This is a sequel to Common Touch.
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
To anyone who liked the ending of Common Touch and would prefer not to read a sequel, I apologise for having been flattered into starting this and you are, of course, at liberty not to read it and to decide on your own ending to Common Touch. The fact that I am even contemplating writing another piece here is entirely the fault of the reviewers of Common Touch, one in particular (mentioning no names), and if you enjoy this one at all, please thank her. Any imperfections or failings are, of course, my own fault.
Kirk, Enterprise to Spock, Seleya:
Well, you were right and you were wrong, Spock. You were wrong that I wouldn’t write to you, and you were right that my chess game has suffered the last year or so. So I’m sending you the log-in details for a match, and you’ll find I’ve made the first move.
I hope you got back to the Seleya without mishap. I had another few days in Iowa, which I admit to having enjoyed the more for having deleted the entirety of my reading assignments on aspiring science officers. And now I’m back on the ship and we’re about to leave orbit, heading over towards the Drachos system to check on some new mining initiative. I’m keeping our conversation between ourselves for the moment, but I’ve relayed the news to McCoy, as we agreed, and he is horrified at the idea of having you back here. He says he’s got used to the peace and quiet and that you’ve set back by at least five years all the progress he made during your therapy and he’s not sure he even has the expertise to cope with you after what’s happened. I told him that every word was contrary to the new Starfleet/Vulcan Accords, that he was probably due at least seven court martials with no mitigating circumstances and I promised him I wouldn’t tell you what he’d said.
Congratulations on the Accords, by the way. I saw you were absent from the signing ceremony last week but, like everyone else, I know who was truly responsible for what happened. I suspect you might find it harder than you realise, after this, to escape the pressure of a more public role, but I am not reopening the subject now and we’ll see what happens.
You know I’m only writing to you because you threatened to quote the odds against it, and I know you know that but, nevertheless, it would be good to hear from you, when you aren’t saving the universe. Stay in touch – JTK.
Spock, Seleya, to Kirk, Enterprise:
Captain, you will recall that at our parting I sought an indication of your interest in the odds against you writing to me and that you declined to hear them. Had you requested an assessment, I would have cited the probability as 7.85 to 1 in favour of you initiating some form of written communication during the period until Saredin is given command of this vessel. On that basis, you may wish to reconsider the opening lines of your message and your suggestion that I was in error in implying that you would fail to undertake any form of personal contact during this time.
I have responded to your chess move and I agree that re-engagement in high-calibre competitive matches may be a productive developmental strategy for you at this point.
The signing of the Accords was the result of a significant effort on the part of a large number of people, not excluding you, and the part I played was no more important than that of many others. It is nevertheless my hope that they may signal the start of an era of greater understanding, at least between the Romulans and Starfleet. I fear that arrangements with the Klingons still indicate that a longer and harder journey lies ahead.
I wish you a successful mission to Drachos. If my understanding is correct, the mineral discoveries indicate the presence of an element which may share certain properties with dilithium and would therefore be of considerable potential commercial interest to Starfleet; however, if my recollection of the Drachos culture is also correct, extracting and exporting the products of any large scale operation may not be without challenge.
If Dr McCoy is seriously concerned at my impending return to the ship, he might like to consider the fact that the Chief Medical Officer of the Seleya has recently been promoted to a role at the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit and the ship is therefore seeking a new appointment to that position.
Live long and prosper.
Kirk, Enterprise to Spock, Seleya:
I know where you’re going with the bishop and it’s not going to help you.
I won’t give you McCoy’s reply to your suggestion about the Seleya posting; I am not sure the communications system can handle it and you know what it was, anyway.
And you were right about the Drachos government, as well as everything else. We may be here a while. If it gets dragged out for long enough, you’ll be leaving the Seleya and you can come and deal with Drachos for me. It’s frustrating. Write to me and distract me from the swamplands of bureaucracy. Anything will do – JTK.
Spock, Seleya to Kirk, Enterprise:
You will recall that when we last met you referred to the teachings of Heraclitus. I have been spending a significant part of my leisure time during the past five weeks re-acquainting myself with the Greek philosophers as a result. As I mentioned to you, the study of Greek and Roman philosophy was a mandatory subject for all Vulcan students and it has been instructive to have the opportunity to build on the knowledge and understanding I acquired during my earlier studies. In addition to Heraclitus, I have also taken the opportunity to download the works of Socrates, Solon of Athens, Aristotle and Diogenes. Further, I have accessed the major treatises of Seneca and Cicero, but time is inevitably limited and it is reasonable to prioritise the study of the Greeks on the basis that much of the Roman school was, at least to an extent, derivative.
I would be gratified to be of some small assistance to you in providing you with distracting and educational reading material during your negotiations with the Drachos government. Please indicate if there is a particular philosopher whose works you would like me to summarise or, indeed, forward to you.
I look forward to further reports of progress in relation to Drachos and am confident of your early success.
Live long and prosper.
Kirk, Enterprise to Spock, Seleya
Original causes are not always easy to identify. Kirk was apt to think that it was all the fault of the Mila. But had it not been for the delays at Drachos, the Enterprise would never have been sent to the Mila system so, arguably, the team who discovered the dilithium traces on Drachos might therefore reasonably be considered to blame. Alternatively, responsibility could have been laid squarely with the inability of their government to spend less than six months in reaching a decision on a proposed mining licence and associated trade agreement. But, then again, there were other forces engaged besides the movements of the Enterprise and export licences with Drachos, and Kirk knew that, too – had known it sitting in front of the fire in Iowa, and even before that.
He blinked a few times at the image of Wesley, looking tersely out of the screen on Kirk’s desk, in reality several days’ travel away. And he reached up a hand to rub his forehead. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand. He understood absolutely everything, and none of it was good and none of it gave him any choice at all.
He cleared his throat.
“I can leave for Mila immediately, of course. What about Drachos, though? We’ve made some significant progress here, and –“
“We’ll pick it up, Jim,” Wesley cut in. “The Republic is only about 8 days out from Drachos and we’ll put Marsh and his team in direct communication with the Drachos government immediately.”
“I see,” he said. He knew there was no way out of this, absolutely none, but he still went on, in order at least to articulate the thoughts chasing around his head. “We’ll be out of contact for at least six months out there and in fact we’ll over-run the scheduled end of the mission.”
“Yes,” Wesley’s image said, leaving no pause for sympathy or discretion.
“The crew is expecting to come home,” he said. “And some of them have arrangements, post-mission – even other postings.”
“We’re aware of that, Jim,” the screen said, briskly. “All other postings will be held, where possible of course. And this is an emergency.”
“And,” he came to it last, “I don’t have a First Officer. I sent you a communiqué about this a few weeks ago. I had arranged to rendezvous with the Seleya next month, but I can’t possibly reach her before I go to Mila, and once I’ve gone –“
“Once you’ve gone, she won’t be able to reach you at all, it’s too far out. Jim, you said it. If I’m honest with you, this arrangement you came to with Spock – well, it wasn’t exactly what we had in mind for either of you. And, in any case, Spock wouldn’t be our first choice for the Mila mission, it’s too sensitive to include a Vulcan, possibly even unsafe, particularly for Spock and particularly on the command team.”
He frowned: “Why unsafe particularly for Spock?”
“Think it through, Jim. Mila culture has a strong tendency to vengeance and honour-killings – it’s not on the Romulan border for nothing. There are suggestions that they hold Spock personally responsible for what has happened.”
Kirk filed the information away under worry about it when the conversation is over and said
“Six months out of communication with HQ and without a First Officer?”
“You’ll manage, Jim. Starfleet will sanction any field promotions, you know that. It’s only till the end of the mission.”
“And then what?” he made himself ask. It was clumsy, he knew it; it was hardly the way he had planned to open the dialogue about afterwards, but afterwards seemed to be something of a moveable feast just now, plus it was looking more like famine than feast and was, in any event, clearly going to be preceded by a very long silence. It was either broach the subject now, or worry about it for six months. He had planned to discuss it with Spock at his side, but that wasn’t going to happen either. This was a battle he would have to fight alone.
Wesley’s face changed. He said, very gently
“Jim, you know that’s not a conversation for now. And you also know what the answer is going to be, although I’ll shoot you if you ever tell Nogura I said that. He is planning a long man-to-man chat with you when you get back. Several chats, I should think. You’ll get some very good meals out of it.”
He ignored the invitation to a lighter conversation.
“Bob, when the Enterprise has been refitted –“
“She’ll be given to someone else. Come on, Jim. You’ve been around for long enough and you know how it works. Look – I didn’t say any of this – any of it – but I don’t think they’re even thinking of Commodore, I think they’re thinking Admiral and probably a very high level appointment at that. You’ll outrank me, if that makes you happy. And you’ll have more impact, you’ll make more of a difference, all the things which matter to you. People like you don’t stay on the bridge of a starship, and you know it. You knew it before you asked the question.”
“The bridge of the Enterprise is actually where I want to be, Bob,” he said, very quietly. “But more importantly, to use your own argument, it’s where I can make the biggest difference. It’s who I am.”
“They won’t buy it, Jim,” Wesley’s voice carried clear sympathy but absolutely no hint of waver. “And nor do I, frankly. They want you on the big stage. You can’t spend the rest of your life running round the galaxy chasing Klingons. Look – I understand. You know I understand. I’ve stood on that bridge, I’ve looked at those stars. But it’s a phase of life, Jim. You of all people should be up for embracing change. It’s just the unknown – God knows you’ve faced it enough times from that bridge of yours. Face it in your own life, accept it and you’ll be fine.”
He thought, with a gallows humour born out of desperation, of Spock’s philosophers, because Wesley might as well have been speaking Greek to him. He thought of the San Francisco HQ complex, of Nogura, of Komack, of seeing the same sky, night after night after night the same star systems – and, without warning, claustrophobia rose inside him, with an edge of panic.
He forced it down.
“This is where I’ve proved myself, though, Bob. The Admiralty is an utterly unknown quantity as far as I’m concerned. You have not the slightest piece of evidence for thinking I’ll add any value whatsoever. Whereas on the Enterprise – look, of course it wasn’t just me, it’s been teamwork, but if you just look at what Spock and I have managed, over the years –“
“Well, and that’s another thing entirely, Jim,” Wesley said. His voice changed. “Is anyone with you at the moment?”
“What do you take me for? No, I’m alone. Why?”
“Some friendly advice. This notion of Spock rejoining your crew – it was never going to work and, to be honest, I was slightly surprised that you suggested it. It’s hardly what he should be doing next and it’s hardly what we want to suggest to Vulcan that we think he should be doing next.”
An opinion which was difficult to argue against, since Kirk agreed with it entirely, had articulated it himself to Spock in Iowa. Forcing himself to remember now the firelight, the snow outside, that feeling of rightness, the Vulcan’s determination, he said, squarely,
“It was his application by his own request and my decision to appoint.”
“Don’t be stupid, Jim, of course it was,” Wesley said, with surprising understanding, “I could ask, in return, what do you take me for? I’ve a pretty good idea what went on. But you know as well as I do it’s not right, any more than Starfleet is in a position to override the appointment, however embarrassing it is. And my point is that once you’re at HQ you will have no First Officer to appoint. He’ll be free to move on, to make his own future and to make a difference in the best way for him.”
He looked at Wesley, stunned.
“Don’t tell me this is what’s behind the plan to promote me.”
Wesley said, impatiently,
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jim, you’re not thinking straight. Been staring at the stars too long, you’re space happy, good thing you’re coming back planetside. That was always going to happen, you never had any choice and if you accept that, it will make you feel better about dealing with the inevitable. But my point is that it will be easier on Spock, as well, this way. Think about it.”
He stared. Well, he wouldn’t have much choice, would he – six months to think about very little else. About losing both Spock and his ship, on the basis of Wesley’s bizarre argument that losing both arms somehow made it better.
The trouble was, he understood what Wesley was saying - understood it and, on some very profound level, agreed with it. Wesley saw this in his face, and nodded slightly.
“And I won’t say I told you so,” Wesley’s face softened slightly, “but I will say good luck. See it as an extension, a reprieve. Six more months than you might otherwise have had. Make the most of them. Wesley out.”
Kirk looked at the empty screen, took a very deep breath and let it out very slowly. He sat very still for a period of time which an absent Vulcan would have calculated at 34.5 seconds, and then abruptly put his hand out to the comm switch.
“Uhura, this is the captain. Please have the senior team meet me in briefing room 3 in ten minutes. Kirk out.”
He looked around the familiar faces with deep affection. Scott, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov. His last pre-mission briefing with them, out of hundreds just like this. He could see them mulling over his words, knew questions were about to come and knew also that, whatever he said, they would follow him anywhere, to the ends of the galaxy - which happened to be exactly where they were headed. Whom would they be following, this time next year? He forced himself back to the present.
“I have a question, Jim,” McCoy said, with his customary drawl. “It’s a hell of a long way to go, if you ask me (which you didn’t). My math may be rusty, but I can add six months to the current date and come up with a figure way over five years. This crew is due to move on, and you know as well as I do that people have plans. Hell, I have plans, thought I wouldn’t expect a little R&R and a lot of Romulan ale to get in the way of Starfleet’s thinking. Why the Mila system, why us – why can’t someone else go?”
“It’s the threat to Vulcan and the Accords, Bones,” he said, patiently. “Mila 5 is right on the edge of the Neutral Zone in the farthest quadrant of the sector. The very remoteness of the system means that Starfleet probably hasn’t been as vigilant as they should have been in safeguarding the Mila over the years – not because of any callousness, but because of resourcing issues. Anyway, as a result, certainly before the modern era, they’ve been completely vulnerable to Romulan attack – in fact, they seem to have been invaded by the Romulans rather more times than you have managed to get to your stash of Romulan ale, even counting the whole five year mission. Anyway, the point is that they’ve been badly victimised, and this includes during passages in history when the Romulan fleet was frankly pretty brutal – if you want the details, it’s in the report, but it’s not pretty reading.”
“And this is our problem because...?”
“Because they are up in arms about the Accords. Literally up in arms. Because they say Vulcan has betrayed them, Starfleet has betrayed them but, in particular, that if the Accords are based on an ancient blood-tie between Vulcan and the Romulan Empire they, the Mila, are cutting all political and economic relationships with Vulcan and declaring war on them. And we can’t afford that. Not ever but particularly not now.”
“Some small system in a God-forsaken corner of nowhere? Can they really do anything, if it comes to that?”
“Possibly, yes. They may be far away, but don’t underestimate them - they’re not small and they’re very far from unsophisticated. We’ve simply never had to worry about them before because they’ve been far-off allies. And the political implications are dire even if just ends up being a trade war or a war of words. Those border systems all play into very sensitive dialogue – you know that, Bones. Plus the fact that Starfleet cannot afford Vulcan to be weakened or upset just now. Be flattered: HQ are sending us because they think it’ll send the right signal.”
“Let someone else be flattered. Jim, could I have a word, if we’re done?”
No prizes for guessing what that would be about.
“Gentlemen, Uhura, any more questions?” Silence. “Thank you. Uhura, please signal the Drachos President and ask him for an audience at his earliest convenience; Chekov, plot a course for Mila 5 and hold for as soon as I beam up; Sulu, ready the crew for departure. Dismissed.”
The team filed out and the door closed behind Chekov as McCoy raised an eyebrow at Kirk and said:
“Where does this leave the hobgoblin, Jim?”
Kirk did not meet his eyes. He stood to collect the data chip he had used for the briefing and busied himself shutting down the computer terminal, before standing by the viewer with his back to the room.
“On the Seleya, Bones, exactly where he is right now. We don’t have time to collect him – even if we could, he’s not due to transfer for another two or three weeks. There’s no way round it.”
McCoy watched his captain’s back, thoughtfully.
“Does that mean he’ll be coming out to join the party half-way through?”
“No, it doesn’t. Without a Constitution Class ship, it would take the most ridiculous amount of time to get there; no other such vessel is being deployed and, in any event – well, in any event, Starfleet aren’t overly keen on any Vulcan officer involvement in the mission, and I can see their reasoning, if I’m honest.”
“Is that all?”
Kirk turned, genuinely mystified.
“What do you mean, is that all? I’ve just gone through the laws of physics and direct orders from HQ – is there anything I’ve missed out?”
“Just you, Jim. Just you. Was a time, someone suggested you take a six-month mission without Spock – your last, too, I figure – and you’d have found a way to wriggle round the laws of physics, let alone HQ. You’re taking this pretty easy, seems to me. Look – I’m not objecting to having a peaceful last mission without having every decent conversation reduced to three decimal places and none of my jokes appreciated. Just curious, is all.”
His blue eyes dwelt on Kirk’s, and Kirk deliberately looked away.
“All things end, Doctor.”
“Now I know something’s wrong. You’re talking Vulcan.” There was a pause, which Kirk declined to fill. McCoy went on, in a tone Kirk had rarely heard from him, “Jim – for what it’s worth, and aside from the fact that I’d be prepared to admit to missing the pointy-eared son of a gun if I were only sure no one would ever tell him I said so – well, for what it’s worth, I think you’re doing the right thing.”
Kirk made himself smile, touched McCoy lightly on the arm as he walked past him toward the door.
“Where are you going, Jim?”
“I have to beam down to Drachos. And then I have a message to write.”
He deleted the words, then re-typed them, then sat and looked at the screen. The screen looked back at him, expectantly.
Kirk got up and walked over to the sideboard to pour himself a drink, resolutely ignoring every memory of every drink he’d ever poured for himself and Spock in this very room. He took a large swallow, set the glass down firmly next to the keyboard and made himself go on.
By the time you get this, the Enterprise will be en route to Mila 5. You’ll have seen the same reports which we have received, you know what’s going on out there and you may even already know that we’ve been detailed to head over there at top speed. And you’ll understand why we’re going and also what this means to our plans – to yours and mine, to your proposed re-assignment to the Enterprise.
So I’m not writing to tell you something you know already. I’m writing to tell you that when we come back from Mila, the Enterprise is going into dock and I’m heading planetside. It might not be what I had hoped in the past and it might not even be what you and I had discussed, but it’s what it is. At the end of the day, I gave my oath to Starfleet and that has to come first, even above the ship. And if that sounds too much like an agreed line, if you’re wondering about the reason for the change of heart – well, I’ve done a lot of thinking. (Not much else to do in between bouts of negotiation over putative Drachos dilithium mines, given the only alternative you could come up with was Aristotle.) Yes, it’s promotion, and I don’t have to tell you what I think about that – what’s more relevant is that there will be important work to do. It might not be the life on the Enterprise, but you’re the one who tells me all things change - you and Heraclitus. This has been coming a long time, and if I’ve refused to see the signs, I can’t miss them from this close up. I’ll have the chance to make an impact, to change thinking, to make a difference – all those directions and orders you and I used to find so frustrating, the lack of perspective, of understanding; well, this is my chance to help HQ really appreciate how things are, out on the front line. That’s got to be worth some time away from the stars. And I’m hoping it’s not forever.
So, this is to say that you’ll need to find another way forward. I know your only problem will be to make a choice: you have so many options now, all so well deserved.
He stopped writing. He’d written up until this point in a blur of throwing words on to the screen, not thinking and not checking or editing, just writing as in another context he would have blurted out the words face to face. He checked now at the difficult point: the thing he really wanted to say; the reason for agreeing to Spock’s suggestion in the first place and the reason why, even today, he had tried to persuade Wesley to let him take Spock to Mila. The thing Spock had told him not to question – Spock, who wanted trust without words.
But it was not in Kirk to be silent, not on this. And so he took another swallow of brandy, and went on writing:
Look, Spock. I know that I don’t have the right to ask this. And I know you won’t like me asking, either. So I’ve hesitated but this is all the chance I have. I am writing to ask you not to go to Gol. I know I can’t offer you an alternative – at least, I can’t at the moment and, to be honest, I probably can’t ever offer you a suitable alternative, one that would be what you deserve. But you’re the one who says that there are always possibilities. The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise or Gol. Don’t close off other choices. You have so many other gifts to offer.
Sorry about the chess match; I didn’t think you’d fall for that move, actually - perhaps re-engagement in high-calibre competitive matches may be a productive developmental strategy for you at this point. I’m sorry that those matches won’t be against me.
I’ll be out of communication for the duration. I’ll be in touch when I’m back.
Stay safe till then – JTK.
It wasn’t even close to what he wanted to say; he could count the gaps, the inadequacies, more easily than he could count the words. But it was all there was; he couldn’t bear to make himself go over it, and besides, he had a mission to prepare for, a ship to command. He sent the message and closed the computer station down.
Milallo turned away from the monitoring screen and met his commander’s eyes.
“It is as you predicted, sir. They are sending the Enterprise.”
The other nodded, fiercely.
“And the Vulcan?”
“He is not on board.”
The Mila leader scowled, and then his face cleared. McCoy, had he been present, might have struggled to understand the play of emotions against features not designed for human intuitive understanding.
“No matter. His time will come. Slowly is better, Milallo. And when it does, he is mine.”
Illogical though it was – and Kirk was perfectly well aware of how illogical from having had Spock point it out to him frequently over the years – Kirk always thought he could feel his ship move under his feet, could sense her direction as an extension of his own body, and this feeling extended to wherever he happened to be on the ship. When the Enterprise left orbit around Drachos on her last mission (not her last mission, just her last mission under his command, Kirk reminded himself), he marked the moment but was not on the bridge to see it. He had left Sulu with the conn and was in his quarters, seated at the computer terminal. Something in his gut had felt superstitious about watching this last departure; something else had wanted to give the moment to the young helmsman about whom he still nurtured a level of guilt for having not promoted him the previous year when Spock first left the Enterprise.
In any case, he had a message to write to Saredin while there was still time.
Command of a starship. The ship would be his in less than a week.
Vulcans, as Kirk had been apt to lecture new members of the Enterprise crew who found it difficult to adjust to Spock – Vulcans have emotions, they simply control them more effectively than human beings. In terms of control, on a scale from Surak to ten, Saredin was very close to Surak and would have been proud of it, had pride not been one of the emotions from which he ruthlessly distanced himself. If it were in him to regret, Saredin was aware that the inchoate war between the Klingon-Romulan alliance and Starfleet had claimed lives for which, if you adopted the rather tortuous logic he knew had tempted James Kirk at one stage, his own original actions were ultimately responsible. However, also like Kirk (although he was unaware of this), Saredin knew that original causes could be hard to identify and the probabilities were high that no logical or useful purpose would be served by tracing that train of events to its source. Overall, he had analysed the events since the Halycyon court martial and found that they had left Vulcan identity and Vulcan heritage the stronger. This was a logical cause for satisfaction, as was his advancement to command of the Seleya.
He was less certain under what heading of personal or political development to file his acquaintance with Spock, let alone James Kirk himself. Saredin’s starting point was that little of value could be learned from beings whose primary response to situations was overtly emotional, and nothing at all could be learned from a person who had allowed his Vulcan heritage to be corrupted not so much by his human ancestry (which Saredin – unlike some Vulcans – was prepared to concede might not entirely be Spock’s fault) but by his deliberate association with humans and his adoption of their customs. It had therefore been intellectually challenging to Saredin to discover both a very reluctant sympathy with James Kirk and also a very slight reservation as to the fact of Saredin’s own imminent promotion. Both centred on his captain.
The truth was that Saredin had found association with Spock to be both illuminating and edifying and viewed with some reluctance the prospect of its impending termination. And another truth was that his sympathy with Kirk lay in Kirk’s affection and admiration for Spock.
What he found difficult to understand was how Kirk had understood that Saredin had arrived at this view. Yet the proof was in the message in his personal inbox. Because Kirk would never have written to him in those terms under any other circumstances.
Spock had read Kirk’s last message to him with an entirely expressionless face which, had he been human, would have masked a range of feelings.
The most distinct sensation he felt was the closing of a chapter. If Kirk were leaving the Enterprise, a door was closed for Spock, too, and an important part of his life was over. The question he had asked in Iowa had been answered and a great many things which had once been part of the fabric of Spock’s identity would now be part of his past, including chess matches, brandy and the strange, unexpected and wholly inadmissible pleasure which could be derived from an illogical pretence not to understand human idiom.
It never even occurred to Spock that there were any other opportunities to return to the Enterprise once Kirk had left – just as it never occurred to him that the uncounted billions of life forms in the Federation included other chess opponents than Kirk.
Much of the message struck Spock with disquiet. Like McCoy, he could not quite reconcile with the man he knew Kirk’s apparent current docility with regard to Starfleet dictates. Spock knew – had known since the very early days of serving under his captain - that the separation of Kirk from his ship would inflict damage from which James T Kirk would be unlikely to emerge entirely the same person. He had always known the end of the five year mission would be something of a fight for survival. Given the forces at play on either side he had, for once, been uncertain of the odds of success, but he had never expected Kirk to give in so easily. This was not – at least, not absolutely - the man he knew.
Of course, other than a magical evening in Iowa, an out-of-time experience which had taken place in some way outside the continuum of their friendship, he had spent virtually no time with Kirk (and absolutely none on a personal level) for eighteen months. Could Kirk have changed that much? The message on Spock’s computer screen had not been written by the man who had so utterly claimed Spock’s allegiance.
A very small voice inside Spock wondered whether Kirk would have found a different means to fight Starfleet if he had Spock’s assistance and close support. This was an illogical and irrelevant consideration, since Kirk would be at the Mila system by now, and by the time he came back Spock would be beyond reach.
The request that Spock not go to Gol he read with a tolerance bordering on amusement, born of a bone-deep knowledge of the writer from whom he would certainly have expected no less. He could read in one short paragraph a force of the equivalent strength of warp 9 which would have driven Kirk to speak and the comparative restraint of his words indicated the pressure he must have clamped down on that impulse. It seemed that there were limits, at the end of the day, to Kirk’s trust without words but Spock could hardly blame him in this instance, because Kirk’s lack of trust in regard to Gol might well turn out to be entirely justified.
The Mila were taller than Kirk had expected – slightly taller than Vulcans, on average. Bipeds, very fair and with a curious intensity about them, deriving from abnormally large eyes and thin, curved features – and the fact that the species did not smile. It was only in total repose that their faces conveyed satisfaction or even pleasure. Perhaps, Kirk mused, this had resulted from a history which certainly provided little to laugh about.
He had been taken on an extensive tour of Mila facilities and found them extraordinarily impressive – remembered the reports from HQ and his own comment to McCoy – “Don’t underestimate them - they’re not small and they’re very far from unsophisticated”. The society was ordered and well run, with wealthy communities and the more vulnerable all properly cared for. Offenders were few and the scientific and research facilities were considerably beyond what could be boasted in many societies of an equivalent level of development – he caught himself wishing Spock could see them, wondering what the Vulcan would make of them.
A habit he might have to get out of.
McCoy was particularly fascinated by the medical laboratories and hospitals, and Kirk listened, half with real interest and half with amused affection as McCoy enthused about the advances in understanding of xeno-epidemics.
“What the Mila get which Starfleet has never had the wit to understand,” he said, eyes sparking blue, eyebrows dancing, Southern drawl all the more exaggerated, “is that in the so-called modern, inter-stellar world, xenobiology is where it starts. On Earth, it’s still an optional extra. Optional extra, my God - do you realise, Jim, that when I first bumped up against Spock, I had to try to figure out how to look after Vulcans? I virtually experimented on the man till M’Benga turned up. It’s a wonder he got through the first couple of years – having said which, of course, he’s got such a crazy anatomy it would always have been luck, one way or the other. And he’s such a screwed-up, stubborn son of a gun, into the bargain, that before you even start factoring in the whole mind-over-matter thing, Vulcan medicine isn’t quite as relevant to Spock as you might think. Plus, whatever he likes to believe, he’s half human physically as well as in every other way, he’s just so messed up he chooses not to accept biological evidence.”
“Back to xenobiology,” prompted Kirk. He had a feeling which he couldn’t quite pin down (but Kirk had learned to trust those feelings more than any others) that he might need to know about xenobiology in his dealings with the Mila. Besides which, he was trying his best just now not to think about Spock and what Kirk’s last message to the Seleya might mean in terms of when – if – on what basis - he might see him again.
“Well, with Starfleet so keen on diversity and with Spock hardly the first alien in a starship, you would have thought they could do better than tell a Georgian boy like me that one of his patients has green skin and pointed ears and you can look the rest up in the library. I’m a doctor, not a linguist – and frankly, not a research biologist, either. It was nothing short of iniquitous, what they did – and Spock should by rights have died a hundred times over, especially given those darn fool stunts you and he used to pull.” Kirk bit back a smile, less at McCoy and more in ancient memory. “But even that’s not really the point here, Jim. What Starfleet have yet to take on board is that we don’t live in a human bubble any more. You could argue that the very term “xeno-epidemic” is outdated, because frankly whatever the Vulcans get we’ll get in the end once it mutates. Hence our inability to deal with large scale medical epidemics – we always think it’s the other guy’s problem. It never is. The Mila actually understand this. They should talk to Nogura.”
It was Kirk’s job to make sure the Mila did not end up talking to Nogura, that in fact the whole Mila situation went away as quickly and as quietly as possible. He found that he didn’t trust the Mila – there was something too advanced, too sophisticated about Mila society for him to readily understand their almost brutal hostility, their political positioning - and what Kirk didn’t understand always worried him.
It came as, bizarrely, something of a relief to Kirk to discover that he was not the only off-world visitor to Mila.
“What are the Klingons doing here?” he asked Sulu one morning, looking out of the viewer at the Bird of Prey in orbit around Mila 3, “and why haven’t HQ notified us?”
“They are not bound to do so under the recent treaty, Captain,” Sulu said. He and Kirk had agreed that he should take on the role of Acting First Officer for the Mila mission. For more reasons than Spock’s absence, and with the end of the five year mission in sight and all the uncertainties which lay ahead on the return to Earth, neither had the heart to consider a more permanent promotion.
The Klingon treaty which had followed the Vulcan-Romulan-Starfleet Accords meant that there was no open hostility with the Klingon Empire but also not a lot of trust. Kirk would expect no open act of war from a Bird of Prey in orbit around a planet in the same system he was visiting, but nor would he expect to see it without warning from Starfleet. That could only mean that the Bird of Prey’s presence was surreptitious, to say the least. The reason he felt relief was the reassurance of familiarity. Kirk did not understand the Mila, but he did understand the Klingons, and if the Mila hostility could be ascribed to fraternisation with the Klingons, it was a known quantity and Kirk could deal with it.
Sulu was a good senior officer – more than that, Kirk corrected himself hastily, beaming down with the helmsman for another meeting with the Mila, he was an excellent senior officer. But something about his partnership with Kirk made Kirk even less prepared to challenge the promotion he knew he faced on return to Earth. The truth was that he had become very used to command in partnership with Spock – had never, of course, other than the interim arrangement with Mike Harding, held a permanent command under any other circumstances. And a great deal of the command skills and persona he had developed had been both cause and effect of that, leading to the rapport which had so famously operated on the basis that their abilities dovetailed together so perfectly. Without Spock, he felt off-balance in the place which they had shaped around themselves. It was time for the next chapter in his life and it was time for the next chapter in the life of his ship, as well.
It occurred to him, for the first time, that just as Spock’s most defining characteristic was his half human, half Vulcan ancestry, for the past five years the most salient and significant personnel factor affecting the crew of the Enterprise had been that it had been commanded by a team which was half Vulcan, half human. The removal of the Vulcan component made a greater change to the entire ship’s personnel than he had perhaps reckoned on. It was time for a complete change, not just an adjustment of the old set-up.
Sulu followed him into the Mila conference room and he came face to face with Kang.
Spock sat on the meditation mat in his quarters on the Seleya.
His body sat, motionless, as his thoughts stilled in response to the ancient commands and began their journey inward and then out.
And they were followed by the thoughts of others.
Kirk had sat opposite him, next to the fire in Iowa and had said: “You can’t step in the same river twice.” And he, Spock, had pointed out that Kirk was misquoting Heraclitus, that Heraclitus had said that nothing was permanent except change and also that character was destiny. And Kirk had poured him a brandy and they had played chess and agreed to give themselves another chance and so the moment had passed.
But not entirely. Spock had gone back to the Seleya and the conversation had stayed with him. Heraclitus had given Spock an answer but also a signpost and Spock had gone back to Heraclitus with more questions, in the off-duty hours of his last weeks of command, between the past and the future and with no more distraction than a game of chess played out over a distance of two and a half sectors with an opponent whose strategy was oddly and comfortingly identifiable without sight of face or sound of voice.
Breathe. In. Out.
The first thing he had found was that Heraclitus was one of a small number of philosophers who were cited as the possible author of the aphorism gnothi seauton – “know thyself”. And it had been like a door opening.
Spock had last studied Greek philosophy as a young student when his ideas of self had been objective rather than subjective. He was a Vulcan: therefore to know himself was to know the Vulcan truth. He had admitted, then, no possibility of that sense of self encompassing either his human heritage or his subjective perspective. Spock’s early learning had been carried out without reference to the human values of imagination and intuition and, looking back from his quarters on the Seleya, he wondered whether all his studies in the philosophy courses he had undertaken had been entirely academic. The truth was, he could not remember a single instance of applying any of that learning in a directly personal sense to his adult self.
Breathe. Out. In.
He had gone back to the ship’s library and back to the other sources.
Socrates. Socrates, whom Plato distinguished from his contemporaries on the basis of understanding his own ignorance. It was Socrates who said that mankind does not understand what is noble or what is good; men do not know that they do not know. Socrates knew he knew nothing noble and nothing good, and this famous and misunderstood line was not about the limitations on Socratic knowledge, still less about any lack of nobility or goodness around him, but about that very simple and all-important understanding – that he knew what he did not know.
And it was Socrates, according to Plato, who said that his ability to learn was curtailed by ignorance of himself; more than that, he called “irrelevant” the study of other subjects before he had achieved self knowledge.
And Aristotle. Plato was the father of informal logic and Aristotle of formal logic, of syllogism and inference – Aristotle, who had been required learning before Spock, aged five, had even been allowed to read Surak. Aristotle was interested in form over content – he taught that the logical form of an argument determined its validity rather than its conclusion or its subject matter. Surak, on the other hand, thought that logic was an end as well a means – his most famous treatise which Earth Standard rather inadequately (in Spock’s view) translated into “Logic as journey and destination” – argued that the deployment of pure logic as a method of discourse was important not only in ensuring the proper discipline of the mind and the correct analysis and deductions in all circumstance, but also because, properly understood and applied, it would itself lead to a life without emotional perversion and sabotage. Surak’s treatises on mathematical logic and symbolic logic had captured Spock’s fascination from youth but the comparative study of formal logic contrasting the schools of Surak and Aristotle had not been a focus for him until this point. Now he wondered how he had possibly missed it.
Hylomorphism, Plato’s theory of forms. The theory that holds that what is seen in the normal dimension is corrupted through sensation and substance, and that the pure and highest form of reality is an abstract metaphysical ideal beside which substance is only shadow and copy. True knowledge is the ability to understand the Platonic ideal form, outside space, outside time.
Spock sat on the meditation mat and felt his mind empty. And into it, unbidden, came the hypothese:
Knowing yourself is the start of everything.
Therefore he, Spock, needed to know himself before he could advance his own knowledge.
The main schools of philosophy and of logic were of Earth and of Vulcan.
He, Spock, was of Earth and of Vulcan and therefore needed to understand both.
Therefore he needed to return to study before he could move forward.
Derivative study outside the purest form would always be diluted and distorted – real learning, in the manner of the Platonic ideal, could only take place in Gol.
Spock considered this train of thought. It was not a classic piece of syllogism. But it might be his truth.
He had started this process of self knowledge on the Seleya, but he knew it was incomplete and knew that he had somehow overlooked the options offered of learning about himself through the journeys of others – of others who were of both the races of his heritage.
Could he, Spock, go to Gol not because of his Vulcan heritage but because of his human blood – could he be the first human to achieve kolinahr? And what would that mean to the Accords, to the galaxy, to Vulcan?
It was relatively clear to Spock from Kirk’s message that Kirk did not truly know himself any more than Spock did. He, Spock, could understand quite clearly that Kirk was making a fatal error in relation to his future in the Admiralty. However, if Socrates was correct, Spock was incapable of helping Kirk before he had completed his own learning and understood his own self and his own future.
Kirk had said: The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise or Gol.
Spock conjured another syllogism in his head:
Serving under Kirk on the Enterprise appeared to be the only way back to Kirk.
In Iowa, he had persuaded Kirk that his return to the ship was the logical thing to do but neither of them had necessarily believed this, at heart.
There was no logic in going backwards.
Gol was going backwards to the start of all things and that might itself provide a way forward.
He knew that this, too, was not a true syllogism.
And then he remembered his other brush with Greek philosophy in recent years - the Platonians, Parmen, Philana, and the psychokinetic powers caused by the kironide diet. The utter distortion of the philosophy ideal; corrupted into the infliction of pain, humiliation and unwanted emotion. He remembered imprisonment at the side of the room, the terrible enforced weeping whilst Kirk had looked on, incapable of helping – and it somehow seemed to confirm his conclusion: that without a properly understood foundation of philosophical learning from all relevant sources and civilisations, the ability to help and support other individuals will always be limited. He and Kirk in Iowa had only been able to compromise on finding their way back to each other and he could now only watch from a distance while Kirk made the greatest mistake of his life.
What would it mean, instead, to be a true child of Plato?
“Sir,” Saredin said formally. They were facing each other, by prior agreement, on the bridge of the Seleya, surrounded by the bridge crew, all standing to attention. The viewer showed a pattern of stars and a distant view of Vulcan – curiously apt, Spock reflected, at the moment of his departure from an adult life spent on the bridge of starships like this one.
“Sir, I relieve you,” Saredin said. And Spock inclined his head.
“I am relieved, Captain. You and your crew go forward with the good wishes of Vulcan, of Starfleet and of course with my own congratulations and confidence in your future success.”
“Sir,” Saredin said. “It has been an honour and a privilege.”
Spock nodded once more, and turned to T’Mala, standing behind his shoulder. He lifted his hand in the ta’al and said, gravely
“Live long and prosper, Commander.”
“Live long and prosper, Captain Spock,” she said. “Your shuttle has been prepared and will be ready for departure in precisely thirty one minutes.”
And Spock left the bridge, Saredin at his shoulder. The turbolift lift doors closed gently behind them and the car took them through the ship, level by level, section by section, taking Spock from his first and last command - from the bridge, where he had discovered how to lead; past Engineering, where he had nearly died; and past a hundred other milestones of a ship which had been his own and yet never – quite – home.
Saredin followed him into his quarters and stood, immobile, while Spock collected a small personal bag, the rest of his possessions having already been taken to the shuttle by his yeoman. The room was entirely bare.
“You have made your decision.”
“I am travelling to my parents’ house to take my leave of them for the duration. The Masters at Gol are expecting me in three days’ time.”
With uncharacteristic hesitation, Saredin said, very slowly:
“What are you seeking at Gol, Captain? Are you certain of what it will offer you?”
Spock looked at him curiously. “We have discussed this. I believe it holds the answers to some of my questions. It is the logical next step on my journey.”
“My understanding is that the Masters will admit you to a school of learning which will impose itself over your current personal philosophy, Captain. They are less likely to answer any particular individual questions you will bring.”
Spock shut down the computer in his quarters with an oddly final sound and turned to look around the room one last time. There was nothing left, anywhere. It would have been unexpected had this not been the case.
“It will be what it will be, Captain,” he said mildly. “I do not intend to remain at Gol forever. I am expecting to acquire an understanding and knowledge to use as a tool going forward in other contexts, for the benefit of other purposes and other individuals.”
Saredin was silent.
The Masters at Gol were the guardians of the heritage of Vulcan and their purpose was sacred to Saredin and all important. Without their influence – on Vulcan culture in general, and specifically through the few individuals who studied there and returned to the open community – he and others believed that the corruption of Vulcan would be inevitable; its degeneration into yet another Federation colony with the loss of its unique traditions, nobility, logic and integrity.
Nevertheless, it was the case that he had arrived at the illogical and unexpected conclusion that Spock would not be best served by study at Gol. He had concluded, over the past eighteen point one three months, that Spock, by his mixed heritage and his own person, was a unique individual whose very dichotomy was his greatest asset and who would risk more than he knew he possessed by immersing himself in the monolithic learning that was Gol. It was probably the only mistake he had ever known Spock to make – and he was making it in part because Saredin himself, before reaching this conclusion, had made the original suggestion. And Saredin found himself, in this instance, not entirely comfortable with the notion of original causation.
However, Kirk’s message still sat, unanswered, in his inbox.
Kirk clearly entertained serious concerns about Spock’s personal safety. This, in itself, was a matter of note to Saredin, who knew that most of Kirk’s relationship with Spock had been carried out within the context of a command role which had involved both of them constantly being exposed to the significant probability of a failure to return from any one of hundreds of missions. And Kirk, given his history, was unlikely to scare easily, nor was he over-protective by nature. He had, however, unlike Saredin, read all the briefing material on the Mila situation – both the open and the encrypted reports. Saredin had only seen the open information. And it was after reading the encrypted material that Kirk had written to Saredin.
Kirk was an expert at writing between the lines and Saredin had no difficulty in reading them. He understood entirely that Spock might be in serious danger and that while it would be entirely clear to both Kirk and Saredin that this would not influence in the slightest (at least, not in any productive way) Spock’s own decision-making process, it might be a logical factor in the advice given by those who might be in a position to influence him. And that advice might be unpalatable to all of them, and most of all to Kirk. (Did Kirk entirely realise, Saredin wondered, what Gol would do to Spock – what sort of Spock – if any – would ever return to Kirk? Perhaps he did. In which case, he must be very worried. And it must matter to him very much.)
Gol might be the means of imprisoning Spock’s unique mind and of perverting him into something he was not and was not intended to be. It was also, however, the safest place in the sector, simply by virtue of its remote location and sheer unlikeliness. No one in their right minds would think of starting a fight at Gol.
Saredin’s solution to the dilemma presented to him by Spock’s choices and Kirk’s request was simply to do nothing. Spock would go to Gol. He, Saredin, had spent a short amount of time there himself, many years ago, and his understanding of the place therefore came from personal knowledge. He watched Spock shoulder his possessions and leave his quarters and thought that his former captain was unlikely to find what he was looking for.
Kirk recovered swiftly, noting that Kang was not surprised to see him and also that Mara stood off to one side, eyeing him warily. The Mila commander said:
“Captain, I believe you have met Commander Kang.”
“It is always a pleasure to see old friends,” Kirk said, cheerfully. “I trust I find you well, Kang. You are a long way from home.”
“Not as far as you, Captain,” Kang answered pointedly. “I am sorry that the situation has taken you so far off course when you must be tired and looking forward to relaxing in a well-earned retirement.”
Kirk bristled inwardly, as he knew was intended. Better get used to the shape of things to come. It would not irritate if he had accepted the situation himself, he knew. Outwardly, he said blandly
“And it’s good to know we have mutual friends. How long have you known Commander Milani?”
“We are relatively recent acquaintances,” Kang said, grinning. “But sometimes it’s possible for friendship to grow very rapidly. Do you believe in love at first sight, Captain?”
“It’s always good to reflect at leisure on true compatibility,” Kirk said. “Mara, it is a pleasure to see you, too,” he added, bowing.
Mara nodded to him, but he thought he saw a slight softening of her expression. He thought, more than ever, that he did not entirely understand what was going on; that what danger there was did not appear to reside in any of the obvious places. Kang and Mara could be here to make trouble, but somehow he thought not.
Out loud, he said:
“Commander Milani, I would be honoured to have a private word with you,” and again it was granted without trouble or resistance. The Klingons bowed and took their leave and he found himself, Sulu at his shoulder, facing Milani and his second in command, Millalo, across the table.
“Commander,” he began, “the Klingons –“ and Milani held up his hand.
“Captain , please. Perhaps I can explain. Your friend Kang harbours certain views about you and about the Federation, as I am sure you are aware. Please do not assume they are shared with the Mila – we may be unhappy about political developments in the light of past sufferings of our people, but we are capable of arriving at a balanced and rationale conclusion in terms of the most appropriate way forward at this point, and our discourse with you over the past days and weeks has been productive and reassuring and has aided us in this respect.”
“I see,” said Kirk. Nothing about Milani’s speech came as anything but a considerable relief to him except the fact that he had made it.
Or had he been too long in the job that he distrusted the ease of a quick result? Was it arrogance for him to insist that HQ was wrong, that he was the only person in the history of Starfleet who would not benefit from the natural progression of promotion, that he knew better about himself than his superiors, that he could best serve himself and the Federation by remaining forever on the bridge of a starship?
He knew that increasingly a large proportion of his thinking was based on intuition as much as logical decisions extrapolated from the close analysis of data. That was partly the way he operated but also the consequence of his relationship with Spock – certain approaches had, without speaking, been allocated between the two of them. He also knew that a starship – let alone sensitive political and military situations – cannot be run on intuition. Nothing about Mila 5 – no data, no reports, no consequences of a dozen meetings with senior military and civilian personnel – pointed to any serious continuing concern, and now Milani had virtually admitted to the underlying causes of the recent crisis – incitement to disaffection by the Klingons, and the Mila decision to ignore it. It all made sense and it all added up to an easy exit and a better sleep at night, not only for Kirk but for the whole of the quadrant.
The only place that was unlikely to rest as well was Kirk’s conscience, the small part of him that stubbornly resisted the acceptance of what seemed universally logical to everyone else, and which (very quietly and usually when Kirk was not listening) expressed in silence inside Kirk’s head the notion that, in other circumstances, the chance to share his thinking with an absent Vulcan might have led to a more robust addressing of those concerns by Kirk.
He and Sulu stayed with Milani and Millalo long enough for pleasantries and for assurances of continuing goodwill, and then beamed back to the ship. On the way back to the beam-up point, he deliberately detoured, not wanting to see Kang again and looking for every opportunity to see something different on the Mila planet – something which would solve the puzzle, relieve his worry, answer the nagging question – allow him to go home in peace. All seemed entirely normal. A large number of tall, fair Mila passed him with courteous nods as they went about their business. Doors opened and closed, voices rose and fell. Near the end, Kirk took a wrong turning and ended up back near the medical facilities he had visited earlier with McCoy and smiled to himself, remembering the doctor’s diatribe. And then he saw the thing he had last expected. A person’s back, turned to him, dark not fair and, without question, the back of a Vulcan male.
And at the same time, Milani appeared in front of him.
“Captain Kirk, we feared you had become lost.”
“And you’d be correct,” Kirk said, with a smile. “We are glad to be rescued, but it is always worthwhile to see more of your impressive facilities. I was unaware that you had any Vulcans on your planet.”
“Were you, Captain? You should not believe all the rhetoric. We may have political differences with the Vulcans but we are not animals. We have worked on cultural and scientific projects with the Vulcans for many years. This is Soltar. He came to us from Vulcan quite recently and has been of immeasurable assistance in one of our medical research projects.”
A Vulcan presence on Mila 5 – nothing in the reports had led him to expect this and Kirk could only take it as confirmation that whatever the Klingons had stirred up was transitory and not of lasting concern. Somewhere in Kirk’s mind he remembered a fragment of a recent message from Spock, something which might bear on Soltar’s presence here – but he reminded himself that intuition, without logic or data, only gets you so far.
They would stay at Mila 5 another month, in accordance with orders and with Kirk’s own conscience, but he was very sure he would find nothing else.
He dismissed Sulu, went to the bridge to receive reports, left Chekov with the con and took himself to his quarters. And there, sitting over a late night coffee in a mood half-contemplative, half-restless, he logged on to his computer and accessed the library material on Heraclitus.
With no one to watch, Kirk’s lips twisted in an ironic smile. He would prefer not to know very much about himself just now. And as for Spock – if this was where his quest was taking him, he wondered what answers he might find and what that would mean for the future.
He read on into the evening, in search partly of himself but mainly to see where Spock had gone.
Spock faced Saredin in the shuttle bay of the Seleya.
At a distance, the line of security guards stood respectfully to attention as their former commanding officer left the ship, eyes trained rigidly on the middle distance. Spock reflected both on the probability that they would be unable to hear anything he said to Saredin and also on an unresolved question which lingered in his mind – born of Kirk’s message and of Saredin’s words in his quarters. He did not entirely understand this question and, like Kirk facing a very different challenge a very long way away, he did not trust what he did not understand. And so, as he lifted his hand to Saredin in a final ta’al, a more personal farewell than his leave-taking on the bridge, he said:
“I have a request to make of you, Saredin.”
Saredin inclined his head. And Spock continued:
“If matters escalate with regard to the situation in the Mila 5 system or in any other way that may affect Vulcan in particular and perhaps affect other particular individuals in addition – if this happens, I would prefer to be contacted than left in ignorance.”
Saredin met Spock’s eyes and nodded again. He would make the promise, even though it gave Kirk the worst of all worlds. Kirk had wanted Spock safe – if absolutely necessary, at the cost of going to Gol. And Spock would go to Gol, but only until the danger came.
“Your request will be granted if within my power at the time,” he said. “Live long and prosper, Spock.”
And Spock turned and left the stars for his home planet.
He must be slipping. More than that, he must be getting old. Dear God - had he just stopped thinking?
Kirk sat in the apartment in San Francisco, the screen lit in front of him and his heart-rate pretending it was still on active service. The room around him was empty and faintly dim, Lori was out (with friends, she had said) and the very stillness seemed to accentuate the words on the screen, the walls swooping in, tunnel vision on that single word, the Vulcan name illuminated by the backlighting in the computer.
He sat quite still, his posture belying a brain suddenly on over-ride.
It wasn’t supposed to be exciting, this role. He knew perfectly well that Komack had asked him to take it on because he had thought it would be on a level with putting HR files in alphabetical order and he had accepted it because at some point in the past six months he had given up fighting. He thought that Komack knew that, scented blood, had forced the matter precisely because he could – and he’d been right. In that, too, he, Kirk, seemed to have become someone entirely different.
He sat at the table now, bolt upright, vibrating ever so slightly, the very adrenaline surge – the alert processing of six different thought streams simultaneously – stunningly familiar, conjuring back not only a starship bridge, a gold shirt, a view of distant stars – but his very skin, his own persona. When had he last felt like this?
Before the Halcyon, before the Seleya. Of course.
And after that – Gamma Fortuna and Delta Sector, Kor.
And Iowa? No, Iowa had been something entirely different.
Not the whole past year on Earth. No.
And the Mila mission? Not sure. He had been worried, of course, anxious about the future – his future and Spock’s. And the two questions had come together in that difficult decision which seemed at the time to answer his dilemma about Spock and allowed a graceful surrender for the sake of the Fleet but had closed the door on the only way of life he had ever truly wanted. And sitting at the table, for the very first time in over eighteen months, he thought: When did I ever give a shit about a graceful surrender for the sake of the Fleet? He must have temporarily lost the ability to think – to question, to challenge. And it was with that loss that he had gone to Mila 5.
He hadn’t pushed Milani, even though his inner instinct had been on red alert throughout the mission.
And he hadn’t questioned the presence of Soltar.
When a starship captain stops acting on instinct, it’s time to come home. He’d been right to give in, but for all the wrong reasons; in a topsy-turvy universe, he had somehow turned into the man who had retired from space because of that transformation.
With an audible groan, Kirk read back through the material on the screen, assimilating the details at lightning speed.
The Romulan-Vulcan Accords had brought their share, as always, of minority dissidents, ancient claims of damage or loss caused by one side against the other. Shortly after they were signed, a Romulan family came forward with the startling claim that they were descended from one of the first clans of Vulcan and, on this basis, alleged the right to inherit a very significant part of land of considerable value, not so far (Kirk had noted) from Spock’s family’s own estate, that desolate, sun-baked spot where Kirk had once so nearly lost his life. The claim eventually failed, but not before the actual issue of lineage had been proved – and the case had persuaded both governments to take steps to address the issue of compensation, by arranging a Commission for Claims (V/R) which, by constitution, required the membership of a flag Starfleet officer, by way of providing a neutral and balanced chair of proceedings. Kirk had agreed to take the role at a moment of personal crisis and all of his misgivings as to how it would play out had been fulfilled.
He had spent the first three months on Earth unable to find anything very much which rooted him. He had taken leave, visited family and friends, gone back to Iowa. As always, he found that none of this held him for long, and the farmhouse, whose solitary peace had always in the past provided the most sustaining of refuges he had found the most unsettling, managing by chance to visit just before Christmas, in a frozen white landscape with vivid memories of his most recent visit there, ten months previously. The firelit evening, chess and brandy, the aircar lifting in the snow and the never-quite settled question – had he made the right decision? In Iowa, or afterwards at Drachos? He knew from Saredin what had happened, knew Spock was in Gol, knew that he had nothing to offer the Vulcan here on Earth but also that, selfishly, he would have been making a better fist of adjustment with Spock at his side. He had no idea if the Vulcan would ever leave Gol – or, if he did, whether he would allow the resumption of any sort of friendship. There had been no communication and he had expected none – found himself hoping Spock was finding his own answers, but also fearing that it might mean a final loss for Kirk himself which was too hard to contemplate at that point.
He did not let himself contemplate the ironies of the past two years. The effort to give Spock the freedom of his own command; the struggle then to allow him to take an effective and unconventional demotion in order to return to Kirk; the permanent loss of Kirk’s own command in accordance with the conventionalities of linear career advancement – and all this left both Spock and him planetside, Spock at Gol, he at HQ, the most renowned command team in Starfleet, separate and grounded.
He had left Iowa after two nights and gone trekking in the Himalayas with Mike Harding.
On return, he had tried very hard to involve himself with the re-fitting of the Enterprise. This was bitter-sweet – his ship hung in dock, beached, dismembered – his initial feelings, on seeing her, had been less nostalgia than trauma. But Scotty’s welcome had been a home-coming, their shared enthralment with the proposed improvements an affair of entirely mutual satisfaction – Kirk had always known that his visceral, physical identification with his ship had been shared only with Scot. It was her deployment, her command which had brought him and Spock together.
He had thought that inveigling himself into the refitting process might help to shoe him into permanent involvement with what lay ahead for the Enterprise and, always in the distance ahead of him, the enticing, gossamer prospect of another term in command. But Starfleet, of course, were having none of that – he’d been allowed six weeks (enough time for the uprooting to hurt all over again, enough time for the team to benefit from the main thrust of his views on the refitting programme – whichever view you took) and he had then been firmly assigned to the xeno-psychology department at HQ. One of the few bright spots of his new world was working with Bob Wesley again – and Bob’s agreement with Kirk’s instinct that the Mila 5 situation had all the long term potential to present a really major threat – more serious even, in its way, than the Klingon-Romulan war. Wesley had been comforting on the subject of what Kirk’s options had been at the time that he’d been out at the Mila system (Kirk did not allow himself to be comforted, whilst still not really knowing what else he could have done) and had introduce Kirk to Lori Ciani, who headed up the team. Within a week, Lori had downloaded all the relevant data from the Mila 5 mission, had a team of analysts assigned to a close study of the Mila culture and psyche and had moved into Kirk’s apartment.
Wesley had taken them both out to a drink the first day and left himself after half an hour, with the clear look of a man who had done a good job. And he’d been right, Kirk thought now, sitting at the table in the dark – they had been good together. They’d had so much which was so very obvious in common – he’d loved, almost immediately, Lori’s intelligence, her quick-fire mind, her sense of humour, her drive – and that was before he’d started appreciating the physical aspects of their relationship, although if you’d blinked you have missed the gap in time between the appreciation of character and body. They’d been inseparable, at work and off-duty, in the early weeks; it had helped Kirk over the worst of readjustment and it had helped the Mila project, as well. He and Lori had fired off on each other in the department, seizing on each other’s ideas, building on each other’s suggestions, finishing each other’s sentences – no. Not that, not finishing sentences. He thought that might have been only with Spock.
In those first months, there had only been one false note struck – something Lori had said which had jarred horribly, disproportionately at the time, but which he had dismissed instantly, had not been prepared to discuss – had, in fact, as he remembered, simply rolled over in bed and initiated an entirely different sort of engagement with her, if rougher than usual, and she had complied more than happily, looked at him afterwards slightly differently as if enjoying the side benefits of his discomfort, and he had thought, briefly If only you knew.. and gone abruptly to sleep.
She’d said: “God, aren’t we lucky, Jim? We made it, we’re here, it’s so exciting, so good – and it’s only going to get better, all the way. And we’ll do it together. Aren’t we lucky? I thought I was lucky before. But it’s so much more fun with you.”
To which Kirk, suddenly contemplative, with the sudden hint of a truth he’d never offered her, had replied: “Thanks, Lori. I know you’re right; I know there’s a lot on offer, a lot that’s really important here. It’s not quite the Enterprise, but it’s helping.”
And she’d said, almost brusquely, “Come off it, Jim. You move on, you move up. No one with your potential stays at any stage forever. That’s what you’d say to your team, wouldn’t it be? Isn’t that, in fact, what you said to Commander Spock, according to Bob? And if you really don’t agree, why the hell did you accept promotion and why did he?”
It was the combination of the home truths, the utter lack of sentiment or understanding and, within that context, the casual and unexpected use of Spock’s name (he’d never mentioned Spock to her, what on earth had Bob said?). No, compassion was not Lori’s strong suit. She’d made a bee-line for Kirk on the basis of his invincibility, his strength, his command persona. She hadn’t bargained altogether for someone in need of healing – healing for which he had himself hated the need, healing which she was prepared to extend but which made him someone she hadn’t been expecting. It wasn’t her fault, any more than it was his. It took nothing away from the fact that without Lori, those early months would have been entirely unendurable.
To be fair to himself, he thought he had kept away from her the worst of it. Starfleet had provided him with transition counselling, which McCoy had suggested he accept and which he had laughed off and then became angry when McCoy said he was in denial. On one level, he knew McCoy had been right, but he could see no universe in which he was going to talk to a professional about what it had meant to him to lose his ship. He found himself unexpectedly irritable, true, he who had always been either calm and empowered or, very occasionally in a towering rage, but not subject to more petty moods. And he found that tranquillity eluded him completely. He was always restless, never sufficiently tired. He slept badly.
He even, to his horror, found himself subject to feelings of vertigo – of an overpowering loss of perspective, of losing the sense of who he was, of any significance at all attached to James Kirk – supposed it was what people meant when they talked about a fear of death. He had never understood this before – life was for living; the only important thing about death was to keep it at bay for as long as possible and give life all you had. But this must be what other people felt, what he had always dismissed – this feeling of time passing, the adrenaline surge that accompanied every upward glance (literal and metaphorical) beyond his immediate occupation, the panic that sometimes woke him at night with the message It’s over. It’s too late.
It had been too much, in the end. His gradual awareness of being in the wrong place – things getting worse, not better; adjustment more out of reach every day. Her poorly masked irritation with this. And all this night and day, at home and on the project. That was when he’d accepted Komack’s offer. He’d remained formally assigned to the Mila project but on a much more tangential basis, and he and Lori had seen very little of each other outside the apartment – and rather less of each other anywhere. Neither was quite prepared to call it a day, but an evening like this was not unusual; Lori out with friends, Kirk sitting working at a table and, between one sip of coffee and the next, his eyes fixed in shock on a single name.
It turned out that Soltar was the descendant, by two generations, of an off world liaison between a Vulcan woman of high birth and wealth and a Romulan military commander. Kirk’s eyebrows rose, wondering how that might have happened, in the universe before the Accords, with the hatred, suspicion and bitterness of those years of mutual silence. At the time the union supposedly took place, Vulcan was already post reform era, a beacon of civilisation and the galaxy’s leading light on learning, peace and culture. Whereas the Romulans...
He was falling into the same trap of prejudice. All that had been known of the Romulans during that time was based on prejudice and superstition – the erection of the Neutral Zone had permitted nothing else. And suddenly he remembered their own mission on the Enterprise – the Neutral Zone outposts destroyed, the Romulan bird of prey they had tracked, Tomlinson and Martine and the extraordinary bigotry which had manifested itself on his own bridge, directed by Stiles at Spock. Stiles – who was also carrying the anger and resentment of an ancient family loss. Kirk and the Romulan Commander had conceived a bizarre silent mutual respect, across the barrier of an intent to kill – that Commander had been a person whom he could imagine in the context of a liaison with a Vulcan princess. He had felt an odd loss when the bird of prey had self-destructed. And Tomlinson had died.
He brought himself back to the present. Soltar’s grandmother had been brought back to Vulcan by outraged relatives and given birth to a girl who had been rejected by Vulcan society and disinherited, along with her mother, from the family. The mother had died young and the child had grown up in poverty to a difficult life which had resulted in Soltar’s birth, father unknown and the mother dying shortly afterwards. Soltar had been taken into the system and repaired some of the damage of history, emerging as a leading research scientist who had graduated top of his class from the VSA.
And had now submitted a claim against both governments for his lost inheritance.
Soltar, last seen on Mila 5.
Milani had said, “He came to us from Vulcan quite recently and has been of immeasurable assistance in one of our medical research projects.”
What sort of medical research project? Working on an instinct which had been inexplicably dormant for far too long, Kirk’s mind went further back. He’d been teasing Spock about McCoy’s reaction to the Vulcan being reassigned to the Enterprise, and Spock had countered by suggesting that McCoy avoid him by transferring simultaneously to the Seleya. What had he said – what had he said? “The Chief Medical Officer of the Seleya has recently been promoted to a role at the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit.”
Which meant someone – someone – had left the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit eighteen months ago. The timing would work. Suppose Soltar, before he went to Mila, had held a role at the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit. The question was – the question was, Kirk thought, suddenly on his feet, chair falling back behind him – what sort of medical research project could be carried out for the authorities of Mila 5 by a former leading scientist at the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit who had every cause to hate Vulcan and who had demonstrated an extremely long memory for family history?
Lori Ciani, suddenly penitent for leaving Kirk looking though compensation claims while she ate out with a couple of old Academy friends, cut the evening short and came home, thinking to distract Kirk with a drink and perhaps a film or an early night. But it was clear, as soon as she entered the apartment, calling his name, that he was gone and the room was empty.
Sometime, Kirk thought, he would tell Bob Wesley what it had meant to him that he could burst into his apartment at 2300 hours with a wild tale about biological warfare in the Mila system and be taken seriously.
It wasn’t just the practicalities – that within twenty four hours a task force had been set up, Vulcan contacted, the Seleya assigned, Lori’s project absorbed into a top level, top priority military operation. It was being trusted, being given the respect of understanding and immediate implementation. Perhaps McCoy was right. Perhaps he should have agreed to counselling the year before. But Bob’s terse “Shit. How the hell did we miss that? OK, let me get to Nogura on this,” had been worth months of therapy, and he knew it.
In large part, however, Kirk ‘s evidence that he was back inside his own skin was precisely that he had suddenly no time for introspection, and beyond that grateful reflection his thoughts were focused entirely on Mila.
A scheme which involved Soltar had to mean a long term plan that went way beyond military posturing and put Soltar’s particular expertise in the very nerve centre (Kirk grimaced to himself at the metaphor) of the operation. It must have been put into place immediately after the peace process, before the Accords even. And there were real odds (Spock would be able to quote them, he thought suddenly, throat tight) of it involving a biological weapon, aimed against Vulcans – against Spock. What had Bob said, at Drachos – “Mila culture has a strong tendency to vengeance and honour-killing... There are suggestions that they hold Spock personally responsible for what has happened.”
He had been right about Mila all along – his instinct had been for Spock to go to Gol because he’d recognised the danger, without understanding it.
He just hadn’t taken it one step further – had allowed himself to be distracted by Kang and Mara – and wondered now if Milani had deliberately arranged to have them present, as a decoy for Kirk’s attention. Camouflage. It was nothing to do with the Klingons, never had been.
Nogura should take him round the back of the building and shoot him. What the hell had he been thinking of?
Oddly, the one person who appeared to agree with him was Lori. He had suggested, kindly and firmly, that they would both need as much time as was at their disposal on the Mila operation now, and that it was probably appropriate for her to move her things out so that she could base herself somewhere independently in a way that supported her own schedule. There had been no arguments or awkwardness but he had said, as she left,
“I’m sorry, Lori. If I’d done this differently, your team would have been working on a different premise, the past year.” And she’d looked at him straight and simply nodded in understanding. And then she’d said
“The important thing is to get it right now, Jim.” And had hesitated, and gone on “Whatever happens now, find time to work your own answer out – don’t mess it up like you did last time.” He’d been taken aback, not expecting that from her, then leaned forward and managed a kiss on the cheek and smiled to himself. Lori might be able to manage some unexpected understanding about his career choices, but she would never empathise with them. By working his way back to the front line, he would forfeit her interest in him, but that was OK. It wasn’t Lori he was supposed to be true to.
And then, the thing he had never expected, certainly never asked for, never worked towards.
Which didn’t mean, he thought to himself in all honesty, that if it had occurred to him he would necessarily have been able to resist.
Day three, Wesley had turned up at his apartment when Kirk was barely out of the shower in the morning. He accepted a coffee and sat in an easy chair, across from Kirk. He had the look of Santa Claus giving a child a longed-for present which Santa was less than convinced the child should have – some particularly unhealthy treat, perhaps – no, something more dangerous A chemistry experiment kit. Or a junior high school incendiary device.
He came straight to the point.
“The Seleya has requested the assignment of the Enterprise to this mission,” he said, eyes on Kirk’s face. Kirk looked up sharply, eyes widening.
“Is she ready? Last report I had from Scotty...”
“... must have been yet another of those you were not supposed to receive,” Wesley said, drily. “At what point were you planning to accept the fact that for the past twelve months or so you’ve actually been assigned somewhere else, and that you are not on the team overseeing the refit?”
He grinned, rather awkwardly; said nothing.
Wesley went on.
“Well, if you’ve read the report, you’ll know she’s essentially ready to go. She could do with a bit more testing and I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend too many nights in the VIP quarters, but much of that can be fixed en route or frankly doesn’t really matter. What do you think, Jim?”
“Me? Whatever you may think, I haven’t actually seen the latest spec. Why does the Seleya want the Enterprise? And have you asked Scotty?”
“I’m asking you,” Wesley said, slowly, “because Saredin has specifically requested the Enterprise under your command.”
He choked on the coffee; the room stilled; his heart lurched, and he fought to keep his reaction off his face, said nothing for fear of betraying himself.
Wesley shook his head, half amused.
“You don’t fool me, Jim. I could ask you a dozen things about whether this is sensible and whether it’s the right thing and whether you think you’re the right man for the job. But the truth is that Saredin asked for you and that you’re married to the damn warp core, so it’s a waste of breath I may as well keep for other things. I think you’re damn lucky, if you want to know, luckier than you deserve. But, if you push me to it, I’ll admit to being happy for you. Just get her out there and sort this, Jim. I have a nasty feeling in my gut – nasty enough that, at the end of the day, I’m glad it’s you, glad you’re going.” He drained the coffee, stood.
“I’ll leave you to pack, shall I? I’ll come and see you off, later.”
And left, leaving Kirk still sitting in the same chair he had sat down in five minutes earlier in a different universe.
“I don’t have a First Officer,” Kirk said, wondering how often he’d said those words in the past eighteen months.
“Go with what you’ve got,” Wesley said, briefly. “We’ve not got time to replace Sonak now. And, in any case, Starfleet and Vulcan are both quite adamant that you should have a Vulcan on board – it’s partly a political thing and partly because of the nature of the mission. It won’t look great for us to follow up the accident with Sonak with the immediate appointment of a human First Officer. We’re less than an hour off scheduled departure time now, Jim. You managed before.”
“Starfleet will ratify any field promotions,” Kirk quoted.
“You got it,” Wesley said. They were standing in the transporter room, technicians all over them, a sombre-looking Scotty behind the console in close confabulation with Kyle. And, even in that minute, he took time to wonder at how so many old faces had found their way back to this new Enterprise facing a new threat but with all of the old command crew. Well, nearly all the old command crew.
Someday, he would let this all sink in and add up what it meant to him. If they all survived.
The wall communicator beeped; it was Uhura.
“Captain, Dr McCoy is signalling that he is ready to beam up.”
Kirk allowed a wave of pure pleasure to wash over him and Wesley smiled.
“I wouldn’t want to spoil the reunion,” he said. “Beam me back as you pick up McCoy. And then you’re out of time. Good luck, Jim. We’ll speak.” A hand-clasp, tinged with guilt on Kirk’s part. Where would he be without Wesley? He had never found any way to thank him for anything. And now he was letting him go without regret because the other side of that farewell lay McCoy and departure to the stars. Wesley looked into his face and shook his head, ever so slightly, as if in denial of what he found there, and stepped briskly up to the transporter platform, with all the appearance of a man who had managed effortlessly to forget what had appeared on the HQ platform when what had once been Commander Sonak had been retrieved from the ill-fated attempt to beam aboard the ship.
There was the whine of the transporter – blessedly normal in pitch – and McCoy appeared.
The two looked at each other.
McCoy’s lips twitched.
“So, you ever get that therapy I suggested?”
“Good to see you, too” Kirk returned, blandly.
“That means no. So I have to deal with an unknown xenobiological emergency, a ship that’s reputedly physically unsafe and, just to top things up, an unstable mixed-up CO.”
Kirk stretched out his hand and held McCoy’s between both of his. The newly reappointed CMO leaned forward and said, very quietly,
“Is Spock still in Gol?”
Kirk stepped back and met the blue eyes. For all the ancient crossfire between Spock and McCoy, it was only here that he found the same instinctive concern for the Vulcan’s well being that he bore himself. After the past year on Earth, it felt like an odd relief to be with someone who understood. He nodded.
“To the best of my belief.”
“And is that safe?”
“Only as safe as we can make it. ETD twenty minutes. Let’s go, Bones. I have a rendezvous with the Seleya to make.”
Nothing brought the past back with quite so much force as the sight of the Seleya in the main viewer. He remembered the dilithium project in Gamma Sector and wondered, suddenly, how Leo Santini was doing.
It was oddly pleasurable to greet Saredin in the Enterprise transporter room, and he hoped his smile said so, offering the ta’al and remembering, as he did so, that the last time he had seen the Vulcan face to face had been when Saredin had visited him in sickbay, after he and Spock had returned from Gamma Fortuna. After the Copernicus.
“Captain, welcome aboard. I hope I see you well. And it’s good to have the opportunity to offer you belated congratulations in person on your promotion.”
“Captain Kirk,” Saredin nodded. “We are grateful for your assistance in this matter – Starfleet’s and yours personally – and that it has been possible for the Enterprise to be assigned with such speed.”
Kirk eyed him up, wondering (as he had done several times in the past few days) what had been behind Saredin’s request for his personal assignment to the mission. Of course, his own involvement with the Mila situation, both through the last mission of the Enterprise and through Lori Ciani’s xeno-psychology project, made him an obvious candidate and meant that he could add real value in a critical emergency. His acquaintance with Saredin, previous partnership with the Seleya and knowledge of Vulcan also made him a natural choice on any reckoning. He remembered, though, Saredin’s extraordinary dialogue in the sickbay of the Seleya, his deliberate strategy to attempt reconciliation between Spock and Kirk; his admission to Kirk of his motivation which had led Kirk subsequently to trust him to support Spock in a decision, after Drachos, that would mean the Vulcan’s safety – and he wondered whether an awareness of his own unhappy situation could have played a part in Saredin’s intervention. He suspected very strongly that he would never know the answer.
He found himself sorry not to see T’Mala. And thought back with wry irony to the start of the first mission with the Seleya, two and a half years previously and how improbable his current sentiments would have seemed then.
He took Saredin to briefing room three, pulled out a chair and said:
“We’ll need to ensure that we’re fully up to speed on each other’s thinking, Captain – now and going forward. You’ll have received all the files from Admiral Ciani and we’ve downloaded what you’ve made available – my team are going through them now. But I think we need an early opportunity to sit round the table on this. It’s not just about data, it’s about using all the expertise we have to work out together and not separately where we are going.”
“Your tactics are logical and I agree would be the most effective use of resources, Captain,” Saredin said. “My suggestion is that, while it is of the highest priority to ensure an urgent course to the Mila 5 system, it would be proportionate to delay for twenty four Earth hours by stopping at Vulcan. It is directly in our path and would enable both of us to confer with the VSA experts and learn their views. We would also be able, at first hand, to consider Soltar’s areas of work while he was in post at the VXU.”
Kirk nodded, briskly.
“Agreed. It might be an opportune moment, as well, to consider the staffing of the Enterprise bridge crew.”
Saredin gave him an odd look.
“For what purpose?”
Kirk ran a hand through his hair.
“You’ll be aware of the accident we had with the ship’s transporters prior to departure. I wrote to the VSA about Commander Sonak – I need hardly tell you, Captain, what a loss that is to us as well as to Vulcan. I have been told, however, that Starfleet and Vulcan would both prefer the Enterprise to include at least one Vulcan crew member, and in an ideal world I would comply. I wondered whether one of your crew might be interested in a secondment, for the duration. There might also be someone at the VSA who might be suitable – I don’t know.”
Saredin steepled his fingers in a gesture oddly reminiscent of another Vulcan and was briefly silent. He then deliberately raised his head and looked straight at Kirk.
“Captain, our deliberations over a conference at Vulcan would not have necessitated my presence on your ship. It might at this stage be appropriate for me to disclose my objective in transporting here and to place at your discretion the fulfilment of an obligation into which I entered eighteen point three months previously.”
Kirk looked utterly blank. He sensed that what Saredin was saying was significant, possibly even personally significant but he had no sense of what it was. So he waited, saying nothing, and was caught unawares when Saredin, evidently realising the need for a direct approach, said:
“When Captain Spock departed from the Seleya for Gol, he asked that he should be informed in the event of any developments in relation to Mila 5 which might threaten the safety of Vulcan or of particular individuals.”
“Informed... which individuals?”
“He was not specific.”
He put a hand up to his forehead, rubbed it.
“You are suggesting that we tell Spock what is going on – to what purpose?”
“I am suggesting nothing. I am informing you of a request made by Captain Spock to which I acceded.”
“You agreed to tell him?”
“Then why ask me?”
Uncharacteristically, Saredin hesitated.
“The conversation with the captain took place within the context of dialogue sustained following a request you made to me to attempt to ensure his personal safety. You might reasonably feel that this objective had not been achieved if the captain were in any way encouraged or enabled to leave Gol at this point.”
“Damn right,” Kirk said, without thinking. Saredin raised an eyebrow.
“It is, however, nevertheless the case that I acceded to his request.”
Which makes it your problem not mine, thought Kirk. But it wasn’t true. It was both their problem and in bringing it to him Saredin had acknowledged that in a way which moved Kirk for reasons which might take him more time to unpick than he had at his disposal.
“Why not,” he asked, softly, “just go tell him yourself?”
And Saredin looked at him full in the face. He said:
“There is no logic in an approach from me which suggests to Captain Spock that, should he wish it, a role exists for him in facing the Mila crisis. No such role exists on the Seleya. A role does exist on the Enterprise.”
He would never take life for granted again. A week ago, he had been grounded on Earth, frustrated, unempowered, homesick. Now, back on the bridge of a starship – his ship – and he was facing Saredin across a briefing table with the Vulcan calmly suggesting that he invite Spock back to the Enterprise as his First Officer. After all this time.
He found himself realising that it was three years since that farewell handclasp on a distant Christmas Day – three years since Spock had left the Enterprise. Nearly two since Iowa, when they had last met.
Much as he had on Iowa, but for very different reasons, he let himself taste, very briefly, what it would mean to agree, just to let it happen – and then came back to reality.
“But Spock has made his choice. And safety is still an issue – more of an issue. He is almost certainly the target of the Mila operation, whatever it is. His presence on the Enterprise could expose him to terrible danger – and could jeopardise the mission.”
“Perhaps,” Saredin said. “I suggest, Captain, that while the danger remains an unknown quantity, it is illogical to speculate on the best course of action in relation to Captain Spock’s personal whereabouts. It is conceivable that, given his significance to the Mila, his personal engagement at the heart of the operation may be to the advantage of our joint mission. Further, Spock is ultimately responsible for his own safety and made a direct request to me in the full knowledge of the consequences of that request. In the circumstances, I consider myself absolved from the obligation to take further action in that regard, since his deployment on this ship is not under my control and our agreement was expressed at the time to be subject to what lay within my power. I look forward to seeing you at Vulcan, Captain, and to our future partnership. If you are in agreement, I need no accompaniment to the transporter.”
And Kirk was left alone at the briefing room table.
For all that the Vulcan Science Academy had come to signify to Kirk, he had never actually had reason to visit the daunting building, to walk beyond the austere facade, known to him from countless holo-displays and news items. The VSA had registered first in his life in the early months of the five year mission, once he and Spock had ceased regarding each other from a wary distance and had dropped overt distrust – somewhere around late Stage Two, when Kirk had been sufficiently curious about his Vulcan First Officer to want to know more about what had taken him to Starfleet Academy – and to have the courage to ask. The answer had been readily forthcoming but not overly full in detail , that had come later. And Kirk had come to understand the faultline behind Spock’s own daunting facade – the early rejection behind the brilliance, the inner conflict which underlay the integrity.
Kirk, being Kirk, had from that point started to develop an opinion of the VSA which was less than flattering and which he chose not to share openly with Spock, on the basis of a strong, if not entirely understood, feeling that his anger was irrelevant and unhelpful. However, it was the strength of his reaction which showed Kirk how far he had moved from Stage One, and opened the door to Stage Three.
He had allowed something of his own facade to drop when the VSA had originally offered Spock the Seleya. He remembered the scene in Spock’s old quarters on the Enterprise, three years ago now – Spock’s voice, level as always but betraying a wealth of history if you happened to have made a study of it and knew how to listen “It is, in fact, the first time they have contacted me directly since I joined Starfleet” and he himself had been sufficiently angry – and frightened – to say “They are remembering your value because they want something.” But it hadn’t helped, and Spock had gone, anyway, and that was when everything had changed, and changed forever. Hadn’t it?
From the time of the signing of the Accords onwards, he had done his best to think of the VSA as being on his side and tried to smother the feeling of unseemly joy when Spock had turned down a prestigious role there. And now he came as ally, potentially as saviour, but with Saredin, not Spock at his side – not a situation he had ever envisaged. Life was a funny thing.
He had had a long talk with McCoy before beaming down. McCoy’s contribution to the mission was vital – it was his unparalleled experience of Vulcan biology as a Starfleet medic that made him uniquely qualified for the mission and had not only persuaded HQ to release him from his current assignment to join the Enterprise but also, Kirk suspected, given his own long term friendship and partnership with his CMO, helped to swing the decision to agree to his own command of the mission. In an emergency response, all things being equal, Fleet protocol always favoured established teams, it was one of their strengths – the understanding of the significance of the human element; the fact that effective and proven teamwork and rapport could get you further than specific technical skill and experience. And, of course, he and McCoy had both.
What McCoy needed to understand was the importance of the diplomatic element. The Georgian was very far from being a fool and, despite his own love of self-caricature, Kirk knew he could trust him to bite his tongue 95% of the time. 5%, however, particularly now, was not an acceptable margin of error.
“Don’t worry, Jim, I won’t say anything about pointy ears and computers, if that’s what’s biting you,” McCoy drawled. “Besides, there’s no way you’re leaving me behind from a trip to the VSA. I hear that place is more fun than the theme park on Fabian 6.”
“Right,” Kirk said, drily, “and that’s supposed to fill me with confidence, is it?”
“Seventeen sets of Accords signed in triplicate are not going to persuade me that denying fundamental parts of your psychological make-up is a sensible way to live,” came the inevitable growl. “Besides, you and I know what they’re responsible for on a personal level – Spock wouldn’t be half so screwed up if he’d come from a place which knew how to bring kids up properly and which practiced what they preached and which respected people from other races – diversity, my foot – OK, Jim, keep your hair on. None of this means I approve of your friend Milani, either. I’ll keep my views to myself, don’t worry. Just keep me away from Saredin.”
“He’s not so bad, you know,” Kirk said, uncomfortably, “once you get to know him.”
“Like I once told you, Captain,” McCoy said, affably, “the man’s an idiot. I only spent time on Spock because I thought there was hope there. I know when not to bother. Plus, Saredin’s the only person I’ve ever met who manages to think in terms of calculus and still stoop to manipulation, which I always thought was a good old human disease. You planning on going to Gol, Jim?”
He was silent, for a minute. He had repeated to McCoy Saredin’s extraordinary suggestion and been entirely unsurprised by the doctor’s angry reaction.
“No,” he said, slowly. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re seeing sense,” McCoy grunted. “If that’s all, Captain, I’ll get ready to beam down.”
He walked now into the main chamber flanked by Saredin and McCoy and lifted his hand in the ta’al as he reached the semi circle of Vulcans standing around the glass table. Behind them, tall windows gave vistas onto harsh desert. It occurred to him that Vulcan culture was based in great part in silence, a tranquillity born of a culture which imposed logic and restraint but was also surrounded by sand and rock. How different from the noise of Earth’s water and its riotous hubbub of flora and fauna; what an adjustment it must have meant for Spock, as a young adult, studying at the Academy. Although, in fact, the last time he had seen Spock it had also been in silence, the muffled quiet of snow.
Sevonal, current First Commissioner of the VSA, standing slightly apart, half a head taller than his colleagues. A quiet, dignified nod to the off-world party, an answering ta’al. The Commissioner stepped forward to take a seat at the centre of the table and waited there, absolutely still. One by one, the other Vulcans followed suit with a salute before they seated themselves.
Unfamiliar, sober faces, dark eyes, features which had so long said Spock to Kirk, who had now been separated from Spock for so long that he could see a Vulcan without even necessarily thinking of his erstwhile First Officer, let alone mistaking the back of a head or the sweep of an ear for his friend, or instinctively wanting to tease, to provoke the severity, to challenge the mask.
Just for once, Kirk thought to himself, they were right to be serious. God knows there was little enough to joke about.
Some familiar faces, among the unknown. He smiled as he saw T’Mala – smiled in simple pleasure and in the knowledge that it would not be returned or understood but rejecting the need to pretend not to acknowledge previous shared understanding. He was entirely correct – the overt display of recognition was not returned, and T’Mala stepped forward to sit down, at which point Kirk’s eyes went automatically to the next face, which was immediately familiar to Kirk – not a face he had ever thought or, frankly, hoped to see again, so jarring and unexpected in this setting that his eyes and brain slid straight past, looking away while the face’s owner sat down next to T’Mala, and went immediately on to the next and last person present.
Sarek, of course.
And, with Sarek’s courteous acknowledgement, it seemed it was time for Saredin, McCoy and him to sit down themselves, facing the Council, and the meeting began.
He let the technical details wash over to him, to an extent. He heard McCoy, at his side, engaging with profound and respectful focus with T’Mala and two of the research scientists present, thought “Thank you” but knew, in fact, that McCoy was making no special effort – that much of his expostulation about the VSA had been for effect only. McCoy would be the first to say that he was a doctor, not a political lobbyist. He was here, heart and soul, to find an answer – any answer – the answer - to the unknown threat posted half a galaxy away, and was far too engrossed in discourse with minds which might be alien to him in every respect but this (the pursuit of scientific knowledge in the cause of the endless fight against disease and death) to engage in the otherwise tempting distractions of politically incorrect Vulcan-baiting.
“Commissioner, Dr McCoy’s advice presents the possibility of an unexplored theory which, combined with the knowledge we already have of Soltar’s research, could profitably be tested in laboratory conditions before being brought back to this conference. May we have your permission to withdraw for a short period of time?”
Sevonal nodded. T’Mala, the two scientists and McCoy left the room and Sarek said:
“Time is very short, Admiral. When are you intending to depart from Vulcan?”
“ ‘Captain’,” he corrected. “I’ve taken a temporary demotion in rank. Our schedule allows us twenty four hours, Ambassador. We are aware of the urgency but we believed that there would be a real value in sharing ideas here first, and that seems to have been justified.”
“Are you proposing to share your plans with us?”
Kirk traded a quick glance with Saredin and said: “In broad terms, we are planning to head out to Mila as quickly as we can. There is unlikely to be any element of surprise, but any threat to Vulcan can more effectively be met as far away from here as possible. In the meantime, Starfleet is scrambling a larger task force which will follow.”
“Captain Kirk, Vulcan acknowledges and appreciates the efforts made by Starfleet and by you in this regard. We are also desirous that our own institute should not fail to play its part in this important endeavour. We stand ready to send some of our number with you, in order that the danger is shared wherever it is met and in order to ensure that our knowledge and expertise goes with you. Commander T’Mala is one possibility. My aide, Sub-Commissioner Stonn, is another.”
Well, that wasn’t going to happen.
Kirk said, very carefully indeed, mindful of Saredin at his side and his original suggestion to Saredin that he enlist a First Officer from Vulcan (his mind briefly considered the ludicrous possibility of substituting Stonn for Spock and instantly shied helplessly away from an ask too far)
“Commissioner, your suggestion honours us and is consistent with my own preferences. At the same time, it is evident that the danger to your own people will be greater than that to non Vulcans, and the choice will have to be made very carefully, and on the basis of the relevant expertise of the individuals concerned.”
“That is readily understood,” Sevonal said. “Perhaps you would care to take some refreshments while we await the return of Commander T’Mala. Stonn will accompany you and you may wish to refresh yourselves.”
With little choice, Kirk nodded and stood, with Saredin, to leave the room, wondering if everyone else was aware of his previous encounter with Sevonal’s aide. Obviously, Sarek would be. Were these things even discussed in Vulcan society? He couldn’t quite imagine what Vulcan gossip looked like. But then, there was quite a lot about the current situation which he couldn’t quite imagine; it still seemed to be happening.
He accepted a cup of what tasted like the Vulcan equivalent of tea and which brought back with a rush countless evenings spent in Spock’s quarters - he’d forgotten the taste, which was subtle but distinctive. And turned to talk to Sarek, thinking that it would protect him from talking to Stonn, storing away for private enjoyment sometime with McCoy the fact that there were certain circumstances in which shooting the breeze with Spock’s father was the preferable alternative to other things on offer.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Sarek said:
“I am gratified that Starfleet has chosen you to lead this mission, Captain. It was a logical choice and one with which I, had I been consulted, would have concurred.” Kirk said nothing but smiled slightly, unexpectedly warmed by a lot more than the tea, despite the inherent unlikelihood of Nogura checking in with Sarek before ratifying his appointment. Sarek went on,
“I seek a favour, Captain.” Kirk raised his eyebrow, inviting what Sarek’s son would have called specification and wondering if this favour was likely to relate to the said son. But it didn’t.
“I appreciate that time is short and your mission is more than pressing. However, my wife would appreciate the privilege of a few words with you before you leave. She is spending the morning at the Academy and will be available for a brief conversation when the conference is over.”
Surprised but pleasantly so, Kirk nodded, quickly.
“It would be an honour.” And looked over Sarek’s shoulder to see Stonn approaching them.
“The Commissioner has asked if you would return to the conference chamber,” the Sub-Commissioner said, in a voice last heard on a sun-baked day Kirk had done his unsuccessful best ever since to forget. And he followed the two Vulcans back to the table, wondering all over again about T’Pring’s choice, about whether it had made her happy and about why he, Kirk, was capable of even thinking about this when he was supposed to be busy saving Stonn’s planet.
All thought was wiped from his mind by what T’Mala had to report.
“Dr McCoy’s theories appear to have been borne out by work currently being tested in the level two medical research laboratories,” she said. Kirk remembered Spock saying she had a bond-mate stationed on Vulcan. He hoped she was happy. He knew Vulcans were never happy but he thought T’Mala deserved it, even so. It was good to see her here, with the recognition of a place around the inner table in national crisis – well, it would have been under any circumstances but these. The next thing she said, in her normal, level, expressionless tone, took his breath away.
“We have surmised since learning of his connection with the Mila that Soltar’s research will have enabled the Mila, using the very sophisticated research facilities which we know they possess, to develop a form of biological warfare with the purpose of inflicting maximum damage on the Vulcan people. What we currently know about Soltar’s work is in large part conjecture, though it may be corroborated by evidence of studies he carried out in the Xenomedical Unit and by certain recent political dynamics lending apparent motivation to engagement in hypothetical areas of research. With that caveat in mind, we suspect that the Mila have been working to produce a device which will artificially stimulate the spread of unknown epidemic or epidemics on Vulcan. Logically, such epidemics would be either fatal or permanently disabling, in order to be deemed deserving of the necessary expenditure of resources and effort.
“Dr McCoy has been able to confirm, with his particular experience of the contrasts between Vulcan and Human biology, that Soltar’s research indicates an attempt to develop a virus from which human beings would be immune but would carry with the potential to infect others.”
A tableful of Vulcans and one human looked back, assimilating this knowledge.
It’s not that humans will be immune that matters, Kirk thought. It’s why. Why would you deliberately develop a virus to which other races are immune but would carry? Only possible answer – because it isn’t actually in your interests to wipe out the galaxy – and, more importantly, that dead people are ineffective at spreading contagion, at least outside their immediate vicinity, because they don’t move. They want to use humans to carry this disease to Vulcans. And that means they are planning to do this remotely – that it’s sufficiently aggressive that it’s not going to be about mounting an invasion and planting virus-bearing devices in the VSA – they are going to sit back and spread plague waves across the galaxy.
“There is a remote but theoretical possibility that the Mila may use, or may have already used, certain aspects of Soltar’s work to develop a methodology of spreading contagion through nebulous matter which can be released through space whilst retaining protection for the virus for short periods of time – perhaps sufficient to bridge the distance between two solar systems.”
Another pause, while Kirk instinctively sought McCoy’s eyes and flinched at the sober nod. Did that mean that a silent plague could already be creeping to Vulcan from the Mila system – silent because so far all that had happened was the infection of races who would suffer no symptoms but bring the disease ever closer to its target? He thought he saw in his friend’s face that he was right.
Surely, that was as bad as it got – T’Mala could sit down. But she was continuing:
“We do not know the precise symptoms of this putative virus and cannot know without further information or, indeed, infection. However, it may be logical to conclude that possibilities include the manifestation of disabling or destructive effects on aspects of biology particularly unique to Vulcans.”
Kirk stared blankly, as T’Mala finally - thank God – sat down. He was unspeakably grateful that there appeared to be no more catastrophically bad news to report. On the other hand, there was quite sufficient already.
What were aspects of biology unique to Vulcans? Touch telepathy, he thought, bleakly. Copper based blood. Blood and thought. Oh God.
He said to Saredin:
“I have to speak to the Ambassador’s wife, quickly. Then I’ll beam up. We need to talk, you and I.”
“Are you aware that the Commissioner is expecting you to take either Commander T’Mala or Sub-Commissioner Stonn with you, Captain?”
“He may be,” Kirk said, bluntly. “But I can’t possibly take either of them, and frankly we need to discuss the continued assignment of the Seleya to this task force, Captain. Neither you, nor any of your crew should be anywhere near the Mila. It’s not safe for you and it could jeopardise the entire mission.”
“You will be aware, Captain, that the politics of the situation will require Vulcan participation in the effort which is deployed to protect this planet.”
Kirk considered and dismissed an extremely impolite epithet in relation to the politics of the situation. He came nearer to Saredin.
“Look, Saredin. I have far too much respect for you not to believe that you can do better than that. We may be talking about the lives of your entire crew. Of your own life. It’s not worth the risk.”
Saredin said, steadily
“Captain, you are on record as the most habitual risk-taker in Starfleet. Risk alone is rarely a sufficient reason to avoid particular initiatives. In this instance, the risk is unquantifiable, to a large extent. Further, there is a separate risk which attaches to the eventuality of the Enterprise approaching the Mila alone.”
“I’ll agree that we can continue to review the question of precisely when the Seleya should turn back,” he conceded. “But there are two conditions, Saredin. And I am imposing these as mission commander. When the risk presents as sufficiently strong (we can discuss an appropriate threshold, but not in any way that doesn’t leave me room to exercise reasonable discretion) you will take the Seleya back – is that understood?”
Saredin nodded slowly. “Agreed. And your other condition?”
“I am not taking any Vulcans on my ship. Not T’Mala, not Stonn and certainly not Spock. I want to know that, if necessary, I can go deep into Mila space and know we are not vulnerable to whatever virus they may have developed.”
“There may be a political necessity to be balanced in this instance, Captain,” Saredin warned. “Vulcan will want to see at least a minimum participation in the task force. If the Seleya withdraws, the presence either of a single or a very small number of Vulcans on board the Enterprise would be a smaller risk in terms of the number of lives concerned and it might present you with a necessary resource in terms of future developments.”
The logic was inescapable, but it didn’t make the prospect any more attractive. He thought of T’Mala on the original Seleya mission, her kindness to Leo Santini, Spock’s reference to her bondmate – and said, abruptly,
“I’ll take Stonn.”
“I will inform the Commissioner.” There was a slight pause, during which Kirk looked up and found Saredin waiting for him expectantly. He said
“Amanda is waiting for me.”
“Have you decided not to contact Gol?”
Which meant, of course, that Saredin thought he should. He remembered Saredin’s promise to Spock; if he, Kirk, did not go to Gol, that promise was broken. Which wasn’t really Kirk’s problem, was it?
At the back of his mind, in the last half hour of the conference, he had been aware, despite his decision not to go to Gol, of two entirely different trains of thought about Spock.
The first was an enormous, overwhelming relief that the Vulcan was at Gol. He knew this relief to be flawed, knew that Gol might provide absolutely no protection in the long run (or even sooner than that), knew also that there was no room here for personal considerations and that the fate of countless millions of Vulcans was of infinitely greater significance than that of one student disciple at Gol with an unusual penchant for chess and guava juice.
The second was a very different feeling – and, moreover, directly contradicted the first. He felt a definite unease, which grew as the conversation went on, as T’Mala provided details of research findings and as the faces around the table nodded, as further suggestions were offered and as the dialogue spiralled into medical technicalities where Kirk was content to let McCoy lead while he followed as best he could. And as Stonn joined in the debate. Among other things, the reason Stonn was included in the conference turned out to be that he had worked previously with Soltar and was able to offer insights into some of his research which were clearly going to be of value – another argument for taking him on the Enterprise. (Kirk was prepared to admit, but only in the privacy of his own thoughts, that the fact that Stonn had been instrumental in the ending of Spock’s marriage and in the endangerment of his own life was possibly not the most robust of reasons for allowing him to risk joining the Enterprise as she travelled towards possible space-borne death.)
Kirk’s gathering unease was born of an awareness of the missing face round the table. True, Spock had chosen of his own volition to go to Gol. But he had also asked to be notified in the event of the escalation of danger – surely nothing could so closely match as did the current situation the scenario which must have been in Spock’s thoughts when he extracted that promise from Saredin? Kirk had spent the first year of the three he had spent without Spock learning the hard way to grant Spock his independence – not to patronise him and not to regard him as being, in some way, at his – Kirk’s – own disposal. What was he doing now, if not that? Did he actually have the right to protect Spock, or was he somehow disenfranchising him? Here he sat - round a table in Spock’s own home planet, with Spock’s father and Spock’s former First Officer, discussing a threat which all of them knew was aimed generically at Vulcan and specifically at Spock, and none of them once mentioned his name. Somehow, the very fact that T’Pring’s bondmate was able to contribute his views and Spock was not was the single most surreal aspect of the debate which shook Kirk’s faith in the decision which had earlier seemed so obvious.
Saredin was waiting for an answer and he fell back on the easy one.
“There’s just no time to go to Gol, Captain. I have to see Amanda now. I will call you from the Enterprise.”
She looked just the same as she had when he had last seen her, when she and Sarek had left the ship after the ill-fated journey to Babel and the admission of Coridan to the Federation. It made him wonder, fancifully, if living among Vulcans, with their elongated life spans, slowed the ageing process, as though in sympathy.
She did, however, look strained.
“Captain Kirk, it is good of you to spare me some of your time – I know you are very busy.”
He bowed slightly and smiled warmly.
“It is a pleasure. I hope you are well?”
“I’m fine, fine.” She hesitated, and then went on, “You don’t have time for formalities, I know. And I also know you’ll understand I wanted to speak to you about Spock.”
Well, yes, that had rather been his assumption. However, just now, everyone wanted to speak to him about Spock. It had been something of a theme for the three years they had been apart.
“Have you heard from him?”
She laughed, not a very happy sound.
“No. Gol is not the sort of place you write home from, Captain.”
He stared at her, trying to understand what she might feel about having a son at Gol, what she might want from him, now – but she was right, they had no time for this. Ignoring protocol, he reached out, touched her elbow and drew her to one side, sat them both down.
“Look – you once asked me to call you Amanda.” She nodded, eyes on his. “Amanda, then. Tell me what you want, why you wanted to speak to me, what I can do to help.”
She said, simply
“I want you to take Spock out of Gol.”
Well, he had asked her to tell him; he couldn’t fault her for lack of directness. It even came as something of a relief. Of course, it would make it harder to say no, to turn away from that appeal, an odd sadness behind the eyes – wouldn’t it?
“To quote your son,” he said, carefully, trying for a light note, “perhaps you could elucidate.”
“I am proud of my son. Whatever he does, whatever road he goes down and whatever he turns into, I will always be proud of him,” she said, still looking at him directly. “But I have never thought that Gol would give him what he’s looking for. I know why he went, but in a way that made it worse. I always thought he might go to prove something to his father, although Sarek has never been an adherent of Gol. It seemed to me, before he went, that he was finally finding some form of understanding of himself... I have wanted that for him, so much, Captain, you have no idea. It has always been so hard, being neither one thing nor the other. You know that,” she broke away, shaking her head at herself, “why am I telling you, of all people? Captain, my son is a unique person and Gol will take that away from him. From us.”
Since he couldn’t disagree with her about any of this, he didn’t. He rubbed his forehead. On the one hand, it was a ridiculous self-indulgence to take time out from this most critical of missions to chat to the mother of his former First Officer about his friend’s philosophical and emotional needs, and most definitely not what had been in Wesley’s mind or Nogura’s when he had been given the mission. On the other hand, he still had a nagging feeling that Spock was central to the mission, that leaving him at Gol might be wrong.
He asked: “And why are you telling me this?”
She looked up, clearer-eyed, smiled.
“Oh, that’s simple, Captain. Because you’re here. Because you agree with me. Because you are the one person whom Spock will follow out of Gol. And because I believe you know as well as I do that he should be on that ship with you, finding a solution to this terrible situation. Captain – this danger results directly from my son’s extraordinary achievement, and instead of facing the reprisals for that achievement, he is being allowed instead, through ignorance and through his own wrong choices, to stay buried in the desert, while the Masters school out of his mind everything I have ever tried to share with him. And everything he ever shared with you, as well.”
He said, because he had to say it,
“It will be very dangerous, Amanda. For all of us, but most of all for Spock.”
And saw her eyes flash.
“Are you suggesting my son is a coward, Captain?”
“Your son is the bravest person I know.”
“Then is it our right to make that decision on his behalf? I would rather, Captain, that he returned to where he ought to be – to the person he ought to be – regardless of consequences.”
No question where Spock got his courage from. Funny, that he had always thought it was from Sarek – who was presumably ignorant of the nature of the conversation his wife had sought with Kirk. Or was he?
It made no difference at this point. Kirk knew when he was beaten.
He materialised on the transporter platform of the Enterprise and the first thing he saw was Scotty, deep in conversation with Stonn. He had forgotten the reluctant concession he had made to Saredin – it seemed that Vulcans could move fast when they wanted to. Stonn looked up and met his eyes, and there it was, the memory of that far-off day – he hadn’t forgotten at all, of course.
It seemed that he was committed to asking Spock to leave Gol to serve as his First Officer back on the Enterprise alongside T’Pring’s bondmate.
Well, it didn’t seem as if he had much choice.
“Sub-Commissioner, welcome aboard. Scotty, I am taking the Copernicus down to the planet. I’ll be back within the hour. Please sort out quarters for our guest, and please liaise with the Seleya to leave orbit on my return.”
And he left abruptly for the shuttle bay, wondering, as he did so, why going to Gol felt the right thing to do but filled him with complete dread.
Perhaps every significant encounter he had with Spock would take place in extreme temperatures.
He had left the shuttle at the foot of Mount Seleya to walk up the lowest slope to the tall stone gates which Amanda had told him admitted non-disciples to the outer chamber of the seminary. His very specific and personal discomfort at what he was doing and where he was going was distinctly exacerbated by what he hoped would be any human’s reaction to the physical aspects of the climb.
Amanda had told him there was no need to ascend to the higher peaks and that, in any event, he would not be admitted beyond the first portal – he could not now remember exactly what she had said, but she had given him the distinct impression that he could drop in, gauge Spock’s preferences as between permanent brainwashing and death by intergalactic biological terrorism, and get himself (with or without Spock) back to the Enterprise in time for the scheduled departure from orbit. He wondered, now, whether she had been teasing or whether he had misunderstood. Whether Amanda had become so accustomed to Vulcan standards or whether (this was, of course, his real fear) he had changed so much, lost his edge during the months on Earth that he found himself unaccountably unable to run up a precipitous slope which he estimated as at least 400 metres, in a temperature of over 40 degrees, in anything like the timescale he had envisaged. To say nothing of a vague, unformed desire to appear in front of Spock and the seminary officials clothed in some sort of dignity, instead of wreathed in sweat.
Needless to say, there was nowhere any further up the slope he could possibly have left the shuttle, and it had been made very clear to him that convention did not permit transporter use within Gol.
He supposed you could add it to the list and that it didn’t really matter very much beside the other things that convention did not permit. Jokes, affection, irrationality. Guava juice and brandy. The joy of winning at chess when you had deliberately, taking unforgivable advantage of a bone-deep knowledge of your opponent, led him up the garden path. The joy of losing in the same circumstances. Human beings. Families and friends. Fun. Pretending not to understand Standard idiom, for absolutely no logical reason whatsoever. Standard idiom. The memory of times when these things had mattered; when you had been happy (whether or not you might be prepared to admit it); when you had found something in someone else which you had up until then not been aware that you were missing. The ties that bind. Frankly, once you’d eliminated all of those, you wouldn’t really miss the odd transporter effect, really.
Other than today, of course, when it would have come in rather useful.
Half way up, he paused, telling himself he was admiring the view rather than remembering how to breathe. He let his eyes travel over the huge and majestic (if bleak) craggy landscape which Spock presumably saw every day, and wondered all over again about the unlikelihood of their friendship, given the differences between their homes and the worlds which had created them. He wondered if Spock had thought about this, when he had come to find Kirk in Iowa, in the snow. And, against all the odds, they had managed to rediscover each other then. Suddenly cheered, he turned and attacked the last part of the slope.
In part to distract himself from the sheer effort of the last hundred metres, he thought hard about Spock’s likely reaction, about what on earth he was going to say. The Vulcan had never replied to his last message. Kirk had checked as soon as they had returned from Mila space but there had been nothing, and he couldn’t, in all honesty, blame Spock. He had said “ I am writing to ask you not to go to Gol” but then he had read the Mila reports and asked Saredin to keep Spock safe, at all costs, even if that had meant Gol, after all. He had said to Spock “The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise or Gol” but neither of them had ever managed to come up with anything else of any permanence. Perhaps the only comfort in that reflection was that, if he could actually persuade Spock to leave Gol, the logical consequence would be a return to the Enterprise – perhaps permanently, if the word held any meaning for any of them at this juncture. He could hardly remember now why it had felt so wrong to allow Spock to accept an effective demotion in order to serve again as his First – the irony of accepting his own temporary demotion to serve as captain appeared to be a rather insurmountable obstacle to using that argument ever again.
Spock, back on the ship as his First Officer. Despite everything, Kirk broke into a trademark grin at the thought.
And then he thought about what that would mean – about the personal and galactic apocalypse into which he was proposing to take the Vulcan.
The effort eased, suddenly, and he looked up to find that the ground had levelled. He had reached the gates.
He gave his name and requested that Spock, son of Sarek, be told that of his arrival. He bit back the instinct to say Captain Spock or Commander Spock – he knew enough to be able to refer to his friend in what would be acceptable parlance on his home planet, but it still stuck in his throat that Spock’s world paid so little regard to his off-world achievements – or, for that matter, to those of any Starfleet officer.
He was still unsure of whether Spock would agree to see him, but this part of it seemed straightforward enough. No one had told him it wasn’t visiting time or that his presence was forbidden, or even unwelcome. He was offered a drink of water and given a seat by a window overlooking the landscape through which he had just climbed. From where he sat, he could just make out the Copernicus, waiting for him at the foot of the hill – a piece of the familiar and the man-made in this very different, ancient world. He wondered, for the first time, whether his approach had been witnessed – by the scholars, by the students; by Spock. He felt as though the whole history of his friendship with Spock had telescoped to this one time of waiting. And then he suddenly wondered if the schedule of the institute would be too inflexible to permit unexpected visitors, whether he would have to wait for hours, and what on earth he would do in that event, because his easily made excuse to Saredin would then be true – there’s just no time to go to Gol. Whatever the rights and wrongs of taking Spock out of Gol, nothing in the parameters of the mission would permit any serious delay to check whether the ship’s former First Officer was going to be joining them. Perhaps that would have its advantages – he suddenly realised that in all the physical effort of the climb and in the process of letting his mind wander back over the past couple of years, he had given absolutely no thought to what he would say to the Vulcan.
There was the sound of a very soft footfall behind him; he looked up and Spock stood before him.
He was Spock but he looked utterly alien. Ironically, given the events since the Halcyon incident and the ground that he and Spock had covered and re-covered in terms of Kirk’s own respect for the Vulcan people, it had been many years since Kirk had looked at Spock and thought of him as being anything other than simply his friend and fellow officer. Now, the person in front of him was Vulcan. There was no part him which spoke of Spock’s humanity; nothing very identifiable which spoke even of Spock. His hair was long, his face thin and sun-darkened. He wore a long white robe, which reminded Kirk of long-reviled Earth cults, of uniform, of assimilation, and his heart sank, even as the objective part of his brain said to him “What about Starfleet uniforms?”
He dismissed the thought, stood up and said quietly, but knowing the years-old memories in his voice would be audible to a Vulcan ear,
Spock inclined his head, said nothing. Kirk searched the Vulcan face, but found nothing. Worse than Stage One, Category One. This was not a Spock he had ever known. His heart fell further. What on earth was he doing here? Even if a miracle happened and Spock agreed to come, how could this acolyte function on the bridge of the Enterprise? He felt a passing irritation with Saredin, with Amanda, both of whom had asked him to extricate Spock for the mission and both of whom were in a better position than he to know what sort of person would be waiting for him at Gol. Their personal considerations aside, his overriding duty was to the mission and for the first time he questioned whether Spock’s involvement would be an advantage or not.
He resolutely ignored all personal considerations of his own. He was here now, he was committed. He would see the conversation through.
“Spock – it’s immensely good to see you; more so than I can say. I wish the circumstances were different – certainly for me and for all of us and including having to disturb you here. I hope you will understand and forgive the intrusion once I have explained. I have a question to ask you. Could we speak somewhere private?”
“We will be undisturbed here, Admiral.”
The voice was not Spock’s. It was without inflection, without tone. Ever since Stage Two, during which period he had rapidly forgotten that Stage One had ever existed, Kirk had always been surprised by those who professed to find Spock difficult to read. Once you had invested any time whatsoever in listening to him (and Kirk had spent absolutely none during Stage One and rather a lot in Stage Two), it was actually a lot easier to read Spock than anyone else. Kirk might have been hard put to explain exactly why this was. It might be that if you habitually wear your heart on your sleeve, your voice and expression included a whole range of messages and emotions which were actually only of passing relevance to the matter at hand. Spock, on the other hand, tended to reveal exactly what he thought in a more focused and direct way, and finding out what he was feeling was rather like following a trail of breadcrumbs to the gingerbread house. Spock always left breadcrumbs; exactly what they looked like or how many of them there were simply depended on how he felt or how quickly he wanted you to get to the house. It was as simple as that.
There were no breadcrumbs here, in this hallway at the door to Gol.
He swallowed, noticing in passing that Spock had got his title wrong. This must be a first. And he couldn’t even begin to bring himself to tease him about it.
He snapped back to reality, quickly. If Spock was unaware that he had taken a temporary demotion, there were likely to be a lot of other things of which he was unaware. Kirk’s mind boggled, briefly, at the existence of a school of discipline that blocked out all external news from personal milestones to impending galactic disaster – and at the fact that Spock, of all people, with his brilliant, discerning, enquiring mind had voluntarily joined this community – and then he cut the thought off, dead, and went back to being James Kirk.
Rapidly, in the voice of the starship captain and a thousand briefings which he had given the Vulcan in other times, other realities, trusting that Spock was correct that they could not be overheard (whilst reflecting with an anger he knew was discreditable that it would do the Masters no harm at all to muse on their potential imminent demise), he gave the outline of developments since the moment, still only days ago, when he had seen the word Soltar on a backlit screen in San Francisco and started in train the course of action which had ended up with him facing his former First Officer in a stone clad hall on the lower slopes of Mount Seleya.
He left out only Amanda, and what she had asked him.
Saredin he included. With a truth but also a cowardice he knew was less than he owed Spock, he said:
“Saredin’s recollection is that he gave you a promise – that he said he would make you aware if there were an escalation in the Mila situation. That’s why I’m here.”
And then his narrative, which had up until that point been fluent, hesitated slightly, and he added the other truth.
“That’s not all, Spock. Of course, I would more than welcome your support on this one.”
He stopped; looked expectantly at Spock with absolutely no idea of what the Vulcan would say. There was no reaction at all in the dark face, the shadowed eyes. He might just as well have been reading a weather forecast. Weather forecasts on Vulcan must be a particular waste of time, he reflected. Not a thriving industry in a desert climate. Today it will be 45 degrees and cloudless. Tomorrow, too.
“I will return very shortly,” and was gone. Kirk blinked.
What did that mean?
Clearly, life at Gol had little time to spare for the niceties of Would you mind if... or I hope it’s OK if...let alone, of course, Sir, I request permission to...
Were it anyone but Spock, Kirk could have conceived a reaction that included a bolt from the room. That, presented with the enticing prospect of death by haemorrhage or of the loss of the power of thought – surrounded, moreover, by a bunch of irrational human beings bringing with them the tangle of past emotional allegiances, now forsworn and therefore distasteful – that the logical response would have been to sequester yourself in the nearest shrine, the most secure sanctuary. Or, at the very least, that “shortly” actually meant enough time to consider all other options very seriously indeed.
But this was Spock and Spock, in whatever frame of mind, always chose his words with precision, had never been known – at least, by Kirk – to say anything other than precisely what he meant. That meant he would, indeed, return shortly. And it suggested a whole range of the possibilities of return.
Return to this room, to give a decision to Kirk, certainly.
Return to active service? To the Enterprise?
The time he had to ponder the range of possibilities of this particular example of Standard vocabulary was very brief – could have been identified by his collocutor as eight point nine five minutes. Just as he was wondering if he should call the ship – and if it was one of those things, like brandy and laughing, which was against the convention at Gol – Spock was back. In his time at Gol, he appeared to have learned a whole new way of entering and leaving rooms, in which the use of his legs and feet seemed to be the least noticeable part of the process. He appeared and disappeared almost as though by transporter beam. No wonder convention argues against beaming in and out of Gol, Kirk thought, in an attempt at humour. It’s nothing to do with Luddism. It’s the Vulcan aversion to superfluity and duplication. They don’t actually need it.
The only difference from Spock’s previous appearance was the addition of a small canvass bag, which he carried over one shoulder. Kirk’s heart jumped, suddenly. There could only be one reason for a bag.
“I offer my services,” Spock said. His eyes met Kirk’s. They were black, deep and entirely without an iota of personal memory or connection. He might as well have met the eyes of one of the bulkheads on the ship, or perhaps one of the stone doors to the seminary.
The ease of the victory, the lack of any resistance, the speed of Spock’s assent – all these derailed Kirk completely. And suddenly, for the first time, he diverged from the purely professional – he spoke direct to the friend who was there in body if not in spirit, said, feeling profoundly ridiculous:
“Of course, you know I never wanted you to come here. I need to tell you that my coming here today has nothing to do with that – I couldn’t stop you coming and I cannot make you leave. It’s always been your choice; I suppose I’m asking for the assurance that you are leaving freely and not because I am pressuring you.”
He stopped. Spock regarded him without the slightest change of expression and without a word. Kirk hesitated, and then went on:
“And I need you to be fully aware that there is real danger here – for all of us, but particularly for Vulcans and most of all for you.”
He realised immediately that he could have said nothing more calculated to annoy Spock, to provoke him, and he slightly drew back his shoulders, expecting not the ironic tease he might once have earned but a cool reproof, a stern challenge.
But once again, there was nothing in the sculptured features. Perversely, this refusal to condemn shook Kirk more than anything else. What on earth was left, if you took away all personal reaction, all individual history? Aptitude and technical skill? He remembered his reflections on the appointment by Starfleet of McCoy and himself to the command team of this mission, the value attached to teamwork and rapport – wondered how you built rapport, after Gol.
The Vulcan simply stood, waiting.
Waiting for what?
For Kirk to say something sensible? Something logical?
For Kirk to go?
Even the early months of the Seleya mission, when he had got Spock so spectacularly wrong – even the Spock who had turned away from him in the transporter room of the Seleya two and a half years ago was light years from this expressionless stranger. And what did that mean, he thought suddenly, to Spock’s demand for trust without words? And could he, Kirk, deliver?
Kirk let his shoulders go, just a small fraction, as the weight settled on them of a stage so far beyond his friendship with Spock that he could not even see the map back to Stage One – felt the weight drag, just a little, and then resolutely picked it up and turned slightly.
“All right, Commander. I left the shuttle at the bottom of the hill. Let’s go.”
And it was only as he stepped down the slope, thanking God for the small mercy of not having to climb up with Spock and therefore not having the Vulcan witness his earlier breathless ascent, aware at the same time of the miracle of the so-familiar feel of Spock behind him, at his shoulder – it was only then that he remembered that this would be the first time he had been in the Copernicus with Spock since their conversation in the Enterprise hangar bay, after the return from Gamma Fortuna.
Nothing is permanent except change.
Leaving Gol had therefore been an inevitable part of being at Gol since his arrival.
Therefore, nothing about following Kirk to the Copernicus was unforeseeable, illogical or in any way worthy of particular note.
As an example of an informal syllogistic thesis, Spock found this thought pattern reasonably persuasive.
The problem was the application in practice.
Socrates: mankind does not understand what is noble or what is good; men do not know that they do not know. He, Spock, had not known before he went to Gol what he would learn, what he would lose, what he would be. Nor had he known, those eighteen months in Gol, what it would mean to come to the end of that seclusion, to interact with the outside world, to be called back to what it had once meant to serve under Jim Kirk.
Surak had written of logic as journey and destination and he, Spock, had seen no logic in going backwards – specifically, in going back to the Enterprise. And yet here he was, a bare half hour after Kirk’s arrival, descending from the gates of Gol behind his commanding officer.
The months at Gol had opened Spock’s mind to a depth of study and learning of the philosophies on a fundamentally different plane to any he had known before. The student in him had been dazzled by the panorama of scholasticism, the calibre of the minds whose wisdom had been made available to him. He had been provided with a panoply of writers and thinkers, had worked his way through encyclopaedic volumes entirely new to him, had learned to read texts formerly familiar to him in utterly different ways, sat at the feet of those who had received their learning from the Masters, sat at the feet of the Masters themselves, learned to think in colours hitherto undreamed of. For all it bore any relation to previous thinking, it might as well have been in an entirely new language.
He remembered rediscovering, on the Seleya, before he came to Gol, Plato’s theory of forms - the pure and highest form of reality as an abstract metaphysical ideal beside which substance is only shadow and copy. He knew, now, that the learning he had attempted outside Gol had only been a mere suggestion of what was possible, a travesty of the depths he had plumbed with the Masters.
It had been a revelation.
And then the other revelation, the revelation of self.
With the help of the Masters, he had journeyed very deep inside his own mind, to places he had never reached before, never known before - had found himself wondering whether his inability to do so previously had been due to a lack of application or to his human heritage.
He had learned to see all his past choices through the learning he gained at Gol. He had brought to Gol his fractured halves and the first understanding had been that his reconciliation of the two on the Seleya had been a fragile thing, as much a shadow of true harmony as had his previous learning been of true study. His mentor had shown him that what he had previously perceived as the ending of division had in fact been merely the first step on the way to true purity of thought, and that the next step would be a cleansing of not a part of him but of both human and Vulcan halves of the detritus of irrationality, passion and sentiment, reducing both to their essence and then finding that those two essences then fit perfectly together, like planed surfaces, creating a new whole, which was Spock’s true self.
He had been shown that every previous struggle, every error and every moment of pain had been borne of a distraction from this, an inability to think from an undivided core being. In his thoughts, and with the support of the Masters, he had named them: his rejection by his father and their subsequent long estrangement; his failure to feel at home either at the VSA or in Starfleet; weeping in the briefing room in orbit around Psi 2000; Leila, Omicron Ceti lll; Kirk, dead at his feet in the aftermath of the koon-ut-kalifee; his two very different defining journeys on shuttlecraft - the Galileo missionand the Copernicus with Kirk, coming back from Gamma Fortuna.
He had still retained an expectation to leave Gol at some stage, to take forward what he had learned to benefit the two communities, the two worlds to which he belonged. He knew that Gol had given him the strength to do this without inner compromise. But not yet. At the very least, he would stay long enough to achieve kolinahr. It was an ambition which he was not prepared to relinquish, for what it would mean to him and also for what he thought it might mean to the understanding between Vulcan and Earth, that a Vulcan-Human hybrid could gain the highest level of learning from the Masters.
He was not prepared to acknowledge the fundamental self-contradiction that in order to achieve kolinahr, he would have to leave his humanity behind – any more than he was truly aware that at the point Kirk arrived at Gol, the tendrils of the teachings of the Masters, like hypnotic tentacles of an octopus, had crept so far around his own individuality that the unique and outward facing brilliance which had once been the only being in the sector who could reconcile the Romulans and Vulcans was perilously near the point of suffocation.
When he had seen the Copernicus land outside the seminary, without yet knowing who flew her, he had nevertheless been quite sure that her arrival signalled another manifestation of the application to his life of Heraclitus’ law of change. The slight delay in going to meet the unknown visitor had been occasioned by an immediate resort to meditation, an almost fierce embracing of the disciplines as if to reinforce himself against what was to come, a strengthening of every mental fibre to hold on to what he had learned – the quiet, the purity, the knowledge, the strength. And then he had been told that James Kirk was waiting for him.
Even then he had believed he could meet Kirk with equanimity. But his determination had turned to ashes in the face of Kirk’s direct, open gaze and words of friendship and then, later, in the face of his uncertainty over Spock’s acceptance; his obvious clumsiness over the danger to Spock. After eighteen months of sterile discourse, Spock found himself overwhelmed by what, in comparison, seemed the impulse towards a whole range of words – of affection, of reassurance, of challenge – even of humour.
And then, of course, the enormity of the catastrophe which threatened – and more, the shock that the compulsion to go was so immediate. His first assumption, on seeing Kirk, was that his reaction to whatever proposal the human brought would be measured, but there was no hesitation in the need to be part of the mission to Mila, no equivocation in his reluctance to let the Enterprise go without him. The conflict was not in his acceptance of a military and political role, it was in his reluctance to leave Gol and an uncharacteristic confusion as to how to reconcile the two.
It had been as much as he could do to say nothing at all.
He would hold on to what he had gained – he would hold on.
Kirk had said: The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise or Gol.
At this point, Spock could only see the two polar points of his existence. He would return to the Enterprise with Kirk, he would do what he could to avert the destruction his own acts had helped to bring about, and then he would return to Gol and complete what he had started.
Kirk eyed Spock as he shut down the shuttle engines. Behind them, the hangar bay doors slid closed and the chamber decompressed. Kirk secured the shuttle and turned to enter the ship.
They had been silent on the short trip from the planet. Kirk had felt torn. One the one hand, he was keenly aware of a tide of thankfulness simply to have the Vulcan with him again, against all odds, for the first time in three years, on their way back to the Enterprise, a command team once more. There had been more than one occasion in the past three years when he would have bet serious money against this ever happening. On the other hand, this was not even the Spock he had said goodbye to in Iowa, and he bore not the slightest resemblance to the Spock of Stage Four, Category Four. Combined with Spock’s obvious and utter lack of interest in any form of small talk and Kirk’s own nagging worries about the wisdom of bringing Spock on board, this was sufficient to stifle any exchange of further pleasantries as the shuttle found its way from the harsh planes of Mount Seleya to the cold of space and the gleaming silver of the Enterprise’s hull.
It was only as they wordlessly left the shuttle and stepped through the walkway onto the deck leading to the turbolift that Kirk suddenly remembered Stonn. Unforgivable to let Spock encounter him on the ship without an explanation. But it was too late – exactly as he turned to Spock, his mouth open to speak, he saw Stonn approaching from the other part of the hangar deck. And his chagrin at the moment vanished besides a riveting interest in Spock’s own reaction. You would have to be looking for it, and you would have to have a pretty good understanding of the Vulcan’s body language. But Kirk was an expert on Spock’s body language and there was no question that in the moment of recognition, his First Officer had flinched. Perhaps infinitesimally, but he had definitely flinched.
Coming face to face with Stonn was hardly the way that Kirk had ever planned to bring Spock back to the Enterprise. But the knowledge that Spock was still capable of dismay came as a staggering relief to Kirk, both on a personal basis and in terms of what it meant in relation to Spock’s capacity to make a difference to their almost impossible mission. Spock himself, the other half of what Kirk wanted to be – what he needed to be, was still there, after all. He might be buried deep, but he was still there.
Kirk said into the viewer:
“According to the best scientific hypothesis McCoy’s team can manage, on the back of what T’Mala has fed through to him, there seems no very substantial likelihood of contamination this side of the Faltonian system. There are no intermediary systems of significant demographics and best guess is that the Mila would not be able to transmit any virus over the distance from Faltonia to Vulcan.” And if they can, he added silently to himself, we’re all finished anyway. “On that basis, I think both ships can proceed best speed to Faltonia and regroup perhaps half a day shy of arrival to review the best way forward on the basis of whatever data we have at the time. We’ll keep in hourly contact in the meantime. Agreed?”
“That is logical and I concur,” Saredin’s voice came over the communication channel. “Seleya out.”
Kirk leaned back in his chair and looked around the table at the faces of his officers – Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu – and Stonn. Sulu had estimated arrival at Faltonia within three weeks. Beyond, the sector between Faltonia and Mila 5 was populated with a large number of smaller and heavily populated planetoids and solar systems, through which, given sufficient scientific advance and sufficient perverted genocidal intent, a deadly virus could more easily be spread. Kirk’s instinct (which, ever since Mila and the appearance on his computer in San Francisco of Soltar’s name, he was inclined to take seriously) was that the end game would come soon after Faltonia.
Which was ironic, given that Faltonia was, in a way, where it had all began. Soltar’s drive for revenge had been born out of the Vulcan-Romulan Accords, the end of a war signalled by the Vulcan-Starfleet crisis, itself brought about by the refusal of Saredin to shake the hand of a Faltonian diplomat.
He stole a quick look at Spock. There was a time when he would have known without looking that Spock shared and appreciated the irony of the situation. The Vulcan might well do so now for all he knew, he reflected wearily; nothing in his bearing gave it away.
“Questions, gentlemen? Thank you. Dismissed.”
The room emptied, save for McCoy whom he had expected to hang back. He was not disappointed. Spock was the last to leave the room and McCoy said to his departing back, in his most Southern drawl:
“Not joining us, Spock?”
The Vulcan stopped, and turned slowly.
“My apologies, Captain. Have I overlooked a secondary briefing?”
“No, Spock,” McCoy snapped. “It was my way of saying hello. Call me crazy, I thought you might like to take advantage of the first opportunity the three of us have had to talk about this disaster – and, incidentally, that the three of us have to talk about anything very much for about three years.”
Kirk leaned his elbow on the table and propped his face in his hand, covering his eyes. He knew what McCoy was trying to do, knew that the entire exchange was eminently predictable on all parts and would rather have been anywhere else in the sector than an unwilling audience.
As luck would have it, the day he had brought Spock back from Gol, McCoy had met them by chance on the deck outside the turbolift by the biological science laboratories. With no time to waste before arranging a full briefing for Spock and, with a slightly uneasy courtesy, preferring but failing to be able to treat Spock as though the Vulcan were on his own ground, Kirk had taken Spock directly there on arrival from Vulcan - after taking in, en route, the briefest of nods to Stonn. He had said, quietly, after the Vulcan Sub-Commissioner had passed:
“I’m sorry, Spock – I should have told you he was on board, I just forgot. The VSA have asked us to take a delegate, and he was the best person for the job.” To which Spock, predictably, had said absolutely nothing. Kirk realised, as soon as he heard McCoy’s distinctive tones, that he should have talked to McCoy before going to Gol – not to seek the CMO’s advice, but simply because of the history that he shared with both senior officers. It being too late, he watched with half wary, half amused speculation what would follow. And had not been disappointed. McCoy had actually fallen silent in mid-sentence as Spock came into view. And then, with what looked like a powerful effort, he had said to Kirk, softly,
“You must be out of your mind,” and to Spock, “You almost look like someone I used to know. Almost like a real person. But not quite.” And Spock had adopted his “I am actually not on this starship” expression and things had gone on from there.
Eyes shielded now, Kirk missed the expression on Spock’s face but the tone of voice brought no surprises.
“Permission to continue analysis of Vulcan Science Academy research, Captain?”
“Permission granted,” Kirk said to the table.
“Have fun,” McCoy said. “Impressive standards of conversation and teamwork technique they teach at Gol. The Masters would be proud of you.”
“Bones,” he said, in an exasperated plea - and looked up. The Vulcan had left the room.
“You can’t let him get away with it, Jim.”
Kirk stood up and walked over to the viewer.
“Get away with what, Bones? He is what he is. I really don’t think giving him a hard time is going to change anything.”
“Then what is? And when? We’re supposed to be the best Starfleet can pull together to meet the most deadly menace since the last deadly menace. I’m a doctor, not a starship captain, but I know as well as you do we need to work together on this. Quite apart from the risk to Spock physically – and how you square that with your conscience God only knows – I have no idea why you think it’s a good idea bringing him along. A computer upgrade would have got us just as far, been less irritating and quite a lot more fun.”
Kirk turned to open his mouth but McCoy hadn’t finished.
“Anyway, that wasn’t actually what I wanted to talk to you about. Or not the only thing. What was the big idea bringing Stonn along? Last time I saw him, you and Spock and he weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye. Seems to me having him join the welcoming party was pretty much bound to guarantee a less than happy reunion on all fronts.”
“I didn’t have much choice,” Kirk said, shortly, “and I really don’t think it’s hugely relevant. We’re all grown-ups, Bones, and it was a hell of a long time ago.” When he came to think about it, it had been another reality. Sometimes, he thought that lying on the sand with the world going black, Spock above him, that overwhelming heat – that it had all happened to someone else.
The shuttle journey from Vulcan to the ship had lasted less than thirty minutes by Kirk’s estimation – he knew Spock would have been able to offer a more accurate figure, but he would not have been able to bring himself to ask for one. And during that time, despite Stages One through Four, despite the five year mission, despite chess, brandy, guava juice and the evening in Iowa, they had failed to find a single thing to say to each other. Kirk had boarded the Enterprise entirely unable to visualise what it would be like to serve again with this unknown and unknowable Spock. But, in fact, the strange became familiar very rapidly.
Spock divided his time between the bridge and the research laboratories, performing his functions in both areas with an efficiency and methodology which depressed Kirk for being, so far as he could remember, even more meticulous and precise than the Spock of the five year mission. This was a performance which allowed no error, no vulnerability, no room for questioning or doubt. He was respectful and proper rather than courteous and Kirk was ashamed but sufficiently honest with himself to admit that he preferred the shifts when Spock was in the labs.
His least favourite shifts involved a combination of Spock and McCoy. These were frequent, due to the nature of the mission and McCoy’s close involvement with the research and strategic analytical work, in which they were essentially attempting to divine Soltar’s thinking ahead of ETA at Faltonia, which had become for all of them the focus of all thinking, an effective deadline for the thinking stage. After that, no one thought that research and analysis would be anything other than a luxury. Kirk reflected that McCoy and Spock between them probably possessed every necessary skill and mental aptitude to have the greatest chance of success at this particular task, if only they were anything other than permanently at loggerheads.
He came to revise this opinion after a particular strategic review, one week into the course to Faltonia. The reviews were held jointly with the Seleya, with Saredin’s team linked by audio and visual channels; they were waiting for the Seleya to be put through at the pre-arranged time, sitting round the table, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, the bio research team and Stonn.
McCoy had been reporting on the results of the work being carried out at breakneck speed to try to identify firstly, the likely nature of any virus aimed specifically at Vulcans and, secondly, possible forms of treatment. Which was, as he had already admitted to Kirk, a little bit like trying to work out the answer in one language to a question in another language, when all you knew about the question was the name of the person who had asked it.
“It may be an erroneous approach to restrict research to overt differences in Vulcan physiology. It is self evident that Vulcans are touch telepaths and have copper-based blood; however, there are also a myriad of more subtle distinctions which could as easily be the basis of a racially-targeted virus.”
“First I’ve heard of it,” McCoy said, with a deliberate drawl. “You backing away from your national heritage, Spock? I thought the whole way you people think was the big deal, here, that it was what makes human so inferior.”
Kirk opened his mouth to interfere and then stopped, frozen, watching as Spock turned towards the CMO in a manner resembling nothing so much as slightly quickened glacier.
“Your comments, Doctor, are both irrelevant and juvenile, as well as constituting a profound waste of valuable time which could more usefully be expended in an effort to avert impending Vulcan genocide.”
“Is that so?” McCoy said, softly. “If my time is so damn valuable, how come you’ve hardly exchanged half a dozen words with me since you came on board, Mr Spock? Could be you’re shy, I thought, could be you’re too busy with VSA rated scientists with a better chance of finding the answer – but if I’m wasting valuable time, I’m forced to conclude you’re just wasting resources yourself, by not including me in your thinking.” His voice had been growing during the last sentence and the last word came out in a loud Georgian growl.
Spock said, without the slightest changed of expression or tone: “Captain, it is 1457 hours. Would you like me to ask Lieutenant Uhura to contact the Seleya?”
McCoy snapped: “Damnit, Spock, you could at least give me the courtesy of a reply!”
“When you have suggested something worth of one, Doctor, you can be assured that I will do so.”
“What’s worthy of a reply is that you do believe that Vulcans are superior because of their touch telepathy, and therefore it’s a reasonable guess from an admittedly non-VSA rated old country doctor that a random genocidal psychotic maniac might want to focus on that particular racial characteristic, and you and I should be figuring out just which subtle distinctions are gonna make that happen.”
There was the slightest pause – and then three things happened, almost simultaneously.
Kirk opened his mouth to intervene.
Uhura’s voice came through the intercom: “Captain, I have the Seleya on stand-by, sir.”
And Spock turned and said: “The Vulcan adrenal system is linked to the part of the cortex which controls the telepathic impulse. It is not normally vulnerable to disease but this could alter in the face of hypothetical acute viral infection because of the connection between the same part of the cortex and the Vulcan immune system which, unlike the human equivalent, is reflexively suppressed when the telepathic instinct is in any way at risk.”
Kirk stared at McCoy and simultaneously realised two things. One was that he had entirely misunderstood the dialogue between his First Officer and CMO. The two were hardly at loggerheads, because Spock was declining at every level to enter into any form of emotional engagement with McCoy. Further, that McCoy was, in fact, essentially correct in his approach to Spock in the post Gol universe, and that it was an effective strategy. In a way Kirk couldn’t quite articulate, McCoy’s stubborn persistence in bringing all the old aggressive humour to his interaction with Spock, his refusal to defer to the new demeanour, meant that the two were, indeed, working in a team – rather better than Kirk was managing with his First. And, from the look on McCoy’s face, it had produced something of an early breakthrough for the research efforts.
He took the realisation away to muse over in his quarters, but it failed to offer him a way forward. He refused to yell at Spock that he wanted the courtesy of a reply. There would have to be another way.
He was prepared to admit that the circumstance of substituting for Stonn in engaging Spock in mortal combat for the woman who had chosen Stonn over his friend had not been the most conducive to appreciating Stonn’s finer qualities or getting to know him properly. Leaving the technical research to McCoy and Spock and the team, and understanding on an instinctive level that Stonn’s presence caused Spock discomfort, Kirk settled on the strategy of drawing Stonn away to give Spock space from both Stonn and himself, whilst gaining a deeper understanding of Soltar from the scientist’s erstwhile colleague.
He found that Stonn possessed a quick and sure mind, had an eye for relevant detail and the eidetic memory of all Vulcans. He didn’t have Spock’s brilliance, but he conceded that T’Pring might have been motivated by other criteria in choosing a mate. Stonn was clearly slightly wary around both Kirk and Spock, and this softened slightly what was to Kirk his least attractive quality – an arrogance which was entirely lacking in Spock despite (to Kirk’s mind) a far greater claim to it. Aside from this, he found Stonn easy company – and, ironically, far easier to talk to than Spock.
Not that this was saying very much. Kirk’s log entries were easier to talk to than Spock, just now. And if you replayed them, they even talked back, which was more than could be said of his First.
He wasn’t sure whether he would get the chance to put to good use his improved understanding of Soltar, but he knew that he owed it to Stonn, which suggested that the Vulcan was more intuitive than Kirk had given him credit for. He hoped T’Pring was happy with her choice. And wondered, for the first time, if she knew of the strange company her bondmate was keeping on the journey towards Faltonia and beyond.
Once, and once only, Kirk had suggested to his First Officer a game of chess, after they were both off duty one evening. It was not a mistake he would make again. A long day had ended for them both on the bridge and they had left together, a silent ride in the turblolift during which Kirk came up with and rejected twenty seven conversational gambits and Spock effortlessly resembled a granite facsimile of himself.
He was aware of a growing tide of anger with Spock – not an emotion of which he was particularly proud, but there it was. He might have dealt differently with the impact of Gol on their friendship had it not been for the original Seleya mission and the war and two lessons in particular it had taught him – diversity and trust.
Kirk had learned the hard way to respect the gamut of Vulcan culture – not just because the alternative was to lose Spock, but also because he had learned that it was worthy of respect, and that he diminished something in himself by being blind to that diversity. Logically, therefore (and Kirk winced, even in this thoughts, as he applied the word) – logically, he needed to accept Gol in order to understand Spock and not forfeit the delicacy of their current pattern.
The trouble was that he couldn’t. Every part of Kirk rejected the isolationism, the severity, the de-personalisation that Gol imposed. He couldn’t pretend otherwise, even for Spock – and knowing that Amanda agreed with him led him to hope that, were Spock ever to ease away from his current demeanour, he might be forgiven for his views. He even found himself thinking that if Spock truly thought that Gol represented a viable personal future, they had got each other wrong all these years and that their much vaunted-rapport was fundamentally flawed.
Kirk’s application of the second lesson, though at greater personal cost, came with fewer questions. Despite everything, he found he had no choice but to trust Spock; to believe that the granite surface concealed within – hidden but not gone – the friend and companion of the five year mission. It seemed that, having learned the lesson of trust without words, it was not so easily forgotten. And this was what made him angry.
Getting out of the turbolift at the deck where the command team were quartered, he gave in, both to the anger and to the trust. Because he trusted Spock to be there, he could not continue to act as though he were not. And because he was angry, he asked the one question which he knew would most likely discomfort Spock and would bring out into the open his own silent accusation of betrayal, his resentment of Spock for walking away from their friendship. He said, lightly but deliberately, as though the last three years had never happened:
“Time for a game of chess, Commander? Your quarters or mine?”
And, as he knew would happen, the Vulcan barely looked at him as he said:
“Thank you, Captain, but there is a report from the laboratory awaiting my review and I must then proceed to meditation.”
He watched him walk away, and said, in a voice which he hoped was sufficiently friendly to compensate for what he knew Spock would understand perfectly well to have been a bait, and which he hoped concealed a hurt fury which he knew would help neither of them -
“Good night, then, Spock,” and went into his own quarters, without waiting for a reply which he knew would not be forthcoming.
The review of the laboratory report took Spock rather less time than his attempts to meditate. His session on the meditation mat took him through all the techniques he had learned at Gol, gave him a small distance from the exchange in the corridor with Kirk, but still left him light years from the peace he had known in the desert. In Spock’s experience, where logic and instinct combined they were infallible. Logic and instinct both told him that the gap between him and Gol would only grow from here, until the elastic which held him to the promise of kolinahr snapped entirely.
He rejected that notion fiercely and chose not to acknowledge the self-contradiction which lay in defying logic to do so.
If he had retained complete access to the disciplines at Gol, he would have viewed his situation on the ship within the context of the mission. Instead, in the small amount of space available to him for personal reflection, he knew that his self-perception was unarguably coloured by his experiences of other beings and that this represented a profound negation of much of what Gol had taught him, from Socrates onwards – Socrates, who had always declined to consider or learn from the external until he had completed self-study.
He left unanswered, in part because he knew the answer all too well, why McCoy was the only person on the ship with whom he felt at ease.
He could not avoid the admission, at least to himself and in the privacy of his quarters, the difficulty of facing Stonn on a regular basis on the ship he had once called home – worse, the actual physical shock of first encountering him on the hangar deck, without warning.
In the immediate aftermath of his disastrous pon farr, Spock had resorted for a month to an elevated meditation schedule which allowed him to learn from and to absorb, as much as he could, the enormity of what had happened. The two major aspects – T’Pring’s choice of another mate and the narrow margin by which Kirk had escaped death at his hands – had been in many ways the easiest to accept. T’Pring had never been a personal choice and he had no desire for the complication of a bond with her which would have disrupted his life on the Enterprise. And although he would never remember the koon-ut-kalifee without a subliminal horror at the memory of Kirk’s lifeless body in his hands, he knew that there had been unquantifiable gains for him and Kirk – a profoundly deepened mutual understanding and a greater confidence in what they meant to each other.
What had taken longer, what had played into his own personal fault line and led, in some ways, like the fissure in a rock face which will eventually lead to a split, to Gol, was Stonn – or rather what Stonn had come to represent to Spock. Because Stonn was the full-blooded Vulcan whom T’Pring had preferred to the renegade half human Starfleet officer and Stonn was every Vulcan who had ever made Spock feel unwanted. Inadequate. Apart. Until, perhaps, he found his own place on the Enterprise. And now Stonn was even here.
He knew it was illogical – worse, that it was wrong. But Stonn’s presence had such a profound impact on his desire to retrench, to be resolute in his re-alignment of himself at Gol, that it was responsible for keeping his face trained towards the desert horizons when other considerations, such as the offer of a chess game after a silent turbolift ride, might have undermined that resolution to the point of concession.
With a level of knowledge and affection to which he would never had admitted before or after Gol, Spock could read with accurate precision Kirk’s struggle with the irony of trust without words, the legacy of their conversation on the Copernicus two and a half years earlier, and he knew, too, what Kirk’s conclusion was, could admit to himself that this conclusion was a matter of some relief and pride to Spock. He even understood the human’s anger. What Spock could not do was to take the final step and acknowledge to Kirk that understanding.
It was beyond debate that it would be impossible to be true both to Gol and to Kirk.
Spock’s only possible choice was to be true to himself.
He was still quite sure that his only path to himself lay through Gol.
And that meant chess was out of the question.
“Captain, I have Admiral Ciani on the secure channel for you,” Uhura’s voice said, over his shoulder, in a voice he could read as being somewhere between professional and urgent.
“Put her on screen, Lieutenant,” he said, briefly. Last time he had spoken to Lori, she had been moving out of his apartment and had said to him The important thing is to get it right now, Jim and she had meant more than the mission. Just now, saving Vulcan seemed a long way from his grasp and he was no nearer to his own answers than he had been. He had once thought that having Spock with him would help, but the Spock who had returned from Gol would only be providing professional support. He would have to find his own way forward for other things, and he didn’t want to speak to Lori in private. It was a relief to have the excuse to ensure their dialogue was kept in the public and professional arena.
The screen became Lori, a set of features which ought to have represented to him months spent in the healing of her arms but, in fact, whilst appreciating with affection that she was still the best human scenery he had seen through the Enterprise main viewer for a very long time indeed, he admitted to himself that actually he preferred the stars. The person who had found that healing was not him. It was inconceivable now that Jim Kirk had ever spent those eighteen months on Earth in that fog of xeno-psychology, the Commission for Claims, HQ politics and the oddity of sharing the San Francisco apartment with Lori Ciani.
“Jim?” The voice was distinct, but the background was static. They were moving towards the edge of real time communication with HQ; he would be on his own soon, and he knew it.
“Lori. Can you hear me?”
“Just about. We think you’ll be out of contact in the next day or two.”
“We will be unable to accept or transmit direct voice contact to Starfleet Command in one point three four days, Admiral.”
Kirk glanced at the Vulcan. There had been a time when the absence of a calculation to two decimal places had seemed to him to encapsulate all that was wrong with the universe. This particular instance was offered wholly devoid of humour and, from the look on Lori’s face, not entirely well judged – an error Spock would have been incapable of, pre Gol. Lori had never understood his friendship with Spock; it didn’t look as though that was going to change any time soon.
“Intelligence suggests the Mila are aware of your movements and are sending a flotilla to assemble the other side of Faltonian space.”
His attention sharpened.
“How many ships?”
“At least three, possibly more. We’re not sure. And we think that one of them is a science vessel.”
A science vessel. His heart kicked, and he looked again, automatically, at Spock, who did not meet his eyes.
“Admiral, Captain – if I may. The inclusion in the Mila flotilla of a science vessel could suggest that Soltar is numbered among the personnel. One facet of Soltar’s approach to research was a tendency to retain an engagement in developing theories and in perfecting aspects of work beyond pre-determined thresholds for results. It is possible that Soltar continues to finesse the project on which he has been engaged and possible also that a science vessel has been included for the purpose of effective reaction and response to events. All this indicates that the implementation of that project is imminent.”
“When you say project,” came McCoy’s all-too predictable growl, “You’re talking about the murder of a few billion of your fellow countrymen. Could we not be a bit more precise, here?”
Stonn, who was unused to McCoy, looked entirely impassive but said nothing; Kirk himself was surprised by the unprovoked attack. And then it came to him that McCoy was, in some undefinable way, supporting Spock. What had McCoy seen in the dynamic between Spock and Stonn that he, Kirk, had missed? He looked over at Spock, who looked even more than usual as though he were not there.
Lori had clearly decided to ignore Kirk’s bridge crew, though something in her expression appeared to say to Kirk “And these are the people you chose over me?” She said, briefly:
“That’s all I have for you right now, Captain, but I wanted you to have it as quickly as we could. We’ll stay in touch over the remote channel. Good luck, Jim.”
Their eyes met, briefly and he smiled into them.
“Thank you, Admiral” – and she was gone, back into that other world; hers, not his, and he knew, then, that nothing – not McCoy’s irascibility and tactlessness, not Stonn’s unlikely incursion into their lives, not the serious probability that they were warping towards their deaths – and not even the impassive refusal of a chess game – were enough to make him regret his choices. This was where he was supposed to be.
He had called an emergency conference with the Seleya and Lori’s face had been replaced by Saredin’s, against the backdrop of the bridge of the Vulcan ship. Kirk filled him in briefly.
“We are still a day away from Faltonia. I want the Seleya to maintain position here. We will report back once we reach Faltonian space.”
Saredin said: “Captain, at this point we do not have full details of what, if anything, awaits us after Faltonia and what the nature of the risk – if any – that we face.”
“I agree,” he said, pleasantly. “And if it looks safe and I think you could be useful, I’ll let you know and you can come and join the party.”
Saredin nodded slowly in agreement, managing to look, Kirk noticed, as though he were only agreeing to the business-like part of Kirk’s comment and had succeeded in failing to hear the less sober choices among Kirk’s vocabulary. And then he wondered how it was that Saredin, a full Vulcan, could look like that when Spock, since his return from Gol, had never looked as though any of Kirk’s more personal dialogue was even audible to the Vulcan ear, despite the alleged superiority of Vulcan hearing over human.
But there was no time for this now. He glanced sideways, taking in both Spock and Stonn and said, clearly:
“Captain, I think it would be appropriate if both Sub-Commissioner Stonn and Commander Spock transferred to the Seleya at this point.”
“Their presence would, of course, honour us,” Saredin said.
Stonn was speaking before Saredin had almost finished.
“Captain Kirk,” he said, quickly, “I request permission to remain on board this ship. It was Commissioner Sevonal’s understanding that I would maintain my position on board the Enterprise for the duration of this mission and it seems logical to conclude that I am more likely to be of use to you here in this capacity than at any other point in proceedings.”
Kirk said, crisply
“Sub-Commissioner, I am responsible for the safety of all hands and I do not believe that the risk to you and the Commander is justified from here on in.”
“With respect, Captain, the risk to my people justifies any possible risk to my own safety.”
He met Stonn’s eyes with a level of respect and understanding. And then heard Spock’s voice from over his other shoulder.
“Captain, I am the serving First Officer of this vessel and there could be no justification for me to leave the ship at this time or any other. However, I submit that the Sub-Commissioner’s presence here is not vital to the mission and that he should be transferred immediately to the Seleya. My presence here should be sufficient for the requirements of the VSA.”
Kirk turned, looked at Spock hard. There was something in Spock’s words which spoke to Kirk of an intention which went beyond the conventional reluctance to allow risk to a guest on the ship – something which, uniquely since Spock left Gol, almost spoke of personal feeling. He said – wanting to catch hold of whatever of Spock that feeling represented, and also because he meant it -
“Not sure I agree with you, Commander. Sub-Commissioner Stonn understands Soltar better than all of us. If the VSA would be content to have only one of you with us, there’s a real argument for you taking up Saredin’s invitation and not Stonn.”
No question, there was a reaction in Spock’s eyes. Also, no question that he was angry – both with Kirk’s proposal and with the fact that Kirk was deliberately pushing him in front of both bridge crews. And the shutters came down.
“In that case, Captain, unless you are making a direct order, I submit that the situation would be appropriate served by the continuing presence on the Enterprise of both the Sub-Commissioner and myself.”
Which was the conclusion he had been expecting all along.
Kirk nodded to Saredin.
“Looks like we’ll be keeping our current complement, Captain Saredin. We’ll keep in regular contact on the secure channel, as before. Kirk out.”
The image of the Seleya vanished and he was looking at the stars again, on the way to Faltonia, and whatever was waiting for them. They were committed now, all of them and they were on their own. He stood up and asked Sulu to take the con.
“Commander, please meet me in my quarters in 30 minutes,” he said to the science console, and left the bridge.
When was the last time Spock had been in his quarters on the Enterprise? It must be the chess match, Christmas Day, the day before he left the ship three years ago. Spock showed not the slightest memory or awareness of any history and Kirk certainly wasn’t going to, either.
He did not offer him a drink. Stage One, Category One. All right, Commander.
He did ask him to sit down. Spock ignored him.
“Mind telling me, off the record, Spock, what the story is with you and Stonn?” he said, evenly.
“I do not understand the question,” the Vulcan said, staring rigidly out of the viewer.
“I think you do,” Kirk said, softly. “Look, I’m not being obtuse. I know the history as well as you do. But the functioning of this ship is my top priority just now, and I need to know we are going into whatever lies ahead” – he gestured vaguely in the direction of travel – “in the best possible shape. No distractions, no misunderstandings. You don’t want Stonn here, that’s clear, and I would like to know if there is anything more that I don’t know about, that I don’t understand.”
“That question invades my personal life, Captain.”
He drew a deep breath and counted to three. He knew there were what the Vulcan might have called integers of greater numerical value, but was too irritated to attempt them.
“Whatever you bring on my ship affects me, Commander.”
Spock turned to him then, face carved in stone.
“I do not consider the Sub-Commissioner to be essential ship’s personnel. You appear to condone his substitution for my presence in order to protect my personal safety. That is not the basis on which I enlisted on this mission at your behest; moreover, it is improper for you to make decisions on the deployment of personnel based on personal sentiment.”
Kirk’s eyes widened. Spock must be angrier than he thought – though not, perhaps, as angry as his CO was now.
“Wait just a damn minute, Commander. And don’t make any assumptions about any inappropriate motivation on my part here. The safety of my crew is my primary responsibility. And you may not like it but that includes yours.”
“At this point, Captain, it is more than arguable that your primary and overriding responsibility is, in fact, the safety of Vulcan. That was my purpose in joining this mission and your suggestion on the bridge would have had the purpose of negating what contribution I could make. Moreover, it is essential to the success of this mission that it is undertaken in true partnership with Vulcan and with proper regard for diversity and for cultural sensitivities and a proposal to leave behind the ship’s First Officer out of concern for his personal safety has no place in an approach which includes respect for Vulcan or that officer.”
Kirk sorted through this speech with growing frustration. He opened his mouth to retort, deliberately closed it, walked to the viewer, turned and walked back again.
“Look, Spock,” he said, as levelly as he could. “You and I had this conversation once the other way round; it didn’t go well then and I’m not prepared to have it now. For better or worse, you’re under my command now, and there is a threat out there which poses a danger to you which is immeasurably greater than for the rest of us. I cannot but take that into account. You’re my responsibility and yes, you are an irreplaceable asset to the mission, and I need to ensure that we take a proportionate approach to whatever risk you necessarily face, that’s all.” He stared at the Vulcan, then let his tone soften.
“Spock. Don’t ever accuse me of a lack of respect for Vulcan, let alone for you. I’m here because Vulcan’s safety is crucial to the Federation and to the whole galaxy and I know that it is. And you’re with me because you’re part of what makes me the best commander for the mission. You’ve always had my respect. And – I missed you.”
There was a brief pause, while Kirk wondered whether he’d really uttered the last three words, held his breath and wondered if Spock was going to ignore the appeal. He was given little time for any uncertainty.
“I am wanted in the laboratory, Captain,” the Vulcan said remotely.
He closed his eyes, suddenly tired to the bone, even though the conversation had lasted less than five minutes.
“Dismissed,” he said, and when he opened his eyes again, he was alone.
Please don't bother to point out the holes in the medical theories in this chapter, or for that matter any other chapter. It's science fiction and I am not a doctor. I just hope it doesn't spoil the story for anyone. My advice is to go with suspension of disbelief.
He remembered the first time he had seen the Seleya, the rendezvous in Gamma Sector, the joint dilithium project. He had been so wary of the entire initiative then, so conflicted about Spock and so hostile to Saredin. Ironic that now it felt odd to be proceeding without the Enterprise’s familiar shadow, without the partnership which meant checking in with Saredin twice a day and hearing those deep, level tones.
But it felt energising, almost liberating. This, after all, was what he was used to. The clean isolation of command, his own wits against what lay ahead – and the absolute support of Spock and the bridge crew. This was home. This was as good as it got – would have to be, would have to work, for everyone’s sake.
Spock had been entirely accurate about the range of Starfleet face-to-face communication; just as they reached Faltonia the last visual conversation with Wesley and Ciani died, still-born, with an afterbirth of static. Kirk should have found this reassuring, in terms of the calibre of his bridge crew as he travelled towards what might constitute the greatest threat to the Federation in recent memory, but in fact he found it depressing. He was realising more and more that the gifts that Spock had always brought to Starfleet and to the Enterprise – gifts which he had always known were Vulcan in nature (such as Spock’s eidetic memory) but enhanced by Spock’s particular genius – had only been endearing (as well as being invaluable) because they were accompanied by Spock’s humanity. In the absence of any access to or evidence of the personality beyond the calculations, the three-decimal-point dialogue that so irritated McCoy was distancing to Kirk. Worse, he found himself questioning Spock’s sincerity, wondering what lay behind the calculation which was by such an obvious margin more precise than any practical application required. Once, he would have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that its purpose was to tease. Without that possibility, it crossed his mind that the objective was to achieve distance, to hide behind the shield of data, as in fact he suspected it might once have been in the long ago days before Stage One, Category One. And now (though Kirk, feeling the disloyalty, shied away from this thought) it might even have the purpose of erecting the barrier of Vulcan arrogance between the First Office of the Enterprise and the crew who had once been his friends.
There were times when the memory of the Copernicus hung like an albatross round Kirk’s neck, times when trust without words seemed an impossible ask, a mirage, a large mouthful that stuck in his throat. But he was committed; he wasn’t letting go now.
The confusion about Spock - the constant flitting between different theories as to his true state of mind and intentions, the questioning of the meaning behind every encounter – was not reflected in the status of the mission. Once arrived in Faltonian space, the extent of what they faced became all too clear. Six Mila ships were ranged half a day’s travel beyond the system. One was a science ship, three were scout class vessels and two were heavyweight battlecruisers.
Starfleet had done their best to provide effective and speedy backup and Kirk knew that the Republic, Farragut and Lincoln were only about a day’s journey behind, not far from where the Seleya waited for news. The sensible thing to do would be to wait. But Kirk wasn’t paid to be sensible. Sensible had never got him anywhere.
He ordered Sulu to set a course for the Mila flotilla at warp four, and sent back a report to the Seleya, another to the task force and a third to Starfleet HQ. That left only an hour before they would be within hailing distance of Milani, whom Kirk suspected was waiting for him, on the far side of Faltonian space.
Spock had taken the con in order to let Kirk file the reports from his office in privacy, and he left his quarters now to take in Sickbay, en route back to the bridge. He found the facility on high alert. Medical teams had assembled an impressive array of equipment, a steady stream of reports found their way from the labs to McCoy and his assistants, the entire area had an appearance of professional energy, determination and readiness. He said as much to McCoy, who shook his head, in wry admission.
“Don’t let it fool you, Captain. If the worst happens, we’re sunk.”
Kirk regarded him.
“That bad? No chance of fighting it?”
“Fighting it?” McCoy spread his hands. “Look around you, Jim. We get hit by Mila’s box of tricks, my team’ll give it everything they have. I don’t give up – you know that. But we’re scrambling in the dark here. We’re still guessing as to what it is, what it does – whether it even exists – and we’re light years away from figuring out the treatment, even assuming there is any.”
Kirk’s gut tightened.
“The labs –“ he started.
“- the labs have done a good job and they’re still working round what the clock,” McCoy said, bluntly. “We’ve done as much as could be done without a shred of real data. I just need you to know that I don’t think it’s going to be enough.” He sighed, a harsh sound, and looked back at Kirk, his expression lightening infinitesimally. “Look - we’re as prepared as we know how to be: we’ve got a good bank of Vulcan blood, which is probably the single most important thing, and I’m no longer the only person on the ship who knows the difference between Vulcan and human endocrinology and where Spock’s heart is.”
“Bones, no one knows better than I do that you’ve done all you can and will do more than anyone else could. Don’t beat yourself up over it, whatever happens. You’ll find a way – I know you will.”
“Hmm,” McCoy said, his eyes resting on Kirk’s. “You need any lessons on Vulcan biology, Jim?”
“I’m sorry?” Kirk said, startled.
“Wondering if you’ve figured out any more than the rest of us where Spock’s heart is.”
He smiled slightly, and turned to go.
“Could be your last chance, Jim.”
Kirk turned back.
“What are you trying to say, Bones?”
“Only what you know perfectly well. Whatever happens here, Spock’s in the firing line. You know that, I know that and he knows that. What I’ve been trying to tell you is that we may not be able to help him much. That means you, Captain, might want to consider anything you have to say to your First Officer sooner rather than later. I know he’s not exactly in a communicative frame of mind, but frankly at this stage of the game I’m more concerned about you than him. Don’t leave it too late, because it’ll matter to you afterwards.”
Kirk said, more sharply than he had intended:
“I have more to worry about at the moment, Doctor, than exchanging pleasantries with Spock. And so far as that goes – I’ve done all I possibly could to get through to him and it’s his choice. We’re all adults and we have to deal with where we are.”
“Wouldn’t want to insult my CO or disagree,” came the inevitable Georgian drawl, “but in my experience, that particular phrase is only ever used when people are behaving like kids. No” – holding up a hand – “wait a minute, Jim. I didn’t mean to have a go at you. Just to make you aware of the facts.”
“What facts, Bones?” he asked impatiently, still half turned to go.
“Has it occurred to you, Captain,” McCoy asked, very quietly, “that the only real advance we are going to be able to make is when we get the first casualty? And that the first casualty is likely to be your First Officer? More than that – that Spock knows this?”
Kirk’s eyes met the CMO’s in appalled conjecture, and then he had left Sickbay and was on his way to the turbolift.
As Kirk entered the bridge, the owner of an alien endocrinology rose from the command seat and silently receded to the science console. McCoy’s words lingered in Kirk’s mind as his First Officer passed him, and the captain hesitated for the merest half breath. But there was no time, no place to say anything and there was less than no chance that Spock would be prepared to hear it.
Uhura turned, and nothing in her voice suggested anything out of the ordinary as she said, smoothly:
“Sir, the Mila fleet is now within hailing distance.”
He settled himself in the command seat, said:
“Put me on shipwide first, please, Lieutenant,” and, as she silently complied, went on “All hands, this is the captain speaking. As you know, we have now arrived at the far side of Faltonia and we now face the Mila fleet, as we expected. We will not court confrontation and we must draw on every moment of experience, every hard won wisdom to resolve what lies ahead at minimal cost of life. But we must remember, all of us, the far greater cost to the communities and worlds we leave behind and which we are charged to protect, particularly Vulcan. We have been proud to serve alongside the Seleya; we, more than any Starfleet vessel have had cause to learn over the years the value that Vulcan brings to the Federation. Whatever we do now, it must be to protect that heritage and that gift. I know you are with me on this. Thank you. Kirk out.”
He didn’t look at Spock, either as he spoke or afterwards, but he breathed a little easier, all the same. OK, Bones, he thought silently. I’ve said it, the only way I could. Happy?
And the time for personal considerations was past as he said, briskly,
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Please open a channel to the Mila fleet, and send Commander Milani my compliments. And, Uhura – just me on the screen, please. The rest of you: please stay out of sight.”
There was a pause while the bridge crew, as a man, focused more on listening than breathing, and then the screen filled with the image of the being who had dominated his thoughts over the past month and who had never quite left them for the past year and a half. Stonn’s value to the mission was in trying to understand Soltar and his scientific reasoning; this had fed through to the desperate efforts of McCoy’s team and the research that had been the focus of Spock’s and McCoy’s recent work together. But Kirk was a military commander first and foremost; he left technical analysis to his team. What he wanted to understand was his opposite number, Milani, the huge eyes and thin features which now filled the space which Lori Ciani had been the last being to occupy. In the split second before Milani spoke, it occurred to Kirk, in one of those slightly mindless moments when his brain slipped off the leash and went for a walk on its own, that one of the slightly disconcerting things about the Mila was their colouring. None of the politics of diversity of the past three centuries had changed the fact that the picture of innocence in Iowa was still a small child with flaxen hair and a gappy toothed smile. The Mila hair was exactly the same colour as some of the images which came, unbidden into Kirk’s thoughts. But the Mila didn’t smile. And he didn’t think they were innocent, either.
“Captain Kirk. We meet again.”
Kirk pulled himself together.
“Commander Milani. I trust you are in good health. You certainly appear to be surrounded by a good number of friends.”
Milani looked around him, as though counting his crew and fleet, or perhaps almost as though he had been unaware of their presence. He turned back to the screen.
“And you, Captain? I trust I see you also surrounded by old friends?”
Kirk smiled into the taut features.
“You see me surrounded by my crew, Commander. And you’ll be aware that another four ships are a short distance behind me. It’s good to have company out here, a long way from home.”
“Not quite what I meant, Captain,” came the response. “I was wondering whether you had enjoyed a complete reunion, on being reassigned to the Enterprise. Is Commander Spock with you?”
“I appreciate your interest,” Kirk said, courteously. “It’s unusual to be asked for details of individual officers. Might I enquire as to your reason?”
“Come, Captain,” Milani said, impatiently – and Kirk wondered whether, in another species, the comment would have been accompanied by a smirk instead of the brusque tone and, if so, which of the two he would have found more sinister, “not only am I aware of Commander Spock’s presence but you are aware of my reasons for asking. Are your achievements recognised by the hour, that you are so willing to waste time on what is obvious not only to you and me but to most of the sector, let alone our two crews?”
“By the same token,” he countered, “I could ask why you raised the issue in the first place.”
Milani sat back slightly in his seat, as though arriving at the core of the conversation, which Kirk didn’t like at all. Just then, he would have liked to have talked about almost anything other than Spock. A brief list of all his least favourite topics lined up, of their own accord, in his head – his future, after this mission, assuming he survived; his relationship with Lori Ciani – and every other woman he had failed; his mother. He would even, at this point, have discussed his fourth grade exam results with Milani rather than anything about his First Officer, but he knew he was not going to be given the choice. It was par for the course, but strange, nevertheless. Ever since his parting with Spock – that Christmas handclasp in his quarters three years ago, the Vulcan had been the favourite subject of conversation of almost everyone he had encountered.
“Captain, let us be open with each other, you and I. It will be much quicker and easier for everyone.”
“Well, it would at least make a change from our last meeting,” Kirk agreed, “and variety is the spice of life. Would you like to start? I believe I may be slightly ahead of you in this regard.”
For a moment, Milani looked rather as Saredin did, when presented with Kirk’s less formal language, and then went on:
“You are outnumbered, at least for the duration. You are aware that we are accompanied by a science vessel under the command of Soltar of Vulcan and you are also aware of the nature of the scientific innovations for which he is responsible.” Thank God McCoy wasn’t on the bridge. Scientific innovations would have won instant Georgian vociferous commentary. “I believe you are also aware of what lies behind our journey.”
“Why don’t we avoid making assumptions?” Kirk said, quietly. “Yes, I know much of what you say. Tell me more about why, Commander. I have been to your world, I have seen your people and the way you live. You say I am aware of what lies behind your journey. The truth is that I cannot begin to understand what leads a sophisticated benign civilisation on a mission of ethnic slaughter half way across the galaxy.”
Milani’s expression did not change, because it never changed, but in Kirk’s fancy his eyes seemed slightly larger, more deepset, as he said:
“Captain Kirk, your last words speak far more than you realise. To you and all your people Mila are simply a very long way away. It has been very easy for you to sit in Starfleet, on Earth, in the heart of Federation space, in the safety of your vessels and play at politics with the Romulans. For years you have pontificated about Neutral Zone, made speeches and played at arms races. And who has paid the penalty? Not you. Not Earth. Not Vulcan. Our people, Captain – our friends, our women, our children – in every Romulan raid, every incursion into Federation space, every gesture into which you provoked the Empire. And then, because it suited you – because for the first time you and your Federation were threatened – suddenly the Romulans are your friends. And none of this matters any more – not my family, not my comrades, not their pain, not their deaths, because they are half way across the galaxy. There will be no peace, Captain, until this is recognised and until the price has been paid.”
Kirk said, quickly,
“Milani – I know this. I know your people have suffered. And I know your people have been wronged. Ask for a price – you are entitled to do so and asking is where dialogue starts. But don’t decide in advance what the price is. Don’t turn the Mila into the Romulans. Make this an opportunity for real peace, for an end to the cycle of violence. I know you have that vision.”
The deep eyes met his, across the space between the ships. And Milani said, slowly,
“I am a reasonable being, Captain. I will not abandon my weapons, but I will talk before I pull the trigger. My people are not all as reasonable as I am, though, and like you, I answer to others – others who have cause to feel very keenly the betrayal for which the Vulcans are responsible. I must have at least a token before any talks begin.”
“A token of what?” Kirk asked, but he knew before the words left his mouth.
“A token of your sincerity. Beam over Commander Spock to my custody, and we will talk.”
He was aware of a sudden movement behind him to his right and lifted his hand off screen in savage command as he said to the screen, his words more gentle than his action,
“I appreciate the flexibility, Commander, but there will have to be another way. My First Officer is not a fitting object of your vengeance. I suggest you look elsewhere.”
He was right – there was a range of Mila expression, and the briefing he had been given all those months ago was inaccurate. It was so slight as to be almost invisible, but it was there in the change in the size of the eyes. Milani’s features remained immobile, but his eyes narrowed, and he said in glacial tones,
“In every venture, Captain, however many are involved and whatever tribute is paid to teamwork, there is always that one individual without whom an objective would not have been achieved. Your First Officer is responsible almost single-handedly for bringing about the reconciliation between the Empire and Vulcan and Starfleet. In this, he acted without the slightest regard for the well-being of my people, who were not even consulted throughout the process. There will be no peace while Spock enjoys his life and liberty. You will discover our intentions soon enough. Milani out.”
Into the silence which followed, Spock said,
“Captain, request permission to –“
“Denied,” Kirk said, flatly. He was so angry he could not even look at Spock. From Spock’s tone of voice, it was impossible to tell that the feeling was mutual, but Kirk suspected it was, all the same, as his First Officer said:
“With respect, sir, it is illogical and unconscionable to permit the threat to billions of beings, including my own planet, when that threat could be averted by the sacrifice of a single individual – moreover, one who has willingly made himself available for that purpose.”
“Denied,” he said again, in the command tone, still not meeting Spock’s eyes. “Kindly remember, Commander, that this is my ship and that I have just given you two direct orders. I am not prepared to discuss this subject. We do not sacrifice life, no matter what the statistics – we left that behind many centuries ago.”
“Captain,” Stonn interjected. He had forgotten Stonn was on the bridge. “The Mila ship appears to be releasing a gaseous substance directed at this vessel.”
Kirk’s attention shot back to the screen, now empty of Milani. A cloudy, faintly blue fog was emanating from one of the ships in front of the Enterprise; the science vessel, he guessed. He said, sharply:
“Ensure all vents are closed, shipwide, immediately,” and saw Uhura’s fingers dancing on the keyboard, Spock speaking quickly into the intercom. He himself hit the comm button on the arm of his chair and said softly,
“Bridge to Sickbay.”
McCoy’s tones filtered through.
“Sickbay here, McCoy speaking. Anything for me, Captain?”
“The Milani seem to be sending something our way. Think you’d better come up here, Bones, I’d value your thoughts.”
“On my way, McCoy out.”
Kirk swung to his right.
Spock was scanning. He said, slowly:
“There is an unknown element in the gaseous substance which appears to be deflecting scanners, Captain.” There was a pause as he continued rapidly to read data being fed into his station, and then he straightened and turned to Kirk just as McCoy came through the turbolift doors onto the bridge.
“Remote analysis is impractical to any degree of precision, Captain,” he said formally. “I recommend that a sample is obtained to process under laboratory conditions.”
“Sounds like good thinking,” Kirk said, nodding to him. McCoy said:
“And how in the blazes are we going to do that? Jim – that stuff must be more uncontrollable than a Kansas hurricane. Spock may be right, but we can’t risk taking any on the ship. It’ll have a mind of its own.”
“I recommend opening a single air vent to an airtight chamber under secure conditions,” Spock said coolly.
Kirk thought for a minute.
“Airlock Four,” he said. “Chekhov, post a security detail down there, make sure it’s properly sealed before the vent is open and make sure the security team know that no one is to be permitted inside the chamber at any time.”
“Permission to accompany them, Captain,” said Spock. Kirk turned and asked, warily,
“Reason, Commander? You graduated from security details rather a long time ago. And I’d value your thoughts as things develop up here.”
“The situation on the bridge appears to be stable at this point, Captain. The management of the airlock chamber, however, is of paramount importance to the success of this mission and to the preservation of life and I submit that it merits the presence of command personnel.”
Kirk met his eyes; pools of oblique darkness; no clues there at all. But his point was difficult to argue.
Trust without words, he reminded himself. He could think of no three words of which he was more tired. He would almost have preferred “the aircar’s totalled” which he had once had to proffer to his father at the age of fourteen.
“Very well, Mr Spock,” he said, briefly, and Spock stood up and left the bridge.
McCoy wandered over to stand behind him.
“Hope you know what you’re doing, Jim,” he said, softly. Kirk said nothing. The moments dragged, a little, and then Stonn’s voice came through the intercom.
“Captain, this is Stonn. “
He glanced around; he had not realised Stonn had also left the bridge. The full Vulcan was not formally under his command but he would have expected him nonetheless to notify Kirk of his departure, especially given the extent of the exchanges they had built up over the preceding weeks. Stonn had clearly followed Spock deliberately, and Kirk was both grateful for this and, at the same time, uneasy, as if Stonn had guessed something that had evaded Kirk. Of course, Stonn didn’t have three words hanging round his neck the whole time.
“Kirk here. Go ahead, Sub-Commissioner.”
“Captain, the air chamber has been fully sealed and Commander Spock is proposing to order the vent open.”
“Very well, ask him to go ahead,” and then, at that moment, the sense of unease crystallised, and he said, sharply
“Belay that order. Stonn! Spock!”
But no one answered.
“Scotty – I want Deck Four sealed off and all non-essential personnel evacuated, immediately. Sulu, take the con,” he snapped, and was moving to the turbolift, McCoy at his heels, before the words had left his mouth.
The scene outside Airlock Four was unremarkable, except for the absence of the security detail.
Kirk could not remember in all the years he had known Spock being quite so incandescently angry with him. And terrified. That, too. He and McCoy exchanged looks. Both were breathing hard. And Kirk started towards the door to the chamber.
“Wait, Jim,” McCoy said breathlessly, grabbing at his arm. “We’ll both be infected. And so will anyone else left in this section of the ship.”
“Yes,” he snapped, “but it’s all conjecture, Bones. The worst we think is that it’s a substance fatal to Vulcans but not to humans. So that makes us carriers. I can live with that, at least for now. They’ll both die.” He brushed past the CMO and hit the door release.
The space beyond the door was filled with the same translucent gas which Kirk had seen outside the ship, but the blue colouring was more evident here, more substantive. With one part of his mind, he noticed that here and there, the gas seemed to include a suspension of more concentrated blue patches, which looked almost as though they had crystals at the centre. Most of his attention, however, was focused on not one but two prone bodies – Stonn flat on his back, Spock half against the floor, half against the wall. He registered that both were breathing, somewhat raggedly, both appeared unconscious, and that Stonn appeared to have vomited and was bleeding, rather more profusely than Spock.
He heard McCoy slam a fist into the intercom.
“Vulcan trauma team, isolating equipment, Airlock Four, emergency,” he snapped, and Kirk thought dully We should have called Sickbay from the bridge. I knew then that he’d done this. He knelt beside Spock, ignored both medical protocol and Gol protocol and reached for the Vulcan’s shoulder. He knew Spock was very far away when there was no response, no objection.
“Spock! Spock, can you hear me?”
“No chance, Jim,” McCoy said, coming up on Spock’s other side, hypo in hand. “They’re out cold – let me see – yes, just like Stonn, some sort of deep trauma to the cortex.”
“Trauma? You’re not saying they’ve been physically attacked?”
“No, clearly not – though actually Spock has – you can see here – and here,” McCoy gestured to grazing on Spock’s forehead and some bruising to his arm. “But I suspect that would be ancillary, Captain.”
Kirk looked from one Vulcan to the other.
“Spock went in and Stonn tried to stop him,” he realised.
“That’s my guess. And no, no physical blow. But this contagion – whatever it is – it’s had the same sort of impact on the thinking process as a blow to the head. Fairly immediate, too. There’s the team now. Go away, Jim. We’ll do what we can. You can’t help and you’re needed elsewhere.”
The room was suddenly full of medics, the reassuring sounds of activity and of a sense of purpose. Kirk stood back, let McCoy’s people do their job and watched both the Vulcans lifted gently onto gurneys to be taken to the isolation unit.
He knew from his earlier conversation with McCoy that they could have been strapped into seats on a carousel for all that this was likely to help them. And he knew it from his brief contact with Spock. Never since he had met Spock, including all the days since Gol, had he been so profoundly unaware of the Vulcan’s thoughts, his presence. It had been as though Spock were not there at all.
He left the airlock chamber and went back to the bridge.
The briefing room looked oddly depleted, and Kirk realised that it not only had less people in it, it was the first time since he had left Earth that he had held any sort of conference without a Vulcan present.
“Report,” he said, briefly.
“The remainder of the task force will arrive at the rendezvous within ten point five hours, sir.”
“Good. I’ll update the Seleya myself after this meeting.” Saredin deserved to hear about Spock direct, he thought. He owed it to the captain of the Seleya to let him know in person the results of their ill-conceived joint enterprise to rescue Spock from Gol.
“Sulu? The Mila flotilla?”
“No significant activity, sir. They appear to be making observations. There is no sign of any additional vessels being intended to join the fleet in the near future, since reports indicate none within at least ten day’s travel from this point.”
“No need,” Kirk said, harshly. “It looks as though they can manage mass murder very neatly without any help.”
“Sir – if I may? The presence of the science vessel may suggest that much, if not all, of the expertise and the contagious material which has been produced could be held here, in the flotilla. If we attack – we could disable the science vessel and destroy what is on board.”
“It’s an important opportunity; we need to think through the strategy. It’s too easy, though. I can’t believe they would sit here and wait for the Enterprise (not to mention the task force) to blow them to pieces. For a start, we don’t know what that stuff would do if we blew it up. I need more data before we reach any decisions.”
The briefing room doors had opened while he was in mid-speech and McCoy came in. He looked tired and grim, and Kirk tensed.
“My recommendation is not to touch it with a bargepole,” he said, sitting down rather heavily in the nearest chair. “We’re working on analysis but it’s utterly foreign to me. It has some very active properties. If there’s any way of waiting, Jim, I wouldn’t put it top of my list for now.”
“Report, Doctor,” he said, mouth slightly dry.
McCoy met his eyes squarely.
“Stonn is dead,” he said.
Kirk closed his eyes and opened them again.
“Hanging on. I’d like you to come and see him, Captain. He can’t see or hear you, but his condition is interesting and you’re contaminated anyway, so we can let you in the isolation chamber.”
The isolation chamber was very quiet. Stonn’s body had already been removed and presumably McCoy’s team were working on it, learning whatever lessons could be learned from his death. Kirk thought, briefly, about what he himself had learned. That at least part of what had brought Stonn to the Enterprise had perhaps been the repayment of an old debt. That Stonn had brought intelligence and integrity to the ship. That in the final analysis, Stonn had understood perhaps better than he the question McCoy had asked him that morning (“Wondering if you’ve figured out any more than the rest of us where Spock’s heart is.”) That the choice T’Pring had made on a hot day in the Vulcan desert more than six years ago had eventually led to the loss of both men, at least as far as she was concerned.
Spock lay motionless, connected to a range of equipment on whose purpose Kirk did not care to speculate. His face looked empty. Kirk had only one question in his mind.
“Why is Spock alive and not Stonn?” he said to McCoy, eyes still on the biobed.
“Only one possibility, Jim. He’s only half Vulcan.”
“Couldn’t do a thing for Stonn. He was worse than Spock to start with, the thing had produced far more advanced symptoms in him in the same space of time. I treated them both the same, but it didn’t help Stonn. In fact,” for a brief moment, McCoy’s face looked haunted, “it probably killed him.”
Kirk refocused on his CMO, put his hand to McCoy’s shoulder, and gently pushed him into a chair.
McCoy ran a hand through his hair.
“The VSA hypothesis was that Soltar would focus on the things that differentiate Vulcans.”
“Copper-based blood and telepathy.”
“Right. And so that’s what we’ve been working on. Not much to go on, but it was as good a place as any to start and Stonn was fairly sure of Soltar’s thinking, for what it’s worth, so we went with his suggestions. Which is ironic, really, considering what I’ve just done.”
“What have you done, Bones?” he asked, as gently as he could.
“You heard Spock, that day in the briefing room. There’s a link in Vulcans between the cortex, the adrenal system and the telepathic capability, and he reckoned it was a possibility as a channel of infection, because the immune system shuts down when the telepathic instinct is at risk.”
“That’s all I’ve had to go on, Jim. Like you said, blood and thought. I’ve given them both as much Vulcan blood as we had in the banks. It was compatible for both of them, but we just couldn’t give Stonn enough. It was as though the stuff left his body as soon as it came in, as though he’d lost the ability to retain it. With Spock, it wasn’t quite so bad. He’s still needed more than I’ve ever given anyone in my life, his pressure has gone through the floor and if you were making him a birthday party he wouldn’t be able to stand up and blow out the candles – but he’s stable, just about, in terms of blood count, though the copper element is vastly diluted.”
“And why the difference?”
“The obvious one, Jim, the only one. The one Spock would hate, if he were up to hearing me. He’s only half Vulcan. His human half is taking over.”
Kirk looked back at the motionless body, aware of a rush of relief. Would that be the answer? A mixed blood count, some strange mixture of iron and copper – who cared what elemental compound, if it meant that there was any chance that Spock would ever, one day, just look at him with shuttered eyes and refuse, once again, everything from a game of chess and a drink of guava juice to an acknowledgement of friendship? Just now, that felt like everything he could reasonably ask.
“You’re not to blame, Bones,” he said firmly. “Why did you say you might have killed Stonn? You did all you could, all anyone could.”
McCoy stood restlessly and walked to Spock’s side, checked a reading and then turned back to face his CO.
“That wasn’t what killed him, though,” he said, softly. “And it wasn’t what saved Spock. I’ve only told you half the story.”
“Explain.” It came out more sharply than he had intended. McCoy looked wrecked, but he sensed that they had been circling the issue and he needed to know.
McCoy let his breath out in a sigh and his shoulders slumped.
“Blood and thought, Jim. Blood and thought. They were both dying. They needed more blood transplants than a Jacobean tragedy – nothing would have saved them. And I remembered what Spock had said – the link between the telepathic capability, the immune system which controls infection and the adrenalin system. I had no idea what I was doing, if you really want to know, but it was that or nothing. I gave them each a shot of hydroxymethimazole. You won’t have heard of it, but it’s used in certain situations on humans to control thyroid activity; it suppresses the adrenal system, though it’s not intended for long term use, for obvious reasons, and absolutely not for non-humans. I figured, if what Spock said was right, it might ameliorate the symptoms by suppressing the telepathic impulse and isolating from the body the source of contagion. I was out of other ideas and I figured I had seconds left.”
“And what happened?” asked Kirk, with horrified fascination.
“It was instantaneous. I had them both on supplementary life support at that point. Spock started breathing on his own and Stonn’s entire system shut down.”
Kirk stared at McCoy and then turned and looked at Spock. He saw again the acute emptiness in the unconscious face, remembered his sense at Airlock Four that the Vulcan was somehow profoundly absent.
He said, very softly:
“You mean he’s functioning as a human now. That’s why he’s survived. His human half has taken over, physically and mentally.”
“Essentially, Captain. Minimal copper blood cells. And no telepathy. None at all.”
“Can it be reversed? If a cure were found, could his telepathy be restored?”
McCoy met his eyes levelly.
“You want to know the real answer, Jim? I haven’t the slightest idea.”
He should have felt reassured at the sight of the three Constitution class vessels in the main viewer, but he didn’t. He felt nothing so much as a vast unease, coupled with a sense of helplessness. Jim Kirk did not do helplessness well.
He had sent a message in code to the Seleya about Stonn. Kirk did not entirely trust Saredin not to follow through to Faltonian space, and the news about Stonn would at least impress upon him what was the very real risk to the Seleya crew and quite how helpless Saredin would be to save them, or indeed himself. Kirk suspected that Saredin would enjoy helplessness even less than he did himself. He had started to write a report to Saredin about Spock, and then stopped. There was almost nothing he could say which was not both devastating and highly personal – all the trust without words which he could summon did not prevent him feeling that a description from him, a human, of what had befallen Spock would somehow be a trespass and an intrusion in the Vulcan world. Saredin would know from his report about Stonn that Spock was still alive. For the moment, that would have to be sufficient and, for the moment, at least, it was true.
He had spoken to the COs of the Republic, Farragut and Lincoln and arranged a conference for 1600 hours, although just then he only had one item on the agenda and none of the phraseology he could devise disguised the fact that in substance the item was Grasping at Straws. A medical solution seemed out of reach. And a military solution was futile. Even if they could destroy the Mila flotilla – eminently achievable given the comparative firepower involved – it would achieve nothing and silent blue death would continue to creep towards Vulcan across the galaxy. The solution must be here, in the space between him and Milani, between McCoy and Soltar, in the words he had yet to find and the battle for healing which must be won in the labs and not through phaser fire.
And the intercom sounded.
“Yes?” he said, impatiently, as McCoy’s tones filtered through.
“You said you wanted me to let you know when Spock was coming round.”
Nothing at first except darkness. Perhaps more nothing than you had ever been aware of in your life. That was an illogical thought and an illogical concept. Nothing was an absolute term. Nonetheless, it was the case. No thought, no sensation, no awareness. More than nothing. Blackness. Emptiness. Absolute emptiness.
That was also illogical. Empty was another absolute term. It either existed or it did not. There could not be varying degrees of emptiness, since if less than absolute emptiness prevailed, no true emptiness had occurred. Nonetheless, it was the case. This was absolute emptiness.
Perhaps this was what humans called amnesia – not a syndrome ever experienced by Vulcans, of course. Your katra made it biologically impossible for you or any other Vulcan to experience a loss of self in that way, even only temporarily.
Your mind wandered, as though following a insubstantial thread, not even a solid, connected line - a trail of particles, of crumbs... Bread crumbs. Someone had thought about bread crumbs, trails of thought that were like bread crumbs, but it was not you - that was not your thought. That was not your image. Who are you? You stumbled across another image, a name – Kirok. Another world, another loss, another man. Not your loss – Jim’s. Jim’s face under your hands in front of a temple - “Our minds are one” but finding not Jim but an emptiness. Another emptiness.
Is this your emptiness? Is it Jim’s?
He is an extremely dynamic individual.
No. You remember: you remember yourself and you remember Jim; this loss is not that loss.
You are Spock and you are awake.
McCoy said, very gently:
“Spock? How are you feeling?”
He was in a room which he recognised as one of the isolation chambers connected to sickbay. He could hear the low sound of the operation of medical equipment, but oddly muffled. There was no one in the room but McCoy, who stood to the left of his bed, an oddly kind look on his face, arms crossed. Spock was aware of an entirely foreign sensation, as though he were indeed someone different from himself – another reflection he recognised as illogical (three in less than five point two minutes) – and his awareness closed down on a single sensation: a bruising to his temple. Stonn. And it all came back to him.
He attempted to sit and gave up, immediately, even before McCoy’s abortive movement of prevention, and said:
“Doctor, please inform the captain that I require an early opportunity to discuss with him –“
“Tell me yourself,” said a voice which was not McCoy’s and which Spock would have recognised out of a thousand others, blindfolded. He was not blindfolded and he had known Kirk was not in the room; had known that McCoy was the only other person present. At the same time he turned to his right and simultaneously understood three things.
First, that Kirk was sitting on the edge of an empty neighbouring biobed, an indescribable expression on his face.
Secondly, that the reason for Spock’s assumption that no other personnel had been present in the room had been his lack of any awareness of anyone else. And even Gol had not removed his awareness of Kirk’s thoughts; he might have ignored them, he might have declined to trespass on them, but the subliminal awareness persisted.
And thirdly, those two arms of the syllogism being satisfied – Kirk was present; Spock had not known Kirk was present - a whole part of Spock, his perception, his sense of awareness must be gone.
The Masters, he thought vaguely, would have been proud of the syllogism.
And then he thought, in a detached and entirely uncharacteristically random manner “How can I know myself now?”
He reached for something – anything – and found the First Officer. It was not much, but it would have to do. There are always possibilities.
“Sir,” he said, formally. “I wish to report.”
Kirk said, a kindness in his voice which Spock found utterly unbearable (when had Kirk started being kind to him?) -
“Take your time, Spock. Answer McCoy. How are you feeling?”
Spock looked back at McCoy and found it marginally easier than talking to Kirk; it bore, at least, some passing resemblance to previous conversations with McCoy, before Airlock Four. Refusing to consider in too great a detail the implications of this, he looked directly at the CMO and said in the tone both of a direct question and a direct answer:
“I am not functioning effectively with regard to extrasensory perception. My assumption is that the Mila virus has impacted adversely on the link from the endocrine system to the cortex.”
“The only way to keep you alive was to administer hydroxymethimazole,” said McCoy, who had sufficient experience – of medicine in general and of the First Office of the Enterprise in particular - to recognise a patient who did not want a bedside manner and did not want news broken gently.
There was a brief silence during which Spock did not allow himself to feel anything at all and then, almost as a result of seeking for the small, the specific and the manageable, seemed to feel all over again the contusion on his forehead.
“Should I assume that Sub-Commissioner Stonn has suffered the same symptoms?”
“Spock,” McCoy said, in the same gentle tone, “Stonn is dead.”
The presence of Kirk and McCoy, their gentleness, was impossible, wholly intolerable. He reached instinctively for Vulcan mind control, for the wall he had always erected – and found only vertigo, like a person who leans on a railing at the top of a flight of stairs and finds the railing unaccountably gone. He reached back behind him, away from the drop, back to the command rank. It was all he had, it would have to serve, it would have to serve.
“You will be concentrating on your analysis of the results of post-mortem investigations,” he said. “You must also observe my own symptoms and take whatever samples might be effective in developing from my condition an understanding of the virus.”
“We will be,” McCoy said, with a steady, appraising regard – the respect of one professional for another, the protectiveness that was the hallmark of McCoy’s care for all his patients and something else, which Spock refused to see. “But that can wait ten minutes. I’ll leave you alone with the captain here while I go check on the team who are working on Stonn.”
Spock watched as the doctor swung round and walked towards the door, knowing that the only thing he wanted less than ten minutes alone with Kirk was ten point one minutes alone with Kirk. And that he was entirely and altogether powerless in the matter.
He turned, with no small effort, to the right hand side of the biobed, and said without expression to the person waiting there:
“Sir, I submit myself to disciplinary proceedings in relation to my actions at Airlock Four.”
He saw immediately that nothing in his current medical condition meant that Airlock Four was a closed incident; he had not expected it to be. Kirk said, curtly:
“Later for that.” And then, with a softer tone:
“Spock. It’s me - Jim. Talk to me.”
For a brief 12.2 seconds, the two regarded each other. And for that time, Spock let himself silently acknowledge what was being offered, and by whom, before he turned away. Had he been able to talk, Kirk would have been the only person who could have helped him and the last person whom he would have allowed to. He wondered why this was not clear to his CO. It had been very many years since he had held a conversation with Kirk without a subliminal telepathic awareness of the human; had no idea how to now – like a child who can ride a bicycle without support but has nevertheless never done so without stabilisers. And he had never held a conversation with Kirk when Kirk was feeling sorry for him. Angry, amused, affectionate, admiring, concerned, regretful, challenging. Yes, all of those; sometimes, several at once. But never sorry, and never kind. All of which meant that the way back – from the Seleya, from Gol, from Mila and Stonn, to that unique balance which had always been what had defined his friendship with Kirk – the way back had suddenly become even steeper than before. There would be no balance, ever again.
The day before, after the last communication with the Seleya, Kirk had said to Spock I missed you, and Spock had ignored him. Today, he was prone on a biobed with everything gone that was truly essential to Spock’s self, and Kirk said Talk to me. What Kirk did not seem to understand was that, impossible as a reply would have been to I missed you, a response to Talk to me was infinitely less likely – another paradox which seemed, at that moment, to Spock, to be as basic as calculus.
Kirk said, carefully:
“Please let me help, Spock. Please can’t we try to deal with this together?”
“It would be impossible for you to understand, Captain.”
He saw Kirk’s face tighten and knew he was making the human angry, which had been his intention. Angry was less dangerous than kind, easier than pity. But he knew better than to underestimate Kirk, who got up, paced to the door and then turned, abruptly.
“Look, Spock. I know you’re hurting and you’re not going to let me in. Your choice. And I’m sorry that you feel that I can’t understand. But don’t you think this might be a chance for you, though, to understand more about yourself?”
Very remotely indeed, as if to impose the maximum distance between him and Kirk and whatever Kirk was going to say, he said:
“What do you propose that I should learn about myself from this experience, sir?”
“Isn’t this a chance to figure out who you are? Look, maybe I can’t understand, maybe it’s beyond me. But I can tell you what I do know, and that is that here you are, hurt and incapacitated, but you’re still you, Spock. You’re still Spock. Couldn’t this be a chance to hold on to a sense of self that isn’t about being human or Vulcan but is about the part that simply belongs to you?”
He felt a tide of anger in him so immense that he would have believed it impossible to feel in any event, let alone directed at Kirk, at his clumsiness – impossible, that is, were it not followed, seconds later, by an even greater intensity of grief at the realisation that he was feeling that anger at all, that no controls lay between him and the maelstrom; that this – this was how it would be. And Kirk thought it was a chance to learn who he was.
And so, in an effort to make Kirk leave, to gain for himself the only thing he could possibly have – self gone, body weakened, independence a far-off goal but solitude still within reach - he said the thing he thought would make the other go.
“You humans,” he said, eyes resting directly and opaquely on Kirk’s, “have no conception.” He saw it go straight through Kirk, saw him recognise the quote, saw him understand the reference to six years ago, the other conversation in which Kirk had tried to make Spock let him enter his Vulcan world. And the consequences - Kirk dead in the sand; T’Pring; Stonn. Stonn, who was himself now dead, because of Spock.
Kirk stood, like someone who knows they are being dismissed. And then he took a breath, let it out very slowly, and nodded at his First.
“All right, Spock. I’ll leave you to it. I’ll expect you to cooperate with the medical team. And we’ll leave Airlock Four – for now. When you’re feeling better, I’ll expect a full report.”
Spock said “Thank you, Captain”, knowing that Kirk would hear in the superfluous words the acknowledgement that he would not make and did not feel, and Kirk left and Spock was on his own.
How could he begin to know himself when himself appeared irretrievably lost? And if Socrates had been right and the route to all knowledge was dependent on prior self-knowledge, how could he begin to learn about anything else?
Spock lay on the biobed and considered a comparative graph of all the things in his life which had meant the most to him. It seemed to him that once you included the quest for knowledge, all other possible aspects of living were dwarfed into insignificance. Worse, they were rendered less meaningful. His career. His parents, his fellow officers, Kirk. All relationships and dynamics informed by companionship on that journey of exploration – the journey on which he refused to be a passenger, had only ever been a navigator.
Spock knew, in his heart, that self-awareness had come late to him, who had always thought to seek knowledge elsewhere and not understood that, like charity, it started at home. The last few years had given him, one after the other, insights into the being he truly was which had transformed his understanding of the universe around him. This had started with leaving the Enterprise and his early command of the Seleya. He had sat by a fireplace in Iowa two and a half years ago and said to Kirk “I had achieved a level of reconciliation within myself as a result of the Seleya mission” and Kirk had known, had said “I have been so very glad for you.” And he had welcomed that understanding, been proud of it in a way he knew no full-blooded Vulcan would, but had done so wholeheartedly, none the less. But that same pride meant that he could not, now, begin to accept Kirk’s pity. And he had also admitted to Kirk, in Iowa: “Everything I know of psychology suggests that to achieve effective communication it is first necessary to ensure understanding from within.” No gift of prophecy could have given rise to so effective an anticipation of his current quandary. And this quest for understanding had taken him to Gol, to the pull of kolinahr which had shone as so alluring a goal – only to be postponed at the siren call of Kirk and the danger to Vulcan – now, perhaps, forever out of reach.
Today, his ambition to be the first half-human to achieve kolinahr had a bitter irony, a harsh taste.
He was no longer even Spock of Vulcan. He was simply Spock.
In his heart, although he would have admitted it to no one, that epithet had always been the source of a mixture of pride and pain, he who was of Vulcan and yet not of Vulcan. As a child, the idea of belonging wholly to one world had been an unattainable ideal, and as an adult he had seen this crystallised nowhere so clearly as in T’Pring’s choice of a full Vulcan as her spouse, which he knew had led to an illogical resentment on his part of the person who had died trying to save his life. Spock considered the cause of Stonn’s death and the fact that his own survival was due only to his human heritage and closed his eyes in pain.
And Kirk thought all this would help him to understand who he was.
At the echo in his mind of those words “Isn’t this a chance to figure out who you are?” Spock felt a growing physical symptom – a tide of sensation inside, a slight increase in respiratory rate and a tension along facial muscles – which led him almost to move to call McCoy, not through any concern for himself but because the precise analysis of his condition was all that stood between the Mila and the death of billions. But he halted the instinct in the understanding of the true nature of his reaction.
This was human anger. Blazing, destructive, resentful human anger.
Spock had experienced anger far more times in his life than he would ever have permitted McCoy to understand. In the past, however, he had always accessed Vulcan mental disciplines to control and regulate the instinct, moderating it into a place where he could subdue the strength and even extract from it what he needed. This was different. This tidal fire was what humans dealt with daily. He even knew that it was a key part of Kirk, of how the captain worked, of the strength he could bring to conflict and challenge.
Just then, Spock could as easily have conceived of taming an ion storm to assist in a professional endeavour. Could it be that if Kirk could use anger and Spock could not control it that Spock was lacking even the emotional control of a human, let alone a Vulcan?
“You’re still you, Spock. You’re still Spock.”
No, he was not. Kirk wanted to believe that, because Kirk was as conflicted as he was. But he had nothing to offer Kirk at this point and he would not revisit their friendship without the clarity and control which had always made that relationship possible for him, especially after the damage he knew he had done after Gol.
Gol. There was still Gol. Slowly, he closed his eyes and reached for the disciplines, for the doorway to meditation, as a child reaches for a comfort blanket.
After a while, he stopped. He still lay there, eyes closed, but with his answer. The path to Gol was closed to him. Even the smallest mental step had required a strength he knew was far beyond him.
Anger, on the other hand, far from depleting his reserves, had actually empowered him.
Spock was still sufficiently Spock to understand the reason for this and appreciate the logic, but he was sufficiently human to reject it, and he lay in the isolation chamber, doubly isolated, and stubbornly kept the force of reason at bay.
Back in the briefing room. The viewer on the desk showed simultaneous visual connection to the bridge of each of the three other vessels. All the COs looked grim and none of the officers around the Enterprise table looked as though their birthdays were coming any time soon. Stonn’s death – his immediate succumbing to the virus – had made the crisis real for the crew in a way that nothing else could have. And Kirk was under no illusion about their concern for Spock. Spock’s enlistment in the ship post Gol, for all his changed demeanour, had had an immediate effect on ship morale. You could do that, Kirk reflected, if you were a galaxy-renowned genius who was single-handedly responsible for ending interstellar war, as well as being a personal inspiration to a crew who would follow you anywhere, whether or not you were prepared to admit to it. But the downside was that when you were lying in a biobed in an isolation chamber, manifestly incapable of making any significant contribution to the mission in the immediate future and quite possibly permanently outside the reach of any personal relationship on board, you tended to lower the spirits of those who had reason to love you. It was a matter of supreme indifference, Kirk knew, to the crew members in question and to that love and admiration whether Spock was human or Vulcan or neither; it was a shame that Spock would never properly understand this.
Rand appeared with a black coffee – his fourth of the day – and Kirk gratefully took a large mouthful. McCoy told him he drank too much black coffee and should limit himself to three a day, but Kirk couldn’t remember when this particular day had started and he was relatively sure it had no obvious end in sight.
“McCoy, report,” Kirk said.
“Not all bad,” McCoy said, cautiously. “We at least know what we’re dealing with here, I’m no longer being asked to make up some hypothetical damn virus and then figure out how to cure it. We know the symptoms and we know the underlying pattern and we have a sample of the contagious material, a live victim and a deceased victim. I can’t say we’re there, but I’m reasonably confident we’ll get there – no matter how perverted his thinking is, Soltar’s still working within the boundaries of molecular biology and it’s just about cracking the code now, ought to be. At least, as far as a vaccination is concerned.”
Kirk paused in the middle of opening his mouth to speak to Scott; something about the last sentence caught his attention, or perhaps something in the doctor’s tone of voice. He knew when he was being given a message.
“Meaning, Bones? What else are we looking at besides a vaccination?”
The CMO lifted an eyebrow at him.
“A cure, Jim. That is likely to be a whole different ball game. We get the vaccination – chances are we can learn to stop people getting the virus. But if you’re a betting man, I wouldn’t take your money on me finding a way to reverse the symptoms. What I know about Vulcan mind controls – other than being driven up the wall by them – in biological terms, would take up rather less of your time than a single sip of that caffeine overdose you’re getting through. ”
Kirk looked at him.
“So we need to focus on prevention rather than cure.”
Which is fine, thought Kirk, unless you happen to be the one person who already has it.
“Scotty,” he began, and then the intercom sounded.
“Captain,” it was Chekhov, from the bridge, “sir, the Mila fleet is releasing another substance. It is coming towards us.”
“Put it on screen down here, please, Chekhov.”
The blackness of space was now punctuated by another ribbon of cloud emanating from the Mila ship. Chekhov was right – it appeared to be a different substance, only because it was faintly red, where the last one, which still hovered around the Enterprise like a ghostly ring, was blue. Kirk found himself thinking how beautiful the effect was, red and blue against the black of space and the sparkle of distance stars, and then he shook himself.
“Gentlemen,” he said, to the ships in the viewer, “close all your vents immediately.”
“Still have a clear shot to the lead vessel, Jim” this from Ray Marsh, on the Republic. “We could just finish this. We outgun them considerably and you have discretion from HQ on this.”
“I know, Ray,” he said, drawing his hands along his jaw in a characteristic gesture, “but I’m not sure where it will get us. You just heard McCoy – we’re making the only advances we’ve managed in weeks because we’re up close and personal – because we’re near enough to talk and to study what they’ve got. I’m not prepared to take the chance that destroying the flotilla will wipe out all the stocks they have of this stuff, let alone the knowledge of how to manufacture more – and in any case, we still have to find the vaccination. There are likely to be literally billions out there who are already carriers, and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches Vulcan.”
“Your CMO seems confident of producing a vaccination based on what he’s already got,” this from Jahani on the Lincoln.
What was it about starship captains and hitting that button? But it was unfair, he knew it was. He might even have been tempted himself, but he had Spock in sickbay, and they didn’t.
“Not enough, Ali,” he said. “For a start, we don’t know what this red stuff is. We’re going to have to get another sample and work on it. Let’s do that and reconvene.”
“And in the meantime?” asked Marsh. “Just want us to sit here and watch? That stuff is coming our way.”
Kirk looked back, sharply, to the viewer.
“No point in you getting mired in it. Take yourselves out of reach, but stay in communication range.”
“Jim, you’ve been working with the Mila for longer than we have,” the Farragut viewer said.“If you think it’s important for the Enterprise to stay close, I’m content not to fire but I recommend we move the other three ships out of the area of immediate contamination.”
Kirk gave the viewer an odd look. He’d known the taciturn captain of the Farragut a long time, and it was unlike Nick Desjardins to repeat a command Kirk had already made. He opened his mouth, but only got as far as “We’re all agreed, then”, when he understood, at the same time that Uhura said, quickly:
“Captain, the channel is breaking up and I can’t get them back. The cloud from the Mila is blocking communications.”
The viewer showed the Enterprise now almost entirely surrounded by the two layers of translucent red and blue. Beyond them, it was still possible to see, in rainbow hue, the Mila flotilla and the three Starfleet vessels, now turning, as ordered, to retreat to a discreet distance.
No immediate back up, his First Officer incapacitated, the VSA Sub-Commissioner dead and the Seleya unreachable. HQ, the task force and the rest of the galaxy out of communication range and a deadly plague reaching out to Vulcan. The Enterprise isolated. No real gains for the mission so far, then, he reflected, but on the plus side it did look aesthetically pleasing.
“Scotty,” he said, wearily, “please arrange to have a sample collected of the red substance. This time, shut down the deck and have it collected by someone in protective clothing.”
Scotty disappeared and Kirk nodded to his remaining officers.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” he said. “We’ll reassemble when we know what we’re dealing with.”
He reflected, as he took another swallow of coffee and stood to leave the room, on the absence of the Seleya. Much as he liked and trusted Marsh and the other two, there was no question that, all things being equal, he would have preferred to have had Saredin with him. Which meant that things had changed beyond recognition in the past three years – for him and Saredin, but also for his understanding of certain things. As highly as he had always rated his friendship with Spock during the five year mission, he knew perfectly well he had spent far too much of it trying to tease Spock out of Vulcan mode. The door might have been open now to a far greater understanding, a richer engagement with Spock’s Vulcan side, as well as his humanity.
Which was ironic, really, as not only was Spock manifestly uninterested in any sort of friendship with Kirk, but he no longer had a Vulcan side. Kirk wondered, with a degree of self awareness which he thought was relatively new to him (which might have been Spock’s gift to him – Spock’s and Saredin’s) whether it was the Vulcan in Spock which had been such a powerful draw for him in their friendship, was now so valuable a part of Saredin for him, and what that meant to any future for Spock and him.
But there was no very obvious future.
And suddenly he realised what he was thinking, why his thoughts had been drawn to Saredin.
He had sent a report to the Seleya that Stonn was dead, but he had included no mention of Spock. The report had been encoded, but a mind like Soltar’s could have broken it and any mind, let alone Milani’s obsessive intelligence, would have realised that a report of Stonn’s death with no mention of Spock would have meant that Spock was still alive – and that the Enterprise would be working towards a vaccination. And this had been followed, within hours, by the release of a second substance, aimed towards the Enterprise. Or, depending on your perspective, towards Spock.
He left the rest of the coffee to get cold and went to sickbay where McCoy’s team were already investigating the properties of the red substance. He had not long to wait before his suspicions were confirmed. The substance was, indeed, impervious to communication signals and the Enterprise was therefore entirely isolated. It also contained viral matter developed from a strain related to the contagion which had killed Stonn and left Spock in the isolation chamber. This one was fatal to humans.
“Is that all? Or is there any more bad news?” he asked, and thought, as Scott opened his mouth, that he must explain to the literal-minded Scot what a rhetorical question was. But it turned out that there was, indeed, one more piece of outstanding information.
“The stuff is hanging together in an anti-gravitational field, sir, with reflective shielding.” Scotty’s professional admiration broke through his personal concern and he shook his head in what Kirk could only consider misplaced approval. “It’s a fine job they’ve done, sir, no doubt about it. Very canny – very, very canny.”
“It’s good to hear that they’re canny, Mr Scott,” he said drily, reaching, in the absence of artificial stimulants (where was Rand with his fifth coffee?) for any kind of humour to get him through the conversation. “Would it be asking too much for you to go further than canny and explain to me the effects of the field?”
“It’ll reverse phaser fire, sir,” Scotty said promptly, for all the world as though he were reciting the achievements of a promising young talent which would be bound to impress his captain.
“Meaning?” pressed Kirk, with an unpleasant feeling that he knew the answer, but needing to have it confirmed.
“Meaning if we shoot at it, the torpedoes will just bounce back and hit the ship, sir. It’s very clever, I’d never have thought of using anti-grav that way.”
“I am quite sure,” he said, “that you give yourself too little credit, Mr Scott,” saw the engineer beam as if being given a compliment. He could not help wondering, as he called Rand for his coffee, if other people ran ships like this.
“Want the good news or the bad news, Jim?”
Kirk was sitting on the bed in his quarters. He had snatched two hours’ sleep, at McCoy’s insistence. The CMO had come to report as arranged (albeit after 135 minutes and not the agreed 120) and Kirk, who had learned to catnap effectively after years in space and after more crises than uninterrupted nights’ sleep, was wide awake and listening.
McCoy regarded him steadily.
“There’s nothing I can do for Spock. Not now, not ever. There may be help elsewhere; I don’t know. But it’s not a physiological problem – the cause was physiological but the result is not – at least, not within the realms of any sort of physiology I know. And I’m just not qualified to do anything here. Frankly, I’m worried I’d do more damage if I do anything than nothing at all.”
“Does he know?” Kirk asked, both hearing McCoy and asking the question somehow more difficult than the words themselves should have warranted, like picking up a dumbbell and finding that it weighs much more than you thought.
He would go and see Spock. Somehow, in the middle of finding a way forward, of working out the answer to the communications conundrum and the multicoloured prison around his ship, he would have to find time to visit the isolation chamber for the sake of the occupant who would prefer isolation and so manifestly did not want to see him. He sighed and punched up a coffee.
“Is that all the bad news?”
“’Fraid not. The second strain is not what I thought it was. It’s more complex than what hit Spock and Stonn. It’s related, in an odd way I can’t quite yet work out – the human strain is somehow developed out of the Vulcan strain. I thought I might be half way to a vaccination by now, and we’ll get there – it’s only a matter of time – but it might take more time than you have.”
Kirk sorted through this, and realised what McCoy was saying.
“Yup. That’s the good news. We have a vaccination for the A strain.”
It wasn’t just good news – it was wonderful news and it was, more importantly, the first good news Kirk had heard since the Enterprise had been assigned to him for the current mission (even that, given the circumstances, had hardly been an unmitigated cause for rejoicing). Not least as a leader of men who understood more than most the significance of morale, Kirk found his way through life by hitching his thinking to the rhythm of events, and he knew that a bend in the road could be a turning point in disguise if you chose to see it as such.
He felt energy coursing through him, much more than two hours’ mindless sleep should have won, took a swallow of scalding liquid and put the coffee down to clap McCoy on the shoulder and give, with the other hand, a characteristic clenched fist of triumph.
“Good work. Tell your team - well done, Bones. I need to let the other ships know, and we need to get out of here to get the vaccination to Vulcan before it’s too late.”
“And how are you going to do any of that?” McCoy asked, curiously.
“I’ve had an idea.”
“I thought you were supposed to be asleep.”
“I was. It’s amazing what the unconscious mind can come up with. I’m going to check an idea with Scotty and then I need to see Spock.”
The doctor regarded him dubiously.
“I know you’re trying to help, Jim. But I’m not sure he’s up to visitors right now. I hate to come even within touching distance of endorsing his peculiarly dysfunctional and antisocial approach to life, but it may be you’d be better off leaving him to himself for a while.”
Kirk drained the coffee and moved towards the door, turning, as he reached it, to smile at McCoy. He felt entirely different from the night before. Sometimes, in a game of chess, you could get to the point of seeing no option beyond tipping over your king in defeat. In Kirk’s experience, a night away from the board meant you could come back and see exactly the same pieces in precisely the same configuration but understand an entirely different set of possibilities, with everything still to play for. That was why he played chess. In fact, it was why he was a starship captain.
“Your problem – and Spock’s – is that you think I’m going to visit the sick. Actually, he is my serving First Officer and I need to confer with him on our strategy going forward.”
Spock was sitting up in bed and reading some text on a screen. He still looked pale and Kirk’s years-deep knowledge of him told the captain that Spock was too weak to leave the biobed or he would have been long gone from enforced inactivity and from McCoy’s tender administrations and caustic teasing. On reflection, Kirk had deliberately brought Scott with him. He knew McCoy was right, and that Spock would permit no personal approach at this point. He also felt in his gut that the sooner he treated Spock as a fully functioning member of the command team, the better for everyone. There was no question of contamination any longer from Spock, and he waived Scotty through to stand at a respectful distance from the bed.
“How are you feeling today, Commander?” he asked pleasantly, intentionally switching into official command role and away from the edgier and more personal tones of the day before. “Scotty and I needed your input on our thinking and we thought it was time the mountain came to Mohammed.”
Scotty said: “It’s good to see you, sir. I hope you’re feeling more comfortable. Say the word, and I’ll bring you something less poisonous to drink than whatever the doctor’s got you on.”
“Potentially a hazardous strategy given my current state of health but the sentiment is appreciated and I cannot diverge from your opinion of the doctor’s approach to patient care,” Spock returned, pushing the screen to one side. Scotty grinned and Kirk held his breath. The exchange between Spock and Scott was indistinguishable from a thousand such during the five year mission. The magic was working. Pretend something was so, and sometimes you could suspend disbelief and carry everyone with you. From the look on Scotty’s face, he was struggling to reconcile Spock’s comment with the First Officer who had returned from Gol but the Chief Engineer was manfully suppressing any evidence of surprise and Kirk silently promised him a pay rise – if they all survived to the next payday.
“Let’s get to business,” he said, firmly. “I’m assuming, First Officer, that you’re up to date on all the latest reports?”
“Of course, Captain,” Spock said, in the tone of one agreeing that the earth goes round the sun, and Kirk moved one millimetre further back to normality.
“It is now imperative that we contact the rest of the task force, the Seleya, Vulcan and HQ to update them on recent developments and particularly with regard both to the development of the vaccination for what McCoy is calling the virus A strain and, in addition, the existence of the B strain.”
“Mr Scott’s analysis of the gaseous matter suggests that this will be impractical from our current position.”
“Correct. Absolutely correct, Mr Spock.”
“That analysis further suggests that leaving our current position is not possible at this point, Captain. This means that the only possible strategy would involve an attempt to change the environment which is inhibiting movement and communication.”
“Also correct,” Kirk said. He resisted the temptation to congratulate Spock on the gains from Gol in terms of his development of syllogistic thinking – he thought they were at least four stages of friendship away from that remark, and in any case, Spock was playing into his hands in following this particular line of thinking.
“Does Mr Scott have any suggestions as to how this might be achieved?”
Scotty bounced up and down on his toes, very slightly, where he stood beyond the foot of Spock’s bed.
“The Captain’s come up with a very canny plan, sir.” That word again, he thought. It was good to know that Scotty thought the Mila were not the only canny ones around here. He hoped it was the only thing they had in common. He didn’t mind being canny but he would have hated to be an obsessive, bloodthirsty murderer. “We’ve been talking it through and I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work.”
“Indeed? Please elucidate.”
Scotty elucidated. “We know we can’t fire at the damn thing. But the anti-grav effect will only deflect what’s chucked at it on a trajectory – communication wave lengths, phaser fire, transporter beams, as well. We’ve analysed it in the labs every which way till night time, and we have a feel for how the beastie behaves out there. It seems to coagulate in space so that it’s semi-solid rather than gaseous, and that suggests we ought to be able to prise our way out. The way through has to be at close quarters, sir – we can’t throw a knife at it but we can walk up to it and slice through the cake.”
“An interesting and inaccurate metaphor, Mr Scott, and I note your mind continues to run on nutritional pathways but your meaning is clear and your reasoning is persuasive.” An alternative metaphor would have involved Kirk blinking at this point. How – how – had this impersonation of his former friend been conjured so authentically? Was it a result of losing Vulcan mind controls? Or was it simply that Spock found it easier to be himself to those who like, McCoy and Scotty, had ignored his changed demeanour and continued to treat him as they always had? Or was it just him – was it that their very closeness had made Spock uncomfortable – that the distance imposed by Spock since Gol, since Airlock Four, should somehow have signalled to him the significance to Spock of their friendship, rather than the opposite? Kirk grew very thoughtful. Spock went on: “I assume that your strategy includes the deployment of a shuttlecraft?”
“Aye, sir. The Captain has asked me to adapt one to carry a high-end functioning cutting implement externally, to the front. My lads are working on it now and I see no reason the Captain’s idea shouldn’t work. Simple enough and no funny tricks about it.”
“As you say, Mr Scott. The most simple and straightforward strategies are frequently the most effective.” Kirk smiled to himself, listening. He could think of one or two straightforward stunts that he and Spock had pulled which had gone spectacularly wrong – in fact, few which had not. What had once seemed a straightforward embrace of the unknown when he and Spock had traded bodies with Sargon and Henoch had nearly killed Spock- would have, but for Sargon’s intervention, which had nevertheless left Kirk kneeling for a brief moment of time by Spock’s body on the bridge, swallowing back corrosive, bitter regret for the simple and straightforward. Difficult to believe then that the temporary surrender of Spock’s body (entire and undamaged) could ever come to seem an easy and uncomplicated undertaking. And he remembered Organia, blowing up the munitions dump in what felt like a simple demonstration of revolt, but which had led to confrontation, capture and the mind-sifter. Would Spock be able to resist the Klingon mind-sifter now? Presumably not.
He revised, though, his estimate of how long it might take him to make a comment along these lines to Spock. Perhaps only three stages of friendship. A thousand years ago, he had been visited by Spock in the Enterprise sickbay, after Gamma Fortuna, and thought Give me a chance, Spock. Just one more. And Spock had. He thought now – Just one more, then. Just – one - more.
Spock was continuing:
“How long do you estimate that it will take to adapt the shuttlecraft, Mr Scott?”
“I told the Captain a couple of hours, but we’ll have it done long before that, sir,” Scotty said, cheerfully, rather over-stepping the mark (in Kirk’s view) in bringing cheer to the sick.
“Don’t mind me,” he said drily. “All right, Scotty. Since Mr Spock clearly approves and since I need to discuss with him his orders while he has the con in my absence, why don’t you go and tell your team I’m now expecting the Columbus to be ready in one hour’s time? It doesn’t sound like that will be a problem.”
Scott said, “Aye, sir”, sounding entirely untroubled and left, and Kirk turned to find Spock, as he had expected, regarding him stonily.
“May I deduce from your last comment to Mr Scott that you are intending to pilot the shuttlecraft in person, Captain?”
“You may, Commander,” he said, easily. “In fact, you clearly already have.” He looked around for a seat, and opted for the biobed next to Spock’s. He thought the conversation might last for a while – indeed, short of the allotted hour available to him until the shuttle was ready, he was quite determined that it would last as long as it needed to. He thought they had it coming.
“We can re-route the bridge comms to sickbay and you can manage from here. McCoy’s happy on the basis that I won’t be gone long and on the basis that you won’t actually be straying far from his tender mercies.”
He knew that none of this was relevant to the stony look. He finished speaking and offered Spock a friendly smile, which Spock clearly failed to notice, despite sitting at a distance of approximately one point two metres and looking directly at his CO.
“Sir, there are four hundred and twenty nine personnel aboard this vessel who are more expendable and less essential to the implementation of this mission that you are. Piloting the shuttlecraft through the gaseous material is hazardous and carries the potential for exposure to dangers unknown at this point. Yet it requires only a qualified helmsman to execute the necessary manoeuvres. There are at least 23 such on board the Enterprise.”
“There’s one other qualification for the job, actually,” he said easily, declining to react to the tone of voice but noticing that Spock’s whole demeanour had changed radically since Scotty had left the room. “Scotty’s quite clear that there’ll be real risk of contamination from the gaseous material – in fact, it’s less a risk and more a near certainty. We don’t really know what the long term consequences of exposure are. And, just at the moment, the only people on board who have already been exposed are you, McCoy and I. Of the three of us, I would say that I’m the only one who’s a qualified pilot with full use of four limbs and allowed out of sickbay by my doctor. So that means logically, Commander, I’m the only person for the job.”
Spock looked at him hard.
“My understanding is that the only strain to which you have been exposed is Strain A. The gaseous substance also now contains Strain B.”
“True. The problem is we don’t have any non-humans on board,” he said, carrying straight on with hardly a beat as he realised the absolute truth of that in the light of Airlock Four and the consequences for the person in front of him. “In retrospect, that was bad planning but when the crew were assigned we were focusing too much – perhaps exclusively - on the threat to Vulcans. And McCoy’s view is that it is possible that earlier exposure to the A strain – which clearly hasn’t hurt me – may provide a temporary protection against the B strain, perhaps long enough to complete the job in the Columbus and return.”
“An entirely hypothetical, improbable and unproven theory,” Spock said. Kirk valued officers who were able to speak their mind and it was gratifying to learn that, evidently, strain A had not weakened the strength of his First Officer’s opinions.
“Possibly,” he said, evenly, “but it’s all we’ve got.”
“In my view, as your First Officer,” the biobed said, “under Regulation 73 paragraph (b), the theory you have cited does not constitute sufficient basis on which to risk the life of a commanding officer where alternatives exist.”
“And I appreciate your view and take it into account, First Officer,” Kirk said, pleasantly, “but I am going, nonetheless.”
There was a pause, which Kirk knew Spock far too well to recognise as anything but a regrouping rather than a retreat. And Spock considered, with very great care, the monitoring equipment at the end of his biobed.
He had had a great deal of time, over the past few hours, to reflect both on his condition and on his conversation with Kirk the day before. Unlike his captain, he had had no sleep, which eluded him entirely despite being confined to bed under medication. The anger which had so disturbed him the previous day had left entirely, leaving in its wake a slight, unaccustomed and wholly unwelcome fragility, an awareness of vulnerability to a whole range of emotions against which he no longer had any defences, any controls. Because he had always relied on Vulcan mental disciplines, he found that he was entirely without the basic human equivalent, which meant that his dialogue with Kirk was completely reversed – it was the human who now operated from behind emotional control systems and Spock who had none. And Kirk, as Spock had always known, for all his open emotionalism, exercised (paradoxically) more emotional self discipline than any other human of Spock’s acquaintance. And for this reason, he had not sought Kirk out, as he might otherwise have done.
His dismay had also been short-lived. Spock knew no way to live other than the purposive exploration of environments and data available to him, and without the mental controls which had been his framework for so long – and doubly so since Gol – he was already, within hours of recovering consciousness and still within the confines of sickbay, learning to function within a more human context. On that basis, his dialogue with Scott had felt oddly natural, if instinctive where once he would have deliberately relaxed controls to allow it (and then, since Gol, resisted the impulse entirely). However, he did not trust his instincts within the more complex emotional framework of his relationship with Kirk. He was keenly aware of his lack of control and lack of self-awareness, both of which he knew he needed for what lay unsaid between him and his CO. At the same time, he had no desire to continue a more hostile dialogue with Kirk. But then he had been caught off guard and without shielding by what he could only regard as a betrayal. A betrayal of Iowa and of the Copernicus.
Not just a betrayal. A very brief mental picture of Kirk, prone as he knew Stonn had been prone, overcome as swiftly and just as irrevocably.
Spock drew a deep breath.
“Sir. The wording of Regulation 73 requires you to take my views into consideration. With respect, you have given me no grounds for believing that you have properly done so. You have provided no details of the basis on which you have dismissed them.”
Kirk frowned, slightly.
“I’m not required to give you details, Spock. I heard you. My assessment and your assessment differ. It’s a judgement call. At the end of the day, that’s what I get paid for. In case you’ve forgotten, you get paid to go with my judgement call. It’s called military rank.”
“That is not the basis on which I agreed to resume service under your command, Captain,” he said, not entirely sure he had just said those words and very sure he was not in any frame of mind to conduct the conversation which would ensue.
Kirk looked at him with wary confusion. “You resumed service under my command because of the Mila threat, Commander. We didn’t even discuss my safety at the time – in fact, I distinctly remember referring to yours.”
“I refer,” he said, with an effort, “to our conversation two point four three years ago in Iowa. And in addition,” he added (remembering that human beings had a phrase in for a penny and beginning to understand, for the first time in his life, what it meant) “certain exchanges which took place between us four months earlier in the Copernicus shuttlecraft.”
The air between the biobeds suddenly acquired a very different pulse than it had previously. Kirk hoped very much that the fact of his suddenly raised awareness of his own breathing simply meant that every cell of his body had suddenly tuned into Spock’s words and not that he had somehow been infected by either virus strain.
Well, he had wanted a proper conversation with Spock. Be careful what you wish for, he thought, grimly, wondering if the hour till the shuttlecraft was ready would be sufficient, after all. Perhaps it had been a mistake to ask Scotty to pull the timetable forward. That was the last time he would allow the Chief Engineer to goad him about time keeping.
He settled back on the biobed.
“Is this a good time, then, Commander, to ask for a full report on your actions at Airlock Four yesterday?”
Spock’s preference for accuracy at all times would have prompted a disagreement with his CO on the question posed, were he not less inclined, at this particular point, to take literal issue with human idiom.
“I proceeded to Airlock Four,” he began and Kirk allowed him those five words before he cut him off, the previous lightness in his voice gone and cold anger revealed:
“You disobeyed my direct order.”
“In fact, sir,” Spock countered, “I suggested to you, verbatim, that the management of the airlock chamber was of paramount importance to the success of the mission and to the preservation of life and that it merited the presence of command personnel. As my actions have led directly to the development of the A strain vaccination, I believe that my suggestion can reasonably be argued to have been proved correct.”
Kirk gave him a look which habitually rendered junior officers speechless.
“I said no one was to be permitted inside the chamber at any time.”
Spock was silent, and then said:
“I have already submitted myself for disciplinary proceedings.”
Kirk waved a dismissive hand, which seemed to suggest both that Spock was not forgiven and that his offer did not come close to meeting the requirements of the situation.
“And you don’t think there’s any connection with what’s going on here – with the Columbus? The phrase “rank hypocrisy” doesn’t mean anything to you, here?”
“Sir, I appreciate that my actions were deserving of official reproof; however, beyond that, there is no immediate parallel.”
He said, very softly:
“That’s dishonest, Spock, and I didn’t think you had it in you.”
No question, Spock was finding it harder to conceal his reactions since Airlock Four. His head lifted sharply towards Kirk and he said in a voice which would have been extremely unfriendly had there been any contrast with his previous words:
“I do not understand your point, Captain. Please elucidate.”
“Happy to,” Kirk said, with deceptive sunniness. “You don’t want me to take the Columbus out because you think it’s too dangerous and because you and I are friends.” The words fell between the biobeds like a challenge. Kirk left them lying there only briefly, and then threw down the other gauntlet. “We are friends but you won’t admit it. You are using Regulation 73 because it’s easier than admitting you have friends even after what has happened to you.”
In for a penny suddenly became absolutely crystal clear.
“What has happened to me, Captain,” Spock said, with deliberation, “is that one half of my personal being has been forcibly removed from me. You do not seem either able or willing to understand that.”
Kirk’s turn to look at his First Officer sharply.
“That’s damn unfair. I tried and you made it manifestly clear you wanted your own space. And now you’re citing Regulations rather than admit you’re worried about my safety.”
“My role as your First Officer includes responsibility for your physical well-being,” Spock said, mildly. It was fascinating that, without Vulcan control, he was in fact far less angry than he had been two years earlier on the Copernicus. Or at least so far. “There is no room in that dialogue for personal or emotional considerations.”
“Is that so?” Kirk said, slowly. “Whatever happened, Spock, to trust without words, then?”
Spock was silent.
“You haven’t said a word to me since Gol, so any trust of mine that you have is by definition of the wordless category. It was you who brought up the Copernicus, Spock. Well, that’s when you asked for it - trust without words - and I have given it to you ever since, in the face (I may add) of the direst provocation. That means you want me to trust you now that our friendship is unchanged and that you are still you.”
“I am not, as it happens, still myself,” Spock said, slowly. “You persist in suggesting that I am.”
“So I’ve got it wrong,” Kirk threw out. “Tell me about it. Talk to me. How the hell am I going to get it right, Spock, when you haven’t really spoken to me, really spoken to me since Iowa? Talk to me now.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“You regard my conduct since Gol as being essentially an unreasonable and deliberate suppression of human behaviours, whereas in fact I have been demonstrating a Vulcan norm – a norm which you decline to accept. You do not respect the teachings of Gol – which were my choice to study – and you were able casually to dismiss eighteen months’ learning with the Masters on the basis that its eradication by the Mila virus merely proffered an opportunity to discover who I really was. Your words inferred that a brief period of solitary reflection could in some way compensate or even compare to the sophistication of where I have been, what I have gained. These things have no value to you. That much is very clear.”
Kirk stared, his mind working overtime. Spock went on, knowing that he was taking advantage,
“Captain, when we were in orbit around Alpha 177, you may or may not have considered my assistance unsympathetic in relation to your division into two opposing entities. However, I do not think you could accuse me of dismissing the occurrence as insignificant. Indeed, it was I who advised you throughout that you stood to lose what most defines you – your command – because of what had taken place. That is no less true of me, now. Yet your words to me yesterday, by contrast, were (if I accurately recall) Isn’t this a chance to figure out who you are?”
If I seem insensitive to what you’re going through, Captain, understand: it’s the way I am.
No. No, Spock had never been insensitive.
Kirk put his head in his hands and there was a silence.
After a while, he sat up again and met his First’s gaze.
“You are absolutely right, Spock. Absolutely right. I had no right to say what I did. I was wrong and it was unforgivable.”
Spock inclined his head.
Kirk went on, more slowly:
“Gol represents a way of life that is very alien to me. I will not say in so many words that I do not recognise that it has value - and there is nothing about you I don’t value - but I should be able to have a different view about a choice and still respect you, Spock.”
“You did not give that impression, sir. Your demeanour has at no stage since my return to the ship suggested that former allegiances have been retained.”
What he meant, Kirk realised, was that McCoy had hurled at him You could at least give me the courtesy of a reply and he – what had he said? Spock had asked if he could spend the mission in the labs, and he had said Permission granted.
“What you ask, Spock, is hard,” he said, softly. And unfair, he added to himself. He remembered I missed you. But he did not need to look at Spock to know what they both understand him to have meant – that he had missed Spock the way he had been.
With an effort, he went on: “And it’s hard in practice, as well as on a personal basis, if you don’t let me in.”
Spock said, very gently:
“Captain, with respect, I have found your views on Vulcan considerably more fastidious than I had anticipated. I have deduced from your demeanour over the past three point six weeks that I have either demonstrated excessive or inadequate Vulcan mannerisms.”
Their eyes met, with perfect understanding – Spock remembering Kirk’s pity in sickbay; Kirk remembering, guiltily, his musings on Saredin.
“What do you want from me, then, Spock – truly, tell me – what is it that you want?”
He waited, with a sense that after all this time, after Airlock Four, after Gol, after Iowa, after the Seleya – even after the five year mission, he was finally going to understand what Spock was seeking and what he had apparently found of value in his CO. And Spock turned to him, and opened his mouth with clear sincerity to utter a single word which hit Kirk with all the simple force of truth.
And Kirk understood.
The gifts that he and Spock had always brought each other were a balance of what they shared and what they didn’t. As strongly as they had held in common the fascination of the unknown and the defence and facilitation of civil society on a galactic scale, at the same time the scientist’s detachment in Spock and the confident emotionalism of Kirk had found a void in the other. Their unique rapport had come from a balance between what they shared and what they did not, so that each could value and trust the qualities in the other which were alien. And this, in turn, had come to give them their own inner balance – between Spock’s divided halves, and between Kirk’s command and his very private persona. Without the bond, each had found themselves slightly less than they had been together.
Kirk said, very carefully, feeling his way:
“Spock, everything of balance I have ever known, I learned from you. My whole life is a balancing act.” He paused, searching for the right words. “It has to be perfect, that balance, or the whole thing comes crashing down, like walking a tightrope. The crew have to believe in me but I have to be human for them, too. I have to be strong but I have to be accessible; I have to support but I have to drive; I have to look inwards but I have to focus outwards. Do you remember telling me that? I know you do.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow and said nothing, but they were briefly both back in orbit around Alpha 177, while Sulu froze on an icy planet and Kirk wavered, helpless between his warring selves.
You haven’t the right to be vulnerable in the eyes of the crew. You can’t afford the luxury of being anything less than perfect. If you do, they lose faith, and you lose command.
“It was you who told me that I needed my negative side, that it was vital to my strength. And it was you who told me that the solution was intelligence – that intelligence conquers fear and that it enables us to achieve harmony and to survive. And it wasn’t just at Alpha 177 I learned that – I have learned it every hour of every day I’ve ever spent with you, watching your organic solution to being you.”
He wondered how long he had left. He had waited for Spock at Gol and known that personal considerations would have to be waived if the Enterprise had to leave orbit before Spock could see him; he would have to go when the Columbus was ready, regardless of his sense that these few moments were all important for both of them.
He went on: “I lost some of that balance when you left the Enterprise. Not because I can’t command without you, but because I command better with you, because we complement each other. But it was infinitely worse when I was grounded. Without command, I did feel divided – uneven. And you know what? Even at the time, I thought I’d have handled that better if you had been there, at Drachos, when the orders came through. As it was, I’ve been myself more, the past few weeks, than for a long time before that. And I know you know that.
“You want balance? You have to do what you taught me at Alpha 177 – learn to accept both of who you are, and learn to take from me, too, as I have always done from you. And if I’m not giving you what you want, you have to tell me. I’ve paid the price for the Seleya and for Gamma Fortuna. I’m not going there again. I’ve given you the trust you asked for. I would have given it to no other living person. I would have allowed no other person to be such a damn pain in the neck since Gol.” He let the lighter tone creep in, paused, and then went on, without looking at the other. “For a very long time now you have just been who you are as far as I’m concerned – neither Vulcan nor human. So you will have to forgive me that the changes which mean so much to you affect you more than me. You could have chocolate-based blood cells as far as I’m concerned (no, Spock, no medical commentary, not just now) it would make no difference.”
He fell silent. And into that silence, the intercom sounded. Kirk glanced across at Spock and crossed to the wall unit.
“Scott, Captain. Your shuttle’s ready, sir, as requested. She won’t handle quite as sweetly, but she’s all yours.”
“Thank you, Scotty, and you and I must have a chat sometime about the art of estimation. I’ll be with you in five minutes.”
Spock watched him turn back and was reminded of the moment in Iowa when Kirk had said he had not regretted the Seleya mission, despite what it had cost him. More than not regretting it, I am glad. Never underestimate James T Kirk. Perhaps it was that quality, however well he thought he knew Kirk, of the not-quite-predictable that was responsible above all others for the fact that, at the end of the day, Spock would always choose to serve under Kirk. No other CO in Starfleet, he reflected, would have allowed his First Officer to talk to him in the way Kirk did, or accept the criticisms and genuinely try to change.
Which meant it might be worth one more try. And Spock said:
“Captain. An alternative to your proposal in relation to the Columbus – “
And found himself facing the unmistakable lifted hand of command. It appeared that Kirk had reached the limit of flexibility and change for the day.
“Thank you, First Officer. And thank you for your earlier comments, which I have taken on board. I don’t have to explain myself to you. But – this is my balance, Spock. I cannot command from the centre seat. Not always. Maybe most of the time. But there comes a point when you have to lead from the front, and I get paid to make the judgment call on when that is. As the only fit, contaminated, qualified shuttlecraft pilot on board, I am calling it now.”
At the door, he hesitated.
“Whatever you think and whatever you say, Commander, and whether or not this is the wrong thing to say to you now - as far as I am concerned, regardless of what you feel, of all the billions of life forms in the galaxy, you come by a significant margin the closest to being Spock, and that’s good enough for me.” He saw the Vulcan’s face change – entirely open, in a way it had never been before, and his instinct took him out of the room, to give Spock space. He turned again, though, half way through the door.
“What is it, Spock, though, about us and shuttlecraft? No need to answer that. I’ll have a game of chess when I’m back.”
As he walked to where the Columbus was waiting for him, he reflected that over the last few years he and Spock had struggled to define and keep hold of their friendship against a backdrop which had included political conflict between the Vulcan and human forces of the galaxy. In this latest episode it had crystallised to two viral strains, one programmed to wipe out humans and one to wipe out Vulcans. He wasn’t sure what that meant – the stakes seemed to be higher, both for them and for their respective worlds. He felt oddly buoyant about it, though. A solution seemed to be within reach, for the first time since he had sat in the San Francisco apartment and seen the name Soltar on his screen. A solution for the galaxy and perhaps even for the two of them, as well.
The isolation chamber had rarely seemed less isolated. A number of viewers were ranged around Spock’s biobed, allowing him clear perspective on all sides of the Enterprise, on the Mila flotilla, on the rainbow gaseous belt around the ship – and on the Columbus, edging through the belt for all the world like a miniature pair of scissors. Scott hovered between Spock and the wall intercom and McCoy stood at a slight distance, leaning against the wall, his arms folded and his eyes moving between his patient and the viewer. The intercom emitted a constant stream of commentary from Chekhov on the bridge.
“Mr Spock, the shuttle is nearly half-way through. She’s maintaining speed and power and is on schedule.”
“Thank you, Mr Chekhov,” Spock said. “Do you have a report on the Mila substance?”
“Yes, sir. It seems to be opening up, as though the captain has broken through a solid belt, sir – the gap behind him is widening.”
Which correlated with Spock’s own view. He watched the Columbus for another three point two minutes as it moved through the remaining belt, and then nodded to Scott, who activated the intercom again.
“Bridge, this is Spock. Please open a channel to the Columbus.”
“Yes sir... I have the captain for you, Mr Spock.”
“Captain, from our readings, you are nearly at the outer perimeter of the substance.”
Kirk’s disembodied voice came through clearly.
“Good to know – that’s what the readings suggest, but the scanner is struggling with the gases and visibility’s not great. What do you think – another couple of minutes?”
“I suspect less, sir, probably one point six minutes, approximately.”
“Approximately?” the disembodied voice queried, sounding (to his First’s ears) inappropriately happy, as though its owner had not fully appreciated either the perilous nature of his position or the regrettable nature of the fact that his First Officer could not guarantee the estimate provided beyond a single decimal point. “Well, I’ll have to work with what I have. Spock, the second you’re within visual of the Mila flotilla, chances are they’ll fire. You have to be ready to return fire. And the second you have communication, have Uhura send that report on the vaccination to the Seleya.”
“Yes , Captain,” Spock said. “Are you able to report on the levels of contamination within the shuttle?”
“Scanners suggest that the gas has entered the craft but I’m not feeling any ill effects. Don’t worry.”
“Symptoms would not necessarily manifest themselves immediately,” Spock said. “As soon as you reach the outer perimeter, we will transport you back to the ship and Dr McCoy has a medical team standing by.”
“Suits me, I might feel like a gooseberry if you and Milani are going to start shooting at each other.”
Spock opened his mouth and closed it again. The intercom continued cheerfully,
“Your approximately was a disguised exercise in precision, as usual, Spock. Looks like I’m through.”
And the viewer nearest to Spock’s biobed showed, for the first time in two days, through a small but widening rainbow fringed hole, the sharp black of space – and the lead Milani vessel, perfectly caught, like an image in a telescope.
In subsequently compiling his official report of what transpired next, Spock was assisted by an eidetic recollection which preserved what had been, at the time, an absolute clarity in his perception of the execution of three simultaneous commands.
Transporter Chief Kyle was ordered to transport Captain Kirk back from the Columbus to the Enterprise; Lieutenant-Commander Chekhov was ordered to stand ready to commencing firing at the Mila vessel and Lieutenant-Commander Uhura was ordered to contact the Seleya in order to ensure immediate onward transmission of information about the A strain vaccination.
Almost simultaneously, he received two reports.
From the bridge:
“Mr Spock – we are under fire. Both Mila battlecruisers are firing, sir!”
And from the transporter room:
“I can’t get a fix on the captain, sir. There’s still too much interference from the Mila cloud.”
Scott let out an oath and disappeared, at Spock’s nod.
“Keep trying, Mr Kyle,” he said. “Chekhov, shields up.”
“Shields are up, sir... We’ve taken a direct hit to starboard, Mr Spock. Shields holding at 65%.”
“Transporter room, report.”
“I’m trying, sir,” Kyle’s voice, sounding tense. “There’s nothing...”
And the intercom interjected. It was Kirk, the channel still open to the Columbus.
“Spock, I ordered you to return fire. Do it now.”
“Captain, you are directly in between us and the Mila ship and it is impossible, given the interference, to guarantee sufficient accuracy -”
“I know, Commander. I gave you an order.”
“Sickbay, this is the transporter room.” It was Scott, on the other intercom, like the fatal dropping of the other shoe. “There’s way too much interference, Mr Spock. If you can buy me maybe five minutes, I can probably get to him.”
“Spock,” said the Columbus. “You don’t have five minutes and I gave you a direct order.”
Spock lifted his face and, for approximately three point two seconds, met McCoy’s eyes. McCoy’s own expression was frozen, and then it suddenly changed and he said, “Now wait just a damn...” but Spock was not listening.
I ordered Mr Kyle to lock on to the Captain’s coordinates and hold within the transporter beam if at all possible. I then ordered Mr Chekhov to commence fire. Within three point seven minutes, one of the two Mila battlecruisers was destroyed and the other surrendered. In the process, the shuttlecraft Columbus was destroyed. No life forms were found to have been retrieved by the transporter beam.
Dr McCoy then informed me that a vaccination has been developed for the B strain of the virus.
You can do quite a lot in three point two seconds. Swallow a mouthful, make a simple calculation, tip over a king in defeat. Give an order to fire.
During the first second of the period during which he met and held McCoy’s eyes in the isolation chamber, Spock had conducted a rapid review of the options available to him which would both protect the Enterprise from Mila fire and also save Kirk. He concluded that the combination of interference to the transporter caused by the Mila emission, the restriction on manoeuvrability resulting from the remaining strands of the gaseous belt, the margin of time left to him as a result of the reduction in shield efficacy and the lack of immediate back up from other vessels meant that no effective or responsible starship commander would deploy further time in considering possible strategies to achieve both objectives. He would have to choose and there was only one choice open to him.
He spent the next second reaching the decision to give the order to fire. It turned out that being certain as to the logical course of action in any one scenario did not necessarily mean that immediate implementation was without effort. This was new learning for Spock. He had no doubt at all that he would turn to the intercom channel to speak to Chekhov but had not expected a sudden increase in awareness of each nanosecond between the formulation of the thought and opening his mouth. He knew that time was of the essence and, in the second following his decision, he reached for the disciplines of Gol to ensure that any irrational and irrelevant thoughts on the subject were kept to a minimum and not allowed to interfere with the performance of his duties. He spent nine tenths of that second in his first ever experience of what humans call double take – a phenomenon in which Spock had never truly previously believed. This lack of belief made no difference to the fact that he squandered essential nanoseconds remembering that the disciplines of Gol were, in fact, no longer available to him. He spent the last tenth of the second recognising that this was incorrect. He was without Vulcan mental control but the strength and focus he had learned at Gol were still there, still accessible to him, still retained in what was left of what he perceived as his inner self.
He spent the third second reaching for that strength with all he had, both in recognition of a part of himself he had thought lost and in the knowledge that he would need all he had to speak to Chekhov with the equanimity required. In that brief moment in time, he remembered the faces of the Masters, the weight of Vulcan history on the shoulders of their hybrid descendant, the victory Vulcans had won over the pain of the past through sacrifice of the self. Know thyself. It turned out that even when you thought that you had lost a significant part of what made you an individual being, it was still possible to understand who you truly were at the very point of making the decision to destroy something - or someone - else which had, in some indefinable way, become a part of you.
In the last one fifth of a second, Spock said a silent goodbye to Kirk. He knew the waste of time was unforgivable and, worse, that without any form of telepathy it was illogical, since Kirk would never hear him. There were words he was not prepared to speak aloud in front of the audience in the isolation chamber, possibly not even to Kirk, and in any case they would further delay the order he had to give.
And then he gave the order.
“Mr Spock, the commander of the second Mila ship is surrendering, sir. He wishes to speak to you. And I have Captain Marsh calling from the Republic.”
That was Uhura. And McCoy, looking indescribably older, moving a little disjointedly as though in shock but focusing on the business in hand:
“Spock, we’ve got the first batch of the vaccination for the B strain prepared and ready to go. We need to start giving it to anyone who might be exposed to that cloud out there. Still far too much of it drifting around for my liking and the ship’s been comprised by that little exchange of pleasantries you had with Milani.”
“Mr Spock, I’ll need to take the mains off-line for maybe half an hour, she took a packing that last hit. You’ll have impulse power in the meantime and I’ll go check on the transporter room at the same time – it should be up and running now, sir, if you need to beam over or have those Mila gentlemen round for coffee.”
They would, of course, still need the transporter, even if it was illogical to remember another human idiom about horses and stable doors. Spock wondered if losing Vulcan mental controls meant he was more susceptible to thinking in terms of human idiom. He also reflected that he would never again have to pretend ignorance of certain aspects of Standard speech. He found this of no comfort whatsoever, any more than he could reasonably have explained the rationale behind the original compulsion to do so.
And then it was Uhura again:
“Sir, the Seleya is holding a position two thousand metres off at point zero five degrees. Captain Saredin is asking to speak to you in person.”
The Seleya was supposed to be a day’s travel away. He ignored the other voices around him and focused, as always, on the anomaly.
“Put him through, Lieutenant-Commander.”
Spock was, of course, in no need of consolation but had he been he would have found reassurance in Saredin’s calm tones as they filtered through the sickbay intercom.
“Captain Saredin. I was not expecting to hear from you on this channel. I was present when Captain Kirk gave you specific orders to maintain your position the other side of Faltonian space.”
“I am aware of that, Commander,” Saredin said, levelly.
“In bringing the Seleya to these coordinates in breach of those orders you have exposed your crew to considerable risk. This is not conduct that I would have expected of a Vulcan commander, Captain.”
There was an infinitesimal pause, and then Saredin spoke, in a tone which was altered from his normal pitch by so slight a margin only Vulcan ears could have noted it – and Spock found, at this point, that his hearing was undamaged by the A strain virus.
“Commander, you might wish to reflect that even a Vulcan commander may find, in the final analysis, that a threat to the lives of his people means that the logic of Gol is not the only way.” Saredin left a slight pause, and then continued. “And if you do not find that argument persuasive, you might be interested to learn that I have your commanding officer on board.”
There was a silence during which Spock lost a battle to convince himself as to certain realities in relation to his reaction to Saredin’s words – and then McCoy broke in, his face manifestly torn between overwhelming relief and urgency:
“Captain, if you are able to beam Jim over, I need to give him a vaccination yesterday.”
“Understood, Doctor. We are transporting now.”
McCoy picked up a hypo and disappeared, just as Uhura came back on the intercom.
“Sir, what would you like me to say to Commander Milallo and to Captain Marsh?”
“Please tell them,” Spock said, discovering a disproportionate satisfaction in so doing, “that Captain Kirk will be able to confer with them shortly.”
Kirk had gone straight to the bridge from the transporter room. He spoke to Ray Marsh and formally accepted Millalo’s surrender. He also spoke to Saredin and authorised him to open communications with the Mila science vessel and to place Soltar under arrest. It gave him no little pleasure to delegate this to the Seleya.
“I’ll leave you the task force as back-up, Captain, but I imagine you’ll be fine. I don’t expect Soltar is looking forward to having to deal with you. And my advice to you is run what you can through Milallo. I remember him from when we were out in Mila 5. I think he’s got some sense, something you can reach out to. The less aggressive the settlement, the more easily we can move to a sustainable peace – you don’t need me to tell you that.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Saredin said. “You are aware, of course, that the preference of the Mila would not be to negotiate with a Vulcan commander?”
“Entirely aware, Captain,” Kirk said, in friendly tones. “That’s only one of my two reasons for leaving you in charge.”
“May I enquire as to the other?”
Kirk got up. He wouldn’t admit it to McCoy but he had had enough. By the time the CMO had reached him with the hypo, he had been starting to find breathing difficult, had wondered if he was running out of time. McCoy had ordered him straight to sickbay, but he had gone to the bridge first. And now he had one last thing to do before the haven of his bed, which had never seemed so alluring. On his way to the isolation room, he smiled at the intercom and said to the Seleya’s captain:
“Because you’ll do such a good job. Thank you again, Captain. It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
As he entered the isolation room, the last of the extra comms units were being dismantled and removed. The room had lost some of its earlier energy and now resembled once more a limb of sickbay, evidently much to McCoy’s satisfaction. He was studying some readings on the monitor by Spock’s biobed and turned as Kirk walked in.
“How is your patient, Bones?” he asked.
“Which one?” McCoy grumbled. “Just because you’re waltzing around sorting out galactic peace doesn’t mean you don’t belong in bed.”
“I’ll grab some rest but I’ll do it in the privacy of my own quarters, thanks,” Kirk said.
“Jim, want me to pull medical rank on you? We don’t even know the full effect of the B strain at this point.”
“May I enquire, Captain,” Spock asked, “as to the reason that you are permitted to ignore medical protocol while I am obliged to spend valuable time subjected to the doctor’s antediluvian so-called professional administrations?”
“As McCoy says, I have to sort out galactic peace, that’s why. It has its privileges. You had your turn.” His voice was mild, though something in the delivery warned McCoy not to push the point. Kirk’s eyes, though, moving from Spock to McCoy in celebration of a ritual he had doubted he would ever see again, told a different story. Then they moved back to Spock in a private message.
“Captain,” Spock began, “I am gratified –“
“So am I,” Kirk said. He reached over and sat down gingerly on the empty biobed, hoping that McCoy would fail to notice the additional force of gravity which seemed to be operating to pull him down to a sitting position, and hoping he would be able to get up again afterwards. He went on, “Thank you, Commander. And tell me something.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“How much easier was it to give that order – since Gol?”
Spock looked at his CO.
“That’s what I thought,” Kirk said. He waved irritably at McCoy, who was scowling at a scanner angled towards him.
“Take that damn thing away and let me talk to Spock in peace.”
“Five minutes, Jim. If you’re still here after that, you’re spending the night.” The CMO withdrew to the far side of the room and started to enter some data into a log, his face turned slightly towards the two officers on the biobeds. Kirk smiled after him, briefly, and then turned back to the Vulcan.
“Perhaps we were both wrong, Spock. Care to accept that as a compromise?”
Spock looked at him warily.
“I would be slow to accept such a suggestion in relation to either of us, Captain. I am considering the possibility that you are attempting to take advantage of my current incapacity and this may present grounds for official proceedings.”
Kirk laughed out loud. He couldn’t remember feeling this way since Iowa – no, before that, before the Seleya.
“Are you proposing to elucidate?” Spock asked. It was necessary to encourage the captain on a logical course of dialogue and it was in no sense the case that the tactic of asking a possibly redundant question was assisting Spock in ensuring that his facial muscles betrayed no response to Kirk’s amusement.
Kirk lifted an eyebrow at the Vulcan.
“I would be prepared to accept,” he said softly “that Gol has given you more of value than I previously understood, provided you are prepared to admit that you are still Spock.”
Before Spock could reply, the intercom sounded.
“Bridge here, Captain,” said Sulu’s voice. “Mr Scott reports main engines on-line and fully functional. Requesting course and speed, sir, as ordered.”
“Thank you, Mr Sulu,” Kirk said, cheerfully. With a barely concealed sideways glance at Spock, he said, “Best speed to Vulcan. Kirk out.” And sat back and looked at his First Officer.
Across the room, McCoy worked out the time which had elapsed since he had threatened Kirk with confinement to sickbay, opened his mouth, and then decided to keep quiet.
“Captain,” said Spock carefully, “might I suggest that the fastest method to ensure effective widespread vaccination on Vulcan would be to communicate the formula on a secure channel rather than physically transport the sample on board the Enterprise, whatever the warp speed?”
“I agree entirely,” Kirk said. “That’s not actually why we’re going to Vulcan.” He paused, and then went on. “Saredin thinks the Vulcan Masters will have an answer for you – that they will be able to help you regain what you lost to the virus. He thinks you should go back to Gol.”
There was a brief silence in the room while Kirk concluded that Spock might need some time alone and McCoy’s head jerked up sharply. Kirk caught the movement. He turned round and lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“All right, I’m out of here. Spock, think it over. We’re headed to Vulcan anyway. I’ll come back for that game of chess in the morning. Sleep well.”
McCoy followed him out of the door. Eyes not missing any part of Kirk’s rather careful posture, he walked a little closer to him in silence for a few paces, and then said, quietly
“You sure you know what you’re doing, Jim?”
“Am I sure about what the Masters can do for Spock? Haven’t a clue, Bones; it’s hardly my area of expertise. I’m only repeating Saredin’s advice. He asked me to speak to Spock. But it must be his best chance, surely.”
They entered the turbolift together and Kirk said “Officer’s quarters” and reached to steady himself.
“And in terms of how he’ll be afterwards? Have you thought of that?”
Kirk reached up to his neck with his free hand and stretched. It was a rare sign of physical stress, a sign that the captain of the Enterprise was preparing to let go, and McCoy stood back as the turbolift doors opened again. Kirk walked through them, and said, over his shoulder,
“Yes, I have. Goodnight, Bones. And thank you.”
The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise and Gol.
Funny that, Kirk mused, watching Vulcan come into sight in the main viewer. Nothing in Spock’s recent history suggested anything else.
“Captain, I have Ambassador Sarek. Sir, he asks me to inform you that he will meet you and Mr Spock at the entrance to Gol.”
Kirk nodded, and then swung to his right to meet Spock’s eyes.
“Uhura, ask Scotty to have the Copernicus ready. Mr Spock and I will be taking her down as soon as we make orbit. And Sulu – have a course plotted for Earth and stand by. I have a meeting with Commissioner Sevonal after I leave Gol, and after I’ve finished we’ll be on our way.”
It had been a tranquil three weeks, the journey back to Vulcan from Faltonia. It felt as though he had filed three hundred reports, but on the other hand it also felt as though the galaxy around them was settling into a more familiar pattern, that the stars no longer concealed a hidden menace, that the alliances were holding and that the accords which had been Spock’s great triumph two years earlier had real meaning, real future.
It also felt like a lull, like a brief period of respite, like time suspended. Another Iowa.
Four days after they had left Faltonian space, McCoy had grudgingly certified Spock fit to return to duty. After using the entire ship’s reserves of Vulcan blood banks and after using knowledge gained from the A strain vaccination to work around Spock’s unique physiology, approaching the damage inflicted by the Mila virus with his own stubborn determination and innovation, the CMO had reported to both commanding officers that Spock was as good as new, with two caveats.
The first caveat was that, in his view, Spock had never been that good, new or not.
The second caveat was what they had all already known – that returning Spock to the physical status quo before the Mila attack was one thing; Spock learning to access his mental controls and telepathy appeared to be quite another.
Spock had made a number of caustic comments about McCoy’s professionalism and the fact that in an unknown medical environment he had been inventing diagnosis, prognosis and treatment on an hourly if not daily basis. However, none of this prevented Spock understanding what he owed to McCoy – or even ensuring the doctor knew of this understanding, in a way Kirk could not quite define. And Kirk had watched the eternal battle of wits between his two officers and given silent, profound thanks.
No one had any other suggestions to help Spock, other than where they were heading.
After their initial conversation, the day that he had returned from the Seleya, Kirk had never mentioned the word Gol to Spock; he had waited for the Vulcan to bring up the topic but this never happened. Spock returned to duty and, to all intents and purposes, to the Spock of the five year mission. Evenings had resumed, without either of them saying a word, a pattern of chess games and brandy and the companionship of Stage Four, Category Four (Kirk having decided they could cavalierly skip through Stages One to Three) with all the added satisfaction of regaining something of great value once thought lost forever.
Kirk was only aware of two differences. There was no guava juice on board the ship. And Spock won most of their chess games.
He let this fact go largely without comment, though he wondered to himself whether he was out of practice, or whether Spock, without the barrier of Vulcan mental discipline which shut out as much as it shut in was somehow more susceptible to empathy, to understanding his captain’s frame of mind. Only once did he say anything, at a point when, having thought he was poised for victory, he lost to an unsuspected manoeuvre from Spock’s bishop and was provoked into muttering:
“I have not the slightest idea how you managed that one, Spock, but I suppose your current condition absolves you from the charge of cheating by telepathy.”
He instantly regretted it, cursed himself silently for making the one reference which could have been calculated to destroy the balance between them. Looking up, however, his lips framing an apology, he caught the look on Spock’s face, which was an odd mixture of amusement and relief, and understood immediately and profoundly. Somehow, by some miracle of luck and judgement, they had restored the trust, tease and counter-tease which had always been their foundation. And, in that space, he had ceased treading on egg-shells, had resumed treating Spock naturally as he always had and this had been what Spock needed. Kirk had wiped the apology from his lips, set up the pieces for a new game and poured them both another drink.
“I owe you some guava juice,” he said, without thinking. “It’ll have to wait till we get to Earth.”
And Spock had said, in entirely normal tones, “Your intention in this regard is appreciated as far as my own preferences are concerned, though you should be aware that the tactic may be inadequate in terms of any attempt to improve on your chess score.“ But of course when they got to Earth, Spock would have been left behind at Gol and there would be little point in buying stocks of guava juice.
It all looked exactly the same as it had seven weeks previously. He remembered his musings about Vulcan weather – Today it will be 45 degrees and cloudless. Tomorrow, too. Not much had changed.
On Vulcan, that was. Everything else was so different as to belong to another universe.
Seven weeks ago he had climbed 400 metres in unbearable heat and discomfort towards an uncertain answer from a man he had not seen in eighteen months and a journey fraught with danger for both of them and all of Vulcan. This time, he walked with Spock at his side, friendship restored, on his way to return his companion to health – and to the austere inaccessibility of the Masters.
Sarek stood above them, waiting, outside the gates. And Kirk remembered, with a characteristic spurt of humour, Amanda’s request to him to take Spock out of Gol. He wondered what she thought of what he was doing now.
He remembered, then, that he had never told Spock about his conversation with his mother. He opened his mouth - and then closed it. This might be the last time he ever walked in the silent companionship which had come to be the most effective and important form of communication in his life and he was not going to interrupt it. Besides, something inside him knew (trust without words) that Spock, if the truth ever emerged, would understand.
Last time Spock had gone to Gol, he had extracted a promise of return when he was needed. Kirk didn’t think Spock was going to ask of him what he had asked of Saredin. And the danger was over, so there was no need – was there?
They reached the level ground and Sarek lifted his hand in the ta’al salute.
“The High Master awaits,” Spock’s father said, addressing the first words to his son since his son’s near death, loss of telepathy and his saving of the Vulcan people - causing Kirk privately to resolve never again to accuse Sarek’s son of being over-economical in his use of language. He wondered if he would ever have the chance. And he followed the two Vulcans through the great doorway into the hall where he had said to Spock There is real danger here... most of all for you. It was good to know he hadn’t lost his acumen. This time, though, the next set of doors were already open, and he passed behind Spock and Sarek (doggedly resolved to keep going without asking permission unless forcibly excluded from proceedings) until he found himself in a large stone chamber deep within the recesses of the cliff. It was blessedly cool, and Kirk drew a deep breath and looked around him.
Sarek and Spock had come to a halt side by side, as if by a secret signal, a few paces inside the room. Across from where they stood, six stone pillars towered, dwarfing both Vulcans and also two attendants who waited at the back of the chamber. And dwarfing the woman who stood at the centre of the pillars.
Kirk revised this impression. No, not dwarfed. She was not the kind of woman who would be dwarfed by anything.
For a split second, he had thought – T’Pau! – been back again in that day in the desert which seemed to haunt him at every turn the past two months. It was not T’Pau. It was a woman of far greater majesty, far more remote power. This person, he reflected grimly, would not be calling Starfleet Command to get Kirk off the hook for any unauthorised diversions, nor would she be grieving with Spock should anything happen to Kirk. He could only hope his visit to Gol would be brief and incident free. The slight tightening in his abdomen told him it would be. He thought there was only one way this could go and that he would not like it very much. But that was what he had signed up for and that was the only thing, now, he could truly want for Spock.
“Sarek.” A single word, no movement even of the stately head.
“High Master,” Sarek answered, on a similar note.
“And a human.” No inflexion whatsoever.
Neither of the Vulcans moved an inch. Kirk, owner of a name famed throughout the galaxy, fully aware that he sounded as though he were registering for an Academy class and that Standard idiom, nomenclature and tone were woefully inadequate for the occasion, said in friendly tones
“James T Kirk, High Master.”
There was a barely noticeable pause, and then the voice went on:
“Spock, thee comes to us for healing who left the path to kolinahr to travel with outworlders.”
Kirk clenched his hands. He would keep silence, for Spock’s sake – he would keep silence.
Spock’s voice, then, his face invisible from where Kirk stood,
“High Master, I travelled with outworlders to save Vulcan from danger.”
That was that, then, Kirk thought. Six years ago, the response had been They are not outworlders. They are my friends.
“Spock, what does thee seek?”
“High Master, I seek myself.”
“Spock, does thee know that which thee seeks?”
The barest hesitation, and then Spock spoke:
“High Master, I travel on the road of Surak which has logic as journey and destination. I have not arrived but I have passed the turning to other destinations and I have not turned aside. I know what I know. And I know what I do not know. It is that with which I seek thy help.”
There was a silence during which Kirk sensed that Spock’s words – and more – were being weighed in the balance and then T’Sai spoke again, her voice taking on a very slightly different timbre. In another context, it might have been encouraging, but Kirk only heard a message of warning – primarily directed at Spock himself, and then, inexplicably, at Kirk.
“Spock, thee has human blood in thyself which might have stood between thee and true learning. But thee has proved that thee can talk and walk with the true Masters. If thee had stayed thee would have had it in thyself to reach kolinahr. This stands once more within thy sights. But thee must not leave this journey again. We cannot and we must not permit it. If we heal thee and if we walk with thee on thy journey to kolinahr, thee will rise high among the disciples and the thinking at Gol but thee will not leave this place again.”
And only then – as though wanting Kirk to understand, as though this ultimatum were directed as much at Kirk as at Spock – did she turn and, in her words, take Kirk back six years again, once more:
“Spock, Sarek, are our deliberations for outworlders? I will speak in the words of the Masters and in the tongue of our people and I will do so where all who hear my words can hear my meaning.”
Sarek turned. His words to Kirk were oddly gentle but they were final.
“Please leave, Captain. I will return shortly and speak with you outside.”
Spock’s eyes were trained unblinking on T’Sai; he did not turn and Kirk thought, briefly and with a lurch to the heart – Is this goodbye? – but there was nothing he could do, and he knew it. It was funny where trust took you, trust without words. On the Enterprise, Spock had spent the entire journey from Vulcan to Faltonia effectively sequestered in the lab, and Kirk had said Permission granted. Now, Kirk looked at the back of his friend’s head, heard the same, unspoken request, and said silently, again, Permission granted. For the briefest moment in time he let a nanosecond of imagery wash over him – Spock on the bridge, making up some entirely mythological set of odds; Spock, holding him in sickbay and smiling after the pon farr; Spock, tipping over his king in defeat; Spock, amusement deliberately ill-concealed at one of Kirk’s wilder flights of diplomatic advocacy on some remote planet; Spock in Iowa “I understand that you are looking for a science officer”. He thought Live long and prosper, Commander – and then he nodded to Sarek, turned and left without a word.
And Spock said:
“High Master, what thee describes would take a lifetime to achieve.”
“That is what we seek, Spock, son of Sarek. It is what thee must give if this is thy answer.”
Spock said, very quietly,
“High Master, I do not have a lifetime to give.”
There was a silence in which Spock speculated briefly on the nature of time. It had once taken him 3.2 seconds to give the order which destroyed the Columbus. It had only taken him 2.1 seconds to abandon the path to kolinahr and, quite possibly, any true healing which would have given back the life he had lost.
During the three weeks on the Enterprise, he had considered endlessly what his answer would be to the question he had known perfectly well was waiting for him here. He had very seriously considered accepting. He had even contemplated the possibility that T’Sai would not make the offer, that his time at Gol had not proved to the Masters that he could achieve kolinahr, that after Airlock Four he would be found still more wanting. He had not been entirely sure what he would feel about this or of his decision until he had stood before T’Sai by his father’s side. No, perhaps not even then; not until Kirk left without a word.
He had not once discussed Gol with Kirk for the entirety of the journey from Faltonia. For all that, he knew that there had been a profound shift in their views on the one topic which had so divided the two who, coming from such different worlds, had in most other things found so complementary a balance. He had seen Gol as a haven and as an answer; Kirk had distrusted it and found it fundamentally flawed. He had seen it as an intellectual and emotional solution; Kirk had seen it as both anti-intellect and anti-emotion. After the incident with the Columbus, both had realised that they had seen Gol from only one dimension. Kirk had understood that it afforded great strengths. And Spock had understood that it allowed no flexibility. Saredin had said The logic of Gol is not the only way and Spock had not forgotten – was unlikely to forget, eidetic memory or not - that if Saredin had been an adherent of Gol, he would not have disobeyed Kirk’s orders and would not have arrived in time to beam Kirk out of the Columbus. And the Mila ship would still have been destroyed and he would still have come to Gol, but without Kirk.
He wondered what a friendship with Kirk would feel like, without that subliminal sense he had always had of Kirk’s thoughts. And it came to him that it would feel the same.
T’Sai’s voice was toneless, as ever, but he heard in it a thousand voices – family, teachers, childhood peers - which had echoed in his mind all his life and were as familiar as his own thoughts.
“Spock, thee faces a choice. Thee travels one way or another but thee will not stand before this turning again. If thee turns away, thee will never learn what it is truly to heal, to bridge the division of the spirit and the mind, not just what stands now between thee and the ways of thinking of thy Vulcan fathers but what has always stood between thy human and thy Vulcan halves. If thee leaves, thee will remain two people all thy life.”
He took a breath.
Know thyself. This is what it came down to, in the end, for him and also for Kirk. But Kirk had pulled himself out of San Francisco without the disciplines of Gol – he had learned about himself by doing. And that was the option which would remain for Spock.
“High Master,” he said, tasting in his words a hundred moments of rejection and isolation but also another hundred of insight and colour and friendship, “High Master, it is the differences within me which make me who I am. It is only my two halves which have the potential to let me become perhaps even more than one single individual. It is not logical but it is what I have learned, including here at Gol with you.”
In Iowa, he had told Kirk that Heraclitus had said that character was destiny.
He had known what the next words would be, but they fell hard, for all that.
“Then thy answer lies elsewhere, Spock.”
And then, before Spock had even begun to envisage what elsewhere might look like, begun the struggle of a lifetime not to regret what he had so casually declined, the thing which he had least expected, the voice from his right.
“High Master. I ask for healing for my son. Spock has chosen not to seek kolinahr with the Masters. He goes, instead, in his own way, to heal the Vulcan people and to add his strength to the work towards peace and a better way for all. I ask that you give him the tools he needs for this journey. I ask that you help him to reach his own thoughts and to think again in the Vulcan way.”
“What you ask, Sarek, is not logical.”
“Forgive me, T’Sai. My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned.”
Today it will be 45 degrees and cloudless.
Kirk had been sitting by the window in the hallway, letting his eyes drift over the landscape, his thoughts deliberately unfocused. He wondered what was waiting for him on Earth, whether Wesley would advocate on his behalf to Nogura, whether a return to permanent command might really be on the cards. Whether he could make it happen, whether he should make it happen. He wondered about Lori Ciani, whether she would think – what had she said to him? – Find time to work your own answer out – don’t mess it up like you did last time... But she had also said You move on, you move up. No one with your potential stays at any stage forever. Would he be more interesting, now that he was the man who had saved Vulcan? (Although he knew perfectly well who had truly earned that particular epithet.) But that wasn’t fair and he knew it. Lori, for all her faults, was not swayed by the nonsense of fame. She might be more interested in him because he was healed, because he was no longer in need. He let himself wonder, briefly, whether she would be waiting for him, expecting... But he knew in his heart that the very part of him which had healed up was the only part which would have opened the door to Lori or any other partner – the vulnerable bit, the part in need. To be a starship captain was to be self sufficient, and there was no room in that picture for sharing an apartment in San Francisco. If Nogura said no, he thought he might do something very different, but it would be about going forward and not backwards. And he remembered, with a sudden smile, McCoy’s ambition to tell Nogura the facts of life about xeno-epidemics. Perhaps he would. Perhaps Nogura would listen now. If he listened to McCoy, there was always the chance he would listen to Kirk.
The previous day, he’d received a report from HQ that the dilithium deposits on Drachos had been found to include cadmium compounds, rendering them unsafe for use in starships. This meant, he knew, that Starfleet would attempt to back itself out of the mining agreements, on the basis of material non-disclosure, and he suspected that his receipt of the report signified that if he were given permanent command of the Enterprise, his first mission would be to head straight back to Drachos. He thought he could live with that, if he had to.
He thought about the ships he had left behind beyond Faltonia, and smiled again. For his money, Soltar was in for a rough time. He was very fortunate that the Vulcan views on judicial punishment were the most humane in the galaxy. But Millalo and Saredin – he thought that Saredin had it in him to work with Millalo to make a lasting peace, to bring an edge of concession, a softness, to the harsh sophistication of Mila society. And Saredin himself, he thought, would be one of those who made a different in his generation to Vulcan, and to the sector. He wondered how perturbed Saredin would be if he, Kirk, ever told him that he considered him a friend – a good one.
In a minute, he would beam up to the ship. He didn’t know what shortly meant to Sarek. (Seven weeks ago, Spock had said, almost on this very spot “I will return very shortly” and that had meant back to the Enterprise with Kirk, but that was another day, another journey.) He was less sure of Sarek - he had told himself that he would wait an hour and the time was almost up. He would take the ship back to Earth and see whether he needed to find a new job or just a new First Officer. But before he left orbit, he would do one more thing. He would go and find T’Pring, and tell her how Stonn had met his death and the contribution he had made to the mission. It might be the strangest thing he had ever done, but he owed it to Stonn and it was not a task he could reasonably leave for Spock, even if Spock had not been staying at Gol. There was an irony in this decision, reached just minutes after concluding that his relationship with Lori had no future. Conventional happy endings did not seem to be on the table for either him or Spock.
Not just T’Pring. He would go and see Sonak’s family, too. And hope that they would fail to see the other irony - that both he and Sonak had been left to die by an Enterprise transporter malfunction, and that a Vulcan ship had been there to save him but not their son.
He stood up and, at exactly that moment, the door behind him opened and Spock and Sarek were in front of him.
His eyes went from one to the other. Sarek spoke first.
“Captain, I have not had the opportunity to thank you for your efforts on behalf of our planet. Vulcan owes you its gratitude.”
Kirk said, levelly,
“To your son, Ambassador, as much as to anyone else.”
Sarek inclined his head in a gesture which reminded Kirk forcibly that he was Spock’s father, and said:
“Master T’Sai has agreed to provide Spock with healing treatment which will re-educate his mind in the Vulcan disciplines. She is confident that telepathic faculties and mental controls will return.”
Aware of a rush of conflicting feelings, of which relief was predominant, Kirk shot a smile at Spock and asked,
“And how long will this treatment last?”
“Only time will tell,” Sarek said. “Come, Spock. It is time to begin. Live long and prosper, Kirk.”
He turned and left the room, even as Kirk lifted a hand in the ta’al. Spock turned to follow his father and Kirk thought, in a rush – that’s that, then – and then the Vulcan hesitated and turned back.
They were back on the Enterprise, a full three years ago, Christmas Day, the day that Kirk had rescued Spock from the crew party and they had played chess – badly – and Kirk had won and had said “You are permanently irreplaceable” and Spock had left the ship for three years. Kirk had gone back to say goodbye a second time, had defied galactic politics and Starfleet regulations to take his First Officer by the hand, but now it was Spock coming for a second goodbye and something told Kirk that, illogical though it might be, without touch telepathy and in the doorway – literal and metaphorical – to Gol, Spock needed more space, not less. He stood his distance and waited.
Spock said: “Jim, over the past three point two weeks I have come to the conclusion that re-engagement in high-calibre competitive chess matches may be a productive developmental strategy for you at this point.”
Kirk stared, stunned - for a brief second aware of absolutely nothing but sheer shock, like taking a steep step up and being wrong-footed by finding the gradient is inexplicably downhill, after all. And then, with a halogen grin and a feeling of every tension he had ever carried rolling off his back like water cascading from a swimmer emerging from the shallows, he said:
“I’m taking the Enterprise back to HQ for debriefing.”
“Indeed,” Spock said, gravely.
“The crew are scheduled for a fortnight’s R&R while repairs are undertaken.”
“That seems appropriate and well earned.”
“That means we’ll be ready to leave Earth’s orbit in about three weeks’ time.”
“Your calculations appear broadly accurate.”
“Would you like me to come and pick you up or might you be able to travel to Earth by then?”
Their eyes met. And Spock said,
“I will let you know.” And then, as though wanting to be clear, as though Kirk had finally earned the accolade of trust with words, he added “No uncertainty at this point as to the method by which I will be re-joining the ship should present any obstacle to measures you may be considering adopting in relation to the re-stocking of certain items on the ship’s inventory of beverages.”
Kirk thought this through and allowed himself a brief moment to internalise the sheer joy of Make sure there’s enough guava juice on board, before deciding that he had been wrong about Spock’s need for privacy. He took a quick step forward and reached for Spock’s hand, in the same gesture with which he had said goodbye three years earlier.
“If we do this again,” he said, “you’re back under my command permanently.”
Gamma Fortuna and the Copernicus came to Spock’s mind, but before he could gauge what Kirk was saying and react, Kirk continued pleasantly, “That means that I will expect you to obey the odd order, you know.”
Gamma Fortuna again, and Airlock Four, and a number of other occasions on which the chain of command which had bound them and separated them had been tested – shaped and beaten and worked under fire into its own unique shape - but never quite broken. In the isolation chamber of the Enterprise, Spock had called it balance.
“That would be traditional,” he said now, gravely. He reached over with his free hand to hold Kirk’s, exactly as he had done on that earlier occasion.
“Thank you, Jim,” he said, quietly, “for everything”, and Kirk stepped back, lifted his hand in the ta’al and turned away. Below him was the Copernicus and, above him, his ship was waiting.
This story would not have been written without Aname, whose idea it was and who provided constant support along the way. But thank you also to everyone who has left reviews for your kindness and companionship throughout.
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