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Star Trek Errand of Fury #1: Seeds of Rage

Star Trek Errand of Fury #1: Seeds of Rage

by Kevin Ryan

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Following the harrowing events of the Errand of Vengeance trilogy, tensions between the Federation and the Klingon Empire are the highest they've been since the Battle of Donatu V twenty-five years earlier. Even as Federation Ambassador Robert Fox engages in tense negotiations with the Klingon ambassador to maintain the peace, Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise™ sees his vessel refit from a ship of exploration into a ship of war. The coming conflict will take its toll on many personal lives as well...
Leslie Parrish: The security supervisor is stunned to learn that she is pregnant by her recently killed lover, Jon Anderson -- and that Anderson was, in fact, a Klingon spy, surgically altered to pass as human.
Karel: Brother of the Klingon agent posing as Anderson, and responsible for his death, Captain Koloth's new first officer faces a crisis of faith as he sees the Klingon Empire falling into dishonorable ruin.
Michael Fuller: Father of Enterprise security supervisor Sam Fuller, who was killed in a battle with the Klingons, his son's death reminds him of Donatu V, of which he was one of the few survivors. Has Fuller reenlisted in Starfleet and joined the Enterprise security team out of loyalty -- or vengeance?
The first in an all-new series!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416506768
Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek
Publication date: 04/29/2005
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 486,778
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Kevin Ryan is the author of Pocket Books popular Star Trek trilogy Errand of Vengeance, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation—Requiem (with Michael Jan Friedman). He has also written the screenplay for the novel Eleven Hours and the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Resistance,” as well as two Roswell novels for Simon Pulse and thirteen various comic books published by DC Comics.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Kraetian Space Station

Federation-Klingon Border

2267 (six weeks later)

"No response from the ambassador," Fronde said, looking up from the viewscreen.

Ambassador Fox sighed, not bothering to hide his disappointment. He checked his chronometer. There was no mistake.

They were now almost two hours past due for their meeting. Getting the Klingon ambassador to meet with him directly had felt like a great victory after the runaround they had received from the Klingon High Council.

Fox had arranged for the meeting to take place on a station orbiting the Kraetian homeworld, a venue acceptable to both sides because Kraetia was a trading partner of both the Federation and the Klingon Empire but not aligned with either.

The whole time Fox was making the arrangements, he had felt a sense of hope for the first time in weeks, since his talks with the last Klingon ambassador had ended and the Klingon was recalled by his superiors. Fox knew that the key to preventing war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire lay in getting the Klingons talking. As long as talks continued, there was a chance of preventing open fighting.

Sometimes in diplomacy, all that was required was a delay to let passions cool. Of course, this crisis between the Federation and the Klingon Empire had been brewing -- at least on the Klingon side -- for twenty-five years, since the inconclusive Battle of Donatu V. Nevertheless, the immediate crisis and recent bloodshed were the reasons he was here. His job was to defuse the current situation. If he did that, time might take care of the rest.

"Perhaps the Klingons have a more elastic notion of timeliness than we have previously believed," Fronde said.

Fox wished that were true. He had endured some frustrating negotiations where he had dealt with races whose concept of time meant that a meeting scheduled months in advance might take place hours, days, or even weeks after Fox arrived. However, he felt certain that this was not the case with the Klingons. Martial cultures like theirs depended on precise coordination of military activities. That sensibility spilled over into every aspect of their culture, including diplomacy. On this point, both Starfleet's and the diplomatic corps's analysis were in agreement.

Reading Fox's expression, Fronde said, "Maybe it's just a quirk of the new ambassador."

"No, they're making us wait for a reason," Fox said.

Fronde nodded, immediately accepting the judgment even though Fox had offered no facts to back it up. "What are you going to do?" Fronde asked. His eyes looked at Fox with great respect and something else. Expectation. Fronde fully expected Fox to have a strategy for this contingency, a plan of some kind to get the Klingons talking. Fox wished he had the young man's confidence.

Fox had found Fronde when he was giving a lecture at Fronde's school about his settlement of a Tellarite-Andorian conflict. Fronde had asked insightful questions, and Fox had been impressed by his command of the subtleties of the situation. Now four years out of university, Fronde had shown remarkable promise and Fox felt lucky to have him as his chief of staff.

In the past, Fox had broken impasses in negotiations by working within the framework of the culture or cultures involved. Sometimes that meant wearing traditional dress -- or no clothing at all. Other times he'd had to participate in obscure rituals, including one that involved becoming a sort of godfather to a young prince -- a relationship he had maintained for more than a decade now.

Each time Fox had found a way to accomplish his objective, but he had never faced stakes this high before. And Fox had rarely seen such a lack of goodwill on the other side before. Yet there it was: Fronde's absolute confidence in him showing in the younger man's eyes.

To his surprise, Fox found that some of that confidence seemed to seep into his own consciousness. There were billions of lives at stake, and many worlds were depending on his team, but for the moment, Fox realized that he was moved by the simple belief of a promising young aide.

He made up his mind in an instant and said, "Hail the ambassador's office."

Fronde worked the console as Fox stood in front of the viewscreen, preparing himself for what he had to do. The course had been suggested by a Starfleet report, but Fox had resisted using it until now, partly because it went against all of his training and experience, and partly because he didn't think it would work.

Now it seemed to be all he had, and Fox's instincts told him that it might just work. In any case, at this point it could hardly hurt. After a few seconds, a Klingon face appeared on the viewscreen. It was Kreg, a diplomatic aide that Fox recognized from his previous talks with the Klingons.

"What do you want?" the Klingon asked gruffly.

Fox took the customary Klingon greeting in stride, but put an edge in his voice when he said, "I demand to speak with the ambassador immediately." Kreg looked at Fox for a moment and than laughed unpleasantly. "Are you afraid to relay my demand, or simply too stupid to perform such a simple task?" Fox added.

Fox could hear Fronde draw a sharp breath in surprise, as the Klingon looked at him in disbelief.

"I asked if you were afraid or stupid?" Fox said. Before the Klingon could reply, Fox used his ace in the hole and added, "I challenge you to find the ambassador and tell him of my demands."

A vein on the Klingon's neck was bulging, and for a moment he looked as though he might explode. "You are taking a great risk, human."

Fox ignored the comment and said, "Are you refusing my challenge?"

The Klingon hit a button in front of him, and the screen changed to the trefoil symbol of the Klingon Empire.

"Ambassador, that was...unusual," Fronde said, no doubt putting to words what the other three staff members in the room were thinking.

"Let's see if it worked," Fox said.

A few seconds later, the image on the viewscreen changed again and the Klingon ambassador appeared.

"My aide tells me that you insulted us," Ambassador Wolt said.

"No, I insulted him," Fox said forcefully. "For you, I have a challenge."

"A challenge?"

"I challenge you to live up to our previous agreement and meet with me face-to-face so that we may settle the differences between our people," Fox said.

Ambassador Wolt was silent for a moment, then said, "Wait. I will contact you soon with my response."

"No!" Fox said. "You will meet my challenge now if you have the courage."

There was an edge to the ambassador's voice when he replied, "I accept your challenge and will meet with you in our arranged place immediately." Then the screen went blank.

There was silence in the room. Fox turned to his staff and said, "It appears that the ambassador has accepted our invitation to begin talks."

Nervous laughter filled the room. Well, they needed it, Fox realized. The pressure on the diplomatic team was enormous. And soon enough they would be in the thick of tense negotiations with the Klingons.

"Before we go, I have something for each of you," Fox said. He opened the cargo container that had been left on his high-speed shuttle prior to their departure, a gift from a Starfleet xeno-studies analyst named West. At first, Fox thought the gift another example of Starfleet arrogance, a message from the analyst saying that Fox didn't know how to do his job.

Fox never dreamed that he'd actually be using the contents of the container, but he'd already done a number of things he'd never thought he would do on this mission, and he thought he might do even more before his job was finished.

"Mister Fronde, you first," Fox said, holding two items in his hands.

"Ambassador, do you intend to go into negotiations armed with swords and phasers?" Fronde said, disbelief on his face.

"As a matter of fact I do," Fox said. "The Klingons respect strength. Think of it as wearing another culture's traditional dress." The swords were antiques, more ceremonial than useful. They were United States Civil War-era sabers, and Fox couldn't be sure if the Starfleet analyst had intended them to convey a message to him. The other items weren't actually phasers, they were laser pistols, of the kind used by Starfleet twenty-five years ago when the service had fought the Klingons to a draw at the Battle of Donatu V.

Fox didn't have to wonder if there was a message attached to those energy weapons: it was clear, and it was intended for both Fox and the Klingons. We're anything but weak and at least a match for the Klingon Empire. Normally, Fox would worry about provoking the other side of a negotiation, but he'd already had to provoke the Klingons just to get them to talk. When he had first examined the laser pistols, he had been surprised and more than a little offended that they were functional and fully charged.

Now he found that fact comforting.

However, he could see that Fronde and the rest of the staff weren't pleased. Fox understood. There was an old saying: "A man who carries only a hammer sees every problem as a nail." Well, Fox liked to think he carried a universal translator instead of a hammer -- or a weapon. But he realized that he just might have to carry a few other tools in his kit to make enough of an impression on the Klingons to use that translator.

He strapped on his own weapons. As he turned for the door, Fronde said, "Ambassador, good luck in there."

Fox nodded. "Good luck to all of us. I suspect we'll need it."

Fronde and the three other faces looked at Fox with frank admiration. Once again, he found that their confidence in him lifted his own spirits. He only hoped that the day would find him worthy of their respect.

He led his small group to the conference room provided by the Kraetians. At twenty meters across, it was the largest open space on the station. The utilitarian room had no windows, and cargo containers took up space along the walls. In the center of the room was a square table. Fox would have preferred a round one, but square was almost as good.

Barely a few seconds after they arrived, Fox heard the doors open behind them. He turned to see Ambassador Wolt enter with four aides. Klingon diplomatic parties operated in groups of five because of some obscure custom related to small fighting groups in their distant past. For these talks, Fox had chosen four aides so the groups would be equal in number.

Klingon diplomats, unsurprisingly, wore weapons. Each Klingon had a large daggerlike blade at his side, as well as a pistol that Fox recognized as a disruptor. Two of the aides wore larger blades strung across their backs. These curved weapons, more than a meter in length, were bat'leths, and Fox knew that they had special significance in Klingon culture. Fox recognized one of the aides carrying a bat'leth as Kreg, the Klingon he had insulted over the viewscreen only a few minutes ago. Kreg glowered at him, and Fox saw that he had not forgotten the insult.

The Klingons looked them over, and Fox saw the ambassador's eyes deliberately move to see the weapons Fox was wearing. They lingered on the laser pistol, and suddenly Fox was certain that Wolt understood its significance.

Restraining an urge to smile and extend his hand, Fox simply nodded to Ambassador Wolt, who grunted and motioned for his party to sit. Fox did the same, and both teams faced each other from opposite sides of the table. Looking at Wolt, Fox said, "Ambassador, I am pleased that you have accepted my challenge. I hope we can come to an honorable and mutually beneficial resolution to our differences." From the reports he had read, and his own studies, Fox knew that honor was an important concept to many Klingons.

Wolt gave him an unpleasant smile. "There is a simple way to settle our differences. You and your Federation could simply surrender now."

Fox gave the Klingon a grim smile of his own. "Impossible."

"We could always conquer you," Wolt said.

"Unlikely. The fact is that the Klingon Empire has never beaten a Federation force," Fox said, making a thinly veiled reference to Donatu V. He waited for a moment for that to sink in and saw the ambassador grow both uncomfortable and angry. Fox decided to press a little harder. "And of course, there was the recent incident on Starbase 42. Not what I would call a victory for the Klingon people, Ambassador."

"Those Klingons acted on their own. That attack was not sanctioned by the empire," Wolt said, his face darkening.

"Then we can agree that their failure does not reflect on the High Council," Fox said. "But they failed in their mission nonetheless and were repelled by Starfleet."

The ambassador looked ready to burst, and Fox knew he had to tread carefully. He needed to establish that the Federation was strong and was perfectly able to defend itself. However, if he pushed too hard, the talks might end here and now. Softening his tone, he said, "Of course, no one wants an all-out conflict."

The Klingon gave a short laugh. "Speak for yourself, Earther. We Klingons live for 'all-out conflict.'" Then he gave Fox a smile and said, "That is the primary difference between us. You have studied Klingons and believe that you know how we think. You taunt me with a challenge, with references to the past, but you live in fear of war. We do not."

Fox could feel the situation slipping away from him. He knew he had to do something quickly. "True, we do not embrace battle as you Klingons do, but we do not run from a fight. In fact, we tend to win our battles." Then, before the ambassador could reply, Fox pressed on. "And for now, I think both of our peoples have good reason to settle our differences without bloodshed. A victory for either side would be costly for all. Isn't it better to achieve our objectives, here, in this room? That is the challenge I put to all of us."

The Klingon actually thought about that for a moment before answering. "We have legitimate grievances against the Federation."

"And we have some of our own against the Klingon Empire. Perhaps we can put them to rest and begin to forge a new relationship today. 'Better a strong ally than a strong enemy.' " The last was a quote from Kahless the Unforgettable, an important figure in some segments of Klingon society. From the look on Wolt's face, Fox thought that he had struck a nerve.

The Klingon looked at him for a moment and said, "We must confer."

Fox nodded, and the Klingons got up and headed to the other side of the room. They immediately began an animated conversation.

"You do have his attention, sir," Fronde said.

"It is a promising start, but this is only the first step," Fox said. Fronde and the others nodded.

After less than a minute the Klingon party approached. Now both teams stood facing each other. Wolt gave Fox another unpleasant smile and said, "We may be able to talk, but first there is an important issue that must be settled immediately."

"What is that?" Fox said, suddenly wary.

"You have insulted my aide. Honor demands that the insult be answered," Wolt said.

"Answered?" Fox said.

"He challenges one of your aides to single combat," Wolt said.

"What?" Fox said, unable to hide his surprise.

"You have obviously studied Klingons. You know something about Klingon honor. Well, honor demands that such an insult be answered," the Klingon said.

"That is ridiculous," Fox said, aghast.

"You think us ridiculous? You would care to insult us again?" Wolt said. Fox saw that there was something going on here. He had thought he was subtly influencing the Klingons, using what he knew about them to get them to talk. Now he realized that Wolt was far from a fool and was playing a game of his own -- a game that Fox did not yet understand.

Fox put an edge into his voice and said, "You know very well that I meant no insult. Just as you know that single combat is not how we settle differences." There it was. He had spent a career trying to understand other cultures, tying himself into knots to accommodate other world's customs. Well, it was time that the other side paid heed to Federation customs.

"Do you reject the challenge?" Wolt asked.

"Absolutely," Fox said.

"You come to me referring to past battles, proclaiming the Federation's willingness to fight, declaring yourselves equal to Klingons in might. Yet you will not answer a simple challenge?"

"We fight when we must, not over insults," Fox said.

"Then this meeting is over," the Klingon said, turning on his heel and heading for the door as his aides followed him. For a moment, Fox was too stunned to say anything. Hundreds of billions of lives were at stake. It couldn't end like this, falling apart over bruised feelings. Wracking his brain, Fox tried to think of something, anything to say to get the meeting back on track.

Before he could say a word, Fronde spoke. "I accept."

"What?" Fox said as the Klingons turned around.

"Kreg, I accept your challenge," Fronde said.

"You can't," Fox said.

"He already has," Wolt said, smiling.

"I won't allow it," Fox said.

"I speak for myself," Fronde said.

Fox realized that Fronde was right. The diplomatic corps was not Starfleet. Fox might have been Fronde's superior, but an order from him did not carry the weight it would in the service. The most Fox could do was reprimand or dismiss him.

And it may be the only way, a voice in the back of his mind said. He knew it was true. The Federation and the Klingon Empire were teetering on the brink. War was weeks away at most. If these talks failed, there would be no other talks.

Still, Fox turned to his aide and said, "Randall, you don't have to do this."

Fronde just smiled. Both men knew that there were no other real options. Nevertheless, Fox found himself desperately trying to come up with another solution.

"What are the rules?" Fronde asked the Klingon ambassador.

"Rules? You fight, with blades, until one of you dies," Wolt answered.

"No," Fox said.

"It is our way," the Klingon said.

"Well, it is not our way. These negotiations must be a two-way street," Fox said. The Klingon may not have known the idiom, but he understood it well enough. Fox didn't wait for his reply, "The fight ends when one party surrenders."

Ambassador Wolt grunted but nodded his head. Then the Klingon looked over Fronde's slim form and smiled again. "You may use your human blade, or we can provide you with a more honorable Klingon weapon," he added, pointing to one of the heavy bat'leth blades.

Fronde's hand went to the saber at his side and said, "Our weapons carry their own history and their own honor." Fronde's voice was surprisingly firm, but Fox could see his hand shaking slightly as it rested on the hilt of his sword. The four-hundred-year-old saber might have had an honorable history, but it looked flimsy compared to the heavy Klingon weapons.

Leaning down, Fox whispered, "Consider the Klingon weapon."

Fronde shook his head. "Too heavy. And the Klingons have trained on those weapons. I can move more quickly with this." Fox shot Fronde a look, and Fronde gave him a thin smile. "I didn't accept lightly. I was fencing team captain two years in a row at university."

Fox felt a pang of relief. Perhaps there was a chance. Fronde might get injured, but Fox would stop the fight before it got out of hand.

"Now," Wolt said. Fronde nodded, and both groups made their way to the open space between the conference table and the cargo containers on one wall. Fox had built his career on his ability to keep his cool in tense situations, but he found himself sweating freely. It had all happened too fast.

Negotiations moved slowly. It was the nature of the process, which was often a delicate dance. Just setting up this meeting took weeks of work in the aftermath of the incident at Starbase 42. Now, the future of the negotiations might be decided in minutes.

Fronde looked cool himself, but Fox could see the sweat on his brow. His other three aides were looking at him, nearly in shock. Violence was the thing they worked their entire professional careers to avoid. They had studied for years to learn how to prevent it, and now they were watching it become part of the diplomatic process.

For a moment, Fox wondered if diplomacy as they all understood it was even possible with the Klingons. Perhaps the Starfleet reports were correct. Perhaps the Klingons were culturally unsuited to settling differences through discussion.

Fox pushed the thought aside. He had seen diplomacy work too many times, with too many different races. This had to work. Too many beings were depending on them.

Kreg hefted the blade off his back and gave it a swing. It was obviously very heavy and very deadly.

Fronde replied with a smile of his own, unsheathed his sword, and slashed it up and down in a series of quick movements that looked impressive to Fox...and apparently to the Klingon, as well, who appeared genuinely surprised. For a moment, Fox once again entertained the hope that perhaps this might turn out all right. Perhaps this would end up as nothing more than a ceremonial conflict. All Fronde had to do was fight well enough to earn the Klingon's respect.

"Begin," Wolt said.

The Klingon swung his weapon a few times, watching Fronde's reaction carefully. Fronde kept his sword in front of him, but he did not move. Then, without warning, the Klingon charged full bore at the man, shouting a battle cry as he moved.

Fox started in surprise and was pleased to see that Fronde had reacted quickly, leaping to one side as the Klingon tore past him. Kreg made a sideways pass with his weapon, but it didn't even come close. Somehow, Fronde managed to swing his saber down and hit the Klingon on the back with a flat end, in more of a smack than a blow. Hope rose up in Fox and he entertained a new idea: How would he approach the talks if Fronde actually won this contest?

There was little time to consider that possibility because the Klingon had turned and was now facing Fronde again, wearing a scowl on his face. "You will die today, Earther."

"Not if that's the best you can do," Fronde said, his voice even. Fox was proud of his aide. He was facing this situation with considerable courage and had obviously learned a thing or two himself from the Starfleet xeno-studies report on Klingons.

The Klingon began circling, and Fronde matched his movements, a look of total concentration on his face. Kreg made a series of slow sweeps with his bat'leth, movements that even Fox recognized as designed to test Fronde's reflexes. Fronde parried, and there was a clang when the two weapons met. Each time it happened, Fox jumped, thinking it might be the start of the Klingon's next attack.

Finally, the Klingon swung his blade sharply, coming closer than he had done previously. This time, Fronde reacted with astonishing speed. He leaned out of the way, and instead of parrying with his saber, he waited until the bat'leth passed him and brought his sword down in a counterattack. Watching in wonder, Fox saw Fronde's blade make contact with the Klingon's right forearm.

The only one more surprised than Fox was Fronde himself, who stopped moving and looked on in wonder as a dark stain appeared on the sleeve of the Klingon's clothing. That hesitation, however, nearly cost Fronde his life because the Klingon didn't show any surprise. He showed rage.

Kreg was a blur of movement as he charged Fronde, swinging his bat'leth back and forth. Fronde parried as he backpedaled, and Fox saw that Fronde was quickly running out of space behind him.

Fox nearly cried out a warning, but a quick shift of Fronde's head told him that he saw the danger. When he was nearly touching the cargo containers, he parried one last time and leaped to one side, jumping just outside the arc of the Klingon blade. The momentum of the weapon pulled Kreg to one side, even as his head followed Fronde's movements.

For a moment, Fox saw that with the blade in front of him, the Klingon was vulnerable on the side closest to Fronde. Apparently, Fronde saw it too and lifted his saber. However, before he could strike a blow, the Klingon lifted one foot and brought it down sharply on Fronde's ankle.

Crying out, Fronde pulled back and the Klingon was able to get his blade in front of him again. Immediately, Fox could see that his aide had been injured and could barely step on his left ankle. Before, Fox had been hopeful when he saw that Fronde had perhaps more skill with his weapon than the Klingon had with his own. But this wasn't just a battle of skill. The Klingon had brute strength on his side as well as a natural aggressiveness -- and now, an injury to his opponent.

Kreg charged again, this time coming in on Fronde's left side. Fronde tried to move out of the way, but his injury slowed his movement, and Fox could see that he would not be able to dodge the arcing blade this time. Apparently, Fronde saw the same thing because at the last moment, he ceased moving and lifted his saber to meet the bat'leth straight on.

There was a loud clang, and Fox watched as the bat'leth struck the sword directly and broke it in two. Fronde had slowed the Klingon weapon but had not stopped it, and Fox watched in horror as one point of the weapon dug into Fronde's right shoulder. His aide's hand immediately let go of the broken saber and he stumbled back, somehow managing to stay on his feet.

As Fronde brought his hand up to his shoulder, Fox saw that the wound was deep and would need immediate medical attention. "Stop," Fox shouted as he stepped forward. Kreg stopped, and so did all other movement in the room. "We concede," he said.

"Earther," Ambassador Wolt said to Fronde. "Do you surrender?"

Fronde tried to catch his breath as blood seeped out from beneath the hand that was holding his wounded shoulder. Before Fronde could speak, there was a blur of movement as Kreg lunged at him, pushing forward with his bat'leth, the point of which made direct contact with the center of Fronde's chest and buried itself inside.

Even as he watched it happen, Fox's mind rejected what he was seeing as impossible. The Klingon kept moving forward, driving the blade even deeper. Then Kreg stopped his advance and lifted Fronde in the air with the bat'leth.

As Fox shouted, "No!" and lunged for the Klingon, he saw Kreg give the blade a sharp twist and then pull it from Fronde's chest. Fronde immediately fell to the floor and Fox dove to his side. His aide choked for a moment, his eyes bulging in surprise, and then he was still.

Automatically, Fox felt Fronde's neck for a pulse, even as his eyes saw that the large open wound in his chest meant that his heart would not only be damaged, it would have been torn apart.

"Call for help!" he said.

"The Earther is beyond help," Wolt said. It was true; if this injury had been sustained inside a state-of-the-art emergency medical suite, Fronde might have had a chance -- though not a good one. Here, it was hopeless.

Something began to well in Fox's chest. To his surprise, it wasn't grief, it was rage. Without thinking, he got up, took a step toward Kreg and pushed the Klingon back with both hands.

"Why?" he shouted.

"The fight was until one of the combatants was either dead or had surrendered," Wolt said.

"He was injured, and he was about to surrender," Fox said, glaring at Wolt.

"The Earther was too slow then," Kreg said, a grin on his face. Never in his life had Fox wanted to strike another being so much.

Though it took a substantial physical effort, Fox forced down the impulse and said, "Is this Klingon fairness -- Klingon honor?" he said to Ambassador Wolt.

"Fairness, like history, is decided by the victor. Today, Kreg is the victor," Wolt replied.

"I have given your aide a gift, an honorable death," Kreg said.

Then Wolt turned and headed for the door. He raised a hand and said, "Kill the rest of them."

As the Klingons reached for their weapons, Fox found himself leaping at the Klingon ambassador. With one hand he reached out and grabbed Wolt by the shoulder, spinning him around. Then Fox shoved the Klingon backward and drew his laser pistol, pointing it directly at the Klingon's head from a distance of two feet.

There was surprise on the Klingon's face.

"Make a move against any of us and he dies," Fox called out.

"You would not dare," Kreg said from behind him.

Fox pointed the pistol a few feet to the right and fired once. The beam slammed into the wall and sent up sparks, more than a few of which hit Wolt in the face. "Call them off," he said.

"Halt," the ambassador said, looking deeply into Fox's eyes. Then Wolt laughed roughly. "I think we may be able to do business, Earther."

"What?" Fox said, shaking his head.

"I think it is time to begin our negotiations," Wolt said. Fox didn't bother trying to hide the confusion on his face. "You Earthers have surprised me today. You have shown that there are things for which you are willing to die -- and to kill."

"To kill..." Fox repeated, looking at the laser pistol in his hand.

"I saw it in your eyes, your desire to kill me. You have convinced me of your seriousness of purpose," Wolt said.

Slowly, Fox lowered his laser and turned to his people. They were frightened, grieved, and angry -- like Fox himself. But there it was again, the belief in him. He saw that look in their eyes. Fronde had had the same look, until Fox had allowed him to be murdered.

Yet that belief reminded him of why they were there. Fronde had died, but perhaps Fox could ensure that he had died for something. "Very well, we can begin tomorrow -- "

"No, we begin now or we can all go home," Wolt said. "We Klingons have a saying: 'Negotiations are best begun when the blood of the fallen is still warm.' "

Fox looked at his people, the ones who looked back at him and the one who lay on the floor in his own blood. Then he made the most difficult decision of his career, of his entire life.

"Take your seats," he said. Walking back to the negotiating table, he waited for the others to find their places, then he sat.

"I am authorized to come to terms in all of our outstanding areas of contention..." A feeling of unreality washed over Fox as Wolt spoke. Looking down at his bloodied hands, he barely heard the Klingon ambassador's words. " that acceptable, Earther?"

"Call me Earther one more time and you will die today," Fox found himself saying. He remembered from the Starfleet reports that Earther was considered an insult.

Wolt nodded and said, "Very well, Ambassador Fox."

Through sheer force of will, Fox made himself listen, pushing aside his grief and his anger. A good and brave young man had died today. But if Fox did his job, Fronde would be the last to die in this conflict.

"I am willing to discuss trade, but don't waste my time trying to renegotiate borders that have stood for one hundred years," Fox said, putting steel into his voice.

Copyright © 2005 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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