2269 Captains log, Stardate 6955.1
James T. Kirk flicked a toggle, leaned back and pivoted his command chair in the direction of his first officer. "Do you have that history I requested, Mister Spock?"
The lean Vulcan casually sat back in his seat and turned to his commanding officer. "Affirmative, Captain," he stated flatly, pausing only a moment before continuing. "Alba Three has had a rather turbulent history. Before the imposition of the Organian Peace Treaty and the subsequent establishment of the Klingon Neutral Zone boundaries, both the Federation and Klingon Empire claimed territorial rights to the small, uninhabited class M planet.
"Alba Three is suitable for agricultural development; however, it was utilized by each power to maintain military observations of the other. Shortly before the Organian Peace Treaty went into effect, the Federation discovered rich deposits of dilithium in the rocky terrain of the northern hemisphere and set up a mining installation.
"However, once the treaty went into effect, the Klingon Empire demanded that all mining operations by the Federation be halted. If they did not, the Klingons stated that the Federation would be in violation of the treaty, based on paragraph four..."
Kirk looked somewhat confused. "Correct me if Im wrong, Mister Spock," he interrupted his first officers monologue, "but doesnt paragraph four merely stipulate that neither party may deny the other peaceful access to its planetary bases within the Neutral Zone?"
"That is quite correct, Captain. However, the Klingon argument was that dilithium, being a major power source, is utilized in what they perceive to be strictly military vessels. And utilized thus, they felt that the Federation would thereby be in violation of the treaty. Strictly speaking, of course, all Klingon vessels are military vessels, and they clearly feel justified in making that assertion about Federation vessels."
Kirk nodded his understanding. He knew that the Klingons were not worried so much about where the dilithium was being used as they were about whether or not it would used against them. "Go on, Mister Spock."
"During bitter negotiations with the Klingon ambassador and his delegates, the Federation ceased all mining operations. The Klingons had demanded the Federation relinquish a percentage of the dilithium already removed. A rather large percentage. As negotiations heated, the Federation learned that the Klingons had discovered a rich deposit in the southern hemisphere and had already set up mining operations.
"In order to negotiate a peaceful end to what was becoming a polemic situation, the Federation granted mining rights to the Klingon Empire under condition four, sub-paragraph three. Both the Federation and the Klingon Empire have set up mining and agricultural installations in their respective territories. Until recently, there had been no incidents between the powers."
"And now, the Klingons are blaming the Federation for sabotaging their mining operations," Chekov muttered.
Kirk pivoted his command chair. The small green planet, scattered with blues and browns indicating oceans and rocky mountains, filled the viewscreen. "Readings, Mister Chekov."
The navigator stepped to the science console and conducted a quick scan. "At this time, there are no indications of technological activity from either the Federation mining colony or the Klingon Empire. Both outposts appear to have been destroyed by an identical force, leaving bits of debris and wreckage. No lifesigns evident other than vwhat appears to be a Klingon scouting party."
"Thank you, Ensign," the captain said as the Russian navigator returned to his post. As of late, the young command trainee was broadening his talents, spending more and more time at the library-computer as well as engineering and the security section. Kirks expression became one of concern. He stood, straightened his tunic and stepped down from his command chair. "Their location, Mister Spock?" he asked as he approached the railing just below Spocks station.
His first officer bent over his scanner, his face bathed in the eerie blue light. "One point five kilometers from Federation boundaries, Captain. Heading toward the colony at a rate of two kilometers per hour. They should arrive there in forty-five minutes."
"How many in their party?"
Kirk turned to his helmsman. "Mister Sulu, you will maintain this orbit until otherwise ordered."
"Uhura, go to Yellow Alert."
"Aye, sir." Her hands danced over her controls, and her voice soon sounded over the intercom system.
The bridge doors swished open, admitting Doctor McCoy. He glanced briefly up at the viewscreen as he approached Kirk. "Whats going on, Jim?" the physician asked, looking concerned.
"Lets just say that we werent the first ones to arrive on the scene, Bones," Kirk replied. He turned once again to his executive officer. "Mister Spock, assemble a landing party. Four security personnel to be armed with class two phasers." He glanced up at his communications officer. "Coordinate the list from Mister Spock. Have the security squad meet Mister Spock, Doctor McCoy and myself in five minutes." The captain took the steps to the upper level of the bridge.
"Aye, sir," Uhura responded.
"Mister Sulu, you have the conn. I expect to find my ship in one piece when I get back," he said with a smile.
Sulu acknowledged with a nod and a grin. "Not to worry, sir."
"Come, gentlemen," Kirk said to the two men. "Its time to do a little investigating of our own."
Ensign Jenna Carter lay in her bunk, eyes closed, hands tucked comfortably under her head, legs crossed at the ankles and her mind a melange of thoughts.
Lately, she had taken to analyzing her life, the changesboth good and badwhich had occurred, her reactions to people and events, or in some instances, the lack of them. She had no one to blame for her analytical obsession other than Doctor Leonard McCoy. It was their last discussion some months back that had been the catalyst. He had brought to her attention the fact that during the course of a year, she had gone to him with a variety of ailments ranging from minor aches and pains to mood swings. He had even gone so far as to suggest that, since he could find nothing physically wrong with her, her problems were probably more psychological than physical.
"My personal recommendation, Ensign," he had said, "especially after reviewing your personal and military record, is that you take a few weeks shore leave. Youd be surprised what a few weeks of R and R can do for the Human psyche."
"Is that an order, Doctor?" she asked.
McCoy had merely smiled and shook his head, "No, Ensign. Right now, its just a suggestion..."
"Well," she said, cutting him short, "since its only a suggestion and I find vacations rather boring and oft times depressing...I think Ill pass."
He had opened his mouth to say something, but she didnt give him the opportunity. She thanked him and promptly left before he could utter another syllable. And from that time on, she had forced herself to do a great deal of thinking.
Carter had been aboard the Enterprise for eighteen months, ten of which shed been assigned to Botany, four in Ships Stores and most recentlyshortly after shed requested a transferto Security.
She had considered herself fortunate to have been assigned to the Enterprise. The ship, its captain and his first officer had become legends throughout Starfleet. Their voyages, adventures, first contacts with new lifeforms and new civilizations were renown from Earth to the distant reaches of Questar M17. To serve aboard such a beautiful starshipand to Ensign Jenna Carter, the Enterprise was beautiful, from her streamlined port nacelles to the saucer sectionunder such a legendary captain and first officer made her chest swell with butterflies of pride.
During her assignment aboard the Enterprise, she had gotten to know the man called James T. Kirk as well as any junior officer could. He was a perfectionist who wouldnt order his crew to do something he himself wouldnt do. He wasnt a very tall man, but he did have a commanding presence and managed to work out in the gym regularly. She noticed that he did so more often during stressful situations and assumed it was his way of not only relieving tension, but of clearing his head. She had been included in several of his landing parties while assigned to Botany. Working in close proximity to the man, she noted his strong sense of duty and his sense of humor.
At a few crew mixers, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas, she also noticed that her young captain had an eye for the ladiesespecially for those who were Federation scientists hitching a ride on the Enterprise, with whom he occasionally had dalliances. But being a man of strong convictions, he always remained a gentleman and rarely made a pass at any female crew member. She was sure he didnt think anyone had noticed his attraction to various officerssuch as Janice Rand, Marlena Moreau, or Penda Uhura for that matterbut they had. However, because of their respect and admiration for the man, they never let on.
It was no secret to her that a large number of the female crew found the captain just as attractive. A few of them had even expressed a desire to spend just one intimate night with him. On the other hand, she found him to be somewhat egotistical.
The Vulcan, Spock, however, was quite unlike his captain. She could sense within him a hidden strength and sensitivity, perhaps even an air of loneliness. There was something about his quiet manner that she not only appreciated, but seemed to understand. She couldnt deny the fact that she found him attractive. If ever there were a man that she could love again, she couldnt help but believe that he was such a man. But right now she had no time for love and would not dare make an attempt at winning his half-Human, half-Vulcan heart. After all, it would prove to be a fruitless task. Her friend, Maria Perrone, a physicians assistant, had told her that Nurse Christine Chapel had been trying, without success, for four years.
At the thought of her friend Perrone, Carter shifted uncomfortably to her side and cursed herself for being such a fool. They had such a close friendship and then, for no apparent reason, they had words and hadnt spoken to one another for months.
She remembered the day they met in the ships store and the fun times they shared. How, only a few days after theyd met, crewmates commented on the uncanny similarities between the two (particularly the facial mannerisms) and had thought that they had either known each other for years or were somehow related. Many of them were stunned when she or Perrone told them that theyd just recently met.
She missed her friend and constant companion; the lunches, dinners, conversations over coffee, the sing-alongs with Lieutenant Uhura in the rec room, the quiet discussions on the observation deck and the frequent visits Perrone made to Ships Stores before she reported for duty in Sickbay.
And when it appeared that there was no hope of reconciliation, Carter began to despise her assigned station, for it was there, in the ships store, where they had met and ironically, where they had said words that couldnt be erased. It was a day she not only regretted with utmost sincerity, but also could not or did not wish to remember. All she did remember was an off kind of feeling. The kind you get when youve had little or no sleep.
Anxiety had managed to keep her awake most of the night before. Anxiety and loneliness. A loneliness shed felt since most of her familyincluding her husband and only sonhad disowned her because her heart belonged to the stars and not to them. The only three family members that had remained close to her were her cousin Joann and her two sisters, Angela and Johanna, and all three were now dead. Angela was killed aboard the U.S.S. Constellation when a giant robot ship killed Commodore Deckers crew and crippled his ship. Ironically Joann, who was stationed on the U.S.S. Excalibur, was killed along with the rest of the ships complement during what were supposed to be simulated war games against the Enterprise and the M-5 computer. Her sister Johanna was the victim of a virus carried aboard the U.S.S. Exeter from the planet Omega IV. She missed them and often felt totally alone without them. Then when Maria Perrone came into her life, she had adopted the younger woman, not only as a friend, but as family. The family she no longer had. But even this newly found bond couldnt alleviate the anxiety and loneliness she felt.
Perhaps, she thought, its because Im scared of losing another person I care about... Unfortunately Carters anxieties tended to make her quiet and pensive, almost withdrawn. Her thoughts were sometimes ablaze with a series of mixed emotions, doubts and fears. Things she could not or would not express, not to anyone, not even Maria. After all, there are some things that cannot be discussed because they are merely feelings. They are intangible. You cannot simply put them into words.
Since it was difficult for Carter to keep her anxieties in check, it wasnt at all difficult for Perrone, being in the medical profession, to notice the subtle changes in her attitude and personality. It took a great deal of personal courage to even confront her on the subject. But one day she did.
"Whats wrong, Jenna?"
"Dont tell me nothing. Somethings bothering you. What is it?"
"Nothings bothering me. Really."
"Then why are you acting like this?"
"Like what? What are you talking about?"
"Youre fidgety, aloof...far too quiet. You want me to go on? And this isnt the first time. Ive noticed it a lot lately. If Ive said something to upset you, talk to me. Let me know about it."
"You didnt say anything. Im just pre-occupied, thats all. Ive just got a lot on my mind...and Ive got a lot to do before I have report to duty."
"Well, if thats really the case, then sit down and take a break for a few minutes. I dont stay all that long you know."
"Yes...I know. But I just want to report to duty, get my work done and head straight for my quarters where I can relax."
"Why? I thought you said you like putting in the extra time."
"I did. But lately its just been too much. Non-stop. Ive got two other people under me, and Im just not used to giving orders. I just feel like Im under a lot of stress."
"But I thought wed get together tonight."
"Normally Id say great, but I really cant. Not tonight."
"Why? Dont you love me anymore?" Perrone had said in the put-on, little-girl voice she sometimes affected when teasing her friend, never quite understanding how irritating Carter found it.
Even now, she recalled how she had tensed up on those words. "I hate when you pull that on me."
"I know," Perrone replied with a mischievous smile, "but it always works."
"Well, not this time, little one. You know damn well that I care about you. Right now, youre the only family that I have. But I cannot allow you to manipulate me into doing things because you either threaten me with not speaking to me again or put me on a guilt trip with that you dont love me anymore nonsense. Im tired of your little girl act. Youre not a little girl, and its time you stopped acting like oneeven in jest. I need some time to myself. Especially right now. Im under a lot of pressure. I need to be by myself...read a book...listen to some music...be alone... unwind."
She remembered the surprised and yet hurt look on the younger womans face. Carter hadnt meant for the words to come pouring out the way they did. She didnt want to hurt her friend, but the words obviously did, for Perrones smile had disappeared and her face had grown pale.
"Manipulate you?!" she exclaimed. "Is that what you think Ive been doingmanipulating you?!"
"Look. Lets not get into this right now. Well talk about it later..."
"No! We wont talk about it later... or ever!" she returned hotly and stormed out the door, nearly crashing into them, as they did not slide open fast enough.
Maria had wanted honesty, and Jenna, in the heat of the moment, had supplied it. Carter had tried for several weeks to contact her and apologize, but Perrone wanted nothing to do with her.
As she recalled the incident that had terminated their friendship, she was once again overwhelmed by the anxieties she had undergone at the time. The sense of not having enough time in the day to do the things she wanted to. Not having the courage or self-esteem to do the things she felt she should be doing. Not receiving the recognition she felt she deserved for things she had done. The feelings of being totally alone in a ship full of people and the feelings of affection for someone she was afraid of having affection for.
And, of course, there was their age difference. That was a major part of her problem. She could not comprehend why someone as young as Maria Perrone would want to constantly be around someone who was almost old enough to be her mother. But perhaps that was part of the curse of being half-Human and half-Halii, a long-lived race. Even though she was actually years older than Perrone, Maria saw them as equals.
And I still havent found a middle ground, Carter thought.
A few months after they had the argument, she had requested a transfer to Security. She was relieved when Kirk had approved the transfer. Since I cant turn back the hands of time, at least I dont have a constant reminder of a friendship gone sour, she thought.
Suddenly, she heard the yellow alert klaxon. She was about to head out to her duty station when Uhuras voice came over the intercom: "Security officers Carter, Michaels, Turin and Westbend report to the transporter room immediately."
Carter blinked several times in disbelief. Her heart pounded so hard that she felt the thumping in her carotid artery. Finally, she jumped from her bunk and ran out of her quarters. The armory was down the corridor. She would be there in a matter of seconds, be issued her equipment and race to the transporter room. There was no more time for thinking. At least, not of things past. Her adrenaline was pumping. She was scared, but she was ready.
As Spock stood beside Transporter Chief Kyle and laid in the coordinates for their beam down pointa rocky part of the terrain some two hundred meters from the mining colonyKirk briefed the security team.
"Theres a Klingon scout party doing pretty much what were going to be doing down there: investigating the destruction of the mining colony. The Klingons are probably armed with disruptors, and, though well be some distance from them, I want you to be on your guard. Their ships sensors are bound to register our presence, so keep your eyes and ears open. Keep your phasers set on stun, your communicators on point-to-point. Once were down there, well fan out in a circle, keeping within sight of each other. Any questions?"
"Ensign Carter," Kirk acknowledged.
"What exactly are we looking for, Captain?"
"Anything that may provide information on what may have been utilized in causing the destruction of the encampment, equipment and miners," Spock volunteered.
The sound of the first officers gentle voice was pleasing to her senses. She could listen to that voice for hours. Hopefully, she thought, he hasnt noticed. "Such as a discarded weapon casing or power pack?"
"Exactly," Kirk stated. "Something to indicate whos responsible for the slaughter. Now, if there are no further questions?"
When none were forthcoming, he took his place on the transporter platform, and the others joined him. He glanced over at Kyle and gave a slight nod, "Energize."
As their forms solidified and the dizziness and nausea subsided, McCoy was the first to break the silence against the hum of Spocks tricorder. "Transporting molecules all over space! One of these days, I expect to find myself facing opposite directions at the same damned time!"
"Not a pretty picture," Carter said with a smirk and a shiver.
"No, dear lady, its not," McCoy returned.
"Klingon scouts bearing two four zero, Captain," Spock announced as Kirk removed his phaser from his belt. Security did likewise. "They do not, as yet, appear to be aware of our presence. My tricorder is also registering traces of subatomic particles...and low radiation levels."
"Does the radiation pose any danger to us?"
"Not immediately, Captain, but our stay should not exceed six point three hours at this level."
"Okay, people," Kirk said as he looked at each of his officers. "I want you to spread out, but try to keep within sight of one another. Youre to report every half-hour. Keep a low profile. If challenged by the Klingons or the attackers, try not to use your weapons unless you have to. Report anything out of the ordinary. And I mean immediately," he added. "Any questions?"
"No, sir," Westbend said.
"Good. Then lets do it," Kirk returned and pointed them each in a specific direction. As they separated, each activated a tricorder.
Ensigns Michaels and Carter had been posted to survey the area just north of the colony. Westbend and Turin had headed southward, while the captain, with Spock and McCoy, had taken the western flank. They had all begun to fan out in a circle, the distances between them ever increasing, yet they obeyed orders, and never lost sight of one another.
Carter kept her eyes on both her tricorder and the rocky terrain. Footing was unsure, due to shallow ditches, upturned soil and boulders of various sizes and shapes. The damage to the ground, grass and once-mighty trees, appeared to be caused mostly by the fires created by the explosive devices that were used. Kicking at the topsoil with her booted foot, she noted that the charred surface was only about a half-inch thick. Looking around, she saw that there were also a number of areas where one could take cover in the event a confrontation arose between Klingon and Federation officers. Something she hoped would not happen.
The Klingons, apparently, still had no inclination that the Federation had arrived. At least, they gave no indication to the contrary. Something she found interesting, considering their reputation. She had never met a Klingon, but she had read and heard about them. At Starfleet Academy, the Kobayashi Maru test had introduced her to a rather frightening encounter with Klingon warships in the Neutral Zone. She had utterly failed the test and was moved out of the command track into Sciences. Now, here on the surface of Alba III, she couldnt help but fear the Kobayashi Maru was about to become a reality.
The Klingons were an arrogant, barbaric people, who wouldnt think twice about using their mind-sifter or their agonizer, taking hostages or killing them, or opening fire on the Federation team with their disruptors. Shed seen first hand what a Klingon disruptor could do to Human tissue, and she prayed shed never experience such agony. They were definitely not a nice people.
Something registered on her tricorder. It was several meters ahead of her to the right of a low cliff at the base of a large mass of boulders. She adjusted her controls; whatever it was, it was just barely alive. She called out to Michaels. However, it would take him a few minutes to reach her, and the life-readings on her tricorder were fading. She decided to take the initiative and jogged off in the direction of the readings. She knelt beside a pile of rubble; with one hand, she dug at the soil and rocks. The readings on her tricorder ceased. A finger popped out of the dirt. Startled, she jumped back but quickly managed to calm herself. She flicked open her communicator just as Michaels arrived.
All the security teams had reported in. The findings were very much the same: blasted rock and soil, twisted and burned vegetation, and minute traces of radiation.
"How many people lived here, Jim?"
Kirk surveyed the shattered habitat domes, noting that native animals had already made short work of any carcasses. "Too many, Bones. Too many." He looked at the physician. "Seventeen."
"Captain, I believe I have found something of interest."
The captain and doctor stepped to where the Vulcan was standing. Half-buried in the soil was a rocket casing that was nearly intact.
His tricorder scanning the cylinder, Spock revealed, "The casing houses an explosive compound known as merculite. The casing itself is made of a unique combination of mineral ores. If memory serves, merculite rockets are used by only one race."
"And that would be?"
"I would prefer to defer giving you any more information without first checking my findings with the ships computer."
"Meaning youd hate to be proven wrong," McCoy jibed.
"Meaning I do not want to give the captain inaccurate information. Please stop ascribing Human emotions to a logical decision on my behalf," answered Spock. He flipped open his communicator and contacted the Enterprise.
Kirk and McCoy paired off, walking away from Spock, leaving the science officer to confer with Lieutenant Lambert in the ships metallurgy department.
They had only walked a few yards when McCoy paused. The doctor stood there a few seconds just looking around the devastation before he spoke. "Jim, you realize that if we cant prove to those pig-headed Klingons that the Federation isnt responsible for any of what went on down here, we might as well bend over and kiss our asses good-bye because all hells gonna break loose."
Of course, he knew that Kirk was aware of the consequences they faced. But being an emotional creature of habit, he wasnt about to let the obvious deter him from expressing his feelings.
Kirk sighed. He looked at the devastation around him, up at the pale blue sky, where somewhere the Enterprise was in orbit. He put his hands on his hips. "Yes, Bones. Starfleet is more than likely on full military standby as we speak. Im just hoping we find something more than just rocket casings. You heard, Spock. He has his suspicions as to whos at the heart of this. I can feel it. But without confirming his data, he wont make any assumptions." He turned and glanced in the direction of his first officer, who was busy talking into his communicator to the ship. "Hes probably giving Lambert his findings now," he added.
The captains communicator beeped. H reached under his tunic and removed it from his belt. It chirped as the sensor grid flicked open. "Kirk, here."
"Ensign Carter here, sir. I believe Ive found something that may shed a little light on the situation, Captain."
"What is it, Ensign?"
"An alien body, sir. Buried under a layer of debris. By the looks of things, there may have been an avalanche."
"Were on our way, Ensign. Kirk out."
McCoy already had his tricorder pointed in Carters direction, "To the right of that cliff...by that mass of boulders," he said.
Kirk nodded and turned in the direction of his first officer. He dialed the point to point frequency.
"Ensign Carters come up with a body, Mister Spock."
"On my way, Captain," he said, and seconds later the three were jogging off in a northerly direction.
Kirk and McCoy were the first to arrive. They found Carter and Michaels bent over a small mound, scraping dirt and debris away from an almost fully exposed corpse. Carter held her phaser. Upon hearing them approach, she looked up, phaser ready to fire. She was surprised by her own calm, as was McCoy. She did not flinch, though he did, at the sight of the muzzle pointed in their direction.
"Sorry, sirs," she said upon seeing the expression on McCoys face. She stood as they approached. Michaels continued to remove as much of the debris as he could from the alien figure lying beneath the pile of soil.
"For a minute there, Ensign, I thought you were gonna get even with me for suggesting you take some R and R," McCoy whispered with a grin.
Carter returned the smile, but turned her attention to Kirk. "Hes humanoid, but not Human, sir. And from the media Ive studied, even though he has a cranial ridge atop his head, he doesnt appear to be a Klingon either."
"Shes right, sir," Michaels agreed, standing to his full height of six four.
McCoy bent over the body and adjusted his medical tricorder. Spock arrived as the doctor studied his mediscanner.
"You will find, Doctor McCoy, that the body belongs to a race known as the Talarians," he said flatly.
"Talarians, Mister Spock? Explain," Kirk ordered.
"The Talarians, Captain, are characterized by a distinctive hairless enlargement of the coronal area of the skull extending in two lobes to the back of the head."
Kirks eyes narrowed in disapproval. Thats not what I was asking, he thought, and Spock knows it.
"They look like a cross between Humans and Klingons," Carter observed.
"Perhaps," Spock conceded, "but they are not members of the Federation or the Klingon Empire." He turned to face his captain. "Ships computers have verified that the explosive merculite compound found in the rocket casing, as well as the casing itself, was clearly manufactured by this race of beings. It is their primary weapon, akin to our own photon torpedoes, but somewhat less powerful."
"Who are these guys, Spock? Good guys, bad guys?" snapped McCoy.
"I resist labeling them as either, Doctor. Their society is rigidly patriarchal, and they actively encourage war-like behavior. Theyre also very xenophobic, and, as you yourself might say, could teach the Orions a thing or two about illegitimate activities."
"Excuse me, sirs," Carter interrupted. "My tricorder readings indicate the Klingon party is approaching us."
The words had no sooner escaped her lips when the tingling ionization of the air surrounding them warned that they were about to have unwanted company. They drew their phasers, but it was already too late. The first disruptor blast skimmed just above McCoys head, the second whizzed past Kirk and struck a tree, vaporizing it to ash instantly. Kirk rolled, phaser in hand, firing several stunning blasts in various directions, as he and his first officer scurried for cover in a nearby ditch. McCoy dashed for cover behind a grouping of boulders in the nook of the cliff.
Carter and Michaels ducked behind the mass of boulders close to where they stood, firing several blasts at whatever moved in the distance. Her heart pounded. Her palms were sweaty. A lump of fear formed in her throat. "Why did I ask for Security? I couldve asked for Engineering...Mess Officer...anything but this! I had to be out of my mind to request Security," she grumbled as perspiration trickled down both sides of her face.
Michaels smiled. "This is what you were meant to do. I know; Im the one who trained you. Remember?"
"Yeah! Only because I act before I think," she returned.
"A natural instinct," he countered.
Disruptor fire came at them from several angles, aimed mostly in the direction of Kirk and his first officer. They returned fire, one to the left, the other to the right. She was able to see the Klingons from her angle and realized that neither Spock nor the captain had a clear shot at them. She didnt have time to think about it. She just acted. Maybe Michaels was right.
The others, including the security officers who had come to their aid, saw her move and covered her with rapid fire as she stood and aimed her phaser, fired once, heard an agonized cry and turned to see that the others were safe. Thats when she heard the Klingon call out to her. She turned, phaser aimed high.
She saw it coming as if in a dream and felt helpless to prevent what seemed to be the inevitable. She heard Spock call out her name; the captain order him to "Stay put!"
In the instant that it took the Klingon disruptor burst to zip across the expanse of land and slam into her, all sights and sounds seemed to slow to an almost nightmarish standstill. She knew that in a moment she could be dead, would be dead if the Klingons aim were true. But as strange as it seemed, she didnt care, She felt that she had lost so much already. Her husband. Her only son. Her sisters. Her cousin. Close friends. The accomplishments that went unrecognized. The love and understanding that she so desperately needed but somehow always managed to elude her, the man she loved but could never have.
She had always felt a sense of emptiness... aloneness. In a way, she envied the Vulcan his captain.
As she took aim and squeezed the phaser button, she knew that it was already too late. The only predominant thought in those last confusing seconds was, Why exist if your existence serves no true purpose?
The disruptor burst hit with a stab of searing pain and a blow so shocking that it slammed her into the cliff wall behind her. She heard her bones crack upon impact, felt the burning sensation on her shoulder, heard the crinkling of her uniform and flesh as she slid to the ground.
McCoy whipped his medikit from his utility belt and was at her side in an instant. His mediscanner hummed in her ears as she looked up into his troubled blue eyes. His hands moved with professional skill as he examined her wound and removed a hypo from his kit. A moment later, pain reliever hissed into her forearm. "That was a damned fool thing to do, Ensign!" he reprimanded.
She heard the phasers and disruptors whistle, but their sounds were far, far off. A veil of darkness slowly descended, and her eyes rolled uncontrollably as she looked up and tried to focus on the doctors worried face. "Lousy shot," she whispered, grabbing his uniform sleeve. "Mister Spock...the captain?"
"Theyre fine, Ensign. Its you Im worried about."
She nodded and smiled before entering that nether world of endless dreams.
McCoy worked to remove the fabric from her burned flesh and applied an antiseptic gel to the wound. "That shot wasnt all that lousy, Ensign...a few more millimeters," he mumbled.
From the cliff above McCoy, a throaty Klingon voice called out, "mev Suv!"
Automatically, McCoy reached for Carters phaser.
"I would not do that, Human. Not if you value your life and that of the female you tend," the Klingon stated in perfect English. "Stand clear of the weapon, Nada!"
McCoy looked up. The Klingons disruptor was aimed directly at him. He did as he was bid and slowly stood, hands raised.
"Humans, hear me! Who among you is in charge?! I demand you make yourself known, that we may speak!"
"If you wish to speak, then show us good faith and put down your weapon!" Kirk yelled out.
"You are not in a position to issue ultimatums, Earther!" the Klingon roared. And as if to emphasize his point, he waved his disruptor at McCoy. "But," he added as he replaced his weapon in the holster at his side, "let it not be said that we are no better than the Federation dogs who have taken over half the galaxy! I will not kill a nada or a helpless female."
Kirk and Spock watched as the large man at the cliff edge folded his arms across his massive chest. Seeing that the Klingon was at least making an attempt to show good faith, Kirk put away his weapon and was about to climb out of the ditch when his first officer grabbed his arm. "Jim"
"Dont worry, Mister Spock. Something tells me that this time theyre not interested in starting a galactic war. Besides, Ive got you to cover me," he said with a smile. Before Spock could protest further, Kirk was out of the ditch and walking slowly towards the Klingon, hands slightly raised in front of him, palms out, the universal sign of friendship.
"How is she, Bones?" he asked as he approached.
"I have to get her to Sickbay on the double, Jim! Internal injuries, and that disruptor burn has fused skin tissue and fabric together!"
The Klingon shuffled and impatiently put his hands to his hips, "You are the qoH in charge of this disorganized luJwI?!" he bellowed.
"I am Captain James T. Kirk of the United Starship Enterprise."
"Explain your presence here, Kirk!"
"You are the one who should be explaining, Commander. You are in Federation territory," Kirk replied dispassionately. "If I recall correctly, your territory on this world is on the other continent."
"Jim, does it make a damned bit of difference as to who is on what? Ive got a wounded officer here who requires immediate medical treatment!" McCoy exploded. He glared angrily up at the Klingon who stood god-like above them, watching every little movement they made. "Look! I dont have time for subtle diplomacies, you over pompous"
Kirk restrained McCoy from any further comment by placing a hand on his arm and giving a firm squeeze. Reluctantly, the doctor held his tongue.
"Be grateful of the Klingon tradition never to harm a nada, such as yourself. And be glad your captain understands the subtleties of diplomacy, else your comments provoke further animosities between our peoples! But your point is taken. If she should die, she could be but the first casualty in a war between our two powerful empires...and millions more would follow in a war neither of us could win. The Klingon people are not ready to engage in such a foolhardy venture. We do not wish this to happen, do we, Captain?" the Klingon asked condescendingly.
Kirk shrugged his shoulders, hoping the gesture showed an indifference he did not actually feel, and stepped forward. "The Federation would like to avoid an intergalactic war, but like you, we must do what we must in order to protect our own, Commander...?"
"Koros, Captain," the Klingon stated. After a moments pause, he continued, "Good. Then we can get on with the business at hand. We have been monitoring your communications, Kirk. We understand that you have found the body of a species of scum that is even lower on the evolutionary scale than you Earthers! Is this true?"
"I guess we can be grateful that Chekov isnt here," McCoy grumbled under his breath.
Kirk ignored Koros derogatory remark and directed his response to the question the Klingon had proposed. "We have found a body, yes," he admitted. "A species known as the Talarians. You know them?"
"They are an opportunistic race on the northern perimeters of our Empire. We have had dealings with them from time to time. None of them ended well, I can assure you," the Klingon confessed.
"We believe they are responsible for the destruction here," Kirk said. "Evidence we have gathered in our investigation clearly points in their direction."
"What evidence, Kirk?"
"The body of a Talarian warrior and an unexploded merculite rocket." Kirk noticed the Klingons lips curl in a sneer. "It appears that the Talarians, and not the Klingon Empire, have destroyed our mining colony as well as yours. It could be that they want the dilithium this planet offers, or it could be they wish to instigate a war between our two governing powers."
As Koros pondered Kirks words, the Vulcan first officer climbed from the shallow ditch and went to stand beside his captain.
"If I may, gentlemen?" Spock began.
The Klingon nodded.
"Had our governments not grown suspicious due to radio silence and sent out investigating teams, the Talarians would have succeeded in taking over this entire planet, including its mining operations and control of the dilithium. They would profit greatly from a war between our powers by providing both with the mineral. And I neednt remind you, that such a war would leave us both vulnerable to the other galactic powers, including the Romulans, Tholians and Orions."
"I understand your Vulcans point, Captain. And though I am loathe to admit it, our findings within our own installation confirm yours. We found traces of merculite compound in one of the mining colony bunkers, but we found no body to confirm our suspicions. The fact that you have found one suggests that we will have evidence to make the Talarians pay for this insult to both our peoples."
"Alone, we cannot accomplish much. I propose that the mining of this world should become a joint venture between both our governments, Koros," Kirk said.
The Klingon seemed shocked. "Are you proposing that we actually ally ourselves to your Federation?"
"If thats what it takes to stop the Talarians, yes."
"It is either that, or we allow the Talarians to profit off our losses of life, territory and dilithium. Perhaps even expand their aggression to other worlds of the Klingon Empire and the Federation," Kirk returned. "If they succeed here, whats to stop them from turning their eye to Stradia or Serenidad or even Praxis?"
"The Klingon fleet would be able to defeat them! We shall make them pay!"
"And while youre doing that, youd be leaving your borders unattended. Could you take that chance with the Romulans? Or the Tholians?"
"Or the Federation or the Gorn." Koros eyes narrowed. He plainly did not relish the thought of joining forces with the Federation. He inhaled deeply and exhaled loudly. He did not like the thought of the Talarians taking control of the Empire. He did not care what the Talarians did to the Federation, as long as it did not interfere with his Empire. "We must negotiate, Kirk. It would be worth a joint effort to protect the Empires interest on this rock," he stated finally.
"Well, Ill be damned," McCoy mumbled.
Spock cocked a brow in fascination. "Indeed, Doctor," he stated flatly.
McCoy managed a sideways glance, but stifled a rebuttal.
"I think we can work something out, Commander Koros. We can discuss the intricacies in further detail aboard the Enterprise."
"Or aboard the KOdias."
"Gentlemen, right now, Id just like to get my patient to Sickbay if you dont mind! You people can work out the details later!" McCoy interjected fervently.
In Sickbay, Doctor McCoy, Nurse Chapel and the on-duty physicians assistant, Maria Perrone, worked on Ensign Carter for nearly an hour. Both he and Nurse Chapel noticed that the young, dark-haired woman seemed unusually pensive and somewhat distracted. On several occasions she had been staring at the stricken officer and not heard McCoys instructions.
"Are you all right, Ms. Perrone?" McCoy asked after he had requested the skin-grafting protoplaser for the second time.
"Oh...yes, Doctor McCoy, Im sorry," she said and handed it to him.
"Do you know Ensign Carter?" Chapel asked.
"Yes. We were very close...once."
"I see," McCoy said. "You may be excused if this is distressing you..."
"No!" Perrone returned adamantly. "Id like to stay..."
"Very well then, hand me the laser scalpel."
"Yes, Doctor," she said and handed him the instrument smartly. A moment later, she turned to ask Nurse Chapel, "Do you know when she was transferred to Security?"
"According to her records, about three months ago..."
"There, all done. Christine, hand me that heavy duty spray applicator, will you?"
"Ms. Perrone, prepare the anti-gray gurney. Ms. Carters going to be spending some time in a regen tank."
"I gather you two havent been speaking," McCoy ventured as Perrone brought the gurney to the operating table. McCoy glanced at Chapel as she switched off the sterile field, and each grabbed an end of the removable top and placed the unconscious woman on the gurney.
Chapel took several computer chips from the diagnostics board above the operating table. "Ill be in the office filling out the reports, Doctor, if you need me," she said simply, providing McCoy and Perrone some privacy.
"Thank you, Christine," he replied as he and Perrone brought the anti-gray gurney into the burn ward. "You didnt answer my question, Maria; you two stop speaking?"
"Yes, I guess you could say that."
"Mind if I ask what happened?" he asked, his Georgian drawl making him sound concerned in a fatherly way.
She did not answer immediately. "I guess you could say that she said some things that were hurtful. And I dont think I can ever forgive her for that," she admitted as she and McCoy placed the still form of her friend into the regen tank.
McCoy picked up the compuclipboard and started to jot down notations. He noticed that her voice was soft, almost distant. He could sense that she was obviously still in pain. Or is it anger...or a combination of both? Maybe she feels guilty that Jenna got hurt? he wondered.
He was silent for a long moment then finally put the compuclip aside and placed a gentle hand on the pretty young womans.
"Sometimes people say and do stupid things...most of the time its without thinking... They dont really mean what theyre saying, especially if theyre angry or hurting themselves." He paused for a minute trying to get his thoughts together.
"Maria, Ive come to learn that generally when people tell you that they love you, they mean it. Some people just have a hard time showing it. Or dont display it the way others would like them to. Some people just seem to have a hell of a hard time dealing with emotions." He looked down into the dark, sensitive eyes and caught a glimmer of a smile on her sensuous mouth.
"I dont know Carter that well. Matter of fact, I only know her on a doctor-patient level. But she strikes me as being one of those people who have a hard time dealing with feelings. I get the impression that shes been somewhat unhappy...but I may be totally off base. I do know that she risked her life to save the captain and Spock. To most that would be a sign of a good officer. To me, thats a sign of a loyal friend." He noticed that Perrone looked up into his soft blue eyes on his last few words.
McCoy picked up a handful of medical disks, glanced up at the diagnostic scanner a final time before he started for the door. "Finish up in here for me, will you, Ms. Perrone?"
Perrone looked down at the woman whose body lay suspended in the regen tank, her form resting comfortably in the healing gel. She remembered that she had once called Jenna Carter her friend. Something the doctor said made her reach for the tank. She rested her hand on the exterior. It was cool, moist.
Carters eyes fluttered open. She tried hard to focus on the uniformed person who stood at the side of her tank. The overhead monitors began to jump.
"Take it easy; youre going to be all right. Youre back on the Enterprise," Perrone told her. Her voice faltered a moment as a lump formed in her throat. "Youre in Sickbay."
Carter recognized the voice. She blinked several times to clear her vision to no avail. All she could make out was the womans outlinelong, dark, wavy hair draped over broad shoulders. She tried to speak, but talking through the oxygenated gel was difficult. "Maria?"
"Yes, Im here, Jenna."
"Im sorry," was all she mustered enough strength to say before her eyes closed again.
"Me, too," Maria Perrone whispered as a single salty tear rolled down her left cheek.
***Captains Log, Stardate 6955.3
"Captain," came Uhuras soft voice from her communications console. "Message coming in from the U.S.S. Bridger. Captain Richard Harley sends you his regards and informs you that they should be arriving in four hours to take over patrol of this sector."
Kirk swung around in his command chair, grinning from ear to ear. "Send Captain Harley my regards, Lieutenant. Tell him theres no hurry. There are a number of undamaged areas on Alba Three where we can get in a few hours of shore leave."
Uhuras grin matched those of her commanding officer. "Yes, sir!" she replied cheerfully.
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