When the child started sucking at the edge of her dress, Jana glanced toward Chekov…but he had fallen into a fitful stupor in his pain and didn’t look up. She could see from here his face was swollen from the burns and her heart contracted in sympathy. She cleared her throat and called in Russian through the field, “Demorshka, are you hungry?”
The little girl looked up and climbed stiffly to her feet, then started toward where Jana stood.
But before she could reach the service quarters safe door, Chuma pounced and caught her around the waist. “Just where do you think you’re going?”
“I only asked if she wanted something to eat,” Jana protested, turning to appeal to Dasan next. “You need to feed her if you want her alive, don’t you?”
The Orion walked over and stood near the other side of the buzzing field, looking Jana up and down with frankly assessing eyes. “For the moment,” he agreed. Then he called to one of the other Orions without looking over his shoulder, “Kaconu—bring food for the child.”
“What shall I bring?”
“Anything,” he snapped. “We are her owners, now. She will eat what we give her.”
Jana glanced across at Chekov again, who hadn’t moved but was now watching and listening. She looked up at Dasan once more, and then lowered her gaze submissively. As she turned away from the field she gave a small nod to Kioshi, who stepped forward.
Dasan’s eye was immediately caught by the other girl, and his glance raked her from head to foot. “You’ve changed your garments,” he commented.
Kioshi shrugged and shot him a bold glance with her laughing black eyes. “I wanted to be more comfortable. It’s so crowded over here. I’d do almost anything to be out there…where there’s more room…”
The Orion pirate knew a ploy when he saw one. Nevertheless, he was amused, and that pleased him. Waiting was always difficult in these situations when what he really wanted to be doing was commanding his crew over the event horizon and on to the next conquest. There was plenty of time for a diversion. And, if this girl played her cards right, she might end up in the cargo hold next to his cabin…
Dasan leaned closer to the field as Kaconu reappeared behind him with a plate for Demora. He laid it and a fork at her feet, then rejoined his fellows near the dining room doorway.
“I think that could be arranged,” Dasan was purring to Kioshi. “Perhaps later we…”
“No!” Chuma released Demi, pushing the little girl to the floor next to her food. She stalked over toward the entrance to the service quarters, eyes slitted with dislike as she looked at Ki. “That one is a fighter. She has been trained by the Starfleet men. No doubt she wants to come outside to cause trouble.”
Dasan’s eyebrows lifted in delight “Really! A fighter, eh?” Without another word he reached into his pocket and the safe door went suddenly dark. A snake striking, he reached in and yanked Kioshi into the foyer, then snapped the field back on again. Jana, whose instincts had her snatch at Ki, narrowly missed being burned, the heat of the field singeing the fine hairs on her forearm as she pulled her hand back just in time…
Chekov was on his feet now across the foyer, jaw clenched and dark eyes alert.
But Dasan was laughing as Kioshi squirmed in his grip. “Perhaps we should give her to Evin to play with—he likes to fight!” The ugliest of the Orions stepped forward and twisted Kioshi’s arms painfully behind her while his other men laughed in appreciation.
Chuma smiled with satisfaction at this, turning back to fawning over Dasan. “If you really want to try one of these…why not this one? She’s
the Commander’s favorite, and Koros’ too, I believe…” So saying, she favored Jana with her malicious smirk.
Behind them, Demora, fork in hand, began edging toward Chekov, eyes wide.
In a blink, Jana too had been pulled through and into the foyer. The shocked girls on the other side of the safe door now lined the opening, squeezing as close as they could to the humming field, eyes wide…
Chekov had never felt such helpless rage in his life. He had to stop this. He had to stop this! His gaze flitted from the struggling Kioshi to Jana’s look of complete disgust as Dasan held her immobile while he fondled her…then to the leering Chuma and down to where Demi was murmuring something at him in Russian on the other side of the safe door.
A glance toward the dining room doorway showed him Morn and the Klingon’s faces turned toward him expectantly. They were waiting for him to do something—but dammit what could he do from in here?
Avoiding their eyes, he sank to one knee to better hear Demi…and that’s when he saw the fork in her hand.
“Dusha moya,” the Russian murmured. He glanced back up at Dasan, who was trying to turn the struggling Jana so she faced Chekov and he could see what was about to happen clearly. Then he began struggling to get his scorched shirt off as he whispered back to his godchild in Russian…
Jana stood Dasan’s embrace for as long as she dared. But when he began to move her across the foyer, she signaled Ki with her eyes as they’d prearranged.
Behind her, Kioshi relaxed her pinned arms and kicked back at Evin, who released her, howling at his injured knee. She then struck back with her elbow and whirled to face two more of the Orions, kicking left and right in succession. Jana also twisted free and kicked forward, pulling her leg back cleanly. Dasan staggered, and the astonishment crossing his face was almost comical it was so complete… As for Chekov, the delighted smirk that surfaced on his scorched features was enough to make her heart soar…
At the same time, Demi screamed with rage and ran forward to stomp Chuma’s foot. Then, when the Andorian woman spun away shrieking, Demora ran full tilt toward the dining room safe door as Chekov had told her to do, where Morn and Koros stood waiting.
Knowing this might be his only chance, Chekov quickly wrapped the seared remnants of his shirt around his left hand, took a deep breath…and pushed his arm slowly into the man trap’s inner field…
Behind Jana, Kaconu now approached, holding his arms wide to capture her. The other girls screamed warnings from the service corridor, and the Risan woman spun to face him.
“This has been most entertaining, my dear. I think you will make a fine addition to my cargo hold,” Dasan the pirate panted as he closed in from her other side. Kioshi too was having trouble holding her own with the others, as skilled as she was…
Demi skidded to her knees at the foot of the dining room safe door and pulled the fork from her dress pocket. Fumbling, she began poking at the grid at the side of the door. From the other side of the heat field Morn made frantic noises to get her to stop.
But as Koros watched he only laughed—a deep, bellowing vibrato noise. “The small one has the heart of a fighting targ!” he declared.
Meanwhile, Chekov gritted his teeth and relentlessly continued to push his hand through the field, watching the shirt wrapping his hand blacken and smoke. The pain was driving him mad…but if he could just…tap the emergency override sequence into the pad with one finger…just touch it… At this point he could only pray he wouldn’t black out long before that… Chuma came to the other side of the field, pink eyes wide with amazed fear at what he was doing. She reached up, as though to push his hand back through, but either out of fright or loathing left it where it was.
The next sounds everyone in the foyer heard nearly froze them all with terror. The first was a spitting discharge as the dining room safe door
shorted out, sliding Demi several feet along the tiled floor toward the kitchen, where she lay stunned and unmoving.
The second was a Klingon howl of triumph as Koros burst through the darkened field…
The terror on Dasan’s face told a tale as Koros surged forward and grasped him by the throat. The two Orions who had been menacing Kioshi leapt in to help their leader instead, but the big Klingon bashed them aside without even glancing at them, his burning gaze fixed on his goal—to throttle Dasan senseless.
Meanwhile, Morn rushed to where Demi lay and scooped her off the floor. She was pale but still breathing, and he moaned with relief…
Chuma scanned the room, antennae held upright in the alert position: all four of the Orions that had been fighting with Jana and Ki now were engaged in the struggle with Koros. As she watched, another rushed forward to keep the girls from helping the Klingon and the last one was trying to back Morn into the far corner. She whirled to face Chekov again, who was gritting his teeth with agony but had gotten most of his arm through the man trap field--his shirt an unrecognizable charred mass on his hand--and was almost at the access panel! With a shriek born of petulant anger, she launched herself at the Russian. His tortured scream from the sudden push backward echoed the trapped girls’ on the other side of the service quarters safe door…
At the sound of this, Morn’s huge head came up, and he batted his Orion aside, hefting Demi onto one gargantuan shoulder as he did so. Stepping back into the dining room, he snatched up the first thing he came to: Koros’ blade. But just as he came back into sight of the man trap, he saw Chuma poised to make another attempt at knocking the commander back—he’d never get there in time…
Chekov saw what Morn meant to do a split second too late to pull his arm back. Eyes wide, he held it where it was--halfway through the field—as the big alien pulled the blade back…and threw it…
The ominous wicking sound of Klingon alloy cutting the air caught the attention of everyone in the room. “Pavel!” Jana just had time to scream, before the knife, aimed at Chuma’s head, deviated with Morn’s customary impairment…and slammed, point-first, into the man-trap’s access panel, its tempered blade stabbing the mechanism to its electronic heart. The explosion of the panel and resultant overload of the trap threw Chekov and Chuma away cleanly on either side.
The pause in the fighting was but a moment, and swiftly resumed. Morn cradled Demi closer and looked about for the Orion he’d been fighting, but didn’t see him in the confusion. He ran toward the remains of the man trap, turning the fallen Andorian woman over where she lay next to the plants Chekov and the girls had placed in the foyer what seemed ages ago now. He didn’t need more than a glance to know she was dead. Leaving her body, he stepped into the sun porch and went to the commander, where he lay sprawled on his side near the dark outer door.
Chekov was breathing shallowly, eyes half open. His god-daughter was close enough in Morn’s arms for the innocent scent of her hair to reach him. Morn asked him could he speak, could he get up. That’s when Chekov saw the Orion standing behind them with the phaser.
Look out! the Russian tried to say. But he couldn’t speak, couldn’t move a muscle. The last thing he saw was the pirate put the phaser to Morn’s head and press the trigger…
Murky dreams filled Chekov with unease as he surfaced toward consciousness. Somewhere a woman he knew called his name…but there lay memories he didn’t want to face just yet. Eventually, however, he had no choice.
“Thank the gods,” Jana said, relief making her voice tremble, “you’re awake.”
It took what seemed forever before he could make his mouth work: “Jana.” Even then, his own voice sounded dry and unfamiliar.
A head hove into view—pale with maroon ridges and intense twinkling blue eyes. “Ah, Commander. Welcome back.”
Confused at this stranger, Chekov focused on Jana. “I…have to contact…Sulu,” he said carefully. At her look of incomprehension he thought at first he’d garbled his Standard, which he was wont to do under stress.
“Nonsense,” the strange alien said in a brusque but not unkind manner. He began running a medical tricorder over Chekov’s prone form. “You’re not up to long conversations just yet. Maybe in a day or so.”
Seeing a scowl struggling to form on the Russian’s face, Jana put in quickly, “Pavel, this is Dr. Phlox. You remember, I told you about him.”
Chekov closed his eyes for a moment, gathering strength. Then he tried again:
“I have to contact Sulu. He…has to know…they’ve taken Demi.”
Jana’s mouth opened in surprise, and she laid a hand on his shoulder, exchanging a glance with the physician as she did so. “Pav,” she said, smiling down at him, “Demi’s perfectly safe. She’s downstairs, playing with Nikki and Riju.”
His bewilderment now complete, Chekov croaked, “But…how…?”
“Nevermind all that,” Phlox cut in again. “How do you feel, Commander?” He snapped the tricorder closed and stood over him smiling. And what a smile! Chekov decided he must be drugged since he’d never seen a species that literally grinned from ear to ear before…
“Exhausted,” the Russian said with difficulty. “And…my hands hurt.”
Phlox’s grin vanished. “You’re lucky they didn’t fall off with all the cellular disruption you put them through!” he declared peevishly. “Don’t worry, it will pass,” he added in a gentler tone. Speaking to Jana then he said, “He should rest.”
“I understand,” she murmured. “Five more minutes?”
“Very well. But that’s all,” Phlox warned in a stern manner. He walked away.
“Jana,” Chekov croaked, “what happened? I—I saw one of the Orions fire a phaser at Morn…”
She shook her head and smiled. “No. It wouldn’t fire. That was your phaser—the one you couldn’t get to work inside the man trap, remember?”
He did, and it made his head hurt again just thinking about it.
“When Morn saw what he’d tried to do he put Demi down and beat him to a pulp. He was quite a sight tied up next to Dasan and the others when the authorities showed up.”
Chekov closed his eyes and was silent for so long Jana thought he’d drifted off to sleep again. But at last he said, “It should never have happened. I should’ve seen what they were. I should have known.”
“Don’t,” Jana touched his shoulder, careful to stay away from his burned hands. “It wasn’t your fault.”
He turned his head away.
At that moment, Demi burst on the scene, dashing nimbly around Phlox and toward the bed.
Before Jana could protest, the little girl had thrown herself into her godfather’s arms and buried her head in his shoulder. But what she saw then on Chekov’s face so surprised her that she had a pang of regret: had she made the wrong decision after all in refusing a life with him?
It was the most inexpressible tenderness she’d ever seen.
“Thank God you’re all right,” Chekov murmured.
Dr. Phlox cut in gently, “That will do for today, I think.” He extricated Demi and walked her to the door.
Chekov watched her until she was out of the room and then turned back to Jana. “I have to contact Sulu, let him know what’s happened,” he repeated.
“I already have,” she assured him. “The conference is over—he’s on his way.”
“Dammit,” Chekov muttered for what seemed like the thousandth time in the last three days. He continued to tug at Phlox’s sling around his left arm until in frustration he finally gave up and stared out the dining hall window to the beach.
The sling wasn’t the only thing firing his temper. Everyone in the house insisted on treating him like some kind of hero over what had happened with Dasan and his crew—when the Russian saw himself as anything but. Even Koros had clasped his good arm like a brother when it was all said and done.
“On my homeworld,” the Klingon had said, “we also teach our women and children to fight, to defend themselves against invaders. Perhaps the Empire and the Federation have more in common than I thought.”
Chekov hadn’t been able to bring himself to do much more than give a restrained nod.
Morn had been following him around, helping him put on his shirts, get food off his plate. The big alien almost seemed to think Chekov might disappear into a wisp of smoke at any moment (which, considering he very nearly had burned his arm off in the Man Trap, gave Chekov a shiver every time he saw that look in his friend’s eyes.)
Jana hadn’t stopped fussing over him, either—insisting that she and Ki had done only what Starfleet had taught them. That he was the one who had really saved them all…
And Demora was the worst of all…the shining adoration in her eyes almost more than Chekov could bear… He just couldn’t stop thinking that if Kaconu hadn’t brought her that fork they could all be dead right now. Over the years, Chekov had often seen the lives of James Kirk’s crew rest with details even smaller. But he also knew that that sort of luck was rare and had never known it himself until now.
He agreed with Starfleet, after all. They’d been right not to give him a command. He just wasn’t cut out for it—not if he hadn’t seen what those men were, right from the start…
A slight sound behind him had Chekov pivoting before he’d thought about what the sudden movement might do to the neck end of his sling. But he stopped in mid-groan as he saw who’d come in behind him.
“Sulu…” he just found enough breath to say.
In three strides the two men had crossed the room and clasped each other’s hands. Then Chekov was hauled into a quick, fierce hug. When he pulled back, the Russian’s voice was gruff.
“Dusha moya, it’s good to see you.”
“Tell me about it,” Excelsior’s captain responded with his characteristic amused grin. “When Janice got the story on what had happened from Jana I couldn’t get here fast enough.”
Chekov scowled and looked away.
Then a squeal sounded from the foyer, and Demi appeared in the doorway.
In a flash Sulu had gone to a crouch as she ran the distance and leapt into his arms.
Chekov was surprised at the wrench he felt as they embraced and his godchild chattered to her father about all she had seen and done since he had last seen her. He hadn’t realized how much she had come to be like his own child in these last few weeks. At last, Sulu set her gently back on her feet and stood up.
“Don’t worry. We’ll have lots of time to catch up later,” he promised. “For now, I need to talk to Uncle Pav.”
Demora stood for another moment clasping his hand and swinging his arm back and forth between them. Then she said, “Okay, Daddy.” And she ran back to Morn at the doorway and was gone.
Sulu turned back to Chekov. “Pavel, I have something for you.” He undid the top flap of his jacket and slid out a long, pale blue envelope with a Starfleet embossed seal on the corner. He opened it and held out the folded letter that had been inside.
Apprehension prickled its way up his spine as Chekov looked into Sulu’s eyes. But his friend’s face had gone completely still and as serious as he’d ever seen it. “What is it?” he whispered. But he thought he already knew. After all, Starfleet wasn’t above bringing him up on charges for jeopardizing the Treaty Talks. If Dasan had succeeded…
Sulu said nothing.
Chekov took the letter and shook it open. And what he read there made him feel as dizzy as any of the treatments Phlox had put him through…
“Dusha moya,” the Russian muttered. “Ya ni panimayu…”
Sulu’s brows went up and a smile started at the corner of his mouth.
Chekov felt behind him for a chair and sat down in it. He looked up at his friend and scowled anew. “But…how can they do this? Why would they do this?”
His friend folded his arms and said in a droll tone, “I guess even Starfleet isn’t above making mistakes.”
The Russian stared at him for a moment, then read a little more of the letter. “My God,” he said. “I don’t believe it.”
“Believe it,” Sulu assured him. “Look at the supporting signatures.”
“Admiral Kirk,” Chekov read aloud, “and you…and Montgomery Scott!”
At that moment, Jana walked in. “Captain Sulu, I heard you were here….” Then, catching the two men’s faces, she looked at Chekov in alarm.
“Pavel, what is it?”
Chekov stood up and hugged her as tightly as he dared around the sling. “Jana,” he said, allowing the first real excitement to creep into his voice. “Starfleet’s reactivated my service record…and I have a ship.” A wondering, lopsided grin grew on his face as he repeated, “I have a ship!”
There came a morning soon after when Jana awakened to find Chekov had already risen. She dressed and drifted downstairs, passing Riju shining the handrail to the spiral staircase, and glanced out through the repaired Man Trap. Morn was playing hide and seek with Demi and Nikki in the garden, as Darsha looked up and waved from pruning the flowering bushes.
As she passed the dining room, she smiled at Kioshi, who was rubbing the shoulders of Kumar the Privateer, returned from his latest run. Then she slipped through the hallway and into the library.
There she found Chekov and Sulu crouched over the computer terminal in earnest conversation.
“Look at this!” the Russian pointed to something on the screen.
“How can you get so excited about phasers?” Sulu teased him.
Chekov scowled. “Not every alien encounter is solved diplomatically, you know.”
“Well, they’re not all a fight to the death, either,” Sulu retorted good-naturedly. “Especially for a science vessel.”
Chekov saw Jana in the doorway, and put his left arm out, inviting her to step into it. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked as he nuzzled her neck.
“Her name’s Integer.”
Jana glanced down at the ship’s schematic on the screen. She was no judge of such things from an engineering standpoint. Still, her artist’s eye appreciated the vessel’s sleek lines and fluid curves.
“Beautiful,” she echoed, and squeezed his waist. The two looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment.
Sulu cleared his throat. “Um, I think I’ll get some breakfast, before we…” and noticing neither of them was paying him the slightest attention, “…yeah…” He left the room.
“Dr. Phlox would be proud of his work,” Jana commented.
Chekov let her go long enough to flex his left arm and twist it left and right. “It feels good,” he grinned.
Jana could almost see him wearing his uniform again, from the way he held his shoulders as he stood there…even though he wouldn’t have one until he got back to Excelsior for the trip to the Federation dockyard. There’d been a definite spring in his step the past couple of days too as he anticipated taking command. And had she imagined a certain impatience, as well, to be on his way once again?
Chekov rested his hands on her shoulders. “I haven’t thanked you yet for everything you did.” He lowered his head for a lingering kiss.
When it was over, Jana turned her head into his shoulder. “It was you really, though.”
“No. It was you that asked them to feed Demi.”
“Yes, but you told her what to do with the fork.”
“That’s true,” he said, “but if you hadn’t practiced your kicking…”
“And you hadn’t brought Morn…”
Chekov laughed and looked down at her. “Are we having an argument?”
“Never,” Jana assured him. “So…when will I see you again?”
The Russian ran one hand around the back of his neck and looked uncomfortable. “I dunno,” he said. “Six months…maybe a year?”
She nodded ruefully.
Hand in hand, they turned and walked back to the dining hall, where Sulu and Demi were just emerging.
“C’mon, Uncle Pav!” his godchild beckoned.
Sulu went to Jana and kissed her cheek. “Bye. And thanks for taking care of them.”
At the edge of the sun porch, Chekov scooped up his duffel and turned for one last embrace. And it was the same as every time…and yet, unlike any other time he’d gone.
For this time, he was off to new adventures aboard Integer…