The Captain of the Enterprise grabbed the nearest bottle of Saurian Brandy and filled two glasses. He emptied one, then immediately refilled it.
"Don't give up your day job," he advised as the door to his cabin closed. Turning, he shook his head at the Doctor."You make a lousy spy."
"If you knew I was following you," McCoy rasped. "Why didn't you slow down?"
Kirk shrugged. "I thought you could use the exercise." Juggling both the bottle and the two glasses, he made his way over to the desk and managed to set them down without breaking anything.
"I'm not inviting you to join me," he said as he took a seat. "But I know you're going to anyway."
McCoy glared at the Captain but the man just sat there, sipping his brandy without having the decency to notice it. With a pronounced huff, he relented and sat down in the other chair.
Kirk eyes were still focused on his drink, but he could see McCoy as he irritably twisted the glass in his hands. "You're going to bruise the brandy, Bones."
"Jim," the man replied stiffly. "This business with Chekov's father...it's pretty bad, isn't it?"
"They tend to take high treason pretty seriously."
"They don't execute you for it anymore," McCoy said, but there was a question in his voice.
"No, of course not." Kirk had trouble picturing Andrie Chekov in a penal colony for the rest of his life, however. A soft-spoken, gentle and warm man with kind eyes; it was hard not to like him immediately. Andrie also had a way of listening to people with such intense attention that it was moving.
On the other hand... The Captain leaned back, stretched out his legs, and mulled over the charges that the man faced. Andrie Chekov was known to be an immovable force when he made up his mind about anything; government leaders feared to dispute him. In addition, Andrie's innate charisma overpowered individuals and groups enmasse when he spoke. His tenor voice was mesmerizing and he could make you believe the folktales he collected despite everything your reason told you. He could make you believe anything.
What's more, the man had power.
"Bones," Kirk ventured. "I know Chekov talks to you. Did he ever tell you his father was the founder and Commander In Chief of the New Imperial Russian Navy?"
"Can't say that it ever came up," McCoy responded. Swirling the brandy in his glass, his blue eyes narrowed with interest. "Do I detect a note of resentment, Captain?"
"That Chekov didn't tell me his father was the most beloved man in the Russian Federation: a man who is revered all over Earth? No," Kirk stated bluntly. "He had no reason to: it was never an issue that affected this ship's functioning." The Captain had no doubt that Chekov would have volunteered the information instantly had it ever mattered. Kirk had never resented not being told, but he had been embarrassed by his own ignorance when he and McCoy encountered Andrie on a mission that Chekov still didn't know about and which Andrie wouldn't remember.
The Captain had met the man before that; twice if you counted the two minute introduction Chekov had made in passing at the Starfleet headquarters station in San Francisco. By that time it had become common knowledge that the Navigator had served briefly in the Russian Navy before joining Starfleet, and he had only introduced the Admiral that came to greet him as the man he'd served under.
Chekov had again failed to mention the man was any relation to him when the Enterprise had rescued Andrie and his crew after a space cruiser accident had marooned them. It had taken an entire week to shuttle them to safety and there had been not one mention of it: not by anyone. "The crew is going to be resentful," the Captain concluded out loud.
"Would they be less resentful if he'd told everyone about it?" McCoy asked pointedly. He crossed his legs, accentuating the offensive tilt he set his shoulders into. "If he'd told them they'd think he was bragging and trying to get favors. Since he didn't mention it he was hiding it...and probably thinking he was better than the rest of us." He took a sip of his brandy and made a gesture of futility. "It's a no-win situation as far as public opinion is concerned, Jim."
Kirk made a noise of derision. "Chekov didn't just not mention it, Bones: the man was here on the Enterprise. The entire crew fell in love with him." Maybe, he thought, it wouldn't have seemed so devious if everyone involved hadn't gone to such apparent lengths to avoid calling the man by his family name. A frown burrowed across Kirk's forehead. Actually, he had never heard the Admiral called by his family name: not even on the news.
"Why isn't he ever called Admiral Andrie Chekov?" he mused out loud.
"He uses his patronymic instead: Andrie Nikolaievich," McCoy answered. "It's a common practice in Russia."
Kirk hesitated and he turned an oddly curious look on his companion at his use of the word 'patronymic'. "Not in formal situations," he explained, then flashed a smirk at his friend. "That would be like me introducing myself to a Klingon as 'Captain Jimmy'."
"I don't think Andrie's ever met any Klingons," McCoy replied tartly.
Kirk savored the last of his brandy a moment. The Doctor had seemed vaguely uncomfortable with the information that patronymics were only used among friends in Russia, and he wondered how personal his chats with Chekov had become. He leaned forward on the desk, slowly rolling the empty brandy glass between his palms. "Bones," he asked. "Did you know that Chekov wasn't Russian?"
The Doctor stilled, his steel blue eyes drawing up to fix on Kirk. "Jim," he said after a moment. "Assuming every citizen of the Russian Federation is Russian is like assuming every US citizen is Texan. Just because it has the largest land mass doesn't mean everyone from the country was born there."
Kirk pressed his lips together, not surprised that McCoy knew, or his attempt to gloss over it. He straightened and reached for the bottle to refill his glass. "Do you know where Chekov was born?"
The Captain nearly dropped the bottle of brandy.
"That's what he told me when I asked him," the man continued into his glass, eyes averted.
"He was joking." Kirk maintained as he set the bottle down. He hesitated. "Wasn't he?"
"Who can tell with Chekov?"
Sitting back with a still empty glass, the Captain shook his head in mute futility. McCoy had a point. The better you came to know their Chief Navigator the more you discovered that his oddest "jokes" were often true. The were so odd, and he delivered them so well with his guilty grin, it was just impossible to believe them.
"Jim, I honestly don't know," the Doctor said. "His parents traveled all the time and Chekov was born prematurely. I suppose he could have been born just about anywhere."
Kirk took a moment to refill his glass, then McCoy's as the man continued speaking. "Face it: with his father's position and the amount they traveled, Chekov is probably on a first name basis with every government leader on Earth."
The sick, rotting feeling that had been lingering in his gut took on a life of its own and the Captain leaned back, folding his leg across his knee as he sipped his brandy. Chekov had an innate gift for making people like him: he knew of no one that didn't take to him instantly. He was like his father that way–and like his father he seemed to inspire a stubborn, instinctive loyalty from the people that knew him. Blind loyalty, Kirk redefined: as in what the Russians had shown him in the dining room.
"Bones," he asked deliberately as he lowered his glass to rest on his upturned knee. "Do you have any idea how the Russian Navy operates?"
McCoy's eyes flashed irritably. "Yes: they collect, preserve, and teach Earth's folk and maritime histories. I've heard about it a few times...from someone."
Rueful guilt touched the Captain's features momentarily. McCoy hadn't heard it from Chekov: the Ensign didn't talk about his time spent in the Navy with any greater frequency than he spoke about the rest of his personal life. Kirk had earned his friend's tone because he, himself, had regaled the Doctor with countless romantic tales of how Andrie had sent traditional sailing ships gloriously back into Earth's oceans as a living history museum. The New Imperial Russian Navy had captured James Kirk's imagination from the moment of it's inception.
He sighed heavily. "That's true," the Captain acknowledged. "But I'm talking about the actual organization of the Navy here: the nuts an bolts of how it operates."
"I don't even understand how Starfleet operates," McCoy rasped with a scowl. "And why is that important?"
Staring at his glass, Kirk twisted it impotently and nursed the aching rot in his gut. "It's important," he drew out deliberately, "because the Russian Navy is in complete control of the Earth's maritime history. Every historic wooden vessel and tall ship that still exists has been documented, restored, and is maintained by the Russian Navy; and they run all the maritime museums."
McCoy looked downright annoyed. He leaned forward and folded his arms on the desk, blue eyes steady on his friend's troubled face. "This was one of the reasons you liked what the Navy has done, Jim. Now it's a problem?"
Kirk made a rueful almost-noise. "Bones, the Russian Navy provides the expertise and the manpower, but the country that owns the ship or the museum is responsible for funding the projects: they even pay the salaries of the sailors involved. And..." he added heavily, "the planetary government of the United Earth Alliance funds the navy too."
The Doctor's steel blue eyes dimmed in immediate understanding. "Andrie Chekov has access to funds from every country on Earth–including the planetary government?"
"Yes," Kirk confirmed soberly. "If Andrie has been syphoning money..it isn't just out of the Russian Federation. The investigators have got to be going through government accounts on a planetary scale. The Earth must be a madhouse right now."
McCoy seemed unimpressed. "Andrie can't have unlimited and sole access to all these accounts: surely there are other people monitoring them."
"Bones, if there were, they would have noticed the disappearing funds years ago." Kirk reached for the bottle again, but his hand hesitated on it's neck. "That's not even the full scope of this issue," he continued. "If Andrie has been stealing, why would he limit it to obvious fund's transfers? He's the one who determines how much a government is to pay for every line item: who's to know how much it actually costs to replace a mainmast?"
The Doctor sat back heavily in his chair, regarding Kirk dimly."Who's the idiot that set up this system without checks and balances?"
Kirk realized his glass was still full and let his hand slip down off the bottle. "Andrie."
The word lay strident on the silence between them.
"This is limited to Earth, isn't it?"
"Yes," the Captain acknowledged. "The one time they ventured into space it was a cultural exchange. And after being marooned, I don't think Andrie is ever going back...
Kirk sat silently, hazel eyes on his glass, and appeared transfixed by the subtle movement of the amber colored liquid within it.
The Doctor's eyes narrowed. "Jim?" he pressed with an alarmed edge to his voice.
Oddly, the twisting of the liquid mirrored exactly the twisting of the festering thing within him. He didn't bother to raise his eyes to his companion. "It gets worse. Andrie Nikolaievich is also the President of the Russian National Historic Districts. He fought to establish both the New Imperial Russian Navy and the Russian National Historic Districts and after they had..." he was bogged down a moment with the enormity of it all. "The government never wanted anything to do with either of them and they just leave it all in Andrie's hands. The possibilities open for theft is mind-boggling."
"What kind of money do people living like 19th century peasants have to steal?" the Doctor asked irritably.
Kirk finally raised his eyes back to his companion, almost an apology in them. "Bones, I'm just saying..."
"I know what you're saying!" McCoy retorted irascibly. "What I want to know is why the Russian Federation's government would set up a navy and a...virtual country...without putting some kind of actual organization in place that would make the man running them anything but an autocrat!"
Because Andrie Nikolaievich is an immovable force of nature... is what the Captain thought again. The man's starched white, antique navy uniform made him look like a tsar reincarnate, which only heightened the fact that Andrie was an impenetrable wall when he had decided on a course. There were very few people who even bothered to try to dispute him any longer.
"It's not a real navy, Bones," is what Kirk said aloud. "There aren't any real navies on Earth anymore: there's no need for them. It's a museum, as are the historic districts: which is why they are both under the Ministry of Culture. Frankly, the Russian government thought they were stupid ideas when Andrie proposed them."
"Well, they don't seem to have any problem taking credit for them now that they're renowned throughout the galaxy, do they?"
The Captain went back to sipping his brandy, thinking he had more immediate concerns than a debate about political ethics.
"Jim," McCoy rasped. "You do realize they've actually made Andrie a Tsar, don't you?"
Kirk froze, then twisted to give him a rude look.
"Andrie's established complete control over two vast empires and no one else on Earth has a clue what's going on in them. He's become a Tsar," McCoy repeated. "And no one even noticed."
It was a difficult line of reasoning to argue with. Kirk pursed his lips, troubled once again by McCoy's flawless ability to clearly see things that no one else began to suspect. Andrie Nikolaievich did possess a stunning amount of power and the people around him hadn't even begun to seemed to notice him acquiring it. They had, in fact, lauded him for it. Andrie had been showered with vast amounts of thunderous awards in his lifetime: prizes in a wide variety of fields from the entire scope of the governments on Earth. The man steadfastly refused to accept them in person–but each of them was delivered with a sizeable amount of funds added to his personal accounts.
The Captain lowered his glass, wishing the revelation did anything but make the nagging weight within him more heavy. "I don't think Andrie engineered this scheme or stole any money," Kirk pronounced. Despite the frightening vulnerability in the Earth's political organization that the investigation exposed, the Captain had his own reasons for agreeing with the viewpoint of the Enterprise's Russian citizens. "I don't even believe Andrie is capable of it."
McCoy's mouth twitched. "Given the right circumstances, every human being is capable of anything."
Kirk shook his head resolutely. He may have disagreed with the Doctor on a fundamental philosophical basis on any other day, but in this case he had specific arguments with the man's statement. Twisting around in his seat, he leaned forward onto the desk and rolled the glass between his palms, searching for the right words to explain the vague feelings he'd had about Andrie since the man spent the week aboard his ship.
"I don't think Andrie has the knowledge to pull anything even remotely similar to this off." There was something vaguely...simple...about the man. Although Andrie had a photographic memory and produced doctorate-level books at an astounding rate, he met Kirk's explanation of the technology on his ship with a childlike wonder, marveling at each new room with a simple honesty that made the Captain see his ship as though it was the first time. He'd prolonged the tour, having got caught up in looking at everything without processing information but with the wonder of a two year old seeing his first rocket launch into the night.
"I don't thing he could have done it," Kirk repeated. "He doesn't strike me as having the technical know-how."
McCoy sat there still, meeting Kirk's level gaze for a long moment. Without saying a word, he simply leaned forward and refilled his glass of brandy.
"This man–that government leaders fear to cross," the Captain pressed on, "Was startled and...baffled...by the operation of the replicator when I got him something to eat. When I handed him a book on a datapadd," he insisted, "Bones, he acted like...like I was handing him a poisonous snake!
"As farfetched as this sounds," Kirk concluded, "I don't think Andrie even uses computers."
The Doctor made no move to speak, and in fact didn't appear to have when he did. "That's a definite possibility."
Kirk straightened, his eyes widening with the type of wonder he credited Andrie with. "Bones, how is that even possible at the end of the 23rd century?"
"We still have a real, physical world around us!" McCoy replied with annoyance. "You can purchase actual books, cook real food on a stove, buy cloth and make clothes..."
"You can't buy anything without using a computer!"
"It doesn't take a computer genius to produce an id card for payment," he insisted in return. "And besides, if Andrie came into your store for a sandwich, would you make him pay for it? Jim..." he hesitated, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. "I think the man's an absent-minded professor."
Pressing his lips hard together, Kirk successfully restrained his amusement. "Is that your medical diagnosis, Doctor?"
McCoy seemed unimpressed by the effort. "It's as close as you're going to get to one," he retorted. "We've long since moved beyond idiotic labels that classify and pigeonhole human beings and rate them on who's better. The fact of the matter is that everyone has their own skills and strengths; and everyone learns and interacts with the world in their own unique way.
"Jim," he continued, "there are people who's brains are so filled with the universe's big issues that they just can't focus on meaningless little things like changing their clothes or figuring out how to interact with a computer. Einstein used to get lost when he went to his own barber!"
"Well, that explains his hairstyle."
The Doctor's eyes narrowed in annoyance.
Kirk shrugged ruefully, acknowledging that his quip fell light-years short of humorous. He didn't doubt the Doctor's diagnosis–if that what it was. During long-term exposure to Andrie one began to notice the subtle prods of the people around him regarding the state of his appearance: they had clearly made it part of their routine lives to maintain the public image of the Admiral in his crisp, starched white uniform.
McCoy squirmed tersely in his chair again. While he could have been concerned with breaching medical confidentiality, Andrie was not his patient and it was breaching Chekov's friendship Kirk knew he was uncomfortable with. The Doctor picked up his glass and drained it before using it to gesture. "Spock could trace the smallest piece of information in a computer, but he couldn't relate a fiction story to you to save his life. Andrie has a gift for oral history that makes you feel like you're living the stories yourself. The fact that he prefers to read hard copy books rather than stare at them on a computer monitor doesn't make him a freak!"
"No," the Captain bit out. "But it does make him incapable of doing what he's been charged with."
The clear pronouncement seemed to take McCoy by surprise. "Well, so, we don't have a problem here: Andrie didn't do it."
Kirk stood abruptly, forced to his feet by the rot that finally took over: unwilling to be a nagging concern anymore. It propelled him away, pacing in an attempt to escape the sheer weight of the thing. "No, it's still a problem because someone did it."
"Than let that person rot in jail," McCoy answered quickly.
A deep, low threatening sound of frustration emerged from the Captain's throat and he ground his jaw into stone as if the action would banish the thoughts from his brain. The fact was, he didn't want McCoy here because he hadn't wanted to reach this place, and he knew he wouldn't have by himself. Without the Doctor to hash out his thoughts, the rotting sensation may have stayed buried...a nagging that never took form. But McCoy had pursued him...
And here it was.
"The Russian Navy obviously operates in the twenty-third century using the same computer interfaces every business does, or we wouldn't have this problem," Kirk bit out tightly. "Someone has to have set up those accounts and be doing the accounting and record keeping. Someone who's framed Andrie...and who he's protecting."
McCoy looked troubled. "Why? Just to hide the Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy's lack of computer skills? That's preposterous!"
Kirk spun back toward the Doctor, then froze, re-taking control of his own body and emotions. He straightened; let his breath become tight, a controlled extension of his thought process. "No," the Captain said in a death tone. "Andrie is protecting this person for more important reasons to him." He took several short, deliberate steps back toward the Doctor.
"Bones, the person who did this diverted those funds without being noticed for over a decade and left untraceable, clean, dead ends. They'd have to be a computer genius and be very good at underhanded schemes." Kirk took a moment to punctuate the air with a tight, defined hand gesture. "This person has not only Andrie's complete trust, but the total access that Andrie has to all his accounts."
The Doctor's face went white and he stood abruptly, the chair smashing into the deck behind him. "Jim, you can't possibly be thinking it was Chekov!"
Kirk lowered his hand to his side and set his shoulders. "You did."
The two stood there in silence, locked in a death-like stare inspired not by confrontation, but by the enormous weight of their mutual thoughts. Despite his inexperience, Chekov was the person on the ship who's skills with the computers and science station came closest to Spock's. He had a Doctorate in navigation and his papers were already required course material at the Academy. With an innate gift for mathematics and spatial relations, Chekov's skills translated brilliantly across the fields of science, computers, navigation, music and finances.
Finally, the Doctor's jaw shifted and he glanced away uncomfortably.
Kirk sighed then and made his feet move back toward the desk. "Bones," he drew out soberly. "Chekov has the expertise and we both know he has the access." The Navigator had, in fact, used such access to indulge sudden flights of sheer whimsy when he was bored. Chekov was probably the only one who found it funny when the Russian government's salary fund for its President seemingly vanished into thin air. The Captain could not begin to imagine the terror which held the Russian government as each April Fool's Day approached, and the fact that Chekov's access had not been removed because of such repeated stunts meant that someone needed him to have it.
McCoy stood there uncomfortably, the conflicted emotions within him playing gruesomely with the muscles on his face as he watched the Captain sit back down.
Kirk leaned heavily on the desk, hands finding the glass still there for lack of better things to do. He stared at the liquid hollowly, tapping his finger on the edge of the glass absently. "Chekov always has an unlimited amount of funds," Kirk reminded McCoy quietly. "Breathtakingly unlimited."
"He's generous to a fault," McCoy maintained stiffly.
Kirk didn't answer immediately, waiting for the Doctor to right his chair and take a seat with a defiant stance. "It's easy to be generous when it's not your money." Chekov claimed his abundant funds were the result of the salary he received while in the navy–which he earned at a point in his life when he had no expenses. With his spending habits, however, that nest egg should have disappeared long ago.
"That was uncalled for."
The Captain watched as McCoy jammed his arms across his chest and averted his eyes, letting them bore into the deck. The Doctor clearly felt a loyalty to Chekov and Kirk watched the difficulty he was having with that wash over his face.
"When are you going to tell them?" he asked thinly.
Kirk shifted his jaw. "Never." At his companion's furtive glance, the Captain shrugged slightly. "I don't have any proof. And any legal actions back on Earth have nothing to do with the functioning of my ship."
Shouldn't have anything to do with functioning of my ship...
The Doctor nodded tersely and drew his eyes back to the floor.
With a barely audible sigh, Kirk leaned back in the chair and tentatively stretched out his legs. He knew, by McCoy's behavior, that they shared the same thoughts.
If it was, indeed, Pavel Chekov who had done this, than it did extend beyond Earth...it had invaded Kirk's ship. For those that paid attention, they had seen that the Navigator's generosity had it's limits. When he had gotten tired of constantly giving Sulu money because he managed to go through his salary in a breathtaking roar, Chekov had taken over complete control of the Lieutenant's funds. Kirk didn't know exactly how the accounts were set up, but he knew that Sulu had to beg Chekov for money to buy things like birthday presents. He also knew that Reilly had followed suit soon after...and there were bound to be more crewman that had done the same.
People trusted Chekov. Like his father, he had a natural charisma that made people like him and follow his lead without question. People like the group of Russian citizens he had formed together...for what purpose? McCoy's words haunted the Captain. 'He's become a tsar, and nobody noticed...'
"Chekov is not stealing from his shipmates," the Doctor maintained stoically.
Kirk drew his lips into a fine line and didn't answer him. After a moment, he observed: "We have a more immediate problem."
"What's that?" McCoy asked.
Hazel eyes shifted to him dubiously. "We're out of brandy."