"Yes, my poor friend," Hawkeye said. "I hear she's fruity as a nutcake."
The turnkey returned Hawkeye's innocent look with one barely subordinate. "Two minutes."
Hot Lips was lying on the bunk facing the wall, but she sat up when Hawkeye sat next to her. "Hawkeye!"
He reached into a pocket with his left hand while giving her the Vulcan salute with his right. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"That's not very damn funny."
"Well, your sense of humor's returned." Hawkeye pulled a hypospray from his pocket.
"The hell it has." Hot Lips eyed the hypospray. "What's that?"
Hawkeye put on his Insufferable Grin. "You're suffering from a Vulcan mind meld, Doctor."
Hawkeye had been anticipating the sputter all afternoon. He wasn't disappointed. Hot Lips hit each vowel at least once before she got a word out. "That green-blooded little twit! That pointy-eared four-eyed moron!"
Hawkeye brandished the hypospray. "This'll make you well enough to travel ..."
Father Mulcahy tugged at the Roman collar of his civilian clothes. Visitors to starships sometimes asked why the crew wore their uniforms almost all their waking hours, but the truth was - at least in the old days - Starfleet uniforms were more comfortable than civilian clothes.
There were two people at the console when he entered the detention area. Father Mulcahy flipped his I.D. and asked, "Where's Admiral Pierce?"
"With the prisoner," said the guard who was standing, pointing with his thumb.
"Get him, please; commander, Starfleet wants him."
The standing guard officer shrugged, grabbed the keys and headed for the interior door. Father Mulcahy found his lackadaisical demeanor disturbingly representative of the fleet of recent years. All the better for present purposes of course, but ...
The guard behind the console actually yawned.
"Keeping you busy?" Father Mulcahy said with his best friendly grin.
The guard looked at Father Mulcahy. He slowly rose to his feet and folded his arms. He was about a head and a half taller, and with his arms akimbo about half again as wide at the shoulders.
"Don't get smart," said the guard, "Tiny."
This bully, Father Mulcahy thought, is only getting what's coming to him.
When the turnkey stepped back into the cell, spouting Father Mulcahy's story, Hot Lips was curled up on the bunk again. "Look," Hawkeye said, "she's sick," and sucker-punched him. Hawkeye hustled Hot Lips out of the cell.
Father Mulcahy had the other guard, his lip bloodied and an eye already swelling, backed up in the far corner. "Side elevator," Father Mulcahy called to them over his pummeling, "agents on their way up."
Hawkeye got Hot Lips into the elevator. By then Father Mulcahy had K.O.'d the guard. He disabled the console with his phaser, then stepped over the big guard on his way to the elevator. He made the sign of the cross over him, then said, "Don't call me Tiny." He cleared the elevator doors just as the agents cleared the main entrance.
With the elevator under way Hawkeye pulled out an old-fashioned hand-held communicator. "Unit three, this is unit one. The Kobayashi Maru has set sail for the promised land."
"You're taking me to the promised land?" Hot Lips said, pulling her jacket on.
"Depends on whose promise," Hawkeye said.
B.J. stepped up to the lift in Excelsior's engine room just as Captain Muldoon stepped off.
"Ah, Mr. Hunnicutt," said Muldoon. He was a big Australian officer with a big Australian mustache. "Calling it a night?"
"Yes, sir," B.J. said.
"I'm about ready to turn in meself," Muldoon said cheerfully. He always toured the ship before retiring, B.J. knew; he called it his walkabout. "Looking forward to breaking some of the Enterprise's speed records in the morning."
"Yes, sir," B.J. said. No new pip was worth this. But Muldoon went on his way and left the lift to B.J.
"Level please." The voice of Excelsior's computer was a confident, assured masculine voice. B.J. hated it.
He looked to see whether Muldoon was still in earshot; no. "Transporter room."
"Thank you." Well mannered too.
"Up your -" Even if Muldoon had been within range, the lift doors would have kept him from learning where B.J. requested the lift to store its thanks.
Soolik interrupted Klinger to make her hourly report to Command. Klinger was now agitated enough that one needn't have known him well to see it. Whatever was going to happen was imminent.
"What if the needs of the few," Klinger said earnestly, "served a higher purpose?"
"Such as?" Soolik asked.
"Justice, maybe," said Klinger. "Honor."
"I find it difficult to conceive of an argument that any justice should be at odds with the needs of the many," Soolik said. "And honor is much more subjective a concept than justice, almost by definition comprising a need-of-the-few itself."
"What if the circumstances justified it?" Klinger said.
"So far you have avoided the description of circumstances."
"Well, suppose that -" But Klinger was interrupted. Admiral Pierce, Dr. Houlihan and Father Mulcahy entered the transporter room. This must be it then, Soolik decided.
"Klinger," Admiral Pierce said in greeting as the three stepped to the transporter pads. "What's up?"
"I'll be with you in a minute, sir," Klinger said.
"This is very irregular," Soolik said to him. "There are no destination orders. They have offered us no encoded I.D.s."
"True," said Klinger. He was actually calmer now than he had been before the other officers had arrived.
"What are we going to do?"
"That's what I've been asking you for half an hour." Klinger's hand rested casually on the lip of a storage compartment in the transporter console.
Soolik said, "You have been attempting to persuade me with logic when your argument is an emotional one. If you wish to persuade me, you must appeal to my emotions."
Klinger stared at her a moment. Then he broke into a wide grin. "Listen, I gotta do this. Radar's my pal. But maybe, when I get out of the stockade, you and me can get some dinner somewhere?"
Soolik had not expected this form of appeal, and discovered it to be surprisingly successful. "I should enjoy that," she responded, without having to think, accustomed as she was to always stating the simple truth.
Klinger took this for the affirmation it was. He took his hand from the console compartment, called up the pre-set coordinates he'd programmed during her break, gave her one last smile, and started toward the platform himself. She stopped him, took the phaser from the compartment, and gave it to him.
"I love you," Klinger grinned. Without waiting for a response - which was just as well since she didn't have one - he joined his shipmates on the platform.
Then the commander, Starfleet walked in. "I'm not here," Potter said.
Soolik had had no chance to react to his entrance before he'd spoken and confused her into not reacting at all. Pierce and the others seemed to be in the same state of mind.
"I don't know what you're doing," Potter continued, "and I haven't come to see you off." His voice had that low tone it always got when he was afraid it was going to break. "And I won't be there when you get to Vulcan."
Pierce nodded to Potter. Houlihan gave him one of her rare smiles.
"And Hawkeye, -" Potter said, "all my hopes."
Pierce nodded again, and then nodded to Soolik. "Energize." And the Enterprise officers were gone.
"Admiral," said Soolik to Potter, "request permission not to accompany you to Vulcan."
Hawkeye entered the bridge of the Enterprise for what he knew would be the last time. Hot Lips, Klinger and Father Mulcahy followed him. B.J. was at the navigation station, every slave circuit indicator lit. Tharlss' bald blue dome was roosted at the helm. Klinger sat at communications, and Father Mulcahy went to stand at environmental support. Hot Lips followed Hawkeye over to B.J. "Status, Mr. Hunnicutt?" Hawkeye said.
"All systems are fully automated," B.J. said. "A chimpanzee and two trainees could run her."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Beej," Hawkeye said.
He looked around the bridge. The lights were low, preserving outside appearances that the ship was empty and on standby power only. His long time shipmates were in civilian clothes, and not one of them even at his accustomed station. If he took one more step on the path he'd chosen, he'd never stand on the bridge of any starship again.
But this was his last chance to stand on the bridge of the Enterprise. He'd do it, for the sake of the one who ought to be here and wasn't. But there was something he had, in all fairness, to do first.
"My friends," said Hawkeye, "I can't ask you to go on. Margaret and I have to do this; the rest of you do not."
"Admiral," Klinger interrupted, "we're wasting precious time."
"What course, sir?" Tharlss asked.
"I'd be grateful," said B.J., "if you'd give the word."
Hawkeye looked up to Father Mulcahy on the walkway above the command module.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," Father Mulcahy said, "I shall fear no evil ..."
"Gentlemen," Hawkeye said. "May the wind be at our backs." It was all he could think of to say. "Stations please."
And there was light.
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