Star Trek: Excelsior - Episode 1: Phoenix, Part I
Written by James E. Harris and Kerry Scott Chestnut II
Star Trek Excelsior created by James E Harris
Reprinted here courtesy The Excelsior Campaign
Original Characters created by:
James E Harris
Kerry Scott Chestnut II
Technical Consultant: Adrian Jones
Star Trek Created by Gene Roddenberry
Star Trek is a Registered Trademark of Paramount Pictures, Inc.
December 31, 2300
Captain Hikaru Sulu gazed at the gentle curve of Planet Earth. Despite the skeletal framework surrounding her, the Excelsiorís observation deck provided a brilliant view of the Earth in darkness Ė the lights of North Americaís major cities which millions of humans called "home." In a few minutes, Starfleetís orbital pyrotechnics would begin, and this view would be at least as impressive as the one from Starbase One. The show would also be quite visible from the ground Ė with brilliant fireballs streaking through the atmosphere like a brightly colored meteor shower.
Sulu noticed Pavel Chekov had moved to stand beside him. Behind him, he could hear Janice Rand and Uhura discussing a recent Academy lecture on broad-spectrum subspace pulse communication. Sulu glanced sideways at the small marble table with eight champagne glasses and a bottle of 2271 Dom Perignon.
"Theyíll be here, Sulu. Donít worry," Chekov said, reading Suluís expression.
As if on cue, the comm panel near Sulu beeped. Before he could reach it, Rand had already crossed the room and activated it, instinctively.
A womanís voice answered, "Commander, Starbase One has a couple of guests asking to transport aboard."
"Beam them directly here! Rand out," she responded triumphantly. She turned and gave Sulu a meaningful look.
"Youíre the Operations officer now," Sulu observed dryly, "You donít have to answer the phone anymore."
Rand batted her eyelashes innocently. "Whatís a phone?"
Before Sulu could respond, two pillars of light appeared in the center of the room, coalescing into familiar forms.
"I still say thatís a damn fool way to travel!" Leonard McCoy started towards Sulu, hand outstretched, but stopped short when he heard his companion clear his throat loudly.
"Permission to come aboard, Captain," said the second visitor.
"Spock, weíre already aboard!"
Spock merely lifted an eyebrow.
Sulu suppressed a laugh, and tried to match Spockís serious expression. "Permission granted, Ambassador." He turned to McCoy with a broad smile. "Welcome aboard, Doctor."
One by one, each of them greeted the newest arrivals - shaking hands with, or even embracing McCoy, and nodding politely to Spock.
"You two almost didnít make it in time," Uhura pointed out.
"Well, somebody ran into the new Klingon Ambassador over at Starbase One, and had to pick a fight, tying us up until we didnít have time for a shuttle."
"Doctor, I did not Ďpick a fight.í I merely asked the Ambassador his opinion on normalization of relations with the Romulan Empire. We engaged in a dialogue on the subject."
"Spock, he threw his drink at you!"
"Hardly, Doctor, the Ambassador was simply expressing his opinion. By pouring his blood-wine on the floor, he was evoking the Klingon adage which, roughly translated, means ĎDrink not with thine enemy.í"
McCoy started to reply, but Chekov cut him off.
"Speaking of wine, perhaps we should pour the champagne, so we can toast the new century at midnight?"
"A capital idea, Captain," Sulu said as he removed the foil wrap from the bottle.
"Captain?" McCoyís eyes narrowed as he peered at Chekov.
"Well," Chekov replied sheepishly, "It wonít be official for a few days yet, butÖ I take command of the USS Phoenix when she sets sail a week from now."
Chekovís last word was punctuated by the sound of the cork popping. Everyone began speaking at once.
"Why, you little RussianÖ"
"A well deserved promotion, Mr. ChekovÖ"
"Thatís just great, ChekovÖ"
Sulu poured the champagne and gave each person a glass, leaving two glasses conspicuously empty. "Weíre getting close Ė just over a minute and a half now."
McCoy shook his head. "First, Uhuraís an Ambassador--"
"Technically, Doctor, Iím a junior member of the Ambassadorial Staff Ė thanks to Mr. Spock and his father." Uhura chimed in.
Spock inclined his head graciously. "The achievement is yours alone, Ambassador. My father and I merely assisted--"
"Whatever," continued McCoy, "Now, Chekov Ė the kid who used to drive us crazy with tales of how everything ever made was invented in Leningrad -- is a captain." His voice softened for a moment. "My God, Jim and Scotty should be here to see this."
The former shipmates stared out at the stars for a moment, remembering their lost friends.
Rand broke the silence, "Almost time. Everybody get ready!" She ushered everyone into a rough semicircle facing the observation lounge windows.
"Someone needs to make the toast," Uhura pointed out. "Captain Chekov, perhaps?"
Chekov shook his head. "Itís Suluís ship. He should make the toast."
"Well, somebody better make it," exclaimed McCoy as he checked his chronometer, "Fifteen seconds."
Sulu nodded. "What shall we toast?"
"The 24th Century?" suggested Rand.
"How Ďbout the passing 23rd Century," offered McCoy.
Sulu watched the faint trails of the modified photon torpedoes as they rushed away from Starbase One. He raised his glass.
"To Absent Friends."
Six glasses touched as brilliant spots of color flared across the sky.
Captainís Log, Stardate 11211.5
It has been nearly three weeks since the Excelsior left spacedock, and I am happy to report that the shipís systems are functioning well. We are patrolling a rather innocuous section of space near Beta Quadrant while completing our shakedown cruise.
So far, we have had remarkably few problems with the new computer or warp drive, and these replicators are an absolute delight. Not everything is rosy, however. My new crew, though competent in the extreme, has not meshed together quite as well as the Excelsiorís systems. As a result, I have decided to give my new first officer a rather unenviable assignmentÖ
Sulu looked up from his PADD at Kaneís arrival. As the Ready Room doors hissed closed behind him, Commander Kane assumed a not-quite-at-ease stance with his hands clasped behind his back. Sulu observed him silently for a beat before gesturing to the chairs in front of his desk. "Take a seat, Commander."
With a nod and a "Sir," Kane was across the room and not quite relaxing in a chair. Sulu smiled, willing the younger man to let go of his tension.
"Commander, I assume youíve read the latest crew reports."
Another nod. "Yes, sir."
Sulu tried another smile. "And how do you think the crew is adjusting, overall?"
Kaneís forehead wrinkled slightly as he considered the question. "Sir, most of the reports indicate that the new crew members are acclimating to their responsibilities more quickly than anticipated. The section heads all report satisfaction."
Sulu leaned back in his own chair. "True, but I noticed something missing from the reports." Kaneís expression did not change, and he showed no signs of allowing his back to touch the chair anytime soon. Sulu tried a third smile. "Commander, are you uncomfortable?"
Kaneís eyes narrowed slightly. "No, sir."
"Really?" Sulu held both his smile and the commanderís eyes until Kane finally cracked a half-smile of his own. One corner of his mouth kept a wry twist as Kane visibly relaxed enough to rest his back against the chair.
"Thatís better." Keeping a genial tone, Sulu continued. "I require honesty from my First Officer. Even when the truth is uncomfortable."
"Yes, sir. I understand." The smile faded, though the too-brisk tone of voice did not return. Well, itís a start at least, thought Sulu as Kane went on. "You mentioned something missing from the reportsÖ"
"Yes. Each section head describes the professional progress made by their new teams, but not one comments on any personal aspect of the team makeup. The reports mention no conflicts, no instant rapports, no personalities of any kind." He smiled again. "Now, I donít recall staffing my ship with an android crew, and Iím certain Iíve passed a personality or two in the corridors. So my question is, why arenít there personalities in the crew reports?"
"Sir, is that so unusual? Shouldnít the reports focus on the crewís professional performance?"
Not afraid to challenge me. Good. "Of course. But, for all of Excelsiorís size, starship duty is still close-quarters work. Personality clashes are inevitable. Every crew has them. They can have a very real effect on performance, and senior officers especially need to be aware of potential strengths and weaknesses in their teams. According to these reports, weíre already one big, happy family." He sat up straight, resting his elbows on the arms of his chair. "Now, I believe we both know of certain areas aboard ship that are far from being happy. Why are there no indications that these situations are being dealt with? Barring that, why isnít anyone asking for help or advice? The fact that none of these reports even mentions anything along these lines tells me we have bigger problems."
Kane looked thoughtful. "In awareness, or in communication?"
Sulu smiled again. "Excellent question! I believe both are involved. Awareness will be addressed. Communication is a more delicate matter." Kane frowned, but said nothing. "Iíve been Captain of this ship for a while now. Some of the senior staff have been here as long, and we know each other quite well. New people dropped into that kind of environment sometimes donít trust that their ideas will be welcome." He leaned forward with one elbow on the desk. "And sometimes, theyíre correct." With a shrug, he continued, "Both sides, both crews, old and new, need to be willing to adjust." Kane nodded agreement. "Someone has to see that both sides try to work together." Kane nodded again. "And by Ďsomeone,í Commander, I mean you."
Kane blinked. Twice. "Sir?"
Sulu held up a hand, palm outward. "No one wants to fight in front of the Captain, Commander. I personally know of several potential conflicts, but I also know that people with problems will go to you before they come to me."
Kane had leaned forward to speak, but stopped. Slowly, he nodded, though he didnít seem particularly pleased. His eyes were fixed on the desk between them.
"That being said, I wonít be abandoning you in this, Commander. We are going to start taking a personal hand in these matters, particularly among the senior officers. If the shipís officers are dealing with these issues and working together, the rest of the crew will follow."
Kane looked up again, meeting Suluís eyes. He nodded, more positively this time. "Agreed, Captain."
From the quiet of the turbolift, Kane stepped into a combat zone. In every direction, Engineering crew members were attending to klaxons and flashing lights. Three techs, running at full speed, barely avoided colliding with him. Keeping his eyes and ears open, he began walking in the direction of the warp core.
"Öso, theoretically, you should have been able to squeeze out another point-three-four percent in the efficiency rating!" Recognizing the voice, Kane stopped and stood as tall as he was able, looking over the heads of the engineers and techs around him.
From behind a console to his right, Hamiltonís head appeared. "Commander Kane! Over here."
Kane dodged two more techs to get to Hamilton, and leaned over the console. Hamilton was sitting cross-legged on the floor, next to a figure lying on its back. The other body consisted of a torso and a pair of legs, the rest being buried inside the console. Kane took note of Hamiltonís flushed complexion and smiled. "So, Lieutenant, why is the shipís Science Officer sitting under an Engineering console?"
"I was showing Commander Assaad an alternate flow patternÖ"
"He is learning the fine art of asking permission before he tampers with my equipment," interrupted a voice from the prone, headless figure. An arm appeared, pushing against the console to bring the rest of Commander Raed Assaad into view. Sitting up, the Chief Engineer began examining the tools scattered on the floor around him. Hamilton, abashed, grabbed one and offered it to Assaad, but Assaad ignored him and reached for another. "Mr. Hamilton had anotherÖ suggestionÖ but neglected to ask before implementing it. I discovered it as we were running a core breach drill." Assaadís voice was even, sounding only mildly irritated. Nevertheless, Hamilton looked like a first-year cadet being scolded in front of the class.
"I see." Kane couldnít help but smile at Hamiltonís guilty expression. "Did it work?"
"We didnít get a chance to see," protested Hamilton.
"I will review it later, when I am not so busy," Assaad said over his shoulder as he worked with both hands inside the console. "For now, I need this equipment to function as expected for training."
Donít laugh, Kane told himself, no matter what, donít laugh.
"Sir," Hamilton said, getting to his feet, "was there something you wanted?"
"Actually, the Captain would like to see you in his Ready Room." Kane leaned over the console once more. "Commander, heíd like to see you when this shift is over."
Assaad nodded without looking up. "Understood, Commander."
As the turbolift began its climb, Kane turned to Hamilton. "I have to know. Why would you alter Engineering equipment without consulting the Chief Engineer?"
"I tried to, Commander!" Away from the evidence of his guilt, Hamilton reverted to the exuberant young man Kane was beginning to know. "I tried to explain my theory three times last week, but he never seemed interested. I thought I could get his attentionÖ" Quiet again, Hamilton looked away.
Young, Kane thought. He could see that the Lt. Commander took professional rejection very personally. "You have to understand, this is Commander Assaadís ship as much as it is the Captainís."
"All engineers act that way."
"Granted." Hamilton looked at him again. "But in Assaadís case, itís really true." Hamiltonís eyebrows rose with the question. In a conspiratorial tone, Kane went on. "Part of the First Officerís job is to review every crew memberís personnel file, so I know quite a bit about all of you. As it happens, Assaad was part of the original Excelsior design team."
"The original team, sir?"
"From the very start. And heís been assigned to Excelsior ever since. Heís personally designed and overseen all the refits. No one knows this ship and her systems the way he does."
Hamilton whistled softly. "I guess not."
Kane leaned in close and whispered, "I heard that he once settled a bet by letting himself be blindfolded and transported to a random location in the ship. They beamed him inside one of the saucer section Jeffries tubes." He paused for dramatic effect. "Without removing the blindfold, he found his way back to Engineering."
Hamilton thought for a moment. "That sounds impressive, but all you have to do is find your way to a turbolift, really."
Shaking his head, Kane replied, "He never left the Jeffries tubes."
Kane watched Hamiltonís eyes lose their focus. He was already familiar enough with the young Science Officerís habits to recognize the signs of deep concentration. Feeling the turbolift slow its ascent, Kane turned to the control panel display, leaving Hamilton to consider the long, blind trip though the Excelsior. Among the cramped crawlspaces and kilometer-long ladders that made up the Jeffries tube system, even experienced engineers occasionally became disoriented. Among the more sadistic engineering crews, it was considered a rite of passage for new techs to be assigned "tube duty" until they became so turned around they were forced to exit the tubes and ask someone where they were. Turning back from the display, Kane could see that Hamilton had not moved. The turbolift halted at Deck 6 as Hamilton, all but oblivious to his surroundings, turned his blank expression in Kaneís general direction. Over the hiss of the opening doors, Kane heard the impressed officer exclaim, "Wow, CommanderÖ"
"Why, thank you, Lieutenant!" Commander Janice Rand smiled sweetly from the corridor. Hamiltonís head snapped toward the doors at the interruption, his eyes suddenly focusing on the figure in front of him. It had been years, at least, since Kane had seen anyone embarrassed to the point of being speechless. Hamiltonís choked stammering almost broke Kaneís resolve not to laugh. Kane looked at Rand, but her surreptitious wink did nothing to help his composure. Trying not to chuckle, he looked down the corridor, away from them both.
His urge to laugh was immediately forgotten. A short distance away, crew members were pausing outside a particular door, and hurrying away. Kane listened, and could hear muffled shouting over Hamiltonís still-unsuccessful attempts to use understandable language. He saw Commander Rand notice the change in his expression and turn toward the sounds herself. Together, the two of them ran the few yards to the door, leaving a distressed Hamilton in the turbolift.
The door opened, and Kane and Rand found themselves in a Sickbay under siege. Unlike in Engineering, Sickbayís alarm klaxons were silent, but the decibel level was comparable.
"Önever seen anyone behave so unprofessionally!" screamed an angry red-haired woman.
"And you are certain you would recognize professional behavior if you saw it?" came the loud retort from a Vulcan male. Kane took a step forward as Rand turned around and jabbed her finger at the panel next to the door. From the corner of his eye, Kane saw the Sickbay door close mere centimeters from the nose of the suddenly appearing, and just as suddenly disappearing, Hamilton.
Turning his attention back to the vocal pair in Sickbay, Kane snapped, "Doctors!" His voice did not carry shock effect he had hoped for, but at least the two were staring at him in lieu of continuing to yell at one another. Rand was again beside him, with her arms folded. He continued, in a colder tone. "I sincerely hope neither of you would try to pass this off as professional behavior." He turned toward the female. "Dr. Pearson, as Chief Medical Officer, you get to go first. What seems to be the problem?"
"I think you just cleared up the problem, Commander! Since I am the CMO, my decisions about Sickbay equipment are final!"
"Equipment? It is not medical equipment; it is décor! Are you the shipís Chief Artist as well?"
"Well, Iím certainly more qualified than some, Niívar! At least I know the difference between a blue period and a blue canvas!"
"If that were true, we would not be having this argument!"
Kane drew a breath to interrupt again, but stopped when he glanced at Rand. With her arms still folded, Commander Janice Rand was literally shaking with barely contained laughter. Realizing that Kane had seen her, she looked up and squared her shoulders, but the smile remained. Leaning close enough for Kane to hear her over the renewed arguing, she whispered "If you donít mind, Commander?"
He sighed. "All yours."
Rand stepped forward, raising her hands. Loud enough to be heard by all present, she called "Children!" and punctuated the word with three loud claps. Pearson and Niívar once again fell silent. "This is a community playground. You two are going to have to work on playing well with others." Still smiling, she walked past them to the far wall and stopped in front of a large blue disk on the wall. Turning on her heel to face the group, she continued. "I assume that this," she said, pointing her thumb over her shoulder, "is the source of contention once more." Pearson and Niívar both opened their mouths, but Rand waved a hand dismissively. "Yes, yes, I think weíre all familiar with the drill by now, Doctors. Let me see." She walked casually over to Pearson and said, "You want the painting removed. You feel that you should not have to tolerate something you do not like in YOUR Sickbay. As CMO, you have a point." Pearson remained silent, but smiled triumphantly in Niívarís direction. Walking to Niívar, she said "You, on the other hand, brought the painting. You feel that this is also YOUR Sickbay and that she should accept this. As Shipís Psychiatrist and co-occupant of this Sickbay, you also have a point."
She turned and walked back to the painting, clasping her hands behind her back. The sweetness in her voice developed an edge. "Let me explain MY viewpoint. As the Operations officer, I am responsible for making sure all departments are operating smoothly. Medical is not running smoothly if the crew is afraid to set foot in the door." She turned to face Pearson and Niívar again. "So, the next time I hear of a disturbance like this, I will solve the problem for you." The edge grew sharper. To Niívar, she said, "I will remove the painting." To Pearson, she added, "And I will replace it with a tank of Bolian screamer fish. Iím sure Ensign Jarot can acquire a supply, and their occasional 120-decibel songs shouldnít be much louder than the two of you."
Her smile brightened. The edge in her voice disappeared, and Rand began walking toward the door. "Of course, since you are both respected medical professionals, Iím certain you will be able to work this out, quietly, among yourselves." As she passed Kane, she tipped her head, "Commander," and touched the door panel.
In the hiss of the door opening, Hamilton became visible again. Kane could see that the already bemused expression on the young manís face only became worse when he saw Rand, again, on the other side of an opening door. Rand spoke first. "Why, Mr. Hamilton! Have you been waiting here to escort me to the bridge? How sweet!" She reached out and took the stuttering Science Officer by the arm. Kane could just hear her voice as she led Hamilton down the corridor, "Cute, and a gentleman too! Arenít you just darling?" Turning back to the still silent Pearson and Niívar, Kane nodded, "Doctors," and started after Rand and Hamilton.
Sulu realized that he had just read the same line of the warp engine efficiency report for the fourth time. Annoyed, he tossed the PADD back onto his desk. Patrolling the same empty area of space was beginning to weigh heavily on his soul. He was anxious to get back to work Ė real work.
As if on cue, the com panel on his desk bleeped. Sulu, grateful for the distraction, touched the flashing red light. "Sulu here."
"Ensign Jarot here, Captain. Thereís something peculiar, sir. I have Starfleet Command on a secure frequency Ė ĎEyes Only.í" Jarot said, suspicion filling his voice.
"And why, exactly, is that peculiar, Ensign?"
"Well, sir, itís not listed as an ĎOfficial Communiqué.í"
Sulu sighed. He briefly considered lecturing Jarot on Human privacy concerns, but thought better of it. "Just pipe it in here, Ensign."
Sulu thought he detected a moment of hesitation before Jarot replied. "Aye, sir."
The image of Admiral Bob Wesley appeared on Suluís terminal. "Hikaru, what was the delay all about Ė catch you napping?"
Sulu smiled. "Actually, you just raised the suspicions of my Bolian communications officer."
"You want to check and see if heís got his ear to the door?"
"Donít worry Ė I keep it electrified Ė for just this kind of occasion," Sulu deadpanned.
Wesley laughed. "I always thought you were a little too strict."
"At least I donít keep them chained to their stations anymore," Sulu countered.
"Must be getting soft in your old age. Howís Janice?"
"Doing well. I think sheís really enjoying the new job." Suluís smile faded. "Bob, you didnít call me on a secure channel just to catch up Ė did you? Youíre trying to ease into something."
"Guilty as charged." Wesley sighed, and for a moment his age began to show in the lines on his face. "Weíve lost contact with Captain Chekov and the Phoenix."
Sulu took a moment to digest this information. "What was their last reported position?"
Wesley frowned. "I was afraid youíd ask that."
Sulu leaned forward, fixing his gaze on the image of older manís face. "You knew when you called me Iíd go after him."
Wesleyís voice became stern. "Sulu, I donít like the idea of having a missing officerís best friend spearhead a search for him. Youíre too emotionally involved, and that," Wesley said, jabbing his index finger forward, "makes your judgment suspect."
Sulu sensed an exception coming. "ButÖ"
Wesley sighed and settled back in his chair. "Iíve dispatched other ships, but after her recent refit, Excelsior is the most advanced ship we have in that region of space. At maximum warp, youíll beat the nearest ship there by 26 hours." Wesley poked at something off the screen. "Iím sending the coordinates over the data channel now."
Sulu glanced down at the data scrolling across the bottom of his screen. The coordinates surprised him. "What was the Phoenix doing that close to the Romulan Neutral Zone?"
"That," Wesley admitted, "Is so classified that I donít even know." Reading Suluís expression, he added quietly, "Iím working on it. Iíll let you know what I can as soon as I can. In the meantime, be careful Hikaru. Itís dangerous out there."
"Thanks, Admiral. Sulu out."
Sulu burst onto the bridge, moving swiftly to his command chair. "Sound Yellow Alert. Call Senior Officers to the bridge." He practically leapt into his chair. "Ensign Somba, Iíve fed new coordinates into the navigational computer. Plot a course."
Somba looked up sharply. "Sir, this takes us very near -"
"Iím well aware of that, Mister. Lay in your course." As Sombaís fingers began flying across her console, Sulu turned to the helmsman. "Mr. NíDra, engage that course at maximum warp."
On the viewscreen, Sulu could see the stars slide sideways as the Excelsior turned. Suddenly, the image distorted and then reformed into the familiar scene of stars rushing at him. The Excelsior was at high warp.
The change in velocity provoked the expected response. Assaadís heavily accented com voice echoed across the bridge. "Assaad to Bridge."
Sulu touched the communications control on the arm of his chair. "Sulu here."
"Captain, these new engines havenít been tested at this speed."
"Consider this a field test, Commander," Sulu replied curtly.
There was a distinct pause a the other end before Assaadís answer came Ė almost as a sigh, "Aye, sir."
The Turbolift doors opened, and Rand, Hamilton, and Kane stepped onto the bridge. Kane and Rand moved to stand beside Sulu as Hamilton took his station.
Kane spoke first, "Captain, whatís happening?"
"Weíre going to find a missing friend, Commander."
"Sir?" Rand searched Suluís expressionless face.
Sulu turned his head slightly in her direction. "Itís the Phoenix."
Randís face fell as the meaning of the Captainís words registered. "Oh, my godÖ"
Suluís expression softened slightly, and he lowered his voice. "Stations, please."
The two commanders stepped quickly to their console at the rear of the bridge and focused on their displays.
Sulu stared intently at the viewscreen, as if willing the ship to move faster. For a moment, he remembered a toast on New Yearís Eve that seemed like a lifetime ago.
To absent friendsÖ
"Iím coming, Pavel," he whispered. "Iím on my way..."
Commander Spencer Kane marveled at how excitement at the earlier flurry of activity had given way to the boredom of a standard Starfleet spiral-search pattern. The Captain had returned to his ready room, much to the relief of many of the younger officers. By now, everyone on the ship knew that they were looking for the Captainís best friend Ė and Suluís determination was legendary. Having him on the bridge, constantly requesting status reports had made the tension in the air unbearable.
Kaneís backup at tactical had taken his place, leaving Kane free to wander about the bridge. He found himself standing over Hamiltonís shoulder. The young science officer seemed glued to his scanners.
"Anything to report, Mr. Hamilton?"
Hamilton jerked slightly, clearly startled. "Sorry, Commander, didnít notice you standing there."
"I get that a lot. Didnít mean to startle you. Anything out of the ordinary?" Kane asked, hopefully.
Hamilton nearly sighed. "No sir, nothing to report. Itís the most thoroughly predictable area of space Iíve seen yet."
"Any sign of cloaked Romulan ships on the other side of the neutral zone?"
Hamilton looked puzzled. "No, sir, but, if they were cloaked, there really wouldnít be any signsÖ if you take my meaning."
Kane searched for a hint of sarcasm in the younger manís face, but found none. He smiled sheepishly, "Sorry Ė dumb question. Iíll get out of your hair. Continue your scan."
"Aye, sir." As if nothing had happened, Hamilton was once more instantly absorbed in his work.
Kane strolled casually back to the tactical and ops consoles at the rear of the bridge. He tried to look as nonchalant as possible while studying the readouts. Rand eyed him curiously.
In a low voice, she addressed him, "Itís really quite comfortable, Sir."
He shook his head, not sure if heíd heard her correctly. "Commander?"
She leaned closer to him. "I said itís comfortable." She pointed at the captainís chair, a slight smile tugging at her mouth. "The big, padded chair in the middle of the room." Her eyes sparkled with suppressed humor. "You should try it," she added.
He gave her a wry smile. "Trying to tell me something?"
She responded with a wide-eyed, innocent stare. "Who, me?"
"Acknowledged, Commander." He turned and strode towards the command chair. Something about it made him hesitate for a moment. He lowered himself into it gently, as if wanting to avoid disturbing the cushions.
Something about sitting in this chair didnít feel right. This was not his first stint as a first officer, but the center chair had always seemed so imposing Ė especially this chair. He couldnít quite put his finger on the cause. For some reason, sitting here made him feel like an unwelcome houseguest, and he couldnít shake the sensation.
A moment later, when Kane heard Suluís boots coming up the corridor from the ready-room, he sprang from the chair as if it were electrified. "Captain on the bridge," he said a little too loudly.
"As you were, Commander," Sulu said. "Lieutenant NíDra, please come with me."
The Andorian rose from her seat and nodded to another officer, who quickly took her place. As she followed Sulu from the bridge, Kane settled back down into the command chair, acutely aware of Randís amused gaze behind him.
"What the--?" Hamilton exclaimed.
Kane looked over his right shoulder to see the science officer giving his console a curious stare. "Whatís the problem, Mr. Hamilton?"
"Itís the new sensor array, sir. I think we just hit our first malfunction," Hamilton replied, annoyed.
"Explain." Kane spun the chair around to face the science station.
"Well, sir, it just went into an auto-recalibration mode. Itís OK, though. Iíve been using the old array as a backup system Ė thatís still working fine." Hamilton was glaring at his console as if it had personally betrayed him.
"The problem," Rand observed, stepping around her console to face Hamilton, "Is that the navigational systems are tied into the primary sensor array. If they have a problem at an inopportune timeÖ"
"I see." Kane thought about it for a second. "Any problem with temporarily re-routing the navigational systems to the backup sensors?"
Hamilton and Rand exchanged glances and shrugged. "Shouldnít be a problem," Hamilton offered.
Rand nodded her agreement.
"Do it, then," Kane ordered, "At least until you can repair the primary array." He turned back towards the viewscreen, and wondered why the ship had to wait until he was in charge to start screwing up.
Walking toward his desk, Sulu turned to invite Lt. NíDra to take a seat. It took him a moment to process the fact that she was not beside him. Turning around, he found her standing at attention just inside the Ready Room doors. "Please, Lieutenant," he said, indicating the guest chairs. NíDra nodded once and seated herself in the nearest chair. Sulu lowered himself into his own seat with a vague sense of unease. Focus, Hikaru. Folding his hands on the desk, he tried to push thoughts of toasts and old friends from his mind. He looked up. "So Lieutenant, how do you like the Excelsior?"
NíDra tipped her head slightly forward. "This is a fine vessel, Captain. Do you have a specific question?" In typical Andorian fashion, she spoke with a brusque tone. Sulu forced himself to stay relaxed, though he felt his defenses rising.
"I just wondered what you thought of the ship," he leaned back in his chair, "as one pilot to another." Sulu held the smile, trying not to notice that it wasnít returned.
NíDra stared at him with an intensity that smacked of rudeness. "I am aware of your record as a helmsman, Captain, but I am both trained and experienced as a pilot. There is no reason for you to question my abilities. I have piloted Excelsior well, and will continue to do so."
Sulu blinked. He felt his smile drop, and decided it was better left down. Leaning forward over the desk, he laced his fingers together. "No one is questioning your abilities, Lieutenant. I merely asked your opinion of the ship."
NíDra remained still for a moment. "As I said, a fine vessel."
Sulu held her eyes for another beat before leaning back into his chair again. "I know of your training and experience, Lieutenant, or you wouldnít be at the helm of my ship. You show exceptional ability, and I have no complaints about your performance aboard my ship." NíDra nodded once. "Your record aboard the Defiant was nearly spotlessÖ"
"You are referring toÖ"
"Mister," Sulu did not move, but he lowered his voice slightly. "Donít interrupt your Captain. Itís considered rude."
"As is questioning someone about an incident you do not understand..." She paused for a small moment. "Ö Captain."
Sulu rocked forward again, slowly and deliberately. Feeling his rising temper go suddenly cold, he realized he was in real danger of losing his composure. He drew in and released a long breath. To his own surprise, he managed a smile. It was a little cool, but it would have to do. "You know, Lieutenant, some people use questions as a means of increasing understanding." He held her eyes. Another moment passed before he continued. "I have read the reports on the incident near Beta XII-A, and I have some small acquaintance with starship tactics. I have only two things to say about the incident. First," he held up an index finger, "as a pilot, let me say that was one of the gutsiest moves Iíve ever heard of." NíDra looked up quickly, obviously surprised. Sulu allowed himself a small amount of satisfaction in that. He raised a second finger. "Second, as your Captain, if you ever pull a stunt like that with my ship, youíd better have absolutely no other options. And believe me, Lieutenant, Iíll know."
NíDra stared at him momentarily. Sulu stared back, unable to read her expression. Finally, in that same brisk tone, she answered, "Understood, Captain." Sulu examined her eyes carefully for some clue as to her feelings on the matter, but could see none. It was disturbing to be unable to read someone, particularly a member of his own crew. Between his own nagging distractions and the tension already in the air, Sulu decided to cut his losses and try again later. Iíll give you the benefit of the doubt, he decided, but youíll have to forgive me if Iím not exactly comfortable with it.
NíDra strode back to the helm, displacing the officer seated there with a cursory "You are relieved." Reclaiming her seat, she confirmed their course and speed before the Navigation officer spoke.
"Is the Captain in a mood?" NíDra turned and saw that Ensign Somba was facing NíDra as she spoke. Coincidence, she thought.
"I am not acquainted with the Captainís moods."
Somba glanced down at her console, made a small adjustment, and looked back before replying. "It doesnít look as though the conversation was pleasant."
"It was not."
"Is something wrong?" NíDra glanced at Somba again, and found that the Ensign had again turned to face her as she had spoken. NíDra leaned toward Somba slightly.
"Have you known many Andorians?"
Somba thought for a moment. "Are all of you blue?"
"Then I donít think so. Why?"
"You look at me directly when you speak. Many humanoids do not."
Somba paused for thought again. "I suppose not. I just noticed that you do it, so I thought it was only polite to do the same. Was I wrong?"
"No, my people consider it customary. Most humanoids do not notice. You are quite observant."
Somba smiled. "Thank you." NíDra nodded once toward her, slowly. Somba went on, "So, is something wrong between you and the Captain?"
NíDra considered the question. "He questioned my judgment."
Somba opened her mouth, and then closed it. She faced forward, and NíDra heard a step behind her. Turning her head slightly, she saw Commander Rand crossing the bridge in front of the Helm and Navigation stations. Once the Commander had passed, Somba faced NíDra once more. "You can tell me about it later."
Stepping up onto the bridgeís raised platform, Rand looked around. Seeing Hamilton seated at the Science station, she smiled to herself and walked over. The young Science Officer was sitting with his elbows propped up on his console and his chin resting on his interlocked fingers. He was staring blankly at the screen as she approached.
Hamilton raised his eyes to her when she reached him. "Iím sorry, Commander. Did you say something?"
Rand smiled. "Before, I was worthy of a ĎWow.í Now, I canít even get your attention?" She winked. "A lady might be offended, Mister Hamilton." Seeing his eyes widen and his body go tense, Rand decided to let the young man off the hook. "Relax, Lieutenant. Whatís got you so distracted?"
"Lots of things." He played one hand over the instrument panel before meeting her eyes again. "Commander, may I ask you a question?"
"Certainly, though I may not answer." She let him stare wordlessly for a moment before winking again. "Whatís on your mind?"
"In Sickbay, beforeÖ when I was outsideÖ was that Dr. Niívar yelling?"
Rand nodded. "Half of it. The rest was Dr. Pearson."
"He really sounded angry."
"Iím sure they both were, but not as much as it seemed. Theyíre just having some difficulty adjusting, and they were trying to feel each other out."
"But," Hamilton lowered his voice to a whisper, "isnít Dr. Niívar aVulcan?"
"Oh." Rand nodded again, understanding his question this time. "Actually, heís only half-Vulcan. Heís also half-Romulan."
She waited for a reaction as Hamilton stared at her. After a moment, his eyes narrowed and he leaned closer. "Youíre kidding."
"Actually, no. He really is. And, he was raised on Earth. Ask him; itís a long story, but heís really quite open about it. He doesnít suppress his emotions the way most Vulcans do."
Hamilton paused, and shook his head slightly. "It was strange, hearing him yell like that."
Rand patted him on the arm. "Wait until you see him smile. Heís really very nice, but every once in a while your brain will stumble over the image of a Vulcan smiling at you. Heís pretty open about the whole thing, though. Personally, I think he enjoys the reaction."
"Dr. Pearson didnít seem to stumble over him yelling at her."
"True, but Maggieís a special case." Hamilton waited, so she went on. "Iíve known her for a while, now. Sheís a terrific doctor, but she loves to argue. Sheíll fight with anything that speaks, Vulcan or not." She leaned over him, speaking even more softly. "And she loves to terrify innocent young officers, so watch yourself."
"You seemed to handle her pretty easily."
"Ah, but Iím neither innocent nor young. Besides, I know her weakness." She paused and looked over one shoulder, and then the other. "You didnít hear this from me, understand?" Hamilton nodded, wide-eyed, as Rand leaned within centimeters of his face. "Sheís afraid of fish."
Hamilton frowned. "Afraid of fish?"
Rand cocked her head to the side and squinted slightly. "Well, not so much Ďafraidí as Ďintensely uncomfortable around.í She hates them. It has something to do with her childhood. You could ask her about it," she straightened up, folding her arms across her chest, "but I wouldnít advise it."
"So your threat about the Bolian screamer fish wasnít just a joke?"
"Well, letís just say it got my point across, and thatís whatís important. Maggie and Niívar are going to have disagreements, but we canít have them screaming at one another over every little thing. WeÖ"
"Commander," Hamilton broke in, "why do you smile whenever you mention them arguing?"
Rand stopped and thought, realizing that she was, indeed, smiling. She reflected on the sounds of a Human and a Vulcan bickering in Sickbay, and chuckled. "Never you mind, Mister Hamilton. Innocent young officers should be careful about asking too many questions. Youíd be better off making sure those navigational sensors are ready before the Captain gets back."
"There," Hamilton said, closing the science console, "Thatís got it."
Sulu, stepping onto the bridge, heard him. "Got what, Mr. Hamilton?"
"A minor problem with the sensors, Captain," Hamilton explained, "Nothing to worry about."
Kane abandoned the captainís chair as Sulu moved towards him. "Glad to hear it," Sulu said. To Kane, he asked, "Status report?"
"Nothing so far, sir. Not so much as a freighter on our short-range scanners. The Saratoga reports she is still 20 hours away, and the Hornet wonít be here for another 18."
"Whatever happened to active patrolling of the Neutral Zone?" Sulu asked no one in particular.
"I guess the net has a few holes," Kane observed.
"No kidding." Sulu sat down in his chair, gaze fixed on the screen and muttered, "Where are you, Chekov?"
Ensign Jarot straightened abruptly in his chair, cupping his hand over his earpiece. "Captain, weíre receiving a distress signal from the Grabtharís Hammer. Itís a Tellarite freighter, sir."
On the viewscreen, the image of a large humanoid with porcine features appeared. Sulu could barely hear him over the emergency klaxon in the background.
The Tellarite bellowed, "This is Captain Thakon of the Freighter Grabtharís Hammer! We require assistance immediately!"
"This is Captain Hikaru Sulu of the Federation Starship Excelsior. Please state the nature of your emergency."
"We have lost our warp drive, and canít make repairs without assistance!" The Tellarite captain was practically screaming now.
Sulu carefully modulated his voice in an effort to calm the freighter captain. "Captain, while I can certainly see how that is an inconvenience, we are on an urgent search-and-rescue mission--"
The Thakon practically exploded. "Weíre at the mercy of pirates! We need help now, or weíll lose our cargo Ė and maybe our lives!"
"Captain," Rand interjected, "their ship is near some unaligned border planets Ė which have been known to harbor pirates. They might be in real danger."
"Of course weíre in danger! Just 3 months ago, I lost my cargo AND my third officer two light-years from here!"
Sulu turned to Somba. "At maximum warp, how long?"
Somba checked her navigational computer. "5 hours, 34 minutes, Captain."
Sulu accepted the information without comment. He paused only briefly before turning his attention back to the Tellarite. "Captain, weíre on our way. Sulu out."
The Tellariteís image faded, and the stars resumed their leisurely pace. Sulu stood and turned to face Kane. "Commander, take us there at maximum warp. Tell Engineering I want as much speed as they can push out of those engines."
"Aye, sir," replied Kane. "Will you be in your ready room, Captain?"
A dark expression crossed Suluís face. "No Ė Iíll be in the gym." With that, he left.
Rand crossed the bridge to the communications station. "Ensign, call down to Deck 9, section 4. Tell anyone who happens to be in the martial arts hall that theyíd better put on their pads Ė or hit the showers."
Kane addressed the rest of the bridge crew. "Alright, folks. You heard the Captain. Letís go!"
Just as the Excelsior began to turn, Hamilton slammed his fist into the science console and swore.
"Problem, Mr. Hamilton?" Kane asked.
Hamiltonís mouth was pressed into a hard line. He lifted the panel of his console and said through gritted teeth, "The stupid sensors just went back into recalibration mode again!"
"I thought youíd fixed that."
Hamilton grimaced. "So did I!"
Kane settled into the command chair. "Just be glad it waited until the Captain left," he said grimly.
On the viewscreen, the stars were once again rushing at the Excelsior.
First Officerís Log, Stardate 11212.4
We have arrived at the location of the Tellarite Freighter, Grabtharís Hammer. Captain Sulu has given me strict orders to get the required repairs done quickly. I have therefore assigned our Chief Engineer and our Science Officer to personally oversee the work. Based on the Tellaritesí description of the problem, I anticipate a quick turnaround.
Kane looked up from his log entry to find Janice Rand standing over his shoulder. "Yes, Commander?"
"Poor Raed," she said, a mischievous gleam in her eye, "You sent him over there with Hamilton deliberately."
Kane suppressed an evil grin. "Theyíre the two most qualified propulsion experts on the ship. I was only following orders. Besides," he added earnestly, "The engines here are fine, and Hamiltonís sensor problem seems to have resolved itself."
"Uh-huh," Rand replied, unconvinced.
"Command decision. You told me I should try out the chair." Kane lowered his voice, becoming serious for a moment. "Youíve known the Captain for a long time. Have you ever seen him like this?"
"Once," Rand admitted, "When the Enterprise got into trouble over Khitomer." She paused, recalling the adventure. "I remember our helmsman saying something like ĎSheíll fly apart!í and Sulu just barked, ĎFly her apart, then!í He doesnít take Ďnoí as an answer easily."
Kane smiled at the thought, but his smile faded. "I just hope we donít have to tell him we canít find his friend."
Rand nodded soberly. "Chekov is like a brother to Sulu." She thought about it for a moment, and then added, "No. Heís closer than a brother. Theyíve been through everything together Ė practically raised Demora together. I donít know how heíd handle losing another member of the family."
"What do you mean?"
"Since Sulu left the Enterprise to take this ship, heís lost Captain Kirk and Scotty." Rand searched for words to explain. "Youíve got to understand what it was like. These people were together for the better part of three decades. They depended on each other, saved each otherís lives Ė and the galaxy, for that matter Ė countless times. All of us who were involved feel a bond Ė something we canít really explainÖ"
"And Chekov was closest to the Captain," Kane finished.
"Yeah Ė exactly."
Kane pondered this for a moment. "Ensign Jarot, signal the away team. Tell them they have exactly half an hour to complete their repairs."
"But sir," Jarot began.
"Just do it, Ensign." To Randís questioning look he said, "Iím not gonna be the one to let him down."
Rand smiled. "I think that chairís really growing on you."
The doors to the Tellarite Engineering room slid opened, and the porcine-faced engineering officer ushered them brusquely into the cramped room. Pointing to the vertically oriented, glowing cylinder that was quite obviously the warp core, the Tellarite engineer announced, "That is the warp core."
"I gathered as much," Assaad replied.
"It isnít working," the engineer added.
Assaad blinked. "So Iíve heard."
The Tellarite nodded, apparently satisfied with Assaadís reaction. "Very well, I will leave you to it." He turned to leave.
"Excuse me," Assaad asked incredulously, "But youíre just going to leave us here?"
The engineer stopped. "Yes," he said simply.
"But this is your engine room," Hamilton protested.
The Tellarite shrugged. "My shift is over." With that, he turned and left.
Assaad and Hamilton stared at each other for a moment, neither quite comprehending what had just happened.
"I guess thatís that, then," Assaad reasoned.
"I guess so," Hamilton agreed.
The two men began examining the equipment. Hamilton withdrew his tricorder and began scanning the warp core. Assaad began examining the controls.
"It might help," Hamilton decided, "If we could read the language."
"I can read it Ė enough for this."
Hamilton looked surprised. "You can?"
Assaad shrugged. "Believe it or not, some Tellarites are really quite amazing engineers. Some of the best papers on warp field theory are written in their tongue."
"Why not just read the translated version?"
"Sometimes the computer translations are too inexact. I find it helps to review the original, so Iíve picked up a decent working technical knowledge of about a dozen languages."
Hamilton looked suitably impressed. "Wow, that must come in handy."
"From time to time," Assaad admitted. He frowned at the console in front of him. "Antimatter and matter injectors appear fine, and the reaction chamber is active, but thereís insufficient energizing of the plasma stream to the warp coils."
"Should I check the dilithium crystal alignment?"
Assaad smiled. "I think even that guy could have found something that obvious." Seeing Hamiltonís wounded look, he quickly added, "Besides, the display shows the alignment is well within tolerances."
"HmmmÖ Some sort of parasitic drain on the warp plasma?"
"My thoughts, exactly," said Assaad. "But where?"
Both men turned back to their examination.
Assaadís communicator beeped. Flipping it open, he said, "Assaad here."
"Commander," it was Jarotís voice, "Commander Kane says he gives you 30 minutes to finish up."
Assaad saw Hamiltonís head spin around at that.
"Acknowledged," Assaad said simply, and closed the channel.
"But--" Hamilton began.
"No point arguing," Assaad said reasonably. "Besides, the captain probably would have given us 15."
"Whatís up with the Captain, anyway?"
"Heís the Captain." Assaad touched some controls. "Thatís what they do. Howís that?"
"No change in power levels," Hamilton replied. "Captain Sulu seems a bit impulsive, to me."
Assaad smiled. "You should have known Captain Styles."
"He was Captain during the Transwarp experiment, right?"
Assaad frowned slightly. "Yes, he was." He adjusted a different set of controls. "Any change?"
"Nope. Nothing. You donít like talking about the Transwarp thing, do you?"
"Would you?" Assaad asked.
Hamilton turned around at that. "Actually, Iíd love to. I studied the problem at the Academy. It always seemed to me that--"
"No offense, Lieutenant," Asaad interrupted, "but people have been studying this problem for decades, and nobody has come close to finding a solution. Nevertheless, everyone feels it essential to share their thoughts with me on the subject. None of them are any more convincing now than they were back then."
Hamiltonís brow furrowed. "But I thought the whole thing was based on some of your--"
Assaad cut him off. "It was based on an Academy thesis I wrote. I discovered some questionable assumptions in my own thesis midway through Excelsiorís construction. Captain Styles buried my report, and brought in some more engineers. I quickly found myself a rather junior member of my own Ďexperiment.í"
"No, I donít think you do." He rubbed his eyes wearily. "When the Excelsiorís test runs Ė mercifully delayed by Captain Scott - failed, as I feared they would, I got most of the blame. Starfleet built an entire starship because my theories predicted that the power requirements and the hull stresses of Transwarp were beyond the capabilities of any existing ship or shuttle designs. Somebody had to be blamed."
"But Captain Styles--"
"Was a politician who had his eyes set on the Admiralty." Raed snorted. "The best part was, when the work on Transwarp led to the new warp engine designs, my name was little more than a tiny footnote in a paper published by others."
"That isnít fair," Hamilton said earnestly.
"No, it isnít." Assaad suddenly straightened. "But, I may owe you an apology, Mr. Hamilton."
"Your initial assumption may have been right, after all. The dilithium crystal could be very much out of alignment, because I do not believe this detection circuitry is functioning properly."
"You mean the crystal went out of alignment at the same time the sensor failed? That seems weird."
"Or, perhaps," Assaad replied, "The sensors failed some time ago, and nobody noticed. At any rate, we should have this working again in no time."
"No brilliant Tellarite engineers in this case, I guess."
"No," Assaad agreed, "Definitely not."
"Sir, the away team is aboard," Jarot announced.
"Acknowledged," Kane replied. "Call the Captain to the bridge. Helm, take us back to our previous position at maximum warp."
Jarot spun around in his chair. "Sir, Captain Thakon is requesting that we escort his ship until they are confident-"
"Request denied," Kane snapped. "Tell Captain Thakon that we have urgent business to attend to."
Jarot turned back to his console, replying to the freighter. After a moment, he spun back around. "Sir, the freighter captain wishes to speak with Captain Sulu directly-"
"Tell him Captain Sulu is otherwise engaged."
As Suluís turbolift arrived, he heard Kane saying, "Captain Sulu is otherwise engaged."
"I am?" he stepped off of the turbolift onto the bridge.
Kane climbed out of the command chair and explained, "The Tellarite freighter would like a body-guard."
"Not likely," Sulu snorted. He fell heavily into his command chair.
"So I should tell them Ďno,í sir?" Jarot asked.
"Tell them, ĎNo chance,í" Sulu commanded.
Jarot sighed, "Aye, sir."
Sulu touched the control to contact engineering directly. "Sulu to Assaad."
"Assaad here, Captain."
"Theyíre right where I left them," Assaad said cautiously.
"Push them as hard as theyíll go. I want better than warp 9.4."
There was a slight pause at the other end. "Understood."
"What is it with Starfleet Captains abusing their ships," Rand wanted to know.
"Iíd hardly call it abuse," Sulu commented dryly, "Itís more like good parenting. We just push them to do more than they think they can."
"My heart goes out to Demora," Rand teased.
Sulu allowed himself to smile, which was, he decided, the point.
An hour after leaving the Grabtharís Hammer, The Excelsior was making excellent time towards the Neutral Zone. Sulu noticed Jarot regarding his earpiece with a look of disgust
"Captain, the Grabtharís Hammer is hailing us on emergency channel Ė again!"
Sulu frowned. "Put them on."
The image of a very angry Tellarite appeared. Sulu dreaded asking the next question. "How can I help you, Captain?"
"Your people have sabotaged my ship!" Thakonís snout had turned a bright red.
"Thatís a serious accusation, Captain. Explain."
"Your people havenít been gone for more than 70 minutes, and now our life support system has gone off-line! Weíve barely got 12 hours of auxiliary life support left!"
An offended Hamilton responded. "There wasnít anything wrong with that system when we left. I ran a level 3 diagnostic of their major systems before we beamed back!"
"Well, itís not working now," the Tellarite snarled. "You must have done something to it."
To his surprise, Sulu realized that Kane had moved up Ė unnoticed Ė to stand beside him.
"Captain," he whispered, "I need to see you in your ready-room right away."
The look on his first officerís face indicated a sense of urgency that Sulu could not ignore. To Thakon, he said, "Captain, please stand by." Before the Tellarite could reply, Sulu nodded to Jarot to break the link. "Helm, maintain course, but decrease speed to warp 5." Sulu looked at Kane. "Letís go talk."
"Captain, you know weíre being led astray."
Sulu folded his arms and leaned against the desk. Kane stood just in front of the closed Ready Room doors. The look in his eyes was desperately unhappy.
"I agree it seems so, but why? Who would want to delay us?"
"Someone responsible for whatever happened to the Phoenix."
Sulu nodded. "That sounds reasonable, but Captain Thakonís ship isnít capable of inflicting any serious damage on an Excelsior-class vessel. Our repair team didnít report any indications of a recent battle when they were aboard. What could they have done?"
Kane looked down quickly. "Iím not implying the Grabtharís Hammer is responsible, Captain. I think theyíre just being used as a decoy."
Kane met Suluís gaze again, and the Commanderís expression was even more unhappy than before. The depth of the younger manís discomfort surprised Sulu. "Captain, IÖ" He paused. "Sir, how much do you know about my Starfleet service?"
Sulu braced his hands on the desktop. "Only whatís in your official record." He looked Kane directly in the eyes. "Certainly nothing that should make you this nervous, Commander."
Sulu waited and watched while Kane appeared to make a decision. With a deep breath, the Commander plunged ahead. "Sir, youíre career Starfleet. Iím sure you know that many things never make it into a service record." Sulu nodded. "Throughout my career, Iíve received several assignments from Starfleet Intelligence. All were classified, and none are listed in my official record."
Suluís eyes narrowed, and he stood straight. "YouĎre a spook?"
"No sir, Iím Starfleet. But, I have experience with Black Ops missions, too Ė enough to know when Iíve stumbled into one."
Sulu stepped forward until he was within a meter of Kane. His voice came out low and threatening, "Are you a part of this? Do you know what happened to my friend?"
"No, Captain. I just know the signs of a conspiracy when I see them, thatís all."
Sulu turned and walked back to his desk. He sat down. "I donít have much use for conspiracies, Commander."
"I know, sir. Neither do I. I imagine we are of the same opinion there."
Sulu raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
Kane hesitated. "We have the same reasons, Captain." He took a seat in front of the desk and leaned forward, hands clasped, with his elbows on his knees. Looking down at his hands, he went on. "Sir, the whole quadrant knows about your involvement in the signing of the Khitomer Accords. Only a handful of people know about the Starfleet strike team that was sacrificed before those events.
"Itís a very long story, Captain, and we donít have that much time. I was recruited, along with a dozen other men. Basically, we were told we were being sent on a vital intelligence mission deep into Klingon space Ė in a captured Bird of Prey. The mission seemed to be going off without a hitch, but we were ambushed as we were attempting to meet our contact at Nimbus. Apparently, we were meant to look like some sort of covert invasion team. I believe our capture was meant to give both sides an excuse to declare all-out war."
Sulu leaned forward, too. "Itís not much of an excuse if no one knows about it. Why havenít I ever heard about this?"
Kane looked him in the eye. "Because, sir, the Klingon ambush arrived just a few seconds after I had beamed down to secure the contact site and deliver our information. Instead of my Intelligence contact, a dozen Klingons greeted me. From the planetís surface, I watched our ship explode with all twelve of my men aboard. I was too busy fighting off my own attackers to even stop to mourn them." He sat up straight in the chair. "It took me a long time to get home, and I had to do a lot of things Iím not proud of to escape. As far as I can tell, the people in charge didnít publicize the incident because they knew I wasnít dead. They were afraid that I would expose the mission for what it was."
"Why didnít you?"
"When I made it back to Federation space, I signaled the Lexington, and began to mentally prepare the report I would file. I never got a chance to file it. My original Ďrecruiterí contacted me by subspace and offered me a deal."
Sulu raised a single eyebrow, but did not speak.
Kane leaned back in the chair, looking down at his hands again. "In exchange for my silence, they allowed me to return to my normal life. My record showed a short-term, deep-space assignment, and my men, rather than being labeled spies, were listed as ĎMissing and presumed dead - victims of an apparent attack by a rogue Klingon vessel.í Their families never had to know about the shameful circumstances around their deaths." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "They even offered me a commendation."
"But you didnít take it?"
Kane looked directly at the Captain. "Could you?"
Sulu said nothing. Kane continued, "Once you and your friends exposed the conspiracy, I thought the whole affair was finished. No one has ever approached me about any Black Ops missions since."
Resting his elbows on the arms of his chair, Sulu laced his fingers together and brought them to his lips. He sat silently for a moment or two, thinking over his First Officerís story. Then he dropped his hands and addressed Kane again. "But our situation reminds you of something."
Kane raised one hand, ticking off points on his fingers. "First, the Phoenix goes off on a classified mission, near Romulan space. Second, the Phoenix disappears. Third, no one seems to be mounting any large-scale rescue missions, or coming forward with any answers. Fourth, when you get wind of this outside of normal channels, a lone freighter just happens to need help, and we happen to be the only help available. Twice!"
"Suggestive, but not conclusive."
"I canít offer you conclusive proof, Captain. All I can tell you is that something about this doesnít ring true."
Sulu sat back and thought for a long moment. Kane shifted in his seat, and cleared his throat. "Captain?"
"Sir, I understand if this has compromised your faith in me. If you want to transfer me to another assignment, I wonít fight you."
Sulu almost laughed. "Commander," Sulu began, leaning forward again, "understand me. Iíve been on my share of classified missions. Sometimes, theyíre necessary. Itís when the term Ďclassifiedí gets used as an excuse for hiding wrongdoing that I disdain it. If you intended to be deceptive with me, you never would have told me about your past. So, either youíre not a part of some covert operation here, or," he smiled, "youíre just not very good at it." Kane blinked. Sulu kept going, "Personally, Iím betting on the former. Now, we need to get a handle on our current situation, and figure out exactly what weíre dealing with here. I have an idea."
Sulu stepped back onto the bridge with Kane close behind. "Signal the freighter," he ordered, as he moved to his chair.
"I have the freighter, sir," Jarot responded.
On the viewscreen, Thakon was seething. "How dare you cut me off like that! I intend to file a complaint with Starfleet Command!"
"You have every right, Captain, but it wonít change my decision."
"And what decision is that?"
"The USS Hornet was on her way to rendezvous with us. I have asked her to reroute to your coordinates and assist you." Sulu folded his hands in his lap. "You have 12 hours of life support," he said reasonably, "Theyíre about eight hours away from your position." Sulu ignored the incredulous stares from around the bridge. "That gives you 4 hours to spare."
Thakonís mouth gaped open, but before he could utter anything coherent, Sulu motioned to Jarot to end the transmission.
"Lieutenant NíDra, maintain course and speed."
The Andorian stared at Sulu as if he were insane. "Aye, sir," she managed.
Kane was beside him once more. "I hope Iím wrong about this, sir," he said quietly.
"After what I just did," Sulu replied, "I hope youíre right. Otherwise, Iím in deep trouble."
"So, what happened?"
Kílee and Somba entered the Standby Quarters and took the two lower bunks on either side of the door. Most of the bridge crew already there had opted for positions toward the far corners of the room. Sitting facing one another, the Helm and Navigation officers enjoyed enough privacy to continue their quiet conversation.
"The Captain felt it necessary to criticize a choice I made once."
"Personal, or professional?"
"Professional." Kílee sat with her feet on the floor and her elbows resting on her knees. "My previous assignment was aboard the Defiant. We had disabled one of a pair of Klingon Birds of Prey. In the process, our weapons systems had been all but destroyed and our shields were badly damaged. The remaining ship knew we were vulnerable, and demanded our immediate surrender." She held up her hands, palms down, with her fingers pointing inward. "We were facing one another, only kilometers apart. Their aft and belly shields were weakened, but their weapons were at full power, and we had only a single, functioning forward torpedo tube. The Captain told me to get him a clear shot. I did."
Somba was sitting cross-legged on her bunk, resting her chin on her hands. "How?"
Kílee moved her left hand toward her right. "I charged directly ahead at high impulse, causing their helmsman to panic and evade." Her right hand tipped upward, letting the fingers of her left hand pass beneath. "The Klingon ship pulled up as I executed a forward roll. I clipped their wing cannons with the tail ends of the Defiantís nacelles and continued the roll until our torpedo tube was directly facing their weakened shields. Two torpedoes breached their warp core and destroyed the ship."
Sombaís mouth dropped open. "Thatís amazing! You must have gotten a promotion for that kind of quick thinking."
"Yes, though I was also Ďencouragedí to consider the amount of damage I inflicted on the Defiant. I pointed out that more powerful shield generators and a stronger structural integrity field would have prevented much of the damage. Then, I received my transfer to this post."
Somba laughed. "It sounds like it was a mutual decision!" When Kílee did not respond, Somba quickly added, "Iím sorry. Did I offend you?"
Somba tipped her head to one side and considered the Andorian. "You just donít laugh much, do you?"
Kílee shook her head once. "Not at Human jokes. Humans and Andorians do not share the same concept of humor." She looked at Somba. "Nor do we share the same sense of social niceties. Misunderstandings are common. Understand that I will address you directly if you offend me. You will not be required to Ďguess.í"
"Fair enough," Somba smiled back. "Iíll give you the same consideration. Thatíll make things easy between us."
Kílee studied Somba intently for a moment. "You are unusual. Many non-Andorians exhibit discomfort in my presence."
"That must make friendships hard to come by."
"Very. I do not meet human social expectations."
Somba smiled brighter. "Well, about fifty percent of the time, neither do I. My people donít always fit in well with Humans, either."
"I do not recognize your species. You appear Human."
"Lukkan." Kílee showed no reaction. "We donít often venture off-world."
"Yet you joined Starfleet."
"Ah, but Iím considered very odd." Her easy tone continued. "My people tend to make Humans a little uncomfortable too."
"Your personality seems agreeable."
"Thank you, but itís really my biology that gives Humans pause. We have cyclical gender classifications. Right now," she gestured toward her torso, "I am female. This time next month, I will be male. Iíve found that Humans donít always react well to the change. It seems to be very confusing for them."
Kílee considered the idea, then nodded. "My people marry in groups of four. Humans tend to be either extremely put off, or inordinately interested."
"Yes, Iíve seen that reaction, too. They keep asking me how I manage to Ďcopeí with it." She laughed. "I keep telling them, the trick is coping with Humans!"
The bridge was quiet. Sulu had sent most of the bridge crew to the standby quarters for rest an hour before. Only a handful of crewmen covered the stations. Sulu couldnít help wondering if Hamiltonís instincts were wrong. If they were, he was wasting valuable time. If notÖ
His moment of doubt was erased when the Ensign who had replaced Jarot at the communications console broke the silence.
"Captain, weíre receiving a distress signal," she said.
"Let me guess Ė the freighter Grabtharís Hammer Ė right?"
The young woman was puzzled. "Yes, sir. How did you--"
"Never mind, Ensign. Put Captain Thakon on." Sulu tried to arrange his face into an expression of surprise as the Tellarite once again appeared. "My dear Captain Thakon," Sulu began, "How may I be of service?"
"Our auxiliary life support is failing, and weíve got a leak in out Warp coolant! The Hornet will never get here in time"
"Oh, my!" Sulu tried to avoid sounding too artificial. "That is a problem. I suppose weíll have to come help you."
The Tellarite clearly wasnít expecting this response. Whatever argument he had prepared now seemed lodged somewhere between his throat and his mouth. Finally, he stammered, "Thank you Captain. We await your arrival."
"Weíll be there with bells on. Sulu out." To the helmsman, he said, "take us back there, warp 9.4."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Sulu to Kane."
Kaneís reply came back faster than expected. "Kane here, Captain."
"I thought you were sleeping, Commander."
"Couldnít," Kane replied. "Did we get our call?"
"Indeed we did, Commander. You have-" Sulu checked the navigational display, "One hour, 43 minutes to catch some sleep."
"And you, sir?"
"Iíll catch some shut-eye on the way back," Sulu assured him. "Sulu out."
The computerís voice awakened Kane. He rolled off the top bunk and landed so softly Hamilton did not even stir on the lower bunk. He fastened his boots and slipped on his uniform jacket in the darkness. Springing through the door, he started thinking of the events ahead. He sprinted the short distance to the turbolift.
"Bridge," he commanded.
Itís showtime, he thought. He couldnít help but smile.
"Just in time, Commander," Sulu noted as Kane entered.
"Wouldnít miss this for the world."
"Captain, weíre in range," the relief helmsman announced.
"Signal the freighter, tell them to lower their shields."
Kane looked up from his station triumphantly. "Sensors show just what I suspected, sir. Their cargo holds are a bit more crowded."
"Fascinating," Sulu observed. He activated the com system. "Transporter room three. Beam the Tellarite crew aboard."
"All of them, sir?"
"All of them, Chief."
The Ensign at the communications station looked at Sulu hesitantly. "Sir, shouldnít we warn them first?"
Sulu smiled. "That would take all the fun out of it."
"I imagine the freighterís Captain will wish to discuss the issue with you, sir," Kane said.
"Good point. Please send a security detail to greet him, and escort him to my ready-room. Join me there when youíre done." Sulu stood to exit.
"With pleasure, sir."
When the Tellarite Captain arrived, flanked by security guards, he was livid.
"You may wait outside," Sulu said to the guards. He studied Thakon. "Welcome aboard, Captain." He made no effort to stand, nor did he offer the freighter captain a seat.
"Captain Sulu, this is outrageous! Why has my crew been removed?"
"For their own safety, Captain." Sulu raised his hand to cut off Thakonís reply. "Excuse me a moment, Captain." He nodded to Kane.
Activating the communications console, Kane said, more loudly than necessary, "Bridge, lay in a course back to our original position. Prepare to engage at maximum warp."
"Aye, sir," came the reply.
The freighter Captain was apoplectic. "What?! This is unacceptable! You canít do this!"
Sulu feigned surprise. "I donít see your problem, Captain. Your crew is safe. I have fulfilled my obligation."
"But my cargo!!!!"
Kane picked up the PADD on Suluís desk and pretended to examine it. "Yes, our sensor scans show a remarkable abundance of dilithium in your cargo hold." Kaneís brow furrowed. "Strange, we didnít notice it on our first trip."
Thakon waved off Kaneís comment. "If you leave my ship unprotected, there wonít be anything in the holds when we get back!"
"That," Sulu observed, "Would be a terrible shame."
Thakon tried to sound threatening. "Iím going to file a formal protest with the Federation High Council! Before this is over, you two will be piloting garbage scows from the Orion Colonies!"
Kane rose to his full height, staring down at the short, pudgy Tellarite. "If you want to call in a team of Federation investigators to find out who paid you off in dilithium crystals to deliberately detain a Federation Starship with a bunch of manufactured systems failures, go ahead." He lowered his face until his nose was less than an inch away from the Tellariteís snout. "Be. My. Guest."
Sulu leaned against his desk, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Or maybe," he said, as if it had just occurred to him, "We could cut a deal."
Half an hour later, Security escorted Thakon from the Ready-Room, and Sulu and Kane were confident they knew everything the Tellarite knew. Unfortunately, it wasnít as much as they would have liked. A human aboard a civilian freighter had contacted Grabtharís Hammer. The human offered Thakon a cargo bay full of dilithium to keep the Excelsior busy for at least 30 hours Ė and to ask no questions. When Thakonís first self-sabotage had failed to divert Excelsior for the agreed-upon time, Thakon was paid only half his promised bounty, and was given one more opportunity to succeed.
Much more disturbing than this was the tale of how the Dilithium had been delivered: by a Klingon Bird of Prey. Sulu could only guess how they fit into the picture.
Sulu examined his first officer carefully. Kane slouched, elbows on the arms of his chair, and fingers laced together below the point of his nose. Heís trying to decide if heís imagining the connections, Sulu thought.
"A penny for your thoughts," Sulu offered.
Kane looked around as if heíd just realized Sulu was in the room. He blinked, as if processing the Captainís last words. "Sorry, sir. Iíd owe you change."
"Hmmm. At this point, Iíll risk being overcharged."
Kane took a deep breath and slowly released it. "Humans, Klingons, Romulans, a bunch of secrets, deception, and a ship thatís gone silent. Sounds familiar, doesnít it?"
"Itís got Khitomer written all over it," Sulu agreed. "So now what?"
Kaneís brow furrowed. "We could go after that Bird of Prey. Find out what they know." He frowned. "Of course, they could be two light years from here by now."
"More to the point," Sulu turned to look over his shoulder for effect, "They could be cloaked and peeking in that window right now."
Kane smiled slightly at the mental image of Klingon Warriors huddled around a porthole, trying to get a peek at the two Starfleet officers.
"Why 30 hours?" Sulu wondered aloud.
"The Tellarites were told to delay us for 30 hours Ė what happens then?"
Kane shrugged. "No clue. Something really big?"
Sulu thought about that. "Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it isnít the point. Whatís relevant is that they clearly donít think it matters if we get to the Phoenix after that time."
Kane finished the thought, "Which means weíd better get to the Phoenix within the next 20 hours or so."
"My thoughts exactly." Sulu activated the com system. "Bridge, is the Tellarite freighter ready to depart?"
"Aye, sir. Their crew is back aboard, and Engineering reports that they have repaired the freighterís damage."
"Recall our teams," Sulu ordered, "set course for our original position, maximum warp."
"Aye, Aye, Captain!"
Sulu closed the channel. "We have several hours to sit and wait."
"Correction, sir. You have several hours to get some sleep, remember?" Kaneís jaw clinched, preparing for an argument.
Sulu started to protest, but thought better of it. He allowed a hint of amusement to color his voice, "Aye, Aye, Sir." Sulu stood and walked to the door, then paused, looking back at his first officer. "After you, Commander."
Sulu followed Kane from the room. As they walked the short corridor from the ready-room, Sulu stopped just short of the bridge entrance. "Commander," he said softly, "One more thing."
Kane turned to face the Captain. "Yes, sir?"
"I donít want a lot of wild speculation running rampant about the ship." Sulu lowered his voice a bit more. "Letís keep what we have learned between us for now."
"Of course, sir," Kane replied.
Sulu nodded. "Very well, Commander, you have the bridge. Call me when we arrive, and Iíll relieve you.
"Aye sir, sleep well."
Young Hikaru tried to catch the strange bird in his small hands, but it kept fluttering away. He had to catch it Ė to take it home. Suddenly, it occurred to him that he had no cage to keep the bird in, should he catch it. He looked over his shoulder. Lying behind him was a golden cage. He hesitated, then ran back to grab it.
He lifted the cage, and turned back to see where the bird had gone. At first, he could not see it, and his heart raced with the fear that the bird was gone. Tears welled up in his eyes as desperation filled his heart. A faint black dot crossed the sky. Hikaru ran towards it, faster and faster, but it remained far from his grasp.
Tears flowed freely down his cheeks now. He ran as fast as he could, pushing himself until he thought his heart would explode. It was just no use. He fell onto his knees, sobbing. The empty cage slipped from his hand and dropped to the ground before him.
Thatís when he noticed the inscription on the door to the cage. It read, "The Bird Wants to Come Home."
Sulu opened his eyes, shaking the dream from his head. He checked the chronometer above him: his alarm was due to go off in less than three minutes Ė not enough time to go back to sleep.
He crawled from his bed and staggered to the sink. He splashed some water on his face, straightened his hair, and then slipped on his uniform.
The Bird Wants to Come Home. That was the key. If Chekov was still alive and capable, heíd be trying to get home. Heíd do his best to help Starfleet find him.
Now, Sulu only needed to figure out how.
Kane looked a bit fatigued when Sulu stepped onto the bridge. Small wonder, considering the number of hours the man had been on duty. "Relieving you."
"Thank you, sir." Kane relinquished the command chair to Sulu. "Weíre eleven minutes from our target coordinates. The rest of the bridge crew has been alerted. Iíve asked Commander Rand to make certain everyone gets a good breakfast Ė complete with liberal amounts of coffee - before they begin their duty shift."
"Very considerate, Commander, why donít you join them, and then catch a few hours sleep." It was an order, not a request.
Kane was in no shape to argue. "Aye, sir."
Sulu watched the younger man disappear behind the turbolift doors. That man is going to be one Hell of a Captain some day.
"Lieutenant, you are never to speak of the Captain in such a disrespectful manner again!"
Kane squelched his yawn as he entered the Mess Hall. The scene before him was almost a still-life painting. Commander Rand stood firmly in front of Hamilton, Kílee, and Somba, her rebuke still echoing in the suddenly too-quiet room. Hamilton and Somba looked as though they might drop their trays, but Kílee met Randís gaze without fear or anger. Kane approached to stand beside Rand.
"Is there a problem?"
When neither Rand nor Kílee looked up to answer, an obviously nervous Somba offered an explanation. "UmÖ well sir, Lt. NíDra and I were discussing the Captainís reaction to the Tellariteís distress calls. We justÖ didnít understand."
Hamilton spoke up without taking his eyes off Rand. "Yes sir, we were all discussing it. I remarked that the Captain seemed to behave rather strangely, and the Lieutenant made a commentÖ"
"I said," interrupted Kílee, looking to Kane, "Captain Sulu appeared to be more interested in his own pursuits than in the welfare of the Tellarites Ė not that Iím particularly fond of Tellarites, but we have an obligation to render aid." She looked back to Rand. "I apologize if my words were poorly chosen. I didnít intend to anger anyone. I just disagree with the Captainís priorities."
"Trust me Lieutenant, this isnít anger." Kane was surprised at the change in Randís tone. As she continued, she sounded as pleasant as if nothing had happened. "I understand that Andorians typically find Terran speech indirect. I simply wanted to be clear that disrespect will not be tolerated aboard the Excelsior."
"Communicated quite clearly, Commander." Kílee seemed almost pleased. Kane decided Rand must have made the appropriate choice for speaking to Kílee, but Somba and Hamilton, as non-Andorians, were decidedly ill-at-ease with the approach.
"I still donít understand why we delayed helping the Tellarites when we were the closest ship." Somba went on. Kane cocked his head, trying to decide whether the Navigator was being truthful, or simply trying to deflect attention from her friend.
"It does seem that the Captain is willing to make this search and rescue his highest priority." Hamilton sat his tray down on the nearest table and took a chair. "I guess that stands to reason, though. I did a little research on Captain Suluís record, and he seems to be prone to this type of behavior."
"Meaning?" Rand had the look of someone trying a little too hard to be casual.
"Well, heís often displayed a certain recklessness with the rules when it comes to personal issues. I mean," he took a bite of his entrée, "according to protocol, we shouldnít even be out here. If he were all that concerned with Starfleet regulations, weíd have stayed out of this search altogether." Kane stared in amazement, shocked that someone so technically astute could be so blind to the rising color in Randís face. Hamilton, happily oblivious, continued his analysis. "Personally, after reading his record, Iím surprised he turned around for the Tellarite at all." Gesturing with his fork, Hamilton swept a large arc through the air. "If we donít find his friend pretty soon, he may have us out here for months, retracing routes and ignoring every distress call we hear that isnít from the Phoenix."
Before Rand could draw in a breath, Kane stepped in. "Now hold on, Lieutenant. You make it sound like the Captain is some irresponsible cowboy! I happen to know the amount of thought heís put into his actions so far, and I can assure you that your perception is pretty wide of the mark."
Hamilton suddenly went wide-eyed. "Sir, I didnít meanÖ"
Kane held up his hand. "Iím sure you didnít, Lieutenant, but it sounded that way. Take a tip from Lt. NíDra, here, and learn to choose your words more carefully. You said youíd gone over some of the Captainís history." Hamilton nodded, and Kane lowered his hand to point at the Science Officer. "Then you realize the good his Ďrecklessnessí has done for the Federation. If not for him and his friends, youíd likely be having this conversation in Klingonese or Romulan."
Kílee said something, and Rand answered, but Kane had stopped listening. Romulan. He stared at Hamilton, who was staring silently back. Kane realized that he was still pointing at the young man, but couldnít take his mind off the thought that was trying to emerge.
"Commander?" Somba was trying to get his attention, but Kaneís ignored her. Grabbing the startled Hamilton by the elbow, he hauled the Lieutenant physically from his chair and toward the door. "Come on!" Too shocked to resist, Hamilton obediently scrambled to keep up with his arm.
Kane burst onto the bridge with Hamilton in tow. He practically shoved younger officer into his chair. "OK, Mr. Hamilton, start your sensors."
Suluís chair spun around in their direction. "Commander, I thought you were going to take a nap."
Kane turned to the Captain, speaking quickly. "Sir, I have an idea about something. Iíd like to try an experiment."
Sulu raised an eyebrow. "An experiment?"
"Trust me, sir. Itís important."
Sulu deliberated for no more than a second. "Very well, Commander."
Kane nodded, then turned his attention to the helmsman. "Plot an azimuthally spiral course, initial radius of one kilometer. Increase radius by one-half kilometer per turn, and decrease angle of declination by ten degrees every two turns. Engage one-half impulse."
The helmsman looked slightly puzzled, but nodded. "Aye, sir." She started touching controls, and Excelsior began to turn.
"There it is," Hamilton said."
"Good," Kane replied, "Display our current position on the main viewer, and mark a red vector every time you see that phase variance."
On the main viewscreen, a small Starfleet insignia, representing the Excelsior appeared in the middle of a field of stars. As the insignia swung around in a three-dimensional spiral pattern, a series of red arrows appeared Ė each one pointing roughly to the left and slightly behind the ship.
"Do you see it, Captain?"
"Are you kidding? Iíd have to be blind not to." Sulu shook his head in admiration of his First Officerís cleverness.
"Well, I donít understand," Hamilton admitted.
Kane gave the young man an evil grin. "Genius IQ, huh?" he chided. "Look really hard, Mister Hamilton."
Hamilton stared at the screen. Suddenly, his eyes widened. "A cloaked ship!"
"A cloaked ship," Kane agreed. "And theyíre following us pretty closely."
Sulu turned to the communications station. "Open a channel. Broadcast in all languages and on all frequencies. This is the Federation Starship Excelsior to the cloaked ship off our port side. Disengage your cloak immediately and identify yourself."
The bridge crew waited for more than a minute with no reply.
"Commander," Sulu said to Kane, "I know you canít get a lock on that ship, but can you aim good enough to barely miss it?"
Kane smiled. "I believe I can, at that." From Tactical, Kane touched a few controls.
Twin beams of light arced across space Ė fading into the distance. Abruptly, a small patch of starlight began to flicker and waver. A Romulan Warbird shimmered into being.
"Well, Iíll be damned," Sulu said.
TO BE CONTINUED