When a diplomatic crisis threatens the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet, will Kirk and Spock manage to stay on the same side?
Kirk-Spock FriendshipOther Languages:
ST:TOS Original UniverseWarnings:
1. Chapter 1 by Jane D
2. Chapter 2 by Jane D
3. Chapter 3 by Jane D
4. Chapter 4 by Jane D
5. Chapter 5 by Jane D
6. Chapter 6 by Jane D
7. Chapter 7 by Jane D
8. Chapter 8 by Jane D
9. Chapter 9 by Jane D
10. Chapter 10 by Jane D
11. Chapter 11 by Jane D
12. Chapter 12 by Jane D
13. Chapter 13 by Jane D
Montgomery Scott believed that God’s noblest creation was warp core mechanics. In addition, it was true that he genuinely thought, in some very, very deep recessed part of himself that his engines were just as animate as some of his shipmates and rather more so than others. None of this meant that he wasn’t rather good company provided you got him out of Engineering and gave him a decent bottle of Scotch – or rather, allowed him to supply one since (at least during his time on the Enterprise) he had effectively cornered the market in whisky and certainly had particularly pronounced ideas about the best blends.
Scotty was, however, not necessarily typical of his colleagues, if you went with the flow in terms of stereotypical Chief Engineers. Dour, miserable and geeky was the general perception and Fleet scuttlebutt about one or two characters in particular was legend. Everyone knew the jokes about Chief Engineers; you could even get away with them in front of Scotty, because he’d spent too long in Starfleet not to have heard them all so many times that he’d become inured – and also because sometimes it was simply impossible to keep engineer jokes out of the conversation for long enough. And he’d been known to laugh helplessly about the one about the Chief Engineer of the Farragut and the Christmas tree.
All of which meant that when the latest political storm to hit Starfleet involved a Vulcan Chief Engineer, the resulting comments were, perhaps, rather predictable. An inevitable joke went around the junior rec room referencing Vulcans and their emotional and physical compatibility with inanimate features of mechanical engineering, but the crew was fiercely loyal to its Vulcan First Officer and the remark never came close to the senior officers. McCoy rolled his eyes and said “God help us, what a bunch of idiots” (not about the junior rec room) and Kirk said “Good to know your political acumen is still as sharp as ever, Bones” but, unusually for Kirk, he looked worried. And Spock made no comment on the situation at all.
They were on a routine mission transporting medical components to a settlement on Alpha Gemma, just beyond the quadrant border, with an ETA of two and a half days. Kirk had noted the news item about the Halcyon and flagged it up for the attention of Spock who had, of course, been already aware of it. It was noticeable to Kirk that, as news seeped around the bridge and low level comments bubbled up in between the performance of various duties, that Spock was unusually silent on the subject. The First Officer might be reserved and outwardly unemotional but he was not usually unforthcoming in conversation, especially on a topic where he could reasonably be viewed as having special knowledge. And Kirk’s own intuition, on which he had come to rely without question, was sending out an urgent, pulsating vibe that said the Halcyon affair had the potential for consequences rather more far-reaching than might at first blush seem the case.
Kirk let his thoughts circle round the problem until the end of the shift, and then said, abruptly, as Gamma shift personnel spilled from the turbolift and Spock imperceptibly straightened his back:
“Mr Spock – could you join me in my quarters in ten minutes, please?”
And Spock nodded, as if expecting the invitation, which of course he had been.
He didn’t bother to look up as the buzzer sounded, simply said “Come” and went over to retrieve a coffee for himself and a tea for Spock. The days when he would have tried to classify time with Spock as business or pleasure had long past. Originally, they had been strictly business and not remotely pleasurable – Spock’s austere formality, his rejection of Kirk’s overtures, Kirk’s tactile confidence, his assumption that the application of human warmth was the solution to all problems – all these elements had come together to ensure that early command team meetings on the Enterprise had not been events to which either participant had greatly looked forward.
Stage Two had been when Kirk had realised that at least half of what Spock had said was not a rejection but intelligent commentary and even ironic teasing and when Spock realised at exactly the same time that Kirk’s views about the application of human warmth were, in fact, correct. During Stage Two, Kirk had rapidly re-evaluated command team meetings and scheduled them considerably more often than previously, whilst hoping (to no avail whatsoever) that Spock would fail to notice either the previous infrequency or the sudden change.
During Stage Three, Kirk found himself constantly worrying that a meeting to discuss shore leave rosters or annual staff appraisals would occasionally get hopelessly mixed up in a chess game. Or that a scheduled review of a mission would evolve into a late night discussion of Vulcan philosophy over brandy and guava juice. He was unsure what Spock would make of the elision of the personal and the professional – uncertain also of his own views, given the emphasis in Fleet training at all levels and particularly in command stream classes about keeping the two strictly separate.
During Stage Four, where they now found themselves, Kirk had entirely given up either classifying meetings or caring very much and found himself (when he bothered to think about it) suffused by an extraordinary warmth as a result of the knowledge that his Vulcan First Officer felt the same – was able, now, simply to walk into his quarters, retrieve the proffered cup of tea, and say “Thank you, Captain” without so much as a single comment about the Terran custom of accompanying all strategic conversations with the consumption of food or alcohol or both. He was James T Kirk and Spock was his First Officer and together they were the command team of the Enterprise (and, incidentally, the best command team in Starfleet) and the fact that Spock was actually a part of him and he of Spock was some of the reason for that and inseparable from it and hence the current shape of Enterprise command meetings.
Kirk lifted his own glass to Spock in companionable rather than professional salute, kicked off his boots and waved Spock to a seat opposite him.
“All in order, First Officer?”
“Nothing untoward to report, Captain,” Spock returned, politely. “Would you prefer a detailed summary of the current position?”
“No, Spock – thanks all the same, but it can wait till the next scheduled update. What I would like, though, are your views on the Halcyon. And on your compatriot, Saredin .”
Spock said, quietly
“I fear, Jim, that the handling of this situation by Starfleet has not been wise.”
Kirk knew that. Spock’s views, however, combined with using his first name – which, though less infrequent at Stage Four than Stages Two and Three (it had at no point taken place during Stage One), was never insignificant within the context of an official discussion – only served to deepen his concern.
“I’m not going to debate you there, First Officer. Tell me about Saredin.”
Spock steepled his fingers.
“He is an interesting individual, for one reason and one reason only. There are many Vulcans, as you know, Captain, who are uncompromising in their adherence to the teachings of the Masters and to the philosophy of Surak. This is all well known and not worthy of comment. There are others who have, over the years, in contrast, engaged with other cultures and deliberately chosen to live among members of other species.”
“Thank God for that,” put in Kirk. He caught Spock’s eye, smothered a grin and waved an encouraging hand. “Forgive me for interrupting, Commander, you were saying?”
“Simply put,” Spock continued, ignoring the interruption, “Saredin is remarkable for the fact that he resides in both camps, to employ a Terran idiom. He is fiercely protective of Vulcan tradition, yet chose a career in Starfleet – on the basis, as I understand, of feeling that there were numerous areas in which Starfleet could learn from Vulcan.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” observed Kirk, “on the condition that it takes place within a two-way street. But I take it that he was less interested in learning. Spock –“ he asked, carefully, departing from the Halcyon briefly as a thought occurred, and walking around it tentatively, “if that is the case, if that was his motivation in taking the posting on the Halcyon, what about you? It’s not as though he’s the first opportunity that’s been presented to Starfleet to learn about Vulcans.”
A look of total impassivity crossed Spock’s face fleetingly, and Kirk cursed himself for raising the point.
“Captain – Saredin would not consider that Starfleet had much to learn about Vulcans from me.”
Kirk briefly considered either adopting McCoy’s earlier language “He’s an idiot”, or using rather stronger language or giving a short discourse on his views on Spock’s embodiment of the Vulcan and human ideals and what he had to offer Starfleet. Knowing that Spock was perfectly well aware of all of this, he apologised for the clumsiness of his question instead by reaching out and briefly touching Spock’s nearest arm, with a grimace which said, in fact, “He’s an idiot” in the knowledge that Spock would read the thought. And Spock met his eyes with an expression that actually said nothing at all but which Kirk understood entirely.
“Have you actually met him – do you know him?” Kirk asked, carefully. He had no wish to hurt Spock further, but he did want to know more about Saredin.
“I have, in fact, met him,” Spock said, “though I would not go so far as to say that I know him. Despite what you read and despite what you think of his politics, he is not an unpleasant individual. You might describe him as fanatical – perhaps I would not go that far. He is certainly politically motivated but he is intelligent and interesting.”
Kirk looked dubious.
“I don’t think he’s going on my Christmas card list. I gather the fuss was that he refused to shake the hand of a Faltonian dignitary. I understand why – I mean, I know about Vulcans and touch telepathy, of course, but when placed in a difficult position you have always been accommodating. Don’t give me his views on your inadequacies, Spock, I don’t believe you’re alone in this.”
“No, Captain. I am not alone in making compromises in order to live among humans. It would not be at all unusual, however, to find someone of Saredin’s views living on Vulcan. It is, as I said earlier, the fact of him living in Starfleet with those views which has caused the difficulty.”
“Difficulty? He disobeyed a direct order and caused a minor diplomatic shouting match. The only good thing about it, as far as I can make out, is that we weren’t there. It is exactly the sort of situation I would loathe, and at some point I would have made what you would have called an infelicitous comment and you would have had to rescue the situation and after successfully preventing interstellar Armageddon you would then have enjoyed the meagre compensation of explaining to me in private that being a starship captain doesn’t unfortunately negate my shortcomings as an illogical and irrational human being and that I should learn to avoid giving rein to my emotional instincts.”
Spock said, “In fact, any infelicitous comment you might have made would have been intentional and for a specific and significant purpose and the Faltonians would have conceded on all points with every diplomatic obstacle successfully overcome within approximately thirty minutes of meeting you and you are aware of that. Your suggestion of remedial action on my part is yet another example of your frequent strategy of distraction through apparent self-denigration and its familiarity does not assist me in attempting to understand your objective in deploying it at this particular moment and in this particular context.”
Kirk, who was aware that Spock knew perfectly well what his objective had been, gave his First Officer his warmest halogen smile and pulled the conversation back, having successfully diffused the slight tension over his faux pas about Saredin. “What will the Vulcan Council do?”
“I suspect they will take a very strong line, Captain,” Spock said. Vulcans do not experience worry and Spock’s face was as impassive as ever but neither of these facts stopped him looking worried. “They may or may not have views about Saredin (and others) serving in Starfleet, they may even have views about Saredin’s handling of this particular situation but there is a political difficulty about the disciplinary proceedings instigated by Starfleet in this situation which make it very difficult to avoid diplomatic consequences. A court martial, even if requested by the Faltonians as was apparently the case, is an excessively heavy handed method to address a situation which should never have arisen, given that although Saredin was disobeying a direct order, touch telepaths do have exemption from being ordered within direct contact with other species. The attitude of the Council will, in addition, be influenced by the loss of the Intrepid. Concerns about the vulnerability of Vulcans in Starfleet were always previously ameliorated by the existence of a ship crewed entirely by Vulcans, who were thus able to access postings where there was a guarantee of respect for their cultural requirements. That comfort is now gone, and the support for Vulcans in Starfleet is now under minute scrutiny by the Council, in particular with regard to the constant need to reassure the Vulcan civilian population of the wisdom of partnership with a military force.”
“The handling of this situation by Starfleet has not been wise.”
Kirk swallowed back the faintest sense of unease –of wondering whether the lack of wisdom on Starfleet’s part was something which might end up affecting him personally – worse, might have some impact which Spock and he might see differently from each other. He looked at in thoughtful silence for a few moments at the Vulcan officer who had come to mean more to him than any human and then decided unceremoniously to drop the topic of the Halcyon for now, not least because he suspected that before long he would have had a surfeit of the subject. Slightly cautiously, he suggested a game of chess and a brandy and was disproportionately relieved when Spock accepted both invitations.
Since about half way through Stage Three, Kirk had categorised meetings with Spock under four headings, depending on whether Spock accepted a drink at all; whether he accepted a tea; whether he accepted a guava juice; or whether he accepted a brandy. He had found that Spock’s decisions around drinking to be an infallible weather vane of mood, which corresponded to the following:
Category One: “I do not wish to have a drink. I have no feelings and I do not, in fact, wish to be with you at this precise moment. However, I recognise that the requirements of command oblige me to spend time with you in pursuit of my duties and the needs of the ship. I would prefer this to last as little time as possible and to confuse none of it with the guise of emotional interaction.” Category One meetings included every single meeting in Stage One of their relationship but were vanishingly rare ever since. Thank God.
Category Two: “I am prepared to recognise that, although I am a Vulcan and our interaction is alien to my nature, nevertheless our working partnership is enhanced by our personal relationship and, while I myself do not suffer from the physical craving for a drink as frequently as does your species, I understand the significance of and am prepared to indulge you in the shared consumption of a beverage at this time.” This had been the bottom line for almost all meetings from Stage Two onwards, that Spock would at least agree to have a tea once the business part of the meeting had been covered . Kirk remembered some exceptions – conversations with Spock shortly before his pon farr; occasions when Spock had been particularly (and, to Kirk’s mind, rather endearingly) focused on a laboratory experiment; urgent briefings when there had been no time for niceties - but he also knew that the Vulcan would often prefer to engage in an illogical Terran custom and accept a drink he might not actually want in order to reassure Kirk and to engage in their shared space of mutual tease and counter-tease.
Category Three: “I recognise, in accepting this particular drink, that you are prepared to go to exceptional lengths in accommodating my preferences and whilst I am not prepared to acknowledge this to you verbally, my imbibing of this drink is token of my appreciation of what you do and the fact that you are unique in my life.” Guava drink occasions were instances of the closest working partnership Kirk had ever known and increasingly the staple of Kirk’s personal life. He knew that, while Spock would never acknowledge the illogical preference of one taste over another, the Vulcan particularly enjoyed fresh guava juice and Kirk would have engineered a fresh infestation of tribbles aboard the Enterprise rather than allow Spock to discover the lengths and expense to which he regularly went to ensure an adequate supply.
Category Four: “You are my commanding officer but you are also my friend and while it may or may not be illogical, this is where I want to be.” Kirk knew exactly what the acceptance of a brandy meant and how hard won it had been. It didn’t happen until well into Stage Three and the first time Spock ever agreed to have a brandy with him, Kirk felt as though God had personally leaned down and given him the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was a good game. Kirk thought he had it under control but was caught out by a surprise move by Spock’s rook which pleased both players. Kirk laughed out loud and went back over his strategy and where it had failed, working out aloud as he went along what Spock’s parallel intentions had been, in the manner of one who finds the thought patterns of his opponent about as familiar as his own. And Spock looked at the golden command figure through the golden liquid in his glass and allowed himself the rare self indulgence of feeling again the echoes both of the touch of Kirk’s hand on his arm and of the private comfort of “He is an idiot”.
“Spock,” his captain said, suddenly, as Spock was half way to the door at the end of the evening, and the Vulcan turned and raised an eyebrow. Kirk was not entirely aware of why he felt the need to say something, and he was very sure that nothing he had to say would come to Spock as any surprise, but the need was there after the faint chill of his earlier premonition and Kirk listened to instinct on these matters, particularly when it came to his First Officer.
“There is absolutely nothing of any value to Starfleet or, to that matter, to Vulcan on any matter of any relevance whatsoever that cannot be learned to optimal effect from you,” he said. The words fell between them, and Spock made the tiniest of movements in his shoulders, as though he were picking them up or as though he were straightening himself in recognition of a public honour or resettling himself after a minor level of tension, and he looked back at Kirk with a warmth in his eyes which told the captain he had been right to follow his instincts.
“Goodnight, Jim,” the Vulcan said quietly, and Kirk nodded as he stepped through the door.
The next day, Vulcan announced that the Vulcan Science Academy would be manning its own starship, within the umbrella of the Federation but in a separate division from Starfleet, and that all Vulcan personnel currently serving in Starfleet would be offered postings on it with immediate effect.
Within less than four point six seconds of reading the communiqué from HQ the following morning, Kirk was at the door to Spock’s quarters. Entering hard on a quietly voiced invitation, he saw immediately in the Vulcan’s face that he too, as Kirk had assumed, was already aware of the recent development.
“Tell me you’re not going.”
Instantly, he regretted the words. Spock might have very good reasons for wanting to go. And if he didn’t, he was still the senior serving Vulcan officer in the Fleet, a highly decorated individual who commanded not only Kirk’s deepest respect but that of the entire command personnel of Starfleet (not to mention a crew of 429 on the USS Enterprise) and it might have been appropriate to approach the topic of Spock’s potential future career assignments with something more subtle than Tell me you’re not going. Watching his First’s expression lighten infinitesimally, however, he changed his mind again. To any other observer, Spock might have looked as sombre as he had before Kirk’s outburst (and Kirk had already registered that he looked particularly concerned, beyond his usual impassivity) but the nuances of amusement and of pleasure in the compliment were clear to Spock’s captain.
“I assure you, Captain, I have absolutely no intention of resigning my position under your command,” he said.
The tension bled from Kirk like a faucet.
“Good. Well, I’m glad we’ve got that settled. See you on the bridge.”
The second conversation on the topic took a little longer. Kirk was on the bridge, less than a day out now from Alpha Gemma and was speaking to the medical colony, relaying instructions to McCoy and Spock who were finalising preparations to distribute the equipment on reaching the planet. Signalling to Uhura to cut the communication at the end of the conversation, Kirk opened his mouth to comment to Spock and was interrupted by Ensign Santini, one of Spock’s team, who had brought up an item of the consignment to check with Spock and who had turned and collided with Uhura at the wrong moment. Kirk made himself close his mouth and count a beat. Santini blushed furiously and said “Sorry, sir” and made his way off the bridge as Kirk moved over to the science station. He looked meaningfully at Spock.
“Ensign Santini has all the makings of a first rate scientist and Starfleet officer,” Spock said mildly, answering the unspoken comment in the tone of one voicing an opinion offered many times in the past – in fact, fourteen times.
“So you keep telling me. Every time I see him, he drops something. Is he still on your list, Spock?”
“I have completed the annual departmental appraisals and yes, as formally notified to you, Captain, I would recommend that you consider him for promotion next month.”
“To Engineering Lieutenant. Can’t afford it, Commander. I’d have to pay Scotty overtime for all the things he’d have to fix in there when Santini breaks them.”
“I suspect, Captain, that he finds you intimidating.”
“Good. He hasn’t totally lost his sense of reality if he figures that his commanding officer will be irritated by an MO that involves hurling equipment around the bridge on a regular basis.” Spock lifted an eyebrow and said nothing, but in fact Kirk had spoken more intolerantly than he felt and he knew the Vulcan was aware of this. He found himself, as he re-took the centre seat, musing on the difference between Spock and Saredin – Saredin, whose adherence to Vulcan etiquette was more important to him than the risk of causing offence, hurt or embarrassment to species ignorant of his people’s ways; Spock, whose sensitivity, patience and kindness to others were a never-ending, inexhaustible well. He found himself getting angry all over again at what lay behind Spock’s comment “Saredin would not consider that Starfleet had much to learn about Vulcans from me.” And it was exactly at that point that Uhura turned towards Spock and said
“Mr Spock, I have the Vulcan Science Academy for you, sir.”
Kirk’s heart missed a beat, then steadied and he shot a look over towards Spock – as if to offer moral support, as if to offer to take the call himself, to shield Spock from Vulcan criticism, Vulcan pressure – and then realised he was being ridiculous. Spock said:
“Captain, may I have your permission to take this call in private?” and he nodded an of course and took what comfort he could from what was an indisputably reassuring look from the Vulcan as he left the bridge.
He left behind him a silence thick with unspoken comment, leading Kirk to realise that he was not the only one aware of the choices facing Spock and the implications for the command team of the Enterprise of the crew being put together for the VSS Seleya. Even the name made Kirk angry, but he tried to quell the emotion, knowing that he must not let it show to Spock and also that it was, at least in part, fear. He waited an endless fifty seven minutes till the end of the shift and then went directly to Spock’s quarters.
Spock was seated at his desk, with the call clearly terminated but without having returned to his station – itself an ominous sign to his captain. The Vulcan stood at Kirk’s entrance, and the captain waved him back to his seat and said, tentatively
“Spock? Do you want to talk about it?”
Spock remained on his feet and said
“There is little to report, sir. As you and I had, I suspect, separately surmised, the VSA is making a strenuous attempt to ensure all Vulcan Starfleet personnel apply to enlist in the Seleya, and it is natural, for political reasons, that their objective is that this at the very least includes all senior officers.”
Kirk said, gently
“This must be very hard for you. They haven’t always been as friendly. Something of a turnaround, perhaps?”
Spock glanced at him, acknowledging the understanding.
“It is, in fact, the first time they have contacted me directly since I joined Starfleet. Under other circumstances, communication, whilst less expected, might have presented greater cause for satisfaction.” Even this limited admission was enough to show Kirk the extent of the pressure on his friend.
“In other words, they are remembering your value because they want something,” Kirk said, very softly, careful to hide seething fury. “You’re worth more than that, Spock. Much more.”
There was silence.
Kirk tried again.
“Spock. They don’t understand you but on some level they know you represent something greater than what they are. This is not your fault. The very fact that they are able to make you uncomfortable with your choices says more about them than you. Spock?”
Spock looked at him. Kirk met the gaze without daring to ask the question openly and the Vulcan said,
“Captain, I can assure you that I have no current intention of resigning my position under your command.”
Kirk let relief course through him and then drew a quick breath.
“I’m due with McCoy for a final check before we reach orbit. The offer stands, Spock, if you want to talk through any of this some more.” Spock nodded, the mutual understanding between the two reasserting itself and Kirk left to go to Sickbay.
It was only as he reached the turbolift that he realised the difference between what Spock had said and his reassurance of twenty four hours earlier. This time, the word “currently” had entered the conversation.
A cold fist of unease clenched itself in Kirk’s stomach and didn’t dissipate.
The third conversation took place after they arrived at Alpha Gemma. Kirk beamed down with Spock, McCoy and, at Spock’s request and with a wry grin from Kirk, Ensign Santini. The head of the colony, a blur of energy who on the rare occasions she stood sufficiently still morphed into an energetic middle-aged woman with piercing blue eyes, directed Santini right and left with various directions as to the appropriate housing of the consignment, and Kirk tried hard not to look worried about the equipment and, failing that, not to let Spock see that he was worried. Aware of a complete lack of success on this front and on meeting Spock’s clearly amused gaze, he pulled himself together, remembered that Spock was a good judge of character and saw an opportunity to find out about Santini for himself. Taking Spock to one side, he said
“Spock, the ensign and I can manage from here. Why don’t you and McCoy go back to the ship and start preparing to leave orbit? Santini and I will beam up when everything here is sorted out.”
Spock looked from him to Santini, nodded and left to find the doctor. Kirk walked casually over to the ensign, picked up a crate of portable scanners and fell into conversation. He did not see Spock locate McCoy and turn, before beaming up, to watch Kirk and Santini with an odd look in his eye. The dazzle took both the senior officers and Kirk did not hear from Spock again for the remainder of his time at the colony.
As the last items were checked off the consignment, Kirk became aware of the lengthening of shadows, simultaneously realising that Spock had been entirely correct about Santini – Kirk had rarely been so engaged, recently, in conversation with a junior officer – and also that he had not heard from the Vulcan since he and the doctor had returned to the ship. He made swift farewells to the colony head and, as Santini put the last crate in place, pulled out his communicator to call the ship.
“Sulu here, sir.”
“Where’s Mr Spock?” Kirk asked, who had been expecting to hear Spock’s voice at the conn.
“Mr Spock received a call from Ambassador Sarek, sir, nearly two hours ago. He has been in his quarters since then.”
The cold fist clenched again inside Kirk and he said, more curtly than he meant to, “Stand by to beam up, Sulu”, and then, sharply: “Santini!” There was an abrupt crash, and Kirk thought, dully - he’s broken it – whatever that is, it can’t be fixed – and then – I will not see that as an omen.
The transporter effect had never taken so long.
He knew, as soon as he saw Spock’s face, that it was bad. He thought, irrelevantly – broken, can’t be fixed - took a breath and said simply:
Spock said, very precisely,
“I have spoken to both my parents. My father has asked me to reconsider the Seleya posting.”
Kirk sat down, very carefully. He said, “Go on. Talk to me.”
“Captain,” Spock said. He paused very slightly, and then went on, “It is of some considerable significance to my mother than my father has contacted me in this regard.”
“He is offering you a reconciliation,” Kirk said, mouth dry.
“In effect,” the Ambassador’s son agreed.
“But on his terms,” Kirk couldn’t help saying.
“Perhaps,” Spock said. “However, you must understand, Captain, my father’s position in relation to the Seleya. My father does not believe that the separation of Vulcan from Starfleet is a wise or sensible action. In his view, it can have no long term effects that would be beneficial to either party. He therefore believes that the management of the Seleya initiative – in other words and, in particular at this point, the appointment of officers and members of the crew – to be of crucial importance in ensuring a return to the previous state of affairs as soon as possible. He believes that this is most likely to happen if the ship is commanded by a Vulcan who shares this objective and who has credentials in both Starfleet and Vulcan.”
“You are a Starfleet Commander but you are also his son,” Kirk said, following the argument. “Well, I can’t fault your father’s judgement or logic, Spock. And you must be unique in meeting the criteria for the role.” And then he realised what Spock had said. “They want you to take the centre seat. They’re offering you command.” And saw Spock nod, once.
Kirk turned, abruptly, and walked over to the replicator, throwing over his shoulder “Just getting a coffee” without even the presence of mind to offer Spock a drink in his own quarters. And this was when he learned that it was possible to categorise meetings under a fifth heading, in relation to drinks – it turned out that having a coffee could simply be, under Category Five, an excuse to buy time.
Category Five, then, was not about drinks for Spock but coffee for Kirk. And Category Five meant: “Spock, you know me far, far too well. And, because of that, just at this minute I cannot let you see my face, for three possible reasons. The first is that it is just about possible that I may be in a position to influence your decision and although I want to influence you so badly I am clenching my fists, I know in my heart that I can’t do that – that this has to be your choice, freely made, either way. The second is that, assuming that in fact I cannot influence you and you are going anyway and this is the logical thing to do, I don’t think I can let you see in my face what that means - not until I can manage to look logical as well. And the third is that if by any chance you are going anyway but in fact you don’t think it’s the logical thing to do – if, in fact, you also feel as though someone has just punched you in the guts – well, I am not sure that you and I are quite ready to handle seeing that in each other’s faces – not quite yet.” So, coffee first, then.
By the time Kirk turned around, all that there was to see was a level acceptance by the captain of the Enterprise.
“You agreed,” he said. It was not quite a question, not quite an accusation.
Spock brought his gaze back from where it had been unaccountably dwelling on the back of Kirk’s head, looked down at his hands and said, very quietly,
“I do not wish to command and that has been no factor in my decision. Nor have I conveyed or, indeed, reached any decision without first discussing the matter with you.”
“There’s nothing to discuss,” Kirk said, the words coming out more harshly than he had intended. And then he repeated them, more gently. “There’s nothing to discuss, Spock. It is your choice. And, for what it is worth, however little I want to lose you – I do understand. As always, Commander, you are making the honourable choice.” He said it lightly, but caught his breath as Spock met his eyes and, despite his resolution, a single, bleak message went straight between them.
Kirk stood up, abruptly.
“I’ll leave you to make your calls, Spock. Don’t worry about breaking orbit, I’ll go take the con.” And walked out with a feeling of total unreality.
In the six weeks following the Alpha Gemma mission, a large number of compromises were made by a large number of people. As a soldier who was often unwillingly forced into the role of diplomat, Kirk was aware of the significance of the ability to compromise – knew that it could often be the difference between triumph and disaster, between life and death. He had never forgotten, though, a throwaway comment made by his brother, Sam, earlier in Kirk’s career when Kirk, at a much younger and brasher stage, had been describing over drinks, perhaps rather ponderously, the art of compromise. Sam had drained his lager with a rather impatient look on his face – a look which Kirk remembered very well from occasions in his childhood when the older brother had felt the need to put the younger sibling in his place – and said “Compromise. That’s when no one gets what they actually want, right?” And so it was, in the weeks leading up to Spock’s departure from the Enterprise.
The Vulcan Science Academy were adamant that it was crucial that the new captain of the Seleya take up his place with immediate effect. Kirk was equally firm in his request for delay (though with one eye anxiously on Spock and reluctant to engage with the VSA in a tug of war which could be to no ones advantage and could only damage the start of Spock’s new role). Kirk found himself, possibly for the first time in his life, citing Starfleet Regulations and pointing out that the default transition period for a member of a command team was three months. Spock’s own, unspoken preference was both not to leave the Enterprise at all and, at the same time, knowing he had no choice in the matter, to leave immediately. In the end, it was decided that the Seleya would receive its new captain in six weeks, and the situation could reasonably be summarised as presenting absolutely no cause for satisfaction to any of those involved.
Another compromise took place between Spock and the crew of the Enterprise. The crew had wanted to throw a very large goodbye party for its First Officer. Kirk was torn between a strong feeling, firstly, that Spock’s time on the Enterprise deserved to be celebrated with the largest, loudest and most expensive fanfare Starfleet’s finest could manage; secondly, that he could imagine nothing he would less like to mark or celebrate than the end of that time, if for no other reason that it made Spock’s departure real at a time when Kirk was trying hard (and in part succeeding) to pretend that the entire situation was a nightmare from which he would shortly wake up; and, thirdly, the fact that he knew that the occasion would cause Spock considerable embarrassment and discomfort and that, given a choice, the Vulcan would probably prefer to perform his duties for the day dressed up as Rudolf the Reindeer. The Enterprise command team were rescued by the Christmas, which happened to fall conveniently the day before the six weeks were up. It was therefore agreed that a party would be thrown but that it would also and, in fact, largely celebrate Christmas, which in the name of diversity was not usually celebrated on the ship, and that on that basis, neither Kirk’s nor Spock’s presence would be required for more than half an hour to allow the crew to consume alcohol in peace without their senior officers.
The last compromise was one that Kirk made with himself and with Spock. Almost more than the prospect of Spock’s absence from the ship when the six week period of grace was over, Kirk was dreading the act of saying goodbye. Not only was he aware that it would cause him pain on a level he had yet fully to anticipate, but he had not the slightest idea of what to say. He wanted neither to fail to make clear to Spock what he meant to him and the part he had played in the success of the Enterprise mission nor to embarrass either of them, and as the weeks passed, the problem began to preoccupy him more and more, illogically dwarfing the prospect of loss, although Kirk was perfectly aware that focusing on the moment of farewell was a form of distraction behaviour. Worse, he sensed that the stress of the coming parting was causing both him and Spock to withdraw from the other; he knew, or at least he thought he knew still, that Spock’s departure was not of his choosing, but he was still keenly aware that Spock was leaving to take promotion to head up the first VSA ship – that this was both an extraordinary honour and an unlooked-for going home for his First Officer, and he was increasingly far from certain that the Vulcan shared his unhappiness at the coming change.
He would not say goodbye to Spock at the formal point of departure when the VSA shuttle arrived, in front of the VSA personnel. He could not say goodbye at the party, in front of the whole crew.
And so the last compromise was that after a bare forty three minutes at the Enterprise Christmas party which was resolutely silent on the subject of farewells, Kirk skilfully diverted his First Officer – still his First, for another eight and a half hours – and took him to the captain’s quarters for a last game of chess.
Without asking Spock, Kirk poured both of them a generous brandy, and watched the Vulcan studying the chess pieces, largely in silence. Kirk himself moved the pieces quickly, with less thought than usual, knowing he was leaving himself undefended , fully expecting to lose as a result and was surprised to win, causing him to shoot a sharp glance at Spock, wondering whether the Vulcan felt as distracted as he did. As they made the moves in the end game, spinning it out in a way that they would usually not have bothered once the result was clear, Kirk said abruptly
“Everything that has happened in this five year mission - every success - I owe to you, you know.”
Spock moved a pawn and said very quietly
“That is untrue, Captain, but I appreciate the sentiment. A very great deal of what I take to the Seleya I learned from you.”
“Also untrue,” Kirk said, clumsily – and then ground to a halt. This had been his greatest fear – that he and Spock - he and Spock - would sit exchanging polite compliments at the point of goodbye. What he wanted to do more than anything else was to put his arms around the Vulcan; it was what he would have done in many situations where he felt immeasurably less. But he and Spock had never had that sort of relationship. Neither hesitated to grab the other in the line of fire and Kirk would often seek Spock’s attention by a light touch on the arm or occasionally even steer him with a hand at his back or clap him on the shoulder in recognition of a job well done. But they had never hugged. And, unbidden, Saredin was in Kirk’s thoughts – Saredin, and Spock’s words , “touch telepaths do have exemption from being ordered within direct contact with other species” and the world he was joining on the Seleya, a world which forbade touch and forbade affection.
Kirk’s hands fell to his sides and then, instead of a human touch, he lifted one of them towards his First Officer in the ta’al. Spock met his eyes with a flare of something Kirk could not quite identify, lifted his hand in a mirror image and Kirk nodded once and turned to leave the room.
It took on average five seconds to reach the captain’s quarters from Spock’s. Kirk got precisely half way to his own door, came to an abrupt half, spun on his heel, walked back through the door to Spock’s quarters and up to where Spock was still standing, as he had left him, in the middle of the room. Moving on momentum, Kirk stretched out a hand and took Spock’s right hand in his own, held on firmly and said into the shuttered look in the Vulcan face
“Spock. You are irreplaceable to the ship and you are entirely and permanently irreplaceable to me personally. Before you go, I need you to know that.”
Hoping that he had not precipitated a second diplomatic incident and preparing to release the hand, he was stalled by Spock’s other hand which came up and covered Kirk’s own with a more than human warmth. Startled, Kirk brought his eyes to Spock’s face, but the Vulcan was looking down to where he had turned his right hand over so that Kirk’s own hand was caught and held tightly between both of Spock’s.
Into the silence which followed Kirk’s words, Spock said, simply, “Jim.” Kirk waited, but it seemed that this was all Spock had to say. Neither of them could find any further words but Kirk thought, bringing his other hand up to press Spock’s before he freed himself and left, that what they had managed was just about enough.
The next day, Spock left the Enterprise and boarded the VSA shuttle to take up his first command.
Once, when Spock was eleven years old, he had spent a week with cousins in New York. His parents were visiting Earth and Amanda had persuaded Sarek that Spock should use the time to get to know his human cousins. Amanda’s brother had three children, a little older than Spock, a boy and two girls, who had clearly been tutored to within an inch of their lives about what to say and what not to say to their oddly-coloured cousin. Both the children and their parents were extremely kind to Spock, but he remembered the vacation not for any pleasure in the experience but for the fact that he made some important discoveries during his week in their house.
Discovery One: kindness can be just as distancing a thing as unkindness, if it is motivated by duty and unaccompanied by warmth.
Discovery Two: the absence of the familiar is regrettable, even when it is an unkind familiar. Spock’s childhood had been a lonely one, and had contained rather too many instances of illogical bullying and abuse from contemporaries who indulged in the age-old classroom habit of picking on the unusual within the peer group. Nevertheless, isolated within the lonely impersonal kindness of his human family, Spock found himself missing the lonely bullying of his Vulcan home.
Discovery Three: none of this actually constituted homesickness. Spock knew this because humans rarely account for Vulcan hearing, even when they have been informed that it is more acute than the human variety. Late one night, he overheard his aunt say to his uncle “Spock seems quiet, though the kids seem to be including him pretty much – reckon he’s homesick?” and heard his uncle reply “Don’t worry, honey – I think you can rely on the fact that Vulcans don’t get homesick. He knows he’s going home next week; he’ll focus on the logic of the situation.”
Sitting in his quarters on the Seleya, Spock knew, therefore, that he was not homesick. But the logic of the situation escaped him.
Just as Vulcans do not get homesick, they do not experience astonishment. Nevertheless, Spock admitted to himself, within the quiet of his room, that it had been with astonishing ease and rapidity that he had been stripped of everything that was familiar or of value in his life. Although he had been present – more than present, he had actually instigated the events responsible for this transformation – he still woke up every morning and reached for an awareness of a ship, of a crew, of a captain who were no longer there, and went to bed every evening with not the slightest sense that the feeling of displacement had eased an iota. He had, for once in his life, no idea at all of the logic of the particular situation or how to focus on it. In all the arrangements and changes of the past weeks, Spock (who had said “I will take the assignment” to his father; and “I agree” to the VSA and to Kirk “My father has asked me to reconsider the Seleya posting”) was responsible for one small act of rebellion, and one only. It was, he knew, of very little relevance to any but himself, and no one but the VSA knew of it in any event, but he had declined to accept his new role on anything other than temporary promotion and his formal title (unused by anyone) was “Acting Captain of the Seleya.” To compensate for the fact that the title was unknown to any of the crew, Spock looked at himself in the mirror every morning in the head and addressed himself very quietly in those terms: “Acting Captain Spock” and knew himself to be entirely irrational. Nevertheless, that moment in front of the mirror was the end of a long, fragile string attaching him to Kirk and the Enterprise and he could not afford to let go. It was all he had.
He had expected to hear from Kirk and did not. That was the other indulgence he permitted himself every morning. The words “Acting Captain” and a swift check of the computer to look for messages from the Enterprise. There were none.
Entirely aside from the absence of Kirk himself, which was a phenomenon on which Spock attempted unsuccessfully to dwell as little as possible, he found himself profoundly uncomfortable within the role of command. “I do not wish to command”, he had said, perhaps as many as thirty four times to Kirk and others, including with reference to his current assignment. Far from modesty or self effacement, that opinion had come from a place of deep self knowledge. Spock knew himself capable of efficient command but he also knew that it was not his gift – just as it was unquestionably Kirk’s – and that the standard of the performance of his duties to Starfleet (which had been accompanied for many years with respect, accolades and the achievement of the impossible on a regular basis) would be very different given that the duties were now the duties of the Captain of the Seleya. Acting Captain of the Seleya.
He thought back often to his ill-fated leadership of the Galileo in the Murasaki 312 system. Kirk had made him take out considerable time after the incident, after they had finally reached Makus lll and got rid of Ferris. He had spent hours with Spock in his quarters, making him talk through what had happened. It had been one of those occasions when he had looked at Kirk, sitting across the room from him, endlessly listening, challenging, comforting (with a knowledge of Spock’s perspective and of his needs which were breathtaking for being, to Spock’s knowledge, unique among the entirety of Spock’s acquaintances) – looked at Kirk and thought, quite distinctly, that he loved Kirk, that what he felt for him was not collegiality or friendship but something deeper, something permanent, something at Spock’s core. He had allowed Kirk to persuade him of the logic that the substitution for his leadership of another’s would be unlikely to have prevented Latimer’s death, but he knew (and Kirk gave him the respect of not disagreeing) that his failure had been in not bringing the crew with him, as he had known Kirk himself would have done. Then, the issue had been his maintenance of the Vulcan mode as leader of six humans on an emotional edge; on the Seleya, he knew that the human elements of his character were bound to sabotage his leadership of an all-Vulcan crew. But above and beyond all these things was the fact of leadership and the fact that, in relation to any crew, it was simply not where he actually excelled. And where he excelled was in following, and specifically in following Kirk.
He had been a good First Officer to Christopher Pike, and he knew this, because in the role of First Officer Spock had found his natural element. But it was as Kirk’s First that he had truly come into his own because he and Kirk had discovered in each other an extraordinary natural compatibility that allowed them to fill completely each other’s needs and missing spaces. He was not unfamiliar with the view that his own qualities of intellect and physical strength meant that he should have sought promotion rather than serving so long under Kirk – he knew that Kirk himself had been uncertain that this view was incorrect (which, Spock suspected, had probably not been irrelevant to Kirk’s attitude to the Seleya posting). But without false modesty or fear of command, he knew that view to be wrong. He knew that being Kirk’s First was not only what he wanted but where he functioned best. He even knew, with a confidence which would not have been possible for the lonely young Vulcan officer who had served admirably but not extraordinarily before Kirk took command of the Enterprise, that James T Kirk, the foremost military commander of his generation (possible in the history of Starfleet) was in part the genius he was because of Spock, just as Spock knew Kirk was responsible for much of what Spock himself had achieved. To follow where Kirk led, to offer alternatives and have them rejected or adopted, to back up without question, to protect, to serve – these had been privileges and honours and miracles as well as the very bedrock of Spock’s daily life. And without them, he was lost.
And he still had not heard from Kirk.
Spock did not allow himself to think about the personal elements of his life with Kirk. The fact that it was not allowed did not meant that it did not happen, of course. There were times when he entered his quarters at the end of the day and found himself surprised, all over again, that there was no chess board laid out on the table; times when a report came in on the bridge and he found himself looking to trade glances with hazel eyes and found only dark ones; times when he was working late at night and heard a voice and found, on looking up, that its owner was thousands of light years away. If these times were beyond Spock’s ability easily to compute and if they showed no signs of decreasing in frequency or abating in intensity, this was how things were and Spock would manage and adjust. Because there was no choice.
He found that life on a Vulcan ship brought all the challenges he had expected. The first, unexpected change had been losing the role which had been carved out for him as the only Vulcan crew member of the Enterprise, which coloured so many relationships and not only that with Kirk – the ability to infuriate McCoy, to provoke a bridge debate, to mark out his place in a rec room off-duty conversation with “That is not logical” or “Vulcans do not experience....” or even a comment on the Horta appreciation of the shape of the Vulcan ear. Without this, he found himself blindsided – found himself wondering whether, in fact, he had come to define himself as an outsider, whether this was unhealthy, though knowing at the same time that as the only known Vulcan–human hybrid it was a role from which there was no escape. (No escape except in his friendship with Kirk, that very small world within which he had uniquely been neither Vulcan nor human but simply Spock.) Although he would not admit it to himself, he also found himself struggling with T’Mala, his First Officer, a tall, elegant and efficient scientist whom he suspected of looking down at her half-human Captain, although at the same time he knew that this could be his own prejudice. The truth was that he was no longer used to living with Vulcans. The years with Kirk, the time on the Enterprise had changed him more than he had realised, and there were more times than he had expected when he would have welcomed the honesty of an outburst from McCoy. Somewhat to his surprise, he found it easier to work with Saredin himself, the author of the transformation of his life and now Chief Engineer on the Seleya. This was because, for all Saredin’s austere adherence to the philosophies of Surak, Saredin’s politics separated him from the bland, gave Spock a conversational purchase point, meant Saredin could at least be relied upon to say the unsayable, sometimes, to manifest himself as a distinctive character – so much so that Spock went to the lengths of trying to banish a ghost who insisted on saying, very softly, every time Saredin appeared in front of him “He’s an idiot.” (This attempt was both unsuccessful and accompanied by an obscure feeling of disloyalty, though Spock was unsure at whom this feeling was directed.) Spock found Saredin something of a relief after the unforgiving responses of T’Mala – T’Mala who occasionally made him remember McCoy with sympathy. Now and again, he found himself hoping for a future in which he could describe the crew of the Seleya to McCoy. It was as much as he could bear. He could not bring himself to envisage doing so with Kirk.
He had thought that Kirk would contact him. Perhaps not the day he left the Enterprise, perhaps that would have been too much to hope for, but perhaps the day after. During the early days, before the Seleya left Vulcan, when he had less to do, he found himself perpetually checking for messages from Kirk and perpetually being disappointed. He spent most of the time interviewing crew members and overseeing the refitting of a vessel purchased through an independent shipping base situated near the Romulan border. Spock suspected the company traded both sides of the border but there was no harm in that; he calculated that the technology would be more likely to be up to date. If the current manning of the Seleya became a permanent arrangement, the VSA might want to revisit some of her design features, but the infrastructure was sufficient for current purposes and, illogically, Spock welcomed the differences which meant there was little on board which reminded him of the Enterprise.
Once they left orbit, he disciplined himself to checking for personal messages only once a day, and was still disappointed. He found his mind, in idle moments, going over and over three events in particular in the last weeks on the Enterprise – knowing it to be illogical, obsessive, even unhealthy, but unable to stop himself. He even had names for them.
Incident One was The Decision. By the time he had ended his conversation with Sarek, Spock knew that the pressure to accept the posting was almost impossible to resist. He had held out so far, against the invitation from the VSA and against a number of informal approaches about which he had not informed Kirk, but to refuse his father directly was something he suspected he could not do on his own. What he had hoped, illogically, was that Kirk might do it for him – that a typical reaction from Kirk, all hazel emotionalism, protective explosion, warmth and loyalty, would drown out the voices from home and that, shored up by that stronger claim, Spock would find it in himself to say “No.” But this had not happened. Kirk had simply let him go – let him go remarkably easily. And Spock, whilst finding himself, under the circumstances, unable to resent this, also found himself desperate to know why. Had it been because Kirk thought that it was the right thing, even that it was wrong to try to influence Spock? Or had it, simply, mattered less to him?
Incident Two was Ensign Santini. Spock, watching Kirk approach Santini on Alpha Gemma, had found himself turning away from McCoy's perceptive gaze as Kirk asked a question and Santini looked up and started to open up. Spock knew that people were Kirk’s gift, not his, knew that the ability to nurture talent and develop a crew was inherent to who Kirk was. Kirk would rely without question on Spock’s computation of time or warp speed to seven decimal places but would choose to make personnel decisions on his own. He also knew that something about Santini – his clumsiness, naivety perhaps - had alienated Kirk. Yet Kirk, at a point when in his heart Spock already thought he had lost him, would be leaving the Enterprise – Kirk, because of advice from Spock (the view of the Vulcan who could not command the confidence of the Galileo crew, who had spent more of his life in a science laboratory than a rec room) – Kirk was making an effort with Santini, and Spock could see the boy light up, begin to turn, to blossom under Kirk’s warmth, and so he, Spock had had to turn away and swallow hard.
Incident Three was The Goodbye. Like Kirk, Spock had approached the final farewell at a total loss as to know what to say. He knew exactly what he wanted to convey but was prepared to vocalise absolutely none of this, and this left him with no words at all and a most un-Vulcan panic at the sudden, imminent loss, like a boat which flows inexorably towards a waterfall and then suddenly lurches, speeds and falls at the last minute. And Kirk himself, he was aware, had also been struggling, though Spock was less clear of the parameters of that struggle. All he knew was that the human had found something he thought appropriate – the ta’al salute (briefly causing Spock the most extraordinary lacerating pain as he grasped the idea that this – this – was how they would say goodbye, with a raised hand, a Vulcan formality and a total absence of human warmth or touch or the things that Spock wanted to say but couldn’t). And then Kirk had changed his mind and come back – he had offered the ta’al in case it had been what Spock wanted but had then taken his hand, at the risk of rebuff, in case it was what Spock had needed.
He wished Kirk would write to him, without being remotely aware of how he could initiate such a correspondence himself.
He wished Kirk had tried to persuade him to stay, without being remotely sure that he could have complied.
He wished he had managed to tell Kirk, somehow, that he had been perfectly well aware of the amount of credits Kirk had regularly spent on supplies of guava juice for Spock and that Spock’s choice to pretend not to be aware that the juice had not appeared by magic had been part of a game and not a sign that he did not place a value on the procurement of the said guava juice entirely disproportionate to the drink itself.
He wished, sometimes, that James T Kirk had not been the means of ending the loneliness and isolation that Spock had inhabited since birth, only to let it go, so casually, because a Vulcan Chief Engineer had refused to shake the hand of a Faltonian diplomat. But he knew this was illogical and only wished it sometimes. For the most part, even if he never saw Kirk again, his preference would be to seal away in a remote deep inside place the memories of his years on the Enterprise, retrieve them occasionally in order not to tarnish or overuse them, but to spend the rest of his life at least knowing they were there, like items of great value that are best kept in a safe.
Kirk found it increasingly hard, the first few weeks after Spock’s departure, to meet Hikaru Sulu’s eyes.
He knew this was entirely irrational, because there was no way that Sulu was aware of the contents of his recent exchanges with Starfleet. But Kirk was himself aware and that awareness intruded increasingly on every conversation with the young helmsman.
Put simply, Startfleet’s recommendation was to promote Sulu to First Officer and Kirk had refused. He had not refused because he thought that Sulu was not up to it – far from it. Nor had he refused because he thought that Sulu would be better served on a different ship, having been the helmsman of the Enterprise so long, and with all the attendant changes that would be necessary to relationships with serving members of the crew. Kirk thought that Sulu was more than capable of handling that. And nor had he refused because he could not bear to replace Spock. Spock’s absence was a wound which showed not the slightest signs of healing, even after weeks since the start of the Seleya mission, but Kirk was a starship captain and he knew the Enterprise had to have a First Officer.
The reason Kirk had refused was simply that once he promoted Sulu the decision would be irreversible.
The rational in Kirk knew that Spock wasn’t coming back. The reasons for this were less relevant than the fact – he might not come back because the Seleya experiment became a permanence, he might not come back because he grew into the command role and would not want to serve under Kirk again, he might not come back because either the VSA or Starfleet forbade it, he might even not come back because of some nightmare world in which a command partnership which was half Vulcan half human was no longer possible. All of that paled into insignificance in Kirk’s mind beside the very fact of the absence, the very fact of loss. And this meant that a permanent replacement for Spock was not only logical but necessary.
Nevertheless, the fact was that Kirk’s affection, respect and loyalty for Sulu meant that a promotion of the helmsman was the only step he could now take which would, in his own mind, be a permanent block on Spock’s return, because it would be beyond both Spock and him to ask Sulu, under those hypothetical circumstances, to step aside. And that was why Kirk had declined Starfleet’s recommendation and why, as a consequence, he could not meet Sulu’s eyes.
The compromise which he had privately reached (another situation, Sam seemed to point out, in which no one would get what they wanted) was to appoint an external candidate on a fixed twelve month contract. If a miracle happened and Spock returned, Kirk would be able to make the space he needed to put the Vulcan back as his side (where he belonged, in Kirk’s private parenthesis). And if, at the end of a year, Kirk was faced with the inevitable, he would replace the external candidate with Sulu and would once again be able to give Sulu an order without looking in the opposite direction.
He was rescued by Mike Harding, an old friend from Academy days, who wrote to Kirk inviting him to his wedding on Earth in twelve months time. “You’ll remember from meeting Lisa last year”, he wrote “that I won’t be allowed on a starship again once we’ve tied the knot! So I’m looking for a role planetside. In an ideal world, I’d have one last fling in the stars till then, but it’s hard to get a short term posting at command level.” Kirk had spoken to Harding and offered him the posting within hours of reading this message. He liked and trusted Mike – it would not be like working with Spock, but then nothing would, and the crew would be happy.
It was a good choice – Harding was a cheerful, uncomplicated man who found instant acceptance with a crew disposed to find fault with any First Officer whose skin tone was not olive green and who did not routinely give the time of day to three decimal points. Mike was not stupid, he knew the nature of the being he was replacing and went out of his way to ensure that no one thought he was trying to be Spock. Kirk had known him long enough to feel no disloyalty to Spock in the provision of instant companionship which did very little to alleviate Kirk’s coruscating loneliness. And Harding made an instant ally of McCoy who, whilst missing Spock more than he was prepared to admit to anyone, let alone himself, found an easy congeniality in Harding’s company.
Kirk hoped this might stop McCoy asking him how Spock was. The questions had started off hourly and were still at least daily, and Kirk had yet to find the courage to tell the doctor that he had not actually contacted Spock. It was not that he did not want to – on the contrary, the silence, the lack of contact with the Vulcan was the most unnatural experience which felt, most of the time, like a physical pain. But he had not the slightest idea of how to turn his relationship with Spock into a correspondence.
The truth was that there was no one in Kirk’s life to whom he wrote regularly, preferring to speak even to his mother rather than write, however infrequently possible (a preference not shared by his surviving parent). He had neither the time nor inclination to do otherwise. And although there had been plenty of instances of crew members transferring off ships where he had served and where those crew members had become friends, it had never occurred to him to write, trusting instead to the inevitability of Starfleet life which meant you washed up against them, one day or one year, in some Starbase, in some distant planet. And he had never known Spock other than on the Enterprise – their entire relationship had been based on the closest of proximity.
How to turn Spock into someone to whom he wrote “Dear Spock...?”
How to ask him how he was, send him regards from McCoy?
How to know – how to be absolutely sure – the Vulcan would even want it?
Kirk had, in fact, written a number of messages to Spock. It was just that he hadn’t sent them. And nor had he sent the other message, the one he hadn’t written.
The ones Kirk had actually written and then deleted in disgust, ran as follows:
“Dear Spock, how is the mission going?”
“Dear Spock, McCoy wants to know how you are coping with all those Vulcans.”
“Dear Spock, is there anyone on the Seleya who can play chess?”
The message he had not actually written went as follows:
“Dear Spock. I have not written to you but then you have not written to me and perhaps neither of us quite knows why not. I know that, in great part, there is a huge reluctance in me to write the words “Dear Spock”, because they turn us into something we have never been and suggest that, appallingly, it might actually be true that you are no longer my constant comrade, my other half, my balance but someone on another ship, in another life, and that instead of laughing at you across the bridge I must, instead, write “Dear Spock.” Dear Spock – I didn’t try to make you stay, but you didn’t try to stay, either. Should I have? I think if I absolutely knew that you were unhappy with your choice, instead of it being a nagging worry lurking at the back of my mind (like that feeling in a mission when you know that it’s not quite all it seems but you can’t put your finger on why) – if I absolutely knew, I would make a nuisance of myself and probably a fool of both of us and find someone both at Starfleet and at the VSA to punch and do what perhaps I should have done all along – told you that you just couldn’t go, that it was as simple as that, that you belonged with me. But instead I am sitting at this computer console not even absolutely sure that you want me to write to you. Dear Spock, I think I thought that losing you would be bad but looking back at that imagining I realise I had no idea how bad. I want to ask you how it is for you, if you also work out chess moves in a game we’ll never play, but I don’t know the answer and I can’t ask the question. Dear Spock, what on earth am I supposed to do with all this guava juice?”
But in the end, he found the words. It was two months after Spock had left and, after receiving an update from Scotty on the Engineering Department one uneventful morning on bridge duty, he found himself sitting at the computer over lunch at the end of the shift.
“I thought you would like to know that the officer complement of the Engineering Department has increased by the addition of one Lieutenant Santini. Warp engines still in one piece – so far. Let me know how you are, Spock - J. “
And found his answer the following morning, checking for messages as he got dressed in his quarters.
“Captain, I trust that you have found a suitable accounting head of expenditure under which to allocate Commander Scott’s increase in salary. And I hope you are well. Best wishes, Spock, Seleya.”
Like the farewell handclasp, it was not much, but it was just about enough.
The call from HQ came, as it always did, when Kirk had been just on the point of ordering the shore leave rota to be implemented.
After a rather strenuous and traumatic few weeks working with a galactic rescue effort to support victims of global flooding in an offbeat world with little in the way of interstellar relationships and rather less in the way of climate defence systems, the Enterprise had been diverted to resolve a small interplanetary dispute in the Delta system. The Delta conflict had required a combination of intensive diplomacy on Kirk’s part and some active hands-on intervention by a large security team, leading to rather less sleep and rather more casualties (if none fatal) than Kirk had been hoping and, as a result of all this, shore leave was a priority. The ship was in orbit around Starbase 12 and Harding had already drawn up the lists for the first rotation when Uhura had announced the incoming message from Starfleet. Unusually, HQ was requesting face to face audio-visual communication in private and, with a sigh, Kirk collected his First Officer with a nod and moved towards the turbolift, leaving Sulu with the con.
“And better put that shore leave rota on hold,” he added, aware that the entire bridge crew would hear the comment and be aware of the potential consequences of the call from HQ. There was an almost audible collective expulsion of air, and Kirk made himself look around before stepping into the turbolift to radiate a reassuring grin. “Let’s wait and see – stand by, in the meantime, and make sure you’ve all packed your toothbrushes.”
Behind closed doors, he grimaced at Harding and leaned back against the wall, reaching up with one hand to release tension in his neck. As the turbolift hummed towards the briefing room level, Mike Harding said: “It’s indecent what you get away with, Jim. That smile should be illegal and you know it. But the team are exhausted and if I’d known what I was getting into, I’d have stayed at home and stuck with table arrangements for the wedding.”
“You’re damn right about the team,” said McCoy, appearing as the turbolift doors opened on this remark, “but you’re wrong about the wedding – it would have been far more exhausting, trust me on that. Jim – I hear we’re scheduled for more orders. The crew need a break; tell Starfleet to go bother someone else.”
“Gentlemen, thank you both, as always, for your invaluable advice,” Kirk said, pleasantly, leading the way to briefing room 3. “And please remember that this communication is Code 3C, which means you can listen but not participate. I am not entirely convinced that Bob Wesley will be interested in your views on the comparative stress of table plans.”
But when he switched on the viewer, it was not Wesley’s face but Nogura’s which looked out at him. He thought, “There goes shore leave,” and then “Please God, make McCoy keep quiet.”
“Captain,” Nogura said with his customary smile which Kirk read, as always, as bestowing genuine warmth on Kirk whilst concealing an entirely different set of objectives and strategies which were nothing to do with any personal relationship with his officers.
“Sir,” he said. “This is an unexpected honour.”
“I won’t waste your time or insult your intelligence, Captain,” the C-in-C said, drily, “and you may or may not think these orders an honour but I hope they might bring their compensations.”
Kirk raised an eyebrow and said nothing, waiting for Nogura to continue and suddenly feeling too tired for either honours or compensations. The wave of exhaustion left him entirely unprepared for the impact of the next sentence.
“The Enterprise is to proceed with immediate effect to rendezvous with the VSS Seleya in Gamma sector.”
He was aware of a sudden movement from McCoy, of his own, almost visceral reaction and then, overwhelmingly, of a monosyllabic question – Why? And before he could voice it, or perhaps because Nogura read it in his face, he didn’t have to.
“This request comes at the highest level, Captain, from me and also from Ambassador Sarek.” I’ll bet it does, he thought. “Jim, I need you to be very, very clear on what is going on here. It is imperative for the sake of future dialogue between Vulcan and Starfleet that the development of the VSS Seleya mission is not left in a vacuum – that its relationship with Fleet vessels does not proceed on an ad hoc basis. It has been proposed and agreed that there should be a fixed liaison responsibility within Starfleet and that, in essence, that this ship should work in partnership with the Seleya.”
“This liaison ship being the Enterprise, sir,” Kirk said.
“Sir,” said Kirk, very carefully indeed, thinking – First I tell McCoy and Mike not to talk to Bob Wesley about wedding arrangements and here am I challenging the C-in-C face to face, too right I need shore leave – “Sir, with respect, the resources of a flagship vessel such as the Enterprise –“
“Could not be put to better use,” Nogura finished for him, smoothly. “Captain, I don’t need to tell you quite how much rides on this. And you may just be the only one who can deliver for us.” By way of goodbye, then, eyes on Kirk’s face, he said warmly “Do give my regards to Captain Spock, won’t you, Jim?” and the connection went dead.
McCoy said, trying hard to conceal an immediate and obvious pleasure and failing entirely : “God help us - a ship full of Vulcans. One was bad enough and I bet he’s gone native.”
Harding said nothing but looked at Kirk thoughtfully.
Kirk was silent. He was fighting a conflicting tide of emotions, mixed in with exhaustion and topped by a feeling of betrayal such as he had yet to experience in relation to Nogura. He was too seasoned an officer not to be aware of the needs of diplomacy and politics, but it had never hit so close to home before.
Gamma sector. Mentally, he ran a rough calculation of their current position and thought that it might not be unreasonable for the Seleya and Enterprise to be able to rendezvous within perhaps eight days, which meant that even allowing for a few days shore leave (the wisdom of which he would somehow manage to convey to HQ; they would accept that an exhausted crew was in no shape to tackle the diplomatic minefields ahead) he would see Spock in person in less than a fortnight. The thought alone – fourteen days, 336 hours, an almost visual sense of what they looked like and how quickly they would go - was sufficient to kindle a small warmth inside him in a place which had been cold for nearly six months.
But this was a private warmth for a private reason. He had taken his oath to Starfleet and he had given the Fleet everything over the years - his days, his nights, his love, his loyalty – offered his life, on occasion, though always, so far, managed to cheat that final down-payment. But his personal relationships had been off-limits.. And his feelings for Spock were about as personal as James Kirk got. He knew he was not being asked to work with the Seleya because he was James T Kirk, or because the Enterprise was the Fleet’s flagship – or even because it had once been Spock’s home. He was being asked to lever his friendship with Spock to ameliorate the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet and just at that moment he longed, more than anything else, to refuse.
For the first time since the news had broken of the Halcyon court martial, he felt used, dirty. And wondered whether it had felt the same way to Spock, under pressure to take the Seleya assignment in the first place, and whether he had owed him more support, more understanding than he had given at the time.
And yet - Gamma sector. Fourteen days. He knew that even if it had been possible to refuse the C-in-C (and he was not about to throw away his career over this), it would not have been in him to turn down that invitation; even if the invitation did not come from Spock and even if (as he strongly suspected) in warping to the Seleya he was not travelling back to the same friendship he had last saluted on Christmas Day with a badly played chess match, a volume of the unspoken and a tightly clasped handshake.
As the weeks wore on, his desultory exchange of electronic mail with Spock had failed to translate into anything much more substantive, partly because he had continued to struggle with the means of communication but mainly because he had become aware of a reservation on the part of the Vulcan. Spock was hiding something, he knew, and Kirk thought it was probably a level of unhappiness to which the Vulcan was not prepared to admit. Face to face, Kirk was more than able to drag problems out of his erstwhile First Officer. He knew very well the nineteen different possible meanings which lay behind “Vulcans have no emotions”. He was a galactic expert on Spock’s expressionless face and, as a last resort, had sometimes achieved significant success through direct attack, from the “Would it help if I told you I’ll treat this as totally confidential?” during the days before Spock’s pon farr to “You are irreplaceable to the ship and you are entirely and permanently irreplaceable to me personally” just before Spock left the ship. Without any of these tactics, all of which depended on physical presence, together with a nagging worry that his exchanges with Spock might not be secure from watching eyes, he was helpless. He had hated the sense of not talking truth with the Vulcan and had therefore allowed the dialogue to descend to the banal and the infrequent, hoping against hope that there would be an opportunity to meet in person. And here it was, but not of his choosing and not of Spock’s.
He turned, aware that both Harding and McCoy were watching him now, waiting for a reply, and consciously straightened his face. Yet one more thing I learned from Spock, he thought, with black humour.
“Mike, give the crew four days leave. They need it and if we use the rotations effectively, everyone will have a good seventy-two hours rest that way. Then have Chekov plot a course to intercept Seleya leaving here in four days’ time at warp 6 and ask Uhura to notify Spock of our ETA. But first of all have Uhura get me HQ again – not Nogura, Wesley would be best.”
“Yes sir,” Harding said smartly, and left.
McCoy looked at him, curiously.
“That it, Jim? Thought you might be a bit happier than that to see the hobgoblin. I admit to a small degree of interest and anticipation myself, but I’ll give you a double annual physical if you tell the man I said so. How about we kidnap him and give him a chance to remember his human half?”
“Leave it, Bones,” he said, tiredly, running a hand through his hair. “Aren’t you supposed to be packing?” And left the briefing room to negotiate his crew’s shoreleave.
Kirk had chosen with great care the initial team to go over to the Seleya. It had been tempting to include all the old hands, and indeed he had seen hopeful expressions on the faces of Scott, Uhura, Sulu and particularly Chekov, whom he knew had missed Spock acutely. But his mission here was not Old Home Week and the need was to present as professionally as possible. At first, he thought he might just take Harding, but on reflection decided to include McCoy. He was wary of the culture he would find predominant on the Vulcan ship and trusted McCoy’s antennae to give him some feedback. On the subject of Spock himself, he would back his own antennae.
And at the last minute, he included Leo Santini, as well, and for this he had no very good reason at all, beyond an obscure gratitude to the boy for having given him a good excuse to contact Spock earlier in the year. And because he thought Spock would like to see him.
He had absolutely no idea, beyond the exchange of some frighteningly official messages with Spock since leaving Starbase 12, why he should feel less convinced that Spock would like to see Kirk himself.
Two days out from the ETA with the Seleya, Kirk had called a meeting of all senior personnel.
“This is, to all intents and purposes, an alien ship,” he said. “The Seleya is not a Starfleet vessel and it will not feel like one to us. She flies under her own flag and we must remember that. The diplomatic context is both fraught and of crucial significance for the future of the Federation. It is a situation in which we must all be diplomats, must all think through every word and every action before it is said and done. You all know the background to recent events and it goes without saying that there must be no physical touching of any of the crew of the Seleya.” He hesitated, then went on. “Captain Spock deserves our especial consideration. On the one hand, I suggest you prepare yourselves for the fact that, as the Vulcan commander of the Seleya, he is answerable to professional and cultural obligations that mean his dealings with us may be less familiar than we may expect. On the other hand, he is still our colleague and comrade and deserves our absolute support. Thank you, that is all.”
Everything unravelled as the transporter dazzle faded and his eyes sought and found Spock’s. It felt like a physical relief, like coming home, like recognising an old friend after several times mistaking a stranger for him in the street. What in heaven’s name did it matter why he was here, who had ordered it or for what purpose, and why had he ever questioned or resented the suggestion? How on earth had he allowed Spock and himself to become mired in electronic half truths, in miscommunication, in silence? This – this – was Spock, not the author of those cryptic messages, not the correspondence which had been a pale imitation of the magic of their shared spaces, not the captain of the VSS Seleya but that face, that gaze, that instant connection, the feeling of knowing and of being known, that inner recognition, that silent hello. And because this was Spock, this, too, was Kirk – he felt himself again, truly alive for the first time in months.
He stepped off the transporter platform, followed by Harding, McCoy and Santini and was introduced in turn to a line of personnel. He nodded to each of them in turn, hearing his greetings echoed behind him by the Enterprise team.
Saredin, Chief Engineer. So this was the architect of the collapse in Kirk’s personal life. He studied with interest intelligent eyes, carved features, high forehead. Spock had been right; there was a distinction about the expression that suggested he would be an interesting conversationalist, if not a formidable enemy. But Kirk had a score to settle with Saredin and would take a long time to win over.
T’Mala. It had simply never occurred to Kirk that Spock would be serving with a female First Officer. The woman was stunningly beautiful, but absolutely glacial. Kirk found himself thinking that Sarek, beside her, would seem as warm and entertaining as a magician at a child’s birthday party. And then he wondered what Spock made of her – Spock, who had been treated so very harshly by T’Pring. What was it about the females of Spock’s species who wore their Vulcan heritage with such little warmth or humour? And if not – if Kirk was wrong about T’Mala, either in her views of Spock or Spock’s of her, what did that mean? He suddenly wondered if T’Mala were bonded, if this might be a solution for Spock, if it meant that Spock could find a way back to complete integration in his home planet, after all.
Kirk felt a sudden chill, and shook himself. And then, next in line, the Seleya’s captain.
“Captain,” he said, looking into the familiar face, trying hard – very hard – for diplomatic sobriety but entirely unable to keep a warm smile from the corners of his mouth.
“Captain,” Spock said. Their eyes held, and then Kirk nodded and moved off.
A tour of the ship was followed by a meeting in a large, austere briefing room, attended by the Enterprise delegation together with Spock, T’Mala and Saredin.
“We welcome both your crew and the initiative, Captain, and look forward to working in close collaboration with the Enterprise. Our proposal is to test out the potential parameters of that collaboration and, at the same time, deepen our mutual understanding by developing a pilot partnership mission. T’Mala will present,” and he nodded to the Vulcan First Officer to continue.
T’Mala made a fluent, if toneless, presentation to the meeting on a scientific study which the Seleya team had been conducting into the effect on dilithium crystallisation of certain atmospheric conditions found only in the Gamma sector. Watching her, Kirk found himself speculating all over again on Spock – how he had adjusted to being back in the Vulcan world, whether he had discovered changes in himself, whether he saw officers like T’Mala as Kirk did, or whether his different view point had allowed an easy re-integration, even a collegiate understanding. He stole a glance at Spock, who was looking unblinkingly at T’Mala and was just wondering, with an odd stab of worry and affection whether the lines around Spock’s eyes were exhaustion or unhappiness, when he was brought back to earth by the words “shore leave”.
“.... to assess the evidence of the earlier experiment; however, it has been necessary to proceed without allowing your officers the opportunity to evaluate since the Enterprise was four point three days late to rendezvous, due to unscheduled shore leave.”
McCoy opened his mouth and Kirk said, smoothly
“I must apologise for any delay occasioned by the ship’s stay at Starbase 12. At the time we received our orders, the crew were preparing for shore leave. We arranged to shorten our stay somewhat but it was impossible to arrive within the optimal timeframe as a result.”
T’Mala stared at him, expressionlessly.
“We did not understand the need or justification for leisure given the nature of the mission or the source of the orders, Captain Kirk.”
He felt McCoy stir again, spoke swiftly, with his trademark grin (which was entirely ignored)
“We’d had a tough run. The crew were exhausted – I discussed it with HQ before we left. As I said, Commander, we cut the timing short but it was important to me personally that we made the rendezvous in the best condition to give this mission the attention it deserves.”
“Commander T’Mala does not understand the need for shore leave in a ship of the line on active duty. She has not served in Starfleet with human crews and is unaware of their comparative physical frailty.”
Kirk was aware simultaneously of McCoy’s “Now, wait just a damn minute -” and his own immediate understanding that Saredin actually thought he was being helpful, that the comment had been delivered in factual tones as if providing an explanation for a weather front. Disregarding both, he said, very loudly
“We appreciate the explanation, Lieutenant-Commander, and we regret the delay,” and started wondering how soon they could go back to the ship. There were prices too high to pay even for the pleasure of sitting round the same table as Spock.
T’Mala barely noticed his apology and continued to outline her proposal, which seemed to involve a joint team of scientists from both vessels conducting the study on board the Seleya where the work had already begun, with a control experiment to be set up on the Enterprise. From the luxury of trusting Spock entirely on what would be a safe and appropriate scientific venture (whilst making a note to himself to consult Scotty on the side when he was back on the ship), Kirk thought it sounded as good an ice-breaker as any – ice being the operative word. And then the other shoe dropped.
“Could I see the list of proposed personnel?” Harding was asking, politely.
T’Mala turned to the screen, where the end of the proposal gave a list of Vulcan names.
“As already provided, Commander,” she said, coolly.
Mike nodded, courteously.
“I will draw up an equivalent list and send it over to you within the hour, Commander,” he offered.
T’Mala looked at him.
“There is a misunderstanding, Commander Harding. We have included in this list all VSA-rated scientists serving on both ships. There are none on the Enterprise, and therefore there is no need to include further names. However, we do recognise the need for joint teamwork and suggest that it would be appropriate for you to put forward a list of names of personnel who may be able to assist with the administrative tasks associated with the project.”
In the outcry that followed, Kirk was aware, more than McCoy’s choice of Georgian epithets, more than the interesting expression (hitherto not witnessed by Kirk) worn by Mike Harding when subject to blazing fury, more than Santini’s look of distress, more than his own swelling irritation – more than all these things, of Spock’s utter immobility.
“Gentlemen,” he said forcibly, glaring at McCoy and Harding, who both subsided. He turned to T’Mala.
“Commander – perhaps you could elucidate. It would be much appreciated.”
“Of course, Captain. The Enterprise’s former sole VSA-rated scientist is now commanding this vessel. You have other scientists on board, but they do not have this rating in the requisite speciality. I suspect that your vessel has in the past over-relied on Captain Spock’s proficiency and failed accordingly to develop parallel contingency expertise – it is a common personnel planning failure.” Too right, he thought. I wasn’t planning on losing Spock to you. I wasn’t planning on Saredin being so damn rude. But I won’t get that one wrong again. She was going on, “In my view, it would be appropriate to deploy Lieutenant Santini in this role. He has been trained by a VSA-rated scientist and his methodology will enable us to make use of his support.”
Before he could stop him, McCoy drawled
“I guess that we need to focus on VSA-rating because human standards are just insufficient.”
“Bones,” Kirk hissed. But T’Mala was quite unmoved.
“That is essentially correct, yes Doctor.”
“Well, Spock,” McCoy continued, before Kirk could stop him, “It’s been an education. I take back all those things I said about you over the years. I should have saved them up till now.”
Kirk found himself, to his horror, struggling not to laugh. And then Spock spoke, into the silence which followed:
“Lieutenant Santini is extremely well qualified to assist in this project and his participation would be most welcome.”
An olive branch or a confirmation? A welcome or a rejection?
Kirk’s eyes rested on Santini. The boy looked uncomfortable but there was also a clear delight at the compliment and at the prospect of working with Spock again. Kirk couldn’t blame him for that, and he was glad someone was getting something out of the encounter. He thought that they would all benefit from ending the meeting as soon as possible, but he couldn’t resist a small diversion of his own – even if the Vulcans thought he was raving mad, even if Nogura had him court-martialled – even, which would negate the entire objective, if Spock refused to listen.
“I think that all sounds perfectly satisfactory,” he said, pleasantly. “We’ll beam back over, except for Santini here, and I’ll brief Commander Scott. That is, of course, unless you would like me on the team?”
He was aware that T’Mala almost – not quite but almost – turned her head quickly, as if in surprise – but even more keenly aware that Spock, across the table from him and still not meeting his eyes, had stilled completely, suddenly. And he smiled to himself, and thought Yes.
“You, Captain Kirk?” T’Mala asked carefully.
“Well, it’s true I’m not VSA-rated. Or at least, not last time I checked,” he said, genially. “But I’m not a Luddite, you know. I’ve been known to assemble an explosive device from raw materials without recourse to scientific equipment of any description at all. And I am, after all, responsible for the discovery of an entirely new element.”
“Which element is that, Captain?” Saredin asked. He sounded frosty, unlike T’Mala, who merely sounded as though Kirk wasn’t really there at all.
Kirk gave a happy smile to the assembled meeting.
“It’s called corbomite, gentlemen,” he said cheerfully, standing up. “Ask your captain, I am sure he would be delighted to explain. And now, if you will forgive us, I think we should return to the Enterprise.”
He reflected afterwards that whilst the corbomite reference was unforgivable (what on earth had happened to the “absolute support” he had pledged Spock in front of his entire senior team on the Enterprise?) he might just about have got away with it – even have credited himself with salvaging some of the tension of the earlier part of the meeting, if he hadn’t relaxed sufficiently in the process to forget – just briefly, just for a second – the one thing he had taken such pains to warn the crew about, to warn himself about. The one thing he should never have allowed himself to forget for one nanosecond.
“It goes without saying that there must be no physical touching of any of the crew of the Seleya.”
And as they lined up to leave, as they filed into the transporter chamber and he followed Harding and McCoy down the stony-faced line of Vulcan officers, as he reached the end and turned to smile his goodbye, entirely by reflex action - a reflex born of countless missions standing side by side with the last Vulcan in that sober line - he reached up to touch Spock on the shoulder.
And Spock froze and stepped back, away out of his reach.
There was a collective stillness in the room.
Kirk coloured violently as humiliation and anger swept over him.
He stepped back and followed McCoy on to the transporter platform, Harding close behind him, said “Energise” and the beam took him away.
Spock looked at the meditation mat and the meditation mat looked at him. He knew that it was illogical for the mat to look at him because the mat had no visual faculty of any kind. Nevertheless, he was keenly aware of both the reproach and the superiority of the mat. The mat thought he should be at least trying to meditate and not, as Spock had done for the only time within functional memory, giving up without any attempt at all. And the mat knew that he was doomed, knew that Spock was a long way from Surak just now, and even further from the meditation mat on the Seleya.
He had received the news from Sarek of the proposed liaison with the Enterprise with an odd mixture of relief and anxiety, neither of which had been admitted (even to himself) and neither of which had permitted, at least initially, any stronger feelings. He had experienced the same reluctance as Kirk, a sector away, in relation to the rationale which underlay the choice of the vessel with which he was to liaise, and a deep sense of foreboding as to the impact on his relationship with Kirk – Kirk, with whom he had never managed to establish any real contact since leaving the Enterprise; Kirk, who would now be witness to what he knew would be alienating and incomprehensible to human eyes in terms of his attempts to fulfil Sarek’s objective and gain the credibility of a politicised and sensitive Vulcan crew; Kirk, whose imminent proximity, eight days away, was sufficient to suffuse him with the sort of deep, physical relief which accompanies a drink in the desert (unless, of course, you are desert-bred and have no need for recourse to the alleviation of human weakness).
Spock’s views on the pure logic of higher mathematics received an unexpected blow when eight days became fourteen.
Neither the apparent lack of hurry on the part of the Enterprise nor the terse and relentlessly official messages from Kirk announcing the ship’s ETA prepared him for the shock of seeing Kirk in the transporter room. Spock considered, sitting now in his quarters, if he should not immediately resign from the Seleya, given the incongruity of a Vulcan commander at once believing in the animate characteristics of a meditation mat and at the same time in the fact that a period of six months had, in fact, lasted several years. At least, that was the impression he had had on meeting Kirk’s eyes as he had materialised. In that brief moment, he had remembered everything which he had so signally failed to access through their correspondence – Kirk’s affection, Spock’s confidence in his own significance to the human, their connection, Kirk’s very essence. And then it had all gone so badly wrong.
The growing clashes between the two teams.
T’Mala’s haughtiness, Saredin’s bluntness, McCoy’s inevitable outburst, Kirk’s laidback warmth – even Harding, whose stalwart support for Kirk had jarred Spock horribly in a place he knew he had no right to be jarred.
And then the moment at the end, which Spock had seen unfold in inevitable slow motion. That hand, reaching; his own flesh, responding; his determined but almost impossible physical mastery of his own body and of the situation, pulling back from Kirk and the look in Kirk’s eyes.
Would Kirk understand?
Or would he understand but not forgive, given what he knew of Kirk’s views on Vulcan extremism? Kirk had decided views on any form of extremism, but he knew his former captain had a visceral dislike of the Vulcan manifestation of fundamentalism. Given that Kirk’s whole life was built on the creed of the owning and sharing of human vulnerability, human emotionalism in all its glory, the way of Surak was never going to be a natural fit for him. Kirk’s official and genuine stance, of course, was an express adherence to the philosophy of diversity. But it was his feelings for Spock and Spock’s rejection at the hands of his family and of his people which had sealed the matter for Kirk, and Spock knew it – knew that Kirk might well see this as a betrayal on a number of levels.
Or would he trust Spock? Was it too much to ask – did Spock, in fact, ask it? – that after all they had been through together, all they were to each other, the human would, in fact, remember who Spock was and trust him?
Spock looked at the meditation mat and the mat looked back in pity.
“Well, I thought,” Kirk said, consideringly, materialising on the Enterprise with Harding and McCoy and speaking in the tone of one adopting a well thought out view, “I thought that all went pretty badly, don’t you?”
“Jim,” McCoy began, uncomfortably, but Kirk waved him down. He didn’t want McCoy’s perception, his sympathy, he thought that, right now, he could bear anything but that.
“Time for bed, gentlemen, I think. Tomorrow is a whole new day. Just now, I am not sure whether that’s a good thing or not. See you then.”
Lying in his quarters, not expecting to sleep, he felt a renewed tide of anger sweep over him, anger and desolation. He was furious with himself for the slip, for forgetting, for letting go. He was even angrier with Spock.
His mind went back to the meeting of eyes as he had arrived on the Seleya. That feeling of homecoming, of recognition, of – damn it, Kirk, say it – love. Neither of them had said or done anything; had it been simply his imagination that those feelings had been reflected in the dark eyes? Had it always been transference, all along, since the very beginning? He refused to believe that, thought back to chess games, nights of easy companionship, shared moments of amusement and understanding. No, it had not been transference. Not until now.
He let the scene flow through his mind; removed from the immediacy of that bleak meeting room, the tension in him eased and he could even smile. The clashes had been so inevitable, the behaviour of everyone – even himself, even Spock – so very typical. But he kept coming back to the ending, to that rejection, that turning away, and could not get past it.
Had he made up Spock’s expression in the transporter room, on arrival? Had he changed that much? Should he trust Spock? But would the Spock he knew have inflicted that public humiliation, that denial? He knew that the Vulcan was functioning under tremendous strain, knew something was badly wrong, but couldn’t decide whether it was self imposed or not – whether the change came from within, as a result of the posting on the Seleya, or whether he was marching to other orders.
The trouble was that he knew that Spock probably had very few choices. But at the end of the day, everyone had at least one. And Spock’s, in this instance, were not his; it was as simple as that. In his heart, he simply did not believe that Vulcan philosophy was worth the sacrifice of a friendship and yet it was to Spock – and this despite the fact that Vulcan had treated Spock as an outcast all his life. Whereas he, Kirk, had spoken the words “You are irreplaceable to the ship and you are entirely and permanently irreplaceable to me personally” – well, perhaps better not to go there. What he had said, he meant, but he couldn’t blame Spock for choosing a planet over a person. Not just a planet but his only chance of acceptance and reconciliation.
He had been right about one thing, and that was not to expect sleep. Lying in bed, his hand remembered the last touch, the farewell six months earlier and, sub-consciously, in a movement which was part physical memory, party talisman, part touchstone, his right hand crossed over to his left and held it lightly. Kirk’s eyes closed but sleep still eluded him.
In later years, when he looked back on the six weeks of the joint Gamma sector dilithium project, Kirk was often to wonder how he survived with his sanity intact. He had known more daunting missions, much greater danger, even greater unhappiness, but he had never faced at the same time so many different threats to his peace of mind: boredom, frustration, irritation, politics, loneliness, anxiety, anger and hurt. Danger would have been welcome by comparison and as a distraction. In many ways, the boredom was the most corrosive of all, because at heart Kirk was a man of action, and his solution to most problems, all his life, had been to lose himself in work, preferably physical work. Tied to a politically fraught experiment requiring only specialist scientists, this route was barred to him. Leisure allowed too much thinking. That left diplomatic efforts with the officers of the Seleya and reading routine Starfleet reports.
Kirk chose to spend much of his time reading reports.
Every day, he would check in with Spock, for the most part strained, official conversations focused almost entirely on the progress of the project. Every other day he would take two or three officers over to the Vulcan ship on official visits to be shown around the ship, to meet members of the crew, to watch the team at work, to be briefed on the progress of the project and to learn about the emerging ethos of the new Vulcan vessel. Spock was present on all occasions but largely silent, delegating the explanations to his officers. They were never alone together. He was fairly sure this was by mutual design.
He remembered, almost with nostalgia, the preceding six months – months when he had missed Spock, true, with a constant, nagging ache, but when he had got on with his life, achieved small successes, travelled, fought, got tired, slept – and when, above all, his sadness about Spock had been a simple, uncomplicated thing, unmixed with hurt or anger. He now found that the months had erected an invisible barrier between him and his friend, and that he could not reach through it. What had caused it, he was unsure, though he suspected the foundations were made of their mutual inability to talk properly when Spock had left the Enterprise – perhaps also his earlier failure to support Spock properly through his original decision; that the wall had been strengthened by Spock’s divided loyalties and their inarticulate correspondence, and that it had been cemented by his own clumsiness and Spock’s consequent rejection. There were times, he found, when if he looked at Spock from a certain angle, the barrier between them was less visible, times when things between them seemed almost normal, but even then Kirk made sure that he kept his distance, physically and metaphorically. He could not risk crossing the barrier again, and this in itself was so alien a thing, so utterly at odds with the essence of what they had always been to each other, that Kirk’s heart ached. There were also times when he looked at Spock and almost fancied he saw a plea for something – for what? – in the dark eyes; and other times when he looked at the Vulcan and saw a stranger. But, like Spock now, as he had predicted when he took the orders from Nogura, he was caught between friendship and duty and knew that he could not put the mission further at risk by entering into any sort of personal dialogue with the captain of the Seleya.
Less often than his own excursions to the Seleya, the Vulcan officers would visit the Enterprise to view the control experiment run by Scott and, whilst having a natural preference for being on his own ship over the alien austerity of the Seleya, Kirk nevertheless found these occasions infinitely more painful because they turned Spock into a visitor in what Kirk preferred to think of as the Vulcan’s home. Disturbed and confused as he was by Spock’s demeanour on the Seleya and specifically towards him, his intuition spoke to him much more confidently about Spock’s presence on the Enterprise and Kirk was quite sure the Vulcan felt awkward and unhappy on these visits.
Once, Saredin expressed a desire to be shown around the Enterprise’s leisure facilities with T’Mala. Kirk was absolutely certain that this was for the purpose of demonstrating human frailty and frivolity and decided that the occasion would proceed more smoothly without his presence. He detailed Scott and Sulu to show the visitors around (he had devised an informal rota to ensure that as many of the officers became acquainted with as many of the Vulcan crew as possible) and, with time on his hands and finding Mike Harding also at a loose end, suggested on impulse a game of chess.
He had never played chess with Harding – and, in fact, he realised, setting up the board in the rec room, that it had been several years since he had played with anyone but Spock. Handling the pieces brought back a rush of memory – of evenings of surrender or victory, in companionable debate and in shared silence. He had not used the board since that last, poorly played game the night before Spock had left. He wondered if Spock played chess on the Seleya, if he thought of Kirk when he did, if he found it harder to play against Vulcans. Or easier.
Harding was not a natural chess player and the first game lasted less than five minutes. The second game was shorter. After the First Officer’s fourth, rapid move, he said, sounding pleased
“I remember now, I’m getting the hang of it,” and in the same breath, Kirk said:
There was a short beat, and then both men burst out laughing. For Kirk, it was almost painful, like the sudden release of too much tension. He creased in his chair, gasping for breath, holding his side, and then lifted his head to see Mike suddenly sober up. Following his gaze, twisting round in his seat, Kirk saw that the Vulcan contingent had come into the room behind him and were watching them: Sareden, T’Mala – and Spock, whom Kirk had not realised had been part of the delegation.
He stood, too suddenly, laughter a distant memory, the movement scattering chess pieces.
“Captain – gentlemen. My apologies,” he said, discomfited without being sure why. And then he saw Spock’s eyes move from Harding to the chess set and back to Harding. He was suddenly, absolutely sure he knew what was in the Vulcan’s mind, sure that the same memories were suddenly clouding his vision, and something twisted inside Kirk, something painful and sad. Without thinking, he took a step forward, but then Spock’s eyes came up to meet his and they were opaque and hard, and stopped Kirk in his tracks.
“We were just watching the lads in the gym, sir,” and Kirk said, incoherently, “Good, good,” and the group left the room. Kirk picked up the pieces in silence, smiled briefly at Harding and went back to his quarters, fighting not to think, reaching for the first distraction, and that was when he brought up the latest report on border movements along the Neutral Zone. He frowned, read it again, and then something clicked in his mind and he stretched his hand to recall an earlier message.
He stiffened slightly and, between one breath and the next, transformed into a very different man from the caged, unhappy individual who had mused about former chess games in the rec room. By reflex – that same, fatal reflect which had led him to reach out to Spock six weeks earlier – by reflex, he almost called the Vulcan, but at the last minute he remembered, painfully, and called Harding.
“Mike, can you come to my quarters immediately, please. And find out where Spock and his party are – if they’re back on the Seleya, have Uhura hail them and ask Spock if he has time for an urgent conference.”
Mike Harding stopped speaking and sat down. The monitors in the Seleya boardroom still showed the tactical graphs of the Neutral Zone maps. Kirk looked expectantly at Spock’s officers.
“I do not understand the significance of this information,” T’Mala said.
Kirk gave up on her and his eyes sought Spock’s.
“The Klingons have moved all their vessels from this entire stretch of the Neutral Zone – here, here and here,” he said, gesturing. “And the Romulan Fleet is concentrated here and here, a long way out from base.” His eyes held the Vulcan’s, willing Spock to understand, to revisit their old dialogue. Spock looked down and then up at him.
“You believe that they are preparing for military activity,” he said. It was not a question.
“This seems to me, with respect, Captain, to be a conclusion reached with insufficient data. There could be a number of reasons for the movement of these vessels.”
“It is a common human behavioural pattern,” said Saredin, calmly, “to make facile assumptions about military intentions on the part of a hostile force. It lies behind every human conflict and is responsible for countless death and destruction in your world.”
Kirk forced himself mentally to count to ten. After he got to three, he gave up and said
“I agree with you entirely about passages in our history, Lieutenant-Commander. However, I like to think we have evolved somewhat since the Middle Ages and since the World Wars. Captain Spock, can you suggest any other reason why the Klingons and Romulans should have moved such a large proportion of their respective fleets in this way?”
“It is impossible to deduce such a rationale with any degree of certainty,” T’Mala was beginning, when Spock said,
“I agree with Captain Kirk that his suggestion is, on balance, the most likely to be the case,” and Kirk’s heart bumped slightly, for a reason which had nothing to do with the imminence of war with the Klingons. He told it to behave itself and also told himself that it was impolitic to smile because the captain of the Seleya had interrupted and contradicted his own First Officer.
“Even if that were the case,” T’Mala said, evenly, and Kirk thought I’d like her more if she showed the slightest signs of even noticing that Spock has cut her down to size, “even if that were the case, what is the reason for seeking this meeting, Captain? Surely you are not proposing that the Seleya would be interested in military manoeuvres – let alone engage in their equivalent?”
And it was at that point - when Kirk suddenly realised the truth that lay behind T’Mala’s words, the fact that, out in the middle of Gamma sector, conducting a scientific study on dilithium crystallisation, several days out from the nearest Starfleet vessel and in partnership with a Vulcan captain who refused to meet his eyes 94% of the time, with by far the most likely explanation of the Neutral Zone reports that the Klingons or the Romulans or both were finally preparing for outright war against each other or the Federation and he was acting under express orders to develop closer diplomatic ties with a ship flying the flag of a pacifist nation – it was at that point that the Seleya’s Communications Officer entered the room and said:
“The Enterprise is signalling that they have a communication from Starfleet HQ requiring Captain Kirk’s immediate attention, sir.”
And Kirk exchanged one, swift glance with Spock – possibly the most direct communication between the two since the moment he had materialised in the transporter room of the Seleya six weeks earlier – and got to his feet.
“Forgive me, gentlemen,” he said, collecting Harding with a nod, and left the room.
Kirk looked at the desk in front of him, at the computer console and at the bulkheads of his quarters. They all looked normal, looked as they had five minutes earlier when he had returned from the Seleya. A book was still beside his bed, his chess board still on his desk where he had put it down after retrieving it from the rec room earlier. There was therefore no immediate evidence that he had either gone insane or been transported to a parallel universe. He passed a hand over his face, through his hair and shook his head slightly.
“Bob,” he said, playing for time, seeking the right words.
Wesley’s image looked at him, across the light years, with an expression of sympathy in his face that Kirk was too wired to read.
“I know exactly, exactly what you’re going to say, Jim. Say it, by all means, get it off your chest. But it won’t make any difference, I’m afraid.”
“Does HQ really understand what it’s asking me to do?”
“Yes, Captain. More than that, it’s betting all it has that you can do it. As Nogura said, you’re the only one who can.”
“Why can’t the Seleya and the Enterprise go on the way we have been the past six weeks?” he asked, thinking Thirty minutes ago I would have bet all the credits in Starfleet those words would have never passed my lips.
“It’s war, Jim. You know as well as I do. It’s war, and we’ve never faced the Klingons and the Romulans united against us – it’s a doomsday scenario which threatens everything – everything. We need an absolute chain of command, across the spectrum. And, more important than that, it’s intended to reassure Vulcan, as a real gesture of faith. It’s just about the most we can give right now and Nogura is hoping it will work. Without this, the VSA will never agree to any kind of association or continued liaison between their ship and what they will see as a military force. They will simply withdraw the Seleya and she’ll just go back to Vulcan. We can’t afford that and you know it.”
“But to put the Enterprise under temporary orders of the Seleya – let’s be honest, Bob, the Enterprise is one of the Fleet’s most effective fighting vessels. You’re effectively putting her out of action for the conflict by assigning her to a pacifist taskforce. And if we’re getting personal here –“
“And I know it’s personal for you. Go on, spill it.”
“I damn well will,” he said, standing up restlessly, walking round the office. “Forget that he’s my former First, Wesley, I’m an adult and I accept relationships change. But while I rate Spock above almost anyone in the known universe for almost any purpose, the truth is that I’m the experienced military commander and he’s not.”
“This not a military mission, Jim,” Wesley said, softly.
He sat down again, drummed his fingers.
“Look, Bob. I’ve followed Starfleet orders all my adult life –“
“Well, most of the time,” the computer image said, drily. “And this is not the time to break them, Captain. Take my word for it. And good luck.”
And the image went dead.
He went back to the Seleya, because he had no choice. He went back to the Seleya, unspeakably grateful for Harding’s silent sympathy at his shoulder, and walked down the corridors towards the briefing room he had left thirty minutes earlier, drawing up a mental list of all the things he would prefer to be doing right now.
Fighting Klingons. Probably about forty, all at once.
Having a full physical with McCoy.
Taking his Academy exams again. Twice.
Being grounded by his father, aged sixteen, for having trashed the family aircar.
Fighting Spock on the sands of Vulcan in the double heat of the sun and of pon farr – think of something else, Kirk, he told himself. Not that memory. Not now.
He wiped his mind clear of everything – everything – and made himself walk through the door.
Two sets of Vulcan eyes swung towards him – Saredin and T’Mala, who were sitting at the briefing table. Kirk told himself that it was entirely projection on his part that they looked in some way triumphant, pleased. It was impossible for them to be pleased because pleasure was a human emotion. It ought to be impossible for him to feel resentful and angry because he had told Wesley that he was an adult and accepted that “relationships change”. It was possible that he was in a situation when the impossible was, in fact, what he had to get used to.
The third set of eyes belonged to Spock, but Kirk could not see them because Spock was standing with his back to the door, looking out of the window. He felt something unnameable rising within him, told it to go away, cleared his throat, and said quietly:
“Captain. I assume you will have received notification of the revised orders from VSA and from Starfleet HQ.”
And Spock turned round. Kirk wondered if he had been practising, because of all the expressions he had ever seen Spock wear, this was the most impenetrable. He remembered thinking, during the months when they had been apart, that he would be able to break through to Spock if he only had the physical presence, if he could look into the face and trust to his experience, his long, layers-deep knowledge of Spock to read the nuances in his face which had always defeated everyone but Kirk but which had always been so transparent to Spock’s former captain. But not now. Not this time. And it came to Kirk that the being in front of him was Vulcan, through and through. He had no sense of any knowledge of him at all.
A single word. Not “Affirmative, sir”, not “Affirmative, Captain.” “Affirmative, Jim” was, of course, another universe, perhaps another person, long gone. He made himself go on:
“I recommend we continue to review the tactical situation as previously, with the knowledge now that war has been formally declared. That means –“
“Captain Kirk,” Saredin interrupted – was Spock simply going to let his officers interrupt Kirk in front of him? “We have no interest in Klingon military manoeuvres. The VSA has now and can have in the future no interest in engagement in war. This extends to every ship at their disposal and this includes, for the time being, the Enterprise.”
Well, that was pretty clear. And just in case there had been any doubt, Spock said:
“Lieutenant-Commander Saredin is correct, Captain. Vulcan is not at war either with the Klingon or Romulan Empire and neither of our ships or command crews can be engaged in any activity which jeopardises that situation. It is of the utmost importance that you understand that.”
Kirk occasionally had trouble following orders but he had never had any difficulty understanding when he was being given one – even when it was delivered through the particular phraseology of Vulcan vocabulary and even when it was being given by his former First Officer and one-time closest friend. The mix of feelings rushing over him threatened briefly his hard-won composure – and then he was distracted, entirely and permanently distracted, by double-take – by hearing again Spock’s words, by understanding all over again what Bob Wesley had been trying to tell him.
Vulcan is not at war with either the Klingon or Romulan Empire.
We’ve never faced the Klingons and the Romulans united against us.
He took a sharp breath, looked at Spock and said directly into the closed face:
“Captain, could I speak to you in private, please?”
There was a charged silence. He knew perfectly well that his request would be resisted fiercely by everyone in the room – by Spock, by Saredin, by T’Mala – even by Harding, although he also knew that the reasons would be very different in each case and he was very unsure in particular of Spock’s. His only hope was that a preference, personal or political, which held sway when Kirk himself had been prepared to defer to it through hurt and anger, would give way to a direct request which there could be no very good reason to refuse.
And Spock said: “Very well, Captain.” He stilled, with an upraised hand, an immediate movement from T’Mala and, after a brief pause, both Vulcan officers stood to leave. Mike Harding said, quietly
“Jim –“ and Kirk turned to him, said quietly
“Go back to the ship, Mike. Just go, and hold the current position.” And Harding looked at him, then nodded and followed T’Mala and Saredin from the room.
He was alone with Spock for the first time since that handclasp on Christmas Day, and savagely banished the thought from his mind. Deliberately, he walked around the briefing table so that he was facing Spock – so that the table was between them, so that Spock would see this as a formal conversation, would recognise that Kirk had removed himself from Spock’s personal space. And he chose with great care his very first word.
“Captain. Do you not think that there might be a connection between recent events in the Federation and the joint declaration of war by the Romulans and Klingons?”
Spock looked at him and Kirk could see him focusing on the question, eyes unclouded either by the personal or the absence of the personal. This was what he had wanted – his balance, his partner, the being whose judgement he needed in order to trust his own.
“You are suggesting that the Romulan-Klingon alliance results from the estrangement of Starfleet and the VSA,” Spock said, slowly, testing the idea.
“Yes. Yes, Captain. Two developments of galactic political moment which have never happened before, at least not in living memory – both happening within twelve months. How could there not be a connection? It has taken them nearly a year, but this move is a result of what they perceive as weakness at the heart of the Federation – the Klingons have decided we are vulnerable, so they are taking their chance. It must be so – I am sure of it.”
He found himself wanting to pace, to move, to gesture – and made himself stay still. He couldn’t risk moving anywhere near Spock. This was more important than the last time he had capsized dialogue with the Vulcan because of unguarded physical contact – more important even than Saredin’s court martial – this was war, this was the fate of millions. He stood absolutely still, vibrating like a wire, wiling Spock to listen, to understand, to agree.
Spock looked at him, really looked at him, and said:
“I am forced to agree with you. But understand, Captain – it changes nothing. It cannot be a concern of the VSA or of the Seleya – nor, therefore, of the Enterprise – that Starfleet is at war.”
He said passionately, breaking through to the personal
“That cannot be true, Spock – it cannot be true for millions of Vulcans and it cannot be true of you. I am not asking you to fight, I am not asking you even to let me fight. I am asking you to agree simply that it is a matter of concern that galactic war has been declared. I know you and I know you agree with me.”
Spock said nothing, but he said it in the way of waiting for the next direction. He had not disagreed, he had neither accepted nor refuted the personal appeal. Kirk waited a minute and then went on,
“The Klingons have always been reluctant to engage in all-out war before, because Starfleet outnumbers them in numbers and in technology.”
“And although previously Starfleet would have been able to count on the support of Vulcan, in numerical terms this would have been insufficient to make the difference.”
“So what makes the difference now can only be the involvement of the Romulans.”
“That is a logical conclusion.”
“And would it be the case, Captain, given Romulan-Vulcan history, that the Romulans have only agreed to the alliance against Starfleet now because they believe they can attack without directly placing themselves at war with a planet and a people of common ancestry?”
“Our limited knowledge of the Romulan Empire suggests that this is likely to be an accurate deduction. Proving it, of course, would be another matter altogether. I still await your suggestions as to a relevant course of action in which it would be appropriate or possible to engage, given the parameters of your orders, Captain.”
Kirk said, looking straight at him,
“You will not permit either of our ships to take military action. But there can be no reason not to attempt to break the Romulan-Klingon alliance.”
Spock glanced at him sharply.
“How, may I ask, short of military manoeuvre, would you propose to achieve that?”
“Together, Captain. You and I may be the only ones who can. Leave the Klingons out of it; go direct to the Romulans – both of us together – and tell them that the public rhetoric they have heard isn’t what’s really going on here, that the Seleya mission is a matter of internal politics, that Vulcan and Starfleet have too much invested in each other not to uphold the old allegiances, at the end of the day. That they’re making a huge mistake and they should go home and let the Klingons sort themselves out. That there is a chance for them to take that statesman role, that this is their hour and that they must rise to it.”
“And how would you rate the chances of success?” Spock asked.
“That is your speciality, not mine. I only know we have nothing to lose and that we cannot do nothing,” he said simply.
Human and Vulcan eyes locked over the table. Formalities were being observed, but the old dynamic was there, the understanding, the persuasion, the intuitive dialogue - T’Mala, Saredin, Harding all forgotten. And then Kirk, for a split second, waiting for Spock’s response, let his eyes move, let them drift over Spock’s familiar features in sudden memory – and Spock moved back, his expression hardening.
“I do not agree that doing nothing is an impossibility, Captain” he said, coldly. “If it were politically expedient, I am afraid that is precisely what I would require you to do. However, I agree with your assessment and your suggestion, with one difference. I will go to the Romulan High Command and I will go alone without you. Is that absolutely clear?”
Kirk found himself breathing heavily. He wanted to say no. He wanted, suddenly and unexpectedly and painfully, to hit Spock. He wanted to turn around, leave the room, beam over to the Enterprise and carry out the mission his own way. With or without the Vulcan. He knew he could do none of these things. And he knew that Spock was entirely aware of all of this.
Once again, he made himself count to ten and this time he made it to eight.
“Very well, Captain. How are you proposing to proceed?”
Something moved behind Spock’s eyes.
“I will set up an encoded frequency to contact the Romulans and I will keep you informed.”
“Thank you, Captain,” he said, conscious of both a huge relief and a vast anger. He never knew afterwards what made him ask, but he said: “May I ask that you share the code with me? With me and with me alone?”
Spock was silent for a few seconds and then looked up and nodded.
“Very well, Captain,” he said.
And that left nothing else to be said, so he turned and left the room.
Against the odds, he had got what he wanted and the feeling of wanting to hit Spock had gone. He still felt, instead, as though he himself had been hit – very hard. And didn’t know that what satisfaction he had gained from winning Spock’s agreement would only last until the Klingon-Romulan war reached out to Gamma sector to ensure that Spock would never go to the Romulan Command.
Spock was as punctilious as ever and Kirk found that the details of the encrypted Romulan communications channel were accessible through a link sent to his computer station by the time he entered his quarters that night. If anything, this made him more depressed, although he knew it was illogical. Perhaps it was because complete distance from the Vulcan would have been easier to bear than the ready and precise compliance with all official functions, combined with the total absence of the personal. Kirk was used to Spock’s occasional withdrawals, he regarded them as being part of the territory, an inseparable component of what he had always seen as the unique privilege of their inter-species friendship. But this was different and, in his heart, he thought it was final. Without really understanding how they had got to this stage within less than a year since You are irreplaceable to the ship and you are entirely and permanently irreplaceable to me personally, he felt intuitively that, whatever happened with the Seleya mission, it was the end of the road for Spock and him, that they would not be able to claw back their former closeness.
He tried to cheer himself up with the reflection that they might all be dead any time soon.
With personal nostalgia and professional admiration, he watched and read over the next few days as Spock reached out delicately to the Romulans, with courtesy, with respect, with an extraordinary combination of the subtle and the straightforward – almost, Kirk thought, as though he were stalking wild animals, gaining their trust. The Faltonians would have conceded on all points with every diplomatic obstacle successfully overcome within approximately thirty minutes of meeting you. He caught his breath in pain as, without warning,there flooded back into his memory in minute detail their mutual tease about the Faltonians the day the news had first broken about the Halcyon affair – the day, unknown to him at the time, that Kirk’s life had started to unravel But for all Spock’s compliments on the subject, he knew that their diplomatic talents were very different. He, Kirk, was capable of the personal manoeuvre, the charm offensive, the ambassadorial equivalent of sleight-of-hand in a way he knew that the Vulcan was not. His view for as long as he had known Spock had been that the Vulcan’s absolute integrity prevented this sort of approach and he had honoured and loved him for it. But he, for his part, did not have Spock’s depths of patience and respect - the genuine, layers-deep tolerance to which he had seen so many responses from so many species over the years. He had always believed that this was simply one more of the many manifestations of what made them unique as a partnership - their absolute compatibility, the fact that between them they held all the skills, all the aces, and could cover every eventuality.
Yet one more thing which would not be again.
The Romulans were not falling over themselves to withdraw from the alliance, Kirk noted, but they had agreed to meet Spock on Gamma Fortuna, a small planet the other side of the system in which the dilithium study was being conducted. This in itself was a major concession, Kirk realised immediately, since for Spock and the Seleya to undertake any significant journey into Romulan space would be all but impossible on many fronts. Away from his personal musings about the Vulcan, Kirk felt his spirits rise slightly. Could Spock actually pull this off? He remembered his words to Wesley - I rate Spock above almost anyone in the known universe for almost any purpose. If anyone could do this, it would be the captain of the Seleya. And Kirk felt a sudden pride and affection that was entirely unaffected by his current alienation from Spock.
His thoughts were interrupted by the whistle of a call from the bridge, where Sulu had the conn.
“Captain Kirk to the bridge,” Sulu’s face said, tense through the viewer. “There is a Klingon battle cruiser in the sector.”
In Gamma sector? he thought. What in the name of heaven were the Klingons doing in Gamma sector? What on earth could be of interest to them in Gamma sector? And then he thought – us, of course. The Enterprise and the Seleya.
“Red alert - shields, Sulu,” he snapped. “And hail the Seleya. Tell Spock, tell them to raise shields, they’ll only have about a minute.” And he was off, running for the turbolift.
As he entered the bridge, Mike hard on his heels, Uhura was on the hailer. Kirk tensed in his seat as he waited, fingers drumming on the arms of his chair. And then Uhura turned, said (and only Uhura, he reflected affectionately, even in that moment of crisis, could have managed that mixture of urgency, anxiety, disbelief and disdain):
“The Seleya is refusing to raise shields, sir.”
“What?” he said, incredulously. “Get me Spock – now!”
“Yes, sir. Captain Spock is not on the bridge, sir, he is apparently in Engineering and I have Commander T’Mala, who has the conn, sir. Shall I -?”
“Patch me through, Uhura. Commander T’Mala? Commander, I do not know if we have made ourselves clear, but there is a Klingon battle cruiser on an intercept trajectory and you must raise shields, I repeat, you must raise shields now. Please confirm, Commander.”
T’Mala’s cool tones came over clearly to everyone on the Enterprise bridge.
“Captain Kirk, I am unable to raise shields. We are not at war with the Klingons and there is no evidence they are poised to attack this ship. Raising shields would be seen as an aggressive act, tantamount to declaring the other party a hostile force. Not only would this be in breach of the ethos of the VSA and the Seleya, it would be open to misinterpretation by the Klingon vessel and we could reasonably be accused of escalating hostilities.”
Torn between frustration, fury and an unexpected admiration at her courage (and acknowledging to himself that she might well be right) he snapped:
“Then at least release the Enterprise from her current orders so that we can take action ourselves to protect you in case you are misjudging the Klingons’ intentions.”
“That is impossible, Captain Kirk. Not only would it be in flagrant breach of protocol but only Captain Spock –“
“Then get me Captain Spock!” he thundered.
“Captain,” Harding said sharply, “incoming from the Klingon vessel!”
Kirk whirled, bracing himself. But it was not the Enterprise in the firing line. Not this time.
With a sick fear in his stomach, he watched the phaser fire shoot across and hit the Seleya midships, with a small explosion. The Seleya reeled. Kirk swore.
“Commander? Commander T’Mala, are you all right?”
“Enterprise, we have suffered a direct hit to Engineering and no longer have shield capability,” T’Mala’s tones filtered through the ship-to-ship channel.
Which left the Seleya only with offensive options – options they were unlikely to adopt. Kirk turned, swiftly.
“Sulu, you can do this. Put the ship between the Klingons and the Seleya. Do not return any fire, Mr Chekov, at least not until I order it – Sulu, just keep the ship moving so the Klingons don’t have a clear line of sight – is that understood?”
Sulu was already moving, his fingers dancing over the helm, and Kirk thought, gratefully, watching him – he may be the only helmsman in the Fleet who can actually make this happen. Thank God for Harding – if I’d promoted Sulu last year, I’d have some less experienced officer at the helm and we might not pull this off. They still might not, but he wouldn’t let himself think of that right now, would not begin to consider what he would do if forced to choose between disobeying Spock’s orders and saving Spock’s ship.
The Klingon ship moved starboard and Sulu followed it. It veered towards port, and Sulu stuck to it like a shadow. Kirk wondered if Klingons got motion sickness. He wondered what it would take for the Klingon commander to give up on the Seleya and attack the Enterprise. He might just not be prepared to risk it – he might have been unable to resist a Vulcan pacifist ship flying with shields down, but a properly defended and armed Fleet vessel – the Enterprise, especially – would be a different proposition. Kirk could destroy him, and he knew it. What the Klingon commander didn’t know was the orders Kirk was under and whether Kirk would follow them. And Kirk wasn’t sure that he knew the answer to that one any more than the Klingon did.
“Uhura, patch me through to the Seleya again. Commander T’Mala, please may I speak to Captain Spock?”
“That is impossible, Captain,” T’Mala said, expressionlessly. Your favourite expression of the day, he thought.
“Commander, please! I appreciate the protocol and my orders, but this is a life or death situation and there are more than eight hundred lives at stake on both our ships. I must speak to Captain Spock immediately.”
“You misunderstand me, Captain Kirk. It is impossible for you to speak to Captain Spock because he was a casualty of the attack on the Seleya by the Klingon vessel.”
He did not remember visiting the Seleya sickbay on any of the previous tours; it was entirely unfamiliar to him. He remembered McCoy making a rather stupid joke about it; suggesting that they didn’t have one because Vulcans weren’t as frail as humans. Except it turned out that they were.
The Klingon ship had given up mercifully quickly, shortly after news had come through about Spock – and Saredin as well, also hurt. Kirk had found it surprisingly hard not to react, not to order a spread of photon torpedoes hurled after the departing Klingons, his mind full of the Seleya sickbay, the Seleya medical team even now carrying out treatment and procedures. Instead, he had waited till it was clear that the ship had really gone, suspecting that the Klingon commander was probably keen to make a quick getaway, that firing on a Vulcan ship, assuming he and Spock were correct about the basis of the Klingon-Romulan alliance, might well have been in breach of orders. Kirk wasn’t exactly in a frame of mind to condemn any breach of orders in of itself (in fact, a slightly unhinged voice inside him said “If he can, why can’t I?”); he signalled T’Mala and asked permission to beam over to the Seleya to see Spock.
“That will not be necessary, Captain Kirk,” T’Mala replied. “Nor will you be able to converse with Captain Spock. The captain is in a healing trance at this point. Sickbay reports that he is likely to survive.”
Likely to survive didn’t quite cut it for Kirk. And he knew it was wrong to visit Spock – wrong like the corbomite reference had been wrong, wrong like reaching for Spock’s shoulder had been wrong, but he was still going. He found, however, that he had changed his mind about T’Mala.
He thought it was because she had refused to raise shields and that he had understood. That in the midst of that crowded moment, Uhura’s reaction had been the human one, the natural one – even his own, instinctive one – but, in fact, T’Mala had been right. Under her own protocol, it would have been wrong to raise shields and (again, if he and Spock were correct, and in advance of the fact that the Klingons had fired regardless) could have destabilised the entire political dynamic. He found himself remembering that he had always admired and respected Spock’s pacifism. And T’Mala’s decision had been taken with enormous personal courage and without hesitation. That cool exterior, which he had assumed had concealed disdain and contempt, evidently concealed much more besides, or perhaps instead. What else had he got wrong?
Was it possible that when she had expressed a desire to visit the Enterprise to view the recreational facilities it had not been out of scorn for human frailty but out of interest, out of the desire to learn, on the part of a Vulcan who had never served in Starfleet, had never visited a human ship?
Was it possible that when he had been placed under Spock’s command he had entirely imagined that she was pleased, triumphant? It had hardly been something which could have been deduced from the expression on her face and it was not as though he knew her sufficiently well to read it.
Was it possible that he could have learned more about her if he had spent less time, those six weeks, reading reports and more time with Harding’s opposite number?
Was it possible that his views on Spock’s First Officer were simply never going to be as objective as he would like to think they were?
She met him at the transporter room with neutral courtesy and he found himself wondering, as they walked to Sickbay, if she were distressed by Spock’s condition. Santini met them at the door to sickbay. He looked dishevelled and upset.
“Are you hurt, Lieutenant?”
“No, sir. Just minor burns, Captain. Captain Spock saved my life, sir. Mine and Lieutenant-Commander Saredin’s. When the Klingons fired, we were working on the dilithium experiment and the crystals exploded and we couldn’t get out in time, and Captain Spock came after us, sir. He dragged us both out but there was another explosion, and – and –“
“All right, Leo,” Kirk said, gently. “I want you to beam back to the Enterprise now. Get McCoy to have a look at those burns. Captain Spock is in good hands. I am quite sure that you have done everything you could.”
“Indeed,” T’Mala said, beside him. “Lieutenant Santini has conducted himself admirably in every way since coming on board the Seleya and in particular during the recent incident.”
He shot her a grateful and appreciative glance and wondered, very fleetingly, if he saw a reaction, an understanding in her face, or if it were more transference on his part. But he was through the doors of sickbay now, and had no eyes for anyone but Spock, only dimly aware that T’Mala had left (and even then he wondered whether this was out of consideration for the privacy she might have guessed he wanted, where once he would have assumed a lack of interest in Spock’s welfare or his company. Was it possible that out of this calamity the two crews might finally forge some level of mutual understanding?)
The Seleya’s sickbay was a long, cheerless, bleak-looking room and the Seleya’s captain lay on a Vulcan biobed at one end. No doctors were within sight. Kirk moved to the bedside and looked at the motionless face, the watchful machines, and his heart turned over. Instinctively, he wanted Spock back under McCoy's care, away from Vulcan doctors who would not understand the human elements of his physiology, who had not made a study of his hybrid medical needs, but he knew that Spock was being well cared for, that a good part of that desire was irrational, was simply born of the need somehow to reclaim, to make safe the friend he had lost anyway and nearly lost for good in an entirely different way to Klingon fire. He remembered the depression earlier that day of feeling excluded from every part of Spock’s life but the strictly professional; now, he had to accept that he was excluded from the responsibility and the privilege of caring for the Vulcan (even of caring about the Vulcan) when Spock was hurt. Worse still, he wanted very badly to touch Spock, to feel the pulse under the pale skin, to reassure one of them (he was not sure which) - but he was not about to make that particular mistake again. All the same, he kept his fists clenched by his sides, in case they got any ideas of their own. It seemed like another life in which he had ever wanted to hit the Vulcan.
A voice spoke quietly behind him, and Kirk nearly jumped. It was Saredin.
“Captain Spock is in the healing trance. He will not recover full consciousness for approximately thirty six hours. There is no reason for your presence, Captain Kirk.”
Kirk turned and looked at Spock’s Chief Engineer, lying on a bed nearby, unseen by him previously. Reflecting that he should not have been carried away by the recent improved understanding between T’Mala and himself to make any assumptions about this extending to the rest of the crew, he said:
“Lieutenant Santini told me you were hurt in the explosion. I trust you are recovering well?”
“Did the lieutenant tell you that Captain Spock was instrumental in saving both our lives?”
“That was my understanding, yes,” Kirk said. “It would not have been an untypical act.”
Saredin stared at him.
“I imagine, Captain Kirk, that were Captain Spock himself not to recover you would regard this as a poor exchange.”
Kirk raised his eyebrows, thinking too true, ignoring were Captain Spock not to recover and decided that diplomacy called for a robust lie.
“Captain Spock would not agree, evidently, and I would not debate his wisdom. He is my friend and I naturally wish for his recovery. I am glad you and Santini are safe.”
“Permission to speak freely, Captain?”
“I have not noticed that you normally require anyone’s permission in that particular regard,” Kirk said drily, “but certainly, if you would like mine, you have it. Am I to expect any change in your conversational style as a result?”
“Would you regard the mission over the past six point one five weeks to have been a success, Captain Kirk?”
How can someone talk like Spock and yet be so utterly different? he thought. Spock’s ability to talk in five decimal places was endearing because it was washed through with his humanity. Saredin had none. He realised, belatedly, his choice of words, thought Does that make me a bigot? - said,
“Funny you should say that. Until the last few minutes, I would have said – no. But I wonder whether, in fact, we might be making progress.”
“In what way? Your crew have shown not the slightest interest in the Seleya personnel or culture. It is abundantly clear that you regard us as extremists, as dysfunctional and as difficult. Your personal attitude is most damaging of all, because you persist in regarding our Vulcan Captain as your human subordinate and friend.”
Kirk blinked. He moved slowly away from Spock and towards Saredin, studying the full Vulcan as he did so and reaching to seat himself on an unoccupied neighbouring bed. He knew he had a latent antipathy to Saredin and, just now, after the encounter with T’Mala and suffused with anxiety over Spock, he wanted very much to be fair to him, perhaps even to use this opportunity to reach out to him. He sensed, though, that Saredin was a very different character from T’Mala and that, while he might have been imagining hostility towards himself on T’Mala’s part, any dislike in this instance was less likely to be fictional. He said slowly:
“I do not regard Spock as either human or Vulcan. He is simply who he is. I do not regard him as my subordinate – he knows that I viewed his promotion as infinitely well deserved and well overdue, and I have obeyed his orders since the collaboration between the Seleya and Enterprise started. But I do regard him as my friend, yes.” The only part of this paragraph which caused Kirk the slightest twinge of conscience was the last sentence. But he was not about to share with Saredin, of all people, the taste of despair over the end of their friendship.
“What you call friendship is not a true relationship, nor can it be,” Saredin said. Kirk flushed with anger. The fact that Saredin might well be right made it worse and not better. He said,
“Please do not tell me that Vulcans have no emotions.”
With another faint echo of Spock, Saredin raised an eyebrow.
“That was not my intention. You will know from Spock that Vulcans have as many emotions as human beings, they merely control them properly. The reason that you do not have a true friendship with Spock is that a necessary ingredient of what you regard as friendship is equality and this is not present between you and the captain.”
Kirk wondered how far his orders of diplomacy and non-aggression would stretch. He suspected that hitting the Seleya’s wounded Chief Engineer in sickbay would not be covered. He reflected that he must be in a worse way than he thought to have wanted, within the space of twenty four hours, to hit two of the senior officers of the Seleya, and effortlessly concluded that this was not a thought he would like to share with Saredin. He said, pleasantly,
“Spock has many virtues, whether Vulcan or otherwise, which are highly admirable and which I would be happy to characterise as superior to my own. However, I doubt that he would regard the matter in the same way and I believe we have always been content to regard ourselves as different rather than better or worse than each other. Surely we have all evolved beyond the need to categorise ourselves in any other way.”
“Really?” Saredin asked. “I would describe the captain as physically stronger and with greater powers of intellect than you or any other human being. Yet he has served for many years as your First Officer. It has been very difficult to understand why, unless it is the case that you are holding back his advancement. That is not an equal relationship by any description. And it has been clear since Spock assumed command of this ship that you are uncomfortable with the change in your relative status.”
Kirk opened his mouth and then closed it again. Because of his exchange with T’Mala, because of some obscure feeling that while Spock was hurt it was incumbent upon him to improve relationships between the two crews, he was trying hard to be fair. Was there any truth at all in what Saredin said? He had not wanted Spock promoted; further, he had, truth be told, found it extraordinarily hard to accept his orders. True, the reason he had not wanted Spock’s promotion was because it equated to losing him, and the reason it had been hard to accept Spock’s authority over him was because he regarded as highly flawed the entire history of the past ten months which had led to the Enterprise being placed at the disposal of the Seleya. This was all true; but was it also true that Spock being his subordinate was somehow inherent to his feelings for him, to the partnership which they had shared? He remembered the six months after Spock had left the Enterprise, how Spock’s very physical absence had seemed a death blow to their friendship, how he failed to see a way forward for them. Had it really all been about being Spock’s superior officer in the Enterprise command team? And, if so, was it possible that Spock had in some way divined this, resented it and that this – this – was what was causing Spock’s withdrawal from him?
Saredin, watching him, pressed the point. He said:
“Part of what you call friendship, what you call regarding Spock as neither human nor Vulcan, what you call equality – part of this was the exploitation of his Vulcan abilities as part of what you regarded as the resources of your command team.”
Kirk’s chin came up. This was easier to defend.
“That is not true. I have never exploited Spock; would never do so.”
“Forgive me, Captain Kirk, that is not accurate. How many times have you claimed the credit for an unlooked for success or rescue on the part of the Enterprise as a result only of Spock’s unique abilities? I could challenge your version of events on one issue and one alone – you have repeatedly ordered Spock into telepathic contact with alien beings; this has both endangered Spock and been essential to the successful conclusion of the mission in question. If that is not exploitation, what is?”
And you were court-martialled, Kirk thought – you preferred a court-martial to the choices Spock made. He thought back – to the Horta, to Nomad, to the Melkotians, to others still. He wanted to say that it hadn’t been like that, that being with Spock had never been about exploitation, nor even about ordering so much as a natural implementation of a shared choice, a shared decision – choices which had saved the Vulcan’s life as well as his own, as well as the rest of the crew. But the thought of the Horta conjured up, suddenly and painfully, the afternoon he had spent with Spock in the Janus Six tunnel complex – it came sweeping back over him as he sat in the Seleya sickbay and it cut like a knife, because it was one of his most affectionate, most treasured memories of Spock. Fifty of Vanderberg’s engineers had been killed and he had been worried that Spock would upset Vanderberg and destabilise the operation because the Vulcan had been concerned about the scientific imperative to save the Horta, the last of its kind – more than that, it had been about Spock’s abhorrence for unnecessary violence, so often, as now, at odds with the rest of the universe and so necessary a balance to Kirk’s rather more ruthless streak. In order to protect the Vulcan from whatever was coming, he had made a half-hearted attempt to persuade Spock to leave the cave and go instead to work with Scotty on repairing the circulating pump; Spock had quoted some preposterous, entirely fabricated comic statistic about the probability of them both being killed; in a ludicrous but not untypical interlude from critical danger they had broken into the most ridiculously nonsensical conversation, standing there together in the middle of that death-baited cave opening, and then he had met the Horta, alone, and Spock had completely forgotten in rather less than a nanosecond his lifelong commitment to the twin principles of non violence and increasing the boundaries of scientific understanding and said Kill it, Jim. Your life is in danger.
He closed his eyes, opened them, came back to the so-different present and said, with an effort:
“I never ordered Spock to do anything which made him uncomfortable. What Spock did was part of his duty to Starfleet. He accepted that.”
“That’s exactly my point, Captain Kirk,” Saredin said and Kirk thought, tiredly, I’ve given up on ever hearing Spock use my first name again, but this is ridiculous. I wish to heaven the Seleya crew could bring themselves to address me without using both my rank and name. “In Starfleet, Spock was defined by being Vulcan, and his Vulcan abilities were what distinguished him and made him valuable to you and the Fleet. In turn, Spock was dependent on you because in a human environment, he needed your support to negotiate his way around life with an alien species. That is not a relationship between equals and that is why in the end it is a healthier situation where Vulcans and humans lead separate lives.”
Kirk stared at him.
“You’ve just defined friendship, as far as I’m concerned, Lieutenant-Commander. Spock has always been there for me when I needed him and I hope I have been there for him. It is our differences which make us stronger and it is sharing them which brings us together. We threw out segregation a long, long time ago. Your way is a recipe for disaster – for hatred, for misunderstanding, for violence.”
“Even now?” Saredin asked.
“Even now? Do you feel that sharing differences with the Vulcan captain of a Vulcan ship is making you stronger, Captain Kirk?”
That’s the million dollar question, Mr Saredin, Kirk thought. A vanishingly small part of me still hopes to have that conversation with Spock one day. I’m damned if I’ll have it with you.
Only the combination of the Klingon-Romulan war and the estrangement of Vulcan from Starfleet could have induced him to discuss his most personal relationship with any other being at all, least of all the Chief Engineer of the Seleya, and it was enough. There were things, he thought, deliberately in someone else’s voice, which transcended even the discipline of the service and he said, coolly, knowing Saredin would hear all this in his response:
“I once told Spock that anything of value could be learned to optimal effect from him.” In the same conversation, I told him that you were an idiot. “That includes by me, and our change in status has absolutely no bearing on my views.”
Saredin lay back slightly, and Kirk wondered how badly hurt the Vulcan was and how little he might be prepared to admit to it. With a bit of luck, he thought cavalierly, the appropriate thing might be to leave very quickly and allow him to rest and heal. Saredin said:
“Captain Kirk, I had not expected you to be prepared to enter this discussion with me and I both appreciate that and find it encouraging, despite our fundamental disagreement. However, understand that I will not hesitate to oppose you if you continue to attempt to use your personal relationship with Captain Spock to influence him towards a military solution.”
Kirk stood, fighting outrage, ignoring the inner voice that took the wrong moment to wish fervently that he still had either a personal relationship or any influence with Spock, and said
“Lieutenant-Commander, I have taken up far too much of your time and it is evident to me that you require rest. I have enjoyed our little chat. If you have time on your hands during the recovery period, you might like to reflect on the fact that the current military escalation has almost certainly come about as a direct result of your personal actions on the Halcyon a year ago. Furthermore, not only have I entirely and unaccountably failed to kill anyone at all for several days now, I have been doing what I could to look for a peaceful solution and I admit to having used whatever means at my disposal to have enlisted your captain’s assistance in that regard. I do, however, of course, strive to be open-minded at all times and if I am presented with a potential target for hostile action, I will consider alternatives, whether that involves launching a full-scale hostile military offensive after lunch - or just hitting someone close to hand.”
Stupid, stupid, stupid, shouldn’t have said that, he thought, but couldn’t bring himself to retract. What was it with him and diplomatic missions, anyway? He hadn’t asked to be sent to make overtures to a ship full of Vulcans; he regarded himself as a peaceful person, though not a pacifist, and yet continuous contact with the pacifist crew of the Seleya was bringing out the most unaccustomed aggressive impulses in him. He thought wryly of Organia, of Kor, with a bizarre pang of sympathy. (And where was Kor now? Out there, somewhere, perhaps looking for them, part of a military build up from which it felt odd to be secluded.) Perhaps Saredin was right about him, after all.
Before he left the room, he returned briefly to Spock’s bedside. There was no change in the still face and, once again, Kirk resisted the temptation to reach out to him. Instead, he said to the Vulcan, in his mind: If that’s the company you’ve been keeping the past six months, Spock, I cannot for the life of me fathom how you’re finding me so difficult just now.
And he turned and left sickbay for the transporter room.
Reassured that the sector was once more quiet, he gave Scotty the con and went to his quarters. Struck by a thought, he logged on to the encrypted link to the Romulans and read the most recent communications – all sent, of course, before the Seleya had been fired on. And, from the look of things, before Spock had read them or had the chance to reply.
And that was when he found out that the Romulans had arranged a meeting for Spock for the following morning on Gamma Fortuna.
Spock, who had said I will go to the Romulan High Command and I will go alone without you.
Spock, of whom he had said categorically to Saredin in sickbay I have obeyed his orders.
Spock, whom Saredin had said would be in a healing trance for another day and a half.
And Kirk recognised, with a lurch to his heart, the name of the Romulan Commander. He had last seen her at Starbase 51 on the border of the Neutral Zone where they had left her after he and Spock had stolen the cloaking device from her ship.
He was ready to go by the time McCoy and Harding arrived at his quarters at 0600 hours the following morning. That is, if ready to go meant you were dressed, equipped with communicator and phaser, had ordered the shuttle readied and had even managed some sleep. If ready to go meant you had figured out what to do when you got there and were absolutely sure you were doing the right thing – well, that was another matter.
“You look busy,” McCoy said, eyeing him up. “Funny that. I mean, here we are, ordered to do absolutely nothing except watch a couple of dilithium crystals talk to each other – and, incidentally, forswear violence and make damn sure we don’t get caught up in the war, and yet, here you are, some God-awful hour of the morning with a phaser and looking ready for warp speed 4. Perhaps I missed a briefing – I must stop doing that.”
Mike Harding said: “I must have missed the briefing, too. Are we going somewhere, Captain?”
Kirk picked up his communicator and smiled at both of them.
“We are going nowhere. I am taking the Copernicus over to Gamma Fortuna and I am leaving you the con, Mike. I don’t want company but I do need you to know where I’m going and why. Just in case.”
“Just in case what?” McCoy said, suspiciously.
“What is happening on Gamma Fortuna?” asked Harding.
Kirk took a breath.
“I am going to meet a delegation from Romulan Command to try to persuade them to back down from the Klingon alliance. Won’t take long,” he added, blithely, “be back for lunch, I expect.”
“Request permission to –“
“Denied,” Kirk said, flatly. “Look, I’m only telling you where I’m going because you have to know, someone has to know. The chances of success are low enough as it is; trust is a huge issue here; no one, absolutely no one must know or be seen to know; they are only expecting one person – in fact,” he added, “they’re not even expecting me.”
“Then who are they expecting?” McCoy said, confused. And then: “Oh no. Now wait a minute –“
“They’re expecting Spock. That’s not possible now. So they’ll get me instead.”
“It’s an interesting strategy, Jim, “ the doctor said, drily, “but they’re bound to notice, and you can probably figure that out yourself unless you haven’t been looking in the mirror recently. I take it Spock is happy about this? Oh no, wait a minute, he’s in a healing trance. So, help me out here, how exactly did you get his permission to go?”
“Spock is not going to come out of the healing trance for at least another day,” he said, crisply. “And after that, he’s not going to be exactly running marathons. And there’s little enough chance that this will work, but every day – every day, Bones – people are dying. And there are other reasons, as well, that it should be me.”
“Reasons you aren’t going to tell us, I take it,” Harding said, eyes on Kirk’s face.
“Mike, you have the con. I’ll call in when I can. I have left a message for Commander T’Mala – please send it over to her as soon as I have left the ship.”
“T’Mala? “ McCoy snorted. “No bets on how she’ll take it.”
“Actually,” Kirk said, “I think she’ll understand. On some level. Bones, what’s the latest from the Seleya?” He had asked the Seleya to keep McCoy posted on Spock’s progress: using medical protocol had seemed easier, somehow, than asking for the personal updates he wanted, and it gave him the reassurance that McCoy’s particular years-old knowledge of Spock would be accessible to the Seleya’s medic team, just in case.
Everything, just now, was just in case – he couldn’t bear to finish half his sentences.
“As of two hours ago, no change, Jim,” McCoy said gently. “And that’s a good thing, you know – the longer he stays in the trance, the better. If anything happens, I’ll let you know. But I’m intrigued that you are so concerned about his recovery and at the same time doing your level best to ensure that he’s not on speaking terms with you when he comes round.”
We’re not exactly on speaking terms anyway, he thought, painfully. Mc Coy read the thought in his face without difficulty.
“Jim,” he started, awkwardly, and Kirk waved him down.
“Leave it, Bones. It is what it is. Just now, there are more important things going on. I’ll be back, I promise. In the meantime, try to stay out of trouble, both of you.”
“I only wish we had the choice,” McCoy grumbled, getting the last word, as always. “How in God’s name could we get into trouble round here with a ship full of Vulcans for company and orders to sit on our hands for the duration?”
The truth was that you could get very used to a starship. Sometimes, despite the fact that the Enterprise was an extension of your own body, her bulkheads and walkways, engines and bridge as much a part of you as your lungs, heart and muscles – sometimes, you could forget that, actually, you were out in space, where you were not born to be, in the midst of blackness, suspended in nothing, a long way from home. It was why he had retained a love of shuttlecraft – why, now and again, despite the availability of other forms of transport or even countless willing pilots, Kirk would occasionally manufacture an excuse to take a shuttle out on his own. Now, heading over to Gamma Fortuna in a small vessel carrying all the chances he knew of saving millions of lives, with his thoughts torn between the difficult encounter ahead with a woman he had duped two years earlier and the machines he left behind on the Seleya which watched over his accomplice in that act, the sleek passage through the velvet dark still had the power to soothe, if only minutely, the ache in his heart.
It was something to do with proportion. When you stood at the controls of a shuttlecraft, there was nowhere to hide from the fact that all your medals, all your accomplishments, all the lives you held in your command and all the countless thousands of others who had heard of you, who loved you or hated you, owed you their lives or had sworn to your death – that none of this made any difference to the total insignificance of James T Kirk in relation to the universe, known and unknown, past, present and future. Kirk had always found a satisfying simplicity in this truth – a sort of cleanliness, that took all the difficulties in life (the petty irritations, the failures, the tiredness, the mistakes) and made you realise that the only thing that would ever matter was the strength to keep going at the end of the day, to look at the stars and retain a sense of perspective. .
A strange thing about loneliness was that it turned out to be more relative than Kirk had thought. It turned out that you could stand alone in front of a galaxy of stars and feel reduced to your constituent atoms, come face to face with your own insignificance and feel a comfort in that absolute reduction, that absolute humility; but that once you added in the factor that the ship you left behind (or any other ship, or any other harbour) no longer held a Vulcan who, on some level, in some way, never quite let go of you in his thoughts – then your loneliness actually increased exponentially and your own awareness of yourself decreased, beyond even the perspective which the stars could impose.
En route to Gamma Fortuna, Kirk offered up the silence, the hurt and the unanswered questions Spock had left him, and the stars considered the matter but offered no consolation and no sense of perspective.
His thoughts moved ahead to the woman who waited for him and he found himself laughably unsure, given the past and the present, of where Spock’s natural sense of affinity would lie, as between the Romulan Commander and himself. He still knew that Spock’s integrity was one of the universal constants – like gravity, like the message of the stars – but he was far from certain of whether, from his changed Vulcan perspective, Spock would feel more empathy for the Romulan or his former human friend. And what would that mean to Spock’s ability to persuade the Romulans of the partnership between the Enterprise and the Seleya, between Vulcan and Starfleet – between Spock and Kirk?
He had taken Spock’s place because Spock was in a trance, because the conflict had escalated and every minute counted and because he had inflicted enough harm on Spock and the Romulan Commander; it would be better for everyone if he came to Gamma Fortuna himself.
Just in case.
She looked just the same. It was very strange how so much else in the galaxy – particularly, in his own life – could have changed so dramatically, and yet this woman, whom he had never thought to see again, looked just the same. Despite the significance of their only previous encounter - the ramifications he had known in the Federation and the greater ramifications he knew she must have suffered in the Empire - he hardly knew her. They had spent so little time together, and almost none when he had not been acting out a part. He had said to her, mockingly “You’ll forgive me if I put up a fight?” and she had refused to submit, to engage on his terms - had said, austerely, when it was all over “I will take my place as your prisoner.” It was Spock who had known her, Spock whom she had known and would remember – Spock whom she was expecting to see now.
She spoke, a single syllable:
It came to him, then, the stark irony of the situation. The last time he had seen her, he and Spock had acted out a fictional alienation from each other. Now, the alienation was painfully real, and yet he must pretend it was not. Alice in Wonderland, he thought.
“Commander,” he said, bowing.
“I was expecting Captain Spock,” she said.
He said, steadily:
“Captain Spock and I sought this meeting together. I understand that you were expecting a dialogue with Spock but I would be honoured if you would let me speak in his place.”
“What makes you think,” she said, “that I was thinking of a dialogue with Spock?”
He felt ludicrously stupid.
“I understood that...”
“It is true that there are words I would like to speak to Captain Spock. But I owe him other things, besides.”
He swallowed. There was no doubting the menace in her voice. They were in a room alone – she had dismissed the guards but he knew perfectly well that there would be no question of escape – also that, in terms of physical strength, there was no contest between him and the Romulans. They had taken his phaser on arrival, and he had given it up willingly enough. If he failed, there would be no reason to shoot his way out – to interstellar war, to face the fallout from disobeying the orders of Starfleet, the VSA and Spock – to professional and personal disaster.
Only one place to go, and that was the truth.
“Commander, the full responsibility for what happened two years ago was mine. It is not Spock’s, was never Spock’s, and any discomfort or dishonour he caused you was at my behest and not his personal choice or preference.”
She almost spat:
“Neither of you understand honour but you least of all, and your influence over Spock epitomises everything that was rotten about the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet. Do not talk to me of responsibility or of orders, Captain Kirk. I know very well that what Spock did he did at your instigation. If Vulcan can be separated wholly from Starfleet, so much the better. So much the better. That is the true path for the future.”
He took a breath.
“Romulan Commander, I understand your anger and I understand your condemnation. But your own understanding of the situation between Vulcan and Starfleet is flawed. There is no question even of a partial separation which the Empire could somehow deepen. There is none, there will be none, there can be none.”
“You lie, Captain Kirk. As you have lied before. What is the Seleya, if not a separation?”
“What is the Seleya,” he countered immediately, ”except a single ship? A single ship, commanded by my former First Officer, long time closest colleague and dearest friend?” (He ignored, strenuously, the words “You lie” which echoed loudly in his mind.) “A single ship which has operated in close partnership with my own for weeks? Come now, Commander. The declaration of war, the fate of millions cannot depend on such slim evidence. You cannot summon up so much as a skirmish, an exchange of blows. We stand together, Vulcan and human. We always will.”
"Why are you telling me this? And why do you think for one minute I would take your word for it?"
"Because, Commander - forgive me, but you are in a position to know that my relationship with Spock is not always what it seems." He saw her face change, pressed on regardless. "In all this insanity, you and I may be the only ones who can talk truth to each other. The truth is that whatever the status quo between Vulcan and Starfleet, Spock and I will always be brothers. Siblings fight sometimes, but they are always siblings. He will always be there if I am threatened and I will always be there if he is. And Vulcan and Starfleet are extensions of that. I know the ancient links between Vulcan and Romulan ancestry. I understand about those ties and I believe that your two races should hold on to them now, that the time is right for you to remember them and build on them, but you need to understand that their source was millennia ago and that since then, Vulcans and humans have also become family. This means you and I also, by proxy, are within reaching distance of each other. If Romulus fails to understand that, millions will die. Please believe me," he said, hoping he believed it himself, that any of it was still true.
There was a small silence in which a very small hope kindled within Kirk and then, abruptly, went out.
She had regained her composure; looked at him quite coolly and said:
“I find it extraordinary, and rather telling, that all Starfleet can manage is an envoy who pleads the case of the relationship between Starfleet and Vulcan based on the friendship which once forced a Vulcan to lie to me and to dishonour me. Do you not understand, Captain, that your friendship with Spock is a pollutant to me – that it is the single flaw in an otherwise admirable being, that it has caused Spock to deviate from the natural course of a life which any Vulcan or Romulan would have honoured, that your coming here and claiming friendship with Spock is the path most likely to discredit what he might himself have said to me?”
Kirk abandoned thoughts of Alice in Wonderland and settled for Dante. He was in some seventh circle of hell, where, having lost Spock’s friendship for good (whether or not he had lost Spock himself - and what on earth was he doing having this absurd, nightmarish conversation where he was out of reach of updates from McCoy?) he was forced endlessly to answer for that friendship - to accusations of exploitation, holding back and now pollution and deviation. Perhaps the next suggestion would be that he – not the Empire, not the Klingon High Command, not Saredin – but he, Kirk – was responsible for interstellar war. He was almost ready to believe it. Perhaps he could just agree with the Commander and then he would be free to contact McCoy.
“You have no honour, Captain Kirk, and this is not limited to your transactions with Spock. You use all relationships to political ends. As you kindly remind me, I am one who should know. From my understanding, the galaxy is littered with women who could bear similar witness and others, as well, too numerous to mention. And now Spock. Your word, based on your relationship with anyone at all but least of all with him is, to be honest, the very last reason why the Empire should back away from war with Earth and her Starfleet. Do you have any other suggestions, or shall we conclude this conversation? I suspect neither of us finds it very edifying.”
He took a breath.
“Then speak to someone else.”
She had already turned away; turned back, frowning.
“What are you suggesting?”
“If you do not trust me, speak to someone else. Speak to Commander T’Mala. She is the First Officer of the Seleya.”
“Why should I do that?”
“She is not Spock and does not speak from that place of any historical connection with me, but she will speak for the Seleya and for the mission.”
“And on what basis do you give me her name?”
“Because,” he said, having only the truth left, “because she did not raise shields when her life was at risk because peace was more important to her; because she has the integrity of the scientist who puts knowledge and truth in front of everything else, in front of diplomacy; because she was kind to a wounded young human officer.”
And the Commander said, scornfully,
“I see. Another of your Vulcan friends.”
And he said, sadly, “No, I have not yet earned that privilege. My hope is that you might give me the time to do so.”
He wondered whether she would kill him before he’d had a chance to hear from McCoy, wondered quite how derisory his efforts would appear to Spock (and he would trade the humiliation in a heartbeat to know the Vulcan had survived to learn about it) and to the Enterprise. And then, to his astonishment, she seemed to reach a conclusion.
“I will speak to Commander T’Mala. Alone. You will wait outside. And I would like your communicator first, Captain Kirk.”
No more updates, then. He handed the device over to her, silently, allowing to lie implicit between them her utter lack of trust, her accusation of dishonour, wondering how different it would have been if Spock and he, in some parallel universe, had done what he wanted to do and undertaken the mission together.
As though catching the thought, she said, softly, standing very near to him,
“No, I do not trust you, Captain Kirk. Not an inch. I once trusted your First Officer and while that is not a mistake I would make quickly again, I know there is trust to be found there somewhere. Not here. Not with you.”
Kirk turned, then, and walked towards the door but hesitated just as he reached it, and turned back again for a parting shot.
“If it’s trust which concerns you, Commander, you might like to consider this, when you have spoken to T’Mala. The reason I am here for Spock is that one of your Klingon allies fired with no provocation on a so-called friendly Vulcan ship, flying with shields down and, as a result, Spock is lying in the Seleya, fighting for his life.”
He saw the shot go home, saw her face change completely in shock, in something else - and then he was out of the door and face to face with Sub-Commander Tal.
“I think,” he said politely, “we’ve met before.”
Last seen across the main viewing screen of the Enterprise, his face huge, taut and angry (“We have you under our weapons, Enterprise. You cannot escape”) and he had shown him his Commander on the bridge of the Enterprise, forced him to fire on his own commanding officer. So focused on Spock, on what the encounter had meant to Spock and by proxy to the Commander, he had never really factored in the scale of that betrayal, of what it had meant to Tal. Now, he read it in the hostile eyes, the clenched fists – the absolute loyalty to his Commander and what that meant now, for Kirk, in this small room on a remote outpost in Gamma Fortuna.
He had less than a handful of seconds to compute this before he felt the impact of what it meant in a blow to his face which sent him staggering half way across the room. He picked himself up, slowly.
Tal said, breathing heavily
“You are scum, Kirk, you and your Vulcan friend both. But I feel pity for him because he has had to serve under a commanding officer who does not understand what loyalty means.”
He thought: Oh God, not again. It would be nice to think that Spock had been surrounded, for the past year, by Vulcans telling him that he had not deserved Kirk’s friendship. Nice, but fundamentally unlikely.
He said, “Explain that to me, will you?” and another blow caught him, without warning. He stood again, with a little more effort this time; drew a hand across his face, noted the bleeding from his mouth, and said:
“Actually, I really meant verbally. In words, please.”
Tal said: “With no provocation you lied to us, you deceived us and you held my commanding officer hostage against me and forced me to fire upon her.”
“I don’t think that’s entirely fair, really, for a number of reasons,” he began, and went down under another blow.
Kirk wondered if his orders of non-aggression covered getting beaten to death by the bare hands of an aggressive, vengeance-seeking Romulan. It was a slightly moot point. He thought, quite clearly: Saredin was right. I cannot hold out; at the end of the day, there is an inequality of strength, now, when it really matters. Was it true that I depended that much, physically, on Spock? Was I kidding myself that we had a relationship of equals? Was I reckless, was I unfair to him, did I hold him back? Did I get it all so badly wrong?
Did I make it all up?
As he failed to block an agonising blow to his shoulder, he said, politely if breathlessly: “On the other hand, I am happy to admit, if it makes you and everyone else happy, that I was not fit to command Spock. There seems, you know, to be a level of consensus here, and consensus is what I came here to look for. I may have found it in an unexpected place, but I don’t want to appear ungrateful. Could this be where peace starts, perhaps?”
The next blow caught him at the side of the head; he felt himself flying back against a wall, felt oddly dizzy, disorientated, wondered if this was how it was going to end, in a dark corridor on Gamma Fortuna with an admission on his lips that he had failed - failed everyone but in particular failed Spock. And then he wondered if the dizziness were causing hallucinations because the next blow never fell - instead, frowning as he looked upwards through the giddiness and through something wet trickling into his eye, he saw someone who looked a lot like Spock, holding back both Tal’s arms, immobilising him.
And at almost the same instant, the door opened behind him and the Romulan Commander was there.
She said: "I see that I must always expect one or the other of you to lie about the physical condition and continuous existence of the other," but her voice had altered somehow since their earlier conversation (what had T’Mala said? he wondered almost inconsequently) and Kirk saw her eyes light, where his did, on the burn marks on Spock's face and neck - and also on his hands, holding back Tal.
Kirk himself was conscious overwhelmingly of his own failures that day, of broken orders and broken ribs (several), a warm trickle of blood down the back of his neck and a struggle to breathe without a stabbing pain in his side. None of this stopped a blazing smile painting its way across his face as a wave of relief more staggering than Tal's blows broke over him. The smile was not returned.
He had said to the Commander: He will always be there if I am threatened and at least she could see the concrete truth of that. As could Kirk himself. Couldn’t he?
And then he wondered how long Spock had stood there, how much he had heard.
The Commander said to Tal: “Leave us,” and he went, shooting Kirk a wordless glance. Kirk dragged himself to a sitting position against the wall – didn’t think he would risk his dignity by attempting to stand – and watched as Spock and the Commander turned to each other and exchanged a long look. Neither displayed the slightest awareness of Kirk.
She said: “He claims that you and he are brothers.”
Spock did not spare Kirk a glance as he said, “The Commander will have understood this to be figurative,” and Kirk winced. Why was it so much harder to hear than when the Vulcan had said to Garth: Captain Kirk speaks somewhat figuratively and with undue emotion. Because it was not followed by What he says is logical and I do, in fact, agree with it.
Instead, Spock went on: “It is important that you understand, however, Commander, that relationships between Vulcan and Starfleet extend considerably beyond that which exists between Captain Kirk and myself. Consider me, Commander. I am myself one half Vulcan and one half human. I epitomise what you seek to establish does not exist. I exist because of the relationship between the two societies of Vulcan and human and specifically because of the marriage of one Vulcan and one human. But I am not so easily divided and I am who I am.”
Kirk froze. Could Spock really mean....? The Vulcan went on:
“You will know, Commander, that I have spent the past nine point three months in command of the VSS Seleya, just as I spent the foregoing years on the USS Enterprise. Of all the lessons I have learned, perhaps the most valuable is to have understood how the two halves of my heritage complement each other to make a natural whole; different strengths coming together. Not only am I not divisible, I am stronger for my two halves.”
Which is exactly how I would once have described our friendship, a part of Kirk thought, sadly. But in large part he was riveted to Spock’s words. Could it really be true that this was what the Vulcan had found on the Seleya – self acceptance? Peace? Because if so – if truly so, even at the cost of losing him, he wanted to shout, to let off fireworks, to celebrate. It was the thing he had always wanted so badly for the Vulcan. So odd to hear those words, finally, after all these years - I am stronger for my two halves -spoken in this room, to that woman. Not to Kirk.
And if it were truly so, why had it been so very difficult to reach Spock’s human half, ever since he went to the Seleya? Or was that, in itself, a necessary consequence of Spock’s discovery of himself? How ironic, that the one thing Kirk had most passionately wished for (since somewhere around the beginning of Stage Two of his friendship with Spock) should be the means of cutting off the connection he most treasured. Was it that the whole Spock, the unified Spock simply had no need of Kirk and was this – was this – what Saredin had meant when he had said the day before that Kirk and Spock had never had a relationship of equals “Spock was dependent on you because in a human environment, he needed your support to negotiate his way around life with an alien species.”
He thought: I can’t believe that. I won’t believe that.
Spock was going on:
“In a more prosaic context, my own parents will always be part of that dynamic and because of their marriage, because it is a permanent and balanced bond between human and Vulcan, because of the position my father holds and the inter-planetary honour and respect which is accorded to him, the Vulcan and human communities will always be bound to each other, however far their paths may sometimes wonder. But Commander – that bond, between Vulcan and human, whether we are referring to communal ties or those of marriage – that bond still holds between Romulus and Vulcan. Between Romulans and Vulcans.” He stopped speaking, standing very close to the Romulan Commander now, his eyes locked on hers, no sound of breathing from either of them.
And once again, Kirk was mesmerised. Spock was manipulating the Commander. He was dangling the metaphor of marriage in front of her – Spock, for whom he had apologised to the Commander, whom he admitted to having effectively forced into manipulating her two years earlier – Spock, whom he had thought days earlier had too much integrity to deceive anyone, let alone to dupe like this a woman whom Kirk knew the Vulcan had admired, to whom he had been attracted. How wrong had he been about Spock? This so-different Spock who, in a matter of minutes, had declared himself at ease with his divided heritage and was now reeling in his victim for the second time in as many years – this being whom he had believed incapable of the calculating, underhand aspects of diplomacy, whom he had mentored through early experiences of the more sophisticated and devious emotional intricacies of command – had he really known him? Was this yet one more instance (Saredin’s voice in his head) of perpetually thinking of Spock as his subordinate?
And then, a different kind of shock, because the voice in which Spock continued was Kirk’s own – the very words that Kirk had offered him, days earlier, when he had faced him across the briefing room table and asked him to chance this venture, this arrow into the dark:
“Commander, you and I know that the Seleya mission is a matter of internal politics only. Do not confuse it with anything else. Vulcan will uphold the old allegiances but that extends to Romulus as well as Earth. Commander – you are a leader and this is the day for you to lead. Take your ships home. Let the Klingons find their own way. This is your chance, your hour, your day and you must rise to it. The galaxy is waiting for you.” And then, in a lowered voice, he added:
“There is no need for cloaking devices here, Commander. There is no longer any need to hide. The Empire should leave disguise behind and come into the light. I once told you that you and I had exchanged something less fleeting than a military secret. Peace could be the most permanent gift of all.”
There was a long silence. Kirk held himself rock still. He felt the blood and sweat trickle down, slowly. Felt the seconds past. And then he saw her face change and she said:
“What are you offering me, Captain Spock?” and that was when he knew Spock had won.
Listening as the two arranged for the dialogue to be taken forward in other places, at other times, Kirk found himself wondering if Spock were tempted more by T’Mala or by the Romulan Commander – who might well be available to him in a new galactic order. None of your business, he told himself, and Spock isn’t even going to let you know. He tried to persuade himself that he just wanted Spock’s happiness, even if it took the form of putting Spock irrevocably beyond his reach. He failed.
The Romulan Commander drew apart from Spock and looked at him. Very carefully, Kirk pulled himself upright and saluted. She nodded once, very slowly, exchanged a last look with Spock and then turned and left the room as Kirk moved forward to walk with Spock to where he had left the Copernicus. He found himself treading unaccountably close to Spock and carefully moved away, despite a horrifying temptation to lean against that solid Vulcan strength.
He realised then that the support was not on offer.
Inside the shuttle, without asking, Spock assumed a position at the controls while Kirk sat down quickly before his legs gave way. Spock busied himself in silence as he prepared the shuttle for lift off and then they were rising through the atmosphere with a breath of relief from Kirk as they left behind that little room, the corridor, the scene of the draining hours he had just passed.
And then, still with his back to Kirk, Spock said:
“I estimate our ETA at the rendezvous with the Enterprise at forty six point four minutes from now. I suggest, Captain, that this might be an appropriate opportunity for you and me to conduct a review of what has transpired.”
Before Kirk could respond, he opened a channel to the Enterprise and confirmed speed and course. Kirk could hear the relief in Harding’s voice over the distance and Spock said, coolly “It would be advisable to have a medical team standing by for our arrival, Commander. Copernicus out,” and then finally he turned to Kirk. He was wearing an expression which brought forcibly to Kirk’s mind the meetings of the earliest days of Stage One, Category One - I have no feelings and I do not, in fact, wish to be with you at this precise moment. No, worse than that. The face of a stranger, someone Kirk didn’t even know. Behind him, Kirk could see the darkness of space and the distant glimmer of starshine which seemed to travel backwards past them as the shuttle carried them towards what had once been their home.
Spock’s list of Incidents, which had started with the Decision, Ensign Santini and the Goodbye, had lengthened to include the Shoulder. He had thought at the time that it had all started to go wrong with the Shoulder, but he knew that, in fact, the fault lines lay further back.
He had said to Kirk, of Sarek, of bringing the Seleya back within Starfleet “He believes that this is most likely to happen if the ship is commanded by a Vulcan who shares this objective and who has credentials in both Starfleet and Vulcan.”
He had thought Kirk would understand what it meant to have credentials in Vulcan.
What he had learned since then was that the almost mystic strength of their mutual understanding when they had served together on the Enterprise appeared to have concealed a chasm of difference.
With all the delicacy (which Spock had appreciated) of a new and fragile reconciliation between father and son, Sarek had said: “It is your command, your mission, Spock.” But then he had gone on to say that It would be entirely essential to the success of the objective of bringing the Seleya (and the VSA) back within Starfleet that he, Spock, was perceived to be Vulcan in this, not in any sense a voice for Starfleet. “It goes without saying that there must be no association with former human colleagues.”
And Spock had said “They are my friends” and Sarek had said “Understand, Spock, I do not question your philosophy in this. But you must be very clear that the officers of the Seleya will. There can be no contact between you and the Enterprise that leads the Seleya to identify them in that category. And if they truly are your friends, they will understand.” And Spock had not only made the same assumption as his father about the understanding of his friends – he had, in fact, himself understood and agreed, had realised Sarek’s wisdom immediately on taking up the command of the Seleya and on encountering the radicalism of Saredin, fresh from the humiliation of his court martial and the naivety of T’Mala, who had had no contact with humans and had not the slightest idea of how they functioned.
He thought now, looking back, that the point at which he had begun to have the confidence to diverge from Sarek’s advice, the point at which, for his part, he would have lifted that self-imposed injunction against association with the crew of the Enterprise, was the point at which he truly began to take command of his ship. When he had realised that he could relax with his senior officers - with T’Mala and Saredin – when he could sufficiently let his guard down with them, either because they trusted him or because he trusted them. Was that the same thing? he wondered, and what had it meant about his command of the Seleya, about his ability to command in general – and about the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet, given his human heritage? About himself? But by that time, it was too late.
Everything had gone according to plan with the exception of Kirk himself. Because Kirk had, in fact, outperformed Sarek’s highest hopes for the crew of the Seleya – he had believed everything of Spock that had been intended for the most Vulcan of audiences. Spock had, at the time, refused to allow himself to think about that too much. It had simply never occurred to him that this would happen.
He remembered the chess game he had won against Kirk, the day they had heard the news about the Halcyon court martial; he remembered Kirk laughing and going over Spock’s moves and strategy, and he remembered it with a stark clarity and nostalgia as the last time he and Kirk had shared a true understanding, unclouded by any form of mutual suspicion. He knew that when he had accepted command of the Seleya that Kirk believed, at least in part, that he had actually wanted to go. He had been utterly taken aback that Kirk could possibly think this, that Kirk had simply not understood what their partnership had meant to him. He had believed himself that, although it had never been openly discussed between them, it was a matter of common consent that they were bound together, that they were indivisible, that given his own free will it was a permanent thing, that he was Kirk’s, that he belonged at his side, that it was as simple as that. He also knew that for his part he had felt let down by Kirk’s failure to attempt to persuade him to stay. He was unsure which, if either of them, had been wrong or unreasonable; it was too subtle a thing for him to feel comfortable raising with Kirk, but he had felt, even during the remainder of his time on the Enterprise before he left for the Seleya, a small change in their easy communication, the imposition of the very slightest touch of reserve where once Kirk’s company and conversation had been as natural, as unforced, as breathing.
And then the silences and the brief and infrequent communications of his first months in command, during which he had really questioned whether Kirk was intending to hold on to their friendship or whether he had seen it as simply a facet – albeit, he knew, an extraordinary, unlooked for and deeply treasured facet – of Enterprise command. He himself had never considered, never needed to consider, a relationship with Kirk outside that context, but equally, while he knew Kirk tended to live for the minute, Spock by nature saw things from the broadest of all perspectives and he had also always known that proximity was simply at the end of the day, a luxury – that his connection to Kirk was a permanent necessity, regardless of whether they were actually in the same quadrant, let alone the same ship. But it did not seem that Kirk had felt the same way.
He knew that he was equally to blame in not reaching out to Kirk, in not writing, in not communicating properly. But he also knew that this was who they were – not simply that Kirk had been his commanding officer and that he had always waited to follow where Kirk led, but more than that - that words were Kirk’s strength, not his; that it had always been Kirk who was expansive, who made declarations, who put feelings into words; that he had been content to fall in behind him, to agree, to know that his silences had been understood by Kirk as they had been understood by no other being all Spock’s life. It was he who had been exiled from the Enterprise, he who had (in those early, unhappy days on the Seleya) been in need of support – as Kirk must have known - and he had been thrown off course not to have been able to hold on to a lifeline of meaningful dialogue with Kirk. Kirk never did things without meaning, especially not with regard to Spock, and so he had found himself looking for the message in those long silences.
And then the Shoulder.
He had known, as soon as Kirk had reached for his shoulder on the first day of the joint mission and he had stepped back, that he had hurt Kirk badly, that he had inflicted real damage – although he could have done nothing else in front of the crew, in Saredin’s presence. And he had gone back to his quarters wretched and very uncertain of what to do next. But it had been the last time he had felt anything as simple as the sadness of missing Kirk, the pain of standing back from him.
He found that Kirk had decided that he was someone completely different.
And this was why it had been too late to bring Saredin and T’Mala together with the senior crew of the Enterprise. In a different world, he would have liked nothing more. He had grown to respect Saredin, to enjoy sparring with him, to feel protective about T’Mala and to admire her honesty, to value something approaching an adult innocence in her. He could see that they found the Enterprise difficult and Kirk in particular; could see also that Kirk and his crew struggled with the Vulcans; he felt an equal lack of sympathy with both crews but felt, in his heart, that Kirk, whose calling card was tolerance and empathy and whose track record was new life forms and new civilisations – that Kirk was more to blame for his inability to make that leap of imagination. And he felt powerless to bring the crews together - it was like the Galileo all over again, and it made him question himself, made him doubt an earlier growing confidence in his command where before he had been aware only of an extraordinary nascent elation in relation to himself and the Seleya.
Because, while he had been prepared to do all he could – to leave Kirk, to take command of the Seleya and to give everything he had to achieve what Sarek wanted of the posting - he had originally put very low (at 17.3%) his chances of success. He thought the role itself would challenge any commanding officer and that he himself, with his own internal divisions and his own reluctance to command, would fare no better than others and probably worse. He thought that he would be channelled back into the early years of his youth on Vulcan, into that displacement, that loneliness that he had always found in Vulcan society. But he had been wrong.
Whilst nothing would ever replace for him the warmth, affection and simple rightness that he had found on the Enterprise, at Kirk’s side (like an outsized hand finally finding a resting place in a perfectly tailored glove), he had found that there were compensations on the Seleya. Compensations in the form of the respect of his crew, in a confidence in his own abilities and in a liking for the Vulcan officers which had taught him, by extension, that it was possible to form genuine bonds with full-blooded compatriots of his father’s race. His ability to feel comfortable, for the first time in his life, with Vulcans led, inextricably, to a dawning sense of ease with the half Vulcan within himself. And part of the chasm of difference which he had discovered between Kirk and himself was that he had no idea of how to convey this to Kirk and no real sense of how he would react; whether he would even welcome it or whether he would find in it another reason to withdraw from Spock. From Spock and from the crew of the Seleya.
And of all the complications which Spock might have expected to cause a stumbling block to his success on the Seleya, of the very long list of all the possible things which might go wrong from Spock’s own inadequacies to the intransigence of the VSA and the wary clumsiness of Starfleet HQ, the one obstacle he had never expected was James Kirk.
His confidence in Kirk’s trust in him had originally revived and renewed when Kirk had first beamed on to the Seleya, when he had met his eyes in the transporter room. But it had received a mortal blow at the time of the Shoulder and the look in Kirk’s eyes when he had turned away from him. From that time onwards, Kirk’s contact with him had become increasingly official, infrequent and strained. He had watched the change in Kirk’s demeanour with growing dismay, had wondered if Kirk even remembered who he was, if he could possibly believe (knowing, as Kirk did, the sensitive and politicised situation in which he was functioning) that Spock could have changed this much, that the Shoulder could possibly have been meant at face value. And this had culminated in a visit to the Enterprise with T’Mala and Saredin, the alienating experience of being shown around his own home by Scott without a single Enterprise crew member demonstrating the remotest degree of awareness, of sensitivity, the slightest sign of anything being amiss in this - and then coming across Kirk and Harding laughing over a game of chess. Knowing it was irrational, knowing it was foolish, knowing he had no right to think any such thing, he nevertheless thought bitterly “Entirely and permanently irreplaceable”. And was aware of feeling real anger towards Kirk, for the first time in his life.
And that was the day the almost impossible direction had come from the VSA and Starfleet placing Kirk under his orders – not a confrontation he had handled well, he knew, in the immediate aftermath of that uncomfortable tour of the Enterprise, and it had, as it turned out, been the last time he saw Kirk.
He had been thrust into a political and military spotlight at the worst of times and without even Sarek’s guidance (Sarek being distracted with diplomacy elsewhere) and on the other side of a war from Kirk. It had seemed to him that the only way forward was to maintain VSA trust by adopting Vulcan decorum and accepting with apparent readiness what would have once been unthinkable – command over Kirk - whilst knowing that his joint mission with Kirk and the Enterprise would allow the Seleya and the VSA effectively to benefit from Kirk’s greater experience, so that Kirk’s suggestions could be implemented by a form of passive facilitation.
And then the Klingon attack and hearing Saredin and Kirk in sickbay, whilst imprisoned within the healing trance. He was quite sure that Kirk did not realise he could hear and 98.9% certain that Saredin knew this and had chosen deliberately not to enlighten Kirk. He was very unsure of Saredin’s motivation in engineering the conversation, under the circumstances, but had little interest to spare to consider this. Indeed, lying trapped in an increasingly ineffective trance, he had been ashamed by how much he’d been distracted by Kirk and even more so to realise, as Kirk stood by his bed, that he wanted Kirk to touch him, wanted the reassurance of Kirk’s hand and the once-familiar feel (which he knew he had forfeited) of Kirk’s thoughts dancing below his skin - and Kirk, of course, did not give it, just moved away after a few minutes.
And Kirk had said to Sardein “I do regard him as my friend, yes” and had provided the overwhelming reassurance and confirmation, the accolade of “Our change in status has absolutely no bearing on my views.”
There had been the extraordinary relief of hearing Kirk restating the unique gift of acceptance he had always brought to Spock’s world: “I do not regard Spock as human or Vulcan. He is who he is.” But it had come with the terrible irony that after all he and Kirk had been together, after all the healing and understanding which only Kirk had ever brought to Spock’s divided self, his voyage of self discovery aboard the Seleya had come too late to share with the person who might most have understood and welcomed what he had learned.
And the conversation only served to confirm that although Kirk’s affection appeared to remain unchanged, his trust had not. He had heard the silences where Saredin had challenged and Kirk had hesitated or been unable to answer – knew that Kirk was struggling to find valid objections to challenges by Saredin to the very fabric of their friendship; challenges laid down by the person whom Kirk had, in another life, dismissed as He is an idiot; challenges which Spock would once have assumed blind that Kirk would simply have laughed off in the knowledge that whatever the respective gifts they brought to each other, he and Spock were unassailable, that what they had did not need to be understood by anyone else, that they were who they were, that it was simply that they were entirely and permanently irreplaceable to each other. And Kirk had been most notably silent when Saredin had said that Kirk was uncomfortable with Spock being in command. Which merely confirmed Spock’s own observations.
Spock was quite clear that he did not wish to command. What had come as an unwelcome shock was that Kirk did not wish him to command, either. It was not logical that he should resent this particular instance of consensus with Kirk. But it was true.
He was angry with all of them – he should not be angry, it was wrong to be angry, it was unproductive to be angry and it was certainly un-Vulcan to be angry, but it was also important to acknowledge the truth and the truth was that he was angry. He was angry with Saredin for exposing Kirk to Spock, he was angry with Kirk for not trusting him and he was angry with himself for listening, although in fact he had had no choice and the damage was done. Distracted, his trance ended earlier than it should have and, weakened but functional, he came round to find Kirk gone to the Romulans, gone in breach of Spock’s orders. And found, far from being calmed or reassured in any way by the affirmation of affection in the conversation in sickbay, that he was even angrier. He was unsure what value he put on affection without trust.
After the damage inflicted by the Klingons the day before, he had taken the Seleya to Gamma Fortuna only by a small miracle and by the combined assistance in Engineering of T’Mala and Santini, reflecting that the collegiality between the two officers was perhaps the best product of the joint Seleya-Enterprise mission (though his mood did not improve on learning that Kirk had involved T’Mala in his illicit approach to the Empire). And he had beamed down, ordered the ship to return immediately to where she had left the Enterprise to ensure at least some degree of distance in the event of complete failure on both his part and Kirk’s and found Tal – and, with him, Kirk, distinctly the worse for wear. The fact that Kirk appeared to have suffered significant injury should have made Spock concerned, but in fact it made him angrier still. He had not wanted Kirk to come to the Romulans precisely because of the risk of this scenario. Everything about the mission made it suitable and a natural fit for Spock. Nothing about the situation made it appropriate or safe for Kirk to be here. And yet he was, sprawled under Tal’s uplifted fist with every evidence in the blood, the bruising, the laboured breathing, that Spock had been right.
He had heard Kirk’s quip to Tal about not being fit to command Spock and, while not understanding entirely the background, thought again “You do not trust me any more.” He did not need telepathy to feel the waves of distrust coming off Kirk as he himself spoke to the Commander, as he negotiated his way to peace through the personal and political minefields that littered the path. Heart in mouth, he found his way, word by word and had to fight himself not to be distracted by that silent presence, by the knowledge that Kirk did not trust him. That every feint, everything of dexterity he could summon against this wary, bitter woman was somehow being taken at absolute face value by Kirk, as though both his encounters with her, a bare combined total of perhaps three point two hours in her company over a period of two years, would somehow imbalance the years he had spent at Kirk’s side.
And at the same time, as he spoke to the Romulan, he was ridiculously aware of trying to win her over in front of the master of persuasion; feeling like a junior ensign in front of his commanding officer, wanting to impress, not to fail – and knowing all the time that Kirk had broken his orders to come here because he did not believe that Spock could do it. And because Kirk didn’t believe it, neither did Spock.
He remembered all over again how essential Kirk was to him, how much a part of him, and how vital Kirk’s trust had become to his own self worth. And Spock was faced with incontrovertible evidence of three heavy if not mortal blows to that trust.
Firstly, that Kirk had, with an ease that took Spock’s breath away, believed that everything Spock had done this year to win over the Vulcan crew of the Seleya meant that he, Spock, had casually abandoned that older allegiance, forgotten his friendship with Kirk. And this lack of questioning, this taking of Spock at face value apparently included even Spock’s delicate dialogue with the leader of the hostile force which had declared war on Starfleet.
Secondly, that when Kirk said He is who he is, what he really meant was that he did not value Spock’s Vulcan half, that he preferred to consider Spock as human. This was the only conclusion Spock could draw from Kirk’s rejection of the Seleya mission. Given the incalculable value he had always placed on Kirk’s unique acceptance of him for himself, he could hardly compute the scale of that particular betrayal.
And, thirdly, that Kirk was not prepared to serve under Spock, that there was a core of truth at the heart of Saredin’s accusation (had Saredin deliberately baited Kirk so that Spock would hear? Why?) that Spock’s role as Kirk’s subordinate had been inherent to their relationship. Which Spock could have understood, could even have accepted, without the final, deeper cut which was the knowledge that Kirk had not trusted him to carry out this mission successfully on his own.
And all of this meant Kirk did not trust Spock; it also meant that Spock did not trust Kirk to trust him. And these things had once been fundamental to Spock’s very being.
Spock understood enough about broken trust to know that it was very difficult to repair. But the way back had been barred for a long time now – perhaps, ironically, as soon as he had said to Kirk the day Sarek asked him to go to the Seleya “Nor have I conveyed or, indeed, reached any decision without first discussing the matter with you.” If he exercised muscles long in disuse to look away from Kirk and the Enterprise, he knew he would be looking instead at a new future, at ease within his own skin and with the welcome and respect of his own people on his own ship. That did not mean that he would not first seek closure with his former life.
The former First Officer of the Enterprise knew precisely how much and how little it meant to advise the ship’s Chief Medical Officer that Vulcans have no emotions. He also knew that the ship’s captain had an extremely accurate gauge of the exact gamut of emotions Spock could bring into play. But he was unfamiliar with anger. He had not understood how corrosive it could be, how physical a reaction, how disturbing and how distorting it was.
He had just forty six point four minutes to explain this to Kirk.
I don’t like overly contrived plot devices, but I went back to A Private Little War and am fairly sure that my reading of Vulcan trances is canon. M’Benga says to Chapel “He knows we're here and what we're saying, but he can't afford to take his mind from the tissue he's fighting to heal”. But Kirk wasn’t present at that scene, he was on the planet with McCoy and Tyree, so I thought it was reasonable to conclude that he wouldn’t know. And credit to Dahliaxat who figured where I was going with this a couple of chapters back.
“I require an explanation as to why you went to Gamma Fortuna in breach of my express orders.”
Kirk looked at him and said, “Thank you for asking, I’m a little battered and there seems to be a knife sticking into my lungs every time I breathe in, but I guess I’ll be OK. What about you and what happened to the healing trance?” He knew it was the wrong thing to say, that he had no right to say it; he watched Spock’s face harden and the muscles in his jaw tighten.
And he repeated.
“I require an explanation as to why you went to Gamma Fortuna in breach of my express orders.”
Kirk drew a breath, said:
“Spock. Please. Can’t we talk this through properly? This is ridiculous. We’ve hardly spoken; hardly seen each other. You were in sickbay; I went to see you; I thought – well, I really want to know how you are.”
“I require –“
“Damnit, Spock! You were in a trance, for God’s sake. What was I supposed to do, take you with me?”
“You were not required to do anything. It was not your mission. I would have emerged from the trance and undertaken the mission as originally arranged. In a different context involving other personnel, your actions would undoubtedly have resulted in disciplinary proceedings and you relied on an assumption that I would not instigate such an action in order to undertake the mission yourself rather than carry out my orders.”
Kirk’s jaw dropped.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I undertook the mission, as you put it, because you were unconscious.”
Spock looked at him steadily, and said, “Captain, I do not believe that you would have disregarded those orders had they come from any other single ranking officer. They were explicit and they were given under highly sensitive conditions. However, they were also given by your former First Officer.”
“That’s extraordinarily unfair,” he snapped. “I appreciate you gave explicit orders, but things change. Unless you’ve added clairvoyance to telepathy since we last worked together, I did not imagine when you gave those orders that you figured when the time came on being laid out in sickbay with massive burns in a healing trance for days. The conflict was escalating, I didn’t even know what sort of state you’d be when you came round, and in any event –“
“In any event, you then learned the name of the Romulan delegate,“ Spock said, expressionlessly. Kirk’s demeanour changed, abruptly. He put his hands up, with the ease of the man used to charming his way out of difficult situations.
“All right, I admit it, I thought it might be easier on you if I went. But that’s not the main point here, Spock. The main point is that you were lying on your back with a bunch of life support machines for company.”
“The main point, as you put it, Captain, is that you do not accept my authority over you.” He had said it. He watched Kirk for a reaction. And the human slumped, slightly, breathed in. There was a slight silence.
And then Kirk straightened.
“What do you want me to say, Spock? I told Wesley when the orders came through that I was a grown up and that relationships change and I could accept that. And it’s true, it’s all true. And it’s also true that I found it difficult. I’m not particularly proud of myself for that, and I’ve thought about it a lot. I didn’t find it difficult because of you, though. I found it difficult because of me, and there’s a difference.”
Spock raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t find it difficult because you are in any way undeserving of my deference, compliance or respect. I shouldn’t have to go into detail of how much I rate you, Spock – you know that. But you being my First has been a huge part not just of who we were, you and I, but also who I was. You were my First, you were my friend, and now we’re in a radically different situation with three different galactic powers riding on our backs, to boot. It shouldn’t be the case that you can’t serve under someone you once commanded - God knows it happens often enough and it should be easier, really, as well as harder, precisely because it’s us, because it’s you and me. I’ll get over it – I’m getting over it. You are going to tell me that as a starship captain, particularly in time of war, I don’t have the luxury of time, and you’re entirely right. But as a human being, I guess I needed an adjustment period. And I owe you an apology for that.”
There was a slight silence into which Kirk’s apology fell, in which Spock tried not to hear the words “as a human being” as being as pointed as he suspected they were, in which he acknowledged to himself an element of surprise that Kirk’s apology was forthcoming, that Kirk had been so self-aware, and was just thinking that he should know better than to underestimate Kirk when Kirk continued, ploughing destructively into the fragile harmony his apology had just restored:
“And in that spirit, are you going to tell me why you ordered me not to go with you in the first place?”
Spock snapped back to the present, mentally castigating himself and remembering Kirk’s easy charm, refusing to be drawn in so easily. He remembered Kirk’s distrust on the planet, his conviction that Spock’s sympathies had been with the Romulan Commander. He said, forbiddingly, challenging Kirk to dare to suggest any other reason,
“It was not appropriate for you or any other human to go. It was necessary for a Vulcan but not a human to be present to engage in the diplomatic initiative required, but above all it was not a safe environment for humans, and your current condition, if I may say so, is evidence of the accuracy of my assessment.”
“Safe?” he said, dangerously. “Safe! Don’t you think this is something of an adjustment too far, Spock? Not only am I supposed to take your orders but I am supposed to be protected from any physical danger? What the hell do you mean, safe? I may be – for now - under your command but I’ve been a starship captain for a hell of a lot longer than you have and I don’t need your protection or anyone else’s. Safe!”
Spock said steadfastly, “It is part of any officer’s duty to assess the risk to members of the crew before embarking on any mission. This is not new to either of us, Captain – I carried out that function on the Enterprise, as your First Officer.”
“Yes,” he said, impatiently, “but not on me!” The memory flashed between them suddenly of the the dikironium cloud creature, the Tychos system, Kirk’s insistence on personally detonating the antimatter device to destroy the being who had posed no risk to Spock because of Spock’s copper-based haemoglobin – and Kirk’s trademark recklessness, a thousand other days when Spock had been required to watch, helpless, from the sidelines as Kirk put himself on the line more usually reserved for junior officers. It was, of course, the thing which made him the best captain in the Fleet - as well as making Spock complicit, an unwilling accessory in the element of personal risk, a role he was clearly disinclined to reprise, now that he had the choice. Kirk dismissed the past, burst out with the real reason for his anger.
“Is this about me being only a human and your superior Vulcan strength? It is, isn’t it? It’s about the fact that our friendship was flawed from the start because humans are weaker than Vulcans and therefore inferior.” His mind was awash with bitterness, with the memories of his helplessness at Tal’s hands; he looked automatically down at the drying blood, the burgeoning bruises, looked up, caught Spock’s eye, and knew he had been read as effortlessly as a book. That made it worse, not better. “I always thought our friendship was a friendship between equals,” he said passionately. “Not this. Not you having to keep me safe. That’s what your Chief Engineer thinks.”
And, in a fatally unguarded moment, Spock said: “That was not precisely what he meant nor what he said.”
It was a catastrophic error, particularly for someone who knew Kirk as well as he did, and he knew it immediately. He saw Kirk looked puzzled, then the beginning of anger as he said, slowly,
“He told you? He told you about our conversation?”
And Spock, realising that he had no choice, knowing exactly what would happen, said, “I heard.”
He saw Kirk go white with anger, saw him thinking rapidly back over the conversation, trying to remember what he had said. Then the blood which had receded from the human’s face rushed back, and even in the midst of a sudden pain that the gap between them was so wide that it could actually matter so much to Kirk that anything he said had been overhead by Spock – even in that moment, he realised that Kirk was humiliated, as well as furious. There was an element in all this, going back to the Shoulder, that had been about exposure, for Kirk. Kirk was not arrogant but he was a proud man and, for all his open warmth, a private man and Spock had always known this and understood it. And it was in front of both senior crews that Spock had rejected his touch; now he was being told that he had been forced to discuss their friendship in front of an audience of two, not one. And if the additional member of the audience had been Spock himself, it still turned it into an entirely different dynamic, and Spock could understand that.
Kirk said, barely controlling himself.
“Why was I not told?”
“It is the nature of healing trances, Captain,” he said, feeling ridiculous, remembering the many times he had lectured Kirk on Vulcan customs and biology, usually in tease-form (but never like this, never like this) “that the individual is able to hear but not able to speak. Trances are based on the mental ability to focus – specifically, to focus on healing, and attention is therefore drawn away from other faculties. In this instance, because of your conversation with Saredin, I was sufficiently distracted to have ended the trance early, hence my arrival at Gamma Fortuna, but I was unable to communicate with you at the time you were in sickbay.”
“But he knew,” Kirk said, dangerously. “Your friend Saredin must have known. And he must have figured that I didn’t. Why the hell did he let me go on?”
Since Spock had no answer to this, he gave none.
And Kirk threw at him: “And this is your Chief Engineer, this is your senior officer.”
Spock checked himself at the unexpected attack. He said, carefully,
“I do not know the reason for Saredin’s actions. However, he is an honourable being.”
“Honourable? Honourable? This, this, is Vulcan honour? This vaunted Vulcan integrity which we hear so much about, this Vulcan truth, this Vulcan courtesy? And we’ve been tying ourselves in knots to try to win back the Vulcan alliance which we forfeited because of the offence taken by a single Vulcan officer – the very person who breached my privacy – whose own so-called personal rights were invaded. This is not honour, this is hypocrisy. What Vulcan wants for itself it should try to extend to others first.”
Yes, he would take it that way. Spock remembered again the humiliation in Kirk’s face as he had stepped back from his touch. And since then, Kirk had had to deal with being placed under Spock’s orders and he had taken a beating at Tal’s hands which had only served to confirm Saredin’s allusions to physical inferiority. Seen one way, the entire history of the Seleya mission had been one long humiliation, one long invasion of territory for Kirk. He said nothing, but watched in Kirk’s stormy expression the wreck of something once indestructible between them. And heard, crystal clear, the lines of battle drawn in everything Kirk said, in every “we” and in every “Vulcan”.
Eventually, he said, quietly
“He is an individual. I cannot at this point provide an explanation or justification for his behaviour but to suggest that it in some way reflects on the entire Vulcan race is hardly appropriate or conducive to anything that I have been trying to achieve for the past year."
And Kirk said, too angry to listen, "You're actually defending him?"
And Spock said, more quietly still
"Your acceptance of me as neither Vulcan nor human has always been of a value to me I could not easily compute; however, it should not blind you to the fact that I am, indeed, half Vulcan with all that this entails. I cannot condone nor accept what you are saying about my people.”
Kirk looked at him, breathing heavily now, whether from emotion or from the effects of the fight on Gamma Fortuna Spock could not tell.
“That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it, Spock? It’s about being Vulcan. It’s about not being even half human any more. You’ve made your choice. Haven’t you?”
Spock turned away. He adjusted the controls to allow for a course correction; the course correction was necessary but it was also necessary to buy himself time, to look away from that accusing face. He had thought that he wanted this, that he wanted the confrontation, the explanation. But in fact he was not sure he could handle Kirk’s anger, was far from certain that the benefits of what humans call catharsis would outweigh the pain – was not even sure that he could perceive any benefits. He thought, with sudden longing, of the peace of his quarters on the Seleya, of the dispassionate calm which reigned on the ship. Of Saredin’s rejection of the human way, of his disparaging comments on life on the Halcyon, his disdainful descriptions of tempers fraying, emotional sensitivities which needed to be navigated, efforts which needed to be expended to reach out, to mediate. His own experience on the Enterprise meant he had never had time for this view. He had listened to Saredin with neutral courtesy and had suggested, gently, that he should not allow a limited and personal negative experience to colour his view of mankind in general, that what humans derived from their emotional lives outweighed the obvious disadvantages. He wondered now whether Saredin had been right, all along.
Regardless, there was no way out of this conversation now and it was he who had initiated it. He turned to Kirk and went for the jugular.
“Has it never occurred to you, Captain, at any point during the past ten months, that I was, as you knew very well, undertaking sensitive orders with a vital Federation relationship at stake? That I was charged with gaining the trust of a radicalised Vulcan crew? That it would be necessary for me to make certain adjustments? Could you not have trusted me to carry out those orders whilst retaining former allegiances?”
“Originally, yes,” Kirk said, watching him. His anger had dropped away, at least for the time being. His whole being was fixed on Spock, who at least was talking to him, really talking to him for the first time since that damn chess match. “Originally, but it didn’t stop there, did it, Spock? Was it all really necessary? You’ve treated us like strangers – not just me; McCoy, Scotty, all of us. I might have interpreted those orders differently, in your situation.”
“You might have,” Spock agreed, bleakly. “We are, after all, very different beings, Captain.”
“Originally,” Kirk continued, very carefully, still watching Spock, “I thought, at first, you hadn’t wanted the Seleya. I had thought – well, not to put too fine a point on it, and if I am honest – I had thought your preference was to stay with – to stay on the Enterprise. But then I came to feel that in fact you were where you wanted to be, that you were comfortable there, on a Vulcan ship, in command.”
“My preferences are entirely irrelevant to the situation and always have been, Captain,” he said. “The issue was not what I wanted but what I chose. Once I had accepted the mission, it was naturally incumbent upon me to attempt to carry it out to my best endeavour.”
“And at all costs,” Kirk said, painfully, the memory of that first encounter on the Seleya fresh in his mind. It lay in the space between them, as the shuttle hummed and moved, and Spock said:
“You knew the situation and the history of my position on the Seleya, Captain. It was your choice to make your own interpretation of events. You did not trust me.”
“Trust you? How was I supposed to trust you, Spock? Why didn’t you say something?”
Spock looked at him blankly.
“What was I supposed to say?”
“God, I don’t know. You don’t normally have a problem with words. A single line would have been fine – in fact, it would have been rather nice. Perhaps that night after we first rendezvoused with the Seleya, you know, when you might have realised it would have been rather harder for me to have contacted you after – well, after what happened. How about: “Dear Jim, hope you’re well”. Or, if you prefer, “Captain, I trust you are enjoying good health.” I would never have hoped for “Perhaps we could schedule a game of chess later this week” and I realise it was asking far too much to expect “It was nice to see you” especially as it might not, of course, have been true, but frankly “Hello” would have been fine. Never occurred to you, I suppose, or perhaps it just didn’t matter enough. But you keep telling me you’re not my First Officer any more, that you’re in command, doesn’t that mean that you have to take responsibility for at least some of how we communicate with each other? Was it too much to ask?”
“Was it too much to require?” he returned, without pause. Their eyes met. “There has never been a need for those words in the past,” Spock said, with a sense of picking his way over minefields, wondering why the conversation with the Romulan Commander now seemed, in retrospect, so easy. “And there has never been an issue of trust.”
“Well, forgive me for not being telepathic. Where your behaviour is at variance from everything it always has been and, as you are now suggesting, from what you really meant, yes, I need words. How can there be trust without words, Spock?”
“Your conduct, Captain, has shown that there cannot. That is clearly my error and we must both confront the consequences.”
“What do you mean, my conduct, Spock?” the dangerous note was back in Kirk’s voice.
Spock gave him a hard look back.
“Your attitude to my dialogue with the Romulan Commander. Your attitude to my crew.”
“What do you mean, the Romulan Commander?” Spock had heard that tone previously directed at a junior lieutenant who had arrived late for duty. He made himself go on.
“You did not regard me as capable of carrying out this mission. Further, you believed my loyalty was compromised.”
“Total nonsense, on both counts,” he retorted, immediately. “Worse than nonsense – how dare you, Spock? My views on Saredin have never extended to you. People will write books about your loyalty, and if they don’t, the logs of the Enterprise certainly bear testament to it. And I’ve already said that none of what has happened has been about my views on your abilities – how could it be? How could we possibly – possibly - be sitting on this shuttle talking about my respect for you? How could anything I have done be legitimately construed as reason for you to doubt my regard for you?” The emphasis was unmistakable. Spock ignored it.
“Is it entirely untrue that you believed that my sympathies would not in some way lie with her? That I would not be able to take the dialogue to the desired conclusion?”
They stared at each other. Kirk said, quietly but defensively
“I thought it would be hard on you. I suppose that means I thought you did have feelings for her - but not that you had changed sides, never that. If anything, if you must know, I worried that you would be hindered by what I regard as your absolute integrity; an integrity I don’t think I can match, that I would stake my life on. It’s not the harshest thing to believe about anyone, Spock – that they would struggle to take home a mission which requires the subjugation – even if only in diplomatic terms - of a person they have come to admire and respect. That’s a very long way from thinking you were incapable of carrying out the mission, of believing you disloyal. Damn it, it was about wanting to help you! You want me to apologise again? We’re still back to the fact that you refuse to talk to me. And for as long as you refuse to talk to me, I have to guess at what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking and I’m going to get it wrong. You don’t like me saying there’s no trust without words. There’s been no one all my life I’ve trusted as much as I’ve trusted you. But even to make things right between us, I will not say anything that allows you to believe that when we get to the Enterprise and I walk out of that door and we go on as we are, without you talking to me properly, that I will be able to trust you blind, one hundred percent. If that’s the end of the road for you, if that means I’m not who you thought I was, then I am more sorry than I can say. But I won’t promise you what I can’t deliver. I can’t deliver my ship and I can’t deliver myself. Not without words.”
Silence again, and Spock suddenly felt the rush of fatigue, both emotional and the fact of the half-completed trance. He checked the readings, knew they only had a few minutes left – out of the viewer, the Enterprise was drawing near and, next to her, the Seleya. The time for talking was nearly over.
As if picking up on the thought, Kirk said, quickly.
“I beg your pardon, Captain?”
“You mentioned your crew, my attitude to your crew.” And Kirk’s face, which had softened slightly as he had spoken to Spock, hardened at the memory of Saredin. “Don’t you think the boot is on the other foot there?”
The days were long gone when Spock would have made a comment about human idiom.
“The Enterprise was sent to liaise with the Seleya on a mission of fraternalisation. You and I both knew it was essential to the restoration of the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet. I saw no signs of you either making serious efforts to understand and respect my officers or to encourage your officers to do so in exchange,” he said, not quite believing that he was saying these words to Kirk. Kirk evidently had the same problem.
“Are you questioning the integrity of my actions, Captain? Are you saying I was prejudiced?”
“No,” Spock said, swallowing a sir. “I am, however, questioning your openness to accept a Vulcan crew for who they are and not in terms of human standards of behaviour.”
“Your crew could learn quite a lot from human standards of behaviour,” Kirk said, angrily. He remembered the brusque dismissal of his science team as being unfit to work on the dilithium project; the day war was declared and he had gone to the Seleya and been interrupted in the briefing room in front of Spock. “I saw no signs that you were prepared to ensure that they treated us with respect, either.”
The two looked at each other, antagonism sparking the air between them, and Kirk almost wanted to laugh. He knew it was just the tension, knew that the situation was far from funny, but thought Spock and I, sitting in this shuttle, after all these years, tacitly admitting that I cannot persuade a human crew to respect Vulcans and he cannot persuade a Vulcan crew to respect humans. So much for our diversity and tolerance, so much for who we were.
Grasping for something, anything, he said
“I like your Commander T’Mala.”
And it was the wrong thing to say. It would also have to be the one female member of his bridge complement, and Spock’s thoughts instantly went to Kirk’s normal modus operandi – and to the reason they were in the shuttle. He said, tightly
“You had no right to involve my First Officer in your illicit engagement with the Romulans.”
Kirk’s head shot up.
“Don’t be stupid, Spock” (not the most appropriate way to address a senior officer, but he was way beyond that) “I had to tell someone on the Seleya I was going. You were out for the count. And it was a good thing I did, because she was able to speak to the Romulans herself. That must have helped- I believe it did.”
“It was not your decision to make,” Spock said, more forcefully. “You put her in an impossible situation and not one which was remotely appropriate for her to handle. She is not your officer; she is not under your command; she is my responsibility, not yours.”
“Oh God, we’re back to this,” Kirk said. He was exhausted. He must be, to be thinking longingly of McCoy, of sickbay where he would be in a few minutes. As if catching the thought, Spock turned back to the controls and began the entry manoeuvres. Kirk watched him. And then, realising they were running out of time, he went on
“Well, since we’ve been talking about command and we’ve been talking about trust, Spock, can I suggest that it cuts both ways? You were under my command on the Enterprise, but I trusted you a damn sight more than you have trusted me, the past few days. Because, actually, I let you – even sent you – into plenty of situations which were far more dangerous than Gamma Fortuna – remember Gamma Seven-A, that shuttle I sent you on to the amoeba organism which had already wiped out billions? Including, by the way, four hundred other Vulcans on the Intrepid? Not only that, I did that thing humans do which is called talking – we discussed missions together, we had a partnership, we were a team. You must remember team, Spock, it was why we were so good together. What you’ve been prepared to extend to me in this mission has hardly been comparable – we hold the same primary rank, we have (in whatever capacity) served together for many years, don’t you think you could have cut me some slack? You may be the best Vulcan commanding officer in the universe, you may have unrivalled skills of diplomacy and you have just set up interstellar peace single-handedly (and I say single-handedly advisedly) but command isn’t just about keeping your officers safe, you know, it’s about working together, using all your resources to get what you want. And I would say your teamwork skills could do with a hell of a lot of development. I didn’t trust you? Think about it. Here we are, coming back together in the shuttle, almost like old times - except it’s not – but it worked, doing it together, and we always functioned at our best in a team.” He remembered Saredin’s words in sickbay, said, with a final burst of anger:
“Saredin was wrong. He was out of order and wrong, from start to finish. It is not about inequality. It was never about inequality. It is our differences which make us stronger; it is teamwork. He’s a bigot; he’s allowed his hatred of humans to blind him, to stop him thinking straight; he cannot see their worth or their value. It’s a poison running through his philosophy. I can’t believe you’re buying into it.”
As he said the last words, Spock landed the shuttle with precision in the Enterprise hanger and turned to Kirk with an expression which allowed not a flicker of warmth, concession or personal connection.
“Firstly, you continue to make assumptions about my views without any corroborative evidence, just as you assume that all Vulcans agree with Saredin, simply because they are Vulcans. And secondly, Saredin is my officer and my associate and your assessment of his character is incorrect and unduly emotive, as is your assessment of much of the situation.”
Anger leapt between them in the same instant that the shuttle door opened. The noise brought Kirk back to the present: the interlude was over, the time for talking gone. Everything he said had made it worse. What would have been the right thing? he wondered. His fists, which had been clenched, fell open, and he turned, slowly, towards the shuttle door, half livid, half desolate. He thought – Of all the clashes we’ve ever had, Spock has never been this overtly confrontational, ever. And he wondered whether it was a sign of the extent of their alienation, the extent of Spock’s anger, or if it was because there was no longer a gap in rank – that equality thing again, he thought. Was this to be who they were, now? How – how was it possible that they had arrived at this point?
He had arrived at the shuttle door, could just see McCoy, waiting outside with a medic. And beyond him (always assuming McCoy let him out of sickbay) lay a lonely evening in his quarters, and beyond that a limitless number of other evenings in a life with a Vulcan-shaped gap in it. Just take the first step, he said to himself, and did so. And then he hesitated and, just as he had once come back to say goodbye when Spock had left the Enterprise all those months ago, he wheeled around and came back. Standing deliberately out of Spock’s personal space but commanding the physical aura within the shuttle, ignoring the painful shriek of bruised muscles, he straightened his shoulders, stuck out his chin and, all hazel belligerence, glared at the Vulcan and said fiercely:
“And now let me tell you something, Captain. It may be both my fault and yours (with some spectacular assistance from your officers and others, including the combined political and military forces of the galaxy) that the closest friendship of my life is in ashes. And before your Chief Engineer created the diplomatic incident of the millenium, it was the best, the most important thing in my life; I would have staked everything on it, on you, on us. It was not for you or your Vulcan friends to consider expendable or irrelevant, to hold in abeyance or to take away from me and it was not for you or the Romulans or the VSA to risk in high-stakes diplomacy - it was mine and it mattered to me. I was a better person with you than I have ever been or could ever be without you and your friendship taught me who I was, who I could be, it made me feel something I've never felt before and never will again, because you don't get that lucky twice in a lifetime and to be honest, I don't even want to, I don't want it with someone else. But if by any chance I am wrong about any of that, if you do get a second chance in life - if I were ever to have that kind of connection with anyone else, ever again - I'd want it to be with someone who was a little less hard work next time round. That's all, Captain.”
He held Spock’s eyes with an aggressive stare, focusing with every cell in his body on staying upright, not giving into the ache of the memory of Tal’s fists and the echo of flesh crunching - and this effort cost him so much that it was at least thirteen point five seconds before he realised that the tension had gone, abruptly and completely gone from the space between him and Spock - that he was himself feeling curiously relaxed, even light-hearted, that there were for the first time since news had broken of the Halcyon incident no lines of unhappiness or stress in Spock’s face, that the meeting of their eyes had become - was that a smile?
McCoy said, behind him, “My team and I are ready for you, Jim. Looks like you’re about ready for us.”
And he nodded briefly to Spock, turned again and walked back towards McCoy out of the shuttle, discovering as he did so that he was somehow not in quite as much pain as he had thought.
“Well, I hope you feel better for getting that off your chest, Jim,” McCoy said, running a scanner over him.
And Kirk said, not entirely able to keep a small smile off his face, “Well, since you ask, Bones, as it happens, I do.”
The lonely evening in his quarters did not materialise; McCoy was not amused by the results of the scanner and confined Kirk to sickbay to recuperate after some minor surgery. It was a measure of Kirk’s fatigue and growing discomfort that he did not argue. The pain did not entirely counteract a small warm feeling which had established itself at the point of leaving the Copernicus in the shuttle bay, but this feeling abated considerably on learning, the following day, that the VSA had issued new orders signalling the imminent departure of the Seleya, which was to stand by at Vulcan to assist at high level in relation to negotiations with the Romulan Empire.
McCoy allowed him to re-route messages to sickbay and talk to HQ but insisted on another twenty four hours confined to the biobed. He was, however, allowed visitors and the first was unexpected. Kirk looked up from a report from the bridge and for the briefest of seconds and an inner jolt thought it was Spock, before the tall frame, carved features and sweeping ears transformed themselves into Saredin instead.
Discomfited at facing Spock’s Chief Engineer at all, and particularly from the confines of his bed with all the advantages that gave to his visitor– though not unaware of the irony of the exchange in relative perspective since the last time he had seen Saredin when it had been the Vulcan lying prone in sickbay – he said, warily but courteously:
“Commander. I trust you are recovered.”
“I am in restored health, thank you, Captain,” Saredin said. “I have come to offer you my own wishes for a speedy recovery.”
Kirk was aware of a whole range of responses which he knew he must swallow at all costs. Top of his list would have been “Thank you so much for coming, I’m afraid I’m in a trance, but don’t worry: you talk, I’ll listen.” Second choice was “Thank you, we humans need all the help we can get.” At least one of his other choices was unprintable and a couple of others would have set the diplomatic initiative back at least ten years.
He dismissed all of them and smiled. There seemed little else to say. He hoped Saredin would leave, quickly; he was still in considerable pain and was unconvinced that he was up to Saredin. In fact, he was relatively sure that the process of receiving Saredin’s good wishes would delay rather than speed his recovery - and by a significant period of time. But Saredin was going on:
“It may be that I owe you an explanation.”
Kirk’s eyes widened, but again he said nothing, but waited.
“You will have deduced, Captain, that when we spoke two days ago I was aware of the extremely high probability that you were insufficiently familiar with healing trances to realise that Captain Spock was able to hear our conversation.”
“I have so deduced,” Kirk agreed, watching him curiously. “Are you going to tell me you had a specific reason for withholding that information?”
“I did. I should first apologise. My understanding is that my actions may have caused you to view the experience as an invasion of privacy and this was not my intention. You must appreciate, Captain, that in a race where touch telepathy and bonding are part of how we communicate and where overt emotionalism is unpractised, the act of being overheard in conversation does not carry with it the same connotations as for humans. I have now reconsidered my actions in the light of further information which has been received and regret them. I hope you will understand and accept my apology.”
Kirk’s first reaction was surprise – because he did, in fact, understand. Put that way, Saredin’s actions seemed entirely logical. What surprised him was that he was able himself to see the situation from Saredin’s viewpoint, able to see what the Vulcan was trying to tell him and what his true perspective was. How did this happen? he wondered, but only briefly. Most of him was thinking about Spock.
Spock had spoken to Saredin, explained Kirk’s reaction, instigated this apology.
The question so dominated Kirk’s thoughts he almost missed what Saredin said next, as he went on:
“I perceived an unresolved relationship which was clearly inhibiting the progress of the mission and incidentally not conducive to the optimal functioning of my captain or indeed of that of the Enterprise. I believed that a resolution either way would enable a better and more effective advancement of all work streams and conceived, when the opportunity arose, the strategy of allowing the captain an insight into your perspective on the situation. I did not at any point tell you that Captain Spock was unable to hear you and every statement of opinion I made to you was accurate.”
Kirk metaphorically picked up his jaw from where it was lying on his chest.
“I see,” he said, faintly.
“And is the relationship now resolved?”
“I am not sure,” he said, from a suddenly tight throat.
Saredin said, “The peace process under hand is in large part due to the strategy you proposed of approaching the Romulan Empire and I would not have realised the true nature of your involvement in the matter until you told me so in sickbay. It has been interesting to make your acquaintance, Captain Kirk. Live long and proper.”
Kirk looked at an abruptly empty sickbay and wondered how it had been possible to get someone so very wrong.
He also wondered what it meant that, after serving under Spock for less than a year, a Vulcan as hard-line as Saredin was prepared to go out on a limb to rescue his captain’s friendship with a human being.
He put down the report and started to think.
His next visitor was Spock himself. Just as, previously, he had briefly mistaken Saredin for Spock, in late morning, slightly lethargic due to the influence of medication and focusing as much as he could on a communiqué from HQ, he heard a step, looked up and for a split second thought Saredin had returned to provide yet another explanation about something else Kirk had got dramatically wrong for the past two months. And then his vision cleared and he saw it was Spock.
McCoy came into the room and said: “Spock, it’s almost nice to see you. It’s clearly Vulcan visiting day today, but don’t let that one fool you, he’s taken a beating and there’s a limit to how much Vulcan conversation he should be exposed to in a morning, so go easy on him.”
“Bones,” he said, half a plea, half an extraordinary acknowledgement that here they were, the three of them, being the three of them, for this brief instant, in between what had been and what was to come. McCoy heard both halves, cast a sharp look at Spock and a meaningful look at the chronometer, and left.
“While the fact and extent of your injuries are regrettable, it is clearly a matter for satisfaction that the doctor has been presented with the occasion for enjoyment of his preferred leisure pursuits.”
Kirk closed his eyes very briefly in sheer, staggering relief and then opened them, almost immediately.
“How are you, Spock? Really?”
“I am fully recovered, thank you,” the Vulcan said, gravely. “I am gratified to see that you are resting.”
Kirk met his eyes, and said: “Saredin came.” Spock said nothing. “But you knew that, of course.” More silence. “You must have a busy schedule this morning, you probably don’t have time for yet more apologies from me.”
Spock said, very gently,
“Captain. You are aware that we have received new orders. I have come only to express my wishes for your quick recovery and to say goodbye.”
Kirk searched his face. The seemingly insuperable barrier of the past weeks and months had gone completely, but there was no clear signpost to what might replace it. It was the gentleness which felt alien, distancing - they were circling each other, like skaters on newly formed, thin ice. The conversation in the shuttle the previous day registered very high indeed on the list of all the episodes in Kirk’s life which he would least like to revisit in nightmares but he realised, then, that it had probably been worse for Spock. It must have confirmed all that he found most distasteful about human relationships – the aggression, the emotionalism, the sheer number of words – and at a point when he was presented for the first time with alternatives, with all of Vulcan finally falling over itself to offer him all he had ever wanted from them – all, of course, within the context of the dignity of sterile discourse and the safety of logic. And he, Kirk, had made clear his own terms “no trust without words”.
Now that the tension was gone and the rebuilding could start – would it have to be all the way from the beginning, from Stage One, Category One – weaving in strands of what they had learned of each other, the past days? If that’s what it takes, he thought. Give me a chance, Spock. Just one more.
He said, very carefully, testing out the idea:
“Perhaps we could write, Spock. Keep in touch properly.”
And Spock said, with a kind of finality,
“The doctor’s exhortations as to the brevity of my visit were unnecessary. The scheduled time for departure is in twenty two point four minutes. Although there will be no immediate occasion to meet in person, there will be a very considerable number of opportunities for contact as I understand that the liaison relationship between the two ships is to remain unchanged for the time being, despite alterations in deployment.”
“I understand,” Kirk said, softly.
Whatever happened, things were going to be different. Which might mean worse and might mean better, might mean less than they had had and might mean more. He was prepared for it to take time, prepared to find out what Spock wanted and give him what space and respect and trust he needed – that was, if he got the chance.
There was a short silence. Perhaps, after the day before, there was nothing left to say. And then the Vulcan said,
“Goodbye, Captain. I look forward to receiving reports of your full recovery,” and was gone.
It felt like the ending of a chapter, like the setting aside of something. But it was not the only change to face. The galaxy was realigning itself around them in the midst of unprecedented change. And, judging from the communiqué from HQ in his hands, the Klingon war was waiting for him.
The Seleya had hardly reached warp factor 8 when the communications officer informed Spock of an incoming call from Sarek. Spock left T’Mala with the con and took the call in his quarters. Sarek looked and sounded satisfied, which was possibly unique and certainly unusual in Spock’s experience and suggested to his son that he was pleasantly surprised by the progress of the mission.
“Your mother and I anticipate your arrival on Vulcan and expect you to spend some time with us when not involved in official duties,” the older Vulcan said.
Spock inclined his head at his father’s image in the viewer.
“That is most kind. Is my mother well?”
“She is in good health. Spock, I wanted to make you aware as soon as possible that you may be included sooner than you are expecting in dialogue concerning arrangements which are expected to be put in place after the peace process is over, assuming a satisfactory conclusion.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow. He was only half certain he knew what was coming, and was unsure that he was prepared to respond.
“Please specify, Father.”
“The Vulcan Science Academy is prepared to offer you a senior role on a permanent basis as Head of Operations. It is a prestigious posting and will serve your career extremely well. Your mother and I are satisfied that it is the optimal development at this time and the vacancy has occurred in a most timely manner. It is precisely the opportunity which will allow you to progress forward in a way which both profits by and compensates for certain decisions made in the past.”
“Indeed,” Spock said neutrally. His thoughts were rather less neutral, but Sarek was the last person to whom he would have admitted this. His father was going on:
“The reason for mentioning it to you now, in advance of your arrival, is that there may be certain other approaches made. I thought it best to make you aware now so that you can prepare appropriate responses to other parties accordingly.”
“Indeed,” Spock said, understanding perfectly. “That is most kind, Father. Our ETA is four point three four days and I look forward to seeing you and Mother as soon as convenient after arriving in orbit.”
“Very well, my son.” The image faded. Spock stared at the blank screen.
Head of Operations at the Vulcan Science Academy. Complete and permanent recognition and integration. After all these years. He thought of Starfleet Academy, of Kirk and the years on the Enterprise, of T’Pring and of T’Pau, but in fact what came to mind was the image of his mother. And he wondered what it meant to her, this offer by Vulcan to absorb her half Vulcan son, to conveniently forgive or ignore his human half.
The door to his quarters buzzed and Spock straightened and turned.
“Come,” he said, and the door opened to admit Saredin.
“Commander,” he said.
“Captain. Would it be possible to speak to you briefly in relation to a personnel matter?” Saredin asked.
“I had thought to wait to raise this with you, but I noted that you had received a communication from the Ambassador and I thought it might be expedient to discuss proposals with you earlier than I had considered necessary.”
Proposals. Arrangements from Sarek and proposals from Saredin.
“Please continue, Commander.”
Saredin said, directly: “I am aware that you will be receiving approaches of other postings, Captain. Your leadership of this mission has been exemplary and other openings will be available to you as a result. There will naturally be an expectation and desire that you do so within the new consensus being established within Vulcan where your talents can be properly appreciated in a way that may not fully have occurred in the past. I would like to ask you, however, to give serious thought to remaining on the Seleya for a further period of six months.”
“Why is that, Commander?”
“For two reasons,” Saredin said. “Firstly, because, if we are to speak candidly, I believe that the peace process is likely to result in closer relationships being re-established between Vulcan and Starfleet and I suspect you share that view. I further believe that fewer concessions will be won by Starfleet while you remain visibly in command.” Spock said nothing. Saredin continued:
“Secondly, I have discussed potential future personnel changes with Commander T’Mala,” Saredin said. Indeed, Spock thought. “The Commander is not intending to apply to succeed you as captain of this vessel. She is not interested in the command function.” These words fell oddly into Spock’s hearing; he knew perfectly well why, but ignored the ghosts of earlier conversations with other participants in which he had played a different role and said:
“I believe that, given the Commander’s preferences, I would be the most credible candidate for the position after your own tenure is complete. However, under VSA Regulation 8.2(b), you will be aware that I cannot apply for the role until I have completed another five point three months in my current position. I believe that the Seleya would be most effectively served by maximum stability at this point in terms of command personnel. Given my assumption that you will not be remaining in permanent command, the three possibilities are: firstly, that I succeed you after a prolonged period of time under current arrangements; secondly, that I succeed another commanding officer who is appointed on an interim basis; and, thirdly, that a third party is appointed to permanent command. I put it to you that the first of these provides the ship with the most effective option in terms of command continuity.”
“I concur,” Spock said, gravely.
“I would be most gratified, Captain, if you could give my proposal serious thought.”
“I undertake to do so, Commander.”
Saredin nodded, formally, and then, uncharacteristically, spoke again.
“You have not commented on my suitability for command.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“You did not ask me to. However, assuming you are now doing so, I believe that you have those qualities. I do not necessarily say that you are fully ready for the posting at this point in time nor can I at this precise juncture agree to your proposal. However, I will give your suggestion consideration and I agree that it is logical.”
Saredin nodded and said nothing. Spock reflected that it had been strange that one of the most difficult adjustments to make on transfer from the Enterprise to the Seleya had been the absence of the expression of gratitude on the Vulcan ship. One does not thank logic, his father had said to his mother, years ago now in the Enterprise sickbay, of all places. But Spock had become accustomed to it, nevertheless. Like other things.
Saredin left and Spock turned back to his reports.
He had received a large amount of material for consideration ahead of the dialogue which would start on the Seleya’s arrival at Vulcan, and he had set aside the journey for perusal, leaving Saredin and T’Mala to manage the con between them. He declined to sleep over such a brief period of time, preferring to maximise preparation ahead of arrival and had spent four point two six days of the time remaining in profitable study when the final offer was made. This time, it was from the Romulan delegation and Tal’s image formed briefly in the viewer.
“My Commander wishes to speak to you,” he said, his face utterly masked, and Spock briefly in his mind’s eye saw Kirk, lying in the floor at Tal’s feet, and nodded briefly. The image changed and he found himself looking at the Romulan Commander.
“Commander,” he bowed.
“Captain, my understanding is that you will be arriving at Vulcan in the next two hours.”
“Our current ETA will place us in orbit around the planet in marginally less than that period of time.”
“You will be expected to go straight to the peace talks, Spock,” she said. “They have been waiting for you. However, the conference will break for the evening by 2030 hours. We have things to discuss, you and I, that do not concern the delegation or the humans of your previous association but may concern the future, if certain assumptions can be made about the peace progress. I invite you to dine with me, tonight.”
“Commander,” he bowed. “It would be an honour.”
“Till tonight, then,” she said, and the image went dark.
Spock ended the conversation and reached for a PADD with an update of the latest reports of the Klingon conflict. As he did so, he remembered quite vividly his thoughts from less than a year previously when the original offer of command of the Seleya had seemed an enormity, and leaving Kirk an impossibility. The fact of command – the experience, the knowledge of performing well, the pride of achievement, of discovering the extent of his abilities – followed by the opportunity of reconciliation with the VSA would have been a cause for elation, had Spock not been Vulcan and therefore capable of no such emotion. If he had once felt indivisible from Kirk, he now felt indivisible from himself for the first time in his life. If he had once felt he belonged to Kirk, he now felt in command of himself.
Even though Kirk had admitted that he had struggled to respect Spock's authority over him, Spock privately acknowledged to himself that this very admission and the apology that accompanied it were a gift which considerably exceeded anything he had ever expected of Kirk and which in some way contributed to his own current confidence. He suspected it constituted more than Kirk had ever given anyone else in his life. It had made it almost possible to consider serving with Kirk again in some capacity in the future. Almost.
And now, these three signposts to the future.
It occurred to him then that, different as the offers were, they had certain things in common. All had been made on the basis that he would prefer to move away from the earlier mistakes of human association. All the proponents seemed relatively confident of his acceptance. And none of them, on current showing, were particularly interested in what he himself wanted.
He suddenly remembered Kirk, a year earlier, his refusal to exercise any pressure or influence - There’s nothing to discuss, Spock. It is your choice – and wondered, for the first time, what it had cost Kirk to keep quiet.
And then, out of nowhere, incongruously, he heard his own words to Stonn from years ago, on another very different visit to Vulcan - You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting.
“Bridge to Captain Spock.” It was Saredin. They had arrived at Vulcan.
By the time McCoy came into sickbay the following morning, Kirk was already up and dressed. The CMO considered pulling medical rank, but he hadn’t served under Kirk on the Enterprise for as long as he had without learning something about give and take. Particularly with his commanding officer.
“OK, I’m letting you go, Jim, but next time, pick on someone your own size, will you?”
“Thanks, Bones,” Kirk said drily, and leant over to hit the comm button. “All hands, this is the Captain. As of 0800 hours this morning, we have been ordered to change course for Delta Sector to monitor Klingon fleet manoeuvres. This situation is not new to us; nor, should the worst come to the worst, is combat new to us. I know I can rely on your support and your fortitude. Please stand by.”
"So, before you go kill some Klingons, tell me - how was Spock?"
"He said he was fully recovered. He seemed well,” Kirk said, carefully. “If we could all go into trances,” he added, “you'd be out of business. You're not thinking of applying for a transfer to the Seleya, were you, Bones? Sounds like a sinecure for a medic.”
“I didn't really mean the trance, Jim.”
“I know, Bones. What do you want me to say?”
“Last thing I knew, you were telling him he was a total pain in the backside and looking like you had a weight off your mind.”
Kirk grinned, despite himself, remembering.
“And?” McCoy pressed.
“There’s been a lot of water under the bridge. It's complicated.”
“So that's it?”
“God, no. He's not getting rid of me that easily. I gave up too quickly last time; he told me so and he was dead right; I deserved what I got. Not this time. I'm just playing a waiting game.”
“You mean you haven't given up on him coming back here?” McCoy said, curiously.
Kirk looked taken aback, and then shook his head.
“Back here? After all this? I don't think so, Bones, that's not what I meant. In any event, he's busy running Vulcan and the Romulan Empire now. Hard to see what the attraction would be of going back to being my First. I know you and Spock have always thought I had an ego, but even I have limits, you know.”
“Aren't you worried about him going back to Vulcan?” McCoy said, irritably. “He's going to forget all that humanising I put in and revert to computer status. What a waste. Do you know what that would have been worth, what I gave him? Years of free therapy from an expert. Do you know, I swear I heard him contract a verb this time last year? Now watch and wait - he'll go back to polysyllabic approaches to asking what’s on the menu for breakfast. You think Saredin or T’Mala is going to teach him how to play tiddlywinks or strip poker?”
Kirk smiled despite himself. "Was that on your schedule if he'd stayed on the Enterprise?”
“No, just wanted to make you smile, Jim. As it is, he'll be spending his free time having coffee with quadratic equations.”
Kirk picked up his communicator and gave Bones the wordless thanks - a touch on the shoulder and a smile – which, unknown to the captain of the Enterprise, his junior officers rated above a pay increase.
"I'm counting on it."
Before seeing his parents, before the evening ahead with the Romulan Commander, there was the first session of the peace conference to get through: the introductions, the formalities, the opening statements.
The Romulan Commander. Dignified, upright, ungiving. She spoke of the heritage of her people and its proud traditions, of its military prowess but its openness to peaceful solutions; of its common lineage with the people of Vulcan; of previous difficulties with less worthy representatives of Starfleet than those present and of an appreciation of the understanding and honour accorded to her in recent days.
The former First Officer of the less worthy representative of Starfleet appreciated the nature of this allusion perfectly.
Admiral Komack. Stiff but clearly anxious. He spoke of the all embracing nature of the Federation, its ability to provide an umbrella for all peace-loving nations, its philosophy of diversity and the lessons it was always ready to learn in terms of taking responsibility for previous actions falling below the high standards of conduct to which it aspired.
The accomplice of the perpetrator of those previous actions understood this reference, as well, with no difficulty at all.
Skallon, for the VSA. Impassive, fiercely intelligent, forbidding. He spoke of the integrity of the Vulcan people, of their tradition of peace, the memory of ancient ties and their history of strong alliances, acknowledging that all such alliances pass through periods of adjustment and expressing gratitude to those who had assisted (including those from backgrounds less able to appreciate the ancient ties in question) in bringing together the delegates who now prepared to consider the possibilities for peace.
The current commanding officer of one of those less able to appreciate the ties between Vulcan and the Romulan Empire reflected that if the delegates had met beforehand to arrange an introduction which comprehensively discredited Jim Kirk, they could hardly have achieved their aim more effectively. It was strange that this turned out to be what they all had in common – especially given his own position in assisting with the moderation of dialogue. And he could and would say absolutely nothing at all on the subject. A lifetime ago (or several life times ago, depending on your perspective), Kirk had stood in a New York basement and told the woman he loved that she could bet her reputation on Spock. But it was Edith Keeler who had said that he would always be at Kirk’s side, and it did not help to remember any of that now. And she was dead, had been dead for centuries.
How can there be trust without words, Spock?
And then, from Admiral Komack, speaking soberly for Starfleet Command, an update on the Klingon conflict.
“There has been an escalation of the level of activity by one of the Klingon flotillas currently grouped in Delta Sector,” he said, gesturing to an image relayed on screen of tactical positions. “Previously, casualties have not been heavy and it was thought that most of the Klingon manoeuvres were for effect only, during the process of this conference. There is no room for complacency; however, we recognise the need for non-intervention and we continue to monitor rather than engage. Currently, we have deployed three starships into the affected area. They are operating under the normal combat communications protocols but we have arranged encrypted channels to be available to this conference if it becomes necessary or appropriate. The Farragut is here, with the Potemkin, near the Delta border, and the Enterprise is engaging in active surveillance nearer the Klingon frontline.”
The Klingon frontline. Spock had not realised that the Enterprise had been deployed to the military zone. He had agreed with Starfleet that the liaison relationship between the two ships would be maintained but it would be independent of mission deployment, with the chain of command relaxed other than when the Enterprise was carrying out orders originating directly from the Seleya or the VSA. He had (with a certain amount of gratification about which no one but he would ever need to know) delegated to Saredin the monitoring of communications with Kirk while he had spent the previous days studying material for the peace conference.
He was conscious suddenly, listening, of the nights he had spent without sleep; remembered saying goodbye in the Enterprise sickbay and Kirk saying “Perhaps we could write, Spock”, his own evasion, and (from that nightmare conversation the previous day, the echoes of which hours of meditation had so far failed to mute or eradicate and which Spock suspected he would spend the rest of his life trying at all costs to avoid remembering) - “’Hello’ would have been fine.” But communications were encrypted for combat and subject to surveillance for the duration - and regret was illogical. It was too late. The chess pieces were laid out now. And, in any case, he had to have dinner with the Romulan Commander.
Jim Kirk was frustrated. During his years in space, he had become sufficiently self aware to learn that he shouldered the responsibility and loneliness of command in the same way that most people pick up a light-weight backpack, that he could become frighteningly relaxed and alert in times of great stress and that he was able to function at optimal efficiency in the face of mortal danger. None of his senior officers or closest friends would, however, willingly have spent time with Kirk at times of total inactivity. He did not handle frustration well.
He entirely understood and appreciated the need for the monitoring role which HQ had allocated to him and to his ship and while it failed to enthral his every waking moment, he constantly reminded himself that it was a considerable improvement on dilithium experiments restricted to VSA-rated scientists in Gamma Sector. Nor was he impatient for conflict - his lifelong distrust of Klingons had never made him bloodthirsty and, more than many military personnel of his peer group, he had nothing to prove in battle and was slow to yield to the dynamic of combat escalation. But he was frustrated - frustrated and anxious. He was worried about the Klingon fleet activities and far from sure that his reports were being properly considered at the right level.
He had started to spend more time off-duty trying to teach Mike Harding how to play chess, entirely undeterred by Harding’s manifest lack of interest. Kirk knew Mike would never be more than an adequate player, but part of letting go of Spock had been, for his former captain, a deliberate crossing of what had once been no-go areas. He had not played chess after Spock left because playing chess was inextricably part of him and Spock. But Spock was not coming back and playing chess was how Kirk thought, it was as simple as that.
Sitting opposite Mike now, he moved a knight and said:
“I’m thinking of seconding Leo Santini to the Seleya. What do you think?”
Harding looked up, sharply.
“Depends. Why? And what does he think?”
“I haven’t discussed it with him yet; I wondered what you thought. I think he’d be up for it, though – I don’t think it would be a problem to get him to go. He got a lot out of working on that dilithium project and it’s not finished; he could help finish off the research – that is, assuming that anyone’s still interested.”
“That doesn’t answer why.”
Kirk said: “Don’t put your bishop there, Mike - think. Look at my queen. I think Leo would learn a lot from the Seleya, actually. He’s so enormously bright and enthusiastic and dedicated, but he has a lot of growing up to do and he’d learn an edge of self-sufficiency and detachment from the Vulcans which he’d pick up from us but it would take much longer. Not to mention that the Seleya is staffed by galaxy experts in his chosen field.“
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“I’ve drafted a request which is going in the next report due in to Saredin. I’ve asked if either he or T’Mala would think of acting as a mentor to the boy. I’m hoping they’ll say yes; I think they will.”
“Can I go, too?”
That made Kirk laugh out loud. “To the Seleya? Mike, you must be desperate. Is it that bad, this business of hanging around?”
“Actually, I was thinking I could more easily transfer off the Seleya and get to my wedding on time,” Harding said drily. “But since you ask, Jim, it’s somewhere between suicidally dull and edge-of-seat nail-biting. Not what I thought I was getting into, serving with you. And it’s been going on for weeks.”
“Bluff and double bluff, that’s all it is.”
Harding scowled at the board.
“Are we talking about my bishop or the Klingons?”
“Both,” said Kirk, taking the former. “The Klingons can’t really afford to take us on without the Romulans. They’re not absolutely sure whether the Romulans are coming back to play or not. Nor are they absolutely sure whether conflict in the Delta sector will make that return more or on the other hand less likely. And they know that the peace conference means that Starfleet doesn’t want to provoke a conflagration. But they may also be figuring that all this works to their advantage and they can keep everyone tied up guessing while they launch a pre-emptive strike.”
He took a pawn, thoughtfully, and went on:
“In the meantime, this is what is going on at the peace conference, in the margins. Starfleet want to go in hard and stop the Klingons before they pick their own moment to inflict maximum damage; the Vulcans cannot be associated with any sort of major bloodshed and are therefore hoping desperately for continued stalemate until the peace process is concluded, one way or the other, and the Romulans probably want to hedge their bets, because they haven’t quite decided who they’re going home with when the party’s over and don’t want to lose leverage at the negotiating table by making it plain at this stage anyway. Plus they probably have lots of inside information on the Klingons and they will know that Starfleet will see the sharing of that information as an important gesture of good faith but they will also know that if they allow Starfleet to make use of it they’ve burnt their bridges for keeps with the Klingons.”
“And what do you think?” Harding asked, interested.
“I think,” Kirk said, slowly, taking Harding’s other bishop, “I think if we don’t make a move soon, and take them on ourselves, by pre-emptive strike, it will be very bloody. Probably by taking out the ships at the edge of the sector, those half dozen that look to be thinking about an excursion into Epsilon. That’s what I think. But we keep sending reports which show that they mean business, and HQ does nothing because of the blockage at that damn peace process.”
“Peace is worth the risk, surely.”
“Not sure,” Kirk said, meditatively. “No, I am not sure. I am not convinced that the peace conference wouldn’t be actually helped by a show of what the alternative looks like. If the peace conference itself decided, of course...”
His voice tailed off. Harding looked up, surprised.
Kirk smiled, beatifically.
“Checkmate,” he said, softly, reaching over and moving his queen. Then he stood, and moved over to his desk where he pulled up on his computer screen the latest report to HQ, not yet sent. He read it through rapidly and then, with an odd smile on his face, rapidly hit a number of keys in quick succession.
“What are you doing, Jim?” Harding asked. “Is that the report we finalised this afternoon? Are you sending it through to Starfleet?”
“Yes, done,” Kirk said, cheerfully. He had sent it through to Starfleet.
He had also simultaneously copied it through encrypted channels to the peace conference on Vulcan.
Spock was his commanding officer, after all.
Intuition is the state of being aware of or knowing something without having to discover or perceive it and intuitive knowledge is something known without actual evidence.
Spock pulled up the tactical charts of Delta Sector, and talked through with the Starfleet and Vulcan delegates the implications of Kirk’s report and of his own recommended course of action. It was a frustrating exercise – he found himself missing the ease of communicating with Kirk, of simply beginning a sentence and knowing he would be understood. Skallon, in particular, asked him several times about the rationale underpinning the particular strategy he was proposing.
“I do not understand your assumption as to the implications of Kirk’s data,” Skallon was saying, every syllable a clear and separate sign of distrust of human beings, of the so-called thought process of human beings and of the so-called conclusions of persons who professed to understand that thought process. And Spock found it oddly difficult to explain what was actually a process of intuition, of understanding Kirk’s thoughts as though they were his own and of developing his own ideas by way of building on Kirk’s. It was how he had learned to make command decisions, how he had learned to function within a command team. But it was in that very moment of trying to find other words to give Skallon what he wanted that he found himself caught up in a very different thought process.
Vulcans do not experience moments of revelation so it must have been something else entirely that overcame him, standing in a room at the VSA conference centre; Skallon’s face suddenly clear but distant from him, as though a long way away; the desert visible through the tall, high windows and the faint sound of talking audible from an adjoining room.
When Spock was nine years old, his father had attended a conference on Venta Minor, and brought back for Amanda a small blue plant with red spikes. In the native Venta vernacular, the plant was called a trallphori. All languages absorb alien words for alien concepts and objects where there is no good reason for developing native phraseology. There was, in fact, no other word in any common dialect in the system for a trallphori, simply because the plant itself was indigenous to Venta Minor and had never thrived elsewhere, so there was no reason to devise a translation, and the Vulcan word for trallphori was, in fact, accordingly, tralphori'h (just as Spock was later to discover that the Standard word was trallforry). Spock knew, however, that this was extremely unusual for a language which, with characteristics bred of the independence, pride and integrity of its speakers, rarely absorbed alien words, preferring if at all possible to develop a Vulcan equivalent. Amanda loved the trallphori and the fact that it had never previously survived outside Venta Minor became a personal challenge to her. The plant evolved into something of a feature of Spock's childhood, the memory of which was scattered with vivid cameo pictures of assisting Amanda in the plant’s painstaking care and eventual successful transplantation. When he had left to study on Earth, she had given him a seedling which he had taken to the Academy in the days when contact between him and his parents was minimal and the plant had died.
And it was at that moment, standing across the table from Skallon at the peace conference, that for the first time in his life Spock suddenly realised that there was no Vulcan native word or translation of the word intuition and he was so struck by this that he stared at Skallon for ten point five seconds, as though not understanding where he was. And heard, from a place of great unwillingness, Kirk’s words from the Copernicus: It isn't about being half human any more, is it, Spock, you've made your choice. Spock stored the thought to consider later, somewhere in his mind near the memory of the trallphori which had failed to make the transition from Vulcan to Earth, and started to explain, all over again to Skallon, who had never in his life left Vulcan, the implications of the military manoeuvres in Delta Sector.
It ought to have been easier to understand Skallon and for Skallon to understand him, given his recent internal reconciliation, his new sense of self. This self-awareness , however, he found, was entirely unreflected in any shared empathy with those around him. The Vulcans and the Romulans did not understand his humanity, any more than Starfleet – including Kirk – had understood the value of his Vulcan heritage. None of this ought to have mattered besides his own new inner perspective. But it seemed that it did.
“You do know, don’t you,” Harding said, “that I’m supposed to be getting married next week.”
They were playing chess again. Harding had begun by finding the game entertaining from the viewpoint of a complete beginner who rarely lasted five moves against Kirk; then progressed to a better understanding of the place the game held in Kirk’s thinking patterns and, accordingly, its significance to his own role in supporting Kirk’s development of strategic decisions; but finally, as both men wilted under the pressure of inactivity, degenerated into a morose fatalism which almost saw each match as a chance to underperform his previous worst score.
“And just in case you think that it will just be me in trouble, Lisa will never forgive you,” he said. Kirk smiled.
“Between Lisa and the Klingons, nowhere to hide,” he agreed. “Don’t give up, Mike. A lot can happen in a week.”
He watched his First with a level of sympathy from a standpoint of not remotely understanding Harding’s choices. He liked and respected Mike but they were cut from very different cloth and now, facing the very real prospect of war, he found that it mattered, that what had seemed an easy way out of a difficult personal choice a year ago might not have been the best appointment. It had been a very long time since Kirk had fought any conflict of any scale without Spock by his side. It felt odd, unbalanced. It was less relevant, suddenly, in what capacity that partnership were taken forward – who was in command, who was fighting, who was negotiating for peace.
At least if, as seemed very likely, none of his monitoring or analysis ever came to anything - at least Spock might appreciate the token gesture of reporting in. He found himself, mindlessly pursuing the last moves of an endgame with Mike, increasingly focused on how his report had been received, on what Spock would have made of it – on whether he would understand.
In fact, the response from Vulcan came more quickly than he expected. After the chess game with Harding, he managed four hours’ sleep and then was woken by Uhura who called to let him know that new orders had been received and were being deciphered. Kirk showered and dressed with alacrity and was sitting at his desk with Harding by the time the message was decoded and ready for downloading.
He read the orders with a broad grin. They were very specific and they were not at all what he was expecting.
Harding said, "It doesn't make sense, Jim. They’re ordering a strike, which is good news for us but odd enough, coming from Vulcan. But why here and not where we thought, over by the Epsilon border? And they're in breach of the VSA protocol, shouldn't we try to check back with HQ?”
“It doesn't have to make sense. I know where the orders come from. If we check back it'll take too long. You need a shower, Mike. I’ll see you on the bridge.”
And that was why he had found himself in hot pursuit of the largest Klingon vessel in the sector, an old style Bird of Prey which had been considerably moderated to upgrade firepower. The orders from Spock had been quite detailed and Kirk suspected they were based on intelligence from the Romulans as to the identity of the vessel carrying the Klingon sector task force commander. The Klingon fleet had circled the Bird of Prey immediately on the first shots being fired, which had led credence to what Kirk had inferred from the orders. And now the Farragut and Potemkin, backed up by three other starships which had only arrived in the sector the previous day, were holding the rest of the flotilla at bay, with reinforcements from Starfleet urgently on the way whilst the Enterprise kept the Bird of Prey in her sights.
Kirk had little trust that the reinforcements would arrive in time, and knew that if the situation became prolonged, the advantage of numbers would begin to weigh in favour of the Klingons. But, for the time being without the protection of her fleet, the Bird of Prey was no match for Starfleet’s flagship. Sulu kept up the pressure as the vessel turned, and Chekov loosed off phaser fire, following Kirk’s orders to disable where possible without destroying the ship.
“Good shooting, Chekov,” he said, punching one fist into the other in real delight, as a shot sneaked past Klingon phaser fire and disabled the Bird of Prey’s main shield support. “Uhura, signal the Bird of Prey and see if they’re prepared to be boarded.”
He waited, vibrating head to toe with suppressed excitement. He wanted badly to know if he was right – if Spock and he had been right - about the location and identity of the Klingon commander. And had little time to guess, because the screen cleared and he found himself looking into the features of Kor. Last seen on Organia. Ayelborne, the mind sifter, the war that had never been allowed. The odds that Spock had quoted on that occasion – less than 7,000 to one on the two of them getting off the planet intact. He wondered how on earth he remembered the figure, and what the Vulcan was quoting now. It was odd, what you could miss. He shook himself, and faced his opponent.
“Captain Kirk. We meet again,” Kor said. In the background, Kirk could see smoke, a burnt-out station sputtering sparks.
“Commander, you seem to be in need of help. May we beam over and assist?”
“It would be a pleasure to see you again, Captain,” Kor said, urbanely. “How many of you should we expect?”
“Just a friendly boarding party, Commander,” Kirk said, cheerfully, nodding at Harding and Chekov. “Me, two members of my bridge crew and a security detail. No tricks.”
“No tricks, Captain,” Kor said. Which should have prepared someone as experienced as Kirk, but didn’t. Scott was at the transporter controls as Kirk, Harding and Chekov beamed over with six security guards, and was therefore still there to receive Harding’s panicked call. Eight of them had arrived safely on the Bird of Prey but Kirk had vanished.
Vulcans are never astonished but it would have been very difficult to have described Spock’s reaction in any other terms when the Enterprise had carried out his orders to begin the attack. At best, he had thought that Kirk would have re-routed the orders through Starfleet (to check that the breach of the VSA protocol had been authorised and to ensure that the orders meant what they said), and that there would therefore have been a delay in implementation of several hours. He had already steeled himself for this, knowing that he would face the choice of pretending not to notice the questioning of the orders (illogical – and with serious implications for his own credibility and therefore for the progress of the peace talks) or provoking another confrontation with Kirk (unbearable – and, in fact, he did not know if he could have made himself go through with it). It had been impossible to include, through the encryption channels, the details of the Romulan intelligence or of Spock’s own thinking; he had simply sent what was possible with almost no expectations at all – even a real fear of a point blank refusal.
And now this.
The trouble was that if you were charged with moderating the dialogue at the most sensitive peace talks in living memory, with literally billions of lives dependent on success, you couldn’t really afford to take time to consider the possible meaning of issuing apparently irrational orders which were then obeyed without question or explanation by your former commanding officer, any more than you would have been able to do more than go very still when reading routine reports from the Seleya and coming across an arrangement, instigated by Kirk, to second Lieutenant Santini to the Vulcan ship, to be mentored by Saredin. You might have seen, instantly, that it would be a perfect opportunity for Santini and provide precisely the learning environment he most needed to progress to the next stage in terms of professional development – so perfect that you, who still viewed Santini as a personal protégé, suspected you should have made the suggestion yourself at a far earlier stage. What might have preoccupied you for far longer was how Kirk had seen this and what it meant in terms of Kirk’s understanding of what the Vulcans could teach his officers that he could not provide himself within a human environment. Or, indeed, what Vulcans had to offer anyone else.
But there was no time and Spock had to return to the conference. In fact, he had begun to feel as though the entire galaxy and his own life had shrunk to this suite of rooms at the VSA, these delegates, these negotiating points. He had learned a great deal about metaphor from his time among humans and was not blind to the parallels between his inner debate and the resolution of the conflicts around him. And weaving his way between wary imperviousness (the Vulcans); shrewd politicising (Starfleet) and fierce pride (the Romulans), treading with the greatest care over mantraps, minefields and quagmires, he had begun to sense, in two very different ways, something familiar in among the maze of new challenge.
It was not mediating between Starfleet and the VSA, despite clear indications that each assumed he was partisan to them.
It was certainly not working with the Romulans. He had eaten with the Romulan Commander on two occasions, and for preference would have stolen the cloaking device again, on both evenings. He both liked and admired her, but found that all his concentration was required to tread the difficult path between her obvious interest in him, his need to remain impartial for the duration of the conference and his reluctance to commit himself to anything at all (let alone the Empire) after the conference. None of this was assisted in any way by her views on Kirk. Like most conference delegates, she was aware of the change in association with his former captain and, while not being clear as to the parameters of that change (on which he was entirely unwilling to assist, not least for being less than clear himself) she appeared to believe that it would profit her both personally and in relation to the conference to denigrate humans (and particular humans) whenever the opportunity arose. And Spock found his necessary silence increasingly uncomfortable and compromising, despite his initial resolution. No trust without words.
Nor did the sense of the familiar arise from being on Vulcan. He had lived away too long. He was not accustomed to life on any planet and in particular not used to living with his family. He returned to his father’s house every night and, while the days were long and left little time to spend with his parents, he was not unaware of nor unaffected by the strangeness of returning to a house he had not slept in since before he enlisted in Starfleet.
It did not feel familiar. The house itself had not changed which meant that, logically, it was he who was different. He was different in himself and he was different in relation to his parents, and he knew that. When he had last lived at home, it had still been during the time when he was trying to comply, to please his father, to conform – all objectives predestined to fail, but of central importance in the life of a young Vulcan who saw his family as the centre of gravity. His parents no longer played that role in his life and he had come home at a time when he had never been so unsure as to what, if anything, had replaced them.
What felt familiar, Spock realised, was, in part, working with Kirk.
Kirk was not sitting round the conference table with him (which had its advantages, he reflected, given the views on Kirk held by many of the delegates and because his former captain would probably have run out of patience after about two point seven days, assuming he had lasted that long) and he was neither within sight nor communication range. But they were working together, just the same and, in a situation which Spock found fraught with tension, that partnership was one of the few satisfactory elements of the situation. It was not logical, but it was true. What was it that Kirk had said, in those words which had suddenly ended the black misery of that nightmarish shuttle journey? I was a better person with you than I have ever been or could ever be without you. He had not known that Kirk had felt that way.
It was not a partnership he had experienced with Kirk before – no words, no proximity, no real communication. No chess games, no jokes, no traded glances. None of what they had lost on his transfer to the Seleya – the absence of which, he knew, had made Kirk seriously doubt whether what remained was sustainable, without that framework of proximity. It was just his diplomacy and Kirk’s military strategy. And Kirk was on the front line – the Klingon frontline, where he had not fought without Spock for years. Spock reminded himself that he had tried to protect Kirk on Gamma Fortuna and failed, quite spectacularly. And that it was no longer his business; just as the familiarity of working with Kirk was no longer a matter of relevance.
The other thing which felt familiar to Spock was harder to recognise because it was veiled. Eventually, however, it came to him that it was the sense of excelling.
Spock knew what it was to perform well (serving under Christopher Pike; commanding the Seleya) and he knew how it felt to excel (serving under James Kirk). For the first time since he had left the Enterprise, he had the sense of being in the right place, of surpassing expectations, of delivering the impossible, and it came to him that he might have a gift for diplomacy, just as Kirk had a gift for leadership. He realised, of course, that it was also his father’s gift. After the peace conference was concluded, he would be looking for a new direction. He could not go back to the Enterprise. He did not want to continue to command. The irony was that it might be the genetic heritage from Sarek that was the first glimmer for his son of what the future might hold.
Komack was giving the conference an update on the conflict.
The Romulan Commander leaned forward.
“I think we would like to know if the attack on the flag Bird of Prey was successful. Have you heard from Kirk?”
“We are not sure, Commander,” Komack said, courteously.
“Why are you not sure? Where is the Enterprise?”
“The Enterprise is currently engaged with the Bird of Prey and reports suggest she may be boarding. But the latest information is that Jim Kirk himself is missing.”
Kirk materialised on a stretch of what looked like marsh grass on an unfamiliar planet. Instinctively, he rolled into a crouch, pulled out his phaser and communicator and looked around. But before he had even managed a single 360 degree sweep, the weapon and communicator had been kicked out of his hands, and he found himself sprawled at the ground at Kor’s feet.
I must stop doing this, he thought. He had no time for the irony, even to consider the just-healed scars from the last time he had ended up on the ground underneath alien strength and instead, lightning fast, he rolled back and jumped to his feet.
“As I think we were both saying,” he said, politely, “No tricks. One of us might have been stretching the truth a little, don’t you think? Or does Klingon for “tricks” simply not include concealed transporter relays?”
Kor grinned at him.
“This is not about the war, Captain. This is personal. To be honest, I thought you’d be pleased.”
Kirk blinked, and glanced around the bleak terrain, wondering if he’d missed something.
“Pleased? I’m delighted, Commander. I had intended to oversee the surrender of your vessel and return to the safety and comfort of mine. Instead, I seem to be stranded with you on a (forgive me if it is in any way special to you) distinctly unappealing planet with the inescapable impression that my crew do not know where I am. Is there a reason I should be pleased?”
“We have unfinished business, Captain Kirk, you and I,” came the answer.
“That was rather why I was hoping to accept the surrender of your vessel.”
“Vessel – surrender – that’s war, Captain. Politics. I am talking about something more personal. Admit it, Captain. Admit that we should have fought it out together, years ago, on Organia. Admit that it would have been glorious. Admit that you were disappointed. You can tell me, now; there are none of your peace-loving Vulcans here. I am not surrendering my vessel to a herd of sheep. I think you and I can manage things differently, no?”
“Flock,” said Kirk, automatically. “Flock of sheep. Herd of cows.”
Kor ignored him.
“Do you accept my challenge?”
Do I really have to? he thought. The Klingon was looking for a way out, he realised instantly. Kor wasn’t stupid. He had realised that the peace process was now unstoppable; that the Romulans weren’t coming back; that war without them would be lost but lost at the cost of countless lives; that deciding the matter with Kirk, in single-handed combat, was a way out without sacrificing honour or his men. In his own way, Kirk himself could understand and respect this. Out loud, he was going to suggest they sat down and talked things through like civilised beings. But found his mouth blocked by a Klingon fist before he had the chance.
He had faced easier opponents. Kor was significantly taller than he was, clearly untouched by the Federation fire his ship had drawn and, unlike Kirk, almost certainly had not recently spent a day and a half in sickbay as a result of a reunion with an unfriendly Romulan Sub-Commander. Kirk could have used Spock, that Vulcan strength – but he banished the thought, that wasn’t going to happen, not now (Spock was half way across the galaxy) not in the future, and he had to get used to it.
And in any case, he told himself, jumping sideways to dodge a crushing blow, he hadn’t wanted it when it was on offer. What was it that he had said to Spock? I don’t need your protection or anyone else’s. He grimaced to himself, wryly.
He found himself half alert, half relaxed as he adopted the fighting poses which were second nature to him. Kor’s weak points – that left arm, it moved slower than the right, his right leg, just there where Kirk had already landed a brutal kick. He shed the frustration of the past days and weeks as he focused on getting past the Klingon, on bringing him down, on winning. And found a savage satisfaction in doing so – in fighting the knots of humiliation, anger and pain out of his system. Every blow he landed on the Klingon was aimed at the obliteration of the words from the Copernicus, Spock’s remembered voice which still had the power to make him flinch at the memory, even on occasion to wake, startled and sweating, out of a nightmare.
Could you not have trusted me? A blow to that left arm.
I cannot condone nor accept what you are saying about my people. A feint to his left, a rush to Kor’s right side.
You do not accept my authority. A blow from Kor parried, a savage exchange of kicks.
You did not regard me as capable of carrying out this mission. You believed my loyalty was compromised. He launched himself at Kor, wrestled with him, and they rolled over and over on the ground.
And again – and again – and again - You did not trust me – blow for blow, as the two circled each other, neither prepared to back down.
Perhaps this was what he and Spock should have done, instead of that bitter exchange on the Copernicus. Physical wounds heal more quickly and leave fewer scars. Between McCoy and Spock’s trance, his broken ribs, cuts and bruises and Spock’s burns were all forgotten within a couple of days. But not words, not those words.
It was a good thing, though, he reflected, that it was Spock who was Vulcan and he who was human. Because he would never in a million lifetimes have made it as a pacifist. He wiped sweat and something else wet from his face, dragged his sleeve across his forehead and knew that both he and Kor, on some level, in a way he would never have been able to explain to anyone (least of all Spock), were enjoying this, were fighting perhaps at least two different fights at once (and what was Kor’s own inner struggle? he wondered, glad that he would never know). Whoever won.
And in that moment, as he saw an opening, took it, pressed Kor and suddenly, for the first time, knew he really had the advantage, pushed back, eyes always on that weak left arm – in that moment, knowing that he was going to defeat Kor, inferior human fragility against brutal Klingon aggression, without the protection of Vulcan muscle – suddenly, in the next beat, he thought – so what? He had been so angry with Saredin that he hadn’t stopped to question himself when Spock had said that going to Gamma Fortuna would have been unsafe for a human. Damn right it was unsafe, he thought to himself. What difference did it make if he defeated Kor with or without Spock? What difference did it make if Spock were stronger than he was – and if Saredin knew that? Why had it been so much harder to accept Spock’s command because of that strength? He and Spock – a hundred shared jokes, a thousand chess games, a hundred thousand moments of shared companionship – at what point had he started thinking that physical strength had any relevance to this? Had he entirely lost his mental faculties? And was that what happened to him when he had to function without Spock?
If so, he found himself thinking in complete shock, separation would be a good thing.
And, on that thought, found himself seated on Kor, the Klingon lying prone, holding his weak arm, both panting heavily.
Kor said, satisfaction in every line of his face and in his voice:
“I will surrender my ship to you. It is no dishonour.”
And Kirk leaned sideways, spat out a mouthful of blood and said:
“No, you won’t. You’ll surrender to my commanding officer.” He reached across the ground with his foot, found his communicator, kicked it backwards, picked it up and said into it
“Jim!” Mike Harding. “Did you take a wrong turning or something? Are you all right?”
“More than all right,” Kirk grinned, drawing gasping breaths of blessedly sharp, cold air. He felt drunk, felt restored. “I feel terrific. Have Uhura send a message to Spock that we are sending him some more guests; open a channel to the Farragut for me, and get Chekov to plot a course for Earth. We have a wedding to get to.”
Iowa in February. Snow, everywhere. White landscapes, crystallised buildings, hidden contours. Ironic, really, to have come home after so long away at a time when most of it was, to all intents and purposes, invisible.
It had been a good wedding – part Mike and Lisa (their story, their happiness, their reunion and the start of a new life together, planetside), but also part end-of-mission celebration, at the same time, that need the crew always had to let go, to remember that they were all still alive and had beaten the odds yet again. He hoped Lisa hadn’t minded. Harding had asked him to be best man and he had been surprised and touched. He had made a speech (with a number of references to Mike’s ineffectual approach to chess and how he hoped he’d do better at marriage), had danced with Lisa and with Uhura and had had rather too much to drink with McCoy and Harding. He had relaxed his guard, it felt like for the first time in months, and just let the evening and the atmosphere own him. He had found time to take Mike to one side and thank him for the past year – and it was true, it would have been inexpressibly worse without him. He couldn’t imagine doing what Mike was doing, though – settling down for life with one person. Maybe sometime; but he didn’t think he had it in him to make someone happy like that, and there came to him, then, the list of all those he had failed. The lead suspects- Gary Mitchell, Edith Keeler, Miramanee, Janice Lester. The less obvious ones – his mother (if he had learned anything this year, it was about writing to his mother, he would write to her now, while he was on leave, as well as making time to see her, and he would keep writing when he was back on the ship). Sam - he couldn't even remember the last time he had seen Sam before he died. Peter - he must see Peter. Spock, he thought, and shied away from the thought, like a wound which was still too raw.
I'm a starship captain, he thought. There was nothing wrong with that, but there was a price you paid. He wondered if that made him lonely. He didn't think so. He had too much to do.
After the wedding he had arranged leave for everyone, with the ship stationed in orbit for a whole three weeks while he worked through changes in personnel and while the galaxy worked through changes in the political landscape and while the next mission and the assignment of the Enterprise hung suspended, as the ship herself did, outside his home planet. What would it mean to his ship, the successful end to the peace conference, the restoration of the old Vulcan-Starfleet alliance, and what did the future look like for all of them, with the end of the five year mission now in sight?
And then he had come home, to Iowa. Originally, he had thought that the Enterprise would be in orbit around Earth for Christmas, and had planned to spend the holiday at home with his family (in part, at least, to take away the taste of Christmas the previous year, of losing Spock) but due to the war it was now weeks later and the family ranch was deserted. He had gone to see his mother in town, spent two days with her and thought that might be sufficient close confinement for both of them for the time being and set off, with some relief, for the wide open spaces of his childhood home.
The Enterprise was home now, was lover, life and limb, was all he needed for the time being, but there was no escaping the face that she was short on opportunities for solitude, and Kirk found the peace of the snowbound landscape healing after the past months. A time to take stock – literally so, as he chopped wood to pile up in the old farmhouse. He went for long walks, trudging through snow drifts, helped neighbours with ploughs, slept exhausted at night. It was a good time, restorative, regenerative.
After three days, he sent through an official request to Startfleet HR for profiles of serving senior helmsmen and science officers and downloaded the most interesting to study in the evenings. He posted an official notification of the science officer vacancy and would post the helmsman vacancy when he had spoken to Sulu, after he had returned from his own shore leave in San Francisco which was when Kirk was going to offer him the promotion to First Officer. The shape of the bridge crew would look very different. Different wasn’t necessarily worse, he reminded himself. Different was just different. He wondered about Leo Santini, how he was finding life on the Seleya, and what he thought about different.
And Spock, this recruitment process says you are not my subordinate and I do not own you and I respect where you’ve gone.
Given where Spock had, in fact, gone, he wondered whether there was a way to build a friendship with him outside the infrastructure of rank altogether. Outside Starfleet, outside the military; perhaps that would be easier. Perhaps Kirk would have to learn how to write letters. Proper letters.
A beautiful day, all blazing cold skies and blue light on snow, saw Kirk abandon (without much reluctance) three science officer resumes, pack a light lunch and depart for a long walk over the hills. It was odd how after years in space treading the walkways of his ship, his feet could still find their way along the familiar routes of the Iowa hills. Here, he and Sam had built a tree house; there, a snowman; there, they had camped out all night and set traps and fought over whose trap had been responsible for the capture of a rather elderly rabbit. It felt familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, and he knew that it was he who had changed. Not Iowa, which never changed; not Sam, who was dead. He was not the same person who had grown up on this farm – and, come to that, he was not the same person who had last visited here, eighteen months earlier. He had never been quite so uncertain of his future, which made it an odd time to revisit his past.
He reflected that Iowa grounded him in a different way to how space grounded him – that feeling of perspective which he had always got from the stars, from the proximity to space of a solo shuttle flight. And then he thought how odd it was that the common factor was cold – the bitter freeze of the Iowa winter and the endless chill of space, and how different it must be for Spock, who had returned to the heat of the desert from which he had come. Yet one more difference between them which he had, perhaps, never fully taken into account. Perhaps that had been the essence of what he had got wrong, he thought. He had mentally adopted Spock as a kind of extension of himself, perhaps of his family, but Iowa would be utterly alien to Spock. They had complemented each other so very perfectly that he had ended up treating Spock and himself on one level as the same, had overlooked their vast differences. Yes, he would write to Spock. He had given him enough distance and silence and it was, perhaps, the right time to offer words again. If he could find the right ones.
Somewhat bemused by what they might be, he started a message to Spock in his head - and found that he had been out for hours, that the light of the day had gone and that he was a long way from the farm. He turned back and followed a route home, over the contours of the hill, enjoying the feeling of the snow compacting under his feet as he trod, visibility never quite fading as the moonlight reflected the white of the landscape. Once, he slid down a slope on his back and laughed out loud, thought Sam! - but thought it in a good way, perhaps for the first time since losing his brother.
As he neared home, he saw a shape outside the front door, dark against the snow and thought he had been out on his own thinking of the past for too long and was conjuring the image of his dead brother. Then, as it solidified, he thought it was one of the neighbours, needing more help with a plough. Or perhaps, he thought, heart sinking, it was someone from Starfleet – he wasn’t yet ready for the interruption, was enjoying his solitary interlude. And then the shape turned towards him with a characteristic movement of the head and he saw that it was Spock.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked.
He had started to run, when he realised it was Spock, and running had not been sensible, in the snow in the dark. He had ended up slithering much of his way back down to the farm and arrived breathless, damp and laughing at himself in a way which broke any awkwardness of the encounter and saved the immediate need for any explanations. He realised quickly that the Vulcan must be frozen and opened the door to take him inside, brushing past the extraordinary fact of Spock, with him at all and not only that but here in Iowa, in the scene of Kirk’s own childhood. He threw some logs on the fire, opening all the vents to wake up the flames, gestured Spock towards a fireside seat (banishing, as he did so, incongruous memories of his past on the same, battered, deep red throw-over – his mother never put things out for disposal – evenings sitting with his mother, reading a book side-by-side with his grandmother, even his first date) and then had reached for some glasses, throwing out the question as he did so.
“No, thank you,” Spock said.
Of course not, he thought to himself resignedly. Back to this again – well, it was what he had signed up for. Back to the beginning, Stage One, Category One. He ran a hand through his hair and for the briefest of moments wondered whether he wanted it this much, whether he could make the effort of rebuilding again, from the beginning. And then he thought – It’s Spock – and remembered that the Vulcan was here, that there must be a reason.
“Tell me if you’re still cold,” he said.
“I am entirely comfortable, Captain, thank you,” Spock replied.
“And tell me how the galaxy is managing without you,” he said, lightly.
“The formalities of the peace conference have now been concluded,” the Vulcan responded. “There is a considerable amount of work ahead and I expect to be involved to some degree but on a more tangential basis than previously. In essence, I have taken a short amount of leave before embarking in a new direction. That was the purpose of contacting you.”
Kirk’s heart jolted briefly and then began to beat more quickly. Skipping past Spock’s unique admission of having taken shore leave, which would in any other context have been the most startling and attention-worthy statement in any one period of twenty four Earth hours, he asked, aiming for a tone of voice somewhere between interested and casual, and suspecting that he was failing entirely,
“What’s the new direction, Spock?”
And the Vulcan turned towards him, slowly, met his eyes and said:
“I was hoping to have the opportunity to discuss possibilities with you.”
The room stilled around him, and then Kirk stood, abruptly.
“OK,” he said, “you may not want a drink, but I do.” He walked back over to the sideboard and poured himself a brandy, his mind entirely blank as he did so, unable to think of a single word to say next. He took a sip as he stood, facing the window, looking out into the darkness, and then deliberately made himself turn around and walk back to sit down in an armchair, across the room from Spock. He was not at all sure what was coming but he needed desperately both to meet Spock half way, to give him what he wanted and not to give too much. (Stage One, Category One.) He looked at the Vulcan as though hoping to find clues, signposts anywhere in his face which would help Kirk to understand what he needed, and Spock looked back with his normal impassivity but without the severity of the previous months. And Kirk relaxed, suddenly, forgot the past year and focused on giving advice to a friend.
“Tell me what the choices look like,” he said, gently.
Spock steepled his hands (another step back down memory lane for Kirk) and said:
“The VSA have offered me a post as Head of Operations.”
Kirk’s eyebrows shot up.
“Spock, that’s extraordinary!” he exclaimed, meaning it. “It’s more than extraordinary, it’s wonderful, it’s fabulous. Entirely deserved, of course, but a fantastic honour. And what an amazing acknowledgment for you – that you are what they want, that they value who you are, after everything. It’s total vindication and it’s total acceptance. I am so pleased for you. ” He was, too.
Spock looked at him a long time, as if taking in the words. Kirk had the feeling that he was listening to everything he said, weighing it up. Why? he thought. Was it a test? He had no real objection to being tested, he thought Spock had every right, but he would have liked to have known the question before he had a stab at the answer.
The Vulcan said,
“I have declined the offer.”
Kirk was stunned. Too stunned to know what to say, aware of a whole range of questions rising to his lips of which the most pressing (Why? and Then why come and tell me about the offer?) he did not feel he could ask. Still with a feeling of walking in the dark, with an unpleasant suspicion that his responses could commit either him or Spock to future courses of action which he would not otherwise have chosen, he said, very carefully,
“So, tell me about your other choices.”
Spock said, expressionlessly
“The Romulan Commander has offered me a position as head of science in the Romulan Fleet.”
Their eyes met.
Kirk, gaining confidence, and with a degree of certainty as to what he read in Spock’s face, said, risking it:
“Did she have another position to offer, of a different nature, in addition to being head of science?”
“She did,” the Vulcan confirmed.
“And I take it you have declined both of them, as well as the VSA?”
“You are correct,” Spock said.
Kirk smiled a little, feeling better. Perhaps he could think of them as being nearer Stage Two than Stage One.
“OK, three down. Tell me about your other choices.”
Spock stirred a little, and Kirk thought – those were the options he didn’t want. The conversation hasn’t been important yet, but we’re getting there.
“Saredin has asked me to remain as captain of the Seleya for a further period of some four point two months, to allow a transition before command transfers to Saredin himself.”
“Oh?” said Kirk. He thought. “Is that a given, that Saredin will be the next captain? Has that been decided? What about T’Mala?” And what about you? he thought, but didn’t say.
“Commander T’Mala is not interested in the command function,” Spock said. He met Kirk’s eyes with perfect understanding as to what Kirk was remembering and thinking, and went on, “I have approved Saredin’s promotion. Under VSA regulations, he cannot take up the post for another nineteen point three weeks, but I believe that he will perform the role to a satisfactory standard.”
“I agree,” Kirk said, slowly. He did, too. He remembered Saredin’s extraordinary admission in the sickbay of the Enterprise, the reports from Santini over the past weeks on the Seleya. “I suspect the Seleya has done rather well for herself in terms of commanding officers.” He met Spock’s eyes, daring him not to believe that he meant every word. And found nothing of challenge, no barrier there. Just the old understanding.
Then what was he doing here, on the red throw-over in front of the fire in Kirk’s farm?
He swallowed, thinking – this must be it, said as gently as he could,
“Is that the final list? Or do you have any other options remaining? If what you say is true, you must be planning to leave the Seleya in a few months.”
And Spock raised his eyes again to Kirk’s and said:
“I have been discussing with Saredin the possibility of studying for a while at Gol.”
It was not what he had been expecting at all and the feeling of being lulled back into the familiar understanding, the old empathy, vanished abruptly into shock as Kirk entirely and completely forgot every intention of providing objective advice in the best interests of his friend. He forgot all about rebuilding from the beginning, forgot Stage One and Category One, forgot Stages Two to Four and Categories Two to Four, forgot that he had decided to approve of Saredin, forgot everything except the single last syllable which had been spoken and the person sitting across the room from him and said forcefully:
Spock raised an eyebrow. It looked very much as though he understood entirely the long list of things Kirk had forgotten, though it also looked as though he was not overly disturbed by the lapse of memory, possibly even amused.
“Captain, I appreciate deeply the objective consideration and detailed analysis you are generously bringing to the function of considering my future plans.”
Spock was teasing him for the first time in a year and Kirk entirely ignored the near impossibility of this as he said:
“Spock, don’t do it. I know you are angry with me and you have every right to be angry with me. If there were anything I could do – anything – to make things better, to put things right – then I would, I hope you know I would. But if I can’t – and I have to live with that – at least find another way forward. Don’t wall yourself up in Gol. Don’t walk away from everything else. You’re worth so much more.”
And then he thought – Oh God, another judgment passed on Vulcan – more prejudice on my part, more censure. But there was no way out of this trap. And if this was the test, it wasn’t fair. He had learned the hard way not to take Vulcan virtues for granted, to look below the surface. But Gol was an ask too far.
Spock was looking as though he could read every thought in Kirk’s head (which he probably could, Kirk thought despairingly, meaning that he’d lost, anyway). He said:
“Understand, Captain, I have not been considering an application to Gol because of any hypothetical negative emotion directed at you.”
Well, that put me in my place.
At least he was considering going and had not applied. Yet. He swallowed back another outburst, and said cautiously,
“Are you going to tell me why?”
The humour left Spock’s face, making Kirk realise how animated he had been looking, how much like the Spock of the old days, the five year mission. He steepled his fingers again, looking this time away from Kirk into the fire, and said, very seriously,
“You overhead me on Gamma Fortuna explaining to the Romulan Commander that I had achieved a level of reconciliation within myself as a result of the Seleya mission.”
“Yes,” Kirk interrupted, “and I haven’t had the chance to say anything. But I have been so very glad for you.”
Vulcan eyes lifted and there it was again, that old understanding. Spock said, quietly – so quietly Kirk was unsure he had heard correctly, “I know that, Jim,” and then went on, so quickly it might never have happened but for the almost physical alert which went off in Kirk’s mind.
“I have found, though, that it has not resulted in any improved communication with those around me. Logically, it should have made it easier to pursue dialogue with both humans and Vulcans during the peace process, but this has not transpired and I admit to it having been a disappointment. Instead, I find that being the sole known Vulcan-human hybrid means that neither of the communities to whom I am genetically linked are able to recognise one half of who I am. This would not present a difficulty unless I allowed it to do so. To allow it to do so is illogical. And yet, this is what has happened.”
Kirk held his breath. Spock was talking to him – really talking to him, certainly in a way which he had not for over twelve months but more than that - probably in a way he never had. If he didn’t breathe for the rest of his life, crossed all his fingers and toes and prayed, perhaps the miracle would continue. Perhaps there would be another miracle and he would know how to respond.
“The peace process and the role I played in facilitating it have been of professional interest to me. It is possible that, at some stage in the future, I might wish to pursue a path which would involve a more significant engagement in the diplomatic function. Were I to do so – and, whether I do so or not, for optimal professional and personal development in any sphere – an important focus must be to maximise communication skills. Everything I know of psychology suggests that to achieve effective communication it is first necessary to ensure understanding from within. Despite what I may have allowed Dr McCoy to believe” (another glimmer of humour, which Kirk ignored entirely in his absolute focus on Spock’s words) “I have always known that the primary obstacle for me in relation to certain channels of communication has been inner conflict. Inner resolution once achieved, theoretically, any remaining difficulties must be due to the perception of those who surround me. However, it is neither within my gift to change those attitudes nor logical to believe it is likely to come about in the near future. Therefore, the only change which could still lie within my control is the degree of impact on me of those perceptions and attitudes. My interest in Saredin’s suggestion that I study at Gol lies in the potential to divest myself of vulnerability to that impact.”
He stopped speaking and let the silence come back into the room.
Kirk said, very quietly.
“Do I get to say anything?”
Spock turned his eyes to him, and said: “My presence here is evidence that I would welcome your views, Captain,” and said it as though it were really true.
Time for that miracle. What could he say? Last time he had tried to speak to Spock, everything he said had made it worse. Almost at random, he seized on the idea as if it were, at least, somewhere to start.
“Spock – despite what you say, some of this is my fault. Can we talk about that, at least? Every word I said, that day in the Copernicus – you have no idea how much I have regretted it, since.”
Spock lifted up his head.
“Captain, if I were keeping an account of apologies such as I used to maintain in relation to chess matches, the computation would find you ahead of me by a considerable margin. I am not proud of that conversation, either. It is true that my participation in it is another reason for pursuing a course of study with the Masters. However, that is due to my responsibility and my conduct and not yours. Perhaps it is because I am only half Vulcan that I allowed the conversation to run the course it did. I would not willingly either inflict on others or suffer myself a similar dialogue in the future. I believe that an appropriate period of study would enable me to achieve both professional and personal objectives at the same time.”
Kirk said, clumsily: “It was me, not you. You do not owe me any kind of apology.”
“That is a matter of opinion, Captain,” Spock said. “I am not unaware of alternative and potentially more appropriate courses of action which I might have adopted at significant points over the past year. I might at least,” he added, looking carefully at Kirk, as through struggling with what he was saying, “owe you some words.”
“Words?” he said, confused. And then, understanding, “No, Spock. I was wrong. Utterly, utterly wrong. I have always trusted you, will always trust you. As much – in fact, rather more than I trust myself. It doesn’t matter what you say or what you don’t say. It never did.”
“Perhaps not,” Spock said. “But there are other reasons for the deployment of words and I may have overlooked them.”
“We haven’t necessarily always been that good at words, you and I,” Kirk said, carefully, feeling his way. “And that’s a shared responsibility. Don’t go to Gol because we got it so spectacularly wrong last time we tried. You were dead right that we have never needed words in the past, but there’s nothing wrong with words; they don’t have to be ugly. The answer is not to run away from people – silence will never teach you how truly to communicate. You could have written but I could have written, too. It doesn’t stop us being here, now, talking. If the peace delegates weren’t able to understand you, that was their loss, but it didn’t stop you achieving the end result, to universal acclaim. If you encounter prejudice, it doesn’t stop you seeking out the individuals who know you for who you truly are – and there will always be such people, Spock; give us all another chance. You say change is unlikely, but I’ve made a lot of mistakes this year, and I’ve managed to think it through and learned a lot and that means change is always possible for any of us. You know – you must know that I value all of who you are, Vulcan and human. This step you’ve taken now towards understanding yourself better – don’t you think you’re jeopardising that by going to Gol – how will the Masters understand the bit of you which is human? Don’t risk what you learned about yourself the last year, Spock. I was wrong about everything about the Seleya, from first to last, from the very first conversation we ever had about her, when they offered you command, and I know that now and I admit it. Are you glad – that you took the posting, I mean? After everything?”
Spock looked at him.
“I have regrets, but I do not regret that decision, no.”
Kirk spread his hands. “Then neither do I. More than not regretting it, I am glad. Glad about what you got out of it and even what I got out of it. Despite everything.”
The Vulcan listened to the words as if they were more than what Kirk could manage to come up with mid-brandy, as if they mattered, as if they were coherent, as if they made sense. Kirk stared at him, thinking – what else, what else can I say? He opened his mouth, but Spock got there first.
“I did not say that I had reached an irrevocable decision to adopt Saredin’s suggestion, Captain,” he said, mildly.
“I merely put it forward as an option. It was Saredin’s proposal rather than mine. I admit to having given it very serious thought indeed, but in fact there is still one alternative option which might be open to me and on which it would be also helpful to me to seek your views.”
Kirk wondered whether he should get himself another drink or whether he was better off trying to stay clear headed. One more option. Thank God for that. Surely, he thought, it can’t be worse than Gol?
“Go on, then. What’s the last one?” he asked.
Spock looked straight at him.
“I understand that you are looking for a science officer,” he said. “I would be interested in your views as to whether it would be appropriate for me to apply for the role.”
And saw Kirk check in mid-drink, lower the glass, stand up, walk over to the window, stare out into the darkness for perhaps ten seconds, turn around and say, very quietly, the one thing Spock had not expected, although a nanosecond before Kirk opened his mouth, he knew what he was going to say.
“I don’t think so, Spock. I’m sorry. But no.”
Spock had had absolutely no intention of asking Kirk about the Enterprise posting until approximately forty two seconds before he did so.
He had had very little intention of having any discussion with Kirk at all until he received from Uhura the encrypted message signalling Kor’s surrender and directing the Klingon Bird of Prey into Spock’s custody.
He had not forgotten Kor: Organia, Ayelborne, Kor’s dismissal of him as a storekeeper and the Klingon guard who had referred contemptuously to Spock’s apprehension about his captors, which was the smokescreen he had set up to protect himself from effects of the mind-sifter. Spock sensed that Kirk had derived a certain enjoyment from sending Kor to him. And he understood perfectly the present irony of the memory of his and Kirk’s guerrilla partnership against the forces of pacificism on that long ago mission.
Immediately after the conversation on the Copernicus, the temptation would have been for Spock to have withdrawn further from Kirk – his default tactic in difficult personal situations – were it not for Kirk’s final and (to Spock) astonishing affirmation of the bond which the Vulcan had privately considered moribund. Given the extent of the damage inflicted by each of them, it had not been sufficient for true healing, to give serious consideration to any sort of future closer working partnership with Kirk. It was, however, then followed by Kirk carrying out his orders blind, Kirk seconding Leo Santini to the Seleya – both events of extraordinary significance in what they suggested as to Kirk’s frame of mind in relation both to Spock and to Vulcan. But it was Kor’s surrender which caused Spock to reconsider, coming as it did on the heels of the first time Saredin had suggested Spock go to Gol, with Spock’s thoughts already beginning to turn towards kolinahr, to a different solution and the siren calls of peace, of belonging and of separation.
What seismic shift had occurred in Kirk that he could order Kor’s surrender not to himself but to Spock? It was the very casualness which struck the Vulcan – that the message had come from Uhura, not from Kirk; that it had included no space or opportunity for the captain of the Enterprise to include any deliberate personal communication, any self-defeating underlying message of I’m doing what you wanted – even a suggestion that the action was anything out of the ordinary. The impossible had happened – Jim Kirk had accepted Spock’s independence, had acknowledged Spock’s authority. And then had sealed the matter almost immediately by publicly advertising for a permanent replacement for the Vulcan - had done so precisely at the point when Spock had started the process of committing himself irrevocably to a future without Kirk.
He had not gone to Iowa to put his name forward. He had gone to Iowa because the grace and generosity of Kirk’s capitulation and the memory of his last words in the Copernicus meant that Spock could not, in all conscience, go to Gol without telling him; and also because he was in a state of indecision unusual for Spock and he genuinely wanted the views of the person who knew him best. He could not see a way back to the Enterprise. But he thought he might need a way back to Kirk.
And so he had come to Iowa, had found Kirk absent and had stood outside Kirk’s home and looked at the snowbound hills and in an echo (had he known it) of Kirk’s almost simultaneous thoughts, reflected on the contrast between the landscape he had left behind him on Vulcan, his own parents’ home and the sheer physical and climactic manifestation of all that was different between him and the human. His relationship with Kirk had been played out in a neutral, sterile starship with a backdrop of space and stars; the splintering of that relationship had come with the clashes between their cultures and their careers; here, where reconciliation beckoned, was an even vaster gulf - where it had all started – his desert home and his sun; Kirk’s hills and Kirk’s snow.
And then, against the backdrop of the glow of the wood-burning stove inside and the blanketing snow outside, had come Kirk’s answers, given openly and easily, catapulting him back in time, forcibly reminding him of what he had almost lost and almost forgotten: the strength of Kirk’s unique empathy for him, the extraordinary understanding which had always been against all odds, given those contrasts - desert and hill, heat and cold, logic and dynamism, dark and light. And that had culminated in Kirk’s almost shocking and deceptively simple offering about the Seleya posting “More than not regretting it, I am glad.” Considering the personal cost to Kirk of that posting, Spock found himself wondering how many other individuals - if any - could in honesty have uttered those words. And he had looked at his former captain and realised the converse truth of Kirk’s words from fourteen months earlier – entirely and permanently irreplaceable - and thought, quite clearly, that a return to the Enterprise might not be a coherent career move, that it would be met with surprise and without delight in a large number of quarters and that, in fact, no one on a spectrum from Surak to Leonard McCoy could be counted upon to deem it logical - but that there were things other than the verbal expression of gratitude that he had missed in his time on the Seleya, that it might be time to find the way back before it was too late.
And then the one thing he had not expected – Kirk’s refusal. Which, given the only possible rationale behind it, finally made up Spock’s mind for him.
Kirk was standing there now, facing him, looking utterly astonished at himself.
“I can’t believe I said that,” he said, running his hands through his hair in a characteristic gesture. “And I can’t believe you asked.”
The two locked eyes. Spock recovered first and asked the question.
“May I enquire as to your reasoning, Captain?”
“You have to ask? I have just spent the last fourteen months getting my head round you taking command. And I know it was more difficult than it should have been, Spock – everything you said to me on the Copernicus was true. But I’ve got there – I hope you’ve realised that I’ve got there. You’ve served as captain for over a year now and, yes, you’ve saved the galaxy and achieved universal peace – but just as importantly, you’ve proved that you can command, that you command very well, as I always thought you would. You can’t possibly give that all up and go back to being my First. It goes against everything you wanted me to learn – that you are not my subordinate, you don’t belong to me, you are more than my equal – and I’ve learned it, and learned it, and learned it – and now this! How could I possibly let you come back?”
“Everything we have discussed, from the moment I accepted the posting on the Seleya, throughout my command and including on the Copernicus, was based on my choices and on my abilities. We have not at any point discussed my preferences. I have always made it quite clear to you that I do not wish to command. I have discovered that I have the ability to command and to a degree that discovery has been gratifying. But it does not in any way affect my preferences.”
“But it must, Spock – it must. You’ve served with extraordinary distinction, you were given the most difficult command possible under the circumstances – and I didn’t make it any easier for you,” he added, honestly. “You not only managed to unify the Seleya crew and develop a partnership between them and Starfleet, you even managed me and the Enterprise as well.” He half smiled. “What you are asking doesn’t make sense. It’s not logical.”
He had been pacing distractedly; now he ended up facing Spock across the fire, sat down and threw out his hands in a gesture reminiscent, to Spock, of a hundred heated discussions in Enterprise briefing rooms.
“All right, I’ll stop talking. Explain it to me.”
Spock was silent for a minute. Then he said.
“Captain, it was an honour to serve with you on the Enterprise.” Kirk opened his mouth to protest and Spock, in an unusual gesture, raised a hand, “Please, Captain, I say that for a reason. It was a privilege to watch from close proximity the exercise of a function for which the talents of an individual were so supremely and precisely well suited. Your command of the Enterprise will rightly be recorded to a significant degree in the annals of Starfleet history and in Starfleet training manuals because you are a unique exemplar of the role of starship captain. I am able to perform the functions of command adequately, perhaps well, but it is not my chosen field and I do not excel to the same degree.”
He paused, but Kirk said nothing, paid Spock the respect of not demurring, and he knew he had his attention. He went on:
“My abilities – such as they are - to perform in the same way that you command lie in the field of scientific exploration and perhaps, in the future, in diplomacy. I do not see any logical purpose in actively pursuing roles in other fields. This was, in part, the reason for declining the positions I could otherwise have filled or continued to fill on the Seleya and at the Vulcan Science Academy. My interest in diplomacy I have already mentioned to you. However, I am prepared to wait to develop that interest; as I indicated, there may be areas of personal development which mean that I believe I may be more suited to the role at a later point in time. The pinnacle of my achievements in scientific exploration, the best contributions I have offered and the most lasting differences I have made have been in partnership with you. Captain - all things change. I am not suggesting that it is an occupation, a stage in life or even a partnership which can or should be permanent. Nevertheless, I consider that it ended prematurely due to external political forces. If we reach a decision tonight that I should continue with my career elsewhere than the Enterprise, there will only be a very remote probability of return. It is therefore logical to give proper consideration to the possibility that we might wish to revisit the option before permanently excluding it.”
“One more journey round the stars together before we all go home?” Kirk asked softly, an almost unreadable expression on his face. He wondered if the VSA, if the Seleya, if the Romulans understood this side of Spock which he had always treasured, the somewhat incongruous wanderlust, the restless travelling where the Vulcan scientist and the human leader had met and found their shared space. “Spock,” he went on, honestly, painfully “if that’s what you want, if it’s exploration – I don’t even know how much longer I’ve got. I don’t know whether they’ll let me keep her, afterwards. I don’t really know what the future holds, right now.”
“Perhaps that comprises an additional argument for taking advantage of what time remains. You will make your choices, Captain,” he said gently, “you always do.”
The seductive possibility of having Spock at his side in that most difficult of battles – the one he was dreading, not against the Klingons or the Romulans but against his own side, against the Starfleet authorities who would hold his fate in their hands at the end of the five year mission – the very temptation shook Kirk back into the present and he said, firmly:
“But it’s just not true. You just achieved the impossible between the Seleya and the peace process. No one in the galaxy, no one in their right mind would call that anything but excelling.”
And Spock said, very slowly,
“I consider that one of the most successful aspects of my command of the Seleya was ensuring that the mission was allowed to benefit from strategies which were, in fact, devised by you.”
Kirk looked at him sharply, and was back in the briefing room on the Seleya, the day the orders had come from Starfleet: his request for a private conference with Spock; Spock’s surprising acquiescence; that dialogue across the table; the strategy which he had proposed, Spock had accepted and they had somehow delivered together, despite everything. He had thought at the time that Spock had not wanted his input, that his contribution had been hard won – but then he had got everything else wrong, as well.
It didn’t make any difference now.
“But you can’t just ignore the fact that it’s all in the past, Spock. You can’t step in the same river twice. It’s going backwards, it’s turning back the clock – it’s not real life.”
“Your reference to the teachings of Heraclitus is slightly inaccurate and what you argue is illogical. I have identified my preferred professional roles. Neither the rank which attaches to them nor the fact of previous performance is relevant to my choice. Captain – I have, indeed, appreciated that you have accepted and acknowledged my authority over recent weeks. That is somewhat at variance with your current attitude. I put it to you that the precise manner and direction of the advancement of my career is, with respect, ultimately my decision rather than yours. It is for you to decide whether or not I am competent to apply for the position on the Enterprise.”
“Oh please. I’m not even going to begin to have that conversation with you,” said Kirk, irritably, “any more than I’m going to waste my breath admitting how much I want to accept. I am sitting on both hands to stop myself doing so, and I know you know that. Spock – there is nothing, nothing, I want more than to say yes. But how can I? And, just as importantly, how can I risk going backwards, undermining everything I’ve tried to make right between us the past weeks?”
Spock said, in entire and monosyllabic refutation of Kirk’s last argument:
“Jim,” - and Kirk deliberately looked away. Spock paused and then went on,
“Seventeen point one three months ago, when I was considering the offer of the command of the Seleya, the totality of the career guidance you offered me as my commanding officer at the time comprised the words “There is nothing to discuss”. I find it illogical and not entirely helpful that you have since that time so significantly altered your approach to the professional development of your officers.”
Kirk looked up swiftly, his expression half-amused, half-quizzical.
“Did you want me to interfere last year, Spock? You must have known I wanted to. But it’s one of the few things I’ve got right recently. It had to be your choice, not mine – particularly if there was any chance of you actually listening to me. If you didn’t know how much it cost me not to say anything, my failure lay not in my silence but in your ignorance.” He looked at Spock and his face softened at what he found there – and then he shook himself a little in order to go on. “But it’s not a fair comparison and you know it. That was promotion and this is demotion. And, frankly, even if I were to agree that it is your choice alone, there’s also the question of what it looks like in the eyes of the galaxy, of the Vulcans, of the Romulans, of everyone else – how can I possibly assume command over you in your former position? It’s out of the question.”
And Spock said,
“You are making another erroneous assumption.”
Kirk merely looked puzzled, uncomprehending.
“There is no demotion where there has been no promotion.”
“I have never accepted promotion to the rank of captain,” he said. “I have officially been Acting Captain for the past thirteen point nine months.”
Kirk opened his mouth in sheer shock and closed it again.
“You mean they didn’t even offer you a permanent increase in rank?”
“It was offered, but not accepted,” he said.
“Why not?” Kirk asked, astounded, and Spock’s silence provided the only answer there could have been.
Because he had always intended to come back.
At least, that is, until Kirk had made it impossible for him to do so.
Kirk stared at the Vulcan, every assumption and every understanding of the past year unravelling, like a single thread pulled in a loose-knit garment, the whole construct collapsed in his hands.
And Spock gazed back, impassively.
Again Kirk broke the gaze, deliberately. I am not going to do this, he thought, clinging on to the determination to do the right thing, feeling like a physical thing the ache of wanting to give in and agree. He cast around for an activity, for something to break the dynamic of sitting across the fire from Spock, being drawn into the sheer magical impossibility of what Spock was suggesting. Only one place to go and he crossed back to the sideboard and picked up the bottle of brandy again, and this turned out to be the worst possible tactical error, as Spock spoke from behind him,
“Captain, may I reverse my previous decision and accept a drink?”
He turned and, in turning, was back on the Enterprise, was sitting across from Spock in his quarters, a brandy-and-chess evening, the world at bay, just Spock and him in their private world, which he had forgotten for over a year (Stage Four, Category Four). Spock looked back at him, and Kirk thought – now what do I do? – and he said, helplessly, almost automatically, out loud, almost tasting the word, the one thing he had never thought to say to Spock ever again, the word which had always been more of a term of affection than anything else and which he only realised as he said it how much he had missed saying it – and, judging from Spock’s face, how much the Vulcan had missed hearing it –
“Commander?” and that was when he knew he had lost. Or won, of course, depending on your point of view.
2300 hours that evening, and he was still sitting across the fire from Spock, but he had hunted up some pasta and salad and found Sam’s old chess board.
“Check,” said Spock, thoughtfully.
Kirk looked consternated. He said, only half his mind on the game,
“If this is a sign of things to come, it doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that I’ve made the right decision. None of my plans for this year included either giving you orders or losing to you at chess.”
Spock’s eyebrow rose, predictably. Kirk watched it, secretly delighting in the predictability.
“The latter is scarcely a novelty,” he pointed out. “And nor is the former.”
Kirk smiled, then said, more seriously,
“It will be different, though.”
“Yes,” Spock agreed, offering no more than that.
Kirk said: “When I was fighting Kor, I remembered all that nonsense I came up with on the Copernicus about you being stronger than me. It made me wonder – fighting Kor, I mean – if I hadn’t become too dependent on you, on us; if you hadn’t, as well; if being apart might be healthier.”
Well, he had promised Spock more words. He was just doing what he had said, even if he wasn’t making much sense. He wished he could be sure that it was the right decision instead of a compromise – between losing Spock to Gol on the one hand and on the other holding him back in a place where in the eyes of the galaxy his human captain was exploiting his abilities and his loyalties – when this might actually be true. And he heard Sam’s words, again: Compromise. That’s when no one gets what they actually want, right? Well, not quite, not this time. And Sam was dead. He kept remembering that.
Spock merely nodded, as if hearing more than the words themselves, and said:
“I do not dispute that serving together will be different, Captain. Your reference to the doctrine of Heraclitus, encapsulated in the so-called impossibility of stepping twice into the same river, is, in that sense, relevant. Heraclitus also said that nothing is permanent except change, and I have already paraphrased that truth this evening. All beings must accept the need for adaptation. My hope would be that our experiences over the past year would render our partnership more effective rather than otherwise. You once told Saredin that it is our differences which make us stronger. You were referring to the differences between individuals and specifically those between you and me, but in this instance it could perhaps also include the differences between what we were previously and what we have since gained and learned.” He paused, and then added very quietly indeed, “Heraclitus also said that character is destiny.”
Kirk threw him a very affectionate look which Spock, with years of practice behind him, managed effortlessly not to see.
“Furthermore,” he continued, “the evidence of the past forty seven point three minutes suggests that you may not have used the previous fourteen months to any great effect in terms of improvements to proficiency at chess, and you might wish to prepare yourself for other differences in our interactions in addition to those which might affect the performance of our professional duties.”
Kirk opened his mouth to protest vigorously; his eyes fell on the chess board and he abandoned what he had intended to say. He asked, thoughtfully
“And you’re quite sure about the Heraclitus quote?”
“Quite sure, Captain,” Spock responded, letting him hear the echo of a thousand other conversations. “The study of Surak is mandatory for all Vulcan students at an early stage and requires comparative study of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers in the original Greek and Latin.”
And Kirk smiled to himself and said:
“I meant to tell you, Spock...”
Spock looked up, enquiringly, and he said,
“Mike Harding is to chess what I am to ancient Greek philosophy in the original language.”
Their eyes met, as if saying more, and Spock allowed a faint smile of acknowledgement to reach his eyes.
“Checkmate,” he said, quietly. And Kirk laughed out loud, and they moved on from the moment.
2345 hours. Outside, it had begun to snow again, Kirk had gone to the window to watch, mesmerised, waving Spock over to try to share with him the enduring miracle which never failed to entrance, especially after the years behind the climate-free bulkheads of his ship. Spock had looked at the snow and at Kirk’s face, which looked entirely different from at any time he had seen it since the last game of chess on the Enterprise, and forbore for once to explain to his former and future captain the precise molecular structure of snowflakes and the physical causes of the white precipitation.
Kirk had said,
“Come outside and be part of it.”
And Spock had said, politely,
“No, thank you.” There were limits, even for Jim Kirk, even tonight.
And Kirk had smiled, said
“All right, then, pay the forfeit. Have another drink, instead.”
And here they were, sitting in front of the fire again, Spock on the throw-over, Kirk sitting on the hearth, feeding the fire. Neither was making the slightest attempt to end the evening. Spock could have pointed out the lateness of the hour to several decimal places, but he knew that Kirk was on shore leave and knew also that there were still words to be said and to be heard before the end of the day - that the passing of the evening would somehow usher in a different chapter. Vulcans, of course, do not require emotional resolution but then neither do they require sleep.
“Did I manipulate you into this?”
“You know better than to ask that, Captain.”
“I set my mind, after the Copernicus, to show you that you were wrong about me, about us, about everything.”
“I noticed,” Spock said, drily.
Kirk smiled a little, but he still looked troubled. Spock gazed at him for a couple of beats, then said, straight-faced:
“I concluded, after the experiences of Gamma Fortuna and the Delta conflict, that a re-assignment to the Enterprise would be the most efficient means of affording you effective physical protection.”
Kirk’s eyes widened and focused incredulously on Spock’s. He almost choked on his brandy before the reasons behind Spock’s comment trooped through his brain, like children holding hands in a crocodile queue.
Spock’s familiar dry humour was putting their dialogue quite firmly back where it had been fourteen months previously; was signalling an end to the introspection, to the dialogue of doubt and blame.
And the Vulcan was bringing into the Iowa farmhouse the ghost of that conversation on the Copernicus – ensuring that, far from constituting a no-go area between them, it had held certain truths, lessons learned which the Vulcan was not prepared to let go, once enunciated. All things change.
Spock was letting him know that the future would look different - including that the passive spectator role of allowing Kirk to court unnecessary danger might not readily be included in the duties which Spock was willing to resume.
And Spock himself was remembering that brief but unenjoyable period of time when Kirk had been missing with Kor in Delta sector; when Spock’s only role had been to wait for news from a helpless distance of two sectors. It was another small part of why he had come to Iowa.
All this was in Spock’s face as the two looked at each other, as Spock waited, and as a slow smile began to gather at the corners of Kirk’s mouth.
“All right,” he said, at last, nodding to the Vulcan in acknowledgement of the silent dialogue. “All right. At least we know where we stand. I consider myself warned.”
They had resumed the old pattern so easily, he thought, watching Spock as the Vulcan turned his face towards the flames. How could something so unutterably right be the wrong thing to do? But it was. He knew that no one he consulted would agree with or approve of re-appointing Spock to his old position on the Enterprise. Except McCoy, perhaps. And then he thought of Gol, wondered how anyone as extraordinarily intelligent and gifted as Spock could make such wrong choices. And at least being his First Officer was better than being brainwashed.
Which brought him back to Saredin.
“Why does Saredin want you to go to Gol?” he asked, hoping it would not disturb the harmony of the evening. But Spock’s tranquillity was unruffled, and Kirk sensed that the Vulcan was just as affected as he by the strange, out-of-time nature of these hours in front of the fire.
“He believes that the teaching of the Masters strengthens the Vulcan tradition and philosophy,” he said, thoughtfully. “He is not wrong. He believes that I would find it particularly helpful because of my divided heritage. He may be correct about that, as well.”
Kirk looked at him.
“That means he’s going to try to change your mind when you’re back on the Seleya.”
“That would be logical,” Spock agreed. He neither offered further assurances nor sounded troubled at the prospect. Kirk said nothing – there was nothing he could say – but he felt a gut unease, remembered Saredin in the sickbays of the two ships, that fierce, uncompromising intelligence coupled with a deep understanding of the emotional lives of others which he was able to appreciate and manipulate without appearing to possess any vulnerabilities of his own. He had told Spock that Saredin would make a good captain and had not changed his mind; he thought, also, that Saredin might be quite dangerous. One more thing about which he had been very, very wrong – Saredin was no idiot. He remembered that far-off conversation when he and Spock had first spoken about Saredin, before Spock had left the Enterprise – “You might describe him as fanatical – perhaps I would not go that far.” He said, suddenly, the rest of that conversation coming back to him,
“It would be worthwhile, you going to the Seleya, if you’d achieved nothing beyond helping Saredin to understand what Starfleet could learn about Vulcan from you.” And then, giving into the need to say it, “Don’t assume the converse is true, Spock. I don’t believe there is anything you need to learn from Gol.”
Spock said, so gently that the words failed to tear any fabric in the peace of the night,
“Captain. We have already discussed at some length the issue of trust.”
Kirk nodded, slowly, hearing the warning. And then, following another strand of thought, asked “Does your father know you are here?”
“Will he mind? That you are going back to Starfleet?”
“Yes,” said Spock, without either elaborating nor sounding very interested in the question. Then he looked at Kirk and his expression softened. “My father and I have worked effectively together this year and I believe we have both found that a rewarding experience and one which allowed us to develop a stronger mutual understanding. However, my career remains my choice and not his. I do not believe that this will cause him any lasting difficulty.”
Kirk said nothing, satisfied.
“Commander T’Mala is content to serve under Saredin. At least, for the time being. I believe that next year she is intending to join her bondmate where he is stationed on Vulcan.”
“Her bondmate?” Kirk said, startled. “I thought, that is, I wondered...” He shut up, quickly, realising what he was saying. Spock gave him a long-suffering and transparently understanding look and Kirk bit back a grin.
“Spock - what I said to you just when I left the Copernicus...”
“If I recall correctly, you referred to your preference for developing a relationship with another individual who might be (to quote verbatim) “a little less hard work”.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Did you wish to retract the description?”
“God, no. You’re more hard work than most Klingons I know. No, but I’d like to retract the preference I expressed. I’ve got used to it this way, somehow. It would feel odd if it were easy.”
0145 hours. They had been silent for a few minutes and Kirk went into the kitchen, made some coffee for himself and brought some fruit juice out for Spock with a slightly odd look.
“I hope apple juice is OK. I’ll restock the ship’s supplies after shore leave,” he said, holding the glass out. For a brief second in time, Category Three guava juice meetings hovered in the air – the admission that Kirk had never made and Spock had never elicited about the stocks of guava juice in the captain’s quarters on the Enterprise - and then both decided to let it continue unarticulated.
Kirk sat down, hands cradling the hot mug of coffee with great satisfaction, and said:
“How is Leo Santini doing?”
“He is performing admirably,” Spock said. “He is learning a considerable amount from both Saredin and T’Mala.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Kirk said. “So long as he comes back and does some teaching as well as learning. How are the breakages on board?”
“All equipment on the Seleya is intact, Captain,” said Spock, in the tone of one who rises above the conversation. Kirk started to grin and then remembered suddenly Santini dropping the medical consignment on Alpha Gemma, Spock’s call from Sarek and thinking that it was an omen, that what was broken couldn’t be fixed. He brushed past the memory, asked:
“And how is my friend Sub-Commander Tal? Did you see him at the peace conference?”
“On occasion,” Spock said, straight faced. “It is possible that he might fail to recognise your description of him.”
“Enemies are just friends we haven’t made yet,” Kirk said, lightly. “I enjoyed our little encounter, although I enjoyed seeing Kor rather more.”
“I wonder, Captain, given the confrontational nature of so many episodes in your recent history, whether you might not like to consider the value of a secondment to Vulcan yourself?”
Kirk gave him a look. “It would have the merit of resolving my concerns about your proposed posting as my First Officer, but there would be other difficulties, including if I needed house calls from my personal physician. Spock – I don’t need a secondment to Vulcan and I don’t need any more generic lessons about your people. I’ll do the rest of my learning person by person. It’s the best way.” He cocked an eye at Spock in challenge and the Vulcan nodded slowly and leaned back in his seat, as though accepting the answer to a question.
0230 hours, and Spock stirred in the fireside seat.
“I must return to the Seleya,” he said.
“I was going to make you up a bed,” he said. “It’s really late, Spock – I thought you were going to stay the night, stay for longer.”
“I have only taken twenty four hours’ leave, Captain, and I spent a not inconsiderable amount of it travelling and awaiting your return this afternoon. The Seleya has received orders to assist in a new mapping exercise in the Andolian system and all personnel are recalled with effect from 1400 hours tomorrow. If I leave now, that will provide sufficient time to return to the ship.”
He stood, the rare intimacy of the evening dropping away from him and the outside world reaching to reclaim them both. As he turned towards the door, Spock felt the warmth of the fire recede and the freezing air outside waiting for him.
And Kirk, uncoiling from the hearthrug and standing to face the Vulcan, automatically began to lift his hand towards Spock’s shoulder in a trademark farewell, before the tangible memory arose between them, like a physical thing, of the last time he had attempted this gesture. Not the best way to say goodbye. And not the ta’al and not the handclasp from the last leave-taking on the Enterprise. Kirk checked and then, very deliberately, with a movement which banished every checked instinct and stifled communication of the past year – heart slightly in mouth, with Saredin and the Seleya both inescapably in mind – put himself metaphorically and literally in Spock’s hands, reached out and lightly held both Spock’s upper arms, standing almost in an embrace. He withdrew almost immediately, but not before he had felt the answering pressure of Spock’s hands on his own arms, closing the circle, like an answer, like coming home. It was enough.
He grabbed a coat and followed Spock outside. It had stopped snowing and the world was white and still again, with no trace of his earlier journey home, that last rush on seeing Spock, the clumsy tracks he had made down the slope behind the farm. Spock had left the aircar on the lower field, below the out-houses, and they walked over in silence.
“Safe journey, my Vulcan friend,” he said. “I’ll see you in four months.” And then, straight-faced: “I’ll write.”
Spock opened the door to the aircar and turned as he stepped through. He lifted his hand in the ta’al as he asked:
“Would you like me to quote you the odds against that happening, Captain?” and Kirk laughed and said “Not this time,” raising his own hand and Spock said “Goodbye, Jim,” and the door closed behind him.
Kirk walked slowly back to the farmhouse, noticing the two sets of footprints where they had walked down to the field together. And then, without warning, without the anchor of the Vulcan’s presence and the strength of his certainty, the gathering sense of unease inside him crystallised, and he thought – It’s still wrong. It’s all wrong. Spock himself must know it was wrong. And now he had gone back to the Seleya for four months – to Saredin and Saredin’s advocacy for Vulcan. For Gol.
Kirk stopped in the snow. Out of nowhere, he remembered the morning he had first heard about the Seleya – the four point two seconds it had once taken him to arrive in Spock’s quarters and say Tell me you’re not going – remembered the enormity of the sense of impending loss and how simple it had once been to speak out in its face. He spun around, wanting to retract the farewell ta’al, to say – in spite of everything – that Spock should not only come back to the Enterprise, but come back there and then that very night, get out of the aircar, ditch it in a snowdrift somewhere - anywhere, let someone else caretake the Seleya for the next mission, until Saredin could take over.
But he remembered once more the pitfall of trust. Trust without words. In any case, above the farm, the aircar had already lifted up, disturbing clouds of newly settled snow as it headed into the dark, and Spock was gone.
A very large thank you indeed to everyone who kept reading this as I was writing it and leaving me encouraging reviews along the way. And an apology to anyone who doesn't like the ending (or any of the rest of it, come to that). Thank you for your company.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.