Character codes: R, W
"You are aware," Worf began, painfully attentive to every flicker of his companion's expression, "that Kurn was injured in the attempt on his life?"
"Yes," Riker agreed, features utterly neutral.
"And that he was to be my cha'Dich in my challenge to The High Council?" Worf added after a moment.
"Yes," Riker repeated.
Worf studied his commanding officer for a full minute in silence before announcing, "I must choose a new cha'Dich. A man I trust to stand at my back and defend me." His words, the inflections he attached to those words, were a challenge unto themselves. "You are my commanding officer," he concluded, glaring. "I consider you such a man."
"Are you asking me to be your cha'Dich?" Riker inquired calmly.
"I am asking," Worf agreed.
The mask of Riker's expression broke to a slow grin. Eyes sparking with anticipation, he responded, his inflection perfect, "Je jelung. Ket jut d'judge. I accept."
Worf growled, an expression of approval that rumbled up from deep in his chest. He nodded once, warning, "It will be a difficult challenge."
"Then we should prepare," Riker countered. "It's been a while since I've run your combat programs. Maybe we should brush up on them."
"I believe that would be wise," Worf agreed.
Grinning, Riker slapped the Klingon's shoulder heartily. "Meet me in holodeck three in fifteen minutes."
"I will be there," Worf allowed.
Metal cut the air with a deadly hiss. Orange sunlight gleamed warmly off razor-honed blades. Riker stepped left and grunted. His eyes widened slightly in surprise.
Worf touched the communicator pinned to his chest. "Medical Emergency," he said grimly. "Holodeck three."
"You'll live," Beverly Crusher announced. "But you won't be playing D'Artagnan for a couple of weeks."
Riker lay prone on the biobed, his normally ruddy complexion gone ghastly white and his lips an odd shade of blue. The life support console over him beeped with comforting regularity. He smiled wanly at the doctor, but it came off more like a grimace.
"Tell me again," Crusher suggested, directing the inquiry as much to the nearby security chief as to Riker, "how you managed to disembowel yourself."
"Zigged," Riker said, his voice barely a shadow of a whisper, "when I should have zagged." His gaze skated to the watching Klingon. "I'm sorry Worf."
Worf shrugged. "I do not believe you intended to injure yourself," he allowed graciously.
A smile flickered through Riker's drawn features. "No," he agreed. "I didn't." The humor died slowly in his expression. "What will you do now?"
"I am not certain."
"What about Bishop? Or Kanu? They're both good men and both are familiar with Klingon custom."
Worf shook his head. "I do not believe it befitting to request such a thing of a junior officer."
Riker thought for a minute. "Data, then."
"He would not understand the significance."
"Does that matter? He's your friend, and physically, he's probably the most logical choice."
Worf considered it. "Perhaps I will ask," he allowed after a long moment.
Riker nodded, closing his eyes. "Data would be a good choice," he muttered tiredly. "But I wouldn't mention he's your second choice."
"Third," Worf corrected.
Riker snorted. "Right," he agreed drily. "Third."
"The opportunity to observe the inner workings of the Klingon political infrastructure in such immediate proximity," Data effused enthusiastically, "would be unprecedented in --"
"As my cha'Dich," Worf interrupted, glaring at the android, "you would be responsible only for watching my back."
Data nodded. "Yes, I understand. However, since I am capable of performing several highly complex functions concurrently, there would be ample opportunity to ..."
Worf growled, low and deep in his chest.
Data registered the resonant rumbling, broke it into an analogous mathematical equivalent, analyzed it, identified it, extrapolated fourteen separate motivational provocations for the utterance, analyzed those and came to the conclusion that he was annoying the hell out of the Klingon security chief all in less than a quarter of the time it took a Human being to blink.
"I accept," Data finished, filing his justificational explanations un-uttered in case Worf should express an interest in hearing them at some later date.
Worf nodded. He started to turn away.
"However," Data added, hurrying to the Klingon's side, "in order to assure my compliance with traditional ceremonial custom, I believe it would be advisable to undertake a comprehensive over-view of Klingon ritual combat forms prior to undertaking this endeavor."
Worf studied the android out of the corner of one eye. "I have programmed the holodeck with several combat training simulations," he offered cautiously.
Data nodded enthusiastically. "That should prove sufficient," he agreed.
Worf tapped the communicator pinned to his chest. "Engineering emergency," he said grimly. "Holodeck one."
Geordi LaForge stared in dismay at the scattering of components on the biobed mattress. Data's headless body lay in stiff repose across the room. His bodiless head sat near the components like a cookie jar on a counter.
"It's going to take me a week to get everything re-attached," he complained. "How in the hell did you manage to decapitate him?"
"Lieutenant Worf was endeavoring to teach me the cha'lde'cha maneuver," Data explained, "while I was endeavoring to learn the lich'ne sak defense stance." He spoke in a slightly slurred fashion, his words distorted by the fact that, with only enough neck still attached to the base of his head to allow his jaw three centimeters clearance, his chin bumped the biobed mattress with every word. "I was unaware," he continued, "that the two combat forms were incompatible."
"They are," Worf commented grimly, "and always have been, incompatible."
LaForge snorted. "Obviously."
"This leaves you without a cha'Dich again," Riker noted quietly from across the medical bay. "Doesn't it?"
Worf turned to the incapacitated Commander. "I believe that -- under the circumstances -- it would be best for me to face the council alone."
"That would be suicide," Riker countered. "Duras would have a clear shot at your back any time during the proceedings."
"I am not afraid of Duras."
"Hitler wasn't afraid of Russia, either," Riker pointed out.
Worf frowned, unfamiliar with the reference.
"I believe what Will's trying to say," Beverly Crusher offered, "is that you can't hope to win a two front war. Not all by yourself at least."
"You have to choose another cha'Dich," Riker agreed.
"I have no more friends," Worf reasoned. "And I do not believe the command structure of the Enterprise can afford to lose another officer."
"Screw the command structure," Riker snapped. "What happened to Data and I has nothing to do with the challenge itself. We'll both be listed as holodeck accidents."
"That is not entirely accurate."
"It's close enough for Starfleet work," Riker assured him.
Worf considered it for a moment, then asked, "Who do you suggest I ask?"
"The field's pretty much wide open," Riker said. "When you get right down to it, you and I both know that the cha'Dich is really nothing more than a ritualistic accessory. As long as you haveone, no one is going to challenge him. At least, not unless you pick somebody who's deaf, blind, headless or shows up in pink fluffy house slippers. That leave a lot of crew to choose from, Worf."
Worf sighed. "I will consider it," he agreed grudgingly.
"Well you'd better consider it fast," Riker countered. "The challenge is less than six hours away."
Worf sat in the captain's ready room, his mind working furiously. It was a foolish plan, but one to which circumstances had forced him to turn.
"Captain," he said finally, standing, "I must choose another cha'Dich. I ask your permission to ask one of the crew."
"Yes, of course, Lieutenant. Ask whomever you like."
Worf steeled himself and pushed ahead. "Then I would ask you," he said quietly.
Picard blinked. He seemed as surprised as Worf himself had been, when the thought first crossed his mind.
"I appreciate the gesture, Lieutenant," Picard answered after a moment. "But there are younger and stronger men from whom to choose."
"There is no one left I would rather have at my side," Worf insisted grimly. He stared at the captain and saw the reticence there. "You may refuse with no dishonor," he offered quietly.
Picard's eyes sparked. His shoulders squared and he smiled slightly. "Je jelung. Ket jut d'judge," he answered. Though the pronunciation was slightly skewed, the intent was clear enough. "I accept."
Worf nodded, breathing a silent sigh of relief. "Thank you, sir."
"It is my honor," Picard responded. "However ..." he shrugged a little apologetically, "it's been some time since I participated in anything even remotely resembling Klingon ritual battles."
"The cha'Dich is predominantly a function of ceremony, sir," Worf offered quickly. "Though his presence is essential to the assurance of an honorable challenge, the cha'Dich is rarely called upon to actually participate in battle."
"Nevertheless," Picard pressed. "I would like to be prepared for that eventuality. Perhaps we should run one of your exercise programs in the holodeck to brush up." He smiled and slapped the Klingon's shoulder. "Just in case."
Worf met his captain's gaze. "I do not think," he stated firmly. "That would be wise."