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May 1st 2275

I have arrived.

Lieutenant Commander Pavel A. Chekov peered out the huge transparent aluminum portal of the observation lounge in Starbase 10’s orbiting Centroplex. His new ship awaited, gleaming like an alabaster sculpture, cradled in the latticework of the maintenance drydock outside. He could almost reach out and touch the registry number emblazoned on the saucer hull: NCC-1864.

The U.S.S. Reliant was a Miranda II-class heavy frigate. It was ostensibly a research vessel, as was Enterprise, but with her weapons platform, she was quite capable of defending herself and wreaking havoc on an enemy starship as well as delivering cargo, troops and material across the quadrant.

The ship bore a marked resemblance to Enterprise, with her familiar saucer hull and streamlined refit engine nacelles, but there was no engineering hull or interconnecting dorsal. Chekov pursed his lips.

Even now, I am comparing to Enterprise, he thought. Reliant is not Enterprise. Is not fair of me to expect it to be same.

It should have been an easy decision—Executive Officer of a starship, a step closer to a captaincy. After the debacle at Serenidad, any career advancement had to be considered a bonus. And yet, he balked at first, illogically hoping against hope that by some miracle the command crew of Enterprise, the finest crew in Starfleet, would somehow be reunited and assigned as a unit to another ship, preserving the incredible chemistry and sense of family they all shared.

"If there’s even a chance vwe could get a new ship together, I vwouldn’t vwant to miss out on that opportunity," he had confided to Hikaru Sulu, his best friend.

But Sulu had sagely pointed out, "’re dreaming. There is no we anymore."

He was right, of course. Captain Kirk and Mister Spock had been assigned to Starfleet Training Command, and Doctor McCoy was working as Chief Surgeon for Starfleet Sector One General Hospital. Sulu had accepted the post of First Officer aboard the Cooper, Uhura was now the executive officer of the Sadat, and Mister Scott was on special assignment with Starfleet Engineering.

The family had fled the nest, and the nest had been all but destroyed.

They had all urged him to take the position, even his mentor, Mister Spock. In the end, the decision was clear. He would accept the post aboard Reliant and make the best of it.

And perhaps it wouldn’t be all that bad. A number of his shipmates from Enterprise were coming over to Reliant with him. Jonathan Winston Kyle would be Chief Communications Officer; Carolyn Palamas was the new head of the Archaeology and Anthropology Department; and Steve Kelowitz, who had transferred to Reliant a week before the Serenidad tragedy, was serving as Chief of Security. Arex and Dawson Walking Bear would serve as Navigator and Helmsman respectively, and Johnny Farrell, another Enterprise crewmate who had left the nest earlier than most, had been moved up to Assistant Chief Engineer. So there were at least a few familiar faces from Enterprise aboard his new ship.

Still, it wouldn’t be the same...

As he was idly wondering if his gear had made it safely aboard Reliant, he noticed a travel pod detach itself from the starship. The pilot was very good, deftly maneuvering the little craft through the network of girders surrounding the frigate. Floodlights played hide ‘n’ seek with the pod as it swelled in size in the viewport. It docked at the port just a few meters from where he stood.

"Lieutenant Commander Pavel Chekov: a travel pod is available for you at Port Seven," a mechanized voice announced.

The hatch cycled open, and a slim young Andorian woman in a burgundy Starfleet lieutenant’s uniform strode confidently out into the corridor. She was diminutive—half a head shorter than Chekov—and luminously beautiful. The snug-fitting uniform accentuated her supple curves. Her clear gray eyes appeared to be almost silver in color when they caught the light a certain way. Flowing, snow-white hair tumbled to her shoulders in soft waves, swirling around her antennae stalks, and her flawless skin was the color of the Terran sky on a clear autumn day. Seeing her dazzling smile was like watching a sunrise; she flashed perfect, even white teeth at him.

That beautiful smile he remembered so well, the smile that still graced his dreams.

"Lieutenant Commander Chekov," she said formally, shaking his hand. Her voice was soft and lilting, like alien music, with just a hint of a lisp, which he had always found to be rather endearing. "Welcome to Reliant. Sorry about the travel pod, but they’re re-tuning the transporters. Your carriage awaits."

He glanced meaningfully at the rank pin on the shoulder strap of her burgundy uniform jacket, but the look in her eyes said, Later. "Thank you...Lieutenant Kazanga."

They boarded the travel pod. As the hatch cycled shut, she wrapped her arms around him in a fierce embrace. "I’ve missed you so much," she murmured, and there was a tremor in her voice. "That first year after the Enterprise had returned from its five year mission, when we were at Starfleet Training Command, completing our security certification, those were the happiest days of my life. I made a mistake accepting the assignment to the Invincible. I should have stayed with you, asked for a transfer to the Enterprise."

"Kyptin Decker would never have approved your transfer, and you—"

Without warning, she kissed him, shutting him up, and the intensity made his head swim. His body reacted involuntarily to the pleasant memories. You didn’t make love to Thela Kazanga; she mated with you, savagely, hungrily, and it would be the most intense sexual pleasure you would experience in your entire life. "Welcome back," she whispered.

Chekov exhaled slowly. "That vwas quite a vwelcome, Thela."

"Ditto," she said. Then she made a face. "But—I’m supposed to be briefing you during this ride, not just flirting with you. We must talk a little business, too. You’ll have about an hour to settle in, and then Jellybelly wants to see you in his quarters."

"Jellybelly?" Chekov nearly burst out laughing. "Kyptin Terrell? Thela! I know you’ve always had an irreverent streak, but...Jellybelly?"

She shrugged. "I didn’t come up with the nickname, but it fits. We all call him that—not to his face, of course. He is rather rotund."

"I...see." Chekov desperately fought for control. "Vwell, Kyptin Terrell may not be a James T. Kirk, but he is a starship kyptin, and as such he should be afforded..."

Then he started sputtering, and he lost it. He laughed aloud for almost a full minute, and Kazanga joined him.

"J-Jellybelly..." he finally managed to gasp. "You realize, of course, that I vwill be unable to keep a straight face vwhile I am meeting vwith Kyptin Terrell."

"Well, I hope you can, because I wouldn’t enjoy being Acting Chief of Security," Kazanga said. "Scuttlebutt has it that they’re going to offer it to you along with the exec position for the time being, because of your background and experience."

Chekov immediately sobered. "‘Acting’ Chief?" he echoed, concerned. "Vwhat about Steve Kelowitz?"

"I’m not surprised you haven’t heard," Kazanga asked.

Chekov could feel a knot forming in his stomach. "Vwe...vwere a little busy. Vwhat happened to Steve?"

She repressed a shudder. "Last week, while we were temporarily reassigned to patrol the Barrier Alliance," she began to explain, "we surprised an Orion marauder attacking Dolyneda Four, just inside Federation territory. They destroyed the outpost and kidnapped the females for the Xantharian slave markets."

She couldn’t repress another shudder. "They spaced their captives when Reliant caught up to them. Opened the cargo hatches and just dumped them out into raw vacuum. Explosive decompression—ugly way to die. They were all killed—every last one of them. There was hand-to-hand on the Orion ship; we lost twelve people. Steve and his squad got caught by a photon grenade explosion. He was bringing up the rear and didn’t quite make it through the hatch—luckily for him; the rest of them were instantly vaporized, and he was shredded pretty badly by shrapnel. I managed to get him out before the ship self-destructed."

"Bozhe moi!" Chekov exclaimed. "How is he?"

"He’s expected to make a full recovery," Kazanga explained. "He’s pretty well-healed—not so much as a scar—but he’s still regrowing nerves—still learning to walk and use his arms again, stuff like that. He’s looking at another three weeks of rehab. But he’s supposed to be as good as new when the doc’s finished with him."

"Thank goodness for that," Chekov said. "If I know Steve, he’ll cut that rehab time in half. But in the meantime..."

"We need someone with experience to run Security," Kazanga finished. "Someone like you...sir."

He grinned. "Now it’s ‘sair’...vwhat happened to ‘Pavel?’"

"This is ship’s business," she replied, smiling back.

Chekov exhaled slowly. "I don’t know. Reliant’s usual patrol zone is in the vicinity of the Triangle between Romulan, Klingon and Federation space. Nimbus Three is there, along with Psi Scorpii Eight. The patrol route is near the Antares nebula and the Tralachon nebula. The only sector vwith vworse security casualties is Barrier Alliance space."

Kazanga nodded. "It’s a big, thankless job. But we need you."

"Oh, I can do it," Chekov affirmed. "It’s just that heading Security along with serving as the executive officer might be a bit much."

"I’m sure Jellybelly will cut you some slack with the exec stuff, and I can help you with Security," she said. "I just don’t like total responsibility for it. My shoulders aren’t that big."

Kazanga expertly spun the travel pod around and backed it up toward the airlock. Chekov swallowed hard when he realized she was going in on manual, without the guide tractors, but said nothing. The little craft docked smoothly, without a hitch. There was not even the slightest vibration.

"Here we are, Pavel," Kazanga said cheerfully. "The U.S.S. Reliant. Your new home away from home."

"Excellent job of flying, Thela," he said. "Vwery smooth docking. I didn’t even feel it."

"That’s the general idea," she returned. She hesitated a moment. "Listen—later on, after your briefing and after you get settled in, what do you say we go down and have dinner at Starbase Ten? We’ll only be here two more days. It’ll be nice to go planetside. There’s a restaurant called Petersen’s of Terra that has one of the best and most eclectic menus in the Federation. You can get Russian cuisine, and I can find Andorian specialties. I understand they make incredible borscht."

Chekov smiled. "I’ll trust your judgment in that, my dear. You’ve always been on target before. And I can think of no one I’d rather go to dinner vwith."

"We can go casual at Petersen’s, too," Kazanga added. "Should be fun."

"All right, then, Thela—it’s a date."

A beep sounded; a green telltale flashed on, and the hatch cycled open.

Chekov stepped out onto Reliant. There was a rather large reception committee standing by to greet him. Kyle and Palamas were there, as were Walking Bear and Arex. Farrell was missing, but then engineers were always busy fiddling with their engines.

There were also a number of people he didn’t know, many of them wearing security uniforms. Probably just curious to see the man who might be their interim section leader. Or perhaps they wanted to catch a glimpse of a member of Enterprise’s celebrated command crew in the flesh.

And he was certain that some of them were likely bursting with curiosity over the recent tragedy that had claimed the fabled starship at Serenidad.

At the head of the group was a large black man with a neatly trimmed beard and short curly hair attired in a Starfleet captain’s uniform. Chekov was reminded of King Henry VIII, and he made a conscious effort not to stare at the man’s ample stomach.

"Permission to come aboard, sair?" he asked.

"Granted, Lieutenant Commander Chekov, granted. Welcome to Reliant."

Captain Clark Terrell’s handshake was firm, and his smile was open and friendly. "I wanted to take a moment to personally greet you, Commander Chekov, and then I’m going to turn you over to your friends and let you get settled in," he said. "Unfortunately, I have just about enough time to greet and run. I have to do a PR session with a reporter from INS down on the starbase. However, I’d like to meet with you in my quarters in about an hour to officially welcome you and brief you about your new assignment, if that would be all right. That would be around 1530 hours, ship’s time."

"That would be fine, sair," Chekov returned.

"Good. See you then."

As Terrell lumbered off down the corridor, Kazanga hooked Chekov’s arm in hers. His old friends from the Enterprise surged forward and greeted him warmly, while the others moved off, their curiosity apparently satisfied. Palamas gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek, and the others shook hands and slapped him on the back.

"Welcome to Reliant, Pavel," Kyle said. "She may not be Enterprise, but she’s a good ship."

"She’s fine, Jon," Chekov returned. "It is okay vwith me that she’s not Enterprise."

"First Officer," Walking Bear said, shaking his head in admiration. "Congratulations, Pavel."

"Well, don’t expect to get your old seat back," Arex piped in with his high, reedy voice. "I’m the navigator here. You’ll have to arm wrestle me for it!"

They all laughed as the Edoan waved all three of his arms in front of Chekov’s face. He clasped Arex on one of his shoulders.

"Don’t vworry, my friend—I don’t even have a seat. Yours is safe."

"Listen, I’ve got to get back to work," Kyle said. "Why don’t we all get together for dinner around 1900 hours?"

Chekov glanced uncertainly at Kazanga. "Vwell...I’d love to, but I already have dinner plans."

Palamas chuckled and winked at the Andorian. "That was fast, you Russian Casanova," she said.

"Come on, Commander," Kazanga said. "I had ten minutes to fly him over here in a travel pod. That’s like a lifetime. He didn’t stand a chance—he was putty in my hands! It didn’t hurt that we’re old...friends, either."

"Ah, Thela, the beautiful Andorian ‘Blue Rose,’" Kyle said gallantly. "We can’t possibly hope to compete with such loveliness. How about a rain check, Pavel?"

"How about this? You guys meet us for drinks at Longworth’s Pub around 2100," Kazanga said. "That way I get him to myself for a couple of hours, and share him with you later."

"Sounds like a plan," Palamas said.

"Great!" the Andorian exclaimed. "See you at 2100."

Kazanga led Chekov down the corridor. He realized that he was thoroughly enjoying this—and how much he had missed it. It was very nice to be fussed over by this beautiful young woman, especially after everything that had happened on...

It must have shown on his face. She stopped walking and gripped his hands in hers. "Hey...I’m not going to make a big deal out of this, but when you’re ready to talk about it, I’m all antennae."

Chekov burst out laughing at her pun, but then quickly sobered. "I may just do that... someday," he said. "Right now, it’s too fresh."

She brushed a stray forelock of white hair out of her eyes. "You know you can always talk to me."

They entered a turbolift and rode it to Level Six, which housed the crew quarters.

"Your place is a little bigger than mine. I took the liberty of seeing to your cabin myself."

The doors hissed open, and they stepped inside.

Chekov nodded in approval. His quarters were spotless and tastefully appointed. The furniture was standard Starfleet issue, of course, but there were wall hangings and knick-knacks skillfully arranged around the cabin. "Vwery nice," he said. "You did a good job."

She shrugged. "I know you aren’t too big on decorating. I thought I’d give your place a little character."

His gear was stowed neatly in the common area. The bed was turned down, and there was an enormous terrarium on a coffee table, a riot of white and gold and blue and purple. Chekov stared in appreciative disbelief. "Thela, you shouldn’t have," he whispered. "Those are...are..."

"An assortment of wildflowers from Russia," Kazanga finished. "Willow bell, yellow bedstraw, ox-eye daisies, and, of course, camomile, the national flower."

"They’re... beautiful," he breathed as he walked over to the table. "It’s like having a piece of home. I never would have thought of doing something like this. Thank you—this is vwery thoughtful."

"They’re from the Shulgan Tash Nature Preserve in Russia," Kazanga explained. "I had a hell of a time getting them through quarantine. The T’l’esh Florist Shop on Starbase Ten did the heavy lifting for me; their timing was perfect. They arrived here at 0930 this morning. Now, the terrarium has miniature automated sprinkling and lighting systems, so you can’t kill ‘em off! Most guys don’t do too well with plants."

"Thank you," he said, laughing. "This is exquisite. But vwhat are those beautiful blue flowers? I don’t recognize them." He touched one of the delicate, shimmering blue-violet rosette blossoms. Their scent was as sweet as an alien perfume.

"They’re serallasthela—what you Humans call Andorian Blue Roses," Kazanga murmured almost shyly. "My favorite flower—and my nickname, of course. Papa nicknamed me paransathela—‘My Little Blue Rose’—when I was a baby, and it stuck. They’re native to my home planet, Arpinza, and they grow on Andor now, too. Andorian legend has it that a man who breathes their scent is bewitched by the first woman he sees, and can’t help but fall in love with her."

Chekov grinned. "You made that up!"

"If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’," she said with an impish smile.

"Vwell...I am bewitched," he murmured. "Thank you—you vwent to a lot of trouble. I’m flattered."

"That was the general idea," she said. "And it was worth the trouble. Oh, I almost forgot. Check this out."

Kazanga activated a darkened holopic frame on the wall behind his computer station, and it flickered into life, playing short holofilms of different Russian scenes—forests, steppes, tundra, in all seasons. The gentle sounds of rain and wind and chirping birds echoed in his quarters. Then the scene shifted to the great cities—Leningrad, Moscow, the Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport. Now the bustling sounds of people and groundcars and air vehicles could be heard. Chekov watched, his mouth agape.

The screen rippled again. An alien landscape blossomed within the frame—a beautiful, golden, sun-like star in a deep violet sky, a cobalt-blue ocean, and an ochre sand beach surrounded by high, rugged, rusty cliffs in the shape of a horseshoe. The gentle lapping of waves sang their soothing tune.

"Arpinza, my homeworld," she whispered. "You’ve never been there...yet. I wanted you to think of me once in a while, too. This is my favorite place in the entire galaxy. It’s part of my family’s estate, and only I know where it is; you have to beam in. I go there to be alone—although I wouldn’t mind a little company." Her smile was impish again. "I go skinny dipping there."

Chekov swallowed hard. He had seen her naked; the visual image was extremely stimulating. Kazanga noticed his visible discomfort. Her silver eyes twinkled, but she didn’t comment.

The beach was gone, replaced by a scene of classical-style ruins at dusk overlooking a lake bordered by a ring of purple mountains. The architecture recalled ancient Greece, but there were strange alien glyphs carved into the columns.

"Preserver ruins," she said. "Another favorite place of mine. These are on our estate as well. They were left behind by whatever civilization originally lived on Arpinza before Andorians settled it. They disappeared without a trace; the Preservers probably ‘reseeded’ them."

A new scene sharpened into focus. It was a small crater ring filled with a bubbling hot spring. Snow was falling briskly, hissing as it hit the hot water, covering the rocks beyond with a thick blanket of pristine white. Steam wafted upward from the pond in a thick cloud.

"This is at our p’i’lkaath up north," Kazanga supplied. "Your word for it would be a chalet, I guess. We go up there to ski and snowboard. Mmm, nothing like hopping out of the hot water into the bitter cold. Very invigorating."

"Da, if you call suffering cardiac arrest ‘invigorating,’" Chekov said.

"I like to go skinny dipping there, too," Kazanga said with a wicked grin.

"Thela!" Chekov’s face reddened as he tried to force the provocative image of the beautiful, naked Thela Kazanga from his mind’s eye.

"Oh, it’s very nice and very therapeutic!" she teased. "It really opens the pores."

"I vwould turn blue like you," he said.

"Pinkskins usually do."

"So...vwhat happens to you vwhen you get cold, Little Blue Rose?"

"I become ‘Little Pale Blue Rose,’" she answered with a laugh. "What do you think of your holoframe?"

Chekov shook his head as the scene shifted back to a Russian forest. "’s vwonderful. I don’t know vwhat to say."

"A simple ‘thank you’ would be more than enough," she murmured.

"Thank you," Chekov returned. "Vwery much. It’s an incredible gift—and so are the flowers."

"There are enough images on there that you could watch for a thousand hours straight without seeing a repeat," Kazanga said. "And you can always program new ones."

"Da, and every time I see beach or hot spring crater on Arpinza, I vwill think of beautiful Blue Rose of Arpinza skinny dipping, get all hot and bothered and need cold shower!"

"Then I’m flattered," Kazanga said.

Chekov blew out a breath and stared at her. "Are vwe ready for this? Do you think vwe should jump back in again so quickly?"

She stepped forward and smoothed the flap of his tunic. "We have a saying on Arpinza. You could never pronounce it, but it roughly translates to ‘Seize the day.’ Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. We could be gone tomorrow, especially in our line of work. I live by that motto—especially these days." She smiled. "So, to answer your question, yes—I’m ready. Are you?"

Thela planted a long, lingering kiss on his lips. His head spun; there was a roaring in his ears, and he could feel his blood rushing through his veins like a starship at Warp Nine. Finally, she backed away, her eyes closed, her lips slightly parted. Her eyes slowly opened, and she smiled enigmatically at him.

"I’ll stop by to pick you up at 1700."

He stared after her as she left. His lips felt as if they were on fire, and he pressed his fingertips to them.

"Bozhe moi!" he whispered.


Captain Clark Terrell drummed his fingers on the desk of the work area in his cabin. He had discarded his jacket, and his stomach pressed relentlessly against his white turtleneck and burgundy vest. He scowled as he took a sip of his Arcturian sweetwine.

"So, do you see the bind I’m in, Pavel? Commander Kelowitz is in Sickbay where our doctor is working with him; if I transfer him to Starbase Ten for his rehab, he’ll lose his spot on Reliant’s roster and be reassigned."

"I understand, sair," Chekov replied. He savored a sip of the rare vodka Terrell had poured for him—Smirnoff from Terra, old calendar 2013. "If you have someone pull double-duty—like me—Steve can return to his old post as soon as he’s declared fit for duty."

"Exactly," Terrell said. "I know it’s extra work for you, but it’s in the best interests of this ship and crew. I want you to be my exec and tactical officer, and I want Steve Kelowitz to be my security chief, and this is the only way I know how to get my way. It’s only for three weeks, and I’ll delegate as much of the exec duties as I can to other members of the command crew. Lieutenant Kazanga can be your Assistant Chief of Security. She’s an excellent officer and a bundle of energy. She’ll make an excellent security chief someday."

"She’s a vwery...interesting young vwoman," Chekov admitted.

Terrell chuckled. "‘Interesting’ is one way to put it. They broke the mold and threw it away when they made Lieutenant Kazanga. She has a mind of her own, that’s for sure. Her daddy’s Thoraal Kazanga, Fleet Captain of the Third Fleet, but she’s never once traded on that. She’s absolutely fearless—thinks she’s immortal. She looks so fragile and delicate, but she could lift me with one hand and toss me across the room as if I were a pillow—no mean feat, that! She’s got a trunk full of medals and citations for bravery. She’s also been promoted to lieutenant commander twice and busted back down to lieutenant twice, and has a fistful of demerits. And I’m tickled pink that she’s a member of Reliant’s security team."

"She vwas demoted tvwice?" Chekov queried.

Terrell nodded. "In all fairness to Lieutenant Kazanga, though, she served under Captain Phillip Styles aboard the U.S.S. Invincible. Styles is the biggest by-the-book asshole in Starfleet—he’s even worse than I am. I read the reports; had I been her captain, I’d have given her commendations on both occasions. Styles, however, chose to bust her down to lieutenant—twice."

"I don’t know the man," Chekov said.

"You’re not missing anything," Terrell put in. "He’s a martinet. He’s got no business being in the center seat—my opinion. I have no idea how he got there—he’s somebody’s idiot nephew or something, I guess."

"Vwell, I hope I never do meet him, then," Chekov said. "He sounds like a Cossack."

"One way to put it," Terrell agreed. He polished off his sweetwine, then stood up and extended his hand. "Thank you, Pavel. I really appreciate you doing this. Enjoy your evening, and I’ll see you in the morning on Alpha shift."

"Thank you, sair," Chekov returned. "I look forward to it."

He left Terrell’s quarters and found Kazanga waiting in the corridor.

"I’m stalking you," she said, and gave him a quick kiss. "Thought I’d save some time."

She was dressed in snug blue jeans and a tight, classic white tank top of a jersey material, beneath which she obviously wore nothing. Chekov forced himself to gaze at her face so he wouldn’t stare somewhere else.

"We have a half hour to get to Pedersen," she said, taking his hand. "I would assume you’d like to change into civvies?"

"Da, I vwill freshen up a little and vwe can go."


Kazanga waited in the living room area while Chekov cleaned up and changed. Fortunately, the transporters were working by then, and they got to Petersen’s ahead of their reservation time. The hostess seated them immediately. Chekov sighed as he settled into his plush, comfortable chair.

"Oh, you vwere right—this is nice place," he said. "It feels good just to sit for a few minutes. I have been on a merry-go-round for the last two days."

"A good place to relax," Kazanga agreed as she opened her menu. "Ah! They do have borscht, and I can get—omigosh, they have Andorian redbat and kreleg soup! Lots of calories, but excellent."

"Bats." Chekov shuddered. "They make me think of Dracula and vwampires! Ugh!"

She laughed. "It’s very tasty. They’re about the size of a pheasant with a three foot wingspan. The breast meat is especially good."

"I vwill take your vword for that, Thela," he said as their waitress arrived. "I think I vwill stick to the borscht. At least I can pretend it’s kosher."

Everything about the dinner was exquisite, and his companion was even more so, Chekov decided. Thela Kazanga was as enchanting as he remembered. He watched her eyes dance as she spoke, and basked in her ready smile. He could feel himself falling for her all over again, helplessly. He didn’t even stop to think about whether he wanted to go there; it was if he had no choice.

He was surprised to discover that she had developed a taste for French vanilla coffee. He decided to try it as well, and was delighted to discover he liked it, too.

Kazanga gazed at him over the rim of her coffee cup as the dessert dishes were cleared away. "I’ll avoid the obvious question about the ‘other thing’ and ask you how Captain Kirk is instead," she murmured.

"Vwe’re not supposed to talk about the ‘other thing’ anyvway," he returned. "I saw Kyptin Kirk last vweek. He is doing much better physically. But the Cossacks are kicking him upstairs. They might as vwell have shot him vwith a phaser on full disrupt."

Kazanga nodded sadly. "He’s the best captain in Starfleet—even if he is a maverick," she said. "He doesn’t belong behind a desk."

Chekov exhaled deeply. "Thela, he did the right thing at Serenidad, orders be damned, and I hope that I have the guts to do the same thing if I ever do sit in the center seat."

"You will." She squeezed his hand. "You’re a lot like him."

Chekov laughed aloud. "That’s quite a compliment; I vwish it vwere true." He took a sip of his coffee. "Vwhat about you, Thela?"

Kazanga shrugged. "It’s Security," she said. "Same old, same old—promoted one day, busted down the next. I’m sure Jellybelly told you about it."

"He didn’t tell me vwhat you did, though," Chekov returned with a grin.

" big deal," she began. "I charged a Klingon disruptor cannon bunker on Q’ylr Four and took it out with a photon grenade. Got an energy burn on my left bicep. On Leeson Three, I defused a hostage situation. Got the kidnapper so pissed off he took his phaser out from under the girl’s chin to fire at me, and I sent a shot past her ear that got him right between the eyes. He grazed me—guess where?—on my left bicep. For all the charbroiling that arm’s taken, I don’t even have a scar. Starfleet’s medics are top notch."

"No big deal." Chekov let out a low whistle. "I suppose in both cases you disobeyed orders?"

She nodded. "I guess I’m something of a maverick, too. That asshole Styles said I endangered myself and others. We were on the verge of losing both situations. The Klingon cannon was chewing us to pieces, and the terrorist on Leeson Three was on his way out the door with that little teenaged girl. He would have killed her as soon as he was in the clear."

"Then you did the right thing," Chekov said. "Even if it vwas technically vwrong."

"Yes," she said. "Nothing very exciting beyond that, however. Routine stuff."

He knew her too well. She was being evasive, he realized, and something was bothering her. "Are you sure about that?" he pressed. "To paraphrase your vwords, ‘Hey...I’m not going to make a big deal out of this, but vwhen you’re ready to talk about it, I’m all ears.’ I don’t have antennae."

She smiled. "Well, to directly quote your words, ‘I may just do that...someday. Right now, it’s too fresh.’ Maybe later." Then she glanced away, as if she had revealed too much.

So there was something troubling her. Chekov decided to let it ride—for now. When she was ready to talk about it, she would.

A chime sounded from her communicator, and she glanced at its chronometer.

"Whoa! Time flies when you’re having fun!" Kazanga exclaimed. "We need to leave for Longworths to catch up to the others."

Chekov sighed. "I’d rather just be alone vwith you."

She leaned across the table and kissed him. "You can count on it. After we get back to the ship, I’m going to have you all to myself. I’m going to eat you up!"


They walked hand in hand along the main thoroughfare.

Kazanga sighed contentedly. "Ah, what a nice night," she said. "Could be a late spring evening on Arpinza—except the stars are all wrong."

"The stars are all wrong for Leningrad, too," Chekov returned. "Still, it is a vwery nice night."

They were about to turn a corner when a huge, bulky shadow blocked their path. A massive Rigelian Kaylar, standing well over seven feet tall, loomed over them, leering. His sandy hair and beard were long and unruly, and his violet eyes glittered dangerously. Another equally monolithic pale-eyed Xartheb stood behind Chekov, and a slender Andorian male took up a position behind Kazanga. The two giants aimed Starfleet-issue phaser pistols at them, while the Andorian merely stood with his hands clasped behind his back.

"Well, well, well, Lieutenant Kazanga," the Kaylar rumbled. "I’m surprised your boyfriend lets you go out looking like this, with your nipples poking so provocatively through your shirt. A bit tight, isn’t it, my dear?"

"Well, well, well, former Lieutenant Commander Borgaan," Kazanga returned icily. "And your delightful ‘associates,’ former Lieutenant Thoris, who is a disgrace to his homeworld, and one of Xartheb’s...finest, former Lieutenant Logan. My attire is none of your business—and I didn’t realize they permitted dangerous wild animals to roam free on Starbase Ten."

Borgaan’s eyes flashed as a muscle twitched in his jaw. His smile tightened as he composed himself. "Careful, Thela. I would think you’d know better than to deliberately try make me angry."

"Thela..." Chekov began.

She held up her hand. "It’s all right, Pavel." Kazanga favored Borgaan with a cold, mocking smile. "You’re just upset that I got you and drummed out of Starfleet for dereliction of duty. Trafficking illegal drugs is frowned upon in Starfleet. So is escaping from lawful custody, and stealing security sidearms. There are warrants out for your arrests; I would have thought you’d be long gone from here by now. How did you know we were here, anyway?"

"I still have contacts," Borgaan said.

Kazanga frowned. Someone on Reliant had tipped off the Kaylar, which meant there were even more of his ‘associates’ on board. And it explained how the trio was able to escape so easily.

"You broke up a very lucrative operation, Kazanga. I wasn’t going to leave before I collected payment for that. I intend to take it out of your cute little ass. Besides, you can’t expect me not to be curious about my rival for your affections—this pipsqueak. I thought what we had was special."

"We?!" Kazanga exploded. "There never has been a we! You’re certifiable! It’s all in your twisted mind. I told you repeatedly I want nothing to do with you—you p’tho’lapth!"

"I don’t appreciate being called that," Borgaan muttered darkly. "A woman should know her place. Your place is on your hands and knees, naked, with your ass in the air, pleasuring me. Your wishes do not matter in this. I want you—and I shall have you—before I kill you and your lover!"

With that, Chekov lunged forward, but Logan viciously smashed his phaser over the top of the young Russian’s head. There was a sickening, resounding ‘crack’—Chekov groaned and dropped to the ground, blood flowing from a deep gash in his scalp, staining the pavement the color of claret wine.

"Pavel!" Kazanga screamed.

Before she could bolt forward, Borgaan fired his weapon, and a coruscating blue nimbus shimmered around her body. Kazanga sagged to her knees with a choked gurgle, limp as a rag doll, the signals coming from her brain short-circuited by the stun. She felt as if an army of s’k’lo’kan ants was crawling through her nervous system.

"Yyuu bbssttrdd!" Kazanga slurred. "IIIll kkllll yyy..."

"Only the lightest possible stun setting for you, bitch," Borgaan spat. "You’re too dangerous to be allowed to remain fully functional, but I want you awake and taking notice while I’m fucking your brains out!"

Thoris leaned in close to her as she futilely struggled to rise. Her limbs felt like rubber.

"You are a slut!" the Andorian hissed. "A whore! Andorian females have a reputation for being sexually aggressive, but even a prostitute would not display herself as shamelessly as you do in public. You deserve what is going to happen to you." He bent in close. "I have asked Borgaan for permission to kill you myself when he is finished having his fun with you. An abomination such as you should be destroyed!"

Borgaan slung the helpless Kazanga over his shoulder and squeezed her perfectly-formed backside. "I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this, bitch!" he hissed into her antenna. Logan grabbed the half-conscious Chekov by his ankles and dragged him across the pavement, leaving a dribbling trail of blood in his wake.

The unsavory trio hauled their captives through the streets, away from the safety of the business district. Before long they had reached a maze-like warren of trash-strewn alleys and shabby buildings. Beady red eyes reflected from the shadows in the dim light.


The vermin had followed Humankind into space and had established themselves on most Terran colonies and bases.

Borgaan pointed to a dumpster at the rear of a dilapidated warehouse. "Logan, dispose of the trash," he said.

With a wicked grin, the Xartheb swung Chekov by his ankles several times and then released him. His limp body spun through the air and landed in the dumpster on a pile of trash. Rats squealed in protest and leaped from the container as Chekov’s body settled onto piles of slimy duraplast bags.

The Kaylar grinned as his gaze fell on a discarded workbench outside the next building. The table was dirty, but intact. "Perfect!" he exclaimed. He laid Kazanga down on the bench. He tore her shirt open down the front, exposing her naked breasts, which quivered as they were freed from their confinement. Borgaan gaped in open mouthed appreciation. "Gods!" he gasped. "They’re even more perfect than I imagined!" He mauled and kneaded her firm, pert breasts and squeezed them viciously in his crushing grip.

Kazanga’s agonized scream was hoarse and incoherent.

"The gods of K’ru’laa’n would suckle on these tits—but they’ll have to get in line behind me!" Borgaan brushed his mouth all over the globes of flesh until they puckered into goose bumps, and Kazanga’s nipples involuntarily hardened.

The Kaylar began to unclasp his shirt. "I get first dibs; you two can have sloppy seconds after I’ve had my fill of her."

Thoris grimaced in disgust, shaking his head. "I want nothing to do with the whore—I have no wish to contract a social disease," he spat. "She has ruined my Starfleet career and a thriving side business, and she is an affront to Andorian sensibilities. I just want to be the one to slay her."

"And you shall be, my blue-skinned friend—although I think you’re passing up a great piece of ass." He leered at Kazanga. "What do you say we take a photon grenade on a timer, shove it up your ass, and throw you in the dumpster with your boyfriend, bitch? The blast will take out most of the entertainment district, part of the starbase—and blow the two of you into bloody shreds."

The Andorian allowed himself a trace of a smile. "See that her asshole is well-greased," he lisped sarcastically. "We wouldn’t want to hurt her!"

"Don’t worry—when I’m finished with her, you’ll be able to fly a shuttlecraft up her ass. We’ll smear some lubricant on the grenade for good measure, too; she won’t feel a thing—until it goes off!" He glanced down at Kazanga. "Think of it, bitch. Bound and gagged, with a photon grenade ticking away in your ass, wondering when it’s going to go off, knowing that no one is going to save you. I’d love to be here to see the expression on your face as it counts down, but alas, we will be long gone by then. We should be able to see the blast from space, though, as we’re making good our escape."

Borgaan smiled tightly as he gazed into Kazanga’s eyes. They blazed with rage and hatred, but there was something else there, too, an emotion to which the young Andorian woman was thoroughly unaccustomed.


He could see it flicker in the depths of her eyes. "You don’t like it, do you, bitch?" he growled. "Not being in control? I can do anything I want to you, and you can’t do a damned thing about it. I’m gonna fuck you raw. Then I’m gonna let Logan have you. He hasn’t been with a woman for over a year!" He leered. "Then we’re gonna give you a photon grenade suppository!"

He was enjoying taunting her. He bent and bit down hard on Kazanga’s left nipple, ripping a choked whimper from her. Trickles of inky blood dribbled over her soft skin.

His lethal smile broadened. "I guess the only thing left to do now is finish stripping you and decide which of your tiny little holes I crack open first!"

He peeled off her boots, jeans and panties, leaving her naked and vulnerable on the table.

"I’ll...kill you!" Kazanga cried, more coherently now. She was able to squirm weakly now as the light stun began to wear off.

"Good—I’ll be able to understand you now when I fuck you and you scream my name to the stars."

The Kaylar spread her legs open wide and brushed his fingertips over her neatly-trimmed strip of snow white pubic hair before he dipped down and gently massaged her sex.

"She is shen—a true female," Thoris said.

"Get your hands off of her, you cossack!"

They whirled to see Pavel Chekov swaying unsteadily on his feet, the side of his head covered with blood and his uniform reeking of garbage. Borgaan’s discarded assault phaser was in his hand. His vision blurred, Chekov didn’t see Thoris flanking him from behind. The blade of the Andorian’s flabjellah gleamed in the moonlight.

"Pavel—l-look out!"

Kazanga’s warning came too late. The long blade sank to the hilt, deep into Chekov’s back, with a meaty ‘chunk,’ burying itself under his ribcage. Chekov involuntarily squeezed the trigger, and Logan was vaporized. Thoris swore and twisted the blade viciously. As his victim screamed, Thoris tore it free and Chekov collapsed.

Suddenly, an elemental howl of rage and anguish shattered the silence of the dingy alley.

Distracted as Borgaan was by the events before him, Kazanga broke free of her captor. Galvanized by the sight of her lover being struck down, she launched herself from the workbench, suddenly possessed of a feral strength that surprised even her. She savagely crushed Borgaan’s testicles with a brutal kick before charging Thoris. The Andorian turned to face her with the knife, but he was too slow. Kazanga cartwheeled through the air, over his broad swing with the blade, and grabbed his antennae as she flipped over the top of him, letting her momentum tear them out by the roots. Clumps of bloody superior cortex clung to them, and she flung them away. Thoris crashed to the ground, dead, a puddle of indigo blood quickly spreading in the alley from the two mortal wounds on the top of his head.

It was all the pain-stricken Borgaan could do to struggle to his hands and knees, and it sealed his fate. Kazanga leaped high and executed a perfect axe kick. She smashed her boot heel down on the hollow at the base of his skull, killing him instantly as she crushed his hindbrain.

Kazanga had no more concern for her slain assailants. "Pavel!" There is no way a Human could lose that much blood and live! she thought frantically as she rushed to his side.

Chekov was lying in a lake of it, and it was still spreading. He was as pale as paper, and his breathing was sketchy and impure. Fighting off panic, Kazanga fumbled for her communicator in the back pocket of her jeans.

"Reliant, two for emergency beam up!" she cried. "Code one medical emergency!" She knelt and kissed him. "I love you, Pavel," she quavered.

"I l-love you, too, Thela," he gasped. "You vwere r-right—vwas vwery nice...night..."

"Noooo!" he heard Kazanga rage as the transporter beam seized them. "I won’t lose you, too!"

Then the blackness swallowed him.


"Pavel. Pavel Andreievich, wake up."

The pain was gone. He was floating free; he felt wonderful, although his mind seemed a little hazy. He vaguely remembered being injured...

His eyes fluttered slowly open.

There was a dark blur in front of his face. As his vision cleared, the smudge resolved itself into the face of a beautiful woman. She had masses of long, dark hair that tumbled to her shoulders, and her brown eyes regarded him candidly. She was wearing a medical jumpsuit, which delightfully displayed her lean, athletic body. An arresting beauty mark adorned her upper lip, and her lush mouth quirked in a smile of relief.

"Welcome back," she said as she removed a cranial protoplaser from his head. "You had a nasty skull fracture and concussion, and you lost two units of blood from the knife wound. I fixed you up and topped off your fluids, so you’ll be good to go in about another ten minutes."


"Doctor Cynda Callison, Reliant’s C.M.O.," she answered the unfinished question. "You’re a lucky man, Pavel Andreievich. The flabjellah wound just missed several vital organs by mere centimeters. It did knick your spleen, but that’s easy enough to fix. The pad you’re lying on is stimulating deep tissue healing; another few minutes and you’ll be able to resume your normal activities. I can’t even give you a doctor’s excuse note for a day off work."

Chekov flashed a weak smile. "That’s all right—is my first day on job tomorrow, and boss might get upset. Besides, I’m looking forward to it."

"Good!" Her expression grew serious. "While there was no serious permanent damage, you would have bled to death in short order. I thank the stars that Thela was there."


At the mention of her name, the haze dissipated from Chekov’s mind. He sat up abruptly, and instantly wished he hadn’t. He groaned and slowly eased himself back down on the biobed.

"Easy, cowboy," Callison admonished. "I said you’d be good to go in about ten minutes. Don’t try that again. That just cost you another five minutes on the pad. Thela’s fine. We treated her for mild nervous system trauma from the stun and released her. She had to file a report for Captain Terrell and Starbase authorities about your attackers. She should be back any minute."

As if on cue, the doors hissed open, and Kazanga virtually exploded into Sickbay. "Pavel!" she cried. She rushed to his bed and kissed him as she fiercely gripped his hand in her own. She was trembling violently.

"Vwhat is it? Vwhat’s vwrong?" Chekov asked, alarmed. He had never seen Thela Kazanga display fear in any way, shape, or form, and it troubled him.

"I was so afraid you were going to die," she quavered. "I couldn’t bear to lose you! Not after... Anyway, thank P’oth’la you’re all right."

He smiled and stroked her soft hair tenderly, trying to reassure her. "I’m fine. Doctor Callison says in few minutes I vwill have to get up off lazy butt and go back to vwork."

She smiled. "I’ll stay with you to make sure you’re all right."

"He’s fine," Callison said as she signed a report and handed it to a med tech. "Lieutenant Commander Chekov, you may now resume normal activities—light duty restrictions."

Chekov gingerly eased himself off the biobed. Then his eyes widened in surprise. "I...I feel fine!"

"Of course, you do!" Callison returned, feigning outrage. "You wound me—I do good work."

"You do, indeed, Doctor. Thank you vwery much!"

Callison smiled. "Just doing my job. They need you on the bridge in the morning—so try to get some rest tonight." She gazed pointedly at Kazanga, who had already taken him by the arm. The young Andorian woman blushed a shade of royal blue, but she didn’t release her grip.

Chekov’s face turned pink. "Thank you again, Doctor Callison," he ventured lamely, and he and Kazanga hurried from Sickbay.

Kazanga clung to him as they leisurely strolled down the corridors, never taking her eyes off him.

He smiled. "I’m all right, really," he murmured. "Just vwery, vwery tired."

"I can’t imagine why," she said, chuckling. "You had a very eventful first day as a member of Reliant’s crew, dear. Trust me—it’s not usually this exciting... well, most of the time."

"That’s fine vwith me," Chekov countered. "I’ve already had enough excitement to last me a lifetime."

They had reached his cabin and stopped outside the door. Kazanga circled his neck with her arms and kissed him tenderly. "Sweet dreams, my love," she whispered. "If you need anything, you know where I am—right down the corridor."

He wistfully watched her go; then he slipped inside his cabin. Shower and bed sounds like vwery good idea, he mused as he trudged into the bathroom. He peeled off his bloodstained clothes and tossed them in the recycle chute. Then he craned his neck around to examine his back in the mirror.

There was a vivid pink circle of smooth plastiskin about the size of his fist just under his ribcage on the left side of his back. Chekov shuddered. He had indeed been lucky; it must have been a very nasty wound. There was no pain, just a little tenderness in the area. For that he was grateful.

He set his shower unit for sonics and water and luxuriated in the moist heat. He thought of Kazanga, and he smiled. It was nice to have her back in his life. He hadn’t really been looking for a relationship, but he and the young Andorian beauty had always been good for each other.

His on-again, off-again "relationship" with Lieutenant Commander Angela "Angel Face" Moretti had pretty much disintegrated. Not that it had ever been much of a relationship. There was still an intense sexual attraction between the two of them; they would get together for occasional lost weekends of wall-to-wall sex, and that was about it.

Then Moretti had been recruited by Starfleet Intelligence.

Chekov’s face fell. With her beautiful face and incredible body, he could imagine the types of assignments they would send her on...

He shook off that thought. They had parted as friends, leaving the door open for a possible reunion—although he heard she had taken up with a Starfleet Intelligence agent from Xartheb. He wondered why Terran women were so fascinated with the hulking, muscular humanoids. He idly wondered if it had something to do with the size of certain body parts, then dismissed the thought as unworthy.

He let the warm air dry him as he stepped from the shower, then he grabbed a towel to finish off. As he padded into his bedroom, he noticed that the lighting level was lower than before.

"I didn’t want to be alone tonight," a sibilant voice whispered.

Kazanga lay on his bed, naked, her legs spread invitingly wide. Her fingers brushed absently over her wisp of pubic hair. Chekov’s reaction was immediate and visible, and she smiled seductively at him. He moved like a sleepwalker, mesmerized by her beauty, and climbed into bed and lay down next to her. Kazanga’s kiss was soft, smoldering, and he was pleasantly surprised. Usually she plundered his mouth voraciously.

"Ahhh...this is vwery nice," he said with a grin, responding to her nearness.

"Ummm....yes, it is," she said. "Most definitely!"

She straddled his midsection and glided her hips down his body; her eyes widened as his erection filled her, sliding inside her with a wet ‘plop.’

"Oh! Oooohhhhhh, yes!" she moaned. "That feels so...hhhhhhhhhh.....s-so good!"

Kazanga sensuously glided up and down, playfully teasing him with her eyes, reaching down with her hands and stroking him with a feather light fingertip touch each time she slowly raised up off his shaft. Every now and then she would bend forward at the waist and kiss him, sometimes nipping and tugging at his lower lip. She was controlling the pace, and she wanted it slow and tender.

Chekov gasped. The sensation was intensely pleasurable; he wanted it to last forever, but quickly discovered that it took all of his concentration to keep from coming. Finally, he could hold on no longer. Kazanga leaned forward, kissing him, her body shuddering in a wrenching climax as he emptied his seed into her with a hoarse cry. They fell off the bed and lay on the floor in a sweaty heap of tangled limbs, kissing languidly, sensuously.

"Ummmmm.....oh, Pavel, that was fantastic!" Kazanga sighed, cradling her head against his chest. "I could stay here forever."

"Don’t you vwant to get back up in the bed?"

"Mmm-nnn," she murmured with a sleepy shake of her head, and promptly fell asleep with his heart pounding rhythmically against her cheek.

Chekov smiled and stroked her silken white hair. She had the right idea. He hadn’t realized how truly tired he was; now he was thoroughly relaxed to boot. His heavy lidded eyes drooped shut, and he drifted off almost as quickly as she did...

An ear-shattering scream rudely yanked him from his slumber. He stared owlishly around his quarters, his eyes darting to every corner, frantically searching for a sign of danger. Thela Kazanga knelt on the floor, screaming raggedly, her fists pressed to her mouth. Her wide, terrified eyes streamed tears and stared unfocused at the middle distance.

"Pavel! Hai, P’oth’la—ki! Kikikikikikiki!"

"Thela! Vwake up!" Chekov cried, gently grabbing her wrists. "You’re having a nightmare!"

She blinked several times, then collapsed in his arms, sobbing hysterically. It was several minutes before she calmed down enough for him to understand what she was saying.

"Ohmigods—y-you’re all right!" she quavered. "I was horrible!"

"Vwhat vwas horrible?" Chekov asked.

"I...a n-nightmare! I dreamed ...on Xantharus Four. You’d been crucified in the amphitheatre in Gracchos. The scavengers had taken your eyes, and the Orions had cut off your..."

Chekov cradled her in his arms. "Vwas just nightmare," he soothed. "I’m here; I’m fine."

"But S-Scott isn’t...wasn’t," she sobbed.

"Who is Scott?"

"Scott Rollins—he w-was...w-we enjoyed one another’s company. He’s gone now. Gone."

"Gone," Chekov repeate.

She nodded. "S-Scott was recruited by a S-Starfleet Intelligence team to help do an extraction of a d-deep cover agent while we w-were patrolling the Barrier. Except she turned out to be a double agent working for the Orions."

"Go on, Thela," Chekov breathed.

"Everything went w-wrong, of course. They were captured by the Director..." Kazanga closed her eyes. "Scott was strong; he lasted two days..."

"I’m...sorry," Chekov murmured. "Have you talked to the ship’s psychologist?" he asked gently.

Kazanga shook her head. "Haven’t needed to—my performance levels are fine."

"That’s not vwhat I asked, honey," Chekov countered. "I know your performance levels are fine—I saw your file. But vwhy carry around that burden? Get some help."

She buried her head in his chest. "Do you think I should? I’m just so tired. They won’t they put me off the Reliant, will they?"

"Nyet—it’s not job related, so they vwon’t relieve you of duty," he replied. "But I think you should go, just to ease your own mind. Talking about it vwill help you, I think."

"Will you go with me?" Her voice was plaintive, like a little girl’s.

He smiled and kissed the top of her head. "Of course I vwill. I think maybe vwe should go to bed now, though. It vwas a long day, and tomorrow vwill be even longer."

They crawled back into his bunk. Kazanga cuddled up against him and quickly drifted off to sleep. Every now and then, the tremor of a sob shuddered through her supple body.

Chekov stroked her soft white hair, his expression grim. He shuddered, hoping she would find some peace. He pulled the covers up to their chins, and wrapped his arms protectively around her.

But it was a long time before Pavel Chekov could fall asleep...


Chekov exhaled slowly as he exited the turbolift, and he unsnapped the flap of his wine red jacket. It had indeed been a long day, exacerbated by his lack of sleep. It had been uneventful, too, until Terrell had suddenly called his officers into his ready room. His expression had been grim, and Chekov knew the news couldn’t be good.

It wasn’t.

The Reliant was being assigned to a Barrier Alliance patrol route once again. Until further notice, she was replacing the badly damaged heavy frigate U.S.S. Belleau Wood, which had nearly been destroyed in an Orion ambush and was being towed to space dock for repair and refit.

He had watched Kazanga’s face as Terrell broke the news. Her expression hadn’t changed, but something had flickered in her eyes. Now more than ever Chekov felt that seeing the ship’s psychologist was a good move for her.

He trudged wearily down the corridor toward the psychologist’s office. Kazanga joined him from a branch hallway, and he took her hand in his. "You okay?" he asked.

She nodded. "I’m nervous, but I think it’s the right thing to do. What about you? You look beat."

"I am," he admitted, stifling a yawn. "I’ll be good as new vwith a good night’s sleep, though."

"Sorry about that."

"Not your fault," he said. "Vwell—it looks like vwe’re here."

The wall placard read "Doctor Nancy L. Brames, Ph.D." and underneath "Ship’s Psychologist." The doors hissed opened, and they stepped inside.

Doctor Brames was waiting for them. She was a pretty, green-eyed brunette, slender and athletic. Her medical whites and green turtleneck enhanced the contours of her slim form. Her smile was genuine and open as she held out her hand.

"Hi, Thela. Pleased to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, too, Doctor Brames," Kazanga said, shaking the proffered hand.

"Please call me Nancy. Let’s go back here and talk."

Kazanga started to follow the psychologist toward her office, then turned anxiously back to Chekov. "Pavel?"

"I’ll be right here, honey," he replied.

She nodded gratefully and stepped inside the office.

Chekov settled into a lounger in the waiting room. There was an Intergalactic News Service report about the attack on the U.S.S. Belleau Wood playing on a widescreen holovid unit. He watched for a moment, then his gaze wandered back to Doctor Brames’ office door. He smiled fondly. "I’ll be right here..."

Special thanks to Strelok (Konstantin Greater) for the inspiration for Thela Kazanga.

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