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Authors: John Jackson Miller

Hell's Heart

BOOK: Hell's Heart
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To Tim,
who taught me to play chess

Historian's Note

The main events in this story begin in February 2386, several years after the
U.S.S. Enterprise
-E's 2379 confrontation with the Romulan praetor Shinzon (
Star Trek Nemesis
) and just three months into the term of the Andorian Federation president Kellessar zh'Tarash (
Star Trek: The Fall—Peaceable ­Kingdoms
). The
U.S.S. Titan
, flagship of Admiral William Riker, has been recalled by Starfleet Command from its sector post (
Star Trek: Titan—Sight Unseen
).

The prelude takes place in February 2286, several months after Admiral James T. Kirk orders the self-destruction of the
Starship Enterprise
over the Genesis Planet to stop the vessel from falling into Klingon hands (
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
. Act Two takes place in the summer of 2286, several months after Kirk becomes captain of the newly commissioned
Enterprise
, NCC-1701-A (
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
).

bortaS bIr jablu'DI' reH

QaQqu' nay'

“Revenge is a dish which is best served cold.”

—Klingon proverb

PRELUDE

2286

“C
ousin, this is Kruge. I am pursuing other game. You will go to Mount Qel'pec on Gamaral. I have new orders for you . . .”

A year earlier, that had been the start of the most important message Korgh had ever received. This day, it would be his deliverance. The young Klingon felt it in his bones now as he and Chorl approached the jagged mountain ahead. He had done Commander Kruge's bidding: the facility inside Mount Qel'pec had been Korgh's place of work for much of the previous year.

Kruge was dead now—slain somewhere in the Mutara sector weeks earlier by the Starfleet renegade James T. Kirk. But thanks to Kruge's foresight—and Korgh's labors—the great commander's hopes for the Klingon Empire would live on. Korgh would see to it.

Korgh had seldom ventured outside the mountain facility during his tenure there; Gamaral had little to offer a Klingon. Spectacular vistas, towering waterfalls, and trees that soared to the sky—but not a single animal to hunt. It was why Kruge had chosen the remote planet. There was no reason to care about Gamaral unless you were looking to hide something.

Especially from other Klingons.

Korgh's older companion was certainly fooled. “This was a waste of time.” Chorl snorted. He peered through the foliage up the stony path. “It looks like just another mountain.”

“Yes.” Korgh led the way. “There's a hidden entry atop the trail. Keyed to my bio-scan, as I told you. Kruge put me in charge of the site.”

“Pah! You wear those words like a sash. Even a great warrior like Kruge can make a mistake.”

Korgh quickened his pace up the trail in silence. The words stung, but he wasn't about to let Chorl see. A veteran campaigner, Chorl was unlikely to be impressed by a twenty-year-old warrior.
More fool you
, Korgh thought. He was giving Chorl's allies a miracle. Didn't that deserve respect?
Definitely
. And yet the skeptic had insisted on beaming down with him and had grumbled all the way.

Chorl was griping again when Korgh's communicator beeped. A deep voice spoke.
“Landing party, update!”

Korgh answered. “It is in sight, General Potok.” He peered from one side of the trail to the other. “No opposition.”

“We cannot say the same. The curs have found us.”

Dark eyes narrowed.
So fast?
He clicked the communicator. “How many?”

“Four cruisers, just dropped out of warp. No—five!”
A pause.
“You must be swift, Korgh. We await your signal.
Qapla'
.”

Korgh gazed through the branches at the sheen of clouds overhead. There would be a clash in orbit, Klingon against Klingon. The succession battle following Kruge's death had reached its critical moment.
Five
cruisers sent against Potok? Korgh had no doubt now: he was right to urge the general to come to Gamaral. Potok desperately needed what Mount Qel'pec held.

No one inside the mountain had answered their hail. That was by design; Kruge didn't assign engineers to work in a secret facility if they responded to unscheduled callers. Potok's forces couldn't beam directly in either, not with the disruption field protecting the workspace. No, this required Korgh—and the access granted him a year ago by the head of his house.

“I order you to complete the Phantom Wing,”
Kruge had said,
“and in utter secrecy. Succeed, son of Torav, and find me.”

Korgh
had
succeeded. In less than a year, he had overseen the House of Kruge's smartest engineers in constructing the Phantom Wing. Not a single vessel, but a dozen birds-of-prey, more advanced than anything the Klingon Defense Force had.

The Klingon Academy had initially designed the
B'rel
-class
bird-of-prey, a cloak-enabled starship with a crew of thirty-six. It had handed off production to the various Klingon houses as was customary—and had awarded the prototype to Kruge. It was a reward for his past victories, including several against the Kinshaya, a four-legged species Kruge had absolutely humiliated. But it was also an indicator of how innovative his family shipyards were. Klingon starships differed internally from house to house, but the House of Kruge's were among the best in the Defense Force.

Knowing they could be made better still, Kruge had ordered his top engineers to construct a squadron of twelve state-of-the-art warships. Wary of espionage—and of intellectual theft from rivals, abetted by his own greedy relations—Kruge had ordered the ships of the Phantom Wing built in secret on Gamaral, an unclaimed planet far from any populated worlds.

Managing the squadron's construction was a great honor for one so young, but it made sense that Korgh should have the responsibility. He was no engineer, but he was bright and determined, a natural organizer. He was family, of course, a distant relation. Kruge had plenty of those, but Korgh was different. His father, Torav, had died valiantly, taking a disruptor blast meant for the commander. In appreciation, Kruge had taken the teenage Korgh into his crew the day after he had completed his rite of passage. Thereafter, Korgh had become protégé to Kruge—or so the younger man liked to think.

Not everyone thought the same. “Handpicked by Kruge,” Chorl mused aloud. Tromping up the trail, Chorl gave him a sideways glance. “I guess it doesn't take much to wrangle engineers.”

“He trusted me.”

“Says you. I knew the man when you were in the crèche.” Chorl spat on the ground. “
Nobody
knew what Kruge really thought—unless he didn't like the job you were doing. Then you were dead.”

“I'm not just anyone,” Korgh said proudly. “I was his son.” His voice lowered. “Or I would have been.”

“Hah! We arrive at the problem,” Chorl said. “Did you undertake the
r'uustai
? Were you legally adopted? Because if there were a single direct heir, there wouldn't be a battle going on in orbit!”

“Don't be so sure.” The rest of Kruge's feckless family would dispute the color of the sky if it advanced their fortunes. Korgh was tired of covering the same ground. “Kruge hated his closest kin, Chorl—it was why he said he would adopt me. He was going to . . . but he got busy.”

“He got dead.” Chorl shrugged. “Fine. Let's see this secret squadron of yours—Kahless knows we need it—and then I'll call you son of whoever you want.”

Korgh despised his predicament. He
knew
Kruge's intentions. The late commander had been worried about more than the future of his house; more than anything, he feared the threat the Federation posed the Empire. Time and again, Kruge had delayed making the affirmation of adoption. He'd grown obsessed with his schemes, not all fully sanctioned.

And several weeks ago, one of them had killed him.

It was a cruel blow. Korgh—whose supervisory skills belied his age—had been on his way to report the Phantom Wing's early completion to Kruge when he heard the news. His mentor, his would-be father, was dead at the hands of the outlaw Kirk.

The Klingon High Council was still working out exactly what had happened; its next move, Korgh guessed, would be to have its ambassador to the Federation lodge a protest. Korgh wasn't going to wait for an explanation. He had to avenge his mentor—and he had the perfect weapon in the Phantom Wing.

Mount Qel'pec housed only engineers; he needed crews. So Korgh had set out to locate several of Kruge's military colleagues: all, like Chorl, fanatically loyal to the late commander. If everything went as planned, Korgh could return to Qo'noS
a hero, having slain Kirk—and then he could take his rightful control of the House of Kruge.

But for every mighty warrior loyal to Kruge, there were four carrion feeders already feasting. So-called nobles, a host of cousins and uncles and relations by marriage, each one with a sole purpose in mind: plucking this planet or that factory from Kruge's vast list of assets. To say nothing of the rivalry for the seat on the High Council, something the house was entitled to. Kruge had disdained politics, preferring action—but his kin lived for intrigue.

Like Kruge, his military allies reviled the opportunists. Led by General Potok, they had raced to protect Kruge's holdings from being looted while the High Council adjudicated the claims. But if the nobles could not decide who should succeed Kruge as ruler of the house, they agreed they would not brook interference from Kruge's military cronies. Conflict followed, as the good-for-nothings hired mercenaries to expel Kruge's officers. Chancellor Kesh, a weak leader easily influenced by the wealthy, was content to let things play out.

When Korgh finally caught up with Kruge's military loyalists, they were heading for a last stand. General Potok had warriors but too few ships. And they had realized their mistake: they needed to put forward an heir of their own to have any chance of salvaging what had been a great house. Korgh offered to solve both problems at once.
He
could be the heir they needed; a great victory might turn legal recognition of his adoption into a mere formality. And he had the Phantom Wing, something Kruge had hidden even from Potok. So the general had accepted Korgh's bargain—and his flotilla had raced for Gamaral, hounded by greater numbers.

The pursuers were pressing their advantage.
“Update!”
barked Korgh's communicator.
“We're taking heavy damage up—”

“We are before the entrance,” he replied. “Stand by, General.”

Korgh pointed out the aperture to Chorl, who scratched his beard. “So it exists.” Chorl followed the younger man into a
vine-draped alcove. “Well, I don't care what Potok thinks. I don't like using a hidden weapon—even on those dishonorable
targs
he's fighting.”

“The battle is raging, Chorl. The Phantom Wing is a
d'k tahg
strapped to a warrior's ankle—once the fight is under way, there's no dishonor in using it.”

“Whatever you say, boy. I feel like cutting throats.”

Korgh's pulse raced as he felt along the cave wall for the bio-scanner. He would enter the compound and command his engineers to deactivate the security screen. The forces crowded aboard Potok's transports would beam down to crew a dozen fully armed birds-of-prey. The Phantom Wing would take to the skies, completely surprising Kruge's relatives and their henchmen. The tide would turn—and Korgh's life would be set.

The great Kruge had been cut down. But Korgh might live a hundred years or more, ample time to make the house the most important one in the Empire. He would have his revenge on Kirk and the Federation. He would achieve his mentor's dream of making sure no foreign flag ever flew over a Klingon home.

The bio-scanner recognized him. An instant later, the false-stone door cycled with a whir. Stepping inside, he squinted against the bright lights . . .

. . . and beheld an empty hangar.

Korgh blinked, not believing his eyes. Chorl strode in after him. He stepped around Korgh. “What's this? Big for an antechamber.”

Barely registering Chorl's presence, Korgh shook his head. “This is the hangar.” It appeared just as he had left it. Ship-forging equipment all about a forest of gantries, struts, and scaffolds. Everything he had surreptitiously brought to Gamaral under Kruge's orders.

But the twelve ships of the Phantom Wing were gone—as were the engineers who worked for Korgh.

Chorl outstretched his hands in an expression of bewilderment. “
This
is what you brought us to?”

“Shut up,” Korgh snarled. He rushed toward where the nearest vessel should have been and started grasping at the air.
B'rel
ships could park under cloak, an ability that made them unmatched at scouting. But searching hands revealed nothing.

The Wing had flown.

On his belt, his communicator awoke.
“Korgh!”
The crackling voice echoed through the cavernous chamber.
“Korgh! This is Potok! We're in trouble. What are you doing?”

“He's killed us, that's what he's done!”

Korgh glanced back to see Chorl looking at him, angry and incredulous. The gray-haired trooper stomped toward him, fists clenched. Korgh simply stared at him, numbly anticipating Chorl's impending attack.

Instead, Chorl put his hands on his stomach and bellowed with laughter. “There's your heir, Kruge! The great Korgh, the child emperor. King of the empty room!”

Chorl laughed again—and reached for his communicator. Korgh reached for something too: the
d'k tahg
in the scabbard fastened around his leg. It found a home in Chorl's neck.

The old warrior choked and died. Potok, kilometers above, hailed him again. Korgh limply took Chorl's communicator into his hand and shut it off. His inheritance, his revenge, and his glorious century had all vanished with the ships.

His scream of anger seemed to echo forever.

BOOK: Hell's Heart
3.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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