DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2020 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

Reflections on the Snake Pit Wall

by Djinn





You're thrown by sneering Klingon guards into the pit on Rura Penthe, your breath going out of you with an audible oomph as you land hard on the caked dirt floor. They toss Valeris down next, and she hits the ground heavily, dangerously close to landing on top of you.


Scrambling to her feet, she asks softly, "Are you all right, Admiral Cartwright?"


You assess that, as you try to breathe. You can sense the other prisoners coming close and know it's dangerous to stay down too long. Any sign of weakness could prove lethal, an invitation to attack.


"I'm fine," you say, pushing yourself to your feet.


As you begin to breathe normally again, the first thing you smell is the body odor of too many different species living in too little space. The second thing is the reek of dried blood and urine and spoiled food. After that, your nose shuts down in protest and the rest of your senses take over.


Eyes that were burning from the blisteringly frigid winds begin to see the ragged furs of the other prisoners as they mill around you in the flickering torchlight. You let your own fur drop a bit, and as you do, one of the other prisoners reaches out to touch the insignia on your uniform.


Valeris bats his hand away and seems prepared to do more.


"Easy, Lieutenant," you say softly, unsure if you really know this fierce young creature beside you.


"Aye, sir," she says, never taking her eyes off the prisoners who press too close.


"We're all friends here." You know it's far from true.


Valeris doesn't comment. Obviously, she knows it's a long way from the truth as well.


You notice streaks of blood on the wall, a tattered uniform that looks like it might have been Starfleet wadded in the corner, a barrel of water that seems none too fresh against the far wall. Above you, the Klingon guards are laughing as they stride over the wooden catwalks, which creak and groan as if they're held up by sheer will alone. The low din of what you suppose is the mining activity seems to reverberate through the pit, up from the ground into your feet all the way to your ears.


It's much warmer than the surface, and you begin to sweat. The fur feels too warm for inside, but you see other prisoners eyeing it and know you mustn't put it down. You wonder how long it will take before you don't smell the other prisoners. You know it won't take long before you begin to smell as bad.


You think they should put up a sign: Welcome to Hell. The warden's made it clear that he'll enjoy watching you try to navigate his domain. Starfleet doesn't care how much you suffer. They consigned you to this torment. They want you and Valeris to pay. The Romulan ambassador should be here too, but the coward committed suicide in his cell.


You envy him his cowardice. Envy Chang his blaze of glory as the Enterprise and the Excelsior tore his ship to pieces between them like two fierce dogs. You can imagine him quoting Shakespeare as he died.


Pompous fool.


Your feet are still cold from the walk through the snow. It's hard to believe that up above this reeking pit it is winter—frigid, eternal winter. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. If you manage to get out of this place, you'll only freeze to death.


Jim got out of this place. How the hell did Jim get out of this place?


You glance over at Valeris. Wonder if she's wondering the same thing. Her expression gives nothing away, of course. Except that she's wary and ready to fight. She moves closer to you, and you know it isn't because she needs comfort. You're the ranking officer. She'll die protecting you if she has to.


You're suddenly immensely grateful that you're stuck in this cesspool with a full Vulcan. The other denizens of hell are giving you a wide berth. Jim and McCoy probably weren't so lucky. They were probably instant targets, their furs an irresistible prize. You wonder how long they got to wear them.





You stay close to Cartwright's side and wonder how long you will have to wear the furs the Klingons gave you. Already, you are studying the cave, trying to find another source of warmth, something that does not involve the pelt of a dead animal. The search comes up with only a tattered piece of what looks like Federation wool in a corner. You do not think it will be preferable; it looks as if it has been used to wipe down too many places you would rather not think about.


Cartwright looks at you, and you move closer, sending a message to those already sizing the two of you up. He is under your protection, you say without words. It is surprisingly easy to revert to the ways of the old ones, the ones before Surak. You will kill anyone who comes near you or the admiral. You have already killed two of your own in cold blood, how hard will it be to kill these vile-smelling strangers in self-defense?


You wish it were not a question you had to ponder. You wish you were not a killer.


To wish is illogical. What is, is. You are a killer, and the conspiracy failed, and this is your fate. You will live in this pit until you die. You will dig dilithium for your enemies until you no longer have the strength to dig.


You wonder if you will become as savage as your fellow prisoners seem to be. Will you threaten the new arrivals, sniffing around as if at a new toy or some banquet table?


You see bunks in the back of the cave, but they are too open to attack, so you urge Cartwright to the side of the main pit, toward an area that can be easily defended. You do not want to leave him alone, know that he is weak from the walk through the snow. If you are separated, he will fall. These creatures that are your fellow prisoners look capable of anything.


You resist the urge to plug your nose at the odors that assail you. No doubt, you will grow accustomed to the stench. You continue to shadow Cartwright as he makes a place for you both in the corner. Crouching down, you keep your back to him, facing the room.


"If you want him, you come through me." Your voice is guttural, like Spock's was when you came to sickbay to kill him. Only you did not know it was him. You would never have hurt him.


The others disperse. They will not take you on. Cartwright is safe, and you relax a bit. But you wonder if the Klingons will allow you to stay together.





The Klingons have allowed you and Valeris to stay together. They make no attempt to impose order in the place, seem content to let the strongest rule the roost. Valeris, fortunately, is very strong. She wears the marks of the fights she's been in. Her face bears an ugly scar now, a jagged line from the corner of her eye to her chin made by the ring of the Kretite she eventually killed.


She says she killed him because he wanted your furs. You think, however, that she killed him because she's starting to enjoy killing. She's changing, growing sharp and deadly in this place where there's only digging and eating and rutting and sleeping. Killing is a diversion. A new wrinkle in the same old boring day. A Vulcan shouldn't mind boredom. At least, not the Vulcans you're used to.


But you don't think Valeris is that kind of Vulcan anymore.


Which may be fair as you're hardly the Matthew Cartwright who was thrown into this place. She's making you train physically, is more heartless than any Academy drill instructor as she puts you through your paces. Sit-ups and push-ups and anything else she can devise that will work your muscles into iron. She's hurt you in her zeal—more times than you want to admit.


"I'm an old man," you tell her.


She doesn't seem moved. But then, she never does.


And the workouts have paid off. You are stronger now than you've ever been, even when you were at your prime. There's no excess fat on you; the softness of your desk jobs has been melted away by relentless repetitions at the hands of a merciless Vulcan trainer.


You're strong enough to win some of your own fights now. That shouldn't be a triumph. But it is. In this place, it is.


You feel very far away from the Starfleet admiral you were. You aren't sure you even feel human anymore. Perhaps you are becoming Klingon.





You worry that you and Cartwright are becoming too Klingon. The tenets of logic seem very far away. Sometimes, as you push the admiral physically, you force your own mind to run though equations—mathematics and physics and chemistry, just to remember what it once meant to be civilized and educated. And brilliant.


You have little use for such things now. No one asks you to calculate an escape velocity, or to plot a course, or maneuver out of spacedock. No one is interested in debating the finer points of Vulcan philosophy or stellar politics. No one cares that you finished at the top of your class in the Academy. You wonder if you care anymore.


Survival is all that matters, and yet you are not sure it is logical that it should matter. Would it not be less of a victory for the Klingons if you gave up and let one of these miscreants kill you and Cartwright? If you ended this downward spiral into barbarism?


Would it not be a triumph to die with some small part of Vulcan still in you?


You remember Vulcan almost wistfully. Remember the heat, so much hotter than the pit is. And the Vulcan air is thin—if you were there you would not be smelling the myriad awful aromas that waft up at you. Not the least of which are coming from you and this man you push to get stronger each day.


"Again," you say, as you force him back down to the ground. Push-ups are harder if you hold him down. Sweat pours off him, and you wait for him to give up. But like you, he cannot.


You finally let go of him, allow him to continue the push-ups unimpeded.


You are becoming animals. And yet, you cannot give up. You cannot not fight. You suppose it is the same thing that drew you to Cartwright and the conspiracy in the first place: the need to fight a future you both could see, the need to write history to your own design. You cannot give up.


And the admiral needs you. Less than he did before, but he still needs you. You will fight for him. You will follow him. You wish he would give you an order. Anything will do—you just want to remember how you were once part of something other than this darkness. That you once knew how to follow orders.





You order Valeris to back away from the Morallian. She's beaten him into submission, and you've seen him surrender to her twice, yet she ignores his pleas for mercy.


"Leave him alone," you say again, pulling her off the creature.


You're surprised she doesn't fight you, but you're still her admiral, even if she calls you Matthew now. Even if neither of you bothers anymore with protocol or social niceties. You barely speak to each other most of the time. But you've taken to lying curled up together like a pair of wolves. And like a wolf, she has never wavered in her devotion to you, even if she's never shown you mercy as she molded you from an aging and sagging admiral into a tough old warrior. And you've never questioned her, even if there have been times you've begged her for mercy.


The others know you're united, but that hasn't stopped them from making a play for Valeris's loyalties. You're inconsequential, but a Vulcan? And a woman? Women are in short supply. They would take her by force if they could. She's fortunate she's strong enough to keep them off her. You're fortunate she's never been tempted by the offers she's been given. One fur, two, even three. Extra rations. Someone to work her shift. There is little Valeris could not have if she wanted it, if she was willing to trade for it. And you offer her nothing but a shared past, a tormented present, and a future that you couldn't prevent. But she's never betrayed you.


They call her a traitor. But they don't know her. She's faithful unto death.


Not that either of you are dead yet. Far from it. Much to your surprise, you're two of the strongest now. You may not run the place, but the ones who do leave you alone.


Sometimes they even include you. Other times, like now, they don't interfere.


You pull Valeris away from the Morallian, throw her old fur to him, then retreat with his better one to your corner. She pulls it over you, and you curl against each other, the way your retrievers used to roll together into a black and yellow ball when you took them hunting and spent the night in the woods.


To touch her is a comfort but not just in a sexual way. It's the last remnant of civilized behavior, the last full measure of warmth either of you is capable of showing after however many months—or maybe it's years now—that you've spent in this place.


And you've spent far, far too much time in this place. Time enough to get word that Jim died during the launch of a new Enterprise. The Klingons didn't tell you, but you heard some of the guards discussing it. They almost seemed to mourn Kirk in the way they toasted his honorable death with some of their disgusting bloodwine.


Jim Kirk was never supposed to have been one of the architects of peace for these infernal people. You still don't understand why he surrendered to Chang when he had Gorkon's ship in his sights. He could have destroyed it and Chang too. It would have led to war—but a short one, a decisive one. And then the Federation would have emerged victorious. And the Klingons would have been exterminated.


You imagine a world without Klingons, a world where you never ended up on Rura Penthe, where you were never anything but a good officer, a loyal Starfleet patriot. You would have retired and lived out your life quietly, in your beautiful house overlooking the bay, with your dogs and your soft music and your smooth mellow whiskey in antique crystal. That is the life you should have had. That is the life Jim stole from you.


But Jim's gone, and there's no one else you can make pay. Not from here. You sometimes dream that you find a phaser and kill all the guards, then all the other prisoners. You turn the phaser on Valeris, giving her peace from her duty to you. And finally, when the pit is quiet and there's no more movement except the flickering torchlight, you turn the phaser on yourself and end this misery. It's a happy fantasy that keeps you warm at night. Almost as warm as Valeris does.





You move away from Matthew, too warm with his body pressed against you and the fur you took from the Morallian covering you. You do not understand why he insisted on giving the Morallian your old fur. You could have used it to lie upon; it would have been pleasant to feel your hips pressing into something other than Matthew or the hard ground of the pit.


You do not see the logic in mercy. You wonder if that should concern you.


You are not sure you see the logic in anything any longer. You have become elemental. What Vulcans once were, you are now. Powerful, dangerous. Passionate.


Yes. Passionate.


You move back to Matthew.


"I burn," you say, and it conveys both how hot the fur has become as well as your own level of desire. Matthew seemed very old to you at one time, but he has grown taut and strong in the pit. You have shaped his body until it is strong enough to please you, and that he is your creation excites you in a way you do not completely understand. He is not young, will never be young, but he is vital and he satisfies you.


You know you will outlive him twice over so you take what he can give you now, and you experience passion fully, in ways you expect you never would have if your relationship with Spock had ended as he wanted, with you as his wife. His logical, talented, beautiful wife. As you finger the uneven scar running down your face, you know that you are far from that young woman Spock was so enamored with. And you cannot imagine rutting under furs with Spock while a horde of fellow prisoners listen in or engage in their own preferred mating practices.


But perhaps you are wrong about Spock. Perhaps you do not give him credit for being as savage as you have become. He certainly had no problem violating your mind when the safety of the Federation was at stake.


You felt his anger. And his lust. And his pain at your betrayal. There was no logic in his thoughts when he pounded into your mind. There was only raw emotion. For all you know, he might rut quite well under these bug-infested furs. This place might suit him.


But still you think you prefer Matthew. Your partner in crime. You smile—an expression that is becoming more common. It is not a sign of delight. It is a sign of your decaying spirit, your faltering logic. It is a sign of imminent danger.


You smile because Matthew was not your sole partner in crime. Nor was it only Chang and Nanclus who helped you plan the assassination of Gorkon. Spock stopped his pillaging of your memories far too soon. The others are still out there, safe and even now preparing for a new victory.





The others have been rounded up. The guards told you and Valeris this with glee in their eyes. Starfleet has quietly, efficiently, and with unswerving devotion gone after every person remotely involved in the conspiracy. There will be no new victories for those who hate the Klingons. There's no conspiracy left to protect, just a broken network of people betrayed by other people who couldn't stand up to questioning.


You sit in the corner and mourn the death of a dream. Valeris watches you, worry clear in her eyes. She thinks she has become something un-Vulcan, but she still tends to guard her emotions closely. But now she's letting you see that she feels for you. And that she feels with you. This is a strike at you both. There's nothing left now, and it's a blow not only because you have friends who will suffer, but also because it was something that kept you alive, and you didn't even realize it until it was gone.


"What now, Valeris?"


She looks up at the Klingon guards, and there's hatred in her eyes. You know that the sentiment is echoed in your own expression. You hate the smell of these people, the sound of them, the sight of them as they pace above you.


And yet they've had so little to do with what you and she have become. The pit runs itself. By its own rules. Rules you haven't tried to change or make softer—more human. Rules that you've thrived under in some sick way. Because you have her and are strong enough with her help to survive.


You live, you realize, in much the same way as the Klingon Empire existed. By brute force and the wily need to survive even when others might like to see you gone. You wonder what would happen if you tried to organize the prisoners into something more like the Federation. Could some good come of that, rather than this brutal detente you all live under now? There are so many of you, and so few guards.


You look at Valeris. She was once the most brilliant young officer you'd ever seen. You aren't sure she's capable of calling that woman back up. You aren't sure you want her to, because your lover might disappear if the older version of her comes back to life. But perhaps it's time to try?


Perhaps it's time to be more than a savage animal?


But not today. It's time to work, and digging always frees your mind to think about more weighty things such as how you might organize a revolt.





You cannot believe Matthew thinks he can organize a revolt. But he is determined and he needs your help in this, so you follow him as you have always followed him. You think that this may get you both killed, but if that is what he wants, you will not begrudge him. There is so little you can give him, and this seems to please him as much as your body does. So you help him plan and scheme, and you sit beside him when he sets out on the first delicate negotiation.


You have debated with him the relative merits of approaching the strongest, the weakest, some combination of the two. He is sure that you must win the leaders. There is fire in his eyes, and a certainty in his voice. He will unite all the prisoners into something greater, something strong.


He will build a Federation in the middle of a Klingon hell.


You are sure he will fail. But he is your commanding officer, and you will follow him. Or perhaps it is only that he is your lover, and you may be in love with him. Whatever the reason, you will follow him. It is engrained. It is an autonomic response. The two of you have spent too long in hell for you to question him now.


So you follow him when he is ready to approach the Calevan male and female who are the strongest of any of you. And you sit at his side as he explains his scheme.


You think it sounds rather like something Spock and his beloved Kirk would have dreamt up. And that amuses you. Matthew is like them. Larger than life. You wonder if anyone will ever realize that, other than those who live in this pit.


The Calevans burst out laughing. You feared this might be their reaction. There is nowhere to go, even if a revolt is successful. You will all die on the surface as you wait for ships that the Klingons will never send. A revolt will buy nothing. Except a lingering and very cold death.


You brace yourself for Matthew's explosion, but it does not come. He merely gets up and moves on to the Tellarite and his Capellan lover. They won't even listen.


Matthew tries the Andorians, the Prolethians, the Orions.


They all say no.


There is no unity here. He cannot make an army of prisoners. Of beings who are little better than animals. Who, in fact, may be far worse than animals.


You know you are one of them. You do not believe in Matthew's plan either. No matter how much deeper into hell you will follow him for its sake.


Matthew walks back to your corner. He seems lost in thought, does not appear to notice you as you crouch in front of him. When he finally looks at you, the fire is missing from his eyes.


"There's no escape," he says, and you can feel the life leaking from him, his spirit draining away. He suddenly looks like an old, old man.


You touch him, but he jerks away, lying down and pulling the fur over his head. Hiding himself away from you, from the others, from Rura Penthe. From the harsh reality that for a moment he lost in the dreams of some new conspiracy. A conspiracy of revolt.


You are amazed that he thought he could succeed. You are dismayed that he is giving up so easily. But then you look around and see the faces of the others as they stare at you. Revolt is clearly not something anyone here wants to consider. Or maybe they want to but know it is fruitless.


You sit by Matthew for hours, but finally move away a bit, giving him room. You sense that you are losing him. That he is giving up. You wonder if there is anything you can offer him that will make him stay with you.


Even if it has always been inevitable, you do not want to be left here alone.





You're leaving Valeris alone. You feel regret even as you lie shivering under your fur, suffering some strange fever that came upon you nearly as soon as you realized there would be no revolt, that you wouldn't lead these chosen ones to the promised land—or even out of the pit.


You gave up that day. And you know that she knows it.


You hate yourself for giving up. And your hatred feeds into a deeper guilt when you think of leaving her here alone. You feel responsible for her. And you love her in some strange way that's both fierce and a bit desperate.


You shouldn't abandon her. And yet you can't force yourself to stay.


No matter how much you love her.


"How long have we been here?" you manage to croak out.


She thinks for a long time, seems to be doing some sort of calculation. You wonder if Vulcan minds get rusty if they aren't used. It's been far too long since she used her sparkling intellect for anything more basic than getting you through the next day alive. How long has it been since she was allowed to reason? To think great thoughts that would make a difference to someone other than you? You think years. But maybe it has only been months.


"Nine point four one years."


You wonder how she came to that conclusion. Perhaps she just wants it to be the next century. A brave new era. Not your time.


"It can't be that long."


"It is. I could explain the calculations?"


It sounds like a ploy to keep you with her, and you shake your head. You won't debate her, but you think that it can't have been that long. You would remember if it had been that long. But you can barely remember yesterday, so maybe she's right.


All you can remember is lying down on the floor of this pit and giving up, and maybe it's been days or maybe it's been years that she's let you lie there.


If it's been a long time, then she's been covering for you, digging your quota as well as her own. The guards will not intervene unless production suffers. And she's strong enough to do your work on top of her own.


You think she loves you. You aren't sure, and she's never said. And the one time you asked her if she did, she wanted to know why it mattered. You wish you'd never included her in your conspiracy. Yet you thank God every day that you did, that she is here with you, helping you through this. You know it's wrong to thank God for such a selfish thing. You wonder if God minds how selfish you are, or if God can even hear you anymore—Rura Penthe may be out of his jurisdiction.


You laugh and start to cough, and she eases you to a sitting position. You know you should tell her that you love her. But you don't do it, and something in her eyes lets you know that it wouldn't be welcome if you did. She looks angry. And again you feel the guilt that you will leave her alone. Even if you both knew that would happen someday.


But someday was always far away. And now someday is here. You're dying, and she isn't happy about that, but it won't stop you from going.





It has been decades since Matthew left you alone here. Since the Klingons pushed past you and dragged his body out of the pit. Decades in which you have grown harder and colder and even less like a Vulcan. You are still strong—perhaps stronger than you were before—which is fortunate, because you have taken no lover since he died and that has not been a popular decision.


You wear his insignia around your neck on a leather thong. You wear your own that way too. It is all you have left of Starfleet. All you have left of Matthew.


Your life is very simple now. You dig, you eat, you sleep, and wake up to do it all again. Sometimes, to break the monotony, you force yourself to solve a difficult mathematics problem, or calculate a differential, or ponder one of the finer points of translinear geometry. If you are very methodical in your deliberations, the exercise takes much time and you can almost forget where you are and how long you've been here. And why.


But it is difficult to forget that your stomach is rumbling. Or that the Klingon guards have lost their exuberance. In fact, you have not heard them taunt anyone for days.


But you have heard that there is a war going on. You have heard of many wars over the decades, but this is the first time that one has come close enough to disrupt life in the pit.


You hear rumblings. Whispers. You wonder what the Dominion is.


The Klingons speak of many things you do not understand. Jem'Hadar and Ketracel White, Vortas and Changelings. The words are whispered as if they were cursed.


And no ship has been by with supplies for a very long time. The Klingons try to hide that from you. Act as if they are withholding food for a reason, blaming missed quotas and disruptive behavior. But you can tell that there is something else wrong. These Klingons are on edge, the way you imagine they would be if battle were imminent but not yet upon them. They seem ready to fight, eager even to fight.


You wonder if this Dominion, whatever it is, would attack a frozen penal world. And if so, why? The dilithium is running low, has been for decades, and now the veins you have been working are starting to dry up, and many of the prisoners have been digging new tunnels to try to find fresh ones. It is harder to make quota with each passing day.


You have dug all day, and you are hungry, but you sit in your corner and say nothing. The Calevans are long gone, as is the Tellarite and his Capellan. Everyone who was strong is gone, so the others look to you. But you sit and do nothing except listen to your stomach rumble.


Then you see the Klingons leave their posts on the catwalks, walking quickly toward the main entrance.


You watch them. And then you stand. You wish Matthew were here. You wish you could bring him back to life if only for this moment.


"It is time," you say, and the others do not question. They are hungry, and they are willing to follow anyone who has a plan.


You do not tell them that you have no plan, that Matthew was the one with the plans; you were only ever a follower. You let them think you know what you are doing as you lead them after the missing guards, all the way to the surface. You expect to be shot down. But there is no one to shoot you down. The Klingons are gone. They have left you all to die. You think they must have disappeared into the snow, but there are no tracks.


They beamed out then. War must be very close indeed for the warden to have lowered the shields.


You go back to the pit, to where the Klingons bunked. You find a weapon, dropped behind a trunk, probably forgotten; it appears to be functional. You continue to paw through the Klingons' things, and find a small store of food that they were obviously stockpiling for themselves. You take it, share it, and then you climb back up to the entrance of the pit and look out at the blazing winter whiteness and wonder if you should walk into it. Death is not quick in the snow, but at least it would be quicker than starving.


Before you can decide, the sky lights up, and a pulse beam comes from a bunker some distance from you. There are tracers of weapons as a great battle rages over your head. A ship of a kind you have never seen before tumbles out of the sky, crashing into the snow not far from where you stand. You hold the weapon tighter and run toward it, realize that the others are not following you. But you do not care.


An alien you can't identify comes out of the ship, staggering badly as he sees you and raises his weapon. You do not stop to think; you shoot him. Then another comes after him. You shoot him too.


You stop firing when the stream of strange aliens stops. Another alien, different from the others, tries to crawl out into the snow. You do not have to shoot her. She dies before she can cross the entryway.


You frown, wondering whether you can get the shattered ship back into space. But before you can board it, you hear the thrusters of another ship, and you watch as a bird-of-prey eases down onto the snow.


You turn toward the ship, your weapon pointed toward the door. But when the first Klingon comes out, you do not fire.


He wears a Starfleet uniform. How can he wear a Starfleet uniform?


You reach for the trigger of your weapon. This ship represents freedom. You can take it and be free of this place. Or you can try to take it and be killed and still be free of this place.


You lower your weapon.


He is Starfleet. You cannot fire. You will not fire. Not again.


"You are a Vulcan," he says.


"I was a Vulcan."


He looks back at the entrance to the pit and nods slowly. "I understand."


Another Klingon strides out to you. He is tall, black-haired, with a ruined eye. He looks like a Klingon from nightmare, but you do not have nightmares about Klingons—if you were given to nightmares, you think they might be about yourself. About what you have become.


More Klingons pour from the ship, and the missing guards beam back from somewhere. You realize they must have been manning the pulse weapon. Your fellow prisoners, who have finally gained enough courage to come out, are forced back into the pit.


The Starfleet Klingon motions for you to go back too. "A convoy ship will be by shortly with supplies."


How honorable. He does not expect you to starve to death, just to reenter hell. "You think I will go back in?" you ask.


"Go back in or freeze. It is up to you."


He strides away, not even bothering to take your weapon.


You raise it. "Commander."


He turns.


"How do you know I will not kill you?"


"Because I know who you are, Lieutenant." He smiles. It is a Klingon grin, feral, and at odds with the uniform he wears. "And because I am the future you were so afraid of. And perhaps I am not so bad." He stares at you for a long time, then he turns and walks back up the ramp.


You do not shoot him; instead you let your weapon fall to the snow as you trudge back to the pit.


You realize you are shaking. The sky seems to be pressing down on you, and the air seems too thin, too cold.


You are grateful for the heavy dampness of the pit, for the comforting closeness of the dank and familiar walls as the Klingons push you back into the main cave.


You hear the bird-of-prey taking off. Your future is no doubt inside, a Klingon form inside a Starfleet frame.


It is most confusing.


You look for your fur. It is gone. You see that the Morallian, old and feeble as he is, has stolen it back.


You decide to let him have it.


For a while.