Randy Landers, with Nomad
February 4th 2295
Lieutenant Commander Kevin Jordan sat atop his perch on the rock outcropping and surveyed the scene before him. Muselpheim IV was as lifeless and as hellish as any planet hed ever seen. The sky was cloudy and gray, and it was hard to tell where the gray lava fields met the sky. And the place stank of sulfur, but not to the point where they wouldve had to wear protective gear.
There was a drizzle, and Jordan looked at his equipment. Sensors had already told him that it was as acid a rain as one could find on a class M planet. He guessed that they had maybe an hours more use before their equipment would be completely ruined.
It had taken a lot of wrangling to convince the captain to allow a landing party to beam down planet. Ostensibly, this was the most volcanically active class M planet ever discovered. The volcano designated Thors Hammer was a dome volcano with four times the surface area of Mons Olympus on Mars, and here Jordans team was, at the base of its northern side, conducting a deep core analysis of the magma pool which kept the volcano active.
The tall, pasty chief science officer checked the readings again, and glanced up at the volcano, a steady stream of gas rising from the caldera miles away from their present location, and smiled in satisfaction. Vulcanology had always been one of his favorite studies, and the chance to study a find of this magnitude was one of the reasons hed joined Starfleet in the first place. This was a young planet, and the opportunity to investigate a volcano such as this was one not to be missed. Earth itself had once been a planet such as this, as had Vulcan, Tellar and Mars.
He glanced at Lieutenant LeeAnn Feltman. She had been the most outspoken opponent to his plan to survey the dome. Now, she stood six meters away, operating the phaser drill. At her side, Geological Technician David Jones was using his tricorder to monitor the drill status. At her other side, Ensign Laurie Morgan was in charge of sensor analysis.
Jordan was pleased. As Chief Science Officer of the U.S.S. Excelsior, he had lobbied, berated, begged Hikaru Sulu for this opportunity. Assistant Chief Science Officer Feltman had been opposed, as she always was to his plans, but the captain finally relented and authorized the landing party. Jordan snorted, and Feltmans head turned from her task, raising a critical eyebrow. He ignored her, and she turned back to her work. Of course, Feltman had insisted she be a part of the mission once the captain had approved it.
"Commander, I think weve got a problem," came that annoying soft-spoken Southern drawl of hers.
"What now?" he grumbled and stepped forward.
It was the last thing any of them ever said as an undetected pocket of superheated kraylon gas spewed out of the borehole and enveloped the three science officers next to the drill. He winced as his team grabbed their chests and collapsed, dying almost immediately as the gas burned through skin and protective clothing, incinerating their lungs.
As the gas rushed toward him, Jordan braced himself for what would no doubt be a brief moment of agony before he died. His last coherent thought was, Oh, great, now Ive got to face an eternity of her gloating about being right...
Hikaru Sulu sat casually in the center seat of the U.S.S. Excelsior, relaxing with a cup of hot tea. It had been a difficult three weeks since leaving the Kornephoros system. Hed lost five of his crew there, and that was eating at him. And he wouldnt know for three decades whether or not hed been able to defeat Qxl%. To top matters off, theyd moved on to their next assignment: geological survey of the class M planet in the Muselpheim system. Since their arrival two weeks ago, hed been repeatedly berated by his chief science officer to permit an excursion to the planets surface, despite the inherent risks in such a visit. Hed finally consented, despite the objections of the assistant chief science officer.
Suddenly, the Vulcan science officer, Ensign Tuvok, turned from his station at Science One. "Captain, telemetry from the landing party has been lost."
Sulu quickly set his cup down on the pedestal before him and strode to the main science station. "Report."
"I was monitoring their data transmission and their activities. All telemetry ceased abruptly thirty-two seconds ago. I am completing an intensive lifeform scan of the area, and can detect no lifeforms present." The Vulcan turned to his captain. "Sir, the landing party appears to have been"
"My God!" He spun to the communications bay across the deck. "Janice, try to raise them. Maybe were having a problem with our sensors!"
"Ive been trying to raise them, Captain. No response."
"Bridge to Sickbay!" he called to the bridges comlink. "Have a medical team standing by in Transporter Room One. We have an emergency on the planets surface, Doctor Cord."
"Well be there in forty-five seconds, Skipper. Cord out."
"Transporter Room One, this is the captain. Theres an emergency on the planets surface. Try to lock on to the landing partys communicators and beam them aboard."
"Captain, I recommend the use of a maximum level containment field," suggested Tuvok.
"Transporter Room, did you get that?"
"Aye, sir. Maximum level containment field in place. Beaming them aboard now," Chief Hamilton replied.
Sulu stepped into the turbolift adjacent Science One. "Commander Rand, you have the conn," he called. "Transporter Room One." The doors closed, but not before everyone on the bridge heard him snap, "Damn!"
Sulu strode into Transporter Room One as Doctor Ariel Cord stood in a corner, visibly shaken by what shed seen. The captain watched as Assistant Chief Medical Officer Dars Viger pulled up the sheet over a body on a stretcher. "What happened?" the captain demanded, looking at three other stretchers, each with a sheet-covered body on them. There was a rancid smell in the air, and Sulu struggled not to retch.
Cord seemed almost too stunned to answer, and Sulu was surprised. Hed seen Ariel handle gruesome scenes like this without flinching an eye. But she stood next to him, visibly trembling albeit slightly.
"Massive burn trauma, Captain." Viger shook his head, running his feinberger over the body. "Im detecting Kraylon gas in whats left of their lungs. Its virtually undetectable when superheated. It killed them instantly."
"My God... All four of them...gone..." said Sulu. "What have I done..."
Cord suddenly regained much of her self-control and composure. "Now, dont go blaming yourself, Hikaru. Jordan and his team knew the risks involved with this sort of excursion to a world like this. Hell, this is the very thing that Feltman herself had cautioned against."
"Thats what so frustrating, Ariel. I should have listened to her."
"She shouldve listened to herself," the chief medical gestured at the second gurney with a covered body. "But she didnt, and now shes dead." She turned to Doctor Viger and the three med techs that had accompanied her. "Lets get them to Sickbay. I want all four autopsied, Dars. Id like you to handle it."
The Bolian doctor cocked his head at an angle, his species equivalent of a Vulcans raised eyebrow. "As you wish, Ariel."
Sulu was too absorbed in his own thoughts to notice the exchange.
Sulu was not a patient man. Oh, he had a great act, but thats all it was. Patience was expected of him, because he was the captain, because he was middle-aged, and maybe even because he was Oriental. But patience was a virtue he was sorely lacking. As far as he was concerned, waiting sucked.
The doors to the examination room slid open, and his chief and assistant chief medical officers walked out, donned in the red surgical gowns that Starfleet Medical had recently adopted.
Viger removed his mask and hood. "Kraylon gas..."
Cord removed hers and snorted softly. "The very thing LeeAnn had warned about during the briefing..."
Sulu crossed his arms and looked down. "I cannot believe that I allowed this landing party to beam down to an active dome volcano."
Viger tilted his head and looked at him with concern. "Captain, youre going to be in trouble on this one, I fear."
Sulu considered taking the Bolians head off, but he knew that he was just his assistant chief medical officers nature. Instead, the captain nodded his head. Rubbing the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger, he closed his eyes tightly. "Thats a mild exaggeration, Doctor. There might a board of inquiry, but I think thats highly unlikely. Risk is our business."
Ariel Cord looked at him. "Sulu?"
The captain smiled a falsely-reassuring smile. "Everything will be fine, Ariel."
"Where you off to, Skipper?" Cord called for him.
He turned back around, and unsnapped his jacket strap. "To bed. Its late. You coming?" he asked her. Theyd been lovers for five years now, and while they maintained separate quarters, when off-duty, she could be found in his.
She shook her head softly. "No, Ive got too many reports to work on."
He shrugged and left without another word.
Hikaru Sulu was a lonely man. He leaned back in his lounger, looking out the window of his cabin at the hellish planet below the Excelsior, as he reflected on his lot in life.
He had a lover, Ariel Cord, the likes of which the galaxy had rarely seen. He had command of a starship, the Excelsior, the likes of which the Federation could rarely afford. He had a successful career, and was becoming one of the most highly regarded starship captains in Starfleet.
But for all his successes, Sulu considered himself a failure.
Not that hed let anyone else know that, of course.
He had a lover, but he had lost the love of his life, Janet Rachelson, during the Kelvan War, and that was a loss he wasnt sure he could ever recover from. Ariel had done her best, of course, to make him feel loved, but there were nights that he sat in this lounger as he did now, staring at the stars as they streamed by, and wondered where his life might be now had Janet been able to be a part of it.
He had command of the Excelsior, but there were times that he wished he hadnt ever left his post as the helm officer of the Enterprise. There were times that he longed for the helm, for the lack of responsibility, for the simple notion that all he had to do was steer the ship the way its captain wanted. Now and then, during crisis situations, he found himself hanging on to the Excelsiors helm, offering Lieutenant Commander Lojur unneededand unwantedadvice. A vision of the energy wave from the explosion of Praxis leapt into his mind, and he could hear himself screaming "Turn her into the wave!" at Lojur from beneath the helm console.
He was a highly regarded ship captain, but he had no friends, no trusted advisors, no confidantes aboard the Excelsior. The recent joint mission with the Enterprise at Alpha Tucanae IV had driven that home to him. He had seen that Captain Chekov had already established a good working rapport with Uhura and Saavik. They were already a team, and, as such, were more than capable of performing the impossible demands Starfleet makes on all its captains, officers and crews. He considered his own situation. He simply had not been able to develop that kind of relationship with his command staff. He was sole master of the Excelsior, and frankly, he didnt want their advice unless he asked for it first.
Now, there were four science officers dead. He had made his decision by consulting only Chief Science Officer Jordan and Assistant Chief Science Officer Feltman, both of whom lay in Sickbay with sheets over their horribly burned forms. Jordan had argued about the importance of the mission; Feltman had warned them of the dangers; and Sulu had made the decision that had cost both of them their lives.
Billy Wilder once said that "Hindsight is always twenty-twenty."
If he had to make his decision all over again, he would have let Feltmans words influence him the most.
"Damn," he muttered, thinking, There I go again. Second guessing myself. Why is it I always rely on myself rather than my command staff? I shouldve asked Janice, Boris and Ariel for their input, too. But I didnt. "I am a failure," he said to the empty confines of his cabin.
He stood, walked to his food server. He tapped in his personal code and said, "Hot sake."
The steaming pot and cups for two were delivered within twenty seconds. Alone, in the night, Hikaru Sulu drank until he was too drunk to go to bed.February 5th 2295
Commander Janice Rand enjoyed being in the center seat. It wasnt often that the captain afforded her this opportunity; he rarely was a part of any landing party, preferring to "quarterback" the operation from the bridge of the Excelsior. Still, she always came on duty an hour or two before he did, just to log the hours in command. But it was now 0852 ships time, and there was no sign of nor word from the captain. He was fifty-two minutes late.
"Commander?" came Ensign Tuvoks rich voice. He was standing at her side. "I have the preliminary data from the surface." The Vulcan science officer was now the senior most science officer aboard the Excelsior.
"Preliminary data...oh, you mean the sensor logs from the landing party before they..."
"...before they were killed," he concluded for her. He regarded her stony expression with a tilted head and cocked an eyebrow. "Is something wrong, Commander?" he asked, handing her the report.
Janice Rand shook her head softly, and she sighed. "No, Ensign, nothing at all."
She watched as his attention returned to the Science One station. He seemed so self-assured, so naturally-gifted, she knew then who she would recommend as a replacement for the chief science officers position.
And then she wondered if Sulu would actually listen to her recommendation at all...
She glanced down at the report. According to Tuvok, the findings of the landing party were of significant scientific importance. Planetologists throughout the Federation would be clamoring for their own expeditions to Muselpheim IV, she decided. Well, at least some good came out of this. Not that itll be much consolation to the science teams families or even to Sulu.
She looked at the time. 0912. This is not like the captain, she thought. On a hunch, she thumbed the ships intercom. "Bridge to Sickbay."
"Sickbay," came Ariel Cords tired voice.
"Is the captain down there, Doctor?"
"He hasnt reported to duty."
"Ill go check out our...er, his quarters."
"You didnt...go there last night?" No need to aggravate the doctor with the obvious fact that she and Sulu are lovers over an open comm channel, she thought.
"I was filling out the death reports on the landing party. It took all night." She paused. "Ill go check on the captain. Sickbay out."
Rand looked around the bridge; a few furtive glances toward the center seat told her that everyone had noticed the captains absence. Not good, she decided. A few frowns came her way. Not good at all.
"Hikaru! Wake up!"
Sulu raised his head up groggily. "Huh?"
Doctor Cord stood before him, a deep frown on her face.
He closed his eyes and yawned widely. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms and yawned again. "Yes, what is it, Ariel?"
He glanced at the chronometer on his BellComm terminal. 0945. He was nearly two hours late for his shift.
"Damn!" He slung himself from his lounger and started for the door.
"No, sir," she said firmly as she placed herself between her captain and the door to his cabin. "Shower first. You stink like sake."
His face reddened slightly, and he stumbled toward the shower. He stripped off his jacket, tunic and pants, and stepped into the sonic shower.
Ariel Cord was worried. She hadnt seen Sulu like this before. Ever. She slipped off her own uniform, set it out on the bed, and stepped into the shower with him. He was leaning with his head resting on the arm he had rested on the soap dish. She scooped up the soap and a sponge off the shower floor and began washing his back. He didnt respond, verbally or physically. He was sobbing, softly.
"Ariel, ImIm sorry. I just cant"
Men! she thought as she snorted. "Im not asking for sex, Captain. I want to know if you want to talk about your problem."
"Youve been with me since I returned to the Cooper as its captain, Ariel. I lost four people yesterday, and five people last month. You know how hard the deaths of my crew hit me."
"I know that they hit you a lot harder since Janet Rachelson died."
He covered his eyes with his hand.
"Hikaru, I want you to get some help with this. Professional help. You know, weve got a ships psychologist aboard."
"I dont need that kind of help, Ariel," Sulu snapped.
"As a matter of fact, you do."
Sulu pulled up his head with a start. "What?"
"You have never come to grips with Janet Rachelsons death, nor have you forgiven yourself for Dmitri Valtanes death. And, if I know you, youre not going to forgive yourself for the deaths of this landing party."
He narrowed his eyes and snapped, "Get out."
"Not going to happen, my friend."
"Ariel, I dont want to"
"you dont want to face this right now," she interjected. "You couldnt face it ten years ago when Janet Rachelson died in the Kelvan War. You couldnt face it five years ago when I was nearly killed. You couldnt face Dmitri Valtanes death two years ago. You couldnt face it two months ago when Jim Kirk died. You couldnt face it last night after it took the lives of the Science team. You cant face death, Hikaru, and its time you did."
"Im not going to talk about this." He turned the shower off, and reached for a towel.
"You may have to, lover." She walked around and got right in his face. "Ive voiced some concerns I have in my medical log." She moved even closer. "Youve got no choice but to answer those questions or face a medical board of inquiry."
"I just cant believe youre doing this!"
"And I cant believe I havent forced this issue until now."
"Then why now?"
"Your style of command has become so insular, so self-centered, that your crew is unwelcome to give input into any decision."
"I am the captain, you know, and Ive had nearly a decade of experience in the center seat."
"Ive been going over your record with the previous chief medical officer of the Cooper, Doctor K.C. Johnson."
"You spoke with Casey? How dare you!"
"Get the hell out."
"I said, Get the hell out. Now."
She considered it for a second, then said, "Consider yourself relieved of duty, Captain, until further notice, pending the outcome of psychiatric evaluation, conducted by the ships psychologist. Ill be taking the matter up with the first officer and Doctor Noel presently."
Sulu was beet red, but remained silent. It was clear to her that he was teetering on the edge of exploding at her.
She stepped out of the shower, and his voice stopped her. "Ariel..."
She would not turn. She could not turn. She did not turn.
She dressed and left without another word.
Sulu entered the bridge at 1018 ships time. His eyes were still puffy, his complexion more jaundiced than usual. He took a deep breath, and strode forward as though there were nothing wrong. "Good morning everyone," he said in a forced casual manner.
"Mornin, Capn," and a few other similar sentiments echoed around the bridge as he took the center seat from Janice Rand.
"Youre late, Skipper," said Captain of Engineering Deneice Maliszewski from her station. She was never one to mince words with anyone, not even the captain of the Excelsior.
"Yeah, Mallie, I know," he said sheepishly. "Ships status, Commander Rand?"
"Were in standard orbit above Muselpheim Four, sir. Doctors Cord and Viger have completed their autopsies, and the results are waiting on your desk in your ready room. Ensign Tuvok has completed his report on the findings from the science teams data."
An ensign from engineering handed him a padd to sign off on. He studied the antimatter reserve report briefly and initialed it before handing the padd back to him. "Anything else, Commander?" he asked absently.
"Yes, sir. Id like a word with you, when you can spare me a few minutes, sir."
He blinked twice and turned to look at Rands face. Her features were completely expressionless, and he considered the tone and phraseology of her request. "Very well, Commander. Meet me in my ready room in five minutes." As she strode away, he turned to Lieutenant Commander Lojur. "Helmsman, you have the conn."
"Yes, Captain," the Armenian helm officer responded.
Sulu exited the bridge through the port entry way, and walked down the short corridor to his ready room. He turned to the right, and walked through the doors at sat down at his desk. Sulus ready room reflected his chaotic impulses at collecting: an assortment of books, swords, plants, model starships, paintings, mounted coin collections, a few baseball cards, silk butterflies, sea shells from nearly a dozen worlds, and Arcturian sand sculptures.
He stepped to the food slot and thumbed in hot tea, crackers and peanut butter, a time-honored tradition for him whenever hung over. Sitting down with his tea and peanut butter crackers, he began reviewing the autopsies of the science department heads who died on the planet below. Superheated kraylon gas virtually cremated them on the spot. They died quickly, but in complete agony.
Sulu set down the peanut butter-covered cracker he was eating, and closed his eyes. Blinking them open, he cleaned off his desk, and looked expectantly toward his door. The five minutes were up.
The door chimed, and Sulu said, "Come in."
Commander Janice Rand walked in, her mouth tightly drawn, her eyes flashing with anger. "Permission to speak freely, Captain."
Sulu considered telling her no, but that would only anger her further. "Have a seat, Janice. Tell me whats on your mind."
"What happened to you, Hikaru? You used to be so happy-go-lucky, bouncing off the walls, with a new hobby every other day. And now..."
"Things change, Janice. We get older, we get more responsibilities. People die..." His voice caught.
"I am tired of this shit, Sulu. Every time we lose a crewman, you get drunk and fail to report to duty on time. Ive been your executive officer for five years now, and its getting worse and worse. Its going to stop now, once and for all."
The door chimed again. "Come," Sulu called.
Doctor Cord walked in, padd in hand.
"Nows not a good time, Ariel," the captain began.
"Sorry, sir, but this matter requires your immediate attention, as well as that of Commander Rand. Pursuant to Starfleet Medical Regulations, Order Six, Section D, Paragraph Two: The ships chief medical officer will require a full examination of any crewmember he has concerns about, including the captain. I am hereby relieving you of command pending a comprehensive psychological examination to be completed by the ships chief medical officer and an interview with the ships psychologist."
Rand looked at the ships physician with mouth agape as Sulu stood up.
"How...dare...you!" Sulu was stunned. "I...I...I cannot believe youre making this official, Ariel."
"I told you this morning I was relieving you of command, Captain. You have developing emotional instability that must be addressed before you present a danger to yourself or this crew. You need help with this, and you need it now."
"Ariel," he pleaded.
Tears were beginning to well up in her eyes. "I have no choice," she said, shaking her head slowly. She turned to Rand. "Commander, I request that this be kept confidential unless circumstances warrant it be made public."
Sulu stood there, shaking in complete disbelief.
Rand addressed the ships intercom. "Rand to Lojur. Report to the captains ready room, please."
"On my way," came the reply.
Sulu looked at Rand. "Janice, please, reconsider this."
The executive officer looked apologetic but resolute. "Im sorry, Captain. The chief medical officer has made her decision."
The door chimed, and Sulu didnt answer. "Come," called Rand.
The bearded chief helm officer entered the room cautiously, trying to ascertain just what was going on. "I was summoned?"
"Commander, Doctor Cord has relieved Captain Sulu of duty pending a psychological exam."
Lojur looked at his captain, surprise on his face for the briefest of instances, then his usual stony look returned. "I see. Your orders, Commander Rand?" he asked her.
"The crew is not to be informed of this action."
Sulu, unwilling and perhaps unable to meet the eyes of his senior officers, took a deep breath. "Very well. Ill be in my quarters until summoned." He took a pile of disks, scooped them up with a padd or two, and strode out the door.
After it closed, Rand turned on Cord. "Was this really necessary?" she snapped. "This could ruin his reputation aboard this ship and his career as a starship captain. How could you?"
"Because," Cord pointed at the door, "he needs help, and he wont seek it out on his own. Ive asked him, Ive pleaded with him to get some help. Its hard being the captain of a starship. Its unbearable if you cant face death."
"Neither could Jim Kirk," answered Rand. "He always struggled to find a way to beat death at its game."
"But when his crew died, he didnt get falling down drunk and fail to report for duty on time."
"Is that what this is about?" asked Lojur, incredulous. "Ive known a lot of starship commanders in my career, Doctor. Not all of them handle death with the kind of grace and dignity and temperament you think Captain Sulu should. Hell, more than half of them do get drunk, and"
"You cant tell me they fail to report"
"Not all of the time, but sometimes, yeah, they dont report to duty on time."
She stared at him.
"Maybe its you who has a problem with how hes handling death," Lojur continued. "Maybe you want him to be one of those men who turn steely and cold when theyre hurt. Well, I got news for you, Doc. Sulu isnt that kind of man. Hes a man of compassion, despite his stoic stature. He feels for those four people more than he would ever show."
Cord took umbrage at the remark. "Boris, thats not fair. Im not expecting him to turn into a Vulcan. Neither am I expecting him to break down and cry. Im expecting him to stop taking each and every single death personally. This is deep space, and even in the twenty-third century, shit happens. People die."
"How we deal with death is as important as how we deal with life," quoted Rand.
"Precisely my point, Janice. Hes simply not dealing with death. I want him to realize that, thats all."
The three officers faced each other wordlessly for a full three minutes. "All right, Ariel," Rand finally broke the silence. "Well play this one your way."
Cord sighed. "Thanks, Janice. Im sorry to have sprung this on you like this." She blinked. "What were you doing in here anyway?"
Rand chuckled mirthlessly. "Chewing Sulus ass out."
The doctor pursed her lips in amusement. "Ooooo-kay."
Lojur asked the question no one wanted to hear: "What if the psych exam shows hes not capable of command?"
"It wont, Boris," Cord assured him. "Hes got a few problems, but they can be fixed with the right kind of help."
"And the ships psychologist is going to be the right kind of help?" Rand asked.
Cord nodded. "I hope so."
Personal Log, Stardate 9509.9
First Officer Janice Rand recording
Pursuant to Starfleet Medical Regulations, and upon the recommendations I have received from both the chief medical officer and ships psychologist, I have temporarily relieved Captain Sulu from active duty. Rather than allow this to become a part of the ships official logs, I am opting to keep the matter under wraps for the time being. Chief Medical Officer Cord has raised some serious questions regarding his mental health. Those questions will be addressed by the ships psychologist, Doctor Helen Noel, in an afternoon session. It is my fervent hope that the captain will be judged mentally competent and of sound mental health. If not, I will have no choice but to make the matter official, and relieve him of duty.
Commander Janice Rand found herself in the center seat sooner than she would have liked. Right now, the captain was in Sickbay undergoing the usual battery of psych tests. She was glad for one thing: Ariel Cord had protected the captain. Other than Doctors Cord and Noel and herself, only the ships second officer, Lieutenant Commander Boris Lojur, knew anything. The rest of the crew was under the impression that their captain was taking some time off from his duties to catch up on his paperwork. And, to be honest with herself, he was doing just that.
Lojur glanced back at her from the helm. He didnt like this, she knew. And she wasnt sure she liked it either. But the captain did have a problem. She knew it. Cord knew it. Lojur knew it. Hell, the whole crew probably knew it.
Maybe this was a good idea after all.
She just hoped the ships psychologist was up to the task.
As a ships psychologist, Helen Noel, Ph.D., saw an assortment of disorders on a regular basis.
Long-term deep space assignments had the unerring ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. Usually, her duties included counseling crewmembers on varying minor neuroses. Ensign Torrance Sledge was a top-notch astronomer, but he suffered from a mild form of claustrophobia. Not enough to hinder his work performance, of course, but enough to flare up and cause some anxiety now and then. Lieutenant Beth Black was an excellent chemist, but her abrasive bluntness had led to few friends and that had led to subtle, occasional notions of persecutions. Technician 2nd Class Mark McCubbins was an excellent shuttlecraft mechanic with a tendency toward obsessive-compulsive hand-washing and always insisted his steak and hamburgers to be over-cooked, charred even. But none of the crewmembers she counseled represented a danger to themselves or their crewmates, and none of their neuroses hindered their efforts to fulfill the duties and responsibilities afforded to them by their position. But they needed counseling on managing their difficulties from time to time, and she was there for them.
Doctor Noel was also available for any crewmember who wanted counseling in personal matters, family matters, even sexual matters. She had been one of the first staff psychologists assigned permanent starship duty. In the past, Starfleet might have grounded crewmembers with mild neuroses, and that resulted in worsening the conditions, in general. But thirty years ago, Starfleet had begun to recognize the value of these individuals and had begun assigning psychologists and psychiatrists to the medical staff as a matter of course.
Now she sat in her chair as she listened intently to the quasi-neurotic ramblings of Ensign Jason Wheeler. As he described the persecution he was suffering under Captain of Engineering Deneice Maliszewski, she made her decision to transfer the ensign off the Excelsior, preferably to a starbase with a full psychology staff. Starbase 86 was within their patrol route, and it would no doubt be the best place for the ensign.
"...and I just cant deal with it any longer, Doc."
"Thats all right, Jason. I think we can arrange it so you wont have to. Have you ever considered a ground assignment?"
"No, not really. But Id take the first one that was offered as long as Mali-shit-ski aint going to be there."
"Ill speak with the captain immediately, pull a few strings with him, as it were."
"Thats great, Doc. Im so glad you can help me out with this woman. Shes crazy, I tell you."
Noel nodded sympathetically. "Ill handle it in a few minutes. I should have you a new assignment in a few days." She glanced at her wrist chrono. "Now get out of here, will you? Ive got some real patients to treat."
"Yes, maam." And Ensign Jason Wheeler laughed and exited her office.
She wrote a few notes into her padd. The young engineer should have flunked every psyche evaluation hed faced, but he hadnt. He passed one yesterday with flying colors, in fact. But he was a rather neurotic young man suffering from a persecution complex that had never once manifested itself until he joined the Excelsior some weeks ago.
"Oh, well," she muttered to herself. "Time to do the right thing."
The right thing, she mused and sighed. It had been nearly thirty years since the dark incident that had nearly wrecked her career...
She had only recently been assigned to Leonard McCoys staff when the captain had requested the ships most knowledgeable officer with experience in penology during a landing party assignment to the penal colony Tantalus. Unfortunately, she had made a series of errors in judgment that had cost her dearly in terms of career advancement. She had actually used an experimental device on a subject, knowing full well that what she was doing was wrong. And in her heart, she knew that Adams neural neutralizer was unethical, as was programming false memories into her commanding officer. All she had done was follow his orders.
And that had been a mistake. One that she almost hadnt survived, career-wise. McCoy had contacted the Federation Association of Psychologists as well as the Federation Medical Association. Both had recommended that she lose her license to practice psychology. Starfleet Medical had instigated court-martial proceedings against her. Only Captain James T. Kirk himself had saved her career by testifying on her behalf. She had simply been following his direct orders, he had argued. That mattered most to the three boards of inquiry.
But she was relieved of starship duty and assigned to Doctor Simon Van Gelders staff at the Tantalus Penal Colony. Shed spent nearly thirty years there, working with a wide variety of patients, ranging from Harry Mudd to Peter Kirk, helping them help themselves. Or at least trying to.
Today, though, she had been pegged by the Excelsiors chief medical officer to serve as a grief counselor for the ships captain, Hikaru Sulu. She remembered him during her brief tour of duty aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of the late James T. Kirk. Sulu was one of those borderline obsessive-compulsive characters whose gifted skills as a helmsman were nearly immeasurable. He had been a brash young man with wildly eclectic tastes and interests. One week, botany. The next week, ancient firearms. The following week, geodes. But he was not the same young lieutenant from three decades past. He was the ships captain, and he had a problem.
Noel was about to counsel her captain for a death that had occurred ten years ago. She hadnt known Janet Rachelson. That wasnt important, of course, but the fact that Sulu couldnt come to grips with her death was the crux of his problem.
"Hello, Doctor," Sulus baritone voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Good afternoon, Captain. Please, call me Helen."
"Only if you call me Hikaru." He smiled broadly.
And falsely, she decided. "Please, have a seat, Hikaru."
"Sure, Doc...er, Helen." He sat rather stiffly on the leather-covered settee. "So what do I do?"
"What do you want to do?"
"Uh, walk out of here and resume my duties."
She smiled slightly, and shook her head. "Im sorry. Not until we have a little chat."
He shrugged. "Yeah, I know." He looked around at the wall decorations. A few diplomas, a couple of paintings of historical figures. Nothing really to give away any clues about the woman who would sit in judgment on his mental state. "So what else can we do?"
"You tell me."
He rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. "I suppose well just have to talk."
"Only if you want to."
"Oh, I dont want to, Doctor Noel. But Ive got no choice. Doctor Cord has seen to that."
The titles are back, she noted. "And how does that make you feel, Captain?"
"How does it make me feel? How does it make me feel? How would you feel, Doctor, if you were relieved of duty by...by..."
"By your lover?"
Sulus face flushed crimson. He crossed his arms and looked at the ceiling, his face slowly returning to its proper color.
She let him sit there for a while, then finally, when she realized he wasnt going to volunteer to speak, she decided to shift modes. "Hikaru, I realize that this is difficult for you. It was difficult for Doctor Cord. It is difficult for me. However, it has become quite clear to her that you have a problem. Can you tell me what that problem is?"
"Ariel says I havent dealt with Janet Rachelsons death, and that I havent been able to deal with the deaths of others since that time."
"And do you think shes wrong?"
There was a pause. "No."
She raised an eyebrow.
He apparently noticed it. "Ive never been one for deceiving myself, DocHelen. Im well aware that my feet are made of clay."
She regarded him with increased approval. "Then I want you to tell me a story."
She glanced at her padd. "Tell me about the death of Dmitri Valtane."
"Two and a half months after Praxis exploded, the Excelsior was maintaining its survey mission outside the Klingon Neutral Zone when word came from Starfleet Command that Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy had been taken to the Klingon homeworld to stand trial. It was something I was not going to permit..."
"Helm, set a course for QonoS," ordered Sulu as he approached the helm console. "Maximum warp. Take us through the Azure nebula. That should conceal our approach." Lieutenant Commander Lojur agreed. "Aye, sir," the helmsman said as Sulu sat back down in the center seat.
"I was about to attempt an unauthorized rescue mission. My entire command crew was in agreement with one exception..."
"Captain, am I correct in assuming that you have decided to embark on a rescue mission?" asked Ensign Tuvok as the young Vulcan approached the center seat. "Thats right," Sulu said, swinging his chair around to face the junior science officer. "Do you have a problem with that, Ensign?" "I do. It is a direct violation of our orders from Starfleet Command, and it could precipitate an armed conflict between the Klingon Empire and the Federation." "Objection noted," Sulu conceded. "Resume your station," the captain swung his chair to face the mainviewer. "Sir, as a Starfleet officer, it is my duty to formally protest." "Tuvok!" gasped Commander Janice Rand from Communications. "A pretty bold statement for an ensign," Sulu turned to face Tuvok, " with only...two months space duty under his belt." "I am aware of my limited experience, but I am also very much aware of Starfleet regulations and my obligation to carry them out." "Thats enough," snapped Rand, stepping toward them. "Ensign, youre relieved. Im sorry about this, Captain. I assure you it will not happen again." Sulu halted her with a raised hand. "Ensign, youre absolutely right. But youre also absolutely wrong." He met Tuvoks eyes with earnest conviction. "Youll find that more happens on the bridge of a starship than just carrying out orders and observing the regulations. Theres a sense of loyalty to the men and women you serve with. A sense of family. Those two men on trial, I served with them for a long time. I owe them my life a dozen times over. And right now, theyre in trouble, and Im going to help them. Let the regulations be damned." "Sir, that is a most illogical line of reasoning." "You better believe it." He turned to Lojur. "Helm, engage." Rebuked, Tuvok quietly returned to the Science Two station. "Captain, were approaching the Azure Nebula." "On screen." The beautiful blue nebula filled the screen. "Analysis?" Lieutenant Dmitri Valtane reported from Science One. "Class Eleven nebula. Trace amounts of sirillium. Nothing special. Its about one and a quarter lightyears across." "Itll take us around five hours to get through that." Sulu looked around the bridge and at the chronometer. "Gamma shift, I want you off-duty until then." He turned to Commander Rand. "Get the Alpha shift up here on duty." "Aye, sir."
"We were only about thirty minutes into the nebula when the Klingons attacked. They were lying in wait in the nebula, and they began firing old-fashioned but highly-effective concussive charges across our bow..."
"Red Alert! All hands to battle stations!" called Sulu into the open comlink. An alarm was blaring. The ship shook. "Were being hailed, Captain!" reported Rand. "On screen," Sulu leaned back in his chair. A familiar Klingon face greeted him. "Mister Sulu, I see they have finally given you the captaincy you deserve." "Thank you, Kang." "Do not let it end prematurely," Kangs gnarly visage filled the screen. The Khteb Klingons skull was much more knotted than Sulu remembered. The Khteb, one of the three Segh vav"parent races"of Klingons started off life with smooth foreheads. The older one got, the more "wisdom ridges" one got. Of course, the genetically engineered Khmyr were born with theirs. "Kang...weve been on a survey mission studying this nebula. Our...navigation system malfunctioned, and," the captain chuckled faintly, "Im afraid we got lost. As soon as weve completed repairs, well be underway." "Wed be happy to escort you back to Federation space." "Very generous of you, but we can manage." "I insist." There was a dangerous quality in Kangs voice, one that carried a certain...finality. "Actually, an escort would be welcome," Sulu smiled. "Wed hate to lose our way again." "Bring your ship about. Bearing one-eighty-one mark two." "Nice to see you again, Kang." The Klingon sighed and cut the transmission. "Captain Sulu?" began Valtane. "Man your station, Lieutenant. Were not giving up just yet. Helm, come about." The ship pivoted and made its way back toward Federation space, the Klingon vessel following them. "Tactical status?" asked Sulu. "They have their forward disruptors trained on us, sir," Valtane answered. Sulu slapped his hand down on the armrest of the command chair. "Ensign Tuvok," he stood, and made his way forward toward Science Two, "what is the composition of this nebula?" "Primarily oxygen and argon, with traces of beta-xenon, chlorine and sirillium gas." "Sirillium? Thats a highly combustible substance, isnt it?" "Affirmative." "Is there anyway we could ignite the sirillium?" "If we modulated a positron beam to a subspace frequency, it would trigger an exothermic chemical reaction in the sirillium." "Like tossing a match in a pool of gasoline," he looked at the mainviewer and a concern entered his thoughts. He looked at his junior science officer. "Would their shields withstand the blast?" "Yes. But their sensors and tactical systems would be disrupted for several seconds." "Thats all the time we need. Tuvok, modulate a positron beam and stand by. Well ignite the sirillium the instant we clear the nebula." He returned to the center seat. "Helm, prepare to engage maximum warp on my command." "Aye, sir." He tapped the comlink. "All hands, secure stations and batten down the hatches." "The positron beam is charged and ready," reported Tuvok. "On my mark, Ensign..." Sulu raised his finger. "Were clearing the nebula," reported Lojur. "Mister Tuvok, light the match," he thrust his finger forward. The orange particle beam leapt from the rear phaser bank. The blue nebula ignited, the explosion sending Kangs ship tumbling away. "The Klingon ship has been disabled," reported Valtane with a smug grin. "Theyre not pursuing, sir." "Helm, set a course for QonoS. Engage." The Excelsior turned back toward Klingon space. Sulu turned and stepped to the communications bay. "Commander Rand, I want you" "Sir," Valtane urgently reported, "long range sensors are detecting three Klingon battlecruisers on an intercept course. Theyre arming torpedoes." "Heading, sir?" asked Lojur. Sulu sat back down. "Maintain course." Two photon torpedoes struck the Excelsiors primary hull. The ship shuddered violently. "Return fire!" Sulu ordered. "Theyve knocked out our targeting scanners, sir!" reported Valtane from his station. "Switch to manual!" The ship shook again. Tuvok turned with a start from Science Two. "Mister Valtane, theres a rupture in the plasma conduit behind your console. Get away from that station!" "One more second!" "Dmitri, you must" The ship shook, and Science One exploded in a shower of sparks. Dmitri Valtane was flung across the deck toward the rear exit corridor. The ship shook again. Tuvok made his way to his fallen comrade. "Bridge to Sickbay! Medical emergency!" he called. The ship shuddered again. "Tuvok," whispered Valtane, and he was gone. The Vulcan stared at Valtanes form as though stunned. "Damage report!" Sulu called as he turned to Science One. "Seal that conduit!" he ordered the repair crew that came out of the turbolift. "Hull breach on Deck Twelve Section Forty-Seven. Weve lost power on Decks Five, Six and Ten. Casualty report coming in. Nineteen wounded." The ship shook again. "Direct hit on the port bow," reported Rand. "Shields down to twenty percent. Losing atmosphere on Decks Five, Six and Seven." "Reroute auxiliary power to structural integrity," ordered Sulu. The ship shook again. "Helm, get us the hell out of here! Maximum warp!" he ordered. "Aye, sir!" Sulu stepped to his fallen officer. Placing his hand on Tuvoks shoulder, "Ensign, I need you at your station." The Vulcan shook his head, as if to clear it of cobwebs, and returned to Science Two. "Sensors show that the Klingons are not pursuing us, sir," he reported. "We have been...most fortunate." Sulu nodded. "We can agree on that." He glanced back at the still smoldering Science One station. The medical team was busy trying to resuscitate Dmitri Valtane. After several minutes, Doctor Cord shook her head, and closed Valtanes eyes. "Hes dead, Captain. Im sorry. There was nothing I could do." Sulu sat down on the deck, stunned.
Helen Noel regarded her captain with increased scrutiny. "Thats not the way you reported it, is it?"
Sulus shoulders slumped. "Dmitri Valtanes death occurred as a result of a plasma conduit leak. An examination of the conduit showed a manufacturing flaw, so his death was due to the malfunction of that station."
She raised a skeptical eyebrow.
He was insistent. "Im not lying, Doc. You can check with the Captain of Engineering, if you like."
"And Starfleet? Usually a death like that results in an official inquiry, doesnt it?"
"Quite so. Officially, the explanation was accurate, and, therefore, my judgment was not called into question. Unofficially, Admiral Bill Smillie told me if I ever did such a hare-brained stunt again, hed personally see to it that I was mopping the floors at Starfleets Maximum Security Detention Center on Alcatraz."
"And Dmitri Valtane...your decision led to his death."
Sulu looked at the floor. "He died before his time," the captain conceded.
"You killed him," she leveled the accusation like an axe.
"Yes, I did." His eyes were brimming with tears.
She looked at her wrist chronometer. "Our times up today, Captain. Im restoring you to active duty, on the provision that youre here tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, until we work through a few things."
"I...Im not...I dont want to leave yet."
"Its time, sir. I want you to go back to your cabin for a while. Think it all over again."
He met her eyes, confusion on his face.
"See ya!" And with that, Helen Noel strolled out of her office, leaving a perplexed Hikaru Sulu not knowing what to do.
Janice Rand, Ariel Cord and Helen Noel were seated around a small table in the Officers Lounge on Deck 2. No one else was in the room, and Rand had locked the doors under her personal code. She had poured each of them a cup of coffee, and now was waiting for the psychologist to begin her report. She had been waiting for a least five minutes while Noel crunched noisily on a biscotti, and Rand was about to order her to report when the doctor wiped her mouth off and stood.
"Well, I was pretty hard on him today."
Cord and Rand looked expectantly at the psychologist who did not continue until after Rand prompted, "And?"
"And hes perfectly capable of command. Hes not delusional. Hes not megalomaniacal. He appears to be suffering from mild clinical depression not surprising after losing nine people in as many weeks. But without going into details, we discussed a death of a crewman from a few years ago, a death which is was clearly responsible for."
"Dmitri Valtane?" asked Rand.
Noel nodded. "And hes still shaken up about that as well."
Cord summed it all up. "So he just cant deal with the deaths of his crew... Thats probably grounds for losing his commission."
"I dont agree at all, Doctor," Noel answered. "He deals with most of them without this sort of angst. In the case of Dmitri Valtane, he bore a lot of responsibility for the ensigns death. He admits and accepts it. The same probably holds true for the science team that died yesterday. But in the case of the five crew members last month, Id bet he understands that he was not responsible."
"Hes the commander of this ship. That makes him responsible," argued Rand.
Noel shook her head. "Not the same sort of thing. Thats why he passes all his pysch tests. In fact, he passed every single one of them today. But if we were to rewrite the tests so that they exclusively dealt with Dmitri Valtane, he might not pass them."
"Is that something we should do?" asked Rand. "Is that what we want to do?"
Cord stood up. "Of course not, Janice. We want whats best for Hikaru." She looked at Noel who nodded. "Id like him to remain as Captain of this ship, despite all appearances to the contrary. But he needs help. The good starship commander feels the deaths of his crew. Thats what makes them so good at their job, and why their crews will willing follow them. Sulu is a good starship commander, but hes blaming himself too much for the deaths which occur at the result of his decisions."
Noel nodded. "Theres a fine line every starship commander has to walk. Some captains, like James T. Kirk, manage to do it well. Some stray away from the line every once in a while, and need a little help to get back on course."
"So give me your final recommendations, Doctor," ordered Rand. "What do we do here?"
"First of all, Im going to recommend he be returned to active duty status, no mention of this problem to anyone outside of the three of us and Boris and the ships logwell flag it confidential to make sure it goes no further. Secondly, Im going to require him to attend a twice weekly counseling session for the next two months. After that, well see."
Rand sighed in relief. "Then hes..."
Noel chuckled. "Hes not nuts, Janice. Just a rather complex man with a rather complex problem that I think we can get worked out in a few weeks worth of sessions."
Cords own chest heaved. "Man, is he going to be mad at me..."
The executive officer chuckled. "Thats an understatement, Ariel. Funny, with blonde hair, you dont look terribly Vulcan." She spoke louder and upward, towards the ceiling microphone. "Captain Sulu to Officers Lounge, Deck Two."
"On my way. Sulu out."
"Computer, allow Captain Sulu admittance to this room."
"Acknowledged. Captain Sulu is to be admitted to Officers Lounge, Deck Two."
The women put away their coffee and arranged a fourth chair on the opposite side of the table. Then they took their seats, Rand in the middle, Noel on the right and Cord on the left, and waited for the captain.
They didnt have to wait long.
Fifteen seconds later, the doors slid open, and all three women stood. Rand spoke, "Thank you for joining us, Captain. Please, have a seat."
Sulu did as was told, glancing at Cord with apologetic yearning on his face, and at Noel with almost palpable embarrassment. Rand noticed both exchanges, and nodded to the two of them to have a seat, choosing to remain standing for a brief instance before sitting down herself.
"Captain Sulu," Rand began, "I shall get right to the point. The chief medical officer of this ship relieved you of command pending the outcome of certain psychological tests and an initial interview with this ships psychologist. Doctor Noel?"
The psychologist began, "As I reported to Commander Rand, you are suffering from a mild case of depression. It is my belief that this will not impede your command, but Im going to insist that you accede to two sessions with me per week, at your convenience, of course, for the next two months. I believe that there are some issues that must be resolved and soon for your mental health. Doctor Cord?"
"Captain, you passed every single psychological test I threw at you today. I, too, am convinced you are competent to continue serving as this ships commander. If you agree to Doctor Noels request for twice weekly sessions for the next two months, I will close my inquiry into your state of mental health."
Sulu took a deep breath. "I will agree to Doctor Noels request, of course. Now, if youll excuse me? I have a starship to run." He stood, turned and left.
The late afternoon command crew briefing was always a quiet affair. Today, it was more so than usual. Captain Sulu sat at the head of the table, Rand and Cord at his left and right sides. Lojur was next to Rand, Maliszewski next to Cord. Other officers were seated around the table as well, but it was unlikely theyd be called upon for input. Sulu was a very insular captain.
Of course, Lieutenant Ryan Peterson would make a comment or two or five. And, of course, Sulu would not be happy with those comments, but he would deal with them. A relatively new officer aboard the Excelsior, Peterson had a tendency to speak his mind, if rather obliquely, on just about anything and everything.
Sulu spoke softly. "First and probably only order of business: Funeral procedures for the landing party," he said, beginning the briefing.
One of the junior science officers who attended the briefing as the Sciences department representative, Ensign Roger Dashner, "Ive thought of something, but I dont know..."
Sulu sighed, annoyed that a junior officer would actually speak at a briefing without being addressed. He realized, then, that Dashner and Tuvok were right now the senior most science officers aboard. "Come on, Ensign. Out with it."
"Well, Ive been thinking that we could encase the bodies in photon torpedo casings and launch them into the crater of Thors Hammer."
Hikaru Sulu considered it. "An interesting suggestion, and quite apropos. Very well. Are there any other recommendations?"
There were none, and the expressions on the faces of those present indicated tacit approval.
He decided, "Lets do it. Make all the necessary arrangements, Commander Rand. Funeral service should be scheduled at nineteen hundred hours."
"Are there any religious observances required?"
Rand looked at her padd. "None of them had any preferences for the disposition of their bodies, sir. Other than Lieutenant Feltman, their personnel records indicate no religious preferences either."
"Southern Baptist, sir. She wanted Victory in Jesus played during the service."
"Oh, Lord..." muttered Peterson under his breath.
"Lets do it," said Sulu. "Anything else, funeral-wise?"
All eyes turned to Peterson. Sheepishly, he shook his head. "No, sir."
Inwardly relieved, the captain asked, "Next item?"
"Were going to need a new chief science officer and Assistant Chief science officer," said Rand.
Dashner shook his head. "Dont take this the wrong way, Captain, but I dont want the job."
"Rather presumptuous for an ensign to think hes being considered for such a high-ranking position," observed Sulu dryly.
"You can either promote from within, or bring someone in from elsewhere," Cord said.
"Im undecided," Sulu answered noncommittally.
Rand nodded her head. "Id like to post the position with Starfleet personnel, sir, as well as aboard."
"Lets do it." He looked at his padd. "Well, then, were going to remain in orbit for another day, then were to report to Starbase Eighty-Six for a day or two while our nacelles get a brief modification before proceeding on to our next assignment. Ships department heads are to make ready for warp. Well leave orbit at oh-nine-hundred tomorrow morning." He glanced around the table. "Anything else?"
No response from anyone. For perhaps the first time during his tenure aboard the Excelsior, Peterson had not disrupted a staff meeting.
"I expect all of you on the photon torpedo deck at eighteen-forty-five. Dismissed."
Sulu reached down and picked up his padd as his officers filed out the door. He remained seated looking at what hed written so far.
Letters to the parents of the deceased were always a difficult task. Especially when the one writing the letter is the commanding officer. Even though he had been lobbied by Jordan, it had been his decision to okay the mission to the planets surface. He would love to have deferred this task to his executive officer as other ship captains had been known to do, but it was the captains duty to write such letters.
He looked up, startled. "Yes, Ariel?"
She looked at him with genuine warmth. "Got a minute?"
He nodded slightly. "A minute."
"Im sorry about pulling medical rank on you today."
"No, youre not," he smiled weakly. "And you may be right. I do have a hard time dealing with death."
"She told me she was pretty hard on you."
"Not as hard as Ive been on myself."
"Can I take a guess?"
"Be my guest," he gestured with an open hand.
"Touché." He met her eyes. Tears were brimming in them. His own eyes welled up. "I killed him."
"I thought a ruptured plasma conduit did that."
"It ruptured because we were taking disruptor and photon torpedo fire from the Klingons."
"I remind you that your chief engineer said it would have ruptured within a few days time anyway. The end result would have been the same. If not Dmitri Valtane, it wouldve been Jordan or Feltman or Jones or Dashner or Tuvok. Starfleet agreed with Mallie, you know. Otherwise, you wouldve been court-martialed, Hikaru."
"I think youre trying to sabotage Doctor Noels efforts. Why?"
"Actually, she sent me here."
Sulu tilted his head. "Liar."
She smiled and walked to him. Wrapping her arms around him, she hugged him tightly. "I love you, Hikaru."
He relished the warmth of her body and felt a faint stirring in his loins. "Ive never understood why."
"Silly, silly boy." She kissed him gently. "Lets go get some dinner before the funeral service."
"Give me twenty minutes to finish these letters."
"Okay," and she gave him another tender kiss before leaving him to his grim task.
It was not a happy time for anyone, but an extended family like the crew of a starship always took the death of one of their own personally.
This time, there were four photon torpedo casings, draped with the blue and white flag of the Federation. An old-time country hymn finished playing in the background.
Sulu stepped up to the podium, and addressed the assembled officers and crew. "We are gathered together today to say goodbye to our fallen friends. They gave their lives in the pursuit of knowledge." He glanced around at the assembly. "The Vulcans say that the dead are to be mourned only if the lives were wasted. Given the remarkable finds of Lieutenant Commander Kevin Jordan, Lieutenant LeeAnn Feltman, Ensign Laurie Morgan and Geological Technician David Jones, there is no reason to mourn. We shall, however, honor their memories in the most fitting of ways." He nodded at Captain of Engineering Maliszewski, and the torpedoes were launched, two by two, toward the planets surface. "We commit their bodies to the planet for which they gave their lives in exploration. Atten-tion!"
The crew snapped to. A monitor showed the torpedoes entering the lava pool in the volcanic caldera.
Hikaru Sulu sat down to dinner with Ariel Cord in their shared quarters. They had not spoken all evening, except to discuss dinnerbeef, chicken, pork and shrimp fondue with mushrooms and fresh, hot garlic breadand the winerice wine. They sat at their table, shoes off, eating politely and again in total silence.
When finished, they put away their own dishes, and Sulu sat down in his lounger, staring into the void of space through the port in their quarters. He felt a warm hand on his shoulder, and he clasped it with his hand.
"Make love to me, Hikaru," Ariel said, slipping off her dress uniform with the practice of a lifetime. She positioned herself between him and the stars.
He passively allowed her to undress him jacket, tunic, boots, socks then stood as she removed his trousers. Reaching into his Starfleet-issue boxers, she carefully tugged his manhood until it was free. She nurtured it with tender caresses from her tongue and lips, and it stirred to life rather quickly.
She looked up at him. "Make love to me, Hikaru," she asked again, almost pleading.
He nodded and helped her to her feet. Standing, he guided her to their bed and maneuvered her onto the edge of the bed. Spreading her legs gently, he began tonguing the downy folds of her warm, inviting entrance with a flitting move. She shuddered softly. He leaned forward and allowed his tongue to caress her hooded button, and she lay back on the bed, reveling in his ministrations.
Once she climaxed, mildly, but he continued, and now she was more urgent in her pleas. "Make love to me, Hikaru. I want you inside me, now." He maneuvered two fingers, and she chuckled. "Thats not what I had in mind."
He stood and freed his turgid member from his boxers and with an easy move, glided into her wetness.
They thrust their bodies at each other, but never seemed to get the right tempo for either of them. She whimpered and he grunted as they came, not together, but disjointedly, and almost unfulfilled.
"Im sorry," Sulu began. "It wasnt very good, was it?"
"Shhh," she said softly, placing a finger over his lips. "We cant score a ten every time, you know."
They held each other until both drifted off to sleep.
Captain Xon sat in the center seat of the science ship Cooper, reviewing the analysis from Spectrography on the remnants of the Azure nebula. It was hard to imagine that only three years ago, this was a modest nebula, ranging about ten lightyears at its widest measure. It was harder to believe that it had been destroyed at the orders of his former commanding officer, Captain Hikaru Sulu. It was hardest to believe that the actions were deemed necessary by Sulu in order to flee its Klingon escort in an attempt to do rescue Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy from Rura Penthe, a clearly illegal action which would have resulted in his court-martial at the least and intergalactic war at the worst. No matter. Kaiidth. What was done, was done.
Ensign Chen Kenichi turned from the science station. "Captain, Im detecting four ships on approach. The lead ship is being pursued by three others, and they are firing on it."
"Have they crossed the Klingon Neutral Zone yet?"
"No, sir. Another three minutes before their present course and speed brings them in to Federation space," reported Kenichi.
"Mister Franklin, move us into position to intercept them when they cross the Zone."
"Aye, sir," the lieutenant replied lazily. As Sulus chief science officer aboard the Cooper, Xon had never understood how his former captain had tolerated Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin. Now that he was captain of the Cooper, he found himself equally disposed toward tolerating the forty-something Human.
"Mister Kre'slyt, plot a series of evasive maneuvers, and have them ready to implement," ordered Xon.
"Yeah, we dont want to get us stuck in there," added Franklin.
"Yes, Captain," the Kzinti navigator replied.
Xon noted with satisfaction that the Coopers operations crew was still one of the best in the fleet. Years of tutelage under Captains Daniel Michael Williams and Hikaru Sulu had instilled something...intangible...amongst them. Even though many of the crew had been killed during that battle, or perhaps because of it, the esprit de corps of the Cooper was renowned far and wide.
"Unidentified ship on a course to pass within five thousand kilometers of our position," reported Science Officer Kenichi.
"Advise the Klingons against crossing into Federation space," the Vulcan captain suggested.
The communications officer turned, "Unidentified ship is now broadcasting a distress signal. No response from the Klingons to our advisory statement."
"The Klingons have opened fire," reported Kenichi.
"Arm weapons," Xon ordered. "Raise shields to maximum. Red alert."
"Unidentified ship has not returned fire."
"Position ourselves between the Klingons and the unidentified ship as soon as it crosses into Federation space."
"Aye, sir." Franklin looked at his instruments. "Theyre passing us...now. Moving us into"
"Captain, the unidentified ship has opened fire!"
The Coopers deck tilted suddenly upward, and everyone was thrown to the floor. Xon called over the commotion, "Signal the Klingons! Tell them we"
"Captain, the Klingons arent firing on us! The unidentified ship has...oh, God! Incoming!!!"
Xon didnt remember anything else.February 6th 2295 "Oh, God, Jim!!!"
Sulu snapped up with a start at Ariel Cords scream. He quickly scanned the room as he rolled out of bed, but there was nothing amiss. He glanced back at the now sobbing chief medical officer. "Oh, God, Jim..."
"Ariel?" he asked concernedly.
She buried her face in her hands, still sobbing. Gasping between them, she tried to allay his fears: "Im fine, Karu. Just a bad dream..."
"A bad dream? Id hate to see what you call a nightmare."
She continued sobbing, almost uncontrollably. He sat down next to her, wrapped his thin arms around her and held her for half an hour until she stopped.
Hikaru Sulu sat down at the table next to his first officer. All he wanted was coffee and doughnuts and a few minutes without interruption as he read the morning Intergalactic News Service report. But thats not what his first officer wanted.
Janice Rand looked over her tray of oatmeal and coffee. "Made your decision about the science officer posting?"
"No," Sulu yawned. "I havent given it much thought yet."
"Given my recommendation any"
"I havent. Its only been two days since they were killed, Janice."
"Tuvoks a bright"
"Look, I dont want your input, Janice."
She stared at him passively. "I know."
He met her eyes for a brief moment. "Sorry." He sighed. "Look, Janice, I know that Ive got a decision to make, but Im just not ready to make that decision yet. Any problem with that, Commander?"
She shrugged it off. "No problem, Captain."
They finished their breakfast in silence.
In Sickbay, Ariel Cord was recalling the medical log recording from the U.S.S. Cooper from five years ago. How do you do it? How do you stay so young looking? She heard one of her friends asking, Wheres the painting, Doctor Dorian? She shook her head to clear it. She looked at the medical diagnostic reading from the physical shed just given herself. "Computer, verify subjects physical age."
"Readings from medical sensors suggest the subject is twenty-three years old."
Twenty-three. She shook her head in disbelief. She was still twenty-three years old, and yet everyone knew she was over fifty. Hell, shed even dated Captain Christopher Pike a long time ago, on a beach on a planet a long way away.
And then thered been the fire aboard the Cooper. Five years ago, a Romulan booby trap had consumed the entire Sickbay of that scoutship in an utterly complete conflagration. The computer flashed its readiness to process the visual recording. She pressed the play button and watched as the Romulan on the autopsy table exploded. Sherrod and she had managed to get every else out (those two kids, she couldnt remember their names), then the flames and the heat killed Sherrod and seared the clothing right off her body. But as she watched in horrified amazement, she herself did not burn. She felt the heat from the fire, watched as her skin ashed and flaked, watched her hair melt and fall out only to be instantaneously replaced by new growth.
It wasnt easy watching oneself being burned alive.
And yet she was here today, standing, without understanding how she had ever survived the ordeal. She had only one hypothesis. Grabbing her padd, which contained all her vital readings and medical information, she strode back and forth, looking it over for an error. After at least half an hour, she shook her head in frustration. Making a decision, she addressed the open-ceiling mike. "Sickbay to Communications."
"Bridge, Communications, Commander Rand here."
"Janice, can you patch me a CommPic through to my father on Chrysalis?"
"Sure, Doc. Nothing wrong is there?"
"Just a little medical mystery he might be able to give me some insight into."
"Okey-dokey." There was a pause. "The captains cleared it, and Im putting you through now."
The screen against the far wall flickered, but there was no answer until an automated message center popped up. "You have reached the message center of Aaron Cord. Please leave your message and your BellComm number, stellar code and planetary exchange, and he will return your call in all due haste."
Cord rolled her eyes. "Daddy, this is Ariel. Just called to let you know that in a few days time Ill be coming for a visit while on leave. Damn it, Daddy. I need to talk to you. Im some sort of freak, and I think you know why, but you damn well better be there for me. None of this away on location bullshit." Her tone softened. "I love you, Daddy. See you soon." She pressed the end transmission button. "Fuck!" she threw her padd across the room, and it slammed satisfyingly into the wall, shattering.
There was a chime, and Ariel Cord was startled. Someone was at the door to her office which she had sealed while performing her self-examination. She calmed herself considerably, and taking a deep breath, headed to the door. She unlocked it, and it slid open to reveal...
"Captain," the doctor said. "Come on in."
Hikaru Sulu stepped into his doctors office. "You all right, Ariel?" He closed the door and locked it.
She looked at him with an annoyed grimace on her face. "Well," she answered sarcastically, "what do you think? Basically, after what Ive been through, Im supposed to be all right?"
"Do you need to talk to Doctor Noel about this?" asked the captain, referring to the ships psychologist.
"Oh very funny. Ha, ha, ha. I refer you, and you refer me..." She scowled at him. "Honestly, I dont think Im to that point yet, Hikaru. I need to talk to my father. Theres something familiar about all this, but I just keep drawing a blank about where I read it. For some reason, I suspect he knows whats going on, knows why I am the way I am. Hes got to know about this, and Im going to get him to tell me."
Sulu shrugged. "There are a lot worse things. Some people would give their right arm not to age."
"Yeah, but until I know whats going on, I cant help but think of myself as a freak."
He glanced at the BellComm screen. "I gather you didnt get through to him?"
"Daddys a very busy man, Hikaru. For Heavens sake, hes the second biggest entertainment mogul in the Federation, second only to Brad Bashaw. Hes probably off-planet on business again."
Sulu gave her a hopeful expression for her sake. "Itll be about a days travel time from here to Starbase Eighty-six for that retrofitting on the warp drive nacelle cowlings. The refit will take a day or two at most. You and I can take a shuttlecraft to Chrysalis during that time. Ive already put in for the leave for both of us. You can talk to him then."
"If hes even there." She chuckled angrily.
The red alert klaxon sounded.
"Sulu here," he called up to the microphone. "Report!" He strode out of the office as Rand reported over the ships intercom system.
"Captain, sensors have detected a distress call. We have changed course from Starbase Eighty-Six, and are now moving in on an intercept course."
"Stand down to Yellow Alert. Im on my way."
"Aye, sir," came Commander Rands displeased voice.
As Sulu entered the bridge from the starboard turbolift, Ensign Tuvok turned from Science One. "Sensors detect a debris field and damaged vessel directly ahead, Captain."
"Take us out of warp, Mister Lojur."
"Ensign, detailed analysis?"
"Federation science ship, sir. Oberth-class. Mercury Seven-variant."
There was a slight pause, as if he was dreading the answer to the question he was about to ask. "Identification?"
Rand spoke up. "Transponders indicate the ship is the Cooper, sir."
There was a sharp pang in Sulus chest at the sight of his old ship. "Raise them!" he snapped. "Life signs?"
"We are detecting several dozen life signs, sir. I would"
The Vulcan raised his eyebrow. "As I was about to say, sir, the Cooper has been attacked by disruptor volleys. Weapons signatures indicate they were Klingon in origin from two, possibly three vessels."
Peterson chimed in. "Well, Im not sure this is, uh, something you want to hear, but, uh, the sensors also indicate that the ion emissions in this area are from Klingon S-4 graf units. Now, Im not one to draw conclusions, but, hey, you know..."
"Sound Red Alert. All hands to battlestations!"
"...it kinda looks to me like the Klingons, are, well, the guys responsible here."
"All hands: Red Alert. Battlestations! Battlestations!" shouted Lieutenant Brai into the ships intercom system. As a Rigelian Kaylar, his demeanor was always confrontational. During a Red Alert, it was even more so.
During the call to Battlestations, Sulu turned to Peterson at Tactical. "Mister, I dont know where you learned to give that kind of report, but on my starship, I dont have time for hemming and hawing. I want answers, and I want them now. And if you cant give them to me concisely, then Ill find someone who can."
"All decks report ready, sir. All hands at battlestations," Brai reported.
"Aye, sir," Peterson answered.
"Bring us to within transporter range, Helm," ordered Sulu, his attention again on the mainviewer.
Lojur answered, "Aye, sir."
"Sensors to maximum. Any trace of their attacker?" Sulu pointedly looked toward Science One instead of Tactical. Peterson took the hint and decided to let the young Vulcan science officer answer.
"Im detecting six S-4 graf unit signatures in subspace, sir. Bearing toward the Klingon colony world Korvat at high warp speed," replied Tuvok.
"Any answer to our hails?"
"No, sir," answered Rand. "Once in transporter range, we should be able to raise the Cooper on their communicators. Their comm system is definitely damaged. I cant access it."
"Tactical Officer, report on the Coopers status." He turned the chair to Tactical again, and with just his eyes dared Peterson to give anything other than a straightforward answer.
"The ship has sustained damage to its engines. The lower antimatter conversion/containment pod has been ejected. The starboard warp engine has been destroyed."
"And the crew compartments?"
"The hull has been breached in Engineering, the bridge and the forward observation deck. Life signs are concentrated on Deck Four, sir. Id guess that theyve shut themselves into Sickbay."
"A logical deduction, Captain," remarked Tuvok. "That area is the most protected on any Federation starship, even that of the Oberth class."
"Sir!" Rand called. "Ive got them!"
"Cooper, this is Excelsior," Sulu began tentatively.
"Greetings, Captain Sulu," came a familiar voice. "Forgive me if I dont offer you a tour of the Cooper."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow in disapproval.
"Xon! Thank God!" Sulu was relieved. "Hows your crew, Captain?"
"Somewhat worse for wear, but within acceptable parameters."
"Severe injuries at present. We need emergency medical attention for some of the crew. We were most fortunate that no one has yet died, but that may soon change, given the condition of some of our survivors. We are also missing a crewman."
"Interesting," Tuvok chimed in. "I would estimate the odds of withstanding an attack of this magnitude with no fatalities at"
"Ensign, shut up," snapped Sulu. The captain turned to Brai. "Get me a boarding party and a medical team to Transporter Room Two in three minutes." He looked back to Rand. "And find Ensign Dashner. Ive had enough of Ensign Tuvok and Lieutenant Peterson for today," he ordered sotto voce.
They both looked across the bridge at the two officers. Peterson was oblivious to what was said, but Tuvoks eyebrow had raised in a typical Vulcan censure.
She shook her head. "Captain," her eyes narrowed, "Ensign Dashner is presently engaged in an experiment in the astrometrics lab. We have orders not to disturb him."
"Who issued those orders?" Sulu was incensed.
Rand thrust a padd at him with a copy of those orders. "You signed off on them this morning, sir."
The captain of the Excelsior said nothing. There was nothing to be said. Nothing at all. Except, "Ill be joining the boarding party."
Rand raised an eyebrow. "Not quite like you, Captain. Usually you like quarterbacking from the center seat."
Brai slowly moved to stand between the captain and the starboard turbolift, but the captain strolled around him as if the big Kaylar wasnt even there.
Sulu looked at the mainviewer. "Ive got friends over there; some are hurt and dying. You couldnt keep me here if you tried." He stepped into the turbolift. "You have the conn, Commander Rand." To the Kaylar, he asked, "Care to accompany me, Lieutenant?"
There was a grunt of approval, and Brai stooped down to enter the lift. "Always, Captain," the security chief said as the doors closed.
The Cooper was a wreck; she would clearly be decommissioned. The hull was compromised in nearly twenty places. At its captain, Xon had made the logical decision to retreat to the heavily shield section of the ship: Sickbay and the computer core.
"There are a number of trauma injuries, Doctor Cord. And several burn victims as well," explained Doctor Nerissa Howard, the Coopers chief medical officer.
Sulu noted Cords little shiver when the phrase "burn victims" was mentioned. "You want to beam back to the Excelsior? Doctor Viger would no doubt be willing to handle this for you."
Though obviously pale, Arial shook her head. "And put up with his insufferable attitude for weeks afterwards? No, thank you, Captain."
Aaron Cord hated business trips. Brad Bashaw had wanted another meeting, and hed gone along with it. And again rejected yet another proposal for a merger between Bashaws Intergalactic New Service and Cords Sybaritic Entertainment. He now sat at a the dinner table, putting up with the elegant fare Bashaw always provided. He reviewed the padd in his hands, reading a message from his only daughter while paying scant attention to the comedic duo on stage before him.
Ive got to tell her the truth, he decided after reading her message.
Captain Xon was seated at a console in the Coopers sickbay that he had, in a brilliant display of engineering and technical skill, converted to an operations panel with the use of the Ruggs Emergency By-Pass Monitor controls. The Vulcans grim expression was highlighted by the green-stained makeshift bandage around his head. "I am gratified by your presence, Captain Sulu."
"Hang in there, Xon. Were beaming the worst injured off first," Sulu apologized. He glanced at Cord who was working with a trauma injury victim.
"Logical, Captain. My injuries are by far less severe than most."
"What happened here, Xon?"
"We were maintaining our position here near the remains of the Azure Nebula, conducting research on...well, on your...influence on the nebulas stability."
"You mean you were studying it to see how much damage Id done to it by igniting the sirillium."
"Damage is not the term I would use. The nebula was consumed in the resulting exothermic reaction. It is remarkable that Admiral Kangs ship survived."
"Well, you were studying the nebula and...?"
"A small privateer warped through the nebula, broadcasting a distress signal. We offered to render assistance, when unexpectedly, three Klingon ktinga battlecruisers swept in, and all four ships opened fire." The Vulcan shook his head. "At no time did we even return fire, but their attack was so thorough, so complete."
"But they didnt finish you off. I guess our approach had something to do with that."
"No, Captain. Those events transpired twelve hours thirty-two minutes and sixteen seconds ago. It has taken us that long to even manage to broadcast our own distress signal."
"To borrow a Vulcan expression, Id have to say interesting," remarked Sulu.
"Indeed. It is infrequent that Klingons leave survivors."
"Agreed. Which brings us to why didnt they finish blowing the Cooper out of space?"
Ariel Cord had heard something, she was sure of it. She had heard sobbing on the other side of the bulkhead. "Brai, come here!" she called for the security chief.
The big Rigelian Kaylar came over in a hurry. "Whats up, Doc?"
Doctor Cords eyes narrowed, unsure as to whether or not the brutish security guard was trying to be funny. "I think I hear something."
Brai listened intently, but shook his head. "I dont hear a thing," he admitted.
"How do I get on the other side of this bulkhead?"
The security chief quickly scanned. "Readings are weak, Doc, but there may indeed be a lifeform on the other side. Theres air, too; must be a sealed compartment. Itll be easier to do it this way." He pulled out his phaser and carefully set it to a high-heat setting. Using it as a cutting torch, he quickly opened up a passageway into the sealed compartment. The second he stopped cutting, he sniffed. "Doctor, theres someone in there."
Careful not to burn herself, she stepped into the compartment. She turned on her high-intensity search lantern. "Oh, God, get me some help here, Brai," she ordered.
On the floor, leaning against a bulkhead, a blistered and burned body could be seen. Cord was instantly reminded of the old horror film Phantom of the Opera. The missing crewman was so utterly burned that much of his flesh was simply gone. "Oh, God; Oh, God; Oh, God," repeated Cord over and over. She retched and vomited all over the deck. "Brai, get me some help now, damn it!" she shouted, wiping the vomit from her lips and chin.
"Im here, Doc. Oh, shit," said Medic Tony Melendez. "Hang on, Ariel. Im coming."
The burly medic stepped into the compartment and instantly had a hypospray of painkiller for the crewman. He pulled out his tricorder and scanned the burn victim, carefully not glancing back at Doctor Cord who was now hyperventilating.
"Oh, my..." came Sulus baritone voice. "Ariel, lets get you out of there." He offered her his hand.
She declined it. "Ill be okay. I can be of help here."
He thrust his hand at her again. "That wasnt a request, Doctor."
The two met each others eyes, and she took his hand. Stepping through the burned opening, she saw the reproof in his eyes, and failed to meet them again until she beamed back to the Excelsior.
As Assistant Chief Medical Officer, Dars Viger was generally an unhappy Bolian. Not that Bolians were a very happy group to begin with, of course. They had quite a reputation for being complainers, ingratiaters, and generally temperamental fools who had aggrandized perceptions of themselves, their work and abilities.
And here he was working under the direction of a former porn starlet, Ariel Cord. She was not a very good diagnostician; she had a rather slack attitude towards required Starfleet medical reports; she was lazy when it came to autopsies, almost always shoving them off on Viger or whatever other doctor was available; and she had a problem with dealing with burn victims, regardless of severity.
Not that he hadnt said anything, of course. Hed repeatedly complained to Executive Officer Rand about Cords lack of direction in the medical section of the Excelsior. Hed decided not to complain about the captains lover to the captain, of course. No need to sabotage his own career with such a stupid move. But apparently Sulu had some hold over Rand as well. She logged in his reports, but never chose to act on them.
Now, Cord lay prone on his bed as he ran a diagnostic scanner over her, and Sulu was at her side.
Viger checked the readings, looked at the scanner, and turned to Sulu, "This scanner is out of adjustment, Captain, but Id say that Doctor Cord is suffering from shock." He tapped on it a few times. "I cannot understand how badly this thing is out of adjustment."
"Doctor Viger," Sulu chided gently, "your patient?"
"Oh, sorry, Captain. I realize that shes your first concern. Id take her to your cabin and put her to bed for the rest of the afternoon. No more work today."
"Very well." Sulu put his hand on Cords. "Ariel, lets get you to bed."
She sat up slowly, and allowed him to lead her to their quarters without saying another word.
Oh, great, thought Viger. Now Im in charge again. He sighed. Maybe he could at least get all the scanners reinitialized. He looked at the door. Such an incompetent.
Helen Noel sat in her chair as the captain reclined on the settee. "Yesterday, we talked about Dmitri Valtane, Hikaru. Today, I want to talk about Jordan, Feltman, Jones and Morgan."
"What do you want to know?"
"Why did you follow Kevin Jordans advice instead of LeeAnn Feltmans?"
"Aside from the fact that Jordan was a lieutenant commander and Feltman a lieutenant, aside from the fact that he was the head of the Sciences department and she was his assistant, and aside from the fact that they were always quarreling you mean?"
Noel blinked in surprise. "Yes...I guess so."
Sulus eyes narrowed. "I dont like being second-guessed, Doctor. I do a lot of that to myself. I dont need a psychologist doing it for me."
"Why do you do it to yourself, then? If you dont like being second-guessed, why do you second-guess yourself?"
"Every starship commander does. We have to ask ourselves, What could we have done differently? each and every time one of our crew is killed."
"Then tell me what you couldve done differently about Muselpheim Four?"
"I could have listened to Feltman instead of Jordan. The very thing she had warned againstundetectable pockets of super-hot kraylon gasis what killed them."
"So Ive been told. Youre a former science officer. What made you pick Jordans recommendation over hers?"
"His seniority, his rank, his experience. She always showed a great deal of animosity toward him as well. But in the end, Feltman had said there was only a twenty percent chance of the kraylon gas pockets, and she herself insisted she be a part of the landing party. It seems pretty clear that she wanted to be a part of the scientific discoveries that they would make. And thats why were out here, isnt it? To learn, to explore, to seek?"
"A good answer, Hikaru. Right out of Starfleet recruiting," Noel remarked pointedly.
"What would you have me say? That I screwed up? That I listened to the wrong advice? Yes, I screwed up. Yes, I listened the wrong advice. But you know what? Id probably do it again."
"And yet their deaths haunt you. They died because of you."
"Their deaths haunt me because each time a member of my crew dies, I take it personally. But they didnt die because of me. They died because they hit a pocket of superheated kraylon gas which scalded them to death."
Noel put down her padd. "I dont think this is going to be a productive day, Captain. See you tomorrow." She stood up and left without another word.
The captain entered the bridge, and acknowledged those around him. "Report," he requested.
"Were en route to Starbase Eighty-Six, with the Cooper in tow, Captain. The captain and crew of the Cooper have been berthed on Deck Seven in the VIP quarters, although theyre crammed in there, six to a room," reported Lieutenant Commander Boris Lojur, who was presently occupying the conn. The alpha shift was off-duty right. Beta shift was busily monitoring the towing of the Cooper. Even though a small scoutship, the warp field of the Excelsior was being severely taxed by the extra mass.
"Its twelve hours to Starbase Eighty-Six. Theyll be fine." Sulu turned to Propulsion. "Im more worried about the warp field." He stepped to the engineer on duty there. "Report, Ensign?"
"Hi, Skipper. The chiefs got me up here monitoring the situation closely. She doesnt think theres going to be a problem, but shes watching it closely."
"Wheres the chief at?"
"Shes in the Hole, just in case. Shes got Kras with her."
Sulu leaned forward and flipped a switch. Tapping a few more control pads, the overhead screen alighted with the view of the Emergency Manual Monitor. Located in the domed area between the warp drive engines, the aptly named "Hole" was capable of overriding any engineering systems in the event of a cataclysmic failure. Seated at the primary station was Captain of Engineering Deneice Maliszewski, and seated next to her was Lieutenant Ted Krasnyk, one of the three assistant chief engineers. They looked tired. "Mallie, you okay down there?" asked the captain.
She glanced at the holocam. "Were fine here, Skipper. Have someone bring us some coffee and a deck of cards, and well be even better."
Sulu smiled. "Ill see to it personally, Mallie. Kras, dont let her scalp you of this months salary."
The Latvian engineer chuckled. "Actually, I owe her the next three months salary already, Skipper. Whats another month?"
Sulu laughed. "Bridge out." He turned to Yeoman Nguyen. "Carla, can you run a pot of coffee, a small pitcher of cream, a bowl of sugar, a deck of cards, and two dozen assorted doughnutsmake sure some of them are cream-filled down to the Emergency Manual Monitor?"
"Already on it, Captain," she smiled in reply.
Sulu stepped back to the center seat. Relaxing in it, he read a few reports Nguyen had brought for his perusal, signing off on most and issuing one outright rejection to a biosciences specialist who wanted to conduct an experiment on cloning Denebian slime devils. The rest he tabbed for later review. The last item was a request for a meeting with the ships psychologist, and he thumbed the padd to open a channel.
"Doctor Noel here."
"Captain Sulu, Doctor. Could you report to my ready room in five minutes?"
"Ill be glad to, Captain. Noel out."
Satisfied that everything that needed his attention had been done, he turned to Lojur. "Commander, you have the conn."
Sulu stood and walked out the port corridor entranceway and down the hall to his ready room. Noel joined him in less than a minute. "Thank you for returning my request so quickly."
"Anytime, Doctor. What can I do for you?"
"Id like you to take a retreat with me for a few days counseling. Were on our way to Starbase Eighty-Six for a warp drive refit. It means about a day or twos down time, and rather than having the sessions there where wed likely be bothered, I thought we could take a warp shuttle to Chrysalis, spend a few days there, then the Excelsior could pick us up when it leaves Starbase Eighty-Six."
Sulu looked pensive. "Thats an interesting idea, Doc, and for different reasons than you suggest."
"What do you know about Ariel?"
"Shes been the chief medical officer of the Excelsior since you got command in 2290. Prior to that, she was chief medical officer of the Cooper, replacing Doctor K.C. Johnson. Interestingly enough, both Cord and Johnson are former porn stars. And interestingly enough, both of them have been your lovers." She pursed her lips in mild disapproval.
Sulu let it slide. "Theres something else about Doctor Cord you dont know. Last night, she had a nightmare about an explosion and fire aboard the Cooper that she barely survived."
"I recall that from her records. It was a miracle she survived. Another crewman caught in the fire didnt, as I understand it."
Sulu nodded. "Jim Sherrod. It really was miraculous that Ariel recovered. Its been five years since the fire, but last night, she awoke in the middle of the night, calling his name hysterically."
"A trauma like that is one you usually carry around for life. Im not surprised shed have a nightmare every once in a while."
"Did you know that the day the science team died on Muselpheim Four, she ordered Doctor Viger to do the autopsies on their burned bodies?"
"Not the first time Ive heard that," Noel answered. "Dars has let everyone know how much grunt work she dumps on him."
Sulus eyes narrowed, and he jotted a mental note about the Bolian doctor. "Well, during this afternoons rescue of the Coopers crew, she came upon a burn victim and was physically and mentally unable to continue treatment. Doctor Viger said she was suffering from shock and prescribed bed rest for her for the rest of the day."
That gave Noel a pause. "Now that I have not heard. Im surprised Dars hasnt already called me." She looked at her padd for a moment. "Well, change that. I see a message from him here."
"Im concerned about Ariel; shes concerned about me," Sulu began.
"Im concerned about both of you," Noel added.
"So I think a trip to Chrysalisyou, me and Arielits really good idea. Ill handle the details myself. Well leave tomorrow. Our closest approach to Chrysalis is at 1040 tomorrow ships time. Ive got our departure scheduled for that time."
"Thank you, Captain. Now, if youll excuse me, I need to hear Doctor Vigers report."
"Hey, Ariel, how are you?"
Cord sat up with a start. "Hikaru! Oh, Im so sorry..."
"Shhh! Were going to take a trip tomorrow."
"Doctor Noel has suggested a retreat there while the Excelsior gets its warp nacelles refitted. Since were going to pass near Chrysalis tomorrow, Ive requisitioned a shuttlecraft. I thought you might want join us."
"I was planning on running over to Chrysalis on a shuttle while we were at Starbase Eighty-Six." She smiled warmly. "But your idea is an excellent suggestion, Captain."
"I thought so, too."
"We could stay at Daddys estate."
He nodded. "I was hoping youd say that."
She looked at him. "You told her, didnt you?"
"About the nightmares, about the fire, about the burn victims, yes. About your other condition? No, its going to remain between the two of us. Viger noted the scanner was out of adjustment today; I dont think he believed his readings."
"I wouldnt believe them myself, but do I look my age, Hikaru?"
Sulu shook his head. "No, you dont, Ariel. Not that Im complaining."
"Oh, you..." She hit him with a pillow.
That night in the captains quarters, Hikaru Sulu lay back against his pillows, his right arm couched behind his head. Ariel Cord lay her head against his chest, his left arm around her shoulders. Theyd made love, as was their wont, yet Sulu thought it more urgent than passionate, voracious even, more than ever before. He admired her form, caressed her buttocks softly. She seemed restless to him, fidgeting slightly. Suddenly, she sat up in the bunk and shrieked at the top of her lungs.
"My God! Whats wrong?!" he asked, plainly as startled as she was.
She was sobbing hysterically, burying her face into her hands. He fell out of bed, and kneeled at his side, holding her, trying to calm her down. "Whats the matter?" he asked, as she finally, finally seemed to regain control of herself.
"I...I had another nightmare," she explained.
"A nightmare? You call this a nightmare?"
"I was dreaming about the fire. It...it was worse this time. You were there, not just Jim Sherrod." She was as distraught as he had ever seen her.
"It was just a dream, Ariel. A terrible nightmare, Im sure. But it was just a dream."
"I know, but it was terrible. You were there...and I couldnt do a thing to save you."
"Shhh!" he whispered.
"Ive got to see my father!" she declared.
He stood and walked over to the lavatory. He returned with one of those little red pills that shed prescribed for him for when he had trouble sleeping, usually after the death of one of the crew. "Here, Ariel. I want you to take this."
She narrowed her eyes. "I dont need"
"You need sleep, Ariel. Just relax and take one." He chortled. "Doctors orders."
"Since when are you a doctor?"
"Ill have you know I hold a doctorate in Astrophysics."
"That doesnt mean you can prescribe medication, Hikaru. It just means ...aw, shit. Here, give me one."
A few minutes later, she was fast asleep in his bunk, and he was sitting in his lounger, staring at the stars.February 7th 2295 Personal Log, Stardate 9510.4
Somewhat off the established space lanes, the class M planet Chrysalis consisted of several enormous oceans, a single, small continent, and dozens of island chains everywhere. There was a fairly larger conference center used primarily for diplomatic functions, but due to its location, most Federation recreation developers had little interest in the world. As a result, it was virtually a paradise. The only noteworthy enterprise was an holovid production and entertainment facility, one operated by Ariel Cords father, the renowned entertainment mogul, Aaron Cord.
So here the three of themCord, Noel and Suluwere now, seated in the rather cramped shuttle riding piggyback atop a warp sled, en route to paradise. The trip had been extremely uneventful. This entire sector of space was deep within Federation territory, far from any disputed borders. The only dangers were related to natural phenomena: ion storms, magnetic disturbances, that sort of thing. The Astrophysics section had forecast clear sailing for their trip. And they were, as usual, right as rain.
Hikaru Sulu sat in the pilots seat on the flight deck. It had been a long flight so far, and it was still barely half-way done. Again, he wished hed had the Excelsior drop them off, but that wouldve raised a few eyebrows at Starbase 86. Delaying a scheduled refit so that the starship could divert from its assigned course to take its captain on a holiday was something Starfleet Operations would, no doubt, frown upon. Picking him up afterward the refit was completed was also questionable, but not likely to draw any undue attention.
"How much further, Captain?" asked Doctor Noel as she looked up from the padd she was reading. She was sitting in one of the four vacant seats behind the nav-helm console.
Sulu glanced at the chronometer on the console before him. He sighed. "Another ten hours, Doctor." He turned to check his passengers. Ariel Cord had stretched out on the back seat, wrapped herself in a comforter. She had gathered a bowl of trail mix and a soft drink next to her, a book in her hand, and had dozed off, softly breathing.
Doctor Noel followed his lingering look. "She is a lovely woman, Captain. My compliments."
He dismissed her remarks out of hand. "I have no idea why she puts up with me."
"She loves you," Noel said. "Its written on her face every time she speaks of you, every time she speaks to you." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Do you love her?"
Sulus head snapped with a start. He met the psychologists steady gaze with one of suspicion. "I thought we werent going to do any therapy until we arrived at Chrysalis."
"I lied." She smiled in what apparently she hoped was a disarming manner. "But this is an important question, Hikaru. Do you love her?"
"I...I dont understand why she loves me. Lets just leave it at that, okay?" He swung back around to face the instrumentation and made a big show of adjusting the trim of the warp nacelles.
She chuckled softly. "Youre not getting away from the question that easily, Captain." She moved into the empty seat next to his. "Would you rather answer that question now, or would you like me to ask it in front of her?"
"What does this have to do with anything?"
"I think you know that this has to do with everything, Captain."
She laughed. "Im not your type, Captain. And Im not scared off by any amount of profanity you wish to vent my way."
He glanced at her with anger in his eyes. "Do you think this is the proper place and time for our therapy to begin, Doctor? Were out here, deep in the dangerous void of interstellar space, and you want to practice psychology on a busy man."
She snorted. "I can pilot this warp sled as well as you, Captain. Lets not try to impress upon me how busy you are with all of this automated gadgetry doing all of the work. Youve had us on autopilot since we left Excelsior."
Now that startled him! "There are"
"Give it up, Sulu. Im not impressed by the level of horseshit your shoveling on this problem of yours. Were not trying to grow mushrooms; were trying to help you."
"Help me? Youre trying to help me?!" He grew angry. "You and Doctor Cord had me relieved of duty a few days ago. I have an important question for you: Do you know how long I waited to get the center seat? Do you?"
She stared passively at him for a long moment.
Tired of waiting, he continued, unprompted, "I waited nearly twenty-five years before I got my first command. And another three until I got the ship Id wanted since I first laid eyes on her in SpaceDock." His face flushed. "And now you want to insist Im unfit to sit in the center seat!"
"You neednt try to put me on the defensive, Captain. It wont work." She watched as he clenched his teeth. "And Im not interested, to be honest, as to whether or not you remain in the center seat of Excelsior or whether you find yourself in a seat behind a desk at Starfleet Command. What Im interested in is helping you help yourself. I just wish youd let me." And with that, she rose from the seat and walked to the back of the cramped shuttle and took a seat opposite from Ariel Cord.
Hikaru Sulu knew when he was wrong. "Damn," he simply said, and turned back to check the operations status.
Ariel Cord had ignored the conversation at the front of the cabin. Shed had to. There was no way that she would interfere with Doctor Noel in the performance of her duty to Hikaru Sulu, regardless of how painful it had been to hear Sulu stumble and stagger and grapple with the fact that he didnt love her. She had almost been reduced to tears, but deep in her heart, she had known all along that he didnt love her.
That hadnt made it any less painful for her to hear.
She sat curled up under the comforter on the rear seat, a cup of hot cocoa in her hand, and a romance novel in her hand. But she found it impossible to enjoy her novel, the chocolate or the warmth of the comforter knowing that she was in love with a man who could not love her until he let go of Janet Rachelson. He hadnt admitted that to himself yet. But it was coming, and she wondered if she would have a place in his life afterwards.
He might even resent her for trying to liberate him from Rachelsons ghost, but at least he would be free.
What was that old saying? If you love someone, set them free. If they love you, theyll come back to you. She shook her head. Will he come back to me?
She looked forward to see where Hikaru Sulu sat, his chair at an angle, his brow furled in deep thought. He barely paid attention to the console; he just sat there, face still red, unshed tears brimming in his eyes.
Tears threatening to well up in her eyes, but she blinked them back. Shed known for years that he didnt love her. Not yet, anyway. But she was tired of competing with that ghost. She thought shed excised Janet three years ago during that fateful mission to Sarnac III. Apparently, she had been mistaken.
The arrival at Chrysalis space port was a rather low key affair. Even though this was a resort planet, a virtual paradise, it was truly a beautiful world. They landed on a shuttlepad designated for Starfleet vehicles, disembarked and cleared customs in a matter of moments. Some of the resort planets were not so advanced, Sulu remembered ruefully, and he had been expecting at least half an hours delay for the customs agents to perform their inspection. Still, it was a pleasant surprise.
After quickly securing an island hopper from the rental agency, Sulu loaded their luggage into the compartment and took a seat behind the wheel. Ariel Cord slid in next to him, and Helen Noel climbed into the back of the vehicle. "You sure you dont want to sit up here, Doc?" asked Sulu. "With this open canopy, youre going to get blown away back there."
Noel laughed. "I doubt it, Captain. Im from the Florida Keys. I like riding in the back with the top down."
"Suit yourself then," he replied and revved up the hopper. He glanced over the controls. Antigrav elevation, simple thrusters for maneuvering, retractable landing gear (wheels and skis), buoyancy guaranteed. It was the perfect surface transport for a world like this one. He backed the hopper out of its parking space, and turned to Cord. "Where to, Ariel?"
"Daddys estate is at 12.45 North, 412.40 West. Its about thirty minutes from here in a fast hopper," she said.
"Well, we are in a fast hopper," he said, punching the coordinates into the navigation system. He activated the running beacons which kept the computers of the navigation system apprized of each vehicles location, bearing and speed. He maneuvered the vehicle to the departure lane which was free from incoming and outgoing traffic.
"Lets do it," said Noel from the back, mimicking Sulus own command phrase.
"Aye, aye," he answered and engaged the thrusters with vigor.
The hopper shot clear of the departure lane across the open water of the bay. "Yo ho!" laughed Cord, adopting the accent of a pirate from a bad holovid. "Avast ye maties! Arg!"
Noel laughed as the wind whipped her hair around.
The ride was relatively smooth. The antigrav units and gyro-stabilizers kept the hopper as level as could be hoped for on a choppy sea with occasional meter-high swells. There were clouds off in the distance, but Sulu didnt give them a second glance. Planetary meteorology forecasts said nothing about inclement weather.
Sulu was enjoying the ride. Commanding a starship gave one a detached feeling of power. It paled in comparison to actually piloting an island hopper like this over the uneasy ocean. In space, there was little or no motion, even when a starship pivoted at full impulse. But here, in a vehicle such as this, Sulu could tilt the steering wheel a degree and correct it and feel every bit of inertia tugging at him, at the hopper. He could feel the antigravs kick in to help the vehicle hop over the larger swells. He felt more alive behind the wheel of this little hopper than he had in years.
He glanced over at Ariel Cord. She was watching him in open amusement. "Whats so funny?" he asked.
"Nothing," she replied. "Its just good to see you smile, Hikaru. Its not something youve done a lot of lately."
He almost winced at her comment, but held his smile tightly, not letting himself let go of it. He glanced back at Doctor Noel. She was reclined in the backseat, her head leaning against its cushioned sides. "Id forgotten how much I love the ocean," she announced. "Its so...uncontrollable, so... powerful, so...primal."
Sulu laughed. "That it is, Doc." The hopper lurched slightly. "I guess the folks on your world dont believe in weather control," he remarked to Cord.
She shook her head. "No, father believes in letting nature take its course." She chuckled. "At times, he seems to enjoy watching from our estates cliff-side balconies as a storm rolls in."
Sulu noted a squall line of storms directly ahead of them. He glanced at the surface radar and veered to the south of the northerly-moving storm cells. "The ride may get a little bumpy from here on in. Were about ten minutes from your fathers estate." He glanced at the console and pressed a button. The hoppers overhead shields activated, and the outside elements no longer disturbed them. Rain and wind were both diverted by the shields, but the waves beneath them were more than the hoppers antigravs and stabilizers could compensate for. The ride was clearly getting rougher.
"Having trouble, Captain?" asked Doctor Noel.
"I didnt expect this degree of chop," Sulu admitted. "Still, were making good time."
Noel rolled her eyes. "Keep heading toward the southern tip of the storm cells. By the time we reach that point, the squalls will be farther north of them."
"I know that much, Doctor. Im not some novice at this sort of thing." In his heart, Sulu knew that he actually was a novice at this sort of thing.But he was not about to admit that to her.
"Youre doing fine, Hikaru. Its not easy piloting an island hopper in these conditions," Cord reassured him, shooting a shut-your-mouth glare at Noel.
A wave shot over the bow of the hopper, washing the forward windshield.
Sulu glanced at the radar and clicked on the atmospheric sensors. "Im not a meteorologist, but Id say that a storm cell is forming all around us."
Cord nodded. "Just dont let the"
There was a crack of lightning, and the hopper took a direct hit.
"lightning scare you." She chuckled. "These things are well grounded, Sulu. And they cant sink, trust me. Ive been through more than a few of these storms in my time here."
"And Ive been through them in the Keys, Captain. Theyll rattle your nerves, but well be fine."
Another wave hit and turned the hopper over. Sulu and Cord had had the foresight to buckle themselves in, but Noel hadnt. Restrained by the hoppers forcefield, she lay against it next to Sulus head.
"You were saying, Doctor?"
"I was saying shut up and drive, Captain, sir." She climbed back into her seat as Sulu righted the vessel. He activated the canopy, and a transparent aluminum canopy slid out and sealed the top of the vehicle.
"Wow, a Force Seven wave," Cord said. "I havent seen one of those in years." She sighed. "I miss this place sometimes."
Another Force 7 wave washed over the hopper, this time driving it into the sea.
"And sometimes I dont."
The radar pinged and the meteorological sensors had even more bad news. "Waterspout indicated at two hundred meters, location: South South West, bearing North North East at forty-eight kilometers per hour."
The tornadic waterspout picked up the island hopper and flipped it.
"Remind me one thing, Ariel, next time I pick the"
His witty rejoinder was cut short by the jarring impact as the hopper crashed back into the sea.
"Callahan, this is unacceptable. You nearly killed them!"
Aaron Cord appeared to be all of seventy-five years, a tall man with a rugged, aged, weathered face. Silver haired with silver gray eyes. He wore a simple gray tunic, a dark cloak about his shoulders with an ornate fastener, a pair of black pants and riding boots. As his eyes raked across his servants hobbled form, his eyes were filled with fury, contempt, disgust, anger...and pity at the creature Callahan was.
Romy Callahan, a native of Beta Capricorni III, gnarled, twisted, a mutant Human spawned by a radioactive cataclysm that shook that world nearly a hundred years before, a world whose population of Human pioneers were reduced to near barbarism until twenty years ago when the radiation levels fell to tolerable levels and Federation rescue teams were able to transport the surviving population to other worlds. Callahan was one of the lucky ones. Though as repulsive as a gargoyle, Callahan at least had full function of his sensory organs, as well as arms and legs that actually worked. Cord had taken in Callahan because he had felt sorry for the youngster.
But despite being brought up in the lap of luxury, Callahan was resentful, hateful toward everything and everyone. Given access to all of Cords estate, the gnomish man chose to reject the good life offered. Instead, he made himself into Cords stable hand, preferring to work with the horses rather than even face the other Humans in Cords employ.
Cord had tried to be understanding about Callahan, but things took a decided turn for the worse when the mutant had tried to impose himself on Cords daughter. Ariel had come home crying that afternoon after riding the horses. Her clothes torn and dirtied, her hair disheveled, Cord suspected the worst. When pressed, Ariel would refuse to discuss the matter with her father. But she never rode the horses again.
"That was not my intent, Mister Cord. You told me you wanted a storm. Well, you got one."
Callahans voice rankled Cord the most. Once it had been childlike, so simple, so polite, so sweet and almost cherubic. Now it was gruff, little more than a growl, and Cord knew it was filled with utter and complete hatred.
"A Force Eight gale? I asked you to call up a small storm, a matter of inconvenience to delay them until I finished my work. You damn near killed them and interrupted my work anyway as I had to go out and rescue them."
"Your work, Mister Cord? And what work is that, Mister Cord?"
Cord muttered an ancient Italian expletive under his breath. "My work is my business, Callahan. It always has been. It always will be. I have you do one simple thing: call up a small storm and delay them an hour. You call up a damned typhoon and nearly get them killed."
"Begging your pardon, Mister Cord, but they werent killed, were they?"
"Get out." Cord had had enough of the conversation. It wasnt going anywhere anywhere fast.
"Yes, Mister Cord. Let me know if I can be of further assistance," Callahan jabbed at him from the door as it closed behind him.February 8th 2295
Ariel Cord snapped her eyes open. "Wha?"
A quick glance around at her surroundings told her more than she needed to know. She was safe. At home in her own bed.
And sitting at the edge of the bed, a gentle smile on his weathered face, was her father.
"Good morning, Dizzy."
"Daddy," she purred contentedly. Her eyes widened suddenly. "Sulu!"
"He and Doctor Noel are fine. Theyre resting in their beds as well. Doctor Barton says theyll be fine."
Mollified, she relaxed again, but her sudden alarm had shaken the fatigue out of her timbers. She yawned and stretched languorously. "That was quite some storm we came through," she said, yawning again.
"Indeed. There was quite a bit of storm damage throughout this area." He smiled. "We even lost a few palm trees. It was fortunate that you and your friends had rented a top-of-the-line hopper. The automated distress beacon led us to you within five minutes of its going off."
She shuddered. "A waterspout, Daddy. Ive never seen one from that close."
He laughed. "I should hope not!"
She looked at him. "We need to talk, Daddy."
"About what, Dizzy?"
"How old are you?"
He laughed...nervously? "Dizzy, Dizzy, Dizzy. You know how old I am."
"Actually, Daddy, I suspect that I dont."
His eyes narrowed, and he unfastened his trademark cape and withdrew it carefully from his shoulders. And there, she had her answer, the answer she had suspected, the answer that she feared most.
Her father appeared to be no more than thirty-five years old.
"How is this possible?"
"Id like an answer to that as well," came the baritone voice of Hikaru Sulu from the open doorway.
"Ah, Captain, Ive been expecting you," he said genially. He offered his hand, and Sulu warily accepted it. "Aaron Cord."
"Hikaru Sulu, Captain of the Excelsior."
"Pleased to meet you, Captain. Now if youll"
"So, Daddy?" Ariel sat up in bed and crossed her arms petulantly.
"Captain Sulu, do you recall visiting Holberg 917-G?" asked Aaron Cord, slipping a pipe into his mouth and lighting it.
Sulu frowned in concentration. "The Enterprise visited that planet nearly thirty years ago. The crew was sick. We had Rigelian fever. We were all dying. We needed ryetalyn, and we found it on Holberg 917-G. While we were in orbit, Captain Kirk, Mister Spock and Doctor McCoy beamed down and encountered the owner of the planet, a Mister Flint. Starfleet classified the other details of the incident, and at his request, placed the planet under a general quarantine."
Ariel explained further, violating Starfleets security protocol. "It turned out that Mister Flint was some sort of immortal."
Aaron Cord snorted. "Well, thats an exaggeration. Father is only six thousand one hundred twenty-nine years old. And hes dying now, finally, after several millennia of loneliness. I spoke with him last week. He guesses that he has about thirty years to live."
"Youre Flints son?" asked Sulu.
"His only child, in fact. There is no race of immortals running around, Captain. Apparently, the gene that makes us immortal causes virtual infertility. Ariel is my only child."
"How old are you?"
A hearty chuckle filled the room. "Only eleven hundred twelve years. I was born in Rome."
"Your father claimed to be DaVinci."
"And Brahms and Merlin and hundreds of others. He was all of those and more. I have my doubts about some of his claims, but its not like we could prove otherwise."
"And you, Mister Cord? Who have you been?"
"I have not been any one of historical importance, save perhaps Dante, Milton and Byron. I was always the hedonist. Where my father worked to better mankind, I worked to entertain myself, usually sexually, often chemically." He chuckled. "Ive gone by few noteworthy names, usually choosing to live my lifestyle away from scornful eyes. It wasnt until the twentieth century that I became a public proponent of hedonism. Perhaps youve heard of Hugh Hefner?"
Sulu shook his head. "Cant say that I have."
The immortal man rubbed his chin. "Lets see...I once confided in a Frenchman of my acquaintance about my condition, back in the twentieth century. He went on to write a series of popular fictionalizations about a race of immortals. What did he call them? Caledonians, or some such nonsense."
"When spaceflight led mankind to the stars, I found a home for a while on Argelius. A wonderful planet, but its population were little more than sheep. I moved here from there about a hundred years ago and took up the name Joseph Cord. Using this holographic generator," he held up the elaborate clasp of his cape, "I pretended to age gracefully. I took a wife and a dozen mistresses, and soon Aaron Cord came on to the scene. Of course, no one noticed that Aaron and Joseph were never seen together. Lately, Ive been thinking of introducing Jonathan Cord, Ariels long lost brother."
"This...this is so...incredible, Father."
"The truth often is, Ariel."
"This immortality gene. Is it a dominant trait?"
Aaron Cord shrugged. "I do not know. I dont dare go and have my DNA analyzed. I cant allow the word of my existence...of your existence, Ariel, to escape this island."
"Who else knows?"
He shook his head. "No one other than you and your lover here, Ariel."
She turned with a start to Sulu. The captain was as inscrutable as he could be. "Hikaru would never tell."
"I know that, Ariel. Ive done some research on your captain. He is a good man."
"But you have never done any research on the genetics involved"
"No, Ariel, I havent. Nor do I care to."
"You dont care to? You dont care that you are, for all practical purposes, immortal? You dont care that you brought an immortal daughter into the world?"
Aaron Cord shrugged. "No, Ariel, I dont care. I have no regrets for bringing you into the world. You are a brilliant light in my life, and I dont care about genetics or research or"
"How can you not care?" she snapped angrily. "How can you not fuckin care?!" she screamed and ran from the room as though shed been mortally betrayed.
Aaron Cord watched her leave without uttering a word, then turned to Sulu. "I care for her deeply, Captain. I want your word as a officer and a gentleman that you care for her as well."
"Ariel is my closest friend, Mister Cord. It hurts me to see her like this."
"Ariel is my only child, sir. It absolutely pains me beyond measure to see her hurt like this. But I have been through this very challenge myself."
"And you survived it..."
Aaron Cord chuckled humorlessly. "Only because I found no way to kill myself." The young man pulled the cape back around, and his visage was suddenly transformed into that of a much older man. "And believe me, I tried."
As Cord briskly stepped out of the room, those words hung in the air, chilling Sulus very soul to the bone.
Helen Noel knocked on the door. "Captain Sulu?" She tapped again. "Hikaru?"
"Come," came the muffled word from inside.
She stepped forward, and the door slid aside. "Well, that was quite a ride," she said as she shuffled into Sulus guestroom.
He chuckled. "Thats an understatement. Didnt know you were part Vulcan, Doc."
"Im not. It just sounded better than that ride scared the shit out of me."
The Excelsior captains renowned bizarre laugh sputtered out of his mouth.
He looked at his feet. "She, uh, has left for a while." He looked distracted, she thought.
"Problems with you two?"
"What? Oh no, not with me. A little...family secret shes just...learned."
"Nothing like skeletons in your family closet to upset a visit home," Noel said. "Ive been there, done that. Last time I went home to Islamorada, I found out that my father had left my mother for another person."
Sulu seemed a little perplexed by her choice of words, but chose not to go there. "So were going to get started today?"
"Yep. How about a little boat ride?"
He looked a little green about the gills, but gamely said, "All right. Lets meet here in half an hour, and well go for a ride."
The sea was flat.
The breeze was hotactually, it was more like a whisper than a breeze. Sulu pondered it for a second. Zephyr? Is that the word for it? No matter. He thrust it from his mind.
How he hated the sea.
He hated the saltiness, the never ending undulations of the waves, the warm waters. He hated being seasick.
He would not ask to be taken back to shore. He couldnt. It wouldnt be fair to the woman on the small skiff with him who was relishing the experience.
Finally, she turned to him, her "ships psychologist" mode active. "Id like you to tell me about the day your father died."
How he hated psychologists, too.
The Pink Club was not a very nice place. One of the seediest establishments you could imagine, it was run by Tony Balent, a former porn star/director with ties to the Barrier Alliance Consortiumnow known as the Orion Syndicate. Balent had produced, directed and starred in dozens of pornographic holovids, and his club was where enthusiasts of the most raunchiest form of erotic dancing could be entertained.
Cord had stumbled into the place, realized where she was, and took a seat at Balents personal table. "Hi ya, Tony. Buy me a drink," she said with slurred speech.
Balent glanced around. "Ariel? Ariel! God, its been years since Ive seen you!" He snapped his fingers, and a nude waiter stepped to the table. "Stephano, a drink for Ariel Cord. The Ariel Cord. Make it a double vodka mai tai."
"Yessuh, Mister Balent," the well endowed man said as he shuffled to the bar.
Cord was eyeing the waiters manhood with some interest. She didnt notice Balent pressing a button on the underside of the table. To be honest, in her condition, Ariel wouldnt have noticed if a sehlat had joined her at the table.
"So, Ariel, hows it been? Youve moved on to a career in Starfleet, but man, you still look fuckin beautiful."
Cord smiled. "You think so?" She brightened.
"Fuck, yes, babe. You want to make a little extra income? Show up tomorrow for me. We could shoot a holovid or two."
She laughed, shaking her head. "No, Tony. Ive got a lover these days who might not approve of that."
"So Ive heard. Captain of the Excelsior, no less. Quite a catch, Im sure. But I doubt he could measure up to me." Balent unzipped and unfastened his trousers, and pulled our his ten and a half inch member.
Ariel looked at it and breathed deeply. "Well, hes not that big." She looked at it longingly. "Hes not even half that size."
"You can touch it, Ariel. Touch it for me."
She lay her hand on it and felt its immense girth. "God, you always had the biggest cock for a Human." She manipulated it a moment or two, and it responded by standing at attention.
"Suck on it, Ariel. You know how much you loved sucking my cock."
She shook her head. "No, no, Tony. I cant. If it werent for Karu, I would. But no." She took her hand away from it.
"My loss," Balent conceded. "Hes a lucky man to have you. I hope he loves you as much as you love him."
She looked at his large member while reflecting upon Sulus words in the shuttlecraft. "He doesnt love me at all." She put her hand on Balents manhood, stroked it briefly while finishing the drink Stephano had brought her. Then, flowing like liquid, she bent over and took the glans into her mouth, licking and sucking it while stroking the shaft firmly. Then she stopped, and sat up. "But I love him."
Balent shifted uncomfortably. "You are still such a great cock sucker, Ariel. Finish me off. Please," he implored.
She started on her second drink, and asked, "Why the fuck not?" And with that, she took the head of his penis into her mouth, sucking and stroking it with vigor, nibbling it lightly with her teeth, all the while pumping his shaft gently, but firmly. It was just a matter of minutes before his semen erupted into her mouth, and she swallowed it eagerly, with wanton abandon.
"Mmmm, that was fun," she said, wiping her mouth with his sleeve. She slowly sat up, all the while stroking his now-slick member.
"God, it was great!" he looked around at the growing number of patrons, many of whom were watching the scene with envy. One person was there that Balent hadnt noticed come in to the bar: Chris Watkins, and he seemed stunned by the event. So much the better, Balent decided. The young porn director had recently stormed onto the scene with two major artistic fuck holovids that were playing in much more respectable venues than most porn vids ever had the chance to.
Balent looked at Cord with lustful abandon. "You know, Ariel, that was one fuckin great blow job. But," looking at the audience, "Ive got an idea. Take the stage for us. My dancers dont hold a candle to you, babe. Show these new girls how erotic dancing should be done."
Cord laughed, taking another sip of what was now her third drink. "Me? Im fifty-four years old, Tony! Hell, Im only a year younger than you!"
"Yeah, but you look great, babe. Youre still one of the galaxys hottest fuckin pieces of ass. Do it for me. For old times sake?"
"You think Im hot?"
"Oh, all right. For old times sake."
She stood and walked to the stage while Balent issued instructions through his table comlink. The music, "The Moons a Window to Heaven," began playing as Ariel gyrated her hips provocatively. Dressed in a pair of sweat pants and shirt, she didnt do much for the crowd. She noticed immediately, and slid the sweat pants down to her knees, revealing her crimson thong panties underneath.
All eyes were glued to her assets, Tony was pleased to notice, except Chris Watkins. The rising director of artistic erotic holovids was talking into his comlink. Didnt realize he was gay, Balent decided, his eyes returning to Cords performance. Shed stripped off the sweat shirt, and her burgundy sports bra was clearly outlining her beautiful breasts. And he smiled at that silly tattoo of hers: "Heartbreaker".
Ill just bet you still are, Tony chuckled.
The session had gone pretty well, Noel decided. Captain Sulu had actually opened up about his fathers death, his mothers death, and the deaths of Jordan and Feltman, both of whom hed known for nearly six years. Dealing with these deaths was a good first step, she knew.
The comlink on the skiff beeped. "Sulu here," the captain answered.
"Captain? Aaron Cord here. Ive just gotten a report from one of my associates. I need you, on the double, as it were."
"If you can beam me there, Doctor Noel can handle the boat herself."
And Sulu dematerialized.
Noel looked around, and undid her top. "I always love riding in a boat with my top down."
Ariel slid her almost nude form against the pole of the center of the stage, much to the delight of the onlookers. She was down to her thong, having tossed her bra into the crowd not more than three minutes ago. And the crowd was going wild with sexual frenzy.
Balent had signaled his lap dancers to mingle, and they were pulling in credits left and right from lap dances, and helping hands and mouths while Ariel danced away. On stage, she loosed her panties, and allowed a big, burly Kaylar to pull them off with his chubby fingers. He copped a feel or two, and she let him insert a digit for a moment into her. She then swung away, crawled up the pole, and leaned back, sliding down with the brass pole in-between her legs, its metal now sheening with her sloppy wetness.
She frantically began to masturbate for the audience, dancing her fingers around clitoris before grasping it between the index and middle fingers. Then she stroked faster than many had ever seen a woman do before.
It was about this time that Hikaru Sulu entered The Pink Club. Ariel was oblivious to him, and frankly everyone else in the bar as she gyrated her hips, and ground her fingers into her juicy regions.
"Oh, my God!" Sulu said softly. "Ariel, no!" he called louder.
Cord was too involved with her own orgasms to notice her lover making his way toward the stage. But even he couldnt bring himself to stop the show, he was so entranced by her raw carnality.
She erupted with a yell as she came loudly and frequently, in front of the wildly cheering crowd. Spent and exhausted, she collapsed on the stage.
Sulu made his way forward to the stage. Stephano stood in his way, and Sulu decked him with a quick chop to the solar plexus.
He called her name, "Ariel!"
With a start, she recognized him and where she was. She buried her head into her hands. "Oh, shit."
"Come on, Ariel," he beckoned, offering her a hand.
She accepted it, and slid herself off of the stage.
Sulu took off his sweatshirt and gave it to her. They were about to head for the door when the big drunken Kaylar stood before them, ceremonial knife drawn. "Youre not going anywhere, cunt. Drop this creep, and Ill show you a sweet time. Youre the finest piece of ass Tonys had in here in months."
"No, thanks," said Cord, clutching Sulus arm tightly.
"Well make it worth your while. Ive got enough dilithium to buy you, you know."
"The lady said no, thanks, Sulu answered, and again the couple began making their way to the door.
"Im not talking to you, Tiny." The Kaylar lunged at Sulu with the blade, but Sulu ducked out of the way. Ariel stumbled, and the blade struck her in the gut. The Kaylar grunted in surprise, and Ariel pulled the blade out, and dropped it on the floor. The wound healed itself right before his eyes. Stunned, the Kaylar asked softly, "What are you? A witch?"
Sulu slammed a fist into the big humanoids face and broke bone with a satisfying series of cracks. "Dont call me Tiny." And yet again, the couple was making their way toward the exit.
This time, as they neared the exit, Tony Balent stood in their way, lifting his hands, palms down in a non-hostile manner. "Calm down, calm down. No harm, no foul. Are you okay, Ariel? Shall I call for emergency transport?"
Ariel cocked her head. "Why?" She glanced down at the hole the knife had made in the sweatshirt. "Oh, he got just the shirt, not me. See?" She pulled the shirt up enough to show Tony her unscratched abdomen.
"Whered all the blood come from?" asked Balent, surprised he didnt have a dying ex-porn star on his premises.
"Oh, this? Its his, silly. Sulu broke his nose, and the guys blood went everywhere."
Balent nodded as though hed known it all along. "Well, thank God. Ariel, that was great! I need you to sign this release form so I can pay you."
Sulu sighed and looked as though he were about to break Balents face, too.
Ariel shook her head. "Look, Tony, lets just forget about what happened, all right?" she asked weakly.
"Fine by me, but I need you to sign this release anyway, saying I dont have to pay you." He waved a padd about.
Though hung over, Cord looked at the padd cursorily, and it appeared to be exactly what Balent had said it was: a release from payment for services rendered and acts performed. She signed it and sealed it with her thumbprint.
"Thanks, Ariel." He gave her a hug. "Youre still the best."
"Lets go...now," Sulu insisted.
The Starfleet officers went out the front door, and Balent signaled for a general cleanup. The janitorial staff got busy, drinks for patrons were refilled, and the Kaylar was escorted out the premises to an awaiting police patrol car. Then Tony Balent burst out laughing. "Callahan!" he called.
From the managers office, Aaron Cords troll-like stable hand strolled out triumphantly, spinning a duotronic enhancer rod in his hand. "Boss, I got the whole fuckin thing. From the blowjob she gave you, to her frigging herself on the stage, even that knife fight at the end. Ive got it all!"
Balent laughed. "And Ive got her release from any payments for any and all services rendered and acts performed. Were going to be rich, Callahan." He laughed louder. "I wonder wholl be willing to pay me more? Aaron Cord or Starfleet Command?"
"I might be willing to top both offers," said Chris Watkins who had moved near Balents table.
"Really?" asked Balent in disbelief.
"Really," Watkins confirmed. "The galaxys ready for Ariel Cord newest porn film: Cumming Out of Retirement."
The three laughed uproariously.
The hover car pulled up to the large double doors of the Cord Estate. Sulu lifted his semi-conscious chief medical officer and carried her into the house, ignoring the bemused glances of Cords staff. He took Ariel into her bedroom chamber and laid her on the bed. Gently, he stripped her sweatshirt off, and he tossed his own sweat pants, tank top, sneakers and underwear aside. He then picked her up and took her into the large shower, turning the water on medium and let the cleansing warmth wash away the sins of the day.
There was a knock at the door, and Helen Noel stepped into the bathroom. "Captain? I was told I might be needed, but"
She saw the half-conscious woman Sulu was bracing upright. "Ill get my medikit."
Two minutes later, shed returned with a Stim-Tab and a Detox with Vitamin B shot. With complete disregard for her own modesty, she stripped off her t-shirt and sweat pants and stepped into the shower wearing only a reassuring smile.
Sulu, grateful for the help, watched as Noel gave the shot to Cord right above the broken heart tattoo on her right buttock. Both of them helped Ariel swallow the Stim-Tab.
"You think we should get her stomach pumped?" asked Sulu.
"Did she throw up?"
"All the way back from the strip joint I found her at."
"Then theres probably no need," Noel decided. "Shes got a mild case of alcohol poisoning, but shell recover. What brought this on, Hikaru?"
"I cant say," Sulu shrugged. "Itswell, something I cant talk about."
"That little family secret again, eh?"
Sulu smiled weakly. "Thats probably the best way to put it."
"Lets get her out of here, dried off and tucked into bed."
The task took only a few minutes, and then Sulu and Noel returned to the bathroom to don their clothes. Sulu averted his eyes from Noels sunburned chest.
"Leave her here alone to rest," Noel ordered. "Find something to do. Ill check in on her every half-hour or so. I want you to take a walk around the estate or something."
"I think thats an excellent suggestion, Doctor."
"And one more thing, Sulu?"
"Will you please call me Helen?"
"I cant tell you enough how much I appreciate your getting Ariel out of that dump today," Aaron Cord said to Hikaru Sulu as they toured his modest estate. "She put herself in quite a predicament there, Im told."
"I wish I could understand why she did it," Sulu answered as they walked along the bluff of the cliff which overlooked the now placid ocean.
"In most peoples lives, they come to the gradual realization of their mortality. It saddens some. It causes temporary mental instability in some. But life prepares your for your mortality. You see your grandparents die, then your parents, then your friends and loved ones. Now, imagine having accepted your own mortality, only to find out that youre immortal, that you will outlive your friends, your lovers, your spouses. You suddenly realize that youre, well, a freak, and that youre destined to be hunted by some, hated by others, and envied by all. Youll have to change your identity from time to time, adopt children to be your own. You get a taste of what makes life worthwhile and even enjoyable to mortals, but you lose the appreciation for what makes it special."
"I cant imagine what that would be like," Sulu admitted. "Im fifty-four years old, and Ive realized our time here is limited. And Im okay with that."
"Why are you content when so many others are not?"
"Because without death, life is just meaningless. In the same manner, without evil, just how do you measure good?"
"And now youve got an idea of what Ariel is going through."
"You said you tried to kill yourself..."
"Sulu, Ive taken every poison you could imagine. Ive been shot through the heart, pierced by a sword. I was hung once, electrocuted another time. I even withstood a phaser set to disrupt for fifteen seconds before it was too painful to continue, but it did not kill me."
"Thats simply incredible, Mister Cord."
Cord nodded. "No more incredible than Ariels surviving that fire five years ago. Can I ask you a question?"
"Why didnt you talk about this with each other after the fire?"
Sulu shrugged, and paused in his walking. He stepped over to a restraining fence and looked at the clouds in the distance. "Ariel clammed up after the fire. She couldnt bring herself to talk about it. After a time, I gave up trying."
"Tell me, Captain, has Ariel ever told you how her mother died?"
"Dinner is served," announced Aaron Cord to his guests gathered in the drawing room. The Enterprise officers had decided to don their uniform for dinner, and Cord himself was attired in formal wear, the ever present cape draped over his shoulders.
Thats an interesting motif, thought Noel. Shed been studying their host for some time, and noticed he always had that cape around his shoulders. He goes from swashbuckler to gentleman to space pirate, but always has that cape. She chuckled inwardly. At least, he hasnt tried the vampire look...yet.
As they made their way to the dining room, Noel noted Sulu and Ariel Cord were holding hands. Good, she decided, but it was obvious that they hadnt talked openly since the incident at the bar earlier in the day. She sensed the couple had no need to ask forgiveness and no need to be forgiven. All in all, a fairly healthy relationship.
Sulu sat down and chatted happily with Aaron about Excelsiors capabilities. Ariel added a detail or two from time to time. Occasionally, they would turn to her for a remark or two, and she obliged them. But she had been coming to the realization that she now had two patients: the captain and the captains woman.
"...and this shore-leave planets location is a secret, then?" asked Aaron.
"Quite so, sir. Its existence has been well publicized, but Starfleet restricts traffic in that sector of space. Its relatively near what was Gorn space."
"But the Gorn are virtually extinct. What harm would it be to the Federation to set up an expedition to this planet and shoot a few erotic holovids? Imagine, if you will, I could call up from my recollections the greatest assembly of porn stars from history: Marilyn Chambers, John Holmes, Ginger Lynn, Jenna Jameson, Tommy Twelve, Lori Love, Debra Lord, K.C. Johnson"
"I hope youre not planning on calling me up, too, Daddy," Ariel put in crossly. "And, aside from overloading the master computer system, and the ethical considerations of using simulacra..."
"...youve got to bear in mind that while the Gorn were virtually exterminated by the Kelvan, theyve been rebuilding their population over the past ten years," Sulu concluded. "Many of them are little more than brigands these days, actively engaging in piracy with whats left of the Barrier Alliance Consortium..."
Noel noted Ariels flash of anger at having been interrupted and look of resignation. More importantly, she also noted that Sulu was completely oblivious to having upset Ariel at all. Interesting, she thought.
Suddenly, one of the waiters entered with Cherries Jubilee, and Noel was impressed. The flames were dancing on the serving plate in several different colors. Obviously, Aaron Cords chef had used a variety of exotic liquors to achieve the multicolored flambé. But the ships psychologist was stunned when Ariel emitted a high, piercing scream and fled from the room, seemingly in abject terror.
Noel turned back to see Sulu and Cord exchange a raised eyebrow. She dryly remarked, "Now thats what I call an exit."
Sulus head turned with a start. "That was uncalled for, Doctor." He rose, threw his napkin down, and followed in the direction Ariel had taken off for.
Aaron Cord blinked in surprise? Amusement? She wasnt sure, but he turned to her. "I guess that means we get double portions," he smiled congenially.
"I should hope so," she said and helped herself.
Dust motes danced in the kitchens morning sunlight. Ariel Cord was heating a skillet. Shed decided she wanted a cheese omelet and toast for breakfast. She wanted comfort food after last nights little debacle. Shed fled to her room and locked the door. She ignored Sulus knock and his subsequent pleas. Hours later, she ignored her fathers request to open the door, and she was glad he was gracious enough not to intrude.
This morning, at the crack of dawn, shed been awakened by the sun shining in on her face. Rather than roll over and go back to sleep, shed chosen to go for a swim in the ocean to clear her thoughts. She stripped and went out down her balconys stairway to the beach, waded out until she was thigh deep in the warm water and swam out the quarter mile to the edge of the icthyoid barrier. Maintained by a series of buoys, and triggered by sensors only when someone from the mansion came down the stairs, the barrier acted as an underwater repulsor field which pushed any aquatic life larger than fifteen centimeters out of the swimming area and kept it out. It was ideal for keeping the elasmodons huge shark-like predatorsoutside the bay.
Ariel had swam out to the edge and back, climbed the long flight of stairs, and took a cold but refreshing shower. Donning a tank top and jogging shorts, shed gone to the kitchen to make the breakfast she so desperately wanted.
As she sat down to eat, she was surprised to see Helen Noel leaning against the frame of the kitchen door. "Mind if I join you?" the psychologist asked.
Cord sighed and nodded reluctantly.
Noel quickly scrambled herself a couple of eggs while preparing grits in the microtherm and toast in the oven. Sitting down across from Cord, she bowed her head for a second, and then dove into her breakfast. "Youre up awfully early, Ariel," she said pointedly.
Cord ignored the ice breaker.
"And Im glad you are. We need to talk."
Cord looked up at her and defiantly said, "I dont want to."
"I dont recall you giving Captain Sulu a choice in the matter. Now, hes not giving you one either."
"That son of a bitch"
"is in love with you, and is just too fuckin stupid to realize it. Hes hurting watching you go through whatever this family crisis is, Ariel. And whatever caused your scene last night hurt him as deeply as it hurt you."
"I doubt that."
Noel snorted. "Then youre as fuckin stupid as he is."
"How dare you interrupt my breakfast and insult me like this?"
"Id say that its you who are being insulting, Ariel. Last night, for whatever reason, the Cherries Jubilee upset you. Doctor Viger has reported to me that youve been unwilling if not unable to treat burn victims. And the captain"
"He told you, didnt he? He told you how my mother died when I was eight. That son of a bitch"
"Uh, Ariel, he didnt tell me anything. As I was about to say, the captain has asked me to talk with you and see if youd be willing to undergo a few sessions with me yourself. He never told me why."
Cords face fell. "I dont want to talk about it, Helen. Please."
Noel shook her head. "I know you dont, Ariel, but you need to. If not with me, Im sure that we can find someone else here on Chrysalis"
Cord closed her eyes. "Damn it." She shook her head repeatedly, trying to force her memories aside. Finally, she resigned herself to her fate.
"My mother died when I was eight. Wed been over at the Hotel Sybaron, entertaining some of Daddys less than respectable business associates with dinner. We were on the way back from the hotel in our limousine when a bomb exploded. Daddy and I were thrown from the hovercar, but Mommy..." She stifled a sob. "Mommy..." She burst into a sudden fit of tears. "I still hear her screams in my dreams." She stifled the tears. "I spent a few years in therapy, but I thought it was over."
"And then the incident with Jim Sherrod..."
Cord nodded. "Now I hear his screams and Mommys. And..." She didnt finish the statement: Now, I know how Daddy and I survived and Mommy didnt. They hadnt been thrown from the car. They had survived the blast and the fire.
Memories flashed by. Memories of the funeral. Memories of a series of accidents resulting in the fatalities of several of Aaron Cords less than respectable business associates. Memories of a young Captain Christopher Pike who had led her to joining Starfleet. So many memories...
"And the deaths on Muselpheim Four..."
"And that poor girl on the Cooper..."
"Ariel, I want you to come out with Hikaru and me for todays session. To be honest, its going to be his penultimate one. But its going to be an important one."
Cord looked up at Noel. "Count me in."
Hikaru Sulu was not an ocean lover at heart. It was ironic that he felt far safer behind the helm or in the center seat of a starship in the midst of combat with Klingons or Romulans than he did in the depths of water. But here he was, five meters below the surface of Tethys, the ocean of Chrysalis, face mask firmly in place, as he hovered above a reef. Through his ear jack, he heard Ariel Cord explain the differences between the Chrysalis filter-reefs and Terran coral reefs.
"Sponges evolved into these giant communities on Chrysalis, and serve in the ecosystem in roles occupied by both sponges and coral on Earth. Whereas the Terran coral reefs are susceptible to damage, when the filter reefs are damaged, the broken off pieces float for weeks then settle to the bottom and begin a new reef, regardless of the depth. One of the sections of Tethys is known as the Great Filter Reef. Its nearly the size of North America, and is renowned for its beauty," Cord elaborated.
"Its so eerily similar to the Keys," remarked Noel. "Youve even got big groupers feeding near them."
"Well, theyre not exactly groupers," Cord chuckled. "Those are proto-mammals we call sea-buffalo. Theyre more like sea-lions than grouper. Theyre monotremic marsupials, though, laying eggs and nesting with them. Once born, the young are tucked into a pouch with a dual nipple combination, one providing oxygen from the fathers lungs and the other providing a nutrient milk. The females serve as protectors and are twice as likely to attack divers."
"But they look like fish with big pectoral fins."
"They use those to maneuver their newborns into the pouch. Ive always thought they looked like the Terran coelacanths myself."
Sulu agreed. "Yes, they do, although theyre bigger than me."
Cord guessed, "That one must weigh over four hundred kilograms."
"Wow," whispered the Excelsiors captain. He glanced at his wrist chrono. "Ariel, its been twenty-five minutes with these breathers."
She checked her own chrono. "Yeah, wed better head back. These units are good for thirty minutes, maybe thirty-five before they need recharging."
Noel flipped over her back and headed back toward the skiff. "Man, Id forgotten how fun diving can be. But Im tired."
They quickly swam back to the skiff, and threw themselves over the gunnels onto the deck.
Sulu took off his mask and rubbed his eyes. Although Tethys wasnt as salty as a Terran ocean, it was still brackish enough to burn. "Dont you believe in ladders, Ariel?"
"No, they just get in the way," she answered as she pulled a small round sphere up into the boat.
"Whats that?" Noel asked, running a towel through her hair.
"Sonic repulsor field generator. Didnt want to be lunch for an elasmodon."
"Oh, theres one!"
Sulu saw a two foot high fin pass close by the skiff. "A shark?"
Cord nodded. "Well, the Tethys equivalent of one. Theyre predatory in the extreme, and will attack anything below the water."
"But not this skiff?" asked Noel.
"Its coated with an organic substance which makes it taste terrible to them," Cord explained. "They still will occasionally try to take a bite of one, but beneath the coating is a small screen which conducts an electrical charge. If they nibble, they get a bad taste in their mouth. If they bite, theyre going to get stunned."
"Does Chrysalis have any crustaceans?"
"Actually, it does, of a sort. Tethys has a krill-like crustacean in abundance. The Tethys prawn is harvested and served in restaurants across this planet. My father owns most of the fishing fleet here and only allows them to be served on planet. He doesnt want to deplete the environment by serving them throughout the Federation."
"And besides, if people want to sample the Tethys prawn, they can always come to Chrysalis and stay at his Hotel Sybaron and dine at one of his dozen or so restaurants," Sulu said pointedly.
Cord laughed. "Well, yes, thats true, too. Daddy is quite the entrepreneur."
Noel had opened the picnic basket theyd taken and was passing out the sandwiches and drinks. "Looks like prawn salad sandwiches and iced tea."
They ate in relative silence, all three hungry from the half hour of diving. Sulu relished the sandwich filling, very reminiscent of shrimp but having the sweetness of crab.
"That was something," Noel remarked, "but if you two dont mind, Im going to take a little nap." The psychologist leaned back against the padded back seat of the skiff.
Cord and Sulu finished their meal in silence. A few minutes later, they heard the soft snoring of Helen Noel, causing both of them to giggle softly.
"Well, lover, come here," Ariel said demurely.
Sulu cocked his head at an angle. "Why?"
"Because we need to kiss and make out."
"You mean kiss and make up, dont you?"
She smiled and shook her head. "Come here."
Sulu sat down next to her. "Ariel, Im"
"Shhh! My turn to talk. Listen, Hikaru, theres a lot going on in my life right now. Ive just found out that I wont be making a reservation for Heaven anytime in your life time, and that scares me. What will become of us?"
"Ariel, I will love you always."
"And I will always love you, too. But once youre gone..." She almost sobbed. "I...Im not sure I will want to go on."
"I felt that way after Casey left me. And then I found Janet. I felt that way after she died. And then I found you. O heaven, O earth, bear witness to this sound...I, beyond all limit of everything else in the world, do love, prize, honor you," he quoted.
Tears welled up in Cords eyes. "I am a fool to weep at what I am glad of," she responded in kind.
"I want to make love to you."
Cords eyes darted to the still sleeping form of Helen Noel. Her eyes twinkled. "Now what would the ships psychologist say about that, I wonder?"
"Shell have to wait her turn," Sulu responded. He leaned forward and let his lips brush Ariels ears. His fingertips lightly traced the outline of her nipples through her bikini top before reaching behind her and untying the strings.
She ran her fingers through his hair and pulled his head down to her now bare breasts, enjoying the sensation as he began gently sucking and nibbling her nipples. She felt her own sex respond, and she reached down and stroked his manhood with her hand. She reached into his swim trunks and tugged on its hardness, and it excited her even more.
He let his hand slide down the side of her flat tummy and let it glide into her bikini bottoms. Feeling her wet slit, he stood before her.
Ariel checked Doctor Noel again, and then slid Sulus trunks off. She sucked his turgid member into her warm mouth, and he moaned softly. "Shhh!" she cautioned him, and she stood before him, sliding her bikini bottoms off. With another cautionary glance at Noel, she turned around and put her hands on the bow, letting her sex face Sulu.
He sat down on the deck of the skiff so he could lick her slick folds. His tongue darted back and forth over her clit. As he cupped her ass in his hands, she ran her hands through his hair, caressing the sides of his face as he eagerly lapped at her wetness.
Suddenly, he was startled as a mouth began sucking on his rigid cock. His surprise was then doubled as he realized that Ariel couldnt possibly be sucking him. In fact, it had to be Helen Noel whose mouth ran up and down his member. The sensation stopped for a second, only to be replaced by a hot, wet warmth as she mounted him and began riding him.
Sensing what had happened, Ariel turned back, smiled and winked at Noel, and continued to enjoy Hikarus oral ministrations.
The orgasm was not quite simultaneous, but it was loud. Ariel came loudly, followed by Helens own moans, and finally Hikaru grunted in release. They collapsed on the deck, laughing softly.
"Well, Doc," Sulu said, "that was a surprise."
"You didnt really expect me to sleep through something like that, did you?" she asked.
"I guess not," answered Cord. She looked at the sun in the sky. "Wed better be getting back to the estate. Daddy will send out a search party if were not careful."
They laughed and hugged each other before getting dressed.
On a cliff overlooking the distant filter-reef, Callahan stood, high resolution long range holorecorder in hand.
Helen Noel sat in the tub in her room, fuming.
"Damn it," she snapped, "why do I always, always do this?"
Unprofessional behavior had nearly ruined her career once before, and now shed done it again. Her whole career had been setback with the incident at the Tantalus Penal Colony, and now her career aboard the Excelsior was, for all intent and purposes, over.
"Damn," she mumbled again and leaned back in the tub.
There was a knock at the door.
"Go away," she called. "Im taking a bath."
"I think you and I need to have a talk, Helen."
Ariel Cords voice startled Noel. She opened her eyes to see the Excelsiors chief medical officer, dressed in her turtleneck and uniform slacks.
"I guess I shouldve known this was coming," Noel said resignedly. "I fucked up today when I had sex with you and Sulu, didnt I?"
"Uh, hmm... Well, you fucked him and you were on top, so I guess you could say you fucked up, but thats not why Im here." Cords eyes narrowed. "You think Im here to relieve you of duty?"
"Youve got every right to do so. Im the ships psychologist. I answer directly to you. I had sex with a patient in the company of another patient, both of whom are my superior officers."
Cord considered that. "Well, then whos going to tell? Me? Im fraternizing with a superior officer. Sulu? Hes fraternizing with one of his command staff. No, this was one of those things that happens maybe once in a lifetime, Helen, and I dont regret it. Hikaru certainly doesnt. You ought to see that satisfied smile on his face." She chuckled.
"But our professional relationship has been compromised."
"I dont think you understand the captain very well," Cord decided. "Hes not that sort of guy. What happens on duty is one thing. What happens off duty is another."
"Yeah, well we were supposed to be conducting therapy. All those sessions"
"Mean a lot to him, Helen. Hes made some substantial progress. Hes no longer morose. Hes happy. Todays little fun made him happier."
"It will not be repeated, Ariel. I promise."
"Helen, dont you get it? If its repeated, fine. If its not, thats fine, too. You gave him a taste of every males fantasy: sex with two beautiful women at one time. Most of them only dream of it. Few ever achieve it. Lets not spoil it for him by thinking that this means this or this ruins that. Thats just bullshit. Yes, technically, you were out of bounds today. But so was the captain. For Gods sake, Helen, hes been sleeping with one of his senior officers for over five years! And before that? Janet Rachelson was one of his senior officers on the Cooper. So was K.C. Johnson."
She shook her head. "And do you want to talk about unprofessional? I was a holo porn vid star, Helen. And Ive fucked more starship captains than anyone else in the fleet. When I was younger, I used to love screwing men in command. As I got older, I got more selective. I consciously decided to seduce Hikaru." She pointed her finger. "So lets not hear anymore of this self-debasing unprofessional bullshit, Doctor. And thats an order."
"Now, the reason Im here is to see if you want to watch a new production of Romeo and Juliet in town tonight. The captain and I are going, and we thought it might be nice if we all made an evening of it."
"Uh, okay..." Noel was confused. "So, youre okay with it?"
Cord nodded. "Absolutely. Are you?"
The psychologist thought about it, and then decided, "Yeah, I think I am."
The doctor smiled. "It was pretty damn fun, if you ask me."
There was a chime. "Ariel Cord, there is a CommPic for you. Ariel Cord, there is a CommPic for you," announced the mansions computer.
"Acknowledged. Ill take it in my room." She winked at Noel. "Be ready by seventeen hundred, okay? Well eat at one of Daddys restaurants before the show."
Ariel Cord stepped up to her BellComm unit. "This is Ariel Cord."
The screen remained black, but a harsh-sounding computer-generated voice greeted her. "Hello, slut. I have something you would like to see." The screen lit up with an image of her mouth engulfing Tony Balents huge penis. "That get your attention? How about this one?" The image was replaced with a shot of her on the stage at The Pink Club, legs spread wide, three fingers in her fleshy folds. "Or maybe even this one?" An image of herself straddling Sulus face with Noel mounted over him from this afternoons excursion lit up the viewer. "I want two million credits. In exchange, you will get the holovids. No copies have been made...yet."
Cord snorted. "Not interested."
"Not interested? Id bet Brad Bashaw of Intergalactic News Service would be interested. Id bet more that Starfleet Command would be interested. Id even bet that Hikaru Sulu would be interested."
"Yeah, well, you can ask them. Now, fuck off." And she cut the connection.
"I-I-I cannot believe it!" the misshapen man stuttered. "Fu-fuckin bitch!"
Tony Balent chuckled. "Look, Callahan, I told you that wouldnt work. Shes made hundreds of porno holovids. Whats this to her?"
Their own BellComm chirped. "Oh, shit. Its probably her. I bet she was able to trace the call!" Cords stable hand panicked.
"Impossible," Balent said. "Thank you for calling The Pink Club. Tony Balent speaking."
The screen lit up with the image of Chris Watkins. "So, Mister Balent, have you managed to come up with a better offer for the tape?"
"Not yet," Balent admitted.
"Ill up my initial offer. Five million klingots."
"I told you I dont like Klingon currency, Watkins."
"Thats all I can pay you in. Besides, if you check the exchange rate, thats around seven million Federation credits."
"Oh, all right," Balent agreed. "Be here at twenty-one thirty."
"Agreed. Thanks a lot, Tony. Youve earned every klingot coming to you!"
Balent closed the connection and high-fived a jubilant Callahan.
"Five million klingots! Jesus, thats enough to retire on, Mister Balent."
"Far from it, Callahan, but its a good start."
Balent and Callahan sat at the club owners private table watching the clock. At precisely twenty-one thirty, Chris Watkins stepped in the door and sat down with them.
"A drink, Mister Watkins?" Balent asked. "Stephano, a gin and tonic for this young man."
"No, no, thanks," Watkins said. "I cant tell you how excited I am at the prospect of getting this holovid tape."
"What are you going to do with it?"
Watkins smiled. "Im not at liberty to discuss it." He winked. "But its going to be quite a show, I promise you."
"Only if youve got the klingots," Callahan grumbled.
"Here you go," Watkins held up a small legal padd. "Sign this statement saying there are no copies and transferring any and all rights, and its all yours."
Balent read through it carefully. "Ill want a copy of this contract, of course."
Watkins held up another disk. "Right here."
Balent signed the padd with a stylus, and Watkins pressed a stud on the top of the padd. "Well, Ive just had them beamed into your office."
"Excellent! Go see for yourself, Callahan. Is it all there?"
Callahan rushed to the office, and quickly returned. "Yes, Mister Balent! Its all there!"
"Then heres the tape as promised," Balent handed the holovid cartridge to Watkins.
"Thank you, sir. A pleasure doing business with you."
"Dont you want to check it?"
"Why? Is it not there?"
"Its there all right. I just"
"I trust you enough to believe this tape contains the footage we agreed upon. Now, if youll excuse me, Ive got to get home before my family does. Good evening, gentlemen."
With a swirl of his cape, Chris Watkins headed out the door, clearly a happy man.
"So, Callahan, weve got five million klingots to deposit," Balent chuckled.
"We sure do, Mister Balent. We sure do."
They walked into the managers office, and Balent stared, mouth agape at the massive pile of golden Klingon currency bars in the floor of his office. "What a dipshit. Hes paid me in ten klingot bars. That mother fucker. Shit. Theres half a million golden bars here. It must weigh tons!"
"Were rich, Mister Balent!"
Balent backhanded the troll-like Human. "Idiot. No bank on Chrysalis will handle this transaction. Well have to take them off-planet and exchange them somewhere else! Thatll cut into our profits!"
There was a knock at the door behind them. Stephano stood there, meekly looking apologetic. "Beg your pardon, Mister Balent, but the police are here. They want to see you about a" Stephano looked at the pile of gold. "Holy shit! Thats a ton of money!"
Two interested police officers, a man and a woman, stepped forward and into the office. The man spoke. "Mister Balent? Im Inspector Sebastian Francisco of the Vice Squad. This is my partner, Detective Miranda Gonzales. Were here to investigate a complaint filed by a Rigelian Kaylar who claims he was wrongfully ejected from your establishment. But Im afraid Im going to have to ask you what youre doing with all those gold bars."
The woman stepped to the gold bars and picked one up. Then she picked up another and examined both of them closely.
"I just sold the rights to a holovid to a rather eccentric chap. He insisted he pay me in Klingon currency, no doubt because he was aware of the difficulty it was going to create in exchanging it into Federation credits, and no doubt because the scrawny little bastard wanted to stick it to me."
"Do you have a receipt for this...transaction?"
"Certainly, right here." Balent produced a disk, and the woman inserted it into a padd.
"Mister Balent, this disk is corrupted. Do you have a hard copy?"
"Well, no, I just completed the transaction. I was coming in here to print one out."
Gonzales nodded disbelievingly. "No hard copy. And can you answer me one more question? Why do all of these klingots have the same serial number?"
Chris Watkins, erotic holovid director, laughed heartily in his limousine as he sped toward his home.
Balent had no idea of exactly how valuable that holovid tape was. He reviewed the tape, speeding through Ariel Cords blowjob of Balent, speeding through the strip and masturbation show, and paused the image on the fight scene. Advancing one frame-byte at a time, he stopped the image as the Kaylars knife plunged into Cords exposed stomach. He advanced the vid slowly as the big Rigelians knife was withdrawn and blood gushed out everywhere. Slowly, the wound healed itself up. He then sped through the rest of the departure from the bar, and watched the ménage à trois with a touch of almost jaded interest.
He glanced at his wrist chronometer and laughed at the thought of what Balent and Callahan must be enduring right now. Having the big Kaylar call the police and file a complaint had cost all of five hundred credits. Generating the counterfeit Klingon currency had cost another thirty thousand credits in gold, but that had been what he considered a fair price for the vid. And he had intended to be fair to Balent and Callahan, even though he doubted that the two of them would agree with that right now.
As the limo pulled up to his estate, his daughter ran out from the mansion and greeted him. "Oh, Daddy, youre home. Im so upset!"
"Its all right, Ariel," said Aaron Cord, pulling up his cape around him as he got out of his private car. "Ive taken care of everything. I promise." He handed her the holovid tape. "Ask me no questions, and Ill tell you no lies."
Well, it wasnt Ariel Cords favorite, but its what Hikaru Sulu liked having for breakfast, and shed decided she would accommodate him this morning. It had been a difficult evening. The play was terrible. Who wouldve thought that a traveling Vulcan theater troupe would ever have attempted a play as full of emotion as Romeo and Juliet. By the end, many of the audience members were actually laughing at the stoic delivery of some of the most passionate dialogue ever written. She chuckled at the recollection.
"Is there a news channel?" Sulu asked, flipping through the channels of the holovid projector with a remote control.
"Channel Alpha One Three," Cord answered.
Sulu flipped to the channel. "Thanks."
"And thats it for the Federation news segment," a woman concluded. "Turning to local news, heres Doug Jenkins."
"Good morning, Anna. On the police blotter, last night The Pink Club owner and manager Tony Balent and Romy Callahan, an employee of Aaron Cord, were detained for questioning by the police. During a routine inspection brought on by a complaint by a patron, vice officers discovered a large amount of counterfeit Klingon currency. Balent and Callahan were unable to produce any evidence of their claims as to how they came by the counterfeit klingots nor the quantity of gold required to make half a million ten klingot bars."
The scene on the holovision shifted from the face of the reporter to an image of Balent and Callahan being shoved into a squad hovercar. "The police report that the two have not actually attempted to break any laws as far as they can tell. Klingon currency is not presently protected under Federation counterfeiting laws. The two have been released on their own recognizance."
The scene shifted to the pile of golden klingots. "Klingon officials have demanded the destruction of the counterfeit currency and the extradition of both Balent and Callahan. The demand for extradition has been denied, but police officials have reduced the klingots into their constituent gold and have created unmarked gold bars. The bars were then deposited at a Federation reserve bank, and the sum of thirty thousand credits is being held in an escrow account, pending the conclusion of their investigation."
A closeup of Callahans face accompanied a further report. "When contacted about his employee, Aaron Cord refused an interview, but said that Callahans employment has been terminated for violating the morals clause of his contract."
Sulu hit the pause button and turned to Ariel. "Morals clause?"
She simply shrugged. "Daddy makes everyone sign one. Gives him some leverage when something like this happens."
"Quite right," came Aaron Cords voice as he entered the kitchen. "Associating in such a sordid nightclub as that."
"But, uh, you make pornographic holovids," argued Sulu.
"Nothing wrong with that. Theyre marital aids. But we dont need to have our employees found in that sort of place, now do we?" Aaron responded glibly.
"I guess not." Sulu wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Im going for my morning run, Ariel. Ill be back in an hour." He pressed his lips against hers, and then headed out the back door of the kitchen.
"Hes quite a fellow," Aaron said approvingly.
"What if they talk, Daddy?"
"That would be an admission of extortion, wouldnt it? And Im afraid that that nice young Chris Watkins will never be seen again. Ill have to come up with a new protégé."
"What will happen to them?"
"Nothing, if they keep their mouths shut. Itll be a mystery, of course. And theyll know theyve been screwed in return for having tried to screw you. But theyll get to keep the thirty thousand credits."
"And if another copy of the tape shows up?"
"It wont. According to the information encoded on the tape, it was the original, and no copies were made from it. What are you going to do with it?"
She chuckled. "I think thats one Ariel Cord pornovid thats just not worth keeping. I tossed it into the disintegration unit last night. Thank you, Daddy."
Aaron nodded, and leaned over and kissed his daughters forehead. "Youre welcome." He stepped over to the countertop and pressed a button. The estates chef stepped into the kitchen. "Yes, sir?"
"Adrian, Id like pancakes for breakfast," Cord requested.
"Make that two!" said Helen Noel as she entered the kitchen.
"Yes, sir. Yes, maam. The usual for you, sir?"
"Blueberry for me," requested Noel.
Noel clicked the pause button, and the news continued. "In other local news, the U.S.S. Excelsior, pride of Starfleet, has arrived in orbit above Chrysalis today. Her commander, Captain Hikaru Sulu, is no stranger to many of our viewers as he served in the bridge crew aboard the highly regarded U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701, during the command of the late Captain James T. Kirk. Also aboard is Doctor Ariel Cord, the chief medical officer. Many of you know her as the daughter of Aaron Cord, Chrysalis entertainment mogul. Cord is probably best-known for having appeared in over two hundred-sixty pornographic holovids. Were hoping to have an opportunity to discuss her rather...diverse career with her during the Excelsiors stay above our world. This is Doug Jenkins, Sybaritic News Network."
Following the news report, a voice muttered, "Fat chance, asshole."
Her father chuckled. "Now thats like the Ariel Cord I know."
The doctor turned to the psychologist. "Last session today?"
Noel nodded. "Ive saved this one for last." She held up a holovid tape. "This is a new technique I developed while working with Lenore Karidian at the Tantalus Penal Colony. For her, I had developed a holographic program that would enable her to talk with her father. The holotechnology was pretty crude at the time, but in her demented state, she was able to work out a lot of issues. Once she accepted having killed her father and all those witnesses, she began the long process of recovery."
"What has that got to do with Sulu?"
"Ive been working on holographic images of Janet Rachelson."
The holovid theater in the Cord Mansion was not overly large. Sulu had been ushered there by Doctors Noel and Cord together, neither of them telling him what he could expect for this, his final session. Once he was seated, they had darkened the room, and now, the projector hummed to life.
"Hello, Hikaru," said Janet Rachelsons voice.
Sulus heart almost leapt out of his chest. "Janet!" he said, startled. Then he realized exactly what she was. "Janet," he repeated, whispered this time.
Sulu stood up and came face to face with the translucent projection of his dead lover. "Hello, Janet."
The image smiled. "Talk to me, Karu."
"I miss you, Janet. I miss you so damn much." He didnt give a damn that it was a hologram; he saw this as an opportunity, of a sort. "I loved you so damn much..." He shook his head sadly. "I was so proud of you, just so proud." He lowered his head for a second, then looked back up at the image which was still beaming at him. "You went and got yourself killed. You got a posthumous commendation, you know. And they made me give your eulogy."
A tear welled up in his eye and flowed down his cheek. "I never finished it, Im sorry to say. I just couldnt say goodbye then. But Im saying goodbye now. Ive got a new love in my life. Youd like her a lot. Shes a lot like you; shes a lot like Casey. Its time I got over you, though. Its time I get on with my new life with Ariel. Ill never forget you, but Ive got to live my own life now instead of spending so much time mourning your death." He stepped forward and reached out. His hand passed through the hologram. "Goodbye."
He directed his voice at the holoprojector computer. "Computer, end program."
The image faded, and the lights came up.
Helen Noel opened the door and cautiously stepped inside the theater. The captain was standing there, a single tear on his cheek. "Are you all right, Hikaru?" she asked.
He reached for her and hugged her. "I am," he nodded. "For the first time in years, I am."
She closed her eyes and crushed back her own tears.
"Thank you," he said simply. He let go of her, and gathered his wits before heading out the door into Ariel Cords waiting arms.
And a ghost was finally laid to rest.
His communicator beeped, and he opened it. "Excelsior to Captain Sulu. Excelsior to Captain Sulu."
"Sulu here," he responded while packing his bag.
"Were in orbit now, Captain, awaiting your orders, sir," reported Lieutenant Commander Boris Lojur.
"The warp sled is at the main spaceport. Beam down a pilot and have her taken aboard. Doctors Cord and Noel and I will beam aboard within the hour."
"Very well, sir. Commander Rand says shes got your orders from Starfleet Command waiting for you on your desk in your ready room."
Sulu chuckled. "Always the efficient one, isnt she?"
He heard a touch of amusement in Lojurs voice. "Were really looking forward to your return, Captain."
Sulu almost laughed aloud. "Message received and understood. Sulu out."
He closed his traveling case and stepped into the hallway, dressed in his uniform. Ariel Cord opened the door to her room, and Doctor Noel opened hers.
"So, no boat ride today?" Noel sounded disappointed.
"Ive got orders waiting for me on my desk," Sulu reported.
"Oh, I see," the psychologist. "Well, Im certifying that you are fit for duty, Captain. As is Doctor Cord. Ill expect to see both of you from time to time, though, just to check on how youre both dealing with things."
"Agreed, Doctor," Cord responded pleasantly.
The three of them took their luggage to the end of the hallway where Aaron Cord was waiting for them. He smiled broadly at his daughter and her friends. "Ive got a starflight to catch myself. Im not much of one for goodbyes, but any time youre in the stellar neighborhood, feel free to drop by." He extended a hand to Sulu.
The Excelsiors captain accepted it and shook it firmly. "Thank you for your hospitality, sir."
Helen Noel extended hers as well. "Yes, thank you for being such a gracious host."
Sulu watched as Ariels father hugged her tightly. "I love you, Dizzy."
"I love you, Daddy."
"Now, I take my leave of you." Drawing his cape around himself, he headed out the front door into a waiting limousine, the doors closing behind him.
"Well, its time we get back to work." The captain took out his communicator. "Sulu to Excelsior. Three to beam up, these coordinates. Energize when ready."
"One more thing, Captain," the psychologist began, "just what is this little family secret of yours?"
Cord laughed. "You really want to know? The truth is is that Im like a weird mutant, and Im going to live forever."
Noel guffawed loudly. "Very funny. Very fuckin funny."
Sulu smiled as they dematerialized.
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