The observation window of the SpaceDock showed the stars in their glorious heights, but the room's sole occupant saw none of their sparkle. The man stared beyond the stars, beyond to memories of times long gone.
The door opened, but Chekov didn't hear it. In his mind's eye he saw the bridge as it was years ago, saw Captain Kirk years younger, heard the clicks and whirls of the now-silent computer. He felt a hand upon his shoulder, shaking him out of his reverie.
"Come on, Pav, why?" Sulu, newly appointed Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior asked, trying to keep his temper. Chekov turned slowly.
"Vwhy?" Chekov repeated. "Vwhy vwhat?" He stared at Sulu for a moment, then returned to his musings.
"Don't pull that innocent act on me. I go out of my way to get you as my first officer, and what? You turn me down. No reason why!" Sulu paced the room, angry. "I've been looking for you all over Starfleet Headquarters! Don't you even have a reason for turning down the posting?"
Chekov stared out into the stars, and gave no reply. Sulu grabbed his shoulders and forced Chekov to look at him.
"That posting could have led to your first captaincy! Your first command! The object we dreamed about for years! And you would let me believe that you will throw it away for nothing?"
Chekov shuddered. "No! It's nothing like that!" He stared beyond the stars, the images passing faster and faster, and saw a ghostly scene from his past...
"The asteroids are formed of the usual materials, iron, nickel, etcetera." Chekov commented to Captain Canfield as they regarded the mainviewer. "The Starfleet Corps of Engineers vwill be using them in the reconstruction of Starbase Twenty-Seven."
Canfield laughed. "I have to say they pose little threat to the Lexington."
Chekov smiled, and Canfield continued.
"Anyway, I want a level one diagnostic on all the equipment while we're in the sector, and, just to be safe, raise the defensive shields. I don't want to give those damned Klingons an opening. It would help if our sensors and weapons were top condition, also. Pavel, could you check up with the engineering department to find out about their progress? They've disengaged the comm system while they are inspecting it."
"Aye, sir." Chekov got up and walked to the turbolift. As the doors shut on the bridge the ship erupted as if hit with a photon torpedo. The engineering board erupted in a spray of sparks and fire, and the lights flickered as the life support faltered. Chekov clawed at the doors until he could slip between them and emerged into the bridge. Red emergency lights flared.
"Any idea what hit us?" Captain Canfield demanded of the bridge crew as they regained their footing.
Chekov studied the science station. It was destroyed beyond any functional use. "Most likely a gravitic mine. The Klingons probably spread a field of them around Starbase Twenty-Seven. If our shields had been lowered, vwe vwould not have survived."
Lieutenant Rachelson, the chief security officer, stood up from her seat, her expression worried. "The Kh'myr Klingons lay mines all over in a certain area, so if by some chance the enemy survived the first one, they would be killed by the second."
"We have lost warp capability, and are functioning on reserve power only. Reserves will be depleted within two days," Assistant Chief Engineer Falierk reported. "We have lost communications, thrusters, and impulse engines. Sensors are functioning. The shields and the turbolifts are nonfunctional."
Captain Canfield turned to navigation. "Status?" The word was laced with irony.
Ensign Raler studied his panel before responding. "We are drifting on a course that will take us out of the system in five days."
"Out of control in a system full of gravity mines." whispered Lieutenant Falierk. "If we hit another we shall be destroyed..."
Silence ruled on the ruined bridge of the Lexington.
"I'm going down to Deck Two to talk to Chief Engineer Evans," Captain Canfield broke in. "Maybe she can rig something..." He left the bridge using the emergency stairway, closing the hatch behind him.
Commander Chekov had barely settled in his chair when the ship was hit by another gravity mine. The sound of metal shrieking above the red alert alarms would forever be remembered by Pavel Chekov.
"Attention: Explosive decompression on Deck Two. Attention: Life support systems failing. Attention: Explosive decompression on Deck Two..." The computer reported tonelessly.
The bridge crew rushed to the stairway, knowing Canfield had to be dead. Chekov climbed down to Deck Two and looked through the window on the airlock.
A still, bloodied form lay twisted about the metal debris.
"Pavel! I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall! You could at least answer me," Sulu snapped, exasperated.
"It's personal, Hikaru. I just don't think I can handle the job..."
"You have been an exec for three ships! If you were able to be the first officer for three captains, then why is it so difficult to be the exec for another?"
Chekov returned his gaze to the stars before answering. "All three missions ended in the death of my kyptins. How can I accept this transfer if I am a jinx to every ship I serve on?" He saw fleetingly the images of his captains...the ships he had served on...the faces of the crews he had served with...
"This is Ceti Alpha Five!" Khan yelled at the stunned Chekov. Khan suddenly calmed, and his cold calculating eyes glittered with intense hatred as he explained. "Ceti Alpha Six exploded six months after we were left here. The shock shifted the orbit of this planet, and everything was laid waste. Admiral Kirk never bothered to check on our progress..." He turned away from Chekov and Terrell. "It was only the fact of my genetically engineered intellect that allowed us to survive. On Earth...two hundred years ago...I was a prince, with power over millions."
Chekov was terrified. Why hadn't he followed procedure and scanned the system before beaming down? He had been bored, as finding a planet the exact size and shape for Project Genesis was hard to locate. He had run a scan on the planet but had not scanned the system. Chekov cursed his own stupidity.
"Kyptin Kirk was your host, and you repaid his hospitality by trying to steal his ship and murder him."
Khan turned. "You didn't expect to find me. You thought this was...Ceti Alpha Six.... Why are you here?" Khan lifted Chekov by the handhold on his life support pack. "Why?"
The superman set Chekov down. "Allow me to introduce you to Ceti Alpha Five's only remaining indigenous life form." Khan took off his cloak and continued. He lifted the top of a cage off and inserted tongs into the sand. A sudden vicious snap was heard as a creature grabbed the metal tongs between her two teeth.
"What do you think?" Khan said as he prodded the creature with the tongs. "It killed twenty of my people...including my beloved wife." He pulled out a slug-like thing from the creature's back with forceps, and put it into a bowl. "Oh, not all at once." He pulled out another. "And not instantly, to be sure." He turned from the cage.
Khan looked at the two men, and smiled his deadly smile. Chekov's heart froze, and then began beating so fast he could swear Captain Terrell could hear it.
"You see, their young enter through the ears and wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex. This has the effect of rendering the victim extremely susceptible to, uh, suggestions. Later, as they...grow, follows madness...and death."
Khan gestured to his men to force Chekov and Terrell to their knees.
"Khan, listen to me--" Chekov cried out to Khan, but this only gave the genetically engineered superhuman more enjoyment as he finished his lecture.
"These are pets, of course."
Chekov watched, horror-struck, as Khan put the worm-like screaming things in their helmets.
"Not quite domesticated..."
"Khan, Kyptin Kirk was only doing his duty..." Chekov began as Khan put the helmets on the struggling men.
A leech-like thing slivered across his cheek, and Chekov screamed. He tried to raise his hands to wipe it away, but felt his hands restrained. He screamed louder, to frighten the creature...anything to keep the eel away. He felt burning pain as the eel crawled into his ear, slithering through canals that were too small for it, until it reached his brain. Pain lanced through his body as it took hold, and he felt his self-control taken away...
His screams softened into sobs, and he collapsed into a heap on the floor, defeated. Khan smiled at them.
"That's better. Now, tell me, why are you here, and tell me where I may find..." He paused, and then continued with obvious pleasure, "James Kirk."
"Pavel! Answer me!" Sulu jerked the commander once more. Chekov regarded his friend. How could he possibly explain?
"Hikaru, try to understand. It's not you, it's me!" Chekov stared into his friend's eyes, pleading. He tried to explain to his best friend why he had made that choice. Perhaps, he wondered, I'm also trying to explain it to myself.
"There is nothing wrong with you other than a bad attitude. Nothing you have ever done could have killed your captains. You just had a streak of bad luck--"
"Bad luck! Vwas it bad luck that caused me to forget to scan the system for Kyptin Terrell? Or bad luck that caused me to fire too late to stop the phaser blast that killed Kyptin Matterson--" His voice caught with emotion.
Captain Matterson... shortly after the Kelvan War....
"Look sharp, men. The Romulans could be anywhere," Captain Matterson announced to the away team as they investigated the abandoned Romulan Bird of Prey. An acrid smoke filled the air, and the crowded passageway was lit solely by the away team's flashlights. Matterson divided the team, leading three other members to the ruined bridge, while Chekov led the others to the engineering section below. With a brief nod, the two teams turned their separate ways and departed.
Chekov led the team down to the bowels of the ship, noticing how primitive the living conditions were. Ladders, instead of turbolifts, for example. The hallway occasionally flickered with light as another power circuit blew, and the smell of burning plastic brought tears to Chekov's eyes. After a thorough search of the ship, they finally reached Engineering. Chekov checked the area one more time before moving on to the storage area.
"Commander!" A security ensign yelled. "Look at this!"
A case of dilithium crystals lay behind a terminal in the storage area. As Chekov lifted and inspected each piece, a murmur came from the crystalline substance.
"If vwe can use this, vwe may be able to repair the dilithium chamber, and restore vwarp and transporter capability!" Chekov commented excitedly. "I'll call the kyptin to inspect this."
As the team continued to search the immense room Chekov called his captain to inspect the crystals. The ensigns had almost finished half the room, when a Romulan fired a disruptor from behind a carton in the back of the room.
The team took cover behind the cartons and returned fire. The Romulans were firing on a high setting, and cartons were being disintegrated by stray disruptor blasts.
A disruptor shot narrowly missed his head as he ducked again behind his carton before returning fire. Across the room, a security ensign had killed two of the three Romulans. Chekov raised his phaser and fired, trying to kill the Romulan before he could fire again. The shot was too late, and the disruptor pulse shot out from the Romulan's gun before the phaser blast vaporized him. Chekov ducked as the blast passed over his head.
A scream turned his attention from the vaporized Romulan to behind him. Captain Matterson fell, clutching the bloodied stump of her shoulder as Chekov ran to her. Blood squirted from severed veins, staining the dilithium crystals a deep red. Chekov cradled the woman's head in his arms as an ensign called the other team for a medic. Still, Chekov knew it was going to be too late.
Matterson looked directly into Chekov's eyes as if she could see the heart of his soul. "Remember me."
"You're going to be all right," Chekov lied, trying to hide the truth from not only his captain, but from himself.
"I'm dying, Pavel. I don't think a medic could save me now, even if he were here.... Promise me you will remember me. Promise me." Matterson interrupted, her voice growing weak, but insistent.
Chekov looked away, staring instead at the deep red crystals, stained with human blood.
"I promise," he answered, looking into the ruin of his captain's face.
"Remember me..." Matterson whispered again, reminding him of his promise as she closed her eyes. She breathed a deep breath, and that breath was her last as Death claimed Matterson for his own.
Chekov closed his eyes, feeling raw pain echo through him. Memories he had thought erased from him awoke from their slumber, and brought him grief anew. Chekov let the tears fall from his closed eyes as he mourned for each of their deaths. In the distance he could hear the medic arrive and felt the body slip from his lap. He could still hear the captain's melodic voice linger in the air...
Chekov turned his attention from Sulu's face to the glittering stars, as if searching for an answer there. The stars glistened with unshed tears, and he felt the pain for his captains' deaths burn his throat. Each one had been killed by Chekov, and he could feel the guilt for their deaths hang over his shoulders like a burden.
"Hikaru, I cannot be your exec..." he began slowly, trying to find the words. "I am a threat to the ship--"
"How could you possibly be a threat to the ship? I tell you again, it was a coincidence!" Sulu burst in.
"A coincidence! Once is a misfortune, twice is coincidence, but three times is a pure jinx!" Chekov shot back, letting his voice rise. He sighed and continued studying the stars, feeling the empty pain gnaw at him.
"I'm sorry, Hikaru. I shouldn't have yelled. Vwhat I'm trying to explain is that it vwas my fault that my kyptins died. A simple scan of the system could've saved Kyptin Terrell's life, and vwaiting a few minutes until the room had been searched completely could've saved Kyptin Matterson from the Romulan's disruptor blast, and had I gone below to engineering instead Kyptin Canfield, he would not have died. I failed them when they needed it the most, and they paid the price for it. They died because of my actions." Chekov leaned on the window, fingers lightly touching the glass. "I can't let that happen to you..."
Tears welled up again in his eyes, and Chekov let them fall. Remember me, Captain Matterson had said. She needn't have bothered. Chekov would remember her for the rest of his life.
"Why didn't Sybok heal your pain?" asked Sulu.
"His method of healing covered the hurt for awhile, but after Kyptin Matterson died..." He shook his head, lacking words to describe the sleepless nights he had, when every dream he had was a ghostly echo from his past of his captains, each one silently accusing him. You have failed me.
Sulu studied his friend. He had never known the deaths of Terrell and Canfield had hurt so deep, so deep that even the healing powers of Sybok could not permanently cover them. He had never suspected Chekov's brief stint as executive officer of the Kongo had reopened those wounds. After all, the Russian literally hadn't even had time to unpack when the Kongo had been attacked. He never suspected Matterson's death had so deeply affected his friend...
Light spilled over Chekov's face, illuminating the few silver strands in his hair. Sulu looked into him and saw the friend he had known for twenty-three years, a friend he had known and trusted. Yet even the closest of friends had secrets.
He recalled back to when they had all served under Captain Kirk, and remembered with a wistful smile how happy and carefree they had been. The navigator had transferred from the Enterprise to the Lexington, only to have the vessel destroyed. Sulu had offered his condolences on the loss of his friend's captain when the young Russian had pulled a tour aboard the Enterprise. But the ship had been attacked by the Klingons above Serenidad, and Chekov again was transferred, this time to the Reliant. Sulu had seen Chekov a few times during his own tour aboard the Cooper when both vessels were at the same port. And then came Terrell's death, Spock's, the destruction of the Enterprise...
Finally, after the encounter with Sybok and the energy being at the galactic center, Chekov had been transferred to the Kongo as its exec, and Sulu had been transferred to the Cooper as its captain. The Kongo had been only two hours from Starbase 12 when it was attacked. After the death of Matterson, the Cooper had arrived to assist in rescue operations. Both Sulu and Chekov had spoken about Matterson's death. Chekov was soon transferred to the Enterprise for yet another tour aboard the vessel, this time as her chief security officer and third officer.
Even with all the upheaval in his life, Chekov had never allowed his personal feelings to show, and Sulu had never guessed that Chekov had suffered so much. Yes, even the closest of friends have secrets. What a fool I've been, Sulu thought. He had never once lost a commanding officer in action, and had never experienced the pain that came with the loss.
He turned to Chekov, watching the stars' light outline his darkened form, causing dark shadows on his friend's face. When did that bit of silver touch on Pavel's jet black hair? When was his youthful innocence replaced with weary experience? Sulu pushed a graying lock from his own eyes, remembering Uhura's silver hair. When would they all be so old that all that they knew would be obsolete?
Sulu's reflection in the clear glass looked like the visage of a man years older than he himself felt. He turned to the stars, the stars he had chased for most of his life, the stars that witnessed his birth, and would witness his death, never changed for an instant. Suddenly he felt very old, his life's accomplishments worthless.
"I understand.... You're remaining here, aboard the Enterprise... If that's what you want..."
In the dim light, Sulu put his hand on his friend's shoulder, and the two gave each other a bear hug.
"I guess this is goodbye," Chekov told Sulu.
"No, Pavel. Never goodbye. Just 'until we meet again'." Sulu answered.
And the stars glistened behind them, their unshed tears of sorrow becoming unshed tears of joy.
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