Authors: Vonda N. McIntyre
Better to reign in hell than serve in heav’n
ON TRAINING MISSION TO
ALL SYSTEMS FUNCTIONING
Mister Spock, in his old place at the science officer’s station, gazed around at the familiar bridge of the Enterprise. The trainees, one per station and each under the direction of an experienced crew member, were so far comporting themselves well.
It was a good group, and the most able of them was the young officer in the captain’s seat. Spock expected considerable accomplishments from Saavik. She was young for her rank, and she enhanced her natural aptitude with an apparently inexhaustible capacity for hard work.
Spock listened with approval to the cool narration of the captain’s log. Saavik, in command of the
completed the report and filed it. If she was nervous—and he knew she must be—she concealed her feelings well. Her first command was a test, but, even more, every moment of her life was a test. Few people could understand that better than Mister Spock, for they were similar in many ways. Like Spock, Saavik was half Vulcan. But while Spock’s other parent was a human being, Saavik’s had been Romulan.
Mister Sulu and Ensign Croy had the helm.
“Sector fourteen to sector fifteen,” the ensign said. “Transition: mark.” He was a moment behind-time, but the information was not critical to their progress.
“Thank you, Helm Officer,” Saavik said. “Set us a course along the perimeter of the Neutral Zone, if you please.”
Sulu watched without comment, letting Croy do his own work and make his own mistakes. The data streamed past on Spock’s console.
Spock had not failed to notice Saavik’s progress in the use of conventional social pleasantries. Trivial as they may have seemed, learning to use them was one of the most difficult tasks Spock had ever tried to master. Even now, he too frequently neglected them, they were so illogical, but they were important to humans. They made dealing with humans easier.
Spock doubted that Saavik would ever use the phrases with warmth, any more than he would, but she had modified her original icy disinterest, which had come dangerously close to contempt.
Saavik gazed calmly at the viewscreen. She was aesthetically elegant in the spare, understated, esoterically powerful manner of a Japanese brush-painting.
“Captain,” Uhura said suddenly, “I’m receiving a signal on the distress channel. It’s very faint…”
Saavik touched controls. “Communications now has priority on computer access for signal enhancement.”
Uhura’s trainee worked quickly for several seconds.
“It’s definitely an emergency call, Captain.”
“Patch it through to the speakers.”
twelve parsecs out of Altair VI…” The voice broke up into static. The trainee frowned and stabbed at the controls on the communications console.
Spock listened carefully. Even computer-enhanced, the message was only intermittently comprehensible.
“…gravitic mine, lost all power. Environmental controls…”
“Gravitic mine!” Saavik said.
“…hull breached, many casualties.” The signal-to-noise ratio decreased until the message slid over into incomprehensibility.
” Uhura’s trainee said. “Your message is breaking up. Give your coordinates. Repeat: Give your coordinates. Do you copy?”
“The Neutral Zone,” Saavik said.
Mister Sulu immediately turned his attention from the speakers to his console.
we’re losing our air, can you help? Sector ten—” The forced calm of the voice began to shatter.
—” The communications trainee and Uhura both glanced at Saavik, waiting for instructions.
Helm, what does a long-range sensor scan show?”
Sulu glanced at Croy, who was understandably confused by the screen display. It had deteriorated into the sort of mess that only someone with long experience could make any sense of at all. Sulu replied to the question himself.
“Very little, Captain. High concentrations of interstellar dust and gases. Ionization causing sensor interference. A blip that might be a ship…or might not.”
The viewscreen shivered. The image reformed into the surrealistic bulk of a huge transport ship. The picture dissected itself into a set of schematics, one deck at a time.
third-class neutronic fuel carrier, crew of eighty-one, three hundred passengers.”
“Damn,” Saavik said softly. “Helm?”
Sulu glanced at the trainee, who was still bent over the computer, in the midst of a set of calculations. Croy shook his head quickly.
“Course plotted, Captain,” Mister Sulu said, entering his own calculations into the display.
Spock noted with approval Saavik’s understanding of the support level she could expect from each of her subordinates.
Sulu continued. “Into the Neutral Zone.” His voice contained a subtle warning.
“I am aware of that,” she said.
Sulu nodded. “Entering Neutral Zone: mark.”
“Full shields, Mister Sulu. Sensors on close-range, high-resolution.”
Spock raised one eyebrow. Gravitic mines were seldom deployed singly, that was true, but restricting the sensors to such a limited range was a command decision that easily could backfire. On the other hand, long-range scanners were close to useless in a cloud of ionized interstellar gas. He concentrated on the sensor screens.
“Warning,” the computer announced, blanking out the distress call. “We have entered the Neutral Zone. Warning. Entry by Starfleet vessels prohibited. Warning—”
“Communications Officer, I believe that the mayday should have priority on the speakers,” Saavik said.
“Yes, Captain.” Uhura’s trainee changed the settings.
“Warning. Treaty of Stardate—” The computer’s voice stopped abruptly. The static returned, pierced erratically by an emergency beacon’s faint and ghostly hoot.
“Security duty room,” Saavik said. “Security officers to main transporter.”
“Aye, Captain,” Security Commander Arrunja replied.
“You may have to board the disabled vessel, Mister Arrunja,” Saavik said. “They’re losing atmosphere and life-support systems.”
“The field suits are checked out, Captain.”
The intern accompanying McCoy on the bridge hurried to open a hailing frequency.
“Bridge to sickbay,” she said. “Doctor Chapel, we need a medical team in main transporter, stat. Rescue mission to disabled ship. Field suits and probably extra oxygen.”
McCoy looked pleased by his intern’s quick action.
“One minute to visual contact. Two minutes to intercept.”
“Viewscreen full forward.”
The schematics of the ore carrier dissolved, reforming into a starfield dense and brilliant enough to obscure the pallid gleam of any ship. Ionization created interference patterns across the image.
“Stand by, transporter room. Mister Arrunja, we have very little information on the disabled vessel. Prepare to assist survivors. But…” Saavik paused to emphasize her final order “…no one is to board
“Coordinate with the helm to open the shields at energize.”
Spock detected a faint reflection at the outer limits of the sensor sphere. The quiet cry of the distress beacon ceased abruptly, leaving only the whisper of interstellar energy fields.
“Captain, total signal degradation from
“Sensors indicate three Klingon cruisers,” Spock said without expression. “Bearing eighty-seven degrees, minus twelve degrees. Closing fast.”
He could sense the instant increase in tension among the young crew members.
Saavik snapped around with one quick frowning glance, but recovered her composure immediately. “All hands, battle stations.” The Klaxon alarm began to howl. “Visual: spherical coordinates: plus eighty-seven degrees, minus twelve degrees. Extend sensor range. Mister Croy, is there a disabled ship, or is there not?”
The viewscreen centered on the ominous, probing shapes of three Klingon cruisers.
“I can’t tell, Captain. The Klingon ships are deliberately fouling our sensors.”
“Nothing from the Klingons, Captain, and our transmission frequencies are being jammed.”
“Klingons on attack course, point seven-five c,” Spock said.
Saavik barely hesitated. “Warp six,” she said.
“You can’t just abandon
” Doctor McCoy exclaimed.
“Four additional Klingon cruisers at zero, zero,” Spock said. Dead ahead. Warp six on this course would run the
straight into a barrage of photon torpedoes.
“Cancel warp six, Mister Croy. Evasive action, zero and minus ninety. Warp at zero radial acceleration. Visual at zero, zero. Doctor McCoy,” Saavik said without looking back at him, “
cannot outmaneuver seven Klingon cruisers. It will, however, outrun them. If we lure them far enough at their top speed, we can double back even faster—”
“And rescue the survivors before the Klingons can catch up to us again,” McCoy said. “Hmm.”
“It is the choice between a small chance for the disabled ship, and no chance at all,” Saavik said. “If there is in fact a disabled ship. I am not quite prepared to decide that there is not.”
The viewscreen confirmed four more Klingon ships dead ahead, and then the
swung away so hard the acceleration affected the bridge even through the synthetic gravity.
“Mister Sulu, Mister Croy, lock on photon torpedoes. Fire…” She paused, and Spock wondered whether her early experience—fight or be killed—could, under stress, win out over regulations and the Federation’s stated object of keeping the peace. “Fire only if we are fired upon.”
“Aye, Captain.” Sulu glanced at the young ensign beside him. Croy clenched his hands around the firing controls. “Easy,” Sulu said quietly. The ensign started, then forcibly relaxed his hands.
Another blip on the sensor screens: “Enemy cruisers, dead ahead.” A third group of ships arrowed toward them, opposing their new course.
Saavik said something softly in a language with which Spock was not ultimately familiar, but by her tone it was a curse.
The Klingons fired on the
“Fire at will!” Saavik said.
The viewscreen flared to painful brightness before the radiation sensors reacted to the enemy attack and dimmed the screen to half-intensity. The energy impact was so severe even the shields could not absorb it. Spock held himself steady against the wrenching blow, but it flung Sulu from his post. He crashed into the deck and lay still. McCoy and the intern vaulted down the stairs to the lower bridge and knelt beside him.
“Mister Sulu!” McCoy said. His tricorder gave no reaction. “Spock, he’s dead.”
Spock did not respond.
“Engineering!” Saavik said.
“Main energizer hit, Captain,” Chief Engineer Scott replied.
Saavik slammed her hand down on her controls, transferring command to the helm. She took Sulu’s place. Croy fought for data enough to aim the torpedoes.
Saavik did the calculations in her head, keyed them into the console, transferred a copy to Croy’s station, and spoke to Scott in the engine room.
“Engage auxiliary power, Mister Scott. Prepare to return fire…
” She fired. One of the Klingon cruisers fired on the
just as Saavik’s torpedo hit. The cruiser imploded, collapsing in upon itself, then exploded in eerie, complete silence. But its deathblow struck the
full force. The screen blazed again, then darkened, with the radiation of the furious attack.
“We’re losing auxiliary power, Captain, and our shields along wi’ it,” Scott cried. “The ship canna take another—”
The scream of irradiated electronics cut off Scott’s warning. The enemy ships in pursuit caught up to the Starfleet vessel. At close range, they fired. The
shuddered, flinging Uhura against the railing and to the deck. McCoy left Sulu’s inert body and knelt beside the communications officer.