SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Armada Sample Chapters
Star Trek: Armada
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1984 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
A note from Rob (2003) [this note appears at the beginning
of both the sample chapters and the outline.]:
In 1984, I approached Pocket Books about writing a Star Trek novel. I prepared four
sample chapters (the first four chapters of the book), totaling
20,000 words. I also wrote a 1,400-word outline
for the entire novel. My title for the book was Armada
(this was long before there was a Trek computer game by
The editor liked the submission very much, and asked me to finish
it. I was advised by my friend
Judith Merril not to do so without a
contract, since, of course, there was nowhere else one could sell
a Star Trek book. So I asked the editor for a contract.
He said he would hand my submission over to Paramount's approval
office, and if they gave the go-ahead, he would indeed issue a
contract for me to finish the book.
Well, Paramount vetoed the idea. This was long before the movie
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,
and I was proposing a novel in which Captain Kirk has to try to
kill God. Paramount said no discussion of religion was to be
allowed in Star Trek books, and that was the end of that.
My Armada predates the last few classic Star Trek movies,
Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine,
Voyager, and Enterprise; much of what follows is
contradicted by material presented in those works. Still, I'm
very proud of Armada, and offer it here for those who
share my fondness for classic Trek.
Attentive readers of my work will recognize in Armada the
seeds for the Waldahudin from my Hugo Award-nominated novel
Starplex; some of the themes
that ultimately ended up in my Hugo Award-nominated
Calculating God; and an early
version of Chapter 6 (Afsan at the Hunter's Shrine) of my novel
Far-Seer. Meanwhile, Trek
trivia buffs will recognize that the chapter titles are all
lines of dialogue from the original Star Trek television
No violation of Paramount's copyright or trademarks is intended.
I never signed a contract for this work, and was never paid for it,
so I offer this material here as fan fiction.
A Hundred Serpents for
the Garden of Eden
I'll get Jim for this, Doctor Leonard McCoy thought glumly
as he pressed a gloved finger against the enable switch on the
thruster suit's control arm. He felt a kick in the small of his
back as the tiny engine hurled him away from the shuttlecraft's
airlock and out into open space. Damned regulations. "Quote,"
Jim had said with one of his evil smiles, "all senior officers
must participate in extravehicular activities at least once a
year. End quote." All right, McCoy thought. I could
have lived with that. But sending me out with Spock ... Just
wait till you get your next diet card, Jim.
Spock was about a hundred meters up ahead. McCoy could see the
Vulcan silhouetted against 50 Fornacis. Though they were
only a few million kilometers from the star, McCoy looked at it
without having to polarize his faceplate. He found his
outstretched hands could just cover the dying coal. About the
same size as Jupiter, Spock had said. Not even worth a
once-over, except for what it had been. Something like seven
billion years ago this star had burned brighter than all the
others in the galaxy, a giant's giant. Even this far from home,
it would have dominated Earth's night sky. That is, if Earth had
existed that long ago.
And yet, the star wasn't alone. A faint ring of debris still
orbited the stellar corpse, a powdery halo in the plane of the
star's equator. Flecks of metal dust swarmed in McCoy's field of
view, bloodied by the faint glow of the red dwarf.
"Fascinating." A deep voice, flattened over the helmet speakers.
His mind drifting, McCoy had lost sight of Spock. He looked left
and right. There: the blue glow of a thruster. "Doctor, my
tricorder confirms this material is largely iron and nickel."
Tapping a contact on his left forearm, McCoy activated the
deflector field around his suit and sped forward. He carefully
maneuvered in towards Spock, pulsing his thumb on the trigger for
the attitude control unit. Closer. Closer. Twenty meters.
Ten. Fi Dammit! McCoy found himself
spinning head over heels toward the dead star.
"Really, Doctor." The science officer's voice took on a
reproachful tone. "This is no time for a show of acrobatics."
"Dammit, Spock. Help me!"
"I'm sorry, Doctor. There was some static. Please repeat."
McCoy cursed himself then cursed Spock. "Damn you, Spock. Help
Spock activated his thruster, sailed deeper into the powdery ring
that encircled the star, and quickly intercepted the flailing
doctor. He grabbed McCoy's ankles none too
gently and the two of them pinwheeled on at half the
speed at which McCoy had been tumbling. With a few quick bursts
of his attitude jets, Spock brought them both to a halt.
McCoy felt dizzy. "How many times do I have to tell Jim that I'm
a doctor, not some goddamn spaceman?"
They floated facing each other, the ruddy glow from
50 Fornacis enhancing the Vulcan's satanic features. McCoy
saw Spock cock an eyebrow behind his faceplate. "You're welcome,
"Don't be so smart, Spock. Just because I wasn't born with
stabilizing fins growing out of my head ... "
Spock's face took on that slightly pained expression he feigned
when speaking to McCoy. "Airfoils are useless in a vacuum." He
cleared his throat. "Before you went for your joyride, I was
pointing out to you the chemical composition of this material."
McCoy nodded slightly, grateful for the change of subject.
"Iron-nickel, you said. So what? Most asteroid material is made
out of that."
"But this star was Population II, one of the first stars of the
universe. Iron and nickel are high-level fusion products,
associated with second- and third-generation Population I stars."
McCoy understood all this, of course, but Spock paused
nonetheless, giving the impression of letting the doctor sort out
what he had just said. "The ring material is not indigenous to
"Then how did it get here?"
"It was imported, Doctor." Spock moved his hand to
indicate the thin mist of metal filings around them. "What we
are inside at the moment is the oldest evidence known to
Federation science of intelligent life in this galaxy."
McCoy reached out carefully, sweeping a few specks of metal into
his glove. He bobbed his chin against a switch inside his
helmet, activating the spotlight mounted above the faceplate, and
peered at the tiny flashes in his palm. "What was it?"
"Judging by the amount of material still in the ring after all
these millennia, it must have once been something huge. The
original mass was likely three orders of magnitude greater than
all the matter in orbit around your sun."
"But why would anyone place that much material around a
supergiant star? What could they have been up to?"
"Harvesting the star," said Spock. "Fascinating. No modern
civilization has yet been able to build one."
"One what, Spock? Dammit, don't talk in riddles."
"A Dyson sphere, Doctor: a metal shell completely surrounding
the star, capturing every photon of power put out by it."
McCoy gestured at the dead star with a thumb. "But that was the
great granddaddy of all supergiants."
"Precisely. Whatever they were doing required power on a truly
cosmic scale. It is difficult to conceive of a need demanding so
"God in heaven, the destructive potential is incredible."
Spock shook his head slightly. "It grieves me, McCoy, to hear a
healer constantly expressing power in terms of its ability to lay
waste. Surely there are other possible applications."
"Oh, yeah, Spock? Name five."
The Vulcan looked away. "At this stage in our analysis, any
conclusions would be premature."
"Alert! Alert! Alert!" The high-pitched voice of the
shuttlecraft's on-board computer broke through their headphones.
Spock chinned a control inside his helmet. "Copernicus,
Spock. Nature of alert."
"Detect unregistered vessel decelerating into this starsystem,
bearing 28 degrees mark 177 degrees, range 1.65 billion
"Doctor, if you feel capable of flying in a straight line, I
suggest we hasten back to the shuttlecraft."
McCoy tapped the enabler on his control arm and shot in the
general direction of Copernicus. The angular deep-space
shuttle expanded rapidly in his vision and this time
he couldn't stand a second humiliation he piloted
himself neatly into its rear airlock. Of course, he rammed the
inner door far too quickly, but he refused to give any sign to
Spock that it hurt. Moments later Spock floated into the chamber
and the Vulcan turned the airlock-cycle handle. The outer door
slid quietly shut. The reptilian sound made by air filling the
lock grew rapidly to a roar. McCoy and Spock settled gently as
the gravitation plate in the floorboard slowly increased its
attraction to its normal level. A green light came on and the
inner door slid aside with a whoosh.
Spock was over to the sensor station in two bounds, pulling a
gooseneck viewer up from the console. "Definitely a large ship,"
he said. "In excess of 200 meters."
McCoy moved to operate the large viewer behind the mess table.
He lined the camera up with the heading the computer had given
and twiddled the magnification knob. A dark violet splotch
appeared in the center of the screen. He inexpertly adjusted the
sliding control to compensate for the severe blue shift of the
approaching object. The splotch ran up and down through the
colors of the rainbow. Finally McCoy got a clear picture.
"I see it," said Spock, moving across to stand near McCoy. "A
D-series Klingon battle cruiser." The Vulcan squinted at the
screen, then turned the magnification dial. "Or Romulans using a
Klingon ship." He tapped a button, frowned at the blank display.
"They're shielded against sensors."
"Dammit, Spock, I don't care which it is. Let's get out of
"They may not have detected us, Doctor, but if we begin to move,
they most surely will."
"It's heading straight for us. We've got to run."
Spock looked a moment longer at the bulbous prow of the alien
ship, swelling in the viewer, then slipped into the left-hand
bucket seat in the shuttle's cockpit. McCoy swung the right seat
around and dropped into it. "Step on it, Spock."
The science officer's knobby fingers were on the triple thruster
controls. He jerked them forward. McCoy felt an invisible hand
pressing him back into the upholstery. The stars wheeled in the
window that ran the width of the bow as Spock angled the shuttle
away from the approaching battleship. McCoy activated a monitor
screen, set flush in the pedestal between his chair and Spock's.
The alien vessel was sleek, malevolent, a bronze-and-emerald
dragon with flared cobra head, snaking neck, and bat-winged body.
As McCoy watched, the gaping round mouth of the cobra began to
glow cherry red. "They've activated their main torpedo tube,
Spock's voice was calm. "There's no way they could miss at this
range." Even so, he began weaving the ship left and right, up
McCoy looked at the viewer again. "Spock! They're firing!" The
pursuing ship spit out a brilliant photon-magnetic force
canister. McCoy felt his fingernails digging into the chair's
vinyl armrests. A blinding white light filled the cockpit ...
from the window, from in front of them.
Spock slammed the retro-thrusters, halting their headlong rush
before they entered the cloud of anti-particles. "Evidently,
they don't want to merely kill us." The hull shook violently;
steel plates groaned under stress. McCoy felt himself pitching
forward in his chair. "Tractor beam," said Spock.
The Vulcan rocked the ship. The Copernicus rattled from
bow to stern. Spock jerked the controls again. A hairline crack
appeared in the forward window.
On the viewer, McCoy could see the alien ship grow larger and
larger. On one side it was the color of blood, stained by the
dim glow of 50 Fornacis. The other side was dark, save for
constellations of glowing round portholes. The image bounced as
the shuttlecraft shook. "We can't take anymore of this," Spock
said. With a sweep of his arm, he shut off the engines.
Stars streaked in the window as the tiny shuttle snapped back.
The tractor beam swung them, bow down, high over the giant
vessel. McCoy found himself looking down on the rounded
superstructure surmounting the cobra's head, an oval dome which,
he knew, housed their bridge. Though Copernicus's
internal gravity was unaffected, the perspective made McCoy's
stomach do a flip-flop. The shuttle arced back, above the long
boom and over the broad, flat engineering hull. McCoy caught
sight of a three-bladed symbol on one flank. Klingon,
The shuttle swung around to come to rest behind and between the
hanging engine pods. The alien ship was upside down now from
McCoy's point of view, but that was quickly remedied. McCoy's
guts slid up the inner wall of his abdomen as the tractor rotated
them around Copernicus's long axis. Ahead were two
glowing impulse engines, set in the rear of the winged hull.
Between the two engines glowed a second torpedo tube. On the
hull's upper surface was a low, blockish structure. Plated doors
were sliding slowly aside on its rear wall revealing a floodlit
shuttlecraft hangar deck. Another tractor beam grabbed them from
within and hauled the Copernicus inside.
McCoy pivoted to face Spock. "Now what?" As if in response, the
pulsing, whining roar of Klingon disruptors ripped the air. A
ragged hole appeared in the inner and outer doors of the airlock,
its black edges curled and smoking. The acrid smell of burning
insulation stung McCoy's nostrils. As the smoke cleared, six
Klingon hoplites stormed in, each clad in black-and-gray battle
armor. Two of them were of the Kahless species, swarthy,
bearded. Three were of the H'chok kind, taller, with vertebrae
growing over the backs of the heads, across pates fringed with
black hair, and down their foreheads, terminating in flared
nostrils. The last was of the rare Imperial race, pasty-skinned,
without the bifurcated eyebrows of the other two species. This
one, decorated with a blood-colored sash of rank, stepped in
front and, with sidearm casually swinging between McCoy's chest
and Spock's, said, in perfect English, "My dear Mr. Spock. And
the good Dr. McCoy. The pleasure is all mine."
McCoy moved forward. "Koloth ." He
spat the name. "You're way over onto our side of the Neutral
Zone. When the Federation finds out what you've
A new voice. "Dr. McCoy, I assure you the Federation already
knows what he's done." From behind the phalanx of Klingons
appeared a Human, a civilized, cultured figure in a flowing tawny
robe, dwarfed by the burly soldiers. The man's bearing was
aristocratic, his face like a crumpled sack, his eyes sunken
beneath pouches of skin.
McCoy had met him only once before, almost five years ago during
a mission to where? Eminiar VII? But he recognized
him immediately. "Ambassador?"
The man bowed slightly and, in that smooth, warm voice that had
wooed entire worlds, said, "Robert Fox, Special Ambassador for
the United Federation of Planets, at your service."
The child floated poorly, Jag thought. She had to kick her
hooves and draw splayed three-fingered hands against the river's
current just to keep on the surface. Jag, floating easily on his
back, swung his own feet down, cloven hooves clicking against
smooth stones on the river's bottom, and stood upright. The icy
waters of the Relba tributary came to the middle of his great
rounded belly. Liquid streamed from his beard and dripped off
his furry chest. He shook his head, showering the child's flat
face with droplets. The child opened her lipless mouth as if to
cry but, of course, no sound emerged. For this child was Bistle,
the Messiah. The rites of the temple prescribed that a messiah's
vocal cords be slit at birth, only to be restored upon her
reaching maturity. Until then, lest her infantile whims wreak
havoc on Tellar's society, she was allowed no communication, no
writing, no sign language. Her every need was tended to by her
dame's entourage. She would learn, grow wise. All waited for
the day when Bistle would make her first pronouncement as lord
over three hundred million Tellarites.
But that day was years in the future. For now, she was simply a
learner, gathering knowledge to augment her divine insight.
Toward that end, the task had fallen to Jag, unbidden and
unwelcomed, to take her on a retreat into the hinterland of
He looked down his muzzle at the tiny creature floating before
him. This insignificant being? A messiah? He snorted,
drawing back the muscles of his snout, flaring nostrils. Why,
the child was a freak, hairless and scrawny, tiny nose flush with
pink cheeks. Nothing holy about her at all, just an accident of
genetics. She was primitive in form, a throwback to the time
before Tellar's ice caps had melted, flooding the lowlands,
crisscrossing the world with rivers and streams.
Jag lifted his left paw, still soaked with water, and pressed it
gently against Bistle's flat chest. The Messiah folded in the
middle and slipped beneath the river's surface. She kicked and
flailed, bubbles streaming from nose and mouth. Jag removed his
hand and the child bobbed to the surface, coughing silently.
Without the extended face that kept proper Tellarites' nostrils
clear of the water, poor Bistle could easily drown. Jag clicked
his flat teeth together in reflection. Yes, an accident could
Bistle looked up at him, eyes red with tears. What's
that? thought Jag. You considered yourself safe with a
member of your dame's entourage? Jag crashed the back of his
hairy paw against the chill surface of the Relba, splashing the
Messiah. He knew that in and of herself, there was nothing to
hate about Bistle. She was better behaved than her litter mates,
the six boys who occupied so much of his time and the time of the
other members of Pelsh's entourage. The thought of his beloved
Pelsh, mother of Bistle, calmed him. Beautiful Pelsh, round
Jag's own litter mates, now scattered throughout the five deltas,
said he'd set his sights too high when he entered the courtship
contest for Pelsh. Too high? Any female should have been
delighted to pair with Jag. His lineage was sterling. Had not
his dame been the famed Tood? Had he not been the best student?
Not just in the Relba rivercourse, either, but also in the lands
fed by the mighty Rastal. And, as if that weren't merit enough
to win Pelsh, Jag had been named Tellar's ambassador to the
Federation, apprenticed to the famed Gav himself. And since
Gav's murder, Jag was the Ambassador Supreme. Truly superior!
Jag had known the competition for Pelsh would be stiff, of
course. All courtship contests were, what with six males for
every female. But he had been confident when he joined Pelsh's
entourage. When it came time for her to select her lifemate, he
would be it.
He looked down at Pelsh's child again. Really an inoffensive
creature, he thought, almost pitiful. In a generous mood, one
could even see some of Pelsh's exquisite features in the thing's
ball-shaped head. The deep circular wells that the eyes rested
in, those were Pelsh's. But the eyes themselves, flecks of gold
in the brown sclera, those she inherited from Deegur.
Deegur! How Jag hated him! Pelsh's chosen one: chipped hooves
and lumpy gut, almost hairless nostrils a repulsive
creature. And no statesman, he. An optometrist! A grinder of
corrective lenses, from a craft-guild family, no less. A
nothing. Why did Pelsh choose him? Jag wondered
for the thousandth time. The knowledge that five other males
were tortured by the same question did nothing to ease Jag's own
hurt. Though he and Pelsh's other unchosen suitors formed her
entourage, a unit supposedly exceeded in closeness only by the
bond that ties litter mates, Jag felt no affection for them.
They had all deserved to fail. But he an
ambassador! he had deserved nothing less than Pelsh!
Jag's anger and hurt were magnified by his contact with other
races. Lisping Andorians, scrawny Vulcans, smelly Humans, each
of these had equal numbers of each sex, a mate for every male.
Jag cursed what gods there might be for the injustice of
Tellarite existence: one female, one monogamous female, for
every six males.
Being mateless had been bad enough, thought Jag, but Bistle's
birth tripled his burden. A messiah, true in every
characteristic to the description in the ancient writings, down
to the lack of ability to squeeze her nostrils shut ...
Friends had tried to console Jag. Be honored, they'd said.
You're an attendant to the holy one. That was nothing,
thought Jag. If Pelsh had selected me instead
of I would have sired the Messiah.
He pushed again on Bistle's chest, submerging her beneath icy
Relba. She writhed, kicking, her tiny hooves cutting into his
forearm. Soon ... Soon ...
Jag felt his nostrils flaring and closing spasmodically in fear.
He released young Bistle. She twisted to the surface, gulping
air, then quickly kicked her legs, moving herself to the near
bank. He looked up. An autumn-furred male was backstroking
toward him, feet first. Who would invade the privacy of the
Messiah while on retreat? Jag squinted at the far-off form.
Why, it was old Kreek, the radio astronomer, master of the great
dish antenna on the stony bank of the Rastal.
"Jag!" Kreek had lifted his chin to his round chest, deep-set
eyes looking forward instead of up. "Jag, a call for
"What say, old one?"
The wizened star-listener pulled up next to Jag. "A Federation
starship is in orbit about Tellar. Jag, much has happened while
you've been on retreat. We've lost all subspace
Jag splashed the oldster with a violent whap of his arm. "Bore
me not with your tales of equipment malfunctions. What of the
"Its captain requests an ambassador to accompany them on a
mission of import."
Jag's chest swelled with pride. "I will go. You have brought me
a communicator?" Kreek handed Jag the device, a black-and-gold
clamshell. Jag began to wade to the shore. Young Bistle had
already climbed out. She was eyeing Jag suspiciously from the
sandy bank. Jag could hear Kreek kicking a few strokes closer
behind him, then rising to his feet as well.
Jag stepped out onto the bank, dripping water onto the hot sand.
He turned to face the grizzled astronomer. "Which ship is it?"
Jag's gums peeled gums back. He knew Enterprise well, for
it had once ferried him and Gav to the Federation Conference
Chamber on Babel. He looked at Bistle, tiny, helpless Bistle,
standing many paces away. He turned back to Kreek. "Say my
farewells to Pelsh's entourage." Kreek shook his head in
agreement. Jag flipped the communicator's antenna grid open,
exposing the tiny dials within. This one was of Andorian
manufacture, not designed for thick Tellarite fingers, but he
managed. "This is Jag, Ambassador Supreme for Tellar," he said
into the device, "calling Enterprise. I am prepared for
"This is James T. Kirk, commanding Enterprise," said the
tiny speaker. "Greetings on behalf of Starfleet, Ambassador.
We're locking on to your coordinates. Stand by to be beamed
aboard." There was a pause, then the voice again, a strong
voice, smooth, even for a Human. "We're energizing now,
A whine grew in Jag's earholes, his stomach lurched slightly, and
he had a growing feeling of vertigo. He glanced a last time at
Bistle. The gold flecked-eyes stared back, a look of cold hatred
on that round, mute face. It'll be ten years before they
re-connect her vocal cords, he thought. I hope she
And then, quite quickly, Tellar faded out of existence.
Personal Log, James T. Kirk, Stardate 8666.4
It's all happened so fast. First the Being's threat of
destruction. Then the orders from Starfleet Commander Nogura.
Now, thanks to Ambassador Fox, a hastily hammered-out alliance
with the Klingons. Fox has stayed aboard the Klingon cruiser
Devisor and Captain Koloth has agreed to pick up Spock and
We've been crippled by the gravitational attraction from the
growing black hole at the galaxy's core. It's warped space-time
enough to make subspace communication impossible. Regardless, we
need to speak to the Romulan Praetor. We need his ships. Not
even the combined strength of Federation and Klingon starfleets
will be enough to stop something as
omnipotent? as the Being. Therefore, on my authority
as Commander of the Armada, we will risk interstellar war by
violating the Romulan Neutral Zone.
But time is running out. Acting Science Officer Karl Jaeger
estimates that planets closer to the galactic core, including
those of Balok's peaceful First Federation, must already be dead.
We have less then a month until planetary orbits in the Orion Arm
will be perturbed enough by the black hole to pull worlds out of
their star's ecospheres killing every race in the
United Federation of Planets.
"Bridge." Captain James T. Kirk tapped his foot impatiently as
the turbolift whisked him to deck one, the command center of the
Starship Enterprise. A klaxon wailed in time to the
flashing of the red alert light set into the lift's wall. The
double-pocket doors slid aside with a pneumatic whoosh and
Kirk strode onto the circular bridge. He took the steps down to
the lower section in a single bound and slid into the
black-upholstered low-back central seat. In front of him was the
freestanding helm-navigation console. He spoke to the athletic
young man seated at its left side. "Status, Mr. Sulu."
Helmsman Hikaru Sulu replied without taking his eyes from his
gooseneck viewer. "Holding at 100 million kilometers from the
Romulan Neutral Zone."
Kirk tapped a button on the right arm of his chair. "Computer,
record: order to penetrate Neutral Zone given at stardate 8666
point" he leaned forward, consulting the chronometer
set into the astrogation pedestal supporting Sulu's
console "four-three-five." He clicked the switch
off. "Proceed, Sulu. Warp factor one."
"Aye, sir. Warp one." The ship throbbed with power as the main
engines came on-line. Jim smiled. Ahead, the central view
screen exploded into spectral streaks as Enterprise lanced
toward enemy territory at the speed of light. "Five minutes to
Kirk swiveled his chair, checking who was at the ring of stations
on the upper level of the bridge. Scotty was down in
Engineering, of course, so his bridge console, to the left of the
turbolift, was manned by Dale Gabler. Christine Chapel was next,
at the life-support station. On the other side of the main
viewer, Pavel Chekov sat poised at the defense console and Dawson
Walking Bear was operating the navigational computer. The
library computer damn, Jim wished Spock was there!
Not that Karl Jaeger wasn't a good man, but ... but
nothing. Behind the normal position for Kirk's chair, to
the right of the turbolift, Nyota Uhura played the communications
board like one of her musical instruments. Jim let his chair
swing back to its neutral position facing the main viewer.
Sharing the helm-navigation console with Sulu was one of Chekov's
old teachers, the tripodal, ruddy-skinned Arex of Edos.
Kirk heard the turbolift doors hiss open. "Captain," said a
strong, deep voice, "I will observe."
Kirk swung around. The speaker was a sharply-featured man, hair
streaked with silver, bushy eyebrows upswept. Jim didn't want
him on the bridge, but he had little choice. In fact, he
reflected, he had none. "As you wish, Ambassador."
Simple black robe flowing, Sarek of Vulcan walked around the
upper, outer ring of bridge stations to the Library Computer.
Was it his scientific training that made him stop there?
Doubtless he could read all the displays. Or had he gravitated
to where Spock normally worked simply because it was his son's
post? Karl Jaeger activated a repeater screen so that the Vulcan
ambassador could see what Jaeger was looking at in the hooded
"One minute to Neutral Zone," said Sulu.
"Uhura, tie in the universal translator and record the following
Kirk could hear little pips as Uhura's fingers danced over her
board. "Aye aye, sir. Ready to record."
Jim spoke into the microphone mounted in his chair's arm. "This
is Captain James T. Kirk, commanding the United Federation of
Planets starship U.S.S. Enterprise to all Romulan vessels
and ground stations. We come in peace. Our deflector shields
are down. I repeat, we come in peace." He swiveled so Uhura
could see him, then drew a finger across his throat. She shut
off the mike.
Sarek had stepped down into the well to the right of Kirk's
chair. "An addendum, if I may, Captain."
Kirk nodded at Uhura and the microphone was reactivated. Sarek
spoke briefly, harsh, alien words heavy with clicking consonants.
He nodded curtly to Uhura when he was through. "An echoing of
your sentiments, expressed Vulcan brother to Romulan brother, in
the tongue that is the root of both planets' languages."
"Thank you, Ambassador." Kirk faced Uhura again. "Loop those
messages and broadcast them continually in all directions."
Aye, sir." More pips from her board. "Broadcasting on all radio
"Make it good and loud. I want them to know we're here. Package
the same messages for a tightbeam pulse at Romulus."
"Aye. But without subspace, it'll take over a day to reach
Jim let out a heavy sigh. "I know that, Lieutenant. And we
can't afford to wait a day." He swung to face Chekov. "Phasers
on stand-by, Mr. Chekov. Just in case."
"Thirty seconds to Zone boundary," said Sulu.
"Jettison log buoy, Uhura."
"Twenty seconds," said Sulu.
"Deflectors on computer control," said Kirk. "I want them up
instantaneously if we need them."
Sulu clicked over a string of rocker switches. "Programmed. Ten
Kirk looked left and right, taking stock of his crew. "Stay
"Four. Three. Two. One. We are "
"Warning," The computer's voice. "Treaty
violation. Enterprise now within Romulan Neutral Zone.
Warning. Treaty "
"Kill that, Uhura."
"Something on the motion sensor, Captain," Sulu said, his face
buried again in the gooseneck viewer.
"Romulan ships using their cloaking devices," said Jaeger. "A
pack of them."
"Shields, Captain?" asked Sulu.
"No. Not without provocation. Ship to ships, Uhura."
"Hailing radio frequencies open, sir."
"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Enterprise. We come
in peace. There is a threat to both your people and ours. We
beg an audience with Praetor G'ten."
"Damn. Keep trying to raise them, Uhura. Where are they, Sulu?"
"Approximately above and behind us. Impossible to say precisely,
"Bring us around. I want to be facing them." The stars wheeled
on the screen.
Kirk leaned forward in his chair, straining his eyes for any sign
of the alien ships. Nothing. He turned to face the Library
"They're closing, sir. That's all I can tell."
"How many are there?"
"Multiple readings. Could be "
"Keptin!" Kirk swung to face Chekov. "On the screen,
They were fading into existence. Ship after ship after ship.
Sleek disks with swept-back wings and painted bellies. Five.
Eight. Eleven. Fourteen birds-of-prey.
"Incoming fire!" shouted Sulu.
"Automat " The Enterprise reeled as
Romulan photon torpedoes splashed against her shields.
"Uhura, try that peace message again."
"I've been trying, sir. No response."
"It appears they don't believe us," Sarek said simply.
"A second round of torpedoes incoming," said Sulu.
The ship buffeted as the torps exploded against the force shields
that protected the beveled edge of the primary hull. "Damage
reports from decks six and seven," said Uhura. "Casualties on
"Ship to ships, Uhura."
"This is Kirk on the Enterprise. We urge you to cease
fire. We have come as neighbors, not enemies. Nothing less than
the survival of the galaxy has brought us here to seek your help.
"More torpedoes approaching."
"Do what you can to dodge them, Sulu." Stars danced on the
screen as the great ship pitched and yawed. But the torps found
their marks, their impact throwing Kirk from his chair.
"Sorry, sir," said Sulu. "We don't have enough room to
"Damage reports, decks seventeen through twenty and the hangar
deck," said Uhura. She paused. "One crewmember reported dead."
Kirk's fist clenched.
"Bridge, Engineering." Chief Engineer Scott's voice over
the intercom. "We canna take much more o' this, Captain. Our
shields are buckling."
"Opinion, Spock," demanded Kirk.
Sarek raised an eyebrow. "On Vulcan," said the ambassador, "in
ancient times, the first twenty-nine envoys of peace from Surak's
camp were slaughtered by those of my kind who went on to become
the Romulans. Only the thirtieth was given an audience."
Kirk's breath hissed out. "Great."
"Another salvo of torpedoes," said Sulu.
"I, however, lack Surak's patience," Sarek said.
"So do I," snapped Kirk. He swung his chair forward. "Return
fire!" On the viewer twin pencils of blue energy swung back and
forth. "Tally, Sulu?"
"Four ships hit. Damage to one. Its cloaking device seems to be
out. The other three deflected our phasers."
"Disable the one whose cloak is off, Chekov."
"Aye." Crosshairs appeared overtop of the image on the main
viewer. The screen tracked the tiny Romulan vessel. "Laying in
computer fire control."
The little ship was climbing, perpendicular to the
Enterprise, its underside painted as an elaborate
bird-of-prey, wedge shaped wings supporting tubular impulse
What the !
"Sulu, give me full mag."
Those weren't impulse tubes, dammit. They were flattened tapered
blocks, Klingon-style warp engines. But the Klingons had said
nothing about customizing Romulan vessels .
"Clip his wings, Chekov."
The Romulan ship twisted under the assault, but
Enterprise's phasers were locked on tight, one beam on
each engine support wedge. The alien's deflectors shimmered and
sparked. The port warp drive split off first, trailing fiery
plasma filaments. The starboard followed, spluttering away from
the ship. "I want one of those engines taken in tow, Sulu."
"No, Captain." Ambassador Sarek's voice. "This is not a
Kirk snapped a sharp look at Sarek. The ship lurched.
"We're surrounded, sir," said Sulu.
"All phaser banks, fire."
"Firing all banks."
The ship reeled again and again. "Captain." Scotty's
voice from the intercom.
"I canna give you all the phasers simultaneously for more than
a few shots."
"Acknowledged. Switch to homing torpedoes, Chekov. Fire at
Chekov nodded. "Torpedo one away. Torpedo two away. Torpedo
The ship rocked again. "Sulu?"
"Some of our torpedoes are finding targets. Estimate they've
only got eight maneuverable ships left."
"Only eight, eh?" Kirk glanced at the map display set into the
astrogation pedestal. "Pivot, Sulu. 147 mark 88. Fire
secondary hull port phasers." The viewscreen automatically
flipped to show the new heading. A ball of debris appeared,
"Got that one, sir. Seven down, seven to go."
"Halfway home," Kirk whispered.
"Hardly, Captain," said Sarek, the only one on the bridge who
could have heard the remark. "A single starship cannot defeat an
"Detecting a large object, sir," said Jaeger. "Main screen."
"And," said Sarek, "a battle-depleted starship certainly cannot
That was a Klingon-style battle cruiser, the kind Kirk
knew the Empire was selling to the Romulans. "Bearing 23 degrees
mark 175," said Sulu. "Range four million kilometers, closing
"Hail it, Uhura."
"Trying. No response."
"The remaining birds-of-prey are regrouping," said Sulu. The
screen switched to show a cluster of Romulans fading into view.
"They're releasing plasma-energy bolts."
Expanding orange balls of hellfire hurled towards the
Enterprise. "Reverse, Sulu. All engines full."
"It's no good, Keptin," said Chekov. "Impact in four
"Brace yourselves," said Kirk.
The ship rocked. A plastiform vane from the ceiling crashed to
the floor, pinning Hikaru Sulu. Arex moved quickly, operating
both his console and Sulu's with three scrawny arms. Nurse
Chapel ran from the life support console to Sulu's aid, her
medscanner humming. Sarek helped Jaeger, who had been thrown to
the floor by the impact. "I will operate the sensors," said the
Ambassador. "Assist at the helm." The Vulcan slipped into the
bucket seat as Jaeger hurried down to Arex's aid.
"Scott here, Captain."
"Shields are out. We canna take another hit."
Damn it. Kirk slapped his palm against the arm of his
"The Romulans are scanning us," said Sarek. Kirk glanced back at
the Vulcan, standing, bent over the hooded viewer, his back, like
Spock's, as straight as that position would allow. "They know of
On screen the torpedo-tube mouth of the large warship began to
glow cherry red.
"Evasive action, Sulu."
The Enterprise weaved. "It is merely a question of time," said
"He's firing, sir," Sulu said.
A staccato salvo of torpedoes belched out of the giant warship.
Kirk gripped the polished wood inserts in the arms of his chair.
The screen exploded into blinding light and
and the Romulan birds-of-prey were gone.
"Captain," said Uhura. "I'm getting a signal from the big
The view changed to the dimly-lit bridge of the alien vessel. In
the central throne, dressed as a full Romulan Commander,
The Vulcan's face was impassive, but his tone carried a hint of
satisfaction. "I find I make a most convincing Romulan," he
An armor-clad figure stepped into the field of vision. Koloth.
"And now," said the Klingon, smiling into the camera, "on to the
Praetor's homeworld." He jerked a gloved thumb at Spock. "Out
of my chair, Vulcan."
His meditation complete, Spock left his quarters on deck five.
He approached a recess in the corridor which housed an orange
three-sided ladder. Gaunt fingers choking the metal poles, he
descended one level and strode to the VIP wing. Finding the door
he was looking for, he pressed the buzzer switch in the jamb.
"Who?" The English word, deep, harsh, spit forth from the
"Spowkh, ch'he," said Spock, it is I, Spock.
A pause so short only a Vulcan would notice it. "K'vath."
Come. The single-panel door hissed into its pocket.
Someone had installed metal railings on the ceiling of Sarek's
quarters. Hot white arc lamps hung down at even intervals.
Spock could hear a slight strain in the soft whine of the
dehumidifier as it fought to keep the 60 degree Celsius air as
dry as desert sand. Spock glanced past the room divider at the
sleeping pallet. The linen was undisturbed. He turned his gaze
to his father, seated at the writing desk, his back to Spock,
broad shoulders held straight atop a ramrod spine. "Vulcan
honors us with your presence," said Spock. "I come to serve."
"Spock," Sarek said, turning off the desk-top monitor. He
swiveled to face his son, fingers held steepled in front of his
Spock stepped fully into his father's room. Prior to Sarek's
arrival, while Spock was still away with McCoy aboard
Copernicus, Kirk had ordered several Vulcan artifacts
moved here from Spock's quarters. Though Spock had been told of
it, and did not object, the sight of his own belongings
rearranged in a room of somewhat different proportions
disconcerted him. His duranium tapestry of the
circle-triangle-gemstone IDIC symbol dominated one wall. At last
Spock looked at his father. "How is my mother?"
Sarek held Spock in a steady gaze. "Amanda is in normal health
for a Human of her age."
"And the journey? I would appreciate a tour of your new
long-range shuttle. You call it Surak?"
"Your mother's suggestion, after the great envoy of peace.
Spock, you accrue bad habits from your Human companions. These
Spock studied Sarek's face: a broader, sharper version of his
own. Like the misplaced furnishings, the sight bothered him. It
was as though he were seeing his own face, reflected in carved
stone. His father's hair had a touch more silver in it than when
last he'd seen him, three years ago. "My mother is a real
concern, Sarek. Further, I have use for your shuttle."
"I wish first to explore another topic."
Spock stepped forward, his heels clicking on the plasteel floor.
"Why are you here?"
"T'Pau requested it. I do her will."
"But you are retired."
"Your Dr. McCoy did an excellent job of surgery on me. My health
no longer hinders my career. I have not worked as an ambassador
since the Coridan deliberations because there was no need."
Again, Sarek paused. "Now, there is a need."
"But you do not accept the premise of our current activities."
"I am providing negotiation expertise for this truce. Peace
between the Federation and its neighbors is a goal any Vulcan
Spock shook his head. "The treaty negotiations are not our main
"We defend our galaxy from one who would do it harm." Sarek rose
smoothly to his feet, his unadorned black robe tumbling to
accommodate his new posture. "There is no shame in self-defense,
Spock looked closely at the older man, at the parchment skin,
tanned rich olive from equatorial Vulcan sun. "There is more to
"I deny that."
"But I, Father, do not."
"You are Vulcan."
"I am half-Vulcan."
Sarek kept his gaze on Spock, his face expressionless. "I see."
"The Being we are seeking claims to be the Creator of All
Things." Spock had grown unused to the steady stare of other
Vulcans. For an instant, he averted his own eyes. "I submit
that it tells the truth."
Sarek's hand moved in a gesture of dismissal. "There is no need
for a Creator. Sitar's criterion: limit parameters."
"My Human colleagues speak of Occam's Razor. The spirit is the
same." Spock nodded once. "I accept that there are adequate
models of the universe that do not require an intelligent motive
"Then the issue is settled." Sarek turned his back on Spock and
began filing the memory wafers he'd been reading in a storage
"It is not. For there is no adequate model for my own existence
that does not presuppose a higher being."
Sarek was bent now, placing the tray into a compartment under the
desk. Spock saw a slight tensing of the muscles in Sarek's back
where his father's robe was pulled tight. "Illogical."
"Perhaps. Yet I believe as I have stated."
"It is because of you."
Sarek straightened and turned to face his son. "Elaborate."
"You met Amanda Grayson in Toronto while Vulcan's Ambassador to
Earth. Within months, you and she were married."
Sarek turned back to his desk. "I do not intend to discuss my
past with you."
"Do not," said Spock. "Merely listen. Obviously you do not love
Sarek's eyebrows knit together. "Your mother is an extraordinary
"True, but not relevant. I submit there were other reasons for
your marriage. Your lineage is distinguished. You are a direct
descendant of Surak, a maternal-avuncular tri-cousin of T'Pau.
Amanda's genetic profile is likewise exceptional."
"Spock, you state the obvious."
"Indeed. For it is obvious to me that your marriage was for a
purpose. There has been much speculation about you and Amanda,
much media coverage of the fact of your marriage. When you took
her as wife, it was the height of pon farr on Vulcan. The
prevalent theory is that you were overcome with the plak
tow mating urge while on Earth "
"I ignore rumor mongers."
" and were unable to return to Vulcan in time to
release yourself. Rather than die, you took a Human woman."
"Again, Spock, that is speculation."
"Agreed. It is speculation. And it is inaccurate. Your
bondmate died as a child. You had no mental connection with
Vulcan to make your blood boil with plak tow. I judge
that as fortunate since, although Amanda is a hardy woman, she
could not survive coupling with a Vulcan male in heat."
"Marshal your tongue, Spock. You speak of your mother."
"Dr. McCoy performed a full biorhythmic analysis on you as a
prelude to the heart surgery you required three years ago. I was
able to access that information through the Library Computer."
"Indeed." The word was cold, harsh.
"You did not undergo plak tow while on Earth. In fact,
you seem not to have felt at all the effects of the pon
farr of Vulcan Year 8870."
"You have invaded my privacy, Spock. Leave now." Sarek pushed
the button on the desk that opened the door to the corridor.
"I respectfully disobey. You will hear my thoughts."
"A Vulcan would not pry so."
"Hear this, Father: I am not Vulcan."
"Human, then," said Sarek, seating himself again. "They, too,
have manners after a fashion."
"Nor am I Human. I am a hybrid. Accept that fact."
"Accept it." Spock realized his tone had taken on an
emotional edge. He fought to suppress it.
"Accepted, for the sake of discourse."
Ignored, the door hissed shut in the background. "Why, Father?"
Spock raised an eyebrow in question. "You do not follow my
reasoning? You were involved in an experiment. An interbreeding
"The inbreeding was tried." The hand gesture of dismissal again.
"Vulcans have not crossbred with Humans since."
"And for that I blame you."
"Blame, Spock? Recrimination?" Sarek shook his head. "These
have their seeds in emotion."
"Emotion is not a bad thing. It has taken me many years to learn
"To unlearn your Vulcan teaching, you mean."
Spock felt his own voice take on an unnatural hardness. "I
should have had both teachings Vulcan and Human."
"We lived on Vulcan." Sarek had steepled his fingers again.
"Surely that was your choice. Vulcan is too hot, too dry, with
too high a surface gravity to be comfortable for your wife."
"Earth is no place to raise a child."
Spock shook his head slowly. "Two billion Humans would
Spock walked over to the IDIC tapestry. He touched it with
spread fingers, feeling the warm metal disks that made up the
image. They were vibrating slightly, resonating to the hum of
the dehumidifier. "You abandoned the experiment. It makes sense
for Vulcans and Humans to interbreed: it is in keeping with the
ideologies of both planets. At the root of the Vulcan awakening
is the IDIC " Spock took his hand off the
metallic tapestry, the disks jingling softly as they fell back to
their normal positions "the concept of infinitely
diverse things combining in infinite ways to form patterns of
beauty and meaning." He returned his gaze to Sarek. "A
Vulcan-Human hybrid is such a combination: more than the sum of
"Modesty becomes you, Spock."
Spock walked over to the desk. "I speak factually. Neither an
average pure-bred Human nor a pure-bred Vulcan can equal me in
physical strength, sensory acuity, mathematical acumen, musical
ability, or, according to studies by Dr. M'Benga, projected
longevity. Physically, I am the best of both worlds. Human
farmers speak of hybrid vigor as the mechanism involved." Spock
paused. He'd become quite adept at reading Human facial gestures
during his two decades in Starfleet, but his father's craggy
visage was still a mask to him. "Additionally," he said at last,
"I enjoy an ability few hybrids do: I am not sterile."
"Then this hypothetical experiment you speak of was a success."
"It was a failure. Why did you stop short, Sarek? Why
raise me as a Vulcan? Why not let me be as unique as my dual
heritage? You pressed me into the Vulcan mold, then shunned me
when I sought an alternative in Starfleet "
"Starfleet is an armed force."
"Starfleet, like most Human institutions, practices brotherhood.
It took Jim Kirk to make me understand what that word meant. It
is the logical extension of IDIC, the bringing together of the
new patterns into a working whole."
For a second, an instant, there was expression on Sarek
face a look of pain ... or of hurt. Still, the
words were monotone, crisp. "Does this conclude you tirade?"
"No, Father. To end my statements with elegance, I must tie them
into the situation at hand. That much of Vulcan rhetoric I
retain. You prematurely concluded the experiment of which I am
the product, ending it as soon as you had a living hybrid. You
refused to let that hybrid bring out the best of both societies.
Instead, you disguised me as a Vulcan, had cosmetic surgery
performed to hide the Human characteristics in my face."
"You would prefer to have been left with drooping eyebrows and
ears neither pointed nor round?" A hint of a shrug. "It is a
trivial enough matter to have the surgery reversed."
"I mention it only as an indication that you considered the
experiment concluded with my live birth. The rest of my life has
been immaterial, unimportant. I find that unacceptable. I
believe that my life must have some meaning."
"That assumption will color any conclusions."
"Granted. But, working from that assumption, if my life has no
meaning to Vulcans, because I am perceived merely as a Vulcan,
and no meaning to Humans, because I am considered not to be one,
then any significance my life does have outside its
intrinsic worth to me must be to some third party."
"Your logic is flawed, Spock."
"Undoubtedly. That does not change my conviction." Spock
stepped closer to the desk, tipping his face down to look at his
father. "I accept the Being's claim that it is the creator of
the universe. I must contact it. I must learn why a life such
as mine exists. I must know what results the Being expected from
the experiment you gave up on."
"And your course of action?"
"I wish to take your shuttle and head directly to where we
suspect the Being is located."
"Why my vessel?"
"The Enterprise still has much work to do in assembling
the armada. Surak is the only warp-driven ship available
not required for that purpose. In it, I can arrive days before
the others. I will have time to pose my questions."
"A pilgrimage, Spock?"
"A quest for knowledge. An honorable pursuit for a Vulcan."
Sarek rose to his feet. "You are misguided, Spock. I deny you
Spock was close to his father's face now, so close that he had to
focus on either Sarek's left eye or his right. Instead, he found
his gaze shifting rapidly between the two hard brown orbs.
Sarek again moved a thick finger to the button that opened the
door. "Leave me now. I have affairs of import to attend to."
The turbolift deposited Jim Kirk on deck six near the messroom.
He walked down a concentric hallway and stepped into a radial
corridor. Coming towards him was Spock. Kirk smiled at his
First Officer with that expectant look that Spock had finally
learned meant Jim wanted to talk to him. But the Vulcan
continued down the corridor, eyes ahead, giving not the slightest
acknowledgment of his Captain's presence. Kirk turned on his
heel, watching that stiff back until it disappeared around a
corner. Spock could have just come from seeing Fox or Jag, whose
quarters were down that way in the VIP wing, but that seemed
unlikely. Spock had no use for the kind of polite diplomacy of
words of which Fox was a master. And Vulcans and Tellarites,
creatures of conflicting demeanors, habitually avoided each
other. No, Spock must have been visiting Sarek. Things
obviously hadn't gone well, whatever they had been talking about.
Kirk didn't want to confront the ambassador if Sarek was in a bad
mood, but ...
Kirk turned and strode purposefully toward Sarek's quarters. He
pressed the buzzer and, after identifying himself to Sarek, the
door slid aside. The heat hit Kirk like a wave from a blast
furnace. Immediately his face was slick with sweat. Knives
stabbed through the backs of his eyes as he stepped into the
Sarek rose. "You wish something of me, Captain?"
The Vulcan's face was cold, impassive, expressionless. What was
he thinking behind those dark eyes? For a moment Kirk wanted to
ask what had upset Spock so, but he thought better of it and
plunged into what he had to say on his own behalf. "Sarek, you
countermanded an order of mine on the bridge."
"Never do that."
"You requested we take a Romulan warp engine in tow. This is a
mission of peace not war."
"Granted my ... enthusiasm for knowledge got the best of me."
"I perceive my error. You are, in fact, in agreement with me
that taking the engine would have been the wrong course of
"Well ... "
"But you feel my intervention caused your bridge crew to lose
respect for you."
Kirk was mad. This wasn't going the way he had planned. "I
wouldn't have put it that way."
"You are insulted at the suggestion that something so trivial
could undermine the faith your crew has in you, yet it is that
same fear that compelled you to take an ambassador to task.
Kirk, I know something of Human military psychology: the
commanding officer must be seen as godlike, perfect. And no one
is that. Certainly not myself. You have my apology, Captain.
Henceforth, I shall avoid the bridge."
Jim's head was spinning: Sarek had gone from argumentative to
graciousness in a handful of sentences. No wonder he was so
highly regarded as a diplomat. "Thank you, sir," he said,
hastening from the room. In the coolness of the corridor he
reeled at his own stench. His shirt was soaked with sweat. He
headed back up to his quarters to change into a fresh uniform.
Kirk studied the tactical display on the bridge's main viewer.
Leonard McCoy stood on the left side of the raised command chair,
leaning an elbow on the chair's back. Chief Engineer Montgomery
Scott stood at ease on Kirk's right. The Romulan Star Empire was
a tiny volume of space: just a single binary star system, two
planets, and the bulk of an asteroid field. "We sure didn't
leave them much after the war," said McCoy.
"We didn't have to leave them anything, Bones. They started it."
McCoy shook his head. "You're talking like a soldier again, Jim.
That was a hundred and twenty years ago. Everybody who lived
through the war is dead."
"The Humans are dead. But not the Romulans. They live for more
than two centuries."
"Aye," said Scott, with a bitterness that surprised Kirk, "they
will still remember."
The Neutral Zone, appearing as an amber spherical gridwork in the
holographic display, completely enclosed the Romulans. On the
screen, the Enterprise was marked in blue, Koloth's
Devisor in red, and Sarek's long-range shuttle, the
Surak, in green.
Kirk looked over his shoulder at Communications Chief Uhura.
"Raise Koloth on the Devisor.
The woman's hands played over her board, a rising scale of pips
responding to her keystrokes. "I have him, sir. Frequency
Kirk pressed a button on his chair arm. The main view screen cut
to a low-angle shot of the Klingon bridge, multi-leveled, misty,
shock-absorbing buttresses flanking the captain's throne.
"We are three hours from Romulus. I propose a briefing."
Koloth glanced off-camera. "Two hours forty minutes, by your
Kirk smiled and looked over at Spock, now back at his usual post.
"Koloth, there's a streak of the Vulcan in you."
The skin of Koloth's face peeled back, showing teeth. "Insult me
not again, Kirk."
Jim held up a hand. "My apologies, Captain. I only meant that
your precision with time reminded me of my First Officer."
Koloth smiled. "I have studied Human history, Kirk. Bad timing
has cost your kind many military campaigns."
"We'll have plenty of opportunity to spar while we journey to our
rendezvous with the Being, Koloth. The forthcoming confrontation
with the Romulans requires immediate consultation. Will you and
your advisors beam aboard?"
"We are to come to you?"
"Forgive me now for sounding like a Vulcan. It's only logical.
Ambassadors Sarek, Fox, and Jag are already on this ship."
Koloth bobbed his head in a V-shaped motion, a Klingon gesture of
reluctant assent. "Sufficient, Kirk. I and two others will beam
"Good. If you'll give me your coordinates "
"Thank you, no, Captain. I do not trust your noisy teleportation
system. You give us your coordinates."
Kirk heard Scotty swear under his breath and McCoy whisper,
"First sensible thing I've ever heard a Klingon say."
Kirk silenced the Doctor with what he hoped was an angry look.
"Very well, Koloth. Lieutenant Uhura will append the coordinates
to this transmission. When should I expect you?"
"In fifteen atrag. Koloth out." The screen faded back to
"Fifteen atrags?" said Kirk. "What the devil is an
Spock walked over from the Library Computer station. "Captain
Koloth knew the units of Terran timekeeping and
they're not even decimal."
"I'm not interested in which of us would win a trivia contest,
"A trag is 47.229 seconds. Fifteen of them
atrag is a klingonaase plural is just
under twelve minutes."
A frown creased Scotty's features. "Sir, I'm sure you know what
you're doing, but I dinna like the idea of those bastards aboard
"We are at peace, Scotty."
"Aye. A temporary ad hoc alliance." The Engineer shook
his head. "Those Klingons will leave here the richer for it.
They can learn a lot from seeing the Enterprise up close."
Kirk smiled. "Last report I saw from Cochrane Industries
indicated that they're testing flattened warp-drive nacelles
patterned after the Klingon units. Maybe we can learn something
from each other." He got up and moved toward the orange
turbolift doors. "Uhura, have the department heads meet me in
briefing room one in ... "
"Eleven minutes," said Spock.
"Eleven minutes." The doors slid shut behind him.
After the briefing, Leonard McCoy followed Kirk back to the
Captain's quarters, a spacious pair of rooms separated by a
screen divider. When the door had closed behind them, McCoy
wheeled on him. "Dammit, Jim. What the hell's the matter with
Kirk let himself slip down into a chair, his movements heavy, his
face weary. "What?"
"You heard me. You let Koloth walk all over you."
Jim allowed his breath to escape in a long, whispery sigh. "I'm
the host. He's my guest."
"Bull. You were a million kilometers away. Something's on your
"I'm just tired, Bones."
McCoy moved over to the dumbwaiter set in the room divider and
slipped a memory wafer into its slot. A few seconds later the
door slid up, revealing two crystal snifters half-full of dark
green liquid. He offered one to Kirk.
"It's a little early in the day for Saurian brandy, Bones."
"Maybe for you. But I'm working nights this cycle. Besides, I'm
your doctor." He motioned with the glass. "Consider it a
"McCoy's all-purpose wonder cure, is that it?" Kirk took the
brandy, but didn't bring it to his lips.
"I'll go drink with Scotty if you're going to be nasty."
"Sorry." The word had no feeling behind it.
McCoy took the second glass for himself and settled into a chair
across a small table from Kirk. "Now, are you going to tell your
friendly doctor what's eating you?"
"Do you believe in God, Bones?"
McCoy frowned. "What the hell kind of question is that?"
"A timely one, these days. Do you?"
The doctor drained his glass in a single gulp and set it on the
table with a clink. "Hell, Jim, I don't know."
"You must have thought about it."
McCoy raised an eyebrow. "I think about a lot of things. Why
communism never worked. Why people have appendixes. Why
Starfleet can't stick with one damn uniform design." He shook
his head. "But I don't lose sleep over them."
"I haven't been sleeping lately."
McCoy's tone was a little softer. "I can tell. You're getting
bigger bags under your eyes than Ambassador Fox. Let me give you
some more of those little red pills."
"No, Bones. I have to think about these questions. And night's
the best time to do it." He looked at McCoy again. "Do you
believe in God?"
McCoy got up and ambled over to the dumbwaiter. "Jim," he said
slowly, a trace of Southern drawl protracting his words, "when I
was twenty-four I inherited a pack of money from my old
Granddad." The memory wafer was still in the slot, so he tapped
the repeat button. "I travelled all over Earth and the Martian
Colonies, even visited Wrigley's Pleasure Planet." The door slid
up with a pneumatic poof and McCoy removed one of the two
glasses that had appeared within. "I fell in love
thought I did, anyway got married, bought a big old
house in Atlanta and had me a beautiful baby girl." His blue
eyes had a faraway look. "Did I ever tell you I delivered Joanna
myself? I had everything I could ever want then." He walked
slowly back to his chair and swung his booted feet up onto the
wooden table top. "If you'd asked me then if I believed in God,
I would have said no. I was happy, then, Jim, so I didn't need a
Kirk took a sip of his brandy.
"Helen and I broke up. She left me, Jim. I never knew why." A
pause. "It wasn't for somebody else, though. It was years
before Hell remarried." McCoy took another swig. "Do you know
how much that can hurt a man, Jim? She preferred having nobody
to having me. Joanna went with her, of course. I was a terrible
father. Everyone agreed on that." He fell silent. Kirk was
about to prod him again with his original question when McCoy
spoke. "I haven't seen Joanna in three years, Jim. Three
Kirk thought briefly of his own son, David, whom he hadn't seen
since he took command of the Enterprise, five years ago.
David would be what? sixteen now. What
grade would that be? Dammit, what the hell kind of father
have I been? "You've got a wonderful bedside manner, Bones."
"Don't get smart, Jim. You asked the damned question, you've got
to listen to the damned answer." Another swig of brandy. "I
haven't been happy since oh, since '87 or so. I
don't know what I was looking for when I joined Starfleet. Maybe
it was a god." He set down his empty glass. "There sure wasn't
one in Atlanta, Georgia."
"Did you find one?"
"A god? Hell, Jim, I would have told you if I had."
"So God doesn't exist?"
"No," said McCoy, shaking his head slightly. "Not for me,
"I have to know. Dammit, Bones, once we assemble the armada,
I'll be commanding over a thousand starships in the greatest
assault in history. We'll have enough fire power to
Kirk finished his drink.
"Jim, if the Being is the God of the Bible and Torah and Koran
and all those other books, you won't be able to kill it."
"Well, because ... because, hell, Jim, God is God." He spread
his arms in an all-encompassing gesture. "Omnipotent."
"I thought you didn't believe in God."
"I don't. But I know the definition of God. Some say God is
dead." He pointed a finger at Kirk. "Like that long-haired
fellow you like "
"If that's true, it was natural causes. You can't murder a god."
Kirk made a face at McCoy's use of the word murder, but the
doctor continued. "If it is a real god, then Judgment Day is
really at hand, Jim, and there's not a damned thing we can do
about it." He fixed Kirk with a steady gaze. "And if the Being
isn't God, we're going to blow that bastard right out of the
"I have to know before we attack."
"Jim, I can't tell you how to command."
"You try often enough."
"But you never listen."
Kirk looked him in the eye. "I'll listen this time."
"I can only give you my opinion. The Being's an invader and
we've got every right to defend ourselves. There is no God."
The last four words were measured, firm.
"But, Bones, what if it is Judgment Day?" Kirk spread his arms
wide. "What will I say? That I knew the Being might be God but
I fired full phasers into Its heart anyway?"
McCoy got up again and fetched the remaining snifter from the
dumbwaiter. He brought it back and handed it to Kirk. "Maybe
that's exactly what you'll have to do, Jim."
March to the Beat of Drums
"Romulus I," said Spock, nodding at the image growing in the main
viewer that covered part of the curving bridge wall.
Kirk looked at the planet, a harsh gray-and-brown oceanless
globe, slightly larger than Earth. Its disk was razor-edged as
seen from space, unlike the blurred rim of Earth, indicating a
thin atmosphere with low moisture content. The double onslaught
of solar winds from the twin stars it orbited must have stripped
off the bulk of Romulus's air ages ago. A giant shield volcano,
puckered like an infected wound, rose high above its equator,
sure sign of an old planet that had given up on plate tectonics.
"All engines stop, Mr. Sulu," Kirk said. "Let Devisor take
"Aye, sir." Sulu clicked over a series of toggles, putting the
impulse engines on standby. The Enterprise's speed
remained constant, but her acceleration dropped to zero. The
Klingon ship pulled ahead. The main viewer automatically
centered on the other ship, the red sphincter of Devisor's
rear torpedo tube dominating the view. "I don't like to see us
taking second place to a Klingon, though."
Kirk smiled. He knew that Hikaru Sulu, as pilot of the great
vessel, loved the Enterprise in his own way as much as
Scotty did. "Scanners, Spock?"
"All clear." Spock moved from the Library Computer station to
stand next to Kirk. "Jim," he said in a low voice. "Are you
sure this is the correct course of action?"
"We tried being up-front with the Romulan starfleet at the
Neutral Zone," Kirk said. "They didn't believe us, then. Why
should we assume they'll believe us now?"
"Subspace astronomy can only be practiced outside of a gravity
well," Spock said. "The entire Romulan Star Empire is deep in
the curved space of Romulus and Remus. Therefore, they may be
unaware of the massive growth of the black hole at the galaxy's
core." The Vulcan nodded. "Without that to give credence to the
Being's claims, I, too, would be skeptical." He gestured at the
viewscreen, the bat-winged stern of Koloth's ship now silhouetted
against the gibbous planet. "Still, I wonder if deception is the
route to gaining their support."
"We've got to be guided by Koloth in this, Spock. The Klingons
have been dealing with the Romulans far longer than we have."
Spock said nothing. After a moment he returned to the Library
Computer. Kirk swiveled his chair far to the right to face
Spock's station. "Would Romulans use their cloaking devices this
deep within their own territory?"
"Vulcans do not speculate, Captain." Jim translated the
Spockism: Your guess is as good as mine.
Kirk lifted his feet slightly off the pedestal and his chair
swung back to its neutral forward position. He spoke to Chekov,
seated on Sulu's right this shift. "Mr. Chekov, open a window in
our deflector screens. Make them transparent to the wavelengths
Klingons use for tractor beams."
The young ensign was prepared for this. He slipped a new memory
wafer into the command slot and pressed a single button. "Done,
Kirk turned his attention to the main viewer. "Uhura, ship to
He heard an ascending scale of pips from the communications board
directly behind him. "Hailing frequencies open, sir."
Kirk pressed a button on the right arm of his chair. "Koloth,
this is Kirk. We're ready."
The Enterprise lurched in response. Kirk's ears rang as
the floor boards vibrated at their resonant frequency. He
stabbed the talk button. "Damn you, Koloth." Again, there was
no verbal response, but the ship ceased to vibrate.
"We've been seized by a tractor beam, sir," reported Chekov.
"Devisor is taking us in tow."
Kirk touched a different switch, opening the intercom. "Kirk,
Scott's voice, thinned slightly over the speaker: "Aye,
"Shut down all running lights and all lights in rooms with
windows. Put warp engines on standby."
"And now what, sir?"
"Now, Mr. Chekov, we wait."
"But not for long," said Spock. "Four Romulan ships approaching
On the screen, a pair of D6 cobra-headed Klingon-style ships
appeared, flanked by two of the uprated, warp-driven
birds-of-prey. The D6s, painted in dappled browns and greens,
had the same lines as Devisor. Only the tiny insignias on
the port sides of their engineering hulls were different. Kirk
glanced at the astrogation pedestal set between Sulu's and
Chekov's chairs. The alien vessels were breaking out of low
orbit around Romulus I and climbing toward Enterprise and
Devisor. "Monitor external communications, Uhura," Kirk
said. "Tie in universal translator."
The screen wavered to reveal the gaunt, aquiline features of a
youngish Romulan male wearing a subcommander's sash. His red
hair the color of some races' blood, not the carrot
shade Humans called red hair was cut in bangs, like
Spock's. "S'tren of the Praetorian guard to Klingon vessel,
identify." S'tren's lipless mouth moved independently of the
words the translator provided in English. But Kirk knew the
harsh, cold tone was an accurate simulation of S'tren's original
timbre and inflection.
The screen cut to show Koloth, all evil smiles, seated in the
high-backed central throne of his bridge. "Captain Koloth of the
Klingon Imperial Fleet. My ship is the Devisor.
Felicitations, Subcommander S'tren." Kirk was surprised to note
on the status line at the bottom of the screen that Koloth was
talking in Romulan highspeak, rather than klingonaase.
The image cut back to S'tren, his arched eyebrows narrowed in
naked suspicion. "We are not expecting Klingon envoys, Koloth."
Cut to Koloth, thick, moist Klingon air swirling around him.
"Naturally, if this were a social call, we would have sent
advance word. However, it is not."
Kirk spoke quietly. "Split screen, Sulu." The helmsman tapped a
series of button in quick succession and the main viewer divided
into three images: sleek Koloth in the upper left, hawkish
S'tren in the upper right, and the pack of Romulan vessels
filling the lower half.
"Your business, then?" asked S'tren.
Koloth smiled. "We bring you spoils of war: a Federation
starship, captured in a skirmish. S'tren, appreciate my
predicament. We are far from home. I can't drag a dead hulk all
the way to Klingon space. I invoke our trade treaty. Bring us
provisions." He leaned forward in his chair. "And take the
On the bottom half of the screen, Kirk could see that the Romulan
ships had broken formation. One of the birds-of-prey moved
closer to the Enterprise, its belly glossy with a painted
ebony-and-gold winged reptile. S'tren's gaze was no longer
straight into the camera pickup. "Your ship shows no signs of
having been in a battle."
"We took the Federation cruiser by surprise," Koloth said.
S'tren was still consulting readouts off camera. "I detect no
power generation from the other ship. Yet it seems only
"Earther weaklings. The craven scum surrendered to us."
"That is inconsistent with our knowledge of Human
"You dispute my statements?" Koloth's lips peeled back to show
Sulu changed the lower view on the screen. "I'm piping in
external video from the Devisor," he said over his
shoulder to Kirk. The view showed S'tren's tiny bird-of-prey
looping slowly beneath the long axis of Enterprise's
cylindrical secondary hull.
"I detect life forms aboard the alien ship. In excess of four
hundreds," S'tren said.
"Prisoners under guard."
"This is most unusual, Koloth."
S'tren's ship continued circumnavigating the Enterprise.
It moved up past the clamshell hangar doors at the rear of the
secondary hull, swung high over top of the twin warp nacelles,
passing over the impulse engines at the rear of the saucer-shaped
primary hull, over the dome containing the bridge, over the
Enterprise's giant painted registration number
Twin beams of coherent photons stabbed forth from the
Enterprise's upper phaser banks. S'tren's ship reeled and
bent. A white cloud formed around it: freezing air from a rent
in its hull. "Tractor off," reported Spock.
"Pivot, Sulu!" The Enterprise sheered away from the
Devisor. On screen, the two Romulan D6s and the remaining
preybird were grouping to attack the Federation vessel.
Kirk could hear Koloth's translated voice over the speakers.
"The Human dirt have overwhelmed my guards! Romulans, assist
us!" The Devisor wheeled through 180 degrees.
"Incoming fire," said Chekov.
"Shields to maximum," snapped Kirk. "Dodge it, Sulu." The
Enterprise dipped low as the two cobra-headed Romulan D6 ships
cut loose a round of photon missiles. Koloth's torpedo tube
glowed red. "Devisor is firing," Chekov called out.
The ship rocked again, throwing Kirk from his chair. "Glancing
impact by Klingon torpedo," said Sulu.
"Glancing?" Kirk shook his head. "Dammit, that was closer than
necessary for show." He pulled himself back into his chair,
unreeling the seat belt and shoulder strap from their
compartments. "If you get a chance, Chekov, take a few shots at
"Romulans off our port and stern." Spock's voice.
"Swing around, Sulu. Fire at will, Chekov."
"Coming to heading 197 mark 44."
"Firing phasers! Firing torpedoes!" The remaining bird-of-prey
exploded across the sky, one of its engine pods pinwheeling away,
trailing crimson plasma.
"Just the two D6s left, sir," said Sulu.
"Pick one, Sulu. Aim for its hangar deck, Chekov."
"The hangar Keptin, they're not likely to
launch a shuttle into this."
"Do it, Chekov. Concentrate all fire on the hangar." Kirk felt
gravity pressing him from the wrong direction as Sulu put the
Enterprise into a climb. Chekov locked his crosshairs on
to the rear of the bat-winged Romulan warship. The screen flared
as full Romulan phasers carved into the Enterprise's
deflectors. "Fire, Chekov!" Angry cylinders of blue energy
lanced out of the bottom of the Enterprise's main saucer.
They found their target, the blockish superstructure in the rear
center of the Romulan ship. "More power, Chekov." The beams
grew darker in color, flashing with ultraviolet lightning.
"They're twisting, sir," said Sulu. "And the other D6 is
"Stay with this one. Full warp power to the phasers."
Scotty's voice cut in over the intercom. "Captain, you'll
burn out the banks for sure."
"Maintain firing, Chekov."
"The other Romulan ship is completing its turn," Spock said.
"Just a few more sec "
White light exploded on the screen. The Romulan cruiser split
down the center, the two hanging engine pods crashing together.
A tongue of flame shot back from the dying ship. The
Enterprise shook as wreckage slammed against her deflector
"The other D6 is firing," reported Sulu, his face turned to his
gooseneck viewer. "A full salvo of photon torpedoes." The
Enterprise rocked again. Sulu looked warily at the vanes
in the ceiling. The hasty repairs from the last battle were
starting to give.
"Head straight into it, Sulu. Return fire, Chekov." The
Enterprise flew into the torpedo onslaught. "Concentrate all
deflectors to our bow." The bulbous head of the Romulan ship
loomed on the screen. Phaser beams began to sweep across the
Enterprise. Kirk glanced back at Spock. "What's the
status of his deflectors?"
Spock answered without looking up from his hooded viewer. "He,
too, has diverted all to his forward shields."
"Standin' by in the Engineering Bridge, Cap'n."
The ship shook again, but from inside. Kirk felt the blasts of
explosive bolts transmitted through the decks. The upper saucer
of the Enterprise split clean away from the cylindrical
secondary hull. The saucer flew over top of the Romulan,
unleashing photon torpedoes onto the enemy hangar deck. The rest
of Kirk's ship dived beneath and brought phasers to bear on the
Romulan's flattened warp engines. With shields diverted, the
warship crumpled like an aluminum toy.
Chekov let out a triumphant cheer and Kirk released his breath.
Koloth's face appeared on the main viewer. "Congratulations,
Kirk. That wa "
Spock's voice interrupted. "Another bird-of-prey," said Spock.
"Snuck up under his cloak."
"Dammit, all we've got is impulse power. Scotty, how's your half
"We're badly hurt, Cap'n. Arex is here navigating, but we
canna steer well."
"Can you take out the Romulan?"
Scott's voice was filled with frustration. "I can't."
Kirk swallowed hard. The tiny winged Romulan was barreling
towards them. "We're a sitting duck. What about
"It's still maneuverable," said Spock.
"The preybird is closing fast," said Sulu.
"Raise Devisor, Uhura," said Kirk without looking back.
"Frequency open, sir."
"Koloth," Kirk said, "we could use your help ... "
"I'm getting no response," said Uhura.
Jim rubbed his hands together. "Come on, Koloth."
"The Romulan is activating his plasma weapon," Chekov reported.
"Come on, Koloth ... "
"We can't take even a single shot at this range," Spock said.
The bolt emitter on the leading edge of the Romulan disk began to
glow cherry red. "Koloth "
Klingon phasers cut across the bow of the Romulan ship. The
preybird pivoted and cut loose its plasma bolt at the
Devisor. Koloth fired again and again. The Romulan spun
across space, crippled. But the expanding bolt lobbed forward,
closer and closer to Devisor.
"Status!" snapped Kirk.
"Koloth's in trouble, Captain," Sulu said. "He's trying to turn
under impulse power."
"Can he make it, Spock?"
As if in response, the bridge was filled with blinding light.
Kirk threw a hand up to cover his eyes. The Enterprise
rocked as debris slammed into her shields. Squinting around
afterimages, Kirk focussed on the screen. The long boom
connecting Devisor's command pod with the rear hull was
"Koloth's ship is dead, leaking air," said Spock. "The
engineering hull is uninhabitable. Their engine governors are
out. The antimatter pods will rupture soon."
"Oh my God ... " Kirk stabbed the intercom button.
"Kirk, Transporter Room. Kyle, start beaming over Klingon
"Captain, I have an incoming message from the Romulans," said
Uhura, surprise in her voice.
"What Romulans?" Kirk said, looking out at the naked starscape.
"I imagine she means those Romulans." Spock looked up from his
hooded viewer and gestured toward the main screen. They were
fading in on all sides, dozens and dozens of birds-of-prey. Some
were the new uprated warp design with flattened engine pods; most
were the familiar disks with tubular impulse rockets. All had
their deadly prows aimed right at Enterprise's primary
"The Engineering Hull is similarly surrounded," said Spock.
Sulu reached to touch a control on his console. "Raising
"Negative, Helm," Kirk snapped. "Keep those shields down until
we've beamed all the Klingon survivors aboard. He motioned to
Uhura. "Put the message on screen."
The main viewer wavered as it matched the video scan rate of the
Romulan transmission. A silver-haired Romulan male appeared, his
face broader and flatter than S'tren's. He spoke English without
aid of a translator. "I am Commander Tidek. You have been
identified as Federation Starship 1701,
"They can read!" Chekov whispered to Sulu in mock surprise.
"Prepare to be destroyed."
Kirk looked over his shoulder at Uhura. "Ship to ship."
"Hailing frequencies open, sir."
Kirk wet his lips. "This is James T. Kirk, commanding
Enterprise. Greetings from the United Federation of
Planets. We come in peace and wish an audience with Praetor
The Romulan smiled. "You will see G'ten sooner than you suspect,
"He's charging his plasma weapon," Sulu reported. "About forty
seconds till he'll be ready to attack."
"Hold your fire, Tidek!" said Kirk, now wishing Sarek hadn't
banned himself from the Bridge. "The wrecked Klingon vessel
should be your first priority. Its antimatter reserves will
explode soon, devastating your planet."
"Our salvage crews are removing its engines and will shortly warp
them out of orbit. Pity you won't live long enough to see that
happen. Prepare to die, Human."
"Wait!" Kirk shouted. "Surely the Enterprise is of value
to you intact. Destroy us and you destroy secrets your finest
spies couldn't uncover."
The Romulan shook his head. "You crawl for your life, Human.
Hold your head up; try to die with dignity."
Uhura spoke up. "Captain Koloth has been beamed aboard, sir. He
demands access to the bridge."
"Blast, Uhura. Not now."
Spock stepped close to Kirk's chair. "It is his right under the
terms of the special alliance, Jim."
"Dammit, all right." He turned to face Uhura. "Have Security
escort him up here."
"Tidek's plasma weapon is at full charge," said Sulu. "He's
about to fire."
To come this far, through this much, for something this
important, only to fail ... Why did I listen to Koloth?
Jim stabbed his talk button. "This ship is sheathed in a
protective substance called Corbomite. Any destructive force
brought to bear on it will be reflected back on the
The Romulan let out a heavy sigh. "You're the Human with the
Klingon name, aren't you? The one called Kerk? There's a
Romulan saying I will share with you before opening fire. On the
first occasion, the deceiver carries the blame. On the second
encounter, the one deceived is at fault. Goodbye,
Captain ... "
"Wait! I claim " Kirk stole a quick glance at
Spock "I claim the Romulan Right of Statement."
"Speak if you must, then. My recorders are active."
"I insist on making my statement to Praetor G'ten in person."
"We Romulans have another saying: Federation Intelligence is an
oxymoron. G'ten is dead."
Dead! "I would speak with the new Praetor, then."
"I don't think so."
"Dammit, man! Do you think we came all this way just for the
hell of it? We've got vital, important news to share with your
Praetor. Do you dare risk his wrath
" her wrath by keeping us from seeing her?"
The bridge turbolift doors whooshed apart and Koloth
entered, accompanied by two red-shirted Security lieutenants.
On the screen, Kirk could see Tidek's eyes track the Klingon as
Koloth strode towards Jim's chair. The Romulan placed a long,
thick finger on his chin. "Is that Koloth?"
Koloth squinted at the screen, the bridge lighting bright for his
eyes. "T'tust, Koloth." Kirk could tell by the clicking
accent that the Klingon captain was speaking a Romulan dialect.
"Y'trinsk atrisk Leestra."
Tidek nodded. "Very well. Kirk, you may land your ship."
Land? The primary hull was capable of it, of course, when
separated from the stardrive section, but Kirk had never had
reason to do it. Pike had grounded her once when he was
Captain just before the Enterprise had been drydocked
for a major refitting. "Couldn't I just beam down?"
"I believe you said the coin for your visit would be your ship.
The part you are in is obviously aerodynamically designed; the
other section is just as obviously built only for use in vacuum.
I think I will not have to worry about your engineering section
trying to warp away if we have you and the bulk of your crew
prisoner on Romulus. Prepare for descent."
Uhura spoke up. "Transporter room reports all 107 Klingon
survivors successfully beamed aboard."
Sulu turned expectantly to Kirk. Jim regarded the young officer.
"Are you up to it, Mr. Sulu?"
"I've never actually landed a p-hull, of course, Captain. Oh,
I've done simulations at the Academy, but "
"No buts, Sulu. We're going down."
Sulu nodded once, then swung his chair around to face his panel.
"Deflectors to full-intensity," he said, clicking over toggles.
"Somebody should be monitoring ship's gravity, Captain, to bleed
it off as we come under the planet's influence."
"Uhura, get Chapel up her to operate the environmental controls."
"Nurse Chapel to the Bridge, stat."
"Address intracraft, Lieutenant." Uhura opened a public address
channel for Kirk's chair microphone. "This is the Captain
speaking. All stations stand by for atmospheric travel. Strap
yourselves in. The primary hull is about to land on Romulus."
Kirk clicked off the intercom and spoke to Sulu. "Nudge us out
"Thrusters, point two-five, Captain." Kirk turned his eyes to
the main viewer. Romulus was growing slowly on the screen.
"We're being fed landing coordinates by the lead preybird," Uhura
"Transfer to Chekov's station."
Spock looked up, hearing it first. Then Kirk noticed it: sound
from outside the ship, a growing whine as rarefied air whipped
past the smooth curves of the hull. "We've entered the
stratosphere," Spock reported.
The ship continued to fall toward the planet. "Impulse engines
on," said Sulu as he brought them into a powered descent.
"Hull temperature rising, Captain," Spock said. "Five hundred
degrees Celsius. Considerable air is leaking in through our
The entire viewscreen was filled with windswept gray landscape.
The primary hull skimmed through the atmosphere at two times the
local speed of sound. A city flashed by, far beneath.
"Seven hundred degrees and rising."
The turbolift doors slid open, depositing Christine Chapel on the
The whine of air had increased to a roar. "Altitude ten thousand
meters," Sulu said. "Eight thousand meters. Six. Four."
The ship buffeted left and right. "Atmospheric turbulence," Sulu
called out, as he fought with the controls. "One thousand
meters." Ahead on the screen was a floodlit landing field. The
lead ship of their preybird escort was already down. "Five
hundred meters. Two hundred."
"Let's hope Scotty keeps the landing gear well-oiled," said Kirk.
"One hundred meters. Retro-thrusters on full." Sulu jockeyed
into position for a vertical touchdown. "Deploying landing
legs." The hull shook as great panels slid aside in its convex
underbelly, shock-absorbent bent legs groaning as they came out.
"Fifty meters. Hold tight every "
The primary hull all eleven stories of it
slammed hard into pavement, bounced once, then stopped as the
legs settled back. All was silence for a second.
"We made it," said Chekov at last.
"Piece of cake," Sulu replied, grinning.
Kirk tried to rise from his chair but staggered under
unaccustomed weight. The Enterprise's grav plates were
off; he was feeling a full Romulan gee. "Can't you do something
about the gravity, Chapel?"
"Sorry, sir. It's one thing to create an artificial g-force.
It's quite another problem to shield against natural gravity."
Kirk gestured to Koloth, who had somehow managed to remain
standing throughout. "Shall we go meet the Praetor, Captain?"
The Klingon hissed and followed Kirk into the turbolift.
Saints Into Savages
The elevator platform carrying Kirk and Koloth thrummed softly as
it slid slowly down from the hatchway on the underside of the
primary hull. Kirk was torn between two sights. Part of him
wanted to admire the graceful white curves of the
Enterprise's main saucer, always in his thoughts but so
rarely seen in reality, a disk almost 130 meters across, now
arching high over head. Part of him wanted to examine the
rolling vista of the Praetor's palace. He had no doubt that that
was what the ancient stone building was. It had the look of a
castle and a cathedral and ancient parliament buildings all at
once. Parapets, yes, and stately towers, too, one with a
revolving arrangement of gilded concentric ovals that Jim
realized must be a timepiece. The grandeur of Egypt's pyramids,
the exacting lines of Greece's Parthenon, the beauty of Vulcan's
crystal capitol all the great buildings Kirk had seen
in his life came to mind, all paled in comparison. He stole a
glance at Koloth. Did the beauty move the Klingon? Did a
warrior care about such things? He tried to read the alien's
expression. It hit him at last: bored recognition. He's
been here before.
The platform clanged against the castrock of the landing field.
Five Romulan centurions, wearing traditional helmets, stood
waiting for them, sidearms unsheathed. Kirk and Koloth stepped
forward. Jim knew that the gravity was just as uncomfortable for
the Klingon, but at least Kirk was used to hot, dry air from the
summers of his childhood. Koloth's breathing sounded raspy, like
sandpaper on leather. They stepped forward and guards moved in
front, on either side, and behind them. The primary hull was
like a great circular roof, arching far above, the four massive
landing legs holding its lowest point the deck 11
sensor dome five meters off the brown castrock. The
hull's metal plates clicked and hissed as they cooled. When
Koloth and he stepped out of its shade, Kirk blinked at the light
of Romulus and Remus, twin red fires near the zenith, and the
Klingon threw a hand up to shield his eyes. Jim looked behind
himself, noting the double shadows he cast and the dark core
where the two overlapped. They marched wordlessly toward the
palace for what seemed like an eternity. A glance at the
timepiece implanted on the inside of Kirk's wrist told him it was
actually five minutes. And still the buildings appeared no
closer? The palace must be huge! Eventually they came to the
perimeter of a force-field dome that encased the buildings. It
crackled and hissed in the air, sparking now and again where dust
motes and Romulan insects touched it. The atmosphere was tinged
with ozone. A female sentry relieved Koloth of his disruptor,
then negated a section of the energy curtain and gestured them
inside with a violent motion of her pistol.
The palace hallways were built to a giant's specifications.
Intricately-carved wooden doorways arched eight meters high; a
hundred people could stand abreast in each marble corridor. Kirk
thought of the money that must have gone into building such a
place, then kicked himself mentally when he realized that his own
Enterprise, dwarfed though it might be in comparison,
probably represented a greater investment of time and resources
than anything one could build on a planet's surface. Still, the
palace was impressive.
So was its lord. A quick turn around a corner, passing through a
curtain of olive-sized gemstones strung on silken strands, and
they had arrived in the audience chamber. The woman on the
throne took Kirk's breath away: tall, lithe, clad in simple,
form-fitting black, a face that could launch a thousand
starships, delicate arched eyebrows, ebony hair falling loose to
"Kneel before Leestra, Praetor of Romulus," commanded the
centurion on Kirk's right. Jim dropped to one knee. This child
the Praetor? In Human reckoning she appeared no more than
eighteen. What was her name? Leestra? Wasn't that one of the
words Koloth had spoken to Tidek on the Enterprise's
bridge? The Klingon must have known of G'ten's death. Why
hadn't he mentioned it?
The throne was polished white marble, piled high with lush green
and gold animal skins, sickle claws and strange pointed-eared
heads still attached, faceted gems set where once predators' keen
eyes had gazed out. Leestra rose, a fluid, feline movement, her
hair falling straight down her back. She brushed at an ear with
her long-nailed hand, revealing its gracefully tapered tip. Her
voice was cold, giving no quarter. She spoke Interworld, a
common trading tongue used on many of the independent planets.
"Which of you has claimed the Right of Statement?"
Kirk rose to his feet. "I, madam. Captain James T. Kirk, of the
Federation Starship Enterprise."
"We do not take captives, Kirk. Once your statement is recorded,
you and your crew will be executed."
Jim spread his arms wide. "Believe me,
Kirk felt like he'd been slammed with a wooden board. He was
sent sprawling on his face by a centurion. "You will address the
Praetor by her title, Human!"
Kirk looked at the Romulan guard, his face hawkish, like Spock's,
but twisted in rage. Kirk slowly rose to his feet. "My
apologies, Praetor. We come in peace."
"My starsystem is littered with dead Romulans and wrecked
vessels. I take your intent from your deeds, not your words."
"There are many dead Federation personnel, as well."
"And Klingons, too," said Koloth. "Many of the Empire's bravest
perished this day."
"Would we have taken such risks if it was not absolutely vital
that we see you?" asked Kirk.
"There is a subspace channel," said Leestra, "reserved since the
war of a previous age. If you had words to say, that could have
been your medium."
Kirk stole a glance at Koloth. So Spock was right. The Romulans
had not detected the steepening of the galaxy's gravity well, the
effect of the growing black hole that made subspace communication
impossible. "Believe me, Praetor, if we could have used that
means, we would have. There is a disruption in the fabric of
space, interfering with all subspace communication. We had no
choice but to seek to speak with you face to face."
"So you came charging in, phasers blasting "
"We had to speak with you," Kirk repeated.
"You lie. And for that you shall die. Guards "
"Hear me, Praetor," said Koloth.
"I've heard your words before, Koloth. You die by
"Praetor," said Kirk. "All we ask is that you listen to us. If,
after hearing what we have to say, you still do not believe us,
then I will accept death. Koloth will die by torture."
"Neither of you are in a position to bargain. Both are already
"Then what have you to lose by giving us an audience, Praetor?"
Leestra appeared to consider for a moment. "Speak."
"We require the presence of our ambassadors," said Kirk.
"Yes. With us are Sarek of Vulcan, Jag of Tellar, and Fox of
"Among my number," said Koloth, "is Kaven, Exactor of Terms."
"I have heard of Sarek." She was quiet for a moment. "Summon
"Doubtless your time is of great value, madam," Kirk said with a
bow. "If your centurions could open a window in the force
screen, I will have the ambassadors teleported here."
Leestra touched her hand to a gray ropish tentacle that ran from
the arm of her chair, under the furs, and out through a
gold-rimmed hole in the wall. She closed her eyes for little
more than a blink, then, flowing back onto the throne, said, "It
Some sort of genetically-engineered nerve fiber, thought Jim,
connecting her by mind-touch to the palace staff. He pulled his
communicator off the magnatomic patch on the rear of his trousers
and flipped its antenna grid open. The device seemed wholly
inadequate in comparison. He spoke rapidly in hushed tones to
Transporter Chief Kyle. A rising hum built up in the audience
chamber and Jim caught a glimpse of Koloth wincing at the sound.
Moments later four cylinders of sparkle began to coalesce in the
air. They filled out in form, then details faded in. One was
Robert Fox, craggy, pompous in bearing. Next was Jag, rotund,
pig-faced, shaggy. Then Kaven, a giant H'chok Klingon with
vertebrae running down his forehead. Last was Sarek, severe,
tall, with upswept eyebrows and pointed ears.
"Praetor Leestra, may I present our ambassadors," said Kirk.
"Sarek of "
"You've told me their names once, Kirk. Surely you credit me
with being able to tell which is the ape, which the swine, which
the squabbling brat, and which kindred to Romulans."
Kirk was about to protest, but Fox stepped smoothly forward and
said, "We come in peace, my lady," followed by a deep bow.
"But we are not at peace, Human. Nor do I wish to be."
"Yet common benefit requires an alliance," said Sarek.
"You will join us," said Jag, bluntly.
"Will we, now, Tellarite? Why?"
"It is preferable to death."
"So you do come on a military campaign. You will all die, most
horribly, I assure you. None may violate my borders."
"No," said Sarek. "The Tellarite speaks plainly, as is the way
of his kind. But you misinterpret his words. All life in the
galaxy may face destruction."
Fox spoke up. "My lady, surely you know of the Being's threat."
"Being? Threat? What trick is this?"
"God has come," said Jag. "It is Judgment Day."
"Nonsense. Guards, kill them."
Kirk had had enough. "Madam, listen to me."
"Leave this to the experts, Kirk," said Fox.
"Shut up, Ambassador." Kirk stepped forward. A burly Romulan
guards took hold of his arms. Jim twisted but the Romulan held
"Bring forth the Human Captain," said the Praetor. Jim was
dragged forward, his heels leaving black scuffs on the stone
floor. "I had heard you were a warrior, Kirk."
"I am. Was. Once. I'm an explorer now."
"Indeed. In any event, you lack discipline. That offends me."
"I apologize, Praetor. But this game could go on all day. What
the ambassadors say is true. Surely dammit, let go
of me!" The Praetor nodded to the guard and Kirk was released.
"We're not naive. Regardless of what you think of our individual
races, you must know that to be true." Jim nodded at the
assembled beings. "Humans are skeptical by nature. Vulcans are
creatures of logic. Jag's kind, those of Tellar, test each
proposition by heated debate. And a Klingon would never accept
the word of any of the others without absolute, independent
"Prove your words to me, then," said Leestra, her dark eyes
"Federation science has known for centuries of a black hole at
the center of our galaxy," said Jim. "In the last few weeks, our
subspace astronomers have detected a surge in its
size a massive increase in its rate of growth. That
could be a natural phenomenon. Indeed, none of us would
have considered it anything else, despite its deadly
consequences, if it weren't for the message from the Being and
the the happenings. Surely something similar
has occurred here, Praetor. Something cutting through your
civilization to its archetypes, exposing the roots of your
"Speak plainly, Human, or not at all."
"I am, Madam. Believe me. I don't understand it all myself.
But these happenings can't be easily explained."
Jag shuffled forward. "On my planet, a messiah has been born."
"The affairs of Tellar do not interest me."
"It's not just Tellar, dammit," said Kirk. "It's every planet,
"Sarek, your presence is the only thing that causes me to give
credence to these ravings. What say you?"
"On Vulcan," said Sarek, "an occurrence private to my kind has
"The mere fact of the occurrence is sufficient. Its nature is
"We are cousins, Romulan and Vulcan. Our stock sprang from a
common sea. I will know what has befallen the disciples of
Sarek was silent for a moment, then: "Every seven years, T'Kuht,
a rogue planet, draws close to Vulcan. The year that it
dominates Vulcan's sky is pon farr, the time of mating.
At some point during the year of pon farr, plak tow
will seize each sexually mature male. Each will feel his blood
boil, his logic stripped from him. He must ... seek ... his
bondmate, the female he mind-touched as a boy, upon completion of
the kahs-wan, the male rite of passage."
Kirk noticed that Leestra looked fascinated. Evidently, the
details of mating differed for Romulans.
"Plak tow for each individual rarely lasts more than a
day," Sarek continued, "assuming the bondmate is close to hand.
Further, though the orbit of T'Kuht defines pon farr, the
year of mating, the individual sexual frenzy of plak tow
may begin for any male at any time during the pon farr
year. Thus only a small proportion of Vulcan males are usually
effected by plak tow at one time."
"Usually ... ?" said Leestra.
Sarek gave an almost imperceptible nod. "There is a Vulcan
fiction dating to just after the Reform. It tells of a day when
all males will undergo the plak tow simultaneously, a day
when all will reveal their inner selves." He paused. "That day
has come. The cities of ShiKahr and TilKahr'fin are in ruins.
More than a million died in the space of two days."
"I hadn't heard about that," said Kirk.
"In the family," said Sarek, "all is silence."
Nobody spoke for several seconds. "And from Earth?" Leestra
said at last. "I suppose you have some fairy tale to tell me as
well, Humans?" Leestra sounded cavalier, but Jim could see that
Sarek's story had upset her. He looked at Fox.
"As you know," said Fox, "Earth is unusual as planets go.
Great bodies of water separate it into discrete nations, each,
historically, with its own culture."
"So I have heard. It's an intriguing scenario from a domestic
"Sadly, that was true in the past. Because of this
there are many, many religions, sub-religions, and cults on
Earth. One that is major is Christianity."
"It is a worship of the son of God."
"No, no, no. The God."
"You have only one?"
"The universe has been unkind to you. Romulus has fourteen gods.
Still, the story you tell has a familiar ring to it. Tell me:
this Godson lived a long time ago, no? And since that time,
you've been expecting your God to have further progeny?"
"No. We that is, many of us expect the
same son to come back."
"And he has?"
"No. Not yet, anyway."
"Then what miraculous thing has happened on Earth?"
"No one has claimed to be the son of God for months."
"What you say makes no sense."
"You see," said Fox, "on Earth, it is common for people to claim
to be God's son, the Christ."
Leestra looked thoughtful. "Humans are a deceitful ilk. They
would lie about such a thing."
"They are not lying. Many of those who say it genuinely believe
"How do you know they aren't telling the truth?"
"Well, it's complicated "
"But now the influx of children of your God has
"There's been a complete lack of reported cases of the delusion."
"And this is miraculous?"
"Perhaps not," said Fox. "But it is inexplicable."
Leestra barked a laugh. "Here are the finest of the Federation
and the Klingon Empire, cowering because of children's stories."
"Surely something similar has happened on your world," said Fox.
"Of course not. Romulans are creatures of reason." She looked
pointedly at Sarek. "We used to say the same was true of our
cousins, the Vulcans. But no longer."
"Has no Romulan received the message?" asked Kirk.
"From the Being."
"I was one of those who heard it," said Fox, stepping forward.
"A full one percent of the Humans on Earth also heard it. That's
twenty million people."
"One common delusion has replaced another for your people, then."
"Tellarites heard it, too," said Jag.
"And Vulcans," said Sarek, "including T'Pau, matriarch of the
"T'Pau? And what did this message say?"
"It said "
Suddenly the Praetor crumpled from her throne. Sarek quietly
twisted free from his guard, rendering him unconscious with a
nerve pinch to the base of his neck. He bent low beside Leestra
and placed a hand on her side, feeling for a pulse. "Summon a
healer," he called in Romulan highspeak. Across the chamber one
of the other guards fell as well. Sarek turned his face to Jim.
"Kirk, it is happening to her. Now."
Dammit, thought Jim. She's receiving the message. Why wasn't
I one of those who heard it? How can I make my
Sarek had spread his fingers and placed them over the Praetor's
face. "Kirk, Jag, Koloth, come quickly," he said in a low voice.
Jim could see the Praetor's eyes rolling around under closed
lids. Her breathing was ragged, raspy. Sarek closed his eyes as
well and began chanting in ancient Vulcan. "Tyla afsan k'too
The guards rushed to Leestra's side, but did nothing. There was
nothing to do.
Fox spoke. "Jag, Kirk, hold hands." Jim clasped the Tellarite's
shaggy three-fingered paw. "Koloth, take mine."
"Tyla afsan k'too p'pra "
"Now place your free palms flat on Sarek's back
"Tyla afsan k'too p'pra "
"Clear your minds, all of you!"
"Tyla afsan k'too tun!"
Kirk felt his mind reel under contact with Sarek's. The Vulcan
was shielding himself, but Leestra, unconscious, was bare before
Kirk. He felt her joys and sorrows, her goals, the terrible
thing that had happened to her as a child ...
Suddenly another presence was there. Not Sarek, not Praetor
Leestra, not Jag or Koloth. Someone else. Something
Size. Great size and strength. Force. Power.
Intellect. Kirk's mind burst with sensations. Beauty.
Imagination. Ideas. Age. Age.
Images. Spheres. Filaments. Tendrils. Tentacles. Swirling
Concentrate on the words. The tasks have been completed. Now
the day ofjudgmentisa
Concentrate harder! The day of judgment is at
Every millimeter of Kirk's skin was charged with electricity.
What I have created, I will end
More images. Stars rushing together. Blue shifting.
Coalescing. Collapsing. A singularity. Darkness. Entropy.
Concentrate! Prepare yourselves ...
Sarek lifted his fingers slowly from Leestra's face. His cheeks
were flushed green with blood. Kirk fell back. His legs
wouldn't move. He shook himself, slowly regaining control of his
body. Fox helped him to his feet. There was a little smile
adding another crease to the Earth Ambassador's features. Fox
had recovered more quickly, for he'd heard/felt/seen the message
before. Kirk smiled back at the ambassador. For the first time
he felt affection for the older man. A bond had formed between
them, for now they had both been touched by the Being.
Leestra was regaining consciousness. Her eyelids fluttered.
Romulan guards helped her to her feet. She rose and walked with
a stiff movement. Kirk recognized the gait, that of a leader in
pain who refused to show weakness a posture he had
affected many times.
Leestra straightened her dark robe and seated herself stiffly on
the Praetorian throne. "Kirk "
"Kirk, it was real?"
Jim wished he knew the answer. God, how he wished he knew! "I
"And you, Klingon? What say you?"
Jim turned to face Koloth. A vertical ridge of flesh, gorged
red, was raised up on Koloth's forehead. His gums were drawn
back showing teeth. "I shall fight the Being," he said at last.
The words were hard, measured, each syllable accompanied by a
clenching of fists. "No one commands a Klingon! If the galaxy
is to have a day of judgment, it will be at the hands of
"I do not intend to passively stand by as the galaxy collapses
into a black hole. If the collapse is indeed controlled by a
sentient creature, then that creature must be stopped. In this,
I stand by the Klingon."
"Praetor," said Kirk. "The collapse of the galactic core is a
fact: it's really happening. Soon the increased gravitational
pull will knock planets out of their orbits. Earth will boil
away; Romulus will freeze solid. We can't fight a black hole.
But we can fight the Being that claims to be causing it."
"And if this Being is a god?" asked Leestra.
"Many people have come to believe that," agreed Jim. "Many more
are terrified. I I don't know what to make of it.
But I do know that we're entitled to answers. Even God owes his
children that much."
"And how do we get such answers?"
"We know where the message came from."
Sarek stepped forward. "We know the times the message reached
the various Federation worlds as well as when it was heard on the
planets of the Klingon Empire. If we assume the message was but
a single broadcast at a set speed, it is simple enough to deduce
its source. Or, rather, it was a simple matter. I am at a loss
to explain why the message is some days late in reaching Romulan
"And where do you believe the Being to be?" asked Leestra.
"Deep in the territory of the Tholian Assembly."
"Then why come to Romulus?"
"We need you," said Kirk. "We're assembling a fleet to confront
"An armada? A great battleforce?"
Kirk felt a knotting in his gut. He wished she hadn't called it
that. Koloth stepped forward, his claws extending in reflex.
"It will be the most devastating power in the universe. Not even
a god will be able to resist it."
"And you would have Romulans fly with you?" asked Leestra.
"Yes," said Kirk.
"There would have to be terms."
Robert Fox bowed. "That's what my colleagues and I are here
"The challenge is great ... " said Leestra, a glimmer in
her eye. "To fight a god "
Jim thought of the images he'd seen in the Being's message:
The end of the universe ... "Maybe that's exactly what
we'll have to do," he said at last.
Spitting dust onto the ground, Koloth forced his legs another
step against Romulus's cruel gravity. The shrine was built atop
a giant cairn of rocks. The summit was less than a thousand
paces from the Praetor's palace, but he cursed each step. His
hearts pounded out of sync as he climbed higher, finally getting
his first clear look at the shrine up above. It was a stark
frame, like a wooden building abandoned before completion. Dry
wind shrieked through the gray members as his knuckles, shredded
on the rocks, found handholds to hoist himself higher. He
climbed nearer, wearing a backpack of kleetzadt hide, the
straps cutting into his shoulders. Romulus and Remus were low on
the horizon, gaseous streamers stretched between them. Koloth
scrabbled to the top of the knoll. Klingon blood welled forth
from a crack in the rocks. Cautiously, he lowered a finger into
the hot liquid and flared his nostrils, testing for the smell of
death. He brought the wet finger to his mouth. The taste was
bitter with mineral salts. In front of him the rocks were
scarred by a gridwork of double red shadows as the twin suns,
bloated and dim, dipped behind the shrine. He bent to the spring
and splashed his face with the bubbling liquid, ruby-colored in
the dying light. Rising, shifting the weight of his pack, he
forced himself over the final distance to the shrine.
He grabbed one of the beams, a short cylinder knobbed at each
end, to steady himself. He hated the ragged sound of his
breathing, was glad no one else could hear it. His eyes stung
with perspiration. The beam was hard and cool to the touch. It
glinted in the fading light, apparently coated with clear plastic
or resin. He stood back a few paces to get a good look at the
shrine. It was by no means a huge structure: some twenty paces
in length, half that in breadth, and perhaps twice his own
height. The design was an eerie lattice, a twisted skeletal
Skeletal. By Kahless's claws, the thing was made of bone!
Gnarled columns of a hundred vertebrae rose high over his head.
Femurs joined to form archways; ribs and assorted smaller bones
traced out geometric shapes. Through the wide gaps between the
bones, Koloth saw a geodesic dome of Romulan skulls at the center
of the shrine, empty eyesockets facing out in all directions.
Fresh sweat soaked his brow. He stepped to the shrine's opening,
a doorframe of shoulder blades. Wind whistled through the
structure, tossing his hair. He didn't know where to leave his
package. Klingon custom, of course, would have had it burned in
the funeral pyre with the dead one's inedible remains.
"His is the white skull, near the top."
Koloth jumped, twisting at the apex of his leap. He hit ground,
claws extended, facing the intruder. A figure stepped from the
shadow: lithe with hip-length ebony hair whipping about her.
The young Praetor stood quietly. Koloth straightened. "I meant
no disrespect, Leestra." He stepped towards her. His nostrils
caught her Romulan odor, different now than last he'd smelled
her. He took off his backpack, grateful to be free of its
weight. "I've brought a gift for your father," he said, pulling
at the gut ties. "I don't know what your custom is, but on
Klingon we show our respect for the one who died thus." Her eyes
were on him, unblinking. Koloth wished she would speak. "It's a
game board," he said, pulling a wooden pyramid into view. He
held it in front of him for her to see the lacquered wood, the
strong lines of its craftsmanship. "Your father enjoyed the
clouded game." Koloth looked back at the sphere of skulls,
finding the fresh one. "Now," he said, his voice soft, "he can
play only the reflective game."
"My father needs no gift from you." The words were sharp.
"I ask for nothing in return." Koloth tried to fathom her
expression. "I simply wish to mark his passing in the manner of
Leestra stepped sideways, blocking the exit arch. Koloth eyed
her again, then moved slowly back to the sphere of skulls. He
set the pyramid at its base. The skulls seemed to float a
distance above the ground, each not quite touching the one near
it. A support, then, he told himself, concealed by a cloaking
device. He reached a hand forward to feel the space between
skulls, but jerked it back, deciding he'd rather not know if he
"It's a strange custom," he said, his back to Leestra, trying to
sound brave, "this erecting structures of bones."
She was silent for several heartbeats. "They are the bones of
Praetors Past," Leestra intoned finally, as if it were a line
from a litany. "Here rests the katra of each."
Koloth had heard the term before: living spirit, immortal soul.
He turned to face her. "I thought that was a myth."
"You Klingons are so blind." She spread her arms wide. "I hear
them." She closed her eyes. "S'tark and Tipna. Karzan the
Elder and S'torat. The younger Karzan and Mekt. And my father,
"My people do not grieve the ending of a life well-lived,
Leestra. Your father was a great man."
"He was a fool."
Koloth shook his head. He must be out of practice in Romulan
highspeak. That can't have been what she said. "He was a man of
"You mean you found him easily duped."
"I know not what you mean."
"I expect lies from Klingons "
" but your lies are transparent. You rose to
prominence in your Empire by weakening my people. Did they honor
you on your return to Klingon?"
"To be the Empire's envoy to our great neighbor was considered an
honor in itself."
"Oh, the vanity of the creature!" She laughed, a cold, throaty
sound like a metal pick breaking up ice. "It was your
punishment, your penance for losing that colony world in the
Donatu sector to the Federation." She stepped toward him. "Your
race is a race of children, squabbling, toothless, and weak."
Her voice rose. "I am Praetor now, heir to G'ten's throne.
There will be reforms."
"A Praetor would serve her people well by not insulting
Leestra fixed Koloth with a stare. "We've gained nothing by
association with your kind."
"Warp drive is a trifle to you, is it?" Koloth shook his head.
"You gave us nothing we wouldn't have developed on our own. We
would have harnessed the forces of matter-antimatter annihilation
"Eventually, no doubt." Koloth, still weary from his climb,
lowered himself onto the rocky floor of the shrine. "Perhaps
even in your lifetime, Praetor."
"I give your spies credit for more perception than that, Klingon.
You knew we were within two years of having an operational warp
drive. And you were terrified."
"A Klingon fears nothing." Koloth bared his teeth.
"Klingons fear everything."
"Insult me again, woman, and you will feel my talons."
"You threaten me, Klingon? You threaten the leader of Romulus?
Attack me if you dare."
Koloth spread his arms. "Praetor, our peoples are at peace."
"A Klingon using treaties as an excuse not to fight? You're
pathetic, even for your wretched species."
Koloth felt his blood boiling. His claws extended, a reflex
"Attack me coward."
He leapt to his feet, lunging at Leestra. She grabbed his arm
and threw him across the shrine. He hit hard against a lattice
of leg bones, tasting salt blood in his mouth. She was over to
him in one fluid motion, tossing him against the rocky ground.
Koloth, dazed, tried to get up, but Leestra planted a boot firmly
in the center of his chest. "Lie still, weakling, and hear my
Koloth, eyes flaring, teeth bared, could think of no response.
"I know of your treachery, Klingon." She let more of her weight
rest on Koloth's chest. "Our plasma-energy bolts can melt the
crust of worlds. Your ships were faster but our cloaks of
invisibility let us penetrate deep into your territory
undetected. We would easily have defeated you then." She lifted
her boot and crushed it into his chest. Koloth winced as a rib
cracked. "But you swindled my father."
"We brought to Romulus the gifts of advanced technology."
"Silence, Klingon, or you die now. The Federation has us hemmed
into a small area. My father thought he could conserve our
resources by obtaining weapons and ships from your kind. He gave
you what you wanted. Our cloaking devices. Our weapons. But
you cheated us with obsolete technology."
"My Lord, I assure you "
"You've seen my new birds-of-prey. We have our own warp-driven
ships now. And our spies have brought us the plans of your new
K't'inga-class vessels." She took her foot off Koloth's
chest. "Soon all Klingons will quake under the fist of Romulus."
Koloth tried to get up, but pain sliced through him like a knife.
Leestra was at the exit, her body haloed by the archway of
shoulder blades. "Before this mission is over, Koloth, I will
exact from you revenge for my father."
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