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It was three hours after Vulcan sunset, and the temperature had just dipped under 100° Fahrenheit. 40 Eridani A’s assault on the planet had been especially brutal today.

Pavel Chekov trudged wearily through the ocher and yellow desert sands beyond the gardens of the house of D'H'riset, the villa of Lady Amanda and Ambassador Sarek in ShiKahr. The heavier than Earth gravity and the mind-searing heat conspired to drain him of his strength. When he breathed the thin air, he felt as though he was inhaling fire. The giddiness he felt told him he would soon need another tri-ox injection. He was sweating profusely; even though the desert was bone dry, the heat was appalling. A Human could lose ten pounds of water weight a day just sitting in the shade on Vulcan.

As if there was any shade to be had.

The events of the past few days had been exhausting. In short order they had kidnapped McCoy from Starfleet detention, assaulting and disabling some security guards on the way; stolen the Enterprise; sabotaged the Excelsior; taken the Enterprise to a quarantined planet, namely Genesis; scuttled the Enterprise; and saved Spock’s life.

That last had made it all worthwhile.

The loss of the Enterprise had been heart-wrenching, but it had paled in comparison to an even greater tragedy: the death of Admiral Kirk’s son, David Marcus, murdered by a K’h’myr Klingon.

Chekov shuddered.

He could still see the young scientist lying dead on the unstable, shifting surface of Genesis, his bloody chest torn open by a Klingon d’k’tagh battle dagger.

Chekov stopped to catch his breath. He could see the blue strobes flashing a few hundred meters away, marking the perimeter of Sarek and Amanda’s estate, and the forcefield that protected the grounds from Vulcan’s fierce nocturnal predators.

As if on cue, a le-matya howled out in the foothills of the L-Langon Mountains. Chekov shivered at the feral shriek of the poisonous Vulcan saurian, and was reassured by the steadily pulsing blue lights not far away. As always, he was grateful for the forcefields. He resumed his trek across the sand.

He was out there, not far away. Chekov had followed his footprints.

He needed to talk to Admiral Kirk about the death of his son. He needed to clear the air. Now was probably not the best time, but there would never be a good time.

His eyes had adjusted to the starlight, and he could see the familiar form of James T. Kirk sitting on a large, flat black rock. Chekov made a good deal of noise as he approached, kicking up sand as he walked. He didn’t want to startle Kirk.

1The admiral turned, an expression of surprise on his face. "Pavel! Having trouble sleeping in this heat? I know I am." He gestured at the rock. "Pull up a chair."

"Thank you, sair," the Russian said as he gratefully sank down on the slab of stone, which was still hot from the solar energy it had absorbed during the day.

"I came out here to do a little thinking," Kirk said. "It’s been such a merry-go-round this past week. I don’t think it’s all sunk in yet."

"Am I disturbing you, sair?" Chekov asked. "I can come back later."

"No, not at all. I could use the company, actually."

Kirk stared morosely out into the desert, lost in thought. Neither of them said anything for several minutes.

Then Kirk raised his eyes to the sky. "I keep analyzing the choices I made during this whole Genesis mess. I keep asking myself if I could have done anything differently, and I keep coming up with the same answer: no. And I’d do it all over again. And yet, this all came out so terribly, horribly wrong. Bones always said the law of averages would catch up to me someday. Well, it seems to have caught up to me in spades."

His lips tightened, and he shook his head. "Fifteen years ago, I would have found a way," he muttered. "I would have saved Spock, and the Enterprise, and...David."

He lowered his gaze to the ground and closed his eyes. "I didn’t even know him," Kirk said softly. "We had just come to something of an understanding. I think we could have become friends—even if it was too late for us to be father and son. Now I’ll never get that chance."

He exhaled slowly, and his eyes were bright with unshed tears. "I told Bones that galloping around the cosmos was a game for the young. I should have heeded my own advice." He turned toward Chekov.

The Russian was shocked at what he saw. Kirk looked exhausted, which was understandable, but there was more. There was defeat on the admiral’s face, hopelessness in his dull eyes, something Chekov had never seen before in the visage of James T. Kirk. He looked older than Chekov had ever seen him. It unsettled him to the core of his being.

He didn’t know what to say.

"I’m not used to losing, Pavel," Kirk murmured. "The only cadet ever to beat the Kobayashi Maru test. The gallant galactic hero, James T. Kirk." His laugh was bitter. "Some hero! I blew up our ship and stranded us on a dying planet that was tearing itself apart. If the Klingon commander hadn’t beamed down, he would have left us marooned there, and we’d all be dead now—Spock included."

"But he did beam down—just as you knew he vwould," Chekov said. "And because of that, Kyptin Spock is alive. Doctor McCoy was right—you did vwhat you had to do to give us a fighting chance to live. Only you could have succeeded at Genesis, sair."

"I don’t call that success, Pavel," Kirk said. "We retrieved Spock; that was the point of all this. But losing the ship...and my son—I don’t consider those to be acceptable losses."

Kirk buried his head in his hands. "David..."

Chekov cleared his throat. "Admiral...I am sorry about the death of your son," he said. "That’s vwhat I came out here to talk to you about. You see, I feel...responsible for David’s death."

Kirk’s eyes narrowed, and he gazed piercingly at his protégé. "Well, that really came out of left field! And how do you figure that, Commander?"

"I didn’t verify Mister Beach’s readings of the star system as I should have. I wouldn’t’ve made the same mistake he had. Later, I reported the signal from the surface of what we thought to be Ceti Alpha Six to Captain Terrell on Reliant," Chekov answered. "It vwas just a brief blip on my screen; I could have ignored it, but I decided to investigate, probably because we were soooo bored. And finally, the second we saw those container pods on the planet, I should’ve realized what had happened. After all, Admiral, I was one of the engineers who helped plant them on Ceti Alpha Five.

"If I had done any one of those three things, that lunatic Khan never vwould have escaped and hijacked Reliant, and none of this—including David’s death—vwould ever have happened."

"You were just doing your job, Pavel," Kirk said. "It’s not your fault. If you had been aboard Enterprise, I would have expected you to do the same thing. You can’t blame yourself."

He straightened up and stretched his stiff back, still feeling the effects of his brutal battle with the Klingon commander on Genesis. "If you want to play the blame game, we could do that all night long. If I had Khan put in the brig the second he was identified all those years ago, he’d’ve never managed to take over the ship and free his followers aboard the Botany Bay. And if I had simply put them at a rehabilitation colony instead of giving them the chance to start a colony on Ceti Alpha Five, they would’ve have been there when Ceti Alpha Six exploded, and none of this would have happened. If Carol and David hadn’t developed the Genesis torpedo and drawn the attention of both Khan and the Klingons—and God knows how many others—this wouldn’t have happened, either. It goes on and on."

Chekov sighed. "You say I shouldn’t blame myself because I vwas just doing my job. Vwell then, you shouldn’t blame yourself, either, sair, because you vwere just doing your job. You vwere protecting your crew and doing everything in your power to rescue Kyptin Spock." The navigator smiled wanly. "Is old Russian proverb: ‘Que sera, sera.’ Vwhatever vwill be, vwill be."

Kirk laughed aloud despite his black mood. "An old Russian proverb, Mister Chekov?"

"Da. Vwas coined by Czar Nicholas the First. It means there is a reason for everything that happens, and there isn’t much we can do about it."

"Fate?" Kirk frowned. "I’m not sure I believe in fate, Pavel."

"Then think of it this vway: You gave Enterprise honorable death. It vwas death vwith purpose. You eliminated the Klingon crew and evened the odds for us. Enterprise vwent out in blaze of glory. If she hadn’t, they would have carved her up for scrap metal. Vwould have been ignominious end for that great lady."

Kirk winced. The memory of watching Enterprise’s remains streak across the skies of Genesis in flames was still too raw, too fresh for him. "I suppose you’re right about that," he admitted. "But—"

"And David. He sacrificed himself to save Saavik and Spock. If he hadn’t, Saavik might now be dead. Or Spock—he vwould have been lost to us forever this time, vwith no vway to get him back."

Kirk didn’t respond, and sat silently brooding for a long time, gazing out across the desert. Chekov wondered if he had said something wrong.

Finally, the young Russian broke the uncomfortable silence. "I know it doesn’t make David’s death any easier to take, sair, but..."

"But maybe it doesn’t seem quite so senseless somehow," Kirk finished, nodding slowly. "I see what you’re saying. Thank you, Pavel. At least you’ve given me something to think about."

Kirk stood up and drew in a deep breath, and Chekov witnessed a dramatic transformation. The fatigue fled from his face, and a spark of determination gleamed in his hazel eyes. He set his jaw and straightened up confidently, looking vital and refreshed.

"We’d better head back and get some rest," Kirk said. "Scotty told me the Klingon bird-of-prey would be ready to fly in a couple of weeks, and we can leave for Earth to face the music."

"They vwill throw book at us, you know. Probably War and Peace. Or maybe Crime and Punishment. Or both—they’re big books. Vwill hurt like Hell!"

Kirk grinned. "Maybe we can duck if our reflexes are quick enough."

They headed back toward the villa of Sarek and Amanda. The wound of his son’s death still bled, but he had been too wrapped up in his own grief to realize that David hadn’t died in vain. Chekov’s words had lightened his burden a little. It would still take a long time for him to heal, but he felt as though maybe he had turned a corner.

"Do you think vwe vwill get to see Spock before vwe go?" Chekov asked.

Kirk sighed. "I can’t say, Pavel. I hope we do. But if we don’t, we can at least leave knowing that he’s back among us again. And, as Spock says, ‘there are always possibilities.’ Who knows—maybe we’ll all get together again someday."

"Da—vwhen vwe all get out of Alcatraz!"

Their laughter was swallowed up by the night, and they headed for the warm, welcoming lights of the villa up ahead in the darkness.

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