CHAPTER 3

S E N S O R S

K I R K

“Captain’s log, star date: twenty-one thirty-eight, point three. The Enterprise is en route to Axanar to take part in the most important peace conference since Yalta. The band of rogue cadres that comprised the Kaleb Confederation met their Waterloo at the Battle of Axanar. Any hope they had for recruiting other worlds to join them in their conquest to fragment The Federation was destroyed by the tactical genius of my former helmsman on the USS Defiant, Garth of Izar, whose strategies and heroism on this mission will be emblazoned in the history books. Representatives from one hundred and forty-two planets inside and outside The Federation are gathering at the conference to enter into a pact that will enforce the peace in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, so that all planets, regardless of their technological evolution or political alliance, will be protected from conquering armadas. So broad is the scope of this undertaking that we pledge to defend our enemies if called upon, even though they refused to participate in these proceedings. As this is my last mission in command of the flagship, I feel like I am going out on top. I will leave the ship in the capable hands of my first officer, Christopher Pike.”

“First Officer’s personal log, star date: twenty-one thirty-eight, point three. I have many mixed emotions about our mission to Axanar. Upon our return to Earth my commanding officer, Captain Robert April, will be promoted to commodore. Although I am prepared to take command of the Enterprise, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with the job. I will no longer be able to turn to Captain April for guidance in a crisis situation; the life and death decisions a captain must make will be mine alone and that weighs on me. Participating in the Axanar Peace Mission will be intimidating, with so many of the highest dignitaries and most celebrated officers attending. I worry that I will be self conscious of my every word and move . . . particularly if I find myself face to face with Captain Garth, an officer I’ve admired since my Academy days when he led an Avenger away team to the Ceti-Gershon colony on Logannis-Two and defeated the Tlenkethi insurgents that had taken over the capitol city. I will steady myself by focusing on the mission.”

“Personal log, Cadet Kirk, James T., star date: twenty-one thirty-eight, point three; Earth date: July 11, 2251. Onboard USS Republic, registration number NCC-1371, under the command of Captain Richard Cornelius Patterson, I am in orbit over the planet Axanar in the Argos star system where a peace envoy has convened to enact treaties, armistices and weapons bans to safeguard the quadrant against enemy attacks. Only months ago I was reading reports from the Battle of Axanar in Dynotactics, and now, because of the relentless defense of the planet by Fleet Captain Garth of Izar against the sneak attack by the Kaleb Confederation, Axanar will be remembered as the foundation for peace and brotherhood among the allied planets of the quadrant and a warning to our enemies that no planet will stand alone against an invasion force. I was recommended for this mission by my flight instructor, and close friend, Lieutenant Benjamin Finney; I will serve as his co-pilot; our duties will be to shuttle dignitaries from the ship to the planet and patrol the perimeter. I will see to it that my performance reflects well on him and Starfleet Academy.”

(Translated from Vulcan to English.) “Log entry for the Vulcan Science Institute, from Spock; star date: twenty-one thirty-eight, point three. I am accompanying my father, Sarek, on an ambassadorial mission to the planet Axanar where Federation starships defeated an invasion force comprised of mercenary privateers from unstable worlds with hostile intent. I find it curious that such peace accords are necessary for beings to respect the rights and borders of others, but I appreciate the significance of the event and I am honored to serve. I anticipate meeting representatives from the many worlds that will be in attendance. My father would undoubtedly describe my interest in alien life forms as a human trait inherited from my mother, as it is not our way to invite contact with outworlders. But as seekers of knowledge, it is illogical to shun opportunities to study the customs and characteristics of other species’. I find the prospects of this occasion, intriguing and I will attempt to gather as much data as I can for my journals.”

KIRK sat on the sidelines with several yeoman and junior officers in the rec hall, while a poker game ensued.

“I’ll see your twenty credits and raise you twenty-five more.”

“I’m too tired to bluff . . . fold.”

“Alright then; it’s just you and me . . . I’ll see your twenty-five and I’ll sweeten it with twenty-five more.”

“In for a penny in for a pound . . . call.”

Finney laid his cards on the table. “Four nines.”

“Beats my boat,” Commander Morrow complained. “I should know by now that my old Academy bunky is too cheap to bluff.”

Finney raked in his pot. “I’m a family man with a kid on the way, Harry; I won’t be able to afford to bluff until I draw captain’s pay.”

“At the rate your moving through the ranks, Benny, old Harry here will be Fleet Admiral by the time you make full commander,” Lt. Commander Wesley teased. Finney looked down at his pile of winnings less enthusiastically, as the men at the table chuckled and rose to stretch their legs.

Morrow looked over at Kirk with interest. “So, Plebe, I understand that you’re one of the few people left alive that actually saw Kodos The Executioner.”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“How did you end up on Tarsus-Four, Kirk?” Lt. Commander Ramart asked.

“My father agreed it would be a good idea for me to spend a year on the colony for some practical experience in terraforming.”

Morrow was skeptical. “And you actually saw Kodos?”

“He was an extreme recluse, but since I was assigned to work on the grounds of his estate, I saw him from time to time.”

“How did you manage to survive?” Ramart questioned.

“When the death squads were formed after most of the food supplies were infected with a fungus, a group of us fled into the hills outside the city and did what we could to sabotage the militia. Since I knew my way around Kodos’ complex, we were able to raid supplies . . . but there wasn’t enough to save everyone. If the ships didn’t get there when they did, none of us would have lived.”

“Some people believe Kodos is still alive,” Morrow interjected.

“Impossible,” Kirk dismissed. “His home and headquarters were saturated with phaser fire; no one could have survived that attack.”

“His charred remains were never positively identified,” Finney noted.

“About two years ago one of the survivors said they spotted him on Coridian, where he owned a dilithium mine,” Ramart imparted.

“I heard that he went to Romulus as an exile and lives as an underground advisor,” Wesley gossiped.”

Kirk shook his head, respectfully. “This sounds like the kind of speculation that people indulged in after Adolph Hitler died and Khan Noonien Singh disappeared.”

“Well after a few centuries, we can lay those two to rest,” Wesley figured, “but people will wonder about what really happened to Kodos for a long time to come.”

“Kodos is dead and gone,” Kirk quietly asserted.

Just then the communications officer made a ship wide announcement, “Attention to orders; Alpha shift-on deck; perimeter teams, scout teams and envoy teams, report to your shuttles; mission orders scrambled.”

“Oh taxi; you’re being hailed!” Wesley sniped.

“You better make sure you give those fat cats a smooth ride and set’em down easy, or you’ll be assigned to dogsled duty,” Ramart cracked.

“Now would that be a promotion or a demotion?” Wesley scathed.

“I can’t believe they let you wear long pants for a mission like that, Ben,” Morrow piled on.

Finney grinned uncomfortably, as the good-natured ribbing got under his skin and hit a nerve. It was a sore point with him that his peers had attained higher rank. He was frustrated that he was not given the recognition and rank he deserved for his dedication to the development of cadets at The Academy. He refused to be bitter, even when his students were promoted ahead of him, but his inferior rank was becoming an embarrassment.

In Jim Kirk he found a cadet that was a rising star he could hitch his wagon to, hoping that his contributions as an instructor to the young standout would be magnified at promotion time. Despite his ulterior motives, he had grown fond of this diligent and unassuming young man who displayed rare instincts and unswerving loyalty . . .

AT the Axanar conference, the dignitaries, statesmen, flag officers, colonists, and families of slain crew, stood in awe of the man of the hour, Captain Garth of Izar, as he commemorated his fallen allies that had sacrificed their existence so that the quadrant would be saved. The eloquence of the valiant captain mesmerized those in attendance as well as those viewing the ceremony throughout The Federation and beyond. Of all who had spoken over the previous three days, it was Garth’s words that were the most significant, for no one living knew more than he the devastating price that had been paid to bring about this peaceful summit.

After speaking to the dreams and aspirations of the statesmen and humanitarians who had chosen the site of the Battle of Axanar to become the spot where a groundbreaking alliance would be conceived, he closed his oratory by personalizing what war and peace meant to those on the frontlines who lived and died within the auspices of those concepts.

“Do not dishonor the memories of the fallen by lamenting them as tragic souls that lost their lives; laud them as heroic figures who gave their lives for all we hold true and dear. Do not whisper their names with sorrow, read them aloud from the honor rolls of valor. They will live on as long as there is a Federation.” The crowd respectfully applauded the honored dead. “Each of you will take back to your worlds a piece of all of them, as they can be felt in the air you breathe in freedom; they can be seen in the smiles on the faces of your children who live in safety; they will be heard in the music that plays in jubilation. Because of these righteous warriors of peace, you will be able to give your hearts to romance, lend your thoughts to hobbies, enrich your souls with poetry, expand your minds with research, and decide your own destiny . . . the ideologies of prejudice, greed, and barbarity crumbles when it comes face to face with our resolution to provide all beings with liberty; hatred cannot prevail when it does battle with our commitment to peace, because hatred is cowardly and peace is brave . . . I am not naïve enough to believe that we will never again face invasion and insurrection. The Peace Mission of Axanar is a double-edged sword that we will use to enforce freedom by destroying the enemies of freedom . . . this is our pledge. Let history never forget Axanar!”

The thundering applause engulfed the great man at the podium who stood gazing to the purlieu in honor of so many lost comrades; the deep personal loss he felt shimmered in his eyes and the congregation shuddered at his pain.

Though the official ceremonies drew to a close, there would be a gala affair that evening with a formal dinner and a grand ball for the upper echelon. As well, there would be several lesser affairs for the second tier guests and below that there would be free flowing celebrations with various themes in watering holes and parlors. Dictates of protocol decided invitation lists and it was a very delicate situation when some felt snubbed— the peace accord could breakdown over an invitation or a place card.

Many delegates scurried toward the shuttlecrafts, eager to return to their quarters and prepare for the social activities. At these occasions it was somehow perceived to be undignified to simply beam back and forth to their host starships, so a flotilla of shuttlecraft were dispatched to the site.

Finney and Kirk stood by as the garrulous Rigelian delegates they were assigned to shuttle engaged members of the Axanarian commission. Kirk noticed several Andorians huddled together off to the side and for some reason their skulking demeanor gave him a twinge in the back of his neck. Kirk moved with stealth into a position on their blind side and focused his tricorder in their direction. As he monitored them, he couldn’t get a fix on his readings, which seemed to fluctuate abnormally.

Across the way, Spock noticed the young Starfleet officer intensely studying his tricorder and was drawn to approach him. “Greetings; I am Spock of Vulcan.”

Kirk continued to take readings, as he introduced himself in a halted manner. “I am Kirk of Earth. Ah . . . Sklaj klol eelch . . . no . . . um . . . it’s, sklaj klol grolfdak . . . no, wait . . . it’s, sklaj . . . ah . . . I apologize, sir. I learned greetings in several languages, but I’m a bit distracted at the moment.”

“Since I am versed in many Terran dialects, perhaps we should use one of them to communicate.”

“Agreed.”

“May I ask what you are doing?”

Kirk took a measure of the reserved Vulcan, and instantly trusted him enough to take him into his confidence. “I’m scanning the activities of the Andorian delegates.”

“May I ask why?”

“Something isn’t right about them; it’s just a gut feeling . . . I don’t know; I’m either being alert or paranoid. ”

“It could be human prejudice that is guiding your instincts.”

“The Andorians are a factious people; not all of them have committed to the concept of peace.”

“Do your readings support your suspicions?”

“My readings are inconclusive. Something is going on, but I can’t pin it down . . . these readings don’t make sense.”

Spock focused his tricorder on the Andorians and rapidly changed the sensor modulation. “I’m picking up what appears to be an omni directional beacon on a relta band micro frequency . . . it is being carried inside of a phased particle pulse that is not emitting enough power to travel beyond this solar system.”

“Which means it could be directed into space or somewhere here on the planet. But for what purpose?”

“You could ask them to explain their actions.”

“Negative. If they are terrorists we don’t want them to know we’re onto them. We have to prepare ourselves to let them make their play so we can apprehend all involved.”

“And if they are not terrorists?”

“Then no harm done.”

Spock’s eyebrow rose. “I’m reading traces of hydraplasma on the Andorians . . . they could have picked it up while beaming down.”

“They could have; except they didn’t beam down.”

Finney ambled over, nonplussed. “Hey, Jim, what’s going on?”

“I’ll brief you on the way back to the ship; right now I’ve got to get these readings back to the captain.”

CAPTAIN Patterson frowned as he read the report then passed it along to the bridge officers. “Tell me what you think you’ve uncovered . . . Mister?”

“Kirk, Captain Patterson, sir; Cadet James T. Kirk.”

“Oh of course, our Academy observer.”

“I’m Lieutenant Finney, Captain; Cadet Kirk’s flight instructor from The Academy. I had him assigned with me on this mission.”

“All right, gentlemen, fill us in.”

Finney cleared his throat. “Sir, since it was Cadet Kirk that first suspected the actions of the Andorians I will let him brief you.”

“Very well then; Mister Finney, you’re dismissed.”

Finney was crestfallen that he was being asked to leave. “Aye, sir.”

“All right, Cadet Kirk; what’s your story?”

Kirk recounted his observations on the planet in a precise manner to the captain, but did not speculate as to the possible motives of the Andorians. In closing Kirk added, “I respectfully submit that the actions of the Andorians bears further investigation, sir.”

“An excellent first report, Cadet,” the captain complimented. “Suggestions, crew?”

“I recommend that we are discreet about how we handle our surveillance of the Andorians,” First Officer Morrow believed. “They are distinguished members of a Federation ally.”

“If they are saboteurs, as the cadet suggests, then every moment counts,” Second Officer Wesley stressed.

Patterson’s rose and folded his hands behind his back. “Where are the Andorians assigned?”

“They’re aboard the Yorktown, Captain,” Navigator Ramart briefed.

“And the Vulcan . . . what was his name?” Patterson primed.

“Spock, sir,” Kirk answered. “He is aboard the USS Enterprise, with the Vulcan delegation, Captain Patterson, sir.”

“It’s Captain or sir, not both, Cadet.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“We will begin by carefully analyzing the data from the tricorders . . . Wes, I want you to begin a Phase-One scan of the area and look for any readings that could be considered at all anomalous.”

“I’m on it, Cap.”

“Mister Sandell, send a Priority-One report on this incident to the security command post on Axanar and to all ships in the system— messages encoded, printout only. Then send a Code-Forty-Seven message to Captain Komack on the Yorktown recommending he implement Level-Three surveillance on the Andorian delegates.”

“Aye, sir.”

Patterson paced the bridge. “If there are traitors among us we will damn well find them and string them up from the highest yardarm.” As the officers returned their attention to their consoles, Patterson sat down and leaned in close to Kirk. “So, are you worried that you might be wrong about your suspicions, Kirk?”

“Frankly, Captain, I’m more concerned that I’m correct.”

“An excellent attitude. Some in your position would just be content to be here for the ride and not have the gumption to step up like you did . . . admirable; I support your actions”

“I appreciate that, Captain.”

“I would like for you to remain on the bridge while we sort this out.”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Save the ‘sir sandwiches’ for your instructors at The Academy, Kirk.”

“Understood, sir.”

“CAPTAIN, this is Spock, son of Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan . . . Mister Spock, this is Captain April.”

“Thank you, Number One . . . so, Mister Spock, I’ve read the report from Cadet Kirk; now I’d like your impressions of the incident on the planet.”

“There was no incident, Captain . . . I did observe the Andorians and noted that their behavior seemed clandestine.”

“What do you think these tridorder readings suggest?”

“I cannot say with certainty.”

“Can you speculate?”

Spock’s lips drew tight. “Vulcans do not speculate . . . however, it seems improbable that the Andorians would expend so much effort to cloak harmless communications.”

“So you don’t think this cadet is chasing rainbows?”

“Whether that is meant as a literalism or a colloquialism, I do not.”

“Good; neither do I. This is the perfect setting to cause intergalactic mayhem, as we have all of our eggs in one basket. Are you familiar with that saying?”

“It would seem to be self explanatory.”

“Well thank you, Mister Spock. May we call on you again if we need your assistance?”

“You may, indeed, Captain.”

Before Spock could leave, Pike spoke up. “Captain; I request that Mister Spock remain and work with our sensor team . . . he checks out as an A-Seven computer expert.”

April nodded enthusiastically. “Impressive. You must be twice as smart as our best engineers, Mister Spock.”

“I would estimate that I am five, point two six eight times more knowledgeable, Captain April.”

“But only half as modest,” Lieutenant Tyler quipped from his navigation post.”

“Modesty, like vanity, is a human emotion; I merely state the available facts.”

“Number One, you may employ Mister Spock as you see fit . . . if that’s all right with you.”

Spock felt a wave of what could be described as excitement, but since that was a human emotion he ascribed it to fascination, which is a state of mind. Gathering himself he responded evenly, “I am honored to serve, Captain.”

FROM opposite ends of the banquet hall, Spock and Kirk kept the Andorians under surveillance throughout the evening. A Vulcan science student and a Federation teen went unnoticed by the Andorians, who continued to surreptitiously move about while emitting a fluctuating energy pulse. But the evening ended uneventfully and it seemed that there was no longer a threat to the delegation, as all the dignitaries returned safely to their starship hosts. Kirk wasn’t sure if he was embarrassed or relieved that nothing had happened, but he would not apologize for doing his job.

After a ceremonial brunch onboard ship, the fleet would depart at fourteen hundred hours to return all parties to their respective systems filled with newfound peace, so whatever opportunity the Andorians might have had to create widespread chaos was gone. Still all ships maintained security status.

After a restless night’s sleep, Kirk remained vexed throughout the morning; there was something he was missing. He was certain the Andorians were cloaking some scandalous agenda, but that was not enough justification to interrogate the prominent representatives. The Enterprise crew had tracked the Andorian transmissions, but found they dissipated barely fifty kilometers above the surface of the planet, so their investigation was officially at a dead end.

The gnawing in his stomach would not be sated by food and he continued to fret through the brunch until he was struck by a possible realization. Without a word, he jumped up from the table and ran down the corridor to the Officers’ Mess, where the captain and his senior staff were sharing the brunch with the core of dignitaries assigned to the ship. Without hesitation, Kirk approached. “Captain; it’s crucial we get to the bridge, immediately.”

Patterson felt the cadet’s sense of urgency and apologetically excused himself as he left, with his bridge crew following on his heels. Once they got to the bridge Patterson became stern. “Mister Kirk, we’ve played your hunch as far as it went, now we must get back to normal ship’s operations.”

“Captain, I must contact Mister Spock on the Enterprise . . . please, sir.”

Patterson rolled his eyes. “Very well. Contact the Enterprise on a secure channel, Mister Sandell.”

It took a minute to setup then Captain April appeared on screen. “R.C.; we were just about to call you . . . what have you got?”

“Bob, my cadet here, the one that filed the report on the Andorians, wants to talk to the Vulcan science student that was with him on the planet. Can you scare him up for me?”

“That won’t be a problem; he’s right here working on a theory about the Andorian signal . . . Mister Spock.”

Kirk felt a sense of relief when he saw the dour Vulcan on the screen. “Spock, could the hydraplasma particles you read on the Andorians come from beaming off of a cloaked ship?”

“Affirmative . . . in fact the presence of a cloaked ship would explain much.”

“So maybe the communication signal didn’t die out; maybe it was received by a cloaked ship in orbit above the planet,” Kirk theorized. “That’s why the signal was phased.”

“My findings indicate that the Andorians were not transmitting a communication beacon, but rather receiving an interferometric pulse that combines several properties to disguise one property . . . a property yet unknown.”

“So the point where the transmission seemed to die out is actually where they were coming from?”

“Precisely.”

Patterson cut in. “Let’s figure that this pulse is designed to create the most destruction possible. What would it most likely be?”

Spock’s brow furrowed into a V-shape. “Were I to speculate, I would say a buildup of gravitons would pose the greatest danger to the ships, but little danger to the planet.”

“Mister Lefler; sweep the system for a build up of gravitons,” April ordered.

“Aye sir,” she replied.

Kirk rubbed his chin. “But gravitons would be too obvious. You say that they are using an inter-something-metric pulse to disguise the contaminant.”

“An interferometric pulse . . . an interferometric pulse was first synthesized . . .”

“Stow the science lesson, Mister Spock,” Pike directed. “What should we be looking for?”

“An unusually high reading of virtually any property, most likely one that would be commonplace and seemingly inert.”

“I’m reading higher than normal levels of baryon particles in the system,” Lefler surveyed.

“With all the ships in the system that is hardly a wonder,” Morrow evaluated.

“How about on the planet’s surface,” April queried.

“Negative,” Lefler replied. “However there is a mass build up of baryon particles in the lower atmosphere.”

“The shuttles haven’t used warp drive, so there shouldn’t be baryons in the atmosphere,” Pike realized.

“Those may not be baryon particles at all, because of the interferometric phase,” Spock edified. “Whatever the Andorians were releasing on the surface has accumulated in the atmosphere.”

“And not by accident,” Pike stated.

“There’s our smoking gun,” Wesley maintained.

Kirk began his deduction. “So if there is a cloaked ship out here and if those are graviton particles surrounding the ships and gathering in the atmosphere . . .”

“Then the first ship that goes into warp will create an effect similar to a magneton wave,” Spock concluded.

“And that would generate a chain reaction of explosions that would go from ship to ship and then down to the surface,” April verified.

“Ripping the atmosphere of the planet away in minutes,” Spock substantiated.

Everyone was silent as the magnitude of danger they faced sunk in. Then Patterson snapped, “Sandell; send a scrambled report of this to all ships and tell them to go to silent red alert. Have the Yorktown increase their security on the Andorian delegates to Level-Two . . . we don’t want to spook them.”

“First of all; how do we find this cloaked ship?” Pike wanted to know.

“It is more important to decide how they will be dealt with when found,” Spock analyzed. “One shot at them or from them will begin the destructive wave.”

“Even if we leave on impulse power, the planet will be a sitting duck,” Morrow conveyed.

As both captains and their crews wrestled with the conundrum, Kirk strategized, “Couldn’t we somehow use the deflector dish to create a subspace containment field so they can’t fire their weapons? Then we can lock onto them with a tractor beam and drag them out of the system.”

The officers on both bridges looked back and forth at each other quizzically. Patterson shrugged and said, “Well, it must be a great idea, because no one has ever tried it before.”

“For his plan to work, it’ll take more than one ship . . . maybe three or four,” Wesley estimated.

“What Mister Kirk is suggesting is theoretically possible,” Spock reasoned.

“Then let’s get to it,” April commanded. “In less than three hours we’re supposed to warp out of here. If we don’t stick to schedule the hostile will initiate their plan.”

“We must find that ship without them knowing it,” Patterson reminded.

For the next two-plus hours, crews aboard the Enterprise, Republic, Farragut, and Sarratoga read scans and fed probabilities into the computers. With only minutes to spare they were ready to implement their plan.

April appeared on the screens of the ships involved. “Mister Spock believes he has detected the Hostile at athsmus one twenty-two, mark four.”

“How did he arrive at the conclusion?” Captain Garrovick of the Farragut probed.

Spock stood in front of the screen. “There is a plasma residue at the last known coordinates where the beacon emanated. I have discovered a similar plasma discharge of higher degree at the designation provided.”

Patterson gave his standard order to initiate the plan. “All right; let’s make this work.”

The flagship began by sending a farewell to all the ships and their honored guests on the open Comfleet channel. Stalling for time, each of the replies were wordy and flowery. The Sarratoga was closest to the supposed location of the cloaked ship and so they came about using maneuvering thrusters. The Farragut was furthest away and began to lurch forward at one-quarter, impulse speed so the hostile would be flanked. Once the others were in position, the Enterprise reversed their impulse engines and backed up in front of the hostile so they could take the lead as they left the solar system. Finally the Republic made an aggressive move toward the hostile’s stern to box them in.

As soon as they were all in place, they sent a massive power surge through their deflector dishes to neutralize the hostile within a protective bubble. Though they could not see their enemy, they could feel her tugging against their pull and knew she was in the trap. At sub-light speed they continued on until they were safely away from the system.

Using the universal translator Captain April sent the hostile a message; “Jettison your warp coil and prepare to be boarded . . . this is your only warning.”

All stared in amazement as a Suliban stealth cruiser became visible and jettisoned its warp coil.

Onboard the Republic, Patterson turned to his first officer. “Harry; take your away team over there and secure the bridge.”

“Aye, sir.” Morrow motioned to his regular compliment then turned to the captain with a questioning look. Patterson smiled and nodded. “Mister Kirk, you’re with me.” Kirk could not hide his exuberance as he rushed to join the away team.

“One thing more, Mister Kirk,” Patterson intoned. “On behalf of The United Federation of Planets, I salute you.” Patterson drew to attention, as did the bridge officers, and snapped off a crisp salute to Cadet Kirk, which he returned with fervor.

AS the Enterprise made her way to the Forty-Eridani system, to return the delegates from that sector, Spock dutifully logged the events of the past week. He was so absorbed that he did not hear the buzzer until his visitors rang a second time. “Enter.” Spock looked up and saw the captain and first officer.

“We wanted to thank you for all you did at Axanar,” April offered.

“I require no gratitude for my role in the events. I did what was necessary.”

“Well it’s our illogical custom to thank people who save our lives,” April explicated.

Spock cocked his head to the side. “I believe the appropriate response on Earth would be, ‘You are welcome.’ ”

“Very appropriate,” Pike told him.

April folded his hands behind his back. “I imagine you’re looking forward to returning to Vulcan to contemplate science and philosophy with other scholars; perhaps you will teach at the institute.”

“I have not fully weighed my options, so therefore my future is an unknown with many variables.”

“We would like to add another,” April hinted.

“We want you to serve aboard this ship as science officer,” Pike proffered. “If you’re up to it.”

“How does that strike you, Mister Spock?”

“I find the possibilities of service aboard a starship, fascinating.”

“Then it’s settled. Computer, recognize April, Robert, Captain . . . on my authority, Spock of Vulcan is forthwith promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, and assigned serial number S179276SP. Lieutenant Spock is hereby granted all privileges and responsibilities afforded that rank.”

“Working . . . Promotion of Spock of Vulcan, confirmed, Stardate: three-one-three-eight, point six.”

“Mister Pike will see to it that you become versed in Starfleet regs and protocol and you will enhance our knowledge of science.”

“An equally beneficial arrangement,” Pike surmised.

“Actually not, Commander. The ratio of what I need to learn about Starfleet compared to the scientific knowledge I can impart is approximately one thousand, seven hundred and thirty six point four to one.”

Pike stepped forward. “Then it will be my job to shave off a few points in our favor.”

Spock stood his ground. “Do you wish for me to calculate the odds of your success in that endeavor, sir?”

April chuckled, “You’ll grow to appreciate the Vulcan sense of humor, Chris . . . very droll.”

Pike was not amused. “Maybe it will grow on me.”

Spock shook his head fretfully. “Humor; an illogical expenditure of intelligence.”

“Mister Spock, you will report for duty on the bridge as soon as we leave Vulcan,” the captain allowed. “That way you will have time to wrap up your affairs.”

Spock stiffened. “I am ready to report for duty now, sir . . . I have no affairs to wrap up.”

“Very well, Lieutenant. I will expect you on the bridge in uniform at oh-eight hundred hours,” April orchestrated, as he and Pike left Spock’s quarters.

Spock sat there a moment actively trying to suppress two very different emotions— a feeling of elation at being a member of a starship crew and a feeling of dread knowing how disapproving his father would be of his decision. He cursed his human side then headed for ship’s stores to get a uniform so he could begin his trek through the stars as a Starfleet officer.

P I C A R D

Picard bolted up in his bed, awakening from one of those dreams where you felt as if you were dropped. Though he yearned to rollover and continue his slumber, Revile would sound in minutes, so he grudgingly began his day.

After reporting to first assembly, the cadets went to the mess hall for breakfast. Taking his usual spot, Picard joined his cronies and ordered his routine morning fare from the replicater. “Tea, Earl Grey-hot; one croissant with apple butter on the side.”

Zweller raised his cup of coffee. “To Jean-Luc Picard; the first cadet to turn down The Commandant’s appointment to Team Avenger.” The table applauded.

“Johnny-Johnny he’s our man if he can’t do it let it be damned!” Marti cheered.

“If I’m going to be up at four a.m., I’ll be in the company of a lovely lady,” Picard smugly assured.

“They’re all lovely ladies at four a.m., mon ami,” Cadet Bert Desoto quipped.

“Hey, Johnny, you want to blow this dump with me today?” Zweller ecstatically invited. “I’ve got a shuttle and a passport to Rigel-Two.”

“I thought you were restricted from shuttle duty after getting caught taking a Titan’s Turn around Saturn.”

“Yeah, well Walker Keel gave me the keys to his shuttle . . . he’s laying low for the weekend with this Amazon from Tarkana-Four, so I’m going to make the supply run for him on the Q.T.”

“How’d you get out of your classes?” Desoto interrogated.

“A little shell game ploy of mine, De, where I’m two places at once when I’m really long gone.”

“Well I’ll just stick with the tried and true . . . Computer, this is Cadet Picard, Jean Luc canceling classes this day due to illness.”

“Cadet Picard, Jean-Luc, report to sickbay for confirmation.”

“Acknowledged.” Picard washed down his last bite of croissant with his last swallow of tea. “Of course I’m far too indisposed by my illness to leave my lavatory . . . so are you ready to takeoff for some R&R?”

Zweller hopped out of his seat. “I can’t believe we’re still here.”

“Well it’s a good thing I’m not sitting here, or I’d be insulted that you forgot to invite me,” Marti pouted.

“This is strictly a two man operation,” Zweller insisted.

“Well, Marti, that leaves you and me for a little one on one this weekend,” Desoto figured.

“That doesn’t add up to a good time in my book,” Marti corrected.

Picard put his arm around Desoto’s shoulder. “Do you want to know what it takes to charm Marti out of her favors, mon ami?”

“More than anything,” Desoto eagerly admitted.

Picard looked at Marti and winked. “Well so do I.”

Marti fixed Picard with a mock look of seduction. “Oh you know what it takes . . . you’re just not willing to do it.”

Zweller and Picard headed for the exit and Marti moved to another table. Desoto called after her, “Well tell me what it takes; I’m willing to do anything.”

THEY were supposed to make the run and return directly, but they planned to suffer a nacelle problem that required a day to repair . . . maybe two. Aboard the shuttle Zweller and Picard mused about the good times they could conjure up on the freewheeling colony, whose economy divided the planet into a ruling class and a peasant class. While there, they would be treated like visiting royalty.

“I’m putting her on auto pilot and cruising all the way to the Rigel system,” Zweller plotted, as he reclined his chair.

Picard slouched down, closed his eyes and settled in. “Our dreams will be a letdown compared to the fantasies we’ll live.”

By the time they were in Orion’s belt, both men were snoozing at their station. Suddenly the craft was jolted and they groggily began to seek the cause. It took only a moment for them to realize that they had been struck by phaser fire.

“Port nacelle is out Johnny, plasma inducers are offline.”

“Attempting to redirect plasma flow through the junction.”

“It’s no good, the core is fried . . . the helm isn’t responding . . . we’re in a flat spin.”

The shuttle entered the outer reaches of the planet’s atmosphere. “Hull temperature rising to critical. We’ll burn up in ninety seconds!” Picard estimated. They were hit by a burst of energy that brought them to a dead stop and hurled them to the deck.

“They’ve got a tractor beam locked on us,” Zweller confirmed.

When the ship righted, they were hanging nose to nose with a Packled starcruiser. “Fluctuating shield harmonics; attempting to create a damping field.”

“It’s no use, Johnny; the tractor beam is holding . . . we’re being pulled inside.”

“I’m going to overload the reactor core and blow the impulse engines up as soon as we’re inside their ship.”

“Now wait a minute; I’m not ready to die today.”

“We cannot allow the ship to be taken, Zwell.”

“Relax . . . this isn’t a starship. I’ll dump the main computer core and it’ll just be an empty hull they can use as a paper weight.”

Picard dashed aft. “I’m going to break out the hand phasers.”

“And do what; shoot your way through a shipload of Packleds?”

“Well I’m not going down without a fight!”

“That’s exactly what you’re going to do . . . remember; I’m in command of this mission, so stand down, Mister Picard.”

“Then take command, damn it!”

Zweller coaxed the weapon from Picard’s hand. “Look all they want is the shuttlecraft; so don’t go off halfcocked and get us killed.”

They looked out the portal of the shuttle as they landed in the cargo bay and saw they were hopelessly outnumbered by, Packled soldiers with phasers at the ready.

“Humans! Come out! Leave vessel now . . . we will fire!”

Zweller sighed. “Let’s go.”

Picard bridled. “We can’t just surrender like this; we’ll be at their mercy!”

Zweller put a steadying hand on Picard’s shoulder. “I’m more worried about what’s going to happen to us when we get back to The Academy.”

“They’ll most likely want to know why we didn’t offer any resistance.”

“Surrender, humans; we attack you!”

“We’ve got a better chance of me talking our way out of here than you’ve got of blasting us out. C’mon; let’s use our heads and salvage the situation . . . when it’s all over we’ll have a helluva story for the gang back home.”

Picard tensed and reluctantly blew the hatch. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

The Packled soldiers cursed the human cadets as they stepped out of the shuttle with their hands in a position of surrender. “Poor boys, you long way from your mommies; soon you cry for breast milk,” the commander berated, to a chorus of raucous laughter.”

Zweller spoke up. “We’re Starfleet cadets on a routine training mission, sir.”

The Packled leader strode over to Zweller. “You are raiders; illegally mine our planet; steal ore from us . . . ship destroyed when resist us; no survivor.”

“We’re nowhere near your world, sir,” Zweller pointed out.”

“Soon be there . . . bridge, we go home now!” the commander ordered. “Take prisoners to cell.” The commander stood in front of the dazed cadets. “Now you spend life digging in mines.”

A group of guards with phasers raised, nudged the prisoners along. “You are in violation of The Treaty of Algerron; we demand to speak with a neutral Federation representative,” Zweller protested.

“The commander grabbed Zweller by his collar and slammed him against the wall. “Demand! You demand me?” The powerful commander sent a forearm bash to Zweller’s head, knocking him to the ground, while Picard was held at bay by the security force. “You jufdagk!” The commander kicked Zweller and stomped on his back with his boot. “Packled never sign treaty, sgeldob!”

As Zweller was dragged away, Picard faced the commander. “Sir, I respectfully request medical treatment for my comrade.”

The commander backhanded Picard across the mouth, drawing blood and loosening teeth. “No request!”

Picard reacted instinctively, and attacked the commander with a clothesline strike to the abdomen and a double tomahawk blow to the base of his skull. As the commander reeled, Picard launched into a flying kick at another soldier, but was struck down midway by a phaser blast to his chest.

THE next thing Picard knew, he was lying on a steel floor in a dark room. He pulled himself to his feet and stood on shaky legs. There was no window on the door and no sound outside. During the voyage he called out for Zweller, but received no answer.

After two days, the deck plates stopped rumbling, indicating the ship had arrived. In moments he was led out of the cell by a security team. When he reached the transporter room, he was relieved to see Zweller. “Corey, are you all right?”

“I’ll live . . . for now.”

“Silent, prisoners!”

Zweller and Picard exchanged terrified looks, just as they dematerialized. As soon as the transport was complete, they found themselves being mauled by a platoon of Packled peasants, who stripped the uniforms off their backs. Two of them pulled off their own grimy and tattered outfits to don the slightly rumpled Starfleet Academy jumpsuits; two others took off their worn sandals and slid on a pair of shiny boots. The warden kicked the discarded rags over to the shivering cadets. “Put clothes on . . . or work mines naked.” All around them the soldiers whistled and made disgusting remarks. Picard and Zweller forced themselves to cover their bodies with the infested garb.

“Humans: work hard; be silent. Break rule, be tortured.”

Once they were marched through the gates of the mining area, a plasma field was activated. The warden picked up a rock and threw it into the energy stream and it disintegrated. “Try escape; you die!” They shuffled along to the opening of a cave and were ordered down into the mines. Immediately the sounds of men toiling in the dank confines filled their ears, and a steady rain of mineral dust covered their bodies . . . the pungent odor nearly masked the stench of the clothing they wore. In moments they were hacking into the dense walls with handpicks and wheezing like full-fledged prisoners.

Still suffering from recently inflicted wounds, and feeling fatigued, they were not working to capacity and immediately fell into disfavor with the foreman. “Humans, dig; or torture!” To drive home his point, he stung them with a Klingon pain stick, which made them hasten their pace, measurably. They averted their eyes so the other wouldn’t see they were crying, but could not completely stifle their sobs.

Living in a world without day or night, the weeks wore on like an endless nightmare, as the cycle never varied. They worked sixteen hours and slept four hours. Three times a day they were given a cup of water; twice a day they were given a glob of protein, served in the palms of their filthy hands, which they ate as they continued working. There were no breaks, unless it was to relieve themselves into the pit . . . and then they had better be quick about it. Those who fell out and were unable to produce were carted off and summarily thrown into the plasma field.

Picard and Zweller stood shoulder to shoulder to increase their output, and slept back to back so they didn’t have to lay their heads in muck. They expelled air in code, to covertly communicate. Their situation was dire; escape was impossible. They had no hope that The Federation would ever rescue them. For all intents and purposes their lives were over.

Every time Picard thought of their capture, he was enraged at Zweller for ordering him not to fight back; dying in battle would have been preferable to the demise that awaited them—dying a little every day, going steadily insane and finally being fed to the force field, unless they dropped dead from the workload, as several did each day. After a month, Picard had only distant memories of the life he had known on Earth.

DURING a sleep break, Picard suddenly fell backwards, as Zweller was pulled away by a band of Packled soldiers. “Where are you taking him?”

The Packled soldier stuck a pain stick in Picard’s abdomen, causing him to scream in agony. “Your turn next, human.” The Packleds hurried away, as Zweller called out for Picard. In spite of the risk, he rushed at the squad of Packleds, only to be repelled by a phaser stun . . . by the time his senses returned, there was no sign of Zweller.

For the next two shifts, Picard worried about his friend. The more he feared the worst for Zweller, the more he resigned himself to his own bleak fate. His distraction cost him several prods with the pain stick. Though excruciating, he had developed a degree of immunity to the searing jabs, which allowed him the courage to be belligerent.

As he lay curled up on the ground, after another grueling shift, the guards kept their promise and returned for him. Picard asked after Zweller, as he was led away, and he was struck several times in response.

Stepping out of the cave for the first time in weeks, his eyes were assaulted by daggers of sunlight. The guards propelled him blindly forward into a wooded area and threw him to the ground. Nearby he heard the sound of someone groaning and rasping. Squinting, he looked around and saw Zweller pitifully sprawled out, severely beaten, cut and bloody. As the nature of the Packled’s assault on Zweller became evident to him, Picard became hysterical. Gathering himself, he rose on shaky legs, willing to fight to the death rather than be defiled by these men. The guards flanked him and scoffed at his feeble attempts to ward off their advances. Summoning strength from an unknown source, Picard fended them off, and managed to stay free of their grasp. But he knew that they would wear him down and overtake him before very long, so there was no time to run circles.

Realizing that he could not bear being ravaged as Zweller had, Picard instantly chose the only acceptable destiny left to him. With his last gasp, he turned tail and ran with desperation toward the blue hue of the deadly energy field, praying that he would not be stunned by a phaser blast before completing the final leg . . . all his training for the marathon gave him the stamina needed to press on beyond his fatigue.

With his appointed objective mere steps away, he was oddly perturbed that his death would validate his father’s argument that a career in Starfleet would lead him to ruin— now he would die wishing to be home tending the family vines.

Leaving no chance that he could be stopped, Picard leapt the final distance toward the screen, sorrowful that his death would come so swiftly he would not have time to feel his life ebb. He was engulfed in the warm flow of the beam; he saw a bright white light at the end of a long tunnel . . . and then it was over.

“Computer, end program!”

Picard was stunned that he was in tact and lying at the feet of Superintendent Bincour. Getting his bearings, he found himself in an empty cargo bay that had energy grids floor to ceiling. Rising unsteadily, he pleaded, “Sir, you’ve got to beam Cortin Zweller out of the camp; he is near death.”

Bincour’s nose curled at the reeking retch and calmly queried, “Why did you follow Cadet Zweller’s lead over your own instincts when you were under attack from the Packleds?”

“Because he was in command of the shuttlecraft, sir.”

Bincour took a rubber ball out of his pocket and absently bounced it on the floor a couple of times. “He was in possession of that craft against regulations; that hardly made him ranking officer.”

“We certainly did not deserve to be beaten and worked to within an inch of our lives for an infraction . . . those Packled soldiers took Zweller into the woods and . . .”

“If you had paid attention in Alieography class, you would’ve known to never surrender to the Packleds.” Bincour casually tossed the ball into the air a few times.

“This is no time for some pedantic dressing down, Bincour! Zweller is dying down there.”

Bincour assumed a commanding posture and circled Picard. “You gave up command so willingly, stood by so mutely.”

“I engaged several soldiers, including the commander of the ship that captured us; I backed down from no one . . . I even stood up for Zweller when they took him away and fought other soldiers to get free . . . I did everything I could do!”

“And yet there you were, only a moment away from disintegration.”

“If you were willing to beam me out of the camp, in spite of our crime, I implore you; do the same for Zweller.”

The Superintendent paused to fix Picard with a broad grin. “You were never beamed out of the camp, because you were never in the camp . . . you’ve been right here for the last forty-seven days, Cadet.”

“Are you daft? I was beamed into this dreary room for the first time only moments ago.”

“If you prefer, we can have this conversation in better surroundings.” They were hit by a transporter beam and arrived at The Academy on the quad as class was letting out.

Standing there in shredded clothes that exposed as much of him as it covered left Picard cringing. “Why are you humiliating me like this in front of my peers?”

“Why do you disgrace yourself and this academy with such unworthy deeds?”

Picard was mortified as his fellow students gathered to gawk, inquire and jeer. “Petty transgressions do not warrant this kind of degradation. Beam us out of here at once!”

“Very well then; we’ll try another setting.” They were hit by a transporter beam again. “Are you any more at your ease now? What is that saying your people use? . . . oh yes, ‘Home Sweet Home.’ Perhaps I should leave you here to lick your wounds.”

Picard took in the vast landscape of his ancestral home— after what he had endured the sweet smell of the vineyards was invigorating. “Why have you brought me here?”

“I thought you would be eager to have your father see you after such an ordeal. Maybe this time you’ll listen to him and stay here where you belong.”

“I have no interest in seeing my father; we can’t abandon Zweller like this.”

“Then let us fetch Cadet Zweller, as you wish.” This time they were not hit by a transporter beam; it was as if the scenery changed in a blink of an eye and they were suddenly in the woods outside the mine. There was Corey, lying on the ground, writhing; surrounded by Packleds. The soldiers immediately responded to their sudden presence by attacking, and Picard braced himself to battle them again.

“Come on, Bincour; fight!”

“Computer; freeze program!”

Picard was baffled when the Packleds were suspended in mid action. “What is this business?”

“You were chosen to be the subject of a top secret training project, using holographic simulations.”

“These . . . this is all some manipulation of energy to create matter? But how were we able to travel distances?”

“You weren’t. Using a Heisenberg Converter to transmute the matrix of the simulation, the program keeps you going in circles so you don’t hit the wall.”

“The wall; what wall?”

Bincour threw the ball toward the sky and it hit a barrier not ten meters away. “Computer; end program.” They were again . . . or still . . . in the black room with the gold grids.

“Where is Corey Zweller?”

“Actually, without your distracting influence, he’s knuckling down and improving his grades. It seems that your presence at The Academy is of benefit to no one.”

“So he knows nothing of these events.”

“He does not, and you are to tell no one of your experience here under pain of expulsion.”

“Just where should I tell them I’ve been for a month-and-a-half?”

“You can tell them that you are under strict orders from Starfleet Command not to discuss your activities.”

“I was beaten, stripped naked, prodded by pain sticks, and hit by multiple phaser blasts; I went through Hell!”

“But didn’t this all begin with an unauthorized trip, where you intended to imbibe and have relations with trollops?”

“So you were monitoring my activities . . . watching like some voyeur.”

“Along with Commandant Harriman, Doctor Dalen Quaice, medical; Doctor Elaine Raphael, psychology; Ensign Alynna Nechayev, tactical, and Tela Kwailisora, program director . . . plus around the clock shifts of techs from those departments to monitor your vitals, and document your actions.”

“This has been a violation of my most fundamental human rights!”

“You are the one that applied to Starfleet Academy; if you don’t appreciate the training, tender your resignation.”

“This is part of no training that I am aware of!”

“That’s because you have the distinction of being the guinea pig.”

“You targeted me for personal reasons!”

“Several departments wanted to run tests dealing with various aspects of mental and physical stress, as well as attitudes, response and adaptability; you were a one stop solution.”

“This was your way of playing a practical joke on me.”

“This was a way to pay you out for dishonoring this institution by turning down The Commandant’s appointment to Team Avenger.”

“I’ve been victimized; I’ve been injured and driven to kill myself . . . as far as I knew. Someone will answer for it!”

“You falsified a log entry and went A.W.O.L; offenses that merit disqualification from The Academy.”

“As you say, I’ve never left this cargo bay.”

“That’s why you’ll only receive demerits and restriction to quarters for the rest of the semester . . . you didn’t know you were on a holodeck and you broke the rules with malice of forethought.”

“I was manipulated and entrapped!”

“You were in a nightmare of your own making. All you had to do was tell Cadet Zweller that he should not operate a shuttlecraft without authorization, while he was suspended. You should not have joined him. But you lack the integrity to be a role model or set an example. Starfleet Academy is not a playground for errant scamps nor is it a stage for cheap theatrics.”

“I deserve to be treated with respect!”

“You can take anger or wisdom from this experience the choice is yours.”

“There is no wisdom to be gleaned from barbaric treatment!”

Bincour scowled with frustration. “Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing looking for good times, is a formula for disaster . . . the next time, I might not be here to end the program and you will be ruined.” Bincour walked toward the wall and called, “Arch.” A hatch appeared and a nurse entered, carrying a robe.

“Those clothes are made of pure energy,” the nurse informed, “so they’ll evaporate when you step outside this room.” After handing Picard the robe she retreated.

Bincour turned to leave, but Picard called after him. “There’s just one thing more, Mister Superintendent. A cadet cannot be brought up on insubordination charges for their thoughts, so I leave you with this.” Picard maniacally furrowed his brow and glowered intensely.

Bincour’s jaw tightened and his nostrils flared as he read Picard’s hateful telepathic missive. After a moment of reflection, Bincour judged, “Actually, I did worse to you than that.” Bincour left the furious cadet to stew in his own juices and find the humility to be grateful that he was still alive.

J A N E W A Y

“The parade grounds were draped for mourning, at first assembly. The cadets turned out in traditional dress uniforms to pay homage to their fallen brother officer, who had joined the honor roll of those who lost their life in service to their world. The pageantry was cathartic for the grieving loved ones, whose sorrow was commemorated by the stellar tributes. But when the pomp and circumstance ended and the crowd dispersed, they were left alone with their individual grief.

As Janeway stared across the quad at Doctor Crusher, she was not sure what she should do. Over the last few months she had grown personally close to Beverly and admired her professionally, but she did not know how to approach her in her time of grief. Beverly stood between Doctor Quaice and his wife, Patricia, surrounded by officers from the Stargazer. Though she did not know any of them she recognized Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the hero of Milika-Three, and Ensign Morgen, heir to the throne of the Daa’Vit Unity who left his world to join Starfleet. Standing out amid the group, were two identically statuesque women, a towering commander, a squat Gnalish, a young Pandrilite, and a broken down human who seemed dissipated by grief. Janeway felt that it was not her place to join them, so she kept a respectful distance.

Beverly was a striking figure in her widow’s weeds, somehow radiant in her vulnerability. Her strained countenance and rigid posture gave her a regal bearing. Though her noble carriage was dignified the undertones of her devastation was apparent to all who beheld her. The dark sunglasses she wore and the rumpled handkerchief in her hands were visible signs of her bereavement; the way she intermittently grasped the arm of Doctor Quaice and involuntarily quivered, revealed that she was teetering on the brink of devastation.

By the time Janeway had heard about the death of Lieutenant Commander Jack Crusher, Beverly and her son had already left for Starbase Thirty-Two with Doctor Quaice, where the badly damaged Stargazer had pulled into dock with the mangled remains of their tactical officer lying in state in a photon torpedo casing. Captain Picard was not just Jack Crusher’s commanding officer he was his best friend as well so his sense of grief was second only to Beverly’s. However Picard would carry the additional burden of guilt for the difficult decision of ordering his friend to his death in the performance of their duties. No matter how many courses dealt with this scenario at The Academy, nothing could prepare a person for the eventuality.

All the months Beverly had spent preparing for Jack’s return to Earth and the plans she made for their lifetime together had come to a horrific end. Only weeks ago, she had helped Beverly prepare a birthday party for Wesley, who turned five years old. They decided on a cowboy theme and everyone came in costume to the holodeck where an old west town had been programmed as a backdrop for the festivities. The thought of seeing those happy children at play celebrating the birth of the exceptional little boy was a stark contrast to the sound of the somber dirge of the bagpipes played to commemorate the death of an effervescent young man who only days before had his whole life ahead of him.

Janeway selfishly turned away from the scene, as she was struck by the needless death of her dad, under less than heroic circumstances. At the time, she had accepted the news with equanimity and dutifully showed up for all the services that honored him, as it was her lot to fill the role of proud eldest daughter. She had learned more about him in death from his compatriots than she had known about him in life. She had been a silent pillar at the memorial, accepting condolences from those who were close to him, but it gave her no comfort. They seemed to have more personal stories of time spent with him than she did and it made her jealous.

Her mother played the part of grieving widow admirably and basked in the attention she received. As seldom as they had been together, she wondered how her parents ever found time to have two children. While her little sister, Phoebe, was excited by their mother’s shuttle-hopping Gypsy lifestyle, traveling to galactic resorts throughout the quadrant, Kate thrived in the grounded existence of her life on her grandfather’s spread. Yet somehow she knew early on that her future was in the heavens and not in the hills.

Despite their distance, she had always been a daddy’s girl at heart. They were kindred spirits and no matter how far apart they were she always felt connected to him in some profound way. They shared an adventurous nature and a passion for concise comprehension. Now she was embarking on the adventure and she would be the one too busy focusing on her career to make allowances for family or a personal life.

Coming to The Academy brought her closer to her father, and gave her a fuller understanding of the demands of a Starfleet officer, but not being able to share her experiences with him, even via subspace transmissions, underscored the finality of his death. No matter how long she searched the cosmos she would never see him again.

However, she had yet to shed more than a passing tear for her dad. She felt a sense of loss at odd times, like when a particular song played, or the breeze came off the ocean in a certain way, or when an item of mutual interest caught her eye, or when she ate Welsh rabbit, but some inner mechanism kept her tears from flowing over for the man she loved and looked up to all her life, even when she was angry that he was always away on some mission.

Janeway aimlessly drifted away, without destination, and soon found herself walking along the lonely causeway. As she contemplated the balladic occasion, she became completely unaware of her surroundings.

“In Starfleet you learn to treat people as if it will be the last time you see them, because of the nature of the business.”

Janeway was startled by the sudden appearance of Boothby walking along next to her. “I was actually hoping to run into you today.”

Boothby handed her a vibrant red rose. “I don’t see why; I have no greater insights about life and death than the next person.”

“You’ve obviously experienced the death of people close to you many times in your life.”

“I choose to remember the lives they lived more than the deaths they endured.”

“Do you believe in God and Heaven and immortal souls, Boothby?”

“My beliefs are my own and always expanding . . . I’m only certain that they are still among us in their own way.”

“For a wise man, you don’t have a lot of answers.”

“Life and death are unfolding mysteries that will remain unknown to all in this life,” Boothby prophesied. “Yet each of us carries a portion of the knowledge. That is what draws us together past our prejudices, beyond our beliefs and across the expanse of the galaxy.”

“Thanks for the illumination.”

“You are still searching for answers to find meaning; instead, you must seek questions to gain understanding.”

“I know the question . . . I’m searching for the answer.”

“Then you need to ask another question.”

“I’ve asked all the questions, and I still don’t know the answer.”

“Until you are ready to honestly face your feelings about your father’s death the answer will remain hidden.”

“What are you talking about? I know exactly how I feel about my dad’s death.”

“I’m sure you do, but you refuse to deal with it, yet . . . until you do, it is best that you stay clear of Doctor Crusher, while she comes to terms with Mister Crusher’s demise.”

“I don’t want to turn my back on her; she needs friends to help her bear this burden.”

“You can provide no solace for her while you continue to deal dishonestly with your own sorrow.”

“My dad is dead; I loved him and I miss him; that is the truth.”

“That is partly the truth, which is the same as a lie by omission.”

“What makes you think you are more in touch with my feelings about my dad than I am?”

“Because what you are feeling is not unique; everyone that experiences the death of a loved one they respected feels the way you do . . . Doctor Crusher is feeling it as well.”

“Jack Crusher died so that others would survive; there’s nothing more heroic and nothing more tragic,” Janeway eulogized. “I’m certain Beverly feels proud of her husband.”

“She thinks she is proud of her husband, she is expected to be proud of her husband, because he made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his ship and crew, but she feels angry and let down.”

Janeway was indignant. “How can you say such a cruel thing?”

“Her husband’s inability to make it home alive has torn her life apart. He is dead and she is left behind to pick up the pieces of their broken dreams all alone.”

“She will have to persevere, but you make it sound like she’s blames Jack for dying.”

“Of course she does. He has been laid to rest with honors and she will live on ingloriously maudlin and besieged with guilt over every action she takes in every facet of her life.”

“Jack hasn’t been dead a week; aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself; shouldn’t we address her problems in the here and now?”

“My dear Cadet Janeway, her ordeal began the minute she got the news,” Boothby related. “Her laughter has been tainted; her ability to fall in love has been impeded. These changes are irrevocable and it is all because Jack Crusher went and got himself killed.”

“It’s a little soon for her to be laughing and dating.”

“That’s the point; she doesn’t have the freedom to fall in love at first sight or enjoy a festive evening out with friends or take a pleasure cruise, because she has been imprisoned by the specter of her dead husband,” Boothby delved. “Soon her grief will become depression and she will grow angry when she thinks of him, which will only foster more feelings of resentment and distance her further from the genuine love she had in her heart for him while he was alive.”

“That love doesn’t end when someone dies,” Janeway defended. “I still love my dad very much.”

“Be that as it may, a great portion of her sorrow would be alleviated if she could look Jack Crusher in the eye right now and tell him how selfish she thinks he is for dying on her like this when she needs him the most.” Boothby paused a moment then pontificated, “No doubt you would say many of those same things to your father if it weren’t already too late.”

“Is that what you think; do you think I’m angry at my dad for dying?” Janeway asked, rhetorically. “Well that shows you how much insight you have. I’m not angry at him for dying; I’m angry at him for the way he lived!”

“How he lived is how he died . . . dozens of light years away from you on some remote planet in a distant star system.”

“I’m a big girl now; I don’t need my daddy to hold my hand to help me along anymore.”

“You’re never so grown that you don’t need your parents,” Boothby attested. “And now just when he could offer you crucial guidance and relevant advice, as you take your first steps into adulthood and launch your career, he slips and falls into the icy lavender waters of the Irrigolic Ocean on Tau Ceti Prime— carried off along the currents crying out for help until he disappeared beneath the polar ice caps, never to be seen again.”

Janeway was stung by Boothby’s harsh imagery and her knees nearly buckled. “Why are you saying these vicious things?”

“Because someone must say them . . . it’s a right of death passage,” Boothby established. “Someone had to say them to me, when my father passed away.”

“I’m surprised your father’s not still alive.”

“Oh he died a grisly death many moons ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“So was I; especially while he was still living.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well he got what they called T.B. —tuberculosis . . . it was quite a scourge in its day.”

“I’ve read about many different plagues throughout recorded time and I know how horrible they can be.”

“Well, as bad as it was on him, it was worse on us.” Boothby shuddered at the centuries old remembrance. “Seeing your father wasting away, vomiting blood, fouling the sheets thrice daily was more than I could bear.”

“He was the one that had to bear the disease not you.”

“Well fortunately he put us out of his misery and died early one morn before the rooster crowed, but the stigma of his death continued to hover over us,” Boothby recounted. “In those days most widows became lonely spinsters; in a farming community, without a strong man to work the fields we suffered the indignities of abject poverty. No matter how long and hard we worked, we still had to go begging for our very survival . . . all because my father got T.B.”

“Well I’m sure he didn’t want to get the disease and die before his time.”

“It didn’t matter what he wanted; he was dead and buried, while we were living a miserable existence because he wasn’t around to take care of his family like he was supposed to,” Boothby vilified. “Most of the other kids had fathers that managed to live, some of them even got T.B. and survived, but not my old man; he lost his battle with the disease and up and died on us . . . but not before becoming a helpless retch that was a useless shell of a man.”

“That’s a terrible way to remember your father.”

“Well he done a terrible thing to us,” Boothby charged. “Because of him my mother ended up in an early grave, from working herself to death . . . but not before she got too sick to get out of bed and had to be taken care of around the clock. Since I was all she had, the repulsive chore fell to me.”

Janeway was appalled. “How inconvenient her sickness must have been for you,”

“You bet it was! I was a young man with my own life to lead,” Boothby proclaimed. “I had better things to do than wash out those fetid sheets and clean her festering bed sores.”

“My God!” Janeway exclaimed. “Didn’t you love your parents?”

“Of course I did, and I still do, but that didn’t change the way I felt about them being sick and dying throughout most of my youth.”

“So just how did their lingering deaths make you feel?”

“Not much different than you feel about your father or the way Doctor Crusher feels about her husband: resentful, embarrassed, diminished,” Boothby itemized.

Janeway was incredulous. “Do you hear the venomous words spewing out of your mouth?”

Rather than responding, Boothby continued his musings. “On the surface it would seem that between you and Doctor Crusher, you would bear the greater feeling of shame. After all, her husband died in the line of duty and your dad died while casting a line for mukalian tozels. But actually shame has no degrees.”

“What kind of a monster are you?”

“The worst kind; a human,” Boothby identified. “A human that knows only to well the inner workings of inhumanity.”

Janeway threw the rose to the ground so hard it exploded. “I’m not ashamed of my dad, you bastard! He was a great man!”

“We only appear to honor the dead, but in reality the ceremonies are a smug testimonial to the superiority of the survivors,” Boothby judged. “We feel sorry for the poor slob that lost their life, so we offer pity to the loved ones in the name of compassion, but in actuality we are elevating ourselves to the winner’s circle by consoling the losers.”

“Some people are capable of feeling empathy for others; apparently you’re not one of them.”

“And yet when you saw the sympathetic Doctor Crusher awash in her grief the empathy you experienced was for your own sorrow and not hers.”

“How do you know that?”

“It is written allover your face.”

“I care about her very much, and Wesley too; I’ll do anything I can for them.”

“You cannot offer them a thing so long as their grief leaves you grappling with the truth about your own grief,” Boothby asserted. “You must confess your feelings to put your sorrow in perspective, so your experience can be of value to others and bring you inner peace.”

“And you think that my sorrow for my dad’s death comes from my shame at how he died.”

“Your sorrow comes from your love for him, but you cannot feel that love because when you think of him you are racked with guilt at feeling shame . . . it is perfectly natural,” Boothby assessed.

“Maybe it is for someone like you, who has no heart and probably no soul.”

“When you saw Beverly Crusher you felt her shame at being widowed and you tucked tail and ran to hide from your feelings, but there is nowhere to hide from an emotion . . . not even for Vulcans.”

“She was with her husband’s shipmates and captain; those are her friends too, so I didn’t want to intrude . . . that’s why I left.”

“Yes her friends are all alive and well and her poor hubby has shuffled off the mortal coil. He was not successful; he didn’t make it; he lost his life, and they are here to offer her a shoulder to cry on.”

“That’s what friends do in times like this.”

“Friendship is based on honesty; right now they are all living a lie, so they cannot offer friendship,” Boothby dissected. “All they can do is offer her hollow sympathy and empty pity because she knows that they are glad that they survived even if it cost Mister Crusher his life. Meanwhile, she can hardly express her true feelings to any of them; she can’t say aloud that she wished it had been one of them who died instead of her husband. She can’t scream at Captain Picard, ‘Why did you send Jack, you so-and-so?’ No matter how much she wants to.”

“Do you really think she feels that way about those people?”

“Right now being around them is a special kind of Hell for her that there is no way out of, because she feels constrained to be with them as a matter of propriety . . . she could really use a friend, before she has to suffer those morose ‘remember when’ tales, which only serves as life affirmation for the living and a conformation of death for her mate.”

“Well she has Wesley; they can comfort each other.”

“Oh being with him will be the most difficult for her, as long as she is unable to put her anger toward Jack in perspective. She will mistakenly build him up as some larger than life figure in their son’s eyes in an attempt to disguise her true feelings of incoherent rage . . . it may even make her unknowingly emotionally withdraw from her son for her own mental preservation.

“So you think she needs to be told that it’s all right for her to feel ashamed that Jack died and to wish death on others if it meant he lived?”

“Without a doubt.”

“But is it my place to be the one to say these things to her?”

“Only if you are ready to admit to being ashamed of your father for dying; only if you can admit that you wish one of his buddies had at least risked their life to jump in and save him rather than standing on the shore; only if you can admit that you wish one of them slipped into the water and died instead of your father.” Boothby gently cajoled, “Are you ready to open up to your feelings?”

A mask came over Janeway’s face as she pondered her thoughts and feelings. Suddenly she tasted salty tears on her lips as she began to speak from her heart. “He was supposed to come back for me, so I could go with him on that fishing trip, but instead he went off with his cronies and left me behind.” Janeway’s face grew dark as she recalled being stood up. “I had planned on taking that trip for months; I wanted to see him so bad . . . I was so damn mad at him for breaking another promise, but I was madder at myself for believing that this time would be any different. There was always something that came up; always something more important than me.”

Janeway’s tears increased and Boothby handed her a handkerchief. “And he died before you got a chance to tell him how hurt you were by his actions.”

“In life and death he left me bobbing in his wake.” Janeway’s body grew taut. “He goes and gets his fool self killed by being careless; they didn’t want to be disturbed on their little expedition, so they left their combadges back in the camp.” She gasped and sputtered before she could continue. “If I was there, I’d have damn sure had my combadge on. He could’ve been beamed out of the ocean and it would’ve been just another tall fishing tale to share at the pub.”

“I am quite certain he died thinking of the people he loved the most.”

“Well he should’ve thought of us more while he was living,” Janeway shot back. “Then at the memorial I have to listen to everyone tell me what a great guy he was and what a resourceful officer he was and all the time I’m thinking about him being sucked down the straits by a riptide, because he was incompetent!”

“So you had to suppress your feelings on those occasions.”

“Of course I did. It was my duty to be sad, but I was actually mad as hell,” Janeway sobbed.

“Why didn’t you tell someone how you felt?”

“Who was I going to tell that I was angry with him for dying on me before I could look him in the eye and tell him off? How could I say that his death was an embarrassment to me? All anyone wanted to do was go on about his accomplishments and his devotion to duty.” Janeway’s fury focused her. “No one wanted to hear my stories about the kind of dad he really was. They wanted to talk about him like he was a ten-foot marble statue.”

“Would all your stories have been about his shortcomings and his failings?”

“Those were the only stories I was thinking of that day,” Janeway revealed.

“And now?”

“Now?” Janeway searched inside of herself to discover her state of mind. “Now I just want to forgive him.”

“Forgive him for how he lived or forgive him for how he died?”

“You’re the one that said it was the same, so I guess I just want to forgive him.”

“For your benefit or his?”

“For both of us . . . I’m loathe to use such and outdated term, but it’s time for closure.”

“It is an outdated term, because philosophically we’ve come to realize that there is never closure when it comes to lost loved ones since the relationship never ends. Your father lives on in the feelings you have for him.”

Janeway chuckled in spite of herself and sniffed up her tears. “Then he is doomed.”

“To condemn him would be to condemn yourself; so much of him is inside of you.”

Janeway bit her lip. “And despite all the praise her husband is receiving for his gallantry, you’re telling me that Beverly is feeling shame and anger too?”

“We are elevated in death by the quality of our lives, but it does nothing to assuage the humiliation of dying . . . not for the survivors or the departed.” Boothby took her by the shoulders so he could stare into her shimmering hazel eyes. “Death is the great leveler; it reduces all of us to our lowest common emotional denominator. For the greatest heroes and the worst villains; the brave and the cowardly; the stricken or the aged, it is all the same; whether we stand up to death or trip over it, we all die pathetically; we all will eventually lie there as a moribund object of pity while life goes on without us.”

“How can I possibly tell Beverly these things?”

“She already knows it,” Boothby promised. “By speaking to her about the way you felt after your father was killed, it will allow her to be as open as she needs to be about her feelings.”

“I hope that will be enough to help her.”

“It will be a Godsend.”

Janeway saw Boothby in a different light. “I guess it will be at that.” She wiped her eyes and offered Boothby back his hanky.

“Oh no, you are not nearly through with that yet . . . and when you are, you will then fold it up and put it away, because it has become a touchstone for you.”

Just then the breeze shifted and she had a vivid remembrance of a lazy afternoon she and her dad had spent alone, fishing the waters in the Gulf of Mexico on her tenth birthday. He spoke of the distant worlds he had visited and told stories of his adventures in the stars. It was then that she knew she shared his dream and would one day join him out there on the final frontier . . . maybe even serving onboard the same ship.

As she allowed herself to feel unconditional love for her dad, the burden she carried lifted and became a standard she would bear. She felt elated as she remembered him without recriminations. “Boothby, I . . .” Looking around she suddenly noticed people where there had seemingly been none before, but there was no sign of Boothby. At her feet she looked at the rose she had thrown down and was astonished to see that it was in tact and lovelier than ever.

After collecting herself and picking up the rose, Janeway moved purposefully across the parade grounds and found Beverly with the group right where they had been when she left, as if time had stood still. Without hesitation she respectfully approached them. “Excuse me, please, but I would like to speak with Doctor Crusher privately . . . if that’s all right with you, Beverly.”

Beverly’s demeanor did not change, but Janeway sensed she was relieved to breakaway from the group. “Of course, Kate . . . please excuse me.” The group bowed respectfully and cleared a path, as Janeway took Crusher by the arm and led her away. Both of them would have much to say and many tears to shed before the sun rose again.

Picard stood by stolidly as the women departed. He looked at the members of his crew, but knew there was nothing more to be said. What was done could never be undone and that was the end of it. Of course those were rationales, formulated by his training and experience. In his heart he wanted to weep like a schoolgirl, but could not allow himself to succumb to that level of undignified emotional abandon, even when it concerned the death of his dearest friend; even when he was racked with guilt for his part in that death.

Sensing something, Picard turned around and saw Boothby across the compound standing by his familiar prized oak tree. As they stared at each other it was as if the impervious force was facing the implacable object . . . something had to give.

In a moment Picard melted and heeded the wordless summons from The Academy’s resident sage, hopeful his words of wisdom would quell the anguish that ravaged his being.

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