She didnt even like to think about the disaster aboard the Enterprise-B. Bad enough that she would never hit her dream of serving on Kirks Enterprise. She had accepted that she had been born too late for that. But the string of disasters that had followed the launch would have drained the faith from a saint. She hadnt cared for Captain Harrimans performance. She didnt even know Doctor Leonard McCoy. She hadnt truly encountered more than one El-Aurian refugee, a crazy-looking man with white hair, begging to be sent "back." Yet the fates of all of these people still ate at her. McCoys slain children had looked like her own little cousins, and she thought she heard Demora Sulu mention before everything fell away that she had actually known the little boys.
Add to that real but nebulous grief Starfleets decision to clean house of Harrimans staff aboard the Enterprise-B. That hurt. Poor Captain Kirk she was never going to serve with regardless. But serving with Captain Chekov, Commander Uhura and Doctor Chapel? Well, that could have been the beginning of something special. Still, her father having served with James Kirks father was going to have to suffice as the extent of her positive association with Enterprise.
"Okay, Commander. The relay is set. But every morning, the station staff will have to calibrate the transmitter to compensate for the so-called spitting anomalies. Their activity in this sector was reducing the effective range."
The first officer shrugged. "But most of them are parsecs from that station relays position."
Robbie felt it again. Christmas Eve, and here she was explaining the nature of anomalies. A dream of even a happy holiday season was now seeming remote as well. "Dont discount their power, sir. When one collapsed three years ago, it nearly destroyed the scoutship Shenandoah. Is there anything else you need before I settle in my gear?"
The officer held out a padd. "Just this message for you from Personnel, Lieutenant. Terrible shame, what happened aboard the Enterprise. Guess it was just Kirks time."
Likely to prepare a report on the finished upgrades and repairs to the relay sensors, the exec then left Robbie Vasquez with her message. It was from Admiral Po, relaying and confirming a request made by Captain Chekov. It was short, and to the point. It was the best news possible. It even included a note from Pavel Chekov himself.
Mister Vasquez, get yourself back here. The Enterprise needs her Science Officer. Happy Holidays--and welcome back.
The last few weeks notably did not fall away. But as she confirmed the course correction with the Chosins command staff, an already-beaming Lieutenant Vasquez began to sing a song that her various working and eating companions would soon grow sick of hearing. "Feliz Navidad; Feliz Navidad; Feliz Navidad; Prospero Ano Y Felicidad..."December 29th 2294
The Romulan impostor who replaced and possibly killed Science Officer Rathan had gone to great and obscure lengths to hide who he truly was.
"Romullllan infillltrators are actualllly relllativellly easy to detect," explained Security Chief Chterr to Vasquez. "Thats why the Empire doesnt do this sort of thing too terribllly often. A Romulllan may not simply walk up and say theyre Vulllcan. The preparation for this kind of mission takes place on hundreds of levellls. Maybe even thousands."
One hallmark of a Romulan, confirmed by both Chterr and Tactical Officer Saavik, was redundancy in all matters. For example, best intelligence said that even if the main Romulan espionage/spy agency were to be wholly decimated, it would simply not have the same effect that it would on other repressive societies. Right then, though, Robbie merely stared at her new departments seemingly-twisted schedule and knew how that attitude towards redundancy had been applied.
"Mister Buchanan, why did he have the bridge stations science duties seconded by personnel in Auxiliary Control? How could even a spy benefit from up to four sets of the exact same scans?"
The casualty-ridden Enterprise staff had a ton of temps, but very few people meant to be permanent staff. One such person was Lieutenant Natalie Buchanan, an able Sciences officer who did not yet have the experience to be either Chief or First Assistant Science Officer. Yet she would prove absolutely vital in the departments new beginning.
"Well, kind of obviously, hes not talking. But my guess is, if he was found to be slacking off at all in his main duties, thatd draw suspicions. Not that this idea helped him against Commander Saavik. So he doubled us up on the short-term scans at the expense of our longer-term projects. Translation: Were almost a month behind schedule."
Robbie frowned. "I could turn all the temps to getting us up to speed, but thatd mean certain work would have to be redone the instant their replacements arrive. Wed be building a worse backlog than were taking down."
Buchanan raised a finger. "Mister Vasquez, I was born on Appian Four. Not too long after, we had to leave when that area was ceded as Gorn. My parents and my older brothers and sisters had to build a colony twice over."
"Whats your point, Mister Buchanan?"
"Call me Bucky. Well, we should place the temps on bridge duty while we have them. Let you, me, Walt Andrews, Lisa Gatchmeinz, and all the others who are gonna stay here take care of clearing the backlog."
Robbie shook her head. "Bucky--a lot of these temps are specialists, and therefore ideal for clearing the backlog, even if it's only a stopgap."
Bucky shook her head. "When we built the first time, and when we relocated, we had help from the Starfleet Corps of Engineers on our colonies. But we never even considered asking them to run the stores, set up the recreation businesses and centers, or staff the food centers and restaurants. Because when time came, the Corps was not going to be there. We were. We are."
Suddenly, the morass of the department she had been given back fell away. A good officer was a find. A possible friend was a bit rarer. "Bucky, lets go with your suggestion."
"Thank you, Mister Vasquez."
"Bucky, call me Robbie."January 30th 2295
She sat down in his ready room, and the first thing the captain did was raise an open palm in an apparent calming gesture. "Mister Vasquez, it seems I vwas premature in my assessment of your departments efficiency. Until Commander Uhura informed me, I vwas quite unaware of the problems the Rathan impostor left you with. In that light, you have all done an admirable job in catching up."
What Robbie was and would remain wholly unaware of, was the spirited argument between the captain and first officer over scathing remarks that one called uninformed. She was only aware that what had sounded like a replacement-level situation had passed without a shot fired, so to speak. While not given to idle worries about such matters, she also felt that she could not merely brush them off.
"We have tried, sir. Keeping the temps out of the loop on the longer-term projects put us behind in the short term. But as Bucky said, we now wont have to re-check their work when they depart."
The captain nodded. "So Commanders Uhura and Saavik have told me. Mister Vasquez, may I call you Roberta?"
"Actually, sir, I prefer Robbie, if you dont mind."
Chekov smiled. "Vwell, Robbie, I apologize that this is our first real private meeting, and I thank you for the patience youve shown while vwe cycle out the temporary replacements. Your department seems to have gotten last priority for permanent replacements. That changes here, and it changes now. In fact, while I choose at this time to withhold his name, I have a very good prospect for your department. I expect to hear from him any day now. So keep up what I now reliably know to be very good work."
She stood up, and shook his hand. "Thank you, Captain."
Leaving enormously relieved, Robbie made for the turbolift, which had only one other occupant. On the way down, she finally spoke. "Yknow? Captain Chekov is one hell of a nice guy!"
The other occupant answered this. "I have always found that to be true as well, Lieutenant."
Robbie allowed her eyes to look over at the other occupant--Spock himself. But she never moved her head. "Tha-Thank you, Mister Ambassador."
Robbie decided that enthusiasm, like criticism, was something perhaps best expressed while in private, not to mention checking who she was speaking to.February 15th 2295
In an odd corner of the Sciences deck, Robbie had a makeshift office. There, she and Bucky awaited Ensign Gatchmeinz. This problem had been building for awhile. So had something else.
"Bucky, I dont want to discuss it."
Vasquez nodded. "As in serious violation of. As in never again. As in I still dont know why it occurred."
Buchanan shrugged. "Outer colony life makes you look seriously at anyone who isnt kin. If the colony is brand new and far out enough, even that restriction begins to fall away."
The person they were waiting on was a self-described free spirit. They would probably not choose this description for her themselves.
"Look, Robbie. For me, it only happens with people I feel supremely comfortable around. Im pretty sure youre the same way. Now that weve hit this bump, we know how to avoid it in the future. So whats your concern?"
Robbie shook her head. "Ive made mistakes in Starfleet before, sure. But never a social one. Not at this level."
Bucky smiled. "I promise to not complain or whine the next time you have to discipline me on a work-related matter. In fact, that should be soon."
Bucky pointed at the place where Gatchmeinz would soon walk through. "Because, when Ensign Lisa I had ten crewmembers in my cabin last night and made them all late for work Gatchmeinz saunters her ample posterior through that door, I am going to call her a slut."March 15th 2295
Walt Andrews spoke first. "Though not technically a fluid, the field we went through was more mist than energy. It had field-damping qualities that also account for our headaches. Brain fluid, and all that."
Lisa Gatchmeinz added in. "It also caused every third calculation the computer made to not register. Thats why we couldnt get out of the field as quickly as we might have liked. In the future, well need to account for fields like this. The newer computers will actually be more vulnerable to this sort of disruption."
Bucky showed off some hard numbers. "Anything above Warp Five will have us moving too fast to be affected, should we hit this sort of thing again. As long as fuel remains a constant, theres no danger of catastrophic warp field collapse."
Robbie finished off what they had to say. "Captain, weve already presented our findings to Commander Sorenson. By tomorrow, well have the first set of practical changes that she can implement, to avoid a repeat of all this."
Chekov happily dismissed the Science Team members, but when they had left the Bridge, Walt asked a question. "Robbie? Why didnt you mention how Chief Sorenson ripped us all wide at first?"
"Already settled, Walt. See, I told Katya--" She looked them all over with pride. "--when she yells at one of you, she yells at me. Katya Sorenson is a brilliant engineer, and she also knows very well who not to cross. That would be me when my people are in question."March 27th 2295 They were three hours away from their rendezvous with Enterprise. For Robbie, these would be three long hours.
"Well, Brikgtor Four wont be on any of my vacation lists. Still, it was good to make planetfall. I feel like Ive been at my console non-stop since the launch."
Bucky responded to Demora Sulu, though no one alive could keep pace with the talkative young woman for all that long without giving in to sheer fatigue.
"So say we all. But hey, Demora? The other ladies said you were passing around a picture of your friend. Hes quite the hunk."
That comment drew an unseen look from Robbie, but it was not an annoyed one. No picture of another person can ever be quite complete, she supposed.
Demora shook her head. "I dunno. Youre asking the wrong person. To me, hes just Peter--my very lovable, somewhat heroic friend--in correspondence, we occasionally call each other cousin, and thats really how I see him. I can understand the other ladies, though. He does look a lot like his uncle."
"His uncle is...was Captain James T. Kirk. I thought you knew that."
Instead of calling her on her snippiness, Robbie allowed for this aspect of Demoras personality. "All right, all right. I think I may have heard of your friend. Wasnt he involved in some Khmyr action on Serenidad during the Gorkon Crisis?"
Demora grinned with near-familial pride. "He killed four Khmyr with his bare hands, brought down an enemy transport, saved the royal family, and prevented a fourth Khmyr incursion into Serenidad. Hes an expert martial artist, and smart as a whip."
Robbie felt her stomach sink, possibly from the sugar flowing off of Sulus words. Bucky, unwittingly or otherwise, kept up the painful process. "Isnt he also the one who saved that cadet training cruise when the Shenandoah was crippled? Oh, and the Marseilles conspiracy? Wasnt it him that..."
Robbie mused upon punishments for her willful friend, none of them pleasant. Bucky well knew Robbies opinions of people like Demoras perfect friend. There was a term at the Academy for such people, a generic Terran female name of obscure origins, though then and there she couldnt recall it. So she let her sarcasm speak for her.
"Well, Mister Sulu, I guess Ill have to marry your friend, so we can go out and save all creation together. That is, if we ever meet him before he carves out peace in our time."
Demora nodded sheepishly. "Okay, okay--so I go on. But he really helped me out when I needed it most. I just hope Im able to keep myself together when Daddy--dies--the way he did when we lost Captain Kirk." Sulu allowed a smile to partially form. "Besides, Lieutenant, youll have your chance to propose pretty soon."
Demora seemed confused. "He comes aboard next month. Youll see some of what Im talking about, then. After all, youll be his supervisor."
Bucky raised a finger. "Demora, what are you talking about?"
Sulu lightly put her hand over her mouth in realization of her faux pas. "Oh, you mean that the captain hasnt told you two yet about Peter joining Sciences? Oh, guys. Please act like you dont know when he tells you, okay? Otherwise, I may not live to make Lieutenant."
Finally lost for words, Demora fell silent. Bucky whispered to her friend. "Methinks life is about to get interesting."
Robbie waited until Bucky was well asleep, and Demora had engaged the auto-pilot to use the toilet. Then, she spoke her fear. "Im being replaced."May 1st 2295
Commander Uhura tried to have semi-regular separate meetings with the various department heads. While the older officer was every inch the legend shed always heard of, it was starting to become obvious to Robbie that her nearly tri-tiered responsibilities were taxing her as never before.
"So, with Commander Sorensons promise to keep it down when speaking with her staff, I expect to also hear many fewer complaints, Mister Vasquez. Mister Vasquez?"
As Uhura surely suspected, Robbie was distracted. A Starfleet brand name was being brought aboard, and into her department. It was hard not to worry about subtle nepotism, despite her admiration of the command staff.
"Im sorry, Commander. I was just starting to mentally re-balance the schedule Id submit to you, in light of our new addition."
Uhura looked confused. "But..Peter wont be arriving for another two weeks. Id concentrate on the present, if I were you, Lieutenant."
Peter. The first officer had just casually referred to a man who had not yet arrived by his first name. That surely had to say something. "Sorry, sir. If I may ask, though, have you known Mister Kirk very long?"
Uhura seemed a bit taken aback, though not, it turned out, by her question itself. "Weve all known him. Going on thirty years, now. Since that month he spent on the first Enterprise, after the Denevan plague. He swore he was going to walk again," she chuckled, "and then ask me to dance. I should have remembered whose heritage I was betting against. Hes come through so much."
Now, Robbie truly felt it. This wasnt even like her. But this man had lived her dream, and been a child aboard the Enterprise during its Golden Age. Add to that, she knew, most Denevans lived in recovery homes or worse. They werent hyper-mobile heirs of greatness.
"Commander, is Mister Kirk to be my replacement?"
"Well, Bucky is an able officer. But Peters greater experience has me leaning towards putting him in Science Two."
Robbie shook her head. "No, I meant--is he to be my replacement as Chief Science Officer?"
Perhaps Uhura caught on in that moment. But she played it cool. "Going somewhere, Mister Vasquez?"
"Commander, the fact is that you and the captain have known this man forever. His surname makes him the closest thing Starfleet has to royalty. He has a spotless record of Grade-A heroism. Hes some kind of physical and mental savant and--why are you laughing?"
Uhura actually had to cover her mouth to stop. "Boy, when Demora Sulu gets on a tear, she just never stops, does she? Peter once joked that she and poor Davie McCoy seemed to think he was from Krypton, not Deneva." Her face turned more serious. "Robbie, tell me. If we wanted Peter as Chief Science Officer all that badly, why didnt we just invite him in late December? Why wait all this time?"
Vasquez was wrong, but she had her argument ready. "To give him time to mourn his uncle."
Uhura allowed this, while getting to her point. "If hes so supremely qualified, why wasnt he Chief Science Officer when this ship first launched?"
"Because Starfleet has certain people that didnt like Captain Kirk, and they didnt want him getting any more publicity from the launch."
Her logic was tortured, but supportable, albeit again dead wrong. "If this ships command staff is so literally nepotistic, then why did Captain Chekov strip his own god-daughter of her commission, not two weeks ago?"
"He didnt want to. But Demoras wrong demanded action. Commander, all Im saying is that you seem to be replacing an officer you dont know who made some mistakes with one you know very well who seems to bypass mistakes."
Uhura held up a hand. "Remind me to have Peter tell you about some of the mistakes he didnt bypass. But what mistakes of yours are you talking about?"
"Well, you know. How long it took to get the department up to speed. Im sure thats been on your minds."
Uhura shook her head. "Robbie, that matter was settled. Captain Chekov recognized the difficulty the Rathan impostor placed you under. And if Captain Chekov wanted you replaced, itd happen with a certainty that would leave your head spinning. We learned from Peters uncle. And when James Kirk didnt like the behavior of some of the security staff during the Janice Lester incident, they were gone without having to inquire or wonder. As with him, so with us. End of story."
"All respect, Commander, but Ive had plenty of postings where mistakes are brought up months after they were supposedly settled matters. Not merely as reminders, but as excuses for reassignment, transfer, and the denial of promotion. In my experience, a settled matter is always an open one, depending on what mood the given superior is in."
Uhura again shook her head. "Then gain some new experience, Lieutenant. Because we think so very highly of the way you run your department, we are placing the career of a young man we hold in great affection in your hands. Maybe someday he will replace you--as you move on to bigger and better things. Right now, hes not ready, save for an emergency, which seems to be one of his strengths. Now in two weeks, you will meet one of the best friends youll ever have. Thats my prediction."
Vasquez finally smiled. "Ill work to make it come true, sir."
Uhura smiled anew. "See that you do, Lieutenant. After all--you can easily be replaced."May 15th 2295
It had been an unnerving thirteen hours. She and Bucky had been stuck in Sickbay, waiting for the results of extensive tests that were literally life and death. Even though it was out of sight and in stasis, they both also knew full well that they were in very close proximity to Demora Sulus body.
But now the tests were over. Demoras tragic fate was also unique to her, and it was time to meet and relieve the new science officer shed spoken so very highly of. On the lift up to the bridge, chit-chat was inevitable. "Robbie, you think the captain will restore Demoras rank posthumously? I mean, we now know why she acted up, and it plainly wasnt her fault."
Vasquez had more of her thoughts on Kirk, who had witnessed Sulus sudden passing. Since her talk with Uhura, Vasquez had learned that such incidents were far more common in Kirks life than any instances of saving the day.
"Not our call, Bucky. Do you want to relieve Mister Kirk?"
"I'd better. Unlike you, I actually slept down in Sickbay. Oh, and can we just call him Lieutenant or something? Kirk, well, thats--I dont know if I can handle that."
While the thought had been on Robbies mind as well, she felt compelled to disallow it. "Whatever he prefers to be called, Bucky. Were not going super-formal because of one lone officer."
When Peter Kirk had first come to the bridge to fetch and tell her the sad news, neither he nor Robbie looked their best.
"Sickbay, Lieutenant? Why? And how is Demora doing?
"Demora is gone, Mister Vasquez. She died. Christine--forgive me, Doctor Chapel, wants you and Mister Buchanan down there immediately. Ill cover the station til then."
Robbie barely registered the exchange between Kirk and Commander Saavik as she questioned whether his obvious grief made him fit for duty. She and Bucky met outside Sickbay, and they embraced before going in. The news would get better for them. But the day was, in many respects, lost. Demora was gone. Back on the bridge, they saw Uhura quietly motion them towards her.
"Whichever one of you is not replacing Peter, do me a favor? Guide him back to his quarters. As youll find out, getting a Kirk to give their best effort is not the problem. Stopping them is."
As Bucky checked the scans and took the station, Robbie helped Peter up. He looked quite drained. "Have they arranged a memorial service yet?"
"Two days, Mister Kirk. Willis OBrien wants to be there, and hes in no better shape than you."
Demoras hero didnt quite stagger off the Bridge, but nor was his the steadiest gait Robbie had ever seen. A quiet thumbs-up from Bucky said that his work had been acceptable at first glance. Once back inside the lift, Vasquez spoke briefly. "In six hours, I need to get with you for orientation. Sorry, but Im Buckys relief, and I like to be thorough."
A sleepy Kirk nodded. "So Demora said. We wrote each other very often, and she seemed to think youd be an executive officer within two years." He chuckled. "Of course, she didnt quite say it in so few words."
Vasquez nodded. It was good that he could smile about one they had lost. And God help her, Demora could go on at length. "Well, she seemed to think that you could conquer Romulus and QonoS using just a shuttlecraft."
His eyes began to look even heavier. "I only knew her for two years. All I really ever did for her was tell some harassing cadets to back off. But she knew that I understood. God, I loved her. Couldnt the Old Bastard have waited just one month?"
"What Old Bastard?"
He looked at her.
"A name an ancestor of mine came up with. He was a physician, and like Jim Kirk, he was a sore loser--when it came to death."
Finally reaching his quarters, Robbie saw him go inside, and wondered why she ever worried about someone that singularly loyal and intense. He would need to relax a bit before ever taking her post. But nor was he that far off.
"Geez, I almost forgot. The basic schedule..."
Before she could buzz the door, she heard a sound from within. It was indistinct, except for being the sound of pain and grief.
"Welcome to the Enterprise, Mister Kirk."June 19th 2295
They had happened to meet while in the gym. Talk began to take the form of a project.
"So, Pete. You think the captain will like his gift?"
Kirk nodded. "Robbie, if we can pull this off, itll be both a breakthrough and a way of rubbing the aspect of jinx off this ship. If Buckys in, Im all for it."
The project in question would take weeks to develop, so Kirk moved on to take on his newest martial arts opponent. As the match began, Robbie saw Walt Andrews walk in. "Yeah, sorry, Chief. Just wanted to get authorization for the memory upgrade on the forward scanners. Hey, is Pete really going up against Commander Saavik?"
Vasquez signed the padd, and looked over at Kirks match. "Itll be a quick two seconds. For all of Demoras talk, the only evidence Ive seen to support her claims is the hard worker, smart cookie, nice guy stuff. All that combat skill seems to have been plainly overblown."
Though the Vulcan/Romulan Tactical Officer would in fact defeat the Human on many occasions, his skill at this time came as a complete surprise to almost all. An avoidance of her blow was followed by the striking of his crouched palm into her stomach. Saavik almost appeared to be fighting an invisible foe still striking at her as she first fell back, and then fell down.
Vasquez stared over, whispering a few simple words as her eyes grew wide. "But she's a Vulcan."
Robbie then found Security Chief Ch'terr standing next to her. The Skorr made a telling comment. "My men willlll be beaming down with him, on scientific away missions."
Although Saaviks next round with him was nowhere near as certain or as successful for Kirk, his relative ease in blocking or dodging her blows still had the attention of everyone present.
Robbie gulped, and offered up an apology to poor Demora. "Screw away missions. Use him if we run out of photon torpedoes."
Katya Sorenson walked up upon hearing this, and shook her head. "I bet I could take him."
Robbie nodded, draining all sarcasm from her voice. "Katya--I just bet you could."
This time, it was a very quick two seconds.July 14th 2295
Saavik shook her head over morning coffee. "Fully half of our small party had become hopelessly lost, and yet the Academy instructors, so sage and august when assuring us about the light risk factor in this potentially hostile climate, were either wholly silent or denying what was obviously true. I found myself greatly disturbed at this example of incompetence."
Robbie nodded in agreement. "I was on one of those cruddy ambush simulations, you know, the ones that are supposed to prepare you, but mainly annoy? I mean, these things must be prepared by professional pranksters, or sadistic Orion slavers. They kept taunting me over the PA, saying this or that fellow cadet was dead. Well, one of them nearly did die, suddenly fearful that Starfleet had turned ruthless. Well, they never gave a one of us an apology. Not even the one who had the seizure. Nothing. They passed us, but I almost think it was to buy our silence. I hate myself for saying that."
Peter sat down with them, frowning. Saavik sipped her coffee, and frowned as well. "Again? Lieutenant, did you not tell some of them explicitly to seek Doctor Beals?"
Beals? Robbie felt very confused indeed. "Guys, who are we talking about that requires a trip to the shrink?"
Just then, Crewman Talman, one of three troubled members of the crew that Captain Chekov had previously placed under Kirks wing, walked up. "Peter, I could really use some more advice about how to get along with my roommates."
Robbie found this turn even more incomprehensible.
Peters smile seemed forced, to say the least. "Crewman, let me tell you allll about my first two roommates at the Academy..."
Saavik raised a hand. "Lieutenant, you were in fact in conference with us. Dismissed, Crewman."
"But didnt Captain Chekov tell him to help us out with.."
Saavik was not challenged a second time.
Vasquez shuddered almost visibly. Victims of a Kirk-hating Orion assassin, the horrid fates of these two young men formed the basis of many an urban legend at the Academy. That the assassin's true target should make light of it disgusted her. But when no apology came, Vasquez shuddered anew as she realized the stress her friend was under, to say such a thing. "Pete, please tell me you won't joke about that again."
A Kirk who would know relief only from Captain Chekov's direct intervention shook his head. "Robbie, who was joking?"July 21st 2295 Pete was serving his shift on the bridge. Since his flexible yet biology-centered field of study did not allow him to contribute as much as he had hoped to The Project, the only thing he would miss would be the look on Captain Chekovs face.
Bucky had no complaints, though, and neither did Robbie. He had done his part by keeping the basic science involved honest, so that the much more advanced work would not collapse of its own weight. Kirks seeming love of busywork was as always a boon. Yet while all three Musketeers had contributed, this was Bucky and Robbies baby.
The captain circled the piece of solid light. "I can scarcely credit that I am actually seeing such a thing."
Yes, the solid hologram indeed looked just like Pavel Chekov had, almost thirty years ago. Yet the thing had its limits. "Tell me, Mister Vasquez, does it move, talk, or interact?"
Bucky gulped. Robbie answered. The Project had fallen short, despite it all. "Give us about another century, sir."August 5th 2295 At lunch, she approached her departments second-in-command. He was no less friendly, of late. But he was just a trifle less intense. He seemed almost happy, and relaxed. She chuckled to think that of all the women interested in him, hed chosen the most challenging one possible to pursue a relationship with.
"Pete--can I ask a really personal question?"
Kirk looked up from his cavatelli with broccoli, garlic and olive oil. "Robbie, Ive never been the type to kiss and tell--errr, you know what I meant. Plus, we are discussing a superior officer."
Vasquez shrugged. "It isnt about you and Saavik. So long as you two make each other happy, its none of my concern. No, this is about that secret mission you went on. What can you tell me?"
Kirk looked confused. "Robbie, what secret mission?"
"You know! The one you were sent on after visiting your uncle in 2287. Your record goes blank after that, til you and he faced down those Orion assassins four years later. I figure it has to be super hush-hush, but I really wanted to know what you can tell me."
Pete dropped his fork, whose noise was absorbed by the pasta. His face drained of some color. He looked lost. "Well, I suppose theres no point in keeping this a secret any longer."
He rubbed his head, and looked around. Seeing that they had some privacy, he began to tell his tale. His face was grim, and she knew he spoke in deadly earnest. "Robbie, I wasnt on any mission. I was in prison. I served three years in Tantalus Five, and it was not by mistake or frame-up. I had a severe mental breakdown, not to mention a near-complete moral meltdown. I committed real crimes, and I served real time for them. I was not the person I am right now. You wouldnt have wanted that person aboard your ship, let alone as your second. You would not have wanted to know him."
Robbie sat, shaking her head. "I dont believe you. Youre not a criminal. Is this because I lack the clearance to hear what really happened?"
Kirks face was that of a man enduring a painful yet necessary surgery. "Robbie, it all happened. Sabotage, arson, kidnapping--I even skirted treason with a freaking Klingon. Im sorry I didnt tell you sooner. But Captain Chekov said that I should become part of the crew first before I revealed what Id done. Can you forgive me?"
Vasquez felt wearied and quite numb as she got up and walked away without another word. Kirk looked down, and pushed his plate aside.
Within three hours, Robbie called for her departments second. She now knew what she wanted to say. With Captain Chekovs acquiescence, Vasquez had looked over a more complete dossier on her friend. It was hard for her to believe that at one time, the Academy prankster circuit had an even freer hand, or that certain instructors she had thought slightly ignorant were once blatantly so. Even harder to believe the story of a bright young man seemingly eternally on the edge, if only in retrospect. Hardest of all to believe that this thing had evolved into the man she knew and liked so well.
She was a scientist in the worst position a scientist could be in. Stuck up against what she knew well to be her own great blind spot. Process always seemed apart from result to her. She knew that cause led to effect, but the sense of disconnect she felt about the two made it a thing of paper only, albeit one she was damned good at. Her experience told her that there must be two Peters, or that one was a fake, or that hed been mind-sifted, or something. She knew Peter Kirk, liked Peter Kirk, and even had him at number 27 on a secret list of people she wouldnt mind growing old with. Her lifes experience said that this fight-picking, barb-throwing, hate-filled rodent she read of had no connection to the one that Uhura correctly predicted would be one of her best friends.
"Time to gain some new experience, Lieutenant." She now knew what she wanted to say. She looked Kirk over as he walked in. "Theres never a hint of judgement, in your stance or in your eyes. You keep the department ahead just enough to cope with setbacks like that alien entity who probed us. I told Saavik you needed to relax to hit your stride. But now Im just not sure how far off you really are, Pete. I know now how Demora became your cheerleading section, and why Captain Chekov tapped you of all people to be a surrogate counselor. Youre no Superman, Mister Kirk. But you are a super guy."
When her compliment stream went dry, she saw Kirk nod, and make a telling guess as to what she was not saying. "But now youre left to wonder how somebody with attributes you like could have committed severely criminal acts."
In the look of his face, a mix of shame and resignation, Vasquez gathered that this was not the first time he had answered this type of question. "It just doesnt fit, Pete. But I know that you wont be the last person I deal with in Starfleet who's made mistakes. If Im to be able to handle this, I need to reconcile these dueling facts here and now. Otherwise, I may not have what it takes to fulfill what you say Demora thought of me."
She was his senior officer, with good cause. But he was her senior by a handful of years, and she felt, very much so, in life experience. She wanted to learn from as much as teach the people around her, never realizing that in this she was very much doing what she had to in making an honest person out of the late Demora Sulu. Perhaps Kirk caught this, for he smiled slightly and obviously seemed more comfortable.
"From a family difficulty just before we lost Deneva, through the Academy and being at such a big remove from Jim and events like Genesis, I tried to handle it all. I was convinced in my soul that if I simply endured the hell long enough, some hidden Kirk power would emerge and I would become Captain Kirk. I would be the new one, only Id do it by 25 or 29. I would be the legend, and when Jim finally retired, I would take his place, and lead my own crew of legends."
Robbie was doing the listening, and so Peter kept talking.
"That isnt even remotely how it worked out. Instead, I began to forge a chain on my soul the likes of which would frighten the crap out of old Scrooge. I used to strike hard at any person who would dare disparage Jims good name. But I took the chaos that enveloped his life after Khan and the silence it necessitated and I told myself that he was cutting me out. In time, I was the one making the hateful remarks, about Jim and about everyone else. I also told myself that I would never measure up to him. I was angry from alpha shift to gamma shift, and it was my drug, so I didnt have to feel the pain. I thought I could handle it. But like any dumb junkie, I crashed and burned. Maybe I hurt Jim because I knew hed forgive me. Or maybe I just wanted him to be miserable, too. So you see, Robbie--I was headed for Tantalus in one way or another. The crimes were just the ticket price."
Vasquez said the next words while badly feeling the need for hope.
"But you changed, right?"
"Yes. I stopped trying to be Jim, and I stopped hating. Then I found out--I really am quite tough. It came at the cost of my freedom and my sanity, but the endurance I built up, when combined with a much healthier approach to life, saw me through an angry Scotsman, a crippled scoutship, a corrupt CO, a bad romance, more deaths than I can even bear to think of in one stroke, and a friendship with a beautiful woman who has no clue as to how truly amazing she is. I guess the answer is, Robbie, that I got where I am the hard way. Ive gotten good by having already made almost every possible mistake. Youre meeting the broken-in model, as it were."
Feeling that she had her answer, Vasquez nodded. "So youre saying that I shouldnt be surprised that things like what you just told me can come as a shock?"
Since this had never been a formal meeting, Kirk got up to leave as he responded. "Chief--I didnt say that--you did. Thats why youre so good at your job. You boil things down and bottom-line them. Me? I go on worse than Demora, if you let me."
She took the tip of her friends hand, and squeezed it while smiling. "Youll get there, Pete. You, me and Bucky. We Three Musketeers will all get there. Well help each other, just like weve been doing."
Kirk nodded as he left. "Until the day you make Exec aboard another ship."
Robbie took his words in as she assigned work on a cybernetic fragment found on a remote world to herself, Bucky and Peter. She wanted her Musketeers to handle this one, even with Kirks weakness in these matters. Together, they would all rise, and she was now certain that she would one day see herself becoming a first officer, at the very least.
But now, Roberta Vasquez would have no choice but to view that day as bittersweet.
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