Randall Landers, with Nomad
These were not happy times for the Empire, or rather, for the Klingons who were not of the Kh'myr sub-race.
It had all begun long ago when the Emperor Kjimeg commissioned a group of genetic scientists to breed the perfect Klingon warrior, the perfect Klingon killer, thus signing a death warrant for millions of Klingons. Not that he had meant to, of course, but the scientific research program had produced exactly what he had wanted: the super-Klingon, the Kh'myr.
The Kh'myr were an incredible feat of gene engineering. They had been bred to be loyal to the Empire, sadistic, brutal, cunning and highly intelligent. Unfortunately, they had accidentally been inbred with a monumental superiority complex and ambition. And the Kh'myr decided amongst themselves that they were destined to rule the stars.
This was much to the dismay of the Kh'teb, the Kh'fjin and
the Kh'yrlov Klingons. The Kh'yrlov's were the first on the Kh'myr list of targets. The
once common blond-haired Klingons no longer existed after a race war with the knob-headed
Kh'myr. And now the Kh'fjin were being discriminated against.
Admiral Koloth waved a greeting to his friends coming toward him in J'ytkim's Tavern, which was next to the Admiralty building. Kang, Kor, Korax, Krell and Kumara joined him at the large angled table.
"Well, Admiral Kang, how are things in Priority Tactical Development?" asked Koloth with a facade of joviality.
Kang sneered/snarled at him. "Oh, just wonderful," he said sarcastically. "And how are you doing in Weapons Research, Admiral Koloth?"
"Just as well," Koloth mumbled, looking into his mug of jurkim (the Klingon equivalent of buttered rum). "Have a drink on me. All of you."
A dark-skinned Kh'teb waiter approached the table. "What do you want?" he growled.
Kang spoke up. "Give me a dreton, and the rest will have jurkim." His eyes saw that everyone nodded with approval. Kang only liked fermented fruit drinks.
Kumara was still chuckling over an unspoken pun on Koloth's invitation. "Drink on you, indeed." He looked up to see Krell glaring at him. "Is it my fault I developed a liking for Human puns?"
"Yes," said Krell. "As Admiral in charge of Flight Operations, you set a bad example for your subordinates."
"You should know about setting examples," Kumara chortled, referring to Krell's position as Director of Interference on Alien Cultures. "Especially on primitive planets such as Neural."
"Quit provoking each other, or I shall put a stop to it," threatened Kang dangerously. "We're here to discuss our current problem."
"I see only one solution at this time," said Kor. "I intend to go see the Emperor Kudan Kuras about regaining my ship in order to prove myself just as capable as the Kh'myr captains."
"What about Admiral Khalian?" asked Krell. "As the Chief of Admirals, he has more pull than you do as Chief of the Imperial Fleet."
"If we all go in this together, back each other up, we've got a chance," said Kor.
"United we stand, divided we fall, eh, Kor?" asked Kumara, using yet another Human expression. As a young lieutenant, he had spent several years in an exchange program, and had even met and liked James T. Kirk.
"Liar!!" spat Korax.
"Silence, Lieutenant. You're just an assistant, and you should remember your place," said Koloth. "However," he directed his comments to the rest of the group. "Korax does speak with some truth. Only you, Kor, and Kang and, of course, Kumara, have a chance to regain command of your ships. Krell and I are in no position to get back our ships."
"We don't know that for sure, Koloth," Krell said heatedly. "We just don't know what the Invincible One will do."
"And we do know what the Kh'myr will do, Koloth. Just like what they did with the Kh'yrlov. They've already started to discriminate against your sub-race. Next will be the legal sanctions and then extermination." He paused for effect. "And after there are no more Kh'fjin, they'll start on the Kh'teb."
The waiter returned with their drinks. He set the tray down on the table. "Serve yourself," he mumbled as he returned to the kitchen-bar area.
Kor pulled out a minicomputer/analyzer and ran it over the drinks. "Safe to drink," he pronounced after a few seconds.
Korax downed his mug of the tart, spicy ale in a matter of seconds. And then he noticed he was being observed by two Kh'myr.
"What are you mumbling about now?" asked Kumara. He glanced toward the corner where Korax was still looking. "Yjuk!" he cursed. "Korax, stop staring or there'll be trouble for sure."
He saw the two Kh'myr rise and begin to approach them. "Lords of Krull help you; they're coming."
No one said anything until the first Kh'myr spoke. "Korax, you whore-spawn of an Earther, I want your job."
Korax stood suddenly. "Well, you cannot have it. I was appointed by Admiral Koloth to be his aide for life." Koloth nodded in agreement. "You see? So just go back to your table and have a drink on me."
The first Kh'myr, a giant compared to Korax, grabbed the hapless aide by the throat and lifted him a foot and a half off the floor. "Little idiot. Your life has now ended." He closed his hand completely, and Korax's eyes widened in terror. "And to think I was going to spare you." A neck was crushed.
None of the others at the table looked up. All eyes were on Koloth who simply looked at the floor.
The Kh'myr dropped Korax on the floor where the Admiral was averting his eyes. "Lieutenant Kag reporting for duty, sir."
"I'm afraid I've appointed someone else to replace Korax," Koloth looked up, a deadly grin on his face.
"Why should I inform you of my selection, Lieutenant?" The smile was still in place. "You are not even qualified for the position."
"Not qualified? In what way? You dare to discriminate against the Kh'myr?" Kag's hand began to move toward his disruptor.
Kor and Kumara snapped theirs out. "I doubt that an Admiral under command of the Invincible One would dare to discriminate against his favorites," said Kor with an air of pleasantry. "My former aide, Kilon, was selected to replace Korax."
Koloth did not react. "The decision was made long ago, Lieutenant. Now you may leave us alone."
The Kh'myr swayed back to their private table without speaking a word.
"Are you with us, Koloth?" asked Krell.
"I am." He turned to Kor. "Thank you, my friend."
"Kilon will remain on Kazh with you. He is as big and as strong as they are, and he will protect you from difficulties while I go see Kudan Kuras. The Invincible One will listen to me, though his father's pet project is his as well. We must prove ourselves as good as, or better than the Kh'myr. Or the Empire will crumble."
Koloth looked at the remains of his former adjutant and shook his head sadly. "I miss the days when it was us against the Federation. Now it is us against ourselves."
Krell put a hand on Koloth's shoulder. "Those days of glory will return again."
Kumara took another draw from his drink. "I look forward to being in space again, myself. I miss the thrill of fighting the Humans. I miss..."
"...the fight with James Kirk," finished Kor.
All of them laughed and together they returned to their homes in the area of the admiralty building set aside for them. They knew they had a chance, a slim one at best, but a chance nevertheless.
Now if only they didn't run into one James T. Kirk...
Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy sat at his desk in the office in Sickbay, hands interlocked with his chin resting upon them. He was staring into space, his eyes not concentrating on any item in the room. He couldn't clear his mind of the haunting memory which had been preventing him from sleeping for the past two days.
Spock. The rescue attempt which had ended in a flash of light where Spock had been. The look on his face as the Vulcan dematerialized into nothingness. The look on Kirk's face as he witnessed the event. It was all terrifying and real.
"Lord," said McCoy. "It was my fault. All my fault." His eyes glazed as he began to relive the events of the past three days.
It was a normal, standard, boring survey mission to Epsilon Orionis VII. And Kirk noticed that the crew didn't mind, especially since he would often grant shore leave on harmless class M planets between missions. "Captain, approaching standard orbit insertion point," said Lieutenant Commander Sulu, interrupting his thinking. "Standard orbit, Commander," Kirk said. The planet was one near several major traffic lanes in space, but had never been examined at great length. It had been decided by Fleet Command that a world so close to shipping and transport lanes should have some sort of rescue facility as well as a major Federation hospital. It was Kirk's mission to do a bio-geo survey on the planet's only continent, small though it may be. "Captain, I have selected the landing party per your instructions," announced Spock. "Beaming down with me shall be Doctor McCoy, Chief Biologist Maise, Chief Geologist Carstairs, Security Officer Anzur." "You're taking Bones?" asked Kirk. "The doctor insisted. He informed me that he wanted to 'stretch his legs after being cooped up for two months.'" "And you agreed?" "The doctor can be most persuasive at times when he takes an adamant view." "So he pinned your ears back, eh?" asked Kirk, smiling. "Well, hurry back. If we finish in a couple of hours, we can return to Starbase Eleven two days ahead of schedule and relax during the hiatus between missions." "I concur, Captain. If the rest of the crew is half as restless as the good doctor, we are in dire need of shore leave." "Chief Kyle, have you chosen a landing site?" asked Spock. "Yes, sir. Chief Rand pointed it out before going off duty. It's a clearing in the middle of a heavy forest. No life forms of significant size detected. In fact, we don't detect any life forms in the clearing, plant or animal." "Most unusual, but considering it is ideally located, Chief Rand chose an excellent site." "Come on, Spock! Let's go!" prompted McCoy from the transporter alcove. "Very well, Doctor," said Spock as he took his place on the pad nearest the transporter panel, "Energize." All five disappeared in a pattern of swirling silver. And materialized in the midst of a Klingon encampment. "Enterprise!" shouted Spock into his communicator. "Beam us aboard! Red Alert, Priority One!" His voice was raised to alert Kyle of the situation's danger. The nearest Klingons were surprised by the sudden presence of a Federation landing party. But not for long. They quickly began to charge the team with their weapons drawn. Anzur whipped out her phaser pistol and then stunned two of them. But two others decked McCoy and removed his wrist communicator. The communicator and the other four members of the landing party were beamed back aboard the Enterprise. And McCoy was beaten senseless with the butts of the Klingons' hand disruptors. The landing party returned to the Enterprise with one less than had beamed down. As soon as the stasis field from the transporter process released him, Spock keyed his wrist communicator. "Spock to bridge." "Kirk here, Spock. What's happened?" "We beamed down into a Klingon encampment, and they have captured Doctor McCoy. I suggest that Uhura block all subspace radio frequencies should the Klingons try to call for help." The Red Alert signal blared. "Done. And the ship's now on Red Alert. Get up here as soon as possible," ordered Kirk. "I want some answers." ***** "How did the sensors miss the Klingons?" asked Kirk. His frustration at having one of his officers captured was compounded by his friendship for the chief medical officer. Spock stood before the captain. His voice gave no indication of the concern he had for McCoy's safety. "I cannot be certain, Captain, but I surmise that they are using a Klingon version of the Romulan cloaking device." "But why?" "I conjecture that they are a 'listening post' monitoring the Federation." "Of course. This planet isn't too far from the major shipping lanes of the Federation rear echelon. Starbase Eleven is only a few days away at maximum warp." "Precisely, Captain." Kirk turned to Uhura. "Any sign that the Klingons are trying to hail us or any other starship?" Uhura removed the blue personal receiver from her ear and shook her head. "No, sir. They're not sending at all." "Captain, permit me to beam down to secure the good doctor's release," said Spock. Kirk turned with a start. "You? Alone? What kind of logic is there in that?" Was the Vulcan experiencing guilt? The question weighed heavily in Kirk's mind. "Captain," Spock paused, unsure of himself. He was being illogical, and he knew it. "I request to be allowed to beam down with a security team. I would have the team create a diversion, and then free McCoy while the Klingons are occupied." "Fine," said Kirk. "But I'm beaming down with you." "Captain, there is a strong possibility that..." "You're asking to beam down by your..." "No, but I should lead the team since you are less expendable than..." "I am beaming down, Spock." His tone made it clear to the Vulcan. "Yes, sir." Spock knew it was usually useless to argue with Kirk. The captain of the Enterprise was one of the most stubborn Humans he had ever met. Kirk turned to Chekov. "Get a full security squad ready. Combat gear." "Yes, Kyptin." The Russian and other bridge officers acted as though Kirk and Spock had had no conversation. "Uhura," said Kirk, turning to face the Bantu woman. "Maintain jamming all transmissions. We shall notify you via laser beacon when we're ready to beam up. Also, notify the transporter room. Eight to beam down." Uhura looked up from her station. "Yes, sir," she said as Kirk, Spock and Chekov moved to the turbolift. "Uhura, you have the conn." The lift's doors closed. She moved to the center seat and contemplated the situation. She noted that Kirk and Spock had not even considered the possibility that McCoy had been killed. Aid she prayed to God that the crusty doctor was alive. And unharmed. Sulu turned to her. He was about to ask her whether or not she thought Kirk and Spock would succeed, but when he saw the look of overwhelming concern on her face, he smiled. "They'll be all right, Penda." "I hope so, Hikaru. I hope so." ***** The landing task force had beamed down into the forest near the Klingon camp from whence the original landing party had been beamed up. The six security men, dressed in full combat gear, quickly scouted their immediate area with tricorders in hand, and phaser drawn. Kirk looked at Spock. "Mister Chekov," the captain called. "Stand by to commence the attack. Spock, you've got five minutes before we'll begin." "That should be quite enough," said the Vulcan as he moved off. "I rather thought you'd say that," Kirk muttered. "Good luck, Spock." ***** Leonard McCoy found himself before a Klingon officer. "You are alive," said the pale, yellow-skinned Kh'fjin. "Good, but you may not be for long if K'hlal is successful," he said cryptically. "What are you going to do with me?" "I intend to do nothing. Your fate depends on your friends. You see, we have been using this planet as a monitoring post, and we knew a starship had assumed orbit over this planet. But we did not expect you to beam down into our camp. Usage of our new cloaking device apparently has its drawbacks." "What do you mean my fate lies with my friends?" "I am not the commander of this post. I am Lieutenant Kreeg. Commander K'hlal is in charge, and he is a member of the Kh'myr sub-race." "Oh, Lord," mumbled McCoy. He knew that the genetically-engineered Klingons had been instilled with cruelty as it was one of the traits all Klingons found admirable. And loyalty, as well. Whereas a normal, non-Kh'myr Klingon would surrender when confronted by overwhelming odds, the Kh'myr would fight to the death; Commander K'hlal was very unlikely to surrender. "He is preparing to ambush the rescue party we are certain will follow you. He is using you as bait to capture the rescue forces, hoping that all of you will be of some value in trade for a spacecraft--should he be successful." "Should? You don't seem too optimistic," remarked McCoy drily. "K'hlal and all the others will quite probably die, since, like him, they are Kh'myr. I, on the other hand, was brought here in preparations to infiltrate the nearby starbase. I also want to make a deal with you." "Well, right now, I'm in no condition or position to make any deals." At that precise minute, a phaser blast shrieked loudly. Kirk and his team had begun their attack as a diversion to allow Spock to enter the camp unnoticed from another direction and rescue McCoy. "You will be soon," said Kreeg. ***** The sound of phaser and disruptor fire filled the air. Spock, unnoticed as planned, entered the tent and dropped Kreeg with a Vulcan nerve pinch. He looked to McCoy who was smiling. "Are you all right, Doctor?" "I'm fine. Untie me, and let's get the hell out of here." The Vulcan moved quickly, and soon McCoy was freed. The two officers crept out the entrance to the tent, and were noticed by K'hlal. The Klingon commander pointed his disruptor at Spock. McCoy shouted, "No!" as Kirk rounded a corner. Spock vanished in a flash of light, eyebrow raised in surprise. Kirk aimed his phaser and fired at K'hlal. It was set to disrupt. The Klingon, like Spock, vanished in a flash of light, smiling defiantly as he died. McCoy looked at Kirk, the captain's face betraying his sorrow and grief . McCoy looked toward heaven and again shouted.
McCoy bolted upright in an instant. The nightmare had been just as real as when McCoy first witnessed the tragedy three days ago.
Three days ago.
McCoy felt a hand on his shoulder. "Len?" asked Doctor Christine Chapel. "Are you all right?"
"No," said McCoy, his voice barely a whisper. "Chris, it was my fault. How can you face me?"
Chapel sat down beside him. "Len, I don't blame you for what happened. I can't blame you. It wasn't your fault the Klingons had a base there. And I don't see why I couldn't face you."
"Because it was him."
"Len, I haven't told you what happened with Spock and myself when we returned to Earth three years ago."
"I kinda figured you didn't want to talk about it."
"I didn't, but I do now. After you said your goodbyes to all the staff, and to me, and had beamed down with the medical records, I went to my quarters. He was there. He told me that he was going to Vulcan to purge himself since Kirk would likely take a desk job. He said he had to purge the trauma and feelings of the mind-meld he had with the captain after Talya's death. And he suggested that I purge whatever thoughts of love I had for him since he had none, nor ever would have such love for me.
"I went home to Canada in tears and devoted myself to my work. I found comfort with a colleague and, finally, got over Spock. Now, I'm just happy to do as I will, and I'm just waiting for the right man to come along."
"You probably hoped it would be him. I saw the look on your face when he returned. And especially after that scene in Sickbay when he was recovering from His mind meld with the V'ger thing. And now I've taken him from you." He looked it her. "It's my fault that he's dead."
"Your fault? Len, when are you going to stop being such a stubborn jackass, and realize it was no one's fault?!" She walked out the door into the corridor.
He considered her words and decided to think about it over breakfast.
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the starship's stalwart leader, was lying in bed with Lieutenant Commander Jennifer Michaels, a physicist being ferried to her new posting on Starbase Eleven. She had known Kirk since their service together on the U.S.S. Farragut where they had been intimate friends as they were now. But neither was in love with the other. Both were totally dedicated to their careers, and both enjoyed each other's company. Not to mention their love-making.
Kirk was dreaming of Spock. He saw the flash of light, but instead of the science officer disappearing, the setting around the Vulcan disappeared and was replaced by a totally different one.
"Spock!" he called, sitting up abruptly.
"Hmm...Jim, you...are you okay?" asked Michaels.
"What...oh... Sorry to wake you, Jen. Go back to sleep. I'm going to get some breakfast."
"Sure, Jim." She watched him climb out of bed and dress. He seemed distracted or lost, and she was concerned for her friend. She knew he had lost Spock and often suspected over the past three days that he was feeling guilty over the loss of the first officer, but she tried to help ease the pain as much as possible. She only hoped that it would be effective. She went back to sleep as he left.
McCoy was seated in the officer's lounge, eating a breakfast of grits and bacon. As he took a sip of coffee, Kirk entered. "Morning, Jim," he mumbled.
"Morning, Bones. I see you couldn't sleep either."
"The circles under my eyes showin'?" asked McCoy, a sheepish grin on his visage.
"Yep," the captain said as he sat down beside his chief medical officer. "It's been three days, now, Bones. Three days."
"You don't have to remind me, Jim. I know! How could I forget?"
"You're still blaming yourself." It was not a question.
"Well, it was my fault, wasn't it? Letting myself get captured so Spock could get himself killed while trying to rescue me..." His voice trailed off.
"Bones, if it was anyone's fault, it was mine. I let him sneak in the camp from the rear. But it was a command decision, and one he had suggested himself." He saw that McCoy was hardly hearing him. Kirk studied the doctor's features. They were guilt-ridden. And I thought I was going through Hell, he thought to himself. "Bones," he said softly.
"Jim...I'm...I'm thinking of resigning my commission." McCoy could not bring his eyes up to meet Kirk's.
"Bones, I needed you when I first took command... Damn it, Bones, I need you now more than ever. For God's sake, don't leave me now."
McCoy looked up to face his friend, his eyes glistening. "Jim, if you really want me to stay, I will."
"Thanks, Bones," said Kirk. "We can handle this. We have to." He placed a hand on McCoy's shoulder. "We will." He removed his hand and began to eat.
After several minutes of silence, McCoy spoke up. "I guess the dreams are what's bothering me the most." He took a bite of his eggs with toast.
"Dreams? You, too?" asked Kirk, putting his coffee down.
"Yep. Me, too. It's our feelings of guilt which are causin' these dreams, Jim." McCoy took a sip of his coffee. "What we need is work for therapy."
"Unfortunately, we're just en route to Starbase Eleven," said Kirk.
"What about the Klingon, Kreeg?" asked McCoy.
"We're to take him there, and then maybe even to Babel. He's agreed to testify about illegal Klingon activities."
"Why?" asked McCoy. "Doesn't sound like a Klingon to me."
"This is one of the yellow-skinned Kh'fjin Klingons like Koloth and his crew were. Since they're now being discriminated against by the Kh'myr, he's willing to betray them to the Federation."
"Not too surprising, Jim. Monsters often turn on the creators, and the Kh'myr are certainly monsters. And don't be surprised when those knot-headed bastards start on the dark-skinned Kh'teb."
"That's what Starfleet is afraid of," said Kirk. "These Kh'myr are so amoral. They have no regard for their fellow Klingons, so they're bound not to have any respect for peace treaties."
McCoy considered that. There had been many reports of raids in recent times. And there was no doubt in Starfleet's opinion that the Kh'myr were the faction of the Klingon Empire responsible. "What about Organian intervention?"
"Our analysts feel that the only reason they stopped the war was because it was so near their space that it disturbed their mental processes, or rather the emotions of the crews involved did. I tend to agree. The Organians don't really care what happens between the Empire and the Federation as long as they are isolated from the conflicts. Otherwise, they'd have interfered with other skirmishes with the Klingons and with our skirmishes with the Romulans as well."
Jim Kirk looked his chief medical officer in the eye. "Bones, in five years, maybe ten, the war will begin. And heaven help us."
"I wouldn't be surprised, Jim, if heaven does," McCoy said mystically.
Kirk looked at his friend, puzzled. "What's that, Bones?" he asked, taking a sip of his coffee. "You gettin' religious?"
"Hmm. I'm just thinking," said McCoy. "Did it ever occur to you that there've been a number of instances where we've had help?"
"Help? Oh, help. As from God."
"Remember when we encountered that space amoeba?"
"How could I forget that?" Kirk considered the incident. "I remember. You wondered if destroying that creature was our destiny."
"That's right. I've given it a lot of thought since then. Especially after that V'ger thing. Jim, there must be some force guiding us, or, at least, looking out for us."
"I'd like to think so."
"Why not guardian angels, or just some superior alien intelligence like on Delta Theta Three?" suggested Kirk.
"That was the planet where we encountered an energy being that treated the locals as her 'children,'" explained the captain.
"Oh, yes. Now I remember...that Pandronian, Commander Ari bn Bem, who interfered with the culture there."
"Well, I'd prefer a Supreme Being, instead of a 'superior' one. But I guess it's up to an individual's preferences."
"It is indeed, Bones, and if there is a God, let's thank him that our religious convictions are dictated by our own selves, not by some quasi-fanatic political leader."
"Amen," said McCoy, chuckling.
Kirk looked at his wrist-com and keyed its chronometer. "Well, I'm on duty in a few minutes. See you at dinner, Bones?"
McCoy nodded. "Let's have it in Scotty's quarters where we can indulge ourselves in some of his finer stock afterward."
Kirk smiled. "Instead of a star cruiser, maybe they should reclassify this ship as a star boozer."
"Well, considering that half of the 'liquor' on board doesn't even have alcohol in it, I really can't see why," mumbled McCoy, referring to the standard Starfleet policy on limiting alcohol consumption on all starships. Many of the beverages aboard, such as Denebian beer, were actually no more potent than apple cider.
He smiled and walked out the door, placing his tray in the disposal chute as he exited. Maybe there would he something on the bridge to keep his mind off Spock.
He considered his conversation with McCoy and smiled; the chief medical officer was very proficient at taking one's mind off on a tangent. He smiled at the religious nature of their conversation; not the usual sort of banter from a pragmatist like McCoy. A damn good officer, he decided, and friend. And one who could take anyone's mind off any kind of pain, like the loss of a friend could cause. The loss of Spock.
Spock. The Vulcan awoke from his trance. He had tried again and failed...again. And failure was not the sort of thing he was used to. But considering the probable distance involved, he knew that he could not expect success. He considered the events which had led to his present predicament.
He had successfully freed McCoy when the transferral beam had
grabbed him. He remembered his surprise as he reappeared before his monotreme-like captor.
And he remembered the crushing blow brought on by someone from behind his back.
Spock regained consciousness before a bipedal platypus-like creature. He determined that it was intelligent since he had been relieved of all his equipment save for his communicator, and the equipment was neatly arranged on a table beside the creature.
"May I ask why am I here?" he asked after keying the translator switch on his communicator. The wrist-com was capable of tying into the tricorder's language bank to serve as a universal translator.
"Yes, Stargod, I brought you here so I could unite my people," the entity said. "For years I have been trying to activate the old machines, but failed. Now I have brought someone to our world--you."
"I am not a 'Stargod.' I am Spock." He chose his words carefully, not knowing where he had materialized.
"Well, no matter. I shall say you are a Stargod, nevertheless."
"If you insist on using an inaccurate description, you may do so. May I inquire as to my present whereabouts?"
"You are on the planet Evern, Stargod Spock."
"Evern." His mind raced through the vast list of planets he had committed to memory. A class M planet protected by the Prime Directive, located near Starbase Eleven and the Klingon Empire's borders, he recalled. The planet possesses a natural radiation shield, such as those of Alpha Carinae XIII and Deneb II, which prevented accurate operations of sensors. "I have heard of it. You said I was brought here to unite your people. Explain."
"Certainly. I am Erid, a scientist and leader of this region. You see, once we were an extremely advanced civilization, but I'm afraid it crumbled when we let our social decadence overcome us. For eons, we have lived in our present state of feudalism. Now is the time to unite the people so I can be king. To do this, I must overcome the church, and that's where you come in, Spock. You are obviously from another planet, but that knowledge is heretical to the church.
"As an alien, you can pass as one of the lesser Stargods, and when I demonstrate your weapon, the people will believe that I have captured one of the Stargods, and follow me in battle to conquer the world."
"Conquest for glory?" Spock asked incredulously. "You are mad."
"Nonsense, Stargod Spock," Erid said, laughing. "My plan will work. The people will be united, and science and technology will return to the level it was before the Great Decay."
But that had been three days ago. All that time Erid had kept him hidden from the public. Spock was allowed the complete freedom of Erid's house, but every exit was wired with electric nets. And as he had discovered, to try and escape would result in a severely shocking experience.
Erid walked in. "Good morning, Stargod."
"That is as inaccurate now as it was three days ago, Erid," said Spock, annoyed.
"Perhaps, but today is the worship day. Today is the day when all the people go to pray to the Divine God and his lesser Stargods. Today you will be shown to the world. Today, my plan of conquest begins!" Erid shouted. "Come, it is time. No time for food now."
Spock shrugged. It had been quite fortunate that the food was not poisonous, but Spock preferred death rather than be a puppet for a madman. Not to mention indirectly being forced to break the Prime Directive.
Erid called for his two henchmen. They quickly bound Spock and put a hood over his head and torso. "It is a long journey, but considering you will be the guest of honor, it will be worth the wait," explained the Evernian scientist. "Remove him to the wagon."
It was a long journey, indeed, Spock noted. He found it rather uncomfortable to be tied up and laid on his side. He felt every bump and hole on the road, which was gravel-covered in nature, he had deduced.
After several hours, the wagon pulled to a stop.
"We are here at the Holy Temple, Spock," Erid announced. "Bring him."
Spock was led up stone steps and across a short distance. He heard a faint echo as Erid spoke, and he quickly determined he was in an auditorium of some sort.
"Listen to me, oh fellow Evernians. See what I, Erid of Gospothar, have captured." The hood was snatched from his head, and Spock saw the multitude of people before him. "I have captured a Stargod!!!"
There were several shouts of disbelief, of exclamation. A fair portion of the crowd ranted. But over all of the commotion, one angry voice was heard. "Erid, you fool!!!" shouted one of the duck-billed Evernians clad in orange, long, flowing robes. "You have committed sacrilege!!! You will bring doom to the people of Evern when the Divine One sees you have captured one of His children!"
The shouts of exclamation turned to anger. The mob grabbed Erid and began to beat the scientist without mercy.
"Release the Stargod!" ordered the orange-clothed speaker.
Spock's hands were untied, and he saw the speaker approach him.
"I am Priest Ragor. What are your commands, oh great son of the Divine One?"
Spock was troubled. Anything he said would be in direct violation of the Prime Directive. Logically, there was no logical resolution to the situation. "Stop beating Erid. He has several devices of mine. Bring them to me."
One of the Evernians brought him the phaser and tricorder, but Erid shouted, "He really isn't a Stargod! He's an alien from another world!"
"Heretic!!!" shouted several in the crowd.
"You should be burned at the stake, for there are no other worlds!" shouted the priest. "Evern is the center of the universe, and we have been given dominion over all of creation!"
Spock was torn between his respect for all life-forms and the Prime Directive. In an attempt to save Erid, he spoke up, "Is there no other decision, worshippers of the Divine One?" asked Spock.
"It is ordained in the Holy Book of the Divine One that heretics shall be burned alive," the Evernian cleric pronounced.
"Burn him, burn him!" the crowd chanted.
Spock closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Free him," he said, breaking the Prime Directive.
"What?" shouted the very influential priest. "Stargod, if you command that we free him, we will, but do you not think that the Divine One will object?"
"I trust that he will not," said Spock dryly.
"Very well. Obey the Stargod!!" Ragor ordered.
Freed, Erid ran out the large double doors from the Temple, and disappeared into the crowd which had gathered outside. Priest Ragor approached the Enterprise officer. "May I offer you the dwelling in which I reside? I would be honored if you stayed with us during your visit here."
"If I may stay the night, I would appreciate it. In the morning, I shall depart."
Spock decided he would find a guide and return to Erid's laboratory in the morning to try to find a way to return to his companions, his friends, his life.
James Kirk sat in the center seat of the bridge. It had been a boring watch, one that he was glad to see coming to a close. Every few minutes, he would either rotate the chair to watch someone at a station or take a stroll around the bridge, but he avoided the science station. Lieutenant Xon had replaced Spock at the library-computer. Kirk knew that the young Vulcan had come aboard to serve under the legendary Commander Spock's guidance, but no one suspected he would replace the son of Sarek in the midst of their current five year mission. Now he had to replace the irreplaceable.
The turbolift doors slid apart, and Leonard McCoy stepped out. "Afternoon, Captain," he said casually.
"Afternoon, Doctor. What are you doing up here? I thought you said this place looked like the inside of a computer."
"It does, but I thought I'd come up for a spell anyway. One of the best views in the house," he said, gesturing at the mainviewer. McCoy knew his excuse was very lame since he could reproduce the view in his quarters if he wanted to see the starfield. But he was here to observe Kirk, not the collections of hydrogen and helium which lit the heavens.
"If you insist, Doctor."
A yeoman stepped from the left turbolift and gave a report to Kirk. "Captain, antimatter consumption sheet," she said, admiration filling her voice.
Kirk very nearly blushed. "Thank you, Yeoman." He read it quickly, signed it and gave the computer clipboard back to her.
"Thank you, sir," she said as she departed.
McCoy smiled. He had arranged the young admirer's visit to the bridge with Chief Engineer Scott. Kirk was taking the Vulcan's death rather well. Almost as well as Spock had taken the apparent death of the captain during the spatial sink near the Tholian Assembly's territory. Did Kirk think the Vulcan was somehow still alive? Unlikely, he thought, but still...
"Red Alert! Red Alert!" shouted the metallic voice of the main computer. "The ship is on Red Alert!"
Kirk pressed the button on his command chair which activated the pressor fields on all chairs on the bridge. "Ship's status?" he asked as McCoy stepped into the turbolift.
"Sensors detect a Klingon K't'inga battlecruiser closing in on us at Warp Factor Nine," reported Xon.
"Deflectors on full, screens on maximum. Battlestations, Mister Chekov," ordered Kirk.
The ship shuddered.
"Evasive maneuvers, helmsman," ordered Kirk.
There was another shudder.
"Mister Chekov, lock phasers onto target and return fire at will."
"Phasers locked on. Returning fire, sir."
Several beams of incredibly pure blue knifed through the near vacuum of subspace and struck the Klingon K't'inga's forward screens.
"Direct hit on their screens, Captain," reported Xon. "No discernable damage to their vessel."
"Maintain firing, Mister Chekov," ordered Kirk. "Sulu, slow to Warp Factor Two. Maintain evasive maneuvers, but keep them in range." The captain hit the intercom button. "Kirk to Engineering."
"Scott here, Captain."
"Increase power to phasers. Divert all secondary systems into weaponry. We need to knock that cruiser out."
The ship trembled.
"Hit to number four screen," announced Xon with an air of calmness.
"Captain!" shouted the chief engineer. "Power's been relayed, but we canna hold it for long, or we'll lose the shields!"
"Understood. Kirk out." He turned to Uhura. "Try to raise them, Commander."
"I've been trying, sir; they're refusing to..."
"All hands, maintain orders."
Commander Kteef sat in his chair, observing the Federation ship avoid most of the torpedoes and disruptor bolts he was ordering launched. "Insolent insects!" he snarled. "And to think they have the traitor aboard." He smiled as he saw the Enterprise's phasers being deflected by his own ship's screens.
He had learned the information from the Federation spy that the Empire had planted in the crew of the Enterprise. Fools. Surely they must have realized that one starship was no match for the Empire's K't'inga's! But something was wrong. The last salvo should have destroyed the cruiser along with its crew, the spy (an unfortunate, but necessary loss) and the traitorous passenger. But the Enterprise had even increased its phaser fire.
He saw a readout indicating that his own ship's screens were failing. "Impossible!" he roared angrily. There was no conceivable way the Federation starship could survive any Klingon starship. He refused to accept the readout as accurate.
He should have.
"Captain, their screens have collapsed," reported Xon.
The phaser beams struck the vessel on the access boom and severed it.
"Cease fire!" commanded Kirk. He hadn't intended to destroy the vessel, nor its crew, but only to give them 'a bloody nose.' "How bad off are they?" he turned and asked Xon.
"The damage is extensive, but they should be able to repair it themselves in four point six standard weeks, Captain," said Xon.
Kirk nodded and turned back to the mainscreen. "Secure from Battlestations, Red Alert. Sound Yellow Alert, defensive posture, Mister Chekov," said Kirk.
"Yes, Kyptin." The young Russian lieutenant pressed a button on his console.
"Yellow Alert, Yellow Alert. The ship is on Yellow Alert," droned a soft, feminine voice, one of many which belonged to the main computer.
"Mister Sulu, resume original course. Take us to the starbase. Warp Factor Six," Kirk directed.
Kirk heard the 'aye, sir' as he settle back in the center seat. The Klingons had been berserker-like in their attack. How could they have known? he wondered. No Klingon would've attacked a Federation ship on this side of Federation space unless they wanted Kreeg badly. But Kirk wanted to know how they could even have known the Klingon was aboard. He dismissed the notion of a traitor aboard, and decided he would have a talk with the Starfleet Security senior officer at Starbase Eleven about a possible security leak.
How many other surprises does the Klingon Empire have planned for us? It was four more days to Starbase Eleven, and anything could happen in four days.
Commander Kteef turned to his executive officer who snarled at him. "You have failed, my lord commander."
Kteef looked at Ti'lor. "I will do my duty, impudent one. You must notify the Empire of my failure. And my death."
Ti'lor grinned wolfishly. "Yes, my commander. Here is your ceremonial dagger," said the executive as he gave his superior the long, double-bladed knife.
Kteef looked at his subordinate. "So you had no faith in me, eh, Ti'lor?" He took the dagger and made a quick slash.
Blood spurted from Ti'lor's throat, and a look of astonishment filled his face. He abruptly fell to the deck.
"Die, insolent one," said Kteef, spitting on Ti'lor's crumpled body on the deck. The commander turned to the two navigators behind him. "Tu'gak, you have command. Itre'leb, you are his executive. Notify the Empire of the current events."
"Yes, my lord commander."
With another quick slash, Kteef gutted himself. And died. The Empire would send another ship, or perhaps a squadron to deal with the Enterprise. He, however, would never see it.
McCoy poured himself another brandy. "Well, Jim, this is my fourth." It was actually his twelfth.
"It's me sixth," said Scotty, underestimating his own tally by ten. "I'm lettin' ye both get away wi' drinkin' me brandy, bu' stay 'way from me scotch."
"Aye, lad," said Kirk with his worst Scottish accent.
The captain and doctor were in the Scot's quarters after finishing their dinner. Commander Montgomery Scott had been promoted to executive officer status, but it wasn't a position to flatter him. He still spent most of his time in engineering, and McCoy was doing most of the administrative tasks.
But here they were now, the three senior officers aboard the Enterprise, getting drunk in the new executive officer's quarters. Scotty had deeply felt the loss of Spock since he had a genuine affection for the Vulcan. This affection probably stemmed from the fact that Spock had had a comparable knowledge of the ship's design and the engine.
The door chime sounded.
"Come in," all three officers said in unison.
The door slid aside, and Lieutenant Commander Penda Uhura entered. "Mind if I join you?"
"Nae't'all," slurred Scotty, gesturing to an empty chair.
"I figured this was what you three were up to, gentlemen." She looked at the empty bottle on the floor. "Don't you think you've had enough?"
"Well, hell, 'Hura. Ah prescribed this heah ther'py mahself," explained McCoy as his eyes closed.
She smiled. "Let me see you and the captain to your quarters."
"That's rather nice of you, Commander. After you," said Kirk, standing unsteadily.
McCoy was already asleep, as was Scotty, Uhura noted. "Sure, Captain." She offered him an arm and he took it. Fortunately his quarters are just across the hall, she thought to herself.
The two officers went out the door, crossed the hallway, and entered Kirk's cabin. He climbed into his bed fully-clothed, and began to cry.
Uhura looked on sadly. How could this have happened? she wondered. Kirk was soon asleep, but the question would not leave her mind. She sat down at his desk, thinking. It was not often that Kirk would actually get drunk. Not often at all. Now in the four days since Spock had died on the planet, Kirk had gotten himself drunk twice. That made her very, very concerned for him. She looked upward and then shut her eyes to push back her own tears.
Uhura considered her actions and motives. Others often misconstrued it as love, but this kind of love, they didn't understand. It was more or less maternal, and perhaps a little more. True, she had fantasized about him, but she understood that his devotion to the ship would never permit her dream to be realized. And she had accepted that fact long ago.
Silently, she rose quietly so as not to awaken him, and walked out the door.
Christine Chapel sat at her desk, monitoring the perscans of Kirk, McCoy and Scott. The assistant chief medical officer saw the readings and sadly shook her head. At least they were asleep now. But she found the alcohol level in their blood to be unsatisfactory. She'd have to confiscate the Scot's liquor if it happened again. But knowing the captain, it wouldn't.
But she'd keep an eye on them all just in case.
Uhura entered the main recreation room at the rear of the primary hull. She glanced around and saw Sulu, Arex, Chekov and M'ress sitting in one of the group pits, talking. She joined her friends.
"We've been wonderrring wherre you werrre, Uhurrra," said M'ress, her Caitian accent coming through strongly.
"Taking care of a few things," Uhura responded.
"I'll bet it's that new security officer from Tanzania that she's been taking care of," said Chekov, challenging her in a friendly manner.
"'Fraid not. I haven't seem him around. Is he cute?" she asked.
"I'm afraid I wouldn't know; I don't have an eye for men," said Chekov.
"You don't have an eye for women either," ribbed Sulu.
"You're just jealous, Hikaru," Chekov said as he took a sip of his drink. "You just don't have anyone under your department who you're interested in, so you're jealous."
"I wouldn't say that, Pavel," said Sulu defensively.
Uhura smiled at the two, and settled down with a cola from one of the beverage dispensers. She was still concerned for her superiors, but knew she had best not confide in her friends. Not even Sulu, third in the chain of command. It was not her duty. And she just knew her superiors would come out of their depression. She only hoped it would be soon.
Spock had dined with Priest Ragor. It had been a very simple meal of fresh fruits and nuts along with some fleshy leaves of a water plant. Spock scanned it for known toxins, and then joined Ragor and his family at the table.
"How long will you remain here on the world?" asked the priest's wife.
"Unknown," said Spock. "Perhaps for..." He almost said the rest of his life, but ended with: "...for quite some time." For all he knew, Stargods were immortal.
"When you return, I hope you will convey to your Divine Father news of my humble services down here."
"I am quite certain he already knows," said Spock sardonically.
"I am flattered, Stargod Spock."
Fortunately nothing he had said so far had severely broken the Prime Directive. He would leave for Erid's laboratory in the morning. He only hoped that the Evernian scientist would not destroy the equipment Spock would need to try to return to the Enterprise. Hope, he reflected, was a Human failing, but right now it was the only word that truly described his feelings about his chances.
As Spock ate, Erid reduced his chances to nil. Using a stone axe, the power-mad, and now humiliated, scientist leveled the ancient transferral device. It took several hours, and afterwards, Erid went to the generator. He grabbed a live wire and died. Let the imposter-Stargod-alien Spock get vengeance now, he thought as he touched the wire. He, Erid, would at least have his.
Spock had retired to the room Priest Ragor had provided. He was reclined on the bed, under its covers, thinking of Kirk. And projecting his thoughts. He was trying to contact James T. Kirk as he had been trying to do for the past three nights.
And, as designed by Spock, Jim Kirk dreamed of him again.
Kirk stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge. "Status?" he asked sharply. He had a headache.
Lieutenant Dawson Walking Bear turned the center seat around in surprise. It was 0458 hours, and the captain, though he usually arrived early, had never been this early. He was not scheduled to come on duty until 0800 ship's time. "On course and proceeding as ordered to Starbase Eleven, sir."
Walking Bear relieved his alternate at the helm as Kirk took the center seat. "Very well, Lieutenant. What is our present speed?"
"Warp Factor Six, Captain," replied the Comanche helmsman.
"Increase speed to Warp Eight," directed Kirk.
Lieutenant Commander Jana Haines turned from the sciences station to Kirk. "Captain, I'm...detecting something...about five parsecs from here, dead ahead."
"Thank you," said Kirk, turning his chair to the communications station. "Are you receiving anything over subspace radio, Lieutenant Dantzen?"
The brunette turned to face him, personal receiver in her ear. "No, Captain. Other than the usual background interference, nothing."
"Navigator, program a series of maneuvers just in case. I'm suspecting another Klingon trap."
"Yes, sir," said Lieutenant Hadley. "Estimating four hours before contact with the objects."
"Confirmed," stated Haines.
"Coffee, Captain?" asked Yeoman Carla Sommers.
"Hmm? Oh, thank you," said Kirk, taking a cup. "It looks like it's going to be a few hours before we can identify the objects," he said to himself, "I wonder what they're up to..."
Commander Kor grinned mirthlessly. AIl the mines had been laid as a trap for the approaching starship and its commander, the widely-acclaimed Captain James T. Kirk. Kor had first met the Human on the planet Organia. The Earther had impressed Kor by being such a skillful and brave commander, a worthy opponent for such a weak species as Homo sapiens sol. But despite his resourcefulness, the Human would soon fail.
Kor grinned at the thought. He would be well-rewarded and heralded upon his return to the Homeworld. He had seven K't'inga cruisers with his own, forming an octagon around the oncoming Enterprise. There was no way he could fail.
Kratl, his subordinate, looked at him from behind the navigation/helm console. Kratl, a Kh'myr Klingon, had hoped to command the cruiser they were on, but he had been denied it by Kor's being granted a command again by Kudan Kuras, the Invincible One, as a test for Kor's command ability. He would have his vengeance for his humiliation at being passed over in favor of a Kh'teb Klingon. He wanted the cruiser, the F'urgin, badly. Even if it meant sacrificing this important mission.
Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy groggily crawled to the sonic shower and activated the mechanism.
"Worst damn hangover I've had in years," he said to himself, rubbing his forehead and temples with his hands. It then dawned on him that he was in Scotty's room. "I've got to stop it. Leonard McCoy, you're just going to have to come to grips with yourself; Spock isn't coming back."
As his clothes began to dissolve, he closed his eyes. "Now let's just hope Jim's accepted that. Otherwise, we'll just have to do somethin' 'bout it."
Spock arose at what he calculated to be 0710 hours ship's time. The sun had yet to come up on Evern, but he dressed quickly and roused the Evernian guide who had agreed to lead him to Erid's laboratory and house. Spock activated the translator. "May I inquire as to what are your people's customs in expressing gratitude for a service rendered?"
The guide, an Evernian named Lonar, explained, "It is customary to say farewell before departure, but not necessary." Lonar went outside to draw up the animal work-team, a group of two-legged marsupials resembling bear-like kangaroos more than anything else.
Spock gathered his possessions, and followed him out the door.
Commander Montgomery Scott walked onto the bridge ten minutes late. "Sorry, Cap'n."
"I know, Scotty," said Kirk. "It looks like the Klingons are up to something, though. I hope you're rested up enough..."
"Och, now, those diabolical beasties are always up to somethin'..." He looked at Kirk. "What've they done now?"
"See for yourself," gestured Kirk.
The mainscreen showed an immense cluster of faint lights ahead of them.
"Analysis, Science Officer?" requested Kirk, turning to Lieutenant Xon.
"They appear to be a group of stationary photon and plasma torpedoes," Xon reported as he reflected upon Kirk's calling him "Science Officer." That was an improvement from the day before, Xon decided, as the captain would not even face him yesterday.
"Mines," muttered Scotty. "Those bastards."
"Red Alert! Red Alert!" droned the computer once again.
"Sensors detect eight Klingon battlecruisers approaching us from equidistant angles, sir," relayed Xon.
"Damn! Battlestations, Chekov. Scotty, divert all warp power to the deflector shields. Impulse engines ahead full, Mister Sulu. Chief DiFalco, plot a course to avoid as many mines as you can. Mister Xon, specifics of the minefield?"
"It's only one-thousand one hundred-seventy point one kilometers thick, but seventeen million point thirty-six kilometers in diameter," the Vulcan calculated. "We cannot circumnavigate it in the time required to evade the oncoming squadron of battlecruisers."
The ship shook several times. They were under fire.
"Distance from the minefield?" asked Kirk.
"Twenty-five light seconds," judged DiFalco.
"Scotty, your opinion? Slug it out with the K't'inga cruisers or risk a minefield?" queried Kirk.
"I'd choose neither. But these Klingons can out-run us, and those mines may be set for a time-delay, or even a triggering device. Still, I'd rather go for the mines. Even though she's a brave ship, the Enterprise's no match for eight Klingon cruisers, K't'ingas or no. And may th' Lord help us."
"Time until contact?" asked Kirk.
"Fifteen seconds, sir," said Sulu.
Kirk made his decision. "At one light-second, apply full braking power. We wait three seconds, then take us through the minefield at Warp Seven. That should take them by surprise."
Scotty and Sulu nodded in approval.
Kor knew he had them now. They would continue on their course and be extinguished in the remote-controlled minefield. He smiled. He would soon prove all Kh'teb were just as worthy as the Kh'myr, and the decade of oppression on the Homeworld would be ended.
And behind Kor, Kratl smiled, too. He had adjusted the minefield to detonate itself as the Enterprise reached the distance of six light-seconds from it. And that should be enough time for the high energy plasma to disperse and diminish, thus allowing the starship to escape relatively unharmed. And Kor would be removed from command, allowing him, Kratl, a Kh'myr warrior, to take command.
"Eight light-seconds, six."
The mainscreen became a solid sheet of white.
"They've detonated early. Ahead Warp Six, screens to maximum!" ordered Kirk, changing his previous commands.
"Aye, sir," replied Sulu.
The Enterprise bolted forward in an explosion of many colors. Much to the dismay of a certain Klingon commander.
Kor turned in shock and rage. "Kratl!"
"Yes, Lord Commander?" He was putting on an act of ignorance. "I want whoever is responsible for this! I want him alive!" Kor shouted.
"Yes, my Lord Commander," Kratl said in a blase voice. "But what of the Federation starship?"
"Our screens would never take it. Theirs may not. But we will circumnavigate the field, just in case."
"I shall inform the other ships," said Kratl. He smiled. He had set up a Kh'fjin Klingon lieutenant from the engineering section as a scapegoat. And now Kor would face serious consequences. He laughed in the elevator and all the way to engineering.
Kirk surveyed the damaged bridge.
The traversing of the minefield had taken only a few nanoseconds, but in that time, the ship had nearly been crippled. Now, traveling at Warp Factor Seven, the starbase was thirty hours away. But the starship was too badly damaged. The Enterprise would have to make an unscheduled stop at the nearest class M planet to pick up some raw materials in order to make some repairs. Kirk would've rather gone on to the starbase, but he knew the Klingons would be after him, and the ship was in no shape to take on one cruiser, let alone the last squadron. The ship was in need of water for the environmental systems and vanadium for the deflector system.
"What's our estimated time of arrival to the planet?" the captain asked.
"Two and a half hours," replied Sulu.
"Mister Xon, description of the planet?"
"Evern is a class M world, protected by the Prime Directive. First explored by the U.S.S. Constellation, the world is only ten hours from Klingon territory. Planet has a highly disruptive magnetic field which renders sensors inoperative. Planet survey team recorded coordinates of several ore sites, including the vanadium one which is near a source of water."
"Class D-plus. Once a class A world, their society crumbled several thousand years ago. A few artifacts remain on the surface; many destroyed by atomic fusion weapons are still radioactive."
"Monotremic mammals dominant. Sentients are very similar to the platypi of Earth, having soft fur, a duck bill, reproducing with eggs, and vegetarian in nature."
"Very well. I'm going to my quarters. Scotty, you have the conn. I..."
"Beggin' yer pardon, sir, but I need to be overseein' the repairs to me engines, said Scotty anxiously,
"Very well, Mister Scott," Kirk smiled. "Sulu, you have the conn."
Spock surveyed the scene. And immediately knew that the situation was hopeless. For the first time in his life, Spock felt absolute despair. "Where there is life, there is always hope" his mother had told him many times. And Kirk had repeated it on occasion as well. But the Vulcan felt no hope. His life would no longer have a purpose. He knew he must find one or face extinction.
"Shall we return?" asked the guide.
"You may; I will not," said Spock. "Can I offer you a small token of my appreciation?"
Lonar gave the Evernian equivalent of a smile. "I have been honored just by being permitted to serve you. I wish you well, Stargod. May you find answers to your questions, and may the Divine God grant you whatever you desire most."
Leonard McCoy sat at his desk in Sickbay. He was filling out a report on Chief Cleary, one of the engineering officers. The hefty man had fallen from the upper shuttle deck onto the lower hangar. It was a major accident, and as such, it required the standard tedious CI-MA report. "A real pain in the ass," he muttered.
"Computer, give me a readout on file KSM-P-24 on this terminal," said Chapel in the next room. She was unaware of his presence since his shift had ended an hour ago, and Doctor M'benga was supposed to be on duty now.
"I wonder what Chris is up to?" he asked himself. "Computer display from other medical monitor, please," he said. He'd find out the easy way.
Leonard McCoy's mouth dropped open. On the screen was the readout from the perscans of Kirk, Scott and himself, and he noted the code was for twenty-four hours a day. "Christine Chapel!" he shouted, obviously angry.
She jumped out of her seat, startled. He stormed into her adjacent office. She realized he'd picked up on what she'd been doing.
"Doctor Chapel, may I ask who do you think you are?" he snapped.
"Assistant Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise," she said in a deadly tone. "And as ACMO, it's my duty to keep abreast of the health of all individuals aboard, including the CMO."
McCoy glared at her. For several minutes. He was furious, but she was right, and he wasn't. He looked at the floor for a few seconds. She was obviously concerned for them. Looking back to her, he said, "Chris, I'm sorry. And I want you to know that I really appreciate your looking after me and the others. I think I'm nearly over it."
"According to my perscan before you discovered me, your K-Three level had dropped to normal. You've accepted the situation. So has Scotty, but..." She reactivated the computer screen she'd earlier deactivated when discovered. "The captain has regressed in the past four hours."
"What?!" He was certain she was wrong.
"He's regressed. I don't know what's caused it, either. According to a projection based on this morning's perscan, he would be back to normal by tomorrow evening."
"And now?" She keyed it up. "Severe depression, increased anxiety. It doesn't make any sense. Possibility of mental collapse: thirty-five percent."
"A breakdown? Jim?"
"That's what the geometric progression curve shows."
"I'll drop in and see him."
"That's a good idea, Len."
"I just wish..." His voice trailed off. He never completed the sentence. There was no need to. He knew that Spock would not be there to help him comfort Kirk, as had been in the past. There would be no Spock there ever again.
Kirk was on his bed. He could not get Spock off his mind. Spock. "Damnation!" He hadn't thought of the Vulcan all day until a few hours ago. He had walked into the recreation room, and he had felt something touch him. And he thought of Spock.
The door buzzer sounded. "Come in," he said, rising.
McCoy walked in. "Well, Jim, want to go bowling?"
"Bowling?" asked Kirk, incredulously.
"Yeah. Bowling. You remember the game, don't you? You take the ball and..." began McCoy sarcastically.
"Bones, I know the game," he said, taking a chair.
"Well, let's go then."
"No. I...I just want to sit here and think."
"About what?" McCoy asked. "Spock? He's dead, Jim. Dead. And he's not coming back."
"Bones, sit down. I've...I had accepted that until this afternoon. Bones, I...I can feel his presence somewhere. Not far, and getting closer and closer."
He's getting worse, McCoy decided. "Look, Jim. He's dead!!!"
Kirk looked at his friend whose eyes were filled with concern. "Is he, Bones? Is he?"
"You saw him killed, don't you remember?"
"I remember him disappearing from everyone's view."
"He was struck by a disruptor bolt, damn it, Jim!" McCoy exclaimed. "Look, Jim, why don't you join the landing party? We'll be in orbit in ten minutes. The best therapy I can think of for you is work."
Kirk smiled. "I think I'll do just that."
Commander Montgomery Scott had chosen the landing site from the coordinates provided by the computer banks as the location of vanadium and water. The site was located near several ruins of an ancient city on Evern, and not too far from a populous one as well. Evern had only one continent, a small one.
Scott had had a hard day of strenuous work. He was exhausted, but glad his job was done. He pressed the recall signal button on his communicator, and four others joined him. They, too, had finished. But the sixth member of the landing party was missing.
"Where's the captain?" Scott asked.
It was an unanswered question.
Jim!!! Please my friend, my t'hy'la! Help me! Come to me! Free me!
Kirk was twelve miles from the landing party. He had entered the city and was hailed like Spock. "Stargod!" shouted the Evernians. "Look! Another Stargod! Stargod Spock's brother has arrived!"
Kirk turned with a start to a man who had shouted the last exclamation. "Spock?! Spock!!! Where is he?"
"He is gone. Come, I will take you to Priest Ragor," volunteered an Evernian.
"Scott to Enterprise."
"Enterprise. Uhura here."
"Commander, try to contact the cap'n," ordered Scott.
"Yes, sir." After a brief pause, her voice came to him again. "I'm sorry, Mister Scott. I can't seem to raise him, nor can I locate his transponder circuit."
"Have Doctor McCoy and Lieutenant Chekov beam down immediately, and have the others beamed up. The captain's wandered off down here. And have Xon tie in warp power to the sensors and try to find him."
Scotty looked toward heaven. The other members dematerialized, and he was alone at the site. Why has the captain wandered off? He had no answers. Again.
Kirk looked at Priest Ragor.
"Which way did Spock go?" he asked the priest.
"To the heretic Erid's laboratory. I've sent for a guide to take you."
Xon was looking at the readouts. The Evernians were primarily located in three village-like clusters on the single continent. Like any civilization which failed to make it to the stars, the Evernians were dying out. The population was less than half of what it had been ten years ago when the U.S.S. Constellation had made an extensive survey of the planet. But even with the warp power-enhanced sensors, the task of finding one Human among thousands of Evernians was very time-consuming as a result of the magnetic radiation field which surrounded the planet.
Chekov stood in full battle gear as McCoy and Scott looked at the foot prints in the wet sand of the bank of the river. The prints were on both sides. And on the opposite side lay a communicator's transponder circuit. Unnecessary for communication, the circuit was vital to locating and tracking landing party personnel. Now the only way they could locate Kirk was if he contacted them with the communicator itself.
"Och, no," moaned Scotty.
"Well, now what?" demanded McCoy.
"I'm nae sure..." He came to a decision.
His voice diminished momentarily, but then: "We'll beam back up to the ship."
"What about Jim? We can't just leave him here!" The suicide potential from the computer projection was troubling him deeply.
"He's got twelve hours to contact us. After thot, we'll beam down an' conduct an extensive surface search," said Scotty. "And if Xon spots him, we'll have him beamed up pronto."
Kirk thanked the guide and burst in the door of Erid's lab. There was no sign of Spock. "But there has to be!" Kirk shouted. "Perhaps another room..."
Spock was sitting on the floor of the bedroom in the Vulcan equivalent of a lotus position.
"Spock!!!" Kirk shouted.
"Jim!!! My t'hy'la!!!" thought/said Spock.
"My friend, I just knew you weren't dead!"
"And I knew you would find me."
"I almost gave up," admitted Kirk.
"I would not have let you."
"Then you were behind those nightmares..."
"And McCoy's and Scott's. I was trying to contact you using the past mind-links we have held. However, I have melded with your mind the most often, so it was the easiest to touch over the distance between us."
"Well, let's get back to the ship, Mister Spock. I do believe that you have been AWOL as of late."
"Mister Scott, the captain's on the line!" shouted Uhura from the communications console.
Scott and McCoy turned from the science station. "Audio, Commander."
"Beam two of us up from these coordinates, Scotty. Kirk out."
"But, Cap'n! The Prime Directive, we canna beam up a native of Evern!" Scotty objected.
"He's not receiving you, Mister Scott," said Uhura.
"Did ye get a fix on his coordinates?"
"Yes, sir. Relaying them to Chief Rand in the main transporter room."
"Comin', Doctor?" asked Scotty, heading for the left turbolift.
"Energize, Chief," ordered Scotty.
"Yes, sir," responded Janice Rand.
When the two figures materialized, no one spoke...for several minutes.
"Spock," finally McCoy began as Kirk smiled. "Is it really you?"
"Obviously, Doctor, although I can quite understand why one would assume otherwise."
"You...you..." McCoy walked forward as they clasped arms. "You...Vulcan. My..." Yes, he would admit it here and now, as it was only fitting. "...friend, Spock!"
"Spock!" said Montgomery Scott, shaking his head in wonder. "Welcome back, sir."
"Doctor, Engineer," acknowledged Spock.
Kirk, McCoy and Scott were all nearly in tears. Chief Rand was openly crying. And throughout the ship the word spread that the Vulcan was alive, and among them again as McCoy took Spock to Sickbay for a thorough exam.
Kor's sensors detected the Enterprise's flight to Evern. Now he was closing in for the kill. Kratl's scapegoat had been personally beheaded by Kor, and the Kh'teb Klingon commander was totally unaware of his subordinate's actions. Kor sat in his command chair, expectant of victory. The other cruiser garrison commanders had deserted him in anger, but he was certain they would soon regret it. Little did he realize that he would.
He expected the Enterprise to be locked into orbit around Evern, her warp drive either crippled or in dire need of repair. He had no knowledge of the potential of the redesigned and refitted Enterprise whatsoever; Kratl had seen to the squelching of certain intelligence reports that were supposedly for the eyes of the commander only.
Kratl would soon have the command of the F'urgin--he was certain of it.
Xon turned as Kirk stepped out of the turbolift with Scotty. McCoy was in Sickbay with Spock. "Captain, sensors detecting a Klingon K't'inga battlecruiser closing in from 308 mark 7. Warp Factor Six."
"Chekov: Red Alert, Battlestations. Let's take care of them once and for all," said Kirk. He knew his ship.
"Aye, Kyptin," the young officer said, smiling. A starship of the redesigned Constitution class was more than a match for a single Klingon K't'inga cruiser.
The ship trembled.
"Lock onto them and return fire at will," ordered Kirk. "Sulu, take us out of this system to give us some maneuvering room. Chief DiFalco, make it as general a heading as you can toward the starbase. We've still got a precious supercargo to deliver," he said, referring to Kreeg in the brig.
Kratl was standing before Kor when the phasers from the Federation starship struck the Klingon K't'inga cruiser and threw Kor's adjutant through the adjacent computer readout screen. He screamed in anger only briefly before he died, realizing that his actions were all in vain.
Kor was momentarily distracted, but continued to keep his attention on the battle at hand. He was losing! For some reason, the Federation vessel was ignoring his torpedoes as though they were insects.
"Maintain firing, Chekov," ordered Kirk. "They want us very badly."
"Captain, they are severely damaged," reported Xon. "They will not be able to maintain their firepower much longer."
"Sulu, when they cease fire, take us away to the base at Warp Factor Twelve."
The battle was over a few minutes later.
"Damage report, Uhura?"
"Minor buckling in the third deflector grid," she relayed.
"Their damage, Xon?"
"Extensive, sir. I would estimate that two weeks in orbit over Evern should be sufficient to repair the vehicle."
"Thirteen point eight-seven days, Lieutenant," Spock chastised. "Please be accurate when reporting," he had come onto the bridge during the battle.
"Welcome back, Mister Spock. Again," said Uhura.
"I am pleased to be where I belong, once again," said Spock to Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and the others.
"'Pleased'?" asked McCoy, coming out of the turbolift. "Come on, Spock. Let's go."
"What is our destination, Doctor?"
"Sickbay. And to think I thought you were back to normal. Hell, you're obviously suffering from some alien malady to admit that to anyone."
"Quite correct, Doctor. Sentimentality is indeed an alien malady, but one I think I shall retain." The V'ger mind-meld had loosened up Spock's personality, and made him more accessible to everyone, but especially to his friends.
"Well, now that we've gotten all our acts together," said Kirk, "E.T.A.?"
"Starbase Eleven in twelve hours at our current velocity."
Kirk leaned back, knowing it would be a peaceful trip. "Maintain."
Spock sat down as Xon exited the bridge, and began performing his duties as though he'd never been gone from the station. McCoy leaned against the railing. He was content. Things were as they should be again. He looked at the viewscreen.
God, McCoy thought. If you're out there listening, thanks.
The Enterprise was just a speck of light in the universe, but for some reason, Leonard McCoy knew it was a significant one.
Commander Kor of the Klingon Empire looked at his primary monitor screen. Upon it, a planet named Evern was quickly receding into the blackness of space. He glared at the world that had been his home for the past two weeks while his K't'inga star cruiser, F'urgin, was repaired after losing a battle with the Enterprise.
Kor scowled even more as he thought of how easily the Federation starship had swept his aside. The K't'inga cruisers were designed to overwhelm any class of Federation starship, including the renowned Constitution class of which the Enterprise was an example. But the redesigned starship was more than a match for the K't'inga vessels. But still, and he smiled at the thought, it was the only Federation heavy cruiser class starship refitted. And one ship was no match for the Empire's fleet of K't'inga cruisers.
No matter how resourceful its commander.
No matter even if its commander was James T. Kirk.
In fact, Kor openly grinned as he thought of the apparent failure of his mission. Kreeg, a Klingon captured by an Enterprise landing force, was to be exterminated. The traitorous lieutenant of a Klingon listening post was going to betray the Empire's actions to the Federation Council. But that was not too important. Kreeg had to be killed before he could testify before the peacekeeping Organians. The Humans were bound to be confident. Too much so.
"Lord commander!" shouted T'bhur, a new bridge officer. His last adjutant had been killed in the battle with the Enterprise.
"Yes?" he turned. He was expecting this interruption.
"Word from Starbase Eleven, sir. The Enterprise has left orbit with Kreeg for the planetoid Babel. Our agent at the starbase made contact with your planted spy on the Enterprise."
"Were the orders transferred?"
"Yes, Lord Commander," said T'bhur.
"Good. My spy will exterminate the traitor, and then destroy the Enterprise computer's memory banks, and the agent at the Starbase will destroy the duplicate record tapes. All implicating evidence will be eradicated from this universe."
"A brilliant plan, sir," said the Kh'myr T'bhur.
Kor looked at the officer as he returned to the communications center. A brilliant plan indeed, thought Kor. But why should a Kh'myr voice approval of it? He grew suspicious, feeling that he might be next in line to be assassinated. The Kh'myr race would evenutually win out. He knew that. Every non-Kh'myr Klingon captain had been "retired" in the last several years, and Kor knew that as well. And there was no doubt that Kreeg knew it too. No doubt, that was the reason for Kreeg's betrayal, Kor thought. But the Kh'teb such as himself were not going down so easily at the Kh'fjin, nor would they betray the Empire. It would be quite a fight, he decided. I only hope I live to see it...
Kirk sat in the center seat of the bridge as he, too, watched the departure of his ship from a planet. Starbase Eleven was located on one of the most beautiful planets in Federation space. It housed complete facilities for housing representatives of the Federation, as well as providing them with offices, entertainment, recreation, and two hundred times the protection of a starship with its weapons banks and force screens. Yes, Starbase Eleven was truly a marvel of Federation engineering and a marvel of nature, Kirk mused as the planet became a pinpoint of light and faded among all the other points of light.
"Leaving system M-11, Captain," reported DiFalco.
"Ahead Warp Factor Six, helmsman," Kirk ordered.
"Warp Factor Six," echoed Sulu.
Kirk spun the chair around to face Spock. "Well, Mister Spock, I gather you're a little pleased about meeting your parents at Babel, as well as the other delegates there. It's been quite some time."
"Pleased is a word which I decline to use, but it has been quite some time since we were on Babel," the Vulcan said. "Our ETA is thirteen days, seven hours, twenty-three point two-four minutes."
"Confirmed," said the young navigator.
The turbolift doors on the starboard side opened to admit Ambassador Robert Fox and Starfleet's Chief Representative John Rosenthal. The two men had been chosen to present Starfleet's analysis on the Klingon situation to the Federation Council on Babel. Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan had already been made aware of the situation through Romulan contacts, and together, the three sentients would ask for an official condemnation of the Klingon Empire and for Organian intervention in the border skirmishes now occurring on the fringe of Federation and Klingon territories. But their entire case hinged on the testimony of Kreeg, who was being held in a maximum security detention area, and the computer tapes of his hearing at the starbase.
Chekov was at his security station manning the post he had been trained for. He was keeping a close watch on Kreeg via a video scanner and had even posted a couple of guards in the corridor of the brig. He was taking no chances, for the fate of the Federation could be held in Kreeg's words.
Kreeg was sitting idly as he read through a catalogue of all the worlds in Federation territory; he would choose one on which to reside after he told the Federation Council and the Organians of Klingon raids on Federation colonies, attacks against Federation starships, military and commercial, and of other illegal actions committed by the Empire.
"How's our prisoner?" asked Fox as he showed the station to Rosenthal.
"He is just fine, sir," replied Chekov.
Kirk joined them at the station. "As you can see, gentlemen, we have the man under observation at all times."
"I'm impressed, Captain Kirk. This is the first time I've been aboard a starship in twelve years, and I'm absolutely astonished at the improvements made over that short period of time," said Rosenthal.
Kirk smiled. He, too, had been impressed by the improvements made over the two and a half years he was planetside. "I am, too, sir."
Without warning, the screen went out of focus and then was filled with static.
"Switch to secondary circuits," ordered Kirk.
"Switching...no response...auxiliaries non-responsive, too."
"Deploy six security men to the cell immediately!" ordered Kirk as he rushed off the bridge into the turbolift. Chekov gave the order and followed suit. "Mister Spock," ordered Kirk from the lift. "You have the conn. Sound General Quarters Four." The doors slid shut.
Kreeg was lying in a pool of dark red blood. Kirk saw him, yet moved to the two guards whose bodies were sprawled before him on the deck. Stunned, he noted with relief as he took one of the guards' phasers. Chekov stood ready with his at the turboshaft; he was awaiting the squad he had alerted. Kirk hefted the phaser, noting that it had not been fired despite being in the guard's hand.
The security team arrived. "Secure the area!" Chekov snarled at his charges angrily. He didn't know why, but he didn't care. either. "Rawlings, Carson; this end of the corridor. Thompson, Day, secure the far end. Johnson, Gross, crime scene."
As they complied, the security chief went to Kirk's side at Kreeg's corpse. Kirk looked up. "Well, Mister Chekov, our key witness is, needless to say, dead. It seems our security precautions were useless," the captain observed softly.
"Kyptin, I submit myself to you for disciplinary action," said Chekov as he stiffened.
"No, Lieutenant. That's not necessary. But I want the assassin found immediately," said Kirk. "Someone on board this vessel has not only killed a sentient being, but is undoubtedly a Klingon agent as well. I want him. Yesterday, Lieutenant."
Chekov knew the grim look of determination on his captain's face. He equalled it with one of his own. "Yes, sir," the young Russian replied as Kirk strode to the nearest wall intercom. He had failed his captain. Though Kirk didn't consider him a failure, he knew that he had. And nothing Kirk would say would change his mind. He would submit his resignation to the captain later in the afternoon.
Kirk punched the wallcom with his thumb. "Captain to Sickbay. Dispatch a stretcher team and a medic to the brig.
"McCoy here, Jim. What's happened?"
"Kreeg's been killed; two guards stunned. I'll want an autopsy."
"On our way."
Kirk turned to the two guards on the floor who had begun to regain their senses. Chekov helped them to their feet as Kirk stepped to them. "Report, Miss Jenkins," ordered Kirk.
The senior of the two guards looked to him. "We were standing on guard. I heard a whine, saw Feltman drop, pulled out my phaser, and lost consciousness as I turned to fire."
"Did you see who it was?" asked Kirk.
"No, sir," said the guard as Chekov exited the corridor into another one.
"Did you, Feltman?"
"No, sir," said the man as he shook his head. "It must've been the way Jenkins said. I don't remember any of it." He looked at her and shrugged.
Chekov returned from his excursion. "Captain, the circuitry for the monitor was destroyed with a phaser judging from the blast residue. Auxiliaries, same."
McCoy and the medical team entered the corridor. "See to those two," the chief surgeon instructed one of the medics, pointing to the two guards that had been stunned. "Well, Jim, where's our Klingon?"
"In there, Bones," said Kirk, pointing.
McCoy moved to Kreeg's side. "He's been gutted from sternum to groin. Death was painful, and slow in coming. No vital organs ruptured. He bled to death."
"What was the weapon?" asked Chekov.
"Probably some sharp knife. It shouldn't be too difficult to find it."
"If it's not been destroyed or ejected from the ship," said Kirk. "Mister Chekov, have the ejection vent monitors checked. Bones, get Kreeg to Sickbay. See if you can tell me anything else." He looked at the corpse. "I want the person responsible for this."
Kirk, Spock and McCoy sat in the office Jim Kirk's quarters. "Well, Doctor, your analysis?"
"Well, Jim, I'd say the murder weapon was probably a dagger, a sharp one at that. It really penetrated Kreeg's body, but there was no tearing."
"Hmm. I would say the murderer used a ceremonial dagger, Captain, judging from the style of the slaying and the doctor's analysis. This further substantiates the hypothesis of a Klingon agent aboard the Enterprise."
"A Klingon agent..." McCoy mused. It was inconceivable.
Chekov buzzed the room and entered, sitting down next to McCoy. "Kyptin, I found nothing. I'd say the weapon's probably been destroyed with a phaser. Rechecking the corridor and the cell with a tricorder, I found scorching with traces of ferrous oxide in the corner of the victim's cell."
"Chekov, this is your responsibility. You'll handle the investigation," said Kirk.
"Sir, I...uh...I'd planned to resign. I...er..." He paused momentarily. "I failed you, Captain; I permitted the informant's death."
"Pavel," Kirk said softly. "I've not been disappointed at your efficiency. You are. And, you don't have a good reason to be."
"The captain is correct, Mister Chekov. You did take all the necessary precautions as well as several additional ones, such as the posting of two guards. The cell was continually monitored from your security station, so you cannot consider your precautions as inefficient," stated Spock. Was there a trace of concern in the Vulcan's eyes?
Chekov looked at the floor to avoid that question. "I appreciate your faith in me, sirs, and I hope that I can prove my worthiness by catching the perpetrator of all this."
"I think you will, Pavel," said McCoy, "You're determined enough. In fact, I don't think anyone can stand in your way."
Kirk looked at his officers. "If there's nothing else, the meeting is adjourned."
Spock, McCoy and Chekov filed out and Kirk moved to the shower unit.
Chekov stepped inside of his shower unit and activated it. He frowned as his clothing dissolved into liquid and went down the drain to be reconstituted. It had been one of those days. The sonic waves then began to work on his body as the water and soap dispenser sprayed him gently. He felt a sudden draft of cold air, and he turned.
"Hi, Pavel. It's me," said Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Denise Jenkins. "You okay?"
"I'm just tired, I guess."
He turned to allow her to rub his aching back. "My poor Russian boy, my, my, my. We're going to have to do something about your being tired. How's this?" She was no longer massaging his back.
"Wonderful," he murmured. He turned and took her in his arms. "I love you, Denise."
"I love you, too, Pavel."
And they loved each other for the next several hours.
Doctor Leonard McCoy entered his office in Sickbay and sat down at his desk. "Christine, would you please come in here?"
"Certainly, Doctor," replied the doctor in the adjacent ward. "What seems to be the problem?"
"No problem, Chris. It's just that I'd like you to monitor Lieutenant Chekov via perscan for the next couple of days."
"Why? Is there anything wrong with him?"
"No, not yet. But he's under a lot of stress."
She went to the wall monitor and punched up his perscan number. The main viewer in the office lit up. "Yes, I suppose you would consider those readings stressful at your age," she said, barely suppressing a chuckle. "Heart, lungs, adrenalin, hormone level, blood pressure, all at higher than normal readings. It must be that Jenkins girl from South Dakota."
McCoy cocked an eyebrow. "A farm girl?"
"That's what the records say. Ship scuttlebutt has it that she and the lieutenant are quite involved with each other."
He looked at the perscan readings. They were returning to normal. "If she's with him, they must be," he decided. The readings were rising again. His readings aren't the only thing that's rising, he thought to himself.
Spock sat in his quarters, playing the Vulcan lyrette. The events of the day had disturbed him, although he, of course, would deny it. A Klingon aboard the Enterprise posed an infinite number of dangers, and he was counting those which had better than a fifty percent probability of occurring. As he counted, he was strumming Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, a composition he had learned as a child while on Earth.
But the problem of the assassin was still bothering him. A Klingon agent would be placeable aboard the ship only if there were a number of Klingon agents at Starfleet's Personnel Deployment, Recruiting and Internal Security departments. He would research that problem as he had no doubt that Chekov would locate the murderer. After all, the young security chief had studied under him as an ensign in the science division.
Chekov came onto the bridge at 0738 ship's time, twenty-two minutes before his shift was scheduled to begin. After finishing his evening with Jenkins, he felt more than rested.
Commander Vincent DeSalle, the assistant chief engineer who was in command during the third shift, turned to greet him. "Good morning, Lieutenant. A little early today, aren't you?"
Chekov tapped his relief on the shoulder. "Perhaps, but it's time for me to earn my keep."
"Planning to put in a lot of overtime then, are you?" the commander chided.
"Perhaps, but then again, you should know, eh, DeSalle?"
The engineer chuckled over their feud which had begun several years ago. As a new officer aboard the Enterprise, Chekov had taken DeSalle's position as the ship's helm officer when the French officer was promoted. Ever since then, the two had ribbed each other in a friendly way about everything from performance in bed to thermonuclear dynamics.
Kirk also entered the bridge early. "Mister DeSalle, report, please."
"On course for the Babel system, sir, as per your instructions. Our speed is Warp Factor Seven." The engineer rose from the center seat. "The conn is yours, sir," he said.
"Thank you, Commander," the captain responded.
As the engineering officer left the bridge, Kirk glanced over to see that Chekov was already at his post, apparently scanning some reports. "I see you couldn't sleep either, Lieutenant."
"I wouldn't exactly say that, sir. I'm quite relaxed."
"I'm sure you arrre, Chekov," murmured Lieutenant M'ress, the Caitian communications officer. She gave her chuckling purr.
Chekov ignored her and began to review another report. He would have to speak with Denise Jenkins about her roommate. He didn't need his life complicated right now by M'ress' gossip. He had to deal with the assassin problem.
Kirk looked at the busy security chief and smiled. "Let's keep our minds on our stations, Lieutenant M'ress."
"Yes, sirrr," she purred. She turned to see Kirk wink at her.
Spock exited the turbolift a few minutes later with Uhura. As M'ress left the bridge, Uhura began running a system check. Relieving Xon from duty, Spock initiated a computer scan on Starfleet's personnel office and records. "Lieutenant," the elder Vulcan said to the younger one. "I'd like you to monitor this read-out. According to my calculations it should end during your shift this evening."
"Yes, Commander," said the lieutenant as he left the bridge.
"Spock, you've discovered something?" asked Kirk.
"With your permission, Captain, I am conducting an investigation into Starfleet's personnel records. I have concluded that to plant an agent aboard a starship, one would have to have planted an agent in that office. By subjecting the computer records to an incongruence and correlation search, I should find out who the agent is in that office, and thereby discover the identities of the agent aboard ship as well as in the Internal Security and Recruitment offices at Starfleet."
"Traitors at Starfleet," Kirk said as he shook his head. "However, it does explain it. Proceed, Mister Spock."
"Must've been one hell of a party," said Security Officer Gary Feltman as he regained consciousness in an airlock. "Funny, I don't remember going to it."
"You won't have any way to remember in a few minutes," said a voice from the airlock's speaker.
"Huh? You? My God, you're the agent!"
"I'm afraid so, Feltman. And now you've got to die."
"Why tell me and then kill me? Why? Damn you, why!"
His voice was frantic.
"A fair question, but I'm afraid you don't have enough time to hear the answer. Goodbye."
"No! NO!!!" He heard the air being emptied out by the pumps. "No!!"
John Rosenthal stormed onto the bridge. "Well, Kirk? Have you found out who killed Kreeg?"
"No, Commissioner, we haven't," said Kirk as he turned to face Starfleet's Chief Representative.
"Why not? Just scan for a Klingon aboard," he snapped. "It can't be that difficult!"
"Sir," said Kirk curtly. "I have had Mister Chekov scan for a Klingon agent but there was none to be found."
"Meaning, Commissioner, that we're dealing with a traitor, not just an assassin. In fact, sir, it could very well be you."
Rosenthal's eyes widened. "What? Me? You must be joking!"
"Yes, sir, I am. But my point is that it could be anyone. I know it's not you as you were on the bridge with Ambassador Fox during the time the murder occurred."
"I see. My apologies, Captain. I guess it's a little more difficult than I thought, but get this, if you or your man over there," he began, pointing at Chekov, "can't come up with the killer, it'll be your ass, Kirk." Rosenthal left the bridge without further comment.
Kirk looked over to Chekov. "Don't worry, lieutenant. You know how those paper pushers love to show their authority. Just continue with your work."
Lieutenant Ahmad Hussein Nasr, Computer Specialist, Second Class, looked at the readout in the computer center on Level Seven. The new multitronic memory banks were undergoing an extensive records search. Commander Spock had ordered it, and he had to monitor the functions as per procedure.
Suddenly, he heard something behind him. He turned, startled. "Oh, hello!" he said to another crewmember, "I'm sorry--you startled me, but it's spooky in here alone sometimes. What can I do for you? You know, this place is off limits except to authorized personnel."
"Yes, I know."
Spock's fingers danced across the instruments. "Captain, I've just completed a sensor scan for this sector. No abnormal findings."
"Excellent, Mister Spock," said Kirk. "How's the memory search progressing?"
"It should...Captain!" said Spock as he examined a readout. "The memory banks have been destroyed. All our records are gone."
Kirk spun. "Gone! Gone!! How?"
"I am at a loss to say, sir. I suggest we proceed immediately to Level Seven, and I suggest that Mister Chekov have someone from his department meet us there."
The computer center in Level Seven was located next to the Sickbay, and was even more protected by several layers of shielding. Yet, even with extra protection, nothing could prevent its destruction if from within.
Spock scanned the smoldering ruins of the main banks with his tricorder. "We have lost all memory banks, sir. We shall need them replaced; they are beyond repair."
"Shit!" spat Kirk angrily. "They must've been on to the fact we were looking for them."
"Perhaps, sir, but I also believe that the records of Kreeg's testimony were the key concern of the spy. They, too, are gone."
"Danger to the ship?"
"None. The automatic backups prevented the destruction of the navigation computer, the attack computer, the medical computer, the maintenance computer, the linguistics computer, the engineering computer and the science computer. But all other memory banks, such as Kreeg's testimony, the ship's log, all records, all of the library, they are no more." Spock's voice conveyed his regret.
"Well, there's nothing we can do. Scotty'll be here to try to do what he can."
"But, Jesus, Spock, I want that killer, now. See if you can help Mister Chekov discover the identity of our murdering traitorous saboteur," said Kirk grimly. "I want him now."
A whistle sounded. Kirk went over to the intercom. "Kirk here."
"Kyptin, may I ask you which guard did you take the phaser from yesterday?" came Chekov's voice. "I cannot tell from your report on the incident."
"Certainly, Lieutenant. It was Lieutenant Jenkins' phaser."
"Kyptin, I may have discovered the identity of the assassin in our midst. According to the weapons officer's report, one of the phasers returned yesterday had been fired; it's power pack was not up to full charge. If you checked Jenkins' but not Feltman's, it could be him. I checked all the others."
"Excellent work, Mister Chekov. Call Mister Feltman to my quarters. You are to meet me there in two minutes."
"Yes, sir. On my way. Chekov out."
Kirk sat at his desk impatiently tapping his fingers as he drank from his white mug. Spock sat impassively and Chekov paced back and forth. Kirk thumbed a button. "Viewer on," he said.
"Bridge. Uhura, here."
"Any responses, Commander?"
"Instigate a Class One search. Have the security officers armed; he may be. Call me when he's found."
The search did not take long. "Bridge to Captain."
"Kirk here. Proceed, Commander."
"Captain, Feltman may have been located."
"Yes, sir. A depressurized body has been found in Air Lock Two."
"On our way," Kirk snapped off the intercom.
"Ghastly, Jim," said McCoy at the entrance to the air lock station. "He exploded. Looks like suicide, though."
"Suicide?" asked Spock.
"Yep. The door was locked from the inside."
"Why wasn't the guard at his station?" asked Kirk.
"He was. He's dead, Jim. Someone crushed his neck."
Chekov moved into the air lock. Blood was being sponged up from the floors and walls. He glanced around the chamber and noticed a small pool of blood next to the door's recess. He pressed the 'Close' button and the door slid shut. A lot of blood had been scraped off by the closing and opening action on the automatic pneumatic door, but not all.
He pressed the 'Open' button, and the door again opened. He observed that a pool at the bottom of the recess had blood of two consistencies; one was thin and dried, and the other was thick flecks of blood that had fallen on the thinner, dried pool, and had not mixed.
"Kyptin, I'm afraid I was wrong about Feltman."
"What do you mean, Lieutenant?" asked Kirk.
"Well, sir, see for yourself. Obviously, the door had been opened and closed shortly, if not immediately, after his death, and then had later been opened when the body was discovered. My theory is that he was killed and then the murderer locked the door from the inside to make it look like suicide."
"Logical, Lieutenant. I must commend you for your insight into the situation."
"Well, any theories on who the assassin is now?"
"No, Kyptin. I'm sorry."
"Well, gentlemen. It's been quite a day. I say we might as well relax as much as we can with a traitor aboard. It seems there's nothing else we can do."
"I must concur, Captain. Without our computer, we have little chance at best of determining the identity of the traitor."
"God, I hate being helpless," said Kirk.
Chekov sat at the desk in his quarters, chin cupped in his hands. His door buzzer sounded. "Come," he said.
"'Fraid I don't get off on pressing inanimate door buttons," said Denise Jenkins as she entered the room. "And you're the only one who makes me come," she said.
"Oh, Denise," he said. "I'm really beat; worked my ass off all day trying to solve this thing, if there is a vay to solve it."
"My poor babe," she said as she pulled him up into her arms. "Let's not talk shop when we're off duty, okay?"
He smiled. "Sure, Babushka. Vwhat do you vant to talk about?"
They sat down on his bed. "Vhy not, indeed." He caressed her breast. She began to kiss him passionately. "You know, I have never felt this comfortable with anyone in my life," he said after a minute.
She unzipped their clothes. "Oh, really? What about Martha Landon?"
"Martha and I weren't this close," he said defensively. "Besides, she dropped me for Commander Parks, the ship's chaplain."
"A chaplain? You're kidding!"
"No, I'm not. How do you think I feel? Upstaged by a Methodist minister from the hill country in Tennessee."
"I doubt that you aren't better in bed than he is. Hell, you at least are sensitive to my needs."
"Speaking of which," he said as he began to fondle and caress her more intensely.
In Sickbay, McCoy looked over to Kirk. "Well, Jim. Now what? We arrive at Babel in a few days, and what do we tell them? 'Sorry about that, gang, but there was nothing we could do?' Starfleet's really not going to take a liking to that."
"I know, Bones. Nogura'll have his chance to have me relieved from command of the Enterprise. Nearly three years out here since I came back. And to be forced behind a desk again....I don't know how I'll face that."
"Well, maybe something'll come up."
"I doubt it, Bones. It looks like my career is over."
McCoy looked around his office to a certain cabinet. "How about a drink, Jim? It'll clear your mind so you can relax."
"No, Bones, thanks, but no. I don't need to relax. I can't relax. I've got a Klingon aboard somewhere, and I've got to catch him."
Chekov sat up in bed and stretched. "Babushka, you can really tire a fellow out."
"Someone else can be very tiring, too," she said, smiling at him. She sat up in bed, and began rubbing his back. "And very good in bed. Tell me something," she began, "why do you keep calling me 'Babushka'? I looked it up. It means a scarf or 'grandmother'."
"It's a leetle joke," he answered sheepishly.
She went on to talk about his quirky sense of humor, but he seemingly didn't hear her.
"What's wrong, Pavel?"
He looked at her. "I'm sorry, Denise. I was just thinking about poor Feltman. He died so...so horribly."
She removed her hands from him and looked at her feet. "I know," she said very softly. Too softly.
Chekov looked at her. Realization dawned on him, and he shrank away from her. "You? You!" he scrambled over for his clothes; his phaser was in his weapons belt, and he needed it.
She reached under the bed's mattress for her weapon at the same time.
And each of them drew.
"Don't move, Pavel. Drop your phaser," she threatened him.
"Nyet. Denise, throw your phaser down. Give it up," he demanded, his voice quavering, his face red. "And tell my vwhy? Vwhy did you do it?" He was nearly hysterical.
"Why, Pavel? Why? Because I have been trained from birth to infiltrate among you and your kind so that one day we can overcome you. The Federation must be destroyed for what it does."
"You're Human. Vwhat you say makes no sense!"
"Doesn't it, Pavel? The Federation sold my parents into slavery. The Klingons rescued them, and after their deaths, they raised me as per my parents' wishes; I was born to avenge their enslavement!"
"But the Federation doesn't have slavery!"
"It does! I've seen the films of the slave labor camps!"
"You've seen nothing but Klingon propaganda! They probably tortured your real parents and raised you to infiltrate Starfleet for their goals of galactic conquest."
"Am I? Denise, am I? And I suppose I'm lying when I say I love you."
"I...I...I don't know...I...I've made a mistake; I fell in love with my enemy."
"Babushka," he said as he stepped toward her.
"Hold it right there, Pavel. Don't make me kill you."
"You'd kill me? Denise? Would you?"
"I don't know...I'm confused...Yes, I would because you will kill me! All Federationalists hold life other than their own in contempt. They kill without reason. I was just lucky you haven't killed me before now."
"Denise, I love you. I couldn't kill you."
"You will try," she decided.
"Nyet, nyet, nyet," he said as he shook his head. "I won't. Please, give yourself up."
"I will never surrender to you!"
"Babushka!" he implored.
Behind her, the door to Chekov's quarters slid open, and James Kirk walked in. Jenkins spun around, her weapon blazing.
"Denise, no!" shouted Chekov. Without thinking, he reset his weapon and fired to save Kirk.
And Denise Jenkins disappeared in a flash of light.
"DENISE!!!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, and he fell to the deck.
Immediately assessing the situation, Kirk rushed to the side of his chief security officer. "Pavel, are you all right?" he asked concernedly.
Lieutenant Chekov began to cry. Kirk put his arm around the young man's shoulders. "Go ahead, Pavel. Get it out of your system," he said as he held the nude figure against him.
"Captain, I loved her! She tried to kill you, and I killed her. I killed her! I KILLED HER!!"
"Easy, Pavel, easy," whispered Kirk. He punched up Sickbay on his wristcom. "Bones, come to Chekov's quarters on the double. Bring your bag with you." He looked down at the sobbing young man. "I'm afraid we found our assassin."
Kirk sat his cup of coffee down on his desk. McCoy was with him, as was Spock. He'd asked them to come to his quarters at the end of their watch. "Well, Bones. How's Chekov doing?"
"He's heavily sedated, Jim, but I think he'll pull through with a little bit of therapy."
"When we get to Babel, will you want to have him see their psych people?"
"No, I don't think so. Once again, work'll he the best therapy after I get him to work his guilt out."
"I concur, Captain," agreed Spock. "I should not like to see Mister Chekov leave the service, or his emotional involvement with the traitor to be reflected on his record."
"Indeed, Spock. Have you notified Starfleet of your suspicions regarding how Ms. Jenkins was assigned to the Enterprise?"
"Yes, sir. Starfleet Internal Security reports that the creche in North America where the late Miss Jenkins was raised has been captured. There was a mention that several other children of several races were being raised and trained there by Klingon agents. There were no agents at Recruitment, but several Klingon infiltrators were arrested in the Personnel Deployment office."
"Well, that should keep Commissioner Rosenthal happy for a while," remarked McCoy sarcastically.
"Hardly, Bones. He really wanted to present Kreeg and his testimony to the Federation. I'm afraid we now have no evidence that Kreeg ever existed."
"Why are we still going to Babel then?"
"We're still going to try to convince them to send an envoy to the Organians to get them to intercede between all Klingon actions and to stop the Klingons from continuing their aggression against us," explained Kirk.
"It will be difficult," interjected Spock. "The Federation Council is still very fearful of a conflict with the Klingons."
"You've still got a talent for understatement, Spock. I think it'll be impossible," stated Kirk matter-of-factly. "The Council has yet to realize that a confrontation is unavoidable. And until they do, we'll have our hands full with the Kh'myr."
"You have augmented your talent for understatement, Captain," observed Spock. "And I see that it now surpasses mine."
McCoy chuckled, and Kirk turned a little red.
"If you'll excuse me, Captain," Spock said, as he headed for the door. "Lieutenant Xon wishes to confer with me regarding a scientific matter..."
"Now what about that drink, Jim?" asked McCoy after the doors slid closed.
"Why not?" asked Kirk.
The two friends finished off a bottle of Saurian Brandy that night.
Commander Kor re-read the message for the fifth time. It had been transmitted to him on the F'urgin by Koloth and Krell in a code which only they and their cohorts could decipher. They had alerted him to Admiral Khalian's forthcoming recall of his vessel, a recall which would terminate his command and relegate him to the Emperor's Admiralty--something he didn't want.
Kor growled deep in his throat, his steely eyes blazing furiously as he came to his decision. He crumpled the message and tossed it into his desk's disintegrator unit. He checked the charge on his weapon and saw it was up to maximum. Setting the handgun on "disrupt," he strode toward the control center, purposeful, determined, a feral, wolf-like grin stretched tightly across his lips.
The door slid back, and he entered the lift. He had to act swiftly now; otherwise, his command would be forever lost, as well as any chance for the Kh'teb to regain their prestige in the eyes of the Invincible One, Kudan Kuras.
The bridge portal admitted him after he glanced into the retinal print analyzer.
"Lord Commander," hailed his bridge officers in unison.
"I have received orders from Kudan Kuras," he lied boldly. "His instructions are these--"
Suddenly, Kor whipped out his weapon and fired at the startled Kh'myr warrior sitting at the communications console. The luckless Klingon vanished in a flare of lambent energy. T'bhur, Kor's adjutant, stepped angrily forward and was gunned down as well.
The roar of the Kh'myr manning the other posts became distinctly louder.
"Silence!" Kor shouted. "Do not question the orders of the Invincible One, or you will meet the same fate as those two worms!" The noise level in the control center dropped dramatically. "Much better. The Emperor has ordered us into battle. Already, the Meddlers, those accursed Organians, have been dealt with. Our scientists have caused their star to go nova. They will interfere no more."
Kor sidestepped cautiously and sat down in his command chair before continuing. "All communications are to be denied. We will remain under total subspace radio silence procedures until we return to Kazh. We are ordered to proceed to Earth and take it."
"Earth?!" queried several officers.
"Have you no ears, imbeciles? Yes--Earth! Our forces will also be making their way there. We will be leading them in this glorious confrontation. Navigator, plot a course to Earth. Helmsman, maximum speed. Tactical, plot all Earth and Federation forces along our course on the screen. Weapons, prepare all battle computers and disruptor turrets. We will be victorious!"
Shouts of enthusiasm arose. "Hail the Emperor! Hail Kor! Survive and Succeed!" cried the eager warriors.
Kor glanced around him, grinning in satisfaction.
Kirk looked around the bridge. He was glad to see that Chekov had returned to his station, his remorse almost totally eliminated by some minor psychiatric treatment McCoy had administered. McCoy had sworn that the young lieutenant was totally functional, but admitted that the Russian security chief still needed a few more therapy sessions to become fully adjusted to the situation.
"Captain? Antimatter conversion report," said a yeoman, interrupting his thoughts.
"Oh? Sorry, Mister Straus," he said, taking the report. He read it and noted a minor discrepancy. Kirk thumbed his com switch. "Kirk to Engineering. Mister Scott please."
"Scotty here, Cap'n," responded the chief engineer. "I know what you're callin' about, but the report's correct, sir. I dinna ken why, but it seems that our magnatomic amplification crystal which directs the antimatter flow into the port engine has a flaw in it. I wouldn't recommend more than Warp Factor Eight or we'll end up in another wormhole space-time continuum."
"Very well, Mister Scott." Kirk did not want to be trapped in such a non-Euclidean place again. Once in a lifetime was enough and usually fatal. "I'll have Uhura inform Starfleet Command that we need a replacement. We'll lay over for a day or two at Starbase Eleven for repairs at their space dock facility."
"Aye, sir. Thank ye."
"Kirk out." He turned to his communications chief. "Uhura..."
Commander Marc Haber of the U.S.S. Columbia sat in his command chair, knowing that in a few minutes he would probably be dead. A Klingon K't'inga battlecruiser was approaching at Warp Factor Twelve.
"Lieutenant O'Brannon, any contact?" he asked.
"No, sir," the communications officer responded, his voice quavering slightly.
"Arm all weapons, go to battlestations, deflectors to maximum," ordered Haber. "Prepare to be boarded."
"I doubt they'll be coming aboard, Captain," said his navigator and first officer, Lieutenant Commander Alicia Stone. "This deep into Federation territory, they won't be taking prisoners."
"Agreed, Commander." She turned to the communications console. "Still no response?"
"No, sir. And subspace frequencies are still being jammed. There's no way to transmit even to Epsilon Eight, the nearest communications relay station."
Haber sighed. "Fire when they do, Mrs. Miller," he ordered the weaponry officer.
Adrienne Miller wished she had a few minutes to spend with her husband. She knew the hopeless odds of the forthcoming battle, knew she would never walk the decks with him again, never make love, never even see him again. They would both be dead. But she gave no indication of her regret and calmly replied, "Yes, Commander. I'll make them sorry they crossed over into Federation territory."
"Thank you," said Haber. He looked around the bridge at his friends. "If we don't come out of this, I'd like to say goodbye now."
The first Klingon salvo ripped through the deflector screens, totally destroying the upper section of the primary hull, instantly killing all bridge personnel.
"Maintain firing," Kor ordered. "Leave nothing but plasma!"
"Yes, Commander!" The weapons officer, Kalash, had been waiting for such an opportunity all his life. Now he was enjoying every minute of this.
"Tactical, did we successfully jam their transmissions?" Kor inquired.
"Yes, Commander," replied Lieutenant Keb, his new adjutant, a Kh'teb like Kor himself. "Blocking procedures have been successful. They are making no further attempts at communication. Automatic distress signal seems to be the only thing which is still broadcasting."
"Soon it too will be silent, Lord Commander," said Kalash.
"Very good. Very, very good. I am pleased; we are victorious," Kor proclaimed.
"Victory! Victory! Victory!" shouted the bridge crew.
"Prepare for entry into space dock," ordered Kirk.
"Helm ready, sir," reported Sulu.
"Cut impulse drive, helmsman. Maneuvering thrusters ahead one-third," the captain said.
"Uhura, signal docking control center that we are ready for entry."
The lieutenant commander touched her board's controls. With a hand on her personal receiver she turned and announced, "Dock signals clear, Captain."
"Take us in slowly, helm," said Kirk, stretching. He stood and walked to the turbolift. "Mister Chekov, you have the conn."
Kirk entered the domain of his chief engineer. Seeing the Scotsman at work on a panel, he went over to him. "Well, Scotty. I suppose you're already inside that engine."
"Aye, sir," answered the engineer somewhat curtly. He didn't want to be bothered by the captain. "It'll take a few days. I've already deactivated the port engine and have got a few of me lads in the tubes makin' some repairs."
Kirk nodded in approval. Knowing that the Scot didn't need a ham-handed captain around while he was at work, Kirk excused himself to the rec room.
As he walked, he contemplated current events. He couldn't believe the Federation Council had chosen not to take the case to the Organians. The Council had never taken a case to the Organians. They had come close during the recent Neural incident but the passive Aaamazzarites, the fearful Tellarites and the reclusive Megarites had lobbied successfully to prevent it.
Damn! he thought as he rounded a corner. When will those idiots realize that the opposite of war isn't peace, but slavery?
He strode into the rec room and punched up a cup of coffee for himself on the synthesizer. Several crewmen glanced up as he entered, but thought better of hailing him when they saw his glowering expression.
Kirk sat down at a table and sipped the strong drink, wincing at the bitter taste. He grinned ruefully. Maybe this witch's brew would do him some good. He was tired, bone-weary tired. Since being reactivated for the V'ger mission, the Enterprise had been kicked back and forth across the galaxy on one hazardous high-risk mission after another. Other than the Cetus Void probe, they'd not had one simple exploratory mission--and even that affair had been anything but simple. His face fell as he reflected on the tragic death of young Ensign Lisa Templar on "routine" landing party duty, and the injury inflicted on his Vulcan Second Science Officer, Lieutenant Xon. And the Klingon Kh'myr warrior caste had proven to be a painful thorn in the side for both Starfleet and the Federation. Kirk's features tightened. He had always felt that Klingon warriors were the most savage, brutal killers in the universe, but this new breed, the Kh'myr, made their predecessors seem as lovable as tribbles by comparison. And they had absolutely no regard whatsoever for the Organian treaty. Their continued assaults on the dilithium-rich planet of Serenidad deep in Federation space, bore witness to this fact. Kirk experienced a sudden pang of guilty remorse. He had been highly instrumental in bringing Serenidad into the Federation. Ever since then, the planet had been in constant danger of invasion by Klingon forces who coveted Serenidad's mineral treasures.
And young Princess Teresa... Kirk shuddered involuntarily. She had almost been executed in a recent skirmish. Spock had used the Vulcan mind touch to restore her sanity, blocking out the intolerable memories of her violation and torture at the hands of a Kh'myr raiding party. Starfleet's security and planetary defense systems had been beefed up considerably after that affair. But what did the future hold?
What did the future hold, indeed? Kirk sighed wearily. It was beginning to look like the end of the Federation, he reflected gloomily. Time and again, the Klingons had mounted smash-and-grab raids into Federation space, destroying Federation ships, bases, and colonies, leaving no survivors. And time and again, the Federation Council refused to press their case with the Organians, trying to avoid conflict with the Klingons. But the Council's inaction only emboldened the Kh'myr, giving them still more motivation to attack. Sometime, somewhere, someone was going to have to draw the line--and one could only hope that the line stopped short of interstellar war.
Kirk drained his mug in a gulp, then stood up, grimacing. He felt decidedly seedy. A nice, hot shower and a short nap would do wonders.
And maybe while he slept, all the Klingons and bureaucrats in the galaxy would simply vanish in a puff of smoke.
Kirk grinned wryly at that thought as he left the rec room and headed for his cabin.
Commander Kor gazed at his viewer and sneered. The F'urgin was approaching Epsilon Eight, a Federation communications relay post.
What is the best way to regain my former level of prestige besides defeating Kirk? he had asked himself. The answer was Destroy Starfleet Command, of course. Kor knew he would be successful in taking Earth, and thereby Starfleet Command. He knew it. Whether it was instinct or intuition, he did not know.
"Ready to fire," announced Kalash, his fingers poised over the torpedo and disruptor bolt firing buttons.
"Engage at will, Lieutenant."
Bursts of red plasma and blue energy bolts struck the defenseless station.
Commander Kevin Seals of Epsilon Eight turned to his first officer, Lieutenant Elena Pappas. "Damage report?" he snapped.
"Main antennae destroyed, relay computer station destroyed, fueling station destroyed, primate research center also destroyed. Doctor Reidy reports that he will be unable to handle any casualties."
"In all honesty, Elena, I doubt we'll have to worry about that," said Seals resignedly. "Without any kind of defensive weapons, they can wipe us out in seconds."
Suddenly, the control center shook violently. Relays and circuits exploded in response to the assault. The emergency lighting kicked in, giving the entire control center an eerie red glow. The viewscreen went dark and conduits fell from the ceiling, striking crewmembers and officers.
Pappas did not lose consciousness. Through the smoke-filled room, she saw Commander Seals lying under a heavy beam. Crawling through the rubble despite shards of metal in her legs, she made her way to him.
"K-Kevin..." She began unsteadily. Then she screamed. His legs had been amputated by the weight of the beam.
"Elena," he gasped, fighting to not lose consciousness he so tenuously held. "I...I never told you I love...y-you."
"This...is a fine time...to tell me that," she sobbed, "I love you...too."
They kissed one time, then hugged each other as tightly as they could.
The last, fatal Klingon disruptor bolt blasted Epsilon Eight and all of its occupants into a drifting cloud of ionized gas.
Kor smiled in grim satisfaction, watching the death throes of Epsilon Eight on the viewer as the victory whoops of his crew subsided.
"Next target?" he asked evenly.
The tactical officer, Lieutenant Keb, announced, "The next target is Earth, its space docks, its satellite's defensive bases, and a key space station they call 'Centroplex.'"
"Increase our velocity to maximum. We will take Earth," Kor stated decisively.
Captain Kirk was in the lavatory when the red alert sounded. Quickly stepping out, he said, "Viewer on," and wrapped a towel around himself. "Kirk here."
"Captain, Epsilon Eight signalling they are under attack," announced Lieutenant Xon calmly. "Starbase Command Control is ordering us to the area."
"Mister Scott reports we can leave orbit in an hour, but we will have only twenty-five percent of normal power. His repairs have not yet been completed."
"Damn!" said Kirk. "Who are the attackers?"
"The signal has ceased, sir. No indication of the attacker's identity."
"Recall all crew and prepare to leave orbit. Inform Mister Scott we need to leave immediately; if he can repair those engines while we're on impulse, we'll leave sooner. I'll be assuming the bridge--and sound battlestations."
"Kirk out. Viewer off." With that, Kirk dressed hurriedly and strode briskly from his quarters.
"Our jamming was not entirely successful, Lord Commander, but our identity was not transmitted," said a fearful Keb.
"No matter, Lieutenant. They already know the Empire is on the offensive. They still won't be able to determine our destination unless they know that the scoutship was destroyed."
"And they don't," Keb put in.
Both he and his commander chuckled in evil delight.
Kirk strode onto the bridge and took the conn. "Any further communications?" he asked Uhura as he sat down.
"No, sir," she answered. Since the battlestation's klaxon had sounded, she had assumed her regular duty position, as had all other first shift officers. "Commodores Stone and Mendez are waiting to speak to you on channel B."
The screen lit up with Mendez's round face and Stone's craggy one. "Captain, you must leave orbit immediately," snapped Stone, Starbase Eleven's Port Master.
"We'll do so as soon as our port warp engine is adjusted so it can be repaired on impulse drive. But we'll only have twenty-five percent once the chief engineer's jury-rigging repairs are completed. Why not assign another ship?"
"We've tried contacting the scout, Columbia, but we've had no luck at it," explained Mendez. "Jim, I don't like the feel of this."
"I know what you mean, Admiral. If the scoutship was destroyed by the same attacker, what is the apparent course of the marauder?"
"Its course, Captain, is for Earth," said Stone.
"Not another V'Ger!" exclaimed McCoy.
"I doubt that, Doctor,"said Mendez. "Because if you project back on the course, you'll find that it's coming from Evern, a planet near the Klingon borders."
"Kor!" Kirk exclaimed.
"A logical deduction, Captain," said Spock. "Considering the commander's temperament."
"Commodores, contact Starfleet. Notify them that a Klingon cruiser will be hitting Earth in two days. Have them try to get the nearest dreadnought into that area as soon as they can," suggested Kirk. "Then we'll come in and try to act as a backup."
"Jim, we've already spoken with Commodore Probert, Admiral Komack and Admiral Nogura. The nearest dreadnought is the U.S.S. Entente, thirty days distant at maximum speed. The nearest starship cruiser is the Yorktown at six weeks and the nearest destroyer, the Hercules, is two weeks away. The Enterprise'll have to handle it. Sorry, Jim. Your orders have been countermanded; you are to proceed directly to Earth."
"Jose, you know we'll be under-matched at only twenty-five percent norm. We're going in to die," said Kirk bluntly.
Mendez said nothing, but Stone did. "You have your orders, Captain. Starbase Eleven out."
Kirk looked up, then turned to Spock. "We'll have to try a different approach, Mister Spock. Do you agree?"
Spock looked at Kirk, trying to understand, but not succeeding.
"Mister Sulu, maneuvering thrusters ahead. Uhura, inform the dock."
"Dock's already signalled clear, Captain," Uhura interjected.
"Chief DiFalco, set course 741 mark 20," ordered Kirk.
"Captain, that course isn't for Earth! It's for the Klingon-Federation border!" she objected.
"That was an order, Ms. DiFalco," Kirk snapped. "If you cannot follow it, consider yourself relieved of duty."
"I can follow it, sir," she said quietly.
"Then do so." He thumbed a button. "Mister Scott?"
"Scott here, Cap'n. Impulse power now available. I'll have the warp engines balanced in fifteen minutes, but we'll not be able to get full pow'r from 'em 'til I can replace that magnatomic crystal."
"We'll only be needing speed, Scotty. Not our weapons."
"Kirk out." He turned to the Vulcan. "Comments?"
"I believe your decision is quite logical, Captain."
"I thought so," said Kirk, smiling. "Mister Sulu, Warp point seven."
"Point seven, sir," he acknowledged hesitantly.
"Kyptin!" An agitated Chekov exploded. "I don't understand! where the hell are we going? You're going to let those monsters take Earth?!"
"Of course not, Lieutenant. Think back. Where will that course take us?" asked Kirk patiently, aware that the young security chief still had a vendetta with the Klingons.
"Let me see...Oh! I do see!!"
"Exactly, Lieutenant. We're going to Organia," Kirk finally clarified.
Smiles appeared on everyone's faces until DiFalco said, "But the Klingons will have been on Earth one week by the time we arrive there!"
"I know, Chief. Let's hope that Earth can hold out against them that long."
Lieutenant Commander Piper walked into Commodore Mendez's office. "Commodore Stone ordered me to inform you the Enterprise has left the space dock facility."
Mendez pressed a button on his console. "Tracking Control? Mendez here. What is the course of the Enterprise?"
"One moment, sir...741 mark 20."
"Thank you. Mendez out."
"But that's not a course for Earth!" Piper exclaimed.
Mendez pulled a navigation calculator from his desk drawer. "But it's the best course, Miss Piper."
The commodore smiled to himself. "Take my word for it. If you compute the Enterprise's destination, you'll see what I mean."
"But, sir," Piper persisted. "Captain Kirk is defying a direct order!"
Mendez chuckled aloud now. "It wouldn't be the first time, Commander--and yet, despite all that, he made Admiral. Jim Kirk is the finest captain who ever commanded a starship. Believe me, he'll pull this off." And if he doesn't, we can kiss Earth goodbye... Mendez finished to himself.
Lieutenant Commander Piper shook her head in bewilderment. "If you say so, sir." She left his office then and headed directly for the nearest computer terminal bay.
She was determined to discover what was so special about the course 741 mark 20.
Lieutenant Kyrn, prime watch helmsman of the Imperial cruiser F'urgin, stared glumly down into his mug of strong, spicy kilvan. The huge Kh'myr and his comrade, Lieutenant Korval, were the only occupants of the spartan "recreation" chamber, and both of them were presently engaged in overloading their bodily systems with the alcoholic Klingon brew.
"Damn it, Korval!" Kyrn snarled. "The bastard gunned down K'bhur, never gave him a chance! How could Admiral Khalian allow one of those inferior Kh'teb a chance to command a cruiser once again?"
"Word has it that Kor appealed to Kudan Kuras himself," Korval answered. "He has some influence with the Emperor."
"The Invincible One--phah!" Kyrn snorted mockingly. "Another weakling who should be removed! Think of it--the entire Klingon Empire ruled by a Kh'teb! Unspeakable!"
Korval chuckled. "Patience, my friend. They still outnumber us, even though we now control the Imperial Fleet. It won't be long though--Khalian will soon be Emperor, and then the Kh'myr shall rule!"
"True, but Kor will have taken Earth by then." Kyrn gulped down a long swallow of his drink. "That's what really galls me. To conquer Earth and Starfleet Command--an unprecedented achievement! It should be a Kh'myr who does that." The Klingon lieutenant's eyes glittered dangerously. "I should do that."
Korval cleared his throat nervously. "You're talking mutiny, Kyrn." Even though the Kh'myr hated and despised the other Klingon sub-races as their inferiors, they still adhered to the ancient Klingon warrior codes of loyalty and obedience to a superior officer, no matter what his race.
Unless, of course, he turned his back on you.
"Look at it this way," Kyrn pressed on earnestly. "Should Kor succeed, it will provide the Kh'teb and their ilk with a method of demonstrating they are not inferior to us. It could set back all the advances the Kh'myr have made. That wold be disastrous!"
"But think of what you must do!" Korval said anxiously. "Even Khalian would not condone your killing Kor outright. Do not be hasty!"
"Perhaps you're right, my friend," Kyrn sighed wearily. "I have been out in deep space too long without shore leave. It has made me a touch edgy and irritable." He took another sip of his kilvan, gazing longingly at the mating booths scattered around the perimeter of the chamber, where a warrior could indulge in the pursuit of carnal pleasures--provided, of course, he had a female companion with which to share the booth.
But the booths were empty now, and would be for some time to come. There were no female officers in the F'urgin's crew complement.
"By the Guardians of Kh'eloz, I wish he had taken some captive females when we hit the scoutship and that relay station!" Kyrn groaned. "If I don't split a female soon, I will surely go mad!"
Korval snickered. "I sympathize with you, my overstimulated friend! But I am not so partial to Earther women. True, they are agreeably soft and pliant, but they are also very fragile. They have a tendency to die after only a few couplings. And their hideous faces! Not for me; I'll take a wanton Klingon wench any day, a sturdy one with juicy, open loins and a vacuum mouth!"
The two warriors howled with laughter and pounded each other on the back, spilling their nearly empty mugs on their table. They got up unsteadily to refill their drinks.
As they reached the synthesizer/dispenser, the doors to the rec chamber hissed open. Keb, Kor's adjutant, strode into the room. A shadow of fear flickered across his swarthy, bearded features when he saw the two glowering Kh'myr, but he moved to the dispenser anyway and filled a mug with Gellian vitz.
"You know, Korval," Kyrn rumbled, "I must disagree with you. I like my women soft and pliant--like Earthers or Kh'teb." He gulped noisily from his refilled mug, then set it down and stalked to the cubicle where Keb had sat down. "In fact, Korval, have you ever noticed how soft and weak these Kh'teb are? Just like a female. Look, they even drink a female's drink--vitz. Why, Korval, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that all Kh'teb are nothing but females disguised as men. Shall we pull down this one's breeches and see for ourselves? I'd be willing to bet all my wages for the next year that this one has no balls!!" Suddenly, Kyrn tore his long-bladed ceremonial dagger from its sheath, his eyes rheumy with alcohol and renewed resentment. "And if by some chance he does, I shall remove them!"
The insult was the last straw. Keb roared and came up out of his chair, his hand blazing toward his disruptor.
Before his weapon even cleared its holster, though, Kyrn had severed the Kh'teb's jugular with his razor-keen blade.
"Now you've really done it, Kyrn!" Korval cried as Keb's twitching, bleeding corpse folded over the table, then slid to the floor. "Kor's adjutant--are you insane?"
"Perhaps," Kyrn admitted thoughtfully as he thrust his knife back into its scabbard. "But I believe I have hit upon a way to rid us of Kor and reserve the rightful glory of conquering Earth for the Kh'myr. Korval, don't you feel that Kor is getting somewhat advanced in years to have such a black beard?"
"What are you...a graybeard?" Korval spluttered incredulously. "You would call Kor a graybeard and issue the challenge of k't'al?" An admiring smile crept across Korval's face. Perhaps his friend Kyrn was not so crazy after all.
"Why not? 'Graybeard' is the most demeaning insult one can heap upon a Klingon commander; his ability to lead has been called into question, and he must defend his honor and his command in the challenge of k't'al--armed combat to the death!"
"And if you defeat him..."
"I will defeat him!" Kyrn growled savagely. "When I do, I will be the next commander of the F'urgin, and we shall destroy Earth!"
"I must hand it to you, Kyrn--there is a method to your madness," Korval commented, shaking his head wonderingly.
Kyrn chuckled. "Thank you, my friend. Now, I suggest we get up to the command center and pay Kor a little visit." He glanced down at Keb's sprawled, still body. "I wonder..."
He shrugged, then snickered as Korval roared with laughter.
There were more important matters to attend to just now.
Kor hunched forward in the command chair, eyes anxiously fixed on the viewer. "Navigation," he barked. "What is our present distance from Earth?"
"We are now four point one parsecs from the Sol-Terra system, Exalted One. Still no contact of any kind from a Federation vessel," came the curt reply.
"Excellent. Those soft, weak fools would never expect a Klingon cruiser to have penetrated so deeply into their space! We shall be unopposed!"
"Lord Commander--if I might be so bold, where is the rest of the Klingon force that is to support us?" Kutan, the relief helmsman queried. The stocky, muscular Kh'myr's question was innocent enough, but his tone was insolent.
"Your tongue is bold indeed, dog!" Kor spat. He studied the pilot's smirking features, unobtrusively dropping his hand to the butt of his disruptor pistol. "It is not the custom of a commander to reveal top secret information to an underling, save on a need-to-know basis. Now, Lieutenant, mind your helm--lest you wish to join T'bhur aid his companion in the afterworld!"
Kutan turned back to his controls, properly chastised, but with eyes that glittered with the flames of hatred. Kor relaxed slightly. He returned his attention to the viewer again.
He heard the lift doors to the command center hiss open behind him.
"K't'al, Graybeard!!" Kyrn roared. "Do not make a move toward your weapon, or I will surely cut you down! Now--get up slowly with your hands in the air and turn to face your challenger!"
Kor did as he was instructed. He rose, hands raised, his face a frozen mask of ice-blue anger.
Kyrn and Korval stood behind the command console, disruptors trained unerringly on Kor.
"Disarm him, Kutan," the grinning Kyrn snapped.
"With pleasure!" The helmsman got up eagerly and relieved Kor of his disruptor and dagger. Suddenly, without warning, Kutan drove a clenched fist into the beleaguered commander's midsection, a savage blow that was not completely deflected by the heavy leather battle armor Kor wore. He cried out and went to his knees, gasping for breath.
"I have been wanting to do that ever since he came aboard," Kutan chuckled.
"At least now he is on his knees, where a Kh'teb belongs," Kyrn snarled. "Graybeard--I have issued you the challenge of k't'al. I will engage you in armed combat, the prize, of course, being command of this vessel. You realize that you cannot possibly hope to defeat me--a Kh'myr is half again as strong and quick as the mightiest member of your race. If you wish, I can make it easy for you. A simple execution, here and now--the usual penalty for failing to answer the challenge of k't'al."
"T'scha!" Kor cursed, his ragged breath wheezing in his lungs. "I will answer your challenge, you foolish, knob-headed whelp! And I'll mount your head on the wall of my cabin when I'm through!"
"Very well, then." Kyrn stepped down and assumed the command chair.
"Navigation, we must select a suitable arena for our contest. Locate the nearest system containing a lifeless, but habitable planet similar to Kazh."
Kotar, the Kh'myr navigator punched up a program on his console. "We are in luck, Exalted One," he reported moments later, already addressing Kyrn with the title reserved for a cruiser commander. "There is a system in this quadrant with a red sun; the fifth planet is very much like Homeworld, but is uninhabited. We can arrive there in four kilaans."
"Excellent!" Kyrn exclaimed, rubbing his thickly-gloved hands together in enthusiasm. He swiveled the command throne around to face Korval, who held his disruptor against Kor's temple. "Take the targ to the materializer chamber," he spat at his friend. "We shall see how well our ex-Lord Commander comports himself in a duel with the kh'uled."
Kor smiled grimly. He was fairly proficient in the use of the lightweight, keen-bladed dueling sword, but Kyrn was a master. He knew he stood little chance against the big Kh'myr.
"The kh'uled, eh?" Kor asked, his voice a soft, deadly growl. "You leave nothing to chance."
"A good commander never does, Graybeard--something you should have learned." He grinned, waving his hand imperiously. "Take him away!"
He sat back in the command chair, exulting in the feeling of power that coursed through his veins. Behind him, Kor cursed vehemently as he was unceremoniously shoved into the turbolift. Kyrn smiled. Soon the inferior weakling would die, choking on his own blood, and then the F'urgin would truly be his, free and clear. He would lead his ship and crew in the most glorious quest in the history of the Klingon Empire. He would go down in history as the most vaunted warrior of all time.
He would conquer Earth!
James T. Kirk was up and pacing agitatedly about the Enterprise bridge.
"Damn it!" he exploded. "Six more days! Six more days of crawling through space toward Organia, and all the while the Klingons could be chewing up Earth and Starfleet! I feel so helpless!"
"Calm down, Jim," Leonard McCoy urged from his post behind the command console. "You've done everything you could. You selected the proper course of action."
"Did I, Bones?" Kirk plopped down restlessly in the command chair once more, wearily rubbing his eyes. "I wonder if I did. I keep thinking I should set course for Earth, as ordered, and engage the Klingons."
"That's absurd," McCoy grated. "In her present condition, the Enterprise couldn't even handle one nominally healthy K't'inga cruiser. It would he suicide!"
"But maybe we could have slowed them down, bought some time for Earth. We'd be doing something, anyway. This way, all we do is wait! We can't do anything!"
"We can, Captain Kirk," a familiar voice intoned behind them.
Kirk and McCoy whirled simultaneously, their mouths dropping open in astonishment.
Ayelborne, Claymare and Trefayne stood, near the turbolift access platform, smiling benignly at them. Activity on the Enterprise bridge came to a complete halt. Muttered comments and gasps of recognition sounded from all quarters as the three members of the Organian council descended to the lower bridge level.
For the first time in quite a while, James T. Kirk relaxed. It was as though a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. His face wreathed in a relieved smile, Kirk rose to greet the trio of superbeings.
"Gentlemen, am I glad to see you!" the captain exclaimed fervently.
"I would imagine so, Captain," Ayelborne returned, his smile never dimming. "From what I read in your mind, the situation is not a good one. The Klingons have unleashed a wave of senseless violence and destruction. We shall rectify it."
Suddenly, Trefayne frowned and shut his eyes tightly as he touched his fingertips to his right temple.
"Ayelborne," he murmured, "I fear it may be too late for Commander Kor. We must hurry--with each passing second it will become more difficult to repair the damage to the proper flow of time."
"Oh, dear," Ayelborne said, grimacing. "The belligerent, vicious nature of the Klingon species is truly appalling. It is a wonder that they ever survived long enough to achieve starflight." He turned to Kirk "Captain, we must go now, before the damage becomes too extensive even for us to unravel. If we do not succeed..."
Kirk nodded in grim understanding. If the Organians failed, interstellar war was a certainty--a long, bloody, no-win conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.
"Good luck, gentlemen," Kirk whispered, as McCoy nodded in agreement.
The three Organians drew closer together, their bodies beginning to glow with an eerily beautiful, blue-white light. The Enterprise bridge crew watched the transfiguration awestruck, until the supernal illumination became overwhelmingly unbearable.
And suddenly the galaxy froze in its tracks, congealed, stopped spinning about its axis-point, and time began to inexorably flow backwards.
It was at an end.
Kor lay in the blood-soaked dirty-yellow sand, squinting against the crimson sun that baked the desert planet with its crucible heat. It had not been much of a duel. He had crossed kh'uleds with Kyrn only a half-dozen or so times, before the Kh'myr had severed his sword hand at the wrist, then run him completely through with the razor-sharp tritanium blade.
And now, Kor knew, he had but a few painful moments of life remaining. Blood geysered from the horrible wound in his chest. He would never see the Homeworld of Kazh again, never watch the angry blaze of the suns as they set over the hostile, arid beauty of the great deserts. He had some regrets, it was true--he had not destroyed James T. Kirk, but at least he would die a warrior.
Kyrn bent down, brandishing his dripping kh'uled, and spat in Kor's face.
"By Kahless, I told you, Graybeard!" he crowed. "The superior species always triumphs! You did not stand a chance!" His eyes blazed maniacally as he spouted the gospel of super-race, handed down with little variation from Adolph Hitler, to Khan Noonian Singh, to Galeph the Terrible of Theta Crucis IV.
"Superior..." Kor muttered weakly. "Yet you...and your kind continually invoke... Kahless the Unforgettable--and he was not a Kh'myr."
"It matters not," Kyrn chuckled. "Particularly to you." He tightened his grip on the sword as his free hand knotted in Kor's hair. "You threatened to mount my head on the wall of your cabin, Graybeard. However, I fear it will be the other way around."
Kor felt himself being drawn down into a pitch-black, bottomless chasm. Perhaps he would join his ancestors in the afterworld before Kyrn could fulfill his final, painful threat. He dimly saw the Kh'myr draw back his kh'uled for the decapitating stroke, and---
Commander Kor re-read the message for the fifth time. It had been transmitted to him on the F'urgin by Koloth and Krell in a code which only they and their cohorts could decipher. They had alerted him to Admiral Khalian's forthcoming recall of his vessel, a recall which would terminate his command and relegate him to the Emperor's Admiralty--something he didn't want.
"But you shall comply with the recall, Commander Kor," Trefayne said.
"What?!" the Klingon roared. He whirled around, drawing his disruptor, but he lowered the weapon when he saw his visitors and realized the futility of the move. "You! You infernal, smiling meddlers again. It has been a long time."
"Not really, Commander," said Ayelborne.
"Why are you here?" Kor growled.
"You require an answer, Klingon?" Claymare scoffed. "You already know why."
Kor sighed. "It would have been glorious."
"You would have died, Kor," Ayelborne cut in. "You would never even have seen the conquest of Earth. One of your junior officers would have cut you down and led the strike himself--and would have failed."
The Klingon commander leaped to his feet, raging. "Who is the dog? Tell me, so I may destroy him--the mutinous scum!"
"It is not important," Trefayne returned. "What is important is that there will be no war. And it is for the best--you would have died, your men despising you, your ship and crew destroyed."
"It would have been better than my return to the admiralty," Kor murmured glumly.
Claymare gazed at the crestfallen Klingon with something very much like pity. "Then you need not return," he said softly.
"What?" Kor blurted, surprised.
"We can take care of it if you like. In return, you will, of course, abandon your plan of futile conquest."
Kor chuckled throatily. "You drive a hard bargain, meddlers, but--agreed!"
Ayelborne's smile grew even broader. "You realize, of course, that you could not launch your conquest even if you wished. Consider this...a gift."
The Organians stood together, shoulder to shoulder, and at once began to glow with an actinic brightness. Kor watched until he was finally forced to shield his eyes with his hand. A voice called to him from the center of the glare.
"Farewell, Commander Kor."
"And good riddance to you, meddlers!" the Klingon mumbled under his breath as he grinned broadly.
Admiral Khalian strode down the long crimson carpet that stretched out toward the throne of Kudan Kuras in the center of the majestic Imperial hall. He genuflected, then raised a clenched fist to the Emperor in salute. "Hail, Invincible One!"
Khalian's gaze flickered to the Kh'teb guards who flanked the throne. The gun hands of all six of them rested lightly on the handles of their disruptors, their eyes glittering with mistrust of their hated Kh'myr enemy. He grinned, then turned his full attention to the emperor.
"You have read the reports on the errant Commander Kor's activities?"
"I have," Kudan Kuras replied, his rich bass voice reverberating in the audience chamber.
Khalian chuckled with glee. "Then I may have the honor of recalling him?"
"No?!" the Kh'myr roared. "How can you be so foolish?"
"I am not foolish, Khalian! Be warned, I could always demote you to the rank of commander!"
"Commander?" former Admiral Khalian sputtered.
"Would you like to try for lieutenant?" the emperor shot back.
"No, My Lord!"
"That's better," Kudan Kuras chuckled. "Kor is an old acquaintance of mine, Khalian. I gave him his command. If I took it back, it would mean I made a mistake." His voice dropped to a silken, deadly whisper. "Are you suggesting I made a mistake?"
"Of course not, Lord Emperor," the rattled Kh'myr replied shakily.
"Good. You are dismissed, Khalian," the Invincible One proclaimed. "Oh, and send in Admiral Kang. He wanted to see me this afternoon."
Khalian nodded, then hastily left the throne room, seething with anger and humiliation. "Your day will come soon, 'Invincible One,'" he grated. "You have made me more determined than ever to put my ultimate plan of coup into effect."
He strolled down the corridors of the palace, his mind swirling with visions of the day when he could rectify this embarrassment.
Commander Marc Haber of the Federation scoutship Columbia sat in his command chair. This was becoming an extremely boring mission--and he was glad. Patrolling the Organian Treaty Zone was no picnic. Any break from the seemingly endless series of irritating skirmishes with Klingon cruisers was welcome indeed.
Almost as welcome as the end of his duty shift.
"Dinner's on me, ladies and gentlemen," he said as the relief crew filed in.
"Gee, thanks, Commander!" exclaimed Lieutenant O'Brannon, beaming.
First Officer Alicia Stone relinquished her console. "I'll second that. Let's go--I'm starving!"
"What about you, Adrienne?" Haber queried.
"Thanks, but no," the pretty brunette replied. "I've planned to spend some time with my husband." She grinned mischievously as her imagination danced with delightfully wicked scenarios.
It was going to be a very interesting evening!
Commander Kevin Seals of Space Station Epsilon Eight strolled by Lieutenant Elena Pappas' station. As always, he felt his pulse quicken as he turned his gaze on his beautiful, dark-haired First Officer. "Anything to report?" he queried, trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible.
"Nothing much," she returned. "Doctor Reidy reports he's dying. "
"Dying?! Of what?"
"Me, too." Seals cleared his throat nervously. "Lieutenant, how would you like to have dinner with me tonight in my quarters?"
Pappas looked shocked. "You mean--alone? Just you and me in your quarters?"
"Me? Alone with a man in his cabin?"
"Trapped in the same room with a slavering, lustful, sex-crazed maniac?!"
"Now wait a minute!"'
"I'd love to!" Pappas exclaimed, grinning. "Give me about an hour after we get off to freshen up."
"Great!" Seals returned. "I'll be looking forward to it."
"So will I, Commander," Pappas purred. She winked seductively at Seals, causing him to wonder momentarily just what the main course would be. He shook his head, chuckling.
Maybe tonight I'll tell her, he thought as he moved on to another station.
Thus ended another peaceful standard day in the Federation.
Originally, James T. Kirk had thought it was a good idea, but now he wasn't so sure.
Kirk, along with Commanders Spock, McCoy and Scott, and Lieutenant Chekov, held down a table in Starbase Eleven's lounge. The captain was worried about the young Russian Security Chief. He had invited Chekov to this informal get-together in hopes of raising him out of his depression, but it had only served to make him worse. He sat there morosely, silently nursing his vodka, taking little notice of the quiet, relaxing conversation going on around him.
"Epsilon Eight reports that a probe drone sighted the Klingon cruiser F'urgin leaving the Evern system on a heading back toward Imperial space," Spock was saying. "Evidently Commander Kor has decided not to make further trouble."
"That's good news, Spock," Kirk returned. "I was sure he'd be coming after me. I wonder what changed his mind?"
"Well, I for one could care less," McCoy grated. "They gave us enough headaches as it was!"
"Aye," Scotty chimed in. "They sure knocked th' Enterprise about! That's for sure! Bu' dinna worry sir, we'll be ready to leave at planet dawn."
"Thanks, Scotty. I knew you'd handle the repairs with your usual efficiency," Kirk said. A pretty young blonde waitress ambled by, giving a new meaning to the phrase 'poetry in motion.' Kirk flagged her down, switching on one of his most dazzling smiles.
"One whiskey, one mint julep, one scotch, and one vodka, please, miss," Kirk requested. "Oh--and a glass of water for Mister Spock!"
Chekov stood up slowly "Cancel the vodka, miss," he said, then turned to the other officers at the table. "If you don't mind, sirs, I think I'll be going now. I...I vwould like to be alone for a vwhile."
"Are you sure, Pavel?" Kirk asked, concerned.
"I'm sure," the lieutenant replied. Kirk caught a glimpse of the pain and confusion in the young Russian's eyes and nodded understandingly. His gaze followed Chekov as he exited the bar.
"Don't worry about him, Jim," McCoy said softly. "He's got to work this out himself. He loved that girl, and he'll be a long time healing. But he'll survive."
"I know," Kirk murmured. Once again he experienced a vivid impression of the final, fatal instant of confrontation between Chekov and Denise Jenkins; the expression of utter anguish on the young Russian's face as he was forced to gun down the woman he loved, the agony and terror crossing Jenkins' lovely features as she died, nanoseconds before her lithe body exploded in a dazzling flash of liberated energy.
Kirk shuddered. "Poor Denise. She was spawn of the Klingons. She never even realized how she'd been manipulated."
"The Klingon Way," McCoy muttered bitterly. "Let somebody else do your dirty work for you--and take the consequences, too."
As Chekov started out of the door, a young woman bumped into him. "Excuse me, miss. I vwasn't vwatching vwhere I vwas going."
She looked at him. "That's okay. Hey, you look kinda down. Lemme buy you a drink."
He was about to say no when she interrupted him. "Come on, sailor," she said, winking at him. He followed.
Their hostess returned to their drinks, setting a glass before each member of the now quiet, introspective group.
It was Spock who uncharacteristically broke the silence.
"Gentlemen," he intoned. "Perhaps we should indulge in an old superstition of your native planet. I propose a toast to the day when enmity between the Klingons and the Federation no longer exists and all the peoples of the galaxy can co-exist in peace and harmony."
The Vulcan raised his glass, and three others joined in a chiming salute to hope.
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