December 20th 2295
"Look, I really dont want to talk about it. Can we start?"
Saavik looked a bit pained, but nodded at Vasquez, and then at Ensign Gatchmeinz, now Second Assistant Science Officer. Gatchmeinz abruptly shut down the scanners and related equipment that were at the heart of her departments function.
"All right, peoplecold start on everything, and make it snappy!"
Saavik and Vasquez watched as Gatchmeinz aided, cajoled and eyeballed the efforts to get the department back on its feet after a sudden unexplained failure. Saavik whispered to Vasquez, "When would be a good time to talk about it?"
"Try never. Whats there to talk about it, and what use is there in talking it into infinity?"
"Sirs? Our re-start time is down to thirty-seven seconds."
Vasquez welcomed the interruption. "Excellent work, Lisa. But why arent your immediate superiors on hand for this?"
"Sorry, Robbie. Pete and Bucky are still hunting down that mysterious radiation discharge. But they gave me the go-ahead to enact any changes you recommend," Gatchmeinz explained.
"Try running the simulation a few more times, Ensign. If the restart time holds to less than forty seconds, dismiss your staff with my congratulations."
To Saavik, Chief Tactical Officer Vasquez seemed a happy officer as they left Sciences.
"I still dont know what Captain Uhura said to straighten her out, but that girl has really come a long way in one year, dont you think?" Vasquez offered.
Saavik lightly glared at Vasquez. "Oh, so the vastly improved public restraint of Lisa Gatchmeinz you wish to speak of, but not how we two nearly came to blows? I suppose next you will wish to delve into the juicy gossip surrounding that mystery radiation discharge."
Tired of Saaviks efforts to revisit their recent argument, Roberta Vasquez raised a finger in the air as if finally going to explode at the half-Romulan, half-Vulcan executive officer. But as she did, a confused look came over her face. "What mysterious radiation discharge?"
Saavik was about to grow upset over another attempt on Vasquezs part to change the subject. "I had no idea there was a radiation discharge of any kind."
Vasquez started heading for Engineering, the site of their next cold-start inspection. "Methinks three days of these inspections has us all a little batty. Shouldnt Pete have told you or me?"
Saavik checked her padd. "He did. I just didn't check my messages."
Vasquez followed suit. "Geez. I meant to get back to him on that last night, but ohhh. The captain personally moved the radiation discharge up on the priority list. Nobodys in any trouble, though. He just wants it solved by the time we reach Starbase 211."
Vasquez nonetheless looked worried, and this did not go unnoticed.
"You said that no one was in trouble," Saavik remarked.
"Saavik, that whole thing started with Pete going around the chain of command. So he sends me a vital order that I didn't get because I was too tired to check my messages. Formal trouble or no, that cant look good to the captain."
Saavik shrugged. "The captain himself assigned us these admittedly repetitive and somewhat tedious spot inspections. He knows that they are draining. Doubtless he moved up the priority of locating the discharges origins himself in allowance for all that."
"Yeah, but maybe we should talk to Pete,
make sure he doesnt feel like were letting our end down."
"Robbie, you worry far too much."
Vasquez seemed to calm only a little. "Are you saying thats what started all that trouble?"
Saavik began to walk briskly towards Engineering. "I no longer wish to discuss it."
"Absolutely not. We are so not discussing this subject, or anything remotely related to it. Now scan the closing mechanism for Weapons Cache Three. Bucky, we have a job to do," snapped Peter Kirk.
The chief science officer stood with his cylindrical shield-scanner in place, while Lieutenant Natalie Buchanan crouched with her slightly more sensitive model, shaped a bit like a tricorne. "I know my job, Mister Kirk. And I thought I knew my friends."
Peter Kirk saw that Chterr was still talking to his people in the next room. "So my unwillingness to invade the privacy of another friend means that our friendship is over? Very mature, Mister Buchanan."
Natalie Buchanan switched her scanner off. "I never said that. And I am not asking you to invade Robbies privacy."
Kirk checked his readings, and then switched his scanner off. "Two days, and all were closer to is each others throats."
Buchanan breathed in. "Ill admit, what Im asking tends to be a little personal, but Im one of the people in question."
Kirk nodded. "And the other is Chief Tactical Officer Roberta Vasquez, our superior officer who I recently offended by way of stepping on her rights and privileges. I didnt even realize I was doing that, so I can only imagine her reaction to a conscious violation of privacy. Your lives are your own, Bucky. And Robbie would say the same about me and Saavik."
"I only asked you whether or not you thought that she could ever really love me."
"Oh, is that all? Well, tell me then, was it my martial-arts or my xenobiology prowess that caused you to turn to me on the subject of someone elses secret heart?"
She looked hurt as she responded. "Temper that venom with some sarcasm, okay? Im asking you because I almost died recently. A lot of people we know really did die. Robbie could have just as easily been one of"
"No. Stop. Check the second spike in the discharges arc. You catch that?"
Buchanans eyes lit up. "Carbon. Something burning. Our discharge has, at least in part, a solid source."
The relief of having something tangible to hunt made Kirk say something he would regret: "Lets finish all that up. You were saying about Robbie?"
"It could have just as well been Robbie that was lost. And if she died without me having a chance to really make it clear how I feel, II really dont know what Id do."
Kirk was trying to be more sympathetic. Again, he would have cause to regret saying anything further. "Okay. But Im still not seeing the worth of the opinion of one Peter Kirk in any of this."
"Well, its just that, you knowyou know?"
Kirk felt his stomach drop out. "What do I know, Bucky?"
"You know, about, death. Death and being left behind. What its like."
Kirk chuckled nervously. "I can answer that simply enough. One: It stinks. Two: The only thing that hurts worse than living it is having people ask questions about living it, especially people youd think would know better. Can we now get back to work, Lieutenant?"
"Is that an order, sir?"
"Count on it."
In Engineering, an unintended echo was heard: "Is that an order, sir?"
Vasquez rolled her eyes. "You know I cant give you an order, Commander. But you cant just beg for a conversation, then beg off when it suits you."
Saavik folded her arms. "To quote Surak: A little less conversation, a little more action, please."
Vasquez folded her arms. "That was Elvis Presley, not Surak, and the line refers to an intimate relationship!"
"Presley? I think not. The quote is from the Third Epistle of Surak, in a letter directed to the people of JunnaiaKahr."
Vasquezs eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Im going to look that up, Saavik. Count on it."
"Suraks writings refer to a close friendship."
"Just what are you getting at?" Vasquez pressed.
Saaviks eyes took on a look of pleading. "Are we friends? Are we still friends?"
Vasquez shook her head, then briefly grasped the top of Saaviks right hand, before making certain to release it. "Yes, of course. Just because we all made that molehill into Armageddon, doesnt mean it was. Did you honestly think that all that nonsense would end things between us?"
"II must confess I do not know. You are one of the only friends my own age I have ever had, and I did not know if your capacity for forgiveness was as great as that of my older friends."
Vasquez smiled. "Thats why you wouldnt let this go. You were afraid that wed be something else after all the bile we three spewed."
Saavik raised a finger. "Actually, Peter was merely thoughtless and stupid. We two held and used all the bile in this."
"Yeah, but things are like that with friends. As to guys, they usually are thoughtless and stupid. They leave the toilet seat up, and they like the Three Stooges."
Saavik shook her head. "He has exemplary refresher habits"
"More info than I needed, Commander."
"and as to the Three Stooges, they are comic geniuses."
Saavik shook her head. "No, indeed they are. They represent the art of slapstick, with violence forever trapped in the frame of fiction, at its purest form. No art or pretense."
Shaken to her core, Vasquez stood up. "Shall we start the drill?"
As Chief Engineer Katya Sorensen reminded her people to only turn energizers off, not the engines themselves, Vasquez looked over at Saavik and muttered.
"She likes the Three Stooges? No woman anywhere likes the Three Stooges...except the Klingons, Im sure."
On their way to Engineering, Buchanan finally stopped Kirk. "Look, Pete, Im really sorry I went there. I guess you see yourself as just a guy living your life. But to the rest of us, youve walked through the fire."
Kirk was less angry now, but still seemed unimpressed. "I got burned and scorched. A lot."
"I know. But you made it through those difficulties. Dont tell me not to be impressed by that."
"Bucky, those comebacks were the result of many people helping me."
"Then you really dont get it. Most of us, even with the help of that group of people, dont know if we could do it. Lets face it: this life breaks some people, and its like the Fates were out to break you. Besides poor Thara Cox, Demora told me about some shaky kid at the Academy...oh, that was your save, too, wasnt it?"
Peter Kirk smiled. "If you can call it that. Bucky, Im sorry I got all strident on you. I do look back in wonder sometimes. But experience has taught me by and large that looking back is a bad idea. There is exactly one person I let bring up Dianas without comment, and that is because I owe her big."
Buchanan seemed to understand. "I dont want to bring up anything that makes you uncomfortable. But dont tell those of us trying to figure out how to get through all this not to look to you for an example. No two things scare a Starfleet officer like bad luck and screwing up, and like I say, youve been there and back. So, are we still friends?"
"You have to ask?"
"Well, you wont discuss Robbie with me."
Kirk shifted, as though his brain had hit upon a notion. "Because of privacy and protocols. Both of which Robbie Vasquez takes very seriously. Very seriously. Get my drift?"
Buchanan puzzled for a moment before doing exactly what Kirk asked of her. "Fraternization? You think she and I couldnt...because shes against fraternization? But she never speaks against you and Saavik. In fact, she seems delighted for you both."
"Like I said, not going deep into it. But about me and Saavik, thats where privacy and protocol overlap. Except for our recent mistake, I guess that in Robbies eyes, we balance things out well enough."
"Maybe she thinks she cant balance it out? Thanks, Pete. You really helped."
Kirk raised an eyebrow. "What did I do this time, exactly?"
Buchanan chuckled. "If Robbie should ask, you shut me down at every turn, when it came to discussing her and me. And thanks again for being a pal."
"Can I invade your privacy, just a bit?"
"Guess I have it coming."
Kirk tried to walk gingerly, his warning aside. "If that certain person isnt the one, is there anyone else you had your eye on? And no, you dont have to answer."
Buchanan put on her best face. "Kinda. Nice sort, cute bod. But he got hooked up pretty soon after coming on board."
Her best face began to break, but she kept it up just long enough. "Most onboard seem to think its true love."
"Good for those that can find it." Kirk turned back toward Engineering, truly looking even more clueless for a second. "Lets hustle, Lieutenant. Theres a radiation leak somewhere!"
The lights flickered, and the decks thrumming stopped completely. Buchanan checked her padd. "The radiation leak is gone, Pete."
Kirk snapped open his tricorder. "The energizers are off. That means..."
"That means weve got to hurry!" She bounded down the corridor, all the while trying the comlink, "Buchanan to Engineering! Buchanan to Engineering!"
In Engineering, Vasquez and Saavik, oblivious to the danger they were all in, watched as Chief Engineer Sorenson run around like the proverbial headless chicken. Cold start of the engines themselves was too great a risk outside of combat or other catastrophic event, but simulating a failure of the energizer systems could be conducted in relative safetly.
"Saavik?" Vasquez whispered.
"Look, he raked us all over the coals. But I think the captain crossed the line with that shot about Pete dying in battle."
Saavik shook her head. "The captain knows me, and knows what it takes to get through my thick skull. He was also hinting at his opinion that perhaps I favored Peter unconsciously, out of fear that I might lose him the way I lost..."
Vasquez looked up at her, confused, until Saavik chose to make a revelation she had rarely made to anyone.
"...the way I lost David Marcus."
Vasquez felt her jaw drop. She also felt a new warmth towards the first officer. "Were you...bondmates?" she whispered so that only someone with Vulcan hearing could hear the question.
Saavik lowered her voice in response. "Indeed."
Vasquez raised a finger. "I know a little bit about Vulcan familial ties. Doesnt that make you and Pete cousins?"
"No. I was only briefly bonded with David. He was killed soon after. The bond was not in existence long enough to be formally approved by the head of the House of Surak. My relationship with Peter Kirk is a safe one, by those standards."
Vasquez nodded. "And may it live long and prosper, Commander."
Over the comm system, Natalie Buchanans frantic voice could be hear over the din of the work going on. "Buchanan to Engineering!"
Saavik smiled, just as Sorenson yelled out, "Okay, people. Turn them on again!" She looked up at the nearest comlink. "Engineering. Sorenson here."
Buchanan ran in as Sorenson was almost finished speaking. "Katya, dont turn the energizers back on!"
Out of breath, the assistant science officer was followed in by an equally sweaty Kirk. "Mister Sorensen, belay that restart order!" He panted fiercely. "Turn on the secondary flux capacitors first!"
Sorensons eyes went wide in horror when she saw a certain set of readouts. "Bucky, Petey... Good call! Damned good call."
Kirk leaned against a wall. "Buckys catch, really. I was on the way, but she was way ahead of me in more ways than one." He glanced over at his assistant science officer. "I didnt know you were that fast, Bucky."
Vasquez winced. Pete and his faux pas.
Saavik did not wince, either at her lovers choice of words, or at the averted concern, but her eyebrow started to raise. "I am First Officer. I will explain this to the captain," she promised the chief tactical officer. She closed her eyes. "Then perhaps you will become First Officer."
As they left Sorenson to complete her restart, Kirk told Saavik that it wasnt nearly that bad, while Vasquez endlessly nodded appreciatively at Buchanan.
Sorenson waited until they all left before speaking briefly under her breath. "And people ask me why Xarthebs have strict rules about the art of hooking up."
Fleet Captain Chekov had to repeat the simple word a few times while the extended explanation sank in. "Dust? The radiation leak vwe detected vwas the result of dust? Dust?!"
The explanation worked its way down the chain of command. Saavik started. "As you know, Lieutenant Vasquez and I have been conducting non-stop inspections of each department. Our purpose was to see how fast and efficiently main and secondary systems could be restarted after an attack or similarly near-catastrophic event. Our aim was to have systems back up and running in less than one minute. Many departments, such as Sciences, performed even better than expected. Though conducted separately, we moved between each check with alacrity."
Vasquez picked up. "The commander and I wanted this all to be rapid-fire because, frankly, in a crisis, you need all you can get, as fast as you can get it. You may be aware that the ships main particulate matter filters are part of our life support systems. As a part of our drills, the main life support filters were shut down and restarted without any noticeable problem. During that time, the secondary particulate filters were engaged automatically. Unfortunately, during our reboots, some of the secondary filters were shut down by other department shutdowns."
Kirk kept on. "In many cases, those secondary filters actually catch particulate matter that is much more dangerous than the mains have to deal with. Matter like charged dust particles. Highly charged. Such as those from Securitys weapons firing range and Sciences geological labs and Sickbays radiology unit."
Buchanan finished up. "With this Enterprises open engineering design, these stray particles were collecting in the main energizers powerful energy fields. While relatively harmless...well, usually kept harmless by the particulate matter filters...these stray particles were building up in potential. When the main energizers shut down, the particles accumulated on the energizer coils.
"In short, our mysterious radiation was from charged dust that was just above the capacity of Engineerings filters to cope with. Harmless in the small amounts produced in Medical, Sciences and Securitynot so harmless in Engineering. Had the main energizers engaged with its coils coated with this junk, I suspect wed be late to our rendezvous at Starbase 211 at best. And at worst..."
Chekov nodded. "A dead staff and a vwital department irradiated, perhaps beyond salvaging. Vwell, thats it. Vwe faced down Romulans and space monsters only to nearly be crippled by dust bunnies. I have officially seen it all, and am headed back to Moscow and my Nana."
Vasquez did not look well. "Sir? What happens now?"
Chekov looked at her. "Now? Now is nearly 1900 hours, Robbie. Vwe arrive at Starbase 211 tomorrow, and I vwant everyone here ready for our debriefing."
Vasquez shook her head. "Sir, a couple of days ago, we were fighting like newborn pups in a litter, and we just spent the last three days effectively chasing our own tails. I mean, I dont want to ask for it, but isnt another reprimand in order?"
Chekov looked at her. "Robbie, is old Russian story of heartbroken simple man who jogged from the Caucuses to the port of Arkangel and back again. People became entranced by this strange man, and began to follow him as though he possessed some odd wisdom. One day, this man was informed by one of his followers that he had just jogged through manure. Do you know what he said in response?"
Chekov waited, then finished. "Shit happens. Your first mistake vwas wholly avoidable, and has been discussedto death and back again. This second mistake vwas the result of a design flaw in the ships systems. In both instances, vwe may have looked foolish in one respect, but this time, vwe exposed a vulnerability Id rather know about in the here and now than in an actual crisis. You and Saavik did your job, as I told you to do it, and so did Peter and Bucky. The approach to the inspections vwas your own, da, and it revealed a problem that vwe can correct."
The captain took a sip of his coffee. "To answer your question, no one here is in trouble, at least until vwe reach Starbase 211. Now get out of here, because I am so tired its ridiculous. In other vwords, dismissed."
Kirk remained behind, briefly. "Sir. This heartbroken simple man? The long-distance jogger? Would his name have been Boris Gumponov, by any chance? A veteran of the Afghan War?"
Chekov nodded. "Good! Peter, Im so glad you know the story." The Russian winked at his chief science officer.
Kirk shook his head. "Well, how could I not know that story? Permission to say, you have no shame, Captain."
"Good night, Peter."
"Spakoyanoche, Pavel Andrievich."
After he left, Chekov began to laugh as he thought to himself. Lets see. Next time, it vwill be one about great Russian mob boss, Viktor Korleonov, who made offers vwery difficult to turn down.
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