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Patricia Wright


He was not actually breaking any Starfleet regulations. He reassured himself of that as he smoothed the cloth of the Starfleet fatigues he had chosen to wear specifically because of their anonymity. He mentally reviewed every regulation he knew (and he knew them all), searching intently for the one loophole that he had overlooked which would hang him if he were caught.

There was no such loophole, he finally decided. He took another moment to draw in a steadying breath before he forced himself to plunge through the door. An instantaneous explosion of noise caught him unexpectedly, and he rocked back a step, hesitating as he surveyed the mayhem in the room before him.

This was one of the largest rec rooms on the deep space starship. Its large open area was teaming with crewmen at the moment, their voices edged with the subtleness of the late hour. The workers who made up the bulk of the starship’s complement came to this private refuge at night to escape the rigors of their everyday existence and the watchful eyes of their supervisors. By unspoken understanding, the ship’s officers did not come to this place during this time of day. Even he knew that.

He began to move inward through the mass of people swarming about the room with a total lack of concern for any type of decorum. He made his way carefully, stepping over crewmen sprawled unceremoniously in each other’s arms, passing by drinks that were offered up to him, and jerking several times out of the way of suddenly materialized groups of impromptu dancers.

He finally paused at one of the holographic game tables to join a group of observers that were gathering around the particularly vigorous contest. He had preferred physical activity as a child, but had become familiar with the most popular of these games while at the Academy. His dark eyes gleamed wickedly as he withheld a rueful smile. The particular game he watched now would certainly not have met the Academy’s standards for suitable entertainment for their cadets. When screams of victory erupted around him, he moved away—unwilling to confirm his suspicions that the winner’s dubious prize was somehow connected to the object of the game.

He finally settled against the bar nestled in the corner of the room. It seemed to be an accepted sanctuary away from the chaotic activity in the rest of the room.

"Beer," he replied to the bartender’s questioning glance. His own clear tenor voice sounded strange to him, but the man’s grey eyes were merely bored as he handed the newcomer the synthetic brew.

"I’ll need your I.D. card this time." The bartender gave the young man a sardonic smile. "I keep the information on file so that you can always be pleasantly surprised by how much you still owe the ship on payday."

He returned the man’s smile with a thin one of his own, his insides cold as his hand pressed on the hard form of his I.D. card in the fatigue’s pocket. This was the loophole he hadn’t found that would quickly end his charade and hang him. It was possible that the card would be inserted and quickly returned, charging the drink against the advance that Starfleet should have deposited into his account that morning when he had the good sense to report to the ship. It was more likely that the cynical bartender would take the time to read the information that came up on the screen to find out the identity of the new crewmen. He obviously knew everyone else by sight.

"Put it on my account, Joe," a rough voice said, its timbre stretched taught from over exposure to a lifetime of elements. The thick set man beside him smiled easily when the younger one turned to thank him. The smile etched its way into the flesh of a well-lined face. "We can’t have you spending your first week’s salary before you even begin earning it, now can we? With a start like that you’ll be stuck in space as long as I have been."

Sky-blue eyes studied him, and the new officer tried to slouch off the slight arrogance in his stance that he knew he’d picked up in the Academy. If he noticed it, the man made no mention of it.

"I’m Delmer Cousins. Your first trip?"

"In deep space," he confirmed in the alien tenor that irritated his ears as much as it hurt his mouth. "I have made a few short ones from Earth." In Academy training exercises, he thought, but intentionally failed to mention.

The man nodded sympathetically. "Probably thought you’d see a bit of this universe before you settle down."

"While I’m still young," the newcomer agreed.

A round of chuckles and guffaws of outright derision made him realize an ever-growing assortment of crewmen were gathering around their conversation. Cousins leaned toward him with a genuine look of sympathy. "Boy, they don’t tell you the truth when you sign aboard a ship, not even a Starfleet ship."

"You mean that I can end up owing more than I’ve earned at the end of my tour," he agreed, although he knew from the condescending look in the man’s eyes that wasn’t what he was referring to. "I intend to be careful so I can go back home."

"Where you’ll spend it all quickly and have no clue how to fill your account again other than hurl yourself into the blackness of space again."

A burst of laughter at his expense accompanied the comment from the other side of him.

"I intend to be careful," he insisted with great melodrama. His voice caught on the words, making him seem incredibly young, but it was really only a struggle for him to maintain the voice he was affecting.

Cousins was shaking his head at him with a great look of pity. "They don’t tell you that once you get used to life aboard a ship you’re not fit to live on land."

"I can live anywhere," he insisted broadly for the benefit of the people gathered around him. The broader his insistence, however, the more difficult it was for him to keep the sound of the words clear. He cleared his throat softly and took a long draught of beer as a round of chuckles and comments ran through the group.

Even though he was a newly commissioned officer, he knew exactly what Cousins was talking about. Ships, by their very nature, were self-contained cities. One lived on them in a finite community with ready facilities to meet your every need. Aside from the odd visits ashore, a shipboard person never gave thought to where their food or clothing was coming from, never debated what medical facility or barber shop they were going to use, and never struggled with decisions over repair facilities or limitless recreational choices. People that became adapted to shipboard life could rarely exist easily again in the seeming chaos that confronted them on land.

The new officer knew that full well, and it didn’t concern him. He hadn’t labored so hard at Starfleet Academy’s command school so that he could go back to living on land.

"Child," a female voice assured him in the same condescending tone they all seemed to have affected. "You’ve signed your life away into a never-ending cycle. A long, hard voyage, empty your accounts along the way, then back for another tour."

He quickly flashed her a charming smile, a devilish glint dancing in his dark eyes. "It’s not a bad a life if you choose who you spend it on wisely, now is it?"

They rewarded him with a round of approving laughter, with the exception of one of the women who stared at him with alien dark eyes out of a snow white face.

"I doubt you have to waste money on that pleasure, pretty-boy," she observed tonelessly. "In fact, you’d do better to jump ship now and earn a living that way; you’ll live longer."

He coughed reflexively, using the action to fight back the blush that threatened to erupt.

"He’d have to jump ship," someone in their midst chortled. "James Kirk pretty much keeps them all satisfied in that area."

He humored them with a chuckle but knew such information about the captain’s personal life was dubious at best and irrelevant in the end. He pushed them in the direction of his interest by saying, "I plan to stay alive by choosing the right ships and masters to serve. Everyone knows what ship you’re on has a lot to do with how long you live."

There was a murmur of agreement from around him, but Cousins laughed. "Boy, you chose the wrong ship to start with."

The new officer hesitated, his drink in mid-air. "The senior officers aboard—they are good men, aren’t they?" he asked with tentative wariness.

They roared in laughter at his expense and he put the drink down with a put-upon look of horror. "The command staff on the Enterprise are not good men?"

Waving the rabble into submission, Cousins gave him an encouraging pat on the back. "Aye, the senior officers aboard are decent sorts...if you know how to handle them." It was clear that the man was the accepted leader of the crew and had purposely set out to dissect the new man in their midst. He continued in a fatherly tone. "The first officer, Spock, would have signed you aboard this morning."


"He’s Vulcan, so you needn’t worry about duty rosters showing any signs of preferential treatment. Everything’s dictated according to logic with him."

"Yeah, so don’t try worming your way out of anything."

"And do yourself a favor," a Tellarite man behind him advised. "Don’t crack any jokes around him."

Pavel Chekov gazed at the man who had spoken, deadpan. "Why would I do that?"

"Just don’t," he repeated. "When you try to be funny Spock treats you like you’ve just lost your mind."

"He’s a bastard to work for," another man near him concluded. "It’s not logical to miss an error you’ve made." He smiled tolerantly at the newcomer. "You’ll understand the first time you try to explain to him that you’re ‘only Human’."

Chekov rewarded his new found friends with a wilted look of nauseated panic. It prodded them on to describe in intimate detail both the officers that lorded over them and their daily lives aboard the ship they served on.

There was a camaraderie in their conversation and in their boisterous descriptions meant to terrify the newest member. Chekov’s growing look of panic only fueled their enthusiasm and the details grew more explicit and gruesome.

He listened to the descriptions with a practiced ear, knowing there was more truth than fiction in their tales. Crews of deep-space ships obtained by inheritance the inability to lie as a whole. Being confined with each other for longer than should have been Humanly possible, they developed an unspoken and strict moral code that made their co-existence feasible. It was enforced by the most powerful of forces in the universe—their duty to one another. The anticipation that you would have to live with the entire crew who knew of your offense reformed even the hardest degenerate. The news of a theft never made it to the officers; the thief in their midst was dealt with quickly and eliminated the thought of a repeat offense.

The crew’s descriptions of their officers were overly melodramatic, but they were not false. There was a chief medical officer who insisted on running them ragged during examinations because he didn’t trust his own computers, a communication’s officer who had an unparalled ability to strong arm anyone into performing in a minstrel show, and a chief environmentalist who likened himself to God—surprising them with dustings of snow in the rec room gardens or the smell of an overnight rainshower when they awoke. The chief helmsman grew plants that not only moved but attacked on command.

"Do you know where you’re assigned yet?"

"Probably Engineering," Chekov replied truthfully. Newly commissioned command officers were required to serve in every ship’s department before they took what would be their first assigned post. It was relatively standard procedure to start them in the department that was the heart of the ship’s functions. "I’m sure it’s Engineering."

The instantaneous roar of laughter brought about by his benign statement finally brought a genuinely worried gleam into his wide brown eyes. "What’s the matter with the chief engineer?" he demanded.

Cousins grinned at him. "Not a thing—if you’re used to working in a top secret research facility."

"Standard engine design is not secret from a ship’s crew," Chekov insisted.

"The Enterprise’s engines aren’t standard design," an Andorian replied with a laugh. "Those engines are Mister Scott’s children, and until he knows you, he’ll treat you like you’re the Klingon Empire’s newest attempt at sabotage or technical reconnaissance."

With relief Chekov took a long draught of his beer. Montgomery Scott had been one of his instructors one quarter at the Academy. Although he knew the man had demanding standards, Chekov also knew anyone who required the same of himself would work easily with the engineer.

"Lieutenant Commander Scott is personally responsible for the safety of everyone aboard this ship every minute of the day. He does his job with the enormous gravity such a responsibility warrants."

Chekov allowed his mouthful of beer to sink slowly down his throat, his eyes riveted on the woman with dark eyes and a snow-white face who had earlier suggested he become a prostitute. He knew with a sense of sickness that he was doomed to spend the next month as one of her bosses. "You are an engineering tech."

"Yes," she agreed tonelessly. "And you shuttled over with the new officers. What did they saddle us with this time?"

Chekov stared wordlessly at the woman. She bore a frightening resemblance in personality to a Klingon warrior—and it annoyed him.

"I’ve got at friend on the Lexington who warned me about Riley," another woman in the group informed them. "They couldn’t wait to get rid of him; the guy’s a lunatic."

Chekov nodded as a unanimous groan echoed through the group. ‘Lunatic’ was hardly an accurate description of the lieutenant who had transferred from the other ship, but he knew who she was talking about. "Tall, skinny, dark-haired," he confirmed. "With a lot of energy: did not stop talking the entire trip." He already liked him.

"Ensign Chekov is the one I want to know about."

The new officer scowled at the intense engineer tech. "Why?"

Her answer was a sardonic look as the rest of the group laughed. Chekov rolled his glass between his fingers and wondered if he had, indeed, seen the woman’s white face get paler in a perceptible threat.

"We’ve heard about Chekov," she stated tonelessly. "And he is a prime candidate for our next all-out ‘turn him into dog meat’ assault."

Chekov almost laughed. He didn’t know if it was out of amusement or fright, but it was hard to contain. It hadn’t occurred to him that the Starfleet gossip mill would proceed his arrival here and it was such a foregone conclusion that he felt moronic.

As they did an odd re-telling of his Starfleet file, Chekov’s wide brown eyes sedately studied the people gathered around him. Any sense of camaraderie with them that he’d obtained vanished. He was alone amongst this pack now, trapped by his own actions and with a building foreboding of what effect those actions would have on his future here.

"Chekov was valedictorian of his class, the only undefeated Ichi no Tachi in the history of the Academy, and he already taught his mandatory one course before he even graduated—officers came back to take it. He also got a lion’s share of commendations."

Salutatorian, Chekov corrected mentally. And there were demerits to go with those commendations...

"I saw him," an anonymous voice pronounced.

He froze and his eyes darted quickly over the group in search of the speaker. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," an auburn-haired human woman confirmed, making her way to the center of the group to stand next to the newcomer. She folded her arms across her chest and smiled self-assuredly. "The three new officers and the new crew beamed aboard at sixteen hundred hours. At sixteen-oh-five, I was strolling past the captain’s cabin and guess who was there reporting already?"

"New officers have twenty-four hours to report to the commanding officer," Chekov insisted.

"Oh, please," the woman drawled, rolling her eyes for good measure. "We’re talking about ‘Ensign Starfleet’. And he looks it," she continued with a note of disgust. "Six feet four, black hair, blue eyes, granite face, muscles where they don’t even belong, an iron rod in his back, and a stick up his..." She left the grumbles of those around her to finish her thought.

Ensign Johnson, Chekov identified from her description. He had barely known the man from the Academy; he had kept to himself and had not even spoken a word on their trip to the ship. The woman’s description more than accurately depicted him, and Chekov puzzled over his action of reporting to the captain so quickly.

"What about this Captain Kirk," he asked. "He is a soft man?"

Silence instantly dropped on the group and a mass of cold eyes turned to stare at him piercingly. It was really the only answer he needed.

"Aye, he’s soft," Cousins finally answered him in a rough tone. "If you think a man with a sense of justice and decency is soft. Kirk listens to the people around him, rank doesn’t matter; and he knows it’s the non-commissioned crew that are the life blood of his ship. He treats us accordingly, which is more than can be said of most captains. The fresh fruit that came aboard today isn’t destined for the officer’s mess until the crew gets their share."

The people gathered around were nodding in agreement but their glares at Chekov were becoming even more intense.

"But if by soft you mean dull-witted or timid," Cousins went on. "Then you best keep your mouth shut because we’ll have the soul of any man that says so. Kirk can outwit or outfight anyone stupid enough to cross him."

Of course Chekov knew of Kirk’s reputation as a commander. Hell, people not in Starfleet knew of Kirk’s reputation.

"We may be a ship of the line, but our mission is an exploratory one and our captain doesn’t let anyone forget that. If no one’s ever gone there or no one knows it, then Kirk won’t hesitate to go there or find out. That’s why you’re on the wrong ship if you just want to put in your time and die old. Rest assured, though, if there was a choice, Kirk would lay down his life for any one of us.

"I was given the chance to sign off when Kirk took command," Cousins continued in a rambling voice. "But he was taking the ol’ girl beyond the rim of the galaxy. After six months, we came back without the captain’s best friend and half a dozen others. I still stayed.

"And I’ll stay on this ship until they throw me out of the service. We’ve got the best crew, and command staff and the finest ship in the fleet. We all feel that way; you best remember it," the man concluded as a echo of agreement rippled through the people around them.

"Yes, this ship and I have something in common," Chekov asserted easily. "We were born the same year."

A ripple of laughter eased the building tension in the group.

"And her captain is the best damn poker player in the galaxy," the Andorian by his side asserted.

Chekov smirked at the information but made no comment about it. "Where we are headed now?"

The white faced engineer tech glared at him again. In fact, she had never stopped glaring at him. "Do you see anyone with a commission here? We just do our jobs—the why and where doesn’t have any affect on us. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get that through your thick skull now."

"The captain always lets us know," an eager young man—younger than himself—chimed in. "Other captains don’t, but ours does."

"Are there company spies?" Chekov continued, even though the question seemed ludicrous coming from him.

Laughing, Cousins downed his drink but said nothing.

"Kirk doesn’t need them," the same young man answered. "He’s got eyes in the back of his head. One of us sneezes, and he’s got the medical staff running around checking everyone. We beat all these games, and new ones appear. We start getting restless, and suddenly there’s some show or holiday celebration we have to get the ship ready for. Captain’s got eyes in the back of his head," the youngster repeated.

Soft chimes sounded in the room and the people filling it began stirring with the first sense of purpose Chekov had seen.

"Shift change warning," Cousins explained helpfully. He emptied the glass the bartender had refilled and replaced it on the bar in resignation. "I’m on duty in fifteen minutes. Enjoy your free day while you can," he advised as he left.

Chekov moved to join the streams of people filtering out of the room. He hesitated long enough to cast a tentative glance back at the engineering tech who was still glaring at him.

"You don’t have to report to duty?"

"No," she replied blandly. "I’m not on again until tomorrow—with you."

Oh hell, I hope not. Chekov thought fiercely as he left her there and wove his way out of the room. He moved unobtrusively through the silent back corridors and up to the observation lounge above the rec deck.

He took a few minutes to appreciate the silent solitude of the dark place before he drifted over to the window and leaned against the railing there. The crew he watched milling about in the room below possessed a degree of loyalty and blind faith which said more about the senior officers he was about to serve than any idle chatter with other Academy graduates ever could. He was also relatively certain he had found out what he wanted to know without being detected as being one of the crew’s officers.

"Spying on the crew?"

Startled, he turned only his head to confirm that he wasn’t actually alone in the darkened room. Another man was standing in the back corner, his figure only a shadow not touched by the reflected light from the rec room below.

"No," Chekov replied, casting his eyes back to the people milling beneath them. "Actually, I was spying on the captain." The accent slurring his words was a relief to his ears as much as it was to his aching mouth.

"You expected to find him in the rec room in the middle of the night—amongst the crew?"

"Yes," he replied easily. "If a captain is not carried in the hearts and the souls of the crew, than he is not aboard."

"Are you the ship’s new philosophy specialist?"

"No. I’m just Russian."

"Oh. I see."

The voice echoed with humor, and Chekov straightened at the window slightly. "There is no life better suited to prophecy than the life of a sailor, whether on the sea or in the stars," he explained, wondering if his companion could possibly understand. He studied the crew another moment before turning to face his companion. "I wanted to find out what kind of captain we have."

A spark of interest illuminated hazel eyes in the dark. "How many kinds of captains are there?"

"Two...sir," Chekov added, knowing by the way the man carried himself that he was a senior officer.

"And the two would be?" the man prompted.

The ensign shifted uncomfortably, feeling ill-used at not being able to see his companion’s body language in order to effectively gauge his reactions. They were trained to deal with such circumstances, but after all, the man was no adversary and was right in the room with him. How rude...

"Sir, if I may qualify that?" he requested. "Every captain is actually God.

"Oh, really?" the voice crackled with intense amusement as the man shifted his position, the scattered light from the rec deck outlining the creases of a wry smile.

"Yes," Chekov insisted with determination. He gestured toward the window and the crew in the room below them. "The captain is in complete control of those people’s lives. Their work, their recreation, what they eat, when they eat—there’s not a person on this ship that the captain doesn’t determine if their existence is bearable or sheer hell.

"A captain is God because his existence controls reality on his ship. He can make the world a safe, just place; or a punitive, unpredictable fight for survival. That’s the very definition of ‘God’."

"You are a philosopher."

Chekov scowled. "Knowing how the world works isn’t philosophy, it’s just..."


He screwed up his mouth in irritation but didn’t challenge the man. "That’s where the two kinds of captain come in. One type of captain knows that he is God. He recognizes the enormity of that responsibility and treats it with the gravity that kind of obligation deserves. The other type of captain...well, to him a starship is no more than a factory. He’s the manager, the crew his employees, and the fleet sets the production goals."

He didn’t receive a response for a very long time. "I suppose a ship is a business, in essence."

"People go home after working at a business," Chekov countered with an even tone. "They’re not forced to live together as one large family. One person doesn’t control every aspect of their lives. They don’t rely on just one single person to keep them connected tenuously to the very being on which they hurl themselves out into the unknown and daily confront the laws of the universe..."

"Down, Ensign."

Chekov ducked his head and sucked in the corner of his lip to gnaw on it. "Sorry, sir."

The man shifted position, folding his arms across his chest. The shadows didn’t etch itself on any lines on his face, but only betrayed a peculiar tilt to his head. "And this captain?" he finally asked in measured tones.

"Captain Kirk knows he is God. This crew would go to Hell for him." A crooked smile swept over his face. "In fact, some of them say they already have."

Laughter echoed in the small room, the man’s hazel eyes shining brilliantly in the darkness. "That’s why you’re a command officer?" he asked then, the intensity of the sparkling eyes somehow not at odds with the drawled question. "You want to be God?"

"No," Chekov sighed. "I do want to be a captain. But being God, I am afraid, is one of the disadvantages to the job." His eyes drifted back to the crew, but he spun suddenly. "How did you know I was a command officer?"

"You’re the new command ensign," his companion intoned quietly. "Chekov, isn’t it? You’ve acquired quite a record."

Chekov rolled his eyes. "I didn’t realize they posted them on the ship’s bulletin board."

"You’ll find there’s far more efficient ways of disseminating information on a starship than the computer. You can rely on everyone aboard already knowing your remarkable record."

"A position that has more disadvantages than merits," he observed.

"In what way?" The solemn tone echoed an intensity in the hazel eyes which implied that it was more than a passing question.

"The better your record, the bigger a target you are," Chekov elaborated. "It’s in our nature to be obsessed with knocking the king off the mountain, so to speak."

A frown creased his companion’s brow and he shrugged slightly. "So you have the advantage of only having to prepare a defense."

He grinned sardonically. "Life is not that simple, sir."

The man didn’t seem to have a reaction to that. "With your record, I suppose you’ll be expecting to advance rapidly," is what he said.

Sighing, Chekov leaned back against the railing and turned his full attention to the man. "For an Academy graduate you don’t seem to know much about being an officer."

A soft chuckle echoed through the room. "I consider myself as knowledgeable as any man."

"If you were, than you would know that an Academy record’s greatest value is as kindling. Being an officer in Starfleet is merely a continuation of the education begun there. I intentionally looked for a ship whose Captain knew that."

"Well, then for your sake I hope the Enterprise wasn’t too far down on your posting ‘wish list’," the man quipped.

The ensign’s jaw hardened, gripping the rail behind him with both hands. "I am not going to debate Captain Kirk’s qualifications with you."

"I’m sorry," the man said without hint of apology in his tone. "I understand you not only taught while you were still in the Academy, but you taught ‘Principles of Early Navigation’—the mandatory course that is the scourge of every cadet that ever set foot on Academy grounds. You had the highest voluntary enrollment in the history of the Academy."

A wry smirk skittered across Chekov’s lips. "If you had done further research, sir, you would know that I also had the highest first day drop-out rate in the history of the Academy. There was a mad scramble of withdrawals after they found out I was not treating the class as a social hour for my fellow cadets. They were expecting high grades merely for showing up."

"I can understand that," his companion allowed. "Yet in the computer-graded standard Academy tests, your class still had the highest average in history."

The new officer shook his head dismissively. "I simply made it relevant. The course is the scourge of the Academy because it is impossible to teach the principles of the sextant and astrolabe to cadets who can think of nothing more than getting their hands into the state-of-the-art navigation systems on a starship."

"So you taught them to navigate a starship with a sextant," the man echoed with unconcealed awe.

"The navigation computer is merely a computer-driven three-dimensional sextant," Chekov replied, forcing toleration into his voice. "I simply demonstrated the relevance of early navigation systems to their future career aboard starships. I assumed that is what the Academy had in mind when they created the course; they don’t just throw mandatory courses into the curriculum for no reason."

"But you developed a way to navigate a starship with a sextant." There was an insistent challenge in the man’s voice.

Chekov wondered why it was so important to the man that he take credit for something that was little more than a teaching method. "The way was always there; I just pointed it out to them."

He ducked his head and the ensign could see his body moving in the shadows. He was laughing. He finally said, "The best officers are good teachers."

"I’m counting on that. I have a lot to learn."

The man cleared his throat. "Such as?"

Chekov hesitated as it occurred to him that he was being candid with a man he wasn’t sure he trusted. He decided to flash a sheepish smile. "Poker," he replied deliberately, his accent thick. "I am not a very good poker player."

"I’m sure the captain will be happy to teach you," the man chuckled.

"Yes, well..." The ensign pushed himself away from the rail. "I should probably try to get some sleep before I report to him tomorrow morning."

"Can’t sleep your first night aboard?"

"I never sleep much."

"Trouble with your conscience?" the man asked with interest.

"I don’t like to waste time."

"I see. Well, I wouldn’t worry about reporting to the captain tomorrow, Ensign. I’m sure he knows everything he wants to about you already."

"I don’t think my relationship with the captain should begin by ignoring simple Starfleet regulations when I’m assuming my very first post."

Waving the ensign’s concerns away with a gesture, the man said broadly, "Just send him a nice bottle of wine to smooth things over."

Chekov eyed the man. "With all due respect, sir, I don’t think you have my best interests in mind in the advice you’re giving me. I would prefer if you limit your contact with me to professional from now on."

"I’m sorry you feel that way, Ensign," he commented in a discouraged tone. "I was looking forward to learning how to navigate a starship with a sextant."

"Bozhe Moi!" Chekov blurted unintentionally as the man sauntered into the light the rec room cast.

James Kirk smirked wickedly. "Yes, I suppose I am."

"Captain...I..." he stumbled. "I didn’t expect to see you here, sir."

"I wander down here almost every night. It keeps my reputation for having eyes in the back of my head secure. Although," he continued, "I don’t usually wander among the crew pretending I’m one of them."

"It is not against any regulation..." Chekov stopped, the gleam in the captain’s eyes shaking his original resolve about the matter.

Kirk grinned. "I am not going to argue with you, Ensign. There’s nothing prohibiting it, and the idea has astounding merits...not that I could take advantage of it." He glanced down as the non-commissioned crew that had just been relieved began wandering into the rec deck below. "I’m just curious about what they’re going to do to you when they find out."

It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but one that Chekov had come to terms with before he ventured down here. "I am prepared to deal with that, sir."

"Not an easy way to start your first tour, Ensign."

"No, sir."

Kirk turned to lean casually against the rail and regarded the new officer with a taunting smirk. "Ensign, since you have no apparent plans to sleep, may I suggest we adjourn to my cabin and start your poker lessons?"

Chekov considered that exposing the captain to his skills at the card table would, in fact, cement his rather dubious first meeting with the man. "I don’t think that’s such a good idea, sir."

"Why’s that?"

"I’m Russian, sir."

A frown creased the captain’s brow. "Ensign, do you have a problem with nationalism?"

"Sir, nationalism is hatred of other nations. I am patriotic, not nationalistic."

"I certainly hope not," Kirk bit out. "So explain your reasoning: why does your being Russian make it a bad idea for us to play cards?"

Chekov wondered how he could have possibly ended up mired in this conversation with the ship’s captain. I would give anything to the person who transports me out of here right now... "Russians don’t lose, sir," he said by way of explanation.

"Ensign," Kirk drawled with a rueful smirk. "Moscow was captured by Napoleon."

"No, sir. Napoleon captured a pile of ash. Russians do not always win," the younger man elaborated. "But we do not lose."

The captain folded his arms across his chest, obviously fighting back a smile. "I see. So you’re saying that if we play, than it’s not likely I’ll win."

"Yes, sir."

"Ensign, since you admit that you don’t play poker well, how is that possible?"

Chekov knew that he never should have expected James Kirk to let the issue drop. "I don’t play very well, sir," he declared finally. "I do, however, cheat very well."

Kirk laughed out loud. "I’m honestly intrigued, Chekov. This may be equally instructional for both of us."

"Sir," the ensign pressed on. "If you insist on playing, may I suggest that I bring my own cards? I have an entire collection," he added helpfully.

He felt the captain struggling not to laugh again. Not being dim-witted, it was clear the man understood why a card cheat might have a personal collection of card decks. "I believe I’ll give you the added challenge of playing with my regulation deck this time, Chekov."

"Yes, sir."

"Ensign, do you like Georgian wine?"

The younger man started in surprise. "Well...yes, sir."

"Being patriotic, I thought you might," Kirk smiled, pushing himself away from the rail. "Despite our advance into the galaxy, we have yet to find a society that makes wine which equals the country of Georgia’s. Clearly the finest—although remarkably difficult to obtain."

"It is, sir," Chekov agreed tentatively. He had an odd suspicion of where the conversation was heading.

The captain strolled toward the door. "Report to my cabin, Ensign. I’ll give you a few minutes to stop by your quarters." He paused briefly to glance back at the ship’s newest officer as the door slid open.

"Leave your cards, Chekov, but go ahead and pick out an appropriate vintage from the case of Georgian wine you brought aboard." He winked. "I trust your judgment."

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