Joanne K. Seward
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful starship named Enterprise. Together with her gallant captain, she traveled the invisible paths between the stars, searching the heavens for strange new worlds, new life, new adventures...
Captain James T. Kirk sighed as he watched Starbase 15 slowly fill the main viewscreen. Ready, he thought, but not willing.
Not that he didn't agree with the concept of this mission. One could learn only so much in a classroom, and simulations do go only so far. Giving cadets more time in space was the way to go. But...
"Damn," Kirk murmured. Looking up, he met the interested gaze of his first officer. "I'm not good with kids, Spock." Purposely paraphrasing McCoy, he added, "I'm a captain, not a babysitter."
"You underestimate yourself, Captain." Spock kept his voice low, aware of the presence of others. Having been present for several interesting subspace conversations in which the captain attempted to have the assignment altered, he knew how uncomfortable Kirk was. But as first officer, and more importantly, Kirk's friend, it was his duty to ease the captain's misgivings.
"I would point out that these are not merely 'kids,' but Starfleet cadets," Spock reminded him. "You are a highly decorated officer. Bear in mind, also, that Starfleet has assigned the Enterprise a routine patrol. We are unlikely to encounter any situation that the cadets are unable to handle."
Kirk simply gazed upward at his first officer. His expression, comprised of equal parts doubt and irony, made it abundantly clear he found the Vulcan's arguments unconvincing.
"Docking maneuver completed," Sulu reported over his shoulder.
Kirk nodded and stepped down from the command chair. "Well, Mister Spock, shall we go and greet our new crewmembers?" Without waiting for a reply he strode to the turbolift, stepping in the instant the doors parted. As they slid shut he resumed the conversation as though there had been no interruption. "How many 'routine' patrols has the Enterprise encountered since you've been aboard, Spock? You know how it is. Things just..." Hazel eyes wide, he shrugged. "...happen."
In the transporter room, Kirk said his goodbyes to those members of the regular crew whose positions would be filled (temporarily, he reminded himself) by the cadets, then, accompanied by Spock and McCoy, marched down the corridor to greet the new arrivals.
They look like a bunch of kids, he thought as he delivered the short welcome speech he'd prepared. Scared kids, he amended dismissing them to their new quarters.
McCoy's hushed inquiry echoed his thoughts. "My God, are they gettin' younger, or are we gettin' older?"
Kirk replied with a grimace. "They are getting younger."
Spock's eyebrow crept upward infinitesimally, but he decided this would not be the time to remind the captain of the rules governing admittance to Starfleet Academy. The regs took into account not only chronological age, but species and planet of origin. To his knowledge, there had been only a few occasions on which those regulations had been contravened, and one of those had been regarding the early admission of one James T. Kirk.
Missing that slight twitch, Kirk said, "Now that that's taken care of, I'm going to take a quick tour of the ship. Tomorrow could be quite a day."
"Care for some company?" McCoy inquired.
"Sure, Bones. How about you, Spock? Feel like going for a walk?"
The first officer nodded, clasping his hands behind him. "Affirmative, Captain. The exercise would be appreciated."
Falling comfortably into step, the three officers strolled the corridors of the Enterprise. Often, they crossed paths with packs of cadets busily seeking out cabin assignments, assorted bags and bundles slung over young backs or gripped in over-full arms. A few of the cadets had chosen an easier route, dropping their belongings in untidy piles at the sides of the corridor for later retrieval.
As they passed one such mountain of flotsam, Kirk did a double take. "My God," he intoned fervently. "I swear I saw a teddy bear on that pile."
Spock turned to survey the belongings in question, then meeting the captain's disturbed gaze, corrected him gently. "I believe it is a stuffed koala, not a teddy bear, Jim."
Almost, Kirk suspected his friend of teasing. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he said, "Does anyone know who the patron saint of starship captains is?"
Completing a circuit of Deck Three, Kirk swung into a transverse corridor. "Better have Scotty check that vent, Spock. I don't like the loo--oof!" The words were cut off when a Human missile collided solidly with his mid-section, propelling the captain backward. Only the first officer's lightning reflexes prevented Kirk from landing in an undignified sprawl.
"Thank you, Mister Spock." Kirk glanced at the steely hand still gripping his arm. There would be bruises tomorrow. "You can let go now. I seem to be in one piece." He turned his gaze on the diminutive cadet standing in front of him, her eyes just now beginning to take in the two and a half rows of braid at his wrists and command gold of his shirt.
She stepped back, instantly coming to attention. "Sir! I apologize, sir. I was looking around...I mustn't have been paying attention to where I was going." The words came out in a garbled flurry.
"Apology accepted, Cadet." A wry smile touched Kirk's eyes as he tugged his tunic into place. "You don't want to do that down in the recyclers, though. Starfleet hasn't gotten around to recycling people yet, and we don't want to give them any ideas."
"Aye, sir," the cadet replied, oblivious of the humor in his tone.
Kirk nodded. A smile still gracing his even features, he murmured, "Dismissed."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." The cadet hurried down the corridor, the desire to make herself invisible vying with her obvious interest in her surroundings. The lift doors opened, and she stepped in, eyes avidly taking in everything around her.
"Talk about single-minded," McCoy remarked. "Wonder if she's part Vulcan?"
Spock arched an eyebrow but Kirk just stood, hands on hips, watching until the lift doors obscured his view.
"Intense," the captain said softly, then, "She reminds me of Jamie Finney."
McCoy wasn't certain how best to respond to that, so, for once, he wisely held his peace.
As time passed, the captain and crew of the Enterprise grew accustomed to the presence of the cadets. Similarly, the youngsters gained their space legs. However, the process was neither uneventful nor painless.
Sitting in Rec Room One, lingering over coffee, Montgomery Scott took the opportunity to bring up a point that had been bothering him.
"Captain, did I understand you to say that you wanted all of the cadets to try their hands at everything?"
A minuscule frown tweaked at Kirk's high forehead. "You did, Scotty. Why? Is there a problem?"
"Oh, no, sir...It's just that, well..."
The captain's lips turned up at the corners. "C'mon, Mister Scott. Out with it."
"Well, sir, I have some chores that need doin', but it'd mean sending cadets into the Jefferies tubes, and...What I mean ta say, Captain, is 'twould be verra unlikely for the cadets in anything but engineering to ever find themselves doin' maintenance work, and the tubes..." Scott fiddled with his spoon. "Well, they're not exactly to everyone's taste," he finished in a rush.
"You can say that again," McCoy interjected caustically. He took a sip of coffee, then focused his blue gaze on the ceiling.
Kirk ignored the interruption. "Most of the time when non-engineering personnel have to go into the tubes, Scotty, it's due to an emergency. If tight spaces make them nervous, now is the time to get over it."
Despite McCoy's personal feelings, he was forced to agree with the captain's reasoning. "Just ask Chapel about the time she had to worm her way through those confounded tubes, Scotty." He grinned, then shook his head. The image of his nurse's grimy face as she clambered out, head-first, from her 'baptism by fire' was something he'd never forget. "Working in there in a no-pressure situation is far preferable to having to go in for the first time when someone's life may be at stake."
Kirk smiled at the engineer's doubtful expression. "Consider it landing party duty without the landing, Mister Scott." His eyes opened wide in his most ingenuous expression. "At least we won't have to worry about losing them!"
The very next morning, Scott assigned several cadet teams to different areas of the ship. Armed with hand held torches, their youthful loins girded by utility belts and communicators, the engineer listened unabashedly to their banter.
"Just stick with me, if you're scared, Threesa." Johnson, a tall, red-haired engineering cadet put an arm around the Andorian from medical. "I'll see to it nothing happens to you."
Threesa shrugged the arm away. "Up your Jefferies, Johnson."
Scott's eyes bulged. Apparently the delicately blue-tinted lass with the downy hair possessed a full measure of the famed Andorian temper!
"Seems to me it was you that got us lost on Starbase Fifteen," an Oriental boy put in, with a look of exaggerated thoughtfulness.
Johnson's offhand reply came immediately. "We weren't lost, Sumita. That was the scenic route."
"Oh, right. I always did want a chance to examine the solid waste reclamation plant of a starbase."
Sumita and Threesa laughed at the redhead's discomfiture. Only the Vulcan boy, Susek, and the Human girl, Carson, remained silent as they entered the narrow tube and began climbing the ladder that led to the dimly-lit maintenance area between decks. Scott issued some final instructions, then pointed himself in the direction of Engineering. He had work to do.
Initially, the five cadets remained close together. The job they had been given was a simple one, that of following various conduits to check for wear or damage. They were to identify possible trouble spots by marking the site with the special fluorescent markers Scott had issued.
Gradually becoming accustomed to the tubes, the cadets moved farther apart. David Johnson was tracing a power conduit. He came across several places where it appeared to have been slightly damaged. An ion storm, he speculated, or the more exciting possibility, battle damage.
None of the damage was beyond his ability as a fourth year (almost) engineering student to repair. Irked by the lack of tools necessary to effect the repair--Scott had been taking no chances--he maintained a constant stream of grumbling and griping.
"I could do this with my eyes closed. Talk about busy work. If Mister Scott wanted this done right, he should have given us the stuff to do it with." Johnson tagged a potential hazard with the marker and continued his hunt, his running commentary unimpaired.
Soon he reached a point where the conduit split. "Eenie, meenie, miney, moe. Catch a Tellarite by the toe. If it hollers, let it go. Eenie, meenie, miney, moe." Following the chosen branch, Johnson never even noticed when the between-decks crawl space acquired an ever-so-slight incline.
Time passed quickly, with the industrious cadet working at a good pace. He applauded himself for his speed and diligence. "I wonder why Mister Scott assigned Threesa and Carson to this detail? With me, Sumita, Susek, and maybe M'hantu, we could have finished in no time..."
Not that he had anything against Threesa. In fact, if you ignored that dandelion fluff she called hair, she was damned attractive. Too bad she insisted on ignoring her good luck, always shoving him away. Too bad, too, that she hung around with Carson so much. Now there was a loser.
Johnson aimed his light at the next stretch of conduit. "How the hell did that girl ever manage to get into the Academy, much less make it through three years? Must know someone," he decided. His stomach growled an accompaniment.
Glancing at his chrono, he discovered that more than three hours had passed since he'd entered the Jefferies tubes, and nearly as long since he'd had any contact with any of the other cadets. "Just as well. The farther I am from them, the less chance of getting in trouble for anything they louse up."
He stabbed the marker back into his utility belt, muttering again about busy work, then he grabbed the communicator from his belt and flipped it open with careless ease...
Or that was what he'd intended. Instead, the flick sent the device hurtling over the railing of the catwalk and down into the bowels of the ship. Johnson leaned out over the open space, shining his light downward.
A burbling sound made Cadet Jennifer Carson pause in her work. Glad no one else was close enough to hear her stomach talking, Carson could just see the glow of her friend's light around the curve of the bulkhead. She started toward it. "Threesa?"
"Here." The whispery voice seemed to be almost swallowed up.
"My stomach says it's time for lunch."
"Mine, too. Allow me to finish this...there, done. I will pack up. Why do you not call the others?"
"Right." Carson opened her communicator, paging the other cadets. Sumita and Susek replied immediately, each agreeing it was time to report back to Mister Scott.
"Meet us at the ladder," Sumita said, adding, "I'm so hungry, I was going to start eating the flex-wrap."
"Better not. They might take it out of your pay!" Carson replied, before she clicked the communicator shut.
Reaching the ladder, the four cadets stared at each other.
"Where's Johnson?" Carson asked.
"I thought he was with you," Sumita replied.
The two girls shook their heads.
Susek was more informative. "When we entered the access passageway, Cadet Johnson began working to the left of the ladder. The rest of us moved to the right. The logical action would be to continue in the direction we are heading."
Carson shoved a loose bit of hair out of her eyes. "Good thinking, Susek. Let's go."
As the four cadets retraced their steps, Threesa's butterfly-soft whisper echoed the other's thoughts. "But why did he not reply?"
Not nearly as confident as he'd been only a few minutes before, Dave Johnson clambered down the ladder, feeling around cautiously before he put his weight down. He knew it would be sheer luck if he found the lost communicator. Doggedly he turned his steps in the direction he thought the device had fallen, the beam of his flashlight playing over what he couldn't help but think of as the 'guts' of the Enterprise. "Damn!" Johnson brushed his hair back out of his eyes. He'd been perspiring a few minutes earlier. Now he was cold. He gave a shiver. "Five more minutes." If he hadn't found the communicator by then, he'd give up and report what had happened. "After all, I couldn't be the first one to lose a piece of equipment in here!"
The five minutes passed, then another five as he searched for the lost communicator. Suddenly something wrapped itself around his ankles. Ancient, unreasoned fear of creatures that dwell in murky places filled his mind as Johnson pitched forward into the darkness.
The cadets paused at the point where the power line split. No trace of their missing classmate had been found. Sumita closed his communicator. He'd been signalling Johnson almost constantly since the cadets realized something was wrong. "I think we'd better report this to Mister Scott. We're already late, and Johnson could be injured."
"Agreed. That would be the most sensible course." Susek had learned to carefully avoid overuse of the word 'logical.' It tended to bring out the emotional tendencies of those around him. In fact, he had recently begun an informal experiment, the purpose of which was to discover whether closely-related synonyms had the same effect.
"I suppose..." Carson was less certain. She hated the idea of getting another cadet in trouble, even one who always seemed to have it in for her.
Threesa's voice held a note of menace as she considered another possibility. "Johnson could have gone back to Engineering by himself. If he has, we are the ones who will be in hot liquid."
"Hot water, Threesa," Carson corrected as she turned around in the narrow space and headed back toward the access ladder.
"Whatever," Threesa said agreeably.
"Such an action would be lacking in forethought," Susek commented. A moment of silence greeted his words.
Tatsuo Sumita had known Johnson the longest. "Yeah, well, sometimes Dave doesn't think."
Awaiting his turn on the ladder, Sumita admitted to himself it would not be beyond Johnson to finish his section and return to Engineering in hopes of making the rest of them look bad. Johnson could be a great companion; he was athletic, with a fantastic sense of humor, but at times he tended to act like he was in command. Occasionally, he exhibited a ruthlessness that appalled his gentler friend.
Johnson picked himself up from bruised and stinging knees, his heart pounding like a drum. His earlier assumption had been correct. The proof lay in the red 'services' tunic tangled about his ankles. No unknown creature of the dark had attacked him, only a lost shirt. Johnson stood cautiously, then slung the tunic over his shoulders. Despite the perspiration dotting his brow, he was shivering. And somehow, he'd managed to 'lose' the ladder he'd descended. "Just keep walking, Johnson," he encouraged himself. "Eventually there has to be a way out."
Montgomery Scott surveyed the anxious young faces confronting him. As he questioned the youngsters, the tale rapidly took shape.
After listening to their explanation, Scott crossed to the intercom and apprised the captain of the situation.
"I take it you intend to go in and look for him, Scotty?"
"That I do, sir."
"Let me know what you find. If he doesn't turn up soon, I'll institute a class one search."
"Aye, Captain. Scott out." He looked at the youngsters. "Carson, give me your communicator. Mister Susek, you will remain with me. As for the rest of you, you did the right thing, reporting this. Now go and get some lunch, then return to your regular duties."
Followed by the young Vulcan, Scott slid his head and shoulders into the Jefferies tube and began to climb.
On the bridge, Kirk turned to face Spock. Shaking his head, he said, "And I was the one who said we didn't have to worry about losing them..."
Johnson crouched, his ear to the bulkhead. Confused, the glow from his portable light dying, he'd lost track of where he was. He'd finally located a hatch, but now he hesitated. He didn't want to emerge smack in the middle of a mess hall or something.
The faint sound of a soft but commanding voice penetrated the bulkhead. Johnson froze. No...It couldn'tbe. He listened harder, his ear melded to the hatch as he strained to sort the voice from the ever-present thrum of machinery. A second, deeper voice responded to the first.
Oh, God... Groaning he collapsed against the bulkhead into a boneless heap.
"Gee, Bill, looks like we found the needle in the haystack." The red-shirted security officer grinned at his partner.
"Okay, let's take him home." The second security officer popped the hatch, then shoved Johnson unceremoniously through the tight opening. "C'mon, kid."
The cadet stood blinking in the sudden glare of the bridge lights, his fair skin crimson with embarrassment, hands clenched tightly at his sides.
Like his crew, Kirk was silent for a moment, appraising the apparition that had materialized through the emergency hatch. He studiously ignored the flanking red-shirts, who were using all their considerable physical control to resist bursting into uninhibited laughter. "Mister Johnson, I presume?"
Johnson nodded miserably. It was all he could do to answer, "Yes, sir."
Kirk's mouth twitched, but he took pity on the youngster. "It appears you've had quite a day...Lieutenant Uhura, inform Mister Scott that Cadet Johnson has been found." Hazel eyes took in torn slacks and the bruise forming over one eye. "Safe and...ahem...relatively sound."
Uhura offered the battered cadet a sympathetic smile before turning to her board to relay the message.
In a more businesslike tone, Kirk added, "Better report to Sickbay, Cadet, and have those bruises tended."
Kirk nodded dismissal. The security officers headed for the turbolift, Johnson still sandwiched between their burly shoulders. Just as the doors opened and the threesome stepped in, Kirk swiveled the command chair to face the lift. "Oh, and Johnson--"
Despite its quiet tone, Kirk's voice sent shivers up Johnson's spine. He spun around, eyes wide. "Sir?"
"I'd like to see you at 2050 hours. In my quarters."
The cadet's gut formed into a tight knot. Struggling to maintain some semblance of discipline, he gave a jerky nod. "Aye, sir."
Once the uproar over the lost cadet and the excitement of a class one search died down, things slowly returned to normal. In fact, due to the routine nature of their assignment, life aboard the Enterprise came as close to being downright boring as life in space could possibly be.
In Rec Room One, Montgomery Scott threw down his cards. "Fold. Too rich for my blood."
Sulu grinned. "Pair of kings." He pulled the stack of credits toward him, laughing at the groans of the other players.
"Break, break," Uhura said, parodying her newest area of research, an ancient form of radio communication. "I need a break."
"And a chance to stuff your face?" Christine Chapel pulled something out of a bag at her side and waved it in front of Uhura before she dumped it into the empty bowl in the center of the table.
Uhura grabbed a handful of the candy-coated chocolates. "So much for my hips. Where'd you get them, Chris?"
"A present from a grateful patient."
"What did you do? Save his life?" Not waiting for an answer, Uhura placed one of the candies in her mouth. "Mmmmm. There's something about real chocolate that just can't be imitated."
Chekov followed her lead. "These were inwented by a Russian, you know."
Uhura grinned and shook her head. Chekov's propensity for attributing things to his native land seemed to increase by the day.
"But they were," Chekov insisted. "The letters stand for Mikaelova and Mijinska."
Uhura shook her head again. "So, Scotty, how's young Douglas MacDougal doing?"
The engineer groaned, leaning back in his seat. "Would you believe that insubordinate young whelp? Today he was tryin' to tell me I should connect the Wurtangle circuit to the Witherspoon enhancer."
Uhura looked confused. "Didn't you do that the last time Sulu had trouble with the helm controls?"
Sulu nodded agreement. He remembered the occasion well. He also remembered the warning contained in the helm manual, written in oversized print and double underlined, which strongly advised against that very thing.
"Well, aye, of course it is. But it's nae his place to be explainin' it to me in words of two syllables or less. Besides, it's a verra dangerous procedure! If ye don't do it just right--" Scott's hands mimed an explosion. "Kaboom!"
"Maybe he vwas just trying to show you he knows his job."
Uhura's rich laugh rang out as she patted the ensign on the shoulder. "I think I caused a minor explosion of my own the other day. Carson was assisting me on the bridge. No matter what I did, she just kept saying, 'That's not how they showed us at the academy.' You should have seen her face when I finally lost my temper and explained in the simplest possible terms that my board is set up that way because that's the way I like it." The comm officer chuckled again.
"Carson...She was with the team that lost Johnson." Scott leaned even farther back in his seat, squinching up his eyes as he tried to place the cadet. "Blond hair, kind o' pulled back tight?"
"I know who you mean." Chapel chimed in. "She was in for her physical the other day." She took another handful of M&M's. "Someone should tell her to lighten up a little."
Chekov gave an affronted sniff. "Some of us still remember vwhat it's like being the new kid."
A huge grin split Sulu's face. "That's right. Chekov was a model of understanding when one of them dumped his coffee in his lap yesterday." Sulu mimicked an attitude of intense concentration. "What was it you called him, Pav?"
Chekov ignored the jibe.
"If you feel so sorry for the cadets, Chekov, what about poor Captain Kirk?" Chapel asked.
"Vwhat do you mean?"
"Well, it seems to me Captain Kirk has had more to put up with than any of us. For instance..." Chapel's face took on the well-known look that she was about to divulge something juicy. Every eye at the table focused on her.
"Yesterday, when the captain came down for his physical, Doctor McCoy did all the regular scans and tests, then he handed him over to the Andorian cadet, Threesa, for a blood sample." Chapel paused to pop a couple of M&M's in her mouth. "You know how thorough Doctor McCoy is."
Affirmative groans greeted the statement.
"And?" Sulu waited for the punch line. "What happened?"
"Yes. Vwhat happened?" Chekov urged.
"She drew the sample..." Chapel dropped the last three candies in her mouth and was about to reach for more when Uhura stopped her.
Chapel burst into laughter. "...After about six tries!"
"Six tries?" Uhura eyes widened, uncertain whether to sympathize with the captain or burst into laughter. "You're exaggerating."
"Well..." The nurse wrapped her arms around her slim waist, attempting to quell the chuckles that were forcing their way up. "It might have been only five. If you could have seen it. The captain just sat there, taking deep breaths and watching her stick him. Over and over and over--"
"Thet is not funny," Chekov said emphatically. He worked almost as hard as Kirk to avoid McCoy's lair.
"Her hands were shaking and her cheeks were almost as blue as her uniform--" Chapel tried to get the words out before she started laughing again. "I felt so sorry for her..."
Chekov looked positively drained. "Sorry for her!"
"And the captain, of course."
Uhura rolled her eyes. "Of course!"
"You should have seen his expression when she offered to try the other arm!" Again, mirth attempted to take over. "His eyes flew open, then he got that hurt little boy look of his... You know the one," Chapel gasped, choking back laughter as she mimicked the well-known 'look.' "I thought I was going to burst."
"That's why the captain has been holding his arm that way," Sulu deduced gravely.
Chapel nodded, still not quite in control, then she took a deep breath. "It's his own fault. He was due for his physical over a month ago, but he kept putting it off. I keep wondering..."
"If Doctor McCoy did it on purpose?" Sulu suggested, voicing the question in all their minds.
"He wouldnae," Scott replied, then ruined the effect by adding, "Would he?" Knowing his companions' laughter indicated the answer was unanimously affirmative. Aye, I guess he would at that.
Jennifer Carson eyed her friend as they stepped out of the turbolift and headed for the mess hall. Threesa's blue skin looked faded next to the deeper blue of her uniform and there were dark areas under her eyes. "Is something wrong, Threesa?"
"I have been thinking. Perhaps my family was correct. Perhaps I should return home. I do not seem to be able to...slice it." The Andorian fell silent. Since she was a child, she'd wanted two things: the stars, and the ability to make people feel better. The captain had not looked like he felt better when she finished mangling his arm the other day.
"'Cut it,' you mean. Slice is something you do to bread." Accustomed to her friend's odd colloquialisms, Carson hardly even thought about the correction. The two girls fell into step behind several other cadets. "Listen, you're always telling me not to be so hard on myself. Why don't you do yourself a favor and take your own advice? It's usually pretty good, you know."
"I feel so clumsy though. I do not seem to be able to get things right..." Threesa blushed a deep blue, confiding, "Captain Kirk crosses to the other side of the corridor when he sees me."
Carson's own cheeks felt warm as they entered the quietly bustling mess hall. She'd been thinking the same thing ever since she crashed into the captain her first day aboard the Enterprise. She didn't mention it though. Threesa's problem was more important right now. "Remember that time I tore my hand up in the simulator and was bleeding all over the place?" Carson smiled at her friend as they queued up at the food dispensers. "You took care of it without so much as flinching. I didn't even have to report to the infirmary. Give yourself a chance, Threesa."
The Andorian didn't look reassured, but she said nothing as the line moved, and the two girls began to make their selections.
All of a sudden, Threesa pointed at something beyond Carson's shoulder. "Oh, no!" she exclaimed, a dismayed expression on her delicate features. Dropping her tray, she shoved to the front of the line, causing surprised exclamations as she went. The Vulcan cadet, Susek, followed silently in her wake.
Turning to see what could have caused her usually gentle friend and the ever-correct Susek to act in such a rude manner, Carson let out a gasp, blue eyes wide.
Something had gone spectacularly wrong with the beverage dispensers. They were spewing out streams of hot coffee, tea and juices, dousing the lined up crewmembers with the sticky liquids.
Startled from her paralysis by the sound of her classmates' laughter, Carson grabbed a bunch of napkins and headed for Threesa's side, pausing only to snap out, "What's wrong with you? Someone could be hurt. Johnson, see if you can help Susek figure out what's wrong with the dispensers. Sumita, call Engineering and Sickbay, Dougie--"
"With you, Jenn." The young Scot grabbed more napkins and threw himself into the fray. Johnson and Sumita moved more slowly, their faces still covered with foolish grins.
"They're lucky," Threesa breathed, as she and Carson assisted a crewmember with streaming eyes to a seat. "The spray is so fine, the liquids cool almost as soon as they hit the air."
With all of their concentration centered on the malfunctioning dispensers, the arrival of the CMO in search of his morning coffee had gone unnoticed. Now, blue eyes blazing, McCoy demanded, "What in tarnation is going on here?!!!"
A half dozen voices sounded at once.
McCoy ignored the frantic attempts to explain. "Never mind. Has someone called Engineering? Good, then let's see what we've got. Is anybody hurt?"
"Over here, Doctor." Threesa pointed to the crewmember she and Carson were attending.
McCoy moved to her side, noting the crewman's already swelling eyes. "Allergic reaction," he muttered. Moments later the beverage dispensers ceased delivering their multicolored fountains. Susek and Johnson emerged from the maintenance space beneath the dispensers just as a red-shirted Ship's Services technician strode through the doors.
"Thank God!" McCoy commented, running his ever-present scanner over the crewmember seated in front of him. "You'll do until we can get you to Sickbay," he assured as he pulled him to his feet.
Glancing at the soggy group still clustered around the dispenser, he asked, "Anyone else have a history of sensitivity?" Noting the negative responses, he drawled, "Then I suggest you all go get into dry clothes. You too, Threesa." He smiled approvingly. The child had acted quickly and correctly. More softly, he murmured, "Good work."
Several days later, the captain responded to a request that he stop by Sickbay. "What is it, Bones?" Kirk asked, watching one of the cadets silently exit the treatment area, a tube of lotion clutched in his hand.
McCoy stepped into his office. He waited until Kirk was safely inside before he said, "Itching powder."
Kirk frowned. "Itching powder?"
"Yeah. Itching powder. Someone put it in the cadets' uniforms."
Kirk raised his eyes heavenward. "First, Johnson gets lost, now, it's itching powder. I'm beginning to suspect we've been assigned every troublemaker in next year's graduating class."
McCoy shrugged philosophically. "They handled that mess with the beverage dispenser fairly well, Jim. Threesa in particular." He grinned as Kirk shot a wary glance at the crook of his arm. "On the other hand, I didn't spend all those years studying medicine to hand out topical anesthetics to adolescent space cadets." He considered for a moment before seating himself behind the desk. "You have the look of a man who needs to talk."
The captain gave a noncommittal grunt, but he followed McCoy's lead, dropping with a sigh into the only seat not filled with data tapes and other assorted paraphernalia. "Starfleet should have given us a real mission--something for the cadets to sink their teeth into. As it is, we're patrolling a patch of space that no one gives a damn about, and the cadets--they're reacting exactly the way I expected, Bones. Monotony, with a capital M."
He paused, combing his fingers through his hair. "I've asked Spock to set up a series of drills--emergency evacuation procedures, phaser drills, simulated defense measures. Whether it will help..." He glanced significantly at the tubes of ointment remaining on McCoy's desk and lifted his shoulders, palms up in a 'who knows?' gesture.
Changing tacks, Kirk added, "My request for shore leave was finally okayed, but we have to finish this leg of the patrol. That's another week and a half. Ten days..." He took a deep breath then peered at the calendar displayed in the corner of McCoy's computer screen, calculating. "Ten days, eleven hours and thir--" He stopped suddenly, aghast at what he was saying.
McCoy's expression mirrored the captain's. "My God, Jim, for a second there, you sounded just like Spock!" He shook his head in time with the captain's. "It's gonna be a l-o-n-g ten days."
Nearly a week came and went with no further disturbances, though a rumor did reach Kirk's ears regarding a series of revealing holograms that had been turning up in the cadets' quarters. There was another rumor regarding certain messages on the Enterprise's computerized bulletin board, but since neither had been reported officially, Kirk ignored the gossip, hoping the prospect of shore leave would keep things within reason.
Jennifer Carson and Threesa entered rec room three just in time to hear someone say, "Starfleet set up this whole training mission all wrong."
"Johnson's shooting his mouth off again." Carson rolled her eyes, as they crossed the room to join the rest of the off-duty cadets at the long table. She might not be brilliant the way Johnson was, but she knew enough to be sure that Susek or Sumita would be more likely to make it into command than Johnson.
Threesa nodded 'yes,' then placing her fingers in front of her lips, motioned for quiet.
"If they really wanted us to get used to life aboard a starship," Johnson said in his know-it-all way, "they would have given us a real mission, not have us tracing a triangle in space over and over and over again." In a confiding tone, he added, "I think Lieutenant Sulu has the helm locked into auto-pilot."
"The Enterprise has been assigned to patrol this region. It is logical to assume the majority of patrol assignments do not encounter any unusual phenomena," Susek commented from one of the computer work-stations across the room.
"Maybe not, Susek, but when I get out of the Academy, I'm not going to put in for starship duty, you can bet your bottom credit on that! I'm gonna ask for border patrol. That's where the action is. None of this back and forth business for me." Johnson picked up a piece of lime green paper from the pile in the center of the table and began copying the folds Sumita was making. "Give us some real work. Enough of this marking time. We know our way around the ship now--" He held up the fruit of his labor.
Sumita glanced at it, sighed and shook his head.
"Some of us better than others..." MacDougal inserted slyly, his own paper beginning to resemble an old-fashioned delta-winged airplane.
"At least I don't go around telling Mister Scott his business, Dougie."
"Cut it out, you two," Sumita said, throwing a tiny paper aircraft at each of them. "There's no reason to snipe at each other just because this isn't as exciting as you expected."
Susek watched this bit of foolishness calmly. "It is possible to become bored only if one so allows oneself." But even as he spoke, the Vulcan was aware of a touch of hypocrisy. If it were not for the fascinating study provided by his Human classmates, would he not have to admit to a growing measure of boredom?
"What do you think, Threesa?" Johnson prodded.
The Andorian focused her eyes on the pale pink paper Carson had placed in front of her. "A nurse should be glad when things are quiet."
"Yeah, sure, but aren't you getting just a little bored?" Johnson snatched another sheet of paper--neon orange this time--and started a new plane. "You're Andorian. A warrior people. How can you sit there and answer like that? 'A nurse should be glad...'" he mimicked, then crossed his eyes, opinion clearly expressed.
Threesa refused to be goaded, turning her attention to the sleek craft taking shape in her hands.
Carson also tuned the debate out, searching her conscience. The reasoning part of her agreed with Susek. Her heart was another matter. "Look. If you fold it this way..." She pointed to the plane Threesa was working on. Threesa nodded and followed her suggestion.
Almost without volition, Carson murmured to her friend, "I'd give almost anything to be stationed on a starship. Just for a little while. A regular member of the crew. Imagine, being there to see a star go nova or to rescue people from some natural disaster. Just one moment of glory..."
"See, even little Jenny is bored," Johnson sneered, knowing how Carson disliked the diminutive form of her name. When no one responded, he held out his newest creation. "I made some refinements. This one will go farther than any of those."
Glad for the change of subject, Sumita shook his head. "No way, Dave. My great-uncle taught me to make paper airplanes when I could hardly make a clean fold. Mine is better."
"This one is certain to be the best flyer." Threesa's soft voice was just audible over the laughter and conflicting claims made by the other cadets. She held up the evidence of their handiwork. "Look how Jenn and I have streamlined it.
From his place across the room, Susek watched the others curiously. For his part, he found the amount of 'horseplay' that went on among his classmates excessive. It was difficult to imagine Spock, or any of the other Enterprise officers behaving in such a manner. He was intrigued, however, by the way other species seemed able to go from frivolous to sober pursuits without so much as a moment's pause to reorder their obviously disorganized thought processes.
One of the delicate craft glided to a landing in front of the young Vulcan. He picked it up, wishing illogically that the first officer were present. Spock was something of a role model for him. It would be intriguing to witness his reactions to this odd scene.
Still fingering the 'airplane' he forced his thoughts back to the review tape on warp drive technology he'd been studying. Social interaction of alien species, as interesting as it could be, was not the field he had chosen. He hardly heard Johnson ask, "What do you say, Carson? Are you willing to put your plane where Threesa's mouth is?"
"There's a distinct line between the cadets and the regular crew, Spock. For example," Kirk stabbed a finger at the door they were approaching, "Rec Room Three has become cadet territory. They never come into Rec One or Two. And the older crew and officers stay out of Three. A ship can't operate that way. My ship can't operate that way."
"I have observed this self-imposed segregation, Captain. You say Doctor McCoy has a plan for putting an end to it?"
Kirk nodded. "Bones suggests we have some sort of party where the cadets can get to know the regular crew without the constraint of what he calls 'military protocol.' What do you think?" The automatic sensor in the door frame registered their presence, and the doors whooshed open.
"The good doctor is better informed as to group dyna--" Spock paused, taking in the strange sight that met his bemused eyes.
A group of off-duty cadets had congregated at one end of the rec room and were busily engaged in launching paper airplanes. Unfortunately, someone had aimed one of the aircraft in the direction of the doors at the same instant the captain and first officer came through them. Kirk spotted the missile on a direct heading for their position and ducked instinctively.
Not having the benefits of a Terran public school education, Spock took a millisecond longer to verify the illogical information his senses were feeding to his brain. That fraction of a second was a fraction too long. The fragile craft struck the Vulcan on the temple. The plane's nose crumpled, and it fell gracelessly to the floor.
Deep silence enveloped the rec room as the shocked cadets came to full attention.
In the same time Kirk was transformed into the very essence of a starship captain. His personal irritation and frustration with this mission coalesced into a spark of cold anger. Drawing himself up to his full height, he said, "Mister Spock, it would appear there are matters here that require my attention. I suggest that you take this time to complete the report we were discussing earlier."
Spock, so clearly dismissed, had little choice but to go. "Of course, Captain."
Kirk waited silently for the doors to close behind the first officer. When they did, he methodically bent down and retrieved the offending object, allowing the tension in the room to increase. His voice, when finally he spoke, was very soft, almost blending in with the background sounds of the Enterprise. "Whose is this?"
A young man who could have been Sulu's brother stepped forward. "Captain, I--"
The young woman standing next to him stepped forward as well. "Captain, I respectfully submit--"
"Cadet-" the captain snapped. He was well-aware of the intimidation the cadets were feeling. "Carson, isn't it?"
With the name came his recollection of their collision in the deck three corridor, his impression of a shy, if intense girl. Unimpressive, as academy cadets go. The only positive comment he could recall from the records forwarded by the academy had been that she showed 'uncommon determination.' Surveying the young woman in front of him, Kirk found it a reasonable judgement.
When she didn't continue, the captain stepped closer, circling slowly. He stopped in front of her, forcing the unfortunate cadet to meet his gaze. His voice softer still, he said, "Would you please see to it that everyone cleans up the...results of your aerodynamic experimentation when you're all finished?"
"Aye, sir." Carson's voice wavered slightly but her eyes remained firm.
"And, ah, Carson, I believe an apology to Mister Spock might be appropriate."
"Of course, sir," she replied, the pinched look beginning to leave her face.
"Thank you." Then, pausing only to gather a couple of sheets of colored paper for his own use, Kirk murmurred, "As you were," and headed for the doors, his agile brain and years of experience already pointing out several design improvements the cadets had missed.
The distress call came from a colony ship one day out from the Enterprise at emergency warp. The New Day had set out vastly overburdened and under-provisioned. Halfway to its destination on the class M planet, Aurora, the ship encountered an ion storm. In optimal condition, she might have withstood the storm with a minimum of damage. Unfortunately, such was not the case.
Large portions of the New Day were rendered uninhabitable, others inaccessible due to hull damage and decompression. Husbands and wives, parents and children, all were separated by the terrible damage, forced to remain in whatever area of the ship they had been when hit by the storm, uncertain whether their loved ones were among the injured, dead or dying.
An evaluation team consisting of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, and two damage control specialists, all dressed in environmental suits, beamed aboard the New Day. The scene that greeted them was one that would affect even seasoned veterans. Kirk shuddered at the thought of its effect on the cadets and was immediately grateful he'd not allowed any of the cadets to accompany them on the first landing party.
"Fan out. Do a preliminary scan, then meet back here in ten minutes with your assessments." Kirk took in the scene around him, then began picking his way in the direction that should lead to the bridge of the disabled ship.
McCoy pivoted, meeting Spock's eye. The Vulcan nodded tersely in reply to the unspoken command, placing himself firmly at the captain's side.
As they made their way between the bulging bulkheads, red emergency lighting provided relief from the sight of walls garishly smeared with red, as though some mad artist had flung buckets of organic paint at them. They walked carefully, trying to avoid stepping on the injured colonists and crew of the New Day.
A low moan caught Kirk's attention. He bent to touch the man's shoulder awkwardly with his gloved hand, offering what reassurance he could. "We're from the Federation starship, Enterprise. Try to hold on." He knew the words were of no use, experience had taught him the man was too far gone for medical aid, but he offered them anyway, frustrated at his helplessness.
"Captain, if we are to return to the transporter coordinates within the designated time limits--"
"Right, Spock." Kirk looked at the wounded man again, then got to his feet. "Help is on the way," he assured him.
As they returned to the appointed location, Spock reported dispassionately on what he had observed. "Captain, this ship must be evacuated as quickly as possible. Its condition is dangerously unstable."
"Aye, Mister Spock," added Scott, as he approached them from the opposite direction. "Life support is almost gone, and we couldnae reach th' engine room. Even if we had..." He shrugged, indicating two emergency bulkheads which had frozen in half-closed positions. "As you can see, Captain, just about everything has shorted out."
"There are a lot of people with electrical burns, Jim," McCoy put in, "along with just about everything else, from pulls and sprains to severe internal injuries. We have to get them back to the Enterprise."
Kirk nodded. "What about damage control?"
The two damage control specialists glanced at each other then the female one spoke up. "There's nothing left to control, sir. This ship is barely holding together. Anything we try to do could make the situation worse."
Her partner nodded. "The hull is too fragile for us to try the reinforcement panels. There's a delicate equilibrium--any change, and she'll just go to pieces on us."
Kirk inhaled deeply, tasting the dry suit air. He had hoped it would be possible to stabilize conditions aboard the New Day enough that the suits could be dispensed with. It seemed that wouldn't happen.
"Okay, then. Concha and D'trel, you stay and help with the evacuation. See if you can get the computer to give you a copy of the ship's manifest. We're going to need it." He nodded absently as they responded with brisk 'ayes,' then headed for the nearest terminal. His attention was already back on his senior officers.
"Bones, you and Scotty get back to the ship. There's not much you can do here, and we don't need excess personnel getting in the way."
The engineer nodded and stepped away from the others, opening his communicator.
Kirk continued giving orders. "Spock, I want you to set up the landing parties to assist in the evacuation. I don't think we should use the cadets for this. It's going to be a little--" Kirk gave a helpless shrug.
Noting McCoy's continued presence at Kirk's side, and knowing what it signified, Spock said, "Captain, might I suggest that you return to the ship as well? There is no reason for you to remain on the New Day."
"Spock..." Kirk began, only to be interrupted by McCoy.
"He's right, Jim. Anything you can do here can be done just as well by any member of the crew."
"It is illogical to place yourself in danger by remaining," Spock affirmed.
Kirk attempted to protest, but found himself neatly outmaneuvered. Eyes glittering, he activated his communicator. "Enterprise, three to beam back," then in an aside, "Since when is this a democracy?"
"Sir?" Kyle's uncomprehending voice responded.
"Never mind, Chief. Energize when ready, Enterprise."
Kirk shot an annoyed look at his first officer as they stepped off the transporter platform. He waited patiently for the next landing party to disappear into sparkles. "Spock--"
"--was just doing his job, Captain." McCoy's tone was firm.
Kirk popped the seals and lifted off his helmet, lips compressed as he refrained from comment. "About the landing parties, Spock. I don't think we should send the cadets over there."
Spock had already begun stripping off his suit. "Captain, at present, approximately one-eighth of our crew is comprised of cadets. Without them, we would be severely undermanned." Something in his unchanging features seemed to soften for a moment as he added, "Attempting to protect the cadets from the reality of life in Starfleet would be an exercise in futility, Jim."
Kirk's eyebrows rose, but before he could reply, McCoy stepped in again. "Agreed, Captain. That's what they're here for."
"What is this? Gang up on the captain day?" But the query was uttered without malice. Kirk knew Spock and McCoy well enough to know that they would always give him the truth as they saw it, regardless of how unpalatable he might find it. Having shed the bulky suit, he led the way from the transporter room. "All right then. Any more suggestions, Doctor? Mister Spock?"
"Affirmative. In order for the landing parties to remain at optimal physical and mental condition, I would suggest two hour shifts."
McCoy nodded. "Mix the cadets in with the more seasoned officers." He gave a little shrug, adding, "But you'd do that anyway."
Kirk nodded. Any mistakes made on the New Day would be paid for in lives, something he was determined to avoid. "Bones, you get down to Sickbay. The first survivors should start arriving pretty soon. Spock, get that landing party roster set up. Ten teams of six on two hour shifts." He sighed. "And I will go to the bridge and wait."
Jennifer Carson worked steadily alongside Susek. They were both members of Lieutenant Sulu's rescue team. She was glad for the Vulcan's stoic acceptance of the horrors confronting them. She didn't think she could have dealt with any of the other cadets' emotional reactions just now. It was difficult enough controlling her own.
Straining to free a young man from the wreckage that pinned him to the buckled deck, she considered the Vulcan point of view, using her thoughts to block out the sounds of the man's pain. Initially, Carson had been shocked at Susek's lack of reaction, but as they worked together, she had seen there was no place for emotions in this time and place. They had to do what they could, and do it fast. Emotional scenes would just be a waste of precious time.
The two cadets freed the young man and arranged for him to be beamed back to the Enterprise. They watched the transporter effect dissipate then continued their search for trapped and wounded colonists among the wreckage of what had once been, as far as they could tell, a communal sleeping area.
Carson waved her tricorder in an arc. "I have readings on another one, Susek. Under there." She pointed at a huge pile of furnishings and other debris which had been torn loose from their moorings during the height of the ion storm.
Susek moved to her side, inspecting the mountain of debris piled against the bulkhead. "We will require assistance. I will call the others."
"Hurry. By the readings, it's probably a child." Carson looked up from the tricorder, her face pale despite her steady tone. "And the life signs are erratic."
In Sickbay, Threesa worked side by side with the more experienced medical personnel, appalled at the damage a person could withstand and yet still cling to life, if only by a thread. For the first time since she'd boarded the Enterprise, the delicately blue-tinted cadet found herself performing, rapidly and efficiently, tasks that only a few days ago had seemed nearly impossible. A certainty was once again forming in her soul that Starfleet and medicine were her destiny.
The Andorian girl snapped out of her reverie. The situation was too urgent to think of anything but her work. She hurried to where the orderlies had placed a recent arrival from the New Day. As she approached the gurney, Threesa felt herself go queasy. The man was covered in blood, more red blood than Threesa had ever seen in her life. She steadied herself, shrugging off Nurse Chapel's concerned look. Diving back into the fray despite the sudden nausea, Threesa was surprised to see a look of approval in the head nurse's eyes.
A stretcher bearing yet another battered Human was brought in to Sickbay. Threesa pushed aside her idle thoughts as Nurse Chapel nodded for her to assist. There was work to be done.
"Let me know if that reading changes at all, laddie. We have to try to keep that hunk of space junk stable until we get all our people off it."
"Aye, Mister Scott." Sumita eyed the indicator in front of him, willing it not to deviate. In an attempt to hold the rapidly weakening New Day in one piece, the captain had ordered the use of tractor beams. The chief engineer grumbled and muttered of impending doom, but went about his job with dedicated precision, aware of the precarious condition of the other ship and of what would happen to the rescue teams should it undergo rapid decompression.
Scott noted the look of concentration on the youngster's face and nodded approval. "She's holdin' steady, lad. If we can keep her that way for another few hours, we'll have everyone off that tin can and be warpin' to Starbase Fifteen for medical assistance before you know it. We can do it, you'll see."
Sumita hoped Mister Scott was correct. He'd seen the images sent back by the landing parties, had heard the reports on the comm frequencies. His friends were over there. "Aye, sir," he mumbled, never taking his eyes off his work.
Dave Johnson tagged one unit and moved on to the next. He'd been assigned to ship's stores, checking out the environmental suits before use, and again after they were returned. The sturdy- looking, gleamingly immaculate suits which hung by size in overhead rows in no way resembled those which were being returned from the transporter room, coated with blood and dirt. "Good thing Threesa isn't here," he muttered, working to control the squeamishness which suddenly assailed him.
"That one will have to go," the lieutenant working with Johnson said.
"Aye," Johnson agreed, attaching the 'destroy' tag he'd already retrieved from a bin. When first assigned to stores, Johnson had taken it as an insult, a sort of 'somebody has to do it' type of job, perhaps even a silent punishment for getting lost in the Jefferies tubes.
Now he knew that he'd been wrong. Very wrong. This was an important job, one that made him responsible for the lives of every crewmember presently on the colony ship. The suits were so seldom used aboard a starship that it would be easy to allow them to deteriorate. Even the slightest bit of unmended damage could render a suit inadequate to protect the fragile beings who would wear them. In a situation like today's, that could mean the difference between life and death to his crewmates and the colonists who were depending on them.
Sulu eyed the jammed door. "Give me a tricorder scan, M'hantu. Let's see what's on the other side."
"Readings show numerous life forms in a small space, sir. Could be a closet."
Another voice added, "The readings look like little kids, maybe babies."
"Damn." Sulu peered over the cadet's shoulder then shook his head. "They're packed in like sardines. I wonder what the colonists were thinking of when they put them in there?"
"Maybe they thought the kids would be safer in there. That's what they do back home on Draconis when there are earthquakes. The extra structural components provide a little additional protection," one of the cadets suggested.
"Could be. If so, it worked. These life signs are stronger than most of the others we've found."
The quiet voice at Sulu's elbow drew his attention. "What is it, Susek?"
"Cadet Carson and I have discovered life signs behind a pile of debris. We require assistance in moving it."
"Uhh, right." Sulu eyed his team. "M'hantu, you're in charge here. I want you to phaser out a section of the door to get to those kids. You'll probably have to shore it up. Think you can handle it?"
"Good. Then do it." Sulu turned and followed the Vulcan cadet to the other side of the room where Carson had already begun removing debris. The two men added their efforts to hers, working together to remove some of the larger pieces.
A beep from a tricorder drew Sulu's attention. He scanned the information on the small screen. "That wall is losing stability. If we're not careful we're going to bring it down on top of us."
"Indeed." Susek peered at the offending bulkhead through the smudged faceplate of his helmet. "Perhaps, now that we have removed some of the debris, it would be possible for us to lift the remainder, Lieutenant."
"If you and Lieutenant Sulu can do it, Susek, I can crawl under and pull out whoever's back there." Carson's voice held a note of enthusiasm, despite the wisp of hair stuck to her face and the perspiration trickling between her breasts.
"Wait a minute. If anyone is going to crawl underneath there, it should be me--"
"Sir, I'm the smallest of the three of us; it will be easier for me to get in there."
"Cadet, in case you hadn't noticed--" Again Sulu was interrupted.
"Carson is the logical choice. It is likely that the bulkhead against which the debris is resting has been damaged, and is supported at least in part by this debris. It is of the utmost importance that it remain steady. Our combined strength will be required to see to it that it does. Should the wreckage shift while Carson is underneath..."
"All right, Susek, enough. You've made your point." Sulu didn't like what he saw, but he couldn't deny the logic of the Vulcan's argument. "Carson, when we lift this mess, I want you to get in and out of there as fast as possible. Understood?" There was no mistaking the note of command in his voice.
"Aye, sir." Carson picked up one of the portable lamps they had been carrying and attached it to her wrist, then got down on her hands and knees between Sulu and Susek, prepared to squirm under as soon as they lifted the mound. "Ready whenever you are, sir."
"Right." Sulu studied the wreckage in front of them. "This piece appears to go all the way to the wall. If we lift it, it should take the rest of the debris with it."
The two men took their places at the sides of the debris, each searching for a secure grip. "On the count of three," Sulu intoned, then he counted. "One, two, three..."
They lifted, straining against the weight of the debris, raising it several inches. "Enough?" Sulu gasped.
"Almost. Give me two more inches, and I can manage." Carson was already playing her flashlight back and forth in the opening. "I think I see something."
"Unhh!" Sulu grunted as he and the Vulcan heaved again. Several small pieces of rubble were dislodged and came raining noisily down on the metal deckplates. Then he heard, more than saw, Carson slither into the opening they had created.
"There...it looks like a little girl. I'm inching in a little bit. Almost there..."
Sulu's tricorder beeped, and though he couldn't see it, he knew the bulkhead was about to give way. "It's no good! Get out of there, Carson. We can't do it."
"Just hold it another second, I've got her hand." Carson could see the toddler's face directly in front of her. She grasped the child's hand, but the bulky gloves of her suit kept her from getting a good grip. She tried again, listening to the lieutenant's deep voice over her helmet speaker, an odd calm descending over her.
"Get out, now, Carson! That's an order!"
Carson ignored him, reaching for the child again. She couldn't leave a baby under here if there were a possibility of extricating her.
That's Susek's voice, a distant part of Carson's mind informed her.
"It is illogical to remain. The bulkhead--"
Carson felt the mound shift ominously. From somewhere far away, she heard Lieutenant Sulu ordering Susek clear. Oddly, Susek seemed to be arguing. Then, almost gently, a weight settled on her chest, squeezing the life from her body. Strange, beautiful lights danced in front of her eyes as she tried one last time, straining to hold the child's hand in her own. Finally she felt the tiny fingers through her glove, then everything went dark.
The crew of the Enterprise spent eight hours searching the wrecked ship with tricorders and muscle, sifting through debris and rubble. The losses were tremendous. One more child too far gone to save; another adult too severely injured to stand the strain of transport; another baby, dead in its rescuer's arms. Hours spent laboring in the uncomfortable suits, searching the wreckage, honed the skills of the young cadets. It also left them dulled, their glow tarnished, idealism soiled. When Captain Kirk finally gave the word to abandon the colony ship and return to the Enterprise, those who beamed back, officers and cadets alike, did not resemble those who had transported over only hours before.
Alone in his partially darkened cabin, Jim Kirk listened with a sense of dissatisfaction as the computer played back his carefully selected words.
No regulation required him to do this, but he had made it his personal rule that the official death notification should be accompanied by a personal communication. It was a rule he never shirked, much as he sometimes wished he could. He firmly believed it eased the pain of the mourning family to know that their son or daughter, wife or husband, was not a cog in a giant wheel, but a person known and loved by those with whom they had served. It was what he would have wished for his own family. In a way he could not explain, the words he would record had as much to do with his own honor as with that of the dead.
And yet, as he struggled with words that should never have to be said, Kirk was almost overwhelmed by the sense of lost potential, the sheer waste of this death, the death of a child he'd barely known.
Finally, with a sigh, the captain flipped the record switch, and began speaking. Though he told of Carson's courage and dedication, how she'd served her ship with bravery, he remembered how, on her first day aboard the Enterprise, she had collided with him and barely seemed to notice, her fascination with the ship itself was so great. He recalled, too, the paper airplanes, how Carson had barely come to his shoulder. Most of all he remembered her eyes, meeting his-frightened, but determined.
Kirk spoke only briefly, in an emotion-roughened voice, of the events leading up to her death, of her valiant persistence in attempting to rescue the trapped child, of how she had risked her own life to try to save the life of another.
He offered his sympathy and regrets to her parents, then concluded the tape, haunted by conflicting memories of Carson as he had seen her about the ship, and as he had last seen her in the transporter room, just before the medics sealed the body bag, her chest and pelvis crushed, but a look of serene peace on her helmet-protected features.
Kirk paused before pressing the off switch, adding Carson's face to the gallery of faces he would never forget--those who had died under his command.
Evening fell on the Enterprise. The level of ambient lighting slowly dimmed in the common areas, as officers and crewmembers from the day shift went off duty and the night shift took their places. In Rec Room Three, a group of cadets congregated. The profound silence was broken only by an occasional sniffle or murmur.
"I still can't believe it." Threesa's voice broke, and tears began rolling down her cheeks, wetting anew the tracks of ones that had traveled the same route earlier.
Sumita put his arm around the Andorian girl's shoulders. "Me either." They had been Carson's closest friends aboard the Enterprise. Now they sat, surrounded by the other cadets, trying to absorb the reality of a classmate's death. "Maybe if we'd been there. If I hadn't been assigned to Engineering..."
M'hantu shook his head. "Lieutenant Sulu and Susek were there. If they couldn't do anything..." The young African let his words drift into silence. He had been there, too. He'd helped lift the debris from Carson's body. He'd witnessed the expression on the lieutenant's face as he directed the team's rescue efforts. They had done their best.
Johnson was oddly silent. The story of how Carson died had made its way through the ship, filtering down to him in Ship's Stores. He never would have expected Carson to have the guts to crawl in under a precarious pile of debris like that. Maybe he'd been wrong about her.
Susek slipped into the rec room, somehow drawn to the presence of the other cadets. He'd tried meditating when he returned to his cabin but had been unable to put Carson's face from his mind. Perhaps there was something to this Human tradition of shared grief, perhaps not. Just now, he preferred not to be alone.
Dougie MacDougal dropped into the seat next to Johnson. "Do you think this was the moment of glory she was hoping for?"
Sumita, still sitting quietly at Threesa's side, glared at
him. Johnson hardly noticed. "If this is glory..."
In Sickbay, Leonard McCoy sat slumped over his desk, a cup of cold coffee at his elbow, trying to stave off sleep. He'd been working nonstop since his return to the Enterprise. Now the work was done, and the waiting had commenced. Waiting for the deaths of those who had been too badly injured for him to do more than comfort them. Waiting for the deaths of those he had patched up, knowing it to be futile, but doing it nonetheless. Always the waiting.
Chapel entered the office and removed the cup, replacing it with a fresh one before she collapsed into the chair opposite him. Spying a data disk that hadn't been there before, Chapel knew McCoy was trying to pull himself together to begin formal identification of the bodies beamed over from the New Day. "Is that the manifest?" she asked, jerking her chin in the direction of the tape.
McCoy gave a weary nod.
"It can wait until morning, Leonard," Chapel said firmly. They were both beyond exhaustion from the long hours spent fighting to cheat death of the few remaining survivors of the ill-fated colony ship. A few hours' rest wouldn't make any difference to the dead.
The doctor looked up, circles under his eyes made more
prominent by grief and fatigue. "Damn it, Chris. Damn it all."
In front of his fire pot, Spock sat, fingertips touching, gazing into the flame, preparing his mind for meditation. He considered the deaths aboard the colony ship, accepting the pain and loss of the more than two hundred who had died. He considered and accepted, although perhaps not as readily, the death of the cadet, Carson. He pondered and finally, reluctantly, accepted the loss of innocence and idealism this rescue had entailed.
Sulu and Chekov waited in Rec Room One for the rest of the gang to show up for the weekly poker game. Not that they expected to play, but neither man wanted to be alone tonight. Scott tromped in, followed by a wan-looking Uhura.
"I don't think Chapel is coming. She and Doctor McCoy still have..." Her voice trailed off, reluctant to complete the sentence "...work to do."
Chekov dealt the cards, but that was as far as the game went. "It's hard to believe. All those people. And Carson..."
"Only a few weeks ago, I was complaining about her. Now..." Uhura shook her head. She was so tired, she couldn't decide whether she wanted to bawl her head off, or crawl into bed and sleep for a week.
Scott nodded in agreement, patting her hand gently. "I know lass. I know." Though nominally under his command, he'd had little opportunity to become acquainted with Carson. "She handled herself like a trooper when the chips were down," he said, looking for comfort in the thought and finding it empty.
"This is the first time I've really understood how the captain feels when he loses a crewmember..." Sulu's voice was more, yet somehow less composed than the others expected.
While returning his suit to Ship's Stores, he'd unwittingly overheard a group of cadets as they discussed Carson's part in the airplane incident. Though he hadn't wanted to listen, hadn't wanted to know the deceased cadet as a person, the helmsman had been unable to walk away. "I've always wanted command, but if this is what it's like--" Sulu shook his head. Picking up a piece of paper he started to fold a paper crane then, changing his mind, made the first folds which would eventually become a paper airplane.
The gleaming starship Enterprise made her silent way through the cold vacuum of the heavens. Soon her crew would move on to new missions, new adventures. Tonight, however, she mourned her dead.
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