This story takes place seven years before the start of the Next Generation series. For commentary, click on the links in the text.
Worf’s life flashed before his eyes, at least what little of it the teenage Klingon had yet lived. (1) Khitomer was where everything changed. His father, the father he couldn’t remember, never told him why they had to go there. Only he left alive.
The Romulans attacked without warning. He was touring the museum at the site of the historic treaty with the Federation, looking at a statue of James Kirk, when a bolt of plasma from space leveled the complex and the entire city around it.
The terrible heat of near-molten rock, and the hunger and thirst he experienced here in the lava caves of No’Mat, reminded him of those days buried under the rubble. Like then, he bordered on the edge of delirium.
A human found him, a warp engineer from the Starship Intrepid. The statue of Kirk was moved off from top of him. He had been saved by a gap beneath the legendary captain’s arm.
The concern from this Starfleet officer, Sergey Rozhenko, won the affection of the orphaned Klingon boy. Not a day would pass in the Intrepid infirmary without the man coming for a visit. After Worf returned to the home world Qo’noS, they became pen pals.
None of his relations wanted him. Khitomer was too much of a disgrace.
(2) Rozhenko came with his wife, Helena. The blessed woman accepted him with tears in her soulful brown eyes. He refused to display weakness, resisting their kindness with every fiber of his Klingon being, but these humans would have none of that.
They adopted him. Sergey had retired and settled with his family at the farming colony on Gault. Worf discovered he had a foster brother named (3) Nicolai, nearly the same age as himself.
His human parents encouraged him to embrace his Klingon heritage, even serving him live food. Still, a clash of cultures became inevitable. His schoolmates could never appreciate how bruises and broken bones developed character.
(4) He was thirteen. The soccer match would decide the championship. He saw the opportunity for a bicycle kick to score a goal, and he regarded himself the only player with the athletic ability to put his team ahead.
Snap! Crunch! The sickening sound of tearing cartilage, and he knew he should have restrained himself. The boy with the broken neck didn’t live past the next day.
CRACK! Worf snapped out of his stupor. A falling boulder had rolled against a giant stalactite, breaking its massive stalk. The ground heaved at his feet, whether from a tremor or weakness brought on by his own deprivation he couldn’t determine.
This was the (5) Rite of MajQa. He no longer recalled how long he had exiled himself to these caverns deep beneath the surface of Qo’noS, a labyrinth excavated by magma, in order to seek a vision concerning his future.
In his warrior’s heart, he knew himself to be Klingon. Had he not endured the ceremony at his (6) Age of Ascension? His kin and so-called friends from his own race jabbed pain sticks into him with exuberant zeal, in his opinion, to make him prove his worth.
Unlike the gauntlet of pain sticks, this present ordeal was a test of stamina. He had no food or water. The glowing-red walls of the lava cave emanated a relentless heat, sapping his strength. Hot geysers vented from fissures in the ground, inflaming his nostrils and throat with the stench of sulfur. His eyes burned from the noxious emissions.
He would endure. He must! To leave No’Mat without a vision was failure. He refused to yield.
* * * * *
(7) Ambassador Curzon Dax leaned into his desk on his elbows, regarding with curiosity the human couple sitting side-by-side in chairs before him. Not many Federation citizens cared to venture to Qo’noS. The Klingon home world simply wasn’t a pleasant experience for tourists, who usually preferred beds with mattresses, although Dax himself had learned to appreciate the amenities of the planet. For instance, blood wine was the best way to get drunk because it never left a hangover.
These were not tourists, however. They claimed to have a son who was Klingon.
“Let me get this straight, Mr. and Mrs. Rochenko,” said the Trill, intending to ask for clarification.
“That’s Rozhenko.” The woman politely interjected a correction to his pronunciation.
“Rozhenko, of course, excuse me,” said Dax, ever the diplomat. “You say your son is a Klingon. Surely, you mean your son has merely adopted the Klingon way.”
“No, quite the opposite,” the man said fervently. “We adopted him.”
“I see,” said Dax, with a nod of his head. This was interesting, indeed. “He’s a full-blooded Klingon, then.”
“That’s right,” said the woman, returning his nod. He observed the obvious tension in her manner, sitting with her hands tightly clasped in her lap.
“How did this come to be?” Dax inquired. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
The man produced a folder from a brief he carried. “Here,” he said, offering it to Dax. “This will tell you everything you want to know.”
How archaic, the information came on actual paper. Then Dax saw official Klingon documents inside, and understood. Records of this nature had to be handwritten according to Klingon law. He skimmed through the pages, fully capable of reading the Klingon script.
Ah, Khitomer. He remembered the Romulan atrocity all too well, and the fact of a sole survivor. How could he have forgotten such a unique incident? Naturally, once the boy’s relatives renounced their association with him, anybody was free to claim him.
But these humans hardly appeared capable of raising a Klingon. Sure, they looked like a sturdy pair, used to hard work and all, but their demeanor seemed too pleasant for dealing with the volatility of a Klingon adolescent, and the woman was too emotional. Her eyes welled with moisture. If she blinked, tears would be streaming down her cheeks.
Yet, if Dax had learned anything from the wisdom of his symbiont’s (8) six lifetimes, people often defied first impressions, and the documented fact here was for the past ten years this retired Starfleet engineer and his wife had nurtured a Klingon male almost to maturity. The ambassador determined to do whatever he had in his power to help them, out of admiration more than anything else.
“Very well,” he said, closing the folder. “What can I do for you folks?”
The woman leaned forward to speak, but the man stopped her with a comforting hand on her own two fists clenched in her lap. Good move, according to Dax. The husband realized his wife’s emotions were getting the best of her.
Mr. Rozhenko spoke with a steady voice. “Sir, you must realize that we’ve brought our son to Qo’noS before and never had any problems. Just two years ago, he passed his Age of Ascension with flying colors. We realize he’s Klingon, and we’ve done everything in our power to help him claim his heritage. Yet, Helena here and I don’t believe the native Klingons will ever accept him, and so we arranged for him to attend Starfleet Academy with our other son; that is our natural-born son.”
Now Dax was truly amazed. Sure, the Academy was open to non-citizens from races that were friendly to the Federation, but a Klingon? He knew for certain that had never happened before. No doubt, Mr. Rozhenko knew some high-profile people in Starfleet to secure a sponsorship for a member of the warrior race. The ambassador leaned back in his chair, listening with greater interest than ever.
“But Worf, our Klingon son, isn’t sure he can co-exist with humans and the other races of the Federation.”
Here Rozhenko paused, considering his next words before he spoke them.
“There have been incidents,” he continued, with a sigh. “One in particular was most egregious.”
“I understand,” said Dax to offer encouragement, recalling a quick glance at an item inside the folder, a page not written in Klingon that mentioned a broken neck. Oh well, those sorts of things happened when Klingons were involved.
“He’s torn between the cultures, you see?”
Dax was moved by the earnestness of the man. He and his wife obviously cared for their adopted son in a manner that defied explanation. No wonder they commanded his loyalty. A true Klingon respected such faithful people.
Rozhenko continued. “Worf is at a crossroads where he must choose the direction for the rest of his life. After much deliberation, we agreed he should undergo the Rite of MajQa, and so we made arrangements with his kin here for him to do so.”
Dax perceived what was coming next. “I presume you’ve heard nothing from him,” he said.
Rozhenko’s wife could no longer contain herself. “Not for two weeks! Please, sir, we fear for his life. The Klingons will tell us nothing.”
She blinked the tears down her face, but quickly regained her composure, staring at her hands and silently sobbing in her seat.
“What my wife is saying is this,” said her husband. “Worf’s kin have repudiated him; otherwise, we never would have been able to adopt him. They simply have no interest in him surviving the ritual.”
Their fear was not unfounded, Dax knew. No Klingon wanted anything, or anybody, to be a reminder of the disaster at Khitomer. And two weeks was an incredibly long time. Most young Klingons passed or failed the Rite of MajQa in a matter of days.
He wondered. “Doesn’t he carry a transporter beacon with him?”
“He refused to take one,” said Sergey Rozhenko.
“That’s because real Klingons in the days of (9) Kahless didn’t have transporters to pluck them from the caves,” said Helena. “So says our son.”
“You have good reason to be concerned,” said Dax in the most reassuring voice he could muster. “I’ll make some inquiries and contact you when I know something.”
* * * * *
Worf’s seared lungs gasped for air. The sulfuric fumes filled the cavern with a smoke so thick that he could no longer see anything.
Starfleet, he mulled the option in his mind for an uncounted time. To serve in such a mighty armada would excite the heart of any warrior. His time living in the Federation made him appreciate the strength of the vast galactic alliance, although most Klingons considered the member races to be weak and inferior.
Not so, concerning James Kirk. Remembering the statue that had saved his life, Worf learned everything he could about the great Federation hero. Here was a true warrior, ever cunning and always victorious, both on the battlefield and with women. He single-handedly saved Earth from annihilation no less than (10) four times. He also outwitted the Klingons as a regular habit, but Worf didn’t hold that against him.
One of his human father’s former captains had actually served with Kirk early in his career. Worf once received the honor of meeting the aged (11) Commodore Chekov during one of the family visits to St. Petersburg in Old Russia on Earth. His favorite story of the many Chekov told him, one that the Federation never formally acknowledged, was how (12) Kirk pilfered a Romulan cloaking device from under their noses.
How Worf hated the Romulans, those (13) wastes of skin, for murdering his family. He would do anything to avenge their death. If Starfleet could ever give him the chance to meet them in battle, he would go to the Academy.
There was the crux of his dilemma. Could he obey an order to desist? He would be subject to the authority of his commanding officer. To be disloyal, even for the noble purpose of killing Romulans, would be a dishonor he could never bear.
A violent cough wracked his body as he found himself surrounded by an ever thickening cloud of fumes. This was it, he was going to die. For all the suffering he had endured, he still had no answer. This place was going to kill him before any vision came.
He felt a more intense heat than ever, if such a thing were possible, creeping towards him from the upslope of the cave floor. A lava flow! He ran blindly downhill, nearly choking to death on the gases. Miraculously, a gap appeared in the swirl and he spotted a rare section of the wall that wasn’t superheated. There was a crevice. He tore the nails from his hands clawing his way inside, just in time before the magma flowed beneath his feet.
* * * * *
They were proud members of a powerful house, sisters with political ambitions, whose brother was a dullard. Lursa and B’Etor found him in a drunken stupor, slumped over a table in a saloon.
“Wake up, Duras!” hissed Lursa, the elder sister.
She slapped him across the side of the head until he showed some sign of coherence.
“We have an important matter to discuss with you.”
Duras peered at her with bloodshot eyes. His sluggish gaze quickly focused to a riveting glare, and he had Lursa by the throat.
“What do you want?” he said, growling through clenched teeth.
He released his grip on her neck and slumped back into his seat. Lursa smiled with her rows of crooked teeth. Her brother wasn’t very bright, but at least he was wise enough not to engage her in a fight.
“B’Etor and I have discovered that the Son of Mogh is lost in the caves of No’Mat.”
The sisters had patrolled the taverns where the Federation ambassador enjoyed his spirits. Usually the lanky Spotted-Neck held his tongue, but this evening he had been overheard asking about this boy Worf and his Rite of MajQa.
Duras muttered. “Mogh?”
“He served with our father on Khitomer,” said Lursa. Her brother’s deadened brain cells obviously needed a reminder. “And now we must save his son.”
Lursa exchanged glances with her sister, and knew what she was thinking. Their brother had no imagination.
“Don’t you see the opportunity?” she said. “The Son of Mogh will bear our dishonor.”
The damning record of their father’s betrayal couldn’t remain hidden forever, but they could arrange for a tampered version to be found first. When the (14) timing was right, Mogh and his offspring would bear the blame for disabling Khitomer’s defenses.
“Why shouldn’t he be left to die?” said Duras.
Lursa rolled her eyes. Her brother was a brute, with no sense for plotting an intricate plan.
B’Etor provided an explanation of their reasoning. “The dead cannot defend themselves, and so they cannot be accused. This Son of Mogh lives with humans. He’s weak and won’t bother to defend himself.”
“Then save him,” said Duras, with a wave of his hand. “I’ll wait here.”
Lursa snorted. She had expected no better from her lazy brother. At least he was easy to manipulate.
“Come on, B’Etor,” she said curtly. “Let’s go.”
* * * * *
Worf wondered whether he had lost consciousness, for the lava flow had solidified quicker than he thought possible. He stepped down from the crevice. The cave’s new floor was still scorching hot. He didn’t have much time before the heat burned through the soles of his boots, but he resisted the urge to run, since any stumble meant instant death. Moreover, he could barely see. One of his eyes had swelled completely shut in the toxic fumes, and the other he could only keep open for short moments at a time.
His boots stuck to the fresh magma as they melted. Walking became an agony. He smelled his own flesh burning.
Mercifully, a tributary tunnel appeared, coming from a place above the lava flow. He sprinted for the cool ground, and collapsed upon reaching it, for he could no longer stand on his charred feet.
A warrior in full battle regalia approached him. He wore a targ-hide tunic, broached with a saber tooth, and ceremonial streamers in his long hair and beard. He was armed with a full arsenal of ancient Klingon weapons, including the long and curving blade of a bat’leth.
Worf had hoped for a vision of his forgotten father, the most powerful of MajQa revelations, but instead he was facing the greatest warrior of all time. Then he considered this might not be a vision, since he didn’t seem to have a body. Perhaps he was dead and Kahless had come to show him the way to the afterlife.
“Kahless, I’m honored by your presence,” he said.
“Worf, son of Mogh,” the Mighty One spoke. “You have done well. Your warrior’s heart has tested pure and true, refined by the fires of these caves, but I tell you this; you will do more. You will accomplish what no Klingon has ever done.”
Then he was gone, and Worf was not dead. His painfully burned feet told him otherwise. He was moving, but not walking. Two figures flanked him. He caught glimpses that revealed to him they were female. A blow struck him on the head and he knew no more.
* * * * *
His eyes opened and when they focused he saw a middle-aged woman with a mass of dark hair piled on her head, and large brown eyes streaming tears down her face.
He raised himself to his elbows in bed, shaking his head to clear a fog from his brain. A star field in the tiny chamber’s only window told him they were on a spaceship.
“How did I get here?”
“Oh, Worf,” his mother said, wrapping her arms around him for a long hug. “I’m so glad you’re going to be all right.” She rubbed her wet cheeks against his face.
He didn’t care much for the physical intimacy, but tolerated it. His father was there, too, standing at the foot of the bed.
“We went to the Federation embassy for help,” the gray-bearded man told him. “The ambassador received an anonymous tip and we found you near the entrance of one of the caves.”
“You were in terrible shape,” said his mother. “However, the ship’s doctor here has done a wonderful job taking care of you.”
Worf tested his feet, and indeed he must have received skin grafts, because they no longer hurt.
“I don’t know how you made it out of there,” said his father.
To be honest, Worf wasn’t exactly sure either.
“Son, I hope you found what you’re looking for.”
He looked at both of their faces in turn, and their hopeful expressions.
“I have,” he announced.
You will accomplish what no Klingon has ever done.
Kahless spoke to him across the ages.
“I choose Starfleet.”
Joy spread across his father’s face from ear to ear.
“That’s wonderful! Worf, you’ve made me a proud and happy father.”
Worf felt relieved. The decision was made. He would never regret it.
His father held out a sealed envelope, emblazoned with the Starfleet logo.
“This came for you, but I kept it because I didn’t want it to influence your decision.”
Worf took the letter from his eager hand, and hesitated. His mother, sensing he wanted the time to himself, hustled her husband towards the door.
“Let’s go, Sergey,” she said. “Worf needs to rest. He’ll read the letter later when he feels better.”
Alone, Worf set the letter aside and fell back to his pillow to close his eyes. If there was any Klingon tradition he didn’t mind giving up, it was beds without mattresses. Who did the letter come from? He wanted to squelch his curiosity. What did it say? He opened his eyes and peered at the envelope. The Starfleet logo beckoned him.
He grunted, disgusted with himself for his lack of patience, and grabbed the letter to tear it open.
* * * * *
My dear boy,
Please excuse an old man for this old-fashioned method of writing a letter, but it gives me comfort to put a pen to a piece of paper and not have to punch a bunch of damned keys. It has come to my attention from a former shipmate of mine that you would be a fine candidate for Starfleet Academy. Commodore Chekov regarded you highly during your visit with him, but since he’s already sponsoring another applicant (your brother, I believe), he asked me if I would nominate you to the cadet corps.
This I am most pleased to do. Chekov also mentioned to me that you are a Klingon, which a certain Vulcan I know would say is fascinating, and the Commodore thought any extra influence that I can provide would be a help, although I don’t see why. In any case, I welcome the chance to pay back an old debt from when Captain Kirk and I (15) stood trial for assassinating Chancellor Gorkon. Our defense attorney happened to be your grandfather, and he did the best job he could under difficult circumstances.
In return, I ask for just one thing after you arrive at the Academy here on Earth, and that is you use one of your free days to come to Georgia, for I am certainly anxious to meet you in person.
Best wishes and good luck,
(16) Dr. Leonard McCoy, Starfleet Chief Medical Officer Emeritus
(1) Khitomer, where Kirk saved the day in Star Trek VI. In the Next Generation episode, Heart of Glory, Worf revealed that he was orphaned by a Romulan attack at Khitomer and adopted by the Starfleet officer who rescued him. Return to the story.
(2) Worf's human foster parents appeared in the Next Generation episode, Family. Return to the story.
(3) Nicolai appeared in the Next Generation episode, Homeward. Return to the story.
(4) I got this incident from the Star Trek website. I don't know which episode provided this information. Return to the story.
(5) Worf told Data about his Rite of MajQa, including the vision described in this story, in the Next Generation episode, Birthright. Return to the story.
(6) Worf endured a re-enactment of his Age of Ascension ceremony in the Next Generation episode, The Icarus Factor. Return to the story.
(7) Curzon Dax was a diplomat and had good relations with Klingons, according to the Deep Space Nine series, so this is consistent. Return to the story.
(8) Lela the politician, Tobin the engineer, Emony the gymnast, Audrid the symbiosis commissioner, and Torias the pilot besides Curzon the diplomat according to the Deep Space Nine episode, Equilibrium. That same episode revealed another previous host, Joran the murderer, who was unknown to Curzon Dax. Return to the story.
(9) Kahless was greatest Klingon warrior ever according to the Next Generation episode, Rightful Heir. Return to the story.
(10) From the planet crusher in the original series episode, The Doomsday Machine, from Nomad in the original series episode, The Changeling, from V'ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and from the whale probe in Star Trek IV. Return to the story.
(11) That Rozhenko served under Chekov is a conjecture, not supported by anything in the Star Trek canon. Return to the story.
(12) In the original series episode, The Enterprise Incident. Return to the story.
(13) What Worf called Romulans on the Next Generation. Return to the story.
(14) The timing was right in the Next Generation episode, Sins of the Father. Return to the story.
(15) In Star Trek VI. Return to the story.
(16) McCoy was still alive, because he made a cameo in the Next Generation pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint. Return to the story.
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