Seated at his desk in his ready room, Fleet Captain Pavel Andreievich Chekov heard them through the comlink he kept open to the bridge.
"Youre here early." Vasquezs voice sounded like she was trying not to be suspicious but failing miserably.
"I was once told by the captain that being early for these things was desirable." Saavik equally failed in her effort to sound unmoved by the undertone she likely detected.
"I guess its a good thing that were all ready early," replied Vasquez.
"There is no being ready for this. Hes not going to let us be ready. He cant afford to," added Kirk, his being the last word for then and there.
Chekov opened his ready room doors. 0800 was still minutes away, but nevertheless, it was time. Vasquez and Saavik entered first, not quite jostling each other for the order they would enter the ready room. The doors closed as Kirk, the last in order of command rank, entered.
Chekov met each of their eyes and began addressing the three officers gathered before him. "You vwill remain at attention until such time as I say otherwise. Any insightful remarks not made by myself alone vwill not be considered helpful. Moreover, they vwill be considered insubordinate as well as indicative of an inability to keep quiet, to listen and to learn. I vwill file charges of insubordination against any of you who cannot control yourselves in my presence. Is that understood?"
There was a nodding of heads, and Chekov slammed his palm down on the desk before him. "I said, Is that understood?"
"Yes, Captain," they responded with vigor.
"Without thinking, you three have started something vwhich quickly grew into a monster that dwarfs the likes of the doomsday machine, the cosmoprotozoan or even Arog-Dam. It is only by thinkinggenuine thinking, not insight, or citing the most sage advice youve ever receivedthat you vwill gain even the most minimal passage back into the good grace you once knew. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Captain," they replied in unison. There was fear in Kirks and Vasquezs voices, real fear. There was even a faint tremor of uncertainty in Saaviks.
Chekov seized upon it. "I am so damned tired of people who think theyre James Kirk. I have news for you: I didnt allow my once-best friend to survive such an attitude unscathed, and I vwont allow it of you. Those boots are too big to fill. None of us who knew Kyptin Kirk could ever be him. So please to stop thinking that the mavericks approach will ingratiate you, gain you some hidden prize. All it has gotten you is here and now, and in this place. A poor prize, indeed."
He could not let up; he could not afford to. This was a chance he might never have again, considering how well these three tended to learn their lessons. It needed to be Chekovs take, at least until the day each of them earned their own command.
"Lieutenant Peter Kirk. You took on a job vwithout knowing its full parameters? It took Lieutenant Vasquez to have you reading through documents you should have been looking over the moment I informed you of your promotion?"
Kirk finally spoke up. "Sir, we were in the middle of a dangerous mission when you informed me. I spent much of the rest of our trip back aiding Lieutenant Vasquez in running the ship. It is only the last two weeks that I have had even the hint of enough time to review those files, this situation aside."
Chekov was far more than ready for Kirk. "Then you are saying that, after nearly thirty years in and around Starfleet, with your youth and later incarceration spent doing little other than reading Starfleet-related material, you actually needed to consult documents to realize that our hierarchy is one of a clear and certain division of duties?"
Kirk had a slight height advantage on Chekov. Here, it not only didnt help him, it seemed to his supreme disadvantage, as the captain actually hunched slightly to stare up into the lieutenants eyes.
"Vwhy you vwould even feel this ambitious a project vwas necessary is wholly beyond me. Youre long past being an outcast. Youre nearly five years past the parole from your court-martial. You are not even three years removed from single-handedly defeating a squad of Khmyr Klingons, an act that in the eyes of some classifies you as a super-hero! You can vwalk. You are mentally whole, and vwith certain glaring exceptions, you have an upwardly mobile career track. All things certain people once declared impossible for you. For some that would be enough."
Chekov turned away, as though in contempt. "But you have to press all that. Not for a great legacy, or to disown a sorrier one. But for ego, pure and simple. You are among the most self-centered beings I have ever met. Note that I did not say selfish. No, you are not selfish. But despite a giving, generous nature, you have an innate inability to see past yourself. You dare to have dreams of replacing your boyhood idols vwhen your personal universe consists solely of yourself and my first officer? That is the conclusion that I must reach. How else to explain that a mind so incisive, so much on the ball in all else it does, failed to see that there might be limits on where it was allowed to roam?"
Kirk had shown signs of emotion when accused of being self-centered. But it was not what he chose to comment on. "Sir, I had no idea this project, mistaken or otherwise, would lead to this level of problem. I cannot see how this could have been foreseen. It started with my mistake, but understand, I did not step into this uncaring of where it might go. Simply unseeing."
"So you are telling me that you could not have known that this would turn into a clash of personalities?"
Chekov shook his head. "Anything can turn into a clash of personalities, Mister Kirk. I once nearly got into a fight with a loudmouth named DeLugo, vwhen I vwas new to the ship. I defended your uncle, vwhen I hadnt even personally met him, and he had convicted your uncle of Ben Finneys death vwhen he hadnt even been charged yet. And it doesnt take a death to trigger such clashes. If you cannot see past yourself enough to see that a charged atmosphere in vwhich nearly everyone is a genius of some sort can be a minefield, then you have no hope of navigating it, nor even a pipe dream of leading others through it."
There was also no time for letting up on these three.
"Commander Saavik Relikian, you stand in some large boots. Not merely those of Ambassador Spock, but more recently, those of Penda Nyota Uhura. Tell me, is this burden proving too much?"
"No, sir." Her face was showing signs of green, though Chekov suspected this was from nerves, rather than rage.
"You are engaged in a romantic and sexual relationship with Lieutenant Kirk. As you know, Starfleet has always frowned upon this sort of relationship from developing among its starship crews."
"I am aware of that generality, however, I have not broken any regulations regarding fraternization with junior officers."
"Unlikely, Mister Saavik. The regulations are so vaguely worded that any commanding officer can use them to end practically any such relationship on his or her vwessel." He changed tack. "Tell me, Commander, if during the battle with Arog-Dam, Lieutenant Kirk had been forced to take a shuttle into the line of fire for some reason, would you have altered Hyperions position in the battle to protect him?"
"Even though his risk of death would have been enormous?"
"Sir, the needs..."
Chekov slammed his palm on the desk top again. "Commander, I warned you earlier about repeating sage advice. That includes Vulcan axioms that everyone on this vwessel knows by heart. Do not tempt me again." He drew a deep breath. "So you are certain that even vwith the very painful prospect of watching someone so dear to you die, you vwould not break battle formation in that or any other circumstance?"
"I would not endanger my ship or my crew to save one man who knew the risks. Even though facing such a thing would indeed be a very painful prospect."
It was incredibly obvious that even broaching the subject was causing her pain. Kirk looked over at her, and then so did Vasquez. The latters face showed a welcome sign that things had gone too far, but of course she was in no position to say this then and there. And as much as Chekov needed Kirk aware of his self-centeredness, so he needed Saavik to face up to her most basic error in judgment.
"Commander, was your lack of foresight in the matter of the simulation scenarios colored by your relationship with Lieutenant Kirk?"
She seemed almost dazed. She sighed ever so slightly, and spoke. "It is both a safe and unfortunately a fair statement as well. My logic was faulty in that I sought to find reasons to approve Lieutenant Kirks request. I should have denied him permission to proceed, then reminded him of command protocol, and finally referred him to Lieutenant Vasquez."
"Indeed, you should have. But you didnt. Computer?"
"Working," came the reply over the ready rooms intercom system.
"Play back Commander Saaviks response in answer to my question as to whether or not she would break formation to protect Lieutenant Kirks life."
Saaviks voice came across the comlink. "I would not endanger my ship or my crew to save one man who knew the risks. Even though facing such a thing would indeed be a very painful prospect."
"Saavik, do you feel that you can separate your relationship with Lieutenant Kirk enough to do your job?"
She stood, looking very much uncertain as to what to say.
"Youve stated that you would not endanger your ship or crew, but youre willing to throw away your career by ignoring several pertinent command protocols?"
A single tear came down her cheek. Kirk couldnt see it, but Vasquez saw it out of the corner of her eye and was clearly shocked by its existence.
The executive officer finally formulated her reply. "It is clear that my logic was fallible in this instance. I suggest I be allowed to recuse myself from certain low-level, day-to-day decisions regarding Lieutenant Kirk. It seems I know well the matters of life and death. They are stark and glaring. My weakness lies in the fine details."
Chekov frowned deeply, but was secretly delighted that she had caught on this much. "Vwe cant go around making up one set of rules for most officers and crewmembers, and another set for your lover, Commander. But I vwill grant you this option, so long as it remains a rarely used one. Those decisions you choose to handle yourself will receive special scrutiny. Is that understood, Meester Saavik?"
"Yes, sir," she snapped back to attention, but clearly relaxed a bit.
Chekov snarled, "And now vwe vwill address the subject of how you regard yourself and Lieutenant Kirk as superior beings!"
The Vulcan-Romulan almost gasped in surprise. Fortunately, she had already recognized that prior conversation with Vasquez for what it was, and moved to resolve its consequences. "Sir, what I said in that instance was fundamentally wrong, even loathsome, vile and bigoted. I will offer as many apologies to Lieutenant Vasquez, yourself, and anyone else you direct or suggest, as it takes to show that I know how very wrong I was to say such an insipid thing."
Saavik would never know how much Chekov wanted to let it go at that. Doubtless, she really did profoundly regret her blatant bigotry in that instance, and would take pains to show Vasquez how sorry she was. But as with Kirk, so with his paramour. Chekov wanted to exact something from her, a lesson that went far past one idiotic statement.
"To say such an insipid thing. Commander, is saying such a thing your only regret in this sorry matter?"
"I regret the disruption my unthinking statement caused and escalated."
Chekov turned away from her, and held up padd on his desk, inspecting it as though fascinated by its data, as he spoke. "Vwas it unthinking, Meester Saavik, or does it in fact reflect your real opinion of yourself and all those you serve vwith?"
Saavik looked thunderstruck and even enraged. Tellingly, she met Kirks eyes before looking back at Chekov, and their captain could almost feel the young mans unspoken plea that she keep her calm. "No, sir! Not at all, sir! While Lieutenant Vasquezs inquiry was legitimate, at that time it startled me and threw me off. The statement was a pitiable reflexive one, not unlike a cramped leg kicking out while one slumbers. As I said, sir, it was unthinking and bigoted."
"A completely unacceptable answer, Commander. You telling me that a mix of emotions placed you in an awkward position? And that somehow this made your mouth speak a stupidity that is a mix of three cultures : Vulcan elitism, Romulan defensiveness, and the Human inability to know when to shut the hell up?"
"Sir, I am not Human!"
"Bullshit, Commander. Youre a product of your upbringing. You scavenged and scrounged on a cast-off Romulan colony . You were rescued and moved to Northwestern America to live with Ambassador Spocks Aunt Roberta. You attended Starfleet Academy, and shortly thereafter spent some time on Vulcan. But youre right to some extent. Biology cannot be denied, but neither can culture. You are not Human. You are not Romulan. You are not even Vulcan. Simply put, you are a unique individual, but you are quite volatile, and even on occasion, loathsome."
"I have studied the Vulcan disciplines"
"And Ive seen you around other Vulcans. You squirm, because you know they are not like you."
Saavik seemed notably more defiant. "You speak of my mouth, Captain, and you are correct: I should show much more restraint. In fact, I should learn it forthwith and at warp speed, if only so that I do not ever again have to endure one of your pejorative, racist aspersions on my heritage!"
Saavik spun on her heel and headed straight for the door as Kirk and Vasquez started in shock.
"So how does it feel, Saavik, to be victimized by the words of a fellow officer?" Chekov asked.
She turned, her mouth open as if to issue a scathing rejoinder when she saw the fleet captains expression of mild concern. Without permission, Saavik sat down on the ready rooms couch. She looked crumpled. "When I met Spock, I met this man of immense self-control and infinite patience. I think I loved him from the start. But while I was fascinated by his Vulcan-ness, it was his Humanity that caused him to bother with something as worthless as I was, wasnt it? I do understand Humans. I can almost predict their reactions to my...unique turns of phrase. I have made enough of them. Enough that I should know better, even though I never seem to." She stared blankly out the window overlooking the massive engines of the starship. "Do you know how many starships Ive served on? How many times my words have destroyed an opportunity?"
"In fact, Commander, I do." He tapped the padd, and her service record appeared on the wallscreen behind him.
Chekov gently but firmly brought her to her feet. His voice was not that of a man enraged, but impatience was still heavy in his voice. "Commander, while I admire Vulcan culture and respect Romulan prowess deeply, both approaches are as replete with flaws as the Human one. You do an excellent job in balancing the first two, not so much with the third. I think that, up until now, not being biologically Human, youve discounted Humanity as a secondary influence. In fact, I think it may be your primary cultural influence. Saying the sort of thing you said in an awkward situation is a very Human thing to do."
"Perhaps, sir. But if I accept your words, then what is to become of me? Who am I?"
"You are Saavik, my first officer."
Roberta Vasquez had done both the least and the most in bringing about this situation. If it were possible to improve upon the wrongs and missteps of another and make them worse still, she had certainly done that. She was where virtually none of this fiasco had started, and she was everywhere it had continued and ended up.
"Mister Vasquez, listen to this log entry: Special commendation is to be given to Lieutenant Peter Kirk. Even though we are no longer under Romulan escort, and the ship is in a passive-duty mode, easy-going by most standards, it was still more than I ever bargained for. From filling in extra shifts to running ad hoc duties in Tactical and Executive functions, from guiding nervous, phaser-shocked crewmembers to Doctor Beals to fetching coffee for Katya Sorensens department as she worked overtime on repairs, Peter Kirk has been an invaluable help. His comprehensive view of his duties, both his specific ones, and his greater duty to the ship and its crew, has been, frankly, a godsend while Captain Chekov tends to personal matters."
Chekov glanced at Kirk, who seemed to be blushing. "Mister Vasquez? Are these your words, and do you stand by them?"
"Yes, sir. But I"
"Nyet. No buts, when your ass is on the line. This documents you finding the ability and the tendency of Lieutenant Kirk to go beyond his specified duties as a good thing. At the very least, it is a tendency you seem to clearly recognize. Is Novembers memory erased by December?"
"We were back in normal operations when this happened, sir. There was no need for Lieutenant Kirk to even contemplate doing those scenarios."
Chekov shook his head. "The lieutenants wrong has been established on so many levels, Mister Vasquez, that science may need a new dimension to gauge them all. In other words, it is no longer the issue. Answer the question given to you. Did you know Peter Kirk well enough to know that he could step or stumble over the line of his duties, either through enthusiasm or foolishness?"
"I-I suppose I really should have, sir."
"And has malfeasance ever entered into his actions at any time youve known him?"
"No, sir. Not even once."
"Vwhen you informed him of his error, vwhat vwould you have guessed he vwould do?"
Vasquez shrugged. "Probably memorize the whole damned command protocol database."
Chekov gestured broadly. "In other words, it was a recognizable and wholly known character trait. Welcome in some instances, much less so in others. Am I correct?"
"I cant dispute you there, sir."
"But after a bad moment with Mister Saavik, you seem to have forgotten that he has two well-meaning left feet, as it were. So, naturally, you took this well-liked jack-of-all-trades and turned him into a modern-day KGB agent. A logical progression, to be sure."
Now Chekov looked directly at her. "Has he given you reason to believe hes anything other than, as the late Mister OBrien put it, an overly helpful wannabe sage or, as my grandmother would say, a muttelmessig?"
"And has your other friend given you reason to believe shes anything but a social meshugeneh?"
"And have I as your captain ever given you any reason to believe that I vwould permit two officers to survivelet alone succeed ina conspiracy to oust another without true, deep cause?"
Chekov saw Saavik silently working over his Yiddish expressions in some confusion. He fought back a wave of amusement he could not afford at this point. "Mister Vasquez, you saw a there that wasnt there. You took a poorly written plot and made of it a plot against you. Frankly, these two dont seem organized enough to conspire against anyone. You took two instances of reeking foolishness and somehow, got one and one to equal five. Vwell, that kind of reasoning I do not need. Your burden vwill be the greatest. You must fight against the sort of response you gave in this circumstance. As I once told Captain Kirk, there is a Russian expression that says you do not shout fire in a crowded theater unless there is one. Even then, shouting is not called for. Calm is. The kind of calm that doesnt waste a fleet captains valuable time."
Chekov left no pause for his finish-up and follow-through. "Let us hope this is true, and for all of you. This dispute never needed to occur, and you vwill know the costs of causing it. You have all three of you earned formal reprimands as a result of this disgrace. But worse than any formal punishment, you have gained my scrutiny. Can you not cross lines you know are there for a reason, or do you want a reputation as a second-rate would-be legend? Can you keep your personal feelings out of ships business, or must your relationship be suspended while you wear that uniform? Can you know when a word to the wise is sufficient, and that not every wrong against you equals a cosmos-shaking crisis?"
He looked to each one in turn, Kirk first. "People will take things you do the wrong way. Be prepared for the unreasonable, even from those you would never expect it from. You cannot predict this. You cannot control it, whether in the rules or outside them. Some things are not from you, no matter how hard that is to take in."
Then Saavik. "Your foot will find its way inside of your mouth. Realization sometimes strikes too late. Romulans, Humans and Vulcans share many traits. Among these are the foibles common to mortal beings. Vwe are liable to stumble. Our only hope is to admit that we are so liable, and grow from that little bit of certain knowledge. For it is one of a tiny handful of certainties granted to such as we, whether we live one-hundred-fifty years or twice again that."
Lastly, Vasquez. "You vwill stare at disbelief at the actions of those you only thought you knew. For pitys sake, your two best friends are a new couple. If you expect logic or reason to result from that, I have a bridge over the Bering Strait I vwould vwish to sell you. In short people, these things happen. There are proper and smart ways to handle them. Use what you did here as an example of what not to do, and you should make Captain vwithin a few years."
Any hint of humor fell away from his voice, and he glared at the three of them collectively. "And do not think that you are doing me a single damned favor by resigning! Do you know how it vwould make me look to lose three senior officers over to what amounts to a toe-stomping? Resignations refused, and reprimands on! Any questions?"
After ten seconds, Kirk raised his hand. "Sir? What about the scenarios? Should I just erase them all?"
It didnt matter who would ask it. Chekovs only guess had been about how it would be asked. If asked whether to keep the offending scenarios, Chekov would have said to merely delete them. But he had been asked the opposite, so he did the opposite. "Nyet. They have caused too much trouble to go that easily. Mister Kirk, you vwill review those scenarios, salvage the best hundred, then turn them over to Mister Vasquez for further vetting. Mister Saavik, you vwill boil down what is left of all that. Your ability to work together in this, or in some cases, not vwork too closely together, vwill go a long way in restoring my faith in you as officers and in what I am about to say to you."
The master of many ships, sometime guardian over trillions of lives, certainly had full power over these young peoples lives. Yet Pavel Andreievich Chekov knew well the lessons that Andrei Ivanovich Chekov had never even bothered with. The lessons taught him not by the chill wind that was his father, nor the helpless mountain peak that was his mother, seemingly there only to be slammed at by the unforgiving wind.
"You have all three screwed up to say the very least. Your greatest wrong lays not in the mistakes themselves. Your almost-unforgivable error lay in thinking that this one dust-up vwas so awesomely horrid, cutting and running vwas your only option. You cant let it end like this. Not over something like this. And vwhen the time comes that you face down a mistake so grand, resignation truly is the only logical or reasonable optioneven then, especially then, you must not quit. Unless the C-in-C herself comes down and demands it, dont even consider it, and even then, consider it only as a courtesy. How dare youespecially you threeconsider quitting now, vwhen you obviously never have before. How dare you?!"
Then, the wind ceased its howling, for its task was done. The howling wind had its place, but its fierceness could only accomplish so much. He had deliberately let these young people feel some of his rage, specifically at the folly of cavalierly destroying so precious a thing as a friendship in the name of ego. Now, though, he let them smell, but not taste, of the proverbial chicken soup for the soul.
"Your careers, your lives, your passions, are not over. Make no mistake, I vwill scrutinize you. I vwill question you vwhen I perhaps I did not before this started. The burden vwill be upon you to change not only my mind, but the verdict of your records upon you. In three month intervals, I vwill add notes on to your reprimands, either excoriating you further for lessons unlearned, or showing to everyone that in your case, a word to the vwise vwas more than sufficient. You possess the ability to set the words of my vwery stinging reprimand in stone, or to blunt them to the point of near-negation. You may make a future commanding officer wonder what the hell I was talking aboutand that is the challenge I lay before you. You vwant to end your careers? I can help you there. You vwant to leave this sorry mess behind, to the point where three successful officers can laugh it off as they look back on these sorry events some years in the future? I can help you there, as vwell. But damn you, youll have to really want it. And right now, I can tellyou only think you want it."
Chekov sat back down behind his desk. "In this challenge I lay down, you have my full faith and confidence, and my offer of help, where you think you want and need clarification. I vwould also suggest that you have each other, for support and honest criticism. The goals I want you to meet during this year of intense scrutiny are ones best met not by becoming more like yourselves, but in you becoming more like each other, where you are strong. Now, does anyone find this arrangement intolerable or unfair?"
If any one of them did, they did not speak of it. Chekov nodded. "Commander, Lieutenantsyou are dismissed."
Kirk and Saavik breathed as one, and helped guide a dazed Vasquez out of the room. Chekov cursed silently, but leaned back to listen to the bridge monitor channel.
"Did that go well?" asked Vasquez.
"Considering what we did, and what he could have doneId say it went very well. We three did the work of all six Stooges, with maybe the Marx and Ritz Brothers thrown in for good measure."
"Pete, you need a historical translator. Seriously."
"Ibelieve he was wrong about me."
"Wrong in what way, Saavik?" Vasquez was puzzled.
"Meshugeneh in Yiddish means a mad, crazy, insane female. I would more properly be called a shlemiel or a shmendrika clumsy bunglar, an inept person."
Kirk broke the silence that followed that observation. "Robbie, Im sorry."
"As am I, Pete."
"I, too, have found my involvement in this matter entirely regretable."
Vasquez had the last word. "Looking back too much is part of what got us here. We need to move forward. Now, if youll excuse me, I believe we each have assignments."
While the other two officers silently assented, Chekov had the first really good laugh hed had in almost three long weeks.
"I am not a meshugeneh, Kyptin. Logically, I am a shlemiel!"
The laughter couldnt raise the dead, repair ruined relations with friends or family, nor ensure the future of three of his best officers. But it filled him up inside the way whole baskets of bagels, blintzes, and knishes never could.
So of course, it was then he received the message on Starfleet channels. He read parts of it aloud. "...a full debriefing on the Arog-DaM creature...once you reach Starbase 211...increase speed...vital importance...any delays will not tolerated...Kyptin Gretchen Jaeger, Starfleet Intelligence!?"
The vital thrill of having guided good young people back to the straight and narrow left him, as thoughts of dealing with an ex-wife flooded his brain. "In the words of my father and his fathers before them all...oy vey."
He hoped his young friends would expedite their lessons and reconciliation. For soon, he felt, they would truly need each other, and he would need them.
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