The acrid smell of burning circuits and melted flesh…the dimming glow of failing warning lights…the sharp pains felt across the body from wounds, dulled only ever so slightly by the surges of adrenaline that made the muscles and nerves weaken in their wake…the taste of blood and smoke on her thin lips…
These were the sensations that Q’orvha remembered with distinct clarity, whenever she revisited the death of her last vestige of Klingon life: Her bird of prey, the QIb’HeH, once the stealthy predator of a Great House and shadowy conveyor of spies and soldiers in war, had been reduced first to piracy to survive the dishonouring of her House…then it had died righting a betrayal and ending a blood feud…and now Q’orvha alone, bore the memories of that ship and it’s history of battle.
…a dishonoured assassin and failed guardian, who was now, if she was being honest with herself, the lapdog and pet of Starfleet Intelligence.
It was here, at the main station of Devon Fleet Yards, in a indistinct and spartan office room, that her current status made all the more clear. The smirking smile of her handler and minder, Commander Lyndon Burke, facing off against her from across a table that was cleared of everything except a half-eaten sandwich and a single data PADD.
She had come to hate interacting with Commander Burke…though not the man himself. He was a middle management type, a scrawny and bookish p’taghk, not worth the emotional investment to even dislike. In fact, Q’orvha had come to respect the skill in which Burke displayed in his work and just how much of a cruelly manipulative bastard he could be when pushed…it was an edge that the majority of humans, especially those in Starfleet, lacked in their demeanour.
No, her hatred of specifically these interactions with Burke, came from the context in which they always occurred. The debriefing…the assignments…the filed complaints…these were all handled by the man they were all indicative of Starfleet Intelligence’s ever present leash around her neck…a leash that was not needed or sought, but was nevertheless insisted upon…it was an insult to the oath she had made the day that the QIb’HeH had died, an oath she had sworn to her Federation rescuers upon her deliverance from her smoking and gutted corpse of a vessel.
She understood the reasons behind the need for it, but it didn’t stop it from offending her on a base and primal level every time the lead was brought into focus.
“How was the Romulan Free State, Asset?” The red-uniformed Commander asked through his widened and impish grin that caused Q’orvha to instinctively bare her pointed teeth.
“Filled with Romulans,” she growled back adjusting the hood of her cowled robe that shielded her ghostly pale skin and sensitive lavender eyes from the standard brightness of a Starfleet posting. A thought occurred to her, and her grimace became a devilish grin of her own. “Though, a little targ told me that you had a similar problem recently with your Admiralty.”
“Admiral Oh was revealed to be a Tal Shiar infiltrator, yes…as were several other connected personnel.” Burke replied with a sigh. “Though it has been dealt with and we can report that Starfleet Security is now free of Romulan agents.”
“That you know of…” The albino retorted with a scoff and a click of her tongue. “Old Klingon Proverb…never trust anything that bleeds green, Commander.”
“Even the Vulcans?” Burke said with a raised eyebrow.
Q’orvha leaned forward across the table towards the Intelligence officer. “Whom do you think we wrote the proverb for?”
“Well, nevertheless, this conversation is a distraction from our real purpose of being here today, eh?” The commander picked up the data pad as Q’orvha sat back in the chair again, disastified by the human’s lack of response. “Review of Asset 325-Xi-Rho, Q’orvha. Daughter of Kortar…Klingon female, known sometimes as ‘The Ghost of Gre’thor’…did a tour on the Ajax as a Staff Warrant Officer and Engineer, recently recovered from detached assignment to locales classified…previous ties to the Klingon Defense Force and Imperial Intelligence, commanded the Bird of Prey QIb’HeH during the Dominion War, served as retainer for the House of Ruq’vohr before it’s complete discommendation by the High Council…”
Q’orvha winced and bared her ‘fangs’ again, her breath seething in and out. It had been years, but the reminder of that dark day still stun.
Undaunted, or perhaps just not caring to notice, Burke continued on. “…took the QIb’HeH and a few other House assets, before leaving the Empire to operate as a pirate and mercenary raider, operating primarily out of the Triangle and Romulan Neutral Zone.”
The Commander stopped and paused for a moment before grinning again. “…and here’s the part that always gets me: Asset is believed to have been raised in Klingon monastery on Q’o’Nos by an order of Nuns who trained Asset as both a nun and an assassin.”
“…are we going to do this every time, Burke?” The Klingon growled.
“My apologies, Asset”. He replied. “It’s just not a combination you get to see a lot in this line of work.”
“…and with my old Order also now disbanded and mostly dead, it’s one the galaxy will see even less of….we all know my history by now, can we just skip to the part were you tell me what Fekh’lher-ridden backwater pit of the two quadrants you’re sending me to now, so we can both leave this damnable utility closet of an office and do something actually productive with our lives?”
“Backwater, eh?” Commander Burke smirked yet again and gave a small chuckle. “Tell me, Q’orvha…did you manage to get a look out at the Yards yet since you returned?”
“I haven’t exactly had the time, Commander.” Q’orvha said with a glare. “Where is this going?”
Commander Burke placed the data pad down in front Q’orvha and retrieved a small black box from his pants pocket and placed it next to the PADD. “…if you had taken a glance, you might’ve spotted a ship of one of the newer designs to be commissioned recently.”
Q’orvha picked up the PADD and began reading. Technical specifications brief for a Resolute-class Heavy Cruiser…it wasn’t a ship profile she was familiar with, definitely not something that had been around prior to beginning her last deep cover assignment. “…you plying me with engineering data. The last time you did that, I found myself stuck trying to keep a glorified runabout from tearing itself apart when it entered warp. Spit it out, already.”
Commander Lyndon Burke rose from his seat and then walked around it to lean forward of the high backrest. “Allow me to raise your expectations. The Resolute-class out there is the USS Aquarius. New ship, new crew…and they’re about to head out to the former Neutral Zone. Fly the flag, as it were, show the refugees that Starfleet is back and ready to support them again…put a little fear into any wannabe tin-pot dictator and warlord operating the area…that sort of thing.”
Q’orvha narrowed her glare and then glanced over to the small black box. “Humanitarism…I am now dreading what comes next.”
“Oh, but it’s a good one this time. Promise!” Burke stated, his insipid grin widening. “See, the Aquarius and crew need someone who’s got experience in the area, who knows the people and powers involved. They need someone who can get them intell quickly…and we need you to work in a more official capacity, in the wake of that Free State disaster…It’s a win-win…and it has some perks.”
“Starfleet living standards are hardly perks. Especially when as a mere Engineering Warrant Officer, I’ll be sharing with some random roommate or bunking in a corridor again.”
“Not this time, Q’orvha.” The Commander reached over and tapped his right pointer finger on the top of the black box-case. “This time, you’ll be flying in style.”
Q’orvha picked the box up and leered at it for a moment, half expecting it to explode in her face as she opened it. The box clicked and Q’orvha found herself staring at a series of 3 Starfleet rank pips. 2 solid, 1 hollow.
“Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander.” The Handler said. “You’re the new Head of Strategic Operations for the Aquarius. You’ll get your own private quarters this time.”
Q’orvha glanced up from the rank pips to Burke, then back to the pips before returning once again to the human. “…the last time I was assigned to a Starfleet vessel, I held the provisional rank of a Staff Warrant Officer and specialist…bit of a leap all the way to Lieutenant Commander, no?”
Burke leaned down to peer under Q’orvha’s cowl. “Best part of provisional ranks…we can make them provisionally, whatever we want…and it’s not like you don’t have decades of command experience or the skill requirements for the rank.”
He stood back up and continued. “…besides, you’ll need the authority and clearance that comes with it for the job. It would be far more odd for the Aquarius’s chief liaison between fleet and crew of a vessel of this size to hold mere Warrant rating.”
The mention of her new role and responsibilities made Q’orvha’s stomachs sink. It was not the job itself, no, Burke was right: she was more than both qualified and capable for the task and what duties it entailed…it was again, the context.
Strategic Operations was organized in Starfleet under the Command Division…and overlapped heavily with Starfleet Intelligence.
This job was yet another leash. Another way of keep Q’orvha close at hand and in regular contact with her ‘masters.’
She hated it already.