An Imbalance of Power

Written: Summer 2000

Kordite steps from the shuttlecraft and breathes deeply. The fresh air, though a bit dry, is a welcome change from the shipboard recirculated atmosphere.

This world, that on Imperial charts carries only a number, is to be conquered for the Empire to obtain the mineral resource Durallium, important to engine shielding. It could also serve as a staging area to the Cardassian border.

The term "conquer" is perhaps an exaggeration. The initial survey rated the technological capability of the inhabitants in the early stages of metal use. A single platoon of Imperial marines could stand off the planet's entire population arrayed against them.

But these are not the days of conquest, like those of the glorious past. Slaughter and terror on a planetary scale is not an available option. The Federation is an ally and neighbor and with all appearances that the Federation and the Cardassians will soon be ending their current conflict in a treaty, the Humans will be turning their benevolent attentions to the worlds on this border.

And so it falls to a spy; to win a war without fighting battles, to conquer without triumph and glory, to single-handedly take this world and bend its inhabitants to his will.

"Get out of the way," Kehlt says, shoving Kordite aside as she comes down the ramp behind him. "Others want fresh air and sunlight too."

"I don't know why you brought her along," says Kul'Ro, next to descend the ramp. "With you as a spook and her as just a torturer, her presence is redundant. Better to have another security guard."

"She is here because this is my command and I want her here," Kordite says. "We work well together."

Kul'Ro directs several of "his" security guards to deploy, commenting, "The way you two work together, one would think you were joined at the . . . *erk*!" Kehlt spins him around with a fist full of his hair.

"Keep talking," she growls with a smile, "and you will be disjoined from your own . . . "

"When you two are done behaving like academy cadets," Kordite interrupts, "we have much to do." He knows Kehlt well enough to know she wasn't really taking Kul'Ro's implication seriously but felt compelled to react, if for nothing else, to deceive him. Kul'Ro, on the other hand, was all too serious. Serious enough to believe Kehlt's reaction to be confirmation of his assertion.

"Kul'Ro," Kordite says, turning the security chief's attention away from Kehlt. "Have two guards stay with the shuttle. The rest will . . ."

"Two?" Kul'Ro interrupts. "One could hold the ship against an army. These peasants couldn't even scratch the paint on the door with their sticks."

Kordite pauses a moment, then continues. "The rest . . . will come with us to the large settlement in the river valley over that ridge of hills. We should arrive by local nightfall. Kul'Ro, on board the Dark Justice you are Second Officer and I must obey your orders, but on this world I have authority and you will follow my orders. Without question."

"Lieutenant, I was not questioning," he says, his voice dripping insincerity. "This is your first away mission aboard the Dark Justice. I was merely pointing out options to one with less experience in security matters."

Sure you were, Kordite thinks to himself as the unit begins its short march towards the wooded hills. Kul'Ro took an instant dislike to Kordite the moment he boarded the Dark Justice. Perhaps it was his assignment as Intelligence Officer, perhaps it was something else entirely. In either case, Kordite returned Kul'Ro's animosity.

After a month, the working relationship hadn't improved, now compounded by the Captain's insistence that the older, more experienced and higher-ranking Kul'Ro accompany Kordite on a mission clearly the realm of an intelligence officer.

If it were Kordite's choice, Kul'Ro would have been left behind on the ship. The second officer's presence here indicates either the Captain's ignorance of the workings of the intelligence service or his distrust of Kordite.

Fair enough, Kordite thinks. I am, after all, a spy and assassin.

The squad of Klingons emerge from the woods above the river. Rows of crops separated by fallow fields and paths fill the flood plain. A village sits on a small hill, protected by high wooden palisades. The defenses are set in a square with firing platforms at each corner; well thought out and wholly adequate for the expected level of military technology.

The natives are engaged in their various farming activities. They are of the basic klingonoid stock common throughout this area of the galaxy; bipedal with two arms and a head set above the torso, though standing a bit shorter and much thinner than the average Klingon. At this distance it is difficult to discern more details except that they are gray in color.

The Klingons approach the village with purpose, walking up the beginnings of a path as if it were a major roadway. A closer look at the natives tending their fields reveals high set ears, upswept eyes and a short gray fur covering the entirety of their bodies, a slightly longer tuft extending over the crest of the head ends in a long braid of hair at the back of the skull. They are somewhat feline in appearance but not so much as the Caitians.

They gaze up from their fieldwork at the Klingons, neither friendly nor hostile, rooted in place by curiosity. Kordite attempts to look casual and non-threatening lest the natives attack or take flight, a bad diplomatic response either way. The attempt is probably wasted as his comrades make no such attempt at nonchalance.

The Klingons are very near the gates of the village when an alarm is sounded by yelling natives. The population begins a hurried but orderly retreat behind the village walls.

"Did they suddenly realize we were Klingons?" Kul'Ro asks, referring to the fleeing natives.

"Actually," Kehlt says, "they seem to be reacting to something else. Over there!"

She indicates across a field where a cloud of dust trails behind a horde of natives on bipedal mounts rushing towards the village. A moment later, another smaller group, a hundred paces off, rounds the corner of the village, harried by stones thrown from the village's platforms. Seeing the Klingons out in the open they begin a direct charge.

Kordite responds by drawing his disruptor and firing at one of the natives in this smaller group before they can come between the Klingons and the village gate. Several more bolts from disruptors dispatch the remaining attackers, allowing the Klingons to quickly move to the gates where the native defenders beckon.

Once inside, the villagers bolt the stout gates, then scurry to the defense of their homes, leaving the Klingons to stand alone.

"We should have made our stand at the gates," Kul'Ro comments, "not hide behind the palisades."

Kordite forgoes telling him to shut up and instead climbs a ladder to one of the firing platforms to gather a better view.

The main force of the attackers has reached the village, bringing an obscuring cloud of dust with them. Seemingly lacking ranged weapons, they rush the walls brandishing long knives. Undisciplined barbarians, they attack as individuals seeking personal glory and thus find themselves knocked senseless by a rain of sling stones thrown accurately and thickly by the villagers.

The "battle" is over quickly and the mounted attackers withdraw to loot and pillage various smaller structures and abandoned homes outside the walls of the village. With the immediate threat dissipated, the villagers begin turning their attentions to the Klingons, surrounding them and jabbering with excitement.

"We must take our Brother-Strangers, in order to see Ailere!" one of the natives exclaims, his words opening an empty space in Kordite's stomach. He becomes suspicious whenever any species uses the word "brother" when referring to one of another species.

The Klingons are lead to a large courtyard area at the center of the village. A sizable hut is there and, once the assemblage calms down somewhat, an aged and venerable looking male emerges.

He stands there regarding his visitors with shadowed eyes under bushy-gray eyebrows, leaning on a cane that is as wizened as he while his attendants bring him a stool and help him to sit.

"In the days as my grandfather's fathers were young," he begins, "came gods from the stars. They did not stay long but they gave us many wise words and promised this one day, which they would return. Are you the visiting gods of my grandfathers?"

Kordite resists his first thought then answers "We are . . . from the stars." Something less than saying, "Yes, we are those gods," yet still significantly godlike.

Ailere brightens immediately. "Forgive my ignorance, Brother-Lords. We welcome you to our homes in peace and in hope. All Brothers," he addresses the crowd, "prepare a feast of the thanks for the fulfillment of prophecy!"

With the natives scurrying to their preparations, Kehlt turns to Kordite, saying, "I've heard you called many things, some of them even flattering, but 'the fulfillment of prophecy' is something new."

"I think these people are going to be highly disappointed."

"Well, that was disgusting," Kehlt mutters after the so-called feast consisting of a great variety of foods but notably absent of any meat whatsoever.

One of the security guards, March, comments, "The fermented bread wasn't so bad."

Kul'Ro grunts at his subordinate, then says, "What is Kordite doing? He's been babbling with that savage all evening. What does he hope to accomplish?"

Kehlt looks across the short tables set with food and arrayed in a U-shape to where Kordite and Ailere are talking. Ailere is smiling a lot, bowing his head occasionally and gesturing widely while Kordite is eerily mirroring many of the native's mannerisms.

"He's gathering information," Kehlt says, "evaluating the political situation, alliance structures, borders, things like that. As much as you would like to, we can't just start killing them. We need a subservient population. A pile of corpses won't mine durallium. Kordite's making offers of power, promises of wealth, assurances of safety . . . ."

"He's lying," March paraphrases.

"Just so. Here he comes now."

Kordite comes around the table, his smile flashing teeth in the late evening torch light and voicing compliments and pleasantries to villagers all along the way. He arrives where the rest of the Klingons are assembled, saying to Kehlt through his grin, "Kill me, now."

"That bad?"

"It's like a Federation propaganda vid. Peace and brotherhood, bright futures, happy, happy, joy, joy. Ugh!"

"And you said that all with a saccharine smile still on your face. I'm impressed."

"And there is every indication from Ailere that those political attitudes dominate the population throughout this region."

Kul'Ro interrupts, "So, do we crush them beneath our boots?"

"No. We'll need to travel down river. There is a population center, something just shy of being a city, where this small river empties into a major waterway. It's the closest thing these people have to a capital. From there we should be able to extend our influence to most of the outlying villages from the river to the plains." Kordite responds to Kul'Ro's disgusted look. "I would rather pull my own teeth out with a pair of pliers but we need to stay in their good graces, at least for now. Later, we will be able to indulge your impulses and manipulate the entire population with only a few applications of divine retribution." His smile brightens. "Dallan, my brother," he says to one of the natives, "I would speak with you . . . " as he moves away from the Klingons.

"I don't know what you see in him," Kul'Ro says to Kehlt. "His mind is twisted worse than hyperspace."

"Just so," Kehlt agrees with a cryptic smile.

After exchanging hollow pleasantries with the native Dallan, second to the venerable Ailere, Kordite sits again at the feast table to review and assess these natives.

They are cattle. Kul'Ro was right in that. They live in scattered villages separated by wilderness. Their use of metals is rudimentary; ore copper pounded into decorative uses. They have no large domesticated animals to pull plows or carts. They have no roads or even well traveled paths of communication between villages.

There is not a complete absence of communication. The village elders travel several times a year to regional gatherings but there is no political agenda put forth at those meetings, mostly gossip, stories and the trading of a few seeds.

They are well organized and capable on a local level, able to resist the attacks of the mounted raiders with clever precision. Certain amounts of grain and other supplies are stored in outlying buildings as a bribe for the riders.

Their idyllic lifestyle had persisted for thousands of years, and then the Federation came.

Well over century ago, the Federation did not so strictly enforce their Prime Directive of non-interference. Starfleet captains would send away teams to just about every habitable planet they happened upon with little more than a costume and make-up to conceal their off-world origins. Sometimes even those precautions weren't taken. As such, hundreds of worlds were changed.

When the Federation away team spouted their propaganda about peace and tranquillity, it resonated strongly with their already collectivist values. And that the "gods" came down from the heavens to voice their approval in person, well, that began a fanaticism that they hoped to extend to the riders. "We hope that one day the riders repent their violent ways and with us in peace and in brotherhood join," Ailere had said. It sounded like something straight from a Federation propaganda pamphlet.

Kordite considers how to counter these beliefs and take control of the society with a minimum of force. One of his ancestors, one Ketroz, had done something similar in the early days of Imperial expansion.

He and his crew had come to a world and were believed to be gods so, using that to his advantage, he marched into the capital city. Once there, he gathered all the leaders and priests together, barred the gates and proceeded to kill everyone in the capital city. Such was the effect of the slaughter of a million natives by a few hundred Klingons that capitulation was immediate.

Unfortunate that this world doesn't have such a capital and Kordite has only half a dozen warriors. Still, the basic idea has its merits.

Before Kordite can explore his options for conquest further, a piercing scream rends the night.

"The Riders!" a sentry calls out too late, for the attackers and their mounts are already storming through the village. The Klingons prepare to make their stand in the center of the village amongst the feast tables while natives run wildly about.

Dallan, with the obviously rattled Ailere by the arm, says to the nearby Kordite, "The Riders attacked never at night! Never! What do we do?"

Kordite draws his disruptor. "You will die," he says and blasts a hole through Dallan's face. The body falls, dragging the feeble Ailere along with it. A second bolt finishes the village elder as well.

"So much for godhood," Kehlt comments, shooting a fleeing native in the back.

"A change of plans," Kordite responds, taking aim and dropping another running villager. "Besides, godhood is overrated."

One of the riders comes screaming into the village center. Kordite can see in the dim glow of burning huts that the rider is much like the villagers, but with a more mottled pattern and a more flamboyant frill of hair running across the crest of the head from the forehead to between the shoulder blades. The Rider is also female and brandishing a long knife.

"Death to the Dirt-Eaters!" she calls out, apparently intending to charge the Klingons.

Kordite yells, "Death to the Dirt-Eaters," and fires a disruptor bolt at a running villager. Not a good shot; into the hip and low viscerals, but he was paying more attention to the Rider. Still, the action has the desired effect. The Rider echoes, "Death to the Dirt-Eaters," and with a toothy grin, rides off to inflict more carnage.

The slaughter is over very quickly with attackers slashing with their long knives, hurling short ranged, four-bladed weapons or simply trampling the villagers beneath their mounts. The Klingons stand their ground, killing villagers with disruptor fire as the opportunity presents itself. Then, with the last screams of the dying and the increasing glow of burning huts, a delegation of sorts approach the Klingons.

Kordite recognizes the Rider he had "spoken" with earlier pointing him out to another. The apparent leader cuts an impressive figure, her fur russet with deep gray stripes, a scar prominent on her left cheek. It's difficult to judge her stature as she is high on her mount's back, but Kordite estimates she may be as tall as he is. Certainly as tall as Kehlt.

They carry long, red copper knives, spears and a third ranged weapon. It has four curving blades set about a central axle and is thrown from a curved and split stick, much like the Klingon chetvI' or the Terran atlatl is used to throw a spear. Kordite suspects that this native weapon would have a slightly better range and impact over the spear.

The Riders spread out in a line and face the Klingons. The leader at the center of the line pulls a deep breath through flaring nostrils, taking the scent of the Klingons. With a puzzled expression she glances between Kehlt and the others, finally choosing to address Kehlt.

"You seem a warrior. Your companions are not, yet they fight."

Kul'Ro and his guards barely restrain themselves at being called "not warriors," and Kehlt is about to answer when Kordite steps forward.

"I am the leader here," he says. "You will address me."

The Rider leader is even more confused. "Are you those who killed my sister early today with screaming lightning?"

Kordite doesn't pause with the accusation. "As we are the ones who killed many Dirt-Eaters just now, yes."

Her eyes narrow, "Are you gods?"

Kehlt interjects, "We are better than gods. We are Klingons." Kordite gestures for her to be quiet.

"We come from beyond the stars," he says, "seeking allies and slaves. Which would you choose to be?"

She straightens up in her saddle. "I am Utta. It was my night attack plan. Faana thought fighting at night not right was. I said it that she was a fool, but she went out and the attack anyway lead. Against my orders. Now she is dead. Killed by you."

Utta pauses to gauge the Klingon's reactions. Kordite pauses as well, locking his gaze with the tribal leader and trying to judge what is the worse infraction, disobedience to Utta or killing Utta's sister. He thinks perhaps she's unsure of the rating of those choices as well.

She announces, "You call yourself Klingons and think we should be caring. We thought that you were Dirt-Eaters because you did not ride. If you ride now with us, then we see what Klingon means."

The Klingons are lifted up behind the Riders with the sturdiest mounts and they ride boisterously off into the darkness, leaving the burning settlement behind.

She is still undecided, Kordite thinks.

Kordite had learned just four things during the night of riding; the mounts had a distinctly unpleasant smell; the Riders smelled significantly more pleasant; this particular Rider's name was Lera and she didn't terribly mind Kordite's hands tightly on her hips. She seemed to delight in making the ride particularly jostling and Kordite hadn't decided whether this was to cause him to fall off or hold more tightly. At least the ride had finally calmed down to a steady trot.

Morning twilight gives enough light to look around and see how his comrades are faring.

The security troops and Kul'Ro look uncomfortable, Kul'Ro from never having ridden anything more energetic than a computer terminal and his troops being put in a position as cargo. Kehlt is steeped in conversation with her guide. Fate had justified Kordite's decision to include her in this mission.

All of the Riders are female, which would explain why the leader Utta had referred to Kehlt as the only warrior. Apparently, in their culture, only the females are warriors. Kordite's going to be changing that notion.

As they reach the crest of a grassy hill, Kordite sees a large encampment arrayed below them on a broad plain. Nomads with tents and small herds of domesticated animals tended without fences. Kordite was wrong to have thought the villagers more socially advanced.

Just then, a loud roaring sound startles the animals. Kordite's mount rears and throws both Kordite and the native Lera to the ground. The shuttle.

The soon to be dead pilot flares the craft around, gaining the attention of all in the valley, and lands the shuttle on the hilltop. Even before the whine of the engines subside, Kordite is storming towards the craft.

The ramp lowers and one of the guards left behind, Mek'tor, comes through the opening hatch. "That will put those . . . *erk*," Kordite's fist slams into the trooper's throat, cutting off the rest of his excuse.

The now choking Mek'tor, prone on the shuttle ramp, instinctively reaches for his knife but stops when he sees the muzzle of Kordite's disruptor pointed squarely at his head.

Kordite considers shooting Mek'tor then and there for disobeying his orders but Mek'tor is young, younger even than Kordite was when he first entered the Imperial Academy. And he was just following orders. Kul'Ro's orders. Orders issued with the intention of putting Kordite in just this difficult position. Killing Mek'tor for his error, though set up by Kul'Ro, might be best for the mission, considering how the native Utta responded to the death of her own sister. But that application in this instance might not be parallel. And of what value might Mek'tor be in the long term, after this mission.

They both remain frozen in that position of consideration for several long moments before Kordite turns full his back and walks back towards the Riders, holstering his disruptor. Mek'tor will live for now. The blame for this incident rests with Kul'Ro, even though Kordite must bear responsibility for its repercussions.

Utta looks down from her mount with an uninterpretable expression as Kordite reaches the creature he had been riding and swings up onto its back, leaving Lera to climb up behind him. With this, Utta's expression changes slightly. A little more wide eyed, perhaps. Absolutely, Kordite thinks, many notions are going to be changed.

"So, Kehlt," Kordite says, "what do you think of these Riders?" The Klingons had been granted a tent and, oddly enough, left to their own devices.

"Oh sure," she says, "you're just asking me because I'm female. What's wrong? Afraid to deal with an all female warrior race."

"Kehlt, you know I always ask you the important questions about the female species." He smiles. "They are unfathomable. Seriously, though, I value your insights and the native you rode with seemed more talkative."

"The females of their people are the warriors and the males act as gatherers, servants and sexual objects. Female children are raised by the females to be warriors and the males are raised by the males. You probably noticed the dimorphism, probably because the males are raised on the milk of their domesticated animals, called Rakka, by the way, and the females get more meat in their diet. You can imagine their confusion when we show up, all warriors and mostly male. And because we have a male leader, they thought we were like the Settlers, but they aren't considered warriors, either. They may question your maleness from time to time."

"If necessary, I am sure a demonstration can be arranged."

"So says the mighty warrior. Feeling a little inadequate among all these female warriors?"

"You always know just the right things to say and never hesitate to help my self-confidence, Kehlt. And, speaking of being helpful . . . where is Kul'Ro?" Kordite's sarcasm is thick in his voice.

"I don't know precisely. He said he was going to reconnoiter," Kehlt responds, "but I'm sure we'll be paying the price later on."

"I'm expecting that. Mek'Tor, go find him and bring him back. We can't have him wandering around undermining our diplomatic efforts."

Before Mek'tor can leave, the tent flap opens and two natives with serious expressions call on the Klingons to come with them.

"Too late."

Much less than the gathering place of the village, this space is just a large grassy space before the largest tent, that of the leader Utta. She stands with her advisors before the tent, an ornate cloak of fur and skins about her shoulders. Her people are gathering, forming a large open space that is open at the far end. Kul'Ro is already there waiting for them.

"Do you know what this is about, Kul'Ro?" Kordite asks, suspecting that this whole assemblage is somehow his fault.

"I do not know. These barbarians seem serious about something, though. I guess that what happens when you kill the bitch's sister."

"Very diplomatic," Kordite mutters as he proceeds into the center of the space before Utta. He pushes an errant lock of hair out of his face and nods his head slightly, as close to a bow as might be expected from a Klingon, as the rest array themselves behind him, their hands near their weapons.

Utta does look serious, Kordite thinks, as she ends her conversation with her lieutenants and steps forward to address her tribe and the Klingons.

"You murder my sister and I let you live. You kill my warriors and I invite you to my camp. You terrify my herds and I offers shelter to you. You violate our laws and we give you food and drink." Her voice rises in volume. "Do you give deliberately challenge in violation of the guesting privilege? Are you evil or only ignorant."

With that, several things occur almost simultaneously; the assembled natives reach for their long knives, March clears his disruptor from his holster and Kehlt snatches the disruptor from his hand. Kordite's own hand was opened and had moved a span towards his own disruptor's hilt but had gone no farther than that. He had He looks straight into Utta's eyes and smiles.

Utta matches his gaze and, with a slight upward curl of her mouth, says, "Well, at least you have some pride. Perhaps you did not act from evil intention. In this case, you should be willing to stand with me in the Challenge of Non-Challenge."

Without pause, Kordite responds, "I accept," and immediately finds himself in the unenviable position of agreeing to a challenge without knowing the rules.

A cheer goes up from the assembled Riders as Utta sheds her cloak and steps into the widening dueling circle. She begins shedding jewelry as well.

Kordite turns to his comrades and begins removing his weapon belt and uniform tunic. "Any advice, Kehlt?" he asks.

"Yes. Remove your boot from your mouth, you'll fight better."

"Very helpful," he says as he removes his shirt and, bare chested, turns to face his opponent.

Utta stands nearly naked, wearing only a loin cloth and a feral smile. Her muscles are tensed, ready to uncoil like lethal springs. Magnificent.

The Rider Lera approaches Kordite bearing a pair of bladed weapons. As Kordite selects one, she whispers, "A chief of a tribe to kill is to be tried to rule that tribe." She turns and quickly moves away, saying no more. Perhaps having said too much already, given the glance Utta throws at her.

The weapon feels odd in Kordite's hand. A long curving edge with a straight back and oversized pommel. Made of soft copper instead of the harder bronze, the blade could hold no decent edge for long but the point is sufficiently sharp. Even so, the balance is all wrong for a combat knife.

Utta takes the remaining weapon from Lera and holds it pommel forward with the blade along her forearm. Kordite adjusts his own grip to mimic Utta's and, before he can do anything further, Utta rushes at him with a piercing scream.

Kordite barely has a moment to plant his feet when Utta suddenly stops, two paces away. She crouches with her nostrils flaring, that grin still across her face.

She's fast, Kordite thinks as the two begin to cautiously circle one another. Had she intended, she could have run Kordite through with the blade before he had been able to defend himself. But the blade is not for slashing or thrusting, it is for parrying. Death or serious injury is not a victory condition. Perhaps.

Utta leaps in and drives the pommel towards Kordite's ribs. He is able to block most of the force with his open hand but Utta playfully rolls aside and dances back at him, this time delivering a solid hit. They continue to circle.

The impact of the pommel, while clean and forceful, would not even raise a bruise on the Klingon's side. Utta would have to hit a lot harder than that to defeat Kordite. Or would she? Kordite still doesn't have a complete grasp of the rules and victory conditions.

"Challenge of the Non-Challenge," Kordite considers, narrowly avoiding a blow to his chin. To give challenge without giving challenge. No, to offer no challenge at all. Utta is chief in a warrior culture. To kill a chief would be an attempt to be chief. To defeat a chief, even in non-lethal combat, would be a threat to Utta's authority. Kordite would have to loose.

That would be easy enough except that Kordite's loosing to a barbarian would undermine his authority with his fellow Klingons. Especially with Kul'Ro looking on.

Kordite goes on the offensive for a moment and Utta moves easily away. He takes the opportunity to glance at the Klingons. The security troops are cheering him on to victory, as would be expected. Kehlt is not watching the fight, but is watching the crowd. And Kul'Ro . . . Kul'Ro is looking smug, seeing Kordite in a no-win situation.

To win without victory, to loose without defeat.

Kordite returns his attentions to Utta, makes a show at going on the offensive again and then . . . hesitates.

Utta explodes into action, closing the distance between them in the space of a heartbeat. The blade tip lashes out with a flick of her wrist and catches Kordite across his forehead a moment before Utta's momentum carries her crashing full into him.

Unbalanced to protect himself from the killing blow that would never come, Kordite falls.

When the dust settles, Kordite sits on the ground, his weapon gone and a thin trickle of pink running down between his eyes and along the side of his nose. Utta looks down on him, smiling and panting.

"Do you yield?" she cries ceremoniously to the crowd.

Kordite smiles and replies, just loud enough for Utta to hear over the cheers of the Riders, "Not yet."

Utta has a moment to take on a puzzled expression when Kordite's foot lashes out, sweeping her heavily to the ground. Utta rolls and comes up on her feet but Kordite is back on his feet as well. She swings with her fist into his stomach but it is like hitting a wall. She swings again with the pommel as Kordite continues to bear down on her, but the blow to his chin also fails to slow him down.

Kordite's fist slams into her soft belly and her breath escapes in a whoosh. She tries to bring her weapon up but Kordite has wrapped his large hand around hers. She pulls to try to dislodge his hand but Kordite turns this motion against her, driving her own pommel into her chin. His elbow slams into the side of her head and she goes down.

When the dust settles, Utta is on the ground, a thin trickle of bright red oozing from her split lip. Kordite stands over her holding her weapon high over his head. There is a sharp intake of breath from Utta as Kordite hurls the weapon downward, to imbed the sharp point into the dirt between Utta's outstretched legs.

She looks at the quivering blade for a moment and then up at Kordite.

"Now, I yield," he says. Everyone, Riders and Klingons alike, stand in silence for several long moments, unsure of what they have just seen.

Utta begins to laugh. She wipes the blood from her lip, looks at it on her hand, and laughs even louder. "You understand well for an outsider," she says to Kordite as she gracefully rises to her feet. "I am chief to my people. You are chief to your people. Now we talk."

The Riders cheer as Kordite and the other Klingons are lead into Utta's tent. No one dares disturb the blade left still imbedded in the ground.

With nightfall, the negotiations end and the Klingons return to their tent, formerly that of Utta's sister as it turns out, to retire for the night. All but Kordite. After eating, Kordite is asked to return to Utta's tent. Alone.

Kordite is wary as he enters the chief's tent, dark but for the light of a single clay oil lamp. He stands just inside the tent flap, waiting. He hears Utta's quiet breath somewhere in the shadows.

"What do you want, Klingon," she whispers after a time.

"The Empire will support you with riches beyond your imagination if you provide workers to mine the mineral we seek. We assume you will compel the Settlers to this task."

"You said that early," Utta responds as she moves fluidly out of the shadows. "But you do not say everything. You offer much, so that we make the Dirt-Eaters dig your rocks and ask for little but rocks. You are powerful. You do not make dig rocks for you, but you could."

"Would you rather I make you dig rocks?" Kordite replies, "I'm sure that could be arranged."

Utta smiles as she leans languidly against one of the poles supporting the tent. "You and I are now alone. There are no ears hearing what we chiefs to say. Tell to me what you could not speak of early. Tell me what you really want." She sinks to the floor to rest on a cushion and gestures for Kordite to join her.

"It is very complicated," he says as he sits himself on another cushion. "You might not be able to understand."

"Do not treat me like a child," Utta hisses. "Do not think so powerful that I could not kill you now and your tribe kill, while they sleep."

"It would not be as easy as you think," Kordite responds, tensing in preparation.

"Then . . . " Utta begins, but pauses. She takes a cleansing breath and visibly relaxes. "Then none of us would have, which we want." Utta leans back in thought for a few moments. "So, tell to me, Kordite," she says as she reaches for a water skin, "what want you? For you."

"I want success for this mission. It is a simple enough desire."

Utta takes a long drink from the skin, some of the whitish fluid dribbling from the corner of her mouth. "And is that all, which you want?" she asks, handing Kordite the skin. "Us the Settlers to force to dig rocks for you? Do you not to want something else. Something for you, say, the death of Kul'Ro?"

"And why would I want that?"

"I see, how she . . . "


". . . how he behaves. Watching you. Questioning of your commands. Do you think the Challenge of Non Challenge was for things, only, which you had done? Why not do you kill him. I would have killed my sister Faana even just such things if you hadn't done it. Why does Kul'Ro still live?"

"On this world I am in command. A chief, as you say. But, when I return to my ship, Kul'Ro is my chief. And his chief wanted him here, just as the chief above him wanted me here."

"So many chiefs?"

"Each with their own agendas. It is a tangled mess sometimes, but it is the way of things among civilizations."

Utta looks down at the water skin in Kordite's hand. Her expression as she looks up at him again says that he should drink. He does, noting as he does so that Utta's tongue snakes out to capture the droplet that had been resting at the corner of her mouth. The liquid, a fermented milk, slides smoothly down his throat to become a warm place in his stomach.

"And you, Utta. What do you want."

"I want power. I want to rule. To enemies slaughtered. I want lands and herds. I want a belly fully of food and drink. And I want you."

Kordite raises an eyebrow. "Me?"

Utta leans far forward, looking Kordite straight in the eyes. "I want you because you give me these things. Kul'Ro will not. His chief will not. His chief above him will not. You will."

Kordite leans forward, close enough to feel Utta's breath upon his face. "And you think you can just "have" a Klingon? We are not like your weakened and subservient males. Klingons are conquerors."

"And that is why you are here; my world to conquer. And my world to have you must to conquer me. I was never conquered." She moves even closer, leaning Kordite back, on her knees and astride his lap.

"I could have taken you during the Challenge of the Non-Challenge. I am larger and stronger than you," Kordite says, grasping the crest of hair that spills down her spine, pulling her hair back to expose her throat. "I can battle all day without tiring, especially against untrained savages."

Utta growls in her throat. "The rules are different here as before. And I am not so easily surprised."

"We shall see." Kordite scrapes his teeth across the base of her exposed throat, causing the crest hairs down her back to stand up like a million war banners. "We shall see."

When the Klingons emerge from their tents the next morning, they find the encampment a bustle of activity with Riders preparing their mounts for travel.

"Where is Kordite," Kul'Ro asks. "He did not return last night."

"No doubt, he was involved in difficult negotiations with the tribal leader," Kehlt responds.

"You know, Kehlt," Kul'Ro says to her as they proceed towards the chieftain's tent, "You smile entirely too much and at the oddest times."

"Just so."

When they arrive at the open space before Utta's tent, a dozen natives, high on Rakka backs, ride from behind the tents. Kordite, atop a spirited mount and with a broad smile, is with them.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" he calls out to his comrades. "Find mounts. We have a world to conquer!" He extends his hand down to Kehlt and, grasping her wrist, pulls her up behind him.

As the Riders and Klingons storm out of the encampment, Kehlt yells into Kordite's ear, "So, the negotiations went well last night."

"Utta and I have come to an agreement"

"I can see that. You're controlling this Rakka creature very well, as if you've been practicing you're riding skills."

Kordite laughs. "Just so. Now, if you can control your jealousy, Kehlt, I will tell you of our plan."

The encampment of the Tribe of Kyluu is much like that of Utta's people but fully three times the size. Tents and herds sprawl over a wide area, the highest concentration on a large hill overlooking a crystal clear lake.

Utta rides first into the camp, leading her people and the beings who call themselves Klingons. She reads the expressions of those of Kyluu's tribe as they pass, wondering if the same play of emotions passed across her face when she first encountered these "warriors who are not warriors."

No matter that now. She arrives at the tent of the tribal chief and almost leaps from her mount. Kyluu is there with an expression of vacant curiosity. Kyluu is a huge, ugly creature, enormously strong and tough. However, she has the brains of a Rakka, the disposition of a Braal and the ambition of a worm. She is chief because her sub-chiefs want her there, easily controlled by their words and dangerous when inflicted upon others.

Utta remains standing by her mount as Lera runs forward to speak with the sub-chiefs of Kyluu. They look at one another in confusion at what they are told and, when they pass Lera's words on to Kyluu, she too becomes confused and then serious. She locks her gaze with Utta and nods her head.

With that, the camp erupts in activity. People gather and form a circle before the tent of Kyluu, a much larger circle than when Utta's tribe prepared for the Challenge of the Non-Challenge. Of course, Kyluu's tribe is much larger and the purpose is different.

Silence descends on the gathering with Utta and her people at on one side and Kyluu on the other. Kyluu is preparing her kraal-koia and, when the challenge begins, Utta expects her to rush to within range, throw the spinning blades, and then close with her long knife. When the shaman cries, "Let the challenge begin," Kyluu does just that.

Utta draws the shaker-thing given to her by the Klingon chief from her belt. She points it carefully and with deliberation, pressing the button just as Kyluu is reaching back to hurl her kraal-koia. The thing bucks in her hand and spits a blue bolt of lightning that strikes Kyluu in the chest.

But Kyluu does not fall! For a moment, Utta suspects treachery on the Klingon's part, but she glances at her . . . him, and he gestures with his hand to try again.

Kyluu, staggered by the impact of the first bolt, has dropped her kraal-koia. She reaches for her long knife and cries out as she rushes at Utta, only to be struck back by the second bolt. And then thrown to the ground by a third.

Utta strides confidently up to Kyluu's writhing and smoking form on the ground. She presses the end of the shaker against the side of her rival's head and presses the button one last time.

The silence hangs like a living thing in the air of the challenge circle for long moments. Utta tucks her weapon back into her belt and then places her fists on her hips, a broad smile across her face. Kyluu's shaman comes forward to make a show of determining that Kyluu is indeed dead but the smoking hole through her skull makes that quite clear to all assembled.

"The challenge is decided," the shaman says finally and with a certain level of remorse. "The Tribe of Kyluu is no more. There is only the Tribe of Utta."

Utta throws her arms wide in a welcoming gesture. "Let there is a celebration," she cries. "A great feast. Not only for the Tribe of Utta, but for all tribes. Let word to all Tribes go out that Utta of all the People is the richest and that she will shares all this and more in ten of days."

She glances over at the Klingon called Kordite. He has the same slight smile he had on his face last night when, after an epic session of lovemaking, she had asked for the shaker. An expression that he had gotten what he wanted; success for his mission.

Kordite awakes with a terrible buzzing in his ears and a vicious throbing in the center of his head. His mouth feels like he's eaten a tribble, fur and all. It hurts to move, it hurts to breathe, it even hurts to think.

Think. Think about what? What has happened? A party, he finally remembers, a marvelous, epic party.

Ten days of hunting and gathering by all the tribes of the steppes had brought together the greatest menu this world had known. Ten days of hue and cry had gathered more people together in one place than had ever been assembled for a single purpose. Ten days of labor had also built huge appetites. So, when the feast began . . . when did the feast begin? "Uurggghraugh," Kordite gurgles inarticulately as he tries to roll over, only to discover his arm pinned under a body.

Odd, he doesn't remember killing anyone. Oh, it's . . . err . . . ahhh . . . He doesn't remember. He pries his eyes open through sheer force of will and, as if through a cascading waterfall, sees the body beside him, her naked form sprawled like a child's rag doll. Utta. Her name is Utta. How did she . . . oh . . . and then . . . and she . . . "Oooofff." Kordite remembers. He tugs at his lifeless arm and Utta moans. He tugs again and Utta rolls off of it to curl into a tight ball on the sleeping pallet.

Kordite rolls off the other side of the pallet to lie face down on the floor. His arm feels as if it's made of lead but, as circulation returns, it is as if razor-mandibled insects are tearing it into bite size pieces. He forces his eyes open again just to be sure. He sees no bugs, but the incessant buzzing suggests that they might be inside his skull, tearing his brain into bite size pieces.

He crawls a short distance to a tent pole and there struggles to his feet. He stands grasping the pole waiting for the deck to stop heaving. No. . . not deck. . . ground. The ground doesn't heave. Kordite's intestines attempt to leap up through his throat and throttle him.

Staggering, Kordite takes two steps and a stumble towards the tent's entrance, grasping the fabric to keep from falling out of the tent. He takes a deep breath to compose himself and opens the flap.

The camp is a scene of utter carnage. Bodies lie in tangled heaps beneath an early morning blanket of mist, the aftermath of an epic battle. Utter silence. Complete stillness. Total victory. Shore leave with the Black Fleet must be exactly as this.

Except for the buzzing in Kordite's head. Buzzing. . . ? Buzzing. . . He thinks, "I recognize that sound," but his voice makes the sound, "Vurrghurovgh."

A tricorder. His tricorder. Somewhere. . .

He turns and, still unsteady, begins the search for the infernal machine. No, not there. Not with the tunic. How did the boot get way over here? The command cloak. It was in the pocket of the command cloak.

He finds it buried under a pile of furs, more by luck than by any ability to localize the sound. His blurred vision cannot read the small panel so he splashes a container of water on his face. At least, he hopes it was water.

The readings clear his head. A vessel has entered orbit. Its presence risks everything. Weeks of fostering a relationship with the natives gone in an instant if he does not act and act quickly.

But first. . . pants.

Kordite moves through the awakening camp, feet bare, tunic open and his disruptor tucked in his pants. He couldn't find his armor or one of his boots.

Seeing a smooth, light skinned leg protruding from a tangle of furred limbs, he unceremoniously shoves the native bodies aside to reveal Kehlt, smiling even in drunken unconsciousness.

"Kehlt!" he whispers, as a shout would surely split his skull open. "Kehlt, duty station!"

"Go away," she mumbles. "Can't you see I'm dead?"

Kordite would haul her to her feet by her uniform if she were wearing anything more than a native necklace. He shakes her shoulders and tries again to rouse her.

"Kehlt!" a little louder this time. "The Federation is here!"

Kehlt's eyes snap open and she begins to struggle to her feet, spewing a string of expletives with surprising lucidity.

Kordite helps her to her feet. "A starship is in orbit. It won't take them very long to scan and find us here. Gather the crew and get them as presentable as you can manage. And above all, hurry. We don't have much time."

Kordite's tricorder emits a trilling chime as a powerful Federation scanner sweeps over the encampment.

"Too late."

Were Captain Salar other than a Vulcan, he would be openly appalled at the scene before him. Natives are lying about the camp in a haphazard fashion, incapacitated by all manner of drunken debauchery. Had he not done a scan previous to this, his first impression might have been that the natives had fallen victim to a campaign of atrocities. Of course, the scan revealed the truth of the matter, that the natives had been involved in a massive celebration of some unknown sort, with extreme amounts of eating, alcoholic consumption and a myriad of strenuous activities. And, at the center of it all. . . Klingons.

Illogical but not unexpected, the Klingons had chosen the less civilized inhabitants for their first contact and it is likely that they had influenced them in a most disagreeable and counterproductive fashion.

Salar and his crew will, of course, be dealing with the more advanced of the natives. In fact, an away team is currently making contact with the largest of settlements to the south. They will be doing the preliminary analysis of the damage that Federation contact during the previous century may have done to the natural development of culture on this world. Salar and his team will be assessing the damage that Klingon influence is likely causing right now and, as Captain, it is logically his responsibility to deal with the Klingons directly.

One of them approaches out of the fog. He is in a disheveled state, missing his uniform and with a disruptor tucked into his pants in the manner of Orion pirates. He is accompanied by several natives, some in what must be the typical native attire, some naked.

The ships cultural analyst Lieutenant T'Prel's composure waivers with a sharp intake of breath as she surveys the approaching barbarians. Salar's glance is enough for the young Vulcan to restrain herself.

"nuqneH?" the approaching Klingon says with force. "naDev qaS wanI' ramqu'. naDev vo tIghoS!"

For a moment, Salar considers responding in the Klingon language. However, Klingon is an overly emotional language and he does not want to offend the clearly agitated Klingon by speaking his native language in a decidedly foreign way. Salar chooses Federation Standard.

"I am Captain Salar of the Federation Starship Essex and it is a misstatement to say that there is 'nothing happening here'. Clearly you are on 34 Kraol iii to obtain the rich Durallium deposits and expand the Empire's influence in this region. The Federation has other interests in this region, not the least of which is protecting the natural development of the inhabitants. These objectives, yours and ours, are in conflict but not irrevocably so. Logically, and under the terms of the Khittomer Accords, we should negotiate towards a mutually beneficial agreement."

The Klingon responds with a vulgar expletive referring to the excrement of some domesticated animal. "I know how these things work," he says. "You negotiate us off the planet and, while the diplomats talk and delay, the weed of Federation philosophy you've already planted takes hold and the local government decides to do things your way."

"I believe your analogy is tainted by your emotions, Commander. . . " Salar pauses in an attempt to prompt the name from the Klingon.

"Not tainted, Captain, run full through. But I will not debate philosophy with you. We were here first. The celebration you have interrupted is one of an alliance between the Empire and the masters of this world." He indicates the scantily clad native that has come up to stand beside him, brought by a Klingon female in native attire. "This world is Imperial territory so get off."

The native speaks up, "This is Utta's land. Utta shares it with the Klingons and the Klingons shares with Utta. You are wanted not here. Go home."

Salar has no desire to provoke a fight and the Klingon commander is clearly agitating the natives towards more violent activity. Logic dictates a withdraw until such time as the Klingons have had an opportunity to purge the intoxicants from their systems. In that time, they will move from defensiveness at the sudden arrival of the Federation to more reasonable consideration of their situation and the need to come to some sort of agreement.

"We will withdraw, for now," Salar says. "But we remain dedicated to the protection of this Kraolian culture from outside interference. If you proceed with the introduction of unbalancing influences, we will respond. Starfleet has been informed of the situation and their logical response will be to send a diplomatic team to mediate this dispute." He taps his comm badge and requests transport.

His beam up is accompanied by a cacophony of wild animal noises made by the natives. Highly illogical.

Utta climbs a rocky hill to find Kordite gazing at the largest of the Villager's settlements in the distance.

"I was told that I would find you here," she says. "I not did see you for two days. Kul'Ro said you hid yourself."

"Not hiding, Utta. Thinking."

"Many of the tribes went back to their lands. The tribe of Utta is still larger, than each tribe at all was, but they are uncertain. Where are the magic weapons you ours were meant, to be? The knowledge, which would make the Dirt-Eaters our slaves? Do you fear before this Federation?"

Kordite's swift turn startles Utta and she takes a step back. But he does not attack or rebuke. He only looks at her with a dark intensity for a moment then slowly turns back.

"No, Utta," he says. "There is no place for fear or anger or, in this case, even emotion. To beat the Federation, one must think like the Federation. Not an easy thing."

"Then you tell to me," Utta says as she carefully moves up beside him. "How the Federation thinks?"

"Captain Salar is there in the "capital." He is a Vulcan, sworn to emotionless logic. In his mind, the natural evolution of a culture must logically progress from barbarity to civilization. From savagery to pacifism. From a subsistence, nomadic economy towards a domesticated and ordered culture. Therefore, it is natural for him to support the Villagers. Just as it is natural that we Klingons would migrate towards the Riders, those more like ourselves."

Utta asks, "If the Federation more are like the Dirt-Eaters, why do not have you them killed?"

"They are powerful. And patient. They would think nothing of waiting generations to decide the fate of this world, so long as we were kept away in the meantime. Our Federation allies are challenging opponents."

"Allied ones?" Utta exclaims. "With Dirt-Eaters?"

"At about the time the Federation was visiting your world, our world suffered a catastrophe. The Empire was struck through the heart and the Federation, fearing that we would attack rather than let others prey on our moment of weakness, offered a treaty. Those accords gave the Empire one less insecure border when all around the scavengers were gathering so the offer was accepted. But, it came with a price. The Federation has a misguided ideal, they call it their Prime Directive. The idea that, not only should a technologically superior race not interfere with the "natural" development of less developed cultures but that the primitives somehow benefit from this neglect. Because of this belief, any attempt on our part to interact with any culture not already within our borders is met with a wall of diplomats and their high morals."

"And you use us in order to fight the battle, which you cannot do. You promised us many things and you leave us now, in order to alone fight this battle."

"Not alone, but there are limitations."

"And with which would they offer to us?"

"You? Probably nothing. If anything, they would offer you what they've offered the villagers; 'civilization.' Homes, agriculture, domesticated animals. The best you could ask for is to be left completely alone."

"And would they? Alone leave us?"

"No. They would probably consider the Villagers more advanced and representative of the population and leave the decision up to them. If they choose to be left alone, which is doubtful, the Humans would set up observation posts. Secret places that they could watch this world from. They would make themselves to appear as you are, walk amongst you, and bide their time until the day they would reveal themselves again and make the same offers as before."

"So, we do not have anything."

"The rewards I spoke to you about are genuine. But they must be won by you alone. With the Federation here I cannot give you the weapons. If I did, Salar would feel justified in giving comparable weapons to the Villagers or even to throw the might of his starship to their defense. In the end there would be at best, a stalemate. But, if you fight this battle in your own way, without our advanced technology, the Federation's own rules of non-interference will prevent them from taking action. Then, once you are the undisputed ruler of this world you can tell the Federation to go away, and their own idealistic codes will compel them to do so. Then, and only then, will we be able to make good on our promises."

"You ask a very much, Kordite."

"No more than before. Just on a shorter timetable. I believe I can take advantage of Salar's logical mind but if we wait too long, reinforcements will arrive. That will bring the Humans into this and they are much more devious."

Utta thinks for a moment. "And being devious, they are much more like you and will to be able to anticipate your moves."

Kordite smiles. "And the Vulcans are not devious. They are bound by their own logic. That is the key to victory."

Salar awakes without knowing why. He has spent the past 9.5 days amongst the Kraolians and for six of the nights have been welcomed into the home of the village elder. And, while conversations with the native council have kept Salar from beginning his sleep cycle at his regular time, he has awakened at the same minute of the same hour as is his custom.

That is, until now. Salar references his biological clock and determines that it is four hours before sunrise and three hours before his pre-defined waking time. He opens his eyes and listens carefully but cannot determine the cause of his sleep interruption until he hears an intake of another's breath.

"The Riders have an interesting tradition," comes the Klingon commander's voice out of the shadows. Salar sits upright and can see his form in the dim starlight that comes in through the open window. Given that the door remains closed and its opening would have produced enough noise to wake him, Salar concludes it was by way of the window that the Klingon was able to gain entrance even though that entrance was closed also and should have been equally noisome to use.

A ghost of starlight glimmers off the blade of a knife in the Klingon's hands. "When a young rider comes of age," the Klingon says, "she will sneak into a village and cut the braid from a native's head while he sleeps. She may go from home to home, searching for the longest or most ornamented. It is considered a great game."

"Commander," Salar begins, but is interrupted.

"For all the many generations this practice has gone on, it has never occurred to them that they could slit the villager's throats while they sleep. Having crept by guards they could steal armloads of food and other valuables and make their escape unseen yet, all they ever take are the braids."

"If you are threatening to inform the Riders of the possibilities of this practice. . . "

"It would be easy, would it not? A simple idea put forth during casual conversation could alter the evolution of this world. But evolution. . . revolution happens all the time. I am sure you are well aware that most biological advances are brought about by a series of genetic accidents that just happen to be beneficial. Civilization advances in similar leaps and bounds. But I am not here to discuss the theories of cultural evolution. No, I am here to warn you."

"I am already well aware of the impending attack by the Riders. Their undisciplined movements are not easy to conceal. Analysis reveals, however that they will be unable to mount a credible attack on the settlement for another week and, with their current weapon technology and organization, they have only a 27% chance of success."

"Captain Salar, my warning is to you personally, not to the citizens of the settlement. The attack will come tomorrow."

"That is highly illogical."

"But none the less true. And when that attack comes, it is advisable that you not be here. The Riders will show you no more consideration than any of the Settlers and you will be forced to defend yourselves with your phasers."

"The probabilities against that are. . . "

"I know; three to one against. But should they beat your odds, they will be attacking with such numbers and with such determination that, when the Federation diplomatic team arrives, it is a certainty that they will find that you will have had to resort to near genocide."

Salar says nothing as he considers the implications.

The Klingon stands, suddenly and silently. "If you inform the village elders, I believe you would be violating your Prime Directive. You may be able to twist your logic to justify the interference and the diplomats on their way here may ultimately sanction your actions. I honestly don't care. In either case, you have been warned."

The Klingon turns and leaves through the door, closing it behind him.

Captain Salar assesses the Klingon's words carefully. While all his revised calculations still portent failure for any Rider attack, the Klingon's words and assuredness increase the margin of error significantly. And he did have a clear grasp of the repercussions on the Prime Directive.

The door bursts open and Cultural Analyst T'Prel enters, displaying an unsightly amount of distress and dishevelment, apparently having run from where she was quartered.

"Captain," she says, trying unsuccessfully to restrain the excitement in her voice. "Something serious is happening."

It is then that Salar notices that T'Prel's hair, normally restrained in a single, impeccable braid, is falling into the young officer's eyes. The ragged strands show where a knife blade had cut through the hair while she slept.

Salar revises his calculations.

Kordite smiles.

It is just a touch more than a rotation since his warning to the Vulcan was made and the attack is just about to get under way. Utta's opponents had either been warned by Salar or, in seeing the Federation representative's tight-lipped retreat, had deduced that things would be turning bad for them. In either case, they had been making preparations for the expected attack that would come at any moment. Then, at the end of the day, when they thought perhaps that they were safe, Utta sent some harrying parties to keep the settlers at full alert through the night.

Now, in the pre-dawn, the Nation of Utta is ready to ride.

Kordite looks down from a hilltop near the Settler "capital," quite close this time and in plain view. His communicator chimes, just as he expected it would.

"Captain Salar," he says, activating the portable visual display to show the Vulcan Captain and Cultural Analyst safe on the starship bridge. "I trust your troops have evacuated safely and completely."

Salar's response is terse. "In accord with the Federation non-interference directive, we have removed ourselves from the zone of conflict. You should do the same."

"My position here is sufficiently removed from the conflict that I won't influence the outcome either way. T'Prel, this is just the sort of thing a Cultural Analyst should experience without the filter of orbital sensors. Would you care to join me for breakfast to witness this epic struggle for planetary supremacy first hand?"

Kordite sees the almost imperceptible tensing of the muscles in T'Prel's jaw. She is learning self-control well.

"No?" Kordite says with a raised eyebrow. "Too bad. Last night before my discussion with Captain Salar I set up a few dozen holographic remotes throughout the city. I'll be glad to transmit a copy after I've edited it for dramatic impact and added an appropriate musical score. It won't be quite the same as actually hearing the clash of arms or smelling the blood on the wind but it will be much better than the view you'll have from orbit. I like what you've done with your hair, by the way."

When the transmission is abruptly cut off, Kordite looks up at the sky and waves at the unseen ship in orbit. The confidence of the gesture belies the actual situation.

Classical military theory says that to attack, one must have a three to one advantage of numbers. To attack a fortification, the numbers must be ten to one unless one is setting up a long siege. This situation does not allow this sort of protracted engagement and Utta's riders are on the wrong side of the probabilities. Salar's logical prediction of failure may well be right.

But there are elements that are difficult if not impossible to quantify. How will defenders react to an attack they were told was impossible? How much confidence will they retain in their fortifications when the gods from the stars have retreated back to the safety of the sky? It is these emotional variables that Kordite hopes will turn the momentum of battle.

But now is too late for doubt. Utta's attack has begun.

Kordite walks across the field, following the path the early morning battle had taken. The defenders, secure behind their walls, had weathered harrying attacks all through the night, screaming banshees who came in tens and twenties to throw spears and the occasional kraal-koia. They may have been heartened by the small numbers and ineffectiveness of the attacks but when another attack came they had to think that perhaps this was the main force. The settlers would have had little sleep.

Then came Utta and the bulk of her riders, a more massive array of battle this world had never seen before. They came in file and carrying torches, a great, thundering fire serpent twisting down from the hills and across the fields.

The Riders rushed straight up to the settlement under a hail of sling stones to hurl their torches at and over the main gates. It was then that the Riders began their war cry, a call that began with a few voices and extended back down the line until the shrill wail filled the valley. The column continued to break upon the walls, and the cast fire spread out across the front. Those that had cast their torches split and ran down each wall face, casting their kraal-koia at those in the platforms. The spinning blades weren't very effective in finding their targets behind the palisades but they did serve to keep the defenders heads down.

The missile file in the darkness was not terribly effective on an individual basis but the sheer volume of stones throw Riders from their mounts with concussions and contusions and, while their bladed missiles are much more lethal, they simply don't have the numbers to make a difference.

Being adjacent to the river, the settlement had a ready supply of water and large numbers of well-organized citizens to fight the fires. And the gates, made of large timbers and mortised with clay charred but did not burn. Utta's plan relied on breaching the wall with fire but that plan had failed. And then with the Riders scattering along the semi-circle of the settlement walls and the general chaos and darkness hindering a rally of her forces, Utta faced defeat.

Kordite's walk reaches the gates, the scorch marks clearly showing where fire failed to breach the walls. With daylight approaching, Utta must have looked at these same walls with the foreboding of failure. With light, the defenders could rally and their stones would fly with well-known and feared accuracy, plucking riders from their mounts and throwing back their assault.

It was then, with cataclysm looming, that a revolution took place. Utta took up a spear and rode full on straight at the wall. At nearly the last moment, her mount leapt and Utta leapt from the mount's back and high through the air. She struck the wall hard, driving the spear's bronze point deep into the wood and in the startled pause as the defenders stood inactive, she used the spear as a step to attain the top of the wall. There on the parapet, her long knife began cutting down settlers.

Those Riders that had seen her audacious, headlong assault began to emulate her method. Many of the Rakka were sacrificed, slamming into the wall as their riders propelled themselves even higher. Many of the Riders were injured or killed as the impact on the wall broke limbs or balking mounts threw them to the ground. But, only a few needed succeed for victory.

Utta had lead the attack but, in the end, it was Lera who turned the tide of battle. With Settler's sling stones decimating those Riders who had gained the wall, Lera was able to leap from the wall, fend off meleeing Settlers and throw the brace from the inside of the gate.

Settlers tried to hold the gate but the press from outside was too much. The Riders issued in and the slaughter began.

Kordite walks up the main avenue towards the central square. Most of the bodies have been cleared away and defeated Settlers go about the grim task of collecting up the rest. They do so in an orderly fashion with surprising little oversight by the conquering Riders. Utta had given clear orders to only attack those who put up a fight and not to pursue the settlers inside their homes and, a credit to her powerful leadership presence, most of her people followed her directive. Settlers who did choose to fight were quickly cut down or trampled in the streets by swift and terrible Riders. The rest; women, children, the old and the Council of Elders survived, huddled in their homes, now completely defenseless and at Utta's mercy.

A mercy that will not be wasted.

In the central square, a throne has been set up. It is only one of the Settler's short tables with a barrel set atop it, but Utta uses the increased height to her full advantage. She stands tall and imperial, her fur still stained with the blood of the early morning. On their knees before the dais are the city's elders, surrendering unconditionally and begging for their lives.

"Quite a show," Kehlt says as she walks up to Kordite observing the goings on from the edge of the square. "And she wears it well. She told me to convey a message to the "Dirt-Eaters in the Sky." She said, "You are the allied ones of the Klingons and the Klingons are our allied ones. You are now our allied ones and we invite you to attend our celebration of victory." Oh, she is good."

Kordite shakes his head in silence.

"What's that for?", Kehlt asks.

"She is very much like Kahless was when he won his Empire. She will now be set upon by all the other tribes who walked away from her earlier offer. Some will come on bended knee offering allegiance for a piece of her glory. Others will band together to try to take from her what they think should be rightfully theirs. Even the Federation may come courting, hoping to sway her towards their point of view. She will become legendary. A powerful force. The rest of the planet will tremble at her name. But, in the end, she will be crushed."

"Crushed? By who?"

"By us, of course. Once the world is hers, she will weep at having no more lands to conquer. She will either settle back with full belly and too much idle time, becoming like those she has just crushed beneath her heal or she will look beyond the horizon to the stars. If I know her, she will choose that path and be destroyed. This world is now an Imperial subject and the Empire will allow only one Kahless."

"You set all this in motion knowing this was the fate you were grooming her for, didn't you."

"Yes. It is the way of war."

Kehlt stands in silence for a few moments, looking at Utta basking in the light of fleeting glory.

"You know, Kordite. You can be a cold, heartless bastard."

"Only when I have to be," he says with a touch of sadness as he turns back the way he came. "Only when I have to be."

Afterword -- Revised: 18 May 2002
Copyright © 2000, 2002 Kevin A. Geiselman