Randy Landers and Rob Morris
supplemental material by Jim Ausfahl
She looked for his face among the crowd at the spaceport terminal. Suddenly, she caught a glimpse of... No, it has to be Peter. James T. Kirk had been missing and presumed dead for well over six months now. She caught another glimpse, and the dark hair convinced her it had to be her passenger.
She made her way through the Arcturians disembarking from a passenger liner. His back was turned to her, obviously scanning the crowd. She tapped him on the shoulder, and he spun around, startled.
"Demora!" he flashed a smile that reminded her of his uncle. "Good to see you again, Ensign Sulu!" he beamed enthusiastically. Then he seemed to realize that she was wearing the two colored coveralls of a non-commissioned officer.
Self consciously, she tapped her pips. "Yeah, I, uh, got busted." She met his searching gaze with embarrassment. Would people ever get over the fact that shed been demoted? Of course, he probably hadnt been told. She changed the subject immediately. "Do you have your orders, Lieutenant?"
He presented her with a padd.
She verified them with her own, then gave him the padd back. "This way, sir," she said, pointing to a nearby portal. "Youre the last one to arrive. The others are already aboard the Collins."
He openly studied her face, and she turned away from his scrutiny, grabbing his knapsack and slinging it over her shoulder. "This your bag? Ill get it for you."
A wave of dizziness washed over her. "Look, Peter, lets go. Were not going to talk about it, okay?"
"Okay," he answered, somewhat tentatively.
She led the way to the portal and stepped through it onto the tarmac where the Enterprise warp shuttle was waiting for them.
Not a word. Not a God damned word, Peter, please, she thought.
As if hed read her mind on her expression, he seemed to understand her desire not to talk about it. And that was all that mattered to her.
Chekov tapped his command chairs armrests lightly with his fingers. Chief Security Officer Chterr turned, his golden plumage tinged by his symbiotic algae with the blue shade that equated with annoyance. The Skorr turned toward him, but he obviously thought better of it and returned his attention to his console. Chekov smiled slightly, but he stopped tapping. Hed forgotten the preternatural hearing of the avian crewmember.
"Captain," Uhura said, walking up to the center seat. "Have you given any consideration to the bridge rotation for Science Two?"
"Nyet, Commander. As the executive officer, thats your decision, of course. I do have my preferences, though." There was a flash of that goofy grin that revealed everything.
Uhura nodded. "Hes my pick, too, Captain. Itll be nice having a Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise again," she said, her smile as broad as hed seen it lately. "Itdve been nicer had there been a Sulu at the helm as well."
He turned to her. "I know...." His tone was cautionary; he really didnt want Uhura bringing up Demora Sulus demotion again. He was reminded of it daily by INSs reporter, Willis OBrien, usually while off-duty in the forward recreation room.
"Captain, I have an revised E.T.A. for the Collins," reported Lieutenant Vasquez from Science One.
Chekov looked at his chief science officer and favored her with an honest grin. He prompted her with a bob of his head.
"Two hours fifty-three minutes."
"Just in time for dinner." Chekov turned to his executive officer. "Number One, Im going to my office to do some paper work. Check in with Shuttle Pilot Sulu hourly. After all, vwe vwouldnt vwant them to get lonely out there."
His other soon-to-be-new-shipmates sound asleep, Lieutenant Peter Kirk had moved up to the co-pilots seat of the shuttlecraft. He watched as his shuttle pilot rubbed her forehead as if she had a headache. "You okay, Demora?"
"Just a headache. I think I need to have my eyes checked."
"Probably a good idea. I have to have my farsightedness corrected from time to time," he remarked casually.
She winced in pain. "My father is slightly nearsighted. Ive always had perfect vision." She squinted at the control board. "Were approaching Enterprise. Taking us out of warp."
"Hows Captain Chekov?" Kirk asked.
"Hes a fair man," she answered. "Jesus!" She brought both her hands to her temples.
"Demora, you all right?" he asked, concerned for her.
"Im fine. Dont distract me while I fly this thing!" she snapped.
Peter looked out the forward port to see the immense Excelsior class starship ahead of them. "Enterprise to Shuttlecraft Collins."
"Enterprise, this is Collins," Sulu answered automatically as she shut down the warp engines.
"Collins, you are cleared for approach. Stand by to disengage engines and allow the tractor beams to bring you in."
"Acknowledged, Enterprise. Collins out." Hands shaking, Demora used the thrusters to bring the shuttlecraft up underneath the massive secondary hull. Suddenly, she keeled over, her head smashing the console with force, her body twitching as she went into some sort of spasm. She began gurgling nonsensically as the Collins began spiraling and tumbling toward the port nacelle strut.
Peter Kirk was many things, but a shuttle pilot, he wasnt not. Hed had basic training, but it would take real talent to stop their freefall. He slammed his hand down on the comlink. "Enterprise, this is Collins. We have a medical emergency! Demoras having some sort of seizure, and were out of control!"
"Dont panic, Lieutenant. Weve got you," came a controlled, feminine voice, and Kirk knew it had to belong to a Vulcan.
The shuttlecraft jolted suddenly as the Enterprises tractor beams snagged it tightly. The other three officers being transferred were thrown from their seats. One of them staggered forward. "Whats going on?"
"Pilots having some sort of attack!" Kirk answered.
The young man looked surprised, but reacted quickly. "Im a med tech. Lets take a look at her. At least she hasnt swallowed her tongue." He reached for the emergency medikit.
A young woman slid into the co-pilots seat. "Here. Let me at her. Ive always been good at this." She tapped a few buttons, and the shuttles tumbling stopped completely. "Enterprise shuttlebay," she said, tapping the comlink. "This is Collins. Bring us in."
The med tech took his turn at the comlink. "Enterprise, we need an emergency transport for the shuttle pilot. Now."
"Were locking on to all five of you. Standby for transport," came the Vulcan womans voice again.
Peter Kirk looked on, a feeling of helplessness threatening to overwhelm him.
It was clear to Peter Kirk that Doctor Christine Chapel knew an emergency when she saw one. Demora Sulu had been brought in on an antigrav gurney, Peter Kirk at her side. As Captain Chekov rushed in to the diagnostic ward, Chapel threw up her hands. "I want all non-medical personnel out of here, now." She looked pointedly at Kirk and Chekov, and the two of them made their way to Chapels office.
This isnt even remotely fair, Kirk thought. He had looked forward to seeing Demora again. From that day at the Academy, when hed gotten those idiots off of her, to just two months ago, theyd exchanged letters like real family. Peter had no special senses or precognition, but Demora Sulu looked bad, and Doctor Chapel looked worse. That surely said it all. He turned to Chekov. "Captain, Im scared."
A comforting hand touched his shoulder. "Im worried about her, too, Peter. But Doctor Chapel knows her way around a human being."
Some of the indicators on the overhead life support monitor were flat-lined. The heartbeat was erratic. Respiration irregular. Kirk watched on as Chapel activated various devices, and the vitals rose considerably. All except for one indicator. Peter watched as he saw the chief medical officer staring at the indicator, seemingly using all her energy to elevate the reading with just her eyes. But it wasnt moving a millimeter. If anything, it had dropped three millimeters since her other vital signs had stabilized.
Kirk could watch no further. He saw down on a sofa in the office, and Chekov soon joined him.
"How do you feel, Lieutenant?"
"Did I ever tell you I was a jinx?" Kirk asked.
"Actually, we had this conversation before, Peter. I am a jinx, too, remember?"
"Do you know how many loved ones of ours have died in the past six months? Jim, Scotty, Teresa and her boys, Davie and Jimmy, Connor Randolph..."
"My father..." added Chekov.
"I didnt know that, sir." Peter Kirk turned and looked out the portal for a few minutes. He sighed and asked, "What was it that Jim said to Khan? Youve killed everyone else. But like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target."
"Da, he said that," Chekov agreed. "I vwas there."
"Was it Khan Jim was were talking to, Captain? Or was it Death itself? And does it really keep missing? Maybe its targets are those we love. We dont cause their deaths. But the old bastard wants to make damned sure we see it happen, or that we pass within millimeters of doing so. The whole damned galaxy watched Teresa die in agony. Now Jims gone, and Scotty, and.... I fought so hard to come back from the madness that had taken me at Dianas and for what? To live to see all these deaths?" He stopped and breathed heavily, as if tugging at the air itself were painful.
Chekov shook his head. "If you hadnt pushed yourself to recover, you never vwould have reconciled vwith Jim Kirk for the five years you had left together. You certainly vwould never have earned Scottys forgiveness. Or met Princess Teresa and those two angels of hers. Teresa vwould have died vwhile Doctor McCoy was imprisoned on Rura Penthe, if not for you. As it stood, you gave the McCoys a year and a half they vwould never have had otherwise. And Demora? Well, that brawl you prevented vwould not have helped her time at the Academy. Conceivably, it could even have ended it. Youve made a difference for the good, Peter. Never forget that." The captains eyes met Kirks.
"Perhaps." But as he looked at Demoras still form, Kirk wondered anew if he were some sort of condemned witness.
"I have to go check in on the bridge. Call me if theres any change in Demoras condition."
"Aye, sir." He heard the door open and close as his new captain left Sickbay.
Peter watched on as Chapel ran diagnostic devices one after the other over Sulus still form. Her countenance looked grim at best, and Kirk feared for the worst. He heard the door open again, and turned, expecting to see Captain Chekov returning. Instead, a tall, swaggering sort of man with short light brown hair entered.
"You...youre dead!" the man whispered.
Kirk had gotten a lot of that reaction from strangers lately. "No, Im Lieutenant Peter Kirk, just transferred here, in fact. And you?" He extended his head in a friendly manner.
The man took it and shook it firmly before turning to look into the diagnostic ward through the transparent aluminum window. "Willis O'Brien, Intergalactic News Service. Im...Demoras boyfriend. How is she?"
A reporter, Peter thought. One of the ones whod been aboard the Enterprise when Jim was killed. "Youll have to speak to Captain Chekov or Doctor Chapel about that, Mister OBrien. I really dont know what to tell you."
He tried to leave, but O'Brien grabbed his arm. "Wait a minute! You were one of those new crewmembers aboard the Collins when Demora fell ill. Tell me what happened, damn it! I have a right to know!"
Peter looked at his arm, then he looked at Willis O'Brien. "Mister O'Brien, have you mastered five levels of Jeet Kune Do?"
"Have you ever bested an oversized Kh'myr Klingon in hand-to-hand combat?"
"Of course not."
Peter looked at his arm again. "I've done both."
O'Brien removed his hand. "Well, at least tell me if she's going to be all right."
Peters eyes ached. "I honestly dont know, Mister OBrien. I dont know."
Doctor Christine Chapel checked her readings one last time as she gathered her data into her padd. She glanced at the unconscious form of Demora Sulu on the med-bed. Chapel didnt think; she didnt want to think; she refused to think; she would not allow this to overwhelm her. Her eyes tightened, but she forced back the tears and stepped into her office where Willis OBrien, Lieutenant Kirk and Captain Chekov were waiting for her.
"Peter, Willis," she said softly. "I need to speak with the captain alone, please."
It looked to her as if Kirk would defy her, but OBrien acquiesced. "Can I see her?"
Chapel nodded. "Go ahead. Just dont try to wake her."
The reporter and the lieutenant strolled into the wardroom. She saw Peter kneel quietly, almost reverently, at Demoras bedside, just as he had done by his mothers body, almost thirty years before. Willis took Demoras hand and clasped it tightly to his chest which was obviously wracking with sobs. Unable to bear the sight and needing to be alone with Chekov, the doctor pressed a button, and the door to her office slid closed.
"That bad?" asked Chekov.
Chapels voice almost cracked. "Terminal."
"Tell me," he said softly.
She took a deep breath, her eyes fluttering. "Demora is suffering from the aftereffects of some sort of brain fluke."
"A brain fluke? I dont understand."
"Its a parasitical lifeform. I dont know where she picked it up, but from what I can tell, it was about six weeks ago."
"Brigktor Four. Demora and two science officers, Lieutenant Vasquez and Ensign Buchanan, shuttled there to conduct a bio-survey while we rendezvoused with the starship Hathaway."
Chapel nodded. "We need to get those two down here to Sickbay as soon as were finished here."
"Then vwhat is wrong vwith her?" the captain sounded frustrated.
The doctor slid her padd into the BellComms docking station and pressed a button. "Lytic enzymes."
"And they are vwhat?"
"Ill explain in a minute." Christine Chapel heard the pain in his voice and knew it mirrored her own. "Well have to try to ascertain how she became infected, but the fluke was probably only a centimeter or two in length."
"When they returned to the Enterprise, they went through decontamination by transporter. That is standard procedure."
"Ill have to check, but the biofilters probably caught it and eliminated it. But the fluke secrets lytic enzymes to make it easier to extract nutrients from the brain. They help form an abscess around the fluke. From what I can tell, Demoras brains proteins were reduced to amino acids and simple sugars. This process causes the walled off abscess to become immensely hypertonic, pulling in water from surrounding tissues. Well, that kept building up pressure in the abscess until the fibrous capsule around it leaks, sort of like a water-filled balloon, spewing more lytic enzymes throughout the brain, causing more abscesses, and growing worse and worse until..." Her voice became unsteady, and Chapel forced herself to breathe. "...until her brain became so riddled with abscesses that it incapacitated her."
"Now that shes here, you can treat her, right?"
The doctor regarded him with sympathy. "Although theres a good chance that some of the neurons of her brain could be regenerated, theres no way I can generate enough of them to return her to normal intelligence."
"Vwhat do you mean?!"
"Pavel, shes basically a mental vegetable right now."
"But she was flying a shuttle less than an hour ago!"
"Peter said she admitted to having a headache, and he noted she appeared to be having spasms of pain before going into a convulsive state," Chapel explained. "I presume that her condition simply reached a point where it advanced exponentially."
"Her forgetfulness, lapses of good judgment, even her tantrum on the bridge last month..."
The doctor nodded. "If shed only come to me with any of these problems..." She glanced out the transparent aluminum window. "If only..." The tears came now, but she otherwise kept her composure.
"Vwhat are our options, Chris?"
"Ive flushed the enzyme from her system using an anti-enzymatic agent. We could keep her on life-support for the rest of her life. We could keep her on life-support until we develop a treatment where we can rebuild as many neurons as possible. But, Pavel, understand this: theres no chance that enough neurons could be regenerated to restore her to normal intelligence, let alone reestablish her personality. For all practical purposes, Demora Sulu was dead on arrival."
"Now, if youll excuse me, Captain. I think I should notify her next of kin..."
"Hikaru... Chris...I need to do it. Its my duty."
"Actually, Pavel. Its mine."
"Well do it together then." He looked up and addressed the overhead comm system. "Captain to Bridge."
"Bridge. Uhura here."
"Number One, have Ensign McNabb raise the Excelsior."
"Please, Penda. You might want to join us down here."
"On my way," she said softly.
As they opened the door, they heard the sound of soft sobbing. Peter knows, thought Christine. Peters seen too much of it not to know, since he was seven. But she had no time to comfort the grown man, once a little boy in her arms.
Willis OBrien held Demoras small hand within his own. He saw the door to Doctor Chapels office slide open, and he knew from the looks on the faces of the captain and chief medical officer that he had lost Demora.
He tried to force himself into his "reporter" mode, tried to distance himself from the tragic events as they transpired, tried to deny his own humanity. He wanted to scream "Stop!" at them, wanted to shout "Go away!" and "Leave her alone!", but he couldnt.
Commander Uhura came into the sickbay ward and kneeled down next to the young man at the foot of the bed. Whatever she whispered to him seemed to matter a lot, and Kirk stood up and walked to stand before his captain.
Willis watched as Chekov gave some meaningless orders, and Kirk looked at him with sorrow and pity and fatigue in his eyes, then the lieutenant departed Sickbay.
Willis held Demoras hand tighter, and he smiled at her relaxed face. He noticed that Uhura was engaging a BellComm screen next to the bed, and Willis whispered something reassuring to Demora.
Suddenly, Captain Hikaru Sulu of the U.S.S. Excelsior and a blonde-haired woman in a casual medical officers white jumpsuit filled the screen. "Oh, look, Demora!" Willis whispered. "Your dads calling to check on you."
Chekov and Uhura exchanged meaningless dialogue with Sulu, then Chapel and the other doctor mumbled medical mumbo jumbo. Finally, some sort of consensus was reached.
"Willis?" he heard Chekovs voice. "Its time to say goodbye. Time to let her go."
Willis watched Chekov slowly pry Demoras hand out of his own, and he felt a brief hiss against his neck. He turned to see Chapel regarding him with reassuring smile. "Is Demora going to be okay now?" OBrien asked.
Chapel said something he didnt rightly understand, something about a shock. Uhura came over to him, and he watched as Chapel turned off several devices. The overhead thrumming stopped, and some sort of computer-generated warning kept repeating itself until Chapel told it to shut up.
It was then that Chapel pulled up the sheet over Demoras still form, and it was then that he let Uhura lead him to a nearby bed.
Chapel had just tucked in Demora, and now it was his turn.
"Goodnight, Demora," he mumbled before he fell asleep, completely unaware of the weeping in the ward.
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