by Hypatia Kosh
"You're in serious trouble, Kirk."
That's what the man had said. Ernest Clyde was his name, or was it Clyde Ernest? Well, whatever his name was he was seated behind his desk in a large chair, glaring disapprovingly at Kirk, who was seated awkwardly in the seemingly too-small visitor's chair. The bureaucrat was dressed in a drab tan jumpsuit with buttons down the front; his thinning hair was combed and gelled and parted on the side. Kirk idly wondered if the man's wife or mother did his grooming. Anything to distract him from his own predicament. For the way things were looking right now -- no, don't say it -- his life was about to be over. Over.
"I don't think you have any conception of how serious this is," Ernest, or rather Clyde, continued, after a sustained pause. He tapped his stylus against his dull, standard-issue desk.
Kirk put in one more plea. "Mr. Clyde, I understand your concerns. But that file you have simply isn't accurate. Please believe me when I say I've been very careful, Secretary, always very careful."
Clyde didn't blink. "We've already heard your case, Kirk, and the decision has been made. You're to report to the committee session at 1310 tomorrow afternoon, room 14-B." He tapped his stylus thoughtfully. "It may interest you to know that our boys have come up with a . . . solution that cuts" -- he dropped the stylus on the desk with clank -- "right to the heart of the problem."
Only four hours ago, the Starship U.S.S. Enterprise had entered the airspace of Space Station K-2. Both the starship and the space station were gleaming examples of the best the Federation had to offer. Modern, automated, and well-maintained, complete with vast computer banks and the best amenities for life in space. Their engineering was an amalgam of technologies from all the races of the Federation. The Enterprise, which thanks to her space warp engines was able to travel at speeds far in excess of the speed of light, was the jewel of the Federation fleet, and Kirk was her captain.
Kirk was young for a starship captain; brash, driven; charming or ruthless as the situation demanded, and rather used to having his way. He played as hard as he worked, making both his missions under the auspices of the Star Fleet as well as his shore leave exploits legendary around the galaxy. He was rather looking forward to a bit of shore leave as they approached K-2, coming as he was off a long-range diplomatic mission to the Gorn Empire. The mission had taken them all the way to the Gorn homeworld; while politically the mission had been a success, Gorn food and Gorn manners, never mind Gorn women, had left quite a bit to be desired in Kirk's mind. Yes, Kirk had been looking forward to this shore leave quite a bit.
However, when the Enterprise contacted K-2 for orbital procedures, Lt. Uhura received a private message packet for the captain, coded urgent.
Kirk was already apprehensive when he slipped the tape case into the slot and set the switch to unreel the spool. 'Standing orders' were never a good omen, in his decided opinion. But when he saw the logo of the Federation Population Bureau on his terminal screen, a sinking feeling hit his gut.
The presentation was professional, with a false cheerfulness and anonymous generality that served to heighten Kirk's feeling of disbelief.
Opening music played. A female announcer came on and, as she spoke, images played on the viewer, much in the manner of a newsvid.
"Greetings, citizen. You've been contacted by the Federation Population Bureau. Right now, you may be wondering what that means for you, for your future, and your children.
"The first rule is, don't panic. The Federation Population Bureau, or FedPop, is here to help. Our mission is to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all children in the Federation. We work with parents and families -- not against them.
"The Federation Population Bureau, or FedPop, was formed in 2214 in response to increasing population pressure in the Federation. As you may know, historically high fertility rates were encouraged on Federation worlds as Federation citizens, especially humans, set out in large numbers to colonize new worlds.
"In the last few decades, however, that situation has changed. With the Klingons, and other races, blocking outward expansion, it has been necessary to pursue policies and procedures that will stabilize population growth. Since 2260, a series of government programs, initiated by the Federation Council, have been put into place which encouraged lowered fertility rates -- and promote healthier, happier families.
"FedPop and You:
"You may be wondering, 'Well, what about me? What's my part in all this?' Glad you asked. As a Federation citizen, it is your duty to uphold the laws, ideals and policies of the United Federation of Planets."
Kirk groaned dramatically, but the recorded voice went on unheedingly.
"Every citizen is allowed two children, that is, genetic offspring -- one of your rights as a Federation citizen.
"You may be eligible for three children; however, even if you are eligible, you must apply for a permit before the child is conceived.
"Surrogate mothers and sperm donors may be subject to other rules and regulations. It is your duty to know, and obey, the law."
The segment ended, and another pre-recorded segment began, entitled "On Men and Fatherhood."
Kirk let loose a few choice curses he had learned around the galaxy. What was it this time? Had Dr. Carol Marcus changed her mind and decided to sue for child support? Damn it, he knew he had their legal agreement somewhere, the one that stipulated his complete non-involvement in his son David's life, and conversely, releasing him from all child support responsibilities. Having an unacknowledged child back on Federation Research Colony II was not something Kirk was particularly proud of, but his was not an unusual story for a spacer. A man, called to the stars, but also drawn to a woman: the siren song of the stars proving more powerful in the end.
Kirk located the tape marked "Carol" after a few minutes, just in time for the segment to end and the personal part of the tape to start running. A seated figure coalesced on the screen, in admiral's stripes. The captain blanched.
"Did they say," Kirk asked a bit sharply, "just what this 'solution' would consist of?"
"You'll see," Clyde answered, looking just a tad smug. Infuriating man!
It was Admiral Dhaliwal, a rather attractive man with a well-formed face colored a rich brown, and soft brown eyes. His rather ample hair flowed down in waves from his scalp. Kirk was able to spare the man a moment of jealousy before the recording spoke.
"Captain Kirk," he began in a kind, yet faintly patronizing tone, "it has come to our attention that you are in somewhat, shall we say, flagrant violation of the Federation's population policies. Now, as a prominent officer among our ranks, this situation, I'm afraid, reflects badly on Starfleet. As soon as you reach orbit around K-2, I'd like you to schedule a meeting at the FedPop branch office there. I'm attaching the name of the receptionist. Just give her a call." The Admiral smiled gently. "I hope we can resolve this quietly and without any fuss. Think of Starfleet, Captain Kirk. That is all." The screen faded to black. A comm number came up on Kirk's screen and froze there, stubbornly.
This couldn't be about Carol, could it, Kirk thought. He hit a key. Sure enough, his violation notice from FedPop was appended. He scanned through it, looking for the specific--
"Reproduction quota exceeded." WHAT? Kirk broke out into a sweat. Now, how in the sea of stars could that have happened?
Sure, he'd had quite a few women. He was, after all, a healthy 34 year old man, with healthy instincts and drives. But he only had one child, and, well, really, he was little more than a sperm donor for that one. Who had he gotten pregnant? Every encounter of the last several years started flashing through his mind. What if he had gotten that Patuxan pregnant? They were a species that reproduced by releasing thousands of tiny hatchlings into their planet's seas. If he had gotten Vxesla pregnant he was really in for it. But, he wondered, could a human and a Patuxan even reproduce to begin with? And was Vxesla even a female?
Sweat was crawling down his neck now. He rubbed it away impatiently. He had to get to the bottom of this. Surely there was some mistake, or at least some explanation to be made. With a shaking hand, he brought the receptionist's number back up on the screen and made the call.
The meeting with the secretary concluded; there was nothing more to say. Kirk rose to leave.
"Oh, and Captain Kirk," Clyde called after him. Kirk turned for the final blow.
"My last name is Ernest."
Just his luck; the secretary had cleared his schedule to speak to Kirk right away. Ten minutes after the first party from the Enterprise had beamed onto the station, Kirk was pounding a path down a dura-carpetted hallway to the FedPop branch office.
The first meeting had been brief. Kirk had sat and sweated in the reception room for several minutes, and then the secretary had come in and they had shaken hands. Once in the secretary's office, Kirk had been handed his dossier, a thin, but colorful printout. A final decision would be made at the end of the day. Kirk flipped through the dossier, laughed heroically at its contents, and with fateful confidence, or rather arrogance, declared that the charges were a house of cards which would topple before the day was out.
Following the meeting, Kirk sought out a lawyer. They were in great abundance on space stations, for a fee. Some part of Kirk's mind felt this was all rather too convenient, part of a vast bureaucratic conspiracy he had not yet been able to puzzle out. A lawyer secured, he spent the better part of two rather expensive hours explaining why all of the allegations in his dossier were bogus.
"I don't even know who half of these people are!" Kirk declared to the nodding, avuncular face of his lawyer, a Mr. Nguyen. "And look at this--Rayna Kopec? There is no Rayna Kopec. She was an android."
"Good, good," said the lawyer. "What about some of these others?"
"Well, some of these are just ridiculous. Leila Kalomi? I was never even alone with her. My first officer can vouch for that, believe me."
"And this Elaan of Troyius? No way. We didn't . . . I mean I'm pretty sure we didn't . . . I'm sure I would have remembered it if we did. And even if we did, she drugged me. Honest, I swear." He made a bit of an explicatory hand gesture. "Tears. Elaasian tears. I can't be held responsible for that, can I?"
"Well, that's interesting Captain . . . er, Captain Kirk, but I think in that case the best we can argue is that they've provided no paternity test to bolster their assertion that you're the father of Elaan's first-born."
Nguyen nodded genially. "They're appended to the end of your file, here. That's quite an impressive pile of positive paternity tests." The lawyer smiled gently. "It seems you really get around, Captain Kirk."
"But it's impossible!"
"I think the best we can hope for here is voluntary vasectomy. Fedpop may request complete testicular removal, but as long as you put in a good face and sincerely promise to abide by the law from now on, I believe we can avoid such a, hrm, psychologically traumatic procedure."
It was then that Kirk knew he was doomed.
Nguyen submitted the brief that day, and Kirk, buoyed by a passing attack of optimism or possibly obstinance, requested a fresh meeting with Secretary Ernest. If he couldn't rely on his fantastic powers of persuasion, then his name was not James T. Kirk. Unfortunately, he couldn't be slotted in until the next morning, which left him at loose ends.
That night Kirk prowled the bars and seedier corners of K-2 with a frantic urgency. This might be the last time he--he didn't even want to think about it. The desperation he was feeling must have shown because every woman avoided him like he was an axe-murderer, and he ended up with a 10-credit robotic whore. He hated metallic love, but if it was the best he could do . . . He returned to the ship and got no sleep, pacing from one end of his quarters. He felt like he was burning a hole in the carpet, which was of course impossible, considering that the floor was covered in dura-carpet.
At 0900 the next morning he stumbled out his quarters, slightly shaking from coffee and nerves, wearing the same rumpled uniform he had had on the day before. He took a jaunt up to the bridge for the latest reports, but unfortunately no emergency came up, not even a minor one, so he was forced to beam to the station and meet, once again, with Secretary Ernest.
It was 1200, ship's time. Kirk had returned from fruitless second interview with the secretary, and now he had nothing to do but prepare for his afternoon meeting with the committee. Where they would hand down his sentence. Oh, excuse me, "decision." He took a shower, deciding that he might as well look his best to face his executioners. Condemned, on false evidence, taken in the prime of life, a man wrongly accused, cut off before his time . . .
Kirk took a good look at himself in the mirror, including the parts he might soon be parted from. "This might be the end, boys," he said.
He dressed and headed to the officer's mess. It was an interesting mix of people, as many of the regular officers on alpha and beta shift were on leave planetside and thus missing from their usual spots, while officers from other shifts had come in to replace them. Kirk's friend, the crusty doctor, McCoy, was nowhere to be seen. By Jove, what was Kirk going to tell him? Maybe McCoy would be called upon . . . for the . . . for the procedure. Kirk felt his appetite, already somewhat diminished, completely vanish. He decided to fortify himself with another cup of coffee, and, fetching it, saw the redoubtable Mr. Spock seated alone at a corner table. Of course the Vulcan never took leave (barring one particular incident only incompletely recorded in the Captain's logs) and was serving his customary shift. Kirk elected to join him. The Science Officer barely looked up from his perusal of an exobiology journal to acknowledge Kirk's presence. Kirk heaved a sigh at this indifference, sat back, and took a sip of his drink.
"I thought you had returned to the station several hours ago for leave," Spock said, in what for him was a rather significant conversational overture.
Kirk considered unburdening himself on the impassive alien. Vulcans were a relentlessly logical, and, in Kirk's opinion, unimaginative race, who concealed their emotions as a matter of good taste. Despite this, Kirk had rather gotten to like Spock in the nearly three years they had served together; he was actually quite fond of him. Spock was something of an anomaly among Vulcans, being the child of a human mother, and both Kirk and McCoy had taken it as their personal mission to bring out Spock's human qualities.
"Captain?" Spock asked distractedly when Kirk didn't answer.
"Oh? Right. I'm going back down soon. Just thought I'd come up here and . . . um . . . You've never fallen afoul of the Federation Population Bureau, have you?" Kirk tried to maintain a conversational tone.
It worked. Spock didn't even look up when he replied. "Certainly not. I am sterile."
Kirk sucked in a large dollop of coffee. "Is that so?" he said. "Were you exposed to radiation?"
"No. I thought you knew." He looked up, and addressed the captain. "As I am a hybrid, it took something of a technological 'miracle', if you will, to create me at all. A working reproductive system was not a high priority. Indeed, the fact should be unsurprising to you as you will recall that classic hybrid animals created by cross-breeding are invariably sterile."
"Not a high priority, huh?" Kirk said, feeling the ice already forming in his stomach. No chance of finding sympathy here. "Too bad you don't know what you're missing."
"What I'm missing?" Spock asked with a furrowed brow. "Could you explain?"
"Never mind, Mr. Spock," Kirk muttered, and drained the last of his brew. Replicated coffee was horrible stuff, but it did the job. He got up to leave.
"You might consider eating something before you leave, Captain," Spock piped up helpfully.
Kirk turned around, smiled at the Vulcan. He straightened his uniform and put his hands behind his back. "I'll be fine," he said, and left.
Kirk wasn't sure who he expected "the committee" to be, but he was a little surprised to see two Starfleet uniforms among the five men and women seated around the conference table in the committee room. Their mood seemed light, almost jocular, and while he put on a brave and professional face, he secretly hated them all.
The leader of the group, and clearly the eldest, introduced himself as Alvarez. He gave a little speech on the necessity of each citizen doing their part for population control. The words slipped by easily; a speech made many times before. He then straightened the printouts before him and looked straight at Kirk.
"You know why you're here, Captain," he said, "and the decisions have been made, so there's no sense in arguing the facts of your case again."
"I understand that," Kirk said, forcing the words past his clamped jaw.
"Good." He smiled the smile of a bureaucrat who has gotten his way. "I think you'll find we have a rather interesting solution for you," and at this he nodded at the ranking Starfleet officer seated with them, a commander Kirk didn't know. "I'm sure you're wondering what it is."
"Of course," Kirk said, revealing nothing.
"Sandra," Alvarez said, nodding at his civilian colleague, "this is your baby. Why don't you explain?"
"Well," she said, with a slight chuckle and nod at the Starfleet officers, "I can't take all the credit for this one." She assumed a slightly brisker air and turned to Kirk. "We got involved with your case frankly because Starfleet is concerned about projecting an upstanding image to the people of the Federation. As a starship captain, you're something of a public figure, so we worked with Starfleet's public affairs office to work out a solution that would be beneficial to all parties and play well in the press."
"Which would be . . ?" Kirk prompted.
"We're proposing a marriage."
"A marriage?" Kirk blinked. Not Carol. Please. Or anyone else bound to one place. "A marriage to whom?"
"Well, since you've exceeded your reproduction quota, we've arranged a marriage for you with a male." She did manage to look slightly embarrassed when she said it. When Kirk said nothing--in fact, did not react at all--she added, almost nervously, "We did some checking and we found out that you are bisexual."
"Oh, what's next!" Kirk exclaimed, and pushed himself back from the conference table with an expression of disgust. He caught himself a moment later and sat up straight in his chair.
"I have two questions: who is this person, and how does this solve anything? Pardon my saying so, but a man can be married and still be having illicit children left and right."
"Well, Captain," said the Starfleet commander, speaking for the first time, "this isn't any ordinary person we're talking about. I'd say it solves the situation rather neatly. Captain, you are going to be married to another officer, on the ship. Looks good for PR, and takes care of FedPop's concerns, because no-one messes with a Vulcan's bondmate. They've even agreed to waive the surgical sterilization, provided you make a pledge not to reproduce."
Kirk's eyes had gone wide. His words came out in a soft staccatto: "My first officer?"
"Yes, Commander Spock," Alvarez confirmed. "We've been in contact with his family and they've given their approval."
"His--his--his family?" Kirk stuttered. This wouldn't happen to be the same family that had agreed to have him bonded him to T'Pring? Kirk thought.
"Of course," Alvarez said.
Kirk felt as if he were at the long end of the tunnel, with light only a faint pinprick away, real but unreachable. He licked his lips. "Maybe you don't understand, don't, but you have to." He shook his head; his mind and emotions were racing and his words were getting away from him. He gripped the desk with his hands to give himself from control. "Let me explain something to you. Spock is asexual."
"He is not," said the woman called Sandra.
"Yes, he is," Kirk insisted. "I've worked with that m--Vulcan for three years. I know him better than anyone on the ship. I know his habits. I know his drives.
"Look, I'm not saying I deserve sex anymore than anyone else does, but this simply isn't fair. He simply isn't interested in sex at all, and he's . . . uptight on top of that. It's not that I don't like him, we're friends, but I wouldn't wish this arrangement on anyone. Look, my sexuality is part of who I am; I can't just cut that off and continue to function. You can sit there in your comfortable chairs and pass these judgments on other people's lives, but what if you were suddenly asked to live in a virtual prison?"
"Captain Kirk," Alvarez said placatingly, "the situation is not as you fear. Contrary to what you might think, the people in this department are highly trained professionals and we have done our research. Spock, despite being a hybrid, is a healthy Vulcan male and I doubt you'll find yourself stinted in the sex department."
What, every seven years? Kirk thought caustically. "Does Spock know about this plan?"
Before Alvarez could answer, a woman, no, scratch that, a Vulcan woman, a gleaming-haired and rather attractive Vulcan woman walked into the room. Kirk could tell that the others had been expecting her. She wore the smart, tailored uniform of a Vulcan governmental official.
"You came in just in time," Alvarez told her. "Captain Kirk was just inquiring if Commander Spock is aware of our proposal."
"He has been informed," she said to Alvarez, before taking her seat.
"There's your answer," Alvarez said. Kirk rubbed his forehead to stave off the impending headache.
"Captain Kirk was just asking about Vulcan sexuality before you came in, T'Tell, so why don't you get started?"
"I was not asking about Vulcan sexuality," Kirk countered. The Vulcan blinked at him, and then looked back questioningly at Alvarez.
"He's a bit resistent," Alvarez noted.
"I see," she said. After a slight pause, she added, "That might pose a problem."
"No, no," the more junior of the Starfleet officers said. "He'll get over it once he gets used to the idea. It's normal in these cases."
"If you say so," she said.
"Who are you, and why are you here?" Kirk demanded, exasperated.
"I am T'Tell, from the Vulcan Population Council. My agency works closely with the Federation Population Bureau in cases such as this. The more pertinent issue is why you are here. It's not uncommon to marry a person who has exceeded the reproduction quota to a sterile spouse, and by fortuitous circumstance, there is a sterile, unmarried person in your second in command. All the proper arrangements have been made; it seems the Vulcan Council is rather pleased by the prospect of this marriage." She raised an eyebrow.
"The Vulcan Council?" Kirk choked out. Why would they care? "Surely Spock isn't that important."
T'Tell raised both eyebrows and looked down, in a positively Spockian expression. "He is the child of Sarek. The fact that he is unbonded has been a matter of some concern." She looked up at Kirk. "It seems you have been deemed an acceptable mate."
"I almost want to ask 'why me?' but I suppose I already know the answer to that." Kirk said ruefully. He glared at the FedPop trio, and then turned his attention back to the Vulcan. "I've been told, and it's been my observation, that Vulcans are not very interested in sensuality or sex. They seem to think otherwise. I'll admit I don't know anything about the average Vulcan male, but I do know Spock--and I'm not convinced. Why would FedPop know better than, say, my CMO?"
"Commander Spock was examined by a Vulcan healer at Starbase 17 six months ago. His sexual functioning is that of a normal Vulcan male."
"Which is what, exactly?"
"As you may know, Vulcans form intensive, and often life-long pair bonds. This involves a telepathic union in addition to the emotional, physical and legal aspects. Barring certain extraordinary cases, the bond does not allow for the involvement of third parties."
"Physically, emotionally, or legally?" Kirk asked, with the eyes of a shark.
"I am referring to sexual contacts with third parties." She betrayed no sign of amusement.
"And what about sex? I can't believe I'm considering this, but it's better than castration."
"We do not require castrations," Alvarez said in a placating tone. "A simple vasectomy will suffice. However," he said, glancing at the Starfleet commander, "we would all prefer you took the other option we're offering you."
"That's right," the commander said. "It's a win-win situation for everyone. You win because you'll have a partner on the ship; no more running around on shore leave hoping for the best. Your first officer wins too. Starfleet wins because we get to show everyone back home how committed we are to population growth stabilization, and FedPop also wins by getting the message out with all the free publicity this is going to generate." The man's eagerness was apparent.
Well, you're not the one being asked to marry a Vulcan, Kirk thought.
"Is a Vulcan male's sexuality anything like a human's? A human male's? Because I have to know that now."
The Vulcan answered. "Vulcan and human sexuality differ considerably, but not irreconcilably, if the number of successful Vulcan/human unions is any indication."
"Yes, yes," he said impatiently.
"If you are asking about the degree of sexual drive, I must answer truthfully that while at first glance a Vulcan male's desire for sex may seem considerably lower than that of a human's, in practice bondmates adapt to each other's needs."
Well, that was refreshingly uninformative. And then he remembered the issue of . . .
"What about, you know?" he said, looking at her hopefully.
"No, I don't know. What do you mean?"
He looked about at the five other humans sitting there, getting in the way of the oath he had sworn to Spock. "What about pon farr?" He practically mouthed the words rather than saying them.
If he had expected shock, he didn't get any. "I am certain you have nothing to worry about."
Nothing to worry--! Kirk controlled himself very visibly, and cast about for a safe way of explaining that he knew first hand that he did have something to worry about. Finally he said, "I was at Spock's wedding."
Her face became a stunned blank. "Oh."
"So don't tell me I have nothing to worry about," he continued.
She recovered quickly. "Mr. Kirk, there are certain things that are spoken of only between bondmates. That is one of them," she said smoothly. "Once again, I assure you, as his bondmate you will have nothing to worry about." She ignored the inquisitive looks she was getting from the others in the room.
"Spock had a wedding?" the junior officer whispered a little too loudly.
"Great. Look." He pursed his lips. "Do I have to pick my poison right now? I'd like a chance to do a little research, and speak with my first officer."
"The Enterprise is due to leave this space station in 67 hours," said Alvarez. "Whether you choose sterilization, or bonding, it must be done and verified before your ship leaves. It would be best if we heard from you within 24 hours -- the sooner, the better."
"Am I free to go, then?"
T'Tell handed him two tape cases. "These contain information on Vulcan bonding and marriage practices." Kirk mumbled a thanks. Within 60 seconds he was out of the room and in the transporter room of the USS Enterprise.
"Did you know about this?" Kirk demanded, upon invading his first officer's quarters.
Spock looked up from his terminal, with a typically phlegmatic expression. "Know about what?"
"This--!" Kirk held up his hand in a sort of chopping motion until he couldn't tense up any more. "FedPop is on my case about alleged," and here he thrust his hand forward, "alleged violations of the reproduction quota, and to make a long story short they teamed up with Starfleet to propose that I solve the problem by . . . marrying . . . you."
Spock tilted his head. "Me? Interesting."
"I received word several weeks ago that a prospective bondmate had been identified and an interview was being arranged."
"But they didn't say anything about a male human, did they?"
Spock seemed to consider this for a second. "No." He looked up at Kirk expectantly.
"They even brought in a woman--a Vulcan woman, I mean--from the Vulcan Population Council. T'Tell. She swore up and down that not only was your family behind this, but the Vulcan Council as well."
This got a reaction out of Spock. He raised an eyebrow and said, "Fascinating."
Kirk waited for him to say something more, and when he didn't he blurted out with, "This is ridiculous. Look, I'll just go back and tell them I want the vasectomy." He started back towards the door.
"Are you certain?" Spock asked, stopping Kirk in his tracks.
Kirk turned around. "Spock," he said, wondering how he should broach the subject, "I'm not sure I would make a good match for you. Sure, I'm bisexual, but I've never stayed with a man for longer than two weeks. I always found some excuse to break up. Not like I stay with women that much longer, but . . . I guess I don't like it when I feel like someone else has the power to control me."
"Ah," Spock said. "Then, perhaps, you are correct. A Vulcan bond would give me the means, in some sense, to control you."
"Really? How?" Despite himself, Kirk was intrigued by this comment.
Spock had his fingers steepled in front of him in good 'Vulcan lecture' mode. "A bonding requires a great laying aside of personal barriers--more so than in a typical mind meld, since it is permanent and total. The bondmates become mutually dependent. Therefore, each participant in the bond is no longer the sole pilot of his own destiny, but rather a co-pilot, complementing and conforming to the needs of the other."
"Ugh, not for me. I don't know how your people do it, but we human beings like a little good, old-fashioned freedom in our lives."
"Naturally," Spock said, without rancor. "Your biology does not require you to do otherwise."
Kirk felt a stab of guilt, then. "How has your search for a new bondmate been going?"
Spock looked at his hands. "Not well. There are few unbonded Vulcans, and even fewer who meet sufficient compatibility factors, such as age, occupation, land of origin, educational background, or economic status. Furthermore," Spock said, with a pointed look at Kirk, "there are even fewer willing to consider a permanent union with a young, half-breed, sterile male. I simply do not have enough to offer."
"But," Kirk said in confusion, "what about your father? Isn't he some sort of important person? And aren't you some sort of local celebrity for serving on this ship?"
"Notoriety does not equal desirability, Jim."
Kirk didn't like what he was hearing. "That sounds terrible."
"There is still time," Spock said. And hope, Kirk heard, although Spock did not say it with his words.
"What do you think," Kirk asked, "of this plan? It sounds to me like a lot of baloney cooked up by FedPop's public relations wing, but if the Vulcans support it then there must be . . . some . . . logic to it."
Spock looked up. "From where they sit there is, indeed, some logic to it. We are of similar age, we have chosen the same profession, and we are posted to the same ship. You are under the sanction of the Federation Population Bureau, so my sterility is an asset. We are mentally compatible. There is no logical reason not to enter into this union."
Kirk flexed his spine and neck. "Logic. There's that word again. No logical reason not to. Just a lot of illogical human objections."
Spock sat up straighter. "Even if you have no logical reason to refuse, you do have the right to self-determination. I believe, were I in your place, that I, too, would refuse."
"You would?" Was Spock about to accept that there were motivations other than the purely logical?
"Willingness cannot be coerced. And without volition, there can be no healthy bond. Without your willingness, there would be no safety for either of us."
"That's exactly it," Kirk said. "They're railroading me into this."
"Furthermore," Spock added, "your willingness to stand by your convictions is admirable. As is your willingness to change course when you realize that you have erred. The latter quality is quite rare in humans."
"I do believe I've been complimented," Kirk said.
Spock tilted his head in a mild affirmation.
"We humans do become rather attached to our convictions," Kirk said apologetically. "And attached to certain parts," he mused. "A vasectomy won't be all bad. I could think of it as backup should a condom break."
"You could," Spock said. "Are you certain you won't reconsider?"
"And stay intact? I don't know, Spock. I like you and all that, but . . . I have a pretty high sex drive. I don't know how that would work out."
"Just how high?" Spock asked in his precise, guileless way.
Kirk smiled, and shrugged. "I like to have sex a lot. Every day, if possible."
"And yet, you do not."
"You're right, I have to wait until shore leave. But I go half-crazy in the meantime."
"You do not."
"How would you know?"
"I am merely stating fact. You do not go crazy in between shore leaves."
Kirk was exasperated. Would Spock ever get it? "I don't mean crazy as in clinically insane. I mean crazy as in it drives me up a wall."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Like I'm going bananas, like I want to jump out of my skin. Like I've got ants in my pants," Kirk concluded, hoping one of the similes made sense to Spock.
"Now that I consider it, I do recall that you become somewhat . . . tense in the week before scheduled shore leave. However, you are remarkably well-balanced, for a human, at all other times."
". . ."
"I do not believe your 'unusually high' sex drive, as you describe it, will be a burden," Spock volunteered. "I myself must admit to great curiosity about human sexuality. I have gathered data through my studies but I have had very little opportunity to test my knowledge in praxis."
Kirk's jaw hung open. "You're kidding me."
Spock tilted his head to the side. "I do not kid."
Kirk rubbed his jaw. "No, you don't, do you?" He thought about Vulcans and sex drives and vasectomies, and public relations hacks, and the Vulcan Council for a long minute. When he was done, he turned to Spock and said, "I'll tell you what. FedPop wanted a reply in 24 hours. That gives us both the night to sleep on it. I've heard about how Vulcans value their privacy so I'll remind you that if we go through with this, it's going to be a Public Relations Office wet dream. And if I find that embarrassing, I can't imagine what it would be like for you.
"Let's meet at 0800 for breakfast in my office tomorrow. We'll discuss this further."
Kirk studied Spock over their breakfast table that morning. There was grace to be found in those pale green fingers, and a warmth in those hooded brown eyes. He remembered other mornings, mornings on alien planets, mornings in alien jails, mornings in the conference room at 0655 with a cup of coffee in his hand. They had had a lot of good times together. Been in a lot of difficult spots too. Somehow, they always muddled through. Together.
He really was quite fond of Spock. He supposed he'd judged Spock unfairly the other day. Maybe . . . maybe Spock did understand. He'd caught Spock looking at beautiful women once or twice. To know you could never have children of your own--at least, not without extraordinary intervention--that must be a difficult thing to bear.
Kirk fingered the rim of his orange juice glass thoughtfully.
"I'm doing this to save my balls. That's a good enough reason." Kirk made a kissing motion which was apparently directed at his testicles.
"No, Jim, you are not. You have been ordered to take a vasectomy, a reversible surgical procedure. You will not be castrated."
"I know . . . But going ahead with this will make Starfleet happy, it'll make Vulcan happy, and it'll make you happy. Am I right?"
Spock smiled with his eyes. "Indeed. But I do not wish to see you coerced into this."
"I'm not being coerced."
Spock exhaled sharply and rearranged his long limbs in the chair. "FedPop wishes to make an example of you by marrying you. Yet, this is entirely unnecessarily. With a minor surgery you will be rendered effectively sterile. There is no reason for you to change your lifestyle in any way. Have you considered the agenda behind this move?"
"Yes," Kirk said, "and I considered the costs and benefits to me, and I think, if what you say is true, that I'd be a fool not to take you up on a very . . . sexy opportunity." Kirk tried a lazy cat grin on Spock, but the Vulcan was not swayed quite that easily.
He raised an eyebrow. "Surely this is a flimsy reason on which to change the patterns of a lifetime."
Kirk shrugged. "I've been giving it some thought, and I thought, Why not? I've sown my wild oats. I've had some wonderful experiences, enlightening experiences, awful experiences. Maybe it's time to settle down. Besides, you seem a little hard to get, and I've always liked a challenge."
"That is fortunate. Personally, I am finding this mode of interaction rather challenging already."
"Hang on. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
"Good morning, Tom." Sandra smiled briskly on her way to the watercooler, walking as fast as high-heel clad feet sinking into plush dura-carpet could carry her.
"Sandy," Tom Alvarez said, turning around. "Any calls from our Starfleet friend?"
"No, but I have a good feeling about this one. He really doesn't want to go through with the surgery." She leaned over to fill her cup. "What was it the other day when he starting talking about Vulcan weddings? He said 'go far,' or something like that."
Alvarez shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. I'll tell you, though, T'Tell was pretty snippy when she left yesterday. Sometimes I suspect these Vulcans aren't quite right in the head."
They both laughed.
"Jim, there is something I do not understand. Why, now, after all this time, after never entertaining the possibility, are you capable of considering this?"
Kirk leaned back and scratched the back of his neck. "Spock, it's . . . well, it's not like I've never noticed you."
"I imagine you are aware of my presence frequently."
Kirk's cheeks turned a curiously violent hue in the ruddy spectrum. "Notlikethat. I've noticed you. All right, I've fantasized about you! Not just you, of course--there were others--Sulu, Uhura, Rand--"
"Yeoman Rand? But I thought--"
"I told her I wasn't interested. That doesn't mean I never--"
"It would have been unprofessional." Kirk ran a hand through his hair, messing it up. "I just don't believe in fraternizing with the crew. Looks too much like favoritism."
"And your officers?"
"Too late. Everyone knows I like you."
"Excepting myself, evidently."
Kirk moved towards him and put a friendly hand on Spock's shoulder. He tried to smile reassuringly. "I've tried to control that aspect of my personality. Besides, I was convinced the response from you would be a resounding zero, so I wasn't going to insult you--or embarrass myself . . ."
"Jim, on the contrary, I would find it flattery of the highest order."
"Really? Better than praising your quarterly summaries of the fuel consumption reports?"
"You give yourself away, Captain. Even you have been known to while away a long hour pondering the finer points of fuel consumption reports. The difference between you and me is that I am not ashamed to say so. It would be illogical to deny what is true."
"Then, do you like me, Mister Spock?"
"Affirmative. I find you most acceptable."
"And you didn't think it was important to tell me this before now?"
"I should have volunteered this information? I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with your culture. Would you be willing to describe the appropriate circumstances?"
"Mister Spock. Are you trying to tell me that the only reason you've never told me how you feel about me is because I've never asked!?"
At 0930 hours Kirk stepped into the Secretary's office, neat as a pin.
"Captain Kirk," the pencil pusher smiled, "you're back."
"I have your answer, but you're not going to like it. I refuse to go through with it. I'm going to schedule a vasectomy with my personal physician, Dr. Leonard McCoy. He'll forward the proof to you. Good day, Mr. Clyde."
Spock was waiting for the captain in Transporter Room One. This was not unusual, but did it seem to Kirk that Spock's greeting was a mite warmer than usual.
"Welcome back, Captain. Did your meeting go well?"
Kirk shook his head once, gathering Spock up in his wake as he made for the nearest turbolift. "Don't think they're pleased. They're awaiting a certificate proving that my surgery is complete."
"You chose the vasectomy?" Spock said, one step behind him.
"Well, it wasn't much of a choice," Kirk said, gripping the 'lift handle. "Deck Five."
"I see, sir," Spock said meekly.
Kirk sighed. "It's not like that."
"Not like what, sir?"
"It's not about you. I mean, well, it is. Look, I'm not explaining myself well." The doors opened, admitting them to the deck.
"Spock, I think we can both agree you're a very private person."
Spock inclined his head in assent.
"The press--they're like vultures. They'd eat you alive. They circle and hound. They don't stop. I can't imagine for two seconds that you'd feel comfortable in the center of a media firestorm. So, I said, you know what? They can forget it."
The doors to sickbay slid open to admit them.
"So," Kirk said, unconsciously straightening his spine, "this is where we part ways. See you on the other side."
Kirk almost jumped when a warm hand brushed his shoulder. "Jim. I still do not believe this is necessary," Spock said quietly.
A passing nurse bearing a tray of various fluids in dropper-topped Nalgene bottles seemed almost startled by the intrusion of two command officers. "I'll tell Doctor McCoy you're here."
"It's a reversible procedure. I'll have plausible deniability. I'm not seeing a downside, here."
"Are you sure you're sure?" McCoy demanded.
"I . . . I'm freaked out by the thought of shooting blanks. Actually, I really don't want to think about that. But I'm not going to be pushed into some sort of life-altering arrangement by a bunch of nosy bureaucrats."
"You're awfully fond of the hobgoblin, you know."
"Yes! I know! That's still not a reason to rush into something."
"Okay, well, I can do this, but I'm concerned about your well-being. You seem to have a real issue about this."
"I have an issue with being a glorified poster boy. Plenty of men get vasectomies. I'll be fine."
"If you say so."
"As soon as you're ready, Doctor. I'll be on the bridge."
"Let me take your order. I'm not a doctor, I'm a concierge."
Kirk hesitated in front of Spock's quarters, but only for half a second. He pressed the call button and was admitted at once.
Spock acknowledged the captain's entrance but his attention was divided by something on his screen. Whatever it was, he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away. "The procedure is complete?"
"Yeah." Kirk fidgeted. "It was no big deal, actually. Not as bad as I thought. Everything works the same, it's just . . . I don't know how it works. But I tried it and . . . you know . . ."
"Indeed," Spock said.
Kirk sauntered over to the desk and leaned over it. "Overtime, Mister Spock?"
"Mr. Scott's simulations. They could boost efficiency by up to 4% in low warp. Naturally, one must account for all variables . . ."
"Of course," Kirk said. I don't even think he notices me at all, Kirk thought. I should dress up as a warp nacelle. "Spock."
Spock looked up, briefly.
"You know those things we talked about before--were you serious?"
Spock turned his head now. At last Kirk had his undivided attention. "Yes," Spock said. "Quite so."
"I'm still," Kirk spread his hands, "interested. I just needed to take some of the pressure off. All the publicity, and the ultimatums . . . it makes it something less than freely chosen. I don't believe in being coerced."
"I believe you do not," Spock affirmed.
"Actually," Kirk started to pace, "I'm sorry it took all this to make me realize what I--what we--could have . . . I never realized the potential that was there."
"It is there still."
They looked at each other for a long, quiet moment.
"Spock, show me something. How do Vulcans kiss?"
"The same way that humans do?"
"No, I mean--don't you do that thing with the hands?"
"The treya? It could be likened to a kiss, yes."
"Is that something you would feel comfortable showing me?"
"There are many different ways to tre-dihl." Spock stood up and came around the desk, facing Kirk. "You wish to be shown the most basic level?"
"Unlikely. More akin to first pitch."
Kirk groaned. "This is going to take forever."
Spock almost-smiled. "It is you who make it so. On Vulcan the parties perform a meld to determine if they are compatible, and, having declared in the affirmative, they arrange to bond promptly thereafter. It is a most efficient system."
"Since we've already melded, purely for duty-related reasons, naturally, I suppose you've already made that . . . determination?"
"But you're going to take your time to convince me."
"To do otherwise would be illogical."
"I bet you say that to all the girls."
"Hold out your hand."
At first Kirk felt nothing more than a slight nervousness. After all, this was Spock: amazingly capable, amazingly strong. He'd seen Spock bend and crumple metal with his bare hands. Spock never shook hands in greeting because of the risk of telepathic contact. Spock had even gone into his mind during the incident on Miramanee's planet and restored his identity while he--Kirk--had fought Spock all the way. So, when Spock asked for his hand, there was some animal part of his mind which was not quite sure what Spock was going to do.
Spock gently molded Kirk's fingers into the correct form, first two fingers raised, the others curled towards the palm, and pressed his own, likewise, against Kirk's.
Kirk noticed the feverish warmth of Spock's skin, a trait he had long ago become accustomed to. "Now what?"
"Patience," Spock said. His eyelids drooped as his attention focused inwards.
Kirk felt, or rather saw, a jolt, a yellow spark against the darkness of his mind's eye. Suddenly, Kirk was somewhere other than in that room; he was in a universe where only Spock was close at hand and every other object was lightyears distant. Spock's fingers moved against his own. Kirk licked his lips. He felt heat up his spine. A consuming lust was invading his body through his fingers. Was this Spock?
Kirk pulled his hand away. The room came back into focus. "That was . . . intense. That kind of felt like first base to me."
Spock seemed to mentally shake himself. He slowly withdrew his hand.
"What I was feeling--is that how you feel?" Kirk was trying to reconcile the feeling with the image he had always had of Spock: disinterested, logical, unmoved.
"Indeed," Spock said, as if it were self-evident.
"So, what, you control this all the time?"
"I would not go so far as to say that, however, increasingly in your presence I have had to control emotions of that intensity."
"I have to say you hide it well." Kirk rubbed his chin and looked aside.
"I am a Vulcan," Spock asserted.
"I hope that what you have learned today will, in some way, factor into your decision."
"Very well, I will leave you to it." Spock took a seat at his desk.
"Won't that be a big change?" Kirk said suddenly. "We'd have to share quarters . . . We'd probably drive each other nuts. I think I need you to submit a plan on that before we do anything hasty." Kirk waved his hand vaguely.
"Yes, sir. Any other orders?"
"Nooo . . . I'm headed to my quarters, where I'm going to write a letter to the head commissioner of FedPop telling her where she can stuff it."
"I'm certain that she is only doing her job."
"That's what they all say."
Spock was writing a letter of his own. It was addressed to his great aunt T'Lema, who was responsible for all the matchmaking in the family.
"All is well on the Enterprise. As for the bondmate you have proposed for me, I find him to be most satisfactory."