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Bajoran Frontier

Stardate: 53313.8

It was day four. The Pershing would enter orbit of Bajor in just a few short hours and tonight would be the final trial: Death. As far as Annabeth and the rest of the travelers to kal'Hyah were concerned, Death could not come soon enough. They had spent the wee hours of this morning suspended from an iron bar over a searing bed of red-hot coals, their lower bodies literally roasting in the Trial of Anguish.

Admiral Murphy was in his quarters still nursing the burns on the soles of his feet while General Torlek was back on the holodeck utilizing Tigranian's Klingon sparring program. Annabeth, Scharr, and Phil were in the ward room with the rest of the acting senior staff preparing for the morning huddle.

The first officer looked out from her gaunt face, the dark circles under her eyes highlighting her utter exhaustion. Scharr was so dehydrated his antennae almost lay flat on his head. Phil fought to stay awake. He leaned back in his chair, barely keeping his face from planting into the table.

"What are you guys doing in there?" Gleeto asked staring at them.

"Ensign…" Scharr said blinking his dry eyes.

"Yes, Sir?" Gleeto responded.

"Shhhuuut…upppp!" Scharr spat back at him.

"Yes Sir…"

The doors parted and Tigranian walked in, doing his best to keep upright.

"The cap…" Annabeth said struggling to get to her feet.

"No, stay down…just stay down…" Tigranian said as he collapsed into his own chair.

They went through their routine morning situation reports and Tigranian dismissed everyone except Phil, Scharr, and Annabeth.

"We'll be in orbit of Bajor at 0100 tomorrow morning, Sir." Annabeth said.

"Good," Tigranian said rubbing his raw hands. "We will reach kal'Hyah just in time. Tomorrow, we will feast for breakfast."

"If we make it to then," Scharr said blinking slowly.

"We will…" Annabeth said more resolutely than even she thought possible.

"I got a message from Katie right before the meeting," Phil said trying to prop himself up. "They're on Risa."

"Why am I not surprised?" Tigranian muttered.

"Apparently, they spent the last two night at this crazy club where Alex knows the owner."

"Our chief medical officer probably knows half the club owners on Risa," Scharr said fighting to climb to his feet.

Annabeth started laughing.

"Is something funny, Annabeth?" Tigranian asked his first officer.

"Alex took the girls to the Orchid?" Annabeth said, her amusement amplified by her exhaustion and critically low blood sugar.

"Annabeth…could you please enlighten the rest of us as to what is so funny?"

"Oh, it's nothing, Sir," she said as her head swayed from one side to the other.

"It's just the Orchid is one of Alex and my favorite clubs…"

"That's very interesting, but why is it funny?"

"I told you, Sir," Annabeth said looking directly at Tigranian. "It's one of ALEX AND MY FAVORITE clubs. The TWO OF US feel very AT HOME there."

Tigranian looked at her in total confusion until his eyes grew wide.

"Are you serious?" Tigranian said. Annabeth nodded.

Scharr and Phil started laughing as well.

"I don't know what you're laughing about, Lexington," the Andorian said turning to Phil. "Your girlfriend is with them." Phil immediately stopped as he considered what Scharr was saying.

"In any case," Annabeth said. "They're gonna have some pretty incredible stories that we'll probably never hear."

"Are you kidding, Ma'am?" Phil said pushing back from the table. "Katie better tell me every detail."

****

"I don't know if I can do this?" Katie said looking over to Alex and Laria.

"C'mon, if T'les could do it, so can you!" Alex shouted back over the roars of the crowd of onlookers.

"We're gonna do it together, L?" Katie asked looking at Laria. A friend they had met the previous night had presented Laria with a rhinestone tiara and yellow sash emblazoned with "Bachelorette" that she now wore as proudly as Klingon chain mail.

"Yup! together!" Laria said reaching out and grabbing Katie's hand.

"One…" Katie said.

"Two…" Laria continued.

"THREE!" they said in unison. Both women put their hands behind their backs and leaned forward. A female Kriosian was lying flat on the bar with her shirt pulled up, balancing two shot glasses on her stomach. Katie and Laria placed their mouths around the glasses, stood up straight and then knocked them back in one gulp. As they caught their breath, the other women gathered around the bar cheered.

"Oh Prophets, I don't want to throw up," Laria said holding her hand over her mouth.

"Laria, it is your party," T'les said putting a hand on her shoulder. "You can throw up if you want to."

Katie was holding her liquor slightly better than Laria, but still starting to feel its effects. She spun around climbed up on the bar and raised her arms over her head.

"I AM ALL THAT IS WOMAN!"

The crowd continued to cheer as she helped the Kriosian to her feet.

"And special thanks to our lovely volunteer, Karmala!" As people cheered, Karmala leaned over and whispered in Katie's ear.

"Any time, Blondie, I've got a room in up in the resort if you're interested…" she leaned over and gave Katie a kiss on her cheek.

"Um, you're very pretty, but no thank you," Katie said starting to blush. I've got a boyfriend back home…"

"Too bad…" Karmala said jumping down from the bar. A smiling Alex helped Katie back down.

"Don't worry, I won't tell Phil," she said with a wink.

"I don't think he'd care about her," Katie said shaking her head. "But no, don't tell him."

Ivy Wong appeared and pushed her way towards the group of friends. She placed an arm around Alex and Katie.

"I cannot believe you have to leave tomorrow. You've become quite the show for my other guests."

"I hope that's a good thing," Alex replied.

"Oh believe me, it is."

"Hey Ivy," Katie said swallowing her pride. "Thank you very much for everything."

"Anything for Doc Hunter and her girls," Ivy said turning to Laria. "I just hope the star of the show had the time of her life."

"It will definitely be something I never forget," Laria said straightening her tiara.

"Be sure you don't," Ivy said. "I'm not married, but can I still give you a little piece of advice before you tie the knot?"

"Sure," Laria said intrigued.

"Never forget who you are! Just because you put M-R-S in front of your name doesn't mean you aren't your own person! Never let a man, woman, or anybody else convince you otherwise!" Ivy shouted over the music.

"We happen to know the lucky man very well, and we won't let that happen," Alex said.

"You better not!" Ivy said. "And the same goes for you, Alex. If either of you ever need a reminder, I'll be here!"

Ivy finished saying her goodbyes and headed back out on her rounds.

"Well," Alex said looking down at her watch. "We have a skids-up time at 0600 tomorrow. Should we head back to the room and get some sleep?"

"I think we might have time for one more dance…" Katie said looking at Laria.

The music changed to a new song.

I come home in the morning light
My mother says when you gonna live your life right?
Oh mother dear we're not the fortunate ones
And girls they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun…

Laria started jumping up and down.

"I LOVE THIS SONG!"

"I believe that settles that question," T'les said pulling a strand of dark hair back behind her ears.

The four of them pushed their way back towards the dance floor.

Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world.
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun…

****

The travelers sat around the bonfire staring into the burning flames. They were fast approaching kal'Hyah. Consciousness faded in and out. They began to hear sights and sounds from other planes of existence as their exhaustion and hunger released their minds from their corporeal confinement.

Tigranian sat cross-legged. Despite the intense heat, he was shivering as his brother began to speak.

"Now begins the Trial of Death…" Torlek said as he pulled out a small book from his armor. He opened it to a page and began to read:

"From the Apocrypha of the Trials of Kahless, Book Four, Chapter 7, Verse 12:

And Kahless and his disciples entered the city of Tong Vey after it had fallen. The crowds rejoiced at the sight of their leader and moved to surround him and touch his armor. A young man, still covered with blood of battle, called to Kahless and said, 'Master, all who oppose you fall! What is the secret of being a warrior?' Kahless held up his sword to silence the masses and bared his fangs. He answered, 'It is no secret, boy. The way of the warrior is found in death. When it comes to living in safety or choosing death, there is only the quick choice of death. Be determined and advance into the blades of your foe. If you set your heart right every day as the sun rises, and live as if your body is already dead, you will achieve total clarity and gain mastery of the way.' These are the words of Kahless, the Unforgettable."

"pIyajchu'," Tigranian said with a small bow of his head. He then touched his forehead, and both shoulders, making the sign of the tIq ghob.

Torlek closed the book and set it aside.

"As we near the end of our journey together, stare into the fire and meditate on your death. Let the thought of your destruction permeate your consciousness and see your end. Only then will your eyes be opened…"

The six travelers sat in silence. Minutes, then an hour passed without a single word from anyone. All Annabeth wanted to do was close her eyes and sleep, but she fought the urge as her anger and frustration grew.

"Why? Why am I doing this stupid Klingon ritual? Dan and Laria will just be married no matter what and then I have to face all the same problems I do every day. I will keep having to save Dan's ass when he does something idiotic, and Starfleet will keep demanding I transfer to take a command," her train of thought paused. "God, I've tried so hard not to think about that these past few days. Leaving the Pershing behind, taking the Venture, starting over again…"

Then, Annabeth found herself someplace else.

It was a cool spring day. The sun was shining, but there was a strange somberness hanging over everything. Annabeth saw several rows of chairs filled with people dressed in black. Some were crying, but all seemed morose.

Annabeth saw Alex sitting in the front row, but something was wrong. She was decades older. A dark haired man and blonde-haired woman, both approaching middle age, sat on either side of her holding hands. A single tear rolled down Alex's cheek.

A man dressed in black robes walked up to Alex and whispered something to her that Annabeth could not make out. She nodded and he departed.

Her wife climbed to her feet and took a few steps forward, the other man and woman following close behind. Alex knelt down and Annabeth finally saw what she was looking at. It was a casket.

Alex placed a hand on its wooden lid and wiped away another tear from her face.

"We went through so much together," Alex said softly. "We travelled billions of miles, and saw dozens of worlds. We brought new life into the galaxy together. Anyone would say we lived enough for twenty lifetimes, but it still went by in the blink of an eye." Alex was fighting back tears, but suddenly a smile crept across her face. "But I have no regrets. Not a single one, because we lived it together, My Love. We never looked back. I love you, Beth, and I always will…"

Annabeth gasped and opened her eyes. She stared into the faces of her companions, the roof of the cave behind them.

"Annabeth, Are you alright?" Murphy asked leaning over her with a water skin. Just as he was about to pour some liquid into her mouth, she reached up and pushed it away. She sat up and looked at Tigranian kneeling next to the Admiral. Her face lit up with a smile as tears began to stream down her pale face.

"It's clear to me now. It's all so clear…."

Tigranian smiled back and they both began to laugh.

Scharr's antennae perked back up with surprise and Phil just shook his head in amazement.

Torlek picked up his book and gently kissed its cover.

"Kahless be praised."


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