Patricia WrightApril 2nd 2283
"Home...you should go home..."
The chilly words echoed in his mind as he lay sprawled across the shattered starship bridge. He could hear the roar of an uncontained hull breach and even though he was supposed to be unconscious, Chekov could not help but consider the dramatic effects the icy vacuum of space wrecked upon the Human body.
He had seen it in person once; a clumsy fellow cadet during an Academy training mission. Starfleet Academy was not a place for the clumsy. This was not a particularly good time to dredge up that memory, he realized.
Had this been a functioning bridge on an actual starship the memory would have brought a surge of adrenalin. As it were, it barely staved off the overwhelming boredom that his supposed death was inflicting upon him.
"I told you that you should go home," came a familiar voice.
Chekovs eyes fluttered open and he raised his gaze to the man towering over him. He was a great hulk of a man, truly a Russian bear. It intimidated most people who dealt with him, but not Pavel Chekov. His own small stature had taught him early on not to judge a person by their size.
"Then this would mean I am not dead?" he asked as he heard the simulator supervisor order an end to the Kobayashi Maru program currently running. Exhaust blowers immediately came on to clear the room of the smoke generated by the computers when they registered faux damage. Chekov knew from experience that they hadnt quite got the smell of burning duotronic circuitry right, but that was probably for the best.
"Im not dead?" he inquired again, this time with a deliberately thick accent.
A shadow of a smile traced over the face of the admiral currently in charge of Starfleet Training Command. He reached a hand down to the Starfleet commanders newly animated corpse. "I am inclined to grant you a temporary reprieve from death at this time, Pavel Andreievich."
Much as life itself has, Chekov thought ruefully as he accepted his former Academy professors help and climbed to his feet. Death preoccupied those around him these days, it seemed. James Kirk had taken an extended leave of absence following the loss of Spock in the battle against Khan and the captured Reliant. The rest of his former shipmates were scattered by mortalitys touch in their lives. Deaths icy fingers clung to Chekov too, in petty, idiotic regulations that kept him off the active duty list.
He knew his approved participation in these Starfleet Training Command exams was due in large part to both the influence and presence of Admiral Richard Niedel. The man had earned his deepest respect while he was still a cadet and the senior officer felt similarly about Chekov. The admiral was no James Kirk, but the heros background and temperment made him the perfect choice to shape Starfleets newest command officers. Chekov was grateful the man had included him in the days exams; at least it gave him something to do while between assignments. What was it Kirk had said? We also serve, those who stand and wait. And teach, he amended.
The last of the cadets and junior officers had left the bridge mock-up for the briefing room, and the maintenance crews were scrubbing furiously on the walls and decks to remove all signs of the simulated battle damage.
"He failed, I suppose," Chekov sighed. It wasnt unusual for the Kobayashi Maru exam to wreak destruction, but the cadet being tested had simply abandoned his ship and crew to an unparrelled, wholesale slaughter. The thought sent an unwelcome shiver down Chekovs spine.
He flung the shiver off with determination and turned his thoughts to the hapless officer in training. Chekov had liked the bright, eager young man. He hoped the boy had a dream other than being a Starfleet captain.
"We arent training crewmen here, Pavel; theyre going to be officers," the admiral was answering him. "We cant teach them everything. They have to have the basic instinct to consider others..." His voice seized up then as he realized what he was saying and who he was saying it to. As the admirals words trailed off into the silence in the now clear room, others filtered into Chekovs head. "The good of the many outweighs the good of the few...."
The elder man drew his graying eyebrows closer together in a time-worn gesture that signaled his ability to get to the heart of a matter. "How is Jim doing?" the admiral asked finally, folding his beefy arms across his broad chest. "I sent a message, but I havent been able to contact him personally."
Taking a moment, Chekov lulled over the response to the question. Niedel was not a man to be answered flippantly. "His best friend died," he said to the man who had become like an adopted uncle to him during his own years at the Academy. "Spock chose his death and chose to make it mean something, though. Thats more than anyone can hope for, is it not?"
The admiral nodded, but his silent regard set a clear requirement for the younger man to continue.
"And Kirk had the chance to say good-bye," Chekov elaborated. "Work in deep space rarely affords us that luxury. The admiral knows that. Hes managing as well as can be expected, I suppose."
"And the rest of your shipmates?"
"The crew of the Reliant has been rescued from Ceti Alpha Five and are still being debriefed at Starbase Seventeen."
"I meant your old friends from the Enterprise, Pavel Andreievich."
"Managing," the commander answered neutrally. "Doctor McCoy, however..." He hesitated and wondered how, in fact, the physician was doing. Whyand howhad the doctor broken into Spocks sealed cabin? It wouldve required superhuman strength. Then there were reports of the mans strange behavior since then...
Chekov shook his head. "Haunted," was how he finally responded to the question, feeling futile at not having a better answer to either the question or the doctors behavior. "McCoy seems haunted. Hes home, at his condominium in San Francisco, resting."
"Home...you should go home..."
The word spilled over into his own life, and he raised his eyes to see the admirals gentle brown ones, two shades lighter than his own, studying him.
"And you, Pasha?"
There it was then: the question that had been just outside their conversations all morning. The question that had allowed them to come here together when endless Starfleet debriefings were unable to answer it.
Chekov answered the question with a biting, sarcastic one of his own. "So are you going to tell them my dark secrets, Richard?"
Pursing his lips, the great giant of a man eyed him coolly. "Should I, Pasha?"
"What do I care?" The commander pulled his uniform jacket straight with a stiff jerk. "Theres nothing to tell."
It seemed less strange that this American of Russian descent would use his nickname than the fact that he somehow understood the younger mans Russian soul. It occurred to Chekov, not for the first time recently, that Russians had a better grasp on this life than other Terrans did. The hours of debriefings hed enduredmore than anyone else involved in the fight against Khancame back to him now.
"Ive been debriefed a dozen times over, been analyzed and reanalyzed, and had my brain scanned repeatedly by their machines. Have they found any significant changes?" he asked with frustration. "It is my experience they wont rest until they do."
It was true. If he gave them the answers they wanted, they would deem him permanently damaged goods and put him behind a desk where hed be pitied for the rest of his career. The truth would only convince them he was in denialand dangerous, even behind a desk.
Chekov shook his head and raised truly puzzled eyes to the admiral. "Why should I be traumatized? The men and women of the Genesis Project were able to make the same choice Spock did. They chose their deaths...chose to give them meaning. Tragedy occurs when our deaths are too early and meaningless. What I saw happen on that station was a life-affirming testament to the noble character that still exists in Humans."
He saw queasiness pass over the mans ruddy face as he spoke of the events that had occurred at the Genesis Station. Knowingly, Chekov laughed out loud at the mans sheepish behavior. "Really, Richard," he scolded the admiral. "Ive been in deep space long enough.....my God, the things Ive had inflicted upon myself alone..."
This time it was the admiral who laughed rather dubiously. "Yes, I suppose I hadnt thought about that. You never have been the squeamish type."
Chekov nodded agreement but lapsed into silence then. He took a moment to rub warmth into his arms, despite the fact that the temperature of the room was perfectly comfortable. It wasnt common for the admiral in charge of Starfleet Training Command to be present for a test even as critical as the Kobayashi Maru. The commander knew full well that the cadets reaction to the hopeless situation wasnt the one being observed by Niedel. "Are you going to tell them to put me back on the active duty list?" he demanded bluntly.
The admiral stood silent, eyeing Chekov with an intensity that was painful. "Pavel," he asked finally, "what about the things you did at Khans urging? Do they... bother you?"
The younger mans dark eyes quietly met Niedels doe-skin colored ones. "You mean what Ralph did?"
"Ralph?" The admiral blinked in ignorance.
"Yes," Chekov nodded, shrugging easily. "Ralph. Youve obviously never been on a first name basis with a Ceti Alpha eel."
The brilliant, crooked smile that flashed over Chekovs features and lit up his eyes were so classic to his personality that it nearly made the admiral melt with his own relieved smile. Starfleet had led Niedel to believe that all but the most rudimentary elements of the young man who had exchanged lessons with him were gone. Fools, the admiral decided. The fact that Pavel Chekov would have chosen such a name for that creature, a name so foreign to him and his upbringing, indicated how far the Reliants executive officer had disassociated himself from the events they spoke of.
"Youve been surrounded by death lately," the admiral maintained stoically. "Your life has been inundated with it, Pavel."
"In Russia, we dont feel the same about life and death as you Europeans and Americans," Chekov explained. "If I stay off the duty list much longer, Richard, Ill go as mad as they claim I am!" he blurted out.
The admirals stare was icy. "You cant strong arm Starfleet, Pavel, let alone a man like Commander-Starfleet Morrow. But," he interrupted Chekovs retort, "Ill talk to them about stalwart Russians." The man smiled kindly at him.
"Youre not ready yet, Pasha. Go," the admiral said then, his thick fingers squeezing the commanders shoulder. "Go home and see your mother and father; itll do you good. And tell your grandmother I said hello."
April 4th 2283
The icy wind drove through the city, oblivious to the discomfort it caused. It picked up and threw the dusting of snow from the ground into erratic patterns in the air. Snow flurries plummeted relentlessly downward through the force of the wind as if to taunt the citys residents.
"Damn white flies," he muttered, observing with particularly bad Russian humor what a nuisance snow flurries were. He proceeded to swear, not just in Russian, but in every Slavic tongue he knew. Why didnt it snow already? Spring may have officially began April first, but Russians knew that the universe felt no obligation to co-operate with mans lofty edicts. The biting cold forcefully reminded the world of that. He pushed his hands deeper into his reindeer fur mittens and pulled up the collar of his great coat.
"Home...you should go home," his friends and shipmates on Earth had urged. Yet, they had failed to identify that elusive home of which they spoke. He had wandered the Enterprises hollow halls after his mentors death and found no haven for himself there. The planet of his birth welcomed him with no refuge either. His family was still distant and his beloved grandmother was off visiting other family in New York City. Being grounded on Earth without anything productive to do just furthered the indecency of it all.
"You should go home; it will do you good." The same words repeated again and again, dancing on his mind like the irritating white flies on the biting wind around him. What good was this? What good to be trapped, condemned to land with the stars calling from the heavens just beyond?
He shrugged himself deeper into his great coat. This place had once felt like both his home and his future, back when the Earth had been so large it was a universe unto itself. The Baikonur Cosmodrome had encompassed the dreams of his youth. Dreams had a way of dispersing the closer you got to them, however. Have I aged so quickly? he wondered desperately.
Baikonur was no longer his home nor his future. The work that Starfleet and civilian scientists did here was now cold and lifeless to him. How could it possibly begin to compare to the work he and Spock and the other science officers had done on countless late nights in the Enterprises labs while out among the stars? How could it possibly begin to compare to the years as the chief security officer, responsible for the lives of the entire crew of first the Enterprise and later the Reliant? How could it compare to the excitement, the duties, the responsibilities of being the Reliants executive officer?
Captain Spock... the memory of him settled warmly on Chekovs mind for a moment. It had been hard to leave the Enterprise for Reliant, even with a promotion in line for him. It had been hard to leave Spock and his "one more task". It had been hard to leave the bridge crew that had become his friendsstill the finest bridge crew that had ever been assembled.
It was in their friendship that they convinced him to move on and take advantage of the opportunity to further his command career. They had reminded him that building a career had to come before friendships for a Starfleet officer. Now he had lost both Terrell and Spock permanently to the universes greater good, and with their loss had come a maddening halt to the career he was supposed to be building.
There were diversions galore in Baikonur, and he remembered worming his way into the experiments and launches here in his spare time as a youth. Its launchpads and research facilities had always been, and still remained, the heart of the Earths space program. Only he could not help the people who toiled here now no matter how much he wanted to. Niedel had seen to that.
Chekov wondered how many other doors would be slammed in his face, how many more icy receptions he was destined to receive.
"Go home; itll do you good." Again, he wondered where the elusive home of which they all spoke was.
"This is not your home."
Chekov spun in chilled in recognition of Spocks voice and met those eyes he knew so well. Dark and open, there was a fathomless patience in them that came across almost as warmth...almost. But, no, McCoy had blue eyes. Chekov blinked, stunned at who he had thoughtfor an instantstood there.
"Doctor McCoy," was all he said. It made no sense that the harried man would be in Russia now. He had refused all of Chekovs earlier invitations to the bridge crew for trips to his Motherland. They had been on landing parties together, but McCoy knew Chekov primarily as the strong-willed, well...pain in the ass patient that he was. How in Gods name would he have known to look for Chekov here? Hed rarely spoken of his forays here to anyone. If anywhere, his friends would have looked for him in the heart of Moscow or perhaps Leningrad. But certainly not Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
And now there was an eerie, familiar strangeness to the doctor that made Chekovs skin crawl. He appeared stiff and formal, something the Russian could never say hed been able to equate with the emotional American before.
"Is everything alright, Doctor?" Chekov was prompted to ask.
Hands behind his back, McCoy tilted his head in a peculiar way. "You are well," he stated.
"And this you came to Russia to tell me?" It hardly seemed reason for a house call. The Enterprises chief medical officer always worried about the crew under his care, however, and Chekov had a penchant for ending up in Sickbay. If the strangers in Starfleet were going to fret about his sanity, he granted that McCoy had even more so earned that right.
"How did you know that I would be here?"
The doctor seemed suspicious of the question. "The Baikonur Cosmodrome and its city are the birthplace of Terran space flight," he answered simply. "Sputnik was launched from here. Leonov and Gagarin walked these grounds."
"They did," Chekov agreed, startled that McCoy knew it. Americans tended to still have blinders regarding Earthss early space flight history. "But why would you look for me here?"
"As you are not on the Starfleet active duty list, it is likely that you would be seeking somewhere else to do something productive. You assisted in several launches here while you were still a youth."
Chekov balked at McCoys matter-of-fact statement. No one knew that, not even his grandmother. The revelation of his illicit participation could have cost people that had befriended him their jobs so he had never told anyone.
Except the person who had served as Enterprises chief science officer. Chekov had often acted as the mans research assistant on his personal research projects, and it more than occasionally involved stretches of work late into the night. While they were alone in the science labs Chekov had no hesitation explaining to the curious Vulcan where the newly commissioned navigator had picked up his assortment of odd skills. Spock was not the kind of man who would share such information.
Chekov shifted awkwardly. It made no sense that McCoy would know hed helped with launches here and he was at a loss to how the doctor had found out. "Is there something I can do for you, Doctor?" he finally inquired.
"Dont let them forget, Mister Chekov. Make them understand."
Chekov stared at McCoy for a long moment in trepidation. Mister Chekov? In the entire time they had known each other the man had never called him Mister. Ensign Smartass, yes, but mister, no. The commander asked for clarification. "Forget what?"
"No one..." The man fumbled mid sentence, blinking and staring at Chekov quizzically.
"Are you all right? Doctor?" McCoy suddenly looked as confused as Chekov himself was feeling. He seemed to age years before the commanders eyes, taking on a haggard appearance.
"My God, its c-cold here."
No doubt it was, Chekov thought, as McCoy was wearing synthetic fabrics no native would dream of in this climate. "Maybe you should go home and rest some more," he heard himself saying.
"Yes, I should," the doctor agreed distantly. His blue eyes steadied themselves on the younger mans. "I should catch a drop tube back to San Francisco before I freeze myself to death..." A haze drifted over the physicians eyes. "Dont forget, Mister Chekov."
"I wont," Chekov assured him. He watched, completely baffled, as McCoys form disappeared into the steady stream of passersby.
"Only a Russian would purposely stand out in the cold," remarked a different voice.
Chekov turned to see Sulu beat his folded arms across his chest as he approached. The Russian scowled. "Sorry to be a bother," he replied tritely in return, irritated at the reminder that he was being followed, even if it was Sulu at the moment. Chekov felt no compulsion to accept responsibility for Starfleets attempt to coddle him since his return from Genesis. He sighed after a moment, however, and forced himself to soften his eyes into warmth toward his friend. The man would have had to volunteer for such a duty assignment and had clearly done so to spare Chekov the indignity of being trailed by an intense security guard.
The helmsman eyed the younger man with a gentleness in his features. "A friend of mine from my days in Intelligence just asked me to drop by and check on you," he lied eloquently. Chekovs blatant stare caused him to hesitate. "They just want to be sure... Its standard procedure, Pavel."
The younger man nodded, his eyes shifting toward the nearest drop tube station. "Im beginning to wonder if theyre worried about the right person," he continued. "Doctor McCoy was just here. Did you bring him with you?"
"Here in Baikonur? Are you insane?" The jab hit a little too close to home, but Sulu could get away with it, and he knew it. "Im surprised McCoy knows the place exists; and for what possible reason would I have brought him here? What on Earth would the doctor want in here at the Cosmodrome?"
"He told me not to forget."
Chekov shook his head somberly, shuddering beneath the thick fabric of his great coat. "I have no idea what hes talking about. McCoys not acting like himself. He said I should make them understand."
"What does he want us to understand?" Sulu asked, interpretingas Chekov hadthat McCoy was referring to their Enterprise shipmates.
Chekov stared into the darkening night a long moment, watching the snow flurries swirl about them in the wind as though they were all characters in a snow globe, frozen in time. "Maybe what your non-Russian brains dont understand," he answered finally.
Sulu pulled his own great coat tighter about himself and eyed Chekov. He knew what the man was talking about because theyd had the same conversation late into more nights than he cared to remember. "We see the glass as only half full and panic when anything occurs to empty it even more."
"Russians are much more sensible," his shipmate drawled in a deliberately thick accent. "A half of a glass of water is more than you should expect from life. Anything that empties it more is just inevitable. Anything that fills it is reason to celebrate. We dont examine every misfortune..."
"You just wallow in them," Sulu asserted.
Together they laughed, but it was an uneasy laugh. Chekov may have tended toward the melodramatic, but there were things in this universe that slipped the icy grip of anyone who might dramatize it.
Chekov turned his deep brown eyes on the helmsmans grief-worn features. Death is something other Terrans handle poorly, he thought. It always seems to come as a surprise to them, as though its an entirely new phenomenon no one else has encountered. How could he expect these people in Starfleet to understand him and his reaction to Genesis then?
Spock would not have wanted anyone to grieve for him the way they were. Chekov, as it was, could not find a reason to. Certainly, he missed his mentor already, but it was his company he missed, not his presence. Death could not take away the lingering touch Spock had had on Chekovs life and the world around him.
"Spock had dusha," Chekov said of the man with whom he had spent long, late hours in the ships science labs after duty. Yet another one of those Russian concepts that only a miserable translation could be found for, dusha was a mark of greatness death could not claim. It was the quality of a great soul that endured.
Sulus eyes slid over to his friends unusually stoic face and noted the iron grip his fists were balled into. The helmsman shifted then, lowering his eyes to the windswept ground as he pulled his coat tighter.
"Where the hell is the snow?" Chekov said out loud, but that was not what he meant. Russians, passionate by nature, hated this limbo of taunting flurries in the biting cold. They embraced the winter like an old friend.
"Im here on a retrieval mission," Sulu said without acknowledging his friends ill-humor. "Jims invited us all over to his flat in San Francisco," he said. "We have to get going, Pavel, or were going to be late. And no sulking," he added. "The admirals been through enough."April 5th 2283
Nature was waiting, waiting for winter, the proverb went. Finally, it had come, Chekov thought, but Russian seasons do not blossom, they rush in like tides driven by hurricanes, and they can change overnight. Even though it was April, winter had swept back in during the moonlit hours, burying regions of the country in almost a meter of snow.
He listened to the noise of the sunlit city behind him, toiling on without hesitation because of the blizzard. It brought a renewed sense of well-being to the Starfleet commander that the ever smooth functioning of Leningrad did not hesitate, did not falter, in spite of everything heaped upon her.
"General Winter" had defeated one after another of the countrys invading enemies, but never its native peoples. He stared somberly out at the inexhaustible expanse of swollen white hills spread before him, a sense of loss and sorrow settling deep upon him. No, no one had been able to defeat this lands winter or its peoplesbut at what cost?
He felt the souls of the people whose bodies had been used to fill this graveyard. More than five hundred thousand martyrs of Hitlers three-year blockade lay here in mass graves and to their sacrifice the greatest monument was that their country continued to exist. The Russian soul was undefeatable.
He came here often to feel those souls, to feel the indelible bond he held with them. Russians actively sought the type of togetherness one felt on national holidays and church feast dayssobornost they called it. At the Piskarov Memorial Cemetery, sobornost filled ones soul almost to the breaking point, and Pavel was known to seek his connection to his history and his people here.
Today, however, Chekovs successful feeling of oneness with the revered martyrs that lay before him made him uneasyactually made his skin crawl the more he thought about it. The thought of McCoy and what they had learned last night from Sarek kept drifting unbidden into his mind.
There was originally no word for privacy in the Russian language, for the concept was a foreign one to his people. McCoys situation went beyond comprehension to even a person with a communal soul, however.
He was sharing his mind with Spocks soul. Certainly no languages Chekov knew had apt words for that.
He turned to find Admiral Richard Niedel standing there, his eyes sparkling merrily. He knew at once the news the man bore.
This lesson, like others, they had worked together on at the Academy. As a true Russian, Chekov communicated foremost with his deep brown, soulful eyes. Completely second nature to him, it nonetheless made such things as playing poker, not to mention diplomacy, difficult. He had to learn to control the bodys most versatile communicator and Niedel, in turn, had learned to be a little more adept at using it.
A slight smile graced Chekovs face. "Im back on the active duty list," he concluded correctly. Finally! Yet this was not good timing. He eyed the senior officer with trepidation and wondered if it could possibly get any more complicated.
"Have I received a posting yet?" he asked. He wondered if he managed to hide the anxiety that inspired the question. What if he was to ship out immediately? What could he possibly do?
While he doubted that it showed, Niedel knew him well enough to suspect the hesitation he had. "Yes, youre back on the active duty list, but no posting yet." He narrowed his eyes and studied Chekov curiously. "Why? Is there a problem? Do you need more time?"
"No," Chekov automatically lied and purposely didnt avert his eyes although he knew the lie was written there. It was too early for the truth about McCoys condition to have run the gamut of the Starfleet gossip mill. He was not disposed to discuss it now with the admiral. "Winters back," he said in explanation of his odd behavior and gestured at the snow in illustration. "There are no sleds or skating on deep space starships, you know."
Niedel remained silent, his eyes fixed on Chekov. He knew the younger man was lying, but in the end said nothing about it. "You come here often; do you find this place peaceful?" he asked.
"Peaceful?" Chekov burst out incredulously. "Peaceful?!"
The admiral looked around to see if the younger mans outburst had been heard. No one even glanced their way, however, as this was a place where outbursts were both unnoticed and expected.
"There are more than five hundred thousand people buried here," Chekov continued. "One and a half million people died altogether during the nine hundred day blockade. Thats more people lost from this city alone than the United States lost during their Revolution, their Civil War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and all three World Wars combined."
Chekovs eyes burned in fury. "So many people have no idea what sacrifice is," he continued less than charitably, the words gripping his heart. Sometimes sacrifices are just too great to bear, he thought.
"The Soviet government had too few people to rebuild a devastated country," Niedel added kindly. "And yet did it."
Leningrad is a sight to make angels weep... The journalists famous words filtered through Chekovs mind. He nodded, although he was no longer thinking about the losses endured in this city during the Great Patriotic War, however.
"Some losses are not acceptable," Chekov observed aloud, and he knew the man didnt understand what he was talking about. Niedel wasnt Russian enough.
"Commander Sulu." The admirals voice interrupted his thoughts, alerting Chekov to his friends approach from behind.
Chekov turned and watched uneasily as Sulu drew closer. If the admirals privileged position in Starfleet had alerted him to McCoys condition and he gave any thought to why the helmsman might be here in Russia...
"Ive got to get back," the admiral said as Sulu joined them. "Besides, this place is too depressing for me. I know," he said, waving a hand at Chekov to stop his comment. "Im not Russian enough."
"Yes, sir," Chekov agreed cordially as the admiral departed. He pushed his gloved hands into his pockets and waited until the older mans form was well away from them.
"Are they going to give us a ship?" he asked.
"Admiral Kirk is meeting with Commander-Starfleet Morrow in half an hour, but you know Starfleet..." Sulu hesitated, his face contorting to a strange mixture of disgust and concern. That the well-being of both Spock and McCoy could be balanced in the hands of disinterested bureaucrats was beyond his ability to accept.
"Maybe rain, maybe snow," Chekov recited the proverb in a bitingly, sarcastic, sing-song voice.
"Maybe yes, maybe no," Sulu concluded with a sneer.
"You know theyre not going to give us a ship," the commander commented.
"Fortunately," Sulu added, "we both know Jim Kirk wont tolerate their indifference." He stopped and stood silently a minute staring at the graveyard. Admiral Kirks actions would put them and all of their shipmates in the position of facing a difficult decision. The older man sighed and balled his hands a few times for warmth.
"Pavel, you just got put back on the active duty list," Sulu cautioned.
"And you are in line for a promotion to Captain, Hikaru," Chekov pointed out in return. It didnt surprise him that Sulu knew he was active before he did. "The risk to your career is just as great. Besides," he shrugged, "theyve been looking for proof that Ralph scrambled my brain; I might as well give it to them."
The Japanese man set his jaw firmly. "Well, Im going no matter what the damn Starfleet says." He glanced up at the sky. "Probably end both our careers," he observed after a moment.
"Probably," Chekov remarked casually. "But expecting life to never change is just naive." His friend shot a piercing look at him, but was met by the Russians maddening smirk.
Sulu snorted in response. "I agree with Niedel," he alleged. "This place gives me the creeps. There are echos of suffering here."
"Life is echos of suffering, Hikaru," Chekov replied.
"You Russians are all mind-numbingly philosophical, arent you?" Sulu asked with irritation.
Chekov shrugged at the baited jest. "It is our nature."
Sulu shuddered then, growling low in his throat as he stamped his feet. He hated the winter. Chekov had never been able to change his friends mind no matter how many times he took the helmsman to the winter amusement parks that abounded in Russia. San Francisco-born and raised Sulu simply fumed about what he saw as the inconvenience that winter heaped upon men trying to go about their lives.
Russians loved the winter. They embraced it as it did wonderful things to their Motherland and gave them a whole set of new possibilities in their lives. It was just another expected season. The changes renewed their intense world.
As they believed death could, when it occurred.
It was rain that Chekov hated. Especially pouring rain in the dark, especially with wind. He knew water was the most powerful and most dangerous element on his homeworld. The ocean was its mother, the wind its soulmate.
He was reminded of that as the wind sliced across the exposed part of his neck.
Images of moonlit strolls with gentle breezes along soothing oceans were lost on him. He knew the beasts for what they were. Peaceful, calm water was merely gaining strength twofold for when it unleashed its mighty rage in nihilistic, inequitable fury.
The hills of white dimmed before him, his vision growing dark as his legs throbbed with the memory of hemp biting into them. The memory was so real, so now.
It always was.
The ropes bit into his legs and ankles, stripping the flesh off them in tortuous inches as the water repeatedly hauled at him. Its form set his missing flesh on fire with every touch.
His fingers were digging gullies into Yuris forearms. Almost three inches of Human flesh were imbedded under the nails, if he could judge by how much damage Yuris fingers had done on his own arms. He would not let go, however. He would never let go.
The water whipped itself into the wind so it drove in horizontal white sheets between Yuri and he. His friends green eyes were still visible, and he hung onto that through the lashing of the waves, through the driving wind. The endless torment was beginning to anger him. He was so tired, so physically exhausted at the perpetual torture.
Exhaustion had overtaken Yuri as well. It was in his face, in the way he had stopped trying to improve his impossible situation. The fear had left his friends bright gaze and Pavel watched as Death overtook a pair of Human eyes.
He started, blinking hard at Sulu on this frozen ground.
"My God, where were you?" Sulu demanded, his dark eyes staring intently at his friend. "Are you all right?"
Chekov slowed his breathing and nodded. His forearms were burning, as if the scars hidden by time and his uniform were reopened. He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets.
The helmsmans dark eyes searched his. "Yuri," he said knowingly. "Pavel, youre not still blaming yourself for his death after all these years?"
Chekov shook his head. "Hikaru, I never blamed myself for Yuris death." He actually felt the doubt in his friends presence. "Yuri let go," he said. His voice was strangely steady as he said it. It was the first time hed said it aloud. Sulu was now the only person hed ever told. It had always been his alone, a carefully guarded secret which had given him comfort through the years. He told Sulu so.
His friend gave him an odd look. "You find that comforting?"
"I couldnt save him," Chekov explained. "Yuri knew that."
"And you would never have given up trying," Sulu observed. Chekov was too tenacious, too loyal.
The Russian nodded somberly. "It was a choice between him or both of us dying. He chose to die. He saved my life."
Sulu considered that Starfleet had been worried about the wrong man. Even without his Russian soul, Chekov had come to grips with death far earlier than most people. "Yuri was the first man to die in the Russian Sail Training Academy, wasnt he?"
Chekov made an incongruous noise. "Man? He was seventeen."
"Age has nothing to do with being a man."
A dark glance of warning stopped Sulu from finishing his thought out loud. Chekov was fourteen at the time and had pulled several men to safety that night. None of them had gone back to help Yuri. The current Starfleet commander had become the youngest person ever awarded the Saint Georges Cross, his countrys greatest medal of honor. It was a fact which mortified him. He was sure the scars he bore didnt merit recognition, certainly not the recognition of the heroes of his Motherland. Or of the heroes hed come to know in Starfleet. Even at Chekovs present age, mentioning it guaranteed a sulk beyond the bounds of the wildest imagination.
Sulu sometimes wondered if Chekov was the only person for whom the Kobayashi Maru was waived by Starfleet Training Command.
The commander stared at the cemetery; gentle hills spread out in incomprehensible lengths, one after another, their presence filling his vision. The great mounds of white were littered with flowers, scattered like confetti tossed by the countless visitors that came here. Mother Russia stood silent watch in bronze opposite the Starfleet officers.
Chekov pulled up the collar of his coat against the rain that had started to fall. Spring was fighting back, battling to banish Winters last hold and lay its own rightful claim to the world. "I still look for him at night," he said quietly. "As if, perhaps, if I look hard enough, I can find him somewhere in the darkness... And Ill be strong enough to save him this time."
The oppressive failure that was etched into Chekovs features came as no surprise to Sulu. The helmsman squat down and used a bare hand to wipe the now-slushy snow from the bronze plaque they stood before. His fingertips gingerly traced the letters etched there. He didnt read Cyrillic, but he knew what it said.
"No One Is Forgotten. Nothing Is Forgotten."
Standing again, Sulu clasped his friends shoulder. "Youll never find Yuri," he said. He paused, allowing Chekov to finish his thought.
"No," the younger man agreed. His huge, soulful eyes sought out his friends. "But we can find Spock."
"Yes," Sulu grinned in agreement. "We can find Spock. Let's go see how Admiral Kirks meeting with Admiral Morrow went."
Chekov dropped something into the water as Sulu piloted their shuttle over the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean.
Sulu never asked him what it was.
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