"Stand by for the final approach," the Vulcan said to the two officers before him.
"Yes, sir," acknowledged Lieutenant Commander Sulu. The helmsman looked at the dry dock as they approached it. The up-rated Enterprise had only launched from it eight months ago, and it seemed strange to bring the ship back into the gantry-like assembly so soon after their departure.
"Yes, Mister Spock," said Chief DiFalco, Navigation Officer. "Begging your pardon, sir, but what is that?" In the background, the mainviewer showed the Centroplex station orbiting Earth a few kilometers away. Nearby, however, was a massive amount of construction.
"That would be the new SpaceDock3 assembly. It should be completed within a few years, and its expected to replace Centroplex altogether. Itll even be able to dock half a dozen starships inside it," explained Sulu.
"Six? Theres never more than a couple of starships in this sector, let alone in Earth orbit!" DiFalco remarked.
"Well, you know the old Boy Scout motto, dont you?"
DiFalco shook her head.
"Be prepared," said Sulu as he adjusted the ships approach speed.
In his quarters on Deck Five, Captain James Tiberius Kirk stood in front of the revolving vanity/closet and checked the position of each of his awards, pins and medals. After adjusting his Karagite Order of Heroism pin, he walked over to his safe and took out the shift manifest and log tapes. They would be given to the Centroplex manager, Commodore Evans, for his inspection.
Kirk was looking forward to meeting his old friend and teacher, Commodore Gerald Spencer, the commander of the Haven, one of the Federations hospital ships. The Haven would be the only other Starfleet vessel in Earth orbit. Kirk relished the thought of a good game of chess between himself and Spencer after visiting his nephew and mother in Ohio.
Little did he realize that fate had something else in store for them.
Lieutenant Xon, a Vulcan who served as Second Science Officer, was seated at the library/computer station. He was monitoring the area of space surrounding the dock for safety reasons. Without warning, a blip appeared. He tapped out a series of sequences on the console. The computer relayed the information requested to him. He turned to Spock.
"Commander," said the young Vulcan.
"Sensors detect the approach of a vessel at sublight factor two and accelerating. Its on a collision course with Dry Dock Six."
"Red alert," ordered Spock to Chekov, the security chief. "Identification, Mister Xon?"
"Federation Hospital Ship Haven, sir." Xon rechecked his instruments. "Twelve seconds until impact."
Spock issued a flurry of orders, calmly aware of his twelve seconds. "Mister Sulu, maneuvering thrusters to station-keeping mode. Mister Chekov, lock the tractor beam onto the dry dock and try to push it out of the way. Commander Uhura, call the captain to the bridge and raise the Haven."
The invisible beams left their projectors and began to push against the structure of the dock away from the on-coming vessel. The docks impulse engines lit in an attempt to maneuver, but it was to no avail.
"Raise shields," snapped Spock. "Full power to all deflectors."
The Haven struck the dock, demolishing it and itself. Debris exploded from the Havens warp nacelle, spewing matter-antimatter plasma indiscriminately. The debris struck the Enterprises forward deflector shield in a vivid display of annihilation; the starship shuddered from the strain on its defensive systems.
"My...God..." said Sulu in awe at the devastation.
Captain Kirk stepped out of the turbolift in full dress uniform and stared helplessly at the debacle. The Havens primary hull had been ruptured, sending debris and flash-frozen crystals of oxygen and water vapor into space. The vacuum of space was ripping out anything and everything inside the damaged sections. The liquids from the hydraulic system and storage tanks, personal effects, and the crewmembers and medical personnel were all suddenly exposed to the harsh environment of space.
Uhura gasped in horror as she recognized that some of the debris were the bodies of the Havens crew. She buried her face into her hands, sobbing as her knees buckled, and she slid to the deck.
"Mister Spock?" asked Kirk as he gently guided Uhura back to her chair.
DiFalco glanced at Sulu, her eyes raised in astonishment.
Softly, almost under his breath, Sulu explained, "Uhuras younger brother Shani is a doctor aboard the Haven."
"Penda, Ive got to get to work. I need you here and now to direct rescue operations. Can you do this for me?" Kirks voice was reassuring and yet filled with concern for his chief communications officer.
She nodded. "I-Ill try, Captain."
"Thats all I can ask for. Inform Sickbay to expect casualties." The captains own thoughts of sorrow were supplanted by concern for survivors. They needed to be rescued immediately before the emergency supplies of air were gone. "Mister Xon, Mister Spock, full scan of whats left of the Haven and Dry Dock Sixs offices." He began to move toward the command chair.
"Already scanning, sir," Xon replied as Spock joined him using one of the new dynascanners. "We are picking up some survivors aboard the Haven. Dry Dock Six was evacuated in time."
Kirk thumbed the comlink. "Transporter room."
"Chief Rand here, sir."
"Lock onto any survivors, and begin beaming them aboard. Sickbay, send triage team to the transporter room."
"Already on our way, Captain," came Doctor Chapels voice. "Doctor McCoy is preparing for surgery."
Kirk thumbed the button again. "Kirk to Engineering. Scotty, get you and your men aboard the Haven immediately. See if you can shut down that plasma leak. Dump the antimatter containment pods if you have to. Whatever you do, I want that ship saved."
"Aye, sir. Were on our way."
Kirk closed the comlink circuit and stepped to Chekovs station. "Get your men to assist in rescue operations. Have them suit up in X-E life support equipment, envirosuits, life support belts, whatever it takes."
"Yes, Kyptin," the Russian replied and headed toward the starboard turbolift.
Kirk drifted back to the communications station. "Damage control reports, Uhura?"
"All stations show green, sir, but Im receiving a signal for you from the base."
"Mainviewer on," ordered Kirk.
The screen faded in with the visage of Commodore Evans. "Jim, weve got a real Code Alpha emergency here. Half of the Havens primary hull has been ruptured. Weve got all our available personnel conducting rescue operations. Can you spare any of your crew?"
"Ive got our entire Security and Engineering crews preparing to go on site as well, Dave. How many were aboard the Haven?"
"Shes been orbit for two days now. Most of their crew was on shore-leave. Were hoping casualties are light."
"Did you have any indication of trouble aboard her?"
"None whatsoever. She was in the same orbit as your ship, and there was no sign of anything wrong until her impulse engines fired. Fourteen seconds later, it struck the dry dock." Dave Evans eyebrows furled. "You know, this is the Havens first shore-leave in over a year. I wonder if they left the bridge unattended."
"Commodore Evans, thats unthinkable and unforgivable that youd suggest a man like Gerald Spencer or his crew would"
"Im not here to debate you, Kirk. Well straighten out whos responsible later. Right now, its more important to save lives. Evans out."
Kirk stared at the screen nonplused. "That was...odd."
Spock turned from his scanners. "Captain, sensors are detecting lifeforms in Sickbay, but the area is too heavily shielded to effect a rescue by transporter. Mister Chekov is standing by on the Haven, and is requesting our presence there."
"All right then, were beaming over. Notify McCoy to be in the transporter room in two minutes. Send the coordinates to Chief Rand. Sulu, you have the conn."
As Kirk and Spock entered the turbolift, Sulu moved to the command chair, worried about the look on Kirks face. Uhura caught them before the doors closed. "Doctor McCoy is expressing his objections about leaving Sickbay."
"Tell him he better be in the transporter room before I get there."
The turbolift doors closed.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy materialized in a corridor outside the Havens sickbay. The seventh deck of the primary hull was one of the few remaining air-tight parts of the hospital ship. Chekov greeted them. "Kyptin, were cutting through into Sickbay now. There are several lifeforms inside."
The two security men using their phasers as cutting torches turned to Lieutenant Chekov. "Sir, were through." Together, they kicked the door simultaneously, knocking the air-tight doors inward.
There was a brief rush of air as the pressure between the two areas equalized.
Spock immediately took the tricorder from his side and began a sensor sweep of the area. "Captain, there are several life forms lying in that direction." He pointed with one of the flashlights they were carrying.
The three officers made their way through heavy conduits and fallen ceiling tiles to the main ward of the Havens sickbay. Inside on the floor lying against a wall were several people who had been thrown there from the impact.
McCoy quickly examined them and began to work on the worst case first. "Jim," said the physician. "This man is Commodore Spencer!"
Kirk kneeled at the side of his friend. "Gerald?"
Chekov approached them. "Weve found four more, Kyptin. We need to relocate them out of this sickbay to beam them aboard."
"Can he be moved, Bones?" Kirk asked of Spencer.
"They all can, Jim," McCoy said, subtly reminding the captain that more than his friend were injured.
As the Enterprise rescue party began using a firemans carry to move the survivors out into the corridor, Spencer moaned. "My fault...my fault...Lord help me..." he mumbled before passing out. His hand fell limply, revealing a phaser which he had been clutching.
Kirk pulled the phaser from Spencers hand and threw it aside. "Spock, give me a hand." Together they lifted the body and moved it closer to the others.
Kirk lifted his arm and tilted his wrist to speak into his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise. Sulu here."
"Mister Sulu, weve found some casualties. Instruct the transporter room to beam them aboard. Lock in on my communicator." He placed the device on Spencers wrist.
"Aye, sir," said Sulus voice over the whine of the transporter beam. Six of the eight bodies disappeared.
Kirk turned to McCoy who had been administering antishock treatment to the victims. "Well, Bones, will he live?"
Kirk was irritated momentarily, but he soon realized that McCoy had been sincere. As a doctor, he was concerned with all their lives, not just certain individuals. "Commodore Spencer."
"Hell be fine, Jim. A few of the others probably wont make it, though."
Spocks communicator bleeped. "Spock here."
"Ready to energize, sir," said Transporter Chief Janice Rand.
The officers grouped near the two remaining survivors.
In the sickbay of the Enterprise, Commodore Spencer came to with Kirk at his side and Commodore Evans of Centroplex at the foot of the bed. "Hello, Jim. Dave."
"Hello, Gerald. How are you feeling?" asked the captain.
"Like I got hit with a hover truck. Where am I?"
"Aboard the Enterprise. What happened, Spencer?" asked Commodore Evans crossly.
When Evans had learned that the Enterprise rescue party had found and rescued the Havens commanding officer, he had insisted that he be beamed aboard to question Spencer. McCoy had relented only because he was too busy with the other survivors to argue with the commodore. Still, he had come back into the main ward when he realized that Evans had begun questioning his patient.
"I...uh...dont remember...what happened?" asked Spencer.
"The Haven collided with Dry Dock Six," said Kirk. "The Haven is badly damaged. Many of the people aboard at the time are dead. Dry Dock Six was utterly destroyed. There are work bees all around clearing the debris."
"Oh my God." It was barely audible.
"If you dont remember," started McCoy, "we can continue this another time. Youre suffering from shock, Commodore. Your memories should return soon."
"Mustve been my fault. Mustve..."
Kirk interrupted, "You cant blame yourself without knowing"
"Jim, as Captain of the Haven, Im responsible for what goes on aboard my ship, just as youre responsible for what happens on yours."
Evans glared at them. Neither of them noticed that the Centroplex managers hands were shaking. "Then I have no choice but to place you under arrest, Commodore Spencer, for gross negligence, dereliction of duty, and the slaughter of twenty-three innocent men and women."
"Where was I found? I cant remember," said Spencer. It was as though he hadnt heard.
"In the Havens sickbay," said Evans. "What were you doing there? Hiding? You knew that was a section that would probably survive an impact at that speed so you hid there."
"What speed?" Spencer looked at Kirk. "Jim, exactly what happened?"
"Your ship collided with the dock at Sublight Factor Five. Your ship was all but destroyed," Kirk repeated.
"Sublight? Ship destroyed?"
"Guards," called Evans. He had brought them from the Centroplex Security section. "You will escort Commodore Spencer to his detention cell at headquarters."
"Now look here, Commodore," began Doctor McCoy. "You cannot just come in here with your goon squad and take one of my patients away like this. He needs to stay here for observation."
Evans looked at the medical diagnostic readouts. "His readings look perfectly normal to me, Doctor, and I suspect to you as well."
Kirk interjected, "Hes suffering from psychological trauma, Commodore. Dont you think"
"I think you should keep your diagnoses to yourself, Doctor Kirk," Evans snapped at him. To the guards, he said, "Now get him out of here right now. Lock him up at once." He glanced at McCoy. "And have one of the Centroplex doctors examine him." To Kirk, he snidely added, "Id hate to say that he didnt receive proper medical attention."
Spencer went without a fight, and the two guards were none too gentle with him.
After his friend had departed, Kirk turned to Evans. "Surely, Commodore, you can clearly see he doesnt remember."
"Kirk, he is responsible for everything that occurs aboard his vessel." The Centroplexs eyes narrowed. "You should be well aware of that, I should think."
It was the captains turn to glare. "Id like to conduct the investigation."
"I dont think thats advisable, since you and he are old friends."
"Listen here, Commodore, I dont like that inference at all. If hes guilty, I want to see justice done, but I also dont want an innocent man trampled by the wheels of justice in haste as I nearly was a few years ago." Kirk paused. "Besides, he was your friend before he got the Haven."
Evans turned beet-red and clenched his fists. "That has nothing to do with this!" he shouted at an astonished Kirk. The quivering in the commodores hands soon lessened as he regained control. "Im beaming back to Centroplex. The trial will start the day after tomorrow at eleven hundred hours in the main courtroom at the base."
"Ill be there," Kirk said to the exiting officer. "With a little evidence of my own," he added under his breath.
Kirk pressed the off button on the log recorder and turned to Spock and McCoy. "Lets go, gentlemen."
"Captain, does Commodore Evans know that we are conducting this investigation?"
"No, Spock. He doesnt."
"I thought it would be illogical for him to grant you permission to carry out the official investigation."
"He didnt say I couldnt take a look around," said Kirk innocently. "Sulu, youve got the conn."
After the three officers had departed, Uhura turned to Sulu. "All those people killed. My brother, Shani. And the captain thinks that the man responsible for this tragedy is somehow innocent."
"Penda, I dont know what youre suggesting, but to think that the captain would let his friendship interfere with justice is totally out of line."
"Is it, Hikaru? Hes broken rules before for Spock," said Uhura, referring to the time Spock had been affected by pon farr, and Kirk had risked court-martial to save his friends life by disobeying orders from Starfleet Command. "Hes broken rules for Doctor McCoy, for Mister Scott."
The helmsman suddenly looked very old...and very concerned for his captain.
A shower of swirling lights lit the darkened Sickbay aboard what was left of the Haven. Kirk, Spock and McCoy turned on their flashlights and began to search the area. Pointing to a wall, McCoy said, "Thats where I found Spencer."
They walked to the wall and looked around the floor with their lights, searching for some clue that would explain why Spencer had been in the Sickbay instead of the Havens bridge.
"There is the phaser that Commodore Spencer was holding when we found him," said Spock, pointing to the object.
"Why was he down here?" asked Kirk. He picked up the weapon.
"The correct question, Captain, is why was the commodore down here with a phaser?"
Kirk examined the device. "Its set on stun, but its not been fired."
"Strange that he should he carryin a phaser," remarked McCoy.
"Indeed, Doctor," said Spock. "It is also strange that it is set on stun, and not disrupt, if he were guilty of some sort of sabotage. Disrupt leaves no traces of a victim; stun doesnt even kill witnesses."
"Id say that he was looking for someone," said Kirk.
"That is not an entirely logical assumption, Captain. Nor do I believe that a court would agree with your assessment."
Kirk glared at the Vulcan, but was instantly sorry for it. Spock was only trying to help.
"Jim," called McCoy. The doctor had left them during their discussion.
"Ive found something."
Kirk and Spock walked over to where McCoy was standing. "What is it, Bones? What have you found?"
"This." McCoy held up a pouch of Terran pipe tobacco. "Now who would have pipe tobacco aboard a starship? Its against all rules."
Kirk ignored the seemingly inconsequential object and turned to Spock. "Im beaming over to the base to talk with Gerald about the phaser. Maybe he can tell me what he was doing with it."
"Yes, Captain. The doctor and I shall remain here."
"Very well." Kirk spoke into his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. Chief Rand, beam me directly to the Centroplex reception center."
Spock looked worriedly at his captain as Kirk dematerialized. He knew that Kirk was letting his friendship interfere with logic and perhaps even his command. "Come, Doctor. Let us proceed to the ships computer core. I have several questions yet to be answered."
"Lead on, McDuff," said McCoy.
Spock turned. "McDuff?"
"A quote from Macbeth once frequently used for lets go."
"Why should a line from a Shakespearean play be used as such?"
"How the dickens should I know? Lets get on with it," snapped McCoy, who suspected that Spocks lack of knowledge in Human slang phrases was all some sort of charade.
In his cell aboard the Centroplex station, Commodore Gerald Spencer stared at the floor. He couldnt remember why or what he had done. It was frustrating to him, and to Kirk. "Come on, Gerald. Why did you have a phaser?"
"I dont know, Jim. I mustve used it to kill someone," he mumbled.
"Gerald, stop talking like that!" shouted Kirk. He stopped. In his eyes, he saw one of his friends on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. "Ive never seen you like this before. You cant just give up, and surely you dont believe that youre responsible."
"Those twenty-three people...dead...didnt even have a chance...everyone aboard but me and seven others, dead. Those twenty-three young men and women...and its my fault...my fault..."
Kirk realized that Spencer was a haunted man. He knew that his friend had given up all hope because of it. "Ill see you later," said the Enterprise commander as he left.
In the auxiliary control room and computer center aboard the Haven, Spock and McCoy examined the wreckage. "Looks like somebody went wild with a phaser in here," remarked McCoy. He was referring to the melted conduits, circuits and scorched walls from some source of extreme heat.
"I believe that someone may have done exactly that," said Spock. He picked up a discarded phaser from the floor and checked its power indicator. "Empty."
"Sabotage?" whispered McCoy.
"I believe so, Doctor. Call the ship. Have them send over an energy analyzer, immediately."
The analyzer took less than a minute to arrive. Spock took the handheld scanner and ran it over the surface of the damaged control panels.
"Well, what does it read?" demanded McCoy.
"Then Spencers off the hook."
"No, he couldve done this himself. However, note what is on the floor here."
McCoy picked up and examined the object. "A bent matchstick?"
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Spock and McCoy were at the library/computer. "Computer," said the Vulcan into the pickup microphone set into the console.
"Working," said the computer in its monotone feminine voice.
"Conduct a survey of residual transporter energies. Question: Did anyone leave the Haven before the collision?"
"Working...Main Reception Center, Starfleet Centroplex Orbital Station."
"Is identification of transported possible based upon matrix information using the transporter code?"
"Working...negative. Transporter code deleted and overwritten repeatedly to avoid identification."
Spock turned to face McCoy. "Your turn, Doctor."
In Kirks quarters, Lieutenant Commander Hikaru Sulu stood before his captain. "Captain, Im probably the last person to advise you on your command, but, Im here because as one of your senior officers, I feel I need to address this matter with you."
"Explain yourself, Mister Sulu."
The door chime buzzed, and Kirk snapped, "Enter."
Spock and McCoy entered the cabin as the chief helm officer began. "Captain, I suppose its slipped your mind in the wake of your investigation, but you havent granted leave for the crew yet. You also have yet to talk to Lieutenant Commander Uhura about the loss of her brother. In all honesty, you seem to care more about saving the neck of your friend than you do the welfare of the Enterprise crew."
Kirks face was flushed. "Get to the point youre trying to make."
"While I hope this isnt the case, it appears as if youre letting your friendship with the commodore interfere with your command judgment, sir."
Kirk could not believe his ears. "Sulu?"
"Hes right, Jim," said McCoy, softly.
Kirk turned to his first officer hoping for some support from that corner. "Whats your opinion, Mister Spock?"
"Captain..." No, that wasnt the right word at a time like this. "Jim...your worry for your friend is commendable, but you are letting it interfere with your logic, your judgment and your command."
"Captain, I dont think you realize how many of the crew youre alienating with your attempt to free the man they feel responsible for the Haven disaster. Why Uhura is considering submitting her resig"
"Thats enough," Kirk snapped, glaring at all of them. "Your opinion is noted, Lieutenant Commander Sulu. You are dismissed."
"Jim!" pleaded McCoy.
"I said dismissed."
"Yes, sir," said the helmsman, turning smartly and left.
Kirk turned his attention to the two officers before him. "So have the two of you come to offer your criticisms as well?"
"Captain," said Spock. "Weve found evidence aboard the Haven which will clear Commodore Spencer of any wrongdoing."
"Outstanding! I knew it! Well beam over to the base and give it to Commodore Evans," the captain was enthusiastic.
"Captain," said Spock as Kirk started for the door.
Kirk turned. "Yes, Spock?"
"I think you may want to hear the evidence, first."
"If it can clear Spencer, it can wait until we present it to the Centroplex manager."
"Captain, that would be most ill-advised," Spock stated and moved to stand between Kirk and the door.
Kirk anticipated a round with his first officer. After taking care of his chief helmsman, he was ready for it. "What do you mean?" His eyes widened. "Spock, why dont you want me to clear an old friend from these charges?"
"Jim!" shouted McCoy. "Thats enough! Of course we want to help you clear Commodore Spencer of the charges against him, especially since the evidence weve gathered clears him."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
"Captain, youre not acting rationally. You must see this evidence for yourself before we go to Commodore Evans office."
"If we present this evidence to Commodore Evans, we may not leave his office alive."
As Centroplex Manager, Commodore David Evans office was quite spacious. Despite this, its interior was darkly painted, with many hung tapestries and many rather unusual paintings, including several by Hieronymus Bosch, the Dutch renaissance artist. There was very little furniture other than a huge, dark, oaken table with a BellComm terminal, four matching chairs and a desk. The desk was plainly adorned with a couple of books, including Dantes The Divine Comedy and several collections of Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Bloch and H.P. Lovecraft. There was a stylus holder, a pipe rack, and a miniature model of the station. Kirk noticed all these trappings as he, Spock and McCoy entered the room. Kirk also noted the almost acrid smell the room seemed to have.
"Yes, Kirk, what can I do for you?"
The Enterprise captain stepped forward with a few datachits in his hand. "Weve found some evidence which may clear Commodore Spencer."
"I shall not hear it until tomorrow morning. As you know, the court-martial will start at 1100. Shall I add your name to the witness list?"
Kirk realized he was treading on thin ice. "Commdore Evans, I think youve got to hear this out now rather than in court tomorrow! Gerald...Commodore Spencer...is a broken man! The courtroom atmosphere will kill him! He cant take it!"
"Are you saying that hes insane?"
Kirk swallowed his next words. "No, sir. Im saying hes not guilty, and this evidence will show who is. I think we both know the individual responsible."
"It sounds to me like youre as nuts as Spencer is, Kirk."
McCoys eyes widened as his eyes finished scanning the room. He had found what he was looking for. It was totally incriminating. A quick glance at Kirk and Spock confirmed they had seen it as well.
"Get out of here and quit wasting my time," said Evans angrily.
Spock decided it was time to act. "Commodore, you and I know that is not true. We are not wasting your time. We are endangering your command."
"What are you talking about, Commander Spock?"
"Why did you sabotage the Haven?"
"How dare you to make such an outlandish accusation! Youre going on report, Mister!" He turned to Kirk. "Is this what your defense will be? To besmirch my good name?"
Spock signaled to McCoy to bring forth the evidence. "We found a pouch of tobacco in the Havens sickbay. Pipe tobacco."
McCoy held up the pouch.
Spock explained, "Doctor McCoy and I found this on the floor of the computer center in the Haven."
The physician held up the phaser.
The Vulcan said, "The center was sabotaged with this, Commodore."
McCoy held up the last object. "This is a bent match stick. My grandfather used to smoke a pipe every evening when he was finished working in the garden. To light it, he would always bend the match like this."
Kirk said, "I note that you have a pipe rack on your desk, Commodore."
"Its just for looks."
"Really? Smells like someones been smoking in here," the captain said carefully.
McCoy shook his head. "I did a little check with the Centroplex computer. Youre the only person that smokes here on this base. Youre probably the only person this side of the moon who still smokes."
"All that proves is that I was aboard the Haven," said Evans. "For a routine check."
"For sabotage," corrected Spock. "According to the computer, someone beamed over to the Haven from this station, and thirty-seven minutes later beamed back. During that time, Centroplex Control said you were in a sleep period. If you had beamed over to the Haven for a routine check, they would have been aware of it. The only thing that they were aware of was that someone was signed up to use the transporter unit for experimentation. You approved that request, but no one on the base could figure out whose name was on the request. You beamed to the Havens computer center, sabotaged it, and were waiting in the Sickbay to be beamed back to the base when Commodore Spencer caught you. He had you cornered with the phaser, but you beamed back to the base because your transporter was set on automatic. Seconds later, before Commodore Spencer could leave the sickbay to go to the bridge, the Haven crashed into the dock."
"Why did you do it?" demanded Kirk. He had pulled out his phaser and trained it on the Centroplex manager.
Evans began to sob. "You dont know what its like...sitting at this damn desk. Sitting and sitting, waiting hand and foot on every starship that comes back from the final frontier. Sitting and waiting, sitting and waiting. I wanted to be out there, did you know that? But I failed that damned psych test. Said I was unsuited for starship command, but that I was perfectly suited for station command...perfectly suited to sit and wait..."
The Enterprise captain took a step toward the commodore, when suddenly there was a phaser trained on him.
"No, Kirk. Dont move, or Ill kill you where you stand. You want to know something? You dont explore the final frontier. The real final frontier is right here," the demented man pointed at his temple. "And its time I do some real exploration of my own." Evans pulled the trigger, and his head was gone in a flash, with his body falling to the table, twitching.
"God damn it," McCoy said.
"Such a waste," Spock remarked sadly.
Kirk was speechless.
It had been a turbulent twenty-four hours since Commodore Evans suicide. Starfleet Security had been called in, and all parties questioned. The evidence that McCoy and Spock had gathered plainly exonerated Commodore Spencer. The fact that the three of them had confronted the Centroplex manager instead of going directly to Starfleet Security had caused some minor griping, but Commander-Starfleet Heihachiro Nogura had squelched the matter so throughly that the matter was considered closed. All that remained was the clearing up of loose ends. To that end, Captain Kirk had given almost the entire crew seventy-two hours leave on Earth.
Here he was now, standing in a pasture in Uganda as Shani was laid to rest. He hadnt thought to bring his universal translator, and so he had no idea of what was said. But that didnt really matter. That he was here for Uhura was.
Following the rather brief ceremony where the young doctors ashes were scattered about the familys grazing grounds, he went to speak with his communications officer. She was dressed in ceremonial robes of a type he couldnt recognize, but they were lovely on her. Her eyes batted back tears, and Kirk took her shaking hands into his own. He gazed into her eyes. "Hello, Penda."
"Captain Kirk, thank you for coming," she said guardedly. "I just wish we couldve prevented this tragedy before it happened."
"Thats true of every tragedy, of course." He looked into the distance as one of the family members continued scattering Shanis remains. "Family tradition?"
"No, not really. Shanis wishes."
He looked at her with great fondness. "Ive heard youre going to be putting in for a transfer, or even planning to resign from the service."
"I have to be honest with you, Captain. Im considering it. When I thought you were out to clear your friend without any concern for the victims of that tragedy, I was certain of it. Now that the truth has come out about the sabotage, about the true architect of the crime against Shani and the others aboard the Haven, I have given it some second thoughts. But Im still unsure whether or not I want to return."
"I can understand that, believe me. There have been times Ive been unsure Ive wanted to return." A glimpse of a 1930's New York City street flashed in his mind, as did a brief vision of the broken body of a young Amerind woman. He shook his head slightly, as if to clear his thoughts.
"Penda! Penda! Penda!" a young girl and her teenage brother came running up to her.
"Excuse me, Captain. Family comes first," she said as she greeted her cousins children. "How are my favorite scamps?"
"Were so glad to see you, Penda!" said the little girl.
"We just wish Shani wasnt the reason why," said her brother as two other youngsters from the family joined them.
"Is this your captain?" asked the other little girl.
"Is this Admiral Kirk? Wow!" said a young boy. "He saved Earth from that BeeJur thing!"
"Take us aboard your starship, Penda. Please!" the first little girl begged.
"Oh, Im sorry, Asali. We cant just have children beaming up to the Enterprise."
"Why not?" Asali asked.
"Why not?" asked Captain Kirk, grinning mischievously at Uhura. "If you can clear it with their parents, Im sure the captain of the Enterprise would be honored to give them a short tour."
All four children ran to their parents, requesting permission for the excursion, and Uhura spoke with her cousins. Shortly later, the four children, Uhura and Captain Kirk dematerialized.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, duty had returned to normal. All hands, including Uhura, were on duty as the starship pulled out of Earth orbit. Everyone appeared well rested, and ready for their next assignment. "On course for Stradia, sir," said DiFalco cheerfully.
"Very good, Navigator. Helmsman, Warp Factor Three." Kirk stood and decided to walk the upper deck, pausing at the communications station. "Im glad youre still with us, Uhura."
"Glad to be here, sir."
"What changed your mind?"
"During our little tour of the ship, I realized how much my cousins children looked up to me, how much their friends looked up to me. Even though I may be just a communications officer, I realize now that its important for me to be here, on this bridge, making a difference."
He grinned. "I think thats what its all about: making a difference."
He finished his patrol of the upper bridge deck, chatting with each officer briefly. Soon he turned his attention to the helm and navigation stations. After a short time with DiFalco, Kirk came to stand just to Sulus left.
"Mister Sulu," he said softly, "I believe I owe you an apology for how I treated you a couple days ago."
The helmsman looked up in surprise. "Sir?"
"You were right, and it was very brave of you to come to me about my behavior."
Sulu smiled. "Its okay, Captain. I understand, and you were right about Commodore Spencer. Im glad his name was cleared."
"So am I," Kirk replied, and he settled in to the center seat as McCoy came out of the turbolift. "Good morning, Doctor."
"Morning, Jim. Just thought Id let you know your friends prognosis."
Kirk shook his head. "Its not good, is it?"
"Hes going to need psychiatric help, perhaps for the rest of his life. Hes suffering from a massive guilt complex. Hes haunted by the ghosts of the men and women he feels he allowed to die. Hell never command another starship." McCoy saw the fallen look on Kirks face. "Im sorry, Jim. Guilt can be like a disease if its allowed to fester. Dont tell Spock, but Ive recommended a Vulcan healer for him."
They remained silent for a few minutes. "I still dont understand why Evans did what he did. Why did he pick the Haven to destroy, and why destroy it in the first place?"
"Madness has no reason, Captain," came Spocks voice as the Vulcan first officer stepped down from the library-computer.
"Youve mentioned that before, Spock. Is that a Vulcan saying?" asked Kirk.
"No, sir. Just common sense."
McCoy winked at Kirk. "You know, Jim, a superiority complex is a sign of mental and emotional instability."
"Vulcans do not have superiority complexes," Spock said stiffly.
"Really, Spock? Why not?" asked the doctor.
"We are far above that sort of behavior," he said smugly as he stepped back to the sciences station.
"Mister Spock," said Kirk while the others were laughing, "youve just proven Vulcans arent."
"Really, Captain? I cannot imagine how."
This story was originally edited and published in CAPTAIN'S LOG, VOYAGE 3, edited by Richard G. Pollet of New York. I wasn't ever really happy with it, and I revised and retouched it a bit and submitted it to TOTAL ENTROPY 1, edited by Jeff Card of South Carolina. Again, I wasn't really ever happy with it. When going through some of our old zines (and we published TOTAL ENTROPY 1 & 2), I came across a number of stories I wanted to re-edit and publish them to our website. I sent the contents of TOTAL ENTROPY to our proofreader Selek for review and consideration, and he actually said this one, with a good bit of work, would make for a good story for our website. With his help, and a lot of tweaking and rewriting, I think I'm finally happy with it. I hope you will be, too.
Readers will note that Uhura's loss was based on Nichelle Nichols' own personal loss along with the loss of Ronald McNair of the Challenger who was one of the astronauts she recruited for NASA. Uhura's contemplation of leaving the Enterprise was based on Nichelle Nichols' own decision to remain with Star Trek as she revealed on PBS's Frontline television series.
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