The U.S.S. Enterprise is en route to Earth after our tragic shakedown cruise for refitting and crew replacements. Our encounter with the galactic energy barrier has hit us hard. Damage to the ship is minimal, but how do you calculate the loss of a dozen livesincluding Engineer Lee Kelso, Doctor Elizabeth Dehner and Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell, one of my oldest and dearest friends? These were living, breathing, Human beings with hopes and fears and dreamsnot just numbers on a starship duty roster. But we will have to replace them.
I hate the sound of that. Its as if they were burned out parts on a warp drive assembly. However the depressing reality of the situation is that we need someone to take their place. Additionally, Starfleet Personnel has informed me that Doctor Mark Piper has requested and accepted a transfer to the Starfleet Surgeon Generals office, serving with his old friend, Doctor Phillip Boyce.
My immediate priority, however, is filling the position of Chief Helm Officer. Gary was the best helmsman in the fleet. You dont easily replace someone of his caliber. The backup helm officers range from good to adequate. There is no one rated as highly as Gary was when he finished advanced helm and weapons training at the Academy, at least among our other helmsman. He also served as my executive officer, and I havent even been able to give any thought to filling that post.
There is, however, an excellent candidate for chief helm officer right here aboard the Enterprise.
All I have to do is convince him to leave his current post.
Captain James T. Kirk eased back into the lounger behind the desk in his cabin, wearily rubbing his gritty eyes. The first deaths aboard his new command, the U.S.S. Enterprise. Sadly, he knew, they would not be the lasthis brief experience as commander of the Shenandoah had taught him that. He had drafted and sent sympathy messages to the victims families, a hollow gesture at best, but it was all he could do. He would make it a point to visit Tom and Kera Mitchell, Garys parents, when he got to Earth. He owed his old friend that much.
Kirk shuddered. Even when he closed his eyes, he could still see the desolate landscape of Delta Vega, and the lonely grave of rocks that marked the final resting place of Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell. Even the god-thing Gary had become could not have survived the crushing avalanche that buried him in the pit he had excavated for Kirk.
Kirk could not have changed the ultimate outcome. He knew that, but it didnt make it any easier for him.
A bosuns whistle shrilled for attention. "Kirk here."
"Spock here, Captain," intoned the resonant voice of his chief science officer. "Engineer Scott informs me that our engines are now operating at 102.1 percent efficiency. He shall endeavor to improve that rating during our refit time at space dock."
Kirk chuckled. Good ol Scotty. "Give Mister Scott my compliments. Tell him that 102.1 percent is adequate for the time being, Mister Spock," the captain said. "And since were no longer limited to Warp Three, take us to Warp Factor Seven."
"Yes, sir," the Vulcan returned. "Spock out."
Kirk sensed the smooth acceleration of the great starship as he thumbed off his gooseneck viewer. He chuckled as he swung the contraption away. They were slated to be removed once the refit got underway; they were just a damned annoyance and needed constant repair. He shook his head in disbelief that the silly things had been in use aboard starships for nearly twenty years. They were high maintenance devices, easily subject to damage and equally subject to damaging personnel during turbulence.
He sighed. He was about to dive into a pile of backlogged paperwork and disks sitting on his desk when his door chime buzzed. Right on time, he thought. He keyed a code sequence into his control panel, and a personnel file opened on his soon-to-be-replaced gooseneck viewer. "Come," he called, settling back in his chair.
The doors hissed open to admit Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu of the astrophysics department. The Oriental officers lean face was taut with thinly-veiled apprehension. It was obvious that Sulu had no clue as to why he had been summoned to the captains quarters.
And even though Kirk was only casually acquainted with his visitor, it was also very obvious that Sulu had concluded that the summons was not a good thing.
Kirk came out from behind his desk, smiling broadly, his hand outstretched. Sulus grip was firm, but wary. "Thank you for coming so promptly, Lieutenant," the captain said, gesturing to an empty chair. He moved back behind his desk as Sulu settled stiffly into the lounger. "Ive been studying your record, Mister Sulu. Very interesting."
"Is there a problem, sir?"
"Oh, no, far from it." Kirks smile was reassuring. "Sulu, Hikaru, Lieutenant. Class of 2259. Graduated upper middle third of his class."
Sulu winced. "My G.P.A. wasnt all that great, sir. I nearly bagged the astrogation course."
"Admiral Westendorfs astrogation course?" Kirk chuckled. "You werent the only one. If my fingernails had been any shorter..."
Sulu smiled. "Really, sir? I never would have thought..."
"It was a tough, tough course," Kirk admitted. "It was the class everyone dreaded. You had to take it; there was no way out of the Academy without going through Old Man Westerndorf."
"I made it by the skin of my teeth," Sulu said. "But, you know, I felt like I really had a handle on astrogation after I got out of there...even though those werent my best grades."
Good, hes easing up a little, Kirk thought. "Grades arent everything, Lieutenant." He glanced at the screen again. "All of your instructors were impressed with your intelligence and adaptability. Multiple hobbies and interests, a very quick and active mind. They also commented on your healthy inquisitiveness. As a matter of fact, your class mates dubbed you Curious George."
Sulus face reddened. "Oh, my..." he mumbled.
"Curious George?" Kirk prodded.
"A friend of mine took a lot of history electives," Sulu answered. "Its an obscure reference to an old series of Earth childrens storybooks. Curious George was an inquisitive little brown monkey whose curiosity always got him into trouble."
"I see," Kirk said, suppressing a grin. "Hopefully your curiosity doesnt get you into trouble, Mister Sulu?"
"No, sir," Sulu returned, embarrassed. "At least, not usually."
"Well, thats good. Lets see...what else? Youve got doctorates in astrophysics and botany. You were fencing champion all four years, martial arts champion all four years, Four-A-plus physical conditioning rankthey had to invent a category for you because the traditional ratings werent high enough."
Sulu shrugged, flushing even more crimson than before. "Its nothing," he murmured. "Ive always enjoyed working out."
"Anyway, your instructors at the Academy and your commander aboard the Paul Revere had nothing but good things to say about you, especially in regards to a first contact situation you found yourself in. For my part, I was very impressed with your abilities and your work ethic on the few occasions we got to work together on the Shenandoah. Thats why I asked you to join me aboard the Enterprise."
Kirk gazed piercingly at the young officer. "In fact, Lieutenant, your instructors, your former commander and I all agree on two thingsthat your weakness is a tendency to doubt yourself and your abilities, and that youre wasting your talents."
Sulu looked startled. "Sir?"
Kirk held up his hand. "Its not meant as a criticism, son. Your record is exemplary; youre an excellent astrophysicist. I think theres a general feeling, though, that your considerable gifts could be put to better use. Which is why I asked you here."
"I dont understand," Sulu said.
"Captain Keller and Commander McNeil of the Paul Revere both recommended you for command school. You declined to apply. Why?"
"I think it should be self-explanatory, sir," Sulu replied. "My grades werent the best. They do look at your Academy grades."
Kirk smiled. "They look at them, yes, but thats not all they look at. You have to remember how competitive Starfleet Academy is. The lowest grade in your Academy class was 86.3. That was the bottom feeder of the class. And yet that grade is more than respectable and well above average in any college curriculum at any university in the Federation. Case in point: your own GPA was 95.2. That would put you very near the top of the class just about anywhere else. The whole GPA thing is overrated. Your field experience in deep space speaks in your favor. Even your hobbies and interestsyour fencing and martial arts titlesall those get you extra points."
Sulu looked puzzled. "I was under the impression that if your average was under 98.0, you could kiss getting a command goodbye."
"Not true. I happen to be very well acquainted with a starship captain whose GPA was 94.9, a whisker lower than yours."
"Really?" Sulu asked, surprised. "Can I ask who it is, sir?"
Kirk smiled and leaned across his desk. "Youre lookin at im, Curious George."
Sulus almond eyes got even wider. "No way! I mean...really, sir?"
"Really," the captain returned, nodding slightly. "You see, I wanted to be a starship captain the first time I looked up into the night sky when I was a little boy. I worked toward that goal all my life. I believed in myself. I didnt let something like a couple of less than perfect grades get in my way. Neither should you."
Sulu frowned, as if the thought had not occurred to him before. "I always thought...I mean, the grade thing was always hammered home to us."
Kirk chuckled. "I know a guy who graduated the top of my class. Had a 99.99 GPA. I think he only missed one question in his entire stay at Starfleet Academy. It was one of Old Man Westerndorfs astrogation tests. As it was, he got a half-credit for the one he missed! Anyway, this was someone who had an almost android-like precision and accuracy, and yet he couldnt think outside the boxno facility for original thinking whatsoever. He wouldnt last five minutes in the center seat. Last I heard, hed just been promoted to Lieutenant junior grade. Hes pushing papers at Starfleet Headquarters for Admiral Komacks office."
Sulu rubbed his chin. "I...I never thought of it that way before."
"You should." Kirk took a deep breath. "Im recommending you for command school, Lieutenant. The Enterprises refitting will take three months. There will be a six-week command course at Starfleet Training Command while were in space dock. Id like you to take it."
Kirk rose from behind his desk and began to pace. "Im also making a recommendation that you transfer to a position more appropriate for someone on command track." He stopped next to Sulus chair and locked gazes with the young officer. "Im recommending you for the position of chief helmsman of the Enterprise."
Sulu flinched as if he had just taken a heavy phaser stun. "M-me, sir?"
"Some more details from your file, Mister Sulu. You took advanced helm and weapons training at Starfleet Academy. Not only that, you achieved the highest score of anyone who ever took the class. You piloted a destroyer on warp maneuvers and performed flawlesslyeven invented a couple of moves of your own!"
"Yes, but those were only games..."
Kirk held up a hand. "Theres more. Unless this is an exaggeration, Commodore Truman, the instructor, came to you, begging, on his knees, when you accepted the botanist position over the helm aboard the Paul Revere. He wanted you to reconsider."
"Its true," Sulu responded, his eyes downcast. "I just.... The helm is such an awesome responsibility. One mistake, and hundreds of lives could be lost. Besides, Mister Mitchell was one of the best in the fleet. I dont know if Im up to it. Those are pretty big shoes to fill."
"Lieutenant, the only shoes you have to worry about filling are your own," Kirk said. "You scored higher than even Gary did on the helm and weapons coursehell, you scored higher than anyone ever did before or ever has since. Commodore Truman said you were the best natural pilot hes ever seen. Said you couldve flown a chopper blindfolded, whatever that is."
"A helicopter, sir," Sulu supplied. "An ancient aircraft capable of vertical takeoff that was somewhat unpredictable and very hard to fly. Its a primitive form of a jumper, like we fly at the Academy."
"Then its a compliment," Kirk said. "Hikaru..."
Sulu started, taken aback by the use of his first name.
"Hikaru, he saw something in you that he didnt want to see to go to waste. So do I. I think that you could be the best helmsman in the fleetand I think youll make a fine captain someday, too."
Sulu exhaled slowly. "I...Im flattered, sir. Coming from you, thats quite a compliment. Everyone says you're going to be the best starship captain ever. Youve risen through the ranks so fast..."
Kirk shook his head. "On occasion, I used to think it was a little too fast. In fact, after we brought the Shenandoah in and I was offered the Enterprise, I headed off to spend some time with someone special, just trying to get my head straight. I wont lie to you. Id decided I didnt deserve the center seat after so many of our shipmates had died on Kornephoros Six and in that terrible tragedy on our return trip. But I was reminded that Starfleet was my liferather bluntly, I might addand I realized that I was ready for the center seat. I wont try to kid you. It takes a lot of work to get to the center seat, and even more to stay there. There is a great deal of responsibility, prices to paythe loneliness of command, for one thing. But I wouldnt trade it for anything in the galaxy."
Interest and uncertainty fought for control of Sulus expression. "Whats involved with the helm training, sir?"
"Someone with your background should qualify for the update course," Kirk replied. "Four weeksone week in a simulator at Starfleet Training Command, one week of sub-warp maneuvers out beyond Pluto, then two weeks of warp games between Sol and the local neighborhood of star systems: Alpha Centauri, 61 Cygni, a few of the Lalandes. It just so happens the command class and the helm course run consecutively. Six weeks of command school, four weeks at the helm. Youd still have two weeks of leave after you finish.
Sulu leaned back in his chair, thoughtfully. "Ill consider it, sir. How soon do you need an answer?"
Kirk pursed his lips. "I need a chief helmsman ASAP, Lieutenant. I know its a lot to think about, but the sooner the better."
The young Asian stood up. "It is a lot to think about, sir. I wont drag my feet, but I would like to sleep on it, if you dont mind."
"I understand." The two men shook hands, and Sulu was gone.
Kirk sighed. He had hoped to convince Sulu on the spot. He mentally chided himself for his own impatience. He was asking the young lieutenant to make some major changes in his life. Not only that he was urging Sulu to look at himself and his abilities in a whole new light. That couldnt be easy for the young man. In his heart, Kirk knew he was right. Hikaru Sulu was a gold mine of untapped potential. He just needed to realize that himself, to gain the confidence to realize it.
Kirk hoped he had been persuasive enough.
He settled back in his lounger and began to shuffle half-heartedly through the pile of reports and disks, hoping for another interruption.
It came unexpectedly, as his door chime rang again. "Come!" he called out, puzzled. He wasnt expecting anyone.
Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu stood in the doorway, hands clasped behind his back. "Sorry for the interruption, sir," he said.
"No interruption, Mister Sulu," Kirk chuckled. "Youre just keeping me away from a pile of paperwork. Whats on your mind?"
"I...uh, Ive made my decision, sir."
Kirk held his breath.
"Id like to do itboth courses."
The captains face lit up in a huge grin. "Thats wonderful, Lieutenant! You wont regret it. But I thought you wanted to sleep on it."
"I changed my mind, Captain," Sulu returned. His dark eyes stirred with gratitude. "No one has ever talked to me before the way you just did. It made me think that maybe I could be a helmsmanor even a starship captain someday."
"I know you will be," Kirk said emphatically, pumping the young officers hand. "I know you will be."
"So...when do we start?"
"Well, well arrive at Earth in about eighteen hours," Kirk answered. "Thatll be about 1630 hours, Thursday, San Francisco time. You start Monday morning at 0900 hours." The captain stifled a sheepish grin. "I took the liberty of signing you up for the Block One schedule."
Sulus eyes widened. "You were that sure Id do this?"
"Im the captain, Mister Sulu," Kirk said with a straight face. "Its my job to be sure." He scooped up a disk from his desk. "By the way, you can save me a little paperwork. This is your transfer from astrophysics to helm. If you could open this and sign it for me, we can get the ball rolling a little more quickly."
Sulu closed his fingers over the disk, stunned. Then he began to laugh.
Kirk started. It was the first time hed ever heard his soon-to-be-chief-helmsmans staccato, machine-fun laugha startling experience, to say the least. It was also very infectious, and Kirk soon found himself chuckling.
"Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah," Sulu chortled. "Ah-ah, I hope a captain doesnt have to be...ah-ah-ah...clairvoyant, sir! Ah-ah-ah!"
"Well, its not in the official job description, but it doesnt hurt."
Sulu laughed even harder. Slowly, he composed himself, but an errant chuckle escaped intermittently as he sat at Kirks terminal and electronically signed his transfer orders. He stood up finally, handing the finished disk to Kirk. Then he shook the captains hand again.
"Thank you, sir, for believing in me," he said. "I wont let you down."
"I know you wont," Kirk said. "And believe in yourself, Hikaru. Youll be surprised what a difference it will make."
"I will, sir," Sulu affirmed. He turned and left Kirks cabin, the doors hissing shut behind him.
Kirk plopped back down behind his desk, beaming. Not bad for a days work! Even the backed-up paperwork didnt seem so daunting now. He decided to put off working on the pile of disks a little longer anyway. Might as well work on finding a new chief surgeon while Im on a roll. "Kirk to Communications."
"Lieutenant, I need to access a BellComm number, Atlanta, Georgia, Earth," Kirk said. "ID code 09-LHM-216-413-323-D. Are we close enough?"
"Yes, sir," Alden replied. "One moment, sir."
Seconds later, the BellComm logo appeared on his screen, but no holo-image of the person he was calling. "This is Doctor Leonard McCoy," a raspy voice growled. "You know what to do."
Kirk chuckled as a beep sounded. "Bones, hi," he replied. "Its Jim Kirk. Remember when you asked me if I had any openings on the Enterprises medical staff? Well, guess what?"
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