Skin Deep

Written by  on January 21, 2003 


Sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease…

Written by Anne Rose and FatMatDuhRat

Stardate 76592.4
Released 21 Jan 2003

"Hi Mom, Dad!" Miral greeted B’Elanna over the holocom-link. "How’s everyone back home?"

"We’re all fine, honey," B’Elanna replied. "How are you?"

She beamed at them. "I’m great. The ship and the mission are great, but I’m really glad to see you two."

"We love you too." Tom’s affectionate voice replied. "Got any news for us? How are the fleeters getting along with all your new friends? Must be interesting being on a ship with all the Federation’s old adversaries."

Miral saw her mom bristle as Tom mentioned the other members of their cross-cultural crew. "It’s all going well. And you should see the helm controls, she’s amazing. I can’t believe how well she handles."

As Tom and Miral talked about piloting and the ship, B’Elanna studied her daughter. She looked ok, but a little nervous. At a break in the conversation she asked, "How are things with Commander Kalan?"

Miral paused and tried to decide what to say. She opted for the diplomatic approach. "He’s a capable officer. He’s more aggressive than the captain. I was scared to death, Dad, when he ordered me to set a course to ram that Kazon ship. I didn’t know what he was planning. But then we used our new toy and, well, the Kazon didn’t know what hit them."

B’Elanna raised an eyebrow. She knew of several new "toys" installed on the Delta Fleet ships, and she assumed from the description Miral was referring to the phase cloak. She would have to get access to the reports of the battle to be sure. Even with their advanced technology, classified information could not be discussed over a personal communication channel.

She was curious about the details, but also fearful. Most of the time B’Elanna pushed aside her memories of the dangers of the Delta Quadrant and focused on the benefits of forming alliances with new species. But, the fact that they had used the cloak so early in their journey brought it all back to her. The Delta Quadrant was a dangerous place. And her little girl was in the middle of it.

"…then we hit them with the new torpedoes and they turned tail and ran," Miral concluded.

Tom’s laughter jarred B’Elanna out of her thoughts. Sometimes she envied Tom’s ability to live in the moment. He was just as concerned about Miral’s safety as she was, but somehow he was not only able to express that concern more freely, but he could push it aside, not letting it consume him.

"I’m glad you were able to rescue your Uncle Harry and Aunt Annika so easily. It sounds like you’re having quite an adventure already." B’Elanna forced herself to smile as she said it. "But you did tell us about that the last time we talked."

Miral fidgeted slightly, and then clasped her hands behind her back to control them. "What else would you like to hear about?"

"I was asking you about Commander Kalan. How are you doing working with him? Are you getting along any better?"

Miral sighed. Her mother was always interested in how her daughter was fitting in with the other Klingons in the crew. This mission was the most contact Miral had had them and she knew her mother worried about it. She took a few deep breaths to try to calm herself, but for some reason her mom got under her skin like no one else could.

"Commander Kalan and I work together just fine. We don’t socialize, and that’s just fine too. He’s your basic arrogant Klingon, with the added benefit of feeling the need to distinguish himself. So I’m sure you can imagine exactly how he behaves." As she spoke her volume rose and the last words came out harsher than she had intended.

Her mother was always giving her advice on how to handle herself, do her job, and anything else they talked about. But she was an adult and a senior officer in an elite crew. If she couldn’t manage herself at this point, no lecture from home was going to help.

"Miral, I hope you’re not taking that attitude with him. He’ll sense your lack of respect and things could get ugly. I don’t think you understand how…"

"Mom!" She cut her off. "I think I understand how to deal with him, maybe better than you do. I’ve never been ashamed of my heritage – Klingon or Human."

Tom stepped forward and put a hand on B’Elanna. She brushed it aside. Just as she was about to reply, an alarm sounded on Miral’s end of the link.

"I have a briefing in 10 minutes, and I can’t be late. It was great talking to you again, Dad… Mom. Bye."

The virtual room dissolved around her leaving only the hologrid. Miral turned away from her view screen and pounded her fist on the wall. The only person in the universe who could make her feel like she was two instead of twenty-two was her mother.

She left the holocom room and dashed back to her quarters. ‘I never should have never taken the call so close to going on duty,‘ she told herself. ‘Good thing she didn’t know about my next away mission. She’d jump to red.’

Now she had only a few minutes to compose herself before she was expected in the briefing room.

She stalked over to bathroom and splashed some water on her face. Looking up at the mirror, she did a quick appraisal then grabbed a brush and dragged it through her hair. She readjusted her uniform and smoothed it down.

She stood, staring at the image of herself in the mirror until the computer alert sounded with Miral’s pre-recorded voice. "You’re going to be late for duty, Ensign. Get your ass up to your station, now!"

"Shut up!" She shouted back at her own voice. The computer reset in acknowledgement of the preset response. Miral dashed out of her quarters. If she ran to the turbolift, she would make up enough time to enter the briefing room at a dignified pace.

Miral made it into the turbolift and had called up an HPADD when the turbolift stopped one flight up and the doors opened to admit Commander Kalan.

He stalked into the lift and turned to face the door, with his back to Miral. Kalan took his customary stance, hand on hips, head tilted to look down at the rest of the universe.

"Ensign," he acknowledged her coolly.

"Commander," she replied.

"Is that a new holonovel from your father?" he sniffed disdainfully.

Miral ground her teeth and scowled at his back. "No, sir. It’s a history of Voyager’s contact with the Vidiians, but if you’d like a pre-release copy of Dad’s latest work, I’m sure I could get it for you. He’d be honored to know you’re a fan."

At the mention of her father being honored, Kalan stiffened beyond his already exaggerated stance. He growled and tossed his head back, still not turning to look at her. "I think not, Ensign. Klingons tend to find human adventure stories quite…tame."

Miral jumped to Tom Paris’ defense before she could stop herself. "My father is acknowledged as one of the foremost holo-authors in the galaxy. Millions of people love his stories from all species."

Kalan smirked. She had some spirit, this little human who looked like a Klingon. He couldn’t decide if that made him more or less annoyed by her existence. But she was an officer on this ship, and one he had to work with daily. He accorded her the respect her position, and the captain demanded, but she would need to learn much and be seasoned by battle before he would acknowledge her right to call herself a Klingon.

"I have no doubt. Humans generally enjoy stories that are light and escapist. It suits their temperament."

Miral bristled, but was saved from saying the next thing that came into her mind by the turbolift doors opening. She bookmarked and dismissed her HPADD as Kalan marched out of the lift and strode purposely to the briefing room. Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut, she thought. Just answer his question next time. Don’t elaborate! She silently berated herself as she followed him down the corridor to the conference room.

Miral walked in and took her seat at one end of the table. Kalan seated himself at the other end next to Captain Kim. The rest of the senior staff was already seated or arrived just after her. When the last was seated, the captain began the meeting.

"As you’ve all read in your briefings, we have orders to investigate the status of the Vidiians and assess them as possible allies." He activated the holopanel as he spoke and a map of the sector appeared. "According to our intelligence, this is the area currently claimed by the Vidiian Solidarity." He indicated an irregularly shaped outline on the map.

"In two days we’ll be on the border of their space, and we need to know what to expect. We – do – not – want to be surprised again like we were with the Kazon." He looked around the table at his staff as they nodded their heads. Several had grim, determined expressions.

"I’m glad to see you all understand the importance of this mission. I’ve assigned Commander Kalan to take command of the Wayfarer and conduct reconnaissance of the area." Kim nodded at Kalan, who puffed his chest out with pride and replied with a crisp nod. Instead of the grin a human might wear at the thought of a prestigious assignment, he face was drawn up into a fierce scowl. It was the face of a Klingon, ready to do battle for his ship and his honor. It was what a human might call his happy face.

Captain Kim continued. "Your mission is to determine the current state of Vidiian society, their military as well as medical capability. Voyager was told that their Phage had been cured. If that’s true, and they have stopped harvesting organs from weaker species, then they have the potential to become important allies against the Borg. If not, then they pose a serious threat."

"This is a pivotal encounter – one that could potentially make or break the Federation’s plans in the Delta Quadrant." He paused for a moment to let that sink in as he looked around the room at each member of his staff. He’d said something similar before each of their missions, and probably would say it again, but it was just as true of the Vidiian as it was of the Talaxians or the Sarpedon. "Ensign Paris, you’ll be piloting the Wayfarer. I’m sure you’ve been itching for a chance to take her out and see how she performs." Kim smiled at the young ensign as he touched a control and an HPADD flickered open in front of her.

"Dr. Saldeed, you’ll be conducting the medical survey. The notes you have from Dr. Danara Pel, should be a good starting point. And she may still be sympathetic and willing to assist us, if you can locate her after all this time."

The Romulan woman nodded. "Sir, what about this…Think Tank who supposedly cured the Vidiians? Do we have any more information?"

"No, and we don’t even know if we can believe that much. They proved to be…" Kim turned and looked at his wife, and then to Kalan… "less than honorable when we met them. They tried to trick Captain Janeway into giving them Annika."

Annika nodded, her face impassive. "Their deception failed, and we eluded them."

"Yes, yes we did." Kim looked almost wistful as he remembered. He shook his head to clear those stray thoughts away. "You all have your orders. Commander Kalan, assemble your crew on the Wayfarer and prepare to depart as soon as you’re ready. Good luck to all of you."

In her quarters, Miral tossed the last few personal items into the container on her bed. This wasn’t going to be a permanent transfer, so she packed light. She looked through it again – a couple uniforms, some off duty clothes, a couple of personal pictures, and some other odds and ends.

Anything else could be replicated on the Wayfarer. In fact she didn’t really need some of the items she packed, but she liked having them with her. Newly replicated clothes just didn’t feel the same when she was relaxing off duty as the comfortable clothes she’d brought from earth.

As she packed she thought back, again, to her conversation with her mother. She’d read all the logs and reports about the time her parents and another crewman were captured by the Vidiians. That other crewman, Durst, had not survived. The fiend who experimented on her mother had taken Durst’s face and grafted it onto his own. He’d developed some sick fascination with his lab rat and wanted her to like him.

Needless to say, he was lucky the Klingon half of B’Elanna hadn’t ripped the stolen face off of him, along with the rest of his head. She couldn’t imagine being split into two people. Her mother had told her it was one of the most horrifying experiences of her life. Not just the agonizing medical experimentation, as he infected her with the Phage, but also coming face to face with her worst nightmare.

Her mother had always feared her Klingon side, feared its anger and strength, and its lack of control. It wasn’t until Miral was about to leave for the academy that her mother confided in her about these things. Miral had always suspected, but actually hearing it from her mother was a shock.

B’Elanna Torres had been at the same time proud and ashamed of her mother – the woman Miral was named after. When B’Elanna had been a girl, other children had teased her unmercifully. She went so far as to wear hats pulled low on her forehead to try to disguise her ridges. As many children do, she blamed herself and her Klingonness for her parents’ divorce. If only her own mother hadn’t been Klingon, if only she could look and act more Klingon, maybe then her father would return. But he never did.

The final shock came one day when they were shopping together and Miral was picking out clothes for a graduation party from the academy. She was looking at accessories for her outfit and playing with some decorated hair clips. She remembered her mother staring at her as she arranged them experimentally in her hair, sweeping it up and away from her face.

She had turned to look at her mother and saw unshed tears glistening in her eyes. "Mom, what is it?" she had asked.

Her mother hadn’t answered at first. Eventually she told her that it was nothing, that she was just thinking how grown up she looked. It wasn’t a lie; Miral had been thinking that as well.

Miral thought about that last memory. Her father had let the cat out of the bag several years earlier, after she and her mom had had a particularly bad argument. While still in the womb, her mother had considered having her genetically altered in utero, to remove all traces of her Klingon appearance. Dad wanted her to understand just how deeply hurt her mother had been by events in her childhood, and that it was her greatest fear was that her daughter would never forgive her for trying. Miral was horrified when he first told her, but over time she came to realize that her mom really did love her, and that her only crime was wanting to protect her. Intellectually she understood it. Emotionally, it was a different matter.

Their fight today was no different. B’Elanna wanted to protect her, and Miral wanted to exert her independence. No, she was right not to tell her mom the upcoming mission was to the Vidiians. There was plenty of time to break the news to her after her safe return.

Miral closed the container and tapped on her communicator. "Ensign Paris to Wayfarer. I’m ready to come aboard."

She just had time to eat lunch before heading over to Hangar Bay One. She considered eating in the Galleria, but decided to spend the time in her quarters instead. The thoughts and events of the last few days had unsettled her, and she needed to have her wits about her when she boarded the Wayfarer, and faced her new, if temporary, captain.

Miral walked to the replicator as she thought about it. She paused and tried to decide what to order for lunch. "Banana pancakes," she finally said. They were one of her mom’s favorite things, and she’d always made them when one of them needed comforting. She replicated a glass of juice to go with them and then carried her lunch to the table.

As she ate, she thought more about the mission ahead. Commander Kalan would be a very different commanding officer than Uncle Harry. Sure, she’d worked successfully with Kalan for the past several months – neither one was dead or maimed, but Harry was always around.

On the Wayfarer, Kalan would be in charge with no one to gainsay him. Among his many other interests, she wondered if he would take this opportunity to "teach" her more about being a proper officer and a Klingon. Miral didn’t really care for the Klingon method of instruction.

He seemed to have taken an immediate dislike to her from the first moment they met. She couldn’t think of anything she’d really done to set him off, so she just chalked it up to her not being Klingon enough for him. There was nothing she could do about that. She was who she was. She would just do her job to the letter, and that would just have to satisfy him.

She shook her head. It was doubtful that anything she did would be good enough. So much for her little pep talk. On the other hand, Starfleet didn’t allow flogging, keelhauling, or any of the other colorful punishments from Dad’s ancient movie collection, so how bad could it be?

‘Don’t answer that,’ she told herself as she dropped her dishes into the recycler and watched them disappear. She checked the chronometer and saw it was almost time to report to the hangar bay. Taking one last look around her quarters, she swung her bag onto her shoulder, and headed out the door.

Saldeed and Miral walked into Hangar Bay One and paused for a moment to marvel at the ship before them. At almost 80 meters in length, it dominated the hangar. It was only three decks high, but it dwarfed the two women. Only a few years ago, carrying a ship this size would have been impractical, but with the dimensions of Enterprise, and the need for support ships, this was the best option.

They walked up the to the access port and onto their new ship.

"Dr. Saldeed, Ensign Paris. Welcome aboard," the Wayfarer’s yeoman greeted them. "Do you need any help finding your quarters?"

"Thank you, but no," Saldeed replied. "I think we can find our way."

Miral’s eyes swept up and down the corridor as they walked. "This isn’t a small ship. I hope we don’t get lost on the way to our quarters." She chuckled at the small joke. The Wayfarer was tiny in comparison to Enterprise. "I’d hate to be late my first day."

Saldeed looked at her for a moment. "You are wise to be concerned. Commander Kalan would not tolerate such behavior."

Miral grimaced at the doctor’s unusually stilted and stern reply. But when she turned to look at her, she was surprised to see a sly smile on her face. She was slowly starting to get used to the doctor’s dry sense of humor.

"Fortunately for us, Starfleet doesn’t condone spacing crewmembers for minor offences." Saldeed deadpanned.

Miral wasn’t sure for a moment if she was serious or not, then she saw the smile broaden as they continued to walk. She relaxed and smiled back. "Yeah, that’s good. I was thinking just this morning how nice it was that Starfleet didn’t allow flogging like ancient Earth fleets."

Saldeed chuckled this time. The, abruptly changing the subject, she asked, "You’re Katrina’s friend, aren’t you?"

Miral’s thoughts turned to her young friend, the captain’s adopted daughter. "Yes, she and I practically grew up together. Both our parents served on Voyager." In the months they had served together, she and Doctor Saldeed had never had more than a professional conversation, and few of those since the helm and medical rarely interacted. Unless you were Tom Paris. Miral chuckled at the thought.

"Something amuses you?"

"Oh, I was just thinking about how I haven’t really gotten a chance to know you very well, since our duties don’t overlap very much. Then I though of my dad, and how he got pressed into service in sickbay by his ship’s doctor." She smiled again at the thought.

"I see. Are you thinking of following in his footsteps?"

"He was the helmsman on the first Federation trip into the Delta Quadrant, I’m the second." She beamed with pride. "So I guess that’s a pretty fair assessment." Miral noticed the look in Saldeed’s eye. "Oh, but not in sickbay." Miral waved her hands emphatically. "I barely know one end of a hypospray from another."

"Then it’s fortunate we’re not in the same situation as Voyager." Saldeed nodded, and then thought for a moment. "Sometime I would like to have a chance to talk with you, further. I would like to get your perspective on some matters."

Miral’s face and voice showed her confusion. "Are you interested piloting or navigation?"

"No." Saldeed shook her head. She paused. "I’m curious in what it’s like to grow up as a Klingon in the midst of humans."

"Ah." Miral nodded, thinking of Katrina again. "Or, what it’s like to grow up as a Romulan among humans?"

They had reached their quarters and Saldeed stopped and faced Miral. "I think you understand perfectly."

Miral turned toward her door, but then she turned back to look at the doctor. "I’m glad you’re interested in Katrina. I know she was very worried she was making a nuisance of herself. She just wants to know more about where she comes from."

Saldeed repositioned her bag on her shoulder before looking up at Miral. "I understand her curiosity. It’s not the child, but what she represents that makes me… uncomfortable. She’s always asking me questions and I don’t have a clue as to how to answer them. I was hoping you might have a unique perspective, anything to take the burden off of me."

Miral didn’t know what to say. She simply nodded. She hadn’t expected their conversation to take this turn and it unnerved her. Growing up as an outsider in human society was a topic that hit just a little too close to home in her family.

"I believe we’re expected in a briefing in 20 minutes. I’ll meet you there" She leaned in and said in a conspiratorial tone, "I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s safety in numbers."

"See you in ten," Miral nodded. She keyed in her access code and walked into her new quarters.

As soon as the door shut behind her she let out a deep sigh. Kalan’s cultural biases were enough to worry about, now she had a Romulan wanting to discuss what it was to be a Klingon. What was next? Maybe that toad of a Grand Proxy, Quag would ask her for tips on Klingon economics?

She tossed her bag onto the bed and turned to survey the quarters. They were small, but at least she didn’t have to share them with anyone.

The Wayfarer was a Sonar-class vessel, able to run on a skeleton crew of as few as nine officers. She had memorized the specifications but she called up a HPADD to review it one more time. She needed to be an expert on this ship, inside and out – it wouldn’t do to be anything less.

She set it to give audio as well as visual output, then she unpacked her bag and tossed her clothes into the dresser while it droned on.

"NCC-85400, the Wayfarer, specifications, and ships’ manifest…."

When the recording ended and Miral dismissed the HPADD. She felt ready, as ready as she could make herself. It was time to go. She took one last look in the mirror. "You can do this. You’re the best pilot in the fleet – that’s why you’re here." Her reflection in the mirror looked unconvinced. She pasted a confident smile on her face and walked out the door.

The briefing was one of the shortest in Miral’s career. Commander Kalan briefly reviewed the mission objectives. They would determine the status and threat level of the Vidiians and report back to the Enterprise.

Kalan spent the rest of the briefing exhorting his crew to bravery and encouraging them to do their best for the honor of the Wayfarer, the Delta Fleet, their families, and their respective governments.

As he spoke, Miral was struck by similarity between this speech and the ones Captain Kim delivered. The words and the volume may have been different, but the sentiments were similar. I have faith in you, I believe you will do your best, you know your jobs and the mission, and we’re doing this for a greater cause and not just for ourselves, so let’s go do it.

Of course, in Klingon part of that translated as, "Today is a good day to die," but at least it was better than the Jem’Hadar battle cry. She’d never cared for their pre-battle ritual, "I am dead. I go to reclaim my life. Victory is life."

In preparation for joining the Delta Fleet she had researched the Jem’Hadar and particularly the accounts of a previous combined Federation/Jem’Hadar mission. It had been the Federation’s first opportunity to study them in combat, and she had to chuckle at the very human response from of one of the fleeters to their ceremony. "I’m very much alive, and intend to stay that way."

As she left the briefing room and walked onto the bridge, she mulled it over. The more she knew about other cultures the more she learned of their differences, and at the same time, the more similar they all seemed.

Miral took her seat at her station and waited for the Commander to give the order to lay in a course and depart. As she waited she calculated the course she anticipated Kalan would order. She felt almost like she was back at the academy, preparing for an exam. She had familiarized herself with the standard evasive patterns for this class of ship and some of the more unusual ones. She took a deep breath trying to release her tension as her mother had taught her. She reminded herself she was could do this, and then she waited.

Commander Kalan consulted an HPADD for a moment, double-checking some information. Then he transferred coordinates to the helm and looked up at the view screen. "As soon as we’ve cleared the Enterprise, take us into these coordinates in Vidiian space, Ensign, warp 8.5." He wanted to get to their target coordinates far enough ahead of Enterprise that they would have time to collect useful information.

"Aye, sir." Her preparation had paid off as she saw the coordinates where the ones she expected. She selected and confirmed one of her previously calculated courses and laid it in. "Engaging thrusters, ahead one quarter impulse."

Wayfarer pulled out of the hangar bay and away from Enterprise at a leisurely pace until she was several hundred kilometers away. "Sir, we’ve reached safe distance to jump to warp, on your mark." Miral’s hands hovered over the controls.

"Proceed," Kalan ordered.

The light of the stars blurred into streaks as Wayfarer jumped accelerated to warp. Miral breathed easier as the ship settled into its cruising speed. "Warp 8.5, sir."

"Good." He nodded. "Tactical, keep me appraised of anything unusual on the sensors. With that Kalan went back to reading reports on his HPADD. It would take 3 hours at this speed to reach the Vidiian territory. That would give them almost two days to scout the area.

The Wayfarer coasted along at high warp without incident. Miral occasionally glanced at the scientific readouts next to her helm controls and examined some of the interstellar phenomena as it flew past. She was pleased to see that the ship wouldn’t have to alter its course in order to avoid anything hazardous. The sensors on her HCARS console displayed an optimistic readout for the area of space along the Vidiian perimeter.

When they entered the actual territory, the young woman noticed how her crewmates became even more. Miral knew that the high level of tension she felt was inevitable, but it didn’t make their situation any easier. Less than ten minutes after they crossed the border, the long range scans detected two hefty Vidiian cruisers.

As Ops was moving to alert the commander, Kalan returned to the bridge from his ready room. He immediately went to his chair and called up a holographic readout of the approaching vessels. Miral heard a low growl begin to rise within his chest.

"We have a positive identification," he said. "The warp signature and hull markings are definitely Vidiian." Kalan transferred his tactical data onto the forward viewscreen.

Miral looked up and saw the twin ships break off from each other. They swung around and came towards the Wayfarer from two different directions. "Commander, both vessels have just altered their course," she said over her shoulder. "They’re now moving to outflank us."

"Let them come," Kalan calmly replied, "Try the standard greeting before they can attack." The communications channel was still opening when the Wayfarer suddenly rattled underneath him. The Vidiians had unleashed an onslaught of charged pulse blasts. They coordinated their attack to drill a diagonal pattern along the upper decks of the Federation ship. The Wayfarer’s shields automatically protected the crew from any substantial damage, but everyone was momentarily thrown off balance.

Miral quickly recovered and climbed back into her seat. "I think it’s too late for that, sir," she said. Her piloting instincts kicked in as she stared at the holographic display in front of her. She worked fluidly to adjust the angle and velocity of the ship. Miral maintained a tight control over the Wayfarer. She kept her eyes pointed straight ahead while her hands raced through the air above her console. She decided to change their trajectory in an attempt to dodge any more direct hits.

Just then, both of the large Vidiian vessels released a volley of torpedoes from their aft sections. Miral tried to flip the ship around when four of the projectiles slammed into the ventral section. One of them exploded close to the port nacelle, but the rigid structure held together as the rest of the ship lightly trembled.

Kalan was shocked; he couldn’t believe that the Vidiians had actually managed to injure the Wayfarer. It was just like the encounter with the Kazon all over again. Repair teams were already scrambling throughout the ship. Most of them ran to the Engineering section where a few small fires had been reported. Dr. Saldeed was also down on the lower decks taking care of some burns and broken bones.

"Sir!" Miral shouted. "They’re coming back around again." She turned and looked directly at him. "What’s your call this time, Commander?"

"Attend to your station, Ensign." Kalan completely ignored her and spoke to the others on duty instead. "Ops, I want to establish visual communications with each commanding officer of those ships."

He jabbed at a nearby terminal and quickly calculated a series of targets. The ensign at the Tactical station received the new data from him and realigned the weapons systems. "Phasers are ready, sir."

Kalan settled back in to his chair. "Do not fire until I give the order."

Miral tried to make her voice sound neutral as she questioned him. "Should I plot in a retreat course, sir?"

The gruff Klingon merely glared at her. The connection was made and two men wearing drab gray uniforms appeared on either side of the screen. They both had a series of scars and multiple deformities all over what was left of their faces.

The skin of each Vidiian was obviously ravaged by the Phage, and the crew of the Wayfarer was surprised to see this. According to Annika’s information, the Think Tank had supposedly found a cure for the Phage years ago. They’d been expecting to see some signs of the disease, not the complete set of freakish symptoms.

Kalan leaned forward to have a word with them but held his tongue when he saw the unmistakable look of terror on the first Vidiian face.

"Ascended One!" stammered the first. "Please…I didn’t know…"

"What’s that, Bamtur?" the second demanded. "What are you talking about?"

"Look at them! The woman too…" the first babbled.

Then the second Vidiian’s face matched that of the first in sheer panic. "I…forgive me, Ascended One! I swear, we didn’t know!"

"I-I was just following orders from Command. We thought your vessel would be a potential harvest."

"No! Of course not, Entyon! They’re obviously here to attend the conference on Yalitia."

"Yes, this sleek vessel of yours is apparently a governor’s special design."

"We’re terribly sorry."

"Yes. We’re very sorry."

The Klingon commander tried to stay quiet during the entire rant. He refrained from commenting until both men were finished, and then Kalan took a deep breath before talking. "I…will…consider your apologies. In the meantime, you will tell me what heading we must follow to…Yalitia?" If they’re going to the conference, they should know what planet it’s on

"Of course, Ascended One," said the first Vidiian. "The planet is less than half a light year from here."

"We’d be glad to escort you there," offered the second. "It’s the least we can do to make amends for what we have done."

"And there’s an excellent shipyard on the surface that will repair your vessel," the first added. "Please signal us at your pleasure, Ascended One."

The display was disconnected and the screen returned to its familiar view of black space filled with hundreds of flashing stars. Miral spun around and opened her mouth to speak. "Not now, Ensign!" Kalan snarled. "Just… don’t say a word, Ensign." He called down to Engineering and asked for a status report on the warp drive. Nothing significant had been destroyed and full power was being generated by the engines. He ordered the man to stand by and then he tapped his combadge.

"Kalan to Saldeed."

"Yes, Commander?"

"I need to speak to you on the bridge."

"I’m a little busy right now. I’ll be there in a few minutes."

"Very well, Doctor."

Kalan terminated the link and then went over to Ops. "Transmit a message to the Vidiian ships. Explain that we shall follow them to their colony after they’ve sent us the coordinates."

"Commander," Miral said, "Aren’t we going to try to signal the Enterprise?"

Kalan shook his head. "No, it may be detected. They’re close enough to observe everything that we do."

The Ops officer spoke up. "They’ve sent a reply, sir."

"Very well," he said. Kalan positioned himself next to Miral. "Lay in the course, Ensign Paris."

Miral hesitated for a second before she carried out her orders.

Saldeed entered the room a moment later to see the Vidiians jump to light speed. The Wayfarer accelerated to maximum warp and joined them.

Miral eyed the viewscreen as she kept the Wayfarer close to their Vidiian escorts. They had just dropped from warp and were now on final approach to their destination in the Yalitia system.

"You know," said Saldeed, sulking about at the rear of the bridge, "I realize that I’m not a command officer. But doesn’t it seem self-evident that landing on a planet inhabited by people known for harvesting the organs of other races would be…oh, perhaps, unwise?"

Kalan glared at the Romulan doctor, he was not in the mood for Saldeed’s unique brand of humor. "Our orders were to investigate the current state of Vidiian society, Doctor. This deference that we’re being shown – for whatever the reason – gives us a perfect opportunity to gather more information than we might otherwise from long-range sensors alone."

"Whatever deference they’re showing us, Commander," Saldeed replied, "it’s obviously based on a case of mistaken identity. I don’t know who they think we are, but what happens when we don’t provide the proper password?"

"Then we run like hell, Doctor," Miral chimed in. "That’s one of the things the Wayfarer was built for."

Kalan glanced at Miral. She had a habit of speaking out of turn, but for now he let it go.

A single point of light against the dark of space gradually swelled up to become a full disk, a Class M planet surrounded by smaller swarms of starships. The traffic patterns were active, that of a medium sized colony world with a respectable orbital station and dozens of starships in orbit. Miral received landing instructions from the surface and broke off from their escorts, gliding through the planet’s atmosphere. The landing coordinates were for a large metropolis that spread for hundreds of kilometers along the eastern coast of the planet’s single large continent. As the ship came in closer, she noticed how much of the planet’s natural vegetation had been cleared away in a large, sterile path around the city, completely divorcing it from contact with the local biota.

"It looks like the only major city on the planet," said Ensign Morales from the sensor station. "I’m reading a population in the millions."

Miral brought the nacelles up into a landing position as the science vessel glided over the elevated platform where she was instructed to touch down. She ran her navigation sensors over the area as she steered the Wayfarer in for her final approach.

"That’s strange," she said, watching the readings from her HCARS display. "There’s almost no one on the platform to greet us, just a handful of people. Now that’s no way to treat VIPs."

"Actually," said Morales, "I’m getting very few biosigns from the outside. The streets, if you can call them that, look deserted."

"Deserted?" said Kalan. "In a city of this size? Are you certain?"

"He’s right," said Saldeed, checking over the life sign readings for herself. "There are millions down there, but hardly any of them are out and about."

"That’s very odd," said Kalan.

"Actually," Saldeed replied, "It makes perfect sense. If you were raised all your life with a degenerative disease, the last thing you’d want is to be around other people. Especially if they all have the same illness."

Miral coaxed the ship into position as she engaged the landing pads. Ever so gently, the Wayfarer eased down, until a soft thump indicated that contact had been made with the surface.

Kalan nodded in acknowledgement. "Mr. Morales, you will remain aboard Wayfarer with the rest of the crew. Ensign Paris and Dr. Saldeed, you will accompany me when we meet the Vidiians. We will say little, and listen much. If our hosts believe us to be someone else, then I see no reason to dissuade them."

"Oh, you won’t hear a peep out of me," Saldeed grumbled.

The three officers made their way to the main embarkation ramp, feeling the cool breeze of the planet’s air as they stepped outside. But when they emerged from the Wayfarer, Miral looked up to see that a shimmering forcefield was now enveloping the landing platform like a circular dome. The ‘breeze’ was clearly the result of some kind of air conditioning, rather than any natural wind.

"That could be a problem, sir," Miral said to Kalan, as she gestured upwards to the forcefield.

"Morales," Kalan spoke quietly as he tapped his combadge. "Analyze the forcefield overhead and see what it will take to disable it, in case we find it necessary to make a strategic withdrawal."

Miral rolled her eyes. Strategic withdrawal indeed. Was the commander so Klingon at heart that he couldn’t even say the words ‘run for it’ without thinking it cowardly?

Waiting outside at the end of the platform was a delegation of four Vidiians. Like the ones aboard their escort ships, these Vidiians were heavily scarred, although the leader seemed to have some portions of normal skin on his face. It was only on closer inspection that Miral noticed that the leader’s "healthy" skin was of a different hue and pattern than the rest of his body, looking like it was patched on.

"Greetings, oh honored Ascended Ones," said the Vidiian leader, as the four of them genuflected reverently before them. "This one humbly welcomes you to the Yalitia Sector Metroplex. You honor us by arriving so early for the conference."

"The conference," said Kalan as he nodded, trying to imply that he knew more than he actually did. "Yes. Very good. Then I presume that the…others…have not yet arrived."

"You are the first, Ascended One," the leader said gently, gradually getting off of his knees, but still keeping his head down low. "I am Metro Administrator Jurett, and it would be my pleasure to escort you about our fair city. We’re indeed honored that the Sodality Council has chosen Yalitia to be the site for the conference of planetary governors."

"I see," said Kalan cautiously, scratching his chin. "Tell me, Administrator, when are the rest of the attendees expected to arrive?"

"The first should be arriving within a day, Ascended One, which is why we were so surprised by your early appearance, otherwise we would have arranged a greeting more befitting your splendor and vitality. Why, the Prime Ascended himself and his entourage should be among the first to land."

"Excellent," said Kalan warily, particularly puzzled as to why he would be regarding with such reverence by a people not known for treating outsiders with kindness. "Until then, I would very much like to see more of this world, and of your arrangements for the conference."

"It shall be as you wish, Ascended One," said Jurett. "Perhaps you and your companion and your servant would care to see your quarters first and refresh yourselves from your long journey?"

"Perhaps later," said Kalan, looking about and taking in as much of the Vidiian city as he could. He knew the longer they stayed on Yalitia, the greater the risk of exposure. It was better that they gather as much information about their surroundings before the rest of these so-called "Ascended Ones" arrived.

"Companion?" Miral said quietly in surprise, so only Saldeed could hear.

"Servant?" Saldeed echoed, equally softly. "I suppose I should assume that I’m not an Ascended One?"

"Maybe that’s not a bad thing," said Miral. "For all we know, Ascended One may be what they call the main course of tonight’s menu."

The Vidiian delegation led the three officers through a large airlock that stood at the perimeter of the forcefield. Miral thought it odd, considering that the planet’s atmosphere was an ideal Class-M mix, but she understood once she stepped inside. The party was bombarded with a series of bright flashes of light that left a violet afterimage on Miral’s retinas. The air grew even cooler, and then came a gust of warmth. Finally, a cleansing mist enveloped them all just as the outer airlock door swung open.

"I apologize if our decontamination procedures appear so cumbersome, Ascended Ones," said Jurett. "Yalitia is still a young world, and we have many decades ahead of us before the planet is made as sterile as Vidiia and the other core planets."

Stepping from the airlock and into the city proper, the three officers looked about to take in the Vidiian metropolis. The city seemed…empty, exactly as expected. There were some people walking about, all in varying stages of sickness and deformity. As everyone walked, they made certain to give everyone a wide berth, at least a meter, as if it were some unspoken social convention. No one looked up at them directly, but they occasionally stole a quick glance before darting their heads away in shame.

It didn’t look like a human city, thought Miral, with separate buildings, streets, and pedestrian sidewalks. Everything seemed connected by a series of tubes and airlocks, with everything being both linked together and kept separate at the same time. Nothing was exposed to the outside air. All necessary precautions, she presumed, for a people living their entire lives under plague conditions.

"Did you notice how clean everything is?" said Miral quietly to Saldeed, as Jurett prattled on to Kalan about their city’s many accomplishments.

"It’s hard not to see it," Saldeed replied. "I doubt the hospital where I did my first resident apprenticeship was this scrubbed down." Indeed, the walls of the buildings around them were all a bright, antiseptic white with the occasional pastel highlighting. Every so often, some robotic device would emerge from a hidden corner and spray the surface until it gleamed pristinely, before disappearing into the corner once again.

Miral tried to see where the small robot had disappeared to, but was distracted by the sight of what appeared to be a Vidiian family walking towards them. A woman was walking while holding a small bundle in her arms, with a small child trundling along behind her. The mother’s face was as deformed as every other Vidiian she had seen, with thin wisps of hair framing her gaunt, skeletal face.

The boy following her, by contrast, looked much healthier, with large sections of his face looking fresh and pink. However, it only made the traces of the Phage beginning to spread across his innocent features that much more noticeable. Miral stared curiously at the woman, and noticed the terrified look on the mother’s face when her gaze was returned. The woman immediately bowed her head down, too frightened to even look up at her, and reverently gave their entourage a wide berth, pulling her child along with her.

"Just who the hell do they think we are?" said Miral. "These people are terrified of us."

"Not us," said Saldeed. "You and the Commander. I’m just a humble servant, remember?"

"My god," gasped Miral, as she was able to see closely what the woman was carrying. She had assumed it was a bag of groceries or something to that effect. But it wiggled and she saw a tuft of hair and a tiny hand. "Was that…a baby?"

"Yes, he looks perfect now," replied Saldeed dispassionately. "But in a few years he’ll look like his older brother, and after that like his mother, if he’s lucky – or unlucky enough to live that long."

"So much sickness," said Miral as she shook her head in bewilderment. "I’ve never seen anything like it."

"I have," said Saldeed. "Nothing on this scale perhaps, but I’ve seen disease and sickness plenty of times. Just don’t feel too sorry for these people, Ensign. They’d carve us all up in a second if they thought it would extend their lives for just a few more days."

Miral glanced over her shoulder, watching the ill-fated Vidiian family walk off into the distance. "If your kid was that sick, what would do?"

Miral and Saldeed had separated from Kalan and Jurett. He was getting the official tour while they were taking a little detour. When Jurett was distracted by something else, Kalan had sent them off to investigate on their own, away from the watchful eye of their guide. They planned to rendezvous at the ship in four hours.

As they wandered through the mazelike tunnels connecting the city’s buildings, they encountered very few inhabitants. Those they did see exhibited the same terrified deference to Miral, while completely ignoring Saldeed.

They had wandered for 10 minutes without discovering anything interesting when the noticed they were back near the landing pad again.

"Did we just walk in a circle?"

Saldeed sighed. "I think it was more of an ellipse."

"We need a new plan." Miral said. She looked around and noticed a Vidiian person coming towards her. She couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, just so much flesh stitched together. "There’s my plan now."

Saldeed turned her head to see what Miral was looking at. She nodded her head, guessing what Miral intended.

The Vidiian had noticed them now, and was adjusting their course to avoid them, but Miral stepped in front of it. "I require your assistance."

The Vidiian was stunned for a moment and didn’t answer. Then it bobbed its head. "Of course, Ascended One. How can I serve you?"

"I am here for the conference. I’ve heard much about Yalitia, but I’ve never been here before. I need a guide." Miral maintained her façade of confidence while she waited nervously for his answer.

"Of course, Ascended One. I would be honored." It bowed again. "Where would you like to go?"

Miral exchanged a look with Saldeed. She shrugged. "Show me the highlights of the city starting with medical and defense systems, and if we have time, commerce."

"This way," it said.

Miral and Saldeed followed the creature, keeping several feet behind it as though they didn’t want to be too close to someone with the Phage. As they walked they kept their tricorders going, making constant sweeps of the area. Hopefully, when they returned to Enterprise, they would find some of the data useful.

Clearly things were not as they had been led to believe. The Vidiians were not cured, and from the patchwork appearance of her guide, they were still using "spare" body parts.

Miral noticed a large building ahead. Their guide stopped at the door and spoke to someone through an intercom system. The doors snapped open when he mentioned the Ascended One, and they walked right in. A few moments later, another Vidiian jogged into the room. He slowed to a more dignified pace as he approached.

Saldeed and Miral noticed that this Vidiian, although an adult, was not nearly as deformed as their guide or many others they had seen. Saldeed stood behind Miral with her head down, looking deferential, as she gave the director a thorough scan.

"I am Naudarr, director of this facility. I apologize that I was not here to meet you when you first arrived."

Miral resisted the urge to say something to calm the man and merely nodded. "I’ve come to see the sites before the conference. What do you have here that would be of interest?" She tried to sound aloof to cover her ignorance.

"We have nothing as elaborate as on Vidiia, but we try to contribute in our own small way. Let me show you some advances we’ve made in organ processing and storage." He led the way though the twisting corridors of the building until they reached a series of rooms.

Naudarr stood in front of a sensor as it swept over him, verifying his identity. The door swung open and he stepped aside and motioned for Miral to enter. The room was filled with rows upon rows of odd shaped containers. Each row or section was made up of similar containers, giving a sense of order to the otherwise jumbled room

"This is the end result of our work, once the organs have been harvested and graded, they are stored here, in stasis, awaiting transport to their final destination." He walked down a row, looked at the containers for a moment, and then picked one up and brought it back. "I think you will be impressed by this." He held out the small cube to Miral.

She declined to touch it and Saldeed stepped forward to accept it. As Saldeed turned it over, displaying it, Miral pretended to act interested and impressed. She had no idea what it was. She nearly panicked at the thought of being discovered before they had collected any real data. Miral masked her anxiety with what she hoped looked like surprise. "I am impressed. How exactly did you come by it?"

Naudarr bowed obsequiously, hoping against hope that he had proved himself worthy. "In the course of our regular trade with the Kazon, we made a shrewd deal to acquire nearly a dozen live, healthy Brutals. They only cost us trifling amount of arms. Well worth the exchange."

That got Miral and Saldeed’s attention. Perhaps a little flattery was in order?

"You are indeed a shrewd businessman." Miral complimented him. "I would like to hear more about the details of your trade. You say you deal with the Kazon?"

"Yes, of course," Naudarr bowed again. "Yalitia’s proximity to Kazon territory makes us a prime shipping point for the organ trade. These organs in particular only cost us a few warp plasma conduits and deflector units, phaser arrays, and some cloaking and subspace weapon components. You could say we got them for spare parts." He laughed at his own joke.

Miral and Saldeed managed to grit their teeth in a manner that approximated smiles.

Flush with his success, Naudarr pressed on. "With our advanced preservation techniques, we have been saving these eyes and many other organs and tissue grafts for the Ascended Ones to distribute as it pleases them. Surely you or your companion must have someone in your employ that you wish to honor? Please, accept these with my compliments."

He bowed again, and Miral fought the urge to strike him. Her stomach was churning as she thought about the contents of the room and the box in Saldeed’s hands. She wasn’t sure if she could keep the disgust out of her voice so she simply nodded at Naudarr.

The nod sent Naudarr into another round of enraptured groveling and flattery. "I only hope that if the Ascended Ones find that I have managed this facility well, that they…might…find my family worthy of the Cure and Ascension."

Miral’s mouth dropped open, and she was grateful that Naudarr was still looking at his feet, giving her a chance to compose herself before responding. She sensed the capital ‘C’ in Naudarr’s voice at his mention of the word ‘cure.’

"We shall see, Director," she replied. "Now, I would like to see the rest of your facility." Actually, it was the last thing Miral wanted to do, but now that she knew there was a cure, the information they were gathering was more important than ever.

Naudarr ushered them out of the storage room and led them on a tour tracing the "production line" back to the raw materials. The queasiness in Miral’s stomach had turned into a dull ache as they listened to Naudarr extol the many virtues of their processing plant, the cleanliness, the speed and efficiency, and how they utilized every part of the source material even down to the hair and entrails.

"Tell me, Director. Does all of the harvesting done here come from…live donors?"

Naudarr almost laughed in delight, just keeping his response on the right side of deference. "My goodness, no, Ascended One. We should all be so fortunate. But as it was in the old days, most of our product is harvested from the dead. With the Kazon and Krowtonans being at war, one shouldn’t waste anything."

"Then you rely mostly on the Kazon for your supplies of organs?"

"Oh, almost entirely," said Naudarr. "It’s been a very effective arrangement. In the old days, before the Ascension, Vidiians took a huge risk in treading beyond our borders to search for new body parts. Sadly, we Vidiians are still misunderstood and despised by many. Today, the Kazon supply that need for us, at no risk to ourselves."

"Let’s hope that Nagan continues to do well on the battlefield, then," said Miral, trying to sound as Vidiian as she could. "We wouldn’t want the supply of Krowtonans to run low."

"Oh, they don’t limit their shipments to Krowtonans," said the Vidiian. "Most of the dead bodies we harvest are Kazon themselves. Whatever they can recover from the battlefield, they collect and ship it to us. And if they can find a live or wounded enemy combatant, so much the better."

Miral and Saldeed both blinked in unison. "Are you telling me that the Kazon ship the dead bodies of their own soldiers?"

"Well, of course," said Naudarr. "I suppose their Grand Maje figures that if the dead can no longer fight, they can at least be traded for technology valuable to the war effort."

Miral was having serious questions as to who she found the more appalling; the Vidiians who numbed themselves to the moral qualms of what they were doing to stay alive, or the Kazon, who weren’t burdened by the necessity of survival, using their own fallen warriors simply as a commodity to be bought and sold.

She glanced at Saldeed from time to time and saw similar symptoms even though both tried to hide them. At present she was holding the box stiffly and as far from her body as she could manage with being obvious. You would have thought it was a poisonous snake and not a stasis container. Miral was certain she would have preferred a snake at this point.

They had reached the end of the tour when Naudarr received a call on his communicator. He beamed at his guests. "This is fortuitous. A cargo ship is arriving. Come, I’ll show you what we have to work with, and I think you’ll be even more impressed by our results."

He took them to the end of the hall where a large window looked out of the building and down onto a landing pad. A small ship was just arriving. Miral steeled herself for what she anticipated would come next.

A detail of guards greeted the ship. When the cargo doors opened, two jumped inside and began herding the cargo out and into the building, dozens of Trabe. The men and women stumbled out of the ship, shielding their eyes from the bright light. They looked dazed beyond just the shock of the bright light and captivity. She leaned over to Saldeed and whispered, "Do you think they’re drugged?"

Saldeed nodded, her eyes round, unable to completely conceal her horror.

Just then a woman stumbled and Miral gasped, putting a hand to her mouth. Afraid to watch what she feared would happen next, not wanting to see the woman kicked or dragged away. Naudarr noticed immediately and turned towards her.

Saldeed and Miral froze. Then Naudarr took a step toward them. "Do not be alarmed. The guards here are highly trained. See how carefully he handles the product?" Naudarr swelled with pride again as two guards picked the woman up and escorted her into the building with what almost looked like care.

"You see," he pointed, "At every step in process we maintain the highest quality. Our guards are carefully trained to not injure tissue and organs in transit. And if we do receive damaged product, we have holding pens and the best doctors available to heal them and assure they are in perfect health before harvesting."

He was staring at them again like a dog expecting a treat or a pat on the head. Miral nodded again, it seemed the safest option.

"Your facility is very… efficient," she said.

Naudarr smiled, "As you know, we already supply one quarter of the Vidiian Sodality with tissue and organ grafts, what with our being so close to the Kazon border. By the end of this year we hope to increase that number to one third. Of course, a transplant can only buy you a few more years. It’s no substitute for the Cure."

"I think I have seen enough," said Miral, eager to leave this sickening place. "I need to meet my companion at the landing area. I will require a guide."

"Certainly, certainly." Naudarr made the arrangements as they walked and a person was waiting for them when they reached the front door. "Thank you for honoring us with your visit. And I hope…" Naudarr bowed even deeper. "I hope you will remember my family."

As she walked out Miral said, "I will relay my information to the others."

They could not get out of there fast enough. Miral wished they could get outside into the fresh air. The tunnels with their purified air seemed cloying and suffocating. She glanced at Saldeed as they walked. The doctor was walking quickly, also in a hurry to reach the ship and leave.

It was some distance to the ship, and as they walked Miral noticed that their guide was having trouble maintaining their brisk pace. She put a hand on Saldeed’s arm to slow them both down. "Our guide is having trouble." She inclined her head at the person. Like the first, its body was deformed to the point that you couldn’t determine its sex or even species if you were not familiar with the ravages of Phage.

"This one has a very advanced case. I believe she’s female. I wonder what she was doing here?"

Miral once more put on her haughty Ascended One façade. "You there, tell me about yourself. I am visiting Yalitia for the first time, and I want to know more about its citizens. What were you doing at organ processing?"

The woman looked terrified, but she dared not refuse. "I visit there often. I was hoping to get a graft for this." She pulled open her jacket and revealed a crudely bandaged area on her side. It was 20 centimeters in diameter and from the looks of the soaked bandages, it was still raw.

"Where is your Honatta?" said Miral, remembering the Vidiian term for one who procured transplant organs for a patron.

The woman closed her coat and looked down. "I do not have one. My husband can no longer walk. I procure tissue and organs for myself and my family as best I can."

"I see," Miral managed to say, as she motioned to the woman to keep moving. This place was one of the hardest she had ever been in. She wasn’t sure if could maintain her composure until they reached the ship, but she had to. The idea of getting stuck here was… unthinkable."

Saldeed had seen a great many horrible things in her lifetime. This might not have been the worst, but it was bad enough. It was certainly bad enough. She put a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. "When we get back to the ship, the drinks are on me." She hadn’t intended to break out her supply of Romulan Ale so early in the trip, but this seemed like an occasion that warranted it.

As they approached the landing pad, their guide slowed and stopped. "This is as far as I can take you. It is just ahead." She bowed and backed away.

Miral and Saldeed looked at each other for a moment, and the Miral looked at the box in Saldeed’s hand. Saldeed nodded.

"Take this," Miral said. "Use it for yourself or your family."

Saldeed gave the woman the box.

She looked at it and didn’t know what it was at first, then it dawned on her and she nearly dropped it in shock. "Thank you," she stammered before scurrying away.

Saldeed and Miral exchanged a sad, weary look, and then turned and headed toward the ship.

They arrived at the landing site a few minutes early and saw Kalan on the other side. They were about to call to him, when they heard the sound of a ship very close by. Looking up, they saw it was landing on the same pad.

"I wonder if it’s the Ascended Ones?" Saldeed asked.

"If it is, we may have to lay low until they leave."

They began to make their way around the outer edge of the bubble, trying to look nonchalant as they hurried.

Attendants were now filing into the area and taking up positions in two lines on either side of the landing spot, to greet the new arrivals. They saw Metro Administrator Jurett in the front of the group.

They had just reached Kalan when the doors of the ship opened and a silent procession of figures wearing bright blue robes and hoods over their heads disembarked. They moved forward through the lines of fawning attendants and were greeted by Jurett.

"Greetings, oh honored Ascended Ones," Jurett repeated, as he and the attendants bowed solemnly. "This one humbly welcomes you to the Yalitia Sector Metroplex. You honor us by choosing Yalitia for your conference."

The one in the lead nodded and then pulled back his hood.

Miral gasped. She could hear low, rumbling growl from Kalan beside her. The doctor was more restrained, but she too was in shock.

"Holy crap on a stick," Miral mumbled absentmindedly.

Aside from the carefully styled short hair, straight blunt teeth, and manicured nails, the "Ascended Ones" appeared to look just like Klingons.

"What are they?" Miral whispered.

"I do not know," Kalan ground out. He was appalled to see Klingon features on these obviously pampered creatures. If these were the Vidiian governors, then they had no honor, and it sickened him to see them wearing Klingon faces.

"I think we have our answer about who they think you are," Saldeed said. She had recovered from her shock and was scanning the strange "Klingons."

Kalan looked at Saldeed. "What are they, Doctor?"

"I don’t know. Their DNA is… strange." She shook her head. On a hunch she scanned Kalan and Miral as well, but the data was still incomprehensible. "I’m going to need some time to figure this out, Co…" She looked around, "Ascended One."

Kalan growled in frustration. "As soon as there’s an opening, head for the ship."

Miral and Saldeed nodded.

They began moving toward the ship, as if they were discussing something when Jurett dashed over to them. "The Prime Ascended wants to meet you. Please, come with me."

Kalan looked at the ship, and then back at the man in front of him. "Inform the Prime Ascended that we will meet with him immediately – as soon as we’ve… given instructions to our attendants on the ship." He turned toward the ship again and began walking as fast as he could without seeming to flee. The other two followed close behind.

They had nearly reached the ship when a half dozen armed attendants intercepted them. Kalan instinctively felt for his phaser, but the attendants had their weapons at the ready. He couldn’t hope to take out more than] two or three before being subdued by the others. "The Prime Ascended wishes to speak with you now," said the lead attendant. He emphasized the word now, and used they point of his weapon to wave them back to where the other Ascended Ones were.

Kalan bristled, but there was no alternative, at the moment, but to follow their orders. The three walked slowly over to the leader, looking around carefully for an escape route as they went.

"I don’t believe we’ve met before," the Prime Ascended said to Kalan. He looked Kalan over carefully. "In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone who looks like you before."

"I’m sure you’re right, Prime Ascended. I only recently ascended." Kalan tried to mimic the behavior of the others.

"Perhaps… We will discuss it more, later."

"It will be an honor." Kalan nearly choked on the words. "I need to give instructions to my attendants, and then we will join you." He bowed and turned to walk back to the ship.

"I don’t think so," the Prime Ascended said. "Detain them!"

The time for subtlety was over. The three had no choice but to break and run. They veered to the right and across the landing area since the way to the ship was completely blocked.

The guards closed in on them, trying to block their escape route. Kalan slapped his combadge as they ran. "Kalan to Wayfarer. Get the ship out of here immediately. Return to the Enterprise and inform them of…" He left the channel open as they ran.

"Acknowledged, sir," Morales said.

Three Vidiians were in position now across the exit. "Keep the data safe at all costs!" Kalan ordered. He ran ahead and flew at the guards, slamming them though the exit and onto the ground.

Miral and Saldeed ran up and hesitated a moment.

"Go! I’ll follow."

They jumped over the crumpled guards and dashed down the corridor, trying to get as far away as possible before whatever security the city had was activated. The last thing they saw of Kalan was him with his arm around the neck of a Vidiian.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 76592.4

The Wayfarer is now four hours overdue. I have faith in Commander Kalan and his abilities, but I can’t help but be concerned for him and the rest of Wayfarer’s crew. I am prepared to wait for another six hours, but if our people should fail to report in by that time, I will have no choice but to cross into Vidiian space and risk a search and rescue operation while in hostile territory. I won’t leave any of my people behind, especially not to a grisly fate like the Vidiians would have for them.

Harry looked up at the viewscreen again, as if staring at it long enough would produce some kind of tangible results. The bridge was a beehive of crewmembers striving to keep busy, anything to keep from thinking about what might be happening to their comrades.

"You need not blame yourself," said Annika, who was seated in the guest chair to his right. "And it is much too premature to assume something terrible has happened."

"I know," Harry mumbled, still looking on anxiously at the screen. "But still, maybe I should have sent along an escort. One of the Valiants, maybe. Something with a bit more punch."

"You chose the Wayfarer appropriately for this mission," said his wife supportively. "You required a ship with enhanced sensing capabilities for intelligence gathering, yet possessing enough flexibility to escape and defend itself adequately. An escort would only have slowed the Wayfarer’s effectiveness."

Harry said nothing, knowing that he had no reason to second-guess himself. It had been the right call to make. But that still didn’t alleviate the gnawing feeling in his stomach that something more than happenstance was keeping the Wayfarer from coming home. And in the case of this particular crew, it felt deeply personal.

Miral was like family to him and his wife. Before Katrina came into their lives, Miral was the closest thing they had to a daughter, practically a big sister to their own daughter. Indeed, much of Annika’s experience with raising an infant came out of trial and error effort while babysitting Miral. He wondered if Kalan’s warning to him had been right, that he had created too familiar an environment aboard Enterprise. And if something indeed had happened to Miral, how he would be able to break the news to her parents.

"Sir," said Cyrus Krell from the Tactical station. "I’m picking up a broadbeam distress signal at bearing four zero mark three."

"Is it Wayfarer?"

"Negative," replied Krell. "It’s not on Enterprise’s frequency. I’m running the signal through the universal translator. I…" The security officer paused as he read the results on his HCARS display. "Sir, I’ve identified the source. It’s Vidiian."

The Vidiians? That didn’t make sense, thought Harry. If a Vidiian ship was in trouble this close to their borders, then why wasn’t the signal sent on a Vidiian frequency instead of a general broadbeam wave? It was a curious situation, possibly something worth investigating. At the very least, it could be an opportunity to generate some goodwill, and the source of the signal was close enough should the Wayfarer return.

"Mr. Tolland," said Harry to the helm officer on duty. "Take us ahead, warp factor 6." Turning back towards Tactical, he gave Krell a knowing look. "Lieutenant, put the ship on Yellow Alert, just in case this is all a trick."

Satisfied that the proper course of action had been taken, Harry sat back in his chair, watching the stars on the viewscreen streak forward at high-warp velocities. After several minutes of unnerving silence, he glanced over to his wife. "So what are your thoughts? Do you think this distress call is just another Vidiian scheme to lure unsuspecting victims in as organ donors?"

"It would not be beyond the realm of possibility," replied Annika. "The records we have of other Vidiian attacks shows they prefer stealth over direct military confrontation."

"That’s what I’m hoping," said Harry, "that they may not have the stomach for a real fight."

"Unless they were to get one from one of us," quipped Bartok, sitting to Harry’s left. Seeing the puzzled look on his captain’s face, he explained further. "A stomach, that is. I know, bad joke."

"Finn," said Harry with a weary sigh, "sometimes there are moments you just can’t lighten up with humor."

"Sir," Naomi interrupted from the Ops station. "We’ve got the ship in distress on long-range scan."

"On screen," said Harry.

The viewscreen showed a small scout ship, barely 200 meters in length. Bearing down upon it, firing its weapons was a much larger cruiser. The cruiser was far smaller and less powerful than a Discovery-Class starship, but it easily outclassed its intended quarry.

"Vidiians firing upon each other?" Harry said in bewilderment.

"Maybe the crew of the smaller ship is guilty of a crime," Annika speculated. "The cruiser may be here to bring them to justice."

"Vidiians may have a different notion of justice than we do," commented Naomi. "That cruiser isn’t firing to disable the scout’s engines. They’re trying to destroy her."

"Hail the cruiser," Harry ordered. "I don’t like getting into other people’s business, but I would like some idea of what’s going on here."

"There’s no response to the hail," said Krell. "But we are being scanned."

"Raise shields," he commanded again. "Let them know we can defend ourselves if they even think of trying anything."

The Vidiian cruiser watched them for two very long minutes, deciding whether or not the prospect of collection organs from more than 2800 bodies was worth the risk of almost certain destruction. In the end, the cruiser chose the more prudent course of action and powered down its weapons. The bridge crew watched anxiously as the larger Vidiian ship backed away and went into warp.

"As you said," noted Annika. "No stomach." She then tilted her head past her husband to where Finn was seated. "Both figuratively and most likely literally."

Harry gave Annika a crooked smirk before looking back to the viewscreen, seeing the damaged scout adrift in space. "Mr. Krell, hail the Vidiian ship. Let’s see who it is we just saved and whether or not we did the right thing."

"Aye, sir," replied the security officer. After a few seconds, Cyrus glanced over to his captain. "Sir, we’re getting a response."

The viewscreen switched to an unexpected scene. Harry had expected the half-melted face of a typical Vidiian, but instead he saw a close up of a humanoid woman, handsome and mature. Her forehead was slightly elongated and bulging, her skin smooth and pale. Harry couldn’t be certain, but there was something strangely familiar about this person, but he didn’t know where he could have possibly met her.

"Alien vessel," said the woman, "we thank you for your timely assistance. The Enforcers would have almost certainly destroyed us if not for your intervention."

"We’re glad to have been able to help out," he replied. "I’m Captain Harry Kim of the starship Enterprise. And you are…?"

"Kim," said the woman, scratching her chin in wonder. "The markings on your ship, they’re very familiar. Do you know anything about a starship named Voyager?"

"Voyager? How is it that you know the name Voyager, Ms…?"

"Doctor," she corrected him good-naturedly. "Doctor Danara Pel. And I know the ship well, Captain. Just as I believe you do also."

Miral and Saldeed had been running for 10 minutes when they realized no one was following them.

"Doctor, let’s stop," Miral called out. The two slowed and looked for a safe place to rest.

Saldeed bent forward with her hands on her knees and tried to catch her breath. When she could talk she asked, "Where do you think we are?"

"I don’t know, but we’re really exposed in these tunnels. We need to find a place to hide. Then we need a plan."

"It would help if we could get into their communication systems. I’d like to know where the commander is."

"Me too. Do you think a pilot and a doctor can manage that?" Miral asked?

Saldeed looked suddenly serious. "We’ll have to."

They walked along the tunnel until they found a restaurant. At least it resembled a restaurant except the walls of the booths went all the way to the ceiling, had a sliding door, and seemed to each have their own ventilation system. The women walked to a table and sat down.

Miral suddenly thought of something. "What do we do for currency? We don’t even know what they use."

Saldeed tapped Miral’s forehead. The ensign looked at her with confusion.

"You put on that Ascended One attitude again, and see how far we can get on your good looks." Saldeed pointed at her forehead again.

A little while later they were enjoying a complimentary dinner while they planned. They had also requested, and been moved to, a private booth with a companel. Between periodically checking the news for word on them or Kalan, they tried to use it to hack into the Vidiian communications network.

So far, they had managed to zap themselves a couple of times and knock out the signal, but hadn’t managed to interface with it.

"This looks so easy when Mom does it," Miral complained. "Sorry," she grumbled. "It’s just this sitting still is driving me crazy. I wish we could do something. They could be killing Commander Kalan and we’re having lunch." She paused and rubbed her hands together. "I just feel so helpless."

"I feel the same way," said Saldeed, "but we can’t just run around the city until they catch us. We need a plan."

Miral ran her hands through her hair and rested her head on her arms. After a few minutes she asked, "What sort of drink?"


"You said when we got back you’d buy me a drink. What kind?"

"Romulan Ale. Smuggled it on board myself in fact." Saldeed winked.

Miral laughed. "Since the treaty, you don’t have to smuggle it anymore. Didn’t you get the memo?"

"I guess not. Or maybe I just ignored it. It takes all the fun out of my minor rebellions." Saldeed was sipping on her fifth cup of what passed for coffee in Yalitia when she noticed something in her data.

"There’s a lot more to the… strangeness of these Klingons than just their personal grooming habits. Take a look at this." Saldeed handed her tricorder to Miral.

Miral stared at the spirals displayed on the screen. She turned the display 90 degrees in one direction and then back, and 90 degrees in the other, scrunching up her face. She handed the device back to the doctor. "Uh, it’s not a flight path or a power utilization curve. What do I win?"

Saldeed’s jaw muscle twitched, but she continued in her professional tone. "This is a scan of one of the Ascended Ones’ DNA." She pointed at the top spiral. "This is a scan of the Commander’s DNA." She pointed to the second spiral.

Miral nodded politely. She didn’t know why the doctor was trying to explain this to her, but apparently she felt it was important.

"You see the difference in the base pairs in these sections?"

Miral shrugged, a confused look on her face. "They… they’re a different color?" She wished the doctor would just tell her the punch line.

"Yes, they’re different. Now look at this third reading."

Miral dutifully looked at it. "Some of the same sections are different." She looked for another moment. "But the different parts are not the same." Miral looked up, totally confused. She was even more bewildered when the doctor clapped her on the shoulder.


Miral didn’t want to deflate the doctor’s rare enthusiasm, but… "You do realize I have no idea what this discovery means."

"Oh." Saldeed was momentarily somber. "This third line is your DNA."

"Unh hunh," Miral prodded.

"The parts that are the same in all three are uniquely Klingon. The other parts are human, in your case, or Vidiian in the other." Saldeed paused, waiting for it to hit Miral.

Miral stared at the read-outs, the pieces of the puzzle churning around in her brain. "So, if I’m a human/Klingon hybrid, then the Ascended Ones are Vidiian/Klingon hybrids?" Her voice trailed up at the end as she hoped that was the right answer.

"Yes," answered Saldeed. "What I believe has happened is the Vidiians have been using some kind gene therapy. A side effect of curing them of the Phage is increased Klingon characteristics."

"Oh," Miral replied with a shocked realization. "And they have the commander. There must be something else we can do," Miral groaned.

"Well, what are you hoping to get from the communications system?" asked Saldeed.

"For a start the status on their pursuit of us, and Commander Kalan’s location." Miral sighed again. "Beyond that I’m not sure."

Saldeed nodded and looked over at Miral’s tricorder. Saldeed could see the frustration on the younger woman’s face. "Why don’t you let me have a look at it?"

"You?" said Miral, trying not to sound patronizing. "No offense, Doctor, but this isn’t surgery. I’m trying to hack into the city’s communication grid. I think this is a little outside your area of expertise."

"Ensign, didn’t anyone ever tell you not to argue with your elders. I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years. Let me have a look."

Miral shrugged her shoulders, figuring that she might as well indulge the Romulan physician. She wasn’t having any luck accessing the Vidiian security protocols, so if Saldeed thought she could give it a shot, then why not let her?

Saldeed spoke as she tinkered with the tricorder. "If we can find the commander’s location then we can relay it to Enterprise when they come for us. All we can do until then is wait."

"What do you mean, wait? We have no idea what they might be doing to him."

"That’s right, we have no idea. For all we know he’s already dead." Saldeed didn’t want to think it, but it needed to be said. "You heard his last order."

Miral nodded. "Protect the data at all cost. Of course, it’s a moot point. We don’t know where he is," she said with a frown.

Just then the tricorder beeped, indicating it had completed its programmed search. Miral looked across the table at the Romulan with complete bewilderment. "It worked? You actually managed to tap into their systems?"

"It’s not that hard," said Saldeed. "These people have lived cut off from the outside universe for so long that their security has gotten lax."

Miral wanted to know how it was that a doctor knew her way around security systems, but decided that there were more important things to worry about now. "Just see if you can access security. If we start moving and they find us, all they have to do is close the sections we’re in, bottle us up, and send someone to collect us. We need to be able to over-ride the door controls if my magic forehead doesn’t work."

"Downloading their security codes now," said Saldeed with a smile. "From the looks of this system, they spend most of their security efforts on their medical technology. Lucky for us." Saldeed raised her head from the display as the tricorder sucked the needed information out of the security datagrid. "It’s no longer a moot point."

"You found him? Alive?" Miral leaned forward to look.

"A prisoner has been taken to the medical facility," Saldeed reported as she read the data. "The Prime Ascended is personally overseeing his interrogation and examination. That doesn’t sound good. Not one bit."

Miral furrowed her brow and glanced at the tricorder over Saldeed’s shoulder, who scrolled quickly through the data, looking for anything else that might help them. "They don’t have any solid information on us, but they are more worried about the ship that escaped."

"At least we know Wayfarer escaped and that help is on the way," Saldeed said. "We just need to be somewhere where Enterprise can find us when they arrive."

"And we need to have Commander Kalan with us." Miral’s face was determined. Saldeed shook her head and sighed.

"Those ‘ascended’ Vidiians biosigns will play havoc with the sensors," said the doctor. "Enterprise won’t be able to just fly in and pick us out without our combadges, and do you really think they let him keep his? We’re supposed to protect the data." Saldeed reminded her.

Miral sighed and wished there was enough room to pace in their booth. "All right. You stay in hiding, keep the data safe, and cover our escape. I’ll go in and get him. If I don’t come out, you can let the captain know where I am."

Saldeed nodded. "Where is this medical facility?"

"Right next door to our favorite place – Organ Processing."

There had been nearly thirty people crammed aboard the small scout craft, one that was normally designed for a maximum crew of four. Harry had ordered them all beamed to Sickbay for examination of their injuries and medical status. So far, a few broken bones and plasma burns had been reported as a result of the space battle. But what Harry really wanted to know was if the scout ship’s complement was as free of the Phage as Doctor Pel appeared to be.

Harry and Annika arrived in Sickbay, where Doctor Serebarr Zey greeted them. Dr. Zey was the resident specialist in microbiology and epidemiology, and was probably the best qualified aboard Enterprise to study the Phage and whether or not Pel’s crew was as healthy as they appeared. Harry knew the Betazoid physician would provide straight and honest answers for him, and free of the grating sarcasm that punctuated his dialogues with Doctor Saldeed. The fact that he was also the father of one of Katrina’s best friends didn’t hurt matters either.

"Every scan I’ve run has checked out, Captain," said Zey. "All of the Vidiians are healthy and free of the Phage."

"Then Kurros was not lying," said a curious Annika, recalling her encounter with a representative of the enigmatic Think Tank. "A cure for the Phage does exist."

"How is this even possible?" asked Harry. "These people have been suffering from the Phage for nearly two thousand years. A cure couldn’t have come this easily."

"Actually, it’s quite possible," said Zey. He called up a holographic display showing an animated strand of DNA. "These Vidiians differ from the medical studies from Voyager in one important respect. Their genome has an extra chromosome, one that codes for a protein that normally isn’t found in Vidiians. I’ve seen similar protenomic markers of this kind in Klingon genetic studies. You could say that our guests have all undergone a subtle amount of genetic resequencing."

"Klingons," said Harry as he turned to Annika. "B’Elanna was tortured because the Vidiians thought her Klingon physiology had some kind of natural immunity to the Phage."

"Perhaps this cure came about as a result of Voyager’s mission," she answered him.

"Yes," said a familiar and passionate voice from among the Vidiians clustered around the biobeds. "There is a cure. Only the Vidiian people aren’t being allowed to know about it."

"Doctor Pel?" Harry greeted the woman as she stepped forward from the assembly of her people.

"Yes, Captain Kim," said Pel. "I remember you. You were aboard Voyager those many years ago, weren’t you?"

"I was an ensign back then," said Harry with a chuckle, surprised that she had remembered him, given how minimal their interaction was back then. Denarra Pel had been a Vidiian hematologist whose crippled ship had been rescued by Voyager more than twenty-five years ago. The injured Pel, who was then in the advanced stages of the Phage, was brought aboard and gradually nursed back to health, or at least back from the brink of death, through the use of some clever technological sleight-of-hand, allowing her mind to be linked to a holographic interface for a brief period. Given her condition and the deadliness of the Phage, it was remarkable that she was not only alive today, but looked as healthy as her holographic avatar from long ago.

"Doctor," Annika interjected, "perhaps you could explain the meaning of your words. Are you saying that the majority of the Vidiian population does not share your good health?"

"No, they most certainly don’t," said Pel, her voice growing noticeably angry. "That’s what my people and I have been trying to fight. The tyranny of the Ascended Ones."

"Maybe you should start at the beginning, Doctor," said Harry. "My ship is here to learn more about what’s happened in this quadrant since Voyager’s day, and I’d like to know what’s been going on with your people. I have members of my crew out there whose lives may depend upon that."

"Very well, Captain," said Pel. "It started over twenty five years ago, not long after I was aboard Voyager. A prominent genetic researcher named Sulan contacted me. He…"

"Sulan!" said Harry with alarm, remembering the infamous name of the Vidiian doctor who had captured and tortured his friends many years ago.

"You remember him," Pel said somberly, nodding her head. "He was putting together a research team to pursue a new approach to fighting the Phage, based upon alien knowledge that he had acquired. He had learned about my encounter aboard Voyager, and given my credentials he felt I would make an invaluable addition to his staff.

"From what Sulan told the rest of us, he had been contacted by a group of aliens who had provided him with genetic material from a species that lived far away from Vidiian space, one that was apparently immune to the Phage."

"Klingons," said Annika. "The Think Tank must have provided Sulan with Klingon DNA."

"Yes," said Pel. "It was remarkable. All of our tests showed that the DNA strands coded for a protein that acted as an antigen against the Phage virus. Our goal was to create a gene therapy process that would enable us to insert those same genes into the Vidiian genome safely, thus giving our people the ability to create that protein and conferring us with the same immunity."

"Judging by your appearance, Doctor," said Harry, "I’d say that you succeeded."

"At first, yes," said Pel. "It took us two years, but we finally developed a harmless retrovirus to serve as a delivery mechanism for inserting the Klingon genes into our genome. We had several volunteers already for our trials, but it was agreed that several of us among the research team should be among the test subjects. Given that the Phage was already so advanced in me, I was chosen to be one of the first to receive the trials.

"It was…remarkable," said Pel, her face glowing as the memories came back to her. "Over the first few days, I felt the pain in my limbs start to ebb. Then my vitality slowly returned. My kidneys, my liver, all started to process normally in less than four weeks. By the fifth week, my skin actually started to rejuvenate. There was no doubt at that point that the Phage virus was being expelled from my body. Within eight weeks, I was completely restored to health, along with twenty other test subjects. It was like…being reborn."

"Doctor, that’s remarkable," said Harry. "But if the cure was so successful, then how is it that the rest of your people haven’t learned of it?"

"That’s when things started to go wrong," said Pel bitterly. "We all wanted to present our findings to the Sodality Council. But Sulan disagreed, saying we needed to shorten the healing time before our results could be made public. So he started to experiment with higher doses of Klingon DNA, only this time he used himself to test the cure.

"The results this time were…horrific. The Phage was purged from his body in less than three days, faster than it had been with me, but the physical changes that took place…it didn’t stop with the regeneration of his skin and organs. New genetic traits began to express themselves. There were changes in his musculature and skeletal structure. He actually started to grow…ridges on his forehead. Sulan was turning into something…something not Vidiian."

"He was turning into a Klingon," Harry gasped.

"We weren’t sure," said Pel. "But it wasn’t just his body that was affected. We all wanted to see if these changes could be reversed, but Sulan wouldn’t hear of it. He said he felt…well, more alive than he had ever been. His strength and vitality seemed boundless. His senses were sharper. He was convinced that this was the true intention of the alien gift to him, that our purpose wasn’t just to restore Vidiians to their natural health, but to transcend their old, decaying flesh and be reborn into a new and ascended form of life. It was madness.

But even more horrifying was that many of the research team actually seemed to buy into what he was saying. They underwent the process and went through the same transformation. I and some of the others tried to stop them, but they…they became violent, almost savage. I watched as people I had once thought of as rational scientists tore a good friend of mine limb from limb. They would have done the same with the rest of us who had been healed if we hadn’t escaped. I grabbed whatever notes and data I could carry and ran for my life."

"Surely you must have made some effort to bring your results to your authorities on your own?" asked Annika.

"I tried," Pel sighed. "But Sulan and his…flock…had beaten me to it. They presented their vision for the Vidiian people to the Sodality Council. The council members were all so desperate for renewed life and vigor that they accepted Sulan’s cure without question. Within weeks the entire Sodality government had become converts to Sulan’s New Ascension. In gratitude, he was made the Prime Ascended by a people so desperate for life that they’d blindly follow a lunatic and grant him and his flock any indulgence they wanted."

"My god," said Harry absentmindedly "It’s like some kind of bizarre caricature of spiritual transmogrification."

"Are you saying that Sulan and his people have transformed the rest of the Vidiian population into these…Klingon hybrids?" asked Annika.

"Hardly," snorted Pell. "The cure is shared only with those Vidiians deemed worthy of receiving it, a reward for loyal service to the Ascended Ones. It’s all just a cruel arrangement so that Sulan and his clique can hold on to power. Meanwhile millions of Vidiians continue to suffer and die from the Phage, even while our leaders know that there’s a cure out there that should be made available to everyone."

"Surely your own good health and those of your comrades makes an effective counter-argument to the people that an alternative exists?" said Annika.

"It’s too dangerous for us to show our faces anywhere," said Pel. "For one thing, we can’t hide among other Vidiians anymore, given the way we look. And any time we do show ourselves, the Ascended Ones send their soldiers to wipe us out and anyone we might have talked to. We’ve been growing our numbers slowly, quietly reaching out to people we think might be sympathetic. We’ve even managed to set up a secret colony where the Ascended Ones can’t find us. But there are still too few of us to risk making a stand in public. Sulan and his people have too tight a grip on power, as long as millions of Vidiians still believe in him."

"You’ve taken on quite a burden for yourself, Doctor," said Harry. "Living life as a fugitive."

"What other choice did I have?" said Pel fervently. "To transform myself into something that I’m not? I didn’t take up this fight just to save myself or the lives of people I’ve come to care about. This fight is to save the soul of the Vidiian people. We were a race of artists, poets, great philosophers long ago. Now look at us. Scavengers who worship madmen while living off the organs of dead soldiers and hunted innocents."

Harry looked on at the Vidiian woman and smiled, understanding now what it was that the Doc had found so compelling about her. This was a courageous woman, someone with character who was willing to take a stand and represent what was most noble about her people at a time when few of her fellows seemed able or willing to live up to those ideals.

But then it occurred to him, something that Pel had just said. "Doctor, you mentioned organs. Is the harvesting still going on?"

"Still going on? It’s worse than ever!" exclaimed Pel. "I had dreamed that with a cure we could put a stop to this shameful practice. But the Ascended Ones use the organ trade to buy off the public’s loyalties, to keep their hopes alive until they can one day be worthy of Ascension, as they call it. In the old days, harvested organs were only available to those wealthy or important enough to procure the services of a honnatta. Even then, they mostly either stole whatever corpse they could find or capture the occasional ship unwary enough to come too close to our borders. But now with this agreement Sulan has with the Kazon…"

"The Kazon?" Harry said in alarm. Now his concern was growing even stronger. If Nagan were somehow a part of what was currently happening to the Vidiians, then it couldn’t be good for the Wayfarer crew.

"Yes," said Pel. "Four years ago, a pact was struck with the Kazon Union. They supply bodies for us in exchange for weapons and technology. Those savages have nearly hunted the Trabe to extinction and are even willing to ship their own fallen soldiers back to our harvesting plants. It’s rumored that the Grand Maje of the Kazon has been deliberately sending legions of his troops to fight hopeless battles just so that he’ll have bodies to trade for new enhancements to his fleet."

The very thought of it sickened Harry, who was unable to decide which ruler was the most malevolent, Sulan or Nagan. Dictators willing to exploit their own people just to hold on to power were all too common in the universe. But to use one’s own people as trade goods, to sacrifice loyal soldiers merely to acquire new technology was a whole different level of depravity.

"Now you understand how important this struggle is, Captain," said Pel. "My people and I have been trying to recreate the resequencing process so that we can make it available to the people on a mass scale. Unfortunately we don’t have the same resources to work with that our original team did. But your people have had years of experience understanding the biology of these…Klingons. When we were first brought here, we saw that you even had Klingons among your crew."

"What are you suggesting, Doctor?" asked Harry.

"I’m asking for your help again, Captain," she implored. "With your knowledge added to our own, we could have a cure made available to millions of people within weeks. And there would be too many of us for Sulan and his followers to silence. The power of the Ascended Ones would be broken once the people saw there was a choice."

"I…I’ll have to think about it," he said hesitantly. "Unfortunately, my people have certain rules about getting involved in the affairs of others. I couldn’t simply take an active role in the overthrow of a sovereign government, no matter how great the injustice."

"I…understand, Captain," said Pel, the sadness evident in her voice. He hated to have to disappoint her, considering all that she had sacrificed, and deep down he sympathized with the goals of her movement. But in this case, there was no possible way he could justify intervening in this fashion, not to his superiors, and certainly not to himself.

"Captain, you asked why I chose to take on this role," she said after some hesitation. "In truth, part of my inspiration came from my time aboard Voyager."

"Really?" asked Harry.

"Yes," she replied. "When I was aboard, I saw different species all working together towards a common goal, just as I see the same thing here aboard your vessel. I remembered thinking how unique that was, and how isolated and alone the Vidiian people had become. When I was working to find the cure, I thought of just how wonderful it would be if Vidiians could be a part of something larger one day, that maybe someday other species would think of us as something…something other than as Ghouls."

"Perhaps…it will happen. Someday."

"Perhaps," she answered back. "Tell me, Captain," she continued, looking slightly embarrassed as she spoke. "How is…Shmullus?"


"Yes," she said. "The Doctor?"

"Oh," he chuckled, remembering now the name that his holographic friend had been briefly given by her. "He’s doing fine. He goes by a human name now. He’s called Jonathan."

"Jonathan," she said, letting the name flow off her tongue, getting used to the strange, alien syllables. "I think it suits him. I hope that he’s doing well."

"He is," said Annika, unsure of whether or not to tell her that Dr. Jonathan Doe was now married to another woman. She had received enough disappointment today. "He has created for himself a very full and accomplished life. I believe you would be proud of him, just as he would be proud of you."

"Thank you," Pel said quietly.

"Doctor, there’s one more thing I need to know," said Harry with some concern. "These…Ascended Ones. Exactly how…Klingon do they look?"

"I’m not sure how to answer that, Captain," she responded. "I saw one of your crew in the hall, and she could have easily passed for one of the Ascended. Why do you ask?"

"Because I have a members of my crew that are overdue," said Harry. "And two of them are Klingon."

Kalan surveyed the lab he was in and once again strained against the metal bands manacling his wrists, ankles, and neck to the table. He was standing, the table tipped up to fully vertical, but he could barely move. It had been half an hour since his capture, and most of that time had been spent in this room, waiting.

It had given him plenty of time to examine every detail of the side of the room he was facing. It was a sterile, metal walled room with bright, indirect lighting. There were several other tables lined up beside him, all with trays of medical instruments next to them.

The morbid thought occurred to him that he was in Organ Processing.

He pulled again at his restraints.

Kalan’s eyes flicked to the door as it opened. He watched as the creature called the Prime Ascended walked in, flanked by two assistants. They were studying data on a PADD as they approached him. The leader looked as happy as a child with a new puppy. A very evil child who intended to use the puppy for spare parts.

"In addition to the Prime Ascended, I’m also known as Sulan." He looked up from the PADD, finally acknowledging Kalan’s existence. "I’m sorry to keep you waiting so long, Commander Kalan." He smiled. "May I call you Kalan?"

"What you call me is of no concern. Return me to my ship immediately."

"Hmmm." Sulan tapped his mouth with his finger. There was an odd gleam in his eyes. "I’d like to, I really would, but there are some complications. First, there is the whereabouts of the rest of your party. Would you care to tell us where we might find them?"


"I thought not. No matter, we have very advanced techniques for extracting information directly from the brain." If Sulan was waiting for Kalan to say he was impressed, he waited in vain. After a moment he continued. "As you can see, our society is very interested in Klingons." He pointed to his own face.

"What do you know of Klingons?" Kalan looked away in disgust. Their parasitical lifestyle, combined with their slick, manicured appearance grated on Kalan.

"Oh, I know quite a lot actually. I had one as a guest, around 20, 25 years ago. I’ve studied your species and its fascinating resistance to the Phage ever since then." He strutted as he began to brag. "As you can see, I’ve changed the lives of my people, and they have shown their gratitude by choosing me to rule over them."

"If that is true, then why did we see so many Vidiians still afflicted with the Phage?"

"Ah, that is a sad story." Sulan dipped his head as if somehow honoring those who were still sick. "You see that’s where you come in, Mr. Kalan. We’ve nearly run out of the DNA supply we had. And Klingons are hard to find in this part of the galaxy."

He held up the PADD where Kalan could see it. "But it seems that you are a Klingon. A very fortunate find for us." Sulan beamed as he said it.

"I cannot possibly provide enough genetic material for your whole planet. Why did you not synthesize more DNA from the samples you had to begin with?"

"Some of the scientists wanted to do that at first." He shook his head and his voice took on a condescending tone. "But that was just impractical. Idealists. The essence of the material, its purity, would have been lost. How could we have true Ascendance without a pure sample? So we decided on a far more…pragmatic solution. We restrict the gift of Ascendance to those who have proven themselves most worthy of it. And we noticed there was a female in your group who also looked like a Klingon. Once we locate her…"

Kalan shook the table and did his best to lunge at Sulan. "I would never submit to such a plan. She is an officer on my ship and under my protection."

"Oh please, don’t be so melodramatic. We don’t have any tawdry plans in mind, besides… it would be impractical. The two of you couldn’t possibly produce enough offspring alone to supply the need." He sneered at the obviously ignorant Klingon. "We would grow them in labs instead. You see, the Ascended require regular new infusions of DNA. It is not just a cure; we are on a quest to evolve into a higher spiritual level. Perhaps after we have gained everything we can from your species, we will become just like you."

"You are not Klingon; at best you are a pale imitation of us. You are without honor! You not only kill others to extend your lives, but you do so even in the face of alternatives. The Trabe, your own people, none of them need die. How many are you murdering for each one you save?"

Sulan’s face changed color at Kalan’s words. "You don’t understand. I am trying to save my people. If you weren’t so arrogant and stubborn, you would see that."

"But not all your people. Some Vidiians seem to be inferior… not worthy to receive your… greatness," Kalan scoffed.

Sulan let out a twisted shriek as his face contorted with rage. His assistants scattered, fleeing from the room.

"I had thought to make this easy and painless for you, but you persist in taunting me. You should show me respect and yet you insult me!" He stalked around the room and then stopped, slamming his palms down on a metal table, making deafening boom.

"Very well then!" Sulan pointed an accusing finger at Kalan. "You have chosen this yourself!"

He stalked over to a table of assorted medical implements and selected a scalpel with a long blade. Kalan watched him approach. He locked eyes with Sulan and glared defiantly at him as he pressed a button, tilting the table and lowering it until Kalan was lying on his back.

By sheer force of will, Kalan kept his eyes locked on Sulan’s as he continued ranting, never giving him the satisfaction of seeing him glance at the blade as it hovered and slashed the air wildly above his face. Never showing him anything but his contempt.

"You look down on me?" said Sulan. "Well, now I am looking down on you. Your teeth, your hair…you’ve disgraced the form you were given. Is this what other Klingons are truly like, hairy unclean beasts?"

"You do not look like Klingons, your hair, your teeth, your entire body," Kalan spat back. "Klingons are predators among animals, and you, you are like a house pet in comparison. A soft, pampered animal that does nothing for itself except preen, and is of no use to anyone. Never compare yourself to me!"

Sulan lunged at Kalan grabbing his hair and yanking his head to the side. "I can extract DNA from your body alive or dead. It makes little difference. You should speak to me…with…more…respect." He tugged on Kalan’s hair again and then slashed the knife through it, cutting off a hunk, nicking his scalp in the process.

An idea occurred to Sulan. "You think you are better than me. Let’s see how similar we look without all of this." He grabbed another handful of hair and wrenched Kalan’s head to the side. "Perhaps you are a house pet under all of it?" He cut and slashed wildly, cutting off one handful close to the scalp and leaving the next almost at its original length. He became more and more furious as he continued, so much so that Kalan began to worry that Sulan might slit his throat in his frenzied state. Blood trickled down the side of his head and pooled on the table from the many nicks and cuts Sulan’s careless knife had inflicted. When he was done, Kalan’s head was covered in odd, uneven tufts of hair where his long mane had been before.

Sulan stood back and considered his work for a moment. "Yes, that’s much better." He ignored the murderous glare in Kalan’s eyes. "But I think now the beard doesn’t match at all." Much to Kalan’s displeasure, he leaned in and removed it in the same manner, leaving Kalan’s chin bleeding and raw. "Now that is an improvement."

"Now, where were we?" He looked thoughtful, and strangely calm for a moment. "Oh yes, the location of your charming friends." He leaned down putting his hands on either side of Kalan’s head. All pretense of civility dropping away. His voice dropped low and menacing. "Tell me where they are, or you will see just how far advanced we are from you."

"Technology does not make a society advanced. Even a targ can be trained to run a machine."

Sulan blinked, unable to believe he was still being challenged. It had been many years since anyone dared disagree with him, much less blatantly defy him. He pushed back and snatched up a tray. Cursing, he threw it across the room, it hit the wall, and it clattered to the floor.

"You like to hold yourself up as above me and my technology. Fine! I could extract the information I want without causing so much as a headache, but you don’t think technology is worthwhile, so I think I’ll do it your way."

He took picked up the scalpel again and walked back to the table. "You’re right, I’m too used to letting technology do the work for me. You’ll have to let me know if I get this right." He struck out viciously snapping Kalan’s head back with his fist.

Kalan clenched his teeth, but remained silent. He would rather live, but if he was going to die, it would be with honor. Sulan had assumed correctly that Kalan prided himself in his appearance, but he’d given away something critical in the act of cutting his hair. He knew Sulan wanted to break him far more than he wanted any information.

Sulan craved being in control like the Jem’Hadar crave Ketracel White, and in spite of the fact he held the Klingon captive, Sulan still felt challenged by the stubborn man. Sulan wanted Kalan to acknowledge his superiority, and Kalan was depending on that fact to keep him alive long enough for a rescue to arrive. And if not? Today was a good day to die.

Kalan could no longer see his adversary – his eyes had swollen shut sometime during the preceding hours, but he could still smell him. It was an infuriating, almost Klingon scent, offering the false hope of a possible friend.

He had lost track of the time. There was only the rush of adrenaline and endorphins, his body fighting back against the aggressor. They combined to create a thick fog in his mind, a vague ache broken only by bright flashes of pain as Sulan continued his work, now cursing at him, now trying some new instrument on him, now asking the same questions, again and again.

And each time Kalan remained silent. Sometimes, when he was rewarded with a cry of anger or frustration from Sulan, he felt a kind of satisfaction. Sulan might kill him, but he would never break him. He had no honor and any victory would be hollow.

"Where are they? Where is your ship?" Sulan demanded. "Tell me!"

The pain washed over him like a flood, stripping away his rational mind, and with it the ability to articulate more than a syllable.

"No!" He growled out between clenched teeth.

Lt. Cyrus Krell carefully examined the latest diagnostic report from his Tactical station on the bridge. He watched on the HPADD display as Enterprise’s engineering team finished up their extravehicular repairs of the Vidiian scoutship and came back aboard. The captain had agreed to help the Vidiian dissidents with their ship, but beyond that would make no other promises of assistance.

Krell had bridge watch this evening while Captain Kim enjoyed some personal time with his family. The display on a nearby holo-chronometer said that it was around dinnertime; so the Kim family would likely be sitting down to enjoy a pleasant meal. Krell doubted that the captain would be much in the mood for eating. The Wayfarer was nearly twelve hours overdue, and Denarra Pel’s testimony about what was happening in the Vidiian Sodality had everyone concerned.

Krell looked over to see Lt. Wildman working at Operations. She was getting ready to go off duty in a few minutes and pick up her daughter from daycare. Just then, her console beeped unexpectedly with a ship-to-ship communications message. There was a message coming through on a Starfleet frequency.

"Sir," Naomi said frantically, "it’s the Wayfarer! She’s sending out a priority one distress call." Naomi accepted the incoming signal and transferred it onto the main screen.

Everyone on the bridge stopped what they were doing and looked up to see the stressed out face of Ensign Morales. The worry lines ran deep across his forehead and his armpits were slightly darker than the rest of his blue uniform.

"Wayfarer to Enterprise," he cried out. "Commander Kalan, Doctor Saldeed and Ensign Paris have been captured by the Vidiians!"

"What?!" Krell forgot himself as the shock registered. He shook his head and then refocused his yellow eyes back towards the screen.

"They’re being held on a colony world less then five parsecs from our current location." Morales leaned forward to emphasize his statement. "We’re on approach and should be ready to rendezvous with Enterprise in thirty minutes."

"First things first," Krell said, "right now we need to inform the Captain about what’s happened." He quickly turned to Naomi and asked her to transmit his voice directly into the Kims living quarters. It only took her a few seconds to find the connection and she nodded her head once the link was established.

"Bridge to the Captain."

"Kim here," came the reply. "What do you have to report, Mr. Krell?"

"Sir, I apologize for the interruption but we’ve just received some very urgent news. The Wayfarer has just returned. They’ve had an unfortunate encounter with the Vidiians. The ship was taken to a colony world within a short distance of our current location." Krell paused briefly under the weight of his words. "Commander Kalan, Ensign Paris, and Doctor Saldeed were left behind."

The com link remained open and everyone heard Harry take a deep breath before he proclaimed a series of commands. "Lieutenant," he said, "Bring the Enterprise up to Yellow Alert status. Get the Wayfarer and our engineers on board and set course to wherever this Vidiian colony is. Inform our Vidiian guests that we’ll be shoving off shortly. I want our speed at maximum warp and under cloak. I’ll see you on the Bridge in a few minutes."

"Aye, Captain." Krell motioned for Lt. Wildman to terminate the conversation. She was already preparing the Enterprise for its upcoming rescue mission. Naomi stopped working in the middle of a complex system’s analysis.

The Wayfarer drifted in behind the upper decks of the Enterprise. Both ships disconnected their propulsion and inertia allowed them to drift in a parallel direction. The doors to the main hangar peeled open and the smaller vessel shifted its position. The Wayfarer dipped its nose and accelerated slightly. The pilot followed the flashing landing pattern within the empty deck of Hangar One. A few moments later, the Sonar-class vessel retracted its warp nacelles and gently settled down to rest until it was needed again.

Sulan had left him alone for a longer period this time. Kalan hoped it didn’t mean he’d located the others.

He was weak from loss of blood and his muscles ached from the cold. Sulan had been steadily decreasing the temperature in the lab until now Kalan thought he could almost see his own breath.

He needed to survive, not only to save himself, that was a small consideration, but to buy time for the others. As long as Sulan was occupied with him, it kept his attention away from the search for Dr. Saldeed and Ensign Paris. Even if they were found, it was unlikely he would want to tear himself away from his "fun."

His mind wandered through the haze of dull aches accented with sharp pains. He was about to give his life for a Romulan and a girl who was more human than Klingon. He marveled at the irony. If his dear uncle could see him now, he was certain the old man would laugh. That alone was reason to survive.

In his mind, he saw the face of his uncle the last time they talked. He growled involuntarily. "You will never win! I will not give you the satisfaction." Kalan muttered between clenched teeth.

"What was that? I didn’t quite hear you," Sulan’s voice taunted. He had returned. "Shall we continue where we left off?"

Kalan didn’t answer. He was concentrating on various means of killing Sulan when he escaped.

"Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way." He heard Sulan pacing back and forth.

"You’re different than the other Klingon I studied." He prodded Kalan, but got no response. "She was part human, and yet her DNA was quite potent. It cured us and gave us increased strength."

Something else rustled and then Kalan felt a hand on his arm. There was a sharp prick.

"I wonder what effect a full Klingon would have?" Sulan looked at the vial of blood he’d extracted. "One that was naturally all Klingon, not one I had to split apart." He walked over to a device and placed he vial inside.

"How did I separate her Klingon genetic material from the human parts, you ask? I’d be happy to tell you… but your brain probably couldn’t comprehend it."

Kalan would have growled, but he didn’t have the energy. This was the monster that had experimented on and tortured B’Elanna Torres, Miral’s mother. He’d read about it while preparing for the mission. The Vidiians captured her, her future husband, Tom Paris, and an officer named Durst. He couldn’t believe how history was repeating itself. No doubt he would relish the opportunity to add this next generation to his "research."

Sulan could not be allowed to discover who Miral was.

"…that was when the Think Tank approached me." Sulan had been saying something, but Kalan had drifted off. "They were very impressed with my data and my technology." He said the last as a taunt. "They gave me the material I needed to develop a cure, and all for a very reasonable price."

There was a ping, and Sulan took out a hypospray and filled it from the device that had Kalan’s blood. He looked at the vial. "I’m very curious what pure Klingon DNA will do for me." There was a quiet hiss when he pressed the hypo against his neck.

A few minutes later, Kalan noticed a change in Sulan’s scent. If he had been able to see, he would have noticed subtle changes in Sulan’s features. His forehead ridges were becoming more pronounced, and he leaned forward slightly as he walked.

"I feel stronger already!" Sulan searched around for something. "Aha," he said when he found a metal bar. "Let’s see how much stronger." He grabbed the ends of the bar and struggled with it for a moment, then, very slowly, the bar began to bend. He continued bending it until the two ends crossed over each other.

Crazed laughter filled the room, echoing off the bare walls, and then fading down the hall as Sulan left.

Miral and Saldeed edged along the tunnel just outside the medical facility, staying in the shadows as much as possible. It was the middle of the night, local time, and very few people were out, but they still weren’t taking any chances. The only people they were likely to meet at this hour would be security officers.

They had used Miral’s "magic forehead" on a shopkeeper and obtained one of the blue robes the Ascended Ones wore. She pulled it close around her, careful not to trip over it, as they reached their target.

"So far, so good. Now, how do we get in?" Miral wondered out loud.

"You might be able to just walk in the front, or we could break in through the back," Saldeed said. "We can scan the entrances and see what opportunities they provide."

They were still sitting in the shadows, off to the side of the front door, when it opened. Two attendants held the doors open wide with bowed heads as a procession of the Prime Ascended and his attendants left.

Saldeed and Miral flattened themselves against the wall and held their breath as the hooded figures and their underlings, turned down another tunnel.

Miral sagged against the wall and let out a relieved sigh as she watched the last one disappear. "I’ll try to come out that side entrance." She pointed to one of the doors they had scanned, and started to walk toward the door. "Hopefully I’ll be right back," she said over her shoulder.

She straightened her hood as she approached the door, and drew herself up to her full height. She pounded on the door and a moment later a guard came scurrying up and opened it.

"My apologies, we didn’t expect any other visitors tonight." He kept his head low and looked at the ground. "Is there anything I can do to serve you?"

"No." Miral walked past with out stopping.

The guard kept his head down until she was gone.

Kalan caught the scent again, the smell so close to Klingon, but different. He wondered if Sulan had injected himself with even more of his DNA. "You’re wasting your time." He roared the words at Sulan and it took every bit of his strength to do it. "I will die before I let you make the girl your lab rat. Now, kill me and be done with this." His voice rose at the end as he thrashed violently, trying again to break his bonds and reach his tormentor.

His efforts failed, but he rattled the table hard enough to cause the other to jump back. He heard a gasp along with the motion, and was gratified by it. His swollen lips tugged up slightly into a smirk and his voice lowered to a threatening rumble. "Or better still, show that you have a shred of honor. Give me a knife and face me like a man!"

He heard tentative steps coming closer, and then a voice, almost a whisper. "Sorry to disappoint you, sir, but ‘the girl,’ didn’t sneak and fight her way in here to kill you. So there will be no challenge, and no fight to the death. You’re not going to Sto’vo’kor today, and that’s an order."

He had to strain to understand her. His head was still throbbing and ears ringing. He turned his head toward the voice. "Ensign?"

"Who else would it be? Now please, sir, hold still. You’ve lost enough blood for one day and I don’t want to add to it." She stared the tiny plasma cutter and carefully sliced through the manacles that held him down.

He held still. That was one thing he knew he could do. Now that rescue seemed at hand, he wondered if he had the strength left to stand. He took a deep breath and centered himself. He had to stand. There was no way he was going to be cut down crawling out of this place.

"Is the doctor here?"

"Yeah, she’s guarding our exit. We’ll see her in a minute."

Miral finished cutting the last band and straightened to look at him. "Can you tell if any bones are broken? Do I need to splint anything before we try to get you up?"

Kalan shook his head. "I’m not certain. There is a great deal of pain in my legs, but I don’t remember the sound of anything snapping."

Miral frowned as she pulled off the blue robe and stuffed it into the bag she’d found. Her disguise would be worthless covered in blood.

She reached over and gently tugged at his pant legs, trying to determine the condition of the flesh and bone under it. Moving the fabric aside revealed a large puddle of blood under his left thigh and a smaller one oozing from his right calf. Miral winced as she looked at it. Gritting her teeth, she willed herself to continue. She could get sick or have nightmares later. Now she needed to get him mobile and get them both out of there.

"I can see where some of the damage is, sir. The bleeding has slowed or stopped, but when you stand it may reopen the wounds. It wouldn’t be much of a rescue if you bled to death on the way out. How would I explain that to the captain?" She tried to lighten the mood and ease the almost unbearable tension.

She was rewarded with a weak chuckle from Kalan.

‘That’s better,’ she thought as she gave his legs a quick once over. "All your bones seem sound. I’m going to grab some bandages and then we’ll get out of here."

She secured the bandages around his legs as quickly and carefully as possible. He lay perfectly still as she worked. The only indication she had when she hurt him was the involuntary twitch of his cheek muscle. She was relieved when at last she was finished. It only took a couple minutes, but knowing she was hurting him, and fearing the Vidiians would return at any moment made it seemed like an eternity.

She began to pull on him, slowly raising him to a sitting position and sliding him off the platform. "How’s that?" She held onto him until she was sure he wouldn’t immediately fall over. "Can you walk?" Her tone was urgent.

He took a deep breath and then forced it out between bared teeth. Concentrating only on pushing as hard as he could with his legs, against the floor, he stood. Pain shot through his body, but he refused to acknowledge it. "I will walk."

"Ok. Saldeed is just outside the complex." She began walking, supporting Kalan as best she could. It seemed like they would never get out of the building before someone noticed them.

Finally they limped out the side door and started down the street to Saldeed’s hiding place.

He heard her voice, but as he stumbled forward, Kalan could feel time slowing down. He tried to keep his mind alert, to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. He observed with an odd, detached fascination as the pain flowed slowly up from his ankles, through his calves, and thighs, and then spread out though his torso, and down to his finger tips. The air felt suddenly hot and humid. He noticed his skin was damp, his clothes sticking to him as a sweat broke over his whole body. The rushing sound in his ears returned, and although he couldn’t see, he felt certain the tunnel was spinning. Bile rose in his throat as the heat and nausea began to overwhelm him, and the pain, so much pain, pressing in on all sides.

Miral carried and dragged the unconscious Kalan, after he passed out. Saldeed saw them and rushed out to help her carry him the last 50. Miral was grateful, because she was nearly spent.

"We can’t stay here for long. It will be morning in a few hours and we’re going to look conspicuous," Saldeed said, as she ran her medical tricorder over Kalan and then pulled a first aid kit out of her bag.

She bit her lip as she really looked at Kalan for the first time. His hair was patchy, pointing wildly in every direction in short little tufts alternating with long ropes matted with dried blood. His face was mottled with bruises and his eyes were still sealed shut. Blood was already soaking through the bandages she had applied.

Saldeed’s expression was dark as she worked on her patient. "We need to stop the bleeding and stabilize him before we can move." She looked confused as she scanned him again. "Not many internal injuries, thanks to that tough Klingon constitution. He’s lost a lot of blood." She set the tricorder down. "Hand me the dermal regenerator, please."

"I managed to hydrate him a little while I was bandaging him."

Saldeed looked at her for a moment. "You seem to have picked up more than just piloting from your father. You may have saved his life." Saldeed passed the regenerator back and forth over each of the wounds that were still bleeding. It took a while to close them. She frowned as she looked at the instrument. "I’m not going to be able to heal all of this with what I’ve got here. He needs to be in Sickbay."

Miral looked out, through the tunnel wall, at the city and up at the black, night sky. She wondered what time the sun rose over this part of Yalitia. She watched the odd stillness outside the sealed city. During the day she hadn’t seen anything outside, not Vidiians, birds, animals, or even insects. Apparently nothing ever went outside.

She turned back to Saldeed and Kalan. The doctor had finished the major wounds and was now loading a hypo. "We need to move somewhere they won’t think to look for us. Somewhere close." She pressed it to his neck.

"What’s that?"

"It’s a low dose of pain meds. I’d like to give him more, but we need him to wake up, and I don’t want to depress his respiratory system. As soon as he wakes, I can give him more. I just want to avoid having to give him a stimulant."

Miral nodded, and looked back out the window. She jumped back when a maintenance bot exited from the wall just ahead of them. It ignored them and went about its appointed rounds. A moment later, a door slid open outside the tunnel and a second bot glided out.

"I think I know where we can hide." She pointed at the small doors. "The Vidiians never go outside. Even if they see us, I think it will take a long time for them to catch us."

Saldeed looked at the doors and the bots for a moment, and nodded slowly. "I think that will work. See if you can get the door open while I finish here."

Miral had the inner door wedged open and was working on the outer one. "I’ve almost got it. See if you can get the commander over here."

Saldeed looked at Kalan. He looked far better than when Miral had brought him out, but he was still unconscious. She shook him gently. "Commander, you need to get up. Commander Kalan." When he didn’t respond, she injected him with a stimulant.

The response was not immediate, but after a minute Kalan began to open his eyes. He looked around, trying to get his bearings. "Where…?"

"Don’t try to talk yet. We’re still in the city. Miral has opened a hatch to the outside. We’re going to wait there until the Enterprise arrives." Kalan nodded weakly in response.

Miral returned and she and Saldeed collected their things and hoisted Kalan to his feet. Together they stumbled to the hatch and crawled through, closing the doors behind them.

Once outside Saldeed scouted ahead for a good spot to hunker down in and wait for rescue. A few minutes later she returned. "This way."

She took Kalan’s other arm and they made their way to an indentation between buildings. "There are no tunnels facing this area. We should be out of sight."

They helped Kalan down to the ground and then they all sat and tried to make themselves comfortable for what might be a long wait.

"What did you discover?" Kalan asked.

Saldeed and Miral briefed him on their discoveries and gave him the tricorders so he could examine the data himself. He growled as he heard their findings. Between the weapons trade with the Kazon and what they were doing to their own people, Kalan wanted to personally tear the heads off each of the Ascended Ones.

"I cannot imagine the Federation will want to pursue an alliance with these people," he spit out the word. "They have all but enslaved their own kind, denying them a cure that would end this living death."

Saldeed reached into her bag and pulled out the hypo. "Here," she said, injecting Kalan again. "That should ease the pain, but it’s a light enough dose that you should stay fully alert."

He took a deep breath as the meds hit the back of his neck and began spreading warmth down his body, pushing back the pain. "Thank you, Doctor."

"You’re welcome, now rest. We need to all stay close together since the Vidiians took your combadge. We wouldn’t want to miss our rescue." She smiled, trying to lighten the mood.

"There is one other thing I learned, and it pertains to Miral." Kalan said. "This creature, Sulan, he described another time he had a Klingon to experiment on. It was over two decades ago, a woman, but she was not full Klingon."

Miral’s eyes grew wide as he continued.

"He said he separated her into two beings, and infected the Klingon half with the Phage to see what would happen." He met her eyes.

"Mom," she mouthed.

"I believe he is the same p’taQ that experimented on B’Elanna Torres. He must not find out who you are."

"That gives me an advantage," she said, feeling the anger balling up within her. "I know who he is, but he doesn’t know me." She pulled the tricorder out of her bag and searched through the data they had downloaded. "He’s giving a speech today. It’s not far from here." She yanked the blue robe out of her bag and pulled it over her head.

Saldeed grabbed her arm. "What are you thinking?"

"I’m not. Let me go." Miral pulled free.

"She is going to avenge the insult to her parents," said a weakened Kalan.

"You can’t do that." Saldeed emphasized each word, almost as if she were talking to a child. "You’ll get yourself killed, and Starfleet won’t approve."

Kalan slowly pushed himself up the wall and leaned against it for a minute. "The doctor is right, you shouldn’t go alone." Then with a grimace he stepped away from it and stood without support. "I will go with you."

"That is not what I meant!" Saldeed argued.

"Sir, you’re in no condition to fight anyone," Miral added.

He squared his shoulders and straightened his back, glaring at her. "We have your disguise and the element of surprise. We will be upon them before they realize we are there. And…. if it is too dangerous for me, then it is certainly too dangerous for you."

Miral scowled at both of them. "Fine." She handed him the tricorder and showed him the target.

"We’ll need to pick up weapons along the way," he noted.

Miral’s eyes narrowed, and she smiled through gritted teeth. "I’m sure someone will be kind enough to loan us theirs."

Kalan bared his sharp teeth, and returned her look.

Saldeed threw her hands in the air. "Here," she shoved the tricorder into Kalan’s pocket. "If you’re going to go off and get yourself killed for the sake of your…Klingon pride…at least this way Enterprise will be able to locate your bodies."

Kalan nodded and turned to follow Miral.

"Klingons!" Saldeed muttered as she watched them walk away.

Several hundred Yalitian colonists huddled against each other as they filed into a large plaza. The immense group gazed upward and saw the Ascended Ones gathered together along the edge of a steep balcony. The crowd strained to watch the hooded figures as they paced around on top of the platform. The privileged Vidiians spoke quietly amongst themselves while waiting for their leader to arrive. No one seemed to know where Sulan was, and the masses below were becoming more restless with each passing moment.

Many of the poor souls down on the ground were trying not to loose control and panic. Normally, Vidiians did not congregate in public like this, but for a chance to be this close to the Prime Ascended, they would take that risk, anything for the chance to bask in the glow of his health and vitality. By the standards of most worlds, such a gathering was modest, but by Vidiian standards it was practically a groundswell. Of course, the thousands assembled in person were dwarfed by the millions who would be watching across Yalitia, and the billions watching like from all over the Vidiian Sodality. The mob of infected people pushed at each other and those who had made it to the front, but were blocked off by an antiseptic barrier. A dozen guards stood behind the hygienic screen. They watched the throng while methodically slapping their metallic clubs into the palm of their hands. The collection of distraught voices continued to grow until it sounded like a hive of agitated insects.

The level of anxiety within the people of Yalitia was steadily increasing, and their feelings were being transferred to the impatient group of elite scientists that stood above them. When Sulan finally appeared, he casually walked out and greeted each of his prestigious associates. They politely bowed their heads and stepped aside as he made his way forward to address the gathered masses. A few of the diseased Vidiians cried out when they saw him, but they were silenced by those standing next to them. Everyone stared with awe at the elevated individual as he pulled off his hood and slowly raised his hands before speaking.

"My fellow Vidiians," he declared, "it pleases me to see such a vast congregation assembled here today." His words drifted over their heads and echoed off the walls that surrounded them. "I warmly greet you all, and I thank you for welcoming me here to visit your world."

As his speech progressed, Sulan became more animated and zealous. The volume of his voice increased as it drifted out over the crowd. "I wish to speak to you now and share the story of how I became a new man. I am no longer the Vidiian known as Sulan, leader of the Ascended Ones. The weak shell that was once my body has already been discarded. I have been blessed, and completely enlightened!" He paused and looked up to the sky with reverence.

Sulan then turned and faced the others standing with him on the balcony. "We are all willing," he continued, "to share the secrets of our regeneration with you. As soon as adequate preparations can be made, the people of Yalitia shall be able to inherit the benevolence of their glorious masters." He flailed his arms around his body and leaned forward to emphasize his words. "Look upon me and acknowledge what you shall receive!"

The multitude sent up a mighty cheer and their cacophony quickly ascended to meet Sulan. They extended their limbs upward to try and reach him, and everyone was heard begging for the same thing. All they wanted was a cure to the horrendous malady that had been rotting their flesh and melting their faces into a grotesque and unrecognizable shape.

Every Vidiian took notice of Sulan and his newly formed features. They could see how much more pronounced the series of ridges along his forehead and running down the bridge of his nose had become. His teeth had become very sharp and vicious looking as he spoke. He had long, unkempt hair that flowed past his shoulders and down the center of his back. He was panting and growling like an animal as he flexed his muscles in front of everyone. The power he felt surging within him was enthralling, and Sulan howled at the people like a ravenous beast shouting into an oncoming storm. Even his fellow Ascended looked on with both awe and concern.

"I came to Yalitia intending to speak of our present. But the universe had blessed us all with a rare opportunity. The source of our great Ascendance has now been made available to me. It is with this…" he exclaimed as he held up a hypospray like a religious totem, "that we will finally rid ourselves of the last vestiges of weakness and sickness. I cast aside all that is Vidiian. From this day forth, I AM KLINGON!" And with that, he pressed the hypospray to his neck for all to see and injected himself with his strongest dosage yet of Kalan’s DNA.

His remarkable broadcast was being sent out across all of Vidiian space from the ledge he was standing on in Yalitia. Everyone expected Sulan to give them a final revelation about the dreaded Phage. No one had realized yet that his latest transformation was the result of a dangerous experiment.

Sulan’s forehead began to throb as his ridges grew into wicked-looking spines. His entire physique underwent a bizarre metamorphosis, changing him into some kind of proto-Klingon beast. The flesh around his eyes and mouth grew sharp protrusions. His chest and shoulders erupted with thick, spike-shaped bones, and his jaw fell apart as thick piles of drool spilled out of his open orifice. Throughout it all, Sulan roared with delight, reveling in the changes that wracked his body.

Pure panic gripped the people of Yalitia. Everyone began to run around screaming and trampling over each other as they tried to claw their way to safety. The guards were shocked and had no idea what to do. One of them spotted a man who was dressed differently from all the others. He gradually came through an opening in the crowd, but before anyone could question him, the security officer was knocked aside by a woman wearing a blue robe. She pulled back her hood and bent down to pick up the large pipe he had just dropped. They hurried past the remaining guards and rushed up a nearby stairwell.

Moments later, Miral and Kalan burst onto the balcony and shoved aside all of the cowering Vidiians that were still there. Sulan was thrashing around and attacking things at random. He was in a state of total chaos, and Miral could see that he had grown fangs and claws. His hands were smeared with blood, and a few bodies were lying on the ground before him. She ignored them and steeled herself to face the demonic creature that crouched before her.

"Sulan!" He paid no attention to her so Miral called his name again. "Sulan, face me!" She realized that the Vidiian had drastically mutated. He no longer resembled the intelligent and devious man that had tortured Kalan a few hours ago. Sulan was now completely feral. Just as he was about to bring his hands down to tear more shreds out of his victims, Miral leapt forward and smacked him in the face with her freshly acquired weapon.

Sulan fell and lost his balance for a moment. He jerked his head up and stared at her ferociously. Miral returned his gaze and she felt a powerful hatred begin to boil inside her chest. Her arms shook with rage as she raised the metal bar and charged forward, assaulting Sulan with the strength of a savage beast. She repeatedly pounded her fists and swung the heavy weapon into his skull while kicking at the back his knees and any other exposed parts of his body. Miral didn’t try to stop her attack until she heard his jaw crack. Sulan grunted weakly and covered his face with one hand as he reached out for her with the other. She dropped the club and squeezed his wrist with all of her might.

Miral could barely talk, but she somehow managed to spit her words out at him. "This–is for–my mother!" And then, she forced his arm all the way up while twisting it behind his back. Miral felt several pieces of bone snap before she finally released her grip.

Sulan collapsed and buried his face into the floor. Miral gasped for breath and watched him as he remained cowering at her feet. She wanted desperately to kill him, but she slowly calmed herself and held back. Looking down at him, Miral saw in his eyes that he no longer understood what was going on. His ability to reason had left him; he was practically an animal now.

Miral hesitated before walking away from the shattered remains of Sulan. She walked up to Kalan and stared at him. Her message to him carried no words, but she was certain that he understood her meaning. I may be part Klingon, she thought, but I am also part human and Starfleet. They both limped away from the platform and went to find Dr. Saldeed, ignoring the screams and the chaos around them.

The Enterprise dropped out of warp as she entered the Yalitia system, her cloak masking them from any prying eyes.

Harry sat anxiously on the bridge as he saw at least two-dozen large cruisers parked in orbit over the planet’s surface. Their presence would make any rescue attempt more difficult, thought Harry, especially if they had to drop the cloak to beam up their lost crewmates.

"Sir," said Krell, "I’ve been monitoring the local subspace channels. It’s a madhouse down there."

"What do you mean?" asked Harry, standing up from his seat.

"There’s chatter going all over the place," answered Naomi Wildman. "Mostly screaming and babbling. I can’t make any sense of it, sir. It’s like everyone has lost their minds or something."

"Sir," Krell continued, "I’ve spotted lots of activity coming from the planet’s largest urban complex. There are fires and riots breaking out all across the city. The cruisers…Sir, I think two of them are actually shooting at each other."

"What?" Harry sputtered. Something strange had clearly happened here recently. This did not seem like the place that Denarra Pel had described to him at all.

"I can’t explain it, sir," said Krell. "The other ships are either drifting in orbit or trying to communicate with the surface."

"Never mind about that," said Harry. "We need to find our people and get them out of there. Can you…?"

But a burst of static over the intercom cut Harry Kim’s words short. "Enterprise…calling Enterprise…do you copy? Enterprise…calling Enterprise…"

"Sir," Naomi reported proudly. "I’ve located the source of the signal. Just near the perimeter of that large coastal city. I’ve got three life signs. One Romulan, one Klingon, and one…Miral. Sir."

Harry smiled in relief and glanced over to his wife, who looked equally overjoyed. "Lock on and beam them directly to Sickbay," he ordered. He then turned to the helm. "And Mr. Tolland," he added, "set course away from this lunatic asylum as soon as they’re on board."

As soon as they were beamed to Sickbay, a team of nurses assisted Dr. Saldeed in getting Commander Kalan to the nearest biobed and getting to work on repairing the damage done to him. His fluid levels were coming up nicely, and most of the wounds were healed. The two large ones on his legs and another on his chest were taking longer, but he was in no danger.

He felt them moving around, but from the moment Saldeed had injected him with the pain meds, he had experienced a warm, pleasant floating sensation. It was good to be alive. He heard them talking about his condition – apparently he was going to stay alive. The thought pleased him and he smiled.

"Commander, can you hear me?" Saldeed asked.

"For some time now, Doctor," he answered. "But I didn’t want to distract you from your work."

"How very considerate of you." She was relieved to hear his voice so relaxed, far different from the last time she’d heard it. "How are you feeling?"

"Your drugs are doing their job. I do not feel any pain." He paused a moment. "Thank you."

"Just doing my job, Commander." She noticed that the rest of the team was finishing up as the last of his wounds were closed and the scars started to fade. "I’ll finish the rest."

Saldeed put a hand on Kalan’s arm. "I’ll be right back, Commander. I need to get something."

She returned a minute later with Miral in tow. "Commander, I need someone to assist me with the rest of your injuries. I thought you might want some privacy, and since Ensign Paris has already seen the extent of your injury…."

"Thank you, Doctor. It is not necessary, but I appreciate your… concern. Please proceed."

Hours later he woke in the dimly lit sickbay. For a moment he was disoriented, but then he remembered what had happened. He sat up and tentatively brushed his hand over his head. A broad smile spread across his face as he discovered what the doctor had done.

Saldeed walked in a moment later, having been alerted that her patient was awake. "How are you?"

"Fit and ready to return to duty." He climbed off the bed and stood in front of her.

"Not so fast. I may release you from sickbay, but you’re hardly in any condition to return to duty."

Kalan frowned, but he nodded. He’d learned he had a better chance of getting his way if he agreed with her a little. "Thank you for healing me. It was not necessary to accelerate my hair growth, but… I appreciate the thought." He hoped that was the right way of expressing his gratitude. It felt awkward to him.

Saldeed smiled. She knew it was more important to him than he would admit. "I understand you could have just let it grow out naturally, but I think it is better for the crew to see their XO… uninjured."

Kalan nodded. "Your concern for the crew’s well being does you credit." He shifted his weight and looked at the door.

"Yes, you are released from sickbay. I know I can’t keep you here if you’re healthy enough to walk out."

"Thank you." He gave her a slight bow and then turned and left sickbay.

"You’re welcome," she said as the doors slid shut. Klingon or not, he would be required to see the ship’s counselor after what he’d been through, and she knew he would resist. But that could be dealt with later. For now she knew what he needed most was to feel in control of his life again.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 76592.6

With our people safely returned, we’ve now left the Yalitia system behind and will soon be crossing out of Vidiian territory under cloak, much to everyone’s relief. Doctor Saldeed reports that Commander Kalan has fully healed from his ordeal and will be able to return to duty shortly. But whereas our crew may have made a full recovery, the damage done to Vidiian society may take far longer to heal.

I have reviewed Commander Kalan’s report, and I’m satisfied that neither he nor Ensign Paris took any overt actions which violated the Prime Directive, nor could they have reasonably foreseen the consequences of their appearance on Yalitia. Nevertheless, I’m of mixed feelings about the aftermath of our mission here. There’s no question that Sulan’ use of Commander Kalan’s DNA has resulted in irreparable change to Vidiian society, which could be seen as a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Prime Directive. Perhaps I should be more upset by that. But after reading Ensign Paris’ report, I simply can’t bring myself to feel any remorse over Sulan’s fall from power.

I’m not entirely sure what happened to him, but Doctor Saldeed has theorized that the continuous injections of Klingon DNA caused a gradual genetic regression within the hybrids. Since Sulan had been injected more times than anyone else, the delivery retrovirus spontaneously mutated and accelerated the genetic regression. The injections of undiluted Klingon DNA from Commander Kalan finally pushed Sulan’s genome to the critical point, triggering a spontaneous regression into a primordial Klingon form. It’s possible that he may not even be capable of sentience anymore.

It may not be a very Starfleet thing to say, but having witnessed the trauma he caused to Ensign Paris’ mother and now my XO, I can’t think of any punishment more fitting.

Nevertheless, the responsibility falls to me on how best to rectify the damage we have done. With that in mind, my decision regarding Denarra Pel has been made that much easier for me.

Harry Kim sat in his ready room, looking over his log entry as he considered any final revisions. He knew that some in Starfleet Command would take a dim view of his response to what happened on Yalitia. Most of those would no doubt quote chapter and verse to him about the policy of non-interference, while at the same time being appalled at the state of affairs under the Ascended Ones. Of course, the Federation contingent of Delta Fleet Command would probably find themselves shouted down by the other fleet representatives, especially the Klingons. Harry could only imagine what their response would be once they read Commander Kalan’s report.

Besides, he thought, as the commander of a starship seventy thousand light-years from home, he had a certain leeway that most other captains lacked.

"Sir," came Cyrus Krell’s voice over the intercom, "there’s a subspace communiqué for you. It’s from Denarra Pel."

"Pipe it to my ready room," he answered, as he called up a holographic flatscreen over his desk. "Doctor," he greeted her.

"Captain," said Pel. "I just wanted to let you know that we’ve made it safely past the patrols around Yalitia. The borders of the Sodality have been sealed tight and no traffic is heading in or out after what happened. I also want to thank you for all that you’ve done for us."

"I haven’t done much, Doctor," said Harry. "We just gave you a little data that might give you a push in the right direction. The rest is up to you."

"You and your people have done more for us than you realize," said Pel. "You’ve exposed Ascension for the lie that it is. The Ascended Ones are divided after what happened to Sulan. Most have gone into hiding. A few have even sent feelers out to my people. They want to know if it’s possible to reverse what’s been done to them and become normal Vidiians again."

"Is it possible? To change them back?"

"I don’t know," she said. "Once we have a cure that we can make available to everyone, we’ll certainly try. I don’t think my people and I will be lacking for resources now."

"I’m glad to hear that, Doctor. The Vidiians can use more people with your dedication, now more than ever."

"Is that why you changed your mind about helping us, Captain?"

Harry smiled uncomfortably, still unsure if he had done the right thing or not by giving Pel a copy of a Klingon medical database and the comparative studies done by Jonathan Doe on the Phage and Klingon physiology. It wasn’t the secret to a cure, but it might provide the missing pieces of information needed for Pel and her movement to recreate a cure that everyone could share.

"What I did, Doctor," he said, "I did to minimize the damage we caused by coming here in the first place. The sooner a cure is made available to all Vidiians, the sooner your society can restore itself. It’s the least we can do for all the disruption we’ve brought about."

"Captain, whatever destruction you think you might have caused, it’s nothing compared to the destruction we’ve done to ourselves." Pel then smiled as she leaned in closer. "I’m thinking about what we talked about earlier, about Vidiians rejoining the galaxy and being a part of something larger than ourselves. I think that day is a lot closer now."

"And I look forward to that day," said Harry joyfully. "Good luck to you, Doctor."

As he lay flat on the floor of his tiny cage, the creature once known as Sulan could concentrate on only one thing. Great waves of pain continuously washed over him. He could feel his bones cutting his internal tissues. The agony was never ending; it replaced all of his other sensations.

The only relief he received was from his jailers when they occasionally arrived. A diverse group of Vidiian scientists visited Sulan three times a day. Some of them were hybrids who had once been in awe of him, and others were still victims of the Phage. They injected him with a powerful sedative by sliding a long metal stick down through an opening between the bars. After he passed out, a few of them rushed inside his cell and placed him on top of a cold metal table.

Several people attended to his numerous cuts and abrasions, but the healing process was always temporary. All of their attempts to close the gashes covering Sulan’s flesh were futile. His skeleton had an excessive amount of keratin and calcium created by a mutation in his bone marrow. The abnormally hardened structure caused various eruptions from his skull and all of his joints. His spine was practically sticking out of his back; and his ribcage rubbed against his lungs every time he breathed.

Most of the time, Sulan was left alone to rest and eat. He didn’t receive any physical contact, but he knew that someone was always watching him. They would monitor him with the help of advanced bioelectric computers and palm-sized machines of artificial intelligence. He often heard the small devices crawling over his body as he slept, but he kept his eyes closed and didn’t disturb them as they extracted samples of his blood and applied antiseptic medicine.

Of course, he couldn’t really understand what any of those things were anymore. He knew what pain was, and hunger. He had dim memories of a life from before, but they were all just pictures in his mind, images that he was no longer able to apply context to, as he was no longer able to think in terms of language, only sensations.

Sulan never saw a reflection of himself, but if he did, there was only a faint glimmer of recognition left in his eyes. In that sense, perhaps, he had truly managed to transcend all that he had once been.

Miral had gone to her quarters after she left sickbay. She’d been exhausted and immediately fell asleep. But a several hours later she woke suddenly, her heart racing. The dream faded immediately, but not before she realized it was about Sulan and the Vidiians.

She had lain back down, but instead of sleep the day played over and over in her mind. After an hour she had given up and decided to get up.

Now she found herself sitting at a table in the lounge, by one of the large view ports. She nursed a drink and stared out at the stars.

She was still staring at them over an hour later when she saw a shadow appear in the window.

"Commander." She said, recognizing the reflection.


Miral turned away from the stars and looked at him.

"May I share your table, or did you wish to be alone?"

"I did want to be alone, but that was a few hours ago. Now I think some company would be fine."

Kalan pulled out the chair across from her and sat down.

Miral fidgeted with her cup as he stared out the view port. "How are you? You look like you’re good as new."

"The doctor did a remarkable job, even more than was necessary." He ran his fingers through his hair, and pulled a lock forward to examine it. "She even claimed it was important for crew morale, to have me back to normal as fast as possible."

Miral smiled. "She’s very good at her job. I got to know a different side of her during our adventure. I think I like her better now – not that I didn’t before," she hastened to add.

Kalan nodded. "Sharing hardship forges a strong bond. And it reveals one’s character."

Miral considered that for a moment. "I think I learned more about myself in the past two days than I did my whole time at the academy."

Kalan took another swallow from his cup. "Training is all good and well, but until you have fought a battle, there is no way to know what that training has produced."

They lapsed into silence again. It was interrupted when a waiter came over and refilled their cups.

Miral took a sip and then looked at Kalan. "How did you do it? Resist him, I mean."

Kalan looked at her and then over her head at the stars outside. His voice was quiet. "It was the only option." He continued, his voice rising and regaining some of its customary edge. "When one cannot fight, and one cannot escape, then all that is left is to endure. To wait for death and entrance to Sto’vo’kor."

Miral swallowed as she thought about that. She didn’t know if she would have had the strength. "I don’t want to insult you by thanking you for what you did, because you’re right, there was no other honorable option. But…" she hesitated. "I am proud to serve with you on this ship."

He looked surprised at first and then he smiled. "Does this mean I am not allowed to thank you for risking your life to rescue me from that mad man?"

Miral laughed quietly, but then turned serious again. "I don’t know. It’s all so confusing. Dr. Saldeed says I’m required to see the counselor. I don’t want to. I just don’t see how he can help."

Kalan nodded. "Perhaps I can help."

Miral looked at him. He was not part human, but perhaps he could give her insight into her Klingon side. "I…I’ve never attacked someone like that. I’ve never felt like that before." She shook her head, her eyes wide. "I wanted to kill him." She reached out her hands, fingers curled, claw-like as she said it. "I wanted to tear him apart with my bare hands."

Kalan chuckled softly, smiling at the young woman.

Miral put her hands down and looked at him. "What?"

He looked at her, as if he was appraising her. "What you felt was a form of the HIra’taH yInwI’, the bloodlust. When a Klingon’s family is threatened it is only natural."

Miral looked down at her hands. Kalan noticed the uncertain look in Miral’s eye. "You acted with courage and honor, avenging your mother… and your father. Any honorable Klingon would have done the same."

Miral sighed and ran her hands through her hair. "But I didn’t kill him, and I don’t know how to feel about that. I think my human side is glad I didn’t beat him to death."

"And you believe that a true Klingon would have killed him?"

"Yes," was Miral’s quiet answer.

"Perhaps you are right. Many Klingons would not have been able to stop themselves. When I believed my cousin had tried to kill me, I was nearly overwhelmed with the desire to kill him. But I have learned that courage and honor are not blunt weapons to be used like a club. They are like the Bat’leth and must be wielded with great skill, with strength, and at times, restraint."

Miral nodded. She was starting to finally understand the conflict her mother had struggled with her whole life.

Kalan stood and walked to the view port and watched the stars rushing by. "It is good to know who your friends are, and if they are also Klingon, so much the better." He watched the stars again, and the slight reflection Miral cast in the window. "Those creatures on the planet, they were not Klingon. DNA does not make a Klingon." He paused. "There were only two true Klingons on that planet."

Miral was shocked by his statement, even more so when she realized what he meant. She had never sought acceptance as a Klingon from other Klingons, and so when it came the depth of her emotion took her by surprise. Her eyes began to tear up, but she resisted crying. That was definitely not the appropriate response to such a statement.

She took a moment to compose herself as Kalan continued looking at the stars. Slowly she got up, squared her shoulders, and went to stand next to him at the window. "I am honored."

He nodded.

They continued to watch the stars in silence.

The next day, Miral stood in the holocom room for her scheduled call. She’d been standing there for five minutes, staring at the grid on the walls. So much had happened in the two days. Miral wanted to share it with B’Elanna, but how did you tell your mom that you’d lived through her own nightmare?

"Well, I can’t put this off forever…." Miral took a deep breath and issued the command. The system activated and her parents’ home appeared around her. "Hi, Mom…"


Category : Delta Fleet


One Response

  1. Administrator says:

    FatMat (24 Jan 2003)
    Just when you thought there weren’t enough Klingons in the galaxy…


    The interraction btwn. Miral and Kalan in this story was great. We get to see how a Klingon reacts when he’s being tortured & also what one does when their family is threatened. Even though there’s a lot of drama represented in the character of Worf in NextGen and DS9, the struggle btwn. the two senior officers on board the ENT-F is an excellent depiction of that alien life-style which is bound by honor and pride.


    The Vidiians are SICK! And I don’t mean the Phage, but their whole lifestyle. Maybe in a few months after DF#6, Doctor Pel will be able to help a majority of them to recover from what Sulan & the rest of the Ascended One did to them. I couldn’t believe that they’d continue with the organ harvesting and allow so many to suffer w/the Phage even though the Think Tank had given them the cure more than 20 years ago.

    The new info about Nagan was interesting… I hope that he and Harry get to fight each other again someday and Capt. Kim throws in his face the fact that he kills his own ppl in order to get more technology for himself.

    I’m very curious to see what will happen next to the crew of the ENT-F. Maybe they should turn around and go back to the area where the Haakonians and Talaxians are… the ship is currently surrounded by enemies on both side now as it travells down the center of Kazon/Vidiian territory. (And we also met the Krowtonans in the last story.)


    Jeffrey Harlan (25 Jan 2003)
    Oh, I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing Nagan again, but there’s still other areas to look into first…

    And you’re right, their current situation (read: stuck between Iraq… uh, I mean a rock and a hard place…) means they won’t be having a pleasure cruise, but that would just make for a dull first season, wouldn’t it?

    Ragnarok (27 Jan 2003)
    Great job with this episode guys! I certainly look forward for the next edition.

    But in this episode I enjoyed the Klingon relations and everything. Seeing how they cope with their problems and so forth. Simply an amazing job!

    And I agree, those Vidiians are totally sick. Everything about them is sick. I mean, get a life! 🙂

    And the continuing story with Nagan will surely get even more interesting as the season goes on.

    Khylaren (27 Jan 2003)
    Wonderful episode guys. ;D I really enjoyed getting more into these three characters, and this was a well flowing ep. I’d wondered exactly how the Think Tank had come up with the cure, and what the cure was. I’m curious to see if we run into the guys from Think Tank later, and how they will react to seeing Annika again – if they will still want her, and if they do, how they will try and go about it.

    Saldeed’s character is opening up more, as is Miral and Kalan. I truly enjoyed this ep. Nice to see Miral get a little Klingon when her dander is up, but also good to see she can still remember she’s a Starfleet officer.

    Great stuff, Anne and FatMat (like I expected anything else?). Another nice addition to the DF family.

    Meredith Paris (28 Jan 2003)
    *waves hi*

    Anne and FatMat, to quote my friend “Totally righteous episode, dudes!”

    The interaction btwn. Kalan and Sulan was intense to say the least.

    So that’s how a Klingon reacts under torture. Interesting.

    The Ascended Vidiians are beyond disgusting. There’s not a word for them. That’s how disgusting they are.

    I was hoping for a story btwn. Miral and Kalan. And I got it! WooHoo!!!!! ;D

    Now, let’s just keep this terrific job of writing up to its usual standard!!!!

    Thank you all!

    IronFlea (30 Jan 2003)
    Loved this ep. I liked the interaction between Miral and Kalan, but I think I enjoyed Dr. Saldeed’s interaction with Miral more.

    Excellent job once again!

    Matt (2 Feb 2003)
    Another great read, much thanks to all involved! I like how each episode we’re getting to see a bit more of several of the new characters; they each have their moments to shine, to learn, etc. Shows great thought by the folks planning the episodes, and then great execution by the authors. As with the best moments in ST, with DF you’ve brought many interesting characters representing many interesting views together on a ship; now the fun is letting them interact with each other!

    Hankly (6 Feb 2003)
    Particularly enjoyed reading how Miral and Kalan came to a newfound respect and increased understanding. Great story!

    Anne Rose (7 Feb 2003)
    I wanted to thank the folks who posted such lovely feedback. 😀

    I had a great time writing with Mat and Mike. Mike’s initial outline made it easy to write. Mat likes the space battles and fights, I like writing the people, and Mike pitched in all over. And now some rambling and replies.

    This was a significant departure from my previous writing. Normally I write your basic fluffy romance happy stories and I stay away from the action adventure plots. I’ve also never dealt with a character being tortured and had initially told Mike I couldn’t write it.

    We didn’t get much feedback on the lists, so I’m very pleased to hear readers’ reactions to the Vidiians, Kalan and Sulan scenes, and the other main character interactions.

    I find the scariest villians are always the ones who think they are perfectly justified in what they’re doing. Nobody has commented on the organ processing director, but I thought he was pretty creapy too.

    I tried to write Sulan as a crusader for his people, in his little twisted self-centered brain – with flashes of insanity peeking through. Then it took me a while to figure out how to write the torture bits without squicking myself.

    Focussing on Kalan’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions to it seemed like a good solution. He feels he’s got a lot to prove to himself and others, so I followed where that lead. I hope it was effective. This was a galvanizing maybe even pivotal experience in his life. It’s one thing to talk about death before dishonor, it’s another to live it, and now he has. He was at his strongest and his weakest when Sulan held him captive.

    Writing the Kalan and Miral interactions was a lot of fun. They are forced to work together when they probably wouldn’t have had anything to do with each other otherwise. In spite of that, they have a lot in common, much more after their ordeal with the Vidiians.

    Kalan looked at Miral as not truely Klingon, and then he got to see the absolute opposite of what it is to be Klingon in the Vidiian leaders. That sort of thing can cause you to re-evaluate your views. And I thought echoing B’Elanna and Tom’s experiences added extra dimension to it.

    Miral got to grow up a lot in this episode. Like Kalan, it’s one thing to be trained for a situation, it’s completely different to put it into practice. Miral now has a much better idea what she is capable of.

    Saldeed is still a bit of a mystery to me. I tried to beat some details out of her, but she refused to cooperate. That woman has issues, and she’s surprisingly handy with a tricorder.

    Well, that’s enough rambling for now.

    Khylaren (7 Feb 2003)
    The Vidiians were a wonderful combination of pitiful and terrible. You despised the ones in charge for their selfishness and downright icky way of going about things (and not having the ability to see what they were doing was just plain WRONG!!!), but I felt pity for the general poplace. The organ processing guy was particularly revolting and creepy in the way he seemed to really enjoy his work. Eww. The main bad guy (who’s name escapes me at the moment) was vile as well, but his condition was somewhat responsible for his behavior, although he obviously had enough of a monster inside of him to begin with to become the complete monster he turned into.

    Wonderful writing/teamwork between you two, as well. The story flowed easily from part to part and it was not obvious when/if the writing changed from one author to the other. That is difficult when you are collaborating with another writer. Not everyone write’s the same – each of us have our own unique style of expressing ourselves! This was well done.

    Great episode, you two, you should be proud of it!

    FuFuKat (4 Mar 2003)
    Fantastic episode!!! I couldn’t stop scrolling… 😉

    The chemistry between the pivotal charactars was absolutely stellar… I was in sooo deep, that I had to print it out and take it with me. Anyways… I felt that overall it was a standout ep.

    MarqEDman (17 Jul 2003)
    I offer my KUDOS to all involved in writing it!

    Yes, it was smooth with the alternating authors. Wow!

    Yes, Anne, Kalan’s torure scenes were exceptional. They really brought out the Klingon personality to perfection. And the play btw he & Miral is a great link. I think we get a nice into glimpse into Saldeed & look forward to more. Sulan’s demise was delicious!

    I like that the 3-some was left all alone among evil persuers.

    Yes, Khylaren, the organ processor was loathsome in his enjoyment of his work as well as his grovelling for favor.

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