1618 Caroline St. 7,000 Words
Fredericksburg, VA 22401 Copyright 1997 by Steve Johnson
The image on the briefing room screens was familiar: long-necked Klingon battlecruisers exploding in blue flame.
But this time, it was Klingon against Klingon. Two three-ship squadrons had clashed; now two of the attackers turned to finish their last surviving foe.
The outnumbered ship turned to face its attackers, stopping dead in space to divert all power to weapons. The duel was short, sharp, and as decisive as a duel with shotguns at two paces.
Spock gestured to the three-screen viewer in the center of the table.
"Klingon society is so highly competitive that schisms are inevitable," Spock said. "The cult of loyalty to the Emperor is only strong when the Emperor himself is strong; when he is perceived as weak, there are usually contenders trying to take the throne. The winner of this
struggle, by virtue of having survived it, tends to be strong enough to hold the loyalty of his chieftains."
Heads nodded around the table. Kirk's chin was in his hand, watching the Klingons salvage equipment from the wrecks.
"They never used to do that before ..." he said to himself.
"The current situation is a case in point," Spock continued. "The Emperor, Kagan V, succeeded peacefully to the throne after his father, Kagan IV, executed his major rivals. Kagan V has never had to defend his throne. Therefore, individual warlords such as Admiral Kito, commanding Klingon forces here in the Perseids, are attempting to seize power, building their own factions at the Emperor's expense."
"Eventually aiming to lead their forces against the Emperor on Klinzhai," Sulu surmised.
"Wouldn't be the first time," Scott agreed. "If they weren't so eager tae turn on each other, they'd be aye more o' a threat tae us."
Kirk pointed suddenly to Spock.
"But this time it's different. Kito's taking the long view; he doesn't want to conquer the Empire, he wants to be king of his own little realm," he said firmly. "Right?"
"That is Starfleet Intelligence's belief as well," Spock confirmed.
"They're still Klingons," McCoy observed dryly. "Think the Romulans'll
care that they've changed the face on their coins?"
"That's exactly what we're here to find out," Kirk said. "If there's
any chance Kito's new Klingon state can succeed, the Federation should
be present at the creation.”
"Tall order," McCoy said.
"Well, that's what Ambassador T'Lar is here for," Kirk countered. "If
anyone can get through to Kito, she can. Even Klingons know they can
trust a Vulcan," he said with a chuckle.
"The Ambassador comes very highly recommended," he said. "Her rise to
such a post speaks well of her abilities."
"Isn't that a wee bit unusual, Mr. Spock? A woman in such a
high-ranking diplomatic post?" Scott said.
The table went dead quiet. Scott glanced at McCoy across the table,
then at the captain. Had he said something wrong?
"Vulcan women ... are the equal of Vulcan men in every way, Engineer,"
said Spock after a moment.
McCoy's eyebrow arched, but he said nothing.
"Yes, well," said Kirk, sliding into the breach, "we'll have our hands
full just getting her to where she can go to work, gentlemen. If the
Ambassador wants our diplomatic opinions, I'm sure she'll ask us.”
"Aye, aye, sir," Sulu said. The meeting broke up.
"Vhat vas all dat?" Chekov wanted to know on the
"Scotty shouldn't have made that crack about Vulcan women," Sulu told him.
"Vhy not? Wulcan women are clearly not leaders ... except for dat
Kolinahr priesthood," Chekov said.
"Yeah, but you don't go calling that to Spock's attention, Pavel. Any
more than you mention Manzanar around me, or Chernobyl around you."
"Vhat about Chernobyl?” Chekov demanded.
“See what I mean?” Sulu said with a smile.
“But ... it's illogical to be offended vhen your culture is
criticized," Chekov protested. "If the criticism is false, vhy, it's
only words, and if it's true, vhy not try to fix it?"
Sulu grinned and shook his head.
"You've been on this ship a whole year," he said softly, " and you
still think Spock is Mr. Logical?"
"He says he is."
"And Riley says his great-grandfather was an Irish king. That doesn't
mean I have to call him Your Majesty."
The Perseus Arm is the farthest spiral arm from the core of our Galaxy.
Strewn with small star clusters in a matrix of dull,
red, useless demi-suns, it is over 10,000 light-years from the rich
starfields of the Cygnus Arm, which Earth, Vulcan and most of the
Federation calls home.
The Klingon Empire called the Cygnus Arm home, too, but it had a strong presence in
the Perseids. One day, perhaps, a fleet from the Perseus Arm might come down on the Federation's vulnerable outer flank, while Starfleet watched the Romulans and Klingons closer to the Core.
"But Admiral Kito hopes to change that,” said Ambassador T’Lar. “His base is on the planet Catchbreath. The air is of normal pressure, but completely dry," she told Kirk.
"Naturally, this distresses Klingons, who prefer a moist atmosphere."
"Normal pressure by Vulcan standards?" Kirk said.
"Of course." Her mouth quirked at the same time as her eyebrow; if Kirk hadn't known better, he would have sworn it was a smile.
"Wonderful," Kirk said. "More tri-ox compound for everyone. Except you and Mr. Spock, of course, Ambassador."
There was no mistaking it. She was smiling, ever so slightly.
"Something strike you as funny, Ambassador?"
"Oh, I hardly think so. This mission is very important," she said seriously. No, more than seriously, Kirk thought -- sincerely.
Which was not at all the same thing.
"You’re not like other Vulcans I’ve met,” he said.
“Your Mr. Spock, for example?” she said airly. “I think we are more akin than you know. The shape of the face is never a map of the heart, Kirk. May I call you Kirk?”
“James. Kirk is my family name.”
“You place great store by family, James.”
She was looking straight into his eyes. What could he say to that, when his last living relative died a year ago?
“Your people must,” she said slowly, “be very serious ... about mating.”
Kirk knew that look, that tone, exceptionally well. But something held him back this time; he didn’t think it was the pointed ears, though ever since the Romulan war ... Kirk’s grandfather would have slapped her, or walked out.
But Vulcans aren’t Romulans. And even Romulans are people, Kirk thought. What he said was:
“Very serious. It’s not something we rush into.”
“I am certain you will choose well, James.”
“Er, yes ...”
The silence stretched. T’Lar was amused, even confident.
“Hm. Think there's any chance we can get Kito to join the Federation?” Kirk said at length. “Even an associate membership would be a crack in the Klingon facade."
She looked at him quite boldly, eyes open wide in indignation.
"Certainly not!" she said. "They wouldn't have the first idea how to behave in a democracy."
"We have kingdoms in the Federation. Even empires. It wouldn't be the first ..."
"No. But it would be the last. They would destroy you -- or, if you realized the danger in time, you would destroy them to save yourselves."
Kirk privately thought she might be right, but he wasn't all that sure.
"I think we'd better be very attentive to what kind of man this Admiral Kito turns out to be," he said.
"Yes," she said. "That's what I meant. We."
Navigator DeSalle was just leaving the bridge when Kirk entered. Automatically, Kirk took in the date and time bar under the main viewscreen: 0400. Shift change.
Kirk gave DeSalle a nod and a word as he circled the bridge rail to his chair.
Sulu, as always, made his report as soon as Kirk's back touched leather.
"Course 110 mark 1, sir. Speed Warp 6.2."
"Six-point-two? Outstanding. My compliments to Mr. Scott. Time of arrival, Mr. Chekov?"
Chekov, who had just taken over from DeSalle, looked over his board with frantic haste.
"Two days," he answered at once, "sixteen hours, and ... sixty-seven minutes, sair."
"Sixty-seven minutes," Kirk said archly.
"Two days, seventeen hours, seven minutes, Keptin. Six minutes now."
"Well done, Mr. Chekov. Carry on."
Chekov blushed and grinned at the same time.
"Yes, sair. Sank you, Keptin," he said.
Kirk glanced at the Science station. Spock was there -- he was always there. Kirk had meant to tell him to take more time off to sleep, but he was never very good at giving Spock personal advice. He doubted anyone else was, either.
Well, maybe his mother. Now there was a thought ...
"Diffused warp signal ahead," Spock reported. "Three ships in tight formation, warp fields meshing. Probably Klingon."
"Out here, it's not likely to be anyone else. But what kind of Klingon?" he asked.
"First time we've had to know that," Sulu remarked. Kirk nodded ruefully.
"Shields up," he said automatically.
The lights dimmed and the background hum of the engines struck a deeper, louder note. Kirk noticed the vibrational pattern of the floor change, then got used to it and let it drop into the back of his mind, as he always did. Only on shore leave -- or station leave, which wasn't
at all the same thing -- did the tuning-fork buzz of the walls and floor disappear altogether.
"They are turning to intercept, Keptin!" said Chekov.
"Steady, Mr. Chekov. They might be friends. Kito knows we're coming, right, Lieutenant?"
Uhura chimed in from over his left shoulder.
"Yes, sir. He knows we're coming, and that we're the Enterprise."
Kirk knew that. He merely asked for the benefit of everyone else on the bridge, he told himself.
As though he didn't hate a murky situation as much as any of his crew.
"Sulu, charge main phaser banks gently. Let's not task Scotty too hard just yet."
"Phaser banks charging in ... ninety seconds, sir," Sulu said, and glanced back at Kirk, the way he always did.
Kirk nodded. That would be plenty of time.
"Torpedoes, sir?" Sulu wanted to know. Kirk nodded.
His eyes landed on Spock just as Spock turned to him.
"Battlecruisers Sword of Silence and Daggerfall; Command Cruiser Coronation. All known to be assigned to the Capital Guard Squadron under Admiral Keslok, a political foe of Kito's."
"Not friends of ours, then."
"I believe that is what I said."
"Each Command Cruiser is different, Spock. What do we know about the Coronation?"
"Presented to the Emperor Kagan IV at his accession to the throne.Grossly overarmed and consequently underpowered; two million tons displacement; crew in excess of --"
"Two million?" Chekov burst out.
"Is it too much to hope for that you've dropped a decimal point, Mr. Spock?" Uhura said.
"Yes," Spock stated simply.
"To our 947,332," Kirk added. "Being Klingons, they won't have used the extra space for labs and bowling alleys. But -- hm. Underpowered, you say?"
"Using a pair of D9D warp engines, the Coronation cannot possibly fire all her weapons while maintaining shields and warp speed."
Kirk punched a control on his chair arm.
"Mr. Scott, this is the Captain. I'm going to need all the power you can give me, even if it means we arrive at Kito's headquarters in need of a serious refit. And Scotty -- I'm going to need you to switch power between systems awfully fast. Any preparations you need to make,
make 'em now."
"I already said my prayers, sir," came Scott's voice. "Dinnae worry; she'll be ready when ye need her."
"She always is," Kirk said. “Spock, is the physics lab telescope still rigged for infrared?”
A light blinked on Sulu's console.
"Phasers armed and ready, sir," he said.
"Good. Let me talk to Tomlinson,” he said. “Lieutenant?”
“Aye, aye, sir,” came Angela Tomlinson’s voice. For a moment, the incongrous -- to him, still, after all these years in an integrated service -- sound of a woman’s voice on a ship of war reminded Kirk of the day he officiated at Angela’s wedding.
She was married aboard ship, in their tiny, crowded chapel, to young Robert Tomlinson, and he was dead before nightfall in a battle with invading Romulans. A bride for a day, a widow for all her years ---
He pushed the thought away.
“Tomlinson,” he said unnecessarily, gathering his wits again, “take your fire direction from Deck Two, the physics lab. They’ll be feeding you infrared images, and I want you to fire at the hottest part of the target, understand?”
“I understand, Captain.” She might be a woman, but she was an officer first. “Good. Because there she is," Kirk said.
On the viewscreen, a single prismatically sparkling dot sprang into view.
“Admiral Keslock, this is Captain Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise.”
Keslock’s face contorted, or at least, contorted more than usual. He was of the Imperial Race, a darker sort of Klingon with prominent brow ridges; they tended to float to the top of any hierarchy, allegedly because they were tough customers, even by Klingon standards.
“Kirk? What in all the nine blue hells are you doing here?”
“I might ask you the same question. Bound for the Perseids, by any chance?”
Keslock nodded, his shaggy locks swaying.
“Yes. Why not? We own them!”
“That’s not what I hear.”
“K’ChoH!” Keslock coughed out a Klingon syllable.
“I don’t think you want an incident in open space, Admiral,” he said quickly. “Our governments aren’t quite at war.”
“You block our way!”
“We’ll move aside.”
“Good!” Keslock blinked. “Eh? You will?”
“Why not? It’s a big Galaxy, and mostly empty space, as you’ve no doubt observed.”
“Then you will not block our mission in the Perseids?”
“Well, that would depend on what that mission would be.”
“Our mission is none of your affair. Stand clear, on the orders of the Emperor!”
“Your Emperor doesn’t give orders to an officer of the United Federation of Planets. Now, if you went before the Federation Council, and waited your turn to speak, and you asked them very nicely ---”
“QuOHos NakH!” Keslock exploded in rage. He waved his arms, barking orders in Klingon wartalk.
The two ships on the flanks sped outward to either side of the Enterprise.
"Hard-a-port, Sulu! Bounce the flanker! Tomlinson, fire!”
The Enterprise swung hard over, engines groaning with sudden strain. Sulu clung to the edge of his board with fierce determination, riding out the roll before the grav system caught up.
Sulu weaved the Enterprise minutely this way and that, presenting a fleeting target to the showers of green disruptor bolts already rippling from the Coronation's wings. Blue beams lashed out from the Enterprise, slashing at the bigger ship’s shields.
"Target is IKV Daggerfall," Spock said. "Moving at warp seven, shields and weapons at low power."
"She was trying to cut around us while we were occupied with the Coronation," Kirk said with a grim smile. "Fire when ready, before she --"
The lights dimmed. Spears of blue lanced through the Daggerfall in two places.
"Clean hit, sair!" Chekov shouted. The bridge shook violently, throwing Chekov to the floor.
"And they hit us," Spock said, unperturbed. "Shields holding."
"One more pass and we're out of here at top speed," Kirk ordered. "Let's not give the Coronation a chance to catch us in a close-range shootout."
"Coronation approaching at warp seven," Spock said. Sulu shot Kirk a glance.
"Go ahead and finish the Daggerfall, Mr. Sulu," Kirk said. "The Coronation can't fire until she slows down."
Assuming Spock's information is correct, that is ...
The Enterprise's phasers brought the Klingon shield to electric violet life, then sparkling death as it imploded. A salvo of torpedoes blew both engine pods apart, and as the Enterprise rolled beneath the crippled Daggerfall, keeping it between themselves and the Coronation, the Daggerfall exploded like a miniature nova.
Chekov got back into his chair. The Enterprise wheeled away from the cloud of debris and shot into the distance, hotly pursued by the Coronation.
"Torpedo tubes one and two report ready," Chekov said shakily.
"Reload with short-range torps. Two in each tube."
"Aye, aye, Keptin." The order didn't make much sense to Chekov, since with double torpedoes, the trailing torpedo's sensor would be blinded by exhaust from the leading torpedo's engine. But he didn't want to draw the Captain's ire twice in one day, battle or no battle. Klingons came and Klingons went, but the Captain was always there.
"Scotty, prepare to reverse thrust on starboard engine," Kirk was saying. "Sulu, on my mark, give me the tightest turn you possibly can."
The bridge jounced beneath them, the floor slapping the soles of their feet.
"Coronation is within range. She is firing full disruptor volleys."
"Scotty, divert power to aft shield.”
"Aye, aye," came the engineer's burr over the intercom.
"Ease us up to warp eight, Mr. Sulu."
The Enterprise hurtled through red-shifted stars, the Coronation a looming bulk in her wake.
"Is she following?"
"Aye, Keptin. She knows we can't hold this speed for long!"
The bridge lurched left, right, then forward. A panel near the viewscreen blew up in a fountain of sparks.
"Good," said Kirk. "Is she gaining on us?"
"Slightly, sir," Spock reported.
"Damage reports from decks four and five," Uhura said. "No casualties."
"Scotty, Sulu, hard turn now!"
The Enterprise swapped end for end in little more than its own length, slewing to a near-stop in space. The Coronation barreled down on them like a runaway train, its green bolts clawing for their eyes.
"Fire torpedoes," Kirk said.
Four red globes of hellfire spat out into the Coronation's face, so close that they couldn't possibly miss. The Coronation's shield failed explosively as the entire forward command pod was engulfed in antimatter fire.
Sulu slewed the ship almost over on its side. Chekov grabbed for his chair back, clinging for dear life, while everyone else hung onto their seats.
The Enterprise parted the flame cloud and buzzed the Coronation's hull, close enough to see faces at the portholes.
"Where's that other flanker?" Kirk demanded as the ship righted herself.
"Changing ... course," Chekov managed to say. "109 mark 270."
"Sword of Silence is breaking contact," Spock said.
"Scotty? Can we pursue?"
"My fault board's lit up like the Divvil's own Christmas tree, sir! Ye could cut maybe one more fancy caper, but she'd be sair close tae lockin' up!"
A prize was escaping, but no prize was worth losing the Enterprise.
"Let her go, Sulu," Kirk said. "Let's see to the survivors."
"Here's your problem, sir," quoth Scott aboard the captured Coronation. "Two warp engines, each fed by its own dilithium chamber. Power to both has to precisely balance, of course, so ye dare not change one or the other too fast. An’ here, in the engine room, is yuir synchronizer.”
“I figured if they were underpowered, they’d overwork their engines to stay even. They’d get pretty hot,” Kirk mused. “So we hit the synchronizer with Tomlinson’s first beam?”
“Lord love ye, sir, ye must be haverin’. T’wasnae anything so complicated as that. We hit the starboard reactor. Damaged it a bit; nothing too serious.”
Scotty was laying out the clues as if Kirk were a bright student being helped along. Well, in matters mechanical, Kirk was indeed the student, and Scotty the master, and they both knew it.
“So the port-side reactor had to cut power to compensate. We did twice the damage we should have.”
“Aye! And what’s more, the synchonizer couldn’t keep them in step, so they had to cut power still further. Laird before time, I canna thole redundancy!"
"Right. As soon as you've got our engines shipshape, see what you can do about connecting the engines in series instead of parallel. Funnel power from one engine through the other, eliminating the need for a synchronizer.”
Scotty cocked his head, grinning.
“That’s a pretty neat trick, sir. I’ll get the lads to work on it right away.”
“And that would take care of the power problem?”
"Sir. This ship's going tae be underpowered even if ye fill it to the walls wi' antimatter. There's aye much ye can do with a bad design, and nae more."
“A bad design, but impressive to look at,” Kirk said. “Which reminds me ...”
He flipped out his communicator, waving aside a lingering wisp of smoke.
"Uhura, send a message to Admiral Kito. We're going to be late, but we're bringing him a little present."
Catchbreath was a dun-colored ball unmarked by cloud or ocean. Darker patches were connected by intricate lines that reminded Kirk of canals.
Spock’s finger traced them on the screen.
“Vegetation, Captain. Most travel is along the deep arroyos in which the atmosphere is somewhat thicker: thick enough to support flora and edible fungi.”
“Lovely. And Kito’s down in it?”
“By no means. The one arable area on this hemisphere is the center of a large Klingon base city,” Spock said.
“A Klingon city,” McCoy grumbled. “Lovely.”
“My word exactly, Bones. How lucky you are that I’m going down and you’re not.”
“Now, hold on a minute, Jim --”
“Really, Doctor,” Spock said. “Can you present any argument whatsoever why the ship’s surgeon should accompany the captain on a diplomatic call, especially one of such importance?”
McCoy glowered at Spock from beneath lowered brows. Of course he didn’t say the real reason, which was that Jim Kirk had about as much sense for avoiding danger as an overconfident wildcat, in McCoy’s humble opinion.
Suddenly McCoy realized that Spock felt the same way. Logically, as the only other man aboard with command experience, Spock should stay on the Enterprise while Kirk beamed down. Spock was going, McCoy realized, to keep the Captain out of trouble.
Well, that was better, then. McCoy relaxed somewhat.
Kirk, Spock, Ambassador T’Lar, and two security guards shimmered into existence, phasers in view on their belts but definitely not in their hands. It wouldn’t do to alarm the Klingons, since an alarmed Klingon attacks -- always.
The Klingons who met them didn’t appear ready to attack. Nonetheless, they were very alarmed. Kirk had met Klingons perhaps half a dozen times, but he’d never met one who was pale. And as for sweating -- as far as he knew, they just plain didn’t.
In which case, the three men who greeted them, palms clasped together, bowing eagerly from the waist, weren’t Klingons at all. Because they were lathered in sweat, on a planet with virtually no moisture in the air.
“Greetings, o greetings, most magnificent guests,” said one of them.
“Are you gentlemen ... Klingons?” Kirk had to ask.
“Oh, yes! Yes! We are vessels of the warrior spirit,” another of them said eagerly. “Will you come with us, to the presence of the master?”
Kirk nodded, playing along.
“We’d be delighted,” he solemnly swore.
The Klingons led them down a narrow slope, to where the air was still drier than the brazen hinges of the doors of Hell, but at least not painfully thin. Kirk’s nose ached, a sharp, burning ache that was not at all dimmed by the tri-ox compound coursing through his blood. There are some things, he ruefully noted, medical science never even thinks about curing.
Most of the structures were deep underground, which made sense for any military base and especially one on Catchbreath. But someone had gone to considerable trouble to put up a metal cube, liberally adorned with piping, metal-mesh screens, and carved sandstone spaceships like beads on a wire.
Kirk had to take a second look at that last: Stone Age spaceships? Keslock had it right: what in all the nine blue hells was going on down here?
“Ah, the delegation from abroad.”
The voice was Klingon, but somehow flattened, uninflected. It took Kirk a moment to realize what it was -- it was bored. The voice of a languid, confident, slightly bored Klingon.
He’d never imagined meeting such a being.
Admiral Kito was short for a Klingon. He wore high boots, an elaborate helmet, and a uniform that seemed woven of the gold wire-mesh the Klingons used for their kill sashes. The sash normally draped from one shoulder to the other hip, but Kito’s covered his whole frame, hanging to within an inch of the ground.
Commander Kor, military governor of Organia, had been a short man, too. His sash had had three decorations on it, the fruit of a long and (as he would no doubt have put it) glorious career.
Kito’s golden costume was ablaze with hundreds of brightly colored emblems.
All the Klingons in the greeting party knelt, touching their foreheads all the way to the ground.
Kirk couldn’t imagine how much violence it would take to force Commander Kor into that position. He didn’t think there was that much energy in the universe.
Kirk shot a glance at T’Lar. She seemed to be smiling slightly, again. She nodded.
Kirk and Spock got down on their knees and bent, touching their heads to the stone flooring.
“Admiral Kito,” T’Lar said. “We beseech --”
“Silence, female,” said Kito with an airy wave of his hand. “Vulcans are beneath my notice, females doubly so. You, Captain. You brought me this magnificent ship, a prize of war. I believe you are a personage of some note on your planet, are you not?”
Kirk very much doubted if anyone outside Starfleet Headquarters or Grinnell, Iowa even knew he existed.
“I have that distinction, in a small way,” he temporized.
“Of course you have. You are Kirk, and your wily ways have become known even to my Klingon subjects.”
“Your Klingon subjects,” Kirk said, looking around him.
“Yes,” said Kito. “Oh, not these, not these! All the Klingons are my subjects. They form one of the most splendid provinces of my empire.”
“And what are the extents of your empire, Admiral?”
“Admiral, you say?” He jumped up from his throne. “How dare you! I am no mere mortal, to be counted as a common --”
As quickly as it came, the rage left him. He seemed to consider.
“Admiral. Yes -- I am the commander of my fleets, ‘tis true., which with the addition of the aptly-named Coronation are a fitting match to my manifest radiance. So I am an Admiral, among my lesser titles.”
The little man preened in his golden robes.
“And my empire is co-extensive with the cosmos,” he added. “For I am the Supreme Being.”
Ah-ha. Kirk tried not to wince visibly.
“You doubt,” said Kito pityingly. Kirk made a mental note to strengthen his poker face. A game or two with Spock should do it, always assuming they got back to the ship alive.
“Oh, no, Admiral -- ” Kirk hastened to say.
“You doubt me, as all doubt who have not witnessed the proof of my divinity,” Kito said, unaware that Kirk had spoken.
“How can we even be sure you are the Supreme One,” T’Lar said sharply. “Many have claimed this in the past, and all were liars. If you are the Supreme One, show us your power! ”
“A rational request. I invented reason, you know, when I made the world.”
Kito pointed at one of his servants, a Klingon-human hybrid like Koloth or Kor.
“I will raise this man in the air, and restore him safely to the ground,” Kito declared.
Spock’s hand moved unobtrusively to his tricorder. He and Kirk had met various sorts of superbeings before; though there were no ironclad rules, there were certain energy traces to look for.
The assembled Klingons gasped, then marveled aloud, as the chosen Klingon raised his arms in a beatific pose.
Absolutely nothing happened.
Spock glanced down, then gave Kirk a shake of the head. Nothing unusual.
T’Lar rolled her eyes. Kito gave a slight, abstracted smile and accepted his subjects’ applause.
“Most impressive, Supreme One,” T’Lar said with a sarcasm that Kito evidently missed.
“You are indeed supreme,” Kirk added.
Kito looked at Spock expectantly.
“I have never seen anything like it before,” Spock said stolidly.
“Now you can clearly see why I am destined to rule the universe,” Kito said.
The Organians might have a thing or two to say about that, Kirk thought. And the Thasians, and Apollo, and Trelane’s parents, whatever they were ...
“Indeed, Supreme One,” T’Lar said.
“And therefore you will lend your forces to mine, in my conquest of the universe.”
“Supreme One, may one inquire: which part of the universe will you add to your dominions first?” Kirk said.
“Why, the Klingon domains in the Saggitarides, of course,” Kito said blandly. He meant the entire rest of the Klingon Empire.
“Of course,” Kirk repeated after him.
T’Lar pulled Kirk aside as they left the transporter room.
“What are your impressions?” she demanded.
“Well, he’s clearly insane, but from my experience of madmen I think he’ll do what he says.”
“Then our course is clear. We cannot extend recognition to Kito.”
“Not without joining the short side of another Klingon Civil War,” Kirk said. “How many does this make? Ten? Eleven?”
“Seventy-four that we know of. They tend not to count clashes in which no planet changes hands as a ‘war’, no matter how many ships die in it,” said T’Lar.
“Seventy-four ... in less than two hundred years,” Kirk said.
“More than that. We’ve known them longer than you humans,” T’Lar said.
“Yes, of course. They’re cunning fighters,” Kirk said.
“Hardly. Merely persistent and brutal; but they’re blessed with plentiful resources,” she agreed. “But why are we talking about them,” she said smoothly, “when there are better things at hand?”
She swept into his arms before he could reach for her, almost as if she were embracing him, gathering him in, rather than vice versa.
He had reason to think on that, later.
But not just then.
Spock, who was always in perfect health, coughed as Kirk entered the secure communications room.
“Spock?” Kirk said. The junior rating, Uhura’s protege, scooted out, leaving the captain and first officer alone.
“I thought it best to wait for you before decoding the message,” Spock said.
“It’s marked Command Prime Urgent,” Kirk observed. “How long were you going to wait?”
Kirk’s head snapped up. The last and only time Spock called him by his name, Kirk was back from the apparently dead.
“Spock, what is it?”
“What you are doing with the Ambassador --”
He couldn’t go any further.
“Yes?” Kirk prompted.
“It is wrong,” Spock managed. “Wrong.”
“Spock, I ---” For the first time in his friendship with the Vulcan, Kirk was embarrassed. But of all the people to object to interracial love --
“Your mother was a human. What’s so wrong about that?”
“My mother devoted her life to my father, and his ways. Could you say the same? But it is not even that, Jim. She is not suitable.”
“She is mentally unbalanced. Her shows of emotion -- her zeal to provoke Kito -- they are not the acts of a sane Vulcan.”
Kirk’s eyes widened. Spock thought T’Lar was attracted to him because she was insane?
“Spock. In the first place,” Kirk said with no clear idea of where he was going, “uh, T’Lar is a rational adult. Provoking Kito showed him for what he was, instantly, before we got too deeply involved with him. Now the Federation can step back and distance ourselves from the whole affair without provoking the next war with the Klingons. It was a brilliant diplomatic ploy!”
“It was not. Believe me, Jim, I know. It was an emotional outburst, and as such, prima facie evidence of mental illness. You cannot trust her.”
“In your opinion, Spock! Don’t tell me your people just evolved out of emotions altogether, because you are not that damn superior! Some of you feel more strongly than others -- maybe T’Lar is one of the few Vulcans a human can relate to!”
Kirk was breathing hard, ashamed and angry all at once. To his relief, Spock nodded thoughtfully. The few times Kirk had actually succeeded in provoking Spock, he had usually lost some teeth.
“There is normal variation, of course,” Spock admitted. “But not -- to that degree, Captain. Still, she does imply some fascinating possibilities.”
“Spock?” Kirk tried to imagine being in romantic competition with his own first officer. Tried, and failed.
“The matter is no longer of importance to you, sir,” Spock said formally. “There is, however, still the message to decode.”
“Uh, right,” said Kirk. “Computer. This is James T. Kirk, Captain. Decrypt sequence One One A.”
Spock spoke his keywords as well, and the lights on Blanchard’s console blinked furiously. A sheet of words appeared on Kirk’s padd.
“Hm,” he said after reading.
“Indeed,” Spock said. “It may be time to put our knowledge of abnormal psychology to a more immediate use.”
“That’s putting it mildly, Mr. Spock,” Kirk said. “If we can’t trick Kito into giving us back the Coronation, he’s going to use it against the Klingon Empire. And we -- gave it -- to him!”
“A third Federation-Klingon War would seem the logical result,” Spock said calmly.
Kirk missed the last half of Spock’s sentence. He was already running for the elevator.
“Coronation is leaving orbit,” said Sulu as Kirk and Spock arrived on the bridge.
Kirk pointed to Uhura, who said, “Hailing frequencies open,” before he could get the words out.
“Admiral! We need to talk --” Kirk said.
“Indeed. I am minded to test my new flagship on the colony at Dustmote,” Kito replied from his enormous command chair. “Come with me and we shall test our crews against each other. Yours is experienced, but mine is very motivated. Your crew have not been told of my ascension, have they?”
Kirk blinked hard. Spock said simply, “They have not.”
“Then it will be zeal against skill. Let us see who brings back the most trophies at the end of the day’s hunt!”
“No,” said Kirk.
“We are not going to attack Dustmote, or anywhere else in the Klingon Empire,” Kirk said firmly. “And neither are you.”
“Have a care!”
“Not until we make the Coronation spaceworthy for you. If you’re going into combat, after all, we have to make sure the disruptors don’t burst the first time you fire them,” Kirk said. As always when he was running a bluff, sweat collected coldly at the back of his neck against the velour neckband.
“Ah,” said Kito, his rage apparently clearing. “QuOHos NakH. I didn’t understand at first what you meant --”
The bridge tilted ninety degrees and Spock fell back against the bridge rail.
Several sharp jolts kicked the floor out from under Kirk, as though he were on an ice rink shaken by a giant. He hung onto his chair arm, punching buttons to see if the ship was in one piece.
“Sorry, sir,” said Sulu with genuine contrition in his voice. “But that was what Keslock said right before --”
“Before he opened fire. Good thinking, Sulu,” Kirk said. “Uhura?”
“No damage, sir. Dr. McCoy wants to know if we’ve been celebrating too hard up here on the bridge.”
“Tell him -- tell him it’s not time to celebrate just yet.”
On the screen, the Coronation swung about, chasing the smaller Enterprise. Green blobs of searing light spattered outward in continuous streams, popping in orange sunbursts against the shields.
“Shield two is at 10% power,” Spock said. “Rolling ship to expose shield six. Mr. Scott is diverting power to shields.”
“Target her engines and fire. Sulu, get us out of here.”
“Firing, sair,” Chekov said, taking over fire control from Sulu as the helmsman came about and applied warp power. The Coronation dwindled in the background, still spitting death at its fleeing foe.
“Aft shields at 50%,” Spock said.
“Weaving to spread the shield load,” Sulu said, and began fishtailing the Enterprise left and right to spare the aft shields.
“Good work, all,” Kirk said when they were out of range. “Scotty, you fixed that damn thing too well.”
“Ah know it,” Scott lamented over the intercom. “Tae much of a perfectionist, my oul’ Da used tae say! Ah must say Ah nivver got a complaint aboot it before ...”
The laugh on the bridge was short and strained. They’d come out the other side, but the fire wasn’t out yet.
The Coronation presented its stern to the Enterprise, still glowing from recent hits. But its shields were already cooling, from yellow to orange to red-hot, darkening as they shed their energy to space.
“We didn’t hurt her, did we?” Kirk said.
“No, sair,” Chekov said.
“Coronation is emitting extreme levels of radiation,” Spock commented. “I believe she is running her reactors above their safe levels.”
“Is she? Sulu, follow at this range. If we wait long enough, she may just blow herself up for us. Scotty!”
“Come on up here when you can. We need to figure out that ship’s weak spot, and you’re the man who built her.”
“Rebuilt, sir. I’d not like to take the blame for designin’ yon flyin’ cow.”
“Good! If it’s that bad, you can help us find a way to cut it up for steaks.”
But although the Coronation continued to leak neutrons, she plowed serenly on, hour after hour.
“She’s usin’ most o’ her power for shields an’ weapons,” Scott said at length. “Could be goin’ a lot faster if she was willin’ to cut back to cruisin’ mode.”
“Which she won’t, as long as we’re following,” Kirk said sourly. “How much time to the Dustmote colony?”
“Six hours, Keptin,” Chekov said.
“And if she puts on a burst of speed? Warp Seven, say.”
“Less den vun hour.”
“Then we can’t let her get any closer,” Kirk decided. “For all we know, Scotty’s repairs might let her do Warp Eight. Spock! Would you call Ambassador T’Lar to the bridge?”
Spock nodded in acknowledgement, but said nothing. When she arrived, his impassive mask was, if possible, even frostier.
“Ambassador!” said Kirk with a big, wide smile. “We need you to talk to Kito.”
“Indeed?” she said, a puzzled smile under her own mask.
“We need you to make him do something stupid,” Kirk said. “Against these odds, he doesn’t have to be excessively clever to beat us. We need to get him to throw away his advantage.”
“But he’s on his way to attack the Empire!”
“Exactly. We’re going to stop him.”
“James, think: wouldn’t it be better for all of us if they tore each other apart? We don’t need to kill Kito -- the Klingons will do it for us. But he’ll take some of them down with him.”
“And the possibility of a third Klingo-Federation War doesn’t disturb you?” he asked. Spock closed his eyes.
“Why should it? We Vulcans ... nothing disturbs us, you know,” she said.
“I’d be obliged if you would try,” Kirk said.
“I cannot. My conscience will not permit me,” she said. “James, I want to help you, but it would be wrong.”
What the hell was wrong with the woman?
“All right, Ambassador,” Kirk said. “Then we’ll have to do this the hard way. No finesse, no tactics, just plow right in and club them to death at close range. People will die on the Enterprise because of your refusal! Don’t you understand?”
“I’m sorry, James,” she said, and clearly meant it. “It is you who do not understand.”
“No, I don’t. And I guess I never will!” he said. “Get off my bridge, Ambassador. I have a battle to fight.”
Spock motioned to T’Lar, accompanied her to the turbolift. As the doors whooshed closed, Kirk became conscious of all eyes upon him.
Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter now.
“Sulu, let’s start sniping. Our phasers are more accurate than her disruptors at extreme range; we’ll have the best of the exchange. If she stays there long enough, we might pound her into scrap.”
“But she won’t. Will she, sir?” Sulu said.
“Not unless Kito’s crazier than I think he is,” Kirk admitted.
Sulu was righter than he knew; the Coronation turned and lunged for the Enterprise at the first touch of her beams, as though she’d been waiting for this moment since they left Catchbreath.
But the Enterprise was more agile than her lumbering pursuer. Sulu kept the ship moving, evading most of the Coronation’s firepower.
“Their gunners aren’t very good,” Scott observed.
“They don’t have to be. We’re still taking more of a beating than they are. Hm -- Sulu, on my mark, get me as close as you can to them,
and then out again, double-fast. Chekov, unload every weapon at our moment of closest approach. If I’m right, we’ll catch their gunners out by changing the range so fast, they can’t adjust before we’ve got in one good punch. Can do?”
The grin should have split Chekov’s face.
“Aye aye, Keptin.”
“Mr. Sulu, go get ‘em.”
This time, he was holding onto the chair when the ship lurched.
The Enterprise darted in, so close that the Coronation’s yellow-hot shields filled the screen. The lights went out all over the ship as the phasers poured every ounce of energy into the enemy at point-blank range, then shot on past before taking a hit in return.
Behind them, the front of the Coronation’s shield was violet in its pain.
“Once more, Sulu! That shield’s going down!” Kirk exulted.
“Radiation emissions are up 55%,” Uhura broke in from Spock’s science station.
“They can’t do that!” Scott burst out. “The reactor vessel’s warp for fair, an’ then it’s all over.”
“Another pass, sir?” Sulu inquired.
“Mm ...” The shield was cooling already, to a painfully brilliant blue. If they didn’t strike now --
No. That was T’Lar’s way.
“Get us out of here, Sulu,” he said. The Coronation turned and came for them, glowing and showering sparks.
“We’re running at Warp Seven, sir,” Sulu said. “But she’s gaining on us!”
“And firing all weapons,” Chekov added unneccessarily.
“Faster, Sulu. Let’s --”
The Enterprise groaned as its metal was folded into warped space harder than its builders intended. Over on the Coronation, much the same thing was happening.
But the Coronation’s designers weren’t insane, for Klingons. And their design assumed her captain wouldn’t be, either.
Behind the Enterprise, the Coronation blew up like sunrise in the dark, hurling a final mammoth projectile after her foe. It took a few minutes for the object to cool sufficiently that Kirk could see it was the command module, blown free of the long neck by the tortured engines’ death agonies.
“A poor cow,” was Scott’s eulogy. “She tried her best.”
“Remind me never to go up against a ship you designed from the keel up, Mr. Scott,” said Kirk. “Unless I’m in the Enterprise.”
The turbolift doors whooshed open. Spock emerged.
“Spock! You missed all the fun,” Kirk baited him.
“Then I missed nothing, for I am not in the habit of enjoying my duties,” Spock replied. But there was an archness in his tone that told Kirk he was joking, to the degree Spock ever did.
“The Ambassador is secured,” he said.
“I employed the Vulcan nerve pinch as soon as we were out of sight,” Spock said. “Dr. McCoy was able to confirm what I suspected. Ambassador T’Lar is a Romulan agent.”
The silence was palpable.
“A --- Romulan agent,” Kirk repeated.
“Under deep cover. We have heard of such things from time to time, but always considered them rumors. Now it appears Vulcan will have to undertake a housecleaning.”
“Which is why she wanted to provoke Kito into battle with us,” Kirk said.
“And why, later, she wanted to do maximal damage to the Klingons, who are the mutual enemies of ourselves and the Romulans. A Klingon-UFP war as a result of Kito’s rampage would, likewise, be nothing but advantageous for the Romulan Empire.”
Kirk threw out his hands.
“Spock, I’m -- while I was fighting a battle on the bridge, you were in sickbay with a Romulan spy?”
“To each his own, sir. I am sure I would be useless in battle.”
“I’m not so sure,” Scott put in. “Those Romulans are great fighters. Are ye sayin’ Vulcans wouldn’t be?”
“We are not the same, Mr. Scott. We are calm, thorough, and utterly without pity or mercy. I daresay we Vulcans would be more capable in battle even than the Romulans ...
Spock quirked an eyebrow.
“... provided, that is, that someone were to make us angry enough to fight.”
Kirk felt an ache in the back of his jaw.
“Scotty! Let’s go down to the mess deck,” Kirk said. “We need to talk ...”