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Randall Landers

 

April 17th 2295

The bridge was darkened. Not powerless—far from it. Monitors and touchpads were all lit, and their glow shone on the faces of the officers manning their stations. One overhead spot light shone down from above onto the captain’s chair, a beacon for guidance, a lighthouse for leadership. Around the bridge, faint voices could be heard as the bridge crew communicated amongst themselves and with their faculties. Eyes kept darting to the starfield on the mainviewer.

With a grim countenance, Captain Pavel Andreievich Chekov snapped, "Give me that tactical report now, Commander."

"Sir, it’s confirmed; we’ve got a Federation starship broadcasting a distress signal." Chekov noted that Saavik caught herself and plainly repressed her half-Romulan temper. "Bearing 312 mark 78. That starship is just outside the Neutral Zone."

The captain thumbed his comlink. "Is this ship ready for vwarp, Commander Sorenson?"

The exasperation of his chief engineer couldn’t quite be heard, but he knew it was there. "I need three more minutes before we can attempt warp drive, Captain. If you hadn’t been pressing the engines in the first place—" There was a pause. "Sorry, sir. It’s just that you cannot break the laws of physics. We’ve replaced the dilithium crystal assembly. It’ll take two and a half minutes to amplify them."

"Just get me warp power as soon as possible, Chief..."

"Aye, sir."

Chekov turned to his executive officer. "Have you managed to raise them, Uhura?"

"Still attempting to do so, Captain. I’m mainly getting static. I’ve shifted to the hyperchannels trying to punch a message through."

The captain nodded in approval. "Security? Mister Ch’terr, report please."

"We’re at General-l-l Quarters Condition One, sir," the Skorr gestured to the two armed, combat gear-wearing security guards on the bridge. "All decks report secure."

"Lieutenant Commander Brooks, weapons status?"

Katarina Brooks was an attractive woman in her mid-fifties, and probably had as much combat experience as most anyone active in Starfleet. It was with confidence no doubt borne from that experience that she answered, "We’re ready to kick ass, sir."

The captain favored her with a smile. "I hope it won’t come to that, Commander," he admonished her slightly. "But I’m glad to know we’re ready for any eventuality."

Uhura turned from her console. "Captain, I’ve managed to break through. Audio only."

"Main speakers," Chekov ordered.

"...is the dreadnought Alliance to any Federation vessel. We—" *s-s-s-s-s* "—cked by Romulan warbirds within Federation territory. We need immediate assistance. Our shields are holding, but there is no avenue for escape. Can you read us, Starfleet? This is the—" *crackle*

"Damn," whispered Saavik from Tactical.

"I’ve lost it, sir." Uhura sounded apologetic to Chekov.

"Relay the message to Starfleet Command."

"Engineering to Bridge," came Katya Sorenson’s voice. "Ready when you are, Captain."

"Ensign Sulu, set course 312 mark 78. Mister Escri, Warp Factor Nine."

"Aye, sir," answered the young woman.

"Yes, Captain," came the annoying metallic voder-generated voice of Escri.

"Engage!"

"Captain!" called Lieutenant Roberta Vasquez from Science One.

It was one of those tones of voice that told Chekov he’d better get to her station on the double. "Yes, Science Officer?" he asked as he crossed the bridge to her station. Saavik left Tactical and Uhura left Communications to join them.

"Sir, we have a problem. According to my sensor survey of the area, the Neutral Zone marker buoys are no longer in their correct position."

"Have they been moved?

"Yes, sir. I’ve been receiving telemetry from the buoys. They’ve been through a lot lately."

"Explain," ordered Saavik.

"According to my analysis, the probes were swept aside by an usually strong ion storm."

"Why didn’t Federation astrometrics detect this?"

The tactical officer looked at her captain. "In fact, Captain, they did. That’s what the Alliance is doing out here. They were assigned to ascertain the status of the Neutral Zone marker buoys."

"What about the Federation outposts in this sector?" asked Uhura.

"Sector R-4 has few planets or planetoids. Eighteen stars in this sector are completely barren of satellites," answered Vasquez. "Only one, Beta Corvi, has a nominally inhabitable planet known as Galorndon Core, but it was deemed unsuitable for an outpost."

"Then where are the buoys that mark the border of the Neutral Zone in this sector?"

"They’re in Sector R-3 instead."

"And the Alliance is now technically in violation of the—" started Saavik.

"Uhura, send to Starfleet Command: Due to severe ion storm, Neutral Zone marker buoys are out of position. Dreadnought Alliance has inadvertently crossed into the Neutral Zone where it is under attack by Romulan warbirds."

"We’re approaching the Neutral Zone, Captain," Demora Sulu reported. "The new zone, I guess I should say."

"Take us out of warp. Hold our position here," ordered Chekov.

"We’re not going in to rescue them?" asked Brooks.

Nearly every eye on the bridge was focused on him, and Chekov knew it. In his heart of hearts, he wanted to go in with phasers blazing and photon torpedoes launching, and it would result in interstellar war, a war the Federation could ill afford. No, discretion would have to be the better part of valor today.

"Nyet," Chekov said softly. "Uhura, tell Starfleet I am holding position, awaiting orders."

"Captain, we’re nearly three hundred lightyears from Federation territory, on the far side of the Romulan Neutral Zone. It’ll be nearly three days before our transmission gets through."

"As a former navigator, I know where we’re at, Commander. Boost it as much as you can, but we’re going to play this one by the book."

Chekov smirked as Saavik raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Comment, Commander?"

"No, sir," she replied.

Uhura turned. "Message sent, Captain."

"Thank you, Number One. Call Ambassador Spock to the bridge."

*****

The ship was dark and cold, Spock decided. At least by Vulcan standards, he mentally amended. Even by the standards of thirty years ago, the dark muted colors of the Enterprise-B were a striking contrast. And while the ship’s temperature was only three degrees cooler, it made all the difference to a Vulcan, especially one like he who was advancing in years. Such inconveniences would never have disturbed him those three decades ago, but nowadays, he found them a constant distraction.

Today, he could ill afford any such distraction.

A Federation starship was presently under attack on the wrong side of the Romulan Neutral Zone. Its very presence in the supposedly demilitarized zone constituted an act of war. As he entered the turbolift, answering Chekov’s summons, he wondered if the matter could be resolved peacefully. Romulans were most illogical: warlike, aggressive and often disingenuous. Negotiating with them would be a challenge.

The doors to the lift opened, and Spock strolled out onto the bridge, dressed in the dark ambassadorial robes. It was darkened under red alert, the main source of light being the flashing "Condition: Red Alert" lights underneath the railings and along the walls. His eyes came to rest on Pavel Chekov, who was somewhat lit by an overhead spotlight weakly shining down.

The Vulcan almost smiled. The young, brash, egotistical man he had trained and mentored all those years ago had developed into a capable starship commander, adequate even by Vulcan standards. It was pleasing to Spock to note this, and it was even more pleasing to see that Saavik was beginning to mature into the type of officer she’d always had the potential of becoming.

"Ah, Meester Spock," Chekov greeted him, as if completely surprised by his presence. "Thank you for joining us. I presume you’ve been monitoring the situation."

"Indeed," Spock admitted. Privately, he had been glued to the bridge monitor as well as the subspace channels. "It appears that one of our starships has found itself in a most precarious situation." He glanced at the bridge as the long range tactical scans showed the three Romulan warbirds turning again for another attack run on the floundering Alliance.

Chekov, though, actually smiled slightly at his remark. "A typically understated observation," the captain noted. "Have you any suggestions?"

"It will be three days before Starfleet Command receives their distress signal. Logic suggests that prudence be your primary consideration, prudence in maintaining the peace."

"At the cost of the lives of the crew of the Alliance?" Chekov shook his head. "I’m not sure I can accept that, Meester Ambassador. Could peace be maintained, in your opinion, if we attempted a rescue mission?"

Spock raised an eyebrow in surprise. He would have expected the same question from James T. Kirk. "I think not, Captain," the Vulcan responded. "Any rescue attempt on our part would require yet another violation of the Neutral Zone Treaty and would serve to further antagonize the Romulans." Spock glanced over at Saavik. "And what is your opinion, Commander?"

The chief tactical officer clenched and reclenched her fists in obvious frustration. "Any rescue attempt by this ship will only serve to escalate hostilities."

Chekov sighed as if he’d known that all along.

Spock regarded the captain with compassion, perhaps more than he himself would ever admit to. "I do not envy you this responsibility, Captain Chekov. Your actions will determine the status of relations between the Romulan Star Empire and the Federation for the next century. I do not envy you this situation."

Spock and Chekov looked back at the mainviewer. The Vulcan noted that the Alliance was still avoiding the warbirds as much as possible, but it was clear from the long range sensors that two of her three warp engines had been either jettisoned or destroyed. She was running hard toward a star system known as Beta Corvi half a lightyear beyond the ‘new’ boundary of the Neutral Zone. One of its planets, Galorndon Core, was barely class M, but would be suitable for an emergency evacuation of the Alliance crew.

Chekov turned back to Spock with a grim expression. "Funny, I don’t envy them their situation either."

"Agreed," Spock concurred.

Chekov stepped toward him, gesturing toward the communications bay where Uhura was frantically working. "Ambassador, I’d like you to work with Uhura. Make contact with the Romulans. Get them to stop their attack, if you can."

"I shall do my utmost," the Vulcan agreed.

"I hope that will be enough," the captain said ruefully.

Something in his tone of voice told Spock that the captain didn’t think that would be enough.

*

Demora Sulu was sitting at the helm, watching the tactical information on the screen, watching her controls, watching her commanding officer, watching Ambassador Spock work with Uhura, watching Willis O’Brien hanging on every word spoken on the bridge.

"Mind your helm, Ensign," Chekov’s voice startled her. His reprimand was subtle, but there.

She was having a hard time concentrating on her duties. "Aye, Captain," she replied. She tried not to watch as Willis O’Brien adjusted one of his remote holocams so that it now focused on the efforts at the communications bay. Commander Uhura, the executive officer of the Enterprise-B, was working with Ambassador Spock to raise the Romulans.

"Captain, the Alliance is now making for Galorndon Core!" reported Lieutenant Vasquez from Science One.

"Are you sure?" asked Chekov. Demora was surprised by the amount of sheer hope contained in the question, and she glanced at the helm sensors to see if she could confirm it.

"Confirmed, Captain," came Saavik’s voice from Tactical. "Alliance is now leaving the Neutral Zone, bearing into Federation space."

"She’s badly damaged, sir, leaking plasma out of her only remaining nacelle," reported Vasquez.

"Mister Escri," the captain hurriedly barked, "plot a course to Galorndon Core. Sulu, get us there on the double."

"Already plotted and laid in. Transferring to helm."

"Standing by for Warp Factor Eight, Captain," reported Sulu, awaiting for his word.

"Go," ordered Chekov as he sat back down in the center seat. "Estimated time of arrival?"

"Three minutes, Captain," Sulu responded, not taking her eyes off her instrumentation. This sort of warp speed entry into a star system was highly risky.

"Sir, the Romulans are following the Alliance into Federation territory!" Vasquez sounded stunned to Sulu.

"Battlestations. Red Alert. General Quarters One. Bring all weapons and defensive systems on-line."

Sulu glanced across the bridge as Mrs. Brooks’ deft hands danced across the weapons panel. Ch’terr, the Skorr security chief, stretched his talons across his security station. Both turned to Chekov and nodded. Sulu returned her attention to her board. "Arrival at Galorndon Core in ten seconds, sir. Nine...eight...seven..."

Chekov thumbed the intraship address comlink. "Make me proud, people. Make me proud."

"...three...two...one... Coming out of warp, sir." Sulu glanced at her board. "Taking evasive maneuvers, Captain!"

Under Sulu’s expert helm control, the Enterprise-B rolled and yawed starboard to avoid a plasma torpedo launched from a warbird no doubt anticipating their entry into orbit.

"Keep at it, Ensign, but see if you can put us between the Alliance and the Romulans."

"Aye, sir," the helmsman replied.

"Commander Brooks, fire at will. I don’t want a war, but they’ve crossed the line. Uhura, see if you can raise—"

Uhura interrupted, "Captain, I have the Alliance. Commander Jaeger is on line. Captain Williams is dead."

"Damn," Sulu said softly. Her father had served as Daniel Michael Williams’s first officer for years before getting a command of his own. Her hands were literally flying across the helm controls as would a concert pianist’s across his keyboard.

Jaeger’s voice filled the bridge, dripping with sarcasm. "Nice timing, Pavel. Now get us out of here!"

Chekov shook his head. "Nyet, Gretchen. We’ve got our hands full. Get your people down to Galorndon Core."

"We’re not leaving Alliance for the Romulans to tow back to Remus!"

"I’m not asking you to do that, Commander. You know better than that."

There was a brief pause. "All right. We’ll do what you say. Jaeger out."

Before the communications were cut, Sulu heard the order of "Abandon ship!" clearly being shouted.

The ship slammed hard.

"Demora!" Chekov snapped. "Evasive means not letting their weapons hit us!"

"Yes, sir, sorry, sir." She forced herself to focus on her task at hand, trying to put the crew of the Alliance out of her mind as they beamed down to that hellhole below.

*

Chekov was again second guessing his decision to put Demora Sulu at the helm. She just seemed so easily distracted by so many things. His ship shuddered, and he made his way to the weapons station. "Report!"

"They’re evasive maneuvers are pretty good, Captain. I can only get glancing blows with the phasers, and I’m only getting the occasion torpedo on target."

"Set for proximity fuses. Dump them at them like the old depth charges."

"Captain, I surmise the Romulans are having problems," reported Saavik. "Their graf units are damaged, and I presume their cloaking devices are inoperable."

"Or they don’t think they’ll need them," Chekov concluded. The ship shuddered again. "Science Officer, has the crew of the Alliance finished beaming down yet?"

"They’ll need a few more seconds, sir. They’ve picked an odd location on the planet. It’s a rocky plateau nearing the edge of our sensor range. The planet’s rotation will take them out of range completely in another minute. I don’t understand..."

Chekov smiled as Spock turned with a start from the communications bay.

"Anything, Ambassador?"

"Sub-Commander Chulak is most uncooperative," the Vulcan replied. "I suspect he may soon regret that."

"You don’t say? Oh, vwell. Helm, set course 145 mark 12. Warp Factor Two. Engage."

"Sir? We’re running—?"

"Now, Ensign."

Demora’s expression was one of disbelief. "You can’t just leave them there!"

Lieutenant Escri leaned over and danced his hands across the console. "We’re underway, Captain," the Illyran announced. "We’re leaving orbit. Approaching Warp One. Warp Two." Escri leaned back to the navigation board.

"Put the Alliance on screen, Ensign. Can you do that at least?"

Sulu nodded, obviously severely shaken. "Aye, s-sir."

On the screen, the Romulan warbirds were closing in on the Alliance. A tractor beam lanced out from the lead warbird onto the hull. There was a sudden flash on the screen, and the Alliance’s primary hull exploded in antimatter-matter fury. The engine core suddenly ruptured, and the shockwave ripped through the three Romulan warbirds, initiating three more blasts of fury.

"Science officer?"

"Alliance and her attackers have been destroyed, Captain. Radiation limits are off the scale," reported Vasquez.

"Ensign Sulu, call your relief to the bridge, and turn this ship about one-hundred eighty degrees. Take us back to Galorndon Core." Sulu’s lips were quivering, her eyes wet, but Chekov could feel nothing for her right now...later, maybe, but she had made a grave error, and there would be consequences. "Uhura, try to raise Commander Jaeger."

Chekov studiously ignored the glare coming from Willis O’Brien. He knew too well the anger smoldering there.

"I’ve got her on a subspace beacon, Captain. Transferring to your comlink."

"Pavel?"

"Da, Gretchen. How are things on Galorndon Core?"

"Cold, wet, and soon to be pretty darn hot. We’re in the penumbra of the explosions, but it’s only twelve minutes before we come out into the radiation front."

"We’ll be there in two. Have your crew standby to beam up."

"Aye, sir. Jaeger out."

Out of the starboard turbolift, Chief Petty Officer Joanie Ecklund stepped out onto the bridge. "Reporting as ordered, Captain."

"Chief, relieve Ensign Sulu of her station."

Demora’s tears wrenched at Chekov’s heart. She glanced at O’Brien, her eyes brimming with tears. She turned to Chekov. "Captain."

"You are dismissed, Ensign. Confine yourself to your quarters until further notice."

"Sir—"

"Ch’terr," Chekov said softly as he strolled up the steps to Tactical. While reviewing the data from the tactical scanners, he watched out of the corner of his eye as the Skorr security chief quickly crossed the bridge and was about to place his claw on Sulu’s shoulder. Suddenly, O’Brien was there, a challenge in his eye. "Willis," Chekov said, a touch of warning in his voice.

The reporter backed down, and Ch’terr escorted Sulu from the bridge. But the glare he gave Chekov saddened the captain of the Enterprise to no end. "Saavik, coordinate with the transporter rooms. I want the survivors beamed up as soon as possible."

"Aye, sir."

"I’ll be in my office. Commander Uhura, you have the conn."

April 18th 2295

U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-B
Captain’s Log, Stardate 9529.6

The last remaining dreadnought of the Federation Starfleet, the U.S.S. Alliance, has been destroyed. Fortunately, the surviving members of her crew have been rescued from Galorndon Core. We are en route to Sector 23 to transfer them to Starbase 173.

Meanwhile, I have an unpleasant duty to perform.

 

In Briefing Room Three, Willis O’Brien finished setting up the holovid cams, positioning their antigrav units so they wouldn’t stray from the views he wanted. He made his way to a seat in the back of the room, next to Ambassador Spock.

Pavel Chekov sat at the main table. Saavik sat to his right. Uhura sat to his left. At the end of the table, Yeoman Denise Sheridan sat, monitoring the computer terminal. All four were in their dress uniforms, decidedly grim expressions glued to their faces, thought O’Brien. Seated at a table before them was Demora Sulu, Ch’terr on a perch next to her. O’Brien understood the Skorr had been assigned the dubious task of representing Sulu during the hearing.

Using a brass mallet, the captain rang the bell six times. Commander Uhura spoke, "These proceedings are called to order. Ensign Demora Sulu, you are charged with disobeying a direct order from your captain during a crisis situation. How do you plead?"

O’Brien’s heart was racing. He looked on with an angst-filled expression as the young woman with whom he’d fallen in love slowly stood. She held her shoulders back, her spine ramrod straight. "Captain, Commanders, I plead guilty to the charge."

Lieutenant Commander Saavik nodded. "Ensign, your failure to comply almost certainly would have resulted in the destruction of the Enterprise as well as the Alliance’s crew on Galorndon Core. Surely you must have something to say in your own defense."

Vulcans, O’Brien thought sullenly. Must they always state the obvious with the subtlety of a Vegan titanosaur in heat?

"I understand, sir," Sulu responded, "but, I offer no explanation, no excuse, no defense. I was wrong. I failed to do my duty." She swallowed hard, and a tear began to run down her face. "I failed my shipmates. I failed my fellow officers. I failed my captain. And I failed my friends. I can only say that I am truly sorry, and I will accept any judgment of this tribunal as fair and just." She sat down at the table, Ch’terr placing a claw gently on her sleeve.

Chekov turned to Saavik, and exchanged a few soft spoken words that his holocams couldn’t even pick up. Then the captain turned to his executive officer. Uhura’s face was grim, but she was passionate about her comments even though the cam microphones couldn’t pick up her comments either. Finally, Chekov looked up at the young officer before him. "The defendant will stand."

The helmsman stood before the three officers. Ch’terr stood at her side.

The captain spoke, the pain in his voice clear to O’Brien. "It is the judgment of this tribunal that you will stripped of your commission and be reduced in rank to Petty Officer. If you consider this judgment too severe, you are at liberty to resign your commission, and you will be discharged upon our arrival at Starbase 173."

Sulu’s voice quavered slightly, and for a moment, O’Brien thought she was going to cry, but to her credit and his pleasure, her voice grew stronger as she spoke. "Captain, I accept the judgment of this court and all that it entails. I...I wish to remain aboard the Enterprise, sir, if you’ll have me."

O’Brien thought he saw a flicker of approval on the captain’s face. "It will be difficult for you, Mister Sulu. You no longer have the rank and privileges you once enjoyed. You will be assigned to a barrack which you will share with five other crewmembers. You will no longer have a duty station on the bridge. You may even be considered a pariah by your shipmates."

"I accept the consequences of my actions, Captain."

O’Brien’s face filled with pride.

Chekov studied her face. "Very well, Crewman. Report to Commander Uhura for reassignment of your living quarters and personal effects in thirty minutes." He addressed the other officers. "If there are no further comments?" There were none. "This hearing is concluded. Commander Uhura, Saavik, report to my office in five minutes. Dismissed."

And with that, Willis O’Brien watched his lover’s career take a major step backward.

*****

The captain’s office at the rear of the bridge module was meant to be a convenient place for the captain and his senior officers to retreat to in peace so they could discuss pressing matters openly and honestly. Chekov rarely found the conversations there to be anything else.

"I still think we were too harsh on her," Uhura said sharply, glancing at the chief tactical officer.

Chekov looked at his executive officer from behind his desk. Penda is very angry, he thought.

"And I believe we were quite generous with her," argued Saavik. "Her actions nearly cost us all our lives."

And so is Saavik. Chekov buried his face into his open palms. He’d reached his limit on this subject. "Will you two please be quiet?"

"I’m sorry, Cap—"

He looked up sharply at Saavik.

"—Pavel, I’m sorry," the half-Vulcan amended her words.

He chuckled. "How am I going to explain this to Hikaru?" He looked at Uhura for a suggestion.

"Now don’t look at me! I’m not going to do it for you, Pavel," she stated emphatically. "So what do we do with her?" Uhura asked, returning the subject to Demora Sulu. "I mean, she’s a helmsman for heaven’s sake. And now she’s not even in line to serve as a relief officer."

"I do not vwant her on my bridge any time soon," the captain made perfectly clear.

"Perhaps she can serve as a shuttle pilot. She is well qualified," Saavik offered.

"Overqualified," Uhura corrected.

"Not qualified enough," differed Chekov.

"How can you say that?" The chief communications/executive officer seemed flabbergasted.

"Vwill she follow orders any better as a shuttle pilot?" Chekov asked, frustrated by Uhura. "Penda, she disobeyed a direct order during a crisis and almost got us all killed. Frankly, I vwas hoping she vwould resign."

"How can you say that? We’ve all had moments of hesitation where we question an order given," Uhura argued.

"I have not," responded Saavik.

Uhura gave an incredulous bark. "Look, sugar, I’ve seen your record. You’ve made a career of questioning orders."

"I have never questioned orders during battle. Afterwards, before, certainly. But never during," Saavik stated confidently.

The executive officer shook her head in disbelief. "I saw you doing it constantly during the Genesis Crisis! You questioned everything Captain Kirk chose to do."

"I did not question his orders during battle, Com—" She paused, catching herself. "Penda, I know you care deeply for Demora. I know the captain does as well. However, we cannot allow the affection you share for her to cloud your judgment in this matter."

"I vwould argue that vwe did not. She has been demoted to a petty officer. She’s lost her commission. She has been assigned to Crew Barrack Thirteen. She has had her bridge rotation taken from her, even though she’s a qualified helm officer," differed the captain. "I think I vwill assign her to the shuttle bay as a pilot and a hangar deck operations technician." He turned to regard his two senior-most officers. "Do you have any recommendations for the bridge position of chief helm officer?"

Uhura nodded. "Actually, I do. We’ve got the second and third shift helm officers to choose from: Samet Bage and Anya Katske. Both of them are ensigns, and both of them have done well for the past five months."

Saavik tilted her head slightly. "Indeed. I have found their performance adequate."

"Any preference?"

Neither indicated one. Chekov sighed. "All right, we’ll go with Bagge as the chief helm officer. He’s got two days’ more experience at the helm. But don’t move him on the schedule. He stays with second shift, but he now serves a rotation as the shift duty officer." Another difficult decision made. "We’ll need another officer for bridge duty. I’m going to say let’s promote from within. Do we have any excellent shuttle pilots?"

"I’ve always found that Chief Shuttle Pilot Gkang Grenoka to be—"

Chekov raised a hand. "I know, ‘adequate,’" he said, rolling his eyes in amusement. "All right. Since we’re sending Demora down to the shuttle bay, we’ll bring him up."

"He may not want the assignment," Uhura cautioned. "He really likes flying those shuttles."

"I suspect then he’ll like flying a deep space exploration cruiser even more," the captain said with a lopsided grin. "Give him Demora’s quarters. I suspect he’ll like them, too."

"A logical assumption, Pavel," remarked Saavik.

"Well, if there’s anything else, it’ll wait until tomorrow. I’m going to check in on the bridge and head for the hot tub," Chekov announced. "Saavik, we still have a chess match later this evening."

"Yes, sir. At twenty-one hundred."

"See you in the forward recreation deck then."

*****

"Your move, Captain."

The two players were in a corner of the forward recreation deck, playing tridimensional chess. They were quite alone; no on-lookers were present, and the rec deck manager had shut down for the shift.

"Da, Saavik. I know."

"Would it be best if I informed you that I will checkmate you with my next move?"

Chekov smiled. "It vwas always at this point that Kyptin Kirk vwould make a surprise move and checkmate Meester Spock." He moved his queen to Level Two, Queen’s Bishop Three.

She frowned. "Indeed it was. A bold move, Captain. One I would not have expected from you." She moved her queen, capturing Chekov’s and placing his king in... "Checkmate," she added unnecessarily.

"Oh, vwell, so much for my brilliant Russian strategy."

Chekov was delighted and astounded when Saavik actually began to laugh, but she got out only half a chuckle before her Vulcan side clamped down on it.

"Ah, so you were playing a variant of ‘scorched earth’?" she added wryly.

Chekov laughed aloud one of his typically Russian bellylaughs. "That was nice to hear, Saavik."

Saavik frowned. "My apologies, Captain. That was...inappropriate."

The captain shook his head. "Nyet, Saavik. That was Human."

Her frown deepened. "Why do you Humans think that phrase should be considered a compliment?"

The captain grimaced in thought. Finally, he admitted, "Probably because we think so highly of ourselves?"

Saavik sighed. "Undoubtedly."

Chekov chuckled softly. "So when do we arrive at Starbase 173?"

"Ten hours, twenty-three minutes, eleven seconds."

The captain smiled. "Well, tomorrow’s going to be a busy day. After the Alliance crew is transferred off the Enterprise, I have orders to proceed deeper into the Beta Quadrant."

"For what purpose?"

"Nothing special. Deep space exploration, as usual."

"In other words, you have sealed ordered."

"You are getting to know me too vwell, Saavik."

"You are being oblique, Captain. Logic suggests that there must be a reason for this mission which you cannot divulge. I am your second officer, and as such would be made aware of any orders you have already received. Therefore, it stands to reason that you have sealed orders."

Chekov’s visage brightened with a pleasant smile. "Quite logical, and quite correct. I suspect it may have something to do with our distinguished passenger, but our general heading takes us toward NGC 2548."

"A star cluster about twelve hundred lightyears from our present position. Interesting."

"Da. I think so, too."

"Ambassador Spock would know the contents of those sealed orders."

"Not necessarily. Vwe shall see."

He glanced at his wrist chronometer. "Oops, I’ve got to meet Gretchen and then make a CommPic call to Sulu." He looked at the chessboard. "Thanks for the game, Saavik."

"Spacebaw, Pavel Andreievich. As always, it was quite a diversion."

Chekov looked at Saavik fondly. "Spakoyanoche," he said softly as he made his way out of the rec deck.

*****

Gretchen Jaeger had little to say to him, Chekov decided. She’d given her report of the accidental intrusion of the Alliance into Romulan territory, given her report of the subsequent battle, given her report of the casualties, all without the slightest inflection in her voice. Now finished, she stood before his desk at attention. Finally, she prompted him with a "Captain Chekov?"

He snapped to awareness. "I’m sorry, Gretchen. So many dead...."

"There would’ve been fewer if you’d had any guts and come to our defense."

"Now vwait just one minute, Commander. Vwe had our hands tied by the treaty, and you know it. Alliance vwas in the Neutral Zone. Our entry there vwould’ve resulted in escalating the situation into a vwar."

"I don’t need your excuses, Chekov. We needed your help. You—" She clamped her mouth closed. "I’ve delivered my report, Captain. May I be excused?"

"Gretchen?" She did not respond, and Chekov sighed deeply. "Dismissed," he said.

He hung his head low as she left. This is not going as well as I had hoped it would. And it’s not going to get any easier. He pressed a button on his deskcomm. "Uhura, raise the Excelsior. CommPic, hyperchannel. Get me Hikaru."

"Are you sure?"

The captain gave her one of his renowned, dopey, fatalistic "we who are about to die salute you" grin. "Et tu, Brute? Now who’s questioning my orders?"

"Oh, shut up, Pavel. Good luck."

Hikaru Sulu’s face filled in the comm screen on the wall behind him. "Hello, Pavel," the captain of the Excelsior said from his own office. "What’s up?"

"Hikaru, I have some bad news...."

Sulu’s eyes widened in panic. "Demora?! Is she—?"

"Nyet, Hikaru, nyet. She’s fine."

"Then what?"

"Yesterday, during a battle, Demora questioned an order and did not obey it. Had my navigator not responded in her stead, the Enterprise would’ve been destroyed."

"Oh, my God."

"I relieved her from duty, and this afternoon, she faced a tribunal. She was court-martialed, stripped of her rank, her commission, her bridge posting. The vote was unanimous."

Tears welled up in Sulu’s eyes, and Chekov’s own eyes were burning. "Has she resigned from Starfleet?"

"No. She has chosen to accept the verdict of the board. She has been reassigned as a shuttlecraft pilot, petty officer grade, and relocated to a crew barrack. She has not raised a protest or contested the proceedings in any way."

"Pavel, was there any other way that this could have gone?"

"I don’t think so, Hikaru."

"I keep thinking back to Dave Bailey, and how Captain Kirk handled him."

"Da, me, too. I just don’t know vwhat to say. Demora is a great kid, and I love her dearly. But yesterday, she nearly got us all killed."

"Then she’s earned this judgment, Pavel. You cannot blame yourself. There are consequences for actions and inactions, as you well know. Demora’s made her own bed, and now she’s got to sleep in it."

"I vwas...afraid you vwouldn’t understand..."

"Understand what, my friend? Command creates these chains that bind us, that force us to sit in judgment of those we call friends and family."

Chekov nodded slightly. "Thank you, Hikaru. Goodnight, my friend."

"Goodnight, Pavel. If it’s allowed, can you transfer this call to Demora’s comm unit?"

The Enterprise captain agreed. He pressed a button. "Uhura, can you connect Hikaru to Demora."

"Aye, sir."

There was a buzz at his door a few minutes later. "Good evening, Pavel," said Uhura. She sat down on his couch and undid her jacket flap clasp. "Rough day or two, eh?"

"Da. Vodka?" he asked as he pulled a bottle and two shot glasses from his mini-fridge behind his desk.

"Yes, thank you." She leaned forward and accepted the shot glass from him. She slammed her head back, gulping the ice cold liquor down her throat. "Any regrets?"

Chekov shook his head. "Nyet, Penda. I keep wondering if things should’ve been done differently, what Kyptin Kirk or Meester Spock would’ve done."

"Captain Kirk would’ve relieved her from duty, Pavel. I’m not sure about the rank review board, but she’d’ve lost her shift rotation. Captain Spock..." She chuckled. "He’d’ve been tougher on her than we were. He might even have seen to it that she no longer served in the fleet. What you did was give her a second chance..."

Pavel Chekov leaned back on his chair. "What’s the old Russian saying? Ah, yes, it’s never too late to start all over again..."

They drank more than usual that night, hoping that the young woman who occupied their thoughts would somehow get it right the second time around...


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