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Chapter 9: Stolen Ashes

Marcelino glanced up from his communication panel, swiveled in his chair towards the center of the bridge. “Captain?”

Esteban looked up from the PADD he had been making a log entry on. “Yes, Lieutenant?”

“I’ve got that channel…the one that Lady Amanda requested.”

Esteban smiled. “Good work. Patching our communications through half of the com stations in the Federation didn’t take you very long at all. Have you been holding out on me all this time with those talents of yours?”

“No, sir…it’s only…” Marcelino hesitated, stood from his chair, and approached Esteban’s position. “…well, sir…” Marcelino said, in a hushed whisper, “I didn’t have to go through any of our relay stations. The Enterprise…whatever she’s doing sir…she’s in our regular subspace range.”

Esteban’s forehead wrinkled in surprise. “I see,” he murmured back, so that only Marcelino could hear him, and with a mild touch of impatience. “Are you going to tell me where she is, Lieutenant, or do I have to guess?”

“Sorry, sir.” Marcelino straightened up, chastised. “I’m tracking her signal in the Mutara sector -- about a parsec from the Klingon border.”

“Alright, thank you, Marcelino.” Esteban scratched at his chin for a moment, thinking. His finely honed captain’s instincts were on red alert, telling him that something about this whole situation was just…off. Between the message that they’d intercepted from the Klingons earlier in the day, the Councilor being all pissy at dinner, and the Enterprise being most decidedly in the wrong place for a training mission…

Maybe Starfleet had sent the Enterprise out to investigate the mysterious battle that the Klingon listening post had reported, figuring that the Klingons would be a lot less likely to cause further trouble if Admiral Kirk was in the area. It seemed like a pretty big gamble on Starfleet’s part though: even though Jim Kirk was renowned throughout the Alpha Quadrant for his command prowess and tactical ingenuity, he was still in command of an aging ship filled with inexperienced cadets.

“Lieutenant…make sure that you’re using a secure channel for this one, alright? Councilor Gorkon may not care if we’re getting some of his incoming mail, but I’d prefer that he not get a peek into our sack.”


Azetbur scratched the back of her neck as she looked around her father’s minimalist quarters, wondering where he had stowed the chest that contained his copy of the Paq’batlh. She sighed softly out of frustration. Here she was, on the eve of what promised to be the greatest war in modern Klingon history, looking for a box of musty old scrolls. It was such a phenomenal waste of precious time. The hoop was moving: she should be preparing for battle, reviewing military strategy…not sitting around, reading about ancient mythology.

Yet Azetbur resigned herself to the task at hand: though she did not understand his reasons for it, her father had insisted that she review the First Tome of Klavek. It had been that way between them for some time now -- him commanding, and she doing whatever it was that he commanded, even though she frequently did not comprehend why she must do so in the first place. It had not always been that way. When she had been a child, she had been able to follow his train of thought with great ease and clarity. But ever since he had received his thigh injury a year past, her father’s reasoning and motivations had grown ever more and more obscure to her. He had been a changed man since her brother Kintazh’s death. Some days she felt as though she hardly even knew him anymore.

“Ah, there you are…”

Azetbur pulled out the wooden chest from a small storage compartment near the mattress-less bed. She brushed her fingers over the crest of the House of Makok, which had been carved into the chest’s lid, before pressing in a pair of hidden catches that were on either side of the chest’s front face.

The lid sprang open with a quiet “pop,” revealing the chest’s contents: fourteen ancient scrolls made from tanned targ hides that reeked faintly from preservative chemicals that had been carefully applied to the delicate skins. Most Klingons these days were content to read modernized versions of the Paq’batlh from computerized databases, but her father had always been a bit pedantic; he insisted upon carting around the genuine article wherever he went. Their family copy of the Paq’batlh was practically a relic itself: each of the scrolls was easily over a thousand years old and written in ancient Klingon, diligently copied from the original by the High Priests in the lava caves of Boreth.

Azetbur selected the appropriate scroll from the chest and carefully unrolled it, laying it out flat on her father’s desk so that she could read the sacred text:

With fire and steel did the gods forge the Klingon heart. So fiercely did it beat, so loud was the sound, that the gods cried out, “On this day we have brought forth the strongest heart in all the heavens. None can stand before it without trembling at its strength.” But then the Klingon heart weakened, its steady rhythm faltered and the gods said, “Why did you weaken so? We have made you the strongest in all of creation.”

And the heart said, “I am alone.”

And the gods knew they had erred. So they went back to their forge and brought forth another heart. But the second heart beat stronger than the first, and the first was jealous of its power.

Fortunately the second heart was tempered by wisdom. “If we join together, no force can stop us.”

And when the two hearts began to beat together, they filled the heavens with a terrible sound. For the first time, the gods knew fear. They tried to flee, but it was too late. The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods who had created them and turned the heavens to ashes.

Standing on the field of victory, the first heart declared, “I am Kortar. I call myself ‘Klingon.’”

And then the second heart declared, “I am Lunob. We are Klingons.” And as Lunob named herself, she tore open the gates of Qui’Tu. “Let us leave this place, husband,” advised the wiser heart, leaving the ashes on the ground. “There is nothing for us here.”

“Yes, let us seek our destiny elsewhere,” Kortar answered. But the first heart was weaker than the second, for it had known jealousy. It coveted the power of the slain gods, and so Kortar secretly stole a handful of ashes from the heavens.

The two hearts traveled for many years, searching for a land equal to the strength of their own. And at last they found a land where they knew their descendants would flourish. Soon the children of Kortar and Lunob filled their new world, and the two hearts rejoiced, because they knew that their children would remember their deeds for all the ages.

But the weakness of the first heart remained. As his descendants conquered their homeland, pride joined jealousy in Kortar’s heart, and he began to think himself a god. He consumed the stolen ashes, hoping to gain the powers which had been lost.

And when Lunob learned what Kortar had done, she drew her blade in her hand. The two hearts, once united, now fought each other. And they struggled for twelve days and twelve nights, but at last the wiser heart was victorious. “You should have left the ashes where they fell, Kortar. You dishonored yourself by stealing them.”

Then Lunob plunged her blade into Kortar’s chest. As the beating of the first heart ceased, Lunob faced her children, and they knew that the first heart’s glory had fallen beyond their power to restore. At that moment did the second heart rend the skies with her blade, and she ascended into Sto-vo-kor for eternity. And because of the stain upon his honor, the first heart could not follow. But nor did the first heart descend to Gre’thor, for he had gained great glory when he had slain the gods. Thus was Kortar condemned for eternity to captain the Barge of the Dead and ferry the dishonored dead to Gre’thor.


Amanda nervously sat down at the desk in the study of her temporary quarters. The computer screen flashed its message to her every few seconds: standby. She drummed her fingers impatiently into the desk’s surface, needing an outlet for her anxiety. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was going to tell Spock about Sarek, simply because there wasn’t much that they knew definitively about Sarek’s sudden illness. But at least Spock would know what had happened, and who knew -- maybe he would be able to shed some light on the situation. In any case, Amanda was relieved that they had been able to reach the Enterprise through subspace, knowing that talking face-to-face with Spock would do much to calm her frayed nerves.

The computer blipped softly as the secured com channel opened.

“Commander Chekov?” Amanda blinked in surprise upon seeing the Russian’s face rather than that of her son’s. “What are you doing on the Enterprise? I thought you were assigned to the Reliant as her First Officer.”

Chekov nodded slowly, grimly. “I vas…and it is a long story. Right now I am in command of zee Enterprise.”

“You command?” Amanda’s heart fluttered in her chest, the feeling of unease in her gut growing. There was a tired, careworn quality to Chekov’s face that she was just now picking up on. The man looked painfully heartsick. “Why? Where are Jim and Spock?”

“You mean you don’t know?” Chekov hesitated, clearly feeling uncomfortable. “I vould have thought Starfleet vould have informed you by now…”

“Informed me of what, Commander?”

Izvinite…” Chekov looked away from the screen for a few seconds, blinking fiercely, before directing his gaze once more towards the computer console. “I am so wery sorry to be zee one to tell you zis,” Chekov said quietly, with words that barely escaped from a tight sounding throat, “but Keptin Spock…he has died, Lady Amanda. A few hours ago.”

Died? For a second Amanda thought that she must have misheard Chekov. Spock has died? No, that couldn’t be right. Spock was on a training mission -- just a basic and routine tour designed to let cadets feel space beneath their feet for a few weeks. Starfleet never put cadets into situations that were inherently dangerous during those missions.

But then Amanda recalled the last few moments before Sarek had collapsed in the dining room. Just as he had lost consciousness, her husband had whispered out their son’s name. Suddenly an icy feeling gripped at her insides, strangling at her stomach and chest, and Amanda knew that she had not misheard Chekov after all. Her son was dead. The sensation of the cessation of life: that had been the source of the “traumatic neurological event,” to use Dr. Puri’s words, which had put her husband in sickbay.

Amanda leaned forward in her chair, her elbows coming to rest on the surface of the desk. She rested her forehead on clasped hands, her eyes closing. “What happened?”

“If Starfleet has not told you yet…” Chekov shifted the gaze of his eyes guiltily away from the computer screen. “…it is not my place to say.”

Amanda lifted her head from her hands. She slammed a fist down angrily into the desk. “Pavel, don’t give me that Starfleet line about official channels of information. We’re talking about my son, here. Spock was your mentor, your friend…and you’re like a son to Jim, which makes you about the closest thing I have to a grandson. I deserve an explanation.”

“I know vhat I vas to zee Keptin, vhat I am to zee Admiral…” Chekov shook his head sadly, apologetically. “…but I do not have zee authority to tell you, Lady Amanda. Admiral Morrow has classified all zee information and events surrounding Keptin Spock’s death.”

Amanda bit down on her lower lip, trying to contain the mixture of outrage and despair that was eating away at her. “Is there anything that you can tell me? Anything at all?”

“Zee Keptin…he sacrificed himself, to save zee ship. And ve are holding a funeral service tomorrow, following zee guidelines which Mr. Spock outlined in his will.”

“Good…that’s good. About the funeral, I mean.” Amanda closed her eyes again. She was still trying to take it all in, to convince herself that this wasn’t all just some horrible nightmare that she was having. She should probably be asking for details about the service, but right now she really didn’t want to know specifics…not about that, at least. No doubt Spock had outlined the details quite precisely in his will, so that the multitude of Vulcan funerary traditions would be properly fulfilled.

“How…how is Jim doing?” Amanda asked the question softly, grateful in that moment that she was talking to Chekov, rather than some random officer who had the current duty shift watch on the bridge. Chekov was one of only a small handful of people who actually knew that Jim and Spock had been bondmates, and that they had been legal spouses by Vulcan law.

“Vhen it happened…Mr. Scott said he was screaming things in Wulcan. They had to sedate him.” Chekov ran a troubled hand through his hair. “Dr. McCoy has declared zee Admiral mentally unfit for command, vhich is vhy I am in command right now.” Chekov was quiet for a moment before adding as a sort of subdued afterthought, “Nobody except Dr. McCoy has seen him since Mr. Spock’s death.”

Amanda swallowed against the tight knot in her throat. “Do what you can for him, when you do see him, Pavel. And let him know that our thoughts…mine and Sarek’s…are with him.”

Da, ya obeshchayu -- I promise.” Chekov nodded heavily. “I am so wery sorry, Lady Amanda. So wery sorry.”

“I know, Pavel.”

The computer screen went black as the communication channel closed.

Amanda laid her head down on her arms on the desk, but she did not cry. At the moment she was far too stunned to cry. What on Earth had the Enterprise been doing, that, within a few short hours of the event, the circumstances of her son’s death had already been designated as classified by Starfleet’s commander-in-chief? What could Adm. Morrow have possibly deemed so terrible about what had happened as to warrant such a swift and definitive action?


While waiting for Azetbur’s return, Gorkon puttered around in his ship’s mess hall, his belly aching with a dull hunger. He had hardly eaten a thing since morning. He had been too busy to eat that afternoon, and the Terran foods served to him earlier that evening had been unappealing: tame, easy, and completely devoid of flavor. A brief search in the galley produced a plate of bregit lung, some leftover rokeg blood pie, and a cup of hot qa’vIn that Gorkon poured a generous amount of ra’taj liquor into. He made quick work of the meal since he did not have to concern himself with using the sort of frivolous utensils that humans deemed necessary for proper meal time etiquette.

He drew in a deep breath of air as he pushed his now empty plate away from him. The caffeine in the qa’vIn was already taking effect, refreshing and revitalizing him. It had been a long day, and it was not yet finished, he knew. He rubbed at the weak muscles of his left thigh, but he barely felt any pain coming from the damaged tissues and ligaments: the ra’taj was also starting to take effect. Thank Kahless for that.

The doors clanked opened. Azetbur had returned.

Gorkon gestured with a hand, indicating that she should join him at one of the long dining tables. “So, daughter, what insight have you gained? Why do we plan this war against the Federation?”

Azetbur sat down on the bench with cautious respect, as a pupil might do under the watchful gaze of a schoolmaster. “They violated our borders. The part of the Mutara nebula which was within our space no longer exists.”

“That answer is too simplistic. It is a child’s answer, one which you could have given without reading our sacred texts. Apply what you have read to our current situation.”

“The humans have stolen the ashes from Qui’Tu.”

“Now you are just repeating what you read in the report from Kerla,” Gorkon said impatiently. “What significance does that have?”

Azetbur was quiet for a minute, mulling ideas around in her mind before she spoke again. She spoke slowly, with hesitation, trying to gauge from Gorkon’s facial expressions whether she was going in the correct direction with her train of thought. “The humans have demonstrated great powers: The power of destruction on a cosmic scale -- as seen in the disappearance of the Mutara nebula. And the power of creation, on an equally cosmic scale -- as seen in the birth of a new star and a new planet where none previously existed. They have dishonored themselves.”

“Why is that, my daughter?”

“Because they have seized powers which were meant to belong only to the gods,” Azetbur answered with growing confidence.

Gorkon nodded slightly, encouragingly. “And how do you know that these powers…the creation of new worlds, new life…were to be held by the slain gods alone?”

“After Kortar and Lunob defeated the gods, the bodies of the slain gods, and by extension the powers of the gods, became the ashes of Qui’Tu. Lunob, possessing the wiser heart, declared that there was nothing for either of them in the ruined heavens. She knew that the Klingon heart was the strongest in all of creation, and so there was no need for the powers of the gods. Without any hesitation she left the ashes behind, and she never looked back.”

“And the humans have gained their dishonor by seeking out this forbidden knowledge?”

“Precisely,” Azetbur answered firmly. “There is simply some knowledge that we are not meant to possess.”

Gorkon leaned forward, looking his daughter in the eye. “And so you believe that our war is necessary? We must fight because the humans have dishonored themselves?”

Azetbur nodded. “Yes, that is exactly so. It is our sacred duty to fight the humans on account of the powers they have gained, just as it was Lunob’s duty to fight Kortar.”

Gorkon looked away for a moment, sipped on his now lukewarm qa’vIn. “What would you think if I told you that your reasoning is flawed? That we cannot know for certain if the humans were meant to have the old powers or not?”

Azetbur shook her head, obviously quite confused by his questions.

“When Kortar and Lunob left Qui’Tu, the gates had been torn open. And more importantly, they did not bother to seal the gates behind them. The ashes were left unguarded. Klingons are not meant to possess the powers of the gods -- that much is made plain in the story of Kortar and Lunob. But the gates of Qui’Tu were left open, Azetbur, and the ashes remained there for any others to find.” Gorkon reached across the table, grabbed a pitcher that had been left there earlier by some of the crew, and poured himself another cup of qa’vIn. “We begin our war with the Federation on ideological grounds that are dubious at best, and which are open to any number of theological interpretations.”

Azetbur scowled, feeling frustration towards her father for the second time in the space of an hour. “Father, this is a pointless academic exercise. What does it matter if the humans are allowed to have this knowledge or not?”

“It does matter, Azetbur. It matters a great deal. For if we fight a war that is not just, one that is not righteous, we will condemn ourselves to Gre’thor, no matter how much glory we may gain in victorious battles against our foe.”

Azetbur looked away, anger welling within her. Had all of this happened a year ago, there would have been no moral debate. Her father would have gone willingly into battle, without hesitation over the moral implications. “This is not Shakespeare, father…not Henry V. Nor are we the English, a ragged band of soldiers who huddle together in the night, any more than the Federation and the humans are the French on the fields of Agincourt.”

“No, it is not.” Gorkon smiled at his daughter, but it was one that was tinged with sadness. Oh, for the moral certitude of youth! How he longed not to be plagued by the implications of the questions that he posed.

Azetbur stood, feeling the need for physical movement, as if she could physically shake off her mental doubts. “Ideology aside, father, I still believe that this war is necessary. You ask questions, but you miss the heart of the issue: whether they should have the power or not, the point is that they do possess that knowledge. That fact is what we should be basing our decisions upon. Ideology will sort itself out through the course of war.”

Gorkon folded his arms across his chest. “Explain what you mean by this.”

Azetbur turned around to face her father, filled with a sudden confidence. She had been the defender in their argument thus far, but now it was her turn to be on the offensive. “With the knowledge that they now possess, humans have the potential to set themselves up as the new gods of the cosmos. At the moment we may have the strongest hearts in the universe…but what is to stop the humans from creating a new heart, one that beats stronger than our own?”

“Nothing, I would suppose. Certainly not a sense of honor for the order of things, as they are not bound to the same codes of behavior that we are.”

“Exactly. We risk our very existence if we do not fight this war, father. If we are in the right, we will prevail. And if we are in the wrong, we will be defeated. But to not fight at all...” Azetbur drifted off for a few seconds, just for the dramatic effect that she knew it would have upon her father. “Would you have us face annihilation because you have personal doubts about the interpretation of ancient stories?” Azetbur shook her head decisively. “Your moral qualms are not enough…at least, not for me. And they certainly will not be for the rest of the High Council. Your fears cannot justify inaction at this time.”

“But we can justify action based upon your fears, my daughter? For that is what drives us now, in this moment. Fear of annihilation, fear of what the future holds for us if the humans retain that knowledge.”

“Yes, I believe we can.” Azetbur sat once again. She reached out and touched Gorkon lightly on the forearm. “Even though it was never stated explicitly in the story of Kortar and Lunob, their actions had to have been at least partially motivated by fear: fear that the gods would bring forth another, one that would surpass the Klingon heart. The precedent for our behavior has already been set, and therefore it can be properly justified. Whether or not the humans should be allowed to have the power of the gods, I know for certain that we have the right to survive.”

Gorkon nodded slowly, fondly placing his own hand on top of hers on his arm. “You argue your point with the same kind of eloquence that your mother had, Azetbur. Our jop’ej way’ has given me much to think about.”

A faint crackling sound echoed through the mess hall as an intraship com line opened. “Councilor,” said the deep male voice of the bridge watch officer, “the Earth vessel signals that Ambassador Sarek is awake, and that he desires to speak with you.”

Gorkon released his daughter’s hand, and rose from the table. “Inform Capt. Esteban that I will be there shortly.”


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