The Klingon command center bustled with activity as Wu and Leone were escorted to where Brigadier Gan’Louk was conferring with a number of harried looking logistics officers.
The general was delineating orbital paths on a three-dimensional wire-frame hologram of Alanthal’s immediate vicinity in-system. “The survivors from the ships we lost will need integrated into the crews of intact vessels that suffered the greatest losses,” the general ordered. “Scavenge whatever weapons and equipment we can from the wrecks and set them adrift in high orbit. We can use their hulls as bulk repair material for any future damage sustained by our larger warships.”
He dismissed his subordinates and turned to face the new arrivals. “Commander Wu, a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” The large Klingon extended a hand to her in an unusually human gesture.
Wu shook the hand firmly, concealing her surprise well. “Thank you, sir.” She gestured to Dominic. “This is Lieutenant Leone, our chief security/tactical officer.”
Gan’Louk inclined his head towards Leone. “We’ve met, though not officially,” he said, referencing the earlier unpleasantness with Lar’ragos. “You did well to hold your ground without inviting a response from my soldiers, Lieutenant. It is not easy to stand by and watch a well-regarded superior self-destruct.”
Leone began to reply, but Wu silenced him with a raised hand as she answered, “The incident with our captain was unfor—“
“There is no need for human apologies,” Gan’Louk interjected. “And my issues with Lar’ragos are personal in nature, not professional. He and I will settle matters between us at a later date. Until then, we have a job to do here, wouldn’t you agree, Commander?”
“Yes, sir.” Wu answered smartly.
Gan’Louk traced lines in the air with a finger, changing the holographic image to reveal four triangular markers set at equidistant orbital points around Alanthal. “We’ve identified what we believe to be four Amon satellites. Though our sensor resolution is not as fine as your ship’s, we Klingons have over a century of experience with cloaking technology.”
“Sir,” Wu interjected. “May I ask as to the nature of your presence here? We’ve not yet received updated orders from Galaxy Station.”
“All of Taskforce Vanguard’s available ships were already tasked to other vital missions,” Gan’Louk explained without a hint of annoyance. “I volunteered the Klingon Expeditionary Force to go in search of Europa
, as well as attempt to carry out your mission in your absence, should we fail to locate you.”
“I see, sir,” Wu offered.
“So, yes, we have the official authorization of Admiral T’Cirya to be here, Commander,” Gan’Louk added with just a hint of a smile. “After all, we in the Empire know how secretive the Federation has been about this threat to the entire
“My query was intended only to gauge the level of cooperation I’m able to offer in the absence of direct orders, General.”
Gan’Louk replied with a dry, “Of course,” before adjusting the holographic image to now include the ring of debris Wu had observed from Europa
. “The attack fleets of the Briari and the Mok had already engaged in a battle for domination over the planet when we decloaked. I offered both species the chance to surrender peaceably. Fortunately for us, they were too foolish to accept my generous proposal.” He directed a toothy grin at Wu. “Pity there was nobody here to inform them that Klingon mercy is almost a contradiction in terms.”
“Both groups were completely destroyed?” Leone inquired.
“Not entirely. The Briari formation fled along their original course, yet at only one-third their previous strength. The Mok proved more stubborn. The few thousands of them that survived our onslaught have been settled on a marginally Class-M moon in orbit of the system’s second planet.”
Wu drank in the graphic, asking, “No sign of the Amon as yet, I presume?”
“No,” Gan’Louk confirmed with a detectable hint of regret in his voice. “However, with the slaughter of the Briari and Mok, we must have filled their energy reservoirs to near bursting. They will come soon enough.”
“And if they don’t?” Leone asked.
“Then we’ll employ Starfleet’s tactic of threatening the collection arrays themselves.”
Leone let out a slow breath. “Because that worked so well for everyone last time…”
* * *
“Defensive screens have failed!” barked the weapons officer, blood leaking out from under his combat helmet.
“What the four hells are they?” the archon gasped as he clutched the arm of his command chair against the listing deck as the warship’s inertial dampeners began to fail.
“They… they are Borg, Archon!” cried a green recruit sensor officer, his voice cracking with panic.
The Archon knew of the Borg, the scourge of the Delta Quadrant, having once glimpsed one of their tactical spheres at the edge of the Righteous Hammer’s
sensor range. As a young novile the cruiser to which he was assigned responded to a Krowtonan colony that had been attacked by the Borg, only to find the settlement and everyone it contained had been scooped off the face of the world.
The Borg were a force of nature; plodding, patient, advancing inexorably until their opponent had ground down, overwhelmed and assimilated. Whoever was attacking the Krowtonan homeworld in the guise of the Collective were a passionate people, and if his senses were not deceiving him, they they harbored a vicious streak that rivaled that of his own race.
Another salvo of corkscrewing missiles slashed from the nearest facet of the cube, punching through the screens of a half-dozen other Krowtonan warships, sundering all but one of them as the archon looked on in horror. Collimated beams of brilliant white scorched across the mighty orbital shipyards, blasting apart those vessels unfortunate enough to have been at anchor when this assault began.
“Route all remaining emergency power to the engines,” the archon ordered. “Our lives are forfeit, so long as our gods and our nation survive!”
“Collision course set,” the helmsman announced without hesitation, prompting a swell of pride in the archon’s chest.
“Prepare to execute.” The archon punched a series of coordinates into his display with a shaking hand. “Bring us to this course, to maximize our angle of impact against the cube’s nearest face.”
As Righteous Hammer
maneuvered into position, a passing missile fractured into twenty independent disks, each one affixing itself to the cruiser’s shield bubble at equidistant intervals along the deflector’s perimeter. They emitted a focused gravimetric pulse that the shields failed to recognize as hostile, and allowed to pass through the barrier. Once inside, however, the pulses overlapped and combined, creating a brief, nanosecond-long flux that instantly liquefied all organic tissue within the vessel.
now drifted, sans crew, a lifeless tribute to the macabre genius of Amon weapons design.
* * *
The Fire Eaters of the Krowtonan Guard burned in what at least some of their many victims must have savored as an especially ironic death.
Dozens of their mighty warships drifted, some smashed beyond operability and others beyond recognition. The great conflagrations on the planet below raged so mightily that they could be seen from orbit as plumes of ash-laden smoke stabbed the sky and were swept across vast swaths of land and sea by the planet’s trade winds.
The Krowtonan Ascendancy was an autocratic theocracy that had spread from a single world to encompass hundreds of star systems. Trillions of sentient beings now lived and died under the merciless specter of the Krowtonan pantheon of deities. Those species which could not grasp the grandeur of the Krowtonans' gods because of their biological or cultural makeup had been wiped from the faces of their respective worlds in successive waves of bloody jihad in order to make room for those more malleable in their beliefs.
The dreaded Fire Eaters, the elite of the Krowtonan Guards forces, fancied themselves religious warriors whose ferocity was gifted them by these same gods. They held themselves to be the finest combatants in the galaxy, having never before met their match.
Zeischt of the Amon directed the assault on the Krowtonan homeworld with a surgical level of precision. The mighty Amon cube devastated all ships and orbital installations in range while cadres of Amon warriors transported to the surface to engage the Krowtonan Guard in close-quarters-combat.
The newly ensconced Amon BattleMaster was flanked by a dour Vulcan, the Starfleet Lieutenant Verrik, who watched the pitched battle with undisguised distaste.
The millennia-old Warlord Jalahar looked on silently as his protégé unlimbered the full might of their tribe’s weaponry for the first time in centuries. He remained unsure and suspicious of the newcomer’s motives, but Jalahar could not deny the new energy that Zeischt and his companions had brought to the Amon people.
Zeischt toggled a close up of the gravitic pulse weapon’s deployment against Righteous Hammer
, musing to himself, “I’d call that a successful test.”
“Another of your weaponized horrors?” Verrik asked with poorly disguised contempt.
“Careful, Lieutenant,” Zeischt chided lightly. “You might have an emotional episode if you keep carrying on this way.” He spared the reticent Vulcan a quick glance. “You know who these people are and what they represent. The crimes that the Krowtonan people have visited upon their subjects are nearly equal to the depredations of the Husnock.”
“And so you kill them for what? Sport?” Verrik accused.
“This tribe has not had to enter into direct combat in centuries, while our enemy has been sharpening their teeth against some of the Alpha Quadrant’s most potent nations. If they were within our range, I’d have attacked the Dominion. The Jem’Hadar would have made for an excellent opponent. As it is, we’ve had to settle for the Krowtonan Guard.”
Verrik replied, “Despots often try to legitimize their actions, striving for moral equivocation.”
Without looking in Verrik’s direction, Zeischt asked, “Tell me, Lieutenant, are you more unsettled at the fact that we’re toppling a sadistic theocracy, or that a Vulcan is leading the invasion force on the surface?”
Verrik elected not to reply, and instead turned his attention to the holograms of the pathetically one-sided space battle raging above the planet.
Zeischt triggered the comms, opening communication with their primary planetary invasion contingent. “WarCom to BattleLeader One, do you copy?”
A’lasha’s voice came in clearly, tinged with authentic glee as her forces sliced through the stunned Krowtonan opposition in the now crumbling streets of their capitol city. “What’cha got for me, Sandy?”
Zeischt couldn’t help but smile at the Vulcan woman’s persistent flippancy. “You’re really trying to make me regret my giving you a physical body again, aren’t you?”
The woman’s laugh carried across the comms. “Absolutely, BattleMaster. Look upon your works, ye mighty, and despair!”
“Well, when you’re done insulting the poetry of my birth world, be advised that you should expect stiffer resistance as your forces approach the Citadel. Comms intercepts indicate they’ve pulled back into defensive positions, rather than coming into the streets to meet your approach.”
“That would explain why we’ve met so little push back the last few kilometers. You promised me hyper-religious zealots dying with the names of their sundry gods on their lips.”
Zeischt laughed lightly. “You weren’t complaining when you beamed into the midst of their celebratory parade. I’ll say this for you; you know how to make an entrance.”
“The revolution will be televised, motherfuckers!”
A’lasha cackled as her troop skimmer slalomed between burning skyscrapers.
“You’re about two kilometers from their holiest of holies, BattleLeader. Odds are, you’ll find the fanaticism you’ve been looking for.”
“And what should I do with this Oticulon artifact when I’ve pried it from their cold, dead hands?”
“Desecrate it,” Zeischt replied. “Use your imagination. The more horrific the better. I want the Krowtonan’s slave species to see how vulnerable their overlords actually are, and how their vaunted gods didn’t intercede to save them.”
“One act of breathtaking religious sacrilege coming up, oh exalted BattleMaster. And yes, I’m twirling my hair around my finger like a mischievous Terran schoolgirl when I call you that. I trust you’ll discipline me later.”
Zeischt snorted as he moved to terminate the comlink. “WarCom most definitely… out.”
He turned to face Verrik’s scalding expression. “You know, I think I’m really more of a fan of the Classic Vulcan mindset. No offense intended.”
* * *