Chapter One: Sulu
Disclaimer: I do not profit from writing about these characters.
Hikaru Sulu stifles a yawn and glances at the chronometer on the helm. Fifteen more minutes until the end of delta shift—and with it, two days off duty until he rotates back to alpha shift for three weeks.
Not that he minds delta shift. Or at least, not much. It's certainly quieter with fewer crew members on the bridge. He has a chance to chat up people he doesn't see that often—Stiles and P'lath, for instance, navigators who often man the weapons console. And some of his good friends like Uhura usually work the same rotation he does.
The only drawback—if he wants to call it that—is that nine times out of ten Commander Spock is in the captain's chair during delta shift. And Sulu knows that when he rotates back to alpha shift in a few days, Spock will be there, too, as he always is, serving as first officer at the science station.
Does the man never sleep?
As if he is aware of Sulu's thoughts, the Commander speaks.
"You appear fatigued, Mr. Sulu."
Despite himself, Sulu feels a flush of embarrassment and annoyance. Turning in his seat, he starts to make an automatic denial, or failing that, to make light of what must be more apparent than he realizes.
Commander Spock is looking at him, his eyes dark and inscrutable.
From her station, Uhura crosses her arms and lifts one brow. Sulu abandons any idea of avoiding the truth.
"Uh, yes, sir," he says, nodding once. "I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize," Spock says evenly. "Human endurance does have limits."
It's the kind of comment that both raises Sulu's hackles and confounds him. A criticism of human strength? An implied boast about Vulcan abilities?
Or merely an inelegant commiseration, with something lost in translation when Spock says it?
Sulu glances again at the chronometer. Fourteen minutes until the end of the shift.
Suddenly the deck bucks beneath his feet and he topples forward onto the helm. The klaxon sounds and Sulu hears Spock say, "Captain to the bridge."
Scrambling back into his seat, Sulu lets his fingers play over the controls, calling up the data stream and scanning the engineering sensor logs.
"Report, Mr. Sulu," Spock says, his tone so ordinary, so unruffled, that Sulu feels oddly reassured.
"Sir," he says, "we were hit by a powerful gravimetric wave—I've never seen anything like it!"
A question for the navigator, but on delta shift, the navigation controls are slaved to the helm. Sulu taps his monitor and says, "Unknown."
"Twelve parsecs. Too far to be responsible."
"Other charted anomalies?"
"The Brighton Nebula is three light years aft," Sulu says, frowning. "And the wave was traveling toward it, not from it."
"Viewscreen on," Spock says to Lt. Uhura.
The star field wavers into view—and in the distance, a thin rope of light and gas stretches and unfurls like a spool of cloth.
The turbolift doors whisk open and the captain strides forward. Spock smoothly rises and steps down from the captain's chair.
"Report," Captain Kirk says.
"Thirty-seven seconds ago the ship was hit with what appears to be a gravimetric wave. Origin undetermined."
From the corner of his eye, Sulu sees Spock cross the distance to the science station and squint into his raised scanner.
"Sensors show it consists of super-heated electromagnetic radiation, creating a temporal distortion field."
"Meaning that the fabric of space-time is fluctuating at the edge of that energy pulse."
"Is the ship in danger?"
"Possibly. The radiation levels could compromise our hull integrity. I recommend retreating to a safe distance."
Sulu's fingers are already poised over the controls, anticipating the captain's orders. Before he can move, the ship lurches hard, the inertial dampeners flickering for a stomach-dropping millisecond.
"Back us away!" Captain Kirk says, and Sulu says, "Aye, Captain!"
But the helm is sluggish. The relative distance to the energy ribbon is unchanged, even after Sulu adjusts for the gravimetric pull. On the viewscreen, the image grows larger and brighter—and apparently closer to the ship.
"The helm isn't responding!" he says, his left hand tapping through the engine stats while his right hand scrolls over altitude control.
Sulu hears Kirk's fist bang down on the arm of the captain's chair.
"Scotty!" he says, but before he can continue, the chief engineer yells, "Captain, we're losing power! Whatever we've waded into is draining the warp coils!"
"What about impulse engines? I need something, Scotty!"
"Just barely working, Captain, though the aft thrusters are up. We can maneuver, but that's all."
"Captain," Spock says, a note of tension creeping into his voice at last, "if we do not retreat, we will be in direct contact with the energy ribbon in 17 seconds."
Sulu glances down at his console. The radiation sensor is spiking rapidly. On the viewscreen, the energy ribbon undulates like a snake.
Leaning forward in the captain's chair, Kirk says, "All decks, brace for impact. Sulu, head us into the wave."
"Captain," Sulu says, "if the wave is composed of ionized particles, we can set the deflectors to maximum and surf over the top instead."
"The structural stress will exceed recommended levels," Spock notes without a pause.
Taking a breath, Sulu plunges on.
"Not if we hit the wave at a 45 degree angle. The Enterprise will be like a stone skipping on the top of the water."
"A rough ride," Kirk says.
Sulu sees the captain make eye contact with Spock—a question asked and answered, apparently. Spock raises one eyebrow and says, "We cannot outrun it. Mr. Sulu's idea may be all we have."
An unnamed expression darkens the captain's face and he says, "Do it!"
The writhing, twisting ribbon fills the viewscreen. Dully Sulu realizes that the red alert klaxon is blaring, the emergency lights blinking on and off. It's all up to him now. Wrapping his fingers tightly around the control bar, he uses the halting thrusters to aim the ship up and over the approaching wave.
"Impact in five, four, three, two, one—"
The ship shimmies and shakes and groans like a wounded animal. And then something snaps with a bang and Sulu flies backward over his seat, his head hitting the floor, the ship plunging into darkness.
X X X
During his second year at the Academy, Sulu took the bus tour up to Twin Peaks so many times that the driver began giving him a knowing wink when he got on—usually with a new female cadet in tow.
You haven't seen San Francisco until you've seen it from up here," Sulu would say as the bus careened around the hairpin turns and pulled into the gravel parking lot reserved for ground cars.
"See that sign?" Sulu exited the bus and pointed to a large metal square mounted prominently on the guardrail. "The one that says 'Ground Transportation Only. No air traffic within 1000 meters'? It's there because of me."
The pretty cadet at his side visored her hand over her eyes. To the left Sulu could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. Ahead in the distance San Francisco lay sprawled out along the bay.
"You? You're the reason for the sign?"
The cadet's skepticism tripped so close to sarcasm that Sulu flashed her an uncertain smile.
"Look," he said, turning away from the view to the hill that rose behind the parking lot. "There was a communications tower up there—on the highest point. My friends and I used to buzz it for fun. You know, fly within a meter or two to scramble the signal. The city finally moved the tower, but they also decided to clear the view of flitters. I don't blame them, really. But it was fun while it lasted."
He had told this story so many times that he'd perfected it—the tone, the timing, the entire shtick never failing to garner him at least a laugh, some good will, a second date.
Not today, apparently. The cadet gave him a jaundiced look.
"Oh, yeah," she said, her glance drifting off as she spoke, "you did say you grew up here. So that's what high school boys did back in the day in San Francisco. I can imagine what you were like," she smirked. "Hotshot teenager making a public nuisance of yourself. Did you get your license taken away?"
It was Sulu's turn to smirk.
"Hardly," he said. "I was only ten at the time."
Although his story about the no fly zone sign was a practiced one, that didn't make it untrue. The first time Sulu climbed into a pilot's seat was one morning when he stayed home from school complaining of a sore throat and headache, one of the few mild viruses without an easy cure. His tenth birthday was only weeks away, though to his frustration, his mother continued to hover over him as if he were a small child.
"Get some rest, Hikaru," she said, tucking his quilt around him as he sniffed for dramatic effect in his bed. She started to leave and Sulu piped up.
"Can you get me a glass of water?"
His mother's eyes narrowed slightly—annoyance at being delayed, perhaps, or worry that he was acting coddled and dependent. Tipping his head on his pillow, he gazed up at her and gave a hesitant smile, like a supplicant begging a queen for favors.
It worked. His mother gave an exasperated laugh.
"Alright," she said, "but you're making me late."
He listened to the drumbeat of her shoes on the wooden floor as she stepped into the hall to the bathroom. A whoosh of the faucet—another set of footfalls—and his mother was back at the side of his bed, a small clear glass of water in her hand.
"Here," she said, but he motioned to the small bedside table.
"I'm not thirsty right now," he said, flashing what he hoped looked like contrition. "Can you put it there?"
With an exaggerated sigh she set down the glass and shook her head. In another moment he heard her walking down the hall—the snick of the opening coat closet, the jangle of hangers, a thud that was probably his mother setting her briefcase on the small table beside the front door, checking to make sure she had all the legal briefs she had brought home to work on last night.
Usually his mother took public transport to her office in the city, leaving her vintage '39 Galaxie in the car park under the tall apartment building where the Sulus had lived since before their children were born. His brother, Ichiro, was two years older, the quintessential firstborn who spent far too much energy trying to please his parents.
Hikaru, on the other hand, learned early that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.
As soon as he heard the front door shut, he was out of the bed, shuffling softly across the floor to his dresser, swapping his pajamas for a heavy shirt and jeans.
Down the hall his father was still sleeping. For the past six months Satoru Sulu had led a research team at the Bay Area Botanical Research Center studying nyctinastic flora, both Terran and off-world. Often he brought cuttings from the various plants home, lining the kitchen windowsill with small pots of experimental poppies and heather-like flowers that closed their petals and curled into protective puffs of color when the sun went down—a phenomenon that never failed to delight his younger son.
"If the plants you study sleep at night, why do you sleep in the daytime?" Sulu asked his father once, and his father had laughed and ruffled his hair affectionately.
"It's because they sleep at night that I work at the lab then. I want to figure out what the plants are dreaming about," his father teased.
Tiptoeing past his parents' bedroom, Sulu carried his canvas shoes in one hand and the glass of water balanced on his other palm. Careful to keep his fingers off the side of the glass, he lifted it to his mouth and gulped the water until the glass was empty. Then slipping on his shoes and unlocking the door, he paused for a moment when a noise like a sigh or a snore broke the silence.
Was his father awake? Sulu stood motionless in the hall and listened. When he heard nothing else after a few moments, he stuck his fist inside the glass and tipped it over, letting it slide onto his hand.
The car park under the apartment building was ungated and unmanned, and Sulu quickly made his way to his mother's flitter. Silver and turquoise, it gleamed in the dim overhead light.
On the pilot's side was the entry pad, keyed to respond to his mother's touch. Because biometric coding eliminated the need for keys or locks, a simple scan of her thumb both opened the car and turned on the ignition inside.
Safe and foolproof, unless, of course, the mischief maker was a nine year old boy just itching to take a flitter for his first flight.
Tapping the entry pad, Sulu alerted the car that he wanted entry. A thin infrared trip line appeared, a scanner waiting for Yoko Sulu's thumb.
Which at that moment was attached to the rest of her on the #31 bus turning a corner on Market Street near her law office.
Not a problem. Sulu might not have his mother's thumb, but he had her thumbprint. At least, he hoped he did.
Holding up the glass to the infrared scanner, he held his breath.
Nothing. Sulu rotated the glass gently so that the scanner could read the other side.
Still nothing. Slipping his fingertips around the bottom of the glass, he held it up once more, this time angling the lip of the glass at the scanner.
With a click, the door unlocked.
"I'm in!" he said out loud, his voice echoing in the large car park. Swiveling slowly, he looked around, but he was alone and no one had heard him. He tugged open the flitter door and slid into the pilot's seat.
It was just as he had imagined it—smooth and cool and powerful. Now that he was sitting behind them, the controls that looked so ordinary when he was a passenger were suddenly worthy of his closest attention. Buttons and latches and tabs—just waiting for him. Holding up the lip of the glass to the ignition scanner, he heard the flitter roar to life.
And he was off! The flitter lifted up a meter from the concrete floor and he toggled forward, slowly at first, and then coming out from the car park, hitting the accelerator so hard that his jaw snapped shut and his head hit the headrest.
He didn't go far—not that first time—just around the block. By the time his father woke up and started getting ready for work, Sulu was back in bed, the quilt pulled up to his chin, his face as flushed as if he really did have a fever.
He managed to take the flitter out once more before getting caught, taking a curve too low and scraping the paint from the left stabilizer, something his brother innocently pointed out the next time the family took an outing.
"I haven't been anywhere for this to happen!" his mother exclaimed as she circled the flitter, looking for other scrapes and nicks.
Standing behind her in the car park, Sulu's father threw up his hands and said, "Don't look at me!"
"Then it must have been whoever parks on that side! I'm calling the management to find out the name—"
Sulu's heart was beating so hard that he could hardly hear his next words.
His mother rounded on him so fast that later he would wonder if she didn't already have some idea what he had been doing.
"What do you know about this?" she said, and he squirmed visibly.
"I did it," he said, casting his eyes down. "The last time I flew it."
"The last time! You mean you've done this more than once?"
Darting a glance at his father, Sulu saw an odd look cross his face, as if he were struggling not to smile or laugh. His mother, on the other hand, was furious.
He didn't remember everything that happened then. His brother's scandalized expression, his father literally turning away, his mother saying something about being lucky he wasn't killed—brief images of that day turning into a longer, fuller image of sitting in his living room, his mother and father standing in front of him, their faces turned first to each other and then to him, as if they were unsure who would speak first, his father finally saying, "Your mother and I know that you will probably keep trying to fly, and we'd rather you did it under supervision."
And then he handed him a small piece of paper with the name of a children's flight club printed across the top, the instructor's name below, and at the very bottom, a place where his parents had already signed their permission, with a slot for him to fill in his name.
The club replaced everything else that used to entertain him. Gone were afternoons playing digital games with friends, riding his two-wheeler, watching adventure vids. Every Saturday morning his mother dropped him off at a small park near the Starfleet Academy grounds where he and the other children practiced simple maneuvers in half-size safety trainers. Sometimes when he was aloft he could make out the red uniformed cadets crossing the commons or walking between buildings.
"I'm going there when I graduate," he told his flight instructor, a paunchy man who nodded sagely and said, "Don't be in such a hurry to grow up."
But he was. Grown ups didn't have to study things that didn't interest them—poetry and calculus and the history of places he didn't want to visit. Grown ups did things they wanted to—stayed up past bedtime reading The Three Musketeers, took the flitter for secret flights on sunny afternoons when no one else was home.
One evening as he was clearing the table from supper, Sulu heard the front door chime. His mother was in the kitchen, his father in the shower getting ready for work. Sulu pulled open the door and saw two uniformed police officers on the top of the steps.
"Are your parents home, son?" the shorter officer said, and Sulu nodded, breaking into a cold sweat. Before he could call his mother, she was at his side, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Can I help you?" she said, and the same officer spoke again.
"We've had some complaints about someone at this address making unauthorized flights over Twin Peaks. The communications tower operator was able to get a pretty good picture with the surveillance camera."
He held out a PADD and Sulu saw an image of his mother's flitter—blurry but unmistakably hers.
Without looking up, he felt her eyes boring into him.
"Thank you, officer," she said brusquely. "This will be taken care of immediately."
"Ma'am," the other officer said, speaking up for the first time, "you need to know that the area has been designated a no fly zone now. If anyone in this house approaches it again, they will be arrested."
"I see," Sulu's mother said. "I assure you, that is the least of his troubles."
The rest of that evening was a blur—his mother angrily berating him, his father with a towel draped around his shoulders drawn to the noise, Ichiro wandering past like an onlooker at a wreck, a hint of unbrotherly triumph on his features.
To his surprise, his parents didn't force him to quit the flying club or to make promises they knew he wouldn't or couldn't keep. Instead, the next time his mother dropped him off at the park near the Academy, he saw a new instructor waiting—apparently just for him. Walking past the other children lined up for turns in the trainers, this instructor was a tiny woman with Asian features, her cropped hair more gray than black.
"Hikaru," she said with a slight incline of her head. "This way, please."
From the corner of his eye he could see the other children watching him as he followed the woman to the far end of the park where a late model Starcruiser flitter was parked.
"If you're going to fly, you need to learn to really fly," she said. With a flick of her thumb she unlatched the flitter door and Sulu started to scramble into the pilot's seat.
"Not yet," she said, her hand darting out and clutching his forearm. "You watch."
With a sheepish grin, he circled around the front of the flitter and got in the passenger side. The Asian woman pulled herself into the pilot's seat and said, "I am Commander Ito. If you touch anything, if you say anything foolish, this will be your last ride."
And so he watched in silence as she started the engine and lifted off so quickly that he felt the hair prickle on the back of his neck.
"You like that, eh?" she said, and he risked a nod.
The flitter went into a freefall spiral and Sulu gasped, his breakfast rising to his throat. When the flitter leveled off over the bay he squeaked out, "Not so much."
"Better," the Commander said. "If you are never afraid, you'll get yourself killed one day."
For a long time, lessons with Commander Ito were usually Sulu watching her pilot the flitter while she kept up a running patter.
"See that line of clouds forming by the headlands? There will be an updraft right before you lose visibility when you head through them, so be ready for it and adjust the altitude control. Notice how the fuel indicator fluctuated when I accelerated? And that gauge there. If it ever lights up, stop what you're doing as soon as you can."
By the time he qualified for an unrestricted license, Sulu had graduated to first level aerobatics and some formation flying, usually with Commander Ito in the other craft but sometimes with Jeri, a friend from the flying club who started taking lessons soon after Sulu began. During the week he and Jeri would sometimes meet at the park and practice, just the two of them, hoping to startle the retired Starfleet commander into praise during the regular Saturday sessions.
They never did.
The only people who ever seemed impressed were the occasional Academy cadets who sometimes lingered at the park fence to watch them fly. From the air they were easy to spot—their red uniforms glowing in the sunlight.
One visitor, in particular, caught Sulu's attention—a tall, thin cadet with the severe haircut and upswept eyebrows of a Vulcan—or so Sulu assumed. He'd never met a Vulcan in person and saw them on the news holovids rarely, despite Vulcan having an embassy in San Francisco.
"I don't remember any from my time in service," Commander Ito said when Sulu asked about the Vulcan cadet. "They're pretty self-contained and private. That's good to see, though. Overdue, if you ask me. Starfleet needs to do a better job of recruiting off-worlders."
The Commander was one person who didn't try to discourage him from growing up fast. When he confided his plans to apply for early admission to the Academy, she gave a little shrug and said, "Good. You know what you want."
When his application was denied—his academic performance not up to par—she shrugged again.
"Good. Now you know what you have to improve."
"Buckle down," his mother told him when he showed her the rejection letter. "Or get a tutor. Stop spending all your time flying."
He took her first two suggestions seriously, setting his alarm for 5 every morning so he would have an extra hour every day to study. In the afternoons he stayed after school for extra help from his teachers.
His mother's third suggestion—that he stop flying so much—was ridiculous, of course. If anything, he and Jeri met more regularly for their informal sessions in the park, often gathering an audience, including the Vulcan cadet, who Sulu noted had given up his red uniform for a dull gray one.
The Vulcan was watching the day of the crash, too—when he and Jeri were practicing a corkscrew formation. On paper it was a simple maneuver—two fitters flying belly-to-belly straight up from launch, and then at the apex of the flight, reversing direction and heading back to land, still facing away from each other, but this time spiraling slowly until peeling up and away just before reaching the ground.
On the day of the crash they had almost finished the corkscrew when Jeri's right aileron broke loose and her flitter stalled and plummeted to the ground, rolling over several times before coming to a stop, pilot side down, bursting into flames.
Without quite knowing how, Sulu made an impossibly sharp loop up and over, landing hard and leaping out beside the burning flitter. Dimly he was aware that in the distance a siren was blaring, that people were running across the grassy park toward him. With a wrenching tug, he pulled open the passenger door of Jeri's flitter and clambered in.
Jeri was awake but dazed.
"Release the catch!" he yelled, motioning to the seat restraint lock. When she didn't move, he leaned over her and slid the lock forward until he felt it unhitch. Then putting his arms around Jeri's waist, he hoisted them both back up through the open passenger door.
Or tried to. The smoke from the fire was acrid and sooty, making him cough so hard that he almost let go of Jeri. If he could only get his legs back out of the flitter, he could lever her out.
But in her dazed state Jeri was unhelpful dead weight. He would have to let go of her to get himself out first.
Still, he was reluctant to do so. She would slide back down and he might not be able to reach her if he did. He felt a wave of despair as another flame licked up through the control panel.
He wasn't sure what happened next. As he squatted inside the flitter, he felt himself being lifted up and out by someone behind him. Frantically he tightened his grip on Jeri and she came up with him in his arms, tumbling out onto the ground after him, coughing and retching, and like him, helped to her feet and taken a safe distance from the burning flitter. His eyes were watering and his hands were blistered—probably from grabbing the outside latch—but he was essentially unhurt.
As was Jeri, whose broken ankle was the worst of her injuries. For weeks afterwards they talked about the accident in hushed tones, like people still half-asleep.
"We were lucky," Jeri said, and Sulu didn't disagree.
But something still niggled at the edge of his memories from that day—the missing pieces, the way he couldn't keep the chronology straight, the sensations that had no counterpart in reality.
Like the voice he had heard in his head telling him what to do as he wrapped his arms around Jeri—stay calm, focus, hold on, I have you.
And something else, too—something deeper than words, or beyond them. A rush of feeling he's never been able to name: admiration and concern and encouragement in equal measure—not his own feelings but coming from someone else, someone unseen.
X X X
As the emergency lights flutter on Sulu stands up, moving back to his station. All around him the bridge crew are recovering—some visibly shaken—and underneath the rustle he hears the chiming of Uhura's comm board as departments all over the ship check in.
"Engineering reports warp drive inoperative," she says, corroborating Sulu's indicators. From behind him he hears the captain say, "Casualties?"
"Dr. McCoy reports minor injuries throughout the ship."
His own report is succinct. The Enterprise's deflector shields had cocooned the ship from the worst of the wave, just as he had postulated. Though they are without warp drive, the impulse engines are still online. They can move. They just can't go anywhere very fast.
"If Scotty can't make repairs here, we can call for a tug from Starbase 11," Captain Kirk says. "At least we are in one piece."
"Due to the skill of Mr. Sulu."
Praise from Commander Spock—for a moment Sulu is so flabbergasted that he forgets to breathe.
The captain, too, seems caught off guard by his words.
"Yes, of course," he says. "Well done, Mr. Sulu."
"Thank you, sir." A pause, and then Sulu says, "Sirs."
If he looks at Commander Spock he knows what he'll see—a raised eyebrow, a quirk about his mouth that is as close to amusement as he ever shows.
He's never asked Spock about the day of Jeri's crash and isn't sure he needs to. It's enough to believe that they were both there, drawn by necessity to that same point in time, that his piloting skill is understood and appreciated, that what he does matters.
It's also why delta shift is a challenge, the strain of living up to that unspoken expectation each time Commander Spock sits in the captain's chair.
But he doesn't have time to think about it now. Uhura calls out, "Captain! I'm picking up a distress call. An automatic beacon from a personal cruiser."
The viewscreen is filled with static and wobbly lines—leftover radiation buzzing along the external antennae, Sulu thinks—but in the center he can make out a small craft, not much larger than a luxury flitter.
From the science station Spock says, "Apparently the cruiser was also caught by the energy ribbon, captain. I detect a single life form."
"Hail them," the captain says, and Uhura presses her earlink with her index finger.
Suddenly a radiation alert sounds on the helm and Sulu toggles the navigation actuator.
"Captain, the warp engine on that cruiser is going critical."
"Too small to pose a threat," Spock says.
"Not to that one lifeform! Transporter room, lock onto these coordinates. One to beam aboard. Security, report to the transporter room."
With a flick of his wrist Sulu sends the coordinates to the transporter room, but a moment later he sees a brilliant flash as the cruiser's engines ignite and explode.
A/N: Ready, set, go! Each chapter of this story will do double duty, carrying the adventure forward while giving a backwards glimpse into the lives of the crew. If I do it right, that backwards glimpse will give insight into why each crew member's contribution is essential to the ship..and to each other.
Whether that works or not, please let me know! Launching a new story is always scary, and reviews let me know you are out there!
Thanks to Startrekfanwriter for her suggestions. She is busy writing both fanfiction and original fiction over in the "Thor" fandom. Check out her work in my faves.
If you're looking for more Star Trek: TOS adventures, check out "Changelings" in my profile. And if you want some Star Trek 2009 fiction to tide you over until the sequel hits the theaters in May, there's a list of my stories in that AU over in my profile. Enjoy!