Here's the penultimate chapter.
STAR TREK EXILES--PART 5
Kirk waited impatiently for new developments. He sent a message to his old mentor, Admiral Cartwright, two Earth days ago. It remained unanswered. Kirk suspected that Cartwright needed to refrain from chatting with him, to avoid potential discipline from the Federation Council. Uhura's Starfleet Intelligence cell kept on reporting on the mysterious signal, expected to arrive at Earth in eight days. Kirk needed Cartwright urgently to inform him of the potentially disastrous situation that could befall them in a week. Kirk's telescreen beeped.
"Good afternoon Jim, it's Lance." Kirk's message finally got through. "I've been a little busy back on Earth and I couldn't answer your subspace message. I know you want to talk about your punishment, but unfortunately there's very little chance I can change that. I'm advocating for you, and a bunch of my captains are too. However, the Federation Council looks dead set in their decision. They're going to sacrifice you on the altar of a false peace."
"Admiral Cartwright, thank you so much for the reply." Kirk went deep into thought for a second. "Lance, what if I trade in a Klingon prisoner. He wanted us to kill him but we don't kill prisoners according to Starfleet regulations. Would the Council change their stance if I send him on his merry way back to the Empire?"
Cartwright nodded. "That is an interesting thought. Chancellor Gorkon is a more moderate Klingon, but I still distrust him like I do any other Klingon. Usually, Klingons kill their prisoners of war who return home because they behaved in a dishonorable manner. However, it's worth a shot."
"At the very worst, I hope the Council suspends the sentences for the rest of my crew for my magnanimous gesture. They were all following my orders." Kirk then changed subjects. "Do you know that there is an extremely powerful energy source, a mysterious signal, heading towards Earth? It is expected to arrive in the solar system in eight days. Ironically, my crew and I will return to Earth a day after this probe arrives."
"Starfleet Intelligence knows that the energy source disabled power to a couple of Klingon ships and colonies," Cartwright said. "We are concerned, but we are monitoring it. Apparently, the mysterious probe hasn't disabled any other Klingon Birds of Prey or planets. We also know that the planets affected in Klingon space suffered disruptions to their atmospheres. Unusual storm activity occurred on both planets."
"That is very troubling indeed." Kirk went into though again. "What if the probe wants to send a message to Earth?"
"We are completely unsure of whatever it wants." Cartwright shook his head nervously. "Anyway, we'll keep on scanning into deep space. USS Saratoga is heading to the edge of the Neutral Zone, where the energy source is expected to be in a few days. The Klingons have sortied most of their military assets to keep them away from the probe."
"That's probably the first time the Klingons have ever backed away from a potential enemy." Kirk acted surprised.
"Maybe the Klingons don't consider the probe an adversary, but a welcome surprise that could destroy us. We'll keep in touch. Cartwright out."
Kirk wondered whether he stepped into a moment of good fortune again. He might not have to stand trial on Earth after all. However, it could come at a cost for everything he fought for in his twenty-eight years in Starfleet...
After his conversation with Kirk, Cartwright requested a meeting with new Starfleet Commander Bill Rossum and President Roth. Cartwright wanted to present Kirk's new terms. He was not at all confident that they would be swayed by Kirk's gesture, but there was no other option to mitigate the discipline Kirk faced. Cartwright stepped into the President's office.
"I have more news," Cartwright said.
"Is it about the mysterious probe," Rossum quipped.
"We have no news on the probe other than it is avoiding Klingon ships and is still headed here, for Earth. I wanted to broach a different subject."
"Admiral Kirk, the fugitive." Rossum shook his head disapprovingly.
"Kirk captured a Klingon during his escape from the Mutara sector and the Genesis planet. He wants to trade the prisoner for potential mitigation for his sentence."
"I actually approve of that idea." The President surprised Rossum.
"There's not a chance I will approve of that," Rossum replied. "I agree with the Council."
"If Admiral Kirk is willing to make a peace offering to the Klingons, it could persuade Chancellor Gorkon to take a more favorable diplomatic position from our perspective," the President said. "There could be an opening towards peace. I believe Admiral Kirk could unintentionally thaw relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire."
"I never thought about it from that perspective." Rossum nodded his approval very slowly. "We could revert back to Morrow's old negotiation with Kirk. Morrow said ten years was an appropriate punishment. If Kirk brings us closer to peace, we should consider mitigation in Kirk's case."
Cartwright smiled. "We'll propose it to the Federation Council."
"I think Ambassador Sarek is our best chance to pass the motion. He'll make the case. However, Admiral Kirk is still in violation of multiple Starfleet regulations."
"I'm glad that you found the wisdom we needed in this matter," Cartwright said. "I'll meet both of you tomorrow at the Council meeting.
"Kamarag is going to hate this," Rossum said after Cartwright left the room.
President Roth then traveled the short distance to Sarek's diplomatic quarters. The palatial apartment was over 5,000 square meters in size, and contained a spa, a Vulcan meditation mat, a shrine, and four smaller rooms. President Roth wondered why diplomats needed so much space in their quarters, but the Federation Council loved to enrich themselves, and Sarek, perhaps the most venerable ambassador on the Council, reaped the benefits.
"I am meditating with concern for my son," Sarek said. "This is not a good time to disturb me, Mr. President."
"Ambassador Sarek, I am willing to propose a change in the disposition of the USS Enterprise crew." The President was stern but steadfast.
"Mr. President, you have seen the logic of the situation." Sarek actually showed some surprise in his face, a rare Vulcan reaction. "How do you plan to enact this change with the Council in strong opposition?"
"Admiral Kirk is willing to exchange a Klingon prisoner, Maltz, for a lighter sentence."
"Hmmm." Sarek understood the logic. "A desperate move, but a move that will attract Chancellor Gorkon's attention."
"That is exactly what we are thinking," the President said.
"Explain the details of your proposal." Sarek replied.
"We will revert to the original terms Admiral Morrow proposed to Admiral Kirk, with the additional caveat that the rest of the USS Enterprise crew, save for Mr. Spock, receive suspended prison sentences and retirement from Starfleet under other than honorable conditions."
"A logical idea." Sarek said. "I will present it to the Council. I cannot guarantee success."
"I trust nobody more than you, Ambassador. I'll let you bide your time while I call another Council meeting." President Roth bid his exit. "You can return to your meditation."
"Thank you, Mr. President." Sarek engaged in the deepest thought."
Kirk called another meeting of his crew. This time, his entire crew except for Spock attended. Bones was feeling well enough to attend these meetings for the first time.
"Admiral Kirk, we heard you were chatting with Admiral Cartwright," Sulu said. "What were you talking about, if I'm allowed to ask."
"We're going to exchange Maltz for a lighter sentence," Kirk said. "I'm still going to face justice, but the rest of you will slide, if the Federation Council approves of Cartwright's motion. Supposedly, the President and Ambassador Sarek are on board."
"I don't know if the rest of the Council will agree," Bones said. "They're a stubborn group of diplomats and it'll be a miracle if they are pushed off their position."
"Trading in a prisoner could cause diplomatic relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire to improve. There could be a slim chance at peace. I'm willing to take my medicine as long as the rest of you are free. I ordered you to mutiny." Kirk became the convincing commander once again.
"We're going to avoid prison?" Scotty said. Uhura then smiled from ear to ear and held Scotty's hand.
"We'll finally be retired and we'll get to spend our quality time together," Uhura said with glee. "I'll get to see Scotland and you'll get to see Nairobi."
"Two of the most beautiful cities in the world. I think the Kenyan coast is a better place for our honeymoon than Scotland."
"Why not Mother Russia?" Chekov laughed. "I know a few places on the Black Sea coast."
"Fat chance, Pavel." Uhura couldn't stop smiling.
"OK, lovebirds, I've got to talk to Maltz. Hopefully he does not commit ritual suicide. You're all dismissed." The meeting concluded and the crew went their separate ways.
"The Council is gaveled into session." President Roth addressed the displeased diplomats. "Ambassador Sarek will take the floor.
"Good evening, my esteemed ambassadors, President Roth, Starfleet Commander Rossum, and the rest of the audience in attendance. The matter concerning Admiral Kirk has been very contentious. Some members of the Council, led by Ambassador Thras, desires an excessive punishment for Admiral Kirk. I believe we all agree that Kirk requires disciplinary action to be taken against him for absconding with the USS Enterprise illegally and ordering his crew to follow his illegal orders. However, the Admiral is making a kind gesture towards us. The Enterprise crew captured a Klingon prisoner and are willing to return him to Klingon custody. If Admiral Kirk follows through on his promise, I propose that Admiral Morrow's terms of discipline against Admiral Kirk be placed back on the table. In addition, I propose suspended sentences and removal from Starfleet with a discharge of other than honorable conditions for Captain Scott, Commander Uhura, Commander Sulu, and Commander Chekov. The proposal is entered into the record."
"I protest," Admiral Thras shouted. "We are dithering while a fugitive, criminal crew. Klingon ambassador Kamarag is certainly in agreement."
"How dare you back out of an agreement," Kamarag said. "Admiral Kirk needs to be brought to justice."
"I agree with Ambassador Sarek." The Caitian ambassador, Shilo S'ress, rose in front of the Council. "We must also take into account that Chancellor Gorkon might have a different view than Ambassador Kamarag. Gorkon sent us overtures of peace, or at least some thaw in relations." The inquisitive S'ress was one of the two Council members who abstained when Kirk was sentenced to life. "I suggest we approve this proposal and send Kamarag back to Gorkon to discuss. Lastly, we must also take into account that the Klingons illegally crossed the Neutral Zone to destroy the USS Grissom, a science vessel with no means of defending itself from a Bird of Prey.
"Gorkon will surely disapprove," Kamarag replied. "One prisoner returned to the Empire is practically of no use to us. It is more likely that Gorkon will send the prisoner to Rura Penthe and forget about any form of peace agreement.
"We do not fully know Gorkon's intentions," Sarek said. "The Chancellor has made motions towards improving the diplomatic situation between your Empire and the Federation. Do not be closed-minded about this; your behavior is illogical."
President Roth intervened. "We will take the yeas and nays." All those voting aye, declare your votes." Eight of the fifteen Council members voted in favor of Sarek's proposal. "All those voting nay, declare your votes." The remaining seven Council members opposed Sarek. "The yeas and nays are counted, the Council approves the motion."
"This will mean war," Kamarag threatened. He stormed out of the Council chamber.
"The Council is adjourned." President Roth and Ambassador Sarek, robes regally flowing, walked out of the chamber like two monarchs of the Federation.
A fuming Kamarag walked back to his antechamber to immediately contact his chancellor. "Kamarag to Chancellor Gorkon," he hailed. The screen flickered on, with the stern Chancellor opposing him.
"What news do you have for me, Ambassador." The Chancellor appeared impatient.
"The Federation Council backed out of the deal. They approved of the criminal Admiral Kirk exchanging one Klingon prisoner for a lighter sentence."
"A peace offering," Gorkon said. "You and I both want peace."
"We look incredibly weak. The Federation will certainly take advantage of us and keep our colonies." Kamarag said in disgust.
"We still have a measure of flexibility in this matter. Admiral Kirk is still removed from the equation, and we are still completing the second-generation Klingon Birds of Prey. We just need to move up the timetable for their completion. We will acquire what we want, either by peace or by war." Gorkon then delivered his order. "Ambassador Kamarag, you are to keep negotiating on Earth to ensure that our viewpoint is represented to the best of your ability.
"Yes, Chancellor." Kamarag said. "However, I must protest. This is extremely distasteful."
"You will negotiate," Gorkon repeated. "Gorkon out." Kamarag turned off the telescreen and continued to fume.
After adjourning his meeting with the crew, Kirk and Bones went to meet Spock. This time, their Vulcan friend was more willing to engage in conversation.
"Spock, I see that you are returning to your normal self," Kirk chuckled. "I must say, you are completing a remarkable recovery."
"I have integrated all the information I require for the Vulcan Science Institute exam in five Earth days," Spock said. "My mental capacity is ninety percent of normal and improving every day."
"Cold and calculating as usual," Bones laughed. "I am also faring better. I'm sleeping normally again."
"That is definitely welcome news," Spock said. "I believe we will both be recovered by the time you are expected to return to Earth. Admiral, I hear that you still face discipline, but the remainder of the crew will be forcibly retired from Starfleet for various reasons."
"Spock, the only member of the crew who will remain in Starfleet is you," Kirk said. "Bones is being medically retired, while the rest of the crew is being cashiered."
"Commander Sulu's circumstances are most unfortunate," Spock noted. "He was long overdue a command of his own. As I recall, he really desired the Excelsior command."
"Sulu held it against me for a time, but he's getting over it," Kirk said.
"I don't think he'll get over it for a while, Jim," Bones said. "He always wanted to follow your footsteps as a starship captain."
"Commander Uhura and Captain Scott are pleased with the news," Kirk said.
"They're getting married, or at least they plan to. I can't believe they didn't tie the knot when we were much younger," Bones quizzically commented.
"Perhaps their duty to Starfleet intervened," Spock said.
"I believe you're right, for once," Bones laughed.
"Spock, I need you to carry out a simple mission for me." Kirk implied something more challenging than Spock believed.
"Admiral, I am as you humans say, all ears."
"I need you to facilitate Maltz' transfer to Vulcan authorities. They will return him to Klingon space."
"Aye sir," Spock said.
"Once you complete that mission, you, Bones, Uhura and I need to gather more information on that mysterious signal heading towards Earth. Will we have access to the Vulcan Science Institute computers." Kirk was hatching another plan.
"Great." Kirk left Spock's quarters, leaving Bones and Spock to chat.
"Spock, I heard that your rendezvous with Lieutenant Saavik went poorly," Bones said.
"Dr. McCoy, Saavik was being unreasonable. I was not in control of my emotions at the time, as I had no katra. Saavik was behaving illogically in this instance."
"She wants you to be there. Regardless of what happened, you assume responsibility."
"I will enter semi-retirement to fulfill Lieutenant Saavik's need."
"That sounds better," Bones quipped. "Your Vulcan brain is working better now. Go ahead and tell Saavik that."
The probe whirred, making its noises deep in Klingon space. It had not received a signal from its childhood species, the humpback whale, in at least two centuries. As it slowly moved towards its destination, it wondered where its whales were. Logically, it concluded that somehow, the whales were no longer present on Earth. The probe considered whether the signal would appear on some other planet, but no signal was received. The probe continued its lonely journey of thousands of light-years towards Earth...