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Part of USS Endeavour: I Burn and Bravo Fleet: The Archanis Campaign

A Death Cult

Brig, USS Endeavour
June 2399
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Valance’s gaze flickered across Lieutenant Juarez’s face as she entered the Brig. ‘You should get that seen to.’

Juarez rubbed a finger alongside the cut that still split his left eyebrow. ‘When Sickbay’s quieter, Commander. I’m still on my feet.’ Before she could press the point, he’d stepped out from behind the Brig’s main control panel and gestured down the central row of cells. ‘We’ve kept the forcefields opaque and sound-proofed; don’t want them communicating. They’ve been put together in pairs. But we identified who we think is the highest ranked of them, and separated him for you to talk. He’s down in 3-B.’

‘Injuries?’

‘He took four phaser blasts to go down and slept for about twelve hours. They all had to wait for medical help until Sickbay didn’t need the EMH any more. I’m not sending anyone into those cells against members of a death cult.’ Juarez began to lead her down the corridor. ‘EMH did find something in the blood-work which answers a few things, though. Like why some of them took so many shots.’

‘I assumed a combination of high physical fitness and adrenaline,’ Valance said. ‘Klingon physiology is remarkably resilient in the face of battle. We shouldn’t have been surprised some wouldn’t go down to anything less than a lethal shot.’

‘Especially,’ said Juarez, ‘when they’re pumped full of what look like adrenal stimulants. Medical’s got the analysis; couldn’t explain the details if I wanted to, but some sort of amphetamines, I think. Looks like it kept a lot of them going through, like you say, anything less than a lethal shot or blow.’

That’s a surprise,’ Valance allowed. ‘Regular use of such drugs takes a toll on the body most Klingon warriors wouldn’t want to pay. I expect the D’Ghor despise the idea of being Stunned, and want to fight to the death.’

‘And don’t expect to live long before they get their blaze of glory,’ he grumbled. ‘What’s going to happen with this lot?’

‘They’ll be handed to Imperial authorities as soon as possible. Don’t worry, Lieutenant, we won’t keep them aboard longer than we have to.’

‘We can handle them. I just don’t know what you do with people like this.’

Valance stopped as they reached the cell, expression neutral when she looked at Juarez. ‘I can take it from here.’

He hesitated, but reached to key his code into the forcefield to turn off the visual and auditory blockers. ‘Here if you need me, Commander.’

She only gave him a nod as he left. Then her eyes turned to the cell. ‘I’m Commander Valance,’ she said in a low and level voice. ‘First Officer of the USS Endeavour.’

The Klingon within was sat cross-legged, though she could still tell he was not one of the larger or more muscular warriors she’d met. But he was older, his face lined, hair streaked with grey. She might have wondered how they’d identified him as a leader were it not for his baldric, and the trophies which hung from it. Many of them were shards of metal, which at a glance she assumed were from ship hulls or the armour of foes. But there were also an awful lot of teeth.

Pale eyes opened to fix on her. ‘Atal,’ came the cool, calm voice. ‘Son of Vorka. Are you truly no warrior, then?’

She folded her arms across her chest. ‘As I said. I’m the XO. What is your position in service to Gaveq?’

‘I lead one of his war-bands. I led the war-band here.’ Atal’s gaze raked over her. ‘I do not know where Kuskir is.’

‘There are very few ways this ends, Atal, son of Vorka,’ she sighed. ‘But if you want a better option than being surrendered to the Empire, you can tell me everything you know about the D’Ghor operation in Archanis. From what you know about other ships, to what you know about the Kut’luch’s designs and likely next step.’

‘The alternative to the Empire is a Federation cell forever,’ he pointed out. ‘The Empire will give me death.’

‘They might -’

‘In their eyes, I am already dead. In their eyes, I am nothing. Which is why I give myself to D’Ghor. To Gaveq.’ His head tilted. ‘Is that why you give yourself to your captain? To Starfleet?’

‘My service is not like yours.’

‘A warrior may lend their blade to the Empire, but they fight for themselves. Their honour is for themselves.’ Atal shrugged. ‘We Hunters have nothing for ourselves.’

‘You have your blood-thirst,’ she pointed out, hotter than she meant. ‘You have a lust for battle and all you do is feed it.’

‘Some of my brethren. Yes.’ He shook his head. ‘Some would say they are free, and that with honour stripped away they are closer to the true hearts of Klingons. Others would say that by blood they will earn not Sto’vo’kor, but great renown in Gre’thor. The truth is simpler: All we are, are shells into which the D’Ghor pour their will. You are Klingon. Do you hold a warrior’s heart, a warrior’s honour?’

‘I am a Starfleet officer. Where is -’

‘You came to me, or were sent to me, to talk Klingon to Klingon,’ Atal snapped.

‘Perhaps.’ Her jaw tightened, because she knew now was not the time to dwell on that. ‘But I am an officer, not a warrior.’

‘Then you are a shell. Flesh and blood and rage and war, as any Klingon. But without a warrior’s heart or a warrior’s honour, you have nothing of your own – only the cause you are sent on. Starfleet. D’Ghor. Does it differ? Not to the Ferryman, who’ll take us both – shells, both of us – to Gre’thor. Sto’vo’kor’s gates open for warriors – their glory, their honour. Not the Empire’s. Not Starfleet’s.’

Valance hesitated. Then she rolled her eyes. ‘You slaughtered the people of Talmiru. We helped them. The difference is -’

‘You didn’t help them for long. And then you came after us. To kill us.’ Atal unfolded his legs and stood, long-limbed and more graceful than she expected a Klingon to be. ‘That is how this will end. We’re already dead – were already dead when the Empire banished us – and now all we wait for is the knife. And still, if all I am is a shell, I will not break myself and tell you what I know of Gaveq, of Kuskir. Truthfully, there is little I know. I am a hunter. I am sent to kill.’

Her heart tightened. ‘Any conversation you have had with Gaveq on his next move, any interaction you’ve had with anyone on any other ship. Tell me, and I will -’

‘What? Send me to a Federation cage forever? No.’ Atal took two swift, graceful steps to the forcefield. ‘However…’ His gaze flickered to the phaser at her hip. ‘Grant me a blade, and the freedom to conduct the Hegh’bat. And before I plunge the blade into my heart, I will tell you what I know.’

Valance took a step back. ‘The Hegh’bat is suicide for those who -’

‘Cannot stand and face their enemies as a warrior. I will never again be let free of this cage. It is as much an impediment to restoring my honour as infirmity.’ He tilted his head. ‘You win doubly, Commander. Starfleet learns what it wants. And your Klingon heart is fed by the satisfaction of watching me die.’

‘I don’t want to watch you die,’ Valance lied.

Atal scoffed softly. ‘You have my terms. Did you think I would abandon all I have left because you asked, Commander?’

‘I had thought that as a warrior, you might take the chance for one last honourable deed before your end,’ she said quietly.

‘I may fight. My brethren may fight. But we are not warriors.’ Atal swept a hand down the long line of Brig cells. ‘We are shells, with nothing but what the D’Ghor made us. Why would I sacrifice all that I have left for anything short of a chance at Sto’vo’kor?’

‘You know Starfleet will never allow you to kill yourself in one of our own cells.’

‘Not Starfleet. Perhaps a warrior.’ Atal stepped back, and in one languid move sank back to his cross-legged position on the deck. ‘But I see you are but a shell, Commander. I suppose I will see you in Gre’thor some day.’

With that he shut his eyes, and Valance stepped back with a curled lip. The bitter taste was back in her mouth, that numb adrenaline, and there was more of a stalk to her gait than she’d intended as she left. Juarez took one look at her storming past him, and he did not stop her.

She stopped in the corridor, and would have paused to gather her wits and catch her breath had her combadge not chirruped. ‘Bridge to Commander Valance,’ came Rourke’s voice. ‘Any luck down there?

Valance rested a hand against the bulkhead and gave herself two thudding heartbeats of respite before she replied. ‘Negative, sir. They’ve no reason to talk.’

It was a long shot. But you’d better get up here.’ Only now did she hear that tired tension in her captain’s voice, and it made her straighten. ‘We’re still a couple hours out on the Kut’luch… but it looks like they’re not alone.’