Even as the two great ships face each other, trouble is brewing among their crews. On the Enterprise, Lieutenant Leslie Parrish is pregnant with a half-Klingon child and must face a critical decision about her future, while Section Chief Michael Fuller still carries the wounds of the twenty-five-year-old Battle of Donatu V, of which he was one of the few survivors -- not to mention his grief over the death of his son, recently killed in battle against the Klingons.
On the D'k Tahg, First Officer Karel finds himself trapped between the scheming, dishonorable Councillor Duras and his commanding officer, Koloth. While the stakes only seem to be the possession of a single star system, the ramifications may spread throughout the Klingon Empire, as they find themselves at a crossroads between conquest and honor!
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Captain's Log Stardate 3197.2.
The Enterprise is headed for System 7348 at best speed, but it is still three days away. The crew is tense. Though the diplomats are even now making a final push, few doubt that war with the Klingon Empire is imminent. The question on the minds of the crew: will the first shots be fired at the Enterprise when we reach our destination? I know we will be facing a Klingon warship when we arrive. And despite the claims of the Klingon Empire, I am sure that whatever the Klingon vessel's purpose, it is not to make peaceful contact with the primitive genetic Klingons on that world. For now, we have no choice but to wait and see.
"Captain, I'm reading a distress signal," Lieutenant Uhura said.
Captain Kirk was immediately alert. He felt Doctor McCoy tense behind him as he turned to his communications officer and asked, "Who is it?"
Uhura shook her head. "It's very faint . . . I'm boosting power." She waited for a few seconds. "I have it. The message is from a civilian ship called the . . . Harmony."
"Location?" Kirk said.
A flash of surprise registered on Uhura's face. "The message originates from 2.7 light-years inside Klingon space."
There was a collective intake of breath from the bridge crew, and even Spock raised an eyebrow. "What in hell is a civilian ship doing there?" McCoy said, giving voice to what everyone else was thinking.
"Mister Spock?" Kirk asked.
There was a momentary pause as Spock studied the viewer at the science station. Then the Vulcan looked up. "The Harmony is a privately owned passenger vessel. It left Earth orbit heading for an agricultural colony twenty-seven light-years from the point of origin of the distress call. The flight plan for the trip was filed by the Anti-Federation League."
"Someone made one hell of a detour," McCoy said.
"Could it really be them, Spock?" Kirk said.
The half-Vulcan nodded. "There is no record of the Harmony making orbit anywhere. And if the vessel traveled at nearly its top cruising speed, it could have reached Klingon space by now."
"Why would anyone do that?" McCoy said.
"The Anti-Federation League has been extremely critical of both Starfleet and the Federation throughout the current crisis with the Klingon Empire. They have launched a number of efforts via subspace communications to establish private peace talks with the Empire. The Empire has declined their offers to date."
"Then why would . . . ?" McCoy started to ask, his voice trailing off. It didn't seem to make sense, but Kirk already had the answer forming in his mind.
"They may have taken the initiative anyway," Kirk said. It fit the profile.
A few months earlier, the Enterprise had answered a distress call from an Anti-Federation League colony. They had come under attack from Orions, whom Kirk had good reason to believe were working with the Klingons to test Starfleet tactics and capabilities.
Sam Fuller had led the rescue. Fifty-nine colonists had been saved, with only one lost during the operation. The mission had been a success . . . a success that had cost the Enterprise too many of her crew. A number of others were injured, Sam Fuller among them. Sam had been lucky on that mission. His luck had run out just a few weeks later.
"How long would it take us at maximum warp to reach their position, Mister Spock?" Kirk said.
The Vulcan did not have to check his computer terminal for that data. "Twelve hours, fourteen minutes. However, I must point out that any delay in our arrival at System 7348 will only give the Klingons more time to establish their position there."
Kirk knew that. If war was truly inevitable, then any advantage that he allowed the Klingons now might cost lives later. Simple logic, as Spock would say. Turning his head to Doctor McCoy, Kirk said, "Bones?"
"Jim, we don't even know if they are alive, or if they sent the message at all. This is more than likely a Klingon trick," McCoy said.
"Uhura, is the message genuine?" Kirk asked.
She nodded and went to work at her station analyzing the transmission. He knew it was an unfair question. There were a thousand ways to fake a message. And if the Klingon Empire wanted to trick them, they would have unlimited resources to put into making a perfect forgery.
Still, he could see Uhura's hands flying across her panel at near Vulcan speed. Kirk knew she was checking power readings and comparing them with the transmitter the records showed was on the Harmony. Then she would look for interference patterns that would show up if the ship was really under attack -- signs of jamming as well as the effect on the transmission of shield or weapons energy.
Then Uhura would check the syntax and accent of the speaker, comparing it to what she could learn from the crew manifest of the ship. She would try to determine the identity of the person who made the transmission and see if their language and syntax was consistent with their planet and region of origin.
All of those factors could be faked by a sufficiently motivated and resourced group -- such as the intelligence division of the Klingon Defense Force. Making a final call on the transmission would have been a large job for a small staff at Starfleet Command who had a few hours to concentrate on the problem. Of course, only a few minutes had passed when Uhura looked up.
"It's genuine," she said.
"How long ago was the message sent?" Kirk asked.
"Two days, twelve hours."
"And they are still more than twelve hours away," Spock pointed out. "Average survival time for prisoners of the Klingon Empire is substantially less than that."
"Sir," Uhura said, "the message was not specific, but I have reason to suspect that the Harmony was not under attack by a Klingon military vessel."
Kirk understood. That they survived long enough to send out a distress signal suggested as much.
"Please transfer whatever data you have to Mister Spock's station," Kirk said.
There was silence on the bridge as the crew waited for Kirk to make his decision. At the least, he knew he should be discussing the issue and its ramifications with his department heads. Too much was at stake to do otherwise. On the other hand, speed was the biggest imperative, in both a rescue mission and in their mission to System 7348.
"Jim, if you cross the border, the Klingons will consider that an act of war," McCoy said.
"Actually, Bones, Federation-Klingon accords allow for border crossing in emergency search-and-rescue situations," Kirk replied.
"However, in the current state of tension between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, the Klingons may interpret those accords . . . differently," Spock said.
"No doubt," Kirk said.
If you're in a tight spot and stuck for what to do, remember your oath. A security section chief named Michael Fuller had drilled that into Kirk when he was a newly minted officer on board the U.S.S. Republic. In the oath, all Starfleet officers swore to protect and serve the Federation. Well, the interests of the Federation were clear here. The Enterprise was needed at System 7348 to prevent the Klingons from causing any mischief.
The problem was that in the oath, Kirk had also sworn to offer aid to any and all beings that request it. Equally clear, and directly opposed to their duty at System 7348.
"Now, there will be times that your oath will seem to call for conflicting duties," Michael Fuller had said to them. "And some of you are wondering what you should do in those situations." Fuller had paused for a moment and looked at the group. "The answer is simple really. In those cases, it is your job to simply know what to do."
"Sir?" young Lieutenant Kirk had asked. "What if both duties seem equally pressing?"
"Like I said, as Starfleet officers it is your job to know what to do. There aren't enough regulations in the galaxy to guide you in every situation. We could spin out scenarios for the rest of the month and I guarantee that we wouldn't cover a fraction of the sticky situations you will each face in your careers. So all I can tell you is to trust your instincts and make the call. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, then there are any number of career opportunities for you in the merchant space fleet or the private sector." Then before any of the young officers could respond, he said, "Some of you think that's unfair, but it isn't unfair, it's Starfleet."
It didn't surprise Kirk that he knew what to do. Like many complicated decisions, this one was surprisingly easy in the end.
"Mister DePaul, do you have a course laid in to the source of the distress call?" Kirk asked.
"Yes," the navigator replied. Kirk was pleased, not because DePaul had anticipated his decision, but because he had anticipated the possibility and acted accordingly.
"Mister Sulu, maximum warp to the Harmony's last known position."
"Aye, sir," Sulu said as his hands moved over his console. "Course laid in . . . and accelerating to maximum warp."
The subtle change in vibration of the deck and the change in pitch of the hum of the ship's engines confirmed for Kirk that they were accelerating. A few seconds later, Sulu said, "Warp eight."
"Mister Spock, issue a yellow alert," Kirk said. "Lieutenant Uhura, put me on the ship's comm."
"Ready, sir," Uhura said immediately.
"This is the captain. We have received a distress call from a civilian vessel and have changed course to intercept. Our new course may take us across the Federation-Klingon border. I will keep you posted as the situation develops. Kirk out." Then Kirk said, "Uhura, have Security Chief Giotto meet me in the briefing room."
As Kirk got up, he noted that Mister Spock was already by his side.
"Captain, I need to get sickbay ready," McCoy said.
"Hang on, Bones," Kirk said, raising his hand. "Have M'Benga take care of that for now. I'm going to need you."
"Yes, sir," McCoy said, but Kirk could see that the doctor wasn't happy. If sickbay was going to be receiving casualties, he would want to see to all the preparations himself. Well, it couldn't be helped. Kirk needed McCoy's opinion for his next move. There was a conflict here, more than one actually, and Kirk wanted to hear what his two closest friends and advisers had to say about it.
"Gentlemen," he said, as he headed for the turbolift.
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