Breeds of Wisdom

Written by  on December 31, 2002 

Breeds of Wisdom Cover

Can the Jem’Hadar prevent an invasion of the Enterprise from within?

Written by Jeffrey Harlan

Stardate 76581.3

Release 31 Dec 2002

The city’s streets were strewn with rubble, the result of a massive battle that had been raging for hours. Explosions from weapons impacts had knocked large chunks of buildings free, and those had fallen to the ground, crushing anything in their path. Paved walkways were a spiderweb of craters, cracks and shattered concrete. Parked ground vehicles were smashed into twisted hulks of metal, plastic and glass.

Jor’Marak was all but oblivious to this as he took aim. After the fighting had begun, the indigenous population had fled in terror, something the Jem’Hadar First wouldn’t have concerned himself with in the past, but a consideration he was forced to weigh now that he found himself and his men bound to a Starfleet captain. His shot clear, Jor’Marak caressed the trigger of his weapon, and his target toppled backward onto a pile of broken asphalt.

Jor’Marak paused briefly to consider his odd-looking quarry. The smoking hole in his chest aside, he looked more or less human. But then there was the incredibly pale skin, the green hair, and the bright red lips that, even in death, were twisted into a wicked grin. An explosion behind him brought Jor’Marak’s thoughts back to the battle, and the First chided himself silently for allowing his mind to wander so.

Jor’Marak looked toward the source of the explosion and saw a pair of his men facing off with an enormous cyborg that looked like an armor- clad, chromed humanoid skeleton. They were both junior soldiers, low in the hierarchy of the squad aboard Enterprise. He dropped to one knee, and again brought his weapon to bear. He fired, and a hole suddenly appeared in the cyborg’s torso between its shoulder-blades. A glowing, iridescent green crystal hung, suspended by cables feeding from it. The cyborg spun in fury to face its newest opponent, and the crystal suddenly snapped loose, tumbling to the shattered ground at the cyborg’s feet. The cyborg ground to a halt, frozen in its menacing stance.

More explosions further down the decimated street drew the attention of the three Jem’Hadar. They quickly made their way to the source of the disturbance, where they found another Jem’Hadar, Twelfth Aza’Melek, locked in combat with two armored humans.

The four Jem’Hadar converged on their armored opponents. As two faced off with the one with the silvery armor and green cloak, Jor’Marak and the fourth Jem’Hadar approached the second foe in the green armor atop a hovering, rocket-powered glider.

In the periphery of his vision, Jor’Marak saw his fellows engage their ground-based opponent, bursts of supercharged energy passing between them. "Richards’ pawns!" The armored human spat disdainfully at the others, but Jor’Marak’s attention was on his own battle at the moment.

As the emerald-armored human hurled a round, orange-colored projectile, Jor’Marak leaped forward, tackling the cackling human atop his glider. They struggled for dominance, the glider teetering perilously nearly a meter above the ground.

"Parker is much better at conversation, my friend," the human said, an almost playful tone in his voice. Jor’Marak admired the fierce determination he could see in the human’s eyes, nearly hidden behind opaque yellow goggles built into the twisted face of the helmet.

With blinding speed, Jor’Marak backhanded the human across the fanged face of his helmet. Pressing his advantage while the human was stunned, he rammed his bony head into the human’s helmeted head, further dazing his opponent. He reached into the satchel slung over the human’s shoulder, and felt several of the explosive projectiles within. He thumbed a switch on one, then half-turned and hurled himself away from the glider.

Behind him, the glider, and its armored occupant, exploded in a brilliant fireball. Jor’Marak stood, assessing his squad as they approached him in triumph through the chaos.

"We live," Jor’Marak said proudly. Aza’Melek and the two junior soldiers nodded in silent acknowledgment. The First paused a moment, then added, "Computer, end program."

The battle-torn city faded away with a shimmer, leaving the bare cavernous chamber of the holographic training room. Doors that had been invisible up until this point slid apart, revealing Second Adan’Alam and Third Terem’Bakal standing in anticipation.

"This exercise is not part of the regimen provided by the Founders," said Adan’Alam, his voice neutral, yet hinting at disapproval.

"It is a program used by one of the human crew," said Jor’Marak. "I selected it so that we might better prepare ourselves for their notions of combat."

"These… characters," said the Second, his head shaking in bewilderment. "Surely these are not considered worthy opponents by humans?"

"You watched the battle," said Jor’Marak stiffly. "What were your observations?"

"They made no effort to camouflage themselves," said Adan’Alam, his voice even more disapproving. "Their garments were made without any thought of protection or concealment. Much of the flying one’s accoutrements seemed to serve no utilitarian purpose, but were purely for useless decoration. These adversaries could not possibly be expected to survive on a real battlefield."

"And they talked too much," added Terem’Bakal, just enough to not outshine his superior. Clearly this was a conversation intended for between the First and Second, his opinion of only tertiary interest.

"Have you considered that perhaps that is the true purpose of the program?" Jor’Marak commented. "That by providing distractions, the true deadliness of the opponents is concealed?"

"It still seems like a futile exercise from my perspective," said Adan’Alam. "The Founders would not have approved."

Jor’Marak’s eyes narrowed in a threatening glare, his posture coiled for a possible strike. "And do you think yourself a Vorta, to know what the will of the Founders to be? I would watch your words, Adan’Alam. The guidelines given to us prevent me from killing you, but I would not think twice of demoting you to Twelfth if you should undermine my authority again."

"I live to serve, First Jor’Marak," Adan’Alam said as he bowed his head with the proper deference. But the tone in his voice showed anything but approval.

Near the Vidiian Border
Stardate 76581.3
31 July 2399 0753 hrs

The freighter was old and run down, even by Kazon standards. She was large and bulky with poor maneuverability, just barely enough firepower to defend itself against any would-be boarders. Not that any pirates would be fool enough to attack a ship of the Kazon Union of Sects. Such brazenness was quickly met with retribution once the guilty party’s homeport was located.

Jal Kebrit sat nervously in the pilot’s seat watching the sensor monitors for any sign of activity, taking an occasional nip of Enemy’s Blood from his flask. He didn’t know what made him antsier, the journey or the waiting. But he didn’t want it to show. He was supposed to be the seasoned veteran. His younger co-pilot, Jal Havar, seemed barely old enough for his naming ceremony. He wondered how such a fresh-faced pup found his way on such a dreary run, when so many young Kazon were being shipped off to the front lines.

"We must have really offended the odi," said Havar, as he anxiously rubbed the dark pouch he wore about his neck. "How else would we have ended up assigned this close to Ghoul Space?"

Kebrit tried not to laugh. Havar was a Kazon Hobii and a harmless enough fellow, even if he was a bit hot tempered. But the Hobii had a reputation among the other sects as ignorant hayseeds, and Havar acted superstitious like a senile old woman. Yes, they were all supposed to be part of the Union now. But the old sect stereotypes did not die so easily.

"Look at it this way," said Kebrit with a lazy smile. "We could have ended up on the Krowtonan front."

Havar did not seem convinced. "At least when the Krowtonan Guard comes for you, they don’t harvest your organs while you still live. Not like the Ghouls do."

Ghouls. That’s what many of the Kazon sects called the Vidiians, a nickname richly deserved. They were a powerful people, no question about that, and controlled a volume of space almost as impressive as the Union itself. Their technology, what little of it was seen, revealed a craftsmanship far superior to anything the Kazon could field. But for all their size and alleged power, they chose not to be players in the game of interstellar politics. The Vidiians kept to themselves, their efforts focused on matters of medicine and culture. What transpired within their borders was anyone’s guess. None who crossed their space uninvited ever returned.

"Don’t get so jumpy, boy," said Kebrit, his amusement starting to wear away as he took another swig of Enemy’s Blood. "The Union’s been trading with the Ghouls for years. It’s worked out well for both of us. They’re not about to ruin that now."

"I suppose. But the stories I’ve heard…"

"Forget about what you’ve heard," said Kebrit as he leaned back in his seat. "I’ve done three of these runs before and the Ghouls have never given me a second look. They don’t like us any more than we like them. All they want is the cargo, and they pay us well for it. That’s all you need to worry about."

At that moment, the monitor chimed. Both Kazon glanced down at the screen, taking notice of the fact that something large was coming upon their position.

"They’re here," said Kebrit, as he looked up to the wide viewer and saw a large starship dropping out of warp practically on top of them. It was massive, nearly as big as a Predator. Kebrit knew the ship class, and its size did not alarm him the way it did Havar. It was a supply ship, a carrier, with little in the way of armament. But it was still more than their pitiful freighter could muster.

The com channel whistled and a harsh raspy voice came over the intercom. "Kazon vessel. This is Vidiian Transport 117 out of Yalitia. We are in position. Do you have the cargo?"

Kebrit reached over and toggled the reply switch. "Vidiian transport, this is Kazon freighter Foul Wind. We have what you asked for. We’re ready to trade."

"Stand by for docking, Foul Wind. Transport out."

The older Kazon nodded and looked over to his younger companion. "Go down below and check on the cargo. Make sure we’re ready for unloading. And whatever you do, let me do the talking. You don’t say a word."

"Aye," said Havar, as if he would even consider arguing that point.

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Main Sickbay
Stardate 76581.3
31 July 2399 0800 hrs

Dr. Tila Saldeed looked up from the computer terminal on her desk and pas the shoulder of her head nurse, the young hologram named Norma Jean Baker. She muttered a curse in her native Romulan, which caused Baker to turn and investigate what would provoke such a reaction in Enterprise’s chief medical officer.

Jor’Marak led the three-dozen Jem’Hadar under his command into the main room of Enterprise’s primary sickbay. Once inside, they stood completely still, waiting.

"The problem with these HPADDs," Saldeed commented as she rose from her chair, is there’s nothing solid to throw onto your desk in frustration." She walked toward the Jem’Hadar entourage, and her sensitive Romulan ears barely heard the muted words of her nurse.

"Showtime," Baker chuckled under her breath. Saldeed decided she would likely never understand Terran humor.

"It’s time for a refill, I take it," Saldeed said dryly as she approached Jor’Marak. "I don’t suppose I could convince you to just take your White and leave, could I?" The reply was a foregone conclusion, but Saldeed decided to try anyhow.

"If you intend to dishonor the Founders by refusing to say the oath of loyalty," Jor’Marak began, letting his words trail off. The rest was clear, and Saldeed was smart enough to see the thinly veiled threat. As the humans would say, it made her ears burn.

"Let’s get one thing straight," she said coolly, "I don’t do this for your Founders, and my only job as far as you’re concerned is to distribute your drug to you so you don’t kill the rest of the crew." She spun on her heel before he could reply, and made a beeline for the replicator. The faster she got these drug-addicted killing machines out of her sickbay, the calmer her morning would be.

She entered the command to produce the narcotic, then her security code. A moment later, a tray loaded with vials of Ketracel-White materialized in front of her. She took hold of it, then marched back to the Jem’Hadar. She cleared her throat and swallowed her annoyance. There was only one way to get this group of psychopaths out of her sickbay, and by now she’d memorized it.

"First Jor’Marak," she began, "can you vouch for the loyalty of your men?"

"We pledge our loyalty to the Founders," Jor’Marak replied, "and to the captain of this vessel from now until death."

"Then receive this reward from the Founders," Saldeed recited. "May it keep you strong." She held the tray out to the Jem’Hadar leader, and he took a single vial, as always, and inserted it into his body armor, replacing a spent vial. He then handed a vial to his Second, who repeated the process. This continued until all thirty-seven Jem’Hadar had replaced their vials of the narcotic.

When the reptilian soldiers were finally gone, Saldeed felt as though she needed a long, hot shower.

Near the Vidiian Border
Stardate 76581.3
31 July 2399 0811 hrs

The freighter Foul Wind rested inside the cavernous docking bay of the Vidiian supply ship as Kebrit strutted down his vessel’s main ramp to greet his hosts. Havar stood close by his side, waiting anxiously for the Vidiian crew to arrive. The walls were bright white and polished, with everything gleaming in the bright glare of the actinic overhead lights.

"Now, remember," said Kebrit. "Don’t let their appearance scare you. We’re representing the Union here. If we look weak in front of the Ghouls, the Grand Maje himself will boil us alive."

"I hear you," said Havar, still shivering as he looked about the cold and antiseptic walls of the Vidiian hangar.

"And another thing," the elder Kazon went on. "Don’t touch anything. They’re fanatics about cleanliness. Don’t ask me why. You’d think any germs we’re carrying would be nothing compared to that damned Phage of theirs."

The main airlock doors slid apart, and through the disinfectant mist strode three humanoid figures. It was only as they stepped forward from the mist and into the bright light of the room. There they were. The Ghouls. Vidiians. Their unmistakably mutilated faces were the subjects of many a myth throughout the quadrant. Havar had to restrain himself from making the hex sign to ward off any evil obi.

"I am Sector Medical Administrator Thulas," said the leader, a tall and frail looking man whose age with difficult to determine through the scarred hairless flesh of his face. In fact, Kebrit couldn’t even be sure if Thulas was male or female, his body being so decayed. Thulas glanced at the two Kazon with thinly veiled contempt. "We shall see the cargo now."

"Fine," said Kebrit. "Havar, bring them out."

The younger Kazon nodded and strode over to the aft cargo section of the Kazon freighter. He commanded the massive rear cargo door to swing down, and then called into the ship, gripping a large stun baton and brandishing it threateningly.

"Get out here," Havar shouted, his earlier anxiety now vented into nervous anger. The fresh-faced young pup had transformed into a swaggering bully, something he seemed quite comfortable with. "All of you, out here now!"

There was a stir of groans emanating from inside the freighter that couldn’t be made out as intelligible speech. And then, gradually, people began to shuffle out of the cargo hold. Their hands were manacled, but they looked unaware of their surroundings. Their eyes were glazed over, their jaws slack with stupor. They came in all shapes and ages. Men, women, children. Young and old. They were overwhelmingly Trabe, but Kebrit noticed the handful of Kazon mixed in with the bunch. They were most likely criminals who had offended the Grand Maje somehow, thought Kebrit, and he was better off not knowing what crimes had warranted such a cruel fate. If there was one thing the cargo all had in common, it was that they were all going to be sliced and diced and transplanted into some lucky Vidiian.

"Move it, you scum!" Havar bellowed, using the stun baton to prod several stragglers into keeping up the rest as he maneuvered them out of the ship and onto the center of the hangar bay.

"Eighty healthy specimens," said Kebrit proudly, "with more on the way." It was dreary work, hauling these doped-up prisoners and delivering them to the Vidiians. But anything that resulted in fewer Trabe in the universe had to be a good thing, he thought.

"This is the best you have to offer?" Thulas asked skeptically. "Women, children, the elderly? Where are the fighters? There’s a demand for healthy muscle tissue."

Before Kebrit could answer, one of the Trabe meekly spoke up, her voice barely coherent. "My…daughter. W-where’s my…daughter?"

"Shut up, woman!" Havar shouted down at the woman. "Get back in line!"

"W-where…is…my…little…girl?" the female Trabe babbled through her drug-induced trance.

"I said be quiet, you Trabe bitch!" Havar snarled as he stomped over to the woman, lifted up his baton and clubbed her in the head three times, until she fell to the ground silently. Kebrit looked on in amazement. He never would have believed that the quiet superstitious co-pilot would have it in him to be such an effective slave wrangler.

"What are you doing?" said the lead Vidiian in alarm. "You ignorant savage! What have you done?" The three Vidiians then ran up to the fallen woman and performed a quick medical scan on her with one of their arcane devices.

"What’s the big deal?" asked Kebrit. "You’re just going to cut her up, aren’t you?"

"Fool!" Thulas sneered at him. "You have no idea how much a pair of healthy eyes are worth. Your man came dangerously close to damaging the merchandise. It’s lucky for you both that the woman only has a concussion." Getting to his feet, the Vidiian gave Kebrit a harsh glare. "I can’t say that I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen so far. Surely this lot can’t be it?"

Kebrit grinned wickedly. Like any good salesman, he was saving the best for last. "Havar, how about you bring out our latest acquisitions?"

The younger Kazon nodded in agreement as he went around to the back of the cargo ship and led another unlucky soul down the ramp and into the bay. Trailing behind this prisoner were nearly a dozen more just like him. They wore the same vacant expressions as the others, yet clearly these beings were of another race; tall, gray-skinned and powerfully built. Their small eyes were recessed within hooded sockets, their noses a pair of tiny slits etched into a face that could have been carved from stone. Their limbs were thick, their torsos solid. And their scalps were sprinkled with a coating of short, fine hair.

The Vidiians were practically salivating at the sight of them. "Brutals," Thulas exclaimed with deliriousness. "Krowtonan Brutals! This is…oh my. This is…how did you…how ever did your people catch them? It’s said that they’re conditioned from birth to never accept defeat or surrender."

"We were lucky," said Kebrit proudly. "An attack cutter was damaged in a firefight and lost primary life support. Most of the crew were found dead, but these monsters," he said as he gestured to the hulking forms, each of which towered at least a head above him, "were still alive and unconscious."

"Remarkable," Thulas went on as he and his associates poked and scanned the twelve newest prisoners. "Perfect genetic health," he reported. "Although you seem to have overmedicated them."

"It wasn’t our fault," said Havar, ignoring the harsh glare from his superior. "Their immune systems were growing tolerant to the drugs. We had to keep them sedated, after all."

"It’s nothing we can’t fix," said Thulas, still showing his excitement. "I don’t suppose you managed to secure…their commanding Prime, did you?"

"No such luck," said Kebrit. "We did manage to recover what was left of him, assuming you can find some use for the body. Now, I think we’re ready to talk about payment."

"Yes, indeed," said the Vidiian administrator, clearly in a much-buoyed mood now. "I believe that five hundred warp plasma conduits, two hundred phaser arrays, and one hundred Level Three deflectors was the agreed price."

"That was before we showed you the Brutals," said Kebrit, standing firm. He prepared for this, and was ready to lay down the terms given to him by his superiors, orders that supposedly came from the Grand Maje himself. It was a tremendous honor, carrying out the Grand Maje’s words. But great opportunities in the Union came at a terrible price, if one was not able to deliver on one’s promises. "I’ve been instructed by the Union to demand an addition of Class III stealth technology and the subspace weaponry we discussed at our last meeting."

"Subspace weaponry?" Thulas stammered incredulously. "Your Grand Maje must be joking. All that, for just twelve Brutals and a corpse?"

"The Grand Maje never jokes," said Kebrit, "not when it comes to winning the war against the Krowtonans."

"If Nagan were so concerned about Kazon casualties," Thulas replied, "then perhaps he shouldn’t have started the war in the first place."

"Watch what you say about our leader, Ghoul!" Havar snapped, as he gripped his stun baton aggressively. The two other Vidiians quickly went for their own weapons, but Kebrit raised his hands and quickly stepped in between them.

"Take it easy," said Kebrit. "We’re all here to do a little business, that’s all." He then shot Havar a withering stare that cautioned him about opening his mouth any further. "Now, we were talking about how much the Brutals were worth, and just how many healthy organs could be extracted from them. And how pleased your superiors would be if some very important Vidiians were to receive them."

Thulas scratched his chin ? or what was left of it ? and nodded in consideration. "We can give you thirty stealth units and the materials to construct fifty isokinetic projectiles. If you want a complete cannon, you’ll have to bring us a live Prime next time."

"Agreed," said Kebrit. The Grand Maje would have been pleased with a complete isokinetic cannon, but it was expected that the Ghouls would play hardball. The stealth units were the real prizes. A dozen such devices would enhance the cloaking fields of any fleet and give them a decisive advantage in the next probe into Krowtonan territory.

"A Brutal," said one of the other Vidiians with glee. "When the Ascended Ones hear about this, we’re sure to be given the Cure!"

"Be quiet!" Thulas shushed his subordinates. "We do not talk about such things in front of outsiders."

"What things?" said Havar testily. "Are you saying you people have a cure for your disease?"

"Havar," Kebrit growled, wishing the youngster would just shut his mouth and not cause any more trouble.

"No, I’m serious," said Havar. "We’re bending over backwards to deliver these bodies to you, and you’ve already got a cure. I don’t get it. Why the organ harvesting? If you can cure yourselves, then why not do it?"

Thulas looked askance at the younger Kazon, his face looking ever more weary through his sickness. "There is a cure. We…we just aren’t worthy of it yet."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Deck 2
Stardate 76581.3
31 July 2399 0830 hrs

Captain Harry Kim looked across at his senior staff, his expression one of worry and concern. In the short time since the Enterprise had arrived in the Delta Quadrant, they had already experienced a number of tense and dangerous moments. But up to now, the tension had come up them unexpectedly and quickly. Now, with this newest mission, there would be plenty of time to contemplate the danger before the moment of truth finally arrived.

"The word has come from Fleet Command," reported the captain grimly. "We’re to proceed to Delta Sector 43 and begin our observations of the Krowtonan Axis."

Lieutenant Commander Vorik broke the silence in the room as he turned to his captain and spoke calmly. "Have we been authorized to cross into Krowtonan territory as part of our observations?"

"Negative," said Harry. "Our orders are to remain outside their recognized borders and gather whatever information we can as a possible prelude to formal First Contact. We’re to remain at Yellow Alert and do nothing that might be considered provocative."

"Captain," said Commander Kalan, "in case Fleet Command has forgotten, contact had already been initiated by the Krowtonans against the USS Equinox. A hostile contact, I might add."

"We’re all aware of that, Commander," said Harry with a sigh. "But I think we’re a lot better able to defend ourselves than a Nova-class science vessel."

"Nevertheless," said Kalan, "I suggest a stronger defensive posture might be called for. The ship should go to full Red Alert."

"We have our orders, XO," said Kim sternly. "We stay at Yellow Alert, unless any hostilities are directed at us."

"Sir," Lieutenant Commander Bartok spoke up, "what is it that Fleet Command hopes to accomplish from this mission? From what the Talaxians told us, these Krowtonans aren’t exactly nice people."

"I know," said Harry. "Hostile, xenophobic, and downright dangerous. Those were the words Captain Ransom used to describe them in the Equinox logs. I suppose Fleet Command wants to see if the whole ?enemy of my enemy’ principle will apply out here."

"It makes you wonder how Equinox turned out so fortunate," said Doctor Tila Saldeed. "How is it that Voyager never met up with these people?"

"We had something the Equinox didn’t," said Naomi Wildman. "Neelix as a guide. When the Equinox left the Ocampa system, they naturally plotted the most direct course back to the Federation, a straight line that happened to pass through Krowtonan space. Voyager, on the other hand, had someone who knew the local sectors and what the safest route was. So we took a course that kept us between Kazon and Vidiian territories."

"Not as straight," said Harry, "but a lot safer. Anyhow, we know for a fact how dangerous the Kazon have become. If the Krowtonans appear amenable, then we might have a vested interest in allying with them."

"Assuming that they would desire any alliances with outsiders," said Saldeed. "Some people just don’t like strangers popping up on their doorstep unannounced."

"We shouldn’t necessarily assume the worst," said Bartok proudly. "After all, we managed to open up the Sarpedians to the idea of friendly relations with the outside universe."

"With all due respect to your oratory talents, Commander," said Kalan pointedly, "the Sarpedians did not have a reputation for destroying any vessel that wandered into their space, nor were they responsible for the deaths of thirty-nine Starfleet officers." The Klingon then snorted in disgust. "These Krowtonans did not even honor the crew of the Equinox by showing them their faces when they attacked."

At the mention of their recent contact with Sarpedon, Harry turned to his right where his wife, the ship’s Director of Science, sat quietly. He knew that Annika had nothing concrete to offer on this matter, as the Borg had never chosen to assimilate a member of the Krowtonan race. This more than anything was what Harry found so disquieting about this mission. Not only were they completely ignorant as to the intentions of these Krowtonans, but also for that matter, they didn’t even know what they looked like.

Still, it saddened Harry that there was still so much cacophony at these briefings. Even though it was early in their mission and the crew was still learning to work together as a seamless whole, he could have done without what was becoming the regular morning discord between Starfleet optimism, Klingon belligerence, Ferengi greed, and Dr. Saldeed’s unique brand of cynicism.

"Everyone," said the captain, "I know we’re treading into unknown and potentially dangerous territory. Nevertheless, we have our orders. Either the Krowtonans are another potential friend or a potential enemy. In either case, we need useful data to make that determination. I’m certain that we’ll be able to find out which soon enough."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Deck 30, Section 5
Stardate 76581.3
31 July 2399 0940 hrs

The sight was chaos. Thirty-seven Jem’Hadar grappled with one another, fighting ceaselessly. If one bested his opponent, they simply squared off and began again. Constantly, the Jem’Hadar drilled. They didn’t sleep. They didn’t eat. Their entire existence was to be a perfect instrument of war for their masters — their gods — the Founders. The shrill sound of the ship’s com system announcing a ship-wide message, however, brought their practice to a halt.

"This is the captain speaking," the voice of Harry Kim said. "We are now approaching the territory of the Krowtonan Axis. Some of you may be familiar with the stories of the Starship Equinox’s early days in the Delta Quadrant, but some of you may not. Our knowledge about this race is dangerously lacking, and even information from our Talaxian and Haakonian allies isn’t much more illuminating. Hopefully this is something we can soon correct.

"From what we do know, however," he continued, "the Krowtonans tend to stay inside their own borders, and they apparently don’t like visitors. But we came halfway across the galaxy for a reason. We’ll knock on the door, see if they answer, and hopefully establish a dialogue. Until further notice, we will remain at Yellow Alert. Best of luck to us all. Captain out."

Jor’Marak surveyed his men. The ship was heading into potential danger. They must be ready. The Jem’Hadar launched into their combat drills with renewed vigor.

But then another call came to disrupt their training. "Krell to First Jor’Marak."

The Jem’Hadar First ceased his exertions and slapped his badge to answer the call. "This is First Jor’Marak. What is it you require of me, Lieutenant Krell?"

"There’s a little matter we have to discuss. I’d like to speak with you at your earliest convenience."

"Is it in regards to our mission to Krowtonan space?"

"No," said the disembodied voice of the security officer. "This matter is in regards to you and your men."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Stardate 76581.7
31 July 2399 1123 hours

Jor’Marak stepped through the yawning doors and into the Galleria. Above him, a holographically projected sky was gently morphing from blue to purple. Purposefully as ever, he briskly walked to one of the dining establishments, the Delta Cafe. Upon approach, he saw Lieutenant Cyrus Krell, Enterprise’s chief of security, seated at a table on the "outdoor" patio, waiting for him.

"First Jor’Marak," Krell said in greeting as he rose from his chair. "Please, have a seat."

"I prefer to stand," Jor’Marak replied.

"Humor me," Krell said. After a moment’s debate, Jor’Marak sat in the chair on the opposite side of the table from Krell.

"You wished to see me," Jor’Marak said.

"Yes," Krell confirmed, but before he could continue, a large, mustachioed hologram approached their table.

"Your usual, lieutenant?" the hologram asked in a thick Russian accent.

"Please," Krell replied.

"And you, sir?" the hologram asked Jor’Marak, eyeing the Jem’Hadar appraisingly.

"Nothing," Jor’Marak said.

"Jem’Hadar don’t need to eat," Krell explained to the waiter. "Thanks, Uncle Joe." The hologram turned with a nod and made his way back into the establishment.

"I’ve noticed your squad’s been making good use of the holodeck we provided," Krell said. Jor’Marak nodded, but said nothing. "I also noticed you’ve started accessing my tactical database. This morning, you ran Tactical Simulation Krell-CB-336. Do you see a problem here?"

"I was informed," Jor’Marak began, "that we had full use of the holodeck and its programs."

"For publicly listed programs, yes," Krell acknowledged. "But that was from my personal database." Jor’Marak stared at him blankly. "You have no concept of personal property, do you?"

"All that is, is the Founders’," Jor’Marak replied.

"Listen," Krell said, shaking his head in disbelief, "just stay out of the non-public files in the database. And don’t go around telling people about that program, either. Am I clear?"

"I shall remember your request in the future," Jor’Marak said.

"Good," Krell replied. "There are still plenty of other programs in the public files. There are thousands of martial arts tutorials; everything from Tai Chi to Tal Shaya. Maybe you could try some of those?" Jor’Marak simply nodded as Uncle Joe returned with Krell’s lunch.

"Thanks," Krell said to the waiter, then he turned his attention back to the Jem’Hadar First. "Well, that’s all I had to say. Feel free to go do… whatever you do with your time."

Jor’Marak nodded once more, and rose from his chair. He left Krell, who was already well into devouring his meal, and was scarcely two meters outside the café’s doors when the deck rocked under his feet. Krell sprinted through the doors seconds later as the alert klaxon began to blare, and Jor’Marak followed the dark-skinned human into the turbolift.

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Stardate 76581.7
31 July 2399 1125 hours

"Nice of the Krowtonans to wait until I was on lunch to reply to our hail," Krell muttered after the doors closed, sealing him in with the First. Moments later, the doors opened once again, depositing the pair onto the Bridge. Krell replaced the ensign at Tactical, while Jor’Marak stepped into the command area where Captain Kim and Commander Kalan were standing in front of their chairs.

"First Jor’Marak," Kim noted as the Jem’Hadar approached him. On the viewscreen before them, an unfamiliar starship floated menacingly. The ship was smaller than Enterprise, a flattened wedge shape with ornate marking across its hull.

"The Jem’Hadar stand ready," Jor’Marak said.

"Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that," Kim commented. He turned to Lieutenant Naomi Wildman at the Operations console. "Status, lieutenant?"

"The Krowtonans are holding their fire, sir," Wildman reported. "That must’ve been how they say ‘hello’ to strangers."

"Nice to know we’re welcome," Kim said. "It’s also nice to know their weapons can’t penetrate our shields. Let me know the moment anything changes."

"The Krowtonans just launched a smaller vessel," Krell announced. "Probably a shuttle. Heavily armored… odd configuration, though."

"It’s on approach, moving fast," Wildman confirmed. "Sir, it’s not slowing down."

"On screen," Kim ordered.

The viewscreen blinked, the long-range image of the Krowtonan vessel, which appeared to share several design characteristics with Klingon and Romulan ships, disappearing in favor of a close-up image of the shuttle in question. It was boxy, utilitarian. But it was the nose of the tiny vessel that caught Kim’s attention, and sparked the memory of an encounter nearly three decades prior. The nose was shaped like a serrated blade… perfect for slicing into a ship’s hull and not letting go.

"Tractor beam!" Kim ordered. "Don’t let them get near us!"

"Sir?" Wildman asked.

"Tractor beam engaged," Krell announced. "Shuttle holding steady at five hundred kilometers."

"It’s an old trick the Kazon used against Voyager once," Kim explained. "They didn’t have transporters, so they broke through the ship’s hull with a shuttle and boarded us that way."

"They couldn’t possibly hope to take the ship with a dozen troops from one shuttle," Ensign Miral Paris commented from the helm.

"I doubt that was their intent," Kalan said, taking his seat. "This was a show of force, meant to intimidate us."

"Bring the shuttle into Hangar Bay Four," Kim ordered. "Have all civilians and non-essential personnel evacuated from the area. Mr. Krell, I want you down there with a full security team. First Jor’Marak, I want you and a few of your men there as well. After some of the stories I’ve heard, I’m not taking any chances."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Hangar Bay Four
Stardate 76581.7
31 July 2399 1159 hrs

Jor’Marak strode down the corridors, his weapon ready before him. The weight of the familiar device was comforting in its own way, almost soothing to hold. Behind him were a dozen of his Jem’Hadar contingent, and all held their weapons across their chests as well. Adan’Alam and Terem’Bakal each flanked his side, their eyes riveted forward. Any stray crewmembers or civilians quickly moved out of their path, as they moved purposefully to their destination.

Krell nodded an acknowledgement to the Jem’Hadar’s arrival outside the Hangar Bay, then addressed both them and his own security force.

"I’ll make this short and to the point," Krell began. "We’ve got a Krowtonan shuttle in a tractor beam outside, with apparently hostile intentions. When we bring it in, expect resistance from its occupants. I want them alive if at all possible."

Jor’Marak turned and faced the other Jem’Hadar.

"I am First Jor’Marak," he began, "and I am dead. As of this moment, we are all dead. We go into battle to reclaim our lives. This we do gladly, for we are Jem’Hadar. Remember, victory is life."

As Jor’Marak turned once again, Krell opened the doors to the Hangar Bay. The two groups filed in silently, with Krell motioning to each guard where their position was to be, while the Jem’Hadar silently and efficiently took up similar positions without guidance from the First.

"I’m impressed," Krell commented to Jor’Marak, who was positioned before the door. The First considered the compliment, but said nothing in reply. Complements served no purpose in the world of the Jem’Hadar. One was either excellent, or one did not survive. Krell looked to the control station, and the crewman at the controls, then nodded for Ensign Soova, a short Bolian woman, to bring the shuttle in.

The doors yawned open, and the attention of everyone present – Human, Klingon, Jem’Hadar and otherwise – was inexorably drawn toward the small craft being maneuvered into the Hangar Bay. Some stared in fascinated awe, others in clinical appraisal.

Before the shuttle had even touched down on the deck, the large hatch on its side burst open, and nearly a dozen figures jumped out.

Before the shuttle had even touched down on the deck, the large hatch on its side burst open, and nearly a dozen figures jumped out. They were definitely humanoid, and wore spiked armor atop their heavily muscled bodies. Their weapons were drawn, and they began firing almost as soon as their feet hit the deck.

The Jem’Hadar returned fire first, almost instantly after the first shot was fired. As he loosed a bolt of energy at one of the Krowtonans headed in his direction, Jor’Marak saw one of the humans who had taken up a position nearby fall to the deck. The human was most likely dead, and definitely unable to continue fighting. As he fired at another oncoming Krowtonan, Jor’Marak calculated the most efficient rearrangement of the defending forces to compensate for the loss of the fallen human. At the same moment, he saw another of the Jem’Hadar, Twelfth Aza’Melek, move into the same position he’d decided would be the most strategically viable.

One of the Klingons rushed forward, pulling a dagger she’d hidden somewhere in her uniform, and leaped atop one of the Krowtonans. She buried the blade to the hilt in the attacker’s abdomen, then pulled it free as he began to slowly sink to the deck, clutching the wound. Without wasting a moment, the Klingon again stabbed the Krowtonan, this time deep into his chest. The Krowtonan let out a small grunt of pain through gritted teeth, and the Klingon smiled at the victory. When the Krowtonan reached for the weapon he’d dropped, the Klingon lashed out with her blade a third time, slicing a deep furrow into his neck. He fell to the deck, dead.

Soon, however, the shrieks of energy weapons, the cries of pain and rage, and the dull thumps of bodies impacting with one another and with the deckplates fell silent. Lieutenant Krell surveyed the scene before him. The Krowtonan attackers were all either unconscious or dead. Several of his own security officers were down as well, with more still tending to their wounds. And the Jem’Hadar… they stood, unruffled, their weapons ready and waiting for another round of combat.

"Those were Krowtonans?" Krell heard a voice mutter behind him. "Just as bad as the damned Jem’Hadar."

Krell looked over his shoulder at the owner of the voice in question, a human under his command, disapprovingly. "Stow it, ensign."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Briefing Room
Stardate 76582.0
31 July 2399 1403 hrs

"What do we know about the Krowtonans now that we didn’t two hours ago?" Captain Harry Kim asked as he leaned over the briefing room’s long table, his hands balled up into fists.

"I wouldn’t worry about having to outfly them," Ensign Miral Paris quipped from her place a few seats down from the captain. Kim shot her a disapproving glare, and the smirk on her face was quickly replaced with a more serious expression.

"They seem to have a highly developed olfactory system," Doctor Tila Saldeed commented.

"Do you think that’s significant, doctor?" Kim asked.

"Could that give us some kind of tactical edge over them?" Commander Kalan added.

"I’m not entirely sure," Saldeed replied. "My staff is still analyzing the data from our autopsy on one of the dead Krowtonans, and we’re preparing to begin on a second for comparison. I’d also like to examine a live specimen for further data."

"Finn," Kim began after a moment’s thought. "How is the rest of the ship taking the situation?"

"The civilian population is anxious," replied Commander Finnegan Bartok, the ship’s counselor. "That’s to be expected, of course, given the attack just a few hours ago."

"How about their tactics?" Kim asked. "Lieutenant Krell?"

"I’m not sure what they were trying to achieve with that shuttle attack," Krell replied. "Maybe Commander Kalan was right; maybe it was a show of strength. But when they landed, they didn’t seem to have any coherent strategy. They just jumped out of the shuttle and started shooting."

"Maybe that’s worked fine for them in the past," Saldeed suggested. "Those tactics worked well enough to injure six and kill two of your security guards." Krell winced at the reminder of the toll capturing the Krowtonan attackers had taken.

"The Krowtonan mother ship hasn’t moved since the attack," Lieutenant Naomi Wildman added.

"The shuttle attack obviously failed," Krell observed, "and their weapons didn’t have much of an impact on our defenses. They could be trying to figure out what to do next. Or, they could just be waiting for backup."

Kim rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he sat in his chair at the head of the table. "We’ll stay here for now," he declared. "Let’s let them make the next move. In the meantime, I’m going to contact Fleet Command."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Delta Cafe
Stardate 76584.5
1 August 2399 1200 hrs

"I’ve been thinking about our encounter with the Krowtonans yesterday," Krell began as he looked across the table on the "outdoor" patio of the Delta Cafe. Seated across from him was Jor’Marak, who simply watched and listened in silence. "I couldn’t help but notice that none of your squad was even injured, and I thought it might be a possibility for us to cross-train my security forces with the rest of the Jem’Hadar."

Jor’Marak considered the proposal. It had merit on many levels. Not only would it more than likely benefit Enterprise’s security contingent, but it would give his squad the opportunity to learn how they trained and interacted as well.

Before he could reply to the lieutenant’s suggestion, however, there was a loud crash, followed by bellowing cry. As one, Krell and Jor’Marak turned toward the sound. At its source, near the main entrance to the Galleria, they saw one of the Krowtonans.

"What the hell?" said Krell.

The Krowtonan grabbed two nearby shopkeepers by the fronts of their shirts. He lifted them in the air, slamming their heads together and sending them into unconsciousness before letting go and letting them fall limply to the deck. Several people in Starfleet uniforms rushed toward the rampaging Krowtonan, but were knocked aside like rag dolls.

Krell and Jor’Marak weren’t far behind, but kept a cautious distance to remain outside striking range. The Krowtonan had ripped off a large section of piping from one of the nearby stalls, brandishing it as a weapon, daring anyone to come close enough to take him on.

"You go for the left," said Krell to Jor’Marak. The Jem’Hadar nodded and moved silently around the hostile soldier. The Krowtonan was no longer wearing his spiked armor, which made him only slightly less intimidating. He was still over-muscled and heavy-jawed, like a child’s depiction of a Neanderthal man. But this was no slow-witted brute, Krell realized. The soldier wielded the pipe with the grace and efficiency of a samurai swordsman.

Jor’Marak waited for an opportunity to make his move, but the Krowtonan kept his eyes on him, watching his movements carefully. Krell decided to take advantage of the distraction the Jem’Hadar was providing and rushed the intruder to disarm him.

But the Krowtonan proved to have faster reflexes, swatting the security officer aside with his free arm without even bothering to look up at him. Krell tumbled to the ground, and the intruder moved to quickly brain him with the pipe.

Jor’Marak’s reflexes proved to be just as sharp, as he grabbed the Krowtonan’s arm in mid swing, struggling to knock the pipe free from his iron grip.

Within moments, as luck would have it, the entire staff and patronage of a Klingon restaurant filed out and into the main vestibule of the Galleria. Dozens of blades flashed into the open, partnered with the toothy grins of their Klingon owners.

The Klingons surged forward as one, reveling in the unexpected but wholly welcome combat. They piled onto the belligerent Krowtonan, forcing him to the deck by the simple, overpowering force of numbers, while Jor’Marak ripped the pipe away from him.

While the Klingons were holding down the Krowtonan, Jor’Marak went over to Cyrus and helped him up. "That was a useless maneuver," said the First.

"I beg your pardon?" groaned Krell, his midsection still smarting from the beating he received.

"You attacked an armed opponent with superior strength and abilities without any apparent strategy," commented Jor’Marak. "In combat, such errors lead to death."

"I didn’t have a strategy because I was acting on adrenaline," said Krell in irritation. "I had to take him down before he hurt any more innocent people. Sometimes, when you’re in the thick of things, you don’t have time to come up with a plan. The best course of action is just to go with your gut."

"That is not how a Jem’Hadar would fight," said Jor’Marak disapprovingly, realizing as he spoke just how much he sounded like his Second.

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Briefing Room
Stardate 76584.5
1 August 2399 1236 hrs

"How the hell did this happen?" Kim demanded, as he glared across the table at Krell and Jor’Marak. "A prisoner breaks out of his cell and just runs loose on the ship without setting off any alarms?"

"I take full responsibility, sir," said Krell grimly. "The Krowtonan was being transferred to Sickbay for examination when he overpowered his guards. He knocked them both unconscious before they could sound the alarms. He slammed his way to the turbolift so fast no one had time to call for help until he reached the Galleria."

"How many casualties did the prisoner cause?" asked Harry with growing concern.

"Six injuries, mostly broken bones and concussions," reported Saldeed, who sat off to the side. "Thankfully, we had no fatalities this time. Of course, I’ll still want to perform those medical exams."

"If you want to examine a live body, Doctor, then you’re going to have to go to the brig to do it," said Harry. "There will be no prisoner transfers. I want those thugs kept behind a force field as long as they’re on this ship."

"I’ve doubled the security detail in the brig," said Krell. "We won’t be underestimating these guys a second time."

"I don’t want you sparing any efforts," said Kim, "not while we have civilians at potential risk. My daughter and her friends could have been down there when this happened." Glancing over at the Jem’Hadar, a thought came to Harry. "I want First Jor’Marak to assign two of his men to the brig as well, in case of another escape attempt. This isn’t a reflection of your abilities, Lieutenant Krell. It’s just that these are no ordinary soldiers we have in our brig. Until we have a better idea of what they’re capable of, we must assume that they’ll try another escape attempt."

"I understand, sir," said Krell.

"Another thing, Lieutenant," said Harry as his expression looked wearier. "Ensigns Lehman and Saterjee."

"Sir," Krell’s sigh mirrored his captain’s tone, as he heard the names of the two security guards who were killed in yesterday’s firefight.

"I’m afraid I never got to know either of them," said Harry. "I’d appreciate it if you would also speak at the memorial service tomorrow. They gave their lives to defend their ship and I think they deserve more than just a generic Starfleet funeral speech. Someone who knew them should be there to tell people who those men were."

"I agree, sir," said Krell somberly. "I’d like my words to reflect the letters I plan to send to their families back home."

"Of course, Lieutenant," said Harry. "In the meantime, everyone, we need to consider what our next move is regarding the Krowtonans. Options, people?’

"The main ship is still holding position, just outside of our targeting range," reported Naomi Wildman. "They’ve yet to answer any of our hails."

"Any indication they’re gearing up for another attack?" asked the captain.

"Their first attack failed to penetrate our shields," reported Vorik. "Judging from our sensor readings, the main Krowtonan vessel appears to be limited to the equivalent of twelve Type 8 phaser arrays and two plasma torpedo launchers, the strategic equivalent of an Intrepid-class starship. A direct attack by such a relatively small vessel would prove ineffective."

"Maybe they’re calling for reinforcements," suggested Harry.

"There was some subspace traffic in the area, but nothing we could pin to this particular vessel," said Naomi. "We haven’t spotted any other ships, at least not yet. They could just be calling their home base for further orders."

"Understood," said Harry. "If it’s a waiting game they want, then we’re prepared to let them make the first move."

"Captain," said Kalan, "surely Fleet Command does not expect us to continue to try and open communications with the Krowtonans, not after what has happened?"

"Our orders still stand," said Harry. "We’re here to see what these people do, Commander. I suggest we do just that. Now, unless there’s anything more…"

But the chirp of the intercom cut the captain’s words short. "Bridge to Captain Kim," came the voice of the watch officer.

"Kim here. Report."

"Sir, we’re receiving a hail."

"From Fleet Command?" said Harry with puzzlement. He hadn’t expected anyone from home to come up with a policy decision so quickly.

"No, sir. It’s not via hyperlink. It’s from the Krowtonan ship. They want to speak to you."

"Really?" said Harry, taken even more aback by this unexpected turn of events. After yesterday’s ruthless attack, the last thing that Harry would have expected, however much he would have hoped, was that the attacking commander would want to open a dialogue. "Pipe it down here."

After several seconds, a high-pitched while filled the intercom system, until the sound levels adjusted themselves to human normal. Then, once synchronized, the communications link was open.

"Outsider vessel," came a flat, neutral voice, "this is the Krowtonan Guard patrol cutter Enforcer of Harmony. We claim this region of space as our own. Your design and point-of-origin is unfamiliar to us. Identify yourselves."

"Enforcer of Harmony," Harry called out to the open air. "This is Captain Harry Kim of the U.S.S. Enterprise. We are on a peaceful mission and did not intend to trespass onto your territory. We’re explorers seeking to learn more about the inhabitants of this quadrant. We have no hostile intentions against you."

"Enterprise, you say?" came a different voice, one softer, more refined. "Please stand by."

While the communication was put on hold, Harry looked to his staff. "It appears we may be guilty of a border violation."

"I thought the Talaxians told us this sector was still unclaimed space," said Bartok.

"There is a war on, Commander," said Kalan. "Borders tend to ebb and flow with the tides of battle."

The com line whistled again, indicating the Krowtonans were back on. "Enterprise, we would like further continuation of this conversation. We require a face-to-face meeting. Is this acceptable to you?"

Harry’s eyes widened with astonishment. This was definitely not something he had expected at this early date. "That would be…most acceptable. Where do you propose we meet?"

"Your vessel, being the larger, would be more than adequate, Captain Kim," the voice replied. "We will send you the flight plan of our shuttle, so that you may grant us docking privileges if you so desire."

"That would be more than fine, Mr….."

"Rest assured, Captain. All questions will be answered upon our arrival. Enforcer of Harmony out."

Harry sat quietly as he considered the word’s of what he presumes was the Krowtonan ship commander, offering a meeting and a possibility of real dialogue.

"It would appear that Enterprise is being given a second chance," said Annika, noticing her husband’s thoughtful silence.

"A second chance at what, I wonder," Kalan commented. "To be destroyed?"

"Captain," Bartok interjected, "we can’t afford to miss this opportunity. Isn’t the purpose of this mission to open communications with these people?"

"Agreed," said Harry. "But we have to take precautions. I’m not going to allow the Krowtonans a second chance to shoot up one of our hangar bays."

"We can initiate Security Protocol 28," Krell offered. "We keep the shuttle in dock under a Hazardous Material procedure. It will give us the freedom to conduct a more extensive scan, and it will keep the shuttle sealed until we’ve had a chance to evaluate them. Plus, it puts the burden on them to go through the outer vestibule and meet us. While they’re in the airlock, they’ll be vulnerable if they try another attack."

"And we will have the option of decompressing the bay if they prove belligerent," Kalan added.

Harry considered the options, and then made his decision. "Make your preparations, Lieutenant. XO, I’ll want you with me when we meet the Krowtonans. Mr. Krell, until we have a better idea of what they have planned, I’ll want you on the bridge monitoring their ship. Mr. Bartok, in case our visitors prove friendly, I’d like you to prepare a reception for them. If all goes well, then we should have an important opportunity before us."

"And if things do not go well?" Kalan commented warily.

"Well, as they say in Starfleet, XO, peace is worth a few risks."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Stardate 76584.9
1 August 2399 1535 hrs

Ensign Mike Carter looked at the scene before him. It had been just under a year since he had graduated from Starfleet Academy, and he’d never seen anything like this before. There were almost as many people on his side of the brig forcefields as those locked up on the other side. Besides him, there were five other security guards, three of them Klingon, as well as three of the ship’s Jem’Hadar contingent.

Carter had never seen a Jem’Hadar before the squad had boarded Enterprise back in the Alpha Quadrant. He’d heard stories about them from his father and uncle, both of whom had fought in the Dominion War. He wasn’t sure how they would react if they were here now, but he didn’t find the reptilian soldiers nearly as terrifying as they’d been described to him.

"Uh," Carter began, looking to the Jem’Hadar to his left, "I’m Mike. What’s your name?"

"I am Third Terem’Bakal," the Jem’Hadar said tersely, never taking his eyes off the cell in front of him, or more specifically, its occupants.

Carter sat with the awkward silence for several long minutes, trying to think of something that would help break the ice. "So," he joked while fidgeting, "kill anyone today?"

Terem’Bakal looked over to the young human. "No."

"Oh," said Carter nervously. "Good."

The Jem’Hadar stood stiffly against the wall at attention, not looking while he spoke. "The day is not over yet."

Carter didn’t know what unnerved him more, the Jem’Hadar when they were serious, or the Jem’Hadar when they were trying to be funny. But fortunately, the intercom came to the rescue.

"This is the captain speaking," Harry’s voice announced, interrupting the attempted conversation before it could go any further. "After conferring with Delta Fleet Command, Enterprise will rendezvous with a representative from the Krowtonan vessel and make another attempt at contact. Hopefully, we’ll have a less… extreme reply than last time. Captain out."

"Wonder if this means we’ll have even more company in here? Carter commented.

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Ready Room
Stardate 76584.9
1 August 2399 1541 hrs

The door chimed. Harry sighed, and deactivated the HPADD floating in front of him.

"Come," he said. The doors parted, and Jor’Marak stepped into the room. "First Jor’Marak, what can I do for you?"

"Captain," Jor’Marak began, "with respect, I request that the Jem’Hadar accompany you to any encounters with the Krowtonans."

"You don’t trust the ship’s security forces?" Harry asked.

"I mean no disrespect to Lieutenant Krell’s men," Jor’Marak replied. "The Krowtonans have proven their hostile intentions. The Jem’Hadar have pledged our loyalty to you as we would a Founder. Should anything happen to you, our lives would be forfeit."

Harry took a deep breath. This was the last thing he needed to be reminded of. "There’s no persuading you otherwise, is there?" he asked. One look at the First’s expression was all the answer he needed. "It’s probably a good idea to have you and two of your squad on hand, anyhow. Will that be sufficient?"

Jor’Marak bowed his head slightly, his eyes closing in reverence. "That will suffice, captain," he said. The First turned and briskly exited the room.

Harry stared at the doors for a while, pondering this latest turn of events.

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Hangar Bay Six
Stardate 76585.1
1 August 2399 1702 hrs

Harry Kim and Kalan waited anxiously in the Hangar Bay vestibule as the Krowtonan shuttle glided into dock. Jor’Marak and two lower ranked Jem’Hadar were on hand with a team of security guards as they waited for the atmosphere to pressurize on the other side of the airlock.

"What do the sensors say?" asked Harry.

"There are twelve life signs aboard the shuttle," reported Jor’Marak.

"Twelve," said Harry. "Wonderful. Tell me, XO. Why do I feel as though we’re making the same mistake twice?"

"We may well be," said Kalan, "Sir."

"Commander," said Harry sourly, "your honesty always brightens up a room." He looked over to Jor’Marak, seeing the expression of grim determination on his face. At that moment, he envied the Jem’Hadar’s focus and certainty. Yesterday, people under his command, people he was responsible for, were killed. He knew it was the price of command, and it wasn’t the first time that an order he had given had resulted in someone’s death. Nor would it be the last time. Right now he had a mission to see through, to determine once and for all if the Krowtonans were to be regarded as a people that could be dealt with or not. He owed it to the dead that their lives were not given in vain.

"First Jor’Marak," said Harry firmly. "Have your men stand ready. At the first sign of a raised weapon, you take them out."

"Aye, captain," said Jor’Marak.

A green light signaled that the airlock door was open at that the Krowtonans were prepared to enter. The door opened and Harry was immediately hit with the strangest sensation. He smelled something…it was almost like cinnamon. He couldn’t account for what it might be, but the smell quickly faded as four of the brutish Krowtonan soldiers stomped into the room in their formidable spiked armor. They held their weapons, but they were intentionally sheathed to display a non-combative intent. The four soldiers quickly parted and assumed a formation flanking both sides of the hangar entrance, waiting for something to happen.

And something did indeed happen. Another figure stepped into the room, a tall, willowy figure that could not have looked any more different from the soldiers if he had been of another species. And indeed he almost did look alien in appearance. The Krowtonan had angelic features with distinctive cheekbones and long flowing hair, coiffed and braided. His pale skin was marked with what appeared to be some kind of facial dye in elaborate patterns. He seemed to glide into the room with an effortless stroll, his face calm and unperturbed.

Close behind him were two other Krowtonans, although they too looked as physically dissimilar to the lead figure as he was to the soldiers. The two seemed more diminutive, always keeping two paces behind their master, dressed in solid blue and their hair no longer than their shoulders. They wore only the most simple of jewelry and face paint, as if not to appear any grander than their leader. Close behind them were five more Krowtonans, short, delicate, almost childlike. These five were completely hairless and were dressed only in simple gray tunics. Unlike the others, these five wore tattoos on their foreheads similar to those of the soldiers.

"Captain Kim," the Krowtonan leader said graciously in a gentle, lilting voice, "I am Cho Na Veru Ard-Los, Prime of the Krowtonan Guard vessel Enforcer of Harmony. On behalf of the Governing Quorum of the Krowtonan Axis, I bid you welcome to our space."

"I see," said Harry warily. "I accept your greeting, um, Cho Na…"

"Cho Na Veru Ard-Los," the Prime corrected him. "Among my people, a name signifies one’s caste and breeding status as well as one’s personal and familial name. For the purposes of this visit, you may address me as Cho Veru if you feel it will simplify our dialogue."

"That would be most appreciated, Cho Veru," said Harry.

"It is my pleasure to expedite matters," said the Krowtonan. "And I would also offer my sincerest apologies for our earlier attack on your vessel, Captain. My people are quite wary of alien incursions into our space, especially in light of our conflict with the Kazon hordes. The Brutals tend to respond to such movements across the border with ruthless efficiency."

"Brutals?" Harry said curiously. "You mean, your soldiers?"

"Our warrior caste," said Cho Veru proudly. "The finest soldiers in the quadrant, perhaps the entire galaxy. Selectively bred over the course of millennia to become the ultimate fighting force. But alas, they require careful guidance to deal with situations for which they haven’t yet been trained."

"I understand," said Harry as he felt his earlier tension start to fade. For some reason, he found himself quite drawn to this Krowtonan delegate. It wasn’t quite trust, he knew that much. It was simply that he found this individual, either through his words or appearance, to be highly compelling. "I’m hoping that in the future we can avoid these misunderstandings."

"Which is precisely why I have initiated this contact, Captain," said Cho Veru as he stepped closer to them. "We share a common enemy, your people and mine. There is much we have to discuss."

"I look forward to that, Cho Veru," said Harry, as he extended his hand forward, directing his guest and his entourage towards the corridor.

Jor’Marak looked on with clear concern at the Krowtonan Prime, and the strangely familiar rapport that seemed to have formed between him and the captain. He thought it strange that Captain Kim, a man he had come to believe was deeply introspective and not given to rash decisions, would take such a leap of trust from a representative of a people whom just yesterday had tried to attack the Enterprise. Even more surprising was the fact that Commander Kalan remained so uncharacteristically compliant during the exchange, not once interjecting any skepticism the entire time.

Something was amiss, but Jor’Marak could not see what was the cause of it. But the Krowtonan would bear close watching while he was aboard this ship.

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Forward Observation Lounge
Stardate 76585.1
1 August 2399 1721 hrs

"A most impressive vessel," said Cho Veru as he walked alongside Harry Kim down the corridors of the Enterprise. "The Krowtonan Guard does not build starships like this. We prefer smaller craft. More maneuverable and faster, you know. We can fly circles around those lumbering Predators the Kazon hordes field against us."

The doors to the briefing room slid apart, and they entered to greet the rest of the senior staff, who were seated about the table to meet their new visitor and his entourage, all except Lieutenant Krell, who was watching the Krowtonan ship from the bridge, and Doctor Saldeed, who was in Sickbay. Jor’Marak followed his captain silently into the room, but was surprised to see Kim offer the Krowtonan his own seat at the head of the table, while he sat deferentially off to the side with Commander Kalan. The initial reactions of the assembled officers were a mixture of anxiety, guardedness, and dismay. As the Krowtonan entered, Jor’Marak noticed once again that same strange taste in the air, very subtle, one that the humans might consider agreeable.

"Yes, I’m very proud of my ship," said Harry, as they arrived at their destination, the Observation Lounge. "And of my crew. As I’m sure you must be of yours."

"My crew?" said Cho Veru with puzzlement. "Yes, I suppose that ?crew’ would be the word an outsider might use."

Annika looked on at the smaller Krowtonans who stood silently at Cho Veru’s side. "They are not members of your crew? I do not understand the distinction."

The Krowtonan laughed gently at the human’s lack of understanding. "Oh, I expect you wouldn’t." He then turned to the two dressed in blue. "This is Gom Na Brom Derra-Lo and Gom Ra Cam Irda-Lom, my Keepers. Gom Brom arranges my physical needs, whereas Gom Cam manages my affairs and schedule. A third Keeper remains aboard the Enforcer of Harmony, to act as my voice in my absence." Both individuals nodded silently, and stepped back.

"Your Keepers?" said Annika. "Perhaps you should explain, Cho Veru."

"Yes, indeed I should," he answered with an amused grin. "The Keepers have been optimally bred for memory, organization, and management duties. It is as natural to them, as combat would be for the Brutals."

"Bred?" said Bartok with surprise. "You mean, genetically engineered?"

"Oh, hardly at all. Direct manipulation of the DNA is for those who have no faith in the long-term stability of an optimally structured culture. The castes of Krowtonan society have been selectively bred to their duties for millennia since the founding of the First Celestial Dynasty, long before we had advanced technology, or even industry."

"Fascinating," said Bartok, his eyes bright with interest. "How were you able to maintain such a project over so long a period of time?"

"Krowtonans value harmony and stability, Commander, which is why we react so strongly to the presence of intruders into our space. Alien ideas can be a…disruptive influence."

"But," Bartok went on, "wouldn’t such a eugenic program over so many centuries lead to speciation among your kind? How have you managed to avoid having your castes become biologically incompatible?"

"We did not," said Cho Veru calmly, "Specialization was intended goal of the First Dynasty from the very beginning, with Krowtonans not only being born to their roles, but bred to them as well. All castes are now technically subspecies of the original Krowtonan stock."

"And you planned this over thousands of years?" Bartok gasped. "That’s…remarkably farsighted."

"Indeed," said the Krowtonan. "My people came to understand the principles of evolution before most races learned how to forge bronze and iron. As a Prime, my caste serves as the political, economic, and strategic leaders of our society. The Keepers carry out our instructions and manage the day-to-day running of the Axis. The Brutals serve as both soldiers and public servants. Whereas the Servers," he said as he turned to the assembly of child-like Krowtonans who remained quiet and out of sight until now, "perform the daily chores as dictated by the Keepers, as well as catering to the…physical needs of the Primes." He then reached over to the nearest Server, and ran his hand affectionately over her smooth hairless head. The Server ? one could only assume she was female ? cooed with appreciation, like a faithful dog being stroked by its master.

"Such a society would appear to have little room for freedom," said Annika, her voice almost disapproving. Almost. But the words came out far too polite to have any sting.

"Freedom?" said Cho Veru, looking confused. "What sort of freedom do you mean? Every Krowtonan has a place in society, with his or her roles clearly defined. Everyone has purpose, and the society as a whole benefits. We have harmony. In that, there is freedom."

"But not for the individual," said Annika, her face looking increasingly uncomfortable, yet not quite on the verge of objecting outright.

"The individual is just an abstraction," said Cho Veru in a seductive whisper as he leaned closer into Annika’s personal space. "Without one’s bloodline and caste, without society, one is lost. The individual accomplishes nothing on his own." As his face came within centimeters of Annika’s, he spotted her Borg implant along the base of her ear. "My, how utterly fascinating. May I touch it?"

Jor’Marak was certain that Doctor Kim, and most certainly the captain, would offer some sort of objection. His observations of humans since coming aboard Enterprise had shown how protective they were of their pair-bonds. Touching another human’s mate could provoke an angry, perhaps violent response. Yet he was surprised to see the Krowtonan reach out to stroke intimately the doctor’s implant. Not only did she fail to respond, but Captain Kim sat idly by and allowed it to happen.

"Now, Captain," said the Krowtonan as he settled back in his seat, "as I said earlier, there are matters that we must discuss. The Kazon Union is a threat to your people as well as my own. It is in your interest that the Krowtonan Axis should emerge victorious from this conflict."

"How is it that you should know our interests, Cho Veru?" asked Vorik, his expression seeming to be one of mild discomfort, like he was holding back a cold from the view of his peers.

"Our ships have intercepted a number of Kazon military communiqués," he replied. "The name of Enterprise has appeared quite often as of late. As soon as we realized who you were, the Governing Quorum was informed and the attack on your ship was halted."

"What exactly are the Kazon saying about us?" asked Kalan.

"Only that you are travelers from the far side of the galaxy with technology and weapons far beyond what the Kazon or my people could build," said Cho Veru. "The order has been given to all Kazon ships that you are to be destroyed on sight should you be encountered again. The messages don’t say it aloud, but our analysts are certain that the Kazon Grand Maje both hates and fears you."

"I suppose we should feel flattered," said Harry, his feelings still somewhat uncertain in regards to their guest.

"You should feel honored," said Cho Veru, his head cocked in a reassuring posture. "You have it within your power to bring the Kazon to their knees. Consider, Captain, your technology combined with our manpower. We could drive the filthy hordes back cowering into their holes, and our two peoples would be united in bringing the benefits of order and harmony to the quadrant."


"Yes, Captain," said the Krowtonan with disgust, the first time his smile had faded since coming aboard. "That is what the Kazon are, little more that unkempt, wild beasts shambling about the galaxy without the benefits of proper breeding or order. Why, even their leader is rumored to be…a mongrel."

"I don’t understand."

"A mongrel, Captain," said Cho Veru, in a tone that one would use to address a child. "A half breed. An unhealthy mixture of alien genes. Surely it is no surprise that such a union would have produced so monstrous a result?"

Harry sat quietly during Cho Veru’s diatribe, saying nothing but nodding his head politely. Jor’Marak was certain that such a comment would have provoked some kind of response from the room. But the senior staff did not make any effort to dispute him. Even Lieutenant Wildman and Ensign Paris, both of whom were of interspecies parentage, remained silent the entire time. Lieutenant Wildman was even smiling, looking completely oblivious to the insult she had just been the unintended recipient of.

"In any event, Captain," said the Krowtonan as he offered a facetious grin, "you and I are both creatures of civilization. We cannot allow Kazon barbarians to advance upon all that is decent and civilized. They must be put down like the beasts that they are."

"Yes," said Harry, mirroring his guest’s smile, "they should be stopped."

"Excellent," said Cho Veru. "The Governing Quorum will be most pleased. This is an historic occasion, Captain Kim. I would like the opportunity to inform my government with you by my side. Perhaps we can contact them from your vessel’s bridge?"

Jor’Marak’s eyes narrowed in concern. Surely the captain had not lost all judgment by permitted a potentially hostile intruder access to the ship’s bridge?

"I think that would be a wonderful idea," said Harry, beaming with delight as he stood up and offered his hand to the Krowtonan. "Don’t you agree, Commander?"

"It would be an honor to fight alongside such worthy allies," said Kalan proudly, his teeth bared in a toothy grin.

"Yes, I’m certain it will," said Cho Veru. "And in the interest of this new partnership, Captain, might I request that the Brutals you’ve taken into custody be released into my charge?"

"I’ll make the arrangements with Security," said Harry. "Cho Veru, I believe this is going to the beginning of a very fruitful relationship."

"I completely agree, Captain," the Krowtonan Prime answered as he grinned lasciviously, clasping Harry’s hand into his own.

Jor’Marak looked about the room, hoping that someone would step forward and question the captain about the suicidal course that he was taking. But everyone was silent. The senior staff all had the same rapturous look of acceptance as the captain. Not only were they going to allow this man and his entourage onto the bridge, but it seemed likely that he would be allowed to do so with his armed soldiers as well. The only member of the crew who seemed even remotely out of sorts was Lieutenant Commander Vorik, whose face was breaking out in a sweat even as his facial expression retained its normal Vulcan calm. But even Vorik said nothing.

And so it would fall to him to protect his ship.

"This must be stopped," said Jor’Marak as he turned to his two subordinates as the meeting broke up and people began to talk amongst themselves. "Do you not see what is happening?"

"It is the captain’s decision to allow this," said Adan’Alam. "It is not for us to speak up."

"The Krowtonan is clearly wielding some sort of influence over him," Jor’Marak insisted. "If this is allowed to continue, he will take control of the ship and it will be too late for us to stop it."

"The humans and their allies act as they do because they have no true understanding of war or adversity," said Adan’Alam dismissively. "When the time comes, they will turn to us for help, and we will give it to them. I see nothing here that does not fit in with my studies of their kind."

"You are too complacent, Second Adan’Alam," Jor’Marak growled. "Such complacency is unworthy in a Second and will be our undoing."

"And you, First Jor’Marak, have become dangerously proactive," said Adan’Alam. "Such behavior would not be approved of by the Founders."

"First Jor’Marak," said Terem’Bakal. "What are you suggesting that we do?"

"The Krowtonan prisoners must not be released," said the Jem’Hadar First. "Adan’Alam will remain close to the Krowtonan and watch him carefully. You, Third Terem’Bakal, will go to the brig and ensure that this does not happen."

Terem’Bakal blinked in surprise at the order given to him by his first. "How am I to do this? What if the captain orders the prisoners released?"

"You will tell Security that you have received orders from me. But you are not to allow any security officers to release the Krowtonans. They will fear you and will most likely not fight you or the rest of your squad. But should they attempt to bypass you, you must make every effort to not harm any of the crew while carrying out my orders."

"Jor’Marak, this is madness," said Adan’Alam harshly. "You are acting in defiance of our mandate. We are here to serve this crew."

"No," said Jor’Marak. "We are here to protect this crew, even if that means protecting them from themselves. Now do as I say, or else I will be forced to exceed another of our mandates. Such as not killing any subordinates who defy me."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Outside the Forward Observation Lounge
Stardate 76585.2
1 August 2399 1753 hrs

"Captain," said Jor’Marak as he approached Harry in the corridor as he and Commander Kalan led the Krowtonan party away. "I must speak with you."

"Can’t this wait, Jor’Marak?" he asked. "I’m with our guest."

"This cannot wait, sir," said the Jem’Hadar. "It requires your immediate attention."

"Very well," said the captain. "Cho Veru, if you will excuse me for a moment. Commander Kalan will take you on the rest of the tour before taking you to the bridge."

"It would be an honor, sir," said Kalan.

An annoyed Harry Kim strode over to Jor’Marak and addressed him harshly. "Would you care to explain why you’ve insisted that I insult our visitor?"

"Sir," said Jor’Marak, "I believe that Cho Veru is a danger to this vessel. I also believe that he has exerted some unnatural influence upon you and the senior officers."

"What?" Harry sputtered. "What are you talking about? I…"

The chime of his combadge interrupted the captain’s words. "Kim here," he replied.

"Sir, this is Ensign Carter in Security. You gave orders to release the Krowtonan prisoners."

"What’s the problem, Ensign?"

"Sir, one of the Jem’Hadar showed up," the young officer said nervously. "He claims…he says that he has orders not to let the prisoners go free. He and the other Jem’Hadar won’t stand down and no one here is sure what to do. We contacted Lieutenant Krell and he says he doesn’t know…"

"That’s all right, Ensign," said Kim, "I’ll get to the bottom of this. Stand by." Harry then looked up and scowled at the Jem’Hadar across from him. "I assume you had something to do with this?"

"Yes, sir," said Jor’Marak. "I know that you would not have ordered the prisoners released if you were acting of your own accord."

"Now, just a second," Harry retorted, his certainty fading. "Cho Veru…he’s been nothing but honest…"

"Sir, consider the decisions you have made recently," said Jor’Marak. "You made a pledge to assist his people in their war with the Kazon, an act that violates your Prime Directive. You agreed to allow him access to the bridge, a man who ordered an attack on this vessel not twenty-four hours ago. Even Commander Kalan acquiesced to those orders. Does that sound like something the commander would agree to?"

"I…" Harry shook his head, shivering as he tried to come up with an answer. But he couldn’t.

"You have deferred to Cho Veru since his arrival aboard Enterprise. You sat idly by as he insulted Lieutenant Wildman and Ensign Paris. And you made no objections when he…touched Doctor Kim."

Harry’s breathing grew more ragged as the realization began to set in. "No, I couldn’t have. I…I couldn’t. I couldn’t have just…"

"First Jor’Marak speaks the truth, sir," came another voice from behind. Harry turned around to see Mr. Vorik standing behind them. The Vulcan engineer’s face was flushed, a cold sweat coming down his forehead. He looked ill, his earlier composure now coming undone.

"My, god," said Harry. "Vorik, you look terrible! What happened?"

"I am…struggling to maintain my disposition, sir," said Vorik. "Something is triggering the emotional centers within my mind. I cannot account for the cause, but I am certain that Cho Veru is at the heart of it. During the briefing, I too noted the numerous illogical decisions you and Commander Kalan were making. Yet I was unable to voice any opposition, despite what I knew to be true. I felt…restrained, an inherent need to be compliant and listen to Cho Veru’s words."

"But how?" Harry asked, more confused than ever. "Is it telepathy? Some kind of weapon?"

"I detected no chemical or biological weapons upon him or his entourage," reported Jor’Marak.

"Whatever the cause of Cho Veru’s influence," said Vorik, as he struggled to remain collected, "it would appear that the Jem’Hadar are unaffected by it."

"I see," said Harry, as he reasserted himself. He felt a powerful anger building up within him. If this was all true, then Cho Veru had not only violated his person, but his ability to command. And that was not something he was going to let slide so easily.

He slapped his combadge. "Kim to Krell."

"Krell, here."

"Lieutenant. Commander Kalan may be bringing a party of Krowtonans to the bridge. Under no circumstances are you to allow them access. Try to claim that there are…mechanical difficulties with the turbolift. I also want you to order your people in Security to hold onto the prisoners and not release them. These are your orders until you hear otherwise from me."

"Yes, sir."

Turning back to Vorik and Jor’Marak, he motioned to the nearest turbolift doors. "Gentlemen, we need to get to Sickbay fast. I want to know what was done to us, and how to stop it."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Stardate 76585.2
1 August 2399 1802 hrs

"Well I’ll be damned," said Dr. Saldeed with uncharacteristic amazement.

"Your diagnosis, Doctor?" said Harry impatiently as he sat on the rim of the biobed. "I need to know quickly."

"I performed a scan of the thalamus region of your brain," said Saldeed as she motioned over to the nearest holographic display, showing a three dimensional cutaway of a humanoid brain. "It’s showing a high level of stimulation, which is in turn causing a higher level of endorphins to be produced. That accounts for the general blissful sensation you felt when you were around Cho Veru, and why you feel so garru-awful now." She then smirked as she glanced over to the next biobed when Vorik was slowly coming down from his earlier perturbed state. "It also explains why Mr. Vorik was reacting the way he did. The poor dear just probably couldn’t take being made to feel happy for once."

"Once again, Doctor, your bedside manner leaves much to be desired," Vorik retorted.

"That’s all fine," said Harry testily, breaking into the repartee between the two officers. "But what’s causing the stimulation in the first place?"

"In a word, captain," said Saldeed, "pheromones."

"Pheromones?" said Harry curiously. "You mean, he’s causing all this by… smell?"

"It’s more complicated than that," she answered. "I have to say that I’ve never seen pheromonal abilities this sophisticated in a humanoid being before. Apparently, this Cho Veru has the ability to generate pheromonal signatures so potent that they can trigger attraction and even influence behavior."

"That would stand to reason," said Vorik as he sat up. "Assuming that what Cho Veru told us about the Krowtonan caste system to be true, the ability to influence the behavior of others would be a potent ability for the ruling caste to possess. No doubt their society has spent many centuries breeding this talent for greater effectiveness."

"It’s not just the ruling caste that has it," said Saldeed as she called up another hologram. "These were taken during the autopsies I performed on the Krowtonan soldiers. It appears that they too possess highly developed vomeronasal and olfactory organs, but not quite sophisticated enough to do something like what was done to you two."

"It would also explain why no weapons signatures were detected, Captain," said Jor’Marak, who had stood silently at attention during the entire examination. "If these pheromones are a natural part of Krowtonan biology, then the computer would not recognize them as a separate signature."

"I just can’t believe that all of this was accomplished just through… a smell," said Harry incredulously.

"That’s not surprising," said Saldeed. "Humans have a notoriously weak sense of smell compared to other species, so naturally you’d fail to appreciate the full impact that scent has on the mind. Odor can affect behavior, desire, or even memories if applied correctly. Pheromones may hit your people hard at first, but the impact is rather shallow. It only took Jor’Marak’s prodding to shake you out of it. Vulcans and Romulans, by comparison, are much more pheromonally driven, despite what Mr. Vorik might tell you."

"Point taken," said Harry. "The question is whether or not we can counteract Cho Veru’s influence over the crew. The more parts of the ship he visits, the more people he’ll put under his spell."

"I’ve been able to identify the chemical markers of the pheromone molecules he’s been using," said Saldeed. "It shouldn’t be too difficult to develop a counteragent."

"Perhaps," said Jor’Marak, "it would be simpler if I were to kill him. Now."

Before Harry could respond, his combadge chimed once again. "Kim here."

"Sir," came the voice of Cyrus Krell from the bridge. "We’re detecting more Krowtonan vessels on long range scan. We’ve spotted at least fifteen ships on an intercept course with us. They’ll be at our position within two hours."

Harry nodded grimly. "So that’s his plan. We let him on the bridge, he and his guards take over, and while we’re fighting to take back control of the ship, he hunkers down until reinforcements arrive."

"Perhaps it might be wise to withdraw from this region of space," Vorik suggested.

"No," said Harry. "Not until we get Cho Veru and his people of the ship. They’re too dangerous to keep aboard as prisoners, and it will only escalate matters with the Krowtonans. "

"Sir," Krell continued via the combadge, "I’ve been getting repeated requests from Commander Kalan to bring the Krowtonans to the bridge. I can’t keep stalling him forever, and he’s starting to grow suspicious."

"Just keep it up, Lieutenant. I’ll contact you shortly. Kim out." He silenced his combadge and looked intently at his fellow conspirators. "Doctor, can you develop the counteragent in an aerosol form?"

"You wish to distribute the counteragent through the ship’s ventilation system," Vorik realized.

"Yes. Can it be done, Doctor?"

"It shouldn’t be a problem," said Saldeed. "I can replicate the counter-molecules we need in just a few minutes. But if they’re going to be effective, they’ll have to be introduced via the main life support system if you want them to spread throughout the ship quickly enough."

"That I can do," added Vorik. "Captain, it would be wise for you to wait until the counteragent has dispersed before confronting Cho Veru. Once you are within his presence, you may find yourself vulnerable to his influence again."

"I’m aware of that, Vorik," said Harry grimly. "But he has to be stopped now, before he can force his way onto the bridge. Get to work on that counteragent, and disperse it as quickly as you can."

"It may not be quick enough," said Saldeed. "Remember what I told you about how much stronger the Vulcan and Romulan sense of smell is compared to humans?"


"Well, the Klingon sense of smell is even more potent."

Harry realized what it was the Chief Medical Officer was saying to him. The security detail accompanying the Krowtonans had been more than half Klingon. With them and Commander Kalan under Cho Veru’s spell, they posed a dangerous uncertainty in his plans to expel the invaders from the Enterprise. He had to believe that Kalan would never become so enthralled as to actually turn on him. But could he take that chance?

"Jor’Marak," said Harry. "I’m going to need your help."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Deck Three
Stardate 76585.2
1 August 2399 1812 hrs

The turbolift was quiet as Harry and Jor’Marak rode quietly to their rendezvous with the rest of the crew. Whatever happened next, thought Harry, depended on his ability to resist whatever power the Krowtonan tried to exert over him.

"Remember, Jor’Marak," he said, "if it looks like I’m starting to succumb, I need you to give the order to your men."

"Yes, captain," said the Jem’Hadar. "My men will be ready."

The combadge chimed and Harry answered the call. "Sir," came Vorik’s calm voice, "The counteragent has been replicated. I am proceeding to Engineering as we speak."

"How long before it will spread throughout the ship?" he asked.

"It could take several minutes before the effects are noticed on the upper decks. Sir, I would strongly advise you wait before approaching Cho Veru."

"I’ll be fine, Commander. Just you hurry. Kim out."

Kim stepped off the turbolift, First Jor’Marak staying closely by his side. No sooner did he enter the corridor that he felt the overpowering scent of Krowtonan pheromones. Cho Veru and the other Krowtonans were waiting patiently outside the doors for his arrival. Standing beside him was Kalan, already practically a part of his entourage. Behind him were four Klingon security officers, the rest no longer in sight. Harry could see Bartok, Naomi, Miral, and his wife standing aloof behind them all, their faces calm and unperturbed.

"Captain," said Kalan as he saw Harry. "There is something happening on the bridge."

"What do you mean, Commander?" asked Harry, trying to maintain the façade of still being under Cho Veru’s pheromonal influence. Which wasn’t all that hard to fake, considering how the overpowering cinnamon-like scent was beginning to weaken his resolve. He had to remind himself what was going on, and that any desire he might feel to accommodate the Krowtonans was not real, but was induced by molecular trickery.

"Lieutenant Krell’s claims of mechanical difficulties with the turbolift seem improbable," said Kalan. "I believe he is being intentionally subordinate."

"Well, Commander, unless there is some kind of proof, what do you suggest we do about it?"

"I would suggest that we send a security team to transport to the bridge and see what is happening up there to take appropriate action. It is possible that Lieutenant Krell has been…compromised…somehow."

"I see," said Harry. "XO, where is the rest of the security detail?"

"Commander Kalan dismissed them," said Cho Veru. "We agreed that an additional honor guard of only four officers was sufficient. He recommended these individuals in particular for their loyalty and bravery."

And all Klingon, thought Harry. Which meant that Cho Veru was already realizing that his pheromonal influence was stronger over them. Not a good sign at all. He had to stall for time, keep the Krowtonans away from the bridge long enough for Vorik and Saldeed to spread the counteragent. So far, he smelled nothing different.

"Cho Veru, surely you can wait a little while longer before contacting your people?" said Harry, trying to sound as obsequious as he could plausibly muster. "I’m sure we’ll have this problem resolved soon enough."

"Time is of the essence, Captain," said the Prime. "With the Kazon threat looming over us, every second becomes precious. Surely you can understand that?"

"Yes, I…"

Jor’Marak leaned in closer to whisper into his captain’s ear. "Be strong, sir. I can detect the counteragent in the air."

Harry sniffed around, but was unable to sense any odor other than that of the Krowtonan. If Vorik had already released the counteragent into the ship’s life support systems, then it was still in too minute a quantity for his merely human nose to detect. He had to take Jor’Marak’s word for it and hold out as long as he could.

"I believe I do," Harry replied.

"Excellent," said Cho Veru, still all smiles and charm. "Now, Captain, were you able to secure the release of my Brutals?"

"Certainly," said Harry as he walked right up to Cho Veru. "I will be all too happy to return them to you." He then leaned in and grinned ferally at the Krowtonan Prime, staring him right in the eyes, "as soon as you and your circus get the hell off my ship."

The senior officers were all stunned by their captain’s brazen comment. "Harry," gasped Annika, "what are you saying?"

"He’s been using pheromones on us," said Harry through clenched teeth, his eyes never leaving Cho Veru, fighting the instinctual need to keep silent. "Doctor Saldeed confirmed it. He’s influenced our behavior ever since he came aboard. There’s at least fifteen Krowtonan ships on their way to help him subdue Enterprise once he’s taken control of the bridge."

"Commander Kalan," said Cho Veru with an unflappable calm, "I do believe your captain has taken leave of his senses. Isn’t there something you should be doing about that?"

"I…" Kalan was flummoxed, caught between what his rational mind and his emotional guts were telling him.

"Say," Naomi spoke up as she realized something. "Do you smell something different? The air…it tastes like…limes."

Indeed, Harry noticed the sour new scent in the air, and thought at first that it was a new pheromonal trick by Cho Veru. But when he could no longer smell the cinnamon-like odor of the Krowtonan, he knew that it was the counteragent hard at work, blocking the pheromones and their pernicious effect on their minds.

"Commander!" Cho Veru hissed, his charm starting to fade, "Do something!"

"I…" the first officer straightened himself, trying to regain his composure. "I suspect, Captain Kim, that I may not be fit for duty at this time. And neither is the security detail. I request we all be relieved."

"Permission granted, Commander," Harry beamed inwardly. Good for you, XO, he thought.

Cho Veru’s eyes grew cold and he glanced to his side, appearing to give a silent command to his Krowtonan honor guard. So attuned were they, the Prime and his Brutals, that words were not even necessary for an order to be given.

But Jor’Marak was even faster. At a silent gesture of his own, fourteen Jem’Hadar soldiers unshrouded themselves in a formation around the Krowtonan entourage before any of the Brutals could lift their weapons. At least two rifles were aimed at each of the Brutals, while the rest were aimed at Cho Veru and the others. The Servers all cowered in fear behind the robes of their Prime.

Behind Harry, Jor’Marak extended his own weapon, which was pointed directly between Cho Veru’s eyes. "You were wrong," he said proudly. "We are the Jem’Hadar. And we are the finest soldiers in the galaxy."

Hearing the groans and disorientation from his wife and crew, Harry glanced over to them. "Are you all okay?"

"I’ve felt better, sir," said Naomi, looking a bit shame-faced.

"Speak for yourself," said Miral groggily, her Klingon side feeling the effects of the pheromone withdrawal more intensely than her human comrades. "I feel like I just did ten shots of José Cuervo. All I need now is the taste of salt to go with the limes."

"You’ll be fine, Ensign," Harry said. "Take Commander Kalan and the other Klingons down to Sickbay, if you will."

As Miral led the disoriented Klingons away, Harry looked over to his wife, and saw the look of dissociation on her face, and remembered what had been done to her.

"Cho Veru," Harry said coldly. "I’m going to do you the biggest favor in the universe. My soldiers are going to take you and your…people…down to your shuttlecraft and let you leave before Commander Kalan recovers and fully realizes just what it is you did to him. If you make any moves between here and the Hangar Bay, the Jem’Hadar won’t think twice about killing you. And if the Enforcer of Harmony makes any hostile moves on my ship, I won’t think twice about killing you. I think you know that Enterprise can easily destroy your ship before any of your friends arrive to help you. Is that understood?"

"Your intentions are very clear, captain," said Cho Veru, all charisma and friendliness now gone. "I’d have thought for certain you would execute me."

"Now why would I want to do that?" Harry taunted. "As you yourself said, we’re both civilized men."

"Civilized?" spat Cho Veru. "You know nothing about civilization! You and your kind, you’re a thousand times worse than the Kazon. They may be little better than untamed beasts, but you and your culture…are an abomination! You allow alien ideas and alien genes to intermingle and fuse into unplanned combinations. You have no respect for purity or harmony. You not only tolerate the hybridization of species, but you seem to actually hold it up as your highest ideal! You’re an entire culture of perverted mongrels!"

"And what do you hold up as your highest ideal?" Naomi shot back angrily, incensed now that the effects of the pheromones were receding. "I’d rather be a mongrel with freedom than a pure-bred fascist bigot like you!" She then looked back at her captain uncomfortably. "I apologize, sir. I know I shouldn’t have…"

"That’s all right, Lieutenant," said Harry amiably. "I probably would have said it myself if you hadn’t."

"What about my soldiers?" Cho Veru demanded. "Do you intend to release them as well?"

"I’m surprised you even care," said Harry coldly. "Aren’t they all just slaves to you?"

"Didn’t you hear anything I told you before?" said the Krowtonan wearily. "They are more than just my crew. We are a society. They are my Brutals. I am their Prime. We need each other to be complete. I don’t expect you to understand."

"I understand better than you know," Harry answered. "Your soldiers will be released in an escape pod once your shuttle departs. You’ll be able to retrieve them once my ship leaves your territory." Harry then leaned closer to Cho Veru. "Don’t be concerned about us ever coming back here again. We won’t be caught off guard again."

"We aren’t concerned, Captain Kim," said Cho Veru. "We will win this war against the Kazon. And when that is over, we will then deal with the rest of the quadrant. If the war has taught us anything, it is that keeping alien influences out of our space is no longer enough."

"I’d be careful about taking on more of the universe than you’re ready for, Cho Veru. I think you’ll find the quadrant won’t be a friendly place for your kind of thinking."

"I am not afraid, Captain," he replied confidently. "The Krowtonan Axis is not afraid. We have harmony on our side. We are pure."

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
The Brig
Stardate 76585.2
1 August 2399 1840 hrs

Jor’Marak entered the security station with Cyrus Krell, where four security guards stood on duty in front of a force-field protected cell. Also standing with them was Terem’Bakal and the rest of the Jem’Hadar, who had not left their post since the crisis began.

"Deactivate the field," Krell ordered. All armed parties raised their weapons and trained them on the Brutals who were now emerging from their prison.

"You’re being sent home," Krell announced to the prisoners while eyeing them all cautiously. "Your Prime has asked that you cooperate. You’ll be set adrift in an escape pod until your people can come for you. I’d recommend that you not give us any more trouble."

The Brutals said nothing, but moved silently in the direction prodded by their captors. Jor’Marak noticed one Brutal in particular, his body showing severe bruising and scratches. He recognized him as the one who had managed to escape his capture. Jor’Marak motioned for him to stop. A curious thought had entered his mind, which in of itself was always dangerous.

"I will take this one," said Jor’Marak.

"Are you sure about that?" said Krell. "He’s dangerous. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of that."

"As am I," replied the Jem’Hadar First. "Terem’Bakal will go with me."

"Okay," Krell sighed. "We’ll be right ahead of you if he should break away."

"He will not try to escape," said Jor’Marak, trying to find some hint of familiarity on the impassive silent gray face of the Brutal. "He knows there is nothing to be gained anymore."

As he led his prisoner down the corridor, Jor’Marak looked to the Brutal and spoke to him. "What is your name?" he asked.

"I am Dir Na Veru Rev-Lo," said the Brutal in a short, clipped voice.

"I am…curious, Dir Na Veru Rev-Lo," said Jor’Marak. "The Primes. Do you regard them as your gods?"

"Gods?" the Brutal said with puzzlement. "I do not know that word."

"They are above you, the Primes. Do they not give you purpose? A reason to exist?"

The Brutal seemed unimpressed with the question. "The Primes do what they do. The Brutals do what they do. It is how it has always been. What other purpose is there?"

"I suppose there is none," said Jor’Marak, his voice sounding almost disappointed by the answer.

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-F
Ready Room
Stardate 76585.3
1 August 2399 1909 hrs

Captain’s Personal Log, Supplemental: After having released Cho Veru and his crew, the Enterprise has departed from Krowtonan space. Doctor Saldeed reports that the crew is now completely recovered from the effects of the Krowtonan pheromones and that our minds are now our own again.

I’m naturally disappointed that our efforts to establish a dialogue with the Krowtonans were unsuccessful and that they’ve revealed themselves to be a race whose ethical system seems so fundamentally incompatible with the goals of our mission. One can only hope that after the war with the Kazon reaches some form of conclusion, that the Krowtonans will remain isolated behind their borders as before. In any event, they will bear closer watching in the future.

"Enter," said Harry Kim when he heard the door chime, interrupting his personal musings.

First Jor’Marak entered the captain’s ready room, seeing his commanding officer sitting at his desk. "Sir," he said crisply.

"Please, sit down," said Harry with a friendly gesture to the chair across from him.

"That is not necessary," said Jor’Marak.

"You sound a lot like the way my wife used to be," Harry chuckled. "Whenever Captain Janeway called her in to talk, she’d never take a seat. She always felt it was more efficient for her to remain standing. Eventually, she got used to the idea."

"Then…I should sit?"

"Stand, sit, whatever makes you comfortable."

"I will stand, then."

Smiling, Harry then decided to get up from his seat and walk over to the Jem’Hadar. "I just wanted to commend you on your actions today in regards to the Krowtonans, Jor’Marak. You helped save the ship."

"You need not thank me, Captain," said Jor’Marak. "A Jem’Hadar requires no gratitude for doing his duty."

"You’ve never been thanked for a job well done?" asked Harry.

"It has never been required, nor is it expected," came the reply. "It is my duty to defend this vessel and its crew. In defending Enterprise, I demonstrate my loyalty to the Founders, and to you."

Harry smiled as he walked across the room, running his fingers across the models on the wall. There on display were models of starships of the past, old versions of the Enterprise ranging from the original NX-01 to the Sovereign-class.

"When I was told that a contingent of Jem’Hadar soldiers would be assigned to this ship, I wasn’t sure what to make of you. Even though I never fought in the Dominion War myself, I was a bit frightened by what you represented. Having a cadre of soldiers outside of the regular command structure, ones that were personally loyal to me. Frankly, I found the prospect of having that kind of power a bit frightening."

"You command much greater power with this starship," said Jor’Marak. "Yet you do not fear Enterprise."

"Actually, in a way, I do. This ship easily has enough firepower to lay waste to an unprotected planet’s surface. That’s a power that any man ought to be wary of wielding. That’s why there are so many safeguards in place before a captain can fully utilize that power."

"There are also safeguards in place to control the Jem’Hadar," came the reply.

"Yes," Harry agreed. "I suppose that in that sense, I thought of you more as a weapon and less as a person."

"A Jem’Hadar is a weapon," said Jor’Marak.

"But you’re more than that," Harry countered. "I saw that today. A mere machine wouldn’t have been able to spot that something was wrong at the briefing. Nor would a machine have taken it upon himself to keep the crew from making a mistake that would have doomed us all. You did that, Jor’Marak. As a member of my crew."

Jor’Marak was uncertain as to what answer would be appropriate to give. No one had ever praised him for doing his duty before. Not the Vortas who had decanted him in his breeding crèche, nor the Honored Elders who had trained him. Even when they had selected him to be First from his brood, it had never been done with this sort of…appreciation. He strove to be excellent because it was expected of him. It was his place to do so. How else was he supposed to be?

Obviously, Captain Kim saw more within him that he saw in himself.

"The Founders," Jor’Marak began, "created our brood to become more independent, to be able to think for ourselves without relying on the leadership of a Vorta to guide us. They wanted us to be able to serve the Delta Fleet without requiring orders from the Dominion."

"I know," said Harry. "But it was more than that. I remember from the briefings that it was at Odo’s insistence that your generation was first created."

Jor’Marak looked at Harry with greater awe and astonishment. "You know…Founder Odo?"

"No, I’ve never met any of the Founders," he replied. Of course, he thought, there was no way he could be sure if he hadn’t. The Changelings rarely left the Gamma Quadrant, communicating with the outside universe only through Vorta intermediaries. But it was rumored that Odo would occasionally slip into the Alpha Quadrant incognito from time to time.

"But I know that Odo wanted your people to have the chance to be more than what you originally were created to be. He wanted to give the Jem’Hadar the ability to choose your own destinies, even if it comes one small step at a time. Eventually, he convinced the rest of the Great Link that it was the right thing to do. The Delta Fleet project was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what Jem’Hadar with the potential to choose could accomplish."

"Sir, why are you telling this to me?" Jor’Marak asked. It normally would not be his place to inquire about matters regarding the motivations of the Founders. Such things were beyond the realm of a mere Jem’Hadar.

Harry came over and gave the Jem’Hadar a friendly pat on the arm. "I just wanted you to know, Jor’Marak, that if Odo were here, he’d be very proud of you and your men."

Jor’Marak felt a sensation that he had never known before until then. It was confusing and disruptive to his sense of being. In fact it made him feel, as the humans might say, quite humble. So it was only right that he respond as a human might in such a circumstance.

"You are welcome," he said.



—And the Adventure Continues…

Category : Delta Fleet

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