Read “part 2 here”.
Spock had just borne witness to a very broad spectrum of emotion from Sulu as the mission was detailed. First shock, then disbelief, followed by anger, then finally resignation. Spock concluded he had chosen Sulu well, he had the right mix of loyalty and devotion to service combined with pragmatism. He would complete a difficult task. Perhaps the most difficult task.
“I wish it was anything but that,” Sulu mused. “I’ve worked so hard to be here. Why me? Why now? Nevermind, I don’t think I want to know.”
“I do want you to know, however, that I do not ask this of you lightly.”
“The truth is that, when you first told me what it was, part of me wanted to strike you. It occurred to me that I could push you out an airlock. Claim there had been an accident. Pretend you had failed to give me my orders.”
“That would be a very… human reaction, Captain Sulu. I am glad you restrained yourself.”
“I am too. I think. What can I tell the crew?”
“None of it, I am afraid.”
Sulu sighed loudly, with a sad lilt to his voice. “How did I know you would say that.”
The image of T’Pol came into focus on the communications panel.
“Greetings, Mister Spock,” she said once the signal had stabilised. “I hope you are well.”
“I am as well as I could expect to be at the age of one hundred and seventy-one year,” Spock replied. “Though considering that I have died, been reborn, and traveled through time repeatedly, it is hard to say what age I really am.”
“That is true, Mister Spock. Few can claim such ambiguity.”
“I suspect that is so. How are you, Ambassador T’Pol?”
“Just ‘T’Pol’ now, like you I no longer have any formal rank. As for my state of wellness, I have lived a hard and dangerous life. First exploring space with Captain, now Admiral, Archer, and other adventures since. I believe those experiences are beginning to catch up to me.”
“Unlikely,” Spock said at once. “Had you lived a life of quiet meditation, you would probably be less vibrant than you now are. The body must be pushed every now and then, if you are to expect the most of it.”
“Perhaps you are right, Mister Spock. Either way, I have begun to feel that my remaining years are now fairly limited.”
“However long you have left, T’Pol, I fear my remaining time is shorter still. I have called to say goodbye.”
T’Pol was silent for a long time before responding. “So the mission is about to begin, is it?”
“I…” T’Pol’s words failed her. After a fashion, she rallied. “Losing you will be a loss to Federation. And to me.”
An unspoken truth passed between them. Spock replied the only way he could. “Live long and prosper, T’Pol.”
The Excelsior reached the deep space observation post, on the edge of Federation space. A brief communication passed between them. The Excelsior’s engines flared back to life as the ship re-entered warp, making a course correction as it did.
“Captain, a distress call coming in from the Klingon outpost of Narendra III.”
Sulu turned his attention to his communications officer. She was a tellarian, and Spock noted that she had her emotions under very tight control, despite the anxiety she must be feeling given the Excelsior was already cruising outside of Federation space, and closing in on Klingon territory. Spock approved. “Put it on screen,” Sulu ordered.
The communications officer was attempting to work out a translation, with the aid of the ship’s computer. Spock, having a universal translator in his head, understood every word as if it had been spoken in perfect vulcan. If the communications officer got any key points incorrect, Spock would speak up. Otherwise, he intended to remain silent.
“They are requesting help. They appear to be under attack from romulan warbirds, Captain.”
“Inform the Klingon Empire that we are en-route to assist,” Sulu replied decisively. Turning his attention to his helmsman, he quickly added “Narendra III, maximum warp.”
The ship was nearing Narendra III, and Spock was in deep contemplation. The history of the United Federation of Planets was one of making one’s enemy into one’s friend. Vulcan and Andoria had a violent history, but they set aside their differences to join with Earth and others in creating the Federation. The Federation in the future, the future as Spock originally lived it at any rate, made peace with the Klingons, with a Klingon named Worf famously actually serving on the USS Enterprise 1701-D under Captain Picard. Acrimonious early encounters with the Ferengi would eventually be set aside in the name of trade ties.
This pattern would, if reports from Captain Archer meeting a time travelling Federation officer from the time of the Enterprise-J, were to be believed. Apparently in that far future time, the Federation formed alliances against with arch-rivals the Xindi against a species called the Spherebuilders. Spock supposed those reports were likely accurate, as what T’Pol had to say about Captain Archer left Spock believing Archer was a reliable source.
But Khan Noonien Singh’s actions had disrupted that, as had those of Admiral Marcus and his compatriots, nearly fourteen years earlier had disrupted that. Any degree of peace and cooperation with the Klingon Empire seemed distantly unlikely.
“Romulan warbirds sighted, Captain!” An excited exclamation from Sulu’s young tactical officer briefly interrupted Spock’s meditation, but he pushed it aside.
The foundations for peace had originally been laid decades in the future, but the escalating tensions suggested the Federation did not have that long to wait. So they had not. Information had secretly been leaked to the Romulans, information that would lead them to attack the Narendra III Kilingon outpost.
A lucky happenstance, and a brave crew, had originally won peace with the Klingons. The Romulans had attacked Narendra III, and as a remote Klingon outpost the Enterprise NCC-1701-C had been able to intervene. All hands were lost on the Enterprise-C, but the Federation flagship sacrificing itself in an attempt to protect the Klingons had impressed the Klingon Empire and won goodwill that no amount of diplomacy was likely to ever do.
Now, Spock had arranged for a similar situation. He was at Narendra III at a pivotal moment in the history of the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. He was here with a great captain, a brave crew, and an important ship. Spock simply hadn’t bothered to wait for a lucky happenstance.
Spock was again woken from his meditation-induced reverie. He could see that the battle was now in an advanced stage. The ship was being rocked back and forth as romulan weapons were discharged against it, crew members were desperately rerouting power to shields and weapons from lighting and life support. Fires were starting faster than they could be put out.
Sulu had an unusual look on his face. Seeing that Spock was now paying attention to the universe around him again, and seeing that his ship was damaged beyond his ability to lead it further in battle, Sulu walked over to Spock, carefully climbing over debris that had fallen from the ceiling of the bridge. As he walked, the tactical officer indicated that more Klingon ships were arriving at the battle, and that the Excelsior’s actions had turned the tide of battle. Voices from engineering over the com system suggested the tide of battle may have turned too late to save the ship.
“I don’t know what I thought I would feel at this moment,” Sulu said, his voice present but the look in his eyes far away, “but pride wasn’t one of them. Yet there it is all the same. Thank you for selecting me for this mission, Mister Spock.”
“The honour to have served with you on this mission was mine, Captain Sulu,” Spock replied.
“I remember your younger self saying on occasion that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” Sulu responded.
“We are the few, Captain Sulu. And the Federation is the many. As is the Klingon Empire. Not for the first time in recent days, I find my preferred phrase to part ways over inappropriate. Goodbye, Captain.”
“Goodbye, Mister Spock. Live long and…”
Sulu’s final words disappeared as the ship exploded.
The captain of the Klingon battlegroup ordered his ships to pursue the retreating romulan warbirds. The Narendra III outpost disappeared behind them, saved from the attacking Romulans by the unexpected intercession of the USS Excelsior, the pride of the Federation fleet and perhaps the most advanced starship of any of the major powers. It had proven no match against the numbers the Romulans had brought to bear, but had slowed them down enough that the Klingon fleet was able to finish the job that the Excelsior had started.
He turned to his first officer. “I have not seen braver fighting, D’ldruH. Send a message to Qo’noS, people must know of what happened here. We will sing the praises of the honour of this Federation crew for generations to come.”