The sun poked and prodded into the mist-filled darkened alley until it found him. Gently, it inhaled the cool morning mist. The warmth sank upon him, and he stirred slightly. He had lain there all night through the tormented storm and was curled in a ball to protect himself from the cold wind and rain. Slowly, he began to uncurl and emerge from the tightly woven cocoon. Each movement was done slowly, tenderly, with the curiosity of exploring a new sensation.
He blinked his eyes open painfully, the sunlight prying at them until they remained open, comfortable with the orange suns warm light. Slowly and cautiously, he climbed to his feet and stood there motionless. His mind was empty, suctioned as with a vacuum. It lay motionless within him, waiting for a direction, a guide. There were no thoughts, no feelings, no curiosity and his eyes began to dart around the alley with the naivety of a newborn child.
He had on no shirt, and the remnants of his pants barely hung past his knees. The drenched cloth clung to his skin like a sinewy spiders web. He began to walk at a slow, easy pace. The rough cobblestones tore at the exposed, tender flesh on the soles of his feet.
Moving out of the alley, he began to walk down the towns streets. He walked to no particular destination and without a thought of having a destination. His walking had no purpose, save that of being something to do rather than sitting in the alley.
Kirk turned from speaking to the lieutenant and froze as his eyes fell on the empty navigators chair. The sight of it sliced through his gut with a cold, sharp steel blade. The navigator had only left his post temporarily, but it served Kirk as a blaring reminder of the missing crewmember. He turned back to Uhura. "Lieutenant?"
"Search Party Four has just beamed up," she responded. "They report negative, sir."
There was a tinge of sadness in her voice, but Kirk refused to acknowledge it because it had a haunting hopelessness in it.
"Ill be in Sickbay. Scotty, you have the conn."
Nurse Chapels eyelids lowered, and she turned away as Kirk leaned forward intently yet again.
Sulu had been badly injured; he was weak and tired from the experience and constant interrogations since. Even so, he was the only lead they had; surely the helmsman understood that.
His face was swollen, pale and blotchyremnants of lacerations and bruises were not entirely erased by McCoys handiwork. He shook his head intently again in response to the captain.
"Just once more, Suluits important. When the landing party beamed down, you separated."
"Per standard procedure," Sulu reminded him. "I was teamed with Chekov."
"And when the storm hit?"
"It was getting bad; Chekov said it was a hurricane."
"It was," Spock said.
Sulu nodded. "Chekov contacted Riley," he shrugged, "and Riley ordered the entire party to beam up."
"Why didnt the two of you beam up together?" Kirk demanded, a little too harshly, he realized.
"I called for our beam-up, and he left...for some reason. I couldnt really hear him. I think he went to help someone. He said hed follow..." Sulu stopped abruptly. It was the same conversation hed had over and over with the captain.
"Jim," McCoy warned.
But Kirk persisted. "Just tell me, when was the last time you saw him?"
"Just as the transporter was beginning to take effect I saw him across the street. He pulled his communicator out and then..." He paused, swallowing hard. "I saw the building collapse on him."
McCoy latched onto Kirks arm and pulled him into the office.
Spock let the door slide quietly closed behind him before locking the three of them in.
"Why do you insist on continuing this? How is this helpful?" McCoy demanded.
"One of my crewmen is missing."
"One of your crewmen is dead!" McCoy spat back at him. "Why dont you admit it? The rest of the crew has. Chekov is dead, and youre endangering everyone elses lives by prolonging this ridiculous search!"
Kirk turned and met Spocks even gaze. "And you, Spock, do you agree with that verdict?"
Spock hesitated a long moment before responding quietly. "All evidence does seem to support that conclusion with overwhelming agreement. The statements of the landing party members, the artifacts discovered by the search parties..."
"So you think hes dead, too."
"Jim," McCoy drew out, "we found his communicator, most of his bloodied tunic..."
"But not his body!" Kirk spat out,
"Is that what youre looking for?" McCoy demanded angrily. "His body? For what reason?"
"No," Kirk said evenly. "Im looking for Ensign Chekov, one of my crewmen. And Ill continue to look until we find something conclusive." They did not...could not understand what was ingrained in only a captains soul.
"The only conclusive thing left to locate is his body," the doctor intoned.
"Captain," Spock began, "the ion storm which caused the planetary weather disturbances is drawing alarmingly close."
"How much longer is our safety factor?"
"Two point five-two hours."
Kirk nodded. "One more search party. Theyll return in two hours, and well leave with or without Ensign Chekov."
Turning, he indicated the viewscreen on the wall, still displaying a map of the city in question. There was red spot to indicate the last place Chekov had been seen and numerous blue spots showing where his various belongings had been found.
"Advice on where this search party should concentrate their efforts, Spock?" he questioned.
Spock nodded and drew his finger over an area.
It was the most logical area, of course, slightly overlapping where the other search parties had concentrated their efforts, yet still in the general area of where the ensign had been seen last.
Kirk nodded, gave the orders to implement the final search, but then remained staring at the map. The area Spock had indicated was the most logical, but he was wrong. Theyd never find Chekov there; Kirk knew it decisively.
The captains eyes drew instinctively away from the densely populated area where Chekov was lost to another. The terrain of the northwest area captured his eyes and held them with an intrinsic bond he could not explain. It was a primordial connection so vital he could feel it roaring in his blood, thundering in his ears and drowning out the world around him.
"You have the conn," he said. "Im beaming down."
Spock raised an eyebrow, but Kirk was gone before he could protest.
He moved at a steady, monotonous pace, not slowed by the open cuts on the soles of his feet. Eyes drawing over the shops windows as he passed them, the items in them had no meaning to him. This was not so much confusing but brought to him a type of primal fear. Hardly present enough to be acknowledged, the emotion still left a feeling of emptiness somewhere within.
He found himself stopped in front of a store window, not knowing why. These items looked no different to him than others hed seen elsewhere; indeed, he seemed to have no capacity to differentiate. Yet, there he stood, staring.
"Father!" a voice exclaimed.
Startled, he jerked his head toward the shops doorway, where the sharp cry originated. He stared blankly at the young girl clutching the doorframe. A tall, broad man appeared behind her.
"Get your mother," the man barked out, stepping out of the doorway as the child disappeared. He gently took hold of the young man. "Come in the shop; lets see to you before you go any farther."
He looked down at the mans hand on his arm curiously. He found himself moving, was led easily. He drew his eyes upward to the items hanging from the ceiling and let them move across the endless bins of items around him as the man propelled him forward. He had neither any actual interest nor curiosity, but somehow this place gave him the first real emotion he could remember. This place was warm, comfortable, and familiar...almost like home. He sat down with no protest.
The sound of footsteps drifted past his senses, and he turned his eyes to the woman wringing a cloth in a basin of water.
"Is he going to be all right, Father?"
"Hes injured; watch his head."
The voices drifted around him, but he had no interest in them. He watched as the woman drew the cloth over him. It slowly peeled off the protective layer of dirt that had grown on him, and the tender, white skin was exposed.
Suddenly, searing pain sliced through his skull and drove itself into the base of his spine. He shrieked, but the mans arms gripped him to prevent him from jerking up in reflex. Several more times the pain came, finally dying away as a flood of warm water ran over his head. He whimpered.
"Im sorry," the woman said softly as her fingers gently arranged his hair. "I had to."
He found himself lifted then, standing. Clothing made of a light material draped over his body, and it brought cool comfort as it swirled about him like a cocoon. His feet were surrounded gently by soft protective shoes. They felt right...seemed to belong next to his skin. His senses stirred, inhaled the feel of the cloth, and then swept it past his brain with the same instinctive and instantaneous response the shop itself had brought.
He found himself outside the shops door again.
"Maybe I should bring him, Father?"
The plaintive voice had emerged from within the shop. He stood motionless before the door as the man disappeared back within it. Again, he stood before the shop, drawing his eyes over its windows. There was no purpose in standing there, no thought of purpose in doing anything.
"Hell find his way," the mans voice drifted out to him.
"Instinct," her father replied. "Men like him have an intrinsic bond to the sea, to the stars and to each other...its born in them."
She looked at the stranger as he made his way down the street.
"Instinct," the man repeated. "He came here; you saw how far he walked. Hell find his way."
The captain stood motionless, staring out over the water. The sweet, pungent air swept over him in waves until it engulfed his senses and drowned them with its overwhelming will. The sea was restless; churning and leaping and rolling in impatience and fighting the contamination that the storm had thrown into it. It shouted to him, ridiculed him in jest, laughed at him and finally spoke to him in silent whispers that vibrated through him. He stood for a long while listening to it, staring at the broken masts and shattered souls strewn about the harbor. A single tear rolled down his face as a lone, tattered sail rose desperately in a vain attempt to capture the wind and regain its glory. It fought hopelessly against the tangled rigging and shattered masts about itan albatross caught within a self-made cage.
He turned, at last listening to the seas reprimands, and began to walk off the wooden wharf. He moved through the grass and onto the cobblestone hill at a methodical pace. He wanted to run, wanted to find his missing crewman within moments, but he moved slowly and evenly. The captains hopes were high, resting on something within him he couldnt define, but determined that he was right.
His time was nearing its end. Hed stood watching an ancient mistress far too long, but he had only one place to goone place he was instinctively called to look.
The captains steps echoed through the home with a sharp sounding click, bringing relief from the tedious burden of silence. The men straightened in anxious awaiting, listening intently to the footsteps. Theyd heard them a thousand times over, in waking dreams and nightmares, heard them in toil and danger, and now, heard them in mirrored hope because there was no mistaking the footsteps of a captain.
The captain moved into the room with a hush as the haunted, hopeful eyes turned in pleading. His eyes moved slowly round, resting softly on each man. With an effort, they moved onto the next with terror, his feet riveted to the ground. He did not want, could not bear failure. The image of the last held his attention, everything that was within him seizing with impotent, dismal rage. He forced his feet to move and dragged himself slowly out of the home, clouding his memory of the men he left behindeach single face an ache in a captains soul somewhere. That ache was a consuming place in his own soul, an emptiness that longed for completion. And a dull throb of disbelief because he had been wrong. He could not have been wrong.
He hesitated outside and stared at the incongruity of his Starfleet boots on the rough cobblestones. It pained a commander enough to lose a crewman. To lose an officer that was a member of the ships command team was unacceptable. To lose one of the people the universe had a connection with was intolerable.
The captains eyes drew upward then, and he stared silently at the building next door. A sort of peace washed over him, as if the sea wind had reached out and absorbed the entire ache that consumed him. He turned and began walking with his eyes fixed on the sedate building. His light, methodical steps echoed an unconscious expectation that his being didnt dare to acknowledge simply couldnt.
He stopped before the back door and stared at it. Yes, he had passed the front door and walked directly around the side of the building without knowing that there was a door here, but he didnt want to go in. Despite the open door, the revulsion that overpowered him held him frozen there. If the slight stirring of hope he felt were destroyed here, there would not be another chanceit would be the ultimate death.
Carefully, he stepped down the short flight of stone steps and ducked through the threshold into the basement room. He stopped there and scanned its white washed walls, worn wooden floor and expanse of open space. The overwhelming smell of a just-washed wooden ships hold engulfed him, and he steadied himself noticeably.
An inconsequential podium rested at the front of the room and, between the supportive beams of the building, two rows of six simple wooden benches. He inched down the aisle between the ingenious benches. A piece of wood had been attached to them to provide backrests, but the same piece of wood could be pivoted forward to form a surface for writing or such.
The wood on the first bench had been swung forward in this manner and a solitary figure sat there, hunched over, his head lying on his folded arms. The captain moved toward him slowly, his eyes riveted to examining every detail of the figure. He paused behind him and stood for a long moment. Finally, he tentatively reached out and rested his hand lightly on the mans shoulder.
The figure turned, raising his wide brown eyes to the man poised behind him. The face he saw was not familiar and brought no memories to him. Yet, the man knew. His soul itself knew, and the word spilled out in a nearly silent whisper. "Captain," the man said simply.
Just one crewman had been missing, but each crewman was more than a captain could afford to have missing. Kirk smiled slowly and helped him to his feet.
"I knew youd come," Chekov murmured. "I knew youd find me."
The captain gathered him in his arms. "So did I."
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