Blackened grime lay languid, smeared in a greasy sheen across the green tinged alloy. Clanking machinery and the hiss of steam filled the recycled air that hung heavy, pouring forth mingled with the dank and fetid odours from long neglected carbon scrubbers. There was an ascetic sharpness to the stench, surely detectable to the olfactory organs of any more sensitive species unfortunate enough to be walking those same corridors. Dark, forgotten pits of rotting remains filled forgotten corners, unfit to be cleaned by any other than the lowest of menial p’taq; beasts of burden for whom a warrior’s death was no longer an ambition, unworthy even of a place to sit on the Barge of the Dead.
They were all unworthy, in a way. The souls of those who occupied that metallic tomb, careening through space. A lost house of savage practices, cast adrift with precious few opportunities to reclaim their honour. With the respect of the Empire denied to them, their self respect waned in turn. Prestige and service to Klingon honour eroded, Kahless’ teachings forgotten, the wretched house fell to backbiting and petty cruelties. As a return to honour slipped further and further from their sights, a new urge took hold. Driven by a sense of injustice, manifested as pure malice, a twisted rationality entered into the minds of an entire house condemned to the torment of Gre’thor and Fek’lhr’s whims. It was not they who were responsible for D’Ghor’s ousting. Many had pledged their loyalty to that d’blok as a way to further their own standing in the Empire. Now, exiled for five generations, their prospects disintegrated and scattered into the wind. A tempestuous boiling of resentment and rage built within them, spinning and all consuming like the maelstrom infernos of Bresh’Vaq.
G’Vir knew the story all too well. A cook in the D’Ghor militia while the house still served the Empire, he had roasted meats and prepared gagh in the galley of the IKS Jat’lh, as it was then known. He was proud of his position in the ranks. His family still farmed the low plains of Mekro’vak. For him, with not a drop of noble blood, the thought of a life of subsisting on his family’s crops left him disgusted. They were snivelling indolents who thought nothing of the glories of battle. No, he would not continue this path. G’Vir would carve a piece of his own honour from the flanks of the Empire, glorious that it was. He would drink its blood, replacing his own, and he would endure any abuse that came along with his low station, weather any insults, and absorb degradations one after another to earn his place in Sto’vo-kor.
He remembered Bekk Chorr, a towering warrior with a broad back who once sat down in the Jat’lh’s mess to feast on a whole leg of targ. G’Vir had killed the beast that very morning, leading it up from the dark holding pen and onto the sluice grate of the slaughter hole. It whimpered, dipping its short tusks, perhaps aware that these were now its final moments. It looked G’Vir in the eye, proving once again to him that the targ was an animal of immaculate honour. Something changed in those eyes. They hardened, meeting G’Vir’s with what looked to him like determination. Such an animal would not simply face death quivering and whimpering in fear. Its final moments would be glorious. Head down, it charged towards G’Vir, who had released the chain around its neck. The targ would have an excellent death.
“Nob vam Ha’Qaj, Hegh!” G’Vir brought the tajtlq up in both hands, level with his head. As the targ ran he waited until the grunting, squealing boar was in the throes of fury. It focused on nothing but blood rage, on eviscerating its captor. G’Vir could feel the heat of its anger radiating, almost lighting up the death chamber with its ferocity. He stood poised. His dark, muscular arms held steady, both hands overlapping each other on the dagger’s grip. The targ, oblivious, sped up and G’Vir brought the blade down. Its head was driven into the ground, impaled through the apex of its skull by the sheer force of the blow. A high pitched screech rang out and then silence. It twitched once, twice, neural impulses firing for the last time before it lay still. It’s breathing ceased. G’Vir heaved the beast up, its body hooked onto the dagger, then hung the heavy carcass on a metal hook jutting out from the room’s central pillar. He slit its throat. Warm blood drained through the grill with the full vigour of a running stream.
Boots clomped in a chaotic rhythm on their march into the ship’s mess. Bowls, utensils, and metal tumblers all scattered across the long bench tables as hungry Klingons piled into their usual places. It didn’t take long for the loud, expectant babble to erupt into ill-tempered roaring. They slammed their fists into the table, shoving and jostling, and an enormous cheer reverberated around the hall when the cauldron of bone stew was carried out by the kitchen hands. Rich, coils of spiced vapour wafted towards their hungered mouths and the pounding grew louder. Rendered targ fat from the boiled carcass formed a glistening film on the cauldron’s surface. A giant ladle plunged through it to collect the pieces of brot root suspended in the salty, aromatic broth. The chaos subsided as, one by one, they collected their ration.
Higher ranked individuals were entitled to the roast meat. Crisped up skin crackled as G’Vir sliced through it into the flesh below. Turned for three hours over an open flame, the cuts were tender, tearing off easily as the warriors’ pointed teeth bit into them. The leg, reserved for Chorr, was the envy of all others in the mess. He had fought for it, and he had earned the privilege in blood. His hulking frame strained the bench on which he sat, making even the stocky fighting Klingons who sat around him seem scrawny, even underfed in comparison.
“G’Vir!” He slammed a heavy fist onto the table, causing everything and everyone around it to jump up and rattle, “This is truly a fine targ!” He held up the leg in one hand, inspecting it as he chewed. “You cook with a warrior’s finesse.” The giant took a large swig of his bahgol.
G’Vir beamed a toothy grin, breaking into a baritone chuckle, “You eat with less grace than that targ did!”
Chorr flew out of his seat, sending cutlery skittering across the deck. In a single step he was standing over G’Vir, who stood his ground. G’Vir snarled. Outwardly, he was steadfast. Inwardly, he prepared for a quick death. Silence. A moment passed, then a moment more. Chorr’s laugh was quiet at first, under his breath, then it grew louder. As the chortle grew into a belly laugh, the others in the mess joined. Soon the whole room was howling with laughter, and Chorr slapped G’Vir so hard on the back that he could almost feel his teeth loosening.
“G’Vir, you are a fine cook. But I can smell your fear.” Chorr bore his teeth with a low growl.
It was a voice of authority that cut above the crowd, “Perhaps, if he had less to fear, then you would all get a bit more of that targ meat!”
Chorr’s head jerked around, pinpointing the source of the remark. The challenger stood head on, right before his eyes. His glare pierced Chorr, shining out dazzling against the full bodied black hair that dropped to his shoulders. That look was unmistakable. This was a challenge, and only one of them would leave the mess hall uncarried this day.
“You challenge me, Captain Ler’Keth?” Chorr looked unsettled only for a second on recognising his commander.
“Yes I do, Chorr. Your greed is greater than a starving qu’vatlh! If I allow you to live, these fine warriors will surely shrivel and disappear.” He swept his arm around the room, punctuated by a series of jeers and whoops, “All because of you, Chorr, you empty headed oaf. How can we serve the glory of the Empire with a great weight like you tied about our necks? You have brought shame on this vessel, and to our great house.”
Chorr unsheathed his d’k tahg, flicking open the secondary blades in one smooth motion. He brandished it towards the captain, dropping into a low stance and moving his weight between each foot, prowling. The others in the mess drew back, instinctively forming a circle in which the two hulking Klingons stalked each other. Insults flew along with flecks of spittle from the incensed crowd that was now at fever pitch. Some raised their arms, pumping the air, while others crammed forward for a better view.
Ler’Keth’s blade whistled through the air as he stepped forward with a quick flick of his knife. Chorr, the ogre surprisingly light on his feet, pulled out of the way just in time. Ler’Keth came in again, seeking a quick end to the matter. Reacting aggressively this time, Chorr swung his knife hand directly into Ler’Keth’s. The two hilts clanked as they knocked against each other at speed, to the tremendous uproar of the crowd. Chorr then came in close, barging into Ler’Keth with his right shoulder and knocking him off balance. Ler’Keth spun around, on the back foot, but Chorr had been allowed time to centre his own weight. With a heave, Chorr aimed a kick towards the captain, winding him. Bent over double, Ler’Keth staggered back into the crowd who fanned out in respect, growing the arena so the warrior may do battle unhindered. Chorr gnashed his teeth, sensing his moment. He leapt forward, feet leaving the deck, reaching his knife arm as far as it could stretch. He drove the blade straight into Ler’Keth’s still bent back, sending the captain crashing down. Chorr fell on top of him, scrambling up again as Ler’Keth howled in pain. The blade had found its mark, and blood gushed out from under the downed Klingon’s splayed out body. Chorr reached down, taking hold of the knife grip. He twisted it in a single, wrenching motion that further tore into Ler’Keth’s chest cavity. The blood loss began to set in. With organs displaced, even the redundant ones, Ler’Keth merely gasped as a stream of crimson ran from his lips.
“Stabbed in the back!” A cry went up, “Coward!” Chorr stood back, “Traitor to the Empire!”
Ripping the d’k tahg from Ler’Keth’s corpse, he pointed it towards them. Eyes wild, droplets of blood flew from the wet metal as he faced off with the mob, thrusting towards any outliers who looked themselves ready to strike.
“I have bested our captain in combat. You worms know the protocol!”
As if in answer to him, the mess halls doors whirred open with a hiss. An older officer stepped forward, a ceremonial cloak draped over his arms. He approached Chorr, facing him in front of the disgruntled onlookers. Murmuring a few words of ceremony, seemingly to himself, the white haired old Klingon draped the cloak over Chorr’s shoulders. Instantly, Chorr felt the power vested in him assert itself.
“GET BACK TO YOUR POSTS.” He bellowed, scattering them all like vultures faced with competition from a true hunter. It felt good.
“YOU!” He whirled around, locking G’Vir in his line of sight. “You will go back to your pen, you mangy k’pekt! Even Ler’Keth could not defend your honour. Now you will lie in the filth of your fellow targ.”
So it was that G’Vir’s fortunes changed. No longer filled with the smells and tastes of hearty Klingon feasts, the life of the galley was soon drained. Grumbles and mutinous intent were quickly silenced by the new captain’s informants, nipped in the bud at the first sign of insubordination. Of course, before long the declining quality of rations would be the least of the rabble’s concerns. If the fall of House D’Ghor was low, the fall of the IKS Jat’lh was precipitous. Now simply the Jat’lh, she marauded, a once proud crew on the margins of Klingon society doling out violence in return for scraps.
As the crew looked up from their thin soup bowls, a quietly told story would occasionally distract them from their despondency and tarnished honour. Only when sure they were speaking with a trustworthy warrior, they would whisper in hushed tones of the targ chef from Mekro’vak. They would recount the smells, the tastes, and the feeling of being served food fit for a Klingon. On an especially weary day, one might hear a loose comment here and there describing the delicious aroma of that roast targ. Similar, it was suggested, to the smell that regularly emanated from the captain’s private suite.
As for G’Vir, he spent his days mucking out the targ. Reduced to the lowest of the low, he scrubbed the sluice gates clean and swabbed the blood strained slaughter chamber until it gleamed. It was in his best interests to do so, lest the entrail stench overpower him as night after night he laid his head down on the metal to rest.