Encounter at Gamma Demetrius—with John M. Ford Klingons The tale of Federation-Klingon First Contact

Jedi Marso

Rear Admiral
Rear Admiral

“In 2218, under the command of Captain Frances Benoit, the USS Sentry made contact with the Klingon starship IKV Devisor while responding to a distress call from a small, warp-capable shuttlecraft of unknown markings. “

-Memory Beta

As all Star Trek fans know, there are multiple timelines out there in which events can vary from minute alterations up to massive changes where the ‘Borg are everywhere’ and the Federation we know no longer exists at all. In that spirit, this is an alternate tale that tells the story of a cusp event in Federation history the way it was originally imagined, in a Trek-verse less advanced than the one we saw stemming from later TV and movie productions. Its premise is rooted in the Memory Beta entry above, itself paraphrased from earlier literary works in the Trek-verse such as “The Spaceflight Chronology” and John M. Ford’s “The Final Reflection.”

In this version, the Trek-verse of 2218 is a wilder, less advanced place than canon works make it out to be. Dilithium and its power-channeling effects are still more than two decades in the future, rendering top warp speeds at slightly less than Warp 5. Phasers and photon torpedoes do not yet exist, and deflector shield technology is still under development. Materializer technology (later known as the Transporter) is still under research and development, and that only for the earliest versions used for inanimate cargo. The Federation is still in its infancy, barely more than half a century old since the end of the Romulan War and its incorporation in 2161.

Concerning the Klingons…

The Klingons of the Star Trek canon are centered around a warrior culture and code like Bushido, but this was supplanted in ST VI by Klingons patterned after Soviet Russians, complete with cold war references such as the ‘gulag’ and ‘listening posts,’ Russian accents, and the obvious parallels between Chernobyl and Praxis. These were changes that many considered apocryphal, shoehorned in to make the movie work as an allegory for the years immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’ve gone a third direction with the Klingons: In this story, you will find Klingons and a Klingon Empire based on John M. Ford’s novel The Final Reflection. That is my favorite Star Trek novel of all time, and in my opinion, Mister Ford wrote the definitive version of the Klingon race long before Star Trek: The Next Generation redefined them as a species. If you have read Ford’s novel, you will find these Klingons very familiar.
Encounter at Gamma Demetrius


Two Klingon officers of the Imperial race shared a table in the otherwise empty officer’s mess of IKV Devisor. One stared glumly into the metal cup of fruit nectar he was almost finished drinking. “Khest’n Orions!” he swore, half under his breath. “If they get away from us with that Vulcan, it’ll be our heads!”

“Careful,” the other growled, his voice taking on a warning tone. Kuss was Devisor’s head of security, but that was no shield against treasonous talk. The mess was always under surveillance, just like every other area of the ship, and one of his own subordinates was always monitoring the station. There was little doubt that one of his people would relish the opportunity to listen in on a ‘private’ conversation between himself and the ship’s first officer. Kuss carried an interference device he could switch on to ensure their words weren’t overheard, but doing so was itself a red flag indicating possible treasonous activity. Better to moderate his friend’s words than to generate any sort of suspicion that might be reported behind his back to the captain.

“Well, you know the G’dayt captain won’t take any blame if we lose them!” Kenal hissed vehemently. “His line is favored by the emperor—”

Careful!” Kuss snapped, rapping his own cup hard against the table for emphasis.


Enough!” Kuss growled, showing the tips of his fangs through his scowl. “This line of conversation ends now, exec. You and I know why we were assigned to this pursuit. The Vulcan will spend the short remainder of his life in the agony booth when we catch him, and he’ll only be allowed to die when the emperor’s interrogators know everything his master entrusted to him.”

Kenal vestai Mrusht let out a short bark of laughter. “What else does the emperor need to know? The House of Atax is no more—the emperor slew the zantai Atax by his own hand!”

Kuss leaned in slightly, grinning sardonically. “You need to start thinking like a security officer, or Imperial Intelligence,” he growled softly, still showing his fang-tips. “That line is gone, but they had allies, you can be sure. Their eradication was no surprise, thus far from complete. There was time for the one to adopt out his favorite heirs, others to strike out on their own and found new lines, hide wealth, and arrange for the survival of valued servants. Many loose ends, all of which will conspire with old Atax allies against the throne.”

“I doubt the zantai Atax planned the Vulcan’s escape. With the knowledge he carries, the one would have killed the Tharavul himself rather than risk him falling into the hands of the emperor’s interrogators. I even heard Captain Korall theorize that the Vulcan somehow arranged his own escape.”

“Likely enough,” Kuss grunted. “These Vulcan Tharavul make excellent straave, from what I understand, but even with their mind-snoop cut out they are almost too intelligent to be kept alive for any extended period, much less trusted with sensitive information. Hence the situation we find ourselves in now,” he added with an irritated sigh.

The intercom chose that moment to buzz loudly. It was located on the bulkhead, near the access hatch for the officer’s mess. Although he was the senior in rank, Kenal heaved his muscular bulk out of his seat and moved with deceptive grace to the unit, snapping it on. “Executive officer.”

“Communications, sir. Captain Korall orders you to the bridge.”

“Very well,” Kenal snapped. He switched off and turned slightly to his shipmate. “Duty.”

Kuss nodded in return. “Keep your temper and your mouth in check, my friend, or the captain will carve out your liver.”

Kenal’s reply was a dark, smiling scowl as he made his exit.

Kuss fed their cups into the recycler before making his way directly to the security office. When he entered the cramped space, the ensign manning the console didn’t even acknowledge his presence, but instead kept his entire focus on his duties. “Anything to report?” Kuss asked in a low growl. If there was any hint of warning in his voice, it would take someone who knew him well to discern it. Nevertheless, he was adept at making a question sound like a threat.

“Negative, sir.”

“Tell me, ensign,” he added curiously, “do you deny the Perpetual Game?”

The ensign turned now, looking his superior squarely in the eye, without expression. “I do, sir.”

“That is considered a valid tactic of play,” Kuss remarked. The ensign remained impressively expressionless—a survival skill all naval cadets learned early. “So, you’re sure there is nothing to report?”

“Absolutely nothing, sir.”

“Very well. You are relieved; I’ll take over the station.”

“Yes, sir,” the ensign replied, departing the security office quickly. Kuss took his seat and stroked his beard thoughtfully. He hadn’t given the ensign enough time to thoroughly cover his tracks; Kuss located the audio-visual file of his conversation with the executive officer rather easily, given his familiarity with the procedures involved and the use of this equipment. He deleted the file, substituting one of the ensign and a few of his peers gambling in the officer’s mess during duty hours. Kuss had many such minor indiscretions secreted away in files only he could access, waiting for needful opportunities such as this one. If the ensign checked his ‘leverage’ before attempting to use it, he might save himself and his friends from painful punishment. If he was foolish enough to present it to the captain without checking it first, then he would be in for a rude surprise. This was how the Perpetual Game was played: the Komerex Zha, the path of ascendancy within the hierarchy of the Empire. It was a game of power and gain—the game of life and death. One played it or ignored it as one wished, but to deny its existence was foolish, and to play it poorly was to perish. Kuss had not achieved his rank and station by being a poor player, and he intended to advance much further before some honorable death sent him to the Black Fleet. There would be other captains than Korall, better opportunities, and life beyond the sad confines of Devisor’s iron hull.

He could have kept the file of the XO’s remarks, given that the verbal transgressions were not his own, but he chose otherwise. He had cultivated his careful friendship with Kenal because Captain Korall’s leadership style was to keep his subordinates divided and off-balance, sometimes even to the point of hostility. The exec and the security chief were allies, and so Kuss was willing to safeguard him if the risk remained minor and manageable.

This was how lasting alliances were forged in the Klingon Empire, after all.

The first thing Kenal saw upon entering the bridge was the scowling figure of the chief engineer, locked at attention next to the captain’s chair. The obese figure of Captain Korall dominated the central portion of the bridge, his considerable girth barely contained by the structure of his seat. A tray with a cup and a plate of gel pastries sat at the captain’s elbow, as was too often the case. It was a disgraceful display of sloth on the bridge of a Klingon warship, and Kenal’s liver clenched in his chest as hatred washed through his body like a wave of molten fire. Just setting eyes on Korall gave him the desire to kill, and he had to forcefully repress the instinct to growl and bare his fangs.

“Reporting as ordered, captain,” he said instead, his voice hard and clipped.

“Ahh, finally!” Korall bellowed. “zan-Agron has outdone himself, and regained contact with our quarry. I want more speed, but the chief engineer tells me this is not possible! I thought perhaps you should address the matter—the efficiency of all departments is your responsibility, is it not?”

“This need not be said, captain,” Kenal growled, stepping down and approaching the captain’s chair, where the engineer wore a dark, resigned look. Now it was two against one, as if drawing the captain’s ire wasn’t bad enough. All three knew that the exec had to side with the captain here. This was the sort of tactic Korall used to sow division among his senior officers. It was the captain’s own fear and incompetence that drove this behavior, and the reason Devisor had the lowest efficiency rating in the squadron. Only Korall’s line affiliations kept him in the command chair: nepotism, nothing more. It was his only advantage in the Komerex Zha, or he’d have faded into obscurity or perished long ago.

“Deal with it! I want more speed!” the captain snapped, turning his attention back to the main viewscreen.

“Come with me,” Kenal said menacingly. The engineer nodded sharply and followed the exec into the corridor just off the bridge. “Explain,” he added when the two of them were alone.

“Energizers are at maximum output, and I’ve already drawn all auxiliary power I can without jeopardizing life support,” the engineer replied. “We’re at Warp 4.5—our maximum emergency speed. If I push the engines any harder, we risk a casualty.”

“Can you pull a little more from life support?” Kenal asked, cringing inside even as he asked. The ship was already freezing, and the air dry enough to crack their lungs.

“Not without suffocating us all, or freezing us to death,” the engineer replied.

“Emergency power cells?”

“I could, but you don’t need me to explain what a bad idea that is. If we use them, we lose them for a long time. They are very slow to regenerate, and without them we are robbed of emergency power.”

“Then let us hope we are not led into that contingency,” Kenal replied, carefully avoiding any implied criticism of the captain. “Tap the cells, and let’s see if we can’t get 4.6 or better out of the warp drive. Structurally, the ship can handle it. These old D-4 spaceframes are tough.”

“Yes sir,” the engineer replied.


“Yes sir!” the engineer repeated, thumping his chest in salute before heading for the engine room. Kenal stepped back onto the bridge, and Korall swiveled the command chair to turn a baleful gaze on him.

“You’ll have more speed, captain,” Kenal promised, omitting the technical details.

“Very good,” Korall replied, casting a harsh glance toward the science station. “We need to make up for the time lost while our science officer picked up the trail he lost.”

At the science station, Agron’s only response to the captain’s barb was a slight flush of color along his visible neckline. Kenal casually strolled over to the science station and leaned over Agron’s shoulder to appraise the situation. Once again, they were tracking the ionized warp trail of an Orion craft, and a very small one by the looks of it. It was a wisp of a trail, and Agron had performed a minor miracle in picking it up with Devisor’s somewhat limited sensors, especially after having lost it once. Kenal checked the path of the trail against their course, noting its direction.

He turned to the navigator’s station. “Course projection,” he snapped.

The navigator’s response was immediate. “We’re currently on course for System BL191. It is the third brightest star in a small cluster, containing several planets and two large asteroid belts. An ideal place for them to hide and repair their damage.” That made sense, given that Devisor had managed to wing the Orion craft with weapons fire before initially being outrun. Sensor jamming from the Orion ship had prevented them from getting a solid read on it, but even damaged, it was clearly faster than a D-4 battle cruiser. Most Orion ships were.

Kenal turned back to science. “Inhabitants?”

“None we are aware of,” zan-Agron replied quickly. “It is outside Imperial space, previously un-surveyed, but ambient radiation levels suggest no advanced life.”

“Is it Federazhon claimed space?” Kenal asked the navigator.

“Unknown, sir,” the navigator replied. Not much was known about the enigmatic alliance of starfaring races making up the Komerex Federazhon. Encounters had been limited, although in each case Klingon ships had emerged victorious, even obtaining prize hulls and captives on a few occasions. Kenal had seen Human and Andorian starship crewmen fight in the gladiatorial arenas on Klinzhai in the Year Games, to be dispatched in single combat by Klingon opponents. It was not believed that the Komerex Federazhon knew about the existence of the Klingon Empire yet, but one could not be sure. The Orions knew all about the Klingons and would sell that information to Federazhon agents if the price was high enough, and if the latter knew the right questions to ask. Little was known about the various species making up their empire, but they did not appear to be kuve (slave-minded), so war was certainly inevitable as both entities expanded into each other. Nel Komerex, Khesterex, Kenal thought to himself. An entity either evolves, grows, and thrives, or it withers and dies. This competition for survival was true of all species on all worlds, and true of empires, as well—it was the natural order of things.

zan-Agron, make sure regular sensor sweeps are conducted in all sectors. Don’t become so focused on our prey that we are surprised by someone else.”

“This need not be said, sir.” Agron replied, nodding sharply in agreement and respect. “The ionization trail strengthens ahead of us,” the science officer added with increased confidence after a slight pause. “An indicator that we are gaining on them. With luck, we should pinpoint their position before they can hide themselves among the loose mass in the system ahead.”

“It will not be ‘luck’ that is blamed if we fail to track them,” Captain Korall warned.

Kenal strolled over to the engineering station and looked at the readouts. “Speed has increased to Warp 4.61, captain.”

Kai, engineering,” Korall sneered, turning his attention back to his half-eaten gel-pastry. Kenal gritted his teeth behind a tightly clenched jaw and held his tongue.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 818.4, USS Sentry. We are conducting charting operations in the Demetrius star cluster, a task made interesting due to large interstellar gas clouds and star systems with high ambient radiation and large amounts of extrasolar mass. Science Officer Thal has confirmed that this cluster only recently emerged from the stellar nursery phase, as measured in cosmic terms. So far, we have not found so much as a single amino chain in terms of incipient life. Although desolate, the region is not totally bereft of activity. We’ve been looked over a couple times by Orion vessels operating in the region, and I note that we aren’t far from an area of space where several Starfleet advance scouting vessels have gone missing in recent years. While the Orions continue to claim innocence, I remain a bit skeptical and am passing the time running periodic surprise drills and combat simulations to keep us sharp. We’re operating near the edge of the Treaty Exploration Territory, a long way from home, and staying alive and healthy out here may be a direct function of efficiency. The crew is performing well, although the preponderance of Andorians aboard means this Quebecois native is still freezing his derriere off most of the time. Note commendation to Chief Engineer Truv Skarhol for installing the seat-warmer in the captain’s chair. I surely do appreciate it. End entry.

Captain Frances Benoit cupped a hot mug of coffee between cold fingers and blew on it slightly as he glanced around the bridge, observing the crew working quietly at their stations. Most of the activity was happening at the science and communications stations. Lieutenant Thal Ch’chialler, their Andorian science officer, was staring into his sensor hood, making fine adjustments as the ship’s sensors recorded all manner of astrometric data on the star cluster around them. People tended to think of star charts as static maps, but they were anything but that. Stars moved relative to each other and the galactic center, as did the planets, asteroid, comets, and other Kuiper material orbiting the individual stars. It wasn’t enough to plot their positions relative to one another—accurate charting meant an observation period long enough to compute trajectory data that would allow for future vessels to find stellar objects where they were supposed to be, long after Sentry’s mission here was complete. Decades in the future, even. Space was unimaginably vast, and it might be that long or longer before another Federation starship ventured into this particular star cluster.

“Captain,” the navigator said from his station, “request permission for ice chimes.” This was a tradition carried over from the ships of the former Andorian Imperial Guard, like the old Earth naval practice of marking time with the ship’s bell. Among Andorians, the ice chimes were the signal for watch turnover.

“Permission granted, mister,” Benoit replied. The navigator watched the chronometer until the precise moment, then nodded to the communications officer. Throughout the ship, the familiar pattern of clear chimes sounded loudly but pleasantly, with just the right hint of a rousing martial tone to them. Almost on cue, the bridge-lift doors opened to disgorge the Alpha-shift crew reporting for duty, and the ambient light level throughout the ship subtly rose from ‘ship’s night’ to ‘daytime.’ Unfortunately, as far as Benoit figured it, that did not come with any sort of increase in temperature. Seventy five percent of Sentry’s crew was Andorian, and her environmental settings reflected that reality. The rest of them, including the Human captain, suffered through what amounted to eternal winter. They wore warm layers and resorted to other technological aids to stay comfortable. After three years in command, Benoit was almost used to it, even as someone who hailed from a colder climate on Earth.

The only duty station that wasn’t relieved in the next few minutes was science, since Lieutenant Thal had come on earlier in Gamma shift, sending that junior lieutenant off to an early recreation period and taking the science station himself. Captain Benoit was more of a Beta-shift bridge lurker, so Alpha- shift usually saw the first officer on the bridge. Lieutenant Commander Tokoralashi, or ‘Tokor’ or even ‘Tok’ for short, was a three and half foot tall, copper-colored Ithenite. The wizened looking first officer noted the presence of the captain and stepped down to take his secondary post at navigation. He was accompanied by a tall, rather shapely Andorian female, Lieutenant Jehva Zh’itohle. Frances Benoit didn’t normally find females of other species attractive, but Jehva was a rare exception. Even though most of the crew was Andorian, including the ship’s surgeon, he had refrained from asking or studying about the chief biological difference between that species and his own: that the Andorians had two ‘male’ sexes and two ‘female’ sexes, all of which were required for successful procreation.

Aside from his Dayen (Ithenite) first officer, the only other non-Andorian on the bridge besides himself was their Tellarite Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander Truv Skarhol. He was exchanging friendly barbs with the exec as they came out of the lift, insulting the Ithenite’s height while the latter was retorting about the porcine shape of the Tellarite’s nose. While slightly off-putting to Benoit, he understood this form of back-and-forth was the cultural norm among Tellarites—a sign of comfort and familiar camaraderie rather than angst. Truv looked a little thicker than normal under his uniform, and Benoit knew it was because the Tellarite combated the cold of the ship’s environment with heated Peltier plates.

Benoit sipped his coffee and watched the efficient turnover of the watch. When everyone had settled in and things were getting quiet again, he addressed his first officer. “Number One, is the photographic probe we launched in position yet?”

Tokor cross-checked a readout before answering. “It just achieved station keeping, captain.”

“Very well. Helm, all stop.”

“All stop, aye.” Jehva’s voice had a pleasing feminine lilt to it.

“This was a little something Gamma shift came up with,” Benoit explained. “A couple of beauty shots for all the school kids on our worlds back home. External view,” he ordered. Jehva acknowledged, and the main viewscreen shimmered and switched from their normal forward view to a perspective taken from the photographic probe looking back at Sentry. The ship was Advance class, an experimental cruiser design that was a hybrid of Andorian and Human construction philosophies. The bow-end of the ship was a modified saucer primary hull adapted from the older Integrity class, married to a secondary hull and an upswept nacelle configuration that was a larger upgrade of the old Komari design. The result wasn’t half bad looking, even if the captain said so himself. Her crew numbered 180; she carried the state of the art in the form of weapons, scientific and medical labs, and the ‘best practices’ of all the founding members of the UFP. She was even equipped with rare, prototype energy deflection screens.

“Helm, verify accelerator cannon one is loaded with an illumination flare.”

“Confirmed, sir. Firing coordinates locked in.”

“Commence recording,” Benoit ordered.

“As ordered,” Commander Tokor replied.

“Fire flare!”

“Firing,” Jehva replied. Sentry’s number one railgun fired, sending the flare into a nearby hydrogen gas cloud they had chosen to backdrop the ship. The flare detonated brilliantly, providing a brief, multi-colored backdrop of illuminated gas, simulating a nebula cloud with several bright stars of the Demetrius cluster shining brightly in the background. The imagery was impressive indeed.

Très Bien!” Benoit breathed. “Did we get all that?”

“Affirmative, sir. Recalling probe now.”

“When we’ve recovered it, resume base course. Warp Factor 2.”

“Warp Factor 2, aye,” Jehva acknowledged.

“Captain,” communications reported, “I am picking up a distress call. Very faint. Bearing one five eight mark three one, in the direction of Gamma Demetrius. Signal appears to be Orion in origin.”

Benoit’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Belay maneuvering orders. Is the signal aimed at us?” he added, speaking over the helmsman’s acknowledgement.

“It doesn’t appear to be, sir. It’s a general broadband signal, multi-directional broadcast.”

“Very well. Sciences, suspend astrometric charting activity. Communications, pass the bearing of the distress call to navigation. Number One, plot a new course to intercept the source of the signal, once the photo-probe is recovered.”

“Aye, sir. Course laid in.”

“Communications, put me on ship wide intercom.” He looked over and saw the communications officer nod. “All hands, this is Captain Benoit. We are about to respond to a distress signal in the Gamma Demetrius System. The type of vessel sending the signal and its disposition are unknown at this time, but this is an area within which Orion pirates are known to operate, and past Starfleet ships have gone missing. That said, interstellar law obligates us to answer this call and render assistance, if possible, so that’s what we’ll do. I want every member of this crew to remain sharp and be ready for the unexpected. Captain out.” He turned to Tokor. “Number One. All decks, yellow alert.”

Tokor signaled the yellow alert, setting off the alarm klaxons. Various lights on the bridge and all decks shifted to an amber color, denoting the change in alert status. Reports began coming in from all decks as normally dormant stations were manned and brought online, and Sentry readied herself for an encounter with the unknown.

“Captain, the photographic probe has been recovered,” Thal reported.

“Very well. Helm, ahead Warp Factor 4.”

“Ahead Warp Factor 4, aye,” Jehva replied.
Very familiar feeling klingons - more TOS than the happy, occasionally noble warriors who came later.

But then Vikings and Russians are really of the same stock and probably more interchangeable than either would care to admit.

Thanks!! rbs
I am familiar with the beta concept of andorians having four sexes, making procreation a little more tricky. Interesting population that Benoit has to keep working together - apparently quite effectively.

Thanks!! rbs

The two Orion shuttle pilots exchanged a look as they sensed the sudden presence of their Vulcan passenger, Stonik, standing behind them. The latter was dressed in non-descript brown robes, having shed his emergency exosuit once the hull tear caused by Klingon disruptors was patched. The Vulcan was tall and thin, his dark hair fashioned in a mullet that still left his ears exposed. The longer portion of his hair in the back was tied off in a loose ponytail. It was something of an uncharacteristic, almost monkish look for a Vulcan, but nothing about Stonik was ordinary, even to his Orion benefactors.

“May I inquire as to our status?” Stonik asked quietly.

“We’re not far from the planned rendezvous point,” answered Reluk, the master of their small warp shuttle. “We’re unable to maintain this speed indefinitely, so we plan to lose ourselves in one of this system’s asteroid belts and see if our Klingon friends were fast and clever enough to follow us here. If so, we’ll wait them out before proceeding to the rendezvous point. If not, you’ll be on your way home that much sooner. We’ve sent a distress call as well, to lure in any potential source of help in case the Klingons are following us. If the Klingons catch the scent of a more tempting prize, they may decide we aren’t worth the effort.”

Stonik knew better but wouldn’t say so here. “Logic dictates that such a distress call will merely bring the Klingons, if they are nearby,” he replied instead, without irony or rancor.

This time it was Tassen, the Orion pilot, who spoke. “Credit us with a little intelligence, Vulcan. We sent the message towards the Orion Colonies, and Federation space. We didn’t transmit it behind us. What I don’t understand is why the Klingons want you badly enough to pursue you right out of Imperial space. You couldn’t have been spying on them. . . . you aren’t even dressed or disguised as one.”

“I left the empire without proper authorization from Klingon authorities,” Stonik replied, but that wasn’t news to the Orions. He cocked a single eyebrow, adding: “I, too, am puzzled by the tenacity of their pursuit.” That was true on the face of it, but of course not nearly the entire truth. If these Orions knew why the Klingons wanted him, they would be sorely tempted to sell him back. Of course, what the Klingons had never really grasped—or perhaps they did but didn’t care—was that he was a spy, of a very benign sort.

The Vulcan government had known of the existence of the Klingon Empire for many years, although it was not known to the Federation at large. The Vulcan government, pacifistic to the core, had good reason to remain silent on the matter. Memories of the Earth-Romulan war were too fresh, it was felt on Vulcan, and the worry was that knowledge of another warlike aggressor species expanding from the Beta Quadrant would result in the increased militarization of a Starfleet that was already too militarized. The elders on Vulcan still possessed the living memory of Colonel Green, the Optimum Movement, Earth’s last planetary war, and how it had nearly destroyed the Human species. The histories of Andoria and Tellar were similarly fraught with all-too-recent violence. With the UFP barely out of its infancy and no guarantee that the alliance would endure long-term, the Vulcan government had taken a solitary approach to learning what it could of the Klingon race and its culture, languages, and customs. If the Federation failed and the time came when the Klingon Empire expanded its boundaries as far as Vulcan, the Vulcans at least would know what they were dealing with.

Under the auspices of a cultural exchange and brokered through various Orion syndicates, hand-picked Vulcan volunteers passed into the Klingon sphere for years at a time, living among them and acting as servitors to prominent Klingon family lines. Vulcan logic and mental prowess were highly prized assets to the Klingons because their cultural benevolence, pacifism, and unfailing honesty were seen as non-threatening. Vulcans could be trusted as personal pilots, the guardians and educators of high-ranking Klingon children, as well as walking, talking library computers when it came to computations, statistical analysis, and recall of facts and figures. Their only disadvantage was their ESP abilities, but a solution had been found for that. Vulcans entering the Klingon Empire as tokhe straave, willing servitors, underwent a brain-surgery that forever removed their extra-sensory abilities, including their capacity for limited telepathy and mind-melds. The practice was called Tharavul, and the same appellation was attached to Vulcans who underwent the procedure.

In return for their service, Tharavul were allowed to return home after a pre-arranged term of service. They brought back with them the knowledge of Klingon culture and practices that the Vulcan government desired, with plans to share this knowledge with its Federation allies when the time was right. However, the practice of Tharavul was a closely held secret on Vulcan, highly controversial, and subject to the strictest boundaries of privacy. There were only a handful on Vulcan who had heard the term, and fewer still who knew all that it meant. For those in the know, it was considered a logical compromise in the face of a future existential threat to Vulcan and its way of life.

The Orions, of course, knew nothing of the controversial aspects of Tharavul itself. To them it was merely a title granted to those rare Vulcans who served willingly within the Klingon Empire. Transportation between Imperial space and Vulcan was handled by a combination of neutral Orion traders and Vulcan science ships under license to the Vulcan Science Academy. Stonik had served the House of Atax until the Klingon emperor declared it an enemy of the state, outlawed, and subject to eradication. These intra-empire power struggles were always dangerous and often deadly for the servants and slaves of Klingon family lines, and would have proven so for Stonik, except for quick action on his own behalf. He had acted to extricate himself and return home without the knowledge of his Klingon masters, but was only partially successful.

All eyes locked onto the control console when a sensor alert light suddenly snapped on with an audible beep. Tassen swiveled back to the front and peered into his sensor hood. “Starship passing within sensor range.”

“So, they’ve found us,” Stonik said stoically.

“Not necessarily,” Tassen replied slowly, studying his readouts. “This one is approaching from deeper within the star cluster. She’s ahead of us, not behind us. We’re receiving a signal from her.”

“Let’s have it an audio,” Reluk said.

A moment later they heard the following: “Attention unidentified shuttlecraft, this is the USS Sentry. We are a UFP vessel, and non-hostile. Do you require assistance, over?”

“Make no mention of our coming from the Klingon Empire,” Stonik said with a little more urgency than he usually used. “Mention only my affiliation with the Vulcan Science Academy, if needed.”

“Don’t worry,” Reluk chuckled. “We’re old hands at this.” He keyed his transmitter. “Sentry, this is Windwing, a transport out of the Orion Colonies. We’ve been fired upon by a hostile ship and suffered some damage. I request permission to detach from our warp sled and bring my shuttle aboard your vessel for further damage evaluation and repairs.”

“We’re being scanned,” Tassen informed him.

Reluk judged this news irrelevant with an airy wave of his hand. A fourth figure joined them up front: Thaikun, their inflight technician. Reluk unkeyed the transmitter and looked at him. “Well?”

Thaikun shrugged. “We’ve expended the lithium isotope resin we used to overload the drive, and we don’t have any more. The best speed we can make now is a hair over Warp 4. Not enough to get away from the Klingons if they’ve tracked us this far. Better make friends with that lot,” he recommended, gesturing out the viewport. Reluk nodded, and they waited a few minutes with no further communication.

“What is taking them so long?” Tassen wondered.

“Logically, they are discussing the situation and determining the best course of action,” Stonik replied.

“Well, let’s not waste the time, then. Tassen, erase the navigation log and substitute a false one. Make it look like we flew out here from somewhere on the far side of this star cluster, rather than Imperial space. Make the plot look like we are tracking for the colonies—for home. We may not even have to answer that question for them, but let’s be thorough about it.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Tassen replied, going to work at his console. The communications panel signaled for their attention, and Reluk re-opened the channel.

Windwing, this is Captain Frances Benoit, commanding USS Sentry. Before deciding on bringing you aboard, I have a couple of questions—”

Reluk rolled his eyes, grinning at his companions, and interrupted the transmission. “—No, captain, I have none of our green females aboard, and there are no slaves either. You aren’t the first Starfleet vessel I’ve had dealings with. Did I anticipate you correctly?”

“Uhh, affirmative. I’m required by regulations to inform you that—”

“—Any slave or indentured servant is automatically manumitted upon boarding a UFP vessel, in accordance with UFP law,” Reluk finished for him. “Yes, yes, I know, captain. You have scanned us, I assume. There are four aboard my shuttle, three crewmembers and one passenger. No green fems, no slaves, no indentured servants.”

“Very well,” Benoit replied, sounding slightly irritated. “Permission granted to board my ship.”
Intriguing - so I take it this story takes place shortly after the ST Enterprise series time period (but not timeline)?

Thanks!! rbs

Lieutenant Junior Grade Mase Rokuro, Sentry’s security chief, stood by the hatch to the shuttle bay, with two members of his security team in tow. The latter were wearing prominently displayed sidearms, although no weapons were drawn. Mase Rokuro didn’t carry a weapon, but in most ways that mattered, he was one. Japanese by ancestry, Lieutenant J.G. Mase was a master martial artist in two different forms. One would never have guessed it by looking at him—he was only five feet eight inches tall and slight of figure, but under his uniform he was pure muscle without an ounce of body fat.

The light over the hatch switched from blue to green, and Mase keyed it open. The Orion shuttle was larger than a standard Starfleet shuttle pod, taking up most of the aft end of the bay near the hangar doors. The security officers moved to the shuttle hatch as it opened, disgorging the new arrivals. The three Orions were a mixed bag; Thaikun was green colored, hairless, and stood just over six feet tall, while Reluk and Tassen were both grey-skinned and about Mase’s height, sharply dressed, manicured, and fine-featured with short, dark hair. Stonik emerged behind them, surprising the Starfleet personnel. “Welcome aboard USS Sentry, gentlemen,” Mase said, bowing slightly. “The captain has asked me to escort you to sickbay for a brief check-up, and then he’ll debrief you personally. This way, please.”

The Orions nodded pleasantly, smiling, but Stonik didn’t move. “I do not require any medical assistance, lieutenant,” he said firmly. “I request that I be escorted to the captain forthwith.”

Mase shook his head. “Sorry, sir. We do it by the book.”

Stonik nodded, his face a mask of non-expression. “Understood.”

“One more thing,” Mase said, pausing and looking at the Orions. “Starfleet regulations require me to take possession of any weapons you are carrying for the duration of your stay.”

“We have personal sidearms only, and they were left stored in the shuttle,” Reluk said, still smiling. “As I said to your captain earlier, this isn’t our first time dealing with Starfleet and its rules.” He glanced over as one of the security team scanned them one by one with a large handheld device, before switching it off and nodding once to his lieutenant.

Mase smiled humorlessly. “This isn’t our first time dealing with Orions either,” he retorted. “Trust but verify, neh? This way, gentlemen.”

Lieutenant Thrylla Sh’tialos, ship’s surgeon, ran a Feinberger sensor over Stonik and glanced curiously at the readings showing on the biobed. Her antennae twitched curiously, but a slight grin creased her features. “I’ve never actually met a Vulcan before,” she remarked, comparing the unfamiliar readings to the datafile on a secondary screen behind her. It was a text on Vulcan physiology: a computer-assist on what constituted ‘normal’ readings for a Vulcan patient. “You’re a long way from home. Encountering anyone from a Federation world this far out is quite remarkable.”

“I would imagine so,” Stonik replied neutrally. “I have business dealings with the Orions, but it has indeed been a long journey,” he added, giving her a non-answer to her implied query.

Thrylla frowned slightly, her scanner pausing over the crown of the Vulcan’s head. “There is evidence here of past surgery,” she remarked. “Several years old, it looks like. Did you undergo brain surgery at some point?”

“Affirmative. It was many years ago, a personal matter, and irrelevant to the current situation. I would prefer not to discuss it.”

“As you wish,” the doctor replied, taking one last look at her readings. “Well, Stonik, you appear healthy in all respects. You can get down now, I’m finished with my exam.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Stonik replied. He swung his legs over the edge of the biobed, sitting up, and the sound of its machinery abruptly stopped as it switched off. He was startled to find someone else standing there, who had approached unnoticed and was listening to his exchange with Doctor Sh’tialos. He was a human male, average height and slimly built, with dark hair and eyes. The current Starfleet uniform was a navy-blue pullover blouse (in this case a long-sleeved winter-weight sweater, due to the temperature aboard ship) over black underclothes, with black trousers and boots. This officer’s sweater was trimmed in gold around the shoulders, marking him as a member of the command and operations department. Two solid gold stripes adorned his sleeves at the wrists, and just over the colored trim on his right side was a small metal insignia: two thin, gold-colored vertical bars with three small, square-shaped broken bars in between. Stonik recognized this as the rank insignia for a Starfleet captain, adopted from the Tellarites when Starfleet was founded. On the upper left sleeve was a round patch boasting the asymmetric arrowhead symbol of Starfleet and the ship’s name. Most of the uniform was an easily-recognizable evolution of the old Earth UESPA uniform flight suit, while the slightly bulkier uniforms worn by security personnel on duty were reminiscent of Andorian Imperial Guard designs.

Stonik held up his hand, fingers spread in the Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper.”

The captain mirrored the gesture. “Peace, and long life,” he replied formally. “My name is Frances Benoit, commanding officer of this ship.”

“I am Stonik.”

“A pleasure to meet you, sir. Like Doctor Sh’tialos, I’ve never met a Vulcan face to face—very few of you have opted to serve in Starfleet. I must say I certainly didn’t expect to meet any Federation citizen in this corner of space! Now, I have some questions for you—”

“—Captain Benoit,” Reluk said smoothly, interjecting himself into the conversation. “I know you have questions, but time may be short. Have you detected another ship approaching Gamma Demetrius?”

“Not as of yet,” Benoit replied, giving the Orion an adroit look signifying that he wasn’t blind to the interference being run here. “Are you talking about the ship that fired on you?”

“Yes. The vessel was not Orion, although we did not get a clear scan of it. I would caution you, however, that the vessel was quite hostile. My people have encountered this race before, if they are who I believe them to be—as I said, our limited ability to scan them proved inconclusive. If the ship does appear, it is imperative that you take measures to safeguard your ship and crew. They are quite likely to strike without warning or prior communication.”

“These aliens,” Benoit mused, “do their ships carry markings—paintings—of large raptors? Hunting avians?”

“If you are referring to the Romulans, Captain Benoit, then no,” Stonik supplied. “Our attackers were not Romulans.”

“One might wonder how a Vulcan civilian would know the difference. Do you know who they were, then?” Benoit asked Stonik directly, looking him square in the eye. He’d never met a Vulcan face to face, but their reputation was one for honesty.to a fault.

“Given their hostility, logic would dictate that the ship belongs to the species that Reluk is describing.” He turned to Reluk. “What do you call them?”

“Klingons,” Reluk replied slowly, eyeing Benoit warily. “You’ve been told, I believe, that my people are not responsible for the disappearances your Starfleet has suffered in this region these few years past?”

“So, you claim these Klink-guns—”

“—Kling-Ons,” Stonik interrupted.

“Thank you, sir,” Benoit nodded. “So, you claim these Kling-gons might be the ones preying on Starfleet vessels in this region?”

“I make no such claim,” Reluk shrugged. “I merely suggest that it is possible, and in any case, it is not my people.”

“Do I have your permission for my engineering crews to examine your shuttle and conduct repairs?”

“Of course, captain, and you’ll find it unremarkable. We have nothing to hide here. We were on our way to rendezvous with our mother ship when we were set upon.”

Très bien,” Benoit replied, raising his eyebrows. He moved over to the wall intercom and punched in a four-digit code.

“Chief engineer,” came the disgruntled sounding reply.

“Truv, the master of the Orion shuttle has given permission for evaluation and repairs.”

“Yes, captain, we’ll get to work on that tub immediately. Looks like little more than some hull damage. They were lucky,” he added in his usual gruff manner, emphasizing the last word, and couldn’t resist adding: “probably undeservingly so, unless I miss my guess. These Orions may call themselves traders, but we all know—”

Benoit had to forcefully refrain from grinning as he sensed the Orions bristling beside him. “—Keep me updated on your progress, Truv,” he interrupted. “I’ll need better than your usual slow work. Captain out.” Adding the insult when talking to the Tellarite was second nature to him now, and he sensed the surprise in their guests, which served to smooth any ruffled feathers. Stonik, of course, remained impassive.

No sooner had he signed off with Truv than a familiar variation of the ice chimes sounded from the intercom: the commander’s call. He snapped the intercom back on. “This is the captain.”

“Sir, we have sensor contact with another vessel approaching rapidly. Unknown classification.”

“I’m on my way,” Benoit replied, casting a sidelong glance at Reluk and pondering the Orion’s warning. “Gentlemen, please remain here for the time being, it’s the safest part of the ship. Doctor Sh’tialos can see to anything you might need. Excusez-moi, s'il vous plait.”
Intriguing - so I take it this story takes place shortly after the ST Enterprise series time period (but not timeline)?

Thanks!! rbs

In 2218 as mentioned in the intro, roughly 57 years after the Earth-Romulan War and the founding of the UFP. For comparison purposes, the first Constitution class ship wasn't commissioned until 2245, shortly after the discovery of the power-channeling effects of Dilithium resulted in a new generation of power plants and propulsion that gave us the speeds we saw in TOS.

And yes, it's meant to be a different timeline than Enterprise, obviously. No 'Broken Bow' incident or traveling from Earth to the Klingon homeworld in 4 days. ;) This is more the pre-TNG timeline seen in the Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology, and referenced in various FASA products.

“Captain! Target ahead” zan-Agron called from the science station. “Much larger than the shuttle we pursue!”

Captain Korall grinned, showing the tips of his fangs. “This must be their rendezvous point. Orions are profiteers—cowards! I’m sure they’ll return the Tharavul without argument when looking down the barrels of our disruptors. Battle alert!”

The crew sprang into action, and the energy level on the bridge seemed to palpably rise. Everyone immediately lapsed into battle language, taking reports and issuing orders in short, almost monosyllabic barks. Commander Kenal and Captain Korall exchanged a wordless nod before the exec left the bridge. His battle station was several decks below, on the auxiliary bridge, where he would command a crew of cadets and junior officers, shadowing the actions of the primary bridge crew yet ready to take over for real if the main bridge was destroyed or incapacitated.

“Tactical!” Korall barked. The main viewscreen switched over, showing a representation of Star System BL191, Devisor’s position, as well as the position of the new contact. “Helm, sublight! Shields!”

“Acting, affirm, acting,” the helmsman barked in reply. The pitch of power throughout the ship changed subtly as she dropped out of warp.

“Weapons, pre-heat!”


Korall scowled as he studied the information scrolling on the tactical display, the symbology repeating itself as it cycled through the incoming sensor data. What he was seeing was not an Orion vessel, but one with the configuration of a ship from the Komerex Federazhon. It was also substantially larger than previously encountered Federazhon vessels, almost on par with a D-4 battlecruiser itself. He keyed his intercom.

“Exec, are you seeing this?” he growled, feeling the klin of potential battle stir in his breast.

“Affirm,” Kenal replied. “A prize worthy of Kahless himself, if we act swiftly and without mercy.”

“Indeed,” Korall replied, contemplating whether he should attempt communication first, or simply attack. The Federazhon ships taken as prizes so far had been smaller and lightly armed; this vessel was an unknown quantity. Strike for the heart? Or choose discretion while evaluating the threat?

In a move that would be scorned as cowardly for decades to come, Korall chose caution at a cusp moment in history, in full view of the naked stars, writing a sorry preface to the history of the Klingon Empire for the next century.

“Status report,” Benoit ordered, stepping down to take the captain’s chair as the dwarf-like first officer stepped down to assume the navigator’s station.

“We’re orbiting Gamma Demetrius from 40 light-minutes out, and we’ve taken the Orion warp sled under tow with our tractor beam. We were conducting continuous long-range sensor sweeps when we picked up the incoming contact. The ship is still on Yellow Alert.”

“Sensor contact is dropping out of warp, on an intercept course to our position,” Thal reported from the science station. “She is of unknown configuration.”

“Full sensor scan,” Benoit ordered. Then, against his better judgement, he punched up the intercom. “Security chief, this is the captain. Please escort the Orion Reluk to the bridge, on the double.”

Yokai, captain! On our way,” Mase replied immediately.

“Tok, let’s have a look at her. Visual, magnification 5.”

“Mag 5, captain,” the Ithenite replied. The main viewscreen shimmered, and they got their first look at a Klingon warship. “Thal,” the first officer added, “make sure we get a complete record of all of this. We are in a first contact situation, here. That is definitely not an Orion ship.”

“Acknowledged, Number One,” the science officer replied. “I’m having trouble with the sensors… interference from that ship, and some scans are being reflected back. My analysis is that she possesses defensive energy screen technology, and has raised them.”

“Communications, hail them,” Benoit ordered.

“No reply, captain.”

Reluk’s warning sounded like a mental alarm bell in the back of his mind. “Deflectors, full intensity,” he ordered.

“Deflectors, full intensity!” Jehva snapped in reply, reaching across her console. After all the recent emergency and battle drills, there was no hesitation—only quick action. Tokor glanced back at Benoit, surprise and unspoken questions on his wizened, copper-colored features.

The lift doors opened, and Reluk appeared with Lieutenant Mase positioning himself behind the Orion, ready for immediate action should the need arise. A second security guard with a holstered sidearm emerged from the lift as well, positioning himself by the engineering station and watching Reluk with focused intensity, his antennae angled full forward. Benoit glanced at Reluk as the latter stepped down to stand next to the captain’s chair. “Do you recognize that ship?” Benoit asked directly.

“It is Klingon,” Reluk confirmed, looking distinctly nervous for the first time since Benoit laid eyes on him. The Orion looked around the bridge, obviously unsure of the unfamiliar status lights and unable to read the displays. “Did you heed my warning?”

“Captain Benoit, we’re receiving an incoming signal from the alien starship,” communications reported.

“Thal?” Benoit asked urgently. “Any luck with some sort of classification? I need to know what we’re dealing with.”

“Trying, captain. We are being scanned in return.”

“I can classify her for you,” Reluk volunteered. “That is a Klingon battleship.”

“Noted,” Benoit replied. “Communications, audio or visual signal?”

“Audio only, captain.”

“Open channel,” he ordered. The communications officer did so, and the first few sentences they heard were of some guttural sounding, barking language. The universal translator did its work quickly, however—far faster than Benoit would have anticipated—and when the alien ship repeated its first transmission it came through loud and clear.

“Attention alien vessel! This is Captain Korall sutai Tarmoth of the Klingon Empire. You are ordered to identify yourself and your system of origin. Failure to comply immediately will result in your destruction!”

Benoit glanced back at communications and gave a hand signal to cut the channel. “Number One, rig for Blue. Quiet alarm,” he added.

“Rig for Blue,” Tokor replied, activating the silent alarm. Rather than an alert klaxon, a quick, martial sounding chord of the ice chimes sounded once throughout the ship, accompanied by the voice of the ship’s computer in every compartment:

“All decks, Condition one. Blue Alert. Report to battle stations.” Benoit didn’t think about the odd color choice for Condition 1 anymore; Andorian blood was blue-colored, so in their society blue was the color representing danger or distress. Someday Starfleet Command would pick a color and standardize it throughout the fleet. For now, they used what the majority-Andorian crew found to be normal, just like the use of ice chimes.

Benoit signaled for the comm-channel to be opened again. “Attention Klingon vessel, this is USS Sentry, representing the United Federation of Planets. I am Frances Benoit, officer commanding. Be advised that we are on a mission of peaceful exploration, and our intentions are likewise benevolent. If possible, we would like to meet with you face to face aboard your vessel or ours to facilitate an initial exchange of greetings, felicitations, and knowledge. Our goal would be to lay the foundation for further peaceful diplomatic contact between your empire and our Federation.”

“Flowery words, captain,” Korall replied. “The words of tokhe straave—willing slaves. The Komerex Klingon has known of your Federation for some time, as well as your recent interactions with the Orion syndicates, and your past wars with the Rihannsu. You do not impress us, and your ways are the ways of servitors—kuve. You have aboard your ship the crew and passengers of an Orion shuttle which recently entered this star system. These individuals are fugitives of the Klingon Empire and will be remanded to me without delay. There will be no negotiation on this point. If you comply, the Empire may consider your request for the opening of diplomatic relations. If you refuse, we shall take your vessel as a prize and make captives of you and your crew. Give me your decision!”

Reluk spoke up immediately, even as Benoit was giving the communications officer the signal to cut the channel again. “Captain, the Klingon is lying. He means to take your ship regardless—he’s playing for time, probing your capabilities. I hereby request asylum for myself, crew, and passenger.”

Benoit nodded. “Thal?” he asked plaintively.

“Sensor scans are indeterminate, captain. I’m sorry.”

“Number One, your opinion? Quickly, please.”

“They have us at a disadvantage—they clearly know who we are, which bodes ill for any previous, unreported contacts between our ships and theirs. In any case, we cannot turn over a Federation citizen under these conditions, especially under threat. I wouldn’t turn over the Orions either, not after a request for asylum. More on that later,” he added, glancing quickly at Reluk to indicate that the ‘more’ should be said in private.

“Agreed,” Benoit said immediately.

“Enemy vessel is maneuvering on impulse, attempting to flank us portside,” Jehva reported. Her choice of words was indicative of her mindset, and perhaps a natural fallback to the more martial tendencies of Andorians in general. Benoit glanced at one of the auxiliary screens, showing a tactical display. He was hampered slightly by having the warp sled under tow, but it offered possibilities as well.

“Z-plus 1000 meters, pitch and yaw to keep us bow-on to the Klingon. Let the sled move under us, but hold the tractor-lock,” he added.

“Aye, sir.”

Benoit suddenly realized he was sweating, an unprecedented state in the near-freezing temperatures on the bridge. He absently reached down and switched off the seat warmer in the command chair. This is spiraling out of control fast! He thought desperately to himself.

“Enemy vessel maneuvering, captain,” tactical warned.

“I see it, fool!” Korall snapped. “Yaw 90 port, pitch positive 55.” Bring the main batteries to bear.


I await your answer, Benoit!” Korall barked over the open channel.

“Apologies, Captain Korall,” came the translated reply. “I regret to inform you that what you ask is not possible. If peaceful negotiations cannot be conducted, I suggest that we mutually withdraw and make report to our respective governments.”

“Silence communications!”


“Target their bridge and fire!” Korall roared.

Viridian-hued disruptor fire lashed between the two starships. Sentry staggered under the initial salvo. Lighting flickered within the confines of the ship, and the deck seemed to tilt wildly as artificial gravity was thrown into flux. Reluk caught the edge of the command chair and held on for dear life while Lieutenant Mase was thrown painfully against the bridge railing.

“Deflectors are burned out,” Thal called from his station. “They absorbed that first salvo but we’re wide open now!”

“Jehva, full impulse, straight at them!” Benoit ordered. “Drag the warp sled into their forward pod and execute a warp-skip the moment they fire on it. Set Warp Factor 2 for the skip, half second duration.”

“Aye, captain!” Jehva replied, smiling darkly.

“Reluk, is there any antimatter in that sled?”

“Yes, captain, two small reserve bottles to provide power-on-demand at the injectors.”

“They’re firing on the warp sled,” Thal reported almost simultaneously.

“Skipping!” Jehva called. Sentry leapt away into warp for a half-second as another round of disruptor fire smashed into the unshielded Orion warp sled, shredding it instantly and breaching the magnetic containment on her antimatter bottles. The result was a high-yield matter-antimatter explosion that stripped away Devisor’s deflector shields in an instant, tumbling the battle cruiser and leaving her hull bare to attack.

“Number One, reciprocal course. Jehva, bring us about and then execute a Warp 1 skip-back. That’ll be a four second return trip, people. Execute when able. Load accelerator cannons. Thal, recommended yield to knock them out of action without destroying them?”

Thal shrugged. “Maximum yield, captain. One does not look for a fight, but you don’t hold back when a fight finds you. Especially not against an unknown enemy.”

Benoit didn’t have the time for a staff meeting about it. “Two hundred megaton yield,” he ordered reluctantly. “Charge axial particle beams and laser banks. Lasers to be held in reserve for point defense fire.”

“Charges set, max yield,” Jehva reported. “Cannons armed and ready to fire. Executing back-skip,” she added. The stars on the viewscreen didn’t move at all, but suddenly a speck appeared and blossomed into the shape of the Klingon ship, now righting itself and sluggishly turning to face them.

“Evasive maneuvering. Lock cannons on target,” Benoit ordered. “Fire as they bear.”

“Firing,” Jehva reported a moment later. Four thermonuclear warheads erupted from the two twin-barreled railguns, streaking toward the Klingon ship with a very narrow divergence—their opponent might evade some of them, but the spread was programmed to guarantee at least one hit, especially at this range. Jehva was accelerating Sentry away at full impulse speed as soon as she fired, opening the distance to prevent ‘fragging’ their own ship.

“Navigation deflectors directed aft, aft hull plating polarized to counter radiation,” Tok reported.

Benoit nodded, watching the tactical display. The enemy ship executed an impressive defensive pirouette and roll, bringing her own weapons back in line while simultaneously evading two of their four cannon-shots. Smaller Klingon point defense disruptors fired in unison, catching a third warhead and detonating it well away from the ship. She fired another main disruptor salvo at Sentry’s retreating form and launched some form of guided weapons of her own. Two ellipsoid balls of amber-colored energy rocketed toward them, but Sentry’s gun crews were ready. Banked lasers acted as point defense weapons in return, striking the two enemy missiles and detonating them in brilliant, beautiful golden explosions. Klingon disruptor fire, however, tore into the aft portion of the secondary hull, opening breaches and causing several minor secondary explosions. Sentry shuddered again, throwing the crew against the confines of their seats, or sending them flying if caught unawares on their feet.

Sentry’s final warhead was intercepted by point defense fire, but close aboard the Klingon warship. It detonated in a blinding explosion, temporarily causing viewscreens to blank out rather than attempting to display light of that intensity. The Klingon vessel emerged from the explosion, in pursuit, but most of her forward hull was scorched black and she was shedding small pieces of hull plating in her wake. She was obviously hurt.

Thal had been running continuous scans since warping back into combat range. “There is no more interference to our sensors,” he reported, his face glowing blue in the light of his sensor hood. “The Kling-gon vessel was unshielded against that warhead, but she remains mostly intact. She’s a tough, well-constructed ship, captain. Bred for war, and structurally superior to our hull. We’ve disrupted her power configuration, at least temporarily. She’s vulnerable, but not for long.”

“Lock particle beams on that forward pod,” Benoit ordered. “Come about and fire as you bear.”

“Aye,” Jehva replied grimly. The sight of that nuclear warhead going off close aboard the Klingon ship had wiped all vestiges of the joy of combat off her face. “Laser batteries as well?”

“Negative. Hold those for point defense,” Benoit repeated. “Reload accelerator cannons, twenty megaton yield.”

“Twenty?” Jehva asked hesitantly.

“You heard the captain!” Tokor snapped.

“Aye sir! Firing particle beams!” she added a moment later. Twin blue beams of energy shot from Sentry to the command pod of the D-4 cruiser, giving the appearance that they were linked together by pure energy. The particle beams cut deeply into the unshielded Klingon hull, causing severe damage. The Klingon ship suddenly stopped her defensive gyrations, flying straight ahead at a constant speed. Sentry swept past her at full impulse, the turrets of her accelerator cannons swinging around to track her adversary. Almost belatedly, another yellowish looking energy projectile fired from the Klingon ship and arced around immediately toward Sentry, but again, gun crews detonated it immediately with pinpoint laser fire. Sentry held fire for a half second, opening the range to almost 80,000 kilometers before firing another four warheads, two at each engine nacelle of the Klingon ship. Again, point defense fire from the crippled battle cruiser valiantly destroyed three of the four warheads, but the last one detonated directly against her starboard nacelle. It was vaporized, blown clean off the ship, along with a small portion of the ‘wing’ to which it was attached.

Before Benoit could even take stock of what they’d accomplished, he saw that the enemy cruiser had resumed maneuvering.
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“Commander! The bridge is out!” Cadet Tarn called from the engineering station. Kenal wasn’t surprised—that salvo of enemy particle beam fire had probably opened the whole thing to space. He felt the klin surge in his chest as he realized that for better or worse, he commanded Devisor now. Unfortunately, Korall’s incompetence and cowardly hesitation had left him in command of a ship so heavily damaged that they’d be lucky to survive, much less make it back to Imperial space.

“Revert control here!” Kenal snapped.


“Evasive!” he barked in battle language. The ensign manning the helm acknowledged, and Devisor began to come about to bring her forward batteries to bear on the Federazhon cruiser once again. Naturally, the helmsman was acting in the most aggressive manner possible, as expected. They all noticed the sluggishness of the ship’s response to helm commands. Kenal’s eyes snapped to the engineering station, where he saw Cadet Tarn steeling himself to deliver the bad news. He didn’t need to; Kenal could read it on the screen behind him. He said as much to Tarn, sparing the cadet the need to say anything. They’d lost the starboard nacelle, main power was out, and they were down to aux capacitors and impulse power. Emergency power was almost non-existent—drained previously by their high-speed sprint in pursuit of the Orion warp shuttle. Kenal mentally cursed Korall yet again, conveniently failing to remember that it was his own order to tap the emergency power cells. “Shield status!”

“Zero! Projection grid damaged,” Tarn reported.

Kenal felt fury explode behind his eyes—fury, and the shame of defeat. “Divert all remaining power to the warp drive. Navigator, plot course for the nearest boundary of Imperial space.”

“Affirm, acting!”

“Engage at best speed,” Kenal ordered. IKV Devisor entered warp, limping out of System BL191 at Warp 1.2. Nobody even dared think the words ‘withdraw’ or ‘retreat’, much less voice them to the exec. It was obvious to all, and stunned silence reigned on the auxiliary bridge.

The final insult? Even after their captain’s deadly insults and initiation of battle, the Federazhon dogs didn’t consider Devisor worthy enough to run down and destroy.

“Captain, the Klingon ship is depowering weapons and diverting energy to her drive systems. I think she’s withdrawing,” Thal reported.

“Helm, reciprocal course to the Klingons. Full impulse. Thal, maintain scans as long as possible. Get everything you can.”

“Acknowledged,” Thal replied. Less than a minute later he reported that the Klingon ship had warped out.

Benoit realized that he was tenser than a coiled spring and blew out the breath he’d been holding. He didn’t even notice it crystalizing into fog in front of his face like he normally did. He stabbed the intercom. “Engineering, bridge. Preliminary damage report.”

Trav’s reply was immediate. “Multiple hull breaches in the aft-most portions of the secondary hull. Shuttle bay doors are jammed closed due to localized hull buckling. All depressurized areas are sealed off. The deflector shield grid is burned out. That one is going to be a depot level repair—I can’t do anything with it. All power and propulsion systems are undamaged.” There was a pause at the other end, then a grudging, uncharacteristic compliment. “You did well, captain.”

“Thanks, Trav,” Benoit smiled. “That means a lot coming from you. Casualties?”

“We’re taking count. There were twenty plus in the depressurized sections—they are certain fatalities. Medical will have to report on the number wounded.”

The blood drained out of Benoit’s face. “Acknowledged. Keep me advised. Bridge out.” He turned to Lieutenant Mase, who was standing rigidly and at a slightly odd cant, obviously in severe pain although he was doing his best to disguise it. “You alright?” he asked.

The security chief’s voice was tight and strained. “Might’ve stove in a couple ribs, captain.”
“Escort Reluk back to sick bay and get looked at.”

“Aye, sir,” he replied. Reluk didn’t need any extra encouragement; he nodded gratefully to Captain Benoit and headed for the lift.

“Number One, set course for Starbase 9, maximum cruise velocity. Stand down to yellow alert until further notice. You have the bridge—I’m going to go start picking up the pieces.”

“Aye, captain,” Tok replied quietly, moving to climb into the command chair as Benoit vacated it. The Ithenite watched the captain with visible compassion as the latter stepped into the lift, his shoulders slumped and his face raw with emotion. When the doors closed, the first officer looked around, meeting the eye of every crew member on the bridge in turn. “You all performed very well,” he assured them. “The captain knows it, and he’ll tell you himself very soon. He just needs a moment. Remember, he’s Human. For his people, victory in battle can also feel like failure. And this morning we were charting the Demetrius Star Cluster,” he reminded them with a sad, wise smile. “Bit of a shock.”

When the damage control party reached the bridge of IKV Devisor, they were shocked to learn that there was atmospheric pressure on the other side. They forced the doors and accessed the bridge, only to find carnage. The compartment was smashed beyond reasonable hope of repair; atmospheric pressure or no, the ship would be flown from the auxiliary bridge until she reached a shipyard, or what remained of the crew was rescued and Devisor was scuttled, which seemed far more likely.

Kuss vestai Dumok led the damage control party, and after taking a preliminary life scan of the bodies littering the bridge, he was met with a surprise. He stopped everyone in the damage control party with a word. “Clear the bridge,” he ordered. The others did as he said without a sideways glance. Kuss was the only one present with a life sign scanner—that was not by chance. He pulled out his communicator. “Security officer to Commander Kenal.”

“Kenal here.”
“You might want to come up to the bridge,” he said. “You’ll want to see this.”

“Acting. Kenal out.”

Kuss looked at his timepiece. The exec would be here in three minutes, give or take. He had already confirmed that all the security cameras and audio recording devices on the bridge were inoperative. He activated his life scanner again, verifying that there were only three survivors on the bridge, all badly wounded. By the time Kenal arrived three minutes later, there was only one survivor.

Kenal was about to ask him why he’d been summoned, when he saw Kuss standing next to the obese figure on the deck beside the shattered stump of the command chair. A slight smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “No,” he guffawed.

“Yes,” Kuss confirmed with a dark grin. “Our intrepid captain lives. He is the only one here that lives.”

Kenal threw his head back and laughed, a long, hard belly-laugh. He’d thought never to laugh like that again. He adroitly failed to notice the wet, violet-colored stains on the security chief’s hands. He raised his communicator, barked orders, and within moments a medical team entered the bridge to remove their captain to sickbay. It took four adult Klingons to carry his litter. When they were gone, Kuss and Kenal were alone on the bridge again—Kuss hadn’t allowed any of the damage control team back in yet. There wasn’t much to do here anyway, except remove bodies and strip the smashed consoles of any salvageable parts.

“We can speak freely here,” Kuss informed him. “All links to my office are inoperative. This is the most secure place on the ship right now for a private conversation.” He took a deep breath and blew it out. “This is unexpected, and welcome.”

“Perhaps,” Kenal mused. “I merely exchange one threat for another. With the captain dead, we could fake any story we wanted but I still risked the ire of our superiors. I would have inherited all blame along with the captaincy, regardless of what happened. With the captain alive, he’ll still simply find a way to blame everything on me. You understand, Kuss, that all of us, captain included, are at risk? No matter what we concoct, the simple truth is that Devisor was defeated in battle by a Federazhon ship, we let the emperor’s fugitive Tharavul escape, and the Komerex Federazhon now has firm knowledge of our existence. All in full view of the naked stars, if it wasn’t bad enough already. We may be cursed, my friend. I fully expect the entire crew to be liquidated.”

“The Imperial Thought Masters have already derived all lines of probability concerning the Komerex Federazhon; I seriously doubt they consider it the problem that we do. In time, it may even free up lines of action for the emperor and the empire. One does not yield at Klin Zha when one suffers a setback,” Kuss added. “If one doesn’t yield at a mere board game, then one certainly cannot yield in the Komerex Zha. I have hours of the captain’s voice on record, and hours more of video. He can claim what he wants in front of whoever he must answer to. The record will show what you and I wish it to show. The crew will back us because he has made an enemy of the crew, but they respect you.”

“The chief engineer will be a problem.” He is the only one besides me who knows who ordered the emergency power cells tapped.

“Then it is unfortunate that there are so many dangerous repairs that need to be made,” Kuss retorted, his voice a low, dangerous purr.

Be careful, Kenal warned himself, his eyes narrowing slightly. The one’s ambition knows no end. “What do you gain, Kuss?”

“If we survive this, I gain an ally—one who owes me a very large favor. You have family connections that could ensure we survive this if you are willing to indebt yourself within your house. Saving me as well would incur a debt from my line to yours, one I can certainly repay in time. I would see our houses standing in alliance—one cannot have too many allies. If I may say so, the one is a good officer, and a good shipmate. I would like to think the same of myself, but the one must judge. Devisor has been a bad assignment, but it will soon be behind us. One does not prosper in the Perpetual Game by looking back, but by looking forward.”

Kai, Klingon!” Kenal growled. “This is so. The one would swear this alliance before the naked stars?”

“This need not be said.”

Kenal thought for a moment, then extended his wrist. Kuss reached out and grasped his forearm, and the pact was sealed. The klin swelled in his chest, and he felt his liver clench almost painfully at the intensity of it. Line affiliations or not, Korall sutai Tarmoth would be blamed and eventually executed for this disgraceful fiasco. If the rest of the crew could be saved, they would be saved. If he could achieve that, their loyalty to him would be undying. Kenal swore himself anew to the pursuit of glory and the Perpetual Game, here in the depths of space, before the naked stars. If fate decreed that he was to go to the Black Fleet, then that was destiny. He would seek out Korall and kill him a thousand times, laughing.

Well told and nicely detailed battle sequence. Also quite liking the mostly andorian crew relating to a human captain - an interesting wrinkle.

Also liking the cultural insights into the klingon culture. Very much more soviet, gritty, and not easily dealt with. Treacherous.

Thanks!! rbs

Captain’s Log, Stardate 826.1, USS Sentry. We’re near the end of a minor course diversion en-route to Starbase 9. At 2030 ship’s time we rendezvous with the Orion vessel Kass Moonstream to transfer our Orion and Vulcan guests, and then we’ll resume base course.

I was expecting Stonik, a Vulcan and Federation citizen, to remain aboard until we reached Starbase 9 and seek further transportation towards core Federation space from there. He surprised all of us by opting to go with the Orions. I’ve never known another Vulcan, and honestly, I can’t claim to know Stonik, either. He’s remained in quarters throughout the entire duration of his stay with the thermostat turned up as high as it would go—I guess I can’t blame him for that. He’s refused every invitation to socialize with anyone in the ship’s crew, or the Orion shuttle crew. We haven’t learned a thing about him or what he is doing out here in the outer reaches of space, other than his claim to have had business dealings with the Orions. Given that he is a private citizen who has committed no criminal offenses we know of, I’ve been left with little choice but to respect his privacy. The Orions have been far more interesting and engaging, and we’ve obtained some additional information on the Klingon race and their empire that will be appended to my official report. To say the information is disturbing is something of an understatement.

The last of the services were held today for the 23 crewmembers killed in action. Most of the wounded have since returned to duty, but about a half dozen are either on light duty or still in sickbay requiring advanced medical care at Starbase 9. I’m trying not to blame myself; I didn’t ask for that fight, and when it started it all went very quickly. After analyzing our sensor data, I think we were lucky to get away with so little damage, if at all. The Klingons were capable fighters in a capable ship, and we may have our hands full in this part of space in the years to come.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to prepare my reports and deposition for the Board of Inquiry that will be convened due to the combat, our losses, and damage to the ship. I’ve already been assured that this will be more a formality than anything else, but it is nothing a ship’s captain looks forward to. I suppose I shouldn’t complain—my forebears in the Romulan War had it a lot worse than this. End entry.

In deep space, two starships hung motionless against the backdrop of a billion stars as two smaller shuttles passed between them. First was the Windwing, now limited to sublight speeds without the warp sled that was used as a weapon against the Klingons. Second was one of Sentry’s shuttle pods, carrying a few of her officers who had been invited aboard Kass Moonstream at the behest of her master.

When the shuttle pod docked and opened, Captain Benoit emerged in time to see Stonik offering the Vulcan salute to a middle-aged looking, grey-skinned Orion, the latter dressed smartly in a colorful, alien-looking wardrobe of belted, trousered robes. The Orion captain bowed in return and was saying something about quarters having been prepared, also extending an invitation to join the official party for refreshment. Stonik politely refused and was led away by an Orion crew member.

That was the last Frances Benoit ever saw of him.

The Orion captain introduced himself as Larien Kass, master and commander of the Kass Moonstream, an Orion trading vessel and an admitted, part-time privateer. He thanked Captain Benoit and the crew of Sentry for their rescue of his people and led them to a large compartment that was lavishly set up for entertainment. Captain Benoit, Tokoralashi, Doctor Sh’tialos, and Mase Rokuro made themselves comfortable on sumptuous floor-cushions, and each was assigned an attractive Orion steward of the opposite sex to make sure their plates and glasses remained full, and that they wanted for nothing. Despite searching looks from all the Sentry crewmembers, there were none of the famous (or infamous, depending on who you asked) green females in evidence. Moreover, Larien Kass went out of his way to assure his guests that their stewards were free Orion crewmembers—not slaves. According to him there were no slaves aboard, but his Federation guests had no way of knowing if that was true or not.

Larien Kass seated himself on a cushion next to Sentry’s captain, eyeing him curiously and nibbling on some exotic, alien piece of fruit. “I thank you for the courtesy of your visit,” he said graciously once the musicians struck up and their conversation was slightly more private. “While we trade extensively with most Federation worlds, your Starfleet seems to want to treat all Orion traders as pirates and criminals. You are different, at least in this case. It makes me curious.”

Benoit forced a smile he wasn’t really feeling and offered a sealed bottle of wine to Larien Kass. “A gift from my homeworld,” he said. “L'Orpailleur Rouge, 2303 vintage. Once a fairly common wine in my province, it is now quite rare and valuable in this post-holocaust era of my planet. It has occurred to me recently,” he continued without irony, “that bad first contacts can result in misunderstandings and stereotypes that last generations. The circumstances of the first meetings between our peoples were unfortunate. In the eleven days we’ve had your people as guests aboard Sentry, they have been open, engaging, and pleasing to converse with. They’ve quite won over most of my crew, I must say.”

“Why Captain Benoit, that’s a very enlightening position,” Larien purred, gesturing to his steward and whispering something briefly in her ear. She nodded and departed, while Larien unsealed the wine, poured two cups, and served Sentry’s captain with his own hand. Benoit, having been through Starfleet’s ‘charm school’ as part of his command preparation course, recognized it as a high compliment among Orions. Benoit knew the wine was good, at least to his palate—it came from his private store. He swirled it in his cup, expertly sniffing the bouquet before taking a drink. Larien Kass watched him curiously but didn’t mimic him. He simply took a deep draught, his face impassive as to the taste.

“What is next for you and your ship?” Kass asked.

“We return to one of our starbases for battle-damage repair, and to debrief the first contact with the Klingons. It is standard Starfleet procedure to bring in a ship and crew for an extensive debrief in person after any first contact is made, but especially when it turns out as…poorly… as this one did.”

“Your official first contact. By now, I’m sure my people have explained that this was likely not the first time your people have encountered the Klingons….?”

Benoit nodded cautiously. “Yes. Reluk and Tassen were quite cooperative in terms of sharing what information they have. Actually, that is one of the reasons I was eager to meet with you.”

“So, we come to it at last,” Larien Kass smiled. “Not mere courtesy or diplomacy, but business. First, however, allow me to reciprocate in the spirit of your generous gift,” he added as his steward returned. She bore a clear, transparent aluminum bottle in the vague shape of a thermos, with an almost fluorescent blue liquid inside it. This caught the attention of Lieutenant Commander Tokoralashi, who was a hedonistic wonder when it came to ingestibles.

“What is that, captain?” Tokor asked.

“This is a Rihannsu Ol,” Larien Kass replied, with a curious sidelong glance at Benoit. As expected, the captain immediately sat up straighter.

“That word, Rihannsu,” he said. “The Klingons used it. We washed it through the translator matrix a few times, and cross referenced it with the known dialects of your people. It came back as Romulan.”

“The Rihannsu, yes,” Larien confirmed. “I believe your people have intimate knowledge of them.” That was a deliberate understatement to end them all.

“Your people trade with the Romulans? You’ve seen the Romulans face to face?”

“You begin to see that our people may have much to offer one another,” Larien replied without answering the question. He wasn’t about to admit that Orion trade with the Romulan Star Empire was handled through proxies—some of whom were Klingon smugglers and traders. A whole new world would be opening to the Federation in the years to come, and the Orion syndicates planned to be at the center of it all, profiting from all sides.

The steward opened the bottle and poured, passing cups to all the Sentry crewmembers. Mase Rokuro waved his off—he was a known teetotaler, drinking only water and tea as part of his rigorous physical regimen. Doctor Sh’tialos produced a med-scanner from her pouch and gave the concoction a quick once-over before announcing it was safe for everyone involved. Tokor eagerly took a large sip, and almost went cross-eyed. He sputtered, coughed, and set his cup down with his face wrinkled in disgust.

“I wouldn’t clean the engine room deck plates with that!” he said in pure disgust. Larien Kass and the other Orions burst out laughing.

Thrylla Sh’tialos took an experimental sip. Her eyes widened and her antennae wavered, and a look of sublime pleasure crossed her face. She motioned to Tok’s abandoned cup, and he wordlessly reached over and poured its contents into hers. She took another, deeper gulp and gasped in pleasure.

“Opinions do vary among palates, do they not?” Tassen chuckled from his cushion.

“I guess I’m the tie-breaking vote,” Benoit said, waxing philosophical. “Cheers,” he added, taking a sip. At first, he thought it was merely good, then he thought it was going to turn him inside out as it went down, and then the aftertaste hit and it was like a delicious liquid fire in the back of his throat. He opened his mouth to speak but his larynx refused to function on the first attempt. On the second, he managed to croak: “If this is Romulan ale, it’s no wonder the war was so brutal!”

“Verdict?” Thrylla asked.

Benoit nodded, fighting to breathe. “It hurts so good… at least I think it does. Definitely an acquired taste.” He reached out and upended the contents of his own cup into Thrylla’s, who was taking a fourth hefty swig. Her weaving antennae were starting to lose their synchronicity. All of them were laughing now.

“And now, Captain Benoit,” Larien Kass said expansively, “let’s talk about what the UFP wants, and what the Orion syndicates want in return.”

“I don’t know, captain, do you think he was telling the truth?” Tokor asked several hours later when they were underway again aboard Sentry. “I doubt that blood-colored crap came from anywhere within a thousand parsecs of Romulus! I think he was having us on. He was very charming, but I wasn’t born last night—that smooth old bastard is a pirate through and through.”

“A gentleman pirate, at any rate,” Doctor Sh’tialos amended from the other side of the command chair. “You can call it Romulan ale or Blue Antimatter, doesn’t matter, but Larien Kass could make himself stupendously wealthy selling it on Andoria. It’s a shame we couldn’t come to an agreement on any other sort of exchange.”

Benoit sighed. “They clearly have information on the Klingons that we need, and perhaps even the Romulans too, if we take him at his word about the Romulan ale. But what he was asking for was far beyond my authority to grant. It’s a matter for the Federation trade commission, and I’m sure they’ll be sending a new delegation to the Orion colonies after we submit our reports. The one thing the Federation is going to demand is the cessation of the Orion slave trade within the UFP Treaty Exploration Territory. That’ll be the sticking point.”

Thal spoke up from the sciences station, where he was simply lounging for a change rather than working diligently at some project or bit of research. “Did the Orion captain let slip anything about Stonik?”

“Not a word, and believe me, I tried everyone I talked to,” Doctor Sh’tialos replied.

“Finding him out here was frankly more unexpected than the Klingons themselves,” Tokor added.

Benoit shrugged. “It’s all in the report for Starfleet to sift through, or even take up with the Vulcan government if they want. He isn’t the first private citizen to venture out of core UFP space to be sure—traders abound between home and the Orion colonies. It was odd, though. I wonder if all Vulcans are so stoically close-mouthed? In any case, I don’t think Larien Kass had the authority to make the agreements he was bringing up, either. This was an outreach, and one that was planned by someone else, someone not aboard Kass Moonstream. It was their way of letting us know that they do have things we want, especially information, and they are open to offers.”

“How would they have known we were going to meet?” Jehva asked.

Tokor answered that one. “We let Reluk signal for a rendezvous the day after we left Gamma Demetrius. The Orion colonies are relatively close; Kass Moonstream had time to send messages back and forth by subspace. Larien’s invitation was not a spontaneous decision.”

“You don’t seem much taken with him,” Benoit remarked, a smile tugging at his mouth.

“I was okay with him, until he tried to poison me with his fancy Rihannsu Ol!” Tokor grimaced, throwing up diminutive jazz hands for comedic effect.

That brought a fresh round of loud laughter, and Doctor Sh’tialos was pleased to see Frances Benoit join in whole-heartedly. It was a good sign; he was starting to rebound mentally and emotionally from the encounter at Gamma Demetrius. By the time he stood tall in front of Starfleet Command, he’d be himself again, and that was a good thing for all of them.

Benoit stood up from the command chair and stretched like a cat. “I’m going to turn in for the night,” he announced. Lieutenant Zh’itohle, you have the conn. Steady as she goes.”

“Steady as she goes, aye,” Jehva replied.

Bonne nuit et fait de beaux rêves,” Benoit yawned as he headed for the lift. Good night and sweet dreams.

Thrylla’s antennae twitched towards him curiously. “What makes a sweet dream for you, mon capitane?”

Benoit grinned as he stepped into the lift. “Le rêve des étoiles, mes amis.” The doors swished shut in front of him.

“The what?” Jehva asked.

“The dream of stars, my friends,” Thrylla translated. On the main viewscreen, the stars crept peacefully by as USS Sentry warped for home.