The House of Kritus

Written by  on October 15, 2002 

Blood is thicker than water… and for the Klingons, it flows just as freely.

Written by FatMatDuhRat, Michael B, and Drakkenfyre

Stardate 76449.8
Release 15 Oct 2002

Tall grasses swayed in the warm wind as the man stood atop his hill and observed the plains. Fat seeds pulled the grain low to the earth, but this bounty was not for a Klingon, but for the lesser animals that would feed the sacred targ. He stood tall and upright, like his ancestors since the beginning of their recorded history, as he searched the air for the scent of prey. The sunset shifted to blood red as it passed the horizon and signaled feeding time on the plains. A rumbling began, almost below the threshold of his senses, and far off in the distance a cloud of dust rose, in spite of the muggy air—a testament to the power of the approaching storm.

Turning to the grasses, he saw three hunters lying in wait. They crouched low and allowed the plants to hide them; positioning their crude spears at the ready, they waited.

Every night, Kalan journeyed to this place in history, triggered by something buried in his blood. The sea of grass rippled one way, then the other on the plains, just as they did on thousands of fields on hundreds of planets that his people had visited and conquered since long before his time. Back and forth with the wind, this was an eternal rhythm never broken by a single man, no matter how powerful. The timelessness reassured him.

The targ drew near and the men, acting as one unified being, turned to each other and displayed faces of fierceness rarely seen in the modern age. They were wary, but not afraid of the goring tusks and trampling hooves that approached from the horizon. The three waited, motionless, until the throng of angry beasts was almost upon them. Bolting upright and shrieking they instantly diverted the stampede.

He knew this tactic well. The targ would only redirect if the hunters appeared threatening enough to frighten the thoughtless beasts. Then the hunters would be able to spear them as they passed, each jab bringing down one after another.

This time, it seemed, one of the hunters did not survive. With regret, Kalan looked upon him and reflected on his selfless act. It did happen sometimes, but as a strong and healthy targ could feed a family for a week, they took the chance—this time, one paid with his life. He began his silent prayer of homage for the fallen, but then spied the other two arguing, with no slain animals at their feet. This juvenile conduct did not befit the role of a hunter, so Kalan moved towards them, to understand the nature of their quarrel.

His sense of unease grew as he closed the distance, so he increased his pace, first to a gait, then to a sprint. He was fit and graceful as he swiftly closed the distance and his silent footfalls did not attract their attention. Only when he was nearly upon them did they react by looking at him with horror and, Kalan thought, shame. They said nothing, so Kalan crouched to perform the death ritual and as he did, he came to an awful realization. While neither of the two remaining had a spear in his hands, the dead hunter had one in his hand and one in his back.

"Kim to Commander Kalan."

Kalan awoke with a start to the sound of his captain summoning him to the bridge. "Kalan here," he called out to the intercom.

"Sorry to disturb you, XO," came the voice of Harry Kim from the darkness. "We’re receiving a hail from the Victorious. She’ll be arriving in-system shortly."

"I’ll be on my way," he acknowledged and prepared himself for duty. The arrival of the Victorious weighed heavily on his mind, but the dream tore at him even more.

Captain’s Log: Stardate 76449.8

After several weeks, our efforts here in the Delta Quadrant are finally beginning to pay off. The treaty between the Talaxians and the Haakonians has been successfully negotiated and both sides are earnestly trying to make it work. Delta One is now up and running and the hyperlink node appears to be working flawlessly. We’ve managed several clear transmissions to Delta Fleet Command and Commander Vorik assures me that we’ll have full holographic communications capability by end of day today. After being out of touch with their loved ones for so many weeks, I’m sure the crew will be pleased with that.

Even more welcome is the upcoming arrival of our sister ship, the Victorious. Just knowing that the rest of the fleet will soon be joining us out here makes us all feel a little less lonely in this distant part of space. And as gracious as the Talaxians have been as hosts, I think we’re all eager for the Victorious to relieve us so that Enterprise can finally begin the active phase of our mission and start exploring the Delta Quadrant.

On a personal note, I too eagerly await for the Victorious to arrive. More than a few of us have old friends that we look forward to seeing again

Captain Harry Kim nodded slightly at the turbolift entrance as Kalan emerged and took his customary seat to the right of his commanding officer. His terminal displayed miniature holograms of the Victorious as she came on approach to the Talaxian system, but only the viewscreen on long-range scan displayed her true majesty. It was easy to forget, while on the bridge, how large the Enterprise really was, but seeing the other vessel gave them an idea of the scale and importance of their mission.

"Sorry to wake you, Commander," said Harry gently. "I thought you’d want to be here when Victorious pulled in. I know you were on with Gamma shift last night."

"It’s of no consequence," said Kalan proudly. "Some nights one is better off without sleep."

"Captain," Lieutenant Wildman said from Ops, "we’re receiving a hail from the Victorious,"

"Put it onscreen," Kim directed.

The image from the bridge of the Victorious flashed onto the large screen, showing a confident middle-aged Ferengi wearing a Starfleet captain’s uniform. Even after so many years, Kalan was still uncomfortable with a Ferengi in charge of a starship—and even commanding Klingons. Yet, Captain Nog had a certain dignified presence, one he had seen in the leaders from his past that he respected.

"Captain Kim!" Nog greeted him. "It’s been far too long."

"For both of us, Captain Nog," Harry replied joyfully. "Being this far from home it means a lot to see another familiar face. Welcome to the Delta Quadrant, and to Talax."

"Thank you, Captain," the Ferengi chuckled. "I hope our dropping in like this hasn’t given the Talaxians a fright."

Kalan was also struck by how youthful Nog acted, despite stories he had heard of his past, such as the grave injuries he suffered during the Dominion War.

"Not at all," said Harry. "I think they’re getting used to Discovery-sized starships dropping in on them. In any event, the People’s Assembly asked me to convey their respects to you and your crew. I’ll be happy to provide all the necessary introductions."

"I’m just pleased you arrived to find the political climate so welcoming," Nog answered. "It makes our job a lot easier."

"Not to mention mine," said a familiar light-hearted voice from off screen, the speaker of which then leaned into view.

"Neelix!" Harry exclaimed joyfully. "Or should I say, Mr. Ambassador?"

"Oh, just plain old Neelix will do fine from you, Captain," the elder Talaxian answered with a chuckle. "It’s always a pleasure to see you again." His attention then glanced over to the rear of the bridge, the where Naomi stood at her station. "And that goes double for you too, Lieutenant."

"Hello, Neelix," Naomi answered with a flush and a wide smile. "I should say ‘welcome,’ but I think ‘welcome home’ might be more appropriate."

"I suppose it does," he said with greater thought and less levity. The designated Federation ambassador to Talax had always had his misgivings about one day returning to the world that he had left behind so many decades ago. Now he was back, and in an official capacity, no less.

Captain Nog then coughed, indicating to the gregarious diplomat that he was requested a turn to speak. Only this time, the Ferengi shifted his attention to Harry’s side. "Commander Kalan," he said, "your cousin Mokar has been a fine addition to our Gamma shift, so much so that I invited him to join us here for the rendezvous." Nog then gestured to an auxiliary bridge station. A Klingon officer wearing a lieutenant’s golden shirt was seen at his station. He had a more youthful face than Kalan’s, narrower with a more pointed beard. But the familiar resemblance was unmistakable.

"Mokar," Kalan acknowledged him neutrally, not displaying any hint of affection or resentment.

"Cousin," Mokar answered, equally dispassionate.

Perplexed, the two captains looked at each other. Harry had know that his first officer had a relative aboard the Victorious, but somehow he had expected a reunion between two Klingon relatives to be somewhat more…Klingon. Looking to move on from the uncomfortable silence that had been left hanging in the air, Kim spoke: "Well, Captain, why don’t you bring your command team over to the Enterprise for dinner as soon as you arrive?"

"Thank you for the invitation," said Nog. "We should up at Talax shortly. Say at 1900 hours?"

"I’ll have our chefs prepare something special," said Harry.

"Excellent," Nog answered. "We’ll see you then. Victorious out."

Harry then looked over his shoulder at his Ops officer. "Lieutenant, I’ll trust you to see to the arrangements for our guests?"

"I’m right on it, sir," Naomi answered proudly.

Harry grinned warmly at his young officer. "Knowing Neelix, I’m sure he’ll want to spend some time with you and Sabrina before dinner. Feel free to take the rest of your shift off as soon as you have our reception taken care of."

"Thank you, sir," she answered with a blush.

Before Kalan could say anything, Kim turned to him, "Commander, why don’t we take a tour of engineering in the meantime?"

The pair stepped into the turbolift and when the door closed, Kim said, "Tell me about your cousin."

"Sir?" Kalan did not like the way this conversation was heading, as family matters were not something he thought should be aired with a superior. Unfortunately, a captain’s question was not easily avoided.

"I sensed some tension in that conversation," said Harry. "Normally I don’t like to pry into anyone’s personal affairs, but if there’s something between you two that might affect our mission…"

"There is nothing," said Kalan, a bit too quickly. "Mokar is merely…unexceptional. He has not yet distinguished himself in battle, and my rank and appearance by your side is a reminder to him of that fact. However, he is of the House of Kritis and will not falter if called upon."

"Well, are you two close? Did the two of you grow up together?"

The Klingon replied, "Of course. As is our custom, all of the household’s children are raised together."

Captain Kim looked directly at him and asked, "I get the sense you’re being deliberately evasive, XO. Are you sure there isn’t something between you two that I should know about?"

"Respectfully, sir, I prefer to keep my family life… within the family. Be assured that my relations with Lieutenant Mokar do not in any way affect Enterprise or our mission."

"Okay, then," said Harry warily, still not quite convinced, but willing to let the matter drop. They rode the rest of the way in silence. When the doors opened, they turned to the usual work-related discourse. However, while the captain was absorbed by the duties of command, Kalan couldn’t help but feel if somehow his dream of the hunt had something to do with Mokar. And if it did, what would that mean for him.

Katrina Kim carefully made her way towards the closed door of Science Lab 2. They quietly swished open for her the moment she moved in front of them. The young raven-haired Romulan slowly glanced around the spacious room before she stepped inside.

Earlier in the day, Katrina was in the school library trying to study when she suddenly came up with a great idea. She called up an HPADD to cross-reference the words "observation within a natural environment" and "Anthropology, famous scientists." The first result that appeared before her was an image of a human woman and a chimpanzee. Katrina brushed the other pictures away as she concentrated on the text that surrounded the two holographic figures. She then spent the next half an hour reading all she could about Dr. Jane Goodall.

And now, the zealous teenager had decided to test out her own hypothesis. She was going to spy on a pair of Romulan scientists as they performed their regular series of assignments. Katrina knew that Dr. T’Villet and his assistant, Lt. Rinh’tva, would be the only people on duty tonight. She’d seen the daily roster floating in front her mother’s place during breakfast. It only took a few seconds for her to read the twin Romulan names placed at the bottom of the list and figure out what time they’d be arriving.

She was lucky that no one else, including her mother, would be coming into the Lab this night. Technically speaking, Katrina was not supposed to be in here at all. But regardless of the break in protocol, the young girl felt that it was worth the risk. Her experiment was going to be the same type of endeavor that Dr. Goodall had gone through, and it made her pretty nervous as she examined the room while trying to find a good place to hide.

Most of the extraneous scientific equipment was pushed against the wall and arranged into tall stacks. But after a few minutes of searching, Katrina saw that there was a tiny amount of space hidden behind a pile of metal boxes. She had to duck under a table and crawl a few feet before settling down onto the cold, hard floor. She pushed two of the heavy containers apart and stared at the main workstation in the center of the room.

Katrina was insatiably curious about all of the other Romulans she’d seen on board the Enterprise. So far, she’d only been able to have a few conversations with the ship’s CMO, but Dr. Saldeed wasn’t very helpful to her at all. Her final decision was to venture out on her own and see what she could discover. All she really wanted to do was listen to what Romulans say to each other and watch how they act amongst themselves.

She tucked her knees under her chin and tried to get comfortable. There wasn’t anything to worry about now. No one knew that she was there, and none of Krell’s "Yellows" were on patrol. The only thing she could do was sit there, and wait.

By 1750 hours, the Victorious had arrived in orbit around Talax and pulled up alongside her sister ship. The sight of a second Discovery-class vessel just outside of Enterprise’s viewports excited many of the crew, eager for anything that reminded them of home.

But for Lieutenant Naomi Wildman, the only timetables that mattered were those of the last minute preparations with the Mess staff via the intercom, and waiting for the babysitter to arrive.

"No, Crewman," she called out to the ether as she struggled with the collar of her formal dress uniform in front of the full length mirror in her bedroom. "You’ll be serving dinner for a party of at least four humans, three Klingons, an Andorian, a Vulcan, a Romulan, a Talaxian, and a Ferengi. Under the circumstances, I’d be very conservative with the choice of liqueurs." She then broke away from the conversation to glance downward, where her daughter stood patiently at her side. "What do you think, sweetie?" she said to Sabrina with a smirk. "Does my collar look okay?"

"Ma’am?" came the nervous voice of the mess officer.

"I was talking to my daughter!" Naomi called out with a groan. "Just…just don’t serve anything too sweet for after dinner drinks. Wildman out."

"Very nice," Sabrina beamed up at her mother, giving the formal uniform an approving nod. "You look like an admiral, Mommy."

"Maybe that’s not such a good idea," Naomi chuckled. "I wouldn’t want the captain to think I’m bucking for a promotion." The door chime then rang out, and Naomi exited the bedroom into the main living room to answer it.

"Neelix!" Naomi shouted with glee as she answered the door to see her Talaxian godfather standing with bearing and dignity in his understated diplomatic attire. She immediately bent down to embrace him with affection, seeing as she now stood a head taller than him.

"I requested to beam over early," said Neelix. "We had so little time to speak before Enterprise left Beta Antares, I wanted the chance to spend some time with you and Sabrina before dinner."

"I know, and I’m sorry," she said regretfully as she led him inside to the sofa. "Launching a new ship, getting everything ready, you deserved more than just a com call."

"Oh, that’s not it at all," he gushed. "In fact, I’m very proud of you. Lieutenant Naomi Wildman. Look at you, all dressed up. You’ve come a long way, sweetie."

"Not as long a route as you, Mr. Ambassador," she answered with a smile of her own.

"Only because I was the only Talaxian available," he replied modestly. "I was…"

"Uncle Neelix!" came an angelic explosion from behind them as Sabrina burst into the room and ran up to the Talaxian. "I knew it was you!"

"Well, bless my heart," said Neelix as he hugged the little girl warmly. "I didn’t think you’d be up so late, little one. And here I thought I wouldn’t have time to read you a bedtime story."

"I don’t have to sleep this early," Sabrina chuckled. "I’m waiting up for Professor Mahat and Quozl!"

"Quozl?" Neelix asked as he looked curiously at Naomi. "Is he one of her new friends?"

"Quozl takes a little explaining," Naomi chuckled back, before leaning over to her daughter. "Honey, do you think you can change into your jammies now? Uncle Neelix and I have a lot to talk about before dinner."

"Okay, Mommy," said Sabrina, as she gave Neelix one last hug and kiss before darting into her own bedroom.

"She’s so precious," said Neelix. "Have you taken her down to Talax yet?"

"Three times," said Naomi. "She was a little disappointed to find out that there really weren’t any Ice Demons living in the Norax Mountains like in the Summer Queen stories. But other than that she found everything enchanting."

"Is that so?" he said with a giggle. "And how did you find Talax?"

"I think you’ll be very pleased by what you’ll find down there. It’s all very beautiful, and very hopeful."

The Talaxian ambassador sighed. "It was always beautiful. Just not always hopeful."

"Oh, Neelix," said Naomi sadly. "Are you sure about this? You’ve been away for so long, is this really what you want? When they offered you this position, you didn’t have to accept."

"I know," said Neelix. "Believe me, Naomi, this is what I want to do. Even if they hadn’t offered me a formal position, I’d have asked to come as a passenger sooner or later. As happy as I’ve been living in the Federation, I know that it’s time for me to come home. I’m getting old, you know."

"Oh don’t talk like that," said Naomi. "You’ve got decades ahead of you. You’re sounding like you’re going home to die or something." Then a look of panic came across the young woman’s face. "Neelix, you’re not…"

"What? Oh, goodness no!" Neelix laughed. "That’s not it at all. Its just…" he continued, his tone becoming more serious. "Well, I’m getting nostalgic in my old age, that’s all. When I left Talax behind to take up with Voyager, all I could think about was everything I had lost. But so much time has passed since then. Now when I think of Talax, I don’t think about the war or Rinax. I think about the Talax of my childhood. I want to hear Talaxian children singing Prixin hymns around the Guilding Trees again. Or see the glow of flixot swarms just before they leave for migration. Or maybe, just to taste a freshly baked piece of spiced mixi pie when its fresh out of the over and the temperature is just right!"

"Then I guess your mind is made up," she said sadly. "You know, you’ll be giving up a lot, everything you built up back in the Alpha Quadrant, and all your friends."

"Who says I’m giving anything up?" he replied jovially. "With hyperlink, everyone’s practically next door. And I’m sure that you, Harry, and Annika will be by to visit Talax any number of times."

"I suppose," she said with resignation, feeling the finality of his decision, wondering how often they’d have to speak once the Enterprise’s exploration mission went underway. After her mother’s death and her father’s emotional withdrawal, when she had found herself pregnant and alone, it was Neelix who had stood by her, her only real family left. "Is there anything I can do?"

"There is one thing," he said, his face crunched seriously, before melting into a buoyant grin. "You can take me into Sabrina’s bedroom so I can tell her the story of the Winter Princess and her rescue from the tower of the Ice Demons while waiting for your sitter to arrive."

Naomi giggled as though she were a little girl again. "You know, Neelix. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that story. Maybe I can sit in for this one?"

"Why of course," he said warmly. "You’re never too old for a story from your Uncle Neelix."

Kalan swiftly marched down the hallway and slipped inside the conference room doors, tugging at the dress uniform hastily adorned. He disapproved of lateness, but he was unavoidably detained by officiating over an honor challenge when he had to drag the loser to the infirmary. By the time he arrived, the dinner had begun. Captain Kim glanced at his XO with silent disapproval, but did not elaborate on his tardiness, allowing his first officer to take the empty seat to his right without comment.

He saw the command staff of the two starships seated along opposite sides of the dining table. From the Enterprise, there was the captain and his wife, Commanders Bartok and Vorik, and Dr. Saldeed. Seated next to the ambassador was Lieutenant Wildman, eagerly listening as the Ambassador regaled the two crews with a tale from his past. All were in their formal dress whites except for Dr. Kim, who was wearing a conservative green civilian gown, the only one present other than Ambassador Neelix in civilian attire. Directly across from them were the senior crew of the Victorious, including Captain Nog and his executive officer Thirishar ch’Thane, an Andorian with whom he had served for many years. Kalan recognized a burly Klingon seated near Captain Nog, Lt. Commander Toloth, the Victorious’ Chief Engineer. He knew of Toloth and his House and their many honorable deeds during the Dominion War. And a few seats down from Toloth was Mokar, who looked across the room at his cousin with a uneasy stare.

"You were right about Talaxian hospitality, Captain Kim," said Nog jovially to Harry. "I’ve received invitations from the People’s Assembly for three different receptions already."

"I think they just want to size you up," Harry said with a laugh. "After all, Victorious will be here for a while until more of the Fleet arrives."

"Quite true," said Commander ch’Thane. "The Odyssey and the Klothos should be coming out of slipstream in the next two weeks, with the Prosperity and the Majestic not long after."

Kalan listened as he moved to his seat, clapped a hand on the back of one of the Klingon lieutenants from the Victorious. The man looked up at him and offered a half-eaten haunch of pig. Kalan shook his head and moved on to the other officers that he had not seen since their departure from the Alpha Quadrant.

Just as he took his seat, Toloth from the Victorious hailed him with a hearty call. "You honor us with your presence, ZhantaI Kalan. Come, tell us of your tales of battle against the Kazon. Surely there are songs to be sung about these new foes, after so many years of peace back home."

Kalan bristled at the use of the title ZhantaI, especially this far away from the Empire. But he did not wish to delve into matters of Klingon politics in front of his new crewmates. "The battle was not worthy of song, Commander Toloth. The Kazon have yet to prove themselves an opponent equal to the Enterprise."

"And let’s hope they never do," Bartok interjected jovially.

Toloth’s eyes glanced over to where Mokar was seated, and then back again towards Kalan. "Two of the powerful House of Kritus are here before us, yet they do not sit together."

Kalan had not consciously considered that he should sit anywhere other than to the right of his Captain. It was already a habit for him, from his time on the bridge and in the conference room. In fact, it was his right to sit in that place of honor. He wasn’t trying to slight his cousin—or was he? He did not feel compelled to defend Mokar, even though the insult would be obvious had they been on Qo’noS. However, when he noticed the look of shock on Captain Nog’s face, Kalan said, "Toloth, you have had too much blood wine. You would do best to keep your mouth closed until you are sober, lest you provoke a challenge you are unable to defend against."

Toloth looked at him, confused, but did not speak. Across the table, Mokar sported a look of satisfaction upon his round and unblemished face.

The evening went on with much idle chitchat and pleasantries. By the time desert and after-dinner drinks were served, the two crews were mingling about the room. It was while Kalan was idly staring out the observation window that he heard his cousin approach him. "I would speak with you, Kalan," said Mokar.

Kalan studied him through narrowed eyes and gestured towards the door. What they most likely had to say to each other was not for anyone else to hear, and so they both walked out. In the outer hall, Mokar began, "It is good to see you again, cousin."

"Yes," said Kalan quietly, his discomfort barely hidden. "I assume your service aboard Victorious has gone well?"

"It has," said Mokar. "I feel at peace with this crew, more so than I ever did with the Imperial Forces."

Kalan said nothing, but just nodded his head in quiet agreement.

"You seemed troubled by Toloth’s words at dinner," said Mokar, his voice rising in timber. "Were you not glorious in battle against the Kazon? You have always fought fiercely and honorably in the past."

Ignoring Mokar’s comments, he stated, "I had another dream. I need your interpretation. I presume that you still study naj laD’taH," using the Klingon term for the ‘science’ of reading visions.

Mokar scowled at his cousin. "You barely acknowledge my presence since coming aboard your ship and now you snap your fingers at me as a ZhantaI." Seeing his words having the desired effect, he smiled and continued, "On the plains again?"

"Yes," Kalan growled, before calming himself and going on. "It is feeding time and I see the three hunters. One of them murders another in a most dishonorable way—by spearing him in the back."

Mokar nods. "That means they cannot be the Three Hunters of Qu’Inlat from the Book of To’Mar. They could be from the opera qorDu’ jagh if the third hunter avenged the death."

Kalan was growing frustrated. "No, I could not even tell which one did the killing, as they just stood there, bickering like children."

Mokar began to look uncomfortable. "Like children? Do you think they were related?"

"Perhaps," said Kalan wearily. "In fact, I am certain they were."

Mokar’s eyes then narrowed furiously at Kalan as realization of the dream’s meaning became clear to him. "Morath," he hissed. "The betrayal on the Plains of Takta, the dishonor which led brother to fight brother. Tell me, Kalan, have so many come to bow and scrape at your feet these many years that you’ve come to believe yourself as like Kahless himself?"

"I never asked for anyone to grovel before me," Kalan snarled in reply. "I have no use for such nonsense."

"Indeed?" Mokar shot back. "No use for being Kalan, son of Kritus, heir to the House of Kritus? No use for the future my father planned out for you? The rising star of the Empire, they call you. Even aboard the Victorious they speak your name. No matter how far I travel I can’t get away from ZhantaI Kalan. Even the Delta Quadrant isn’t far enough, so it would seem."

Kalan glared at his cousin with a look that would freeze hydrogen. "If I seem so high upon a pedestal to you, Mokar, it only looks that way from where you stand. I should never have bothered reaching out to you."

His cousin then roared back. "Don’t you mean ‘reaching down,’ cousin? If you are going to insult me, at least be more original than likening me to Morath in your visions. It’s not as though you’d be the first."

At that, Mokar walked away. Kalan was left with the feeling that he had not just been insulted, but smugly dismissed as well.

Only a moment later, Captain Kim stepped out of the conference room. He looked one way down the hallway, then the other and smiled.

"Kalan," he said, "there you are. I was wondering if you were ever going to join us. I guess I should have known that social gatherings were not your cup of tea. I know the feeling. At this point, even I needed to get some air."

Kalan said, "On the contrary, Captain, I have had all the air that I care to stand." He looked uncomfortable as he went on. "How much did you hear?"

"Just the insults at the end, I’m sorry to say," said Harry regretfully. "I don’t mean to be privy to family difficulties."

"It is…of no consequence," said the first officer with a brooding sigh.

"It didn’t sound like it was of no consequence from where I stood," said the captain. "Commander, as much as I hate to meddle, I think I need to know what’s going on here. You’re both officers of the Fleet, and I can’t have any family grudges clouding your judgment. What’s this all about?"

Kalan just shook his head, not looking his captain in the eye as he turned to look down the long corridor, in the direction to where his cousin had departed. "This has been brewing between us for a long time, Captain. It will not be solved today, I assure you of that."

Harry walked over to close the gap with his first officer. In retrospect, Kalan realized that a moment before the event, the hairs stood up on the back of his neck in anticipation of the coming danger. But it happened so quickly that there was nothing he could have done. There was simply a blinding flash of light where the HPADD projector panel had been along the wall, a great sudden force of wind, and then nothingness.

After she’d spent more than an entire hour conducting her "experimental observations," Katrina was able to deduce only one thing about the Romulan scientists: they were boring. She tried to make the situation more interesting by deactivating her combadge while listening to the two men. She hoped to gain a better understanding of the Rihannsu culture by hearing them speak in their own language.

Unfortunately, Dr. T’villet was proving himself to be a rather difficult subject for her to examine. He was intent on maintaining the same droll conversation that he’d been having with his assistant ever since they both walked into the room. If she had wanted to hear a detailed lecture regarding the wide variety of Talaxian geological compositions, Katrina would have simply asked her mom about it. But instead, she was stuck sitting on the uncomfortable metallic floor of this Science Lab, hiding behind some of the ship’s surplus material. She could hear the foreign voices echoing throughout the vast room, but the young teenager had stopped paying attention to them. She’d fallen into a sullen mood, and was now concentrating on a way to escape without being detected.

Suddenly, the doors to the Lab opened as if a great force had thrown them apart. Katrina flinched when she heard the staccato rhythm from a pair of heavy boots as they stomped past her. The new arrival was now standing directly in front of the two scientists, and before she heard the sound of the woman’s voice, Kat already knew whom it was. She began to worry about what kind of strict punishment her mother was going to enforce upon her. She’d been looking forward to spending some time with her friends before curfew, but she doubted that would still be the case now. Her mom was probably going to confine her quarters for the rest of the night, and that would be if she got off lucky.

Something was wrong though. Annika Kim’s voice normally sounded very stern, but it was quivering now as she spoke to the Romulans. Katrina heard one of them gasp and saw another rise to console her, but they were both pushed away as her mother quickly turned to face the area where her daughter was hiding.

"Katrina Kim," she called out, "I have detected your life signs within this room. There is no longer any need for you to hide. You will reveal yourself to me – now!"

Katrina swallowed hard and slid all the way out from behind the boxes that had concealed her. She meekly stood but couldn’t bring herself to raise her chin in order to look up at her mother. She waited for what seemed like forever, but just as she was about to open her mouth and speak, her mother made a quiet announcement that instantly silenced her.

"Why were you not wearing your combadge?!" Annika demanded frantically.

"I…uh, I forgot…"

"Unacceptable!" her mother shouted, her breathing ragged, her normal composure becoming undone as she spoke. "There was… an explosion. We must go to Sickbay and see your father, immediately."

A million thoughts flew through her head at once. An explosion – where? Her father? Was he hurt? Of course he was! Why else would he be in Sickbay? But how badly… and why did this happen?

She raised her eyes to see her mother looking directly at her. Both of them were clearly shaken by what had just happened, but now it was time to go. Katrina watched as her mother spun on her heel and left the room. Before her mind could run any further astray, she swiftly scurried after her.

It was sunset on the plains. Kalan once again stood on his hilltop and watched the landscape. This was his place of peace, where he could simply be, without the worries of being a son of the House of Kritus or even the expectations of being a first officer.

"There are the times of battles and the times in between, and each fills the heart for the other," the old line went. It was from the warrior-philosopher Takas, in a book that Mokar had given him, years ago, before…well, before. He had not read it until embarking on this trip, unfortunately, but until now he just had not had the time. It seemed that every moment of his life was filled with study and training for the day when he would lead his household. In his heart, though, he yearned for a few moments of peace.

In the distance, he could see three children playing in the tall grasses. They bounded and wrestled like hearty children should. They seemed so happy, but for some reason, he felt uneasy. He was so absorbed in his observations of the children, he almost didn’t notice until the last moment that the evening stampede of the targ was well underway. This would not be a cause for worry among adults, but these youngsters looked up and were suddenly very afraid.

Kalan watched as they started to run away from the herd, but their short legs would never be able to carry them away in time. He tried to run to them, to scare away the herd himself if need be, but his legs were frozen to the ground. He shouted and he screamed, but it made no sound and it made no difference. The children were going to be consumed by the thoughtless violence and there was nothing Kalan could do. Just like last time…

He awoke to the calm and even voice of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Saldeed.

"Glad to see you’re awake, Commander," said the Romulan physician. "Of course, I was confident that nothing could penetrate the Klingon skull."

Kalan glared at Saldeed as his vision came into focus and the herd faded into the recesses of his unconscious mind. "Your bedside manner is not appreciated, Doctor," he scowled at her. Looking past the attentive doctor, he could see that he was in Sickbay, laying on his back on a biobed. Standing just past him were two other familiar faces, Lieutenant Commander Vorik and Lieutenant Krell.

"I am pleased to see that you have awakened, Commander," said Vorik crisply. "Mr. Krell and I had hoped you might provide some clue as to what transpired in the corridor."

"The corridor…" he said, trying to remember. There had been a flash of bright light, and a loud thundering sound. "There was an explosion! The Captain! He is…"

"He’s recovering," said Saldeed. "He took more of the blast than you did, it would seem. He had some serious burns and a concussion, but he responded very well to dermal regeneration and he’s resting. The ship has been in the capable hands of Commander Vorik for the past twelve hours."

"Twelve hours!" Kalan sat up in alarm. "I have been unconscious for half a day! The ship…"

"Enterprise appears to be in no immediate danger," said Vorik calmly, "other than the fact that her two most senior officers have been assaulted." Kalan looked past the Vulcan officer to see the small gathering around another biobed further across the room. The captain was lying there, weak and hurt, but alive, his family surrounding him with their affection. And standing silently at his side, was…one of the Jem’Hadar. Obviously the captain had learned to make use of his new bodyguards quickly enough.

Krell stepped forward and looked uncomfortably at Kalan. "The explosion came from an access panel in the corridor where you and the captain were standing."

"Who…who was responsible?" asked the Klingon, his blood at a continuous boil. "Was there anything on the security logs?"

"That’s just it," said Krell. "There’s a fifteen minute gap in the logs for that section of the ship, from 1920 to 1935 hours, just after the crew from the Victorious beamed over. At first I thought because it was so close to the dinner reception that it might have been some kind of terrorist strike, maybe retaliation by some Talaxians for our involvement in the peace talks. But my people managed to identify the explosive. It’s sorium argine."

"What?" said Kalan with confusion, his head still ringing as he slid off of the biobed. "Sorium argine is a demolition explosive used by the Klingon Defense Forces. No race encountered by Voyager in the Delta Quadrant was known to employ it."

"Right," said Krell. "It’s difficult to detect on sensors unless you know what to look for, and the security lock on all shipboard replicators would never allow it to be made on board. I’m certain this wasn’t the work of Talaxian agitators or Kazon agents. The problem seems a lot closer to home to me."

"Precisely what are you saying, Lieutenant?" said Kalan sharply.

"Commander," said Krell reluctantly. "I don’t want to be making any accusations at this point of the investigation, but…there were several witnesses at the reception who saw you leaving with your cousin. A short while later, the captain steps out into the hall. A minute after that, the explosion goes off. Do you see where I’m heading, sir? I need to know if you think Lieutenant Mokar was action oddly last night."

Kalan’s thoughts were as black as night, as he pieced together more of Krell’s logic. Mokar acting oddly? He had been odd and out-of-step as a Klingon from the day the two cousins had come to be raised together. True, he was a sullen and unaccomplished warrior, one who held no regard for the honor of his House. But to settle his differences in such a manner, to attempt an assassination using explosives rather than challenging him to his face in honorable combat, it was almost unthinkable…except for one such as Mokar.

"Commander," said Krell, "I don’t want to suspect your cousin, but the evidence is beginning to look that way, especially since all the Klingons I questioned said Mokar was untrustworthy, though they wouldn’t say why."

Suddenly, Kalan grew furious, but not at Lieutenant Krell. "Why he is untrustworthy should be apparent to all!" he shouted. "Mokar is a weak and traitorous dog, who could not be bothered to look me in the eye if he wanted me dead!"

"Commander," said Vorik cautiously, "perhaps such a conclusion is premature at this time. Lieutenant Krell is still conducting his investigation, and…"

"Does Lieutenant Krell have an opinion?" Kalan retorted facetiously as he turned to the security officer.

Krell stood his ground, not showing any intimidation in the face of everyone’s attention. "Begging the Commander’s pardon, but I usually don’t like to rush my investigations until I’ve dotted and crossed everything. But speaking from where the evidence is headed, then I’d say yeah, it looks like Lieutenant Mokar is our man."

"Then that is all that I need," said Kalan to Krell, but also for Vorik’s benefit as well. "Mr. Krell, you will accompany me to find my cousin and place him under arrest." He then turned sharply towards Doctor Saldeed. "May I presume that I’ll be allowed to leave Sickbay and resume my duties?"

"Limited duty schedule," said Saldeed. "Just until I’m certain your skull is still in one piece. Besides, I doubt I could keep you here."

"Commander," said Vorik, evidently perturbed by this passionate rush to judgment, "what precisely do you expect to accomplish by having Mr. Krell accompany you to arrest Lt. Mokar?" Logic clearly showed that the facts of this matter were still incomplete, and that Commander Kalan was making accusations in the face of only circumstantial evidence and a questionable motive as to the accused’s character.

"What I expect, Commander," said Kalan angrily, "is that Mr. Krell will be there to keep me from killing my cousin on the spot, should I be so inclined when I next lay eyes upon him."

Harry Kim awakened, and he knew right away that he was lying flat on his back. He groaned while trying to flex his muscles, and then he slowly peeled his eyes open. His sight wandered around aimlessly for a few moments before it settled upon something familiar. An incredibly beautiful woman was sitting next to him, and the long strands of her golden hair dipped onto his face as she leaned over to gently embrace him.

When his wife eventually let go and sat down by his side, Harry saw that there was another well-known person in the room with him. He felt two small hands pressed tightly against one of his. Very softly, he raised his head and gazed lovingly at his daughter. Katrina leapt up to throw her arms around his neck, but she remembered to restrain herself and gave him a light hug instead.

Dr. Saldeed had been kind enough to put a partition around the Captain’s bed in order to ensure some privacy for him and his family. Harry stared at the ceiling and noticed that the lights within it were significantly darker compared to the rest of Sickbay. Nurse Baker casually strolled by, and he watched as the holographic woman continued to walk right past him directly into the CMO’s office. When he realized that none of the medical staff was going to come out and disturb him, Harry returned his attention back to his family.

He could plainly see that Annika and Katrina were both deeply upset, but he also sensed that there was something else beneath the surface of their despair. The two women were acting very cold to each other, and Harry felt as if an invisible barrier had been placed in between them. He tried to speak but found that he could only whisper a few weak-sounding words before struggling to catch his breath.

The captain looked at his wife and asked her, "What’s… wrong?"

"Please, do not try to speak." Annika reached out and laid her hand on the side of his face before continuing. "Dr. Saldeed says your body absorbed a majority of the blast from the explosion, but she’s confident that you and Commander Kalan will both make a full recovery."

"Kalan… where is…?"

"He’s already left, dad." Katrina said as she pointed behind her. "He was laying on top that biobed for hours, but he woke up before you did."

"He and Lt. Krell have gone to look for some answers behind the cause of the explosion." Annika calmly told him.

Harry was able to make out the indented shape of a large body within the cushions of the bed that his daughter had indicated. He thought about contacting the XO for a moment, but he quickly erased the idea from his mind. If Kalan was well enough to walk out of Sickbay, then he could definitely handle things without any interference from a superior officer.

Kim suddenly detected an abnormal shadow along the wall next to him. He twisted his body to get a better look at it, and received an incredible shock that almost put him back into a coma. Jor’Marak was standing there with his back against the wall. The enormous Jem’Hadar was quite menacing to behold. He didn’t make a single move to give away his presence, and Harry couldn’t even tell if he was breathing or not.

"Annika…" he exhaled, "How long… has he…?"

"The Jem’Hadar First has been standing there ever since the Doctor brought your body out of its stasis." His wife gave the hefty alien an unpleasant look before continuing. "You have been slowly recovering in Sickbay for several hours and were allowed no visitors except for family and… him."

The Captain struggled to face the reptilian creature next to him. The imposing Jem’Hadar looked like a menacing statue, and Harry merely stared at him for a while before speaking. "Jor’Marak?"

The Jem’Hadar turned and acknowledged Harry once he had directly spoken to him. "Yes, Captain?"

"I don’t suppose… you feel like… taking a break."

Jor’Marak merely looked at him as if he didn’t understand. When he eventually spoke, his deep voice remained completely neutral as he phrased his words. "We live to serve. I shall not abandon your side."

"That’s what… I thought… you’d say." Harry muttered. He watched as Jor’Marak shifted back into place against the wall, and then he tried to carefully slide his body into a prone position. He decided to ignore the body guard at his side and focus on his family again.

Katrina gave him a tiny smile, but he could still see a great amount of tension between her and Annika. It caused him even more pain internally when he saw the troubled look on the teenager’s face every time she glanced at her mother.

Harry repeated his original question. "What’s… wrong…?"

Katrina knew that her father was speaking to her exclusively, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell him what had happened. She was still shaking at the memory of her mother finding her in the Science Lab. It would have been bad enough for her to be in trouble for spying on the Romulans, but things got even worse when Annika also delivered the horrible news.

She had a million questions for her father, and she also wanted to tell him how thrilled she was to see him – even if he couldn’t talk well or sit up without wincing in pain. But just as Katrina was about to say something, her mother invasively cut her off.

"It is a juvenile matter that you should not be worried about. We will discuss Katrina’s troublesome activities another time." She leaned over him and laid her hand flat on his chest. "You must rest now."

"Never mind… about me," Harry said. His voice sounded very tired and his words began to fade at the end of each statement.

Katrina’s emotions flared and she hissed at her mother. "Why do you always have to make things worse, mom? Isn’t it bad enough that dad’s been hurt?" She couldn’t help herself, and her seething words immediately brought wet tears to her eyes. Kat began to cry but quickly covered her face and turned her head away from where her father could see.

Harry felt remarkably frail in his present condition. He wanted to reach out to his daughter and try to console her, but he knew that the effort would’ve caused him to loose consciousness. To the surprise of both her parents, Katrina pushed herself off her father’s bed and darted away from them. Before Annika could even cry out to prevent her from leaving, the agile Romulan had flown through the opening in the sheet that surrounded them. Less than a second later, she stepped out the doors of Sickbay and was running through the ship.

Annika was completely stupefied; she never expected her daughter to run away from her. She wanted to chase after her but felt more compelled to remain with her injured husband. The former Borg slowly shook her head in bewilderment. She couldn’t understand why Katrina would act in such a way when she saw how vulnerable her father was.

Harry didn’t have it in his heart to be mad. All he really wanted to do right now was reassure Annika. They’d all have to sit down and talk about what had happened in their personal quarters later. He reached out and grabbed her sleeve, forcing her to face him. "Just… let her go…"

He could still see a small amount of doubt flickering on his wife’s face. The captain was too tired to say any more, but he managed to mumble one last sentence before he fell asleep. "We’ll talk to her… later."

Annika watched her husband as he rested. She bowed her head over his and listened to him breath, and then she moved her mouth next to his ear and silently mouthed the words, "Very well."

Nurse Baker came back out of the CMO’s office, quietly humming an upbeat song to herself while tending to her duties throughout the entire ward.

After the explosion, a security lockdown had been put in place, preventing anyone, even the crew of the Victorious, from beaming off the ship. According to the ship’s computer, Mokar was still aboard, which was to be expected. What was unexpected was the location where he was to be found.

"The Delta Café?" said Krell as he walked with Kalan and two of his deputies along the walkway of the Galleria. "I didn’t think bistros were part of the Klingon scene."

"Mokar is not a Klingon of distinction," said Kalan frostily, his eyes riveted forward as he walked with haste towards the ‘outdoor’ deck of the café. All around, shopkeepers and civilian passers-by were looking on with bewilderment at the security detail as they marched forcefully to carry out their duties, quickly getting out from underfoot. News of the explosion and the captain’s injury had spread throughout the ship, and people were understandably unnerved. The sight of a security team in action led by the ship’s first officer did nothing to relieve that anxiety.

Kalan stormed up the stairs to the raised café deck ahead of the security team, only to see Mokar seated calmly at one of at the Delta Café’s tables, sipping at a drink in a tall glass. It was a disconcerting sight, him being the only Klingon patron in the establishment. He seemed completely at ease

"Mokar!" Kalan shouted furiously, his face twisted in rage. "Look at me, if you dare!"

The other Klingon looked up at his cousin calmly, not returning any of Kalan’s intensity. "I see that you are well, cousin. I knew that you were far too stubborn to make the passing to Sto’Vo’Kor just yet."

"Do not speak of Sto’Vo’Kor, petaQ!" swore Kalan, his posture coiled as though he were ready to strike. "It is a place you will never reach! What was it, Mokar? Was it your envy that drove you to attempt murder, or was your cowardice even stronger so you could not bring yourself to challenge me directly?"

Mokar glared back at Kalan, standing up from his seat, his body equally poised for a fight. "You are full of insults this day, aren’t you, Kalan? Are you accusing me of what happened to you and your captain?"

"Do not deny it, bIHnuch!"

"I do deny it," Mokar seethed. "Take heed, cousin. Despite what you might think, I am Klingon enough to take offense at your calling me a coward and challenge you right here!"

"Just what the hell is going on here?" came a harried voice as Vic Fontaine rushed out onto the café deck from the establishment’s interior. "This is a peaceable establishment here, boys. You two want to fight, you take it somewhere else."

"This is not your concern, Mr. Fontaine," Kalan growled at the holographic proprietor. "This is a matter of honor."

"Now hold on there, Commander," said Vic. "What goes on in my place is my business. If my customers want a floor show, they can wait till after hours with a two drink minimum."

"Commander," Krell spoke up from behind as he and his team approached the scene. "I can take it from here, sir." Turning to Mokar, the security officer spoke in a tone of voice that was all business. "Lieutenant Mokar, your name has come up in our investigation in the attack on your cousin. Can you account for your whereabouts prior to your arrival at the dinner reception?"

"Am I to consider myself an official suspect, Lieutenant Krell?" asked Mokar, his eyes never leaving Kalan’s angry stare.

"Not officially at this time, Lieutenant," said Krell. "But I would like to ask you some questions about your activities the other day. All very routine."

"Very well," said Mokar. "I’ll cooperate fully with your investigation, Lieutenant. You will inform my commanding officer about your questioning me?"

"By the book, Lieutenant," said Krell. "If you’ll come with me and my people," he said as he gestured broadly with his arm towards the stairs leading down from the dining deck. Mokar left ahead with his two security escorts, leaving Cyrus, Kalan and Vic behind.

"Always good to have the local cop on the beat," said Vic, looking at Krell appreciatively. "Did that guy really do it? Set off that bomb and hurt poor Harry?"

"We’re not sure," said Krell.

"Some of us have fewer doubts than others," Kalan interjected harshly.

The hologram looked Kalan over sourly. "Well, next time you wanna bust someone in my place, take him somewhere else before you make with the rubber hose treatment." And with that, Vic turned and retreated to the interior of his establishment.

Krell looked askance at his commanding officer, his golden irises dimmed through narrow eyelids. "I suppose you were right, Commander. It was a good idea for me to be here." He then glanced down at Kalan’s right hand, and saw a steak knife that he had absent-mindedly picked up from the nearby table.

"It was not my intention to kill him, Lieutenant," said Kalan, "unless he offered resistance and refused to come quietly."

Krell’s face was impassive, not revealing any indication if he believed the first officer or not. "Not to worry, sir. This won’t be going into my report." Looking around to see his people leading Mokar off down the main walkway of the Galleria, Krell motioned to leave. "I suppose we call his captain and let him know what’s going on."

"And then?" asked Kalan.

"I’ll have my people question Mokar about his activities. I plan to beam over to Victorious and look for any incriminating evidence there."

"Perhaps," said Kalan as he took in a deep breath, "it would be best if I were to accompany you there."

"Versus sitting in on your cousin’s interrogation?" quipped Krell. "Yes, I think that would be a very good idea, Commander."

On the Victorious, Kalan and Krell stood outside of Mokar’s quarters, while the ship’s security chief, Lieutenant Nyssa Lang, a firm, muscular woman in her mid-thirties, accessed the door’s security code.

"I’m telling you, you’re both wrong about Mokar," said Lang, as she overrode the door panel and let it slide open. "I think of myself as a pretty good judge of character, and there’s no way he could have done this."

"Your captain voiced similar feelings when we came aboard," said Kalan coolly. "Mokar has admitted that he wandered from the group prior to the reception, with ample time for him to set the explosive. And he is certified in the use of explosives from his tactical training."

"Look, Commander," said Lang, "even if I believed that Mokar wanted to kill you, why not just issue a challenge? That is the Klingon way, isn’t it? I mean, killing someone by hiding behind an explosive? That’s not very honorable, is it?"

"It is not," said Kalan. "I am the better fighter, and Mokar knows it. Were he to challenge me, I would easily defeat him."

"Well, I’m still not buying it," said the female security officer as the three stepped into the room. "He doesn’t seem like he’s got that much hate in him to stoop to that level. He’s moody, no question about that. But he’s got too much honor to violate his uniform like that."

"Then you apparently don’t know him at all, Lieutenant," said the Klingon first officer. "I have known him most of my life, and he has disgraced his station before."

Krell wanted to ask what he meant by that, but was busy taking in the surrounding of Mokar’s quarters, which appeared much different than what he expected. There were no ceremonial weapons on display, no tributes of battles fought or trophies of military prowess. Instead it was remarkably Spartan, even by Klingon standards. The walls were completely bare, and the regulation sofa, chairs, coffee and end tables were gone. The only furnishings were a pair of synthetic flame stands, and a large circular mat in the center of the room. It looked more like the residence of a Zen mystic than that of a Klingon warrior.

"There’s no furniture," said Krell in subdued bewilderment. "What the hell happened in here?"

"He requested everything be removed when he was assigned here," said Lang. "He said that the comforts of the body are meaningless, that a true Klingon resides only within the spirit, or something. He’s always spouting mystical quotes like that."

"Indeed," said Kalan with a heavy sigh, not showing the least bit of surprise. "My family has heard more than their share of mystical quotes over the years."

Krell went over to the room’s wall replicator and accessed the internal log. "He didn’t replicate any explosives with this unit. In fact," he said, viewing the readout with disbelief, "he hasn’t replicated any food since coming on board. The only thing he’s ever ordered is…water."

"Yeah, that sounds like him," said Lang with a chuckle. "He only eats in the mess hall, and even then, he eats sparingly, never anything rich like gach or roc-egg blood pie. It has to do with spiritual purity, or something."

"He regards his quarters as a nIt’lulIgh," Kalan observed, "a sanctuary of the spirit. Not to be sullied with temptations of the flesh, so that he may freely receive visions from Kahless and Sto’Vo’Kor."

"Yeah," Lang chuckled. "About the only vice I’ve seen him indulge in is an occasional drink of root beer."

"Root beer?" Krell said with bemusement. "A Klingon drinking root beer? Was that what he was drinking at the café?" Kalan only shook his head and grumbled in response.

After a few sweeps with his tricorder, Cyrus scratched his head. "Well, there’s no sign of any sorium argine in here. Not that there’s anywhere he could have hid it. The man doesn’t even have a bed."

Kalan then turned to Lang with urgency. "Were there any Klingons with whom Lieutenant Mokar associated frequently? Any who showed him deference or authority?" He then looked over at a confused Cyrus Krell. "It is possible that he may have employed agents to carry out his bidding for him."

"That’s a bit of a reach, sir," said Krell.

"Not to mention it doesn’t square with Mokar’s activities," said Lang. "He never associated with any of the Klingon crew outside of work. He didn’t really associate much with anyone really. He did his job and was respected for it. He’d come to a shipboard event once in a while or sit with the Tactical staff in the Officer’s Mess. But that was it. If anything, some of the Klingons have given him a lot of attitude. Even Commander Toloth had to get a talking-to from the captain to get him to lighten up on Mokar."

"Why?" asked Krell.

"Don’t ask me," Lang replied. "I figure its some Klingon honor thing. Mokar won’t talk about it, and neither will any of the other Klingons. They all say it’s a personal matter and that they won’t let it get in the way of ship’s business."

"I would like to question some of them myself," Kalan announced. "Lieutenant Lang, have the senior Klingon crewmembers meet with me. Perhaps they may shed some light as to Mokar’s activities aboard this ship."

"I think I’d like to tag along, sir," Krell said sourly. "There are questions I’d like to have answered also."

The Enterprise contained a wide variety of places for people to congregate, but at night, the teenage population on board the ship always wound up dominating the area within the Botanical Garden. There were only a few scattered adults prowling about tonight, and all of the Yellows, were still busy looking for the mysterious bomber that had attacked the Captain.

Whenever the evening time rolled around, all of the artificial heat lamps and environmental regulatory systems were turned off. The natural insulation of the large forest kept the entire area slightly warm, yet still very brisk. On the other side of the tiny indoor lake, a steady wind was generated by a series of fans that ran within the flat metal wall. Katrina and her three girlfriends had decided to meet by the edge of the water, but each had their own private reason for choosing this particular spot.

Breeshal liked to study in the garden during the day. She also preferred to come there late at night by herself whenever she couldn’t sleep. Sometimes, the young Betazed would merely sit and meditate within the darkened corners made by the trees, or else she’d stare at the lake for hours, peering into the distorted reflection of the surrounding foliage as it swirled along the smooth liquid surface.

Tiffany Limos had first found this place when her parents dragged her out of their quarters to go with them on a picnic. This was during the first weeks of the ship’s slipstream flight and everyone was still trying to settle in and become familiar with the Enterprise. She had rarely gone back to the beautiful lush area since then, except to occasionally hang out with her friends.

Pana was often very restless and she tended to constantly fidget whenever they chose to come to the lake. However, she knew that a giant Parises Squares field was within fifty meters of the water, and this always meant that there would be a group of meddlesome boys nearby. The agitated Andorian paced the area repeatedly, cracking her knuckles and hopping around on the tips of her feet as she practiced kicking an imaginary ball across the grass.

Katrina sat alone on top of a large smooth boulder. She was spending her time quietly skipping stones, picking them up from a small pile down by her feet and then flinging them as hard as she could. If this had been a normal evening, she would’ve been interacting with her friends and enjoying their company like she’d always done before. But tonight, she had her back to them, and all of her attention was focused on the tiny rock she currently held in the palm of her hand.

Kat had never felt so torn in all of her life. She wanted to go back to Sickbay and see her father; badly. But she couldn’t bring herself to face him, not after running away like she did. And then there was her mother, the most callous witch on board the entire ship. Just thinking about that woman made her so furious, but all she could do was throw another rock and watch it bounce.

Pana and Bree climbed up to join her after watching their friend for a few minutes. Tiff decided to act as a lookout and alert them as soon as she saw any Joes approaching. Kat noticed their arrival, but she didn’t speak to them just yet. She had stopped crying a while ago, but the young Romulan still felt very queasy and wretched. She absently brushed back a lock of her dark black hair as it fell over her eyes and turned to look up at the two girls as they drew closer.

"Is this seat taken?" Pana asked, smirking as she immediately sat down without waiting for an answer. She couldn’t help but notice the sad expression that remained on her best friend’s face, and it made her cringe with guilt at her inability to console her.

Bree was busy trying to shuffle her way over to where Katrina kept the miniature rock pile. Her balance was very flimsy, and it took her a while to get settled. The overly cautious girl held up the edge of her long skirt, staring at each spot below her feet before she touched it.

Her limited telepathic skills had been increasing recently, and the Betazed was able to sense the torturous array of emotions that boiled around inside of her friend. She decided to say something and attempt to sooth her friend’s mental state. "Kat," she lightly said, "try to be a little more optimistic. I know it isn’t easy, but you can’t stay here and be miserable all night." Bree put her hand over Kat’s and plucked the stone out of it. "We were all upset when we heard the news, but there’s a new rumor floating throughout the ship that’s certainly going to cheer you up."

Katrina sighed heavily before speaking. "What are you all gossiping about now?"

"It’s about your dad," Bree announced, "Doctor Saldeed says he’s doing well, and she’ll probably let him out in another day or two."

Kat perked up a bit and turned to face her. "Who told you this?"

Bree smiled and pointed to Katrina’s other side. "Pana’s mom did," she said. "One of them, anyway. She was working in Sickbay earlier and Dr. Saldeed spoke to her."

"Oh yeah?" Katrina felt a small smile spread across her face. It felt odd and a little painful, but she left it there as she shifted over to Pana, pestering her for more details. "So, what’d your mother say to you?"

"Well," Pana began, "my zhavey’ti heard it first from Nurse Baker, and double checked with Dr. Saldeed. Your dad will be stuck in Sickbay for a few more days, but he’ll be jingo plus in less than a week." Pana’s antennae twitched sporadically as she spoke. She was obviously glad to see that her friend had started to brighten up.

Bree tenderly patted Katrina. "Yeah," she said, "So don’t be so tocky tonight, ok?

Pana snorted loudly. "That’s a first!" she yelled, "I never thought I’d see the mouse calling the lion a lame beast." She nudged Katrina in the ribs with her elbow and asked, "Are you going to let her get a way with that?"

Kat glared at Pana, silently telling her to calm down, and she gave Breel a gentle hug right before all three of them stood up. They clambered off the large rock and gathered around Tiffany who instantly became annoyed at their presence. She began complaining that they were distracting her from looking out for any boys. "Back up, will you? Give me some room to see!" Katrina and Bree laughed as Pana danced mischievously and made "kissy" faces in front of Tiff.

"Will you stop that?" she squealed, puffing out her cheeks. "They’ll be here any second. Oh, no – how do I look? Kat, do I need to get prepped?"

"Never mind that now," Bree told her, "here they come."

Two guys walked out of a nearby grove, Curtis Obadae and Jason Lowe. Both humans waved and picked up their pace as they saw the four girls down by the water. Curtis ran the last few steps and scooped up Tiffany into his arms, embracing her lavishly. Jason threw a quick glance at this over his shoulder, but he soon ignored his friend’s romantic activities and moved directly in front of Katrina.

"Hi," he said to her, briefly nodding to the other two other girls. "I’m glad to see you here."

Katrina steadied herself as she looked up at Jason. "Yeah, I had wanted to be with my friends for a while." She tried to calm the fierce beating of her heart as it thumped against the left side of her chest. She had developed such a major crush on him that her pulse suddenly flared whenever he was near.

He nodded while staring at her, but then he stopped himself and became serious. "How’re you feeling?" he asked, and she could see that he was generally concerned.

"A little bit better, thanks." Another thick piece of hair fell in front of her face, and she nervously reached up to push it behind her pointed ear.

"Good, I’m glad to hear that." He gave her a broad grin, curling up the sides of his face while holding her gaze. "You know, I was thinking about you today."

"Oh yeah?" she asked him, feeling her inner level of excitement threaten to rise even further. She regained control and calmly said, "I mean – you were? How come?"

"I was worried… about the explosion." He stammered over his words, but soon found his voice again and continued. "I’ve been hearing nothing else the whole day, it’s practically everywhere I go on the whole ship."

"Well, I just found some very good news. I know for certain that my dad is going to be okay." Katrina flashed him a genuine smile, and felt truly better for the first time all day.

"Oh yeah?" he said, laughing out loud as he imitated her. She immediately giggled at him and enjoyed the amusement he had created. She totally forgot about her dreary state of mind and resolved to simply revel in his presence.

Something else caught Katrina’s attention, and she looked past Jason to see Pana impishly covering her mouth. The Andorian was blatantly pointing at her and Jason, and Kat watched in shock as she pursed her lips and made the same smooching motion that she’d been teasing Tiffany with earlier.

Kat merely glared at her, burning daggers of ice into the other girl’s blue tinted face. Before Jason turned around and picked up on what was happened, the feisty Romulan took his arm and led him over to her "skipping" boulder.

At least a dozen Klingon officers were gathered in the briefing room of the Victorious, with Kalan and Cyrus eyeing them each over. Standing at the back of the room was Lieutenant Lang, along with Captain Nog and Commander ch’Thane. Both commanding officers were looking on with frayed patience, watching the entire proceedings from a detached distance. Kalan was parading before the assembled group, acting very much in charge of things an in a manner well beyond the role of a senior officer. What was even more dismaying to Krell was the fact that the other Klingons seemed to be perfectly fine with this.

"He is a…capable officer," said Lieutenant Batath hesitantly, a Klingon female from Engineering. "I have always been satisfied with his performance."

"This is not a performance evaluation, Lieutenant," Kalan barked. "This is an investigation into an attempted assassination, a cowardly attempt on my life, and it will not stand!"

"But surely Lieutenant Mokar has reason to do harm to you, sir," said Batath.

"What makes you so certain of that, Lieutenant?" Cyrus asked.

"It…it is obvious," she struggled to say. "It is…who he is. Surely you know of what I speak, ZhantaI Kalan. I need not say it aloud." Kalan simply grunted in response.

"Is it not true that Mokar has already been taken into custody for this crime aboard Enterprise?" said Lieutenant Tovask, a young-looking Klingon wearing another uniform of an engineering officer.

"He’s being questioned," said Cyrus. "That’s all."

"Well," said Tovask, as he looked up at Kalan with a conspiratorial grin, "if the evidence does not meet the standard of Federation justice, then perhaps we in this room are better equipped to deal with those who would dishonor the House of Kritus!"

At those words, Commander ch’Thane’s antennae perked up and twitched in fury, and his blue skin darkened to a deep pitch of violet with the rush of blood. "What was that, Lieutenant? Tell me I didn’t hear what I just heard! That’s one of your fellow officers you’re talking about, mister!"

"Sir!" Tovask stammered. "I…I only meant…"

"Be silent, you intemperate fool!" Toloth berated his junior officer. Turning to Nog and ch’Thane, Toloth looked at them imploringly. "Sirs, pay Tovask no mind. He is young and impetuous and does not speak for us. We would never dishonor our posts by acting in defiance of you."

"I should hope not, Mr. Toloth," Nog spoke coolly, before turning to Kalan and Cyrus, "especially considering how circumstantial the evidence against Lieutenant Mokar appears to be. I won’t hold a court martial against one of my officers based on what little you’ve shown me so far, despite what you and every Klingon on my ship seems to think."

"We are all appalled and disgusted by what has happened, ZhantaI Kalan," said Toloth, the senior-most Klingon present among the crew of the Victorious.

"Do not address me by that term, Commander!" Kalan shouted, surprising everyone with his tone.

"It is…a sign of respect, Commander," said Toloth, sounding almost apologetic.

"I…I have not proven myself worthy of such an accolade," he replied.

Cyrus looked on at the undercurrent among the Klingons in the room. Obviously they all knew something about Mokar, something they were all reluctant to speak aloud amongst outsiders. Even Kalan was holding back from him. But whatever it was they knew about Mokar, it had convinced them all that he was guilty of the crime, regardless of whatever lack of evidence there was.

"Commander," said Krell to Kalan quietly, "I’d like to speak with you out in the hall. Privately."

Kalan nodded his assent and the two officers stepped out of the room. Once he was certain of their privacy, Cyrus addressed his commanding officer. "Sir, what does ZhantaI mean?"

Kalan sighed. "It is a term of respect, one given to those who have displayed acts of great honor to the Empire or those of high office."

"And you don’t feel you’re worthy of such respect? If I may say so, sir, you are a decorated and accomplished officer."

"It is…inappropriate!" Kalan blurted out. "ZhantaI is a title reserved for great generals or those who sit upon the High Council. For me to be called such a thing, simply because of my birth…it’s not right. I’ve yet to earn such a mark of honor. But too many have been led to believe otherwise by my uncle. He’s sold my image to the people like Ferengi gold." Looking over at Krell with annoyance, he continued. "What has this to do with anything?"

"Sir, what exactly is going on here?" Krell asked impassively.

"We are conducting an investigation into an attempt on my life, Lieutenant. I would think that was obvious."

"No, sir. I’m talking about this secret about Mokar that every Klingon on both Enterprise and Victorious seems to be in on. Now, if it’s something related to this investigation, then I should know about it."

"It is…not relevant to outsiders."

"If it provides a possible motive for the crime, sir, then I’d say it’s very relevant. Commander, I take my work very seriously. If I’m going to end a man’s career, and quite possibly his life if your government has a say in the matter, then I have to know all the facts involved. That’s part of my job, sir. Believe me, secrets…" he said, before strangely going silent, as if he were collecting himself before going on, "secrets can get people killed."

After a moment of consideration, Kalan spoke to him. "When we were younger, when his father married my mother, Mokar and I were raised together as brothers. But as the elder, and the son of the original head of my father’s House, I was designated the heir to the House of Kritus, as well as my father’s legacy. I excelled in all areas whereas Mokar…did not."

"And this is why everyone is so down on him?"

"No," said Kalan solemnly. "Do you know the tale of Kahless and Morath, Lieutenant?"

"I think so," said Krell. "Morath was Kahless’s brother, wasn’t he? Kahless fought him because he had dishonored the family, or something to that effect."

"Indeed," said Kalan. "He killed a friend in a cowardly fashion while on a hunt, and then lied afterwards to his family to conceal his crime. Kahless fought his brother for twelve days straight in order to assuage that dishonor. According to the legend, Morath was marked by shame from his very birth. He was the younger child. His birth killed his mother, and thus showed dishonor to the very woman who gave him life."

"But that’s just a legend, Commander. What does it have to do with Mokar?"

"Mokar…his mother died in childbirth as well," said Kalan with finality. "I know such things are unknown today in the Federation, but in the Empire it happens on occasion. From that moment, many of the more superstitious regarded him as marked with dishonor, just as Morath was."

"And this is why everyone is convinced he’s guilty?" said Krell incredulously. "Because of an old legend? I can’t believe that. We’re talking about officers here. Educated people. There has to be more than that."

"There is," Kalan continued with great difficulty. "When Mokar came of his Age of Ascension, he resented the favor shown to me. But there was no excuse for what he did then. He openly defied my uncle and refused a commission to serve with the Klingon Defense Forces, choosing instead to study with the Guardians of Boreth."

Cyrus almost did a double take. "He became a monk?"

"Yes," said Kalan. "It was a particular insult given the animosity that exists between the Order of Boreth and the Great Houses. If Mokar had wanted to find a way to publicly shame his father, he couldn’t have found a better way. Eventually he left the Order and returned to his obligation of military service, but I cannot forgive his snubbing of my father’s House."

"And your uncle?"

"To Hirak, my cousin was lost to him a long time ago. His joining the Order only made public what was already a fact."

"What I don’t understand," said Krell, "is that if Mokar was so dishonored, then how the hell did he get placed for a slot in the Delta Fleet?"

"My uncle’s doing," said Kalan bitterly, "a final act of acknowledgement. He wanted Mokar sent as far away from the Empire as possible, so as not to further cause him shame. He probably believed him to be a detriment to his political ambitions. And with me as first officer of the flagship of the fleet, my accomplishments would eclipse any notice of him."

"It’s a damn shame," said Krell shaking his head. "Sounds like the guy never had a chance from day one."

"I never wanted him to fail or fall by the wayside in his father’s eyes," Kalan fumed. "As children, I defended him against the taunts of others. But there is still no excuse for him to act like…a sullen human teenager! Other Klingons have been born into greater adversity than he, yet they have risen above their circumstances and achieved glory and honor. Instead he runs away from his sorrows and feels the universe owes him recognition! Is it any wonder that Mokar would seethe with resentment towards me and want me dead?"

"That isn’t the picture that I’m getting, sir," said Cyrus. "From what I see from his crewmates, this isn’t a guy burning for revenge. This is someone who’s simply trying to find a place for himself, someone trying to find peace, not create more trouble."

"What are you saying, Lieutenant?" inquired Kalan with a skeptical eye.

"What I’m saying is that even though all our circumstantial evidence is pointing to Mokar, I don’t believe he did it."

The holo-chronometer hovering along the wall told Katrina exactly how late she was. She walked passed the stationary digits and dragged herself around the corner to reach the door to her family’s quarters. The exhausted adolescent simply stood there for a moment, trying to catch her breath.

It had been an exceedingly stressful day, and all she really wanted to do now was crawl on top of her soft bed and turn her brain and body off. She felt totally phased, and didn’t even want to take of her skins before falling down to achieve blissful slumber. Kat couldn’t believe that on top of the major calamity with her parents, she now had to deal with all these overpowering feelings she had for Jason. He had asker her to call him Jay, saying how he preferred that nickname to the one his parent’s had given him.

Too many different things were floating through her mind as she entered the main living room. She took about four steps, and then froze in her tracks. Her mother was standing there, hands clasped behind her back, directly within the entrance to her room. Katrina wished she could shrink out of sight, or maybe spontaneously disappear, but she knew that these ideas were pure fantasy. The witch had caught her again, adding another credit to the reputation of Borg efficiency.

The most unsettling thing was the way she was just staring at her. The elder woman’s eyes were as unflinching as the Jem’Hadar down in Sickbay with her father. Kat felt severely drained enough as it was, but her mother’s fierce glare seemed to drill straight through her. It was almost as bad as the look she’d given to Pana a few hours ago.

Annika eventually stepped forward and confronted her daughter. She tried to maintain a dispassionate attitude while talking to the young girl, but the severity of the situation plainly called for her to enforce a more disciplined position when dealing with Katrina.

"Why did you behave so drastically?" her mother demanded. "Explain your actions."

"I…" Katrina stammered. "I don’t know why. I just didn’t want…" What she wanted to tell her was that she didn’t want to be around her at that moment, but given the stress of what happened to her father, she knew it would be a cruel thing to say to her. She could see the hurt in her eyes, and for all of her mother’s icy toughness, Katrina knew that she had a vulnerable side, especially where her dad was concerned.

"I just didn’t want to be there, okay?" she said with finality.

Annika stood there silently, not speaking a word, as though she didn’t trust herself to control what she might say next.

"Wildman to Dr. Kim," came Naomi’s voice over the intercom. Katrina watched as her mother slowly raised her eyes away from her. "Hey, Annika, have you got a moment?"

"Kim here," the former drone replied, calling out to the air, her voice easing from its earlier frosty tone. "What can I do for you?"

"Sorry if I’m disturbing you," said the Ops officer. "I know this is last minute. Neelix and I just came back from visiting the captain. The Talaxian government is eager to meet with their new ambassador and I’m going to beam down with him. You know, just to see him off."

"A commendable gesture," said Annika. "Were the circumstances different with Harry…"

"Hey, Neelix says he understands. Anyhow, I was wondering if Katrina was available tonight to babysit for Sabrina. I was going to ask Professor Mahat again, but I feel I’ve imposed on her too much already. Like I said, I know that this is short notice…"

"I am afraid that Katrina will not be available tonight," said Annika sternly as she glared in her daughter’s direction. "She is grounded until further notice."

Grounded?! Katrina wanted to scream out in protest, but a harsh stare of warning from her mother told her that there would be no debate on the subject. The Queen Bee had decided the matter for her.

So Katrina dealt with the situation in the way any girl her age would have. She stormed off to her room and immediately commanded the door to shut behind her, shutting out the rest of the world as well.

As soon as Lt. Wildman entered Transporter Room Two, she caught the attention of the Ops officer on duty and signaled for him to remain at his station. Naomi wanted him to understand that she wasn’t there on any official assignment. She didn’t need to perform a surprise inspection or evaluate any of the system’s logs. Everyone on the senior staff already knew that Comm. Kalan and Lt. Krell were the only people taking care of the investigation behind the blast that had injured the Captain. Vorik was currently in command of the Enterprise, and the half-K’Tarian woman had a lone task of her own to deal with.

She merely had to take the newly instated Federation Ambassador down to his home world. But this was easier said than done because Neelix had been acting very eccentric for most of the time she’d spent with him. Naomi initially thought that he was upset by the attack against their old friend, but she now believed that the severe change in his behavior was due to something else. He was still reluctant to return to his native soil.

Earlier in the day, the energetic Talaxian had tried to drag the overworked officer *all* around the Enterprise, asking her to show him everything on board that was different when compared to the internal structure of the Victorious. There wasn’t much to see, the two ships were nearly identical. And now that he was finally inside the transporter room, Neelix realized that it was time to go.

Naomi directed him over to the far side of the room as she headed towards the duty station. Neelix stepped within the large white circle that was sunken into the floor. He began to brush some imaginary lint off his clothes, and then he cleared his throat – loudly. Wildman leered at him out of the corner of her eye, but she soon ignored him and peered over the holographic display of the landing coordinates. Everything appeared to be in perfect order; the picture matched the designated area that the Talaxian authorities had assigned to them. She gave the crewman a light nod and moved away from him to go and join Neelix.

Just as she placed her foot onto the platform, Naomi heard a quiet voice permeate the air through the comm system. "Annika Kim to Naomi."

"This is Naomi speaking," she automatically replied, but she instantly felt that something was wrong. Her ears distinctly heard a tiny amount of sadness and pain hidden within the other woman’s words. "Annika, what is it? How can I help you?"

"This is… not an easy topic to discuss. It concerns Katrina, and I would prefer to speak privately with you about this."

"One moment," Wildman said as she slid off the transporter. She called out, "Take a break crewman," and jerked her head towards the door, signaling for the technician to leave.

Once she was alone, except for Neelix who quietly waited for her to finish, Naomi freely spoke to her old friend. Every time the content of their conversation became too painful for her to continue, Naomi would tell her to stop and take a deep breath. She instructed Annika to proceed only after she felt calm and capable to discuss her problems without choking over the words.

They talked for a very long time, with the younger parent listening to the worried voice of the elder. The problems that Annika faced were quite severe; not only had Katrina run out of Sickbay, but her mother had also found her eavesdropping on a pair of Romulans. In addition to that, her husband was extremely weakened as a result of the explosion. Harry could do only two things during his recovery; sleep, and then mutter a few soft words to her once he was awake.

Through the details they shared during their intimate conversation, Naomi soon managed to soothe away most of the tension that Annika had been experiencing. She also figured out a way deal with the current dilemma that was bothering her.

The K’Tarian took her own advice and inhaled deeply before ending the com link she had been sharing with Annika. Less than a second later, she initiated a new one. "Lt. Wildman to Yola Mahat."

The Cardassian woman answered right away. "Mahat here."

"I need to speak to you for a moment," she clearly stated. "And also, I have a favor to ask you."

"Of course, please proceed." The scientist had a neutral tone in her voice, but she sounded willing enough to offer some help.

Naomi went back over to where Neelix had been waiting and held up her hand. She spread the fingers apart to indicate that she wanted him to wait five more minutes. He silently acknowledged her with a shrug of his shoulders and she returned her attention to the latest problem that had been dropped into her lap.

Kalan had been walking steadily throughout the corridors upon his return to Enterprise, but he promptly slowed down his pace as Yola Mahat approached him. The sleek Cardassian woman glided over to his side and matched his steps. She casually turned to him and whispered, "I must speak to you. It’s about the explosion." The gruff Klingon slowly nodded, and then he waved at the closed doors of a nearby turbolift.

Once they were inside, Yola called out, "Deck Nine," in order to go to the level where the Kim family lived. She moved all the way to the back and relaxed against the wall. A moment later, Kalan ordered the Lift to halt. He merely stared at the female scientist, patiently waiting for her to speak.

Mahat could clearly see the stress and aggravation building up within the XO, so she wisely decided not to waste anymore of his time. "I know that this is none of my business," she began, "but I’ve done some personal investigation into the cause of the explosion."

Kalan clenched his hands into fists as his posture stiffened. Yola heard a low growl escape from somewhere deep inside of his throat. "You do not have the authorization to go anywhere *near* that area," he said, barking his words at her. "Do you think that you’ve suddenly become one of Krell’s detectives?"

"Please allow me to finish, Commander, and you shall see the reason why." Mahat was completely unfazed by Kalan’s overly aggressive attitude. She continued with her explanation as if he hadn’t even interrupted her. "I have an abundant amount of information to give you. All of it concerns the nature of the material that was used in the explosion."

Yola turned to the wall and called out for an HPADD. A variety of chemical equations were immediately displayed, along with several paragraphs of statistical information. The text scrolled down the edges of the square-shaped image as the remaining pictures floated before him. "This will help you with your search," she said. "It contains an analytical comparison of the molecular residue that I found at the site of the incident."

She brushed her hand through the hologram and watched as it evaporated. "The proof is incontrovertible. It states that the explosive material was synthesized from two unique elements. One was a highly complex chemical, and the other was a specific type of plant. Both of these are available to any of the engineers on board our ship.

"Also," she continued, "I compared my results with the security team investigation. They both show that the detonator was the type which is triggered by an outside signal, probably done at extremely short range."

"Our sensor logs of the scene were unable to find any transmissions in the area," said Kalan shortly. "There were no anomalous signals that we could identify."

"Then perhaps the signal in question was not an anomaly at all," she said, "but rather something that should have been there from the very beginning."

"I don’t suppose you were able to identify the signal in question?"

"I’m sorry, Commander," she said regretfully. "There was too little left over from the explosion to determine that."

Kalan considered her words, and shook his head in puzzlement. She spoke in the same kind of mystic riddles that the monks of Boreth tended to favor. "Thank you, Professor Mahat," he reluctantly grumbled, "this data shall be added to the rest of the evidence."

The Cardassian woman smiled lightly as she tipped her head towards him. "You are welcome, Commander. It is both an honor and a privilege to be able to help you find out what happened." The two strangers held each other’s gaze for a few seconds before Kalan ordered the Lift to resume its course.

Less than a minute later, Yola stepped out into the corridor and went towards the front of the ship. Kalan called out to her, "I will continue with the rest of this investigation on my own."

She paused and delicately spun around to face him. "But of course, Commander. You already have." And before he could respond, the doors swished shut in his face.

Kalan sat at the workstation in his office, more confused that ever. He kept the lights dim, helping him to concentrate his thoughts. He had hoped that a search aboard Victorious would find conclusive evidence to prove Mokar’s guilt, but instead there were only more doubts. On top of that, he thought, Professor Mahat discovers that perhaps the sorium argine could have been manufactured from more basic components, thus evading the replicator security lockout, another trick that only someone familiar with the compound would know. The base compounds could have easily been replicated here on Enterprise.

But he considered Mahat’s observation about the triggering mechanism. Could there have been a signal that the security teams hadn’t noticed?

"Computer," he called out, "access security logs for Deck 5, Section 3 at 1920 hours, Stardate 76449.8."

"Unable to comply," said the computer. "Security logs are unavailable from 1920 to 1935 hours."

It was as he expected from Lt. Krell’s initial report. "View logs from 1935 hours onward," he said.

A viewpanel hologram was generated above his uncluttered desk, showing the scene of the corridor outside the reception, before the explosion. He identified the access panel where the explosive had been set. For a long time, there was nothing. Then he saw the image of himself exiting the dining room with Mokar, the two of them in silent discussion as he muted the sound. He didn’t care to hear that same foolish argument all over again.

There he was on the screen with Mokar, just standing there. What possible signal could have been used to trigger the device, he thought as he studied the scene, one that could have ensured that he would have been killed?

Then it occurred to him. The combadges! It made perfect sense. Each combadge relayed information to the ship’s computer network as to the wearer’s identity, location and physical health. The data stream was so ubiquitous that it was considered a part of the standard background noise of shipboard life. If the detonator had been designed to read a combadge signal of a specific individual, it would make an ideal tool for assassination.

Only there was one problem with the theory, Kalan realized. The holographic image of the security log showed him and Mokar standing right next to the rigged panel, yet there was no explosion at that point. Perhaps the trigger was intended to detonate on a timer, giving Mokar time to get clear, but it would have been a risky gamble for him to take, as there was no way he could guarantee that Kalan would remain behind long enough. Kalan almost hoped that it had been Mokar’s intention to die with him in the explosion, and that something had simply gone wrong. It would have revealed at least a semblance of honor in his cowardly plan.

But then something else happened. Captain Kim came out into the hallway. He watched as the captain spoke to him, and then approached him, walking right past the access panel. And then there was the explosion, knocking Kalan down and sending the captain across the corridor and slamming against the opposite wall.

Unless there had been some kind of glitch with the detonation program, the truth was now obvious to Kalan. He had never been the intended target at all. The explosion was meant for the captain.

But what possible reason could Mokar have for killing Harry Kim? It was with great shame that Kalan realized that there was no reason. Mokar was not the assassin. Someone else was, someone who could still be aboard Enterprise and make another attempt.

But first Kalan called up a list of the crew. If someone with knowledge of sorium argine explosives was aboard Enterprise, then he had to consider what the motive for the assassination was. And that would start to narrow down the suspects.

Harry Kim rested quietly in Sickbay, the only patient in a quiet room. He felt so helpless lying here, while someone was out there posing a threat to his ship. But he had to trust his people to take care of the job and see things through. Unfortunately, he couldn’t delegate to anyone the responsibility of easing the tensions between his wife and daughter.

Dr. Saldeed walked by on her way to her office. She noticed the young Klingon security guard standing on duty, along with Jor’Marak. She tried to recall his name. Durok, she believed it was. He had come on duty only a few hours ago, but she knew that the Jem’Hadar has been there all day without relief.

"Feeling any better, Captain?" she inquired.

"I’d feel better if I could get out of here, Doctor," said Harry.

"Be patient, Captain," she said with a crooked smile. "You need a few more days of rest before you’re ready to sit in the big chair. Be grateful that someone else is handling the load for you." She then glanced over at the Jem’Hadar. "What about you? You’ve been standing there for almost a day straight. Don’t you need to be relieved at all?"

"I require no rest," said Jor’Marak flatly. "But there is something I must research. I dare not leave my watch."

"It’s all right, Jor’Marak," said Harry. "Ensign Durok will be here to keep an eye on things. Won’t you, Ensign?"

"Um, yes sir," said the young Klingon. He looked on as the CMO went to her office, while Jor’Marak stepped out of the room.

After several minutes, Durok looked over to the captain. "Sir?"

"Yes, Ensign?"

"I…I just wanted to tell you that it has been an honor to serve under you on this mission."

Harry considered the odd comment graciously, "Uh, well, thank you, Ensign. You’ve done a fine job."

Durok nodded, almost looking sad and forlorn. "I just wanted you to know that, so that you would know…it was not personal."

At that point Durok pulled out a long blade from his uniform tunic and grabbed Harry by the neck. It all happened so quickly, Harry wanted to cry out, to make sense of what was going on.

"Do not call for help, Captain," said Durok, as he gestured over to Saldeed’s office, where she sat poring over her medical files. "I wouldn’t want to have to kill the good doctor as well."

Through the shock and his weakened state, Harry could mutter only one word softly. "Why?"

"For the glory of the House of Kritus," said Durok with a wild, faraway look. "As I said, Captain, it is nothing personal. But it must be done. So that ZhantaI Kalan may ascend."

Harry tried to resist against Durok’s tight grip, but his body was weak and tired. He could not fight, nor did he want to risk the lives of anyone else, if the only thing this lunatic wanted was to eliminate him.

"I heard the words of ZhantaI Kalan before," Durok continued. "He was right. My earlier attempt on your life was dishonorable. I should have come for you directly rather than hiding behind an explosive. But I was selfish. I didn’t want to be caught or killed. I wanted to see ZhantaI Kalan achieve his full destiny, to return to Qu’Onos in glory. But know this, Captain, that with your death, a greater good to the Klingon people will have been achieved."

Harry wanted to say something in response, but was cut short by the sound of the Sickbay doors sliding open. He hoped that it was a contingent of security guards, or even Jor’Marak returning. But his hope turned to horror when he saw it was Katrina, coming to visit him. As soon as she saw the large Klingon hovering over her father with a knife, she instinctively screamed. Durok turned with a panic, feeling as though everything was falling apart. He lunged at the entrance, his knife raised threateningly at the young girl.

"No!" Harry cried out, helpless to do anything to stop him as Katrina stared in terror at the oncoming attacker. But then, Durok seemed to slam into something invisible, causing him to fall back to the floor with a heavy thump. At that moment, Jor’Marak ‘unshrouded’ right between the Klingon and Katrina, and knocked him to the ground again, taking his phaser and breaking his arm in a single motion. His heavy foot stomped onto Durok’s outstretched arm, where he was desperately reaching for his fallen knife. He looked ready to kill the attacker, but Harry called out in time.

"Jor’Marak," he said with authority. "Stand down." The Jem’Hadar complied, and stood his ground, his boot firmly in place. Katrina rushed to her father and hugged him while sobbing. "Daddy," she cried, "I was…I thought…"

"It’s okay, princess," he said, finding the strength to hold his little girl. "I’m just grateful that you’re okay." Harry then looked over to the Jem’Hadar bodyguard. "You were here all the time. You knew?"

"I suspected," said Jor’Marak. "Ensign Durok’s behavior since coming on duty was suspicious. He would constantly watch you and look about for others whenever Sickbay was empty. I sensed fear from him. So I provided an opportunity to test him." Looking stone-faced at the captain, he continued. "You were in no danger, Captain. I was prepared to strike the moment he tried to hurt you."

Saldeed came out of her office just as the Sickbay doors opened again, with Kalan, Cyrus Krell, and three security officers in tow. As soon as he saw the scene before him, Kalan looked at his captain with relief, and then down at the fallen Durok with furious contempt.

"How many?" he demanded. "How many of you did my uncle send here?"

"ZhantaI Kalan…" Durok tried to speak. "I acted alone. I sought only to honor you…"

"Honor me?!" Kalan exploded. "You have shamed me, Ha’DIbaH! For such a cowardly act to be perpetrated in my name, you have dishonored the House of Kritus and yourself!" And with that, he backhanded the young officer across the face, knocking him back to the floor. Harry could see the look on Durok’s face, one of utter deflation and emptiness. He also saw after a moment of reflection that he tried to get up and reach for his knife.

"Stop!" he called out, but it was too late for anyone to do anything. Jor’Marak’s reflexes were too fast as he reached out and smashed his hand into the Klingon’s forehead, crushing the front of his skull. Kalan grabbed the dying Klingon, seeing the blood trickle down from his mouth, looking into his eyes.

"For the honor…" said Durok weakly and then fell still. Saldeed rushed over to run her tricorder over Durok, but her results showed only what Kalan already knew, that he was dead.

"What could he have been thinking?" said Krell with astonishment. "Four security officers and a Jem’Hadar? Going for the knife was suicide."

"That was what he wanted," said Kalan solemnly, "to die in battle." Looking down at the dead Klingon, he let out a regretful sigh. "What a selfish attitude," said Kalan to the fallen corpse. "You think there are shortcuts on the way to Sto’vo’kor, but there are none."

"Well, I guess this is it," said Naomi Wildman, as she stood on the transporter pad in the Paxau Administrative District of the city of Talax’ul’Rhee. The pad was situated on an outdoor platform among the thick trees of the central city, with multicolored awnings draped overhead.

"I suppose it is," said Ambassador Neelix, as he looked around, trying to take in his new surroundings, letting his memory take him back to his youth. "The city has changed since I was here last. I don’t remember so many colors."

"I guess they have a lot more to be proud of," she said, choking on her words, not able to say any more.

"I guess so," he said back as he wandered over to the railing to look out upon the city proper. Neelix smiled as he saw the bustle of activity below and off into the distance. The city, the entire planet, seemed vibrant and alive in a way that it hadn’t been during those dark days after the war. Naomi had been right. There was hope here once again.

"Excuse me, Mr. Ambassador?" came a feminine voice from across the platform. A mature Talaxian woman was approaching them with two younger assistants. "I apologize for the delay. I was supposed to meet you upon arrival."

"Oh, that’s quite all right, Minister…"

"Dexa," she said as she came up to him and Naomi. "A pleasure to meet you in person at last. Captain Kim already showed me and my colleagues your pre-recorded message."

"Oh, that," he said humbly. "I’m surprised you even recognized me. The camera always adds on a few kilos with me."

"Not at all," she answered. "I thought you made quite a distinguished presentation."

"Why, thank you, Madame Minister," he said graciously. "It certainly feels…well, different to be on Talax again."

"I hope you don’t find the changes too bewildering, Mr. Ambassador," she said amiably.

"Please," he said with a chuckle. "When we’re not at any official functions, I’d rather just be called Neelix. I’m still getting used to the title."

"Of course…Neelix," she said, returning his grin with one of her own. "If you’ll come with me, I’ve been asked to introduce you to the rest of the People’s Assembly."

"I’ll be along in just a minute," he said, before turning back to Naomi, who had stood silently by the wayside, watching him and Dexa interact. "I…I guess I have to be going now."

"Yeah, me too," she said. Despite her best intentions, a tear formed at the corner of her eye, which she wiped away quickly. "God, I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry."

"Me too," he said, just as Naomi reached over and the two of them hugged each other goodbye.

"You know," she said, "I remember what you told me all those years ago, when Voyager first came back to the Alpha Quadrant. You said you had to find your own path in the Alpha Quadrant, just like my path involved learning to live my life there."

"Yes," he said as the two parted, "I remember that."

"Will you still be my Uncle Neelix?" said Naomi as she echoed her words of so many years past, feeling like a child once again with the man who had been family to her for so long.

He gave her a smile as wide as his embrace, as he wiped away a tear from her cheek. "I’ll always be your Uncle Neelix," he said as he let her go, and went to leave with Dexa.

Naomi wiped her tear away as she returned to the transporter pad to beam back to Enterprise. She knew that her Uncle Neelix had finally come home, just as it was now time for her to do the same.

After another day of rest, Dr. Saldeed reluctantly agree to allow Harry Kim’s release from Sickbay and a limited returned to duty. He sat up in his chair in his ready room, listening to Lieutenant Krell give his final report on the incident with Durok. Finn Bartok and Kalan sat quietly to the side listening, Kalan being especially subdued.

"We know that Durok was from the House of Garon, which is related by blood to the House of Kritus," Krell reported. "We think it was Durok’s intention to kill you, sir, so that Commander Kalan could, well…"

"So I would assume command of Enterprise, and thus return home as the captain of the flagship of the fleet," Kalan finished, his tone dark and somber.

"That seems to be the case," said Krell, showing discomfort at having to be the bearer of uncomfortable news. "We did some checking and found out that Councilor Hirak pushed hard to have Durok placed aboard Enterprise, but no one took any notice. They figured it was just some political back scratching. In any case, we haven’t found any evidence that any other Klingons were working with Durok, but we’ll keep a close watch on some of his friends aboard ship, just to make certain."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," said Kim. "That will be all."

"Yes, Lieutenant," said Kalan with a confident nod. "Thank you." For a moment, the two nodded at each other, silent, yet speaking volumes. Krell then turned and left the three officers to their own counsel.

"Sir," said Kalan with uncharacteristic humbleness as he got up from his seat and stood before Harry’s desk, "I will understand if you wish for me to transfer off of Enterprise."

"Why would I want you to do that?" asked Harry.

The Klingon looked at his captain curiously. "I would think that after what has happened, you would no longer trust me. How can you ever be certain that I was not a part of the plot to eliminate you? If you cannot trust your first officer, than I cannot be effective to you."

"Relax, Commander," said Harry lightheartedly. "I have complete confidence that you were in no way a part of any plot. We may have only served together for a short time, but I think I’ve come to understand a few things about you. You’re a man of honor, XO. You wouldn’t have done anything like this just for power or political advancement. And even if you had wanted to kill me, you never would have hidden behind underlings and bombs in the hallway. You’d look me in the eye and face me; the way Durok finally did in the end.

"I also remember you telling me once that whatever differences we might face, you’d always serve me honorably. Now, I know that a warrior never goes back on his word."

"Indeed," said Kalan, a feral smile curling at the corner of his mouth, "he does not."

"Do you think that Durok could have come up with this plan by himself?" asked Bartok.

"Unlikely," said Kalan, the bitterness in his voice obvious to all. "This is my uncle’s doing. Hirak fought hard to have me elevated to a command position, and was not pleased that I was only made executive officer to the Enterprise. This was his work, I’m sure of it. All to raise my political stature upon my return."

"Unfortunately," said Harry, "there’s no proof connecting your uncle to the crime. Any hard evidence we had died with Durok."

"So what do we do?" asked Bartok. "Do we inform Fleet Command?"

"That would create problems," said Harry. "We don’t know if any of the Klingons on the Command Staff are tight with Councilor Hirak or not. As much as I’d like to nail him for the crime, if it gets out we’re accusing a Councilor of murder without evidence, it could create a huge political firestorm. I’ve sent a private communiqué to Admiral Janeway letting her know what’s happened here. If there’s any dirt to be found, it’s in the hands of Starfleet Intelligence now."

"Doesn’t sound very satisfying," said the counselor, "does it?"

"Do not be concerned with Hirak," said Kalan as he stood at attention. "I will handle him in my own way."

Kalan stood fiercely at the center of the holocom chamber, waiting for the computer to finish making the connection. The room was somewhat smaller than a standard holodeck, circular-shaped, its dark walls crisscrossed with diagonal silver gridlines. But with the hyperlink system now operational, this would not be the kind of entertaining diversion that humans were so fond of.

"Qo’noS hyperlink connection established," the computer announced. "Stand by for holographic interface."

The air around him shimmered as the gridlines were replaced by red and gray marble and stone. The Great Seal of the Empire hung proudly at the back of the room, with a large desk dominating the center. Standing before the desk was an older Klingon male, his hair and beard tinged with gray, his broad chest and plump midsection draped with a heavy sash bedecked with medals and icon in an ostentatious display.

"Kalan, my boy," the man said heartily, bordering on obsequiousness. "This is truly amazing. This dogh holoprojector they installed in my office actually works. It’s hard to believe we’re actually talking across seventy thousand light-years. It looks like you’re right here in the room with me. I hear you ran into a bit of trouble out there…"

"Pah!" Kalan shouted as he spat at the feet of his uncle. The fury and contempt on his face were unmistakable.

Hirak’s jaw hung open in shock. "Have you lost your mind, boy? Are you challenging me? Me?"

"I know what you did, uncle," said Kalan frostily. "You had Durok placed aboard Enterprise to kill my captain."

"Kalan, I haven’t the slightest idea…"

"Do not lie to me, old man! Your man practically confessed your patronage before he died! I tell you this now, uncle. If you placed any more minions on my ship, they had best hope I never learn their identities. I promise they will not be dispatched as quickly or as cleanly as Durok."

"You call me a liar?" Hirak sputtered. "You ungrateful tIch! After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me? I practically raised you as my son and you…"

"You have a son! Mokar! Have you forgotten? Or is simply that he has nothing to offer you to elevate you into power?"

"Mokar?" Hirak almost laughed. "He’s useless! He’s been nothing but a disgrace to me from the day of his birth! You, you were my hope, the son I truly wanted. I did everything for you…"

"You are not my father!" Kalan fumed. "You were never my father. My father was Kritus, son of Talankar, of the House of Kritus! He was a hero of the Empire and a man of honor. Everything that you have, everything you are, you took from him."

"A hero of the Empire," Hirak sneered. "He was always the lucky one, Kritus was. He had every opportunity, every chance. Even in death, he was luckier than any man deserved to be. But after he was gone, who was the one who raised you? I took you and your mother in…"

"You let yourself in!" Kalan snarled. "What you did, you didn’t do out of love or affection. You did it for yourself. You let everyone know that you were the brother of a hero and built career around that, just as you have tried to do with me. You are a parasite, uncle; a parasite who uses others to further the dreams of ambition that you could never hope to achieve on your own. And you are not fit to lead my father’s house!"

Hirak’s entire demeanor changed at that point. The defensive, wounded expression he wore before was now gone, replaced by a cold and confident posture. Any doubt that Kalan might have had regarding his uncle’s guilt was gone now. "What are you saying, boy? Are you challenging me for leadership of the House of Kritus?"

Kalan did not waver at all, but returned his icy glare with one of equal intensity. "I will be away from the Empire for some time, uncle. So you have that long to ensure your position. But upon my return, there will be changes in how things are done."

Hirak responded with a cruel laughter, showing no fear. "You must truly have been seduced by the mindless praise the masses are heaping on you if you think you can unseat me, nephew. A warrior is no substitute for a politician. They fight on different battlefields, ones that you haven’t begun to map out yet. I may not have created much on my own, but if you try to challenge me, I think you’ll find that there’s no one who is better at holding on to what he has."

The son of Kritus showed no fear in his reply. "I will be here in the Delta Quadrant for a good number of years. I have ample time to learn. And I’ve always been a quick study. Isn’t that what you’ve always told me?"

The elder Klingon simply growled something unintelligible and ended the transmission. The Great Seal and the marble were gone. There was nothing left to say. As the humans liked to say, the gloves were off now.

Katrina lay out on her stomach on her bed, sounds of FreeFusion vibes wafting through the air. Her eyes were focused on the HPADD hovering before her face. Instead of a translucent scroll of data, it was configured into the unique image of a printed book bound in old leather. Since the manuscript was so old, she selected an appropriate format to read by. With each wave of her hand, the false pages would dissolve and reformat to the next page. There wasn’t much else for her to do except listen to music and read, as she was still grounded. No time outside her family’s quarters for two weeks, except for school and visiting her father in Sickbay. Of course, after the last visit, she doubted her mother would ever let her out of her sight again.

The bedroom door chimed, and Katrina answered it with great reluctance. It was her mother, looking…well, not quite so witch-like this time. In fact, she seemed almost, well, like a mother.

"May I come in?" Annika asked.

"Sure," Katrina replied. Her mother came into the room and, instead of glaring from a distance, sat down gently next to her on the bed.

"How are you feeling?"

"I’m…I’m fine, Mom," said Katrina, sitting up from her reading, more puzzled than before.

"When I heard about what happened in Sickbay, I…"

"Mom, really, I’m okay," the Romulan girl said reassuringly. "I was scared for a little while, but Jor’Marak really slammed that rimrule down. After that, I was mostly worried for Dad."

"Yes," she said, her hand touching her daughter’s shoulder. "Just as I was worried for both of you."

"I know," said Katrina sheepishly.

"Katrina," her mother said, more seriously, "I realize that you feel I am too strict at times. Perhaps, I am. I only want what is best for you and for you to reach your full potential. When you are a mother, you will understand."

"Look, mom," Katrina sighed, "I know all this. I just…well, I wish you’d just trust me more. I’m not trying to get into trouble."

"Then why did you spy on Doctor T’Villet in Science Lab 2 the other day?" asked Annika.

"I…I just wanted to see Romulans at work, that’s all," she answered, trying to look too embarrassed. "I was just curious, Mom, that’s all. I didn’t mean to break any rules."

Annika leaned over, casting an eye upon the holographic book her daughter was reading. "This is written in Romulan script."

"Yeah," said Katrina. "It’s something that Dr. Saldeed recommended. I switched off the universal translator system in the room. I wanted to try and decipher the language myself."

"Have you been successful?" asked her mother.

"Well," her daughter answered with a blush, "I get maybe one out of every five words. Rihannsu can be a pretty dense lingo. Three different noun cases and a spelling system that makes English look like, well, Binary. Lucky this is just a children’s story."

"Indeed?" said Annika, showing more interest. "What is the tale about?"

"It’s a kind of historical adventure," said Katrina, perking up at her mother’s expressed involvement in what interested her. "A big saga about the earliest Romulan pioneers and their first visit to Remus."

"Does the story have a happy ending?"

"Not for the Remans," Katrina answered wryly. "Of course, I doubt I’ll ever get through to the ending. Reading Rihannsu is a lot tougher than trying to speak it, and I still haven’t had any luck there."

"Do not belittle yourself, Katrina," said her mother reassuringly. "You are capable of anything you set your mind to. I have always believed so."

"Really?" said the teenager.

"Really," said Annika with a confident smile. "As long as you show the proper focus."

Katrina held back a wry laughter. Some things just don’t change overnight, she supposed. It wasn’t quite peace, but it was a start.

Kalan and Mokar walked silently down the corridor towards the transporter room, their faces revealing nothing. There was so much that had to be said between them, but neither knew where to begin. So they each did what came easiest. They said nothing.

As they entered Transporter Room One, Kalan glanced over at the officer on duty and requested that he leave. Mokar glanced over at him with concern.

"Do not be alarmed, Mokar," said Kalan. "I have no intention of challenging you. I simply wished to speak with you…privately. I…wish to apologize for my assumption of your guilt. I have always prided myself on being clear of mind and rational, but with you…"

Mokar nodded stoically with acknowledgement. "You would not be the first to have done so, cousin. I understand your anger with me. What I did, fleeing to join with the Order of Boreth, I did to hurt my father. I did not intend to disrespect the House of Kritus. Or you, Kalan."

"I know that, now," he said. "Perhaps it took your coming here for me to realize who is really standing with me, and who is standing against me."

"You refer to Hirak," said Mokar.

"I intend no disrespect against your father," said Kalan.

"Of course you do," said Mokar, "nor should you apologize for it. I know that it’s no coincidence that my father’s agent made his move against your captain the moment I came aboard Enterprise. It was no secret that Victorious would be the first ship of the fleet to rendezvous with you. It was his intention to cast suspicion against me all along."

"How could you know this?"

"I know my father," said Mokar sadly. "There is little love in Hirak’s heart for anyone other than Hirak. I know that he has no use for me, just as I learned long ago that I have no use for him. If my time with the Order taught me anything is that honor and ambition are not one and the same. Kahless did not choose the path he did out of a desire for power or wealth. It was his faith in the Klingon people that drove him, his belief that a life lived honorably and gloriously would bring its own rewards."

"I remember the lessons well," said Kalan with a smile. "Every Klingon must search for honor along his own path. Do not envy me for the path I have taken, Mokar. It may lead me to an early passing to Sto’vo’Kor."

"Or to the office of Chancellor," Mokar replied. "I admit I was once envious of your accomplishments, Kalan, and the fact that you and your mother supplanted me from my father’s life. It was part of the reason I fled to Boreth. I learned to meditate to cast aside such useless feelings. I still struggle with them. Perhaps I am still seeking my path to honor."

"Perhaps you have already found it," said Kalan generously. "Many of the crew of the Victorious think well of you."

"And others do not."

"That may change," he said. "Hirak’s actions will be known to all one day. Perhaps as his estimation goes down, yours will rise."

"Perhaps," said Mokar, as he strode up to the transporter pad, noticing Kalan’s proximity to the control panel. "You realize that this could be your last opportunity to kill me, Kalan."

"Another time, cousin," Kalan answered with a grudging smile. "I must have something to look forward to the next time we meet, eh?" The two laughed heartily. Maybe it wasn’t peace, but at least it was acceptance.

"Qapla’, Kalan, son of Kritus," said Mokar.

"Qapla’, Mokar," he said back, as the transporter cycle initiated, beaming him back to his ship. Yes, it was Mokar, not Mokar, son of Hirak. He was his own man now.

Kalan stepped off the turbolift onto the bridge, where his seat by his captain’s side awaited him. The Counselor Bartok occupied the chair opposite to his, while the captain’s wife sat at one of the observation chairs along the rim of the bridge. All eyes were upon Kalan as he arrived. Their tasks in establishing the bridgehead at Talax now complete, it was time for Enterprise to move on to the next phase of her mission and resume the exploration of the quadrant.

"Did you take care of what needed doing, XO?" asked Harry as his first officer took his sear.

"Mokar has returned to the Victorious," answered Kalan. "And I have had my conversation with my uncle."

Bartok leaned over with a look of concern. "I hope that didn’t create too much trouble for you back home."

"It was something that should have been said a long time ago," answered the Klingon.

"Sir," Naomi Wildman called over from Ops. "We’re getting clearance from Talax Orbital Traffic Control. We’re clear to leave on your mark. We’ve also received farewells from the First Chair, the People’s Assembly, and…" she paused as she briefly collected herself, "from Ambassador Neelix."

Kim smiled as he turned to Ops. "Please return my complements to them all. I’m sure we’ll be back this way soon enough." Harry them turned to the console on his right, opening a channel to the Victorious. "Captain Nog, we’re ready to depart. I leave Talax and Delta One in your capable hands."

"Good luck to you, Enterprise," came Nog’s reply over the intercom. "Victorious will be out there with you soon enough. Let’s hope when our ships meet again, there will be less drama and more of a chance to swap stories."

"Amen to that," Harry responded, before turning to his XO and giving him the word. "Commander?"

Kalan smiled and glanced forward towards the helm station. "Ensign Paris," he said to Miral. "Take us out of orbit."

"Aye, sir," said the young officer. "Heading?"

The Klingon stood and scratched his bearded chin with a wry expression. "Set course for the Rectilia Cluster. It’s time for Enterprise to begin its own saga of glory."


Category : Delta Fleet

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