Author's Note: So, as mentioned in the summary this is a total side-story to 'Home' and a continuation of 'Gossip'. It's a separate fic, however, because I'm going to be delving into the depths of Sulu/Chekov pre-slash, so if you don't like that pairing you can skip it and still enjoy their friendship in the other tale. I don't generally like to include too many pairings in the same story because I try to respect other people's ships, and the only pairing I listed on 'Home' is K/S. So don't expect any Sulu/Chekov to seep into the main stuff. That said, I hope you all enjoy this! It'll be updated whenever my mood strikes me to write more for it.
"The planet is irradiated!" Chekov said, looking at Sulu as if he were insane. "They have nuclear wessels down there! Nuclear!"
"I know," Sulu replied as he geared up for the away mission. Chekov was standing nearby, essentially fluttering in agitation. "But the captain's trusting us to keep an eye on things. This is our best chance to do that," he reasoned.
Chekov paused, shaking his head. "Do you know what 'irradiated' means? It means many melting organs and much unpleasant dying for you. I do not like this. You are a pilot, not Ninja Superman, I do not understand why you are wolunteering for this."
For his own part, Sulu was having a little trouble understanding why Chekov was so bothered by this. It would hardly be his first dangerous away assignment while they were serving together, and yet he'd never seen his friend so wound up about it. "You need to relax," he advised. "I'm not going to do anything stupid."
"It is not you being stupid I am worried about," Chekov replied, folding his arms at last and plunking down onto the bench next to him. He shot a glance to the other side of the room, where the Nelson's crew members were also preparing for their mission. "I am thinking that something terrible will happen, and they will go 'oh, no one listen to Sulu, he is not wery experienced' and then you will all be dead, because they are not letting us do our jobs."
That had been something of an issue once they'd transferred to the Nelson. Captain Malhotra was very nice, more or less, but she and her crew seemed to view himself and Chekov almost as guests. Sulu hadn't been given a chance at actually flying the ship, or even co-piloting, and Chekov had been kept away from pretty much all of the stations he was qualified to work at. Which was why Sulu had volunteered for the away mission to begin with – he felt as though they were letting the Enterprise down by just flitting around the periphery like loose cogs.
"No offence," he said, tightening his boots. "But if it comes to something like that, I think I'd rather be court-martialed for insubordination than end up dead." He was careful to keep his voice low, so that the other away-team members didn't hear that particular comment. Not that he thought it would come to something like that. He was pretty sure the rest of the team didn't want to die of radiation poisoning either.
"Oh, wonderful," Chekov said. "So then you will just be court-martialed. That is also a good thing, yes?"
"Probably not," Sulu reasoned. "Captain Kirk's still our commanding officer, after all, and I'm sure he'd have some say in any charges leveled against me."
His friend rolled his eyes. "I am liking Keptan Kirk as much as the next person, he is wery charismatic, but I do not think he has been hanging any moons lately."
Chekov opened his mouth to reply but at that moment Commander Thorne, who was leading the away team, interrupted. Sulu carefully slid on the rest of his gear and gave his friend a reassuring nod. "I'll let you know how it goes," he said.
"I will be on the bridge, so I will know anyway."
Sulu just shook his head.
The protective suits which the away team were equipped with kept the radiation off of them. The downside was that they also made it almost impossible to blend in with the locals. Sulu was starting to think that the Nelson's condescending opinion of the Enterprise stemmed largely from their own relatively young 'prodigy', Commander Thorne. Who, as near as he could tell, must have been some kind of crazy genius in at least one field, because he seemed like an idiot otherwise.
They were taking readings of the area, trying to ascertain the nature of the dilithium deposits. It was just Sulu and Thorne – the rest of the away team was on look-out for the locals.
"It must be hard," Thorne said. "Working for a captain who lucked his way to his rank through Starfleet's big publicity stunt."
Sulu attempted to ignore him as he patched their readings through to the ship. The away team hadn't included any science officers – it seemed that most Federation vessels left their blue-shirts at home and just forward data up to them via communications. It took a little longer to get the read-outs of what they were looking at, but then again, he supposed the majority of science officers weren't really trained for away-missions, either.
The terrain around them was smoky-grey and unpleasant, still and stark, and very, very dead. To Sulu's mind it was the kind of place which encouraged quiet. Solemnity.
"It's probably a new protocol now – blow up some Romulans and get a free flagship! Unbelievable. How can you stand serving under him, knowing the man didn't even do his full four years at the academy?"
Apparently, Thorne didn't agree with the appropriateness of silence. Sulu had no idea why he thought he'd find a sympathetic ear for his anti-Kirk sentiments in him. He was even-tempered enough to ignore it, though, and keep his focus on the task at hand.
"To say nothing of that Commander Spock!" Thorne continued. "I guess the rumors about his skills aren't as true as the rumors about his sanity."
Sulu was more than a little gratified when, in his distraction, Thorne tripped and sent himself sprawling over the dusty ground.
"How did you make it to commander?" he couldn't help but wondering. Fortunately – or maybe unfortunately – Thorne didn't seem to notice his tone as he picked himself back up, and dusted his suit off.
"Advanced promotion, like Kirk – only I at least had the decency to get to lieutenant first," Thorne replied. "Starfleet's insane to make a cadet a captain. I heard he never even served on a ship before the Enterprise. He's probably broken dozens of protocols by now without even realizing it, and they're letting them all slide for the sake of the press."
Honestly, Sulu didn't know if this was true or not. He hadn't served on a ship before the Enterprise, either, and had gone straight from cadet to lieutenant and helmsman.
"He's a good captain," he finally defended.
Thorne looked at him askance. "I don't suppose you'd have much of a basis for comparison," he replied unpleasantly.
Sulu went a little bit quiet at that. Honestly, he didn't, not with only two days of not-quite-serving on the Nelson to go by.
"I mean, no offence, but it shows in the fact that he sent you and the Russian kid on this mission," Thorne continued. "What makes him think Malhotra would substitute any of our regular bridge crew for officers without even a full year's experience under their belts? Especially on a mission like this? It's not a training run. This is serious business."
Quietly, Sulu thought to himself that Thorne wouldn't know what 'serious business' was until he was sitting at the helm of a ship, watching the hull start to crack as he wondered if he was going to get sucked into a black hole or not. But he didn't see any point in saying so out loud. He'd already decided that he and the commander weren't going to be friends. "Why do you dislike him so much?" he asked instead, wondering how a guy who'd saved their homeworld could engender such mistrust.
Thorne snorted. "Isn't it obvious?" he said. "Even with the damage to the Fleet, now that things have settled it's probably going to take me years still before I'm a captain. You – you'll be a lieutenant for a while, too, don't doubt it. But Kirk? Kirk makes a lucky guess and saves Admiral Pike's life, and he gets to instantly skip about a decade's worth of service. Who wouldn't hate that smug bastard?"
"I don't hate him," Sulu replied. "And I was actually there for the Narada incident. It wasn't luck." Well, not entirely, anyway. No more than everything in life seemed to have some ties to luck, at least.
"Some people have a talent for making luck look like intent," Thorne replied, in a tone of voice which heavily implied that he thought Sulu was an idiot.
"Some people have a talent for making intent look like luck, too," Sulu quipped back unthinkingly, and then paused, because he was getting some very erratic readings from his tricorder. "Commander-"
"Don't try and tell me you actually believe the stories that he's some kind of genius, because-"
"Commander," Sulu said a little more sharply, and found it a bit gratifying that his tone could bring him up short. "You should see this. I think I've found something." The ground which stretched before him didn't look any less grey or barren, but it was a bit more broken up and jagged, with a few rocks scattered here and there.
After a beat, Thorne walked over, and looked across Sulu's shoulder at his tricorder readings. He made a concerned sound and then pulled out his communicator.
"Thorne to Nelson," he said. "We're getting some unusual readings down here, are you-"
That time, it was the explosion which cut him off.
"Nelson to away team, come in away team!" the technician at the communications station said urgently. Chekov only distantly heard her, however. He was standing at the monitoring station, following the away team's progress, and he'd seen the read-out showing the odd data they were receiving, and then the explosion.
Captain Malhotra stood from her chair. "Transporter room, lock on their signals and get them out of there," she instructed.
"Radiation levels have gone up, captain," the lieutenant whose shoulder Chekov was looking over replied. "Sensors are having a hard time sorting through this mess."
His mind started going a million miles a minute. The radiation was causing interference, but that would probably only effect the auto-tracker, or else they wouldn't be getting much of anything at all. "Disable the auto tracking device," Chekov said, the words coming out in a swift blur as he leaned towards the console, fingers already moving to follow his own instructions. "We need to scan for blind spots – places where the interference is not so strong, where the radiation suits are blocking it."
"You can't lock on to a blind spot," the lieutenant said sharply back at him, moving to push him away from her station.
"I can do it!" Chekov insisted. It would be easier than catching two swiftly plummeting individuals, anyway. Why was Sulu always getting himself into these messes?
He'd had a bad feeling about this from the start.
"Lieutenant," said Malhotra. "Do you have any better options?" Her tone was brisk, sharp, and very to-the-point. Time wasn't a luxury they had, if the radiation suits had been compromised then the away team could already be dead – to say nothing of the explosion itself.
"…No, Captain," the lieutenant replied, although it looked to Chekov like she was still attempting to get a good lock through the more standard means anyway.
Malhotra made a smooth gesture with her hand. "Then let him try. We need them out of there."
Obediently, the lieutenant removed herself from her station, and Chekov fell into it without a second thought. He knew he could do this. He disabled the auto-tracking system and reset the sensors to scan in their most basic mode – they didn't need superfluous information like what the soil composition was. Then he started looking for holes, blind spots, places where the sensors could get through but the radiation couldn't.
Locking onto them was simple, really. He set the system to lock onto the area surrounding the blind spots, and then inverted the scope. Not incredibly accurate, but it would get them out of there. "Irradiated soil will come up with them," he warned.
He didn't see Malhotra's nod, but he heard her order the transporter room cleared and sealed until a medical team could suit up in their radiation gear.
"There!" Chekov said. "I have the signals!" he'd counted to be sure – every member of the away team – and then forwarded the information to the transporter rooms. A moment later he was out of his seat and off like a shot to the science station. "If we run them through the patterns they left before beam-out, we will be able to mitigate the interference caused by the radiation when they re-materialize."
"Wait, run them through the patterns?" the science officer asked him incredulously, and absently, Chekov nodded.
"Of course," he said. "All transporters keep a memory of the patterns until they are wiped, yes? Normally new patterns are formed with every beam-out, but the memory system still has them. We can use that information to fill in blanks, all we have to do is overlay it wherever there is a gap in the pattern, and it will match."
The officer gaped. "But the calculations you'd need to do that successfully…"
"That is why I am using your station, yes?" Chekov replied, keeping his eyes fixed on the numbers he was bringing up before he forwarded them to the transporter station.
He was off once more after that, pelting towards the turbolift and then out of it again, heading directly for the transporter rooms. Of course, he wouldn't be able to use the one they'd appear in, but he could connect the station in the room directly next to it to the pad one over. Scotty had shown him how.
To say the ensign manning that particular transporter was surprised would be an understatement.
"What are you…?" he began, and then blinked as Chekov promptly shoved him out of the way. He retrieved the data he'd sent from the science station, breathing hard as he re-confirmed the locks on the away team and then began the process of beaming them to the radiation-secured transporter pad. The ensign reached out to stop him, which would have been disastrous, and Chekov was too busy thinking to be uncertain, so he responded by elbowing him in the stomach.
His conduct probably wasn't reflecting very well on the Enterprise, but he decided it was more important to save Sulu's life. At least on their own ship everyone knew to just get out of the way when he started running around like a lunatic.
Probably, this was because they also knew he wasn't actually a lunatic.
Running the patterns back through their previous ones was kind of like bluffing. It meant he told the transporter where to put certain molecules – based on where they'd been before – on the presumption that they were still in the same place. Screwing it up meant a lot of very painful dying. Probably less painful than the radiation, though, and Chekov was confident he could do it.
He energized, and his hands fairly flew across the console. Once he'd recovered from the elbow to his gut, the ensign on transporter room duty watched him with an expression akin to shock.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
Chekov told him. Or at least, he thought an explanation came out of his mouth, but his brain was a little preoccupied at the time, so the string of words might have just been the equations he and the computer were combining forces to put into play. There was also a good chance it was all in Russian. Out of the complex web of numbers, however, in the next room, he managed to materialize four men.
Only the sensors on the bridge would be able to tell if they were four whole, living men until the medical team got in there, though, and so he was off again, dashing back to the turbolift and squeaking in just before the doors shut on a member of the Nelson's crew.
The turbolift started for the bridge. He breathed, and finally began second-guessing himself.
What if he'd been wrong?
What if he'd made a mistake?
What if he'd associated the wrong patterns, and he'd put pieces of different people into one another and essentially killed them all?
What if he hadn't killed them, but they survived as terrifying human hybrids?
Radioactive human hybrids?
"Oh my god I have been turning Sulu into a monster!" he breathed, before the doors opened again and he stumbled out to find almost every eye on the bridge looking his way.
"…Did it work?"
Before anyone could answer, he moved over to the nearby console, and leaned over the lieutenant's shoulder to check the read-outs himself. There were life signs, although they couldn't get much more than that.
"Put the transporter room on screen," Captain Malhotra instructed, and a moment later the view of Pyrius IV was replaced with a transporter pad holding four slumped figures, and a lot of grey soil. It would have been impossible to tell who was who, but Chekov knew which crewman he'd beamed to which section of the pad. The one on the front left moved an arm slightly, and he let out the breath he'd been holding. The bridge watched in silence as the medical team then appeared, dressed in their radiation suits and scanning everything left and right.
Please do not being dead or mutated, please do not being dead or mutated, please do not being dead or mutated…
He could only watch as the team went through the process of decontaminating the area, and determining the status of the four slumped figures. After a moment, Malhotra took it off the screen again, deciding that they needed to resume normal activities until their CMO could give them an update.
"How did you know to do that, Cad – Ensign?" Malhotra asked, turning an expectant gaze towards him. Once again, Chekov found himself under scrutiny, and he shifted a little uncertainly, eyes darting around the room.
"…I do not understand what you are asking me, Keptan," he confessed. "How did I know to do what?"
Malhotra made a rather broad gesture between the where he was standing, the science station, and the turbolift. "Everything you just did," she elaborated. "Where did you learn that?"
Chekov blinked. He was still a bit confused. "Are you meaning my job?" he asked. "I was admitted early to the academy when I was fifteen, and before that I had adwanced schooling in Russia-"
"Ensign," Malhotra said patiently. "I've consulted your file from the Enterprise. Your 'job', as you put it, is manning tactical, with some qualifications for a science station as well. How do you know about sensors and computer systems and transporter functions? How did you know how to react?"
"I am not seeing how this is a problem," Chekov replied, shaking his head a little and shrugging.
Malhotra sighed. "It's not a problem, Ensign, I just… is this what you normally do?"
He thought about it.
Then after a moment, he added: "I am sorry for pushing people. On the Enterprise they have learned to move first now."
Three of the four away team members survived the explosion without their suits malfunctioning. Sulu was glad he was one of them.
He felt badly about Thorne, though. It was a little strange. He'd never had someone he didn't like die on him before. It made him feel guilty over not liking the man, as if he had been preemptively slandering the dead. His opinion on the commander hadn't done a complete turnabout, but now he kept wondering if he'd judged him too harshly, or if he'd still be alive had Sulu not called him over when he did. The explosion had struck him dead on from a little ways behind them, and Sulu himself had only survived because the commander was between him and the blast.
So if he hadn't called him over, then Sulu himself would probably be dead. Did it make him a bad person that he was really, honestly glad that wasn't the case? He wished Thorne had survived, but, at the same time, he was so relieved. It was a very sobering thing to go through.
"I am glad you are not being dead," Chekov's voice said from the opposite side of the alcove, and Sulu looked up to see the seventeen-year-old ensign regarding him with obvious relief. "You are wery lucky I am good at my job. And that I am doing it no matter which ship I am on."
Sulu gave him a faint smile. He couldn't really manage more. It probably didn't say much for his maturity as an independent adult that he kind of wished his mother was there, but he'd take a friend, too. "They've told me I owe you for another beam-out that's set some kind of record," he said.
Chekov shrugged. "I am always setting records. Sometimes, I am thinking they are not so difficult," he took the chair next to the medical bed, and offered him a datapad that he'd tucked under one arm. "Here."
Curious, he glanced down at the text, scrolling a little. "'Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow', by Aleksandr Nikolayevich Radishchev…" That was the first story on the list, anyway. It also had a few of his favorites on it, like Treasure Island and The Black Swan. There was Murder on the Orient Express, too, which was the only story of his that he'd gotten Chekov to read.
"It is Russian," Chekov informed him helpfully. "I did not think you would want to read all the same things if you were here for wery long."
Sulu had been informed that he was 'on watch'. He hadn't been told what that meant, but by means of logical deduction he'd guessed that he was going to have to wait until they were sure he wouldn't melt or explode into some kind of terrible rash or something similar. So he was grateful for the reading material. "Thanks," he said.
An uneasy silence settled between them, then, as he began to look over the datapad, and Chekov seemed content to just sit there quietly for a while. Which wasn't really like him.
"What is wrong?" the young Russian finally asked, and Sulu glanced up in surprise. He was getting frowned at.
"…Nothing, really," he replied after a moment, lowering the datapad and leaning back against the stiff regulation pillow behind his head.
Chekov did not seem convinced. He folded his arms and settled in, as if to wait.
Fortunately, excitable teenage geniuses were not generally known for their patience.
"I will guess," he said after a minute, tapping his foot a little. "It is because you almost died? That is what has been bothering me."
Sulu turned his head towards him, furrowing his brows a little. "No. Are you alright?" he asked. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Chekov really was only seventeen, after all, and that having a friend nearly die on him probably wasn't doing wonders for his emotional well-being.
But his friend only rolled his eyes. "I am fine. I do not think I would be, if you had died or turned into an unpleasant alien mutant monster, but that did not happen so it is all good with Pavel Chekov. What I am being interested in is why Hikaru Sulu looks like he is not so good."
Every now and again Sulu couldn't help but wonder if meeting Chekov's grandmother would be an interesting experience, because his friend seemed to channel 'little old lady' surprisingly well.
"So," Chekov continued. "If it is not that – and you have nearly been dead before, so I do not think it is – then it is because Commander Thorne did not make it?"
He looked away a bit, and sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. That was unusually perceptive of him. Then again, it wasn't a very long list of occurrences to guess from.
"I am sorry. I did not know you were getting along with him," Chekov said.
Sulu frowned a little, and glanced down at the datapad. "I wasn't," he said. "…I guess that's why it's strange."
There was a kind of awkward silence. He smiled again, trying to put some real emphasis behind it, because as much as he understood that Chekov was attempting to do what all good friends did, he didn't want to unload on him. "It'll be alright," he decided.
After a minute, the young ensign shrugged, and shifted in his chair. "Okay," he said. "I am too busy being happy that you are not dead to be unhappy that someone I did not like is, anyway." Then he lifted a second datapad which he'd tucked beside himself into his grasp, and Sulu imagined that his friend's reading contained many more numbers and formulas than his own did as they settled into an easier silence.
Soon enough, though, that silence failed as Sulu began asking Chekov questions about the story he'd given him, and Chekov admitted to never actually reading it himself. Which made Sulu chuckle and shake his head, and the world felt like it regained some of its bearings again.
They were interrupted briefly when one of the medical aids came do another scan on him. She was around Sulu's age, very pretty, with long dark hair and olive skin. When he smiled at her she blushed, although Chekov seemed to be trying to get her attention now and then, too, distracting her with questions and adopting his 'curious puppy' look. All big eyes and deceptive innocence.
"She was nice," Sulu noted after she'd left, making an attempt to tease his friend.
Chekov glanced at him. "Maybe a little," he conceded. "If you think so."
"We'll be here for a while yet," he mused. "That's plenty of time to ask a pretty girl for a date." Even though his friend was a little young, a harmless date would probably be good for him. It would distract him, anyway, and he didn't think a girl like that would press the limits of decent conduct in one evening with a big-eyed teenager. Women, he had noticed, tended to eat Chekov up like he was ice-cream, but in that whole 'aw, isn't he adorable?' kind of way.
"I do not think it would be appropriate to be fraternizing," Chekov said a little stiffly, turning back to his datapad. "You are still not being healthy, yet. It is a bad idea."
Sulu blinked at him. Then realization dawned, and he smiled. "I wasn't talking about myself," he explained. "I meant you could ask her out."
Chekov looked a little surprised. "Me?" he asked, tilting his head and giving Sulu an odd glance. "I was thinking you would be wanting to ask her out."
"No," he replied, shaking his head a little. "She's all yours."
"Oh," his friend said, his gaze trailing up to the direction the aid had disappeared in. "…Well. It is still a bad idea."
"Why?" Sulu asked.
Chekov gave him a look.
"Because. I am sewenteen."