Enterprise Regained – A Star Trek Fan Fiction Novella (1984)

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by Steven H. Wilson

Published separately in June, 1984 — 40 pages, illustrated

 Original Author’s Intro

It seems to me that this, my first fanzine and first completed Star Trek story (though hopefully not the last of the former and definitely not the last of the latter) calls for an introduction. My personal feelings are of disbelief: disbelief that this two-year pro­ject is finally completed; but I’ll spare you my creative euphoria. I can inflict that on the same people who’ve been following this story chapter for chapter, praising and proofreading (they didn’t have much choice–I inflicted the earliest drafts on them, too).

What I feel is needed in the introduction is a word of explanation. On reading the contents, you will probably note that this entire adven­ture of the Enterprise could never have happened, as it conflicts directly with the events in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It goes like this: In June, 1982, three things happened which inspired me to make friends with an IBM typewriter and spend my days and nights and mornings writing, re-writing, revising and studying my Star Trek Con­cordance. One was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Another was a second or third hand copy of David Gerrold’s book The Trouble With Tribbles. The third was my car–totaled, leaving me with quite a bit of time on my hands and nowhere to go.

And so I wrote. ST-TWOK–and particularly the character Saavik-­had revitalized my interest in Trek to the point that I wanted to get involved with fandom. I went to conventions, ordered zines, and went out of my way to find copies of the five or six Trek books I didn’t already own. One of those books was the aforementioned “Tribbles.” Something about the way David Gerrold talked about writing made me want to do it too. Within a month, this story was finished in first draft form. I offered it to a few zines, but found little interest for it. So it lay in a drawer collecting dust. Last winter, a friend of mine read it and talked me into publishing it myself (which I now had the resources to do). I realized that by the time I rewrote it, fin­ished its illustrations and printed it, it would be hopelessly dated. But I published it anyway–probably just for the sheer exhilaration of getting something finished.

So, here it is: finished at last–one week after the premiere of Star Trek III. Treat it as an imaginary “what if?” story or a piece of an alternate universe or whatever you like. I simply think of it as my personal reaction to ST II and Star Trek in general (albeit an unpolished one and my first written work of any length). I enjoyed putting it together and hope you enjoy the result as much. Please feel free to write with your comments and suggestions at the address below.

Steve Wilson

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CHAPTER I

(METCALFE)

At first, when the readout came through, he made no sound. His own processing system chattered madly at the incongruous data it had been fed.

“Holy shit!” His statement preceded him through the door of the terminal booth.

Next in line, Carson wrinkled his nose. “Metcalfe, what in the hell are you–”

Terry Metcalfe cut his friend off with an untranslatable flurry of words. Finally, he coughed out one recognizable e term: “Enterprise.”

Carson’s eyebrows shot up.”Huh?”

“The Enterprise! I got the Enterprise!”

Sernak, one of the Vulcans, interrupted in dead tones. “To be more precise, Lieutenant, it got you. My congratulations.”

Carson lacked all trace of Vulcanness He shook his head and laughed, “You sonofabitch! What do they want with you?”

Metcalfe regained his composure and gave his best smug smile. “You’d make a better chief helmsman ?”

He was afraid he might have to reach out and catch Carson’s Jaw before it hit the floor. “Chief?” he barely squeaked out. “On your second assignment?”

Metcalfe merely shrugged and thumbed toward the booth. “Your turn, Carson. I’ll bet there’ a freighter out there just waiting for a man of your–”

“Get the hell outta my way, Metcalfe! If the Enterprise wants you, I must be up for Fleet Admiral!” Metcalfe retreated as his friend pushed his way into the booth; he did not want to stay any longer than necessary. Carson was a friend; so were the others–even Sernak, in his own cold way–but he refused to be sentimental toward his former shipmates. The Enterprise was right now leaving on a training mission for three weeks. He had that much time to prepare himself for the finest ship in the fleet; he intended to use every minute of it.

(SAAVIK)

The room was rather barren, as was to be expected. Officers’ quarters had been used little since the Enterprise became a cadet ship, and they retained the antiseptic feeling of something kept in storage.

Saavik recalled an Earth term: moth-balls? She had no idea what they were, but she knew the term applied to her newly assigned quarters. They had been thoroughly vacated by a former occupant.

Vacated, she noticed, but for a plant on the deck. Surely nothing such as this would have been overlooked by the cleaning crews. It had to be a recent addition. Seeing a tag tied around the base of the thick stalk, she decided it was very recent.

She untied the tag carefully and looked at the card; it had her name on it. Beneath her name in a large, elaborate hand were the words, “Welcome aboard!” The card was signed, “Chris Chapel.”

Saavik considered the doctor’s gesture; it was obviously meant to make her feel comfortable in her relatively new surroundings. Chapel was, for reasons unknown to Saavik, quite sympathetic with her after the loss of Captain Spock. Not that the rest of the crew had not been, but Chapel had been particularly so. They had spent a great deal of time talking during the return trip from Genesis. The discussions had been centered around no significant topic, although Chapel had been quite fascinated to hear about Saavik’s background on the Romulan outpost which the Federation called Hellguard. Despite the apparent lack of relevance in their conversations, Saavik had always felt somehow better afterward. “Felt.” She wondered how Spock would have reacted to her having feelings she could not explain, much less understand.

As a matter of protocol, she knew she should find the doctor and thank her. Puzzling to her, though, was the fact that she wanted to thank her almost as an excuse so they could talk again.

Yes, she decided, as the ship’s new chief navigator, I must find ways to relate to the crew. Spock always felt t this was important.

(UHURA)

She straightened her shoulders and stretched her stiff back. The furlough between missions had been a long and eventful one. The bar was crowded and dark, especially near her table in the back, but she had brought Pavel Chekov here to cheer him up. She had met him on his way to report to the Enterprise and convinced him that they had time for one last drink (one of a recent series of several.) He had reluctantly agreed and was reluctantly drinking. His silence disturbed her, and she made another attempt to make him talk.

“Did you know that I was reappointed First Officer?”

“I assumed you vould be.”

Of course he assumed it; it followed that she would be given her old job back. But couldn’t he say more than just the obvious? She tried again. “What did your assignment say?”

“Security Chief.” He did not look up from the glass he was contemplating. It hadn’t been raised in several minutes, only contemplated.

“That drink’s getting quite bit of your attention.” She said devilishly, “Does Russian Vodka really have more fire than I do?”

Brushing the hair she had tousled annoyedly back into place with his free hand, he muttered, “I’m sorry if I’m boring you.”

“You might try speaking. You know, words?”

“Anything in particular, or vould you Just like me to babble?”

She sighed heavily.”Your transmission is faint, Mr. Chekov. Can you boost your signal? There’s a definite breakdown in communications here. Take it from me, I know what I’m talking about.”

Chekov suddenly downed the last of his drink with a gulp that alarmed her.

“Pavel, please tell me what’s wrong!” She said in a desperate, final attempt.

He wiped the vodka from his lips. “Nothing.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“Penda,” he began painfully, “…it’s nothing.”

“Dammit, Pavel! We’ve been here half an hour and you haven’t so much as smiled! Nothing’s wrong!” She took a breath. Losing her temper would only make him worse. “Are you worried about the Enterprise? Are you nervous?”

“I’ve been waiting for this chance for years,” he said unconvincingly.

“Then what? Is it Captain Terrell? You’ve lost friends before.”

“It’s never been my fault,” he barely breathed.

“That’ s insane! What could you have done?”

He tightened his jaw. “I could have paid more attention to my job! I could have noticed my surroundings! I could have recognized the Ceti Alpha system and steered Reliant clear! I could have vorried about my responsibilities, instead of how bored I vas!”

Uhura smiled gently and clutched his hand over the table. “You could have been perfect, but you’re not, Pavel. You are one of the finest officers in the fleet.”

He laughed coldly.”Oh? Is that honor determined by how many people die vhen I screw up?”

“Stop it, Pavel! We could go over what happened a hundred times, and blame someone new each time. Khan was responsible for the killings, no one else.”

He glanced at his watch, mumbling, “It’s fifteen-thirty. Maybe ve’d better go.”

Uhura almost lost her temper again at his evasiveness, but anger would have been pointless. She took his arm, patted his hand, and tried to convince herself he’d “get over it.”

In the grand reception area on Starbase Eleven, built for diplomatic functions of considerable importance, the motley group of Enterprise personnel looked out of place in their rumpled Class-B uniforms. None of them, Uhura thought, looked more out of place, however, than Pavel. Despite his officer’s full dress, he looked like an artist’s rendition of exhaustion.

There was one among this”last call” group who looked as dignified and proper as the hall seemed to expect. His uniform was well-pressed, and his one simple piece of luggage contrasted sharply with the unseemly me langes of souvenirs grouped at the feet of some of the others.

He was, perhaps, twenty. He looked hardly old enough for starship service, much less for the lieutenant’s insignia on his right shoulder. Uhura noticed a pair of dark eyes, centered on a light-complexioned face, which stared, almost lost, at one of the large, octagonal ceiling screens with its view of the massive Enterprise.

She had met him two years ago, before his graduation from command school: Lieutenant Terrence Arthur Metcalfe. One of Spock’s more promising and enthusiastic students, he had served last year with Sulu aboard the USS Phoenix.

He noticed her and smiled happily. “Commander Uhura.”

“Lieutenant Metcalfe.”

“You remembered.”

“I’d hardly have forgotten.”

His smile became somewhat shy, and he asked hesitantly, “Is that good, or bad?”

“Which applies to the Kobayashi-Maru?”

His look of friendly confidence returned. “I did eliminate an entire Klingon detachment.”

Uhura raised an eyebrow pointedly. “And an entire starship as well.”

“Captain Spock found my solution quite logical,” he reminded her pleasantly.

She rubbed her thigh dramatically. “I found it quite painful.”

He laughed quietly. He was, she decided, rather brash and cocky; but something about him was quite likable, something that reminded her of someone she had known fifteen years ago.

(KIRK)

Jim Kirk sat at his desk, glasses perched on his nose, reading a book he had found in one of the shops on Starbase Eleven. It was a battered specimen, its cover well-worn and many of its pages no longer fastened in place; but it had intrigued him when he found it tossed in a scattered lot of items of which the shopkeeper apparently did not know or care the value.

Kirk had purchased it as an addition to his antique collection, some of which he had brought with him to decorate his cabin. He owned several copies of books by Shakespeare, Dickens, Shelley and countless others; but this George Lucas was one he had heard nothing of.

A buzz sounded from the door. As he expected, it was McCoy.”Hey, Jim. We ready?”

“Last of the crew should be arriving now.”

“Chekov’s with them?” Kirk nodded.”Y’know Jim, I was thinking that since Scotty dropped his position as second–”

Kirk outguessed him.”Chekov would be the perfect man for the job?”

“Something like that.”

“I’ ve considered it.”

“Well?” McCoy grinned impatiently.

Kirk’s tone held a touch of harshness. “Do I need to have my decisions approved, Doctor?”

McCoy’s eyebrows arched. “No. Just thought I’d suggest–”

“I’ll make my own decisions, Bones.”

“Now, what the hell brought that on?” The doctor demanded. “As your chief medical officer–”

“Temporary chief medical officer.” Kirk smiled imperceptibly.

“For a temporary captain,” McCoy shot back in disgust. “Dammit, Jim, when are you gonna see that you belong on board this ship permanently?”

Kirk’s mouth set hard.”We’ve closed that discussion, Bones.”

“You mean you’ve closed it!”

“I won’t argue the point, Bones. My decision is my own business and responsibility.” McCoy started to respond. “That’s the end of it, Doctor! I’m here for thirty days. After that, I’ll select a permanent commander.”

“Then may I recommend James T. Kirk?”

(CHEKOV)

He knew he should be happy to be on the Enterprise, but he hadn’t been happy in quite some time. He knew, also, that everything Uhura had said made perfect sense; but perfect sense just didn’t seem to apply now.

He sighed and hefted his bag onto the bed. Tossing clothes madly to the floor, he pulled out a small bottle of vodka. He was sure sooner or later someone would say, “Pavel, haven’t you been drinking a lot lately?” Well, the hell with them; he could worry for himself. Alcoholism had never been any problem of his. He gratefully gulped down the contents of the bottle, assuring himself that this drink would be one of his last now that he was back.

Being a simple security chief would be a welcome change. Perhaps he could iron out the wrinkles in his life now that he didn’t have the stresses of an exec position on him, as he had on Reliant. Leave it to Uhura; she had been an exec before with Spock and had served as Kirk’s assistant for three years. Chekov had decided this past furlough to avoid command responsibilities for now.

Throwing the empty bottle in the wastebasket, he continued to unpack, picking up clothes off the floor and stuffing them into various drawers. Tossing a handful of tapes from the bottom of his bag on the desk, Chekov pulled the collar of his tunic loose, preparing to take a shower. He felt completely filthy and sweaty and looked like an unwashed Cossack.

Before he could remember where he’d put the towels, the intercom buzzed. “Dammit! Chekov here,” he said, not bothering to wonder how much of his response had been picked up on the other end.

It was Kirk. He smiled congenially. “Mr. Chekov, could you report to my quarters for a moment? There’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”

“Aye, sair,” he grumbled. “I will be there ln a moment.”

“Now what?” He flicked off the com by snapping his tunic against it. Putting his uniform back on, he tried to make himself as presentable as humanly possible. He hoped Kirk wouldn’t smell the vodka on his breath.

(SCOTTY)

He didn’t like the way Chekov sounded. He wasn’t normally so dull, nor so careless about what he said over the ship’s intercom. He’ll cheer up, Scotty assured himself, as soon as he hears.

Scotty had been more than happy to step down as second officer. It hadn’t been a position he’d asked for in the first place, being an engineer who loved his engines. He hadn’t been asked to move aside–his friends would never have imposed so. But he knew Jim Kirk, and he knew who would be picked; so he had made some altogether unnecessary excuses and stepped aside. It was, after all, important to Chekov’s well-being that he get back on his feet so soon after the loss of his ship.

So Scotty was quite pleased to be called to Kirk’s quarters as soon as it was announced that Chekov was aboard. He was in no doubt about Jim’s decision for a replacement. Now he knew for fact.

The door buzzed and Kirk gave the voice response which opened it. Chekov waited hesitantly ln the office door. Scotty had never seen a man look so exhausted.

“Welcome aboard,” Kirk said.”Come in.”

He shuffled a few steps forward. Scotty thought for a moment that the door might clip him on the shoulder. “Thank you, sir.” His manner was unsettling. He didn’t even look up from the floor when he spoke. From the desk where she reclined on one arm of Kirk’s chair, Uhura exchanged worried glances with Scotty.

“Hullo, Pavel,” Scotty said, hoping to provoke a more decided expression of feeling from the young security chief.

“Mr. Scott,” Chekov acknowledged coldly. Scott was irked by that. What had happened to “Scotty?”

“You asked for me to report, Admiral,” Chekov asked tersely.

“Yes, Mr. Chekov,” Kirk grinned. Scotty knew better than to think Kirk hadn’t noticed Pavel’s depression. No, Jim was too sharp to miss that; he was probably Just ignoring it in hopes that it would pass with time. “Mr. Chekov, you must be aware that there are some great changes taking place in the Enterprise‘s command ranks. One about which you may not have heard affects you directly.”

Here it comes, Scotty told himself confidently. We’ll have the lad smiling yet. But Pavel Chekov’s expression was one of hesitance, not anxious curiosity.

Kirk signalled that it was Scotty’s turn to continue this presentation. “Mr. Scott?”

He cleared his throat. Please, Pavel, couldn’t you at least pretend to be interested? “Y’see, Pavel, I, uh, I’ve been thinkin’ aboot my position as second officer; an’ I think it’s aboot time I took a step down. There’s really no point in m’keepin’ a Job I havna’ time fr’ any more,” he laughed as lightly as possible, “is there? Especially since there’s s’ many younger lads t’take over and move up in the ranks.”

Chekov knew exactly what they were saying. Why was he being so damned straight-faced about it all? He merely clung to the door, staring painfully straight ahead as if they were the Spanish Inquisition.

Kirk smiled proudly despite it all and continued his speech in ceremonious tones. “So, Mr. Chekov, with an opening in the second slot, and given your outstanding record, I have no choice as acting commander but–”

Chekov interrupted, his face slightly more animated. “Sir, I know what you are saying, but I do not believe–”

Kirk had sensed Chekov’s denial and immediately cut him off. “Mr. Chekov, the second officer’s position is an extremely important one. The selection of an officer to fill it is not a duty I take lightly. If, for some reason, Commander Uhura and I are unavailable on the bridge, I need to know that I have the best possible back-up. You, Mr. Chekov, are he.”

But it did him no good. Chekov was going to insist on being depressed. “Sir, I…do not think that I am the proper choice. My conduct ln the Reliant affair…I was responsible for the deaths of –”

Kirk’s next reaction caught Scotty somewhat off guard. “Mr. Chekov,” he demanded loudly,”are you insinuating that I would make an unworthy choice for a position of responsibility aboard my ship?”

The outburst was effective. “No, sir,” Chekov said, astounded. “But–”

“Then I’ll hear no more of this,” Kirk continued furiously.”I need the best officers aboard this ship up there to back me up, and I Intend to have them. Dismissed!”

Mouth open, Chekov wandered dazedly back out the door he had stuck to. As soon as it shut, Uhura said simply, “I’m worried about him.”

“After the traumatic experiences he’s been through,” Kirk said with great sympathy,”some guilt and depression is natural. We just can’t let him get carried away.”

She grimaced skeptically, “He’s had weeks to sort this out.”

“From personal experience, Commander,” Kirk whispered,”weeks aren’t enough.”

“You may be right, Jim,. Scotty agreed.”But if he doesna’ improve soon–”

“He will. Chekov’s always been dependable.”

“And you, Admiral?” Uhura asked ln a most probing tone.

Kirk looked up sharply. ”Commander?”

“Can we depend on you? Are you here to stay this time?”

She had hit a nerve with that one; Jim was on tho edge of losing his cool. “That’s my business, Uhura.” A moment later he added brusquely, “That is all.”

Her hand came to his arm, clutching gently and affectionately. “Jim,” her voice was quiet now, with the gentle, even seductiveness of the woman she rarely allowed herself to be ln these situations. Scotty could see Kirk’s face begin to melt; he chuckled to himself. “Please don’t hide from your friends. We want to help.” Scotty needed to add nothing. She had said it all perfectly. She was, after all, the communications officer.

“I know, Uhura,” he said with equal gentleness, “but I have to make this decision alone. It’s my responsibility to decide what’s best for my ship.”

That seemed to satisfy her for now, and Scotty had not missed the words “my ship,” even if Kirk had.

(MCCOY)

“Where the hell have you been?”

Christine Chapel whirled around in surprise. McCoy had surprised her at the office door. “What?” she asked, baffled.

McCoy stalked angrily into the office behind her, frowning at the stacks of reports covering the desk. “You were supposed to be in here finishing the equipment checks,” he growled. “We’ve got to be ready for this monster to warp out in an hour, Doctor!”

Her mouth twisted in annoyance. “I was attending to the needs of the crew,” she said defensively, adding”sir” as a sarcastic afterthought.

“Dammit, Chris, we’ve got deadlines to meet!” He began to shuffle madly through the reports, then asked with bothered interest. “What crew?”

There was a moment of discomfort. “Lieutenant Saavik,” she muttered, addressing the floor.

He let a grin slip by. “Maternal Instincts Chris?”

She held her chin up. “I…was taking her…something to make her feel a little more… comfortable. That ‘s part of my job!” she finished, bristling.

McCoy felt embarrassed himself. He shouldn’t make fun of Chris. She was undoubtedly trying to deal with her own grief by developing protective feelings toward Spock’s protege. He wondered how Saavik would handle it. “It was nice gesture, Chris,” he said gently, angry at himself for venting his frustrations on her.

She didn’t react. He hoped his carelessness hadn’t done too much damage. He fumed back to his work. As he prepared to play one of the reports, however, Christine asked,”Is something wrong, Leonard?”

“Jim,” he said simply.

“What about him?”

Good question. Exactly what did have him so angry? “He’s been. . …well, distant. It’s as if he were angry or afraid of…” McCoy spread his hands in a confused gesture. “I don’t really know how to put it. He Just isn’ t himself.”

“What ‘s ‘himself, ‘ Leonard?” she asked mysteriously.

”I don ‘ t follow you.”

“It’s quite simple, really. We discussed once before his dependence on command. Well, he’s been away from it for ten years. He’s a different person now. The ‘self’ he used to be no longer exists. He’s been too rushed from one situation to another to create a new identity.”

“Are you suggesting that his personality’s unstable?” McCoy asked worriedly.

Christine smiled tropically. “You’re the psychologist, Doctor.” She became more serious. “I wouldn’t be worried about him yet. He just needs to readjust. He doesn’t even know how long he’ll have the Enterprise this time.”

He grimaced. “And he won’t let me discuss it with him either. Spock’s gone. He’s starting a whole new life. Why won’t he talk to me? He needs friends now more than ever.”

Chapel wrapped a sympathetic arm around his shoulders and said quietly,”Now, more than ever, he needs to know he can make it alone.”

CHAPTER II

Captain’s Log, Stardate: 8142.7

Admiral James T. Kirk in temporary command.

The Enterprise is en route to a rendez-vous with the USS Lexington to pick up equipment for the pergium mining colony on Janus VI. Appended herein are the forms pertaining to Commander Chekov’s assignment as second officer. His response to the announcement of this assignment is not what I or any of my officers had expected. It is my considered opinion that his apparent depression is related to the destruction of the USS Reliant and the death of Clark Terrell. I am confident that he will soon recover, however, I am prepared to recommend psychiatric treatment to Ship’s Surgeon McCoy should this persist.

Terry Metcalfe drank in every detail of the Enterprise bridge, savoring every aspect of the view inside and out. Although he had been in this very position once before, and had served as helmsman on the Phoenix, everything looked different now that he was chief helmsman of the huge ship on which his former captain had served. He had his suspicions, in fact, that it had been on Sulu’s recommendation that he had been assigned here.

One of the bridge’s most striking details was seated opposite him in the navigator’s position. Lieutenant Saavik was everything in flesh that the Enterprise was in spirit. In form she was functional, graceful and beautiful, a picture of calm assurance. In her eyes sparkled the raw strength and savage fury of a starship’s warp engines. Vulcan control and Romulan passion reacted in a matter/anti-matter effect to create one magnificent being.

He turned back to the screen. It was easy, he thought, to lose onesself in the vast pattern of dancing stars spread in front of the bridge. “‘A galaxy for every creature, a universe for every galaxy,'” he muttered under his breath. Saavik turned to him, eyebrow arched. “Lieutenant?”

Metcalfe hadn’t reazlized anyone was listening. “An ancient poet’s term for the infinity of the universe,” he explained. “I forget which one it was.”

“I believe,” she said matter-of-factly, “you’ll find it was Tarbolde of Canopis.”

“You read much ancient literature?” There was more to her than he had thought, and he had thought a considerable amount.

“Only recently,” she replied succintly. Having exchanged as much information as she thought necessary, Saavik returned to her board. Metcalfe wasn’t willing to let the conversation end there. He wanted to know more about this fascinating woman. “Are you familiar with Tarbolde’s ‘Nightingale Woman?'”

She gave a brief nod as she adjusted a dial. The two actions seemed to be of equal importance to her. “I found it a rather confusing piece,” she told him, eyes still on the board. “Highly emotional, yet lacking in any informational content, save for a few vague, biological allusions.”

His face drained of all emotion. “Some call it ‘erotic.'”

“‘Erotic?’ Yes, I remember the meaning, but I found it only confusing.”

“You must, of course, have the proper background in the field. A knowledge of related areas is crucial.”

“You are referring to the ceremony of mating?”

He swallowed hard. He hadn’t been prepared for that. “You. . . could put it that way. . . I suppose.”

“I will study the subject at the earliest opportunity,” she said seriously. “There is a great deal of Earth literature on that subject, I believe.” Before he had a chance to say, “That’s not what I meant,” she was out of her seat. “Now, if you will excuse me, Lieutenant, I have a task to perform.”

He watched her enter the lift, wondering if he had said something wrong or if Saavik really had meant that she would study the subject. When the doors shut, he returned to his work and felt a tap on his shoulder. Behind him was a woman he had seen earlier at the library computer station, a diminutive brunette with large, soft, brown eyes. She was a lieutenant commander–probably the science officer.

The dark woman spoke in a soft contralto . “Your method is well- above-par, Lieutenant; but I’m afraid your choice of subjects is somewhat inappropriate.” She nodded towards the lift.

“Some of us are drawn by the challenge, Commander. . . ?”

“Teller, Angela Teller. I’m not sure I like your choice of words, either, Mr. Metcalfe. ‘Challenge’ makes the entire process sound so…competitive.” She punctuated her statement with a pleasant grin, showing small white teeth as her cheeks curled into the gentlest of folds.

“You derive no pleasure from competition, Commander Teller?” he asked somewhat tentatively, not used to baiting his superiors.

Her grin became a soft laugh. ”Competition is often hostile, involving scheming…and dishonesty.” She leaned forward against the helm console, whispering her last words.

Metcalfe leaned forward as well, lowering his voice to adjust to the tone of the conversation. “I wouldn’t want to be hostile, Ms. Teller. ”

“No,” she agreed. “There are much better ways of getting acquainted on a new ship.”

He gave a silent laugh. “Getting acquainted with the ship, or its crew?”

“A Command lieutenant,” she told him reproachfully, “should be well-acquainted with the workings of a starship already. The workings of its officers, on the other hand…”

“Are the province of an experienced science officer?”

Angela was so close that he could feel the warmth of her breath. “Very experienced,” she corrected.

Terry Metcalfe was not used to being the focus of this much attention from a superior officer, especially not this kind. Angela differed in many ways from the exotic Saavik, but her manner was distinctly friendlier, if somewhat aggressive. The matters of emotion did not confuse her at all.

“Doctor, are you busy?”

Chris Chapel looked up from the mound of reports she was concentrating on and smiled. “Saavik, I didn’t hear you come in.”

“I did not mean to intrude,” the younger woman said uncertainly.

Chapel brushed the melange of tape cartridges sloppily aside and stood, taking a minute to stretch her back tiredly. “Not at all,” she said, noting Saavik’s somewhat confused expression. “Is there something you wanted to talk about?”

Saavik hesitated. This woman was so friendly, so open with her feelings, so. . . human that it made her uncomfortable. She was not at all used to having open discussions of feelings–hers or anyone else’s. All Spock had taught her of emotion was how to control it. It would have been so easy to leave, to make an excuse and bolt out the door — but Spock was gone now, and she had to learn to understand others. More importantly, she was beginning to realize, she wanted to make them understand her.

“I…” she began clumsily. It had to be said! “There is a matter to which I believe, that is I feel I should…” Saavik stopped, and then determinedly took a different tack. “I do not know if it is my place– that is, within the bounds of my duties as a Junior officer…”

The doctor touched her gently on the shoulder and gave her a smile. “Perhaps it would be simpler if you told me what you were talking about.”

Saavik sighed, something she was doing more and more lately. It was a curious human trait. But Chapel was quite correct: stating her meaning would simplify matters. “It concerns the Admiral. I am concerned about his behavior. He is an excellent commander, as Captain Spock was known to say often, yet he seems to doubt himself. It is not logical. ”

“But it is very common, ” Christine explained, her smile now sad, “among humans.”

“Yes, I am beginning to see that. At any rate…perhaps this is foolish– ”

“I doubt it.”

“–but I thought perhaps I should try to be of assistance. It is difficult to explain, however–”

Christine shook her head. “Not really, I understand. You’re not alone, Saavik. We’re all worried about the Admiral, especially Dr. McCoy. If you consider him a friend–”

Odd, but Saavik had never considered Kirk a friend in any common sense of the word. She had rarely considered anyone to be a friend. Her relationship with Spock was unclassified; only young Peter Preston had declared himself plainly to be her friend. But Kirk? “I’m not sure how I would classify my relationship with the Admiral. He is my commanding officer.”

Chapel raised her eyebrow in a gesture she had probably learned from Spock. “He was also Spock’s superior. Rank needn’t interfere. You’ve had few friends, I know, Saavik, but you’re been away from Hellguard for quite a while. You need to learn about friendship. It’s one of the things that makes the Enterprise such an outstanding ship. ”

“But if I do not understand enough about…friendship,” Saavik protested, “is it my place?”

Chapel’s arm slipped around Saavik’s shoulders “Find out, Were you planning to speak to him?”

“Yes.” She took notice of Chapel’s arm draped easily about her. Being touched was not an unpleasant sensation, although Spock had never touched her without some specific and logical reason. It conveyed, she understood, friendship and affection.

“Then go. He’s in his quarters now.”

She nodded. “It would be logical. There are questions I would like to ask him.” She stood and started out the door. Then she halted, remembering. “Thank you, Doctor. ”

“Saavik? ”

She turned to face the doctor again.

She whispered softly, “My name is Christine.”

“Are you gonna let me finish or not?” Terry Metcalfe demanded impatiently.

Angela put a hand to her mouth and laughed. “It’s Just that your story is a little–”

“Unbelievable?”

” I didn’t say that.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing,” she replied petulantly. “You didn’t let me finish. I merely meant to point out that the problem in physics which is a vital element in your anecdote is one that centuries of modern science have yet to solve, or even prove solvable.”

He looked at the other side of the bridge and scratched his neck thoughtfully. “Commander Teller, has anyone ever told you–”

“Yes.”

“–that you are a very poor listener?” he finished loudly.

She raised both eyebrows, eyes gleaming. “I prefer the term selective.”

He laughed for a moment at her affected stubbornness. “A science officer,” Terry reprimanded gently, “should store all data for processing at a later date.”

“I don’t devote all my time to my duties as science officer, Lieutenant,” she told him quietly, tracing the outline of his jaw with one fingertip. “I have other activities to participate in.”

“Perhaps you could demonstrate. ”

She gasped “Lieutenant, do you know what the penalty is for making suggestive remarks to a superior officer on the bridge?”

“The Starfleet penalty, or yours?”

Behind Angela’s shoulder, the lift doors slid silently open. Terry straightened from his leaning position against the railing to greet the new arrival. As he expected, it was Uhura, coming to relieve him of the con. He noticed her manner was less pleasant than usual, her motions still graceful, but intentional rather than sensual.

“Relieving you, Lieutenant,” she said in a cool, businesslike tone. “Any trouble?”

He threw Angela a sideways glance and said lightly, “None worth reporting, Commander.” Angela curled her lips up wryly.

Uhura fairly flopped into the command chair, crossing her legs casually, and staring, quite literally, off into space. Metcalfe wondered briefly what was bothering her so soon after leaving orbit. Of the senior officers he’d seen, in fact, none were exactly over-enthusiastic about the start of their voyage. Being depressed now was inconceivable to him; he had been thoroughly exhilarated for the past several weeks. Few seemed to share his feelings, least of all Chekov. He was disappointed at not having seen him since beamup, as he had been looking forward to talking to him before the ship got too involved in its mission. He had long wanted to meet the man that Sulu had spoken of so often.

Returning to his own station, he noticed the young ensign at the communications console playing urgently with her controls. She was apparently also new, a Caitian. The fur on her neck bristled in frustration. She turned and looked directly past Metcalfe at her superior. “Ms. Uhura, I’m receiving some kind of signal. It’ s very weak; I can’ t make it out.”

Uhura grimaced and left the command chair to Join the flustered girl on the upper level. She now appeared even more uncomfortable with her superior standing over her. Uhura sensed the ensign’s apprehension, and said as gently as she could, “Let me try, Ensign.”

The poor girl frowned apologetically and moved aside for her. Uhura turned full attention to the panel, taking the proffered earpiece from the girl. Adjusting the dials delicately, she began to frown worriedly.

Metcalfe waited for her to hand the tiny device back to the ensign and asked, “Is something wrong, Commander? ”

Uhura exhaled heavily, frowning again. “All I could make out was a ship’s call number, the USS Excalibur. I can’t be sure, but I think it was a distress signal.”

“Are they nearby?”

“Apparently.”

“Then I’ll lay in a course,” he sighed. “Just in case.” He didn’t like faint distress signals, They reminded him of the Kobayashi- maru, and he didn’t like the Kobayashi-maru. Angela gave him a wink and a confident smile and mouthed the words, “Welcome to the Enterprise. ”

Uhura shook her head and cursed under her breath. Then, turning to the ensign, she said resignedly, “Call Admiral Kirk”

Saavik stood in the corridor, staring at the plate on the door in front of her. Perhaps it would be best to go away and not disturb him. She remembered her conversation with Christine, though, and something Spock had said once about humans needing to be ”looked after,” and pressed the door buzzer.

She heard Kirk’s voice from inside, apparently the door was not on privacy lock or she would not have, and the door slid open. Crossing through the transparent bulkhead into the office that adjoined his quarters, she found him at his desk, reading. Seated at his tape viewer with his glasses on, he reminded Saavik of an image she’d seen in an old Earth book Spock had shown her. “Reviewing orders, sir?” she asked casually.

He looked up, smiling; she was surprised at a stray thought that went through her head about how pleasant this sight was. “No,” he said. “It’s a letter — from my son.” Kirk snapped off the viewer and came around to sit on the edge of the desk.

Saavik had an odd–feeling?–at the mention of David, another human she had considered a friend recently. She wondered if Kirk could detect any of this feeling on her face. She had been practicing at expressing at least some token feelings, but she had no idea how successful she had been. “Is David well?”

“Fine.” He paused a moment, studying her. “Did you come to ask me about my mail, Mr. Saavik?”

“Mr. Saavik.” Odd, no one had called her that recently, especially not Uhura. But then, no one ever seemed to refer to the first officer as “Mr. Uhura,” either. She awkwardly tried to explain the nature of her visit. It wasn’t easy, as she knew Kirk to be an excellent judge of emotion–human and Vulcan. “No, sir. I’m afraid I must again ask your permission to speak candidly.”

His tone was pleasant, but with a gentle hint of–what was the word?–nagging? You do seem to make a habit of It, Lieutenant.”

She took a breath. Could she actually be nervous? “I realize that, sir.” She took another breath, and decided to start off with a more substantial reason for her visit. “I’ve Just spoken with Commander Chekov.”

“I see,” Kirk said hesitantly. “And?”

She went on carefully, not knowing if her next words might trigger an explosion from him. “Admiral, I realize that I do not know the Commander as well as you do, but he seems an odd choice for second officer at this time. Has manner is most disturbing, and he seems rather unsure of himself. ”

Kirk knew he had not been the only one to notice Chekov’s odd behavior, but he had no idea it would be so apparent to the rest of the crew–least of all Saavik. He did not want Chekov underrated by the crew; and, despite his own recent doubts, he hew he must publicly support his second officer. “You’re quite right, Lieutenant. You do not know Chekov as well as I do. He is a highly competent officer with whom I have worked for many years. If he seems somewhat depressed, it is only the natural response such an officer feels at the loss of his ship.”

“But should not so experienced an officer be sure of his own abilities?”

“As sure,” Kirk asked in a reprimanding tone, now losing his patience, “as a certain command trainee was after her first encounter with the Kobayashi-Maru?”

Saavik dropped her eyes to the floor. Spock had been right. If one let one’s guard down, one could be utterly devastated by Kirk’s at- times-near-flawless logic. “I believe the expression is touche, Admiral.”

He smiled almost paternally. “Correct, Lieutenant. Believe me, Mr. Chekov is qualified; he Just needs time. Something we’re all ln need of lately, it seems. I realize you had strong feelings of loyalty to Captain Spock.” Saavik felt her breath catch at the word “feelings.” “Both as teacher and commander; but in time you’ll grow accustomed to new officers.”

There it was: an opening, the perfect opportunity to state her purpose in coming here. She had a strange sensation which she could not put into words. It made her tremble slightly and affected her thought processes in a way she didn’t think she liked. Finally, she asked, “And you, Admiral?”

His eyebrows drew together quizzically. “What about me?”

“Will I have time to grow accustomed to you? Do you intend to keep the Enterprise?” Some sense of relief settled over her now that it had been said.

Again she had surprised him. Kirk knew that the crew would be speculating, of course; but he had no idea that Saavik would come right out and ask, or even that she was interested. “I take it you have an opinion?

“I do.”

Kirk groaned. “doesn’t everyone?”

A very Spockian eyebrow raised high on her forehead. “Dr. McCoy has spoken to you?”

“Extensively.” Irritation? Humans were so hard for her to read. Kirk went on. “He’s already made up his mind. I haven’ t.”

Shaking her head and exhaling heavily, Saavik sounded more exasperated than he had ever heard. ”The thought patterns of humans are a constant mystery to me. If, as Mr. Chekov tells me you said, Enterprise needs the best possible people on the bridge, why do you have doubts as to whether you should remain? Can you recommend a better officer for the position?”

Kirk winced. That speech could have been written by Spock. “Not at the moment, but I’m sure Starfleet can find someone.” That, he thought, was better than indicating any plans of his own to stay. He did not want to create a morale problem, but why did he feel the need to tell her anything?

His decisions were none of her business.

“You are being highly illogical.”

“That,” Kirk said with his most charming smile, “is one of my habits, Mr. Saavik.”

She shook her head. Nothing could ever prepare her for Kirk’s behavior. “I wonder if I will ever understand humans.”

Kirk laughed out loud. “You will, someday. Spock did…somewhat.”

“Spock had the benefit of understanding himself. He had chosen his own path to follow. I have not done so, and have my doubts as to whether or not I will.”

“You’ll find one, Saavik.” For the first time, he has referred to her by simply her name, instead of her title. He even rested a hand lightly on her shoulder. His touch was more tentative than Christine’s, but it was also pleasant. “You may not have as clear a choice as Spock did, and you will probably face a different set of pressures. Even in four centuries of sexual equality, we have not yet reached the point where a beautiful young woman is universally treated as an intellectual equal.” Beautiful? She didn’t believe anyone had ever described her that way before. Coming from man with Kirk’s reputation, It was a considerable compliment. That fact made her considerably uncomfortable. Kirk continued. “You’ll probably find–”

The viewscreen on his desk interrupted him with a buzz. He flicked the control. “Kirk here.”

Uhura appeared on the screen, her face holding a worried look. “Admiral, we’re picking up a distress call. It’s from the Excalibur. I think you should be here.”

“On my way, Uhura. Lieutenant, I’m afraid our conversation must be continued some other — ” He turned to see Saavik had left, already on her way to the bridge.

Kirk caught up with her in time to ride the turbo-lift with her to the bridge. On the bridge, Uhura and Ensign M’Saar were frantically trying to relocate the distress signal. The younger woman said apologetically, “I’m sorry, Commander, either they’ve stopped transmitting, or their signal’s just too weak for us to receive.” Kirk could see that the girl was somewhat intimidated by Uhura.

He eased comfortably into the command chair — he was growing used to It again. “Report, Ms. Uhura.”

Uhura turned from the beleaguered technician, frowning. “We picked up the signal about five minutes ago, Admiral. It was too garbled to tell us the nature of the distress, but– ”

“Play it back.”

The ensign turned quickly to obey the order, eager to show that she could, in fact, do her job. The voice of a man, a very panic- stricken man, blared over the speakers in a wash of static. “Attention any vessels in this–” the following words were lost. “–attack has caused severe damage to — respond as soon as –”

Uhura told him, “That’s it, sir. We never did get any visual.”

Kirk turned quickly to the helm. “Lieutenant Saavik, do you have the coordinates from which the signal originated?”

Saavik squinted at her board. “Pin-pointed now, sir.”

“Set a direct course. Mr. Metcalfe, ahead full. Ensign, inform them of the delay.” He settled back into the chair, not even noticing how easy it was after all these years.

CHAPTER III

Captain’s Log, Stardate: 8142.9

We have received a distress call from the Starship Excalibur. She is re­ported under attack, but no details were available in the garbled transmission received. I am therefore diverting the Enterprise from her scheduled rendez­vous in hopes of reaching Excalibur before it is too late.

It was a purple-orange sunset over a planet a million light-years away from any given point in the galaxy. A gentle half-light washed everything into a haze. There were no sharp edges. The breeze was gentle, the water was warm, even the surf did not crash with any great ferocity. Angela was there, of course, her dark hair bathed in gold, her head nestled on his shoulder.

A flashing caught his eye, bringing him back to the harshly-lit reality of the bridge. Metcalfe hoped he had not overlooked the sensor indicator for long. Fortunately, no one else had seen it be­fore he had. “I have a sighting directly ahead of us, Admiral.”

Kirk lurched forward from a daydream of his own. “Is it the Excalibur?”

“We’ll know in a minute, sir.” He snapped a control and announced, “Full magnification.” What had been another point of light began to stretch and enlarge. Two engine nacelles grew from the white shapeless mass, projecting from a tiny secondary hull. Its proportions now fully defined, the ship ­grew steadily, filling the screen and more as the Enterprise drew closer.

The white form darkened to grey, the sickly grey of radiation damage. The form of the ship still fluid as the screen refocused, a gaping hole grew under the lip of the primary hull. The rear of the secondary hull sprouted sharp edges where metal had been ripped forcibly away. A nacelle strut thinned out to the point where Metcalfe thought it might just spontaneously drop off.

Scotty had come to the bridge, and now stood behind Kirk, mouth hanging open in horror. “It’s nae human,” he muttered. “What kinda monster could do… that?”

Beside him, McCoy was looking away from the screen, his expression weak. Of the rest of the crew, only Kirk, Saavik, and Metcalfe could look at the screen for any length of time.

Metcalfe felt his own stomach desperately begging for him to look away from the monstrous wreck.

Kirk spoke softly, his eyes rooted to the screen. “Uhura, try to raise them. I want to know what the hell happened over there.”

“Aye sir,” she responded hoarsely. Fortunately, she had replaced the beleaguered M’saar earlier. The young ensign might not have moved.

The wreck bore little resemblance to a starship anymore, but it was recognizable enough to make Metcalfe’s fingers tremble ever so slightly on his panel. It could easily have been the Enterprise, but what could have happened, he wondered as he tightened the muscles in his hands to silence the soft drumming of his fingers. The ship was nearly totaled. Phaser attack?

“Lieutenant?” Kirk asked, “did you say something?”

He realized that he must have spoken aloud, as Kirk was gazing at him expectantly. “I wondered if it might be… phaser attack?”

Scotty shook his head slowly. “It’d take an entire detachment t’do thot.”

“An entire detachment of who?” Kirk wondered.

“Whoever it was,” Scotty ventured, “That poor baim’ll be goin’ nowhere ana time soon.”

Kirk twitched uncomfortably in his seat as his crew speculated on the nature of the attack. Saavik was saying something about the Klingons not daring because it would be “illogical.” The word brought back memories and emphasized the hole in the bridge crew. He did not have Spock to turn to anymore. No one to estimate the odds of who had probably attacked. No one to give him the most probable answer, or hand out trivial information on the ship and its crew.

He knew some trivia about this ship’s crew himself. Her captain was Brian Chandler, a just-promoted officer who’d been a student of Kirk’s years ago. He still remembered their first meeting, a head-on collision. Chandler had looked up at him fearfully from a book-littered floor, his eyes beg­ging for mercy from his superior.

Kirk had cut his orders last year and followed his exploits closely. The man was a highly com­petent captain. Whatever had happened to him, whoever had attacked, Chandler hadn’t just let it hap­pen.

“We’re getting life-signs, Admiral,” Angela Teller told him. Then she muttered hopelessly, “At Least some of them are alive.” Angela Teller didn’t depress easily, anymore easily than Excalibur had been wrecked.

“Sir,” Uhura called. “I’m getting a response from Excalibur. I can’t get any visual.“

Kirk mustered his feeble voice to speak to the other ship. “This is James Kirk aboard the Enterprise. Are you receiving us, Excalibur?”

A tired, weak voice answered ruefully, “We read you, Admiral.”

Kirk’s face showed recognition. “Captain Chandler, is that you?”

“What’s left of me, Admiral.“

Kirk felt his own voice returning, helping him to inject some confidence into the other captain.

“Brian, what the hell happened to your ship? Who attacked you?”

The other hesitated, his final reply apologetic. “I’m not sure, Admiral.“

Kirk’s eyes widened. He bit out his words. “You’re not sure, Captain?”

“No sir, I’m not.”

Kirk sighed. “Tell me what happened.”

“We were on routine patrol. Sensors reported an unexplainable energy phenomenon ahead. We changed course… moved in to investigate.” The man’s voice was shaky and horror-struck. Metcalfe thought of the experience he had been through that had caused so much damage, and a chill ran up his spine. “The thing started radiating energy… hull temperature went up… thousand degrees a second.” He was on the verge of hysterics. “Damage… atmosphere leak… two-hundred people… dead.”

“What kind of energy did the cloud use, Captain?” Kirk demanded, his voice authoritatively try­ing to shock the man back to rationality.

“My crew,” Chandler raved. “My crew… dead.”

“Captain!” Kirk demanded firmly again. “What did it do?”

Some sound of rationality returned. “It was like a… phaser barrage… massive scale… my crew!”

Kirk apparently gave up on any explanation. “Captain, do you require medical assistance?”

The voice was calm again, or perhaps resigned. “Yes, yes. I think… sickbay facilities damaged by… ”

“I’ll send over a boarding party,” Kirk said gently. He turned to McCoy, “Bones, get a party together and meet me–”

“Admiral!” Angela called out. “I’ve sighted something in the vicinity of Excalibur. Radiation levels extremely high. It’s some kind of … cloud.”

Metcalfe confirmed it on his own board, playing the screen to produce an image of the shapeless mass of the cloud. For Kirk’s sake as well as his own, he hesitated to tell Kirk what he had to next. His captain’s face was already painted with agony. As he choked out the words, Metcalfe wished des­perately that he could alter their truth. “It’s closing on the Excalibur, sir.”

Kirk inhaled deeply and called to the other ship. “Chandler, that energy cloud is closing on you Get that ship out of there!”

“No maneuvering power,” came the hopeless response. “Engines damaged…”

“Then use your phasers, man! Defend yourself!”

Chandler was pitiful. “Phasers have no effect,” he sobbed. “It just… swallows them. Nothing we can do… nothing …”

“Energy level becoming higher, Admiral,” Angela said. “Reaching the ship’s tolerance point.”

Kirk’s face dropped, setting itself in a look of hopeless agony. Watching the translucent cloud envelope the Excalibur, Kirk pounded the armrest, cutting his hand on a switch. He ignored the blood or perhaps didn’t even notice it. “Shit!”

McCoy was now forcing himself to look at the screen. His voice cracked. “Jim! There must be something we can do!”

Kirk seemed inspired to action by this; he desperately hit a switch. “Transporter room,” he whispered. “Janice, lock all transporters on the Excalibur! Get those people out of there!”

But it was as futile an effort as Kirk had expected. Rand was back a moment later. “Admiral, transporters can’t penetrate that energy field. I can’t get a fix.” Her voice was sorrowful.

“Never mind, Jan,” Kirk said soothingly. “There’s nothing we can do.”

Those words hurt Metcalfe almost as much as they must have hurt Kirk. He kept his gaze fixed on the screen, partly because he couldn’t bear to see the agony on the faces of the others around him as they realized just how helpless they were. He also felt a kind of bizarre fascination with the events in front of him. He had never watched anybody die before.

Kirk cursed under his breath. Like Metcalfe, he realized that it could just as easily be the Enterprise being ravaged by the cloud; and, in another few minutes, it might be. He was terrified for his own ship, and heartbroken for Chandler’s. For the second time in as many months, he felt totally helpless. He had just recently stood behind a radiation proof bulkhead, watching helplessly as his best friend died. Now he watched two-hundred and thirty more Federation personnel dying on another ship. And each one of them was someone’s best friend. He couldn’t help feeling that he should be there. He hadn’t been with Spock, and he had wanted nothing more. Now he wanted desperately to be with the crew of the Excalibur, if only to die with them, as he should have died instead of Spock. “If only I could be there,” he muttered.

McCoy overheard him. “To do what, Jim?” The doctor was right, of course. There was nothing anyone could do now. But it wasn’t right! How could they just sit there and watch?

Angela Teller blinked back tears as she whispered, “Life signs negative, Admiral.” Kirk did not respond. She said softly, “Admiral?”

McCoy looked away from the screen at this. He knew Jim was upset, but he had to at least keep up morale. He nudged him. “Hey Jim.” But as soon as his hand touched the rigid shoulder, he knew Kirk would not answer. His body tensed spastically for a moment, then slid limply to the floor.

He got up from his chair, shaking his head to clear it of the sensation of disorientation pounding within. For a moment, he wasn’t sure where he was, as if he had woken up in the middle of the night and even his own bedroom was unfamiliar to him.

 

He finally recognized the bridge, despite the state of intense confusion it was in. Crewmen were scattering madly all around him, frightened–no worse, terrified, even panicked. It struck him sud­denly that, though he could see plainly, none of the lights on the bridge were operating. He bent to his chair to call Engineering. Before his finger touched the button, however, he was on the floor. Some shock wave had sent him there, and was not allowing him to stand again. His arm was pinned painfully under him; it felt broken. As he tried to examine it, however, something about his hand seemed odd. Then he remembered: the blood. Where was the blood? He had cut his hand earlier, taking no notice of it then, but there was no sign of it now.

Smoke poured over him in a blackish-grey cloud. Somebody screamed repeatedly. Then he finally identified the shockwave that had floored him: an explosion. Standing again, ignoring the broken arm he saw the ruined weapons station, evidently the source of the explosion. In front of it was Chekov, unmoving. Running to the injured man’s Side, he noticed something peculiar about the still form. Taking him by the shoulder, he rolled the fallen man’s body over. It wasn’t Chekov! Part of him felt shamefully relieved. But who was the light-bearded stranger? He should know all the crew by now. And what had happened to Chekov?

He wiped flowing sweat from his face with a grimy hand. Ash had settled on his skin from fires around the bridge. The heat was growing unbearable, and the air was growing thin. He realized that the fires were providing the light by which he could see the ruined bridge. Now, as the heat in­creased, the fires were becoming larger. Men and women bolted for the turbo-lift, trying to escape the infemo that no longer resembled a ship’s bridge; but the doors were fused shut. In the midst of pounding and prying on the doors, one unfortunate man tripped backwards and into the flaming commun­ications console. He screamed inaudibly, his voice fading in with the incredible din of voices, as his clothing burst into flames. One or two others tried to assist him; most ignored him. This couldn’t be the Enterprise! His own men would never act this way. As he went to help the bumed man, joining others in pulling him free, an awful screaming assailed his ears, blocking out even the hor­rendous sounds of human screaming. It sounded like atmosphere from the bridge rushing into vacuum. It was. The massive sensor dome had shattered.

He choked and gagged, not even able to hear his own coughs over the terrible roar. He felt a wash of weariness and nausea which knocked him to the deck. Fortunately, the vacuum prevented him from smelling the odor of buming flesh around him, some of it his own. The artificial gravity was still functioning. Strange the things that came to mind when you were about to die. Against the pull of the gravity, he could feel the tug that he knew was the vacuum ripping his lungs apart.

This can’t be happening! I’m losing my ship! She’s being destroyed and there’s nothing I can do! I refuse to accept it. It can’t be happening.

You’re a fool, Kirk! You haven’t changed, still the same hotheaded kid you were fifteen years ago. You’ve lost Spock, and now you’ve lost your ship; and you’re being forced to accept it! You’ve lost it all, because you were fool enough to think you could give it all up.

He called out in a final, desperate plea. “Spock! You’ve got to do something!”

No one answered. Spock was dead, and his captain had joined him.

EnterpriseRegained0203CombinedCHAPTER IV

Ship’s log, supplemental. First Officer Uhura recording.

We have remained in the vicinity of the energy cloud for two hours now. Admiral Kirk’s condition has not changed since his collapse on the bridge follow­ing the destruction of the Excalibur. Space Sciences has detected nothing about the cloud that will aid us in destroying it or rendering it harmless. It is remaining stationary. Should it move again, I intend to track it and keep Star-fleet constantly aware of its position. But how does a cloud of energy move?

Uhura paced the waiting room impatiently, tapping her knuckles against the polished lab counter. McCoy was in the next room with Kirk and had been for two hours. He couldn’t die! Not now. They all needed him too much, especially Chekov. Perhaps it was selfish of her to worry about Chekov when it was Kirk who could be dying, but she somehow felt he was in more danger than Kirk, who had always been very good at taking care of himself.

McCoy trod wearily through the examination room door.

“Well, Leonard?” she asked hopefully.

“As far as I can tell,” he sighed, “nothing’s wrong with him.”

“What?” she demanded. “Something must be wrong.”

He stroked his chin tiredly. Uhura could see that Kirk’s condition had him more worried than anyone. It wasn’t easy for a doctor to be the patient’s best friend. “Well, obviously. But I’ve checked his heart rate, his blood pressure, his BCP, his temperature, his reflexes… I’ve checked everything but his eyesight and they all read normal. Other than the fact that he’s unconscious and he isn’t waking up, there isn’t anything wrong with him.

“As near as I can tell, his senses have just stopped registering. He simply isn’t aware of the world around him. The only time I’ve seen anything like this is in Spock.”

“Spock?” Uhura’s eyebrow arched quizzically.

McCoy nodded. “TheVulcan meditation trance. It’s a kind of–” He stopped when it became apparent she wasn’t listening anymore. She had gone to the wall inter­com to call the bridge.

“Lieutenant Saavik here,” the answer came over.

“Status of the cloud?”

“No change, commander.”

“Good, have Lieutenant Metcalfe notify me of any developments and report immediately to Sickbay yourself.”

Saavik’s voice sounded puzzled. “May I ask for what?”

Uhura grinned humorlessly. “Do you know what a hunch is, Lieutenant?”

She paused, then answered, thoroughly confused. “I am familiar with the definition,”

“Good,” Uhura said. “Then you can help me play one out.”

 

“Reporting as ordered, Commander.” Saavik stood by the doorway to the examination room, still puzzled. McCoy suspected what Uhura had in mind and hoped Saavik could handle it.

“Lieutenant,” Uhura asked, “are you familiar with the Vulcan mind-meld?”

Apprehension flashed across Saavik’s face. Spock had taught her so much, he had certainly taught her how to use her telepathic abilities. Saavik was a highly individual personality though, not relating easily to others. She might find the intrusion of mind-melding painful; or, perhaps, she found the idea of performing such an action with a human subject repulsive. McCoy hoped that Spock hadn’t taught her too much of his damned Vulcan stubbomness.

“I know of it, yes,” Saavik replied slowly. “Captain Spock gave me some instruction in the tech­nique, but I have virtually no experience with it. Vulcans spend years of intense training in the technique before they practice it. I have rarely used it. If you are suggesting that I attempt to manipulate the Admiral’s mind and restore his consciousness using mind-meld, I’m afraid I must refuse. The risks to both of us are just too great.”

So much for the cure-all. Spock had used the meld to save them all on numerous occasions, but it was becoming more apparent that Spock was gone and could not be replaced. Uhura looked at Saavik pleadingly. “Isn’t there something you can do? We need him.”

McCoy realized there was something she could do. “Lieutenant, the mind-meld involves an extensive degree of contact with another mind in order to control it. Isn’t there a less extensive contact, one that just… exchanges information rather than controlling? That would be enough.”

“You are referring to the mind touch, Doctor,” Saavik said, nodding. “It is certainly less dan­gerous, but I hesitate to try–”

Uhura interrupted gently. “Saavik, please?” She gestured toward Kirk’s prone form on the table beside her. “For his sake?”

The young woman tightened her lips and was silent for a moment. Finally she sighed loudly and said, “Give me a moment to prepare. “ She closed her eyes and straightened her figure. Slowly, vis­ibly, all tension drained from each individual part of her body. Her form was perfectly still, her breathing even. Finally, her eyes snapped open, staring, unseeing, past Kirk’s unmoving body.

One arm moved fluidly, without one unit of wasted energy, to touch Kirk’s temple. After a moment, McCoy thought he saw Kirk’s breathing become more pronounced. Perhaps he was reacting to the mind touch! Saavik looked totally lost. Evidently she found it more difficult than Spock would have. Kirk’s breath became louder and less even now, and his jaw was beginning to quiver slightly.

When Saavik’s own hand began to tremble against Kirk’s face, and her breath came in ragged gasps McCoy knew that she found this more than merely difficult. “Lieutenant,” he whispered. “Lieutenant Saavik?”

There was no response. Finally, he moved over and took her arm, shaking her gently. Her eye­lashes fluttered quickly, and for a moment she was still. Then she backed fearfully away from the table, shaking her head violently. Afraid she might trip or break something in her wild movements, McCoy grabbed her shoulders and held onto her. She leaned backwards for a moment against his shoul­der, recovering her strength.

He smiled, whispering, “Are you all right, my dear?”

Saavik’s body stiffened suddenly, and she pulled free of his hands. “I… ” her expression be­came furious. “Ican stand on my own, Doctor!”

McCoy, shocked and slightly hurt by this display of savagery, began angrily, “Now you look here young lady–”

Uhura came between them, putting a hand out to him. “Please, Len.” She turned to Saavik and asked soothingly, “Did you discover anything?”

Her voice was calm now. She said matter-of-factly, “He’s dead.”

Horror broke out on Uhura’s face. “What?” she stammered, for lack of a better question.

Saavik quickly corrected herself, hoping she had not upset the First Officer too much. Of all the humans on the Enterprise, Uhura was the one most known for her emotional nature, excepting McCoy, of course. “Not dead in the clinical sense of the word. His body is completely functional, as the doctor has surely told you, and his mind and consciousness are intact. He does not, however, believe himself to be alive. While his sub-conscious realizes that he is a living being, his conscious self refuses to accept it.” The Spock-like emotionlessness with which she said this bothered McCoy. The man she was speaking of was her Captain, yet she showed no more concern than she would have for a total stranger.

Uhura ignored this. “What is the cause of this… condition?”

“Unknown. I did, however, receive images of the destruction of a starship, which I assume to be the Excalibur, as if the Admiral had been aboard her at the time. I had many visions of violent deaths, fires, explosions. I also got the impression that Admiral Kirk felt himself die, rather painfully.”

McCoy arched his eyebrow. “How the hell could he have seen that?”

Saavik gave a very un-Vulcan shrug. “I don’t know, but Admiral Kirk seemed to have felt there was another presence in his mind.”

Uhura’s brow wrinkled. “Presence?”

She nodded slightly. “Yes.”

McCoy asked, “An intelligent presence?”

Saavik was uncertain. “It was powerful and alien. I have no idea as to its sentience. I don’t even know where it came from. I’m afraid none of this makes any sense.”

But it might explain how a cloud could move. “Did you find out anything else?”

“No, Commander. I broke the link before it became so strong that I had no control over it.”

Uhura sighed, disappointed. “All right, you may return to duty, but there will be a briefing held in an hour.”

Saavik acknowledged and left the room. She felt utterly humiliated by her display of anger in front of Uhura and McCoy. The doctor especially did not seem to understand Vulcans, and she disliked showing signs of emotion in front of him. She cursed the traces of her Romulan heritage that caused her to act this way. But why did McCoy seem to resent her so? Was it because she did not show en­ough concern for her commander?

She felt confused, and she could feel the anger rising in her veins even now. The link had been painful, even more so than it had been with Spock. The extreme invasion of her privacy was causing her emotional barriers to break down. Her control would not be easy to regain. She could not return to the bridge yet. But where could she go?

She leaned her entire weight on the corridor wall, clutching the handrail tightly in one hand. She didn’t even notice when the tough plastic began to give way under her fingers. The railing came to an end and her hand met with cold metal. Not wanting to open her eyes, she stopped to consider what this smooth surface might be. Finally she unclenched her eyelids. In front of her face, occupying her entire field of vision, was a black plate. Through her anger she realized she could go in here to wait.

 

Chris Chapel was at her desk, still reviewing reports. She looked up in alarm when an intruder crashed into her office. “Saavik, what–?”

“I–I need a moment.”

Chapel moved quickly to put an arm around her and guide her to a chair. “What’s wrong, Saavik?”

Saavik inhaled deeply.” Commander Uhura asked me to perform a–” she swallowed painfully, “–a mind-touch on Admiral Kirk. I was reluctant, but I I did so. It… caused me some… discomfort. “

She was slowly regaining her control, Christine could see, but she had never seen a Vulcan so upset. “Well, you’ll be all right now,” she said comfortingly. “Spock never found contact easy with humans, either.”

“But Spock maintained control, I could not. I lost my temper with Dr. McCoy for no reason. The pain in the Admiral’s mind… I have encountered its like only once before.” She rubbed sweat from her brow with one hand. “On Hellguard… it was an accident… another refugee, a half-Vulcan like myself, attacked me. In the struggle our minds touched. Neither of us knew anything of our powers or how to control them. The pain was unbearable. “

Christine gently massaged Saavik’s shoulder with one hand. No wonder Saavik found dealing with others so difficult–even more so than Spock had. Such experiences as this one which she had suffered on Hellguard made her withdrawn, afraid of being involved with others because of the pain involved. With Spock’s experience to guide her, a mind touch would have been relatively painless; but without him to control the flow of emotion, Saavik was unprotected against the raw humanity inside Kirk’s mind.

“You’ll be all right, Saavik,” she repeated, wondering if the words meant anything at all to the girl. “Don’t let this make you afraid. Once you’ve learned the techniques–”

“Yes,” Saavik agreed fervently. “That is quite logical. “ With one last deep breath, she rose from her chair to leave.

Christine stopped her. “Maybe you should stay a few minutes. If there’s anything I can do to help–”

Saavik’s voice raised only slightly. “I… can help myself.” Her control fully recovered, she whispered, “Thank you, Christine, “and disappeared quickly out the door.

No one had bothered to turn any lights on in the officers’ lounge. Usually, it was brightly lit and heavily occupied, echoing with laughter and smelling of the various intoxicating beverages concocted on the various worlds of the federation–and occasionally the Klingon and Romulan Empires. Usually it was a happy place.

Today, no one felt particularly happy, so no one had come to the lounge. They all remained at their posts or in their quarters, worrying about their Captain. But Chekov was here, silhouetted in the huge observation window at the far end of the room, glass in hand.

Uhura wanted to scream. She wanted to explode in anger and order him to stop wallowing in self­ pity. She wanted to demand that he tell her how much vodka he had drunk in the past hour. She wan­ted to force him to stand up and start living again. She wanted to throw her arms around him and hold him.

But the First Officer had come here for only one reason: to give an order and no explanations. He didn’t even move his eyes as she came to stand beside him at the window. Trying to keep any hint of challenge out of her voice, she asked him, “Shouldn’t you be on the bridge?”

He took a swallow of vodka and regarded her resentfully. “Not really. Is there some good I could do there? Lt. Metcalfe and Saavik can handle the bridge, probably better than I can.” He turned back to the window and studied the view. “Is the Admiral all right?”

Uhura fought to control herself. “No. He may not come out of it.”

Chekov looked alarmed, but it passed quickly. He kept his voice depressingly low. “I’m sure he will. The Admiral is a survivor.”

“Oh really?” she asked, her voice brittle. “I used to think so, but then I used to think you were, too. It looks like I was wrong.”

“Maybe.”

Stop it, damn you! “Well,” She said as firmly as she could, even as her mind shrieked in helplessness, “right or wrong, I still need you to do your job.”

“My job.” He laughed sharply. “You don’t have any need for me. Between you and our two budding young commanders on the bridge–”

“No!” She hissed savagely. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, Pavel. I’d love to let you sit down here and drown in your self-pity, but this is, in case you haven’t noticed, a crisis sit­uation. You’re needed up there.” He started to speak, but she jabbed a finger out at him. “Let me finish! While you’ve been in here vegetating we’ve discovered that there is something out there invading Jim Kirk’s mind. I don’t think we need Spock to tell us that it’s probably that damned cloud!” Mentioning Spock had been painful for her, but it served to remind Pavel that there was a gap to be filled on the bridge, and he was needed to help fill it. “Saavik can’t do anything for the Admiral, so all we have left is the chance of communicating with who or whatever is responsible for his condition. Communications is still my job on this ship. I’ll need everyone of my people, in­cluding myself, to work non-stop until we find some way of communicating with that thing!” She was lying. Trying to communicate with a possible intelligence in the cloud was a minor project, one of her juniors in communications could handle it easily. But trying to restore the Second Officer to his full operating capacity was top priority, and she had just dedicated a good part of her energies toward fulfilling it.

“So,” she continued, “since I’ll be unavailable, you’ll be taking over the bridge, Commander.”

He shook his head. “That’s ridiculous!”

She whirled savagely to face him. “That’s an order, Mister! And you will carry it out, or I’ll have no choice but to put you on report for dereliction of duty!”

He gawked at her, speechless. “Penda…”

Her voice was perfectly modulated, even, firm. “Report to the bridge, Commander!”

Chekov held her gaze for a moment, then shuffled quietly from the room. As he went out the door, Scotty came in, shot him a puzzled look, and approached Uhura. “McCoy said I could find ye here. I wanted t’report–” Her hands were pressed against the glass, her jaw quivering. He touched her arm. “Lass…?”

She put a finger to her lips; for a moment she was silent. Then she threw herself against him, buried her face in his shoulder, and quietly cried.

 

Chekov had ordered a briefing of the senior officers for reasons which he still had yet to dis­close. Probably just a brainstorming session about Jim’s attack, Scotty told himself as he rushed for the main briefing room. Things had been a little too hectic for his liking today. Things were happening much too fast for the first eight hours of the ship’s first real mission in five years.

He could tell that settling in was probably going to take everyone quite some time, and now they wouldn’t have any of that time. He was most worried about Chekov, almost moreso than he was about Kirk. He had a pretty good idea of why Uhura had mysteriously decided to supervise the communication project herself. He prayed that her somewhat irresponsible manipulation of the rules would pay off.

Angela Teller was the only one in the briefing room when he got there. So much for his worries of being late. Angela came immediately to life at his entrance. “Scotty, I’m glad you got here. Do you have any idea what this is about? Pavel just took over for Uhura… he’s acting strangely.”

He considered telling her what little he knew, but decided against it for Chekov’s sake. Not that he didn’t trust Angela, but it would be better for morale if as few as possible knew what a state his young friend was in. As if Chekov himself wasn’t making it as evident as humanly possible. “I’m afraid I’ve been rather busy, lass. Engines have been runnin’ me too ragged to worry about much anythin’ else.”

She shrugged it off easily. “We’ll find out.”

Taking his seat, Scotty asked her teasingly, “What d’ya think of our new young helmsman, then?”

His question lightened the mood considerably. She gave him an evil smile. “You’re becoming an old gossip, Scotty.”

“I only know what I see, lassie,” he said denyingly. And what he saw as a great deal. Not sur­prising, though. Angela always had been a favorite among the male officers–especially the younger ones. Fifteen years aboard the Enterprise had not aged her much, but then this ship’s women all seemed to know that secret.

“You mean,” she said with an accusing grin, “you’ve been spying on me.” Then she became thoughtful. “I do think he’s an excellent officer. With Sulu’s recommendation behind him–”

“Just watch yourself, lass,” he warned in his best wise old Scotsman manner, giving her a wink. “That’s how Jim Kirk got started.”

Chekov entered, followed by McCoy and Saavik. Uhura had made herself conspicuously scarce. Chekov seated himself and addressed them. “Ve may as well begin, since most of us are here.” He glanced quickly at an empty chair on his right, customarily Uhura’s. “Dr. McCoy has given me his re­port on the Admiral. Nothing is physically wrong with him. Lieutenant Saavik, however, has used Wulcan mind techniques in order to gather a small amount of information.” He nodded to her. “If you please, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir. Admiral Kirk, while in perfect physical condition, has developed a kind of mental block in his conscious mind. Plainly, he considers himself to be dead, and thus is not responding to physical stimuli.”

Scotty found he was developing a mental block of his own. “I’m not meanin’ t’dispute yer findin’ lass, but that doesn’ make any sense t’me.”

Her reply was not helpful. “It makes none to me either, Chief. I can only report what I felt in the Admiral’s mind.”

As Scotty began to ask for further explanation of this absurd phenomenon, the doors flew open to admit Uhura. She still looked rather worn, as she had earlier, but she managed a smile for the group “I’m sorry if I’m a little late. I’ve been following through on a theory–”

“Yes, Commander,” Chekov interrupted rather loudly, “please tell us about your theory. It would seem to be of wital importance.”

Scotty didn’t miss Uhura’s pained expression as she began. “As you all should know, I have placed command of this ship,” she glanced meaningfully at Chekov, “in the hands of the Second Officer. I have been personally supervising the communications department in a time-consuming, if somewhat des­perate, attempt to find out more about Admiral Kirk’s condition. Lieutenant Saavik, could you tell the others what you told me in sickbay about a presence?”

As Saavik continued in her matter-of-fact way, Scotty could see the hint of irritation in McCoy’s eyes. The Doctor was not fond of the Vulcan way, but he could easily picture McCoy protesting, “Some of my best friends are Vulcans!”

“In the brief time that my mind was linked to Admiral Kirk’s, I sensed a very powerful presence in his memories and actually in his mind itself. I gathered little information regarding the nature of this presence due to my own inability to maintain the link.” At this, Scotty thought he saw a trace of shame in the Vulcan eyes–and perhaps the smallest bit of guilt in McCoy’s. “But it was there,” Saavik finished.

Uhura smiled quickly. “Thank you, Lieutenant. From what the Lieutenant has told me, and from the odd behavior of what should be an inanimate object, I… guessed that the cloud we’ve been watch­ing might actually be a creature of some intelligence. By using the ship’s communications equipment, I have been hoping to contact it on some level.”

Well, Scotty thought, at least she acted the part well. None of the others would guess the real reason she had buried herself in the project.

Angela Teller unwittingly added the final touch. “The Commander’s theory makes quite a bit of sense. There are countless examples of life forms composed entirely of energy. Taking this cloud to be one of them answers a lot of questions about what happened to the Excalibur.”

“A lot,” Chekov agreed, “but not all. ‘Why,’ for instance.”

McCoy was the first with an answer. “Well, according to Captain Chandler, the Excalibur actually entered the cloud itself. Having its substance interfered with could have caused it some discomfort. That’s always been a pretty good motive in humans.”

Saavik disagreed. Natural enmity? Scotty wondered. “There is one flaw in your hypothesis, Doctor. If that cloud is the presence I sensed within the Admiral’s mind, then it is responsible for his condition. I believe that Admiral Kirk’s mind was linked with that of someone aboard the Excalibur, possibly Captain Chandler. That would explain how the images I detected in his mind, images of the actual destruction of the Excalibur, could have been there. When the ship was destroyed, and the officer with whom the Admiral shared a body died, their consciousnesses were intertwined, thus caus­ing the Admiral to believe himself dead. If, as you suggest, the cloud was merely defending itself, why did it bring about this event? The Admiral, after all, posed it no immediate threat.”

“That, Lieutenant, is a wery good question,” Chekov agreed. He readjusted himself in his chair, looking more comfortable now, perhaps forcing himself to give an appearance of authority. “However, we have two other wery good questions to worry about. First, is that cloud a threat to the Enterprise? Second, and perhaps most important, what do we do about Admiral Kirk?”

The briefing room’s main intercom buzzed at that moment. After throwing an uncertain glance to Uhura, Chekov answered it. “Briefing room.”

Metcalfe appeared on the screen, face grim, voice urgent. “Commander, the cloud has begun to move.”

For the briefest of moments, Scotty could see fear flash into Chekov’s eyes, but it was quickly replaced with determination. “Heading?” he asked.

“The Enterprise, sir,” the other man said, as if Chekov had already guessed his answer. He prob­ably had.

“Evasive action, Lieutenant.”

Metcalfe shook his head. “Already tried, sir. It stayed right with us.”

Chekov nodded, annoyed. “Of course it did. I’m on my way.” He turned to the assembled officers “I believe we should all report to our stations. Commander Uhura,” he met her eyes in challenge, “you might be needed on the bridge.”

Scotty knew it wouldn’t work. Uhura responded with quiet defiance. “I’m sorry, Commander, but I’m sure you can cover for me more than adequately. “ With a final, meaningful glare at him, she left.

Chekov set his teeth hard together and turned to McCoy. “Doctor…” he finished hopelessly, “See what you can do for him.”

“Why,” McCoy demanded bitterly as the second officer headed out the door, “So he can watch himself die allover again?” Chekov glared at the doctor angrily for a moment but, Scotty noticed with some discomfort, did not bother to argue.

CHAPTER V

Captain’s log, stardate: 8143.1Second Officer Chekov recording.

The cloud which destroyed the USS Excalibur is now headed directly for the Enterprise. Commanders Uhura and Teller believe that this cloud may possess some sort of intelligence. Commander Uhura is now engaged in an attempt to communicate with it based on this theory. Should she fail, this log and all data related to the cloud “creature” will be ejected in the hopes that Starfleet will be able to prevent the loss of further ships.

With Saavik and Angela tailing him, Chekov was on the bridge five minutes later. Amidst the busied chattering of technicians and the blaring of red-alert klaxons, Metcalfe surrendered the chair to him. He looked at it for a moment as if it was some dreadfully offensive object, and finally perched himself uncomfortably in its cushioned seat.

“Time to impact, Mr. Metcalfe?” he asked, more hurriedly than he would have liked. He didn’t want his fear to be seen by the crew.

Metcalfe touched the chronometer dials, his fingers displaying his nervousness and tension. Now Chekov missed Spock’s control; it had always helped to convince him that nothing was wrong to see the Vulcan face each crisis with logic. “Two minutes, twenty-seven seconds, sir,” Metcalfe told him.

Chekov chewed thoughtfully at his lower lip, watching the screen calmly even as his chest tight­ened at the growing intensity of the cloud. He could feel the terror growing inside him; this time it wasn’t just a ship being lost, but his ship, his command. And although he was thoroughly terrified, he knew that every member of the crew was just as terrified, if not more, and they were his first priority. He wished he had a drink. “Ensign, give me intraship.” He turned to the communi­cations board to see the young woman’s eyes locked on the screen. They were huge and moist; she was on the verge of tears.

His first priority … He gave her a warm smile. “Ensign M’saar,” he asked quietly, “could you give me intraship?”

Returning his smile as best she could, the girl turned slowly to her board and activated the ship-wide intercom. “Intraship, Commander.”

Under normal conditions, he would have found her hesitant smile attractive, but now… he con­sidered the ease with which such thoughts came to him, and wondered how long it had been since he had entertained their like at all. He felt suddenly more confident at their presence. “All hands, this is Commander Chekov. In under two minutes the Enterprise vill make contact with an entity vhich has already proved its destructive ability on one of our fellow ships. All personnel will proceed im­mediately to escape pods according to emergency schedule one, and prepare to abandon ship on my order.” He ended the transmission abruptly, hoping the crew would not panic on a grand scale. He should have offered some words of comfort, as Kirk would have; but he could think of no way to make any easier the fact that none of them might survive the next five minutes.

There should be no problem with the crew; Starfleet personnel were not known to panic during emergencies, though he personally could name a young navigator who used to indulge in quite a bit of screaming.

Saavik glanced cooly at her chronometer. “Impact in fifteen seconds, Commander.”

“Commander?” He turned to Angela, who wore a puzzled look. “Commander, I read no rise in energy levels. When the Excalibur was destroyed–”

“Impact in ten seconds,” Saavik interrupted. She began a countdown which reminded Chekov of the many times Sulu had soft-spokenly announced impending doom. Even before she finished, the screen was filled with a blinding light from the cloud which even the automatic computer enhancement could not eliminate. “Impact, Commander.”

He hadn’t known what to expect, but nothing hadn’t been it. That was what happened. Only the painful glow on the viewscreen gave any indication that they were, indeed, inside the cloud. There was no heat, no great flash, no one appeared to be in pain. This couldn’t have been how it was for the Excalibur.

On every face he saw the relief that he knew must have covered his. Even M’saar was calm as she informed him, “All decks secure.”

“The decks may be secure, but would you care to ask about the crew, Mr. Chekov?” McCoy had appeared behind him from nowhere.

Reports began to pour in from escape pods on all decks. Chekov had them stand by while Angela took further readings. “Energy levels steady,” she said, bewildered. “I don’t understand.”

McCoy threw her a warning glance. “Don’t ask questions, Ms. Teller. At least we’re alive.”

Chekov grimaced skeptically. “I vould like to know why.”

McCoy frowned, irritated. “I refuse to argue.”

Chekov ignored him and turned to Saavik. “How fast is that cloud moving?”

Saavik didn’t move. Surely she couldn’t have panicked? Of course not; she was calm right up to impact. He spoke louder this time. “Lieutenant Saavik?”

She turned and met his gaze, apparently examining him as if he were some sort of specimen. When she spoke, her voice was still lacking in emotion, but was now completely toneless. “She is here. I however, am making temporary use of her body.”

Chekov’s jaw dropped hopelessly. What now? “Who are you?”

As he spoke, McCoy ran forward with his omni-present medi-scanner and ran it over her. Saavik made no move against his efforts, instead directing herself to Chekov. She was oddly still. “I am the entity you have identified as ‘the cloud.’ You are Commander Chekov?”

He nodded weakly.

McCoy came to his side and whispered, “She’s in the same state Jim was in.”

Chekov nodded again and turned to Saavik. “You have something to say to us?”

A slightly puzzled expression quickly flashed over her features. “I sensed a desire for com­munication.”

Well, now they knew the creature was intelligent. That didn’t make Chekov feel any better. “You destroyed the starship Excalibur. Why?”

She paused for a moment, as if to consider that. He realized that the creature was probably searching Saavik’s memories to find out what an “Excalibur” was. “I did. Please accept my apologies, Commander, no aggression was intended. When I encountered the being Excalibur, I sensed intelligence. My attempts at communication, however, alternately injured and destroyed it. I did not anticipate this.”

Before Chekov could form a suitable response, McCoy exploded at the creature. “What do you mean, ‘you did not anticipate?’ The amounts of radiation you bombarded that ship with could have resulted in nothing but destruction!”

The contrast between the creature’s soft tone and McCoy’s harsh abrasiveness was almost comical. “I realize that now, Doctor. Again I must apologize. Communication in my race is a matter of ex­changing form. We are composed of that which you refer to as ‘energy.’ In order to communicate we cause our beings to become one. Apparently such concepts are alien to your race.” At any other time Chekov would have laughed at the connotations of that statement, but he hadn’t felt like laughing for quite some time. The realization of that fact bothered him.

The creature continued. “It was not until I encountered the thoughts of your Admiral Kirk that I realized you could be reached telepathically. Though this is an extremely primitive and time-consuming process, I am still capable of making use of it. Admiral Kirk’s thoughts were particularly strong. His mental capabilities are obviously formidable among your kind. I sensed within his mind a desire to go to his comrades and aid them in some way. I therefore initiated a telepathic exchange with his counterpart on that vessel.”

McCoy disappeared quickly and Chekov heard him whisper to M’saar, “Call Dr. Chapel and tell her to bring Admiral Kirk up here now.”

Chekov addressed the creature. “Did you realize that Admiral Kirk’s mind was damaged when the person with whom you linked him died?”

“How was it damaged?” Chekov could barely tell from the inflectionless voice that the sentence was a question.

McCoy was at his side once again, assaulting the creature with his vicious tone. “He cannot per­ceive reality! He believes himself dead! Your damned attempt to communicate turned him into a vegetable!”

Uhura rushed through the lift doors at that moment, her face holding confusion. “I just got the strangest message over the scramble circuit,” she told Chekov. “I can’t find its source.” She promptly noticed Saavik’s odd disposition and fell silent, watching.

“As you can see, Doctor,” the being said, “I have learned a great deal about communicating.” She turned to Uhura. “I created that message, Commander.”

Christine Chapel now entered, pushing a floating “chair” which held Kirk’s unconscious form. Chekov gestured toward them. “Is it possible for you to restore our Keptin to his original condition now?”

Saavik took a moment to study Kirk. “It is possible, yes,” she said finally. Chekov and McCoy breathed relief, but only briefly. “However, I am bound by codes higher than those you know not to interfere. In order to truly recover, Kirk must bring about recovery himself by triumphing over death and proving himself worthy of life.”

McCoy stalked forward menacingly. “That’s the most ridiculous thing live ever heard! No being can triumph over that which he believes to be final! You are responsible for repairing the damage you have done!”

“Your Admiral Kirk has never allowed the inevitable to prevent his efforts before–until now. It seems he is quick to allow defeat now.” It paused thoughtfully. “Perhaps a stimulus is necessary.”

McCoy’s anger faded, replaced by curiosity. “What do you mean ‘stimulus?’“

Angela frantically answered McCoy’s question. “Energy levels in the cloud are rising rapidly! Approaching the danger level!”

Chekov whirled to Saavik. “Are you doing this?”

No reaction.

“I demand it be stopped at once!”

Saavik shook her head. “He needs a stimulus.”

But Kirk did nothing in response.

Chekov took the body of Saavik by the shoulders. “Youmust stop this at once! Our ship vill not vithstand it!”

There was a change in Saavik’s expression; she looked pained. The creature responded with great effort. “It… is…ne… cessary.”

Chekov turned to McCoy. “Vhatis wrong with her?”

Chapel rushed forward joyfully. “She’s fighting it! I think she’s fighting it!”

Saavik spoke again, but this time something was different. Her voice had a strangely urgent quality to it. “Christine… bring… ”

Chapel came closer to her. “Bring what, Saavik?”

But Saavik could manage no answer. “Jim?” McCoy whispered. “She means Jim!”

Probably, Chekov thought. He realized that he was being confronted with his first real command decision. What did Saavik want with Kirk? Was it Saavik who wanted him at all, or the creature, trying to conduct another of its bizarre experiments on him? He turned urgently to McCoy. “Help me with him.” McCoy started to comment; but Chekov mustered his authoritative look, and the doctor was silent. Maybe he realized too that they had no other hope. Together they removed Kirk from the chair and carried him to Saavik’s feet.

She knelt, or rather fell, ungracefully to her knees. Leaning forward painfully, she touched her fingertips to Kirk’s temples. Chekov recognized the position of the mind-meld, and heard Chris Chapel whisper, “Is she strong enough?”

McCoy’s response was a quiet, desperate, “I hope so.”

Indeed, they had better all hope so, for Chekov heard Angela whisper that the hull tolerance level would be reached in three minutes. After that, if Saavik was helpless to prevent it, he would lose yet another ship; and they would all share Kirk’s knowledge of death.

 

James Kirk floated in darkness. McCoy was dead. Chekov, Uhura, Scotty… all were dead. And wasn’t he? He saw, but did not view. He heard, but found nothing to listen to. He felt, but had no body to feel with. If this was death, it was like no conception of death that he had ever had. Certainly he should not be alone, or was this Hell? Had he been sentenced to be alone in death because he had kept himself alone in life? Had the powerful presence he had felt sentenced him to this? No, he had too much faith in himself to believe that. At least he used to have faith in himself. The James Kirk of long ago did, but this James Kirk had lost that quality. Was he too willing to accept even his own death?

“I don’t like to lose.” He could hear that in the darkness, over and over. Someone was there, at least someone should have been. But it wasn’t someone else saying that. It was him; it was James Kirk. No, he didn’t like to lose; he never had. But he had lost now. He had lost his ship. He had lost both the person and the thing that had once meant the most to him. Had he just let them go?

Something called again. The voice. Another voice. Not his, whose? Something touched his mind. It touched clumsily, even shyly. It hit him lightly in places he had never been touched before, but even a light touch was painful.

“Admiral?” It was a definite question now. A word had formed. And so he decided he must answer. He tried to reach out with his thoughts, as that was the only way. He had no hands to gesture with, nor mouth to speak with. He just reached, but his mind was either tired or atrophied. He had never had to use it this way before.

Slowly, painfully, putting into the task all the energy he had ever devoted, he formed a word of his own. “Here.”

“James?” Of course she called him that. The contact was much too intimate now, she knew him too well to call him anything else.

“Saavik?”

“Yes.”

“I thought I saw you die. Are you dead?”

“We are both quite alive, James; but the Enterprise is in danger.”

Although he could not see her, he could feel each and every part of her mind. Some part was in pain. “You must let me help you,” she told him. “You have allowed yourself to become submerged. You have lost the use of your physical body. You must recover. “

“You mean I’ve lost.”

“No!” she insisted. “You have not. You have never lost, and you will not allow it now. We will not allow it. Join with me. By coming together we can regain ourselves. “

Again he felt the pain and the signs of struggle. “What’s wrong?”

“There is a being. A creature composed of energy and possessed of great intelligence has taken over my mind. I must fight to help you.”

Kirk could sense the strain she was under. If maintained, he knew it would kill her, or, worse, tear her mind apart, leaving her body a hollow shell. Helplessness assaulted him. He could feel himself losing.

“Join!” Saavik’s thoughts were a scream of pain in his mind. They drove him to move in, to enter her mind, inexperienced as he was.

Concentrating, he formed a mental image of her in his mind out of memory. Reaching out, he saw himself take the image’s hand. Their hands explored each other, then began to explore their bodies, or rather the mental representations of their beings. Part by part, their forms came together, forming a union powerful enough to drive the alien presence from Saavik’s mind. The sensation was among the most pleasurable Kirk had ever experienced, a total union, surpassing mere physical joining progressing to the mental level, a complete sharing of consciousness.

Kirk had the sensation of upward motion. Before him, the darkness faded; each layer of consciousness was lighter in shade than the last. Images appeared in his mind; he could hear, see, and feel events from Saavik’s past, painful and pleasant. The extremes of emotion in her mind began to make him uncomfortable. The onrushing flow of consciousness was even painful for him as he moved further out of his own dormant mind and further into Saavik’s. The initial joy subsided, forgotten. Now he appreciated the years of training and study Vulcans put into the practice of telepathy. Without the ability to screen out unwanted thoughts, his mind was completely undefended.

The pain caused by the attacking thoughts was made all the more unbearable because Saavik kept all her emotions, unexpressed, in here where they boiled and seethed. Kirk had no time to learn how to protect his mind from all this; he screamed out loud in his mind and Saavik’s, sending even more pain through the link. Never before had he come this close to another mind. Always there had been an experienced mind to protect them both from this kind of threat. He had no control whatsoever over this link, only finding himself able to push ever upward, despite the pain. Saavik, probably, was too weakened by her struggle with the creature to help in any way.

The pain was gone, suddenly, with no explanations. Evidently, Saavik had not been as helpless as he had thought. His thoughts were his own again, and he was free to move onward quickly through her consciousness to the core of her mind. He called to her, but she did not answer. She probably could not, he decided.

Focusing all his energy, he willed the nameless being to come out of its place within Saavik’s mind and face him. He met with almost immediate success.

“You wish to communicate?” The voice was strong, resonant, but friendly.

“I do.”

“You,” the voice observed, “arenot the half-breed, the one called Saavik.”

“I am James Kirk, commander of the Enterprise. “

“Saavik has brought you here?”

“I have brought myself,” Kirk responded with some well-earned pride.

The strong voice vibrated with surprise, a mental eyebrow cocked. “Indeed?”

“Yes. You will find I am capable of many things when my ship is in danger. “ He said it again, “My ship,” but this time he noticed it and meant it. “At the moment, you appear to be a threat to it and to Lieutenant Saavik.” He brought together his utmost courage and said forcefully, “I demand that you cease your invasion of her mind, and release my ship at once.”

Incredulity carried across to him, perhaps even admiration. “You demand? Do you consider yourself to be in such a position?”

“I do,” he lied. But his lie was unconvincing, surely the being could see through it at this level of communication. He waited for it to call his bluff, but it did not.

Instead, the admiration he had felt became more pronounced. “Your mind has been forced into withdrawal. You are virtually without knowledge of the most rudimentary aspects of communication, and you are, psychically infinitely inferior. Yet you have resisted my hold on your minds, fought your way through mental barriers both numerous and painful, and found me here. You even make demands you have no grounds to make, and fully expect them to be met. The barriers you have encountered would cause even my own kind to stop and turn back, yet you have come through them. You have endured pain no mind was meant to endure.”

“Perhaps,” Kirk offered quietly, “we are not as unskilled in communication as you thought. We have learned–”

“Very little, James. Your concept of love, however little you understand about it, is your first rudimentary step in the proper direction. Until you do understand, however, it should be enough. It has driven you onward to this point, it has caused you to come into space itself. It has given you the audacity to hope in the most hopeless situations. You must continue in this way, James. That which you call ‘love’ is the greatest of your achievements, and will continue to be. I have seen many races die out entirely because they lack this achievement, but you have displayed great potential. We will meet again. I will wait. “

Something was different now. The atmosphere was not the same. Kirk realized the being had gone to wait. Bearing the message he had received often before, but had somehow forgotten, he returned to the place of his own mind: to himself and his ship.

EnterpriseRegained_illo_4B_Cleaned_CroppedCHAPTER VI

And so, it was over. Chekov had screwed up for the final time, and this time he would have the consolation of dying with his Captain. Why had Uhura insisted on that damned grandstand play of hers in the lounge? She wasn’t needed in communications any more than he was, and she should have been on the bridge. Maybe that way they all would have survived.

He knew he had done the wrong things somewhere, and though he didn’t know exactly which of his decisions had been the wrong ones, the fact that they had all seemed sound meant nothing. Spock had told him once that, in a command position, one could make all the correct and logical decisions and yet fail completely. Kirk’s power of command lay in his ability to judge when the logical decision was the wrong one, but Kirk wasn’t here now. Chekov had screwed up; the possibility of a no-win situation had never crossed his mind.

“Commander!” Metcalfe called, startled. “Look at the screen!” He looked to see nothing. The brightness no longer filled the screen. For a moment, he wondered if the thing hadn’t just burned out, but then stars began to peek through from the darkness.

“It has … wanished,” he muttered.

Angela Teller wiped at her soaked brow with a damp sleeve and cried out delightfully, “Emission Levels negative!” She heaved a sigh and grinned at the helmsman, indicating something shared which Chekov had been too preoccupied to notice before.

The suddenness of it all left him confused. Were they safe? Had the logical decisions worked after all, or had the being been driven off by Kirk and Saavik, independent of his efforts? For that matter, was Kirk even alive?

“Jim!” McCoy called, rushing to the Admiral’s suddenly moving form. Kirk was up on his elbows, surveying the bridge.

He promptly noticed the throng of personnel staring his way and raised a cheerful eyebrow at them. “Don’t you all have jobs to do?” He turned to Uhura. “Commander, is this how the bridge is run in my absence?”

Uhura smiled in Chekov’s direction. “That’s not my responsibility in this case, Admiral.”

Kirk apparently caught her devious meaning. Chekov sensed approval–and conspiracy. “Well, Mr. Chekov?” he demanded.

He quit staring and came immediately to attention. Kirk had to at least think he’d done a good job. “No, sair! Return to your positions at once,” he announced sternly to the gawking crew.

Kirk was trying to stand, brushing away McCoy’s outstretched arm and quickly grabbing it as he lost his balance. Saavik was now on her feet as well. McCoy hovered over them both with his scanner. “What the hell happened to you?” he demanded.

“Well, Bones, I don’t know where to start.”

McCoy was insistent.” Jim, what happened? That thing was about to melt us into molten slag, and the two of you were, well, you were in bad shape. Now the cloud disappears, you both get up off the floor just like that, and everything’s all right. What Is going on?”

Kirk spread his hands. “Nothing’s going on, Bones. Everything is fine. Lt. Saavik handled our problem well, and Mr. Chekov protected the ship admirably. “ Chekov flinched. Admirably? He had a feeling Kirk was responsible for everything, but the ship was safe. His methods had worked. Perhaps his command abilities were greater than he had thought.

McCoy pushed irritably on. “Dammit, Jim, where did that thing go?”

“It… left,” he said softly.

“Left? Where did it go?” The doctor was growing visibly more frustrated with each passing second.

Saavik’s answer didn’t help matters at all. “To wait, Doctor.”

“Wait? Wait for what?”

“For us.” Chekov thought he saw something new in Saavik’s manner. She seemed more relaxed–almost at peace. She even seemed to be enjoying the game she was playing with McCoy.

McCoy continued to fuss over his two unwilling patients. “Oh, Lord,” he mumbled, turning to Chapel. “We’d better get them to sickbay–fast!”

Kirk was laughing. “Bones, there’s nothing wrong with us!”

“Don’t tell me how to do my job! Now move!” he growled, pointing dramatically toward the lift. “That’s an order!”

Kirk, at last, was quite willing to take his doctor’s advice. Giving Saavik a resigned smile, he took her by the arm and headed toward the doors. “Come along, Lieutenant; we have our orders. Mr. Chekov, carry on.” As the doors closed, he called, “Oh, and Mr. Chekov…?”

“Yes, sair?”

“Thanks for taking care of my ship.”

Kirk grinned warmly through the doors as they drew shut. “Yes, sair,” Chekov mumbled. Then he grinned back. “Thank you, sair!” He settled comfortably into the command chair. He had been wanting to go below for a drink, but suddenly the thought had slipped from his mind.

 

Kirk was refastening the clasp on his tunic when McCoy finally came out of his office. Before acknowledging the doctor’s presence, he studied the clasp and its admiral’s insignia. Something about it now seemed out of place.

McCoy was gruff. Staring at his reports, he said grudgingly, “All right, Admiral. Physically, you check out.”

Kirk bit back a laugh at the doctor’s reluctance. If McCoy could have, he might have changed those results. “I told you I’m fine. How’s Saavik?”

McCoy sighed, not looking up. “She’s fine, too.”

“There.”

McCoy’s spirit flashed into view. Obviously, he wasn’t going to give in easily. “Now just a minute! I said you check out physically. The results of your psycho-exam won’t be ready for awhile, and if you ask me… ”

Uh oh, Kirk thought, here it comes.

“You may need treatment, “McCoy rambled on. “Your efficiency is down, you’ve been snapping at your officers–who only want to help, I might add and … ” and on and on…

Kirk thought perhaps he deserved it. He had been rather hard on all of them in his determination to prove himself to himself. He certainly couldn’t blame his own crew, and especially his own doctor for being worried. His detached attitude had probably offended McCoy most of all. “Bones,” he said gently.

McCoy broke off, snapping, “What is it now?”

“I’m sorry–for the way live been acting. I guess I’ve had…other things on my mind.” McCoy showed no reaction. He just stared and looked impatient. “By the way, you should be the first to know, I’m staying.”

The beginnings of a smile swept McCoy’s face, but he quickly repressed it. “Well what are you telling me for? I’m a doctor, not your personal consultant. I’ve got enough to worry about keeping this crew intact. Now get out of here and let me get some work done for a change!”

Kirk tried, really tried, not to laugh in McCoy’s face; it didn’t work. Halfway out the door he doubled over, turning back quickly to say, “Bones, that’s all I wanted to hear.”

 

Metcalfe glanced impatiently at his helm chronometer. Five minutes to go, only 300 seconds. In his first shift of duty aboard the Enterprise, more seemed to have happened than in all his years at the Academy and aboard Phoenix. He’d heard it said once that Jim Kirk brought trouble with him wherever he went, but then he’d heard the same said of himself–from the same sources. Those sources never seemed to mention how much trouble Kirk had gotten himself and the Federation out of. Today had only increased his opinion of Kirk, and his hope that he would continue as his commander. Without Kirk and his troubles, the Enterprise wouldn’t have been the Enterprise.

Angela had walked quietly up behind him and now rested her hands lightly on his shoulders. Speaking of bringing trouble, he thought. But perhaps this wasn’t the kind to be avoided.

“Shouldn’t you be at your post, Commander?”

“I,” she said petulantly, “am the ship’s Science Officer. I am entitled to wander the ship as I believe my duties require.”

“Are you studying me, Commander?”

“Constantly.” She giggled. “And we’re off duty in a minute.”

He smiled at the implied suggestion, the possibilities of which had been occupying his stray thoughts for the past eight hours. “We are. Did you have some comment on the subject?”

Angela pouted innocently. “On one’s first day aboard, one should make an effort to integrate with the crew. One must try to … belong?”

He took a moment to contemplate his answer, although he was already quite sure about the question of belonging…

 

Kirk had returned to the bridge only long enough to log the end of the Excalibur affair and see to it that Chekov was holding up well. Scotty had told him earlier of Uhura’s somewhat unorthodox plan. Kirk would have to speak to her about it later, as it had worked quite well, in his opinion. Such a capable executive officer deserved congratulations.

Now he was in the corridor outside the junior officers’ quarters. When he came to Saavik’s, he stopped and pressed the buzzer. There was a moment of silence, and Kirk realized that, although it hadn’t occurred to him, she might not be in. It was, after all, the recreation period for her, and there was no Federation law stating that Vulcans must spend such time reading or meditating in their cabins, waiting for their captain to visit. She could have been in the lounge with the other crew. She had rarely left the ship during the furlough, so he had no idea what kind of social life she led.

Further, she was half Vulcan. His visit might make her uncomfortable. It had been a long time since he had been so nervous about visiting someone.

From inside, her voice signaled the door to open. Kirk had never seen her quarters before. Although they were not quite as immaculate as Spock’s, she still had few non-regulation items in sight of visitors. On one wall was a chart of Federation space, on another, some pictures of the Enterprise and other ships. Over the bed was an ancient Vulcan tapestry, perhaps a gift from Spock.

The navigator herself was the most striking decoration in the room. She was at her desk, viewer piled high with tapes from the ship’s library. The huge stacks almost obscured her from view. She wore a simple off-duty robe, loosely fastened and showing little concern for modesty. Vulcan modesty of course, was a contradiction in terms, despite Spock’s occasional displays of embarrassment at the female anatomy. Her hair hung loosely, unrestrained in any way, unlike its usual neat arrangement.

The difference between her and the efficient officer he’d only recently left in Sickbay amused Kirk. Unlike Spock, she didn’t seem to hesitate to relax off duty. Perhaps even a Vulcan twenty­-year-old could be a slob, he mused as he noted the state of the room. Her bedcovers were a tangled mess, and her uniform was draped precariously over the Branches of an Arcturian Shell tree in the comer. Where had she gotten that? And that desk … the entire scene reminded him of his own quart­ers on a recent night when he, Scotty and McCoy had brought their shore leave aboard after everything planetside had closed.

“Well, Lieutenant,” he observed sternly, “your quarters do not seem to be organized ‘by the book.’

Saavik exhaled, visibly flustered (Vulcanly speaking) and began a flurry of room-cleaning, gathering up tapes and clothing from various resting places. She almost knocked over her tree. “I’m sorry Admiral. I’ve been busy lately and–”

“It’s all right, Lieutenant,” he said, smiling reassuringly. “I was joking again.”

She sighed, whether from relief or exasperation he didn’t know. “Humor again. Strange, it serves no apparent purpose, and yet your race seems to devote quite a bit of time and energy to it.”

“Totally illogical, “ Kirk agreed pleasantly. He gestured to her cluttered desk. “Have you been reading, Lieutenant?”

She began to stack tapes again somewhat nervously. “Yes, sir. I thought perhaps it would benefit me to read some of your culture’s literary works. They seem to deal almost exclusively with the sub­ject of emotion, but Captain Spock was quite familiar with them.”

“The side effect of his mother being a human teacher, I suppose. Emotion is what we’re all about, it would seem.” She raised an eyebrow. Gathering up some of her tapes, he read the names aloud. “Hemingway, Tarbolde, Shakespeare? You have interesting tastes, Lieutenant.”

Saavik looked away uncomfortably. “I was… interested in human… relationships–the emotions involved.” She held out one tape and changed the subject quickly. “I’ve just been studying the work of a writer named Poe from your Nineteenth century. His style is… unique. He has a great deal of renown as an author, but he seems to have been a highly unstable individual.”

“Many of history’s most renowned humans have been a bit unstable.”

“Then why are they renowned?” she asked, raising an eyebrow high.

“We humans have a fascination with the bizarre.”

She shook her head. “Most illogical.” Suddenly, she looked him in the eye. “Did you come here to discuss human literature, Admiral?”

He smiled. Several of his own lines were being used on him lately. “No. I came to thank you.”

“Sir?”

“For helping me earlier. You made me realize some things that I hadn’t quite caught before.”

“You needn’t thank me, sir. I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities as an officer.” Spock’s instruction had been quite thorough, even on the point of humility.

“Still, you did help me, and I understand the sacrifice involved in a mind-meld.” He winced as he recalled the intense pain of assaulting thoughts. “Now more than ever.”

She responded quickly, with none of her usual detached tone. “You are correct that the mind-meld is an extremely personal and even painful action, sir; but I really sacrificed very little. Earlier, when I attempted to meld with you, or rather, merely touch, I was quickly moved to withdraw. My individuality has always been particularly strong, and so I found the intimacy of the touch…repulsive. When I finally joined with you, however, I was driven on by the fact that the Enterprise was at stake. In order to save her, I had to restore us both to our individuality.

“Sir, you once told me that life and death are of equal importance. Just as life is meaningless without death, so independence is meaningless without some degree of dependence. One cannot separate oneself completely from one’s surroundings, or else individuality, independence, becomes a prison. I realized this when the creature forced its own thoughts into my mind, and I needed your help to free myself.”

Kirk smiled approvingly. “That’s true, Saavik. I believe you may be beginning to understand humans after all.”

“Am I?”

“The ideas you just expressed are the basis for the most vital factor in relating to other beings.”

“What factor is that, sir?”

“Love, Lieutenant.”

Her lips tightened. “That emotion makes little sense to me, sir.”

Typically Vulcan. “You mean you don’t see that it serves any practical purpose?”

Saavik shook her head. “No, Admiral, I mean I do not understand it. It exists, but I do not see what inspires it, nor why it occurs between certain combinations of people.”

Perhaps not so typical. “If any of us knew that, Saavik, the Enterprise wouldn’t even be here. Finding out the meaning of love and the nature of all our feelings is one of humanity’s goals, and an important step in maturing, something my race has not yet done.”

Her face showed a faint, rare smile of understanding. “Nor mine.” There was an awkward silence while neither of them was sure what to say.

“Well, Lieutenant,” Kirk said finally, “perhaps now you will come a bit closer to understanding the irrational behavior of your fellow officers.”

“Perhaps,” she agreed quietly. She paused and said nothing for a moment, and finally, taking a breath, asked, “Sir, do you intend to keep the Enterprise?”

“You still think it’s only logical that I do?”

She looked at the floor and said, “I want you to stay. Captain Spock admired you a great deal, and he rarely made an illogical decision. I see now that his admiration is logical, and justified. The Enterprise is better off with you as her commander.”

Kirk suddenly realized that he was blushing. He wondered if Saavik suspected that emotion some­times made humans as uncomfortable as it did Vulcans. “Thank you, Lieutenant. I plan to notify Starfleet soon of my decision. I am staying.” Her only expression of pleasure was an appreciatively raised eyebrow. Kirk wondered again why he felt a need to explain himself to her, but went on. “My… experience today made me realize something. While I was floating in that limbo, I suppose you’d call it, I felt utterly hopeless. I thought I’d lost the ship, and I just didn’t care any more.” He spread his hands. “I see now that it may have had some very positive effects on me. For ten years now, ever since the Enterprise was taken away from me for the second time, I’ve been… hopeless. I considered her lost for good. Bones–Doctor McCoy–tried to tell me that, if I really wanted her, I could have her back. I guess I just didn’t believe him. Maybe I didn’t want to. But when I thought that I had really lost her, I realized just how much I did want her back. You gave me that chance, Saavik. Thank you.”

She nodded uncomfortably and changed the subject again. “Do you suppose Starfleet will be dif­ficult to convince?”

Kirk laughed. “Probably, but not impossible.” He turned toward the door. “I must be going.” Then he turned again. “Lieutenant?”

“Sir?”

“Do you play chess, by any chance?”

Saavik’s face showed great surprise. “Yes, sir.” Was all she could think to say.

“Would you care to join me in the rec room later for a game?”

Saavik looked shocked, obviously knowing the importance of this custom. Finally, she smiled, fully and warmly. The sight was quite pleasing. “I would, sir. Very much.”

“Good. I’ll be there in about two hours. I have… a letter to write.” As he left, he considered the outcome of his decision; and, for the first time, was without any doubts. He not only felt young, he was. He had a son. He had his old ship and a new crew, and among them, new friends to help and be helped by. He walked briskly to his own quarters, feeling better than he’d felt in fifteen years.

 

Scotty sat opposite Uhura at a rec room table, both of them watching intently while absently sipping at their respective drinks. This game was a first in a long time and, as such, a major event. Kirk wasn’t having an easy time of it, either. He chewed on the end of his glasses as he studied the board. Spock had probably taught Saavik everything he knew.

He was glad to see Uhura so enthusiastic; she needed to lighten up a little. So did Jim, but it looked like both of them were coming along quite well. Even Saavik showed an all-too-human interest in the challenge of the game. For the first time in too long, Scotty decided, both his engines and his crew were running perfectly.

McCoy came up with Christine Chapel; he looked disgruntled. He drew Kirk’s attention from the game with a report sheet. The captain looked up expectantly. “The results of your psycho-exams. You both check out.” McCoy watched expectantly, and when Kirk started to turn back to the game, he said, “Well, go ahead, say it.”

Kirk looked back up innocently. “Say what, Bones?”

“‘I told you so.'”

He drew back. “Why, Doctor, I would never dream of being so petty.”

“Oh,” McCoy exclaimed, feigning shock. Scotty laughed softly to himself. Even Bones’s persecution complex was back in full working order. “I forgot, the great Admiral Kirk would never stoop to–”

“Len, please,” Uhura interrupted, cheerfully taking McCoy’s arm and guiding him to a chair between herself and Christine. “Let’s just watch the game.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Uhura,” Kirk announced, “but I’m afraid the game is over. Checkmate, Lieutenant.”

Saavik raised an eyebrow and examined the board, finally tipping over her king. “Indeed. You play a most illogical game, sir.”

Chris and Uhura exchanged glances of controlled hysteria; even Bones managed a smile. “The word,” Kirk said, “is ‘irritating. ‘”

Scotty was looking forward to her reply, but the intercom cut it off. It was Chekov. “We are preparing to rendez-vous vith the Lexington, sair,” he announced.

“Good,” Kirk replied, “I’ll be there soon.”

As Chekov started to sign off, he developed a sudden grin and asked, “Who won?”

“He played most illogically,” Saavik muttered.

“I see,” Chekov said, smiling. “Congratulations, Admiral.”

As the screen went dark, Saavik shook her head at the stifled laughter around her. “I’m afraid, sir, that understanding human behavior will take me quite some time.”

The laughter burst out immediately, and Kirk clasped Saavik’s shoulder. “Quite all right, Saavik. We will wait, I promise you.” His statement seemed to have some shared meaning between them. Scotty wondered what it was.

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