As four powerful women scheme for control of the Alliance, who will survive? And who will claim the ultimate prize?
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For the first time, Deanna Troi was uncomfortable on the bridge of the Negh'Var, the flagship of the Alliance Armada. Next to her, Regent Worf reclined on his imposing command chair. The rest of the Klingon crew stood at their stations around the long narrow bridge.
Troi didn't have a station. As Intendant of Betazed, she wasn't officially part of the Negh'Var's crew. Instead, she preferred to stand near the support beams directly to Worf's left, close enough that he could speak to her privately or she could make suggestions. The bridge was darkened except for the display panels, so she was shadowed and thus could observe the officers.
But her joy at being by her Imzadi was ruined by the presence of Kira Nerys. Troi had never imagined Kira would join them on the Negh'Var.
When Worf had heard that the new Overseer was making a grand tour of the shipping lines through the former Terran Empire, he changed course to intercept Kira's starship. He insisted he must observe her activities. Troi couldn't argue with that.
Yet within days of meeting up with the Siren's Song, Kira's ship was docked in the largest launching bay on board the Negh'Var. At eight decks high, the Siren's Song was really too big for the cavernous bay, but somehow Kira had wedged it in there. One morning Troi woke up and found that Kira had moved her crew, staff, and slaves into quarters on the Negh'Var. She did not appear to be in any hurry to leave.
Kira had even appropriated a spot on the bridge directly opposite from Troi, on the other side of Worf. Whenever Troi looked at Worf, she couldn't help but see Kira, her short red hair incongruous on the somber bridge. It was galling to be outflanked on her own ship. Kira had been nothing but a nuisance since she had become Overseer.
Troi's last attempt at getting rid of Kira had been destroyed by the death of Winn Adami. She wasn't sure who had killed Winn. The only evidence was a Klingon knife. But Troi suspected that Kira had something to do with it. Kira didn't try to hide her satisfaction that her political rival on Bajor was gone.
Suddenly Kira laughed out loud, making a comment about the Dohlman of Elas to Worf. "She acts like a painted replica!"
Troi sensed sexual overtones in Kira's use of the word "replica." It made Troi narrow her eyes while Worf grunted in amusement. A moment ago he had been irritated because the young Dohlman of Elas was resisting his demands for additional vessels to accompany the Armada as an "honor guard" through their sector. But Kira seemed capable of charming Worf at almost any time.
Troi normally would have been enjoying Worf's display of strength in appropriating the Dohlman's vessels. But instead, she hardly paid attention as double disruptor beams suddenly pierced one of the tiny vessels, blowing it up in a burst of blue-orange heat. Sparkling debris showered over the bridge dome, reminding Troi of the gorgeous meteor showers on Betazed II. She had watched them every night from the cliffs of New Hope while she had waited for Worf to return from Bajor last time.
Maybe she was thinking more about the revised plans for New Hope that her architect had sent for approval, because Worf's heart wasn't in this confrontation. Much of his anger had been drained by the glorious battle against the Romulans in the name of Duras. With fresh legions fighting on the front, continuing to press the Romulans back, the victory had been enough to assure Duras a place in Sto'Vo'Kor. Worf had then gone to Terok Nor, where Kira had welcomed the victorious warriors. After he returned, he had actually been...mellow.
Troi yawned as the screen showed the proud Elasian beauty humbling herself and begging Worf's forgiveness for the delay. Worf could lay waste to much of the Elasian territory if he chose, but Troi sensed his boredom. He was probably thinking, Why bother?
Kira said, "I suppose this means we'll shift the trade route closer to the Lissepians and choke the Elasians into proper obedience."
Worf agreed, "The Dohlman will learn her place in the Alliance." Without glancing at Troi, he ordered, "Change course to the Lissepian sector."
As Worf's crew instantly obeyed their commander, Troi exerted every bit of empathy she possessed to sense what Kira was feeling now. The Bajoran was excited by Worf's display of power and the destruction of the Elasian vessel. Her fiercely sensual reaction disturbed Troi. It was too much like her own emotional rapport with Worf.
Kira was clearly engaged in a rivalry with her for Worf's attention. In many ways she had already managed to interfere in their relationship. Just last night, shortly after Troi had dismissed Keiko, she and Worf had been interrupted by a request from Kira. Worf had disappeared for almost an hour before returning to her bed.
"Sir!" First Officer Koloth announced. "We are receiving a message from the Groumall, requesting permission to rendezvous with the Alliance Armada."
"Gul Dukat!" Kira exclaimed, her voice filled with loathing.
The first officer confirmed, "I have the Groumall on long-range sensors."
"Tell him to get lost," Kira said with a wave of her hand. "Who wants him around?"
Worf frowned, pulling thoughtfully on his beard.
Troi felt a quickening of hope. Worf had fallen into the habit of doing whatever Kira suggested. But this time, he clearly thought it wiser to not offend a fellow Alliance member. From the way he glanced at Kira, he also didn't like her arrogant assumption that he would do whatever she said.
"Request granted," Worf told his first officer.
"But what about the festival you've been planning?" Kira asked sweetly. "Dukat will ruin it."
Worf clearly had not considered the Kot'Baval Festival, but he almost never rescinded an order. He slumped deeper in his chair, scowling. But Kira laughed and shrugged it off. "Who knows? Maybe Dukat will get drunk and turn out to be the life of the party."
Troi could tell that Kira really didn't care about Dukat joining them. Her objection had been as fleeting as her other desires. Troi found that flightiness difficult to understand. As an empath, she was accustomed to judging actions according to people's emotional motivation. But Kira used her feelings as a playground. Emotions were called up and romped around, but nothing was taken seriously. Troi didn't know what was important to Kira, but she was certainly determined to find out. If she didn't do something fast, Kira could fascinate Worf beyond Troi's powers to combat.
The Kot'Baval Festival celebrated the ancient victory of Molar the Unforgettable over Kahless. Worf and one of his strongest warriors reenacted the fifteen-hundred-year-old ritual of Kahless attacking Molar with a strange new weapon called the bat'leth. Molar, with his superior strength, wrested the weapon from Kahless and slew the contender for his claim to the Klingon Empire.
Troi's mood was lifted by the high spirits of the Klingon crew, but having seen this particular ritual enacted many times before, she was not really moved. Even with the blade singing through the air, passing within a hairsbreadth of Worf's chest, she was hardly concerned. She knew exactly which move Worf would make to parry the thrust and wrest the bat'leth away. She liked things raw and unpredictable, but Worf cherished his rituals.
Now that the battle had been completed, Worf was at the front of the hall, drinking and talking loudly among his warriors. Both men and women butted their heads in merry disregard for their skulls. The smell of sweat and leather competed with the swirling smoke from the lanterns. For a moment, Troi forgot they were on a starship.
The few non-Klingon guests seemed out of place, clearly lacking Troi's unique ability to meld into any situation. Kira Nerys was drinking with the second officer, while her Terran slave solemnly surveyed the riotous crew. A few male Rutians, with their distinctive white streaks of hair, gathered to one side of the hall. They drank large flagons of bloodwine, and seemed to be handling the intoxicant well.
The most unusual presence in the great hall of the flagship was Gul Dukat and his aides. Troi vividly remembered Dukat's reaction at the Alliance gathering when Kira was named Overseer of the fallen Terran Empire. His outrage and sense of betrayal had been palpable, though he hardly moved a muscle. Troi had been pleasantly surprised by his reaction. It was not often that Cardassians revealed themselves so clearly. Their deceptive natures led them to hide their most cherished desires even from themselves. It was the ultimate way to keep their enemies from discovering their weak points.
So Troi was pleased that Gul Dukat had joined them for the Kot'Baval Festival. Dukat certainly acted like an ally rather than an enemy. His pleasant smile and gently clasped fingers betrayed nothing but polite interest in the ritual. His face was a pale greenish-gray spot among the dark Klingons, and the crew instinctively avoided the table where the Cardassians were seated.
Kira came toward Troi laughing, the effects of the bloodwine clear in her step. But even tipsy, she managed to look seductive with her knowing smile and swaying hips. Kira wore a black skin-suit, similar to the Klingon uniform Troi preferred. So Troi had begun wearing dresses to avoid comparisons. Worf had complimented her on her vibrant blue dress, cut to a deep V over one breast. He had encircled her waist with his hands, lifting her for a kiss. As he swung her around, her hair had loosened and came tumbling down around her shoulders. He insisted she leave the long dark curls free, gently kissing one tress before leaving the privacy of their quarters.
Feeling smug, Troi allowed Kira to approach. The Bajoran had been drinking quite a bit and would perhaps reveal more than she intended.
"Come on, Seven!" Kira called teasingly. Turning to Troi, she added, "She's afraid of you. Afraid you'll read her mind."
"Sorry to disappoint you," Troi told both Kira and the statuesque blond Terran. "But I'm not telepathic."
"Maybe not," Kira agreed. "But everyone says you know what people think." She grabbed Seven's hand and pulled her even closer to Troi. "I bet you can't figure out Seven..."
Troi was offended. "She's your Terran slave."
"No!" Kira laughed out loud, drawing attention to them. "Seven's a Free-Terran."
Troi considered Seven in spite of herself. Her own concealed half-Terran heritage usually made her avoid the few Free-Terrans she encountered. At a glance, she could tell this woman was unique. She was quite tall, and dressed for the occasion in a Cardassian military uniform. The strong diagonal lines made a dramatic counterpoint to her serene expression. Her attitude was good -- her hands were clasped behind her back and her boots spread as if she was poised to defend herself. Troi could sense a touch of inner uneasiness, though her full lips never trembled. When they began to receive more attention from the boisterous Klingons, Troi got the impression that Seven was always this self-possessed. Several of the Klingons were suggesting, not so quietly, what they could do with a woman like Seven. But the Terran ignored them.
"She's not what she seems," Troi said briefly.
"That's amazing!" Kira exclaimed. "You're right. Seven may look Terran, but she was raised as a Cardassian. I was talking to Gul Dukat over there." She jerked a thumb in his direction. In response, he stood up and began to approach. "He knows the family Seven used to live with. Ghemor is on the Detapa Council now."
"What are you doing so far from Cardassia?" Troi politely asked Seven.
"Nerys invited me to come with her on the tour," Seven replied.
Kira let out an unapologetic yawn as she languorously stretched. "And now it's time to leave. Come on, my dear. The company around here is not to my taste." This last was said with a glance over her shoulder at the approaching Gul Dukat.
Kira glided away before Dukat reached them, swinging her hips in suggestive appeal. Seven supported her arm, staunchly clearing a way through the staggering Klingons. Troi felt no animosity from Kira. There was nothing but curiosity and, after Troi's assessment of Seven, admiration for her empathic skill.
Gul Dukat arrived in time to look after Kira's retreating form. His eye ridges were drawn in displeasure. Troi was reminded of that unguarded moment at the Alliance gathering when his emotions ran strong.
"You are distressed," Troi quietly said.
"No." Dukat quickly covered his momentary lapse of attention with a cordial smile.
"It's natural for you to feel betrayed," Troi assured him. "First Kira seized the Intendant's post without your approval, and now she has taken the Overseer's position from you."
"I was her commanding officer," Dukat said by way of explanation. His urbane demeanor belied his warrior's armor, and she wondered if he was a good fighter. Assessing him quickly, she decided that though he was imposing and physically well-formed, his temperament was compelled toward covert manipulation rather than hand-to-hand combat.
Troi ventured a light laugh. "Perhaps you and Kira were closer than fellow officers."
Now his smile grew cold. "Not likely."
Troi was tempted to push this line of questioning, feeling his response despite his negative reply. He did feel an attraction for Kira, perhaps even tenderness. Unusual for a xenophobic Cardassian.
But before Troi could continue, Dukat gestured. "Look at her with the Regent."
Troi slowly turned, having steeled herself to never reveal her jealousy. That would be her undoing. Yet she knew that she was going to be sorely tested.
Kira was leaning on Worf's arm, her curvaceous body bumping into him as she laughed. Worf supported her when she nearly collapsed in mirth, while he tossed back his head and joined in. Troi so rarely saw Worf laugh, and it made her nervous. He was off his guard tonight, and she knew Kira had something to do with it. The Bajoran certainly was vital, with her unruly red curls barely contained by a new silver foil headband. And she held on to Worf so tightly --
"She flatters men," Dukat was saying bitterly. "She makes them want her, love her, do anything for her. Ironic considering she has always longed for a partner who was stronger than herself."
"Oh?" Troi said, startled from her observation. Could it be true? Was that what Kira wanted?
"Perhaps that blond Terran will finally satisfy her." Dukat almost choked with resentment.
Troi gave Seven another look. She was waiting near Kira, an island of reserve in the midst of the boisterous company. The Cardassian uniform seemed incongruous on a Terran.
"Perhaps." Troi didn't believe that such an aloof young woman could control Kira Nerys. "I don't understand why you're concerned after the way she betrayed you."
"Becoming Overseer is one thing." Dukat was still watching Kira as she slowly detached herself from Worf. She managed to touch him even more as she said good night. "Holding the post is another."
Troi finally began to smile, turning her full attention to Dukat as Kira left Worf alone. "Perhaps we have more in common than I realized."
An eagerness quickened his eye. "There are many who are not pleased with the current situation."
Troi gestured for him to follow her. "Come, let's go where we can talk...."
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures