About the Author
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Annika Hansen, Agent Seven of Corps Nine for the Obsidian Order, waited patiently for her quarry to appear. Agent Seven had been undercover on Khitomer for several days, having been surgically altered to appear as a female Klingon warrior by the physicians of the Cardassian intelligence agency.
The other females in the Khitomer communal house accepted Seven's story that she had jumped ship to avoid her captain's wrath over a shipment of isolinear coprocessors that had gone astray. She claimed she was now trying to earn her passage back to Qo'nos, the Klingon Homeworld.
In the dark recesses of the hall, Agent Seven lightly scratched the Klingon ridges on her forehead. As part of her disguise, her hair had been lengthened, frizzed, and colored dark brown. The traditional female armor covered every part of her body except her chest, leaving her vulnerable to a knife attack in the finest Klingon tradition. To defend herself, she had spiked boots and gloves, and her three-bladed d'k tahg, honed razor sharp.
Agent Seven's current mission had come straight from Enabran Tain. She was ordered to assassinate Duras, son of Ja'rod. The intelligence brief Tain had downloaded into her cranial implant database had included the fact that Duras frequented this particular establishment whenever he was on Khitomer.
Seven's decision to infiltrate this communal house had paid off. For the past three evenings, the Duras sisters had visited the house looking for a woman to keep company with Duras. Tonight, Seven had no intention of allowing them to leave without her. Her orders from Tain were clear. She must complete the assassination before the Cardassian delegation arrived on Khitomer for the Alliance gathering. Then she had to withdraw from Klingon territory without being detected.
A fine mist covered Khitomer, drifting through the open spaces between the slanting black columns of the communal house. Seven was in the base of the pyramidal building, whose upper levels were lined by rows of tiny square windows. The first two floors were open, forming an atrium on a wide stone terrace. Iron lamps hanging from the high ceiling gave off a fuzzy glow that barely penetrated the darkness. When the clouds rose from the moist ground, Seven could see the cliffs of the nearby mountains. Usually visibility was near zero.
Agent Seven leaned against a slanted column next to the entryway preferred by the Duras sisters. Other Klingon women were drifting down from their rooms on the upper floors to lounge on the benches scattered throughout the atrium. Since Khitomer was in close proximity to the Romulan front, these were fierce women, battle scarred and ready for action.
Seven's tight leather gloves, doubly thick to hide her slender fingers, reminded her of her first Klingon simulation at the Obsidian Order training facility. That experience had gone on for weeks as she attempted to complete her assignment -- assassinating a Klingon official called Gorloth, son of Poq.
Maybe she was thinking of that first training simulation because of its similarities to this assignment. Then she had posed as an available Klingon woman in the darker side of town, attempting to draw Gorloth's attention and maneuver him into a position where she could kill him.
But the training simulation seemed very far away, and Seven had to think hard to remember that although she had been playing a Klingon seductress, she had actually just entered puberty. She had been scared that she wouldn't succeed and her trainers would punish her. It made her bold and daring, despite the seemingly real surroundings.
It was a valid fear, because sometimes the training simulations turned out to be real. Seven remembered questioning everything during that first assignment. She hadn't been in space in years, not since she was six years old on her parents' ship before it crashed on a deep-space Cardassian colony. She had spent the entire time wondering: Is this ship really moving? Are those stars real? Is this pilot an Obsidian Order agent, a hologram of one, or a real pirate? Time she should have spent getting into character had been wasted.
Other trainees often argued over whether the Obsidian Order surprised them with real assignments because they were needed for the job, or because the uncertainty kept them on constant alert. It was true that trainees came and went, casualties in the line of duty. Seven never grew close to any other trainee. They were shifted from one undercover character to the next, complete with physical and psychological modifications. Even when they were in group training situations, they didn't recognize one another.
Seven had failed her first assignment, and luckily it had been a simulation. But a few subsequent sessions had turned out to be real. Her training had been thorough, and now it was second nature to slip into her required cover. Seven had become Melka, daughter of Kagh. Her real self lay tightly curled inside the Klingon shell, watching her own actions with analytical detachment as she bared her teeth at a towering female, hissing slightly to force her away from the choice spot by the entry columns.
Agent Seven knew she was good because she had received her orders directly from Enabran Tain. Tain had seen her worth when she was only a child and had accepted her into the Obsidian Order. With her parents dead, Annika Hansen had first been adopted into a high-ranking Cardassian family. Yet despite a physique altered to make her appear Cardassian, the Ghemor family could not fully accept a Terran as a daughter. After only one year, Ghemor had sent her to the Obsidian Order, making it clear that the Terran slave camps were her only option if she failed again.
The mist parted from the entryway as the Duras sisters appeared. Lursa was matronly despite her unmarried state, with a perpetually sour expression. Pretty B'Etor stayed close behind her elder sister's shoulder, forever in her shadow. They scanned the hall; Lursa's mouth puckered in distaste. B'Etor peered enviously around her sister, perhaps desiring the freedom of these warriors.
Seven stayed back for a moment as Lursa imperiously rejected the first women who approached. Duras had a reputation for being a passionate and honorable Klingon, one of the few men who had earned the respect of the communal women. However, it would lower the family's status if Lursa took the first offers she received.
When Lursa hesitated and began to inspect one female with serious intent, Seven made her move. With several long strides, her hand poised on the d'k tahg at her waist, Seven reached the Duras sisters. Catching them by surprise, Seven thrust the fawning communal woman aside.
Seven spit after her. "Duras, son of Ja'rod, deserves better than a mewling kitten!"
"Who tells us what our brother deserves?" Lursa demanded contemptuously.
"I am Melka, daughter of Kagh," Seven replied, loud enough for the entire hall to hear. "But any woman here would tell you the same. Duras, son of Ja'rod, deserves only the best."
Lursa was eyeing Seven with new interest. "Are you the best?"
Seven laughed, showing off her pointed teeth. "I leave that for you to decide."
Lursa and B'Etor examined her as Seven stood with her hand on the knife. It was like acting in a holoplay. Inwardly, her eyes were rolling at the overdone gestures and ritual displays of dominance. Yet Seven flawlessly executed the behavior best designed to obtain compliance, sorting instantaneously through the suggestions her cranial implant whispered directly to her mind.
Now her undercover work paid off. The communal women had learned to respect her and none dared to challenge her, even with Duras as the prize. Lursa looked from Seven to the women huddled back in the wan glow of the lamps.
"It grows late," B'Etor murmured.