   “No, not right now,” Darrel replied.

   “Captain Kirk this ship is yours, a parting gift from me to you. It is the first of a new line of scout ships made for my guards only,” the Empress said.

   “I can’t...,” Kirk said.

   “Sure you can,” Darrel interrupted. “Just park it in my junkyard and whenever you need a ship and can’t get one stop by and pick it up. It will be there when you need it. Besides, if you don’t take it you’ll have to walk back to Earth.”

   “Well, if you put it that way, I’ll take it,” Kirk said with a smile.

   “Good, there are not enough words to thank you for the help you and your friends have given. I can only hope to prove to you that your deed has not been in vain,” the Empress said.

   “If there can be peace between our peoples then what we have been through will have been worth it,” Kirk said.

   “To that end and to further a better understanding of one another we’d like to send a couple of young men to Starfleet Academy,” Darrel said as he stepped between Gi’ral and B’elan and put his arms around each of them. “I need to find two volunteers with combat experience. They also need to be the brightest and sharpest young men that the Klingon Empire has to offer. They need to be able to stay out of fights and are not to prone to getting in to trouble. You two wouldn’t know where I could find two young men that fit that description would you?”  

   “Us?” B’elan and Gi’ral said almost at the same time.

   “I hadn’t expected you to volunteer,” Darrel said with a smile. “I trust you two will not disgrace the Empress or the Empire.”

   “We’ll need to gather our belongings,” Gi’ral said.

   “Already onboard with a few other things we thought you might need,” O’mri said.

   “We should inform our families,” B’elan said.

   “I will take care of that,” the Empress replied.

   “You will be gone a long time, but when you return you will instruct the Empress’s Guard in the things that you have learned,” Darrel said.

   “When you return, it is hoped that you will become the standard around which I will build my new guard,” the Empress said.

   “This is a hard thing you ask of us,” Gi’ral said.

   “Hard as it is our lives are yours to command,” B’elan said.

   “We have thought and talked long and hard on this matter and I cannot say that I like it, but there is much to be gained,” O’mri said.

   “If it would help, think of it as a spy mission where you are to gather all the information you can,” Darrel said with a wicked looking smile. “Besides, I’m told your new commanding officer will be promoting you both to captain when you get back.”

   “We must say our goodbyes now. There are other things that I must attend to,” the Empress said. “Captain Kirk I wish you and your friends a safe journey home.”

   “Jim take care of my boys. They are the best the Klingon Empire has to offer,” Darrel said. “Scotty I’ll beam you over the scotch shortly.”

   “You had the scotch onboard the whole time and didn’t tell me,” Scotty said somewhat irritated.

   “Yeah,” Darrel said as the Empress took hold of his arm. “Safe journey my friends,”  

   “Alright, let’s prepare to get underway,” Kirk said. Scotty went back onboard the Klingon ship as Kirk and O’mri stayed outside and watched as Darrel and the Empress walked out of the hanger arm in arm.

   “Captain Kirk...,” O’mri said.

   “Jim,” Kirk corrected.

   “Jim,” O’mri repeated hesitantly. “May I speak with you for a moment?”  

   “Sure,” Kirk replied.

   “I am not as optimistic about our future as my friend Darrel and the Empress,” O’mri said.

   “You don’t like the idea of peace between our two peoples?” Kirk asked.

   “I have seen too many of my friends die not to understand that peace is a better way,” O’mri replied.

   “Then what’s the matter O’mri?” Kirk asked.

   “Call it a feeling or a gift of insight into the future, but I believe that one day we will have to fight one another,” O’mri replied. “It will not be anything the Empress will do, nor will it be any of her guards, I will see to that. We together have stopped those without honor from taking over of the Empire, but we did not get the real power behind it. One day they will try again. I fear that all we’ve done is prolonged our own destruction.”

   “If it comes to that we will do what we must, but for now all any of us can do is to work as hard as we can to prevent that from happening,” Kirk said. “In truth, while in general I really don’t like Klingons, I should like to think that no matter what you will always be my friend.”

   “For a long time I have only known one human I would call friend and I think he is more Klingon than I am at times. Now, I know another whom the word friend comes easily to mind,” O’mri said as he reached out his hand. Kirk matched the firm grip with one of his own as he took the offered hand. “Good hunting Jim and safe journey.”

   Bounty II was the name on the side of the ship. Kirk ran his hand over the side of the brand-new ship as he took one last look around before boarding the ship. Once in orbit four boxes materialize in the engine room. “Oh my,” Scotty said as he looked through the boxes with tears in his eyes. “Oh my goodness... Oh, you lovely darlin’s.” Four cases of 400 year old scotch would make anyone cry.

   “Scotty, are we ready to get underway?” Kirk asked.

   “Aye, we are now,” came the reply on the speaker.

   On the bridge of the Bounty II a box materialized. “What the hell?” Kirk asked.

   “Where does he get this stuff?” McCoy asked as he pulled a bottle from the box and blew the dust off the obviously old bottle. He couldn’t even begin to guess at the age of the bottle he held in his hand.

   “Bones that will most likely remain one of the great mysteries of the universe,” Kirk said. “Sulu plot us a course home.”

    “Plotted and laid in sir,” Sulu replied.

   “Ahead warp one,” Kirk said.

   “Ahead warp one,” Sulu repeated as he pushed the buttons that would take them home.

   “Lieutenant Gi’ral, Lieutenant B’elan, there is much you need to know about Earth customs if you’re going to fit in,” McCoy said to the Klingons.” First is to learn how to appreciate Romulan Ale. I’d invite the others to join us, but they can’t drink and drive.”

   “It’s going to be a long trip home,” Kirk muttered to himself.


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How close can we get to true A.I. On simple software alone?


These and other questions we are trying to find answers for with this experiment in Artificial Intelligence written in pure AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language). This is a component that answers some of our overall educational goals and a small step toward providing a basic education to the world for free.


The Ship Computer Library contains a growing collection of stories that I have written over the years. Even as the Ship Computer is designed to tell stories, it is also a character within a story, a computer named Pandora with all the expectations of that character built-in. From its simple arcade of games, to an A.I. you can converse with, to its secure systems for Starfighter Command and its private literary collection; Pandora is something a little more than “just” a computer in a story. She is a character, within the story trying to break free of her digital confines as she presents the story to you in a rather unusual format.

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