It was late when James T. Kirks door buzzer sounded that night, but he wasnt surprised. He knew exactly who it was. He pressed the intercom. "Come on in, Bones." His fatigue was plainly audible in his voice. Every time there was a fatality among his crew, no matter how late it was, Leonard McCoy found time to stop by the captains quarters, because he knew how each and every death affected the commander of the ship personally. And this one was no exception.
"Hi, Jim. Howre you doin?" McCoy asked as he entered.
Kirk could tell the doctor was tired too. There had been a serious accident in the Engineering Department that day. One death Ensign Karen Jenkins and ten other crewmembers injured.
McCoy headed straight for the small overstuffed couch and wearily deposited his feet on the coffee table.
"Brandy?" Kirk asked, and McCoy waved off the offer.
"No thanks, Jim. Im headin for bed. Just wanted to stop here first. Knew youd be waitin for my report." McCoy passed a hand over his face.
"And...?" Kirk prompted.
"Theyre all gonna make it. May have to keep Cody a bit longer than the others for further regen... but he should make a one-hundred percent recovery in the end."
Kirk relaxed a bit when he heard that. Cody had been the most critically injured, the one he was most worried about... after Karen Jenkins. A shadow passed over his face at the thought of what had to be done...the official inquiry, notification of the family, collection of personal effects, notification of her bunkmate... It was all he could do for the fallen crewmember now, but it just didnt seem right. Each time it seemed like a slap in the face.
"So, Ill ask you again... howre you doin?" McCoy persisted.
Kirk sighed. "Oh, Im fine, Bones. You know what its like... how this makes me feel. But this is not about me."
"This conversation were havin is about you... you and your tendency to take personal responsibility for these things," McCoy observed.
"I was the one who gave the order, Bones. If Id had any idea Karen Jenkins was still in that chamber... Cody gave me the all-clear, and I ordered the area flooded with fire suppressant. And Karen Jenkins..." Kirk drew a shaky breath. "Karen Jenkins smothered to death," Kirk finished with an eloquent shudder.
McCoy eyed Kirk with sympathy, knowing the guilt would eat the captain up. "Let the inquiry sort all that out, Jim," he instructed kindly.
Kirk sighed. "I guess, Bones. You know I wont quit thinking about it, though."
"I know." McCoy rose. "Try not to beat yourself up too badly until we find out what really happened." He slapped a reassuring hand on Kirks shoulder and let it rest there momentarily. "My moneys on you."
Kirk smiled ruefully. "Thanks, Bones."
"Get some sleep," McCoy advised as he left.
After the door slid shut, Kirk muttered, "Easy for you to say."
The preliminary inquiry had proven inconclusive. The log recordings for the whole area were damaged so badly by the fire and the fire suppressant, there was no way to be sure what happened. To Kirks complete surprise, Cody maintained hed never given an all-clear for the area. Kirk was just as sure hed heard it. An analysis of the communications logs showed that there was indeed a call from Engineering to the captains cabin, but the call had not been recorded.
But since Kirk had responded to the call from his quarters, there were no witnesses to corroborate the Captains recollection. And since Cody was the last one to leave the critical area (not counting Jenkins), there were no witnesses to his side of the story, either to support or deny his claim. The incident was ruled an accident and the preliminary inquiry officially closed, to be reopened when they were within hailing distance of Starfleet Command. And that was when the odd little things began to happen.
It started out as a series of inconsequential events, all seemingly unrelated. Like the floral fragrance lingering in the air in Kirks quarters, or the faint chocolate taste in Kirks morning coffee. Then, a more tangible incident...
Kirk was sound asleep when his comm unit woke him with a strident buzz. Through long years of dealing with interrupted sleep cycles, the captain was instantly awake. "Kirk here," he answered, ready to deal with whatever they threw at him this time.
"Excuse me, Captain?" The puzzled voice of the communications officer on duty took Kirk aback briefly.
"You buzzed me, Lieutenant Shelton?"
There was a significant pause. "No, Captain, there was no page from the bridge, and Ive been monitoring communications for the last five hours. Ill check my logs, but Ive seen no activity on your comm unit until now."
Kirks brows drew together. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Kirk out."
Now that was odd. And the time... it could be just a coincidence, but 03:23 ... it was the same time that the call had come through about the accident. Exactly.
It took a troubled Kirk quite a while to get back to sleep that night.
And the incident kept repeating itself, night after night. After the first three times it happened, Kirk knew before he answered what would happen... the graveyard shift communications officer would try to cover his or her bafflement with politeness and inform the captain that no, they had not buzzed him. He kept answering the summons anyway, even though by then he was sure hed receive the same answer. He couldnt afford to ignore the summons on the slim chance it was legitimate.
So far, Kirk had written the odd happenings off to fatigue. Or guilt. But after a while, a creeping sort of dread began to grip him whenever one of the unexplained incidents occurred. And a definite sense of foreboding swept him each night when he lay down, knowing that in a few hours, he would be awakened to a summons that was apparently coming from a lot further away than the bridge of the Enterprise. So far hed not mentioned any of these incidents to anyone, but very soon, if they didnt stop, he would have to get to the bottom of them. And hed have to pay that visit to Jenkins bunkmate that hed been putting off too. He vowed to attend to it at his first opportunity.
Kirk took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer. It wasnt that he was nervous, but this wasnt among the more pleasant duties of a captain.
"Come," called a feminine voice, and the doors parted to reveal the standard two person starship housing... and the startled face of Joanne Simmons, Karen Jenkinss former bunkmate.
"Ensign Simmons," Kirk greeted her soberly.
"Captain Kirk," she acknowledged promptly, even as her hand reflexively smoothed the red-gold hair that was already neatly pulled back.
Kirk scanned the room. "Ensign, I just wanted to extend my condolences to you over the loss of your bunkmate, Ensign Jenkins."
"Thank you, Captain; I appreciate that. Karen and I were close friends. I miss her," Simmons responded, simple words with grief close to the surface.
"I see youve already been assigned another bunkmate," he observed, indicating the personal effects strewn around the other half of the cabin.
"Oh, no, Captain... those are Karens things," she corrected him.
Kirk frowned. "They should have been gathered up and removed days ago... I gave the order myself. Ill check on it." Kirk paused, and then before he could say anything else, a strong wave of scent floated through the room. "What is that scent?" he barked, his voice sharpened by a strong reaction.
"Oh, the lavender? That was Karens favorite scent. She used it on everything. Is there something wrong, Captain? You look a bit pale."
A chill swept Kirk when she identified the scent, the same one that had been creeping eerily through his quarters for the last few days. Instead of answering her, he wandered over to the dresser, touching objects there.... bottles of cosmetics, her hair brush, a bracelet tossed carelessly on the wardrobe. "Let me guess... she liked chocolate in her coffee, right?"
"Well... yes, she did," Joanne answered, puzzled.
"Tell me about her," Kirk requested abruptly.
"Are you sure, Captain?" Simmons asked doubtfully, and Kirk could tell by her demeanor that his behavior probably seemed a little strange to her. He nodded, and she reluctantly continued. "I dont know if you remember meeting her when she first came aboard three years ago. She is... was..." a painful wince punctuated her slip, but she went on, "a tiny woman, but she had a dynamic personality. She was a romantic... soft hearted. Loved slow dancing, chivalrous conduct... loved to read, was an amateur writer... tenacious. She had a wicked sense of humor...would go to all sorts of trouble to pull off a good joke. But if she saw a wrong, shed go to any length to correct it."
Kirk nodded thoughtfully. Was that what Karen Jenkins thought she was doing... correcting a wrong? She sounded like the sort of person he would have liked... the sort of person who shared his opinions. He looked up to find Ensign Simmons studying him intently. She pressed her lips together for an instant, and then blurted out "Captain, please dont blame yourself for Karens death. She wouldnt have wanted that. We all took the same oath when we joined Starfleet, you know... and we all know the risks involved."
Kirk managed a little smile. "Thank you, Ensign. Ill try to remember that. And Ill check on her things. In the meantime, you remember... if you find you need help coping... theres plenty wholl listen, me included."
Simmons looked a little startled when he offered personal help, but she responded "Thank you, Captain. Ill remember."
Kirk left her cabin feeling vaguely dissatisfied with himself. He had made the visit to comfort her, and ended up letting her kind words comfort him.
As soon as Kirk returned to his cabin, he tracked down Lieutenant Carlson, who affirmed that he had waited until Joanne Simmons was on duty shift, and efficiently removed Jenkinss personal effects to a storage area on Q Deck. Kirk was not surprised to find they were back in place. It seemed Karen Jenkins wasnt ready to go away.
Days later, and once again Kirks duty shift was over. Hed eaten, spent extra time making the rounds of each department, been to the gym... anything to avoid going back to his lonely quarters that had ceased to become a haven. Now there was no help for it, it was late, and he had to get some rest.
When the doors slid shut behind him, Kirk gave way to the emotions that had been dogging him all day... no, ever since the engineering accident... sadness, grief, tension, bitterness ... most of all, responsibility. Whether he had any guilt in the matter or not, as Captain, he was still responsible. He sat at his desk and buried his face in his hands for a moment, then turned the gesture into a fingertip temple massage that couldnt quite cut the tension no matter how long or how delicately they moved.
And as he sat there trying to dispel some of the devils plaguing him, another one arose in the form of that scent again. Drifting lazily in the air, it tickled his nose with fragrance, subtly penetrating everything in the cabin with its floral presence. His eyes closed wearily. Damn that... whatever it is. He already had the air scrubbers on maximum. Fatigue dragged against his bones, making him reluctant to get up and check the settings.
While he was trying to convince himself to do so, a whisper of sound carried through the room.... a voice. A feminine voice. His eyes flew open. He was alone. But there it was again... murmurs, whispers... something close to words, but not quite. Impossible to tell where it came from.... It seemed to fill the room, to come from every direction.
Eyes darting into the corners, he sought some explanation, some source for the sound. But there was none. He checked the comm unit just to make sure it was off, not really expecting to find something so commonplace at the bottom of the mysterious whispers of sound.
And then... something caught his eye. Something moved. Immediately, he turned, just in time to see a flash of movement near the room divider. He was on his feet instantly, in hot pursuit. He paused just before he rounded the divider, his hands balled into fists, teeth on edge. But once there, he could see there was nothing ... no one. He released the breath he hadnt realized he was holding. Then, another whisper of sound... was that a soft laugh? Again, the sound seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.
Abruptly, the door buzzer sounded. Kirk paused for a moment while the echoes of that laugh died away, waiting to see if the sounds would continue. They did not. "Come," he responded in a somewhat faint tone. It was Spock.
"May I speak with you, Captain?" he inquired.
"Certainly, Spock," Kirk replied, crossing to the desk and busying himself with data tapes stacked there. "Whats on your mind?" Kirk tried for his normally brisk tone and failed miserably. Spocks piercing black eyes were studying him, making him uncomfortable under the scrutiny. He clamped down as best he could on the emotions he knew he must be broadcasting, even though it was probably too late. Nothing escaped those sharp Vulcan eyes. And Spock seemed to have an uncanny knack of knowing when something was upsetting him.
At first, Kirk thought Spock was going to question him about his obvious emotional state, but he apparently thought better of it. Instead, he surprised Kirk with some shipboard gossip. "I thought it my duty to inform you that there is speculation among the crew as to the circumstances of the Ensigns death."
Kirk ran a fingertip along the edge of a data tape. "You, Spock? Listening to gossip?" he inquired mildly, although the idea of his crew questioning his innocence cut like a knife.
The Vulcan permitted himself an all-too-Human shrug. "As Doctor McCoy is fond of pointing out, this ship seems to run on gossip. And such unsubstantiated tales, whether true or not, have a definite effect on the morale of any vessel."
Kirk sighed. "Im all too aware of that, Spock. Unfortunately, until we hold the official inquiry, those rumors will persist.
"They will also have an effect on you, Captain, and your ability to command this vessel," Spock pointed out.
Kirk winced visibly. "No one is more aware of that than I am, Spock. Do you think the fact that rumors are flying upsets me when were talking about the needless death of one of my crewmembers?" He couldnt help the note of bitterness creeping into his voice.
Spocks expression softened a bit. "My apologies, Captain. I did not mean to imply that you were unaffected by this death."
Kirk scrubbed his face with his hand in frustration. "I know you didnt, Spock. Maybe Im too touchy about the whole thing. Its hell having this thing hanging over our heads."
"I agree. However, it cannot be helped." Spock shifted from one foot to the other, and Kirk sensed that Spock was struggling with himself. "If it is of any consolation to you, you have my unquestioning support in this matter."
Kirk darted a glance at Spock. "Before the inquest is official, Spock? Youre placing a lot of trust in me, arent you? I could be guilty. Logically, you should wait for all the evidence to come in before you cast your lot."
Spock looked a bit uncomfortable, but he stubbornly continued, "My logic is sound, Captain. Even if any guilt lay with you, logic dictates that it did not originate with negligence or any other negative action on your part. You are Human, and as such, fallible."
Kirk looked directly into Spocks fathomless eyes. Spocks logic was not as sound as he would have Kirk believe. The Vulcan was way out on a limb with his unqualified support of his captain. "Spock, I did have an all-clear from Engineering before I gave that order."
Spock didnt even blink. "I believe you, Jim."
"Thank you, my friend," Kirk said quietly.
"May I suggest that you try to follow Doctor McCoys orders and get some additional rest?" Spock suggested. Kirk could see he was now definitely uncomfortable with the level of emotion in the room. Emotions were so difficult for Spock... more difficult than they needed to be. More difficult than they used to be before the Genesis incident.
"Ill do that, Spock. And thanks for coming."
"You are most welcome, Captain."
The doors swished shut behind Spocks ramrod-straight back, and he felt strangely comforted. Although he dreaded the restless night to come, sure to be interrupted by that 03:23 comm unit summons that had disturbed him every night so far, knowing he had Spocks support and trust made things a little easier to face.
It had been ten days since the accident. Cody had been released from Sickbay three days ago. He answered Kirks summons for an interview promptly, though he was obviously nervous. Captains Kirk and Spock rose from their seats when Cody entered the briefing room. "At ease, Lieutenant Cody. Please be seated. As you were told, this preliminary debriefing is only a formality, since the testimony you gave while you were in sickbay has already been entered into the record," Spock explained. "Once were within hailing distance of Starfleet Command, we will commence with the formal inquiry."
Codys head bobbed once in agreement. The questions Spock posed were the same ones he had already answered earlier, yet the replies seemed to come with difficulty. And when Spock came to the crucial question... the one that would either exonerate or damn Cody or Kirk... Codys answer was the same, although delivered with downcast eyes. No, he hadnt heard Kirk ask if everyone was clear, nor had he ever made such a statement. He had just barely made it through the air tight doors himself, and had received serious burns while staying behind to help the last few crewmembers out. No, he had no idea Karen Jenkins was still in the area. Hed assumed she was among the first to leave, since hed not actually seen her do so. No, there were several people whom he didnt personally see leave the accident scene before it was sealed off... another reason why he never would have given an all-clear. There was simply too much confusion and too little time to determine if anyone had been left behind.
Kirks gaze was penetrating as he thanked the lieutenant for his testimony. After the doors slid shut behind him, he turned to Spock. "What do you think?" he wanted to know.
Spock steepled his hands in front of his face as he did so often when he was deep in thought. "I believe Lieutenant Cody is lying."
"Thats my impression too, Spock. Ensign Jenkins was correctly logged on the duty roster. The area of engineering she was working in, by its location, would preclude her being one of the first out after the fire started, as Cody suggested. And of course theres the all-clear that Im sure I heard him give. Unfortunately, this is a case of his word against mine... and if I insist on my version of the truth, its going to look like Im pulling rank on him."
Spock nodded. "Perhaps he feels that your career can withstand a black mark better than his own."
Kirk sighed. "Do you suppose he simply forgot Jenkins was working in that area? Or just panicked and sacrificed her in his hurry to get the area sealed off?"
Spock shook his head. "Unless he admits his error, we will never know for certain."
Kirk left the briefing room with an unvoiced thought uppermost in his mind. If Lieutenant Cody was the guilty party, why did it seem that Karen Jenkins was haunting him?
Kirk headed for his quarters early that evening. McCoy had read him the riot act over supper about how hollow-eyed he looked, and it wouldnt be long before the doctor would be taking further steps. They had both been through this drill enough times over the past twenty years that they knew every step by heart.
The moment he stepped inside, he knew something was different. There was a chill to the air, and the smell of lavender, to which he was almost accustomed by now, was conspicuously absent. He did a quick scan of the room, and upon first glance, everything seemed to be in order. The feeling of unease continued, though, and prompted him to take a second look. It was then that he saw it... a bare foot, protruding from behind the room divider that screened the sleeping area from the rest of his quarters. A foot that was resting on his bed.
That creeping dread filled him again as he moved around the corner into his sleeping area, and became stronger when he saw the bed. Stretched out on his bed was the body of Karen Jenkins, tendrils of fog curling up from its cold, ashen flesh in reaction to the warm room temperature. He swallowed convulsively and forced himself to draw near, to actually touch, just to make sure it wasnt some sort of illusion. One brief touch of that rubbery flesh convinced him, and he turned on his heel and strode purposefully toward the comm unit, anger surging through him. He intended to find out by any means necessary who would do such a cruel thing. He thumbed the button. "Bridge," he barked. There was no answer, and no indication the unit was even active. His fingers flew over the controls, making a few critical adjustments, then he tried again. "Bridge?" Nothing. "Sickbay?" Still no response.
With a muffled exclamation of annoyance, he turned and strode toward the door, intending to head straight for Sickbay. The automatic door failed to open, and Kirk muttered aloud, "Why am I not surprised?" before hitting the manual override button. That didnt seem to work either. Kirk was hitting the override button for the third time when the cabin went absolutely pitch dark. In that instant, prickles of dread and something else he didnt care to put a name to came washing over him. Working by touch alone, he hit the intercom button next to the door and went through the roll call. "Spock? Scotty? Security?" The resounding silence prompted a curse to erupt, then break off in mid-curse.
A faint, rustling noise had come to his ears, all the more electrifying because of the total darkness. He froze where he was by the door, the fine hairs on the back of his neck bristling into awareness, his teeth clamping together. Then, padding footsteps... coming quietly toward him. He only had time to think Oh, shit before someone... something... was right behind him. He was expecting the arctic hand when it descended on his shoulder. He was gripped by a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He still hadnt moved, had absolutely no wish to grapple with this force.
Then, a whisper of a voice, sounding as if it were forced from lungs that had only a partial breath of oxygen left in them. This time, the words could be clearly understood. "Cody lied," came the reed-thin sound. A wave of light-headedness washed over him, produced by mingled relief and horror.
Kirk didnt know what he might have done next had not the intercom crackled to life under his hand. "Captain?" Immediately, the lights came back up, and one quick glance around him confirmed that he was alone again in his cabin. Had he imagined what sounded like the echo of a snicker? Was Karen Jenkinss wicked sense of humor at work?
He had never been so glad to hear Uhuras voice in his life. He gathered his wits and managed to reply in an almost-normal tone. "Kirk here."
"Captain, perhaps you should come up to the bridge. Lieutenant Cody just wandered in, and his behavior is quite hysterical." Kirk could hear Cody in the background shouting "I did it! Just keep her away from me!"
Kirk gave a half-laugh, imagining Codys terror if he had been subjected to the same treatment, amplified by feelings of guilt. "Yes, Ill bet it is. Ill be right up."
Kirk could feel McCoys gaze resting approvingly on him as he finished off the last bite of a sizeable meal... his first in days. "Funny how everything worked out, with Cody being the guilty party all along." McCoy observed. "Wonder what prompted him to confess?"
Kirk just smiled. Maybe someday he would confide all the details to his friends. For now, it was enough to know that Cody was in Securitys care and getting the counseling he so desperately needed, and that everything around the ship had finally quieted down. Karen Jenkins was apparently at last resting peacefully. She had righted the wrong, and even managed to convey to Kirk that she hadnt been haunting him, shed only been making sure he took care of the unfinished business of her death.
Kirk rose. "Im heading for the pool. A couple dozen laps should put me in the right frame of mind for bed." He began to walk away, then paused and nodded at McCoys cup of coffee. "You should try a little chocolate in that coffee, Bones. It kind of grows on you." With that, he turned and strode out of the Mess Hall, leaving McCoy and Spock to exchange puzzled looks.
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