Chapter 3: III
Alexander fought the urge to rub his tired eyes as he monitored his view screen for any enemy ships in the area. He was nearly finished with a double rotation cycle on the bridge and he was looking forward to collapsing in exhaustion in his quarters and sleeping straight through to the next rotation. The only thing that could make his bed more appealing at the moment was if it had been the soft one that he'd had back on Earth at his grandparents' home rather than the metal rack that was standard on all Klingon ships. Still, as tired as he was he doubted that he'll even notice its rigidness. He only had to make it through another quarter of an hour and he would be free to seek out his well-deserved sleep.
The crew had been on constant alert for weeks now since they've been assigned well behind the enemy-lines and have had run-ins with the Jem'Hadar nearly on a daily basis while on their current assignment. Today had been no different. His shift had started off in battle and he had remained on the bridge while those who normally would relieve the bridge staff were busy with repairs on the ship. The reason for their mission so far behind the lines was that they were to locate the Jem'Hadar's shipyard so that the allied forces of the Klingon Empire and the Federation can develop plans to destroy it. Already six other ships have been destroyed and their crews killed while on this exact same mission. The Ya'Vang's crew hoped for success but knew far too well that it would likely be brought about at the cost of their very lives.
Finally, Alexander was permitted to find his quarters. Granted, he was hungry as well and probably should head down to the Mess Deck first but at the moment he felt he needed rest more than nourishment. When he reached his quarters he was met by a sight that he hadn't expected. His belongings had been ransacked and his trombone was out of its case and had been mangled to the point that he knew irreparable damage had been done. Alexander knew that Ch'Targh would never tamper with his belongings nor would any of the men that he'd transferred over with from the Rotarran. That only left someone from the rest of the Ya'Vang's crew.
In the weeks that he'd been stationed on the Ya'Vang, Alexander'd had more than a few run-ins with some of the isolationists that had resented the hybrid's presence on board; especially R'jnol. The two had fought an additional two times since their first encounter in the training room and it now seemed that the other man had decided to take a different approach to his attacks on Alexander and his character. All in an effort to try to get him to put in a request for a different assignment.
Sighing, Alexander threw his damaged belongings in the waste processor and collapsed on his bed. While R'jnol had no honor and had attacked him once more in a cowardly manner, retaliating against the man would gain him nothing. R'jnol had quite a following on the ship and complaining of the man's treatment would only make Alexander appear to be weak; Human even. He knew that living among other Klingons would not be easy. His appointment on Martok's flagship had been a good assignment while he was getting adjusted to the cultural differences from what he had grown up with; the general had been accepting of him all of the way to the point of bringing him into his own house. Here, with the exception of his comrades who had transferred with him from the Rotarran, he was not given as much leeway in his ignorance of various Klingon customs and traditions.
Alexander's last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were those of acknowledgment that it would be a long time before he should replicate the Earth belongings that had been destroyed. He was no longer on Earth and such items did not belong on board a Klingon Warship.
Alexander bolted up on his rack as the alarm sounded throughout the ship. Dull red lights were flashing around the room to signal that the ship had been placed on Alert Status One. Across the room, Ch'Targh was already on his feet and was prepared to leave their shared room before Alexander had even sat up. The younger Klingon swung his legs over the side of his sleeping rack and joined Ch'Targh as he left and made his way out into the corridor where a flurry of activity was going on.
Alexander ran past other crewmen as he headed toward his off-duty battle station. The ship rocked as the Jem'Hadar found their mark and weakened the ship's shields. Before Alexander reached his battle station the air shimmered in front of him and a Jem'Hadar warrior materialized not more than a meter out of arm's reach. He quickly reached for his side arm and engaged in battle just as the other Klingons around him had. By the end of the battle with the Jem'Hadar, Alexander had sustained minor phaser burns but he was inwardly proud of himself for his lack of serious injuries.
Alexander was then given orders to assist in Engineering to help repair the damage done by the latest round with the Dominion. Among the systems damaged, the various hydraulic systems were among them. Alexander knew from experience that he would be assigned to help work on those systems since they were located in a very tight-fitting compartment; with his smaller stature than the other Klingons on board it was much easier for him to squeeze into such small enclosures than it was for his compatriots. What he was not prepared for, however, was that he was assigned to work alongside the lone Betazoid on the ship; though after further thought Alexander supposed that it only made sense considering that their size was pretty much the same compared to the rest of the crew. Alexander grabbed up the tools that he'd need then proceeded behind K'nera toward the repair tubes that resembled the Jeffry's tubes on the Enterprise. The two then crawled far into the interior of the warship and went right to work without any fanfare.
Outside of their brief conversation in the Medical Ward where K'nera had warned him of the brewing tensions rising on board the Ya'Vang in regards to having outsiders on a Klingon ship the two had not really had a chance to speak and had merely passed one another in the corridors. Now that he was alone with the woman who seemed more at home surrounded by Klingons than he did Alexander wasn't sure what to say to her. Instead he allowed a somewhat comfortable silence fall between them and the only sounds that the two of them made were requesting that the other hand them a tool as they worked.
After more than an hour of working on the system those sounds were joined by another much to Alexander's embarrassment. His stomach groaned loudly to protest the fact that between his double rotation shift the day before and his going to sleep without going to the Mess Deck then adding the battle and repair work to his schedule it had been more than thirty hours since the last time he had eaten anything.
K'nera looked up from her work at the sound and saw Alexander's face flush with embarrassment. "Hungry?"
"I, uh…" Alexander stuttered knowing that there was no way to really answer the question in a way that could hide his humiliation at not being able to conceal his error of not seeing to his meal the night before.
K'nera reached into a pouch on her belt and pulled out a nutrition bar and tossed it to Alexander. "I guess you haven't learned to keep a few of these on hand just in case yet. Don't worry, I was starting to get a little hungry, myself." K'nera reached into another pouch and pulled out a nutrition bar for herself as well and began to open it. "I'm surprised that you couldn't hear my stomach earlier. It's been growling ever since we came in here."
"You carry these on you all the time?" Alexander asked as he took K'nera's lead and began to open his scant meal.
K'nera nodded, "Actually, a lot of the crew do. They just won't admit to it. They all want to appear to be able to go for days without eating if they have to. The trick is to just not allow anyone to see you eating. But even the most foolish of them know that it would be unwise to actually try to live out that perception."
"I'll have to remember that." Alexander gave her a smile of gratitude at his new found information, as well as the meal, and began to eat the small bar. It was rather tasteless but at least it would calm the growling in his stomach until he could get to the Mess Deck.
After a few more moments of silence K'nera allowed her curiosity loose and asked, "What was it like?" Seeing Alexander raise his head with a confused look on his face she continued, "Growing up away from the Empire, what was it like?"
Of all of the people to ask him that question, Alexander had not expected for the woman from Betazed to be the one to ask it now. Alexander shrugged, "I had very little to compare it to. It was just about all that I'd ever known. Even before my mother died when I was young I was raised much like a Human child would have been. After her death… I didn't return to the Klingon homeworld until I'd decided to join the Defense Forces."
K'nera leaned back against the wall of the repair tube and considered her next question but received one of her own instead.
"What about you? What was it like to grow up the only Betazoid in the Empire?"
K'nera shook her head; Alexander had turned her own question on her. "Challenging," she said honestly. "As I suppose you could imagine. It probably paralleled your own difficulties with fitting in at times. But at the same time I couldn't imagine growing up anywhere else. I had an adoptive brother, cousins and friends to play with- though I was always being left behind." Alexander raised a brow at the last comment so K'nera explained, "It's not easy finding a friend to play with as a child knowing that they will only be your own age for a short time."
Alexander nodded. Yes, he'd frequently outgrown any playmates he had; both on Earth and on the Enterprise. Despite wanting to remain friends, the Human children were far more frail compared to him. They couldn't rough-house for long without Alexander risking injuring one of his friends. In fact, shortly after he'd returned to Earth after he'd left the Enterprise for the last time he'd severely injured another boy in school during a wrestling match. That had been one of the things that had been so hard to get used to after joining the other Klingons. Among his peers on Earth he'd been considered to be the strongest of all of them. Now he was known as the weak hybrid.
K'nera cocked her head as she sensed Alexander's thoughts and considered reminding the young man that he had not yet reached his full maturity but something told her that it was probably best to not remind him at the moment his private thoughts were not quite as private as he considered them to be.
"I can understand that," Alexander finally said in response to K'nera's statement before adding with a chuckle, "The same usually happened to me, just in reverse."
"Someone looking in from the outside just might say that the two of us should have traded places," K'nera joined Alexander's laughter and raised her nutrition as if she was giving a toast. "To kindred spirits."
Alexander mimicked her move and continued to eat on his shared meal. "I have a question, the captain, you seem to know him pretty well. In fact, he seems very irritated with you frequently."
"I was raised by his brother so I guess you could call him my uncle. I have a lot of practice at getting under his skin. In fact, it's my favorite pastime." K'nera gave a wide grin as she pictured some of the things that she had done over the years to M'jaK. "But don't let that mask of irritation fool you. He likes having me around; most of the time."
Alexander shook his head as he saw a gleam in K'nera's eyes that he was sure hid more stories of her tormenting her uncle than he could stab with a D'k tahg. "I'll bet that he'd deny such a statement, no doubt."
"Of course." K'nera laughed out loud at the statement.
"So, how did a Betazoid end up living in the Empire raised by Klingons?"
K'nera took a bite of her bar, chewed and swallowed before answering simply, "My father knew Lor'vah of the House of K'maj'ik for years before my birth. They were an unlikely set of friends and when I was born Lor'vah was named as my Godfather. When I was three my parents' were traveling a bit too close to the Neutral Zone and were attacked. By the time any aid was sent to help the passenger freighter that they were on it was too late. Lor'vah went to Betazed and claimed his right to care for me out of honor to my parents and that was that. I came to the Empire and never went back."
"Have you ever thought about it? To see what you've missed?"
"Not really," K'nera shook her head. "Everything that I've ever needed has been in the Empire; everyone that I know and care about are there. My parents' families never tried to see me after I left Betazed so I figured that it's their loss."
"Oh," Alexander had figured that his own desire to see life on the other side of the quadrant after not growing up among his own kind was normal but here was another in a similar situation yet didn't seem to hold any curiosity about doing so at all.
K'nera shifted a bit to get a little more comfortable in facing Alexander as she stretched her legs toward the other side of the narrow tunnel. Knowing that he'd been having a rough go at blending in with the other Klingons on board her next question seemed like an obvious one to ask. "When you joined the Klingon Defense Forces, why did you decide to go by your Human name? If you'd gone by your Klingon name you very likely could have avoided some of the problems that you've had since transferring to the Ya'Vang."
Alexander blinked at the question; he hadn't expected that particular question. "When I think of myself, I just don't imagine myself as T'knehzoR. I can barely even say it. My mother named me Alexander and I've always gone by it. Though I suppose you have a point. If I was known as T'knehzoR instead of Alexander Rozhenko, life would probably be easier. Especially now that I'm a member of the House of Martok. The general is well-respected around the Empire. Despite all that my father has done over the years, he still hasn't been given that level of respect."
Alexander subconsciously clenched his jaw at the indignation that his father has endured over the years all for the good of the Empire. He then forced himself to relax a bit and shrugged. "Besides, I like to think that the best parts of both myself and my father came from the Rozhenkos. By using their name I honor them for all they have done for both of us. My father has never used their surname but I believe that it is important to do so. Does that sound strange?"
"Not at all. In fact, I can't think of a better reason to use a name. I'm sure that your grandparents are both very proud of you." K'nera then considered her next question. "So which did you prefer? Living on Earth or on a Federation starship?"
Pursing his lips he thought his answer out before answering. "Living on the Enterprise was harder in a lot of ways. I stayed in trouble with my father often; especially when I first moved there. He wanted me to live as a Klingon but I had no desire to learn the ways of a warrior. Towards the end it became clear that I was nothing but a disappointment to him. Shortly after I refused to perform the Rites of Ascension when I was ten Klingon years of age my father returned me to live with his parents in Minsk."
"An area within Russia on Earth. The winters are cold, which I didn't care for, but there I didn't have to-" Alexander stopped himself.
"Have to what?"
"I didn't have to see the shame in my father's eyes when I was there. My grandparents actually seemed sort of relieved that I had chosen the path that I had at the time when I went to live with them."
K'nera began to feel sorry that she had asked. She would have thought that being without many of their own kind around it would have forced the father and son to forge a stronger bond but it seemed that the two were much more estranged than even the rumors had it. "Is that why you joined the Forces then instead of Starfleet? You were hoping that it would…" K'nera stopped herself from finishing the sentence. "I'm sorry. That's none of my business."
Alexander gave a sad shrug. "It was part of it. My grandfather did try to convince me to enlist in Starfleet instead though."
"So why didn't you? I mean, your father is an officer in Starfleet-"
"Exactly," Alexander interrupted. "And he has always been considered an excellent one, too. Even back at the Academy. If I had gone into Starfleet I would have been expected to be just like him. And despite wanting to prove myself to him, as well as myself, I am not prepared to live in his shadow."
K'nera watched as Alexander then looked down staring at what remained of the small nutrition bar. She could feel the boil of emotions just below the surface radiating from Alexander; emotions that she could tell he was trying to tightly rein in. Taking in a breath she finished the last of her meal and folded the wrapper into her belt's pouch that she had first removed it from.
"I think it's time we got back to work. We still have one more system to bring back up on-line when we get finished here."
Alexander nodded and finished as well; grateful that K'nera had ended their conversation. Speaking of his childhood had allowed his feelings of abandonment to resurface. They were feelings that he had told himself that he would let go of now that he and his father were trying to reconcile. Still, the wounds had cut deeper than any bat'leth could. They ran straight to the heart.