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Rob Morris

December 3, 2295
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-B
Captain’s Ready Room

Pavel Andreievich Chekov read the brief message.

I understand entirely, Captain Chekov. And for what it’s worth, I think your request shows one of the signs of a good leader, knowing his subordinates’ disparate personalities and acting on that knowledge accordingly. The delay of the official announcement of the fleet’s formation and your simultaneous promotion is agreed to for twenty-four hours following your acknowledgment of this message. As you well know, a foolish rush to spectacle cost us all dearly at this time last year.

But have no doubt, spectacle is needed.

I’m also going to suggest that you treat your one-day delay as being merely twelve hours. If news flies at warp speed once released, gossip travels at an unrestrained Warp Factor 50.

Finally, as a personal favor, extend my condolences to all your crew on their losses, and please deliver my personal message to Lieutenant Kirk on the anniversary of his uncle’s death. Tell him that we’re all still feeling that one.

Lystra Davis, Commander-Starfleet

While not ungrateful for the delay, Pavel Chekov now knew that he had to begin what was certain to be a very painful process. First things always being first, he acknowledged the message from Davis, then ordered the computer to set two timers, one for twenty-four hours and one for twelve. He checked the computer’s current duty registry, and finding that Peter Kirk was off-duty, nearly contacted him with Davis’ message of condolence. He then thought better of it when he also checked and found that his new first officer, Commander Saavik, was also off-duty for at least six more hours. Considering that their brief ‘alone time’ yesterday—right after Saavik had returned from Hyperion—had resulted in Lieutenant Kirk’s hair being more than slightly askew and an eerie semi-smile being pasted on Saavik’s face, it was not hard for Chekov to reason that he should wait until one or both of them were on duty.

"As opposed to being on each oth... Bozhe moi. Task at hand, Pavel Andreivich. Task at hand."

And what a task it was. There were Academy rivals and outright enemies who did not frighten him as did the man he had often and proudly called the best friend he would ever have. Hikaru Sulu was many decent, positive things. Not among those positive attributes was the ability to react in a predictable way to bad or disappointing news. While certainly this could be said to be true of anyone, as with all things Hikaru Sulu, it took on a special dimension.

"Vwhy am I so afraid? I’m his boss, now. Da. Like that vwill cow him even one little bit."

Excelsior being initially given to Styles? Not good to be kept openly chomping at the bit for months. Saavik ending things between them? A decidedly quiet affair, well advised when dealing with a lady not known for her reticence. The Cooper instead of Excelsior? Utterly incredulous, but he dealt with it. Janet Rachelson’s death? Very bad. Kept it inside until it threatened to cripple him. Peter Kirk’s imprisonment and disgrace? Suddenly, a law-and-order captain known for a tight ship was all tea and sympathy for an obviously disturbed young man, mercilessly lambasting his heartsick uncle for not seeing the fall coming.

There were no guarantees except that he would bring the full force of his considerable personality to bear. Only now, Chekov was certain, this would be aimed in his direction, and it would likely not involve gentle congratulations. He started to compose the sentences informing Sulu of his promotion, the words that he knew would be inadequate.

"Is saying from old Russian song, Hikaru. ‘You can’t alwvays get vwhat you want...’"

Nyet. A charming nationalistic joke was not called for here. He wasn’t trading groaners with Ch’terr or Peter Kirk. He was fencing with a master of the take-down, and you did well to neither belittle nor make light of such a one.

"Perhaps you should at least be happy that it was one of our group that got this honor..."

Nyet. There were invitations to dance, and invitations to abuse. Phrasing things that way would be an invitation to war. Maybe literally.

"Who knows how exactly Admiral Davis arrived at this choice? God knows I was surprised by it."

Nyet. Questioning the wisdom of the process that selected him and making it seem somehow random could only de-legitimize whatever limited authority Hikaru would grudgingly grant him. A solicitous Are you sure you’re ready for this, Pavel? started to play in Chekov’s head. He shoved it out with all his will.

"Look. Not only Starfleet Command, but Shaun, Penda, Xon and Dawson all think I’m the right man for the job."

Hell, nyet. If he had to defend his new status by invoking the names of their friends, he was done for.

The only thing that really counted was maintaining his belief in himself...but then again, not cosmically pissing Sulu off was a decent secondary goal.

"I think its obvious that command saw something in me that they did not see in...oy, just shoot me now."

Do not piss him off, he reminded himself. Not yet anyway.

"This does not mean that I won’t still be relying on you, old friend. I’ll need your wisdom, your strength, your experience and all your advice, now more than ever."

Yuck. It might also be good, he reasoned, not to make Sulu throw up like he himself felt like doing.

He stood in the Enterprise-B’s ready room, staring out at Earth for some time.

After a long while, he looked at the two timers. Eight hours on the one, twenty more on the other. It could have been an eternity, he realized, and it would have made no difference. He came to a decision.

"I’ll have Peter and Saavik tell him. They’re just kids, and he likes them. Plus, we’ll have Christine and Ariel on standby if he should try to behead them."

No more jokes. Whatever he would blurt out, even with his nerves on edge, had to be better than the sheer crap he was coming up with. He hoped.

"Communications, Mister Michaels, this is the kyptin. Establish a secure direct line between myself and Kyptin Sulu of the Excelsior." That he didn’t need to wait long for this at first seemed an ominous sign to him. This seemed to be confirmed by Sulu’s smiling face as he came on.

"I hear that congratulations are in order..."

Here it comes. I should have been the one Harriman allowed to go to Deck Fifteen. Disintegration and/or the vacuum of space would have been so much easier, he thought.

"...I mean, surviving a bio-organic doomsday machine and destroying it entirely? You, Shaun, Penda...all the crews involved deserve major kudos for ending that nightmare. Thanks for sending me Peter’s report on the creature. That, my friend, was some seriously scary shit. Ariel has some questions for your science team when we all have a breather..."

As the man lightly laughed, Chekov was forced to question whether this was all really happening.

"...whenever the hell that might be. You know, I’m glad you called. I was just about to propose a joint mission for us to Admiral Davis. Some long-range audio telemetry has uncovered evidence of two very old civilizations within the distant reaches of the Alpha Quadrant, apparently connected by trade. Now, all we have so far is that one is reptilian and the other humanoid, and possibly deeply religious. You may remember that Uhura first came across sensor readings of them during her tour of duty on the Sadat. Anyway, I figure with a team as good as yours backing Excelsior up, we’ll have successful first contact in no time at all!"

Da, this was really happening. Only the real Hikaru would give so forward a backhanded compliment. Add to that, the mission was in the opposite direction of where they were headed. "I’ll take that under advisement, Hikaru. Listen, I have—"

"Don’t bowl me over with your enthusiasm, Captain Chekov. Listen, there’s no need to worry. I’ve already spoken to my contacts in and around Starfleet."

Please, let this mean what I know it cannot possibly mean. Please? "Have you now?"

"Yes. And I can assure you right now your career is not going to be stalled because of the Romulan action in that sector. No one is holding you responsible. While they wouldn’t elaborate, some of them seemed to even think that you were headed for bigger and better things...later on, of course."

The time now is later than you think, Hikaru. Much later. "I appreciate you...vwatching out for me, old friend. So much of what I have, I owe to you. But for right now, I have news. It’s news, frankly, that you may not be ready to hear."

Sulu’s face showed instantaneous worry. "My God, not again. Who is it? Spock? Penda? Leonard? Chris? Saa..."

Chekov waved his hands in front of the monitor. "No one has died, Hikaru!" I was so worried about how difficult a man he can be, I forgot how difficult this past year has been for us all. Of course he’d interpret it that way. As I would have, too.

Whatever levels of misunderstanding they had or would have, both captains had a silent understanding that Chekov meant ‘no deaths’ outside of those already recorded and logged from the deadly struggle in sector NGC-2548.

"Sorry. It’s just the way this past year has gone...Demora, then her boyfriend—I’ve been bracing myself for it. Lady Amanda’s death. Well, with so many of us on just a handful of ships, it’s easy to let the worst dominate your imagination."

Chekov breathed in. Maybe there was hope, after all. "Da. That it is. That it surely is." At last, he felt that maybe he had found the words. "It’s good news. Maybe even great news. I just vwas unsure of your reaction to it, so I danced around a bit. For vworrying you like that, you have my apologies."

Sulu smiled anew, a warm smile that spoke of a friendship to rival that of their beyond-legendary mentors and commanders. "Same old Pavel. I swear, you react about as well to good news as I do to bad. You’re too suspicious of good fortune, ‘Kyptin’. You and your new chief science officer are cut from the same cloth, I swear. That kid hedges every word he writes me with qualifiers galore. You, he and Saavik should form a glum club. Sulu to Chekov: Some good news is just that! Now, quit dancing, and tell me your good news."

Chekov hesitated another second, hoping that either Moses, the Prophet Isaiah or even Jesus Christ would appear to announce the end of days. He imagined converting would be less painful than what he foresaw with Sulu. Plus, Nana would probably like him. He’s a nice Jewish boy, after all, good to his mother....stop. Deal with Hikaru. Then wish for the fall of Creation.

"Starfleet has announced the formation of a Sixth Fleet. We are both a part of it, and guess who’s in command?"

Okay, so it’s not the Saint Crispian’s Day speech. But I finally said it. Chekov’s relief was doubled when Sulu did not cry out or stare dumbly out the monitor. His smile remained, and actually seemed to widen. Wait. It’s widening? No way that would happen, unless he...Nyet!

"You were worried about giving me this news? Pavel, you moron! How could I possibly be anything but delighted at this news?"

"You’re right, Hikaru; I vworried over noth—"

"I mean, yeah, I’ve been through the wringer mentally. But I think I’m more than ready to take on that promotion. Fleet Captain Sulu. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?"

Time to create a new Russian Rule Of Engagement: Rely neither on wishful thinking nor on vague statements, when seeking to know your adversary or your friend. Chekov now felt like an idiot, wondering if anyone else in the universe would have been foolish enough to not foresee Sulu making that assumption. His nerves were shorting out his efforts, and that had to stop.

"Actually, it’s Fleet Captain Chekov." He immediately added on. "It’s me, Hikaru. I’m in command. I have the official orders from Admiral Davis. Transmitting now."

A minute or two passed as the now-silent Hikaru Sulu reviewed the transmitted file. Chekov prayed that his old friend would still emerge from this difficult moment with some measure of dignity. This was a prayer that would go largely unanswered.

"Pavel, isn’t it obvious what this is about?"

"Nyet. Please to enlighten me."

Sulu waved his open palms in front of himself. "This is obviously some kind of...snafu! Somewhere, someone has obviously—"

"Stop it, Sulu! You asked me to think, and I am now asking you to do the same. You’re an intelligent man, Hikaru. Among the most intelligent I’ve ever met. So stop with the nonsense. These orders are reality, and they are serious. I am in command of the Sixth Fleet."

Sulu now looked truly puzzled. "You can’t believe that. You’ve only been a captain for what, one year? Unless you’re now counting your tour of duty as the commander of a corvette during the Kelvan War, and no one counts that. Everyone with the rank of lieutenant or above was given command of small ships like those. Hell, even Lieutenant Leslie had command of one of those."

Terrific, Hikaru. The barely-held sarcasm in his friend’s voice made Chekov almost regret ever caring about Sulu’s reaction to the news. "Is that supposed to provoke me, Captain?"

"No, Fleet Captain Chekov. It’s supposed to make you remember certain things. Things like your oath of service. You are not ready to command an entire fleet. Trying to do so before you are could place the Federation in mortal peril. Now, if we both calm down, we can approach Lystra Davis together and make her aware that she chose the wrong man. Pavel, it’s the only logical thing to do."

Chekov tried to remind himself that this man had every right to be disappointed, and every right to be surprised and even shocked by this announcement. But part of his mind thought less and less about Sulu’s rights and more and more about nailing him with a left hook. "Your logic seems both strained and fuzzy to me. Do you suppose for five seconds that either of us vwould get the position, if we did vwhat you suggest? Vwhy in hell can’t you simply be happy for me, your best friend, and sit down vwith me to formulate a plan to make this idea vwork?"

Sulu almost appeared to be shaking as he moved to terminate the connection. "Because it simply cannot work. Not with someone in charge who is only a captain mostly through happenstance. You’ve done well enough, Pavel. But without me or Penda holding your hand—"

As the ancient sailor had said, Chekov have had enough, and sometimes enough was too much. "Captain Sulu, stand down. Do I need to remind you of the line between honest differences of opinion and outright, blatant disrespect? Or is it that you don’t even respect me as a peer?"

"Fine. But don’t dare dream this is over...sir. I’m going to Lystra Davis about this immediately. Sulu out."

After the screen went blank, Chekov spoke in defiance of the reality of Sulu’s anger, and asked thin air what he had meant to ask of a man whose friendship and respect he once considered beyond a certainty.

"Hikaru, would you be my Fleet Second-In-Command? ‘Oh, certainly, Pavel...anything to help a friend. Who knows? Maybe a good showing there could help my career. Unlike, say, throwing the Baba Yaga of all temper tantrums.’ You, Hikaru? Never. You are the very soul of fairness..." He sat down, tears of anger threatening to form. "You are my friend."

A fact which, up until Sulu had gotten the captaincy of the Excelsior, had never been in doubt. But since then, doubt had flourished. Last year, when Sulu had used his influence to force an abandonment of the search pattern Chekov had been using for Scotty and the Jenolen, and then when he later tried to take over operations at Alpha Tucanae, it had just about crumbled. They’d spent a year rebuilding that friendship and trust, until they seemed stronger than ever. Now, it looked as though it all had completely fallen apart.

Chekov tried to recall the last time he felt such utter desolation. He wondered why, after mourning a mentor, a father, a mother, a godchild and several good people, it was the loss of Sulu’s friendship that finally cost him his composure. Mercifully, many levels of exhaustion did not permit him to wonder this for very long.

When he awoke, it was to a familiar face—but a lot more unkempt hair than before.

"Captain? Sir?" The younger man shrugged, and gave in. "Hey, Pavel?"

Chekov looked up at Peter Kirk. "Are we off duty?"

"No. But you weren’t responding to every variation of ‘Sir’ and ‘Captain’ I could come up with. I was almost getting down to ‘Hey, you!’"

Chekov got up. "Didn’t I ask for twenty-four hours of undisturbed time to prepare for the upcoming business of the Sixth Fleet?"

"That you did. But you also told me when your command packet came in to bring it to you. I didn’t mean to disturb you, sir."

"Is all right." Chekov inputted the codes into the padd. He turned to Kirk. "Anything else? And if you ask for permission to speak freely when you know you already have it, so help me, I’ll bust you down to Cadet. Raw cadet. Heavy emphasis on the raw."

Kirk nodded. "He didn’t take it well, did he?"

Tell me you didn’t just ask that. "Who didn’t take what well, Mister Kirk?"

Despite Chekov’s apparent annoyance, the younger man pushed his luck just a bit. "Captain, I’m dating the man’s ex-girlfriend."

"I would not go that far, Lieutenant. They were involved only in the most superficial of manners, for the briefest of times during an extremely trying ordeal." Is there anything they don’t tell each other?

Peter Kirk did not let the captain change the subject. "A telepath, and a woman known to speak her mind. I asked her how that man might feel about not getting the nod himself. She let me know."

Chekov shook a finger in the air at Kirk. "Promise me—promise me, you’ll stay out of this, Peter!"

"I promise. But there’s no need to worry. As is said, I may have once been crazy, but I’m not stupid. I learned my lesson with Jim and Spock during the Gorkon affair. Never again."

Chekov sat down. "I vwill, however, gladly accept any vwords of vwisdom you might have on hand."

Kirk shook his head, invoking a sarcastic yet endearing phrase the late Willis O’Brien had used to describe him. "Sorry. The overly helpful wannabe sage has nothing for you, sir."

Chekov couldn’t feel enough at that point to say whether he was pleased or disappointed by this. "You know? Let’s clarify that little privilege I gave you. From now on, it’s Pavel whenever in private, except for in a crisis. Maybe you can even get your lady friend to do it more often. Okay, Peter?"

He may as well deepen the friendships he still had, reasoned Chekov. Plus, he had lately realized they were rarely off duty, alone and in private, which meant the original privilege was too vaguely defined to accomplish what he had intended.

"Okay, Pavel. Sorry to intrude."

"No, you’re not. You’re only sorry you can’t help. But not even he could help the two of us right now, Peter." They both knew full well who ‘he’ was. "Speaking of which, you have a personal message of condolence from Admiral Davis." The terminal beeped, and Chekov felt the blood drain from his face. "Vwhile I have a meeting vwith her and Sulu in three hours. Vwonderful. As always, the man moves fast."

Whether out of certainty that no words were called for, or certainty that he had no words, the younger man stood wholly silent. Chekov looked at him.

"Inform Saavik and Robbie. I’ll trust your discretion. I’m going to the barber’s and get a trim. I’m also scheduling one for you. You obviously don’t have time to get that mane in order, vwhat vwith your...other activities. Any objections?"

Kirk smiled. "None here. It being the captain’s wish actually helps me, if you know what I mean."

It was a mundane, stupid thing to concentrate on, and Chekov dearly wished it were the whole of his concerns right then and there. "She likes it like that? Vwell, no one says it has to be a crewcut. Just make it more manageable—and make sure she doesn’t do it. One time I had a lady-friend aboard the original Enterprise do mine, and I ended up looking like a monkey for nearly a year."

Kirk nodded and grinned evilly. "Angela Moretti."

Chekov shook his head in disbelief. "You vwere seven years old, aboard for only one month, grieving and in rehab!"

"My legs may not have worked, sir. But my eyes? They worked just fine!"

This light moment did not provide the distraction Chekov hoped for and needed so badly. For it only served as a reminder that it was exactly this sort of thing that he and Hikaru Sulu were unlikely to share anytime soon, perhaps indeed, ever again. He and Kirk left the ready room where he walked past a concerned Saavik who would have to be brought up to speed by her lover. He entered the lift.

As the doors closed, Chekov was heard to say, "Deck—"

Tactical Officer Vasquez saw the pained look Saavik and Kirk shared between them. She spoke softly but audibly, to keep their personal business just that. "Did you two have an argument?"

"Not us," said Saavik, "though I believe one has just passed by recently."

Kirk looked over at the turbolift door. "And one is pending. Watch out for flying glass." Vasquez was surprised that Saavik did not chide Kirk for making the joke. Only later would she realize that he had not been joking.

Not in the slightest.


Chekov walked into Davis’s office, having been outside it for a half an hour, oddly nervous glances from the commanding admiral’s very young yeoman making the wait seem longer than it already felt. Early enough for her to know he took the whole thing very seriously, but not so early as to appear anxious or upset. He did not want to give Davis the idea that he was trying to overwhelm her decision-making process.

This was to prove a one-way courtesy on his part. Sulu was already sitting there, having his say unchallenged. You’re digging it deeper with every movement, Hikaru. Just when will you get that?

"...and it’s unthinkable that I should answer to a man four years my junior with nearly a decade less time in the center seat. I’ll concede that Captain Chekov, despite his only recently becoming a peer, has shown tremendous promise as a starship commander. I’ll even go so far as to say that he has surpassed all my best expectations for him..."

Disgusted, Chekov broke in. "A pity I cannot say the same about you, Sulu. I expected much better of you than this. Tell me, did you push past Yeoman Jabush at Reception, or did you merely beam yourself in?"

Davis grabbed the bull by the horns. "He did the former, after unsuccessfully attempting the latter. A security measure installed after the Brok rampage. Sit down, Captain Chekov. Speaking of rampages...you were saying, Captain Sulu?"

Without heed to either sarcasm or rage or even the subtle warning the commanding admiral of Starfleet had just given him, Sulu kept right on. "...but Starfleet must not make the potentially grave mistake of viewing this latter-day show of promise as a reason to experiment on a man who, until last year, showed virtually no interest in advancement. Even his former wife had said so."

Sulu glanced with derision at Chekov before continuing. "Though the Sixth Fleet’s mission is mainly one of mapping and exploration, we all know that means potentially dozens if not hundreds of first contacts, sometimes with powers so border-conscious, they will make the Cho-ta’M Directorate look like a litter of newborn puppies! Captain Chekov simply does not have it in him at this stage to keep these new powers from getting ideas about the Federation. For that matter, neither does anyone else you can name."

Davis smiled, and nodded at Sulu. "Captain Sulu, are you saying that, to your mind, any arrangement of the Sixth Fleet that leaves anyone besides yourself in charge is wholly unworkable?"

"Yes, Admiral. To the mind of anyone who really sits and thinks this through, I am the right man for this challenge, and frankly, you need me."

The smile faded. "Like a disruptor bolt through the head, perhaps. Very well, Captain Sulu. You are relieved of command of the Excelsior. Please have your personal effects removed from the ship within the next three hours." She turned to Chekov. "Please contact Admiral Po and see if you two can come up with a starship commander for the Excelsior in the next few days."

"Yes, Admiral," Chekov answered briefly, having no desire to interfere with the apparent process of Sulu’s self-destruction.

Sulu began to stammer out. "I...I’ve...I..." He was, this once, at an utter loss for words.

Davis’ look was arch, and not at all sympathetic. "You wish to say something, Captain Sulu? Then choose your next words very carefully. As though both rear and career depended on them." Her eyes narrowed. "Because, they do."

"I...I wish..." He stumbled for words and stopped.

Had Lystra Davis ever chosen to be a professional boxer, Chekov was fairly certain he would have found her matches too brutal to watch. "You are simply too damn arrogant for your own good, Captain Sulu," the admiral said, glaring at him with almost contempt. "It’s one of the reasons we simply have no intention of ever giving you a command of this magnitude."

Davis’ tone turned to pity. "I realize that you have ten years’ more time in the center seat than Fleet Captain Chekov. I’ll even go so far as to criticize one of my predecessor’s placing that preening fool Styles—whom even you can’t compete with in terms of assholiness—on Excelsior instead of you. But this is now. Captain Chekov, whether he has one second or one millennium in the center seat, has had an exemplary record. His exploits to NGC-2548 are going to end up legendary as was the bravery he and his crew showed at Alpha Tucanae before our reinforcements arrived. In short, in one year, he’s made quite an impression on the admiralty. What he’s brought out in his crew, including at least two officers dismissed by nearly everyone else, frankly makes us want him to lead the Sixth Fleet...hell, I suspect one day he may be sitting in the very chair I’m sitting in."

She crossed her arms and looked at a visibly shaken Sulu sharply. "You, on the other hand, tried to usurp his authority in the Alpha Tucanae system. I have learned from Admiral Soyen that you went behind Chekov’s back and interfered with his search and rescue mission for the Jenolen. Your recent joint missions with other ships have resulted in some unofficial complaints regarding your attitude toward your peers and subordinates." She looked at him earnestly. "Did you really offer Captain Gret of the Shiloh some ‘captainly advice’ on how to handle the Kzinti?"

"I...I may have."

"You ‘may have’? I take it that you were as bold as brass as you were when you were talking to Captain Chekov. You know what we call someone who always speaks their mind, regardless of the possible consequences, when they feel firmly that they are in the right? We call them Jim Kirk. You know what we call a person who only speaks their mind to subordinates and peers that they feel they can push around? We call them a bully. During our few joint missions some twenty years ago, I warned Jim that you needed to be ridden herd on, and damned if I wasn’t right. Tell you what, Captain. Don’t choose your words. They no longer matter to me. You no longer matter. As of right now, you are—"

His eyes glistening, his lips trembling, Sulu snapped to attention. "Admiral, please. Allow me the opportunity to apologize to Fleet Captain Chekov. I...I have spoken rashly and harshly of him. I...I’ve known him for so long, and I’ve had ten years...ten years more service in the center seat. I...I just took it for granted that I...that I would be placed in command of such an operation before him."

Raising a finger in warning, her words seemed amplified somehow. "Take this for the gospel, Captain Sulu. You are hereby permanently relieved of—"

Chekov finally cut in, "Admiral? If I may?"

Lystra Davis stopped her pronouncement. She lowered her finger and sighed very softly. She looked down at her desktop, composing herself. She looked up at Chekov, earnestly hoping for something, anything positive to come out of this dreadful situation. "Yes, Fleet Captain Chekov?"

"Admiral, you have said that you would provide me with all the resources necessary to carry out my mission. Hikaru Sulu is one of those resources. I respectfully request that he be allowed to remain as Commanding Officer of Excelsior."

"Captain Chekov," she began softly, "he is not a resource; he is a drain on resources. I need to make an example of him to every officer who feels ‘entitled’ to a position." She leaned back in her chair. "In 2269, I received command of the Yorktown. I was the third youngest starship commander in Federation history. Only two people were ahead of me: Thrax K’al Kevaran and, of course, James T. Kirk. All of us were friends during our time at the Academy. But do you know what it was like, hearing from old farts like the late Matt Decker, Harry Morrow, Benjamin Stone and their ilk how we didn’t deserve command, that we were too young, that they had more experience? It was hell. And it was hell to hear it from our Academy classmates like Timothy DeLugo." She looked at Chekov. "The three of us went through hell from our peers...utter hell. No one deserves to hear that sort of jealousy-spawned nonsense, Pavel."

"No, they don’t. And I vwill no longer tolerate it from him. But vwe need him. Flawed though he is, vwe need him out there. Besides, a shake-up right now is not vwhat the Sixth Fleet needs."

Sulu for once sat in stunned silence, afraid of having his words turned on him once again, and of scoring a hit with them he would certainly regret.

"Captain, I respect your request. But I honestly feel that almost any officer in your fleet would make a better commander than this man. If there’s a heaven, then the stench from his attitude is surely an offense to it."

Chekov shook his head. "I have good officers, Admiral. But none are ready to replace this man. Not Rand, certainly. Not Saavik nor Xon. Not yet. And vwhile I have complete confidence that Uhura vwould be able to command Excelsior, it vwould leave me vwith a vacancy in the center seat of Hyperion. She spent months learning the ends and outs of that ship vwhile returning to Earth. I vwould not vwant to thrust that ordeal on another officer vwhen there’s a perfectly capable one standing right here before us."

"Is he perfectly capable?"

"Admiral, his attitude needs adjustment, and it vwill change or else Mister Saavik may end up vwith the first non-wartime brevet captaincy in thirty years. But if you allow Captain Sulu’s attitude to destroy my fleet before it has even been announced, then I start vwith my hands already tied in SpaceDock."

Whether Davis could have refuted him was in question. The only clear thing that emerged was that she chose not to try. Instead, she looked at Sulu. Her disdain was very evident. "Reply with ‘Known and understood, Admiral’. I have no interest in hearing anything else from you. A toe, a hair, a look out of line, Captain, and I will have you jockeying a desk on Epsilon Twenty-Three. Respond!"

"Kno-known and understood, Admiral. Known and understood."

"For your sake, Captain, I really and truly hope so. For both your sakes, since this will also place Fleet Captain Chekov’s judgment under a microscope."

Her gaze deliberately avoided the man who knew by then he was surely in deep trouble.

"Fleet Captain Chekov, you may dismiss your subordinate. Protocol, you know."

Sulu’s eyes went wide before they plainly went red with a mixture of embarrassment and resentment.

"Of course, Admiral. Captain Sulu, you are dismissed."

"Respond please, Captain Sulu."

"Known and understood, sirs. Known and understood."

As Hikaru Sulu pivoted and left the room, Davis sighed deeply. "Asshole," she muttered.

After the doors closed, she made her feelings crystal clear. "If he should contact me or any of my direct subordinates with anything other than concrete proof of a full-on joint invasion by the Romulans, Klingons, Orions, Kzinti and Tholians, I’ll have his hide, and maybe yours as well. He’s your problem child now, Captain. And you can have him."

"Yes, Admiral. Thank you."

"I hate meetings like this." She leaned back and stretched her arms, back and neck. "We’ve given him enough rope, Pavel. Now, old friend or no, you owe it to him to see if, all on his own, he uses it to fashion a ladder or a noose. Good luck."

"Thank you, Admiral."

With no particular opinion about luck’s nature at that point, Chekov left the room and girded himself for a new battle. He raised a finger to his lips as the door closed, catching an open-mouthed Sulu by surprise. "Not here. If she hears or sees us, it vwill be both our careers. The Solarium is deserted this late at night. Say vwhatever you vwant, but say it there."

Whatever restraint Sulu was incapable of showing, this small bit of patience he could and did muster as they entered the well-insulated room. Its magnificent view was lost on both of them. One in particular.

"Don’t deny that you enjoyed that! Tell me, was it fun watching me squirm?"

Chekov was not put off in the slightest. It was past time for Sulu, Uncle Vanya and Uncle Piotr, and every last asshole who thought it was their job to give Pavel Chekov grief a reason to regret it. "Da, it was great fun. Vwe should do it more often. Daily perhaps. But you know vwe ‘kyptins by happenstance’. Vwe’re just such a petty lot."

"All right, all right! So that was somewhat—"

"Nyet. Was not ‘somewhat.’ Vwas completely and totally out of line. Truthfully? It pained me to vwatch you squirm. But if that is the only vway to make you truly understand the lines you have crossed, then I am vwilling and able to live vwith that pain and to make you live vwith it. You are not my father nor one of my uncles, Hikaru. Don’t expect that sudden bursts of bluster vwill ever make me back down. Far from it. The one and only concession to my feelings for you, you just saw in that office."

"I don’t want, and I don’t need your charity, your pity or your sympathy."

"And yet you seem to regard me as a charity case."

"I never once called you—"

"Ultimately, it is a good thing you neither need nor vwant all that, because, quite frankly, you have none of it. I did vwhat I did out of the last ounce of friendship I had for you, Captain. But you’ve spent...no, correction: you’ve vwasted all of that. I just happen to need you because as big of an asshole as you’ve become, you’re a talented asshole."

As Chekov walked away, perhaps Sulu finally realized what was at stake. But the battle was already lost, the armada in ruins.

"Pavel? Pavel, we’ve been through too much to let it end this way!"

Chekov responded, but he did not turn. "I am not the one that chose to end it."

Aboard his ship waited his friends, and the business of the Sixth Fleet. Behind him, he left the living shadow of a man he had once known and called friend.

Pandora’s Box had been opened, and every last vile thing had escaped.

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