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Diplomatic Implausibility

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Diplomatic Implausibility

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Author: Keith R. A. DeCandido
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK, 2012
Pocket Books, 2001
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation: Book 61

0. Resistance
0. I, Q
0. Before Dishonor
0. The Devil's Heart
0. Planet X
0. Engines of Destiny
0. Articles of the Federation
0. Crossover
0. Death in Winter
0. Kahless
0. The Valiant
0. Q & A
0. Do Comets Dream?
0. A Hard Rain
0. Losing the Peace
0. Immortal Coil
0. The Light Fantastic
0. The Best and the Brightest
0. Indistinguishable from Magic
0. Takedown
0. Greater than the Sum
0. Ship of the Line
0. The Sky's the Limit
0. The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard
0. Available Light
0. Collateral Damage
0. The Stuff of Dreams
0. Q are Cordially Uninvited...
0. Pliable Truths
1. Ghost Ship
2. The Peacekeepers
3. The Children of Hamlin
4. Survivors
5. Strike Zone
6. Power Hungry
7. Masks
8. The Captains' Honor
9. A Call to Darkness
10. A Rock and a Hard Place
11. Gulliver's Fugitives
12. Doomsday World
13. The Eyes of the Beholders
14. Exiles
15. Fortune's Light
16. Contamination
17. Boogeymen
18. Q-in-Law
19. Perchance to Dream
20. Spartacus
21. Chains of Command
22. Imbalance
23. War Drums
24. Nightshade
25. Grounded
26. The Romulan Prize
27. Guises of the Mind
28. Here There Be Dragons
29. Sins of Commission
30. Debtor's Planet
31. Foreign Foes
32. Requiem
33. Balance of Power
34. Blaze of Glory
35. The Romulan Stratagem
36. Into the Nebula
37. The Last Stand
38. Dragon's Honor
39. Rogue Saucer
40. Possession
41. The Soldiers of Fear
42. Infiltrator
43. A Fury Scorned
44. The Death of Princes
45. Intellivore
46. To Storm Heaven
47. The Q Continuum: Q-Space
48. The Q Continuum: Q-Zone
49. The Q Continuum: Q-Strike
50. Dyson Sphere
57. The Forgotten War
58. Gemworld: Book One
59. Gemworld: Book Two
60. Tooth and Claw
61. Diplomatic Implausibility
62. Maximum Warp: Book One of Two
63. Maximum Warp: Book Two of Two

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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200 YEARS AGO: The expanding Klingon Empire found a frozen world rich in deposits of the mineral topaline. They named the planet taD -- Klingon for "frozen" -- and they called the people jeghpu'wI' -- conquered.

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Klingon Empire invaded Cardassia, breaching the Khitomer Accords and causing a break with the Federation. On taD, depleted Klingon forces were overthrown in a small coup d'état, and the victorious rebels took advantage of the disruption to appeal for recognition from the Federation.

NOW: The Klingons have returned to taD and re-established their control. But the stubborn rebels insist on Federation recognition. A solution to the diplomatic impasse must be found, a task that falls to the Federation's new ambassador to the Klingon Empire -- Worf.

Worf thinks of himself as a fighter, not a negotiator, but the Federation disagrees. Now, for the sake of the Federation and the Empire, a Klingon warrior must weave a fragile peace out of a situation ripe for war!


Chapter One

The human burial ground was a verdant field, stretching as far as the eye could see. A latticework of pathways was superimposed over grass dotted by dozens of beeches, cedars, sugar maples, and massive oaks. Unlike so many other cemeteries, this one's grave markers were arranged artfully, with as much thought given to aesthetics as functionality. Instead of a grid-like pattern of straight rows, the graves here had a sense of being placed for a particular purpose, not just to fill the next spot in line. The grave markers themselves -- both headstones and mausoleums -- were designed with utmost care.

Many famous humans, and a few famous aliens, had chosen Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx on Earth as the resting place for their remains in the five hundred years since a human military officer, Admiral David Farragut, had been interred here.

Worf suspected that it was for this reason that K'Ehleyr had requested to be buried in this place.

Although raised by humans from the age of six, Worf had never understood the human custom of burying the bodies of the dead. Upon death, the spirit underwent a great journey -- hopefully to Sto-Vo-Kor -- but the body itself was just a shell. Placing that body in the ground, taking up land that could be better used for almost anything else, had always struck Worf as a waste.

But K'Ehleyr was only half Klingon. Her mother was human, and K'Ehleyr had followed many human customs, including making out a will and leaving instructions for disposition of remains. Klingons didn't have wills: their possessions went to their House and their bodies were destroyed.

Coming here, Worf decided, was a mistake. But his foster parents had suggested the visit, and once Sergey and Helena Rozhenko got an idea into their heads, it was best to go along. He had returned to Earth for the first time in several years in order to prepare for his newest challenge: Worf, son of Mogh, was now the Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire.

K'Ehleyr, the first woman Worf had ever loved, had had that job when she died.

Worf had first met K'Ehleyr over a decade and a half ago, when he was a cadet at Starfleet Academy. They seemed a perfect match, at first: the half-breed and the Klingon raised by humans. But they were also young, and ultimately the relationship, like many adolescent relationships, ended badly. When they were reunited aboard the Enterprise six years later, they had come to something like an understanding -- and, to Worf's later surprise, conceived a child.

Unfortunately, K'Ehleyr was killed just when she and Worf finally seemed to resolve their differences. Worf had avenged her death in the proper manner, and had done the best he could to raise their son, Alexander.

And now Worf had her old job.

It had been something of a shock when Admiral Ross offered him the post. With the end of the Dominion War, Worf had expected to resume his duties aboard Deep Space Nine as before, perhaps with a promotion to full commander. Instead, he had been given an awesome responsibility, one of which Worf was not sure he was worthy.

This is useless, Worf thought after staring at the stone grave marker for what seemed to be the fiftieth time. K'Ehleyr is not here. She is in Sto-Vo-Kor -- no doubt complaining about the noise all the warriors are making, he thought with an internal smile. All that's here are moldering body parts.

"Hey there, stranger, long time, no see," said a voice from behind him.

Worf whirled around, arms up in a defensive position -- until he recognized the familiar face. "Jeremy?"

"In the flesh," Jeremy Aster said with a big grin.

Worf lowered his arms and approached the young man, his lips curling slightly. "It is good to see you."

"Good to see you, too. I heard you were back on Earth, so I dropped in on Sergey and Helena. They said you came here. I might've been here sooner, actually, but Helena insisted I have some soup before I transported over."

Worf shook his head. No one came into Mother's house without being fed -- Worf learned early on that it was practically a natural law.

It had been ten years since Worf last saw Jeremy in person. The twelve-year-old that Worf had made R'uustai with on the Enterprise was now a twenty-two-year-old man. Jeremy's mother, Lieutenant Marla Aster, a ship's archaeologist, had died on an away mission that Worf had led, leaving the boy orphaned. Worf had made Jeremy a part of his family with the R'uustai ritual, and the two had stayed in touch in the intervening years. Jeremy had followed his mother's career in archaeology and was now working on his doctorate at the prestigious Rector Institute.

Indicating the way to the northernmost exit, Worf said, "I was just about to leave. Will you walk with me?"

"Sure. Said all you needed to say to her, huh?"

"Something like that," Worf said, not wanting to go into a diatribe against incomprehensible human death customs.

"Yeah, sometimes I visit Mom and Dad's graves, tell 'em how I'm doing. It's kinda cathartic, y'know?"

Worf was suddenly grateful he had not gone into that diatribe.

"Of course," Jeremy continued, "what I've been doing is pretty dull. 'Hi, Mom, went to school today.' 'Hi, Dad, broke up with Marra yesterday.'"

"You and Marra have ended your relationship?" Worf asked, surprised. Jeremy's last several letters had indicated that she was what humans tended to call "the one."

"Long story," Jeremy said, dismissively. "I'm over her. Really."

"Of course," Worf said, trying not to sound dubious.

"But you -- you make us all look like we lead dull lives. Your ship's destroyed by the Jem'Hadar, you're captured by the Breen, tortured by the Cardassians, rescued by Cardassia's biggest folk hero, and then for good measure you kill the Klingon chancellor and appoint his replacement, help win the worst war of the last several decades, and get a plum diplomatic assignment. Not bad for six months' work."

"I merely did my duty," Worf said, not really interested in basking in the recognition -- especially since Jeremy mentioned that as a way of deflecting the conversation away from his failed relationship.

Jeremy laughed. "Right, all in a day's work. Sure."

"Something like that."

"So, I assume you'll be living on the Klingon Homeworld, right?"

"Yes, at the embassy, though I suspect my duties will keep me traveling."

"What's your next assignment? Or is it some top-secret mission us civilians aren't allowed to hear about?" This last was said with a sardonic grin.

"I do not know. I am meeting with Minister T'Latrek tomorrow to discuss it."

"Well," Jeremy said, slapping Worf's shoulder, "I'm sure whatever it is, you'll be brilliant."

"I appreciate your confidence," Worf said. "I can only hope that it is justified," he muttered.

"Hey," Jeremy said, and he stopped walking and looked Worf right in the eye. "I'm serious here. You've taken a lot of garbage in your life, and you've always wound up on top -- maybe not right away, but you always end up there eventually. You'll do well here, too." He grinned. "Trust your brother."

Worf took a deep breath. He had had three brothers in his life. His biological brother, Kurn, now lived a new life under another name, with no memory of ever having been the younger son of Mogh. His adoptive brother, Nikolai Rozhenko, now lived on Vacca VI with the Boraalan people, raising a family. Jeremy was really the only one he had left. "Perhaps you are right."

"I'm always right."

"Except, it would seem, about Marra."

Jeremy rolled his eyes. "You're not going to let that go, are you?"

"I believe your last few letters mentioned marriage plans."

Wincing, Jeremy said, "They did, didn't they?"

"I will not pry if you do not wish to talk further."

Jeremy let out a held breath. "I appreciate that."

"Instead, I will invite you to join me for dinner at my parents'."

"Helena already did," Jeremy said with another grin. "She's making pipius claw and rokeg blood pie for you, and matzoh ball soup and pirogi for those of us with only one stomach."

Worf returned the slap on Jeremy's back as they approached the transporter station, located by a huge linden tree near the north entrance to the cemetery. "Excellent. Of course, I will have to tell Mother that you and Marra have broken it off."

Jeremy's face went ashen. "You wouldn't."

"I must," Worf said with mock gravity. "She has already picked a dress for the wedding. However, you may rest assured that I will insist that she respect your wishes that the details remain a secret."

Jeremy put his head in his hands. "Right. That'll work. Suuuuure. Maybe I won't come to dinner."

"After you already accepted the invitation? I do not believe that Mother will forgive such a slight so easily."

Almost pleading now, Jeremy asked, "Can't you make up some excuse?"

Worf drew himself up to his full height. "A warrior does not lie."

Shaking his head, Jeremy laughed. "I suppose I'm doomed no matter what, huh?"

"A warrior also knows when to bow to the inevitable."

"And nothing's more inevitable than your mother. All right, fine, I'll tell you all everything over dinner. And to think -- you were worried about whether you'll make a good diplomat."

Worf said nothing as he handed the transporter operator a chip with the coordinates of the Rozhenkos' house.

He did, however, smile.

Emperor me'Grmat XIX lay on his cushion and waited for death.

Death, however, didn't seem particularly interested in showing up anytime soon.

He had been born named te'Osbron on the planet that was now called taD. However, when the previous Klingon governor appointed him to the position of emperor, he -- like the eighteen emperors before him -- took on the name me'Grmat. That was how things were done, even when the world was called al'Hmat and no one had ever heard of Klingons. And it was how things were still done now that the world had been conquered, renamed, and made a part of the Klingon Empire.

Te'Osbron had lived a long but quiet life as an acolyte, serving the spiritual and medical needs of the people of the he'Vant Mountains. The people liked him, and the Klingon overseers liked him. He was pleasant without being annoying, and he wasn't afraid to stand up to the Klingons when the situation called for it. The Klingons admired both qualities, and so when me'Grmat XVIII had died after a long illness, te'Osbron was the one the Kling- ons thought should serve as the new spiritual leader of their people.

Once, the title of emperor had carried more weight than that, of course. Once, the emperor ruled over all of al'Hmat. The word of me'Grmat was law.

Whether or not people followed that law was another question entirely, but me'Grmat preferred to think of the days of al'Hmat as a time of peace and joy and prosperity, not as a time of barbarous wars and internecine conflict that left the al'Hmatti easy pickings for the Klingon conquerors two centuries ago.

One of me'Grmat's servants -- the emperor found he could not remember the young woman's name -- entered, bringing in an antigrav tray containing his morning meal. She set it next to his cushion and said, "May I get Your Eminence anything else?"

"No, that will be all," me'Grmat said wearily. He didn't remember ever seeing this woman before, he realized. That's probably why I don't know her name.

The breakfast was standard: assortments of fish, a raktajino, and pipius claw -- the latter being the one Klingon food me'Grmat could stomach. Indeed, he'd grown rather fond of it over the years. That, and Klingon coffee, of course, to which he'd become addicted.

He took a sip of the raktajino after the servant dashed out on all fours, then quickly spit it back onto the tray. There was something inside the drink, something solid.

Sitting on the tray amidst the regurgitated raktajino was a small, seamed plastic ball. With a heavy sigh, me'Grmat picked it up and pried it apart at the seams with his claws. To his total lack of surprise, it contained an optical chip.

The emperor's first instinct was to throw it away unread. It was almost assuredly another message from re'Trenat or one of his other rebel idiots, imploring him to support their cause and to stop being a "mouthpiece for the Klingon fools."

But, me'Grmat thought, re'Trenat went to all the trouble of smuggling it in here. The least I can do is hear what he has to say.

He reached over to the nightstand with his right hind leg and grabbed his reader. The optical chip presently inside it was some paperwork or other that me'Grmat had been putting off doing, so removing it was no onerous task. He put the new chip in with his left hind leg while nibbling on his fish with his forelegs.

As expected, re'Trenat's face appeared on the screen. Like most of his silly rebels, he had shaved the fur on one side of his head in the pattern of the glyph for victory. Re'Trenat's fur was snow-white, so the victory glyph stood out, etched as it was in his obsidian skin. He also, me'Grmat noticed, had taken to wearing some kind of jewelry in his left ear.

"Good morning, Your Eminence. I hope this message finds you well. I am told that a Federation ambassador is arriving within a day or so. It only took four years -- though I suspect that attacking Governor Tiral's satellite is what really got their attention. But for whatever reason, the Federation has finally decided to heed our cries for help. Now is your chance, Your Eminence. The next time the governor tells you to speak before the people to denounce us, refuse! Or better yet, tell the people that they should support us! You wield great power among our people -- your support would send a message to the Klingons that we are truly sick of their -- "

Me'Grmat shut the reader off with a derisive snort. Send a message to the Klingons, of course, he thought. That message being, "Time to kill this old fool and appoint a new emperor."

Emperor me'Grmat XIX had lived a long, prosperous, happy life. He did not want it to end at the wrong end of a disruptor. Besides, what better way to rebel against the Klingons than to die quietly in one's bed? It would make any self-respecting Klingon sick to his stomachs.

That is a philosophical rebellion, of course, me'Grmat thought with a sigh, so someone who leads attacks on mines and satellites probably wouldn't understand it.

He was about to reach over and signal for the servant, when she loped back in. "Your Eminence, Governor Tiral wishes to speak with you."

"Very well. Please take this raktajino away -- it is defective. Have it destroyed in case some other, less understanding person drinks it."

"Are you sure, Your Eminence? The galley told me it was an especially fine batch this morning. I think if you drink some more, you'll find it to be quite a strong brew."

Me'Grmat started to say something, then sighed. "I'm too old for these word games. Take it away, and tomorrow, I expect all my food to be free of optical chips, is that understood?"

"Of course, Your Eminence. I'm sorry the raktajino wasn't to your liking."

Sighing, me'Grmat handed her the mug. If she insists on being oblique, let her, he thought. Klingons were big on surveillance in any case, so she probably needed to be discreet.

As soon as she left with the raktajino mug, me'Grmat rose from the cushion and sauntered toward his small computer console on all fours. "Screen on."

Tiral's round face appeared on the screen. Behind him, me'Grmat could see the assorted consoles that made up Tiral's command center on that satellite of his. Some Klingons wandered about, but most of the people me'Grmat saw were al'Hmatti, being ordered around by those selfsame Klingons. Sweat plastered the fur of the al'Hmatti to their skin, a combination of the hard work and the obscenely high temperatures that the Klingons insisted upon. Me'Grmat could not understand how any living being could tolerate such heat for any length of time.

"Greetings, me'Grmat," Tiral said. None of the Kling- ons ever called him Your Eminence. As a rule, Klingons, in the course of general conversation at least, did not lie -- part of that code of honor they were so proud of -- and no Klingon considered the emperor to be an eminent personage.

"Greetings, Governor. To what do I owe this honor?"

"I need you to give a speech to the people this afternoon, me'Grmat. Today is the anniversary of our retaking this planet, and I think the people need to be reminded of that."

"Of course, Governor. I'll be happy to."

That was a lie, of course. But then, me'Grmat hadn't really been happy to do much of anything in years.

Tiral signed off, and several servants came in. They bathed me'Grmat, dried his fur, combed it, placed the necklaces of his office over his head, and fitted him with the imperial tunic. The primary necklace was a string of silver with a Spican flame gem at its center; of the two other necklaces, one was of rubies, the other of kevas. When he had first ascended to the position of emperor, me'Grmat loved the idea of the necklaces, glowing as they did with the light of his office. That was before he'd realized that he had to remain on his hind legs at all times when he wore them. The first Emperor me'Grmat had been female, as were her first five successors. It wasn't until after the Klingons came that any emperors were male. Unfortunately, male al'Hmatti, unlike females, had wider necks than heads, so unless they stood straight up, the necklaces would fall off.

These days, me'Grmat viewed them as little more than shining dead weight in any case.

He looked at himself in the mirror. When did I get old? he wondered. He could not recall when, exactly, the bones in his face started to become so pronounced, nor when his cheeks and forehead got so sunken in, nor when everyone around him suddenly seemed larger, as if he'd shrunk.

Hissing softly, me'Grmat frightened the servants as they finished grooming him. You got old the same way everyone gets old, fool. Time passed.

After he was pronounced fit for public consumption, another servant led him to the communications center, where he would tell the al'Hmatti what Tiral wanted them to hear.

When it was over, me'Grmat found he could not remember precisely what it was he had said. It was probably the same speech he'd given a thousand times before, about how much more prosperous taD had been over the last two hundred years, about what a savage, barbaric people the al'Hmatti were before the Klingons brought them civilization, that sort of thing. The people in the comm center all went on about how inspirational it was, but me'Grmat wondered at their sincerity. He was the emperor, after all -- they would hardly tell him his speech was awful. It meant nothing either way. If there were any al'Hmatti who agreed with what he said, they already agreed, and the speech did not matter. As for those al'Hmatti who did not agree -- a number that me'Grmat was fairly sure included the majority of the people -- one speech would hardly make a difference.

But he was the emperor. This was what he did. And he would continue to do it until he could draw breath no more.

After he returned to his chambers, Tiral contacted him, praising him, using words like inspirational and forceful. So the speech must have been a good one.

The servants removed the necklaces and the tunic and left. Then me'Grmat lay down on his cushion, and waited for death.

"Are you familiar with the world designated taD, Ambassador?"

Worf had to resist the urge to turn around and see which ambassador had entered the room. This new title will obviously take some getting used to, he thought.

He sat in the large, undecorated office belonging to T'Latrek of Vulcan, one of the Federation Council's ministers for external affairs, and the person to whom Worf reported. She had gone over a variety of administrative trivia with Worf, including several items that had been, for whatever reason, left incomplete by his predecessor. T'Latrek also made the Federation Council's policies on a variety of subjects clear to Worf.

Now, she had turned to the final order of business: his first assignment.

In answer to her question, Worf said, "I believe it is a world the empire conquered several centuries ago."

"Two hundred and fourteen years ago, to be precise," T'Latrek said. "The world is quite inhospitable to Kling-ons, but is rich in topaline deposits. The natives, the

al'Hmatti, were given jeghpu'wI' status, as is traditional in the Klingon Empire." T'Latrek pronounced the Klingon word, which roughly translated to conquered people -- not quite slaves, but not full citizens of the empire, either -- with a mild-but-acceptable accent. "They had lived as such for two hundred and ten years."

Worf frowned. He had not known of any change in taD's status -- but then, he hadn't followed the developments of every conquered world in the empire. "What happened four years ago?"

"The Klingons invaded Cardassia, and that near-depletion of Klingon Defense Force vessels within the empire proper allowed a rebel faction among the al'Hmatti to succeed in a coup d'état. They immediately applied to the Federation for assistance, as well as possible membership. Since the empire had withdrawn from the Khitomer Accords at that point, the Federation was willing to investigate the matter."

T'Latrek handed Worf a padd, then continued. "A preliminary investigation was begun by your predecessor. However, that investigation was cut short when the empire retook the world and also re-allied with the Federation following Cardassia becoming part of the Dominion. Hostilities with the Dominion precluded any further pursuit of the investigation, in any event."

Worf glanced at the padd's display. As the planet's name indicated -- the word literally meant frozen -- taD was an icy world. Worf could understand the value of the planet two centuries earlier, when the empire had been in expansionist mode. Topaline was used in atmospheric domes, and for a long time was considered quite rare. Within the last fifty years, though, dozens of worlds had been discovered that were rich in the mineral. Worf wondered why the empire bothered reconquering taD. He set the padd atop a pile of other material that T'Latrek had provided. I will, I suspect, learn the answers to my questions soon enough, he thought.

"I take it," he said aloud, "that the end of the war has changed that."

"Yes. Technically, the request the al'Hmatti made is legitimate, and the Federation has an obligation to pursue it. That must be balanced against the needs of the Federation's alliance with the empire, particularly in this time of rebuilding."

"The Federation cannot accept a planet that is under Klingon rule as a member," Worf said bluntly.

"On the face of it, yes, that is so," T'Latrek said. "But the retaking of taD has not solved the empire's problem, either. The rebels continue to flourish. Last week, they attacked Governor Tiral's satellite base. The Federation Council has received repeated calls for help from the al'Hmatti, and Tiral has requested assistance from the Klingon High Council. The Federation cannot simply ignore the al'Hmatti's request. Therefore, a solution needs to be found that will satisfy the Federation, the al'Hmatti, and the Klingons. That is your assignment."

Worf nodded. "Very well."

"One more thing, Ambassador." T'Latrek folded her hands together and gazed right at Worf. "I am, of course, aware that the head of your House is also the leader of the Klingon High Council. It is quite possible that the relationship will prove useful to you in performing your duties. But it is just as possible that the relationship will cause a conflict of interest. Your record in this regard has led some members of the Federation Council to question your appointment. You have demonstrated a pattern of allowing your loyalty to family to overcome your duty. Those, in fact, represent the only black marks on an otherwise spotless Starfleet record. Should such a conflict happen now, we expect you to resolve it logically and in a way that will not endanger your continued service as a Federation ambassador."

"Is that a threat, Minister?" Worf asked.

T'Latrek raised an eyebrow. "An observation, Ambassador."

Worf remembered how his departing the Enterprise without leave in order to claim his vengeance against Duras for K'Ehleyr's death had warranted a reprimand from Captain Picard -- his first since graduating from the Academy. He had resigned from Starfleet in order to aid Gowron in his efforts against Duras's sisters and repay his debt to Gowron for restoring his House's honor, a move that had probably delayed his promotion to lieutenant commander. And Captain Sisko had reprimanded him after he chose to rescue his wife Jadzia Dax rather than complete a critical retrieval mission.

Slowly, Worf said, "While it is true that Chancellor Martok took me into his House, my first duty is to the Federation."

"I do not doubt that, Ambassador, and there is no need for you to reassure me. Your actions will, I'm sure, do so quite satisfactorily."

Worf nodded to T'Latrek. "Of course." Vulcans, as a rule, did not lie. If T'Latrek had been one of those who objected to Worf's appointment, she would have said so.

"You will be escorted to the Klingon border by the Enterprise tomorrow morning at 0800." T'Latrek looked down at her desk and spoke in a quieter tone: "In fact, Captain Picard personally requested the assignment."

Is that a note of disapproval? Worf wondered. There was something in T'Latrek's voice that he had not heard before. Until now, T'Latrek had spoken with typical Vulcan stoicism, betraying no emotions whatsoever. But then, he supposed that a Vulcan would find so sentimental a gesture distasteful.

Worf, however, was grateful. Contact with his former comrades on the Enterprise had been sporadic during the war. It would be good to see them all.

Then he thought back over what T'Latrek had actually said. "To the border?" he asked.

"Yes. The empire insists that you be taken through Klingon space by a Defense Force vessel, the Gorkon, which will rendezvous with the Enterprise at the border. Apparently its commander, Captain Klag, has taken a personal interest in taD and insisted that he be your escort. Indeed, Klag did not want Federation involvement at all, but the High Council was willing, as long as you were the Federation representative."

I suspect Martok's hand in that, Worf thought. Klag, Worf remembered, was the officer who had wiped out an entire Jem'Hadar regiment on Marcan V.

T'Latrek continued, "You will be joined on the Enterprise by your personal aide. The rest of your staff is already in place at the embassy on Qo'noS. Their records are available for your review, of course." She indicated the pile of padds that sat on the desk in front of Worf.

"Very well," Worf said with a nod as he rose from T'Latrek's guest chair, gathering those selfsame padds. "If there is nothing else...?"

"No." T'Latrek also stood, raising her right hand and parting the middle two fingers in the V-shape of the Vulcan salute. "Peace and long life, Ambassador. Qapla'."

"Qapla'." Worf raised his own right hand and matched the gesture. It was uncomfortable, but the minister had done him the courtesy of a Klingon salutation. Worf could hardly do other than return the favor. "Live long and prosper, Minister."

At least T'Latrek isn't human, Worf thought as he left the office. Then she would likely have insisted on shaking hands. No matter how long he lived among humans, Worf had never been able to think of that human ritual as anything other than silly-looking.

Worf headed for the nearest transporter room in order to return to his parents' home for what would probably be the last time for many months.

In all his time as security chief on the Galaxy-class ship that bore the name Enterprise, Worf had escorted many people to the VIP quarters. They were the largest on the ship, almost embarrassing in their luxury. Worf -- who had found his own, smaller rooms to be unnecessarily lavish -- had never thought he would be in a position to stay in such quarters.

Now, on the Sovereign-class successor to that ship, Worf found himself in accommodations even larger than those he had so disdained. Commander Riker himself had met Worf in the transporter room and escorted him here, and Worf came very close to requesting something smaller -- but he knew that would not happen. He was, after all, a Federation ambassador.

So he simply set down the duffel bags he had insisted on carrying himself (courtesy was one thing, but a warrior never let others carry his personal items), turned to Riker, and said, "Thank you, Commander."

"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Ambassador," Riker said formally.

"Please, Commander -- I believe it would not be a breach of protocol for you to call me by name."

Grinning with his still-beardless face -- Worf wished the first officer would grow it back; without it, his face looked just wrong somehow -- Riker said, "Haven't gotten used to the title yet, huh?"

"No," Worf said simply. "But even if I had, such formality between us would be -- unnecessary."

"All right, but that means you're going to have to start calling me 'Will.'"

Worf blinked. He hadn't thought of that. Riker had been his superior officer for so long...."I will work on that -- Will."

"Good," Riker said.

Walking toward the food replicator, Worf asked the question he knew he'd need to know the answer to sooner or later: "How is Deanna?"

"Fine," Riker said with an ease that relieved Worf. "Not here, unfortunately -- she's on Betazed, helping with the reconstruction efforts there."

To the computer, Worf said, "Prune juice, chilled." He turned to Riker. "Anything for you, si -- Will?"

"No, thank you."

The prune juice materialized in the dispenser, and Worf took a sip of it. "And you and Deanna are...?" Worf let the question trail off.

Riker broke into another of his trademark grins. "Doing just fine, thanks."

"I am glad to hear it." Worf's brief relationship with Deanna had been a source of tension, which was why, when Riker and Deanna had renewed their relationship on the Bak'u planet, Worf had made sure to give it his blessing.

"Y'know, Worf," Riker said, approaching the Klingon, "the first time I saw you, I said to myself, 'That man is going to make a great diplomat.'"


"No, not really. Worf, the first time I saw you, you tried to blow a hole in the viewscreen because Q's face appeared on it."

Worf took another sip of his prune juice. "I was young and rash."

"And what would you call yourself now?"

Worf considered. "Old and rash."

Riker laughed. "It is good to see you again, Worf. Well, I'll let you get settled in." He headed toward the doors. As they parted, Riker turned and said, "Oh, there's a reception for you in Ten-Forward tonight at 1800 hours."

Wincing, Worf said, "Comma -- Will, I do not think -- "

Cutting him off, Riker said, "Worf, in the seven-and-a-half years you served on the Enterprise, how many people of your current rank did we take on as passengers?"

"I do not recall the exact number, but -- "

"And how many of them had some kind of reception or event planned in their honor?"

Worf sighed. "All of them."

"Precisely. Don't worry. It'll be a modest affair -- just a few officers and some finger food and drinks."

"Modest," Worf said, sounding dubious.

Putting his hand to his heart, Riker said, "Mr. Worf, don't you trust my word?"

Remembering more than one surprise party that the commander had been responsible for springing on various unsuspecting crewmembers, Worf could only reply: "No, I do not."

Chuckling, Riker said, "Well, let me put it another way: Captain Picard would be deeply offended if you didn't show up. See you at 1800. Oh, and you're welcome to join us in my quarters afterward."

Worf frowned.

"Poker night," Riker said with a smile, and then departed.

Shaking his head, Worf turned to his duffels and began to unpack. The trip to the border would take several days, after all. He placed his clothing in drawers and the padds he'd need on the desk.

Then he unpacked the two framed pictures. One was of him and Alexander. It was several years old -- Alexander was much shorter and Worf was still a Starfleet lieutenant when the picture was taken -- but Worf had kept it with him since the previous Enterprise had been destroyed.

The other was his and Jadzia's wedding picture.

He stared at it for several seconds before finally placing it on the bedstand next to the other picture.

Losing K'Ehleyr had been painful, but he had at least been able to avenge her death. Ending his relationship with Deanna had been difficult, but ultimately the right choice for them both.

Jadzia Dax's death was agony, made worse by the fact that Worf had not been able to avenge it.

It had been over a year, and the pain had not faded.

He wondered if it ever would.

Finally, he unpacked his other possessions: the statue of Kahless fighting Morath; his bat'leth championship trophy; the metal baldric he had worn over his uniform since becoming Enterprise security chief; the new mek'leth Ezri Dax had given him as a going-away present after his old one had been taken by the Breen during their capture; and his family's bat'leth, the one possession of the House of Mogh that had survived the Khitomer massacre.

As he set the bat'leth on the wall -- replacing a rather hideous painting -- the door chime rang. "Enter," he said.

A human wearing civilian clothing -- a dark blue tunic, a burgundy vest, and black trousers and shoes -- entered. He carried a padd in his left hand. "Mr. Ambassador, I'm sorry I'm late," he said calmly. Ta Dax's death was agony, made worse by the fact that Worf had not been able to avenge it.

It had been over a year, and the pain had not faded.

He wondered if it ever would.

Finally, he unpacked his other possessions: the statue of Kahless fighting Morath; his bat'leth championship trophy; the metal baldric he had worn over his uniform since becoming Enterprise security chief; the new mek'leth Ezri Dax had given him as a going-away present after his old one had been taken by the Breen during their capture; and his family's bat'leth, the one possession of the House of Mogh that had survived the Khitomer massacre.

As he set the bat'leth on the wall -- replacing a rather hideous painting -- the door chime rang. "Enter," he said.

A human wearing civilian clothing -- a dark blue tunic, a burgundy vest, and black trousers and shoes -- entered. He carried a padd in his left hand. "Mr. Ambassador, I'm sorry I'm late," he said calmly. The man spoke with an accent Worf couldn't quite place. "My name is Giancarlo Wu. I'm your aide."

Worf noted that Wu did not offer his hand. A promising start. According to his file, Wu had served as Worf's predecessor's aide as well, and had been on the staff of the Federation embassy on Qo'noS prior to that, so he was certainly aware of Klingon customs and preferences. "Minister T'Latrek told me you would be joining me here."

"Yes," Wu said. "I do apologize again. I'm afraid I was caught up in getting your computer access set up, and I was unable to greet you at the transporter."

"That is not a problem. I do know my way around this ship."

Wu smiled a small smile. "Yes, of course. In any case," he continued, glancing down at the padd and tapping the occasional command into it, "you have quite a large number of correspondences waiting for you. I will go through them and flag any that need your personal attention, but most of them are trivial matters that either I can handle or can wait until after the taD matter is resolved." Something on the padd seemed to grab his attention, and he added, "Ah, you also have a good number of personal correspondences, which I forwarded to you unread, obviously."

"Good," Worf said. "Since you are not new to this position, I assume I do not need to tell you that Klingons do not prevaricate. I expect you to speak the truth to me at all times. It is possible that my predecessor had an understandably human need to have her feelings assuaged on certain delicate matters. However, I prefer that you assume there are no such things."

"With all due respect, Mr. Ambassador, there are always delicate matters."

Worf nodded, conceding the point. "If you do stumble across one of them, I will let you know."

Wu nodded. "Understood, Mr. Ambassador." He gazed back down at his padd. "In addition to your personal correspondences, I have also forwarded to you an up-to-date report on taD, more current than what Minister T'Latrek gave you yesterday. I have also obtained the complete personnel records of the Gorkon crew and of Governor Tiral's staff on taD."

"Good," Worf said again, and he meant it. He had not expected such thoroughness, though he was glad of it.

"Will there be anything else?" Wu asked.

"Not at the moment. I will contact you if that changes. Otherwise, I assume I will see you at the reception at 1800 hours in Ten-Forward."

Wu blinked. "That is in your honor, Mr. Ambassador. I wouldn't presume -- "

"You serve me," Worf said. "A reception in my honor is therefore also a reception in yours by extension."

Again smiling a small smile, Wu said, "Thank you, sir." He hesitated, then, apparently taking Worf's urging not to prevaricate to heart, said, "Your predecessor never liked having staff attend such functions. She said that having us around reminded her too much of work."

"A very human attitude."

"The ambassador was very human." Wu put the padd in the pocket of his vest and said, "My quarters are just next door, sir. I am at your disposal any time of the day or night."

"Thank you," Worf said. He moved toward the desk as Wu headed toward the exit.

"Mr. Ambassador?" Wu said, turning to speak over his shoulder.

Worf turned to face him. "Yes?"

"I know we're only going to be on the ship for a few days, but -- Well, I think the statue would look better over there." Wu pointed at the bureau over which Worf had hung the bat'leth.

"I will consider it," Worf said dryly.

"Very good, sir."

And with that, he left.

A curious person, Worf thought. Still, Wu had lived on Qo'noS and worked with Klingons, so he probably wouldn't have too much trouble dealing with the conditions on the Gorkon. Starfleet ships were designed for comfort; Defense Force vessels were meant solely for combat. Often humans had difficulty dealing with the somewhat Spartan conditions -- indeed, his comrades on Deep Space Nine had complained about it endlessly whenever events of the Dominion War necessitated travel on a Klingon ship.

Wu was also right: the statue did look better on the bureau.

Sitting at the desk, Worf said, "Computer, display personal correspondences, Ambassador Worf." He then gave his access code.

Wu had not exaggerated. He had dozens of letters. Most seemed to be of a simple, congratulatory nature, but he decided to plow through them and get it over with.

There was a note from Ezri, catching him up on what was going on on Deep Space Nine, including the rather surprising news of who had replaced Odo as the security chief on the Promenade. His parents, typically, had sent a message, even though he had seen them less than four hours ago. They ended it with Father saying: "Son, we could not be more proud of you. And remember, that we will always be here for you, no matter what." Mother added: "We love you, Worf."

Worf saved both messages, then continued through the other letters. Some were from former Enterprise personnel who had moved on to other assignments, including a number of his former security staff. Some were from Klingons he had served with during the war. Some were from the Rozhenkos' friends and family. A few others were from Deep Space Nine.

He noticed that two messages came from the U.S.S. Excalibur. That was, he recalled, Captain Mackenzie Calhoun's ship, presently assigned to what used to be Thallonian space. Worf remembered that Commander Shelby was Calhoun's first officer, and three of his Academy classmates also served on that vessel.

The freckled face of one of those classmates, Lieutenant Mark McHenry, appeared on the screen. "Hey, Worf. Soleta's busy with a sensor recalibration, so I offered to send this message, since we just heard from Commander Shelby -- who sends her regards, by the way, she said you guys served together on the Enterprise during that Borg mess -- about your being made ambassador, and we were all thrilled, especially with all the reports that you got captured by the Dominion, we figured you were a goner, so it's good to know that you not only survived, but got a nice job. Kinda funny, you being a diplomat, especially after all the times you and Kebron..."

The message went on for several more minutes -- though it seemed like hours -- delivered in McHenry's usual stream-of-consciousness babble, recalling several incidents from their shared Academy days. Worf swore it was all one sentence.

Then the Vulcanoid features of Lieutenant Soleta replaced McHenry's image, which came to Worf as something of a relief. "McHenry forgot to actually say congratulations. I should have known better than to trust him with composing the message. So, congratulations, Worf. And best of luck to you -- though I suspect you will not need it."

The second Excalibur message had no audiovisual component, merely a one-word text message from the ship's chief of security, and Worf's former roommate, Zak Kebron: congratulations.

For Kebron, it was verbose.

Worf leaned back and looked at the pictures of Jadzia and Alexander, thought about seeing his parents and Jeremy, being reunited today with the Enterprise crew, and now all these letters. It seems the past does not wish to leave me alone these last few days.

Leaning forward again, Worf began to compose a reply to Soleta.

As Worf and Wu approached Ten-Forward at 1805 hours, Worf could hear the sounds of a trombone playing.

Human music, he thought with a sigh. I should have known.

With a due sense of anticipation and dread, he entered Ten-Forward, his aide right behind him. A cacophony of Dixieland jazz assaulted his ears as the doors parted. The room was nearly packed with uniformed personnel, eating and drinking. Most of them, of course, Worf did not recognize. Though some of the staff from the Enterprise-D presently served on this newer ship, they were by far in the minority. Many, like Worf, had gone on to other assignments; many had been killed in the war. The result was a party in Worf's honor full of people he did not know.

In the center of the room, a band provided the music -- with William Riker playing the trombone. A sign had been placed over the windows that said welcome ambassador worf in English and Klingon.

"Modest, indeed," Worf muttered.

"Sir?" Wu asked.

Sighing, Worf said to his aide, "Commander Riker had promised me that this would be a modest affair. His exact words were, 'Just a few officers and some finger food and drinks.'"

Wu looked around the crowded room. "Obviously, sir, this is a definition of the word modest that I was heretofore unaware of," he said dryly.

Steeling himself against the noise, Worf milled around the party. He lost track of Wu relatively quickly, but he did find Geordi La Forge and Data. Geordi still had his goatée, for which Worf was grateful. It almost made up for Riker's clean-shaven face. As for Data, the android had a broad grin on his face as he asked how Worf was. Worf hadn't served much with Data since the android had installed his emotion chip, and the idea of Data smiling was still difficult for Worf to wrap his mind around.

Worf's nose identified the food long before he could actually see it. Though some of the scents were unfamiliar, he could definitely pick out some Klingon food. He excused himself from the chief engineer and second officer and made a beeline for the source: three tables near the window. Two of them had a standard collection of Federation appetizers, mostly Earth food, with bits and pieces from other worlds tossed in for good measure. This, Worf thought, explains the less familiar odors.

But the third table had all Klingon delicacies: pipius claw, bregit lung, gladst, krada legs, zilm'kach, skull stew (that had been chopped to pieces for some odd reason; the skull should have remained intact), stewed bok-rat liver, and bowls of both gagh and racht(dead, but Worf supposed one couldn't have everything).

The food on the third table was also mostly untouched. Worf grabbed a plate and started piling food onto it. In deference to Federation custom, he used utensils to serve himself rather than his hands.

Worf took a bite of zilm'kach. It tasted replicated, sadly, but not bad for all that. He had been spoiled, being on Deep Space Nine with its Klingon restaurant, not to mention having spent the last several days eating his mother's home cooking.

Realizing he'd need something to wash this down, he approached the bar, fielding several more greetings and congratulations as he went. A bartender saw Worf's approach and leaned forward. "Can I interest the ambassador in a glass of prune juice? Perhaps something stronger?"

"Something stronger," Worf said. Prune juice may be a warrior's drink, but this is a party. "A chech'tluth, please."

"Coming up," the bartender said with a smile and walked off, leaving Worf to finish his food and try not to get a headache from the music. The chech'tluth will help in the latter regard, at least, he thought.

Beverly Crusher walked up to Worf while he waited for his drink and ate some racht. "Hello, Worf."

"Doctor," Worf said, inclining his head. "Nice party," he deadpanned.

Crusher laughed. "Y'know, I had the feeling you weren't going to be thrilled with this to-do. But Will insisted you'd love it."

"I believe, in Commander Riker's lexicon, that truly means that he would love it."

Again, Crusher laughed. "That's certainly true."

The bartender came back with Worf's drink, which had been sufficiently heated, to Worf's relief. He put the plate down on the bar and grabbed the mug. He took a gulp and felt the hot liquid burn pleasantly in his mouth. A warm feeling started at the base of his throat and started to spread to his chest and head. Even better, it wasn't a syntheholic drink. While humans -- who had spent millennia cooking all the flavor out of their food -- did not have sufficiently discerning taste buds to distinguish alcohol from synthehol, Klingons could. While Worf would drink synthehol if he had to -- while on duty, for example -- he greatly preferred the real thing, and this was definitely it. A few more sips, he thought, and I might even be able to stand this music.

Next to him, Crusher's face grew serious. "Worf, I -- I just wanted to let you know that -- if you ever want to talk about -- well..."

"About what?" Worf finally asked when Crusher's hesitant pause threatened to go on forever.

"Jadzia. With someone who's been there."

And then Worf understood. "Odan," he said.

The doctor nodded.

Like Worf, Crusher had fallen in love with a joined Trill. Like Worf, Crusher had to watch the host body die, and then have the symbiont live on in another that she could not love.

"Doctor -- Beverly -- "

Crusher let out a bark of laughter. At Worf's surprised look, she said, "Sorry, it's just that Odan called me 'Dr. Beverly.'"

"Ah. In any event, I appreciate the offer."

"But you won't take me up on it."

In fact, Worf had no intention of taking her up on it, but he had hoped he had not been that obvious about it. "Doctor -- "

"Will's not the only one who's easy to read by someone who knows him well enough," Crusher said. "It's okay. I honestly didn't think you would want to talk with me. But I wanted you to know that the offer was on the table, in case you change your mind."

Worf nodded. "Thank you, Doctor -- truly, I am grateful. However, I have had over a year to come to terms with Jadzia's death."

"Sometimes that's not enough. Believe me."

The music came to a merciful halt, and then a voice rang out through Ten-Forward. "Everyone, may I have your attention, please?"

Worf turned toward the center of the room to see Captain Picard holding a glass of some kind of ale.

The room quieted down almost instantaneously. Jean-Luc Picard had that effect on people.

"Many of you here do not know Ambassador Worf personally, though surely you know him by reputation. He served aboard the previous Enterprise with distinction, then did likewise at Deep Space Nine, one of the most important strategic posts in the quadrant. Long ago, I said that the bridge wouldn't be the same without him, and the last four years have proven that to be the case. But I also know that he has served both the Federation -- which sometimes saw him as a curiosity and in which he was always to some degree an outsider -- and the Klingon Empire -- which twice saw fit to exile him from his own homeland -- with honor. And now, those two august bodies have shown tremendous good sense in allowing him to serve them both as the Federation's ambassador to Qo'noS. As one who has been his commanding officer, his cha'DIch, and his friend, Iwish him well -- but I do not wish him luck. For a warrior does not depend on luck, and Worf, son of Mogh, is first and foremost a warrior."

Picard held his ale up. "So I ask you all to raise your glasses and join me in saluting the bravest man I have ever known. To Worf!"

A roomful of Starfleet officers, most of whom Worf had never met before tonight, raised their glasses and cried out, "To Worf!"

As they all drank, Worf held up his own glass. Perhaps this party won't be so bad , after all...

Copyright © 2001 by Keith R. A. DeCandido


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