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Chekov had been so delighted to learn to which ship he had been assigned; he knew it was going to be even more of a wrench back to reality when he had to return to being a cadet after his assignment to the Pollux for this midshipman cruise. He consoled himself that it would not be long now before he would have earned the right to sit at the navigator’s station.  “Captain, the long range sensors show an anomalous reading for the Xolemonium system.” 

Captain Paula Vyne looked up from the report she was studying. They had spent a peaceful few days since leaving Lyxachenalia III; the captain of the Pollux admitted she would be pleased for something to disturb that peace. She was sure Chekov would soon provide it. A peaceful few days seemed to be about the midshipman’s limit. “Could you be more specific, Midshipman?”

“Yes, ma’am. There seems to be a large rogue comet within the Xolemonium system, but the data doesn’t show any such comet should exist.” Chekov was scanning the information carefully, anxious not to make any mistakes. He wanted to take a good report back to the Academy. 

“I don’t know the Xolemonium system.” Vyne looked over at the science station, where another of her midshipmen was on duty. “Is that going to give us any problems, Midshipman Chard?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Chard was working as carefully as his friend. The tall, half-Comanche midshipman knew it would be very embarrassing to make an error that diverted a starship. “There’s a new colony on the third planet. It was only founded two years ago, and it has a population of about four hundred people.”

“Captain,” Lieutenant Shenley turned from the communications console, as if on cue. “We’re being diverted to the Xolemonium System. Starfleet has received a call from the colonists asking for help.”

“Set a course, Midshipman Chekov. Lieutenant, see if you can contact the colony directly. We need to find out what’s going on there.” 

“I have the colony leader for you now, Captain,” Shenley announced a few minutes later. “A Doctor Cromer.”

“On screen please, Lieutenant.” Vyne waited for the stars to change to the image of an attractive red-haired woman. “Good day, Doctor Cromer. I’m Captain Paula Vyne of the Pollux. We’d just picked up evidence of the rogue comet on our long range sensors when Starfleet called. We can be with you in...”

“Six point two hours, Captain.” Chekov was glad he had thought to have that information on hand.

“Thank you, Midshipman.” Vyne looked back at the screen. “What’s your situation, Doctor?”

“We just picked up the comet, Captain Vyne. Given how extensive it is, do you agree we don’t have any choice but to evacuate?”

Vyne’s science officer had been putting exactly that advice on half of the screen. “I’m afraid so, Doctor, and the Pollux isn’t equipped to carry so many extra people. You’ll only be able to bring one item of hand luggage each. I regret there won’t be any way we can bring your livestock on board as well. They might survive, as the colony might, if the impact isn’t too severe or too close to the colony, but we can’t take any chances with your people’s lives.”

“I appreciate that, and I’m very grateful. I was just hoping you’d be able to save the animals, too,” Cromer sighed, “but I suppose we should just be thankful that with all the calls on Starfleet, the Pollux   was so close.”

“I’m only too pleased we were, Doctor.” Vyne smiled. “Our data shows you need to be off planet within twelve hours of our arrival. Can you have the evacuation organized by then?”

Cromer sighed again. “Of course, Captain.”

“Oh, and if you could let us have a breakdown of the people on Xolemonium Three by families, ages and so on, we can see about organizing accommodation,” Vyne added. 

Cromer’s face showed what she thought of having to leave the colony she and her friends had spent the last two years building up from nothing. “I’ve got an evacuation to organize. I’ll send you those figures as soon as I’ve correlated them. I’ll see you in six hours.”

“Midshipman Chard, Midshipman Chekov, report to Commander Oakham. You can help him organize the evacuation. It will be good experience for you.”

“Aye, ma’am,” the  two midshipmen responded in unison before Chekov added, “We have done it before as an exercise, Captain.”

“You have?” Vyne looked mildly surprised. “It wasn’t on the curriculum in my day.”

“The commandant has added it to the curriculum, ma’am.”

“Unfortunately, the situation with the Klingons probably means we’ll be organizing a few more planetary evacuations, so he’s probably right to think it’s a good idea.” Vyne glanced up as her officers began to appear for the change of watch. “Right, you’re with me, gentlemen. We’ll go and get some lunch and explain to Commander Oakham our change of plan.”


Anne Cromer reached out to key the alarm that would bring everyone in the colony to the main hall.

“Mom!” The door burst open to reveal the excited face of her ten-year-old son; behind him, she could see his three best friends hovering, their own faces alight. “Nell’s had her puppies! Eight!”

“Is it too soon to pick out our puppies, Doctor Cromer?” Caleb asked shyly, his dark face beaming. “The markings are all different so we’d know which was ours.”

“Oh, kids!” Tears came into Anne Cromer’s eyes as the problems of evacuating her small colony changed abruptly from the abstract to the intensely personal. She knew how much her son loved their border collie. “I’m so sorry, but...” She reached out to take her son’s hand. “Tommy, I’ve just been talking to the captain of the ship that’s coming to evacuate us, the Pollux.”

“You told us Starfleet would come and help us before the rogue comet struck.” He nodded with all a ten-year-old’s conviction that every problem had a solution. “If a ship’s coming, why are you crying, Mom?”

 “Tommy.” Cromer wiped away a tear. “There are four hundred of us here. They’re going to have a terrible job getting all the people aboard. Captain Vyne’s just told me we won’t be able to take any of the animals with us. She just doesn’t have the space for them.”

“No!” Tommy backed away, his blue eyes widening in shock. He looked at the ultimate authority in his life, one that outranked even a starship captain. “We can’t leave Nell and her puppies! They’ve only just been born! We can’t let them die! Tell her, Mommy!  Tell Captain Vyne she’s got to take Nell and the puppies!”

He had not called her ‘mommy’ for five years, and Cromer winced at the sheer pain in her son’s voice.  “Tommy, I can’t.”

“But you’re the leader of the colony! She’d have to listen to you!” Tommy insisted. “It would only be one extra mouth to feed, and I’d share my rations with Nell, I promise, Mommy.”

“It wouldn’t be fair.” Cromer wished she could take him on her knee. “And where do we stop? I know you love Nell, but what about Mister Galston and his horses? He loves them as much as you love Nell.”

“But horses are real big; Nell isn’t as big as me.” 

Cromer abandoned the argument she did not have any hope of winning and pressed the alarm signal. “I’m very sorry, Tommy. Listen, what we’ll do is leave Nell plenty of food. If everything goes all right, and we can come back in a few days, she and the puppies will be all right.”

“But what if the comet  lands right on our house?” Tommy demanded, far from ready to be appeased. “She’ll be killed and all her babies! What if only Nell got killed? They’d starve!”

“Tommy, there’s nothing I can do about this.” Cromer rose. She wished she could stay with him but she had greater responsibilities. “Now, I have to go and break the bad news to everyone else. You can only take one bag with you, and don’t try and get Nell and the puppies in it!”

 “I’m not leaving Nell!” Tommy yelled at her back as she left the office, leaving the four children there.

“But you can’t take her, Tommy,” Mark choked. 

“I’m going to tell this starship captain she’s got to take Nell!” Tommy clenched his fists as sheer determination flooded through him. “And if she says no, then I’m staying here with her!”

“Your mom and dad won’t let you do that,” Julia observed practically, with a shake of her brown curls.

“If I run away, they won’t be able to stop me.” Tommy’s nebulous plans firmed. “Not if I hide in that cave we found last summer, remember? I bet they can’t find me there, and we’d be safe from the falling rocks too!”

“It’s a long way.” Julia studied him. “You won’t be able to carry eight puppies so far. You’ll have to take food for you and Nell, too. We’d better come and help.”


Vyne nodded to her department heads to sit down before she looked at her first officer. “We reach the Xolemonium system in two hours. Are there any problems with the evacuation?”

“There shouldn’t be, Captain, but we will be cutting it rather fine,” John Oakham answered. “Those colonists will need to be lined up and ready to beam aboard when we reach orbit. The comet won’t hit for another twenty-four hours, but with the debris that comet’s trailing along with it, the transporter will be disrupted before then, and we’ll need to get out of orbit within sixteen hours.” 

“I’ll check with Doctor Cromer and find out how things are going on her end after the meeting, but she assured me they’d be ready.” Vyne nodded. “Anything else?”

“Yes, Captain,” Jane Helford spoke up, an unusual note of reluctance in the science officer’s voice. “I’ve been studying the scans, and I’m not happy with this rogue comet.”  

“Specifically?” Vyne looked at her in mild surprise. She disliked vague reports, and all her officers were aware of that; it was a fault she corrected with vigor. With Helford close to retirement, it was not something Vyne expected from her.

The elderly officer looked frustrated. “That rogue comet shouldn’t be where it is, and I can’t work out why.”

“Let’s see the data on the comet, Commander,” Vyne ordered. It was bad enough having to plan a planetary evacuation on such a tight schedule without adding such a mystery to the problem. Comets, no matter how erratic their orbits, were perfectly predictable. “Opinion, Midshipman Chekov?”

“Lieutenant Helford showed me the data, ma’am.” Chekov was used to having such questions thrown at him. “I’ve studied its trajectory, and it’s come out of nowhere. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s almost as if someone diverted that comet here.”

“Diverted from where, Midshipman?” Vyne left the question of who and why for now. An unexplained rogue comet was bad enough without adding unanswerable questions. They had to rescue the colonists first; once they were safe, the Pollux could look for some answers.

Chekov looked uncomfortable. “Captain, that’s the best explanation I can come up with, even though I know it doesn’t seem to make sense. It makes even less when I have to admit I can’t work out where the comet originated.”

Helford answered Vyne’s silent question. “It’s not his inexperience, Captain. I can’t come up with a better answer myself.”

“I’d certainly rather not have an unexplained mystery to add to the problems of fitting four hundred people aboard an already fully manned ship.” Vyne decided they had reached the point of diminishing returns. Unanswered questions were always frustrating. “I’ll contact Doctor Cromer and see if there are any problems on her end. Midshipman Chekov, come with me. You’re beaming down to Xolemonium III. Dealing with people under circumstances such as this tests anyone’s patience. I want to see how yours hold out.”


Vyne materialized on the surface of Xolemonium III accompanied by Chekov, Chard and her security chief. Even a quick survey of the colony revealed the settlers here had been given a very pleasant class M world. Anne Cromer had informed him that they agreed evacuation was the only option. Everyone would be ready to beam up. 

“Are you Captain Vyne?”

Vyne looked down at a suspiciously red-eyed small boy. She had expected snags with the evacuation and the first one had clearly appeared. “What’s the problem?”

“Nell,” Tommy choked. “She’s my dog, and she had eight puppies just this morning and Mom says we’ll have to leave them to die.” He raised blue eyes swimming with tears to Vyne. “Please, can’t we take her and the puppies? I’d give her half my food, honest.”

“Tommy, it isn’t the food that’s the problem but the air.” Vyne could have done without being handed a problem of this magnitude the moment she beamed down. “By the time we’ve got all the people from your colony aboard the Pollux, she’ll be more than overloaded; life support will be running at dangerous levels. We’re going to have to put your people everywhere, even in the shuttles. I am very sorry, but I give you my word of honor as a Starfleet officer that I cannot risk adding even one dog to the overload.”  

Tommy gulped, but he knew Vyne was telling him the exact truth. “I understand, Captain Vyne. Thank you for explaining to me. I’d better go and explain to Nell.”

“If we can come back for her, I promise we will. I just can’t promise we’ll be able to,” Vyne added gently.

Tommy only nodded and trudged despondently away. Anne Cromer sniffed into her handkerchief unashamedly as she watched him go. “Thank you for treating Tommy as an adult, Captain Vyne.”

“I had a dog at his age,” Vyne told her quietly. “I know just how he’s feeling. I’m pleased we got here in time to help you but not that we’ve got to break your son’s heart in the process.”


“What’d Captain Vyne say?” Mark pounced on Tommy the moment he reappeared. The remaining members of the quartet had not quite possessed the nerve to confront a real starship captain; they had waited with the dogs. “Can we take Nell and the puppies?”


“Maybe she doesn’t like dogs?” Julia suggested.

“She used to have one; I heard her tell Mom.” Tommy wished he could be angry with Captain Vyne, but that was impossible; a rogue comet was going to kill his beloved dog, not the captain of the Pollux. “She was real nice about it. She’d let me bring Nell if she could, I know she would.”

“So why won’t she?” Caleb demanded. “Did you tell Captain Vyne we’d all share our food?”

“It isn’t the food. Captain Vyne explained,” Tommy choked. “She didn’t talk to me like I was a baby or anything. She told me the ship was going to be so overloaded they weren’t even sure life support would hold out with all the people aboard, so she couldn’t risk adding Nell and the puppies.”

“If the Pollux is going to be that overcrowded, maybe they’ll be glad we’re not on board either,” Caleb suggested as the quartet realized they would have to put their second plan into operation. “I brought the Moses basket. We can put the puppies in there and take turns carrying it in pairs. Nell will be able to get in when she needs to feed them.”

Tommy rubbed Nell’s ears. “I think we ought to sneak away now. It’s going to take a while to reach the cave, and we have to get there before anyone notices we’ve gone or the sensors will find us. They’ll have started beaming people up. Mom had the first people lined up ready.”

“We’ve got everything packed,” Julia told him and considered. “Are we going to leave a letter?”

“No.” Tommy shook his head. He picked up eight tiny, squirming bundles of black and white fur and put them into the basket as Nell watched, puzzled but trusting. “We’re not going to let you die, Nell. We’ll look after you, I promise.”

Caleb reappeared. “All clear.” The quartet reached the trees and vanished from sight.


“No, ma’am,” Chekov repeated patiently. “I’m sorry, but a grandfather clock cannot count as hand luggage.”

“But it’s four hundred years old.” The colonist was on the verge of tears, outrage in every line of her angular body. “I’ll leave everything else behind if I can only take this.”

“I’m sorry. The stipulation was one bag apiece,” the midshipman repeated for the fourth time. Chekov had started to understand what Vyne had meant when he told the midshipmen dealing with this evacuation would be a good test of their patience. The colonists had been told they could bring one bag of personal possessions; when Lieutenant Clifton had told anyone with any queries to consult the two midshipmen, Chekov had not expected anything but a few queries; now, after several weary hours, he understood the smirk on the security officer’s face as he gave them the order.

“Then I demand to speak to a real officer, not a boy pretending to be one,” the woman sniffed angrily. She folded her arms, heedless of the people waiting behind her. “And I am not moving until I do!”

“Ma’am.” Lieutenant Clifton had overheard as he came up. “I am, as you put it, a ‘real officer,’ and I assure you that you are far better off with Midshipman Chekov. He is not only far more patient with someone who cannot accept a simple negative but considerably more polite!”

“Well! I certainly expected far more politeness from a Starfleet officer, even someone in Security! I shall complain personally to Captain Vyne about this, and I warn you, I know several important people in Starfleet!” She stalked off.

“Don’t mind Cynthia. She has delusions of grandeur.” Galston, the next colonist in line, grinned. “I don’t wish even one rock to fall on us, but I wouldn’t mind a little teeny tiny one to land right on that clock! We all know it’s over four hundred years old. Cynthia tells us every time anyone enters the house, and she’s told us so much about the innards I think we could all build her a new one!”

Chekov grinned back. “And what may I do to help you?”

The tall colonist produced a well-stuffed bag. “I’m not scheduled to beam up until nearly last as I don’t have any small children to complicate things. Could you beam up my bag and have someone in the science department take care of it for me? I’ve taken DNA and sperm samples from the horses. If they die...” He  swallowed for a moment. “I won’t lose their bloodlines completely.”

“Of course, Mister Galston.” Chekov was relieved to have a problem so easily solved. “If you’d hand it to one of your fellow colonists to take aboard for you, I’ll just tell the guard, and he won’t object to someone with two bags.”


Anne Cromer was with the security team organizing the beam ups and checking off the list of the colonists; three families had missed their beam up time and had to be fetched from their homes. An agitated man rushed up. “Anne, I can’t find Caleb anywhere.”

“I should think he’s in my kitchen with Tommy, making the most of Nell and the puppies before they have to leave her,” Cromer answered unhappily. 

“No, he isn’t. It was the first place I looked,” Ben Carr answered grimly. “None of them are, and I’ll tell you what, Anne, neither are Nell and the pups.”

Cromer turned white. “They’ve hidden out in one of the barns or somewhere!”

“If that’s all it is.” Ben looked hopeful for a moment. “I’ll get Phil, Abner and Joshua, and we’ll start searching.”


“How many children are missing?”  Clifton enquired.

“Four,” Benjamin Chester answered. “My son Caleb, Tommy, Mark and Julia. My bet is they’ve hatched something up between them to try and save the dogs.”

Clifton frowned. His last update from the Pollux had not been reassuring. “Midshipman Chekov, you and Midshipman Chard go along and help. You’ve both got tricorders. It’s no use asking for a scan; there are still too many people scattered around the colony.”

“Aye, sir.” Chekov called Chard over and explained. They set off with the four worried fathers. He looked at the faces of the colonists. “Tommy was dreadfully upset over his dog. I can understand him trying to save her.”

“What if the children didn’t hide in the colony itself?” Philip Chester asked. “If they set off right after Captain Vyne told Tommy he couldn’t take Nell, they’ve had hours to disappear.”

“We should have kept an eye on them.” Joshua Cromer reproached himself bitterly. “It must have seemed as if it was the end of the world to Tommy when his mother had to tell him he’d have  to leave Nell behind.”

Vyne had beamed back to the ship once she was satisfied that the evacuation was going as smoothly as such things ever did, but Chekov knew that this was one of those times when the captain had to be consulted and was already pulling out his communicator. He explained the situation to Vyne and asked for a sensor scan of the area around the colony. There was still a lot of ground to cover as Vyne promptly acknowledged, a hint of the worry Chekov was starting to feel in her voice. The captain of the Pollux added she was sending down two more security guards with tricorders so they could split into four teams. Transporter beams sparkled even as she finished speaking.

The senior of the guards looked at Chekov. “What are our orders, sir?”

“We’ll split into four teams and quarter the colony.” 

They paired up and agreed on a search pattern. His scan of his tenth building completed, Chekov flipped open his communicator as it signalled. “Chekov.”

“Vyne here, Midshipman. We’ve scanned for five kilometers around the colony without picking up a trace so it seems as if the children are definitely within the colony. If you haven’t found them by the time we’ve beamed all the colonists up, we’ll see what the sensors can do over the colony. Vyne out.”

The captain of the Pollux leaned back in her command chair. Vyne would have preferred to remain on the planet, but her uneasy feeling was back in full force. Command officer’s instinct told Vyne she needed to be on the ship. The only problems associated with this evacuation should have been with the life support on the ship, but Vyne had been unable calm herself ever since she had had to refuse Tommy’s anguished plea. If they rescued every colonist but lost Nell and her puppies, Vyne knew the rescue would be a failure as far as Tommy and the other missing children were concerned.


Tommy collapsed, grateful for the coolness of the cave. The way to it was easy enough unencumbered, but the quartet had all felt impelled to rush, convinced they would be pursued before long. Eight newly born puppies had not seemed that heavy when the four youngsters set off but by the time they reached the cave, that large Moses basket was very heavy indeed. Tommy looked fondly at Nell as she jumped in and the frantic squeaking stopped. “We’ve saved you, Nell. You and the puppies will be all right now.”

Caleb reached out a gentle finger and touched the nearest puppy. “I’ve changed my mind. I want a girl so she can have puppies one day.”

“It’s getting sort of dark out there, isn’t it?” Mark observed casually.

“Maybe we ought to light the lanterns.” Tommy told himself he was far too old to be scared either of the darkening woods or of the blackness of the cave. He thought of something and swallowed. “But we ought to move further into the cave. Dad told me once that you can spot the light of a fire for kilometers when there aren’t any other lights about, and I guess people will be looking for us by now.”

Julia pulled out a lantern and lit it, disregarding the protests of the boys. “If anyone’s close enough to see this, they’re going to find us anyway. I don’t mind moving further into the cave, but it would be stupid not to see where we’re going. You bring the packs and the basket. Come on.”

The boys glanced uneasily at each other before they obeyed. If Tommy was the undisputed leader of the quartet, Julia, as the boys admitted to themselves, was the one with the most nerve. She walked boldly towards the back of the cave, shining the lantern so that it would reveal any holes. The burdened boys followed more slowly. Nell trotted along, her nose close to the basket containing her babies, until she stopped abruptly. Her hackles rose, and she started to growl.

“What’s wrong, Nell?” Tommy knew Nell was the main reason they had been allowed to explore last summer. His father had warned him never to disregard any warning the dog gave. “Julia, wait. Don’t go any further.” 

Julia had heard the growl, too. She turned to come back, only to fall as a green light struck her. Before the terrified boys could move, a green light filled the entire cave.


“Nothing?” Clifton demanded incredulously as the four teams reported back to him.

“We’ve scanned every building in the colony, Lieutenant.” Chekov had been tired even before they had started the search; the signal to aid the colony had come as he was ending his first shift of the day and he had not stopped working since. “The children are only ten. They won’t understand about kinetic energy. They’ll think if they can find somewhere to hide, they’ll be safe.”

Joshua slammed a hand across his forehead. “Of course! The cave!”

“What cave?” Clifton beat the midshipmen to the question.

“The kids found a cave last summer,” Joshua explained rapidly. “I’d have thought about it before, if the ship hadn’t told us there wasn’t a sign of the kids outside the colony, but that’s where they must have gone. Midshipman Chekov’s right. They’ll think they’ll be safe hiding inside there!”

Clifton nodded decisively. “That’s just where they’ve gone. Where is it? Time’s getting tight.” He looked at the four men and repeated. “Where is it?”

“We don’t know. The hills are littered with caves,” Philip whispered, his face ashen. “The kids came back and told us about it one day, but they promised us they wouldn’t go into it or any other without an adult with them. We’d have gone with them to take a better look only Mark told me they’d rather stay out in the woods; it was more fun. I’d forgotten all about it until now but it’s going to seem just the place to hide with Nell until that comet passes. What are we going to do?”

Clifton looked mildly surprised by the question. “What Starfleet always does, Mister Chester. We’ll go and look! Midshipman Chekov, get the Pollux to scan for any evidence of caves within a ten kilometer radius. Gentlemen, have you any idea of the most likely area?”

“The kids always came back through the woods behind my place, Lieutenant,” Joshua offered shakily as he watched the midshipman step a few paces aside and talk into his communicator. 

Cromer came over and he brought her up to date. “I’m staying to look,” she announced decisively and met her husband’s expression with one that silenced any objections he might have been planning to make. “This colony has had enough of my time for one day! I should have stayed with my traumatized son. If I had, this would never have happened.”

Chekov returned. “Lieutenant, the ship can detect a number of caves, but she can’t pick up any life signs. Captain Vyne says they’ll keep scanning. We can have three hours and then she’s pulling us out.”  

Clifton nodded and organized his teams swiftly. The four fathers all opted to go along, so he kept the teams that had been searching the colony and assigned Cromer to his own. Within five minutes, the teams were spreading out into the hills behind the colony. As they vanished into the trees, the transporter beamed up the last of the waiting colonists..


“I want to thank you for how hard you’re trying to find the kids.” 

Chekov smiled. “I hope we do.”

“I--Look!” Joshua pointed excitedly as a gap in the trees revealed a darker opening in the hill. 

Chekov already had his communicator out. “Midshipman Chekov to Pollux.”

“Vyne here.”

“We’ve found another cave, Captain,” Chekov reported. “We’re just going to check it out.”

“I hope you’re luckier than the others, Midshipman.” Vyne sounded as weary as the midshipman felt. “You’ve got fifteen minutes before we beam you up. Vyne out.”

Joshua realized what else Vyne had told them. “Fifteen minutes?”

“I’m afraid so.” Chekov looked at him sympathetically. “Captain Vyne has given us as long as she possibly can, but it’s getting to the point where she has to put the safety of the people already rescued ahead of four children we might not find in time.”

“The ship can’t just put her shields up?”

“That’s not the problem. It’s the disruption caused by the debris the comet is trailing that will render the transporter inoperable. We can’t use the shuttles either,” the midshipman explained. “We have to beam up within the next fifteen minutes or not at all.” As they reached the cave mouth he added, “You call. They know your voice.”

“Tommy, are you there? If you are, come on out. I’m not angry, I promise, but we’ve got to hurry.” Joshua looked at the midshipman as only silence met his call.

Chekov was frowning. “I can’t scan more than a few meters inside. We’ll have to go in and check it out. We can use the flashlights now. It won’t matter about losing our night vision; we won’t have time to look anywhere else.” 

The pair had barely begun to shine their flashlights around when the cave filled with a green light. “Get down!” Chekov threw himself sideways only to scream as something slammed down on his arm. The last thing he heard was the crack of breaking bone.


Vyne heaved a sigh as the inexorable chronometer told her time had run out for the search. “Transporter room. Begin beaming up the landing parties immediately. Leave Midshipman Chekov’s team until last.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Oh, and Doctor Cromer has permission to come to the bridge, if she so wishes,” Vyne added, a little reluctantly. It was the courtesy due to the leader of the colony, and she was willing to grant it. Vyne was less ready to face the woman whose ten-year-old son she had just failed to find.  

“Understood, Captain.”

“The scans don’t show any sign of the children, Captain.” Helford had not left the science station since the discovery the children were missing. The moment the colony was clear, she had scanned every meter to be sure beyond all doubt the children had not eluded the first search. 

“If any scan could have found them, Lieutenant, you’d have done it,” Vyne said. “I just wish the sensors could penetrate more than a few meters under the planet’s surface. I...”

“Captain!” Kielder stared at his console in horror as the situation took an even more unwelcome turn. “A Klingon cruiser just dropped out of warp! It’s the K’Cher.”

Vyne thumbed the switch on the arm of her chair once more, completely oblivious to the fact Anne Cromer had just left the elevator. “Transporter room, are those landing parties aboard yet?”

“We’ve got a problem, Captain. I can’t get a lock on Mister Chekov’s team, and he doesn’t respond to a signal.”

“Keep trying.” Vyne slammed a frustrated hand on the arm of her chair. “But check before you try a beam up. We’ve got guests.” 

“Understood, Captain.”

Oakham looked at Vyne, aghast. “Captain, we can’t take the ship into action. We don’t have enough  power for the phasers without taking it away from life support! We don’t have that much to spare for the shields!”

“I know.” Vyne’s mind was racing over the options facing him as swiftly as her first officer’s. They had just lost two of the Pollux’s main attributes, her speed and maneuverability; they would ordinarily stand her in good stead against even the odds she was facing now.  “Prepare to take us out of orbit, Mister Craven.”

“Captain, please!”

“I’m sorry, Doctor Cromer. I’ve got think of everyone else we’ve got on board.”

“I know,” Cromer whispered. “But my husband and my son are both down there.”

“Along with my midshipman,” Vyne said, reminding her that the Pollux had someone to lose, too. “Lieutenant Shenley, get me the Klingon captain. Doctor Cromer, they’ve got two more minutes before the transporter becomes inoperable. I'll give them that.”

“What are you going to do?” Cromer asked. 

“See if this Klingon captain is prepared to be reasonable.”

“There’s a first time for everything, Captain,” the first officer said.

“I can always hope, Mister Oakham, can’t I?” Vyne took a deep breath as the communications officer announced she had the Klingon captain. “On screen.”

It cleared to reveal a dark Klingon face. “I am Kang of the K’Cher. Why do you wish to talk rather than fight?”

Vyne sought for an adequate way to answer that simple statement. “I’m Paula Vyne of the Pollux. Captain Kang, I have just completed the evacuation of the colony on Xolemonium Three, with the exception of six people still on planet. My ship is full of civilians, men, women and children to the point of a dangerous overload of our life support system. I am asking you not to engage in combat as it would endanger a large number of non-combatants.”

Kang looked over at someone in question before nodding. “Your ship is seriously overloaded, as you say, Vyne, and there is no honor in such a victory. What sort of colony was this?”

Vyne gestured Cromer forward. “You may ask the colony leader directly, if you wish, Captain. This is Doctor Cromer.”

Kang studied her for a moment. “A doctor of what?”

“Medicine, Captain.” Cromer hoped she was addressing the alien commander in the correct way. “I’m the leader of what was an agricultural colony of four hundred and three people.”

“Your colony contains only farmers?”

“And their families.” Cromer nodded. “We’re the first colonists.”

“You do not object if we scan to confirm that?” 

“Not at all.” Cromer was relieved to see Oakham had moved out of sight of the pickup to give her a signal she was responding in the right way.

Kang looked at a padd  one of his crew handed to him. “You stayed to the limit of possible transporter activity. What is so important about the six people remaining on the planet?”

“Do Klingon boys have pets, Captain Kang?” Cromer sought for the best way to explain this.

The dark face showed surprise at the question before it softened for a moment. “I had a pet targ. I was fond of him.”

“Then I think you’ll be able to understand what happened this morning.” Cromer went on more confidently to explain about Nell. “The children are only ten years old, Captain Kang. They don’t understand about kinetic energy. They think big rocks are going to hit the planet, and if they hide from them, they can save Nell and the puppies.”

“An honorable attempt to fulfill the obligation to care for the dog.” Kang surprised the bridge of the Pollux with a nod of approval. “The others who are missing were searching for them?”

Vyne nodded. “Tommy’s father and one of my midshipmen.”

“We are not within weapons’ range. You may still search as we talk,” Kang pointed out.

“I appreciate the offer, Captain, but the disruption caused by the comet’s approach has just rendered the transporter inoperable,” Vyne answered heavily. “We’ll just have to hope they’re not killed outright, and we can still retrieve them.”

Kang surveyed the Human captain for a moment. “What will you do with your passengers?”

“Return them to the colony, if that’s feasible. Otherwise, take them to a starbase or another world, according to the orders I receive,” Vyne answered. This was the most civil conversation she had ever had with a Klingon, but she was not sure where it was leading.

“If I delay my attack until only warriors are left on your ship, will you face me then?”

“Yes.” Vyne knew that answer might sentence her and her crew to death, but it was the only way she could see to defend the civilians packed in every room and corridor of her ship. At the moment, the Pollux could barely maneuver let alone fight; Kang was, by Klingon standards, not only refusing to take advantage of that, but he was offering Vyne and her crew the chance to redeem any loss of face. Her acceptance might actually save Starfleet lives in the long run. One of the areas of misunderstanding between the Federation and the Klingon Empire was that the Federation’s desire for peace was interpreted by the Klingons as weakness.

“There is more honor in Starfleet than some claim.” Kang nodded. “What of this rogue comet?”

“Captain Kang, could we continue this conversation once I’ve got my ship out of orbit?” Vyne requested, all too aware of the minutes ticking away on the chronometer. “My time limit is getting a little tight.”

“Of course.” Kang was learning a good deal about Starfleet from his first meeting with them, including why they allowed females to captain their ships. Many Klingons claimed the Federation did not understand honor, yet Vyne had clearly understood she could make such a request, and Kang could grant it and only honor would accrue to them both; Vyne was putting duty before glory, and her request enabled Kang to gain more honor from their eventual meeting. 

“Take us out, Mister Craven. Full Impulse.” Vyne hated to think of the six people she was leaving behind. Of them all, she knew only Chekov truly understood what was going to happen, but that knowledge was unlikely to help the six survive.

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Vyne, I was sent here to discover the reason for this unexplained comet. Have you any explanation?”

“Captain!” Craven did not give Vyne the chance to reply. “I can’t take us out of orbit, the impulse engines have just gone off line!”


Chekov woke to the sound of someone crying. Apart from the agonizing pain in his arm, he did not seem to be otherwise injured but that was bad enough. Three terrified pairs of eyes stared back at him; only Tommy, who was bending over the limp body of his father and crying, had not noticed he had woken up. 

Chekov sat up cautiously, trying not to jar his broken arm, and moved over to check on Cromer; the only unconscious casualty had to be the first priority. The colonist’s pulse was steady enough, and Chekov pushed away his own pain to check for injuries before he smiled at the hopeful figures in front of him. The children’s expressions told him only too clearly their enormous relief someone older than themselves had woken up to deal with this. Chekov could only hope he would be able to. His automatic check had revealed his communicator and tricorder had been removed. “I think he’ll be all right, Tommy. He isn’t injured.”

“Dad isn’t going to die?”

“Why should he? I haven’t, and none of you have.”

“No, I guess we haven’t.” Tommy jumped as his father groaned. “Daddy! Daddy! Wake up! Are you all right?”

Joshua Cromer groaned and opened his eyes.

“Daddy! Daddy, I’m sorry!”

Joshua hugged him tightly, as Nell licked his face. “It’s all right, Tommy. We wouldn’t have brought you up right if you hadn’t cared enough about Nell to try this. Maybe those rocks won’t hit around here. We might make it yet.”

“But, Dad, you don’t understand.” Tommy was not worried about the falling rocks; he had another danger for the adults to worry over.

“Tommy, I think it would be a good idea if you told me what’s been happening. We need to know what you’ve been doing,” Chekov put in quietly. In his relief at finally finding his son, Joshua had forgotten the green light that had filled the cave and knocked them out. Chekov had been thinking of nothing else since his head cleared.

Joshua's attention was diverted from his son by the clear effort the midshipman was making to speak. “You’re hurt? How badly?”

“My arm’s broken.” Chekov frowned in an effort of memory. “Someone broke it.”

“Have you kids got anything in those packs I can use to make a splint? I’m a qualified paramedic, so I should be able to do something about this but you won’t enjoy it!”

“I know!” 

Joshua Cromer looked at his son. “Tell us what happened. It will give Midshipman Chekov something else to think about while I set his arm.”

“All right, Dad.” Tommy was starting to feel better. With his father there, it was difficult to think of anything really bad happening. “If Captain Vyne refused, we’d already planned to bring Nell and the puppies up here, where they’d be safe.”

“I can understand that, but why didn’t you come back afterwards?” Joshua asked gently. 

“With the Pollux being so crowded, we thought it might help if she didn’t have to take us on board too,” Tommy explained. “When it started to get dark, we thought we ought to move further back in the cave where no one looking for us would see the lanterns when we lit them. Then, there was a green light and we woke up here.”

“What do you mean a green light?” Joshua realized the grim look on the midshipman’s drawn face was not entirely due to the pain he had just inflicted. 

“It’s aliens, Dad,” Tommy gulped. “Real bad aliens. They hate us, and they’re going to kill all of us.”

“Did they tell you they’re responsible for the rogue comet, Tommy?” Chekov asked, as he thought about all the anomalies attached to the phenomenon.

“Very perceptive of you, Midshipman Chekov.” A naked humanoid form stepped out of the darkness into the dim light of the cavern in which the Humans were imprisoned, followed by a number of others, all armed. He was hairless and bore the pallid skin of a being that lived underground; the huge eyes told of an evolutionary pattern that made the most of all available light.  

Tommy made a frantic grab for Nell, who was standing over her puppies and growling fiercely. “Hold the dog, Tommy!” Cromer tried to hug the other three children in order to protect them. 

“It’s understandable you don't want a colony on the surface of your world, and we will leave as soon as possible.” Chekov kept his tone even. “All you had to do is to say you wished to be left alone.” 

“But then you would have known of our existence,” the alien answered. “The only way to ensure we remain undiscovered is to kill you.” 

“If you’d left the children on the surface, we’d have found them and returned to the ship,” Chekov pointed out. “You don't need to kill children who are only trying to protect a pet they love.” 

“No, Midshipman Chekov, that's not what he means!” Julia glared at the alien from where she huddled against Joshua. “He told us he’s going to kill all of us, everyone on the Pollux, too, my mommy and my daddy and my little brothers and my baby sister and everybody!”

“He liked telling us!” Tommy added, scowling at the alien.


“Midshipman Lethende, what’s going on down in engineering?” Vyne demanded as a fresh complication raised its ugly head. The Pollux had to leave orbit within the next three hours, or she would be in danger of being destroyed by the rogue comet.  “Mister Craven, we need to have the shields ready, but I don’t want to use the power until we have to. The moment you detect anything, get them up.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

The tentacled Salixa touched some switches. “Commander Frome not knowing, Captain. Saying engines should be working. Trying to find out why not,” Lethende said.

“Captain,” Craven said quietly. “Shields are non-operational too.”

“Midshipman Chard, take over at engineering,” Vyne ordered. “Midshipman Lethende, get down there and help. You’ll be more use there than on the bridge.”

“Aye, ma’am.” 

Kang looked at the tentacled being in a mixture of revulsion and fascination as one of the incredible tales of Starfleet was proved true. It had been hard to believe Humans could truly accept something that did not appear to even have a head as an equal. “What is that?”

“Midshipman Lethende is a Salixa.” Vyne knew the Klingon opinion of non-Humanoids. She hoped the sight of Lethende was not going to cause Kang to retract his promise not to attack; with insoluble problems piling up around her, Vyne did not need another one.

“And it is one of your crew?” the Klingon captain demanded.

“Midshipman Lethende is on a training cruise from Starfleet Academy.” Vyne was curious to hear how the Klingon would react to her explanation.

“You will allow that to become an officer?” Kang still seemed stunned by the tentacled being.

“Midshipman Lethende is regarded as one of the top cadets of its year.” Vyne touched a switch. “Yes, Lieutenant?”

“My checks show the engines should be working, Captain,” Frome’s voice held despair. The engineer knew what it would mean for the Pollux if she could not find the reason why the impulse engines had suddenly gone off line. “We’ll keep working on them, but I don’t know where to start.”

“You’ll find the reason if anyone can, Commander. Your best has always been good enough.” Vyne wondered just how many more problems this apparently innocuous system was going to hand her. “Is there any chance we could use thrusters just to get us clear of the impact area?”

“Thrusters are off-line too, as are the warp engines for that matter,” Frome answered. “I’ll keep working on it, Captain.”  

“We’ll see if we can come up with anything at this end. Vyne out.” The captain of the Pollux looked at her science officer, who nodded, before she turned back to the screen. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Captain Kang. Where were we?”

Kang frowned. “We were sent to find the answer as to why there is an unexplained rogue comet heading for the third planet in this system.”

“Captain Kang, if you’re about to suggest we’re testing a new weapon, my opinion of your intelligence is going to drop dramatically.” Vyne knew she did not need this final, horrible problem to land in her lap. “We’ve had two other encounters lately with Klingon officers who’ve believed the same thing, and they were both wrong.”

“Fools, both of them, who paid the price of folly,” Kang snorted. “As are those at High Command who think you may be testing a new weapon here. With the whole of the Federation to choose from, you are not so stupid as to pick an area that would arouse our suspicions. I have no doubt that in the coming war, you will spring weapons on us, as we will on you. But you will not let us learn about them ahead of time.” The Klingon captain looked at his helmsman. “Ahead full impulse towards the Federation ship.”

“At once, Captain.”

“What do you intend, Captain Kang?” Vyne restrained herself from reminding Kang he had promised not to attack the destroyer. She had an inner conviction that would be the worst of all possible moves. It had been bad enough hearing that Kang regarded war between the Federation and the Empire as a certainty.

“You agree there is something happening in this system neither of us understand?” Kang’s black eyes locked with Vyne’s.

“Yes.” Vyne could feel the tension on the bridge rise another notch. 

“I wish to find out as well. I will even cooperate with Starfleet in order to do so,” Kang said. “But first I will put a tractor beam on the Pollux and pull you to safety, Vyne. I still want my fight!”

“I won’t pretend I’m not grateful.” Vyne recovered from her astonishment. 

“I’m certainly very grateful, Captain Kang.” Anne Cromer wondered whether a mere civilian should get involved with this conversation, but when she thought what it meant for her friends and their families, she knew she had to say something.

“Captain,” Kang’s helmsman turned. “Our engines have also gone off line, impulse and warp both.”

Kang leaned back, to all appearances completely relaxed. “So, Vyne, it seems we have also annoyed someone by coming here. Do you have any idea who is responsible?”

“We were getting pretty suspicious of that rogue comet ourselves, Kang,” Vyne answered. “But otherwise, no. The Xolemonium colony has been here for over two years, and all they’ve done is establish their farms. Unless, Doctor Cromer?”

“That’s exactly it, Captain Vyne.” Anne Cromer thought back over the past two busy, peaceful years. “We’ve hardly left the colony area; there’s been so much to do in getting our farms set up. There aren’t any inimical life forms, so last summer we allowed Tommy and his friends to explore. They didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.”

“What about the cave, Doctor Cromer?” Oakham asked.

“The children came back one day saying they’d found it,” Cromer answered slowly. “As far as I know, they haven’t been in it since or any of the others. They promised they wouldn’t, and they’re trustworthy enough. They were a lot more interested in exploring the surface. It was only during the summer they could go even that far. They probably hadn’t given the cave another thought until they were trying to think of somewhere to hide Nell. I’m sorry. I just can’t think of anything out of the ordinary about the planet or the colony. I’d better go and see if I can offer any help to your doctor. There are a couple of pregnancies I’ve been monitoring.” She left the bridge and headed to Sickbay. 

“There wasn’t anything in the planetary survey, Captain,” Jane Helford added from the science station. “Midshipman Chard and I have been studying it.”

“There is one anomaly, ma’am,” Chard put in, embarrassed at having to correct her, even though she had given him another area of the survey to study. “I’ve just noticed it. The planetary survey shows the planet to be mineral light, one reason it was released for an agricultural colony.”

“What’s so unusual about that?” Vyne looked at the midshipman. 

“When we scanned for signs of the children, Captain, we read the caves but we couldn’t scan more than thirty meters under the surface,” the midshipman answered. “The original scan should have picked up on that, and it didn’t.”

“I hadn’t picked up on that either. Well done.” Helford regarded him. “You’re saying someone was able to deceive the scans?”

“Yes, ma’am.” 

“You think there may be a race beneath this planet, boy?” Kang asked.

“It would account for what’s happening, Captain,” Chard answered steadily. “I think if we could plot the trajectory of the comet back to its first appearance we’d find it was diverted two years ago, when the colonists arrived.”

“Someone failed to divert interest in the planet by confusing the scans, so they took more direct action you mean, Midshipman Chard, and then when we turned up, they decided to take us out, too?” Vyne regarded the midshipman with approval. She always enjoyed training cadets, and the more highly rated they were, the more rewarding she found it. Her current hopeful contingent were all highly regarded by the Academy.

Kang was nodding in agreement. “Then we appeared, and the fools decided to take my ship, too.”

“I’d say at the moment the fools look like they’re succeeding,” Vyne pointed out dryly.

“Not fools because they can destroy us if they wish, but fools because they choose to antagonize both the Klingon Empire as well as your Federation,” the alien captain corrected. “We have worked out who is responsible for our predicament. Do you have any suggestions as what we do about it? My weapons are all off line.”

Vyne had not attempted to put weapons on-line when the Klingons appeared; she doubted it was even worth trying now. “I suggest we try talking to whoever is down there. Lieutenant Shenley, hail the planet on all frequencies.”

“Aye, ma’am.” The lieutenant worked for a few seconds. “Captain, I can’t. We can talk to the Klingon ship, and that’s all.”

Kang’s dark face wore a scowl. “And we can talk only to you! Vyne, this is insufferable! What do we do now?”

“We hope my remaining midshipman is still alive, Captain, and that he can exercise his talent for finding a way out of scrapes on Xolemonium III!”


Chekov paled as he realized there was far more for him to do than talk the aliens out of killing the colonists in the cave. That would have been a heavy enough responsibility, but now it seemed the lives of everyone on board the crowded Pollux might depend on him, too. He looked at the pallid, expressionless face for a moment before asking simply, “Why?”

“You invaded our world.”

“Not intentionally. You know perfectly well you did not allow us to find a sign of your civilization. The planet appeared to be uninhabited,” Chekov pointed out. “Or we would not have colonized it. Federation law specifically forbids settlements on inhabited worlds.”

“I do not believe you.”

“I will not lie to you. If you read the charter the colonists to this planet were given, you will learn it states that if an intelligent life form is found, the charter becomes void, and the colony must be removed,” the midshipman persisted. “All you have to do is ask us to leave, and we will willingly do so. This is your planet. Is there any reason why you cannot allow a peaceful evacuation? The Pollux already has everyone but us on board.”

“The Pollux will be destroyed, as will the other ship that has invaded our system.”

“What other ship?” the midshipman demanded, appalled by the cold statement. He knew Starfleet had promised to send more help; it seemed even more lives were now depending on his efforts. It was a dismaying thought to take into further conversation with the most unreasonable alien race with which he had ever had any dealings. “How many people are you going to kill?”

The alien held out an instrument that showed the Klingon cruiser, and Chekov knew just how complicated the situation had become. “Destroying a Federation ship may prove harder than you think. And destroying a Klingon ship might be more provocative than you can imagine.”

“Destroying them will not be as hard as you think.” The alien voice held distinct contempt. “Neither of the ships has any power to their engines, and they are in the path of the comet.  Should they escape that, we will destroy them. They will vanish without trace. If anything, both you and the Klingons will blame each other, and we will be left in peace as we wish to be: alone and undiscovered.”

Chekov had been struggling to hold onto his rising temper as the alien detailed his plans but the thought of so many unnecessary deaths finally became too much for him. “That’s one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard!”

“What is so ridiculous about it?” The aliens all gazed at the midshipman in astonishment. “You are my prisoners; your ship lies helpless in space. You are--”

“You may be clever enough to divert a comet, but you’re fooling yourselves if you think that behaving in this way will make everyone leave you alone, that you will remain undiscovered,” Chekov interrupted furiously. As he stepped forward, the alien guards raised their short-barreled weapons; one came near enough to threaten him, and he slapped the weapon away. “Don’t be even more silly than you already are! Do you think I’m going to attack you? Killing someone to solve a problem may be the first choice for you, but it certainly isn’t for me. I’ve got more important things to do such as trying to talk some sense into your heads before it’s too late for the Pollux and too late for you! How do you think you can remain undiscovered if you go around blowing up ships?”

“If the ships are destroyed, they cannot land personnel here,” the alien pointed out.

“Do you think Starfleet ships or Klingons go where they please?” Chekov demanded. “Starfleet knows we are here. The Klingon High Command knows where their ship is. Destroy them and other ships will come to find out why!”

“They will blame it on the rogue comet... won’t they?” The alien sounded uncertain for the first time. 

“A rogue comet whose presence no one can explain?” the midshipman demanded scornfully. “Starfleet already knows  that a comet shouldn’t be in this system. It’s probably why the Klingons are here. They’ll want to investigate, too. The Pollux’s orders were to evacuate the colony. Starfleet will know that once Captain Vyne had all those people on board she’d have kept well clear of the comet.”

“But what of you?” The alien tried to interrupt the torrent of words. 

“The Pollux stayed as long as she could, but I always knew if I didn’t beam back in time, she’d have to leave me.” The midshipman winced as his broken arm reminded him forcibly of its presence. Joshua and the children were watching in utter fascination, but even the quartet knew better than to interrupt this. “Starfleet will know that even if she didn’t leave the system, the Pollux would get out of harm’s way. Starfleet doesn’t lose ships without sending someone to investigate. Didn’t it occur to you they’ll want to know what happened to her? What are you going to do when the next ship comes and the next? Destroy them, too? You may be powerful, but can you stand against a Starfleet task force or a Klingon battle group?  You claim to be trying to remain unnoticed? Carry on in this way, and you might as well put a large arrow pointing into the system saying unknown and hostile aliens live here!”

“We only want to be left alone,” the alien wailed.

“Then why didn’t you ask to be left alone? Didn’t that ever occur to you? Why did you have to think the best way to be left alone was to kill people who may have come to your world, but who have never harmed any of you, and wouldn’t want to?”

“What would happen if we asked now for you to go?”

“We’d leave, of course. I’ve already told you that.”

“But we have threatened you.”

“You haven’t actually hurt anyone though, have you?” As the situation seemed to hold out a glimmer of hope, his anger faded, and Chekov realized how much it had fuelled his strength. Without it, he was not sure how much longer he could stay on his feet. “No one was hurt in the evacuation, were they?”

“No.” The alien gestured to Chekov’s roughly splinted arm. “We deliberately inflicted injury on you.”

“I’ll survive. It’s only a broken arm. There isn’t any reason why the situation can’t be resolved peacefully.” The midshipman paused. The Klingon complication could still ruin any chances of a peaceful ending to this. “At least Captain Vyne would be willing to leave. I can’t speak for the Klingons, but if you give them the choice between that and being destroyed, they may leave, too.”

“I cannot decide this. I must take it to the council.” The alien left, followed by his guards.

Joshua scrambled hastily to his feet as the midshipman sagged against the cave wall. “Come and sit down. You’re exhausted.”

“Gosh, Midshipman Chekov, you were great!” Tommy was enormously impressed by the way the midshipman had faced up to the hostile aliens. “I think you’ve talked them out of killing us.”

Chekov managed to smile at him. “I hope so, Tommy.”

“I think you ought to try and get some sleep before they come back.” Joshua went on to practicalities. “How long is it since you got any? You’re out on your feet.”

“I don’t think I want to work it out.”

“Try and get some now. You’ll be better able to deal with them when they come back,” Joshua told him. “I’ll do anything you want me to, lad, but I’m well out of my depth with this.”

“Would you like something to eat first, Midshipman Chekov? Mommy always says a good meal makes you feel better.” Julia was the practical one of the quartet.

Chekov smiled at her. “Your mother has very good ideas.”

Joshua grinned. “Well, if you kids did bring some supplies, I wouldn’t mind something myself.”

“Starfleet are going to be awfully pleased with you if you can save everybody, Midshipman Chekov,” Julia said.

“They might be pleased I’ve done that,” Chekov answered glumly. “They won’t be very pleased when they hear how. I’m not supposed to make contact with aliens by losing my temper. I’m certainly not supposed to insult them!”

Joshua coughed as a mouthful went the wrong way. “I did get the impression your methods were unique.”

The midshipman was gloomier than ever at the thought of having to explain what had happened. “This looks like it could be one of those standing to attention in front of the commandant saying ‘no explanation, sir’ episodes that punctuate my Academy career with depressing regularity! Captain Vyne will certainly have something to say on the subject before I even get back. Since she’s got me for another month, I imagine she’ll have a lot to say, something on the lines of me scrubbing the decks for most of it. That’s what she threatened last time, anyway.”

“If you weren’t so tired, I’d ask you explain that.” Joshua pushed him firmly onto a sleeping bag. “Get some sleep.”

“You’ll wake me if the aliens come back?” Chekov’s eyes were already closing.

“Count on it. I don’t want to deal with them!”


“Captain!” Lieutenant Shenley’s suddenly excited voice interrupted the glum silence on two bridges as their respective crews tried to think of what they could do to avoid the fate that was now so close. “I’ve got Midshipman Chekov. Oh!” Shenley looked at her captain, her eyes suddenly seeking reassurance. “It’s his communicator, Captain, but it isn’t Chekov or any of the colonists.”

“Let’s hear it, Lieutenant.” 

The alien voice began abruptly. “Midshipman Chekov tells us that if we merely ask you to leave our system you will do so peacefully. Do you confirm this?”

Vyne knew it was too soon to feel relief at the first hint there might be a way out of this, but her response was easy enough. “Yes. If there are intelligent inhabitants here, then we have no right to colonize this world.” Vyne was willing enough to confirm the midshipman’s words; she just wished Chekov had opened the conversation himself. 

“Midshipman Chekov also said he had no right to speak for the Klingon ship. Is that correct?”

“It is.” Vyne looked at the screen. “I am in communication with Captain Kang, the Klingon captain. You may ask him directly, if you wish.”

Kang was prepared to leave. He was also prepared to offer a race advanced enough to move a comet  and remove all the power from the weapons and engines of two starships an alliance with the Empire, but he was not prepared to say that in front of Vyne. “I will withdraw.”

“Is that good enough?” 

There was no answer.

Vyne looked at her communications officer. “Get whoever that was back.”

After a few minutes, the ensign shook his head. “The signal is getting through, Captain. No one is answering.”

As the bridge digested the unwelcome confirmation Chekov was not able to respond to the signal himself, Kang asked, “Vyne, what is that boy of yours up to?”

“That is a very good question, Captain Kang. I only wish I could answer it.”


Paula Vyne stared morosely at the screen where the information her science officer was updating showed how short a time remained before the Pollux would be destroyed. Vyne had a good crew and knew it, but none of them had managed to come up with anything that would help. Shenley’s repeated, patient attempts to get either Chekov or the aliens to respond had not produced any response.

“Captain!” Shenley’s voice held a suddenly joyful note. “I’ve got Chekov!”

“Put him through.” Vyne saw Kang was as suddenly alert as she was. After the brief communication from the alien, they had been forced back into helplessness, and Vyne could see that did not sit any better with Kang than with herself.

“Captain Vyne,” The young voice was tired and filled with pain.

“You don’t sound too good, Midshipman. What happened?”

“Broken arm, Captain,” Chekov answered briefly. “Please, listen. I’ve cut a deal with the inhabitants of Xolemonium Three. They were going to kill every alien in their system, but I’ve managed to talk them out of that, if you’ll agree to the terms I’ve made.”

“Who are these people, Midshipman?” 

“I don’t know their names or  even their species, Captain,” Chekov answered. “They’re xenophobic troglodytes. They planned this from the moment the colonists landed; that’s when they diverted the comet. They were going to destroy the Pollux and the Klingon ship, but I’ve convinced them that would only attract the attention they don’t want. They say if we leave and promise never to come back, they won’t hurt anyone. I’ve explained about the problem with life support, and they’re prepared to let the settlers return and remove their belongings and their livestock on a transport ship on the  condition that we remove every trace there was ever a colony here, down to the last of the seeded bacteria. Are you prepared to agree to that?”

“Yes, Midshipman.” Vyne wanted to know what was going on but the midshipman sounded too exhausted for more details. She was just relieved that was apparently all the aliens wanted. “Would it help if I beamed down to talk to them?”

“No, Captain!” The horror in the midshipman’s voice came over clearly. “That’s one of the conditions, that no one else makes any attempt to contact the aliens.”

“What about the Klingons, Midshipman?” Vyne abandoned that idea.

“The aliens here just stipulate they leave by the time we do, Captain, preferably sooner.”

Vyne looked at the dark face that had filled half his screen for so long. “Captain Kang?”

“I agree.” Kang did not see any honor in agreeing, but there was even less in sacrificing his ship so pointlessly. He doubted if there was any chance of persuading, even by the most drastic means, these creatures to serve the Empire. “But unless we get power to our engines, we will not be going anywhere.”

“Captain!” Helford’s voice was shrill. “The rogue comet has changed its course! It’s heading back toward this system’s Oort cloud.”

“That’s impossible.” Vyne realized her own comment was echoed by Kang. 

“I’ve no idea what happened.” Helford raised helpless hands. “It’s just no longer any threat, Captain.”

“Captain, I have power to the engines and the shields.” Craven’s own voice was more highly pitched than usual as their situation took another turn. They had all resigned themselves to the approach of death; it was somehow exhilarating to have it removed.

“Maintain orbit, Mister Craven,” Vyne instructed. “Midshipman Chekov, are you able to beam up?”

“Just a moment, Captain.” There was a murmur of voices before Chekov spoke again. “We have to return to the surface, Captain. Oh, we’ve found the children.”

“And the dogs?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“And we’re not beaming up without them,” a determined voice put in.

“I wouldn’t dream of leaving them behind, Tommy. Midshipman Chekov, return to the surface, and then I want all of you back on board. I want a report!”

“Aye, ma’am.”


Kang nodded as his first officer reported the systems of the cruiser checked out as normal. He looked at the Starfleet captain once more. “I will leave once I have heard what your midshipman has to report.” The dark Klingon face crinkled in amusement as he looked at something behind Vyne. “But I think you have another matter demanding your attention.”

As she turned, Vyne did not see the midshipman she expected but four grubby children under the amused escort of her head of security. “What can I do for you?”

Tommy took a breath. “Captain Vyne, we’ve come to ask you not to be mad at Midshipman Chekov because he was awful brave down there, and he stopped the aliens killing us all and destroying the Pollux, and he’s got a broken arm so it isn’t fair if you make him scrub the decks for a month, because it’s our fault that he was looking for us, and if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been captured or got his arm broken or anything!”

Vyne raised a hand as Tommy finally paused for breath. “Tommy, why should I be angry with Midshipman Chekov? As you just pointed out, he’s saved the lives of everyone on this ship and everyone on the Klingon ship, too. Why should I be angry, rather than pleased with him?”

“Because Midshipman Chekov says he’s not supposed to make contact with aliens by losing his temper and telling them they’re silly and ridiculous.” Tommy was not aware how the rest of the bridge crew had to fight back the impulse to laugh at that remarkable statement.

“No, he isn’t supposed to do it quite like that.” Vyne’s voice held a quiver, caused as much by the four earnest looks fixed on him as by what Tommy was telling her.

“And he’s already got the doctor mad at him, because he told her he had to report to the bridge, Captain,” Mark added.

“And Midshipman Chekov was really brave, Captain Vyne.” Caleb never thought he would be talking to a real live starship captain. “Even when one of the aliens pointed a weapon at him, he just pushed it away and told them killing everyone wasn’t the first thing he thought of as a way of solving a problem, and it shouldn't be what they thought of first either. They were really scared of him.”

“Scared?” Vyne exclaimed involuntarily. She could not think how one unarmed and injured midshipman had frightened hostile aliens powerful enough to move a comet and render two ships helpless.

“They were all backed up against the wall of the cave, as far away as they could get.” Caleb’s confirmation caused another severe struggle amongst the bridge crew as they fought for decorum.

“And Midshipman Chekov’s so nice, especially when he smiles at you,” Julia said, blushing slightly. Her  contribution earned her extremely baffled looks from her three friends. The boys were a long way from assessing a girl in any other way than for her ability to climb trees and similarly useful skills.

“Midshipman Chekov reporting as ordered, Captain.” Chekov had arrived on the bridge in time to hear Julia. 

“Nice to see you more or less in one piece, Midshipman.” Vyne could read the signs of exhaustion easily enough, but she needed a report. She just hoped Chekov could stay awake long enough to give it. “How’s the arm?”

“Straightforward green-stick fracture, Captain,” Chekov answered and gestured to the turbolift he had held as soon as he saw who was on the bridge. “Your parents are looking for you.”

“Oh, gosh!” Tommy, with one last pleading look at Vyne, followed his friends into the turbolift. 

“Describe what happened down there, starting from when the aliens turned up,” Vyne ordered. She did not want  Kang to think she was hiding anything and after what the children had told them, she was curious to hear how Chekov phrased his report.

“Aye, ma’am. We found the cave...” Chekov began his long story. After reciting the majority of the details, he concluded with, “He says that as long as the colonists leave within a reasonable period, they may return and collect up all their belongings and their livestock. I assured him we could remove every trace they’d ever been there. I don’t know if that’s a religious requirement, Captain, but it’s very important to them. It was then he gave me my communicator and tricorder back and told me we were free to go. That’s when I contacted you.”

“What’s your evaluation of what happened?” Vyne asked.

“It’s very fortunate you couldn’t take Nell on board, ma’am. If you hadn’t set this train of events in motion, we’d all have died without ever knowing why.”

“I think Midshipman Chekov has a distinct point there, Captain,” Oakham said.

“Unnerving but accurate.” Vyne nodded. She would talk to the midshipman later, but at the moment, it was clearly unreasonable to expect anything else from him. “That will be all, Midshipman. You’d better go back to sickbay.”

“Aye, ma’am.” 

“Commander, please go and bring Doctor Cromer up to date and tell her we’ll beam the colonists back. They’re to prepare for a full evacuation when a transport arrives.” The captain of the Pollux belatedly remembered someone else might have something to say about that, but if Kang was going to start a fight now, he was not as intelligent as Vyne had decided. She looked at the dark alien face on the screen.

Kang did not pretend to misunderstand her. “You promised me a fight.”

“Yes.” Vyne wondered if Kang was going to insist on that. They had just escaped death by a hair’s breadth; now, if Kang insisted, they could be facing it again.

“Midshipman Chekov did not ask for anything in return for saving my ship, too.” Kang surprised the captain of the Pollux once more. 

“I don’t think it occurred to him, Captain Kang.” Vyne had noticed Kang’s amusement at the children’s defense of the midshipman; it was, as far as she was concerned, encouraging to discover Klingons had a sense of humor. 

“There is an obligation.”

“If you want to raise the matter with him, I’ll have to ask you to wait until he wakes up. You wouldn’t get any sense out of him now.”

“He remained true to his duty until you dismissed him.” Kang nodded approval. “No, I will not delay reporting this and returning to mine if you tell me Midshipman Chekov would think it a fair exchange if I gave him the life of your ship in return for the life of mine.”

“I think he’d be satisfied with that,” Vyne managed.

“Then I will leave, if you will satisfy my curiosity on one final point. I would like to see Nell, to see the pet that has aroused so much loyalty,” Kang requested.

Vyne nodded to Shenley to comply. “I had a dog myself as a boy, Captain Kang. I never faced a decision such as Tommy’s, but in his place and at his age, I might have gone for exactly the same solution.”

“Do they give as much loyalty as they receive?” Kang asked.

“Oh, yes. Many dogs have saved their owners from danger, even died doing so,” Vyne turned as the turbolift door opened to reveal Tommy leading Nell. Joshua followed carrying the basket. “And the females will certainly fight to death to defend their puppies.”

“I hope you don’t mind, Captain Vyne, but poor Nell has been moved from place to place so many times today, she wouldn’t leave the puppies,” Joshua apologized.

“Then I’m sorry to have to disturb you again, Nell.” Vyne did a little apologizing of her own. “Especially as you’re the one responsible for saving everyone.”

“Nell is?” Tommy gazed at him, his mouth dropping open.

Vyne smiled. “If you hadn’t wanted to save Nell and her puppies today, Tommy, you wouldn’t have hidden in the cave. Midshipman Chekov wouldn’t have gone looking for you, and he wouldn’t have been able to talk the aliens out of killing all of us.”

“Gosh, Nell!” Tommy hugged her. “You’re a heroine!”

Vyne smiled again. “Captain Kang wanted to meet the cause of everything, Tommy.”

Tommy lifted up Nell, so she could be seen as he gazed up at the dark alien face. “Nell’s a dog, a border collie, sir. She’s great at herding sheep, but she’s even better at being my friend.” He put down the sheepdog and picked a small, squeaking form out of the basket. “This is one of the puppies.”

“I had a targ as a boy. I understand why you acted as you did.” Kang nodded at Tommy. “We will leave now, but I have a request of you, young Human: May I have one of the puppies?”


“I shouldn’t have lost my temper.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Vyne agreed. Chekov’s report had been far harder on himself than Vyne intended to be but the boy would not learn anything if he did not have mistakes pointed out to him. “I can understand why you did, though not to the extent you lost it enough to call the Xolemoniums idiots to their faces! Tell me why.”

“Everything kept piling up on me, ma’am,” Chekov answered. “First, I thought it was just those of us on the planet I needed to save and that was frightening enough. Then Julia told me the Xolemoniums intended to kill everyone on the Pollux, too, and that added so much pressure. Once the Klingons arrived, all I seemed to be able to think about was that they keep telling us at the Academy.”

“Which is?”

“That every starship captain is warned not to give the Empire the excuse for war they’re trying to find,” Chekov took a breath, “and wondering if this would be the one they’d use, if I wasn’t good enough to find a way out.”

Vyne could imagine only too well how that thought had crushed the young man in front of him. “In your place, I’d have felt exactly the same, there’s no doubt about that. Spending your life wondering if you’re good enough goes with the command track.” She decided the midshipman deserved a lighter note on which to end this evaluation. “The time to start worrying is when you stop thinking you might not be good enough and become convinced you are!”

Vyne decided she had given the midshipman enough to think about for the moment and sent him on his way. The captain of the Pollux knew she would like to see all three midshipmen posted to her ship after they graduated and by then, some of her present crew would be due for transfers. With the trio on board, added to the situations she could find entirely by herself, Vyne knew she was unlikely to be bored, and she disliked quiet periods. She turned her attention to the activity of the bridge as she wondered if her midshipmen would find anything else to enliven the remaining weeks of their training cruise.

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