d. William Roberts
Kirk was dying. Of that much Kelsey was sure. The captain lay unmoving next to a pile of debris that once had been the ceiling but now nearly blocked the cave's passage. There was an area of moist, dark dirt beneath him. Cadet Varek, a Vulcan specializing in medicine, had administered a hypo of a metabolic stabilizer, stopping the bleeding and preventing Kirk from sinking any deeper into shock. Without access to the Enterprise's sickbay, Kirk didn't stand a chance.
Kelsey stood at the lip of the cave, looking out through the makeshift security field that kept the maelstrom at bay, cursing his luck. With him were three of the most spoiled, arrogant bastards he'd ever had the displeasure of meeting. They were also the reason for Kirk and him being here.
Nova Cadets--the best and brightest, identified during their first year at the Academy and put on a fast-track program of instruction. They were the ones that produced success from failure, found ways out of every trap and simply would not accept a no-win situation. Captain Kirk would have been an honor graduate of this course had it existed during his years in the Academy.
Cross-trained in tactics, science and medicine, each graduating Nova class had one last test: survival. Stranded on a wilderness planet for a period of seven planetary days, their team was allowed one phaser, a medical pack, tricorder and one emergency survival pack. There was also the presence of a senior officer who would act as an observer and render assistance only if there was a life-threatening emergency.
Kelsey shook his head. Kirk had brought him along to act as his assistant, a reward for successfully qualifying for the second shift command crew. He could still see Kirk's smile as he'd told him how much like a vacation it would be. How could he have known how much he hated the arrogance that came with the Nova grads, or how they habitually treated regular grads like lesser beings? Vacation indeed, he thought, how could the captain have known this was going to happen?
Kelsey activated the log function of the tricorder. "Captain's log, Stardate 4077.5. Lieutenant junior grade Shaun Kelsey reporting in lieu of Captain Kirk. Sudden seismic activity collapsed a section of the ceiling onto the captain. He is stable now, but if I can't find a way to contact the Enterprise, I will have to instruct Cadet Varek to induce an artificial coma." Folding down the top of the tricorder, Kelsey watched Varek work while mentally recapping the past events.
The first four days had gone according to schedule. The students had erected a survival camp, placed dummy hailing beacons and had been successfully foraging for food. Shirkar's World was a wilderness paradise, filled with the raw materials needed for humanoid survival. It would have been a prime planet for colonization except for the presence of elements (such as lead) that could cause damage to the intelligence of humanoids after extended periods of time. Seven days' time was not enough time for the elements to actually cause any harm, therefore the planet was quite suitable for what Starfleet had in mind.
Kelsey paused to blow on his hands. The storm was not only violent, but had been accompanied by a severe temperature drop as well. Kirk was the one most susceptible to the chill, and the group's survival blankets now covered him, leaving the rest with just their shore party jackets for protection.
Looking out the cave entrance, he remembered how quickly the sky had changed on this morning, their fifth on the planet. Unusual cloud formations, lit with freak electrical discharges, had appeared above their heads, spinning into a giant vortex. Cadet Davis, a Human survey specialist, had been unable to draw any conclusions from the data he was receiving from the tricorder.
Kelsey paused in his recollections to look toward the pile of rocks at the rear of the cave. Still no sign of Davis, or the cadet that had gone with him. Thorrell, an Andorian cadet specializing in security, had been the one to suggest exploring the cave. "After all," Thorrell had said, "one should be sure one's surroundings are secure." Kelsey had agreed with him then, but now they'd been gone too long.
A brilliant flash outside the cave blinded him for a moment. A near miss from one of those bolts of lightning had earlier rendered the long range sub-space transmitter/receiver inoperative. Now the group would have to rely on Kirk's personal communicator to contact the Enterprise upon its return.
Strange, Kelsey thought as he stared at Kirk, the Academy's records of this planet didn't indicate potential for the atmospheric and seismic instability they had experienced this morning. Even the Enterprise's sensors had not detected any potential problems as they'd prepared to beam down.
A savage earthquake had struck just as they'd reached the cave's entrance. It hadn't been until the ground had stopped shaking that they'd noticed what had happened to the captain. Using the phaser and some good ol' fashioned elbow grease, they'd cleared the rocks away from his unconscious form.
Outside, the storm howled even louder now than it had before. Kelsey was thankful it was kept at bay by the security field Thorrell had created by modifying the phaser. That will last eight hours, tops, he thought looking through the field, after that we'll be exposed to the ravages of the storm.
Kelsey looked to the rear of the cave and activated the tricorder, continuing his log entry. "Still no sign of Thorrell and Davis. I don't know if I've made the right decision in sending them.
"Thorrell takes his Nova status to the point of arrogance. He is not like any Andorian I've ever met. They are normally disciplined and sedate. Thorrell is neither of these, though he does exhibit his race's haughtiness.
"With Captain Kirk down, I have assumed command, and Thorrell resents it. He is insubordinate and has already attempted to usurp my position more than once."
Pressing the pause key, he again checked the top of the rock pile, then continued, "They may have gotten lost. The cave's darkness would make that easy. Lieutenant Kelsey, commanding, out." He folded down the tricorder's top and returned to watching the storm.
His head snapped around as he heard footsteps. He waited anxiously. Thorrell's excited voice preceded the appearance of his blue, antennaed head. "Kelsey." Rolling over the top, he and Davis made a controlled tumble down the rock pile's face, then stood, trying to catch their breath.
"Kelsey," the Andorian repeated, the rank of the senior officer and the "sir" were left off. "We found something very important about this cave."
The lieutenant stopped Thorrell's report with an upraised hand. A sound different from that of the storm began making itself felt over the tumult. It was coming from everywhere at once.
Thorrell located it first, his antennae swiveling around. "It's coming from inside the cave." He was forced to yell over the rising volume of the combined noises.
Both looked at the gap over the rocks and could see the room beyond fill with a faint green glow.
"What the devil is that?" Kelsey mouthed what everyone else was thinking.
"It sounds like a Romulan plasma field!" Varek's voice could only barely be heard.
"What?" It took Kelsey a moment to discover who had said that, his face betraying the question in his mind. How does he know that?
Varek got as close as he could, as fast as he could. "It's a plasma field! I recognize the sound from studies I've done on the Romulan Star Empire. It must be clearing the debris from the cave!"
Hearing this, Thorrell ran for the phaser.
Kelsey thought he knew what the Andorian was going to do. "No, Thorrell!"
The Nova cadet ignored him and turned off the phaser. The storm's affects surged inward. Hurricane strength winds tried to dig them out of the cave's limited protection.
Yelling, Thorrell ran over to Kirk. "Davis, Varek, get over here, close to the captain!" Looking straight at Kelsey, he motioned toward him as well. "You too, Reggie!"
The nickname Nova's gave to regular graduates ignited resentment within Kelsey. He'd been hearing this from these people all his short career. Taking one look at the now-brilliant green light coming from the other room, he swallowed his pride and joined the others.
"Take cover and squeeze together!" When they still hadn't gotten close enough, Thorrell shook his head and yelled, "Come on! I mean really close. Make your buddy smile."
Thorrell activated the further modified phaser. Kelsey looked around as it suddenly got very quiet. Surrounding them was the sparkle of a true defense shield.
"How long will it last?" Kelsey knew the phaser wouldn't last long under this strain.
Thorrell chuckled derisively. "Does it matter, Reggie?"
The plasma field tore down the rock's molecular matrix leaving behind nothing but dust. This field, similar to a Romulan plasma torpedo, lacked shock, made no explosion, but would serve to end their misery if the shield failed.
Everyone instinctively ducked as it hit. There was a build up of pressure as the plasma pressed against the shield. Thorrell yelped. Kelsey saw him carefully, but quickly lay the phaser on the ground. It was beginning to whine, throwing off a thin wisp of smoke. Its protection was just about done, but the plasma still surrounded them.
Thorrell yelled. "This is what going Nova is all about!"
They all grimaced as the phaser's whine grew louder, then...silence.
Kelsey opened his eyes. There was Thorrell's light blue face, split by a big, mocking smile. "We live, Reggie." Then he picked up what was left of the phaser. "This didn't though." Tossing the melted weapon over his shoulder he shrugged.
Even the storm noise had disappeared. The plasma had hit the atmosphere, deteriorating quickly in the wind, creating a fireworks display of dissipating energies.
Now that the crisis was over, Kelsey felt it was necessary to adjust Thorrell's attitude. Moving to one side and with a voice just above a whisper, he called and signaled him to come over. "Cadet Thorrell."
"Yes." That was it. Thorrell didn't move, nor did he give Kelsey even the courtesy of his undivided attention.
"Cadet Thorrell." Kelsey put command emphasis behind the name and turned toward him.
This time the cadet did meet his gaze. "Yes."
"Cadet, I am your superior officer and from now on you will address me either as Lieutenant Kelsey, or more simply, sir."
Thorrell smiled, but said nothing.
"Is that understood, Cadet?" Keeping his voice low, Kelsey emphasized the title of "Cadet."
Thorrell's response was unexpected. "The title of 'sir' is reserved for a superior."
The Andorian's voice had been barely audible. Varek's distinctive raised eyebrow marked that he'd heard it. Kelsey knew he had to get this under control.
"Starfleet runs by rules and regulations, not 'might makes right.' If you can't respect me, respect the rules. Your response to the plasma field was commendable. Regardless, I am still in command, and you will address me appropriately. Is that understood?"
Thorrell's smile widened, as well as his eyes. "Sir!" He snapped to attention too rigidly, mocking the whole situation.
Kelsey could only shake his head, dismissing him.
The plasma field, while it had remained, broke up the storm's winds. Now it was gone, and the tempest outside returned with a vengeance. With the rock pile gone, Kelsey decided it would be better if they moved further in.
Moving Kirk right now would be a problem; they had no stretcher. Kelsey knew the captain wouldn't survive a lot of jostling. He was about to pass this concern on to the others when he found Varek and Davis already building a makeshift stretcher. They are good problem solvers, Kelsey thought as he watched.
Once finished, the group lifted Kirk on board, then Thorrell and Varek picked up the stretcher and the group walked toward the back of the cave. Kelsey brought up the rear; Davis led, scanning the way with the tricorder.
They had traveled quite some way when Kelsey noted something was wrong. He called a halt and joined the others at the stretcher. "It isn't getting dark."
"Exactly, sir." Thorrell was emphasizing the 'sir,' but there was no respect. "That's what Davis and I found out earlier. A little further on, you're going to discover that there's a distinctive green hue to the light and the cave becomes an artificial tunnel."
"A Romulan base?" Kelsey was intrigued by the idea of a Romulan presence this deep inside the Federation.
Thorrell looked sideways at Davis. "Duh." Then he became serious. "It certainly looks that way, sir."
Kelsey wasn't sure who'd kill Thorrell first: the builders of the tunnel or him. Thorrell was right, of course. The plasma field alone was enough to prove that. If this was a nest of Romulans, then it might not be a smart move to continue down the tunnel. "Do we continue?"
Davis showed signs of hesitation. Thorrell chimed in immediately with, "Yes!"
Kelsey noted that Varek was quietly nodding, siding with Thorrell. Trusting the Vulcan's logic over the Andorian's aggressiveness, he turned to him. "Why do you think we should continue, Cadet Varek?"
The cadet's response was typically Vulcan. "We need to ascertain if this is indeed an active base. If it is, then it is our duty to discover its purpose. Furthermore, Captain Kirk is in need of medical attention. If this is not an automated base, there should be medical personnel present."
Kelsey doubted that Starfleet would fault them for doing nothing. They could wait for the Enterprise and report it to them, but the idea that there might be help here for Kirk was attractive.
A shout from Davis interrupted them. He had worked his way further into the cave and was staring hard at the tricorder, waving at them to come closer. "We have a security field here." He put his hand out to test it.
Before Kelsey could warn him, Davis' fingertips found the field's surface, creating an electrical hum and sparks.
There was a snap and a pop.
And Davis was gone, replaced by a light wisp of smoke, some dust and a light green haze.
Thorrell identified what Davis had fatally forgotten to check for. "Romulan disruptor field."
"Get back here, Thorrell, and help us get Captain Kirk out of sight."
Thorrell complied. He posed a question while they prepared to move Kirk. "What's the matter?"
"Think about it. Have you ever known anyone to put up a barrier or trap without also setting a watch? I think we're going to find out just how active this base is." Kelsey tried to keep the anxiety of leading raw cadets into action out of his voice.
They found a shallow indentation whose shadow hid them all. Hoping the guard wouldn't have a sensor device, Kelsey noted that Thorrell had removed the Federation insignia from his uniform and was headed back out into the middle of the cave.
Stopping him, Kelsey had a question. "What are you doing?"
Smiling, Thorrell answered. "Maybe we can lure the guard out here and take him."
It would give us a weapon, Kelsey thought. "Okay. Let's try it." There was only one member of their group strong enough to dispatch the guard. Kelsey told the Vulcan the plan. "Varek. Are you familiar with tal-shaya?" He was thinking how important it would be to silence the guard quickly.
"Yes." Varek answered and listened as Kelsey explained what he wanted.
With everyone out of sight, they waited. Steady footfalls echoed from the other side of the barrier.
A Romulan soldier walked up, his face revealing boredom. He took a quick look around, then pulled out a communicator. "Legionnaire, I find nothing. We must have destroyed another scurry."
"Use the sensor, Farth. Insure it. The Centurion is edgy for some reason." A voice responded from the communicator.
"Yes, sir." He closed the channel and looked up. "We dust a scurry, and he wants me to scan the area. Meanwhile, Lista and his buddies are peeking at my pieces, ready to steal the shirt off my back." Spitting, he shook his head. "Well, that'll be the day." Disregarding his orders, he did another visual search and was about to leave when a glint of light on the other side of the barrier caught his eye.
"What the--?" he said, peering hard, trying to get a better look. Pointing a small box at the far wall, he punched in a short code, then waited a moment while the twin fields dropped.
Walking cautiously up to the object, he picked it up and looked at the Starfleet insignia.
Varek's attack was efficient and quick, leaving the guard in the dirt at his feet, neck snapped and eyes vacant. He returned to the stretcher, unaffected by his own violence, prepared to continue.
Shaking his head, Thorrell pounced onto the still warm body, relieving it of the communicator, sensor, and most importantly, the disruptor. Holding the weapon over his head, Thorrell shook it with both glee and conquest, then began stripping the guard of his uniform.
"Couldn't we have done that without losing the guard?" Legionnaire Tark didn't like losing personnel, and Centurion Ryl was sometimes extravagant.
"Not if we want them to continue, unsuspecting. They must feel as if they've managed to infiltrate our base, unnoticed, or we gain none of the treasure that's been laid at our feet. Besides," Ryl chuckled, "that guard was the worse sluggard of the garrison. You've said so yourself."
Turning his gaze back to the monitor, Ryl watched the Vulcan put on the dead guard's uniform. "That's good." His voice was tinted with respect. "They're too young to be that clever."
"What if the Enterprise doesn't come back?" Tark was impatient with this cat-and-mouse game. If it had been up to him, he'd have dispatched the whole lot of them on the surface.
Ryl shook his head. How had this simpleton risen so high in the ranks? Pointing his finger at the monitor, he explained. "Do you know who that is on the stretcher?"
He actually doesn't know, Ryl thought, shaking his head. "That, Legionnaire, is the Enterprise's infamous commander, Captain James T. Kirk. When these children call the Enterprise and tell them that Kirk is critically injured, they'll come, breaking all speed records in the process."
Ryl reviewed what he planned for the group on the screen. "Has the route we want them to take been cleared of excess personnel, including those manning the auxiliary communication station we're going to let them use?"
"Good, and do the guards know to make enough noise to warn this group of their approach, and they're never to see them, no matter how obvious they are?"
"As ordered, Centurion."
"Good, good. Get ready to disable that comm station as soon as they've made their call. We'll capture them then. I don't want to lose Kirk. He's a prize well worth the gamble we're taking."
This is far too easy, thought Kelsey. They'd been in the complex for over a half hour, and they'd had only a few close calls. Somehow, there was always an easy way out, a way they could go without being seen. It just felt wrong, a Romulan base this deep inside the Federation shouldn't be so easy to infiltrate, especially carrying a stretcher.
The corridor turned left, and they were confronted with a dead end. On either side were closed doors. He was about to order a return to the last four-way corner when Varek stopped him.
"Sir, this is a communication station." He was pointing at the door on the right.
Kelsey was surprised. "Why didn't you tell me you could read Romulan?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I don't like this. I don't like it at all." Kelsey tried opening the door to the left by walking toward it. Nothing. It remained closed even when pushed. Walking toward the other, he got within a half meter of it, and the door slid noiselessly aside.
Peeking around the corner, Thorrell insured the room was empty, then stepped in. He disappeared around the corner, then reappeared further inside the room. "No one's home. Come on in."
Kelsey and Varek brought the stretcher in and put it down in a corner. Checking out the door, Kelsey thought out loud. "There's got to be some way to secure this better." He closed the door, but there was no way of knowing how to set the lock. Turning, he saw Thorrell nosing around the consoles. "Can you read those glyphs?"
Thorrell's head shook slowly side to side. "Nope, it's all Klingonese to me. I'm into security, you know, weapons and action." He pulled out the disruptor. "This is my specialty. I just thought maybe I'd get lucky."
Perturbed, Kelsey stepped up and not so gently moved Thorrell to one side. "Then don't try. We don't need you to activate the internal communications net and put our faces up on the screen in their headquarters."
Thorrell gave up enough floor space to allow Kelsey in front of the communication console. "And I suppose you do, Kelsey." The "sir" had again disappeared.
Kelsey punched a series of buttons, and the console came to life. "Some things you don't learn at the Academy."
Perturbed that he'd been bested, Thorrell exploded. "What's your problem, Reggie? We've made it. We're here. The Enterprise can't be too far away. They'll come back, beam us out, and it'll be a happy ending for everyone but Davis."
Varek interrupted his fellow Nova cadet. "The first rule of survival, Thorrell, is never underestimate your situation." Reporting to Kelsey, the Vulcan continued. "Captain Kirk remains stable, but his life signs are low. He doesn't have much time."
"Neither do we, Mister Varek." Kelsey keyed through the frequencies and yipped when he found the carrier identification signal he was looking for. "Got her."
"Enterprise, this is Nova training class." Kelsey could hear Thorrell grumbling in the background, but ignored it as the familiar voice of Lieutenant Uhura came across the speakers.
"This is the Enterprise, go ahead Nova."
"Freak storm destroyed our camp. Earthquake critically wounded Kirk. Have discovered secret Romulan base. We are using their comm station. Unsure of Romulan intention. Use extreme caution on approach, but get here quickly. Will stand by this frequency. Kelsey out."
He'd been careful to use all the code words to clue the Enterprise about all the things he hadn't said. He stood, turned around, ready to deal with the Andorian cadet.
Thorrell attacked first. "Do you think I've underestimated this situation?" His stance betrayed his readiness for a fight.
Kelsey addressed the Vulcan, ignoring Thorrell. "With your knowledge of the Romulan language, see if you can do something with that computer sub station. Maybe it'll yield something about this base."
Kelsey watched the Andorian from the corner of his eye. Thorrell was beginning to fidget under the anger that was building inside him. Good, he's prime for a fall.
Varek sat in front of the computer and checked out its keyboard. "I know what you suspect, sir. Do you think they'll have allowed this to stay active?"
Shrugging, Kelsey answered. "They're not infallible, Cadet Varek. They make mistakes, too."
He paused to stare at the simmering Thorrell, while responding to Varek. "If they have, get what you can. I doubt they'll take long to fix it." Then, addressing Thorrell, he finished. "Romulans are thorough in all things, Cadet. This has been too easy."
"What do you mean you can't activate the video pick up for that sub station?" Ryl was livid.
Legionnaire Tark quaked under the centurion's wrath. It wasn't his fault the equipment had failed. "It happened just as we accessed it."
"You mean we can't see or hear what they're doing in there?"
"Yes, Centurion, but we don't have to see them to know what they're doing." He stood submissively in front of the base commander.
Ryl knew this as well. "Have they made the call?"
"They got a response. We then disabled the communications console," Tark reported.
"Is there anything else in there they could use?" Ryl's eyes said, There had better not be, Legionnaire.
"No, Centurion. Everything else was disabled prior to the watch leaving the room."
"Good." Placing his hands behind his back, Ryl sealed the fate of Kelsey and his group of cadets. "They've done their jobs. The Enterprise is coming back, and we're ready for her this time. You and three others go get them. Kill the whelps and bring Kirk to the infirmary. He's worth more to me alive."
"I'm in, sir." The screen filled with Romulan glyphs.
Kelsey was surprised. The Romulans had slipped up. "See if you can find out what this base's mission is."
Thorrell had taken the counseling quietly. He was now fiddling with the door's locking mechanism and had its circuitry exposed. Kelsey was curious. "What are you doing?"
"Well, sir. If you're right, then we're about to have visitors. Maybe if I change the lock's codes it will slow them up a bit." He went back to work.
Nodding, Kelsey admired how quickly Thorrell had recovered. "Very good idea, Cadet."
The Andorian didn't acknowledge the compliment. Kelsey was about to say something else when Varek cleared his throat. Looking over his shoulder at the monitor, Kelsey responded. "What?"
"Not good, sir. Not good at all." Varek looked up at Kelsey. "This base is a weapon. It gathers the gravitational fields of the planet, focusing them into a beam. This process causes the weather and seismic activity we experienced on the surface. If a ship was hit by this weapon, it would be crushed instantly, and when Starfleet investigated, it would look like it had been destroyed by a variable singularity."
"The existence of variable singularities has never been proved." Kelsey's mind was racing through the possibilities.
Varek didn't help him. "Many things in space go unproved." He paused, then landed the big bombshell. "They've targeted the Enterprise for their test firing."
Thorrell's work on the door stopped as he heard this. "We brought them in."
"Explaining why it was so easy," Kelsey pronounced. "The Romulans let us in and led us here." Two steps put him in front of the transmitter. Keying it on, he noted there was no response. "That proves it."
Thorrell had been staring at the monitor. "What?"
"The transmitter's dead. They let us call the Enterprise, then disabled it. Is the door locked?"
"Yes, sir." There was a noticeable difference in the 'sir' this time. "And I have this." He pulled out the disruptor.
"Does it still work?" Kelsey hoped what he was thinking was wrong.
"Let's see." Thorrell dialed down to low power and aimed it at the floor. Pressing the trigger, he got nothing. Thorrell's face registered the surprise. "The power supply is intact. Weapons are not like communication stations; they can't be selectively disabled like this. It must be a general energy-dampening field."
"That means..." Kelsey suspected, but he let the cadet finish.
"All the disruptors on the base are disabled as well." He paused, then continued. "How do you suppose they expect to take us?"
"Blade and pole arms. The Romulans have quite a few very efficient varieties, including throwing blades like throwing stars of Earth's ninja sect."
"Good!" Thorrell began stretching his arms and legs, preparing for a fight.
My Tae-Kwon-Do will come in handy for the first time, Kelsey thought. His mind turned to finding a solution to the problem of saving the Enterprise. In a matter of minutes it was going to be crushed by this weapon. The computer, his eyes locked on the monitor in front of Varek. "Mister Varek, can we somehow disrupt the firing process of the weapon from that?" He pointed at the monitor.
"Kelsey!" Thorrell stood near the door with his fists on his hips. "You should be getting ready for a fight, or are you afraid of these pointed-eared mutants?"
"No, I'm not afraid, but I've got to do everything I can to save the Enterprise."
A red light came on over the door, and a quiet beep interrupted any further argument. Kelsey looked at Thorrell for an explanation. "They tried to get in."
Muffled voices could be heard through the door. The Romulans had approached silently, hoping to catch them off guard. Unsuccessful, they were now making all the noise they wanted.
"How many do you suppose?" Kelsey was already looking around for something to use as a weapon.
Putting his right ear and antennae to the door, Thorrell listened. "There are four, and I hear the clink of metal."
"Come here, Thorrell. I've got an idea."
"They have changed the code from the inside, Centurion."
A voice on Tark's communicator yelled back. "Must I do everything myself? I'm coming down with my personal guards. They love whelp for dinner." The connection was cut.
Cursing, Tark was about to order in a cutting laser when the door opened. Caught off balance, he and his men just stood there. Looking back at them from the far side of the room was someone who looked like a fellow Romulan. Tark knew this was the Vulcan.
This has to be a trap, he thought as he moved one step to each side trying to see into the entire room. Someone had to go in there and take the Vulcan. Not an appropriate task for him. With a shove, he sent two of his guards instead.
Table support struts, used like clubs, dropped them to the floor. Kelsey took a short lance from one guard, and Thorrell grabbed a short sword from the other. They both attacked. The last guard had little time or opportunity to defend himself before Thorrell, feinting one way, nearly decapitated him with a savage round house slash.
Kelsey went for Tark, but got tangled up in the falling guard. He saw his target running down the hall. With one hop, he launched his lance and saw it flying true. Legionnaire Tark was struck in the middle of his back. There was a thud of penetration, then a secondary pop, as if there had been an explosive charge in the head. The Romulan dropped and slid, leaving a dark jade smear on the floor.
Dragging the bodies back to the room, Kelsey and Thorrell collected all the weapons. The spear Kelsey had used on the legionnaire was extremely difficult to extract. Once it finally tore free, Kelsey found that the head had a spring loaded set of spider barbs that sprang out, latching onto and shredding the tissues around it. He'd heard about this weapon and what the Romulans called it: a bazdja.
Varek had good news and bad news. "I can put a virus into the weapon's control computer that will cause it to meltdown the moment it is fired. Unfortunately, I can't enter it from here."
Thorrell responded. "It's no good if we can't enter it. Where's the closest terminal?"
Varek didn't let the tone of Thorrell's voice phase him. "I've located an out-of-the-way subterminal for the reactor not far from here."
"Do you think it's just a country stroll?" Thorrell was beginning to lose control. "Where do you think we are, Cadet? The Vulcan Academy?"
"Mister Thorrell," Kelsey stepped in. "Stand guard at the door and calm down." He watched the Andorian leave, then turned to Varek. "How is Kirk?"
"He's still in a coma. Why?"
Looking out the door, Kelsey concluded, "You're going to lead us to this substation, and I want to make sure we can leave Kirk here."
A few minutes later, they exited the room, secured the door and ran silently down the hall, led by Varek. The Vulcan seemed to know exactly where he was going, though the other two were soon totally lost.
The halls weren't as empty as the ones they had used to get into the base. Twice they turned corners only to run face to face with a Romulan. The brief struggles that ensued never lasted long, since the Romulan was always more surprised to see them than they him.
They were running down a narrow, dully lit corridor when Varek stopped so suddenly that Kelsey and Thorrell nearly piled into him. Varek stood staring at some glyphs on a door. "This is the one," he said as he punched in the access numbers.
The door opened, and Varek found himself nose to nose with a Romulan. Quick placement of his fingers on the side of the Romulan's neck pinched a nerve, sending the Romulan into complete unconsciousness. Easing him to the floor, Varek mind-melded with him, searching for the computer access codes. "There it is," he said, pulling his hand away and walked over to the computer.
Kelsey and Thorrell stood guard at the door. "That was quite a throw, sir."
The lieutenant recognized the sound of respect in the Andorian's voice. Well, what do you know? he thought before speaking. "Thank you, Mister Thorrell. You've done quite well yourself. Your hand-to-hand is very good." Kelsey tested the balance of a weapon he'd taken from the dead Romulan officer. It looked like a miniature starburst. He'd never seen one before, but he knew it was probably thrown much like the throwing stars of Ancient Earth.
Varek finished inputting the virus and was already back to the door. "When they fire, the reactor will melt down."
"You sure?" Kelsey asked.
"Yes, sir, barring discovery of the virus. There is something else, sir."
"What is it, Cadet Varek?"
"This base has a shield. While I was in there, I set a trigger that is sensitive to a transporter's carrier signal. Once the Enterprise starts to beam us aboard, the trigger will disable the shield."
"Very good, Mister Varek." Checking his chronometer, Kelsey found there wasn't much time left before the Enterprise would be in range, and he wanted to be in the same room with Kirk when that happened. "After you, Mister Varek. I doubt I could find my way back through that rat maze. How about you, Mister Thorrell?"
The Andorian shook his head and took up a position in the rear. The group retraced their steps.
As they ran, Thorrell had a question. "How much time till the Enterprise arrives, sir?" Thorrell was winded.
"I think they should be hailing us in about three minutes." Kelsey was also fatigued by the pace Varek was maintaining.
"I could use a break." Thorrell was running backward, checking out their rear.
"Turn left here and..." The rest was drowned out by a wet gurgle.
Caught looking at the floor, Kelsey tripped over Varek's body as he turned the corner and fell toward the growing puddle of green blood. There was a starburst weapon, just like the one he'd taken from the Romulan officer, embedded in Varek's chest where his neck joined his body. Rolling with the fall, he got to his feet and jumped to the waiting safety of the hallway beyond the intersection.
Kelsey got a fleeting glimpse of what was waiting for them. The hallway was full of Romulans, and there had been the flash of a cutting laser. Time was running out. The Enterprise had to be close. They would only have one shot at getting out of here as a group. That meant that they'd all have to be close together. Thorrell and he had to get into that room, through the Romulans.
With brief hand signals, he let Thorrell know what was up and saw that the Andorian understood. They readied their short swords, and Kelsey leaned the lance against the wall near the corner. He pulled out the starburst he'd collected and saw Thorrell do the same.
Looking Thorrell in the eye, Kelsey mouthed. "One, two, three," and turned the corner into the corridor. They threw their starbursts, and Kelsey grabbed up the waiting lance, leading the charge. Beginner's luck helped them as two of the Romulans fell.
Back to back, Thorrell and Kelsey worked their way toward the room where Kirk was interred. The narrow corridor kept the number of guards facing them to a minimum. Using the lance and sword to parry and thrust, Kelsey cut a grisly path through the enemy. Thorrell had an intense gleam in his eye, enjoying the butchery. Clearly he was entering the renowned Andorian berserker phase. Once in this heightened, emotionally charged phase, he would be virtually unstoppable. The Andorian issued a shrill battle cry, and set to slashing.
Kelsey took a hit from a Romulan, but ignored it. His focus saw nothing but the door. A splash of blue on the floor told Kelsey that Thorrell wasn't making it through this unscathed.
Kelsey was hit again. He felt the pain and transferred it to rage. The door was so close. An ancient war cry of his Irish ancestors erupted from deep inside his chest. Thorrell echoed it, ignoring all danger. With renewed vigor, they hurtled past the last obstacles to their goal.
Kelsey's opponent went down, taking the short lance just under his rib cage. Feeling the spider barbs trigger, Kelsey let it go. His opponent tripped backward, screaming in pain. Thorrell was locked in a death struggle, but Kelsey could tell by the look of desperation in the Romulan's eyes that the victory would eventually be Thorrell's.
For the first time since the fight had started, Kelsey looked around. The only Romulan left wore an ornate uniform. He must be the base commander, decided Kelsey, and he moved menacingly toward him. The Romulan didn't stick around, running down the corridor. Kelsey wished he had another starburst.
A gurgling sound told him that Thorrell had finished his opponent. Turning, he saw Thorrell disentangling himself from the dying guard. Expecting to hear the hailing chirps of the communicator at any moment, Kelsey punched the correct code into the door's security device, and it opened. The door had held, despite the efforts of the laser.
Checking on Kirk, Kelsey found no change in his condition. The chirp of the communicator startled him. Pulling it from his pocket he responded. "Standby Enterprise, three to beam up, all wounded." Commander Scott responded, but he didn't hear what was said.
"Thorrell! The Enterprise is here. Get in here!"
Thorrell came into the room.
"Come on, Cadet. They're ready," Kelsey ordered.
Thorrell had a wicked smile on his blue Andorian face as he sauntered in. "I'm not just a cadet." He paused for effect.
Kelsey saw movement behind Thorrell and his eyes got wide. He pointed and stammered his warning. "Thorrell, be--"
Thorrell wasn't listening; he was too engrossed in his victory strut. "I'm a No--" The rest was only a grunt. He was raised to his toes by the impact. Thorrell's mouth fell open, his eyes round and full of white. The head of a lance protruded from the center of his abdomen. Trying to speak, all that came out of his mouth was a steady stream of blue.
Kelsey saw the smiling face of the Romulan centurion behind Thorrell. He saw him twist the lance, triggering the release of the spider barbs. They popped impotently into open air.
"Enterprise. Beam all occupants in the room!" Kelsey yelled into the communicator.
As the beam caught him, Kelsey saw Thorrell fall. The beam stopped him halfway. He also saw the Romulan begin to sparkle as well. Kelsey was satisfied he'd get his chance for revenge.
Commander Scott slid the transporter's power level to full as soon as he'd gotten a lock on the occupants of the room. Knowing Kirk's condition, he had taken a special risk and transported the captain directly to Sickbay, where Doctor McCoy and a surgical team were scrubbed and ready. As the others finished materializing on the platform, he'd expected to see one Human, one Andorian and a Vulcan. His eyes grew wide as he realized his mistake. Activating the intercom, he prepared for trouble. "Security team to Transporter Room One! We have an armed intruder."
Opening the arms locker nearby, Scotty grabbed a phaser and prepared to take care of the Romulan. He never got the chance.
The Andorian fell to his knees, then rolled to his side, propped up by the lance that intersected him. Kelsey vaulted the Andorian and attacked the Romulan with a short-bladed sword.
"Sickbay. The Andorian cadet has been critically wounded. I'm sending him down as well." Scotty kept an eye on the action while he talked into the intercom.
There was a loud clang as Kelsey's overhead swing was stopped dead in mid-arc by the Romulan's parry. They stood eye to eye.
"In the back, Romulan? Did he frighten you that much?" Kelsey hammered at the Romulan's defense.
Clang, clang, clang.
The Romulan spit out his retort. "Vermin require only the heel of my boot."
Kelsey realized that the Romulan, just like any Vulcan, was stronger than him, and he needed to gain an edge, or he was finished. He remembered Thorrell's blade and a quick glance found it laying on the platform.
This will be tricky, he thought as he prepared himself. Striking once with the sword, he followed it up with a straight kick to the solar plexus. Stunned, the centurion stumbled backward, allowing Kelsey time to disengage. Rolling over backward with the kick, Kelsey grabbed the second blade and was back on his feet.
Kelsey rejoined the fight. He changed his style, trading the brutish moves of the broad sword for the quick slashes of the orient.
Clang, clang, clang.
His blades removed the centurion's defense and scored. No respite. Don't let him regain his balance, Kelsey instructed himself. The Romulan's ornate uniform was a green, gory tatter. In another flurry of steel, Kelsey worked the Romulan back to the wall of the platform, making two more gaping slashes, then physically pressed him to the wall, eye to eye.
Kelsey heard the bridge talking to Scott. "There's a massive disturbance in the planet's gravitational field."
"This ship is only seconds from destruction, verminous whelp," the Romulan said, smiling.
Kelsey responded. "Vermin often bite and can carry diseases."
Kelsey saw the flash on the room's view screen, the death of the Romulan base, reflected in the centurion's eyes. "Job well done, Varek," he said in a voice just above a whisper. Now to finish this.
There was both shock and dismay in the centurion's face. A stream of Romulan curses poured out as the centurion counter-attacked viciously. Kelsey parried all the ill-aimed sword strokes easily, building a moving shield with his blades. Kelsey saw an opening and knocked his opponent back into the wall with a leaping side kick. The Romulan bounced off the wall straight back onto Kelsey's waiting swords. Picking the Romulan up off the floor, he left him pinned to the wall like a bug in an entomologist's collection.
Catching his breath, Kelsey stared only for a moment at what he'd done. Spitting at the dead centurion's feet, he turned to where Thorrell had fallen. There was only a pool of blue blood where he'd lain. He was staring down at it when Scott walked up to him.
"Ye did well, Lieutenant." The engineer put his arm around Kelsey's shoulder.
"Where's Thorrell?" Kelsey felt very tired.
"I took the chance and beamed him to Sickbay, laddie, and that's where you'll be headin'." He began leading Kelsey toward the door. "I'd appreciate it if ye dinna mention it to the cap'n. Regulations, you understand..."
"How is he?"
Scott shook his head. "It didna look good, lad. Didna look good at all. Come on, you're wounded yourself and the sooner I get you to Doctor McCoy, the sooner ye're back on duty."
The chief engineer smiled. It had been a long fortnight since he'd seen such a display of swordsmanship. This lad holds promise, he thought, helping Kelsey walk, there must be some Scottish blood in his Irish background.
The walk to Sickbay seemed an eternity to Kelsey. The hall closed in on him. Voices, loud enough to be heard, were distorted, like they were coming from an echo chamber. Somewhere on the way, he passed out.
"Damn." Scott exclaimed as he caught the collapsing Kelsey. Grabbing a passing tech, they carried Kelsey the short distance left to go.
A bright light caught Kelsey's attention. Heaven? he thought. "Where am I?"
A voice accompanied a shadow that eclipsed the light. "You're safe, Lieutenant."
Kelsey felt he should recognize the voice, but couldn't. "Where's Thorrell?" Convinced he was in the next world, he looked for the Andorian cadet.
The grandfatherly voice answered, "Don't worry, Lieutenant; he's here. Now relax, and leave the driving to us."
Another voice seemed to float in from a distance. He felt he should recognize it as well, but couldn't. "How are they?"
The grandfather responded, but Kelsey only picked it up as a mumble. Then there was the tiniest bit of pressure on the side of his neck and everything went black.
Beep. The sound found him floating in a grey mist. Beep. It came again, only louder this time. It took him a moment to realize it was coming at regular intervals. Finally, he got one eye to open, then the other. Everything was unfocused, but he soon recognized the dim lighting of the main ward of Sickbay. He started to sit up and moaned. Every muscle in his body protested.
"I wouldn't try that if I were you, Mister Kelsey. If you undo any of Doctor McCoy's fine work, he'll have your hide." This was followed by a knowing chuckle.
That was a familiar voice, but for a moment he couldn't put it to a face. Recognition followed his finding the source. "I'll keep that in mind, sir."
Captain Kirk was in the bed across from him, sitting up and reviewing something on the computer monitor in front of him. "Before they discover you're awake and the hoopla begins, I want to thank you for saving my ship."
Kelsey remembered the flash that had signaled the destruction of the Romulan base. "I didn't do it, sir. Thank the cadets; they did all the work."
Kirk knew what Kelsey was feeling. He remembered the first command he'd had where members of his team had died. Kelsey would be filled with remorse and doubts. It was natural, but it had to be controlled.
"Yes, they did. Remember that. Your crew always does the work, but it is the commander who is the glue that holds them together as a team."
Kelsey managed to sit up. "I didn't lose just one. I lost them all."
Kirk grimaced. "This, too, will happen. It's the risk we all accept when we enter the service. I know this is little consolation now, but your team saved this ship. Think about all the lives that would have perished if the Romulans had been successful. What are two compared to that?"
"There were so many things I could have done differently," Kelsey replied.
A familiar argument, one that Kirk had used often on himself. "Yes, I'm sure there were. We all live and learn."
"I'm going to put them all up for a citation." Kelsey stared at the blanket in front of him for a moment, then made eye contact with Kirk. "Then resign from the second command crew."
Kirk had known this would happen. "I think you need to think that one out a little bit more, Lieutenant. Part of learning how to be a commander is accepting that you will lose members of your team. It's inevitable." Kirk paused, hoping this would sink in deep. He liked Kelsey and felt he'd make a fine starship captain some day. "Did any of them go above and beyond?"
"Cadet Thorrell, sir." Kelsey's gaze went to the ceiling. Damn, I would have liked to work with that arrogant young Andorian as a fellow officer, he thought, feeling a deep sense of loss he couldn't explain.
Kirk was surprised, especially with the hostility he'd observed between the two. He was about to comment when Kelsey continued.
"He drove the team, kept them running. If anyone deserves to be on a command crew, it was him." Kelsey held Kirk's gaze as he finished.
"Thank you, Reggie." The voice came from his right.
Kelsey's jaw dropped open. He saw Kirk smile, then looked toward the source of the comment. "I thought you were dead, Thorrell!" Kelsey couldn't decide whether to be embarrassed or relieved.
"No, sir. You should know better than that, Reggie."
Damn, thought Kelsey, and just as arrogant as ever.
Thorrell continued. "Reggie? Do you know what's the only thing in the universe that can't be stopped?"
Kelsey knew the answer and said it with Thorrell.
"Correct," Thorrell concluded, "but you know that already, don't you, Reggie?"
Shaking his head, Kelsey looked to Kirk and found him smiling.
"I'll have those commendations by morning, Lieutenant," Kirk said, then returned to his reading.
Returning his attention to Thorrell, Kelsey felt he needed to say something. "I'm glad you made it, Thorrell."
"Thank you, Reggie. I'm glad I made it myself."
That was enough. Kelsey knew there was a chance this officer would be serving under him in the future, and he would understand his arrogance, but just in case he was assigned to a less understanding commander, he had to do what he was about to do. "Cadet Thorrell. Let's discuss this 'Reggie' thing."
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