DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Nesabj and is copyright (c) 2001 by Nesabj. This story is Rated PG.
Sitting in this chair, on this ship, with this crew, is the only thing I want to do. It's all I've ever wanted for as long as I can remember. It's something that I know that I can do well. Is that ego? I suppose it is. You need a healthy dose of ego to sit in this seat.
When I'm the one who's sitting here, I get to be the one to fix things. To make things right. Of course, I'm also the one who can mess up big time. With a slip, a careless command, I can murder four hundred and thirty people. More. I can destroy worlds. Whoa. That's more than ego. Let's not head down that road. All that power can be a truly dangerous thing. If I start thinking like that, it will paralyze me. I'll never be able to act.
Act. Hah. Mostly, I just sit here. Sitting in this chair you don't get to do things. I give the orders and everyone else gets busy. My job is to sit and wait. I hate waiting. My mind goes in twenty different directions. I wish I had something concrete to do.
I think the padding is wearing out on the command chair. It's so damned uncomfortable. I know Bones has been after me to lose some weight, but this is ridiculous. It feels like I've flattened out the stuffing in the damn thing. I can feel every bone in my back pressing against the back of the chair. I guess I'll speak to maintenance. Maybe they can put some more padding in the damn thing, hopefully without the doctor's knowledge. He'd never let me live that down. I can hear him now. "Did you say the padding is flat or fat, Jim?" That man has a tongue like a laser scalpel. You bleed before you feel the cut.
I wonder what the padding is made of? It feels like a gel of some sort. Probably better not to know. It's better not to ask about a lot of things on this ship. Like the time I asked Scotty how they mixed the coffee for the food synthesizers. I couldn't look at the food slots for days. Unfortunately, I had used up my stash of real coffee weeks before. That was tough. It doesn't look good to have the captain complaining about the coffee, but for a while, every time the yeoman brought me a cup, I had to work hard to keep from gagging.
Spock would know the composition of the chair down to the last electronic circuit and hydraulic gear, of course. It's amazing the amount of stuff he carries around in his head. Sometimes I think he studies these things just to annoy me. He knows it drives me a little crazy when I ask an obscure question and he has the answer in his head. Well, it doesn't exactly drive me crazy. On the one hand, I am incredibly proud of my first officer. But, then there is that other hand.
Speaking of which, I think he's had about enough time analyze of the power consumption of that ship. They've been shadowing us for the better part of a ship's day. Who would want to tail a starship? Someone who's looking for trouble, that's who. They've stayed just far enough away from us so that most of our sensors were out of range. I've ordered us in closer. It's time to take a good look at them. I suspect that I know who they are, but let's see what Spock has to say.
"Mr. Spock, analysis?"
He looks at me with a completely blank face. Uh oh. That usually means big trouble.
"Orions, Captain. Their ship appears to be larger and more powerful than the one that attacked us on the Babel mission, but there is no doubt from their energy signature that they too are Orion."
I had a feeling that would be his answer. We've been shadowed off and on a half dozen times by Orion ships since Babel. I think they must be really angry with us because of the Coridan vote. I bet the Orions would love to blow us to bits for cutting off their source of free dilithium. So far, they haven't really bothered us. They fly just at the edge of our sensor range for a while and disappear. They'd be foolish to take on the Enterprise. We've already proven that.
Maybe they think their shadowing bothers us. As long as they don't do anything stupid, or they aren't carrying cargo they shouldn't be, they can tail us all they want. We'll just check them out and let them be.
I really don't like the look on Spock's face.
"Are they still maintaining their distance, Mr. Spock?"
I can't sit anymore. Damn this chair anyway. I have to get up, to release some of the energy that's building. Pacing helps, but a long session in the gym tonight is going to be a must. As I stand up, I try to control the urge to stretch out my back and shoulders. How would that look? I know that every move I make is watched. My seat, my job is at the center of the ship. It's what I want. Sometimes, though, it can be a pain. Literally.
I feel really tense. I think I'll go up to the science station. Spock can give his report to my face instead of my back, for a change.
"The Orion ship is currently seven hundred thousand kilometers from the Enterprise. We've come within sensor range, and they are keeping a steady distance, sir."
I look at Spock and see his back knot up as he bends over the science scanner. There is something else.
"Captain, I have scanned the ship. There are thirty-seven Orions on board." He pauses as if he doesn't want to finish his report.
"Go on, Spock. Is there more?"
"Yes, sir. There are also eighteen other life forms on that ship. All Coridians."
Those damn Orions. They must have raided Coridan again. Despite the conference at Babel. Despite Coridan's admission to the Federation. And, this time it looks like they've stolen more than just dilithium. Orion ships run with all-Orion crews. Those people are not there voluntarily.
Slavery. The most despicable business in the galaxy. We no longer have a choice here. Starfleet has issued standing orders that we are to intercept and detain all slavers. We're going to have to take that ship. And, get those Coridians back. Damn it.
"Bring us in closer, Mr. Sulu. Spock, we need a fix on those people. How close do we have to get to scan the ship and determine their exact location?"
Spock is giving me one of those looks. His head tilts and his eyebrow lifts. He can speak volumes without uttering a word. He hates this as much as I do. Even though he'd never admit to hating anything.
We both swore an oath when we joined Starfleet. We both know what that means. Sometimes, it means engaging the enemy in battle. Sometimes, it means killing. I hope for all our sakes, that's not what it means today.
Sulu is waiting for Spock's response, and so am I. I learned very quickly to let Spock tell things in his own way. If you rush him, he closes up, and you have to pry answers out of him one sentence at a time. So much for Vulcans being completely unemotional. At least this Vulcan isn't. I've hurt his feelings, those feelings he doesn't have, on more than one occasion.
"Captain, we must get within fifty-thousand kilometers to precisely pinpoint the location of their cargo. However that location will be of little use to us. The ship is particularly heavily shielded to insure that their cargo cannot be beamed out."
Damn. It's what I expected, but I hate hearing it anyway. Spock has more to say.
"Little power is used for life support, particularly in the cargo areas."
Just one more sentence, but I can't help shivering. Spock's report sends a chill up my spine. I can only imagine the conditions that those people must be living in. I also know that their conditions will be infinitely worse if that ship gets to its destination. We have no choice. Our duty is clear. The only choice I have is in how to carry out that duty.
"Spock, remember what we discussed about the photon torpedoes? Well, I think this is the right time to try it. I want you to prepare to implement Operation Shield."
I've gone back to the command chair. Spock follows me. He must be distressed to pull himself away from the science station. He speaks so softly that only I can hear him. He doesn't want it to look as if he's questioning my decision.
"Jim, I am reluctant to risk the lives of eighteen civilians on an untried gamble."
He's right. It is a risk, but I don't see any options here. We've talked about this scenario often enough. We've fought Orion raiders before. I've still got an ache in my back from the last time. There's no conventional way to penetrate their shields without blowing the ship up. And, if we do that, the Coridians will die along with their captors. We are going to have to try this. Besides, this "untried gamble" is based on weeks of computer modeling and two completely successful simulations.
This is not the time to debate. It's time to act.
"Spock, we have no other choice. I will not allow those people to be sold as slaves. This will work, I know it will. Initiate Operation Shield. Mr. Sulu, bring us within fifty-thousand kilometers of the Orion ship. Shields up. Red Alert."
I can see the bridge crew scramble to follow out my orders. I'm trying not to smile as I start to count. McCoy in four. One, two, three...
"Jim, what in blazes is going on up there?"
"Doctor, we are about to engage an Orion slaver with eighteen Coridians aboard. Prepare for casualties. I don't have time for a debate, Bones. We should have them aboard in less than twenty minutes if all goes according to plan."
I can hear McCoy breathe. He hates these things. They always seem to give him too much work. He can handle it. He's a great doctor, and he's trained a great staff. I put up with a lot from him, just to know that he's there when I need him.
"Yes, Captain. McCoy out."
He can get kind of military when he's scared.
Now, Scotty in ten. Angry.
Seven. He beat my guess. He always takes less time than I think he will.
He's angry all right. Every red alert risks his 'bairns'. It's a good thing to have a chief engineer who's passionately in love with his ship. He'll go to any lengths to keep her safe. It's me he's mad at. I'm the one who risks her.
"Captain, Scott here. Can I ask you what's the devil's going on up there?"
"There's an Orion slaver out there with a whole lot of innocent people onboard, Mr. Scott. We are about to initiate Operation Shield. Have your people ready."
Good man, Scott. He knows when to argue and when to act. There's no one I'd rather have looking after my engine room.
"Scotty, I want you to supervise the transporter room, and I want Kyle down in the cargo transporters. Tell him to prepare for eighteen. Spock should have the coordinates for both of you when we get into range."
I looked at the first officer and he indicated three minutes.
"In three minutes. I don't have to tell you how precise you will have to be, do I?"
"No, sir. I'm not likely to blow up our girl, now am I?"
No. He's not. That's why I want him in the transporter room.
"Weapons room. Bring four photon torpedoes to the main transporter room. We are about to enable Operation Shield."
"Aye, sir." The weapons people are sharp. Red alerts are their specialty. Unfortunately.
I hate the idea of people carrying torpedoes through my ship, but we haven't figured out an alternative. They have to be stored in the weapons cache, but for this to work, I need them at the transporters. It should take the weapons technicians about six minutes to get the torpedoes to the transporters. We've practiced this. Twice. I have to get the image of the techs dropping one of the damn things out of my mind. A photon torpedo wouldn't exactly blow the ship up if someone dropped it, but it'd sure do a lot of damage. The warhead wouldn't blow, but the detonators... Stop that. My people are better than that.
Now, I have to sit. And, wait. All around me my people are busy. Chekov's navigating our course and plotting evasive maneuvers in case things go bad. Sulu's flying us towards the slaver. Steady and swift. There's no better pilot in the fleet. Spock's scanning for the coordinates of the Coridians. Uhura's the focal point of all the activity. She's the one who tells me that the photon torpedoes are in place, that Kyle's received Spock's coordinates, and is ready to beam the Coridians aboard. She lets me know that all decks are at the ready. Scott's in the transporter room, calculating the timing to the nanosecond. Sickbay is ready for casualties that they all hope will not happen.
And, I sit. And, wait.
I think that this is why I take command of as many landing parties as I can. I hate the waiting. I need to do something. What can I do in the command chair? I give the orders, and the others do the doing. I find that I have to stop myself from drumming my fingers. I've taken to rubbing my jaw, but that habit's starting to annoy even me. Pacing is a problem. I try to control it. There's not a whole lot of room on the bridge and I don't want to distract the command crew. So mostly I sit in this damn chair and wait. It's probably the hardest thing I do. It's also the only thing I ever want to do.
"Captain, we are within fifty-thousand kilometers of the Orion ship."
"Thank you, Mr. Spock. Uhura, hail that ship."
Might as well try talking to them. As if it will do any good. Who ever heard of an Orion slaver surrendering his hostages?
"This is James T. Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise. We are aware that you are illegally holding eighteen Federation citizens. Surrender them and we will tow your ship to the nearest Starbase. If you surrender, we will speak on your behalf at your trial."
A phaser blast. A strong one. Some answer. Spock was right. That Orion ship is more powerful than the last one we engaged. I look over at him and he nods. No damage.
"Orion ship, you are outmatched. Surrender your cargo and prepare to be boarded."
Uhura signals me. It seems like they are actually going to answer. That's a surprise. Maybe we can negotiate our way out of a fight this one time. I nod to her to put the Orion on screen. Their bridge is dark and it's hard to make out the image of their captain, but there's no mistaking his words.
"Kirk of the Enterprise. You have interfered with the course of a neutral ship. It seems that your reputation among my people is deserved. Prepare for a fight. There is a price on your head, and I will be pleased to collect it."
What arrogance. Does that Orion captain really think he can defeat the Enterprise? Another phaser bolt. This time it shakes us up a little. Shields weakened a bit, but still no real problems. I consider answering fire, but I don't want to divert our resources from the plan. Spock indicates that all systems are still functioning. I can give the order to start Operation Shield any time now.
I'm going to try to talk to him one more time.
"Orion Captain, I have no wish to see you destroyed. Surrender now, or the Enterprise will move against you."
The screen's gone blank. Uhura indicates that they cut transmission.
There's another blast. This time I can smell the insulation burning. It smells hot and acrid. The automatic fire controls are kicking in. Good. Shields are still holding. We're getting tossed around, but no real damage. This is a fine ship. She'll keep us safe until we do what we have to do.
The comm panel on the command chair feels hot. As soon as we're done here, I better mention it to Scotty. This thing's supposed to have every cut-off and breaker in the book, but it feels like something's not right.
"Mr. Scott. Are the torpedoes in position?"
"Aye, Captain. Awaiting your order."
"Mr. Kyle, do you have your coordinates?"
"Very well, gentlemen. I don't have to remind you that your timing must be exact. Mr. Spock will coordinate from up here. Good luck."
They both answer. They thank me. I should be thanking them. A captain can do nothing without a crew. I can hear Spock's orders to them. I can hear Scott and Kyle respond. It's working. I think. I just have to wait. Damn this chair. It's really uncomfortable. I've got to sit still. It wouldn't do to squirm. What message would that send?
Operation Shield. A really simple plan. We beam the photon torpedoes to the Orion's shield perimeter and detonate them. They materialize at the shields too quickly for the Orions to take counter measures. The explosions blow a hole through their shields without blowing up the ship. We beam out the Coridians, and no one gets hurt. At least that's the plan. Worked really well in simulation. The timing's a little tricky. During one of the simulations the explosions nearly took place simultaneously on the ship and at the shields. Spock assured me that couldn't happen in real time. I hope he's right.
I look over at him. He's so intent on his scanner. Then, he lifts his head, looks at me, and nods. I can see the flashes of detonation. I feel the shock waves from the explosion as they hit the Enterprise. Now Kyle has to reach into the Orion ship with his transporter and beam those hostages out of there.
The bridge is silent. We are waiting to hear from Kyle. Something doesn't feel right. The hair on my neck is standing up. There is a low humming sound on the bridge. It's hard to breathe. It feels like ants are crawling up my back. What's happening? I can hear the startled voices of my bridge crew. Uhura gasps and jumps away from her board as a blue bolt of energy leaps up from the communications panel.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
One by one, each board on the bridge sparks and sizzles. I can hear the sound of transtators frying. Smell that hot, bitter smell of burnt electronics.
There must have been a problem with the transport of the torpedoes. It feels like some of their explosive energy is being absorbed by the ship. The power surge must be causing the breakers to fail. I'd better warn Engineering. Scott's not there. His people can handle it.
I reach for the panel on my chair. Now it's really hot. As if in slow motion, I watch my hand toggle the switch. An arc of energy, hot, and bright, and glowing with power attaches itself to my fingers. It moves up my hand. I'm frozen. There's no pain. I just can't move. I wonder what happens to a person who absorbs the energy from a photon torpedo? Probably nothing good. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something blue flying at me.
Is the ship all right? Are the Coridians safe? Why am I still here? I am having trouble seeing. Everything looks so fuzzy and out of focus. Is that blue over me?
"You just lie still, Jim. You took a nasty shock. If it weren't for Spock here, you'd be fried."
Spock. He's standing over me. Damn, I have to get up. The ship. There's a hand on my chest, holding me down.
"At least he had the sense not to touch you directly. He grabbed a chair and used it to push you out of the command seat. You're going to have quite a bruise on your back where that chair hit. Let me see the hand, Jim."
Hand. That's what hurts. I can smell the burned flesh. It really stinks. It reminds me of the time Sam accidentally set my hair on fire. For days my head smelled like a barbecue gone bad. I really don't want to look.
Oh, that was a mistake. I shouldn't have looked. I know Bone can fix it, but it's really ugly. The skin's black and blistered, and my fingers are gnarled like a piece of burned driftwood.
I hope Bones can fix it.
I have to get up. I need to find out what happened.
"The Coridians. Did we get them off the Orion ship?"
It's Uhura who answers.
"Sixteen of them, Captain. The Orion ship was destroyed before Kyle got the last two. The energy backlash must have overloaded their systems and the ship exploded, according to Mr. Scott."
Sixteen. Damn. I've killed two of them. And, the thirty-seven other people on that ship. Damn, damn, damn. So close. This time I push myself up. I wish I hadn't used my hand. It really hurts.
"Bones, casualties? The Coridians?"
"The Coridians are being triaged by my staff. Jim, you should know, they are kids. Just kids."
He looks at me. I can see his anger as he thinks about what was in store for those children. McCoy is the most gentle soul I know, and his empathy for others causes an anger that sometimes flares out of control. He's working hard to keep it damped down. I can see the effort on his face.
I can't help thinking about the two children who died. I have to put them out of my mind. There's too much to be done. I'll think about them later. I'll think about all of those who died because of me. I'll go over this and over this, and maybe next time, I'll be better at my job, and no one will die.
McCoy's not finished with me yet. He's still a little bit angry with me for putting us in this situation. He feels the death of the Orions, too. He's also fair enough to realize that I had no choice.
"Jim, I'm going down to look at the Coridians in a moment or two. I know they'd like to meet you. To thank you. For saving them. And, for blowing the Orions to bits. I just hope that next time you can figure out how to do this sort of thing without blasting the other ship to smithereens, Captain."
That's Bones. He takes away the pain and gives it right back. He's right though. I never want to lose sight of the fact that people died today.
"Jim, I'd like to get you to Sickbay."
"I can't go now, Bones. I have work to do. Just give me something for the pain, Doctor. I'll be down as soon as I'm finished here."
I know Bones is going to argue with me, and I know he'll give in. He knows that the captain can't leave the bridge until the operation is completed. He surprises me this time. I hear a meek "yes, Captain" and feel the sting of a hypospray. He sprays some sort of dressing on the burn. My hand stops hurting. If I don't look at it, I can forget about it until we get cleaned up here. McCoy puts his hand on my shoulder, as if to comfort me and to remind me that even though he's angry at all that death, he's also grateful for those who live. He leaves me to my bridge.
Spock comes over to me. He leans down and speaks softly. His voice is deep and hoarse. It's a voice that I've come to recognize as being full of remorse.
"Captain, I wish to apologize for what must be an error in my calculations. With your permission, I will run the mission tapes until I find out what caused the energy feedback on board the Enterprise. And, what caused the Orion ship to explode."
He will. He'll be up all night, and the next, and the next, until he figures out what happened, and figures out a way to keep it from happening again. I won't insult him by suggesting that he shouldn't do it. It's his job. He does it better than anyone. He always tries to do it even better. I wouldn't have it any other way. So, I just nod and give him permission to do his work.
Sulu and Chekov are scanning the Orion ship's remains looking for escape pods. They won't find any. We didn't give them enough time to escape.
Uhura's trying to get my attention. She wants to give me a damage report. I can tell by her face that everything's all right. She says that Mr. Scott wants to see me in the transporter room at my earliest convenience. Knowing how Scotty feels about any damage to our ship, I'll bet she cleaned that one up a bit. I'll stop down there on my way to Sickbay.
I look over at my command chair. Well, so much for the problem with the stuffing. The whole thing's a disaster. Maintenance will have to replace the entire chair. Maybe I can ask them for extra padding. I do spend an awful lot of time in the thing. Even though it's not always comfortable, it really is the only place I ever want to be.