From the moment James T. Kirk steps



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From the moment James T. Kirk steps

aboard the Enterprise—the youngest captain in Starfleet’s history—things begin to go wrong. His Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock, considers Kirk impetuous; the ship’s chief engineer thinks him an inexperienced young hotshot; his chief medical officer hasn’t bothered to show up yet; and the new helmsman would rather be someplace else entirely. To top it all off, Starfleet Command has assigned the Enterprise a disappointingly tame task: to ferry a troupe of vaudeville performers on a morale-raising mission to Federation starbases—in short, a USO tour.

Then the largest spacecraft anyone has ever seen suddenly appears in the ship’s flight path ... and on their first mission together, Kirk and the entire Enterprise crew are facing what could truly be mankind’s final frontier. ...









POCKET BOOKS

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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An Original Publication of POCKET BOOKS
POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1230 Avenue of the-Americas, New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 1986 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
STAR TREK is a Registered Trademark of Paramount Pictures.
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ISBN: 0-671-73032-0
First Pocket Books printing September 1986
18 17 16 15 14 13
POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Printed in the U.S.A.
To Linda M., Katya, Rosie, Dottie, Mary, Liz, and Beth,

to Ann, Anne, and Vera,

to Susan & Danny, because of all those Thursdays;

and to Pat and Staarla.



Contents


Contents 5

Prologue 6

Chapter 1 19

Chapter 2 33

Chapter 3 46

Chapter 4 56

Chapter 5 74

Chapter 6 96

Chapter 7 111

Chapter 8 126

Chapter 9 142

Chapter 10 167

Chapter 11 185

Chapter 12 202

Chapter 13 220

Epilogue 249

About the e-Book 252


Prologue

BLOOD FLOWS IN strange patterns in zero gravity—

Jim Kirk cried out and flung himself forward, reaching—

“Gary, no—”

As Gary Mitchell collapsed, Jim struggled forward, fighting to see, fighting to stay conscious despite shock, fighting to move through the pain of his crushed knee and his broken ribs, fighting to breathe against the blood in his lungs. If he lost the fight, his closest friend would die.

A scarlet net drifted across the image before him, and he thought that he was blind.

Jim bolted awake, gasping. He had been dreaming. Dreaming again. “Carol ... ?” He wanted to hold her, to reassure himself that he was right beside her, not back in the disaster of Ghioghe.

Then he remembered, almost as if he were waking from a second dream, that he no longer lived in Carol Marcus’s house, he no longer slept in her bed. He was alone.

As his room’s computer sensed that he was awake, it lightened the darkness around him. He wiped cold sweat from his face and touched the scar on his forehead. At Ghioghe, before the gravity went out, blood from the gash flowed down into his eyes and obscured his vision.

He wished he could go back to sleep; he wished he could sleep without dreaming. But he knew he could not. Besides, in fighting the recurrent nightmare Jim had left the bedclothes twisted and sweat-damp and clammy. He threw them aside and rose.

Jim Kirk, the newest captain in Starfleet, the youngest [2] officer ever to reach the rank of captain, the hero of Axanar and, more recently, of Ghioghe, the next commander of the constellation-class starship Enterprise, had lived for the past two weeks in a rented traveler’s cubicle, one of a hundred identical cubicles facing another block of a hundred identical cubicles, in a building similar to at least a hundred other sleeper buildings clustered near the spaceport.

In his current odd emotional state of excitement over his coming command, worry over Gary Mitchell, and pain and confusion over the way his affair with Carol Marcus ended, Jim had lived here without noticing the shabby surroundings. Not that his own furniture, which he had left in storage during this visit to earth, had much over the plastic built-ins of the sleeper. Jim had never got around to replacing much of the beat-up junk left over from student digs. But he did have a couple of pieces of heavy old oak from the farmhouse in Iowa, and a single Persian rug he had bought on a whim even before he realized how much he liked it, and before he realized how much the liking would cost if he let it develop.

He could barely stand in the sleeper; he could just lie down in the bunk, if he restrained himself from stretching. He looked around. He would have claimed intimate familiarity with the place, but the claim would be a fraud. Had he been asked to describe it, he would have failed in every particular. His indifference to it turned suddenly to revulsion.

He dragged his small suitcase from the tiny storage shelf, pulled it open, and flung into it his few possessions: a couple of books, including one that had belonged to his father; a thin sheaf of family photos; a letter from Carol. He could not decide if throwing the letter away would start healing his wounds, or deepen them.

“Computer.”

“Ready.”

“Close out my account here.”

“Done.”

Jim slammed shut the suitcase and fled the sleeper without a backward glance.



Outside, in the darkness preceding dawn, Jim felt as if his nightmare still lurked at the edge of his waking perceptions. He always had the same dream, never about the breakdown [3] of pattern, the miscommunication that led to the battle, not about the battle itself, not even about the actions he had taken that saved most of his crew but left his ship, the Lydia Sutherland, a battered, broken hulk drifting dead in space. Instead, the dream always repeated those interminable few minutes in the rescue pod, when Gary Mitchell almost died.

Jim climbed the stairs to the entrance of the Starfleet Teaching Hospital, being careful of his right knee. So far, this morning, it had given him no trouble. He headed for the regeneration ward. No one stopped him. He had asked, ordered, pulled rank and pulled strings to get official permission to be here outside of visiting hours. Finally he simply ignored the rules, and now everyone was used to seeing him.

As he had every day since getting out of regen himself, Jim entered Gary’s hospital room. Gary Mitchell lay in a regeneration tank, drugged and sleeping and immersed up to his neck in translucent green regen gel.

Gary hated being sick. It hurt to see him like this. All the specialists kept congratulating themselves on his progress. But to Jim he looked wasted and frail, as if the gel were draining his youth instead of restoring his body. Gary’s thirtieth birthday had passed right after he entered regen. Jim was a year and a half younger, just turned twenty-nine, impatient with the aftereffects of his own injuries, anxious for his friend to get well.

He sat down beside Gary and spoke to him as if he could hear him.

“They keep telling me you’ll wake up soon,” Jim said. “I hope it’s true. You’ve been here too long, and it isn’t fair. You would have come out of Ghioghe without a scratch if you hadn’t come back for me.” Jim stretched his right leg, testing his knee. He had begun to trust the new joint; physical therapy had built up its strength so it no longer collapsed at awkward moments. He still had exercises he was supposed to do every day.

“They also claim you can’t hear me because of the drugs. But they’re wrong. I don’t much care if they think I’m nuts to talk to you.” Jim remembered his last few days in regen, a twilight of half-sleep, confusion, and dreams. “I saw it all going wrong at Ghioghe. I still can’t believe Sieren could make a mistake like that. I saw—this is going to sound [4] weird, Gary, I know it, but I saw the pattern of what was happening. I knew that if everyone would calm down for thirty seconds, if all the commanders held their fire for another minute, the crisis would pass. But it didn’t happen that way. Lord, I admired Sieren.” Jim could not believe Sieren had made the mistake, could not believe Sieren and so many others had died. He took a deep breath. “I saw the pattern, I knew how to fix it, but I couldn’t do anything, and it all went wrong. Is that how it was for Sieren? Is that how it would have been for me, if I’d been in command at Ghioghe? Axanar could have turned out just the same, but it didn’t. We came out of that one covered with glory and holding a peace treaty. Was that just good luck?”

He thought Gary’s eyelids flickered. But it had been a reflex, or Jim’s own imagination.

“It’s all right,” he said. “Sleep, get well. I have to go up to the Enterprise soon, but if the ship has to do without a first officer for a few months, it will survive. I’ve nominated you to the position, my friend, as soon as you’re ready for it.”

“Good morning, captain.”

Gary’s heavy dark hair had slipped down across his forehead. Jim brushed it back.

“Captain?”

Jim looked up. Christine Chapel, a member of the staff of the intensive-care unit, stood near. Jim had heard her, but he had not realized she was talking to him. He was not yet used to his new rank. His promotion had come while he was still in regen. He went to sleep a commander whose space cruiser had been blasted around him; he woke up a captain with a new medal and a constellation-class starship soon to be under his command. “Sorry, Ms. Chapel. Good morning.”

“The biotelemetry on Commander Mitchell is very encouraging. I thought you’d like to know.” A striking young woman, she wore her blond hair feathered around her face.

“Then why doesn’t he wake up?” Jim said.

“He will,” Chapel said. “He will when he’s ready.”

She handed him a printout flimsy.

After spending so much time here, he had learned to make sense of it. He scanned the printout. It did look good. The troubling tangle of neurons in Gary’s regenerating spinal [5] cord had sorted itself out, and the vertebrae had solidified from their earlier ghostly shadow, when they were only cartilage. As far as Jim could tell, Gary’s lacerated internal organs had completely healed. Jim handed the printout back.

“I see he has the heart of an eighteen-year-old,” he said.

She smiled. The hoary old regen joke had a dozen punch lines. The standby was “Yes—in a jar on his closet shelf.”

“Has Dr. McCoy called to ask about his progress?” Jim said.

“No.”


“Strange. We’re supposed to transport to Spacedock later. I hoped Gary would be with us ...”

“Maybe Dr. McCoy decided to extend his vacation.”

“It’s possible.” Jim chuckled ruefully. “I did a better job than I meant to when I bullied him into taking some time off. I don’t even know where he went.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Why does Dr. McCoy call Commander Mitchell ‘Mitch,’ while you call him ‘Gary’?”


“Everybody calls Gary ‘Mitch’ except me. He picked up the nickname during our first midshipman training cruise. But I’d already known him for a year, and somehow I just never got around to making the change.”

“What does he call you?”

Jim felt himself blushing. He wondered if he could get away with telling her that Gary called him Jim, like everybody else. As soon as Gary woke up, though, he would blast that fiction out of space.

“He calls me ‘kid,’ ” Jim said. “I’m a little younger than he is, and he never lets me forget it.” He did not tell her he had been the youngest in his class by more than a year. He knew what she would say: “Precocious, weren’t you?” Being called precocious at fifteen or at twenty was bad enough. At twenty-nine, it was ridiculous.

“You’ve known Commander Mitchell for a long time, haven’t you?”

“Ten years. No, eleven.” Jim had lost three months in the regen bed and shipped out to Ghioghe in spring, when the hills east of the city were green from winter’s rain; when he [6] woke up, only two weeks later in subjective time, the hills were golden and tinder dry with summer. Now, autumn approached, and Gary was still here.

“He will be all right, captain. I promise you that.”

“Thank you, Ms. Chapel. Ms. Chapel ...”

“Yes, captain?”

“Would you do me a favor?”

“If I can.”

He stopped, wondering if he should ask her to do something all the experts said was useless. “I know it isn’t supposed to make any difference, but I keep remembering the time before I woke up. I could hear things—or I thought I could hear—but I couldn’t open my eyes and I didn’t know where I was or what had happened to me. While Gary’s still asleep, would you ... talk to him? Tell him what’s going on, tell him he’s going to be all right ...”

“Of course I will,” she said.

“Thank you.” He stood up reluctantly. “I’m supposed to report to Spacedock soon. I’d like to leave a note—?”

“You can use the office in back.”

The note was hard to write, but he finally got something down that he hoped would be reassuring.

In the doorway of the office, he stopped. Her back to Jim, Carol Marcus stood at Gary’s bedside with Dr. Eng, one of the regen specialists. They inspected Gary’s life-sign readings and compared the printout with Carol’s projections. Unlike the specialist, Carol was not a medical doctor. She was a geneticist; she had developed the protocol for Gary’s treatment and for Jim’s.

Jim remembered the first time he saw her, the first thing she said to him. When he began physical therapy, he lasted about five minutes into the first session. Trembling with exhaustion, sweaty and aching, thinking himself ridiculous to be so weak, he noticed her watching him and wished no stranger had seen him like this. Bad enough to have McCoy hovering like an encouraging mother hen.

But Carol overlooked Jim’s exhaustion, the scar on his forehead, his hair plastered down with sweat. She said, “I wanted to meet the person who belongs to this genome.”

She was serious and elegant, funny and good-humored. [7] She was one of those rare scientists who make intellectual leaps that turn into breakthroughs. She was extraordinarily beautiful, with her smooth blond hair and deep blue eyes. Jim felt an immediate attraction to her, and though her job did not require her to visit intensive care, let alone therapy, she often stopped in to see him.

The first time he left the hospital they went walking together in a nearby park. By the time the hospital released him, Jim and Carol had fallen in love. She invited him to move into her house.

Three months later, he moved out. He had not seen her for the past two weeks. He had an irrational urge to step back into the office and stay there till she left.

Don’t be ridiculous, he thought. You’re both adults; you can be civilized about this. He started toward her.

Dr. Eng pushed her short dark hair back behind her ear, made a notation on the printout flimsy, and glanced at Carol with a concerned frown. “What are you going to do?”

“Do? I’m going to do all the things you’re supposed to do under these circumstances,” Carol replied. “You didn’t think this was an accident, did you?”

“No, of course not, it’s just—Why, Captain Kirk! How nice to see you looking so well.”

Carol turned, uncharacteristically flustered. “Jim—!”

“Hello, Carol.” He stopped. He wanted to say everything to her, or he wanted to say nothing. He wanted to make love with her, or he wanted never to see her again.

“Talk to you later,” Dr. Eng said, and made a diplomatic exit.

“How are you feeling, Jim?”

He ignored the question. His heart beat hard. “It’s wonderful to see you. I have to leave soon. Can we ... I’d like to talk to you. Would you have a drink with me?”

“I don’t feel like having a drink,” she said. “But I will go for a walk with you.”

Jim paused beside Gary, still hoping he might awaken. He did not. “Get well, my friend,” Jim said, and left Ms. Chapel the note to give him when he regained consciousness.

They did not have to discuss where to go. Jim and Carol walked toward their park.

[8] Without meaning to, exactly, Jim kept brushing against Carol. His shoulder touched her shoulder; his fingers touched the back of her hand. At first she moved aside.

“Oh—” Carol said impatiently the third time Jim touched her. She took his hand and held it. “We are still friends, I hope.”

“I hope so, too,” Jim said. He tried to pretend the electric tingle of physical attraction no longer existed between them, but he found it impossible to deceive himself that much. Being near Carol made Jim feel as if a powerful current cast a web over both of them, exchanging and intensifying every passion.

“Are you sleeping any better?” Carol said.

Jim hesitated between the truth and a lie. “I’m sleeping fine,” he said.

Carol gave him a quizzical glance, and he knew he had hesitated too long. She had held him too many times, when the nightmare slapped him awake in the darkest hours of the morning.

“If you want to talk about it ...” she said.

“No. I don’t want to talk about it,” he said in a clipped impatient tone. Talking about it would do nothing but give him an excuse to wallow in grief and regret. That was the last thing he needed, and the last thing Carol needed to hear. Besides, if he told Carol now that he still bolted out of sleep with a shout of pure fury, tangled in cold sweat-soaked bedding, surrounded by the shreds of dream, confusing darkness with being blind ... If he told her about trying to go back to sleep in the shabby, cramped traveler’s cubicle ... If he told her about lying wide awake and exhausted in the night, wishing desperately she was still beside him, then he would seem to be asking her to take him back out of pity instead of love.

“No,” he said again, more gently, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Still holding hands, they reached the small park and set out along the path that circled the lake. Ducks swam alongside them, quacking for a handout.

“We always forget to bring them anything,” Carol said. “How many times have we walked here—we always meant to bring them some bread, but we never did.”

[9] “We had ... other things on our minds.”

“Yes.”

“Carol, there’s got to be some way—!”



He cut off his words when he felt her tense.

“Such as what?” she said.

“We could—we could get married.”

She looked at him; for a moment he thought she was going to burst out laughing.

“What?” she said.

“Let’s get married. We could transport to Spacedock. Admiral Noguchi could perform the ceremony.”

“But why marriage, for heaven’s sake?”

“That’s the way we do it in my family,” Jim said stiffly.

“Not in mine,” Carol said. “And anyway, it still wouldn’t work.”

“It’s worked for quite a number of generations,” Jim said, though in the case of his own parents the statement stretched the truth. “Carol, I love you. You love me. You’re the person I’d most want to be with if I were stranded on a desert planet. We have fun together—remember when we went to the dock and snuck on board the Enterprise for our own private tour—” At her expression, he stopped. “It’s true.”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s true. And I’ve missed you. The house is awfully quiet without you.”

“Then you’ll do it?”

“No. We talked about this too many times. No matter what we do, it wouldn’t make any difference. I can’t be with you and you can’t stay with me.”

“But I could. I could transfer to headquarters—”

“Jim ...” She turned to face him. She held both his hands and looked into his eyes. “I remember how you felt when you found out you’re getting command of the Enterprise. Do you think anyone who loved you would want to take that away from you? Do you think you could love anyone who tried?”

“I love you,” he said. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t want to lose you, either. But I lost you before I ever met you. I can get used to the quiet. I can’t get used to having you back for a few weeks at a time and losing you over and over and over again.”

[10] He kept seeking a different solution, but the pattern led him in circles and he could find no way out.

“I know you’re right,” he said, miserable. “I just ...”

Tears silvered Carol’s dark blue eyes.

They kissed each other, one last time. She held him. He laid his head on her shoulder with his face turned away, because he, too, was near tears.

“I love you, too, Jim,” she said. “But we don’t live on a desert planet.”


On the marshy bay side of the island, where the shore and the shallow warm saltwater met and blended, mangrove trees reached out onto the black mud flats. The tide receded, leaving behind a rich rank odor. Night fell and earth’s moon rose, full, silvering the dark water and the black mud.

Commander Spock of Starfleet, science officer of the starship Enterprise, citizen of the planet Vulcan, watched and smelled and listened to the marsh. The undeveloped side of the island showed no evidence of human or other sentient presences. The rich ecosystem fascinated him. The dopplered whine of mosquitoes, rising as the insects approached him, falling as they fled, formed a background to the low cries of owls and the sharp sonar of bats. He could trace their flight by the whisper of their wings. The owls flew with a feathery swoop, the bats in a series of abrupt direction changes. A snake slid from shore to water, the sound of its long, smooth slither barely changing as it made the transition. On the tide flats, small crabs danced. The claws of a fat raccoon scraped mangrove bark; its paws padded on the mud; its teeth crunched. In the morning, nothing would be left of the captured crab but a small pile of crumbled shell.

The local inhabitants of the island claimed cougars still lived here, but Spock suspected they made the claim for the benefit of tourists.

Toward dawn, a blue heron sailed out of the dark sky and plashed into the shallows. It stalked over the water, feet and beak poised. Spock wondered what it was hunting. He took off his boots and rolled up his pants and waded into the thick silty water. He could feel the vibrations of living creatures through the soles of his feet, like a constant low electrical current. His toe encountered a hard shape, which he picked [11] up and swished through the water to wash off the worst of the mud.

The mollusk was about half the length of his thumb, a univalve, its shell patterned delicately in black and white. Its body tapered to a point and its apex spiraled to a peak in a series of small sharp points. The creature itself had retreated inside the shell, drawing its horny operculum tight into the opening. Spock stood motionless till the gastropod gradually thrust out its feelers, its head, its body, and crawled across his hand.

Spock returned the king’s crown to the bay and started back to the conference center, taking the long way around the tip of the island. The marsh gave way to the ocean side: white sand, dune grass, palms. As the sun cleared the horizon, he reached a secluded beach. He went for a long, hard swim, testing himself against the currents.

As a child Spock had not learned to swim. His home planet, Vulcan, spun hot and sere around its ancient scarlet sun. Large bodies of open water were rare on Vulcan, for the world retained barely enough water to sustain its ecosystem. Early the first morning of the conference, before anyone else had risen, he took himself off alone and gingerly attempted to swim. His tall spare body was not naturally buoyant, but after a few floundering false starts he managed to stay afloat. Once he figured out how to make forward progress, his skill increased rapidly.

Several kilometers from shore he paused to tread water. The tip of the island was a thin white streak of beach and a thin green streak of vegetation. Eyes open, he let himself sink beneath the water. A meter beneath the surface, a barracuda gazed at him stonily, its powerful silver torpedo form motionless except for the occasional flick of a fin. Spock knew it to be a ferocious predator. He searched his mind for fear; he found none. Vulcans trained themselves to maintain an emotionless state of equanimity under all conditions: Spock continually tested himself against that ideal. He resisted fear and pain; with equal determination he resisted pride and despair, joy and grief, and love.

One moment the barracuda peered at Spock, the next it vanished. Its streamlined shape cut through the sea with barely a motion, and Spock was alone. Perhaps the [12] barracuda had no interest in the copper-based green blood of an alien; or perhaps it simply was not hungry.

He swam to shore, toweled off the saltwater and smoothed down his short black hair, dressed, and crossed the beach. White sand gave way to dune grass; dune grass gave way to trees and shade. A few human people already lay on the sand, exposing themselves to the sun. Humans had evolved beneath this yellow star. Unlike Vulcans, they possessed some natural protection against ultraviolet radiation. Nevertheless, Spock thought they took an unnecessary risk. Some wore bathing costumes, which struck him as ridiculous: inadequate protection from the sun on the one hand, an obstruction to swimming on the other. He saw no point to the use of clothing as decoration.

Though it was broad daylight when he reached the conference center, the lobby was deserted. Most of the other participants had either left after the presentation of the final papers the day before, or they had partied late into the night and now still slept. Deltan people, particularly, showed a considerable tolerance for engaging in intellectual discussions all day and carousing most of the night. They did their celebrating in a private group, however, claiming they could not risk damage to other beings with frailer emotional capacities. The other beings, including human people, apparently took this as a challenge. The resultant commotion helped Spock decide to avoid the wild portions of the conference center and spend most nights exploring the wild portions of the island instead.

“Excuse me, Commander Spock? You have a package.”

Spock went to the desk. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to send it rather than to have it synthesized locally; messenger stamps covered the wrapping. Spock accepted the package. His mother’s handwriting addressed it.

He took it to his cabin and regarded it curiously before breaking the seals. Though he had been on earth, and on Spacedock in high earth orbit, for some months, and though his parents currently resided on earth, he had neither visited nor called them. Sarek, his father, the Vulcan ambassador, disapproved of Spock’s decision to join Starfleet. The breach in their relationship extended over some years, now; [13] as he saw no way to heal it, Spock accepted it. He seldom communicated with his mother, either. Unlike his father, she could accept his making decisions about his own life. She never tried to win him to Sarek’s point of view. But the disagreement between her husband and her son put her in an awkward middle position. Though Spock did not admit to feeling any pain over their estrangement, he was not indifferent to the feelings of his mother.

People who looked at Spock saw a tall, slender man of completely controlled physical power; green-tinged complexion, upswept black eyebrows and deep-set dark eyes, smooth black hair cut in straight short bangs, ears tapering up to points: a Vulcan. Or so most people perceived him. But his blood was not completely alien to the seas of this world, for his mother, Amanda Grayson, was a human being. She possessed all the feelings and emotions of a human being. Though he wished his mother could escape her feelings, Spock knew that the tension between him and Sarek hurt her deeply. His only solution, unsatisfactory as it might be, was to stay away.

He opened the package. It contained a short note of greeting that wished him well, made no mention of his silence, and hardly hinted at the intense emotions behind it. Only the signature broke the cool tone: “Love, Amanda.”

The package contained a shirt of brown silk velvet embroidered with gold at the neck and sleeves. Spock gazed at it, wondering what had possessed his mother to send it to him. It was the sort of garment one might wear to a party, and surely Amanda knew that he attended only the parties he could not avoid, parties to which he would be required to wear Starfleet formal dress. Being human, his mother was more subtle and less directly logical than a Vulcan. That did not necessarily make her actions less meaningful or less comprehensible. Spock understood, after a moment, that she hoped for him to find other rewards in his life than his work. She wished him happiness.

He tried the shirt on. Of course it fit. He had to admit that he found the texture of the fabric aesthetically pleasing. He folded the gift into its package and slipped it in with his other belongings, among the memory modules and a bound copy of the paper he had presented.

[14] His vacation had ended; it was time to return to the Enterprise.
Cadet Hikaru Sulu danced back, sprang forward in a lunge, and retreated before his opponent’s saber could score the winning touch. He lunged, lunged again—and the scoreboard flashed the final touch of the final match of the Inner Planets all-around fencing championship.

The referee awarded the point, the saber match, and the championship to Cadet Hikaru Sulu.

Almost oblivious to the reaction of the audience, gasping for breath, his heart pounding after the long and intense match, Hikaru raised his mask and saluted his opponent. He had competed against her in the intercontinental championships, when he became the first Starfleet Academy fencer in ten years to win a place on the pan-earth team. Her school took most of the other positions, and she was team captain. He had never beaten her before.

She stood with her head down and her saber hanging by her side. She had won this competition two years running. She owned it, by right and by tradition as well as by training. She belonged to one of the most powerful families in the Federation, an aristocracy of old money and old accomplishment. Fencing was their sport. How dare a Starfleet Academy fencer, a provincial, practically a colonist, come in and think he could destroy her sweep?

When she raised her mask, she looked so angry, so stunned, that he feared she would leave the floor without observing the conventions of politeness.

He extended his ungauntleted hand to his opponent. She always moved gracefully, athletically, but now she had to force herself to stiffly shake his hand.

On the sidelines, Hikaru tried to think of something to say to her, but she flung her mask and saber and gauntlet on the floor and shrugged off the coach’s consolation.

She glared at Hikaru. “You illiterate peasant!” she snarled. Followed by her teammates, her admirers, and the coach, she stalked into the locker room.

“ ‘Illiterate peasant’—?” Hikaru was tempted to quote a few lines of poetry. If his opponent’s parents, whose families had done nothing within living memory but protect their [15] positions, had literary pretensions, then their library shelves probably held a copy of one of Hikaru’s father’s books. Fire in Frost, maybe, or Nine Suns.

Probably, Hikaru thought sullenly, an unread copy.

One team member lagged behind. “Proud of yourself?”

“Yes,” Hikaru said. “I am.” For all his opponent’s lack of grace in losing, she was the best saber fighter he had ever seen. He had not expected to beat her.

“She would’ve been the first fencer to take the saber championship all three years.”

“What do you expect me to do?” Hikaru asked angrily. “Fall on my sword in remorse?”

The team member scowled and strode away.

Hikaru had believed if he were good enough, they would accept him. They would forget his lack of position and his poverty and respect him for his accomplishments. He had been foolish to believe that. He had no chance of being accepted; he had never had a chance. Even if his parents’ careers were lucrative, which they were not, only the old money and the old positions and the old connections counted.

Despite himself, Hikaru started to laugh. Finally, the snobbery had passed beyond the limits of pain. Finally, he could only find his teammates hilarious, and, in a strange way, pitiful.

Right after the medal ceremony, he put his weapons in their case and returned to the Academy dorm to study.

Because his mother worked as a consulting agronomist, his family had moved from world to world throughout his childhood. His education had been thorough in some subjects and nonexistent in others. Classes at the Academy were a constant struggle to catch up punctuated by an occasional subject that he could have taught better than the professor.

Starfleet had granted him the assignment he requested, but his being allowed to take it depended on his commission, and his commission depended on his final grades for the final term. He had to do better than just scraping through.

With the championship medal cold in one hand and his weapons case heavy in the other, with his teammates off somewhere mourning their champion’s loss instead of [16] celebrating his victory, he wondered again if he should have quit the team months ago. He would have had more time in which to study. But the truth was he loved to fence, and the training gave him the energy to keep on studying. And maybe it kept him sane. Even early on, when he first realized he was competing in the chosen sport of a completely different social group, he enjoyed fencing too much to quit.

Now, a week later, near dawn, Hikaru strolled along a beach, kicking away the memories of the championship match as he kicked the damp sand. At the edge of the sea, a glassy sheet of water swept across a scattering of smooth-worn and ageless pebbles. The sea and the sand and the wind and the small polished stones at the waterline all sparkled with a cold hint of autumn.

He had won the championship, and the grade; he had his commission and he had his assignment. He was done with the fencing, done with the finals, done with the Academy.

He returned to his beach camp, where smoke from the fire crosscut the brilliant salt tang. Sparks flew when he threw another piece of driftwood on the fire.

He sat down and leaned against a huge storm-burnished piece of driftwood, an uprooted cedar tree polished to silvery gray. The sun’s edge cleared the horizon, rising into air too pure and sky too clear to explode into sunrise. In the east, the sky lightened. Overhead, it glowed an intense indigo. In the west, the stars still glittered in the night.

Only a few hours remained of his leave, only a few hours more of peace and solitude and learning about his home world. He had been born on earth, but raised on a dozen alien worlds. He had spent the last three years here, but study and practice had taken all his time till now.

He had chosen to spend his leave by the ocean not because he particularly wanted to, but because he could afford neither the time nor the money to go offworld. At the age of twenty, he had seen mountains higher than the Himalayas, deserts wider and dryer and crueler than the Sahara, all manner of wonders, planetary and stellar. Stories of earth’s splendors never impressed him.

But after a few days alone beside the sea, he found himself [17] gripped and held by the quiet beauty of his unknown home world.

I used to believe I could make myself at home anywhere, he thought. But now I know I never felt at home at all. Not compared to the way I feel now, sitting beside earth’s greatest ocean.

But soon he must leave; soon he would be on his way to the border to serve on Aerfen with Captain Hunter.

Basking in the warmth of the fire, he dozed off.
Koronin strode across the dark landing field, ignoring the shabby ships that hunkered in the dust. Ships that visited the Arcturan system had left their best years far behind them, whether they originated in the Federation, in the Klingon Empire, or as some unlikely hybrid of orphan parts and cobbled-together retrofitting.

But one ship on the field was different.

The cold keen night wind ruffled powdery dust against Koronin’s boots and pressed her cloak around her. It caught her long copper hair and blew it back from her high forehead, from her brow ridges. It fluttered her unfastened veil over her shoulder.

She paused some paces from the sleek new ship. Starlight gleamed from its smooth flank. No one—certainly no one in the Arcturan system—had seen its like before. The wide-winged body, the long slender midsection, and the spherical prow gave evidence of the ship’s descent from the favored design of the Klingon military. But the design had evolved to produce a unique ship.

And now it belonged to Koronin, who was an outlaw and a fugitive.

She touched the key to the locked hatchway. The key and the ship exchanged complex electronic communication. Knowing that the key or the ship might be rigged to destroy her, Koronin tried to maintain her philosophy of fatalism. But the possibilities that this craft opened for her excited her beyond any chance of calm.

The hatch opened and she stepped inside.

The command balcony could wait. The secured hatch of the work pit opened at Koronin’s approach.

[18] “My lord—” The serjeant cut off his words when he saw Koronin. His brow ridges contracted and his bushy eyebrows bristled.

Koronin read his confusion. She did nothing to alleviate it, but let it increase as she stood before him in silence.

“My lady,” he said quickly. “This is the work pit, no fit place for a citizen of ... of your position. If you permit, I will show you the way to the command balcony, where you may wait in comfort for my lord.”

Koronin smiled. It amused her to be taken for the mistress of the ship’s previous owner. She approved of the speed with which the serjeant recovered from—or concealed—his surprise. She saw in him a valuable assistant, if he could be subverted to her interests.

She held up a thread-thin gold chain. At its end spun a life-disk, its colors already fading to the clarity of death.

“Your lord will not be returning,” she said. “This ship belongs to me.”

The other crew members had merely glanced at her with jaded curiosity when they thought she was their master’s newest favorite. Now that she claimed instead to be their master, they stared at her: some astonished, some terrified. A bare few reacted with joy and relief before they realized what a small chance Koronin had of keeping the ship. They instantly put on expressions of neutrality.

Agape, stunned, the serjeant tried to make sense of her claim. “You killed my lord—you robbed him—?” He stopped. No one could simply steal the electronic key and use it to come on board. It contained safeguards against such an occurrence.

“Your lord transferred ownership to me. He lost to me in a game of chance. A fair game. But afterward, he thought better of his bargain.”

She flicked the chain so the fading life-disk snapped upward. She caught it and folded her hand around it as if she were oblivious to its sharp edges. As she fastened the disk to the long fringe on her belt, she deliberately turned her back on the serjeant.

When the serjeant attacked, she spun and blocked his blow. His force staggered her, but her resistance threw him off balance. He snatched at the blaster on his belt. Koronin [19] disdained to use a powered weapon against him. She drew her dueling blade and slashed the Serjeant’s arm. He shrieked in agony. The blaster flew from his hand. Koronin scooped it up and pocketed it.

The Serjeant huddled on the floor, trying to staunch the flow of blood from his forearm. He bled heavily, but the bleeding was, ultimately, superficial. Koronin had carefully avoided the arm’s major circulatory paths. She despised unnecessary killing.

“Stand up.” She placed the point of her blade at the side of his throat.

He moaned, protesting, terrified. His brow ridges paled and shriveled, for he hovered on the edge of shock. He rose unsteadily. His gaze froze on her blade. As he watched, Koronin’s glassy weapon absorbed the blood that glistened on its surface. The color of the blood-sword deepened.

“The ship belongs to me,” Koronin repeated. “The crew is mine, and you are mine. I will permit you to determine your own fate. You may swear yourself to me, or you may die.”

The Serjeant’s master had disgraced himself. The serjeant could accept the disgrace, or he could renounce it and accept Koronin.

He did the honorable thing.

“I swear myself, and the crew as I command it, to your service.” He hesitated.

“My name is Koronin.”

“I swear myself to your service, Koronin.”

She drew back her blade and sheathed it. A single drop of blood welled from the Serjeant’s throat. “My belongings will arrive soon. When you have seen them safely delivered to the balcony and when you have prepared the ship for liftoff, you may doctor your wounds.”

He acknowledged her right to demand that her tasks take precedence over his pain. “Thank you, my lady.”

“My name is Koronin!” she said angrily. Her hand tightened on the grip of her sword.

He hesitated. He had offered her the title as an act of courtesy and she had refused it. He could not know why. In his pain and shock and fear, he cast about for the reason he had offended her.

[20] “I use no title,” Koronin said, her tone harsh but no longer angry. “Carry out your orders.”

He slowly sank to his knees before her. “Yes, Koronin.”

She turned her back on him and on the crew. No one moved against her. She secured the work pit, sealing the crew at their stations but leaving the serjeant free, and hurried to the command balcony to make herself familiar with the controls.

She wanted to be far from the Arcturan system when the rulers of the Klingon Empire learned of their loss.

She would take their newest ship and see what mischief she could make for the Federation of Planets.



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