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The routine overhaul that had taken the Enterprise to Starbase 8 was almost completed. Most of the crew was on standby; even Kirk and - somewhat unwillingly - Spock were off duty, although still available if they were needed. Kirk was thoroughly enjoying the break; Spock, although not admitting it, was finding it quite pleasant lazing in the company of his closest friends - for McCoy had accompanied them. But all three were beginning to feel that they had had enough of the quiet life by the time the base commander, Captain Pieters, sent for Kirk.
"I've got your new orders, Jim," he said.
"Good," Kirk replied. "We're getting a bit restless. Getting a break was all very well, but I'll be glad to be out in space again."
"I don't think you're going to like this, Jim," Pieters warned him. "You'll be shipping a new First Officer."
"What? But Spock - "
"Mr Spock is to remain here. He has been temporarily assigned as my assistant until a post can be found for him."
"Found for him?" Kirk repeated blankly.
"Your new First Officer is Lt Commander Andrews."
"Andrews?" Kirk mused. He looked up sharply. "That young fellow who's been swaggering around as if he owns the place - looks to be in his early twenties?"
"That's the one."
"But - at his age, he can't have that much experience."
"None at all. He got his rank on high-grade passes in the Academy. He came straight from the Academy to join you, I understand; he asked specifically for the Enterprise."
"And got it?"
"His father is Stewart Andrews."
Kirk took a deep breath. Stewart Andrews. One of the top men on Earth, ruthless in accomplishing his desires, he was in a perfect position to pull strings for his son.
"Who has the ambition?" Kirk asked at last. "The father or the son?"
Pieters shook his head. "Hard to say, Jim. Certainly Stewart Andrews always wants his family to be the best at everything. The boy could be trying to live up to his father's image of him. And - in theory at least - he's good."
"Theory and practice are two very different things when you're faced with a difficult situation in space," Kirk commented drily. "I don't mind wet-nursing youngsters - dammit, we all had to learn - but how the hell do you wet-nurse a First Officer without damaging his position and the respect the crew must have for him? And how the hell does Starfleet Command expect me to run a tight ship when I'm having to watch my First Officer all the time and check that he's not making some monumental blunder?"
"I don't think you have to worry about discipline, Jim," Pieters said reassuringly. "Not on the Enterprise. And there aren't likely to be many problems in your new assignment. It's a straightforward mineralogical survey of Gamma Draconis II. Spectroscopic analysis shows a possibility of rare mineral deposits, including topaline. Long range scanning reveals no sign of intelligent life. It could be a pretty dull trip."
"I hope so," Kirk said fervently. "I do hope so!"
Spock and McCoy were arguing fairly amicably over a cup of coffee when Kirk rejoined them, anger that he could not control showing clearly on his face. McCoy broke off in mid-sentence, startled - Kirk usually had almost Vulcan control when he was enraged; it was rarely that anyone, even his closest friends, could see from his attitude that something had annoyed him, although they could usually guess at it from their knowledge of him.
"Jim! What's wrong?"
"Just about everything," Kirk replied viciously. "Spock - I'm afraid you'll be staying here when we leave. You're assigned to assist Captain Pieters until there's a vacancy found for you somewhere."
"Stay here?" McCoy exclaimed. "Vacancy? Found? What - ?"
"We've been assigned a new First Officer," Kirk said grimly.
"May I ask why, Captain?" Spock asked quietly. From his attitude, no-one would have guessed that his whole world had just fallen about his ears.
"Because a big-headed nincompoop wants your job, that's why! Lt Commander David Andrews, when he left the Academy, said that he would like to be the First Officer of the Enterprise. His father's Stewart Andrews - and anything Junior wants, Junior has to have. Expensive toys when he was a kid - and now the Enterprise is just another toy for him! A nice big juicy expensive one. I doubt it's really ambition - he wants to play at Starship Command. And instead of knocking him down to size, Starfleet gave him it," he finished bitterly.
"Is it really that bad?" McCoy asked.
"Worse." Kirk, his fit of temper not exhausted but under better control now that he had got his immediate feelings about the new officer off his chest, relapsed into gloom. "I've just come from seeing him. He made good grades at Starfleet Academy - I hope honestly - but I found him cocksure - he seems to think he's God's gift to the Enterprise - to all of Starfleet! - and I'll swear he has no common sense... and there's nothing I can do about it."
"The crew will wonder what's happened to Spock, Jim - will you tell them?"
"The officers - yes, I'll have to. They all know there weren't any promotions lined up; retirements among senior officers or anything that could have caused him to be transferred... and Uhura hears all the sub-space gossip she doesn't realise I know goes on; she'll hear about it through her grapevine soon enough, and pass it on. I'm just as well to tell them myself - and give Uhura the satisfaction of being first with the news on her private channel," he added with a wry grin.
"The crew won't accept him, Jim," McCoy said thoughtfully. "Not on those terms. They'll obey him for your sake, but grudgingly; the whole ship will suffer... "
"I know, Bones, I know. To tell you the truth, I think Starfleet Command is hoping that he'll exhaust the glamour of the job in one trip, and give up; it's a pretty dull, ordinary mineral survey we're off on - one you'd expect to be given to a research vessel, it sounds so ordinary and routine. If I'm right, that does explain why Spock's just got to stay here, where he's handy to be picked up again; but the rest of us'll just have to put up with Andrews during it."
They were two days on their way when Andrews requested a private interview with Kirk. The Captain, who had been ignoring the man as much as he could, sighed inwardly and agreed to see him.
Andrews - not unexpectedly; his father was known for his directness when dealing with anyone, and it was natural for the boy to copy his father - came straight to the point.
"Captain Kirk," he said, his cocksure manner making Kirk want to kick him. "The other officers appear to resent obeying my orders. Dr. McCoy in particular is positively rude to me - I might almost say insolent."
Look who's talking, Kirk thought.
"He absolutely refuses to give me my proper place," Andrews finished.
Already, Kirk thought. But the place Bones gives you is your proper place. Aloud, he said, "Well, Mr Andrews, the resentment is fairly natural. It'll die down once you've proved yourself." Liar, he thought. It'll never die down. "Mr Spock was well-liked - "
"Liked?" Andrews interrupted. "A Vulcan? An alien? Liked?"
"You won't get far in Starfleet if that's your attitude towards non-Terran Federation nationals," Kirk said bluntly. "And yes, Mr Andrews, Mr Spock was liked. If he had been given his own command, we'd have missed him, but we - and I include myself - could have accepted you as his successor, quite readily. But as it is, you have his position, and he's kicking his heels back on the Starbase doing make-work because of it. Of course it's resented. As for McCoy, he and Spock were very good friends."
"I've heard otherwise."
"If you heard that they frequently disagreed, that's true; but it didn't make them less friendly."
"That doesn't make sense."
"They enjoyed arguing, Mr Andrews," Kirk said with the over-patience of exasperation. "It's as simple as that. I would suggest that you could help matters by refraining from denigrating Mr Spock - yes, I've heard some of the things you've said. I don't like them either."
Kirk dropped in at sickbay a little later to see McCoy. It struck him that McCoy was looking a little flustered, and put it down to a guilty conscience. McCoy was bound to realise that his attitude towards Andrews was certain to cause trouble for Kirk.
"Andrews is annoyed," he said. "It's sunk in that we resent him - and he's especially annoyed at you."
"Jim, if it's making life difficult for you, I'm sorry. But he goes on and on about Vulcans in general and Spock in particular - "
"I know. I advised him to stop."
"How anyone that xenophobic ever got into the Academy in the first place, I'll never understand."
"And why he should have wanted a career in Starfleet - "
"Daystrom accused me of wanting the prestige that goes with the job, Bones - do you remember? He should have met Andrews."
McCoy nodded. "Yes, of course." He hesitated, then went on. "You know, Jim, a lot of the things he says, I've said myself to Spock at one time or another. The difference is that I know Spock and he doesn't; I said it to Spock's face, but that jumped-up little pipsqueak wouldn't have the nerve; and I never really meant it, but that clown does. And half the time he doesn't even know what he's talking about, misquoting so-called jokes, things like that... and you challenge him, he can't answer. Spock always gave as good as he got - better, often. Jim, there's no comparison between them. Spock's a man; Andrews - he's immature, Jim. He hasn't grown up yet. That's the truth of it."
"Bones, you're not telling me anything I don't know. In a way, though, this is good for me. I don't think I ever realised just how much I depended on Spock until I got stuck with this idiot. Half the duties I gave Spock I've to do myself or give to Sulu or Chekov - and they know it, and they realise why. I daren't give them to Andrews. And at that he's incompetent. How he got those high grades at the Academy I'll never know."
"A lot of people are fine at working out problems on paper, Jim. It's when they hit reality that they can't cope."
"Is that what makes him lazy, too? Spock ate work. Nothing was too much bother. Andrews gives me the impression that if you asked him the time, he'd resent having to exert himself sufficiently to tell you."
As they came within sensor range of Gamma Draconis II, Kirk called for a report on the planet.
There was a rather lengthy silence. He swung round to stare at Andrews' back as he bent over the sensor, noticing as he did so that Uhura was already staring at the new First Officer with some surprise.
"Mr Andrews?" he asked.
"Er - atmosphere oxygen-nitrogen, Captain. Gravity, Earth normal. There seems to be extensive plant life."
"Any animal life, Mr Andrews?" Resolutely, Kirk spoke with controlled patience.
"Er - no, sir."
After his previous hesitation, the speed of that answer is slightly suspect, Kirk thought. Or maybe I'm just being prejudiced. It's possible he's a little unsure of himself, this first time of giving a report in a duty situation, and wanted to be absolutely certain before he gave an answer, and simply forgot to mention the animals - or rather, the lack of them. Oh, to have Spock here, to know that the information is accurate...
"What about minerals, Mr Andrews?" He couldn't help the slight exaggeration he gave to the next of Andrews' omissions.
There was another pause, slightly briefer than the first. "The mineral readings are all jumbled together, sir. It's impossible to tell from this distance what's there."
Spock could have told me, Kirk thought. He could practically have told me how many tons of each individual ore there is on the entire planet. He forced the thought of the Vulcan out of his mind. Wanting Spock would accomplish nothing, just make him more than ever discontented.
"We'll have to check it out from the ground, then," he said quietly. Too quietly.
He included Andrews in the landing party, not because he wanted him but because he had no desire to leave Andrews in charge of the Enterprise; he preferred to entrust his ship to Scotty's experienced hands. Andrews protested Kirk's decision, pointing out that as First Officer, he should be left in command.
Kirk grinned with barely-concealed, almost malicious, satisfaction. "You're also Science Officer," he pointed out. "This mission requires the presence of the Science Officer on the surface. I have been in the habit of leaving Mr Scott in command and having my Science Officer with me on landing parties such as this," he pointed out.
"Yes, but my predecessor was only a Vulcan - " Andrews began, to be cut off short by the naked fury on Kirk's face.
"I warned you already about referring to Mr Spock like that," he snarled.
"I... I'm sorry, sir," he stammered.
"Nor am I in the habit of having my orders queried. If I say you're going on the landing party, you go. Understood?"
Kirk swung away. Spock might occasionally query an order passed unbidden through his mind. But he always had a damned good reason, he told himself firmly. He moved towards the elevator. "Come along, Mr Andrews," he said firmly.
Andrews followed him reluctantly, casting a look of utter hatred at Scotty as he did so. Kirk refrained from comment as the elevator slid downwards. There was nothing he could say that would help matters; for he did not think that Andrews would appreciate hearing the truth about himself, nor even believe it if he did.
They joined the assembled landing party. Kirk felt strangely... incomplete? as they entered the transporter chamber; for not only was Spock missing, he had deliberately not included McCoy. Andrews was difficult enough to contend with without having the rough-tongued surgeon along to exacerbate matters.
It was more to give Andrews the feeling that he was in fact doing something useful that Kirk entrusted a tricorder to the man. Lt Cabrelli, from the science department, had the other. Cabrelli, at least, is dependable, Kirk reflected; senior assistant to the Science Officer, he was well up the promotion roster and could soon expect to be Science Officer in his own right. The remaining members of the landing party were security men. Kirk hadn't forgotten his doubts as to the unreliability of Andrews' sensor report, and he could see by the men's watchfulness that they shared his uncertainty. Word had apparently got that far... well, he had always known that the ship's grapevine was fantastically fast - and phenomenally accurate.
"Energise, Mr Kyle."
They were caught in the familiar sensation that Kirk always found slightly tickly - if in fact one's internal organs could be tickled. The planet took shape round them. Kirk glanced round.
They had materialised on a sort of plain. Far in the distance, a range of hills rose high into the sky, making a jagged line on the horizon. Huge boulders littered the plain, as if some giant child had been playing and left his building bricks scattered when he was called in to bed. Kirk dismissed the fanciful thought, replacing it with what was more likely the reason - glacial deposits, left as an ice sheet melted. Tall grass waved in a gentle breeze that also moved the thinner branches of the few sparse trees. Here and there a splash of bright colour revealed the presence of a patch of flowers. It was the centre of one of the confused ore readings; and for the first time, Kirk found himself in some slight sympathy with his new Science Officer. These boulders were all streaked with veining; if they were in fact glacially deposited, they could have come from a number of different sources and be ores of many different kinds. It would indeed have been impossible to distinguish between them... although a stubborn corner of Kirk's mind insisted that Spock would have made some attempt to do so.
"Starfleet is most immediately interested in deposits of topaline," Kirk said quietly. "Mr Andrews, is there any topaline in the area?"
As Andrews swung the tricorder around, Kirk became aware of Cabrelli trying to attract his attention. He gestured quietly, indicating that they should at least give Andrews the chance to reply.
The reply, when at last it came, confirmed Kirk's doubts. "Captain, I'm afraid I don't remember how topaline shows up on a tricorder," Andrews said bluntly.
Kirk took a deep breath. Keeping a firm hold on his temper, he said coldly, "You're honest, at least, Mr Andrews." He glanced at the scientist. "Mr Cabrelli?"
"Captain, I'm getting readings of large deposits of magnetic ore in the immediate vicinity."
Kirk glanced back at Andrews. "Didn't you pick that up, Mr Andrews?"
"Er - yes, sir, but I didn't think it important."
"It could disrupt the communicators," Kirk said quietly. He pulled his out, flicked it open. "Kirk to Enterprise. Enterprise. Come in, Enterprise."
There was no reply - only the rustling crackling of static. Kirk looked back at Andrews. "You detected that the ores were intermixed. Didn't the magnetic ore show up on the sensor?"
"Well, yes, sir, but I thought that that was why the other readings were all confused."
"And you didn't think it worth while telling me that on the ship, any more than you thought of reporting it now." It was a statement, not a question.
"No, sir. And you're not even apologetic." Normally he would not have disciplined a senior officer in front of his subordinates, but he was too angry to care about Andrews' sensibilities and any problems it might subsequently give the man. "Mr Andrews, you've had plenty to say about Vulcans in general and Mr Spock in particular, but if I asked Mr Spock for information, I got it. Immediately and accurately. You've forgotten a thing as simple as the readings of topaline deposits, and you neglected to inform me of these magnetic ores, which Mr Cabrelli noticed immediately and knew was important. Even if you didn't think it was important, you should have asked, and you should have known that. I tell you now, Mr Andrews, I've given you several opportunities to show your ability, and you've failed them all. I consider you to be incompetent, careless, uninterested in your work, basically lazy, unsuited to any position of authority and temperamentally unsuited to any position without authority. In other words, useless to society. And my report to Starfleet will say that."
Andrews opened his mouth, but Kirk did not give him the opportunity to speak. "You needn't remind me who your father is, either," he went on, "because I don't give a damn. And in my opinion, you'd be a better man today if he'd thrown you to the lions. He's not your best friend - he's your worst enemy."
He turned his back on the other and glanced at Cabrelli. "Try to get us out of this magnetic area, Mr Cabrelli."
Cabrelli shook his head. "I've been checking, sir," he said. "There's no obvious route; the magnetic readings are equally strong in all directions."
"Then let's try this way." Glacial deposits would have come from the mountains; the chances were that the magnetic ore originated there too. He turned away from the distant hills and walked directly away from them, closely followed by Cabrelli, who continued to check his tricorder diligently. The three guards spread out. All five ignored Andrews, who followed after them because there was nowhere else for him to go. He still had not recovered from the shock of finding someone who cared nothing for the power of his omniscient father. He had always slightly despised himself because he had always slightly feared his father, even when he was being given whatever he wanted.
Now he was conscious of a new feeling; respect. Here was someone who was not afraid; and he knew that his father would respect Kirk too. He had a sudden desire to redeem himself, and began to check his tricorder, racking his brain to remember the many readings he had been taught but had only memorised until the examinations, then promptly forgotten, thinking that they were unnecessary. He swung the tricorder from side to side, trying to identify each reading, and finding surprisingly many returned to his mind when he concentrated. But one reading he couldn't identify. It seemed to be electrical in origin, and shifting position. He hesitated, then decided that he must risk rebuff. He ran to catch up with Kirk.
"Well, Mr Andrews?" The tone was discouraging, but he continued doggedly.
"Captain, I've been checking my tricorder, and I keep getting a reading I can't identify. Really can't, I mean; I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. Over that way. It seems to be electrical."
Kirk glanced at Cabrelli. "Confirm?"
After a moment, Cabrelli said, "Confirmed, Captain. I can't identify it either."
Kirk glanced at the guard nearest the mysterious reading. He didn't need to say anything.
"I'll be ready, sir."
They moved on; but they hadn't gone far when a huge, shapeless form appeared from behind a pile of large boulders. It was as big as an elephant, a mass of semi-transparent protoplasm with no obvious limbs or features.
The thing appeared to be gliding along, rather as a snail might, on that part of its body that came in contact with the ground. It was coming directly towards them, and there was something strangely threatening about its steady approach. The guard nearest it pulled out his phaser.
"Just stun it," Kirk said evenly.
The guard fired - and nothing happened. The creature continued to advance. The guard dropped back a few yards, fumbling with the setting of the phaser. But before he could alter it, a great tentacle extruded itself from the amorphous mass and enveloped him, apparently assimilating him instantaneously. His body showed up as a darker mass inside the semi-transparent body of the creature.
"Get back," Kirk said tersely to the others. As they retreated, the guards between their officers and the thing, he set his phaser to kill, and fired.
Kirk fired again, this time giving a good long burst. The creature seemed to absorb the energy from the phaser.
The Captain dropped back and joined the others. For the first time he was glad that Spock wasn't with him, for at least he knew that the Vulcan was safe. McCoy, too. Though if Spock had been there, they probably wouldn't be in this situation.
They retreated cautiously. The creature had stopped for the moment, possibly because it had caught its dinner. But how many more of these creatures were there?
"Captain," Andrews said nervously, "I'm picking up another one."
"So am I, sir," Cabrelli, facing in the opposite direction, added.
On board the Enterprise, the time for the landing party's first check had come and gone. Scott, fidgeting slightly, allowed ten minutes to elapse before saying, "All right, Lieutenant. Try to contact Captain Kirk."
Uhura flicked switches, then looked around.
"There appears to be a very strong magnetic field, Mr Scott. I'm picking up nothing but static. They might be able to hear me; but I think it unlikely that a communicator signal would penetrate it."
"Mr Andrews didn't mention anything about a magnetic field when he gave his analysis of the planet," Scott said doubtfully.
"Andrews' report was probably incomplete." McCoy spoke bitterly from where he hovered beside the command chair.
"Mr Chekov, give me a sensor report of the planet," Scott said abruptly.
Chekov moved from his navigation console to the library computer, and bent over the sensor. "Strong magnetic field - Mr Scott, nobody could have missed it! Confused mineral readings... there are spasmodic electrical impulses too - "
Scott punched the intercom button.
"Hangar deck. Get a shuttle ready for immediate launching." He glanced at McCoy. "They may not be in trouble, but they won't be able to contact us to let us know when they're ready to come back. I'll take a shuttle down to pick them up."
McCoy hesitated. "Scotty - do you think they're in trouble?"
"Aye. I do." He moved up to Uhura, staring at the board as if to will a response from it.
"So do I." McCoy moved towards the elevator. "I'm coming with you."
"The shuttle'll no' carry eight," Scott pointed out.
"Scotty, some of them might be hurt. I have to come."
"Aye. I think you're right. Mr Sulu, take over."
He followed McCoy into the elevator.
The landing party was gathered in a tight group, watching the creatures moving nearer. There were five of them now - and then a sixth came into sight.
Two of the creatures moved close enough to touch each other. An interplay of coloured sparks shot from one to the other in a beautiful firework display, if the men had been in a mood to appreciate the beauty of the spectacle. When the two moved apart again, both seemed to be rather smaller, as if the incident had caused a considerable loss of energy.
A shuttlecraft moved into sight, on a course that would take it past them about quarter of a mile away. Kirk reached for his communicator again, but got no reply other than the crackling of static. He watched the shuttle move past them. So near... then it swung round, and began to move back the way it had come. This time it would miss them by about a hundred yards... but next time - if it made a third run?...
But the pilot saw them on the second run. He swung in, over them.
This was going to be a tricky piece of piloting, Scott know. Somehow he had to land inside the contracting circle of... whatever they were, that had the Captain's party trapped. Only five of the landing party, too... Wonder who was unlucky this time? He circled again, judging his distance carefully then brought the shuttle down slowly, very close to the ring of creatures, with the doorside of the shuttle away from the nearest of them. He moved quickly to open the door, McCoy at his side. The survivors of the landing party crowded in, Kirk last. As he entered, the nearest of the creatures on that side flicked out a tentacle. McCoy saw it and hauled Kirk out of the way. The tentacle touched the side of the door, and sparks flew in a multi-coloured display vaguely reminiscent of a floodlit waterfall.
Scott closed the door, and returned to the pilot's seat. The shuttle took off.
Hack on board the Enterprise, Kirk sat in his cabin wondering how he was going to accomplish the survey. Any landing party would have to go down by shuttle, that much was clear, but Kirk was unwilling to risk any more of his men. Those creatures - he had a rooted dislike of anything that was unaffected by a phaser stun, for it meant that his men had little, if any, defence. And as far as he could see, anyway, the ores were all too diffusely scattered to be economically workable - always assuming that a defence against the creatures could be found. An electrified fence, perhaps...
This was one of the occasions when he really missed Spock. He needed the Vulcan's scientific expertise to help him there... and instead, he had nothing but Andrews' inexperience. Although the boy had partly redeemed himself back there... Cabrelli? It might be worth while asking him. Or - did Starfleet really want a survey of this planet? Might the whole exercise not have been geared to discouraging Andrews without alienating his father?
There was a knock at the door. "Come."
The door slid open and Andrews entered. He looked nervous, tense.
"Yes, Mr Andrews?"
"Captain, I... I want to apologise. I've not been... working properly. I've been careless, and... and... " His voice trailed into silence.
"Apology accepted, Mr Andrews."
"Yes, Mr Andrews?"
"Captain, it wasn't my idea to move straight up to First Officer. It was my father. I knew I wasn't ready, even when I didn't know what would be entailed, but I couldn't say no to him - but I'll have to tell him now. Will... will you help me?"
"To tell him?"
"Well, to back me up. I've never had the courage to stand up for myself. I know now that I'll have to, but I will need encouragement... "
"You might find it easier than you expect, Mr Andrews. But yes, I'll back you."
"Thank you, sir."
As Andrews left, Kirk sat back. Yes, he decided, this is what Starfleet really wanted. We'll take another couple of days, make sensor scans from the shuttlecraft so that we have some sort of report to hand in, then get back and pick up Mr Spock again. It would be nice to have his Vulcan friend back.
He was whistling, just a little off-key, as he made his way back to the bridge.