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Security Officer Scott Darnell would have preferred to go to the funeral. As it was, it had fallen to him to stand watch in the Enterprise's monitor-studded security section, overlooking the ship's internal sensor net and guarding her phaser stores.
Hardly anyone ever visited security unless he himself was a security officer. So when the door slid aside to admit First Officer Spock, Darnell was a little surprised. Then he saw the phaser rifle cradled in the Vulcan's arms and he understood.
Spock had commandeered the rifle shortly after the Enterprise established orbit around Delta Vega. Darnell hadn't been on duty at the time, but the inventory file showed the incident clearly enough.
What it didn't show was why the first officer had needed the weapon. As far as Darnell or most anyone else knew, they had only made a stop at Delta Vega to obtain the hardware they required to repair their warp drive. The planetoid being completely unoccupied, it didn't seem a phaser rifle would be of much utility to anyone there.
Nonetheless, Spock had taken the weapon and beamed down with it. And sometime after that, something terrible had happened on Delta Vega -- something, it seemed, which wasn't entirely unexpected, or why bring down a rifle in the first place?
When it was over, three of the crew had died. One was Gary Mitchell, the primary navigator. The second was Elizabeth Dehner, a psychiatrist who had joined the Enterprise only recently. And the third was Lee Kelso, the man whose funeral Darnell was missing.
But that was all the security officer knew. In fact, that was all anyone knew. The captain had classified the matter, prohibiting all those who had beamed down to Delta Vega from speaking of it.
It didn't seem fair to Darnell -- especially when people had lost their lives down there. But that was the way it was, and there was nothing he or any of his colleagues could do about it.
"Mr. Spock," he said as the Vulcan approached. "I guess you're returning that rifle now."
"Indeed," Spock replied, handing it over.
Darnell took a quick look at the weapon. It had a few dinks, but otherwise appeared to be in good condition. Then, just out of habit, he checked to see if there was any charge left.
He was confused. What's more, he said so.
"Why is that?" the Vulcan inquired, his lean visage characteristically devoid of emotion.
"Well," the security officer explained, "I figured with all that happened down there -- whatever that might have been -- someone would have had occasion to squeeze off a few shots."
Spock cocked an eyebrow. "There are two possibilities, Mr. Darnell. Either the rifle was fired and someone recharged it, perhaps to avoid any official record of its having been employed on Delta Vega...or contrary to your expectations, it never was fired. However, as the matter is now classified, I do not believe it is appropriate to speculate either way."
With that, the first officer turned and departed, leaving the security officer with the fully charged rifle in his hands. Darnell grunted. Then he got up from his seat among the security monitors and headed for the ordnance locker to put the rifle back where it belonged.
Vulcans, he thought. Why can't they just say what they mean?
Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu knelt in the Enterprise's botany lab, a place of vibrant colors and exotic scents, and contemplated the Mandreggan moonblossoms he had been cultivating.
Their large, fragile-looking petals were a pale yellow at the center, fading to white and then deepening into a lush scarlet at the edges. They were breathtakingly beautiful. Even First Officer Spock had remarked on their appearance, and he seldom remarked on anything that didn't pertain to the ship's operation.
No one had believed that he could grow moonblossoms in an artificial environment. After all, no starship botanist had ever done it before. But he accomplished it anyway.
After all, Sulu was the kind of man who did what he set out to do. When he was a teenager, he had set his sights on attending Starfleet Academy and earned himself a place at that prestigious institution. And when he had made the decision to specialize in astrophysics, he landed a berth on one of the most prestigious vessels in the fleet.
In fact, in all his twenty-seven years, he had never failed to obtain something he really wanted. So why had it been so difficult for him to go after the thing he had come to desire lately?
Of course, the astrophysicist knew the answer to that question. After all, life was good on the Enterprise. He had comforts here he had grown used to, friends he wouldn't look forward to giving up.
But as Sulu's grandfather once told him, "Observe the wisdom of the shark, Hikaru. It knows that if it stops swimming, it stops breathing. So it continues to swim."
Like the shark they had seen at the aquarium that day, he would continue to swim. But that didn't make it any easier to abandon the life he had made for himself there.
"Hikaru?" came a voice.
Sulu looked up and saw two of his fellow crewmen standing at the entrance to the botany lab. One was Daniel Alden, the ship's primary communications officer. The other was Joe Tormolen, a lieutenant in engineering. It was Tormolen who had called his name.
"Come on," he said.
"It's time," Alden added.
Knowing seats would be at a premium at the funeral service, Sulu nodded and got to his feet. "Just saying goodbye to some of my friends," he explained as he joined the others.
"I know the feeling," said the communications officer.
Sulu smiled wistfully. "That's right. I guess you would."
Together, they left the botany lab and headed for the Enterprise's chapel. And when they got there, Sulu thought, he would be saying goodbye to another friend. He would miss Lee Kelso, he reflected.
He would miss them all.
Captain James T. Kirk entered the Enterprise's small, spartan chapel, with its silver-blue walls and its neatly arranged rows of chairs and its lonely, red-orange lectern. Looking around, he scanned the solemn faces of the crewmen who had already arrived for the noontime service.
There must have been a hundred of them, from every section of the ship and every deck, representing every rank and every species in the Fleet, all gathered to pay their respects to a man they had valued and loved and admired. And if there weren't enough chairs in the place for nearly a third of those in attendance, that didn't seem to daunt them any.
Kelso would have been touched by the size of the turnout, Kirk thought. Touched and more than a little amazed.
In one corner of the room, Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer, was speaking wistfully with Lieutenant Tormolen and Ensign Beltre, no doubt recounting some fond remembrance of the dead man. In another corner, Yeoman Smith and Lieutenant Alden were commiserating over their loss with Lieutenant Sulu of astrophysics. And in still another corner, Chief Medical Officer Piper was exchanging stoic looks with Lieutenant Dezago and Nurse Chapel.
Several other crewmen had asked to attend also, but regulations required a full complement of specialists to operate the Constitution-class vessel. That was especially true on the bridge, where Ensign Green had taken over the helm controls, Lieutenant Brent had moved to navigation, Lieutenant Farrell was manning the communications console, and Lieutenant Commander Spock, the Enterprise's Vulcan first officer, had assumed temporary command of the ship.
"Captain," said Scott, noticing Kirk's entrance. He approached his commanding officer. "We've been waitin' for ye, sir."
The captain nodded, adjusting the plastiform cast Piper had given him to help his wrist injury heal. "Sorry I'm late, Scotty. Something came up at the last minute."
The engineer looked at him suspiciously. "If I may ask, sir, what sort of something was it?"
Kirk smiled at him, knowing the pride the man took in his work. "Just a little trouble with the plasma manifold. But from what I'm told, it can wait until the service is over."
Scott's features puckered into a frown. "Are ye sure, sir? If ye like, I could take a moment t' -- "
The captain held up his good hand to restrain the engineer. "Quite sure, Scotty. We've kept everyone waiting long enough."
Scott nodded dutifully. "As ye say, sir."
In the thirteen months since Kirk had taken command of the Enterprise, he had used the ship's chapel to hold five weddings, an Iltrasian coming-of-age ceremony, and only one funeral -- that of a young lieutenant named Henry George Beason, who had been killed in the weapons room when it took a hit from an Orion mercenary.
Of course, Beason wasn't the only casualty of Kirk's stint as commanding officer, or even the first. However, the captain hadn't conducted services for the fourteen who had died previously. It was only customary to do so when a crewman lacked family and friends planetside.
Beason's only surviving relative had been a maiden aunt in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who was too feeble to leave her house, much less attend any kind of funeral for her nephew. As a result, the captain had arranged a service for the man on the Enterprise.
Unfortunately, the situation was a similar one today. The deceased was an orphan, a man who had been raised in an institution outside Los Angeles. The only people he really cared about -- and the only people who cared about him -- were his fellow crew men. It was only fitting that his death be marked by a service aboard the ship.
Finding a seat in the front row, Kirk found himself flanked by security officers Matthews and Rayburn on one hand and Lieutenant Stiles on the other. Stiles, a severe-looking man who had shown himself to be an efficient officer, turned to the captain.
"Sir," he said, acknowledging Kirk's presence.
"Stiles," Kirk said in return.
"Hell of a way to go," Stiles remarked. He shook his head. "Choked to death with a cable. Nasty business all around."
The captain was forced to agree. "It certainly was."
"There've been plenty of tragedies in my family," Stiles told him somberly. "We lost a half-dozen brave souls in the Romulan Wars alone. But choked to death with a cable..."
"Sir?" said Rayburn, who was seated closer to Kirk than Matthews was.
The captain turned to him, glad for the opportunity to speak to someone besides the morbid Stiles. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"Is it true what they say about Lieutenant Mitchell and Dr. Dehner?" Rayburn asked. "That they died heroes as well?"
"I don't know what's being said," Kirk told him, adjusting his cast again, "and as you know, I'm not at liberty to discuss the details. However, my log reflects that Lieutenant Mitchell and Dr. Dehner died in the line of duty. That should tell you something."
Rayburn thought about it for a moment, then smiled. "Thank you, sir. I think I understand."
He didn't, of course. The security officer didn't have any inkling of the fate that had befallen Lieutenant Mitchell and Dr. Dehner. But then, that was the way the captain wanted it.
After all, neither Mitchell nor Dehner had asked to become something more than human. Neither of them had wanted to hurt their colleagues in any way. With that in mind, it wouldn't have been fair to label them monsters in the official record.
A moment later, Kirk's attention was drawn to the lectern, where Scotty was standing and making a point of clearing his throat. Kirk gave the engineer his attention. So did everyone else eventually, even the crewmen forced to stand in the back.
Scotty looked around. "Ye all know why we're gathered today, in such numbers it puts the size o' this wee, cramped chapel t' shame. We're here t' say goodbye and godspeed to our friend, Lee Kelso."
A murmur of agreement ran through the assemblage. After all, Kelso had been one of their favorites. He had enriched a lot of lives in his short time on the Enterprise.
The engineer gestured and a man-sized duranium container, supported by an antigravity cart, appeared in the chapel's doorway. The man and woman attending the container, both of them ensigns in the science section, guided it into the room and positioned it next to Scotty.
Taking a moment to consider it, the engineer smiled a wistful smile. "If Kelso were here with us now, I believe he'd be wonderin' what all the fuss was about. After all, he'd say, he was just doin' his duty -- what any one of us would've done under the same circumstances. As ye know, he wasn't one t' toot his own horn."
True enough, the captain thought. Kelso had been so self-effacing at times, Kirk had felt the urge to grab the helmsman and impose on him how important his contribution was.
At the lectern, the Scotsman shrugged. "I don't have to tell ye we were competitors, Kelso and I. Sure, he was a helmsman by trade, but the man prided himself on his engineerin' ability and his overall efficiency. And, as ye may have noticed, so do I."
The captain couldn't help but chuckle at the remark. He wasn't alone in that regard.
"The day I met him," Scotty continued, "Kelso had just come over from the Potemkin. I found the lad putterin' around on a catwalk in engineerin', his face screwed up tight in concentration, makin' wee adjustments to the deuterium injectors."
Kirk could picture Kelso doing something like that. There was another ripple of laughter from the audience.
"When I asked him what he was up to," said Scotty, "he told me he was tryin' t' get a bit more power out o' the engines. Apparently, some idiot of a chief engineer had everythin' set in the wrong ratios."
This time, the laughter was louder -- loud enough to echo from the bulkheads. Scotty grinned and shook his head.
"As ye know," he said, "Kelso and I were often on landing party teams together. What ye may nae know is that we used t' race like wee lads t' see who could make it to the transporter pad first."
Really, Kirk thought. Had he been aware of something like that, he would have put a stop to it. Unfortunately, Kelso wouldn't be doing any more racing, so the issue had become academic.
"Of course," Scotty noted, "I had a decided advantage, considerin' the bridge is farther from the transporter room than engineerin' is. And anyway, I never had t' wait for a replacement before I could take off. All I ever had t' do was give a few orders and be on my way."
That must have frustrated Kelso no end, Kirk mused. The man hated to come in second in anything -- even tic-tac-toe.
"Then," the engineer continued, "a few weeks ago, we ran into that Ceebriian derelict near Alpha Ortelina Seven, and the captain asked me and Kelso t' meet him in the transporter room." He shrugged. "Mind ye, havin' anticipated the summons, I was as ready as I'd ever been in my life. I left engineerin' at a brisk but confident pace, knowin' there was nae way Kelso could beat me to my destination.
"And yet," said Scotty, "when I reached the transporter room, there the lad was -- grinnin' as if he'd swallowed th' galaxy's largest canary. And he was nae even breathin' heavy, a sure sign I'd been hoodwinked."
The engineer shook his head. "It was nae until the next day that I forced the truth out o' the rascal. With the help of a transporter operator who'll remainnameless for her own good, he had reprogrammed the bloody controls -- fixin' it so a signal from the helm console would activate a special subroutine. A minute later, by which time Kelso would already have entered the turbolift, the transporter would activate itself and he'd be beamed directly to the transporter platform."
Stiles shot a look at the captain. "Interesting."
Kirk was more than a little discomfited by the tale. "You can say that again," he replied.
"And now," said Scotty, "we'll hear from Lieutenant Dezago."
The lieutenant, a man with blunt features and closely cropped brown hair, was the ship's backup communications officer. Taking the engineer's place at the lectern, he scanned the faces in the audience.
"I wish I could tell you I shared a lot of funny moments with Lee Kelso," he began. "Maybe I did and I just don't remember them; I guess that would be my loss. What I do remember is this -- lying beside a crashing waterfall on Arronus Seven, my forehead bleeding from a three-inch gash and my right leg broken in two places, while a half-dozen Klingons advanced through the jungle to finish me off."
The captain recalled the incident -- a simple survey mission turned deadly. But then, how were they to know the planet's crust contained mineral desposits the Klingons coveted?
"I thought I was a dead man," said Dezago, "and they'd be shipping me back to Earth in a duranium container just like this one. Then, all of a sudden, I saw Kelso kneeling beside me. I don't think he'd mind my saying he looked scared. Petrified, in fact. After all, there were a lot more of those Klingons than there were of us, and the vast likelihood was that we would both die on that ball of mud fifty light-years from home."
The communications officer's brow furrowed as he remembered. "But I'm here to tell you Kelso stood his ground, scared or not. He stayed there with me, and he just kept firing and firing, and I kept firing too -- and after what seemed like an impossibly long time, the captain and Mr. Spock arrived with a squad's worth of reinforcements."
The assemblage was quiet, but all eyes were on Dezago.
"I wish I had been there on Delta Vega when Kelso was killed," declared the communications officer. He bit his lip. "I wish...I had had a chance to do for Kelso what he did for me."
As the audience maintained its respectful silence, Dezago sat down and was patted on the back by his neighbors. A moment later, Scotty came to stand behind the lectern again.
"That was our Lieutenant Kelso," the engineer said. "Was it nae? The lad was always plungin' ahead, always hellishly determined t' do his duty, nae matter the difficulties involved or the danger."
His breath caught in his throat for just a second. Then he thrust out his chin and went on.
"I believe Ensign Beltre would like t' say a few words as well." Scotty turned to the woman. "Ensign?"
Beltre, a darkly attractive security officer with a long, black ponytail and light green eyes, came around to the lectern. Scotty stood aside to make room for her.
"As most of you know," Beltre said a little tentatively, her eyes flicking from one face to the other, "I'm still pretty new on the ship. I didn't know Lieutenant Kelso as long or as well as some of you. Still, I knew him well enough to have some idea of how much we've lost.
"Not so long ago -- a couple of weeks, I guess -- I was sitting by myself in the rec lounge, having a cup of coffee and reading a monograph on phaser failures. I probably would've been happier sitting with other people," Beltre noted, "but I didn't really know anyone at the time, and I'm not the type to go around introducing myself.
"Then Lieutenant Kelso walked in. I didn't take any particular notice of him at the time. After all, he was a face like any other. But a moment later, I looked up and saw him standing there with a steaming cup of something hot in each hand.
"He didn't tell me his name. He didn't ask me mine. He just put one of the cups down in front of me, smiled and told me it was his special blend. Then he walked away and sat down elsewhere.
"Instantly, I saw the genius of what the man had done. He had invited me to join him if I liked, but he hadn't placed any obligation on me to do so. So if I really wanted to keep on reading that monograph, I could have done it without any problem. And on the other hand, if I really wanted company, I could have had that, too.
"Preferring the company to the monograph," said Beltre, "I picked up my new cup of coffee and joined him. We had a great conversation. In a matter of minutes, the lieutenant became one of my favorite people. After a while, I even became comfortable enough to tell him how clever he was to have offered me that cup."
She sighed. "He told me he had spent some time in an orphanage, and he had experienced enough loneliness there to last him a lifetime. When he got out, he said, he had promised himself he would never let anyone else feel lonely if he could help it, and he hadn't gone back on that promise yet."
The ensign looked around. "As I said before, I may not have known Lieutenant Kelso as well as some of you. But I can tell you this...no one's going to miss him more than I will."
And so it went.
One crewman after another stood up to pay tribute to Kelso, regaling the tightly packed assemblage with anecdote after anecdote, until almost everyone present had said a word or two. Kirk listened to description after description of the dead man's bravery, of his kindness, of his dedication and his antic sense of humor.
Then it was his turn.
"Sir?" said Scotty.
Kirk nodded and got up from his seat. Advancing to the lectern, he took hold of it in both hands -- the injured one as well as the uninjured -- and surveyed the faces of his audience. It was plain that his people were looking to him for solace and inspiration in their time of travail. After all, he was their commanding officer.
He hoped he wouldn't disappoint them.
"You've all done Lieutenant Kelso proud," the captain began, "with your stories about what he meant to you. Clearly, he touched each of us in a profound way, a way someone else might not have been aware of. I could tell you a couple of stories of my own, I suppose...about how I relied on Lee Kelso and was never disappointed by him, about how I came to admire his uncommon blend of gentleness and ferocious determination.
"But those tales have already been told, for the most part, and I could never match the eloquence and devotion with which you told them. So," he said, "let me tell you a different kind of story."
Scotty smiled a wistful smile. After all, he had organized this service and already had an idea of what Kirk was going to say.
"About a year and a half ago," the captain noted, "I was reviewing personnel records, putting together a crew for my first command as a starship captain. No easy task, I can tell you that. In any case, about halfway through the process, I came across an ensign named Lee Kelso who had applied for a transfer from the Potemkin.
"Looking over the man's file, I saw a number of items that interested me. He had posted excellent grades at the Academy. His service record on the Lexington and then on the Potemkin was spotless, and he was acknowledged as one of the most proficient helmsmen in the Fleet."
There were murmurs of agreement from several crewmen in the audience. After all, they knew the truth of the matter. They had seen the lieutenant's work at the helm for themselves.
"But according to a notation at the bottom of the screen," Kirk went on, "Lee Kelso didn't have much of a future as an officer in Starfleet. No future? I repeated to myself. I wondered about that. It didn't seem to make any sense in light of all his credentials. Unfortunately, his file didn't tell me why that notation had been made.
"Curious, I contacted Kelso's captain on the Potemkin, whose acquaintance I'd made at a Starfleet cocktail party a couple of years earlier. After exchanging a few pleasantries, I asked him why he had cast doubt on Kelso's potential as an officer.
"I remember the captain sighing, smiling sympathetically, and saying five short words: He cares too damned much. I asked him to elaborate. The captain was kind enough to comply.
"'Kelso's neurotic, Jim,' he told me. 'He feels compelled to go over and over every last detail of his work until he feels he's gotten it perfect. Someday, he's just going to explode.'
"I thanked the captain for his time," Kirk said, "and signed off. Then, as fast as I possibly could, I contacted Starfleet Command and put in a request. I told them I didn't care who else they gave me -- at all costs, I wanted a man named Lee Kelso."
A few heads bobbed approvingly, telling him that was the Kelso they had known, too. Then someone in the audience started clapping, and someone else joined him, and before long the entire chapel was resounding with approval for Kirk's words.
No, thought the captain -- not the words. What they're clapping for is who the words were about. Kelso meant that much to them.
The applause went on for a long time -- more than a minute, Kirk estimated. As it began to die down, the captain walked over to the intercom panel in the wall behind him.
"Kirk to transporter room," he said.
"Kyle here, sir," came the response.
"Ready?" asked the captain.
"Ready," the transporter operator assured him.
Kirk considered the metal container that held his helmsman's body. Then he spoke again, his voice thick with emotion. "I commend the mortal remains of Lee Kelso to the stars he loved so dearly. May he always rest peacefully in their midst."
Everyone in the chapel joined him in the sentiment, bidding their colleague farewell in their own words.
"Bye, Lee," one declared.
"We'll miss you," another promised.
"Good voyage," said a third.
The captain tried to ignore the tightening in his throat. "Energize, Mr. Kyle."
The air around Kelso's coffin began to shimmer with iridescent light. Slowly, gradually, the duranium container began to fade from view. Then both the light and the coffin were gone.
A thousand meters from the ship, Kirk told himself, there was something new floating in the endless void of space, glinting in the light of distant stars. In life Lee Kelso hadn't asked for any special honors, nor would he have asked for any in death. Nonetheless, the captain was pleased that the man had at last gotten the recognition he deserved.
Kirk remembered the others who had perished on Delta Vega and felt the weight of regret. His friend Gary would never have his remains beamed into space. Neither would Elizabeth Dehner, who had given her young life to save his. Both of them bad been buried on the planetoid -- Gary in a grave of his own making, Dehner in one the captain had hollowed out of the rock with the last of his phaser charge.
Certainly, Kirk would have liked to bring their bodies back to Earth, where both of them had spent their childhoods. Their loved ones deserved that much, at least.
But considering what Gary and Dehner had become, considering the incredibly dangerous power they had wielded, the captain couldn't take the chance that there might be some spark of life left in them -- a spark, perhaps, that Federation technology wasn't sophisticated enough to detect.
So he had left them there in the wilderness near the dilithium-cracking plant, in a place which would soon be designated off-limits to anyone but the most highly trained security teams. He had abandoned his best friend and the woman who had saved the universe from a burgeoning god, and in doing so had left behind a piece of his soul as well.
As the chapel began to fill with the piped-in strains of "Amazing Grace," Kirk saw a tear collect in the corner of Scotty's eye. He put his good hand on the engineer's shoulder and squeezed it.
Scotty looked at him and managed a sad, wistful smile. He seemed to say, We sent the wee lad off right, did we nae, sir? And the captain couldn't help but agree.
Kelso's service was all but over, he reflected. But Gary Mitchell's still loomed ahead of him, back on Earth -- and, for Kirk at least, Gary's would be the tougher one by far.
Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures