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“Bridge to Captain Kirk.”
Even before Kirk and the others had had a chance to leave the ready room in order to give thought to their little problem, Lt. Uhura had signaled the Captain.
Kirk punched a button on the conference room table. “Kirk here.”
“I’m picking up a distress signal sir. A Federation ship is under attack.”
“On my way.”
Kirk stood up. “Gentlemen. Stay in pairs. Return here in an hour. Mr. Spock, you’re with me.”
Kirk strode to his command chair, while Spock assumed his position at his science station.
“On screen, Uhura.”
Uhura pressed a button, and the view screen sprang to life… or rather, to death. Out of the fog of a severely damaged bridge, the beaten and bloody face of a man looked out…his shirt showing that he was a captain in the Federation.
“This is…” static…. “of the USS Red Admiral. We’ve been…” static. “Nothing left… no hope…. Help.”
“Open a channel, Uhura.” Kirk barked.
“Channel open, sir.”
“Red Admiral, this is the USS Enterprise. I repeat, this is the USS Enterprise. What is your location? I repeat. What is your location?”
“Their communications must be out, Captain,” said Uhura. “All I’m getting is the same distress signal, over and over again.”
“Spock?” asked Kirk.
Spock twisted in his seat to look at Kirk.
“The USS Red Admiral is an advance scout ship, captained by Richard Budman. Last reported location was in Sector Alpha Gamma 2.2. We are the closest starship to that location, Captain, by at least a week’s travel time.”
“Uhuru, do you have the coordinates from the distress signal?”
“Yes, sir, I’ve fed them to Mr. Sulu.”
“Sulu, plot us a course. Then take us out of here. Warp factor six.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Uhura, can you clean up that message? I want to be able to hear the whole thing.”
“Working on it, Captain.”
“Very good. Spock, a minute with you in my ready room, please.”
As the doors closed behind them, Kirk turned to Spock. “What do you think? Could this be a trap? Something laid on by Garth?”
“Impossible to say, Captain. But I would not have thought that Garth could have orchestrated anything of this nature from Elba II.”
“That’s what I think, also. If he could give orders to a ship capable of destroying the Red Admiral, he wouldn’t have wasted it on destroying that ship. He’d have had it come here to take over Elba II.”
“Agreed , sir.”
Kirk pounded his right fist into his other palm.
“Boss. There’s someone I want you to meet. This is Gus Keller.”
The two men shook hands.
The Pit Boss, as he seemed to prefer to be known, was a tall, husky youth of perhaps twenty five, Garth estimated. Several inches over six feet, with the musculature of a body-builder, he noted, as the youth rose to his feet from where he’d been seated gazing into a computer screen, and gave Garth a firm handshake.
He was also wearing the off-duty uniform of a security guard, as Garth had deduced he would…if his father had been a marine on Axanar, the Boss would follow in his father’s footsteps. (All off-duty uniforms still had the insignia of one’s rank and position aboard the Enterprise.)
So far…so good.
Katya continued the introductions. “I told Gus about what you knew about Garth of Izar, and he was very interested.”
“Katya tells me you actually have a book…a printed book…from Axanar. I wonder if I might see it.”
“Uh, sure. It’s in my quarters.”
“I hate to impose…”
“Oh, no, not at all. I love showing it to people.”
“So Katya tells me. Everyone in your…. Jet Pack….knows of it, eh?”
“That’s right. I’m sure she told you my father was on Axanar.”
“Yes, she told me.”
Katya looked at the two men consideringly. She’d always had rather a thing for the Boss, but he was too tall. Keller, now…he was older, indeed, he was one of the oldest crewmembers she’d seen aboard the Enterprise, but he’d kept himself in great shape, and he was just the right height, and kind of handsome, too. She wanted to stick around – after all, she’d been interested in Axanar too and she was not too shabby in the stratagem department…but she had the impression that Gus wanted to talk to the Boss alone. Well, she’d let them. Time enough for her to display her knowledge and acumen later on…
“Well, I’ll let you two go alone, eh?” she said aloud.”I’m going to go over to the duty room and try to find out why we’ve left station.”
“We’ve left station?” asked the Boss, surprised.
Katya nodded. “Just a few minutes ago.”
Katya nodded again. She sketched a wave at Garth, who gave her a charming smile, and then she turned and walked away.
Garth and the Boss walked down the corridor. “Katya has only referred to you as The Boss,” Garth commented. “What was your father’s name?”
“Rick Hubbard. I’m Vince.”
“Rick Hubbard,” said Garth, musingly. He had led many marines, when he’d beamed down to Axanar for hand-to-hand combat with the enemy remaining on the planet’s surface, after he’d destroyed their fleet…but he didn’t remember a Hubbard…he must have been on the ground prior to the invasion…prior to the destruction of Axanar…one of the Federation men tasked with protecting Axanar from the Klingons…and failing.
He had expected as much. None of the marines who’d landed with him would have found any print books still in existence…nothing had been left of his planet when he’d arrived except burned shells of buildings, scorched bodies, and Klingons to hunt down and kill.
They arrived at Vince’s quarters, he pressed his palm against the hand plate and they walked in.
All the security guards lived two to a suite…but worked split shifts so that each person usually had the rooms pretty much to themselves. So it was on this occasion.
“Have a seat,” said Vince. “Would you like a drink?” He waived his hand at the dispenser set in the wall. Garth went over and filled a cup full of Pepsi as the big security guard went to a bookcase. A bookcase, filled with archaic, print books.
Instead of sitting down, Garth went over and looked at them. “It’s been a long time since I’ve touched a paper book,” he murmured, running his left hand over the spines gently.
“Not many people have,” said Vince, glancing at Garth in surprise. He drew out one of them. “Here it is. The book from Axanar. A History of the Royal House of Gaveston.”
Garth took the book in fingers that trembled a little. Of all the books the Boss might have had, he had not expected this one. In its pages was almost the whole story of his life, of how he’d been a peasant boy, saved the life of Baron Simov’s son from a runaway horse, been taken into the royal household as a reward and had grown as close to Simony as to a brother. How he had left Axanar to join the Starfleet Academy, while Simony had stayed behind.
That’s where the story ended, too, for this book had been printed a couple of years before the battle of Axanar. The publishing house had decided to honor him when he had graduated from the Academy quicker than any cadet had ever done it before. The book had ended by predicting a bright future for him… Garth blinked away tears, and then looked up to find Vince staring at him.
“You okay?” asked Vince.
“Do you…” Garth began in a tight voice. He stopped, swallowed, and started again. “Do you know the story…of the destruction of Axanar?”
“What do you mean?” asked Vince cautiously.
“Not the battle of Axanar. The destruction before it. The destruction in which your father undoubtedly died.”
Vince’s face froze. “He did die on Axanar, yes. When the first wave of Klingons attacked.”
“Do you know how it happened?”
“Yes,” said Vince quietly. “I know how it happened.”
Garth spoke, as if reciting a funeral dirge. “The Federation promised to protect Axanar, and its mining resources, from the Klingons. There was a squadron on station in that solar system. A whole squadron, under the command of the brother of the President of the Federation himself, Admiral Dixon Welles. And then the Klingons launched a feint that shouldn’t have fooled the greenest of lieutenants, and Dixon Welles detached himself and half his squadron to meet it. Then the Klingons came in and overwhelmed the remaining ships, and then they beamed down to the surface of Axanar and they systematically destroyed it!”
“You’re…uh…you sound very passionate about this…” said Vince, looking at him closely. “Did you lose someone on Axanar, too?”
“I lost everybody,” gritted Garth. “And I use that word with precision. And what happened to Dixon Welles, eh? Nothing. Nothing! He retired on half-pay and was assigned to a cushy job at a space station at the other end of the galaxy, where he lives now, in luxury.”
“I’m sure he thinks about what he did every minute…” said Vince uncertainly.
“That’s not enough,” Garth barked. “Even if it were true, that’s not enough. But it isn’t true. If he felt any guilt about what he’d done that day, he’d have committed suicide long ago to make amends. But he continues to live…and laugh…and love.”
Vince drew himself up to his full six foot six frame, and stood in front of the door to his quarters, as he realized that something was very, very wrong here. “Who are you?” he asked hoarsely.
Garth flung back his head. “I am Garth of Izar.”
Vince stared at him, knowing it was true. “But…but…how did you get off the planet….?”
Garth came closer to Vince, who simultaneously shifted his feet into a karate stance. The huge, muscular man had no fear of the smaller one.
Garth relaxed control over his face, and the molecules shifted and dissolved.
Vince’s eyes widened in horror and he turned his face away, clamping his lips together and swallowing convulsively.
“Look at me,” said Garth, reaching out to turn the other man’s face back to his. “Look at me! My parents! My sister! My brother! My wife! My people! Do you think any of them looked better than this, when the Klingons were finished with them?”
Vince shoved him away, but instead of trying to leave the room he strode further into the room itself, covering his face with both hands.
“What do you want from me?” he demanded from between his hands.
Garth breathed deeply, fighting for calm, and brought his face back to its usual, handsome appearance. “The Federation was supposed to protect them. Your father was supposed to protect them. You owe me a debt.”
Vince balled his hands into fists and whirled on Garth. “My father died trying to protect your people from the Klingons! All his squadron died!”
“That’s right, Vince. That’s right. It’s retired Admiral Dixon Welles who owes us all. And I think he should be made to repay it.”
“But….but…” Vince looked at him uncertainly. “You’re….this is an insane asylum…”
“I’m not insane, Vince,” Garth said quietly. “Far from it. But the President knew that I was going to seek out his brother, eventually…and he framed me…he had me sent here to protect his brother.”
That was a good story, Garth thought. And clearly Vince was believing it. And it was true, as far as it went. He did intend to kill retired Admiral Dixon Welles, as one of his first acts when he got command of a starship…he’d been working his way around to Dixon Welles’ station, in the course of fulfilling his duties….before the accident…before Antos IV.
“What do you want me to do?” asked Vince.
“Captain Kirk knows I’m on board. He knows I can change my face – as you have seen. He is doubtless taking precautions. He will have someone with him at all times. A security guard. I want you to be that security guard.”
“No,” said Vince, incontrovertibly. “I’ll do a lot for you, but I’m not going to betray my captain.”
“That is no more than I would expect from you,” said Garth, calmly. “Kirk is a tremendous captain, isn’t he?”
“Yes, sir,” said Vince.
Garth nodded. “Vince, I’m not asking you to betray him, in the way you mean. He will not be harmed. No one on this ship will be harmed. All I’m asking is that you help me get to some kind of an outpost where I can get off this ship, and get on another one. That’s all I ask.”
“But…so why do you want the captain?”
“Because, should I assume his shape, it will make it all the easier for me to get to that outpost.”
“But you won’t harm him?”
Garth nodded. “You have my word, Vince. If you help me, no one aboard this ship will be harmed. The first man I’m going to kill is Dixon Welles.”
Vince took a deep breath. “O…kay. Okay then.”