Sorry to keep everybody hanging...I had family in town. And then my muse wouldn't cooperate—ya know what I mean! Thanks for your patience!
As always, thank you very much to 0afan0, njmrtl, Tribal Graces, thyme2read, and "Jungle Native" for your great reviews!
Tokath stood in the midst of the other elders. He held his hands up for the chance to speak. "By now, you all know what is happening," he said.
"Tiny bugs are nothing to a warrior!" L'Kor declared. "We will squash them like we did last time."
The other Klingons heartily expressed their agreement. Only Toq seemed unsure, though he concurred vocally.
Valdus interjected. "These aren't ordinary bugs. They can think. Remember?"
"That is true, my old friend," acknowledged Tokath, "but there is more than one way to fight—as we discovered all those years ago. We must battle these creatures with our superior intelligence."
"Have you tried to contact your people, Tokath?" asked Jadel. Everyone already knew the answer, but she wanted to try anyway.
Tokath grimaced. "Yes, but I don't have to tell you their response." What he meant, of course, was that Romulus had given him the reply they had always given him: We cannot spare any ships at this time, but we have full confidence that you will be able to handle your situation adequately.
"What about the supply ship?" suggested Dhaval, though it was not due to arrive for another month. "Can they come early?"
The Romulan leader shook his head. "I tried that, too. No, my friends. As usual, we are alone."
"You will bring us through, just as you always have, my husband," Gi'ral said, for Tokath's benefit as much as for everyone else.
After the meeting, the inhabitants of Carraya IV got to work fortifying their home. They planned to re-dig the old trench from the previous battle. Then they would flood it by redirecting the river. Because of the increasing spring rains, the furrows would fill up quickly. With any luck, that would stop them.
But Tokath knew better than to rely on luck. It wasn't enough last time, and it wouldn't be now, either. The forest between the compound and the channels would have to be chopped down. If the insects succeeded in crossing the moat (and everyone knew that they would) they would set the brush on fire. And if that should fail, there was one last resort. But hopefully it wouldn't come to that.
Dhaval was hard at work, deepening his assigned section of the old trenches with H'dean. It was their second day of grueling labor in the race against the swarming menace.
"Is what Valdus said true, about the ants being able to actually think?" he asked after a while.
The elder Romulan thrust his shovel into the ground and leaned on it. "Surprisingly, yes. For creatures with such tiny brains, they are considerably intelligent."
"What's really surprising is that their brains are larger than yours," Eviess remarked as she walked by them. Her task was to measure the depth of the trench all the way around. She didn't stop, but casually continued along with her scanner.
"They actually work, too," added Valdus, who had just joined them.
H'dean laughed lewdly and started to dig again. "She is a fetching old hag, isn't she? Funny, I never noticed before..." Then he sighed with impatience. "By the way, when is your wife going to bring us some water, Dhaval? What's that expression she likes to use? Ah, yes. She's as slow as molasses in January."
If he hadn't been so entertained by the fact that his little caper was playing out marvelously, the young sub-lieutenant would have been annoyed by H'dean's teasing. But he didn't want the elder to catch on that there was something amiss. So he simply said, "How am I supposed to know where she is at every hour of the day?"
"I would've thought that you would, considering that you can't stand to be away from each other for more than a few seconds. She seems to be an affectionate little filly." His wicked smile widened.
Old lech... Dhaval turned and continued digging.
After several minutes had passed, H'dean nudged him. "Here comes your pretty little water lily now. It's about time."
Anne carefully descended into the gully. "My, you are making fine progress," she said sweetly. The diggers guzzled down the water she gave them.
"Oh, my poor darling!" she said in surprise. "I didn't know you were so thirsty or I would have come sooner!" She laughed as Dhaval gulped down a third bottle. "Is it going to take the whole river to quench your thirst?"
"No," he said with a grin, drawing her close to him, "just your lips." He kissed her tenderly. H'dean and Valdus were without a doubt watching, but Dhaval didn't care. She was the most precious thing in the universe to him. It was true that he couldn't stand to be away from her for very long.
"I love you," she whispered into his ear. Dhaval held her head to his chest and bent down to smell the pleasant scent of her hair.
"I'll come back with more water soon," she promised. After she wiped his cheek clean with a damp towel, she kissed it and went on to the next group of parched diggers.
Like so many times before, Dhaval felt his heart melt as he watched Anne walk away. He was a very fortunate man. Though he was dirty and fatigued, he felt refreshed by her visit. It would be much easier to go on now that he was reminded of why he was working so hard. Those vermin weren't going to harm his wife, he vowed, not as long as there was still breath in him.
H'dean and Valdus were snickering audibly now, interrupting his amorous reverie.
Dhaval glared at them. "You're both jealous," he snapped. Attacking the ground with renewed vigor, he was determined to be finished before nightfall.
Toq, meanwhile, was busy chopping down humongous trees. He watched the latest one crash to the ground with immense satisfaction. This was warrior's work!
But warrior's work works up a warrior's appetite. His stomach began to rumble. As if on cue, Ba'el and Anne strolled up with lunch.
The Klingon grinned. They had to have seen that...
He and Ba'el sat down to have a brief picnic, while Anne went off to be with Dhaval.
They were nearly finished when they saw Eviess running toward them. "They're moving faster than we first anticipated! They'll be here by tomorrow night!" Without another word, she sprinted toward the compound to tell the others.
"No rest for the wicked," said Ba'el with a flirtatious wink.
Late that night, the community ate their dinner in silence. Then Anne, in an attempt to lighten the grim situation, began Treasure Island:
To the Hesitating Purchaser
If sailor sails to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold.
If schooners, islands, and maroons
And Buccaneers and buried Gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, and me they pleased of old
The wiser youngsters of today:
-So be it, and fall on! If not,
If studious youth no longer crave,
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wood and wave:
So be it also! And may I
And all my pirates share the grave
Where these and their creations lie!
The entertainment cheered everyone up somewhat, and by the time she finished the first chapter, they were able to temporarily forget the fact that they could all possibly be dead by the same time the following evening.
They reminisced about the first poem Anne had recited to them. But she still didn't have the heart to tell them, not even Dhaval, about the fact that it hadn't exactly come from great literature. Because Toq hadn't been around at the time, they all were adamant that she would have to recount the narration again.
After dinner, Toq went outside to take the first watch. He was still laughing about the pirate story. He had especially enjoyed Billy Bones' eternal drinking song. It reminded him of a Klingon drinking song, and he couldn't help but hum it to himself.
Soon he passed Dhaval, who was also singing that song. "...Drink and the devil had done for the rest..."
Toq loudly sang the last line, "—Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Ha ha ha!" His voice echoed off the wall next to him. "You know, rum doesn't sound very appealing to me. But a bottle of blood wine...that would be nice to go along with our song!"
His Romulan friend shrugged. "Before, I would have declined. But considering the circumstances, I would probably take you up on that. There's of course ale if you really want to."
"Yes!" insisted Toq. "We should drink and sing! We may not get the chance again. I'll teach you all the best songs, Dhaval. Meet me at the end of the watch."
Dhaval hesitated. "Well, alright. But not for too long."
"Yes, yes," Toq waved as he walked away, "I won't keep you from your woman."
He soon came upon Ba'el curled up in a corner, reading by the light from a window above her. He knew she was worried, but he was proud of her for distracting herself. He leaned against the wall behind her, pretending to read over her shoulder. In reality, he was trying to get her attention. She smiled, but didn't take her eyes from the book.
Toq smiled, too. So she was playing that game, was she? "How is the lady of Northanger Abbey?" he asked.
"Oh, she's contemplating whether or not Laurentina's skeleton is behind the black curtain," she said nonchalantly, "while she and her friend are following a couple of men around the town."
Toq blinked. The things my par'mach'kai reads... It was silly, but he loved her all the more for it. And at least she wasn't dwelling on the danger. "Sounds just like you and Anne, following Dhaval and me."
Ba'el finally gave him her full attention. "Yes, I suppose I could picture that," she giggled, "But I think it would be the other way around."
"Perhaps... Ba'el," he said intently, "If I don't come back tomorrow…"
She pressed a finger to his lips, "You will come back to me, Toq."
Toq realized that the commander's daughter had just given him an order. He felt his courage rise.