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Randall Landers, with Linda McInnis


Commander Hikaru Sulu drained his sake and glanced across at his dinner companion, Lieutenant Commander Pavel Andreievich Chekov.

"Well, Pavel, what do you think?"

"Atlanta's a great city, and Ichiban is a vunderful restaurant. It reminds me of a place in Moscow..."

Sulu couldn't help it; he broke up. "Please, Pavel, no more Russian superiority speeches!"

"Da! Anyway, I can see why Doctor McCoy always comes back here. It's a lovely city."

Sulu nodded and poured more sake for the two of them. He could hardly believe he'd gotten Chekov to forgo his usual vodka. Things were more at ease now that they were into their second bottle of the warm, potent wine. The two men had not seen each other for two months--not since Serenidad had been the 'fleet's hottest topic. Admiral Kirk had been "promoted" into a teaching assignment at the Academy, and the crew had all gone their separate ways. They had wondered if they would ever see each other again.

Somehow, Atlanta had been a drawing point. McCoy was there on extended medical leave, trying to recover in his "city too busy to hate," and Sulu, between assignments, wanted to see how he was doing. The doctor was fine, although he had mentioned some rough times when he had seriously considered giving up the service for a more sane business--chief of emergency at a major city hospital. But, as before, Starfleet won out.

Then, at a city-wide arts festival, Sulu ran into Chekov, also on leave, and in town to visit an old girlfriend. "We must get together," he had said.

And unlike many old friends who often promise and seldom come through, there they were.

They had had their wine, their dinner, and their chit-chat, and now a silence settled over them. They might have almost have been strangers.

The waitress brought more sake, and Chekov took a shot.

"Well, Sulu. You can't hold back any longer. Tell me about it."

"It's a good assignment," said Sulu, sounding far less convinced than he felt. He saw the doubt creep in Chekov's eyes at his tone, and his voice became firmer. "Really, Pavel. Executive officer aboard a science survey vessel."

"Then why do you sound like you've been demoted three grades?"


"No, don't say it. You feel like you're deserting him, don't you? And he's not even in command any more."

"How did you know?" asked Sulu quietly.

"Did you forget I was the first to leave his side? After the Daystrom affair?(1) I couldn't even talk to him about it until the day I had to go. But--he understood. They don't commission us as officers to stay second-in-command forever."

"Don't tell that to Spock!"

"Da. But even he's a captain now. In spite of himself."

"Yes. I told the admiral, finally. Felt I owed it to him. And you're right. He said it was a wonderful opportunity--just what I needed. Damn, it wasn't fair, what they did to him. Giving Jim Kirk a ground assignment is the same thing as shooting him."

"I know. But you and I were there. That was the one time when we shouldn't have gone in alone. The Klingons were just too clever, having the second ship cloaked like that. If it hadn't been for the Challenger...well, the admiral and Spock wouldn't just have spent six weeks in the hospital--they'd be dead. Along with about sixty percent of the rest of us."

"And if it had worked, they would have pinned so many medals on him he couldn't walk. Sometimes the hypocrisy makes me sick!"

They each took a sip from their cups. Neither of them looked up. The memory of the horrible incident weighed heavily on their minds. It was a long time before either spoke.

It was Sulu who broke the silence. "So, what's in store for you?"

"Science officer, third in command. Aboard the U.S.S. Reliant."

"A heavy frigate, isn't it?"

Chekov nodded. "A beautiful ship. A little too much weaponry for my tastes...and the hangar bays are enormous. I've been waiting since the Lex got taken out to be transferred there."

"Who's the captain?"

"Terrell. Clark Terrell. Ever hear of him?"

"He's a friend of Doctor McCoy, I think."

"Kyle's going to be assigned there, too. So's Carolyn Palamas, Arex, Walking-Bear." He smiled. "Kyle's got his command stripes and a transfer to communications."

"Not bad," remarked Sulu, "considering he never went through Starfleet Training Command. Worked his way up through the ranks the hardest way."

"He's really looking forward to it. He always felt that transporter chief was a dead end. It was good of the captain to allow him some bridge time at the helm." He took another sip of the wine. "So who's your captain, Sulu?"

"Daniel M. Williams."

Chekov's eyes widened. "You're the new exec of the Gordo?" He shook his head in near bewilderment. "Do you know what happened to your predecessor there?"

"I saw the report. Killed in the line of duty."

"Hell, Williams left him to die," stated Chekov matter-of-factly.

Sulu's face reddened. He was not angry at Chekov, but he felt a sudden need to defend his new captain, a man he didn't even know. "Williams had no choice," he argued. "Commander Pitcairn simply screwed up. And it cost him his life."

"Captain Kirk would not have left him."

"You can't say that. I read the report, and hell, we've been there. We almost lost Spock, Doc and Scotty there, and we did lose two crew members. Murasaki Taurus II is just no place to play around. If Pitcairn had followed Williams' orders and run, instead of firing on those ape-creatures, those things would not have gotten him. Deep down, I know I'd do the same thing as Williams."

They were silent for a long few minutes.

"I'm sorry, Hikaru." Chekov's voice was soft. "It won't make it any easier for you, will it?"

"No. There are always comparisons, but living up to someone who died in the line of...well, it'll be tough."

Chekov smiled and stood, raising his drink in a toast. "To my comrade, Hikaru Sulu. 'The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt, and the profoundest wisdom to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed."

Sulu smiled. "Nathaniel Hawthorne?" he asked.

"Nyet, Hikaru. It's a Russian quote from Nicolai--"

"Pavel, have you ever heard of Samuel Johnson?" He paused briefly as Chekov shook his head. "A great commentator. He said, 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'"

"A scoundrel? Me?" asked Chekov, feigning incredulity.

"Da, Comrade," responded Sulu with his worst Russian accent.

They both laughed. And their check kept increasing as they drank a good deal more that night.


"Permission to come aboard, sir?" asked Sulu, his luggage on the pads beside him.

"Permission granted. Welcome aboard the Cooper, Commander Sulu," said a young officer from behind the console.

"Thanks," said Sulu, stepping onto the deck. "Glad to be here." And he realized he really was. His talk with Chekov two nights ago had considerably helped his decision to accept this assignment.

The young officer, an ensign, walked around the transporter controls with a compuclipboard in hand. "Your room assignment, sir. Deck Three, Section C, Room Twelve."

"Very good. Could you call a yeoman to help me with my things?"

The ensign smiled. "I'm sorry, sir. I can't do that."

"And why not, Ensign?" Sulu was perplexed.

"Because there are no yeomen aboard."

"None at all, Ensign--"

"Spencer, sir. Kevin Spencer," the youth replied as he examined the tags on Sulu's luggage.

:None, Mister Spencer?"

"No Starfleet personnel under the rank of ensign, sir. It should have been in your information package on the ship." Seeing that all the luggage was in order, Spencer stepped back to the console.

Sulu raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Really? I mean...I knew that there were some things different on a ship this size as compared to a heavy cruiser...but no yeomen?"

"No, sir. But I'll be glad to give you a hand with your things," Spencer volunteered.

Sulu smiled. "I'd appreciate that, Ensign."

The two men gathered the helmsman's luggage, and walked out into the corridor. Sulu was immediately struck by the difference in size between the corridors of the Enterprise and those of the Cooper. There was quite a bit of difference. Whereas the corridors of the Enterprise were so spacious that as many as four could walk abreast, the hallways of the Cooper allowed room for only two across. "You shouldn't leave the transporter room unattended," decided Sulu as they walked to the nearest turbolift.

"It's all right," assured Spencer. "You're only one deck up and right next to the lift. Besides," he added, "the other crew replacements are already aboard."

They stood before the turbolift doors waiting. After a minute, Sulu turned to Spencer, "I guess it's out of order."

"Nonsense, if you'll pardon my saying so, sir. There's only one lift, and it's very slow."

The doors suddenly parted, and a tall black man stepped out. On his short-sleeved, white tunic's shoulders were the rank epaulets of a Starfleet captain. When he saw Spencer, his dark green eyes blazed, indicating not anger but strength. The lack of any hair on his head added to the impression of power barely controlled.

"Mister Spencer, why are you away from your station?" the captain asked in a deadly, quiet voice.

Sulu was startled by its tone. He could not understand how such a soft voice could carry so much strength in its tone.

Spencer knew he was caught. "I...uh...decided to give Commander Sulu a hand with his things."

The man studied Sulu carefully. "I assume that since he is on the active duty list in Starfleet, Mister Sulu is not an invalid, and therefore, does not need your assistance. Return to your station...immediately, Ensign."

Spencer nearly stumbled as he left quickly. Williams followed the transporter chief with his eyes.

"Sir--" began Sulu tentatively.

"I was not addressing you, Commander. Stow your gear in your quarters, go to Sickbay for your medical, and report to me in my quarters in two hours." His tone was not quite menacing...but close.

"Yes, sir."

Captain Williams turned and walked down the hall without another word, leaving a nonplused Sulu in his wake.


Sulu managed to get his gear stored quickly. His cabin was smaller than he had expected, and worse in a different way. On the Enterprise, as a department chief, he had had a cabin to himself. Not so on the Cooper. There was a second bed.

"A roommate," he said disgustedly.

It wasn't something he'd expected. Or even wanted. Perhaps he could talk to the captain about it. But given the captain's reaction to the transporter chief, maybe he shouldn't. He stepped over the computer station at his desk.

Activating it with a press of the thumb, he spoke clearly, "Computer access requested."

"User identify self," ordered the computer.

"Sulu, Commander Hikaru."

"Voice print matches comparison on file. Please insert assignment cartridge into drive slot." Sulu complied quickly. "Working...Commander Sulu, acknowledged."

He removed the cartridge and pocketed it. "Computer identities of individuals assigned to this cabin?" he asked simply.

"Working...Commander Hikaru Sulu, Chief Helm and Executive Officer; Commander K. C. Johnson, Chief Medical Officer," it replied.

Well, at least I'm not the only department head sharing my quarters with someone, he thought, somewhat selfishly. "Computer, standby for personal identification alteration," he ordered as he began to put his things away.

"Working...program not on file. Awaiting new instructions."

He turned with a start. "Computer...idiomatic Human interaction program."

"Working...program not on file."

He sat down in his desk chair. This was strange. No Human interaction program, no way to change the way he was addressed by the computer. "Computer...password engagement program."

"Working...program not available to any crewmember assigned to U.S.S. Cooper for less than three months."

"What the hell?" Sulu was getting angry. "Computer...command override. This is Sulu, Commander Hikaru, SE 987 0944 231. Acknowledge."

"Working...program not available to any crewmember assigned to U.S.S. Cooper for less than three months."

"Computer...access to library computer requested."

"Working...access to library computer not available to any crewmember assigned to U.S.S. Cooper for less than three months."

"Damn," muttered Sulu. "Computer...list to monitor all programs accessible."

The screen came to life. He studied it carefully. There was a map of the ship, a crew directory and some games. "Games? Games! This is nuts," he said, convinced of that fact. "Computer--off."

He glanced around the half of the room that was unoccupied. He decided to unpack later, except for one item. He opened a case, retrieved the sole item inside, and placed it on a shelf. "Hello, Beauregard," he said to the plant.

The "flower" emerged from its pod base and mewed softly .

"Hungry, huh?" He gave it a large food concentrate capsule. "Well, we're finally here," he said, placing his example of Zeta Reticula A VII's Terrestrius Manus on the shelf near his bed. "I'll be back later," he promised as he exited his quarters


The sign under the larger "SICKBAY" plaque read "K. C. JOHNSON, M.D., Ph.D.". Sulu tugged at his tunic, took a deep breath, and entered. "God, how I hate physicals," he muttered.

He entered the smallest sickbay he had ever seen. Two beds with monitors faced each other at a ninety degree angle. Over each bunk was a sterilite and a number of devices Sulu knew little or nothing about. But the room obviously served as an operating room as well as a recovery and treatment room. Of course, on a ship such as the Cooper, a large sickbay would be wasted. Still, he decided, it was a little small.

A young woman dressed in the current class one uniform, long-sleeved green tunic and white work jacket, entered from another door. She had shoulder-length blonde hair, and, as near as he could guess, was about his own age. Overall, his swift impression was one of attractiveness, and seeing her made him realize the newness of his situation.

"Miss?" he asked as she examined one of the overhead devices.

"What do you want?" she asked, not turning.

Sulu smiled to cover his nervousness. "I'm here for my physical."

She turned to face him. "Fine. Have a seat on that bed," she said, pointing to the one closest to him. "I'll be with you in a moment."

Sulu hopped up on the bed, studying the woman as she made some adjustments in the overhead instruments of the opposite bed. As always in a sickbay, Sulu felt a little uncomfortable.

She finished her adjustment at the other bed and went back into the adjacent room. Moments later, she returned with a compuclipboard in her hand. She adjusted the diagnostic scanner over his bed. "Lie back, please," she requested.

"But I thought the doctor--"

"I am the doctor, Commander," she said firmly.

Sulu's face turned red. "I'm, uh, sorry, Doctor. I had no idea," he apologized and babbled on for lack of anything else to say.

"Shut up before you get yourself in more trouble, babe," she advised.

"It's just that my roommate is K. C. Johnson who's listed as the chief medic--"

"You're my roommate?" She was astonished, her eyes rolling to the ceiling. "You're my fuckin' roommate?"

Sulu stared at her, momentarily nonplused by her outburst. Obviously, she was as surprised by a male roommate as he had been by a female one.

"Well, I don't think it'll go that far. At least, not immediately," he said softly and grinned at her.

Her eyes widened, and she burst into laughter. "Well, at least you've got a sense of humor."

"I'll talk to Captain Williams in an hour and make some arrangements. I'm sure--"

"Have you spoken to the captain yet?" she interrupted.


"All right, Bucko. You handle the situation. But, we still have your physical to get out of the way, Commander..."

"Sulu. Hikaru Sulu. Call me Hikaru." He extended a hand.

She accepted it. "I'm K. C. Johnson. Call me Casey."

"All right, Casey."

The physician turned on the diagnostic scanner, and Sulu's body structure was displayed on the monitor, along with his vital signs.

"Your blood pressure's a little high, Commander. Pulse is, too. I hope it's just from the excitement of a new assignment. I'll have to ask you to come back tomorrow for a quick check."

Even after being made aware of the fact that she was a doctor, Sulu still felt a little anxiety about being examined by a doctor other than McCoy, Chapel or M'Benga. But this soon passed as she started talking about "hemoglobin," and "cholesterol levels." The droning of her medical jargon relaxed him somewhat, but he still felt uncomfortable when anyone discussed his "sperm motility factors," whatever that meant anyway.

It was over fairly quickly.

"That was easy enough, wasn't it?"

"Yes," Sulu agreed.

"Go ahead and sit up, babe. And I'll see you this afternoon when you get your things out of my room."

Sulu nodded. "No problem, Casey. See you later." He quickly hopped to the deck and left


Sulu arrived at Captain Daniel Michael Williams quarters six minutes early. He pressed the door buzzer, and Williams' voice said, "Come."

Once inside, Sulu waited for more instructions, but Williams did not speak again, only pointed to a chair and continued to read. Taking advantage of the captain's apparent disinterest, Sulu looked around Williams' quarters. It had been modeled to resemble an old-time sailing vessel. There were arch supports leading from the walls to the ceilings, each lined with shelves full of bona fide hardback books--a rarity in these days of the silicon-duotronic chip. Williams' desk arched from the back of the cabin where three massive "bay windows" were inset. The view of the Centroplex station and the new Space Dock complex, which was just under construction, was dwarfed by the view of Earth. On the window ledge was a set of scale models, ranging from a Spanish galleon to a Mercury Redstone rocket, to a science survey ship like the Cooper. And to the right, Sulu could make out Williams' bed, partially hidden by a partition.

Sulu was impressed. Williams had obviously spent an enormous portion of his starship commander's salary on his books and on the fixtures of his quarters. He had surrounded himself with the things he loved, much as Sulu had done with his antique weapon collection and plants.

Without looking at the chronometer, Williams finished with his report, snapped it shut, and diverted his full attention to Sulu. "Commander, I would like to formally welcome you aboard the U.S.S. Cooper," he began. As he spoke, he gazed levelly at Sulu, 'sizing him up,' and Sulu was again struck by the powerful calmness of Williams' voice. It reminded him of the sea at low tide. "Your record from the Enterprise is extremely commendable and impressive. Which is one of the reasons I selected you to serve as my exec without the usual interview. Our mission is a relatively simple one. The Cooper is to study unusual scientific phenomena, to survey charted worlds, to develop and strengthen diplomatic relations with recently-contacted planets and societies, to solve certain key problems as ordered by Starfleet. In essence, to go boldly where others have gone before."

Sulu smiled at the joke. "Exactly the opposite of what I've done for the past fifteen years."

"Yes." His stare was still on Sulu.

"I can handle it, sir. I'm really looking forward to this assignment," said Sulu.

No response. Sulu felt as though he were a microbe under a microscanner, but he did not look away.

For several minutes, the two men quietly observed each other. Finally, Williams spoke, "You seem confident, Mister Sulu. I hope it's warranted."

"I'd like to think so, sir," was all he said. Then, he opted for a different subject. "The view in your quarters is quite impressive, Captain."

Williams allowed himself a slight nod. "Yes, it is." He turned to face the magnificent view of Earth. "I often enjoy it when off-duty," he mentioned. He swung his chair back around to face Sulu. "Report to the bridge at 08:00 hours, first shift, tomorrow."

"Our first mission, sir?"

"Investigatory. An incident occurred at the space station BLB-0 BGN-5. Three people are dead. We're to find out why."

"Very well, sir. May I ask what expectations you have of me, Captain?"

"I appreciate your directness, Mister Sulu. That's a good sign," observed Williams. "As my exec, I expect you to oversee the day-to-day routine of this vessel. I expect you to be my right hand, and above all, I expect you to be yourself. Some execs think that they have to be a reflection of their commanding officer, mirroring everything he does. I do not expect that of you. Some execs think they have to brown-nose their commanding officer. I will not tolerate that from you. I think that as an exec, you should not be afraid to voice your opinion, in the proper context, of course. I expect you to be able to command this vessel in case of emergency. I expect you can do these things from your records. Am I wrong to expect this?"

"No, sir."

Williams handed him a box of cartridges. "This is a duplicate of the ship's log, the ship's manifest, our current assignment, our orders, current crew data and assignments and other information you will probably require."

Sulu took the box. "How will I be able to access these?"

Williams eyes narrowed. "Through the computer, of course."

"It won't give me access."

"It will." He pressed a button on his desk. "Computer," he called.


"This is Williams, Captain Daniel Michael."

"Working...Williams, Captain Daniel Michael, acknowledged."

"Use authorized users indexed on names."


"Append: Sulu, Commander Hikaru."

"Working...Sulu, Commander Hikaru, appended."

"Computer off."

Sulu raised his eyebrows. It did not go unnoticed.

"I take it you disapprove, Commander." It was not a question, and Williams' tone was again somewhat menacing.

"I simply don't understand, sir. If, in the event of your accidental demise...."

"It isn't keyed to my name, Commander, but to my rank. It's also responsive to 'Acting-Captain.'"

"I don't understand, though. The computer, I mean, it's not--"

"Personal. I know. I prefer it that way. That's why there are no Human interaction programs of any sort," Williams explained. "It's a machine, and I think it best if no one anthropomorphizes it. I gather the Enterprise had the interaction program?"

"Yes, sir."

William's nodded. "Not uncommon. You see, Commander, a computer-Human interfacing program involves a lot of memory. The bulk of our computer is used for scientific data storage. After all, this is a science survey vessel."

"I see. And the computer must be somewhat smaller than the one aboard the Enterprise."

"Correct." Williams paused a moment. "Well, I believe you have a great deal of material to study. Dismissed." The captain's eyes returned to the report he had been reading before.

"Captain, if I may?" interrupted Sulu.

"Yes, Mister Sulu?" Williams' eyes remained glued to the report.

"Sir, I seem to have been assigned to the same cabin as Chief Medical Officer Johnson."

"What of it? William's did not seem interested in the problem.

"Uh, sir. She's a female."

Williams sighed. "I'm very well acquainted with that fact, Commander." He looked up at Sulu. "Commander, you and Doctor Johnson are both adults, as well as Starfleet officers. I expect you to behave as such. Further discussion in unacceptable."

"I see, sir."

The tone became very stern. "We don't have as many luxuries as a starship of the Enterprise's class, Commander. I suggest that you bear that in mind from this point forward. I also will require that you do not question my decisions in this manner anywhere else on this ship. Within my quarters is one thing, but I will not tolerate my decisions questioned outside of this room. Do you understand?"

A frog leaped into Sulu's throat. He nodded.


Sulu decided that Captain Daniel Michael Williams of the U.S.S. Cooper was not going to be an easy man to work for.


Sulu was worried. Could he adjust to life on this ship? It's certainly not a heavy cruiser, he mused. And that's the whole problem. Things which he had taken for granted aboard the Enterprise simply were considered unobtainable luxuries aboard the Cooper.

He decided to head for the rec room. He entered the twin door and was shocked. It was so much smaller than the Enterprise's, and not much larger than the cabin he was sharing. There were only four tables, each with four chairs. He saw Johnson was there, seated at a table with a chess set, drinking a soft drink. He went to the slot dispenser and pressed a button. Retrieving his coffee, he walked over to her.

"Mind if I join you?" Sulu asked.

"Not a bit, kiddo. Park it right there," she indicated the chair opposite her. "Did you clear things up with the captain?"

"Not exactly. Williams says he's aware of the situation. He also said we're adults and officers and we're 'to behave as such.'"

"What bull shit! The captain is a real tight-ass sometimes, Sulu. Don't get me wrong, though. I've known Daniel for three years now. He's been my skipper since I transferred here from the Yorktown. He's actually okay, but he just doesn't want anyone to know it."

Sulu changed the subject. "Does everyone on board have a cabin-mate?"

"Sure. Except the captain and Doctor Mandala."

"Mandala? Who's that?"

"The civie spokesperson. He's cranky enough. A little obsessive about his work, and more than a little paranoid about the 'fleet." She laughed. "Your typical old mad scientist."

"This is my first time dealing with such a large number of civilians on a starship."

"They didn't have civies where you were serving?"

"On the Enterprise? There were a few specialists here and there, but they were usually just being ferried from one starbase to another. They were housed in the guest quarters."

She shook her head in near bewilderment. "Damn, what a lucky son of a bitch, you were, Sulu. Aboard Starfleet's pride and joy. Not too many civies running around...I heard what occurred on that planet. Sorry about what happened and all. I read all about it in the news."

Sulu changed the subject quickly. The memory was still too fresh in his mind. "Tell me, Casey. What's it like to be cooped up in this ship after three months?"

"Not used to the space, or, rather, lack thereof, eh? Cramped hallways, cramped rooms. And only fifty people aboard. It may be hard for you to get used to."

She gazed absently. "Let's see, the Enterprise was a retrofitted heavy cruiser-class starship. Crew compliment was around five hundred. That's ten times the amount of people aboard the Cooper. I imagine you never had the situation where you got bored with looking at the same faces day in and day out?"


"You will. The Enterprise could cruise along with ease, with its wide open spaces aboard, five hundred people aboard for variety. The Cooper takes twice as long to make a trip of the same distance. And you've got the same fifty people aboard, some of which you'll tire of quickly. And it's so cramped here, mega-less than what you're used to."

Sulu looked positively glum.

"Cheer up, babe," she said. "I'll keep you company."

And with that ambiguous statement, she strolled out the door, leaving Sulu to wonder.


Sulu was walking back to his cabin. His nervousness about being on a different ship was on the rise again. He turned a corner and ran right into Jana Haines.


"Jana! How are you? What are you doing here?"

Haines had served aboard the Enterprise during the first five year mission. She was always on duty during the third shift, so Sulu didn't often have a chance to speak with her. And now she stood before him, dressed in the gold tunic and black pants of the ship's operation division. "I'm the second shift helm officer," she explained seeing his questioning look. "I got tired of navigation and sciences, and switched divisions two years ago."

Sulu noted her rank: lieutenant commander. "You've done well for yourself," he noted approvingly.

"So have you. I'd heard you'd been assigned as our new exec and chief helm officer. It'll be great working with you again."

Sulu smiled. "I feel the same way. Have you got a few minutes?"

"Sure. What do you have in mind?" Was it Sulu's imagination, or was she actually being demure?

"A conversation."

"Okay. Where to?"

"How about the observation room?"

"Aboard the Gordo? There isn't one." An idea dawned in her mind. "Come with me. My quarters are nearby. We won't be bothered there." There was a suggestive tone in her voice that made Sulu more than a little nervous.

"Well, okay," he agreed reluctantly, screwing his courage to the sticking place.

Haines' half of her quarters was quaintly decorated, displaying her awesome talents at needlework. There was a hand-made quilt on her bed, and a set of fully embroidered throw pillows. She sat down on the edge of the bed and motioned for him to have a seat in her desk chair. "Now what's on your mind, Hikaru?"


She smiled. "I guessed that. Captain Williams is not Captain Kirk, you know."

There were several seconds of silence. "Go on," he prompted.

"Well, he's very quiet, very tough. A firm disciplinarian; I've seen him chew out a kid from Engineering over a...dress code violation."

"A dress code violation?" Sulu was puzzled. This was not the duty of a captain, but rather the executive officer, or the crewman's section chief.

"Well, this kid, well, had a fight with his girlfriend, and she kicked him out...into the hall...naked." She was embarrassed as her ears and cheeks indicated.

Sulu smiled. "Well, I'll try not to get caught in a similar situation."

"Let's see...Williams studied Kolinahr on Vulcan. At the novice level, of course, but he's not telepathic, so he couldn't advance further. He's spent a great deal of time in the Buddhist monasteries on Earth, and, well, he's kind of mystical in that way. I've served with him for three years, now, and he's only smiled twice that I've ever seen. That's about it, I guess. All this time he reminds me of Mister Spock, you know, the detachment from emotions and all. Next question?"

"How about the ship? Is it a good crew?"

She laughed. "You'll have to decide that for yourself. There are some really great people aboard, Sulu. There are some real asses. Even a fruitcake or two. The civilians tend to stick to the themselves except on landing parties, and then they tend to get in the way, as you'll discover."

"Okay, what about me? Will they expect me to be like Pitcairn."

"Tom was one of the asses on board, Sulu. Kind of the 'gung-ho' type. I don't know why he was in Starfleet instead of the Colonial Marines. He didn't have too many friends, but quite a few enemies. I don't think you'll have any trouble with 'filling his shoes' and all that bill."

He sat quietly for a moment.

"Relieved to hear that, huh?"

Sulu nodded.

"Believe me, Hikaru. The main trouble you're going to have is adapting to the fact that you're no longer on a heavy cruiser-class starship, and adapting to the captain." She smiled. "And the boredom, too. It can be maddening, sometimes, taking a trip to a planet with over a month in transit. There are a lot of computer games aboard, and there is a gymnasium with a weight room. A lot of people prefer to liven our time up with extracurricular activities...." There was no doubt in her tone as to what she had in mind. "I'm free during the third shift if you want company, Hikaru."

He smiled nervously. "I'll, uh, keep that in mind, Jana." He clapped his hands together. "Say, how about dinner? I'm starved."

"Okay," she said, smiling at his nervousness.


Sulu looked at his plate. "What is this?"

Haines laughed. "Oh, that's another thing, Hikaru. The Enterprise carried quite a lot of reconstitution machinery and food storage. Well, the Gordo doesn't have that much storage space. There are only clothing recyclers. We have to take on water every two months and food every four months from a starbase."

Sulu was still looking at his plate. "That does not answer my question, Jana. What the hell is this?"

She studied his tray. "It looks like chop suey, fried rice and an egg roll, to me?"

He stared at the tray's contents. "It looks horrible!"

She began working on her veal and potatoes. "Wait 'til you taste it. It's worse."

Sulu put his fork down. "What is this?"

"They're what Starfleet calls nutritionally balanced dinners. Doc Johnson calls them 'TV dinners'. I call them barely edible. There are only sixty meals choose from, as compared to eight thousand. You are required to eat them or Doc Johnson comes to get you and feeds you intravenously."

He pondered her words only for a moment. He took a bite of the egg roll...and promptly made a face. After swallowing it, he tried to smile. "I gather the crew eats planetside as much as possible."

Haines nodded. "That's where most everyone is now," she said, gesturing to the empty chairs in the dining room. "Planetside is heavenly compared to this," she said, lifting her tray up for emphasis.

They finished their meal talking about how everyone was. She was deeply disturbed to learn of the death toll at Serenidad; she had lost a few friends in Engineering that day. She was delighted to learn that Chekov had made it in his science office career, and she was envious to learn of Uhura's command of the U.S.S. Sadat, an escort vessel currently assigned to Starbase Eleven.

"And Jim Kirk?"

"Grounded. He's been promoted to the rear, and has taken an assignment for Starfleet Academy: director of Starfleet Training Command."

"Figures. I gather Spock is still at his side."

"Yes. Although he's leading a scientific expedition in a few weeks, he'll be assisting the admiral. Scotty's going to be working on some new design ideas and the Enterprise. Doctor McCoy's taking an extended medical leave. Chapel's aboard the Sadat with Uhura."

She shook her head slowly. "We're all going our separate paths again. I wonder how long it will stay that way?"

"What do you mean?" he asked, taking a sip of his tea.

"Well, I wonder what emergency Admiral Kirk will use to reunite his old crew next time." She laughed softly. "He was born to command, and those idiots at the Admiralty--"

"Feel he'd best serve the 'fleet by least until the mess about Serenidad is forgotten."

She looked at her watch. "Well, Sulu. I need to hit the gymnasium for a while. Care to join me in a workout?"

"Not today, thanks," said Sulu, absently ignoring her overture. "I've got a lot to study up on."

"Thanks for the dinner and news. See you tomorrow," she said as she put her tray away.

Sulu nodded and soon left for his quarters.


Sulu sat at his desk, reading the report on the monitor screen. The ship was one tenth the size of the Enterprise, one half as fast, and had one tenth the crew, one twentieth the weaponry, and it was supposedly state-of-the-art. The Enterprise had been a luxury liner in comparison. Spacious halls, good food, capable of a seventeen year stint away from a starbase.

Doubt is a demon-brother of despair, thought Sulu. And though he was not yet a victim of despair, he was full of doubt. He had accepted this assignment none too eagerly at first, and now he was wondering if he had made an error. The same thought, this is not the Enterprise, ran through his head over and over. He read through the crew list, scanning for names he recognized. The chief science officer was Lieutenant Commander Xon. Sulu didn't know the young Vulcan very well, even though they had served aboard the Enterprise together during the second five-year mission until the Serenidad tragedy. Other than Haines, Xon was the only one with whom he had served before.

The young Vulcan was a mystery. For a time, he tried to display the emotions he could not find in himself, much to the amusement of some of the junior officers of the Enterprise. Then came the Cetus Probe. The Enterprise had come upon a stable star system whose fourth planet appeared marginally habitable. A landing party beamed down, Xon, the second officer among them. While exploring the planet, his three member team encountered what could only be described as giant telepathic carnivorous plants. Xon had been distracted when another team member, Lisa Templar of Sciences, had shoved him away. She herself was trapped, and despite Xon and the security guard's immediate action, she soon died from the venom of the plants.

Something inside the young Lieutenant Xon changed. He even nearly killed a fellow crewman who blamed him for Templar's death, but somehow he had overcome his emotions. He became as much like Spock as possible, and rapidly advanced his career.

And now, he was on the Cooper. Sulu was glad to have at least a few familiar faces aboard.

Reading through the civilian list, he saw the names of two instructors he had had at the Academy. Connie Toy was an astrophysicist of some importance. The course he had taken from her was in gravitronics, not his favorite of studies. Sydney Brown was a xenoarchaeologist grad student who taught a course on the ruins found on Mars. He had enjoyed the course, but disagreed with her assessment that the ruins were remnants of the Slaver civilization.

All in all, he reflected, the crew seemed well-qualified. The only question marks in his mind were about the chief security officer, Lieutenant Commander Janet Rachelson. A few complaints had been filed against her by his predecessor, citing insolence and abusive attitudes toward her superiors. That kind of complaint in one's record usually resulted in a transfer, but that had not been the case with Rachelson. She had served aboard the starship U.S.S. Yorktown before being transferred to the Cooper. She had amassed an impressive record while there: the lowest percentage of fatalities in security personnel aboard a starship in Starfleet history.

Perhaps Pitcairn's remarks on her record were unjustified.

The chief communications officer and the chief navigation officer of the Cooper were a husband and wife team of Edoans. Lieutenant Commander Anex, of the Kapo'ri district of Edoa, was a renowned musician from his world. His mate, Umer, a lieutenant, was a relatively quiet person. The notes Williams had made expressed a deep sense of satisfaction in their skills. The chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Daryl Kearney, had a few negative remarks on his records regarding an abrasive attitude toward his subordinates. The life support officer, Lieutenant Roger Dickerson, had been an Olympic competitor before joining the crew of the Cooper. Chief Transporter Officer Gerald Rivers, a lieutenant, had a clean record except for one instance of possession of an illegal intoxicant. Rivers had received a demotion over that incident.

Admittedly, there were a few rough spots, but Sulu felt it was a capable crew.

He keyed the computer to voice response. "Computer," he called.


"Load current mission assignment."

"Working....file loaded."


The screen lit up. Sulu studied it carefully, making notes on his compuclipboard with a stylus. It looked like it was going to be an interesting tour of duty.

He made a few notes, memorized some names, and soon retired to bed.


Sulu awoke, disturbed by harsh whispering.

"Will you get the hell out of my cabin, Tom? I'm not interested!"

Sulu opened one eye. It was Johnson, standing near the door, her arm barring the entry of a civilian.

"Listen, Casey. You're a damn tease. You came on to me tonight, and now you're saying 'no.' Well, it's not fair, damn it!"

"I did not 'come on to you', I asked you for a movie. I wanted some company, and--"

"Fine, Casey. Be that way, you whore! I'm not going to take being treated like shit anymore."

"Tom!" she whispered frantically. "You're my friend! I thought you understood that."

"I want to be more than just friends," he countered.

"Well, I don't," she snapped, no longer bothering to whisper. "I am not interested in hopping into bed with you."

"And why the hell not? You've hopped into bed with at least half a dozen other guys aboard the Gordo! You've got the reputation about being easy--"

She slapped him. "Get out of my room or I'll call Security."

"And I'll have your stripes for slapping me like that," he rubbed his cheek gingerly. "Unless you're willing to oblige me..." he taunted evilly.

Sulu had had enough. Quickly, he rose from his bed and stepped forward. "Mister, I don't know who you are, but the doctor has asked you to leave. I suggest that you do so."

Johnson turned with a start, her face reddening with embarrassment. "Sulu, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to wake you--"

"Who the hell is this clown? You been holding out on me for him?" the civilian asked indignantly.

"I'm the first officer of the Cooper, sir. Your name?"

"Go to hell," spat the civilian. He shoved Johnson inside and strode into the cabin, smelling strongly of alcohol, clearly intending to wreak bodily harm on the navigator.

He never stood a chance. He flew out of the cabin and into the opposite wall with a loud thud. Sulu spoke into his wristcom. "Security, this is the first officer speaking. Send a couple of guards to Deck Three, Section C, Room Twelve, on the double."

Sulu turned to Johnson. "Casey, are you all right?" he asked with concern.

She stood at the door. "No, Mister Sulu. I am not," she said with barely controlled anger. She gestured at the hapless civilian. "You didn't have to interfere with this matter."

"I am not going to stand by and see any person abused like that," Sulu explained. "I'm sorry if I upset you, but I have my own convictions, too."

The security squad arrived. One of them was dressed in security gear, the other two were dressed in class one uniforms. One of them, a young woman with the stripes of a lieutenant commander on her gold tunic, turned to him. "Security reporting, sir."

"I'm afraid the gentleman has had more alcohol than he could handle this evening. Take him to the brig."

The young man in the security gear chuckled. The other woman who had lieutenant's stripes smiled. "I'm afraid, Commander Sulu, that the Cooper does not have a brig." She turned to the young man. "Mister Waters, you can wipe that smile off your face immediately. You, too, Chambers. Escort Mister Evanston to his quarters and lock him in for the night."

The two snapped to attention. "Yes, sir." They lifted the civilian to his feet, and escorted him to the turbolift.

"Commander Sulu, I'm Lieutenant Commander Rachelson, Chief Security Officer. Will you be filing a report, sir?"

Sulu turned to Johnson who was vehemently shaking her head. "No, Mister Rachelson," he said, "I won't." Johnson entered their cabin and allowed the door to close. "I'm hesitant to enter this into his record."

"It wouldn't be the first time, sir."

"Nevertheless, Commander," Sulu repeated, "I won't."

"If that will be all then, sir?" she asked, very business-like.

"Mister Rachelson? I'd like the opportunity to meet with you at length in the near future. I'll be interviewing all the department heads within the next week or so."

Her look radiated approval. "I would like that, sir."

Sulu smiled. "Well, I have to get up in four hours. Good evening, Commander."

"Good night, sir."

Sulu entered the cabin. He heard Johnson crying in the lavatory. He walked to the door. "Casey, are you all right?"

The door opened. Her tears were streaming down her face. "Please Hikaru. Forgive me."

"I'm sorry I interfered," Sulu apologized.

She smiled briefly, dabbing at her tears with a tissue. "It's okay, Hikaru. Thank you. But right now I just want to be alone."

"I understand."

She closed the door, and he crawled back into his bed. She stayed in the lavatory long after he had fallen asleep.


Sulu's alarm chimed at 06:00 hours. He yawned, swinging his legs to the side of the bed. Stretching, he stood and scratched his chin. He made his way to the lavatory, tiptoeing past Casey Johnson's section of their cabin. He was relieved to see that she had gone to bed last night.

He entered the lavatory, and stepped into the sonic shower. He activated the unit and his uniform dissolved quickly. Grateful for the invigorating action of the water, he concentrated on clearing the cobwebs from his head. The little incident last night had disturbed his sleep cycle. He shampooed his hair and rinsed. He had decided to get up early so he could familiarize himself with the third shift of the Cooper. The unit had finished, and he selected a class one uniform. It materialized around him, and he stepped out.

Johnson was standing at the sink, staring into the mirror. "I feel terrible." She obviously hadn't slept very well last night.

"I don't doubt that," Sulu said, choosing brute honesty over diplomacy.

"Sorry that you got dragged into that bad scene, babe." She turned and met his concern-filled eyes. "It won't happen again."

"I thought you were mad at me," remarked Sulu, "for interfering. I didn't mean to."

"No, Hikaru. I'm glad you did. It saved me the effort." She rubbed her buttocks through her slacks. "Nobody shoves me like that and gets away with it."

"Then you'll file a report on it?"

"I haven't decided yet. I was referring to the fact that if you hadn't been there to throw him out the door, I would've done it myself."

Seeing the fleeting glimmer of anger on her face, he had no doubt that she would have. "Well, I've got to get on the bridge." He paused. "Will you be okay?" His voice was filled with concern.

She turned to him and laughed. "Mister Sulu, I haven't ever understood how all the men in Starfleet are sexist deep down in their hearts. And here you are, a knight rescuing the fair maiden from the villain."

He winced unconsciously at 'fair maiden.' Smiling, he said, "I guess that most of the men in Starfleet are hopeless romantics. Given our profession, I don't think it's so surprising."

She raised an eyebrow in an all-too-familiar manner. "An interesting notion, Hikaru, and, in my opinion, a damned poor excuse and an even poorer rationalization." She glanced at the clock on the wall. "Go on, get some breakfast and get to the bridge. We've both got busy days today."

He left their cabin, just as perplexed as he had been the day before.


Sulu stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge. He was glad to note that it was the same size of the Enterprise bridge, with only a few station reassignments. As he exited the turbolift, he noted the ship's status and damage control panel was located to his immediate left and the security station was located to his immediate right.

The young man whom he met during the fracas last night was seated there. "Good morning, sir."

"Good morning, Lieutenant Waters," he replied, glancing over the console. It had the standard landing party monitors, ship's status, and the controls for the ship's defense weapons, two forward phaser banks.

"If you have any questions, sir, I'll be glad--"

"No, no," he said. "Just trying to get familiarized with this equipment. I see there's little difference between this panel and the one aboard the Enterprise. I want you to unlock the door to Mister Evanston's quarters," he ordered as he walked on to the next station.

The young man turned and smiled. "Welcome aboard, Commander." He stood, extending his hand. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Kearney, the chief engineering officer."

"My pleasure," said Sulu, clasping his hand firmly. "I noted you work a twelve hour shift with another engineer taking the other shift. I'm curious about that."

The dark-haired Kearney smiled. "The engines of the Cooper are so advanced that this isn't really considered difficult. Add that to the overtime Lieutenant Rajas and I collect." He ran his hand through his curly hair.

Sulu chuckled. "I hardly think this station isn't important."

"Now, now, Commander. In addition to Rajas and myself, there are only three other engineering officers aboard."

"A total of five engineers for a starship?"

"Well, that doesn't include the fluff duties like those of the transporter officers or the life support officer. This isn't a heavy cruiser, you'll pardon my saying so, sir. The Cooper has never seen combat, and hopefully, never will. It's a small ship. One hit on the engines and we're dead."

"What do the engineers do?"

"They sit at an identical console to this one on the engineering deck and twiddle their thumbs. We're completely automated as far as our engines go. We're around mainly to make repairs."

Sulu shook his head. This is getting to be crazy, thought Sulu. A starship like this with only five engineers. He shook his head again.

"Something wrong, Commander?"

"It's just different--"

"You mean, it's not the Enterprise." The young man grinned widely.

"It certainly isn't. Carry on," he said, moving on to the next station, the communications bank. A tall, red-skinned, three-legged, three-armed alien was sitting there, his shoulders slumping forward, the three fingers at the ends of his arms intertwined. "And you are?" Sulu asked, even though he knew the answer. Edoans were a rather quiet, nervous race, and presumptuousness from a stranger would probably be disturbing...or considered rude.

"Lieutenant Commander Anex," answered the communications officer.

"How long have you been on the Cooper, Commander?"

"Three years, Commander," the Edoan answered softly. His race was notorious for it reticence to converse so the communications post was an unusual one for the triped to be assigned. But Anex was a special Edoan.

"How do you like the Cooper?"

"It is a pleasant work environment, Commander. I am looking forward to serving with you."

"Likewise," Sulu said, moving on.

The new exec noted the next station was the sensor maintenance panel. Usually unmanned, it was quite complex, more so than the Enterprise's. But, after all, this was a science survey ship, and the majority of their work depended upon properly maintained sensors.

The screen was next. A standard, three-dimensional, panoramic mainviewer, he noted. He rather liked the new screens as compared to the box-shaped viewscreen of the Enterprise during its first five-year mission.

He walked in from of the screen to the next station. Unmanned, it was the defensive weaponry display panel. Almost superfluous in light of the security station, it served as a back-up to that station, and provided status lights that could be seen by the captain in a combat situation without turning around.

The next station was the library-computer. A young woman was sitting there, monitoring the L-5 point "parking zone" for anything out the ordinary. The Cooper was parked in orbit here to conserve energy, but so were dozens of other vessels, some private, some military. The zone had to be monitored continuously as accidents were more likely to occur with that number of vessels confined to one general area.

"Lieutenant Waters?" he asked. "I'm Commander Sulu."

She looked up casually at him. "Good morning, Commander. So, you're the new exec?" According to their records, she was not related to the young man sitting at the security station, despite the same patronymic.

"Yes, I am," he said.

"Good luck. I know the first few days are rough."

"Oh?" he asked.

"My roommate and I transferred here from the Lexington only three days ago. It's taking a bit of effort to get used to it."

"Hang in there, Lieutenant."

She smiled and sighed. "Yes, Commander. Thank you."

He stepped to the next station, life support. Currently it was unmanned, Sulu knew, as there was only one life support officer stationed on the Cooper, and like the engineering officers, his main concern was maintenance rather than operations. The life support officer was generally on duty during the first shift and on call twenty-four hours a day. It was a standard, self-reliant system, and he moved on to the next station.

The astrophysics monitor kept track of the phenomena currently under study. Not usually a bridge station, it was considered an absolute necessity aboard any science survey vessel.

Located to the left of the monitor was the bridge refreshment and object transporter center. The idea was a combination of two different centers. The refreshment center, usually located on various decks of a starship, was best described as a super-coffee-and Danish machine, dispensing snack foods to the bridge. The transporter was only capable of transporting smaller objects, such as some artifact that might have been found on a planet.

That brought him back to the ship's status display. On the whole, it was quite similar to the Enterprise, he noted. Of course the design had been perfected over years of research that dated back to the twentieth century naval vessel command centers.

He stepped forward to the center seat, currently unoccupied. Sulu knew that the communications officer, Lieutenant Commander Anex was the shift commander, but the Edoa was busily monitoring the various incoming transmissions that a starship in Earth orbit was prone to receive.

He sat down in the center seat, a clone of the one aboard the Enterprise.

"Transferring command to you, sir," called Anex in his soprano voice.

He nodded in acceptance. Before him was a ship's chronometer and log recorder, the holodisplay of the starmap of the stellar masses three parsecs from the Cooper's present condition, and helm/navigation console.

"Ship's status, helmsman?"

"Orbiting planet Terra," responded the tall alien seated there. "Ship currently in L-5 parking orbit."

"Maintain," he ordered smoothly. "You must be Ensign Gam'tai," he concluded, noting the alien's height, the lack of a neck, and the web of tentacles located where hands on a human would be. He was a Dramian.

"Yes, sir. A pleasure to meet you, sir."

The navigator swung around casually. "I'm David Pruitt, lieutenant j.g.," he said lazily.

"Mister Pruitt, Mister Gam'tai, it's a pleasure to meet both of you. I hope to find time in the next week to meet with each of you in a one-to-one situation."

A chorus of "Yes, sirs," and they returned to their duties.

Sulu leaned back in the chair and swung it around, scanning the bridge casually, getting a feel for the chair. He glanced at the chronometer. It read "07:56:42." The captain and other bridge officers would be reporting for duty soon.

The turbolift doors parted behind him, and Sulu swung the chair around to see Captain Williams quickly survey the bridge. "Good morning, Commander Sulu. Here a little early, I see," the tone of his voice sounded approving.

"The bridge is yours, sir," said Sulu, rising out of the center seat.

"Thank you, Commander."

He tapped Ensign Gam'tai on the shoulder, and smiled. "Relieving you."

"Acknowledged, Commander," he said, punching the "Hold" button with a tentacle. The alien stood, and Sulu privately wondered how any Dramian could tolerate being aboard the Cooper. Typical for his race, he was at least seven feet tall.

Sulu scanned the console, and sat down. Pressing the hold button, he reported "Orbiting planet Earth, parked in L-5 point, Captain."

"Very good, Commander. Maintain until further notice. Notify all hands, imminent departure."

Sulu thumbed the intercom. "Attention all hands, attention all hands. Stand by for departure. Ready all stations for immediate departure."

He placed an earpiece in his left ear to receive acknowledgments. As he waited, he noted various officers coming on duty. A handsome young man replaced Pruitt at the navigation station. "Ensign Ben Franklin, sir," he said, giving a thumbs up.

Listening to reports, Sulu responded with a thumbs up of his own.

As the complement of bridge officers changed shift, Sulu realized he was going to have a few lousy days learning the names, shifts, positions and duties of everyone on board the Cooper. Fortunately, there were a few here and there that he already knew. He noted Lieutenant Xon replacing Waters at the library-computer station. He wondered how the Vulcan was adapting to having a Human roommate for the first time.

The voices in his ear had finished. "All decks report ready for departure, sir." There was a sudden squawking in his ear, and he quickly jerked his hand to his earjack. "Sir, a Doctor Mandala is shouting something I can't quite make out."

"Is he now." There was no hint of inflection in his voice to the news. "Communications, patch the bridge audio into Mister Sulu's frequency."

There was an incoherent shout from the speakers. "--dare you imprison one of my department heads?! I'll have your stripes for this outrage, you cretinous vermin!!"

"Doctor Mandala, this is the captain. Are your science divisions ready for departure?"

"Well, yes, but--"

"Disconnect, Lieutenant Moore," ordered Williams curtly.

"Yes, sir," responded the young communications officer.

Sulu squirmed.

"Is there a problem I should be made aware of, Commander Sulu?" Williams asked quietly.

"Nothing I won't be able to handle, sir."

"Is it something to do with a civilian?"

"Yes, sir. I had one of them locked in his quarters overnight. He became verbally and then physically abusive to one of the crew. I saw no alternative, Captain. I ordered him released this morning when I came on duty."

Williams swung his chair to face the security officer. "Mister Chambers, is the civilian still confined?"

"No, sir."

"Very well handled, Commander. Evanston, wasn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well handled indeed. However, next time, notify me when I come on duty."

"Yes, sir," Sulu responded, relieved not to be in trouble on his first day.

Williams thumbed a button. "All hands, this is Captain Williams. Stand by to leave orbit." He turned to Communications. "Signal Centroplex control that the Cooper is ready for departure."

"Space Traffic Control signals we have priority clearance. Proceed at will," relayed the lieutenant.

Sulu couldn't help but feel a thrill as Williams stood. "Commander Sulu, take us out. Heading 250 mark 10. Ahead full on thrusters." The power of Williams' voice filled the bridge.

"Aye, aye, sir."

There was a slight tug as the inertial dampeners clicked on. The thrusters were vented, and the Cooper began to move forward in a leisurely manner.

The red alert alarm clicked on immediately, drowning the ship in red light and disrupted the viewer with its graphics. "Collision imminent, Captain," reported Franklin.

"Mister Sulu, cancel graphic and klaxon." Sulu complied quickly, anticipating this order. "Mainviewer on tactical overlay. Display incoming traffic."

Sulu was ready for this order, too.

The mainviewer lit up, showing various vessels still parked in the L-5 zone. The screen graphics were flashing information on a Tellarite cigarette-styled launch, rapidly approaching them at an impressive speed.

"Deflectors, sir?" asked Sulu, his hand poised over the control.

"Negative, Commander. I have no intention of causing an accident."

Sulu raised an eyebrow, but said nothing further. He moved his hand away from the switch.

"Incoming traffic still bearing down on us on collision course," reported Franklin. There was more than a little trace of worry in the young man's voice.

"Steady as she goes," ordered the Williams.

The bright yellow launch sped by, turning abruptly at the last minute.

Sulu sighed.

Williams was not ready to relax. "Lieutenant Commander Xon, track that vessel. Mister Moore, open a channel to the portmaster."

Sulu listened intently as he looked at the mainviewer.

"Commodore Bennett is on the line, sir."

"Visual, Lieutenant." The image of the balding portmaster filled the screen. "Commodore, this is Captain Williams. I must protest the actions of--"

Bennett smiled. "We've already nailed them with a tractor beam, Captain. The Cooper is clear for departure. Good luck, Daniel, and warp speed."

"Thank you, sir. Cooper out." The image faded from view and a starfield replaced it. "Mister Sulu, stand by on warp drive. Mister Franklin, plot a courser for space lab BLB-0 BGN-5."

Sulu thumbed his intercom link. All hands, standby by to leave orbit, stand by for warp drive."

He listened to reports coming in. "All stations report secured for warp drive."

Williams stood. "Helmsman, Warp Factor One."

Sulu's heart quickened it tempo, and as he engaged the warp drive engines, he suddenly understood. Not, the Cooper was not a heavy cruiser like the Enterprise, but it was still a starship, and that was what was important.

"Warp Factor One, sir," repeated Sulu as the Cooper punched a hole into subspace. The spectral starburst opened up as the Cooper reached light speed.

"Increase speed to Warp Factor Four."

"Aye, aye, sir," responded Sulu, a smile on his face.

"Leaving the solar system, sir," reported Franklin, with some tremor of excitement in his voice.

"Very well," the captain said. "Mister Sulu, I've got a situation to resolve with Doctor Mandala. You have the conn until I return."

Sulu punched the intercom key. "Lieutenant Commander Haines to the bridge, please." Williams did not seem angry, but Sulu felt nervous. As a junior officer on the Enterprise, he never faced a disciplinary problem. Even as a department head, discipline was never an issue. The crew of the Enterprise was well-rounded; most, if not all, were quite personable.

When Haines arrived, Williams left. Sulu assumed the center seat. "Good morning, Commander Sulu," she said sleepily.

"Good morning, Mister Haines." He smiled. "You don't seem very peppy this morning."

It was idle chit-chat, something to say to break the silence on the bridge.

"But Haines was not very happy. "I get a call two hours past my bedtime, and you expect me to be peppy, Commander?"

Sulu's face was filled with mild amusement. "Not really, Commander. I don't." He leaned back in the chair, listening through the earpiece, to the conversation between Rajas and the officer on duty in the engineering station. He had identified Engineering as a potential trouble spot, and as the exec, he was going to examine the situation closely.

"I tell you," said the engineering officer on Deck Six, "I've had it up to my ears with Kearney and Smith. Who the hell do they think they are, Rajas? They've got no right to assign extra duty to me just because I won at poker, no right at all!"

"You had to expect th-th-the res-s-sults of your ill-gotten gain, Corruth-th-thers-s-s," replied Rajas. "You won before and th-th-they treated you in a s-s-similar manner."

"But food preparation? I'm not qualified to be a mess officer."

"It is-s-s not th-the prerogative of any offic-c-cer to ques-s-stion his-s-s duties-s-s."

Sulu pulled the earjack down and closed the frequency. This was a problem, and it wasn't not an easy one to repair. There should be no gambling on a starship; regulations were against it, as it tended to create problems. But sometimes it was good for morale. Still, it sounded like Kearney abused his position, and that, to Sulu, sounded like trouble.

Haines was now discussing a new musical she had seen on Earth. "I tell you, Ben, it was great."

"But I just can't see it. How could a musical with a bunch of trees running around be funny? And the title, how unoriginal and mundane can you get? 'Trees.'" He snorted. "First it was 'Cats' and then it was 'Dogs' and then 'Unicorns,' 'Dragons,' 'Fish,' 'Tribbles,' and now 'Trees." If it weren't so sad, I'd be laughing my head off. I can see the next one, too. 'Rocks,'" he couldn't help but chuckle.

"Obviously you don't understand--"

Sulu began to chuckle. "I don't think he wants to, Mister Haines."

She turned with a start. "Sulu, I mean, I'm sorry, I just--"

"What are you apologizing for?" he asked amused.

"I was startled. I'm kind of not used to your being here. Usually there isn't much...conversation...coming from that chair, you know."

"You'll get used to it, Commander Haines." He smiled. "You know what an incessant conversationalist I am."

There was a whistle. Sulu punched the 'com key. "Bridge here."

"Commander, join me in my quarters immediately. Williams out."

Sulu swallowed suddenly. He quickly regained some measure of composure. "Ensign Gam'tai, report to the bridge, please."

The big Dramian strode out from the turbolift a few seconds later.

"Commander Haines, you have the conn," Sulu said, rising from the center seat.


"Commander Sulu," began Williams, "this is Doctor Mandala, the civilian specialists' spokesperson."

"Doctor," the helm officer acknowledged, extending his hand.

"I am filing formal charges against you, Commander," stated Mandala, as he completely ignored Sulu's hand. "I will not tolerate abuse of the civilians by you or any other officer of the Cooper."

Sulu spun towards Williams in shock. "Sir," he protested. "I have never nor will I ever--"

Williams held up his hand. "Commander Sulu, please show extreme restraint at this time. Mister Evanston has filed charges that you assaulted him early this morning."

Sulu recoiled. "I merely countered Mister Evanston's attempt to assail me, sir, and this was after he shoved Doctor Johnson to the floor. I would not consider my response an assault."

Williams looked down at his desk. "Commander, you have just admitted that you used physical force on a civilian, yet we have no corroborative statements to your claim of self-defense."

Sulu was becoming angry. "Well, then, let's call Doctor Johnson and get her statement. This charge is absolute--"

Williams turned his head at an angle and squinted his eyes slightly at Sulu.

Sulu noticed it. "--ly ludicrous," he finished.

"Doctor Johnson has been paged, Commander," Williams stated. "Please, gentlemen, be seated."

Mandala was indignant. "It'll still be their words against Doctor Evanston's."

"What is your point, Doctor? Are you implying there is a general conspiracy against Doctor Evanston? What do you base your idea upon? Do you have any evidence to indicate that Commander Sulu and Doctor Johnson would lie?"

"Well, no, Captain, but--"

"Then kindly keep your paranoia under control," warned Williams.

"I will not be addressed in that manner, Captain Williams. Not by you, nor any other officer in Starfleet. I accepted this post over an assignment at Sector Twelve General Hospital as a favor to the Vulcan Academy of Sciences. I would be more than delighted to leave this...this boiler room of a starship, and will request such a transfer if you do not apologize at once."

Doctor Johnson stormed into the cabin. "Daniel, what the fuck is going on here? Why is Sulu on trial? Why is this fat-assed clown standing here acting like he was God's gift to astrochemistry?"

"Doctor Johnson," warned Williams sternly, "a little decorum, if you will."

"Oh, right," she said sarcastically. "Sure thing...Captain. Now what's this bullshit about Sulu assaulting that jerk from Xenobiology? Didn't Sulu tell you what happened? Evanston's hormones and alcohol don't mix, Mandala. You're lucky I don't kick him off the ship."

"Then what Mister Sulu claims is true?"

"That Evanston assaulted me? That he started to go for Sulu's throat, then the commander threw him across the hall? That Security was called and Evanston was locked into his quarters? That the security officer scanned Evanston for excessive alcohol in his system, detected extreme intoxication, and so noted it in his log? Hell, yes, it's true."

"What?" asked Sulu, startled. "I didn't order a blood-alcohol test!"

"Rachelson did," explained Johnson. "She felt it would be advisable under the circumstances."

Williams stood there staring at the two of them, Sulu and Johnson. Then he spoke to Mandala. "I suggest that you speak with Doctor Evanston and have him drop the charges, Doctor Mandala. Otherwise, when this comes to an official hearing, Sulu will be exonerated and Evanston charged with filing a false report."

Mandala met Williams' gaze defiantly for a few seconds, then yielded. "Birds of a feather," he mumbled.

"And what are you implying, Doctor?" Williams' voice filled with power, the power Sulu had detected earlier, of anger barely controlled.

"Nothing, Captain. The charges will be dropped."

"Then, if you will excuse me, Commander Sulu is due on the bridge, Doctor Johnson has a report to file, and I have a great deal of paperwork to complete. Dismissed."

Sulu snapped to attention, winked at Johnson and left. Williams sat down at his desk and began reading a report on the terminal. Mandala glared at Johnson and Williams before following Sulu out the door. Johnson took a seat.

"Good morning, Daniel," she said, smiling.

He looked up and allowed himself a smile of his own. "I believe that's a matter of perspective, Casey."

"Tell me, Daniel. You had Rachelson's report. Why all this crap? All you had to do was show it to Mandala, and tell him to stuff it."

"My motives were simple, Casey. If Mister Sulu is to be an effective executive officer, he needs to learn a great deal. If Rachelson had not administered the blood-alcohol level test, the situation would be less clear."

"So? Sulu was just trying to be nice."

"He should have filed a report."

"Daniel, I was the one who asked him not to."

"And you jeopardized his career and yours.

Johnson looked down, unable to meet his challenging eyes. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I was just trying to spare Sulu a bad scene. Filing a disciplinary report like that would be rough on anyone their first day. It could have alienated him from the civies for all he knew. And that's something no officer in the 'fleet would want."

"Agreed. But as it turned out, it would have spared him from an even less desirable 'scene.'" He paused briefly. "Come on, Casey. It's over and done with. I'm sure you've got something to do," he said pointedly, his eyes returning to the report on his monitor.

"I don't. Well, nothing major any way. Should I file a report and work up a psych analysis of Evanston, see if we can get him off the Cooper?"

"No, Doctor, we will do nothing of the kind. I have enough trouble dealing with Doctor Mandala's eccentricity and paranoia as it is. There is no need to actually give him some evidence for his wild claims."

"Okay, Daniel." She hesitated. "One more thing."

"Yes?" Daniel asked, raising his eyes to hers. He sighed.

"Our new exec...what do you make of him?"

"He seems a little too confident, but I've decided it's mostly bravado."

"That's all?" She sounded disappointed.

"What would you have me say, Casey? The man's been aboard for less than twenty-four hours. I've interviewed him, and spoken with him on the bridge. I've questioned him here. He seems to be taking to the Cooper well." Williams smiled. "You should have been on the bridge as we left orbit. He was like a cadet on his first cruise. I could feel him radiating excitement. And I must admit, his excitement was contagious. Even our 'laid back' Mister Franklin was up."

"But do you like him?"

Williams rolled his eyes upward. "Casey, I simply haven't had time to make a decision like that!" he argued.

"You talk as though it were some sort of an equation, Daniel. What about your gut reaction?"

"Casey, it is an equation. I have no 'gut reaction.' I neither like nor dislike a person who's been aboard for less than a day. He has performed satisfactorily."

Johnson frowned. "One day, Daniel, we're going to have to talk about your being an emotional cripple."

"Agreed, but not today. We can discuss the principles of Kolinahr the same day you agree to talk about your childishness."

"I prefer to call it 'impishness.'"

"As you prefer. Now, Commander, please understand," he said, gesturing to the monitor.

"Oh, all right. See you," she said, leaving.

Williams leaned back in his chair and tented his fingers.


The rest of Sulu's shift was a lot less troublesome, he was relieved to discover. He returned to the bridge, assumed the conn, and, after having the helm put on automatic, dismissed both Gam'tai and Haines. He sat in the center seat most of afternoon before Williams returned.

"Transferring command to you, sir," said Sulu as the captain entered the bridge.

"Accepting command, helmsman. Ship's status?"

"Unchanged, sir. En route to space station BLB-0 BGN-5."

"Increase our speed to Warp Factor Seven."

Sulu turned. That was the maximum safe velocity for the Cooper. He paused a second before returning his attention to the helm console. "Aye, aye, sir. Warp Factor Seven."

The Cooper's engines groaned a little louder for a few seconds of acceleration, then the noise abated as the velocity was reached. The engineer turned to Captain Williams. "Ss-stress-ss readings-s-s with-th-thin acc-cceptable range, Captain."

Williams turned. "Of that I had no doubt, Mister Rajas."

"Yes-s-s, s-s-sir."

The rest of the shift was completely uneventful. But Sulu noticed that when Williams was on the bridge, conversations were kept to a minimum. He didn't altogether disapprove, but he wasn't sure whether or not he approved of this silence either. Morale was a tricky thing, and as an executive officer aboard a starship, he knew it would have to be one of his concerns.

At 15:48 hours, ship's time, the second shift crew began filtering in. Haines arrived early and replaced Sulu at the helm. The new exec went and stood at his captain's side, his hands clasped behind his back.

From there he noted the second shift was coming on duty. More faces, more names. He would learn them quickly, he hoped. He noted the male-to-female ratio was more or less equal, and that a number of aliens served aboard the Cooper.

Sulu glanced at the chronometer on the helm-navigation console. "15:59," it read. He turned to Williams at the hour. "With your permission, sir?"

"Unnecessary, Commander. I trust your afternoon was more pleasant than this morning was?"

Sulu smiled. "A little quiet, sir. I spent a few hours running a systems check on the helm."

Williams nodded. "In the future, it ordinarily won't be necessary for you to call for bridge personnel replacements. I think you realized that this afternoon. Life aboard the Cooper can be very quiet at times."

Williams stood, pressing the intercom key. "This is the captain speaking. All department heads are to meet in the briefing room at twenty-hundred hours. Back-up bridge personnel should report to the bridge five minutes earlier. Williams out."

"Well, Commander? Would you care to join me for dinner in my quarters?"

"I would like that, sir," Sulu responded a little nervously.

They made their way to the turbolift. As the doors parted, Williams turned to the security chief, Rachelson. "You have the conn, Commander."


"Well, Commander," began Williams during the dinner. "How do you like the Cooper now that you've had a day to think about it?"

Sulu, unaware that Williams himself had been unable to state an opinion on his new exec, put aside the question. "You'll have to ask me that in a couple of days, sir."

The two officers had gone to the rec room, picked up their dinner trays and taken them to Williams' cabin. Williams brought forth a bottle of red wine, and they dined, using a table Williams stored in his closet.

Williams took a sip of the wine. "I will." He changed the subject suddenly. "I gather this morning was rough on you."

Sulu nodded.

"I thought as much. Commander, last night you failed to follow procedure by choosing not to file a report, and it nearly jeopardized your career. You must be aware that Starfleet's regulations are designed with a purpose in mind. I am a firm believer in following the rules. I am well aware that your former captain bent them and allowed them to be bent by his officers. I will not bend the regs, nor will I allow them to be bent by those under my command."

"I beg your pardon, Captain, but Admiral Kirk was--" Sulu snapped, but decorum stopped him from going farther. "Admiral Kirk, sir, was a damned fine starship commander. I hope one day that I can be equally worthy," he said through clenched teeth.

"Admiral Kirk was grounded, Commander Sulu, because he bent those rules. He may be a leader of many, but he and I never did agree on procedure."

"You--you've met the admiral?"

"Yes, Commander. He and I attended the academy together. When he reprogrammed the Kobayashi Maru scenario to allow him to rescue the ship, I was among those who favored an expulsion. But he didn't receive one. He went on and became the youngest starship commander, the youngest admiral, the highest ranking ship commander. And he was grounded for charging into the Serenidad system, which was clearly in Klingon hands, and for getting his ship blown out from under him. You see, Commander, you can overlook the bending of the regs as long as you come out a winner. And Admiral Kirk was a loser at Serenidad. He's lucky he wasn't drummed out of the 'fleet."

Sulu was angry at Williams' dispassionate tone. "What is your point, Captain?"

"This morning, you bent the rules and failed to file a report on Mister Evanston's disorderly conduct. You could have been grounded had Commander Rachelson not followed the regs. And I do not believe that is what you want, is it? You'll never command, Sulu, unless you follow the rules. That was my lesson for today."

Sulu remained quiet. "Sir," he began tentatively after several minutes of silence, "I don't agree with your assessment of Captain Kirk. But I do see your point. I will follow the regs, sir."

"I'm sure you will, Commander, but the lesson is over. Do you play chess, Commander Sulu?"

"A fair game, sir. I'm much better at the martial arts."

Williams glanced at his desk chronometer. "I'm afraid we don't have much time for a workout before the briefing. Will a quick game of chess suffice?"

"Agreed, Captain."

Williams moved to a shelf and brought out a three dimensional chess set. Sulu cleared the table, dumping the trays into the disposal chute near the door. Williams set up the board and pieces while Sulu poured each of them another drink.

"You may choose color," said Williams.

"I'll take the white, sir." He sat down opposite Williams, took a sip of the excellent wine and began with a simple opening move with a pawn.

"Have you set up a schedule to meet with the crew of the Cooper?" asked Williams absently, moving a pawn of his own.

"Yes, sir. I plan to begin interviewing just prior to our arrival at Bilbo Baggins." Sulu moved his bishop forth.

"Bilbo Baggins, Commander?" Williams moved a bishop vertically up.

"The science station, sir. It's commonly called that by it civilian contingent." Sulu moved a queen forth.

Williams did not frown, but he sounded disapproving. "I see." The captain moved his knight vertically down and across to one of the vantage corners.

Sulu moved a rook to an opposing vantage point, placing Williams' knight in jeopardy.

"May I ask what you plan to do to boost morale, Commander?" asked the captain abruptly as he moved a rook of his own forth to protect the knight.

Sulu was caught off guard. "I haven't really given it much thought, other than realizing that there is a problem. I would think that having just finished shore leave on Earth, most would be content. Not all of them seem to be happy." Sulu took the knight anyway.

"We were on Earth for three months. Most of them were quite bored by the time we left orbit." Williams took the rook.

"'Idle hands are the devil's workshop.' Is that what you're saying, sir?" Sulu slid a bishop out and took the rook.

"I'm not fond of quotes, Commander, but the sentiment of that one is basically correct." Williams' queen took the bishop.

"Well, I suppose I should come up with something to keep the crew busy. What is the usual off-time activity?" He was trying to ignore the 'bloody' exchange on the board. He moved his queen forth.

"I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but most of the crew engages in sex play during their off-duty hours. A few gambling sessions seem to be going on in the engineering department. The rest of their time is spent either reading or working out in the gymnasium." Williams countered by bringing forth a bishop.

"What exercise programs?" Sulu brought forth a bishop and realized he was behind in the match.

"Aerobics, low-g ballet, weight-lifting, some karate and judo. Nothing very challenging. A lot of the crew indulge in chess and other mentally stimulating games." Williams advanced his queen and captured a pawn.

"And on duty, a lot of drills?" Sulu advanced his queen to trap Williams'.

"Not lately. Since Commander...your predecessor's death, none at all. I haven't had the time to schedule any. On a starship such as this one, without a yeoman, I have no one to help me with the same amount of paperwork as a heavy cruiser's commander." The attack on the pawn had been a feint. Sulu lost his queen to a bishop.

Understanding dawned on Sulu's face. "You've got the same reports to file, and less time to spend handling crew functions and the like." Sulu killed the bishop with a pawn and realized how much of a disadvantage he had.

"Exactly." Williams advanced the queen's rook's pawn, clearing a way to establish a checkmate situation.

Sulu saw that it would be mate in four moves. "Oh, well, sir. It looks like I've lost."

Williams examined the board as though it was for the first time. "Mate in four, Commander." Without looking at the chronometer, he added. "I believe we don't have time for another game."

"Five minutes before twenty, sir."

"Come, let's go. I enjoyed the game, helmsman. It was quite interesting," said Williams, placing the set into its box.

Sulu was impressed. "I've known two other people that good at chess, sir."

"Both Admiral Kirk and Commander Spock have beaten me several times during the course of the past ten years, Commander." Williams gathered his notes. "Shall we?"


Sulu was seated next to Doctor Johnson and Captain Williams. The other senior officers, Xon, Rachelson, Anex, Kearney, Umer, Dickerson, and Rivers, were seated along the right side of the table, while the civilian department heads whom Sulu had not met sat along the left. The atmosphere of the meeting was filled with ennui. There were several yawns, not even well-hidden, from various officers. At precisely 20:20:00, Williams began.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to introduce each of you to Commander Sulu, our new executive officer."

"I object to this waste of time, Captain. The commander obviously should know who each of us are by this time," snorted Doctor Mandala.

"Admittedly, Doctor, but I would like the time to introduce myself to them," said Sulu unflinchingly.

One of the civilians stood. She was a young black woman; her skin was lighter than Williams'. "Laura DuBarry--Astrophysics," she said, extending a hand. As he took it, the woman next to her, a tall, pale-skinned brunette stood. "Pam Mansky--Astrogeology." She winked at Sulu and seated herself. A young man, with definite traces of stubble on his face and tussled brown hair, remained seated. His eyes met Sulu's as he mumbled, "Anthony King, Chief of Xenoarcheaology and Xenoanthropology."

The other civilian present was Tom Evanston. He ignored Sulu completely. As did Mandala. Evanston's specialty, Sulu knew, was Xenobiology, and Mandala's was Astrochemistry.

"Now, then, Captain, will you please proceed?" urged Mandala, who felt more than a little awkward that some of the civilian staff had been cordial to Sulu.

"Our current mission is to investigate a mystery at the space lab BLB-0 BGN-5. There have been three deaths at the station, and we're to determine the cause. Murder is a prime possibility in a case such as this. What is the cause of death, Doctor Johnson?"

"All the energy has been drained from their bodies. It has left the bodies burned," she answered.

"Static electricity discharge?" queried DuBarry. "The space station, Bilbo Baggins, does orbit 70 Ophiuchi, which is well known for its ion storms. Add to that fact the three Federation research projects there are all studying aspects of multi-dimensional space-time distortions--"

"What?" asked Johnson. "What the fuck is that?"

"'Space warps' like those of the warp-drive generators, Doctor."

Williams nodded. "The first team, according to the data given to me, is studying the field effects from warp drive generators. The project, code name 'Ace in the Hole,' is headed by Doctor Seth Knight."

"The Nobel prize winner?" asked Mandala.

Williams nodded. "The second team was headed by Tghar of Skorr. Project Overdrive is studying more efficient means of propulsion. The late Doctor Tghar had just received additional financing from Starfleet when he was killed."

DuBarry was upset. "I knew 'Taga' when we were both teaching at the Vulcan Science Academy."

"Yes. Doctor Tghar, a research associate named Chen, and a maintenance technician named O'Malley were all killed."

"At the same time?" asked Mansky.

"Negative," answered Williams. "Over a period of three days."

"You haven't told us what the third team researches, Captain," prompted Mandala.

"The only thing I can tell you about the third team is that the subject is not open for discussion."

"Weapons research," King spat angrily. "What are they doing? Testing it on civilians?"

"I doubt that, Doctor King. Please refrain from making such ludicrous statements," stated Williams coolly. "Now, does anyone have any relevant speculation?"

"Doctor Johnson, you say all the victims had their bodies drained of energy," repeated Evanston.


"How would that cause the burning of the corpses?"

"Burning is not the exact word I should use. The corpses are shriveled and dried. There is some indication of scorching, but not enough to be the cause of death. There is evidence of cellular disruption, too. Some cells actually burned before dying."

Evanston laughed. "It sounds like 'spontaneous combustion' and other such nonsense to me."

Williams calmly stated, "I fail to see any humor in three deaths, Doctor Evanston."

Sulu had an idea. "Maybe it's some lifeform we've never encountered before! When I think of it, there are many such tales in ancient Earth history. Think of the incubus and succubus! They could conceivably be based on a such a creature."

All eyes were on Sulu. Finally, Johnson could no longer restrain herself. She laughed. It began to spread.

Sulu's ears turned beet red with embarrassment as everyone but Williams laughed at the notion.

"Everyone, please, show some decorum," Williams said.

The laughter faded quickly.

"Commander Sulu does have a valid point. He and I have one other bit of information that has not been given to any of you. There have been sightings at the station of a ghostly apparition. It is believed that this may be the sign of stress, but Starfleet has not dismissed the possibility that a hostile lifeform may indeed be responsible for the extraordinary deaths."

There was a stunned silence.

"I gather that we've all got some notion as to what is going on at the station. Our ETA is two days hence. Assigned to the investigatory team are Commander Sulu to supervise, Commander Johnson to examine the victims, Commander Xon to conduct on site investigations at each 'murder' scene, Commander Rachelson to maintain security of the landing party, Doctor DuBarry to ascertain whether or not the astrophysics of 70 Ophiuchi have some involvement, and Doctor Evanston to investigate the purported lifeform. Questions?"

There were none spoken, but Sulu could feel them as they hung in the air.


Casey Johnson was sitting on the edge of Sulu's bunk. "Really, Sulu, I didn't mean to laugh at you."

Sulu was seated at his desk, and turned to face her. "I know, Casey," he mumbled, looking down. He brought his eyes to meet hers. "I was born and raised in San Francisco. My parents were of many different Oriental stocks, and I was told many different stories while growing up. You know, " he said, smiling slightly, "ghost stories and 'other such nonsense.'"

"And you believe in them?"

"No, I don't. But let's put it this way, I've seen stranger things in space. I know that anything is possible. The exec of the Enterprise, Mister Spock, phrased it: 'There are always possibilities.'" He leaned back in his chair, a bit more relaxed. "I have never told anyone this, but on the planet Triacus, in the Epsilon Indi system, the Enterprise encountered what could best be described as a malevolent ghost intent on galaxy-wide conquest."

"I've heard of some of the space legends the Andorians tell. Lemme see, there was a race of hideous creatures that made war on them millennia ago. It was a horrible conflict, and though they defeated the Gorgons, their own civilization fell. It was another couple of millennia before the Andorians again achieved space flight. Well, that's what they claim, at least."

Sulu nodded. "Right. Well, we found that the legend is based on fact. There was an entity there that possessed the minds of the Triacus expedition's children, and used fear as a weapon to kill off the expedition's adults. We came along, rescued the children, and unknowingly brought that entity aboard the Enterprise. Once aboard, it overwhelmed almost the entire crew, using our basic fears to conquer us. It literally frightened us into doing what it wanted, or frightened us into not doing what we wanted."

He paused, uncertain whether or not he should continue. She sensed it immediately. "Go on, Hikaru."

He shook his head sadly. "I was overwhelmed, too. By a non-existent apparition." He sighed. "In my official report, I was forced into taking the Enterprise to Marcus Twelve by a missile attack, but in reality, I saw a plethora of swords threatening the Enterprise."


"That's right. I don't know, Casey, but I believe those swords were out there, hanging in space, threatening to destroy the Enterprise. I guess I'm a fool for thinking it was possible."

"I wouldn't say that, Hikaru. That's not fair to yourself. In light of tradition steeped in Oriental culture, who's to say that what you saw was impossible?"

"Still, Casey, it's a bit embarrassing to know, though, the point I made in the briefing room wasn't all that absurd."

"I know that. You've been aboard the Enterprise. I read a really interesting report by Doctor McCoy, the C.M.O., on an entity which derives sustenance from hate that forced Klingons and Humans to fight, one he theorized to be 'Jack the Ripper' which derived sustenance from fear, and everyone's heard of the Drella which derives its nourishment from love. Sunui, the noted Vulcan theoretical xenobiologist, suggests that there may be many such creatures in a universe as vast as ours."

Sulu nodded in agreement. "So who's to say that the old Chinese legends aren't based in fact?"

"I'll admit that there may be some truth behind some legends, but most of them are and always will be merely legends."

"Granted," said Sulu.

"Hikaru," she began tentatively.


"Tell me one of your ghost stories."

"Why?" he asked, puzzled.

"Indulge me, okay?"

"Well, long ago in old China, an especially ghastly event is said to have occurred in a temple dedicated to three legendary heroes named Kwan Yu, Chang Fei, and Liu Pei. The temple was kept closed to the public except during the spring and autumn sacrifices. Even the priests did not stay there.

"One evening, a shepherd asked one of the priests in a nearby village if he could stay in the temple overnight. He was told the place was haunted, and was warned against staying there. He scoffed at the priest and said he wasn't afraid. So he gathered his flock beneath the veranda, and entered with only his whip and a candle. He felt uncomfortable from the very second he went inside, but he was determined to remain.

"Well, as it would happen, about midnight, he heard a peculiar noise. He realized it came from beneath the statues of the heroes. Suddenly, a huge man arose from the ground at that spot. He had hollow black eyes that flashed fiercely, and a powerful-looking body that was covered with a green mold. Growling, the figure leaped toward the shepherd, breathing a foul, graveyard breath in his face, while at the same time trying to seize him with very long and sharp talons.

"The shepherd tried to defend himself with the whip, but seeing that the hideous ghoul seemed to feel nothing, he fled from the temple. The vampire continued to glare at him from the temple, but did not follow. The shepherd ran into the village and roused the villagers.

"At daybreak, when other people began to appear, the vampire vanished. The matter was reported to the local magistrate, who ordered that the pedestal be broken and further examination be made.

"When the diggers excavated beneath the ground, they found two sets of bones and the corpse of a huge man. He was wrinkled and dry, covered with fleecy green mold. They immediately erected a funeral pyre and burned the corpse without delay. As it burned, it shrieked horribly and soon was reduced to ashes. The temple was never haunted again."

"That's all?" she asked, disappointedly.

"Well, yes," he reluctantly admitted.

"Hmm. That's not the kind of horror story my grandfather used to tell me. Hell, there wasn't even an escapee from a mental ward."

Sulu laughed. "Sorry, Casey."

"Just teasin', Sulu."

He yawned. "Well, I need to hit the sack."

She smiled, and opened her mouth as if to speak, then changed her mind. "I do, too." She hopped off the bed, approached him, and gave him a hug. "Good night, Hikaru." She went behind the partition to her bed alcove.

"Good night, Casey," he called after her, a little smile on his face.


It was 14:53 ship's time. Sulu sat at the helm, setting a series of creative evasive maneuvers of his own into the station's memory bank. Williams sat behind him in the center seat, reading a report on matter/antimatter conversion rates.

It had been a long morning for Sulu. First, he assembled the officers in his department for a general introduction, and then met with each of them in a personal interview. He was generally pleased by his results, his only concern stemming from his former shipmate, Jana Haines.

She had been passed over for the promotion to department head, and for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why. He reviewed her exemplary record, and found no shortcomings. She herself didn't appear concerned about it, but he was. Why had she been passed over? He decided he should take the matter up with Captain Williams rather than jump to any illogical conclusions.

Sulu had returned to the bridge to program evasive maneuvers into the helm console. After the long interview, the tedious work of programming maneuver after maneuver was getting tiresome.

Suddenly, fate gave him a major distraction.

"Red alert! Red alert! The ship is on red alert!" shouted the ship's computer. On the mainviewer, the starfield was replaced with the alert graphic.

"Mister Sulu, cancel the graphics and restore normal lighting. Mister Xon, situation, please?"

"Captain, there is a Klingon battlecruiser approaching us from 548 mark 23 at Warp Factor Six. It is not on an intercept course, nor is there danger of collision. The vessel will pass within five kilometers of the Cooper."

"Battle stations, sir?" asked Sulu.

"Negative, Commander. Cancel red alert. Maintain course and speed."

"Deflectors, sir?"

Williams sighed. "Negative, Commander."

"But, sir! I respectfully recommend evasive action, deflectors on full, and phasers energized!"

"Recommendation noted, Commander," Williams said. "We'll take no such action, helmsman."

Sulu was worried. "But, sir! Don't you think--"

"I do think, Mister Sulu. And right now, my orders stand. If you cannot follow them, relieve yourself from duty." Williams' tone was the deadliest Sulu had ever heard before in his life.

Sulu stared at the screen. There was a brilliant flash as the Klingon battlecruiser passed by the Cooper by a margin of five thousand meters.

"Sensors?" asked Williams.

Xon's reply was quick. "They are maintaining their original course and speed."

Williams assessed the situation quickly and determined there was no danger. "Commander Xon, you have the conn. Mister Sulu, would you care to join me for lunch?"

"Yes, sir," Sulu replied after a second's hesitation.

The two men walked to the turbolift as Xon replaced Williams in the center seat.

Once in the turbolift, Williams' anger became apparent. "My orders, Mister Sulu, are not to be questioned in that manner ever again, or you'll find yourself transferred off my ship."

Sulu, red-faced, softly said, "Yes, sir. But don't you think you took a chance having the shields down like that?"

Williams was terse. "Commander, this vessel would have no chance against a Klingon battlecruiser whether the shields are up or down. In the past, they've ignored us. I would rather keep it that way. Raising the shields and arming the phasers would have drawn some undue attention to this vessel, and quite probably, with the Kh'myr attitude, gotten us all killed. This, for once and all, Commander, is not a damned heavy cruiser. It is a science survey vessel. We have never once been involved in combat with another vessel, and if I have my way, we never will. Have I made myself quite clear?"

"Quite, sir."


They had lunch together in total silence.


That evening, Sulu remained in his quarters. He had thought earlier that he would go to the exercise room, but he just wasn't in the mood for a workout. He sat on his bed, staring at the floor.

Doctor Johnson walked in. "Hello, Sulu." She looked at him. "Why so glum, chum?"

Sulu didn't look up at her. "I guest I blew it today with the captain."

She looked concerned. "Really, that's funny. I just had dinner with him, and he didn't mention anything."

Sulu looked up. "You mean he didn't tell you how I made an ass of myself questioning his orders on the bridge?"

"Nope," she said, going to her dresser. "Sulu, I think you've blown something out of proportion. What did Daniel do? Reprimand you?"

"Well, I guess you could--"

"Listen, Sulu," she said, her back to him as she changed tunics. "You're new here. You're going to make some mistakes. You're going to get reprimanded from time to time. I thought you would've known that, babe."

"Well, I didn't expect it. I thought as an exec, I could have some input on command decisions."

"Maybe on some other starship, Hikaru, but not this one. The captain's word is law on the Cooper. Remember that and you'll get along with him fine." She chuckled and turned. "Have you got anything to do tonight?"

"Well, not really."

"Good. We're going to the movies."

"What? I don't understand...."

She laughed. "We're going to the holovid theater on Deck Five."

"The Cooper has a holovid theater?"

"That's right, Bucko. And you're my date. So get ready to go."

He pulled off the class one tunic, and replaced it with the short-sleeved class two tunic. "Ready," he announced. "Casey, what's playing?"

She laughed harder. "Well, as recreation supervisor for the Cooper, I chose something appropriate...a real classic."



Sulu had to admit, later, that the joke was pretty funny. The crew had all heard of what Sulu had suggested during the briefing, and he took a little ribbing from the crew for it. No matter, though. The film, though dated, was still quite funny. He went to bed shortly after the holovid, and soon he fell asleep.


"Now arriving, space research lab BLB-0 BGN-5, sir," Sulu reported.

The Cooper pulled along side the tremendous K-class space station. Much like K-7, there was a center hub, three 'arms' and a research station at the end of each arm. The station orbited slowly around the binary star system, 70 Ophiuchi. The system was 16.45 light-years from Earth, and consisted of two K-type stars involved in a tug of war which caused the stars to spew forth extremely fierce ion storms from time to time. The station was 4.2 A.U.'s from the stars, and it was heavily shielded to withstand the storms. Originally, the station had been used to study the stars, but now, three completely different research projects were ongoing.

"Thank you, Commander," said Williams. "Stand by to dock."

"Aye, sir."

A boom extended from the nearest of the three arms, and Sulu nudged the Cooper into position where a boom extended from the Cooper and met the station's. The computer announced, "Docking procedure accomplished."

"Stand down, helmsman and navigator," ordered Williams.

Sulu and Franklin released their controls and leaned back.

Williams pressed the intercom key on the center seat. "Attention all hands, this is the captain speaking. Landing party report to docking room. Stand by to board the station. All other personnel will be restricted from the research station until further notice. Williams out."

Sulu stood. As he walked to the turbolift, Xon and Williams accompanied him. "Any last minute orders, Captain?"

"No, Commander. You know the procedure. I want contact made every hour on the hour. You know everyone's assignment. I shall remain here to approach the investigation from a different angle."

Sulu narrowed his eyes slightly at the comment. He and Xon entered the turbolift. "Yes, sir."

"Good luck, gentlemen."

The lift doors closed.

As they walked to the docking room, Sulu took the opportunity to speak with Xon. "Well, Commander, you haven't said much since coming aboard the Cooper. I didn't even know you'd been transferred here until I saw the ship's crew listing."

"Vulcans are not prone to speak without purpose, Commander Sulu."

"Do you like it here aboard the Cooper?"

"'Like' is a relative term, Mister Sulu. Let us say that I find it somewhat less challenging than the work aboard the Enterprise. I also find the responsibility of being a department head somewhat more challenging than I had expected."

"And your roommate?"

"That is not your concern, Mister Sulu."

"Oh, but as executive officer, it is my concern, Mister Xon. How are you and Commander Kearney getting along?"

"I believe he is less than satisfied with the arrangement. I, of course, have no opinion on the matter."

"Of course," Sulu said blankly. As the exec of the Cooper, he was concerned about Kearney. He wasn't sure that the engineer would ever go farther in Starfleet as long as he had such an obvious attitude problem. He tended to treat his subordinates as children, he shunned conversation with his superiors as much as possible (and was quite oily when he conversed with them), and he seemed to be giving Xon and Rajas a difficult time.

The two officers entered the docking room. Sulu took his equipment from the transporter officer, as did Xon. "Is everyone ready?" Sulu asked of the group.

"Let's get on with it," snapped Evanston.

Sulu checked his equipment one last time and strode forward. The doors parted, and, followed by the rest of the boarding party, he entered the access tube to the station. Waiting for him at the far end was the station's commander, Commander Elena Baskin of Starfleet.

"Permission to come aboard, sir?" asked Sulu, formally.

Baskin, a gray-haired woman with many years experience in Starfleet stood there, arms crossed, evaluating him for a few seconds. "Permission granted, Commander." Her accent was nearly as thick as Chekov's. "Vwelcome aboard Bilbo Baggins." She didn't sound terribly sincere.

"Thank you, Commander. I am--"

"Vwe vwill dispense vwith the formal introductions. Commander. Your mission here is to assist my staff with its invwestigation of the deaths of some of this station's civilians. That is all."

Sulu narrowed his eyes. He decided to speak bluntly. "Commander Baskin, the Cooper has been sent by Starfleet to investigate the murder of the civilians. If you and your staff would like to assist us, the help would be appreciated. But, until such time as the identity of the murderer or murderers is discovered, you and your staff are suspects."

Baskin was obviously angry, so much so that she looked as though she would explode. "Your name, Commander?"

"Sulu, sir."

She collected herself by taking a deep breath. "Commander Sulu, an alien lifeform is responsible for the murders. I am sure of it. I do not like the implications that have been bandied about in Starfleet. The murderer is some sort of alien creatures, I tell you."

Xon stepped forward. "Have you yourself seen this lifeform, Commander?"

The fact that she had not registered clearly on her face. "No, Commander."

"Then how do you know it exists?"

"I...have listened to the testimony of various members of my staff and have come to the conclusion that such a lifeform does exist aboard this station. There have been numerous sightings."

"This apparition is sheer fantasy, brought on, no doubt, by stress," deduced Xon.

Sulu studied Baskin's reaction. She was not rattled by Xon's remarks. "Commander, we can spend all day arguing without solving this problem. If you don't mind--" he started.

She narrowed her eyes. "As a matter of fact, Commander, I do mind. However, since Starfleet has decided that all personnel aboard the station are suspects in a murder case, I've really no choice but to do as you ask. Correct?"

Sulu smiled his best James-Kirk-disarming smile. "None, sir...I'm sorry."

Baskin shook her head sadly. "It's all right, Commander. Let's get at it."

Sulu turned to the boarding party. "Pair up. Evanston and Xon, DuBarry and Rachelson, Johnson and I." He faced Baskin again. "Care to join us, Commander?"

"Thank you."

He addressed the boarding party one last time. "Remember your assignments. We'll need full reports from each of you for the captain."


Commander Elena Baskin's office was sparsely decorated. A few plants, a few paintings, one tapestry. Nothing more. None of the items gave any real insight into their owner, who was obviously disturbed by the implications of the situation. She was a suspect in a murder, along with her entire staff. Her recommendations had been completely disregarded by Starfleet. And it was obvious from her terseness she did not appreciate it.

"Now, Mister Sulu, what can I do for you?"

"We've read the reports. Doctor Tghar was found in his office, drained of energy. He was found by his assistant who claims to have seen some sort of creature 'hovering' over the body."

"Yes. Would you like to meet him?"


Baskin pressed a button on her plain, wooden desk. "Attention. This is Commander Baskin. Vwill Doctor Carey report to my office, please? Doctor Carey."

Sulu nodded his thanks. "Now, Commander. What happened then?"

"Doctor Carey is not one to hallucinate. I issued class one phasers to all station personnel. An order which Starfleet rescinded." The bitterness filled her voice.

"I imagine that pissed off a few people," remarked Johnson.

Baskin snorted. "That is an understatement. No one here is wvery enthusiastic about bein suspects in the murder."

"I can imagine," said Sulu. "So you reclaimed all the phasers, and then Doctor Chen was found dead."

"That's right. He'd been dead only a few minutes. He was Taga...Doctor Tghar's research associate."

"Did anyone see this 'creature' during this time?"

"Yes, one of the maintenance techs, Patrick O'Malley, said that he was in the lab cleaning up when a field of energy enveloped Doctor Chen. The doctor screamed and collapsed to the floor. The field vanished, and he saw the creature charge into the room. It wandered around a few seconds and left."

"So 'it' wasn't there when the doctor died."

"I'm not sure. O'Malley called in his report over the station's loud speakers. When we got there, he was dead too."

"I'd like to see the bodies," Johnson said to Sulu.

The Cooper's exec looked to Baskin. She pressed the button on her desk again. "This is Commander Baskin. Doctor Golme, report to my office, please. Doctor Golme." She turned to Johnson. "I'll have it take you to the morgue."

Sulu was slightly perplexed. "'It'?"

"Golme is a Miran," explained the station commander.

"Oh," said Sulu, nodding in comprehension. The Mirans were hermaphrodites in the true sense of the word, and their race preferred 'it' to 'he' or 'she'.

"Do you have the station's recorder tapes of the broadcast O'Malley made?"

She reached into a desk drawer and brought forth a small cartridge. "I made several copies."

"Could you play it, please?"

"Certainly." She placed the cassette into a slot on her desk and pressed another button.

The loud speakers in Baskin's office came to life.

"Commander Baskin, Commander Baskin!"

"Baskin here."

"This is O'Malley with Maintenance! I'm in Lab Two!"

"Yes, O'Malley? What is it?"

"Doctor Chen's been killed! A strange light surrounded him, he screamed and died. Then this thing came in, wandered around and left! Oh, God! Oh, God!!"

"Stay calm, O'Malley. Security personnel to Lab Two, immediately!"

"Oh, God!!! I'm beginning to glow!"

"O'Malley! O'Malley!!"

Baskin pressed the rewind button.

There was a knock on the door. "That must be Doctor Carey. I wonder what took him so long?" She called out, "Enter."

It was not Doctor Carey, but an alien, approximately four feet tall, with a bulbous, porcelain-like head, sharply slanted eyes, and a crescent tuft of blue hair, who entered the room. "You wanted to see me, Commander?"

"Yes, Doctor Golme. Doctor Johnson here would like to examine the corpses. Could you escort her to the morgue, please?"

"Certainly, Commander. If you'll come this way, please?"

Johnson followed the Miran out of the office and down the hall.

Sulu was glad for the interruption. The tape had left him at a loss for words. "Did you send a copy of the tape to Starfleet?"

"Yes, of course. Why do you ask?"

"It does sound like some sort of creature may be responsible for the deaths." He was puzzled. Why did Starfleet believe the 'creature' to be an 'hallucination'?

"Commander Baskin, what was the staff's reaction to the deaths...."

"Doctor Tghar and Doctor Chen were well liked by the staff. It was a shock to nearly everyone."


"Well, Doctor Knight was indifferent to the matter."


"Commander Sulu, science research teams are very competitive. There is only so much funding available from Starfleet. Doctor Knight and Doctor Tghar were competing for funds. Tghar's project received funding for next year...Knight's did not. With Tghar and Chen dead, Knight stands to have his project funded."

"Doctor Knight seems to be an excellent choice for a suspect." Sulu decided privately that this was why Starfleet suspected murder rather than an alien attack.

"Doctor Knight is beyond reproach. He's a recipient of the Nobel Prize, a Z-Magnees nominee, and a well-respected researcher." She looked distracted. "Where is Doctor Carey?" She pressed the button on her desk again. "Baskin to Carey. Doctor Carey? Roger?" A look of horror was dawning on her face.

Sulu sensed it, too. "Where would he be?"

"Lab Two." She pressed her intercom again. "Security--"

As she called for her security officers, Sulu brought his wrist com to his mouth. "Sulu to Rachelson. Meet me in Lab Two."


Rachelson stood outside the door to Lab Two, phaser drawn. Sulu rounded a corner with Baskin, and the station's security squad came from the other direction. DuBarry was nowhere to be seen. "Status?" asked Sulu.

"I've knocked several times, but the door is locked inside. And the station computer won't give me access," Rachelson looked annoyed.


"I left her in Lab One with Doctor Knight. I was coming this direction when I heard your call."

Sulu nodded. "Heard anything?"

"No. It's been quiet here."

Sulu turned to Baskin. "Commander, can you override the computer and get us access to the lab?"

"No, Commander. Our labs are controlled by voice print identification. I'm just the station manager, not a scientist, and I have no authorization to enter any lab at any time."

"I do," said a voice coming from around the corner.

A tall, lean Vulcan dressed in a beige softsuit stepped forward. Sulu recognized him as Sconn, the director of Lab Three, the top-secret Starfleet experimental team.

"I should have guessed," mumbled Baskin aloud.

Sulu gestured toward the door. "If you will, Doctor Sconn..."

"Of course, Commander." The Vulcan strode forward to the door key and entered several dozen numbers. "A childishly simple locking device, easily overridden by the master lock command." He finished. "The door is now unlocked."

Sulu and Rachelson stepped forward. She crouched in a battle stance as Sulu prepared to press the open key. "Ready?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Here goes," he said tentatively.

The door opened into the lab. Sulu and Rachelson launched themselves forward, the station's security forces following. Sulu quickly scanned the area with his eyes.

There were bodies strewn everywhere.

Sulu pulled the wrist com to his face. "Sulu to Johnson."

"Johnson here. What's up, Sulu?"

"You and Golme had better get down to Lab Two. And bring some body bags. There's been a massacre here."


The briefing room of the Cooper was crowded. Captain Williams sat at the head of the table, with Sulu and Johnson on the left side, Rachelson and Xon on the right. Also present were Commander Baskin, her medical officer, Golme, and her security chief, Markowitz.

"Eighteen additional casualties," Sulu repeated hollowly.

Williams shook his head. "Suspects?"

"I had one...Doctor Knight. His project was not going to be funded whereas Doctor Tghar's was. I thought that professional jealously might be a motive."

"And now you're convinced that some sort of creature is responsible."

"That's what the audio portion of the security tapes shows."


Sulu punched a button. The triviewer lit up. "This is Lab Two's security recording tape. As you can see," he gestured to the screen which showed quite a number of people working on various projects, "the victims were hard at work on their project." He said, "Computer--freeze frame."

He gestured to the screen. One of the people on the monitor was glowing. "This is when it began. Note the glow. It surrounds each of them before they die."

"Computer, advance the image slowly."

In slow motion, the picture showed the glow would envelope a researcher and move on, after leaving the scientist dead. It was soon over. Eighteen images of death, duly recorded by an unfeeling monitor set on widescreen.

"Computer, rewind to point of freeze-frame. Advance at normal speed. Audio up."

There was a bustling noise. Several researchers were engaged in conversation with each other. Suddenly, one of them began to glow. Another shrieked and pointed to something not visible to the monitor. "It's got Larry!"

A man screamed and collapsed. Another, then another, there was no time to run. It was over in a matter of minutes.

The screen faded.

"Cause of death, Doctor Johnson," asked Williams who was seemingly unmoved by what he had just witnessed.

"All of the victims have died from a sudden removal of electrical energy from their bodies. Several have cellular disruption to an unbelievable extent. It seems that when the energy was forced from their bodies, many cells exploded. It was a ghastly, painful way to die. Mercifully, it was over quickly."

"Recommendations?" asked Williams.

Baskin spoke up. "Evacuation of the station seems the best choice, Captain." Her security officer nodded in agreement.

Sulu shook his head. "Begging your pardon, Commander Baskin, but if this is a new life form, it needs to be investigated. I'm still not absolutely convinced of its existence. It certainly didn't show up in the replay."

Xon offered. "Sensors can only record what they are designed to record. However, I am convinced there is no such creature. The 'glow' could be a product of any number of weapons, such as a new type of hand disruptor, or perhaps a field effect generator." His eyebrow shot up.

It did not go unnoticed. "Something else, Xon?" asked Williams.

"Possibly, Captain. There may be something we've overlooked."

"Please explain."

"I would refrain from unsubstantiated speculation, Captain, and would like to pursue this matter on my own."

Williams studied the young Vulcan's features. "Very well, Mister Xon. However, I want to be kept apprised of your independent investigation."

Williams faced the group. "We will proceed with our investigation in this matter. I will notify Starfleet Command of the situation, and of your recommendation, Commander Baskin. I do not agree with you, but you are the station manager, and I will respect your opinion."

"Thank you," Baskin said gratefully.

"Commander Sulu, you will take another boarding party aboard the station tomorrow. You will be accompanied by Commanders Johnson, Xon, and Rachelson. If it exists, I want you to find this creature that everyone on the station keeps reporting seeing."


Sulu sat at his desk with Rachelson and Johnson sitting on his bed. After the briefing had ended, the three of them had proceeded to the rec room for coffee, then they had come back to Sulu and Johnson's cabin.

"What do you think, Janet? Is there a creature or not?"

"I can't say, Sulu. I'd like to think that there is rather than the alternative."

Johnson nodded. "Me, too." I'd hate to think some sort of sociopathic killer got by all of Starfleet's psychtests."

"Sulu, you shipped out with Xon before. Why doesn't he believe in this creature? The circumstantial evidence--"

"Vulcans don't believe in circumstantial evidence; they're only interested in facts. The fact is that this thing hasn't shown up on the scanners. Xon wont believe in this creature unless he sees it himself."

"But all the witnesses--"

"Are Humans. Vulcans tend to distrust Human perceptions, Janet. I speak from experience when I say that I can understand why. I've served with several Vulcans before, and they are not the type to easily be fooled into believing what others think to be true."

Johnson nodded. "And Xon is a special Vulcan, Janet. Do you know he's a genius even by Vulcan standards? And he's a child by their standards. He will not commit himself on anything without first studying from every angle you can conceive of, and a few others that you can't."

Rachelson shook her head. "Why's he in Starfleet?"

Sulu smiled. "Why is any of us?" He took a sip of his coffee as they pondered his remark. "Let me ask the two of you something. Why is the captain so...well, uninvolved with this investigation? I mean, he's not even been aboard the station." His tone conveyed his annoyance.

Johnson was equally annoyed, but not with Williams. "Sulu, let's get this straight right now. Captain Williams is deeply involved in this investigation, in a way you haven't suspected. I understand that you might not appreciate his involvement since it is all very much behind-the-scenes, but, to put it kindly, shut the fuck up about it, okay?"

Rachelson agreed. "Yeah, Hikaru. The captain has been reading all sorts of reports on the matter since we left Earth orbit. He's even had me read some on weaponry. He had you read some material on the theoretical existence of some creature that I didn't have access to. And I know Casey had to read all the autopsy reports and submit an overview to the Captain."

Sulu looked sheepish. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to, well, stir up any hornets' nest. I just wish he were a little more visible, that's all."

Johnson looked analytical. "Obviously, this stems from an insecurity complex you're developing, Sulu."

Properly chastised, Sulu repeated, "I'm sorry."

"Don't sweat it, babe. Just lay off any stupid-ass notions you may have about Williams being a slacker."

"Okay, okay."

Rachelson looked at the wall chronometer. "Well, it's getting late. We'd better be getting some sleep if we're to be mentally alert for tomorrow." She made her way to the door of the cabin. "Good night, Casey, Hikaru."

"Goodnight, Janet," called the medical officer.

"Sleep well," added Sulu.

They looked at each other. Sulu looked tentative. Johnson looked tired. She yawned. "Well, Hikaru. I'll see you in the morning," she said, standing and stretching.

Sulu gazed at her longer than was polite for a mere roommate. He suddenly realized it, and yawned exaggeratedly himself. "Goodnight, Casey," he said, moving to the bed.

She knelt down with one knee on the bed and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Sleet tight," she said. She stood and quickly made her way to the other side of the cabin divider.

Sulu was tired. He kicked off his boots and reclined on the mattress. He was asleep seconds after his head touched his pillow.

Casey looked around the corner of the room divider briefly, a faint look of longing on her face. "Sleep well, my friend," she whispered.


"Red alert! Red alert! The ship is on alert status. Commander Sulu, report!" Williams' voice filled the ship's intercoms.

Sulu snapped on the desk com. "Sulu here."

"Commander. You and Doctor Johnson meet me in Cabin Four-C-Fifteen on the double."

"Casey?!" Sulu called.

She stepped around the corner wearing only a robe, her medikit in her hand. "Ready."

They rushed out the door.


Two of the three members of the Cooper's security team were in combat armor, standing guard at the door, phaser rifles in hand. The two, Chambers and Waters, looked ready to kill anything out of the ordinary.

And maybe some of the ordinary, too, if it offended them.

Sulu and Johnson approached them.

"Inside, sirs. Quickly."

They found what had prompted the red alert.

Tom Evanston was dead. D'wanda Ali, one of the civilian astrophysicists, was hysterical. "Get him out of here! Get him out of here now!!!"

Johnson quickly administered a major sedative. "Sorry, toots. Time for nappy house."

Sulu quickly stepped to Williams' side. The captain was kneeling beside the body. The cause of death was all too familiar to them both. All of the energy had been drained from the body, disrupting many cells in the process. "Gruesome," Williams muttered.

Sulu nodded. "Did she see anything?"

"No," said Williams. She was apparently asleep when all of this occurred.

Sulu opened his mouth to ask Williams a question, but just then Johnson joined the two of them.

"You want an autopsy, Daniel?"

Williams nodded. "I think I can guess the cause already, but let's do it by the book, Commander."

Sulu realized it would be better to address his question to Johnson and motioned her aside. "What was Evanston doing here? I thought he had the hots for you. And why wasn't Ali killed if they were sleeping together in the same bed?"

"Look at the beds, genius," Casey pointed out two sets of rumpled covers. "DuBarry and Evanston's roommate were getting it on. Evanston came here from time to time when they wanted some privacy. Okay?"

"I see." He failed to add that he himself had had many such similar arrangements while attending the Academy.

They heard a commotion out in the corridor. "Let me in there, I say, you young hooligans!"

Sulu looked at Williams. "That would be Doctor Mandala, I presume?"

"Probably. He's probably already figured that this is some sort of Starfleet military plot to kill off certain key scientists, or some sort of silliness like that." Williams rubbed his tired eyes. "If he weren't an absolute in his field, I wouldn't put up with that from him."

Williams brought his wristcom up. "Chambers, Waters, let him in."

Mandala came in like a tornado, touching everything, examining all, storming about like a child that had been denied a cookie. "I demand some answers, Captain. What is the military--" He looked at the floor and saw Evanston's corpse. "Why in the Milky Way is the military killing innocent civilians in their weapons tests?!" He knelt down at the body. "Poor man. First he was beaten senseless by your executive officer, and now he's been the subject of some sort of diabolical weapon test. I demand an explanation immediately, Captain!"

Williams sighed loudly. "With all due respect, Doctor Mandala, please shut up." He brought both hands to his face and rubbed his eyes with his finger tips. "There has been an attack from an unknown agent. We're waiting for Ms. Ali to calm down sufficiently so she might be able to shed some light on the matter."

"You mean you injected her with some sort of amnesia drug, no doubt!"

Johnson had had enough. "Listen, fuckface." She grabbed the civilian scientist by his shoulder epaulets. "And listen good. Shut the fuck up with all this military conspiracy shit, or I'll ship your ass off this fucking ship faster than you can say 'beam me up.' I've put up with this paranoid tribble shit from you for the past three years, and I've had it. So knock it off, you old fucking bloodworm! Do you follow me?"

It was obvious from the way Mandala was shaking that he did.

Williams looked at the body, silent for several seconds. Finally, he stood. "Commander Sulu, I want you, Xon, Rachelson and Johnson to board the station immediately. I want you to look for the entity that has allegedly been causing these deaths."

"Now, sir? It's three in the--"

The look on William's' face would've frightened any man. "Now, Mister Sulu."


Baskin was in her pajamas. "Vhat do you vant?"

Sulu stood before her, along with Xon, Rachelson, Johnson, and Chambers, all dressed in security combat gear. Each of them carried a class one phaser. Xon and Johnson also had tricorders with them. They had called Baskin only a few seconds before, notifying her that they were coming aboard the station.

Sulu immediately knew that she did not appreciate their presence. "We're here to find the creature...if we can."

Her eyes widened. "Then you believe--"

"I didn't say that, Commander. It's just that we've had an attack aboard the Cooper. One of our civilians is dead. The captain has ordered us to attempt to ascertain whether or not this creature does exist."

"Would you like some help?"

"No, sir. I just thought it best that we informed you of our intentions."

"I appreciate that, Commander Sulu."

Sulu nodded. The group began to move down the corridor to Lab Two.

"Good hunting!" she called after him.

BLB-0 BGN-5 was a typical Starfleet research station in that it simulated the diurnal cycle of day and night. The darkened corridor was dimly lit, and their bodies cast long shadows against the floor and walls. At the end of the access corridor was the staging area where the main entrance to the laboratory area was located.

Once there, Sulu turned to Xon. "Reading anything, Commander?"

The science officer shook his head. "Negative, Mister Sulu. No life forms detected inside."

"Let's go in," suggested Rachelson.

Sulu sighed. "Agreed. You and I first. The rest can follow. Chambers, bring up the rear."

Rachelson crouched into a battle stance, and armed her phaser. Sulu armed his phaser, and moved his hand toward the door's access plate. He pressed it, and the door slid aside quickly.

It was dimly lit inside, but the boarding party could easily see where they were going. Sulu noticed a great deal of equipment. "Xon, do you recognize any of this?"

"If you are referring to the mechanisms and instrumentation around us, you will discover, upon closer inspection, that each of the pieces are components of a warp drive propulsion unit. This should be of no surprise as this project was mentioned in our pre-arrival briefing. The equipment of Lab One should be more interesting as that team conducted an experiment with the field generators."

Sulu looked up for a second. "I know that, Commander. What I'm interested in is anything that isn't supposed to be in here."

"All of the instrumentation appears to be genuinely involved in the project. Of course, to ensure the accuracy of the statement, one would have to test each piece of equipment. Are you suggesting that the murder weapon is in here?" Xon studied Sulu; had he come to the same conclusion?

"Possibly," Sulu said. He knew that Xon shared his suspicions. "Or it could be in another lab, such as Doctor Knight's. We'll check Lab One next."

Xon agreed. "That would be my choice as well, Commander."

After several minutes of exploring the enormous laboratory, they headed out down into the access corridor to the main hub. Sulu pressed the wrist key of his helmet comm. "Sulu to Cooper."

"Cooper, Williams here. Report."

"We've examined Lab Two. No sign of the creature; nothing out of the ordinary."

"Understood. Maintain vigilance. Science Officer Waters reports that there seems to be an anomalous field propagation in Lab One. Either someone's running an experiment, or--"

"Understood," responded the executive officer. "Sulu out."

They reached the hub. Baskin was waiting for them. "Well?" she whispered tentatively.

"Nothing," answered Sulu. "We're going to Lab One next."

"Be careful," she admonished them like a grandmother.

The boarding party moved down the corridor to Lab One. Sulu turned to the young Vulcan. "Xon? Scanners?"

"An anomalous field effect is definitely inside. Interesting." The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. He had deduced that someone in Lab One was responsible for the murders. Now, he had evidence to support the alternative theory.

"What is?"

"It appears to be moving about." Could he have been in error?

Sulu turned with a start, wondering if the theory he had developed was about to be proven wrong. "Xon," Sulu began slowly. "I want an opinion from you. Could this be a lifeform of some sort?"

Johnson drew her tricorder up to examine the readouts. Rachelson clicked her phaser's safety.

Xon looked at him, almost a look of surprise on his Vulcan features. "Being a Vulcan, Mister Sulu, I an reticent of offer 'an opinion.' However, it is my estimation that this field effect, which is moving about freely, is indeed a lifeform of some type."

"Why haven't our sensors detected it earlier?"

"Because during the day, such a field effect would go unnoticed among the field effects generated by the massive amount of equipment in use aboard this station."

"Oh, shit," whispered Chambers.

"Knock it off, babe," said Johnson. She turned to Sulu. "So now what? Do we just go in and say 'Hi there! Let's be friends!'?"

Sulu drew in a deep breath. "Why not?" he walked up the access plate. "Ready, Rachelson?"

The young security officer crouched in a battle stance. "Ready, Sulu."

He punched the button, and the door to the lab slid open. It was dimly lit inside. Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash as some...thing flew past them and disappeared down the corridor.

"Xon, your analysis?"

The Vulcan stood there, eyes glazed.


Johnson pulled out her Feinberger and waved it over his form. "He's in shock, Sulu." She withdrew an hypospray from her medikit, and injected Xon with a stimulant. "Xon?" she asked softly. "Xon, do you hear me?

"Yes, he answered flatly.

"Are you all right?"

The Vulcan blinked his eyes a few times. "Quite well, thank you, Doctor. However, the stimulant was definitely unnecessary."

"Mister Xon, your analysis, please?" Sulu asked again.

"The entity is an intelligent creature from a different universe. It came here accidentally through a hole between our universe and its own, caused by the field experiments."

"How do you know that?" asked Johnson.

"It told me."

"Okay," said Sulu, somewhat disbelieving. "Let's have a look inside."

Lab One was similar in layout to Lab Two, but the equipment was quite different. "This is the field generation experiment, isn't it?" asked Johnson.

Sulu nodded. "It is no longer being funded."

Xon went to an instrument panel. "Fascinating."

Sulu turned with a start. He knew the Vulcan tendency to underemphasize the extraordinary. "What is, Mister Xon?"

"This," he said pointing to a panel, "was not here when I made my tour this morning."

"It was this afternoon," said Rachelson. "Doctor Knight was showing DuBarry how it operated. It's an anomalous field propagator, whatever that is."

"And Ms DuBarry's quarters were the location of an attack this night...."

"Yes, I killed her," admitted a gray-haired man at the door. He had a phaser rifle trained on them. Chambers made a move for her weapon, and was shot down.

"Doctor Knight!" exclaimed Rachelson.

Sulu clicked on his helmet comm. "Cooper!" he whispered urgently, but there was no reply. He turned the headset volume down. Even though he had been wrong about the existence of the creature, he had been right about the identity of the culprit.

"Murderer!" spat Johnson, as she rushed to Chambers' side. "And you killed the wrong person, an innocent man who died because he was in the wrong bed!"

"I am many times a murderer," conceded the man. "I'll simply kill DuBarry tomorrow when I find out where she does sleep."

Sulu glanced over to Johnson. "She's alive, Sulu," reported the doctor. "Heavy stun."

"Yes," said Knight. "A phaser burn would obviously be murder. But the warp field effect propagator can be attributed to this ridiculous creature that these weak-minded fools believe in."

"You've not seen this creature, Doctor?" asked Sulu, his eyes narrowing.

"Of course not, Commander. It does not exist. Obviously it is a sign of the stress the people here are under. And with the 'creature' having wiped out all the staff of Lab Two, my own project will receive the proper funding it so justly deserves. You see, I've found a way to tap into Anti-Hilbert Space. An absolutely glorious achievement on my part, I might add." He chuckled. "And when a Human, or any other being, comes into contact with this field, it drains them completely of electrical energy. And they die. I gather it's painful for the victims, but very, very quick, too."

"And we're meant to be the creature's next victims."

"Yes," he motioned for them to move away from the machine. Rachelson pulled her weapon up, but she, too, was stunned and knocked to the floor. "Why don't all of you behave? There is no escape for you, except through death."

He activated the panel. A bright glowing region appeared. "Now, all I have to do is use the joystick to position it--"

The creature was back, and it headed straight for Knight.

Knight shouted in realization and fear. "Keep away from me! It's true, then! No! I'm losing my mind!!"

Knight obviously had not seen the creature before, and Sulu used this time to whip his phaser into position and stun the scientist, rendering the madman unconscious.

Sulu then looked at Xon. The young Vulcan's eyes were glazed again. "Xon?"

"It wants to go home through the field effect generated by Doctor Knight's murder weapon--the anomalous field propagator. That's how it came to be here, and that's why it was always seen after the murders took place."

"Then, by all means, if it wants to go...."

"No, wait!" came a voice from the door. It was Captain Williams, Commander Baskin, Commander Markowitz, a couple of station security officers, and even Doctor Mandala. It was Mandala's voice that interrupted the proceedings.

"Ask it to stay...we could study it!" pleaded Mandala to Xon.

Xon shook his head. "It's response, Doctor, is 'No way in hell.'"

The creature moved to the center of the effect and disappeared.

Sulu knelt down to join Johnson beside the prone Rachelson. "Janet? You okay?" he asked of the fallen officer.

"My head hurts, but I've felt worse."

"Well, Commander Sulu. It seems that this mystery has been resolved," observed Williams. "You've done quite well."

"Thank you, sir."

Baskin gestured at the unconscious Knight, Nobel-prize winning murderer. "And vwhat do vwe do vwith him?"

Williams solved the problem quickly. "We'll take him with us, rendezvous with the U.S.S. Yorktown, and transfer him to their custody. They'll take him back to Earth for trial, I suspect."

Sulu stood. "But where will we keep him? We've got no brig."

Williams had thought of that already. "He can occupy Evanston's cabin. I'm sure Ms Ali and Ms DuBarry can put up with Mister Crumpton in their room for a few days. Or perhaps we could temporarily assign Crumpton to Doctor Mandala's cabin."

"What? I won't stand for this! I'm the head of the civilian science division aboard your vessel, Captain, and I am entitled to a private stateroom. Ali and DuBarry can keep Professor Crumpton in their room for a short time. But I will not be inconvenienced!"

Sulu smiled at Mandala's tirade. He brought his wrist com to his face. "Sulu to Cooper. Stand by to beam casualties aboard."

Williams nodded in approval.


Hikaru Sulu, Jana Haines, Xon, Janet Rachelson, Casey Johnson and Roger Dickerson, the ship's life support officer, were all seated around a sunken table in the ship's rec room. Remnants of a pizza were scattered on a large platter. There were a few empty pitchers about, and one half-filled with beer.

"Well, Hikaru, I guess you've survived your trial by fire. It's been four days since you came aboard the Cooper. What do you think?" asked Haines.

A few expressions showed piqued interest.

"Well, it's not a heavy cruiser..." said Sulu.

"Tell us something we don't know, Sulu," urged Dickerson.

"But it's a starship...and that's what's important."

Johnson smiled. "Damn straight."

Rachelson laughed and poured herself another glass of beer.

Sulu held his empty toward her for a refill. "How're you feeling, Janet? Still got a hangover?"

"Fucking foolish thing to do," added Johnson.

Sulu disagreed. "We'd probably be dead, Casey, if she hadn't made that move. It slowed him down just enough for the rescue party to arrive."

"Yeah, how did they know to come?" asked Dickerson.

"Well," explained the executive officer, somewhat proud of himself. "I turned my helmet comm on when he admitted to the murders. I was hoping that Commander Anex would hear what was happening and send some help."

Johnson laughed. "So did I!"

Rachelson nodded, laughing, too. "I did, too."

Xon even spoke up. "It occurred to me as well, Commander Sulu. It was the only logical way to attract attention to our plight."

Sulu chuckled. "No wonder I didn't get a reply when I whispered for the Cooper to respond. They were getting all of our signals at once."

"Well, it's been a long day, everyone," began Rachelson, draining the last of her beer. "Good night."

"I shall accompany you, Commander," said Xon. "Although I am not fatigued, I have a fascinating report to write for the Vulcan Academy of Sciences."

Haines took Dickerson's hands into her own. "Well, Roger, what say you and I go down and catch a movie."

Johnson laughed. "There's nothing playing tonight, James."

Haines winked as they stood. She slipped her hand to cup his rump. "There will be soon."

They, too, departed.

Sulu looked at the mess before him. "Well, Casey, I guess we should put this away."

She helped him load the dirty dishes into the automatic dish recycler, and they walked back to their cabin, hand in hand.

"Tell me, Casey. Am I adjusting well?"

She looked at him. "Very well, or so my reports say."

"Are the reports wrong?"

"No, they're accurate. You've only got one hang-up which I failed to mention."

"What's that?"

"You're a little insecure about fitting in."

They reached the cabin, thumbed the door switch, and entered. She sat down on his bed and motioned for him to join her.

He walked over the bed and sat down beside her. Then he proceeded to examine his shoes.

He faced her. "Casey, I'm--"

She planted her mouth on his firmly. Soon she allowed her tongue to probe his mouth, his tongue, his teeth. She met no resistance; she hadn't expected any.

Sulu was somewhat surprised. It was true that he had felt an honest yearning for her, but he was delightedly shocked to find it reciprocated by her. He slowly moved his hand to her right breast and began to knead it gently.

She moaned softly and began to kiss his neck, his ear lobes. She probed his ear lightly with her tongue. She bit gently on his shoulder and traced the outline of his jaw with her tongue. She kissed his face gently, tenderly, delicately all over.

Sulu began to nuzzle the nape of her neck, nipping playfully at it ever so gently with his teeth. He slipped his hand under her tunic and caressed the cup of her bra. He traced the outline of it with his forefinger, and when he came to the front clasp, he deftly opened it.

She pulled back slightly from him, reached down and removed her tunic and bra. She smiled at him and resumed her exploration of his mouth. She allowed her hands to caress his chest, his shoulders, his sides. She slipped her hand under his tunic and began to tease his nipples.

Sulu cupped her exposed breasts and gently began to caress them. He began to kiss her on the collarbone, on the shoulder, above her breasts, and then, very lightly, he placed his tongue on her right nipple.

Johnson felt as though a bolt of electricity had shot through her body. She pulled him on the neck and shoulders down to her bosom. She felt so good, so right, so filled with la joie de vie that she laughed softly.

He continued to work on her nipple while caressing her other breast. He gently pinched the left nipple with his thumb and forefinger and began to work it back and forth, twirling it slowly between his fingers. He began to suck on her right nipple, and as he sucked, he lightly tongued the tip.

She knew she was getting close. It had been so long since she had known such pleasure that this simple act inflamed her desire. She felt a rush of blood in her ears. She came, very gently, very quietly, whimpering very softly, almost inaudibly, as the single wave of pleasure washed over her.

He pulled back slightly, and smiled, acknowledging her reaction. He pulled his shirt off, and began to suck on her left nipple, while delicately kneading her right breast. He allowed his left hand to caress her thigh.

She began to kiss his chest lightly, while allowing her hands to explore his thighs, his buttocks, his crotch. She lightly caressed the bulge she found between his legs. She wanted to share herself with him, this gentle man.

He began to caress the warm area of her crotch. He noticed the dampness there, and delighted in her response to him. He pulled back gently, and unfastened her pants. He slid the zipper down and resumed sucking her breast. With his right hand, he caressed her lower stomach, and explored under her panties, gently rubbing the tuft of hair there.

She moaned in anticipation. She lay back on the bed, pulling him into a reclining position with her, and kicked her boots off. She relished his ministrations, and proceeded to unsnap his trousers. She unzipped the fly, and grasped his firm organ through his undershorts.

Sulu pulled away and stood at the end of the bed. He slid her trousers off, and then proceeded to remove his own boots and pants. He stood there for a second, admiring her firm breasts, her slim figure. He reached down and pulled her panties off. He smiled at the sight before him, at the way her pubic hair was trimmed into a heart-shape, at her face.

He knelt down and lightly began to caress her slippery wetness with his hand, gently inserting a finger into her. He rubbed her clit with his thumb, all the time smiling at her.

She smiled back at him, sat up and pulled off his underwear. She cupped the testicles of his erect member with one hand, and looked at him. She delicately touched the tip of his organ with her tongue, then slid its entire head into her warm, wet mouth.

She reclined slowly, pulling him onto the bed with her. She felt excited by the weight of his body pressing on hers. She slid her hand to his maleness and, using her other hand, spread the lips of her slick opening.

He pushed forward tentatively, almost timidly. He was delighted to find how well lubricated, yet tight and warm, she was. He slid in and out slowly, at first, but ever increasing in tempo and in depth. Soon, he plunged into her as far as he could.

She breathed deeply, quickly. She felt so alive, so ready, so good. She knew she would be coming soon to that plateau of pleasure. She squeezed his member with her special muscle. She knew it would not be long; she could not restrain her need much longer.

He sensed her urgency, and felt the tide rising within him. He felt her squeezing, and licked gently at her earlobes.

She knew it was time. He did, too.

Waves of pleasure came crashing over her, and he erupted like an angry volcano.

They fell asleep in each other's arms.


Sulu was on time for duty the next morning. Johnson and he had awakened early, and he enjoyed her presence in the shower. They didn't talk much; they didn't have to. They knew that their own careers were paramount in their lives, but they also knew they would relish, cherish and rejoice in what time would be spent together.

Each was free to pursue other interests, other individuals, so long as this was shared between them. As Johnson had put it, "If you want to play around, it's fine by me. In fact, I want you to. But I want to know about it beforehand, if only to avoid putting my foot in my mouth and swallowing it whole."

Sulu had agreed with her. It would be an open relationship, based on mutual respect, friendship and love. They had come to an arrangement, and Sulu somehow knew it would be a lasting one.

"Mister Sulu?" repeated Williams, slightly annoyed by Sulu's reverie.

"Oh, er, yes, Captain?"

"We've got a rendezvous scheduled with the Yorktown in six days. Lay in a course for Rhaadaran. Ahead, Warp Factor Six."

"Aye, aye sir." The ship dropped into subspace with a burst of color.

Williams thumbed a button on the arm of the chair. "Ship's log, Stardate 7540.5. We are en route to rendezvous with the U.S.S. Yorktown, our murderous prisoner locked into the cabin of one of his victims. There was a brief service yesterday for the twenty-two people killed by one man's ambition. Our sole casualty was a civilian who was mistakenly killed instead of another. A posthumous commendation goes to Doctor Tom Evanston, Senior Civilian Biologist. Commendations to Commander Sulu--"

Sulu turned with a start.

Williams ignored him completely. "--Commander Johnson, Lieutenant Commander Xon, Lieutenant Commander Rachelson, and Lieutenant Chambers for heroism. Additional commendations for Rachelson and Chambers, both of whom were injured in the line of duty. End of entry."

Sulu felt some warmth around his ears, embarrassed to have received a commendation during his first mission with the Cooper.

"Well, Commander," began Williams. "You've made an impressive start for yourself."

Sulu turned. "Thank you, sir."

Williams continued. "Now, I want a new schedule of drills, a new duty and shift schedule, and a schedule for rank review posted this evening on the ship's computer bulletin board."

Sulu almost did a double-take. It would take the rest of the morning to schedule the drills, the afternoon to modify the roster and the entire evening to create a schedule for reviews.

He smiled.

It certainly looked to be an interesting three-year voyage.

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