The next hour passed more quickly for the two Klingons, but it could hardly be characterized as more productive. Every diplomatic point Worf would bring up would be summarily dismissed by Martok. Every formal request Martok wanted Worf to present to the Federation Council would be rejected out of hand. Their fishing lines hung over the boat, nearly forgotten. The sun began to sink toward the horizon and waters surrounding them grew darker and colder.
Worf was growing frustrated. "Chancellor..."
Martok almost permitted himself to sigh. "I always know when you have reached the end of your patience-- you start calling me Chancellor. What is the problem now?"
Worf shot the other Klingon a stony look. "‘Complete sovereignty over Breen held space’," he recited. "Do you really expect the Federation to agree to that?"
"Perhaps not," Martok said. "But it is expected of me that I ask."
"‘Not a politician’," Worf quoted.
Martok snorted in disgust. "Does not the Federation expect the Empire will strain its already overtaxed resources to rebuild the home of our enemies? ‘The Cardassian restoration plan’..."-- it was his turn to quote-- "such a noble undertaking. So admirable. So benevolent. So...human."
"Chancellor..." Worf paused, then began again. "Martok, the Federation acknowledges and is deeply saddened by the tremendous suffering and loss endured by the Klingon Empire..."
"Now who sounds like a politician?" Martok interrupted.
Worf held up his hand. "The Great Hall of Warriors in Sto-Vo-Kor must surely be filled to overflowing. I remind you that my own wife proudly stands and fights there. No one...not the Federation Council...not Starfleet Command...certainly not me...wishes their sacrifice to be in vain."
"Of course not, Worf. I did not say that!"
"I know," Worf said, "but the Cardassian people do not wish it either. Their soldiers died by the millions. Countless civilians-- innocent women and children-- were slaughtered by the Dominion. Their planet lies ravaged, the ground scorched, their very homes reduced to rubble. And yet, in the hour of their humiliation, they still turned on the Founders and joined us."
"Switched sides like a Romulan, you mean."
Worf waved for silence again. "With all due respect, do not let your prejudices blind you. Some eighty years ago, the Federation came to the aid of the Empire. Starfleet officers with years of enmity toward Klingons were able to set aside their feelings and reach out to us, forging a stronger, more stable Empire in the process. Now it is our turn."
"I do not know," Martok said simply.
Worf cupped a hand on the other Klingon’s shoulder. "The entire quadrant has just survived the greatest trial in its history and it was accomplished only because all the great powers were able to put aside their differences and stand united against a common foe. Who would have guessed just a few years ago that Bajorans and Cardassians could struggle together for freedom? That Humans and Klingons and Romulans would mass great fleets in battle? The Dominion wished nothing less than the total subjecation of the Alpha Quadrant but-- for all their scheming and deception-- ended up ushering in a opportunity for a more unified quadrant than ever before."
Worf turned and gazed idly at the horizon. "We must not let this chance slip away. It is time for the Empire to come out from behind its iron curtain of ancient isolationism and clandestine tradition. It is time to get involved. If that is a ‘human’ ideal or a ‘Starfleet’ ideal, then I apologize, but it is the way I feel."
Martok sat silent for a long moment.
Finally, he spoke. "Send me the Federation proposal for Klingon commitment to the restoration plan in the morning. I will present it to the council." At Worf’s expectant glance, he added, "With my full endorsement."
"Do one more thing for me tomorrow, won’t you?"
"Remind me never to take you fishing again!"
An hour later, the late afternoon sun had painted the water a deep, angry purple and a bloated full moon was already beginning to peek over the horizon. Worf looked down at the metal bucket that was intended to hold their day’s catch. It was empty.
"Forgive my ignorance," he said, "but is the fishing always this bad on Kronos? Perhaps the Grand Nagus should broker this boat in trade for something more useful-- new tapestries for your bedchamber or a commemorative set of pain sticks..."
Martok peered over the edge of the empty bucket, shaking his head. "I do not understand. The Greater Western Sea has always teemed with life. I used to fish these very waters with my neighbors from the Ketha lowlands, when we able to afford the trip. Do you suppose there has been some ecological disturbance I haven’t been told about?..."
"I have not heard of any," Worf said. Just then a flash of movement caught the corner of his eye. He shifted position toward it. "Did you see that?" he asked.
"See what?" Martok said, swiveling around.
Worf cocked his head, listening to the water lap the side of the boat. His eyes scanned the surface slowly as he silently wished he had packed a tricorder. Suddenly the water below them surged forward. The boat lurched to one side, then the other as the wave crested beneath them.
"What was that?" Martok sputtered. He brushed his hair back from in front of his eye, clearing his vision just as a massive shadow below the water passed below the boat. "By the hand of Kahless!" he cried. "Look!"
Whatever it was, it was big, a good 10 meters long and, Worf estimated, at least twice that many meters in diameter. The shadowy form executed an unhurried turn and headed back toward them. The v-shaped wake that angled in front of it swelled and pushed forward, building up speed. "Hold on!" Worf shouted. He watched Martok barely grip the rail of the boat just as the wave hit, sending them tilting wildly. Worf’s boots slipped on the deck as the opposite side of the boat dipped dangerously close to the surface of the water. Just before the ocean swamped over the side, the wave finished its pass beneath them and threw them back in the other direction.
Worf half-lunged, half-slid across the width of the deck, hoping to get a good look at what they were facing. The shadow was circling again, closer to the surface this time. A great, wide, gnarled dorsal fin broke the water, scattering a shower of sparkles caught by the fading sunlight. As the fin arced over the water, Worf could glimpse first a dark, muck-encrusted back, then a huge three-pronged tail, randomly studded with grayish, nasty looking spikes.
Martok appeared at his side. "I don’t believe it!..." he gasped as he watched the tail vanish below the waves.
"What?" Worf asked. "Do you know what this creature is?"
"Ar’Turr-Khu’Ree," Martok said in hushed awe.
Worf froze. "That is a myth. A story told to frighten children."
"Tell that to him!" Martok bellowed, pointing.
Again, a tremendous wave thrust before the beast. Again, the boat rocked back and forth, this time tipping enough to allow some water to spill over the railing. Again, the two Klingons flailed for their footing. Their packs of equipment went tumbling, spilling their contents as they did. Worf landed against the railing with a heavy thud, wincing in pain as his fishing pole jabbed at his shoulder. "Start the engine! Get us underway!" he shouted to Martok. He clutched his hand to his shoulder, then pulled it back. The pole must have pierced his arm. He was bleeding.
Martok fumbled his way toward the control panel near the bow. Just as he reached the panel and disengaged the tractor beam, he stopped short. "Worf! Grab fast!" he cried, turning. As Worf watched in disbelief, the bow of the boat thrust upward before yet another crest of ocean. Martok completely lost his balance and flipped backward toward Worf. With a agonized grunt, Worf managed to grab the chancellor’s vest as he fell past him. Unfortunately, Martok’s added weight only resulted in pulling both of them over the rail as the boat rolled overhead.
The water was cold. A thousand icy d’k tahg blade tips pricked at Worf’s skin as he hit the water. He heard a muffled thump as the bulk of the boat plopped down hard on the surface above. A cascade of air bubbles obscured his view as he searched frantically for Martok. His lungs screamed in protest, leaving him little choice but to head for air. Breaking the surface with a gasp, he seized the underside of the capsized boat and pulled his torso up on it. Pausing just a few seconds to recover enough to plunge back in, he turned to resume his search. Just then Martok blustered to the surface beside him.
"Where is it?" he choked. "Where is that damnable beast?"
"I do not see it," Worf said, pulling Martok up on to the boat. He studied the surrounding waters. The gathering twilight made seeing difficult, but he did not spot the creature’s fin or tail. He tried to judge the distance to the shore. It was closer than he had expected. Either the fish beast had pushed them in a serendipitous direction or the tide was pulling them in. A combination of both, Worf finally surmised. He motioned to the shoreline. "Should we try to swim for it?"
Martok slapped the side of the boat. "And leave the safety of our craft? It can still float at least. Let the tide carry us in, I say." He shifted his weight and rechecked his grip.
"Safety is a relative term," Worf said. "So far, this boat has not afforded us much security."
Martok was silent.
"Chancellor?..." Worf asked, then added, "...Martok?"
"Ar’Turr-Khu’Ree," the other Klingon whispered, looking out into the distance. "Can you imagine it, my friend?" He turned his head to Worf. "The very devil fish that Kahless and Lukara hunted for years! How many times has that legend been told through the ages? How many songs have been written about their journeys on the seas of Kronos?" He looked back to the brackish horizon. "And now, we face that demon-spawn ourselves!"
"This can not be Ar’Turr-Khu’Ree and you know it! Kahless lived eons ago and-- even if the legends are true-- he hunted that monster on the Lesser Southern Ocean, thousand of miles from here! On the other side of the planet! The creature we face reveals no deeper mystery than the reason the fishing has been so poor-- it has eaten all the fish!"
"Will you stop thinking like a human and start thinking like a Klingon?" Martok growled. "Feel the thrill of battle in your heart! Let the warrior in you have his due!"
"It is a fish," Worf protested. "Where is the honor in that?"
"Honor can be found where you want to find it," Martok said.
Before Worf could comment further, a rush of water swelled up from below them. A great wave threw the boat to one side and the two Klingons went flying. The monstrous fish breached the water half a meter from them. Fully three quarters of its bulk came out of the water in an almost graceful arch over them as they splashed into the sea.
Worf and Martok submerged next to each other this time, both managing to get a lungful of air before their headlong plunge. As the surreal underwater quiet washed over him, Worf turned to signal to the other Klingon to swim toward the now not too distant shore. His blood went cold as he saw the massive shadow appear behind Martok. The chancellor was oriented such that his good eye faced Worf, leaving his back and left, blind side open to attack.
Out of the gloom the creature came. And came. And came. Worf’s mind told him that it had only been a few seconds, yet to his other senses, it seemed like the great fish-thing would never stop coming, as though he were watching a slow, macabre dance. Now, he got his first real look at the creature. A huge, twisted mouth cut a vicious swath across the broad, flat mockery of a face emerging from the blue-black deep. Two deep set, dead-white eyes hunched under its sloping, primitive brow. Meter long, cilia-like appendages flowed from under its grizzled chin, billowing back like misshapen eels in the rushing current. Hand-sized scales covered the thing like rows of rough, jagged armor. Powerful, muscular fins at its side propelled the brutish fish forward. The thing’s hulking, spike-pocked back cut through the water with a ease the belied its mass.
Silently, Worf cursed the water for making movement so difficult. His arms flailed like lead weights as he tried to reach Martok. Just as he caught the other Klingon’s arm, the beast’s tremendous maw opened, revealing row after row of razor sharp teeth, many still blood-stained and glutted with the entrails of recent kills. Martok sensed the thing behind him now and-- startled-- whirled out of Worf’s grasp. The creature surged forward, aiming for Martok’s leg. Worf managed to regain his hold on the chancellor’s arm at the last second, and pulled with all his might. The thing’s teeth lanced Martok’s upper thigh, drawing blood, then caught on his armored boot.
They hung there for a moment, frozen in time-- Worf, growing light-headed from lack of air, struggling to hold on to the other Klingon; Martok, wide-eyed, near-panic, frenetically trying to free his foot; the fish creature, unblinking blind fury, malevolent hunger incarnate. Just as Worf felt himself giving in to unconsciousness, the great beast threw its head to one side and tossed them into the air above. Martok’s boot tore from his foot as they somersaulted, gasping and retching sea water, over the plane of the water.
Worf groaned in pain as he landed. Dizzy and disoriented, it took him a moment to realize that he had landed on a solid surface. He wiped salt water from his eyes and took his bearings. The shoreline was barely a quarter-kilometer away! The battle and the tide had carried them to the edge of the rocky shallows. The sea bottom here was little more than a kelp-bound mud hole, but it was infinitely preferable to helplessly flailing at nothing. He looked for Martok. The chancellor had landed several meters further out, still beyond the fall-off to deep water. "Martok!" he called. "Over here!" As he watched the now familiar surge of water building up behind the other Klingon, he hastily added, "Hurry!"
Worf cast around for a weapon-- a jagged rock, a broken piece of driftwood, anything. His gaze caught something gleaming in the rising moonlight, floating just out of arms reach. He plowed through the muck underfoot and grabbed it. A broken length of metal fishing pole greeted his efforts. He almost smiled as he realized that it must be his own pole. He could even make out some of his blood on the tip from where he had fallen on it.
Whirling about, he splashed back to Martok’s position. The other Klingon had reached the edge of the drop off and half pulled himself up. Behind him, the fish-beast bore down on them with unthinking mercilessness. The grotesque dorsal fin cleaved the water at breakneck speed. Fifteen meters. Ten meters. Six. Then it suddenly dove underwater. Worf reached down, one-handed, and hauled Martok up on to the land shelf, then crouched and braced himself at the deep water’s edge. Teeth gritted, lip curled, muscles coiled, he brandished the pole like a spear. The water swelled before him and the beast breached above him. With a feral roar, he thrust the jagged end of the pole up and forward. He drove it through the creature’s neck, felt the flesh within resist, then tear and give way. As the great fish-thing arched overhead, Worf continued to ram the metal shaft through its bulk, pushing, twisting, driving all the way through its giant head and out the top.
With a thunderous crash, the beast fell into the rock-strewn shoals. The fishing pole still jutted out from its crown, dripping with blood and brain tissue. The beast lay twitching for a moment as the life force drained from it. Then, with a rasp and a shudder, it died.
Worf blinked. Panting, he leaned against one of the rocks jutting up through the water. Martok appeared at his side. They exchanged glances, then wordlessly began to drag the dead beast to shore.
The full moon had climbed to near its zenith as the two Klingons grunted the heavy carcass the last few feet on to the shore. They were fortunate that the water remained just deep enough for them to float the beast’s body most of the distance.
The shallows had given way to a sandy beach, all star-sparkle in the moonlight. Worf rested against a large stone slab and watched as Martok broke off the top of the pole protruding from the beast’s head. The chancellor knelt beside the body and began to gut its underbelly with the sharp tip.
"What are you doing?" Worf asked.
"Just a moment," Martok said, thrusting his hand into the creature’s innards. He rustled around for a few seconds, then pulled his arm out briefly, cursing. He wiped entrails on his pants, then plunged his hand back in. After a few seconds he said, "Ah ha! There you are!" He yanked his arm out, clutching his lost boot. He held it up in the moonlight. It shimmered with gore. "None too worse for the wear, I see!"
Worf shook his head. "You could purchase new footwear..."
Martok laughed. "But these are my favorite boots!" He knelt down at the shoreline and dipped the boot in the water, brushing the worst of the fish guts from it. When he finished, he lay it on a rock to dry. "Now, I suppose we have nothing to do until old Darok realizes we are overdue and comes looking for us." He put his hands on his hips and surveyed the surrounding terrain. "We could be stuck here for a while. We had better establish a base camp, start searching for food and provisions..."
"I do not think it will take Darok very long to find us," Worf interrupted, arms folded calmly across his chest.
"Why do you say that?" Martok asked. "I am not sure how far off course that monstrosity pushed us. We may be several kellicams from the launching dock."
Worf nodded. "True. But I think they will be able to zero in on our position easily enough." He had an odd, knowing look on his face. He reached inside his tunic, brought something out, and held it out in front of him.
Martok laughed again.
In Worf’s hand, glittering gold and silver with reflected moon glow, was perhaps the one, single component of Federation technology on the planet. The one, single item that had a standard Federation transponder imbedded within it. The one, single object that would stick out like a sore thumb to Klingon scanning devices.
Worf’s Starfleet comm badge.
"Starfleet to the rescue," Worf smiled wryly.
"What a day, my friend!" Martok roared with laughter as he clasped Worf’s shoulders. "What a day! Think of the story we will have to tell of this day! And," he said, "like any good fish story, it will only grow bigger with each retelling!" The chancellor of the Klingon Empire turned, battered and bleeding, one boot on, one boot off, and began to dance like a madman. His matted, tangled mane of hair tossed from side to side as he started to sing. He sang an ancient song...a song of Kahless and Lukara and Ar’Turr-Khu’Ree and of the sea and of times long past.
Worf watched the other Klingon for a long moment. He turned and looked back at the dead fish. It lay slumped on the ground, already beginning to sag as the contents of its stomach washed out of the gash Martok had carved in its side. He knew it was not Ar’Turr-Khu’Ree. He knew it was no more than an deep sea predator, perhaps hopelessly lost in shallower waters. They would probably never know why it had chosen to attack them, driven by hunger, disease, or madness. None of that mattered.
As he turned back to Martok, Worf knew there would be time enough tomorrow and the next day and the day after that for matters of state. The consoles and the reports and the buttons and the bulkheads and the cloistered halls would all still be there. Tonight, his warrior’s heart demanded release. He threw back his head and howled at the moon like a wolf.
Then he joined Martok and gave himself to the dance.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.