December 22nd 2294

Breakfast in the officer’s mess was always a hearty affair. The smell of bacon, sausage, scrambled and fried eggs, oatmeal, cheese grits, pancakes, waffles, French toast, buttered biscuits and jelly, cream of wheat, cinnamon rolls, cheese danish, coffee, tea, milk, hot chocolate and cold chocolate milk assaulted the nose, the palate and the stomach of everyone who dared enter.

Ensign Demora Sulu had chosen cinnamon rolls and milk for breakfast. She glanced around the room and noted the varied preferences of other offices. Ch’terr always had sausage and water for breakfast and never sat with or near anyone with eggs on their plate. Saavik had her usual hot buttered biscuits with blackberry jam. Neither she nor Kuntawala ever sat near anyone eating meat or eggs. Other than those three, everyone else usually had an assortment of breakfast entrees, even the captain, whose diet card had been mysteriously amended for breakfast.

Sulu had never liked company for breakfast, and the sheer number of senior officers present made her feel uneasy, despite the fact that she herself was considered one of the command crew. Willis O’Brien sauntered in late, she noticed. She found herself ‘noticing’ him more and more, despite the betrayal she felt.

O’Brien helped himself to three waffles, maple syrup and chocolate milk before joining her at the table. "Good morning, Demora."

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Good morning, Willis."

They ate in relative silence for some time, with Demora finally breaking the ice.

"So, what have you been up to since your interview with the captain?"

"Very little, actually. I’ve been doing a five minute daily report, mainly in the form of ‘a tour of the Enterprise-B’ variety."

"It’s a beautiful ship, isn’t it?"

"A little unusual, to say the least."

"Really?" Demora was curious.

"The whole layout is very much like that of the Excelsior except the hangar deck arrangement."

"Quite so. The Excelsior has only one hangar deck; the Enterprise has three. This ship is meant to operate as a deep space exploration cruiser, but also as a battleship, as a carrier, as a cargo ship. The extra hangar decks afford us more options. We can even carry nearly one hundred fighters, if so ordered."

"But they’re not on board already?"

Sulu shook her head, amused. "No, of course not. We’re not at war with anyone."

"Last week...or was it two weeks ago?...I obviously broached a...sensitive subject with you. You mentioned that you hoped your father was proud of you. Why wouldn’t he be?"

She sighed and crossed her arms. Her expression was one of controlled fury. "Last week, you were told something ‘off the record,’ and you betrayed that trust."

"Look, Demora, I’m sorry I brought it up again. This isn’t for an interview, and I certainly don’t have the holocams with me."

"Then why do you ask? Need something for the noon report?"

"I’d just like to know. If that’s an invasion of your privacy, then forget about it. I...I just want to get to know you better."

"Your solemn promise this isn’t for the news reports?"

O’Brien raised his right hand as if to make a vow. "I promise. So, why wouldn’t he be proud of you?"

"Okay, like I said, I failed to make it into the Academy the first time."

"That’s not all that unusual. You have to score in the top five percent, right?"

"Actually, that’s only for command training. You have to score in the top fifteen percent, and, well, I just didn’t do it. Dad says I’m impulsive, and I am. Anyway, after flunking the test, I went out and got really drunk."

"Sixteen and drinking?"

"Yeah, I know. But it was over six years ago, and to this day, I remember when my father, who made a special trip to come home on leave, walked in and found me in bed with these two twenty year-old guys that I barely knew, drunk off my ass, and, well, it was horrible."

"How did your father react?"

"That’s the worse part of it. He didn’t react badly at all. He came right in, introduced himself, and proceeded to cook us all some breakfast."

"I don’t understand...sounds, well, a little odd, but—"

"Yes, you don’t understand. My father is Japanese. He’s always prided himself on being honorable. And here I was, in bed, naked, screwing two guys I hardly knew, and Dad made me feel one centimeter tall. He never spoke about it again, but I never had any other guy over to that apartment again. Instead, I poured myself into my work and studies. I worked hard to get accepted by the Academy, and I worked hard to graduate in the top five percent of my class. I did well enough to get posted to the Enterprise, and here we are."

"And your father?"

"We spoke briefly at Captain Kirk’s memorial service, but not about us. About Captain Harriman, and what had happened."

"Did your father blame you in anyway for Captain Kirk’s death?"

"Why in Hell would he do that? He blamed Captain Harriman and Starfleet Command."

"Interesting." O’Brien pushed his luck further. "Are you free for dinner tonight?"

"Will this dinner have anything to do with INS?"

"No, Demora. Like I said, I just want to get to know you better."

"No holocams?"


She studied his earnest face for a few minutes. "Then I accept. Nineteen hundred okay?"

"Perfect. It’ll give me a chance to finish up that report on the Forward Observation Lounge before dinner."

She smiled pleasantly and excused herself. "Until this evening then..."


"Efficiency rating 94.3 percent," reported Saavik from the tactical station.

"Much better." Chekov was clearly pleased.

"Shall we try for 100 percent, Captain?" suggested Uhura.

Chekov looked around the bridge at the eager faces of his command crew. "Let’s do it."

He distanced himself from the routine of the drill, making mental observations. Uhura performed as his surrogate, freeing him to actually tour the bridge during the drill.

He noticed the teamwork that was taking hold and nodded approvingly. Escri and Sulu had become almost instinctively aware of each other’s routines and probable responses. Excellent, the captain thought. Excellent. Weapons Officer Brooks and Security Chief Ch’terr had become equally well-versed in anticipating each other.

The drill was soon over. Saavik, despite her self-imposed stoicism, looked pleased. "Exercise rating 100.2 percent."

A brief cheer went up around the bridge, and Chekov imagined that throughout the ship a similar cheer was echoing through the decks. "So noted," the captain acknowledged. "Well done, everyone. Commander Uhura, make note of our exercise rating in the ship’s log."

"Aye, sir," the executive officer responded.

The captain returned to the center seat and spoke toward the comlink. "Captain to crew. It’s been two days of drills, and now we’re ready for whatever confronts us." He chuckled. "I hope all of you reviewed the ‘Russian Rules of Engagement’ I posted yesterday. If you can’t remember anything else, remember this: the enemy’s phasers are always pointed at you. Even during a time of peace. Chekov out."


In the briefing room, Chekov, Uhura, Spock and Saavik were reviewing their course into the Alpha Tucanae system.

"As you can see, our Tholian engine trails are converging, albeit slowly, toward Alpha Tucanae Four."

"I would suggest that is our ultimate destination, Captain," the ambassador intoned emotionlessly.

"Agreed. However, I’m not predisposed to a direct approach," answered Chekov.

"Russian Rule of Engagement Four?" asked Uhura, rolling her eyes.

"Always, Number One. ‘The easy way is always mined.’"

"What approach do you think we should take, Mister Chekov?"

Saavik turned with a degree of suddenness to face her mentor. Her puzzlement was plainly visible.

"I’m ordering a flyby of the system, perhaps just below the plane of the Alpha Tucanae’s ecliptic. Once we’ve completed the reconnaissance flyby, we’ll have enough intelligence gathered to plan out our next course of action."

"A logical plan," commented Saavik, "and non-confrontational."

"I would also like to remind everyone that we are on a peace mission here," Spock stated, and Chekov could swear he could hear the controlled anger in the Vulcan’s voice.

"Agreed, Ambassador. I have every intention of giving peace a chance."

"It may require more than just one chance."

Chekov stared at him hard. "Mister Ambassador, I do not need to be reminded of your mission."

"You seem to have forgotten it takes precedence above all other considerations," Spock scolded.

"Excuse me, sir. I am in command here. Your mission does not come before the safety of this ship and my crew."

Spock’s glare seemed even more Vulcan than usual. "So noted, Mister Chekov."

There was a brief silence for a few seconds, then Spock wordlessly stood, turned and left the briefing room.

Chekov slowly stood. "I guess this briefing is almost concluded."

Saavik obviously didn’t know what to say. "I...I..I don’t—"

"Belay it, Commander," the captain said softly. "Tell me about the Alpha Tucanae system."

Saavik stood and walked to the wall monitor. She tapped a few keys and a schematic overview of the planetary system came into view. "There are only five planets. The first two are Class Y’s with temperatures exceeding 500 degrees Kelvin and with toxic atmospheres and thermionic radiation."

"Demon class, eh? Even the Tholians wouldn’t be interested in them."

"The third planet is Class H, and is completely uninhabitable as well."

"High levels of radiation. Probably not the most appealing of environments for our Tholian friends."

"The fourth planet is Class E."

Uhura’s eyes narrowed. "A hot arid planet with a stormy atmosphere poisonous to Human life."

Chekov nodded. "But not Tholians." He looked at the screen. "What about Alpha Tucanae Five?"

"Class C. A cold arid planet with a stormy atmosphere poisonous to Human life," the tactical officer answered.

"Not the sort of system the Federation would have any interest in," Uhura noted.

"For its planets, no, but militarily, it’s in a strategic location. From here, this Tholian colony could strike deep into Federation territory, including Earth, Tau Ceti, Vulcan, Andor, Tellar, and Xartheb," answered Chekov. "The Federation Council will not allow the Tholians to have this system."

"Even though it’s useless to our predominantly humanoid population?" asked Saavik.

"It’s too close to those key member worlds," Chekov answered firmly.

Uhura asked, "Does the ambassador know this?"

"He does, but he may not agree with it."

"You’re concerned that he’s willing to concede this system to the Tholians," concluded Saavik.

Chekov nodded. "Admiral Davis made it absolutely clear to me that Starfleet isn’t prepared to consider that as an option," the captain added and stood.

"Damn," Saavik swore softly as the captain left the briefing room..


"So, Saavik, here we the calm before the storm," remarked Uhura casually.

Some hours after their briefing, the executive officer was making her rounds on the bridge and stood overlooking the tactical station. Saavik had grown used to this sort of behavior from her two Human superior officers. Both Chekov and Uhura had made it a habit to take a circuitous route around the bridge at least once an hour. Saavik had often noticed that Humans, while not distrustful of subordinates, often sought to give themselves some measure of control or assurance from such cursory inspections. It was completely illogical...and completely Human.

"Storm?" Saavik responded. "My sensors detect no unusual spatial phenomena within scanning range."

Uhura smiled at her warmly. "I’m talking about our upcoming encounter with the Tholians."

"You expect it to be a violent one," the tactical officer deduced.

"Yes," the executive officer admitted, "I do. Don’t you?"

"It is a logical supposition," Saavik conceded. "The attack on the Bradley serves to illustrate their enmity to the Federation."

"And yet the ambassador seeks to establish a peace accord with them."

"I do not mean to be critical of Spock, but I believe he is in error in his assessment that peace with the Tholians is possible."

"How so?" Uhura’s face was filled with curiosity.

"Because it presupposes that there is a state of war between the Federation and the Tholians. I do not believe this to be the case."

"You just said that the attack on the Bradley ‘illustrates their enmity to the Federation.’"

"Imprecise, but essentially correct. However, their enmity is not a state of war."

"Then what is it?"

"I would use a Human analogy to explain it. The Tholians are like Terran fire ants in your backyard. They don’t know or care that it’s your backyard, but once they set up a colony—a nest if you will— they will defend it to the death. If you step into their nest, they will attack en masse."

Uhura was plainly impressed. "So you’re saying that the Tholians regard us as dumb animals stepping on their ant hills."

Saavik’s lips twitched with a suppressed smile. "Well, perhaps not ‘dumb’ animals, but it certainly is an appropriate analogy, don’t you think?"

Uhura nodded. "Damned awfully good, Saavik. Mind if I get you to share that with the captain?"

"Not at all," the tactical officer responded. "I suspect he has already drawn the same conclusion regarding their nature."

"Perhaps," Uhura conceded, "but I think your analogy needs sharing, and not with just the captain..."


"That’s pretty insightful, Commander," Chekov was pleased. "Now, how do we sell it to Ambassador Spock?"

"We don’t," Saavik stated outright. "Spock must draw his own conclusions in this matter. He will not accept an analogy as Terran-based as this one."

"Fire ants in the backyard..." mused Uhura. "How on Earth did you come up with that one?"

Chekov smiled at Uhura’s question. "How on Earth indeed?"

"Doctor McCoy had mentioned the ‘damnable’ fire ants from time to time during our stay on Vulcan. I took the opportunity to survey the subject matter."

The Enterprise’s captain nodded. "I remember. When we got to Sarek and Amanda’s estate, the doctor wanted to know if Vulcan had the equivalent of fire ants."

"Which it does not. There are surprisingly few insectoids native to Vulcan. In fact, the ecological niche of the Terran ant is filled by a Vulcan vermicular lifeform."

"Okay, so it’ll be a hard sell, but it’s one we’re going to have to pitch if this peace mission goes awry," Chekov concluded. "Saavik, you’ve got the assignment of preparing a brief comparison between the Tholians and the fire ants of Earth. I’d like it uploaded to the command crew and to the ambassador by this evening."

"Yes, sir," she responded.

"Anything else on our science officer?"

"No, sir. His performance is satisfactory."

"Even by Vulcan standards?"

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you, Commander. Dismissed." Chekov noted the concern on Uhura’s face as the doors slid close behind Saavik. "Something, Number One?"

"A little clarification would be nice, Captain. You asked me to keep an eye on Rathan."

Chekov nodded. "Our tactical officer has expressed some concerns that our science officer is not performing his duties to the best of his abilities."

"She thinks he’s being slothful or negligent?"

"Possibly. Or possibly something worse: subterfuge, deception and/or sabotage."

"Wow," Uhura uttered softly. "That’s surprising. He was one of Captain Kirk’s students at the Academy."

"His record is satisfactory, but he does have one blot on it."

"I saw that when reviewing the command crew dossiers. The Mugato was under attack, and according to its captain, Lieutenant Commander Lesotho, Rathan froze under battle conditions."

"Actually, I think the official report phrases it as ‘unable to offer analysis or alternatives under a battle situation’."

"Then I gather that our science officer is under surveillance?"

"Correct. I’ve got both Saavik and Ch’terr monitoring him closely." Chekov looked her square in the eye. "If we go into battle, you may have to assume his duty station."

"I’m game for it, Pavel, but I hope I don’t have to. His career will be over."

"Penda, during a battle, a brief second’s delay could cost all of us our lives. If you see any indication that there’s going to be a problem..."

"I’ll take the station immediately. No order needed." She eyed him with concern. "But why not relieve him of bridge duty now?"

"On what grounds?"

"I don’t know...on whatever it was that brought things to Saavik’s attention."

"Circumstantial evidence is insufficient."

"Captain’s prerogative?"

Chekov chuckled. "I might be able to get away with that after a few years in the center seat. But due process is due process. You’ve got to adhere to the letter of policies and procedures..."

"...except in battle situations...I see. Understood, Captain." She smiled. "And if Mister Rathan’s performance is not satisfactory..."

"If Mister Rathan’s performance is not satisfactory, then we’ll find someone whose performance is."


Doctor Christine Chapel ran the last Level 2 diagnostic on the last diagnostic bed in her ward. She turned around to her charge nurse. "Harvey, tell Doctor Weller we’re ready here. Ask him to certify his ward as ready."

Lieutenant Stewart smiled broadly. "Actually, Doctor Weller just sent over his certification five minutes ago."

Chapel rolled her eyes resignedly. "I don’t know how he manages to beat me on these diagnostics every time." She looked at the nurse for a second. "You know, don’t you, Harvey? You know how he’s beating me. I want to know how..." She stepped toward him.

"Now, now, Doctor. I can’t very well betray a trust, can I?"

She took another step, and he backed into the biobed behind him. She took another, and he was pinned. "Actually, you’re going to have to, Harvey."

The short black man chuckled. "When you hit the reset button on the bed, you wait a good minute or two ‘for it to warm up’ before you run the diagnostic."


"Doctor Chapel, the biobeds don’t need but maybe three or four seconds to boot their internal software."

Chapel stood there looking at her charge nurse. "But they always—"

"They used to take a good minute and a half to boot their programming and log on to the system. But that was nearly twenty years ago."

She didn’t know whether to feel embarrassed or feel angry or just to shake her nurse to death. "Why..." she began, then counted to ten silently. "Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me these things?"

Harvey Stewart shrugged. "Fear of retribution? Demotion? Pain and torture?"

"How about for the sheer enjoyment of watching me struggle through this job?"

"That, too," Stewart conceded. "Now, everything is stocked and ready for battle. I’ve got our staff ready for service."

"Who’s on call?"

"Doctors Vaughan and S’teed are on with Doctor Weller. Doctors T’Peel and McCallum are on call for the third ward which you certified yesterday. Doctors Burnham and Peterson are on call with you."

Chapel nodded in approval. "Good. Now, let’s just hope all this work was unnecessary."


Evening in the Forward Observation Deck was always a special time, but this time more so than usual. It was the 25th Kislev, and the deck manager had set up quite a buffet. Doughnuts, latkes, fried chicken fingers, onion rings, french fries, fried cheese sticks and a dozen ‘oily’ or fried dishes and dipping sauces had been set out for consumption. Against the forward observation window, a menorah stood ready for Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Hovering inconspicuously nearby were Willis O’Brien’s holocams.

A small contingent of officers and crew had gathered, the captain himself among them. Solemnly raising a candle, he lit the Shamash. "Praised are you, O Lord, Our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah lights." A brief pause, then Chekov continued, "Praised are You, O Lord, Our God, King of the Universe, who performed wondrous deeds for our fathers, in ancient days, at this season." Another pause, then: "Praised are You, O Lord, Our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us in life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season."

Chekov set the Shamash on the menorah.

The gathered officers recited in unison. "We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders, for the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers in those days at this season, through your holy priests. During all eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but only to look at them, in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvation."

The solemn words echoed in the forward lounge for a brief moment before the congregation joined in another recitation. "Mighty Rock of my Salvation, to praise You is a delight. Restore my House of Prayer, and there’ll be a thanksgiving offering. When You prepare the slaughter for the blaspheming foe, I’ll complete with a hymn the dedication of the altar." Some of those gathered actually sang the words of the Ma’oz Tzur instead of reciting them.

Afterwards, the captain dismissed them with a broad smile, and the assembly stepped toward the table provided. Chekov noted the presence of Willis O’Brien and waved him over.

"Good evening, Captain."

"Good evening, Mister O’Brien. What brings you here this evening?"

"I was planning on doing a report on the Forward Observation Deck, when I stumbled across the deck manager preparing for this ceremony of yours."

Chekov smiled. "This ‘ceremony of mine’ has been performed for nearly 2500 years. It’s a celebration of the miracle which God performed for the Maccabees."

O’Brien returned the smile, albeit cautiously. "I’ve never been terribly religious. And when I hear phrases like ‘prepare for the slaughter for the blaspheming foe,’ well, I get a bit uncomfortable."

"The recitals of our prayers and songs, like the kindling of the lights itself, serves to spread the word of the miracle, making it known throughout the Universe. They also serve as a reminder that the lights are sacred during Chanukah."

"So I take it that you’re a religious man, Captain?"

"I take it that you’re not?" Chekov walked over to the observation window and gazed at the stars beyond. "How can one look upon all this and not be religious?" The captain turned back to face the reporter. "Anything else?"

The look on his face clearly demonstrated that O’Brien knew he’d been dismissed. "Nothing else, sir. Have a good evening."

"You, too, Willis." Chekov looked past the reporter where someone had brought out a dreidel. Chuckling, he made his way over to the table, leaving a clearly perplexed O’Brien in his wake.


O’Brien made his way down Deck Six to Demora Sulu’s cabin. Even though a mere ensign aboard the Enterprise, as part of the command crew, she rated her own cabin. As he understood it, it was one of the compensations for having to be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

O’Brien pulled up before her door, and running his fingers through his bushy blond hair, he knocked.

The door slid aside, and he stepped through. "Demora?" he called, looking around at the decor.

She had a large bay window next to which a large canvas stood on an easel. Around the rooms, the walls were adorned with spacescapes. The original starship Enterprise, a repair team performing a spacewalk, the view of the Enterprise-B from the orbital space dock repair facility, other starships, all were beautifully done, and in a style akin to that of Robert T. McCall, renowned space artist from mid 20th century Earth. His work had appeared in many news magazines of the time, including Life magazine.

Also incongruously around the room were various pieces of her uniform where she had tossed them apparently when coming off duty.

Demora came out from the sonic shower, wearing a big, fluffy robe and slippers. "Oh, you’re early!" She was obviously startled.

He glanced at his chronometer. "Uh, no, I’m actually about fifteen minutes late."

She glanced around at the disarray. "Oh, shit." She ducked back into the lavatory, and came out a few minutes later wearing a zipped up jumpsuit and sandals. She rushed around the room, stowing her uniform tunic and pants in the clothing recycler, hanging her jacket in the closet and stowing her boots beneath her bed. "Sorry about the mess."

"It’s not quite what I expected, I have to admit," O’Brien said neutrally. And it wasn’t. He figured that Demora Sulu would have been a neatnik, almost an anal-retentive in how her room was kept, and she had shown herself to be the complete opposite of that. "So, what’s for dinner?"

"I thought I’d leave that up to you, Willis," she answered, running a brush through her long hair.

"How about steak in the forward observation deck?"

"Actually, I was thinking we should dine in. The forward deck’s going to be busy tonight. Some of the crew are celebrating Chanukah this evening. It might get pretty crowded in there. How about a picnic instead?"

"In the arboretum? That would be nice."

She stepped to the food processor unit and selected barbecued chicken, macaroni and cheese and a pitcher of sweet tea. Reaching in the storage bin under her bed, she brought out a picnic basket, forks, plates and glasses. "Perfect."

Catching him by the elbow, she led the reporter out the door, walking arm-in-arm with him.

"What about a dessert?" he asked.

She leaned over and, on tiptoes, favored him with a kiss on the cheek. "We’ll see..."

December 23rd 2294

"Captain’s Log, Stardate 9497.8. The Enterprise is approximately 2 A.U.’s from Alpha Tucanae Four. We’re conducting a flyby of the system in the hopes of gathering enough recon—"

The klaxon blared, and Chekov turned off the log entry.

Saavik turned from her board. "Captain, we’ve got thirteen Tholian patrol ships closing in on us, bearing zero mark zero!"

"Battlestations," ordered Chekov. He looked toward the science station where Rathan seemed to be oblivious to any threat.

"Aye, sir!" responded Ch’terr from Security. "All hands to battle-l-le stations."

"Weapons systems fully charged, armed, and awaiting your command," reported Lieutenant Commander Brooks.

"Communications, try to raise the Tholians," ordered the captain.

"I’m sorry, Captain. All hailing frequencies are being jammed," Michaels answered. Uhura was carefully making her way to Science One.

"Sir, sensors detect that the Tholians are powering up their plasma torpedoes," Rathan said calmly just as Uhura arrived.

"The Tholians are now in range of our weapons," reported Brooks.

If the enemy is in range, so are you. "Helm: Evasive maneuvers. Get us some distance from them, Sulu," ordered Chekov.

"Aye, sir. Evasive maneuvers. Z minus 60,000 kilometers," she warned.

Chekov felt his stomach lurch upward as the ship dropped down.

"Navigator: plot us an attack vector to strike the nearest Tholian and hard. Weapons: Lock on to the nearest Tholian. I want a full spread of torpedoes on its hull. Indiscriminate targeting. The more damage, the better."

"Stand back, Commander," came Rathan’s angry voice. Chekov turned to see the Vulcan was leveling a phaser at Uhura’s stomach. "No one move," he ordered.

Suddenly, Rathan was lanced by three phaser beams: one from Saavik who apparently had concealed a phaser I under her jacket, one from Ch’terr who had somehow concealed one in the feathers of his wing, and one from the bridge intruder defense system which Chekov had surreptitiously activated when the contact alarm had come from Saavik instead of Rathan.

"Ch’terr, get that man to Sickbay. Confine him there under guard. I want to know what exactly he is."

"Aye, sir!" the Skorr security chief chirped. Two security guards came out of the turbolift adjacent to Science One and dragged the unconscious vulcanoid from the bridge.

Uhura had already dropped into the Science One station seat. "Sensors detect an indeterminate number of Tholian patrol cruisers on attack vectors."

"Helm, how are those maneuvers coming along?" demanded Chekov as the ship took a direct hit.

"I’m doing the best I can, Captain. There are just too many of them."

"Full spread of torpedoes, Ms. Brooks. Drop them down like the proverbial hot potatoes. Proximity fuses."

"Aye, sir. Torpedoes away."

There was a brilliant flash on the screen. "Direct hit on Tholian patrol cruiser!" reported Escri.

"Incoming!" shouted Uhura from Science One.

The ship lurched sideways, and Chekov was thrown from the center seat into a bridge railing. "Damn! We’re hit!"

"Sensors show that our engine room has taken a direct hit!" Uhura shouted over the din.

Chekov nursed his bruised or broken ribs and called out, "Captain to Engineering!"

"Communications are cut off from the entire engine deck and engineering hull, Captain," Michaels called.

"Damn!" He looked at the bridge’s mainviewer. "Sulu, ahead Warp One. Get us out of this system."

"Unable to comply, Captain! Warp engines are off-line!"

"Uhura!" Chekov called and nodded to the turbolift.

The executive officer picked up his cue and headed for engineering.

"Weapons, status?"

"I’ve unloaded forty torps into them. There are over twenty destroyed or incapacitated Tholian patrol cruisers," she reported. "Unfortunately, there are more coming into range."

"Switch to phasers." Dumping a third of their torpedoes in this first battle might have been a mistake, but Chekov hoped it was one they could live with. "Target every vessel you can. Navigator, provide target locks for all Tholians coming within range. Helm, damn it, evasive means to evade. Sulu, you’re going—"

"I’m doing the best I can, Captain. We’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest. There are literally dozens of Tholians converging on us, and all of them are continuing to fire."

"Remember that incoming fire has the right of way," Chekov responded.

"Understood, sir." Sulu’s fingers danced across the board. "Hang on to your lunches, everyone. Z plus ten thousand kilometers at full impulse."

The Enterprise-B shot upward like a rocket and pivoted on its axis, firing phasers in all directions. Several Tholian patrol cruisers exploded in flares of actinic light.

"Communications, try to raise them! Tell them we’re here to negotiate!" Chekov shouted.

"All communications are still being jammed," Michaels reported.

"Sound a distress call. I want reinforcements, and I want them now!"

"Aye, Captain. Issuing a general distress signal."

Chekov felt a sharp stabbing pain in his right rib cage. "Helm, can we go to warp?" He heard the turbolift doors open and close.

"Negative, Captain."

"Navigator, take us away from here. Is there an Oort cloud to hide in? Or an asteroid belt we can use to our advantage?"

"Negative, Captain," responded Saavik. "I would have mentioned them during yesterday’s briefing."

"Mister Chekov, what is the meaning of this?" came Spock’s voice.

"Begging your pardon, Ambassador, we’re under attack."

"Open a hailing frequency. Tell them we wish to negotiate."

"Tried that already, Spock. Nobody’s taking our calls right now. Now, if you don’t mind, get off my bridge." Chekov stepped forward of the navigation and helm console. "Demora! Do you see it?" There was a break in the Tholian line of forces.

"Aye, sir!" Her fingers danced around the console, and the Enterprise lurched toward the opening.

"Maintain firing rates! Mister Ch’terr, have Security coordinate with Damage Control. Get down to engineering and find out what’s happening! Sulu, get us through that opening now!"


"Hull breech is imminent!" shouted Sar 7.

"Sir, we’ve got warp engines back on line!" shouted a technician from the dilithium assembly monitor.

"We’ve got radiation all over the place. Half of us are already dead!" reported a lieutenant from what was left of the starboard impulse bay. "Starboard impulse engines are completely destroyed! Venting plasma from starboard warp intermix chamber."

Uhura was horrified at the damage, at the huge gaping hole in the hull where the starboard impulse engines had been targeted, but more than anything else at the number of dead and dying men and women around her. "Sickbay! Sickbay!" she shouted toward the open comlink.

"Sickbay, Chapel here."

"Christine, we’ve got wounded and dead all over the place down here. Get some medics down here now!"

"I can’t comply, Uhura. The bulkheads to engineering have closed! You’re all trapped in there!"

"Containment field is failing!" reported an engineer.

"Warp drive or atmospheric?!" Sar frantically worked at his station, trying to strengthen both.

"Atmospheric! The breach is just too damn big!"

"We’re gonners, man, we’re gonners," another technician wailed. "Shit, we’re dead, man. If the forcefield does hold, we’ve taken enough radiation to cook our innards."

"Status, Number One?" asked Ch’terr, startling her.

She turned. "How in hell did you get down here?"

"The bulkheads were closing as I was coming through."

"You might have lived longer if you’d stayed on the other side. We’re losing atmosphere."

The ship shuddered as it took another hit. Uhura fell backward into the arms of the Skorr security chief. "Hang in there, Number One," he chirped.

Sar 7 was directing his staff toward rerouting the remaining warp drive and impulse controls. "Good thing we have two identical systems after all!" he called to her. "We’re going to be using the port impulse and warp operating systems to control our drive."

"Strike up another one for redundancy!" she called back.

Suddenly, there was a loud crackling. Skorr’s crest feathers raised up. He grabbed Uhura and dragged her into the engineering control room, sealing the door behind them.

Before them, the field failed, and the rush of air escaping the Enterprise-B blew dozens of technicians and engineers into the void of space. Sar 7 hung on to the deck railing, valiantly endeavoring to complete his task. "There!" he shouted. "Done!" Then he, too, was blown out the breach into space.

Uhura’s face was filled with horror. "Engineering to transporter rooms! We’ve got a hull breech. Several crewmen have been blown out of the ship!"

"Unable to lock on, Commander!" came the reply. "Radiation leakage from the ship’s engines has bollixed the transporters completely!"

"Damn!" she swore, stunned by the loss of so many brave men and women.

The ship shuddered again from a direct hit, and she sat down at the chief engineer’s station. "Rerouting impulse engine controls. Firing up central and port impulse engines!" The impulse engines pulsed to life.

Uhura looked at the cross connections Sar had completed in his final minutes. "Damn, he was good." She tapped a key. "Engine room to Bridge."

"Bridge, Chekov here."

"Captain, I’ve got the port and central impulse engines on line."

"Already engaged, Number One. Good job. What about the warp drive?"

"One of the technicians reported it was online before he...died. I’m not sure I can..." She paused and studied the readout. "Well, I’ll be." She tapped a few keys. "Warp drive is online. But, sir, don’t take us above Warp Two. This patch is a good one, but it won’t be permanent."

"Warp Two is good enough for me. Give Sar my compliments."

She paused briefly. "Sir, I’m afraid that won’t be possible."

There was a pause on the other end. "Understood. Captain out."

Uhura put her head down on the console.

There was a knock at the door, and Ch’terr turned to see a few engineers in environmental suits. The Skorr nodded.

"Time to put on the pressure suits and let the engineering staff do their jobs."

She nodded and sat up. Looking at the gaping hole, she made her way to the environmental closet where a pair of Human fitting uniforms were hung with care. She donned hers quickly, and noted that Ch’terr had brought out the rescue pod for himself. An enormous plastic bag, the pod would allow the others to maneuver him out the door and into an airlock for transfer into the ship.

There were no more hits she could detect, although Uhura swore she occasionally could make out torpedoes sailing by through the gaping maw in the hull.


"Have we left them behind?" the captain asked Kuntawala at Science Two.

"Aye, sir. They’re still lobbing plasma torpedoes at us, but they seem to be keeping to the range of Alpha Tucanae Four," the Indian responded.

Chekov turned at looked at the ship’s status panel at the rear of the bridge. The entire starboard impulse engine deck was gone. There was damage to the starboard warp drive, and other areas were damaged as well: The upper and lower engineering hull hangar decks were inoperable; the cooling grid on the interconnecting dorsal had quite a few leaks; the primary hull had sustained a direct hit on Deck Three. He had seen worse, but rarely.

"Navigator, what’s our position?"

"Approaching Alpha Tucanae Five."

"Plot a course, taking us into a standard orbit. Helm, make it so."

"Standard orbit, aye," Sulu said.

Chekov walked around the bridge, surveying the reports of each station. "Communications, have you managed to raise Starfleet Command?"

"Not yet, sir. Communications should be restored in another few minutes."

"Send to Starfleet Command, Code Factor One: U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Chekov commanding. Enterprise has been attacked by Tholian patrol cruisers in Alpha Tucanae system. Requesting back up vessels for immediate assistance. I see no other option than to drive the Tholians from this star system. Sign it and send it, Mister Michaels."

"Aye, sir."

"Commander Brooks, weapons status?"

"We’ve used fifty-three torpedoes, leaving us sixty-seven in reserve. The lower aft torpedo tubes took a direct hit, and are inoperable. I’ve got phaser banks recharging."

"Excellent. Commander Saavik, analysis of Tholian attack?"

"Clearly the Enterprise was attacked by what can only be described as a Tholian swarm. It seems clear that the Tholians have established a hive colony on Alpha Tucanae Four. From this system, the next swarm could attack Earth, Vulcan, Tellar, Andor, Serenidad or any other of the dozen member worlds within two hundred lightyears of this system."


There was the unmistakable clearing of a throat at the rear of the bridge, and Spock stepped forward. "I recommend peace, Mister Chekov."

Chekov’s eyes narrowed. "Mister Ambassador, meaning no disrespect, but I find it difficult to negotiate with a group of people who are out to destroy us." The captain faced Saavik. "Recommendation, Commander?"

She looked Spock squarely in the eye. "Barring a peaceful resolution to this situation, I recommend we exterminate the Tholian hive colony on Alpha Tucanae Four."


Transferring Ch’terr into the ship was more difficult than Uhura thought possible, but they had done it by using, of all things, a workbee to shuttle his life pod to an airlock on Deck 2. Once out of the giant bag, the Skorr unfurled his feathers to their greatest possible extension and stretched. Uhura had waited for him there, and when he came in, she gave him a hug.

"What is this all-l-l-l about, Number One?"

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For saving my life, Ch’terr."

"You woul-l-ld have done the same for me, Uhura."

She looked him squarely in the eye and nodded. "Yes, yes, I would have."


Michaels had finally succeeded in raising Starfleet Command. Chekov had spent the last five minutes updating Admiral Davis on the situation. "We need some support ships in here as soon as possible, Admiral."

"I’ll call in the Excelsior, the Repulse, the Pontiac, the Chosin and the El Cid from their current positions. You realize, of course, Captain, that none of them will probably arrive in time for your next battle."

"All too well, Admiral," Chekov nodded.

Saavik reported, "Captain, I’ve got multiple contacts bearing from the fourth planet. They will intercept our position in twenty-two minutes, fourteen seconds."

"Well, sir, as you just heard, we’ve got company coming for dinner. You’ll excuse me while I set the table for them?"

"God speed, Captain. Commander-Starfleet out."

"Sound battlestations, Mister Ch’terr. Ms. Brooks, energize phaser banks, arm photon torpedoes."

"Shall I keep any in reserve, sir?"

"Keep twenty torpedoes in reserve, but don’t be surprised if we use them anyway."

"Aye, sir."

"Mister Escri, plot me a really intricate course, lots of zSaxis maneuvering. Ms. Sulu, I’d like you to be able to engage and disengage that course at a second’s notice. I want you to execute the course with a lot of variable velocities: low warp, lower impulse, upper impulse, high warp. I don’t want them able to out-guess either one of you."


Uhura had taken on the duties at Science One. "Captain, we’ve got sixteen dinner guests. All of them patrol cruisers. E.T.A. is twenty minutes."

"Why haven’t they brought out one of their destroyers or a dreadnought?"

"It’s possible this hive is so new that they haven’t had the resources to construct them yet," his executive officer answered.

"Fortunate. We may come out of this alive after all," mused Saavik from her tactical station.

"The day is yet young, Commander," Chekov reminded her.

Michaels turned from the communications bay. "Sir, Ambassador Spock requests access to the bridge. He also requests permission to attempt to negotiate with the oncoming forces."

"By all means," Chekov said. "Permission granted."

The turbolift doors opened a few minutes later, and Ambassador Spock strode out onto the bridge. The Vulcan stepped to the captain’s center seat. "Thank you, Mister Chekov, for your belated consideration for my mission."

"Mister Spock, I am a firm believer that a peaceful solution is preferable to a violent one. Our earlier encounter with the Tholians was a result of their refusal to negotiate, and it resulted in the deaths of twenty-two officers and crew, including my chief engineer. I only hope that they may pay heed to your offer to negotiate this time; otherwise, I intend to make them pay dearly for those deaths in the most bloody of manners."

"May I ask that you stand down from battlestations while I try to open communications?" The Vulcan’s lips clenched slightly in a suppressed smile. "Russian Rules of Engagement Three: Don’t look conspicuous; it draws fire."

Chekov laughed at the unexpected remark. He glanced around the bridge. "All right, we’ll give peace another chance. Stand down from battlestations until contact minus three minutes. That gives you eleven minutes, Mister Spock."

The Vulcan tilted his head in acknowledgment and went to stand before the main viewscreen. "Open a hailing frequency to their vessels, Communications Officer."

Michaels glanced to Chekov for approval and, receiving it, opened a channel. "This is the starship Enterprise to incoming Tholian patrol vessels. Stand by for a communication from Ambassador Spock."

"Any response?" asked the captain after a minute.

"No, sir," the ensign answered, "but they are receiving our communications this time. No jamming. The hailing frequency is open; they’re just not responding."

Chekov turned to Spock. "I’d say you’ve got your foot in the door, Ambassador."

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow at the idiomatic expression. He spoke toward the viewer. "This is Ambassador Spock of the United Federation of Planets. My first assignment from the Federation Secretary of Interplanetary Relations is to seek out a mediated peace treaty with the Tholian Assembly. To that end, I would like to establish contact with you."

"Captain, we’re receiving a visual response."

Chekov nodded. "On screen."

The crystalline form of a Tholian supplanted the starfield on the mainviewer. "I am Commander Rosokene. You are trespassing into a territorial annex of the Tholian Assembly. You must leave this area immediately."

"Commander, this star system is regarded as Federation space," answered Spock.

"We claim this territory and are prepared to use additional force, if necessary, to protect our property."

"We are not interested in your display of force, and we will reciprocate with equal force if attacked. We are here to establish diplomatic relations with the Tholian Assembly."

"We have no interest in establishing diplomatic relations with deceitful animals. In the interest of interstellar amity, we give you one hour fifty-three minutes to depart from our star system."

"Negative, Commander. We will not willingly depart from this system without securing a diplomatic agreement."

"Diplomacy is for deceitful animals. This communication is ended."

And with that, all sixteen Tholian patrol cruisers opened fire on the Enterprise-B with their plasma torpedoes.

"Battlestations! Helm, engage!"

The Enterprise-B dropped into the upper atmosphere of Alpha Tucanae V with a surprising jolt as it carried out Escri’s pre-programmed flight plan. "Whoa!" uttered Chekov, clenching the arms of the center seat tightly.

Sulu kicked in the impulse drive to maximum, and the Enterprise shot upward, phasers firing wildly.

The Tholians were either busy laughing at the Enterprise’s plight at dropping into an atmosphere or were so completely confused by the maneuver that they didn’t respond until the Federation starship had already shot past them, pivoting and firing photon torpedoes and phasers as it passed. By the time even one Tholian vessel had begun to turn, the entire flotilla had been badly damaged.

Uhura reported from Science One. "Multiple hits on Tholian vessels. Estimate only two cruisers have ability to pursue." She focused a scanner. "Additional Tholians incoming, ahead two-zero mark three."

"Open fire, Weapons Officer!" Chekov called. "When in doubt, empty the magazine."


"Sir!" called Commander Janice Rand, Excelsior’s chief communications officer. "Incoming message from Starfleet Command. Code Factor One!"

Captain Hikaru Sulu turned with a start. "Out with it!"

"The Enterprise is under attack from Tholian patrol cruisers in Alpha Tucanae. Starfleet is ordering us as a support vessel. We’re to make for them at maximum warp." She barely whispered the rest. "Situation critical!"

"Acknowledge our orders," Sulu swung the center seat. "Lieutenant Parker, set course for Alpha Tucanae. Lieutenant Commander Lojur, best possible speed."

An "Aye, sir" and a "Yes, Captain" were all that he needed to hear. "Estimated time of arrival?" he asked his science officer.

"Fifty-two hours, six minutes, fifteen seconds," Ensign Tuvok answered.

It always amazed him to think that here they were, traveling at Warp Factor 12—seventeen hundred twenty-eight times the speed of light—and knowing that they still might not make it in time.

December 24th 2294

Captain’s Log, Stardate 9498.1
U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Chekov recording.

This ship is in shambles, but we have beaten the Tholians down. According to our estimates, we’ve destroyed over two hundred Tholian patrol cruisers. Our torpedoes are exhausted. Phaser banks are not fully charging. Our starboard engines—warp and impulse—are out of commission. Needless to say, the situation is critical.

We have returned to a standard orbit above Alpha Tucanae V. Presently, the Tholians have not massed another attack group, but we expect that to change by tomorrow.

Starfleet reports that reinforcements will be arriving within forty-eight hours, led by the Excelsior and the Chosin. It is my fervent hope that they will arrive in time.

Chekov—at the head of the briefing room table with Uhura at his right hand side—looked haggard. He’d had very little sleep; Tholian attacks over the past two days had come every three hours making sleep between battles virtually impossible. He forced his eyes open wider and looked at the played-out faces of his command crew, Ambassador Spock and Willis O’Brien.

"Our problem is to survive until the help arrives."

Brooks spoke first. "I’ve got the engineering teams tying in warp power to both our phasers and to our navigational deflectors. With your permission, we’re going to use the deflectors as weapons, too."

"Has this been done before?" the captain looked concerned.

The weapons officer shrugged. "Sorta. The Enterprise used its deflector array during its encounter with the Nexus. It worked then; it should work now."

Ch’terr flexed his talons. He was so tired that his feathers had become a pale yellow. "Might I suggest we also use the tractors beams in a similar fashion? The Skorr used tractor beams and deflector beams in tandem during our war with the Kzinti."

Chekov searched his memory. "Rattlers? A terrific suggestion, Lieutenant!" To Brooks: "See to it, Commander."

She enthusiastically nodded. "Might be a great idea," she said. "Certainly, as crystalline life forms, the Tholians might be more prone to damage from the vibrations."

"Sir, I’ve got another suggestion," offered Demora Sulu. "We could use the workbees and shuttlecraft as fighters."

The captain favored her with a smile. "That might be a good idea as well. Mister Ch’terr?"

"My peopl-l-le would be up for it," the security chief answered. "Although the Enterprise isn’t equipped with actual fighter craft, my entire staff has combat flight training and/or experience."

"You realize, of course, that a lot of them won’t be returning?" asked Uhura.

"Affirmative. I will-l-l ask for volunteers."

The captain nodded. "Mister Escri, you’ve done a remarkable job plotting some rather...unique evasive courses. I want you to plot at least two dozen more that we can implement from any point in the system. The more inventive, the better."

The voder amplified, "Yes, sir."

"Ms. Sulu, I need you to ride heard on our velocities. You’ve done a good job thus far of anticipating our pursuers, including a wonderful variable reverse velocity that stunned the hell out of the Tholians. However, the engines are not going to stand up to that sort of strain for long."

"Aye, sir. Understood."

"Saavik, tactical has been doing a damn fine job of tracking intruders. I’d also like you to work in some projected vectors for their weapons fire."

The tactical officer nodded. "I am already at work on such a program, Captain. The Tholian patrol cruisers are equipped with fixed mount plasma torpedo projectors. With such, the Tholians are incapable of firing to their flanks and have reduced targeting performance on anything outside of a fifteen degree firing arc."

"Good. Then I want firing arcs of approaching Tholian vessels displayed on the tactical monitors at all times."

"Aye, sir. I should also point out that our reinforcements also pose a risk to us as well as the Tholians?"

"Agreed, Saavik. ‘The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming friendly fire.’"

"Precisely." She cocked an eyebrow. "Another one of your Russian Rules of Engagement?"

Chekov nodded. "Number Twelve." He turned to Chapel. "Can you give me a casualty report, Doctor?"

"At last count, we’ve got one hundred twelve fatalities, mostly from the engineering section. There are seventy-eight serious injuries, mostly radiation and plasma burns. Two sudden decompression cases that I doubt will make it. Scores of minor injuries."

The captain’s expression paled. "That many dead..." Then his expression tightened. "They will pay for this."

"Revenge is not logical, Mister Chekov," Spock interjected.

"Neither is false hope, Ambassador Spock," Chekov answered resignedly. "We’ve tried playing it your way, and I will try yet again, however it seems obvious to me that the Tholians have no interest in negotiating with ‘deceitful animals.’"

"Perhaps it is because I am the one delivering it."

"You’re saying they find fault with the messenger but not the message."

"I am the very same person whom they believe tried to deceive them during our encounter with the area of spatial interphase."

Uhura’s mouth opened slightly in surprise. "You’re feeling guilty because of that incident nearly thirty years ago?"

"Negative, Commander," Spock intoned emotionlessly. "I have no feelings, guilt or otherwise. Logically, I am responsible for the resulting hostility."

"Begging your pardon, Mister Ambassador, I would say you’re full of shit."

Everyone turned with a start to Willis O’Brien.

The reporter shrugged. "I call ’em like I see ’em. Ambassador Spock holds himself responsible for nearly three decades of hostility between the Federation and the Tholians. I say that’s bullshit, sir."

"How dare you!" Saavik snapped. "Who the hell are you to talk to him that way?!"

"Belay that, Mister Saavik." Chekov seethed in anger as well. "Your boorishness is offensive, Mister O’Brien. Ambassador Spock is a well-respected individual with over forty years of space experience."

"That doesn’t make him right in this instance," O’Brien argued.

Stunned, Chekov noted that almost all his officers were nodding in agreement. Looking at their faces, he slowly counted to ten, and admitted, "You’re right, of course. It doesn’t make him right." He paused, considering his next words carefully. "I would suggest, however, a bit more decorum should be taken when criticizing anyone of Ambassador Spock’s esteem."

The officers clearly agreed with that and returned their eyes to O’Brien who conceded, "Yes... yes, it should." To Spock, the reporter said, "I’m sorry for my crude choice of such harsh language, Ambassador. Please accept my apologies. I did not mean to be so offensive."

The Vulcan regarded the young man with a cautionary look. "No offense taken. Vulcans are immune to emotionally charged accusations."

"Okay," said Chekov, trying to regain control of the briefing. "We’ve heard from engineering; we’ve heard from tactical, from weapons, from security..." He suddenly remembered. "So, Doctor Chapel, what about Mister Rathan?"

"He isn’t Vulcan," she answered. "He’s Romulan."

Spock objected, "That is not possible. Rathan is the son of T’lin and Srand, of the House of Studan, one of the lesser students of Surak. T’lin is a respected archival journalist. Srand is a chemical engineer of high regard. Rathan is their only child."

Chapel bobbed her head as if saying ‘Yes, I know that’ during Spock’s recitation of Rathan’s lineage. "However, I don’t think he’s even Rathan."


"I’ve found some indications that this young man is four years older than he should be. I’ve found several cellular sutures throughout his face: skin, muscles, tendons, bone. I’ve also found some traces of chelation."

"A surgically altered saboteur," Chekov concluded. "The slight difference between Romulans and Vulcans is the percentage of lead carried in their bloodstream. They’ve used chelation therapy to rid his body of it."

Chapel nodded. "Almost all of it. It’s still a little bit higher than a normal Vulcan’s, but since lead is harmless in Vulcans and Romulans, no one would have been concerned."

Sulu queried, "Then Rathan is?"

"Dead," Ch’terr answered. "No one who’s gone to such lengths to place a spy or saboteur aboard this ship is going to l-l-leave a l-l-living witness."

There was a brief moment of silence as the looks on everyone’s face told Chekov that they were contemplating yet another tragedy to befall this ship, this mission, this captain.

"Request permission to interrogate the prisoner," the Skorr security chief suggested, his talons flexing vigorously.

"Belay that, Mister Ch’terr," the captain sighed. "You’re not a Klingon, so please don’t act like one."

"Sorry, sir."

"Mister Kuntawala?" The young man from India looked like a lost little boy in the department store. Chekov smiled. "Can you give me any analysis of the planet the Tholians are using as a base?"

Kuntawala answered, "We know Alpha Tucanae Four is Class E—a hot, arid world with an sulfurous atmosphere poisonous to humanoid life. Our probes were shot down, but long-range scanners show that there are three continental land masses with an ocean of lead dividing them. Totally inhospitable to humanoid life."

"Sounds like Hell," commented a short, almost rotund, young man in a technician’s jumper.

"It does indeed, Mister Li," Chekov agreed. "So did Uhura’s report of what happened in Engineering a few hours ago."

Warp Drive Technician 1st Class Zhang Li nodded. He was now seated with the command crew, acting as the Enterprise’s chief engineer, a position he did not merit, did not deserve, and did not want. "It was horrible, Captain. If I hadn’t been in the Jefferies tube when the starboard bank blew, well, I don’t even want to think about it."

"How are repairs coming along?"

"I’ve got crews all over the warp drive right now," he nodded to Uhura. "The exec’s made it clear that that needs to be our first priority. Port and central impulse units are fully functional and rated at full speed. We’re going to be sluggish in our turns with the starboard impulse unit missing, but I had a team working all morning on juicing up the starboard thrusters." He turned to Sulu. "You may find she has a bit of kick during your maneuvers, Ensign."

"Back to the warp drive..." Chekov directed him.

"System’s functional. With the extreme damage the starboard intermix chamber took, we transferred the antimatter to the port tanks and took the starboard warp core off-line. It’s irreparable, but with our modular construction, the chamber can be replaced with only a day’s work at any orbital dock." He shrugged. "Same way with the deck. They’ll be able to integrate a new one in a matter of hours once we get back home."

"If we get back home..." muttered O’Brien.

Chekov ignored the remark, although he was tempted to cram his padd down the reporter’s throat.

"And one more thing, sir?"

The captain smiled and nodded. "Yes, Technician?"

The Oriental man looked as if he were struggling for the right words. "We’re going to need a tug home."

"I’ll make the request to Starfleet presently," Chekov answered. "Mister Michaels, so note in our next communications drop with Command."

"Aye, sir."

Chekov sighed deeply. "Ladies and gentlemen, I’m tired. And I know you are, too. Barring an attack on this vessel, you are hereby ordered to take the next twelve hours off duty. Get some sleep, relax and take it easy."

Saavik looked as if she were about to object, but a stern look from Chekov silenced any protestation.



The forward observation lounge was crowded this evening. Chekov and the Jewish congregation aboard the Enterprise were conducting the lighting of yet another candle on the menorah. Uhura and several dozen African-descended crewmembers were conducting a Kwanzaa ritual near the starboard wall. Nearly a dozen others were decorating a Christmas tree liberated from the arboretum along the port wall. Spirits were high, despite the war-borne horrors of the past few days.

Into this melting pot of Humanity walked Demora Sulu and Willis O’Brien, hand in hand. She squeezed his hand as they stepped to the Christmas tree. Letting go of his hand, Demora leaned over and picked out an ornament from the box and hung it with care on the highest branch she could reach on the tree. Smiling in approval at her handiwork, she retook his hand and wrapped her arm around his waist. "Merry Christmas, Willis."

O’Brien was clearly stunned by the communal spirit. "I don’t get it. You’ve got three religious practices crammed in here without any strife that I can see."

Sulu chuckled. "This is an ecumenical time in Starfleet, Willis. We celebrate our differences, and honor each others’ beliefs."

"But what about those who don’t believe?"

She shrugged. "You mean like Mister Spock?" She pointed across the room where the Vulcan was solemnly observing the proceedings with a beverage in his hand. "Everyone is welcome here, Willis." She chuckled. "Even reporters."

"Look, Demora, I’m sorry about the report I did on you," he apologized. "It was wrong, and I knew it. But I wanted that story so badly."

"So badly that you betrayed my trust?" she asked, batting her eyes.

He nodded. "Yes. I betrayed your trust... I’m sorry."

"I’m glad you feel that way, Willis," Sulu admitted. "Hey, let’s get some latkes!" she suggested, changing the subject altogether.

He glanced at her from head to toe. "I do not know where you put it all."

"Metabolism, silly," she answered, dragging him to table near where Chekov and several others were singing the words of Ma’oz Tzur.

Demora smiled when Chekov winked at her. She looked over the table and helped herself to doughnuts instead of latkes. When she offered one, O’Brien made it clear he didn’t want any of the dishes on the table with a small but vigorous shake of the head.

"Oh, look!" She pointed at Uhura. "The commander’s going to sing!" she whispered excitedly.

Uhura had sat down in the middle of the room, with Spock and his lyrette at one side, and Michaels and his guitar on the other. Several folks began sitting around on the floor near the trio, expecting a performance. Sulu and O’Brien managed to get a good seat before Uhura asked for requests.

"I Have a Little Dreidel!" called Chekov, his mouth full of latkes.

Uhura laughed and launched into song and verse, with Chekov and several others joining in in both song and laughter.

"I have a little dreidel,
I made it out of clay,
And when its dry and ready,
then dreidel I shall play

"O dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
I made it out of clay.
O dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
then dreidel I shall play

"It has a lovely body,
With legs so short and thin,
And when it is all tired,
It falls and then I win.

"O dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
With legs so short and thin,
O dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
It falls and then I win.

"My dreidel's always playful,
It loves to dance and spin,
A happy game of dreidel,
Come play now, let's begin.

"O dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
It loves to dance and spin,
O dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
Come play now, let's begin."

Demora watched Chekov clap gleefully like a delighted child and realized just how much of a child at heart he was. She shook her head bemusedly, and took O’Brien’s hand in her own and intertwined their fingers.

"Next?" Uhura called.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas!" called Katarina Brooks, and Uhura shook her head.

"Too long for me! You can lead us all in it, though!"

Brooks laughed and responded, "No way...No fucking way!" She suddenly realized she was in a public place. "Sir!" she added.

"Silent Night!" called Demora, and Uhura favored her with a huge smile.

"Good idea."

Uhura looked at Spock who began strumming his lyrette.

"Silent night, Holy night.
All is calm. All is bright.
’Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild.
Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
Sleep in Heavenly Peace."

On the second verse, everyone including Demora Sulu and—to her surprise—Willis O’Brien joined in. On the third verse, Michaels sang solo while performing on his guitar, and for the last verse, Uhura repeated the first verse, with a little more soul, and faces were aglow.

Demora felt Willis’ eyes on her, and she turned to meet his thirsting gaze. She leaned forward and let her lips dance across his. "Let’s go get that dessert I promised you the other day," she suggested softly.

Hand in hand, they left as applause rang out for Uhura’s performance.

December 25th 2294

Captain’s Log, Stardate 9498.4
U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Chekov recording.

Ambassador Spock has logged an official request that he be allowed passage to Alpha Tucanae IV via shuttlecraft in one last attempt to try to negotiate with the Tholians. Spock knows I’ve got no choice but to let him do it. Damn... And his choice of a pilot doesn’t sit well with me, either. But I’ve agreed to let him make this attempt for reasons other than those he suggests.

Ship’s condition is serious; however, phaser banks have been repaired, and both our impulse and warp engines are now operating a much improved efficiency, but that’s not saying much. Deflector shields and screens are operational, as are all vital systems. Life support is still under repairs resulting in rather cool temperatures throughout the ship.

"This is Willis O’Brien, reporting from the lower hangar deck of the starship Enterprise where Ambassador Spock is scheduled to depart for the planet claimed by the Tholians."

O’Brien stood in the hangar deck flight control room, overlooking the expansive landing deck. From his vantage point, he could see Chekov still trying to talk the ambassador out of the plan. Using his holoremote, he positioned a holovid cam floating about a meter away, perfect for a nice shot, and perfect for capturing their dialogue.

"Mister Spock, won’t you reconsider your plan? Wait at least until our reinforcements arrive?"

"I have no doubt that the Tholians will perceive a greater Starfleet presence in this star system as a greater threat."

"No doubt," the captain agreed.

Spock turned toward his pilot. "Are you ready, Ensign?"

Suddenly recognizing the pilot, O’Brien’s heart was beating wildly, as if to force its way out of his chest. "Demora!"

"Not really, Ambassador. This shuttlecraft is probably one of the best Starfleet has ever designed. But it won’t withstand a single hit from a Tholian plasma torpedo," Sulu answered.

"Then you will have to trust that I will be successful in parleying with the Tholians."

O’Brien was out the door, and sliding down the stair rails to the hangar deck in less than two seconds. "What the hell are you doing?!" he demanded as he struck the floor rather soundly. Getting up and rushing toward Chekov, Spock and Sulu, O’Brien was furious. "You cannot be serious!"

To O’Brien’ surprise, the captain seemed to be ignoring him completely, and he used this opportunity to stand up to the Vulcan ambassador. "You are forcing this young girl to risk her life in the pursuit of your conscience, and I won’t stand for it! The Tholians will never negotiate with you!"

Demora tapped him on the shoulder. "Uh, Willis, this ‘young girl’ volunteered for this assignment. The ambassador is going to go, and he needs a good pilot. Who knows? If you’re right and the Tholians won’t negotiate, then the ambassador is going to need the best pilot he can find to get him out of harm’s way."

"Well, I won’t stand for this!" O’Brien shouted. "I can’t allow—"

"You are out of line, Mister O’Brien," Chekov interjected, putting himself between the reporter and the Enterprise’s helmsman. "I’ve allowed you to voice your opinion. We’ve heard it. Hell, I even agree with it. But you will not interfere with the ambassador’s mission."

"Even if it costs him and Demora their lives?"

Chekov nodded. "Yes."

O’Brien stared hard at the Enterprise’s captain. He looked at the resolute Ambassador Spock and the annoyed Demora Sulu. "Is there anything I can do to stop you from trying this insane scheme?"

"The striving for peace cannot be ascribed as insane," answered Spock.

"You’re going into enemy territory, unarmed, to try to parley for peace."

"Yes, I am, just as Surak did long ago," the ambassador agreed.

"But Ambassador, Surak went into the camp of his enemy, unarmed, trying to parley for peace, and he was killed in cold blood," argued O’Brien.

Without another word, Spock boarded the shuttlecraft, Sulu following behind him.

"You’re going to let him do this?" O’Brien was nearly frantic.

"I have my orders, Mister O’Brien."

"It’s your duty to—"

"Don’t you dare lecture me about my duty!" Chekov snapped. "I am duty-bound to protect the lives of my crew, but I am also duty-bound to follow orders which may cost those lives." The captain’s frown grew. "Have you learned nothing in the three weeks you’ve been aboard the Enterprise?"

And Chekov whirled about, storming out of the shuttlebay.

O’Brien turned to look as the shuttle’s engines powered up.

"Clear shuttlebay for departure of Shuttlecraft Sally Ride."

Looking at the shuttlecraft one last time, he smiled frustratedly as he saw Demora waggling her fingers at him from within its cabin windows.


"Damn, it’s cold," Saavik muttered under her breath as she drew the landing party jacket around her for warmth.

In a power-saving move, Captain Chekov had ordered a reduction in the ship’s thermal units. The damage to the life-support system made conservation a priority. Unfortunately, Saavik had never cared for chilly climes, and though this might be, as the captain had put it, ‘warmer than a spring day in Leningrad,’ it was too damn cold for her.

She glanced away from her console toward the man in the center seat. Chekov was smiling at her, plainly comfortable in the coolness of the ship’s bridge. He obviously had heard her whispered complaint. "Remind me not to assign you to landing party duty on any class R worlds."

Saavik raised an eyebrow; class R worlds had average temperatures below the freezing point of water. "Indeed, I shall," she agreed.

"Any sign of our shuttlecraft?"

"Shuttlecraft Ride is still on course for Alpha Tucanae Four. It has encountered no resistance," she checked her tactical displays. "She’s well within the range of the weaponry of several patrol cruisers."

In the pit, where he had set up his news gear, O’Brien gripped a side railing tightly at the report. Saavik cocked an eyebrow. Odd that he should be so concerned about the outcome of this mission.

"Have they moved toward her?"

"Negative. They apparently regard the shuttlecraft as a minimal threat."

O’Brien’s grip relaxed a bit, she noted. Most peculiar.

"He’s in love with Ensign Sulu, Saavik-kam," came David Marcus’ voice from deep within her mind.

Now that was as disconcerting as always. I hadn’t noticed, she thought back. And that was disconcerting, too.

Chekov turned to the communications bay. Uhura had relieved Michaels. "Number One, is there any response to the message Ambassador Spock is broadcasting?"

"None, sir. They are receiving it, but they are not responding."

Saavik stood and walked to the science station. The second shift science officer, Ensign Michele Baerga, was one of the Enterprise’s many ‘rookies,’ this being her first assignment. Saavik leaned down and whispered, "On top of everything else, you’ll need to keep an eye out for a displacement wave."

"But our reinforcements won’t arrive until tomorrow," Baerga whispered back.

"It’s their reinforcements we need to keep an eye out for," Saavik answered.

"Quite right," Chekov said from the center seat. "Why else would they not be attacking right now when they’ve got the upper hand? They’re waiting for their reinforcements."

Saavik turned with a start. He must have remarkable hearing for a Human. "They must know ours are en route as well, Captain."

Chekov nodded. "If they don’t know, they’ve at least got to be suspicious. Let’s just hope that, at the very least, Spock buys us enough time to delay the Tholians from attacking before our reinforcements arrive."

O’Brien turned with a start. "This is why you’ve agreed to let them go?!" His voice was tinged with a mixture of incredulousness and anger. "This isn’t an attempt to achieve peace; it’s a God damned delay tactic!" The look of horror on his face was one that Saavik would always remember. "My God, you’ve sent Spock and Demora to their deaths! Your mentor and your goddaughter... How could you?!"

Chekov blinked placidly at the accusation. "Mister O’Brien, the ambassador and the ensign volunteered for their mission. The ambassador believes it will result in a peace accord. The ensign is the best qualified pilot for that shuttlecraft. If his mission fails, he will need her. As I told you in the shuttlebay, we all have our orders and our duties and our obligations."

O’Brien vented his rage. "That’s bullshit!"

"And that’s enough," Chekov answered calmly. "Get him off my bridge and put him in the brig until further notice," the captain ordered.

With those orders, Ch’terr ushered the indignant reporter into a turbolift.

"Well, that’s going to make for an interesting newscast," remarked Saavik casually.

Chekov spun toward his tactical officer. Saavik raised an eyebrow in self-defense, and her captain laughed. "Well, I guess it will."

Escri offered, "Perhaps we could see to it that the holotapes somehow come up missing."

Uhura shook her head. "No, Lieutenant. I think the public deserves a good look at us. We’re Human...well, some of us are, but we’re also plain folks. It’s just that our job is out here, among the stars."

The captain chuckled and was about to add some sort of witty remark of his own, when suddenly Saavik found herself no longer on the bridge of the Enterprise; instead, she was in the playground of her mind. She heard her captain’s voice echoing like distant thunder, "Saavik! Saavik what’s wrong?! Saavik!"


Demora Sulu sat in the pilot’s seat of the shuttlecraft as they approached what appeared to be a Tholian dreadnought. The triangular shapes of the six hulls contrasted with the hexagonal arrangement which made up this largest class of Tholian vessel. Demora couldn’t help but think, It looks like an ornate ring.

The crystalline voice of a Tholian came over the communications channel. "I am Fleet Commander Lotarisinrologarskene. You are trespassing into a territorial annex of the Tholian Assembly. You must leave this area immediately."

"Fleet Commander, we continue to assert this star system is regarded as Federation space," answered Spock.

"We claim this territory and are prepared to use additional force, if necessary, to protect our property."

"Again, we are not interested in your display of force. We are here to establish diplomatic relations with the Tholian Assembly. I have come in this virtually unarmed shuttle to parley for peace."

"In the interest of interstellar amity, we give you permission to beam aboard our dreadnought. We will issue the terms of your withdrawal from our star system."

"We will not willingly depart from this system without securing a diplomatic agreement."

"We will establish an agreement," Lotarisinrologarskene agreed.

"We will beam aboard in ten minutes."

"Agreed. This communication is ended."

Sulu slowly turned to face the ambassador. "He’s agreed to speak with you!"

"Negative, Ensign. He has agreed to talk to us, not with us. I suspect that the fleet commander intends to issue a demand for our withdrawal from Alpha Tucanae." Spock handed her a class 1 environmental spacesuit. "You will need this. The ambient air temperature of a Tholian vessel is 275º Centigrade."

"That’s hot enough to bake a potato!"

"And hot enough to roast a young ensign," Spock allowed her a faint smile.

"So do you think your negotiations will be successful?" she asked, stepping into the heavy-duty suit.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Of course." A brief pause, then: "And if they don’t, at the least we’ve bought the Enterprise more time."

Sulu zipped up the front of her suit, and asked, "Can I ask you a question, Ambassador?"

Spock sighed as he zipped the front of his suit. "I’m certain you can," he answered.

"Why haven’t you called the captain ‘captain’?"

The Vulcan cocked his head and raised both eyebrows.


"What’s wrong with her?!"

Doctor Christine Chapel ran the biobed for a second deep scan. "I can’t find anything wrong with her, Uhura," she admitted. "There’s no evidence of any damage to her neural systems, but her hypothalamic activity is almost off the scale. It’s as though she were in a deep mind meld with someone."

"Could the Tholians be responsible?" Uhura looked at Saavik’s sad countenance.

How the hell should I know? she wanted to scream, but instead, Chapel shook her head. "I...I suppose they could, but I really don’t see how... If they were using some sort of psionic weapon, the whole crew would have been incapacitated, now wouldn’t they? Or, at least, all the telepaths..."

The bosun’s call came over the loudspeakers. "Captain to Sickbay, how’s Saavik, Doctor?"

Chapel shook her head again. "I don’t know. I just don’t know."

And that was frustrating as hell to Christine Chapel.


The glade was no longer beautiful. The sun no longer shone. There were gray clouds overhead, and a soft, almost mist-like rain fell. The grass was no longer green; it had turned black, as though diseased. The lake no longer smelled clean and fresh; it smelled stagnant, polluted, and contaminated by sewage. The picnic table had been overturned and burned. The timber from the nearby forest had been felled and left to rot.

Saavik stood and faced the desolation, tears streaming down from her face. "Oh, David...I’m so sorry."

There was a brief twinkling, and David Marcus appeared before her. But he was not the David Marcus she remembered; he was the David Marcus that the Klingons had killed on the Genesis Planet. The one with the huge gaping hole in his abdomen. The one whom she had let die.

And now he stood before her, eyes filled with pain. "I’ve decided it’s time for me to go, Saavik. I’ve been in this playground in your mind for far too long. Let me go."

"I will not, David," Saavik argued. "You died before your time. I intend to correct that mistake."

"Then you will not be leaving this place, either, Saavik. I’m not going to let you leave me here alone. I’m going to keep you here. You’ve imprisoned me, Saavik. Now I’m going to imprison you."

"David," she began, but he was gone.

And she stood there in the misting rain...alone...


Chekov sat in the forward observation deck and gazed out past the menorah at the planet below. Icy clouds of green methane and pink kraylon gasses swirled around some sort of equatorial cyclone. It was quite beautiful and quite deadly.

Acting Chief Engineer Zhang Li entered the observation deck and headed straight for him.

Oh, joy... the captain thought. More bad news. He held his hand out for the padd Li held out to him. "Life support failure within twenty-four hours. Need topaline immediately to effect repairs to the oxygen-carbon dioxide exchangers," he read aloud.

"Sorry, sir," Li shrugged.

"Oh, it’s not your fault, Technician. I know that. It’s just that we could use some good news for a change."

"Good news is often hard to find, Captain; sometimes, you have to make your own."

Chekov turned with a smile to the young man. "True, Mister Li. Quite true." He stood up and tugged his jacket down on the sides. Invigorated, the captain strode from the observation deck, a gleam in his eye. "And it’s high time we make some good news."


Donned in matching class 1 environmental spacesuits, Ambassador Spock and Demora Sulu now stood before the fleet commander of the Tholian forces in the Alpha Tucanae star system, Lotarisinrologarskene. Despite the broiling heat of the Tholian dreadnought, Sulu was surprised and relieved to find herself quite comfortable least, as comfortable as one could be in a class 1 environmental spacesuit.

The Tholian ship was virtually a cathedral of hexagons and triangles, matching the Tholians themselves. It was dully lit with red and blue heat lamps, as though the temperature (extreme as it was by Human standards) was barely tolerable for the Tholians. She noted them as they moved from position to position. They had different body forms, obviously suited for different functions. Some were simply huge tetrahedrons that didn’t move; they were stationed at various instrument panels, and Demora assumed that they were officers. Others were hexahedrons which moved the sessile body forms from position to position by pushing them, but how they themselves moved was anyone’s guess. The fleet commander himself was a huge dodecahedron.

Lotarisinrologarskene had greeted them with the demand that the Federation withdraw from this star system within twenty-one hours. Spock had met the demand with one of his own: The Tholians must withdraw from this star system immediately. The ambassador and the fleet commander had been "debating" for at least ten minutes. In her mind, though, it was far from a debate; each side kept setting forth the same terms to which the other side would have no choice but reject.

The crystalline voice of the Tholian fleet commander came over the communications channel of her spacesuit. "We again assert that you are trespassing into a territorial annex of the Tholian Assembly. You must leave this area within twenty-one hours."

"Fleet Commander, the Federation will not cede this star system to the Tholian Assembly," answered Spock. "Its proximity to Earth, Vulcan, Tellar, Andor, Xartheb and Serenidad makes it impossible to do so."

"We have claimed this star system. These planets have no intrinsic value to animals such as yourselves."

"While it is true that the planetary system itself is of no value, its relative position to our member worlds makes it invaluable in terms of strategy."

"The Tholian Assembly has no plans of conquest. We have no interest in your worlds."

"The Federation must protect its borders. The security of our member worlds is of paramount importance. Do you deny that you have impeded shipping and commerce in this sector?"

"We will defend ourselves from intruders."

"Does that include starships that venture near your star system?"

Lotarisinrologarskene reasserted himself. "We will defend ourselves from intruders."

"The starship Bradley was over thirty-six lightyears from this star system. Your forces destroyed it."

"We will defend ourselves from intruders."

"At what point did the Bradley become an intruder into this system?"

"The Federation starship intercepted a convoy bound for this colony. At that point, it became an intruder."

"Your convoy was deep within Federation space. Interception of such a convoy would be logical."

"Irrelevant. The starship was destroyed, just as yours will be if it does not withdraw from our system." There was a brief pause before Lotarisinrologarskene announced, "These negotiations are pointless. You now have twenty hours fifty minutes to withdraw from this system...or we will destroy you."

Sulu shuddered. There was something final in the fleet commander’s voice. Something utterly final.


"Captain, the shuttlecraft is moving away from the Tholian dreadnought," reported Baerga from Science One.

"Number One," prompted Chekov, turning toward the communications bay.

"Enterprise to Sally Ride. Enterprise to Sally Ride," Uhura spoke softly into the open comlink on her station.

"This is Shuttlecraft Ride," came Sulu’s quavering voice.

"Status report, Ensign?" asked the captain, no longer able to hide his concern.

"The situation is unchanged, sir. Ambassador Spock is in deep meditation and has asked me not to disturb him, but the negotiations have failed. We have approximately twenty hours to leave this star system, or we will be destroyed."

"Well, that answers that," Chekov said almost pointlessly. "Proceed at best possible speed to the Enterprise, Ensign. And keep your eyes open for trouble. Last time one of our negotiations failed, they opened fire on us."

"Aye, sir. Ride out."

"Number One, the Tholians have reinforcements of their own en route."

"Which will arrive in twenty hours," Uhura concluded.

Chekov nodded. "And with the half-dozen or so ships that Starfleet is dispatching to this area, we’re talking about an escalation of this conflict...perhaps to the point of interstellar war."


"Hello, Willis."

O’Brien turned with a start from the padd on which he was furiously scribbling. He had been escorted to one of the brig cells. Now, at the door to the cell, Captain Chekov stood, sadness plainly painting his face.

Alarmed, the reporter leaped from his bunk. "Not Demora!"

Chekov shook his head and spoke reassuringly, "They’re on their way back, Willis. They’re completely safe. We’re tracking them, and they should be arriving within the hour."

"Oh, thank God," he was relieved. The captain regarded him with what O’Brien decided was amusement. "Well, how long until I get out of here?" he changed the subject.

"That’s entirely up to you."

"How, so?" The reporter’s curiosity was getting the better of him.

"Your release will be contingent upon two things: One is negotiable. One is not."

"Let’s hear the non-negotiable item first."

"You will apologize to me on the bridge of my ship, with your cameras in operation, and with my senior staff present. The disrespect you showed today was completely unacceptable and, frankly, childish. Your viewers deserve better."

O’Brien felt his face flush, and he swallowed. "Yes, sir, but I think it’s horrible the way you made your decision. You used the ambassador and Demora as a delay tactic. I think it’s utterly callous the way you carelessly disregard the value of life."

"‘Carelessly disregard the value of life,’" Chekov repeated. "Is that the way you think I feel, the way you think I view things?"

"Isn’t it?"

The captain shook his head. "No." Chekov reached to the side of the door and deactivated the security forcefield. "Walk with me, Willis." He chuckled. "And bring your audience. You’re going to get an unscheduled exclusive interview with the captain of the Enterprise on the eve before battle."

O’Brien was surprised, but he had his three holocams up and operational in less than fifteen seconds. "All right, Captain, we’re on."

Chekov smiled even brighter. "Tell you what—let’s go live."

"You’re kidding me?" asked O’Brien, stunned at the notion. Although slightly suspicious of the captain’s intentions, he was more than eager. "All right, patch me through."

Chekov addressed the open comlink in the ceiling. "Captain to Uhura. Number One, go ahead."

"CommPic is now up. You’re on, gentlemen," came Uhura’s voice.

Suddenly, the consummate professional, O’Brien addressed Holocam Alpha. "This is Willis O’Brien, reporting live from the starship Enterprise on the eve before another battle with the Tholians over this star system. I’m standing here in the brig, where I was put after questioning Captain Chekov’s decision to send a virtually defenseless shuttlecraft to the Tholian armada. On board the shuttlecraft Sally Ride were Ambassador Spock, himself a former Starfleet captain, and a relatively inexperienced ensign."

O’Brien swung around to face Chekov. "Is it true, Captain, that you sent the ambassador to negotiate for peace as a delay tactic?"

"No, Willis, that’s not true. Ambassador Spock himself informed me that he would be going in a shuttlecraft to negotiate with the Tholians, in the interest of interstellar peace and per his orders from the Federation."

"Yet you callously regard this mission as a ploy to buy more time for Starfleet reinforcements to arrive."

"I think it’s obvious that this delay created by our negotiations is beneficial to both the Tholians and the Enterprise. Tomorrow, we will be joined in battle, each side reinforced with additional spacecraft."

"Do you expect to win?" asked O’Brien.

Chekov’s eyes narrowed. "I never expect to lose, Willis. If you expect to lose, you will lose. We’ve single-handedly destroyed over three hundred Tholian patrol cruisers."

"At the cost of one hundred twelve lives." O’Brien prided himself on knowing how to twist a knife in someone’s back.

"Lives lost during the initial unprovoked attack on this ship by the Tholians."

"Getting back to the shuttlecraft and the use of diplomacy as a military strategy..."

Chekov batted his eyes innocently. "By all means. The Tholians themselves used the same tactic during our second battle with them, negotiating with us while positioning their ships to release a volley of plasma torpedoes against us. And they’re doing it now, buying themselves time until their own reinforcements arrive."

O’Brien was disgusted. "It’s immoral."

Chekov nodded. "So’s war, Mister O’Brien. So’s war." There was a brief pause, then: "Anything else this evening, Willis?"

"Why did you send a relatively inexperienced ensign with the ambassador. Shouldn’t someone with more experience have accompanied Ambassador Spock?"

Chekov shook his head. "First of all, she volunteered. Secondly, there aren’t many on board with more experience at a shuttlecraft’s helm than Ensign Sulu. Third, would you be objecting as much to the matter if someone else had been at the shuttle’s helm?"

"That’s preposterous, Captain. Demora and I—"

"—are involved," Chekov interjected. "And it’s clouded your judgment in this matter. If I’d sent another officer to serve as Ambassador Spock’s pilot, I suspect we wouldn’t be having this discussion and that you wouldn’t be in the brig."

Chagrined, O’Brien conceded, "Maybe so, Captain. Maybe so." He looked at Holocam Alpha. "I’d also like to take this opportunity to issue a formal apology to Captain Chekov for questioning him in a most unprofessional manner on the bridge of his ship. While I still vehemently disagree with his decision on the use of diplomacy as a battle tactic, the bridge of his ship is not the place for it." A brief pause. "This is Willis O’Brien, reporting from the U.S.S. Enterprise."

"And you’re clear, gentlemen," Uhura’s voice came over the loudspeakers.

"So, do we have an understanding?" Chekov asked.

O’Brien nodded. "The bridge is off-limits to that sort of behavior." Suddenly, it dawned on him. "What was the second thing you wanted, Captain?"

"I think you owe Demora an apology as well, Willis. Your behavior in the shuttlebay was...well, asinine."

"Agreed, Captain. Agreed."


Captain Chekov stood in the shuttlebay as the Sally Ride slipped in past the forcefield barriers to land gently on Pad 3. Ensign Sulu was plainly glad to get back, and she exited the cramped confines of the shuttle with an exaggerated stretch. Chekov watched as she recognized Willis O’Brien among the on-lookers and support staff and laughed as she ran out to hug him warmly. He was glad for her, glad for them, really, but it was the ambassador himself he needed to address.

Spock finally stepped from the shuttlecraft, his black Vulcan robes framing his slender form.

Chekov stepped to him quickly. "Ambassador, I’m sorry it didn’t go well, but I’m afraid there’s a more pressing matter."

The Vulcan turned and looked at him dispassionately. "There is no more pressing matter than peace."

Chekov withstood the rebuff. "Spock, it’s Saavik."

Spock’s face fell, just for a millisecond, but it fell, and Chekov knew that there was at least one more pressing matter in the Vulcan’s agenda.


"How long has she been like this?" Spock asked curtly.

"Over two hours, Mister Spock," Doctor Chapel answered. "I’ve done all I can for her. I’ve even tried dalphylene for neural shock and lexorin in case the cause is a mindmeld. Her hypothalamus will certainly overload from the stress if she doesn’t come out of this and soon."

Chekov leaned forward. "What’s the hypothalamus do?"

"It’s the telepathic center in a Vulcan brain," answered the doctor. "If it overloads, at the least, she’ll lose all telepathic ability as well as some other Vulcan senses, such as their sense of time. At the worst, she’ll die of a massive aneurysm."

"Damn," Chekov swore softly.

"Leave us," Spock ordered.

Chapel looked around Sickbay. All the beds were full of patients. "I’m sorry, Spock. There’s no way I can do that."

The Vulcan quickly surveyed the situation. "Then she and I will leave."

"How about the arboretum? We can have her moved there," suggested Chekov.

"That would be acceptable," Spock answered.


Spock found himself in the despoiled glade. "Saavik!" he called, the frantic tone in his thoughts carried to his voice. "Saavik-kam!"

David Marcus faded into view before him. "She’s trying to get out through the back door," the young man’s image explained. "The only problem is that you have the key for that, and you’re here with me."

"What have you done, Doctor Marcus?"

"I simply have decided I have lived long enough here. It’s time for me to move on."

"She must be encouraged to release you, David," Spock answered. He looked at the visage of the scientist before him and was struck by its likeness to that of his recently fallen friend. "You cannot force her to do it."

"You’ve been dead, right, Spock?"

"I have," the Vulcan admitted.

"When you died, did you go to Hell?"

Spock tilted his head and narrowed his eyes slightly. "I did not. I have found it difficult to discuss my experiences without a common frame of reference."

"But we have a common frame of reference, Spock. I’m dead, and you’ve been there and back. When I died, I found myself here. Welcome to my private version of Hell." Marcus chuckled. "Or rather, Saavik’s version of it."

"David!" Saavik appeared before them. "This was a beautiful glade. We created it together. It’s your home until I am ready to join you."

"It’s a prison you devised to keep me here, and I am ready to leave."

"I will not let you go."

"Then I will not let you go. You will stay here until you let me go."

"You are killing her, David. Are you aware of that?"

"Nonsense," Marcus answered. "She’s unconscious. They can keep her alive forever by intravenous feeding."

"Incorrect. Her imprisonment is destroying the psionic center of her brain. She will be psi-blind soon and may be dead later."

The young man was clearly stunned. "That was never my intention, Spock." He turned to his lover. "I’m sorry, Saavik. I guess you get to go after all." He looked utterly dejected.

"Do you find your life with me a prison?"

"Don’t you understand, Saavik? It’s not a life with you. It’s a life within you. I’m just along for a ride that I don’t want to be on." Tears streamed from his eyes. "Can’t you see that I want to go? It’s past my time for me to move on."

"Then I will die with you."

"No!" Marcus cried. "It’s not your time. It’s mine!"

"Saavik-kam, let him go..." Spock softly urged.

"Saavik, for God’s sake, for my sake, for yours...let me go."

Saavik stepped forward and embraced David deeper than anyone would have thought possible. "I love you, David." Her words were barely comprehensible amidst her sobs. "My t’hy’la." She pulled back to look at his face. "And I release you."

The look of joy and gratitude on his face was one she would carry forever.

She found herself in a supine position on a park bench in the arboretum, tears flowing freely, unabashedly from her eyes. She glanced at Spock, who was kneeling at her side, tears flowing from his eyes as well.

She wailed like a Terran wolf as Spock held his young protégé tightly.


It was 2300 ship’s time.

Captain Pavel Chekov sat at the desk of his office, eating a turkey sandwich he’d gotten from the Christmas dinner leftovers down in the forward observation deck. Looking over his log, it had been a hell of a Christmas day. At least Spock and Sulu had returned unharmed from their mission to the Tholians. Sulu and O’Brien hadn’t been seen since. And Saavik had recovered from her psionic coma, with no explanation from either her or Spock. But Chekov had noticed the puffiness around both their eyes, and he knew whatever her problem was, it had been resolved. And judging from the pleased expression on Spock’s face, to a logical conclusion.

The bosun’s pipe sounded. "Chekov here," he mumbled through the sandwich.

"Sorry for interrupting, sir," came Michaels’ voice. "Now arriving: U.S.S. Chosin. Captain Kelsey sends his regards."

"All right!" Chekov finished his sandwich in one gulp. "It’s about time things start going our way."

December 26th 2294

Chekov entered the bridge from the rear, and assumed the conn. "Open hailing frequency to starship Chosin."

Michaels nodded. "You’re on, Captain."

"Shaun, you there?"

The view of the Constellation-class Chosin was replaced with a familiar face: Captain Shaun Kelsey.

"Pavel, you ol’ Cossack. That’s one beat-up ship you’ve got there."

Chekov shrugged. "Hey, it’s in one piece. That’s more than I can say for a more than three hundred Tholian cruisers."

Kelsey laughed. "You know, of course, Pavel, those things are, what? Half the size of a Federation scoutship, and even less armed?"

"Well, considering that a dozen of them managed to destroy the Bradley, you’d damn well better be careful."

"Always, tovarich, always. So, want to borrow a few dozen engineers?"

"Can you spare them?"

"Actually, Starfleet dispatched us with them as replacement crewmembers for you." Kelsey looked somewhat hesitant. "One of them is an old...acquaintance...of yours."

Chekov put his hand to his forehead. "Please tell me she’s not a tall, blonde woman who will undoubtedly have one hell of a chip on her shoulder."

"One chip? Naw, she’s got two or three...dozen. And they seem to have your name on them, Pavel."

"Oh, joy..."

Kelsey chuckled. "Anyway, I expect she’ll be more than glad to leave the Chosin. She’s made a lot of...friends here in the past twenty-four hours."

Chekov nodded. He turned to Michaels. "Notify Transporter Room Two that Captain of Engineering Katya Sorenson and her team will be beaming over shortly."

"Uh, Chekov, that’s Lieutenant Commander Sorenson. Seems she underwent some sort of official rank review board and came up, uh, short."

"Amend my orders, Mister Michaels."

"Yes, Captain."

"Any other Chanukah gifts today?"

"Well, actually, we’re sending you a few dozen Wasp-class Fighter Bees and a few dozen Marines to fly them, so have your hangar decks standing by."

Chekov glanced at Michaels who nodded and signaled the shuttlebays.

"I’ve also got a replacement science officer for your bridge crew, six hundred kilograms of topaline, two hundred photon torpedoes for you, and even a modular intermix chamber, a warp coil and a dilithium chamber assembly. Lieutenant Commander Sorenson plans to have them installed by morning."

The Enterprise captain looked wary. "The last time she was here..."

"...has taught her a valuable lesson, Pavel."

"I hope so, Shaun." Changing the subject, he became more formal. "We expect to be attacked at or around fourteen hundred hours tomorrow. I’d like for you and your first officer to beam aboard for the tactical briefing at oh-seven hundred."

Kelsey looked at his wrist chronometer. "Here we were rushing all this way, and we’re actually going to get like six hours of sleep. Must not have been all that big of an emergency, Pavel."

Chekov smiled at Kelsey’s mild jab. "Sleep? Vwhat is this sleep? We have no sleep here."

Kelsey rubbed his eyes. "Just have the coffee hot, the doughnuts warm, and the cream and sugar handy."

"We’ll even leave the lights on for you," Chekov said warmly.


"How is she, Doctor?" The captain’s eyes were barely open as he stood next to Saavik’s bed in Sickbay.

Doctor Christine Chapel looked at him with concern. "She’s still weakened and in a state of neural shock, but the activity in her hypothalamus has returned to normal. We’ll know more tomorrow; right now, I’ve got her on bed rest. And I’m ordering the same for you, Captain." She noticed the challenge building and clamped down with a "Doctor’s orders" before he could respond.

He didn’t protest. He just nodded weakly, and turned to head for his quarters.

She stopped him. "Here, Pavel." She guided him to an open diagnostic bed. "Lie down."

"Wake me at oh-six hundred," he ordered, and she nodded, despite the fact that he would only get five hours of sleep.

"Good night, Captain." She pulled a soft blanket over his already sleeping form and wondered where the twenty-two-year-old ensign from so long ago had gone...


Commander Uhura made her way through the arboretum, looking for Spock. It was nearly 0700 ship’s time, and the captain had requested the ambassador’s presence at the pre-battle briefing, especially now that he had had first-hand experience in dealing with the Tholian fleet commander. But Spock was not in the arboretum. Nor was he in his quarters. Nor was he in any of the meditation alcoves. Nor was he in any of the recreation rooms or decks.

"Damn." She headed out the corridor to a service locker outside of one of the engineering deck transporter rooms and found some help: a tricorder.

Setting its scanning range and parameters, she set off in search of the Vulcan, and found him a few minutes later in, of all places, the deflector array service room. She was at a complete loss as to why Spock should choose such a rather unlikely place to meditate, until it dawned on her why this room was such an important one to her former senior officer: It was the very place where James T. Kirk had died.

"Mister Spock?" she asked softly, realizing that the Vulcan was seeking solitude. "Spock, what is it?"

"This mission has been a complete failure. The Tholians will attack again, and Starfleet will be forced to drive them from this star system."

"Quite probably true, but it’s not your fault."

The ambassador was adamant. "I have failed. I was certain that mine was the logical course of action to take."

"Peace is logical, Spock. But perhaps the Tholians are not."

"Your suggestion is not without merit," the Vulcan conceded. "The Tholians have set up a colony world in the very heart of the Federation and refuse to see how we might object to this." He paused, "However, I can find equally logical reasoning that our side is not being logical. This system has no value to the Federation. None of its planets are even remotely class M, and there are no valuable minerals or commodities to be extracted from its planets."

"But strategically—"

"This seems to be the crux of the matter. We can assume that the Tholians have no designs on Vulcan, Earth or the other member worlds of the Federation. They cannot survive on them."

"However, they seem to attack any vessel which they regard as a threat. The Bradley was obliterated in less than ninety seconds, Spock. And God only knows what happened to the Jenolen."

The Vulcan nodded. "Quite true. And they were quite unwilling to discuss their attacks in any terms other than defense of their colony, albeit some thirty-six lightyears from the point where the Bradley was destroyed."

The bosun’s pipe whistled for attention. "Commander Uhura, have you found Meester Spock?" came Chekov’s worried voice.

"Aye, sir. We’ll be there in five minutes."

"Good. Chekov out."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "A briefing?"

Sadness threatened to overwhelm Uhura, albeit briefly. "No, sir," she shook her head, her voice low. "A war council."


The briefing room of the U.S.S. Enterprise normally held twelve chairs for its commander, his ten command staff officers and their civilian observer. Seated there today were some of Starfleet’s finest: Captain Pavel Chekov of the Enterprise, at the head of the table, Commander Uhura at his right-hand side; Captain Hikaru Sulu of the Excelsior next to Uhura, his exec—Commander Janice Rand—at his right hand side; Captain Shaun Kelsey of the Chosin next to Rand, his exec—Lieutenant Commander Thorrell—at his right; Captain Arex of the Repulse next to Thorrell, Lieutenant Commander Scott Davis to his right; Captain Gret of the El Cid next to Davis, Lieutenant Trent Cohen to his right; Captain Ra’pas of the Pontiac next to Cohen, Commander Linda Trimble at her side. Also seated, but not at the table were Ambassador Spock, Willis O’Brien and, lastly, Major Matthew Mason of the Starfleet Marine Corps.

At precisely 0700, Chekov stood, and the chit-chat and small-talk disappeared. "Good morning. Welcome to Alpha Tucanae Five, the place where the Enterprise has been standing its ground against superior forces from a Tholian world. Today, we expect the Tholians will be receiving reinforcements, just as we have, and we anticipate to go into battle at some time between twelve hundred and fifteen hundred hours."

He gestured to the monitor screen. "This tactical representation details our efforts in this system."

"You’ve been ducking and running long enough, Pavel. Now that the Excelsior and these other ships are here, we should be able to change the tide of battle," Sulu offered, unbidden. "I have drawn up a plan of attack which will isolate the Tholians into two compart—"

"Excuse me, Captain. You’re interrupting," Chekov said pointedly.

"Not at all. As the most senior starship commander here, I am simply assuming command of Starfleet’s forces in this system. The Enterprise is badly damaged and will need to take a flanking position to the Excelsior."

Stunned at Sulu’s egotistical pronouncement, Chekov balked. "On the contrary, Captain Sulu, you are not. I am the commander of this mission, and I will remain so until I am relieved by Commander-Starfleet herself."

Sulu was flabbergasted. "Look, Pavel, you’ve done a fine job making do with the Enterprise until I...we arrived. It’s time for you to step aside and let an experienced officer take command of this situation." He turned to Spock and beseeched him, "Spock, can you help Chekov understand the logic of—"

"On the contrary," Spock’s deep bass voice almost shook the briefing room, "Captain Chekov is in command here, sir." There was a brief pause. "Not you."

Chekov turned with surprise to the Vulcan, who continued.

"Captain Chekov has performed his duties admirably; and as I am in command of the diplomatic aspects of this mission, I can see no logical reason why the captain should even consider stepping down from command of the military aspects."

Another voice, unbidden, challenged Sulu. "Hikaru, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’m thinking that you’re a lot more full of yourself than you realize." It was Shaun Kelsey who had served on the original Enterprise with Sulu and Chekov.

"My thoughts exactly, Captain Kelsey," came Arex’s soprano voice. The Edoan’s mouth clicked rapidly as he added, "I have been reviewing Captain Chekov’s tactical maneuvering during the battles his single ship has had against an armada of Tholian cruisers, and I am impressed. His single ship has done as much damage to the Tholians as no other ship has ever done before."

Typical for a Tellarite, Gret grunted, "Damn straight. I nearly lost the El Cid to three Tholians a few months ago. Captain Chekov’s ship has destroyed over three hundred of theirs."

Captain Ra’pas, an Andorian, tittered, "And while I don’t personally know you as these others do, Captain Sulu, I can plainly see I don’t want to know anyone more pompous than a Tellarite."

Gret guffawed loudly, pounding the table with his hoof, and the others relaxed enough to chuckle a bit.

Sulu turned dark crimson in embarrassment. "Perhaps I should make my apologies and return to the Excelsior."

"Hikaru," Chekov began in a conciliatory tone, "have a seat. Actually, I vwould like to hear your...suggested plan for battle. I’m afraid that I have none of my own. The Enterprise has been busy trying not to win this skirmish, but instead, trying not to lose it." He smiled. "It’s an old tactic, going back to the days of the Czar..."

"Oh, spare us, Pavel," admonished Kelsey.

"Please," Arex implored.

Chekov shrugged and conceded, "Then the floor is yours, Captain Sulu..."

Sulu brightened a touch. "Thank you, Captain." He clicked a control on the display, and a diagram became visible. "Under my plan, our six starships would be able to divide the Tholian armada into two compartments and slowly contract the areas until the Tholians either surrender or are destroyed. Once the Tholian fleet is completely surrounded, they will be ordered to surrender and forced to withdraw from Alpha Tucanae, all the way back deep within the Beta Quadrant.

"To assure a victory, our three Excelsior-class starships—Excelsior, Repulse and Enterprise—will create a triangle. The two destroyers—El Cid and Pontiac—will create a hexahedron by assuming the endpoints opposite each other on a line segment through the center of the triangle. Lastly, the Constellation-class Chosin will serve as a rover or shepherd, if you will, either forcing Tholians into the containment zones of the two tetrahedrons or destroying them out right."

It was a good plan, it was a damn fine plan, and Chekov decided that Sulu’s plan was The Plan. He stood. "I commend Captain Sulu on his work here." He glanced around. "Comments?"

"Let’s do it," Captain Gret grunted. "Makes more sense than to sit here and talk about it for a few more hours."

Chekov smiled. He loved Tellarites. They had a way of cutting through rhetoric like no other sentient race could ever hope to do. "Others?"

"This plan is doomed to fail," Spock observed.

"How so?" asked Sulu, defensively.

"It presupposes that the Tholians will withdraw. They will not."

"Are you suggesting that the Tholians would rather die to the last person rather than withdraw from this system?" asked Ra’pas, plainly disturbed by the notion.

"It is a logical assumption. They have never withdrawn from any colony. There is no logic to assume that they will do so here."

"They withdrew from Xantharus," argued Sulu. "I know; I was there eight years ago."

"As was I, Captain," answered Spock. "The Tholian forces invading that system did not withdraw. They were ...exterminated, just as will be the case here."

"Starfleet does not ‘exterminate’ its enemies, Ambassador," countered Kelsey.

"Actually, it did in that incident," said Major Mason of the Starfleet Marines. "Every Tholian ship involved in the Battle of Xantharus was destroyed. None of them withdrew voluntarily." He paused. "We didn’t realize it at the time, of course. We were busy defending the Orions from the Tholian carpet bombing of Xantharus Four."

Spock nodded. "And that was for a system in which they had not yet seeded a colony. Imagine their...fervor, if you will, to defend themselves from our forces here." He paused. "That is why I’m going to insist on one more try to negotiate—"

"Out of the question, Ambassador. There’s no way I’m going to let you off this ship and into their waiting hands," Chekov protested.

"Tholians have no hands, Captain."

Chekov, Sulu and Uhura rolled their eyes. Arex clicked his tongue repeatedly. Kelsey lay his head down on the table and banged it three or four times. The others in the assembled group watched their fellow officers in complete bemusement. Finally, Chekov stepped forward, "I’m sorry, Ambassador; your mission has failed."

Spock sighed in defeat. "Then the Tholians in this system are doomed."

Chekov nodded in agreement. "One more thing: Major Mason has a number of Killer Bees which will be stationed on the Enterprise. These small attack vessels will available to help contain the Tholians within the two zones. Don’t hesitate at all to call for their assistance."

There were several nodding heads.

"Oh, by the way, Mister O’Brien, you realize, of course, that you are welcome to record anything and everything, but you won’t be able to broadcast until...until..."

"...until after you..." The reporter didn’t finish the sentence for him. He knew what the captain meant.

"Then, we’re dismissed." And may God have mercy on us for what we’re about to do... he silently added.


Captain’s Log, Stardate 9498.7
U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Chekov recording.

Long range sensors are detecting the approach of at least one hundred more Tholian vessels, including several battlecruisers and another dreadnought. The battle will be joined within the hour, and we stand ready.

Ship’s condition is 85% of optimal. Our new chief engineer has reported that the repair work required on our engines has been completed. Our photon torpedo banks have been replenished, and our phaser banks are fully recharged. Ship’s deflectors and screens are rated at 92% which is probably the best we can do without additional repair time.

Ambassador Spock has logged yet another official request that he be allowed passage to Alpha Tucanae IV via shuttlecraft to try to negotiate with the Tholians. I have denied his request. Perhaps after the Tholian fleet has been contained, his services can be used to bring a peaceful resolution to this conflict.

Finally, in addition to nearly two dozen engineers (including our new chief engineer), Starfleet agreed to my personal request and has assigned me a replacement science officer, one who is glad to be home, glad that her dream is no longer on hold.

From Science One, Roberta Vasquez looked at Chekov with such warmth that he almost melted. Her gratitude was apparent to everyone on the bridge, including Willis O’Brien.

"So, Lieutenant, you’re back with us?" he asked, a holocam floating nearby. "You realize, of course, that you’ve rejoined the ship just prior to a battle it may lose?"

Chekov frowned and was about say something when Vasquez shooed the reporter away, as though O’Brien were a meddlesome fly in the kitchen. She swatted one of the holocams behind her, and it crashed to the deck with a clang and a tinkle.

"Hey, watch it!" the reporter fussed. "Those things are expensive!"

"Really? What a coincidence! So’s my time before a battle," the new science officer answered. "Now scoot, or I’ll see to it that another one has an accident."

"Captain," O’Brien began to protest, when he looked up and realized that Chekov himself was pleased by Vasquez’s treatment of the holocam. "You’ve wanted to do that all along, haven’t you?" he challenged.

The captain smiled. "Ever since I met you, Willis. Ever since I met you." He turned to the navigator. "Escri, how’s that navigational routine coming? Are we ready to implement Captain Sulu’s plan?"

"It’s a little more complex than I thought it would be," the voder around the Illyran’s neck intoned. "But we’ll be ready when the rest of our force is."

The red alert klaxon blared. "Sensors detecting the approach of fifty-two Tholian patrol cruisers, Captain," reported Vasquez. "Bearing zero mark fourteen." She looked into her hooded viewer. "Oh, wow, they’re actually beginning to spin a web."

"Really?" Chekov was intrigued. "They usually use that once they’re ready to capture a disabled ship."

"Sensor analysis shows that with one phaser shot, they’ll go off like fireworks on Cinquo de Mayo."

Chekov leaned forward. "Okay, Demora, let’s get a move on it. Take us out of orbit."

To his right, the turbolift doors open, and Saavik made her way to the tactical station.

Chekov was concerned. "Commander, I don’t think you’re ready for that yet," he spoke softly, turning his head to oversee the flightpath Sulu had selected. Escri was still programming in Captain Sulu’s attack plan.

"I am ready for duty, Captain. Perhaps more than I have been for the past eleven years," Saavik answered.

He looked at her, studied her face for a brief moment. "Glad to hear it, Saavik. We do need the help. I want my experienced tactical officer ready to offer her insights into the coming battle."

A plasma torpedo darted by, along with another. "Helm, maintain our course. Put a little evasive action into it, but keep us on the way out of here."

Saavik quickly adjusted the instruments at Tactical to her liking, and the technician who’d been sitting there looked grateful as he was relieved from duty. "Recommend a phaser strike on the web. They’re bringing it up behind us."

"They don’t know we’ve been rearmed?" Chekov pondered. To Brooks, he ordered, "Fire at will, Commander."

The beams of phased energy leaped from the rear of the engineering hull and struck the web, exploding it violently. Half a dozen Tholian ships exploded in a hail of plasma, energy and photons. The subspace shock wave generated shattered another dozen or so. "Shockwave will overtake us in thirteen seconds, Captain."

"Warp Four, Mister Sulu. Let them eat our plasma."

"Warp Four aye," and Sulu threw the lever forward. The Enterprise-B bolted forward out of harm’s way.

"Give the remaining Tholians a few dozen torpedoes, Ms. Brooks."

"Fire torpedoes aye. Rear tubes one and two, firing at will. Six rounds each, nine...twelve rounds, sir."

Saavik reported, "No pursuit, Captain. There are four survivors, and they have altered their pursuit vectors. Now closing on the Excelsior." There was a pause. "Correction, sir. There are no longer any surviving Tholian vessels from that attack group."

"Signal the Repulse and Excelsior, Number One: Implement Sulu strategy."

"Repulse and Excelsior are assuming positions relative to ours," reported Vasquez.

"Captains Arex and Sulu acknowledge and send their regards, Captain," Uhura announced.

"Good. Pass along my compliments, and instruct the El Cid to move into a lead position."

"El Cid is responding." She laughed aloud for a brief second or two. "Captain Gret asks you to be sure and save his bacon."

Chekov chuckled. "Inform Captain Gret that he’s got a problem there: Bacon is not kosher."

Uhura relayed the captain’s words, and pulled her earjack out. "I can’t repeat what he’s saying now, Captain. Decorum and all, you understand."

Chekov nodded. "All too well."

"Captain," Vasquez called. "The Tholians are heading for the El Cid."

Saavik’s analysis followed. "They have adapted a phalanx strategy. El Cid is in danger." She frowned. "Extreme danger," she amended. "Six Tholian battlecruisers and both of their dreadnoughts are closing in on the El Cid."

"Uhura," began Chekov.

"No response, sir!" She tapped on the keys to her console. "We’re being jammed."

"Can you raise the Chosin?"

"Negative, sir. Jamming is on all frequencies. We’re cut off."

"Shall I move to intercept them, sir?" asked Sulu from the helm.

"Course plotted for interception," confirmed Escri from Navigation.

Chekov shook his head. "Negative."

"But if the Chosin fails to recognize what the Tholians are doing?" The concern literally dripped from Sulu’s voice.

"Then Captain Kelsey is inept, and, Demora, Shaun Kelsey is not inept."

"Chosin is moving in; interception of Tholian battlecruisers in one minute," reported Saavik from Tactical.

"El Cid is opening fire on incoming battlecruisers," reported Vasquez. The main viewscreen flashed brightly for a second. "Good God, they blew one out of the sky!"

Chekov smiled. "Good for Gret. He’s one tough man in a fight."

"Chosin is opening fire." Vasquez was plainly trying to report the facts without being overly dramatic, but Chekov thought she was failing miserably. Not that he minded, but it made him realize how different things were. Here, he was in the center seat...

"El Cid has taken several hits, Captain," reported Saavik.

"Recommendation, Saavik?" asked Chekov, watching the fire fight on the mainviewer.

"She’s holding her own, sir," the tactical officer answered with an almost Vulcan-sounding detachment. "Returning fire, bearing down with all photon torpedoes."

"Sir!" Vasquez again. "The Tholians are breaking their phalanx! They’re moving to regroup!"

"Confirmed, sir," came the cool commentary from Tactical. "The Tholians are withdrawing, and the El Cid has resumed its course. The Chosin is pursuing them, endeavoring to turn them into our secured area." She paused briefly. "Captain Kelsey is not having much success; they will not be turned."

Chekov’s head lowered slightly. He knew what was coming.

"Chosin is opening fire." The actinic glare blinded the bridge crew for an instant. "Tholian battlecruisers have been eliminated, Captain."

"Location of Tholian dreadnoughts?"

"Scanning, sir," answered Vasquez. "Got them! At 203 mark 0. They’re trying to outflank the Repulse."

"Captain Arex will have none of that," Chekov remarked. "As my instructor in space navigation at the Academy, he demonstrated a remarkable understanding of—"

"The Repulse has shifted its position, down three hundred thousand kilometers." Vasquez sounded unsure of her readings. "It’s coming back up." A brief pause. "Wow, the dreadnoughts are now within our rear containment area. The Repulse is standing nearby, and the Pontiac has them in her sights."

"—a remarkable understanding of three-dimensional battle tactics that most lifeforms can never hope to achieve, let alone master." He looked at the mainviewer and ordered, "Tactical representation, please. Overhead view."

"Yes, sir," responded Saavik as she followed his command.

The Tholian dreadnoughts were clearly dead center of the rear containment area, but a group of patrol cruisers were threatening the Pontiac which was bringing up the rear. "Launch Killer Bees," Chekov ordered. "Have Major Mason and his marines help in containment."

"A sound tactical decision, Captain," remarked Saavik coolly.

"Communications, are we still being jammed?"

"Aye, sir," Uhura confirmed.

"Keep trying to raise them."

"Captain, we’ve got an armada of patrol cruisers closing in. There look to be nearly five hundred of them!" reported Vasquez.

"Steady, Lieutenant. There may be five hundred Tholians, but there are six starships. The odds are just about even," Chekov said determinedly.

Saavik disagreed. "On the contrary, Captain. The odds are in the Tholians’ favor by approximately sixteen to—"

"A-hem," the captain cleared his throat, cutting off his tactical officer’s analysis. "I believe you’re mistaken, Commander."

Chekov could see the two sides of Saavik’s heritage in conflict—her Vulcan side was about to calmly refute her commanding officer’s assessment; her Romulan side was about to snarl an epithet at him. In complete surprise, something else happened.

"I...stand corrected, Captain," she replied.

Chekov smiled openly, pleased that she’d acquiesced. "Thank you, Tactical." He stood and walked down into the pit to stand before the navigation and helm console. He studied the screen.

Uhura walked to his side, allowing Michaels to relieve her. She looked on at the tactical display with interest. "Their dreadnoughts are going to make their move when the El Cid reaches the Tholian armada."

Chekov nodded. "My thoughts exactly, Uhura. Any luck punching through the interference?"

She shook her head. "I had a thought about using our running lights as signaling lamps."

He looked at her sidelong, impressed. "Good idea, Penda. Tell you what; let’s signal our forces to hold our positions, and make the Tholians come to us. I want the Enterprise to pivot on its axis and target the Tholian dreadnoughts."

"You think they’re going to try to attack us from two vectors?"

"I think those two dreadnoughts were too easily pushed into the confinement zone."

She studied the screen. "You may be right. I’ll signal our forces."


"Captain, message coming in from the Enterprise," reported Janice Rand.

Captain Sulu was incredulous. "I thought you said all communication frequencies were being jammed."

"The Enterprise is using its running lights to transmit its messages in code," she explained.

"What’s the message then?" Sulu asked, impressed by the method of transmission.

"We’re to hold our position."

"Good idea with that armada approaching," the Excelsior’s captain remarked. "Make your enemy come to you."

"Captain," called the science officer.

Sulu turned. "Yes, Ensign Tuvok?"

"The Enterprise is pivoting about." The dark-skinned Vulcan stared into his hooded viewer. "Interesting. Captain Chekov seems to regard the Tholian dreadnoughts as a threat."

Sulu nodded. "So do I. Helm, hold our position here. Energizers on neutral."

"I’ve detected no threatening posture from them, sir," Tuvok continued. "They willingly were moved into our confinement zone. They’ve posed no threat since. Logic dictates that they have accepted surrender."

"Really?" the captain was amused. "You keep an eye on them anyway, Ensign. Just in—"

"Captain!" Tuvok’s tone was as surprised as a Vulcan’s could be. "The dreadnoughts are moving toward the Enterprise. They’re powering up their weapons."

Sulu pursed his lips. "Mister Lojur," he addressed the helmsman. "Maintain our position. Weapons officer, target the Tholian dreadnoughts with our photon torpedoes."

"The Enterprise is opening fire on them," reported the Excelsior’s tactical officer.

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "Is that not contrary to Starfleet’s rules of engagement?"

"Maybe, maybe not. I doubt it’s contrary to the Russian Rules of Engagement, though."

The young Vulcan was confused. "I fail to understand."

"‘If the enemy’s gun ports are open, yours better be blazing,’" Sulu quoted.

Rand added, "‘Only a fool refuses to open fire first.’"

"Now scanning. The Tholian dreadnoughts have been crippled. Damage to the Enterprise is negligible." He paused. "I find these Russian Rules of Engagement contrary to those of Starfleet," remarked Tuvok.

The captain and his executive officer rolled their eyes and shook their heads. "I’m sure you do, Ensign," Rand said. "Let me guess: Another report to Starfleet Command."

"That would be in order, in my opinion," the Vulcan agreed.

Sulu shook his head and wondered just how long Tuvok would last in Starfleet.

"Captain, the armada is in range of our phaser banks," the tactical officer reported. "The El Cid is taking heavy damage."


Thorrell and Kelsey were watching the Enterprise’s assault on the dreadnoughts.

"Captain?" came a female’s voice from behind them.

Both officers turned to see Lieutenant Commander Arlene Williams, science officer, gesturing at her monitors.

"Captain, the Tholians have adopted another phalanx, and are moving in on the El Cid."

"That’s twice they’ve targeted Gret’s ship. Wonder if it’s because of that skirmish he had a few months ago." He addressed his helmsman, "move us in for interception." He turned to Hrischerhish. "All right, Chief. Ready all weapons crews."

"Yes, sir," he grunted, snorting. His small, porcine eyes sparkled with emotion. "We will teach those sowless wonders not to trifle with a starship."

"Incoming fire. Ahead, zero mark four,"

The ship shuddered, and Kelsey held tightly to the arms of his command chair. The ship then slammed so violently, two crewmembers were thrown from their seats.

Kelsey tapped the comm panel on his arm rest. "Engineering, I want more power to the deflectors now, or we run the risk of losing her."

"Aye, sir! I’m working on it now. Engineering out."

There was another hit, and the navigation console ruptured into a shower of sparks. Ensign Roberts was tossed onto her backside near the turbolift. Kelsey darted his eyes over to her form and realized, gratefully, that she was only stunned. Thorrell stepped down into the pit and took over her station.

"Number One, plot me a strafing run on the Tholian phalanx, then take us ’round to the rear. We’re going to come up their middle."

"The Tholians will undoubtedly be annoyed," Thorrell concluded. "I like it."

"Engage that course at maximum impulse. Hrisch, bring all weapons to bear on this run. And Hrisch, if we don’t have to recharge our phasers and reload all tubes after this run, I’ll have your salary docked by thirty percent."

"Yes, sir!"

The engines roared, and the bridge was trembling under their power. The clicking of the phaser relays and pulsing of the torpedo tubes echoed through the bridge. As if it wasn’t already too loud, the whine of conflicting and resisting duotronics added another layer to its symphony, then there was a flash of an exploding circuit from Environmental.

Kelsey looked on in approval as Roberts helped herself off the deck, grabbed a fire extinguisher and began spraying down the station. The environmental technician was unconscious, and the captain called for... "Sickbay, Doctor Shakura! Report to the bridge!"

"Nature of medical problem?" Shakura asked, her voice filled with the accent of someone who grew up on Earth’s India sub-continent.

"I’ve got a couple of injured crewmembers up here. I know you’re busy; just get me a med tech on the double."

"Sickbay stands ready, Captain," Shakura announced over the intercom. "I’ve got a med team on its way. Sickbay out."

"We’re about to go up the chute, Captain," Thorrell reported.

"Here’s your chance, Hrisch. Make us proud!" Kelsey shouted over the roar of the engines.

The Tellarite grunted, and his paws darted all over the weapons station. "Firing all phasers. Bringing all tubes to bear."

"Status of the El Cid?"

Williams yelled back. "I can’t explain why, but she’s still there, and in one piece." She studied her instrumentation. "My God, the Tholians are dispersing! It’s working!"

Kelsey smiled. "As if you had any doubts, Arlene." He rolled his eyes at his wife and thought in amusement, Women. "All right, let’s round up some more Tholians."


It has been one hell of a day, Chekov decided.

"It sure has," Uhura said, startling him.

He was sitting on his couch in his ready room when she had come in the open door and sat down at his desk.

"Getting telepathic on me, Number One?"

She chuckled. "Not hardly, Captain. It’s written all over your face." She tapped a few keys, and the schematics for the Enterprise came up on the screen behind her. "At least the ship’s come through this final conflict with minimal damage."

He was deeply relieved. "A few days in SpaceDock at Starbase Three, and the Enterprise will be once again on its way, exploring the Beta Quadrant."

"The same can’t be said for the Tholians. There simply are no patrol vessels left. No battlecruisers. Not even a dreadnought."

"They fought to the last ship, and simply would not surrender, Uhura." He closed his eyes. "It’s not our fault."

"I know, I know. How’s the Repulse?"

"She’s had her hull breached in Engineering, just as we were three days ago. It seems as though the Tholians now have a strategy for attacking and defeating Federation starships." He paused. "Arex is still upset about the Pontiac."

"It wasn’t his fault. Captain Ra’pas kept pleading for the Tholians to surrender while she fired on them. But they fired volley after volley at her until her shields failed. And after that, they wouldn’t accept her surrender."

"She wanted to believe that they would surrender, Pavel. But I...I don’t think they even can surrender. It may not be possible with their species."

"I keep thinking of Saavik’s fire ant analogy. If you disturb their nest, they will not relent from their attack, until you kill every last one of them. The last fire ant will attack you as voraciously as the first."

"Ol’ Gret was something today, wasn’t he?"

Chekov nodded. "Da, the Tellarites are often held to ridicule because of some of their idiosyncrasies, but you corner them in a fight, well, you might as well be facing the Klingons. Have they finished moving his crew to the Excelsior?"

"Yes. Gret, though, is insisting that he’s going to remain aboard her during the tow. He says he’s not going to transfer his flag until the El Cid arrives at Starbase Three."

"Does he realize he’ll have to wear a spacesuit the entire time?"

Uhura chuckled. "I don’t think he cares. He’s so damn proud of that little destroyer. No one’s had the heart to tell him she’s going to have to be decommissioned."

Chekov opened an eye and looked at his executive officer. "He knows, Uhura. He knows."

There was a knock at the door, and the captain opened his other eye.

Leaning against the door frame was Hikaru Sulu. "Good evening, Captain. Sorry to be bothering you."

Chekov was too tired to deal with their personal problem. "No problem, Captain. How’s the Excelsior?"

"She’s a little battle scarred, but ready for the next phase of this operation." Sulu came and sat down next to Chekov on the sofa.

"I’ve got Michaels trying to secure a channel to Commander-Starfleet herself," Uhura explained.

"What are you going to recommend?" Sulu asked.

"Indeed," said Spock, as he entered the captain’s ready room, "a valid question."

Chekov stood. "Regrettably, I think we’ve only got three options here. A: Have the Tholians transplanted to another planet suitable for their colonization needs, but within their own territory."

Sulu shook his head. "Unfortunately, our own ships would be unable to create or sustain their environmental conditions. Their environment needs to be over 500 degrees."

"Agreed," said Chekov. "We would have to allow in Tholian ships to transport their own people, and that would be risky. Option B: Assign a ship or two to serve as a sentinel to this planet. We would have to have a permanent presence in this system; otherwise, the heart of the Federation could find itself in the midst of their next swarm."

Uhura shook her head. "Too expensive and impractical. The logistics of maintaining a permanent force in this system simply invalidate that option."

Spock raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

"Option C is that we exterminate the hive on Alpha Tucanae Four."

"Impossible. The Federation Council will not agree to such an atrocity," Spock stated flatly.

"Ambassador, the Chosin is in orbit above the colony planet, and it has faced a constant attack. The Tholians are not going to withdraw from Alpha Tucanae Four."

"Then the Federation Council should cede this planet to the Tholian Assembly."

"Spock, that is hardly a logical alternative. The next swarm could attack Earth, Tellar, Andor or even Vulcan itself."

The bosun’s pipe sounded. "Captain, incoming signal from Starfleet Command," reported Michaels.

"On screen here," ordered Chekov. He tugged at the front of his command jacket and stood facing the viewscreen. Uhura moved to stand at his side, and Sulu and Spock took flanking positions. "Enterprise standing by, Admiral."

Lystra Davis’ pleasant visage filled the screen. "Good evening, gentlemen," she greeted them.

"Sir," Chekov clicked his heels as he snapped to attention. "We have defeated the Tholian armada in this system. The colony—with a population of ten thousand Tholians, by our best sensor readings—remains on the surface of Alpha Tucanae Four."

Davis stared at him, appearing genuinely pleased by his report. "Excellent. We need to make arrangements to repatriate the Tholian survivors to the Tholian Assembly’s nearest colony world."

"That’s not going to be possible, Admiral. There were no survivors from the armada, and the colony doesn’t answer our hails. They are maintaining a hostile attitude toward our ships. The Chosin is in orbit above the planet, and they continue to fire on her with surface to space weaponry."

Commander-Starfleet Davis sighed. "Have you tried negotiations?"

"Repeatedly. If you’ve read my report, we lost the Pontiac because Captain Ra’pas kept trying—"

"Damn. Tell you what; let me get a hold of the Challenger. She’s on an exploratory mission deep in the Beta Quadrant. I’ll have Captain Garrovick open communications with the nearest Tholian world. Let’s get them to come clean up their mess."

"On the contrary, Admiral," Spock began. "There is another alternative we should consider."

Chekov closed his eyes, but allowed the Vulcan to step to the front.

"Yes, Ambassador? I’m hoping that you have a peaceful solution to this dilemma."

"I do. We should cede this planet to the Tholians."

"Out of the question, Ambassador!" Davis snapped angrily. "Ridiculous! Next thing I know you’ll be suggesting that we cede Vulcan to the Romulans, or Serenidad to the Klingons, or Cait to the Kzin!" She snorted. "Can you provide any other logical alternative?"

"I cannot," the Vulcan admitted.

Davis stared at the assembled officers. "Anything to add, Captain Sulu?"

"I stand behind Captain Chekov’s recommendation, Admiral. Let’s see if we can get the Tholians back to their territory."


"And if we can’t?" asked Uhura.

"We won’t consider any other options at this time," Davis answered. "Starfleet out."

Chekov looked at his friends and comrades. "Let’s hope we don’t have to consider that third option...ever..."

December 27th 2294

Captain’s Log, Stardate 9499.1
U.S.S. Challenger, Captain Garrovick recording.

Long range sensors are detecting the approach of a Tholian patrol cruiser. It has moved to intercept us, and we have reduced speed to sublight. My orders are to negotiate on behalf of the Tholian Colony on Alpha Tucanae IV to procure their safe transport back into Tholian space.

Garrovick settled back in the center seat, trying to ignore the semi-chill against his spine. He was nervous...again. Hell, he was always nervous. Years ago he had been a nervous ensign aboard the Enterprise He had grown up there and become a fine, resourceful officer, thanks in no small part to the advice and leadership of Captain James T. Kirk. Garrovick had gone on to distinguish himself in the field, his rise through the ranks culminating in a starship captaincy at the relatively tender age of thirty years and two months. Only one other man had achieved that rank at a younger age: James T. Kirk at twenty-nine years and six months.

And now, nearly two decades later, David Garrovick was still nervous. As he again found himself in the center of a mission concerning the U.S.S. Enterprise, he was nervous about the Tholians, about the situation between his friends, Pavel and Hikaru; about the implications of his mission.

Commander Thomas Hammond, his communications officer for the past two decades, turned to him and reported, "We are receiving an answer to our hails from the Tholians, sir. They are asking us to stand by."

"Commander Stanhope, bring us to a full stop," he ordered his helmsman.

She complied quickly. "Aye, sir. Recommend we go to yellow alert," she suggested as she also served as his executive officer.

"Negative," Garrovick answered, hoping his nervousness wasn’t reflected in his voice. "I don’t want them to get the slightest notion of provocation, Eileen."

She nodded.

Lieutenant Commander K’ryn, Chief of Security, growled something in his native Kzinti tongue, but was silenced with a stern look from both Garrovick and Stanhope.

Science Officer R’ika tilted his head and adjusted the capjack atop his left antennae. "Sir, they’re slowing to Sublight Factor Five and closing." The Andorian ensign checked his instrumentation. "Still decelerating, sir. No sign of hostile intent."

Lieutenant M’becca, the Caitian navigator, reported, "Closing to within five hundred meters and coming to a stop off our starboard bow, sir."

"We’re receiving an answer to our hail, Captain."

"On screen," Garrovick ordered and stepped into the pit. "This is Captain David Garrovick of the starship Challenger."

"This is Command Thalkene of the Tholian Assembly. You will explain your presence in our territory."

"We’re here to request your help in removing the Tholian colony in the Alpha Tucanae star system."

"Your request is denied. That colony has failed. It is not suitable. Its members are unworthy of survival. They will perish," the Tholian commander answered matter-of-factly.

"But you understand that they face death. They refuse to surrender."

"It is better that the weak are killed less our species be contaminated by their failure."

Garrovick was stunned. "Won’t you reconsider? There are over ten thousand Tholians on that planet."

"No, the matter is closed. Destroy the failed colony, if you will, but we will not remove them. It would be a waste of our resources."

"You can’t mean that, Commander," Garrovick argued. "What do we do with the Tholians on that planet?"

"Kill them."


"In the interest of interstellar amity, kill them all. They will always pose a threat to your worlds until you do." There was a brief pause. "You will withdraw from our system at once. This transmission is ended."

The screen went blank, and Garrovick snapped off orders left and right. "M’becca, plot us a course out of here on the double. Stanhope, engage at Warp Two. K’ryn, go to Yellow Alert, and R’ika, keep a close eye on their ship. At the slightest sign that they’re energizing their weapons..."

"...I will notify you immediately, sir."

Garrovick returned to the center seat. "Commander, raise Starfleet Command. Tell them I’ve got some bad news..." He sat, still nervous, waiting for the opportunity to be the bearer of bad news.


The face of Commander-Starfleet Lystra Davis was particularly haggard today, Chekov decided. He realized, somewhat ashamedly, that he had not be the only one going through a personal version of hell.

"Needless to say, Captain Chekov, I am not looking forward to issuing these orders." She paused, sighed heavily, then squared her shoulders. "I hereby order your forces to destroy the weapons batteries on the planet’s surface. Target only the weapons batteries, but eliminate them completely. Once this is accomplished, you will contact Starfleet and apprize us of the situation. Commander-Starfleet out."

"A pity we’re not dealing with Romulans," Saavik muttered.

Chekov spun around with a start. "Why’s that, Commander?"

"They’d at least spare us this...this committing ritual suicide."

The Enterprise captain shook his head. "The blood would still be on my hands, Saavik." He turned to Uhura, who was almost pale. "Hail our forces, Number One."

"Aye, sir. You’re on."

"This is Captain Chekov of the Enterprise to Federation starships. You are to target all weapons installations on the planet’s surface and fire on them until the targets are totally destroyed. Do not, I repeat, do not fire on any installations other than the weapons batteries. Signal when ready to commence."

There was a brief series of beeps. "All ships stand ready."

Chekov bowed his head in a prayer for strength, a prayer for deliverance, a prayer for forgiveness for what he was about to order. Then: "All ships: Fire at will."

And it was done. The clicking of phaser relays and pulsing of the torpedo tubes were barely audible to everyone else, but Chekov could hear it all.

"Number One, you have the conn."

With a sad heart, he left the bridge and headed for the ship’s chapel.


"Sometimes we have to do the unthinkable, Pavel."

Doctor Christine Chapel’s voice startled him. The lights of the chapel were off, and he had seen no reason to turn them on. He’d sat on one of the pews, yarmulke on his head, and silently began his prayers. It was at least ten minutes before the doctor had spoken, and it was apparent that she, too, needed comfort now. The rosary beads in her hands looked well-worked.

"I know, Christine. It’s just that I...I’m not sure I have the stomach for it."

"Good," she said. "I’m glad to hear that. This is...not the Federation’s finest hour."

"No, it’s not," he agreed. "Perhaps you have a solution...other than this final one."

She studied his face intently. "That’s what this is about, isn’t it, Pavel. You’re afraid you’ve become that which your people have always rightfully feared."

"‘Never forget,’ they teach us in school, at home, in temple. And we never have. Over three hundred years later, and I fear that I find myself cast in the role of a Nazi executioner."

"Pavel, don’t do this to yourself. It’s a flawed analogy. The Tholians invaded deep into Federation territory. Their periodic swarming poses a threat to the heart of the Federation and Earth. The Tholians will not surrender. They were the initial aggressors here, and don’t you forget that." She shook her head. "Sometimes good men must do evil things for the greater good."

"Now, that sounds like something Hitler might say to justify The Holocaust or that Colonel Green might’ve used to justify his genocidal war against the Japanese."

The distaste on her face was apparent. "Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? Damn." She paused. "The Tholians attacked and destroyed the Bradley and probably the Jenolen as well. They have established a colony a few dozen parsecs from nearly every major Federation member. They have attacked us without warning. They have attacked us in the midst of negotiations. They have refused surrender. They refuse to leave. Now, how can you compare them to the Jewish peoples of Pre-Holocaust Europe? You can’t."

Chekov acquiesced. "But that doesn’t make me feel any better about bombing the population of a planet out of existence."

The bosun’s pipe whistled for attention. "Captain to the bridge."

"Chekov here."

"The Tholian batteries on the planet’s surface have been eliminated, Captain. We believe that casualties on the surface were minimal." There was a pause. "Incoming message from Commander-Starfleet."

"On my way," Chekov responded. "Thank you, Doctor."

"I wish I could come up with some way to get us all out of this mess," Chapel muttered.

"I wish you could, too."


In his ready room, Pavel Chekov regarded Lystra Davis’ visage pensively. Standing nearby were Sulu, Spock and Uhura.

"Captain," she explained, "we’ve explored all options. The Tholians refuse to leave, yet they pose a threat to the heart of the Federation. They cannot be removed except by force. Their own people have refused to transport them from the planet and even suggested, no, demanded that we destroy the colony."

"And the establishment of a permanent blockade?"

"Only the Vulcans voted for it. The cost in manpower, equipment and materiel make it simply an impossible task. Even they were plainly divided on it themselves."

"I understand, sir."

She paused, then announced, "Pending my decision, you are to draw up a plan of attack for the...liberation of Alpha Tucanae Four. I’m afraid we may have to...remove the Tholians from the planet."

Spock spoke up. "Admiral, please, I implore you. Allow me one more attempt to—"

"I’m sorry, Ambassador. The hive world will be destroyed. We are going to end this now."

"I agree completely, Admiral," added Sulu.

The Vulcan stood there, plainly assessing the determination of the admiral and the two starship captains before him. He sighed deeply. "Unfortunately, so do I, madame, gentlemen," he admitted, his eyes filled with regret. "Logic seems to fail us when it comes to the Tholians."

"I thought that was true of us Humans, Ambassador," Uhura said softly, "but I failed to realize it applies to other races."

The Vulcan allowed her the faintest of smiles. "Regrettably, logic seems to fail virtually all member worlds of the Federation and both the Klingon and Romulan Star Empires."

Davis smiled sadly. "Then perhaps it is not logical to expect us to be logical."

"Indeed, Admiral." Spock cocked an eyebrow. "I find your assessment flawlessly logical."

"Captain Chekov, I am ordering you to destroy the Tholian colony on Alpha Tucanae Four at 1400 hours tomorrow, and may God have mercy on our souls."

"Yes, Admiral. Bombing will commence at 1400 hours tomorrow."

She stared at him a long time.

"Anything else, Admiral?" he asked.

"Are you okay with this?"

"Permission to speak freely, sir?"

Davis looked at the assembled group, as if searching for something hidden. "As long as that damned reporter is not around...yes."

"We’re caught, as in the Russian expression, between the devil and the deep blue sea."

She smiled sadly. "Yes...yes, we are. Starfleet out."

The screen faded, and Chekov turned to his friends. "All right, everyone. Let me be. I have work to do."

"Captain, I’ll be glad to—" began Sulu, then stopped himself as Chekov looked up at him. "Sorry, Pavel. Old habits die hard."

Chekov accepted the apology with a brief nod of his head. "Understood, Hikaru. Now, get on out of here. Let me be. I’ve got to plan the destruction of a colony," he muttered sadly.


It was the fifth day of Chanukah, and the lighting of the Menorah was an especially humbling experience for Chekov. His own ship had been victorious over what could only be described as overwhelming odds... Almost a miracle in itself, he admitted to himself. As the congregation finished the Maoz Tzur, they moved toward the table set out for them.

Chekov noted Uhura had been participating in the Kwanzaa ceremony and smiled. Tonight, the Kinara along with the other symbols of Kwanzaa dominated the room, which had a distinctly African motif. The colors black, red and green were prevalent in streamers, cloth banners, balloons, even a few flowers. There were several pieces of African sculpture and artwork on display as well.

After the Kwanzaa rituals, she walked over to her captain. "Good evening, Pavel."

"Good evening, Penda. So, what was tonight’s focus?"

"Nia which means ‘purpose.’ We’re encouraged to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community."

"And what goals did you set for yourself?"

"A center seat of my own to sit in within the next two years."

He shook his head sadly. "I’d offer you mine right now, but I don’t think you’d take it."

Uhura looked into Chekov’s eyes, pity filling her own. "You’re right about that. I wouldn’t want to be in your seat or your shoes."

"And I wouldn’t wish this...assignment...on anyone I call friend...or even foe."

His shoulders drooped suddenly, the weight on them almost unbearable to sustain. A quick glance around the room, and she put her arm around his waist, giving him as much support as she could.

"Tell you what, Captain. Let’s go for a long walk."

He nodded, and she led him out the door. As they strolled down the corridor, she asked, "So, how’re things with you and Sulu?"

"Better," he conceded.

"So I noticed. You’re actually being cordial to one another."

Chekov bristled a bit. "He’s still a damn egotistical—"

"He’s still your friend," she interjected firmly.

The captain wouldn’t meet her eyes for a few minutes, then nodded. "Yes, he is."

"Glad to hear it."

They walked in silence for a few more minutes.

"So, have you given any thought to how...of how...of..."

"Of how I’m going to kill ten thousand people?" He shuddered. "It’s all I can think about." He shuddered again, more deeply, and she tightened her arm around him in support. "I keep wanting to wash my hands of this, but sometimes being the captain means carrying out the tough orders..."

"And issuing them," she added.

They turned the corridor, and standing before them was Ambassador Spock. "I would speak with you, Captain," he said darkly.

"Then excuse me," Uhura extricated herself. "I’ll see both of you later," she said, making her way back to the forward observation deck.

Silently, for a few minutes, they walked the corridors until they came to its end at a turbolift door. Spock stepped forward when the doors parted, and Chekov stepped into the lift with the Vulcan. "Destination, please?" the turbolift asked.

"Aft cargo deck," Spock answered. "I wish to speak with you in private, Captain Chekov."

"You couldn’t have picked a more deserted place."

"Actually, I had considered the Jefferies tube access to the nacelles, but I thought it an unnecessarily tedious task."

The doors opened, and Chekov and Spock made their way into the rear cargo deck. Located at the very rear of the starship, there were two cargo pods sitting on the pad. The clam shell doors were transparent aluminum, affording them a magnificent view. "Hello!" called the captain, and there was no response. The cargo deck had no need of personnel at present, and Chekov had given most of the crew the evening off. It was the least he could do after almost a week of battling the Tholians.

"We are alone," Spock decided. "I have taken the liberty of contacting Vulcan and asking them to dispatch three patrol vessels to create a blockade of the planet. My intention was to create a buffer zone between the Tholians and the Federation, with Vulcan supplying the ships, personnel and materiel required. My requests, however, were...denied."

Chekov didn’t know how to react. Spock had tried to circumvent the will of the Federation and had found that his own people didn’t agree with his plans for the Tholians.

Spock continued, "I was rebuked by my own father. His argument was that the Federation would set a potentially dangerous precedent by yielding to the Tholian colony. By his reasoning, any species could invade an unoccupied planet in the Federation and declare it their own."

"Homesteaders?" asked Chekov, searching for the right analogy.

"Claim jumpers," answered Spock. "I do not share his views."

"I know that. You know, it was Kyptin Kirk himself who one time told me that Starfleet is the police force of this part of the galaxy. He said that once a crime was committed—such as the Gorn attack on Cestus Three or the Klingon invasions of Serenidad—that Starfleet was duty-bound to enforce the laws of the Federation on those who had broken those laws. And the Tholians, Spock, have broken those laws: They attacked and destroyed the Bradley. They probably did the same to the Jenolen. They attacked us during our initial flyby of this star system. They attacked us in the midst of negotiations. They have broken our laws."

"And you intend to punish them." It was an accusation, not a question.

"I intend to follow my orders and, with deep regret, exterminate them." Chekov looked at Spock, his face flushed. "Can I ask you something?"

"By all means...Captain."

"What would Kyptin Kirk do in my place?"

Spock started visibly. It was as though he’d not even considered that possibility. "I..." The Vulcan paused, unable to continue for a moment as it dawned on him, "I believe that he would give the colony another chance to surrender, a chance to withdraw...and if they didn’t, he would annihilate them completely...and with deep regret."

The Vulcan thought back to all the times Kirk had done (or almost done) what would could only be described as unthinkable: The pursuit of the Romulan ship and the crossing into the Neutral Zone to destroy it. The pursuit of the Gorn ship with the intent to destroy it. The destruction of the war computers on Eminiar VII, forcing that society to either make war for real or make peace. The order to hunt down and kill the Horta, even though it was perhaps the last of its kind.

The Vulcan then thought about all the times he had done likewise. The destruction of the Salt Vampire, which was the last of its species. The decision he’d made on Taurus II to sacrifice some of the crewmen so that the rest might live. The disabling of the Tholian ship at the interspatial rift so that he could rescue Captain Kirk from interphase. The mind-rape of Lieutenant Valeris to force her into revealing her co-conspirators. The uninvited mind-touch of Chekov only three weeks earlier so that he could ascertain whether Kirk had indeed been killed at what the Federation scientists were beginning to call The Nexus.

"I beg forgiveness, Captain. I have...lost my better...half. My judgment is...impaired." Spock looked deep into Chekov’s eyes.

"I miss him, too, Spock," Chekov said softly, sadly. He turned back to the lift doors, Spock following without another word.


Chekov knocked on the door of Visitor’s Quarters 14.

"Who is it?" he heard from the comm speaker.

"It’s Captain Chekov. I would appreciate a moment of your time, Mister O’Brien."

"Uh, just a moment..."

Around thirty seconds later, the door slid aside, and Willis O’Brien stood there, towel wrapped around his waist, another towel in hand as he dried his wavy hair.

"Excuse the interruption, Willis. I did not mean to intrude."

"No problem, Captain. Was just taking a shower." He offered Chekov a chair.

Chekov shook his head. "No, thank you." He paused, as if searching for the right words. "Tomorrow is going to be a difficult day for us all. For my crew, for myself, we are going to have to do something terrible."

"Yes, sir," O’Brien answered neutrally.

"Tomorrow, you will be allowed on the bridge during the final assault on the colony below. During that time, I ask that you respect the privacy of my crew."

"Meaning you don’t want the cameras on them?"

"No close-ups of my crew. No intrusions at their stations. No interviews, no questions. They must not be disturbed during what will be a most...traumatic experience."

O’Brien was genuinely puzzled. "But you’re just doing your jobs. You’re following your orders."

Chekov closed his eyes, pained again by the recollections of the Nazis that O’Brien’s words evoked. "We are taught to revere life, all life, Willis. Yes, we will follow our orders, but some orders are easier to follow than others." The captain opened his eyes and met those of the reporter. "The bombing will begin at 1400 ship’s time tomorrow."

"I’ll be there."

Chekov turned and headed for the door. Out of the corner of his eye, in the bathroom mirror, he spied a reflection of Demora Sulu, a towel barely wrapped around her as she stood in the shower compartment. He paused for just second and then exited without comment.

December 28th 2294

Chekov walked onto the bridge of the Enterprise at lunch time. He’d made the conscious decision to sleep late, and took his time with a heavy breakfast of pancakes and hot coffee. Fully rested, fully fed, he was hoping to be able to come up with a peaceful solution to their current dilemma.

"Status report?" he asked.

Saavik, who’d been in the center seat, stood and reported, "The Enterprise, Excelsior, Repulse and Chosin are in standard orbit above Alpha Tucanae Four. The El Cid is in orbit above the fifth planet, and is awaiting a warp tug which should be arriving within the next forty-eight hours. We stand ready to bombard the planet’s surface with our combined phasers and photon torpedoes."

Chekov stared at her blankly. "Thank you, Commander." He wanted to scream, Find me a peaceful solution that we can live with! But he knew it wasn’t their fault.

Saavik moved to her station, and Chekov sat down and turned to Communications. "Any response, Number One?"

"Negative, sir. All our hails are being ignored."

"Ship to surface. All frequencies."

"Aye, sir. You’re on, Captain."

"This is Captain Pavel Chekov, commander of the Starfleet forces above this planet. We urgently need to discuss terms of surrender."

"No response, sir," answered Uhura.

"Give it a minute, Number One."

"Aye, sir. Repeating it on all frequencies again."

Chekov counted to ten. Then twenty. Then thirty. "Any response to our hails?"

"Negative, Captain."

"Put me on. This is Captain Pavel Chekov of the Federation forces in orbit above this planet. We have demonstrated our intent to drive you from our territory by any and all means. We urge you to withdraw from the planet at once. If you would like to request transport, we can try to arrange for it. All we require is your surrender."

There was an immediate response. "This is Empress Losatomorphetologincha, Queen of Hive World Seven Four Nine, Tholian Territorial Annex Three Eight Two. We demand your immediate surrender and your withdrawal from our territory. In the interest of interstellar amity—"

Chekov rolled his eyes.

"—we give you three hours to depart from this system."

"Empress," he replied, "your forces have been destroyed. Your planetary weapons have been destroyed. Logic dictates that you must withdraw."

"We remain steadfast. We will not abandon this colony."

"Sir, they’re opening fire with directed energy rays from their microwave communications relay stations," reported Saavik. "The efforts of which are disrupting our sensor scans completely."

Chekov thought about it only for a second. "Empress, cease firing upon our vessels, or we will eliminate your communications towers."

"Intruders will be destroyed. You will be destroyed," came her reply.

The captain savagely jerked his thumb across his neck, and Michaels closed the channel. "Mister Brooks, fire phasers at all communications towers save the one she’s broadcasting on. I want the others leveled." He looked at the screen. "Let’s also target one-half of their power stations. Maybe without communications and power, her own people can talk some sense into her."

Brooks nodded. "Firing phasers, sir."

Saavik turned from Tactical. "Communication towers are destroyed, Captain."

He glanced at the chronometer above the main viewing screen. 1215. Less than two hours before I become a butcher.


It was 1338 when Willis O’Brien arrived on the bridge. He had managed to repair Holocam Gamma, and set it up immediately, positioning it for a view of the mainviewer. He glanced around the bridge as he worked, all faces were drawn and taut. Ch’terr’s feathers had an almost pink tinge to their yellow coloring; Brooks looked every bit of fifty some odd years, with maybe twenty more added on. The younger Humans were all grimly determined to look anything un-grim, and it made for some disturbing viewing. Uhura looked angry, more than anything else. Saavik and Escri were emotionless. Chekov himself looked determined and resigned at the prospect that he would have no choice but to fulfill his mission.

O’Brien set up Holocam Beta overhead above Science Two. It would capture the motions of the bridge crew as they followed their orders, but it wouldn’t be focused on any particular individual nor any particular face. Holocam Alpha would be focused on Chekov as he issued orders, but he locked out the zoom feature. The viewers would see the captain issue orders, but would be unable to see his reactions.

He pulled out his monitor board and checked the holocam angles. Everything looked ready.

"Mister Brooks, target all Tholian production installations with all weapons," ordered Chekov, and Uhura glanced over at O’Brien. He met her gaze, and turned to Katarina Brooks.

The weapons officer turned. "I’m sorry, sir," she answered. "Request permission to be relieved of duty until further notice."

O’Brien was surprised by her request, and even more so by Chekov’s response.

"Granted," Chekov answered. "And thank you."

"Thank you, sir."

Brooks made her way to the port turbolift, and Ch’terr moved to cover the station. His talons clicked against the pads, and he responded, "L-l-locked on, Captain."

"Sir," came the mechanical voice of Escri, "I, too, request permission to be relieved of duty until further notice."

"Granted," Chekov answered again. "And thank you."

"Thank you, sir."

O’Brien was clearly impressed. Conscientious objectors were treated with respect and decorum, despite their unwillingness to follow orders. He reconsidered his own approach to objecting to Chekov’s decisions earlier, and now he understood. One could always voice concerns and even outright refusals to one’s orders providing decorum was maintained.

Uhura stepped forward and assumed the navigator’s board. She exchanged looks with Demora Sulu. O’Brien noticed that the young ensign looked somewhat fatigued but was plainly willing to follow orders.

O’Brien noted that Chekov looked lost, if only for a brief second, then looked as though he were made of steel. The captain looked at Michaels at Communications. "Hail the Tholians. Let’s give them one more chance to withdraw."

"Aye, sir." After a moment, the young man shook his head, and said, "No reply. They are receiving, but they are not responding, sir."

Chekov looked upward at the chronometer as it read 1400, a faint tear in his eye. "Then let’s do it." He ordered. "Ship to ship: All weapons target production installations and fire at will."

There was a brief pause, and none of the ships opened fire. "Mister Ch’terr, fire photon torpedoes."

"Aye, sir."

O’Brien mentally noted that the Enterprise-B was the first ship to fire on the Tholian colony, and the others joined in as well, following its lead.

Saavik began her analysis of the assault. "Torpedoes are exacting severe damage and destruction to all production facilities."

"Maintain firing rate," Chekov ordered.

Ch’terr turned, "All production plants have been destroyed."

"Can you confirm that, Science Officer?"

"Yes, sir," Vasquez answered. "The level of destruction to production installations is nearly one hundred percent."

"Ship to ship: All weapons cease fire."

"Aye, sir," responded Ch’terr and the pulsing of the torpedo tubes abruptly ended.

"Mister Saavik, analysis, please?"

O’Brien was surprised by the emotionless tone of Saavik’s voice. "Captain, the Tholian production facilities have been destroyed. Casualty rate is approximately eighty percent."

Chekov turned to Michaels. "Can you raise them, Communications Officer?"

"Trying, sir." He adjusted several controls. "We’re getting a response, sir."

"On screen."

The gigahedron lifeform filled the screen. "This is Empress Losatomorphetologincha, Queen of Hive World Seven Four Nine, Tholian Territorial Annex Three Eight Two. We demand your immediate surrender and your withdrawal from our territory. In the interest of interstellar amity, we give you ten minutes to depart from this system."

"Empress," he replied, "your production facilities have been destroyed. You cannot survive there any longer. Surrender," he pleaded. "Allow us to transport you back to Tholian territory."

"We remain steadfast. We will not abandon this colony."

"Empress, your colony faces extinction. We are willing to give you time to withdraw, but you must surrender immediately. Otherwise, I have orders to bomb civilian installations next."

"We have no ‘civilian’ installations. We have soldiers, we have drones, we have workers. We will not surrender. You will withdraw, or we will destroy you."

"With what? You have no planetary defense stations left. We’ve destroyed them!"

"We remain steadfast. We will destroy you. This communication has ended."

The screen shifted back to the view of the planet.

"Sir," Vasquez reported, "they’re firing microwave lasers from the last communications tower."

"Ship to ship: Lock on to all remaining ground installations with phasers and photon torpedoes. Fire at will."

This time, O’Brien noted, the Repulse fired first, and the other ships joined in the assault against Hive 749. He looked around the faces of the command crew as the clicking of phasers and pulsing of torpedoes echoed hollowly around the bridge. Demora had tears streaming from her eyes as she held her post. From the dark flush in her complexion, he could tell Vasquez was equally moved, but she held back the tears. The engineering station was unmanned, as was the security station. Michaels held his back to the holocams, and O’Brien was wondering what the eager-faced young man must be feeling.

Uhura’s face was darker, and she clearly didn’t have her heart in monitoring navigation. Chekov was stone-faced, no emotion registering. O’Brien noted that the captain didn’t look at the screen, though. He checked instrumentation, would stand briefly, walk to the tactical station to view the results of the assault, then would return to the center seat without a word to anyone.

"All planetary installations and facilities are destroyed," Vasquez reported after a few minutes.

"Ship to ship: Cease fire."

"There are a few survivors down there," the science officer reported. "Less than twenty, but they’re down there."

"Thank you, Lieutenant."

Chekov stood. "Number One, you have the conn. Recall all bridge personnel. Mister Saavik, you’re with me."

"And where are we going, Captain?" she asked.

He turned to the viewscreen. "There." He turned back. "You have a problem with that?"

"No, Captain." She paused. "Our spacesuits will not sustain us for a lengthy period in such a hostile environment."

"Agreed. A ten minute tour to round up the survivors is all we’ll need."

"Recommend I accompany you, sir, with at least a dozen security officers!" called Ch’terr from across the bridge.

Chekov turned to regard the security chief. "Agreed, Lieutenant."

O’Brien stepped forward. "I’d also like to accompany you, Captain."

Chekov seemed to consider the request for a moment. "No, Willis. I actually would like you along, but I will not risk a civilian in a potentially hostile situation. Request denied."

O’Brien was about to object when the captain added, "However...I will take along a few holocams and give you access to our live feeds from the planet’s surface."

"Thank you, Captain."

"Then everyone will meet in Transporter Room Two in ten minutes."


It was more like fifteen when Chekov arrived. Ch’terr had a dozen security officers assembled, dressed in the class 1 environmental suits that would afford them an hour’s protection against the extreme environment of Alpha Tucanae IV. Saavik adjusted her helmet somewhat, opening the visor. "Are we ready, Captain?"

Chekov nodded, helmet in hand. "Major Mason and the Starfleet Marines will be joining us." He pulled the helmet on and sealed it.

"The Tholians will no doubt be injured. How will be transport them back to the ship, given their thermophilic nature?" Saavik asked.

Chekov shrugged. "I’ve got Lieutenant Commander Sorenson working on it. She thinks we’ll be able to house them in the impulse engines."

"You are no doubt attempting to be humorous, Captain."

"Unfortunately, I’m not," he answered.

Some of the security squadron took their places on the transporter platform. "Energize," Chekov ordered, and Ch’terr and his first group dematerialized. The second group of security officers to their places, and again Chekov ordered, "Energize." He turned to Saavik and one remaining security guard. "All right, Saavik? Let’s see if we can help."


The planet was Hell.

Chekov decided he would find some way to get that name, or some variant of it, registered for the planet when they beamed back aboard. He surveyed the landscape, and was amazed. There were shards of shattered crystals everywhere. The dark red soil contrasted with the gray clouds of vaporized lead overhead and the volcanoes erupting in the distance with mammoth yellow sulfur flows, outcroppings of obsidian and other igneous rocks everywhere. It was literally Hell.

Saavik held her tricorder close to her visor so she could read it. "Sir, these shards of crystal are the remains of their installations...and of themselves." She was obviously impressed. "Fascinating. Apparently, the Tholians ‘grow’ their installations from mineral deposits in the soil."

Suddenly, they were joined by a dozen Starfleet Marines. Major Mason made his way to Captain Chekov. "Sir, permission to secure the area."

"Already done, Major," reported Ch’terr.

Chekov watched in amusement as the Skorr adjusted his spacesuit. It was of Skorrian design, of course, so that he could wear it with comfort on the planet. And in it, he was quite intimidating to most people.

Except, of course, to a Starfleet Marine.

"I mean no disrespect, Lieutenant. I’m sure your men are well...trained."

Chekov rolled his eyes. "Major, this area is secure. I want you and your men to secure an even greater perimeter."

There was a flash of light, and one of Ch’terr’s security men screamed in agony. His suit decompressed, and the poisonous gases instantly took the man’s life as the rest of the landing party ducked for cover.

"I think it’s safe to assume that this area is not secure," Mason noted dryly.

"Your amusement at the death of one of my men is not appreciated," Ch’terr clipped back.

Chekov had had enough. "If either of you wish to appear favorably in my report, this bickering will stop this second. Ch’terr, I’ve lost a crewmen. Why?"

Ch’terr whipped out his tricorder and began scanning.

Saavik, also behind the same cover of rock outcropping as the other three, reported, "A high-powered laser from a Tholian approximately six hundred meters outside the secured area." She looked at her readings. "This must be one of the soldier class, sir. Its laser is a part of its body."

There was another flash of coherent light, and a rock outcropping exploded, sending shards into the suits of three marines.

"Mason to Enterprise. Emergency beam up of all personnel!"

"Unable to comply," came the response from Uhura. "They’re jamming us somehow, Major. Is the captain—"

"I’m fine," answered Chekov. "We’ve got four casualties already. Cut through their jamming and get us aboard, damn it! Chekov out." He took his phaser out of its holster. "Give me a bearing, Saavik," he ordered.

Mason leaned against the outcropping and armed his phaser rifle. "You’re probably out of range for that Phaser Two, Captain. Let me have at him."

Saavik examined her tricorder. "Azimuth twelve degrees."

Mason cocked the phaser rifle back, and then rolled out onto the plain. He opened fire before he was set, hoping to hit his target before it could react to his sudden appearance. There was a faint popping sound, and Saavik called out, "You got him!" Mason rolled into an upright stance, then stood, making his way. Suddenly, out of the rubble ahead, came a decahedron.

"Invaders must die! Invaders must die! Kill the invaders!" his translator provided for him.

He opened fire, and the crystalline entity exploded as an old-fashioned light bulb might when dropped.

Mason turned to Chekov. "What is it with these guys?!"

The captain turned to his tactical officer. "Fire ants," he answered obliquely, but Saavik would know he was paying her a compliment for her insight into the situation.

She nodded, reading her tricorder. "There are only ten other Tholians alive in the colony, sir."


"Extermination, sir," Saavik answered.

Chekov shook his head. "I’ve no stomach for it, Commander."

"If we don’t do this, sir, there is a chance the colony could return."

Chekov considered it. "Then let’s offer to help the survivors, but I also want to make sure there’s no more loss of life on our side."

"Agreed, Captain. Perhaps the major and his squad?"

Chekov nodded. "Major, get your men assembled. We’re going to try to offer aid to any survivors, but we expect to meet...some resistance."

"Invaders must die! Invaders must die! Kill the invaders!" came a shriek over the universal translator in Chekov’s helmet.

He turned to see another decahedron heading for him. "Please, vwe only vwant to help you!"

It shrieked something untranslatable, and came at them, snapping crystalline mandibles at them.

Saavik and Mason opened fire with their phasers, and with another POP, the Tholian exploded, adding its shards to those of the others.

"Captain, this way!" came a voice. It was Ch’terr; he had gone to check on his man but had discovered something far more important. "Captain, I’ve found their eyrie!"

"Invaders must die! Invaders must die! Kill the invaders!" again came the shriek over the universal translators in everyone’s helmets.

There was a flash of coherent light, and one of the marines died instantly.

"Damn it, another soldier!" Chekov dropped to his knees and opened fire.

Beams of phased energy struck the Tholian warrior from all sides, and it exploded violently, sending shards of crystal amidst the Enterprise personnel.

With two Starfleet Marines assuming posts outside the tunnel, the landing party entered. All around, there were hexagonal structures, reminding Chekov of a Terran honey bee’s comb. Inside them, small crystal forms could be seen. Most were dead, but there were a few—a very few—moving, alive.

Saavik whipped up her tricorder, and was amazed to discover... "Ch’terr is correct, Captain. It’s a creche for the Tholians! And one of the surviving larvae is a queen!"

"Bozhe moi," Chekov said. "Can we safely transport the...larvae to the Enterprise and then to a Tholian world?"

"Theoretically, yes, Captain. We would have to use the impulse engines as Chief Engineer Sorenson suggested as a nursery, if you will, but it is possible."

"Invaders must die! Invaders must die! Kill the invaders!" came a shriek over the universal translator in her helmet, interrupting her train of thought.

It was joined by another. "They want to take the children! Kill them! Kill them all!"

Saavik and Chekov watched in horror as the Tholian nurses cracked open the fragile larvae. "You cannot have them! You cannot have them!" it shrieked. Its horrific task completed, it turned on the landing party. "Invaders must die! Invaders must die! Kill the invaders!"

All security officers opened fire, and the last two remaining Tholians exploded violently.

"Damn," Chekov mumbled.

Saavik scanned the area. "No other Tholian lifeforms detected, sir. The colony is destroyed."

Chekov looked at the shards in the tunnel. "Let’s get the hell out of here."


In the conference room of the Enterprise, Chekov had assembled the captains of the surviving ships, Major Mason and Ambassador Spock prior to his contact with Admiral Davis. They were a subdued lot, but Chekov had seen to it they each had a cup of coffee or tea. The Tellarite Gret was gingerly nursing his burned hoof while Arex had two arms in slings. Though the cartilage had been knitted, it would still be a few days before his chief medical officer would let him do without the slings. Sulu had made up with Kelsey, and the two were enjoying a relaxing conversation, discussing the ramifications this mission would have on Federation politics and policies.

Chekov listened politely as Mason explained the significance of their recent mission. "Imagine, Captain, we now know more about the Tholians than we ever knew before. We know that they have different physiological structures depending on their functions in their society. The more important the function, the greater the number of faces to their crystalline form. We also know that the higher the rank of the individual, the lengthier their names. It’s going to be useful in trying to fathom their behavior."

Spock stepped forward. "We also have confirmation that they will defend their territory to the last Tholian. It makes it more imperative that we come to a peace accord with the Tholian Assembly itself, and, I hope, soon."

Chekov raised an eyebrow. "I thought hope was a Human failing, Mister Ambassador."

"It is, Captain, but after all, I am speaking in your language," answered Spock, matching Chekov with an eyebrow of his own.

The bosun’s pipe whistled for attention. "Chekov here," the captain said into the open mike.

"Incoming transmission from Starfleet Command."

"Transfer it to the viewscreen in here." Chekov moved to his seat, and the others joined him at the oval table. "Captain Chekov standing by, Admiral."

The screen faded in, and Admiral Lystra Davis greeted them with a curt smile. "Good evening, gentlemen. My staff and I have gone over the results of today’s assault on the Tholian colony on Alpha Tucanae Four, and we are more convinced than ever that we did the right thing, however cruel it may seem. As Captain Chekov himself indicated during his interview with I.N.S., the Tholians simply have so little in common with us that negotiations, such as Ambassador Spock’s peace accords, may be flatly impossible." She paused. "However, we have a greater understanding of the Tholian culture, and given time, perhaps peace can be mediated between the Tholian Assembly and the Federation. It is my greatest hope that a lasting peace between our two peoples will be accomplished within my lifetime."

Chekov and the other assembled captains nodded in agreement.

"Gentlemen, I’m going to issue the following assignments. Orders, sealed orders and background information will be directed to your ships within the hour. Captain Arex, the Repulse is to report to Earth for repairs. At which time you and your crew can indulge yourselves in shore leave. Captain Gret, the warp tug Eratosthenes should be arriving within the hour. The El Cid is to be taken to Starbase Three where it will be decommissioned. You, on the other hand—"

"That’s hoof, sir," Gret interjected.

She smiled. "—hoof it is then. You will transfer your belongings to the Repulse, and hitch a ride to Earth. The Shiloh is awaiting her new captain."

The Tellarite stood, honored by the announcement. The Shiloh was a heavy cruiser of the Excelsior-class, recently commissioned.

"Captain Sulu, Captain Chekov, you are to remain in the Alpha Tucanae system for the next three days. I want to make sure that there are no...complications with additional Tholians."

"Do you expect trouble, sir?" asked Sulu, concerned.

"No, nothing of the sort. But the Federation Council has requested we retain a strong presence in the system for a few days. Just in case..."

Bureaucrats making military decisions, thought Chekov to himself. "Understood, sir."

"After three days, the Enterprise is to report to Starbase Three for repairs. Following that, she is to continue on her mission to explore the Beta Quadrant. We’ve made some enemies there today, I have no doubt. Perhaps you can find us some friends."

Chekov bowed his head slightly.

"The Excelsior is to head in the opposite direction. During the Kelvan War, we detected a new race, a race that we still haven’t gotten a name for, deep in the Alpha Quadrant. The only thing we’ve seen have been long-range imaging of their starships. Somewhat like the Terran horseshoe crab, these things look like warships. I want the Excelsior to see if you can locate them and their homeworld."

"Yes, sir," Sulu replied.

"Ambassador Spock, as the Federation’s ambassador-at-large, you’re free to go where you please, but the Federation Undersecretary for Planetary Relations was wondering..."

"With your permission, I shall remain aboard the Enterprise, for the time being," the Vulcan answered. "Or until such time as the Federation needs me."

"Thank you. Major Mason?"

"Sir!" the Starfleet Marine officer snapped to attention.

"You’re to transfer yourself, your men and your materiel to the Chosin. Captain Kelsey, you have some sealed orders awaiting you on your ship. I don’t mean to rush you off, but time is of the essence."

"Understood, Admiral." Kelsey shook hands with Sulu and waved goodbye to Arex, Gret and Chekov as he made his way to the transporter room. Mason made his way out without goodbyes, just a quick nod of the head.

"I guess that about covers it, gentlemen. You’ve all done an outstanding job in what has to have been the most difficult mission of your careers. Of course, given the nature of this assignment, I am not going to put any of you up for a commendation."

"Thank you, Admiral," Arex and Sulu said simultaneously as Gret and Chekov nodded.

"Starfleet out."

Chekov looked at his friends. He raised his coffee cup in a toast. "To absent friends."

"Here, here."

And with that, the group dispersed.


Chekov sat back in the large sofa of the forward observation deck. Leaning his neck back, he allowed it to rest on the back of the sofa. He heard someone clearing their throat, and he knew who it was. "Yes, Willis, vwhat is it?"

"Good evening, Captain. Um...I hate to disturb you, but I’d like to ask you a few questions...on the record."

Chekov pulled his head up with a start. He glanced up and saw three holocams floating in position nearby. "Please don’t tell me we’re live..."

"No, Captain. I wouldn’t do that to you. Can we get started, though? I haven’t recharged their batteries since this afternoon."

Chekov acquiesced. "By all means, Willis."

O’Brien sat down in a chair beside the sofa. "Good evening," he said, looking at Holocam Alpha. "By now, you’ve all seen the destruction of the Tholian colony on Alpha Tucanae Four. You’ve seen the horror of such destruction, but you’ve also seen the horror on the faces of those who had no choice but to carry out this extreme measure in order to protect the lives of the citizens of the Federation. This evening, we’re talking with Captain Chekov, who no doubt faced the toughest day of his career."

"Good evening, Willis," he said casually to O’Brien.

"Captain, what was it like, ordering the destruction of a colony of ten thousand people?"

"I suspect that I will never forget my personal horror at having to do what had to be done," Chekov admitted.

"Your own crew no doubt would agree with you. But two of your command staff left their posts in protest. What will become of them?"

"Nothing," Chekov answered.

"Nothing? No notice in their records, no report to Starfleet?"

Chekov frowned. "Why would I do such a thing? Starfleet is not a strictly military organization, Willis. It has many military hierarchical structures, but Starfleet officers are allowed to object conscientiously to orders they deem questionable, providing, of course, we are not in the midst of a life or death struggle. Today, two of my officers chose to relieve themselves of duty rather than follow my orders to destroy the Tholian colony. I cannot and will not fault them for their views."

"But you could..."

"Da. I could relieve them from duty and transfer them to another vessel or base. But that will not happen."

"And why not?"

"Because I respect their opinions and beliefs. I don’t agree with them, but I can understand their views."

"And if they refuse to follow orders such as these again?"

Chekov was almost visibly flabbergasted, but he understood Willis O’Brien was not asking for himself, but for his viewers. "Today, I issued orders that, regardless of the need, have stained my hands with the blood of ten thousand people. Let us all pray that no one will ever have to do the same."

"Indeed," came a deep bass voice from behind them.

Ambassador Spock sat down beside Chekov on the sofa, and O’Brien adjusted his holocams to include the Vulcan in his shot.

"Good evening, Ambassador. You weren’t on the bridge today, were you?"

"I was not," Spock admitted.

"What were you doing?"

"I was deep within meditation. This entire incident has been profoundly disturbing to me."

"Ambassador, was there any other way?"

Spock shook his head. "Logically, we could have ceded the planet to the Tholians, but the safety of the founding worlds of the Federation—Earth, Andor, Vulcan, Tellar—would have been at risk from the Tholians. We could have blockaded the system, and Vulcan itself was in favor of this option, but the cost of such a blockade would have been...astronomical. My calculations show that it would have destroyed the economic foundation of Vulcan and the rest of the Federation within three years."

"So we had no choice?"

"Given that the Tholians refused to help their own people, given that the Tholians refused to surrender or withdraw from the planet, no, we had no other choice."

"What would Surak have done, Mister Ambassador?"

Spock paused for an instant. "I am not Surak, Mister O’Brien. I have no doubt that he would have been in favor of ceding Alpha Tucanae Four to the Tholians. He would even have beamed down himself with the news, and they would have killed him outright. However, despite my initial objections, I have come to realize that Starfleet has done what was for the best."

"That sounds contrary to everything I know about Vulcans."

"Vulcans are pacifistic, not pacifists."

"I stand corrected. Well, I must say that this has been quite an experience for all of us."

"Indeed," Chekov and Spock unintentionally said together.

"For I.N.S., this is Willis O’Brien." He used his holoremote, and turned to Spock and Chekov. "Thank you, gentlemen."

"Anytime, Willis. Anytime."

December 29th 2294

Captain’s Log, Stardate 9499.5
U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Chekov recording.

Long range sensors have detected no vessels other than our own in our vicinity. The Enterprise is remaining in orbit above Alpha Tucanae IV while the Excelsior is performing a detailed survey and analysis of each of the planets in this system. While Alpha Tucanae IV is most suitable to their life form, I thought it best to make sure that all the planets in this system are free from any other Tholian presence.

"You okay, Number One?"

Uhura looked up from Communications with a start. Chekov stood beside her station, leaning against a stanchion. "Oh, Chekov...I’m sorry, Captain. My mind’s been elsewhere."

"So I’ve noticed. You haven’t had much to say lately, Uhura, and that’s not like you."

"Quite a victory we have here, isn’t it?" she asked blankly, and Chekov leaned closer.

"I don’t feel victorious, Penda."

"I know you don’t, Pavel. I didn’t mean to imply you did." She nodded to the viewscreen. "What happened there was not your fault. It wasn’t even the Tholians’. They’re just be understood by us Humans."

"For the past few days, though, you’ve distanced yourself from me," he spoke softly so as to be heard only by Uhura.

"Because you needed it. You might not realize it, but if I had been at your side more than I was, I’m not sure we could have followed our orders."

Chekov nodded. "I knew you objected to them, Uhura. I knew it all along. I was surprised that you weren’t one of those who left the bridge prior to the final assault."

"I was kinda surprised at myself." Her face clouded. "And disappointed, too."

"I’m glad you took Escri’s station. I know it was hard for you."

"I know it was hard for you."

"Captain," called Saavik from the tactical station.

Chekov walked across the bridge. "Yes, Commander?"

"I’ve completed an analysis of the Tholian attack patterns on our engines and those of the Repulse, and have formulated a practical defense against it."

"Excellent, Saavik. Have it on my desk by morning; forward a copy to Starfleet Command. We need to make sure that what happened to the Bradley—and almost to us—doesn’t happen again."

"Yes, Captain."

He surveyed the bridge. All hands were making adjustments, doing some ‘housekeeping’ chores as the Enterprise crew readied the ship for its departure from this system in the next two days. All was nearly ready, and Chekov decided it was time to bury the hatchet.

"Number One, if needed, I’ll be in Engineering," he called to Uhura.

"Shall I have Sickbay standing by?" she asked, batting her eyes.

"No, I don’t think she’s in any danger from me," he answered.

"I’m not worried about her, Captain."

Chekov pursed his lips and bit his tongue. He entered the lift, noting his executive officer’s mirth.


"Captain on the deck!" called a technician who was working on a panel next to the door as Chekov entered.

The new chief engineering officer looked across the engineering deck where she was overseeing a technician’s use of a neutrino welder on a key structural element of the warp core. She placed her hand on the technician and asked him to hold off for a moment. Quickly making her way to Chekov, she came to a casual stance of attention before him. "Lieutenant Commander Katya Sorenson, sir. Welcome to Engineering."

Chekov’s eyes narrowed a millimeter. "Thank you, Chief. Status, please?"

"With the replacement parts we brought with us from the Chosin, we won’t be needing much time in a repair dock, sir. I’ve even got Ray working with the neutrino welder to reinforce the inner hull, and I’ve got five others outside doing the same. We’ll have all the microfractures sealed by this evening. The ship will be almost as good as new by twenty-one hundred hours."

"I’m impressed, Chief."

"Thank you, Captain."

They stood, staring at each other, sizing each other up. Chekov decided he should ‘blink’ first, and he did. He opened his mouth to say something insightful, something witty, something to be saying something, but he couldn’t find the words.

She smirked at him. "It’s probably insubordinate to say this, but it looks like this might be a rather difficult tour of duty."

Chekov shook his head slightly. "No, Commander. That’s not insubordinate, but it looks to be true." He offered his hand to her. "Pavel Chekov."

She tilted her head in surprise, but took his hand. "Katya Sorenson."

"Welcome aboard, Chief."

"A new game?"

Chekov nodded. "New game," he confirmed. What did the Vulcans call this? kaiidth. What was, was. What is, is. What will be, will be.

"And the old game?"

"It’s over. You lost."

"I’ll do better this time."

"I hope so." He glanced around the engine room. "I’d say you’re off to a good beginning."

She nodded. "Thank you, sir."

"Now, I’d like to see what you’ve done with the starboard impulse manifolds. They took a direct hit from a plasma torpedo..."

As they walked toward the starboard impulse engine, Chekov knew they’d gotten off to a better start this time, and he hoped it would last...


"I beg forgiveness," Saavik began tentatively.

Although being interrupted from his meditations, Spock responded to his protégé, "This is no intrusion, Saavik-kam." He offered her a chair near his firepot.

Saavik carefully rubbed the back of the chair, allowing her fingers to caress the woodwork. She no doubt recognized it as being one of the Lady Amanda’s mahogany antiques, one over four hundred years old. Gingerly, as if fearful of breaking it, she sat down. "I have come to express my gratitude to you in regards to David’s katra."

"There is no need to express gratitude. It was logical for me to meld with you. He was a dynamic young man, much like his father..." Spock allowed her a sad smile. "I grieve with thee, Saavik-kam."

She nodded, as if accepting his words for what they were: an acknowledgment of loss. "But I have a second reason for visiting you this evening. I do not understand your decision to resign from Starfleet."

Spock was caught off-guard by her inquiry. He reflected on his decision briefly, then realized he had not even bothered to inform her of it. "Without the presence of Captain Kirk, I have no place with Starfleet. He was the point to my counterpoint."

"But you could be the counterpoint to Captain Chekov or Captain Sulu. You could sit in the center seat of any ship you want. Yet you discard your Starfleet career as though it were a thread-worn meditation robe."

He rose from his seat and made his way to the fire pot. Retrieving a kettle, he poured water into it and placed it adjacent to the firepot. "A figurative analogy, but essentially an accurate one," Spock conceded. "However, my place is not at Captain Chekov’s side. You and Commander Uhura seem destined to be his counterpoints, much as Doctor McCoy and I were to Captain Kirk."

"And what of Captain Sulu?"

"He desires no counterpoint, Saavik. He is typically Human: brash, headstrong, self-confident to a flaw. He wishes no counterpoint, and he shall find himself lacking until he adopts a desire for one."

"And the center seat?"

"Holds no attraction for me. I would rather teach at the Vulcan Science Academy or Starfleet Academy than sit in the center seat of a starship ever again. It is not my first, best destiny."

"And being a diplomat is?"

"No, but I am to be denied my destiny. There was nothing so important to me than serving at Jim...Captain Kirk’s side."

"Then why diplomacy?"

"You have studied my family’s lineage. We are of the House of Surak. My father is an ambassador, as his father before him, as his father before him."

"And as his father before him all the way back to the time of Surak, I know."

She is still a volatile creature. Her Romulan/Vulcan admixture makes for an impulsive nature, decided Spock. "Quite." He gauged her carefully. "And what is your first, best destiny, Saavik-kam?"

"I don’t know..." She looked at him strangely. "When did you realize it, Spock?"

Spock reflected on the image of Edith Keeler, standing atop the stairs. "A social worker on Earth told me some three hundred sixty-four point eight two years ago."

She raised an eyebrow but did not pursue what he was sure she recognized was a private matter. "Sometimes I wish someone would tell me if I’m supposed to be here on the Enterprise."

Spock raised an eyebrow higher than hers. "I would have thought it obvious, Saavik-kam. This is now your home."

"But is it not yours?"

Spock shook his head. "No, but I will rest my head here. For a time. However, I will be needed elsewhere, and I will go without a second’s hesitation."

"I don’t look forward to that day, Spock."

"Neither do I," he admitted. "Kaiidth. We cannot fight the very nature of the universe. It would be most unbecoming for a Vulcan to do so."

"But, as you’ve always reminded me, I’m only half-Vulcan, Spock."

"As am I, Saavik."

She looked as though she did not understand his admission. "We chose to be Vulcan?"

"We chose, we choose, we continue to choose to be Vulcan, Saavik."

"Agreed." She stared thoughtfully at him. "Kaiidth."

The kettle began issuing steam from its spout, and Spock moved to fix herbal tea for himself and Saavik. My time aboard the Enterprise has been most productive after all, he decided with a smile.


"Mind if I join you?"

Janice Rand and Penda Uhura looked up from their dinner trays to see Christine Chapel holding a tray of her own.

"By all means, Christine," answered Rand.

"Please," agreed Uhura, gesturing to the empty seat at their table. "We were just talking about old times."

Chapel sat down and looked decidedly chapfallen.

Rand noticed first. "Why so glum, Doc?" she asked, raising a cup of tea to her lips.

Chapel sighed. "You can never go home again," she remarked.

Uhura, who had been concentrating on her Caesar salad, looked up with a start and choked. "Excuse me?"

"I was just saying you can never go home again," the doctor repeated.

The executive officer cleared her throat a few times, and sipped her ice water. She swallowed hard, and turned to the chief medical officer, concern filling her eyes. "Christine, what brought this on?"

"I’d have to say this mission did."

Uhura was perplexed. "I don’t understand."

"Over the past two weeks, I’ve come to realize that I don’t really belong here on the Enterprise."

"And why is that?" Rand asked.

"I just don’t," the doctor answered. "How’s that old song go? ‘Those were the days, my friend.’"

Rand chimed in. "‘We thought they’d never end.’"

Chapel took her turn. "‘But we were young...’"

Uhura grimaced. "You’re going to have to do a little bit better than that, Chris. Tell us what events have led you to believe you don’t belong here."

"I think I’m here for the wrong reasons," the doctor admitted.

"How so?"

"I came here searching for what I’d lost. You know, I served on the Enterprise during the five year mission, and I felt as though I were a part of the family. When I signed on the Enterprise to serve as her chief medical officer, I was frightened out of my mind. I was so relieved when Doctor McCoy returned, and things were pretty much as they were. I was part of the family again."

Uhura nodded in understanding. "And after the Serenidad tragedy ended the second five year mission prematurely, we all went our separate ways. Chris, you took a posting at Starfleet Sector General as the liaison officer between Starfleet Medical and the Federation Council. For all intents and purposes, you’ve been gone for twenty years. You can’t expect to pick up right where you left off."

Chapel turned to Rand. "But you did, didn’t you, Janice?"

Rand was nonplused. "Don’t know what you’re talking about, Doc. I left the Enterprise after six months. I served again after the V’ger incident as chief transporter officer, but I never in all my time aboard the Enterprise felt a part of ‘the family.’ After Serenidad, I was transferred to Epsilon Two. I was transferred from posting to posting, slowly moving my way up the chain of command. About the time the Enterprise returned from its encounter with Khan, I was a full commander at Starfleet Command’s Deep Space Communications office. In fact, I stayed there until a few months before Sulu got command of the Excelsior, but I’ve never felt a part of anything no matter where I’ve been posted, other than perhaps as a part of history."

"You don’t feel any sense of belonging?"

"To Starfleet? To the Enterprise? To the Excelsior? Naw. This is a job, Christine. I work a schedule, six days a week, eight hours a day. I get Mondays off, and I get four weeks’ vacation a year. And the pay is very good."

Uhura chuckled and shook her head in disbelief. "I still can’t believe you consider this," she gestured about, "‘just a job.’"

Rand shrugged. "I like my job. What more could anyone want?"

Chapel rolled her eyes. "I had thought Chekov wanted me to be a part of his inner circle, the family of this ship. You know, like Captain Kirk had Mister Spock and Doctor McCoy. They were as perfect a trinity as you could hope to find. I was hoping we would have such a trinity here—you, I and Chekov."

Uhura’s voice reflected her sadness. "And it doesn’ least, not yet. You’re not one of the captain’s confidantes yet, and you might find yourself completely out of the loop. But you’re right; you signed on for the wrong reason."

"And you think I should leave?"

Rand said, "I think you should be honest with yourself, Doc."

Uhura nodded. "You may have come here for the wrong reason, Christine. But whatever you do, don’t compound that mistake with another one: Don’t leave for the wrong reason."

Chapel stared at her, a decision being made. She stood, tilted her head slightly, silently saying ‘thanks’ and ‘see you around.’


Sulu chortled deeply and coughed a few times. "So what the devil is this stuff, Pavel?"

"It’s Drambuie."

"Wow." The Excelsior captain coughed some more. "Is it from Russia?"

"Nyet," Chekov shook his head. "It’s made of scotch and honey. Scotty gave me this bottle."

Sulu looked downcast. Chekov nonchalantly refilled their glasses without comment. Sulu lifted his glass. "To absent friends."

Chekov raised his drink. Together, they took a slug of the liqueur.

"I wasn’t wrong, Pavel."

"I didn’t say anything, Hikaru."

"I can see it in your eyes. You’re still angry."

"I am disappointed."

"My recommenda—"

Chekov raised a single finger, halting Sulu mid-sentence. "You usurped my command with Starfleet, Hikaru. You did an end run around me to Admiral Soyen. You know it, and I know it."

"I did what I did because I thought it was for the best."

"You thought you knew better than me. You didn’t."

"Given that the Tholians destroyed the Jenolen, I—"

Again, the raised finger. "That’s an assumption. I don’t agree with it at all."

"Then where is she?"

"Somewhere out there. Somewhere we might have found had we not been diverted by your decision to interfere with my first mission."

"You could go back and finish your original spiral search course."

Chekov shook his head. "I’ve been told no. We’ve got orders to put into Starbase Three for repairs, and then a three-month stint in the Beta Quadrant."

"They’ve got me going the opposite way."

"That’s why we needed to get together now. To bury the hatchet now, once and for all, or we’re never going to be friends again."

Sulu met his friend’s eyes. "Pavel, I’m sorry that I went behind your back. I shouldn’t have, and I won’t do it again."

Chekov nodded. "Hikaru, I’m sorry I exploded at you on an open channel on your bridge, and I won’t do it again."

"Still friends?"

"Friends." Chekov raised his glass. "L’chaim."

Sulu raised his. "Salût."


Willis O’Brien and Demora Sulu entered the lower shuttlebay. Sulu walked to the deck flight officer and presented her clearance. The flight officer looked at the padd and thumbed it. Then he waved her and O’Brien on. "Good flight, Ensign Sulu. The Cervantes stands ready. Just don’t go tilting at any windmills."

O’Brien and Sulu laughed as they boarded the shuttlecraft. She took her seat at the pilot’s controls and ran a quick pre-flight check. As O’Brien situated his holocams, she energized the engines. She applied a brief spasm of lift thrusters, and the Cervantes rose from the pad. With a gentle tap or two of the rear thrusters, she nosed the shuttlecraft out of the shuttlebay.

Using his remote, O’Brien turned on the holocams and began a carefully prepared monologue. "Here we are, gentlebeings, as we leave the Enterprise’s lower shuttlebay. Our pilot today may be familiar to you as the subject of an earlier interview and as the pilot of Ambassador Spock’s shuttlecraft. So, Ms. Sulu, what’s our agenda for today?"

Sulu smiled at one of the holocams. "We’ve got two items. First, I’m to conduct a visual survey of the Enterprise prior to our departure from this star system. The captain requires a detailed description of any superficial damage to the ship’s exterior hull."

"Why can’t the ship’s engineers make such a report?"

She blinked a second or two. "Uh, they did. However, Starfleet requires that such a report be confirmed by another department. As the ship’s chief helm officer, such a responsibility would logically fall upon my department. Next time, it might be the ship’s chief navigator who is ordered to make this visual inspection."

"I see. And how does the Enterprise-B look?"

"There’s some plasma scorching that will need to be polished away and recoated with ceramic when we put in to Starbase Three. The visual flight log is recording everything we see."

"And the second reason for this flight?"

"I’m to log some flight time in a shuttlecraft. As the Enterprise’s helmsman, I’m also expected to be its most proficient shuttle pilot."

Sulu nudged the controls, and the shuttlecraft moved toward the port nacelle and spiraled around it.

O’Brien resisted the sensation of vertigo. "So how is it that there are so many mundane chores on a ship like the Enterprise?"

She laughed. "You mean why is it you’ve never seen it before? Well, when your viewers watch, say, a re-enactment of the Federation’s first encounter with the Gorn at Cestus Three, you didn’t see the chief engineer’s entire department inspect the ship and ready it for battle during their pursuit of the Gorn raider, did you? Or why they didn’t show the Enterprise personnel return to Cestus Three to bury the dead, make repairs or wait for new personnel to arrive?" She laughed again. "Because it doesn’t make for good drama, Willis. Oh, it’s important, but it’s not why your viewers tune in, now is it?"

"Of course not."

"So why did you bring them along for this ride?"

O’Brien was, possibly for one of the few times in his entire life, utterly, completely, totally speechless.

She smiled at his reaction.

December 30th 2294

Captain’s Log, Stardate 9499.5

The Enterprise has rendezvoused with the Excelsior above Alpha Tucanae Four. All systems are operating at 92.3% efficiency. The ship will require three days in the orbital docks above Starbase 3 to finish repairs to the hull exterior. Considering this vessel was nearly destroyed last week, the repair work performed by our engineering staff is phenomenal. Commendations to the entire staff, and especially our new chief engineer, will be appended to this entry.

We are expecting to rendezvous with a courier from Starfleet Intelligence within the hour. No doubt, our "Lieutenant Rathan" will be transferred to their high security facility on Alcatraz.

Captain Pavel Chekov made his way down to the brig, a silent Captain Kevin Thomas Riley at his side. The two of them had been friends but never had been close. After the Serenidad Tragedy, Riley had taken a posting as First Officer of the Daredevil, an intelligence gathering scoutship. During the Kelvan War, he had actually served as captain of the fleet flagship, the Enterprise, NCC-1701-A. Following the war, he’d been offered a position on the staff of Admiral Yves Gervais–Starfleet Intelligence, and had virtually disappeared. It had been nearly seven years since Chekov had seen him, and he was surprised at how changed Riley was.

So when the doors to the warp sled Thatcher had opened, Chekov was surprised and delighted to see his old shipmate. Until, of course, he realized that Riley smoldered with some sort of muted hostility toward him. That had taken all but one sentence, the first of out of Riley’s mouth: "Take me to the prisoner."

No, how-are-yous, no good-to-see-yous. Just: "Take me to the prisoner."

And not a word since.

They halted before the turbolift doors. "How have you been, Kevin?" asked Chekov while they waited for the lift.

Riley studied him with faint disinterest. "I have no time for small talk, Captain."

"So I see," Chekov answered resignedly.

The doors parted, and Riley and Chekov entered the turbolift. "Brig," ordered Chekov. "Authorization: Leonov Two Three Tereshkova."

The doors closed, and the lift shot to its destination. Chekov was uneasy with Riley’s tenable hostility. He was relieved when the doors opened and Ch’terr stood before them.

"I’m here for the prisoner," Riley stepped forward, ahead of Chekov, presenting his orders to the security chief.

The Skorr scanned the padd quickly, then turned to his captain. "With your permission, Captain Chekov?"

Riley rolled his eyes as Chekov nodded in assent. "By all means, Chief. Let’s not keep Captain Riley waiting. He has ‘no time for small talk.’"

"Then foll-l-low me, sirs."

The group moved to the right, around a corner, to the right again, around another corner to the first security door. An armed guard stood at attention at the door, and Ch’terr snapped off an order to him. The guard pressed a stud, and the door slid aside. Inside the door, Rathan was standing, surrounded on either side by guards. The prisoner’s wrists were shackled to his restraining belt.

"Prisoner ready for transport," said Ch’terr unnecessarily.

Riley stepped forward. "Have him moved to the Thatcher. If he resists, stun him heavily and drag him there."

"Yes, sir," the security chief answered.

Almost with a touch of glee, Chekov decided. No matter. This man was in part responsible for the death of the real Rathan.

"Rathan" was guided forward, a phaser rifle nudging him in the back.

Riley extended his padd to Chekov. "Your signature, Captain."

Chekov took it, searching his former shipmate’s eyes for something, anything familiar. There was nothing there that he could recognize. He signed the padd, and returned it without further comment.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, Chekov remembered. Whoever had said that surely would have been frightened by the Stygian darkness of Riley’s eyes.

Chekov knew he was. He escorted Riley to the shuttlebay where the warp sled had landed. They didn’t even say goodbye.


It’s been a good year, Admiral Yves Gervais of Starfleet Intelligence reflected. I’ve finally managed to rid the Federation of James T. Kirk, galactic do-gooder and xenophile. He shuddered in disgust, and leaned back in the lounger.

He glanced around his new apartment. It still bore the sailing ship antiques of its former owner, and he would be doing something with them presently. Kirk and his stupid antiques... Still, it had a wonderful view of the bay, fog-bound as it was this early in the morning. It had a wonderful fireplace that warmed the entire room, and it had a nude blonde woman kneeling before him, adjusting the blanket he had wrapped around his legs and refilling his sifter with cognac.

He stroked her hair absently. "That’s good, Sienna. Thank you."

From the faintly pleased (if somewhat blank) expression on her face, it was plain that the woman knew she had done well, and sat at the side of the lounger, apparently waiting to be needed.

Yves Gervais looked at her with a faint smile. The partial mindwipe had done wonders for her temperament. She had been a danger to the Federation, and she’d been dealt with. As one of the senior staff members of the secretive Section 31, he had long ago designated Sienna Gillette as a danger. And, per standard procedures, once identified, those who are dangers are dealt with—permanently and quietly. Her termination from I.N.S. made that possible. No one would ever know what had become of her. She would continue to serve him and to "service" him until he grew tired of her.

Of course, the death of James T. Kirk had not gone exactly according to plan. Starfleet Intelligence had detected the presence of the Nexus. They had seen to it that the flight plan of the El Aurian refugees intersected its meandering course through the galaxy. They had seen to it that the Enterprise-B had been seriously unprepared for its maiden voyage. They had seen to it that no other ships would be in the sector. It had been expected that the Enterprise-B would also be destroyed by the Nexus, ridding the Federation of James T. Kirk as well as that annoying starship engineer Montgomery Scott. John Harriman’s death would have chilled Admiral Burgess Harriman’s relationship with Starfleet. Admiral Bill Smillie would have resigned in disgrace.

And while it hadn’t gone exactly as planned, the results were nearly as good. Pity so many of those alien refugees survived, but hey, you can’t always get what you want.

A faint chime sounded, and he spoke aloud. "Gervais here. Scramble circuit twelve."

"Admiral, this is Riley. The prisoner has been transferred to the Thatcher. We’re en route to the Alcatraz detention center, and should be there in three days."

"Acknowledged," said Gervais. "The Romulans will pay dearly for their treachery. I’ve already ordered an assassination of one of the Praetor’s nephews. We’ll make them think twice before trying to plant a spy or saboteur on one of our vessels again."

"Yes, sir. Any other orders?"

"Yes. I think our Romulan prisoner will be more cooperative if he has a pair of broken patellas suffered from his arrest and goes on a self-imposed hunger strike for the next three days."

There was a brief pause and two deeply satisfying cracking sounds before Riley answered. "Consider it done, sir."

"Excellent. Gervais out."

He smiled and lifted the snifter of cognac to his face. Taking a sip, he was finally content.


At Starfleet Headquarters, Admiral Lystra Davis watched the monitor intently. For decades, she had suspected that Yves Gervais had been behind some of the travesties at Starfleet.

"We could raid the apartment." suggested Admiral Soyen who was at her side.

"By the time we got there, she’d been nothing but a pile of ashes in one of the potted plants or the fireplace itself."

Suddenly, Gervais seemed to look right at the monitor.

"He knows! Damn it, he knows!" whispered Davis in shock. She had gone to great lengths to have operatives she thought loyal to her to plant the holocams in the apartment.

Gervais smiled at the hidden cam and winked. "Happy New Year, Lystra," he said jovially. Then lifted a remote control, and the image went blank.

"I presume we are now at risk, Lystra. Logic dictates that he may even have us eliminated," Soyen deduced.

She shook her head. "He could have killed us outright from the very start. We must be considered...useful in some way."

"Perhaps there’s someone Gervais has to answer to," Soyen speculated.

"Someone who doesn’t want us out of the way."

The Vulcan nodded in agreement.

Realization dawned on her. "Well, at least I now know why Mike Cartwright, Harry Morrow and Bill Smillie were so ineffectual as commanding admirals of Starfleet, why Cartwright and so many others turned against the Gorkon Initiative."

"And I suspect much more, including the deaths of several Starfleet personnel who served with distinction in the areas of alien relations and peace initiatives."

"So how do we fight them, Soyen?"

"I’m not sure we can, Lystra," he admitted. "But I will give the matter some thought."


Chekov sat at his desk in his ready room, looking at the padd. Saavik and Uhura were comfortably seated on the sofa before the large portal. "I’m telling you, Uhura. Kevin Riley scared the hell out of me."

Uhura was uncertain. "You’ve got to be projecting there, Pavel. Kevin is one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. Maybe he’s mad that you got command of the Enterprise?"

"As a captain in Starfleet Intelligence, it is unlikely that Captain Riley would have any interest in commanding a starship," stated Saavik as though her conclusions were fact.

"Then why the anger?"

"Are you sure he was angry, Pavel?" pressed Uhura.

"Vwhat do you mean?"

"Well, you do occasionally get a little uptight when meeting an old shipmate," she said, dancing around the minefield in ballerina slippers.

Chekov blinked. "No, Uhura. Ask Ch’terr. He was there."

"Are you certain he was angry at you, Captain?" Saavik asked.

"Now that I couldn’t say," admitted the captain. He briefly considered asking Saavik to call him ‘Pavel,’ but given the Vulcan predilection for observing military decorum, but decided that now was not yet the time. "But what would he be angry at?"

"Our prisoner?" suggested Saavik.

"His orders?" prompted Uhura.

Chekov shook his head. "I’m not sure. Oh well. Let’s just log that one away for the time being."

Saavik and Uhura nodded.

"Are we ready for our departure the day after tomorrow?"

"The ship is ready, sir," said Saavik. "I’ve just concluded analyzing the visual records made by Ensign Sulu. I would think three days at Starbase Three will be too much time in orbital dock."

Chekov nodded. "So our new chief engineer tells me."

"The crew is getting anxious to get out of here," said Uhura. "Too many people lost too many friends here."

There was a knock at the door. "Come in," called Chekov.

The door slid aside, and Doctor Chapel entered. "Ah, good, Christine. I’m glad to see you could make it." He gestured at the empty chair across from his desk. "So, what’s our medical status?"

"Other than the folks who died in the hull breech in Engineering, we’ve had no more fatalities. To be honest, I was surprised at that."

"A testament, no doubt, to the skills of you and your staff," remarked Saavik.

Chekov smiled at that. "I agree completely."

Chapel bowed her head at the compliment. "We’ll have to transfer a few of the more serious cases to the Starbase Three medical center."

Uhura asked, "Can you get me a list of those folks, Chris? We’ll need to advise Starfleet Personnel as to how many positions we have to fill."

The chief medical officer nodded and jotted a note to herself on her padd. "I thought we got a lot of replacement personnel from the Chosin..."

"We got about half as many as we need, so we’re still going to need more," explained Chekov. "In addition to them, Starfleet’s orders to me also include transferring a detachment of Starfleet Marines to the Enterprise and four pilots and their attack fighters."

"Starfleet expects more trouble?" asked Uhura.

"A reasonable assumption," concluded Saavik.

There was a brief pause, and Chekov smiled warmly at his three senior officers. "This is outside the strict rules of military decorum, but I wanted all three of you to know how glad I am that you’re aboard the Enterprise."

Chapel blushed a bit, and then pressed the CLEAR button on her padd. Chekov noticed as did Uhura, who was suddenly smiling knowingly.

"Something, Christine?" asked the captain.

"Nothing important, Captain. Nothing at all."

Chekov exchanged glances with Uhura who apparently knew more than she was willing to let on.

Saavik was completely unaware of the unspoken conversation, and asked, "Anything else, sir?"

The captain shook his head. "No, I guess that’s it. Let’s get back to work."

December 31st 2294

New Year’s Eve aboard a starship like the Enterprise was a special occasion. It was a time when one reflected on the different people whose lives one had touched. Tonight’s celebration was no exception, Chekov decided. He had spent a few hours aboard the Excelsior, catching up with some of Sulu’s command staff and crew. Some he had known briefly; some he had known seemingly forever. But after such a difficult time as they’d just shared, he had wanted to thank them for their part in the mission.

Now, though, he was back aboard the Enterprise with his friends, his command staff, his officers and his crew. He looked around the recreation area and saw the holiday decorations were still in place: The menorah, the Kwanzaa accoutrements, the Christmas tree (although someone had had to rig a tractor beam to keep the tree standing)--all served as reminders of the season.

Tonight, though, was a special night of celebration, and Uhura had her harp, Spock had his Vulcan lyrette, Michaels had his French horn, and a few other crewmembers had musical instruments as well. Chekov looked at the ship’s chronometer as it slowly began to turn to Stardate 9600.0.

The crew began its countdown. "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six..."

Chekov spied Demora Sulu and Willis O’Brien kissing each other with subdued passion.

"...five, four, three, two..."

Uhura stood and took a breath, readying herself to sing.

", zero!"

"Happy New Year everyone!" called the captain.

Uhura began her song.

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' lang syne?"

The audience joined in.

"For auld syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne."

Katarina Brooks supplied the second verse.

"We two have run about the braes
And pulled the gowans fine
But we've wandered many a weary foot,
Since auld lang syne."

Again the assembled crew joined in.

"For auld syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne."

Michaels sang the third verse.

"We two have paddled in the burn
From morning sun till dine
But seas between us broad have roared
Sin auld lang syne."

Chekov was pleased to see Hikaru Sulu enter the observation deck as the crew sang.

"For auld syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne."

Willis O’Brien’s rich voice dripped of the heather as he sang the next verse to Demora.

"And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine,
And we'll take a right good willie-waught,
For auld lang syne."

The assembled crew continued to sing the chorus energetically.

"For auld syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne."

Chekov raised his glass to Captain Sulu and began to sing,

"And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine;
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne."

The entire assembly joined hands for the last chorus.

"For auld syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne."

Pavel Chekov raised his glass even higher toward Hikaru Sulu who returned the gesture with a newly acquired glass of his own.

"To the past," said Sulu.

"And to the future," chimed in Chekov.

Then they both drank heartily as they toasted their friendship which had survived its greatest challenge.

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