The sun blazed over San Francisco, its warmth transforming the Bay into a summer playground. Blooms quivered in the breeze. Sparrows and robins darted to and fro above the vast public courtyard of Starfleet Academy, where hundreds of students, flush with youth and optimism, slowed just a little in their rush from class to class to enjoy the sunshine.
It was a beautiful day for a breakup.
“I’m leaving, Pavel, because I can’t bring myself to carry a phaser,” Irina said. Even after two years at the Academy, she couldn’t completely hide her Novgorod accent. She clutched a data tablet to her chest like a shield.
“Hardly anyone in Starfleet carries a phaser,” Pavel Chekov said, his own accent thickening as his stress rose. “Statistically, less than one in 10,000 Starfleet recruits are ever assigned a phaser, and even then only temporarily, and even then some tiny fraction of that tiny group ever have to draw it, much less use it—“
Irina sighed and waved Chekov’s statistics away. “I’m just not willing to take the chance. I want to study life, not end it.”
Chekov’s temper flared for a second. He wanted to protest. He wanted to tell her that he was going to serve as a navigator or science officer, that he’d spend his life exploring and discovering.
But Irina knew all that. She wasn’t condemning him. She wasn’t even condemning Starfleet. She simply knew herself and her boundaries too well.
She looked at him with sad eyes. He wanted to tell her that they could still have a life together. He began to reach for her hand.
And then Irina Galliulin said the last words he’d hear from her for years to come:
“I’m going to reconnect with Doctor Sevrin,” she said, “I’m going to become One.”
Chekov’s face flushed. Oneness was superstition, not science. Or maybe it was just some kind of alien telepathic connection he didn’t understand. At just 032, Chekov’s esper rating was well below average, so low that some Federation telepaths couldn’t even register his presence, something he’d been gently teased about at the Academy.
So he said nothing, not just because Irina’s face told him how she felt and how much she regretted hurting him, but because he knew the fault lay not in the stars, but in himself. Besides, Doctor Sevrin wasn’t hurting anyone. Oneness was just a different way of looking at life, just Federation pacifism taken to its logical extreme.
He couldn’t stand her pity, and logic told him he had no good arguments to use against the woman he loved.
One day she’ll see it was pointless to worry, he thought. But by then, they’d have moved on.
“I understand, rodnaya,” he said. “I love you. I guess I’ll see you around.”
He left her standing in the summer sun, the breeze tugging at her long brown hair. Heedless, a clutch of nearby students laughed at some shared joke.
TWO YEARS LATER
It was still a bit hard for Chekov to believe he was sitting on the bridge of the USS Enterprise—the same Enterprise once captained by the legendary Robert April, then Christopher Pike, and now James T. Kirk, whose own reputation was already, if not legendary, than at least widely renowned. He felt like the luckiest Academy graduate in history.
“How’s the new kid?” Kirk murmured a couple of meters behind him—just loud enough for Chekov and his friend Sulu, seated next to him at the Helm station, to hear. Loud enough for everyone on the bridge, really. Kirk’s voice carried weight even in the quiet.
“His performance is quite satisfactory,” answered Spock. Chekov was glad his back was to the two senior officers. ‘Quite satisfactory,’ was high praise from the taciturn Vulcan, and Chekov could feel himself blushing with pleasure. He could feel Sulu glancing over at him, doubtless to shoot some kind of gentle, teasing smirk his way, so Chekov kept his gaze face-forward and diligently focused on his controls.
“I don’t believe he’s had any landing party experience yet,” Kirk said.
“Indeed not,” Spock replied.
“Take him down with you when we get to Ivor Prime,” Kirk said. “He’s wearing a gold shirt, but he still looks a shade green to me.”
“Green is a perfectly pleasant shade, Captain.”
“Nonetheless,” Kirk said.
“Nonetheless,” Spock acknowledged.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Chekov arrived in the transporter room at 05:45, a tricorder slung over his shoulder, fifteen minutes before beamdown. Chief Kyle smiled, turned to the wall behind the transporter console, and retrieved a phaser from a hidden compartment, handing it to Chekov.
“There you go. Be careful down there.”
Chekov looked at the phaser dubiously for a moment before securing it on his hip.
“Is this really necessary?” he said, gesturing at the phaser.
Kyle shrugged. “Just precautionary. You never know when an alien life form will mistake you for lunch.”
Spock entered the transporter room at that moment, briskly retrieving a phaser of his own from the wall and climbing up onto the transporter platform. Chekov hurried to join him.
“Energize,” Spock said. Kyle nodded, pushed three levers forward on the transporter console, and Spock and Chekov dissolved into bright, flaring columns of sparkling light.
A moment later, their bodies reformed on Ivor Prime. They found themselves standing in the foothills of a massive mountain range, with a dense jungle some about a kilometer distant. The sky was purple and cloudless, and the wind caused an eerie, alien howl to echo through the valley.
“Mr. Chekov, please collect data in the foothills using the standard sampling protocols,” Spock said, consulting his tricorder. “I will collect samples from the jungle. Tricorder readings indicate no dangerous fauna, but exercise caution regardless. Remember your training, and stay within visual range.”
“Aye, sir,” Chekov said. He walked through long bronze grass into the foothills, sampling as he went, scanning the dozens of different species of lichens, grasses, flowering plants, insects, fungi, xenoglyphs, perimaterna, mathemagics. He found nothing terribly unusual, and more importantly, nothing that would disqualify Ivor Prime as a destination for colonists. Chekov noted, with some bemusement, that the bronze grass had left some kind of metallic-seeming residue on his boots and pants, right up to the knee. He tried to brush it away, succeeding only in getting the residue all over his hands.
But then a shadow passed over him, and Chekov looked up to see something riding the breeze high overhead. It resembled a box kite, much like one he’d flown in Sevastopol many years ago. He reached for his tricorder to scan the apparition, but by the time he got the instrument into position, whatever he’d seen had disappeared into the clouds. Chekov shrugged the distraction aside and turned back to his sampling routine.
“Sampling complete,” the tricorder said some time later; Chekov had collected enough data to meet Spock’s requirements for this sector of the valley. Chekov shut down the tricorder, slung it back over his shoulder, and made his way toward the point where he and Spock had beamed down.
Chekov’s communicator beeped twice.
“Mister Chekov, stand by to beam up,” Lieutenant Uhura said in a voice that carried carefully controlled urgency.
“Acknowledged,” Chekov said. He held still, anticipating the tug of the annular confinement beam that preceded transportation, but seconds passed and nothing happened.
“Ah, Enterprise? I’m still down here . . .”
“Chekov, we’re having trouble locking on to your signal,” Chief Kyle broke in. “Can you move out into the open?”
Chekov was taken aback. “Chief, I’m in the middle of a field . . .”
Before Kyle could say anything more, a new voice came over his comms channel: Captain Kirk himself.
“Mister Chekov, please—” Kirk said, but that was all. The captain’s words were followed by a harsh blast of static and an electronic squeal that made Chekov’s ears ring. He snapped the communicator closed, grimacing.
Irrationally, Chekov looked to the skies for any sign of the ship, but of course at this distance he’d likely see nothing more than a pinprick of light, even assuming that Enterprise was on this side of the planet.
He had to find Commander Spock. The last he’d seen him, Spock was scanning the edge of the jungle, perhaps a couple of kilometres distant. He tried contacting Spock via communicator, but whatever was had happened to shipboard communications was affecting comms on the planet, too.
Chekov holstered his communicator and opened up his tricorder. To his surprise, it worked. He started scanning for Vulcan life forms, and the tricorder picked up Spock immediately, not far away but hidden from view by the jungle foliage.
“Mr. Spock! I’m headed your way,” Chekov called as he jogged toward the trees, following the tricorder’s signal. There was no answer, which worried Chekov a little—Spock would certainly have heard his call.
Chekov reached the edge of the jungle and made his way through the lush foliage, shouldering it aside as the tricorder led him closer to Spock’s position.
Still no answer, even though his tricorder indicated he was well within earshot of the Vulcan life signs. Suddenly Chekov wished he had a medical tricorder; what if Spock was somehow incapacitated? Reluctantly, Chekov took his phaser in hand. He really didn’t believe any threats were likely—preliminary scans ruled out aggressive flora or fauna, despite Chief Kyle’s joke—but the communications blackout was unusual enough to warrant extra caution.
The foliage was thinning out; he was approaching a small clearing. Chekov peered into the clearing, keeping himself hidden behind a dense, topiary-like bush with vibrant, needle-like leaves.
Spock lay prone at the far edge of the clearing. He was surrounded by a half-dozen gelatinous masses—quivering jellies that had wrapped thick pseudopods around Spock’s body.
This was no native life form. Chekov could see through their transparent bodies, and within the creatures there were clearly artificial implants of some kind.
Spock screamed in agony.
“Get back!” Chekov ordered. “Release him!”
The creatures didn’t respond; at first he thought they might be too alien for the universal translator to function, but these beings didn’t seem aware of his presence at all. Chekov watched in horror as two of the creatures extended new pseudopods from their bodies and pushed them into Spock’s ears and nostrils. Spock’s entire body seized and his eyes snapped open—but they were blank, unseeing. Spock screamed again.
“Stop what you are doing immediately, or I will stun you,” Chekov said. Again, there was no response, no indication that the creatures even knew he was there. Reluctantly, Chekov ensured his phaser was set on stun, took aim at the nearest alien, and fired. A blue beam of light flashed through the being’s mass, but the thing only quivered slightly in response. The pseudopods continued to pulse, and Spock’s thrashing worsened.
Chekov adjusted his phaser, tuning it to heavy stun. He fired again. No effect.
Chekov realized his heart was pounding and he was covered in a cold sweat. In desperation, he kicked the alien he’d shot, but the being just quivered a little from the impact. While it looked delicate, the being’s clear dermis was pliable and very strong. Neon-bright organs of unknown purpose pulsed within.
His hands were shaking as he switched the phaser to its kill setting. He gripped the weapon in two hands and took a deep breath to steady himself. He fired.
Chekov’s gun spat a glowing, crimson lance of phased particles into the heart of the alien blob. It vanished, atomized in a flash of searing light.
The other creatures stirred, their amoeba-like masses shifting. The mechanical components in their jellied bodies rotated and blinked, but even now the aliens seemed unaware of Chekov’s killing presence.
“Please,” Chekov said, his eyes welling. He fired again. And again. Until they were all gone, reduced to elementary particles, wafting away on the gentle breeze.
Chekov turned away for a moment, unable to witness the carnage, even though the phaser had left no bodies behind. It took an effort of will to look back and check on Spock. The science officer was unconscious, but seemingly at rest. Chekov kneeled next to him, took at pulse, and breathed a little easier.
“Enterprise, if you can hear me, two to beam up. Mr. Spock is injured. Emergency.”
No response. All Chekov could do was make Spock a little more comfortable and keep watch. And worry about the ship’s fate.
Night came, and the jungle, once silent, began to quietly sing with life. Chekov leaned against a tree and hugged his knees to himself, still clutching the phaser.
He wondered what Irina would say about this. He wondered if she could ever understand.
Spock moaned in the night more than once. It felt strange to offer typically human words of comfort to a Vulcan, so instead Chekov began by reporting the incident, following up with updates on their current status on the hour. Even if Spock couldn’t hear him, Chekov thought the commander would probably appreciate his approach.
Just as the morning light crept over the clearing, their communicators chirped. Chekov answered.
“Enterprise, Chekov here. Mr. Spock is incapacitated and needs medical attention. Please beam him up immediately.”
“Understood, Chekov,” said a voice Chekov didn’t recognize. A second later, Spock dissolved into transporter particles.
“Mr. Chekov, we’re still having trouble locking on to you. We’ll send down a shuttle. Stand by; should be about twenty minutes.”
“Thank you, Enterprise,” Chekov said.
As promised, the boxy Copernicus glided into view a short time later, gently touching down in the clearing. The port hatch opened to reveal Lieutenant Uhura, gesturing him inside. “All aboard, Pavel!”
Chekov clambered into the shuttle, taking the co-pilot seat.
“Thanks for the ride,” Chekov said.
“Mister Spock is all right,” Uhura said as the hatch closed behind Chekov. “Doctor McCoy will fill you in; I’m taking you straight to him.”
“I’m all right,” Chekov said.
“Spock’s orders. He seems concerned that you may have suffered some trauma. Are you okay? What happened to your uniform?”
Chekov had forgotten about the bronze pollen or dander covering his boots and pants, but that seemed so trivial now.
“I had to kill six aliens.”
He felt Uhura’s hand on his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, Pavel. I know you wouldn’t have done that unless it was absolutely necessary.”
Chekov nodded. Uhura’s touch and her words helped a little. But only a little.
He fell asleep before they left the atmosphere.
Chekov awoke in sickbay. Dr. McCoy was there, checking his vitals.
“How are you feeling, Ensign?”
Chekov rose to a sitting position.
“I’m fine, Doctor. I was just up all night. What happened up here? We couldn’t contact the ship . . .”
“Mmm hmm. Stay right there, Mister Chekov. Mister Spock asked me to inform him when you’re awake. Once he’s filled you in, you and I are going to set up some appointments, all right?”
“Yes sir,” Chekov said, hiding his reluctance with little success. “But there’s really nothing wrong with me . . . it was Spock who was injured.”
“And he’s all sorted out, thanks to you, and next we’re going to sort you out. Just relax for a few minutes, Chekov.”
McCoy retreated to his office. A moment later, Spock arrived.
“Ensign Chekov. At 1100 hours ship’s time yesterday, the Enterprise was approached by an alien vessel of unknown provenance. The Enterprise attempted to beam us aboard as a precautionary measure, but apparently something about the native flora interferes with transporter signals.”
“The bronze pollen on my trousers,” Chekov said.
“Correct. Meanwhile, the aliens attacked, incapacitating nearly 80 percent of with a powerful psionic assault. Doctor McCoy later determined that crew members with high esper ratings were vulnerable to the psionic energy; accordingly, those with low ratings were unaffected. Fortunately, enough crew were left to fend off the attack and destroy the enemy.”
“My esper rating . . . it’s only 032,” Chekov said.
“Indeed. My esper rating, on the other hand, was evidently strong enough to draw an alien landing party in search of me. McCoy believes that they were attempting to . . . feed from my psychic reservoirs when you intervened. Your lack of any latent esper abilities rendered you invulnerable, and indeed undetectable, to the alien life forms. In short, Ensign, you saved my life, and I am grateful. I have entered a commendation into your record.”
“I’m glad I was able to help, sir,” Chekov said, bewildered by conflicting emotions.
“This is the first time you have taken a life.”
“Ensign Chekov, as a Vulcan, I am ill-suited to offering condolences. However, I hope it will be some comfort that the situation presented you with no choice, and the record reflects that. Furthermore, you preserved Starfleet’s investment in a valuable officer.
“We do not celebrate killing, but as Starfleet officers we are sometimes called upon to defend our ship, our colleagues, and others. Doctor McCoy will help you reconcile your emotional responses to this incident.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Spock nodded and left.
* * *
That night, as Chekov lay in his bunk, his door chimed.
“Come,” he said.
Captain Kirk appeared in the doorway. Chekov shot out of bed.
“At ease, Ensign. I’m just checking in.”
“Ah, thank you, sir.”
“Mister Chekov, every once in a while, it’s my unpleasant duty to reach out to officers who have found it necessary to use force to protect themselves or others. I want you to understand that I know what you’re going through.”
“Thank you, sir. I knew that something like this was a possibility, but I never really believed . . . it could happen to me.”
Captain Kirk put a hand on Chekov’s shoulder and looked him directly in the eye.
“Pavel, when you kill a living thing, you take all that they are, all that they were, all that they could have been. Every death like that is a tragedy, even when it’s that of an enemy. It’s why cultures almost universally condemn killing.
“But the universe is a dangerous place, and unfortunately, there will always be those who kill wantonly or without purpose. We don’t know yet why these particular aliens attacked us. Perhaps, from their point of view, their actions were necessary. But we do not recognize a moral imperative to surrender our lives to those who would take it.
“You saved an officer and a friend, Mister Chekov. I’m proud to have you on my crew. You make sure to keep every appointment with Doctor McCoy, all right? He’s a little crusty around the edges, but his counsel is wise.”
“I will, sir. Thank you. It’s just . . .”
“My girlfriend at Starfleet Academy. She dropped out because she couldn’t risk the possibility she’d be involved in a situation . . . well, a situation like mine.”
Kirk nodded. “A committed pacifist. An honourable choice.”
“Yes, sir, I agree. The relationship ended, but I still care for her, and I know that she’ll eventually hear about what I did.”
“Pavel, I don’t know this young woman, but if she chose you for a partner, even if it’s over, I imagine she has common sense and empathy. Get in touch with her. If not face to face, send her a subspace transmission. Maybe she can help you heal.”
Chekov nodded. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate you coming to see me.”
Kirk patted him on the shoulder and left.
Chekov took the seat at his desk. He stared at his personal console, thumb poised close to its activation switch. The captain was right—of all people, Irina would understand Chekov’s torment.
But could she forgive what he’d done?
He stared at the blank screen for a long time. And then turned away, turned off the lights, and retreated into darkness.
Christopher Pike writes his letter and as a result all hell breaks loose. Joe Tormolen fails to report that he scratched his nose and as a result all hell breaks loose.
I'm sure there are ethics classes at Starfleet, but ethics has a hard time dealing with everyday responses, any of which - a turn to the left instead of to the right, a delay of half a step, a sleepy mispronunciation - can spiral into unrecoverable chaos. Especially, it seems in space. During a writers' strike, even more.
A very interesting and thoughtful story, Earl.
Thanks very much, Jeff!
I notice you're using the "Strange New Worlds" format, where the action is resolved three quarters of the way through the story, leaving a generous amount of time for the characters to come to terms with what has happened. I suppose this could make for preachy, pendantic storytelling, but I like this new Trek a lot. I appreciate that the people are allowed their opinions, even if I do not agree with them. They aren't just serving the plot, and the stories all have a great depth of meaning.
I'm not certain I agree with everything that happens with "Chekov's Gun", but what you have written shows that you are sensitive to ethical dilemmas, and that we would all be better to be as considerate and thoughtful as you.
I really appreciate that, Jeff. Personally, I'm just as torn as Chekov is in this story, which is part of the reason I wrote it. Is lethal violence ever justified? I don't know the answer to that question. I lean toward "no," but when one person is about to take someone else's life, particularly if the potential killer is acting out of malevolence and the potential victim is blameless, then how can you fail to act, even if killing the potential killer is the only option?
At the very least, killing in the defense of others should carry a heavy price, if only so that we treat it as the very last and very worst option. It's a price Chekov pays in this story.
Regarding the story's structure, I'll have something to say about that later today.
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