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“You’re alive,” Glal remarked as Trujillo regained molecular cohesion.

She blinked and pursed her lips. “Yes.” She sounded genuinely surprised.

“You must have caught him in a good mood.”

Trujillo stepped down off the dais. “Or I proved amusing enough to him that it wasn’t worth the diplomatic kerfuffle my unfortunate demise would have caused.”

“We’ve transported over the prisoners. Are you sure surrendering that leverage was the best strategy?”

Trujillo swept into the corridor with Glal hot on her heels. “I told Kang they’d spilled their guts.”

Glal winced at this. “You know he’ll torture them to death to discover who talked and what they divulged. None of them will be able to provide those answers.”

“Indeed I do,” she replied darkly. “Pity that, cold-hearted raiders going under the knife. I am awash with regret.”

“So… are we done here, sir?” he asked.

“Not by a long shot. Now the ball’s in Kang’s court. He as much as admitted his government’s complicity in the operation, but it sounds like the High Council’s set all this in motion.”

“So, now we wait?”

“Aye,” she affirmed. “Now we wait.”

* * *

Gael Jarrod hesitated just short of pressing the annunciator button at the door to Trujillo’s quarters. Things had been inexplicably awkward between them since his injury and DeSilva’s death. She had come to visit him in Sickbay while he recuperated from his injuries, but those meetings had been perfunctory, impersonal encounters, all duty but little substance.

The crew had known for nearly six months that he and Trujillo were romantically involved, so he was at a loss to explain her distancing herself from him. The only reasoning that made any sense was that Trujillo blamed him for DeSilva’s death. Jarrod felt having the burden of Trujillo’s reproach on his shoulders would only magnify the guilt he already carried.

As gut-wrenching as that possibility would be, knowing would be better than this agonizing emotional limbo he found himself in. He steeled himself and pressed the button.

After a brief pause, she called, “Enter.”

The doors parted and Jarrod found himself face-to-face with Trujillo. She was garbed in her uniform undershirt and vest, a cup of tea in hand. “Lieutenant?”

“Good evening, Commodore.” He looked down, drawing her attention to the fact that he wore civilian attire. “And it’s just Gael at the moment.” He looked up to meet her eyes. “Is Nandi in?”

She closed her eyes and sighed, biting her lower lip. “Yes, of course.” She stepped aside to allow him access to her quarters.

He stepped inside and moved toward the sitting chairs, turning to face her. “We should talk.”

This elicited another sigh, this one seemingly directed at herself. “Agreed. Please, have a seat.”

He sat and she moved to seat herself on the couch across from him.

“Have I done something wrong?”

Trujillo leaned forward to set her cup down on the table separating them. “No, not at all.”

“I can’t pretend to understand the stresses that you’re under at the moment,” Jarrod confessed. “But it feels like you’ve thrown a switch, and suddenly I can’t seem to find my feet.” He held up his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I’m in zero-g and I don’t know where up is.”

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, then louder, “no, it’s nothing you’ve done. I’m… I can’t— I can’t seem to articulate what I’m feeling at the moment. With all that’s happening I’ve had to wrap up our relationship, place it in a box, and put that box away until I have the head-space available to process it all.”

Jarrod considered that. “Okay, that’s fair. I just needed to know I hadn’t screwed up in some way that you weren’t prepared to call me on.”

“No, nothing you’ve done, Gael. This is all me trying to untangle Nandi from the captain, trying to fathom where one ends and the other begins.”

He nodded, standing. “Okay. This is me giving you the time and space you need to do that."

She followed him to her feet. “Thank you,” she said, and she meant it.

* * *

Lieutenant (junior grade) Jagvir Shukla entered Trujillo’s ready room at her invitation, reaching out to shake the commodore’s hand as she directed him toward a chair facing her desk.

“This meeting is overdue, Lieutenant. I apologize that our business with the Klingons has delayed this matter.”

Shukla took the offered seat, his face evidencing curiosity but little else. He was tall, well built, and cut a striking image with his well-kept full beard and piercing brown eyes. He wore a traditional Sikh dastār turban in operations-grey, matching his undershirt and shoulder flash. The dastār bore the Starfleet encircled arrowhead on the front, complimenting his uniform appearance.

“Can I get you something, Mister Shukla? Coffee, tea, or something stronger?”

“Coffee would be excellent. Thank you, sir.”

“How do you like it?”

“Black, two sugars, please.”

Trujillo rose and moved to the replicator station. As she input beverage orders she noted, “I’ve been reviewing your service jacket, Lieutenant. Your former CO’s are unanimous in their praise. I was most interested to note that Captain T’Pran gave you high marks for your service aboard Guangzhou. I’ve met T’Pran, and she is not overly effusive in her praise.”

He smiled at that. “I would concur with your assessment of the captain, sir. However, she is an excellent starship driver and I learned a great deal from her.”

Trujillo returned with Shukla’s coffee and a cup of green tea for herself. Handing him his beverage, she slid into her seat, asking, “What brought you to Reykjavík, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Opportunity, sir. Guangzhou was due for a prolonged refit cycle after which she was going to be assigned a six-month rotation patrolling the Romulan Neutral Zone. Nothing much happens along the RNZ, and as much as I liked that ship and crew, I felt it was time to move on. After researching my options, I saw that the deputy Ops post was due to open up on Reykjavík in six months. The timing work out perfectly, and with Captain T’Pran’s recommendation, I was able to attend the accelerated divisional leader’s training course and complete it just as your billet opened.”

Trujillo raised her cup towards him. “A win for all parties, aside from Guangzhou.”

“Thank you, sir,” he replied before taking an experimental sip of his coffee.

“Your successful graduation from that course combined with your time-at-grade enables me to grant you this,” Trujillo said. She opened a small box and produced two rank insignia for a full lieutenant. She stood and moved around the desk to hand them Shukla, who stood as well. “By order of Starfleet Command, you are hereby promoted to the rank of full lieutenant, with all the rights and privileges thereto. Congratulations.”

Shukla’s demeanor was appropriately serious, but Trujillo thought she could see a hint of a smile forming at the edges of his mouth.

“Thank you, sir. Would you do the honors?”

“Of course,” Trujillo replied, unfastening the shoulder clasp of Shukla’s uniform tunic and replacing his junior-grade rank pin with its senior counterpart. Refastening the clasp, she then followed suit with the rank insignia affixed just above the departmental stripe on his left forearm.

“Much better,” she affirmed with a smile that finally ignited one of Shukla’s own.

“I apologize, sir. I realize this is only because of Lieutenant DeSilva’s passing—”

“Belay that,” she ordered with a raised hand. “Your promotion was earned regardless of what happened to DeSilva. That said, her passing does find us in need of a new chief operations officer. I’m prepared to offer you that position, should you be interested?”

“I am, sir. We only served together for a few months, but the lieutenant made sure that I was prepared to step into her role should the occasion warrant it. I would never presume to take her place, but I will do my best to live up to her legacy.”

Trujillo extended her hand again. “Well said, Mister Shukla. Welcome to the senior staff.”

They shook, sealing the arrangement.

* * *

Despite the yawns and bleary eyes from officers who had just gone off duty a few hours earlier, the hastily assembled group stood to attention as Trujillo swept into the conference room. “At ease, this meeting is now in session.”

She took her seat with the others following. “We received the following transmission twenty minutes ago in a fleet-wide missive from Command. It appears the Klingons have given us our answer.”

Trujillo activated the viewer, revealing what appeared to be a large painting of a Viking longboat sailing the bay of the Terran city of Reykjavík to be a viewscreen. An image of the Federation/Klingon border expanded outward to reveal a region of disputed territory contiguous to Klingon space, with overlapping claims of control displayed in a riot of colors.

A computer generated voice announced, “At 1427 hours Zulu-time today, Imperial Klingon military forces initiated attacks on eight separate star systems in three contiguous sectors bordering on the empire’s coreward frontier. This contested territory is presently claimed by several non-aligned species or governments. Antedian, Ornaran, Boslic, and Tyrellian colonies were among the planets assaulted and occupied by Klingon troops in this offensive. Command has ordered all Starfleet craft within four parsecs of the border to yellow alert in preparation for any aggression by the Klingons directed at Federation colonies or outposts in the region.

“These assaults happened simultaneously with attacks on Klingon annexed worlds that have been in a state of semi-revolt over the past decade, to include Troyius, Krios Prime, and Vault Minor. Fleet Tactical believes this is a move by the Klingons to crush internal rebellions within the empire that have been sapping their military strength and preventing the empire’s expansion.”

The transmission ended and Trujillo turned in her chair to face her senior officers. “Seeing as Task Force Scythe is already assembled in the vicinity, we’re being dispatched to the border to monitor the situation, and if necessary, safeguard our assets there.”

Garrett raised a finger and Trujillo called on her.

“Are we looking at a potential resumption of the old neutral zone, sir?”

“No, nothing that dramatic, at least not yet. We’re being sent to monitor the situation and dissuade any aggression towards the Federation.”

Dr. Bennett sat forward, his clasped hands resting on the tabletop. “Sir, with respect, tens-of-thousands of sentients are dying out there right now. I hazarded a look at the local subspace traffic this morning, and those colonies are crying out for help from anyone who’ll listen.”

“I’m aware, Doctor. However, were we to become involved in this conflict, even peripherally, we could easily spark another war between ourselves and the Klingons. For that reason, Command has issued explicit orders for us not to intervene or to aid those under attack by Klingon forces. We are to observe and report, and that is all.”

The faces around the table gave testament to the popularity of those orders.

Kura-Ka spoke up, the engineer’s voice carrying through the vocorder in his breathing mask with a subtle distortion. “How does the Federation reconcile our support of ongoing Terraforming projects on Qo’noS while the Klingons have resumed conquering entire sectors?”

Trujillo offered a resigned shake of her head. “That’s all being decided far above our heads, Commander. We have our marching orders, distasteful as they are.” She turned to address the room. “We’ll set course immediately for our patrol zone, with the ships of our task force distributed to provide maximum long-range sensor coverage. Are there any further questions?”

None were voiced.

She stood and they followed suit. “I’m heading off duty, XO has the conn. This meeting is concluded and you are dismissed.”

* * *


* * *

“What have you got, Captain?” Trujillo inquired across subspace from her ready room data terminal.

“It began as an anomalous contact, sir,” Commander Va'obb replied. The bulbous-headed Arkenite continued, “Vespula was tracking a convoy of Boslic refugee ships fleeing the Toliza system when we detected an object decloaking near us, roughly the size of a photon torpedo. We initially feared the Klingons might be deploying cloaked mines, but further examination indicated that the object was a message drone. It delivered a brief, localized signals burst on a Starfleet frequency before self-destructing. The transmission was a message for you, sir.”

“For me?”

“Yes, sir. Specifically. It requests that you and Reykjavík rendezvous with a Klingon ship at coordinates that I’m transmitting to you now. ETA for the meeting is at 0400 Zulu-time tomorrow.”

“Any indication as to the reason for the meeting?” she asked.

“None. However, the message is signed, ‘the wielder of Z’Orberik’s blade.’”

Trujillo suppressed a smirk at that revelation. “Understood. Thank you, Captain. I’ll need Vespula and Feynman to escort us to that rendezvous in case our Klingon friends are plotting some kind of mischief.”

“Understood, sir. We’ll be standing by. Vespula, out.”

The transmission terminated and Trujillo shot a curious look to Glal, seated across from her desk.

“Well, something’s afoot,” she surmised. “Kang doesn’t just request a meeting for the hell of it.”

“You suspect an ambush?” Glal asked skeptically.

“No, not really, but anything’s possible. Now that Klingon aggression is out in the open, sneak attacks on individual starships wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Especially since their forces have been going out of their way to avoid confrontations with Starfleet.”

Glal stood, stifling a groan as his knees crackled. “Still, taking two extra ships with us is a good idea. Better to be safe than dead,” he offered sagely. He looked out the ready room’s viewport, admiring the local constellations before saying, “The Klingons have lost more ships and troops than they’d planned to. The assistance we gave those colonies in upgrading their orbital defenses gave the empire an unexpected bloody nose.”

Trujillo replied with a disconsolate grunt. “It wasn’t enough. They were overrun and occupied anyway. So what if a few hundreds or even thousands more warriors died in the effort? It’s what they want, after all. What they spend their days glorifying.”

“You would think that,” Glal countered, “but I wonder how much of that is a grand social pretense? Is there really any glory when a Klingon soldier in the bowels of an engine room is atomized when his ship explodes? Does his or her family mourn their absence any less, regardless of how many songs are sung about the honor of it?”

Glal turned his bearded face towards her, his tusks quivering with irony. “Imagine what it must be like to have to grow up in that society. The crushing weight of those expectations. Any dreams a child may have of the future would be supplanted by the prospect of their being slain in combat at some point. What of their artists, their scholars, the shopkeepers and the old man who cooks the gagh at the corner kiosk?”

“You’re suggesting a society so devoted to war and conquest is more aspirational than concrete reality?”

“It’s possible. Quite probable, actually. I don’t see how their culture could function, otherwise. Someone has to build the ships, work the farms, and toil in the factories. You can’t do all those things if everyone is a warrior.”

“They subjugate whole worlds and take their people as slave labor. jeghpu'wI', they call them.”

“Well, there is that,” Glal allowed.

“I’d be a lot more empathetic if they weren’t butchering innocents at this very moment,” Trujillo remarked acidly. Her weary sigh presaged, “I don’t know. When I was young it all seemed so much simpler. They were the enemy, bloodthirsty savages just waiting to descend upon a thousand worlds and crush them under the weight of their ancient empire. Now, though? Now they’re just… people, as flawed and fickle and complex as the rest of us.”

He grinned. “You prefer your foes painted with a broad brush?”

“It helps me sleep at night,” she confessed.

Glal gestured to the doors leading to the bridge. “Shall we go find out what General Kang wants from us, sir?”

* * *

Zeta Upsilon IX had been mined out a century before, the planetoid having surrendered its heavy metals and dilithium over the previous five-hundred years to countless spacefaring species. What remained was a roughly spherical husk surrounded by a cloud of debris that stretched out across half the system like a massive comet’s tail.

This made it a perfect location for an illicit rendezvous far from prying eyes or sensors.

Shukla’s summons brought Trujillo onto the bridge from the ready room with a pre-emptive call of, “As you were,” before the lieutenant could formally announce her arrival.

“Report,” she instructed as she assumed the newly vacated command seat.

“A Bird-of-Prey has just decloaked five thousand kilometers directly ahead, sir. They’re signaling via direct laser-link, requesting permission to beam a party over.”

Glal stepped out of the turbolift, fastening the shoulder clasp of his tunic and looking as though he had just crawled out of bed. He spotted the Klingon scout nose-on with Reykjavík. “They’re prompt. That’s unusually considerate of them.”

“They’re requesting to beam over, Commander. Please see to the arrangements, taking all necessary security precautions, of course.”

“Of course, sir,” he echoed. Pointing towards Jarrod, Glal ordered, “With me, Lieutenant, and have a security detail meet us in transporter room two.”

* * *

Three partially formed patterns shimmered atop the transporter pad.

The chief advised, “There are three individuals, sir. I’m holding them in transit. One of them is inside a container… looks to be some kind of cryogenic tank. No weapons detected.”

Glal snuffled in response, “None that we can perceive, anyway,” over his shoulder to Jarrod and his security team. Then with a nod to the transporter operator he said, “Bring them in.”

He straightened involuntarily as the figure of General Kang materialized on the pad, along with a shorter Klingon carrying a satchel over his shoulder, notable for not being clad in their seemingly ubiquitous armor. A torpedo-sized containment vessel lay across two of the pads, presumably the cryogenic unit.

Glal called the assembled security team to attention.

“I am Lt. Commander Glal, first officer. Welcome aboard Reykjavík, General.”

Kang scanned the Starfleet contingent, then turned to introduce his companion. “This is Physician Kardec, my medical officer. We have urgent need of your medical facilities, Commander.”

Glal nodded to Jarrod, an indication he should scan the cryo-chamber to ensure it didn’t contain weapons, explosives, or toxins of any kind. A quick but comprehensive sweep was completed and Jarrod gave the all-clear.

Glal led the party to Sickbay, notifying Trujillo of their destination on route.

The commodore arrived to find Dr. Bennett inspecting the readouts on the cryo-chamber’s antiquated display. He looked up to give Trujillo a questioning expression as he swept a sensor wand over the statis tank. “Single male Klingon occupant in cryonic suspension. He’s suffered significant injuries and I’d judge him to be in critical condition.”

Trujillo wheeled on Kang. “What is this about, General?” she barked. “Tell me you didn’t just pull me a parsec out of my way because some favored soldier of yours has been wounded?”

Glal tensed, expecting outrage from Kang who doubtless was not used to being spoken to so forcefully, especially by Federation officers.

Instead, the general merely inclined his head towards the tank. “This man may be the only one who can stop the empire’s push into the borderlands. If he dies, all hope of tempering that offensive is lost.” Kang gestured with evident frustration at the imperial physician standing idly by, transfixed at the sight of all the advanced Starfleet medical equipment. “Our healers were not up to the task.”

The Tellarite realized suddenly that Kang had accepted Trujillo’s ferocity as Klingon asperity. It was how they addressed one another, and he appeared to take no offense at such coming from her.

Trujillo looked to Bennett and her curt nod prompted the doctor and his medical staff to sweep the cryo-tank towards Sickbay’s surgical theater.

As they departed, she turned again to the Klingon general. “Explain.”

“His father sat on the High Council. Theirs is an old and honored house. His family has opposed the chancellor’s ill-advised offensive, and their stance had nearly split the council on the matter. This courted the chancellor’s wrath. The same disguised brigands and operatives used to test the defenses of the alien colonies were sent against his family’s stronghold on Khorast. His father and siblings were killed in the attack, but he managed to fight his way past their blockade and made it to my flagship.”

Trujillo absorbed that for a long moment, watching through the transparent partition as the Klingon physician assisted Bennett’s team with removing the wounded man from the stasis tank. “Presuming we save his life, what then?”

“We see him safely back to Qo’noS, to take his rightful place on the Council as the surviving head of his household. From there, he may be able to sway the Council's decision regarding this invasion.”

“We?” she said sharply, her head snapping around to direct a withering gaze on Kang. “You propose we escort you to the homeworld to safeguard him from further attack?”

Kang hesitated, clearly uncomfortable with that idea. “I do not know. If your doctors are unable to save him, this goes no further. If he lives, the opposing houses on the council may send their own ships to try and kill him. So far this power struggle has been kept to the shadows, but an attempt on his life in the open could spark a civil war.”

Trujillo’s reply could have frozen plasma. “And you brought him… here.” She touched hand to her forehead in a gesture of exasperation. “You risk dragging the Federation into a Klingon civil war.”

“Yes,” Kang replied, guileless.

“So be it,” she said after a second’s consideration. “If Federation blood may yet be spilled in this young man’s defense, I would ask to know his name at the very least.”

“He is K’mpec, son of Anag, and last remaining heir of House Korrd.”

* * *  


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