"There is no good that lasts forever nor evil that never ends."
an old Portuguese saying
Kirk came out of the tent with an agonized expression on his face.The captain of the Enterprise, his memory fully restored, turned to one of the Amerinds in the group before them, a man called Salish. The hostility between the two was evident to all present. They spoke quietly for a few minutes, then the captain took him up the path toward the Preserver-installed obelisk. Sulu, and the rest of the security team, kept their weapons holstered; these people had had enough tragedy in one day--no need to frighten them further. Their priestess was dead, their god was shown to be a man, and out of the blue had come Spock, McCoy, Chapel and a host of security men. He sighed as he tried to imagine the psychological and sociological effects their presence would cause. Captain Kirk and Salish returned now, and Kirk addressed the huddled mass of people before him. "I go now to the stars again, but not as a god...as a man, a man who has been robbed of his happiness." The eldest Amerind stepped forward. "Kirok, we do not understand..." "And you are not meant to. Not yet." The starship commander pulled out his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. Beam us up, Scotty."
"Commander, a matter conversion report," prompted Lieutenant Commander Daryl Kearney, the chief engineering officer of the U.S.S. Cooper.
Commander Sulu, the Cooper's executive officer, snapped out of his reverie. He glanced around the bridge of the science survey ship, a hint of red on his face. "What's that?"
"Matter conversion report, sir." The curly-haired man laughed. "That must've been one hell of a daydream, Sulu."
Sulu's face turned scarlet. That was really just what I needed, he thought sarcastically. Make a fool of myself in front of Kearney.
The engineer had been a real problem to Sulu the past few days. After the mystery of space station BLB-0 BGN-5 had been cleared up, Sulu had shut down Kearney's gambling operation, the Deck Six Casino. There had been far too many complaints from the civilians and the crew of improprieties there. Since then, Kearney had been sullen and uncommunicative, and Sulu suspected a wound was festering there.
The executive officer smiled nervously and laughed just a little too loudly as he tried to cover his discomfort. "As a matter of fact, it was, Commander," he said, taking the report. After scanning it quickly, he signed it and returned it to the chief engineer. "Thank you, Mister Kearney."
"Sir, a word if I may?"
Sulu faced the engineer and studied him warily. He was in the science ship's standard uniform, a pale gold tunic like Sulu's, but the shirt just didn't seem to belong to the man. Oh, it fit him, all right, but there was something about it...
"Yes, Mister Kearney?"
"Sir, it's about the new schedule, the one you've slated to go into effect in two days," the engineer began tentatively.
"Yes? What about it?"
"Well, sir. I was thinking that you could change it for me."
"In what way?" Sulu's eyes narrowed.
"Well, I was wanting to work evenings only. Not this rotating shift stuff. It's for the birds."
"It also happens to be more equitable to the crew; allowing each of them to work under different officers and on different shifts will give them additional experience and confidence. They'll also learn more faces with a varied shift like this. We had a similar schedule on the Enterprise, and it worked out very well."
"This isn't the Enterprise, Commander. I'm getting really sick and tired of how you did this on the Enterprise, and how you did that on the Enterprise. Well, how did you take a shit on the Enterprise, Commander?" Kearney's virulence surprised Sulu.
He gauged the man, carefully not allowing his own feelings to show. "Commander Kearney, I suggest you to return to your post...immediately."
"Like hell I will, Sulu. I'm heading down to see the captain about this stupid schedule. I'm sure he'll see it my way." Kearney spun on his heel and stormed from the bridge.
Sulu swallowed hard. "Damn," he muttered to himself.
Lieutenant Commander Jana Haines turned from the helm station to face him. "Sulu?" she asked simply, but conveying a deep concern for her friend.
Sulu smiled reassuringly at her. "Maintain your station, helmsman."
"Aye, sir," she said, winking at him, and then turned back to the helm.
Sulu thought a few moments about Jana Haines. The young woman, who had served with him aboard the Enterprise during Jim Kirk's first five year mission, had been due for a promotion for over two years. According to her record, her performance was rated above average. She had never asked for a promotion, and none had, as yet, been offered to her. It was a riddle, and one Sulu intended to solve as soon as possible.
Sulu's thoughts turned to the Cooper's next assignment: a rendezvous with the Yorktown to transfer Doctor Seth Knight, and get a replacement for civilian Xenobiologist Tom Evanston. After the rendezvous, the ship was to proceed to Epsilon Aurigae Four, the planet of the Amerinds that the Enterprise had encountered some years earlier. They were to conduct a standard population survey, observe the natives, and a perform a few experiments on the Preserver relic, the obelisk, which served as a meteor-asteroid deflector.
The boatswain's whistle sounded. "Bridge, Sulu here."
The intercom always did an excellent job of reproducing the menace of Captain Williams' voice. "Report to my quarters, Commander. Immediately."
"Yes, sir. Bridge out." He drew in a deep breath. "Mister Haines, you have the conn."
Sulu stood as she acknowledged his order. He strode toward the turbolift and waited what seemed like forever before the car arrived. Waiting for the 'lift was something he had still yet to become accustomed to. Finally, the doors parted, and he was whisked down to Deck Six.
As he walked down a corridor to his destination, a hundred things to say came to his mind. But none of them would fit the unique situation of a subordinate going over a senior officer's head. He arrived at the door and knocked.
"Come," he heard Williams' voice say.
He drew in yet another deep breath, and stepped inside.
Captain Daniel M. Williams was always an impressive sight to Sulu. His green eyes, the contrast between his black skin and white tunic, the way he held his shoulders, they all contributed to the overwhelming suggestion of power barely controlled. The captain was doing some paperwork at his desk. Seated to Sulu's left was Kearney, who was smiling like a tomcat that had eaten more than one canary.
"Commander Sulu, reporting as you ordered, Captain."
"Have a seat, Commander," said Williams, absently pointing to the chair on Sulu's right while reading quietly.
"Thank you, sir."
As Sulu sat down, Williams looked up. "Commander Kearney informs me that he does not approve of your scheduling, Mister Sulu."
Sulu swallowed. "Yes, sir. He's said the same to me."
Williams looked at his chief engineer. "I'm transferring you, Mister Kearney. You are hereby relieved of all duties until further notice. You will go aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown upon our rendezvous with that vessel."
The chief engineer was in shock, and Sulu thought Kearney might explode. "What? For God's sake, why?"
"Dismissed, Mister Kearney."
"Sir, I demand--"
Williams thumbed a button. "Commander Rachelson, send a security officer to my cabin immediately." He turned back to the engineer. "You have heard my orders, Commander," the captain said in his deadliest tone.
Kearney was wild-eyed. "Sir, I don't understand. I'd like some explanation..."
Williams' words stung the engineer like angry hornets. "As the captain of a starship, I don't give explanations."
The door opened, and Lieutenant Waters stood there, dressed in full body armor. "Security reporting as instructed, sir."
"Escort Mister Kearney to his quarters. He is not to leave them without my permission."
"Yes, sir." The guard moved forward to Kearney's side.
Kearney snarled, "Rot in hell, you God-damned dictator." With that, he spun on his heel and left, followed by the guard.
Sulu stood. "Sir, if..."
"Sit down, Mister."
Williams' words were like bullets to Sulu, cutting his legs out from under him. He sat down very quickly.
"I have been aware of the tension between yourself and Mister Kearney since you shut down his gambling operation. Rather than defusing the situation, you ignited it, and in doing so, handled yourself poorly in this matter. I have just made a decision that has cost me a capable engineer. Further, I will not tolerate any subordinate going over your head. Next time there is a personnel problem, I do not want to hear about it. If I do, I will find myself another executive officer, and you will find yourself transferred off this vessel as fast as Mister Kearney will be. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir. But--"
"Dismissed." Williams pointedly resumed his paperwork.
Sulu pondered the Haines riddle for a moment, then spoke up. "Sir, begging your pardon, I would like to discuss another personnel matter with you."
Williams glanced up, looking very annoyed. "Very well, Commander."
"Sir, it's about Commander Haines. She has been passed over for promotion six times. Why?"
Williams was angry at the implication that she had been 'passed over'. "Mister Sulu, Haines has never given any indication that she wishes any advancement in her rank. Since she is lacking in incentive, she is not a candidate for promotion, and will never be considered for one aboard this vessel, until she develops the required incentive."
Sulu nodded in comprehension. "I understand, sir. And despite her above average record, she is somewhat lackadaisical about her work."
"Now, if that's all, Commander, I have other things to do. As do you."
"One additional area of discussion, sir."
Williams nodded in assent, as though giving permission to a child to speak. "Yes, Mister Sulu?"
"Sir, I feel Rachelson and some other command grade personnel should be given the opportunity to command landing parties, something that...my predecessor didn't really permit."
"Very well, Commander. Landing party assignments will be your decision. Now, if that is all..."
"Then you are dismissed."
Sulu decided to have lunch with Chief Medical Officer Johnson. He dropped by Sickbay and stuck his head in the door. "Let's eat some lunch, Casey."
Doctor K.C. Johnson smiled. "Sure thing, bucko. Let me finish this entry."
As she closed the entry, Sulu thought about their recent love-making. It had been quite torrid, and he was looking forward to more escapades with his roommate the doctor. He wondered briefly what Williams might think if he ever discovered his two senior officers were lovers. He decided that the captain probably wouldn't be very happy about it, given regulations and all.
They walked down the corridor to the Dining Hall. Security Chief Janet Rachelson was there, chomping on a salad. They pulled their trays from the food dispensers and joined her.
"Hi, Hikaru, Casey," the young woman acknowledged. "What's been going on?"
Casey snorted. "I'm up to my ass in medical reports on the murders at Bilbo Baggins."
"I finished mine last night." Rachelson laughed. "What about you, Sulu?"
"I've got only a few more reports to sign, then I'll be caught up with my paperwork...for now."
"Is there a problem, babe?" asked Johnson.
"There's a lot more paperwork than I even dreamed I'd have. I'm amazed Mister Spock had no trouble churning it out...of course, Spock never had trouble churning out solutions to hyper-physics problems either."
"I'll bet," agreed Rachelson. "He's quite a legend in his own time. Tell me, Hikaru, what went on with Daryl?"
Sulu ears turned red. "He's being transferred."
"What?" asked Johnson. "Why? What happened?"
Rachelson turned to her. "I got a call from the captain to send a guard to his quarters. I sent Waters. The report I got from him stated that the captain confined Kearney to his quarters."
"Sulu, what did Kearney do?" Johnson demanded.
"He came up to me on the bridge and wanted some changes in the new schedule. I told him no, and he went over my head to the captain."
"Holy shit! What a stupid fucker!" exclaimed the doctor.
"Daryl was probably still mad at you for closing down his Deck Six Casino, Hikaru. And he let this new schedule get to him."
"He blew up at the captain, too."
Rachelson shook her head. "It's a pity, but, Daryl always was a real pain in the ass. Maybe he'll do better with a new assignment."
Johnson noted Sulu's expression. It was a mixture of pain, bewilderment, and several other emotions. "Hikaru, are you all right?"
"I just hate to think I helped contribute to the ruin of a man's career."
"Look, babe, it was clear to me from the very beginning that Kearney's kind of character wouldn't fit in with such a small number of people. I warned Captain Williams of that when the jerk came aboard. He finally wore out his welcome. And he never should've gone over your head to the captain. He had to know better."
"Why's that?" asked Sulu.
"Because one of his own men went over his head a few months back, and Williams transferred him off the ship," explained Rachelson.
Johnson chuckled. "What's the matter, Sulu? Life on the Cooper gettin' you down?"
"Figures. Your first week here was filled with excitement. A new ship, a new crew, new friends, a challenging mission. But now things are becoming routine, and the Cooper's routine isn't exciting enough for you. Personally, I think that's why you re-wrote the schedule like you did."
"Me, too. It wouldn't bother me so much if I hadn't been scheduled for one hundred sixty-eight hours per week," admonished Johnson.
Sulu and Rachelson laughed. "I'll check into it after lunch," he promised.
"See that you do, bucko."
It was late in the afternoon.
Sulu stared at the screen at the science station. Lieutenant Commander Xon, the Vulcan science officer, had detected something on the edge of the sensor field. But identifying such an object was difficult at best.
Xon turned to the executive officer. "Commander, I believe the configuration is Kzinti."
Sulu was perplexed. "The Kzinti? They wouldn't dare tangle with a Federation starship!"
Williams, who had been seated in the command chair, strode over to the science station. "You're mistaken, Commander. This isn't the Enterprise."
"But why would they be out there, on the edge of sensor range?"
"Unknown," said Xon.
"I can't come up with a reason, either. But it won't matter if they do decide to attack." Williams turned to Lieutenant Moore, the communications officer on duty. "Send a message to the commander of U.S.S. Yorktown. Science ship Cooper urgently requests immediate escort."
"Also, try to raise that vessel. You should be aware of standard procedures."
"I've been trying to raise them, sir; there is no response."
"I have identified the vessel, Captain Williams," announced Xon. "The vessel drifted close enough for the sensors to ascertain its registration numbers. According to the computer, it is a reportedly stolen police vessel, identified as The Beggar's Tooth."
The ship's automatic alarms sounded. "Vessel is now on an intercept vector; speed estimated at Warp Seven."
"Commander, if you will..." prompted Williams as he stepped back to the command chair.
Sulu stepped quickly to the helm station and keyed the ship-wide intercom as he sat down. "Red Alert. All hands to Battlestations. Shields and deflectors on maximum."
"Mister Moore," called Williams over the klaxon. "Send a distress signal to the Yorktown. Report that we are under attack."
The Beggar's Tooth swooped by on the mainviewer, loosing several torpedoes upon the science vessel.
"Mister Sulu, evasive maneuvers," ordered Williams. "Keep the shields over the engines protected at all costs," he instructed. "One hit there and..."
"Yes, sir," Sulu responded, understanding all too well.
The ship shuddered as the torpedoes made contact with the deflector fields.
"A glancing shot on number three shield," reported Xon.
Commander Rachelson entered the bridge and assumed her battlestation. "Phasers armed and ready, sir," she reported. She nodded her approval quickly at Waters who strode to the turbolift.
"Acknowledged, Commander. Stand by--do not fire unless so ordered."
"She's coming around again," reported Sulu.
"Vessel is slowing to sub-light speed," said Xon, peering into his sensor displays carefully.
"Looks like we're gonna slug it out with 'em," observed Lieutenant Moore.
"Any response from the Yorktown?" queried Williams.
"No, Captain. All frequencies are being jammed. Whether we got through or not, I don't know."
On the screen, the Kzinti vessel approached slowly.
"Fire phasers at will, Mister Rachelson."
"Yes, Captain. Firing phasers."
The Cooper returned fire. The two ships sat there, 'slugging' it out. Sulu kept the Federation science ship spinning and tumbling, protecting the matter-intake/conversion unit of the main engines at all costs; one hit there would be fatal. Williams sat in the center seat quietly, allowing Sulu and Rachelson free reign on the evasive maneuvers and phasers.
"Mister Xon, analysis, please?" asked Williams sotto-voce.
Xon stood. "The Cooper, having to protect its engines, is expending more energy than it is producing. The fight will be lost."
Williams turned to the environmental engineer. "Mister Rajas, cut all power to life support." His voice, filled with serenity, had a soothing effect on those present.
"Power levels still failing, Captain. I estimate we have only moments left," announced Xon quietly.
A sweat had broken out on Sulu's face. He was putting the Cooper through a set of maneuvers like it had never seen before. Each hit, glancing or direct, lessened the power available for the maneuvers, and the science ship was taking more and more direct hits.
"Captain," began Xon tentatively.
Suddenly, the Kzinti ship exploded in a firestorm.
"Enemy vessel destroyed," announced Rachelson.
"The Yorktown has arrived," reported Xon.
Sulu took a deep draught of air and leaned back. Closing his eyes, he rubbed them gently with the heels of his hands.
"Stand down to Yellow Alert," ordered Williams, who seemed as calm as he had been during the battle.
Sulu leaned forward, tapping the keys on his console. "Yellow Alert. All hands stand down to Yellow Alert." Relief filled his voice. It had been very close. And he knew it better than most. "Damage control reports, all stations," he ordered with a hint of post-battle fatigue. He listened to the reports coming over his personal ear receiver.
"Damage report, Mister Sulu?" inquired Williams, glancing around the bridge monitors.
"Emergency situations all over the ship--the deflectors protected the engines, not the crew compartments--but all in all, the Cooper came out relatively well. Minor buckling in the antimatter pods. Casualties are extremely light: two civies lost air in their cabin--Doctor Johnson says they're suffering from decompression sickness, but will be fine."
"Very well, Mister Sulu. Mister Moore, hailing frequencies open," said Williams. "Raise the Yorktown. I'd like to talk with the commander."
"Captain Jawalahara is coming on now, sir."
The dark face of the Sri Lanka-born starship commander focused on the mainviewer. He smiled at the captain of the Cooper. "Ah, Daniel. It is nice of you to have invited us to your little party here." Jawalahara's sing-song accent belied his less-than-amiable nature.
Williams didn't smile, Sulu noticed, but he looked pleased. "Well, Vijay, I suppose you'll expect a bottle of Dom Perignon for your efforts."
"Oh, certainly, I do. Let us share it over a fine dinner aboard the Yorktown. It looks like our engineering crews will be working on the Gordo for several hours; bring your command crew along. We shall celebrate my victory and the rescue of your tiny little ship."
Sulu observed Williams' jaw tighten almost imperceptibly at his friend's depreciative remarks about the Cooper. But the captain of the 'tiny little ship' didn't allow the annoyance to creep into his voice.
"Oh, very good! We shall dine in three hours. Until then, Daniel, my engineering staff is at your complete disposal. Yorktown out."
Dinner had been over for thirty minutes. Captain Williams had beamed over with Sulu, Johnson, Rachelson and Mandala. The commander of the Yorktown had prepared a banquet for them, and it was obvious all through dinner that the sole reason for this was to ridicule the Cooper and its inferior food processors. Williams suffered through it quietly, with dignity, Sulu thought.
"So, Sulu. How'd you like the dinner?" asked Johnson, interrupting his thoughts. They had returned to their cabin to change from the stuffy "mountie" uniforms to their standard dress.
"It was quite a festive occasion," Sulu reflected on the dinner. "Captain Jawalahara certainly knows how to throw a good party." He shrugged out of the heavy jacket.
"Even if he is such an arrogant asshole," chipped in Johnson, doffing her jacket as well. "When will our crew replacements be beamed aboard?" she asked. "I've got to get sickbay ready to run physicals on them."
"In about an hour. The captain told me to meet him in forty-five minutes."
She slipped off her tunic, revealing her pert breasts. "Then we've got plenty of time."
Sulu smiled and unfastened his trousers.
Sulu and Johnson entered the transporter room, following Captain Williams. Mandala, the chief civilian scientist aboard the Cooper was already present. The transporter officer, Ensign Kevin Spencer, looked very uncomfortable being in the presence of so many senior officers.
"Mister Spencer, have security escort Mister Kearney and Doctor Knight to the transporter room," ordered Williams.
Spencer promptly snapped into action.
Doctor Knight entered, followed by Security Chief Rachelson and Chambers, a security guard. Knight stepped quickly to the transporter, without a word to anyone present. Williams simply said, "Energize," and the doctor was gone.
A few seconds later, Kearney, along with Lieutenant Waters, one of the security men, strode into the room, bags in hand. "Well, well, well," began Kearney. "So this is good-bye."
"Prepare to beam over to the Yorktown, Commander," ordered Williams.
"Right. I'm going to beam over there and be re-assigned to some shit-hole of a ground station and for what? Because some egomaniacal asshole decides he likes the new kid on the block. Big deal. I'll probably end up somewhere in the Vega sector. And it's your fault, Williams. I'm gonna remember this for as long as I live. And one day, I'll have my bond," he warned.
Johnson stepped forward before Sulu could restrain her. "Listen, you stupid mother-fucker! Everyone on this whole fucking ship is sick and tired of this crap you've been dishing out! You've been ripping off your fellow crewmates, and you have the gall to wonder why no one aboard the Gordo likes your ugly face?"
Kearney was not impressed. "Call your attack bitch off me, Williams. Or I'll have her up on charges."
"Doctor, if you please," Williams murmured.
Johnson whirled and stepped quickly to the far side of the transporter room. Sulu looked on, no longer dismayed by Kearney's departure or concerned for the young engineer's career.
Williams strode forward, met Kearney face to face, and said, "Get off my ship, Mister."
There was something in Williams' voice, something akin to contempt yet much more volatile. It frightened Kearney. The former-chief engineer stepped backward onto one of the transporter pads.
"Energize," ordered Williams tightly through clenched teeth.
Kearney disappeared in a shower of silver. A few seconds later, two columns of light appeared and solidified into two Starfleet officers.
The senior of the two officers stepped forward. He was tall, dark and resembled Jawalahara to a degree. "Permission to come aboard, suh?" The man spoke with a heavy Texan accent.
"Permission granted," responded Williams.
"Lieutenant Commander Mohammed Vishnu Kahn at your suhvice, suh. I'm y'alls' new chief engineerin' off'cer."
Sulu thought Williams almost smiled. "Welcome aboard, Commander," he said. "This is my senior staff," he gestured toward Sulu and his comrades, ignoring their silent amusement over the strong disparity between appearance and voice. "Commander Sulu, Executive Officer. Commander Johnson, Chief Medical Officer. Lieutenant Commander Rachelson, Security Chief. Two of her officers, Chambers and Waters. And Doctor Leon Mandala, Civilian Spokesperson. Commander Sulu will attend to your billeting shortly. You are to report to sickbay in one hour for a physical and then to my quarters one hour later for a briefing."
"Thank you, suh. Y'all's right sociable 'board thuh Coopuh."
Williams turned to the other man who was stepping down from the pad. His eyes narrowed as though he were expecting trouble...but not from the officer.
"Lieutenant Commander Per Pijper, Xenobiology."
"Welcome aboard, Mister Pijper," said Williams, glancing over his shoulder at the person he figured would soon explode in a tirade.
"I won't have this!!!" shouted Mandala indignantly. "This position is in the civilian science specialist teams, and I will not tolerate Starfleet forcing one of its officers into my staff."
Williams ignored the outburst. "This is Doctor Leon Mandala, Chief Civilian Spokesperson and the head of the Astrochemistry department."
"I will not allow a Starfleet officer to be assigned to duty in a civilian-dominated research specialist department," Mandala repeated.
Williams paid him no mind, turning to Sulu. "Proceed on course for Epsilon Aurigae. Also, take care of the billeting for these two officers."
Williams departed as Mandala continued his tirade. Sulu turned to Pijper. "And I thought I had it rough my first few days aboard the Cooper," he said wryly. "Come on."
Kahn and Pijper reported to Sickbay for their physicals, and were nearly as surprised as Sulu had been by its cramped confines. Kahn strode forward, his heavy leather cowboy boots clicking on the floor. "Anybody home?" he called. He was quite a sight, dressed in a standard "mountie" uniform, wearing boots and a cowboy hat.
Doctor Johnson strolled out from her office. "Okay, Tex, you first. Hop up on the table, please."
"Sho' 'nuf," he drawled. Giving his cowboy hat to Pijper, he winked at his fellow transferee. He turned back to Johnson as he climbed up on the examination table. "Yer a might purty filly, ma'am."
"That's 'Doctor Johnson,' Tex."
"M'name's Mo," Kahn said, introducing himself. "That's Pijper," he pointed at his shipmate who was holding the hat very carefully. "He don't talk too much," Kahn whispered loudly enough to be heard be everyone on Deck Six. "'Ceptin' when he's workin' on a new bug or somethin'. Then it's all brainy stuff."
"It's a pity we all can't learn from his example," said Johnson pointedly. "You talk too fucking much and actually say too damned little."
"Wheeeeoooooo!" exclaimed Kahn. "That there's a girl with fire," he said to Pijper. "I like that in a woman," he said to her.
"Just shut up before I do something with the scanner that you'll regret," she warned.
He covered his crotch with his hands. "Oh, please, ma'am," he cried in mock horror. "Don't fry my nuts off! Think of my future wife and kids!"
"Actually, I'm thinking of the future of all mankind," she said, somewhat tempted to tease him further. But she thought better of it. "Just lie there quietly, please?"
The exam took another thirty minutes for Kahn, and all of fifteen minutes for the quiet Pijper. Then they left the Sickbay and a bewildered Doctor Johnson.
The Cooper was once again en route to Epsilon Aurigae Four. The science ship, cruising along at Warp Factor Three, would take seven days to get there. Seeing that there was some free time, Sulu started working out with the security chief, Rachelson. Martial arts require a great deal of practice, so they met on a daily basis.
After the third day, Rachelson asked, "Mind if we walk together?"
"I'd like that," he said, smiling.
Sulu and Rachelson walked to their quarters together, discussing the lesson in the Vulcan martial art they had received.
At the door to his cabin, she looked up and down the corridor, and suddenly gave him a quick kiss on the lips. Then she darted down the hall into her room, leaving Sulu more confused than he'd ever been before.
He entered the cabin, thinking about what had just happened. He was attracted to Rachelson, no man wouldn't be. But he was involved with Casey Johnson right now, and wasn't sure what he should be feeling. With his sexy roommate, there was no commitment beyond friendship. But still...he shook his head and stepped into the shower.
Sulu took a long shower, his muscles sore from the workout. After donning a robe, he stepped out into the room. As he walked to his side of the cabin, he was surprised to find Janet Rachelson, naked, one knee drawn to her chest, an open view of her sex for Sulu. "I know you've been with Casey, but I feel very strongly for you, Hikaru."
Sulu was surprised; until a few minutes ago, she had never given him any indication of any romantic or sexual pursuit. "Janet, I, uh..." he stuttered. "I have to admit I'm a little confused right now....I didn't even know you were interested."
"I haven't let you know because, well, I don't deal with rejection very well, Sulu. I'm afraid that you'll reject me. A lot of men are intimidated by a woman who could break them in two. But, well, I want you. I want to be with you. Do you want me?" she sounded almost as though she were hurt.
"I'm not sure what I want, Janet. I care a great deal for Casey, and I do like you, but this just seems a bit too sudden for me."
Tears welled up in her eyes. She made a move for her clothes which were on the floor beside the bed.
"That isn't necessary, Janet," Sulu said soothingly. "Please stay and talk with me for a while."
They did talk, and quite a bit. It seemed that they had a lot in common, including a love of fencing, antique weapons and martial arts. She was uneasy, at first, of just talking, but she warmed up well to him, and he to her.
They had begun caressing each other when Casey Johnson walked in to see them embraced, legs intertwined tightly. "Hey, buckos!" She winked at Sulu, and smiled warmly as she made her way to her side of their cabin.
Sulu held Janet in his arms for a while longer. The boatswain's whistle beckoned for attention. "All department heads report to the briefing room."
"We'll talk some more later. Right now, the captain is calling," said Sulu. He kissed her one more time before she left.
After the door closed, he pulled on his uniform trousers. Casey walked over to his side of the cabin. "Sorry to barge in on you, Sulu."
"I hope it didn't upset you. I--"
She planted a kiss firmly on his lips. "Sulu, there's no problem here. I have no special hold on you, and you haven't any hold on me." She smiled. "Now, let's get to the briefing room before we give Daniel a reason to start chewing on our asses."
The briefing room of the Cooper was smaller than that of the Enterprise, but the table was the same, as was the number of chairs, making for a much more cramped space. All the department heads were there, including the civilians and the new engineering officer and the new xenobiologist.
Williams spoke up. "I'd like to introduce all of you to our new chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Mohammed V. A. Kahn."
"Hi, y'all. Jes' call me 'Mo,'" he drawled out slowly.
The other command officers introduced themselves, but the civilians were less than enthusiastic.
Then Williams introduced the new replacement for Evanston. "This is Lieutenant Commander Per Pijper, our new Xenobiology department head."
All the civilians rose and made for the door. "As a form of protest, we are leaving this briefing," announced Mandala.
"All of you sit down." Williams' voice was barely above a whisper, but all but Mandala stopped in their tracks.
"You can't order us about like that, Captain! I'll have your stripes for--"
"I said, 'sit down.'" It was a whisper, but it was effective.
All of them, including Mandala, returned to their seats. "As I was saying this is Lieutenant Commander Pijper, formerly of the Yorktown." Williams indicated the Starfleet officers, then introduced the civilians one at a time until each of them in turn shook Pijper's hand.
"Now let us get on with this briefing," snorted Mandala.
Such arrogance, Sulu noted. How did anyone like Mandala ever get assigned to a enviable position aboard a science ship like the Cooper. Must be politics, he decided. He knows somebody's brother, he speculated.
"Our next assignment has recently been greatly complicated. As you know, we were attacked by a Kzinti police cruiser, purportedly stolen, prior to our rendezvous with the Yorktown. According to information relayed to me by Captain Jawalahara, the satellite buoys around Epsilon Aurigae Four have been destroyed, a Kzinti ship is located on the surface of the planet, and the Amerind population there has been reduced by thirty percent."
"So what does that mean?" asked Mandala.
"The Kzinti have captured and enslaved the innocent population. The motive for the attack on the Cooper is now quite clear. They wanted to prevent us from ever investigating the situation there."
"I say blow their whole empire to pieces and be done with it! The Federation has been soft on these carnivorous bastards, and the civilians have always suffered for it," suggested King, one of the civilians.
"There have been four wars with the Kzinti, and they lost each time. They are not a major military threat to the Federation," Rachelson pointed out.
"Right," agreed Sulu. "They have always, consistently attacked before they were ready. Even their attack on us shows that they aren't prepared to deal with Federation intervention in this Epsilon Aurigae scheme."
"Why are they needing slaves? Aren't Humans much weaker than the Kzinti?" DuBarry, the civilian Astrophysicist, queried.
"Correct," said Pijper. He glanced at Williams; he knew the truth, but he allowed his new commanding officer to reveal it to the others.
Williams leaned forward. "It's much more than slavery. It's suspected they are using the primitives on the planet for livestock."
"Holy fuckin' shit," whispered Johnson loudly. "Those bastards are eating people!"
Williams nodded, almost imperceptibly.
"Damn," whispered Sulu.
"This will be a special assignment," said Williams, "and due to the enormous risk to our civilians, they will not take part in any landing parties."
"Now wait just a minute!" argued Mandala. "Granted, we are civilians, but we are also scientists! There is a Preserver relic there, possibly of interest to the Kzinti as well. Do you expect us to just sit right here and let them destroy it before we have a chance to examine it thoroughly?"
"Yes, I do," said Williams softly.
"But our experiments!" objected DuBarry. "My department had designed several very special tests on the unique magnetic fields of the obelisk there!"
"Have you not heard one damn word?" asked Johnson, who was extremely irate. "There are some really bad-assed aliens down there, chomping on the locals. And you're worried about some ancient relic!"
King, the Xenoarchaeology/Xenoanthropology department head, spoke angrily. "Of course we haven't forgotten them! My department's examination of their social system is extremely important if we are to clarify our information on the Preservers themselves!"
Lieutenant Commander Anex, the Edoan chief communications officer, was also upset. "As a Starfleet officer, I am dismayed to hear this line of reasoning from our civilian contingent. I do not mean to offend, but it seems that all of you are putting ahead your department's research over the lives of those innocent people. Forgive me, but isn't that the crime of which you accuse Starfleet all too often?"
"Damn right, Anex," chimed in Johnson. She snorted in disdain. "These assholes don't give a damn about anything but where their heads are stuck."
"That will be all," whispered Williams in controlled tones.
The Starfleet officers immediately ceased their argumentation, but the civilians thought they were beyond reprimand. They continued their indifference to the population of Epsilon Aurigae Four.
Mansky, the ship's Astrogeology department head, began speaking. "I wonder if the Kzinti presence might affect our seismological readings."
"I said that will be all," said Williams plainly as he slammed his fist down on the table, venting his anger in a rare display for all to see. He turned to Mandala. "Doctor, it is a courtesy to allow you and your people to attend these briefings. However, this abuse of procedure and protocol from you and your staff has gone on long enough. Until further notice, you and your staff will not be allowed to attend." He rose and stared at Mandala. "Dismissed."
The civilians, humiliated, silently left the briefing room. Williams did not speak again until the door had closed. "Now, upon planetfall, a recon team will be sent down to investigate the situation. Commander Sulu will prepare the landing party assignments. All team members are to be armed in combat gear, and weapons are to be locked on heavy stun. I want no deaths, not even Kzinti. I know this is a trying situation for all of us, however I want no casualties on either side. Understood?"
His gaze fixed onto the desk computer. There was silence until he said, "Dismissed."
After the briefing, Sulu and Casey had a late dinner in their cabin. They made love and then talked as they lay naked in each others' arms, their bodies glistening with perspiration, the afterglow from the frenzied session still radiating throughout the room.
Casey spoke first. "Sulu, I don't intend to come between Janet and you. I have never been in a monogamous relationship and, I really don't want one while I'm in the service. Afterwards, maybe..."
"In the beginning, I was hoping that our relationship would be open," he said, "but I do have to admit I feel quite a bit of attachment to you. Maybe what I want is just you...but I'm not sure." He continued after a brief pause. "Casey, I've been in Starfleet for as long as you, and I can honestly say I've never wanted to be dedicated to one other person. Now I'm thinking maybe I've found that special person."
"I'm sorry, Hikaru. I just don't feel that way...I can't, not just now in this time of my life." She looked concerned. "Are you mad at me?"
"No," Sulu shook his head. "How could I be?" His smile was genuine.
"I'm glad to hear that. Sulu, you're my friend, and my lover. Not my only lover, but that doesn't matter. I want you to go out with other people, have a good time. If you think this thing Janet's got for you may lead somewhere, go for it. I know she thinks a lot of you."
"How do you know that?"
"We got drunk together a few nights ago. I told her to go for it, just as I'm telling you. In our business, life's too short for you to be self-limiting."
"I see. I'll give it some thought." He got up from his bed, dressed and walked out into the corridor. Although his destination was Engineering, he just wanted to walk and think things through.
He made a detailed survey of Engineering, then slowly made his return to his quarters. He looked beyond the partition; Johnson was curled up like a cat on the covers on her bed. He crawled out of his clothes and under his sheets. He wasn't sure why, but a few tears welled up in his eyes. Soon, he was asleep.
Casey walked around the partition and tucked him in, looking down at his troubled visage. "I do love you, Hikaru. More than I'll ever admit, probably, but I do. And it scares me," she whispered so as not to wake him.
The next few days were uneventful. Sulu spent a lot of time with Johnson, but even more time with Rachelson. He led a few classes in the martial arts, and decided to teach Xon fencing. The Vulcan caught on immediately, and began to win constantly after the first two matches. Sulu juggled more of the crew around, and finally came up with a schedule of which the majority of the crew approved.
Finally, they arrived at Epsilon Aurigae Four.
On the bridge, Williams ordered, "Mister Xon, sensor analysis."
"Sensor scans show a Kzinti police cruiser clumsily camouflaged by loose topsoil and dead flora, as if it were done in great haste. The population of the planet has been diminished by one-third, and there are approximately twelve Kzinti present, scattered throughout the forest near the poorly hidden ship."
Williams turned to Sulu. "Commander, have you assigned the landing party yet?"
"All but one of them, sir," Sulu admitted, turning to Rachelson. "Commander, I want you to lead a team down there. I will beam down to advise you, but not to direct you."
Rachelson's eyes widened. A chance to command a landing party! That hadn't happened since she left the Yorktown eight years ago! Every time she'd requested it since coming aboard the Cooper, Sulu's predecessor had charged her with insubordination! "Yes, sir!" she responded, her voice brimming with enthusiasm.
"Others assigned, Commander?" queried Williams.
Sulu turned to his commanding officer. "Chambers and Waters from Security; Xon from Sciences; Johnson from Medical. And Rivers will be manning the transporter room."
"Very well. Commander, may I ask why I have not been included in this landing party?" Williams asked, intently staring at Sulu's eyes.
"Your safety is of paramount importance to this ship and to Starfleet Command. If you so choose, you may invoke command rank and overrule my decision." Sulu stood, his features tight.
Williams shook his head. "No, Mister Sulu. I was simply asking a question. And it has been satisfactorily answered."
"Then with your permission, sir?"
Williams nodded, and Sulu punched into the intraship communications band. "Landing party report to transporter room immediately," the Cooper's executive officer ordered. "Stand by to beam down to planet surface."
As Sulu stood to leave the bridge, Williams noted his exec's excitement over a potentially lethal assignment.
Before Sulu could get to the turbolift, a huge arm stopped him. "Y'all need any moah volunteers, Mistuh Sulu?" asked Kahn. "I'll be glad to beam down with y'all and kill me some o' them polecats fer y'all."
"Er, no, thanks--Mo," said Sulu, glancing to see if Williams had heard. If the captain had, he was ignoring the situation. "I think we can handle it."
"Well, I'm pretty good with a phaser if you change yer mind."
"I'll remember that."
The landing party materialized in a glade along a lake. This was near the village they'd first beamed down to all those years ago, Sulu remembered.
"It's so beautiful," remarked Rachelson.
Sulu nodded. He pointed to the other side of the lake. "There's the village." The lodges and tents were scattered along the lake shore.
There was an explosion of sound, and suddenly it was raining blood. Sulu shook off the echo in his head to see the headless body of one of the security guards twitching on the ground. "Everybody down!" snapped Rachelson. "Chambers, have you got a target yet?"
The surviving security guard nodded. "Bearing fourteen point two." The young woman looked adjusted her tricorder. "A Kzin with a Mark Seven Blaster."
Sulu was about to issue an order and bit his tongue. This was, after all, Rachelson's command. He was not about to usurp it; she'd waited so long for her chance. He glanced around at the other officers who were all in prone positions nearby. All were looking at Rachelson instead of him. That was good; they would follow her lead, not his.
"Phasers at ready," she ordered. "Chambers, you and I will take point. Sulu, behind us. Johnson and Xon to the rear."
Lieutenant Commander Xon raised with his tricorder. "The Kzin is scanning us from directly ahead. I am endeavoring to interfere with his sensor readings by feeding back his impulses at a--"
"Can it, Xon. Do what you think's best, but keep your mouth shut," Rachelson ordered quietly.
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow but said nothing further.
They advanced by crawling along the ground. "Distance?" Rachelson whispered.
"Twelve meters more," answered Chambers.
Suddenly, the Kzin bounded toward them, his sonic blaster spewing invisible death. Five phaser beams dropped him in seconds. The landing party stood, and advanced. He was alive but barely conscious. <<You, sir, are under arrest,>> intoned Rachelson somberly in the Hero's Tongue of the Kzinti.
The felinoid looked up at the Human female before him and laughed. A sustained blast from Rachelson's phaser rendered him unconscious. She looked at her phaser, and at the Kzin. Then she turned to meet the concerned looks from her friends.
"Janet?" asked Johnson softly. "You okay?"
Rachelson sighed deeply then nodded. Nothing needed to be said, but it was obvious that stunning the Kzin into oblivion had made the security chief feel a little better over the loss of one of her crew. She hadn't led a mission in eight years, and, boom, thirty seconds after beaming down, one casualty.
She looked into Sulu's eyes. It was obvious that he was feeling very sorry for her right now. Could he have given her this assignment because they'd been sleeping together? No, she decided, pointedly dismissing the absurd notion from her mind. Damn it all, she had earned this chance for a command, and although she'd lost one member of her party quickly, she had five more to think about, not to even mention the innocent natives who were being victimized by the ferocious Kzinti.
"Chambers, tag this son of a bitch and get him beamed aboard the Cooper. Xon, I want another target. We're going to kick some ass and right now."
"Captain Williams, a vessel is on approach to the planet," reported the second science officer, Lieutenant John Gould.
There was a second of a hesitation. "Tentatively I.D.'ed as a Kzinti cargo ship."
"Battlestations," ordered Williams. "Sound Red Alert, Commander Anex. Then try to raise them."
"Yes, Captain," came the soprano voice of the Edoan communications officer.
"Commander Haines, raise shields and stand by for evasive maneuvers."
"Yes, Captain. Standing by."
The Kzinti ship belched forth a photon torpedo. "Typical," muttered Williams as he made his way to the weaponry/security station. He sat down at the station, reviewed it briefly, then readied himself to operate the controls.
"Contact with torpedo in five seconds," reported Lieutenant Umer, the ship's highest ranking navigator. Her mate was nearby at the comm station, giving her some reassurance. Her three hands danced over the nav console as those of a master pianist would dance over a keyboard.
Williams activated the weaponry, locked phasers onto the torpedo and destroyed it. He suddenly ordered, "Evasive attack maneuvers."
Haines turned with a start, but didn't question his order. Her fingers danced across the keyboard, and the Cooper began to approach the Kzinti cargo ship with alarming speed. She turned to Williams, but for what she didn't know.
"The helm is yours, Mister Haines," he said softly.
That was it, reassurance that she was to do as she saw fit. She went into action, and the Cooper attacked.
The commander of the cargo ship must have been surprised to find a Federation science survey ship in orbit, but he must have nearly died of shock when such a small vessel began an attack run on his own. The cargo ship lumbered in orbit like a wallowing pig, slowly trying to turn so its weaponry could be brought into position to bear down on the attacking scout-class vessel. But it was to no avail. With Williams' expert handling of the weaponry and Haines' outstanding control of the ship's helm, the cargo ship was quickly reduced to its constituent atoms.
"Well done, Commander Haines," allowed Williams as he returned to the center seat. "Stand down to Yellow Alert," he ordered.
"No damage, sir," reported Gould.
"Let's hope the same can be said fo' the landin' party," murmured Kahn from the engineering station.
Anex turned. "Message coming in from the landing party," he reported. "Commander Rachelson reports one casualty, one Kzinti captured. She requests immediate transport of their prisoner."
Williams altered his position in the center seat, shifting his weight from one arm to the other. He was still pumped up with adrenaline from their skirmish. "Have the transporter room beam up the prisoner. Have him confined in Airlock Seven until further notice."
"Airlock Seven, sir?" asked Haines. Then it dawned on her. "Oh, right." There was no other securable place to hold a Kzinti.
"He ain't gonna be no trouble to us in thair," explained Kahn.
Williams had reached his difficult decision. "Anex, order Lieutenant Pijper to the transporter room. After seeing to the Kzin, he is to beam down in combat gear to aid the landing party. Have they identified the casualty?"
"No, sir. Shall I--"
"Negative. It will wait." He surveyed the mainviewer, intently observing the swirling blue-green globe. "It will wait," he repeated softly.
The landing party was standing around the spot where the semi-conscious form of their prisoner had dematerialized. The air shimmered, and the new Xenobiologist materialized. "At your service, Commander Rachelson."
"Can you handle the combat gear?" she asked, noting that the young man didn't seem terribly confident dressed in durasteel armor.
"I hope so," he said. "Look, I've had the basic training, sir. It's just been a while. A long while."
"Very well." She turned to the science officer. "Sensors, Mister Xon. Nearest Kzin?" asked Rachelson.
"Bearing three-eleven. Located on the other side of the lake shore." The young Vulcan adjusted his tricorder and pointed. "The Kzin seems to be scanning us."
The air sang with a high shrill.
"Incoming!!" shouted Rachelson as she and the landing party all dived in different directions.
The ground where they had stood exploded.
As the earth rained on them, another shrill sound began.
"Scatter everyone!!" shouted Rachelson. "Xon, feedback his signals! Chambers, set up the launcher!"
The members of the landing party dove from one location to the other. The ground exploded again, and it again rained earth as yet another shrill whine filled the air.
"I've got the launcher set up, sir!" shouted Chambers, referring to the photon grenade launcher.
"Xon, give her a vector!"
"Working, Commander," called the Vulcan from where Chambers had hastily assembled the launcher.
After a second's discussion with the Vulcan, Chambers called out, "The range is a bit tight, sir!"
"Do it!" shouted Rachelson as the earth rained down from the sky again.
There was a popping sound, then a bright flash. A second later, there was a roar of wind and sound. Xon shouted over the commotion. "Target destroyed!"
Rachelson rolled over on her back. She looked to her right to see Sulu give her a 'thumbs-up' sign. "Roll call!" she shouted as she sat up.
All were present and accounted for. The landing party regrouped at the first crater.
"No casualties this time," Rachelson muttered to herself. "Xon, what kind of damage did we do?"
"We have terminated a Kzin. No others were present in the dead zone. We may have surprised a few of the native inhabitants, but other than raising their fears, we did them no harm."
"Damn, I didn't expect this to be so difficult," muttered Chambers.
"What the hell did you expect, Lieutenant? A cake-walk?" snapped Johnson.
"Quiet," ordered Rachelson, taking command of the trying situation. "We've already violated the Prime Directive on this planet. Let's try and avoid it further. Order the Cooper to beam us up immediately."
Williams turned, allowing a slight amount of surprise to show on his features. "Beamed up? Request clarification, Anex."
The Edoan communications officer worked diligently for a few moments. "I have lost the transmission, Captain."
"Preliminary check completed. All circuits functional."
Suddenly, a bright blue beam lanced up from the surface of the planet. The captain of the Cooper reacted quickly. "Deflectors on!"
The small starship shook violently. "Mister Gould," he called to the science station. "Analysis of energy weapon?"
"It's an extremely powerful deflector. If we deactivate our own deflectors, the turbulence will cease."
"And we'll be thrown out of orbit."
Williams turned to Haines. "Cut deflectors. Shields to minimum setting."
Her fingers tapped lightly on the keys. "Done, sir."
The U.S.S. Cooper was repulsed out of orbit and into the interplanetary space of the Epsilon Aurigae system.
"Engaging stabilizers," reported Haines as the deflector beam faded.
Williams stood and strode purposefully toward the science station. "Lieutenant Gould, your opinion of what has occurred."
"Sir, I was monitoring a rather fierce battle on the planet's surface in the vicinity of the Preserver obelisk. I guess it figured the planet was under attack, and, probably according to its programming, it broadened its defense margins to include any spacecraft orbiting the planet."
"That sounds like several reasonable assumptions, Lieutenant." He walked along the upper level past the mainviewer and stopped at the communications bank.
"Are we in still communicator range, Mister Anex, and can you raise the landing party?"
"We are no longer in range, Captain."
Williams walked to the Engineering station. "Mister Kahn, is there anyway we can overpower that deflector beam from this end?"
"Hell's bells, Captain. Ah ain't no miracle worker, just a good ol' engineer. Ah wouldn't reckon thair's anyway 't'all to ovuh power a deflector that powerful. Shit, it just ain't possible for a starship this size tuh even generate a thousandth of the power we'd need."
"Your recommendations," ordered Williams, turning to look at the now-distant planet on the viewscreen.
"Let's see if we can get a remote probe into orbit without gettin' repelled. It could even relay communications with the landin' party."
"Your recommendations are noted and appreciated, Lieutenant Commander Kahn," said Williams. "Ready a sensor probe for immediate launching."
"No response, sir."
Rachelson contemplated this news for a moment. "Keep trying every five minutes or so. Maybe it's a temporary problem."
"Given the fact that we witnessed the Preserver relic in operation, I surmise that it will be some time before we hear from the Cooper," remarked Xon.
Rachelson spun toward the Vulcan. "Then what is your recommendation, Mister?"
"Logically, we should proceed with our assigned mission; the circumstances dictate it."
"You mean there's nothing else we can do," observed Sulu wryly.
"No, sir. There are several alternatives ranging from--"
"Belay that, Mister," ordered Rachelson. "Let's have another target."
"None within immediate scanning range. I suggest we examine the camouflaged vessel."
"Okay, which way?"
The Vulcan indicated that their quarry lay on the other side of the lake. "We shall need to follow the shoreline for some time."
"Not directly on the banks, though," cautioned Rachelson. "We'll stay about fifteen meters into the surrounding trees rather than walk on the shoreline."
It was thirty minutes later when they arrived at the poorly hidden spacecraft. "They weren't expecting us, that's for sure," observed Sulu. "Look how hurried they must have been. They didn't even bother hiding these orange markings."
Pijper corrected him. "Kzinti are color-blind, Commander. They have apparently failed to remember that Humans are not." He pointed to a well-kept garden. "It is clear that they intended to remain for some time." He indicated one type of plant in particular. "This is <mind root>," he growled in the Hero's Tongue. "Some of them use it to become mind-readers, the famed Kzinti Telepaths. It is also the reason the telepaths become extremely neurotic. Our scientists have deduced the drug is extremely addictive, and a strong hallucinogen."
Rachelson cocked her phaser rifle into the heat position. "Maybe this will get their attention," she said, firing at the garden, setting it ablaze.
There was a high shrill in the air again.
"Incoming!" shouted Johnson.
They scattered as the spacecraft took a direct hit.
Xon immediately began his scans. "Commander, there are no Kzinti in range," he called. He shook his tricorder experimentally, trying to determine any immediate damage to the scanning device.
Another explosion drowned out Rachelson's terse reply from a nearby trench. "Look, Mister, we're under attack. If it's not from the Kzinti, then from--"
Before her suddenly stood several of the planet's natives, Mark VI Blasters in their hands. Rachelson stood slowly, raising her empty hands. "Everyone up," she ordered.
Johnson came out from a crater, and saw the same sight. She raised her left hand. "How."
Sulu rolled his eyes around in annoyance. They were here to eradicate the menace to these people, and, instead, they were interfering with another primitive culture.
The group gathered in the midst of their captors. Rachelson turned to Sulu and asked, "Did you ever have one of those days?"
The stout man stood before the landing party, wearing buckskins and moccasins. His face was painted, his hair tightly bound. He wore the badge of the tribe's medicine chief on his headband. His name was Salish, and he was uncertain what to do.
His band of warriors had captured a war party from the strange, flying lodge. But they were not the Devil Cats; they appeared to be people, but their clothing was unfamiliar to him. And they carried the instruments of destruction, just as the Devil Cats did.
He paced before them, tied as they were to trees, trying to decide their fate. His tribe was at war; he could not risk losing a potential ally in the cause, but he also could not allow himself to trust these...people.
One stood there, his face familiar. He approached him. "What is your tribe?"
Sulu pondered silently for a second, trying to come up with a non-interfering response to such a loaded question. "I am of Kirok's tribe."
Salish spun in surprise. "I thought I had seen your face before. So, the 'god' has returned to our lands." The bitterness filling his voice was disheartening to the Cooper's executive officer.
"No, Kirok is not...the chieftain of our lodge. I have a new lodge, now."
"Is your tribe allied with the Devil Cats?"
"Devil Cats?" asked Chambers. "What the hell does he mean?"
"The Kzinti, you bozo," muttered Johnson. "Now shut the fuck up."
Sulu ignored the discussion. "No, Salish. We are not."
"You have remembered my name. I am honored, but I do not remember yours."
"I am called Sulu by my tribe."
"Then, Sulu, you have returned to help us."
"Yes," said Sulu. "But Salish, what happened? How long have the...Devil Cats been here?"
"It has been many moons since their lodge came to these lands in the middle of the night." His eyes glazed over as he recalled the events clearly. "It was nearly harvest time when the lodge flew through the skies like a flaming arrow. It landed to the north of our village. Goro bade a delegation to go forth and seek the meaning of their coming. But they never returned.
"The next day, the Devil Cats raided our village, rounding up our women and children. We fought back as best we could, but they killed all those who tried to resist, and all those who counted coop. A few of us managed to escape to the hills. Many more were hunted down, and captured or killed. Some went to the south, trying to warn the other tribes in our land. They, too, were captured or killed. The other tribes had been conquered as well."
Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. "A few of us, mainly warriors, some medicine men, banded together. We have done more than counted coop; we have killed a few of the Devil Cats, and taken their weapons. We have eaten their flesh, just as they eat ours. We will not rest until our lands, our women and our children are free." Tears flowed down his face. "But they use the power of light itself, and kill and kill and kill." He shook his head in horror. "They seem to enjoy it."
"Where is this stockade?" asked Rachelson.
"A few hours march to the south, where the other lodge was until it left some days ago."
"Did they take your women and children with them?" asked Sulu, fearful of the answer.
"No," spoke up another Amerind. "They seemed very fearful and departed quickly in the night, leaving only a handful of warriors to oversee our families."
"Lumo, here, speaks the truth," said Salish. "The Devil Cats have declared themselves to be our new gods. The blasphemers!" He spat. "They often demand a sacrifice, and one of the children is chosen by those confined...they..."
He could not continue. But Lumo could. "They roast the child, as one might a pig, or fowl. Salish's own daughter was..." Lumo could not continue.
"I do not know how to beg, but I will learn if it means the survival of my people," Salish said, suddenly groveling before Sulu.
"Stop," Sulu pleaded. He knelt down to the ground and lifted Salish up to his feet. "Salish, you know we are not gods, but neither are the Devil Cats."
"Are they from your lands, your lodge, your tribe?" He was deeply confused.
"There are many lands, Salish; many lodges, and many, many tribes," Sulu tried to explain. "The Devil Cats are from a land much different than this. They subsist on others, consuming them raw or cooked. They are evil," Sulu spat. "And they will be stopped, and punished severely."
"What is it we can do to be of help?" asked Salish, choosing at last to stand.
"We will need a guide," said Xon, shaking both his and Chambers' tricorders. They rattled like the tail of a snake.
Sulu understood. "Yes. And water."
"You will have it," said Salish. "Lumo, see to their needs immediately."
"Captain, we've got a probe in orbit over the planet," reported Anex. "I am attempting communications with the landing party."
"Response?" inquired Williams. He spun his center seat to the communications bay. Glancing at the screen, he drummed his fingers on the arms of the chair in impatience.
"Commander Rachelson on line, sir," said Anex, some relief in his voice.
"Rachelson," began Williams. "Status report?" As terse sounding as he was, no one would have suspected how relieved he was.
"No additional casualties to report, Captain. However, I must report the death of one Kzinti warrior, and we have made contact with the natives."
"Clarify the phrase 'made contact,'" ordered Williams slowly. This was something that Starfleet had strictly prohibited. The Kzin's death was disturbing, but could be overlooked given the aggressive nature of their species.
"We were attacked by a native resistance group who mistook us for the Kzinti," came Rachelson's response over the extreme distance between the planet and the ship.
"I understand," said Williams, relieved the Amerinds were the ones who had initiated contact.
"Sir, we request instructions," she carefully phrased her question.
Williams tilted his head slightly. "What are your recommendations, Commander Rachelson?"
"Sir, I recommend that we proceed with the mission as stated, and remove the Kzinti threat from the planet surface. We will endeavor to minimize our contact with the native population, but that may be difficult. Our equipment has been damaged, and we will require a native guide to lead us to the Kzinti stockade."
"Proceed as you think best, Commander," ordered Williams. "I will be sending a shuttlecraft down to retrieve your landing party upon completion of your mission."
"Very well, sir. Rachelson out."
"I would like to be aboard that shuttle," came a voice from behind the center seat.
Williams turned to see the civilian spokesperson, Leon Mandala, standing with the head of the Xenoarchaeology/Xenoanthropology department, Anthony King. It was King who had spoken.
"Captain Williams," began Mandala with his stentorian tones. "I realize that we were completely out of line during the briefing. I hereby apologize and I respectfully request that you allow King and his staff to go to the planet's surface with the shuttle."
Williams regarded the two men closely. They seemed sincere enough. "Why?" he asked simply.
"The Preserver-relic. It has been activated, and it repelled this vessel out of orbit," responded King.
"That does not answer my question, Mister King. You've merely re-stated the obvious."
"Captain, my staff and I may be able to override its internal programming, and allow for the Cooper to again resume orbit over the planet."
Williams considered this. "I presume you are familiar with the relic itself?"
"The Federation starship which first recorded the obelisk had a Vulcan science officer renowned for thoroughness. He made exacting recordings of the interior of the obelisk, and even surmised the instrumentation pattern. It shouldn't be very difficult to disengage the obelisk's self-defense programming."
"What do you surmise happened to activate this programming?" asked Williams.
"I feel the Preservers probably installed a sensor in the relic, one which was designed to detect high tech weapons, such as the photon grenades the landing party took with them. If one of those grenades were used in combat with the Kzinti, and the obelisk detected it, then it probably determined that an advanced race was attacking the planet. It scanned the ship from the planet's surface, and then used its asteroid-repulsor to throw us from orbit..."
Williams' eyes widened. "Could it have signaled for assistance?"
"Certainly. However, the Preservers are a long dead race."
Williams ignored the comment, quickly stepping to communications console. "Lieutenant Commander Anex, have you detected any unusual signals from the planet surface?"
"Nothing worth reporting, sir." Anex pondered momentarily. "Sir, during the repulsor attack, all communications were jammed. I assumed that it was a side-effect from the repulsor energy. It could be--"
"Mister Gould," called Williams as he purposefully strode toward the science station. "Sensors on maximum scan. Do you read any interstellar traffic?"
Gould adjusted his instruments. "Nothing within this sector, sir. However, I'm reading something that has just entered the quadrant. An unidentified vessel."
"Is it on approach to this system?"
"Possibly. At this distance, it's very difficult to get a bearing."
Williams turned to the chief engineer across the bridge. "Mister Kahn, I want all available power tied into sensors for a deep-space scan."
"Yes, suh. All power's tied in, suh."
"Deep space scan, Mister Gould. Put it on the screen."
The mainviewer shifted from the image of the planet to a graphic of the entire quadrant. The Cooper's position was indicated by a red asterisk. The local interstellar traffic was indicated with various colored numbers. There were a few vessels in the quadrant, but not very many. And at the extreme edge of the quadrant, a green question mark indicated the position of the unidentified vessel.
"Opinion, Mister Gould?" asked Williams. The question mark was moving toward the Epsilon Aurigae system.
"Incredible. To detect movement as we scan...damn, that thing's moving toward us at Warp Twenty or so. It's a totally unique configuration, never before encountered."
"Estimated time of arrival?"
"Three hours, sir. Maybe less."
Williams turned to Mandala and King. "Gentlemen, I think that you may soon have an opportunity for close study of a 'long dead race.' I'm afraid I must deny your request for transport to the planet surface."
King's face was filled with shock. "The Preservers..."
Williams walked to Anex's station. "Raise the landing party."
Rachelson's helmet communicator chirped. They were already en route to the Kzinti stockade. Their destination was just over two hours distance, but they were making good time. She wondered what the Cooper wanted. She tapped the wrist control which would activate her comm. "Cooper, this is Rachelson."
"Commander, this is Captain Williams. We have a potential problem."
Rachelson signaled the group to stop. She keyed in Sulu's and Johnson's comm units. "Go ahead, Captain."
"Sensors are detecting a large, fast-moving vessel heading toward this star system," explained Williams.
"The Kzinti?" asked Sulu.
"Negative, Commander. An unknown configuration. It is moving at Warp Factor Twenty."
Rachelson and Sulu did a double-take. Doctor Johnson was just as surprised. "But that's simply impossible," she argued. "No ship could go that fast."
"The unidentified ship is approaching quickly. There are only three hours at best before its arrival. Will your mission have concluded by that time?"
"Unknown, Captain," admitted Rachelson. "I hope so. Can you have a shuttlecraft here by that time?"
"Negative. We're still in interplanetary space, relaying our communications through a probe in orbit. It would take at least thirty-six hours to get a shuttle there, and thirty-six hours for its return to our present position. I must state that it has been surmised that the vessel could be of the Preserver civilization."
Now that's a problem, Sulu decided. There they were, a lowly science vessel, orbiting a backwater planet, engaging in hostilities with another star-faring race (namely, the Kzinti), and along comes a galaxy-renowned civilization that was known throughout history for preserving the infinitely diverse societies of various planets. How would such a benevolent race look upon two "fledgling" civilizations that were actively engaged in combat? They could even presume it was for the dominance of the planet rather than one side trying to liberate said planet from the other.
To further their problems, they had no "first contact" authorities on board the Cooper. Its mission did not call for them to seek out new life and new civilizations. It called for them to go where others had gone before. He supposed the Xenoarchaeology/Xenoanthropology department would have to handle that problem.
"Mister Sulu, I am turning over command of the landing party to you," said Williams. "You are to quickly secure the Kzinti in their own stockade, and to send the natives back to their villages. Hopefully, the Preservers will under- stand our motivations. If not, you are to cooperate fully with the Preservers. Do you understand?"
Rachelson looked shocked. Her first command in such a long time a failure! It was an unbearable thought.
"Sir, I hereby refuse command of this landing party," said Sulu unexpectantly. "Commander Rachelson is to remain in command for the duration of this mission. She has performed extremely well in this matter."
"Commander Sulu, may I remind you that I am cap--"
"Daniel, you listen and you listen good," snapped Johnson savagely. "Rachelson's done a fine job here, and to relieve her of her command just because the bigwigs are coming? Come on, Daniel; be serious. Neither Sulu nor Rachelson has had any experience with the Preservers. Why relieve her of command?"
"Very well," came Williams' voice. "We will all discuss this matter later," he warned, causing Sulu's stomach to burn a little. "Commander Rachelson, do you understand your orders?"
The Kzinti stockade was made of tree logs, bonded together with metal spikes. Although very secure for a primitive people, it took a phaser on disrupt only a microsecond to punch a hole through it. The Kzinti were surprised, of course. In the entire known history of the galaxy, no one race had as great a penchant for unpreparedness as the Kzinti. As the team from the Cooper attacked, each Kzin fell, stunned by phasers and stunned by the fact that fifty percent of their attackers were females.
"All Kzinti are accounted for," determined Xon, "except for one, if the body count given us by Salish is correct."
"We're missing one? Damn," said Johnson as she administered sedatives to several of the more elderly native Amerinds.
One of them hobbled to Sulu. "I remember your face. You are of Kirok's tribe, are you not?"
Sulu regarded him for a second, then realized the man's identity. "Chief Goro, I am Sulu, and I am of Kirok's tribe."
"The Devil Cats are no more?"
Sulu nodded. "We think there may be one more free somewhere."
A high shrill filled the air. Sulu dropped to the ground, and pulled Goro down with him. "Yeah, there's one more left." He crawled to the crater with the chieftain, and was soon joined by Xon, Rachelson and Johnson. "Where's Pijper and Chambers?"
"Chambers took off. I think she's going to try something," said Johnson. "How in Hell did I get into this mess?" she groaned.
"You joined Starfleet, remember?" prompted Rachelson.
"I didn't join anything; I was shanghaied into this!" declared Johnson. She popped her head and phaser above the crater's rim and fired a few shots at the nearby hillside.
Suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light. An explosion filled the air, and debris, including fur and blood, rained down upon them. Goro moaned in horror, and curled up tightly against the wall of the crater.
Rachelson and Sulu's eyes widened and Xon raised an eyebrow. Johnson's face turned red. She looked at the weapon in her hand. "I couldn't have hit him."
"The odds are indeed against it," agreed Xon. "However, you seem to have hit the Kzin's supply of photon grenades."
Chambers and Pijper looked over the rim of the crater. "Are all of you all right?" asked the Xenobiologist.
"That was a hell of a shot, Doctor," praised Chambers. "I couldn't get near enough to him to drop him."
Goro slowly stood. "Sulu, is it over? Have the Devil Cats been finished?"
"Yes," said Sulu. "And now you and your people should return to your homes and villages. You should be receiving some visitors pretty soon."
"Are they of your tribe as well?"
"No, Chief. I think they're the Wise Ones. They have learned of your lamentations and are coming to your aid."
"It is good. The Devil Cats ruined our crops, our villages; they killed many game animals. We will need help from the Wise Ones."
Lumo approached them, and Goro went with him to what was left of their village and their homes.
Rachelson turned to Johnson and Pijper. "I want the Kzinti unconscious. Do you have anything that would keep them under until we get them back aboard the Cooper?"
"Message from the landing party," announced Anex.
"Audio, please." Williams punched the chair comm. "This is Williams. Go ahead, landing party."
"All of the Kzinti are secured, sir. We've got them under very heavy sedation for now. Anything further on the approaching vessel?"
"Mister Gould has done a thorough examination of the reported ship sightings. It does correspond to what was once reported to be a ship seen in Gamma Leporis system. There are Preserver relics on the sixth planet in that system as well, and its inhabitants are of ancient Egyptian stock. It does look like we're finally going to meet them. Mister King's department is mobilized on the bridge."
"Any orders, sir?"
"Negative. Stand by for action, however. Maintain complete control of your prisoners. Williams out."
The captain of the Cooper turned to Lieutenant, J.G. Gould at the sciences station. "Position of alien vessel?"
"On final approach to the planet, sir."
The massive doughnut-shaped craft spun toward the planet, decelerating as it approached. "Sensors?" asked Williams.
"Nothing, Captain. Its mass is greater than that of Earth's moon, but other than that, I've got no readings. I can't even make a determination of its type of propulsion." He paused. "Sir, I'm getting a strange reading!" he said excitedly. "Sir, we're--"
The bridge was enveloped with a bright white light.
Sulu, Rachelson, Xon, Pijper, Chambers and Johnson stood near their captives, weapons drawn. "It must be here by now," said Rachelson.
"Based upon the figures supplied by the captain, I would say it arrived seven minutes ago," calculated Xon.
"I wonder how long it'll be before we hear something from the Cooper," Johnson remarked.
"Commander Rachelson, I...I'm a little nervous," admitted Chambers.
Rachelson's eyes flashed in surprise at the young woman. "Why? Lieutenant, any species capable of spaceflight should certainly be capable of understanding why we're here, and that we mean the natives of this planet no harm."
"I doubt the existence of the Kzinti would support that statement," observed Sulu wryly.
Pijper, as usual, said nothing.
Suddenly, there was a blinding bright light, and they and their captives, and even the Kzinti spacecraft and the unburied body of Waters several kilometers in the distance faded from existence.
Williams opened his eyes slowly. He quickly scanned the mainviewer. They were nowhere near where they had been. The constellation looked vaguely like Orion, but anything was possible. The other bridge officers were regaining their consciousness. The civilians looked bewildered. He keyed the intercom. "All decks acknowledge."
Haines inserted her earjack and took the reports. "No damage, Captain. All stations show green."
"Bridge report," he ordered.
One by one, the bridge officers agreed that everything was fine.
"Location, Navigator?" he asked.
"The Cooper is lightyears from where we were, namely Quad F-Fourteen, near the Orion Barrier territories."
"Sir, Commander Rachelson on the intercom!" he squeaked in excitement. "She reports that the landing party is intact in the Cooper's shuttlebay. No sign of their prisoners, however."
"Captain, the Kzin in the airlock is missing," relayed Haines as she heard the message over the ear comm unit.
Williams sighed. "Have the landing party assemble for debriefing in thirty minutes. Notify Starfleet Command and Memory Alpha of our current situation." Privately, he wondered what had become of the Kzinti.
On the whole, the mission was labeled a success. They had successfully liberated the inhabitants of Epsilon Aurigae IV from the clutches of their Kzinti enslavers. But it had left an unsatisfactory taste in Sulu's mouth. Upon their return the landing party was extensively debriefed by Williams. During the one week voyage back to Epsilon Aurigae, various speculations were bandied about. It was generally agreed that the Preservers had chosen to punish the Kzinti in a special way, but Sulu couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the Preservers did not care who was doing what as long as the Amerinds were left to themselves.
His speculation was reinforced upon their return to the planet. There was no sign of the Preservers, as well as no sign of the Amerinds who had survived the ordeal, no remnants of their village, no sign of the Kzinti, nor even the Preserver obelisk, no sign anyone had ever been there before. The Amerinds had vanished without a trace. All that was left was a grave, marked with a duranite tombstone bearing the name, "Lieutenant Randall Waters." It was baffling to the crew of the Cooper, and more so to the civilian specialists. There was a small ceremony with kind words of good deeds.
Sulu stood now on the transporter pad, after having been beamed up back to the Cooper. He stepped down from the platform, and walked toward the door as they opened for Williams. "Mister Sulu, I'd like to see you in my quarters in five minutes, along with Rachelson and Johnson."
"Yes, sir." He walked over to the intercom and paged the other two officers to Williams' quarters. He walked down the hall to the captain's quarters. He was soon joined by Johnson and Rachelson. "What's this all about, Sulu?"
"I'm not sure, Casey," said the executive officer. He suspected it was the axe about to fall, but he certainly wouldn't admit it.
Williams arrived moments later, dinner tray in his hand. "Inside," he ordered.
They took the three seats available before Williams' desk.
"I have called you together as you are the three most senior officers aboard the Cooper. During this difficult mission, I chose to place Commander Sulu in command of the landing party. He refused. Doctor Johnson, you vehemently chose to support his decision." His eyes seemed to glow with flame. "I am very angry about this very insubordinate attitude. I have warned you, Commander Sulu, not to question my orders. Yet you have continued to do so."
Sulu blinked. He had been warned when he came aboard not to question orders, and yet he had while on Epsilon Aurigae IV. "Yes, sir," he said.
"I have warned you, Doctor Johnson, not to question my orders. Yet you, too, have continued to do so."
Johnson smiled her "fuck you" smile. "Yes, sir."
"Commander Rachelson, what is your recommendation?" asked Williams.
Rachelson looked away from her commanding officer, and glanced at her two friends. "A light reprimand, sir," she suggested.
"Unsatisfactory response, Commander Rachelson." Williams looked back to Sulu. "And what is your recommendation, Mister Sulu?"
"A full reprimand, sir, with a salary penalty," said Sulu, raising his chin while his chest tightened.
"Unsatisfactory response, Commander Sulu." Williams looked to Johnson. "And what is your recommendation, Doctor Johnson?"
"I recommend you lighten up, Captain, sir," she said forcefully. "It was a command decision that Sulu made. He and I saw no reason that Rachelson should be removed from command of the landing party. We had confidence she could handle any situation. You didn't."
"While I do not have to explain my actions to you, Commanders, I believe I shall make an exception. Mister Sulu, how many previously unknown alien species did the Enterprise encounter during your eight years aboard her?"
"I'm not certain, sir. Well over a dozen."
"Commander Rachelson, how many did the Yorktown encounter during your time there?"
"I'm not sure either, sir. Maybe two. We were a flag ship under Commodore April; we didn't have much exploratory duty."
"Which of you two served most recently aboard a starship on the frontiers of explored space?"
"Sir, I--" began the Cooper's executive officer.
"Mister Sulu, do you understand my point? I have my reasons, and I do not like having them questioned. Nor do I like having to explain my reasons to officers during crisis situations." He sighed heavily. "I have written a report that will be appended to your records, Commander Sulu and Doctor Johnson, conveying your continued insubordination. The two of you will also be docked one week's salary. However, all three of you will receive two week's salary bonus in lieu of combat duty pay, and my report seems to have disappeared from your files. I will not have any trouble in finding it should this insubordinate attitude manifest itself again. Questions?"
"I'm not sure, sir. Do you mean we're not going to be cited?" asked Sulu.
"That's correct. It was a trying situation, and you three performed well. And I am still amazed how Doctor Johnson managed to hit such a distant target." He paused. "After all, you're a doctor, not a marksman."
Sulu laughed aloud. Seeing Williams was not amused, he quickly stifled it. "I'm sorry, sir."
"There is also the matter of Commander Haines," Williams continued, startling Sulu. "I have re-evaluated her performance during this difficult situation. During your absence, Commander Sulu, she handled her duties and yours quite well. I am recommending her for a promotion, per your request."
"Thank you, sir. I'm sure she'll appreciate that," said Sulu. "I'll inform her of her pending promotion tomorrow afternoon, with your permission."
The captain nodded. "Then, I have only one more point for discussion," said Williams. "I am not unaware of certain liaisons between you three. As long as there is no serious decline in the quality of your work, and as long as the situation remains, let us say, 'under the covers,' I have no objections."
Three heads nodded in understanding.
"Now, my dinner is getting cold. Dismissed."
Sulu, Rachelson and Johnson sat on the comfortable bed in the security officer's room, talking about what had recently transpired.
"I guess Jana's promotion will thrill her," remarked Rachelson.
"I doubt it," said Sulu. "She's always been very laid-back about rank. I don't even think she'll bat an eyelid at the news. What I wonder is where the Kzinti went."
"I'd like to think they were sent to some desolate desert planet where the only thing to eat was each other," decided the security chief.
"I don't think so," said Johnson. "I agree with Sulu; the Preservers probably just put them all in their little ship in the Kzinti Territory."
"And the Amerinds?" asked Sulu.
"Somewhere we won't find them any time soon," said Rachelson. "Somewhere safer than Epsilon Aurigae...The real question is how we fared with the captain."
"We got off lucky that time," Johnson said.
Sulu nodded in agreement. "I thought I was about to be transferred."
Rachelson warned, "Next time you probably will be. Please, Hikaru, Casey, don't ever question his order again. You put me in a real jam by doing that. I didn't think anything of it when he told you to take command of the landing party. Well...not too much anyway."
"He was wrong, but he can't admit it. He's the captain, and he's never wrong," said Johnson.
"What do you mean, Casey?" asked Sulu.
"Rule Number One: The captain is always right. Rule Number Two: If the captain is wrong, refer to Rule Number One."
"Captain Kirk wasn't like that," argued Sulu.
"And he's grounded right now, isn't he?" provoked Rachelson. "You've got to get into that mind set, Hikaru. Kirk was a great starship commander, probably the greatest the galaxy has ever known, except for Garth of Izar, perhaps. But he's a rare breed. And Captain Williams is not of that breed. In fact, if you ever serve aboard another science vessel, you're going to notice that they are all commanded by men like Williams, men who are officious to a degree, but men who make excellent personnel managers. The reason for this is simple: too little room aboard to have half the crew mad at the other half."
"Well, enough shop. I'm going to bed. Care to join me, pal?" she asked Sulu.
He smiled. "I think I like to stay here for a while, if that's okay with you, Janet," he said.
"I'd like that very much," she answered and winked at Johnson. "Say goodnight, Casey."
"Goodnight, Casey," said the doctor as the door closed behind her.
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