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Motives by Larry Stovall

Part One

The old battlecruiser stood motionless in the spiderlike dry-dock that held her prisoner, her hull battered and blackened in far too many places. No repair pods flitted about around her aged frame. No vac-suited technicians worked to mend her wounds. It was the second thing that galled her commander. That old ship had served him faithfully and well, and the obvious disdain she was being accorded produced from her master the third rumbling growl in as many minutes. She deserved better than that. Deserved better than to be forgotten because her commander was not popular with the right people. He concentrated on that as he stared out the office window, for if he didn't worry about that, he might begin to dwell on the idea that she'd been set in that particular dry-dock so he could gaze upon her torn up hull as he stood in this damned waiting room. It would be like General Tor. He growled again.

"Commander La'ra? General Tor is ready for you." The waiting room administrator had a pleasant voice and an even more pleasant shape. He wondered if she'd been selected for this assignment based on such. That too, would be like General Tor.

He nodded to her silently, and smiled after reminding himself that she was not the fat old topah she worked for. The door to the general's office churned open.

The old man's workplace wasn't lit with the harsh, reddish light La'ra was accustomed too after years on various ships of the Klingon navy, but he wished it was. Or not lit at all. Sacrificing visibility would be a small price to pay to not have to gaze upon the honorable General's animal skin rugs, gaudy bits of artistry, and thousands of other useless trinkets that the General claimed were spoils gained during a long and valorous career as a line officer. Still, they did serve to distract the eye from the General himself.

"Commander!" The old fool bellowed, leaning forward in his chair of some exotic Romulan wood. He was ancient; his knobby head wrinkled with age, hair and beard as white as snow. His armor strained to keep his girth concealed, succeeding for the most part but doing nothing to hide the man's collection of chin's, which seemed to ripple as he spoke. "I've read your report. You seem to have done quite well on your last patrol. Come in, we have much to speak of."

La'ra buried his growl. Much to speak of. Perhaps we could speak of why my ship is sitting unattended in repair dock fourteen while your crews happily repair that Tiburonian freighter that brushed one of your patrol ships. His temper threatened to flare, but he stood at attention before the old man anyway.

"Let's see..." The old fool prattled on. "...seven star systems explored and surveyed, with two having great potential for mineral collection or colonization....one Federation Frigate blasted into debris after he forced a confrontation with you...several highly detailed scans of those new Federation fighter craft we'd heard only rumors of until now....and you managed to disable a Constitution-class cruiser long enough to escape after it responded to the frigate's situation...."

The old man went on, listing individually the more minor points of the report, as if La'ra had not in fact written it. It made La'ra smile, to hear the man babble so, and to see the look of fear and disappointment in his eyes. This was the General's own method of eating crow, as a human might say, and the Commander was enjoying every second of.

Expected me to die out there, didn't you? La'ra could no longer hide his smile. Or better yet grow as old and lazy as yourself 'guarding' our border with our trusted 'allies'. You forgot my patrol area wasnít entirely explored, and you certainly didn't figure on there being any Federation activity in that area. That's what acting like a Romulan coward will get you, General. His thoughts moved away from the General, and back to his confrontations with the Federation vessels. Captain Kelso had been a fool, and deserved what he'd gotten when La'ra blasted that brand new Federation frigate out from under him. The little ship had outmatched his ancient D6 in several ways actually, and yet he'd handled the Starfleet vessel with little difficulty despite the damage his ship had taken from tangling with the Endeavour's fighters days before. There was satisfaction in that victory, but little pride. It was when he thought of Captain Sharp and his proud cruiser that his chest swelled. His heart still pounded when he remembered his confrontations with the man, his blood racing as he realized how lucky he was to have even gotten away from that dark-skinned human and his Endeavour. The man had even complimented him on his cunning, though if La'ra's first officer hadn't managed to decrypt the Human's communications, La'ra would never have known about it. Facing that man again would be a pleasure any Klingon would appreciate.

Almost any Klingon, he reminded himself, gazing down at General Tor as the old patach finally drew his monologue to a close.

"As I said, excellent work, Commander..." The General droned, "...if you were any other man I'd promote you, but I'm afraid circumstances won't allow such. There is your original mission to consider, and I'm afraid that the damage you incurred to your vessel means that no one is covering your patrol area, and that will of course reflect badly upon you." The old man finally paused for breath, a distressed look in his eyes.

La'ra raised an eyebrow, gazing down at Tor as he fought to keep his seven and a half foot frame motionless.

"Are you saying that I've neglected my duties, My Lord?" He let the last word end in a growl. The old man's cheeks actually colored.

"No, no, Commander. But the damage the Hivílaposh..." He said the ship's name as if it were an oath, but then to many Klingons, it just might be. "...is extensive, and we cannot conduct repairs in an acceptable amount of time. Youíre to be commended for your efforts, but our need for a ship along the Romulan border is immediate." The old man swallowed visibly, as if dreading what La'ra might do. When he continued, La'ra knew why.

"I'm reassigning you, Commander."

La'ra managed to keep a look of shock from his features, but despair gripped his belly. The Hiv'laposh was his ship. Her name was an oath to most Klingons. Thief Who Strikes From the Cover of Bushes, did the name translate into Federation Standard, and even with the High Command encouraging its officers to act like their pointy-eared 'allies' many Captains would refuse a ship named such. He hadn't. They'd expected him to, but he hadn't, and took her when no one else would want her. If she was being taken away from him, that could only mean one thing.

"The Hivílaposh is to be decommissioned." The General announced, barely managing to hide a smile. "High Command has decided that she's far too old for active service, and her crew would better serve the Empire in other capacities."

Other capacities. A laughable concept. Most of his ships crew had been put there because they were as unpopular or insubordinate as La'ra himself. Any of them would be lucky to be assigned to a warship. More likely they'd serve their days on freighters and minesweepers. They were better than that.

"My Lord..." La'ra began, the words burning on his tongue. "..the Hivílaposh has incurred no damage that would warrant such action. Her spaceframe is well maintained and while her systems are old she's as refittable as any other D6 in the..." General Tor waved for him to stop, chins rippling.

"I appreciate your loyalty to your vessel commander, but High Command has spoken. We believe that a war with the Federation is now inevitable, and our current resources don't allow for sentimentality. Your crew has performed admirably, and their experience would better serve the Empire on vessels more capable than even a refitted D6." General Tor paused, his eyes earnest enough that La'ra believed there might be such a directive from someone higher that the old fat man. It didn't make sense to his mind. Refitted to more modern standards the old cruisers could still keep up with ship's half their age, and the resources required to bring one up to date was minimal compared to the cost of building a new ship, even a frigate. More Romulan inspired thinking in the High Command, unless General Tor was taking some liberties with his words. Such was likely.

"Will I be receiving another command, My Lord?" The question was more painful than the honorific, this time. The General smiled, and his eyes glittered.

"Of course, Commander." He began, his voice dripping with the oh-so-courteous airs that he assumed whenever he thought he had the upper hand. "As I said, the need for a ship in your sector is immediate. The Sek'leth is refitting in dry-dock four. She'll be ready in a week, and I need you to resume your patrol with her."

La'ra used far more willpower than should have been necessary to restrain himself from leaping across the General's ornate wood desk and strangling the fat old bastard right then and there. The Sek'leth was an E4. A tiny escort vessel as old as the Hivílaposh, meant for customs patrols and chasing down Orion smugglers, so long as they weren't too heavily armed. There were pre-warp vessels that could put up a good fight against one of the things, and yet he was supposed to patrol an area rife with all kind of dangers with the eggshell of a vessel.

Of course he was. That was Tor's game. There was no directive regarding D6 cruisers, just Tor's clever wording of some vague order from higher up. He could die in an E4, or perhaps run, but there would be little constructive he could do, and whichever path he chose could do nothing for himself or whatever crew of undesirables Tor meant to give him. The thoughts were evident on his face, for nothing else could cause the General's eyes to glitter so. The old man spoke, of course.

"This is of course a temporary arrangement," He oozed. "You'll be considered for the first available cruiser command that comes across my desk." La'ra nodded.

"Thank you, My Lord." La'ra would get another battlecruiser the day Kahless himself arose from the grave and ordered it. He was confident of that. Maybe there'd be something he could accomplish in his new, tiny vessel that could get somebody besides Tor's attention. Maybe a sector commander desperate for captains would ask him to transfer. Maybe he could survive the inevitable war with the Federation long enough that his popularity with certain houses wouldn't be an issue. There were always options. Always possibilities....

The door churned open, interrupting his desperate thoughts almost as effectively as the sight of the young Klingon marching into Tor's office, face and armor blackened with some unidentifiable substance. There was blood on him as well. Klingon blood, though La'ra decided that the quantity was far too great to be his own. He was shorter than most Klingons, with long stringy black hair more typically Klingon that La'ra's own wavy brown locks. He didn't seem to notice La'ra at all as he almost fell onto the General's desk, supporting himself with his arms as his eyes blazed.

"Again, General!" He shouted, voice filled with fury. "Three times in three weeks and yet you STILL refuse to admit there's even a problem! My first officer is dead, my ship is in ruins, hundreds of our merchantmen are dead or missing, but there are NO pirates operating in this area and I have no need of reinforcements!" The man's dk'tagh was suddenly planted in the General's desk. "Get up and fight me, you incompetent fool!"

La'ra watched dispassionately as the General swallowed and the young Klingon glared expectantly. The General would talk his way out of a fight. He always did. And this poor, impetuous fellow would serve out his days as a shuttle pilot. At least his heart was in the right place.

"Lieutenant I will not tolerate this insub..."

The Lieutenant interrupted with a roar. "You may hang me for insubordination so long as you do it after you ferret out who's been supplying them! They fired at me with Klingon missiles today, General! Our equipment, our tracking systems, and yet no one on YOUR base could possibly be helping them! Are you going to pick up that knife you fat, disgusting, lover of targhs or are you going to sit there like a blood worm bloated on it's own feces like you always do! Fight me NOW!"

La'ra decided right then that he wanted this man on his ship. It'd be difficult to pull off but maybe...

"We'll accomplish nothing by me killing you, Lieutenant." The General's tone was harder now, giving a small sign that perhaps he once possessed backbone. "You're blood is still up, you're filthy, and you've obviously been through quite an ordeal. It's for these reasons that I'll ignore your insubordinate comments provided you calm down and give me your report."

The Lieutenant wavered. La'ra could see it happen. Not a dumb man, he could tell that by his eyes, but one with a little too much trust is Tor's authority. He might defy him openly, insult him, challenge him as he just did, but not when he wasn't still gripped in battle fury. A good man, just gullible. He composed himself quickly, his now even voice slowly reciting a harrowing tale of a convoy beset by three Orion ships. His E4...the Grau'mah...had been matched by each of the raiders but the Lieutenant had fought anyway.

"There were too many of them for me to stop all of them." The Lieutenant explained. "They withdrew after capturing one of our freighters. We managed to destroy two of their vessels." La'ra's eyes narrowed as he watched the General's face. The old man looked as if he'd swallowed something unpleasant. Destroying two Orion raiders would be a very difficult task for an E4, but it wasn't as unbelievable as...

Something clicked. Orions with Klingon weapons. A Lieutenant incensed enough with his lack of support that he'd commit career-ending levels of insubordination out of sheer anger. And a fat old general with an office decorated with expensive 'spoils of war' that even the most successful pirate hunter could collect over an entire career.

General, you're a fool, and you're house is a puppet of those more powerful than you, but I never thought you were a traitorous fool instead of the normal variety. The thought was grim. Better could be expected of any Klingon. Perhaps even Romulans.

Still, there were ways this could be used...

"...fought well, Lieutenant. I'll look into the matter, and I have already requested additional ships to aid in policing this area. I warn you however that any other insubordinate acts and you'll end up cleaning plasma conduits on the filthiest freighter I can find, is that clear?" The General's tirade had ended with a merciful act. Of course it had. If he actually reassigned the poor Lieutenant they might send him an older escort captain, one who'd realize what the General's game was. La'ra thought briefly of requesting the assignment in his new E4, but discarded the thought.

"Yes, My Lord." The Lieutenant said, bringing his fist to his shoulder in a salute then turning to leave. He regarded La'ra for a moment.

"Commander." He said, nodding respectfully.

La'ra nodded. "Lieutenant." The man walked out with far less drama than he'd entered.

"I apologize for that Commander. Lieutenant Torax is a skilled officer, but somewhat impetuous. I allow him some leeway so that he will not damage himself before he learns to control his temper."

And you don't want to fool with him, lest he make too much noise, La'ra thought. "Of course. I understand."

The General grinned, chins rippling. "Well now that that's over..." He pressed a button on his desk. A side door opened, an emerald skinned Orion woman emerging from it carrying the drink tray La'ra was expecting. She was naked above the waist, and well formed. Slavery wasn't illegal in the Klingon Empire, though it was usually reserved for criminals. Orion slave women were sought after by many with the wealth to afford one, and the act of calling her in was Tor showing off his toys.

"...would you like some Romulan Ale, Commander? It's from a case I acquired from a Warbird I stormed when our neighbors weren't quite as friendly."

"Certainly, My Lord." The girl brought the glass, and for a moment La'ra's eyes touched hers. They had the same blank, almost drugged look most slaves had, which made it easy to ignore the rest of her. He took the glass and nodded.

I'm going to get you General. La'ra smiled amiably, nodding thanks for the drink. And it's going to be soon.

La'ra made his way slowly down the cramped hallways of the IKV Grau'mah, avoiding as best he could the technicians who went about their repairs at a pace best described as frantic. He'd seen men on ships still engaged in battle work at a lesser rate, and he wondered for a moment exactly how the young Lieutenant Torax had inspired such industriousness. He could tell how the crewmen moved that they were competent. Competent people rarely worked miracles for slave drivers.

The command deck was in shambles, with most of the control consoles open to the world, and cables of all types crisscrossing the floor. A lone junior technician manned the bridge, and he failed to notice La'ra's presence for several seconds, transfixed as he was with rewiring a circuit board. The tech almost leaped to his feet when La'ra asked for the Lieutenant, and explained too quickly that Torax was in Engineering and that he'd call him immediately. He did so, and returned to mending his circuits. Considering the mess the bridge was in La'ra felt a bit guilty for disturbing the fellow. He paced about the command center. It was as cramped as the rest of the tiny vessel, and the tall commander felt a twinge of a certain childhood fear.

Lieutenant Torax appeared through the bridge hatch after long minutes, his eyes curious and annoyed. Still, he brought his fist to his chest, a gesture which La'ra returned.

"Commander." The younger man said. It was more of a question, in a way.

"Lieutenant." La'ra replied. "I need to speak with you regarding your conversation with General Tor."

The Lieutenant's eyes narrowed. Considering the nature of Klingon politics, his mind was no doubt concocting all kinds of unpleasant reasons La'ra had come out to his ship.

"Yes, Commander...." The Lieutenant hesitated. Probably from curiosity, as there was no fear in his eyes. "...my quarters?"

La'ra nodded. Torax's quarter's were adjacent to the bridge, and quite spartan, though there was little room for decoration. A minuscule desk was built into the wall opposite the Lieutenant's bunk, and it was there that the younger man sat as the door closed behind them.

"So Commander," he asked, eyes a bit angry now. "Are you hear to 'advise' me to never question General Tor's competence again? If so, I'll make you the same offer I made him." The younger man's finger's tickled the hilt of his dk'tagh.

The grin that creased La'ra's face was best described as that of a hyena.

"I think, Lieutenant, we need to talk about where your pirate friends are getting their missiles...."

"So what did your young friend have to say?"

La'ra smiled lightly as the shuttle slid away from the Grau'mah.

"He has the same suspicions I do, and has had them for awhile."

Lieutenant Ran'jar nodded, his hand working studiously at the shuttle controls. He was a far shorter man than his Commander, darker of skin and wilder of hair. He also possessed an affinity for the engineering side of starships that La'ra himself could never hope to possess. His skills in that, and other areas, would've made La'ra request his assignment as the Hiv'laposh's first officer even if the two hadn't been friends since childhood. He spoke slowly, as always.

"Why hasn't he done anything about it, then?"

"Suspicions aren't proof. He's collected an amazing amount of information, but nothing that points directly to our beloved General Tor."

Ran'jar nodded once more, aiming the shuttle at the battle station far off in the distance. "That fat old man isn't stupid, you know. He'll have covered his prints."

"I know." La'ra's voice was almost a grumble. "But he'll have made a mistake somewhere if he's been dancing with pirates for as long as I think he has. I think there may be an easier way than looking for it though."

"And that is?"

"We find the Orions. The Grau'mah has been the only patrol vessel in this system for six months. Torax think he knows where their base might be. Orions will incinerate themselves to avoid their capture, but they tend to squeal like dying targhs when once they're in someone's grip."

"True enough," Ran'jar looked to him with one eye on his controls. "You do remember we don't have a vessel to take this base with, correct?"

La'ra grinned his hyena-like grin once more. "Actually, we do. Or rather Torax does. The Grau'mah isn't being repaired by Tor's crew, her own crew is doing the work so she can get back into action earlier. Without help we'll be on the Romulan border before she's prepared for battle again, but I seem to recall that a bunch of skilled engineers are currently sitting around on Tor's base guzzling bloodwine while they wait for their new assignments." Drafting the Hiv'laposh's engineering crew would placate Tor as well. They'd caused nothing but trouble since they'd been informed of their ships impending retirement, far too much trouble even for a base accustomed to what Klingons thought of as shore leave. Finding them something to do might keep the General happy long enough for good things to happen.

Ran'jar chuckled. "L'dar will not be happy that you interrupted his shore leave."

"No, he won't. Until I get 'his' ship back at least."

The Lieutenant nodded. His lips moved as if about to speak, but he did not. La'ra waited.

"Commander, are you planning the blackmail I think you are?"

La'ra's eyes became fixed on the shuttle's viewport.

"Yes, I am."

Ran'jar seemed to consider his next words. "Not the most honorable course of action."

La'ra sighed deeply. "I'll not lose my ship simply because his superiors find me distasteful. She's a perfectly good ship, and decommissioning so that her commander can be stuffed away and forgotten is a waste of Imperial resources."

"If we find the kind of evidence you want, we could give it to Internal Security." Ran'jar's voice was level. Neutral.

"With all the friends that fat man has? Nothing would ever come of it." La'ra's mouth was twisted in distaste. "I have other things in mind for the General as well, my friend. I'm not doing this solely for my own gain."

The smile that lit Ran'jar's face was almost evil. "I have to check on these things now and then, make sure you haven't fought enough Romulans that you've begun to think like them."

"There's not enough room in this shuttle for me to kill you for that. It'll wait till later I suppose."

"If we ever dueled I'd expect we'd need at least a few square kellicams."

La'ra grinned once more. The shuttle fell silent.

"You know, the Sek'leth is a well-built vessel." Ran'jar said after a time. "There would be no dishonor in commanding her."

La'ra let himself sigh again.

"She's a good ship, my friend. But she's not my ship."

 

Part Two

Torax's information was valuable. Dates and locations of convoy attacks, detailed analyses of said attacks, hull markings of the Orion vessels encountered; the Grau'mah's young commander had thought of everything. He'd gone so far as to leave his tiny ship's sole shuttlecraft in the areas of most of the attacks to sift through the debris until he could return to pick them up, and it was some of the information that particular method had dredged up that made another low growl rise up from La'ra's belly.

His eyes scanned his datapad a bit more intently.

Most of debris had had nothing to offer in the way of information. Orion ships didn't carry the disaster recorders common to every legitimate naval force's ships, and even if a pirate captain was conscientious enough to keep a log, it was doubtful such a thing would survive the ship's detonation. Torax's shuttle crews had spent many hours gathering the remains of any of the destroyed marauders, and had produced nothing to show for it. The last time they'd been sent out had been a week prior to the attack that'd hobbled the Grau'mah, and it was then that the young Lieutenant's crew had decided to become a bit more creative in their search efforts. Most of the Orion ships Torax had had to contend with had been armed with a varied array of phasers and missile racks. His Chief Gunner had found this odd. Orions and other malcontents didn't like missiles. Missiles were expensive, and even slow, outdated models were something one had to either steal, buy from your cartel lord at inflated prices, or cobble together from scratch. Whichever method you used, it equaled time and resources even a successful band of robbers would probably rather not spend. Missiles weren't efficient weapons. Missiles weren't profitable. A band of pirates wouldn't use them in any great numbers unless there was an easy and cheap way to get them. The next time Torax's shuttle flew out to pillage after-battle flotsam, they spent a little less time examining blown-off chunks of Orion ships and a little more time searching for pieces of exploded ordnance.

They'd found a bit more than they'd hoped for. They'd found an entire missile, standard Klingon Naval issue, though that in itself wouldn't have been a surprise even without any suspicions about General Tor. The Orions did tend to raid freighters armed with them or carrying them as cargo, after all.

The serial number had of course been scorched off. La'ra doubted any Orions would take the chance of not doing so even when the weapons automatically destroyed themselves when their fuel was exhausted. Unfortunately for these particular Orions, not only had this missileís destruct trigger been faulty, but Torax's apparently gifted gunner had remembered that the numbers were stamped onto the casing. Such stamping left indentations, and one quick sensor map of the missileís body produced the identification number.

It wasn't proof of anything. The ordnance record from Tor's base--the Gasíkovan sector command base--had the weapon and the entire lot it'd shipped with listed as 'Shipped, documented, never received.' It wasn't on the supply ship. Thirty missiles that just got misrouted or some other mishap of paperwork.

Thirty missiles wouldn't supply even an E4 for very long. At least not in combat. Klingon shipmasters were trained to go easy on their expendable munitions, but at least a few of the guided weapons were fired in almost every engagement. Thirty. The number was far to small to last these missile flinging Orions very long. Torax hadn't the clearance to get into the complete base inventory, however, and he hadn't been able to determine if any other thirty-missile crates had been unaccounted for.

Torax, however was a Lieutenant. La'ra was a Commander, and one who'd been in command of a line vessel of the Klingon fleet until a few days before. His security clearance was very close to Tor's, and the station's computer security programs didn't particularly care who he was unpopular with. He growled again as an inventory list scrolled down the screen of his datapad.

There were hundreds of missing weapons. Not all in contiguous lots of course, but still an impressive number of valuable projectiles were listed as 'Shipped, documented, never received.' More than enough to supply a few small raiding vessels. La'ra's deep growl echoed throughout the ornate quarters the General had 'rewarded' him with.

There was more when he cross-referenced some of the data. Missiles tended to come up missing after convoys had been hit. The fiercer the convoy and escorting ships had fought, the more missiles came up missing. More telling, they always vanished off the same freighter. The Yu'kal, a Q-ship that now did service as a high-security transport rather than the anti-raiding role she was built for. Her captain was an old friend of General Tor, but not a particularly close one. La'ra had met the man. Jorath. Stone dumb, greedy, and not close enough to anyone important to cause embarrassment if he were caught selling weapons to Orions or other such unpleasant things. A perfect scapegoat. General Tor had chosen well.

La'ra leaned back in his too-soft chair. Ran'jar had been right. The old fool had covered his tracks well, and even if someone followed them, they could get no farther than Jorath and the Yu'kal. Internal Security would eat the information in his datapad hungrily and mount an exhaustive investigation, and Jorath would be executed or sent to Rura Penthe. Those investigators who believed Jorath to be merely a middle man would be reassigned at the suggestion of General Tor's ever-present allies, and the case would be lauded as an example of Internal Security's discipline and vigilance. And Tor would wait. Wait until it was all forgotten and quietly begin payrolling his Orion friends once more so they'd bring him his pretty toys and his Romulan Ale. Now that he'd talked at length with Torax he understood why the young Lieutenant had so brazenly challenged the General. He wasn't an impetuous hothead as the General thought, he was merely trying to force the old bastard into a fight Torax could win, not knowing as La'ra did the honorable General's habits of talking his way out of even the most direct challenge. La'ra sighed. It all seemed so complicated, and not at all Klingon.

Is it any more Klingon than what you intend?

He closed his eyes as his conscience spoke. Blackmail was not the way of a Klingon warrior. But was it blackmail when the victim was a traitor?

It is when all you want is your ship back, isn't it?

The Hivílaposh was an old ship, but she was serviceable. Destroying her would be a serious waste of Imperial resources. Doing so merely to deprive her commander of a line vessel was disgusting.

And so you will lower yourself to his stature?

La'ra snickered at that thought. This was a duel, like any other. Tor had chosen the battlefield and the weapons, but as unpalatable as they were, he would not allow the old man's treason to continue. There would be more come of this than La'ra being on a cruiser's command deck again. There would be punishment, perhaps even justice, something that could not be brought about with the methods La'ra would have preferred.

To that, his conscience stayed silent. He nodded to no one, and looked back to his datapad, a few whispers of doubt lingering in his head.

The briefing room of the Grau'mah was as cramped as the rest of the ship. Under normal circumstances La'ra was sure there would be a good deal of tension between her officers and the three outsiders they were crammed in the tiny space with. The undercurrent was not one of tension, though. It was anticipation. A very personal battle was being planned here.

Torax was there of course, unquestionably the leader of those he brought with him, but his crew gazed at him with respect rather than the subservience many Klingons might have demanded. His prodigal gunner was in attendance, average sized and average looking except for eyes as sharp as an Andorian Chaka. Then there was his First, a woman whose charms threatened to burst right out of her armor and who's grin made La'ra feel as if he were under the gaze of some predatory feline. That she was shoved up against him due to the snugness of the room did little for his concentration. The Hivílaposhís three key officers were older to a man, though even La'ra was closer to Torax's age than he cared to admit. Aside from himself there was Ran'jar. And L'dar. The big engineer was one of the few Klingons who could gaze levelly into La'ra's eyes and his shoulders were perhaps broader. There were times he and his Commander had come to blows, but the intent had never been to kill. Just brotherly spats their father would've found amusing.

"Positioning will be the difficult part, I believe." The gunner had a calm, almost icy voice. "Close enough to use only our passive sensors to track the Yu'kal yet far enough that her active's won't detect us...even against a Q-ship that's a very narrow gap."

"There's things we can do to give us a better margin." L'dar's voice was as deep as his brother's with even more of a rumble. "Especially in a ship this size. I'll speak to your engineer about some of them, with the Lieutenant's permission." Torax nodded his assent.

"Very long distance between the edge of the system and Gas'kovan base." The gunner's words had the tone of thinking out loud. "Our helmsman will have to be quite sharp." Torax grinned at the gunner, the first time La'ra had seen that expression from him. Probably a private joke.

"What worries me..." Ran'jar tended toward pessimism, but only a fool didn't see caution as a virtue. "..is that we'll successfully track the entire route in and yet see nothing. We have no guarantees they'll lose their cargo inside the system."

Torax's First spoke up, her voice low and confident. "But we do. The Yuíkal isn't coming all the way alone. She's part of Convoy 312's escort party until she splits off to make the delivery here. They'll pass close by the edge of the system, so they won't have an opportunity to make their transfer anywhere but inside the system."

"How do you know that?" Ran'jar seemed a bit curious. Torax grinned again.

"I tempted the base logistics officer with my womanly assets, then pummeled him senseless when he somehow thought I'd invited his hand. Silly man." She grinned deeply, eyes flicking up to La'ra with a hint of challenge. He fought the urge to growl, but couldn't restrain his own toothy smirk. An exciting woman. "Petty Officer Gorak perused his convoy schedules in the confusion."

Ran'jar nodded, apparently satisfied.

"So," Torax's tone was all business. "We track them from the edge of the system until they make their delivery. They will probably meet one of the Orion vessels to transfer their cargo, necessitating us shadowing it until back to its home. If they take it directly there, our life is a little easier." He paused for a moment. "We should be prepared for the possibility that their base is more heavily defended than we've assumed."

"If it is, then we have few options." The gunnerís voice probably never thawed. "We're no match for a fully armed base station, and even a ground emplacement could have substantial defenses."

"They won't have a spaceborne station." Ran'jar seemed diminutive next to L'dar, but somehow his words seemed louder. "This system has a sector command base in it. They couldn't remain undetected as long as they have with that kind of power signature. Not with our warships traveling in and out every day, no cartel would risk the resources and we would have noticed them building the thing."

The gunner nodded, but went on. "Valid point. But a ground base could still have plenty of armaments."

"Probably at least some defenses." L'dar's voice tended to roll like thunder. "But not overmuch. Their presence here is based on secrecy. More weapons means more power, and more power makes them easier to detect."

"Besides, wouldn't it be foolish to risk too many resources this close to a major base? Even with your fat friend in charge of it?" Torax's First still had that gleam in her eyes, and La'ra's eyes drifted to her often.

"Probably." Torax seemed a little troubled. "I'm willing to make the assumption that it's a ground base. I'll even bet a cask of bloodwine it's on one of the moons around our local gas giant. They could still have enough firepower to destroy us easily, and I'm not comfortable risking my ship on their desire to keep hidden."

"You won't be risking your ship." La'ra spoke for the first time.

Torax's eyebrows arched. "Oh?"

La'ra nodded to the younger man. "You won't. Because we're going to take it by ground assault. We need our evidence, remember?"

"I don't have enough crew for that..."

"We do." Ran'jar's eyes were level. "The Hiv'laposh's crew hasn't been reassigned yet. They're still under the Commander's authority."

Torax snorted. "I can fit maybe 40 on board my ship, that's not enough to take a ground installation."

"No..." La'ra smiled slowly. He hadn't told Torax this part yet. "..but a full company is, and I think we can find a way to get them there."

"How so?"

"Gasíkovan station has about twelve K-3 Assault Transports assigned to it. You've seen them. Like those Romulan patrol ships only with fewer weapons and a troop bay."

Torax looked positively befuddled, but his First nodded. "They're meant for customs inspections and patrols and such. They've been rusting on the hangar deck for at least two years. General Tor's never found the time to assign crews to them."

"Remarkably negligent of him." L'dar almost snorted.

"They're fuel intensive." The gunner droned. "The esteemed general probably chose to divert his fuel budget to more useful craft."

"Like that little yacht he zips around in?" The First grinned, and a bit of laughter rolled from the assembled officers.

"For one hundred and twenty warriors we'd need three of them." Ran'jar stated.

Torax nodded. "And how are we supposed to get our hands on these craft?"

It was La'ra's turn to grin knowingly.

"I'm going to ask General Tor for them."

Torax snickered and shook his head. "Very well."

"There's plenty of holes in our intelligence. You realize this of course." The gunner liked the role of devil's advocate. "For instance, it'll be impossible to put together a plan for the ground attack, we have no information."

"Best we're probably going to get." Ran'jar almost sighed. "We can provide the manpower you need to do this, but we're not going to be here forever."

The gunner nodded. "And reporting the location of the base wouldn't solve the..." He paused, his hands tracing the shape of a much more rotund stomach than he possessed "...larger problem."

Ran'jar grinned evilly, one of his favorite but rarely used expressions. "Correct."

"And as far as our lack of intelligence goes, I think we can use a Federation trick and compensate for our ignorance with sheer firepower." L'dar again, almost snarling. "Those assault craft come well stocked. Rifles, photon mortars, armor. As long as La'ra is sufficiently docile when he requests their use I doubt General Tor will remember to have them removed."

La'ra let out a growl, and tried desperately not to chuckle.

"I'd recommend a stealth approach." The gunner added. "Come in from the opposite side of whatever rock they're on, hug the terrain, set down within marching distance but outside of their sensor range...."

"And spring out of the bushes at them." La'ra did chuckle at that. "Seems appropriate."

"Thief who strikes from the cover of bushes..." Ran'jar smiled cruelly.

"Exactly."

"What if there aren't any bushes?" Torax's First, looking more predatory with every word.

"Same principle." La'ra gave his best grin to the woman.

"So..." Torax seemed to want to get things back to business. "...after we obtain what we need from shadowing the Yu'kal we pull away, still evading detection, and rendezvous with the assault craft...where?"

"We suspect they're on one of Gas'kovan VI's many moons. Lurking somewhere behind the fifth planet would allow for a quick move into position and basically eliminate the chance of any of our target's detecting them." The gunner again. La'ra nodded to him, and to Torax.

"Do you wish me to escort your assault craft in?" Torax fixed La'ra with a cautious stare. The Assault ships weren't helpless, but they were no match for any size of proper starship. "It would ensure you and your men's safety, yet.."

La'ra's massive head shook. "...increase our chance of detection. No, if we're spotted by an Orion ship, we'll run. We'll have lost the element of surprise, and without keeping that advantage any assault would be worthless. They'd have all their landed ships warping away by the time we could ever launch a direct assault." The Lieutenant nodded.

"So that's it." L'dar's voice rumbled. "Not a plan Kahless himself would've produced, but a good one I think."

"Any general that gave Kahless as many problems as Tor has given us met him in a duel." Ran'jar was growling, and there was an earnestness to it. "Tor refuses to be so accommodating."

"Old coward...." Torax's first's voice became a primal hiss that trailed off into silence. The quiet lingered for a moment, the collected officers staring blankly at briefing room table or at nothing at all.

"Commander, if I may ask..." Torax's voice was uncharacteristically hesitant. La'ra gave him a quick nod.

"After this is all done, if..when..we're successful, and we have our evidence, what do you intend to do with it? Turning it over to Internal Security wouldn't give the General any problems that would stop his treason, at least not permanently."

La'ra could see Ran'jar's frame tighten out of the corner of his eye. L'dar let out a heavy sigh. His own stomach was suddenly gripped with a slightly sick feeling, proof that he hadn't resolved himself complete in his earlier clash of conscience. These were fine officers he was plotting with. Officers far more honorable than the man he intended to trap in so disgusting a manner. What would they think of what he meant to do? It mattered to him a bit more than he'd have liked, and the truth was something they deserved.

"What I intend to do, Lieutenant..." He spoke lowly, forcing a little too much determination into his voice. "...is to take the evidence we obtain, and use it to force Tor to do everything he's neglected to do since he's been assigned as sector commander. Mostly policing this system, but also repairing and refitting the ship he's about to dismantle because the houses his own house sleeps with do not find me palatable." He paused for a long moment. Took a breath. "I'm going to blackmail him. I realize it is not the most honorable course of action."

Torax regarded him for a long moment, as if weighing his words. The gunner seemed impassive. The young Lieutenant's first officer grinned tightly, and he felt her hand squeeze his bicep.

"No, Commander, it isn't the most honorable course of action." The Lieutenant spoke slowly. "But it seems to me that General Tor has declared himself at war with you."

"'In war there is no greater honor than victory.'" The gunner quoted the old proverb icily, and the first officer squeezed his arm again. He could see Ran'jar and L'dar exchange a determined look. He nodded slowly. Their words reassured him, though he could still hear whispers of conscience.

"The Grau'mah will leave dock at start of first watch tomorrow." Torax related. "I'd consider it an honor if you would accompany us."

La'ra shook his head. "Thank you Lieutenant, but I'd prefer to be with my men. And the

Grau'mah is your ship, you don't need me pacing around with nothing to do."

"As you wish, my lord." Torax smiled. It was the first time he'd used the honorific.

La'ra felt a bit of rage grow, but he quashed it. Ran'jar and L'dar both tensed again.

"I head no house, Lieutenant. Do not call me that again."

"Yes, sir." Torax looked at him curiously, but he didn't ask why. La'ra gave him a smile.

"I'd best go see General Tor, and see if he can graciously loan me the use of a few of his pinnaces"

He didn't have to spend nearly so much staring at the darkened mass of his ship this time. Perhaps General Tor was more amiable towards him since La'ra had gotten a good chunk of his crew out of the station constabularyís hair, or perhaps he just wanted to get whatever business La'ra had over with so he could go back to things more worthy of his time. Either way, it was a short wait until the well-shaped administrative aide told him to go on in. He gave her another smile and ducked through the door.

Torax and company's words still repeated in his head, but the whisperings of his conscience grew louder by the moment. He was really going to commit blackmail? The fat fool deserved it but that wasn't the point. Would a warrior worthy of facing Captain Sharp again really stoop to such methods? The whispers grew to grumbles as he emerged in the General's chamber.

"Greetings, Commander." The old man leaned back in his chair, face flushed, his expression far too pleasant to be the one he used greeting La'ra. His armor, as ill fitting as it was far out of adjustment, and his hair was in a horrible state of repair. The slave girl was in the room as well. Naked, sprawled out on the disgusting couch Tor kept near the window. The way she was laying it was impossible for La'ra to ignore the generous gifts fortune had given her despite the vacuous look in her eyes. Her bruises were impossible to ignore as well, as they occupied most of her body, in locales even the rowdiest of Klingon lovers wouldn't have struck or bitten in the heat of passion. "What can I do for you?"

La'ra's conscience fell silent.

"Just an equipment request, General." He forced a snarl back down into his belly. "Nothing too pressing if this is an inconvenient time." Klingons acting on their passions were seldom gentle creature, but indulging in even restrained acts of affection was something to be done with spouses or lovers, not unwilling partners. And her wounds looked more as if they'd been the point rather than a side effect. He tossed a datapad onto the General's desk.

"Very well Commander, let's see if we can...." The General studied the form dutifully. La'ra looked at the girl. Her eyes seemed so vacant and yet they were a bit wet. Her pain had crept through whatever chemicals he gave her to make her more compliant. "...arrange what is you need. Assault craft? What's the reason for this request."

La'ra kept his voice calm, even. Miraculously. "Training, my lord. My new ship is atmosphere capable and I'd like the helmsmen I've retained to brush up on their atmospheric maneuvering." He knew what Orion slave girls were for. Who didn't? He'd never seen evidence of it until now.

"K-3's apparently have similar atmospheric flight characteristics to E4-class vessels, so I'd like to take them out for my officers to gnash their teeth on a little."

The General nodded, looking a little perplexed. "Why do you need three of them?" It wasn't enough that the disgusting bastard forced his 'affections' on her. He apparently took out his frustrations too. La'ra was not a fan of unearned slavery, and those who were sentenced to such should be mining resources for the Empire, not spreading their legs for this lecherous slug. He doubted the girl had been convicted of anything.

"Fuel cost, My Lord." Funny, it didn't hurt to call him that anymore. Just words to help bring about his punishment. "My engineer has assured me that using three craft with smaller loadouts will eat less hydrogen than one loaded down with myself and all my helm trained officers, At least in an atmosphere."

"Very astute...your engineer is to be commended." The old man nodded, chins rippling like waves in a pond. "Very well, your request is approved. Take the craft at your discretion and be sure to file a fuel consumption report with our resource management officer." He signed the request with an immense thumbprint and handed the datapad back to La'ra.

"Yes, My Lord." La'ra's stomach boiled. "Thank you."

"Of course Commander." The old man was already glancing back toward the pitiful Orion. La'ra's eyes had drifted that way too. The General noticed.

"Remarkable species, the Orions." He said, grin almost dripping with sadistic glee. "They don't break easily, though their stamina isn't what mine is."

"Yes My Lord." La'ra managed a smile, his mind picturing the General's throat open to the elements and pouring his lifeblood onto his wooden desk. "I've heard that."

"If you continue to be as cooperative as you have the past few days, perhaps I'll let you sample her." Tor laughed. "Dismissed, Commander, I was in the middle of something."

La'ra let a snakelike grin crawl onto his face, and wondered if the General knew if he was imagining gutting him. "Sounds quite enjoyable, My Lord. I'll leave you to your recreation." He'd turned to leave by the time the General began to chortle, for his face could remain impassive no longer. The door slid open, a booming snarl tearing out of his throat when it shut behind him.

The aide peered at him with wide eyes, and he gave her that same snakelike grin and he walked past.

Blackmail would be the least of what he was capable of doing to General Tor.

 

Part Three

The trio of assault craft glowed crimson as they slid down into the moon's dense atmosphere. The men on board were eager. They'd spent hours in the small assault craft, packed in and waiting.

Few knew the full story of why they were here. They knew that their commander was plotting, and whatever plan he'd come up with to rectify the wrong they'd been dealt involved killing enemies of the Empire. They knew their commander had made friends, and his friends had done whatever they had been supposed too. It mattered little to them what it was, even if they were curious. They'd know the entire tale eventually. The assault craft dropped into the lower atmosphere, staying perilously low as they raced over the grassy terrain. ***

The pirate installation wasn't an active place. The criminals did seem to have work to do, as various personnel walked to and from across the wide permacrete landing field while attending to unknown tasks. They were never in a hurry, but La'ra supposed they didn't have to be. The pirates undoubtedly knew the system's convoy scheduling and picked their targets like careful predators. Other than maintaining the three light raiders scattered across the mostly empty landing pad there was probably little to do, and La'ra didn't envy their boredom.

Of course if he'd been a pirate with a base of operations inside a system with a heavy Klingon naval presence he'd have had much better security. There were no remote sensors around the perimeter of the base, no real strongpoints to repel a ground assault from. Only sentries provided any warning against a surface attack, and they had been a bit lazy. All were dead now, mostly the victims of light-footed Klingons wielding dk'taghs. They'd sacrificed far too much for their secrecy, and they were about to pay the price for it. He was thankful for such, but a part of him growled in disappointment at the lack of a challenge. He slid his field glasses about the base one last time. The sentry's radio reports would be missed in less than three more minutes, a fact he knew due to an hour or so Ran'jar had spent monitoring the Orion's communications. It was time to move, but he still hoped to sight someone obviously in charge down there. A valuable prisoner. There was a man down there who the other criminals seemed to defer to. He walked with an arrogant swagger and gaudy, expensive clothing. La'ra knew he was not a likable man. Whatever his social skills, he seemed to be in charge, and La'ra made a note of his position. He'd be talking to that man soon. The binoculars went back in their case.

He made a quick arm motion, and thirty armed and armored Klingons began to crawl through the tall grass. He glanced at the man behind him and nodded, and the young officer keyed a prearranged signal into the communicator he held. An answering click returned almost instantly. There were two other thirty man teams besides the one La'ra lead. They were now converging on the unsuspecting pirates as well.

La'ra crawled forward, rifle cradled in his arms. Another prearranged code would tell the men he had manning his three photon mortars to open fire on the prefabricated buildings the Orions had erected away from the landing area. The same signal would inform the sharpshooters he'd positioned on some nearby high ground to do as he instructed and begin picking off any pirates who ventured near the entrance ramps of the Orion ships. It wasn't a complex plan. Three-side convergence with heavy weapon support. He'd come up with it hastily, though, and that gnawed at his belly. He wondered how many of his men would die today, and how many would be the fault of his too-quick planning. He reached the edge of the grass, past which lay the wide-open space of the landing field. Orions and their ilk still milled about it unawares, and he looked about for the gaudily dressed man. He could not see him, and drew a bead on a fellow standing lazily near some supply crates.

"Pah!" He bellowed out the command to fire, and a flurry of emerald beams burst from the grass surrounding him. His own rifle whined, spitting his target through the middle with a beam of jade energy and the man crumpled. The petty officer behind him screamed something into the mike of his beltpack communicator and the sound of incoming mortar fire began to rip through the air even as La'ra squeezed the trigger on another target.

"Advance!" He screamed the order at the top of his lungs and sprung up, charging forward with his rifle tight against his shoulder. His finger pulled madly at the trigger, letting loose a flurry of green bolts in the general direction of the pirates. Fully half of his men charged forward, doing the same, the rest remaining in the grass and dropping targets with precise fire. Fire came from their adversaries now, multicolored beams of various kinds of weapons lancing out from figures in the distance and places La'ra couldn't see. To his right a man screamed. He threw himself to the ground as his men did the same, his rifle spitting pulses out at various targets. He might've hit some, though most of the pirates not already fallen were behind cover now.

A series of explosions rattled his ears as the mortar's first volley pummeled their targets, but he kept firing. The other half of his men would be running forward now, firing wildly as his own wave of fifteen fired from their prone positions. He checked his fire as they ran past him, searching for hostiles over the sights of his gun. Two of his own men fell not far ahead of him, and he sent a deluge of white-hot bursts of energy in the direction of their assailants. Soon he was up and running again, more explosions ripping through the air and the mortars pounded the Orion's little village and little fire seemed to be flying at him. Most of the pirates who'd survived had made it into the ships no doubt. A trail of bodies near the landing ramp of the closest proved that his sharpshooters had foiled many of their attempts to flee. A quick flash of purple caught his eye. The gaudily dressed man, running in a group with several of his compatriots toward the closest ship. He sent a few shots their way; a sharpshooter on the overlooking hill halted three of them. The rest disappeared into their craft, and he bellowed orders for some of his men to follow. He wasn't sure of which names he spoke, or why his voice seemed so raspy.

He bolted for the raider, four of his men following.

A few criminals had taken cover behind the little ship's landing gear, and he heard one of his men fall when their weapons spoke. His own rifle hissed, blasting out more jade pulses, and his men followed suit. He wasn't sure if he'd hit anyone, but the fire ceased, and his boots pounded against the hard concrete as he neared the ramp. A grenade was snatched off his combat webbing, and he flung it into the ship's yawning hatch with a lazy throw. More than one of his men had the same idea, and several dull thumps shook the boarding ramp and his ears as the sonic grenades detonated.

Four strides brought him into the ship. The airlock at the end of the ramp was a blackened mess, and two mangled bodies showed that the grenades hadn't been wasted. His men were behind him, three, plus five more he hadn't known ran with him. He yelled something, an order, and the quintet of unexpected leapt out of the airlock, off to the engine room while he and his three warriors raced down the narrow corridors toward the bridge. Men appeared in front of him, rifles and pistols and knives at the ready, though they didn't manage to fire before the onrushing Klingons slammed into them. Rifles had been discarded already, for the most part, and blades flashed. La'ra leapt to the side as some purplish beam lanced past him, his own rifle clattering to the ground as his right hand snatched the gnarly lepta bark club from his back and brought it down on his assailants skull with a surprisingly loud crunch. Another blow raced in toward his face, a rifle stock that was stopped dead by the thick wood of his cudgel. He twisted his wrist, spinning the club around to impact with the attacking woman's chin. She staggered back, fazed but bringing her rifle back in line with him. His left hand yanked one of his two disruptor pistols from its holster, and a flash of green lit the hallway. His rifle had been set for stun, the better to secure prisoners, but the pistol wasn't, and the woman collapsed with a smoldering hole in her abdomen. The fight raged on around him, and he searched for more prey. Another bit of purple teased the corner of his eye and he looked up to see the gaudily dressed man ducking into what could only be the bridge hatch. He surged forward, pursuing the man. Another pirate appeared in front of him but crumpled as La'ra's knobby forehead slammed into his skull. A few quick strides took the massive commander to the doorway, and he almost leapt through.

The gaudily dressed man stood above some unidentifiable panel. La'ra's finger almost squeezed his pistols trigger, but an impulse stopped him. The man looked up with frantic eyes, which widened as he took in La'ra's massive frame. He lunged toward a button on the panel. La'ra's aim adjusted a hairís breadth and an emerald bolt leapt from his pistol, the white-hot pulse blasting through the gaudy man's hand and impacting the panel, which exploded into a shower of sparks and flaming metal. The gaudy man fell, clutching his charred stump of a hand, legs kicking wildly as he screamed in agony. La'ra adjusted his weapons setting, and another, lesser-powered shot blasted the man into unconsciousness.

The thudding of his eight chambered heart was louder than the muffled explosions from outside, and the sounds of combat down the hallway had ceased. His breath came in heavy gulps, eye darting around the bridge. There was a man behind him, but he stopped himself from raising his disruptor and firing. It was his radioman. He'd stayed with his commander the entire way and now stood wide-eyed in the bridge hatch, bloody dk'tagh still clutched in his hand. La'ra hadn't noticed how young the enlisted man was when he'd handed him the battlefield com and told him to stay with him. He clapped the younger man on the shoulder, grinning ferally.

"You've done well Woram. It takes a fast man to keep up with my impetuousness."

The petty officer nodded, swallowing, eyes still darting nervously about room. La'ra understood that. His own blood still blazed, and he'd seen far more battles than Woram. Footsteps echoed from the hallway, and his men burst into the control center.

"Secure the area." La'ra realized, speaking the order, that his voice was hoarse and he wondered absently how much he'd been screaming. "Guard the bridge approaches, some inventive souls might try to destroy the ship like this patach did. Leave a man with him." He gestured to his unconscious victim. The highest ranked of his men nodded curtly, and began bellowing orders to various people La'ra grumbled. He could dimly hear explosions from outside and he'd yet to hear from the men he'd sent to engineering or the teams tasked to taking the other raiders. Fighting went on. Time to find it again.

"Petty Officer Kortak reports engineering section secure, sir." Woram had been speaking into the mike of his com. La'ra nodded and motioned for the younger man to follow.

The trip back down the hall was much easier despite the bodies laying in it. The sounds of violence grew as they approached the boarding hatch. A quick glance out it told La'ra there were no Orions lurking in the immediate area. He scooped a pair of discarded rifles off the deck, checked their charges quickly. He tossed one to Woram even as he sprinted down the ramp. The landing area seemed sedate after what'd been happening there a minute or two before, and La'ra soon found himself huddled behind a nameless crate, trying to get a grasp of the situation. Plenty of his men were firing, but it was directed toward the cluster of buildings his mortars were still pounding. There weren't enough of his men visible to account for even half his force, but there weren't enough Klingon bodies for things to have turned truly nightmarish. The must be taking the other two cruisers. He hoped Ran'jar and L'dar were doing well. He glanced out again, just as Woram slammed breathlessly into the crate next to him. Little to no fire came from the ruined buildings.

"Order mortars to cease fire. Everyone cease fire unless they see a hostile target."

Woram radioed the order twice before the explosions tapered off. He could hear a variety of Klingon voices echoing across the landing area, and rifle fire began to falter, then halted. Place was remarkably quiet when no one was firing at anyone.

"Order confirmed, sir." Woram's voice was still pitched higher than usual, but he was staying calm. "Lieutenant's Ran'jar and L'dar report objectives taken."

La'ra growled as a sudden sense of victory overtook him. "Tell them good work, and then try and find the Orions frequency. I want to talk to whoever's in charge now." His glanced around the crate cautiously. No need getting his head blown off by a quick to react sniper.

"Never mind that last bit." He told Woram. "It won't be necessary." Men were emerging from the Orions blasted compound. Unarmed men with their hands held high.

La'ra's face contorted in a hyena-like grin. Victory was sweeter than any drug Tor's ill-gotten latinum could buy.

The Orions had been earnest in their desire to surrender. Most had been too shell-shocked to actively resist anymore. Those that weren't had known they'd lost when their ships had failed to explode. They probably didn't know that only one of the ship commanders had attempted to destroy his vessel. Good for the Orions, as they only one that'd tried it had ended up without a left hand.

Cool water from his canteen washed down La'ra's throat. He was still hoarse from long minutes of battle cries and air thick with the ozone left by energy weapon fire. He felt good despite the soreness in his muscles and throat. He always did after a successful battle. Even now he could close his eyes and feel hot blood running through his veins, and he did so, leaning against the same crate he and Woram had ended up behind. There was a net hanging above it now, a camouflage one that'd been concealing one of the assault craft until a few hours before. It served well for shade, and he needed the relief from the heat. He still wore ceramic plate armor over his torso and upper legs, the same combat armor so many of his warriors grumbled about when he ordered them into it. Before the battle, at least. Klingons were willing to die in battle, and there was no better death for them to meet, but it wasn't something to seek out unnecessarily. The armor they sometimes said was cowardly had saved all but ten of them from death. Twenty had sustained serious wounds.

La'ra sighed. Ten of his crew dead. They'd died well, but it was still something to regret. He knew all their names. Terak, Eran, J'ram, Kahl, Seris, Korel, Keral, Marak, Kol, and Rakal. Seris stung more than the others. The death of a woman hit him harder than that of a man, and it always would. But all the deaths burned. Still, they'd died in battle, and bravely. He would sing songs of them and their deaths would be that much more reason to enjoy what he did to General Tor.

He'd spent much time after the battle organizing search teams and giving orders for this and that. Most of his men had rested, but he had not, and now he was stealing a few moments what passed for his command tent. He didn't like standing idle while his men worked, but he knew better than to push himself. There was still much to be done. Captured equipment needed to be inventoried, prisoners needed interrogated, computer cores were to be decrypted, and a million other tasks needed to be performed. None of them were his job, and at this moment he was regretting it.

There was still much to not regret though. He was alive, and so was most of his crew. He'd see tomorrow. He thought of Torax's First Officer. Remarkable little firebrand, that one. Maybe tomorrow he'd smack her across the face, and pray she took it as the invitation he'd intend it as. If she mistook it for something more hostile he didn't doubt the fight would be well worth remembering. Whether it was lusty passions or an earnest brawl, he'd be alive tomorrow to enjoy it.

"Captured inventory list, sir." A bold young Ensign had appeared next to him. Grimbek, his secondary gunner. The young officer grinned at him, and La'ra took the datapad he offered. "Most of it is our equipment. Even their food synthesizers."

"Just as we'd thought." La'ra scanned the list quickly. The missiles on the list matched those that had disappeared off the Yu'kal. "Well done, Ensign. Return to your duties." Grimbek saluted, walked away.

There was much more on the list than missiles, just as the Ensign had said. Not a sign of the freighter crews that'd had their ships captured. The crews were Klingons, and would have resisted no doubt, but some surely had been wounded or stunned or whatever. No trace of them. General Tor's friends were a murderous lot.

Tor. How to get him. Ample evidence of Orion collaborators had been seized, but so far nothing to implicate anyone but the captain of the Yu'kal had been dug up. He'd need an Orion who knew of the arrangement to talk. Probably the Gaudy man knew, but how much he'd resist interrogation was an unknown factor. Klingons were not masters of the art of the questioner. They practiced neither the subtle mind games of the Romulans nor the mind-numbing chemical magic used by the Federation. Some captains saw fit to equip their ships with mind rippers, or use those ridiculous agonizer booths for torture, but neither was truly reliable. La'ra would've found torture more palatable had the results been consistent. They weren't, and he wondered how he was going to get the man to talk. He took another sip from his canteen. Water was better than bloodwine, sometimes.

Bloodwine...

His slow, hyenaish grin sprang up again just as Ran'jar entered the tent. His first officer gave him the same inquisitive look he always did whenever La'ra's face twisted into that expression.

"Doctor Ker'lan says our guest of honor has awoken." The Lieutenant said slowly, face impassive. "He wishes to know what we want to do with him."

La'ra rose, still grinning, and clapped his first officer on the shoulder.

"Tell him the man deserves some refreshment. The galaxy's oldest pain killer."

La'ra didn't even have to look at his ship this time. The well-formed aide squawked in protest, but he ignored her and yanked the manual release on the General's door despite her threats of calling for help. The door churned open as always, too slow for La'ra's taste. Had it not been thick metal he would've kicked it down.

General Tor leaped up as La'ra entered. Up off his couch, or more properly off his Orion. He bellowed something La'ra didn't understand. He kept talking as La'ra turned, shoved the aide back out of Tor's ridiculous office and closed the door again. The General's robe was open. He was far more well-endowed than La'ra would've thought. La'ra grinned at him as he stood there half naked demanding to know the cause of this intrusion and shouting vile threats as loudly as his massive lungs could manage.

At some point the General noticed La'ra's amusement and pulled his silk garment closed, but his tirade continued, chins rippling with astonishing speed.

"Commander, this lack of respect is unacceptable! Is this the kind of discipline you promote in your men? Look at you, you're as filthy as a..." The General's words trailed off. He was right, actually. La'ra was being quite disrespectful, and he was in fact filthy since he'd never changed out of the combat armor he'd wore hours before he'd arrived back at the station. Why the General stopped shouting when he'd been correct more times than he had been in the past year was beyond La'ra. The fact that La'ra's left hand was gripping the hilt of his disruptor pistol surely couldn't have anything to do with it.

"General," he spoke slowly, clearly, and his eyes were locked on Tor's. "My crew has aided Lieutenant Torax in an operation against a band of local pirates. I think you'll find my report on the incident interesting." His free hand pulled a datatape out of a convent pocket and he launched it onto Tor's desk with a flick of his wrist.

The General's eyes had widened when Orions were mentioned. He even got a little pale. He got even paler when he popped the tape into a datapad and began to read. Orions were hard to force information out of at times, but not arrogant Orions who lead their own highly successful operations and who had a tendency to brag when drunk. The doctor's injection of alcohol into the man's bloodstream hadn't loosened his lips as much as La'ra would have liked, but not much was required. Enough to record at least, and have to Orion listen to when sober. The purple pirate had been remarkably cooperative when he knew he'd already betrayed his cartel and accomplices, and that the Klingons were the only people who could save his life. It was no wonder that the General was amazed at the details the pirate had given.

Tor tried to speak. He probably thought La'ra was about to kill him, but he was wrong. La'ra only wished he could kill him and still have a few things put in order. He couldn't, and the old man's disgrace would half to suffice.

"That is of course an unedited report, General." La'ra's grin couldn't get any wider. It stayed even when he noticed the fresh bruises on the Orion girl. He hoped she was lucid enough to realize what was happening. "I'll probably change a few things before I submit a revised copy."

Tor looked up with wild, suddenly hopeful eyes. He'd give La'ra anything he wanted, that much was apparent.

"You had some..." Tor swallowed hard. "...suggestions, Commander?"

La'ra took a few swaggering steps, pacing back and forth and grinning as hard as he could.

"As a matter of fact I do, General. Several."

"Well, I can't grant any requests I don't hear, Commander."

La'ra nodded, as if conversing with a man who wasn't a treasonous collaborator. His eyes kept drifting to the Orion girl though. She seemed to be at least partially aware, and she kept licking her dry, bleeding lips. La'ra took a few steps toward her. Her eyes were a beautiful shade of violet, and they looked upon him with fear.

"First of all General, it's become apparent to me that Lieutenant Torax and his ship are seriously overworked." He watched the General out of the corner of his eye, but most of his attention was on the girl. He knelt in front of her. "He desperately needs reinforcement. I'd suggest you send for some more police ships immediately. In the meantime, the Sekíleth has finished her refit. I think you have enough personnel to have her manned and operational in a day or two. She'd be a big help to him, and his first officer would make a fine escort commander."

"Good suggestion, Commander...I believe I'll..." Tor's voice was rough. The old man was in pain, though not the physical sort. La'ra would've enjoyed it more had his fingers not been stroking a fresh bruise on the slave's emerald skin. She flinched, and he moved his hand away. "...see to that."

"Good for you, General. It's refreshing to see a flag officer so open to suggestions from his subordinates." The girl's lips were so very dry. Probably a side effect from whatever he'd been drugging her with. "Since I'm here I'd also suggest you put the Lieutenant in line for a promotion and a new command. Maybe a frigate. A well-refitted F5 would make an excellent ship to command this system's security from."

The General nodded. "Another good suggestion." Tor's voice was a bit less desperate now.

Maybe he thought La'ra was being merciful or restricting his requests to things not as disastrous to the General's life as he'd initially feared.

"Also.." La'ra pulled the canteen from his belt and unscrewed the lid. The Orion wasn't so drugged as to not realize she was thirsty. He had to help her a bit, holding the container steady her own hands poured the precious liquid into her mouth. "...the pirates we hit had several slaves. Slavery of the type they advocate is a dishonorable practice. I believe a sector-wide restriction on such activity would be in order."

Tor actually gasped, but La'ra went on.

"General, your servant here seems to be in poor health." The girl had drunk her fill. She gave La'ra a baffled look. Even drugged, her eyes were beautiful. "I believe she needs medical attention. Perhaps you should let my surgeon look over her and allow her to recuperate somewhere a bit less stressful than a military outpost."

The noise Tor made was strangled, and La'ra looked his direction. The fat old bastard was red faced. Fuming. He probably thought La'ra last 'request' was just to hurt him.

"Do you not agree with this suggestion, General?" The Commander's eyes were dangerous.

Red as a culpta pepper, the old man did in fact manage to speak. "I'll see to it." was all he forced out.

La'ra nodded, looking back to the Orion. Her bruises covered so much of her body...it'd be weeks before any doctor would think of allowing her to travel. It didn't matter. She'd recover under Ker'lan's care, and then she could go anywhere she wanted. He'd suggest Federation territory to her. It be easiest for her to find a place there.

"Also, General, you don't seem to be in very good health either." This was the part meant to hurt him. At least partially. The Empire would benefit as well. "I'd say, with your advanced age that you should consider retirement. Your wife and family would probably be overjoyed to see you home on a more permanent basis." La'ra's only regret in this whole matter was sending the old fool home to whatever unfortunate woman he'd talked into marrying him.

"Commander, I rather think that I..." Another withering look from La'ra stopped his protest. "You're right of course. I've been considering such, and I am beginning to suffer for my devotion to duty."

La'ra snorted at that, but his eyes stayed locked on the Orion. She smiled at him. It was a pretty smile, even with swollen lips. He returned it with an expression far gentler than the smiles he gave Tor.

"Is there anything else, Commander?" Tor's voice dripped venom.

La'ra paused. He could think of little else. Tor was too cowardly to kill himself before enacting La'ra's suggestions, and he probably suspected that the evidence of his involvement would be used against his family even if he did have the courage to end his life honorably. This system would be policed again, Torax and his officers would be given the respect and commands they deserved, and the Empire would not have this greedy, lecherous, fool running an important sector. There would be a life saved as well, a woman who'd never asked for anything that'd been given her. He'd done for others. It was time to get just a little bit for himself. He gave the Orion a conspiratorial grin, and turned, showing his fangs to Tor.

"Actually, General, there is one more thing...."

The IKV Hiv'laposh rumbled through space, her aged hull mended and whole. She wasn't the same ship La'ra'd brought home almost a month before, for weeks of refit tended to transform even the most stubborn of vessels. Oh, she was still a crotchety bitch of a vessel, apt to argue with even the strictest master, but there was power in the old cruiser now, a deadliness even an opponent in a more modern vessel couldn't afford to ignore.

Commander La'ra could feel her power through the deck as he paced about her bridge. Her deadliness he admired with an occasional grin directed at his weapons officer, who felt spoiled with all the new claws he'd been given. The gunner had talked for hours about the advantages of the new focusing systems for the primary phasers, how they were now the equal of the deadly energy weapons of Federation vessels. Useless babble since La'ra knew such already, but he'd been hearing similar poems of praise from L'dar concerning the engines or Ran'jar about the communications equipment or Ker'lan about the vastly improved medical facilities. The list went on with no end, but he grinned whenever he recalled such a conversation. The Hiv'laposh, the ship no one had expected him to take, the ship he'd commanded against the best the Federation had to offer and brought him home besides, was his again. There were newer, faster, and bigger ships in the fleet, but as far as he was concerned, his was the queen of the spaceways. La'ra snickered when he remembered some bit of Federation propaganda. Something about older Klingon vessels having recreation and even toilet facilities removed to house more efficient weapons. As if there wasn't plenty of room for anything you could possibly need after pulling out those old bulky reactors...there was a tub in his quarters even his seven-foot frame could fit in. His chuckle transformed into a laugh.

There were other reasons for his good spirits. General Tor had gracefully retired, going home to grow fruit for bloodwine and spend time with his family, or so he'd announced. His replacement was no fonder of La'ra, but whereas Tor was treasonous and greedy, Brigadier Jark was competent and devoted. A warrior worthy of respect. Some part of La'ra's Klingon soul was pained that Tor lived, but the dissatisfaction was but a whisper.

Orion activity in the system had dropped dramatically since the Grau'mah and his men had conducted their operation. La'ra had arranged for Torax to take most of the credit, but there was still another victory on his record as well. In the weeks following, Torax's ship and the Sek'leth had got a convoy through with no losses, and there'd been no hint of pirate activity since. Torax's gunner had ended up with the Sek'leth, which annoyed La'ra a bit since Torax's First..Mar'sa..should have been next in line for a command. She was more than capable, but the simple fact was that the Klingon Navy was more demanding of its female officers. Still, she'd have her own command someday, for she was not a woman to be ignored, as the scorching little messages she kept relaying to him electronically proved. He wished they'd gotten enough time together for him to issue his invitation. He'd see her again, or so he hoped.

He didn't hope to see the Orion girl again. He'd talked to her some, and she seemed a pleasant woman, but he still hoped to never be in her presence again. She'd taken his advice and headed into Federation territory on a freighter who's captain La'ra knew to be trustworthy. If La'ra had his way she'd find something worthwhile to do and meet a human she found interesting. They'd call each other those ridiculous pet names humans came up with and make lots of half-breed babies, far from border areas or other cauldrons of strife. He hoped she never joined Starfleet. Having to face her across a battlefield would be disquieting. Still, there were worse things for her to do with her life. He wondered for a moment what an Orion-Human hybrid's skin color would be like.

Not a bad bit of effort, he admitted to himself. All was not right with the universe, and never would be, but he liked to think he'd straightened this little snippet of it out of bit. Small victories could win big wars. A voice broke him from his reverie.

"All stations report ready for warp speed, Commander." Ran'jar was speaking formally. He was enjoying being home as well. "The Sek'leth and the Grau'mah are requesting permission to break from formation." Torax and his former gunner had insisted on escorting the Hiv'laposh out of the system, as if a D6K needed an escort.

"Tell them request granted, and to behave themselves until we get back."

Ran'jar's face tightened into a half-grin as he relayed the message. Given his usual control while on the bridge he must've been truly amused.

"They say they'll try, and wish us good fortunes. They're breaking formation."

"On visual." La'ra watched as his screen altered view. The two vessels that seemed so much like predatory birds split off from their escort positions and sped away, the crimson glow of their impulse drives receding in the distance. He sighed, but it was a contented noise.

"We're clear of the Gas'kovan system, sir." Ran'jar informed him. La'ra smiled his toothy smile.

"Take us back home, helm. Warp factor five."

 

- The End -

 

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Last modified: 10 Apr 2012 
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