"What you're seeing is the wreck of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the pride of Starfleet, as it orbits Serenidad," the woman's voice said. "This dramatic footage was shot by our holocam crew in the Trans-Galactic News Service's warp shuttle less than one standard hour ago, before it was warned off by the U.S.S. Challenger."
The wall-sized tri-holo screen in Rear Admiral Andrew Kenneth Sheridan's office glowed with the razor-keen image of the battered Enterprise. He grimaced. Damn those newshounds anyway! Starfleet had tried to keep the entire Serenidad fiasco in the background, but Trans-Galactic had come barging in as soon as the fireworks were over.
"As you can see, the Enterprise's starboard warp nacelle was blown away, and her hull as been breached in several places, worst of which is the large, gaping hole in the main saucer you see here. You'll also notice that the bridge blister has been crushed. We have no word yet as to the fate of the Enterprise's celebrated command crew, including the legendary Captain James T. Kirk. However, early reports indicate that almost three-fourths of the starship's crew have been either killed or injured, a tragic total indeed."
The image of the Enterprise faded, replaced by the face of the anchor woman. Behind her loomed the imposing bulk of Serenidad's Royal Palace.
"Most of the reports we have are fragmentary and unsubstantiated. Apparently, the Enterprise attacked and destroyed the Klingon battlecruiser Targa when it seemed the execution of Crown Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega was imminent. The Enterprise was then ambushed by the cruiser Zoden and nearly destroyed, but the Federation starship managed to stun the entire area of the Palace and the city of Castillo Nuevo, thus saving the princess from death. Subsequently, the U.S.S. Challenger, under the command of Captain David C. Garrovick, destroyed the second Klingon cruiser. Challenger security forces occupied the Palace and neutralized the Klingon invasion. The Klingons, to a man, chose ritual suicide over capture. There are no survivors."
The woman turned slightly to her left, and the holocam zoomed in on the Palace. In the upper right corner of the screen, a portrait of Princess Teresa snapped into view. Sheridan snorted. Of course, there'd be a woman when James T. Kirk was involved, but this one seemed too young even for his tastes. She appeared to be little more than a girl, although Sheridan knew from the Federation dossier on her that the princess was nearly twenty.
"There's an interesting sidebar to this tale of horror and tragedy. Princess Teresa, who was pregnant at the time of the invasion, gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She is reportedly hospitalized aboard the U.S.S. Challenger where she is recovering.
The camera pulled back again to focus on the reporter. "We will pass along any new information as we receive it. It appears that Captain James T. Kirk has broken the back of Klingon tyranny, aided by Challenger's Captain Garrovick. Captain Kirk's fate is unknown at this time. We can only hope that this gallant hero has beaten the odds just once more. For Trans-Galactic news, this is Caren Hollis, live via hyperchannel from Serenidad."
The picture faded. In the Trans-Galactic studios, the anchorman took over the newscast. "Thank you, Caren. In a related story, reaction from the Klingon Empire was swift and predictable. Speaking from the Klingon Embassy in San Francisco, Ambassador Kamarag condemned--"
Sheridan angrily stabbed a remote button on his desk console. Damn them anyway! Gallant hero!Didn't they understand? Kirk was a maverick, a troublemaker who refused to follow orders time and again. For years the media had glorified, almost deified Kirk. James T. Kirk, the youngest captain ever to command a starship, the hero of the Enterprise's historic first five-year mission, the upstart who then became the youngest admiral in history and went on to save Earth from the awesome machine-being V'ger, a hero again, a thousand times over.
Andrew K. Sheridan was sick to death of James T. Kirk.
For twenty-five years, Sheridan had served Starfleet with an almost slavish loyalty, going by the book every step of the way. And all the while Kirk went by his own book, following rules and regulations only if they suited him. Somehow, the hotshot captain was always one step ahead of him. He would never forget the humiliation of seeing Kirk promoted to Admiral while he, Sheridan, was still a commodore.
But now the worm had finally turned. Serenidad would be remembered as Kirk's Waterloo. He had screwed up royally while the galaxy watched, and even his good friend Nogura would be hard pressed to bail him out this time. At the very least, he'd be taken off-line, removed from starship command.
If he had his way, he'd ferry Kirk across the bay to Alcatraz, Starfleet's Maximum Security Detention Center, lock him in and throw away the key.
Easy, Drew, he thought. No sense getting your shorts bunched just yet. For all he knew, Kirk might have been blown to Hell and gone over Serenidad. But he rather doubted it, given Kirk's luck in the past.
Sheridan punched a code into the BellComm terminal on his desk. After a few seconds, the blade-thin, hawklike face of Starfleet's Chief of Security appeared on the screen in answer to his summons. Yves Gervais' steely eyes seemed to peer right through him. Even after all these years, Sheridan still had difficulty meeting that piercing, unflinching gaze--even on a 'Comm screen.
"Slow day, Drew?"
"Have you seen the newscast?"
"I have. I imagine the 'gallant hero' scenario struck a nerve with you," Gervais chuckled.
"Damn it all, Yves, the media loves him! They'd pin another medal on him if they had a chance!"
"You never know," Gervais returned. "I suppose you want me to do something about it?"
"If you can," Sheridan said. "The U.S.S. Hornet will be arriving at Serenidad within the hour. Have her security chief put a clamp on the news from there--a blackout. People don't need to know any more about what's going on there than they already do."
"Consider it done. While I'm at it, I'll get the shuttle pilot's license pulled. He had no business buzzing that close to a Federation starship."
"Thanks, Yves. I knew I could count on you. It's for the good of Starfleet. We don't need any more bad publicity. The media'll make 'fleet Command look like the villain anyway, with poor, old, heroic James T. Kirk bucking the corrupt system and saving the galaxy. Let's not give them any more ammunition than they've already got."
"Right, Drew. I'll take care of it."
Gervais' image faded, and Sheridan sighed. One day soon Gervais would call him up, asking him for a return favor. An eye for an eye. But that was how the system worked. Scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.
He smiled. He felt a little better, and when Kirk was called to account for his errant ways, he'd feel great.
"Kirk, old boy," he whispered, "if you did
survive that shootout over Serenidad, you're going to wish you hadn't."
Captain David C. Garrovick stood quietly on the darkened observation deck of the U.S.S. Challenger. Outside the large transparent aluminum viewports, the stars slid by like leaves swept along in the current of a rushing stream. It was very peaceful here. The glorious view of space always calmed him and helped him get his thoughts in order.
He had a lot to think about now.
Garrovick had never claimed to be an expert of Klingons. He had engaged them in battle--from a distance--from time to time, had even seen a few. He held the generally-accepted view that the Klingons, particularly the Kh'myr warrior sect, were rapacious, soulless killers who reveled in inflicting pain and torture. It had never occurred to him that, despite their ferocious nature, the Klingons might have their own peculiar brand of integrity and honor.
Then he had gone to Serenidad.
Garrovick shuddered. Death before dishonor. On an order from their master, Lord Korak, the Klingon warriors who had survived the bombing of the palace audience hall turned and strangled each other to death.
HoHchuqneS! Kill one another with honor.
Honor, honor, always honor! That singled clipped command would ring in his ears for the rest of his life. So proud they were, that they preferred death to captivity. And Korak, the Battle Commander, who begged Garrovick to kill his soldiers--not spare them! He stood alone among the bodies of his men, disgraced for allowing them to be captured. Korak had given his charges an honorable death.
Garrovick could do no less for him.
As his men stood by, thinking their captain had gone mad, Garrovick ordered the force field imprisoning the Klingons dropped, and handed Korak a battle dagger from a pile of confiscated weapons.
I give you an honorable death.
Korak accepted the blade. Before anyone could even move, the Klingon struck. The dagger opened a wound under Garrovick's left eye. But this, too, was a gesture of honor--and gratitude.
You are a man, Ga'rik, Korak's harsh voice growled. That is my mark. Now all who see you will know you fought Kh'myr--and lived. Then, as if the act were as natural as breathing, Korak drove the dagger into his chest, to the hilt--and died.
Garrovick traced the puckered flesh under his left eye with a finger. DIQ batlh--"honor scar." His C.M.O. could have removed all traces of the wound with five minutes of plastic surgery. But it was not disfiguring, and for some odd reason, he wanted to keep it. It was a reminder that things were not always what they seemed. Even a hated enemy could be worthy of respect.
It was not a view that would make him popular with Starfleet
Command--but it was something to consider.
The U.S.S. Enterprise, proudest ship in Starfleet, was dead, nothing more than a darkened, shattered trititanium hulk. She glided through space at Warp Four only because the Challenger's tractor beams held her in tow. Enterprise had almost been destroyed in a battle with the Klingon battlecruiser Zoden over Serenidad.
One area only remained intact and fully functional. Sickbay had been converted into a field hospital. Casualties numbered in the hundreds. Patients lay in corridors, on the decks, anywhere there was room. It was like a scene from a Bosch painting.
In his Sickbay office, Doctor Leonard H. McCoy found some much-needed solitude. They had finally caught up with themselves. Most of the patients had stabilized and were out of immediate danger. He was most concerned about Kirk and Spock. The Vulcan was still in a healing trance, mending lacerated internal organs. He would recover fully, although it would take some time.
But Jim Kirk had yet to regain consciousness. And there was every indication that the captain was paralyzed from the chest down.
It was bad enough that Kirk had his ship blown out from under him. How would he take the news that it might be a long time before he walked again--if ever?
McCoy would have to wait and see. He rubbed his eyes, leaning back in his lounger. At last, a chance to rest. He closed his eyes.
He thought of Teresa, as he did almost constantly of late. Old geezer! You got a lot of nerve thinking anything could develop with her. Doesn't matter what you think she feels; you're robbing the cradle. A May-December romance if ever there was one. What will people think?
Who cares? I've been lonely for a long time. I didn't realize how lonely 'til I met her. So what if I'm an old geezer? I know she feels something. And I owe it to myself to see if it's real, and to Hell with what anybody else thinks.
McCoy started. A sheepish expression spread across his face. Whoa, Leonard. Now you're carrying on inner dialogues with yourself! Next thing you know they'll be packing you into a rubber room.
He checked his chronometer, and was startled to see that he had dozed off for almost half an hour. Feeling refreshed, McCoy rose from behind his desk, intending to examine some of the patients. He nearly ran into Doctor Christine Chapel as he left his office. "Oh! Sorry, Chris. I think we need a traffic signal there."
"Leonard, I was just on my way to get you," Chapel said. "Captain Kirk is coming around."
McCoy rushed over to the diagnostics bed where the captain of the Enterprise lay. Kirk groaned softly. His head rolled from side to side.
McCoy consulted the overhead panels. "Vitals are coming up, looks good. Minimal pain."
McCoy had to strain to hear the weak voice.
"We...we made it?"
"After a fashion. It's a long story."
"Give me...a thumbnail, then."
"Later, Jim. You need to rest."
The pale face tightened into an expression McCoy knew well. "Unless we've gotten other orders, I'm still--your commanding officer! Now--report, Doctor!"
McCoy sighed. "All these years we've served together and you still pull rank on me. All right, Jim. It's against my better judgment, but..."
The physician related the events that had taken place after Kirk had lost consciousness; how his order to stun the area around the palace had saved Princess Teresa's life, how Garrovick and the Challenger had saved the day--and how the Enterprise had been all but scuttled.
Kirk closed his eyes when McCoy gave him the casualty report. "My God, Bones! Eighty-five dead and two hundred-three injured. We lost ninety-four crewmen during the entire five-year mission--and I thought that was unacceptable."
"I'm sorry, Jim." It was all he could think to say.
"How--how's Spock, and the bridge crew?"
"Spock's in a healing trance." McCoy hooked a thumb over his shoulder to the next diagnostic bed where the Vulcan lay. "He'll be all right...eventually. Chekov had a bad head injury. He's out of I.C.U. now, but we're watching him closely. Let's see...Uhura suffered a broken jaw. Scotty fractured his right arm. Sulu just got a few bruises. He was treated and released."
McCoy waited. It was Jim Kirk's manner to get ship's business attended to first, then worry about himself. There was a long, brooding silence. Then...
"Bones...I-I can't feel anything from my chest down. It's like...there's nothing there." Kirk swallowed hard. "Did I lose my legs?"
"No, it's all still there. The Enterprise took a direct hit on the bridge, Jim. Half the ceiling caved in on you." He hesitated. "There was some spinal damage, severe trauma. I performed one operation already, but you'll need further surgery when we get you to the Med Center at Starfleet Command."
Kirk closed his eyes again, and McCoy thought he saw the captain's lower lip tremble. "Paralyzed," Kirk mumbled. "A cripple."
"Ah, Jim, you don't know that! Give me a chance to do the operation, and then..."
"Can you guarantee that I'll ever walk again?"
McCoy looked at the floor. "No, I can't guarantee that you can use you own legs to walk. However, with bionic--"
"That's what I thought. I'd be grounded--"
"Get out of here, Bones," Kirk said, his voice a hoarse croak. "Let me alone. I want to sleep."
McCoy turned away, trying not to feel hurt. It was a normal reaction. Someone like Jim Kirk, who prided himself on his physical condition and prowess, would be especially devastated by such a debilitating injury. The psychological trauma was almost as bad as the injury itself. And what if the operation didn't help him? Suppose they had to use those bionics. Could James T. Kirk adjust to a permanent ground assignment? And, God forbid, if the bionics didn't take, could he deal with the changes that would entail were he paralyzed for life?
McCoy didn't want to think about it. Not now--he was too tired.
He glanced around Sickbay. Everything was under control. M'Benga was keeping an eye on Spock, so he wasn't really needed at the moment. There was a star portal down the main corridor outside Sickbay where he could be alone for a while, where he could get away from this misery.
And maybe if he looked hard enough in the right direction, he
could make out a certain little yellow star, and a blue-green pinpoint of light that was a
planet called Serenidad.
The room was almost as dark as Talan's thoughts. The feeble glow of a Klingon flamepot provided the only illumination in his Spartan quarters at the Klingon Embassy. The news from Serenidad was grim and unwelcome.
Mord, his brother, was dead.
Talan bared his teeth, growling deep in his throat. He should have been there to die in glory with him! He was a lieutenant commander in the Imperial Klingon Fleet, a warrior! He belonged in battle, not rotting away on Terra, as a plainclothes military 'watchdog' over the Klingon Embassy, wearing the robes of a diplomat and pretending to desire peace with these pathetic Earther worms. His grief over his brother's death he held in check, as was expected of a Kh'myr warrior.
His anger he could not--and would not.
Talan drew his battle dagger from a sheath in the voluminous folds of his robes. There was only one bright spot about this wretched assignment; it would allow him to avenge Mord's death. He had learned that James T. Kirk had survived the fire fight over Serenidad, but he had been badly injured and was being transferred to Starfleet Medical Center in San Francisco for treatment.
James T. Kirk was coming to Earth, and James T. Kirk would die.
With a quick, smooth motion, Talan slashed the palm of his left hand. Blood dripped into the flamepot, and the coals hissed as his life fluid splashed on them. The 'Ip'Iw--the oath of blood--was the most sacred vow a Klingon could make. It required the one who swore it to fulfill it at all costs, or die trying.
"I swear by this blood that I will avenge the death of my brother Mord," he intoned. "I will slay the demon James T. Kirk with this blade, and will drink his lifeblood to lay my brother's shade to rest."
Talan wiped the blade clean, jammed it back into his scabbard. His wounded hand throbbed but he welcomed the pain. It fueled his rage, strengthened his resolve.
"I await you, Kirk," he snarled. "I hear my brother's voice crying out to me from Kh'eloz, demanding vengeance, as do the voices of thousands of others who have met their deaths at your hands in the years since you have been our enemy. I hear them, and I will appease them."
Talan lowered his hand into the pot. Flames licked upward; the stench of charred flesh assailed his nostrils. The big Kh'myr paled, gritting his teeth against the pain, but he did not cry out. When the bleeding stopped and the wound was properly cauterized, he pulled his hand away. He collapsed back in his chair, a cruel smile twisting his lips.
He could almost feel his blade slicing through the soft flesh of the murderer Kirk's throat, could almost taste the lifeblood pulsing from his severed jugular.
He would hold these images until his time came.
A plan was rapidly taking shape in his vengeful mind. It was a reckless, bold, dangerous plan; were his circumstances not so compelling, even he would not have considered it.
But he had sworn the Oath, and he must honor it.
To get to Kirk, he must first get to the most dangerous man
Doctor Leonard McCoy shuffled from the operating theater. He loosed a healthy yawn and stretched, trying to ease a crick in his lower back. He plopped down gratefully on a bench outside the surgical ward.
As near as he could tell, the operation on Jim Kirk had been an unqualified success. The facilities at Starfleet Medical Center had been waiting for him; as soon as the Challenger, with the crippled Enterprise in tow, had safely arrived at Spacedock, McCoy and his medical team had beamed down with Kirk to begin the surgery. It had been years since McCoy had practiced his craft anywhere except the Sickbay of a starship. It had taken a little getting used to, but he grudgingly had to admit that the Medical Center's facilities were among the finest in the galaxy.
He glanced up. Captain David Garrovick of the U.S.S. Challenger had come into the corridor without making a sound. Either that, or he had dozed off.
"Captain Garrovick. Excuse me for not getting up. I'm dead-dog tired."
Garrovick smiled. "No problem. If you don't mind, I'll sit down myself. I'm bushed, too." Garrovick planted himself on the bench next to McCoy. "How's Jim?"
"He's going to be all right, eventually. I just spent three and a half hours re-routing, rebuilding and replacing nerve fibers in his spinal column. It's one hundred percent, but the spinal cord is an extremely delicate area. It'll take quite some time for the trauma of his injury and the operation to subside."
"Will he walk again?"
"Yes, he will--eventually. He'll need a good deal of therapy; he's going to have to re-train that new network of nerve fibers how to walk all over again. And he'll need a cane for a while. But, knowing Jim Kirk, if I tell him it'll take six weeks to recover, he'll do it in three!"
Garrovick grinned tiredly. "He's always been a stubborn son of a bitch!"
"You're right about that, Captain." McCoy hesitated, "Now I've got a question for you. What do you think will happen when Starfleet brass and the Federation Council get a hold of him?"
Garrovick's face fell. "Come on. You already know the answer to that, Doctor McCoy."
"Guess I do," McCoy allowed ruefully. "I was hopin' maybe you'd tell me something different, that's all."
"It doesn't matter that we saved a lot of people from dying and broke the Klingons' hold over Serenidad. Jim went against direct orders by attacking the Targa, and he got the Enterprise blown out from under him--and got a lot of people killed and injured in the process. And, Doctor, despite the fact that I agree with his intentions, it was still a damned reckless thing to do. If the Challenger hadn't been there..."
"The Enterprise would have been lost with all hands," McCoy murmured.
"And Princess Teresa and the other resistance fighters would be dead now," Garrovick added. "Believe me, I'll do anything I can to help him, but ship's logs don't lie. There are a few people in Starfleet Command and on the Federation Council who would love to see Jim Kirk slip and fall on his ass. They are going to be all over him."
"Yeah, I think I know who you're talkin' about," McCoy grated. "They love to kick a man when he's down. What about you?"
Garrovick rubbed his eyes. "Not sure yet. Rumor has it they're going to go easier on me. I saw the Enterprise under attack and went to her aid, while Jim initiated his attack." He stood up. "If you don't mind, Doctor, I'm going to get cleaned up and turn in. Thanks for the condition report."
"Don't mention it," McCoy returned. "Turning in sounds like a good idea. I think I'll check on Jim and call it a night myself, provided I can find someone to direct me to my quarters--or cell, whichever the case may be."
Garrovick laughed and waved as he headed down the corridor. McCoy turned back into the operating ward. The doctor plodded down the halls until he came to the Intensive Care Unit.
Three men stood outside Kirk's room. Their leader, a tall black man, was obviously a Starfleet officer, but he sported a uniform like none McCoy had ever seen. He wore fluted, blue-black trousers with a bright yellow stripe down the outside of each leg, black leather boots, and a burgundy/scarlet jacket festooned with insignia and badges. The other two were security guards; the black helmets and body armor were the same as what he was familiar with, but they, too, wore burgundy/scarlet under their protective gear. They all reminded him of holopix he had seen of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Must've changed the uniforms again while we were out hoppin' galaxies, McCoy though sourly. Worse than a damned fashion show.
The leader had been arguing with one of his nurses, but now he turned and strode toward McCoy. "Doctor McCoy, I'm Admiral Harold Morrow, Chief Adjutant to Commander Starfleet Nogura," the black man said, his tone terse.
"How do you do?"
Morrow ignored the pleasantry. "Your nurse informs me that only Medical personnel are permitted in the ward. I have orders to put an around-the-clock, two-man guard on Captain Kirk."
"Why, Admiral?" McCoy asked. "He won't be goin' anywhere for quite a while."
"I have my orders," Morrow persisted. "Rules are rules."
"That so?" McCoy retorted. "Well, I'm the boss here, and I say no redshirts."
Morrow's eyes widened. "Are you questioning my authority, Doctor?"
"Not at all, Admiral," McCoy answered evenly. "I'm just tellin' you to take your goons and get the hell out of here."
The adjutant looked as if he would explode. He whirled to the security guards. "Doctor McCoy is under arrest for obstructing a Starfleet officer in the performance of his duty. Take him away!"
"I'd like to see you try!" McCoy bristled.
"All right, gentlemen. That's enough."
The voice was soft, but it carried a hint of steel. The two security men snapped to attention and saluted as Morrow composed himself with alacrity.
McCoy only said, "Hello, 'Chiro."
"Leonard. Been a while." Commanding Admiral Heihachiro Nogura turned to Morrow. "Harry, why don't you and your friends get some air?"
Morrow stiffened. "With all due respect, sir, I am quite capable of handling Doctor McCoy."
"I know you are," Nogura said. "Now...why don't you get some air?"
Something flickered in Nogura's almond eyes. Morrow knew better than to question his superior officer again. He motioned to the security guards, and the three of them left without further comment.
"You'll have to excuse Harry, Leonard. He's ambitious and eager to please, and he's trying to make a big impression. I'm grooming him to be the Commanding Admiral of Starfleet when I step down."
"I can hardly wait."
Nogura chuckled. "He's a good man. Don't let first impressions fool you." He ran a hand through his leonine shock of white hair. "I've got to post a guard outside Jim's room."
"Why, 'Chiro?" McCoy asked. "Hell, it'll be days before Jim can even get out of bed, and then he'll need a cane just to get to the bathroom."
"I know. I'm sorry, but the orders are from on high."
Nogura nodded. "Jim is in deep trouble. There's talk about civil and criminal prosecution in addition to the Starfleet charges. On top of that, the Klingons have sworn out a warrant to begin extradition proceedings. The guard is for his own protection, too!"
"Yes. They're after Jim's scalp. They're still sticking to their story that Serenidad was sovereign Klingon territory, and that we were the aggressors."
"What?! That's the biggest load of bull I've ever heard!" McCoy exclaimed. "Princess Teresa was tortured into signing that agreement--I saw what they had done to her!"
"Jim's going to have to prove he knew in advance that the Klingons were there illegally."
"Of course he knew..."
"Did any of you actually see the Klingons torture the Princess?" Nogura interrupted.
"No," McCoy admitted. "But Spock mind-melded with Teresa to bring her out of a comatose state. He actually experienced all that happened to her, and I saw the gruesome things those bastards did to her when I repaired her injuries."
The commanding admiral sighed. "I'm afraid that won't be good enough, Leonard. You know how nit-picky Council is these days. Remember how they dragged their feet during the Daystrom affair?"
McCoy shook his head. "After all Jim has done for Starfleet and the Federation over the years, I can't believe they're howling for his blood like this."
"Things have changed. They don't follow the same philosophy they did when I joined up--or even when you did. Too many political opportunists."
"But what about you personally, 'Chiro? You're Commander Starfleet. Can't you do anything for him."
Nogura lowered his eyes. "I'll do what I can. Jim is my friend. He is probably the finest starship captain I've ever known, but facts are facts. He disobeyed a direct order by going in over Serenidad, and they are after his hide."
"All right then." McCoy's jaw tightened. "What's going to happen to him?"
"Best scenario--he gets a slap on the wrist and a ground assignment with a reinstatement to his full rank of Rear Admiral. Worst..." Nogura hesitated. "Worst, he gets a court-martial, gets drummed out of the service, and goes to prison. Either way, he's finished as a starship commander."
"You know what that'll do to him, Admiral," McCoy grated. "Why don't you just execute him?"
Anger flashed in Nogura's eyes, but he held his temper in check. "That's all I've got to say on this subject, Commander," he said flatly. "Now--a guard will be posted outside Captain Kirk's room. As for you, you'll be expected to appear with Captain Garrovick at a debriefing in the Council President's chamber one hour from now."
"Tonight?" McCoy asked in disbelief. "Have a heart, 'Chiro! We just got in from Serenidad, and I just finished three and a half hours of surgery. I'm dead on my feet!"
"I'm sorry, Leonard. Even though you're medical staff, you are the only command grade officer from the Enterprise in any condition to testify about what happened on Serenidad."
"But I wasn't even on the ship!" McCoy protested.
"Just the same, Council wants to hear what you have to say. You can go to your quarters, clean up and change before the session."
"I don't even know where my quarters are."
"Lieutenant Sheppard from security will escort you to your room, and then to the Council chambers."
"Oh, that's okay," McCoy said. "I'll be able to find my way to the chambers once I know where my room is."
"Lieutenant Sheppard will escort you to the Council chambers," Nogura repeated, his tone almost apologetic.
McCoy was silent. He cocked one eyebrow, and the corners of his mouth crinkled in amusement. "Am I under arrest, 'Chiro?"
"I wouldn't call it that."
"What would you call it, then?" McCoy persisted.
"Protective custody." Nogura pressed a button on his wrist communicator. A tall, oaken young man in security gear entered the ward and saluted. "Lieutenant Sheppard, this is Doctor Leonard McCoy," Nogura said. "Would you please take him to his quarters?"
"Yes, sir." Sheppard turned to McCoy. "Would you follow me, please, sir?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"No, sir," Sheppard replied succinctly.
Nogura smiled in spite of himself. "See you in an hour, Leonard."
"Should be fun," McCoy returned sourly. He followed the hulking redshirt out of the ward, through of the hospital complex, and into the residence quarters. They walked in silence until Sheppard stopped in front of a door near the end of a short branch corridor.
"Yours, sir. I'll be waiting outside if you need anything."
"Don't hold your breath," McCoy muttered. He stepped inside, slipping off his uniform tunic even as he walked. If he showered and shaved quickly enough, he might have time for a quick bite at the mess hall before the inquiry began. The rumbling in his stomach reminded him he was famished.
Ever efficient, the Starfleet services staff had already stowed his gear from the Enterprise. His room was a generic copy of every other 'fleet dorm room he had ever seen. Sleek, antiseptically clean, the room held a single, semi-comfortable bunk, a bureau/desk, three chairs, and a holovid unit mounted in the wall opposite the bed. 'Starfleet Hilton'--that's what the Academy wags had dubbed it in his time. He wondered if the kids today still called it that.
McCoy smeared a depilatory cream on his face, which evaporated--along with his stubble--by the time he got into the shower. He made it a quick one. The hot water and sonics felt wonderful, but he wanted to have a little time to wind down before the debriefing. He needed to be as sharp as he could. Jim Kirk was in trouble, and he had to help in any way possible.
As he stepped from the shower stall, McCoy was somehow not surprised to see a uniform styled like Morrow's "mountie suit" form over him. He regarded himself clinically in a mirror. Not bad, although it'll take some getting used to. He straightened the collar of his medical green turtleneck. The uniform jacket was sharp, but the whole effect was very military. All I need now is a sled and a dog team, and I'm ready to go, he thought.
He stepped out into the hallway, where Sheppard awaited him. "That was quick, sir."
"I thought I'd get something to eat first, Lieutenant--if that's okay, I mean."
"No problem," Sheppard returned. "Mess is on the way to Council chambers. I won't be eating, sir, but I'll stand at your table while you do."
"Wonderful," McCoy grumbled.
They walked on, and Sheppard lapsed back into silence. Silence is golden, eh, Sheppard? McCoy thought.
"Tell me something, Lieutenant," the physician said. "When did these new uniforms make their debut?"
"About two months ago, sir."
"Is everyone in Starfleet wearing them?"
"Just about. Science vessel and cargo ship personnel won't be using the vests and jackets full time. Some ships that have been out in the field a long time are still wearing the old style. Otherwise, just about everyone else has 'em."
"Mounties," McCoy mumbled.
"Beg your pardon, sir?" the security guard asked.
They arrived at the mess hall. It was mostly deserted. McCoy programmed a medium-rare steak with trimmings, potato, salad and iced tea. Sheppard went through the line with him, but ordered nothing. He followed McCoy to a table and took up residence standing directly across from the physician. It made McCoy decidedly uncomfortable; he felt as if he were being stared at. He sliced a couple of small pieces of the steak, then put down his knife and fork.
"Do you have to stand right there, Lieutenant?"
"Couldn't you at least sit?"
McCoy sighed in exasperation. "I don't suppose I could bribe you to just leave?"
"No, sir. You go right ahead and eat, sir. Don't let me bother you."
"Mounties," McCoy growled disgustedly.
If Sheppard heard him this time, he decided to make no
Kamarag was furious.
"You are harboring a murderer, Mister President!" the Kh'myr ambassador raged. "Kirk was responsible for the deaths of over twelve hundred Klingon nationals during the Serenidad incident alone--not to mention the thousands of others he has destroyed in the past! He is an obstacle to any serious discussions we might have concerning peace between our respective governments!"
The President of the United Federation of Planets regarded the belligerent Klingon over steepled fingertips. "All the facts have yet to be ascertained, Ambassador Kamarag," the President sighed. "Until they are, I can make no final decision about Captain Kirk's fate. We shall have to wait until the whole truth is disclosed."
"The truth?!" Kamarag bellowed. "You call me a liar? The truth is clear to anyone who is not blind! James T. Kirk invaded Serenidad, a sovereign Klingon territory, against your direct orders!"
"That is open to debate, Ambassador. Captain Kirk maintains he had knowledge that the ruler of Serenidad was coerced under torture to deed the planet to your Empire; therefore, the pact with the Federation was still in effect. And yes, Kirk did disobey direct orders. He has done so before. But our starship captains are granted a great deal of latitude if they are in possession of information which may alter their situation."
"Latitude?! Does this latitude allow them to commit murder in the name of the Federation?"
"Murder--no," the President replied. "But they are instructed to use all force necessary to defend themselves and their ships." He glanced at his wrist chronometer. "It is late, Ambassador Kamarag. I must attend a briefing in main council with officers from the Enterprise and the Challenger. If you will excuse me?"
The President rose from behind his desk, but Kamarag clamped his elbow in a vise-like grip. For a wild moment, the Human feared that his alien visitor might attack. But there was an unexpected, almost desperate urgency in the Klingon's eyes that gave the President a pause.
"My government is contemplating war with the Federation. It was all I could do to convince them to let me attempt to settle this misunderstanding through diplomatic channels."
Kamarag leaned in close. His eyes burned like twin amber coals. "Do not tarry, Mister President," his hissed. "Do not go down in history as the man who brought forth Armageddon!"
The Klingon spun on his heel; his heavy robed whirled about him as he strode from the room.
The President stood rooted behind his desk for long moments after Kamarag had exited. The Ambassador's warning had left a chill in the pit of his stomach. Every day, he lived with the knowledge that the slightest miscue could trigger the Ultimate War, a war that would mean the end of existence. Some days the burden was worse than others, and he found himself questioning his own abilities as a peacemaker and guardian of the Federation.
Today had been such a day.
He hated debriefings. In all his years with Starfleet, he could honestly say he had never attended one that had been his idea of 'fun.'
This one had been no exception. The Federation Council and Commanding Admiral Nogura's staff seemed to want Kirk's blood as much as the Klingons did. Especially Sheridan. The man was talking about sending Jim to Alcatraz, for Christ's sake!
Leonard McCoy shook his head. He and Garrovick and Nogura had been the lone voices raised in defense. Thank God for Nogura! His commanding presence and authority had almost evened the odds.
But even he had to back down on one irrefutable fact: Kirk had broken orders of the highest sort by taking the Serenidad situation in his own hands.
And for that he would have to pay.
The President had been non-committal and neutral, as he should. When everyone was finally talked out, he had thanked them and left the chambers.
McCoy trudged wearily down the connecting corridor to his quarters. He had not spoken to his watchdog, Sheppard, during the entire walk back to his room, and he did not say goodnight now. His mind was too heavy, too full of thoughts, for casual chatter. But then, the big security guard was as laconic as a statue anyway, so he probably would not take offense. The doors hissed shut behind him. McCoy gratefully peeled of his "mountie" uniform and tossed it in the recycle chute. Thank God I took a shower before, he thought. I can't keep my eyes open any more.
He dropped into bed clad only in his shorts and immediately started drifting off to sleep when his computer alarm clock buzzed like a red-alert klaxon. McCoy sat bolt upright in bed. "0530 hours," it announced.
Reveille had sounded.
"Computer off!" McCoy snarled groggily.
He felt as though he had not even yet gone to sleep.
The icy needle spray of the hydrosonics did the trick. After the desired effect had been achieved, a shivering McCoy adjusted the water temperature to a more normal range.
He closed his eyes as he turned off the water and let the sonics takeover. Lord, he was tired--and not just in the physical sense. If he didn't do something soon, it would begin to affect his performance, and that was something he would not tolerate from anyone, not even himself.
McCoy came to a decision.
He would prescribe a medical leave for himself once this whole mess was over. He needed it. He had a lot of things to sort out, and he couldn't do that here.
But for now, he had some patients to attend to.
He deactivated the shower, and a green turtleneck and medical whites formed over him as he exited. He had a busy day ahead of him. No doubt his guardian angel, Lieutenant Sheppard, was waiting for him in the corridor.
He wasn't ready for that yet.
McCoy sat down at his computer terminal. "Computer, give
me a hard copy printout of my schedule for today, and a condition update on the following
patients: Kirk, Captain James T.; Spock, Commander; Scott, Commander Mont..."
"It doesn't look good, Jim."
Areel Shaw glanced over her notes on his case, a frown knitting her features. She had been appointed by the Starfleet Judge Advocate's Office to represent Kirk at his hearing.
She had been handed a bucketful of bees.
"They want your head on a platter. Sheridan's screaming the loudest, and the rest of them usually fall in line behind him. The old 'squeaky wheel' theory. Nogura's in your corner, though, at least tacitly. That's a plus. He can usually get the President's ear."
"What about the rest of the Council?" Kirk asked.
Shaw snorted. "They bend whichever way the wind blows. Right now the general consensus is 'off with his head,' so they've all got thumbs down. If that changes, they'll be cheering you on and saying what a great guy you are."
"So what's the verdict, Counselor?"
She paused, collecting her thoughts. "I think I can make them back off on criminal and civil charges; there really aren't any grounds for them. The court-martial is going to be harder. I've got to make them see what an asset you are to Starfleet, call upon your 'inestimable record' for support. I could probably get you a ground assignment."
"So either way, I lose," Kirk murmured. "They court-martial me; I'm out of the 'fleet. They don't court-martial me; I'm grounded. But I lose the Enterprise in both cases.
Shaw lowered her eyes.
He sank back in his pillow. Fatigue and medication were taking their toll. His eyelids fluttered wearily. "Areel...I did what I had to do," he mumbled. "I'd do it again."
She sighed. "You disobeyed orders."
"I repelled an invasion of Federation territory."
"Whatever," she said softly. "You'll never change, will you? I believe you thought what you were doing was right, and I imagine most thinking people do, too. You've got to convince the Admiralty, though."
"Won't...be easy, will...it?" he asked with a weak grin. He was almost asleep.
Shaw watched as he drifted off. It was so hard to see him again, especially like this--hooked up to machines and monitors, doped to the gills. When the assignment came through, she told herself she wouldn't let herself get involved again, even while part of her hoped he'd have to stay on Terra so she could see him more often.
Not now. This was not the time to be thinking about this. Besides, the grapevine said he had something going with a Commander Cheryl Saunders, the Security Chief of Starbase 27 on Trylias. A couple of holodisks had come in for him from Starbase 27, so Areel guessed that the rumors were true.(1)
Oh well, Counselor, she thought. Win a few, lose a few--just like the lawyer game.
She came around to the side of his bed, bent down and quickly kissed him. Then she hurried from the room before her emotions became too much for her.
There was so much to do. Stevens would be arriving on Serenidad about now. He had a computer that was capable of doing a N-V scan, and he was going to get a deposition from Princess Teresa. That would help their case a lot; at least they could prove the princess was forced to sign a pact with the Klingons. Now they just had to prove Jim Kirk knew that. Piece of cake, right?
She sighed. Might as well try to prove the Earth was flat, or pigs could fly.
Areel Shaw hurried down the corridor to the slidewalk that
would transport her to the Judge Advocate's Office.
We've been invaded by the mounties, Leonard McCoy reflected.
There were redshirts here and there, in the ward, and his own personal shadow, Lieutenant Sheppard, trailed him as he made his rounds.
At least he didn't follow him into the bathroom!
McCoy strolled up to Jim Kirk's door. The two brawny security guards eyed him for a moment, then let him pass. Sheppard followed.
The physician paused before Kirk's bed, checking the diagnostics panel. Everything looked good, but he wanted to check for himself.
His patient's eyes fluttered groggily open. "Bones..."
"Morning," McCoy said. "How do you feel?"
"Fuzzy," Kirk responded. "Bones...about what I said back in Sickbay...I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Forget it." McCoy scraped his clipboard stylus along the bottom of Kirk's left foot, then the right one, and was gratified by the reaction. "How'd that feel?"
Kirk flashed a tired grin. "Tickled," he replied. "But I can feel it."
"That's good," McCoy said. "Now, see if you can wiggle your toes--first the left foot, then the right."
Kirk complied, vigorously wriggling his toes for the beaming physician. "What's the prognosis, Doctor?"
"Well, the operation seems to have been a complete success. You won't be running any relay races for a while, but I'd say you're going to be fine, Captain. You'll need a cane for a while, but there's no reason you can't resume your normal activities."
"Like sitting behind a desk--or in a cell?" Kirk stared challengingly at Sheppard, but the security guard just stood impassively behind McCoy.
"I had to attend a debriefing last night," McCoy put in. "You have--how shall I put this?--pissed a few people off."
"And I thought Spock was the only one with a gift for understatement," Kirk said, smiling. "A representative from the Starfleet Judge Advocate's office was already here this morning and filled me in."
"Who's defending you?"
Kirk brightened. "One of the best. You have, of course, heard of Areel Shaw?"
McCoy grinned. "Well, well! Defending the good guy this time, eh?"
"Let's hope so," Kirk replied softly. "I don't think Starfleet will be backing down this time."
"I think they're going to take her from me, Bones," Kirk said softly. "I'll end up with a ground assignment. That's how the 'fleet works."
McCoy gripped Kirk's shoulder. "Everything will work out, Jim, you'll see," he said, surprised at how hollow the words sounded even to himself. "You get some rest now."
"Right, Bones," Kirk said. "See you later."
McCoy turned to leave, bumping into Sheppard. Irritated, he stepped around the bulky guard and strode from the room.
Everything will be all right, Jim, sure, McCoy thought. Kirk knew what was in store for him. Even if he won, he lost. He would be grounded and, as McCoy had argued after the five year mission, that was a fate worse than death for a man like James T. Kirk.
Sheppard dogged his steps, silent and unsmiling. He was really becoming a proverbial pain in the neck.
With a wicked grin, McCoy suddenly decided he needed to find
the nearest lavatory.
Yves Gervais was perplexed.
He rewound the commdisk, played it back yet again. There was no video signal, just an audio-feed of a very familiar voice.
"Yves, this is Drew. I'm sorry to play cloak and dagger with you, but I've stumbled onto something big. I can't call you on standard channels; the wrong people might be listening."
There was a slight hesitation, then, "I'm scared, Yves. I need your help. I've gotten hold of information that could clean up that viper's nest in the Romulan Embassy. Those so-called diplomats and ambassadors are nothing but a bunch of military agents dedicated to destroying Starfleet and the Federation from within. I've got names of people they have placed in our ranks. Yves, you'd be appalled at how many, and who, they are! I'm not equipped to handle this, Yves. I'm going to turn the whole mess over to you. Come to Telegraph Hill Tube Car Terminal Number Five in the Old City at midnight. I'll explain it all then."
Gervais hit the eject button on his commdisk deck. Interesting--and puzzling. It could be a trap. The abandoned tube car station in the Old City Historical Sector was the perfect place for an ambush.
But it was a risk worth taking. His computer had verified that it was Drew Sheridan's voice on the disk, to a .986 probability factor, which was as close as he could hope for. The disk had been recorded on a home-use comm deck--like the one Sheridan owned. Besides, if it was a trap, he knew how to handle himself. If there was even an outside chance of getting to the Romulans, he was willing to take it.
He'd do just about anything to get that alien scum off Earth.
Gervais rose from behind his desk. It was twenty-three twenty-five standard; still plenty of time. He changed quickly into civilian clothes--a black jumpsuit with a black, great cloak that would allow him to blend into the night. And one last item.
The security chief unlocked a desk drawer. Inside was a Mark V blaster. It was only slightly larger than a standard-issue phaser II pistol, but much more powerful--and a lot messier.
Gervais holstered the weapon. Maybe Sheridan had finally gotten hold of something useful. For years, Sheridan had thirsted for revenge against the Romulans for the death of his wife and sons. Perhaps his intense, single-minded hatred had finally paid dividends. Gervais hurried from his office, dropping the comm disk in a recycle chute as he left.
The aircab set him down just outside the perimeter of the Historical Sector. he would walk the rest of the way; it wasn't far. He paid the driver and set out into the night.
Gervais strode through clinging tendrils of low-lying fog, his pace steady, unhurried. His footsteps echoed in the tomb-like silence of the empty streets. Two hundred years ago, this area had bustled with activity, the center of a thriving transporter hub. Now it was obsolete, a ghost town--albeit a well-preserved ghost town, as the Bureau of History meticulously maintained the sector.
And somewhere up ahead waited...what? There lay the low, squat terminal buildings. He checked the numbers on the platforms as he walked.
Terminal Five--and he had arrived not a moment too soon. Somewhere out in the Old City a clock tower chimed the stroke of midnight. Gervais surreptitiously unholstered his weapon, keeping it out of sight under his cape. Now he would wait to see what happened.
A huge shape, tall, hooded blackness, moved in the shadows. It was humanoid, and very fast. Even as Gervais swung his blaster around, a sharp pain numbed his right wrist. Something like a runaway earth mover slammed into him, knocking him clear across the boarding platform. The blaster clattered over the deck and disappeared into the darkness.
Cursing himself as a hundred kinds of fool, Gervais frantically tried to rise on wobbly limbs. But his assailant moved in with a blur of speed. Great muscled arms encircled Gervais in a crushing bear hug. The security chief cried out. He could not draw breath against that inexorable, constricting strength; he was blacking out, and was certain his spine would snap at any second. Desperately, drawing on some inner reserve of strength, he smashed his balled fists against what he thought were the humanoid's ears.
His ploy only served to enrage his attacker. A knee to the groin brought tears to Gervais' eyes, a brutal head-butt delivered by a thick skull sent him reeling down into oblivion. He collapsed on the platform and did not move again.
The victor stood triumphantly over Gervais' prone form. He peeled back the concealing cowl of his cloak, revealing his face to the empty terminal.
Talan grinned crookedly, rubbing his ringing ears. By Kahless, the scrawny little Earther has spunk! But the outcome of their struggle had never been in doubt.
The Kh'myr dragged the unconscious Gervais to his feet, letting the Human sag against him. There was much to do, and little time to do it.
Talan pulled a communicator from the folds of his robe and raised it to his lips. "jol yIchu'," he growled.(2)
Bright, shimmery, red light blossomed in the darkness. When
it faded, the tube car platform was empty and silent again.
"His vitals are strong, Doctor McCoy," M'Benga reported. "I don't understand why he hasn't come out of it yet."
"Has he said anything to you--even something incoherent?" McCoy asked.
"No, sir, nothing." M'Benga shook his head.
McCoy glanced down at Spock, then leaned close to the prone Vulcan on the diagnostic bed. "Spock--you're going to have to come out of it, damn it! You don't need this anymore. You've repaired the damage as much as you can."
"I've seen this only once before," M'Benga said softly. "Several years ago on Vulcan, a young male who had unintentionally killed his mate during pon farr, refused to come out a healing trance."
"His life functions...ceased after a while."
McCoy turned to M'Benga. "Let me talk to him, Ben. Can you leave us for a while?"
"Of course." M'Benga sighed, rubbing his eyes. "At this point, I'm willing to try anything." He left the room, leaving orders for the security guards outside that no one was to enter the room without McCoy's permission.
The doors hissed shut, leaving McCoy to his devices. "Damn it, Spock, what's wrong with you? You're as healthy as you're gonna get. Nature will take you the rest of the way. It's time to come out of it--now." His eyes narrowed. "Or...maybe you can't?"
There was no answer, but McCoy thought he detected the glimmer of a frown. Good. Maybe he was starting to reach the Vulcan. But he had to do more than that.
McCoy pulled Spock up, slapped him hard across the face. "C'mon, Spock, snap out of it! I know we're not supposed to start beltin' you until you start regaining consciousness, but I don't think you'll make it on your own!"
He slapped Spock again. Tears ran down the Vulcan's face.
Spock spoke, but his voice whimpered and broke. "Oh, Mother Mary," he sobbed. "Why haven't you stopped these monsters? They have tortured me and defiled me. I've been a good girl. Why have you deserted me?"
McCoy's blood froze. Teresa! Spock was reliving her ordeal in the Klingon bunker.
The Vulcan's mind was locked in the meld he had used to erase Teresa's memories of her torture! How was he going to bring the Vulcan back?
"No! No more--please! Not down there! Don't use your pain disk..."
Spock's tremulous pleas segued into an ear-splitting scream that raised McCoy's hackles. "N-n-n-no-o m-m-more! Don't kill C-Carlos, and please don't h-hurt me anymore! I'll sign your p-paper! I'll do anything you want!"
"Spock!" McCoy shouted. "Spock, let go of it! You've got to come back now, Spock!"
He struck open-handed across the Vulcan's face, again and again and again.
Spock's arm lashed out, knocking McCoy clear across the room. He leaped from the bed, advancing on the fallen physician with murder in his eyes.
Then he hesitated, blinked once, twice, as his senses returned. "What is this place?" he queried, his voice hoarse.
McCoy painfully hauled himself to his feet. "Starfleet Medical Center, Spock. You were in a healing trance."
"I...remember the ambush." An eyebrow quirked. "Jim?"
"He's all right. We had to do some spinal surgery, but he'll be fine." He gripped Spock's elbow and steered the Vulcan toward the bunk, wincing at the stab of agony in his left arm where the Vulcan had struck him. "C'mon, Spock, back to bed. You're weak from the trace." Except for your left hook, he thought, as another pain lanced through his forearm.
Surprisingly, Spock did not resist. "For once, Doctor, I am forced to agree with you," he said, and he sank wearily and gratefully back down on the bed. "Doctor McCoy, I...thank you, Doctor. During the healing trance, my subconscious memories of Princess Teresa's ordeal overwhelmed me. My conscious mind was trapped in the meld. Had you not revived me, I would have relived her torture over and over--for as long as I could have survived the pain."
"No thanks necessary, Spock," McCoy said, then, in his best Vulcan imitation: "I simply did not wish to see Starfleet lose the services of such a highly skilled science officer."
Spock allowed himself the barest ghost of a smile at that, then his expression grew solemn. "Doctor, Princess Teresa's fortitude and courage are phenomenal. I find it difficult to believe that a Human could have survived a night of such terrible torture. She is an exceptional individual."
"You're right, Spock," McCoy murmured. "She is exceptional. Now--you get some sleep. Doctor's orders."
Spock was barely able to nod. McCoy stayed until the diagnostic panels assured him the Vulcan was asleep, despite his open eyes. Satisfied, the physician turned away and left the room.
An anxious M'Benga waited in the corridor with Lieutenant Sheppard. "What was going on in there?" M'Benga asked. "I'm used to a commotion when a Vulcan emerges from a healing trance, but that was a bit much."
"Spock was having trouble coming out of it. I helped him, that's all." McCoy gasped aloud, "Ben, do you still work on Humans?"
"They're not my specialty, but I can manage. What's wrong?"
"I'm pretty sure he broke my left arm," McCoy answered, his face pinched with pain. "Pointy-eared son-of-a-bitch! I didn't get hurt at Serenidad. I guess he didn't want me to feel left out."
M'Benga stifled a grin. "Right this way, Doctor--or should I say, 'patient'? You've got to move fast. When they come out of a trance, they often come out of it swinging."
"Beats me why anybody'd want to specialize in Vulcan medicine," McCoy grumbled as M'Benga guided him toward an examination room. "Damned painful way to make a living. Wouldn't you say, Sheppard?"
"Wouldn't know, sir," the taciturn security guard offered.
"'Course you wouldn't."
M'Benga chuckled. "I had my jaw broken once--by a woman,
no less. It was fifteen years ago. I was interning on Vulcan, and..."
"I need your help, Admiral."
The President of the United Federation of Planets kept his back to his midnight visitor. His eyes were focused somewhere far away, far beyond the spectacular view of city lights dancing on San Francisco Bay. Then he sighed and turned to face Commander-Starfleet Nogura.
"I have to reach a decision about Serenidad. Public support for Kirk is overwhelming, both here and on the other member worlds. And I understand that Counselor Shaw is obtaining a deposition from Princess Teresa herself that will corroborate Kirk's story. The Klingons were on Serenidad illegally, which means Kirk repelled an invasion of Federation territory."
"Which means Jim Kirk is a hero again," Nogura stated. "But you still have a problem."
The President nodded. "He's a hero who disobeyed orders. If he's court-martialed, though, the members of the Federation might lose faith in our promise to protect them. If Kirk hadn't acted, I can see that they might think we would have abandoned Serenidad to the Klingons."
"But if you let him off scot-free..."
"It will seem as though we're condoning such maverick behavior and encouraging every officer in the 'fleet to interpret orders in his or her own fashion. Somehow, Kirk must be punished without being punished, and rewarded without being rewarded."
"You mean you want him taken off the line and kicked upstairs." Nogura sighed. "I wonder, Mister President. Jim Kirk is the finest starship captain ever to sit in the center seat. He belongs there. I didn't fully realize it myself 'til this whole mess happened. He did the right thing, even if he did it the wrong way."
The President shook his head. "I'm sorry. If we let him command another ship, it could very well trigger a war with the Klingon Empire. They want him out of space. He is their single most-hated enemy. I cannot and will not risk an interstellar war." He sat down behind his desk, rubbing his eyes. "I leave the final decision to you."
"Passing the buck, Mister President?" Nogura's voice was soft, but bitter.
The President's head snapped up. His eyes flashed with anger, but he was too weary to channel the emotion into his voice. "It's very easy to look down one's nose at the Council," he murmured. "I know how we're regarded by the Admiralty--even by you. Just remember this: we ultimately carry the responsibility of maintaining peace in the Galaxy. If I make a mistake, it's all over for everybody!"
Nogura hesitated. For the first time, he noticed how tired, how haggard and drawn the President appeared. He thought back to his days as a starship captain. The burden he carried then, the responsibility for the lives of 430 crewmembers, staggered and overwhelmed him at times, but it paled in comparison with his duties as the Commanding Admiral of Starfleet.
How much heavier, then, must the President's onus be?
"Forgive me, Mister President. I suppose we all get so caught up with our own problems that it's very easy to overlook what someone else has to deal with. I'm sure the Admiralty can arrive at a satisfactory solution to Kirk's problem."
The President managed a wan smile. "Thank you, Admiral. That's one less thing I have to worry about. Now if I can just find a way to deal with Klingons..."
"I'm sure you'll come up with something, sir. Perhaps a good night's sleep would help a great deal. Why don't you go on home? There's nobody else here at this hour anyway."
The President chuckled. "You're still here. I saw Gervais skulking around in the corridors half an hour ago."
"Touché," Nogura returned sheepishly. "Well, anyway, from one workaholic to another: go home! That's what I'm going to do."
"I just might take your advice, Admiral. Good night."
"'Night, sir." Nogura turned and left the chamber with his long, easy, catlike stride.
Home? thought the President. Home was a cold, empty luxury apartment near the old Fisherman's Wharf Historical Sector, surrounded by a squad of Starfleet security troops. He had to beam in and out of the place--it was too risky to allow the President of the United Federation of Planets to travel by conventional means.
No, home is really right here in this office. He
swiveled around in his chair and returned to his view of the city lights.
Why don't they let me alone? What do they want? Oh, God, my head hurts!
Who? Who is that?
"Yves. Yves Gervais. Have you thought about what I asked you before?"
The codes! No, don't think about them! Don't think...
Somehow the pain grew even worse. A hoarse scream ripped itself free of his throat.
"I know it hurts, Yves, but if you fight it, it'll only get worse. I don't want you to be in pain, Yves. I just want to visit Captain Kirk. If you just give me the codes, I can go see him, and I can make the pain go away."
Oh, yes, please! Head hurts so bad! Make it go away...
An instant of lucidity pierced his fog of agony and confusion. Klingons had him! Dirty filthy alien creeps were sifting his mind, wanted security codes. Wanted to kill Kirk!
"You Klingon baaaastarrrdsss!" Gervais managed to scream aloud. "I won't tell y-you anything. You'll have to kill me--AARRRGGGHHH!!!"
Mind-sifter Technician Xand increased the intensity of the scanner. "He is a difficult one, Talan. He is using some kind of interrogation inhibiting techniques--part of his security training, no doubt."
Talan cursed. "I must know how to get at Kirk! Oh, the things we could learn from him if we only had the time and did not have to concern ourselves with his health!" He came to a decision. "Probe deep and swiftly, Xand. I'm afraid we'll have to wait for another day to learn all about the inner workings of Starfleet security. But I must have Kirk!"
Gervais writhed in the mind-sifter chair. Sweat poured down his contorted face, stung his eyes.
Surely he cannot resist much longer, Talan thought.
Xand thrust the force dial to maximum.
A ragged shriek shattered the silence. Needles of red-hot pain seared Gervais' brain, sheets of white flame danced before his eyes. The thoughts leaped unbidden into his mind. Everything they wanted to know about Kirk--locations, security deployment, override codes--all surged out into the open and onto the mind-sifter's readout screen. Gervais tried to grab hold of them and pull them back, but they skipped through his fingers like globes of quicksilver.
Defeat and despair welled up thickly in his throat as he blacked out...
Talan watched the screen. "Very good, Xand! Well done! This is just the information I need. Now I can..."
"What is the meaning of this outrage?" Ambassador Kamarag hovered in the doorway, hands on hips.
Talan's upper lip curled in a sneer of utter contempt. He bared his teeth in a snarl. "Stay out of this, old one. This concerns you not at all."
"Anything happening inside the walls of this embassy is my concern, Lieutenant Commander Talan!" Kamarag stole a closer look at the mind-sifter victim. His eyes widened. "Kahless protect us--Gervais! By the Lords of Kh'eloz, Talan, you've kidnapped Gervais!! Are you insane?"
"Don't carry on so, Mister Ambassador. I am returning him unharmed, and he'll have no memory of his little visit with us."
"But what are you--"
Talan's eyes flashed. "I told you before, it is no concern of yours. It is a matter of honor. My cell-brother Mord was killed at Serenidad, a situation that was the doing of James T. Kirk."
"You're going to kill him? Kirk? You fool!"
"I warn you, Kamarag! Stay out of this. You are totally out of your depth, rolchIS!"(3)
Whitebeard? This insult can not go unanswered. With a bellow of rage, Kamarag put his head down and charged Talan. But the younger man easily stepped aside. He grabbed one of Kamarag's wrists and brutally twisted his arm up behind his back.
"Another ounce of pressure, and your arm snaps like a rotten twig," Talan hissed in the ambassador's ear. "Now--Xand is going to mind-wipe him, and we are going to beam him back to his office. You will forget this. You never saw anything. I will kill you if you breathe a word of this--understand, rolchIS?"
Talan twisted his arm a little tighter, and Kamarag cried out. "Owww! Damn you, Talan--yes, I understand!"
"Good. Now get out of here."
Talan released Kamarag abruptly. The ambassador stumbled, and Talan planted a boot in his rump and shoved him out into the corridor. Kamarag fell in an unceremonious heap as the doors slid shut behind him.
Inside the interrogation chamber, he could hear the derisive laughter of Talan and Xand, mocking him, taunting him.
Rage boiled in Kamarag's veins. Call me a rolchIS, you young whelp! he thought. You'll see just what this old man is capable of!
If Talan wanted to play games, he could play as well.
Kamarag slowly got to his feet, massaging his injured arm.
Perhaps a little surprise could be arranged for the military attaché...
Something was tickling his nose. Soft, fibrous...
Yves Gervais opened his eyes--a slow, painful process. His head pounded as if an Aldebaran thunderwalker had taken up residence there. His tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth.
He was lying on the floor of his own office.
Gervais shuddered. What am I doing here? He rolled into a sitting position, then got up and staggered over to a couch. He plopped down on it.
He was afraid. Yves Gervais feared nothing in the universe, except being out of control, and he was out of control.
What's happened to me? His desk chronometer read 0235 hours. He could remember nothing past 2300 hours of the previous night. By the way he was dressed, he must have been ready to go somewhere.
But where--and why?
He struggled mightily to remember, but memory eluded him. What's wrong with me? Lacunar amnesia? What caused it? He had passed out, apparently. Why? Have I been drunk? Gervais vehemently ruled that out. No, he never got drunk. Too easy to lose control, too easy for someone to doctor your drink...
What then? Have I fallen? He gingerly probed his forehead with his fingertips, found a tender knot. So--he had struck his head. Maybe that explains my loss of memory. Maybe it'll come back to me after a while.
Tired. God, I'm tired. Sleep could only help me. I'll stay here tonight, sleep in the office.
Gervais sank down on the sofa. "Computer," he rasped. "Set alarm for 0650 hours."
He sighed. Tomorrow he would see a doctor, find the answer to this puzzle. But now, he was exhausted...
He was asleep almost as soon as his eyes closed.
It was not the most brilliant game of chess James T. Kirk had ever played.
Spock studied the Tri-D board just a few seconds before pouncing on a piece and moving it to the third tier. "Checkmate, Captain."
Kirk saluted. "The game is yours, Spock--again."
"If I might be so bold, sir, you were not at your best. Perhaps the fact that the Admiralty's review board is meeting now might explain this."
Kirk suppressed a wry smile. "Perhaps it might, Mister Spock. Perhaps it might."
"Would you care for another game, sir?"
"I don't think so, Spock. My heart's just not in it today. Besides, I'm not a masochist!"
Before the Vulcan could inquire how chess related to suffering, the doors to Kirk's hospital room hissed open.
Leonard McCoy sauntered in. "Who won the chess match--or should I ask?"
"Spock drubbed me pretty good."
"The captain was not performing at his usual peak level," the Vulcan explained. "Under normal circumstances, he is a most formidable opponent. His strategy is illogical, but inspired, and most difficult to defend against."
"Well, here's to illogic," McCoy retorted.
Spock raised an eyebrow, but did not respond otherwise. An awkward silence settled in, dragged on for several long, uncomfortable seconds.
McCoy pulled up a chair and sat down, tense and fidgety. "Damn it all anyway, I hate this waiting! Has anybody heard anything?"
"Not as yet, Doctor," Spock said. "I recorded my testimony this morning under an N-V scan. The review board members were not inclined to volunteer any information regarding their sentiments."
"Teresa...I mean, the Princess recorded an N-V deposition for one of Counselor Shaw's staff," McCoy offered. "That's got to help Jim's case."
"Well, gentlemen. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what they decide, just like everyone else," Kirk put in. "There won't be an official announcement until sometime tomorrow anyway."
McCoy glared at him. "Damn it, Jim, how can you be so calm about this? It's your neck in the noose, not mine, but I'm the one who's doing all the worrying!" He got up and began to pace.
"Worrying is illogical, Doctor," Spock chided. "It is a superfluous activity that wastes energy and does not ultimately affect the outcome of the situation one is worrying about in the first place!"
"Don't lecture to me about logic, you pointy-eared, unfeeling--"
"Easy, Bones. Spock's right; worry doesn't change anything." Kirk stifled a yawn. "Besides, I'm not as calm as you might think."
"Well, I can't believe it's ever gone this far. After all you've done for the Federation, too! I can't believe they'd even consider sending a command grade officer to Alcatraz. That's got to be a bluff."
"On the contrary, Doctor, there is a major precedent. In the year 2268, old calendar, Captain Ronald Tracey of the U.S.S. Exeter was court-martialed and relieved of command for his intervention in the civil war of Omega Four. His actions constituted a major violation of the Prime Directive, and he was the first starship captain to be convicted by a court-martial. He was given a dishonorable discharge from Starfleet and subsequently served a sentence of five years, six months, twenty days on Alcatraz before his parole. Starfleet felt..."
Spock's voice trailed off. McCoy's face was an unusual shade of crimson, and his intense blue eyes were wide and wild. Even Kirk was staring at him with a rather odd expression.
"Of course," Spock continued uncertainly, "Captain Kirk's actions at Serenidad were not of the same magnitude..."
"All right, that's enough!" McCoy cut in. "Jim needs his rest, Spock, and so do you. It'll be a while before those lacerated organs of yours are fully healed, despite your healing trance." He got behind Spock's wheelchair and steered it away from Kirk's bed, favoring his stiff, newly-healed left arm the Vulcan had broken.
"Doctor, this chair is motorized, and I am quite capable of--"
"That's okay, Spock. Me and Sheppard will provide you with an escort back to your room. No, don't thank me," he went on, cutting off the Vulcan's protest. "It's the least I can do."
McCoy turned back at the door. "Call me if you need anything, Jim."
Kirk nodded. The physician wheeled Spock from the room, and he was alone again.
He sank back down into his pillows. Spock's analogy was not that far off. Ronald Tracey, despite his obsession with the "youth agent" of Omega Eridani IV, was sincerely interested in protecting the peaceful Kohms from the barbaric and aggressive Yangs. Tracey could not stand by and watch the slaughter of hundreds of innocents--he had used advanced technology on a primitive planet, killing thousands of Yangs. Perhaps it was the knowledge of the death of his entire crew that had driven Tracey into error, or perhaps it was the age-old quest for the elusive "fountain of youth." But Tracey was wrong; he had made several wrong decisions, and had violated the Prime Directive.
And what of him? Had he made the wrong decision at Serenidad? Should he have done nothing as the Klingons executed Princess Teresa and transformed the planet into a death camp? He had let his heart decide, instead of his head. A starship captain needed the capacity to achieve a balance between compassion and the sometimes distasteful realities of command.
Had he lost that capacity? If he had, then maybe he didn't belong in the center seat anymore.
Kirk closed his eyes.
Three and a half months ago--it seemed like yesterday--he had been on medical leave on the planet Trylias, trying to decide whether to return to starship command, or take a ground assignment--or retire. The pull to just give it all up had been strong. He was tired, burned out from over three hectic years commanding the Enterprise following the V'ger incident. And there was Cheryl Saunders...
In the end, he realized that he needed the life of a starship captain, just as she needed her career. He just needed a rest. He returned to the Enterprise after his leave was over.
Now it seemed as though that decision might be reversed for him.
So, it was in the hands of the Admiralty now. They would soon inform him if his decision had been good or bad, right or wrong. He gingerly nestled in under the covers.
It was going to be a long wait.
"...And in conclusion, I swear that the Klingons had invaded Serenidad, that they were on the planet against my will and the will of the people, and that I was forced to sign the document deeding Serenidad to the Klingon Empire while under torture. I further submit that these facts and events were imparted to Mister Spock, the first officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, via the Vulcan mind-meld.
"I swear once again that I am Teresa Morales de la Vega, Crown Princess of the sovereign planet Serenidad."
The wall viewer in Admiral Heihachiro Nogura's chambers froze on the image of the beautiful young woman with haunted eyes. The assembly sat in stunned silence. Watching the N-V holotape of Princess Teresa's testimony had been harrowing, unpleasant. Often during the course of her twenty-plus minute statement, she had been on the verge of tears as she recounted the horrors to which she had been forced to submit by the Klingon war party.
Nogura finally swiveled around to face the other members of the Board. "Well?"
It seemed an eternity before anyone spoke. Finally, Torvaal, head of Logistics Support, found his voice. "In light of Princess Teresa's deposition and the testimony of Commander Spock, I think it would be inadvisable to press for a court-martial," he said. "Kirk has relied on Spock's advice in the past. It's one of his prerogatives as a ship's captain."
Nogura surveyed the faces of his staff. Most everyone's eyes held agreement, save for Sheridan, which was to be expected. And Gervais?
The Commanding Admiral frowned. Gervais was off in his own little world today, even more reticent than usual. Nogura had never seen the Security Chief so preoccupied. "Admiral Gervais?"
"Do you concur with Admiral Torvaal's opinion?"
"Oh...of course. Whatever." Gervais almost immediately slipped back into his reverie.
Curious, that, thought Nogura as he turned to Sheridan. "Drew?"
Admiral Andrew Kenneth Sheridan, the head of the Base Operations division, glowered at his superior officer, his jaw clenched. "All right, damn it, all right! I'm not trying to make a witch hunt out of this! I'm willing to concede that the Klingons were on Serenidad illegally, and that Kirk knew this from Spock's mind-meld before he attacked the Targa. But that still doesn't change the fact he disobeyed direct orders when he attacked!"
"Agreed," Nogura calmly replied. "Which brings us to the question of Kirk's new assignment." He paused. "I cannot in good conscience return him to command of a starship, mainly for two reasons. First and foremost, it would seem to other flag rank officers in the 'fleet that we were rewarding similar behavior in others. This I cannot allow. Secondly, the Klingons have threatened to declare war if he is allowed to remain in space. It goes without saying that this must be avoided at all costs. The President has spoken with Ambassador Kamarag. While the Klingons would prefer that Captain Kirk be extradited to the Empire to face Klingon justice, his relegation to a ground assignment is an acceptable alternative."
"Do you have something in mind, sir?" Torvaal asked.
"As a matter of fact, I do," Nogura answered. "Starfleet Training Command. There's a position open for an assistant dean. As you know, we gave him a temporary grade reduction from Rear Admiral to Captain. I recommend we cancel the grade reduction, then promote James T. Kirk to Admiral, and appoint him to fill that opening." He glanced at Sheridan. "Is that stiff enough punishment for you, Drew? Because if you know anything at all about Jim Kirk, you'd realize you couldn't hurt him much worse."
Sheridan's knuckles whitened, but he held his tongue. "Whatever you think best. Sir."
"So it's agreed. No court-martial? I need a show of hands."
The vote was unanimous. Even Sheridan finally, reluctantly, raised his hand.
Nogura relaxed. "I caution you not to breathe a word of this decision until the official announcement. Thank you all for your cooperation. Dismissed."
The members of Commander-Starfleet's staff rose from their chairs and filed out of the room. All but Yves Gervais.
Sheridan turned back, his eyes narrowed. "Yves? You okay? Is there anything I can do?"
The fog lifted slowly from Gervais' eyes. "Huh? Oh--Drew. I'm all right. Just a little tired. Thanks for your concern, though."
Sheridan turned away, uncertain and unconvinced. But Starfleet's Chief of Security was a very private man. He decided not to press the matter and left the chamber.
Gervais swiveled his lounger around so he could stare out the expanding floor-to-ceiling window. He tried to compose himself, to collect his thoughts. There was something he had to remember, something extremely urgent. If he did not, something terrible was going to happen. He had no facts upon which to base this opinion, just a deep-down gut feeling in his subconscious.
Why in God's name can't I remember?
He sat gazing at the bay as the sun sank lower in this blue,
cloud-speckled sky, hoping the answer would come to him.
Night. The corridors of the Starfleet Medical Center were darkened, deserted. Only the footsteps of an occasional security patrol disturbed the stillness.
Talan clung to the shadows. He was very near his goal. Kirk's hospital room was two doors down the hall, little more than six meters away. Thus far everything had gone according to plan. The security access codes Gervais had so graciously 'provided' had worked without incident.
The Kh'myr quietly drew his long-bladed execution dagger. His nostrils flared; his moment of vengeance was at hand! He padded forward, cautious, alert, his senses keen as a predatory animal's. No guards at Kirk's door. How typical of the Earthers--and how foolish. Once the immediate urgency of a threat had passed, they relaxed their vigilance. Ambassador Kamarag's idle chatter about extraditing Kirk--or worse--had been so quickly forgotten.
Talan slipped into the room. It was almost pitch black, but his sharp eyes could make out the figure on the bed, covers pulled up to its chin.
The Klingon snarled. Heedless now of the need for stealth, he thumbed a stud on the handle of his dagger. Two gleaming "claw" blades snicked out on either side of the haft.
"This is for Mord," Talan growled. "Die, Earther!"
He plunged the huge blade into his victim's chest, just to the left of center. Precisely through the heart.
And all Hell broke lose.
Bright lights flared on, blinding Talan. The little room filled with Starfleet security guards. They were fully armored, and armed with phaser rifles, all pointed at him.
When he could see clearly again, Talan realized, to his chagrin, that he had just "killed" a mannequin, a foam and latex dummy used for life-saving classes.
"Drop the pig-sticker, bonehead, and keep your hands in the air!"
A female led the security team. She seemed so small and fragile. Talan realized he could easily snap her neck with one hand, but where would be the good in it? A dozen rifles would cut him down before he could move another step. No, the shame was his. He had been tricked and trapped. His execution dagger clattered on the floor. The little female kicked it aside and searched him, relieving him of his disruptor pistol and needle gun.
He stood docilely by as a pair of energy cuffs were slapped on his wrists.
He, Talan, had been defeated. The taste of it was bitter in his mouth. He wondered who he had to thank for this ignominy.
His answer arrived at that moment, clad in the burgundy and black uniform of a Starfleet Admiral.
"Prisoner secured, sir," the female reported.
"Good work, Lieutenant Tabar." Yves Gervais leveled a phaser pistol at the thunderstruck Kh'myr. "You and your squad can leave now. I've got a few questions for our Klingon friend."
Tabar gazed quizzically at her superior, but decided against questioning his judgment. She motioned to her troopers, and they filed out into the corridor.
"How?" Talan asked.
Gervais' face was cold enough to worry the Klingon. "Sit down on the bed," he hissed. When the Klingon complied, he continued, "I got an anonymous tip from your Embassy. Somebody over there doesn't like you."
"rolchIS," Talan muttered.
"Whatever. He told me what you did, and I had myself hypno-probed. I remembered everything then. We moved Kirk and arranged this little surprise party for you." The security chief's eyes narrowed into slits of rage. "Now, I've got a question. How did you duplicate Sheridan's voice precisely enough to fool a computer--and me?"
"I suppose it cannot hurt to tell you since its operation is undetectable. It's a voice synthesizer--a perfect one. We culled enough of Sheridan's public speeches to construct an entire vocabulary." Talan showed his teeth. "We have one on you as well, Gervais."
The Human's jaw clenched, and his hand trembled slightly.
Talan favored him with a smug smile. "A pity. This will win you nothing, Gervais. I have diplomatic immunity. You must turn me over to the Klingon Embassy."
"No chance." Gervais' eyes were bright, too bright--and not quite sane. "You don't leave this room alive. You touched me! You touched me with your slimy, disease-ridden alien paws, and you mind-sifted me. Well, it didn't work! I remembered, and had myself run through deep decontamination. And now, there'll be one less alien for us to worry about."
Talan did not want to die. He was not afraid of death, but there were many things he still wished to do, and he did not want to die in such a disgraceful fashion.
But Gervais was a time bomb, under so much pressure that he must ultimately explode. The intensity of the hatred, the disgust, in his eyes made Talan want to shudder. Were he ever to see the Homeworld again, he must act now. Even though his hands were manacled, he could stun the Earther with a head-butt, then strangle him. He gathered his muscles under him to attack.
"Gervais," Talan began calmly, trying to distract his captor, "you must return me to the Klingon Embassy."
The Klingon sprang forward.
Even Talan's Kh'myr training and heritage could not prevent him from loosing a death scream as his atoms were violently converted from matter into energy. His bellow of agony and terror echoed in the hospital room for long seconds after his body vanished in a flare of hot, blue light.
Lieutenant Dana Tabar rushed back into the room, rifle at the ready. Her eyes widened in disbelief when she saw the charred patch on the floor where Talan had fallen as he disintegrated.
"Sir, you--your phaser wasn't on stun! You burned him!"
Gervais' eyes were hooded. He kept his voice neutral. "There was a struggle, Lieutenant. The setting was knocked to disrupt, and it went off. Remember that."
He walked past her, eyes fixed forward. Lieutenant Dana Tabar would have to be dealt with. She was too conscientious to be trusted. Not here--it would be too messy, and suspicions would be aroused. He would promote her to lieutenant commander, assign her to one of the border ships patrolling near the Barrier Alliance--security casualties ran about 82% out there. The death of an efficient lieutenant commander would be mourned, but it would not be suspicious. Maybe he'd put her on the Invincible. Commander Ray Blevins was the security chief, and he was one of Gervais' men. Perhaps a tragic "accident" on a landing party assignment...
Gervais holstered his phaser as he strode down the corridor, oblivious to the curious gazes of the security team. He shuddered in spite of himself. He had dropped his guard, and the Klingons had almost gotten the better of him. They had found his Achilles Heel; they had used his seething hatred of all things alien to pique his curiosity. Never, never, in all his years in the field and as Starfleet's Chief of Security, had he ever slipped up like this.
It would not happen again.
He didn't have time to wallow in bitterness or dwell on his near-defeat. He would return to his office now, file his report on Talan's capture and subsequent demise, and arrange for Lieutenant Tabar's immediate transfer. Don't look back, someone had once said. What's done is done, and can't be undone.
Yves Gervais would not look back. He would be too busy looking ahead.
He left the hospital complex and hurried to the tube terminal that would whisk him to the command complex.
Rain pelted against the panoramic picture windows of James Kirk's apartment. He leaned easily on the fine antique cane McCoy had purchased for him. You can add it to your collection after you don't need it anymore, the physician had joked.
It was not going to be easy. Kirk had never liked ground assignments. The two and a half years he had spent as Starfleet Chief of Operations after the first five year mission had nearly driven him stir crazy. But he had survived.
That's what he was doing now. Surviving. Coping. At least he was still in Starfleet. Maybe, just maybe, he'd get a chance at another ship someday. As Spock was fond of saying, there were always possibilities.
He sank down in a recliner, staring out the window at the obscuring cloud cover that blanketed San Francisco Bay. The haze was a perfect match for his gray mood. The forced lightheartedness of the farewell party he had thrown for the bridge crew last night still weighed heavily on him. He would miss those people, more than he wanted to admit. They had served together for so long. Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura would be assigned to other starships. As expected, requests for their services had come pouring in as soon as their availability was announced.
It was rumored that Spock would be offered command of his own starship when a position became available. Doctor Christine Chapel had received an assignment with Uhura, but then mysteriously requested--and received--an assignment to Starfleet Command H.Q. Scotty was to stay on at S.T.C. to pull double duty; he would serve as an instructor of Engineering, and also oversee the analysis of the damage the Enterprise had received, the latter being a task that would take at least a year. And Bones...
Nobody seemed to know what McCoy was going to do, not even the man himself.
Kirk shifted in his chair. His back and legs were still a lot stiffer than he would have liked, but he was recovering well ahead of schedule. His physical therapist told him it took most patients with similar injuries four months or more to reach the level he had already achieved and pronounced him ready to resume his normal activities--within certain limits, of course. That left him with a lot of time on his hands. The fall semester didn't start for almost three months.
So, what am I going to do?
He had a lot of accumulated leave time coming to him. Perhaps he'd go back to Trylias for a while, see Cheryl Saunders again. It hadn't been that long since his last leave, but after what he'd just been through...
The doorbell chimed.
Leonard McCoy paused in the foyer to shed his rain-soaked slicker. "Nice day to be an Aquan," he grumbled. "I could've used gill slits just to get from the aircab into your building!"
"Bones! For God's sake, why didn't you just beam in?"
The physician leveled a withering stare at Kirk and proceeded to plop himself down in a recliner in front of the fireplace. "I'll ignore that statement," he snapped.
In spite of himself, Kirk smiled. Some things would never change, and McCoy's transporter phobia was one of them. Kirk went and sat in the companion chair. "We've been re-routed, Bones. That is, everyone but you."
Kirk's head turned in surprise. "They'll offer him a captaincy..."
McCoy shook his head. "He won't take it with you grounded. I imagine he'll put in for a teaching assignment. Fool Vulcan."
"He might get the Enterprise," murmured Kirk softly. "If only it were in one piece..."
"About that..." McCoy trailed off, piquing Kirk's interest.
"Scotty's done a preliminary damage survey. He feels the ship can be made whole again. It'll cost some bucks, though, and he won't know how much for six or seven months. But he's confident Starfleet will fund the repairs."
The two friends sat for several minutes, staring at the fire, and easy in each other's presence. McCoy hoped Kirk felt as comfortable as he himself did. The doctor had almost entered a light doze, watching the flames dance when Kirk's voice pulled him back to the present.
"And what about you, old friend?"
"Don't give me that tone. And don't change the subject again. What's on your agenda?"
McCoy felt his face sag, felt his age sweep over him. He couldn't lie to Jim Kirk, couldn't keep up the pretense. "I'm taking medical leave, Jim. Six months to start. Option for six more, if necessary or desired."
"Medical? Bones, is anything..."
"No, no, physically, I'm fine. But I'm tired, Jim. Tired of space, tired of traveling', tired of bein' alone. I miss..." He trailed off, unable to discuss his pain, even with Kirk.
But his friend wasn't fooled. "You miss Teresa." It wasn't even a question.
Am I that transparent? McCoy thought as he nodded miserably.
"I was thinking of going to Trylias for a while before the next batch of recruits gets here. Why don't you come with me? I know Cheryl would love to see you."
McCoy shook his head. "Thanks, Jim, but no. Honestly, I just don't think I could stand to be around a couple right now."
Kirk made a small sound of agreement. "What will you do?"
The question loomed in front of him. "That's what I've been tryin' to figure out. I've got plenty of credits, so basically, I have no restrictions. I may go back home for a while, see if there's anyone left in Atlanta that I still know. After that--maybe I'll spend some time getting to know this planet better."
"That's a start, anyway," Kirk agreed.
"The thing is," continued McCoy, "that I know I'm not in the right frame of mind to make a decision. I just need some time. To rebuild, recuperate."
McCoy abruptly stood up. "I'd better be gettin'. You, sir, need you rest."
Kirk rose with him, ignoring McCoy's offer of an outstretched hand. He'd better get started doing without the doctor as soon as possible. He knew it would not be easy.
The two men walked to the door in silence. They knew each other too well to try to cover their emotions with small talk.
In the foyer, McCoy turned. "I'll be fine, y'know. You're the one who better listen to your new medics."
Kirk nodded, and leaning heavily on the cane, drew McCoy into a rough, one-armed hug. It was rare that the two of them ever expressed their friendship physically, but suddenly Kirk felt it was necessary.
McCoy gave the new Admiral a brisk pat on the back and stepped away. His confederate blue eyes were suspiciously bright.
Kirk didn't dwell on it. "You send me a postcard from Atlanta. For my antique collection!"
McCoy nodded and went quickly out the door and down the hall.
Kirk stood and watched him go. Oddly, he felt better, more positive about his future. Was it because McCoy had showed his own insecurities? We're all in this together, thought Kirk. This is not the end.
Feeling encouraged and enthusiastic about his future for the first time since he could remember, Kirk eased himself back down into the fireside chair. Yes, he thought, as the firelight played across his features, maybe this is what we all needed. A new beginning.
There was a smile on his face as he slid into sleep.
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1. See The Daystrom Project, by Nomad.
2. Literally, "Activate the transport beam!"
3. Literally, "whitebeard." However, a more accurate translation would be "graybeard"; Kh'myr Klingons do not see in terms of "black" or "white"; they see things as "black" or "not-black"; white and gray are synonymous in their language; in the case of rolchIS, it is the ultimate insult, implying that the person in question is old, useless, sexually impotent, and in need of "retirement" (assassination).
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