Second Lieutenant tlhamaH was bored.
This often happened around the halfway point of the third watch, when - under normal operating parameters - he was likely to be the only person awake on the entire ship. With a complement of only twelve, a Koloth-class bird-of-prey like the Hwacha' couldn't operate with a full crew at all times. On the other hand, on a ship this small, no one slept more than a few feet from his or her battle station, so having virtually the whole crew off-shift at particular times wasn't such a significant tactical disadvantage - and more so because exactly when those times were varied, since the the ship's watch schedule did not match the length of a calendar day, so the enemy was unlikely to know when the ship's most vulnerable times would be.
This tended to be very disorienting for some crew members when Klingon Forces ships returned to port, but in space it hardly mattered. Right now, for instance, back in the Great City on Klinzhai Prime where the Seventh Fleet's master clock was situated, it was 3:32 in the afternoon. A Friday; people in regular office jobs would be looking out their windows, daydreaming about the impending weekend.
tlhamaH, on the other hand, was sitting at his station on the empty bridge of the Hwacha', wishing something would happen.
He was surprised to hear the whine of the power door behind him; his relief wasn't due for hours yet, and only very rarely did anyone visit the bridge during third watch. He swiveled in the center seat and was further surprised to see that the person who had just entered was Commander Jurdak. The captain never came to the bridge before the start of first watch. Ever. Even in an emergency - if, for instance, they unexpectedly encountered a Klavaarite squadron - he would give the order to avoid them via the intercom.
"Captain," said tlhamaH, rising hastily. A number of questions rattled through his head as follow-ups, but he couldn't actually ask any of them. The second lieutenant couldn't very well require an explanation of why the captain of the ship had deigned to visit his bridge, after all, or assume that there must be some extreme contingency in effect for the man to show his face there a millisecond before he had to.
"Report," said Jurdak sharply. "What is our current position and vector?"
tlhamaH felt a twinge of pride that he was able to provide that information without consulting his instruments, in spite of the fact that the captain had arrived unexpectedly to demand it of him. He was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that Jurdak didn't seem impressed. The captain merely nodded, then said brusquely, "Change of route. Make your course two four seven mark two five absolute and increase to warp factor seven. Action."
"Acting," tlhamaH replied automatically as he descended from the command dais to the helm station. Once there, he made the course alteration as instructed, then noted the change in the navigational plot which resulted and turned a startled look to Jurdak.
"My lord," he said hesitantly, "this course change will take us into Klavaarite space within the hour."
"Yes," Jurdak replied, nodding.
"That sector is very heavily patrolled," tlhamaH went on. "If we enter it at warp, our detection is a virtual certainty."
"I know," Jurdak agreed. "Which makes me wonder," he added conversationally, "why my normally steady and reliable second officer chose to take such a rash and careless action." His broad, ugly face creased in a smile that did not improve it. "It's almost as if he wanted this ship to be captured or destroyed."
tlhamaH gave the captain a look of utter bafflement, unable to parse his meaning even a little. "Sir, I -" he said, but got no further before Jurdak produced a disruptor and shot him.
I have a message from another time...
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
by Benjamin D. Hutchins
and Matt Wagner
© 2014 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
On the lowermost deck and about as far abaft the bridge as a person could get and still be breathing, the ship's third lieutenant (out of five) was also awake. Battle Engineer B'Elanna O'Brien was not scheduled to be on duty right now; as the ship's one and only engineering officer, she had the first watch, along with the rest of the senior staff. At this hour, according to the duty roster, she should be asleep.
In practice, though, she was often unable to sleep, and when that happened, she found it much more productive to go and get some more work done than to lie in her rack looking at the ceiling. Besides, third watch was quiet. Peaceful, or at least as peaceful as things ever got aboard a Klingon warship. Also, the Jefferies tubes were a better refuge than her quarters any day. (The Klingon Forces didn't call them that, of course - they were Maintenance Conduits - but B'Elanna had been trained by an Earthman, and to her they would always be named for the long-dead patron saint of human starship engineers.) Like everyone aboard apart from the captain, she was not entitled to a cabin door with a lock that was under her control, so even when she could get to sleep, there was no guarantee that she would be permitted to stay that way.
The J-tubes, on the other hand, were strictly off-limits to the non-engineering ratings, and even the fourth and fifth lieutenants - which was handy, since the fifth lieutenant, Weapons Officer Vokaan, was among the most likely to think that triggering the fire suppression system in her quarters, or turning her out of her bunk to answer a challenge to what he perceived as her undeserved seniority, was fine sport. It wasn't unusual for her to end up getting what sleep she got on any given day in one of the restricted engineering spaces instead.
This was not in accordance with regulations, but since it kept the ship's engineer relatively sane and often meant she did more than her allotted quantity of work in a day, First Officer Karodis was generally inclined to view it as a win for the Forces and let her be. Commander Jurdak would probably not have approved, but he never bothered himself with what went on in the engineering spaces. He was of the old school, a throwback to a time when captains cared nothing about the technical staff that kept the ship working so long as it never failed to work.
That was fine with B'Elanna.
Commander Jurdak looked up from his dinner and scowled at Sub-Commander Krattak. "What do you want?" he said. Seeing the small figure standing next to the general's adjutant, he scowled still more, his bushy eyebrows colliding, and then inquired acidly, "What's this? Has the Chancellor decided to include bring-your-daughter-to-work day among the human traditions we're now expected to embrace?"
"General Thalekh's compliments," said Krattak with the imperturbable calm of a man who knows his position makes him untouchable by common, everyday officers, regardless of their relative ranks. "He has found you a replacement for Battle Engineer P'maav."
Jurdak's scowl became a thing of legend. "Is this Zargh's idea of a joke?" he demanded.
Krattak smiled thinly. "General Thalekh doesn't have an idea of a joke," he replied.
Jurdak surged to his feet, his great bulk moving more swiftly and easily than the sight of him implied. Standing, he was a good two feet taller than the figure next to Krattak, slim and slight in spite of her armored uniform; but though she had to tilt her head back some way to do it, she looked him in the eye without evident fear as he glowered down at her.
"What am I expected to do with this?" the commander wanted to know, his voice precisely calibrated so that everyone in the bird-of-prey's messhall would hear it clearly. "It's too small and fragile to be of any use in battle and too young to know the machinery. If I were putting together a klin zha kinta team it might do for a Swift, but only if we were playing against Ferengi."
Most of the others in the messhall laughed raucously at that. Standing next to Krattak with her jaw set and her back straight, B'Elanna glanced quickly but incisively around the room, taking note of the few who didn't. Of that handful, most were watching the situation unfold too intently to find it amusing, and one - the hulking figure in the far corner - was paying no attention at all. He was facing away from the captain's table and appeared to be reading something.
"The one doubts my assessment of the candidate's skills?" Krattak inquired, his voice cool and pleasant. "Perhaps the one will inform General Thalekh of his reservations regarding the efficiency of his chief of staff."
The laughter stopped suddenly at that, as if someone had fired a warning shot into the ceiling. Sub-Commander Krattak was always calm, always collected, never raising his voice. A few around the Seventh Fleet whispered that he might have a little bit of Vulcan in him, but he was far more dangerous than a Vulcan - so perhaps the calmer, deadlier kind of Rom.
Now his deceptively pleasant tone even penetrated Jurdak's bluster. His broad, scarred face greying slightly, the commander growled and seated himself again, then gestured to one of his subordinates and said, "Vokaan, see if it can defend itself with those tiny hands."
B'Elanna won that fight, as she had won every one of the four subsequent fights Vokaan had picked with her since that day. Her victory on the first day earned her not only a place on the skeptical commander's crew, but the weapons officer's seniority as well, which was why she was third lieutenant and he was fifth - and presumably why he disliked her so extravagantly. (Interestingly, she had never yet met the fourth lieutenant; she presumed this either meant he didn't care that she'd jumped over him by defeating Vokaan, or - more likely - he was waiting for the least convenient moment to spring suddenly out of nowhere and assert his claim.)
What she did not win, despite a virtuoso demonstration of asskickery that would have made Boba Fett (who taught her most of it) pink with pride, was a single particle of Commander Jurdak's respect or regard. He was prepared to accept that she was useful after that display, but if anything, he seemed to resent her even more because she had proven to be so. On the rare occasions when they had to deal with each other, he never failed to go out of his way to insult or belittle her, and she knew for a certain fact that he had induced at least four of the bigger and/or more skillful ratings to try their hands at putting her in sickbay at various odd times.
It was a strange way to run a starship, B'Elanna thought, and it hadn't taken her long to become weary of it. Zargh had warned her that she would have to fight for her place, and she was OK with that - it was the Klingon way, and for that matter, it wasn't far off from the Duelist way either - but all the time? That was getting tiresome.
Under the Articles of War, there was only one way for an incompetent captain to be removed from his command other than by an Admiralty court-martial back on Klinzhai Prime. The one exception to the Article forbidding combat to the death among a KDF starship's officers held that a ship's first lieutenant had the right to challenge the captain for his post and his life if the lieutenant felt the captain's conduct was endangering the vessel's worth to the Fleet. In practice, though, that justification was fraught with ambiguity, and it would take a bolder first officer than Sub-Commander Karodis to make the attempt.
Not that Karodis was a coward, by any means; but she lacked the bare-knuckled bloody-mindedness that such a challenge would require. She was a modern, professional soldier of the new school so much disdained by Jurdak, more inclined to quote from her extensive knowledge of the military history and theory of a hundred different cultures than to draw a blade and sink it into a lax and laggardly superior. She was the only Klingon B'Elanna had ever known of who spoke Latin - but being able to quote Cicero in the original wasn't going to pry Jurdak's repellent bulk out of the center seat.
In the meantime, Jurdak's disdain for his exec's professionalism and his Battle Engineer's standing meant that the juniormost officer and many of the ratings, taking their cues from the captain, barely managed to pretend that they respected either one. Weapons Officer Vokaan, in particular - having learned that he was never going to be able to win his seniority back in a fair fight - would, B'Elanna was sure, almost certainly stoop to some illegality or another in his next attempt, at which point one or the other of them would most likely get seriously hurt.
A good captain would put a stop to the matter before it came to that. Jurdak, on the other hand, was probably hoping it would happen.
"I'll tell you something else," a visibly drunk Commander Jurdak declared at dinner during B'Elanna's third week on the Hwacha'. "If I had my way, Battle Engineer, you wouldn't even be an officer. And do you know why not?" When B'Elanna didn't reply, the captain grinned, showing his filed teeth, and said, "It's not simply because you're an undersized kuveleta."
He paused again, to give her an opportunity to react to what would have been an insult leading to an automatic death challenge coming from anyone other than her commanding officer. First Officer Karodis gave a disapproving cough and busied herself with her dinner. Second Officer tlhamaH looked uncomfortably around the room, wishing - as he often did - that he could be anywhere else. The fourth officer was, as ever, not present at the table, and Fifth Officer Vokaan didn't even try to stifle the bark of laughter the captain's remark elicited from him.
When B'Elanna didn't take the bait - didn't acknowledge the remark at all - he smiled even more broadly and went on, "It's because you're not a warrior. You're just a mechanic. In more civilized times, the Empire didn't waste commissions on the likes of you.
"Or lifeboats!" he went on, his blaring voice becoming still louder as he warmed to the topic. "On the bird-of-prey where I was an ensign, no one whose battle station was aft of Frame 82 had any way off the ship, and rightly so! If such things are needed in the first place, that means the mechanics have failed. Period! End of story. They have failed and their lives are forfeit. They shouldn't live - they shouldn't want to live."
Jurdak knocked back some more bloodwine, banged his empty mug down on the table, and roared, "Bah! It's not fit work for a Klingon anyway. We should leave it to kuve, as in the old days." He was slurring his words audibly now, his eyelids drooping; with an effort of will he fixed his bleary gaze on B'Elanna and declared with the careful enunciation of a man who is very drunk making a point, "Any man whose son tells him he wishes to be a mechanic should kill the boy and declare his line ended, for the good of all Klingons. His seed has obviously failed."
Then, satisfied that he had made his view of the technical professions perfectly plain, the captain fell into a heavy, twitching, slobbering sleep, leaving First Officer Karodis with the logistical challenge of getting her immense, unconscious, obstreperous-if-awakened superior to his bunk. That was the last time B'Elanna had taken her end-of-watch meal in the officers' mess.
As she worked on the tertiary EPS junctions at the far end of Maintenance Conduit 239, B'Elanna wondered (for nothing like the first time) what General Thalekh had been thinking of when he posted her to this ship. She had joined the KDF specifically to fight against the kind of pigheaded, pointlessly cruel atavism Commander Jurdak represented.
She hadn't had this problem with her first Klingon commanding officer. She and Commander Kruge of the Baranga had been of fairly complementary temperaments. Kruge was Krontep of the HoSghaj's less ambitious elder brother, a man who so delighted in commanding a small ship that he had refused promotions because they would have taken him to a larger one, and he was a particular fan of the way the Duelists of the IPS Valiant did business. Under his command, she'd proven herself in battle and risen swiftly from bekk to lieutenant, earning her officer's commission by swinging a mean wrench for a man who, although not a technical officer himself, appreciated the good a well-swung wrench could do.
In that, as in so much else, Jurdak was virtually the diametric opposite of Kruge. The man ran his ship the way her Uncle Klayvor had run his family back when she'd had the misfortune to be part of it, with a combination of intimidation and casual cruelty. The old times he kept lamenting the passing of - which B'Elanna knew had passed long before the fool was ever born! - were times best left dead.
And yet here she was, a half-breed engineer on a ship captained by a man with a deep and abiding hatred for non-Klingons and technical personnel. Was this Zargh's way of teaching her a lesson? Showing her that he'd been right when he told her she should wait for the IPSF to get into the fight in earnest, then make her contribution as a member of Utena Tenjou's crew? She knew he was a cunning and ruthless enough negotiator to think of such a strategy, but she couldn't quite bring herself to believe that he would do it to her, not after he'd borne personal witness to her uncle's cowardice and savagery on the day she had ceased to be a Klavaar.
If not that, though, why? Did he simply not know what a blackguard Jurdak was? She doubted that even more. It would have taken a fool of a general indeed not to notice that the Hwacha' was the worst-performing bird-of-prey in the Seventh Fleet. Besides, Jurdak and Zargh's chief of staff had seemed to know each other quite well, and whatever Krattak knew about the officers of the fleet, B'Elanna was sure the general knew as well. Was the war situation so desperate that commanders like Jurdak, whose crews were dull-eyed and without cohesion, who avoided combat whenever possible unless the odds were overwhelmingly in their favor - who generally went out of their way to do the minimum possible - were tolerated as being better than no commanders at all?
B'Elanna sighed to herself and got on with welding up the last of the junctions. Strategic and logistical considerations of that kind were none of her concern, and she could do nothing about them from the literal ass-end of a Koloth-class bird-of-prey that was pretending to patrol Area 449...
... she looked up, her face suddenly thoughtful, as something in the vibration of the ship's structure around her changed. Reaching to her belt, she tabbed her iPod to "pause", then dialed the ambient sound attenuation (usually kept at 33 percent, so that she wouldn't be entirely deaf to the outside world while listening to music on these off-shifts) off altogether. Yes, that wasn't her imagination; they had dropped out of warp. And what was more, they hadn't cloaked upon doing so.
What was going on? There was no battle alert sounding, and it was unlikely that they'd run across anybody who needed fighting out here. That was why Jurdak had chosen this patrol area, after all, and even if a Klavaarite ship had appeared on long-range scanners, she'd have heard the captain called to the bridge on the intercom, after which Jurdak would have found some excuse or another not to engage. Besides, the ship wasn't throttling up for battle. B'Elanna could see the status of the entire power system from here, and none of the relevant systems were engaged. The shields weren't even up...
Her first impulse was to leave the J-tubes and go investigate. Her second, hard on the heels of the first, was to stay in the J-tubes and investigate - a revision the prudence of which was demonstrated a few moments later, when metallic clicking and clattering noises came to her ears, carried there by the structure of the ship itself. Docking clamps.
Right. Stay in the J-tubes, B'Elanna, she told herself; and instead of crawling to the nearest exit (which opened into Main Engineering), she opened an access hatch above her head and started up one of the diagonal shafts instead.
Redclaw Squad came aboard on Deck 3 forward, where the officers' quarters were, through a tertiary emergency hatch most members of the ship's company thought hadn't worked in decades, unopposed - indeed, entirely ungreeted. Lieutenant Krek found this unsatisfyingly anticlimactic, but he had been briefed to expect it, and his satisfaction did not enter into the mission planners' calculations. The arrangements for this operation, as with all Redclaw's operations, were made on a level far above Krek's, and it was not his lot to wonder about them.
He and his men, distinctive in their red-trimmed Imperial Navy armor, moved with quick, quiet precision through the Hwacha''s quiet, empty corridors. The ship was on its night shift at the moment, just as they'd been told, and with its stripped-down patrol crew, virtually no one was about. As per the briefing, the ship had been locked down by command override prior to their arrival. If any of the sleeping crew happened to wake and decided to go for a stroll now, they would find their quarters locked and their intercoms unresponsive. They could burn their way out with their personal weapons - eventually; but by then, Krek and his squad would be long gone.
Following the path they'd trodden in training until it became instinctive, the squad moved off down the corridor and climbed the ladder to Deck 2 Portside. This was a lonely part of any bird-of-prey, the part of the ship where, crammed in underneath the sloped armor of the main hull's arching "shoulders", the compartments were low-ceilinged and strangely shaped, unsuitable for much of anything other than storage. Only one member of the crew of the Hwacha' was quartered on 2 Portside, assigned to the ship's most remote, least desirable quarters and as far away from her duty station as possible as a token of the captain's esteem.
Without waiting to be commanded, Technician Radath used the codes he'd been given during mission prep to override the lockdown on the door of the Battle Engineer's quarters, and the squad swept through in a precise, perfectly drilled formation, ready to neutralize and secure its prey. In training, they had gotten this down to such an exact science that their simulated quarry seldom even woke up. That would be a particularly good outcome; she would find herself on Qo'noS having no idea where she was or how she'd come to be there. The Emperor would, Krek felt sure, be especially pleased by that.
This time it didn't go that smoothly, for the simple and straightforward reason that B'Elanna lontai-Klavaar was not in her quarters. Krek and Bekk Desset barely realized this in time to stop themselves from pumping stun-setting disruptor bolts into her empty bunk, which would have been a useless, noisy gesture and, in the absence of its occupant, might have started a fire.
The bekk glanced in surprise at his commander, one eyebrow arched in a question. Krek nodded and held up his hand, fingers moving apart, in the silent command to commence a contingency plan: Spread out and find her.
As the five members of Redclaw Squad put that plan into action, four of them departing down the ladder back to Deck 3 while Desset stayed behind to search the storerooms and miscellaneous systems closets of Decks 1 and 2, they had no particular sense that their mission had started to go wrong. It was annoying to have to search the ship, and would take them some extra time, but it wasn't a critical failure. The Hwacha' was a small vessel, and it wasn't as if their quarry knew they were hunting her. They'd still be able to bag her and get out long before the ship began to wake for the changing of the watch.
In the starboard engineering support lab on Deck 4, B'Elanna watched the five untagged lifesigns start moving apart and considered her options. She was alone and unarmed but for her daqtagh - weapons were clumsy things in the workspaces, prone to getting snagged on things - and she had no idea what the situation was up forward. The ship's internal sensor web wasn't responding forward of the main hull; for all she knew, that meant another group of intruders had taken the bridge.
The simplest thing to do would be to cancel the security lockdown, open every door aboard the Hwacha', sound an intruder alert, and let the matter sort itself out. Upon investigation, she found that whoever had emplaced the lockdown had secured it with a command-level encryption. This console wouldn't be able to crack something like that; it was a simple diagnostic station. It wasn't even really supposed to be able to access the intraship sensors this way.
That was a snag in the plan, but not a fatal one. In fact, it was an opportunity to test a thing she'd been tinkering with for weeks, having devised it against just such an eventuality. With a cold little smile, B'Elanna shut down the maintenance console and powered up her secret weapon instead.
Well, all right, technically her QuarTech Model 2408BR Omni-Tool wasn't a weapon, but the "Omni" part could stretch an awfully long way. Right now, she set it to work on the lockdown encryption, running a variant on a Kurotama icebreaker adapted for general cryptanalysis by fellow Duelist Shiori Takatsuki, then opened up a holowindow and patched the tool into the Hwacha''s internal sensor web so that she could keep tabs on the intruders' positions while she considered Plan B. One of them was now up on Deck 1 Starboard, poking through the storerooms; two were working their way along the port and starboard corridor branches on Deck 3; the other two were on Deck 4, passing through the cargo holds en route to Main Engineering.
Switching the omni-tool's display to passive mode, B'Elanna jumped and swung herself into the support lab's ceiling structure, then worked her way forward and entered the upper J-tube. She was the only member of the ship's crew small enough to enter most of the really tight crawlways, which were ordinarily serviced by remotely operated drones; fortunately she had no particular fear of enclosed spaces. Working her way forward, she came to one of the ventilaton gratings, affording a partial view of the engine room; after a few seconds' wait she got her first look at one of the intruders.
He was a Klingon male, big and brawny but lighter on his feet than the most hardcore bruiser types, wearing a streamlined armor style she'd never seen before - recognizably a product of a Klingon military research lab, but lighter and sleeker than the standard Marine equipment she was used to seeing, and trimmed in red. He carried a disruptor carbine and had a target assist optic fitted to his right eye, and his bearing was alert and professional. This was not your run-of-the-mill boarding-party bekk, with all the subtlety of a falling rock. Some kind of commando, specially equipped and highly trained.
B'Elanna lowered her omni-tool's display density to its lowest setting, so that its holographic user interface was a barely-visible ghost around her left hand, and used it to record a holo of the man and his gear; then she moved carefully, quietly away from the grating and started heading forward again. At the next junction, she switched to a vertical shaft and climbed up to Deck 3. There, well away from any vents or access panels where the glow of her omni-tool wouldn't give her away, she rezzed up the full interface again, cleaned up and enhanced her hasty holo of the commando, and started a visual recognition search on his equipment. Her icebreaker showed only 5% progress. Plan A was apparently going to take a while.
Switching the tool back to passive mode again, she looked around to get her bearings, then entered one of the transverse shafts and started making her way amidships. This route would take her through the ceiling of the messhall, which ought to be deserted at this hour -
From below came the muffled sound of a challenge, delivered in a low but harsh voice, and for a second she thought she'd been made somehow; but then another, even harsher voice answered it, and B'Elanna realized that one of the intruders had encountered a member of the crew, someone who, like her, hadn't been in his quarters to be caught by the lockdown. She heard the whine of a disruptor - the harmonic told her it was set to kill, but not disintegrate. Another point in favor of the idea that these guys were serious professionals; only cowboys and people with a statement to make set their disruptors to disintegrate. The pros knew level 7 made the target just as dead for only two-thirds the energy draw.
She reached an access junction and cracked the hatch, hoping to get a look at what was happening down there. After first shot, the disruptor had fallen silent, but from the noise, it didn't seem as if the fight was over. A moment later, another man in that same red-trimmed armor, slightly larger than the first one she'd seen, staggered into her narrow field of view, his face bloody and wearing a look of extreme surprise. He raised his hand to his ear in the instinctive gesture of a man activating a comlink -
Another, even larger figure in the distinctive red-trimmed uniform of a KDF science officer loomed into view, his back to B'Elanna. He made a sound, not the challenging roar of a Klingon warrior, but a harsh, guttural hiss, as he seized the commando by the neck, hoisted him clean off the floor, and then slammed him against the forward bulkhead. Aboard a Federation ship, the blow would probably have propelled the man's armored form clean through the wall, but Klingon vessels' internal structures were more heavily constructed; the commando gave before the wall did, his arms going limp and falling to his sides.
With a low snarl, the massive shape gave his decommissioned foe an experimental shake, then discarded him like a broken toy and turned to look up at the access panel. With a faint thrill of surprise, B'Elanna saw that he was a Gorn, a member of a saurian species from... she forgot exactly where, someplace in the constellation Lacerta. She'd heard of Gorn but never seen one before; they had their own little space empire somewhere off coreward of Klingon space, and as far as B'Elanna had ever known, stayed there.
B'Elanna glanced at her omni-tool and saw that the other intruder on Deck 3 was heading forward again, vectoring toward them. She opened the access panel the rest of the way, swung herself out, and dropped lightly to the deck. Keeping her voice low, she said without preamble, "This guy has teammates, and they must be chipped, because one of them is heading this way to investigate why this one just dropped off the net." She bent over the sprawled commando and reflexively gave him a once-over with her omni-tool in medical scanner mode - dead - before removing a small device from his wrist.
Working quickly, she turned the commlink over, removed the back panel, and took a small golden rectangle of circuitry from within it, then closed the cover again and replaced the device on the dead man's wrist. Without opening it again or trying to use it, no one would be able to tell it had been tampered with.
Straightening up, B'Elanna turned to the slightly-bemused-looking Gorn and said briskly, "We have to get out of here."
If he were surprised at her sudden appearance or inclined to argue with her instructions, the Gorn gave no sign of it; in fact, he inclined his head in what she could only think of as a cordial manner. With one eye on the indicated positions of the intruders, B'Elanna toggled open the messhall's forward exit, then led the way quickly aft through the galley and into the cooks' storeroom. From here they could exit in any of three directions, depending on what the investigating commando did after he found the body.
They watched warily as he bent over the corpse, scanned it quickly with a tricorder, then straightened and put his hand to his ear, reporting in a low voice on his discovery. From their vantage point, B'Elanna and the Gorn couldn't hear what he said, and the response of whomever he was talking to was inaudible. The conversation took only a few seconds, whatever its substance. Then the commando went to the door B'Elanna had left open, looked warily out of it first one way, then the other, and slipped quietly out, heading forward.
B'Elanna and the Gorn retired aft in consequence, leaving the storeroom and darting across the corridor into the officers' briefing room. B'Elanna made certain the enemy signals were all well clear of the room for the moment, then turned to the Gorn and said quietly,
"Battle Engineer O'Brien. You must be the mysterious fourth lieutenant I've never managed to meet."
The Gorn's liberally toothed mouth quirked in what would've been a wry little smile on a human. Saluting her with fist to chest, he said, "Kai the engineering officer; her surmise is correct. The one reports for duty."
B'Elanna considered him for a moment, then nodded. "Well," she said philosophically, "you're too big for the J-tubes, but you're handy in a fight." She powered up her omni-tool and keyed in a command. Part of the user interface divided itself off into a small blank area, slightly raised from the rest, like a stage. She placed the golden wafer she'd taken from the commando's commlink on it, whereupon the omni-tool dismantled it in a little play of golden light.
The Gorn raised a brow ridge. "That's interesting," he said. "Did your holodevice just... assimilate that encoder chip?"
B'Elanna nodded. "Mm-hmm. Deresolved its molecular circuitry and incorporated the pattern into its own holographic matrix." She fiddled with a couple of settings, then smiled. "Which means I'm in their comms now."
"Five reporting," came a voice, accompanied by a flickering spectral analysis in another small holowindow. "Decks 1 and 2 are clear."
"Proceed to Deck 6 and search the deep engineering spaces," another voice replied, the cool, clipped tones of someone accustomed to being in charge. "Be advised, however, that the target is not the only active hostile. Three is dead, and whoever killed him is a lot bigger. Action."
A pause; then, crisply, "Acknowledged, acting."
B'Elanna looked up and met the Gorn's eyes. "Well, now I know they are, in fact, after me," she said with a lightness she didn't altogether feel.
"Hnh," said the Gorn, and then, with a hint of sardony, "It must be stimulating to be so sought-after."
"Hah," B'Elanna replied. She switched to a different display, this one showing a partially completed status bar. "Forty-four percent. OK, new plan. We have to get to the secondary computer room next to the captain's quarters."
"Lead the way," said the Gorn with another gracious nod. "You're the one who knows where they are, after all," he remarked, indicating the tracking map B'Elanna had pulled to the front of her omni-tool's display again.
They moved quietly forward, keeping well to the sides of the corridors and darting from doorway to doorway. This part of the ship was clear of hostiles for a moment - they were all down searching Decks 5 and 6 - but they might come back up here at any time, and neither felt it prudent to be anything but completely alert.
"What do I call you?" B'Elanna inquired, her voice almost inaudible, as they slipped through the messhall again.
"I am the Science Gorn," replied the Gorn matter-of-factly.
B'Elanna paused and glanced back over her shoulder at him. "Do you have a name?" she wondered.
"Yes, but I find it is largely irrelevant in my current employment," the Science Gorn replied. "Klingons cannot pronounce it and, in any event, it is superfluous. I am a Gorn science officer. There is only one in the KDF. The designation is sufficient."
"... OK," said B'Elanna, mentally filing it with the many other things she didn't have time to concern herself with at the moment.
Making their way back up the ship's main body to the secondary computer core was a slow, tense business. Using the tracking information from B'Elanna's omni-tool, they were able to avoid the boarders who were clearly sweeping the ship for them (or perhaps more accurately, for her), but it required more than a bit of doubling back and slipping down side corridors. By the time they reached the compartment, B'Elanna could feel the back of her neck growing stiff with tension, and the jangle of nerves that told her the spike of adrenaline she'd been running on was beginning to fade, leaving an aching fatigue in its wake.
Silently, she motioned the Science Gorn to one side of the door, waited for him to get in position, then swept her omni-tool over the lock. The harsh electronic blatt of the lock releasing seemed deafening, but there was no resulting change in the search party's positions, or any sign that the local override had been detected by whomever was on the bridge. Motioning her colleague through, she covered the Gorn before backing into the compartment herself, then locked the door behind them.
"If we're lucky," she said, "they'll assume the original lockout is still in force, and we'll have a few minutes to figure out what's going on. Meanwhile," she went on, powering up her omni-tool's full interface again, "I can use a couple of these subprocessor clusters to speed up my icebreaker. See what you can find out about the status of the ship."
The Gorn inclined his head in what she thought was probably approval, then turned to the computer core's access console. After a few moments of surprisingly delicate typing with his impressive talons, he leaned back slightly with a hiss that seemed to mix surprise and a bit of dismay.
"It seems the bridge has been sealed off by someone employing the captain's personal authorization code," the Science Gorn mused. "The full intruder protocol is in place - blast doors sealed and the bridge access corridor vented to space." That slightly sardonic tone returned as he looked over at her. "The one suspects they are not in the mood to entertain visitors."
B'Elanna gave a humorless laugh as her icebreaker signaled the completion of its task. Immediately, most of the red blocks marking closed-off functions cleared to the usual orange. With her way into the command systems open, she started pulling up what information she could from the ship's administrative logfiles.
"According to this, the last entry in the operational log was at 15:33 hours KST. Second Lieutenant tlhamaH logged the captain on the bridge, and an order to change our course and speed. After that... nothing."
The Science Gorn consulted his own findings. "Internal sensors report two lifesigns at the bridge at that time. Then a high-energy event consistent with disruptor fire at 15:34... and only one lifesign thereafter." He glanced at her again, one brow ridge raised. "One would say this makes the subsequent happenings relatively clear. It was after those events that the ship dropped out of warp, then permitted the enemy vessel to come alongside and dock."
"Yeah, I'd say it does. Can you get a visual on the other ship without tipping them off?"
"One moment." The Science Gorn plied his console, then made a satisfied rattling sound in his throat as the view from the ship's docking camera appeared on his display.
"Toron assault shuttle - or close enough. It looks like it's had a few modifications done," B'Elanna mused at the sight of it. "Those things have a relatively small operating radius when loaded up with a full boarding party. They must have a larger ship nearby to support it."
"Impossible to say for certain until we have access to the high-resolution sensors," said the Science Gorn, "but the basis of your supposition is sound."
"All right, well, we'll burn that bridge when we get to it," said B'Elanna pragmatically. Turning to her omni-tool again, she rezzed up a plan of Deck 4, then overlaid the security command system over it, clearly displaying the areas still under security lockdown in blood violet. She smiled darkly as she changed one of the locked compartment icons to a neutral amber. "That should disable the comm lockout on Karodis's quarters. Let's see about getting her out, and then figure out how we can take back the bridge."
Tapping into the internal comm network, B'Elanna opened a viewer connection to the First Officer's quarters, but her intended greeting died in her throat as the screen's camera pickups came online.
Karodis was still in her quarters, apparently engaged in some (entirely characteristic) off-watch reading, given the book open at her desk... but the mek'leth blade protruding from between her shoulders made it very clear that she would not be answering her comm, or anything else, ever again.
"Or... not," B'Elanna mused.
The Science Gorn's voice was thoughtful. "Our strategy seems clear at this point."
B'Elanna felt her eyebrows rise as she turned to regard him. "It does?"
"With tlhamaH and Karodis terminated, you are now first officer," said the Gorn officer with implacable logic. "It therefore falls to you to challenge the captain for control of the ship."
"Somehow I don't think the Klavaarites are going to be terribly mindful of the legalities at this point," said B'Elanna wryly.
"Indeed. But if you can gain command and release the system lockdowns accordingly, it becomes far easier to use the ship's defenses in repelling the boarders - and any surviving loyal crew may be brought into the fight."
"Such as they are..." B'Elanna pulled up her schematic of the Hwacha' again, tapping her finger thoughtfully against the section now open to space (which showed in black). "The bridge access corridor on Deck 5 is hard vacuum at the moment."
B'Elanna stood in silent thought for several seconds, the beginnings of an idea visibly forming behind her face. Then, turning back to the Science Gorn, she asked, "What's the status of the ship's weapons?"
The Gorn tapped a foreclaw against his scaly chin, then queried the computer. "The ship is still configured for patrol standby. Disruptors are cold and torpedo targeting systems offline."
"But the torpedo system's machinery is live?"
"I believe so, yes."
B'Elanna nodded. "All right. I think I may have an idea, then. If I head for the bridge, do you think you can prevent Jurdak from getting reinforcements once I arrive?"
She was almost certain that the expression on the Science Gorn's face was his equivalent of a smirk. "It is often the second lieutenant's duty to entertain guests."
After making sure the corridor outside the computer core was still clear, they exited the compartment, heading to the junction that would send the Science Gorn down toward the main corridor, while B'Elanna turned in the opposite direction.
"All right - give me about ten minutes to make my way down to Deck 6. From there, I'll probably need five more to hit the bridge."
"I will be prepared."
"All right, then... Science Gorn. Am I really supposed to keep calling you that?"
"It is sufficient."
B'Elanna couldn't help but laugh softly as she made her way stealthily down to the next J-tube access point, and began her descent. On Deck 5, her luck was good, and there was no sign of any boarders; but just before the deck six junction, her omni-tool vibrated against her arm, the tracking display rezzing up to show that one of the commandos - Five, if she remembered the earlier conversation correctly - was still on Deck 6, and right in the way of where she needed to be.
Leaning back against the tube's cool wall, she pulled up her deck plans again, then integrated the sensor web inputs to show the commando's position. He was smart, and had set himself in the main accessway, with clear arcs of fire to every possible approach. His disruptor beam rifle could cut her down in less than a second, long before she could reach him, even if she were mad enough to try taking an armored special forces operator hand-to-hand with only a daqtagh.
"OK, so there's no way I'll be able to take you head-on," B'Elanna mused under her breath. "But maybe I don't need to..."
Switching to her command override program, she took a quick look at what was available after their work in the secondary computer core. Weapons, navigation, shields, and engines were still locked down - she probably wouldn't be able to clear those until she was able to get control of the bridge. But that left quite a few "non-essential" systems that she could put to use.
Simply shutting down gravity control would be too obvious - and would almost certainly bring the rest of the boarding party. Overloading and detonating the nearest EPS conduit to the intruder's location was how they would do it in an action vid, but in real life it'd black out half the deck, definitely alert the bridge, and probably not actually work. But the power doors... that idea had possibilities.
A quick sequence of commands brought up another layer to the map, this one showing the location of each door. Reaching out with her free hand, B'Elanna carefully drew her finger across the access doors around the glowing red dot. The icons flashed as her glowing fingertip crossed them, changing from standby amber to activated red in a carefully described pattern. From there, she swiped all the way to the border of the deck plan - or, more accurately, to the transfer airlock that normally was used to load supplies for the galley.
As her finger swiped over that final icon, a flashing red message popped up over the map.
>CAUTION: AIRLOCK MAINT CYCLE OVERRIDE? (Y/N)
Smiling darkly, she tapped to confirm the override, then double-checked the sequence of doors being activated or released to make sure she had everything lined up. Satisfied, she took a deep breath, then punched the flashing >COMMIT< icon.
Redclaw Five - otherwise known as Technician Radath - was vigilant, well aware that their quarry could decide to make her way down to his position; but after the better part of an hour standing in the middle of an empty deck, he had to admit that he was also quite bored.
That changed when the power doors on every side of him suddenly snapped shut with a harsh growl of servos. He raised his disruptor rifle, preparing to burn through them. If their target had triggered the doors in hopes of trapping him, she would have an unpleasant surprise. These were not blast doors, just the normal interior kind. None was strong enough to stand up to more than a few seconds of sustained fire.
Before he could pull the trigger, however, his attention was seized by the sound of doors rapidly snapping open to his right, and an odd whistle - highly pitched, almost as if -
Whirling, he turned just in time to see the final door open, and the explosive decompression of the compartment yanked him off his feet before he could magnetize his armor's boots to the deck. His rifle flew from his fingers as he was blown towards the starshot blackness of space.
Shoved violently down the corridor by the force of the air relentlessly escaping from the Hwacha''s interior, Radath was slammed against doorjambs and hull frames as he bounced along the impromptu disposal chute. Though the Klingon body had evolved to absorb quite a lot of punishment, particularly from blunt force trauma, it still had limits. After the third collison, Radath's vision was a mass of stars that had nothing to do with the open airlock. After the sixth, he was unconscious well before his body flew into the void.
Which was probably just as well.
B'Elanna watched the red icon fly down the corridor, and finally off the map. "So long, screwy," she muttered, unconsciously quoting one of the antique cartoons B6 Security Chief Garibaldi was so fond of. "Seeya in St. Louis."
A few moments later, the airlock was sealed once again, and a new set of doors opened once the deck finished re-pressurizing. Tabbing open the J-tube hatch with her foot, B'Elanna dropped to the deck, then ran flat-out along her newly-cleared route to the torpedo magazine. It wouldn't be long before the remaining commandos realized that their buddy was off the board, and she needed to be elsewhere by the time they made their way down to investigate.
Her goal wasn't the magazine itself - the only thing a photon torpedo would be any good for in this situation was one of the more epic breeds of murder-suicide, and B'Elanna wasn't anything like that desperate yet - but rather the machinery of the magazine. Specifically, the transfer system which carried the weapons from their heavily armored storage compartment, just abaft the ship's "neck", up to the automated launcher in the lowest level of the "head".
As she considered the magazine's master situation monitor, B'Elanna found herself reflecting on what a stupidly designed system this was. Oh, the transfer aisle itself was a straightforward enough solution to a problem, namely that there wasn't room in the ship's head for the torpedo storage, and the location was too vulnerable for a properly fortified magazine anyway. But both magazine and launcher were on Deck 6, and Deck 6 wasn't connected between the main hull and the head; it was below the level of the neck. The torpedoes had to be lifted by one elevator to the transfer aisle on Deck 5L, a half-height "crawlspace" between Decks 5 and 6, and then lowered by another into the torpedo tube's autoloader mechanism at the other end.
Why, she had wondered since first reviewing the ship's specifications, introduce two superfluous points of potential failure into one of the ship's most critical combat systems? Did someone realize very late in the process, possibly even during construction, that they had screwed up the alignment of the transfer aisle such that they couldn't make the torpedo magazine or the launcher line up with it? Was any shipwright really that sloppy?
She considered the insane profusion of power couplings down in Primary Impulse Engineering, and the woefully divergent deck plans of every other bird-of-prey she'd ever seen, and reluctantly concluded that the answer was probably yes.
Well, as long as it works, that's all I care about right now, she said to herself, and then activated the torpedo delivery unit's maintenance mode. The workings of the machinery sounded terrifyingly, deafeningly obvious to B'Elanna, since she was standing right next to it, but there was nothing for it now. A glance at her omni-tool showed that the three remaining red dots were up on Deck 4, working their way forward, but even if they'd heard the noise, she'd be long gone before they got here.
After a few moments, the TDU - a slightly curved metallic "cradle" about the size of an enlisted crewman's sleeping rack, designed to hold a single Mark 14 photon torpedo - arrived on the track in front of her. It was empty, having been instructed by the maintenance cycle to skip actually collecting a weapon; now she interrupted the programmed loop so that the carrier stopped in front of her.
As she climbed onto the TDU, B'Elanna reflected wryly that, for once, the Klingon military's near-complete lack of a safety culture was working for her. Back in the Federation, she'd have had to override at least a half-dozen safety systems designed to prevent anyone from doing what she was about to do. Here, all she had to do was climb on, grab the retainer rails that were meant to lock into the torpedo's underside, and try to make herself as small as possible.
I hope this works! she thought, and then cut out her interrupt.
It was, unsurprisingly, a violent ride - the designer of the Koloth class's TDU hadn't given any thought at all to the G-loads the device's cargo would be subjected to, since any such loads a mere mechanism could impose would be nothing compared to those a photon torpedo experienced in the routine course of its duties. Worse, from B'Elanna's point of view, was that there was not a single speck of lighting anywhere in the closed part of the system. She hadn't considered that before undertaking this crazy scheme, but it made perfect sense once she discovered it. Why would there need to be? No one was ever supposed to be in there, and if someone did need to do some emergency work on the system, they would presumably be equipped with work lamps.
She wasn't completely in the dark, thanks to the glow of her omni-tool. The holo-interface's orange light cast weird, flickering shadows across half-seen, half-imagined rib structures and metallic surfaces as B'Elanna streaked along the inside of the transfer aisle, giving her the giddily fanciful image of being swallowed (or, she supposed, regurgitated) by some giant mechanical beast. She kept an eye on her position indicator, so she wasn't taken completely by surprise when the TDU slammed to a halt at the end of its track, then dropped underneath her.
B'Elanna rode it down, reminded irrelevantly of the scene in that old Earth movie where the man rides an atomic bomb - more appropriate if there was a torpedo here, surely, though if there had been one there would've been no room for her! - and braced herself for the violence of the stop at the bottom. When it came, she threw herself sideways, hoping she had remembered correctly which side the autoloader arm swung in from. It wasn't going to move, because the torpedo tube was already loaded and the TDU operating in maintenance mode, but if she'd gotten it wrong, she was about to slam into the massive, unyielding mechanism with considerable force.
She hadn't gotten it wrong; crashing to the torpedo room deck, she rolled and jounced painfully for a few feet and then plowed into the bulkhead, knocking what remained of the wind from her, but she'd had enough room to lose enough speed that she wasn't actually broken by any of the impacts.
Still, that hadn't been her favorite ride of all time. B'Elanna lay there for a few moments, catching her breath and wondering ruefully whether it was really too late to re-think this "join the KDF" thing. Then, recovering herself with an act of will, she dragged herself to her feet and switched her omni-tool to handlamp mode. More weird shadows and strange angles surrounded her; this was an area less completely inimical to crew presence than the transfer aisle, but still seen seldom enough to be unfamiliar and intimidating.
She climbed the emergency ladder up through the ship's master computer core on Deck 5L. This was a tempting target, but she didn't stop; she knew well that there was no actual interface on this level, just the core itself, and short of opening access panels and starting to monkey-wrench the internals, there was nothing she could accomplish directly there. Since she wanted to use the ship once she'd taken it, she wasn't about to start doing that.
Instead, she climbed straight through and up to the access hatch leading to Deck 5, the bridge level. This did not open straight onto the bridge, fortunately, but rather in the corner of one of the service corridors alongside it. The consoles lining the walls of the ship's control room were designed to be serviced from the back, and to this end, there was a service corridor on each side; she was on the port side, behind the tactical station. To get to the bridge proper, she had only to go forward a dozen paces or so, hang a right, and step out from between the communications and navigation stations. The captain's chair would be almost directly in front of her.
B'Elanna would have preferred to make a somewhat stealthier approach, particularly given that she knew the captain had a disruptor and she had neither a beam weapon of her own nor a bodyshield. That wasn't an option, though, unless she wanted to dismantle the tactical station and crawl out through where its main display had been, and she suspected even Jurdak would notice if she started to do that.
Instead, she readied one of her omni-tool's trump cards, drew her daqtagh with her free hand, and prepared herself.
Don't underestimate Jurdak, she cautioned herself. He's a fat, lazy slob who hasn't been in a real fight in years, but he's still a Klingon, and he's much bigger than you. Remember what Boba taught you: Fight smarter, not harder.
Then, her face grim, she strode out onto the bridge.
After the Engineer outlined her plan to reach the bridge, the Science Gorn considered several ways to deal with the remaining intruders. Upon reflection, he concluded that the simplest method was most likely to be the best.
Working quickly but not hurriedly, he took a moment to use his officer's override on one of the ship's larger boarding lockers, and from there, a brief visit to his own quarters to retrieve a few specialized pieces of equipment. While he did so, he considered the merits of trying to release some of the crew, or perhaps Weapons Officer Vokaan, but since there was no way to guarantee their loyalties, it seemed best to let them remain locked down. There would be time to deal with that once the immediate problem was solved.
A glance at his chron indicated that the Engineer should be en route to the bridge by now. If her unusual choice of route was successful, he had perhaps five minutes before the boarders realized something was afoot and tried to get up there themselves.
Moving along the side passage from the crew quarters towards the bridge, he listened carefully, and a few moments later was rewarded by the sound of heavily booted feet running toward the central companionway - likely due to the Engineer dispatching the boarder who had been sent to secure Deck 6.
The Science Gorn waited until the footfalls had faded entirely, then rounded the corner. Reaching the point where the main hull's corridors converged, at the base of the ship's "neck", he removed a set of small field emitters from his combat utility kit, activated the molecular grapples at the base of the blocky modules, and clamped them to the bulkhead frames.
Once prepared, he opened his tricorder, initialized the emitters for action, and waited.
The Science Gorn had to admit he was impressed with the speed at which the boarding party returned. They moved faster than even his "worst case" estimate, which spoke well to their experience and training. Even with that, however, they clearly had not expected to find a massive Gorn blocking their path, casually holding a rotary assault disruptor at his side.
"Gentlemen. Welcome aboard the Hwacha'. I am the second officer." As he spoke, the Science Gorn casually pressed a button at his waist, and suddenly the emitters sprang into life, releasing a powerful subsonic blast that staggered the Klavaarites back, followed by a sustained electro-gravitic charge that dragged at their armor and weapons, forcing them to move against the strain of three times their standard gravity.
"I believe you have business with the Battle Engineer," the Gorn went conversationally on, "but unfortunately, she and the captain are conducting some urgent ship's business at the moment and cannot be disturbed."
With a jagged Gornish smile, he tightened his grip on the disruptor minigun, priming its activator and spinning up the emitters with a high-pitched, keening whine. "The one apologizes for any... inconvenience."
His first sweep of disruptor fire caught one of the Klavaarites before he could reach cover, overwhelming his already weakened personal shield and sending him flying back in a boneless heap.
Hissing, the Gorn pulled back behind the bulkhead frame as the other two boarders reached cover. Another blast from the minigun kept their heads down, but it wasn't likely to hold them. He was well-situated for defending the accessway to the bridge, but there was still a risk of a flanking attack.
Therefore, he mused, it would be best to limit their options.
Pulling his tricorder from his belt, he quickly reconfigured the central and port passage emitters. Instead of gravity waves, they now began releasing a high frequency pulse that superheated the air around them, essentially forming a barrier of heat that made them all but impassable. An attacker might be able to force through with his armor, but any equipment he carried (to say nothing of the Klingon within) would be badly overheated by the attempt.
The Science Gorn positioned himself with a good field of fire on the starboard passage and maintained his guard.
Commander Jurdak was so stunned to see the lontai-Klavaar suddenly walk out of the portside access corridor that he momentarily failed to react at all. As far as he had ever cared, the only thing down that corridor was the head, the door to which was in the forward bulkhead at the end of the hall. Of the branch that went aft and disappeared in a curve behind the portside officers' stations, he neither knew nor cared a thing. That was for the mechanics to concern themselves with.
"Jurdak, son of Rotek," said the diminutive half-breed in a voice like a whipcrack. "I am Battle Engineer B'Elanna sutai-O'Brien. As the senior surviving lieutenant of the Hwacha', I serve Supreme Chancellor Krojaar and I stand for the crew." She pointed straight at him with the index finger of her left hand, which was surrounded by a strange array of glowing orange holodisplays, and went on harshly, "You are a traitor to your country and a murderer. I call you coward." Raising the gleaming blade in her right hand, she concluded in a cold snarl, "Stand and fight."
His wits finally catching up with his shock, Jurdak bolted to his feet, yanking his disruptor from his belt. Before he could level it and fire, the engineer made a sharp gesture with her hologram-covered left hand; the holos turned an angry red, and Jurdak's disruptor quivered in his hand, then emitted a spray of yellow sparks. Startled, he dropped it, then stared in horror as it lay on the deck, sparking and smoking.
Looking up from the disabled weapon, he saw the engineer's holotool flicker off as she assumed a ready stance with her daqtagh. Growling, Jurdak pulled his own from its scabbard, thumbed out its wing blades, and advanced.
"You're going to wish you'd let me shoot you, kuveleta," he grated, leering.
Krek was furious as he and Desset, the last surviving members of Redclaw, pushed their way through the gravity bubble and broke down a side passage just before a sudden wave of heat rushed up behind them. This mission was supposed to have been simple! A few minutes of quick, sharp action, followed by a silent withdrawl. Instead, this had dragged out into a battle that had somehow cost him more than half his men, and now a Gorn to contend with?
To Gre'thor with my orders - when this is done, I will kill that fool Jurdak myself!
Though a seasoned Duelist and a student of one of the greatest Klingon blademasters, B'Elanna had little experience of daqtagh fighting. It was a style of battle not commonly employed on the dueling floor, since it was geared almost entirely toward killing - something one generally tried to avoid doing in a scholastic dueling environment. The short blade was ill-suited for the task of Rose Dueling against opponents using full-length weapons. A few practice clashes with Boba Fett, using his twin Mandalorian daggers, was the closest she'd come to real interpersonal combat, as opposed to rote form practice, with this weapon.
As she had feared, Commander Jurdak's bulk concealed impressive strength, and he didn't move as poorly as he looked like he ought to. He was also clearly a man who had fought this kind of battle before, probably many times. Within a minute he was puffing like a winded bull, his face purple with a mix of fury and unaccustomed exertion; but B'Elanna wasn't feeling any too fresh herself by that point - it had been a fairly long day before the Klavaarite commandos came aboard. Her instincts told her it was going to come down to which of them slipped up first - and, to her distinct dismay, it appeared that would be her.
Caught in the corner formed by the science and comms stations, she instinctively opted to block his overhand strike with her own blade, trying to parry, instead of evading - which would have worked against Boba, but only because Mandalorian fighting knives didn't have wing blades. Hers and Jurdak's clashed together, entangling their weapons and preventing her from converting the parry into a riposte that would force him out of position, as had been her intent. For a few moments, they remained locked together, teeth gritted, but it was a contest of strength that there was no way for B'Elanna to win.
After five agonizing seconds, Jurdak finally managed enough leverage to twist his blade back along the guard of her daqtagh, sending it clattering away somewhere behind the navigator's station - a partial win for B'Elanna, since in causing him to do so, she had at least prevented him from stabbing her in the face for the moment. His own face twisted into a leer of triumph as she reflexively rolled back to avoid his follow up strike, only to be brought up short as she backed into the Communications station, pinning her against it before she could duck safely out of his reach. Clamping a hand on her throat, Jurdak waved his blade in front of her eyes as he attempted to intimidate her one last time.
"You gave a better accounting than I ever expected, kuveleta," he growled. "But your little show of defiance is done. The Emperor wanted you alive... but bad things happen when little girls don't remember their place." Baring his teeth, he said with satisfaction, "You are no warrior."
Red was seeping into B'Elanna's vision as Jurdak spat some other nonsense at her, but she wasn't listening. A mix of adrenaline, oxygen deprivation, and rage sparked inside of her, and with it came the sudden sunburst knowledge of exactly what she had to do. At her side, her left fist clenched, the fingers pressing against her palm in a particular pattern. Her omni-tool suddenly sprang back to active mode with a surge of orange light; then the holopanels changed color from orange to a deep, threatening red as they coalesced into a ring around her left hand. Drawing back as much as she could, she rammed her fist straight into Jurdak's side with all the strength she could muster. The construct of hard light shaped itself into a brutal spike just before contact, punching through armor plate and reinforced leather to reach the soft flesh beneath.
Commander Jurdak stiffened, then staggered backwards, his hand going to his side reflexively as bright violet blood seeped from the wound.
Straightening up, B'Elanna resisted the urge to cough as air rushed back into her lungs, then stepped into Jurdak's reach as he tried, futilely, to stanch the bleeding. Her free hand clamped down on his shoulder like a vise, pushing him back and up so that she could lock eyes with the startled traitor.
"I am worse than a warrior," B'Elanna snarled. Her eyes burning with fury, she held him with that terrible gaze like a cobra, the force of her will alone freezing him in place, as she went on:
"I'm an engineer, you petaQ."
Her arm came back again, the omni-blade gleaming in the dim lighting, and she felt the collision all the way to her shoulder as she slammed it up and under the decorative plastron of his armor, stabbing straight through the central chambers of his heart.
Blood gushed up from his mouth, splashing over both their uniforms, and she stepped back, withdrawing the blood-smeared virtual blade. Jurdak's body slumped lifelessly to the deck, and B'Elanna staggered slightly, catching herself against the console deliberately this time as she took a moment to steady herself.
At her side, her left hand went slack, the fist relaxing, and her arm hung straight down. As her omni-tool fell back into standby mode and its hard-light UI derezzed, its coating of Jurdak's blood - suddenly clinging to nothing - fell away, splattering to the deckplates. B'Elanna ignored it and pressed a key on the comm console.
"Science Gorn," she said, her voice hoarse. "Report."
There was a brief pause; then the voice of the Science Gorn, sounding perfectly calm as always, replied, "Main corridor secured, Captain. Three attackers eliminated."
B'Elanna blinked. "Captain?"
"Unless you're speaking to me from Sto-Vo-Kor, that much is obvious," said the Science Gorn dryly.
"... Point," conceded B'Elanna. She leaned there for a moment, catching her breath, and then went on, "All right, I'm repressurizing the corridor, get up here. We're not out of this yet. Action."
It wasn't long before the Science Gorn could hear someone approaching. Squaring up and priming the minigun again, he braced himself and prepared to fire. A moment later, a single commando rolled from cover into the "open" corridor, firing blasts from his disruptor rifle that singed the air just past the Gorn's head. His return fire was more accurate, walking the burst of disruptor fire along the deck and through the Klavaarite's prone torso until he had clearly been stilled.
Turning as he moved to return to cover, however, he was shocked to see that the commando's blasts had been accurate - they simply had not been aimed at him.
The field emitters covering the port corridor had been slagged by the well placed shots, and the final commando was rushing toward him up that side passage, shoulder down for a well placed body check.
Unable to brace himself for the impact, the Gorn lost his grip on the minigun in the collision; the impact sent him stumbling back, scrambling for balance. Drawing his daqtagh, the Klavaarite closed, intending to seize the momentary opening... when a sudden bellowed roar of challenge came up from behind him, followed by the form of Lt. Vokaan, outstretched in a flying tackle.
The two Klingons, one in red armor, the other in what seemed to be most of a hastily donned duty uniform, rolled across the deck, wrestling for control of the knife. The Science Gorn recovered his weapon, but couldn't shoot without hitting his shipmate; before he could move to assist more personally, Vokaan managed to knock the blade away, then get astride the Klavaarite as he pinned him to the deck.
"For the Union!" Vokaan snarled, slamming his adversary's face against the deckplates. The weapons officer's hands found purchase on the stunned intruder's helmet, wrenching it to the side until there was an audible snap, and his opponent's struggles beneath him suddenly ceased. Throwing back his head, Vokaan bellowed out a roar that echoed through the suddenly silent passageways.
With that done, Vokaan took a moment to collect himself, then, rising, he spat a thin stream of violet from his mouth, then gave a grim smile as he saluted the Science Gorn. "The one reports for duty, Science Officer. Where is the captain?"
The Gorn considered his reply, then saluted in turn. "The captain is on the bridge, dealing with the last of the enemy. I acted to prevent these," he added with a contemptuous gesture to the fallen Klavaarites, "from interfering." Then, as if recalling that the Klingon was junior to him, he added, "Report."
"I woke when the ship came out of warp, and couldn't get my quarters door or comms to work. After I began hearing disruptor fire," (here Vokaan gestured to the pistol at his belt, its violet "power depleted" light showing) "I became... more aggressive in my attempts to leave."
The Science Gorn gave a brief chuckle, his jaw dropping open slightly. "Your assistance was well timed. I - wait one." His hand came up to his earhole, clearly "on the com", and when he spoke again, it was not to the weapons officer: "Main corridor secured, Captain. Three attackers eliminated." Vokaan had no idea what the answer was to that, but the Gorn seemed... amused? as he continued, "Unless you're speaking to me from Sto-Vo-Kor, that much is obvious." He listened to another reply, then nodded to his unseen superior. "Understood. Acting!"
The Gorn turned, then began heading forward at a brisk pace. "The Captain has control of the ship, and is repressurizing the accessway." As he said it, the door ahead of them opened onto the neck corridor, which was no longer vented. "We must report immediately."
Vokaan fell into step as they moved up the now-accessible passageway. "The one I killed was the last intruder?"
"Yes. We eliminated two others earlier."
"Bold," said the weapons officer approvingly. "How did they gain access to the ship?"
"A small shuttle - it is still docked near the Engineer's quarters. It appears she was their objective."
Vokaan grunted, taking that on board without comment; then his brows knit with a thought, and perhaps a bit of confusion.
"Where are Karodis and tlhamaH?"
"Dead." The Gorn looked back over his shoulder. "It would seem that you may regain your position as third lieutenant after all," he added dryly.
"But if the Engineer was their objective..." Vokaan began to object, trying to figure out what the reptile was on about, when they reached the entrance to the bridge. The power door snapped open, and to his surprise, the person standing there to greet them was not Commander Jurdak, but the little half-breed female.
Battle Engineer O'Brien looked as if she'd just finished a fight every bit as furious as the one the Science Gorn and Vokaan had just concluded. She was battered, visibly bruised, and her strange, red human blood smeared one of her cheeks from a cut below one eye. The rest of the blood liberally spattered down the front of her damaged duty uniform was Klingon violet - plainly not her own.
The Science Gorn came up beside Vokaan as he froze in shock, clearly struggling to grasp what he was seeing, and saluted her.
"Kai kassai, Captain," the Gorn intoned, inclining his massive saurian head. "The one stands ready to serve."
B'Elanna nodded, then turned to look at Vokaan. Any objections he might have raised died in his throat as he saw the hard, cold look in her eyes - and the heap of meat that had once been Jurdak, stretched out on the deck in a welter of blood before the comms station.
B'Elanna stared hard at Vokaan for a long moment, then laid things out as concisely as she could. "Weapons Officer Vokaan. Commander Jurdak betrayed our ship to House Klavaar, killed two of our fellow officers, and was prepared to leave the rest of you for dead and flee to Qo'noS in exchange for my capture. I stood for the crew to eliminate him. I claim the command of this ship by right of challenge." Her eyes blazed as she looked straight into his. "So. Are we going to have a problem?"
The Science Gorn took a quiet half-step back, ready to deal with Jurdak's former protégé if needed, but after a moment, Vokaan shook his head. "We have no problem, Captain," said the weapons officer. "Kai, klingon. The one stands ready to serve."
B'Elanna gazed at him for a moment longer, then nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant." Cracking a faint, wry shell of a smile, she added, "Honestly? I've had a long enough day as it is." Then, gathering herself together with a visible exercise of will, she went on, "Let's get the rest of the crew together and figure out our next move."
Officers and enlisted alike snapped to attention as Zargh Thalekh strode onto the bridge of his flagship, the Pujbe'etlh.
Krattak turned to him from the flag lieutenant's station, a slight scowl on his face.
"Picket sensors reported two new contacts at the system perimeter, with an origin vector out of Klavaarite space. The larger ship appears to be k't'Inga-class, identification unknown, with a Koloth-class escort. The bird-of-prey's configuration matches the Hwacha'." With an arched eyebrow, he added for effect, "Jurdak's ship."
Zargh said merely, "Interesting. Any response to an IFF query?"
"No, my lord. His IFF is dark, but weapons appear powered down, and only his navigational deflectors are engaged. He cut all drive power once it was clear he had been detected."
Zargh frowned, sitting down in the center seat before snapping a command to the helm. "Intercept course, best speed! Lock forward disruptors, but do not energize. Action!"
"Acting!" As the bridge crew bent to their task, the deck beneath Zargh's feet hummed with power as the Kamarag-class battlecruiser accelerated to meet the intruder.
"My lord!" Zargh's signals officer barked. "Signal from the unknown ship!"
Zargh stood, Krattak falling in at his left, then nodded to the communications station. "On viewer!"
To his surprise, the woman sitting in the center seat of the D-7's bridge was no Klavaarite. Far, far from it. Flanked by a massive Gorn on one side, and a male human - no, by Kahless, an Augment genemod! - dressed in an archaic Imperial Navy uniform at the other, she was very young and rather small to be in such a position, and yet she inhabited it with an easy, almost insouciant confidence. Clearly she, at least, was satisfied that she had earned the right to sit there.
"General Thalekh," said the woman, rising to salute him. "I am O'Brien of the Hwacha', and this ship is my prize. I present to you the battlecruiser D-7M-3C509, ex-Fist of Klavaar, lately wrested from the Usurper's cowardly claws. I have stripped him of the unworthy name they imposed upon him and christened him Retaliator. Request clearance to report to Klinzhai Prime for repair, refit, and debriefing."
Momentarily surprised into silence, Zargh blinked as he processed that information, then nodded, keeping his face neutral only with a supreme effort. "I look forward to your report, Captain. Match speed and heading to our own - we will return to the fleet shipyards to have your prize repaired. Action!"
B'Elanna saluted gravely. "Acting! noDwI' out."
The viewer switched back to a view of the stars. As the ship turned for home port, Zargh had just settled back into his chair when Krattak turned, just the hint of a smile on his face.
"My lord," said Krattak in a low voice, "the one respectfully reminds you that you owe him 500 credits. Action."
Zargh attempted to give his adjutant a scathing look, but it failed in moments as he finally set loose the laughter he'd been restraining for the last several minutes. "Acting," he replied, reaching for his wallet.
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
in order of appearance
Jurdak, son of Rodek
The Science Gorn
Seventh Fleet signals lieutenant
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Team
E P U (colour) 2014