Summary: Wary at the prospect of another war that could shatter the Empire, Torlek calms himself but showing Alex the beauty of Qo'noS and how sacred family is for a Klingon.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Family, Romance
Warnings: Adult Language, Adult Situations, Violence
Series: Star Trek: New Horizons
Chapters: 6 Completed: Yes
Word count: 12793 Read: 662
Published: 18 Dec 2017 Updated: 18 Dec 2017
1. Chapter 1 by captaintigranian
2. Chapter 2 by captaintigranian
3. Chapter 3 by captaintigranian
4. Chapter 4 by captaintigranian
5. Chapter 5 by captaintigranian
6. Chapter 6 by captaintigranian
Chapter 1 by captaintigranian
Archanis Sector: Federation/Klingon Border
246th Day of the Year of Kahless, 998
The war with Federation was raging into its third month. Captain Torlek sat alone in his ready room on the Sk'oh. The promise of battle on this side of the quadrant had degraded into a series of commerce raids and border skirmishes. The real fighting was still in Cardassian Space. Along the defunct Neutral Zone, the Empire and the Federation now vied for power and influence as if the 23rd century never ended. The Khitomer Accords were only a memory. Now, Gowron was more determined than ever to return the border system of Archanis to Klingon control. The Federation was just as determined to hold it. It was a strategic planet that provided them a base to invade the entire Klingon Empire at will.
Torlek was reduced to sneaking through enemy space like a kah'plakt searching out random starships or merchantmen supporting the buildup of Federation troops. He hated it. He hated the fact that his brother was gone even more. Their human companion was gone forever in a senseless and xenophobic return to aggression.
The Sk'oh seemed emptier now. It was as if a chill had fallen in the air that locked the once proud warriors aboard in a perpetual winter. Of course, no one could express their true feelings out loud. It would be treasonous. Torlek had long since resigned himself to the fact the only way he would see his brother again would be as an enemy across a battlefield.
Suddenly, the monitor on Torlek's desk chirped. It was a flash message from Ty'Gokor on the secure channel. As he read it, the old Klingon's eyes grew wide.
On the bridge, Commander Kentok was monitoring regular operations when Torlek burst out from his ready room.
"Set Defense Condition One. Cloak the ship," the captain said.
"Cloak the ship, Aye Sir," Lieutenant Karn replied as alarms echoed through the vessel. The young officer was Daniel's replacement at the weapons station. Though he met the standard as a competent officer, he had yet to make many friends aboard. He lacked both Tigranian's enthusiasm and motivation. Torlek wouldn't have thought it possible five years ago, but he greatly preferred a human on his bridge than this whelp.
"Commander Kentok, put me on shipwide intercom," Torlek commanded.
"Channel open, Sir," his first officer replied.
"Attention, this is the captain. IKS Grapnar has spotted a large Federation convoy attempting to traverse Fek'lhr's Needle towards Archanis. We have been ordered to rendezvous with four other birds of prey and form a wolfpack to engage. Expect contact at 1930 hours. That is all."
A cheer erupted across deck as the prospect of action immediately lifted the spirits of the crew.
"Lieutenant K'vresh set course for Sector 8743, Warp 7. Engage when ready," Torlek ordered.
"Aye Sir!" the helmsman responded.
"Commander Kentok, Cholmek, Karn," Torlek ordered, "with me. K'vresh, you have the bridge." The three designated officers proceeded with Torlek to the planning board on the wall of the captain's ready room. Torlek bought up a digital map of the entire sector. In the center, was a million kilometer wide gap between a Class II ion nebula and a large asteroid belt that covered more than half the sector. This gap was called "Fek'lhr's Needle" by the Klingons and it was the most direct route between the rest of the Federation and the enemy outpost on Archanis. Traversing it was extremely risky while at warp speed and most convoys chose to take the much longer route around the nebula. However, every once and awhile, a convoy would risk threading the needle to save precious time.
"Over twenty freighters," Torlek said indicating the convoy's last known position reported by the Grapnar. "They're moving at warp 4 and should hit the needle in twelve hours."
"Escorts?" Kentok asked.
"None in the contact report, but you can bet there will be when we arrive," Torlek replied. "We've been ordered to assume command of the wolfpack when it assembles. The convoy will have to drop to warp 3 as they approached the needle. That's when we'll strike," he pointed out the location on the map. Understood?"
"jIyaj, HoD!" they replied in unison.
"Return to your stations," Torlek commanded. "Except for you Karn. I wish to speak to you."
Kentok flashed Torlek a look who growled for him to leave. The commander nodded as he followed Cholmek back to the bridge.
"Sir!" Karn said snapping to attention once the doors have closed.
"Stand at ease, Lieutenant," Torlek said.
"Sir, if I have disrespected you in anyway or brought dishonor…"
Torlek raised his hand to silence Karn.
"You haven't done anything yet," the captain said calmly. "That is the problem. You have never been in battle before, have you?"
"Then your greatest test is directly in front you. A convoy raid requires quick firing and accurate engagement. We will have precious little time to score as many hits as possible before their escorts engage and we are forced to break off. It is only a gunner's skill that separates a victorious raid from a disaster. Do you understand?"
"Yes Sir!" Karn shouted.
"See that you do. Dismissed."
"Yes Sir!" Karn exclaimed as he ran back towards the bridge.
Torlek sighed and looked down at the deck plating. If experience was any teacher, a convoy the size of this one would have between three and four starships travelling with it. Each one of those would outgun a bird of prey 5 to 1 and probably be commanded by a Federation captain eager to kill Klingons. Even under ideal circumstances this fight would be difficult. Now, he was facing an uphill fight with an untested gunner in control of his torpedoes.
"I hope wherever you are, my brother," Torlek prayed under his breath, "that you are fighting with honor. However, I wish that you were standing here with us…"
That evening, the Sk'oh silently waited at the wolfpack rendezvous point.
"Who else is here?" Torlek said stroking his beard from the captain's chair.
"Pings from the ultra-low frequency transceiver from the IKS Grapnar, Ko'vak, L'ram, and Terclaw," Cholmek replied. "They have acknowledged our presence as pack leader and await instructions." Ultra-low frequency radio transmissions were very difficult to distinguish from normal background radiation and outside the usual scanning range of Federation starships. As a result, they were an ideal way for cloaked ships to communicate at close range.
"The pack is assembled," Kentok said to his captain. "Now, will the convoy pass into the trap?"
They didn't have to wait long to find out.
"Contact! Bearing 285 Mark 427!" Cholmek shouted. "It's the convoy. Four deuterium fuel tankers, eighteen heavy freighters, and four Federation starships. They are approaching the entrance to the needle. Speed Warp 4."
"Composition of the escort vessels?" Torlek asked.
"An Excelsior, two Mirandas, and a Defiant class gunboat."
Torlek and Kentok exchanged telling glances. That was even more firepower than they were expecting.
"Archanis must be even more important to them than we thought," Kentok said. "It will not be easy to evade pursuit."
"We don't have a choice, my old friend," Torlek said. "We cannot allow those supplies to get to the outpost unopposed."
"We're now in visual range of the convoy," Cholmek said.
"On screen," Torlek commanded. The massive Federation fleet appeared in front of them. The ships were laid out in perfect formation. They had already consolidated into the tight rows necessary to traverse the Needle. The two Miranda class ships hovered on the flanks while the Defiant class rapidly circled overhead like a hawk. The larger and slower Excelsior class starship secured their rear.
"How long until they must reduce speed?" Torlek asked Cholmek.
"Less than ten minutes, Sir," the operations officer responded.
"What do you want to do, Sir?" Kentok asked. "The pack is awaiting our orders."
"Signal the other ships," Torlek ordered. "Assemble in wedge formation to our flanks. Set course 286 Mark 430. Commence attack run!"
The five birds of prey circled around behind the Federation convoy like a flock of predators. Their cloaks still made them invisible to their opponents.
"Increase Speed to Warp 4.3," Torlek ordered. "Overtake them and close to 4000 kellicams. Helmsman, prepare to match speed when they slow to Warp 3."
The twin nacelles of the Excelsior class ships loomed large in their viewscreen directly ahead.
"Sir," Karn warned, "At this range we have a greater than 30 percent chance of being detected."
"If we were approaching from the front or the sides you would be absolutely correct, Lieutenant," Torlek said calmly. "However, approach through his impulse wash and he's completely blind."
"Yes Sir…" Karn said humbly. Kentok muffled a laugh.
"HoD, other ships are holding in formation behind us. Ready to engage at your command," Cholmek said.
"We have passive target acquisition," Karn said. Torlek didn't take his eyes off the starship directly ahead. "Targeting computer has a shooting solution."
"Inform the wolfpack," Torlek command. "Gain active torpedo lock as soon as order is given to decloak. Initial two torpedo forward spread, at my command. Priority of targets: fuel tankers, freighters, then starships. Target their warp engines and force them to drop to impulse.
After the initial spread, Ko'vak, L'ram, and Terclaw will drop out of warp and destroy the disabled ships. The Federation escorts should remain with the undamaged ships and attempt to get them through the Needle. We and the Grapnar will maintain pursuit and attempt to hit as many as possible before we must break off."
"Message sent, Sir," Cholmek replied. "The wolfpack acknowledges."
"Do you ever wonder if the Son of Tigranian is on one of those starships?" K'vresh pondered out loud from his station.
"No," Torlek interjected quickly. "Instead I think about the thousands of Federation Soldiers massing on Archanis to attack our homes and families. I suggest you do the same, Helmsman."
"jIyaj HoD," K'vresh replied humbly.
The massive stern of the Excelsior class ship loomed larger and larger. They couldn't risk getting in front of it. It would be far too easy for the Federation captain to pick them off one by one with his entire forward weapons array. Instead, they would have to risk stern shots from his aft torpedo banks.
"Karn, ensure you get those shields up as soon as possible after we decloak," Torlek commanded.
"Yes Sir," Karn said double checking his instruments.
The maw of Fek'lhr's Needle loomed less than a hundred million kellicams in front of them. The massive amounts of static discharging gas from the reddish nebula cast an eerie glow across space. The light illuminated the craggy pieces of ice and jagged rock in the asteroid belt to their starboard.
"Commander Kentok," Torlek said. "Manually time the torpedoes in case the computer loses guidance lock. I don't want to miss a shot."
"Aye Sir," Kentok said pulling a PADD from his belt. He set it to stopwatch mode.
"Range to targets?" the captain asked again.
"Holding at 3800 kellicams. Bearing dead ahead 000 Mark 010," Karn said.
"Sir!" Cholmek exclaimed with excitement. "The convoy is slowing. Warp 3.9, 3.8, 3.7…"
"Standby to decloak for firing," Torlek said with a final deep breath.
"Warp 3.4, 3.3, 3.2, 3.1….Warp 3!" Cholmek shouted.
"Disengage cloaking devices!" Torlek shouted. "Arm Tube 1!"
The wolfpack simultaneously shimmered back into the visible. Five Klingons birds of prey bore straight down at the aft of the convoy.
"Tube 1 Armed!" Karn shouted.
"baH!" Torlek screamed.
"Torpedo away!" Karn shouted. The wolfpack simultaneously fired five glowing red spheres. The entire ship lurched as the weapons cleared the forward tubes. Kentok clicked his stopwatch.
"Arm Tube 2. Adjust torpedo lock to match course and speed of targets," Torlek said.
"Tube 2 Armed! Shooting solution adjusted!" Karn replied.
"baH!" Torlek repeated. Five more spheres flew off into space.
"Torpedoes away! Forward tubes empty" Karn shouted.
"Reengage cloak! Order the wolfpack to scatter as they reload."
"Aye Sir!" Cholmek replied.
Just as the birds of prey disappeared from view again, the Excelsior class ship fired four photons from its rear tubes. The Sk'oh and the Grapnar barely had enough time to turn to avoid a fatal impact. The Federation weapons passed between their wingtips only a kellicam away.
Torlek looked to his first officer staring at his stopwatch.
"First spread impact in 3…2…1…" Kentok muttered.
They felt the impact of their warheads exploding against the Federation vessels. Another cheer echoed through the ship.
"Second spread impact in 3…2…1…"
Another shockwave rocked the ship. More cheering.
"Enemy damage report?" Kentok asked. Cholmek checked his instruments.
"Eight Federation merchant vessels dropping to impulse with disabled engines," the operations officer replied. "The Ko'vak, L'ram, and Terclaw are pursuing. The remaining fourteen along with the escort starships are accelerating to Warp 3.5 and passing through the Needle."
"Order the Grapnar to take a position off our port wing," Torlek said. "We will follow them through and engage with a second run."
The two birds of prey were less than ten seconds behind the convoy and fast approaching the narrowest point between the asteroid belt and the nebula.
"Sir!" Cholmek shouted as his eyes grew wide. "The Excelsior class is coming about!"
Torlek jumped out of his chair just in time to see the massive Federation starship turn 180 degrees a fire a blind spread of torpedoes in their direction. Two found their mark and slammed into the unprotected hull of the cloaked Grapnar. It exploded in a massive fireball. The shockwave slammed into the Sk'oh showering the bridge with sparks.
"Helm! Set course 095 Mark 234!" Torlek screamed. "Full impulse!"
"Sir that will take us right towards the asteroid belt!" K'vresh replied.
"I know!" Torlek replied. "The asteroids will help mask our signature. They won't be able to distinguish between our cloaked signature and the sensor interference from the objects."
The Sk'oh headed straight for a large asteroid. As soon as they were close enough to start feeling the effects of its gravity, Torlek commanded all stop.
"Remain absolutely still, K'vresh," Torlek said firmly. "Any movement might generate a subspace wake they will detect."
"Yes Sir," the helmsman replied.
The bridge crew held their breaths as they saw the Federation starship circle the area at full impulse searching for them.
"Steady yourselves, Men," Torlek said easing himself back into his chair. "They know they destroyed one of our brothers. They don't know how many are still out here."
Cholmek's control panel pinged loudly.
"Active tachyon scanning, Sir," he explained. "They're searching for cloaked vessels."
Another ping. This one was even louder as the enemy grew closer and closer on their viewscreen. They were trapped with an asteroid belt behind them, a nebula to their front, and a prowling Federation starship less than a thousand kellicams away.
"Qu'vatlh," Torlek cursed under his breath.
Another ping. They were still getting closer.
Several blue flashes shot out from the starship's port torpedo tube. They flew towards the asteroid belt and exploded. The shockwave from their blasts rattled the entire bird of prey.
"Proximity charges!" Cholmek shouted. K'vresh began muttering a prayer to Kahless under his breath from the helm. More blue flashes and more explosions. This time they were so close, the power across the entire Sk'oh fluctuated off and then on again.
"The is the captain! All available power to cloak and structural integrity fields!" Torlek shouted into the shipwide intercom. "All hands brace for shockwave!"
The starship passed a mere four hundred kellicams in front of them. A series of blue flashes shot straight towards them. There was no gap between the visual acquisition and the explosions. The shockwave ripped through the ship. A massive blast echoed across the bridge and the entire compartment went dark. A few seconds later, emergency lighting activated, bathing the survivors in a demonic red light. Torlek choked on the smell of ozone, smoke, and burning plasma conduit.
"Our cloak held!" Cholmek shouted pulling himself back towards his console. "The starship is moving away at one half impulse!"
"Casualties?" the captain said wiping the acrid fumes away from his eyes.
"Yes Sir…" he heard K'vresh's voice say solemnly from the helm.
As soon as his vision cleared, Torlek saw two bodies lying on the deck beside him. Kentok's massive corpse was bleeding from a gaping hole in his skull. Karn, the young weapons officer, had a piece of metal impaled straight through his neck. Torlek held back his shock at the realization that if Daniel had been standing at that station, he would be the one sailing to the Black Fleet.
After a brief second to compose himself, the captain grabbed the lifeless corpse of Karn and dragged it alongside Kentok, the man who had always been at his side for so many battles across so many turns.
"Karn is young but worthy, my old friend. Guide him like you helped guide Daniel. Lead him to the table of Kahless," Torlek whispered into Kentok's lifeless face. The captain leaned down, pried open both men's eyes, and allowed a deep, agonized growl to build in his throat. Cholmek and K'vresh slowly rose to their feet and joined in the dirge-like sound. Finally, the captain reared his head back and the three men howled towards Sto'Vo'Kor. Klingon warriors were coming…
Torlek snapped away in the darkness of his bedchamber. Lady Elessa stirred on the stone slab beside him, but didn't awaken. He was grateful for that. It was his first night back on the homeworld in months. He didn't want to spend it explaining why a seasoned warrior was dreaming of past comrades long since departed to paradise. Even he couldn't explain it.
Torlek pushed himself to his feet and wrapped a thick piece of fur around his muscular frame. The old warrior walked towards the doors on the far end of the room and stepped out onto the balcony of his ancestral manor perched high on a cliff. The autumn night was clear and cold. He could see his breath in the dim moonlight cast off by the remains of Praxis hovering high above in the heavens. The great Qam Chee river flowed through the valley hundreds of meters below. He took in a deep breath of the crisp, country air. He thought leaving the replicated air of Ty'Gokor station for his home, a refuge of quiet tranquility since his childhood, would help clear his mind. However, he remained on edge. The Romulan threat grew worse every week. He knew that if the Federation went to war, the Empire would go with it.
Despite his personal assertion that warriors should always rejoice for impending battle, he knew how fragile the Empire was at this moment. It was cautiously making democratic reforms he helped initiate. The fleet was still only at 75% strength, unemployment was dangerously high, and the treasury was still depleted by wars with the Cardassians, Federation, and Dominion. He wasn't sure if his nation could handle another serious conflict.
"What good is being the Governor of Ty'Gokor if I preside over the death of the country it serves?" Torlek spoke out loud. Then, he shook his head. "By Kahless, I'm worried about the future. I've been around humans too long…" he added with a tinge of disgust.
As he stared at the white moonlight reflecting off the water below, he could see the first lamps being lit in the farms across the valley below. The sun would be rising in an hour. His tenant farmers, many of which had worked on his family's estate for hundreds of turns didn't care about politics, the Romulans, or the Federation. All they wanted was to get their farms through the winter to another planting season. All they cared about was their crops, their animals, and their families. Sometimes, he envied them. For a brief moment, he imagined what life would have been like if he had been born the son of a serf rather than the son of the lord. He smiled at the thought that somewhere, down there, one of his farmers was staring up at the castle on the cliff wondering the opposite.
He took great relief that Daniel would be arriving in only a few days. He just wanted to see his brother again and pretend for a few hours that they weren't military leaders poised on the edge of a galactic abyss. Instead, they would embrace on another, drink wine, and laugh like they had no other cares in the galaxy. He also knew that the Daughter of Geist and Alexandra would be arriving as well. The time for the birth of the child was getting close. He was anxious to see if the mothers had warmed up at all to the House of Torlek's offer. If they hadn't, he had a plan for that as well…
Chapter 2 by captaintigranian
"Captain's Personal Log, Stardate:53404.6. The Pershing has arrived in Klingon Space en route to Qo'nos. After the Cardassian incursion to the Sol system several months ago, Starfleet and the Klingon Defense Forces have committed to updating the operational war plan. Officially, our purpose is to attend a summit to discuss tactics and fleet deployment in the event of war with the Romulan/Cardassian State Alliance. The starship, Leonov, is transporting Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy and they will rendezvous with us at the Homeworld. Unofficially, I am looking forward to seeing my home and family again. Torlek tells me that it's time for the ritual I have dreamed of since I first completed the Rite of Ascension. However, I never expected that it would be under these circumstances.
In any case, as we will not arrive at the Klingon homeworld for two days, I have decided to take advantage of the lull to allow the crew a chance to relax…"
The Pershing's mess hall was decorated from floor to ceiling in blue and white flags and tablecloths. A banner hung across the large, panoramic windows and proudly proclaimed:
"Willkommen zum Oktoberfest!"
The tables were pulled together in long rows and almost the entire crew of the starship relaxed and laughed with massive mugs of German beer. The replicators burst forth with pretzels, schnitzel, and other comfort foods from Earth's central Europe. Many of the crew chose to get further into the party spirit by replicating Bavarian clothing. Annabeth, tragically, was not among them. She sat alone in a corner nursing a glass of orange juice in a pair of grey sweatpants and a black t-shirt. The grimace on her face was matched only by the size of her pregnant belly.
Alex and Laria walked over carrying steins of beer. Both were dressed in dirndl. Tigranian followed closely behind in a pair of brown suede lederhosen.
"What's wrong, Number One?" the captain asked taking a seat next to his first officer. "You look somebody died."
"Somebody did die, Dan," Annabeth replied. "Her name is Annabeth Geist."
"Oh come on, Baby," Alex said curling up next to her wife and rubbing her back. "It's not that bad."
"You don't understand," Annabeth continued. "Munich is my hometown. Oktoberfest is MY holiday. I've consumed my weight in beer every year since I was sixteen. I even lost my virginity at the Festgrounds my senior year of high school."
Tigranian nearly spit up a mouthful of beer at that revelation.
"That explains why you like dirndl so much," Alex said rolling her eyes and taking a sip of her own stein.
"Your tits look amazing by the way, dear," Annabeth said staring at her wife's chest. "Yours too, Laria," Annabeth said taking a sip of juice.
"Thank you!" Laria said gratefully as she put a hand on her chest.
"Hey!" Tigranian said defensively.
"Relax, Dan," Alex said. "We gave up trying to convince her to explore when you two got hitched."
The captain grumbled as he took a sip of his stein.
"You want a sip?" Alex said passing her beer in front of Annabeth. "One isn't gonna hurt anything, and I am a doctor."
"No," Annabeth said. "It's just that I feel guilty. It's like I have to choose between being a mom and who I am."
"You'll be chugging beer by this time next year, Baby," Alex said planting a kiss on Annabeth's cheek. "And I'll take the next one."
"You two are so lucky," Laria said. "You get to choose who gets to do the hard work. This one is only good for the first five minutes of making a child," she said pointing at her husband.
"Whoah!" Tigranian said indignantly.
"You can't possibly understand the pain that women have to go through to make a baby, Dan," Alex said.
"I literally had eight Klingon warriors shove supped up cattle prods into my body in rapid succession," Tigranian replied. "I had internal hemorrhaging in my liver, a kidney, and both lungs. I think I know pain."
"Did they shove one of those painsticks into your balls for six hours?" Annabeth asked.
"Of course not," Tigranian said.
"Then shut up," Laria answered.
Chief Petty Officer Heinrich Müller, the only other German on the Pershing, stood up in front of the mess hall, raised his stein, and began to sing:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
The rest of the crew raised their beers and sang along.
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Müller repeated the verse.
"He's not even Bavarian," Annabeth said clenching her jaw. "He's from Cologne!"
"Eins, zwei, g'suffa!" Müller shouted before taking a giant sip of beer. The rest of the crew followed along except, of course, for Annnabeth.
"He might as well be from freakin' Belgium!" Annabeth shouted. "Sit down you Prussian poser!"
"Hey," Alex said trying to calm her wife down. Chief Müller ignored his superior's outburst and continued to sing to the crowd.
As Annabeth cursed in perfect and very vulgar German, Scharr and T'les wandered over. Tigranian chuckled at the sight of a Vulcan and Andorian who were dressed like they just stumbled out of an alpine village.
"These are great!" Scharr said motioning to the lederhosen he was wearing. "Comfortable and supporting at the same time!" He crouched down low and then raised his blue legs. "This is the only piece of human clothing I would ever consider adding to my regular rotation."
"That's great, Tren," Alex said still trying to cheer her wife up.
"Even the blue guy from Planet Ice Cube looks more German than I do right now!" Annabeth said staring up at the ceiling.
"Pregnancy getting her down?" Scharr said taking a sip of dark beer from his stein.
"Among other things," Tigranian muttered.
"There's an old Andorian saying, Alex, that maybe you should listen too," Scharr said leaning against a chair. "A Thaan's place in pregnancy is at the tavern.' It's served me very well over the years," he said drinking another gulp of beer.
"That seems incredibly lazy and offensive, Tren," Alex replied.
"It's extremely useful when the man is only a quarter of the marriage," he replied. "You binary gendered species are just plain out of luck."
Tigranian couldn't help but laugh.
Suddenly, the sound of hands pounding on tables echoed through the mess hall.
"Das Boot! Das Boot! Das Boot!" the entire crew chanted in unison.
"Oh dear," Laria said looking over her shoulder. Katie stepped onto the top of a table in the center of the party. She raised her arms over head and threw her hair back. Phil stood on the floor next to her with a worried expression on his face.
"What is happening?" T'les asked with her trademark Vulcan skepticism.
"Not sure," Scharr said, "but I think it will be awesome!"
A security crewman appeared carrying a glass boot filled with three liters of beer. He passed it up to Katie who raised it over her head.
"What is she gonna do with that?" Laria asked.
"She's gonna act like an Andorian! Chug you human stick! Chug!" Scharr shouted.
Katie put the massive glass container to her lips and began to drink. Beer poured down her throat as well as down the front of her red Bavarian dress.
"That could be me right now…" Annabeth muttered.
"I'm glad it's not…" Alex said shaking her head.
After 30 seconds of the most impressive display of gustatory mastery the crew of the Pershing had ever seen, Katie calmly lifted the empty glass footwear over her head and held it upside down. The crowd exploded in cheers. She moved to step down from the table, but would have collapsed to the carpet if Phil wasn't there to hold her up.
"That was a rush!" she shouted as her words began to slur.
"Jesus, Katie, you're soaked to the skin," Phil said feeling her dress.
"Now, I see why the krauts make women wear white shirts under these dresses," Katie said laughing. "They make great beer, but they're real perverts. Phil, if you were a real English gentlemen," she said struggling to stay on her feet, "you would help me out of these wet clothes," she replied laughing and biting her lip.
"What's a kraut?" Laria asked turning to her companions.
"It appears to be some kind of human designation for the group responsible for this celebration," T'les said raising an eyebrow. "Annabeth, is it an honorific term for your ethnicity?"
The first officer pinched the bridge of her nose and tightly shut her eyes.
"Not really, T'les," she replied trying to remain calm. "It's actually a comparison to a condiment."
"Fascinating," the Vulcan said cocking her head to one side. "That must be a remarkable culinary achievement if it encompasses an entire culture."
"Ach du lieber Himmel…" Annabeth muttered. "Scheiße!"
"Ok…." Tigranian said with exasperation before standing up and walking over to Katie. "Phil, I think it might be time to help Katie back to her quarters."
"Yes Sir," Phil said still supporting his fiancée's weight in his arms.
"That sounded like an order to me!" Katie said leaping over his shoulders. "Schnell, Herr Lexington!" she shouted slapping a hand on his backside. "Schnell!"
Phil stumbled out of the mess hall doors balancing Katie on his back.
"Be careful!" she shouted through heavy laughter. "I'm full of beer!"
"I love you, but please don't throw up or pee on me…" he whispered in her ear as Katie raised her arms triumphantly. The rest of the crew cheered and continued to beat on the tables.
"Luckily, I don't think she'll remember this in the morning," Tigranian said sitting back down next to Annabeth, Alex, and Laria while rubbing his eyes.
"I wouldn't bet on that," Annabeth said shaking her head and taking a sip of her orange juice. "I don't think it's her first time with Das Boot."
Tigranian took a deep breath.
"The summit on Qo'nos should only last two days," he began cautiously. "We might have same time to head out into the country…"
"And you and Laria should totally do that," Alex said very derisively taking another sip of beer.
"Alex," Annabeth cautioned. "We did say that we'd talk about this."
"YOU said we'd talk about this," Alex grumbled. "I didn't."
"Alex," Laria said trying to be understanding. "Before I learned about their culture, I didn't understand Klingons either, but Torlek really is a great man. At least give him a chance."
"Forgive me if I don't consider a feudal warlord who commands people to conquer other worlds for their own gain 'great.' We signed up with Starfleet for different reasons, Dan. You can't command me to change my mind about Klingons and my child."
"No, I can't," Tigranian replied. "But I can always hope."
"Keep hoping…" Alex said rolling her eyes.
"Babe," Annabeth said placing one hand on Alex's forearm. "He did come alive when her heard the name of Kahless," she said pointing at her stomach.
"Have you never heard of a coincidence?" Alex said. "He could have just have easily started kicking when someone said 'pancakes.' That doesn't mean he wants to be raised as breakfast food!"
"reH'ebtu'lu'," he said smiling.
"What does that mean, Dan?" Alex asked.
"It means that I respect your beliefs, but there's always hope."
"This is gonna be a long trip," Alex muttered.
Chapter 3 by captaintigranian
Grand Dining Hall of the Chancellor's Palace: First City, Qo'nos
The summit proceeded without incident. It was mostly Admiral Paris and his staff negotiating for troop levels and ship coverage in various sectors with General Torlek and his cabal of officers. Whenever an impasse was reached, both Ambassador Worf and Captain Tigranian proved very valuable in negotiating compromises amenable to both parties. Paris had to admit, it was now very useful to have two "Klingons" in the ranks of Starfleet, even if one was adopted into the Federation and the other adopted into the Empire.
As the sun set on the final day, the entire group was arrived together in the Chancellor's palace for a formal banquet in celebration of the Alliance. A massive table was set with fifty places and ran down the entire length of an gothic stone hall. The Chancellor's throne loomed at the far end. Behind it was a massive stone staircase leading to a set of thick wooden doors.
One side of the table contained simple metal plates and bowls in the traditional, Klingon style. The other was set with full formal china, crystal, and silver in a manner befitting the highest levels of Federation dining.
"I wonder what side we sit on…" Paris joked in his dress whites with Murphy as a steward in Klingon livery led them to their chairs. Various lower ranking Klingon officers and their dates began to filter towards the seats on the opposite side. Annabeth, Alex, and the rest of the Pershing's staff were with the admirals, but there were two surprising absences. The seats to the right of Paris, Murphy, and Worf with place cards for "Captain Daniel Tigranian" and "Lieutenant Tigranian Laria" were empty.
"Where is he?" Murphy whispered to Annabeth nervously adjusting his jacket. "I would think this would be the one thing Dan wouldn't miss!"
"I don't know, Sir," Annabeth said taking a chair next to her wife. "I've called both his communicator and Laria's. Neither answered. I haven't seen them since the summit ended this afternoon."
"Keep calling him," Murphy said shaking his head. "This is getting embarrassing."
"Yes Sir," Annabeth said.
Burning torches hanging from sconces on the peripheral columns illuminated a massive mural across the vaulted ceiling. On the far end of the hall's roof, a Klingon holding an oar stood next to a fallen tree surrounding by cheering throngs. A red river wound across the center section of the mural towards the other end of the hall. Directly over the Chancellor's throne, the painted figure of a Klingon with an imposing beard and mane of dark hair held a bat'leth over his head and extended it towards the masses at the other end.
"I'm guessing that's Kahless," Paris said pointing to one end of the mural, "but I have no idea who those people are," he said shifting towards the other end of the painting. Worf was about to answer, but Annabeth beat him to it.
"Well Sir," Annabeth began confidently. "That is Kortar, the ferryman. In Klingon mythology, he and his mate Baka freed the ancient Klingons by climbing the qo'Sor tree and killing the old gods. She's the woman standing behind him in the painting over there," she pointed to a female warrior holding a d'k tahg. "However, Kortar was punished by being forced to pilot the Barge of the Dead over the River the Blood for all eternity. You can see the beautiful rendition of that above us right now. Now, you can also see on one side of the river is a set of gates surrounded by light. That is Sto'Vo'Kor or the Hall of the Honored Dead. However, across from it you see gates surrounded by flames. That represents Gre'thor, the Place of the Damned. As for the other end, you are correct, that is Kahless. He slew the tyrant, Molor, who I assume is the headless corpse that Kahless is standing on. He offers all Klingons salvation and he is pleading to the ancient peoples of the past to follows his ways of honor."
Paris, Murphy, and Worf looked at her absolutely dumbstruck.
"You are correct, Captain Geist," Worf said still in shock. "I am quite impressed."
"I've lived with Daniel Tigranian for two years now, Ambassador. It's hard not to pick up some things from him."
"I spent seven years on the Enterprise and four on Deep Space Nine. My crewmates never picked up any of my stories," he said with just a hint of jealousy.
"That is a pity, Ambassador," Annabeth said. "You have a beautiful and rich culture."
"That was very impressive, Annabeth," Paris added. "It's too bad that Captain Tigranian himself wasn't here to explain it to me."
"Yes Sir," Annabeth said. Murphy gave her another goading look. She could only shrug. Alex leaned over and whispered in her wife's ear.
"Did you really pick up all that from Dan?" she asked skeptically.
"Yes and No," Annabeth said. "I may have been reading a lot about Klingon culture and history lately…" she muttered.
"Beth…" Alex grumbled.
A series of blasts from trumpets echoed through the hall from the gallery above the stone staircase. The Klingons already in the hall rose to their feet. Worf did the same and urged the other Starfleet officers to rise as well.
"What is going on?" Murphy asked.
"Sir, the noble guests are arriving. They must be announced to the hall before they are seated."
"Of course nobles must be announced," Paris whispered to Murphy who chuckled. A Klingon across the table growled at Paris' breach of decorum, but an angry glare from Worf caused the alien soldier to go back to minding his own business.
"Sir," Worf whispered cautiously. "Nobility is still very important to the Klingon people. The nobles are obliged to care for those under their charge and the commoners live and fight under their banners. To not acknowledge the rank and position of those in High Houses is considered extremely disrespectful and ignorant."
Paris quietly cleared his throat.
"My apologies, Ambassador. I didn't know."
"Yes Sir," Worf replied. "Very few humans do," he said glancing over to Annabeth. She nodded to him and then turned to Alex.
"Disrespectful and ignorant…" Annabeth whispered.
"I said 'that's enough,' Beth," Alex replied quietly.
The wooden doors flew open and ten Yan'Isleth honor guards marched in formation down the staircase. They took positions along its edges, faced inwards, and held up their swords in a position of salute. A Klingon herald in dress livery stepped out and faced the hall. In a booming voice, he announced:
"Presenting His Highness, Martok, Son of Urthog, Leader of the High Council and Chancellor the Klingon Empire!"
Martok emerged and walked down the staircase between the two rows of guards. His solemn face betrayed no emotion. His silver and black dress armor shimmered from underneath his long Chancellor's cassock. He reached his throne, stepped in front of it and stood waiting for the remainder of his guests. The rest of the hall remained standing.
One by one, the herald announced a series of six noble couples dressed in ritual finery. The lords were dressed in polished leather dress armor covered in various insignia and medals. The ladies in Klingon ball gowns possessed varying degrees of military medals and state awards of their own. Depending on their noble rank, some woman even wore tiaras woven into their thick hair. After the herald announced their names and titles, they would descend the staircase, bow to the Chancellor and then take their seats at the table across from the Starfleet officers.
"Wow," Katie whispered loud enough for the others to hear as another couple bowed and curtsied to the Chancellor. "You just don't see anything like that in the Federation anymore."
"It's very beautiful," Alex said thinking out loud. "After all, what little girl doesn't dream of being a princess one day?"
"Or a knight in shining armor…" Annabeth said placing a hand on her stomach.
Alex got the blunt hint, but didn't say anything.
"Presenting Lord Torlek, Son of Ro'vagh," the herald shouted. "Military Governor of Ty'Gokor, Commander in Chief of the Klingon Defense Forces, 64th Joh of Qova Domain with his wife, the Lady Elessa."
Torlek appeared in his finery at the top of the staircase. His golden sash, emblazoned with his crests of office, glinted in the bright firelight. To his left, Lady Elessa looked radiant. Her green armored gown was covered in golden rivets. The lady's red hair was woven high above her head and a tiara with the crest of House Torlek rested over her pronounced forehead crest. She held out her right hand and Torlek grasped it to escort her down the stairs. After paying their respects to Martok, they moved to the table directly across from Paris and Murphy.
"Lord Torlek, Lady Elessa," Murphy said to them respectfully.
"Admiral," Elessa replied respectfully. "Glory to you, your Federation, and your house."
"Pay very close attention, Gentlemen," Torlek said looking back towards the top of the stairs. "You're about to witness history."
Paris furrowed his brow and noticed that the Tigranians were still absent. He took in a sharp breath and then turned to look upwards himself.
"Presenting Lord Daniel, Son of Tigranian, of House Torlek with his wife, the Lady Laria, Knight of the Order of the Bat'leth."
The couple that appeared at the top of the stairs caused the other Starfleet officers to gasp in amazement. Tigranian was dressed in polished black dress armor. A massive chain mail sash across his chest held the polished crests of the Empire and the House of Torlek. At his side, Laria was dressed in a brilliant red gown. A polished silver cuirass covered her torso, and a golden silk sash across her right shoulder carried the badges of the Empire, her house, as well as the badge of the Order of the Bat'leth. Her dark hair was once again braided into the Weave of the Wam Serpant, but a tiara identical to Elessa's shown bright as the sun from her forehead. However, her Bajoran earring still dangled from her right ear.
"They're glorious," Lady Elessa said as they descended the stairs through the bat'leth salute of the honor guards. None of the Federation guests disagreed.
"Take a good look, Admiral," Torlek said across the table. "Always remember that they have earned an honor no other foreign born Klingons ever have."
"Yes…" Worf said hiding his own regret that he could not present his own late wife before the chancellor. "It is truly remarkable."
Annabeth and Alex watched in awe as Tigranian and Laria maneuvered to the front of the throne. The captain bowed deeply. Laria curtsied to the floor and then held up her left hand. Martok smiled as he leaned over and grasped it.
"If you had asked me ten turns ago if I ever thought a smooth-headed woman could command the eyes of a roomful of Klingon warriors," the Chancellor's voice boomed through the hall loud enough for everyone to hear. "I would have called you insane. Tonight, I am proven wrong." He planted a kiss on the back of Laria's hand. "The women of the House of Torlek truly carry the lineage of Lady Lukara in their strength."
"majQa', jawwI'," Laria said looking up at Martok.
"You are a lucky man, Lord Daniel," Martok said to Tigranian in Klingon only loud enough for the two of them to hear. "Treasure her while you can. A warrior's life is short."
"Yes, Chancellor," Tigranian replied. He knew Martok was still mourning the loss of Lady Sirella very deeply.
The Tigranians took their leave and then found their seats. The rest of the Pershing's crew looked on in awe.
"Sorry we're late, Sir," Tigranian said to Admiral Paris.
"Next time, please call," Paris replied.
"Yes Sir," Tigranian said pensively.
"My Lords, My Ladies, Honored Guests of the Empire, pray be seated," Torlek shouted from the head of the table. Everyone took their seats and the meal began.
Tigranian and Laria began conversing with the Klingons across the table. Torlek introduced them as he would any other warrior couple and Worf was amazed at how easy it was for the Tigranians to assimilate among Klingon nobility. Soon, the pair was laughing, joking, and eating gagh as if they had crests on their forehead. Socializing with his own people had never been as easy for Worf as it was for these two, and it caused him painful pause.
Paris noticed the ambassador had barely touched his food.
"Is something wrong with the meal, Ambassador?" Admiral Paris asked him quietly.
"No," Worf said shaking his head. "Just a reminder of something I'd rather forget."
"If you don't mind me asking, what?"
"That no matter how much I desire it, my place may never be on this world."
"How do you wear that thing?!" Katie shouted as she tapped the metal breastplate of Laria's gown. They laughed as they collapsed back onto the couch of the Tigranian quarters.
"It's actually not that bad," Laria said. "It's a lot more comfortable than my Bajoran wedding dress. After all, I'm supposed to be able to use a bat'leth wearing this." Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy had retired to their quarters on the Leonov, but Tigranian had taken his crew back up to the Pershing for coffee before bed. Torlek had come along for a very specific purpose. Elessa had wished her lord luck before the house footmen escorted her back to the estate.
"You looked amazing tonight, L," Phil said walking over with his white mess jacket already unzipped. "Like real royalty," he said pinching her cheek as the others laughed.
"Watch your hands, Lexington!" Laria said. "I'm a Klingon lady and I've killed people for less." The others cheered as Tigranian and Torlek came over.
"Alex, Annabeth," Tigranian said. "May we speak to you?"
Alex inhaled sharply. She knew an awkward moment with Torlek was probably coming all night, but was still dreading it.
"Of course," Annabeth said. Alex, to her credit, didn't complain.
"I'm taking a trip to the country tomorrow morning," Torlek said. "Daniel has no choice but to accompany me, but I respectfully request the honor of your presence, Alex," he said with a bow of his head.
"My presence?" she said surprised. "I'm not sure," Alex replied nervously. "I think Beth might be better, that is, if you're feeling up to it, Babe." Alex hoped desperately that her wife would politely decline.
"No," Torlek said shaking his head. "It would not be appropriate for a woman with child to make this journey. It is you who must come."
"I don't know," Alex said nervously. Part of her wanted to refuse, but after what she had seen this evening, a part of her was actually intrigued to learn more about this planet.
"Alexandra," Torlek said looking right into her eyes. "I know your feelings about our people. I know about your skepticism. It is alright. Klingons are just as wary of other species. However, at least give me one chance to convince you otherwise." He wasn't threatening at all. In fact, she could feel the kindness in his voice. It actually made Alex even more conflicted.
"Alex…" Annabeth said gently grabbing her arm.
"Can you make me promise?" Alex said looking back at Torlek.
"What is that?" he asked.
"That if you can't convince me to let Klingon beliefs into my child's life tomorrow, you'll stop trying and order Dan to stop trying as well."
Torlek and Tigranian exchanged glances.
"You have my word as a Klingon warrior," Torlek said.
"Then, I'll go."
"Very good," Torlek said. "Now, I should be getting home. It's not often I get the chance to spend the night in my wife's bed anymore," he said with a smile.
"Yes, my brother," Tigranian said. "We'll meet you in the First City at 0400 tomorrow morning."
"0400!" Alex said in shock. "That's in less than six hours!"
"Yes, that gives you almost four hours to rest," Torlek said. "Plenty of time. I suggest you take advantage of it. Wear sturdy shoes and something demure you don't mind getting dirty. We're going to a sacred place."
Alex shot an angry look at Tigranian as he walked with his brother towards the corridor. The captain looked back at her and mouthed the words:
"Welcome to Qo'nos."
After they left, Alex turned back to Annabeth and grimaced.
"Don't look at me," Annabeth said throwing up her hands. "I'm pregnant and he said I can't go."
"Just how long are you going to use the excuse 'I'm pregnant,'" Alex asked crossing her arms in front of her.
"Until you're the one that's pregnant," Annabeth replied.
Chapter 4 by captaintigranian
Central Train Station: First City, Qo'nos
Alex stumbled along the empty platform with a travel mug of coffee in her hand. She zipped up the front of her fleece jacket against the bite of the morning chill. The sky was still pitch black outside, but the bright fluorescent lights in the glass ceiling overhead caused her to wince with discomfort. She didn't understand how anyone could be awake at this hour, but Tigranian seemed more alive than she had seen him in months.
She had settled for a pair of jeans and hiking boots to satisfy Torlek's enigmatic dress code, but Tigranian wore a strange outfit consisting of a black silkcoat with a series of golden buttons down the front, black silk trousers, and a fur vest. She wondered how he wasn't freezing. Torlek was already waiting for them on the platform. He was dressed identically to her captain.
"What? I don't get to wear the Torlek family uniform for this little outing?" she said taking another sip of coffee.
"I'm afraid they don't make a female version of this particular outfit," Tigranian replied.
"How enigmatically sexist, Dan," she said rolling her eyes.
"Be nice," he said as they approached Torlek. "The fact that you're going on this trip at all is pretty astounding."
"So where are we going?" she said rubbing her eyes.
"All in good time, Alexandra," Torlek said before embracing his brother. A few other Klingons began filtering out of the station and onto the platform. Alex even noticed a pair of Bolians dressed in hiking gear also getting ready to board the train when it arrived. Federation tourists were becoming quite common on Qo'nos since the end of the war. Alex remembered reading an article about this planet was "safe for UFP citizens, but still wild enough to be exciting." She wondered how wild she and her companions were about to get.
About five meters away, a holographic cartoon squid appeared in an advertising kiosk, raised its red tentacles like it was flexing a set of arm muscles, and smiled broadly from an anthropomorphized mouth. It shouted something in tlhIngan Hol while golden letters that Alex couldn't read appeared beneath it hovering in midair.
"What the hell is that?" Alex said rubbing her tired temples against the auditory onslaught.
"It's Happy Squid!" Tigranian said grinning. "He's the mascot for the Happy Squid Seafood Jerky Company. It's the protein powered snack that helps you fight back!" the captain said feigning a few punches into the air.
Alex stared back at him with blank disdain.
"It's…their jingle. It's pretty catchy in Klingon," Tigranian meekly replied.
"I gathered that," Alex said, "but why does that squid have to be so damn happy at four o'clock in the morning?"
"Because," Torek said turning to the doctor, "he's about to be carved up into food to make warriors strong. In this nation, all beings look forward to an honorable death in service of the Empire."
"Wow…" Alex said taking another sip of her mug. "I don't think I have enough coffee for this."
"I'll get you something on the train," Torlek said chuckling.
Chimes echoed across the platform. A booming voice announced something in tlhIngan Hol before switching to Federation Standard:
"The 0415 Kra'ta Express is now arriving on Platform 22. Stand clear of the tracks or risk terrible death."
A brightly polished silver MAG-LEV train silently hovered passed them with a rush of cold air. Alex could the read the words, "KLING RAIL" written in both tlhIngan Hol and Federation letters across the end of every car. It slowed to a stop and then opened its doors with a loud hiss.
"This is our train," Tigranian said gesturing for Alex to climb aboard. The three of them stepped into a clean, but Spartan rail car. A female conductor in a well pressed uniform placed her hand over her heart and silently bowed to every customer as they bordered. The seats had no cushions, but at least they were real chairs. Alex climbed into one next to the window while Torlek and Tigranian filled out the rest of the row.
After a few minutes, the doors closed and they departed. Soon the bright lights of the First City were behind them and the darkened Qo'nos countryside was zooming by at 600 kilometers per hour. Torlek and Tigranian carried on a conversation in tlhIngan Hol as the conductor inspected and stamped their tickets. The ride was incredibly smooth and quiet. Despite the discomfort of her seat, Alex was soon lulled back to sleep.
"Hey," Tigranian said gently nudging Alex. "We're almost there." He handed her a paper cup with a plastic lid. "Torlek's a man of his word."
Alex snapped awake and clandestinely rubbed a small stream of drool from the corner of her mouth. She took the cup and tasted a sip of its contents. It was raktajino…very strong raktajino. The Klingon coffee was sweet, smooth, and a jolt to her nervous system like hooking her skull to set of jumper cables.
"Oh God, that is good," Alex said savoring the welcome wake up.
"We used to conquer the galaxy with disruptors, now we do it with dark roast," Torlek said with a laugh.
"How long have we been traveling?" Alex said looking out at the pre-dawn countryside. She couldn't tell much, but she could definitely tell they were now in the middle of nowhere.
"A little over an hour," Tigranian said.
"Where are we?" Alex said very confused.
"A very special place…" Torlek answered.
"You know, this coy, mysterious banter is getting old," Alex replied. "If your plan is to hack me to pieces and dump me in the Klingon countryside, it won't work."
"Alexandra," Torlek said with a broad grin. "We are Klingons. If we wanted to end you, you'd already be dead."
Alex's eyes grew wide.
"Relax, Alex," Tigranian said. "Just trust us. Where we're going is for life, not death."
Despite her annoyance, Alex decided she would have to be satisfied with that answer for now. She took another sip of raktajino.
A few minutes later, the train came to a halt in a sleepy railway station out in the countryside. The doors opened, and the few passengers made their way out into the darkness. Torlek led Tigranian and Alex off the single story concrete platform, past the station's tiny ticket window, and down a flight of steps to the road out front.
The massive Klingon flagged down a taxi driver who hurriedly jumped out and opened the rear doors for them to board. Tigranian climbed in first, followed by Alex, and then Torlek pushed his way inside the cramped, old-fashioned wheeled vehicle. He gave quick, brusque instructions to the driver and soon they were off even deeper in the empty countryside. Alex peered out the windows, but all she could see were trees, rocks, and the occasional farmer's field.
The taxi slowly began ascending a winding hill and finally came to a step. Torlek payed the driver with a few bronzed coins and soon the three of them were standing alone outside a tall wooden gate mounted in the side of a white stucco wall that extended a hundred meters in both directions. A wooden arch above the gate held a black lacquered sign covered in gilded Klingon letters.
"Ok, this has stopped being fun and started being creepy," Alex said. "We're in the middle of nowhere in front of a place that looks like its home to a cult."
"What is a cult?" Torlek asked confused as he pulled a piece of rope hanging down next to gate. Tigranian answered him in tlhIngan Hol.
"Ah," Torlek said shrugging his shoulders. "Technically, she's not wrong…"
"What!?" Alex said in shock as the gates parted. A Klingon male dressed in white stared back at them. Torlek bowed and said something. The man bowed back and gestured for Torlek and Tigranian to enter. However, when Alex began walking forward, he held up his hand and shouted:
Alex paused, but Torlek growled to express his disdain for the man in white's outburst. The Klingon suddenly looked extremely regretful and bowed deeply.
"Come along, Alexandra," Torlek asked kindly. She stepped inside to join them and the trio began walking along a dark wooded path lit by red paper lanterns. The man in white firmly shut the gate behind them.
"What was that about?" Alex asked Tigranian.
"Women aren't normally allowed in here," he responded. "The men who call this place home feel the need to work without any kind of worldly distraction. They don't allow booze or modern entertainment either."
"And what exactly are they working on?" Alex said very frustrated.
"Patience usually isn't a Klingon virtue," he replied with a smile, "but here, it is."
"Dammit…" she muttered.
After a few more silent minutes of walking, they rounded a corner and were confronted with a tremendous wooden archway three stories tall. It was covered with black banners lined in blood red silk. Klingon letters bearing various inscriptions fluttered in the early morning's chilling breeze. Torlek, Tigranian, and the man in white all stopped and looked up to the archway. They stood rigidly straight, held their hands in front of them, clapped twice, and bowed deeply at the waist.
"This gate marks the limit of the physical world, Alexandra," Torlek explained still holding his hands in front of him. When you pass through it, you will be entering a higher plane of existence: a sacred place where all is dedicated to Kahless and his legacy. Please, show your respect to the Unforgettable's spirit."
"How do I do that?" she asked nervously.
"Stand straight, clap twice, and then bow." She walked beside them and repeated their movements.
"Very good," Torlek said. Even the man in white seemed to look at her approvingly.
They continued walking. Around the next bend, Alex gasped. The trees parted to reveal a massive wooden pagoda containing a bronze bell the size of a hovercar. Four Klingon Tri-Foils etched into its surface faced in each of the cardinal directions. Klingon script circled around the instrument's bottom edges. An entire tree-trunk hung suspended from ropes perpendicular to the bell, presumably as a way to ring it.
A series of ten, one-story wood and white stucco buildings filled the courtyard. Alex could see the glow of large fires already burning through their doors and windows. Directly to their front, fifty men, all dressed in white tunics and trousers, kneeled in front an outdoor shrine covered by a wooden awning and lit by dozens of candles. A life-sized gilded statue of Kahless holding a bat'leth stared back at them from behind an altar draped in more blood red fabric. An older man who appeared to be the group's leader prayed loudly from the steps in front of the altar.
The man in white joined in his comrades kneeling in the back row. Torlek and Tigranian stayed back, held their hands in front of them, and began praying under their breath.
"Dan," Alex whispered as quietly as she could. "What am I supposed to do? I don't know the words."
"You don't need to know the words, Alex. Just reflect on what you're seeing, what you're hearing, and what you're about to experience."
She stood respectfully next to her traveling companions and watched the men in white praying in rhythmic unison. She felt this had to be some kind of monastery. It was the only explanation for the seclusion and spiritual discipline exhibited by everyone present.
The first red rays of dawn began to appear in the Eastern sky. It was only then that Alex realized this place was perched on the edge of a sheer cliff, overlooking a huge grassy plain below them. About ten miles away, still shrouded in morning fog, was the largest mountain Alex had ever seen. It's rocky crags absolutely took her breath away. The peak was so tall that it's summit was still hidden in the low morning mist.
"My God…" Alex muttered out loud before she could stop herself. Tigranian allowed himself a slight smirk as he continued to pray. The rays of dawn grew brighter at an alarming rate. The valley was almost completely visible.
"pIyajchu'," the leader shouted from the altar.
"pIyajchu',"the others replied in unison.
Eight men silently rose from the ranks and walked over to the bell. They gripped the ropes hanging from the tree trunk and began to slowly swing it back and forth. Finally, in a well-rehearsed movement, they slammed it into the side of the bell.
The tremendous "GONG" was so loud it nearly knocked Alex off her feet. The bell's deep bass echoed across the entire valley.
As if on cue, the sun crested behind the giant mountain. The red orb rose directly behind the crag like an angel's halo. The morning rays burned away the mist and lit the four-thousand meter tall peak like it was plated with gold. The sight was so beautiful, it nearly brought Alex to tears. A strange haze appeared at the summit. Alex blinked as she realized it was black smoke.
"Qo'nos awakens from her slumber…" Torlek said not taking his eyes off the peak. "She is our mother, we are her children."
"Warriors die," Tigranian added, "only Qo'noS endures."
"What is this place?" Alex asked almost overwhelmed by the ethereal experience. It was finally time to give an answer.
"That is the holy volcano, Kri'stak," Torlek said still not dropping his hands from in front of him. "It is where Mother Qo'nos sheds her fiery blood to nourish the Klingon people. A thousand years ago, Kahless the Unforgettable climbed its summit, dipped a lock of his hair into her fire, and forged the first sword of honor…the first bat'leth." He paused and turned to face the doctor. "This is K'vel'kar, Alexandra," he said barely above a whisper. "It is where the finest swordsmiths in the galaxy forge the most perfect weapons ever to be wielded by mortals."
"What were they doing?" she asked pointing to the rows of men in white now getting ready for their daily work.
"Evil sword makers forge evil weapons," Tigranian answered. "Every morning, the smiths gather together to greet the mother who gifts them the metal for their swords. They pray to Kahless as one:
"Lord, remove the stains of sin and dishonor from our hearts. Make our souls worthy to carry on the legacy you have bequeathed us. Grant us the stillness of mind and spirit to make instruments of justice and not tyranny, of peace and not chaos, of love and not hate. Unforgettable, guide the blades from our hands and into the hands of those who fight in your name. May they be undefeated if they are worthy."
Alex searched for words that could answer that kind of poetry. However, her mind could only find one.
"Wow…" she whispered.
Chapter 5 by captaintigranian
"If the swords made here are so good, why don't you just replicate them?" Alex asked as they walked down a stone path towards one of the smaller buildings behind the shrine. Torlek stopped in his tracks and rubbed his eyes.
"That is the real tragedy of the Federation," he said shaking his head. "You have so much, and yet understand so little."
"What?" Alex asked not understanding his disdain. "It would be far more efficient than making them by hand."
"Alex, it's the same reason you can't replicate a person," Tigranian said trying to explain. "I don't understand," she replied. "People aren't objects. They're alive."
"Exactly, Alexandra," Torlek said. She furrowed her eyebrows skeptically.
"Are you saying that the weapons made here are lifeforms?"
"Nothing so crude as biological matter," Torlek said as they approached a sliding doorway. A young Klingon in white bowed to them and gestured for them to enter. "The smith's also grant the blade it's yinqa': the weapon's living spirit. It enters a blade at the forge as surely as the soul enters a child in the mother's womb."
"Right…" Alex said skeptically as she entered the darkened building.
"You will learn," Torlek said with a confident smile. There were three other men inside, all dressed in the same ubiquitous white uniform. White cloths were wrapped around their heads to protect their long hair from the flames of the brick forge erected in the corner of the room. It was already piled high with glowing charcoal. In the center of the chamber was a large anvil and workbench stacked with assorted hammers, chisels, and pliers made of black wrought iron. The oldest of the three men, a Klingon easily approaching 80 Earth years of age, bowed deeply and introduced himself intlhIngan Hol. Tigranian and Torlek bowed back.
"This is grand master Ho'mach," Torlek translated for Alex. "He and his apprentices have already been working steadily for two months on this particular bat'leth. Today, he is ready for us to make our contribution to his work."
"And what exactly are we contributing?" Alex said. Much to her chargin, Torlek's answer reverted to his earlier ambiguity.
"You shall see," he said taking his place next to a small, wall-mounted shrine containing a forty centimeter tall statue of Kahless on the opposite end of the room from the forge. He knelt down on the brick floor, closed his eyes, and began to pray under his breath. Tigranian joined him as the smiths began their work. Alex walked over and took a seat on the ground next to the two, whispering warriors.
Master Ho'mach reached into a long basket next to the forge and pulled out two billets of dark, gray metal welded to iron shafts. The two younger Klingons next to him grabbed large hammers from a rack on the wall. The shafts on the tools were nearly a meter and half long. They looked so heavy, Alex wondered if she could even pick one up. The other apprentice who had greeted them at the entrance walked around behind the forge and began working a large set of bellows made from wood and leather. Air raced into the burning charcoal and the entire forge roared like an angry beast as he stoked the fire. Glowing sparks rose towards the ceiling and Alex feared the entire wooden roof would catch alight. Ho'mach placed the two billets into the heart of the fire.
"Dan," Alex whispered. "I'm sorry to interrupt your prayers, but I really have no idea what is going on and would appreciate a little context."
Tigranian opened his eyes but didn't move from his rigid, penitent position.
"Two months ago, those billets were raw baakonite hand smelted from ore mined on the slopes of Kris'tak. These men have spent countless hours heating, hammering, and folding them into what you see today. Each one has been folded over a hundred times to create over a million layers in the metal. One of the billets is very soft metal. It has the flexibility to withstand trauma and shock without ever shattering. That will be the core of the sword. The other billet is extremely hard. It has the strength to be honed to an edge of unparalleled sharpness that will cut through anything that stands in its way. That will be the skin of the sword. Together, Master Ho'mach will weld them together like two parents coming together to conceive a child."
"Is that when the sword comes to life?" Alex asked trying to keep herself from laughing.
"As a matter of fact," Tigranian said turning to look at her. "Yes, it is."
She cleared her throat and went back to watching the smiths work. The massive flames from the roaring forge were quickly heating the space to an uncomfortably warm level. Alex was grateful the large doors were letting in the cool morning air from outside. Sweat was already pouring out from the smiths' bodies and they had just begun the day's labor. She wondered how they could do this for endless hours every single day.
Master Ho'mach pulled the first billet out of the burning coals. The metal glowed bright orange as he placed it on the anvil in front of him. Using a smaller hand-hammer, he tapped on the billet where he wanted his two apprentices with the large hammers to strike. The two men rained down blows on the red hot metal in a booming rhythm that reminded Alex of a heart's beating pulse. Over the next several hours, the rectangular billet of hardened baakonite was pounded into a flat jacket that would be wrapped around the softer core. They then repeated the process with the other, softer billet, shaping it into a long bar that would be placed inside the jacket.
The low-light, burning heat, and booming rhythm of the hammers had a strange effect on Alex. Time seemed to slow down and she became lost in the intricate dance being performed before her. It was only when she suddenly felt sunlight on her face that she realized it was now past noon.
Finally, Master Ho'mach nodded to his apprentice on the bellows. The young man grabbed a ceramic bowl from a small shelf, and then moved to Torlek, Tigranian, and Alex. He bowed and held up the empty bowl in front of Torlek.
"What is this part?" Alex asked.
"It is the nobvavpu'," the Klingon warrior said as he drew a d'k tahg from his belt, sliced his palm, and then released a few drops of blood into the bowl, "The Gift of Fathers." This act is the whole reason we came here."
Then, the young man moved the bowl in front of Tigranian. The captain drew his own d'k tahg, cut his hand, and added his own blood to the mix.
The apprentice began to turn back to the forge, but Torlek growled in tlhIngan Hol.
"No, her as well."
The apprentice looked confused at first, but Torlek's firm tone caused him to move the bowl in front of Alex. He bowed as Tigranian flipped his dagger over to the clean edge and handed it to Alex.
"Um, no thanks, I'm good," she said awkwardly.
"Please," Tigranian said. "You have to believe me when I say how important this is." Something in his pleading tone made her relent. She took his d'k tahg, sliced the outside of her right hand, and winced as she dripped blood into the bowl. The apprentice bowed to them again and rushed back to the bellows. He began to rapidly stoke the fire as Master Ho'mach reheated the billets back to a bright orange hue.
"Why did we just give these men our blood?" Alex said.
"Our blood was not for these men," Torlek said. Tigranian turned to Alex.
"When a Klingon warrior is born," the captain explained, "it's also traditional to birth a bat'leth. Just as the women of the house pray over the expectant mother, the men of the family pray over the forge as the smiths work. We implore Kahless to watch over both spirits as they mature, to imbue them both with honor, and ensure that the righteous blade is wielded by the child's righteous hands. Then, at the Blood Christening, the two first meet. It is hoped that they will grow up together, protect each other, and learn to respect one another."
He turned back towards the forge as Ho'mach pulled the two glowing pieces of metal from the forge. The apprentice handed the bowl to the master who expertly poured the blood over the flattened jacket. The liquid sizzled as he placed the other billet on top and began to rapidly hammer weld the two pieces of metal together with the help of his apprentices.
"This sword is for your son, Alex," Tigranian said softly. "This is all for your son."
Her mouth dropped open as she watched the Klingon smiths finish joining the two pieces of metal together into the finished block of baakonite that would become the bat'leth. As it glowed in the dim light of room, she realized that their DNA was now sealed inside the weapon for all eternity. They were a part of it. Whoever held this sword would always carry a physical piece of her, Tigranian, and the head of the House of Torlek along with them. At that moment, it seemed impossible that anyone else besides her child should possess something so unique and precious. Her mind still told her how strange this all was, but her heart finally started to understand.
"Wow…" she whispered again.
Chapter 6 by captaintigranian
Annabeth relaxed on the couch in her quarters. This was her favorite part of the day. The uniform came off, the sweats came on, and the entire replicator menu was at her disposal.
"Computer," she said balancing a bowl of chocolate brownie ice cream on her belly, "Did you record the new episode of 'Vulcan's Next Top Fashionista' last night?"
"Then hit play! Mama wants to see some fancy, logical clothes," she said taking a big spoonful of ice cream. She felt a kick from inside of her. "Oh, no you don't, mein kleiner Bandwurm," Annabeth said staring at her stomach. "You don't get to control the remote until you get your own place in eighteen years. Also, this is MY ice cream. You have to wait a couple of minutes for it to get to you."
The doors parted and an exhausted, soot covered Alex stumbled in.
"Hey, Baby," Annabeth said taking another bite of brownie. "So, where did they end up dragging you off to?" Then, she sniffed the air. "And why do you smell like smoke?"
"Long story, Beth," Alex said collapsing on the couch next to her wife. "Vulcan's Next Top Fashionista?" she asked.
"Oh yeah," Annabeth replied. "Just started."
"I missed the last episode. Did T'prau get kicked off?"
"No, she barely made it, but her cocktail dress was atrocious," Annabeth said. "If she doesn't step it up this week with her swimsuit, she's gone."
Alex leaned over, placed her head, on Annabeth's shoulder, and stared at the holoscreen.
"That kind of day?" Annabeth asked nervously. "I know Qo'nos can be a little rough. The gruesome twosome of Dan and Torlek probably didn't help."
"Actually they were amazing," Alex said softly as she stole the spoon from Annabeth and took a bite of ice cream.
"Really, stealing from a pregnant woman?"
"I always think better with a little ice cream," Alex said still sounding a bit far off."
"Computer pause playback," Annabeth said before slowly turning to look her wife in the face.
"Ok Babe, you're making me nervous. What happened down there?"
"Yesterday," Alex said slowly gathering her thoughts, "I was convinced that Klingon culture was exactly the opposite of what I wanted for our son."
"And now?" Annabeth asked nervously.
"I'm not so sure about it anymore. You said you've been reading a lot about Klingons lately?"
"Yeah," Annabeth replied.
"Tell me what's you've learned, and then I'll tell you what I've learned," Alex said leaning in closer to her wife and resting her right hand on Annabeth's stomach. Annabeth noticed that there was a small cut on it.
"Well," Annabeth searched for words to begin, "According to the book I was reading, the two words that best describe Klingons are honor and family. A Klingon will sacrifice anything to protect them both…"
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