command_potential.gif (3505 bytes)

Donna S. Frelick


"Hey, Kirk! The exec is looking for you," the watch commander yelled up from the bottom of the gangway. "Get your ass down to the briefing room on the double."

Young Lieutenant Kirk swallowed the first response that came to mind at the sound of Lieutenant Commander Snead’s bellow and answered smartly, "Aye, aye, sir!" He handed the magnetic wrench he’d been working with to the tech next to him and started down the ladder. "Remember, Chopak—no more than twelve millimeters to starboard or our next laser shot is going to hit someone in the Altair system."

The weapons tech grinned down at him. "Not such a bad thing, huh, Lieutenant? But okay; no more than twelve mills."

By the time Kirk dropped to the corridor deck, Snead had disappeared. The lieutenant was more than glad to do without Snead’s hazing, but he could have used a hint as to what the ship’s executive officer might want with him. Kirk trotted down the passageway and caught the first available turbolift to Deck Six. He took a second outside the briefing room to slow his breathing and straighten his rumpled uniform tunic before he marched in to face his commanding officer.

The diminutive woman who served as Executive Officer of one of Starfleet’s proudest starships barely glanced up to greet him. "Morning, Lieutenant," Commander Lee said. "Have a seat."

"Thank you, ma’am," he answered, his voice still Academy-crisp, despite his four months on board the U.S.S. Farragut.

"There’s a packet on the table in front of you," she continued. "Take a look. Briefing starts in five."

Kirk’s heart jumped in his chest. A packet meant orders. A briefing meant landing party. The old man’s going to let me take one down at last! He dumped the data tape out of the packet and jammed it into the reader, leaning forward to stare intently at the goose-necked viewer. Sure enough, the tape began with the longed-for words: Lieutenant James T. Kirk, commanding Landing Party Alpha. Whatever else the tape might have said was lost on the eager officer, who couldn’t contain his excitement. Across the table, his reaction had earned him a tiny smile at the corner of Lee’s stern mouth.

The door to the briefing room slid open, and Kirk shot to his feet as Captain Garrovick swept through. The ship’s senior officers followed the captain in and found their places at the conference table as Garrovick waved them to a seat. Kirk perched again on the edge of his chair and folded his hands on the table in front of him, hoping he didn’t look as nervous as he felt.

Garrovick flashed a quick grin around the table. "Morning, ladies and gentlemen. You all know Lieutenant Kirk."

Eyes flickered briefly in Kirk’s direction. He caught a smile from the chief engineer and the communications officer—he’d done his rotations in their departments already. He nodded in acknowledgment and turned his attention to the captain.

"I’ve just received a communiqué from Starbase Eleven informing me of several border incursions in Sector Sixteen of Quadrant Six," Garrovick began. "Nothing too serious, but I’ve ordered a course change to get us there before the Klingons get the idea we didn’t notice. Warp six should put us there in roughly forty-eight hours, allowing for a little resupply stop on the way."

What do we need so badly we have to stop on the way to a fight? Kirk wondered.

"Mister Kirk," Garrovick said. "What are the three catalytic elements crucial to the proper firing of a photon torpedo?"

Kirk carefully rearranged his features to eliminate the puzzled frown that had given him away. "Thorium, lithium crystals and antiprotons, sir."

The captain nodded. "And what element is currently in short supply aboard this ship, according to your latest weapons report?"

"Thorium, Captain," Kirk answered, feeling like the slowest cadet in class. "We were unable to secure an adequate supply on Starbase Ten."

"And now we can’t wait for the next regular supply stop," Garrovick finished for him. "Fortunately for us there is a mining colony on Chi Capricorni Two, which we should be approaching about now. Maybe we ought to pick up a little thorium before we start shooting off our mouths to the Klingons, don’t you think, Jim?"

The officers around him chuckled, allowing Kirk to release a slightly sheepish grin. "Very practical, sir."

"Good," the captain replied. "Take a couple of techs and a security squad with you. You’re authorized to pay any reasonable price for an adequate supply. Don’t waste any time—just get the stuff and get back to the ship, and we’ll be on our way. Understood?"

Kirk recognized a dismissal when he saw one. He stood and tucked the packet under his arm. He stood at attention until Garrovick said, "Dismissed."

Kirk headed for the door, but was forced to turn back when Garrovick called out, "Oh, and Kirk..."


"Any time a crewman leaves this ship there is a risk involved, no matter how easy the assignment seems," the captain advised him. "Make sure you stay on your toes."

"Yes, sir!" Kirk snapped to, then turned on his heel and stepped into the corridor—where his bearing immediately lost all of its starch. Some command, he thought resentfully. In charge of two weapons techs and a pair of security guards on a shopping trip. He told himself that he had to start somewhere, but it did nothing to cut the disappointment. Damn it, I had more exciting assignments at the Academy.

Kirk pulled himself up at the turbolift and let his frustration out in a loud exhale. Okay, so he wasn’t going to earn any medals for courage in the face of cutthroat bargaining. He could at least do the job efficiently and hope for a better draw next time.


The two security officers and Weapons Technicians Flores and Malkovich were waiting for him as he entered the transporter room. "Lieutenant," the transporter chief said. "The captain is on the horn."

He stepped up to the comm unit. "Kirk here, sir."

"Lieutenant, we’re having trouble raising the mining camp," Garrovick said. "They only have one off-world communications station, and we’ve got something playing havoc with both comm and sensors from our end, too."

Kirk felt a tiny chill of warning. "Transporters, sir?"

"Engineering assures me the transporters aren’t affected, but I don’t like what I’m hearing. I’m sending an extra security team down with you. Watch your tail—and get it back up here as soon as you get the job done."

"Understood, Captain. Kirk out." He ignored the butterflies in his stomach and bounced up onto the transporter pad. "Let’s go. Send that second security team along when it gets here, Chief."

"Will do, Lieutenant," the transporter chief replied. "Have a nice trip."

Kirk nodded. "Energize."


The mining compound was windswept, scoured bare by the brown dust that had been lifted off the canyon sides looming above. It would have been austere and unattractive under any circumstances, but at the moment it was also eerily deserted.

Lieutenant Kirk turned to the nearest member of the landing party. "Tricorder readings, Flores?"

Marita Flores looked up from the tricorder and shook her head. "No humanoid lifeform readings within a radius of point six two kilometers. Beyond that I’m just getting static."

"Radiation? Anything unusual?"

"Not a thing, Lieutenant."

"Jiang, you and Austen take a look inside those buildings," Kirk told the security officers. "Standard security drill." As the security guards loped toward the first doorway, he tagged the two Weapons Techs. "Come on. Let’s get out of the open."

The place was infernally hot. His uniform was already soaked with sweat, and his shipmates faces were streaked with the same dust that swirled across the compound. The three sought cover and some relief from the sun inside the closest thermocrete shelter, but conditions under the dome were only marginally better.

"Are we sure this is a Class M planet?" Malkovich complained, coughing.

"No environmental control," Kirk murmured. "They’ve lost power."

"Hey, Lieutenant, look at this," Flores called from the inner room.

From the doorway, Kirk surveyed a field of battle. The compscreen was smashed, a chair had landed upside down in a corner, and what looked like all of the colony’s data tapes and flimsies had been thrown into a pile on the floor.

Flores was kneeling over something on the floor behind the desk. She looked up at him uncertainly. "Laser burns?" she asked.

The scorch marks on the floor and wall were unmistakable. "What the devil went on here?" Kirk wanted to know.

"Whatever it was didn’t leave anything behind to tell the tale," Jiang said from the doorway. "We found the same kind of laser blasts all over the compound, but no bodies and nobody left alive, either."

Kirk felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. We’re sitting ducks down here—and where the hell is that extra security squad? "Stand by," he said and pulled out his communicator to call the ship. "Landing party to Farragut."

Nothing but static responded. He tried again, with the same result. "Malkovich, give me your communicator," he ordered. He had no better luck with the technician’s equipment. Not only were they isolated on the planet’s surface, but the captain had no doubt decided against risking another use of the transporter until they could clear the interference. He snapped the communicator shut with a muttered, "Damn!"

On the wall of the littered office was a multi-layered topographical map of the mining operation, its brittle flimsy curling at the edges. Kirk got up close and stood staring at it with his hands on his hips.

"Planning a trip, Lieutenant?" Malkovich asked.

Kirk didn’t like the hint of sarcasm in the tech’s voice, but he let it pass for the moment. "As a matter of fact, I am, Crewman. Since we have some time on our hands, I thought we might take a tour of the grounds."

"What?" Austen grunted.

"This is just the headquarters camp," Kirk explained, pointing at a spot on the map. "The mine itself is up this canyon about eight kilometers. Maybe the answer to our little mystery is there."

"I vote we stay right here and wait for the Farragut to pick us up," Malkovich said, leaning indolently against the doorframe.

Kirk started to say he’d keep that in mind when a landing party became a democracy, but instead he took a more direct approach to the challenge. He stepped up to the tall Russian and projected enough authority to make the man flinch. "I don’t remember asking for your opinion, Mister," he said softly. "And until I do, I’d advise you to keep it to yourself. Am I being clear?"

Malkovich swallowed. "Crystal, sir."

Kirk turned to the security team, both of whom were busy revising their estimates of his leadership qualities. "We’ll need a vehicle."


Kirk gripped the arms of the passenger seat as the two hummers clung to a narrow shelf of roadbed cut into the red rock high above the canyon. The security guard’s driving left a lot to be desired.

Austen, who was piloting the vehicle, turned to him with a frown. "You okay, Lieutenant?" he asked, unaware of the consternation his driving was causing.

Kirk glanced down. Where the canyon walls narrowed and its rocky floor sloped upward, he spotted a wisp of rising dust."Look for a place to pull off and hide the hummer," he shouted over the noise of the engine.

An abandoned storage depot off the roadway provided the cover they needed. Kirk ordered the vehicles parked behind a crumbling thermocrete lean-to and hopped out to muster his crew. "We’ll go the rest of the way on foot," he told them, daring anyone to complain about the hike. No one did. "Flores, what do you see on the tricorder?"

She studied the readout for a second before shaking her head. "Something’s interfering with sensors, Lieutenant. I can’t get a clear read on anything."

Kirk tried his communicator, but the static had only grown more insistent. "It’s getting worse the closer we get to the mine," he said. "Either there’s something in the topography that’s setting up an interference pattern or..." He looked up. "Or whoever made a mess of the headquarters is trying to camouflage their dirty work."

He saw his crew exchange a look of apprehension. Not that he could blame them—a dangerous situation, an untried junior officer. Get them moving, he told himself. Less time to think.

"Jiang, you take point," he said, in the sternest command voice he could wield. "Find us a route down behind the mine complex that keeps us out of sight. Austen, bring up the rear. Lasers set—" He hesitated for half a breath. "—on maximum." Kirk drew his own weapon and set it to kill. The people who’d hit the headquarters compound hadn’t allowed any quarter. He wasn’t inclined to give any either.

They started down the steep, scrabbly slope of the cliff wall in an envelope of heat so intense it seemed to have weight and solid dimension. By the time they reached a vantage point near the mine entrance, Kirk was muddy with sweat and dust. His throat burned with every hellish breath, and his knees ached with the effort of holding his body upright on the hillside.

Kirk gave his crew curt orders to rest while he found a spot from which to watch the activity around the mine. What he saw was no surprise; in fact, it was as if he knew what he would see when he looked down at the scene below his sun-baked ledge. He knew just as certainly what had to be done and how he would go about doing it. The only thing Kirk didn’t know was how a lieutenant junior grade just out of the Academy could possibly know so damn much. That scared him.

"We’ve got about twenty Tellarites working the site," Kirk said somberly when he rejoined his crew. "They don’t have a transporter pad set up, so I’m betting they’re stockpiling the ore and waiting for a ship to pick them up. Security’s pretty lax; they’ve only got a couple of guards on the perimeter; a couple around the ore stacks. They’ve taken at least three engineers from the colony hostage, using them for technical support. They’re keeping a guard on each one. That leaves five running transports, two managing the stockpiling, the rest working the mine equipment inside the shaft."

"Tellarites!" Austen spat. "I should’ve guessed it was those pig-faced bastards."

"Belay that!" Kirk shot back. "I don’t have time to give a lesson on interspecies tolerance. These are renegades, not uniformed troops." He sized up his resources. Jiang was probably in the best shape of any of them. "Marcus, you’re in for a little more exercise."

The security officer responded with admirable snap. "Sir?"

"Take one of the hummers and get back to the HQ compound as quickly as you can. Once you get there, just keep moving until you get a clear channel to the ship. Inform the captain of the situation and tell him we’re trying to make it to your position."

"But, sir," Jiang protested. "Wouldn’t it be better to send someone else back?" His eyes indicated Marita Flores. "You’re going to need some firepower if you stick around here."

"Whoever goes is going to be double-timing it up that slope," Kirk said with a nod toward the canyon wall. He slapped Jiang on the back. "That’s what you get for spending so much time in the gym, Marcus."

The man grinned. "Aye, aye, sir. I’m on my way." Jiang slipped back into the brush behind them and quickly disappeared.

"If you don’t mind me asking, sir," Malkovich said. "What are we going to be doing while he’s calling out the calvary?"

The Russian’s attitude was getting on his nerves. "The Farragut still needs thorium, and I don’t intend to leave those engineers to the Tellarites, either."

All three members of the landing party looked at him as if he’d just sprouted an extra head. Austen sputtered. "Three of us against twenty Tellarites?"

"Are you crazy, Kirk?" Malkovich hissed. "The captain sent us down here to buy some ore, not to organize some idiotic rescue mission. Do you want to get us all killed?"

That was it for Kirk. He grabbed the technician by the tunic and rammed him up against the rocky hillside. "Now you listen carefully, Crewman," he growled. "I am in command of this mission. I am your commanding officer. You take orders from me. If I tell you to go to the top of that ridge and jump off, you better damn well do it or face disciplinary action. If you choose to continue your insubordination, do not doubt for a minute that I will have your ass in a sling permanently once we get back to the ship. And we will get back to the ship. Is that understood?"

Malkovich gave resistance a fleeting thought; Kirk could see it in his eyes. Good sense won out, however, and the Russian nodded. "Understood, sir," he said without a trace of sarcasm.

Kirk released him roughly and turned back to the matter at hand.

"Uh, sir, if I might point out?" Austen offered.

"Go ahead."

"We’re seriously outgunned here. We could use some weapons, at least."

Kirk nodded. "That was my first order of business."

"Let me handle it, sir. I can isolate the perimeter guards one at a time, take them out and come back with their laser rifles."

"Agreed," Kirk replied. "We’ll wait until just before dark. Malkovich and Flores can cover you from that stand of brush behind the storage huts while I give you what cover I can from up here. Once we have the weapons we can make our move."


As darkness sifted into the canyon, Austen took the laser off his belt and handed it to Kirk. "Best not to fire this baby until we have to." The security officer slipped a black-handled knife out of his boot and grinned.

Kirk tried to maintain his command demeanor. "I don’t believe that’s standard issue, is it, Mister Austen?"

"No, sir," Austen answered proudly, "but she comes in mighty handy sometimes."

Kirk looked past him into the twilight and sighted the perimeter guard Austen had targeted first. The squat Tellarite was trudging along a service path above the structure that protected the shaft entrance. "Okay, there he is. Good luck."

Austen nodded and took off across the slope toward the service path.

"We’re on our way, too, Lieutenant," Flores said at Kirk’s elbow.

He nodded encouragement at his two technicians. "Keep your heads down."

Kirk turned back to his observations and took a sharp breath, seeing the danger his security man was blind to. The colony engineer and her Tellarite escort were starting up the hair-pinned pathway behind the mine. The perimeter guard was just above them. When Austen emerged from hiding to attack, the engineer’s guard would have the drop on him. Kirk scrambled from the ledge and sprinted for the mine road.

The stiff undergrowth was densely matted and the rocky footing uncertain in the impending darkness. Kirk fell several times in the sliding grit of the hillside, scraping his hips and elbows, slicing his hands. The pain was present, but something less than intense. He ignored it and moved on.

It was too dark now to see the details of the path above the shaft building. The massive heliolights that lit the work areas only served to splash the entire scene with harsh shadows. Kirk couldn’t see Austen, the perimeter guard or the engineer; he could only hope they were all following their previously known trajectories.

He worked his way closer, paralleling the mine road upward from the shaft entrance until at last he heard footsteps on the path ahead and to his left. Silently, he followed them, slipping closer until he could see the two figures in the intermittent gloom. The engineer was filthy, exhausted; her Tellarite guard was powerfully built and looked a good deal more alert. He was going to be tough to take down.

Kirk looked up and down the path to make sure there was no one else in sight; then he made his move, bolting out of the brush at the side of the path to tackle the Tellarite at the knees. The burly guard toppled over as Kirk’s shoulder hit the back of his legs, and the two rolled down the pathway for several dusty meters.

Kirk grappled with him, struggling for a hold that would immobilize him, but the Tellarite was more agile than Kirk expected and kept slipping out of his grasp. The longer they wrestled, the more the Tellarite’s weight advantage began to count. The guard hit Kirk a glancing blow across the face and slammed an elbow into his ribs. All of the breath went out of him in a grunt, and before he could react, the Tellarite was sitting on his chest with a laser at his throat.

Then a slim shadow appeared behind the guard. There was a second’s breathless pause, a whistle of something being swung through the darkness, a thud of wood meeting flesh, and the Tellarite pitched sideways over the slope. Kirk looked up to see the engineer grinning in the harsh glare and stark shadow of the heliolights. "I’ve been waiting three days to do that," she said.

She offered Kirk a hand up off the ground. "Thanks, Starfleet—that is a uniform, isn’t it?"

"What’s left of it." Kirk nodded. "Lieutenant Jim Kirk from the starship Farragut."

"I hope this means we’re about to be rescued."

"Well, that was the idea, but I’m not sure who’s rescuing whom here," he said with a grin. He took a quick look around. There was no sign of Austen, the perimeter guard or anyone else, but Kirk hardly thought it prudent to wait for them to appear. "Come on. We have to get out of sight."

They groped their way back to where Malkovich and Flores waited in the darkness outside the mine perimeter. They were too close in to carry on a long conversation, but the engineer did confirm Kirk’s assessment of the situation. She was also able to point out the building where the engineers—four of them altogether—would be secured for the night.

By the time Austen returned with two laser rifles and two extra hand lasers, Kirk was ready to roll. "Austen, Malkovich, Flores, you’ll take the supply shed. Karin says there’s a quantity of refined thorium in storage cylinders along the back wall. Take as much of that as you can carry and head back to the first vantage point. I’ll grab the other engineers and meet you there."

"Alone, sir?" Austen said. "A little backup might be a better idea."

"I’ll go," the engineer said.

Kirk looked at her. "You?"

"Well, I don’t intend to just sit here and wait for you," she said. "You’ll need help to get my friends out—and I do know how to use a laser."

Kirk started to dismiss her suggestion, but something in Karin’s voice warned him off. He didn’t think she’d take no for an answer, and he couldn’t exactly threaten her with brig time. "Okay," he agreed. "But stay with me, and don’t make me tell you anything twice. Here, take this." He passed her a hand laser and shouldered one of the rifles for himself. "All right; let’s go."

Austen and his team trotted off and immediately faded into the shadows. Kirk and Karin circled around the opposite way to the low shelter that housed the captive engineers. At the rear of the hut, they stopped and crouched in the spiky shrubbery, watching.

Karin turned to him and pushed her nose upward into a piggish snout. Then she held up two fingers and indicated the far side of the hut. Kirk almost laughed, but the pantomime did serve a purpose. He nodded he’d understood. He waved her forward, and they scurried across a narrow band of ground to a tiny louvered window at the side of the building.

He rapped softly on the louvers and immediately heard conversation within the room stop. There was a shuffle of moving feet and chairs being shifted. He rapped again.

"Did you hear that?" someone whispered.

"Maybe it’s Karin."

"If she really did get away, why in hell would she come back?"

"Here," a voice said, very nearby. "At the vent."

The louvers blinked open, spilling light into the yard. Karin stepped up so those inside could see her. "Jouf! It’s me."

"Karin! Why did you come back?"

"To get you, you idiot! Are they looking for me?"

"We told them you’d gone up the canyon to check the secondary shaft. But they’ll be looking soon."

Kirk leaned in. "Give me twenty seconds. Then create a disturbance to get the second guard inside." He handed a laser through the slats of the vent. "I trust someone in there knows what to do with this."

The miners grinned. Kirk turned to his own task. "Cover me," he told Karin, and stole soundlessly to the corner of the building. Flattening himself against the wall, the rifle upright in front of his chest, he scuffed a boot across the hard ground and waited. Within seconds one of the two guards came around the corner to investigate—and found the butt-end of the laser rifle propelled at full force. His head jerked back, and he fell heavily to the ground. And there he stayed, unconscious, as shouting broke out inside the shelter.

Kirk stepped over the Tellarite at his feet and peered around the corner of the building. The door stood open briefly, yellow light flowing into the night, then was abruptly shut again. No guard was in sight and all was quiet in the other buildings of the compound. Kirk ran around to the door and pushed inside, where he saw the engineers had the situation fully under control. The Tellarite guard had been stunned and was being tied to a chair with what looked like a pair of pants. Kirk went back outside and dragged his own victim in to be similarly bound, then ushered the excited group out the door to freedom.

They made it to the line of greenery behind the hut and well up the ragged slope to the rendezvous point before Kirk heard shouts in the camp below. Cursing, he turned to see a confusion of miners and guards milling about outside the largest building. They hadn’t chosen a single direction yet; there was no coordinated search being organized.

Kirk ordered his group to a halt and explained quickly. "The Tellarites know something is up. We’ll never make it back to the hummers with them looking for us. We have to turn around."

"What?" Karin demanded. "Are you nuts?"

"We need transport out of here now," he said without hesitation. "Where can we get it?"

"There, near the entrance to the camp," one of the engineers told him.

"Follow me," he ordered and started back down the slope. He didn’t look over his shoulder to make sure they had obeyed the order, but when he finally pulled up behind the transport pool, the engineers were all still with him.

There was no time to waste now; Tellarite officers had begun to organize the search effort. Arc lights were going on all over the compound, throwing twisted shadows into every corner and depression. He signaled his group to stay down and lit out for the transport shed. He prayed no one would challenge him while he was still in the open. His luck held until he was steps from the shed, when a guard rounded the corner and gaped at him in surprise. Kirk overran him and used the butt end of the rifle again, gaining a few more seconds.

Once inside the shed, though, stealth was no longer an option. The bright lights overhead revealed two more armed guards. They had him in their sights before he could fire. He dropped into a roll, dodging the first blast from a guard’s laser, and threw himself behind a supply crate. Another shot from the laser splashed against the wall behind him, spraying him with stinging chips of shattered thermocrete.

Kirk raised up to fire his own rifle. He took out one of the guards, but the other quickly drew a bead on him. He dove for cover, realizing too late that the place he’d chosen would leave him exposed. He held his breath. A laser whined briefly.

"That’s two you owe me, Starfleet," Karin’s voice came.

He exhaled with sweaty relief and lifted his head above the crate to confirm what had happened.

Karin grinned at him from the transport closest the door.

Kirk stood up slowly. "And don’t think I’m not grateful," he replied. He stepped to the door of the shed to wave the rest of the engineers inside. They dashed across the compound and piled into the vehicle behind Karin.

"Get back to the headquarters compound as fast as you can," he commanded as Karin prepared to lift off. "When you get there, keep going until you see Starfleet yellow and orange and blue."

"Where the hell are you going?"

He nodded in the direction of a second vehicle. "The ore stacks. If I’m lucky they haven’t found Austen’s group yet."

Karin looked at him. "Are they graduating idiots from the Academy these days? The ore stacks will be swarming with snouts by now—not to mention the dozens you’ll have to run down between here and there."

"I won’t leave my people behind," Kirk snapped. He swung up into the second transport. When he saw Karin still frowning, he stopped to grin reassurance at her. " Go on. Get out of here. And be sure to make lots of noise—maybe they won’t notice I’m headed in the opposite direction."

She shook her head and slammed the cab door. "Good luck, Starfleet."

Kirk saw the bay doors lift as he kicked his own hulking transport into reluctant life. Karin hit her lights and shot out into the arc-lit confusion of the compound. Some of the Tellarites nearest the shed began to shout and run in his direction, seeking a vehicle to mount a pursuit. Sorry, boys, he thought and turned his laser on the fuelcells stored in the back of the shed. He roared out of the bay as the fuel ignited into an expanding wall of flame.

There was such chaos in the compound now that organized assault on his careening vehicle was impossible for the Tellarites. A few individuals were alert enough to fire a laser in his direction—the shots went wide or bit into the dirt behind him. Kirk made a point of aiming the bouncing transport grill directly at any who were foolish enough to try and make a stand; most were forced to throw themselves out of the way before they could get off a shot at him.

Fifty meters ahead the building housing the ore stacks blazed under the arc lights, drawing the fire of a growing circle of Tellarites sheltered behind anything they could find in the compound. Laser fire lanced out from the shed door, to be met by answering blasts from a half-dozen sites surrounding the building. Austen and his companions were pinned down.

A frontal assault wasn’t going to be an option. Kirk pulled hard on the transport’s drive wheel and took a sharp right, throwing off the trail of Tellarites strung out in pursuit behind him. He bounced off a retaining wall and shot through the narrow gap between the ore shed and the next building in line to pull up behind the besieged warehouse. Five Tellarites were attempting to cut through the rear door with a laser—Kirk caught one in the beam of his own weapon, then another as the guard turned the cutting laser on his transport. The other three scattered.

Kirk ran to the door and pounded with the butt of the rifle. "Austen! It’s Kirk! Out the back, now!"

The door slammed open, and Malkovich lurched out, Flores’ arm slung over his supporting shoulder. Kirk noted the wound down one leg, raw under the charred remains of her uniform. Flores spared him a grimace that might have been a smile. "He missed me," she said.

"Come on," he said simply and took her other arm. Together, he and Malkovich got her to the transport.

"Dave’s holding the front," Malkovich grunted, out of breath.

"The thorium?"

"Next to the door."

"Stay here." He sprinted inside the door, dropped his rifle and grabbed up as many of the containers as he could hold. "Austen!"

"Nice to see ya, Lieutenant!"

"Give me a ten count, then get your tail out the back."

"No can do, sir. I stop firing and those snouts’ll be on your ass in a Klingon minute."

Kirk allowed himself a muttered curse, then retreated to the transport with the precious thorium. He threw the containers in the back and shouted at Malkovich, "Get behind the wheel and be ready to move!"

He ran back to the door, catching sight of a platoon of Tellarites working its way around the back of the next building over. Once inside, he scooped up his rifle and dashed for the front of the building.

The security man was alternately firing and bracing himself against the thermocrete wall next to the door to avoid the return fire. Kirk found a similar spot on the opposite side of the door and fired off a round of his own. "We’ve got to go now, Dave. They’ll have us surrounded in a minute."

"You go. I’ll hold them here."

Kirk ignored the flare of laser fire through the door to snatch Austen’s arm and pull him backwards. "I’m giving you a direct order, Crewman! We’re both going—now!"

Austen fired a parting shot through the door and staggered after his commanding officer. He grinned as he threw the laser rifle behind him. "Out of charge anyhow, Lieutenant. Guess I’m with you."

They catapulted for the back door, paused a half-second to make sure the surrounding Tellarites hadn’t lined up to kill them as they emerged, then broke for the transport. "Go, go!" Kirk shouted at Malkovich, clinging to the transport hatch as the vehicle spun in a semi-circle and took off.

They charged through the riotous compound, laser fire scorching the duranium shell of the transport as the Tellarites tried to stop them. Up ahead, a wall of metal blocked the compound gate—a drilling rig pulled into place to plug their only escape route.

"Uh, Lieutenant... " Malkovich said, slowing the transport marginally from its headlong rush toward the gate.

Kirk saw the barricade, took note of the Tellarites arrayed at either side to shred them in deadly crossfire, knew the transport would never lift over the mountainous rig to take them to safety. The fight was over; they had lost. He felt only a sense of calm.

It took him a moment to realize Austen and Malkovich were both shouting at him. "Lieutenant! The shuttlecraft!"

Kirk looked up and saw the Farragut’s two shuttlecraft swooping low over the compound, dispersing the Tellarites below like leaves in a fall wind. "Thank you, Marcus!" he whooped in relief. He pointed to the protected circle formed by the settling craft. "Turn this thing around, Malkovich. We’re going home."


Lieutenant Jim Kirk stepped out of a hatch into the Farragut’s shuttle bay and snapped to attention.

"At ease, Lieutenant," Garrovick said with a smile. "Check in with Doc Hammett and get yourself cleaned up. Full debriefing in thirty minutes."

"Aye, aye, sir," he replied. He scanned the bay for the rest of his landing party. Malkovich and Austen gave him a dusty salute. He could see the containers of thorium being unloaded from the shuttle behind him. "Technician Flores?" he asked, failing to find her anywhere in the bay.

"Already in Sickbay," Garrovick replied. "Doc says she’ll be fine in a couple of days."

Kirk nodded, relieved.

"Some shopping trip, eh, Lieutenant?" The captain queried with an amused curve of his lips.

The lieutenant grinned wryly. "Not exactly what I expected, sir."

"Interstellar exploration seldom is," the captain agreed. "But I’m beginning to think you were made for the job, Jim. Nobody on this ship could’ve handled the situation you found on that planet any better than you did. It shows real command potential. Well done."

Kirk felt his face flush with an uncomfortable mix of gratitude and pride. He’d worked hard to earn the respect he heard in Garrovick’s voice, but hearing it touched him just the same. "Thank you, sir," he stammered as the captain turned to leave.

Command potential. Kirk shook his head. He’d been given a routine assignment and found a disaster instead. All he’d really done was to accomplish the mission in spite of it. His professors at the Academy had taken care to explain the value of strategy, tactics, logistics. Somehow they had neglected to mention the usefulness of gut instinct, blind determination, and sheer dumb luck. If it’s possible to build a career based on those qualities, the lieutenant thought with a smile, then James T. Kirk should be wearing captain’s stripes in no time.

main.gif (14802 bytes)

Free counters provided by Andale.

banner.gif (2815 bytes)

This story can be found in printed form in ORION ARCHIVES 2229-2265  THE BEGINNINGS2
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES -- 2234-2265 The Beginnings.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction.
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website