Sixteen - The Plague
Although Kessec would have preferred his mate to remain inside the protection of the citadel’s walls every waking moment, he understood her need to walk freely wherever she chose. He wanted to keep her happy, not a prisoner. And so it was that Tynal was exposed to the virus once thought dead. No longer were the minn’hor beasts dropping like flies in the fields, nor were there any left among the people of the surrounding villages who bore the incriminating scars of the plague.
Such is often the nature of a virus. Once exposed to a poisonous virus, the body’s immune system devises a counterattack, by coordinating its immune cells and antiviral messenger compounds, engulfing the invading organisms, along with the cells already infected, destroying the intruder. An invading virus doesn’t usually like to kill its host, as the organism will ultimately die as well. But in this case, her single liver and corresponding lack of immunities, didn’t allow Tynal’s body to develop the protection she needed to fight off the disease. Many in Qa’yarin had died during the plague’s most virulent phase, but it was felt, since no one had shown any of the symptoms for the past several years, that the disease had died out. Tynal, however, was not native to the area, having first been enslaved by Dervak for so many years, and then keeping herself within the citadel while her children were young, she had never been endangered by the virus. Within two years of having been exposed, she was dead.
Although forbidden to enter her room once the symptoms became obvious, each of her sons disobeyed the order, seeking to comfort Tynal in her illness. It was Durrall, the youngest of her offspring, who visited the most often, sometimes bringing his mother the warm, soft tor’rif bread she had once enjoyed so much. Despite her pleading, and sometimes violent displays, for him to stay away, he continued to look in on Tynal. Even when she had guards posted at the door, he managed to find a way to be at her side. When she no longer recognized him, or lay unconscious, he held her hand late into the night. The fierceness of his loyalty would be his undoing.
Though Kessec continued to expand and rule his empire for many years, after Tynal’s death, he was never again the same. He blamed himself for her death, for having brought her to a place where the plague once held reign. Perhaps Tynal’s illness was the payment extracted for his own arrogance in assuming he was strong enough to take the position of emperor. He had given his people so much, and the reward was to be the death of that which he held most dear.
Each of his five sons continued thrive and to grow strong in their heritage, no matter their physical differences. Each became renown warriors, conquering entire worlds at their father’s command. And the plague claimed no more than its single victim at that time.
The combined heritage the five brothers shared would affect three of her sons in ways she would never have imagined in the throes of her worst nightmare. The two eldest sons, Mohtr and Gistad, were not affected by the deadly combination of their parents’ genes, as they were each born with both of their livers intact. And, while the next two sons, Dalef and Tagre each had but a single liver, the double membrane lining their brains were inherited from their mother. The single liver they each possessed made the elimination of certain substances unlikely, if not impossible. A difficult existence within the Klingon culture, perhaps, but not thought to be deadly. At least - not at that time in history.
Durrall, Kessec’s favorite son, was the only one of his sons who not only possessed but a single liver, but also inherited the thicker outermost pia mater membrane, born of his father’s exploits while on Praxis. Little did he know how the combined genetic encoding of his parents would affect the future generations of his descendants.
As is the nature of governments, especially those in which the leader may be overthrown or assassinated, Kessec’s own empire eventually fell. Kessec’s sons, Mohtr, Gistad, Dalef, Tagre, and Durrall went out into the raging and changing world to seek their fortunes. With the three youngest went the mutation of a terrible disease born of the union of their parents.
Seventeen - Gagh
Benia stood next to Rok’ta at the weapons station aboard Co’Mas’ ship and saw suppressed pain in his face. They had spent many hours together since leaving Qo’noS, and had come to know each other better. Benia had found much about this warrior to be pleasing. Not only was he strong and opinionated, but he had a ready laugh much like her dead brother, Kelsron.
For his part, Rok’ta felt much the same. Despite being the daughter of his father’s enemy, he found spending time with Benia to be pleasing. He disliked the emptiness he felt when she left his side for even a short time. It was... distracting. As was the burning he felt in his stomach. He felt as though he would surely be doubled over from the squeezing of his intestines if he lost control of his concentration.
“Are you ill?” Benia whispered discreetly, while appearing to study the computer panel in front of her. Being sick before the resurgence of the plague was cause for embarrassment and harassment. Being sick now was cause for alarm. Sweat was beading on Rok’ta’s brow and trickling down the sides of his face into his beard.
“The gagh,” Rok’ta managed to squeeze out in ragged gasps.
“I prepared it myself,” Benia said with a bite in her lowered voice.
“That’s why I ate it,” Rok’ta closed his eyes as the pain ripped through his abdomen into his chest. He would not be able to suppress the pain much longer. He could feel his knees beginning to buckle.
“Do you think I would poison you?” Benia could feel her pulse quicken with anger. Just a moment ago she had been amusing herself by considering the uproar that would ensue in their houses if they should choose to marry. Now she wondered how she could have so misjudged her former enemy. A handsome face and strong arm did not guarantee a reasonable mind! How could this fine warrior think she would poison him?!
“No,” Rok’ta managed to croak through a parched throat. He had to find a way to tell her he did not suspect treachery, that he never ate gagh and other traditional Klingon food because it often incapacitated him. That he only ate it to show he cared about her, and was afraid to show weakness in front of her. As strong and willful and daring and - beautiful - as she was, he was afraid she would reject him out of hand if she knew of this weakness of character. He knew she was thinking he was accusing her. He had come to know how her mind worked over the past several hours. It was one of the things he found so intriguing about her. She always spoke her mind without fear. He was reaching deep inside of himself for strength. When he had eaten the gagh, he had hoped he would be able to handle the pain better. But the weapons station was beginning to blur and the bridge of the ship to spin. He must fight the pain. He must not lose Benia’s respect.
Suddenly a strong hand clamped down on his shoulder and he heard the deep voice of his brother Dur’Al through the darkness of his pain.
“What did you eat, little brother?” Rok’ta could hear the concern in his brother’s voice cut through the usual mockery. Unfortunately, he was no longer able to stay upright and slumped to the floor, his jaws clenched tight, lest he humiliate himself further by crying out in pain.
“What did he eat?” Dur’Al’s voice contained not one shred of suspicion, only a kind of pleading. Benia knew the question Rok’ta’s brother was really asking, as it was knifing through her own heart. Was this an unrelated illness, or was it a sign of the Plague? Benia did the only thing she knew to do for the warrior who had captured her heart so easily. She dropped to her knees on the deck beside his convulsing body and knocked him unconscious. Her task complete, she raised her eyes to Dur'Al and said “Gagh.”
Co’Mas had quietly observed the entire scene play out before him without moving a muscle. Even when his enemy’s daughter had used a double-fisted blow to Rok’ta’s chin, he had not interfered. He was, in fact, impressed the girl had saved Rok’ta’s honor, rather than bemoan his fate. Co’Mas continued to watch, unmoving, while Dur’Al removed his brother from the bridge. But inside, Co’Mas was beginning to fear the words the outcast female had thrown at him. In seeking to save Tykar, had he doomed them all?
In the medical bay, Dur’Al placed his brother’s inert body on the hard steel table indicated by the female Vulcan assistant, while the human doctor ran a scanner over Rok’ta. His initial instinct was to leave the medical personnel to their duties and return to his own. Medical matters were not usually his business, nor, his being a Klingon, his forte. But he knew something about his younger brother that the others did not. And, with his oldest brother being sick also, it did not bode well for him or his three other brothers.
“Do you know what caused him to pass out?” Dr. Crusher asked without looking up.
“She hit him,” Dur’Al stated, nodding in Benia’s direction.
“After he became ill from eating gagh,” Benia added, reasonably.
Crusher let out a sigh of exasperation and turned to Selar. “Do you know what these readings mean?” She handed the scanner to the Vulcan doctor, unable to discipher the Klingonese displayed there.
“Yes,” Selar replied, “the levels of toxins in his system have risen considerably since our last readings.”
“What?” Crusher was mystified. “Why would eating gagh cause the toxins to rise?”
“Rok’ta has only one liver,” Dur’Al spoke up. He was obviously reluctant to part with the information and seemed ashamed for his brother, as if it were a failure of character to have only one of the organs instead of the usual two.
Crusher and Selar exchanged a meaningful look just as Colna admitted that she, too, only had one liver.
“Does he have the plague?” Benia blurted out. She could tolerate the waiting no longer.
“Yes,” Selar stated calmly.
“Does anyone else on the ship have only one liver?” Crusher aimed her question at Rok’ta’s brother.
“A few, yes. It is not a matter we discuss freely. Why do you ask?” Dur’Al crossed his arms, adopting a defensive posture.
“It could be the key to finding a cure,” Crusher told the imposing Klingon, excitement evident in her eyes.
“Tykar has two livers,” Dur’Al stated with finality. The light in the human’s eyes went out a little, replaced by determination.
“All right, she said, “it’s a starting point. I need you to bring all those who have only one liver here. Will you do that for me?”
Whatever Dur’Al may have replied was lost in the explosion that rocked their ship. They were under attack.
Eighteen - Attack
At long last, after years of waiting and planning, j’Wel had Co’Mas in his sights. It was more than he had hoped for. When setting out for qo’Hegh, he had hoped to catch one or two of the sons of Co’Mas still near the planet. He had never hoped to find Co’Mas himself outside of his fortress estate. He had wanted to strip his enemy of his sons in retribution for his own son’s death. He had thought the governor beyond reach. Now his fondest dream was within his grasp. He could only imagine Co’Mas, himself, was bringing Benia to qo’Hegh to see with his own eyes that j’Wel’s daughter paid the price of retribution for Tykar’s disease. For a moment, j’Wel stayed his command to fire. Perhaps Benia had not yet been transported to the planet. Perhaps she was still alive and well. A look of indecision crossed his face.
Or perhaps, j’Wel reflected, Co’Mas had already infected her through contact with Tykar. j’Wel’s mind raced as he considered his next move. There was another matter to be considered that he had tried to ignore, but was now forced to face. His warriors had fought, many of them hand-to-hand, against Rok’ta’s force when they had attacked. Very likely some of their warriors had been exposed to the disease, and the possibility remained that now some of his own warriors were infected as well.
j’Wel raged deep in the recesses of his mind. Not only had he lost Kelsron to the treachery of the sons of Co’Mas, but now he would lose his oldest daughter to Co’Mas as well. Just when j’Wel had thought she might be within reach, that he might be able to save his daughter, she was snatched from his grasp by even more treachery. j’Wel could not risk bringing Benia back among her family for fear of infecting all of them.
Very well then, he decided firmly, earlier he had preferred a clean end for his daughter, instead of a lingering death filled with pain and disease. Now he was going to give it to her.
“Decloak and fire on the lead ship,” j’Wel ordered. His crew worked in concert, firing mercilessly, to bring about the destruction of Co’Mas’ ship.
Of course, once battle was joined, j’Wel knew his own small fleet of warriors would be anxious for a piece of the action. They had come seeking revenge for the death of Kelsron and would not be denied the chance to reek vengeance. j’Wel directed his navigation officer to stay on Co’Mas’ ship. Despite being rocked by enemy fire, j’Wel ordered his crew to pursue his age-old enemy. j’Wel was determined he would have his revenge for Kelsron’s death and betrayal, and kill his most-hated enemy in the process.
“Shields down to twenty percent,” Dur’Al informed his father aboard Co’Mas’ ship.
“Return fire,” Co’Mas calmly informed the Klingon standing at the weapons station. He missed having Rok’ta at those controls. There was such an enthusiasm in his young son when engaged in battle. It was exhilarating just to watch him.
As if in response to his father’s thoughts, Rok’ta appeared beside him. Co’Mas was surprised. Although not present when Tykar was first taken ill with the disease, he had assumed Rok’ta would be too sick to do more than lay in bed, near death, mimicking his brother Tykar. Yet, here he was, back on the bridge and eager to join in the battle.
And j’Wel’s brat was with him again. Co’Mas had seen the way Rok’ta looked at his enemy’s daughter, and he didn’t like it. Not one bit.
“I am here to fight,” Rok’ta said, his voice free of the pain which had held him in its grip before Dur’Al had carried him bodily off the bridge.
“That is my father’s personal ship,” Benia announced, glancing at the viewscreen. Her voice was calm, with only a trace of urgency. Co’Mas reflected that if she were the daughter of anyone but the cowardly j’Wel, she might, indeed, make a good match for his youngest son.
“Rok’ta, take the weapons station,” Co’Mas ordered. Now we will see what kind of match you will make once Rok’ta destroys your father’s ship, Co’Mas thought to himself.
Once again, when he least expected it, he heard the voice of the female Klingon from qo’Hegh. It was a voice he had already tired of. Colna was compelling in her arguments, but naïve in the true nature of Klingon politics. The histories she had read were, of course, written by the victors, not impartial observers. Matters were often not what they seemed, but the feisty young Colna didn’t seem to understand the concept of intrigue. Co’Mas had appreciated her boldness when facing him on Qo’noS, so he had allowed her on the bridge and spent time speaking with her, answering her seemingly endless questions and uncovering the areas of ignorance she had gained being separated from her people. She had stayed for some time, finally leaving the bridge in anger, calling Co’Mas a liar, completely mystified at his version of Klingon history. And now she was back, defending what she considered to be the Klingon Code of Honor.
“Co’Mas, if we are destroyed, all hope of finding a cure is gone,” Colna’s brow was knit with anger.
“Which is why I must destroy the enemy,” Co’Mas replied, his tone conveying it was the most reasonable thing to do.
“You must get the doctors to the planet. You are wasting time pursuing that ship.”
“Colna,” Co’Mas said, his tone sharpening, “I command this vessel and its mission. In case you haven’t noticed, we are the ones being pursued.”
“You are transparent, Co’Mas,” Colna snorted in disdain. “You seek personal revenge against your enemy by deceiving him.”
“What do you know of my plans?” Co’Mas waved Colna off with a dismissive gesture. “Rok’ta, target j’Wel’s ship and destroy him!” Co’Mas ordered, excitement lacing his voice.
“You are without honor, Co’Mas. You and j’Wel are both without honor. You have deceived yourselves into believing the other is responsible for your loss and pain.” Colna had been standing at Co’Mas’ side while he continued to look at the viewscreen, appearing to ignore her. Colna stepped in front of him now.
“No matter who was responsible for the first loss, you both degrade yourselves with this vengeance. What’s more, “ Colna put her scarred face inches from Co’Mas’ and sneered, “you degrade all Klingons and the Empire itself with your dishonor.” Colna stood, unblinking, waiting for a response from Co’Mas.
Rok’ta stood at the weapons station, poised to execute his father’s orders, torn between his loyalty and obedience to his father and the desire to not cause Benia any further pain. She had already lost her brother and her mother because of the rivalry between the houses which had, in fact, started long before their own fathers took up the feud, continuing the fighting because of past crimes against their families. If his father gave the command to fire, Rok’ta knew he would carry it out or he would lose his own honor. Perhaps his own life. He also knew he would lose Benia if he did fire. She had acted with honor in all things, as far as he could see, and Rok’ta knew she would understand his actions in completing his father’s commands. He also knew if he was responsible for the death of Benia’s father, she would be compelled to kill him in return. Vengeance, it was the way of life for a Klingon. Would the blood feud ever end?
Benia knew what was expected the moment Rok’ta fired upon her father’s ship. She knew the entire crew knew what was expected. She would be forced to attempt to kill Rok’ta despite her respect and feelings for him. It was expected. It was the way of things. It never occurred to her that Rok’ta would refuse to obey his father’s command. The Circle of Revenge must be completed. She knew the warriors at the other stations around the bridge were preparing to kill her before she was successful in killing Rok’ta. She had no choice in the matter. None whatsoever if she was to keep her father’s honor intact. She sighed internally and began to formulate her attack. No wonder Kelsron had approached Tykar in an effort to sue for peace.
Once again, the young female had caught Co’Mas off guard. He had been a ferocious warrior in his younger days, collecting his share of kills and enemies. As he grew older, he had called in the favors due him and made his mark in the political arena. He had raised and trained six fine warrior sons and had called a formidable number of warriors to his banner over the years. How was this small female able to get under his skin so far? He did not owe anyone any answers, least of all someone so diseased and visibly repugnant.
Co’Mas immediately regretted the unworthy thought, realizing as he did so, that Colna’s appeal, the reason he allowed her to speak when he had so easily silenced many others, was because of her honor. She was a shinning example of what all Klingons sought to be. Cut off from her true people and its society, she had captured the purity of honor while others had been sidetracked by fear, compromise and a thousand other reasons real or perceived.
Despite the fury scalding his heart, howling for revenge against j’Wel for all his past crimes, Co’Mas knew Colna was right. He just didn’t want to admit it. He wanted the universe to rid of j’Wel. He wanted his son to kill his enemy so j’Wel’s daughter would hate him. He wanted, mostly, to hold j’Wel’s still-beating heart in his hands after driving his dagger deep into his chest. He wanted to taste the revenge he had wrought on his enemy.
And yet, even more than the need to satisfy his blind rage, Co’Mas wanted his sons to live. He needed that cure. So, as he had done many times before, he compromised. He knew he didn’t do what he was about to do for honor or for any of the things Colna had shoved down his throat. Oh, he would like to believe that he did, but Co’Mas knew better. He issued his next order for the purely selfish reason of keeping his sons alive, and honor be damned!
“Evasive maneuvers,” Co’Mas raised his voice. “Get these guests,” he bit off the word, “off my ship and onto that planet,” he barked. At that moment, Co’Mas very much wished j’Wel had a Colna on his own ship.
Nineteen - To qo'Hegh
Picard was very unhappy, indeed, to be making an incursion into Klingon space without the benefit of authorization either from Starfleet Command or the High Council. This was the very reason he had argued with his chief medical officer against the mission in the first place. There were far too many unknowns which could, all too easily, cause complications.
As expected, once he had informed the crew of the reason for his taking the Enterprise to qo’Hegh, his first officer, Commander William Riker, had argued vehemently against the decision.
“With all due respect, Captain,” the tall, dark-haired executive officer pointed out, “the lapse in communication with Doctor Crusher’s team and the occurrence of one incidence of the disease may be completely unrelated.”
“True, Number One,” Picard conceded, “but we haven’t heard from Doctor Crusher for over four days now. It’s not like her to keep us in the dark.”
“Sir, there could be any number of explanations for her lack of communication,” Riker persisted.
“Yes, but if Ambassador Worf has heard of the incident, it is very likely that others,” Picard paused, “less sympathetic,” he chose his words carefully, “in the Klingon political structure have also learned of that information and might be willing to use it to their advantage.”
“How so?” Riker asked.
“As the ambassador pointed out, Gowron had many loyal supporters before Worf challenged him, any number of whom might feel they would be better suited than General Martok for the position of Chancellor.”
“I don’t understand, Captain,” Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge stated from his engineering counsel, “How could someone use the disease on an isolated planet like qo’Hegh to their advantage in gaining the position of Chancellor?”
“They could blame the Federation for interfering with internal policies using Doctor Crusher as a scapegoat,” Picard explain, “saying she was the one who caused the incident.”
“That’s absurd,” Riker cut in, “she wasn’t even on Qo’noS.”
“Nonetheless, Number One, matters are not always what they are reported to be, and she is inside Klingon space without their permission.”
“I still do not understand,” Data said, tilting his head in his uniquely-android fashion, “How does blaming Doctor Crusher for the disease on the Klingon Home World provide a former supporter Gowron the opportunity to challenge General Martok for his position as Chancellor?”
“There are those who would prefer to sever all ties with the Federation, Data,” Picard said. “By blaming the doctor for the disease, they could reasonably argue that the Federation is not to be trusted as allies.”
“And, because of his close ties with the Federation, they could argue Chancellor Martok was responsible for allowing the incident to occur,” Riker added.
“They could all too easily include the Federation’s new ambassador as part of a conspiracy theory as well,” Picard said, agreeing with his first officer’s assessment.
“All the more reason to wait until we’ve heard from Doctor Crusher before we take the Federation’s flagship into Klingon space uninvited,” Riker continued his argument.
“Not this time, Will,” Picard stated firmly. “Ambassador Worf is not an alarmist. I trust his instincts.”
“Captain,” Riker insisted, quite comfortable with the role of Devil’s Advocate after spending so many years as the Enterprise’s first officer, “Worf has barely gotten settled in his new position. And he only ever actually lived on the Home World as a child. He could be reading the situation all wrong.”
Picard had terminated speculations and the discussion, stating his decision had already been made. They were headed for the Klingon planet of outcasts without delay. And yet, there were many unanswered questions plaguing the captain. Questions he hoped he would have answered right now.
“Mister Daniels, try to reach Doctor Selar’s ship again,” Picard ordered the sandy-haired lieutenant at the tactical station. They had been unsuccessful in reaching the planet, but Dr. Crusher had explained that their one communication station was often left unattended due to the lack of regular communication with anyone off-planet. Attempting to contact Selar’s ship, orbiting the planet, was their next best option.
“Aye, sir,” the lieutenant moved his hands across the panel, responding to the captain’s orders. Suddenly, his eyebrows rose in question as he quickly assessed the information presented on his console. “Sir, we are receiving a transmission from the planet itself.”
“On screen,” Picard commanded, straightening in his chair.
“Sir, the audio appears intact, but visual is distorted,” Daniels warned, his hands flying over the console in an obvious effort to reorder the transmission to the captain’s approval. Picard nodded in understanding, taking the opportunity to stand, tugging his uniform into place.
“Captain Picard,” a Vulcan appeared on the viewscreen and opened the conversation. Static laced the viewscreen, dissecting his image at several points.
“To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?” Picard queried, surprised to be addressing a Vulcan instead of the expected Klingon. He could only imagine one of Selar’s crew had been using the communication station when the Enterprise had come into range. But, somehow, Picard didn’t think so. He had a bad feeling about this.
“I am Saret, Doctor Selar’s first officer,” he stated simply.
“Is it possible to speak with Doctor Crusher?” Picard asked, thoughts tumbling through his mind, trying to make sense of the situation.
“No, Captain. I regret to inform you she, and several others were taken by a large group of Klingon warriors approximately four days ago,” Saret replied.
“What?!” Commander Riker rose quickly from his seat, standing next to Picard. The tension on the bridge of the Enterprise immediately rose several notches.
“Why weren’t we informed?” Riker demanded.
“Doctors Crusher and Selar, along with several others, were taken by force without warning or provocation by an unidentified group of Klingons who demanded a cure to the disease.”
“Can you tell us anything else about the situation?” Picard asked, sifting through the scarce information the Vulcan had provided.
“Nothing further than they also critically damaged our ship and the planet’s communications facility. We have only now been able to repair it.”
“Was anybody hurt?” Picard asked.
“Yes. Three of the colonists were killed when they attacked their captors.” Picard could well imagine just such action on the part of the Klingon colonists. “Additionally, there are several wounded, but none critically.” Saret completed his answer.
“Do you require assistance?” Picard asked.
“Not at this juncture, Captain,” Saret replied.
“Do you know where the Klingons took the hostages?” Picard asked, trying to formulate a plan of action with so little information available at the moment.
“Captain,” Data interrupted, “there appears to be a battle taking place near the planet of qo’Hegh involving thirty-seven small Klingon ships,” Data paused, glancing at the information presented on his console, “Thirty-six,’ he amended.
“From the frying pan into the fire,” the first officer mumbled.
“Mister Data, how long until intercept?” Picard asked.
“At warp eight, we will arrive at the planet of qo’Hegh in approximately forty-eight point four minutes,” the android replied, turning in his chair towards the captain to await further instructions.
“Open a channel, all hailing frequencies,” Picard ordered tersely. “Saret, stand by. I’ll be in touch with you shortly.” The Vulcan bowed slightly, acknowledging Picard’s request, as his image disappeared from the viewscreen.
“Open, sir,” Lieutenant Daniels confirmed with a nod in the captain’s direction.
“Attention all Klingon vessels near the planet of qo’Hegh,” Picard began, turning his face slightly towards the ceiling as if addressing the heavens, “This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, would someone tell me what the devil is going on?” They may have tiptoed into the Klingon sector of space, hoping to reclaim their crewmember without detection, but such was clearly not going to be the case. Picard decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.
“This is not a Federation matter,” was the snarled reply he received from one Klingon combatant. Then his face was replaced by the stars as he ended his transmission as abruptly as he had made his pronouncement.
“Sir, there is a human aboard one of the vessels nearest the planet,” Data called out unexpectedly. After another moment of consideration, he announced “It is Doctor Crusher’s biosignature.”
“Helm, increase speed to warp eight point six,” Picard ordered, resuming his seat.
“Warp eight point six, aye sir,” replied Ensign Perim, the female Trill seated at the conn.
“Hail that ship,” Picard ordered.
“Sir, Doctor Crusher, and several others have just beamed down to the surface of the planet,” Data informed the captain.
Riker turned towards Picard, a question on his face. “Not yet, Number One. We need some answers first,” the captain said, knowing his executive officer was eager to take an away team to the planet to get answers first-hand.
“Incoming transmission from the Klingon ship,” Lieutenant Daniels advised.
“On screen,” Picard said, nodding minutely towards the viewscreen.
“What do you want?” the Klingon demanded. In contrast to the obvious trappings of a military nature of the other Klingon who had answered their first hail, this one was attired in more stately robes. A politician, Picard surmised. Just what we need, he thought with sarcasm.
“You just transported several people from your ship to the planet of qo’Hegh,” Picard stated, “One of them was my chief medical officer, Doctor Crusher.”
“What of it?” The Klingon was giving nothing away, which did not bode well with the captain. He could see the Klingon’s ship was damaged and crewmembers were hurrying to get systems back online.
“I’ve been told she and her team had been taken by force,” Picard raised an inquiring eyebrow, his calm demeanor giving away nothing of the anger he felt raising inside. Just then, the Klingon’s ship was hit by an incoming salvo, knocking several of the vessel’s occupants to the deck. The Klingon began issuing orders, then turned back to the viewscreen.
“I’m busy right now, Picard. And you are far from home,” the Klingon leaned closer to his viewscreen with a look of intimidation on his face.
“Captain,” Deanna Troi suddenly spoke, rising from her chair, and tilting her head in a manner which alerted Picard she had something urgent and relevant to add to the conversation without letting the Klingon know what was being said. Picard turned his back on the viewscreen, pulling his hand across his throat in a motion which told the tactical officer to mute the audio portion of the transmission.
“Counselor?” Picard questioned.
“He is very worried about his son. It is uppermost in his mind,” she paused, searching for more information from her empathic abilities. “His son is sick. Dying.” She paused again, her eyes filling with the emotion she was feeling from the Klingon. “I would guess he has the disease.”
Picard nodded again at Lieutenant Daniels standing ready at the tactical station. Understanding his commanding officer’s silent order, he pressed a panel and confirmed “Audio on, sir.”
“I won’t pretend to understand why you and the others are firing on each other, but Doctor Crusher and her team are working on a cure that is vital to the inhabitants of that planet,” Picard began. “We need your cooperation if they are to succeed. These hostilities will only make the process that much harder to complete.”
“Captain, several Klingons have beamed to the surface near where Doctor Crusher beamed down,” the android calmly informed Picard. Circumstances were spiraling dangerously out of control, placing many people on all sides of the situation at risk of injury or death, including Dr. Crusher. Picard knew he had to act quickly to avert that possibility. He nodded at his executive officer, granting him permission to take an away team to the surface.
“Mister Daniels, Data, you’re with me,” Riker said, rising from his command seat. He tapped his combadge as he strode to the turbolift. “Security, meet me in Transporter Room Three with phaser rifles.” Then he and the other two officers were gone, swallowed by the ‘lift. Picard turned his attention back to the viewscreen, taking a moment to observe the Klingon’s attire before addressing him. Intimately familiar with Klingon politics, he made an assumption and addressed the politician.
“Governor, your son is sick,” Picard stated, cutting to the quick of the matter. “We need additional information if we are to succeed in helping him and the people of qo’Hegh. Would you please tell me what’s going on?”
So the Klingon told him. At least his version of events. Picard was able to ferret out the facts through careful questioning and the help of his empathic counselor, Deanna Troi. In the end, Picard learned that Dr. Crusher had not been yet successful in creating a cure for the disease. Additionally, there were two warring factions of Klingons embroiled in battle in the space above qo’Hegh. One ready to kill all life on the planet to ensure no further incidents of the disease were possible - as Ambassador Worf had predicted - and the other ready to kill the first faction to give Dr. Crusher’s team time to effect a cure. To make matters worse, the factions were bent on killing each other as well.
“So, Picard, what will you do?” Governor Co’Mas drawled, clearly feeling as though the human’s hands were tied. When an answer was not immediately forthcoming, Co’Mas turned his head slightly towards his own crew and ordered them to transport to the surface. “Now, if you will excuse me,” the governor directed his gaze at the captain, “I have a very old enemy to dispose of.” With that, he terminated the transmission.
Picard sighed as his shoulders slumped a little. He had already taken his ship and crew where they didn’t belong, and now they were in the middle of a life-threatening situation. Several members of his crew were already on the surface, and the Dr. Selar’s ship was disabled. He couldn’t just collect his crewmembers and leave at this juncture, without leaving the colonists at risk from the warring factions. Nor did he have the authority, to ask for help from the High Council. He lowered himself into his command chair, not ready to give up the fight just yet.
Twenty - Crusher
Dr. Beverly Crusher studied the readouts on her medical tricorder, mentally pausing in gratitude for having an instrument she could read at first glance - without a Klingon translator. And it’s a good thing she didn’t need her erstwhile translator, she reflected, as Colna was very busy helping Dr. Motar scan the entire database for those colonists listed who only had one liver.
Crusher knew she needed to contact the Enterprise, as she had been out of touch for much longer than usual, and knew Captain Picard would not condone the lapse. And that’s exactly what she would do, as soon as she had more answers. She didn’t want to alarm him, if she could at all avoid it. He was discontent enough about her role on qo’Hegh without her contacting him with no more information than the fact she had been kidnapped at disruptor-point. Besides, the communication room was a good distance away, and she had other matters even more pressing to attend to. Tykar was having a hard time after beaming to the planet, and she needed to get him stabilized. He had been feeling better the last day or so while aboard his father’s ship, and had even roused himself to speak with his family members for a short time. Now he was on the biobed, flat on his back, trying not to let anyone see his suffering. Crusher was preparing a hypo to dull the pain when Dr. Motar snorted in disgust.
“Over half of the dead and those who currently have the disease only have one liver!” Motar slammed his fist against the console he had been working on. “How could I have missed something so simple?”
“Sixty-one percent of the dead and fifty-four percent of those currently infected are recorded as having a single liver,” Dr. Selar clarified.
“Can you determine if there were any differences between those that had one liver and those that had two, in the length of time between when they were diagnosed with the disease and when they died?”
Crusher asked, tapping a finger against her lips in thought. Certain pieces of the puzzle were coming together for her, in her mind.
Dr. Motar turned back to his display with an eagerness that had been missing since they had been taken hostage. It was good to see him be an active member of the team again. If they were going to find a cure, they all had to work together, pooling their collective strengths. This was no time to indulge in self-recriminations. Selar, in the meantime, stepped away from the console and closer to Crusher, a strange look on her face.
“What is it Beverly?” Selar had worked too long with the human physician not to know when her thoughts were taking an unexpected direction. The Vulcan could actually see Crusher’s emotions play across her face as she considered and rejected several lines of thought.
“What makes Klingons different than any other species?” Crusher looked up from her internal contemplation directly at Selar.
“Physiologically or otherwise?” T’Tala asked, joining in the conversation.
“Let’s start with physiology, yes. Why is it only Klingons seem to be susceptible to this disease?” Her frustration was evident in tone of voice as well as the tension in her body. But T’Tala could also sense the doctor was more confident than she had been before.
“Like Cardassians, they have a partial exoskeleton.” T’Tala offered. “However, there has not been a Cardassian visit this planet to our knowledge, so we are unaware of whether this is a factor in the mechanisms of the disease.”
“What else?” Crusher began to pace, deep in thought.
“The most significant differences in Klingon physiology, besides the additional liver, include an eight-chambered heart, and the redundancies in their synaptic systems,” Selar advised.
“Doctor Crusher,” Dr. Motar called from across the room, “from my initial assessment, it appears those with a single liver took much longer to die than those who had two, although there are some exceptions.” He frowned. “And those exceptions were the worst. They died faster than anyone else.”
“Now isn’t that strange,” Crusher speculated, half to herself, still deep in thought. There was a way to connect all the pieces of information they had, but she just couldn’t put her finger on it.
“There is another difference,” Colna volunteered. “I would not have known about it if I had not spent so much time in the laboratory working with Doctor Motar.”
“What is it?” Crusher asked.
“All Klingons also have a double-lined neural pia matter, “ the young Klingon offered, “but I don’t know if that makes any difference.”
Dr. Crusher turned to Motar, her excitement mounting. “Did you do autopsies on the colonists?” she asked.
“Only a few from time to time. There were so many, “ he shook his head, sadly. “However, the records from the ones I did examine are here.” Motar began the process of calling up the appropriate records.
“All right, we’ve got some work to do,” Crusher was in her element. Now she had something to sink her teeth into. “Selar, you and T’Tala look into the differences in the synaptic redundancies. Colna, I’ll need your help with translating the entries regarding the pia matter.”
“And what do you want me to do?” Dr. Motar asked, when it seemed all the assignments had been given out.
“You all need to come with me,” the deep voice of Commander Riker startled them all. He stepped through the doorway, accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Data, Lieutenant Daniels and several other, heavily-armed Starfleet officers.
“Will!” Crusher exclaimed, “How did you get here?”
“There’s a whole armada of Klingon ships out there, ready to destroy this planet. We need to get you to safety.”
“We can’t leave now,” Crusher protested, “we’re getting closer to finding out what makes this virus tick.”
“Doctor, if the Klingons out there have anything to say about it, there won’t be any virus to cure. One of the clans wants to wipe out the entire planet.”
“That would be my father,” Benia walked to where the conversation was taking place. Until now, she had stayed with Rok’ta, helping him to comfort his brother. Riker immediately noted the female speaking held no weapon, but the warrior with her did. At the moment, that weapon was laying within reach, but not in the hands of the warrior. Out of his peripheral vision, he also noticed Data had his own phaser trained on the Klingon.
“Who are you?” Riker asked, directing his question at the warrior.
“I am Rok’ta, son of Co’Mas. This is my brother, Tykar,” the Klingon answered pleasantly enough.
“What is your business here?” Riker asked.
“My father is trying to kill her father,” Rok’ta replied with a nod towards Benia.
“And my father, j’Wel is intent on killing his father,” Benia confirmed.
“We can sort this out later,” Riker decided after a moment. “Right now, we have to get you off the planet, Doctor,” Riker turned back to Crusher.
“Will, all our research is right here. There isn’t time to transfer everything we need back to the Enterprise. Tykar is dying. If we don’t find the cure quickly, nothing will stop the disease from spreading,”
“A group of Klingons beamed down close to here shortly after you did. It’s not safe,” Riker insisted.
“Commander,” Crusher’s voice was rising, “All of Co’Mas’ warriors have been exposed to the disease, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the warriors from the other house are also infected. We can’t leave.”
“Doctor, you’re not giving me much choice,” Riker’s own voice was rising.
“Enterprise to away team,” came Picard’s disembodied voice from the commander’s combadge.
“Riker here, sir. Go ahead,” the executive officer replied.
“Any word on Doctor Crusher’s team?” the captain asked.
“We’re in the medical facility with Doctor Crusher now. She’s refusing to leave,” Riker’s voice was filled with the exasperation he felt.
“Captain, I think I have the answer we’re looking for,” Crusher tapped her own combadge, sending her voice through space to the ship above, “but we need more time.”
“Time is not a luxury you have right now, Doctor,” Picard stated.
“Warriors from both of the houses have been infected. If I don’t find a cure, the disease will spread to the Klingon Home World, regardless of which side wins the battle,” the doctor informed the captain.
“Then do your work here, aboard the Enterprise,” Picard suggested, reasonably.
“She says all her research is here, Captain,” Riker said.
“Very well. Number One, find a way to give the doctor the time she needs,” Picard sighed.
“Aye, sir,” the first officer replied.
“It would be a far worse crime to allow this disease to spread any further, than it would be to convince the Klingon High Council why we are involving ourselves in their internal policies uninvited,” Picard reminded his officers.
“Aye, Captain,” the doctor responded, “We’re working as quickly as we can.”
“Picard out,” the captain closed the channel and began issuing orders to run interference for his people on the surface. He and his ship would keep the combatants busy so his chief medical officer could do her work without more Klingons beaming to the planet. He hoped no one from the opposing sides would call for assistance from the Home World, and that Riker and his team would be successful in protecting the doctors while they affected a cure. If either of those hopes were violated, all prospects would be lost for continued peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and for the people of qo’Hegh.