The Captain's DaughterPeter David
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Table of Contents
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IF DEMORA SULU had known her funeral would be in a week, she would have had the chocolate mousse.
She fixed an icy glare on the woman in front of her. It was hard to sustain the glare, because the bowl of mousse kept moving directly into her line of sight. The reason the mousse was mobile was because the woman was holding the dish, bringing it close to Demora's face, drawing it back, even having it engage in a little happy high-calorie jig.
"Get it away, Maggie," Demora warned her.
Maggie didn't seem to have heard. In a cheerful voice, she said, "Look at me, here I go, a happy carefree chocolate mousse … oh no! Somebody's watching me!" She brought it so close to Demora that half a centimeter nearer would have lodged it squarely against Demora's nose. "Could it be … you?"
Oblivious of the concentrated silliness going on in the center of the room, various off-duty crew members of the Enterprise 1701-B went about their business. The food dispensers set into the walls of the crew mess hummed steadily. There was the customary dazzling assortment from all over the galaxy. No one wanted for anything.
Except for Demora, who "wanted for" the chocolate mousse.
"Maggie, you're going to be wearing that," said Demora.
Lieutenant Maggie Thompson, science officer, didn't seem particularly intimidated by the threat. Her face was round, her thick dark hair rather curly, her brown eyes sparkling in amusement. She wrinkled her freckled nose at Demora. How Maggie maintained freckling while spending so much time in space had been an utter mystery to Demora, a mystery that Maggie had been disinclined to explain.
Demora was quite the opposite: serious when Maggie was being playful, yet possessed of a mordant wit that caught people completely off-guard because she had a calm air about her that some mistook for passivity. Her shoulder-length hair was black and straight, her dark brown eyes gracefully almond-shaped.
Her most interesting feature was her voice. There was a musical quality to it, a gentle lilt so distinctive that, even when Demora was speaking casually, she sounded as if she were singing. Except when an emergency was presented. In fact, that's how one could tell when matters had suddenly turned serious: Demora would speak in flat, inflectionless—albeit confident—tones. When she sounded like that, that was the time to, if not panic, at least proceed with extreme caution.
"You want it," Maggie told her. "You know you want it. It's delicious," and she indicated her own empty bowl. "Trust me."
"You can't be serious."
"I am serious, and this is seriously good mousse, and I would be nothing less than a total creep of a so-called friend if I willingly allowed you to pass this up. Just one taste." She dipped a spoon into it and waved it in front of Demora.
"I'm warning you, Maggie … I know karate … kung fu …"
"And several other dangerous words. I don't know which is a worse offense, Demora … threatening a superior officer, or using old jokes on her."
Demora actually looked surprised at that. "That's an old joke?" she said.
"Oh." And there was a look of such unmistakable, undiluted disappointment that slowly Thompson lowered the spoon and stared at Demora in confusion.
Demora forced a smile, which was unusual since normally smiles came so easily to her. "Nothing. It's silly."
"Well," and Demora shrugged, "that joke. About 'dangerous words.' My father said it, ages ago. And I thought it was so funny, and I just laughed and laughed … I couldn't stop laughing, in fact. And I had always just, well … I'd just assumed he'd made it up. I don't know why that's important to me, or why it should bother me. But it does. Isn't that weird?"
"Not really," replied Maggie. "I remember … God, I haven't thought about this in years. I remember when I was real little, my father would sing me this song at nighttime. It was called 'Bushel and a Peck.'"
"What and a what?"
"It's old-style units of measurement. I didn't know that when I was little, mind you. I thought they were just sort of nonsense words. The song went, 'I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and …'"
Maggie Thompson had many fine qualities, but on-key vocalizing was not among them. She was reminded of this when several crewmates started looking in her direction. Quickly she stopped singing, but continued, "In any event, I just—in my childish way—kind of figured that he'd made the song up just for me. And I was shocked to find out that it was actually from an old musical show called Guys and Dolls."
"It was about men playing with dolls?"
"It was about gamblers, I think."
"Gamblers?" Demora made a face. "Singing gamblers?"
"Well, the same era also had shows about singing cats and singing barbers who killed people and turned them into meat pies. What can I tell you; it was an odd and perverse time. In any event, the point is … I understand how you feel. No reason to feel sad or even disappointed and yet you still do."
"I guess so."
"Your father and you close?"
Demora shrugged. "Oh … sure," she said in a less than convincing tone.
"Why do you say it like that?"
"I'd rather not discuss it."
"But maybe if—"
"I said I'd rather not discuss it," and it was clear from her tone and expression that there was no "rather not" involved. It was simply not up for further debate.
Maggie looked a bit chagrined. "Sorry."
kay," said Demora. "I didn't mean to snap at you. And you really have been great to me, and a good friend."
"I know. And I just hate to see you upset, and think that I was responsible. You know what you need to feel better?" She shoved the chocolate mousse in Demora's direction.
Demora slid it back. "What is your problem today?"
"My problem is I already ate it, and I know I'm going to put on weight from it, and you said chocolate makes you put on weight, and misery loves company. Okay?"
"Ohhh, fine!" She slid the dish of chocolate mousse over toward her side of the table, grabbed a spoon … and stared at it. Then she looked up at Maggie and said, "I am a chocoholic. I admit it freely. That's something else I get from my father. If I give in to it, then I will be uncontrollable in all my subsequent urges, devour all chocolate in sight, and blow up faster than a ship with a warp-core breach. I want you to understand that you are dooming me to weeks, even months of uncontrolled weight gain until I manage to recapture my sanity. You, my alleged friend, are doing this to me."
Maggie sighed, reached over, and slid the dish back toward herself. "I hate you."
"I hate you too. That's what friends are for."
The ship's intercom promptly whistled. "All bridge personnel, report in."
"So much for that," she said, stood, and crossed over to the comm unit. She tapped the Receive button. "Thompson here, and Sulu is with me. Go ahead."
"We're receiving a distress-beacon call, Lieutenant," came the voice of Commander Tracy Dane, ship's first officer. "Your presence is requested."
"On our way," said Thompson. She clicked off, turned, and made a small finger-waggling gesture for Demora to follow her. With a sigh Demora rose, and together they walked quickly out of the officers' mess.
The chocolate mousse was left behind, unwanted and unloved, until Ensign Li noticed it abandoned some minutes later and took pity on it by devouring it in under thirty seconds.
Demora took her seat at helm, and smiled gamely at Lieutenant j.g. Magnus. Magnus, for his part, was a somewhat officious individual. Extremely competent, and extremely aware of his competence … and, for that matter, never hesitant to let others know that he was certain he was on a fast track for command some day. He always sat ramrod straight, and spoke in a crisp, clipped tone.
As it was, it was difficult for Demora to warm up to him. Previously that chair had been occupied by Ensign Tommy Singer. Demora and Singer had come up through the Academy together. They had many similar interests, had fallen into instant rapport … and had even, on occasion, fallen into bed. They had a nonexclusive relationship, but the relationship they did have was comfortable and pleasurable for both. In short, they meshed in a variety of ways.
And when they had both been assigned, by luck of the draw, to the Enterprise, they had been pleased beyond belief. After all, perhaps part of what had prevented their relationship from going any further was the mutual, back-of-their-head concern over where their assignments would take them. With them working side by side with Starfleet's blessing, well … who knew?
Who knew that on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise 1701-B, Demora would find herself cradling the corpse of Tommy Singer in her arms, dead from flying shards that had killed him instantly while the valiant starship fought for its life in the grip of gravimetric pressures.
Lord, what a hideous launch that had been. Oh, sure, ships bearing the name Enterprise had had shaky launches before. Most notably was the time that the refitted Enterprise was five minutes out of drydock and she suddenly found herself trapped in a wormhole.
But that had been a cakewalk compared to the fiasco of the Enterprise 1701-B launch. It had not helped that the media coverage had been less than generous. Reporters had been right there, on the spot, seeing what Captain John Harriman was going through in his endeavor to rescue the two trapped transports. They didn't focus on the dozens of lives his efforts did manage to save. That was a piddling detail, quickly omitted from all subsequent stories in favor of discussing the lives that had been lost despite Harriman's labors.
And one life in particular, mentioned in report after report.
Starfleet had gone over the log of Harriman's actions with a particle microscope. It was as if they were hoping to find something he had done wrong, so that the media's howlings for a scapegoat could be fulfilled. But Harriman was finally judged to be blameless.
The tragic initial launch of the Enterprise-B had consumed gigabytes of coverage on the galactic web. The calmer, sedate, and utterly routine relaunch had barely garnered any notice.
With all of that, the loss of Tommy Singer had seemed almost incidental to many. A sidebar at most.
But not to Demora Sulu.
The death of Kirk had hit her as hard as anyone else … harder, considering how often and glowingly her father had spoken of him. So much so that …
She shook it off. She didn't want to start thinking about that. That way lay madness.
A pair of fingers snapped in front of her face and she looked around, startled. Magnus was looking at her sourly, which was how he looked at everyone. For that matter, it was how he looked at the world.
"Got something on your mind, Sulu?" he asked.
"No," she said quickly.
Dane was in the command chair, studying the preliminary reports. Dane was tall and muscular, with a triangular face and hair of prematurely gray and white that made her look far older than her thirty-three years. When Harriman strode in, Dane said crisply, "Captain on the bridge," rose promptly from the chair, and snapped off a quick salute.
Harriman shot her a look of resigned annoyance. Dane came from a family with a history of service dating back to the Civil War, fighting in the Union Army. Although Starfleet wasn't military per se despite its trappings, nevertheless Dane routinely acted as if she were operating on rules of procedure from centuries ago. It had been so thoroughly drilled into her that it was second nature; she didn't even know she was doing it, and couldn't help herself.
At first it had bugged the hell out of Harriman. However, there was no debating the fact that Dane was a superb officer. So he decided to tolerate her little quirks, particularly since they served to keep her sharp. "Report, Commander?" he said.
"Distress beacon, Captain," she said. "Originating …"
"From a heading of three-two-four mark three," Demora volunteered when Dane hesitated slightly.
Harriman nodded to Demora, acknowledging the information, and turned to Dane. "Any known vessels in that sector?"
"No registered vessel has filed any flight plans with Starfleet within the last six months that would coincide with those coordinates," Dane told him.
Harriman nodded slowly. "Which means nothing, of course, except that it's not a Starfleet vessel. Which pins it down to one of several thousand independent operators."
From the communications board, Lieutenant Z'on spoke up, his gravelly voice reproduced electronically through the rig attached to his crinkled blue throat. "I've managed to cut through some of the local interference, sir," Z'on said. "Getting a clearer reading on the distress signal now."
"On audio, Lieutenant," said Harriman. He leaned thoughtfully on the edge of the command chair as a female voice issued through the bridge speaker. He frowned, the words a steady stream of incomprehensible syllables.
Demora looked up immediately, blinking in surprise.
Harriman turned to Z'on, frowning. "What is that? Sounds like …"
"Chinese," Demora said, turning in her chair. "Actually, one of the more obscure dialects."
"I'll run it through autotranslate," said Z'on.
"Don't trouble yourself, sir," said Demora. "I'm slightly rusty, but … it's a general call for distress. It just keeps repeating, 'We are in distress. Please help. We are in need of aid from any vessels in the area. We are in distress,' and so on."
"None. Just what I said, over and over."
"Pinpointed the origin
," Z'on said. "Askalon Five."
"Askalon Five," Dane said without hesitation, "Class-m world, but uninhabited, and not particularly hospitable. Traces of a long-dead civilization were discovered in preliminary planet scans; awaiting further research from an archaeological team. The system's star is in a transitional stage, the gradual cooling having a less-than-positive impact on the planet's surface environment."
"Does the cooling sun offer any danger to the ship?"
"Remote meaning …?"
Dane smiled thinly. "If we remain in orbit around Askalon Five for several hundred thousand years, there might be some jeopardy posed."
For a long and surprising moment Harriman said nothing; it was a period of silence that actually drew several curious glances from his crew. But then Harriman chuckled softly, low in his throat. "I believe we'll have to take that risk. Helm, lay in a course for Askalon Five."
"Course plotted and laid in, sir," said Magnus.
Harriman, out of habit, rapped his knuckles once on the arm of his chair before giving the command evocative of another captain of a ship called Enterprise. In the style of the great Captain Christopher Pike, he said, "Engage."
In his quarters, Captain Harriman stared out at the passing starfield and reflected that a ready room might be a really great idea. Some sort of special quarters for the captain, just off the bridge. That way if he wanted or needed some private time—some time to think or plan or just get away from the crushing burden of being in charge—he could avail himself of it without having to leave the bridge entirely, and go all the way back to his quarters.
He didn't like to leave the bridge.
Unfortunately, these days, he wasn't especially anxious to remain there, either. . . .
"Captain?" came a slightly concerned voice from outside, jostling him out of his momentary reverie, and he realized that his door was chiming.