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Like a hunted animal running to its last refuge, James Kirk strode quickly along the final few yards to his quarters, thankfully throwing himself against the wall inside as the door slid shut. He closed his eyes in blessed solitude. McCoy's angry cries still rang in his ears, and he could still see the quiet concern in Spock's eyes as he left the bridge. Damn it, couldn't they see what he was going through? It was an order, an order that must be carried out - to the letter. What good would it have done if he'd delayed? Coleman would have taken over and done it anyway, so how could he have prevented it?
His thoughts spiralled and contracted, bitterness building on guilt, and for some reason he thought back to when it began - when the death warrant for the Meathanians was truly signed.
It had only been a short time ago, a few brief days, or was it weeks? It did not really matter, for all the events were a nightmare.
The Enterprise had been on patrol along the edge of the Klingon Neutral Zone, keeping a wary eye on a Klingon warship which was doing the exact same thing on their side. The entire crew was on stand-by alert, and the atmosphere in the ship was jumpy and unsure. His senior officers had said nothing, but he knew they were anxious about the possible strain on their men. Unfortunately he could do little but suggest they carry out their routine duties - his orders were to watch the Klingons, and that was exactly what he was doing.
The Klingon ship was slightly behind them, cruising quietly without any outward sign of the activity within, when Chekov noticed something on his scanners. He looked round at Kirk, who was busily signing a pile of reports brought up by Yeoman Hand.
"Captain, a small spacecraft has just entered Federation space, bearing 1047 mark 54."
"Where from, Mr. Chekov?" asked Kirk.
"It seems to have come from inside Klingon territory, sir, but it does not appear to be threatening."
"Very well, plot an interception course, Chekov. Let's see what it's up to... " He contacted the science labs on Deck 2, where he knew his First Officer would be. "Mr. Spock to the bridge."
They were almost on the small intruder when Spock arrived in the elevator, taking in Kirk's brief explanation as he walked across to his station.
"Closing on craft, sir," Sulu said as he skilfully guided the huge ship.
"Main viewer on, Mr. Sulu."
The small ship hung in space, a dot among a great many other dots. "It is stationary, Captain," Spock confirmed.
"Any idea what it is, or what it's up to?"
"A small, limited-range scoutcraft... one occupant. Klingon in origin but unarmed. It appears to be waiting for us."
Uhura interrupted from her position behind Kirk. "Captain, the scoutcraft is sending peaceful signals in Klingonese; whoever is aboard says he is unarmed and asks for political asylum."
Kirk's eyebrows lifted almost as high as Spock's. "A Klingon wants asylum? Wonders will never cease... Sulu, lock on a tractor beam and bring our friendly Klingon aboard. Lt. Uhura, I want a team of security men down there when the ship arrives. Mr. Spock... "
* * * * * * * *
The Captain and First Officer arrived at the shuttlecraft hangar just as the Klingon ship slid quietly aboard. The security men surrounded it as soon as the deck was pressurised, phasers ready as the door slid open.
The Klingon stumbled out, his eyes flickering nervously back and forth between the phasers and Kirk, who signalled the men to put their weapons away. This was obviously not a dangerous enemy.
He wore a deep crimson tunic, an insignia of some kind on his left breast. His dark face was clean-shaven and his hair close cropped. His hands constantly rubbed nervously together. Eventually he focused on Kirk, a stream of alien words babbling out.
Kirk smiled ruefully and shook his head. "I'm afraid Klingonese isn't my forte. Can't you speak Galactic?"
The Klingon looked dismayed. He glanced desperately from Kirk to Spock, still speaking in his native tongue. Kirk shrugged and turned to Spock.
"Isn't there anyone here who speaks his language?"
Spock paused, searching his memory. Within a few seconds he had the answer. "Lt. Whitmore has studied the language, sir. Shall I contact her?"
"Please do - the sooner we find out what he wants, the better. I know the computers could translate for us, but I'm not taking him near them until we know more about him."
Uhura quickly traced the young woman in question for them, and barely ten minutes had passed before Lt. Sally Whitmore arrived at the hangar deck. She took in the situation at once, changing quickly to the harsh, abrupt Klingon speech.
Kirk watched impatiently as the two conversed in what at first sounded like incomprehensible gibberish, and nearly jumped out of his skin at the urgent call from Sulu on the bridge. He answered quickly, wondering what was up now.
"It's the Klingon ship on the other side, sir. She's racing to catch up with us and sensors indicate she's ready for battle."
"Red alert, Mr. Sulu. I'm on my way."
Lt. Whitmore looked over as Kirk and Spock turned to leave. "Captain, shall I continue questioning? The only thing I've been able to find out so far is his name - Kelgar. All the rest is very muddled. He seems very frightened, but not only of us."
Kirk nodded. "Carry on, Lieutenant. Find out all you can, and report it to me on the bridge."
* * * * * * * *
Uhura met him as he stepped through the turbolift doors. "All stations are on alert, Captain. The Klingons have been trying to contact us. Shall I acknowledge?"
"Yes, let's hear their little story." He reached his chair, noting the enemy's distance. "Mr. Sulu, bring us around to face her. All forward. shields on full strength, phasers ready."
"Acknowledged, Captain. Forward shields on full."
Spock had barely taken over at his station when Uhura said, "Message from the Klingon commander is being sent, Captain. Coming up on screen now."
Kirk swung round as the screen cleared to reveal a well-known face. The Klingon smiled delightedly, his honeyed tones swiftly crossing the space between the two ships.
"Well, well, Captain Kirk! How delightful to see you again!"
"A pleasure, I'm sure, Captain Koloth," smiled Kirk. "How long has it been?"
"Too long, my dear friend. Why, we haven't met since that unfortunate incident on Space Station K-7. Tell me, was it your idea to deluge us with those infernal tribbles?"
"What, me?" enquired Kirk innocently. "I would never think of such a thing. However, I assure you the crewman responsible was dealt with afterwards. Wasn't he, Mr. Spock?"
Spock met his joking enquiry with true Vulcan cool. "Naturally, Captain."
Kirk quelled the laughter that threatened to explode and turned back to the screen with a straight face. "However, tribbles apart... what can I do for you, Captain?"
Koloth's smile grew wider. "Tut, tut, Captain, I am a Commander now."
Kirk bowed his head in apology. "My mistake, Commander Koloth."
"Thank you. Now, before we go any further, may I enquire why you have your shields up, and, I presume, your men at battle stations? I merely wish to talk."
"Let's just say I like to be ready for anything. Talk about what, Koloth?"
"A small, trifling matter, Kirk. Hardly worth mentioning... I believe you picked up a small Klingon craft recently?"
"We did," Kirk confirmed, his eyes narrowing. He exchanged glances with Spock.
"I thought so," Koloth said smoothly. "You see, the man aboard it is an escapee from a prison planet. Not a serious criminal, you understand, but slightly... deranged."
"He seemed more frightened to me," murmured Kirk. A call from Lt. Whitmore interrupted him, and he excused himself. "Kirk here."
"I think you should hear this man, sir. He keeps asking for political asylum, and seems terrified of his own people. He's mentioned something about a weapon, a weapon only he knows how to build. I couldn't get anything else sane from him, bar babblings about cells and torture."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. I'll be down there as soon as possible."
Spock left his station to move down to the Captain's side. "Deranged, Captain? Or perfectly sane?"
Koloth's sunny expression seemed to have hardened somewhat by the time Kirk gave him his attention again. He seemed to sense from Kirk's face that he had no hope, but he plunged on. "You see what I mean? Completely insane, but harmless. However, we would like him back. After all, we can't have prisoners escaping willy-nilly, can we?"
"Oh, no," Kirk agreed fervently. "But there is one small problem, Commander."
"Oh? Tell me, please."
"Insane or not, the prisoner has asked for political asylum. The mere thought of returning to the Empire fills him with terror."
"Is that surprising? Come, return him and we'll say no more about it. I do regret his violation of the Neutral Zone."
I bet you do, thought Kirk. He smiled again at Koloth, who immediately thought he had persuaded him. Not so. "Sorry, Koloth, no deal."
The merest trace of anger laced Koloth's honeyed voice. "No deal? My dear Captain Kirk, surely one man is not worth so much to you? We do not interfere in your rulings and laws, so don't interfere with ours. Send him back."
The turbolift opened and Kelgar exploded onto the bridge, Lt. Whitmorc and three security men close behind. The Klingon spat at Koloth's image, grabbing Kirk's arm and shrieking in Klingonese.
With some difficulty Spock and the men hauled him off, while Kirk looked incredulously at Whitmore.
"I'm sorry, sir, but he insisted on seeing you. He's absolutely terrified of being sent back."
"So I see," murmured the Captain drily. "Well, Miss Whitmore, you can tell your charge to stop panicking. He's staying on this ship."
As the woman spoke rapidly to Kelgar, Kirk turned back to the now-livid Koloth. "I think that answers your request, Commander. Kelgar stays here as long as he wants. I suggest you tell your 'prison planet' that. After all, if he is insane, what harm can it do?"
"More harm than you think, Kirk!" snapped Koloth. "Believe me, you will wish you had not interfered! You and your Federation."
The screen went abruptly blank and a few minutes later Sulu reported the warship was heading back into Empire space at warp speed. Kirk relaxed and cancelled battle stations.
"Maintain patrol manoeuvres, Mr. Sulu. Lt. Uhura, contact Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott. Ask them to meet us in briefing room 1. I think it's time we found out what Kelgar was running from."
* * * * * * * *
Half an hour later all four command personnel knew exactly why Koloth was so anxious to get Kelgar back, and none of them could believe it.
"A weapon that could devastate whole galaxies! That's pretty far-fetched, Captain," said Scott with a touch of awe in his voice.
"Nevertheless, that is what he claims he can make," Kirk said. "You're sure that's what he is saying, Lieutenant?"
"No doubt about it, sir," she confirmed. "Some of what he says is dialect Klingonese and outwith my knowledge, but most of it makes sense - if you can call that sense."
"The wall between madness and genius is very thin, Lieutenant," said McCoy. Looking at Kelgar, Kirk was inclined to agree. "Jim, if Kelgar's weapon is so great, why was he in prison?"
Whitmore spoke to Kelgar, whose eyes, grew wild and frightened as he replied in sharp, quick bursts. At last the woman turned to them.
"He says he tried to escape before. He wanted the Federation to have the weapon - he calls it the 'K'tenagar' - too, so there would be a stalemate; a kind of status-quo between both powers. That way he thought there would be continuous peace."
"Most logical," said Spock. "But unlikely to work, knowing both Klingon and human natures."
"Unfortunately you're probably right, Spock," sighed Kirk. "Some day someone is bound to push the button..."
"Speaking of buttons," McCoy broke in, "I'd like to give him a sedative before someone pushes his. Any more excitement and he'll go over the brink. I don't know how he's lasted this far."
Kirk nodded. "Go ahead, Bones. I think he's told us enough for now."
McCoy approached Kelgar with an air-hypo and the Klingon cringed back in fear. The doctor sighed.
"Lieutenant, will you tell him it's just to calm him down?"
Sally Whitmore smiled, telling Kelgar what McCoy wanted to do, The Klingon nodded, speaking quickly as if to get his information out before his tortured mind forgot it. The interpreter listened closely, an astonished look coming over her features.
"Captain, he says there is only one place a vital chemical compound for his weapon can be found. It is on a planet unclaimed by either the Federation or the Klingon Empire. His people could already be on their way there."
"I guess that answers any questions you may have left, Scotty," said Kirk. The engineer nodded.
"No wonder Koloth wanted him back! He was frightened Kelgar would tell us this," gasped McCoy.
Kirk was already contacting Uhura. "Get me Starfleet Headquarters, Tell them it's urgent."
* * * * * * * *
Apparently Starfleet considered Kelgar's story very urgent indeed, for within a few hours a reply had sped across the distance between the Starship and Earth, and not long afterwards the Enterprise was in orbit around Banar Colvar IV, where the officer assigned the problem was waiting to be picked up.
Kirk stepped forward as the transporter beam faded and the two men found they could move.
"Admiral Coleman. Welcome aboard."
Brown eyes looked abstractedly at him from under dark bushy eyebrows. "Ah... Captain Kirk. My aide, Gianndria."
The young man at the Admiral's side nodded to Kirk with an air of assured superiority that for some reason put Kirk's back up. He shrugged off the feeling and introduced Spock and McCoy, who were greeted with the same distracted air.
Spock remained as bland as ever, but McCoy could not resist making a face at Kirk, which was fortunately missed by both Admiral and Commander. Moving swiftly to the door, Coleman smiled and rubbed his hands briskly, the first real sign of life he had shown so far.
"Well, Captain, where's this Klingon you found? After all, that's what we're here for."
"If you'll follow me, sir..."
McCoy hung back as the three left the room. "Real couple of cold fishes!" he muttered. "Hey, Spock - are you sure none of your Vulcan traditions have caught on on Earth?"
Spock paused halfway through the entrance. "If they have, Doctor, I'm sure they will greatly improve the Human race as a whole. Yourself included, of course."
"You point-eared, self-opin - " The rest of the doctor's outburst was cut off as the transporter room door closed, and Mr. Kyle wondered what the outcome of this particular 'argument' would be. He grinned to himself and informed the bridge that Coleman and Gianndria had arrived safely.
* * * * * * * *
"As Kelgar seems to have a fear of anything to do with hospitals, we've put him in a room of his own, near enough to Sickbay for Dr. McCoy to keep an eye on him, but far enough away to prevent him panicking unnecessarily."
Coleman answered Kirk's remark with a non-committal noise and decided to clear up a point which had been niggling at him since he had arrived. He cleared his throat.
"Captain Kirk, why was your Chief Engineer not also there to greet us? If we are to be aboard your ship for the journey to this planet, then surely - "
"Chief Engineer Scott was badly needed in Main Engineering, sir," Kirk interrupted smoothly. He nodded to the guard outside the small private room. "There's been a problem with one of the reactors - nothing too serious, but it was best to see to it before it became worse. We wouldn't want to blow up halfway there..."
Lt. Whitmore rose as they entered, but Kirk motioned her to sit down again. "Admiral, this is Lt. Sally Whitmore, our interpreter for Kelgar. She's struck up a kind of friendship with Kelgar, which has helped tremendously. He's a little unstable."
Both Coleman and Gianndria ignored Whitmore completely, their whole attention focused on the hapless Klingon, who was gazing at them with wide open eyes. The two Starfleet officers studied him as if he was 'exhibit A' in a court case, then finally the Admiral turned to Kirk.
"You are sure he's telling the truth?"
Kirk restrained the exasperated sigh that threatened. Instead, he used the efficient Starship Captain tone he reserved for irritating, officials. "Yes, sir, he is telling the truth. Dr. McCoy - " he raised an eyebrow as the doctor entered - "has examined him and applied the usual tests."
"Ah," Coleman said, while Kirk studied his CMO and First Officer closely. He was about to mouth the words 'What took you so long?' when Coleman coughed loudly. "Captain, have you found out the name of this unique planet yet?"
"As a matter of fact, we have, barely an hour ago. Mr. Spock?"
All five Humans looked expectantly at the Vulcan. Spock straightened his shoulders.
"Naturally there was a little confusion at first, because Kelgar could only tell us the Klingon name for the planet in question, but after a short search and the showing of star charts to him, we have pin-pointed his world. It is a large class M planet with a high water-land ratio. Landing parties have ascertained there is no sentient life on it, humanoid or otherwise, and..."
"What's it called?" snapped Gianndria; Spock afforded him his best raised eyebrow, his opinion of the young man's interruption all too clear.
"As yet it has no name, Commander. It is listed as Planet XK97/68, in the Alpha Virginis system, 600 light years from here."
* * * * * * * *
Within a few days James Kirk could have wished. Planet XK97/68 was a lot nearer to their present position, for Admiral Coleman and his aide were slowly driving him up the wall. There was always one or the other of them on the bridge, saying nothing, but watching his every move. At times he felt like a freshman cadet just out of the Academy. As if that was not enough, there was also this business of the energy leak in the ship's reactors. It was slowing them down considerably, and Kirk feared the Enterprise would never reach XK97/68 before either the Klingon warships or the additional Starships racing to add weight to the Federation claim to the planet. As his job was to reach the vital planet first and ward off the Klingons, the Captain was understandably getting a little anxious.
Uncomfortably aware of Coleman's disapproving gaze, Kirk contacted Main Engineering,
"Scott here, sir."
Kirk mentally crossed his fingers. "Any luck with the leak, Scotty?"
Six decks below, Montgomery Scott sighed, glancing back towards the gangs of engineers hard at work. "I canna say for sure, sir. We seem tae have traced the fault, but now something else has broken doon... I canna say when we'll be able tae try full warp drive."
He could hear the worry in his captain's voice as Kirk replied to his report, "Okay. Carry on as you are, Scotty. Turn her inside out if you have to."
"I'm practically doin' that now, Captain," replied Scott glumly. "Scott out." He looked back to his men. "Wilkins, have ye no' fixed that line yet? Well, hurry up, man!"
Back on the bridge, Coleman left his position by the main viewer and stalked like a praying mantis towards the command chair.
"Captain, haven't your engineers repaired the damage yet?"
Kirk reluctantly looked at him. "As you may have heard, Admiral, Mr. Scott has not yet solved the problem, but he has found the cause. It should not be too long now."
Coleman's face expressed only too well his opinion of Scotty's capabilities, but Kirk couldn't help that. A small smile quirked the corner of his mouth as Spock came over to add weight to his statement.
"Mr, Scott has proved himself to be one of the most proficient engineers in Starfleet, sir. You can be sure he is doing everything within his knowledge and capabilities to ensure we reach XK97/68 in time."
The Admiral snorted, turned on his heel, and left without a word. Everyone on the bridge visibly relaxed. Kirk looked up at the Vulcan.
"Thank you, Mr. Spock."
"For getting rid of him."
A faint look of puzzlement crossed Spock's features. "I merely stated a known fact, sir. I do not see... "
"Thanks, anyway," grinned the Captain.
* * * * * * * *
Dr. McCoy greeted his visitor with some irritation. Like Kirk, he found Colman and his aide the most supercilious, aggravating people he knew, but as they were a few steps higher than he on the promotion scale, he could do little about it. However, Admiral or no Admiral, he made his disapproval of Coleman's visit perfectly clear.
"Is your visit really necessary, sir?" he asked as the imposing Human swept into the room. "You questioned Kelgar for three hours yesterday. He's a sick man."
"A sick man with a great many secrets, Dr. McCoy," Coleman replied coldly. "So far he has only given us the bare details about this 'K'tenagar' thing. I want more; facts about how it works, and I want information about the Empire. A scientist doesn't just ignore what goes on about him."
McCoy could cheerfully have hit him, but he forced himself to remain calm. "You want things he can't give you just now, sir. He is still frightened, and he won't calm down until he's on a planet far from the Klingons. Just now his mind is fixed on one hope - peace. If you push him too far he could - "
"I'll thank you to save your psychology for your captain, Doctor. Why is Whitmore still with the Klingon?"
"The Lieutenant is the only person Kolgar will relate to."
"She spends too much time with him. I will inform Kirk she is to be returned to normal duties."
McCoy opened his mouth to protest, then closed it. Let Jim ding-dong it out with him. He had enough trouble keeping his patient sane.
The young lieutenant explained to Kelgar that Admiral Coleman was only visiting, though she knew the Klingon sensed more questions would be forthcoming;. The Admiral breathed heavily through his nose, addressing his words to the wall directly above Kelgar's head.
"Lt. Whitmore, ask Kelgar why he wishes us to have the weapon."
It took only a moment for them to converse. "He says to create permanent peace, sir. The ultimate weapon that would deter all from war... He wishes only peace."
"And what does he expect from it?"
Whitmore frowned and repeated the question to Kelgar. The Klingon shrugged. "He doesn't understand the question, sir."
A click of the tongue, then another question rapped out, like a demand. "Does he realise he is a traitor to his own race? What makes him think he'll be welcome here?"
"Admiral Coleman, I must protest!" McCoy interrupted. "A question like that could raise doubts, doubts that might shatter his last hopes."
"Your opinions have been noted, Doctor. Ask him, Lieutenant."
Hesitantly, the woman obeyed, and to McCoy's dismay Kelgar at once became agitated, staring at Coleman in terror as he clung to Whitmore. Anxiously his interpreter translated his babblings.
"Sir, he thinks you're going to send him back! He thinks..."
"Ask him again!" snapped Coleman. "Ask him what good he thinks his weapon will do. Ask him what he hopes to gain. Ask him!"
McCoy shook his head violently at Whitmore, walking to the intercom and contacting Sickbay. "Nurse Chapel, prepare a bed for Kelgar. I'm isolating him from all visitors. Maybe that'll protect him from this... this idiot!"
"You will not use that tone with me, Dr. McCoy."
McCoy's voice was calm, and colder than ice. "Admiral Coleman, if you think I am going to stand here and let you break this man apart, you can think again. My responsibility is to my patients, and you can bluster all you like.
"Sally, try to calm him down. Tell him nothing is going to happen."
"I am, sir, but Admiral Coleman frightens him."
"Then Admiral Coleman will have to leave."
Coleman looked astonished at McCoy's statement. "Dr. McCoy, I shall not be - "
"Sir, when it comes to medical matters on this ship, my word is law. Admiral or not, I can and will order you out if I consider you are harming a patient's health. You are doing so now. Please leave."
At that moment Kelgar leaped from his bed, clawing at Coleman's face and neck. McCoy pushed the Admiral aside, seizing a hypo from his med-kit, which he pressed against Kelgar's arm. The Klingon promptly collapsed into Whitmore's arms and the Enterprise C.M.O breathed a sigh of relief.
He was still muttering uncomplimentary remarks about Coleman when they transferred Kelgar to the main ward.
* * * * * * * *
Three hours later Kirk heard McCoy's report with growing anger and dismay. Finally the doctor fell silent, having ranted on about Admiral Coleman for the better part of an hour.
"Damn!" murmured Kirk after a while. "Damn Coleman, damn Koloth, damn Kelgar for inventing this damn weapon. He's completely withdrawn, you say?"
"As good as," the doctor agreed glumly. "He won't even speak to Sally Whitmore now, and any mention of 'K'tenagar' makes him more distraught than before."
Kirk slammed his fist down on the desk in sheer frustration. "Just when Scotty finally gets full warp power back, Coleman destroys our only lead to what this compound is! If Kelgar never recovers, we might not build the weapon in time. The Klingons will get there first and then..."
"Then what about Kelgar?" snapped McCoy. The Captain looked at him, puzzled. "What about this man you've all destroyed with your greed for weapons?"
"Bones, I don't understand your - "
"Captain - while everyone in this galaxy plays power games, one man is quickly losing his mind. Okay, so he's a Klingon - but he has as much right as you to sanity and peace of mind. Why don't you get Spock to probe his thoughts for the last dregs of his sanity, Jim?"
Unsure whether his friend was just blowing his top or whether he meant it, Kirk turned hurt, astonished eyes to him. "Bones, I had nothing to do with Kelgar's insanity. If anyone did that, it was his own people. Believe me, I'd like nothing better than to leave him be, but I have my orders."
McCoy's eyes widened at Kirk's statement. He violently pushed his chair back, his voice quietening ominously. "And you always follow your orders... Well, sir, you can't return Kelgar to what he was now. The only way he'll find peace is by dying!"
Kirk watched in stunned silence as his friend stormed out of his office. Instinctively he rose to follow, then sat down again. Could Bones be right? Had he indirectly destroyed Kelgar as much as anyone else? Power games...
* * * * * * * *
The Enterprise slipped swiftly into the outer reaches of the solar system known as Alpha Virginis. Little was known about the sun and its orbiting planets - it was a region as yet unexplored. It had been given a name, some numbers, and become yet another dot on star charts too crowded to explore as Starfleet could have wished. Kirk had no doubt the Federation would investigate all the planets thoroughly once they -
Sulu smoothly interrupted his thoughts. "XK97/68 coming up on the viewer now, Captain."
Kirk stared at the pale blue planet revolving before him. Hard to believe that peaceful, innocent world held the key to the destruction of whole galaxies. Hard to believe, but true, for six Klingon battlecruisers were in orbit around the shimmering world. They had arrived too late.
Uhura frowned as a message was relayed from Communications several decks below. She swung round to Kirk.
"There's a communication coming from one of the cruisers, Captain. Audiovisual."
"On the screen, Uhura."
Kirk noted with dull surprise that it was Koloth's face which once again appeared before him. He, like the Enterprise, must have been nearest the planet. There were no false pleasantries this time.
"Back off, Kirk," hissed the Klingon. "We have prior claim to this planet, and no snivelling Starship Captain is going to take it."
"Why should we even want to?"
"Don't be stupider than you must be. You have Kelgar, so you are bound to know what is on this planet. You are also bound to know we won't give it up easily. Now back off before we blast you to pieces!"
The screen turned black. Uhura swung back to her board. "He's cut transmission, sir. Shall I contact again?"
"No," said Kirk. "No... we've got enough to think about just now." He rose, signalling Spock and Scott to follow. "Mr. Chekov, condition red. I want all stations on standby with full deflector shields. Mr. Sulu, move in till we're just out of range of their weapons and hold position. Lt. Uhura, keep a constant monitor on all frequencies. They make any moves, I want to know about it."
* * * * * * * *
Admiral Coleman was waiting for them in briefing room 1. Gianndria arrived a few minutes later, blustering about McCoy's refusal to let him even look at Kelgar. They sat down just as McCoy entered without a word, sitting quietly and somehow managing to avoid Kirk's eye. Spock watched them both carefully, well aware that something was wrong, but not sure what.
The Admiral chose that moment to pounce on the major reason for the Enterprise's late arrival. "Well, Captain Kirk, your engineer's 'problem' seems to have cost us more than a little lost time!"
"There was nothing we could have done, Admiral Coleman," Kirk said quietly. "The necessary repair work was completely unforeseen, and even if we had had full warp drive right from the start, it's possible we would still have arrived too late. As it is, the immediate question is - where do we stand now?"
"There are six class A warships in orbit around XK97/68, Captain," reported Spock. "Sensors indicate each one has weaponry and power equal to ours. The Klingons undoubtedly already have armed forces on the planet itself, who are doubtless searching for the vital compound."
"What about the ships coming to support us?" Gianndria butted in.
"The Kongo is five hours away from this position, Commander. The Columbus and the Farragut are six and twelve hours respectively. Even when they arrive, that will be four against six, perhaps more should the Empire decide to send any more of their ships which happen to be near."
"Only four Starships!" exclaimed Coleman. "Why hasn't Starfleet sent more?"
"Perhaps they're all busy," remarked McCoy acidly. He returned Kirk's sharp look with interest. The Captain sighed and looked round the table.
"Well, it looks like we have a stalemate, with the odds stacked pretty high against us. Any suggestions?"
"You will have to blow up the planet," said Coleman calmly. All eyes in the room fixed on him. Kirk frowned.
"Sir, I would be very reluctant to do that... "
"You have enough power on this ship to destroy such a planet, have you not?" When the Captain did not immediately answer, Coleman looked at Scott. The engineer nodded slowly.
"Aye, we have, sir, but we've never used it. There are Klingons on that planet, and..."
"I don't need your opinion, Mr. Scott," the Admiral said smoothly. He turned back to Kirk. "Captain?"
Kirk took a deep breath. "It seems the only way to stop the Klingons - we certainly couldn't survive an all-out battle. However, as Mr. Scott says, there are people, Klingons or not, down there. I'm not happy about blowing them up without a thought."
"And how many Federation people would they murder without a thought if they got the weapon?" murmured Coleman. Kirk nodded slowly as the Admiral continued his argument. "I was sent by Starfleet either to capture the planet or make sure by some way the Klingons didn't get Lt. The only option left is to destroy the source once and for all. This is a military situation - it calls for military tactics."
Kirk was about to retort angrily when he caught Spock's eyes. "It is... a logical solution, Captain," the Vulcan said.
Tension grew in the room as they awaited Kirk's decision. Finally, Coleman said, "If you are unwilling to give the order, I shall..."
"That will not be necessary, sir," Kirk answered crisply. His decision made, he spoke to Scott. "Mr. Scott, prepare full phaser banks and photon torpedoes. I want all the weapons you've got trained on that planet."
Scott looked as if he might say something else, but rose briskly with an "Aye, sir," and left the room.
Coleman and Gianndris rose as one. "We'll be on the bridge, Captain..."
McCoy followed them out, his face set and unreadable. As he reached the door he gave Kirk a strange glance which somehow bothered the Captain.
* * * * * * * *
Within fifteen minutes everything was set and ready. Kirk and Spock took their places on the bridge; Admiral Coleman placing himself at Kirk's side.
"Whenever you wish, Captain," he said.
Kirk had the impression of being given a pat on the head for being a good boy. He didn't like the feeling. Command training took over, and he contacted Engineering.
"Scotty, are you ready?"
"Stand by. Mr. Sulu, be prepared to veer off the instant the weapons are fired. We don't want caught up in the blast."
"Co-ordinates prepared, Captain," said Sulu in a deceptively calm voice.
Kirk warned all decks to stand by for a shaking, then turned his attention once again to the blue ball that would soon be nothing but a memory. "Fire all phasers and torpedoes."
The Klingon ships never knew what hit them. Four were caught up in the awesome blast that marked the end of XK97/68, the other two were tossed like twigs in a storm, their hulls battered by the flying debris. They survived - just.
As the buffeting came to an end, Spock calmly reported the complete absence of the world called XK97/68. Kelgar's weapon would never be made.
A smile split Coleman's face as he looked at Kirk. "Congratulations, Captain Kirk. A job well done. I'll be commending your actions in my report."
Kink's murmur of thanks was dry - he did not wish thanks from Coleman of all people. He left the chair and headed towards the turbolift.
"Mr. Spock, you have the con. I'll be in my office if you need me..."
The doors swished shut as the tall Vulcan ordered Sulu to leave the Alpha Virginis system.
* * * * * * * *
Irritated beyond belief, Kirk stared hard at the keyboard and screen before him. Try as he might, he could not get down to making up his report - his mind refused to think factually. Instead, he kept going over the words Bones McCoy had said last time be was in this very room. That look on his face...
Kirk smiled and shrugged. Bones would get over it, he always did. After he finally got this blasted report done, he would call him, maybe have a drink and a talk. He determinedly cleared his mind of wandering thoughts - and was rewarded by the call of the ship's intercom.
Kirk suppressed a curse and answered the demanding bleep. To his surprise, it was Spock, and the tone of his voice immediately alerted the Human.
"Captain, we are picking up communications of a primitive type emanating from somewhere in this system..."
Kirk interrupted him in amazement, a strange chill running up his spine. "Communications? But... I'll be there in a moment, Mr. Spock."
The bridge was strangely hushed when Kirk arrived, each crew member listening intently to the faint jumble of squeals and half understood voices coming from a planet that shouldn't be there. He strode to where Spock was standing by the communications console.
The Vulcan ceased to concentrate on the babbling jumble and turned to face him. "Barely fifteen minutes ago we began receiving faint signals from an unknown source. They are old fashioned radio signals of limited strength, and are more in the fashion of planet-wide broadcasts of some sort - news reports and the like - rather than direct attempts at contacting us. Those we can decipher seem to indicate massive movements of the planet's crust and abnormal climatic changes.
"As the signals increase in strength the further round the system's sun we travel, I have ordered full strength scanning and sensor activity. We should find the planet very soon."
Kirk frowned and took Spock's arm, leading him out of immediate earshot of the crew. The Vulcan half looked as if he had been expecting what was coming next.
"Spock, why wasn't that planet detected earlier? If the destruction of XK97/68 has affected its orbit in some way, I think you owe me an explanation."
"Captain, owing to the angle of our approach, that side of the system was blocked by the sun, thereby making our sensors blind. Previous reports have given no inkling of any planet bearing sentient life in this area, and we did not have time to check a region of space reported as empty," Spock replied, completely unperturbed by an accusation Kirk regretted at once.
"Sorry, Spock... it's just that if my action has caused..."
"I understand, Captain."
Kirk looked quickly at the shadowed eyes and gave a rueful grin. "I believe you do," he murmured.
The lift doors opened and Coleman hurtled onto the bridge. "Kirk! What's this about radio signals? I was in Communications, and..."
"One minute, please, Admiral," said Kirk. "Mr. Spock?"
"Approximately 10.48 seconds before we see the planet, Captain."
Kirk walked over to Coleman. "Sir, I suggest you wait for a moment for the answer to your question. I fear our 'solution' to the 'K'tenagar' may have caused more problems than we realised."
* * * * * * * *
In exactly 10.48 seconds the unknown planet swung into view round the bright white nimbus of its life-giving sun. The sensors confirmed Spock's conclusions. The small world had been torn from its orbit by the destruction of its sister planet, the resulting havoc testimonied by the frantic television and radio reports speeding through the atmosphere and being picked up by the approaching Starship. Earthquakes, eruptions, tidal waves, hurricanes... every single catastrophe Kirk could think of had torn that innocent ball of fertile rock apart.
The reports flooded in - and Kirk listened without a word, his face barely revealing the agonising realisation within him that it was his fault. Sinking into the mire of self-damnation, he at first ignored the frantic voice at his shoulder. Then he shook himself, meeting Admiral Coleman's shocked gaze.
"Captain, you must help them. We blew up the planet, we..."
"No, sir," Kirk broke in quietly. "I blew up the planet..." He became aware of Spock's eyes on him, but ruthlessly cut off his friend's sympathy. "Mr. Spock, the other ships should be arriving soon, so until then we'll do what we can to help the survivors. Mr. Sulu, establish an orbit around the planet..."
* * * * * * * *
As he stood in the solitude of his quarters Kirk remembered his conversation with McCoy as he broke the news of his fatal mistake. The doctor had stared at him in utter disbelief, a multitude of emotions passing across his lined face.
At last he spoke, and something died within James Kirk.
"Congratulations, Captain! Not content with destroying a man's sanity, now you have to wreak havoc on an innocent planet! How many people died this time? Hundreds, millions, billions? Of all the - "
"Bones!" Kirk cried, his voice sharper then he'd intended. "Bones, please...'"
The doctor ignored his quiet plea. "You won't get comfort here, Captain," he muttered. "I've got staff to brief, supplies to prepare, lives to save - because of your blunder!"
He regretted his outburst at once, but pride would not let him apologise. Without a word, he pushed past Kirk and left the room. In despair, Kirk moved over to where Sally Whitmore sat by Kelgar's bed, speaking quietly as she tried to pierce his self-imposed shell.
Kirk watched for a while, then said, "Tell him we - I - destroyed the planet. Tell him his weapon can never be made, but that there is still peace of a kind."
Kelgar listened to his only friend in the nightmarish world he now occupied, and replied hesitantly. Whitmore looked up at her Captain. "Sir, he says he's relieved. Perhaps he was wrong after all. He wishes he'd never made the weapon now."
"It's not his fault," murmured Kirk. He became aware of a curious tight sensation in his chest and felt an urgent need to go away and think things out. He turned abruptly to leave, but Whitmore called just as he reached the door.
"Captain, Kelgar is asking - what will you do if you find the compound on a planet that's inhabited?"
Kirk looked blankly at her the, question adding to the turmoil of his thoughts. "I... don't know, Lieutenant..."
Admiral Coleman had caught him outside as he walked to his quarters, murmuring something about sympathies and not his fault... a fatal error...
Kirk could not remember what he had said in reply.
* * * * * * * *
The painful memories flooded back, and in a desperate bid to shake himself back to normality he left the solid wall and switched on his reading screen. Perhaps a spot of reading would help push away the plaguing thoughts.
It did not work. After only a minute he sat in the total darkness of his quarters, the screen forgotten in the deluge of doubts invading his mind.
Doubts. Where had they come from? It was easy enough to point out the immediate cause, but what was harder to find was the deep-seated root of the uncertainty; uncertainty he had thought he did not have. What did a man do when his deepest beliefs and dreams suddenly turned sour?
He raised his head with a jerk, gazing at the smooth door. Outside was a world he had complete control over, but what use was that if he could not control it properly? Lack of insight, lack of thought, a stupid error he should not have made. He should have realised one of the other planets could have sentient life. What had he done to those people?
Far the first time in his career Kirk felt the total futility of his position. In all those contacts with other worlds and alien cultures, had he ever questioned the policies of Starfleet and the Federation? He could not think of a single instance.
With sudden anger he slammed his clenched fist on the desk top. Damn it, Jim, he thought. You could have saved that planet and those people. You could have questioned Coleman's order more, could have - what? Played God?
Was that what he was? A mote in the infinite universe playing God along with all the other insignificant motes? Did he really have a right to do what he did? Sailing through the stars, setting things right according to the ideals of a society which had no more right than anyone else to evaluate and interfere...
A whole race practically wiped out!
The questions and doubts bombarded his senses, giving him no answers or peace of mind. In anguish he closed his eyes, laying his head on his folded arms.
/Accept. You cannot change the impossible./
Startled, he looked round the dark room with wide eyes. From the corner of his sight he caught a strip of light cut off as the door closed. Weariness suddenly made his eyes leaden, and though he wished to stay awake, he fell into a light sleep. It was then that the soft, deep voice came again.
/You cannot doubt. It is a luxury you dare not afford yourself. If you are unsure, your crew will be affected./
A small smile crept over Kirk's sleeping features as he answered the mind-voice. /I can't help but doubt, Spock. Today... Today I did something completely contrary to my deepest beliefs, and I didn't even think about it. I murdered a race I hadn't even seen./
/Do not condemn yourself. The sensors were blind, and no one knew of the planet. It was a mistake./
/I should have known./
/You could say the same for all the crew - if it comes to that, we are all to blame. what good would it have done if you had known of Meathanias' existence? It might have been necessary to do exactly the same in the end./
/Meathanias... Is that its name?/
/Yes./ Spock paused, unsure whether Kirk had yet accepted his mistake; then the same self-loathing returned full strength.
/I destroyed it! What right had I.../
/What rights have any of us? We must do what we - or others - think is best. We are all pawns, Jim. We cannot control events outwith our sphere of influence. You acted correctly according to your knowledge and information. There was no other way./
/But was I right to do what I did? Do I have any rights? I should have waited, found out more... God, I hate myself. I hate everything I once stood for and believed in.../
/There is no sense, or logic, in that. If you must hate, then hate those who play with lives as you and I play chess. They are the ones who should doubt./
/It sounds too easy, Spock. Passing the buck./
/You cannot take the faults of the universe on your shoulders. You know that. Accept that you can make mistakes, even fatal ones. Find a basic truth you can believe in and fight for it. It is all you can do./
Silence, then a quiet, begrudged, /Maybe. Maybe that will be enough./
/It is for some people. Understand who you are, then perhaps you will understand others around you. Never condemn yourself without a trial./
Silence fell between the two men, and Kirk fought off the last vestiges of sleep. His eyes flicked open, focusing on the door as the Vulcan left as silently as he had arrived. Unsure whether he was dreaming or not, Kirk spoke softly.
"Spock? Food for thought, my friend."
The dark silhouette inclined its head slightly and left.
After a while Kirk reached out and switched off the reader. With a yawn and a sense of ease he turned on the cabin's lights. He had a lot to ponder over and sort out, but not yet.
He had called Leonard McCoy before he was aware of doing so. As the gruff voice answered, Kirk smiled. If he was going to understand others, he might as well start by making things up with Bones...
Copyright Lorraine Goodison