by J. Skazki and T.S. Taylor
"Nyet!" Chekov exploded in exasperation.
Lieutenant Sulu, the officer of the watch, scowled. He walked down to the helm where Ensign Dora Hartley was working through a series of search and intercept exercises under Chekov's watchful eye. As far as he could tell, Hartley was a competent, if inexperienced, trainee navigator. However nothing she could do pleased the normally tolerant Chekov. Dora, in turn, did not bother to conceal her low opinion of her instructor. The instant personal dislike that had sprung up between the two from the first moment of their acquaintance a week previously had since developed into an intense professional antagonism. After a whole day of holding the Enterprise in perfect stillness for the benefit of her cartographers, Sulu was no longer amused by their perpetual bickering.
"If you use that angle of approach, your acceleration..."
"...Will have the same magnitude," Hartley interrupted. "However you arrive at that contour in the gravity well..."
"Da, in normal space, but you have to allow for the gyro-shift in hyperspace. If you accumulate too much spin, you will emerge with sufficient virtual velocity to produce significant sensor error. Look, if you can't visualize it, you have only to watch the simulation!"
With perfect timing, the all too realistic image of the Enterprise on the main screen grazed the surface of the warp boundary on the star. The stellar inferno seethed into a trembling finger that engulfed the little starship.
"I accept that you are correct, Mr. Chekov," Hartly said with icy dignity, "since the computer agrees with you. I merely wish to understand why."
"I have explained why," Chekov complained, "until I no longer understand it myself."
He slapped his palm down on his console, accurately clearing the viewscreen to show the scattered starfield to the galactic north of Sigma Rhebus.
"Mr. Sulu." Kirk's voice sounded from the intercom.
The lieutenant hit the com button on the captain's chair. "Aye, sir?"
"Move to the next benchmark. Half impulse."
"Aye, Sir." Sulu regarded his warring navigators with mock severity. "Well, Mr. Chekov, is Ensign Hartley able to compute our course?"
Chekov scowled. "I'll do it myself."
"That isn't what I asked."
"Pardon me, Lieutenant," the Russian replied with exaggerated civility. "But I assumed that you want to get there in one piece -- and some time before the end of this century."
"So what you're saying," Hartley began coldly. "is that you've taught me this system so badly I am unable to comply?"
"Knock it off, both of you," Sulu ordered. "Hartley, compute and lay in the course. Chekov, may I have a word with you?"
Hartley flashed a triumphant smile, then bent over her console, all concentration. Chekov left the helmsman's seat, looking suddenly very serious, plainly suspecting that he was in trouble. He stood almost to attention at Sulu's left hand and waited for the worst.
Sulu beckoned him closer and said, very softly, "Twenty credits says she can do it."
James Kirk came onto the bridge fifteen minutes early the following morning and found his colleagues on the alpha watch already taking their places. Only Chekov was missing, but the ensign's voice could be heard over the intercom from the hanger deck where he and Ensign Hartley were preparing a shuttlecraft for the day's scheduled recalibration on the sensors. Scott was as bored with sitting still as everyone else, Kirk reflected. There was a brisk exchange of information with engineering -- as well as the usual bad-tempered sniping between the two ensigns.
Kirk was beginning to be so used to the implacable mutual antipathy of the two junior officers that he hardly registered the fact any more. He took his seat and began to review the logs of the previous uneventful watch.
"Still picking up those energy surges?" he asked Spock, referring to some barely measurable fluctuations recorded the day before.
"Yes, sir. Lieutenant Uhura has suggested some further avenues of investigation."
Uhura turned from her station. "I was thinking about it overnight, sir. There is no directional pattern in the signal, but we have only been moving in one plane. If the signal originates from above or below the plane of the galaxy, we might pick up a measurable Doppler effect if we were to move perpendicular to the plane."
"Move how far?" Kirk interjected.
"Several light years." Spock suggested. "The experimental configuration of the sensors should help to highlight any variations in the signal strength. It would take approximately two days to determine whether or not the method is likely to yield usable readings."
Kirk shrugged. "The cartographers won't like it. Would a shuttle be any use to you?"
"We could try, sir." Uhura admitted doubtfully. "But..."
"If we have any time left when they've finished their charts," Kirk offered by way of a consolation prize.
The communications officer nodded and turned back to her work, hiding her frustration. The unusual energy readings might or might not be some form of communication, and they might cease at any moment. The cartographers' stars would surely still be there tomorrow, or next year, or next millennium.
Kirk's attention was dragged back to the battling ensigns by a burst of particularly profane sounding Russian from the intercom. Hartley and Chekov were scheduled to spend a couple of hours testing the navigational sensor arrays by feeding artificial signals to the equipment from the shuttle. The task was, in itself, straightforward. The only imponderable was whether the two of them would come to blows before the task was finished. It was rumored that certain members of the bridge crew had already opened a book on the outcome. "Uhura, have Mr. Chekov meet me in the shuttle bay control room."
"Yes, sir." Uhura's reply sounded a little reluctant.
"Spock, you're in command," Kirk said, heading for the turbolift.
Ensign Chekov was waiting for him when he arrived in the control room, looking anxious. "Mr. Scott wants us to get started by 0900, sir, so that he can..."
"I am aware of that, Mr. Chekov," Kirk interrupted briskly. "I don't intend to delay you. I just wanted to say something before you go."
"You don't get along very well with Ensign Hartley."
The ensign's expression soured perceptibly despite his best efforts to keep it blank. "No, sir."
"One of the things you are supposed to be learning on this posting is how to work efficiently and effectively with different people -- regardless of whether you like them or not. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," Chekov answered stiffly.
"If the two of you can't demonstrate to me that you can put aside your personal differences and get the job done, both of you are going to be downgraded. I know that Ensign Hartley is already almost as far down as an ensign can be..." Kirk paused significantly. "... But you aren't. Do I make myself clear?"
Chekov stood there dumbly giving his captain a shocked you-wouldn't-do-that-to-me look. Kirk replied with his best oh-yes-I-would frown. "I said, do I make myself clear, Ensign?"
Chekov took in a deep breath. "Yes, sir."
"Fine. Then get back to work and don't disappoint me."
Half an hour later, the shuttle was in place and the tests were proceeding like clockwork -- at least according to Sulu. Spock pointed out that clockwork was a notoriously inefficient and inaccurate mechanism, requiring frequent human intervention to maintain it in working order, but the helmsman merely exchanged a grin with his Captain and turned back to work.
"Lieutenant, instruct the transporter room to beam Chekov and Hartley aboard NOW!"
Kirk virtually leapt out of his seat in response to Spock's sudden order. Uhura was already obeying as Spock switched the output of his monitors onto the main screen.
"Sir, transporter room reports transporters are not functioning..."
A twisted, multi-hued maelstrom was reaching out fingers into the empty space that surrounded the Enterprise and its little satellite.
Kirk hit the intercom button beside him. "Ensign Chekov, something is moving toward you. Secure yourselves... Spock what is it?"
"Unknown, Captain. A subspace disturbance of some sort."
"Sulu, are they within tractor range?"
Sulu broke the mesmerizing spell of the twisting chaos to look down at his panel. "Yes, sir."
"Then get a lock on them!"
The tiny shuttle started to move. Kirk couldn't tell whether it was under its own power or caught up in the violence of the storm.
"Captain." The crackle of static almost obscured Chekov's voice. "I have lost all navigational sensors. I am flying blind. Can you..."
The channel went dead.
"Uhura..." Kirk began, but the order never left his lips.
On the screen in front of him, the shuttlecraft exploded in a firestorm that was pale and insignificant against the livid background of the subspace phenomenon.
"Kyle to bridge," the transporter chief's voice seemed to echo in the sudden silence. "Estimate repairs to the transporter will take another twenty minutes."
"Spock." Kirk forced his brain back into motion. "Sensor readings?"
The whirlwind seemed to turn on itself and disappear down an invisible drain hole.
"Readings inconclusive," the Vulcan reported, his voice calm and even. "The electromagnetic output of the disturbance corresponds to the signals we were receiving earlier. But there is no indication now that there was ever anything there."
"What about the shuttle?" Kirk compelled himself to ask.
"No debris, Captain. It seems to have been sucked into the vortex."
"And the shuttle's crew?" The words seem to come out of his mouth of their own accord.
"Readings are confused but there was an enormous power surge -almost as if the shuttle's anti-matter core imploded. If that is the case, then there is no real possibility that either of the crew survived."
Kirk had to pause and clear his throat. "Are there other possibilities?"
"Yes, sir, but it is a virtual certainty that the shuttlecraft has been destroyed." The Vulcan turned to his captain. "I fear we must assume that Ensigns Chekov and Hartley are no longer alive."
"Have you figured out where we are yet?"
Chekov blinked and realized he'd been staring motionless at the computer screen in front of him for several minutes. "Yes," he heard himself answer.
"As though there was ever any doubt you couldn't," Hartley muttered as she secured equipment that had shaken loose in the back of the shuttle. "What was that thing that grabbed us?"
"I believe it was a wormhole," he answered with a calmness that amazed him.
"It's a type of space/time phenomenon that...."
"I know what a wormhole is," she interrupted impatiently as she sat down at the console next to him. "I just wasn't expecting to run into one. It certainly was nothing like the simulations of them they put you through at the Academy, though, was it?"
"I can't find a way to trigger the reactivation of the phenomenon," he informed her. It sounded like an apology.
"Well, I'd rather not take that ride again if I can avoid it. Did it spit us out very far from where we were?" She looked over at his console at the readout of their position. "Not too far. We even managed to stay roughly on our original course. That will make us easier to find. Assuming they're still travelling at warp six, the Enterprise is about two days away."
Chekov looked at her. "In terms of distance, yes."
Hartley seemed to miss the significance of this statement. "If we conserve power and water, we can sit here for well over a week, right?"
Dora Hartley had a sprinkling of light brown freckles that ran across her nose and onto her cheeks. Chekov had never noticed them before. Right now they made her look very innocent, very vulnerable.
She blew out a long breath. "Well, of all the people in the universe to get stuck in a confined space with for two days.... I guess we'll get to see if Barbara's theory holds true."
"She says that the real reason we fight all the time is sexual tension and if we were ever alone together for a few...." Hartley paused, took in Chekov's look of complete incomprehension, then sighed. "It's going to be a long two days."
"What are you doing?" he asked as she began to press controls.
"I'm activating the distress beacon."
"No." He reached out and switched off the controls she'd switched on. "We'll do that at the proper time."
"Well, excuse me, Mr. Chekov, sir," she said, her temper flaring. "But if this isn't the proper time then ... What are you doing?"
"Scanning for class M planets within range of this vessel," he replied, keying commands into the computer.
"Not a bad idea," Hartley agreed. "Easier to conserve resources that way.... Looks like we're in luck. There's one. On second thought, no. It's inhabited by a humanoid lifeform. Too low a technological rating to be of help. There's another. Harsh climate, but uninhabited. We'd have to stay in the shuttle, but we wouldn't waste fuel. Want me to lay in the heading for it?"
"We're going to the inhabited one," Chekov said, laying in the course himself and firing the shuttle's engines.
Hartley's mouth dropped open. "Why?"
"Our chances for survival are better there," he explained tersely.
"I feel really funny to have to remind the man who has the Star Fleet regulation book memorized backwards of something like this, but isn't landing on an unknown inhabited planet going to put us in danger of accidentally violating the Prime Directive?"
"Yes," he confirmed numbly. "I will try to land on a body of water. We'll sink the shuttle.."
He checked the supply inventory. "There's a life raft that will take us to shore that can be easily destroyed. We must take nothing with us that would indicate that we're from another civilization..."
"Wait a minute! Wait a damned minute!" Hartley protested. "What are you talking about, Chekov? The ship is only two days away."
"In distance," he replied repeating his earlier emphasis. "It's somewhat further away in time."
"I don't understand," Hartley said, although her eyes looked as though she did have some inkling.
"Look at the relative positions of the stars." He had the computer superimpose a chart of their original position over the starfield they saw in front of them currently.
"What does it mean?" she asked, although he knew she now had enough information to figure it out herself.
"The wormhole is a space/time phenomenon," he replied. "Although we were only thrown a few hundred parsecs forward in space, we were thrown fifty-one point eight seven three years backwards into the past."
Hartley's normally pink cheeks drained of color. "So you're saying that the Enterprise won't be here in two days?"
Chekov looked out at the very empty expanse of space in front of them. "No."
"In effect, we're marooned in the past..."
"For fifty years," he confirmed, turning to face her.
"With each other," she finished.
The silence on the bridge was solid with pain.
"Bridge, this is the transporter room..."
Kirk slammed his fist down on the intercom button on the arm of his seat, cutting Kyle off. "Mr. Spock, did we have any warning that that... thing was coming?"
"I observed no unusual readings. I will have to review the scanner records..."
"Then we'd better withdraw to a safe distance -- if that means anything. Mr. Sulu, half impulse, on a bearing of two three seven mark four."
"Yes, Captain." Sulu's answer was so quiet as to be almost inaudible.
"Mr. Spock, analysis of the..." Kirk was at a loss for words to name the monster that had just eaten two of his crew.
"Subspace phenomenon," the science officer supplied.
That was much too sterile a label for the horror they'd all just witnessed. Kirk refused to use it. "...Has priority. Every science specialist on board is to focus on it until I have some sort of an explanation of exactly what happened and why we had no warning."
"Lieutenant Uhura, tell Mr. Scott I'm on my way to Engineering. I want to know what happened to those transporters and why I wasn't informed of it sooner. Mr. Spock, you have the conn."
Kirk took one deep breath to last him until he got off the bridge and walked straight into the mercifully open turbo lift. As the doors closed, he leaned his forehead against the wall and uttered a string of obscenities that did nothing to quell his anger or soothe his pain.
"Hey! How's it coming?"
Looking out from underneath the groundcar he was working on, Chekov could see a pair of slim ankles next to his employer's thick ones. The sight gave him a strange sinking feeling in his stomach.
'Ridiculous,' he admonished himself. 'It isn't her.'
His employer banged on the hood of the vehicle. "Hey! I'm talking to you. Are you making any progress here?"
"Good!" the ensign shouted back. "Am progress."
Chekov sighed and wished he hadn't done away with his universal translator. "Yes," he replied as clearly as he was capable. "Progress!"
"I can't understand a word you're saying," his employer complained. "Get out here."
The man didn't give the ensign any choice in this, pulling the rolling pallet he was lying on to work on the underside of the groundcar out by the short rope attached to it. Chekov abruptly found himself lying flat on his back on the pallet looking up at his employer and the client with the pretty ankles.
It was her. She was as incongruous as an angel in the mud- and grease-stained garage. Her pink and white wrap was as delicate as a flower. The sun from the skylight danced in the strands of her dark blonde hair which she now wore braided in the traditional native style. It suited her as if she'd been born to wear it that way. The dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks seemed paler than it had a year ago. She was smiling slightly.
The ensign gathered what dignity he had left and rose to his feet.
"Have you found the problem with the car yet?" his employer demanded.
Chekov nodded, deliberately avoiding her eyes -- and forgetting for a moment that nods meant nothing on this planet.
"Hey!" His employer thumped him on the back. "I want an answer. Have you found the problem yet?"
"Progressing," Chekov replied, sounding sullen to his own ears.
Why did she have to come here? He didn't even think she owned a car. She must have tracked him down simply to humiliate him.
"How much longer?" his employer asked, enunciating each word loudly and slowly as if he thought the ensign was hard of hearing.
"Three..." Chekov stopped, immediately realizing he'd begun with the wrong sound. He wanted to say "thirty" not "three". What was the word for thirty?
"Three what?" the native asked impatiently. "Hours? Minutes? Days?"
"Th- th- th," Chekov struggled. His mind remained stubbornly blank, refusing to consider anything but the image of her so near him looking so clean and pretty. He knew that she spoke the language beautifully. He'd heard her doing so on many occasions. After nearly a year, he still had an accent so thick it made the handful of words he'd mastered almost incomprehensible. "Three and zero."
"Three and what?" His employer turned apologetically to the client. "I'm sorry, lady. He's a good boy and a decent mechanic." The native patted Chekov on the head, then lowered his voice as if that would prevent the ensign from understanding him. "But I'm afraid he's just not very bright."
"That's all right," Dora answered with effortless perfection. "I think I can communicate with him."
"Be my guest," the native said, stepping back.
Chekov looked her in the face for the first time, silently daring her to gloat.
She gave him a sweet, calmly triumphant smile. "Hello, Pavel."
"Hello, Hartley," he replied shortly in Standard, kneeling down to retrieve his tools. "I have corrected the problem with the vehicle's alignment, but the solar transfer unit still needs to be re-calibrated. It should take at least another half hour."
"Thank you." She sounded like she intended to enjoy every minute of this.
"It wasn't anything you aren't capable of repairing yourself," he couldn't resist adding.
"Hey!" His employer thumped him on the back again. "I might not be able to understand what you're saying, but I can hear your tone. You talk nice to the lady, understand?"
"Oh, it's nothing," Dora replied graciously while Chekov fumed. "He was just saying that I could have fixed the car myself."
The native snorted. "You think a pretty lady like this is going to want to go around all day with grease on her nose like you?"
Chekov self-consciously swiped at his face without pausing to think that even if he didn't have grease there already, he undoubtedly had it on his hands.
"He says it will only be a short while longer," Dora explained, while the ensign vainly scrubbed at the black smears that increased rather than decreased with his efforts. "I'd like to wait, if that's all right."
The native shrugged. "It's up to you, lady."
"You'd better be careful," Hartley warned Chekov as his employer moved away. "You'll get fired from this job too."
It seemed cowardly to retreat under the vehicle again, so Chekov opened a side panel.
"That is what happened, isn't it?" Hartley asked. "You got fired, didn't you?"
Chekov made a small unnecessary adjustment to the vehicle's timing instead of replying. He wasn't positive why he'd lost the job at the loading dock. It was most probably because they found a bigger, stronger and slightly less illiterate man for the position. The matter hardly seemed worth discussing.
"You should have stayed with that fruit-picking operation," Hartley observed.
He'd seen a great deal of her during the four months he had been employed as a fruit-picker. The orchard where he worked had been on her path to work. She had a job in a shop that sold decorative pottery items. They'd scowled at each other from a distance all summer. This was the first time in more than half a year that they'd actually spoken.
"It was seasonal work." He shrugged, undoing the adjustment he'd made a moment before. "The season is now over."
She stepped over to the car and leaned against it, looking down at him. "Do you like this job?"
"Not particularly." He meticulously cleaned a connector. "However, it does provide a sustenance level income and does not put me in danger of breaking the Prime Directive."
"You could do much better than sustenance level and still avoid breaking the Prime Directive," Hartley observed pointedly.
What did the infernal woman want? Was she just here to goad him?
"You must be doing well," he replied, narrowing his eyes, "to be able to afford a vehicle such as this."
"It's not mine. It belongs to the man I work for," Hartley replied. "But I could have one like it in a year or so."
"How wonderful for you." Chekov said icily.
"Don't you even want to do better than this?" she asked, gesturing exasperatedly at the garage.
Chekov could hardly believe her cruelty. There was nothing wrong with being a mechanic. There hadn't been anything wrong with any of his jobs --except that they were never as good as hers and he couldn't seem to stay in any of them very long. How dare she come here to lord it over him! Were their positions reversed, he would have never behaved so gracelessly. He was sure he would have helped her as much as he was able.
"I lack your aptitude for language, Hartley," he replied, trying to keep his voice even. "Until my linguistic skills improve, I am limited in my choice of employment."
"Well, I never thought I'd see this day." Hartley folded her arms. "I finally have the infallible Pavel Chekov on his knees admitting that I can do something better than he can. It's almost worth being marooned to see."
The Russian rose stiffly. "The repairs will take several more minutes to complete. You need not wait here."
Hartley held her ground. "I'm not moving an inch until you can convince me that you're not doing this to yourself on purpose."
"Failing," she accused.
"I am not failing," he replied in contradiction to the small voice inside him that told him she was right. "As I said, this position affords me..."
"A sustenance level existence," she finished for him angrily. "The bare minimum. The littlest you can possibly do to survive. You're doing nothing that might make your time here pleasant or profitable. You're doing nothing to fit in. You're not even trying to learn the language. You're just biding your time, aren't you?"
"There's nothing wrong..." he began defensively.
"Yes, there is," she cut him off. "What's wrong is that when the Enterprise gets back here -- if she ever gets back here -- you're going to be a seventy year old man who's done nothing with his life but wait for something that might never happen."
Chekov knew that he hadn't consciously decided to take such a self-destructive path, but now that Hartley had stated his situation so plainly, it was impossible to deny that was what he was in effect doing.
"Seventy-three point six five year old...." he corrected, meaning it as a joke.
"Stop it! Just stop it!" Hartley's voice shook. "Pavel Chekov, I know you hate me. And I know you consider me your mental inferior. But I'm not just going to stand back and watch you waste your life."
He was surprised at the intensity of her emotion. It almost seemed as if she cared about him.
"Dora..." he began uncertainly, then faltered into silence. Even in Standard, there were not words to explain how he felt. "This is not my life," he said at last, simply and inadequately.
"Yes, it is." She stepped forward and took his hand, ignoring the grease. "Yes, it is. It isn't fair that we're here. It's not what either of us wanted or planned or hoped for, but it is real. This place, this time, is our reality. You've got to stop running away from that."
"Hartley..." he began, trying to disengage his filthy fingers from the grip of her delicate ones.
"Dora," she corrected firmly, holding him fast. "You've got to stop running away from reality. And we've got to stop running away from each other."
Chekov's mouth suddenly went dry. "Running away?" he repeated stupidly.
"Both of us could have left this meager little town a thousand times. We parted ways swearing to live on opposite sides of the planet. But we didn't. We've kept in sight of each other." Hartley's eyes glowed peculiarly as if she might be on the verge of tears. "It made me so mad at first. I told myself that I was staying here because of my job and you were the one who was following me around, keeping tabs on me, asking about me..."
Chekov looked away, feeling his face go red. The perfectly reasonable explanation he'd rehearsed a thousand times of his just keeping track of a fellow officer in a potentially difficult situation stuck in his throat.
"But the first morning that I went past that damned orchard and you weren't there..." A small droplet of emotion rolled past Hartley's soft brown freckles.
"Please, Dora." Chekov closed his eyes. "Don't cry." "Barbara would laugh at me." Hartley released his hand and dug a white handkerchief out of her pocket. "It seems it was sexual attraction all along. As smart as we think we are, we were both too stupid to see it."
Chekov opened his mouth to contradict this. But his brain couldn't supply any evidence to the contrary.
"Now, look," she said, drying her eyes. "There's a bookkeeper's position open at the place I work..."
"Shut up, Pavel," she said, although not unkindly. "I've been thinking about this a long time and I've decided that's what's going to happen. You're going to take the bookkeeper's job and come live with me in my apartment. I'll tutor you in the language and customs..."
"Live with you?" Chekov blinked. In this culture, unmarried people did not live together platonically. Cohabitation implied intimacy. "Ensign Hartley..."
"Dora," she corrected. "I've got a good job, but I've discovered that this is a covertly patriarchal society. Because I'm a woman, there's a ceiling on how far I can advance. I can use the extra income you'll bring in and you can use someone to speak Standard to. Right?"
Chekov felt as though he were being caught up in a flooding stream. "Dora..."
"If we want to achieve any measure of comfort or happiness on this planet," she continued relentlessly, taking his hands again, "then it is only logical that we pool our resources. Do you deny that? Are you going to go against logic?"
Chekov reflected that Mr. Spock might have some problems with Dora Hartley's definition of logic. "It would seem to be more efficient than our current arrangement," he agreed guardedly.
"Then is it what you want?" she asked, her face as vulnerable as a child's.
Chekov took a moment to think about it. What did he want? The answer came to him so strongly and immediately that his vision clouded from the force of it.
"I want to go home, Dora," he admitted. "I just want to go home."
She put her arms around him, pressing her body close against his. "This is our home, Pavel," she whispered. "From now on, you and I are home for each other."
Chekov clung to her tightly, although he knew he was ruining her lovely pastel colored walking costume. They moved from holding each other to kissing so naturally that it was impossible to say which one of them had initiated the move. Pressing his lips against those lovely freckles, Chekov felt some measure of peace for the first time in over a year.
"Hey!" There was the sound of heavy footsteps behind them. "Hey!"
"There is nothing for you to be concerned...." Dora explained to Chekov's employer in the native tongue as the couple hastily broke apart.
"No, Dora," Chekov interrupted, straightening his coveralls. "I will take care of this." He turned to the native. "Me..."
"I," Hartley corrected softly.
"I..." Chekov began. Finding himself quickly at the limits of his vocabulary again, he turned back to his fellow officer. "What is the word for 'resign'?"
Hartley smiled. "Quit."
"I quit," Chekov informed the flabbergasted native. Not waiting for a reply, he turned back to Hartley. "Come, doushka," he said, putting his arm around her. "Let's go home."
"It happened so fast there was no time to report, sir." Scott's face was colorless. A smear of lubricant on one cuff of his uniform told of an urgent repair interrupted to obey the Captain's summons.
Kirk's rage had evaporated in the minutes since the disaster. He knew -- he had always known -- that was the reason why Scott had failed to inform him of the failure of the transporter.
"There was a massive surge in the warp output when that whirlwind - appeared. It was nowhere near us. There was no way it should have affected our engines. The surge took out the main supply to the transporters. They weren't operable." Scott paused heavily. "I'm sorry, Captain. But there was nothing any of us could have done."
"If Sulu had got a tractor beam on the shuttle..."
"Then we'd have had some wreckage to look at," Scott finished for him. "Maybe."
"Yes." Kirk nodded. "You're right. But that doesn't make this any easier."
"Captain," the engineer said quietly. "Two fine young officers are dead. That's a thing that should never be made easy."
Any reply to this comment stuck in the captain's throat.
The engineer looked apologetically at his sleeves. "I should get back to work, sir. If that thing puts in another appearance..."
"Of course." Kirk took in a deep breath, dreading the next task that faced him -- every commander's hardest duty. "And I have two letters to send."
"Papa!" A little girl with long, dark brown braids jumped up and down on the front steps as she watched her father walk up the stone path to their house.
"Katya!" Chekov smiled and held out his arms for his daughter.
She flung herself forward with absolute assurance he would catch her.
That was getting considerably more difficult every day. "Oh, Katya," he said, shifting her onto his hip. "You're getting to be a big girl."
"I'm healthy!" she proclaimed proudly.
"Pavel, don't carry that child." A voice drifted out from the house's interior. "She's almost six years old. She'll be able to walk better than you'll be able to if you don't stop trying to lug her around."
"I missed you so much, Papa," Katya said, hugging him fiercely as they both ignored this advice. "Let's give each other a thousand kisses."
"A thousand kisses," Chekov agreed, pushing the screened door to the interior open with his foot. "Mmwah. Mmwah. Mmwah. Mmwah. Mmwah."
"Kissing isn't a native practice," Dora reminded him without looking up from the cooking grill in the center of the spacious living room.
Native houses still looked terribly flimsy to Chekov. More like places one would camp in rather than permanent dwellings. He'd wanted to build a proper home when they were finally able to afford to, but Dora had talked him out of it.
"It would be if everyone had as beautiful a daughter as I do," he replied, breaking away from Katya long enough to give Dora a quick kiss on the back of her neck. "And such a pretty wife."
"Did you have a good day?" she asked as he set his daughter on her feet and sat down in a low chair near the cooking area.
He shrugged as Katya took the satchel of papers that he'd brought home out of a sense of obligation, but didn't really intend to work on. "I suppose."
"Well?" Dora straightened and put her hands on her hips. "Did you or didn't you?"
"It's hard to tell," Chekov replied, kicking off his sandals as his daughter untied his hair. He wore it shoulder length and tied it back when he was at work, but that was as far as he went in making concessions to local fashions. Elaborate braids and waist-length locks were fine for native men, but somehow he couldn't see himself wearing what he still thought of as variations on Janice Rand's hairdo. "In this profession, a good day is very much like a bad day."
"Why do you have so many little white hairs near your ears, Papa?" Katya asked, combing her fingers through it.
"Because I spend all day looking at long columns of big figures," Chekov replied.
He was immediately aware of deafening silence from across the room. Dora had always loved his job more than he did. Of course, she wasn't faced with actually having to do his job day in and day out. "Why do normal people become accountants, doushka?" he asked lightly. "I know they're not all stranded aliens with limited occupational choices."
"Well," she replied, opening a cupboard built into the floor. "Perhaps some of them have figured out that it's a very stable and lucrative career for a man with a great aptitude for mathematics -- and a wife and children to support."
Chekov sank back in the chair and shook his head. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would one day become a thirty-three year old accountant with a wife and three children."
"Four," Dora corrected, lifting a bag of fruit out of the cupboard.
Chekov blinked as he did a quick mental tally. "Four?"
"At least four," she amended upon further consideration.
Chekov's tired brain was refusing to correlate this new data. "What?"
Dora opened the bag onto the squat little preparation table beside the grill. "Since you've been doing sums all day, I thought it would be easier for you to understand if I broke it to you in numerical terms."
He swallowed. "You mean to say that you are..."
"Pregnant," she confirmed. "And if you dare say, 'Again?', so help me, Pavel Chekov, I'm going to..."
"Shhh, Papa," Katya cautioned, putting her tiny fingers over his lips. "Mama is in a bad mood today. 'Karu says she's got the going-to-have-a-baby sickness."
"Your mother isn't sick, Katya," he said, lifting the little girl onto his lap.
"Oh, yes, she is," the child responded eagerly. "She was sick all over the floor this morning."
Chekov closed his eyes. Although without serious incident, Dora's pregnancies thus far had all been far from pleasant. Nine solid months of nausea, mood swings and swollen feet. After that came the difficulties of having an infant in the house. They'd just gotten Alyosha to the point where he could almost take care of himself. And now, to start all over again... Chekov opened his eyes to find his wife was frowning at him.
"Go on," she said in Russian. "Say it."
"The local methods of birth control are rather unreliable," he commented conservatively -- or so he thought.
Dora put her hands on her hips. "Pavel Andrevich Chekov," she said, calling him by his full name as she did only when he was in the deepest trouble with her. "If I didn't know that you were more devoted to your children than any ten other men, I would be very tempted to think that you were the most unfeeling, callous..."
"It's not that I don't care for children." Chekov toyed with a curl that had escaped from his daughter's braids. "'Karu, Katya, and Alyosha are more than life to me, but every child we have..."
"...Increases the chances we'll have an unacceptable impact on this culture," Dora finished for him, almost mockingly.
"Papa." Katya leaned against his chest. "Don't fight with Mama in the backwards language anymore."
"We're not fighting, my heart," he assured her in Standard, then continued in Russian, "It's not that I'm unhappy to learn we're going to have another child. But you know the dangers, the difficulties as well as I do."
"Better," Dora retorted.
"Perhaps so," he conceded. "And we shall manage with this child as we have with the others. However, I think it would be prudent for us to take steps to ensure that this is our last. Perhaps we can devise a method of supplementing the pills you take."
"We could just stop having sex," Dora suggested.
"Katya, my heart," Chekov said, deciding it was a wise moment to change the subject. "Were you a good girl today?"
"Yes," she answered confidently. "But Mama doesn't think so."
"Oh?" Chekov tried not to smile. "And why does your mother not think so?"
"Because she's stubborn and spoiled," Dora replied for her daughter, putting a piece of fruit on the slicer. "Guess who's to blame for both those qualities."
Another change of topic was clearly called for. "Where are your brothers, little heart?"
"Alyosha is sleeping and 'Karu..."
"'Karu is in the garden," Dora said, then added significantly. "Sulking."
Chekov cleared his throat, giving his wife a clear nonverbal signal that it was her turn to change the subject.
"It was only a toy," she grumbled nonetheless.
"No, Dora," he said firmly. "It was a bi-harmonic sub-assembly. A piece of obviously advanced alien technology."
It had started in the spring. 'Karu had been sick and unable to play outdoors for several weeks. Dora, who had finally quit her job at the shop in frustration at her lack of opportunities for advancement, was also bored and restless. She said she was helping the boy put together a radio set. The project seemed to content them both and would have been fine if the device had been based on local rather than Federation technology.
"No one would know that but us," she objected. "It was an educational project..."
Dora frowned. "He'd been working on it for months..."
"If I had been aware of the nature of the project," Chekov said, keeping his tone carefully even and his words non-accusatory in front of his daughter, "then I would have confiscated it sooner."
"I don't see the harm..."
"Exactly," he interrupted severely. "John Gill didn't see the harm when he re-instituted the Nazi party on a planetary scale. The crew of the Horizondidn't see any harm in giving the natives of Iotia a text that glorified gangsters. Captain Ronald Tracy was only trying to make himself more comfortable when he nearly exterminated an entire ethnic group on...."
"Please." Dora held up a hand. "Not the entire history book."
"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, Dorshka," he warned.
His wife rolled her eyes. "And spare me the Russian Book of Quotes, too. 'Karu is only a nine-year-old boy..."
"Then he can do as all the other nine-year-old boys do here. He can build birdhouses and ornamental clocks -- not adinotronic receivers."
She pursed her lips, clearly dissatisfied. "Pavel..."
"No, Dora," he said with finality. "No, no, no."
Although they made many decisions jointly, Chekov and his wife had fallen into the local way of thinking that the husband's word was law. In their household, however, the law tended to require a great deal of repetition.
"All right," she said, turning back to her preparations. "But if you plan to take the children back to Earth with you..."
"Stop, Dora," he said, a little more harshly than he intended to. When she was losing an argument, she always tried to find some way to favorably link what she wanted with returning to the Federation. This one hurt too much. Chekov took a deep breath and brought his emotions back under control. "Think of what you're saying, doushka. When the Enterprise returns -- if she returns -- the child that has not yet been born will be older than I am now."
Dora blinked as if she'd never really paused to think of it that way before. "They'll all be adults."
"Yes." He put his arms around his daughter and kissed her on the top of her head. "My lovely little Katya will be a grown woman, perhaps married with children of her own."
"I will get married, Papa." She twisted around and smiled at him. She had blue eyes. Dora said that blue eyes ran in her family, but Chekov always liked to think that Katya had eyes like his father -- although it was getting harder every day to remember exactly what his father had looked like. "I'm going to marry you."
He couldn't ever look at her for long without smiling. "No, my heart."
"That might make your mother very jealous."
"The children will be grown up and settled with families," Dora said, as if thinking aloud. "No one should make them go anywhere."
"I don't ever go anywhere I don't want to," Katya announced.
"Sometimes, my heart," Chekov reproved mildly, "you sound spoiled even to your own father."
"Pavel." Dora turned to him seriously. "I'm not going either."
Chekov took in a deep breath. He'd known she felt that way. He'd known it for years. She'd never said it before, though.
"When they come," she asked, "if they come, are you going to go?"
Chekov paused before he answered. He knew what he should say, what it was his duty to say, but somehow that didn't come out. He looked down at his daughter. Big tears welled in her eyes.
"Don't go, Papa," she pleaded. "Don't leave me."
"I won't leave you, my heart," he reassured her.
"Promise that you won't leave me," she begged, unconvinced. "Promise that you'll never go. Never ever ever."
"I won't go," he said, knowing it was true as he said it. "Never."
"Never ever ever," she insisted.
"Never ever ever," he agreed, holding her tight.
"And seal it with a thousand kisses," she demanded, putting her little arms around his neck.
"A thousand kisses, Katya." When she was satisfied, he set her down on the floor. "Now go get your brother. Tell 'Karu I want to speak to him."
Dora was silent as Katya scampered out the back door.
"'Karu isn't going to want to listen to another speech," she commented at last.
"I do not intend to give one," Chekov said, rising and straightening his tunic. "I am going to see what I can do to interest my son in building a clock or a birdhouse or whatever it is that the rest of the boys his age do with their time."
"Good luck," she said, then asked seriously, "Pavel, will you stay?"
He took in another deep breath, then shrugged and gestured towards the door his daughter had recently vacated. "It would seem that I have just entered into a contractual agreement to do so."
A smile spread slowly across Dora's face. "Good," she said, turning back to her cooking. "It would have gotten pretty lonely without you to yell at."
"However." Chekov held up a warning finger. "Regardless of whether we eventually stay or not, we must abide by the principles of the Prime Directive. That is our continuing obligation both to our own people and the people here."
"Well, all right," she agreed slowly. "As far as the technology goes, yes. But sociologically...."
"Dora," he warned.
"Pavel, you've got to agree that someone needs to do something to agitate for true equal opportunity for women," she said.
"Someone," he conceded. "But not you."
"You aren't going to feel that way when it's your darling little Katya who's got to promise to love, honor, and obey, get consistently lower wages and be treated like a second class citizen," she argued as she rose and crossed to him.
"Regardless of how I feel..."
She put her fingers over his lips. "Not that speech again, either."
"Very well," he said, taking her into his arms. "Then I will be succinct. No, Dora. No, no, no."
"I'm beginning to remember why I used to hate you," she said, putting her arms around his neck. "Aren't you ever going to get tired of telling me no?"
"No, doushka," he said, kissing her. "Never ever ever."
Kirk called up Hartley's record on his viewer while checking the ship's current status with Spock and asking to be kept posted on any information on the whirlwind. Dora Hartley's symmetrical features filled the screen with a light-hearted smile. She'd been on board just ten days. The only things he knew about her were that she had a good record from the Academy and that she and Chekov could agree about nothing. He wondered bitterly if that had been a factor -- if there was something they could have done to save themselves, but didn't. The plain facts recorded in the file filled out details without seeming to add to his knowledge. One of three children. Parents both in Star Fleet - Well, they'd be among people who could understand their sorrow.
He hadn't opened the other file yet. He half-feared he might open it and discover that he hadn't known Chekov either. One key banished Dora Hartley's image, just as one unhappy coincidence in time and space had banished the cheerful young woman forever.
He called up the ship's schedule for the next few days and gazed at the blank spaces. Nothing to distract people but busywork and map-making. It might as well be tomorrow then. He updated his own schedule and downloaded instructions to his yeoman to make the necessary arrangements. For a few moments he simply sat, playing back in his mind the places they'd been to, the things that had happened with Pavel Chekov over the last year and a half. Some of their adventures had been pretty bizarre. It just didn't seem right that Chekov's part in them could be over so soon.
"Do you intend to go out in public looking like that?" Chekov tried to keep his question completely factual, but he wasn't able to keep out that slight edge of disapproval that always crept into his voice when he spoke to his youngest son.
Alyosha rolled his eyes. "Don't be so sixth century, Pop."
Chekov took in a deep breath. 'Lyosha was the most thoroughly native of all the children. At the same time, the boy looked uncannily like Chekov had at his age -- at least somewhere underneath all those braids and phosphorescent clothing he did...
"I'm not going to take Teegan with me," the boy said, setting his all-too-familiar mouth stubbornly.
"We've already discussed that." Chekov turned back to the ledger he'd laid out on the table. He had to lean in rather close to see the tiny figures in front of him clearly. A slight problem with his vision. Nothing really. It could have been corrected in a matter of seconds on the Enterprise. He refused to wear the ridiculous contraptions the natives of the region wore as vision aids.
"But she's such a baby!"
Chekov looked up, knowing that in terms of relative maturity, ten-year-old Teegan was her fourteen-year-old brother's superior. "You are concerned that your sister may behave in a way that might embarrass you?"
"Well... uhm..." Alyosha faltered. The boy's greatest flaw as well as his most redeeming quality was that he could not lie. It wasn't for a lack of trying. 'Lyosha made valiant attempts to be deceptive, but the truth always sprang from every pore in his body -- as it was doing now.
"Alyosha." Chekov put down his writing instrument. "There are going to be girls at this gathering. Are there not?"
'Lyosha tried to look as though he were indifferent to this fact. "Well... yeah..."
"Not just girls," the Russian continued. "But a particular girl... A girl you wish to impress..."
Already at fourteen, 'Lyosha was what Dora liked to call a "playboy". He frowned, knowing he'd been found out. "This is more of that inductive logic stuff, isn't it?"
Chekov did not bother to confirm this. "Alyosha, you may go to this party. However your sister will accompany you. You will go directly there and come directly back. You are not to leave the premises otherwise -- despite any prior arrangements you may have made with this young lady."
Alyosha made a noise of absolute adolescent distress. "But..."
"Do we understand each other?" Chekov interrupted firmly.
'Lyosha sighed. "Yes, sir. I won't..." he began dutifully, looking and sounding like his father. Then, in a matter of seconds, Chekov could see his mother's argumentative spirit possess the boy. "But why? I'm almost fifteen..."
"I am well aware of your age," Chekov informed him. "It is among the reasons why you are not allowed to do such things."
"Everybody else's father...."
"We are not discussing everyone else's father," Chekov cut him off. "I am your father and I do not allow such things. You are not the son of everyone else's father. You are my son."
Alyosha stubbed the toe of his pointed shoe at the ground in frustration. "I wish I wasn't," he muttered loudly enough to be heard.
Chekov released a long breath. At one time or another, all four of his children had expressed a similar sentiment. As they one by one became teenagers, these expressions became more frequent. He knew it was difficult for them. Because of the Prime Directive, there were restrictions on them that did not apply to their peers. He also knew that because he refused to fully assimilate, his children had the burden of constantly adjusting to the demands of one culture at home and another when they went out into the community. "No doubt you do," he replied quietly, picking up his pen.
Alyosha was silent for a long moment. "I'm sorry, Papa," he said, at last. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
Chekov nodded. "I understand."
In part, he didn't, though. His own father had been strict - a demanding man, but ultimately fair and reasonable. Chekov would have never dreamed of arguing with him or saying anything in the least bit disrespectful to him. He didn't think he was treating his children so differently from the way his parents had treated him.
Ah, perhaps that was it. Parents. Chekov could not recall having ever seen his parents argue. His own children were treated to the spectacle on a regular basis. They'd had the opportunity to learn by example behaviors he'd been taught were unacceptable.
"Papa," Alyosha began, his manner suddenly cloyingly sweet, "if I take Teegan to the party and promise to be back on time, couldn't I just..."
Chekov rolled his eyes. Another of their mother's favorite techniques. "No, Alyosha. I have said all I intend to say on the matter. Go see if your sister is preparing to leave."
'Lyosha sighed, seeing his cause was lost. "Damned inductive logic," he grumbled, turning to leave. "I can't wait until we have that ca..."
The boy clamped his lips closed, but it was already too late.
"Car?" Chekov guessed.
"Nothing, Pop." Alyosha headed for the door. "I'd better go get Teeg..."
"Alyosha." Chekov beckoned to his son. "Come here."
The boy complied reluctantly, avoiding his father's eyes.
Chekov folded his arms. "So, you are thinking of obtaining a vehicle?"
"Well," Alyosha replied to the floor. "Kind of."
"With whom? Some of your friends?"
Alyosha looked up, his round brown eyes full of injured innocence. "No."
Chekov tapped his lips thoughtfully. He'd learned to read his son much the way Mr. Spock had taught him to interpret raw data from the ship's scanners. His internal sensors were telling him the boy had a definite and familiar smell of conspiracy about him. "With your brother?"
Despite the number of times he'd been found out in a similar manner in the past, 'Lyosha always got the same amazed expression on his face when his father hit on the truth. "Uhm... uhm..." he stammered. "Well, as a matter of fact, 'Karu was thinking about buying a kit and building one. I don't know if he's really going to do it or not..."
"Yes, you do," Chekov said with complete assurance. "Why does 'Karu need a vehicle? And why hasn't he discussed this with me?"
"I... I... I..." Alyosha stammered miserably. "I can't say..."
"Oh, Papa, please don't make me tell you," his son begged. "He'll kill me."
"Why would 'Karu want to kill you?"
"Not literally kill me... But if I tell you... Oh, Papa, please, please, don't make me say anything else. And please, please, please don't guess. He'll know that I told you. He'll never trust me again."
Chekov thought that this was probably a wise move for 'Karu to take, but didn't say so. "Very well, I will not force you to say anything. However, if there is more information you feel you should disclose..."
Such invitations usually prompted Alyosha to accidentally reveal even more. This time, however, his son carefully kept his mouth tightly shut.
Chekov put down his pen. "Then I suppose I must speak with 'Karu."
Still not daring to open his mouth, Alyosha gave a quick nod.
"You may go to your room."
"Unless you would prefer to stay here while I discuss this matter with your brother?" Chekov offered generously.
"No, that's all right," Alyosha replied quickly. "But... about the party..."
"We will discuss that after I've spoken to 'Karu," Chekov said, closing the ledger.
'Lyosha sighed defeatedly. "Yes, sir."
"'Karu!" Chekov called as his youngest son trudged out the door. "'Karu!"
Receiving no answer, he put his work aside and walked into the central chamber of his house. No one was in the large room expect his youngest child, who lay on her stomach on the floor, intently marking up a stack of paper.
"Teegan, where is 'Karu?"
"Dunno," she replied without looking up. "He might be with 'Lyosha."
"No. He's not. I'm sorry, Teegan, but your brother may not be...." Chekov stopped dead in the middle of apologizing for possibly ruining his daughter's plans for the night, realizing that the little girl didn't look as if she had plans to do anything other than lay on the floor all evening. "Aren't you going to get ready to go to the party, milochka?"
His daughter looked up with serious hazel eyes. Lime colored smudges of chalk decorated her freckled face. "I don't think I'm going to go," she replied. "I'd rather keep on working."
Teegan was a somewhat odd child. She was intelligent, precocious and a good deal more intense than the average ten-year-old. Dora called her a dreamer. Her brothers and sister called her "Deep Thought".
"What sort of work are you doing?" Chekov asked, looking over her shoulder.
"I'm writing a book," she explained, spreading out several pages of scrawled text profusely illustrated in colored chalk. "It's about everything that's ever happened to me in my life."
"Really?" He knelt down beside her. "That's quite an undertaking."
"Yes." She brushed a string of escaped blonde hair off her forehead -- leaving another streak of green. "But I think it will be much easier if I start now than if I wait until I'm a grown up. I'm going to draw pictures of the whole thing too."
"I can see that." He looked at the picture that was consuming so much green chalk. "What is this?"
"I'm putting in all the stories about you and Mommy too." She applied more pigment to the figure, then held it out for him. "This is Mr. Spock. This is going to be a picture of him teaching you how to drive a spaceship."
Chekov lifted his eyebrows at the drawing. "The ears are certainly correct."
"If you squint your eyes, it looks more realistic, Papa," the artist advised.
"Teegan," he began carefully, "if this is a project for school..."
"No, it's for me," she assured him. "I heard that the average person forgets around seventy percent of all the things that happen to them in their life. Do you believe that, Papa? Is that really true?"
Chekov thought of his long-lost home and of family and boyhood friends whose names and faces he could now barely remember. No holographs, photographs, or mementos were available to aid his failing recollections. At least Dora had been on the Enterprise with him. Between the two of them, they could still reconstruct a faint picture of that shared segment of their past. "It sounds like an accurate estimate."
"But, Papa, that's so sad," she said, putting a hand on his knee. "If you don't remember something, it's almost like it didn't happen."
"Almost." He drew in a deep breath. "But one must live in the present, milochka."
She frowned at this. "People say that a lot, but I never understand why. How can you not live in the present? I suppose that if you had a time machine, then you could live in the past or in the future, but then that would be your present, so you'd still be living in the present even if you were living in the future, right?"
"Or in the past." Chekov nodded. "That's very true."
"Then why did you say that?"
Chekov smiled and shook his head, finding himself no match for his daughter's famed deep thinking. "I don't know."
"Papa," she asked, taking back her illustration of the Enterprise's science officer. "Why don't you work for the space program? You know more about the stars and everything than anyone -- even teachers, even people in books."
"I'm too old," he replied, rising.
"That's true," she agreed with unflattering readiness. "At school, they say that you have to start training to go to space when you're young -- around my age."
It gave Chekov a mixed thrill of fear and delight to hear his daughter say this. "Is that what you want to do, Teegan?"
She considered for a moment. "No. I would like the adventure. But I think I'm afraid of heights."
"You weren't afraid of heights last week," he reminded her. She'd been keen to take a ride in one of the small dirigibles that were becoming increasingly popular with the well-to-do of the area.
"No," she admitted. "But after thinking about it, I've decided that even though I'm not afraid of heights or flying or even falling, I am afraid of crashing to the ground and bursting into a million bits."
He patted her on the head. "There is such a thing as thinking too much, milochka."
"Well," Dora said, entering from the garden. "Does this mean I've made it through my audit without incurring litigation or a demotion?"
"The household accounts," she said, setting down a large basket full of herbs. "You said you were going to look over them."
"I would hardly call that an audit, doushka." Chekov tried to keep a defensive tone from creeping into his answer.
"I suppose I ought to be thankful to hear that," she replied briskly. "Because I know that if you did call it an audit, I wouldn't be able to afford you. Teegan, go get ready for the party."
"But, Mommy, I'm writing about my experiences..."
"No, you're not." She helped the little girl to her feet. "Tonight you're going to go out and have experiences. Where's Alyosha?"
"I sent him to his room." Chekov said as he neatly stacked Teegan's scattered papers and handed them to her.
For a split second, Dora got the same sort of look on her face that always gave her youngest son away. "Go get dressed, Teegan."
The little girl looked back and forth between her parents. "But if 'Lyosha is..."
"Never mind about 'Lyosha." Dora ushered her daughter towards the door to her dressing chamber. "I want you ready to go in fifteen minutes. Be sure to wash your hands and face first."
"Okay." Teegan sounded more resigned than convinced as she exited.
Chekov folded his arms and watched his wife as she sat down and began to sort her herbs.
"So what did Al do this time?" she asked, at length.
"Nothing." He took a seat opposite her. "He did happen to mention that 'Karu is planning to build a groundcar."
Dora rolled her eyes. "Mouth on that boy like an Andorian water rhino," she muttered. "What else did he tell you?"
"How much more is there for him to tell?" Chekov countered.
"Katya and 'Karu have some things they want to discuss with you," she replied, braiding together the long stems of three hizjatha bulbs.
It was beginning to feel as if the walls of the large, airy, family room were beginning to close in on him. "Is this why you are sending the younger children away for the evening?"
"I haven't had anything to do with any of this," Dora replied diffidently. "These are clearly matters for the head of the household to decide upon. When the children talked to me, all I could say was that they'd have to take things up with their father."
Chekov could feel his stomach tightening. "Dora..."
"I haven't got any power to say anything, not even in my own home," she continued.
"What did Katya and 'Karu tell you?" "I don't think I should get involved," she said stubbornly. "You're their father. You make all the decisions."
"Well, if you want to take on that whole paternalistic role...."
"That is not what I want." Chekov could feel himself losing his temper. Dora always seemed to pick the most inconvenient times possible to make a political point. "I would simply prefer not to be taken completely by surprise."
"All right," she relented. "I'll tell you. But I'm only doing this so that I can hopefully have a little bit of input into the process. If I just stood back and let them tell you themselves, you'd only blow up and say no without really listening to them-- or even thinking of asking what I thought."
Chekov straightened. "Dorshka," he reproved. "I would never behave in such an unreasonable manner."
"Really?" She smiled slightly. "Okay. Item number one – Katya wants to move in with Detiff."
"No," Chekov responded automatically, despite his earlier assurance. "That is completely out of the question."
Dora shrugged. "I think it's a good idea."
"What? Are you out of your mind?"
She smiled sweetly. "I'm glad you're so receptive to my input."
Chekov took in a deep breath and tried to regain a hold on his temper. "She's only sixteen. She's not even of age yet."
"You're confusing the native coming of age ceremony with Earth equivalents," his wife informed him. "Here, coming of age means reaching intellectual not sexual maturity."
At age twenty, local youths formally broke from their parents and announced their intention to follow a certain career path in the ritual to which she was referring. Young people also often announced their intentions to marry at the ceremony.
"The four years before you come of age are traditionally filled with experimentation of all sorts with many aspects of adult life," she continued. "It's perfectly acceptable in this society -- and hasn't seemed to bother you at all during the last three years that your son has been doing it."
"This is different from anything 'Karu has done."
"Why? Because Katya's a girl?"
"No," Chekov replied, knowing his answer was not completely true. He did not believe, despite Dora's oft-repeated accusations, that he had developed gender-based double standards for his children. He was certain his objection did not rise from the general principle that Katya was a girl and therefore should not do certain things. However, the fact that she was specifically his little girl was a factor that undeniably came into play. "This person she proposes to..."
"Detiff," Dora supplied. "His name is Detiff. You know that. You know him. He works for you. You were even the one who hired him, weren't you?"
"As a clerk," Chekov replied. "Not as a son-in-law."
"There's nothing wrong with him," she said, knotting the end of the braid she was working on. "He's responsible, honest, diligent..."
"Dull," Chekov offered. "Unimaginative, reactionary...."
"I thought you liked him."
"As a clerk," Chekov repeated adamantly. "Not as a son-in-law."
Dora shrugged. "Katya says he reminds her a lot of you."
"She's out of her mind." The thought of his free-spirited little Katya with that humorless, colorless young autocrat sickened him. "She'll be miserable."
"I think so," Dora agreed surprisingly.
"Because she's spoiled and stubborn. You've let her have her own way since she was a baby and now she's determined to get her way in everything whether it's the right thing to do or not," Dora replied, then put her basket aside. "Look, the important thing to think about is that she's not talking about marrying Detiff. She's talking about moving in with him. If you let her do that, she's only going to stay until he tells her to do something she doesn't want to -- and knowing the two of them, that will take about fifteen minutes tops. But if you don't let her go with him now, she'll wait four years then marry him –and probably stay married to him no matter how miserable she is just to make her point."
As little as he liked such a unsympathetic analysis of his precious daughter's character, Chekov had to admit there were some grains of truth in what his wife had said. He did not make this admission verbally, however. "And what does all this have to do with 'Karu purchasing a groundcar?"
"Nothing." Dora picked up another long-stemmed bulb.
He suspected that 'Karu was her favorite child. She always seemed reluctant to discuss 'Karu's faults or failings. Chekov often wished she had the same reservations about enumerating the shortcomings of her other children -- or of her husband.
"I think they decided to talk to you together in hopes that you'd be so shocked by what one had to say, you'd ignore the other."
Chekov took in a deep breath. He dreaded finding out what his eldest son wished to say if the boy considered it as unacceptable as Katya's announcement.
"'Karu also wishes to move away?" he guessed.
Dora nodded. "That's what the car's for. He wants to move to another village. He wants to apprentice to Miavsh s'Denag."
Chekov's mouth dropped open. "The politician?"
"Community spokesperson," she corrected.
"He can't be a politician," he said, ignoring her. "It would be interference. I cannot allow it."
"What do you want him to do?" she burst out. "Be an accountant?"
"I doubt he'd like that," Chekov replied a little bitterly.
"Not any more than you do. Is that what you're saying?"
This was not the best time to take up that old argument. "So, you are in favor of this course of action?"
"'Karu told me he wanted to go into this because he wants to do something meaningful with his life. He feels this is the best way he can serve his people, his planet. I can remember feeling that way myself at one time. Can't you?"
Of course he could remember feeling that way. Chekov thought of himself at his son's age, an idealistic young midshipman in his second year at the Academy. If only 'Karu was able to enter Star Fleet Academy as his parents had been able to... What a cadet he'd make. Outstanding mechanical abilities. Intuitive grasp of math and science. A natural leader as well. What a fine officer he'd make...
"That's beside the point," he said, shaking his head. "Our circumstances here dictate..."
"That our son waste his life?" she demanded hotly.
"There are other options..."
"'Karu is tired of taking the other option," she said. "And I'm tired of seeing him forced to do it. Tired of seeing him want to reach for the stars and instead having to settle for building a stupid birdhouse."
Chekov rested his head in his hands. It was all so complicated. So unfair. "It was selfish of us to decide to have children, Dorshka. It was a mistake."
"Yes," she agreed. "It probably was. And if we're talking about mistakes, why stop there? It probably would have been better if we'd landed on that uninhabited planet and died after the first three months. And it surely would have been a lot easier for everyone if we hadn't gotten in that damned shuttlecraft together to begin with. But we did. We can't change any of that now."
"One must live in the present," he said, the full weight of that statement resting on him. It was very difficult to live in the present when you were trying to hold onto a past that was slipping from your grasp and provide for a demanding future that might or might not come to pass. It was challenging enough to negotiate such an existence for one's self, exponentially more difficult to chart the course for others whom you cherished.
He rubbed his eyes wearily. "'Karu needn't move away. I'm sure he can find an apprenticeship here if he wishes."
Dora blinked at him. "Then... you...?" she began cautiously.
"He must realize, however," Chekov continued, "that his involvement in politics should go no further than the local level and that even then he must reveal nothing that might compromise..."
"He knows that," Dora interrupted impatiently. "He knows that. He's had to live with that his whole life."
"...Even if such knowledge would seem to benefit great numbers of people in the short term," he continued over her. "He will be putting himself in a situation where the temptation to..."
"But he won't," Dora assured him.
"'Karu will be in the position to..." he persisted as she put aside her basket and rose.
She reached out and put her fingers over his lips. "But he won't," she said firmly. "He's a good boy, Pavel. You should be proud of him."
It hurt him that she might think he wasn't. Who could fail to be pleased with such a son? "Even good people make mistakes, Dorshka," he warned.
She laughed and kissed him on the forehead. "Then it's a good thing that life isn't about not ever making any, Mr. Chekov, sir."
He sighed as she left the room, feeling sure he was going to live to regret this day. "If only that were true."
Uhura found Sulu sitting on the end of Chekov's bed. The ensign's bunkmate had tactfully disappeared, his awe at the presence of the lieutenant combined with his own grief and had rendered him almost speechless. The helmsman seemed more angry than upset.
"Spock says the tractor beam wouldn't have helped them."
"I still should have done it."
"Because it might have helped. I didn't do what I could have done. I just sat and looked at the thing like a... like a rabbit."
"And Kyle says he should have insisted that repairs to the transporter were a priority. And the Captain thinks he should never have sent Dora and Pavel out together." Uhura sighed. "And if I'd realized that those energy surges might be a warning of something bigger..."
"There's no way you could have predicted that tornado, even if you had."
"Then I'll have to think of another reason why it's my fault. I refuse to be left out."
"It's such a stupid, miserable accident." He got to his feet and straightened the cover meticulously. "I'm dreading the thought of being on the bridge tomorrow. As if it's all right until then --- but then he's really gone. And Dora. It seems unfair to care more about one than the other, but..."
"But you do, of course."
"I wish something would happen," Sulu said, almost viciously. "Something to take my mind off it."
"The Captain's scheduled Chekov's memorial service for tomorrow morning."
"And Dora's is afterwards. Because otherwise they'll only argue."
Sulu smiled at her gratefully. "Thank you."
"For making bad jokes?"
"At least the Captain can honestly say now that everyone will miss them. I don't think they'd have missed each other." He picked up Chekov's Russian bear from its accustomed place by on a shelf and scratched it absently behind its plush, un-hearing ears. "Damn."
"Spa'dyoniv e drinxi'ch n'ei kbris," Chekov recited slowly. "Edoni niv higui to boro divni, e nbinis."
In the large reflecting glass, he could see the lovely young woman in front of him twist her mouth.
He lifted his eyebrows. "Still not correct?"
"Almost, Papa," Teegan said encouragingly. "Almost. You're still transposing consonants, though. For example, what you just said is supposed to translate as, 'I give you your freedom. Realize that freedom to act is both a blessing and a curse'. The way you're saying it, though, it sounds more like, 'I give you your spleen. It is both a dressing and a nurse.'"
He sighed as he secured a thin blonde braid into a careful coil. "I'm sorry, milochka. I will try harder to concentrate."
"It doesn't matter, Papa," she replied, tying off another braid with bright blue ribbon. "Everyone that will be there knows that's just the way you talk. As far as I'm concerned, there's no reason why the ceremony has to be in a dead language anyway. We should do it in Russian."
He shook his head. "You speak Russian more poorly than I speak Ancient H'Ar'Imaic."
"Yes, but nobody else would know that," she pointed out pragmatically as she handed him the end of the braid. "Now this one is supposed to wind around the first two..."
"Yes, I see." He pushed his vision aid a little closer to his eyes with one finger before winding the strand of hair into place. "Like this?"
"Perfect," she pronounced, handing him a red ribbon to tie the arrangement into place.
Her hair glittered like gold in the sunshine that spilled in through the skylight. He could remember when Dora's hair shone the same way. "I haven't braided your hair since you were a very, very little girl."
"It's been a long time," she agreed.
"It does not seem like a long time." He reached down to touch her cheek. "It doesn't seem reasonable that this day should come so soon. It seems only yesterday you were born. That today you should already be coming of age ..."
She caught his hand and pressed it tightly in hers. "Oh, Papa," she said, her eyes suddenly brimming over. "I feel so far away from you."
"Don't cry, Teegan." He leaned down and kissed her on top of her braided and be-ribboned mass of shining hair. "I am not far from you."
From the other end of the house, there was the sound of a door opening with a crash and small feet pounding against the wooden floor. A pair of identical six-year old boys with black hair and blue eyes burst into the room.
"Grandpapa! Grandpapa!" they cried, flinging themselves on Chekov gleefully.
"The invasion is upon us," Teegan said dryly, protecting her coiffure as the twins vied for a place in their grandfather's arms.
"Give me a thousand kisses!" the first one demanded, putting his chubby arms around Chekov's neck.
"No! Me! Me!" the other one countered, clinging to his waist.
"Boys! Boys! You must act like civilized people." There was the rustle of multiple layers of silk and satiny material as Katya swept into the room in her festival clothes. "Don't pick them up, Papa. They'll break your back."
"They're fine, my heart," he replied, quickly sneaking a quick kiss on each rosy cheek.
"And no kissing, please," she requested, firmly taking each boy by the hand and leading them in a proper bow.
"It doesn't do them any harm, Katya," Chekov protested.
"Yes, but it isn't native custom," she replied, straightening the little boys' clothing as they squirmed. "And it alarms their paternal grandparents."
"What doesn't?" Teegan asked, rolling her eyes.
"You aren't going to wear that, are you, Pop?" Alyosha made a face at his father as he entered behind his sister and her brood.
Chekov checked his reflection in the mirror. "Is there something wrong with the way I'm dressed?"
His son laughed. "It's a party, Papa, not a funeral."
"You do look a little too... somber for the occasion, Papa," Katya said, leaving her children to fuss with the tie at her father's neck. "Aren't you ready yet, Teegan?"
"I will be soon," Teegan replied, hastily sweeping all her ribbons and ornaments out of the reach of the twins. "We've got plenty of time."
"Enough time to go over that liturgy a few more times, eh, Pop?" Alyosha teased. "This is your last chance to get it right."
"'Lyosha," his eldest sister scolded before his father had the chance to. "Papa doesn't need any more pressure on him today than there already is."
"He's going to do fine," Teegan said -- though somewhat less than confidently.
"That would be a disappointment for the crowd." Alyosha good-naturedly picked up the twin that was trying to go through his pockets. "Between the way Papa butchers H'Ar'Imaic and the traditional Big Surprise, our family has the most popular coming of age ceremonies in town."
Neither his father nor either of his sisters looked particularly grateful for this reminder.
"Well," he shrugged. "It's true."
It was true. Each of the previous ceremonies for Chekov's children had been unexpectedly memorable occasions. Katya had announced that she was pregnant with the twins at hers after fainting in the middle of the service. Karu had been publicly offered an appointment to the city council at his. Alyosha's had been enlivened by a fight between two young women -previously unaware of the other's existence -- who had each expected him to announce his intention to marry her. The neighborhood gossips were anticipating unconventional Teegan's turn in the spotlight with some eagerness.
"What have you got planned, Deep Thought?" 'Lyosha teasingly pulled at his little sister's braids with his free hand.
"I thought I'd break with family tradition by just having a plain service where nothing weird happens," Teegan replied, dodging him and pulling out the twin who'd crawled underneath her decorative robes.
Alyosha whistled appreciatively. "That would be a shocker."
"When will Karu be here?" Katya asked, taking her father's glasses off and putting them in a pocket inside his robe.
"Karu's been called away," Teegan replied for him quickly. "Official business. You know. Some important thing came up at the last minute. He and his wife will try to be at the party at my new apartment tonight, though."
"Oh." Katya looked back and forth between her father and her sister critically. "'Lyosha, take the twins out to the garden. They might like to see your old treefort."
Alyosha rolled his eyes as he gathered his nephews up, one under each arm. "Come on, boys. It looks like the fun is already beginning."
Katya turned back to her father as they exited. "Did you have a fight with Karu, Papa?"
"No," Chekov replied firmly.
"Yes," Teegan contradicted with a sigh.
"A disagreement," Chekov conceded.
Katya pressed her lips together. "Where's Mama?"
"On the sleeping porch," Chekov replied, retying the knot at his neck as it had been before. "I think."
"Oh, Papa," Katya sighed sympathetically. "Do you want me to go talk to her?"
"No," her father and sister replied in unison.
"What do you think I'm going to say?" she asked them, sounding offended.
"I don't know," Teegan answered, fastening up the last few loose braids. "But if you try to give her one of your usual spiels about traditional wifely virtues, she's going to wring your neck."
Katya's pretty little mouth pulled into a defensive line. "All I said last time was that a good wife should listen to her husband."
"The way you listen to Detiff?" Teegan countered, miming something going in one ear and coming out unimpeded through the other.
"Girls," Chekov reproved. "Katya, you should leave your mother alone. You've just arrived. You don't know what we've been discussing."
"I know that it's Teegan's special day and that nothing should spoil it." She bent and kissed her sister on the forehead. "Even if she is a brat."
"Don't worry, Papa," she said, pulling an embroidered overtunic out of the wardrobe. "Everything will be fine. I'll see to it."
"Katya," he protested as she coaxed him out of the gray and blue one he was wearing. "Listen to me... Karu has said... There are things we must discuss -- all of us..."
"After the ceremony, Papa," she hushed him, putting the colorful cloak on in its place. "We can talk about all of it after the ceremony. I'll get Mama."
"Katya..." he called after her, but she was already gone in a swirl of pastels.
"I guess she's right, Papa," Teegan said. "I suppose it can all wait until after the ceremony. Let them be happy for a little while longer."
"She'll have to be told," he said, taking off the garish robe. "And Alyosha. There could be serious consequences for us."
Teegan raised her eyebrows. "More serious than for the rest of the world?"
"Perhaps." He nodded. "Depending on the sort of aliens in these unidentified vessels... A Human presence on this planet may be difficult to explain."
That was what the fight had been about. Karu had earlier that morning come to inform them confidentially of news that had not yet been made public knowledge for fear of widespread panic. The planet's primitive orbital devices had detected the presence of an alien ship in a parking orbit. Karu had demanded that his parents come forward and share any information they may have to aid in plans for the planet's possible defense. Chekov had refused on the grounds that this would be exactly the sort of violation of the Prime Directive he'd been striving hard to avoid for so many years.
Teegan smiled ruefully. "I guess I'm having the biggest Big Surprise of them all at my coming of age."
"There are a lot of space-faring races in the galaxy, milochka," he comforted her. "Many of them benevolent."
"Like the Klingons?" she asked. "Or the Rumulians?"
"Romulans," he corrected. "The reported configuration of the ship is not consistent with either of those."
"Are you sure about what you've decided, Papa?" His daughter turned and looked up at him. Like her mother, her freckles had grown lighter as she had grown older. They were still visible enough to make her look much younger than her twenty years. "Are you sure that doing nothing is the right thing to do?"
Before he could answer, there was the sound of an exterior door opening again.
"Look who we found in the garden!" Katya said, ushering in her mother with the twins and Alyosha in tow.
"Damned hzijatha bulbs," Dora said, rubbing her reddened eyes. "Always make my eyes water. Teegan, why aren't you ready?"
"I'm almost done, Mama," she replied. "There's plenty of time."
"Not if you're going to waste it all by sitting around and talking," her mother retorted. "Has anyone polished the crystal?"
"Not yet, Mama."
"You and Katya can do that while Alyosha sets the tables up in the garden," she ordered, once more her old self.
"I can't do that alone," her son complained.
"Your father will help you," she said. "Pavel, you're not wearing that hideous blue thing. Take it off. Katya, I think this would be a good time for the twins to lay down and take a n-a-p, don't you? Where's Detiff?"
"Oooo, noo!," the twins, who had already learned to spell that dreaded word, howled. "Don't make us, Grandma. We want to help."
"He's gone to buy some wine," Katya answered over their objections.
"Well, someone's using his head," she said approvingly, folding one of Teegan's discarded sashes into an orderly stack. "Has anyone checked to be sure the musicians are on their way?"
"I'll see to that," Chekov said, reluctantly donning the robe Katya picked out for him.
"Do you have the money to pay them?"
"Yes, of course." He patted an empty pocket on his cloak. "I must have left it in the other room."
"'Lyosha, help Katya with the twins," Dora ordered. "Teegan, bring in that basket of flowers I just finished cutting."
Leaving a chorus of "Yes, Mama's" in her wake, Dora followed Chekov into the room he used for storing his important papers.
"There it is," he said, picking up the handful of coins and realizing he was alone with his wife for the first time since this morning's uproar.
"Dora," he began carefully. "I am very sorry if I..."
"No," she said, taking the coins. "Don't apologize. You don't have any reason to apologize."
He took in a deep breath, knowing that a refusal from her to accept an apology usually meant the fight was not yet over.
"I'm the one who should say I'm sorry," she admitted.
Chekov blinked. This was a rather unusual course for one of their fights to take.
"This is exactly the sort of situation you were trying to warn me about when Karu decided to go into public life," she said. "He's not thinking about the possible consequences of our getting involved in this and ending up pulling this planet's technology forward two centuries overnight. He's just thinking about his people and a potential threat to their safety."
Chekov nodded. "I'm glad you understand."
"Well, I don't like it," she said, her eyes filling with tears again. "I think there's also a good chance that Karu may be right too. We may be fools. We may be condemning this planet to its death along with everyone on it... Including us and everyone we love. I don't like this at all, Pavel Andreivich. But I do understand why we're doing it."
He took her into his arms. "That is all I ask."
"Oh, Pavel," she said, holding him tight. "What are we going to do?"
"I don't know yet, doushka," he said, tenderly touching a strand of silver hair that had escaped from her tight braids. "That will depend on who is on those ships, why they have come here, and what they intend to do. We are not free to act, but we may be free to react."
"Just promise me one thing," she said, pulling back and looking him in the eyes. "Promise me that if the time comes and we are free to do something for this planet that you will act."
Looking at her, Chekov wished he was a young man again, brash and confident enough to swear that he would be able to manage any crisis.
"I'll do what I can when I can," he promised instead.
That was enough to please her.
"I know you will," she said, smiling and kissing him. "Now we'd better pull ourselves together. We've still got this ceremony to get through. I cannot believe that we're having yet another crisis in the middle of a coming of age ritual. I'm beginning to think this family is jinxed. Have you been practicing your part of the liturgy?"
"Constantly," he assured her.
"Keep at it," she said, giving him an encouraging pat on the back as she turned him in the direction of Alyosha and the tables to be set up. "Out loud. And watch those 'v' sounds."
"Spa'dyoniv e drinxi'ch n'ei kbris," Chekov recited obediently as he moved to join his son. "Edoni niv higui to boro divni, enbinis."
'I give you your freedom,' he translated for himself. 'Realize that being free to act is both a blessing and a curse.'
The cork on the bottle made a popping noise as McCoy pulled it away. "I hate funerals."
Kirk sighed as he slid into a chair opposite the CMO's desk. "And we've still got one more to go."
McCoy poured two glasses. "I'm glad we got Chekov's out of the way first."
Kirk hated to admit it, but he felt the same. He was saddened by the loss of Hartley, but he hadn't known her. The hurt didn't go as deep. "It just doesn't seem right."
"Of course it's not right." McCoy set the glass down in front of him with a bang. "Two bright young people killed by a.. a.. an unthinking thing... an unexplained burst of energy... and for no apparent reason -- just because they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time..."
"That's not what I meant," Kirk stopped him. "Bones, do you remember on the Melkotian planet, when Chekov was shot?"
"I've been trying not to think about that." McCoy raised his drink towards his lips, then lowered it before getting half-way there. "Jim, don't let yourself start thinking that way. He's not coming back this time."
"I know that, Bones." Kirk tapped his abdomen. "But my gut doesn't. It keeps telling me this isn't over. Chekov's still out there somewhere like he was with the Melkots – not believing he's dead, waiting to come back home."
McCoy had to smile at the thought. "He was certainly skeptical enough to be doing that... and stubborn enough too."
"The only question is," Kirk said, picking up his drink. "This time, is there anybody out there to send him back?"
The sun was already setting behind the high bluff to the west. In half an hour or so, a full moon would rise to complement the pale crescent already in the sky. The garden was full of shadows, scented flowers and the hum of twilight-loving insects. Dora was busy laying the long table on the porch with crystal so bright it glistened even in the subdued light.
Chekov watched her, his mind full of mingling memories. A day had come that he thought never would. Alyosha, the confirmed bachelor, was finally getting married.
He shook his head. It seemed strange to be participating in a celebration of life in a time of such grave worries. And Alyosha's was not the only marriage this season among the children of his neighbors and acquaintances. If anything, the youngsters seemed more keen than ever to pair up. He wondered if some sort of universal biological imperative was at work, urging the young to keep up their numbers as danger threatened.
"Papa." Karu touched his shoulder. Chekov wondered if he'd been so lost in thought he'd not paid attention to the sounds of his son's approach across the close-cropped lawn or if his hearing was going as faulty as his vision. "We've got to leave."
"So soon?" he asked. "The ceremony is only half over. Our guests and the bridal party will be arriving here from the community center in a few moments..."
"I'm sorry, but Veel and I are going to SePas tonight. We're going to try..." Karu broke off abruptly. "I don't know why I bother to tell you. I know you don't approve or even care..."
"Karu," Chekov reproved sharply. "You must not say such things. You must never assume that because I do not act as you wish that is a sign I do not care deeply about the issues you raise."
His son took in a deep breath as if preparing to reply heatedly, then released it. "Yes, sir," he said instead with a note of resignation in his voice. "Of course. I didn't mean to offend you. I didn't come here to argue."
"No, you came here for your brother's wedding and now you're leaving in the middle of it."
"Yes, Papa," Karu replied, sounding as if he were having a difficult time keeping hold of his temper. "But as I said, Weel and I arranged to..."
"I wished to speak with you," Chekov interrupted. "I have something important that I must discuss with you. I thought we could speak together after the ceremony."
"Well, I'm sorry, Papa," Karu began, backing slowly away. "But..."
Chekov reached out and stopped him. "Your mother and I have come to a difficult decision. We've decided to become actively involved in the defense of this planet."
Karu blinked at him skeptically. Chekov had never thought of Karu looking a great deal like him, but he could see one of his own expressions on the face of the man in front of him.
"Exactly what are you saying?" Karu asked slowly.
"The time for sitting on the sidelines is over," he replied. "Perhaps long over. I regret having done nothing for so long."
"But you said you couldn't." His father's change of heart seemed to have completely thrown 'Karu. Instead of the relief Chekov had expected, his son seemed irritated by this long-awaited and hard-fought for capitulation. "You always told me that we weren't allowed to do anything to interfere. What's different now?"
"The raids on civilian targets," Chekov replied, checking the sky above him involuntarily. "That constitutes interference with this planet's culture. To put it simply, if these aliens can interfere, so can I. There are still limits on how much your mother and I are free to reveal about the Federation and its technology, but Star Fleet guidelines do allow for self-defense in cases such as this." He broke off and sighed. "If only I'd set myself up as an arms manufacturer, or even a research scientist... We could show these cossacks some interference. As it is, all we've got are fusion weapons and tricks to fool their guidance systems. We might as well hurl rocks at them."
Karu stood silently staring at him for a moment. "You're serious about this, aren't you, Papa?"
"Yes, yes, of course I am serious," Chekov replied, somewhat irritated. "This is a most serious matter."
"Papa." 'Karu touched his father's arm. It was a rare intimacy between the two men. "I don't know what to say."
Chekov was surprised and somewhat embarrassed to realize how long it had been since the two of them had conversed at a level of anything other than strained civility.
"Obviously," he answered gruffly, to cover his emotional reaction.
"Papa, I..." Karu broke off and shook his head, evidently also struggling with his feelings. "You know, when I was growing up-- I guess I was twelve or so -- I decided I didn't believe any of the stories you'd told us. I thought you were covering up for something."
"What?" Chekov pulled away. "You thought I was actually a criminal? Some sort of thief or swindler?"
"Oh, yes," Karu confessed, a smile starting to play around the corners of his mouth. "And worse. I had a whole secret life of crime imagined for you. It was a lot more exciting than having a father who was just an accountant... and a lot more plausible than having one who was actually from outer space."
Chekov sighed and shrugged. "It is the truth."
"I didn't understand why you always kept us apart... why you were so reserved." Karu stood silently for a moment. "I'm sorry, Papa. Sorry for all the lousy things I've thought about you. Sorry I assumed you were a fake."
"Oh, you don't have anything to be sorry about," Chekov said, dismissing nearly forty years of mistrust and ill-feeling with a flick of his hand. "Every son thinks something like that about his father at some time -- with much less reason usually."
"Did you? Think that about your father?"
Chekov cleared his throat, somewhat shocked by the suggestion. "No, but I had a much better father than you did. I wish you'd known him. He'd have been very proud of you... of all of you."
He gave his son a quick hug, but then released him abruptly, embarrassed by the gesture as soon as he had done it. "Will you stay, then? Alyosha and your mother will be very disappointed if you leave."
"No, I've got to go. I'm going to be late as it is. Every minute counts. Every second could be a life we save." Karu squeezed his father's hand once more. "But I'll be back first thing tomorrow to talk with you about this. I'll bring Weel."
Chekov nodded. "I look forward to speaking with him."
"This could be the break we've been hoping for..." It looked like Karu purposefully damped his own surge of enthusiasm. "Papa, are you sure about this?"
"Yes, of course. Although..." Chekov stretched his shoulders painfully. "Sixty-three is a bit late in life to be getting back into the profession of fighting aliens..."
"You'll be fine," Karu assured him. "Wish me luck."
"I wish us all luck," he replied. As he watched his son make his way across the lawn towards his vehicle, he added softly, "We shall need it."
The sound of distant laughter and music filled the garden as the noise of Karu's groundcar faded. Chekov watched until the last traces of his son's headlights disappeared into the distance.
Dora walked towards him from the house, carrying a jug. "Did you tell him?"
She frowned. "And he still left?"
Chekov shrugged. "He's a busy man, Dorshka. He has a planet to look after."
Seeing that this answer didn't lighten his wife's expression, he added, "Karu was very pleased about our decision. A little dubious at first -- but pleased."
"Good." She finally smiled as she topped up his glass from the wine jug.
They stood together for several moments without speaking, watching the evening sky.
"It's a clear night," she said.
"Yes, this music will keep half of VeGal awake tonight."
"That wasn't what I was thinking."
On clear nights, you might have a few minutes warning of a raid. A person could see lights from the raiders' ships sweep across the sky like meteors before they struck. Or so people said. Chekov had his doubts since the ships obviously traveled so fast one would be lucky to glimpse them at all.
He turned to her in surprise. Dora rarely talked about the future these days.
"Whatever happens," she began again. " I wanted to say... I don't know... thank you, I suppose. I see you look up at the stars..."
"Was I? I didn't mean to." He put his arms around her waist from behind and pointed at the sky. "Look. Do you see those five bright stars in a circle?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Here they call that constellation the Giant. Nami learned that at school. She was telling me all the stories about him."
Dora laughed. "She's just like Teegan was at that age. I think they get it from you... the love of knowledge... or more accurately, the love of imparting knowledge. I can just picture you as a little boy telling your grandfather about the Bear, and Orion, and..."
"Don't," he interrupted abruptly, then kissed her apologetically and smiled. "Yes, of course I did."
"It still hurts you to talk about Earth, doesn't it?" she said, leaning back against his shoulder. "I don't even think about the place anymore. I've been happy here -- in spite of the problems we've had. You know that, don't you? That I'm happy and I love you? Because I do. Despite our arguments and disagreements and things I might have said, I love you very much, Pavel."
"And I love you." He took the jug from her and put it down on the grass in order to embrace her properly.
As he kissed her, he happened to look over her shoulder in time to see lights like meteors streaming through the sky towards them.
Kirk reached the bridge with his usual dispatch and reclaimed his seat from Sulu. "Report."
Spock didn't look up from his screen, continuing to work as he reeled off his findings. "Large vessel, or possibly a space station, given its size, in orbit around the third planet of star catalog number MX455. It may also be the source of our distress signal."
"A Federation vessel out this far?" Kirk asked.
"Unknown as yet, Captain."
"Uhura, any response to your hail?"
"No, sir. I'm continuing attempts to make contact."
"How long before we're in visual range?"
"At present settings, twenty-seven point five minutes, Captain."
"Captain," Uhura broke in. "The distress signal is not from the ship. I'm almost certain it's from the planet which the ship is orbiting."
"Try to pick up any conventional broadcasts from the planet. What do the sensors say about intelligent life down there?"
Spock contemplated the output of his consoles briefly. "At this distance, I can only determine that the presence of a non-warp-capable civilization is highly probable."
Kirk frowned. "That would seem to make them unlikely candidates to be responsible for that distress beacon."
"They may be at the boundary of warp technology. Not all civilizations advance in the sequence with which we are familiar."
"Captain," Uhura reported, "I'm picking up conventional radio transmissions from the planet. I'm applying translator algorithms now."
"Twenty minutes to visual range, Captain."
"The vessel has left orbit and is headed toward us, sir," Spock informed him. "Velocity is Warp 2. Interception anticipated in seven minutes."
"Remain on yellow alert, but be ready with shields, Mr. Sulu. Uhura, broadcast universal greetings on all frequencies and in all known languages."
"The unidentified vessel has increased its velocity to Warp three point five, Captain. If that is its maximum velocity, it would indicate secondary warp capability only."
"Interesting." Kirk turned to his helmsman. "Mr. Sulu, keep our speed below that level also. It may give us an element of surprise. Spock, I want analysis of that vessel's technical capabilities as it comes in."
"Visual contact, Captain."
"The vessel is firing," Spock announced.
"Shields, Mr. Sulu!" Kirk called quickly. "Take evasive action."
"Shields up, Captain."
"The vessel has phaser capability," Spock reported, bending over his console. "I would anticipate photon torpedoes also. There appear to be launching arrays..."
The ship shuddered under the impact of the initial phaser barrage.
"Shields holding, sir."
"They are using a wide beam strategy that indicates massive redundant power, and gives us little scope for evasive maneuvering."
"Understood, Spock. Prepare photon torpedoes and stand by phasers. Have you identified any weak spots in their defenses?"
"Not as yet, Captain."
This time the lights dipped and warning sirens went off on vital systems.
"Sulu," Kirk ordered. "Aim for the mid hull. Concentrate your fire there."
"Shields at eighty percent."
Photon torpedoes were followed by phasers, timed to impact in precise sequence. The other vessel bucked and sparked. It launched a volley of missiles just as Enterprise, pulling out of a close pass to fire off her weapons, reached her closest approach to the enemy. The shocks continued for an eternity as she flew through the broad spread of torpedoes.
Kirk picked himself off the floor and took in the damage at a glance. "Take us out of range, Sulu. Relief Navigator to the bridge. What's the position, Scotty?"
"Shields out. Secondary systems shaken to pieces. Hull integrity unimpaired. Warp and impulse drive functional."
The brevity of Scotty's answer was enough to tell Kirk that the engineer had plenty to do. He left him to get on with it.
"McCoy, we need medics on the bridge."
"So what's new?" the doctor answered shortly.
The navigator arrived on the bridge and wordlessly took her place, ignoring her injured predecessor. Sulu started filling her in, sotto voce.
Uhura turned from her station. "Captain, I have voice contact."
"With the ship?"
"No, sir. With the planet. Audio only."
"Put it on."
"This is a request for assistance. We are suffering unprovoked attacks from an alien vessel. Our attackers are capable of faster than light travel and are using advanced subspace weaponry. We appeal to anyone capable of receiving this transmission to aid us."
There was a pause and the message began to repeat. Uhura switched it off.
"A last ditch plea for assistance," Kirk commented.
"Yes, Captain," Spock answered, "but oddly specific. They do not possess the technology to defend themselves, yet they understand it sufficiently to recognize and describe their attackers' capabilities."
"There's another odd thing, Captain," Uhura said, her voice alive with curiosity.
"Yes?" Kirk swiveled to look at his communications officer.
"The message was in Standard."
By now the medical team was stretchering the injured navigator off the bridge. Another two and he'd have to take the position himself, Kirk thought bitterly. "Right. We know that they're powerful, but we suspect that they may not be fast. Work on that, Mr. Sulu. Any ideas as to how we can hit them, Spock?"
"The design of the ship suggests areas of minimal shielding in these locations." A schematic flashed up on the main viewscreen in obedience to Spock's instructions. "However, minimal is a relative term. Sensor analysis indicates that both structural and subspace shielding is substantial."
Kirk looked in silence at the dreadnought that confronted them.
"Furthermore, Captain." The schematic gave way to a view of the planet. "Sensor readings show traces of surface damage indicating the use of phasers on the planet. And the specific patterns suggest the use of atmosphere-capable fighter craft."
The planet turned slowly. The black smears on the ground were visible to the naked eye. Kirk allowed himself to marvel for a moment at how Spock managed to analyze two sets of separate sensor readings at once, then turned back to business. "Why would a battleship like that one bother to use fighter craft?"
"To subdue or plunder the planet," Spock answered matter of factly.
Sulu was distracted by his board. "The ship's coming after us, Captain."
"Hold our distance, Sulu. We're running away for the moment, but we don't want to make it too obvious."
"Captain, if we are able to get between them and the star, they can't dodge back inside the warp boundary. Then we can use our higher warp capability to get in close, hit them hard and escape before they return fire. We might get away with it four or five times before they give us the slip and get back among the planets."
"Good, Sulu. Set it up. Will four strikes at maximum intensity be sufficient to crack their shields, Spock?"
"Unknown at this time, Captain. After the first strike it should be possible answer that."
Frustratingly, the great battleship simply blundered onwards, out into the blackness of interstellar space, leaving the Enterprise to dance enticingly in the sunlight, as her former attacker shrank to nothingness on the viewscreen.
"The distress signal is continuing, Sir."
Kirk turned back to Uhura. "In Standard?"
She nodded. "And on universal distress wavelengths... Star Fleet format".
"If they have sub-space technology, they may have been monitoring output from the Federation for some time. Such monitoring would sooner or later lead to the unlocking of our transmission protocols and our language. This is, after all, what we do when we encounter new civilizations."
"But we haven't monitored anything from this direction until now."
Sulu turned in his seat. "When Earth started looking for radio transmissions from space, there was some debate as to whether they should send messages or just listen. Perhaps these people waited until admitting they were here looked like the lesser of two evils."
Kirk guessed that Sulu would have been among the senders, even though today his optimism was worn a little thin. He'd been more than ready for some leave, even before the accident. And now he'd just seen another colleague carried off to sick bay. "Well, Mr. Sulu, they may have been listening for some time, if Earth's experience is anything to go by. Let's not keep them waiting."
Still maintaining a careful vigil in case the battleship should return, the Enterprise made her way carefully through the outer planets and asteroid belts of the planetary system, finally sliding into a high and inconspicuous orbit alongside a convenient moonlet.
"This is undoubtedly where the signal originated, Captain, but this is not a planet with sub-space technology."
Spock had been hinting as much for most of the last hour. Kirk had adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Someone other than the owners of the battleship had sub-space technology. They would have to be careful that they didn't knock on the wrong door. "Can you pinpoint the exact location of the transmitter, Uhura?"
A bright pulse of light was superimposed on the planet that hung in the viewscreen. Uhura magnified the image, giving progressively closer pictures of the relevant area of the planet.
"Largely agricultural," Spock reported as the features of the surface came into view, "with significant industry comparable to late twentieth century Terran patterns. There is, however, a greater use of renewable energy sources -- leading to significantly lowered environmental pollution. The sentient population is well below what the planet is able to sustain."
"A post-industrial society, perhaps, Spock?"
"Then it seems unlikely that they would not be able to defend themselves against their attackers."
"Pacifists, maybe?" Uhura suggested.
"But the battleship has clearly made use of ship to ground fighters, implying a significant level of resistance."
One of the broad, blackened scars left by aerial phaser attacks slashed across the pleasant green land, stopping twenty kilometres or so short of a small city. Atop a building that could have been a laboratory block in a university on any of a dozen worlds, a subspace transmission rig trembled in a strong breeze. It was all of thirty metres across, quite large enough to register on the Enterprise's cameras, but pathetically small in comparison with even the ship's compact, ultra-modern array of transmitters.
"We picked up the signal from that, through atmosphere, at a distance of thirty-seven light years?" Kirk was staring at it in frank admiration.
"I can only assume, Captain, that it has been engineered with exceptional skill. I shall enjoy meeting its designer. However..."
This sounded like one of Spock's more serious reservations. "Yes?"
"There is no evidence of any other similar technology."
"An academic center? The forefront of research?"
"I believe I have detected a small colony on the fourth planet."
Spock's tone suggested that he had said all that was necessary and the captain would be able to form the obvious conclusion for himself.
"But that's ridiculous," Uhura said. "That thing isn't even pointed towards the fourth planet. It's just aimed out into the nearest concentration of G-type stars, which happens to be us. As if they were looking for similar life. Why don't they use it for the obvious purpose? It isn't even designed to move. Instead they've resigned themselves to low quality communication with their colony, with a reception delay of nearly twenty minutes. Why didn't they build two of them, if transmitting in our direction is so important?"
"Could this be differential development? One group with a more advanced technology?" Kirk asked.
"All the evidence is of remarkably uniform social and technical structure, Captain. I think that what we are seeing here is evidence of a breach of the Prime Directive. And the fact that they are using very precise Starfleet protocols suggests that it is a culpable breach, by someone who was certainly aware of the existence of the Directive."
For eight hours the ship patiently gathered survey evidence while the distress signal continued to cry out. The evidence was to some extent a formality, since the options open to James Kirk were clear enough. The depredations of the battleship made the Prime Directive an irrelevance. From the point of view of any legal action, however, it was vital to protect the Federation's case. If anyone was guilty of choosing an attractive planet and setting themselves up on it as a purveyor of advanced technology, Kirk wanted to make sure they didn't get away with it. He was too aware himself of the temptations to interfere to regard such behavior as a trivial matter. The ship also kept a diligent watch for the marauder. He didn't intend that the planet should suffer further violence while the Federation worried about due legal process.
Finally, he gave Uhura permission to contact the planet using conventional radio frequencies. Success was almost instant.
"I have contact, Captain. An official spokesman of some sort, but not responding in Standard."
"On visual, please."
"No visual facilities at their end, Captain."
Kirk looked at Spock. "They have subspace transmission technology, and they're still using audio only communication channels?"
"There are cultures which choose not to use visual images. And, as I have pointed out, the subspace transmitter which we observed is inconsistent with every other aspect of this society."
The captain nodded at Uhura to go ahead. "This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation Starship Enterprise. We are responding to your distress signal."
There was a pause for translation -- and no doubt for a certain amount of surprise. Then a female voice said uncertainly, "Enterprise, we are - grateful for your arrival. I must connect you to a government speaker. Please wait. Thank you."
Kirk half expected to hear recorded music, but another voice cut in almost immediately. And this one spoke in Standard.
"I am Veel s'Vegal, Vice President in charge of Defense. Please, I do not wish to seem rude, but exactly 'o are you?" The voice was precise, the Standard only slightly accented, apart from an apparent inability to pronounce the initial sound of the word "who".
"This is the Starship Enterprise, an exploratory and military vessel of the United Federation of Planets. We intercepted your distress signal and responded. On arriving, we encountered a large and hostile vessel, which appeared, from the visible evidence, to be attacking your planet. It fired at us. When we retaliated, it left your system. We didn't manage to communicate with it. We're contacting you to find out what's happening here."
"You could not destroy them?"
"Vice President, that was not our intention. We defended ourselves when attacked. We can't do more than that without a very good reason."
A solitary figure materialized on the pad -- A humanoid male who appeared older than Kirk, a little shorter and slimmer. He wore a theatrically bright tunic and breeches with knee-high boots. His greying hair was pulled into a basket weave of tight plaits that hugged his skull and terminated in a pony tail that hung to his waist. The style was so tight, so geometrically precise, it made Kirk's head ache to look at it. It must take hours to do that, Kirk thought, then stopped, his attention fixed on the dark, intense eyes. There was something vaguely familiar about the stranger.
For some reason, the translator did not process the stranger's soft exclamation.
"Bozhe moi," he repeated, putting his hands on his hips as he looked about him in amazement. A smile crept across his face as he stepped down from the transporter pad -- without seeming to look down and register the step. He paused by the console and rested a hand on its surface in an almost affectionate, caressing gesture.
He wants this ship, Kirk thought instantly. But that wasn't it. It was as if the man felt he owned some piece of the Enterprise already...
"So, this is the Enterprise." The man's Standard was flawless, as if it were his first language. There was no delay for an implanted translator to operate, no hint of hesitation. "And you must be Captain Kirk?"
Kirk nodded. "President Karu s'Vegal..."
"Please, 'President' is a very imprecise translation of my role. My name is Karu. I would be pleased if you used it."
Kirk did not feel anywhere near ready to be on first name terms with this individual. He had too many questions about the situation here to feel at ease, but Karu didn't wait for a response.
Their visitor's smile broadened as he turned to the first officer. "And you must be Sp.. I mean, a Vulcan."
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
"You must forgive me, sirs," Karu apologized hastily. "But this is an incredible experience for me."
"Your planet has had contact with other non-human races?" Spock asked.
"There is the dreadnought which threatens to destroy us, but I have not met its inhabitants."
"You don't seem surprised that we resemble you so closely," Kirk observed.
"There's a theory, isn't there, that evolution will proceed along broadly similar lines on similar worlds?" their guest replied, charmingly. "I presume that Vulcan is somewhat different from Earth."
"I wouldn't describe identical languages and communications protocols, down to the configuration of a distress signal, as a broad similarity."
"It is rather a coincidence, isn't it?" Karu looked serious for a brief moment, then turned to the Vulcan with an expectant smile on his face. "What would you say were the odds against this random occurrence, Mr. Spock?"
"Approximately..." Spock began.
"Karu, let's get down to business," Kirk cut him off. The man was playing games with them, and he was too tired and irritable to go along with it. The tension and adrenaline of the battle, coming so soon after the disaster of the previous day, had left him drained and short-tempered. "Your planet is being attacked by a ship which is clearly capable of interstellar travel. Do you know its origins?"
"It was first observed entering our system just over twenty years ago -- twenty-one point two eight four years." The man's eyes sparked as if he was sharing a joke with them. "From the direction of Thiria, a white dwarf star with a very particular visible light spectrum. I could identify it for you on your records, or perhaps if I tell you that it has intense peaks at wavelengths of approximately four thousand and fifty, four thousand, two hundred and seventy and five thousand and ten A.u.'s..."
Kirk blinked at the unexpected precision of this answer.
"Circe, Captain," Spock supplied. "A largely unexplored area unaligned with the Federation."
Kirk turned back to their visitor. "What happened next?"
"It took up a parking orbit just outside the asteroid belt, causing no small anxiety, as you can imagine. It didn't answer our attempts to communicate and we were in no position to send craft to intercept it. Our colony on the fourth planet was very new, the technology we were using for interplanetary travel was slow and expensive. Perforce, we waited to see what the visitors intended."
Kirk felt a shiver of fear at the thought of being in that unenviable position. Earth's first contact with alien life had been on their terms and at a distance. He could well imagine the panic, the hysteria that would have greeted such a scenario on Earth at an equivalent point in its history. "You feared that they would be hostile?"
"Some were convinced that they would be, others that interstellar travel could only be achieved by peaceful and benevolent beings. A few of us realized that either scenario was possible."
"And how long..."
"We observed it on occasions for a period of nearly a decade. The ship then moved in to orbit this planet and sent down landing parties. A small number of people were abducted. Mostly they took water and other raw materials."
"They still didn't communicate with you?"
"No, Captain. And when we retaliated against this plundering of our planet, they responded by incinerating entire settlements." He smiled again, tiredly. "We had no defense. Once we understood what their technology was capable of, we began to try to recreate it, but the gulf was too great. I'm sure you find this historical detail interesting, but there is only one thing which you need to know. You must help us to defend ourselves."
Kirk couldn't argue with the moral force of what Karu said, but he found himself bristling at the man's presumption. "The dreadnought has left your system..."
"As it has often since first arriving. Never for more than a few weeks." He sighed. "Captain, our scientists estimate that within four years, if we survive that long, we will have subspace weapons capability. We have the theory already, but not the materials and technical expertise to apply it. Are we to be destroyed because we fell short by four years? Or are we to be destroyed all the sooner, when they realize that we begin to pose a threat?"
"You're not under attack at the moment," Kirk replied bluntly, "but I do need to establish some lines of communication with your world before we leave. First because you may be in danger of further attacks, and secondly because all the evidence is that there has been interference on your world from within the Federation of Planets. Such interference with a world not yet capable of independent space flight and subspace communication..."
"But we are capable, clearly..."
"I don't believe you evolved that capability yourselves. If someone is guilty of..."
When Karu's eyes filled with anger, the whole character of his face changed. "We were being attacked by outsiders. Against that interference, the use of a little inappropriate technology..."
"I'm not criticizing you. And of course you were justified in using any means at your disposal to defend yourselves. I merely wish to identify the source of that technology."
The man's chin came up stubbornly. "I'm afraid I can't enlighten you, Captain Kirk. I know no more about where it came from than you do."
Kirk looked at the man, and wondered why he was so certain that Karu had chosen his words so that he wouldn't need to lie. "Well, if we can make no progress with that line of inquiry, perhaps we should concentrate on what we can do. My first officer has some theories concerning the origin of the dreadnought..."
He led the way out of the transporter room and down the corridor to the nearest briefing room. Karu followed him, with obviously only half his attention on Kirk's words, the rest on the ship. He slowed down as they passed open doorways, lingered by control panels, seemed to savor the very air and bask in the harsh light. Even the operation of the doors appeared to delight him. He sank into the chair that Kirk indicated at the oval table and laid his hands almost reverently on the plastic coated surface before him. "So, you are confident that the dreadnought was a lone aggressor? And that the beacons you propose positioning will give you enough warning to get help to us if it returns?"
Kirk registered surprise. He really hadn't thought that Karu was listening to him. "I can't offer you any absolute guarantees, of course."
"No, I appreciate that. We will, anyway, have phaser and photon torpedo capability within a few years. War is a wonderful spur to invention, isn't it? And knowing that the technology is feasible, it happens so much more quickly. I understand that we are somewhat isolated from the bulk of the United Federation of Planets here?"
Kirk hit a button on the terminal set into the table before him. The large screen on the wall lit up with an astronomical chart of the galaxy, and zeroed in on their present location. "The nearest member world is forty-seven light years distant..."
"Is that a problem, if we want to join?"
"Captain," Spock interrupted quietly, "might I have a word with you?"
Kirk had decided to call Lt. Sulu in to nursemaid their suspiciously well-informed visitor while he conferred with his first officer. Sulu not only had the advantage of a disarmingly amiable personality, but was also sharp enough to catch the incongruous slips in technical expertise from their guest that a security guard might miss.
Karu's expression was severely polite until he turned to accompany Sulu into the corridor. Then a smile softened his mouth. "Are we orbiting above the capital city? Or have we moved on?"
"We're in a geo-stationary orbit..."
"How odd, to say geo-stationary."
"You are from Earth, aren't you?" Sulu turned to confront the man.
"No. I was born here," Karu insisted. After a moment, though, he seemed to relent "My parents are dead, so I suppose it can do no harm to tell you that they were, as you have surmised, from Earth. I wouldn't have denied it so fiercely, but I was worried that your captain would refuse to help us if he didn't believe that we'd achieved warp capability unaided..."
"That's not the point. The Prime Directive isn't about earning the right to assistance. It's to protect developing planets from interference. Once you were attacked by outsiders, we were able to help you. There's no argument about that."
"But the Captain still wants to know where we got the technology..."
"We have to investigate. To just ignore it would encourage others to think they could get away with it."
"Get away with it?" The older man's eyes flashed with sudden anger. "If Captain Kirk wants to accuse my father of somehow seeking some personal gain out of this situation..."
"I don't think that's what he's worried about."
"Because of your Prime Directive, my father stood by and watched nearly half a million people die on this world. His world, by that time. I don't think he ever thought of it that way, but he belonged here as much as any native. He died himself, for that matter, because he agreed too late that the time had come to forget the Directive and let us defend ourselves. He died, and my mother, three out of their four children, and five grandchildren. All in one night of pointless destruction. Doubly pointless. If only he'd used what he knew about subspace technology, if only he'd been greedy and ambitious..." The pain, the resentment in Karu's eyes was like a knife, cutting into Sulu's complacent certainty at the rightness of the Prime Directive.
"Did he ever tell you, how he came to be stranded here?"
"Shouldn't he have? Wasn't I even entitled to my own history?"
"I didn't intend any criticism. Obviously, you're a Federation citizen. If you wanted to return with us, we'd take you."
"Return with you?" Karu blinked. "I hadn't thought of that. No. This is my home. I have a wife and children of my own. No, I really hadn't... ever thought that I belonged anywhere other than here. How strange. I thought about the... the ship that they described and I really wanted the chance to voyage in ships like that. But they would be the ships of my world, returning here at the end of a journey."
Sulu turned into the observation deck, and stopped short. After the alarms and terrors of yesterday's battle, no one had cleared away the paraphernalia of the memorial services. For a moment he simply looked at it, wondering how he could have forgotten so quickly. He then remembered his companion. "I'm sorry, we lost a couple of crew members in an accident yesterday. I'd forgotten for a moment that..."
"A close friend."
"Yes." Sulu looked at him, wondering if that was a question or an observation.
Karu took a few paces on his own, over to the window. "Don't worry about me."
He stood with his back to Sulu, gazing down at the planet, while the lieutenant pulled himself together. One said, conventionally, that life must go on, but did it have to go on with such indecent haste? He looked up at the holo of Chekov someone had left displayed on the large wall screen, taken presumably soon after he first came aboard the Enterprise. The expression he wore was very typical, full of enthusiasm, dark eyes smiling while he'd somehow forced his mouth into a mask of seriousness.
"He looks so young."
Sulu turned in response to Karu's comment. The man stood by the viewport, with his back turned to his own world now.
"So many people who voyage in starships never go home." Sulu didn't mean to sound sentimental, but he was suddenly struck by the number of people who had so far made their last voyages on board the Enterprise.
"You said that two crewmen were killed?"
Sulu hit a switch on the screen controls and the image split into two faces side by side, Hartley fair and Chekov dark, both so full of promise. "They... never got along very well. Dying was probably the only thing they ever managed to do together without arguing about it."
"Really?" An involuntary smile, as sentimental as anything Sulu had been feeling a moment ago, tugged at Karu's mouth, although it was hard to imagine that anything other than conscious muscular effort could overcome the implacable pull of his hairstyle. "Perhaps. They remind me of my younger brother and sister." To Sulu's surprise he saw the man's eyes fill up with tears. "That age, when anything is possible. Sometimes it's tempting to hate my father for all the young lives he allowed to end. He died... hmm... ten of your years ago. And I still find myself wanting to talk to him, to run and tell him things. I think he felt that we weren't very close. I miss him so much..."
"That's not surprising, if you're the only one of your family left, and you have no one to share that knowledge with..."
"No. I thought I explained that. I don't hanker after Earth, talk of Earth, talk of starships. This is my home." He gestured at the globe behind him. "This is all I've ever known. I simply miss Papa." He laughed a quick embarrassed laugh. "Why am I telling you this, eh Lieutenant? Why should you care? You still have your family. Why does the loss of your friend make me want to talk about a tragedy a decade old? Come on, I've seen enough. Let's rejoin Captain Kirk."
Karu strode over to the door and turned towards the turbo lift that would take them most directly to the transporter room, even though that wasn't the way they'd come. Sulu stared after him for a moment, then followed him.
As the lift doors closed, Karu said "Transporter room," and smiled at Sulu's expression. "Excuse my childish pleasure in these little things. We don't have reliable voice-operated computers yet. I'm working on it. What I'd really like to do is take this ship to pieces and take all the best parts with me."
As he said the last, the doors were opening on Kirk and McCoy. The captain frowned. "I'm afraid, leaving aside operational requirements, I really couldn't allow that, Karu."
"The President appreciates the reasoning behind the Prime Directive, Captain," Sulu put in quickly.
"Of course." All the humor had gone from Karu's face. The sudden change from youthful exuberance to high seriousness would have struck Sulu as sinister if it hadn't reminded him too painfully of someone else.
"Are you all right, Mr. Sulu?" McCoy was watching him anxiously.
"Yes, Doctor. Going to the observation deck wasn't a very good idea just now. That's all."
Kirk glanced in concern at Sulu, but the helmsman appeared preoccupied.
He managed a half smile at the Captain, and turned back to Karu. "Do the people of your planet know that their President is from Earth?"
If Karu was surprised by Sulu's tactics, he didn't register it. "We are a very accepting people. And you notice that I say 'we'. I was born here. My parents were accepted by neighbors who must have known, to start with, that they were outsiders, exiles from somewhere. And over the years, yes, close friends, sons and daughters in law, grandchildren have all known, and not been unduly bothered by it. My closest advisers know. I would not deny it to anyone. My interests are those of this planet."
"And how did your parents..." Kirk began to ask.
"I certainly do not know. I was always told that they didn't know either. A freak accident. Our astronomers have from time to time observed phenomena in the area that you would describe as wormholes. Maybe their ship was caught in one and brought from somewhere far away. My parents destroyed their uniforms and any other artifacts that survived, in the interests of your Prime Directive."
"Karu, the Prime Directive was not formulated fifty years ago. I am right in my estimate of your age, aren't I?"
"Yes." The man took a moment to think. "But it was something that principled explorers had developed as a general ethic of their profession. I believe the first published reference to something that we would now recognize as..." "Are you telepathic, President Karu?"
Karu turned in surprise to McCoy. "Why do you ask?"
"You generally seem - rather too up to date, in your knowledge of Earth, and this ship, and how to deal with the people in it."
The man smiled and shrugged. "Perhaps I am, a little. When it suits me."
The party turned into the transporter room and Karu stepped up onto the pad. "Captain Kirk, I must express again my gratitude to you and your crew for your actions on our behalf. And if I was not entirely frank with you at first, I can only plead that I had to consider the best interests of my planet. I could not risk any reluctance on your part to engage our enemies."
"I appreciate that. As I said, my quarrel isn't with you. We look forward to further dealings with you, on behalf of your planet."
The man nodded gravely, then a smile lit up his face. "May I, Captain?"
Kirk paused for a moment, not sure what he meant, then nodded.
Karu turned the smile on the transporter chief. "Energize, please, Mr. Kyle."
"More surprises, Captain," Spock announced, as Kirk entered the bridge. "Sensors indicate that there is a shuttlecraft -unmistakably of Star Fleet design -- at the bottom of a lake near the transmitter."
"Can we retrieve it?" Kirk asked taking his place in the center chair.
"I believe so," the Science Officer replied. "It may..."
"Captain," Uhura broke in. "Message coming in."
"That's the odd thing, sir." Uhura turned and took the transceiver out of her ear. "It doesn't seem to be from anywhere."
"How is that possible, Lieutenant?"
"I don't know, sir. I can't explain it."
"On audio, Lt." Kirk ordered, hoping their mysterious caller would be able to provide their own explanations. "This is Captain James T. Ki..."
"Yes, Captain Kirk." The voice was relatively high-pitched -humanoid in sound, but hard to place as either male or female. "We know who you are."
Kirk raised an eyebrow. "I'm afraid I can't say the same."
"It is not appropriate for us to reveal our identity at this time," the voice said, a little peevishly. "It is not appropriate for us to communicate with your kind at all, however, this situation is rapidly getting further and further out of hand."
Kirk could heartily agree with that.
"Your investigation of what you perceived as energy surges originating from outside your galactic plane has caused a fracturing of your timeline," the voice announced. "Our projections of the ripple effect generated by this accident are beginning to take an alarming turn. At first we thought the damage was minimal. The deaths of your two crewmen – although doubtlessly unfortunate -- had little effect on the timeline. The destruction of sentient life on this planet, due largely to an aggressive posture towards the invaders -- which can be traced to Karu s'Vegal's influence, is also negligible in cosmic terms -- though regrettable, of course. However the war between the Federation and the alien race whose attack you just repulsed..."
"War?" Kirk repeated.
"... Ultimately leads to some very significant changes in the galactic balance of power," the voice continued over him. "Since the initial accident was in part our fault, we have made the decision to take extraordinary measures to repair this rift."
"Wait a minute." Kirk held up his hand. "Let me get this straight..."
"It is not necessary that you understand what has transpired, Captain," the voice continued. "In fact, it is preferable that you do not question these events at all. As we said, contact between us and your kind is not prudent. We have elected to contact you because your ship and your two crewmen are at the heart of the time rift."
Kirk noted that the voice was referring to the two dead officers in the present tense.
"When we effect repairs," the voice continued, "you and your ship will remain relatively untouched. You may retain some temporary memory of the alternate time line. This will pass. Your electronic recording devices, however, will not forget what has transpired. We know you to be a curious race and therefore have provided this explanation for you because we do not wish there to be a mystery around these circumstances that you feel obligated to investigate."
"This isn't much of an explanation," Kirk began. "There are still..."
"Accept what we have told you, Captain Kirk," the voice ordered. "And if you value the continued existence of your race as you know it, do not attempt to duplicate the actions that led to the accident with your shuttlecraft or to contact the aliens you encountered here."
The voice had taken on the tone of deity handing down a commandment. Kirk refused to be cowed by it. "Just a minute..."
"Your shuttlecraft will be returned to its hangar and your crewmen will be returned to your transport room in two of your minutes," the voice continued, heedlessly. "You may wish to be there to receive them. They will doubtlessly be.... unsettled by this occurrence. Transmission ends."
Deciding not to waste a moment on being as stunned as he felt, Kirk hit the intercom button beside him. "McCoy, report to the transporter room right away. Sulu, take the conn. Mr. Spock, you're with me."
There was nothing like the anticipatory shimmer of the transporter. Suddenly the two missing officers were returned. They looked disorientated but unharmed. Kirk had the strong impression that they were not where they expected to be. Hartley was looking from one face to another as if confronted with a collection of strangers. He stepped forward to reassure her. "Ensign Hartley, you're back on board the Enterprise."
She ignored him and clutched at Chekov's arm, as if for support.
Chekov, for his part, was staring at Kirk as if confronted by a ghost. "Captain..."
"Chekov," Kirk said, as McCoy stepped forward to take a reading of the pair. "Do you remember what happened to you?"
Although he didn't answer this question, the older ensign took a deep breath and seemed to pull himself together. "How long have we been missing?"
"Just over three days."
Chekov nodded, as if adding that fact to other information that needed to be sorted into a coherent whole.
Kirk glanced appraisingly at each of the ensigns in turn. Both looked a little shaky but Chekov, being more experienced, was probably a better bet for getting the information Kirk needed quickly. "McCoy, get Hartley down to sick bay and check her over. I'll send..."
"Just a moment!"
Kirk stopped in surprise as Chekov stepped between the Enterprise personnel and Hartley.
"You are not taking her anywhere." Ignoring his captain, Chekov turned and spoke softly to Hartley. When she looked up, Kirk realized that she was crying.
McCoy moved to her. "Okay, I'll just have a quick look at you here." He made a 'back off' gesture at Kirk with his free hand. "Anything I should know?" the doctor asked. "Any injuries, periods of unconsciousness?"
She blinked at him, backing closer towards Chekov. "What are you talking about?"
"Start at the beginning," Kirk prompted. "You were calibrating the navigational sensors, and then the shuttlecraft was caught up in a - " He struggled for terms to describe it. " – a maelstrom. According to our sensors, it exploded. What happened? Were you still in the shuttle, or somewhere else?"
Chekov looked as if remembering was an effort. Finally, he shrugged. "I no longer recall the details well. I will need some time to think about this. The two of us... will need some time to think."
Kirk watched him with concern. The ensign's body language was all wrong. His attention was focused on Hartley as if Kirk was a mere irritation to be tolerated. His movements were more deliberate, more considered than Kirk was accustomed to. Combined with his most atypical solicitude for Dora Hartley, it began to add up to a nasty suspicion that the reappearance of his missing crewmen had simply created a new set of problems.
McCoy stood up. "Adrenaline surge, blood chemistry suggesting recent severe stress. No signs of physical injury, though. It looks like you've been badly frightened. I'll give you something..." He rummaged in his medical kit.
"No, thank you, Doctor." Chekov spoke with calm authority, as if he expected to be heeded.
"Now hang on a minute, young man," McCoy blustered, his hands busy setting the dose on a hypo. "I'm in charge of her health, and she needs..."
With a shocking lack of hesitation, the ensign took the hypo from the doctor and snapped the plastic barrel, letting the pieces fall to the floor. "What she needs is rest, and privacy. Will you provide that, Captain?"
"If that is what the Doctor recommends," Kirk replied sharply. "And once I have some answers."
There was a half-smothered sob from Hartley. She pulled herself away from McCoy and bent double with a low, keening moan.
Chekov knelt down and put an arm round her shoulders. "It will be all right, Dorshka. Just give yourself time to adjust."
"No, it will not be all right!" she cried desperately, with a flash of the fire Kirk expected of her. "Alyosha and Katya, and the children... They won't be all right. I will not be all right. This is a nightmare. How dare you be so calm? I want to go home, NOW!" Her voice rose to a yell, which was smothered as Chekov pulled her face down to his chest and cradled her. Her body was shaken by violent sobs.
"My... Dora. You must understand. We are back on board the Enterprise and we have only been gone three days."
She went rigid, then detached herself from his embrace and looked up at the other men in the transporter room as if seeing them for the first time. Her eyes traveled slowly around the walls, taking in the details and finally came to a halt on her own hands.
"I see what you mean." She held out her left hand to Chekov. "See?"
"Yes," he replied comfortingly. "I have seen."
She followed through by raising her hand to touch his face. "You look just like Alyosha." She began to weep again with a heart-rending despair.
Kirk moved unobtrusively to the control console. "Lieutenant Tomson. To the Transporter Room with back-up. On the double."
McCoy switched his tricorder on again and aimed it at Chekov. The ensign looked up at the soft whirring and frowned.
"I am uninjured, Doctor." His voice was carefully controlled.
"Yes." McCoy put the device down, and gathered up the fragments of the hypo with a careful pantomime of casualness. "Ensign Hartley is overwrought, as I'm sure you can see for yourself. I was only intending to give her a mild sedative –in her own best interests -- until she's ready to handle whatever has happened." He handed the pieces to the technician on duty. "I really think she'd be better off coming with me. You can talk to the Captain."
He bent down to slip an arm round Dora and lift her to her feet, but never finished the action. Instead he found himself sprawling on the floor at Kirk's feet, feeling as though his chin had collided with the underside of his cranium. Kirk lunged forward and tackled Chekov, and the two men skidded across the room and crashed into Tomson. It was a matter of seconds before Chekov was under the control of two hefty security guards. Kirk wiped some blood off his lip and regarded the Russian with ill-concealed astonishment. Chekov was shaking with rage and his face was totally drained of color.
"Take him to the detention area," Kirk ordered abruptly.
"Captain!" McCoy protested.
Tomson didn't wait to hear his objections. Chekov found himself being hustled out of the room without even a chance to speak to Dora.
"You'd better get her down to sickbay. And I want her watched at all times."
"Jim, I know he shouldn't have hit me, but we don't know what they've been up against in the last three days..."
"Bones, don't waste your sympathy. That wasn't Chekov."
"But my medical readings..."
"Have been wrong before. He didn't behave like Chekov would behave if he was tired, or overstressed, or even just mad at me. Even his accent was wrong. And you've seen Chekov with Ensign Hartley. A relationship doesn't change that much in three days." McCoy made an effort to control his outrage. "Well, as a doctor I might dispute some parts of that diagnosis, Captain, but I won't argue with you now. He's in reasonable shape medically. I can't overrule you on that score. And Ensign Hartley needs my services more immediately. Or are you saying this is someone else as well?"
"I think you should consider that possibility."
Chekov had never been inside the security holding area of a starship before. The experience was not enjoyable. The brief march through the corridors of the ship, his arms twisted uncomfortably behind his back, left him breathless and indignant, a feeling which he tried hard to suppress. He knew that his current predicament was his own fault, but it had been too long since he taken anyone's orders. He was too used to being the strong protector of his own family to lightly accept the unquestioning discipline of Star Fleet. He obeyed Tomson's orders without further objection, however, and sat down on the bunk in the cell, rubbing his elbows. The force field sprang into place and he was left in the company of Ensign Reeves and another man whose name he couldn't even remember. Reeves came to stand the regulation minimum two feet from the field.
"What the hell's up, Pavel? Two days ago, the Captain was practically in tears at your memorial service, and ten minutes after we find out you're not dead after all, you've got yourself thrown in the brig..."
Chekov shut his eyes. Reeves was his friend -- had been his friend -- at the Academy, a lifetime ago. Three days ago they had played squash together. The man looked only a little older than his oldest grandsons.
He was here now, though, and he had to start somewhere. "I ... uhm... I struck Doctor McCoy."
"You what? You crazy Russian!"
Chekov didn't respond and after a few minutes Reeves turned away and reluctantly left his friend to stew.
In sick bay, McCoy administered the sedative then sat by Ensign Hartley until the sobbing subsided and the young woman's breathing returned to normal.
"Do you want to talk now, Dora?" he asked at last. He was not yet convinced by Kirk's worries.
"Could I wash my face, please, Doctor?"
"Of course. Go with her, please, Nurse Chapel."
Chapel ushered the ensign solicitously into a bathroom and handed her a face towel. Hartley ran a basin full of water and scooped a double handful, then stopped, transfixed by her image in the mirror.
"I don't believe it. I must be dreaming. I'm back here. And you're Christine. I remember your name. I mean Nurse Chapel. I'm sorry."
"You sound surprised." Chapel smiled comfortingly. "How long did you think you were away?"
"Fifty years," Hartley answered. "No, forty... we didn't make it to fifty."
She started to tremble and Christine slipped an arm around her. The ensign looked exhausted and dehydrated. Hartley splashed the water onto her face and looked up again, as it ran like fresh tears down her cheeks. "You don't notice yourself growing old. When I saw Pavel in the transporter room, I thought he was our son. He was so like his father. 'Lyosha was getting married... And now I'll never see any of them again. I had a family. A life. A home. What happened? What happened?"
"Come and sit down again. I'll get you something to drink."
"I don't want anything to drink." The objection was half-hearted, hopeless. She followed the nurse like a child back to her bed. "I want to see Pavel." She looked up at McCoy, who had re-emerged from his office. "If you want to calm me down, please. He must be feeling as bad as me, and you've got him locked up... please!"
McCoy took her hand and looked questioningly at Chapel.
"As far as Dora knows," the nurse filled him in, "they were away from the ship for quite some time. Not just days, years."
McCoy raised his eyebrows. "And where were you, for all this time?"
"On the planet... Not far from here... In distance..."
"You were on a planet, then?" McCoy prompted as the ensign seemed to became lost in her own thoughts.
"Yes, a perfectly -- what did we used to call them? -- M class planet. Inhabited by intelligent, humanoid life. Human life, as far as we could ever tell. We worried about the Prime Directive but... Oh, hell," she sighed tiredly. The sedative, less mild than McCoy had claimed, was beginning to work at last. "I just want to go home."
She turned her face up to McCoy, as if she believed he had it in his power to grant her request. For a moment the years she claimed were evident in her eyes. Then the eyes closed, reluctantly.
McCoy let her down gently onto the bed and pulled a cover over her. "Stay here with her, Nurse. She'll only sleep for about an hour, depending on how tired she was anyway. I'm not sure how what she thinks has been happening ties in with her actual physical experience over the past three days. Call me as soon as she wakes up."
'And I'll go talk to Jim,' he finished in his head.
On the bridge Kirk was greeted by anxious inquiries from his officers. He shook his head. "We've got someone back, but I'm not sure it's Chekov and Hartley. They're behaving - oddly."
Sulu glanced at Uhura.
"We heard you ask for security, Captain," Uhura prompted, noting the Captain's swollen lip.
Kirk fought down the urge to tell them it was none of their business. For some reason, over and above the worry about his people, the encounter with Chekov had unsettled him. Whoever the person masquerading as his navigator was, he sensed someone who didn't accept his authority. He squashed the instinct to re-impose that authority over his bridge crew with a display of short temper. "When Doctor McCoy attempted to treat Ensign Hartley, Chekov hit him. I ordered him to the brig. I'm not sure it was Chekov. Any sign of the raiders?"
"Most unusual, Captain," Spock commented from his station. "The destruction we saw previously on the planet's surface is no longer in evidence. Neither is the subspace transmitter."
"What?" Kirk blinked disbelievingly at the peaceful globe on the screen in front of him. "This doesn't make any sense. If Chekov and Hartley somehow crashed there, then they could have been on the planet for three days at the most. The raids have been going on for over ten years. How can the removal of our two officers have any effect...?"
"Have we been moved three days into the past?"
"No, sir. As was predicted, our recording and time measuring devices were not affected by..." Even Spock was at a lost to label the strange events of the past hour. "... whatever measures were taken to correct the rift caused by the shuttle accident."
"What the hell could Chekov and Hartley have done in three days that was causing the destruction of that planet?" Kirk asked himself out loud.
"And what would to be gained by sending entities other than our officers to us?" Spock added.
"Captain," Sulu asked hesitantly. "I could go talk to Chekov, sir? I'm sure he was only disorientated when he took a swing at the doctor. Now that he's had a chance to cool off, he may be able to answer more questions."
"All right, Lieutenant," Kirk consented. "But be careful."
Ensign Reeves allowed Sulu into the security area with a mixture of professional reluctance and gratitude on behalf of his friend.
Chekov was lying on his back on the narrow bunk, staring silently at the ceiling. He looked over to see what was happening when Sulu came in. A sudden smile lit up his face. "Hikaru!"
Sulu immediately noted the oddness Kirk had complained of. For one thing, Chekov never called him by his first name. The lieutenant stood right up against the force field, feeling the slight static tingle of it against his uniform. "Pavel, talk to me. What happened?"
"I lost my temper," Chekov explained. "I couldn't stand to see Dora pushed around. She's been through enough."
He sounded as if he was picking his words very carefully. His accent was markedly different from what it had been three days ago.
"I didn't mean just now. Tell me everything, from the beginning." He made a cutting gesture to Reeves. The security officer switched off the force field, but positioned himself where he could cover the prisoner with his phaser. Sulu sat down on the bunk by Chekov's feet.
"What happened to the shuttle?" he prompted.
"I don't know. We were working in it and there was something like an explosion, or a loud noise, or maybe bright lights... the effect was like that of a wormhole."
Sulu nodded. "You wound up on the planet."
"Yes, we sank the shuttle and made for the shore in a life raft. It was a cold day, with rain in the air. We looked around for signs of other people, then we looked for shelter. We came to a big meadow, where the river runs very shallow and the boys..." Chekov's accent had returned full strength and his voice had taken on a rhythmic cadence, as if this was a story he had told over and over again. That thought had obviously struck him as well, because he stopped and went back. "A big open space, beside a river. In the dark we couldn't make out much, but we found some trees and made the most of the shelter. When it got light we walked down stream until we spotted buildings. The people were humanoid. We didn't understand their language, of course, but we could see that their technology was fairly advanced - computers, telecommunications, sophisticated distribution systems for food and so on. Ground transport. In the end we stole some clothes and buried our uniforms and just attempted to blend in. There didn't seem to be any alternative."
"You couldn't hide out for three days?" Sulu protested, thinking that his understanding of the Prime Directive would have kept him undercover for considerably longer. "Were you hurt or something?"
Chekov smiled at him, sadly and indulgently, as one might smile at a child when one had to explain something that was difficult and not entirely pleasant. "We have been gone longer than you think."
"Oh." Sulu nodded. "It's possible that everything you experienced was just an illusion, then. Maybe a test to see how you'd react to the situation."
This idea obviously hadn't occurred to Chekov. He stared at the wall for a long moment. "No, it happened. I don't know how, but it happened."
"What happened to you on the planet?"
"The last thing I remember seeing was..." Chekov stopped, aware that whatever he said would be reported to the Captain, and then risk getting back to Dora. That he couldn't bear. She could either believe, as Sulu suggested, that the whole experience was a fraud, or more likely, that it was in some sense continuing without them. How could he ever let her know what had been about to happen to their family the last time he ever saw them? He clamped down on the desire to talk, to tell someone. There was, anyway, a vast gulf of age between himself and Sulu that he wasn't sure he wanted to bridge. "Perhaps I was just confused."
Sulu was well aware that Chekov was holding something back, something painful. "You were hurt?"
"No, we were never hurt -- Apart from being exiled on some unknown planet and having to accept that we were never going to get home, and then..."
"Having it happen all over again, now." There was a moment of bitter silence. "How did you find us?"
Sulu gave a hollow-sounding half-laugh. "You almost sound like you didn't want to be found."
Chekov looked at the young man, with his disbelieving expression. How could he not have wanted to be found? Wasn't Star Fleet the best place in the whole universe to be? And Enterprise the best ship in it? He thought of his own Hikaru and how unlike his namesake the boy had always been -- with both his mother's and father's tempers and his hard-headed, technical dreaming. He at least had been away from home tonight. Or had he? What was real and what wasn't? Was his firstborn a figment of his imagination too?
Karu... Katya... Alyosha... and Teegan. He mentally laid them to rest along with their spouses and laughing children. With his eyes tightly closed, he visualized the quiet cemetery among the trees where they had already said good bye to a few friends over the years. It was a very Terran place, about the least alien place on the whole planet. In his mind's eye he saw the graves and made his farewells. It was a technique McCoy had suggested to him when a close friend had been lost and there had been no body to commit to the vacuum of space or the kindly soil of a planet. And now, he thought, that's an end of it. When he looked again, Hikaru Sulu was still watching him, with his dark, serious eyes.
"Pavel," his friend asked, "How long do you believe you were there?"
Chekov closed his eyes tightly against the tears as his children came rushing back into his mind -- refusing as always to be banished so easily. Karu frowning over a new gadget. Alyosha plotting how to use it to his advantage. Teegan solemnly recording it all in one of her memory books -- what he wouldn't give for one of those little volumes now... And Katya... beautiful Katya... A thousand kisses. Papa, don't leave me. Never ever ever.
Chekov wiped the moisture from his eyes with a traitorously young hand.
"A lifetime," he replied. "A lifetime."
McCoy's call to the bridge was intercepted by Uhura who explained that the Enterprise was ordered to respond to a Federation mayday. Kirk was therefore occupied at present, but would return the Doctor's call at the earliest opportunity. Kirk was not surprised when McCoy promptly appeared on the bridge. Patience had never been Bones' strong suit.
"Jim, Ensign Hartley's asleep at the moment, but I'm as certain as I am that you're you, that she's her, I mean..."
"I'm glad to hear that, Bones, but can't this wait, if she's asleep..."
"I want Chekov out of the brig and in sickbay. I've got some idea of what they've been up against, and she's going to need him there when she wakes up -- Leaving aside what he needs, which I'm sure doesn't include being locked up."
"Doctor, I've sent Mr Sulu to talk to Chekov. I'm prepared to accept that I'm wrong, but not now. We have another emergency on our hands. We're receiving a mayday from an uncharted system and I have to smooth over the feathers of a pack of dignitaries who thought we were just here to be a taxi service."
"Jim, Chekov and Hartley have, as far as they knew, been stranded on some Godforsaken planet for forty years plus. You might have forgotten the finer points of Star Fleet etiquette in that time. As far as Hartley is concerned, we didn't rescue her, we kidnapped her. After all, she's only been on this ship for a couple of weeks. Chekov's more likely to adjust better, having been here longer..."
Kirk thought for a moment. "I'll tell security to release Chekov to you. But consider this, you don't want every crewman who objects to taking a medical to think he can get away with landing one on you, do you? And there'll be a guard in sickbay at all times. I'm not one hundred percent happy yet that it really is Chekov."
McCoy heaved a sigh of relief and went to have a look at Dora. She was beginning to stir, her face becoming animated. Chapel turned off the file she'd been half working on and came over to join the Doctor. "She's been talking in her sleep, just odd words. I couldn't make sense of them. But you said she mentioned the names Alyosha, and Katya earlier. There's no record of those names on her file, but there is in Ensign Chekov's file. Maybe whatever they experienced while they were missing was something drawn from their memories."
"Thank you, Christine. I'll bear that in mind. I've persuaded the Captain that Chekov should be here, I hope before Dora wakes up." He felt his chin nervously. "I hope he's in a better mood, too."
Ensign Reeves escorted his prisoner to sickbay, feeling awkward. Chekov seemed resigned to his loss of liberty and showed no sign of ill-will towards Reeves, but it was an uncomfortably situation for the young security man nonetheless. He wished Tomson would come and handle it. Now he had to hang around in sickbay for the rest of the shift and put up with McCoy's barbed comments.
"Doctor McCoy," he reported. "I've brought Ensign Chekov, as per the Captain's instructions."
"Aah, thank you, Reeves. Could you make yourself inconspicuous, d'you think? And please bear in mind that anything you hear or see in sickbay is confidential."
Reeves thought that was a bit strong, coming from one of the most productive sources of gossip on the ship. Nevertheless, he positioned himself by the door out of the treatment room, and checked that his phaser was to hand, then did his best to blend into the decor.
Chekov stood patiently waiting throughout this exchange, trying not to look at the bruise on McCoy's chin. The slight sheen of plastiderm obviously covered a cut. McCoy had decided to do his best to ignore it as well.
"Right, Ensign Hartley is still asleep. Perhaps I can take this opportunity to check you over."
He gestured apologetically toward a biobed. Chekov lay down on it resignedly. As the scanners whirred through their standard examination routine, McCoy talked quietly. "I gather from what Ensign Hartley said that as far as you were aware, you were absent from the Enterprise for much longer than three days."
McCoy waited for an elaboration. The ensign merely continued to stare at the ceiling. "And that you had more or less resigned yourselves to remaining wherever you were."
"She mentioned some names, in the transporter room. Do you know what she meant?"
"My God, Ensign, is this a game of twenty questions, or have you been taking lessons from Spock? You're perfectly healthy, and so is she, apart from marginal dehydration and the fact that neither of you appears to have eaten since you went missing. Does that make sense to you?"
Chekov released a long breath. "I don't know if what we thought we experienced bore any relation to what actually happened."
"Dora said as far as she was aware, you'd been missing for about forty years." A thought suddenly struck him. "Were you together throughout?"
"I thought so." Chekov was obviously unsettled by the idea that they might have different recollections of their unexplained absence. "And it was about that long, as far as I could tell. But we haven't had a chance to talk. Perhaps she remembers something completely different."
McCoy could tell that this idea was deeply disturbing to the young man. Whatever had happened, it was clearly important to him that Dora should have experienced it too. "But the names she mentioned, you said they meant something to you?"
"Yes, they did." He hesitated. "They were part of what happened to me."
McCoy paused. Perhaps the ensign's experiences were embarrassing or so unpleasant that he preferred not to recall them. Why then would he seem to wish that Dora Hartley, hardly a good friend, had shared them?
Hartley suddenly yawned. McCoy beckoned the ensign over to the other biobed. "She might be a little disorientated."
Chekov opened his eyes wide at this massive understatement as he crossed to the waking woman. He found himself suddenly at a loss for words. The last time he had been with her when she woke, he had known exactly what to say to make sure she opened her eyes with a smile. The circumstances were very different now. She might not want to be reminded. After all, they were back aboard the Enterprise where they had hardly spoken outside the narrow requirements of work. "Dora, you are quite safe. Everything is back to normal."
"Mmmm, Pavel?" She reached out to embrace him.
He quickly grabbed her wrists to cover the movement. "We're on board the Enterprise, in sickbay," he said rather hastily.
She opened her eyes abruptly. "I thought we were back..."
"No. It was all an illusion. It couldn't have happened. The doctor isn't even sure that we both remember the same things."
At that suggestion, she tensed. "What phase of the moons was it last night?"
"First quarter and full. The nineteenth day of spring." He repeated the date in the language of their adopted home. "It was a very detailed illusion," he added, apologetically, "but it already seems a little unreal."
He watched her carefully, willing her to accept that none of it had ever happened.
"Yes," she said slowly, "it does seem remote somehow." A flicker of anguish passed over her face. "It was just a dream then, is that what you're saying, Doctor? And I am supposed to just get on with forgetting about it?"
McCoy looked doubtful. "There may be clues within whatever you experienced that would help us to work out what happened to you. That could be important."
"I can't think of anything. Can you, Chekov?"
Chekov felt a flash of anger. While he didn't want her to dwell on her losses, he hadn't expected her to toss it off quite this abruptly. But then, three days ago she had been cheerfully running him down to anyone who would listen. Perhaps it had simply occurred to her that it would be acutely embarrassing to have to report what had appeared to happen. "No, I cannot think of anything that happened that might be of any interest to anyone."
"Is it just me, Pavel Andreivich," she asked him in Russian, as she would have done if she had something to say that she didn't want the children to overhear, "or are you making a special effort to be a bastard right now?"
He took in a deep breath. "Hartley, I don't..."
"Hartley?" she repeated. "Hartley? You haven't called me Hartley in forty years..."
"Dorshka, my soul, I don't want to fight..."
"No, you don't want to fight," she agreed coldly. "You're back on the Enterprise -- exactly where you've wanted to be for forty years. You must be very happy."
Chekov had to agree that there was truth in what she said. Happiness would have been a reasonable reaction. Unfortunately that emotion couldn't have been further from what he had been feeling since their arrival.
"That language the two of you are speaking," McCoy said into the heavy silence, "it sounds like Russian."
"It is," Chekov answered shortly.
"Funny, but your record doesn't mention that you speak Russian, Ensign Hartley."
"I didn't," she answered, unfortunately choosing to imitate Chekov's brevity.
McCoy crossed his arms. "You mean to tell me you picked up Russian in three days?"
"Ensign Hartley has an aptitude for languages," Chekov explained unhelpfully.
"What are we going to do?" Hartley asked, switching back to Russian.
Chekov shrugged. "Live in the present."
There was something odd about her now, something cold and unfamiliar -- although she was behaving exactly the way she always had. It was almost as if his own feelings for her were changing, dimming somehow. "I cannot imagine living without you, doushka," he replied, despite the strange chill between them.
"Yes, you can," she accused. "Yesterday you couldn't, but today you can. You're prepared to forget -- eager to forget -about everything that happened to us and get on with your life as you had it planned before I blundered my way into it."
"Dorshka," he protested. "Don't say such things. Of course I want to be with you. Always."
She looked up into his eyes. "Do you? Face it, Pavel Andreivich, I made you everything that you were -- miserable."
"I was not miserable," he contradicted automatically, then had to add honestly, "most of the time."
McCoy cleared his throat. Even though he couldn't understand the language, he got the distinct impression he was witnessing the end of a relationship that had lasted much longer than three days. "You should have something to eat, Dora. It'll probably make you feel better. And you should get some rest, Chekov. The Captain is going to want a full report of what happened to you both -- although I think that can probably wait until later."
"It's all becoming very vague, Doctor." Hartley rubbed her eyes violently as if she were preventing herself from crying by brute force. "I'm really not sure I could tell him anything useful. It's like a dream, really vivid when you first wake up, but after breakfast it's all gone."
McCoy grimaced, foreseeing trouble with the captain. "How about you, Chekov? Memory fading for you too? I'd be careful. You've got a serious disciplinary charge hanging over you and your best defense is going to be whatever happened while you were missing."
"I'm quite prepared to answer the Captain's questions as far as I am able," Chekov replied with an icy dignity that startled the doctor. "If I feel that doing so will serve any useful purpose. And I am prepared to face the consequences of my actions. There's no need to resort to blackmail, Doctor."
McCoy suddenly realized what the captain had meant about this not being the Chekov they had lost three days earlier. If, as far as the ensigns had been aware, forty or more years had passed -- difficult years, coping with exile and uncertainty –an older, more self-confident, less biddable Chekov might be expected. McCoy tailored what he said accordingly, "Of course. I'm sorry. Beyond what your medical treatment requires I have no intention of prying into whatever happened to you over the last three days. Nothing you tell me need go any further, unless you want it to. But I strongly advise you to talk to someone about it -- and not just each other. Whatever you experienced was clearly real to you. You have to adjust to a sudden change in your circumstances. If people know what happened, they can help you to make that adjustment. It might seem easier to pretend that it never occurred, but it doesn't work like that. You know that." He paused. "You say you were living among strangers. How often did you wish you had someone to tell about who you really were?"
The two ensigns were silent, thoughtful.
"Well, who you are now includes everything that has happened. It's changed you. That's obvious to me just talking to you." He looked at their bleached, tired faces and sought for something to soften their situation. "From what Dora said, it wasn't entirely an unhappy experience. Isn't there any of it that you want to share?"
Dora suddenly sat up in bed. "Pavel, the children..." she said, switching to the language of their adopted home. "Al's wedding... The last thing I remember..."
He tried to keep his expression blank.
Hartley wasn't fooled. She grabbed his arm. "What is it, Pavel? You remember. What happened to them all?"
"I don't know, doushka," he replied -- but he knew she'd never let him get away with leaving things at that. "Just before we... left, I saw the lights of the fighters... That's all."
"Oh, God." Hartley crumpled against him. "Oh, God... My babies..."
He took her into his arms without pausing to consider not doing so. "Maybe they were just an illusion," he said as soothingly as possible. "Maybe they were never real. That must be it. After all, we've only been missing for three days."
She rested her head against his chest as the sobs shook her. He held her until the worst of them passed.
"I want to go home, Pavel," she said, her voice only a choked whisper. "I just want to go home."
"I know." He smoothed her shining hair. "I know."
"I'm forgetting them already," she said, her voice breaking. "Oh, God, please don't let me forget them."
He looked down. The hair under his fingers was Teegan's, just as the face he'd seen in the mirror in his cell had been Aloysha's. "I don't think we'll ever forget them, doushka... Even if we wish we could."
Ensign Hartley experienced a sudden pang of uncertainty as she stepped out of sick bay. What if she couldn't remember the way to her cabin? Still, having fought so hard to persuade McCoy that she was ready to leave his protection, she could hardly go back and ask. She set off, relying on her feet to remember the way. After all, they had only been gone for three days.
"Dora!" Yeoman Ada Kline and Ensign Barbara Stone careered out of their cabin and caught her up in a triumphant circle dance. "You're OK! We were hearing all sorts of awful rumors. What happened?"
Dora hugged her friends in return and let them lead her off towards the rec room. "Barbara! Ada! I'd almost forgotten you..."
"Come on, now," Barbara coaxed. "Spill it. We want to hear everything. First we hear you're dead and now that you were marooned..."
"With the last man you'd chose to be alone with in the dark on an unknown planet," Ada interrupted archly.
"Oh, I don't know," Barbara objected. "He'd be about number, oh, three hundred and seventy on my desert asteroid list."
"Then you need to rewrite your list," Dora snapped.
"Oh, Dora! You didn't, did you?" Barbara demanded, her eyes alight with the prospect of scandal.
Ada rolled her eyes. "Any port in a storm, I suppose. But I would have waited a bit longer than three days. Unless it had been a certain Captain or First Officer, of course. Go on, we won't tell anyone. What really happened?"
Dora looked at them. "Is that all you girls really care about? The sex?"
"Yes!" they screamed in unison.
"Was he awful or what?" Barbara demanded.
"No," she replied without really pausing to consider whether she should or not. "No, he was..."
She stopped only because no words immediately came to mind to describe the considerate, kind, honorable, and altogether too perfect man who had been her husband for the past forty years.
"Details," Ada commanded. "We want details."
Dora noticed a familiar cabin number and stopped dead. "Look, I really need to change and sort myself out. I'll meet you in the rec room in half an hour, and in the meantime, if you want to gossip, you can tell everyone that..." To her intense irritation, she found her throat seized up with tears.
Her two tormentors, promptly overcome with remorse, opened the door to her cabin and took her inside. When she vanished into the minute bathroom, they sat on the bed and looked at one another in astonishment.
"So," Yeoman Kline asked her companion. "Can we interpret this as meaning the sex was good?"
While most people sooner or later have the experience of waking up in the morning and realizing they feel old, Chekov was struggling with the less common sensation of opening his eyes and feeling quite distinctly young. It sharply contrasted with the way he had felt last time he woke without his being able to pinpoint the difference either physically or mentally. Age had simply fallen away along with its burden of cares and responsibilities.
He twisted to read the chronometer on the biobed readouts and discovered that he had slept for nearly twelve hours.
He lay for a moment and soaked up the sights and sounds of the sickbay, appreciating the feeling of being at home. His memories of the house at VeGal, the sleeping veranda, the early morning breezes, had paled into something near to forgetfulness.
"Oh, you're awake. The Captain wants to see you." McCoy ran a quick review of his medical status and switched the biobed off. "How's the memory this morning?"
"Doctor McCoy." Chekov said his name as if he were surprised he remembered that much. "I can't remember anything -- except the things we talked about since we got back."
McCoy scowled. He didn't like being manipulated, but what Chekov and Hartley both reported was perfectly possible, whether or not it also happened to be true.
Chekov paused uncertainly at the door. "Can I go back to my cabin to change?"
"I don't see why not. Don't forget your shadow." McCoy gestured at the security guard who still hovered watchfully. Kirk had given him a hard time over releasing Hartley without a minder and he wasn't about to make the same mistake again. Chekov shrugged and departed with his escort on his heels.
"Come!" Kirk snapped in response to the buzz at his office door. The security man stood at attention outside, as Chekov entered nervously.
"All right, Manners, I'll call if I need you."
Chekov relaxed as the door shut. Presumably he was going to be leaving on his own. He fixed his eyes on Kirk's desk and waited to see what the captain intended.
"Ensign Chekov, we seem to have an unsolved mystery on our hands. Doctor McCoy reports that both you and Ensign Hartley have very little memory of what happened to you -- other than that you appeared to be away from the ship for much longer than the three days which elapsed as far as we were concerned. When I spoke to Ensign Hartley earlier she reported that your conduct had been exemplary, although I couldn't persuade her to remember anything that you had actually done. Have you anything further to say to help me to flesh out my report on this enigmatic occurrence?"
"No, sir," Chekov replied.
"Not even that Ensign Hartley acted in the best traditions of Star Fleet at all times?"
"Yes, sir." Chekov paused, seeming to search for either words or memory that did not come to him. "She did, sir."
"I see. As far as you remember, of course."
"Coming on to the events in the transporter room, I realize of course that you must have been disorientated, but I'd be delinquent in my duty if I allowed that to be used as an excuse for your behavior. In fact, it's precisely at times when the natural social conventions break down, that formal discipline is most necessary." He paused to let the Ensign consider his words. "You'd better apologize to Doctor McCoy."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Kirk watched the departing Chekov and concluded with a sigh of relief that the ensign seemed in every respect back to normal. Chekov was once more the same intense and over-awed junior officer that he had always been. When Kirk had spoken to Hartley earlier, she too had been her normal breezy self, apart from her commendation of Chekov which had left Kirk sincerely doubting her reported memory loss.
"He was brilliant, sir," she had said. "He kept his head, thought of every eventuality and coped with everything that came up. The fact that I've decided to resign doesn't have anything to do with him."
"Are you sure you want to make a final decision on your resignation so soon, Ensign?" he'd asked. "Don't you want to let a little time pass to make sure you're not just making this decision because of what happened to you?"
"No, sir," had been her unhesitating answer. "I want to do this now before I completely forget what happened. I know now that Star Fleet just isn't what I really want to do. You have to give up too much."
Kirk put away the file on the incident, but left unchanged his standing instruction to security to know where the two Ensigns were at all times just for a while longer.
Another buzz of his doorchime announced the arrival of Lt. Sulu with his tactical report on the dreadnought.
The helmsman laid the recording disks on the Captain's desk. "Mr. Spock and I weren't able to come to any firm conclusions about it in the end, sir. All we can do is leave recommendations on file for anyone who comes across another one like it."
"It's been a bad few days for unsolved mysteries," Kirk said.
"Some things have improved," Sulu, ever the optimist, pointed out.
"I suppose you're right. Chekov and Hartley seem determined to remain a mystery, though. How are they getting along together this morning? I've seen them separately, but not..."
"I passed them a moment ago having a..." A pained look crossed the lieutenant's face. "An animated discussion in the corridor."
Kirk sighed. "I had hoped the truce would last a little longer. On another topic, there was something President Karu said to me that I'm not sure I remember accurately..."
He flicked the file open. A picture of the man filled the screen. He looked at it absently, waiting while the computer searched for the reference he wanted. Then he hit the pause. "Sulu, who does he remind you of? Just from that angle, ignoring the hair..."
Sulu picked up one of the disks and handed it to him. "It's even more noticeable on this one, when he was talking to me about the ground strike tactics they used."
Kirk paused with the disk half into the reader. "And the way he knew the ship inside out..."
"And knew all of us."
"I guess we'll never know for certain now," Kirk said, half-dismissively.
"I know, but..."
Sulu smiled. "I just like the idea that someone would name a child after me."
* END *