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Transition - Crisis Point by Dominick Carlucci

Foreword

The following story belongs to the "Transition" period of the history of the Enterprise crew, as it is now popularly known (AD 2269-2271, Gregorian). Although the demand for tales involving Admiral Kirk, Captain Spock, and Chief Surgeon McCoy is never-ending, StarFleet never revolved around these three individuals (as they, themselves, would tell you); galactic exploration in the late 23rd century was a time of stirring events and heroic deeds by all StarFleet personnel (and one does not have to battle Orion pirates to be heroic, as I hope this story will show).

"Crisis Point" tells of the parts Sulu and Chekov played in the Caarpacia Engagement between the pirates of the planet Orion and the Rigellian Confederation, and of a little-known but nonetheless pivotal incident in the life of Commander Uhura. I hereby acknowledge the co-operation of the StarFleet Records Office for their generous allotment of time that allowed me thorough access to the Caarpacia file and to Dr. Christine Chapel and Commander Uhura for permission to include Uhura's story. As always, individuals such as these make my job immeasurably easier, and they deserve everyone's thanks.

(Signed)

David-Michael Christopher
StarFleet Divisional Historian
SDH-10027-3HD
StarDate 8305.31

 

Crisis Point

compiled by David-Michael Christopher

Pavel Andreievich Chekov surveyed the situation glumly. He was stuck - marooned was a much better word - on the remote and forbidding asteroid Caarpacia, a squalid lump of rock whirling in a wildly eccentric orbit around the pale red giant Sejanus. He'd studied the asteroid's orbital mechanics and had often wondered why he hadn't been thrown off into space. It would probably have been an improvement.

Chekov was on Caarpacia to take part in a StarFleet survival exercise - what do you do when your ship is disabled in a remote corner of the galaxy and you have no one on whom to depend for support? The ship in this case was a Mk XIIB shuttlecraft which had no warp drive, no phaser weapons (just the handheld variety) and only a month's supply of food and water. The StarFleet genius evaluating the team's performance had added a few surprises - half the water was contaminated, a week's supply of food was missing, and the shuttlecraft's subspace radio had been deactivated; there seemed little hope of repairing it. Yet they were still expected to survive for at least a month on a barren rock whose food and water supply was unknown to them. There had even been a hint that their rescue might take even longer. That rescue could not come soon enough for Chekov.

He thought again about the survival mission's commander, Lieutenant 'lvandis, carefully avoiding the inevitable shudder of memory. Chekov had never met him before they'd been teamed up for the survival exercise; he'd never even learned 'lvandis' home planet. The lieutenant had spoken in a gruff, heavily accented version of Federation Standard, laced with lisps and glottal stops, and Chekov had spent the first week on the asteroid just trying to understand him. But in light of subsequent events, he mused, he'd rather have that first week back than to relive the first day of the second week, as he'd done all too often in his nightmares.

Chekov had risen early that day and even before he'd relieved himself, he'd phasered up the rocks of the campfire that had grown cold and inert overnight. After performing his personal chores behind a scrawny bush, he'd returned to the camp to find the three cadets assigned to the exercise just rising. Lieutenant 'lvandis was not among them. Chekov motioned to one of the cadets - Tar-sonng of Canopus VII - to watch the camp, and strode off to search for their leader. Knowing 'lvandis' habits by this time, Chekov had a fair idea where he was.

He'd been right. Not more than two meters distant, he spied 'lvandis seated in meditation under what passed on Caarpacia for a tree - Terrans would have called it a bastardized cross between a cactus and a sprawling tumbleweed, but it was as close to greenery as one was able to find on the barren rock. He'd been about to approach his lieutenant when the earthquake had struck.

It was over so fast that Chekov could never fully piece together what had happened. He did remember the violent shaking and the groaning and grumbling of the ground under his feet; he remembered also the cries of his cadets seeming miles away. But what he recalled the most - and vividly in his nightmares - was the look in 'lvandis' eyes as the lieutenant was rudely awakened from his meditative experience. He'd sprung to his feet, struggled for balance on the swaying ground, and caught sight of Chekov. 'lvandis' eyes spoke volumes on sheer terror, and in that moment, he'd spoken the only word Chekov had understood with complete clarity. It was the Russian ensign's name, screamed in perfect Terran. Amid the earthquake, the effect on Chekov's ears was that of a barely audible whisper, yet he had heard the scream in the middle of his mind. But he later reflected that it might have been his imagination for. at the moment 'lvandis had screamed, the ground beneath them had screamed also, and the area between the Russian and the lieutenant had simply fallen away, leaving Chekov standing on the edge of a newly-formed cliff. A knee-,jerk response had caused him to desperately lunge for ‘lvandis, and he'd have fallen to a certain death had not Cadet Tar-sonng tackled him from behind.

It had been a week since the disaster which had left Chekov in charge of the three Academy cadets - Tar-sonng, L'faite Antoine-Eveillard (scion of a very old - and wealthy - Terran family), and Jenna Thon, a dazzling redhead who was a native of Terra's Martian Colony Five. In that week Tar-sonng had come down with Sakuro's Disease, a rare blood disorder that Chekov knew could easily be fatal; fortunately, it was still early, but unfortunately, the medicines in their emergency kits didn't cover such a problem. Analgesics were all they could use, but Chekov knew they wouldn't last long enough. As if that wasn't enough, Cadet Antoine-Eveillard had severely sprained an ankle while slipping on a rock while returning from a short foray for water - a stupidity, Chekov had exploded, caused by the cadet's own carelessness and lack of concentration. But Chekov hadn't been nearly as angry at Eveillard's ankle as he was at the fact that the cadet's newly-filled canteen had fallen from his belt and hit the safety catch, causing the electromagnetic seal to break. Even forcing Eveillard to stand a double-watch overnight had not, to Chekov's mind, made up for the loss of the precious fluid.

Chekov also knew that Jenna - "Interesting," he had once said to himself, "that I do not think of her as Cadet Thon." had developed a crush on him based largely on the needs of the moment. Normally she was a tough, determined, and very independent woman, but in times of stress, her psychological barriers could prove most brittle. Now, while Eveillard and Tar-sonng lay sleeping in the shelter, Jenna lay curled up into Chekov's side, trying to sleep while staring wide-eyed at the spectacular stellar display above. "Well, at least Caarpacia is good for something!" Chekov grinned to himself.

He flipped open his hand communicator and tried it, though he knew it was hopeless. The light cruiser Seneca was still at least a week away, perhaps more, and no other ships were scheduled to pass by. Perhaps a random chance...? He suddenly snapped the communicator shut. Random chance! How could he have been so stupid? Bozhe Moi! They were near enough to the sphere of influence of the Orion pirates, and if they strayed past their perimeter and tapped his communications... Well, better to die of starvation on this miserable asteroid, Chekov resolved grimly as he velcroed the communicator to its place on his belt, than to fall into the hands of those Cossacks! Jenna had fallen asleep, finally, and Chekov stroked her long scarlet tresses softly. "Strange," he thought. "She's so attractive, yet I feel such little desire for her. It wasn't that way when we first got here." Then it hit him. Responsibility. He was responsible, for the first time in his life, for lives other than his own. As navigator on the Enterprise, of course, his had been a mammoth responsibility, but there always had been back-up systems - not to mention Spock, Sulu, and the “Keptin” to help him and cover for his errors. But Caarpacia was singularly immediate, thus telescoping the pressure. There would be - could be - no covers, no back-ups, and no second chances. He began to understand just what Kirk had gone through in those five years in the center seat. It had driven stronger men than Chekov mad...

Upenda Uhura stared through the transparent floor of the hovercraft at the breathtaking vista below. Across the vast savannahs of her native Kenya raced a gigantic herd of wild four legged creatures she'd once wondered if she'd ever see again. Five years in deep space can do that to you, she reflected. She marveled again at the striking panorama of zebras, antelopes, and giraffes thundering along below her.

A rich, sonorous voice claimed her attention. "They always run like that at counting time, though they know it’s futile. See that big 'lope in the middle? K'shat'ta, I call him. We like to play with each other. I let him lead for awhile, but I always win."

Uhura flashed a warp-power smile at the huge black piloting the craft. K'vetta Charles M'ba'atu, the director of the Kenya Wildlife Preserve, had been a close friend of Uhura's since childhood; just before she'd left the University of Kenya for StarFleet's Communications College, she and "Charlie" had carried on a brief yet torrid romance. She hadn't heard from him too often after that, and during her tour on the Enterprise, nothing at all. With the end of that mission, she'd spent some time working in Fleet Headquarters, Terra, but soon had grown restless and had come to Africa to spend some time with her family. During her stay in Kampala, she'd heard that her former lover had been named the Preserve's director. She'd almost laughed her head off. Charlie had always been interested in wildlife - and especially in pursuing female game. Uhura wasn't sure why she'd come to see him - beyond wanting to renew an old friendship - but she knew beyond any doubt what kind of signals her body had been sending her the last year. She was tired and played out, and in desperate need of a vacation. Despite M'ba'atu's reputation as a lecherous womanizer, Uhura remembered him as a fun-loving man who was not above the odd practical joke, but more importantly as a deeply sensitive man in whom Uhura had always been able to confide. Perhaps this was the real reason she'd come. Her responsibilities aboard the Enterprise had denied her this need, for the most part, and she was determined to help fulfill it.

But the look M'ba'atu had thrown her upon recognizing her, and his subsequent hug and kiss, made perfectly clear his intentions, and Uhura had felt her perfectly-crystallized plans shatter as she returned his kiss with a ferocity that surprised them both. And she found herself not caring that new plans were going to be made. A part of her that she'd had to suppress for far too long had exploded out of her at M'ba'atu's touch, and she now fervently desired to explore that new/old self and allow it to fly to its farthest limits. That this self hungered for M'ba'atu's presence to fuel the ride pleased her immensely. Thus, when the Preserve's director had suggested the ride in his hovercraft - ostensibly for the counting of the herds, but in reality for showing her some private places of his own - Uhura had been ecstatic, and found herself thinking deliciously wicked thoughts as the hovercraft had left the ground.

"Come in, Mr. Sulu."

Lieutenant Commander Hikaru Sulu strode purposefully into his captain's quarters aboard the destroyer Perseus. After returning with the Enterprise, and his debriefing and four month leave, he'd requested and received his new assignment. Along with his promotion to lieutenant commander came orders to assume the post of Executive Officer aboard the Perseus. Here he felt his helmsman's talents to be wasted, but nevertheless plunged into his new duties with great zest. And there was always time for botany and fencing, his greatest off-duty loves. For the better part of a year Sulu had made the best of it but was beginning to wonder when something would break the monotony of routine. He'd felt a distinct chill when Commander Clarke Jeffreys had called him to his cabin. "Yes, Captain?" he inquired as the doors swooshed shut behind him.

"Ah, Hikaru. Have a seat, please."

Sulu crossed and eased himself into a chair across from his captain. Commander Jeffreys was short and balding, his most prominent feature being the huge bulbous nose squatting in the middle of an otherwise unimpressive face. His next words carried the sadness Sulu saw in his eyes. "Hikaru, I'm resigning - for personal reasons we shan't discuss here. I want you to know that I have learned much in the past year, about you and about those of your culture, and frankly, I'm damned impressed. Admiral Nogura had accepted my resignation with the usual regrets, and has asked me if I had anyone in mind to replace me here. And thoughts, mister?"

Sulu visibly straightened. He knew that the reference to his culture was not a racial slander - coming from Jeffreys, anyway - but rather a test. His captain was seeking his reaction. Sulu had instinctively made the right move by choosing to ignore it. "Well, sir," he answered, "naturally I'll be in temporary command until a replacement is officially named. I can only hope that my performance during that period, as well as in the past, will reflect creditably on me."

"I'm sure it will. And make no mistake - you're well qualified for the job. As far as I'm concerned, from this moment the Perseus is yours. I'll send my recommendation of your selection to StarFleet immediately, along with my evaluation of your performance this past year, and my personal recommendation that you be promoted to full commander as soon as possible."

Sulu could not have been more ecstatic. He wanted to do cartwheels down the ship's corridors. A ship - a command - of his own! How long he had waited for this! He smiled. "Thank you, sir. When will you inform the crew?"

"Next watch. I wish your first log-entry as captain could be that of a simple patrol but I'm afraid it won't be."

"No? When did the new orders arrive? I-"

"You didn't see them because they came in on the tail end of my transmission to Nogura. I held them until I could convince Fleet that you could handle the assignment. They have now concurred."

"What are the orders, Clarke?"

"It seems the Rigellians are trying to clear out those pesky Orion pirates again - something about a menace to navigation. I think it more likely that the Rigellians are more concerned with the dilithium-and-tourist-trade-routes again. Anyway, the word is that some may have already escaped the Neutrality Zone and are heading for the Sejanus system, As you may know, we have a group of Academy trainees on Caarpacia, a small asteroid in that system. The Seneca was supposed to pick them up, but as they're closer to the Rigellian system, they've been diverted to block any escaping Orions."

"And we've been ordered to Caarpacia to attempt rescue and provide rear-echelon fire-support, if necessary." Sulu finished,

"Right. But the trainees are your primary responsibility. Don't forget that. And Hikaru, you'll be on your own. You can expect no help unless the Rigellians themselves show up - in which case the whole damned pirate fleet will have probably preceded them. In such a case, you could probably kiss the Seneca goodbye, and say hello to a lousy tactical situation. It won't be pretty, you can bet."

Sulu understood perfectly. He'd faced similar situations before when Kirk had left him in charge of the Enterprise, but the landing party had always been expendable in those cases when the safety of the ship was paramount. Here, the landing party could not be considered expendable in any way. Sulu also knew that his old friend Pavel Chekov was second-in-command of the survival exercise on Caarpacia. He wondered how he would respond to such pressure, and found a large part of himself wishing Jeffreys had chosen to remain in the center seat just a little longer...

"Pavel, have you ever been scared?"

Chekov regarded Jenna Thon with a quizzical stare. So, they were on a first-name basis now. Well, common danger and all that. He tried a brief smile and went back to the communications board of the shuttlecraft. After a while, he answered: "Never. Awed, apprehensive, terrified - many times. But scared? Nyet!"

The poor attempt at humor actually worked. It did not bring peals of laughter from Jenna -not that Chekov had expected such a reaction - but the light in her eyes was enough for the Russian ensign. He lightly touched a few pressure-sensitive pads, turned a dial, and watched the power levels anxiously. After a brief, worrying moment, he breathed a sigh of relief. He had not realized he'd been sweating.

"Are you going to try to call the Seneca?"

Chekov shook his head. "I theenk eet's still too risky. But the automatic beacon ees on now, broadcasting the emergency signal." He thought a moment, then touched another control. "There. The random-signal generator is cut in. They won't be expecting that, of course, but neither will the Orions, I hope the Seneca can filter it out from all the background noise, though. A random signal can be tricky sometimes." He swore softly. "They should never have cut off our communications, Jenna. It made the situation much more dangerous than it should have been."

"Someone ought to monitor the board constantly." Jenna observed. "I'll stay here awhile. Why don't you try and get some rest, Pavel? You look beat."

He was about to agree but stopped himself. "Nyet. Thees ees my problem and my responsibility. I’ll watch the board. You sleep." He paused and grinned. "That's an order." Jenna yawned and stretched her lithe, sensuous figure, causing Chekov's heart to stop momentarily. She rose, but before she left she paused behind Chekov's seat and caressed his shoulder tenderly. "We'll get through this, Pavel. "You'll see."

Brave words are usually uttered with a quavering voice, Chekov reflected. She's as scared as I am. But his attention was suddenly riveted as the speaker in front of him hissed and crack led into life. "Caarpacia base, this is the USS Perseus. Come in, please!"

Chekov could not believe his ears and fumbled for the microphone switch. "Meester Sulu!" he cried. "Ees that you?" Jenna, caught in mid-stride, gripped the back of his chair fiercely.

The voice on the speaker broke into laughter. "It sure is, Pavel! And the name's Hikaru, remember?"

Chekov grinned, greatly relieved to hear his old friend. "Of course, of course! Hikaru, how-?"

"The Seneca was diverted to another, more urgent assignment, Pavel, and we were given the job. By the way, I'm now the captain of this crate. Commander Jeffreys resigned. Where's Lieutenant 'lvandis?"

Chekov quickly sobered and in short, rapid-fire sentences, told Sulu of 'lvandis' death and their current situation. "I see." Sulu replied. "Hold for a moment." After a few minutes he came back. "Pavel, I've just checked with my chief surgeon. He recommends that Cadet Tar-sonng not be transported in his present condition. It could be dangerous. How's your shuttlecraft?"

Chekov swore again. "In order to simulate true downed-spacecraft conditions, they left us a dummy with no power except internal batteries! Hikaru - we can't lift off!"

"Damn!" Sulu meant it to be sotto voce, but the entire bridge heard him. "All right. Stand by, Pavel. I'm going to get a landing party together. We'll see if we can't get your shuttle to fly. I'll get my chief engineer and-"

The Perseus alarm system chose that moment to blare out a red alert...

They'd been at M'ba'atu's cabin for more than a week, and Uhura had been deliriously happy. Just the two of them, out of touch with the rest of the world, carelessly - in its most elemental sense - passing the time hiking through the savannah and the low-lying foothills, sight-seeing and playfully splashing in hidden pools, holographing the herds, and then coming home to a quiet dinner each night; M'ba'atu had proven himself an accomplished chef. After dinner they would sometimes separate to read quietly or engage each other in chess. Uhura had learned tri-dimension chess from Spock and had become good enough to beat the Vulcan on occasion. M'ba'atu was hard pressed to keep up with her.

After the evening's activities, they had made it a point to take a short walk under the moonlight before retiring. It had always put them both in the mood for loving, no matter how tiring the day had been. And, invariably, they had awakened to watch the sun rise together. A long time had passed since Uhura had seen a sunrise from a man's bed, and as she watched this one - her ninth with M'ba'atu - she made a secret wish that she could always see them with him.

She rolled over - and found his side of the bed empty. Startled, she felt the cushion. It was still warm. "Charlie?" she called.

"I'm here." M'ba'atu's form disengaged from the darkness and crossed in front of the window through which the sun was just beginning to send its golden shafts. "You were still asleep so I made some coffee. Want some?"

"No. Thank you. Come, sit by me and talk while you finish." Uhura extended her arm in invitation. Of all they had shared, intimate talks during the quiet hours of early morning had been what Uhura had treasured the most about her time with M'ba'atu - those moments after loving when two individuals could not possibly be closer, and when nothing in the universe could tear them apart...

He sat on the edge of the bed - somewhat heavily, she thought - but did not get close to her. "Upenda, I've been listening to you these last few days, and I've been turning over in my mind what you've been saying. Have you listened to yourself?" Instantly - instinctively - she knew something was wrong. "Charlie, this time with you has been wonderful. Don't spoil it, please."

He stared but said nothing.

"Have I offended you in any way? Tell me, I-"

"No, Upenda," he said flatly, "you have only pleased me. But I think you may have offended yourself."

"What?! Charlie, what are you talk-"

He interrupted her by getting up and going to the window where he gazed morosely at his pair of pet gazelles, sleeping contentedly in the front yard. "Your name - Upenda Uhura - means 'one who loves freedom,' yet I wonder if you really know what you've been saying to yourself and to me these last few days." He indicated the gazelles to her. "My pets, here, think they are free because I allow them to roam the savannah at will. But in each collar is a sensor by which I can trace them any time I wish. They are not at all free, and neither are you."

Uhura was not sure she understood but she never had understood M'ba'atu when he started to explain something he felt to be important. One had to ride out his explanations and follow his thinking process. If encouraged, he'd eventually tie it all together. "Go on, Charlie. I'm listening."

"You, Upenda, are like my gazelles. You are proud of being free of confinements, yet you go through life exchanging one confinement for another. It was that way when you left me for StarFleet. It is that way now - you desire to stay here with me. My gazelles truly believe - in their own minds - in their total freedom, and in their ability to do as they please. But the ability to lift up their eyes and see their cage is beyond their capacity. So it is with you."

"Are you saying that StarFleet is my prison?"

"One need not see the walls, Upenda, to know one is caged." He returned to the bed and this time took her hand. "I do not mean the walls of any StarFleet vessel. It is more important for you to realize that you have imprisoned yourself by duty and responsibility to StarFleet. You find little personal joys and have made sacrifices within those boundaries, but because of your limited vision you do not see the very rigid structure by which you are confined."

"But that was my choice, and the sacrifice I made to travel among the stars!"

"A confinement you chose after walking out on me, saying our relationship was too confining." M'ba'atu spoke seriously, but his eyes danced with the irony. "You exchanged me for the prison of StarFleet, and now you say you'd give up the fleet to stay with me. Upenda, it would be no different this time. You're too restless to remain planetbound and tied to one man. You're not ready to give up this idea of freedom! You love StarFleet too much! You'd last six months, maybe a year, with me. And then you'd be gone again." He shook his head. "We make our own spaces, and our own prisons, Upenda, and through our beliefs and perspectives, we make them work for us. When we change, they fail us, and we exchange them for more gaily-colored prisons to satisfy and humor us. But we never escape the walls. We are all prisoners of some kind of duty, no matter how much we delude ourselves. You, me, these gazelles - there is no difference. Only the perspective and belief is different. You have not changed, Upenda, and your StarFleet prison has not failed you - you are not ready to leave it. And I love you too much to confine you. You must yet spend some time in purgatory." He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it tenderly. "I want so much for you to stay, yet I could not survive your leaving a second time. That's why I'm ending it now. Today. I'm taking you back to Kampala after breakfast."

Tears were flowing freely down Uhura's face long before he had finished. Another dream shattered. Or was it really a dream, and not some self-destructive delusion she had concocted for herself? It did not matter. She loved this man - had always loved him - and now wanted him more than ever. She held out her open arms to him. "Love me once more, Charlie." she pleaded. "Please, I need you so much."

He rose from her bed for the last time, setting the unused coffee cup on the nightstand. "No, Upenda. No. I can't. I want to - very much - but it would be detrimental to us both." And K'vetta Charles M'ba'atu disappeared into the kitchen.

Uhura stared in the direction he had gone, conscious only of how the sunrise seemed to have followed him. Or was that a delusion too?

"Hikaru! What is it? What's going on?" Over his communicator, Chekov could clearly hear the screeching claxons.

"We've got company, Pavel. A couple of Orions just dropped out of warp less than a parsec away. I don't think they've spotted us, though."

Chekov froze. With a red alert, Sulu's screens had gone up automatically and they could not be transported. He looked at Jenna helplessly and saw in her eyes icy calm. His pride in her began to manifest itself in a wide, tension-easing grin when he saw the trickle of blood sliding down her chin. She'd actually bitten through her lip.

On the Perseus, Sulu had made a quick decision. His orders had activated both a personnel and an emergency transporter, and his medical and engineering teams were on the way to the latter. "Pavel, stand by. I think I can get you aboard, but you'll have to leave Tar-sonng for the medical team."

"I copy, Hikaru. What do you want me to do?"

"Is anyone in your team experienced in engineering?"

Chekov grunted. That would be Antoine-Eveillard. For some absurd reason he recalled his story-telling Uncle Yuri and his tales of Murphinsky's Laws. "Yes, there is, Hikaru. Cadet Eveillard."

"Good. Tell him he'll have to be left behind to help the engineering team. I want you and your other cadet to transport up immediately. When the engineers get your shuttle up, we'll put it in our tractor beam and get out of here."

"Assuming the Orions let us."

"Agreed. We can't assume they'll remain blind to us forever so we're going to have to do this fast. My teams will go down from an emergency transporter while you're beaming up. Get yourselves ready."

"Aye, sair!" Chekov took only a few minutes to explain to Tar-sonng and Eveillard what was about to transpire, then he and Jenna Thon took their places outside the shuttlecraft. "Hikaru, this is Pavel. Two to beam up, these co-ordinates."

"I copy, Pavel." Sulu replied, then switched to his transporter room line. Transporting simultaneously, and within such a limited area, could prove exceedingly dangerous, so Sulu and his transporter chief had opted to put the entire operation under computer control. "Ready, Mr. Watson?"

"Yes, sir! She's primed and ready to go. Standing by."

"When Mr. Chekov comes aboard, have him report to the bridge."

"Acknowledged."

"On my mark, initiate sequence. Five-four-three-two-one. Mark!"

Watson's finger passed over a heat-sensor and the two transporters instantly hummed into action. The transport was accomplished without incident but Chekov had no sooner departed the transporter room when the red alert claxons blared again.

The doors swooshed open, depositing the Russian ensign on the bridge. A brief glance at the screen showed the reason for the red alert. The Seneca had appeared, and directly behind her were three Orions. The four Sulu had spotted previously had also seen the light cruiser and were giving chase. As Chekov watched, the Seneca let loose with two aft torpedoes in quick succession. One Orion instantly flared into incandescent gas, and another was knocked off course by the concussion of a near miss. It did not continue its pursuit.

Sulu silenced the upswelling cheers with a swift gesture. "What was that, Mr. Simm? I didn't copy."

On Caarpacia, Sulu's chief engineer repeated his report. "All they did was remove the dilithium crystals and the converters, sir. We can have her ready in, oh, half an hour, maybe."

"Great! Let us know if you run into any trouble."

"Affirmative. Caarpacia Base out."

Sulu cut the intercom and turned to Chekov, who was standing at his elbow. "Pavel! Welcome aboard! How do you like my first command so far?"

Chekov surveyed the bridge, feeling almost at home. "I'm just happy to be off that-"

The concussion blast threw everyone out of their chairs, and Chekov managed to remain on his feet only by clutching at the side of the center seat. "What was that?" Sulu roared. "Damage report! Status!"

"Direct hit by Orion torpedo on main port shield," came a voice to Chekov's right. It was the exec. "No appreciable damage, no casualties."

"Good. Main phasers, stand by. Prepare to return fire. Mr. James, where is he?"

"I can't tell, sir." the exec replied. "Something's interfering with our sensors. I can't get a clear reading."

In two steps Chekov was at James' station. It was not unlike Spock's on the Enterprise. "Eet ees Caarpacia, sair. The asteroid has an iron/nickel core and it interacts with Sejanus' magnetic field. You have to filter out-"

For the second time in as many minutes, Chekov was rudely interrupted. The concussion caused by the second torpedo instantly killed the navigator and lit fires at several bridge stations. Howls of agony were everywhere. "Helm!" Sulu cried. "Get us out of here!"

But there was no response. The helmsman just stared at the screen, watching dumbly as a third torpedo appeared out of nowhere. Sulu leaped to the forward console and pushed him out of the way. "Engineering! Full emergency shields! Starboard side!" As he spoke, his talented fingers were already conducting the Perseus through a sharp turn designed to put her starboard side to the menacing torpedo.

The tactic worked. When it hit, the torpedo caused only a mild quake and no serious damage. Sulu turned. "Pavel! Take the navigator's station and lock phasers!"

A reflex action and Chekov swept the dead navigator aside. As he took his seat, a quick check of his board showed fluctuating power levels, and he quickly moved to stabilize the circuits, then put full power into his phaser batteries.

And their eyes met - Sulu from the helm, and Chekov from the navigator's station. In the midst of a crisis a link was forged, and the team which had operated so smoothly aboard the Enterprise was back in business. Sulu grinned in spite of the danger. "Seems like old times all of a sudden, doesn't it?" he whispered.

“Aye, Meester Sulu!" Chekov grinned back. "Just like old times! Now let's *get* those miserable Cossacks!"

The Russian turned his attention to his board and instantly noted another Orion torpedo closing fast. Playing his controls like a virtuoso, Chekov's first phaser strike detonated the torpedo before it could close to striking distance, then followed it up with a double shot which found the offending Orion. As the pirate craft's engines exploded, Sulu ducked the Perseus behind the asteroid for a breather. "Status!" he barked.

"Power levels holding." James replied crisply. "Main port shield now ineffective due to two consecutive torpedo hits. Casualties - five dead, thirteen injured. Other ship's damage minimal."

"Orions?"

"Can't tell, sir. We're still flying blind. Mr. Chekov got off a helluva shot." The Russian blushed at his praise. Sulu turned back to his board. "Keep trying to filter that interference, Mr. James. Okay, everyone. Clear sensors or no, we're going after them. Look sharp." Taking a wide swing around Caarpacia's night side, Sulu headed the Perseus back to the battlefield. As they cleared the asteroid, James' efforts bore fruit, but what they all saw on the forward viewscreen made everyone's blood run cold.

The remaining four Orions were closing on the Seneca, which looked to be drifting. "Mr. James! What is the Seneca's condition?"

James bent to his viewer. "I read no power at all, Captain!"

Sulu turned to his partner. "Pavel, how many can you hit?"

Chekov sweated out his computations. Co-ordinating phasers and photon torpedoes was difficult enough, but at four moving targets? "I don't know. Three out of four ... maybe. Get me in range."

"We haven't been spotted yet, sir." James called. Sulu punched up the tactical display on the main screen. It showed the Seneca surrounded by the four Orions coming in from the cardinal points, with the Perseus closing from the Seneca's aft port quadrant. A difficult shot, indeed. Suddenly, they were within range. And, just as suddenly, the tactical display showed two more Orions closing fast - one from above the Seneca and the other from below. Chekov swore. A difficult and improbable shot was now rendered virtually impossible.

And the sleeping Seneca opened fire. Port and starboard phasers blew apart two of the Orions, while fore and aft torpedoes took out two more. The remaining pair of Orions loosed a barrage of torpedoes which splattered harmlessly against the Seneca's resurrected shields. And Chekov's phasers and torpedoes did in the last remaining Orion vessels. This time, Sulu joined in the cheers as he pounded his friend on the back in congratulation. Chekov, for his part, merely slumped in his chair, released a too-long-held breath, and patted his console gratefully.

 

Postlog

Several weeks passed before Sulu and Chekov learned the full extent of the Caarpacia Engagement, as it came to be called. In all, fifteen Orion vessels of various types had escaped the trap the Rigellian Confederation had set for them. In a wild battle, eight had been destroyed and the Seneca, alone, had given chase to the remainder. But some of the Orions had dropped into the Sejanus system before the Seneca, and had come upon the Perseus. For their parts, Sulu, Chekov, and the captain of the Seneca had received commendations, and Chekov, additionally, was chosen for StarFleet's revamped Weapons/Defense Command School.

One of the Orion ships had transported a scouting team to Caarpacia and had come upon Chekov's and Sulu's teams. In the brief encounter, the Orions had been routed but not without loss of life. Cadet Antoine-Eveillard had sacrificed his life to give the engineers time enough to complete their repair work and lift off. It was with mixed emotions that Chekov read and signed the report to which was affixed a posthumous commendation. He never mentioned Eveillard's canteen blunder.

Sulu's medical team had stabilized Tar-sonng's condition and with the shuttlecraft in tow, they had quickly made for the nearest Federation hospital. As it happened, Chekov's course took them just inside the Sol System and they decided to make planetfall on Earth. There, at SFHQ, Terra, Tar-sonng was immediately dispatched into intensive care, and after a rapid debriefing, Sulu and Chekov had hurried to the hospital wing of Fleet HQ to check on Tar-sonng. The attending physician took them completely by surprise.

"Pavel, don't fret. He'll be all right. And stop pacing. You're making me dizzy just watching you."

"Then don't watch me, Meester Sulu."

"'And the name's Hikaru, remember?"' said a pleasantly impish voice behind them both.

As one, the Russian and the Asian turned. Sulu beat Chekov in speaking. "Christine! You-?"

"Of course, it-"

"Dr. Chapel, I-"

And the three were on top of one another in jubilant reunion. At length, Christine Chapel pulled away from the warm embrace. "Look, boys, I appreciate the welcome, but I'm still on call. Tar-sonng will be fine, though I don't mind telling you that you did cut it a bit close."

"We, ah, didn't have much choice," Chekov stammered. "Yes," Sulu chimed in. "You see, there were these Orions that-"

"So I heard. Look, I want to hear all about it from you both but right now I've got another patient waiting in my office. How about the cafeteria downstairs in about an hour?" Sulu and Chekov nodded their assent, and Chapel went on her way, worrying, as a good physician should, about her next patient.

Two old and very dear friends sat across the desk in Christine Chapel's office. "Your friend was right, you know." Chapel said softly. "Your place is in StarFleet, at least for the foreseeable future."

Upenda Uhura nodded. "I know, Christine. But I don't think I'll tire of it, ever. Especially not now. I'm just not sure exactly what I want to do right now."

"Well, normally, I'd suggest some time off - many of my patients need a respite from the rigors of Fleet pressure and I counsel rest and reflection. But I'd advise the opposite for you, Upenda. Work is your best therapy, and I'd advise getting back into the flow of things as soon as possible." She smiled warmly. "You've got both rank and seniority. You could pull almost any assignment you want."

"I'm still not sure, Christine. I-I guess I'm just a little bit shattered. I really loved that man."

"I know. Listen, I'm going to get some coffee. How about a cup?"

In spite of the memory, Uhura brightened. "Sure. Thanks, Christine."

Chapel rose and went into the tiny kitchenette adjoining her office. But after she'd punched in the required setting on the drinks processor, she stole an inconspicuous glance back.

Uhura had slipped a cartridge out of a pocket and had plugged it into a wall unit. A brief touch of the controls and a beam of light produced a miniature hologram on the office table. It was K'vetta M'ba'atu. Chapel sighed and went back to the coffee. Her friend needed some time.

And Upenda Uhura sat quietly, chin in cupped hand, gazing wistfully at the hologram - the one she'd made of him that very first day at his cabin in the hills north of Kenya... And the tears began to flow...

 

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