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Caroline R. Kummer



"How long have you been in Starfleet?"
"All me bloomin' life, sir."                  

a Starfleet Academy freshman handbook

Captain James T. Kirk circled the bridge of the Enterprise like a barely restrained racehorse pacing his paddock. The emergency message was concise, and alarming. Twenty-two freshman cadets from Starfleet Academy were stranded on Ilario, a small, inhospitable planetoid and former mining colony that had provided survival training for nearly three decades worth of Academy students, an off-world project, one of the final training exercises for first-year students. For two months the cadets were expected to work as a team against the unforgiving backdrop of the harsh Ilarian environment. Leaders emerged from the handful of middies chosen each year. A rundown of former teams included the name of Cadet James Kirk. He'd led his own unit nineteen years ago. Ilario. His first command. He'd never looked back.

Kirk stopped his pacing at the science station where First Officer Spock stood hunched over the viewing screen. The half-Vulcan, half-Human officer was also the ship's science officer, therefore in charge of planetary scans and recommendations.

"Long-range scanners indicate no vessels in the area around Ilario, Captain," Spock reported.

Kirk scowled. He hadn't expected anyone else, but he'd had Spock begin looking as soon as they'd come into range.

"Their emergency beacon was sent out as an S.O.S., Spock. I can't believe we're the first ones to pick it up. Two weeks later?!!"

"Thirteen days, five hours from the date encryption code, Captain. This is an isolated planetoid in an otherwise inconsequential system. We are the only Federation vessel scheduled to pass through this sector during the next standard month."


Both Kirk and Spock turned as Doctor Leonard McCoy, the Enterprise's chief medical officer, strode from the lift and joined them at the science station. "Inconsequential, except there are a couple dozen kids in trouble on that planet!"

"Hardly 'kids,' Doctor," Spock said, folding his arms and standing straighter. "They are the top students in their class at Starfleet Academy. All are standing for command track, all have passed the requirements leading up to such study. The Ilario field exercise is their final exam that elimination process."

Kirk almost winced at the words final and elimination. Sometimes Spock's logic sounded brutal.

"They use the simulators for everything else!" McCoy persisted. "Even that blasted Kobayashi Maru..."

"You cannot adequately simulate the variables inherent in a team working off-planet in an unfamiliar environment." Spock countered.

"You might just avoid some very real casualties, Mister Spock!" McCoy snapped.

Kirk stopped the argument before it could progress any further. He knew the no-win scenario when he heard it.

"Bring up that roster again, Spock," he said. "Show Bones who we're likely to find down there."

Spock returned to his station and called up the class list for the Ilario assignment. McCoy read the roster; his only reaction upon completion was a heavy sigh.

"Something to say, Doctor?" Kirk asked.

McCoy stared at the readout, then slowly turned to the captain.

"All those kids, Jim. I don't care what Spock says; they're kids. Look at their faces!"

He's right, Kirk thought. Eager, willing, ready for whatever Starfleet tosses in their direction. But were they ready for this?

Picture after picture scrolled through the viewer; Centaurian, Terran, Vulcan. A quadrant's worth of the best and brightest. A melting pot he'd helped create.

"We'll be in orbit in less than an hour, gentlemen," Kirk said, heading back to his command chair. "Let's be ready." He'd already committed those faces to memory.


An explosion ripped through the early morning silence, sending tremors across Ilario's increasingly unstable surface. Cadet Daniel Nelson awoke immediately and crawled groggily to the front of the small shelter. He wasn't surprised to see Stendar scanning the horizon as yet another debris cloud lifted into the gray sky across the valley.

"Don't you ever sleep?" Nelson asked the Vulcan cadet, pulling out his own field viewer.

"Not as often as you," Stendar replied. In the wind and dust, he looked like some kind of granite sentry standing watch: straight, severe, unmoveable. He pointed to the latest cloud taking shape in the distance. "It appears the Orions have reached another layer of deposits. The composition of the debris has changed."

"So have these quakes." Nelson aimed his viewer at a large crack running barely ten meters from where they stood, high on one of the many bluffs. "That wasn't here last night."

"The deeper fault lines are now at risk. Every additional explosion will compromise the plates of the planet."

"And the dome?" Nelson asked quietly.

Stendar held his viewer and adjusted the scan. "The dome is still intact. Although logically..."

"Never mind," Nelson said quickly. "That's all I needed to know." He began gathering the few articles he'd taken from his backpack last night, then pulled the ropes to collapse the small tent. Stendar watched him silently, his own pack already neatly assembled and resting against a rock. Nelson shouldered into his gear and started down the rocky path toward the valley. Suddenly he realized Stendar was not following. He turned impatiently.

"Well, c'mon!!"

"Where?" Stendar asked.

"Back to the dome!" Nelson shouted. He leaned against the relentless drive of wind, hard pressed to keep solid footing. "We've spent two weeks chasing shadows out here, while our friends are held prisoner in the dome. I'm tired of waiting for rescue, I'm tired of jumping every time the ground shakes. We're going back, and we're going to get them out!"

"May I remind you that the force-field around the dome has been activated. And at last count, there were at least ten miners stationed as guards inside. The odds against a successful rescue..."

"And I'm sick and tired of your damned logic!" Nelson cried. "Nothing about this is logical! Can't you get that through your thick Vulcan skull? We're on our own here; either the emergency beacon never got through, or it was intercepted by one of the Orion transports. So it's up to us. You and me, Stendar. And since I was chosen commander of this team, I give the orders. Understood?"

"I did not vote for you," the young Vulcan said evenly.

That was too much for Nelson. He dropped his pack, and with a roar launched himself at the unsuspecting Stendar. Both cadets went tumbling to the ground, and as another explosion sounded in the distance, the hillside began to crumble and they started rolling, like the rocks, down toward the valley.


"I have located the biodome, Captain. There appears to be some kind of force-field in effect. Unable to scan interior."

"That means at least the thermal generators are still working, Mister Spock." Kirk didn't bother to turn; he knew Spock was running a continuous planetary scan now. He watched the main viewscreen as his ship entered standard orbit around Ilario. The little planet looked even more desolate than Kirk remembered. Was it always that gray?

"Captain! An explosion, deep inside the planet. Approximately two hundred fifty kilometers from the biodome. Magnetized ore debris...readings are difficult..."

This time Kirk did turn around, but Spock kept his eyes riveted on his viewer as he relayed the information.

"Any sign of the cadets?"

"Picking up two life forms," Spock said. "Approximately fifty-three point two kilometers from the dome. As the debris hits the upper atmosphere it will become impossible to search for anyone else from here."

"Only two?" Kirk thought. Well, it was a start. "Get a fix on that position, Mister Spock. We'll beam down there. Lieutenant Uhura, page Doctor McCoy. Have him meet us in the transporter room in five minutes."


The landing party materialized one hundred meters from the life-form coordinates. Kirk quickly assessed the situation: two figures locked in hand-to-hand combat amid the rubble of what appeared to be a recent rockslide. The two security guards who had beamed down with the landing party immediately drew their phasers.

"Wait!" Kirk ordered. "They don't appear to be armed; let's try to break this up without casualties." He ran toward the combatants, Spock close beside him.. McCoy and the guards followed quickly.

As they approached, Kirk saw chalky dust covering both fighters; beneath the grime, he saw the unmistakable insignia of Starfleet Academy on the shoulder patches of their fieldsuits. He waded into the fray, and caught a roundhouse in the ribs for his efforts.


As the captain caught his breath, Spock stepped forward.


Both cadets froze and stared at the landing party that surrounded them.

Kirk came around to stand in front of the two suddenly passive young men. He rubbed his side gingerly. "Thank you, Mister Spock. I should have thought of that."

"I am certain you would have, Captain."

The cadets stood a little straighter, a little more military. One, a young Human, wore an expression of utter shock; the other, a Vulcan, betrayed no emotion, but his dark eyes seemed to have grown bigger in his lean face.

"I'm not even going to ask what you were fighting about, gentlemen," Kirk said. "Somehow I don't think that's the most serious problem here. Let's start with your names." He'd already placed them by the class roster, but it bought him, and them, time.

The Human cadet took a half-step forward. "Cadet Daniel Nelson, sir. Commander, Starfleet Academy Colony." He stepped back beside the Vulcan, who then took his step forward.

"Cadet Stendar, sir. Starfleet Academy Colony lieutenant commander."

"Very well," Kirk said. "I am Captain James T...."

"Kirk," Nelson said quickly. "U.S.S.'ve been her captain for five years, three months and 16 days. Your latest mission was a star-mapping route through sector 109-A, specifically assigned to planetary survey and..." He stopped the recitation abruptly, his face reddening under the layer of dust.

"Thank you, Mister Nelson. As you seem to be well acquainted with the Enterprise record, I'll assume you recognize my first officer, Commander Spock. And this is my Chief Medical Officer, Doctor McCoy. Ensigns Hurley and Hadley are the security guards who would have stopped your disagreement if Mister Spock hadn't employed a less drastic course of action."

McCoy had been running his medical tricorder during the introductions; the readings made him frown.

"Jim, both these boys are barely on their feet. How long since either of you has had a decent meal?"

Stendar and Nelson exchanged wary glances.

Kirk shook his head. "Not now, Bones. Mister Nelson, where are the rest of the cadets? We registered a subterranean explosion as we entered orbit. Is that why you sent out the emergency beacon?"

Nelson swallowed hard. "The rest of my men are being held prisoner in the biodome, Captain. Orion smugglers have been mining here. I don't know what they found, but whatever it is they're determined to get it all. They've been blasting for over two weeks; at first we just watched the transports and monitored their activity, until one landed at Colony base. They rounded up my entire team, and now they're being held in the dome with the forcefield at full strength."

"And you and Mister Stendar? How were you able to escape?" Spock asked.

"We were never held captive," Stendar answered. "We were returning from a surveillance of the mining operation. By the time we arrived, the dome had already been sealed."

Nelson picked up the story. "They detected our skimmer as we approached for a closer look, so we took off and released the emergency beacon."

"Where is the skimmer now?" Spock asked.

Nelson pointed back beyond the hills. "About eighteen kilometers in that direction. It's disabled."

"It is out of fuel," Stendar corrected.

Nelson shot him an angry glance. "It might not have been, if you'd kept track of our consumption!"

"Logically, we should have landed closer to the dome. Your desire to return to the mines was not based upon rational thought."

Kirk saw a fight ready to begin again, and halted the confrontation before it could get started. So Nelson was in charge. He addressed the young leader.

"Mister Nelson, do you know if any of your team have been harmed?"

"No sir. But the life-support systems within the dome are functioning. As long as the forcefield is intact, it means the rest of the systems are operational."

"Yes, I remember," Kirk mused. The biodome had been constructed the year before Kirk had led his team on Ilario. All systems were interdependent; without life-support, the forcefield was useless, and deactivated.

Kirk turned to his first officer. "Mister Spock, how far did you say the dome was?"

"Fifty-three point two kilometers, Captain." Spock pointed his tricorder, and checked the readout. "And Mister Nelson is correct; the forcefield is still intact."

"Too far to hike... We'll beam back aboard, and equip a shuttlecraft. We need to be able to get around down here without constantly beaming back and forth." Kirk pulled out his communicator, signaled the Enterprise, and all seven figures disappeared in the shimmering transport.


McCoy hustled the cadets to Sickbay for a quick check, under orders to have them in the briefing room within the hour. He finished his exam of Nelson, letting Doctor M'Benga handle Stendar. All-in-all, they were both in pretty good shape for having spent the past two weeks in the Ilario wilderness. An orderly brought two meal trays, and McCoy insisted they both eat before reporting to the captain.

Stendar lifted the lid of his tray and raised one slanted brow at the fare.

"Your food replicator is programmed for vash g'ralth?" he asked.

"Courtesy of our first officer," McCoy said, smiling. "Rank has its privileges, and when the second in command aboard the ship is half-Vulcan, you can bet we come equipped with a full Vulcan menu. Now eat up, both of you. The captain doesn't wait very patiently."As he watched them, McCoy couldn't help thinking what a mismatched pair they seemed to be. Nelson was a tall, lanky redhead with flashing green eyes. And from what he'd seen so far, he had the temper to go along with that red hair. Stendar looked almost too small to be Vulcan; dark hair and eyes, with a lean frame that was probably stronger than it appeared at first glance. He'd seen the kid fight. And now, McCoy decided to see just what dynamics were at work.

"Would either of you care to explain what that little brawl on the planet was all about? Eventually, Captain Kirk's gonna ask the same question."

Nelson kept his eyes on his plate and continued to eat. Stendar also showed no intention of answering, and McCoy hadn't made it an order.

"Okay, no one wants to go first. How about I take a guess. You two have suddenly discovered why Vulcans and Humans rarely serve together in command capacity."

Now two sets of eyes met his, and one set of eyebrows rose in a most familiar manner.

"I will not have my decisions questioned or second-guessed by anyone!" Nelson said sharply. "Even if that guess is made by a Vulcan."

McCoy nodded. "And what about you, Stendar?"

"It is not logical for one to dismiss alternatives without rational consideration," Stendar said, setting his plate aside.

"So you two are butting heads--literally--over the same questions Starfleet had twenty years ago. I wondered how long it would be before they ran into this again." McCoy gathered their dishes and shoved them into the recycler. "Watch the command team on this ship, boys," he said, ushering them to the door. "Better yet, watch them play chess. You might just learn a thing or two the Academy can't teach you."


Impatient as he was, Kirk didn't let it show as Nelson and Stendar entered the briefing room, followed by McCoy. Dressed now in Starfleet fatigues, cleaned up and fed, they appeared refreshed though neither would look at the other, and their stiff postures fairly vibrated with tension. He waited until they were seated, then outlined his strategy for Ilario.

"We have two areas of consideration," Kirk began, "the mining camp, and the dome. Our priority is the rescue of the twenty cadets still trapped inside the dome, but Mister Spock has determined that the mining operation is on the verge of collapsing the entire network of ancient shafts and tunnels. We've also analyzed the debris clouds left from the explosions. Mister Spock, if you will?"

Spock activated the view screens around the table. A chemical formula and cutaway graphic appeared. "Trilithium, gentlemen," Spock stated. "A naturally occurring vein runs the length of the fault line between two plates of the planet's crust. Unlike dilithium, trilithium has never been found outside the laboratory. It was thought there was no naturally occurring source of the crystal since it requires certain highly unstable environmental forces over an extended period of time to grow. Ilario was abandoned by its original settlers generations ago, apparently because whatever minerals they were mining for had played out. They were unaware of the value of trilithium, and most likely dilithium as well."

"Then how did the Orions find it?" Nelson asked. "And why didn't Starfleet know about the trilithium?"

Kirk decided to let the cadet's interruption go without comment. Good questions, but if he'd waited, Spock would have given the answers. Which he did now, not missing a beat.

"The Orions found it, Mister Nelson, in the same manner they find most of what they steal. They stumbled upon it. No doubt they were drawn to what appeared to be an already established mining colony with only a handful of inhabitants. When they found the mines abandoned, they began blasting to see what else might be in there."

"They got lucky," McCoy said, his stage whisper heard by all.

Spock cocked a brow, but continued: "Their operations have shifted the planetary plates now to the point where many of the original shafts have collapsed. New faults lines are opening, and the dome sits at the base of one of the most unstable mountain ranges." He punched up a new display on the terminals, which showed the location of the dome, the network of tunnels beneath, and the craggy range looming beyond.

"This will require precision timing," Kirk said. "We need to advance on both locations at once. And we need your help, Mister Nelson, Mister Stendar. It's been a long time since I was in those tunnels. We need you to get us around down there. Think you're up to the task?"

Nelson and Stendar exchanged looks with one another. Kirk couldn't tell if they were still angry; each wore a stone mask. But in unison, without looking at him at all, they said "Aye, sir."


Kirk assembled a landing party that would split into teams once they landed on Ilario. They'd drop Stendar and Spock at one of the old shaft entrances in the range behind the dome. Stendar knew the maze well enough to lead them through the tunnels to the geothermal generator, since the transporters couldn't accurately pinpoint locations that far underground. He and Spock would disable the dome's energy supply, allowing Kirk and a second team to enter the complex. Two security guards, plus Nelson and McCoy, would wait with Kirk until the forcefield was down, then they'd go in, followed by another landing party to be transported upon Kirk's orders directly inside the dome. At that point, Scotty would train phasers on the Orion mining camp, and a second security force would round up the miners.

Kirk went over the timetable again. Yes, it could work. It had to work.

When the shuttle set down, Spock and Stendar assembled their equipment: two flashlights, a tricorder, communicators. In addition, each strapped on a thick field utility belt outfitted with a coil of polymer line and various cutting tools. The tunnels might already be blocked; they'd have to get through them somehow. Spock clipped his flash and communicator on this same belt and shouldered his tricorder. Stendar silently led the way down the shuttle's ramp.

Kirk followed Spock into the planetary night. He wondered if Nelson would come out to see his classmate off, but the cadet didn't appear. It had been Kirk's idea to split up the two of them; he couldn't afford whatever differences they had to interfere with the rescue, and he needed their knowledge of the area at both locations.

"Work quickly, Spock," he said, once they were on the ground. "We need to cut their power before dawn."

Spock nodded. "Understood, Captain. I estimate three point two six hours."

Kirk smiled briefly. "Good luck, gentlemen." He started back up the ramp; as the hatch closed, he saw Stendar staring after him in obvious astonishment and chuckled quietly.

"What's so damn funny?" McCoy asked as Kirk settled into the pilot seat.

"I think I just rocked Mister Stendar's logical boat by wishing two Vulcans 'luck'."

"He's probably never heard the expression," Nelson said.

"Oh, I'm sure he's heard it," McCoy mused. "Probably just never heard it from a friend."

While Nelson chewed on that possibility, Kirk powered up the shuttle and took off toward the dome.


Kirk landed them in the hills outside the dome. There they waited for Spock and Stendar to reach the underground generator and cut the power. While McCoy dozed inside the shuttlecraft and the security guards patrolled the nearby terrain, Kirk and Nelson perched near a rocky overhang where they could keep watch on the brightly lit dome below. Kirk stuffed his hands into his fieldsuit pockets, wishing he'd thought to bring gloves.

"Hope it's warmer down in those tunnels," he said, "or we're going to have a couple of very chilly Vulcans."

Nelson looked at him quizzically. Even in the dim light of the shuttle's open hatch, Kirk could see the confusion on his face.

"Why?" Nelson asked. "It's not like it's freezing or anything out here."

"Vulcans don't tolerate any kind of cold very well. Their planet is desert-hot. Certainly you knew that."

"Of course," Nelson said, somewhat defensively. "But I'm from Louisiana myself. I grew up there. Doesn't mean I can't take the cold, too."

"We're talking about physiology, not geography, Daniel. Doctor McCoy could explain it in more detail, but haven't you ever noticed how warm your friend Stendar keeps his cabin?" Kirk thought about the warmth of his first officer's cabin; at least five degrees hotter than the rest of the ship. And Kirk suspected Spock kept it even warmer when his captain was not in there playing chess with him.

Nelson shook his head. "We bunked together on the ship out here. Our cabin was the same as all the rest; twenty-two degrees."

"And he never said a word?" Kirk asked.


"And you never asked him?" he pressed.

"How was I supposed to know it wasn't warm enough for him? " Nelson snapped. "If he was cold, he should have said something. Wouldn't that have been the logical thing to do?" Then, more quietly, he added: "And for the record, sir, Stendar and I are not friends. We are classmates. We are teammates here on Colony. He's already requesting a posting with the Intrepid-2 for his midshipmen’s cruise. Now that's what I call a logical decision."

Kirk knew the Intrepid-2 was Starfleet's only all-Vulcan ship, commissioned to replace the Intrepid which had been destroyed by the cosmoprotozoan. He'd been half afraid his own first officer would accept an assignment there when they'd commissioned Intrepid-2, but Spock had declined. It was weeks later that Kirk learned exactly what that offer had been. He related this all to Nelson.

"Too bad," Nelson said. "If Mister Spock had accepted the captaincy of Intrepid-2, Stendar would have been in Vulcan heaven. I think he's read every article the commander has ever published in every obscure scientific journal in the quadrant. His computer rating is A-5; he won't rest until it's an A-7, 'like Commander Spock.' No one else in our class even has an A-4!"

"Let me give you some advice, Mister Nelson," a voice behind them said. Kirk turned, and saw McCoy leaning against the shuttle hatch.

"How long have you been there, Bones?" Kirk asked.

"Long enough to hear you two continuing a discussion I started with those boys down in Sickbay," McCoy drawled. "I told them to watch you and Spock, and the way you work together, and they might just learn something. Only you go and send Spock off with his alter-ego." He jabbed a finger in their direction. "So listen up, Daniel. What the captain is trying to say, even if he doesn't know it, is that this is a very big galaxy. You start riding around it in a starship, and you're gonna meet a lot of different beings. Some will be smarter than you. Some will be stronger. Some you'll call friend, others will call you enemy. Choose your friends well, Daniel. The enemy will be the one who doesn't give you a choice."

Nelson looked about to respond when the ground started shaking. A thunderous explosion tore through the valley below, sending Kirk and Nelson stumbling back against the rocks. McCoy gripped the hatch and tried to keep from sliding down the shuttle rampway. Kirk pulled out his communicator before the tremors even stopped.

"Kirk to Spock! Come in!"

He waited, cursing the silence as the rumbling ground quieted.

"Spock! Stendar? Report!"

And finally, "Stendar here, sir."

"Stendar! Are you all right? Where's Mister Spock?"

"Sir, there was a cave-in. The tunnel collapsed. Commander Spock has fallen through a shaft to a secondary tunnel approximately forty meters below."

Forty meters!? Kirk thought quickly. Could he have survived that?

"I can just make him out with my flash. He's lying on an overhang above a deeper access. It appears stable at this time."

But is he alive?! Has he moved?? How bad.... Frantic thoughts, fear without answers.

"I have called to him and tried to raise him on our communicator channel. He is unresponsive," Stendar's voice continued.

Forty meters; and even if Stendar could get down to him, Spock was at least unconscious...or worse...with an hour left until dawn... Kirk swallowed hard. After only a moment's hesitation, at least he thought it was moment, he asked, "Is the tunnel clear leading to the generator room, Mister Stendar?"

"Affirmative. We made it past the cave-in."

"And Spock explained to you how he planned to disable the generator?"

"Yes, sir."

"It's up to you, Mister Stendar," Kirk said quietly.

When Stendar finally spoke, Kirk could hear a slight tremble in what had been a confident young man.

"Sir...Commander Spock..."

"You have your orders, Cadet. Kirk out." He closed his communicator, hating what he'd just done, what he'd had to do. He turned to see two pairs of eyes staring at him. Only his own eyes betrayed the anguish he felt.

McCoy knew better than to say anything that would add to that pain. And commander-in-training Nelson had just learned one of the most difficult lessons no book would ever teach him.

Silently, Kirk turned and walked deeper into the shadows of the rocks, his own command settling around him like a leaden shroud.


Thirty-five minutes later, the lights in the dome began winking off. Stendar had made it! First the top level; a series of small flashes indicated the operation of hand-held lights. As the ground floor blanked to darkness, more small lights appeared. Kirk counted.

"Three up top, two down below; there must be more around the back."

"I'll check, sir," Nelson volunteered. "I know how to get around without being seen." He scurried off down the hillside and disappeared into the darkness.

Kirk rounded up the guards and McCoy. "Once we know how many Orions are inside, we'll create a diversion to draw them out." He pulled a stun grenade from the pocket of his fieldsuit. "This should create some fireworks."

Nelson returned, and dropped into a crouch beside the Enterprise officers. "Four more Orions around the back; ten in all," he reported. "And the forcefield is off."

Kirk squinted at the pinpoints of light. He judged the distance, activated the fuse, then threw the grenade.

Fireworks, indeed! The front of the dome turned to sparks of electricity as the grenade's explosion sent a wave of energy across the valley. The Orions gathered in the dome, no longer protected by the forcefield, were caught in the stun effect and collapsed where they stood. Kirk and his team ran for the front, waited for the duracast door to cool, and raced inside. Seven more security guards appeared, beamed down from the Enterprise per Kirk's hurried order. They quickly found the imprisoned cadets, stunned but otherwise healthy, in the interior dormitory area of the biodome.

McCoy ran a quick medical check with his scanner. "It's safe to beam them aboard, Jim. They're drugged but not in difficulty. I'll have Chapel assign a med-team to get them settled in Sickbay until they're on their feet."

Kirk pulled out his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise, come in Mister Scott."

"Scott here, sair. Are ye ready to take out that mining camp?"

"Negative, Mister Scott! Send the security team down, but hold off on closing up the mines with phasers. Spock is still in the tunnels; any more disruption could bring it down on him. Round up as many of those miners as possible, put them in the brig, and send a search-and-rescue squad down here to the dome."

"Aye, sair. Scott out."

McCoy looked up from where he was checking the last cadet, a young Centaurian female still woozy from the stun grande and the Orion drugs.

"Jim, I can have a medical team ready to go in after Spock in a matter of minutes. If he's even still..."

"Don't, Bones," Kirk said. He still fought his own fears, and didn't need McCoy's verbalization. "The rescue team will go in as soon as the planet can be declared safe. I won't risk any more of my crew. No one is to go into those tunnels until I give the order."


Nelson watched as his quiescent classmates were led in groups of five to a central transporter position. He overheard Kirk's conversation with the doctor and saw the look on the captain's face as he contemplated the fate of his First Officer. Nelson began looking around for Stendar, but the Vulcan cadet was nowhere to be seen. He made certain Kirk and McCoy were otherwise occupied with the prisoners and cadets, pulled a flashlight from the hands of one of the unconscious Orions, then raced to the underground chamber.


"Daniel!" Stendar backed out of the tunnel access in the generator room. He was covered head-to-toe in black dirt and grime, and looked like a bad parody of gone-to-ground camouflage. In one hand he held his flash, in the other he carried his rope, and a length of ripped cloth that Nelson recognized as one of the porta-tents.

"Stendar, Captain Kirk has called for a rescue squad. The tunnels are unstable; he's ordered no one to enter."

"I am going back to Commander Spock," Stendar said simply. "I can get down to him and rig a harness, then pull him out."

"By yourself?!" Nelson cried. "Wait for the rescue squad, Stendar! What if there's another quake?"

"If there is another quake, Commander Spock is lost. He must be unconscious still; I cannot raise him on my communicator. And the ledge upon which he has fallen will certainly crumble should there be more seismic disturbances." Stendar started back into the tunnel.

Nelson slammed one fist into another. Damn fool Vulcan... Then he felt a vibration, very slight, beneath his feet. A portent of more planetquakes, or temblors leftover from the last round? He ran after Stendar, and yanked the communicator from his utility belt.

"Nelson to Captain Kirk!" He ignored Stendar's astonished, and angry, gaze.

"Nelson! Where are you? Is Stendar with you?" came Kirk's voice.

"I am in the generator room, Captain. Stendar and I are going to get Commander Spock. We'll meet you back here in..." He looked his question at his classmate.

"Thirty minutes, Captain," Stendar finished.

"Negative!" Kirk's communicator-processed voice nevertheless carried the force of command. "Stay where you are! We're on our way!"

"Sorry, Captain. We did not receive your last transmission." Nelson closed the communicator and handed it back to Stendar.

"Lead the way, Commander," he said, smiling slightly. "Commander Spock is waiting."

Stendar stared at him, nodded briefly, and crawled back into the tunnel.


Kirk and McCoy pounded through the corridors of the biodome and down the stairs to the generator room. They found it empty, but their flashlights soon revealed the tunnel access. Kirk paused long enough to transmit directions to the rescue squad assembling aboard the ship, then he and McCoy began making their way towards Spock and the cadets. When they arrived at the site of the cave-in, Nelson was securing a rope to one of the last standing beams.

"Where's Stendar?" Kirk demanded. "And Spock?"

Nelson tilted his head to the right as he strained to keep his hold on the rope.

Kirk shined his flash in the direction Nelson had indicated, and saw the ragged opening of the shaft. He inched as close to the hole as he dared. He peered down as Stendar finished his rappel through the narrow shaft and dropped the last two meters to land beside a crumpled figure.

"Stendar!" Kirk shouted. He fished for his communicator, and flipped it open. "Stendar! Report!"

Stendar felt Spock's throat for a pulse, made a cursory check of limbs and torso, then pulled out his communicator. "He is alive, sir. One leg is fractured." Spock was lying on his left side, barely a meter from the edge of the ledge. Stendar carefully turned him over; there was a deep gash in the older Vulcan's temple still oozing emerald blood. He slipped one of the makeshift bracing straps behind Spock's back, and brought it up between his arms and shoulders. "He has also sustained a head injury," Stendar reported as he worked. He lifted the unconscious officer just enough to secure the harness. Above, Nelson held the restraining rope taut.

The movement caused Spock to stir; Kirk kept his flashlight trained on the tableau below, watching as Spock struggled to sit up.

"Stendar! Keep him still!" McCoy shouted. He was watching as closely as Kirk, bristling that he couldn't be down there next to his patient.

Kirk passed him his communicator; McCoy began barking orders.

"Spock?! If you can hear me, lie down now!" McCoy shot a look over his shoulder. "Where the hell is that rescue team?!" Then back to the communicator: "Watch out for spinal injuries! Make him lie down!"

"Easy, Bones; they're on the way." Kirk retrieved his communicator. "Spock, we'll you have out of here in a minute.

"Captain," Spock said, his voice faint even through the communicator. "The cadets..." A rumble of hollow noise, then the tunnel began shaking again. Kirk held his breath as he watched Stendar holding Spock securely away from the crumbling precipice. Nelson kept firm hold on the harness rope, sweating despite the chill subterranean air. It was close. Too close.

When the shaking stopped, Kirk exhaled in silent thanks. "The cadets are already on board the ship, Spock. Safe and sound. And the Orions are gone," he added, anticipating the first officer's next question. "Seems you slept through all the fun."


Kirk could almost imagine he saw an eyebrow raise. He smiled, just a little, watched as more shale coursed off the impossibly narrow ledge, then turned to welcome the arrival of a full rescue squad.


The hearing was held two days later in the largest briefing room; twenty cadets sat in the gallery, a smattering of Enterprise crew and officers filling the odd extra seat. In the front, cadets Stendar and Nelson sat stiffly before the disciplinary board Kirk had convened.

The captain stood as his senior officers entered and took their places around the table. Scotty, Uhura, Security Chief Nored, and finally McCoy and Spock. The first officer made his way slowly to an end seat, limping slightly, and eased himself into the chair with McCoy's help. He sported a traction brace on his left leg; that, and the fading green bruise that shaded his left eye were the only outward signs of his plunge down the mining shaft. As Spock settled into place, Kirk indicated for the rest of the officers to do likewise.

"Recorder on," he announced. "This hearing has begun. Cadet Daniel Nelson, Cadet Stendar, you are facing charges relating to Order 102, Section A, Paragraph 3: Disobeying a direct order. How do you plead?"

Nelson and Stendar stood. Nelson cleared his throat, while Stendar straightened his dress tunic. Then Nelson answered.

"Sir, we are guilty as charged."

Not what he'd been expecting, but Kirk was ready to take this to a conclusion. "Mister Nelson, are there any mitigating factors you wish to offer in your defense?"

"Sir, there can be no excuse for my disobeying a commanding officer's order. I stand ready to accept the consequences."

A quote straight from the books. Kirk had read the regs last night, for the first time since his own graduation. They sounded as uncompromising now as they had years ago.

"Mister Stendar?" he said, turning to the young Vulcan cadet.

"I concur with Ilario Colony Commander Nelson, Captain," Stendar said. It was the first time he'd used Nelson's official Academy Colony rank. "However, I would like to enter into the record that Mister Nelson's violation was the result of my actions. As team leader, he was honor bound to ensure the safety of those under his command. I submit his innocence and accept full responsibility."

"Objection!" Nelson whirled to face Stendar. "I went with you, you idiot, because I wanted to! You needed help, and I wanted to help you! My decision, get it? I wanted to go with you!"

Spock had been sitting quietly listening to the proceedings. Now, for the first time, he spoke. "This is a disciplinary hearing, Mister Nelson, not a court of law. Your objection is not an admissible statement, fortunately, since you have just admitted guilt and intent."

McCoy glared at Spock. "Of all the ungrateful...!"

Kirk put an end to the budding argument. "That's enough, Bones. Cadets, is there anything you would like to add to the official record?"

Silence. An answer all its own.

"Very well. For the record, it is the opinion of this board that all charges against you be dropped. I concur with that recommendation, since your actions resulted in the safe recovery of an injured officer with no additional casualties. Recorder off."

A low murmur rose from the gallery, cadets and crew reacting to this news, while Nelson and Stendar stood in what was now shocked silence.

Kirk leaned forward. "You know, gentlemen, sometimes a commanding officer's most difficult decision is whether to pin a medal on a crewman, or throw him in the brig. Unfortunately, I'm fresh out of medals and our brig is occupied by the surviving Orions. And since we're off the record now, I'd like to thank both of you for what you did down there. Just don't ever do it again."

Kirk stood. "Recorder on. The charges against Cadet Daniel Nelson and Cadet Stendar are dropped. This board is dismissed. Recorder off."

As the briefing room cleared, Kirk and Spock remained behind. Kirk moved to a chair next to his first officer. His eyes traveled to the intricate computerized brace that held Spock's left leg in secure restraint.

"How are you doing?" he asked. In the two days they'd been back aboard, he'd had little opportunity to talk with the Vulcan. While Spock had been closeted in Sickbay, Kirk had been debriefing the cadets and preparing for the hearing. At least a short healing trance had returned some of Spock's normal color and strength. Still, Kirk had worried.

Spock extended the braced limb, testing the traction function. "I am regaining some mobility. Doctor McCoy has suggested I restrict my ambulatory activities for the next week."

"Hmmph!" McCoy came back in the room. "What I ordered was he stay flat in bed for the next week! Crush fractures aren't the same as a simple break; that brace will hold the pieces together while the fusing takes, but not if he insists on wandering around the ship. Add to that enough contusions to keep my protoplaser busy for the foreseeable future. He bullied me into letting him attend this hearing of yours; now I'm gonna escort him back to bed."

Spock pushed himself out of the chair and limped toward the door. "Vulcans do not bully, Doctor," he said. "And I do not need an escort. Captain, I shall be in my quarters if you need me."

Kirk watched him leave, a glimmer of fond amusement in his eyes. Then he turned to McCoy. He rubbed a hand across weary eyes.

"I don't know, Bones," he sighed. "Maybe I should have busted those boys. That kind of insubordination..."

"Is the only reason you just watched your first officer walk out of this room." McCoy flopped into the chair Spock had just vacated. "Maybe they broke the rules, but they worked as a team, Jim, probably for the first time this year. And they did it for all the right reasons. Stendar knew Spock was in trouble; there was no way he'd wait while Spock was lying back there hurt. And Nelson joined him, despite your orders. Together they pulled it off. Isn't that what command training is all about? Making decisions? The rescue team would never have gotten to Spock before that ledge gave way."

And Spock would have died, Kirk admitted to himself. Don't kid yourself, Captain Irony. You would have done the same thing.

"So you think they have a chance?" he asked.

"Daniel and Stendar? At what? Completing the Academy, or becoming friends?" McCoy, as usual, had nailed the real question. "Absolutely to the first! Starfleet should thank their lucky stars those two are enrolled. And as for their friendship..." The doctor leaned back in his seat, his smug look telling Kirk he knew something. "I found them in the rec lounge last night. They were just finishing a game of chess. I love watching a Vulcan play chess with a Human." He smiled.

Kirk waited. McCoy kept smiling.

"Come on, Bones! Who won?"

"Well, I didn't stick around for the end game, but when I left, Daniel was crowding around Stendar's king with three pawns and a bishop, and Stendar was saying something about impulsive Human strategy and unconventional play. Sound familiar?"

It was Kirk's turn to smile. He thought about the game waiting for completion in Spock's cabin. End games were unpredictable at best; maybe he'd invite Stendar and Nelson to watch...

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