Life after Talos IV
Kirk-Spock FriendshipOther Languages:
ST:TOS Original UniverseWarnings:
Anyone who has read Common Knowledge knows I write canon but like picking up existing characters and putting them in new storylines. If you are a purist, this may not be for you.
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
“I’ve been completely logical about the whole affair.”
What did that mean?
Jim Kirk took a coffee from his yeoman and settled back into the command chair. The stars winked at him through the viewer. They looked familiar enough, but that was the way with stars. They had looked pretty familiar through the front screen of Shuttlecraft One from Starbase Eleven. They hadn’t blinked then at the fact that his own personal Universe had just turned upside down. And now, four days out from Talos IV and he had yet fully to take for granted again the feel of the centre seat, the solid reality of his ship beneath him.
Many things had changed in the life of the captain of the Enterprise since the start of the five year mission. He had learned what it was to command, the feel of four hundred lives and the knowledge that there was a blurred line between him and the sleek metallic elegance which was the Enterprise – that the two of them were both half flesh, half warp core, in one joyous, painful togetherness. He had learned that most of what he had studied about command in Starfleet was irrelevant and the rest of it could have been understood in one twenty-four hour period when a combination of Klingons, engineering failure and planetary distress could teach you everything you needed to know about decision making. And about failure. He had learned more than he had ever expected about different brands of Scotch whisky and Georgian oaths. His chess game had improved incrementally. And he had learned that it’s always the unexpected in life that comes to mean the most to you.
Perhaps the most subtle lesson was the number of different meanings he had learned to attach to the word “logical”. In orbit around Delta Vega, Spock had said that Elizabeth Dehner was wrong about Gary Mitchell and when Kirk had pressed him, he had said Because she feels. I don’t. All I know is logic. But at the end of one of the worst days of Kirk’s life (although the process of Spock’s court martial en route to Talos IV included some spectacular competition) he had told Spock that Gary hadn’t asked for what happened to him, and the Vulcan had said I felt for him, too.
Spock’s habitual dialogue was the positioning of logic as anti-emotion. Kirk knew enough of his Vulcan First Officer to know that it was more complicated than that, that logic could be a refuge from emotion and at the same time an emotional dialect, even an emotional weapon.
All of which meant that the person who had admitted at Delta Vega both that he had feelings and that his analytical tool of choice was logic, in saying at Talos IV I’ve been completely logical about the whole affair was not necessarily actually claiming that stealing Kirk’s ship was the logical thing to do. Kirk was perfectly well aware of that. Moreover, he didn’t think for one minute that his First Officer, renowned through several sectors of the galaxy for intelligence, bravery and exemplary Starfleet duty had really been suggesting that assaulting Starfleet personnel, impersonating Kirk and mutinying could reasonably be described as logical. At least, not within the meaning habitually ascribed by the followers of Surak.
So what did it mean?
The trouble was that he, Kirk, was supposed to be the risk-taker, the rule-breaker. He was the one with the reputation for treating the Starfleet rule book like a civilian wardrobe – choose at will, depending on the weather and personal preference (and the person you are trying to impress). Or a box of chocolates – get there in time to take the one you want, and leave the others for everyoneelse. He was the one who had re-programmed the Kobayashi Maru simulator; he was the one who had taken his father’s aircar for a drive when he had been grounded, aged fifteen; he was the one who had once had sex with Carol Marcus in the Council Room at Startfleet HQ – just because he wanted to be able to say that he had done so. (Although they had made sure the lights were off and Carol complained that the décor was less than conducive to the occasion. It hadn’t been long before the Farragut posting and he’d known that time was running out for them; perhaps he’d been trying to hold on. Perhaps that was a reason for breaking rules for him – and for Spock? He filed the thought away, for later.)
And yet, he thought, drinking the coffee and half turning in anticipation as he heard Uhura receiving an incoming message from Fleet HQ, he didn’t think he would have made the same choices as Spock had at Starbase Eleven. Of course, you don’t ever know, do you? Not until you’ve stood in someone’s Starfleet regulation boots and walked around in them a while. Not until you’ve been brought up as the only member of a species, half-human-half-Vulcan. Not until you’ve served with Chris Pike (eleven years, four months, five days), not until you’ve gone to Talos IV and seen what happened to the crew of the SS Columbia, not until you’ve seen reduced to half man, half dashboard the friend who thirteen years ago was your commanding officer.
It occurred to him, then, the bitter irony between the parallel of his own self-reflection – he and his Enterprise, both half flesh half warp core - and what had happened to Chris Pike. He wondered if this had served to fuel Spock’s anguish, because Chris would also have once been half flesh, half warp core. Not that Spock felt anguish, of course. Except he probably did, mused Spock’s captain, because Spock knew more than most people about being half one thing and half another.
“Message from Starfleet Command, sir.”
“Put it on screen, Lieutenant.”
The screen filled with the image of Bob Wesley, and Kirk smiled.
“Good to see you, Jim,” said the screen, genially.
“Always a pleasure, Commodore,” he said, cheerfully. “What can we do for you?”
“We’d like you to take the Enterprise to Deneva. You’re the nearest ship, and the Endeavour is in orbit. Latest communication from Eli French is that they might need some help.”
Kirk frowned, very slightly.
“What at Deneva is outside Eli French’s control, exactly?”
“Probably more sensible for you to talk to Eli. As I said, you’re the closest, as it happens, but he particularly asked for you. It’s a complicated situation. We’re sending some background information across now, sub-space and encrypted. Keep it to yourself, Captain; just for you and Spock at this stage. Good luck, Wesley out.”
Kirk sketched a friendly salute and ordered a change of course, while a number of thought shimmied through his head.
Deneva meant Sam, of course. He wondered, guiltily, when he had last spoken to Sam. Sam and Aurelan and the kids had made it to Earth for his investiture as captain. His mother had been lit up like a Christmas tree, ecstatic, her son a starship captain and her family reunited. He most certainly hadn’t seen him since and he had not repaid the effort expended by his brother with any very frequent correspondence. Not that Sam had written either, he reflected affectionately. Sam would have found it easier to make the gesture of the trip to Earth than to remember to write. Aurelan was another story, but he didn’t know his sister-in-law very well and the children not at all.
Eli French, on the other hand, was a rather better known quantity. Eli and his First, Manoriss, had been assigned to the Endeavour at the same time that he had taken command of the Enterprise, and the four of them, Eli and Manoriss and he and Spock had formed something of a friendship, within the boundaries of what Starfleet allowed, in a life where you might or might not bump into someone at some conference, some council, or then again you might not, not until their birthday or promotion or retirement, or until the mission was over. Or until their name came up in a communique from Starfleet which meant someone at home was receiving a bitter flag and your own eyes widened and you remembered the first time and the last time you saw them and resolved that you would be better at keeping in touch with your remaining friends. Except, of course, that you never were.
Manoriss was from Rigel 9. He was humanoid, blue-skinned, fiercely intelligent and as easy to overcome in unarmed combat as the average killer whale. He and Spock shared the distinction of being Starfleet’s highest ranking alien officers, and the added characteristic in common that neither was human in temperament. Manoriss was no Vulcan – Rigellians were passionate by nature, but humour was unknown in the culture, and he and Spock understood something of how the other had tried to fit within the human dimensions of Starfleet. Privately, Kirk entertained rather strongly held views on the subject of Spock’s own sense of humour and the gap between the Vulcan’s professed perspective and his real understanding of and engagement with conversations about the Enterprise. Nonetheless, he appreciated the support that Manoriss and Spock offered each other and he himself liked Eli French very much. The four had got to know each other a few months into the five year mission, when the Endeavour and the Enterprise had been assigned to a conference on Venga Five. The conference had been largely staged for show, with little of substance that drew either crew, and the four senior officers had spent a number of evenings together. Even Spock had unbent, Kirk remembered, and had clearly enjoyed the four-way camaraderie. Kirk had been struck by the bond between Eli and Manoriss and, finding himself alone one evening with the captain of the Endeavour while the other two were each checking on their respective ships, had asked him about it, somewhat tentatively.
French had smiled, quietly.
“I had the biggest reservations about taking him on, you know, Jim,” he said, running a hand over the lower part of his face. “I though Starfleet was asking me to be a diversity poster child, if you really want to know, and I couldn’t see how Man and I could possibly work together. Do you know what I remember most about command stream lectures?”
“How to copy other people’s notes?” Kirk asked, smiling.
“No, it was Admiral Thornhill, remember him?”
“Thornhill – God, yes. Haven’t thought of him in years. He died, did you know?”
Eli paused, hand on glass.
“No,” he said, “no, I hadn’t heard.” There was a pause, in which Kirk had sensed that Eli was back in Academy, listening to a retired officer with white hair and deepset blue eyes who had impressed Kirk mainly for his views on tactical manoeuvres under fire. But it was not, apparently, what Eli French had remembered.
“What do you think the most important thing about a starship is, Jim? I mean, what’s the thing which distinguishes an excellent ship from a good ship? What’s the single thing which is going to make a difference, when you’re up against it?”
Kirk had understood the nature of the question, and he gave it the thought that Eli was obviously asking for. It clearly wasn’t the state of the engines or even the experience of the captain.
“The command crew experience and dynamic,” he offered, after a minute.
“Nearly. Thornhill was much more specific than that. He said it was the relationship between the Captain and First Officer. Think of that, Jim. Because if you do, you’ll realise it’s true. And when I heard about Man, when I first met him, I thought I’d fallen at the first hurdle. I reckoned we could learn to do the job, you know – draw up crew rosters, fight Klingons, sit round a table and draw up reports. But I figured Thornhill had been right, and I really couldn’t see where empathy and rapport were going to come from. I’ve never been so wrong. I know how much you rate Spock, but I know that I’ve got the best First Officer in the Fleet – for me. Because Man and I fit together – we’ve got complementary skills, complementary strengths, complementary intuition. I can even tell you what he’s doing now and why he’ll be five minutes late and why it doesn’t matter because I can order dinner for him. Shit, Jim, other than my need to further the French family line, we may as well be married.”
Kirk grinned, to cover up that he was moved.
“Not your idea of a romantic date, I take it?”
“Hardly,” his companion said, drily. “Have you ever really looked at Man, and do you know much about Rigellian sex? In fact, on that subject,” he continued, enthusiasm gathering, “I don’t know if you’ve met the First Officer of the Maryland; she’s given the keynote address tomorrow, and I have to tell you….” and the conversation had moved elsewhere. It had stayed in Kirk’s mind, though, and he had taken it back to the ship and looked at Spock again through the framework supplied by French. It had been less than a year into his posting on the Enterprise, still early days in terms of his friendship with Spock, but he remembered it because he had stood in his quarters and looked out of the viewer and played back the conversation and smiled to himself. It had been a moment of recognition, of understanding, of knowing that by Thornhill’s criterion the Enterprise was the best there was, and that she could only get better.
The other thing which stayed in Kirk’s mind till the end of the shift was Wesley’s parting words – Just for you and Spock at this stage. The problem with Talos IV was that there were a whole load of assumptions underlying that part of Bob’s message and while he was absolutely sure that most of them still held, he wasn’t entirely sure about all of them. And he didn’t know whether Spock was, either.
Kirk eyed lunch with some reluctance just as the seat beside him abruptly filled with the ship’s CMO.
“Good,” McCoy said, looking over the captain’s shoulder with approval. “I’ve been overhauling all the dietary cards for the senior crew. The food replicators have been reprogrammed this week and I –“
“Does everyone get to eat this green stuff, then?” Kirk interrupted.
“No, of course not,” McCoy returned, dignified. “That wouldn’t require much skill or be much use, would it? We’ve given you all individualised balanced regimes. Taking into account cultural preferences, of course,” he added, as the ship’s First Officer sat down opposite them.
“Morning, Commander,” Kirk said, affably. “Your lunch looks remarkably unchanged to me.”
Spock’s eyebrow rose, predictably.
“Elucidate. Is there a reason why an alteration should be expected?”
“It looks as though you’re the only senior officer who can be trusted to order take out,” Kirk said, expecting a request for a redundant translation from Standard. Spock opened his mouth as though to express confusion, and then closed it, thoughtfully.
To all intents and purposes, life on the Enterprise had continued unchanged since Talos IV. Kirk’s manner to his First Officer was as friendly as ever, chess games had taken place and been won (and lost) and the three-way dynamic which involved meals consumed under crossfire in the senior rec room continued unabated. (Kirk still smiled at the memory of hosting Eli French, as it happened, to dinner one evening the previous year, of watching Eli’s face while Spock and McCoy played their verbal tennis match, and Eli saying afterwards “Is it always like that? And is there anywhere to hide?”)
But it was not the same, and both senior members of the command team were aware of this. To Kirk, it was simply an unasked question. And to Spock it was the combination of waiting for that question to be asked and the knowledge that he was unlikely when the time came to be able to produce an answer which would satisfy his captain.
The restoration of his former captain to Talos IV had been, as far as the First Officer of the Enterprise was concerned, an almost unqualified success. He had been presented with a former colleague imprisoned in the most wretched of conditions; the clearest of laws preventing the release of that colleague to an effective state of health and happiness; the ultimate penalty facing any officer who knowingly involved themselves in the breach of those laws; and a current commanding officer who, by reason of his value both to Starfleet and to the Enterprise and to Spock personally, could under no circumstances be permitted to pay that penalty or risk his career. The result of Spock’s strategy had seen Pike restored to a quality of life on Talos IV and Kirk’s freedom and career unimpaired, his record unblotted. Spock’s own view of the affair was that his strategy could reasonably be viewed, retrospectively, to have been both identified and implemented flawlessly.
Despite this, the Vulcan knew that the situation was not unflawed; knew, also, where the flaw lay. Kirk’s life and career were of ultimate significance to his First Officer, but his own professional relationship with his captain was clearly of considerable consequence to the optimal functioning of the ship. Spock had amassed a considerable amount of knowledge of command relationships, having observed several at close hand – including that of Chris Pike with his former Number One – before finding that personal participation in the phenomenon was rather different from observation or even from studying analyses on what human beings termed rapport. His decision to enter Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy meant that Spock was committed to supporting the human dynamic, and he understood perfectly the difference between serving under a Vulcan captain and serving under James T Kirk. A Vulcan captain would not expect games of chess played after stressful days, would not comment on the ingredients of his lunch and would not have pretended to accept Spock’s occasionally deliberately less than entirely scientific calculation of the probabilities of success in particular endeavours. Kirk could not run his ship without the development of a relationship with his First Officer and it was therefore of professional importance for Spock to respond to that need.
What Spock had possibly not factored into his otherwise flawless strategy was the impact of Talos IV on his rapport with Kirk. And the other thing he had not factored in (because he routinely chose to leave it out of all calculations, which was not, of course, the same thing as being unaware of it) was that his rapport with Kirk was neither entirely professional nor entirely a one-way thing, and if Talos IV had damaged it, it might be necessary for Spock to undertake a re-evaluation both of past decisions and of future choices.
Where he was still unsure was whether there had, in fact, been a choice. In an uncharacteristic manifestation of self-doubt, he had spent some considerable time since Talos IV – time allocated to private mediation – considering alternative scenarios. Even with the benefit of hindsight, watching Kirk go about his daily business and with the knowledge tucked away of Pike’s changed situation, Spock could not find it in himself to regret what had happened, or see what else he could have done.
Nevertheless, the Vulcan Science Officer who a month ago would have queried the reference to ordering take out in the context of the rec room of a Constitution Class starship several days out from the nearest Starbase, instead closed his mouth and lifted a glass of orange juice, and knew by something in Kirk’s shoulders that his captain was entirely aware both of the choice he had made and the reason for that choice.
“So, what’s awaiting us at Deneva?” McCoy asked through a chicken salad. “Isn’t your brother stationed there, Jim, with his family?”
“That’s right,” Kirk said. “I’m hoping to catch up with him – sent him a subspace, after I spoke to Wesley. We’ve received the briefing from HQ, but it’s not as specific as I would have liked. Looks as though there’s some sort of epidemic headed their way, but it’s more complicated than that. I don’t have medical details yet, Bones, or I’d give them to you. We’ll know soon enough. It’ll be good to see Eli and Man.”
The Vulcan had paused, fork in hand.
“Captain, Commander Manoriss is not at Deneva.”
Kirk looked up, quickly.
“Man? Not on the Endeavour? Why not?”
“I am uncertain,” Spock said. “However, I received a subspace communication from him twelve point three Earth days ago from the Delta sector, and it would not be possible for him to reach Deneva within that period of time.”
Kirk considered the matter, and shrugged. “Perhaps he’s on shore leave. Perhaps that’s why Eli needs our help. Oh well, we’ll know soon enough.”
“Have you had the opportunity to speak to Captain French?”
“Not yet. He’s been out of reach the past three days. I have a call booked to him at 1500 hours. I was going to ask you to join me then in my quarters.”
And there it was again, that almost undetectable difference. Kirk could have told him about the call earlier, could have informed him of it simultaneously with making the arrangement.
But he hadn’t. Spock watched Kirk eyeing his lunch with an expression of casual lack of interest, and something inside him he could not quite have named sent off a tiny alert. He stood and inclined his head to his commanding officer
“Permission to return to duty, sir, in that case. I will attend your quarters at the appropriate time.”
Kirk waved him away, and McCoy watched him curiously as he pushed the meal away and reached for a coffee.
“What’s going on with you and the hobgoblin, Jim?”
“Absolutely nothing, Bones,” he returned pleasantly, “but thank you for asking.”
“Didn’t look like nothing to me, what happened back on Talos IV. Looked to me like the man had a midlife crisis, abducted a senior officer, threw a mutiny and stole your ship, Captain. And you had him court-martialled for it. You telling me that’s nothing?”
“History, Doctor. All resolved now.”
“Resolved my elbow. I know there were reasons for doing what he did, I’m not stupid. Do you, though?”
“Do I what?” Kirk asked. He was uncomfortably aware of McCoy’s ability to home in on the precise issue which was bothering him, and was somewhat conflicted between wanting to ask the doctor to get out of his personal life and wanting to see if he could help.
“Do you know what his reasons were? Have you talked to him? Have you worked it out, the two of you?”
“We all know why he did it, Bones,” Kirk said, tiredly. “It was all sorted at the time.”
“Shit, Jim, it’s a good thing you’re a captain and not a psychoanalyst. In fact, I’m beginning to realise why you and the hobgoblin get on so well. You really do believe in locking things up inside, don’t you? Let me spell it out for you. The man’s your best friend, you’re married to your ship, he lied to you and he left you stranded on Starbase Eleven and took your ship away. Freud would have written a whole book about that. Hell, he would have written several. (They’d all have been wrong, as it happens, but they’d have made entertaining reading.) My point is, you can’t just put it in a box, throw some regulations in, wrap it all up and bury it somewhere. How can you have got this far in life without understanding anything about human relationships? Spock’s a lost cause, plus he’s not actually human, but you? Go on, Captain, tell me how you really feel. I’m not saying I’ll agree with you, mind you, but tell me, go on.”
There was a pause, while the unwavering hold of McCoy’s blue eyes on Kirk’s face belied the jocularity of his tone. And then he dropped his voice and said softly, “Before you do so in a medical consultation. I have to be satisfied, you know, that the ship’s command crew is working well together.”
Kirk threw him a glance which managed to combine both irritation and surrender. But the rec room around them was empty, and with a sudden movement which signalled to the doctor that Kirk wanted the release of expression, he leaned forward abruptly, put both hands on the table, and said:
“I still can’t believe that he did it, you know. Oh, I understand all the reasons why, thank you, without talking to him. But talking to him won’t change the fact that he did it.”
“Did what, Jim?” The bantering tone was gone entirely; McCoy was homed in on his prey.
“He lied to me. He lied and he stole my ship.” From a distance of less than a metre, it was impossible to mistake the betrayal, the anger. The ship’s CMO was relatively sure that Spock would be able to detect it eleven decks away, were the First Officer within sight. McCoy watched his friend with a mixture of sympathy and a degree of bracing support.
“I don’t think this one was about you, Jim,” he said, gently. “This was for Pike.”
“Not good enough,” Kirk returned, instantly. “He is my First, Bones. It has to be about me, has to be about us.”
McCoy said, very quietly,
“You don’t own Spock, Jim. He’s a stubborn, closed up son-of-a-bitch and he doesn’t open up easily and winning his friendship the way you have must feel like you won the Lottery – I do understand that, for all that the man makes me want to call the nearest shrink or shoot one of us (preferably him). But you’re actually just one of a small number he’ll talk to. You’re not the only one. It’s part of how you work together that you’re the only one on this ship. But there’s a whole galaxy out there with other people he values, people he knew before you came on board. That might be something of a facer, given how you’ve come to be, together. Fact is, you still don’t own him.”
Kirk stood up abruptly, angered.
“That’s not what’s going on here, Doctor.”
McCoy stayed seated.
“Isn’t it?” he asked, mildly. “How would you know if you don’t ask him, Jim? You might be surprised at the answer – you might even find it helpful.”
“Might I?” Kirk hesitated for a minute, and then turned back to McCoy. “I think the foundation of my friendship with Spock is a little more secure than the picture you’re painting, Doctor. But there always has to be one overriding loyalty, the one you won’t compromise whatever the cost, and in the world of Starfleet, Spock’s oath says that is the loyalty he ought to have for this ship and its current CO. And try this for size – by any objective view, Spock betrayed my trust and betrayed this crew and betrayed his own commission, and you and he are both making a huge mistake if you think the road back from here to trust is anything but steep. I’m doing my level best to make it like it was, but any other captain would have requested another First Officer, and you know it.”
“Oh, I do,” McCoy threw after him. “But it’s making it like it was that’s the problem, Captain. Why are you so afraid of talking to him?”
The rec room door closed behind Kirk, leaving McCoy with the dubious satisfaction that he had, at least, been heard. Alone at the table, he regarded both senior officer’s unfinished meals and reflected, with some regret, on the hours he had spent on drawing up new dietary cards.
“Captain, I have the Endeavour for you, sir.”
“Thank you, Uhura, I’ll take the call down here in my quarters.”
Kirk waved Spock to a seat opposite him and leant back in his chair as the screen lit up with Eli French’s remembered smile. It was reflected on Kirk’s face.
“Eli, really good to see you.”
“And you, Jim. Spock. I hope you’re both well.”
“Despite McCoy’s attempts to the contrary, yes.”
“Never mind,” Kirk said, relaxing, despite himself, into the dialogue. “What are you doing on Deneva?”
“Originally, we were here on shore leave,” French said, looking rather wistful. “It’s the most beautiful planet, Jim – ever been here?”
“Actually, my brother Sam is stationed there,” Kirk smiled. “And I’ve therefore heard a lot about it but I’ve never been. I’m hoping to catch up with him while I’m there.”
“Your brother?” Eli looked confused. “I was going to – there is a research biologist here named Kirk, but his name is George.”
“That’s right. George Samuel Kirk. I’ve always called him Sam. It’s a family thing – he was named for our father. Don’t worry. So you’ve met him?”
“Yes – I can see the likeness, now you’ve told me.”
“Don’t tell Aurelan that, for goodness sake,” Kirk said. “And if you were having shore leave, how come Manoriss is half way across the galaxy? According to Spock, he is in the Delta sector.”
There was an abrupt movement from Spock, rapidly checked, and as Kirk’s eyes went to him, enquiring, Eli French’s tone changed entirely.
“I’m sorry to have to inform you, Captain, that Manoriss is no longer serving on the Endeavour.”
Kirk stared. Before he could begin to find the right words to offer into the entirely different face which now gazed out of the viewer, French continued:
“I’m also sorry to have to tell you that the rest of what I need to discuss with you is classified. I’ve no wish to cause offence; I see you have Commander Spock with you, but I think we had better continue this conversation in person. I’m aware of your ETA; it will wait till then. I’ll look forward to seeing you shortly. Jim, Spock.”
Kirk looked at the empty screen and then back at Spock.
“You knew,” he said. It was not a question. Spock moved his head in silent apology.
“I had only ascertained the situation since I last saw you,” he said. “I now realise it would have been felicitous to have given you warning before you spoke to Captain French, and I apologise.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“Captain, Commander Manoriss was court-martialled.”
“Court-martialled?” The two stared at each other. I waive rights to this hearing and request immediate court martial. Words unlikely to be forgotten by either of them, spoken only a few days ago, en route from Starbase Eleven to Talos IV. And now this.
Kirk recovered first.
“For what offence?”
“The information is encrypted, sir. I do not know.”
“I see. Anything else you don’t know, Spock?” He wasn’t sure, really, where the words had come from, or what he had meant. Perhaps the news from Eli French had shocked him – what on earth lay down on Deneva, where Manoriss had been court-martialled and French was not prepared to divulge the briefing to Spock and an epidemic was on its way and where, somehow, Sam was involved? And perhaps McCoy had been right - Why are you so afraid of talking to him? He didn’t know what he wanted, didn’t know what Spock would say. He did know, from Spock’s face, that his First knew what he was being asked. But into the silence, the communicator whistled from the bridge.
“Sulu here, sir. We are arriving at Deneva in thirty minutes.”
“I am unsure as to your precise question, sir” and Kirk only allowed the words to hang between them for two point five seconds, before he leant over and hit the comm switch.
“On my way. Kirk out,” and then, to Spock, “Never mind. I’ll see you on the bridge.”
He took Eli French’s hand, shook it firmly and accepted the proffered coffee.
“Good to see you, Captain. And I think congratulations are in order.”
French’s eyebrows rose.
“Little matter of a second class medal of honour? Can’t hide your light under a bushel, you know, Eli.”
Somewhat to his surprise, a shadow passed over the other’s face.
“Load of damn nonsense, as you very well know, Jim,” he said, gruffly. “But thank you. And thank you, also, for coming alone.”
“You asked me to, so I did,” he said lightly. “But, Eli, this is not a classified mission and I’m unaware of any orders requiring me to act alone. Spock will need to be briefed.”
“Yes, of course, I know that,” French said, quickly. “It’s just that I wanted to raise something with you first. You’ll understand when you see your brother - it’s not about not trusting Spock, of course.”
Well, no. It was never about not trusting Spock. Was it?
“Spock stated he received a message for us to come here. That’s all the proof I require.”
He said, ignoring the days-old echo from Starbase Eleven,
“What’s Sam got to do with this, anyway?”
“He’s the one who contacted HQ. He was trying to get hold of you, but apparently you were out near the Talos system – that true, Jim?” French asked, curiously. Kirk lifted a peremptory hand.
“Another day. So he got you instead. What did he want? Is this about Sam, or about Deneva?”
“Oh, Deneva. But a bit more than Deneva. HQ must have sent you the briefing on the epidemic.”
They had. Pages and pages of graphic descriptions of crippled nervous systems, muscles ceasing up, death by oxygen deprivation, with no response to known medication. A planet half a sector from Deneva had lost four percent of its population in six weeks. And there had been reports of victims on Cregennan, which was closer to Deneva. Much, much closer.
“They did. McCoy’s been reading up on it. But I don’t really understand why you brought us in on it, or even why Sam asked for us. McCoy’s the best CMO in the business, but we’re not set up for this sort of thing. Why isn’t there a medical research ship assigned to this? You can’t expect us to fight this on our own.”
French shook his head.
“Don’t worry. The lab teams on Starbase Three are giving it all they’ve got and George – I mean, your brother - is running a whole operation on Deneva. Trouble is, they’ve been tracking the epidemic, they’ve had six months’ notice and they haven’t really got anywhere. George says there is no obvious connection between the various symptoms, that there’s no known example of similar patterns of viruses which have causes these particular combinations.”
Kirk looked thoughtful.
“That’s bad,” he said quietly. “The inhabitants of those two planets – Cregennan and – what was it? – Trennon 5 – they’re humanoid, right?”
“Cregrennan yes, Trennon 5, no. The virus seems to adapt to different species very easily.”
“What do they have in common?”
“The different species,” he said, patiently. “They’ve both been vulnerable to this virus, what physical attributes do they have in common?”
“Don’t know, Jim, haven’t thought about it from that angle, ask your brother.”
“I will,” he said, a good deal more mystified than at the start of the briefing, “but I still have no idea why the Enterprise is here. I repeat, we are not a medical ship.”
“Like I said, Jim, that part of it’s covered. George and I needed your advice on something else.”
Kirk stared at him.
“There have been reports,” French said, slowly, “there have been reports of some resistance to the disease.”
“Resistance? Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? What do you mean, resistance?”
French studied his fingers for a minute, and then said,
“Apparently, there is an active cult which is developing rapidly in the sector.”
Kirk groaned to himself. He wasn’t sure he was up to dealing with another cult, another combination of galactic virus and beings who ceded control of their lives to self-appointed messiahs – his least favourite scenario, where he knew he most lacked empathy. He was too much himself, too much at home in his own leadership persona not to feel both an instinctive impatience with those who abdicated from decisions over their own future and at the same time a profound inner discomfort with any evidence of abuse of power and trust.
The face of Miri came to mind. And he remembered also the havoc caused by that other recent epidemic, the water-altering virus they had encountered off Psi 2000, Riley’s mania, Sulu amok, and those words from Spock he knew he had yet to take sufficient time sufficiently to process “Jim, when I feel friendship for you I am ashamed.” He put it alongside “I’ve been completely logical about the whole affair” in the file for his self-imposed assignment, grown somewhat more pressing of late, of trying to understand his First Officer, and turned back to the matter at hand.
“What’s the cult? And what’s the connection with the virus?”
“We don’t know a lot about it, but it started independently from the virus, it’s over a decade old. Starfleet’s been tracking it and till now we’ve no information that it’s a matter for particular concern. The problem is that it’s founded on the idea that the mind is the key to everything.”
“Wouldn’t necessarily dispute that, Eli,” he said mildly, thinking of Spock again.
“Maybe not. But the cult is very strong in this sector and they’ve been told that they will be immune to the virus if they simply adopt the right frame of mind when the time comes.”
“Well, that I would dispute,” he said, less mildly. “Who’s been telling them? Can’t you pull their leaders in for a conversation?”
“Good idea, Jim,” French said, leaning back with a smile. “Exactly what I was hoping you would propose. George has the information and he’ll give you the details.”
“All right,” Kirk said, still slightly puzzled. “Happy to help, of course, but is there a reason my ship was sent half way across the sector to interview these people? And why Spock couldn’t beam down with me?”
“They are Vulcan,” French said, and the unexpected statement, together with its very simplicity, took Kirk aback so much that for a fleeting instant he thought French had said that Spock was Vulcan, wondered what was wrong with the other man – and then snapped back.
“Vulcan? A Vulcan cult? Are you sure?” And knew, even as he asked the question, not only that it was rhetorical, redundant, but also that it made sense. The mind is key to everything, French had said, and his own thoughts had instantly gone to Spock.
“George wanted to talk it through with you. We figured you’d want to brief Spock but that it might be helpful for you to be aware first, that’s all.”
He looked thoughtfully at French – it was no use, there was something strange going on, but he would have to drag it out of his brother. He said
“I’ll go and see Sam,” but made no effort to get up, and after a minute, French glanced up with an enquiring look on his face.
“Look, Eli,” Kirk said, a little uncomfortably. “I was damned sorry to hear about Manoriss. I realise you may not want to talk about it, but if you do – well, I want you to know that I’m happy to listen.”
French’s face shuttered and he said, coolly,
“History, Captain. Nothing to discuss.”
Kirk shrugged and got to his feet to go, but as he opened his mouth, the other man’s expression changed and he said, slightly unevenly,
“No, don’t go - look, Jim, I appreciate it. It’s been a difficult time. I know you mean well, you and Spock. It’s just…” His voice tailed off and he swung round abruptly to the viewer and said to the stars, “I’ve not actually talked about it properly to anyone.”
With an inner sigh and a silent apology to his brother, Kirk laid a hand on his shoulder. “Perhaps you should, in that case. If not to a friend, then to whom? Come on, Eli,” he said, gently, steering the other man to a chair. “Let’s have it.”
French sat, rather heavily, and Kirk went over to the replicator. He entered a programme, retrieved a glass of golden liquid and pushed it over to Eli.
“Not the real thing, but better than coffee. Tell me.”
The other man brooded over the drink a while, hands cradling the glass, and then said,
“Yes,” prompted Kirk, encouraging.
“They gave it to me after that spat off Rigel 7. I don’t know if you heard about it.”
Something stirred in Kirk’s mind, official reports, hostages, a ship at bay. He ignored it, said again,
“A bunch of real psychos. It was a gaol break. The maximum security facility on Rigel 3, the sector’s most wanted. They overcame the guards, took a bunch of civilians hostage, somehow managed to threaten their way onto a fully armed ship which was in orbit pending orders. God knows what sort of security system the Rigellians think they run – start to finish, the whole saga was a joke. Although, to be fair, these guys were the business – evil, sick, geniuses, the lot of them.” He fell silent again and Kirk, Sam and dinner on his mind, thought he could risk a prompt.
“I remember now. Wasn’t there a civil war? Rigel 4 and Rigel 7?”
“That’s right. Most of it was just resolved, some pretty effective mediation and a compensation process which will last till kingdom come. But the real hard cases, the racists, the sociopaths – they put them in the facility on Rigel 3. You can’t do anything with people like that. They were all from Rigel 4, and whatever you heard, Jim, they were the instigators. Oh, sure, Rigel 7 weren’t saints. But without that bunch of fascists on Rigel 4, it would never have happened. They didn’t really want a different set of mining rights, they didn’t want resettlement – they just wanted to blow up as much of Rigel 7 as they possibly could. No question of rehabilitation. They’re just scum, people like that. Starfleet should have executed the lot of them. Would have saved everyone a lot of trouble.”
“So what happened?” Kirk asked, eyes on French’s face. Eli was clearly a long way away. Somewhere off Rigel 7, Kirk suspected.
“They plotted a direct course to Rigel 7 and started powering up every photon torpedo on board.”
“And where did you come into it?”
“I was just the one who drew the short straw. We were the nearest ship. Simple orders, really – stop the ship, save the hostages, save Rigel 7.”
There was a slight pause. Kirk thought back, quickly.
“They blew themselves up. The ship – it went up with all hands, is that right?”
“That’s right,” French said, very quietly.
Kirk regarded him, not unkindly.
“Eli, old friend. You and I have seen worse. It doesn’t make it your fault, yours – or Manoriss’s.” There was something else, he realised. What Frenh had said was just the background. He said, “What aren’t you telling me, Eli?”
The other turned to him. In almost matter of fact tones, he said, “You’re right, Jim. That’s the hell of it. You’re absolutely right. It wasn’t my fault and it would have happened anyway. I thought I could save them – sixty men and women and a dozen kids – but I never had the chance. They blew themselves to bits as soon as I had them covered, as soon as I called for their surrender.”
Kirk waited. And then it came, like a cork from a bottle.
“The thing is, it turns out that that is what they do on Rigel 4. It’s a sort of secret native code, guarded from Starfleet. These people are brought up to believe that surrender is the ultimate disgrace. Like I said, bunch of sociopaths. They are trained – they are brainwashed, actually, talk about cults – to hit the switch as soon as they are surrounded. There are no records of surrender of Rigel 4 forces – ever. Ever, ever. So they were always going to die. As soon as we took the Endeavour over there, with a hundred times their weaponry and ten times their speed, it was always going to happen. ”
“Eli,” he said softly. “Eli. What difference would it have made if you have known?”
French brought his hand up, scrubbed his face and let out a huge sigh.
“Difference? Probably none. None in the outcome because I had no choice – I had to protect Rigel 7, of course I did. My orders made it clear and in any case there was no choice. It would have been a hell of a nasty one to think through, though. Not sure what I would have tried. The thing is – the thing is… “
“Yes?” prompted Kirk. He was beginning to wonder whether McCoy was right about his psychoanalytical abilities. He thought he was doing rather well with French. If he told McCoy, it might get him off Kirk’s back about a cosy one-to-one with Spock. He was also beginning to wonder about his meal with Sam, and whether it would turn into a late night coffee, how long it would be before he managed to get back to the ship. And whether, in fact, he should have that one-to-one with Spock. Why are you so afraid of talking to him? McCoy was right. And then he wondered what the hell he was doing there, persuading French to spill his guts out, when he wasn’t prepared to reach out to Spock – Spock, of all people.
“The thing is,” French was saying, “just one of those things, Jim, you know how it is, the way the dice rolls sometimes.”
“Sure,” Kirk said, mind largely on Spock and partly on dice. What on earth was Eli talking about? And then his mind snapped back to the present with French’s next words.
“My family are stationed on Rigel 7 just now. My father has a contract with the Senate and my mother is there with my two sisters for twelve months. You know, my younger sister is married to Ray Marsh and she’s six months pregnant.”
Kirk stared at him.
“My God,” he said, softly. “Eli… are they safe?”
“Now? Oh yes,” a short laugh which didn’t sound amused. “And they were always going to be. Because there was no question of me not going hell for leather after the hostage ship whatever happened. There was no question of any difficult decision, no conflict of interest.”
“Well, no,” Kirk agreed, mystified. Perhaps he was losing it. Perhaps he had been in space too long and had lost an edge. Perhaps once he would have been more shocked by French’s story. French was clearly harrowed, but Kirk had learned nothing so far which would explain the new lines on his friend’s face – some dead hostages (highly regrettable but entirely unavoidable), some dead terrorists (entirely unavoidable and entirely unregrettable) and a rescued planet. And where, in all this, was Manoriss’ court martial?
“There would have been, had I known about the Rigel 7 code of no surrender,” French said.
“But you didn’t, I take it.”
“No. But I should have.”
“What do you mean, should have?” he asked, curiously. His eyes were trained on French, like a hound scenting his quarry.
French turned and looked at him full in the face.
“Man knew. He knew and he didn’t tell me.”
Kirk literally blinked.
French leaned back in his chair. He seemed oddly relaxed, now he had arrived at the point of the story.
“It all came out afterwards. The Council of Rigel 4 went over the reports and logs like ants scurrying over a nest. There was no record of any consideration of the balance between the threat to Rigel 7 and the likely fate of the hostages given the code of no surrender, because of course there was no such consideration given. So the Council pointed out that with a Rigellian First Officer I must have known, and I said Man could not possibly have known because he never told me.”
Kirk was mesmerised. Mesmerised and more than that. Deep inside, he began to be aware of an entirely different feeling.
“What did they say?” he asked, almost in a whisper.
“They laughed in my face,” French said. “They said Man’s knowledge of the code was on a par with human children’s knowledge of basic trigonometry.”
“And – why?” Kirk asked, finding the question almost impossible to ask but even more impossible not to ask. The sense of a hunter seeking quarry had gone. Now, he felt as though he were caught in a current, heading for a waterfall. He was being carried blind and didn’t know where or when the fall would take him, but he knew what sort of place it would be now. “Why didn’t he tell you?”
French said: “Because it would have made no difference. Because I would have had to count up the numbers and let the Rigel hostages die anyway. Because if I had known I could have been accused of putting my family first. Because, in fact, even more people might have died. Because whatever happened, everyone was going to die but it would have been a hell of a lot harder for everyone and especially for me.”
“I guess that’s true,” Kirk said, feeling his way. He knew that the moment was coming, that the waterfall was in front of him now, that there was nothing he could do. And he knew exactly where it was taking him. “So why the court martial?”
“Because he lied to me,” French said, and Kirk physically flinched from a combination of Eli’s tone and his own memories. “Because you have to know, don’t you, you have to know with one hundred percent of yourself, one hundred percent of the time, that your First is telling the truth? Because he has to be a part of you. Because there has to be no question, no doubt, no shadow. Because there has to be absolute trust. Because there will come a day when you’re in that place and your back is against that wall and your ship is on the line and you have to know, absolutely know, without blinking, who he is and where he is and what he is and why. Because you actually have to trust him more than you trust yourself.” He levered himself up, heavily.
“Like you and Spock,” he said, trying for a lighter note, a friendly smile. “That’s what you need, what we all need.”
He heard his own voice, as though coming from a long way away, as though the water were still buffeting his senses, as though he were coming up for air.
“But still – a court martial? Could you not have dealt with it some other way?”
“Not my idea, as it happens,” French said, briefly. “The Council made a hell of a noise to Starfleet and it was out of my hands. I had to testify, of course. But I had no choice, there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t have lied to protect him, because the evidence was there in the logs. Even if I had wanted to.”
Kirk heard the faintest whisper of something in those last words – of memories, of friendship, of a bar on Venga Five – “What’s the single thing which is going to make a difference, when you’re up against it?... . I can even tell you what he’s doing now and why he’ll be five minutes late.”
“Do you regret it? Regret the Council finding out?” He didn’t know what made him ask, knew it was the worst thing to say. And he saw a ripple of pain run over the other’s face, before it stilled again, as though into stone.
“That it happened? More than anything, more than you can know. The court martial? No. You can’t work with someone after something like that. Once trust is broken, it’s over. You can’t ever get it back.” There was a pause, in which Kirk forbade himself to hear Eli’s words, and then French went on.
“It seemed like the worst thing, at the time, you know. The Council, the decision HQ took to court-martial him. But in the end I was so damn grateful that they took it out of my hands. If they hadn’t, I’d like to think that I would have had the guts to do it myself, and the thing is, Jim, I’ll never know - but I don’t think I would. I think I would have let things go on, run a ship on fractured trust – like keeping an animal with a broken back when you ought to have the courage to put it out of its misery but you just can’t make yourself do it.”
There was no universe in which Spock would have explained to Kirk that it was Kirk himself who taught him the lessons he put into practice at Starbase Eleven, but it was nevertheless, at least to some extent, the case.
An engineer passed him a report to sign as he sat in Kirk’s command seat, directing Kirk’s ship while Kirk was down on the planet with Eli French and his brother. It was an update on some warp coil components which had been installed at the start of the five year mission, the same week that Kirk had joined the Enterprise and started a process of fundamentally undermining certain of Spock’s most firmly held views on human dynamics.
What had from the first intrigued Spock about his captain and impressed itself upon him as a particular strength was Kirk’s emotional resilience. Not all of Spock’s years with Pike had prepared him for a journey at Kirk’s side which would see his captain survive on a daily basis the most stringent of physical and psychological tests and odds whose probability the Vulcan had begun to calculate by way of expressing his own commentary on a courageous obstinacy more remarkable than anything he had yet seen since leaving Vulcan. He had realised early on in their partnership that Kirk’s most formidable weapon was humour, his ability to turn away at the most acute moments from too much humanity.
Hence, the man who had been at first so concerned about the fate of the child Miri on the duplicate Earth and had then manipulated her to save her friends and the ship’s command team had been capable of saying lightly to Yeoman Rand as they left orbit I never get involved with older women.
Even after Exo 3, after Roger Korby, after Mind your own business, Mr Spock, I’m sick of your half-breed interference, do you hear? Kirk had found his feet rather more swiftly than his First Officer, had Spock been prepared to admit it. Uncertain of how to express a reaction which had caught him unprepared, he had reached for his own brand of humour as the only way to introduce the topic, had said to his captain You must admit it is an unsophisticated expression. And Kirk had heard none of the undertones which Spock himself would have struggled to have understood, and said drily I’ll remember that, the next time I find myself in a similar situation and had taken the ship out of orbit and never returned to the subject.
He had wondered, afterwards, if Kirk had understood what he had meant, when he had stood on the bridge and said I was rather dismayed… Vulcans, it had to be noted, do not feel dismay, and he had thought Kirk might have understand his reaction, context notwithstanding, to the sound of those words of all words, addressed to him by Kirk of all men – or by any person resembling Kirk. When this understanding had not been forthcoming, Spock had concluded that Kirk was vested with an emotional pragmatism that was likely to prove an especial strength. Kirk could get himself through days like the one they had spent on Exo 3 and say your half-breed interference and crack jokes afterwards because the ends justifies the means.
A month previously, Spock had come across Kirk and McCoy speaking in low voices in the senior rec room and Vulcan hearing had briefly overcome Vulcan respect before he had realised the two were discussing Kirk’s latest affair. Spock had taken his meal to another table at that point, the nature and extent of Kirk’s engagement with the opposite sex being the aspect of his captain which Spock least understood and where he felt least comfortable about proffering advice. Vulcan regard for privacy had not, however, prevented him overhearing Kirk’s I made it quite clear when we would be leaving orbit.
Which was fascinating, if you were disposed to be fascinated by the psyche of your commanding officer, was what lay beneath these otherwise unremarkable eleven words. Kirk had clearly spent the previous night on the planet making the close acquaintance of a female person not comprising part of the crew of the Enterprise. Kirk had informed this being that his company would only be available to her for a limited amount of time and had then apparently been confronted with a display of regret on the part of the female being which had surprised him. This suggested that Kirk expected his dealings with others to be governed by logic. However, it was the experience of Spock, who might reasonably have been thought more likely to have held this view, that there was a vanishingly small likelihood that the information that her liaison with Kirk could only last twenty one point seven hours would ensure any degree of logical behaviour from the female in question.
Now, it occurred to Spock to consider the parallels in his own behaviour. He had said to Kirk Don’t let him stop me. It’s your career and Captain Pike’s life. And then, at the end of the day, when he had taken Pike down to the planet, Kirk had referred to Spock’s regrettable tendency to flagrant emotionalism and Spock had said I see no reason to insult me.
And could have followed it up, at any point during the past weeks when he had sensed Kirk’s distance from him, with I made it quite clear that I was acting in what I had considered to be your best interests.
Not for the first time, nor for the last, Spock wondered about Kirk’s occasional propensity to take on Vulcan attributes and his own lapses into less logical conduct. In fact, recent weeks had produced two irreconcilable moments, each unprecedented in the history of Spock’s learning of the lexicon of human emotionalism. One was half-breed interference. The other had been the encounter with the Fesarius, Spock’s own venture into territory half humorous, half a genuine quest for information – Has it occurred to you that there’s a certain inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you’ve already made up your mind about? And then that response which he had taken away at the time like a gift, It gives me emotional security.
Spock took them out, now, like so many playing cards, and laid them side by side. He knew what they all meant individually, like a game where a set means something entirely different from the value of the individual cards.
I’m sick of your half-breed interference. I will say the one thing which will touch you on the rawest part of your divided self, because my private knowledge of your inner hurt will give me the advantage of sending you a silent warning which will ensure the safety of the ship and the success of the mission and because of that my actions merit no apology.
It gives me emotional security. You are part of me.
Anything else you don’t know, Spock? You lied to me because you had no choice and although it was in my own best interests in the name of friendship I cannot let it go and I am allowing it to damage us.
He knew what all three meant individually. He could not begin to compute what they meant together.
There was, perhaps, only one person whom Spock might profitably have consulted on the conundrum. But he was decades and sectors away. There would have to be another answer.
“There is just no point in trying to apologise to Aurelan.”
Sam’s first words, opening the door to his home, spoken in level friendly tones which belied both the lateness of the hour and the fact that he had not seen his brother for well over a year. Kirk met his eyes and put an arm out, briefly, holding his brother lightly and then moving past him into the living area of his house.
“Are you going to tell me where you’ve been?”
“Is she asleep?” he asked.
Sam burst out laughing, and some of the odd tension of the moment bled.
“Haven’t seen you for – what – sixteen months and here we are, not even close to a coherent conversation. OK, I won’t ask where you’ve been. Yes, she’s asleep, so’s Peter. I would offer you a drink, but it looks as though you’ve had several.”
“No,” he said vaguely, sitting down rather heavily in an armchair, “no, just been walking.”
His brother looked at him sharply, and then drew up a chair alongside him.
“Coffee?” he said, gently. “Going to tell me about it, little brother?”
Kirk blinked and straightened himself.
“No – no, thanks all the same. I think we had better postpone the reunion and my apologies to your wife. I do, however, need to know about the epidemic, about this Vulcan cult.”
Sam’s expression changed, and he leaned back in his chair.
“What did French tell you?”
“Just that. You going to give me the lowdown? What is this cult and who are the leaders? How does it work?”
Sam let a breath out and shrugged.
“Works the way all cults do, far as I can see. There’s a guy in charge who spins a line and likes the power and the limelight and there’s a bunch of followers who like the idea that he’s in charge. All the philosophies are the same when it comes to it – a different way to know yourself or to know those around you. Give me a cult which hasn’t fitted into that description.”
“And?” prompted Kirk. He was beginning to be aware that it was late, very late and that he was tired. He had beamed down from the Endeavour and purposely set coordinates at a distance from Sam and Aurelan’s home, thought the walk would clear his head, but found that he couldn’t quite walk fast enough to outpace Eli’s words (a ship on fractured trust – an animal with a broken back) and the faster he walked, the clearer the echo sounded in his head. He had kept going, because walking was easier than thinking, and then he had found himself at Sam’s door and seen that it was pitch dark all around him except, on the furthest reaches of the horizon, the earlier glimmers of the pre-dawn.
And with all this, a frustration both with French and now with Sam that he was only being told the obvious. Twelve hours after beaming over to the Endeavour, the conversation with French, the midnight walk and Sam leaning back in his chair, and all he knew was that research on the epidemic had drawn a blank and that somewhere out there was a cult run by Vulcans.
Why was he here, he and his ship, on this planet with his family, and Eli French, in orbit, mourning the loss of the person of whom he had said we may as well be married?
“And,” Sam said, looking straight ahead, “the line in this case is that strength comes from facing and sharing pain.”
Kirk thought this through briefly and shrugged.
“And that’s why you wanted me here?”
“No,” his brother said, and he turned sidewise with a movement that told Kirk that this was the moment of truth, this was the reason he was here, this was the point at which he would understand. “Not because of what they preach. Because of who they are. The leader of the cult is called Sybok and he is your First Officer’s brother.”
“Anything else you don’t know, Spock?”
Wrong question. Was there anything else he, Kirk, didn’t know about his logical, unemotional First Officer? Other, of course, than that he had received a message from Starbase Eleven which no one had sent, assaulted Starbase personnel, impersonated Kirk, stole his ship – and had now produced a brother? Kirk was nothing if not a diligent and thorough commander. He scrutinised the HR files of his command crew meticulously. There had been no brother.
“It wouldn’t be some sort of one-upmanship, would it now, Commander?” he asked levelly, holding Spock’s eyes and trying for irony in preference for sheer frustration. He was facing Spock over the desk in his quarters, having beamed up from Sam’s home and, oblivious to the time of day and lack of sleep, requested the Vulcan’s immediate presence.
“One-upmanship?” Spock repeated, blankly. It was almost (but not quite) the precise tone of voice which normally indicated an idiom tease, the irrational pretence of an inability to understand slang on the part of a Vulcan well versed in multiple Earth dialects. Not quite, though, because there was no teasing tonight across a desk devoid of chess pieces in a dialogue where the game had suddenly become edgy, and because Spock was, in fact, genuinely unsure what Kirk meant.
“Well, only that it seems like Sibling Reunion Day,” Kirk said, still giving nothing away. “Of course, you know I don’t, as a rule, believe in involving family in ship’s business, but you might reasonably be forgiven for believing that if I have a brother, you could have one, too. We could have a party.”
Spock was silent.
“Maybe there are more,” Kirk pursued, knowing he was taking it too far but letting himself be driven for once by the angry voice inside which had thrown at Spock, under guise of a joke, the accusation of flagrant emotionalism, then asked “Anything else you don’t know, Spock?” and then set up a silent drumbeat, ever since he had spoken to Eli French (fractured trust… broken back…). He had managed most of the time since Talos IV, at least when he was in Spock’s presence, to keep the angry voice quiet, but it was getting louder. “Should we ask the crew? I don’t think McCoy has a brother, but Sulu does. We could ask him. Scotty has a sister. Don’t know about Uhura, but we could check her file. Or wait - no. That won’t help, will it, Commander? These things don’t always show up on files, do they?”
Spock was very still, his face giving nothing away. There was never anything to give away if you were a Vulcan with no emotions and one hundred percent control of your features, but this didn’t stop the fact that his expression was giving nothing away.
“Captain, I have no brother,” he said, very carefully.
Kirk said, in a very quiet voice which would have stopped Spock dead had Spock not been utterly motionless,
“That statement appears to be a degree short of entirely accurate, Commander.” On Starbase Eleven, it was McCoy who had said “Jim, forgetting how well we both know Spock, the simple fact that he’s a Vulcan means he’s incapable of telling a lie” but there seemed to be three aspects of that line which now presented difficulties to Kirk. He was no longer sure how well he knew Spock; it had been several weeks since he had seen anything remotely resembling a simple fact; and his Vulcan First Officer turned out to be rather good at telling lies. (Of course, once you got past the impossibility of Spock lying, it was perhaps inevitable that he would be rather good at it.) Nevertheless, the closest he could come to the accusation was a degree short of entirely accurate. This was still Spock. Wasn’t it?
“I apologise, Captain,” his First Officer said. “The statement was accurate if you accept that the term “brother” denotes a male full sibling who forms part of the family unit.” He paused, and then said in a tone fractionally altered, “Sybok is my father’s son but not my mother’s, and has not been in the presence of any family member for a period of over twenty three point two years.”
Kirk considered this, briefly, and almost visibly dismissed it.
“You can compute the period of time to several more decimal places, Spock, and throw in the date of his birthday and what he likes for lunch - it doesn’t make the statement accurate.”
Spock said, mildly: “Captain, if you consult Starfleet Regulation 102 sub-clause (d), you will recall that the definition of a sibling –“
“Spock, if I wanted the Starfleet Handbook, I’d download a copy. You’re supposed to be several models upgraded from that.”
“I am not –“
“Your pay grade is certainly well above that, I agree. So why am I getting Regulation 102 on Sybok instead of something a little more comprehensive, from you?”
The two were still standing, facing each other across the desk which had to date only held a chessboard or a monitor, not the half veiled accusations and mistrust which had suddenly materialised between them like something tangible. Spock, who could not, in any case, seat himself while his CO was standing, looked incapable of anything so human as bending at the waist, looked carved in granite and Kirk was balanced on the balls of his feet, almost too wired to stand still, let alone employ any assistance against gravity.
Spock was aware of being part of three entirely different conversations. First, there was the conversation about Sybok. Secondly, there was the conversation they were not having, about Talos IV. And then there was the Third Conversation, which they were also not having, which was something to do with Sybok and something to do with Christopher Pike and something to do with Eli French and Manoriss and the odd look on Kirk’s face since he had beamed up from Deneva. Spock could reasonably claim excellence in a wide range of accomplishments, but he had never performed to a high standard at conducting unspoken conversations, and he knew it. The only certainty to him in the current confrontation with Kirk was that, without knowledge of the ground beneath him, there was an extremely high probability that he would tread on something fragile. If asked, Spock would have quoted the odds at thirty six point seven to one. However, he was not asked.
Kirk was still speaking.
“You’re my First Officer. That means I’m entitled to expect full and helpful briefings from you. That includes a number of things, and one of those is an appreciation of the limitations of I have no brother when you have a half brother who is alive and kicking and brainwashing the inhabitants of Cregennan Four in the face of a galactic epidemic.”
Spock did not need an eidetic recall of the events of Starbase Eleven to have a sound grasp of some of what a number of things covered. Somewhere in the echo of You’re my First Officer was that conversation on the bridge, Fesarius in the viewer, Kirk’s affectionate “It gives me emotional security” but there was no window here on a personal conversation. There were a number of possible reasons for that, none of them particularly promising in terms of the progress of their two-man chess league, but Spock, who had said “Captain Kirk knew nothing of this… Jim, please don’t stop me. It’s your career…”, felt that it was for Kirk to initiate the personal dialogue. It was certainly, at this point, beyond him. That was the Third Conversation, the one neither of them was having.
Kirk took a sharp breath and managed to silence the angry voice.
“All right, Spock. Tell me now, please.”
Spock said, in the tone of one describing events which had happened to someone else entirely: “Sybok’s mother was a Vulcan princess. After her death, he and I were brought up together. He was an extremely gifted person and achieved significant renown on our planet even as a young student. It was thought that he would be one of those who led our people forward in their understanding, built on our cultural heritage and enhanced Vulcan knowledge and learning. My father, in particular, was very proud of him. He was preparing to recognise Sybok, even at a very young age, as the next leader of the clan.”
A few short days ago, Kirk would have asked, “And not you?” A combination of Eli French, Starbase Eleven and Regulation 102 stopped him. Nothing, however, stopped him understanding that Sybok’s brother had been disqualified by his human half from that recognition. Which lent, Kirk supposed, a whole new meaning to the phrase “half brother”. Nothing in Spock’s life appeared to have happened whole-heartedly.
Did that include friendship?
Vulcans, he had been told, were inherently loyal, could no more be disloyal than stop breathing. Did it count, though, if you were half Vulcan? Did it mean that you were only capable of a lesser loyalty?
Or of loyalty to fewer people?
He pulled himself back to Spock’s face and the answer to his question.
“What happened?” he asked, more curtly than he had intended.
“Sybok was banished from Vulcan after he adopted a prohibited lifestyle.”
Whatever Kirk had expected, it was not this. His eyebrows shot up, and he asked the obvious question,
“What is a prohibited lifestyle?”
“He believed that the key to self-knowledge was emotion, not logic. His studies led him to authors and works of philosophy which are not accepted among my people. During this period of time, his presence on our planet and in our home met with an uncomfortable tolerance and a growing divide between him and the Masters. However, he then persuaded a number of Vulcans to form a movement with him and at that point he was required to leave.”
Kirk digested this, and then asked the next obvious question, which was about as far as he could go without venturing onto Conversation Three territory.
“Were you close? Did he ask you to go with him?”
Spock was silent for a couple of beats and then looked away from Kirk, as though into the past, and said simply, “Yes.” Which could mean either, Kirk reckoned, but probably meant both. But it didn’t help him very much.
If you were a starship captain building rapport within your first command team and found that this rapport had to be built around Starfleet’s only Vulcan First Officer; if you then found out that this Vulcan, coming from a creed of non-emotion and a private history which spoke of no personal relationships, had come without warning to constitute your partner, your closest friend, your personal balance; if you started off feeling that this was a little like discovering the lost city of Atlantis but then discovered that the said Vulcan had accidentally omitted to inform you that his personal history included both a former commander for whom he would lie (to Kirk) and steal (from Kirk) and also an estranged brother who had been so close that he had wanted him to come and make a life with him – could you go on assuming that your friendship with that Vulcan was entirely what you had thought it to be? Or did it feel like everyone else had got to Atlantis before you and, in fact, it wasn’t Atlantis at all, just a cheap tourist imitation?
If, on the other hand, you were a young Vulcan, by all accounts unloved, uncherished and subjected to unkindness because of your human heritage; if you had grown up with a brother who had been the only point of love and friendship in your childhood; if that brother asked you to leave a loveless home to live with him and embrace a philosophy of warmth and affection and if you declined – did that mean that you had reached a decision early in your life to foreswear emotional allegiance? What else could lie beneath Spock’s rejection of Sybok? And what did that decision mean, for Kirk, for his balance, his command team, for the Enterprise? Eli French’s words, again - “Because he has to be a part of you”.
And perhaps it was because of that echo that he asked, without really knowing why, as he dismissed Spock,
“Have you been in touch with Commander Manoriss?” and, when Spock said “Negative”, he said tentatively,
“Perhaps you should find out how he is.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow, inclined his head and left the room, leaving Kirk wondering what he had asked his First to do, and why. He only knew that it must be hard to have once been a part of a unit made up of two people and now to be only yourself, somewhere in the Delta sector, court martialled, in disgrace, while your ship stood guard at Deneva and your erstwhile captain said “You can’t work with someone after something like that.” He had made Eli talk it through with him, and perhaps Spock could give that same silent support to Manoriss. Because it was all that they could do for Eli and Man now, and because it was all that was left of that fourway comradeship on Venga Five. Although quite how Spock would alleviate the distress of a fellow officer court-martialled for lying to his captain Kirk did not know; even as Spock’s quiet footsteps left his quarters, he regretted the impulse.
Kirk knew that he had badly mishandled the entirety of the encounter with his First Officer, had probably left Spock feeling second-guessed on everything from his relationship with Sybok to his ability to get up in the morning. It was only in reflecting on that, and on the reason, that he fully realised the truth behind French’s words, about what it meant to run a ship on fractured trust.
“Time to Cregennan, Mr Sulu?”
“Fifty two minutes, sir,” the helmsman said.
Kirk nodded in acknowledgement. From over his shoulder, McCoy drawled,
“What are you going to do when you get there, Jim?”
“Beam down, locate Sybok, beam back up again,” he said briefly, half an eye on Spock’s back, as the science officer leant over his station. Spock’s back was particularly skilled in taking part in conversations, as Kirk knew of old.
“Thanks for the offer, Bones, but I think I’ll manage.”
“How you going to do that, Jim, go after a manic Vulcan when you can’t manage the one you’ve got? A Vulcan with hypnotic powers who believes in a load of mumbo jumbo about mind over matter strikes me as being seriously bad news. You go down there on your own, hate to think of what he could make of you. Besides, I’d like to come and watch.”
“Why?” asked Kirk, warily. He might struggle for official grounds to refuse a request for McCoy to join the landing party on this occasion, but instinct told him that the combination of the ship’s CMO and the First Officer’s brother would be unlikely to improve Kirk’s day. It had started badly with a sleepless night after his various conversations with Eli French, Sam and Spock, and it was now in serious need of a change of mood and direction which were unlikely to be forthcoming.
“Are you kidding? Meet Spock’s brother, who’s embraced his inner self and shared his pain? After what your First Officer has put me through the last twelve months? No way am I missing this. It’s going to improve my hands-on knowledge of Vulcans by a good 100% and that can only be a good thing as far as the medical capacity of this ship is concerned. It’ll also seriously replenish my material for senior rec room conversations for the next year or so.”
“That was what I thought you meant,” Kirk said, drily. In truth, he said to Spock’s back, in truth, whether or not McCoy comes doesn’t really matter. The real issue is whether you come. It might be the hardest thing I’ve ever asked you to do, and part of me would like to spare you if I can. But there is no way to spare you the rest of it, and if I don’t ask you to come you might think I don’t trust you. And the real issue is, you might actually be right about that.
Spock’s back did not reply, which did not mean, however, that it hadn’t heard.
McCoy, missing little as his eyes moved from one colleague to another in the transporter room, was the only member of the assembled landing party who would not have been able in the space of a given thirty seconds to have produced a list of at least two dozen things he would have preferred to have been doing, starting, in Kirk’s case, with an Admiralty inspection of all systems. Spock would have preferred to have been on a month’s shore leave with Harry Mudd.
After leaving Kirk’s quarters in the early morning, Spock had sent a subspace message to Manoriss. He did not know whether to expect a reply. He was aware, in broad terms, of what had taken place between French and Manoriss and was more preoccupied with Kirk’s reasoning in relation to the request to contact Manoriss than with the contact with Man himself. No consideration of the matter had produced any interpretation other than this: that Kirk considered French and Manoriss and Rigel 7 to have relevance for their own situation, that they might even provide a blueprint for what had happened on Talos IV and what might be waiting for them on Cregennan and, beyond that, at Deneva.
Whereas Spock, had Kirk asked him, would at any point, certainly up to Talos IV and, indeed, afterwards, have said that he considered his relationship with Kirk to be unique.
He also wondered whether Kirk had been sending a less subtle message, in asking him to confer with the disgraced First Officer of a sister ship, court-martialled for lying to his CO. A message, or a warning?
“Beaming down now, sir,” said Scott, and the dazzle took them.
The scene looked oddly normal to Kirk. A camp, set up next to a river, in a peaceful wooded valley, remarkable only for a backdrop of majestic scenery - sweeping hills and a distant glimmer of emerald sea. It could have been Earth, perhaps the less inhabited stretches of New England, had it not been for the wildlife – the size and colour of the flowers and trees, in particular, had never seen America. The camp was a scene of bustling but not intense activity; its inhabitants looked occupied but not stressed and all wore an expression Kirk had come to expect – the serene, untroubled smile of the cult member.
He was disappointed, though. For himself, and certainly for Spock, a part of him had hoped that Spock’s brother (half-brother, he thought, reminding himself that, of course, his First Officer had no brother) would turn out to be peddling something a little more sophisticated.
His request for an interview with Sybok was met, as he had also expected, with further smiles, no resistance, and a direction to a low, primitive building set up to one side of the rest of the camp. Followed by both his officers, he set off, crossed the short space to the building and entered, on receiving a firm “Come” from within.
He had been prepared for a close relative of Spock but the person inside bore no resemblance to his First Officer at all – broader features than Spock’s narrow face, and a lighter complexion, though there was the same sweep of the ears and something about the expression – eyes which missed nothing, a sharp intelligence. But the biggest difference (which would strike you within nanoseconds of meeting Sybok, if Sybok’s half-brother had happened to be your inseparable companion for the past year) was the lack of control. It was inherent to who Spock was that you could look for a very long time without finding him. Indeed, it had been one of the attractions to Kirk of working with Spock that the challenge was to work your way through the layers of self-defence, of self-protection, of control, until you found yourself at the centre of the maze and forgot that you were unable to resist a challenge, stopped seeing the Vulcan as a game and realised the privilege and wealth offered by a friendship with him. But even Kirk himself could have taught Sybok a fair amount about restraint, about being a Vulcan. Sybok’s whole persona filled the little room like liquid poured into a container, filling every crevice. There was nothing hidden here, Kirk thought. Except, perhaps, the past.
Sybok’s greeting to Kirk died half way through the third word as he saw Spock, and Kirk moved over, to give space to the two Vulcans.
“Qual se tu? Qual se tu? Spock. Spock! I can’t believe it. It is you.” The half-Vulcan moved swiftly, grasped Spock by the upper arms and smiled into his face, eyes blazing and moving rapidly over Spock’s features. Sybok wore a white robe (of course, Kirk thought to himself wearily) which contrasted oddly with Spock’s uniform, just as his dishevelled hair and joyous welcome contrasted with Spock’s neatness and stillness. Spock’s expression, however, Kirk realised, was more covert than usual – even more than the tension of the last few days could explain. Without beginning to understand what the reunion meant to his First Officer, he thought the least he could allow Spock was the chance to reconvene as swiftly as possible in privacy.
“Sybok, my name is James T Kirk, I am the captain of the USS Enterprise.”
“Captain, yes, I’ve been expecting you,” Sybok said, in friendly tones, directing a smile at Kirk without releasing Spock.
“You obviously know my First Officer and this is my Chief Medical Officer, Leonard McCoy.”
“You are all welcome. I am so glad you have come, but to meet Spock’s friends is an added bonus.”
“My own thoughts exactly,” McCoy said enthusiastically. “Keep meeting ‘em at every new planet, man leaves a trail of warm fuzzy feelings all over the galaxy, but it’s always good to add another to the list, and a brother is a whole new unexpected treat.”
Spock remained entirely silent and immobile in Sybok’s grasp and in the face of McCoy’s gibe and Sybok smiled, without apparently noticing that Kirk’s senior officers were exhibiting signs of advanced personality disorder, and said,
“Can I offer you a drink, and would you like a tour of our home, or do we have to go immediately?”
Kirk steeled himself not to react to Sybok’s easy understanding of the situation and lack of resistance. He would not drink with Sybok and he didn’t think, just now, he could manage a tour of an alien peace camp with McCoy trading one-liners with Spock’s unhappy childhood. Besides, he had seen a hundred hippy settlements and didn’t think there would be anything different here, or much to learn.
“I’m afraid I have to ask you to come with us now. You say you were expecting us?”
“We are very concerned, Captain, about the developing threat of the epidemic and I know that Captain French had requested back-up. I am very eager to discuss strategies with the authorities and assume you have come to facilitate that. I’m ready to go now - we always travel light and stand ready to move at a moment’s notice.” He released his brother to indicate a small bag to one side of the room. “I travel light,” he said, smiling, at Kirk’s badly concealed surprise and not (he hoped) at his more successfully hidden irritation.
“And your followers? Do you need to make arrangements for them?”
“You misunderstand me, Captain. I so look forward to learning more about each other. I do not have followers. They are simply souls I have met on my travels who walk along the same road.”
Of course. Kirk stood back and gestured through the door, and the unlikely group filed out past him into the sunlight. He glanced back, briefly, at the small building in which Spock’s brother had chosen to live, in the strongest possible contrast to the senior officers’ quarters on the Enterprise, and then followed the others, pulling out his communicator as he moved.
The buzzer sounded and the door to Sybok’s quarters opened to admit the ship’s CMO. Kirk had provided Sybok with a guest cabin on the officers’ deck. His orders had been to place Sybok under arrest, but not only had he not, as yet, done so, it was beyond him, Talos IV or no Talos IV, to put in the ship’s brig any brother of Spock - half, quarter or several decimal places. He had therefore provided accommodation which would allow the brothers to speak in the brief journey back to Deneva, in the expectation that the dynamics between them all would change substantially once they reached orbit and he implemented his orders.
He fully expected this change in dynamics to include his own relationship with Spock. Strained as it was, he could not imagine that it would be greatly improved by the arrest of Spock’s less-than-whole brother.
Before relieving Spock of the con and giving him the opportunity for a proper reunion, however, he asked McCoy to give Sybok a standard medical. This was normal procedure, but it would also allow McCoy the chance to observe Sybok at close quarters, one to one. Kirk was curious as to his opinion.
Sybok submitted with perfect good humour to McCoy’s administrations, asking only, as McCoy entered the results on his PADD,
“May I ask how long you have served with my brother?”
“’Bout a year,” McCoy said, cheerfully. “’Course, it seems a lot longer at times, but that’s life lived to several decimal points for you.”
“And Captain Kirk?”
“The same. He and I joined the ship at the start of this mission. Spock’s been on the ship far longer.”
“So he and the captain are well known to each other.”
“You could say that.”
Sybok was silent for a while, and then, as McCoy was clearly preparing to leave, he said, abruptly,
“I have always hoped that Spock would find himself, eventually, in a supportive and friendly environment. He never had that nurturing at home, or anywhere on Vulcan. I knew he was serving in Starfleet – I can’t endorse or condone, of course, his presence in the military, but I hoped on a personal level that he would find friends here.”
McCoy was surprised, and showed it.
“Oh, don’t mind me. Spock and I give each other a hard time, it passes for entertainment in deep space. Can’t say his philosophy on life has much in common with mine, but if you make allowances for the screwed up way he was brought up, I guess it could have been worse.”
Sybok smiled broadly, causing McCoy to blink. It would take a long time to adjust to a grinning Vulcan.
“You misunderstand me, Doctor. Your affection for my brother is evident and I am warmed by it.” McCoy blinked again, for very different reasons, and quelled the instinct to bristle. Sybok was going on, “No, I meant his relationship with Captain Kirk. The Captain seems like a good man, but his relationship with my brother does not appear exactly very friendly.”
McCoy was thoughtful as he stowed his tricorder and PADD in his doctor’s bag. Sybok might go the way of white robes and inner peace, but in terms of emotional perception, he was clearly nobody’s fool. And just how difficult was Kirk finding his First Officer, post Talos IV, if it were that obvious to a comparative stranger?
And how much should McCoy say?
Turning to go, he said, gruffly,
“Not much to worry about there generally. I would say they’re close as brothers, unless it would offend. Just going through some difficulty with recent history.” And, wondering if Sybok might actually help, he added, almost as an afterthought, half-way through the door, “Ask Spock about Talos IV.”
Spock, relinquishing the con with an odd reluctance to Kirk, made his way to Sybok’s quarters with three point two hours till they reached orbit around Deneva. Vulcans do not take deep breaths before opening doors on family reunions. Instead, he paused at the door and allowed, very briefly, a younger Sybok to materialise in front of him. Vulcan, twenty three years ago, the desert heat, the pressure of his brother’s hand, a feeling of loss, an expectation of emptiness, of disappointment.
And then, through the doors to the older incarnation.
“Spock.” No hesitation this time, as Sybok’s arms went around his brother, no arm’s length greeting - the call of old affection, at the same time as the memory of Sybok’s refusal to abide by Vulcan custom, which would have meant the ta’al, the formal distance.
After a beat, Spock gently disentangled himself and sat down across the room from Sybok. There was an odd pause between the two, and then Sybok broke it.
“How are Amanda and Sarek?”
“I have not seen my parents for three years,” he answered with precision. And then, “Sarek and I have not spoken for seventeen.”
Sybok leant back, an expression of pain in his eyes.
“That was about you joining Starfleet, I assume.”
Spock inclined his head.
“Well, I can’t say that it would have been my choice – nor can I say I’m exactly surprised, knowing our father. But it’s a tragedy, nonetheless. For such an intelligent man, it never ceases to amaze me how Sarek stubbornly sets his face against different kinds of knowledge. Spock – once the epidemic has been halted, you and I should go back together, and -“
“Your presence on Vulcan is still unlawful,” Spock said, carefully. “And I have no need of my father’s approval or your assistance. My place is here.”
Sybok looked at him swiftly.
“Is it? Is it, though, Spock? Among these humans?”
He raised his eyebrows.
“You are the last person I expected to express that view, Sybok.”
His brother smiled and spread his hands.
“They are as worthy as any race and all of us are only individuals. But you and I know, Spock, that to be entirely known to another, for a Vulcan, is a thing of the mind. Your fellow officers cannot touch your thoughts, they cannot know what’s in your mind, they cannot truly join your thinking. You know what I watched you go through as a child. I always hoped you’d find your way to a place where you could be yourself and be loved for it.”
Spock briefly experienced gratitude for the forces (Kirk, he supposed) which had arranged for this interview to take place without the presence of McCoy and said, simply,
“They are my friends. The command crew on this ship are my friends.”
Sybok looked at him a moment, considering, and then said, very quietly,
“And Talos IV?”
Spock went still, looked at him hard, and said,
“What do you know of Talos IV?”
“What should I know? Tell me.”
Spock paused, as if weighing up the different possible routes out of this conversation, and then remembered, abruptly, wishing, only a matter of hours earlier, for the opportunity to discuss his dilemma with Sybok. Now that, extraordinarily, his brother was here, he felt an odd disloyalty to Kirk in opening the topic, but it seemed that somehow Sybok already knew, and he remembered Anything else you don’t know, Spock? and knew that he had to find an answer to that question somehow. He said, in a colourless summation only a Vulcan could have achieved:
“In order to return my former commander to a satisfactory quality of life, it was necessary to act in breach of Starfleet rules in an operation which would have jeopardised Captain Kirk’s career had he knowingly participated in the exercise. I therefore took temporary command of the ship without his permission. The mission was successful and the rationale behind my undertaking has been explained; however, in my opinion, the episode is continuing to trouble the captain.”
There was a small, expectant silence in which Spock heard the echoes of a hundred long ago fraternal requests for help. Sybok regarded his brother and smiled broadly.
The tone was exactly the same as that which Sybok had once condescendingly adopted in explaining to his little brother (aged three and a half) the basis of quadrilateral equations. The relief of telling Sybok, along with the recollection of the desire to do so, vanished abruptly. He regarded Sybok warily and waited.
“You don’t change, do you? Not one bit. Not that I blame you. Neither Amanda nor our father had the slightest idea of how to help you to be you, did they?” Spock stirred, uncomfortable. He was far from certain that he wished to indulge, even with Sybok, in a critique of Sarek’s parenting style, even if he were likely to agree with his brother – including because it was likely to set in clearer relief Spock’s own views on the subject, illogical though that was. And Amanda was not to be criticised. But Sybok was continuing, oblivious:
“You never had the slightest idea of how to handle a plurality of personal relationships.”
The words hit Spock like a light but persistent shower – an immediate cold, bracing sensation, and then a further, deeper awareness as the damp penetrates gradually, finding its way inside clothing, to the core. There are no light but persistent showers on Vulcan, and Spock was unused to the experience.
“Elucidate”, without the smallest desire for Sybok to do so, but knowing that he needed to hear it.
Sybok was continuing without waiting for permission:
“You were always an eggs-in-one-basket child. Sarek, of course, didn’t even notice and wouldn’t have minded if he had; Amanda did, but she didn’t know what to do about it. You had no friends so you never had to decide which you preferred. You only had one brother so you never had to deal with complex sibling relationships, and we weren’t even close in age, which removed any kind of rivalry or equality issues. And you could never love both your parents. Only one at a time, in any given context.”
Spock listened, unblinking, without giving any sign of registering the words, or feeling the cold.
“And you’re still in the same place. First Pike, then James Kirk. All absolutely fine, of course. Until, that is, you had to choose. You were never given the tools to handle both at once, were you?”
There was a silence in the small room. And then Sybok went on,
“And I am glad that you have such a friend, in Kirk. But he may not be as able as he thinks to handle friendship with a Vulcan. He does not understand you as I do. And he does not have the reputation of being a man who would hesitate to break rules himself, to decide that the end justifies the means. So if he has a problem with the rules you broke to help Pike, it sounds like hypocrisy to me.”
It was the voicing of what he had himself silently accused Kirk that finally roused Spock.
“I appreciate your analysis of the situation,” he said, evenly. “However, your understanding of the captain is lacking in depth and I myself have matured since you left Vulcan. It has been the nature of service in Starfleet that I have successfully conducted a number of simultaneous personal relationships since enlisting.”
The two locked eyes and Spock knew his own face said Do not patronise me. And then he thought, This is Sybok, and he said, gently,
“I am gratified to see you again. Your departure was a matter of regret to me for a period of many years.”
Sybok lifted an eyebrow. Kirk, had he been present, would have conceded the family relationship, after all.
“Don’t dismiss my insight because it comes from a renegade, Spock. I know I’m right about you. No one knows you like I do. And did you regret my departure alone, or did you ever regret not coming with me?”
He ignored everything but the last question, and said, carefully,
“Your choice was not mine, Sybok. I would have preferred you to have chosen other roads. I could not follow where you went.”
Sybok looked at him closely and nodded once.
“And you’ve never forgiven me, have you, little brother? For not staying with you?”
“I would have wished,” he said, from a place of suddenly being able to say it, twenty three point two years after thinking the opportunity would never arise, “that you could have chosen a philosophy more susceptible to academic and scientific study and evaluation.”
Sybok stared at him, blankly, and then, after the briefest of pauses, burst out laughing. Spock regarded him steadily and then rose to his feet.
“My captain wishes to speak to you,” he said, inclined his head, and left the room.
Kirk said, formally,
“Sybok, in approximately thirty minutes’ time we will be entering orbit around Deneva. My orders at that point are to deliver you into the custody of Captain French. He will be providing appropriate accommodation for you.”
Sybok’s eyes widened and there was an audible intake of breath.
“Custody? Captain, that was not the basis on which I agreed to come with you. Moreover, I was not under the impression that you took orders from Captain French – Captain, please! We need to talk – it is absolutely essential that we discuss the epidemic on Cregennan. These orders – I beg you. Reconsider. Explain to Captain French – let me talk to him. As soon as possible.”
“You misunderstand me,” Kirk said, gently, “as you misunderstood the nature of my request for you to accompany me from Cregennan. My orders derive from a sector strategy arrived at jointly between Captain French and me and approved by Starfleet HQ. There is absolutely no question of me or the Enterprise deviating from them.”
Sybok had lost some of the tranquil smile which was probably Kirk’s least favourite facial expression. He looked disturbed, anxious, almost agitated.
“Captain, this is an emergency. Many have died and many more are going to die. This is hardly a time when heavy-handed military strategy is appropriate. We should be sitting round the table looking at options, not throwing each other into prison.”
Kirk raised an eyebrow.
“I am not sure I entirely follow you. I am unaware of any relevant status you hold in relation to the epidemic. You are neither the elected nor even unelected representative of any population threatened by the crisis, neither do you offer objective experience or expertise in any relevant medical discipline accredited or endorsed by any recognised body. I assure you that all possible resources will be deployed to consider possible solutions to the emergency. Our concern in relation to you, Sybok, is that your teachings appear to have the effect of dissuading victims from seeking appropriate medical care. No penalties are under consideration and no long term imprisonment is contemplated, but we cannot allow you to sabotage our efforts to stem the epidemic.”
“I wonder,” Sybok said, stonily, “if your own objectivity is compromised in this instance, Captain Kirk?”
Kirk looked up sharply.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You know very well that my philosophy, my way of life is the choice your First Officer declined. You know that he believes it has no scientific foundation. And I know that he is your closest friend. Is it not the case that if my approach to the current epidemic were proved to be effective, that this might discomfort Spock and discredit some of his own choices?”
“None of that reasoning (if that is not too flattering a term) has played or could play any part whatsoever in my decision,” he said, curtly. “Nor would Spock thank me if it had.”
“You don’t admit that you are less likely to take account of my views because Spock discounts them?”
“Perhaps. But because he is my Science Officer, not because he is my friend or your brother.”
Something indescribable in Sybok’s expression tightened suddenly, and he said, slowly,
“That implies, Captain, that if I were able to persuade Spock to my view, you and Captain French might give me an audience.”
Kirk took a half step towards the Vulcan and then halted. He said, sharply,
“I won’t have Spock put under that sort of pressure.”
“Pressure, Captain?” Sybok smiled, mockingly, and Kirk’s thoughts unknowingly echoed McCoy’s on the question of the oddity, after a year in service with Spock, of a Vulcan smile. “What you say suggests that, contrary to your previous claim, this is not simply a matter of science. Are you suggesting it’s actually a question of allegiance?”
“No.” Kirk’s response came out more forcefully than he had intended, and he quietened his tone. “Spock’s loyalty is to Starfleet and to the truth; it’s as simple as that.”
Sybok smiled again, more naturally, and appeared to relax.
“I think my brother’s loyalty is to more than just the flag, Captain, and you misunderstand me, once again. It is merely that I think Spock, as a Vulcan, will more easily understand my thinking on the subject of the epidemic. No matter. I will, of course, submit to yours and Captain French’s demands. However, if you would like my advice – “ he stooped to pick up his bag and Kirk, knowing perfectly well he was being irrational, was irritated all over again by the size of the bag and by what it betokened, and reflected that Sybok’s advice on just about anything could probably be duplicated without trouble by purchasing a flier for half a credit at any given stall at the Universal Peace Convention on Nimbus lll.
“You have no need to doubt my brother’s loyalty and affection for you.”
Whatever he had thought was coming, it was not this, and Kirk reacted swiftly, his head snapping up.
“I entertain no such doubts and have no need to discuss the matter with you.”
Sybok bowed his head in a way which managed somehow to convey utter disbelief in Kirk’s last statement and Kirk, even as he followed Sybok through the doorway and down to the transporter room, found himself mentally bracketing Sybok’s head with Spock’s back and wondered how Vulcans managed to convey so much by saying absolutely nothing at all. In Kirk’s view, it explained a fair amount about how you managed the frustration of emotional prohibition and, accordingly, constituted a form of cheating.
The door to Kirk’s quarters buzzed and the captain of the Enterprise took a very deep breath and let it out as slowly as he could. He had accompanied Sybok to the Endeavour, spoken to Eli French and, more briefly to Sam, calling a raincheck on a proper family reunion until the crisis was over and discussing the progress on the research on treatment options for the epidemic. The fact that no progress had been made appeared wholly disproportionate to the amount of time it took to establish that this was the case. He had studied McCoy’s report on Sybok, overseen the resolution of a minor disciplinary issue which had arisen in Engineering, spoken to Scotty who seemed concerned about a possible glitch in the warp formula and made a report to HQ. He had then remembered, rather vividly, that he had had no sleep the night before and it was at this point that the buzzer sounded and he reflected regretfully on his own standing orders that officers and crew should feel free to contact him at any time of the day or night, should the need arise. Kirk did not believe in a personal deity who was likely to be interested in the amount of sleep accorded to individual members of his flock but, hedging his bets, he cast a quick request heavenwards that waiting on the other side of the door was an overzealous check on the course to be set the following day or (even better) that the buzzer was faulty. As the door opened to reveal his First Officer, he realised all over again that his views on the existence of a personal deity had been correct all along.
Spock’s ability to calculate to several decimal places without any apparent first-hand evidence the accumulative total of Kirk’s sleep in any one period of time was, in Kirk’s experience, significantly more effective than the average automated alarm system or sleep monitor. It was rivalled in punctiliousness only by his First Officer’s meticulous adoption of such tactics as were likely, in any situation, to lead to a maximisation of that period of sleep. His appearance in Kirk’s quarters at this point was unlikely to result either from an urge to check on the next day’s course or to suggest a game of chess.
Kirk looked at his friend’s face and, for the first time since he had known Spock, opted for the coward’s way out.
“I’m very tired, Spock. Can this wait?”
“I apologise, Captain, for intruding at this hour,” the sleep monitor said. “I have just returned from visiting Sybok on the Endeavour and thought to discuss with you certain issues arising. I will with your permission reschedule the conversation to a more appropriate time tomorrow.”
Kirk, whose attention had snagged on the words visiting Sybok felt if possible more tired than ten seconds earlier but considerably more alert. He looked silently at Spock’s face, and then waved him to a chair.
“Sit down, Spock. Let’s have it out. Why were you with Sybok and what is bothering you? And would you like a drink?”
“No, thank you, Captain,” said Spock, as if to both suggestions (the chair and the drink) and Kirk’s heart sank (both at Spock’s demeanour and at the choice between getting to his feet on the one hand and on the other conducting an interview with a standing Vulcan from the disadvantage of a seated perspective) - and then hardened.
“Sit down, Commander. That’s an order.”
Spock managed to sit down whilst maintaining all the appearance of standing up (a minor feat, Kirk suspected, for someone who could conduct conversations with his back) and said,
“I visited Sybok during two hours in which I was off duty this evening, from 1945 hours till 2145 hours, including the time necessary to effect transportation to and from the Endeavour. I informed you at the time that Lieutenant Sulu had the conn.”
“For heavens’ sake,” Kirk said wearily, even as he thought Is this how Spock deals with fractured trust? “I’m way beyond asking you to account for your hours on duty, and in any case Sybok is material to the mission.” And then, in a tone he knew was different and knew was ineffably wrong, “What were you doing there?”
“I was attempting to ascertain the basis of Sybok’s approach to the epidemic,” Spock said. He spoke in a tone suggesting a scientific endeavour; an eminently reasonable curiosity in a wholly academic exercise. Kirk immediately heard Sybok’s voice (if I were able to persuade Spock to my view…), wondered who had instigated the meeting and simultaneously with the question arising in his mind, decided not to ask it. He did not think this was what had been waiting, the other side of the door. He was right.
“Captain,” and the tone of voice was very slightly altered. No longer scientific curiosity, it contained nuances Kirk thought he had yet to hear in his First Officer’s voice, at least, not directed at him. Not quite challenge, not quite criticism – something veiled, something which had nothing at all to do with chess games and the pretence of ignorance of Standard idiom. “Captain, are you aware that Captain French is holding my brother in secure quarters?”
Kirk hesitated. He had not, in fact, known that Sybok was in the brig, but Eli would have had to ensure secure accommodation somehow and this would have been dictated by capacity on his ship. Unlike the brief voyage from Cregennan, sensitivities around close family relationships with the ship’s First Officer would have had no bearing on that decision. (In fact, of course, Kirk reflected, the Endeavour had no First Officer, not just at the moment. Had Spock spoken to Manoriss? He decided effortlessly that this was not the time to ask.)
Kirk knew Eli French well enough to suspect that he would have very little tolerance for Sybok’s smile and his little bag. At the same time, he reflected that it was the first time Spock had referred to Sybok as brother. It seemed that, at the end of the day, however small your bag might be, you might constitute a full brother when brigs were involved. So much for I have no brother.
Spock was continuing:
“He has been forbidden all external communication. He is, essentially, being held in isolation for what appears to be an indefinite period.”
Something in Kirk which had been slightly uncomfortable at Captain, are you aware… suddenly hardened. He remembered another brig, Delta Vega, sparks as Gary Mitchell put his hand to the forcefield.
“You of all people need no lectures from me, Spock, on the need to put duty above personal loyalty.”
He had no sooner said it than he wondered whether Spock would hear other, more recent echoes – said, immediately,
“It was you who gave me the gun.”
He knew Spock would remember exactly which gun, and Spock’s eyebrow rose.
“Hardly comparable, Captain. As I told you at the time, Commander Mitchell had mutated into another being altogether. He considered himself a deity, was responsible for the death of a member of your crew; attempted to kill you himself. My brother-“ (still brother, Kirk noted – it was looking like a permanent promotion. Perhaps he should congratulate Sybok) “- my brother may or may not entertain philosophies at variance to accepted scientific norms but he hardly comprises a threat to his immediate and wider environment on the scale of that posed by Gary Mitchell.”
“Is that so?” Kirk asked. May or may not? What did that mean? He was suddenly angry, more openly, blindingly angry than he had been at any point since Jose Mendez had said Jim, I’m not doubting anyone’s word. I’m simply telling you it’s impossible. He remembered the silver glint of Gary’s eyes, the pain of betrayal, Gary’s words to him Remember Dimorus? The poisoned darts they threw? I took one meant for you.
“Is that the difference? Are you sure? Or is it that Gary was my friend? Whereas Sybok is your brother and Chris was your commanding officer?” Spock stilled immediately, which Kirk knew was the Vulcan equivalent of visibly startling. Spock had the capacity to make more movement by freezing than anyone Kirk had ever met. Kirk added it to the list with Sybok’s head and Spock’s back. He was in no mood to find amusing the Vulcan penchant for passive-aggressive bodily language. Spock held conversations without talking and moved without moving, but then he had a brother while not having a brother and had lied to Kirk’s face. An overwhelming nostalgia swept Kirk for an evening of Georgian folk wisdom and Romulan ale. McCoy, he reflected, was capable of telling the most amazing stories, Scotty too, but they were supposed to, especially when either drunk or maudlin or both. There was, perhaps, nothing wrong, under the right circumstances, with a piece of really good fabrication – unless you happened to be Spock, unless you happened to have built a career and a personal philosophy on “Vulcans do not…“
“You get to bend the rules for personal loyalty, is that right, Spock? And I don’t? Exactly where is that written in the Starfleet Handbook? Regulation 123456 paragraph a? Or perhaps not. And don’t you think it’s damned odd that Vulcans get to break the rules and not the rest of us?”
Spock heard the words without in the least understanding them. He had come to Kirk’s cabin on something of an impulse. Vulcans do not have impulses, but nevertheless the forty-three step detour from his own quarters to Kirk’s had not been planned and moreover had been undertaken in a lack of expectation that he would achieve any change of circumstances for Sybok. It would be illogical to speak to Kirk merely in the wish to express his views on the subject, though that was a part of why he was here, on a day when he had sensed a gradual fraying (nothing more, nothing less) of whatever it was which bound him to Kirk. It would be even more illogical to believe that the introduction of a potentially controversial subject would achieve a more open dialogue on matters which appeared to require resolution, but nevertheless, here he was, in the clear knowledge that the duty of the First Officer is to promote the well-being of his captain at all times and that Kirk had had thirty two point six minutes’ sleep in the past thirty six hours.
He said, very carefully:
“My recommendations at the time we retrieved the recorder from the Valiant were based entirely around the most logical and expedient strategy to protect the safety of those on board the ship. I greatly appreciated your initial invitation to do so in a manner devoid of extraneous considerations of a personal nature to those involved.” But then Kirk had objected sharply to the suggestion of stranding Mitchell on Delta Vega and, by way of identifying the only alternative, he had said Kill Mitchell and Kirk had said At least act like you’ve got a heart. It was another instance of Kirk instigating a particular dialogue or course of action and then reacting illogically to the consequences. It had been easier, even then, right at the start of his service under Kirk, to focus on the illogical nature of Kirk’s comment and not on any other aspect of his remark.
If he were honest, saying to Spock At least act like you’ve got a heart was probably one of the things Kirk was least proud of. Most nights, he was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow; most mornings, on his feet almost as soon as his eyes opened. If you were a starship captain, that was how it was. But every so often he took a while to fall asleep, perhaps because a mission was worrying him, perhaps because he needed to reflect on events of the day. Kirk was not an overly self-reflective person (you couldn’t really afford to be if you were paid to make decisions on the sort of scale Kirk often encountered before breakfast), or perhaps it was that he saved his secret gallery of shame for the most private moments, the times when he couldn’t hide. But that was when they came. Trooping in front of his closed eyes, one after the other, the moments in his personal history which the iron of time had never quite managed to press smooth, the little bumps of conscience or pain. Janice “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you can end what we’ve had. I can’t believe you’re doing this to me”. The Tychos star system ten years earlier, a smell like honey, Garrovick’s dead empty face, bone-white but still somehow accusing. Gary “I took one meant for you.” And his own words to Spock “At least act like you’ve got a heart.”
“Maybe,” he said, now. The memory of nocturnal twinges tempered the edge of his anger, but no more than that. “Maybe you did, Spock. But it doesn’t add up, does it?”
“Elucidate,” said Spock, entirely aware that since clarification and specificity were a natural aim in any constructive dialogue it was illogical to suspect that he might not like the result.
“Well, you tell me, Commander. You’re the one who doesn’t get irritated when I checkmate you because irritation is a human emotion. You’re the one who claimed to have no feelings about Gary. You’re the one – “ he knew what he was going to say was unforgiveable, but equally he knew it was too late, now, that his feet were set on the road and he was walking inexorably down it – “you’re the one who feels ashamed when you feel friendship for me.” Spock’s face was beyond still, beyond closed off. It was made of stone. “And you’re the one who told me that you had a message from Starbase 11 which no one sent, you attacked Starbase personnel and you impersonated me in order to set a trail of false orders – out of loyalty to Chris. Out of friendship. Have to ask, Spock,“ he went on, wondering if he could blame lack of sleep for the sheer volume of toxic destruction apparently flowing unstoppably from his mouth, “have to ask – did you feel ashamed when you felt friendship for him, too? I guess not enough to stop yourself on Starbase 11.”
He remembered the sensation, when listening to Eli French, of being caught in a waterfall, and this was similar, in the helpless release of the flood of words. He kept his mouth closed, however, against Eli’s own ultimatum – the breach of professional trust. You can’t work with someone after something like that. Once trust is broken, it’s over. There was no way back from that one. Truth was, Spock had lied in the chain of command, he had falsified orders and he had taken Kirk’s ship. Once they dug up that particular body, Kirk’s fear was that the flow would take them beyond a place of control, beyond a place where he could see the outcome. Or, worse, to a place where the outcome was only too clear. What future was there for them, once they admitted that Kirk was no longer confident that Spock would follow his orders, speak the truth on duty, maintain integrity within the context of command?
To ask if Spock felt ashamed of his friendship for Pike might well be the thing Spock would rightly never forgive him, but it was safer, actually, than accusing him of stealing his ship. Especially since Spock apparently thought that it had been reasonable. Under the circumstances, of course.
The statue opposite him said, in the sort of voice a statue would use, “My view at the time was that my tactics comprised the most effective strategy to secure the best outcome for all concerned.”
“And so the means justify the end?” asked Kirk, curiously. He had lost the sense of anger, felt empty, disheartened. The energy of his accusations had fled, leaving him bone-tired again. “Is that what you think?”
The statue moved slightly, for the first time since it had stilled, and Spock turned to him. It was very late and Kirk sensed that there was some truth coming, that Spock was reaching back from some place a long way away. A place Kirk had sent him.
“Can you not understand, Jim? I might with some reason believe that you shared the same view.”
Kirk blinked, and the outrage flooded back.
“Me? That’s a pretty broad statement, Spock. I would say it depends on the means, wouldn’t you? Yours were pretty extreme, in this instance.”
His eyes met Spock’s and he had the sense, briefly, that they were closer than they had been, that each was missing just a small piece, that a further explanation or even a joke, a gesture, might restore them. The moment hung in time, and then passed, and he said, remembering the start of the conversation,
“Do I take it that you have revised your views on Sybok’s thinking?”
Spock stopped being a statue, and Kirk realised that they had moved back from the brink, back into a normal conversation but none of the rawness, none of his anger, none of the road or the waterfall had resolved anything. There was no relief in the knowledge, only a sense of frustration, of missed opportunity.
“In my view, Captain French’s actions in consigning my brother to the brig and declining to entertain any form of dialogue with him are unwise, in addition to comprising disproportionate and unnecessary measures of security. Captain, I am no longer convinced that Sybok’s views on the situation should be summarily dismissed. He may not be correct, but my understanding is that neither the Endeavour nor the facility on Deneva have reported any substantive developments. Is it not logical to keep an open mind on alternative theories?”
Sybok had said “If I were able to persuade Spock to my view, you and Captain French might give me an audience” and he, Kirk, had said he didn’t want Spock put under pressure. It looked as though he had been right to suspect that Spock was caught in another conflict of allegiance. He thought of the plague reports from Cregennan and Sybok’s little bag and bigger smile and his jaw tightened.
“Spock, I’m going to get some sleep. Then I’m beaming down to the planet. I’ll get a debrief from Sam and ensure I’m up to date on all thinking on the epidemic – yes, Sybok’s too, if I think it’s appropriate – and I’ll manage the mission from there. I’m leaving you the conn, and you can mind the store while I’m down there. I’ll keep you posted, of course, and you can help Scotty with the problem with the warp formula. I know he’ll appreciate the help.”
He didn’t say anything else. Looking at Spock’s face, he knew he didn’t need to. Spock rose, in one swift motion.
“Understood. I apologise for disturbing you, Captain.”
After the nightmare late night conversation with Spock and, before that, the journey to Cregennan and the more distant memory of Talos IV, it was a surreal relief to be sitting down to a family lunch with Sam, Aurelan and Peter. He was here officially to talk to Sam about the epidemic, but Sam had said, equably, over the channel to the Enterprise, “Aurelan and I are meeting for lunch. Let’s stop assuming there’ll be a chance to catch up later and at least come and say hello now,” and then, when he had turned up at their apartment, he had been greeted by a clearly excited small boy whom he had last remembered being rather overawed by the launch of the five year mission, and who appeared to have persuaded his parents to let him stay home to see his uncle. The older two children were apparently not on the planet. Aurelan said casually that they had both been given the chance to enrol in summer courses at San Francisco a month or so before the escalation of the epidemic and Sam had decided both should stay away for the duration. Kirk shot his brother a quick look at his brother at this comment. Sam did not meet his eyes but that didn’t change the fact that he must have been seriously concerned about the situation some time in advance of the current escalation of the crisis.
He had slept for seven and half hours, without dreaming and without being able to remember the last time he had slept so long. He had showered and dressed, checked through reports from the previous shift, noting that Spock had gone straight to take the conn after he left Kirk’s cabin and had been on the bridge throughout the time that he had slept. He then asked to see Spock in his quarters, gone through some minor ship’s business and then formally left Spock with the conn. He had considered a number of conciliatory last minute farewells, but Spock was far too intelligent not to see through any camouflage of I’m taking you off the mission because you are conflicted and he decided in the end, not without regret, to leave the matter where it was. He thought neither of them really had the heart for any more emotional dialogue than a discussion of the warp formula and was reasonably sure that the only sensible way forward at this point was a bit of distance for both. He hesitated at the last minute, would have liked to said almost anything rather than nothing – Let’s have a game of chess in the next couple of days or even Hope the new diet cards work out – but couldn’t somehow manage it without a false note. He had never consciously had to try, before this. He would not have touched with a bargepole Letting you have the ship back, Commander.
He shot some hoops with Peter and enjoyed it, feeling that he was playing truant but holding on to the time, nonetheless. He would never really know this boy, those freckles, what lay behind the upturned face, the open blue eyes, what would happen when hero-worship turned to familiarity and the adolescent criticism of my-uncle-is-a-military-stuffed-shirt. That was what happened to family, when you were a starship captain. You shot some hoops and then you got invited to the wedding of a small boy with freckles and you didn’t understand where the years had gone. He wondered about Carol, then, about the promise he had made to stay away, not to shoot hoops with whatever they had started in that amazing summer, that stupid escapade in the Council Room – this small child’s cousin. He wondered if it were genetic, whether his own son would have had freckles. Neither he nor Sam did.
After lunch, he sat with Sam and listened while Sam went through the latest statistics on the epidemic and the reports from the labs.
“Where and at what speed do you think the virus is heading?” he asked, bluntly.
Sam looked at him steadily.
“If you look at the history of the movement of impact, you’ll see it’s quite steady – doesn’t fluctuate much. If these readings from Cregennan are accurate, it’s heading this way. I would expect to see cases on Deneva in the next few weeks.”
Kirk absorbed the information. Then –
“And are you going to stay? What about Aurelan and Peter?”
“Just as much my job as yours, little brother – in fact, more so. Yes, I’m staying. Aurelan? Not all your Constitution Class firepower is going to move her – I’d enjoy seeing you try, but I’d back her any day. Peter –“ his face changed, slightly, “yes, we’d like to get Peter away. He’s not keen on it, but I’m been discussing it with Mom on sub-space, maybe sending him over there. Trouble is, Jim, could go on for months. And none of us are comfortable about that.”
He nodded, said quietly, “Well, I’m assigning myself to the team here, Sam. I’m here to do what I can,” and Sam burst out laughing.
“Your expertise on medical research is up there with Mom’s fashion sense.”
Kirk smiled and got up. “O ye of little faith,” he said. “I’m going to see Eli, Sam. I’ll catch you later. Thank Aurelan for lunch, will you?”
He did see French but had little chance to speak to him. He had wanted to catch up with him and to broach the difficult subject of Sybok. Of whether there was anything more that could be done about Spock’s brother – half-brother – whether they should be talking, whether he could be housed elsewhere. Kirk had very little appetite for any of this, but could not in all conscience take Spock off the mission and ignore Sybok. He was met, however, on beaming up to the Endeavour, with an invitation to use a meeting room to take a call from HQ.
“I told Wesley you were expected on board,” Eli said, with a rather odd look.
“Do you know what this is about?” he asked, suspiciously.
“I have an idea,” was all French would say. And so he got a coffee and installed himself in a room on Deck Four of the Endeavour with a viewer through which he could see the Enterprise in orbit, elegant between planet and starshine. He let his eyes drift over her, and then the communicator sounded.
“Jim,” said Wesley’s affable voice.
“Commodore,” he responded in kind, sketching a salute. “Always a pleasure.”
“Expect me to believe that?” Wesley said, drily. “You just wish we’d go away and leave you to play with your ship. Tell me what’s going on over there. I haven’t quite figured why we have two Constitution Class vessels helping out with some research. Hoping you’re ready to leave, actually. Care to help me out, here?”
Kirk said, straight,
“It’s not looking good, Bob. I was hoping to spend some more time here. You don’t strictly have two Constitution Class vessels assigned, since I’m trying to help out here just myself – Spock’s got the conn and is minding the store. Eli has his hands full, though – the politics here are not straightforward and the labs don’t seem to have got anywhere, as yet.”
“Hmm,” Wesley said, speculatively. “As it happens, that might all work out reasonably from my perspective. I do need to reassign the ship, but we don’t need you for this one – in fact, in some ways, thinking it over, it might well work best without you. I’ll send through some orders for Spock and he can come back and pick you up in a few days. Work for you?”
Instinctively, Kirk wanted to say no. Just at the moment, it would not work for him to have Spock take the Enterprise on a mission without him. Thinking, as he had that morning, that they could do with some time apart had been more about the chance to speak to Sam and even Sybok on his own, had been about giving Spock the chance not to have to tread on eggshells around the question of fractured trust. It had not been about a few days. It had not been about Spock taking his ship off without him. (He smothered at birth the word again.)
But on the other hand, he had said he didn’t trust Spock with Sybok. He couldn’t very well now say he didn’t trust Spock with his ship, either. And there was something else, as well. The reason why he was here in the first place. And he had given his word to Sam. I’m here to do what I can was less than an hour old. And there was the question of a pair of blue eyes and some hoops.
So he said,
“Works for me, Commodore. Could I have the mission details, please?”
“Details are for your First Officer, Jim, I’ll com him now. But the outline is simple enough. We need to test out Daystrom’s latest model. My initial suggestion was the Endeavour, but Eli has good reasons to suggest otherwise.” I’ll bet he does, though Kirk, recalling French’s face a few minutes earlier. “But in fact, the Enterprise, for the very reason I was initially thinking of the Endeavour, may be a better bet. A much better bet.”
“Why?” asked Kirk. “And what, might I ask, is Daystrom’s latest model?” Richard Daystrom was more Spock’s area than his, but he knew Daystrom was responsible for the basic design of the Enterprise and if the ship were needed to test out some sort of upgrade then Wesley was right – doing it under Spock’s supervision was the best way forward.
“Essentially, it’s an android officer. Of course, we’ve had these functioning at a more junior level before. But this one is better. We don’t envisage, at this stage, android command -”, Kirk blinked “- but the M3 essentially replaces core elements of the senior command team. It analyses, makes recommendations, and presents them to the CO to implement. I thought the obvious place to test drive the thing was the Endeavour, precisely because she doesn’t have a First Officer at the moment. But Eli’s pointed out that this presents its own difficulties. As a First Officer who is acting Captain, and with an A-7 computer expert classification, Spock is perfect for the job in terms of supervising the experiment. I’ll contact the Enterprise now. Wesley out.”
By the time the M3 mission was an hour old, the entire bridge crew and medical department, together with a significant number of the engineering team, were aware of McCoy’s views on the situation. Which were, loosely speaking, that, given that the Enterprise was leaving orbit with a crew complement which was less one captain and increased by one android, the wrong senior officer was being substituted.
Spock’s own views were more complicated than he would have cared to admit to a passing Vulcan Master (not that there were any Masters in the vicinity or likely to be on the bridge of the Enterprise as he watched M3 carrying out routine procedures to effect departure from orbit).
An illogically feigned ignorance of Standard idiom had never prevented Spock understanding very clearly what a rock and a hard place looked like. If you had grown up on Vulcan, you had simply come across rather too many rocks and even more hard places not be very well acquainted with both. So it was manifestly clear to Spock that Kirk would have had a difficult time making a choice between leaving Spock with the Enterprise and reassigning him to a mission which took him back to Sybok, still within the echo of Kirk saying “You of all people need no lectures from me, Spock, on the need to put duty above personal loyalty.”
A piece of idiom which had always seemed more oblique to the ship’s First Officer was about burying yourself in work. Spock had always struggled with this one. The act of work, of the performance of ones allocated tasks, was a function, and it is not possible physically to entomb a person inside the carrying out of a professional function. Moreover, had this not been the case, it would remain true that it was illogical under any circumstances unnecessarily to deploy valuable mental resources in the pursuit of emotional concerns. And even if that were not the case, it would still be true that if you were the only Vulcan commander in Starfleet, you could easily undertake both the responsibilities of the Science Officer and the First Officer of the Enterprise whilst retaining ample excess cranial capacity to consider extraneous matters.
Particularly if you were not, in fact, undertaking either such function but were Acting Captain for the sole purpose of supervising an android with enhanced multitronic functionality who was undertaking those tasks for you.
Commodore Wesley had said, with easily geniality,
“Just let the thing do its job, Spock. Should be an easy ride for you, and you’re exactly the right person to be in charge while the test is being carried out and exactly the right person to give us the most helpful feedback afterwards.”
Dr Daystrom had said, as though not really seeing him,
“Thank you, Commander, but I won’t be needing any assistance.”
Scotty had said, suspiciously,
“You’re never letting that thing loose on my engines, are you now?”
McCoy had said, sardonically
“God help us all. An entire senior command team without a sense of humour. At least you’ll not be needing any help with teambuilding, Spock, you and your First Officer will be natural together.”
In fact, the extraneous matters concerning Spock centred on that very fact. Were, indeed, he and M3 natural together?
A part of what he and Kirk were, of what was beginning to be spoken about in Starfleet as a renowned rapport, of what Kirk seemed to think was the same as Eli-French-and-Commander-Manoriss and what Spock refused to define – a part of that had always been that Spock was not human, or at least not wholly so. Spock knew that – had occasionally wondered if the very fact of Spock’s origin had somehow given Kirk the permission he needed to let down barriers with Spock which the Vulcan knew stayed firmly in place otherwise. Or perhaps it was simply that their very differences, bred in such different worlds, had somehow created an exact complement, that together they fitted around each other like one of the three dimensional puzzles Spock’s Earth cousins had played with as children. Spock had always seen, instantly, how to assemble the pieces; his learning had been less about which pieces had to be put in place first and more about how long to wait to inform his cousins. Not, he learned through experience, in the first five seconds; nor a full twenty-four hour period later.
Odd, really, that the skill of assembling diverse pieces should be what eluded him now.
They laid themselves out in front of Spock, a whole cast of characters, like mathematical formulae in a warp calculation.
The humans – Kirk, Eli French, Gary-Mitchell-that-was.
The non-humans – Manoriss, what-Gary-Mitchell-turned-into, M3. And, of course, Spock himself.
(How, he found himself wondering, in a moment of whimsy with which McCoy would never have credited him – how would you classify what-Chris-Pike-had-turned-into? Was he in the same category as Gary Mitchell, in terms of before and after?)
What did it mean, to be natural together?
It was the differences between Kirk and him which somehow made them what they were. While he resisted what he thought Kirk was imputing about the parallel with French and Manoriss, he suspected that the same dynamic might have contributed towards their own command rapport. He knew without conceit that, while the manner of Mitchell’s death might still haunt Kirk and while Kirk might still grieve for an old friend, his own relationship with his captain had come to dwarf the easy dynamic which had sat between Kirk and Mitchell. But when Mitchell himself had ceased to be human, far from becoming closer to Kirk, he had become a threat to the Enterprise. What did that say about M3? What did it say about Spock?
After they had encountered the recorder left by the Valiant, Kirk had been the last person to accept the implications of the changes to Mitchell. Spock had seen it instantly, long before Kirk – Is that Gary Mitchell, the one you used to know? – and Mitchell himself had agreed – Probably just what Mr Spock is thinking now. Kill me while you can. But not Kirk. Kirk had clung to the allegiance of friendship, of the past, despite Mitchell himself calling him a fool for doing so. Was he? Was Kirk a fool in this?
Kirk always thought that the answer to diversity was somehow to bring it into the human race. That those with differences can live together, but perhaps at the cost of the differences. Mitchell could only have stayed on the ship if he had stopped being an esper. Eli French’s relationship with Manoriss had tripped over Man’s adherence to his own cultural norms. And – Spock forced his thoughts to the point at which they had continuously shied away – Kirk’s affection for and trust in him had tripped at Starbase Eleven, and Starbase Eleven constituted a Vulcan-human divide. Was that not what had happened? He, Spock, had done the logical thing at Starbase Eleven, to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and Kirk had translated that into a breach of trust. It was Spock’s divided humanity which lay the foundation for his friendship with Kirk, but the ground rules seemed to be that he should act as a human. Was this Starfleet inclusivism? Was it Kirk’s fault? Was it Spock’s?
Seen one way, Kirk’s entire friendship for Spock could be viewed as based on a denial of Spock’s Vulcan blood. When they had finally left Delta Vega, Spock had said I felt for him, and Kirk had said, I believe there’s some hope for you after all. Which might have been a tease, or it might have fallen into that category of truths which Spock had observed that humans like to present wrapped up in humour, apparently acting under the curious assumption that the covering conceals what lay within.
It was interesting to consider what superior meant. More than interesting, it was fascinating. Arguably, Mitchell, M3 and Spock himself were all superior to humans. In Mitchell’s case, that classified him instantly as a threat, but the opposite appeared to be true of M3. At least, according to Daystrom and Starfleet. He, Spock, was reserving his judgement on the android, so far. Its performance to date indicated both a level of efficiency and accuracy which he would have found lacking in any sentient being and at the same time a notable lack of meaningful interaction. M3 was able to ascertain the most effective way forward in any scenario and therefore offered a more restricted range of recommendations or options than any person, human or otherwise, would have done. He, Spock, was in the habit of offering Kirk three options, in any given scenario. Option One was the recommendation Spock believed they should adopt; Option Two was the one that he knew Kirk would favour and Option Three was the one which he suspected would constitute the eventual compromise between the two. In general, he found, the statistics had supported his analysis, but there had been enough occasions when Kirk had gone straight for Option Two and could not be moved. Kirk had never gone immediately for Option One, which had mainly served the purpose of ballast.
All of which meant that there was significantly less dialogue in a mission comprised of commanding M3.
Uncharacteristically, Spock was uncertain of the detail, but he sensed that somewhere in all of this was the answer to “Anything else you don’t know Spock?” – the answer to Talos IV, for him and for Kirk.
The next round of hoops was less an ask and more a clear and confident direction from the freckles and blue eyes. Kirk was neatly ambushed on the way into Sam’s quarters and allowed himself to be marshalled into thirty minutes of passionate competition masked by deference and hero-worship. Kirk had first thought he would pay Peter the respect of a straight contest; then found himself unable, somehow, to defeat the freckles; then finally found himself losing without meaning to, and wondering whether he had lost to Peter’s skill, to his youth and energy, or to his own sentiment. Laughing and slightly breathless, he walked into the house with his hand tousling his nephew’s hair and thought that this – this – was what he had given up, this was what Carol had meant, this was the other choice, the one he hadn’t made. Had he been wrong? Too late to worry about that now.
Sam’s face lightened, slightly, at the sight of his brother and son, which made Kirk realise how worried it had been looking beforehand.
“Tell me,” he said, sliding into a seat opposite his brother.
Sam ran a hand through his hair in a shared gesture.
“Nothing good, Jim. We’re not really getting anywhere. And – there have been two cases on Deneva.”
“Are you sure?” he said sharply. “What are the symptoms?”
“Inconsistent, which is one of the reasons it’s been so damn difficult to research and analysis. Headache, breathlessness; in fact, the most common presenting symptom is a scaly dermatitis covering the hands. That’s what’s raised a concern with these cases – the hands. We’ve isolated the patients and we’re still not 100% certain it’s the virus. But for my money, it is. It’s here and we have absolutely nothing. We’re just not ready.”
Kirk’s heart kicked, the way it did at abrupt bad news, in a way which normally heralded an adrenaline surge, the start of accelerated thinking. He knew that it was what he was paid for, that there was something about the way events moved into crisis which triggered a whole different way of seeing, for him – a way of rapidly and accurately assessing, quantifying, qualifying and mapping different options going forward, out of all the obvious and less obvious factors in play. He wondered if a higher rate of functioning would result from constantly existing in a state of crisis, knowing that if this adrenaline resource were always accessible, the contribution he made would be beyond the human norm. It was an abstract question, as the function was an automatic reflex which couldn’t be simulated, but, in a way which unknowingly echoed Spock’s thoughts, half a sector away, he did wonder if this was what it meant to function on non-human lines. Like Gary had, just before he died.
The thought led him, obscurely, to the seed of an idea. Abruptly, he pushed his chair back, and said,
“I’m going up to the Endeavour.”
“Why?” Sam asked, tiredly. “French has got no more ideas that I have, Jim. I know you both mean well, but there’s nothing either of you can do. What we really need is more labs working on this, but to be honest, even if we had two or three Starbases at our disposal, we’ve just got nothing. Maybe there is nothing. Maybe we just have to sit back and let people die.” He paused, slightly, and then said “When the Enterprise comes back, I want you to take Peter. Will you?”
Kirk looked at his brother, noting the lines, the greyness under his eyes, and said, gently,
“When did you last get a decent night’s sleep?”
“Don’t dodge the question, Jim. Will you?”
“Let’s focus on a way out for everyone,” he said, knowing Sam would hear the evasion. “And it’s not Eli I’m going to see, it’s Sybok. I’ll catch you later, Sam. Say hi to Aurelan.”
The truth was that you couldn’t start giving relatives lifts out of medical emergencies – not when you were in charge and when everyone else was being left behind. Sam should have got Peter out months ago and sent him to Iowa. God knows why he hadn’t (although Kirk, on the basis of a couple of games of hoops, had begun to understand the part that sentiment could play in saying goodbye for an uncertain period of many months to a pair of blue eyes and freckles). When you got to the point that everyone was going to die and you didn’t have a feasible evacuation plan that would meet the crisis, you couldn’t just choose your nephew and put him in guest quarters on the Enterprise. That was the line of thinking which ultimately left you lying to your fellow officers and stealing your ship in order to restore your former CO to the life you thought he should have. It was a messy business, the conflict between love and duty.
He nodded to the guard on duty.
“I’d like to talk to Sybok. Release the forcefield, ensign.”
The guard said, respectfully,
“Captain French’s standing orders, sir. No one is to be allowed inside the brig. I can provide you with somewhere to sit and privacy if you would like to interview Sybok from here.”
Slightly taken aback, Kirk nodded again. Eli was being entirely sensible, given concerns about Sybok’s beliefs and mental techniques, but it still seemed strange that Spock’s brother was held in maximum security. But then, it still seemed strange that Spock had a brother. He spared a thought for his Vulcan First Officer, out there running Kirk’s ship with M3, and was glad that he’d made the choice to take Spock off the Deneva mission.
Alone, he cleared his throat, and said bluntly,
“There are unconfirmed cases of contagion on Deneva.”
Sybok moved quickly, as though in reflex to Kirk’s words, as though he had forgotten the forcefield, stopped, and said,
“Captain, please listen to me. Let me explain my understanding about the epidemic.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “Let’s have it.”
Sybok paused, and then started to speak, with a kind of slow intensity, an urgency which was no less apparent for measured cadences and small pauses for emphasis.
“First, I have to explain to you how we live, my community and I. It’s what holds us together, it’s what took me from Vulcan, from the teachings of Vulcan.”
“Spock said,” he said, remembering, “that you were very highly regarded, that you were very learned in the Vulcan disciplines.”
Sybok’s expression was indescribable – part arrogance, part acknowledgement, part regret, part bitterness.
“What Vulcan refuses to acknowledge,” he said, slowly, “what my father denies, even Spock – is that I have not left that learning behind. Yes,” he said, an odd kind of pride clear in the set of his head, “I excelled. I drank deep from the knowledge I was offered and I gave back as much as I received – it transformed me and I transformed it.” Not exactly what Spock had said, Spock’s captain reflected, but close enough. Sybok was going on, in an intense tone.
“Never make the mistake, Captain, of thinking I left all that behind. I took it all with me, all of it. My passion was to build on it, to take it to the heights of understanding and (above all) to the application that my fathers and brothers deny.” Kirk noted that whereas Spock only had one half-brother and – presumably – one father, Sybok seemed to have multiple blessings. Perhaps he had been unfair to Spock. Perhaps the intricacies of Vulcan family relationships just didn’t translate into Standard. “The Vulcan way is to betray the past. They have inherited a wealth of learning – an outstanding legacy of knowledge and understanding and sheer erudition, rightly renowned across the galaxy – and they put it in a library and made up rules about its application. About what you can and cannot do with it. Captain, that is intellectual vandalism and you know it. It is narrow minded and it is deeply, deeply wrong.”
Kirk listened without commenting, summoning up the strength to be objective. He needed, desperately needed, for the sake of the freckles on an upturned face, and for all the other nephews and sons and families on Deneva, to understand Sybok, to weigh up his credibility and to analyse what contribution the Vulcan could truly make to the crisis. In coming to the Endeavour, he had done his best to leave behind his instinctive prejudice against Sybok. Now, in listening to him, he felt an unwilling sympathy, and that felt disloyal to Spock. His thoughts, once more, went to the faultline of loyalty, like a dog worrying on a bone. And then he shook himself, slightly, and was once more the starship captain, listening, alert.
“And what does that mean? To build on Vulcan knowledge, in the way that you aspire?”
“It meant to be outward facing, not inward facing,” Spock’s brother said. “It means to think about the future, not the past. To think about what can be done and not what cannot be done. Above all, Captain, it means to take what Vulcan has learned about the powers and the intricacies of the mind and to apply them to the spirit. Vulcan – and I know you know this, Captain – Vulcan believes that there is intellect and there is emotion and the two are antithetical. I know – and you will acknowledge the force of what I say – that this is illogical. They are both part of one being. It is precisely this sort of thinking which led to the upbringing of a child, part-human part-Vulcan, who was taught to believe that one part of his legacy must be subordinate to the other. Captain, I know you agree with me about this.”
Kirk closed his mind, again, against the appeal for partisanship, and focused on the question.
“Keep going, Sybok. What does that mean?”
“It means,” Sybok said, apparently not in the slightest perturbed by Kirk’s lack of response, “that we –“, and again, Kirk noticed the lapse into the plural – “- that we believe that the mental disciplines of Vulcan can be used to free the mind, not to enchain it. To release emotion. To rid ourselves of the snare of emotional dysfunction and allow positive emotion the capacity to work together with the intellect, to the benefit of both.”
Kirk tried to sort this through in his mind, more than ever aware of the passing of time and the arrival of the epidemic on Deneva, the two unconfirmed cases, Sam’s face (“maybe we just have to sit back and let people die”). And here he was, seeking an answer from a man in a white robe who was about to tell him that if he truly knew his own mind, he would be inviolable from disease. His heart sank. How could this be Spock’s brother – half or whole, any kind of brother? Where was Spock’s intellectual fastidiousness, his ability to prioritise and to focus on the urgent, on human life? And on non-human life?
“And what does that mean, exactly?” he repeated, knowing his tone was sharp.
“Captain, we all allow ourselves to be distracted and held back by our mistakes. You know this. We all have a seam of pain running through our psyche which saps our energy and our strength, which prevents us seeing properly. We-“
Kirk held a hand up. He knew he was being curt, but his tone was edged by disappointment and frustration, by anxiety and by anger. The anger was directed at himself, for having wasted time on this conversation.
“Sybok, please. This is cant. And we don’t have time for it.”
“Do you have time for anything else, Captain?” Sybok countered. “None of us have time – the virus must be stopped, and stopped quickly, or millions will die.”
“And in your view, we will be immune if we have come to terms with our inner pain?” He knew his tone was incredulous, was mocking. So much for objective dispassion.
“Essentially, yes,” Sybok said, unruffled. “Captain, have you ever known a person die of an allergic reaction?”
“I’ve known it to happen,” Kirk said, slightly thrown by the change in topic. “I’ve not actually witnessed it. Once, on an unchartered planet. There was a security guard – he was taken prisoner by the locals; we had to be cautious in the rescue mission, because of the Prime Directive, and we were too late. He had reacted to an indigenous plant. Or that’s what McCoy’s view was, from the autopsy.” He turned away, slightly; never comfortable confronting his failures, counting his dead.
“It hurts, then,” Sybok said, in a different tone of voice. Kirk glanced up, instinctively drawing back from what Sybok was offering.
“You learn to live with it.”
“Why, Captain,” the white robe in the brig said, mockingly, “you’d make a good Vulcan.”
Kirk thought of Spock, and laughed out loud, naturally, for the first time in a while.
“I think my First Officer might hold other views.”
“He might. But I could help you, Captain. I could help you make that grief into a strength.”
“Thank you,” Kirk said tightly. “As I said, you learn to live with it. It was a little plant with red flowers, they were everywhere.” Sybok looked blank, and Kirk said, impatiently, “The security guard. You asked what he died of. It was a plant with red flowers. His throat swelled up. He died of asphyxiation.”
“No, Captain,” Sybok said, with deadly earnest. “He died because he believed that the red flowers were harmful to his well-being. His mind killed him.”
“The virus has been tested,” Kirk said, with great clarity, “for every known allergic reaction.”
“That’s not my point, Captain. I’m simply pointing out that it is the mind which decides. Every time.”
The ensign behind him said,
“Do you need more time, Captain? I’m about to be relieved, and –“
“No,” said Kirk, swiftly. “No, I’m finished.”
“Captain –“ said Sybok, urgently. Kirk looked back.
“Tell me one thing, Sybok. Are you seriously suggesting that you can hypnotise every individual on Deneva to withstand the effects of the virus?”
“No,” said Sybok. He spread his hands, displaying the first signs of uncertainty since Kirk had entered the cell. Kirk found himself thinking that a little bit of self-doubt earlier might have allowed Kirk to take him more seriously. “But it’s a start, do you not see? If you accept that this is the way to understand the virus, it’s how you’ll find the answer, how you’ll find the place where the mind focuses, at the point when the virus kills.”
“I have to get back to Deneva,” he said. “Thank you for your time, Sybok.”
The ensign saluted and he walked out of the room, not too quickly to hear what Sybok threw after him.
“Captain. You missed out a rather important question. Aren’t you interested in the fact that none of my community has contracted the disease? Not one.”
Spock chose a time when their course was likely to take them into contact with no one and nothing for two hours, before he assigned the conn to Sulu and went to his quarters to contact Manoriss. He was still unsure of Kirk’s motivation in asking him to do this and even less sure that he wanted to comply. But Kirk’s request was the only lead he had, just now, and Spock was in the habit of doing what his captain asked, anyway.
Somewhat to his surprise, he reached Manoriss immediately. Manoriss must have travelled some distance since that last email, to be within direct subspace reach; moreover, Manoriss must be in a different frame of mind from that which Spock had expected, in order to be amenable to talking to Spock.
In fact, listening to his former fellow-officer with an attempt at neutrality and without, indeed, much opportunity to speak himself at all, Spock realised even more the gulf between him and Man. Kirk had clearly thought there were parallels, resonances. He, Spock, had spoken to no one about Talos IV except Kirk – and that rather unsuccessfully. Man’s words came pouring out, as if undammed. Spock could imagine no universe in which he would have unburdened himself the way Man was, across the sub-space. But then, increasingly, as he listened to Man, he found that he could imagine no universe in which he would have made Man’s choices.
“We are supposed to protect our commanding officers, right, Spock? There was just no need for him to know,” Man’s words, as over a distant connection, and Spock suddenly, vividly, illogically, had M3 in mind – M3 and Option One, which was the limitation on M3’s ability to discuss any strategy. Of course, this meant that Spock and M3 would never arrive at Option 3, the compromise option. And it occurred to Spock, then, for the very first time since he had started serving under Kirk, that Option 3 might, in most situations, have simply been the best choice all along. And he wondered why that should be so.
Had he adopted Man’s approach, on Starbase Eleven? Spock thought not. He had not gratuitously concealed information from Kirk. He had adopted a course of action towards and for the benefit of a third party which would have seriously damaged Kirk had Kirk been an accessory before the fact and he had therefore chosen to ensure Kirk’s ignorance of the situation. He could not imagine being in Man’s situation, and making a distinctly arbitrary choice in terms of selecting relevant information to conceal from his commanding officer for no very obvious reason. Keeping Kirk in ignorance of the situation had not been the salient or presenting issue in relation to the events at Starbase Eleven. Starbase Eleven had been about Pike, not Kirk. Spock stored away the comparison to consider at a later date, aware that if the comparison was irrelevant, the deferment was illogical.
Man had loved Eli French. The Rigellians, Spock knew, were intense and passionate by culture and inclination, and French and Man had found something of immense significance in each other. Perhaps something neither believed he would find elsewhere. Manoriss said,
“He owed me more than that. He could have understood, should have understood. I would do it again, in the same circumstances. If Starfleet doesn’t have the flexibility to deal with that, I’ll find another way forward. But Eli didn’t need to feel let down by me. I was always there for him.”
Again, that feeling of detachment, of distance. Spock listened to the words, and part of him wondered why Kirk had wanted him to. He could feel no real understanding of Man’s position. He had not spoken to French and had no perspective on what French’s emotional reaction would have been to Man’s actions off Rigel 7. Manoriss seemed to be imputing hurt on French’s part, inferring that Man’s decision to withhold key information would have indicated to French a lessening of loyalty, of affection.
Spock listened to Manoriss for a total of fifteen point two minutes, understanding that it was helpful for Man to speak, that his silent, remote participation in the conversation this was all he could do for the former Endeavour officer. During all that time, however, and for some time afterwards, as he made his way back to the bridge and the mission, his thoughts revolved around Man’s perspective, on his words: Eli didn’t need to feel let down by me.
Kirk would not have seen Spock’s actions as in any way a lessening of their friendship. This was the difference between the two situations.
Spock had not expected any sort of personal relationship to evolve between him and the commanding officer of the Enterprise and, at least in the early months, he had been continuously surprised by the ease and confidence with which he had come to expect the invitations to chess games; by the implicit understanding in those swift glances traded across the bridge in the face of the unknown or the unfriendly; by the knowledge that had governed every planetside mission – that Kirk’s awareness of his support was somehow bedrock, that he would stand by Kirk’s shoulder and that Kirk would know it without turning round, that it was a thing of substance between them, an almost tangible bond. He did not credit Kirk with any similar surprise at the evolution of this bilateral understanding. It had always been apparent to Spock that Kirk accepted the gift of friendship as something which had been offered to him easily all his life, from a number of quarters, and he could see no reason for Kirk, of all people, to entertain doubts on the subject, to lose confidence in the regard held for him by another. Not James T Kirk.
And he, Spock, had given Kirk evidence of that regard which he had offered to no other person. He had used a familiar abbreviation of the forename of his superior officer without invitation and on more than one occasion, including when on duty. He had allowed Kirk to tease him – he had teased back. He had stepped between Kirk and danger and not always in the line of duty. And he had acknowledged it, too, had not always hidden behind the shield of Vulcan subterfuge, particularly when rocks and hard places had been in immediate proximity. He knew Kirk could have cited a dozen moments of near-miss, of uncertainty, of the unknown, when Spock’s behaviour might not have met the exacting standards of Surak. And Spock had never found it in himself to regret the lapse, even when Kirk had been back in the centre seat and the moment had passed.
No, Kirk would need no reassurance. Talos IV would have made no difference to that. Manoriss was over-personalising the situation, which was inevitable, given that he was Rigellian.
It was only as he relieved Sulu and sat in the centre seat, swiftly analysing M3’s latest report and asking Uhura to forward it to Wesley at HQ, that he remembered Kirk’s voice, that late night conversation, in orbit around Deneva. You’re the one who feels ashamed when you feel friendship for me.
It didn’t make sense, though. He and Kirk had played a total of one hundred and thirteen games of chess, including one which had once continued for two and a half days. And Kirk had said of their dialogue, just before their encounter with Balok, “It gives me emotional security”. He did not think that Talos IV would cause Kirk to question that. His actions, after all, had been entirely logical. And designed to safeguard his captain.
The next morning, there were one hundred and ninety five confirmed cases on Deneva and Kirk put a subspace message through to Spock to tell him to ensure that, as and when the Enterprise re-entered orbit, no personnel would be permitted to beam down. Apart from M3, he reflected, who was presumably immune from scaly hands.
He wondered, walking over to Sam’s quarters for coffee, how Spock was managing the M3 experiment. He knew that the Vulcan’s normal reaction to the question, when it arose, was to deny any interest in the command function. The current mission would hardly be demanding of cutting edge leadership but nevertheless, other than the odd couple of hours when Kirk was alone on a planet in mid-mission (often heralded by the words “Captain, request permission to remain”, uttered more in hope than expectation), this was the first time Spock had commanded the Enterprise on his own. Second time, Kirk mentally amended - and wondered when he would stop doing that, when the spectre of Starbase Eleven would finally leave him. His thoughts went to Eli French, to his analogy of fractured trust – “like keeping an animal with a broken back when you ought to have the courage to put it out of its misery but you just can’t make yourself do it” – and he thought, suddenly, that he just didn’t agree with Eli, not about this. He hated the mistrust which had grown up between him and Spock. It needed to be resolved, and not through the route that Eli had chosen. When the M3 mission was over, he would talk to Spock, talk to him properly and openly, explain to him just what Starbase Eleven had meant. And then he would understand Spock’s perspective – would be bound to, wouldn’t he, unless Spock had changed into an entirely different person? – and they could leave the whole thing behind. McCoy had been right, all along. Why hadn’t he had the courage to face the Vulcan and why had he delayed until Spock was out there test-driving multitronic units and he was here, shooting hoops and finding no answers to one hundred and ninety five confirmed cases?
No hoops today, though, as he arrived and found no blue eyes and freckles, just a sombre-faced Sam with coffee already poured and some lab reports on the earlier confirmed cases. Kirk picked them up and read them in silence.
“Anything at all that helps, now it’s actually here and you’re looking at people and not statistics?” he asked.
“Nothing very helpful about the fact that two of them died this morning,” he said, curtly, and then softened, as Kirk’s face registered what he’d said. “Sorry, Jim. You didn’t ask for that. No, not really, in answer to your question. Yes, they all have inflammation of the skin around the hands, but that’s a side effect. We’ve put them all in isolation but their vital signs are falling and they don’t really respond to anything.”
“When you said don’t really,” Kirk said, feeling his way, like a blind man who refuses to believe that there isn’t a way through the wall and is prepared to touch every single brick, however resistant, “is that the same as not at all?”
Sam smiled, but it was not the brittle mockery of a minute earlier. It was an affectionate grin, born of teenage family years, of playing cards with the neighbourhood gang, of watching his younger brother refuse to give up till the last card was down and knowing then that he himself would settle for a life of trying to understand and that Jim would always find a wall and put his back up against it.
“They respond to oxygen,” he said. “Most drugs we tried we may as well, frankly, have stuck to sugared water. But oxygen seemed to stave the symptoms off for a while. Only a while.”
“And then what happened?”
“Two of them died.”
“Yes, but how? Of what?”
“Essentially, of heart failure, following lethargy, disorientation and breathing difficulty.”
“What does that mean?” he asked, wishing he’d kept McCoy back from the M3 mission, whilst knowing that the Enterprise needed its CMO and Sam had a lab full of experts.
Sam pulled a face.
“Almost anything,” he said gently. “You know, most of us die of heart failure, in the end. And that could be because you have a weak heart, an old heart, a heart that’s taken on too much or even a heart which has been stuck through with a blunt object. You military types always want a diagnosis. But death is often a very straightforward thing, Jim, short of your journeys into the unknown. The difficulty is knowing why. Why are their hearts failing? And the answer is – I just don’t know.”
Kirk chewed this over for a minute, and smiled a little.
“Mom always said that don’t know is as good a place to start as any, didn’t she?”
“Not a lot of help here,” his brother said, gruffly.
“Maybe not,” Kirk said, feelingly, “but it’s a hell of a lot better than some of what Sybok claims to know with total confidence.”
Sam said, intently,
“Jim. I don’t know what you and Sybok talked about. But keep him away from my patients. I just don’t trust him.”
Kirk swallowed back the coffee and said
“Not disagreeing with you there. I’m heading up to the Endeavour, I think. I’ll catch you later. Say hi to Peter.”
Sam’s face relaxed and he smiled all over again.
“He’d have sneaked another game of hoops but he slept late this morning and Aurelan took him to school by aircar. When he doesn’t draw attention to himself by stunts like that, I’ve a nasty feeling he may have been taking a rather creative approach to his timetable, in the sense of reviewing the relative priorities of human biology and shooting hoops with Uncle Jim.”
Mock-disapproving, Kirk asked,
“You mean you don’t actually know when he’s scheduled for human biology?”
Sam picked up the lab reports.
“Funnily enough, I wasn’t born yesterday, little brother. Tell me about parenting when you have any sort of qualification to do so, and don’t think I don’t remember your own creative approach to timetables, on occasion. I also know that shooting hoops with Uncle Jim might be something of a rarity for my son, in the long run, and that it might even matter more than human biology or a meeting on the Endeavour, sometimes, what d’you reckon?”
Kirk put his coffee down, called the Endeavour on his communicator and stepped outside to let the dazzle take him, but on his way to the door he reached out and held Sam’s arm in a gesture that meant rather more than the hug they had exchanged that first night, when he had come to Sam after talking to Eli French and learning about Manoriss’ court-martial and Eli’s views on fractured trust.
Sulu notified Spock of the shuttle’s approach when the ship was half a sector out from Deneva, on the Delta border, and Spock had scheduled a conversation with Daystrom to review the mission to date and discuss the return journey. The Enterprise had negotiated one minor ion storm, one uneventful rendezvous with the Potemkin to effect an exchange of personnel and carried out a brief mission to an uninhabited planet to retrieve samples for later study in the ship’s laboratories. Throughout the entirety of the journey, M3’s actions and recommendations had been faultless, unless you factored in the views of the ship’s CMO. In McCoy’s opinion, the acting First Officer could have successfully moonlighted as a food replicator, was rather less companionable or humorous than a tricorder and knew as much about the command function as the average dead tribble. However, it was not Spock’s intention to include an assessment from the medical team in his report on M3 – not least because in his estimation it would lead directly to an unnecessary prolongation of the discussion with Daystrom and thus of the mission.
Spock’s own view of M3 was not quite as removed from McCoy’s as he allowed the doctor to believe, listening to the CMO’s running commentary with the usual expression of tortured patience he reserved for McCoy, until the doctor ran out of steam and got bored of analogies between Vulcans and multitronic units. Nothing in either the M3 mission or, still less, in the events leading up to Talos IV had altered Spock’s view of the command function, which was simply that it was one which Kirk delivered an unparalleled performance and that his own preference remained to serve under Kirk. He was nevertheless acutely conscious that commanding in partnership with M3 was hardly an experience which could have had much in common with Kirk’s perspective, when working in partnership with Spock. He would not have chosen to refer to M3 as a food replicator. But his view was, in essence, the same. M3 could not provide companionship, support or a sounding board, and this, he was coming to understand, was his function for Kirk.
Could Spock ever say to M3, even had he been accustomed to human forms of expression, that any kind of interaction with Daystrom’s unit gave him emotional security? He thought not.
In any real sense, he was commanding the ship on his own, and he knew it. How different must it be for Kirk, to do so always with that weight of command shared, in a place which to all intents and purposes must feel like part of himself?
His thoughts (which, unknown to him, like Kirk’s, were beginning to edge back towards Talos IV and a new consideration of the strain he and Kirk had borne since) were interrupted by Sulu’s voice.
“Sir, we are being hailed.”
M3 was already reporting.
“Starfleet shuttle approaching at 00 Mark 4. No known security clearance. Recommend earliest identification of personnel on board.”
Spock nodded to Uhura, who already had the hailing frequencies open. He had privately been expecting the unexpected (or, to avoid using illogical vernacular, the unscheduled), assuming that Starfleet might have arranged for something more testing for M3 than an ion storm and some soil tests. But in fact, the shuttle turned out to be operated by Manoriss.
“Permission to dock, Enterprise,” the Rigellian voice said, immediately after greeting the Enterprise’s Acting Captain, and M3 said “Recommend prior ascertainment of the nature of the immediate intentions of former Commander Manoriss” and Spock said, aloud, “Permission granted” and speculated silently as to M3’s caution. It was the first time he had overruled the unit and the first time he had not immediately known – in fact, anticipated – the unit’s recommendation. Even as he left Sulu with the con and made his way down to the shuttle deck to greet Manoriss, he wondered which of them – M3 or himself – had got it wrong.
“Welcome aboard,” he said courteously, to Manoriss’ familiar nod, and Man fell in beside him as Spock escorted the Rigellian to the nearest briefing room. He did not want to talk to Manoriss on the bridge, in front of M3. There was, of course, no logical reason for this. Had Spock been Kirk, he would have been acting on intuition, but Vulcans do not have intuition, so it would only be a matter of time until the latent logic in his reasoning manifested itself.
Manoriss turned to him as soon as they were through the door to the briefing room.
“I’m here to hitch a ride, Spock. I figured you were my quickest route to Deneva.”
Spock’s eyebrow rose.
“You appear to be unaware that the Enterprise is currently on a course in precisely the opposite direction,” he offered.
“My assumption is that you’re about to go back. Aren’t you?”
“I have not yet conferred with relevant personnel. Is there a specific reason why you are seeking transportation to Deneva?” Presumably, this reason was connected with the presence at Deneva of the Endeavour. Spock was increasingly of a frame of mind to regret contacting Manoriss in the first place. He suspected that Kirk would be far better equipped to deal with what was coming.
“The virus,” Man said, impatiently. “You can’t be serious – you can’t be intending to map the Delta border or whatever you’re doing and just leave Jim and Eli to it.”
Spock eyed the Rigellian and said, very carefully,
“Manoriss, you will be aware that Captain Kirk and Captain French are both acting under orders, as am I. They are both well placed to assist with strategic research into the nature of the virus and to track its likely impact. In any event – “
“That’s hardly what I meant,” Manoriss interrupted. And then, unbelievingly, “You mean you don’t know?”
“Elucidate.” And Man said,
“Spock, what have you been doing? There is a state of emergency declared on Deneva. They’ve closed orbit to ships. The virus is sweeping the planet at extraordinary speed. Don’t you know? Aren’t you planning on doing anything at all?”
Spock stilled. He wondered if this was how Kirk reacted to sudden crisis, this ability to think, quite clearly and with great focus, about two completely different things in parallel.
One of these was Deneva. A state of emergency. Kirk, leaving him the conn and taking him off the mission, that last nightmare conversation and now this. “You of all people need no lectures from me, Spock, on the need to put duty above personal loyalty.” How would Kirk classify this one? How would he categorise the unexpected sweeping sensation which illogically combined the memory of a chess game and a glass of guava juice with the pictures of virus victims on Cregennan and the fact of Spock’s current orders? And what would Kirk want him to do? What would Kirk himself have done, had their roles been reversed?
And the other, just as clearly and insistently, was M3. “Recommend prior ascertainment of the nature of the immediate intentions of former Commander Manoriss.” Why? And, more importantly, assuming that Manoriss was telling the truth, what was, in fact, the answer to his question? Didn’t Spock know?
After an unforgiveable delay of three point six seconds after Manoriss spoke, Spock turned to the desk computer and said,
“Recall all data on current situation on Deneva and specifically on the state of emergency.”
The computer said, helpfully,
“No state of emergency exists on Deneva.”
Manoriss made an abrupt movement, but Spock continued speaking,
“Recall all transmissions from Captain Kirk over the past five days.”
The computer was helpful here, too. It produced the twice daily reports from Kirk with which Spock was entirely familiar, having studied them closely at the time of receipt. There was no mention of any virus cases on Deneva.
He turned to Manoriss with a silent but entirely obvious enquiry.
“Your computer system’s been sabotaged, Spock. I’m telling the truth. What reason would I have to make it up? There are a million ways to check but the easiest would be to go to Deneva. Check the system, but do it en route – can’t you order the bridge to set a new course immediately?”
Spock considered. He had already computed that there was no apparent reason for Manoriss to fabricate the situation. The most compelling factor, however, was the one of which Manoriss was unaware. His First Officer was a multitronic unit which would have ample opportunity and means to sabotage the ship’s computer and intercept communications. Motivation was another matter entirely, but Spock’s dealings with human beings and the frequent challenges this had produced to understanding human rationale had taught him in analysing chains of events to subordinate motivation to opportunity. Besides, he was not entirely sure that it was logical to consider the motivation of multitronic units.
Nor was he sure that he either could or should go to Deneva, whatever the status of the epidemic. He had not forgotten the last time he took Kirk’s ship to forbidden territory. But there was still the question of chess games and guava juice and the eidetic recall of the symptoms of the virus.
He asked Manoriss to wait in the briefing room and asked Uhura to request M3 to meet him in his quarters in ten minutes.
“I request information on the status of the planet Deneva,” he said, facing M3 across his desk.
“Illogical,” the unit responded, causing Spock to wonder whether he should reflect on his own choice of vocabulary in crisis. “You accessed the computer system fourteen point one minutes ago to ascertain that information.”
“Nevertheless, I request confirmation. There are reasons to suspect a high probability that the information provided by the computer may be incorrect. There is a similarly high probability that messages from personnel on Deneva have been intercepted and altered. Please comment.”
“Your concerns arise as a direct result of conversations with former Commander Manoriss,” the unit said. “There is no current security clearance on former Commander Manoriss. If former Commander Manoriss’ information is at variance from that provided by the computer, the probability is 99.72% that Manoriss’ information is incorrect.”
“My assumptions are otherwise,” Spock said, quietly. He hoped very much that M3’s phraseology was a parody of his own on similar occasions and that this was not actually what he sounded like. He was now very sure that the M3 unit was malfunctioning but equally aware that persuading Daystrom and Starfleet to decommission it would not be straightforward. The sensation of facing down M3 was oddly familiar, and then he realised that the exchange of words with them had resonances of a chess game with Kirk. Without the guava juice, of course. And without Kirk. He forced himself to stop thinking about the virus symptoms, or to speculate about the rapidity of contagion.
“You have no evidence,” M3 said, simply.
“I have undertaken an analysis of the likelihood of Manoriss fabricating information,” Spock said, “based on my knowledge of his character and on the possible motivation for such fabrication.”
“You have not attempted to ascertain his thoughts,” was the unexpected response, and Spock looked at his interlocutor and considered.
It had never occurred to him to have effected a mind-meld with Manoriss for a number of reasons, not least that the personally invasive nature of the process meant that he would never have suggested it in the absence of alternatives. In the place inside Spock which was not intuition but which occasionally engaged with ex post facto rationalisation and which probably only Jim Kirk had ever really seen and understood, despite the apparent improbability of the conclusion, Spock was absolutely certain that Man was right and that the M3 unit was wrong. Man over machine, he thought, I will perhaps not allow McCoy that particular observation. And then he wondered what a mind-meld with M3 would produce.
He had never carried out a mind-meld with a multitronic unit but never was not a reason not to do something. He knew that carrying out a mind-meld with the Enterprise computer would be entirely unproductive, that there would be no consciousness to meet, that (as Kirk would have said) he might as well talk to the wall unit. However, the M3 was multitronic and a significant step away from a computer system towards what might be described as true consciousness. This might particularly be the case, considering that the unit appeared to be capable of serious sabotage of an almost humanoid nature.
In any case, M3 was threatening Kirk’s ship, and Spock could not allow harm to come to the Enterprise. Not on his watch; not this time.
He stepped forward very quickly and his hands touched the cold metallic of the top of the unit.
It was a mistake, and he knew it immediately.
M3 had no consciousness, not in the true sense. The only consciousness in the meld was Spock’s own, and the power belonged to the unit. Spock was held, a powerless spectator at his own journey, with occasional cold flashes of clarity of what had happened to Daystrom’s creation and how he and M3 had come together in the most ill-matched manner possible to fuse in a total distortion of what a command team meant.
He saw himself in his quarters, speaking to Manoriss. Why was he being shown this? Why was this relevant? Manoriss’s bitterness “We are supposed to protect our commanding officers, right, Spock? There was just no need for him to know.” And then again “He owed me more than that.” M3 had been on the bridge at the time. It must have intercepted the call. And M3’s programming was to serve – it was wired to put its commanding officer’s welfare first, at all times. And that meant, specially, Spock’s. In whatever way the unit perceived that welfare.
The unit said, into Spock’s mind, “You are my Captain.”
Spock fought to project the right words. He said carefully, speaking aloud,
“I am acting Captain of this mission. I am supervising a trial of the functionality of this unit.”
“You are my Captain. I must protect my commanding officer.”
“I have no need of protection,” Spock said clearly. He could almost hear Kirk’s humour, which would have added except, at this minute, from you.
“I must protect my commanding officer. Captain French has damaged former Commander Manoriss. I cannot allow damage to my commanding officer.”
Spock assimilated this, then
“I have not been damaged. I am not in any immediate danger of damage from any quarter.”
“You are my Captain. I must protect my commanding officer. You are at risk of damage from Captain Kirk.”
“I am at no risk of damage from Captain Kirk. He is my commanding officer.”
“You are my Captain. This unit computes otherwise. You have been and continue to be at risk of damage from Captain Kirk.”
And with that, he was back on Starbase Eleven. That was when he understood that M3 had reached back into his unprotected mind at lightning speed when he offered it for the mind-meld. The unit had seen everything, the fabrication of Kirk’s orders, the attack on the Starbase personnel, his self-inflicted arrest and court-martial. But there was more. The strain in the following days, the meeting with Sybok and the midnight conversation. You’re the one who feels ashamed when you feel friendship for me. If Spock could have closed his eyes against the picture of Kirk’s face as he said it, he would have done so. If he could have chosen any other conversation to revisit, that particular exchange would not have been his preference.
“Captain Kirk does not trust you and you are ashamed of your friendship with him. Captain French has dismissed former Commander Manoriss from service and there is a calculable probability that Captain Kirk will adopt similar means. You are my Captain. I must protect my commanding officer. I must prevent return to Deneva.”
Spock let a beat go and, even as part of him queried why he was arguing with a machine, he said,
“I have my own captain. My function and desire is to serve Captain Kirk. You will release me and the ship in order for me to do this.”
“You are my Captain. You are superior to Captain Kirk and your connection to him has been permanently damaged and provides no further benefit to either party or to this ship.”
“I order you to release me.”
The mind-meld ended abruptly and Spock took a quick step back. The room steadied around him. He took a breath, and said,
“Now I order you to restore the ship’s systems and to decommission yourself.”
“You are my Captain. I must protect my commanding officer. Permission to return to the bridge.”
And, abruptly, Spock found himself alone in his quarters.
He reached for the intercom switch.
“Spock to bridge.”
“Bridge, Uhura here, sir.”
“Uhura, please ask Dr Daystrom to meet me in my quarters immediately.”
Kirk had spent the morning talking to the Department of Public Health about deploying military personnel to set up temporary morgues, and to the Department of Justice about the need to provide emergency helplines, legal advice and counselling. It was Kirk’s experience that death might involve heart failure and scaly hands but it also invariably led to family breakdowns, financial queries and stress. He then spoke to the Endeavour to discuss security issues and measures to attempt to contain the virus by barring vessels entering or leaving the quadrant.
“Although it’s something of a stable door being shut after the horse has bolted,” said Eli French, gloomily.
“Maybe,” Kirk said. “Maybe not. We don’t know how the thing travels, Eli. Can’t be through space itself. We just clamp down on all contact and all movement and we’re doing what we can. HQ agrees.”
“Sorry you’re stuck here without your ship, Jim,” said French suddenly. “If I hadn’t asked for your help…”
“I’d have been test-driving Daystrom’s latest,” he said, briskly. “And been caught in the crossfire between Spock and McCoy, whose views I can only imagine. So don’t worry, Eli. The Enterprise will pick me up when the levels of contamination have dropped. I’ve warned Spock to stay away.”
And of course, he mused, walking over to Sam’s quarters for lunch, Spock had, very properly, stayed away. It was slightly unlike him, however, not to demur. Typical Spock would have been a proposal either to retrieve Kirk through an airtight container or to come himself, without the rest of the crew. Kirk would have permitted neither, for very obvious reasons, but he noticed, nonetheless, that Spock had not so much as commented on the danger to Kirk, the obvious risk of contagion in an epidemic where no one on Deneva had the slightest idea how the virus was transmitted. Although it could reasonably and cogently be argued that Kirk himself had laid down the rules, had forbidden Spock to act out of personal concern. It had been Kirk who had said “You of all people need no lectures from me, Spock, on the need to put duty above personal loyalty.” Although, just now, that seemed more and more to have been a conversation which had taken place in another life.
He wondered if his delay in talking to the Vulcan properly about Talos IV, followed by that conversation in his quarters which had been worse than not talking, had strained their friendship too far, created a permanent rift. He heard his own words You’re the one who feels ashamed when you feel friendship for me and winced. Had he really said that to Spock? Had he ever even wanted to? Had he let it get that bad?
He thought that after lunch he would just put a call through to the Enterprise, not a subspace bulletin but a chance to try to speak to the Vulcan in real time, and then he arrived at the now familiar door to an unfamiliar scene inside. Sam was speaking through a communicator in a tense, strained voice Kirk had never heard from his brother in his life, and from another room he could hear a woman crying.
Not just any woman. Aurelan. And suddenly, Kirk found himself remembering the last time he had come to see Sam, when Peter had not been here to shoot hoops because he had slept late. He had slept late and Sam had said that one of the symptoms of the virus was lethargy and Aurelan was weeping in the little room beyond the kitchen and Peter was nowhere to be seen. Kirk’s heart lurched, sharply and heavily.
“Sam?” he said, on a question.
Sam didn’t stop his conversation but he didn’t need to. His eyes met his brother’s and Kirk could see the tears in them. He reached out and held Sam’s shoulder, hard, and then released him and went into the room behind.
Aurelan was crying softly in the chair next to the bed. Kirk could see that she was trying not to disturb her son, but that she was entirely helpless to control herself. She was an attractive woman, but almost unrecognisable – her entire face blotchy and spasming, her breathing harsh and uneven. She barely spared Kirk a glance and his own eyes went straight to the small figure in the bed. Even in the dimly lit room, he could see the pallour of his nephew’s skin, the freckles now in sharp relief, blue eyes closed, one hand lying listlessly on the blanket, the telltale signs of dermatitis polluting the slim boyish forearm.
He had never felt so helpless, even in those final seconds of Balok’s countdown to the supposed destruction of the Enterprise by the Fesarius. And he remembered then the other children he had failed – the kids on Miri’s planet – Louise, the girl he had stunned and who had died. And Charlie.
But it was different when it was your own flesh and blood. Now that it was here, here in this room, he wondered about the speed of contagion – not for himself, because once you started thinking that way you stopped being a starship captain, simple as that – but for the rest of his family, for Aurelan and Sam. And he suddenly remembered Sam asking him to take Peter off the planet and refusing to answer and coming up with some pompous silent reflections on the nature of nepotism. How easy it had all seemed when Peter was shooting hoops and skinning his knees. If only now it was as easy as beaming him up to the haven of guest quarters on a starship.
And his thoughts went to the Endeavour, and as they went to the Endeavour they went to Sybok.
Kirk had not seen Sybok since the day he had gone to interview him in the brig of the Endeavour and Sybok had spoken about Vulcan bigotry and claimed that the virus could be defeated if you came to terms with your inner pain. Which was precisely why Kirk had not seen him since. But Sybok had also said that none of his community had contracted the disease. Not one, he had said.
Kirk took the thought out now, standing in a darkened room with the sound and feel of tears and a boy with scaly hands. His irritation had not died away and nor had his inherent scepticism. A virus as contagious as was proving to be the case on Deneva was very unlikely to have passed over Sybok’s entire community unless a different strain had hit Cregennan, or unless different circumstances prevailed – which would be the case, of course, in an entirely different biosphere.
Nevertheless, there was nothing else. Sam had said “The answer is – I just don’t know.”
He had also said, and Kirk had not forgotten, that he didn’t trust Sybok. “Keep him away from my patients.”
And then there was the matter of the guard on the Endeavour, who had said “Captain French’s standing orders, sir. No one is to be allowed inside the brig.”
And last, but by very means not least, there was Kirk himself. Kirk, who didn’t have the slightest confidence that Sybok knew what he was talking about; Kirk, who was utterly unqualified to consider the medical ramifications of the virus; Kirk, who had sent his First Officer off on a mission with a multitronic unit because he didn’t think Spock could be trusted to handle family allegiances in a critical mission.
But against all that there was a pair of blue eyes and a game of hoops.
Daystrom’s face was angry, stubbornly closed off.
“I will not switch off M3 on the basis of his views of the recommendations of a disgraced Starfleet officer.”
“There is also the matter of intercepted communications and sabotaged systems,” Spock said. “Not only have the information banks of the computer been sabotaged, all handheld phasers on board the ship have been disabled. This will jeopardise any attempt to restrain M3 by force and suggests a high probability that the unit is responsible.”
“You have no evidence that this is the case, or that M3 intercepted anything at all.”
“It was an admission implicit in the mind-meld I undertook with it.”
Daystrom’s face lit up. He ignored entirely the first half of Spock’s statement and said,
“It’s extraordinary, really amazing that M3 was able to undergo a Vulcan mind-meld. It’s really far beyond my hopes, far beyond what could have been expected. Do you realise what this means? M3 is truly a sentient being, it has a consciousness. My unit is alive!”
“That,” Spock said, cautiously, “is not entirely substantiated. I am curious and somewhat concerned that M3 is developing in a manner beyond that which you hoped and expected. A successful experiment would indicate, would it not, a pattern of functionality in complete accord with predicted outcomes?”
Daystrom said, stubbornly,
“M3 is functioning perfectly. Perfectly! I will not turn it off, not without an order from Starfleet Command.”
“Dr Daystrom, you know as well as I do that we are currently unable to communicate with Starfleet Command, due to interference from your unit.”
“My unit,” Daystrom said, continuing what Spock regarded as a unique human predilection for selective hearing and response, “is functioning perfectly in supervising the current course to Deneva.”
“At this precise moment, that may be in strict terms the truth. However,” Spock added, “M3 is, in fact, being selective about complying with orders.” As he said this, he suddenly realised the connection with M3’s creator and wondered whether Daystrom was sufficiently self-aware to hear the echo. Daystrom’s face was still closed off, however, and so Spock continued,
“M3 is undoubtedly allowing this ship to proceed to Deneva for reasons distinct from any orders it has received and I have no knowledge as to its likely intentions when we arrive.”
When Kirk had been at the Academy, there had been a mandatory course on command stress. “All Starfleet cadets,” the tutor had said, looking benignly over the ranks of assembled shiny brand new hopefuls, “know this course is not actually for them. It’s designed for the guy sitting next to you.” Everyone had turned automatically to look at the person sitting next to them and there had been a general ripple of laughter, with the slightest edgy undertone. A good number of the students had laughed more loudly about some of the classes afterwards, usually sitting around the Academy bar with a couple of drinks to take away the taste of the case studies. Kirk had never been quite sure what the laughter covered up and he’d never forgotten the very last class. It had been given by a man of perhaps forty with a youthful manner and gentle grey eyes, who had talked them through a case study of the commander of a two year mission, out on the Romulan border, days away from contact with HQ. Three of the senior command crew had been killed in a freak accident and although there had been promising juniors to promote to fill the bridge complement, the captain had had to support them and develop them and he’d never learned to trust them enough to relax with them; he’d got more and more used to acting on his own and not letting down his personal shields and in the end he’d lost it. “It’s a kind of God complex,” the lecturer had said, in casual, normal tones. “You get used to thinking no one can help you, it’s one short step to thinking the rules don’t apply to you and it’s up to you to save the universe your way. And then you’re no longer a starship captain and they’ll take you out of the centre seat and put you on meds for a year. I know, class,” he finished, pleasantly, turning to leave the lectern, “that man on the Romulan border with the dead senior officers was me.”
Kirk was sufficiently self-aware to know that if there were a madness to which he was vulnerable, it was this one. He didn’t think he ran much risk of stress from difficult decisions (another case study) or from crowding (a commander of one of the largest galaxy class vessels who started seeing members of his crew in his quarters, when there was no one there) but he was familiar with the point of view that said James T Kirk didn’t think the rules applied to him.
And here he was, preparing to kidnap his own nephew and breach Federation security – not only that, but to go to a man whom Kirk himself had imprisoned in the first place, against the objections of his own First Officer. Perhaps he had already lost it. Perhaps he was so far into meltdown that he simply couldn’t tell that he was being irrational.
Aurelan had wept herself into a stupor and in the end Sam had pointed out gently that Peter would need her the next day, given her a mild sedative, promised to wake her if Peter’s condition worsened, put her to bed in the other room and sat himself, stony-faced, eyes unmoving on his son’s face, the only sound in the room the shallow, almost inaudible child-breaths. It had been easy enough to suggest that Kirk took a watch. Sam had been drained before the advent of the virus to his planet, let alone to his home and, for all his focus on his son, this final disaster, the realisation of their worst fears, had somehow released the body’s vigilance, had reminded Kirk’s brother that he was, after all, human and that it had been too long since he slept. Kirk had pointed out that if shooting hoops with his uncle had been more important to Peter than human biology class, then watching over Peter was somehow part of the same dynamic and he made the same promise to Sam as Sam had made to Aurelan, that he would wake him if there were any change. And Sam had given him a measuring look, half resentful half grateful, and then had gone after his wife as though he had no choice, and Kirk had settled down to wait until he was sure both adults were asleep. He decided to give them an hour.
In the darkness, listening to the faint sound of Peter breathing, Kirk wondered how it had been for Spock. Had he simply seen that the only way out for Pike was Talos IV, had he realised that arguing with the authorities would be a waste of everyone’s time? Kirk strongly suspected that Pike and Spock had never shot hoops together, but when you’d served with someone more than eleven years (eleven years, four months, five days), there would be an equivalent, wouldn’t there? Perhaps it was the way Pike complied the captain’s log, perhaps it was just that he’d been the one who mentored Spock as a young officer, helped him to grow to what he was today. Perhaps it was the way he drank his coffee in the officer’s mess. Perhaps Spock had fabricated that message from Starbase Eleven because he’d known what Chris Pike had become and he’d known what was waiting for him on Talos IV and he could see all the reasons why not but on the other hand, there was the memory of a cup of coffee and he had no choice.
Was that so different from a game of hoops?
He lied to me, Kirk thought, but it was with less force than he had once spat out the words to McCoy. And he was lying to his own brother, wasn’t he? Sam, who had asked him to keep Sybok away from his patients and who was a research biologist, for God’s sake, and who would never have given his consent to yielding his son to the mercies of alternative new-age hypnotherapy, to this crazy night-time act of desperation. Of course, he was trying to save Sam’s son, it was for his own good. But that didn’t help. Not when he could hear Spock’s voice as clearly as if he stood in front of Peter’s bed in the little room, in the face of the threat from Mendez to his friend’s career, Captain Kirk knew nothing of this.
Kirk drew a very deep breath, and then he checked the chronometer and got to his feet. There was silence around him. It was time to go.
The apartment was small and Sam and Aurelan would know every sound, would be functioning with heightened anxiety even in sleep. But Kirk was a starship captain and had broken out of Klingon gaols with death attending every footstep, and even with the boy’s light weight in his arms, he reached the door soundlessly. Once outside, he steadied Peter gently across his shoulder and made his way at a steady run towards a small office he had been using as a base since the Enterprise left orbit. He couldn’t very well live with Sam and Aurelan, there was no room, and it had been necessary, once the first confirmed cases were reported, to minimise interaction with the Endeavour in order to limit the exposure of the crew to contagion. Kirk knew that he couldn’t take Peter to the ship; even if he’d been prepared to infect the crew, he would never have made if off the transporter room platform with a sick child in his arms.
Inside the office, he laid his nephew down gently on a sofa and tucked the blanket around him. He listened for a moment, but the breathing sounded neither stronger nor weaker. Peter hadn’t even opened his eyes. He was deadly pale. Kirk stood irresolute for a beat, and then gently tousled the blond hair and took out his communicator.
“Kirk to Endeavour. One to beam up.”
Here, too, there were lessons. It was funny how easy it was to deceive when you were trusted absolutely, without question, and he wondered if it had been like this for Spock, an odd mixture of the relief at the removal of barriers (because, after all, he was James T Kirk) and shame that he was trading on hard earned blind faith. On Starbase Eleven, he had said to McCoy, Spock stated he received a message for us to come here. That’s all the proof I require – not in Spock’s hearing, of course, but Spock would have been able to predict the exchange and Kirk’s reaction with precision. Had he, Spock, felt the same slightly sick shame, or did Vulcans not feel shame? Seemed a fair assumption that if Vulcans can break rules for a memory of a cup of coffee, they can feel shame. In any case, Spock had said When I feel friendship for you, I’m ashamed and he, Kirk, had unforgivably thrown those words back at him, having already said to him You get to bend the rules for personal loyalty, is that right, Spock? And I don’t? Although, it seemed, he had been wrong about that, as well.
Kirk walked quickly through the deck towards the brig, and Spock walked beside him all the way. Just before he reached the entrance to the secured area, he said to his First, It’s not the same, though. You broke the chain of command and you stole my ship.
As Spock wasn’t there, he didn’t reply, and Kirk went through to the brig.
He didn’t know the ensign on duty, who clearly knew him and who turned to salute smartly and who most certainly did not deserve the sharp blow as he turned back, which Kirk devoutly hoped would put him out for as long as he needed but no longer. He hoped that disillusionment with James T Kirk would be the only lasting damage. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, laying the boy out gently, “I just don’t have time to do this any other way.” He resolutely put out of mind the reports of Spock’s assault on Starbase Eleven personnel, and turned to meet Sybok’s gaze.
In that moment, even knowing that Sybok was the only hope left to the quiet little figure wrapped in a blanket in Kirk’s office, Kirk still found nothing but a vast irritation as he saw the white-robed figure register his actions. It would have been asking too much, he realised, for any sort of reaction to the unscheduled appearance of the very person who had put you in the brig, to that person knocking out the security guard and leaning in to disengage the forcefield. If you were in touch with your inner pain, there would be no reason to question the way in which the Universe chose to unfold, even if that manifested itself in a starship captain giving every appearance of totally losing the plot. What was it that the Academy lecturer had said? They’ll take you out of the centre seat and put you on meds for a year. Right. And all Sybok said, mildly, was
“My brother’s boy is sick. Can you help him?”
And Sybok said
“Yes, I think so.”
Kirk nodded, neither believing nor disbelieving. Completing an exchange which bore a significant contrast to his last conversation with Sybok in its brevity and lack of extraneous references to inner spiritual knowledge, he said,
“Follow me”, and reversed his journey to the transporter room, this time followed by Sybok and not by the shadowy memory of Sybok’s half brother. He expected to be stopped at any minute, and was not, but it was an uncomfortable feeling, none the less, to walk along the deck of a Federation starship, an environment so natural for Kirk it felt organic, like an outer skin – and to feel surreptitious, to feel guilty, to feel the hairs on the back of his neck. There are no grey areas, he discovered, in the military world. You were simply on one side or the other, and if you broke the rules, you were outside in the cold, whether or not anyone else actually yet knew. It was an inner awareness, a kind of self-knowledge, if not Sybok’s kind. And again he thought about Spock. Because hard as it was for him to place himself outside the circle, how much harder for Spock, who could quote regulations the way ministers of religion quote scripture, whose integrity was his essence and his creed? For desert-born Spock to have willingly placed himself outside in the cold, he must have been driven very hard by Talos IV, by the memory of that cup of coffee. He must have known, Kirk realised suddenly, that it was in moral terms absolutely the right thing to do, because the only thing which could have trumped law, for Spock, was morality.
He must have known something else, Spock’s captain thought, reaching the transporter room. He must have known exactly what it would be like to walk outside the law, as Kirk had just done, and he must have known how much Kirk would have loathed it. And he would have fought to find a way to protect his captain from that walk down the deck of the Endeavour.
He traded glances with Sybok, knowing the Vulcan understood what needed to happen next, and stepped out in front of the duty ensign in the transporter room, and the duty ensign saluted and made not the slightly protest as he folded under the Vulcan nerve pinch, administered from behind with silent expertise by Sybok. Kirk lowered him gently to the floor (twice in ten minutes) and banished the memory of a thousand similar stunts pulled by him and Spock. It was more than odd and less than right to be working with Sybok when he had sent Spock off with an android because he hadn’t trusted him around his brother.
He set the transporter coordinates to the deserted office where he had left a stolen child in a blanket on the sofa and stepped on to the platform with Sybok.
Spock sat in Kirk’s centre seat on the bridge of the Enterprise and watched the stars move past in the main viewer as Kirk’s ship moved swiftly through them towards Kirk.
Kirk had said, I’m leaving you the conn, and you can mind the store. Of course, leaving Spock with the conn had not been entirely a free choice of Kirk’s. It had been the hard place, and the rock had been keeping him within touching distance of Sybok. Nevertheless, Spock didn’t think that You can mind the store covered the situation when Kirk had closed the Deneva orbit and Spock was taking Kirk’s ship there on a direct course at warp 8.
By his calculation, McCoy was due to be coming on shift. He had estimated that it would take McCoy thirteen point five minutes to wake up, register the significance of the change in course and appear on the bridge and his estimation had erred by less than ten seconds.
“Why are we headed to Deneva?” the doctor said sharply, almost before the turbolift doors had closed behind him.
“There’s a state of emergency, doctor. We can’t just leave them there,” and Spock, who might in other circumstances have felt a degree of sympathy with Manoriss, lifted an eyebrow and said,
“It is correct that there is a state of emergency on Deneva. However, that is not the reason that the ship is on its current course. The ship no longer responds to my orders.”
“You said that awfully calmly, Spock,” McCoy threw at him. And then, “Oh no… Oh, let me guess. That over-developed toaster has taken over. So, what are you doing about it? Are you just going to sit there?”
“I am sitting here because I have the conn,” Spock said, evenly. “M3 is in Engineering where Mr Scott is endeavouring to ascertain how to bypass the coding which the unit has encrypted in the warp engines.”
He and Scott had spent hours working over the machines, until they had realised it was a waste of their time, and while every exploration of every cable brought them a parsec nearer to Deneva and the virus. They had considered the transporter, but as Scotty had pointed out, identifying M3’s pattern on the Enterprise was like trying to transport a bucket of salt water out of the sea. And in any case, where would they move it and how would that help? It was impossible physically to overcome M3 and, indeed, considering its total control of the ship’s engines, they could not risk destroying it. After that, Spock had asked Scott to work with M3 whilst he himself spoke to Daystrom. A logical, rational discussion with Daystrom appeared to be unattainable, but the inventor was slightly more inclined towards deference to Spock, Acting Captain and Vulcan A-7 classified computer expert, than to anyone else on board. Even so, he was of no real use. At first, he remained in total denial that M3 was malfunctioning; then, as the situation became undeniable, he appeared actually to take pride in M3’s transformation beyond the predictable and then, lastly, after closeting himself with the unit in the main briefing room, he emerged to claim defeat. In Spock’s view, those who claimed defeat were usually not entirely displeased by the turn of events. The truly defeated tended not to give up in quite so ostentatious a manner.
Spock had asked Scott to work with M3 because it was increasingly clear than his own relationship with the unit had been compromised. On the one hand, M3 obeyed the vast majority of Spock’s orders with alacrity. On the other hand, it would simply decline to carry out those instructions which, on a somewhat random basis, it believed not to serve Spock’s best interests. Spock had fully understood neither the nature of the transformation of the unit’s behaviour from computation to caprice nor his own reactions to what had transpired, and he had come to the bridge, after his latest conversation with Daystrom, to seek a clearer perspective on the situation.
He had said to M3, after the mind-meld and the discovery that the ship’s course had been altered against his orders,
“I order you to set a new course to Starbase 16. I forbid you to take this ship to Deneva.”
And M3 had said,
“I cannot comply.”
Spock had said,
“You are engineered to serve; you are the M3 multitronic unit; you are acting First Officer of the Enterprise and I am your commanding officer. You will obey my orders and you will give me an explanation.”
And M3 had said,
“I cannot comply.” And Spock had put up Vulcan shields against a wholly unbidden, unsought and unwelcome response and then he had come to the bridge after the conversation with Daystrom and found that his reaction to M3 had gone nowhere, had simply been waiting, patiently, for the first available opportunity to present itself for inspection.
He had said I order you and M3 had said I cannot comply and Spock had been visited by an unfamiliarity. Something about the stars in the main viewer had made him take it out, there on the bridge, sitting in Kirk’s seat, and he had looked at the unfamiliarity and tried to understand it.
Spock was wont to insert the word Earth or the word human in front of the word emotion. On Delta Vega, he had said to Kirk, I don’t feel. Vulcans do not lie but on occasion, for reasons of expedience, they have been known to permit themselves a linguistic approximation in translating into Standard from Vulcan, and a more accurate rendition of Spock’s meaning could have been I choose not to feel. When Mitchell and Dehner were dead, he had confessed it, had said to Kirk I felt for him. If Spock had been locked up with only himself for company for long enough, and he had finished memorising the collected works of Shakespeare, Surak and Homer and had calculated the value of pi to five thousand decimal points and had an afternoon to spare, he might have admitted (to himself) that he had originally told Kirk he did not feel for Mitchell because Kirk needed the clean, clear strength of Spock’s logic to save the Enterprise and he had eventually told Kirk he did feel because Kirk had needed reassurance that his Vulcan First Officer was human.
And, of course, there was a sense in which you could lay side by side Spock’s claim to have no emotions with McCoy’s views on transporters and even the more unorthodox of Kirk’s views on Starfleet Regulations. There was what you said and there was what you meant and while it was illogical that the two should not be identical, Spock had learned that optimal human functionality required the smallest nuanced gap between the two, and as he had agreed to accept service with human beings, it was important that he complied with native customs.
Emotions to which Spock would admit in the solitary quiet of his quarters: the profound satisfaction resulting from the production, under stress, of the correct intermix formula which allowed the ship a full power start off Psi 2000 and saved the crew – and the blinding flood of grief which had preceded it, when he had been forced to contemplate the times he had turned away from love. An extraordinary mixture of shame and compassion as he had given Kirk a rifle in the control room at Delta Vega. The briefest sensation of betrayal at the word half breed uttered by an android in orbit around Exo 3. A beat of unspeakable intensity off Alpha 177, when Kirk had finally risked the re-configured transporter, and had said Spock, if this doesn’t work and Spock had simply said Understood.
And there were others, which he preferred not to think about and had long buried under the years he had put between himself and the harsh sands of his childhood. Loneliness. Resentment. And, eventually, rebellion. (Although rebellion, he knew, was not an emotion. It was, instead, the sum product of the emotions you did not feel – because they were prohibited – about your father and his expectations for two point one three decades until you told him you were enlisting in Starfleet and learned about the emotions which resulted from no longer being your father’s son.)
And, there on the bridge, the unfamiliarity looked back at Spock and it was absolutely none of these things.
That did not mean that Spock was unable to recognise it.
It was crippling, enervating, helpless, emasculating anger. He had never felt it before in his life.
The truth was that the person who was no longer Sarek’s son had learned to be a Starfleet officer, and the Starfleet officer who had served Chris Pike (eleven years, four months, five days) and then James Kirk had come to believe in the chain of command. Spock might not want to command permanently himself, but no junior officer on the Enterprise would have mistaken his essential compassion and tolerance for weakness. Other than the captain himself, there was no other senior officer the crew would not sooner cross than Spock. And he was charged, now, with Kirk’s ship. That meant this entire metallic being, the lives of four hundred and thirty crew and the flagship of the Fleet were his responsibility.
And M3 had said, “I cannot comply.”
You went to Starfleet Academy as a young Vulcan, trying to mask your utter confusion at the behaviour of human beings around you, and you learned all about the chain of command. You learned that the crew obeyed an ensign, that an ensign obeyed a lieutenant, that a lieutenant obeyed a commander and this thing - this chain, this rope, this ideal, this faith, this living blood vessel - connected every enlisted man all the way to the captain. And you learned it along with your classmates because you were there to study human customs as well as to seek your passage to the stars, but you wondered at the time it took to teach humans what was only logical and necessary. But actually, it turned out that you had to meet a multitronic unit to understand what that learning meant. It was the difference between knowing a theory and actually instilling it somewhere deep inside you, accepting it as part of breathing, part of walking, part of wearing the uniform, to the point that it would be as unnatural to disobey an order or to have an order disobeyed as it would to open the main hatch in deep space and take a deep breath.
And this, it turned out, was why. Because you had to sit on the centre seat and know that you would be obeyed. Not hope, not expect, not believe, not think – know. Know with every fibre in your being because otherwise the limits of what you commanded would be your own green-blooded blue-clad flesh and blood. The whole construct would fall apart. Your personal allegiance might be to calculus, to quantum physics, to the power of logic, but if you lost faith in the religion of command, then there really wasn’t a prayer for the silver flagship, let alone the four hundred and thirty lives. At the end of the day, whether you were captain, acting captain or commander, the fact that you would be obeyed was all you had. And hence this illogical anger, this coruscating helplessness.
And this, he realised, in a moment of utter clarity, was what he had visited on Kirk at Starbase Eleven.
Kirk pushed open the door to the office and Sybok followed him into the darkened room. Peter lay where he had left him, with no apparent change, and Kirk realised that in fact he had put the boy on the sofa less than thirty minutes earlier. It seemed like hours.
Sam and Aurelan would be waking. He turned to Sybok, uncertain of what to say, but Sybok had already moved past him and now he was sitting himself down next to the unconscious boy and moving his hands towards Peter’s head.
Kirk stilled himself, watching, heart in mouth. This was his brother’s son, flesh of his flesh, and he had stolen him from his parents’ care and handed him over to the one person of whom Sam had said “Keep him away from my patients.” Green, alien finger tips were reaching along freckled cheeks to touch Sam’s son’s unique self. But on the other hand, mind-melds to Kirk meant Spock, and Sybok was Spock’s brother. Sybok would never be Kirk’s companion of choice in a two man shuttle in a long distance journey, but he could not conceive of a universe in which someone of Spock’s blood could deliberately set out to hurt someone of his.
Why was that thought suddenly so clear and why had it not been before?
Sybok’s fingers were moving around Peter’s forehead, now, each circling separately, as though seeking something, never losing contact with the pale skin. The Vulcan’s expression was taut, intense, inward looking, his eyes closed. Kirk found himself almost unable to breath, his whole world narrowed down to this scene, this child, those fingers. And it came to him, then, what would be the price of failure. Because it would be everything. A boy’s life, a game of hoops, a pair of blue eyes. But also everything else. Sam, Aurelan, Spock, his oath, his ship. It might just be the heaviest bet he’d ever laid, and Jim Kirk had laid a few.
Something strange had happened to his sense of time, and just as it had seemed to have taken hours to walk down the decks of the Endeavour and break into the ship’s brig, he had watched the man and the boy on the sofa for days. And then Sybok spoke, and for a minute, Kirk could not understand what he was saying, in no small part because as soon as the Vulcan mouth opened, every one of Kirk’s senses went into overdrive, waiting to hear the sounds which would mean success or failure. Life or death.
“I’m sorry?” he said. And Sybok repeated,
“His name. The boy’s name.”
“His name is Peter.”
At the same time, Sybok’s fingers, which had been so intent on Peter’s face, like a blind man reading braille, twitched slightly, and one hand actually lost contact with the child and rubbed the back of the other. Then he reached again for the boy and said, clearly and deeply,
“Peter. Wake up. Peter.”
For minute, nothing happened. And then blue eyes opened and Kirk’s heart kicked and a voice said, pale and querying and fretful but unmistakably alert small boy,
“Uncle Jim. Where’s Mom? My hands really hurt.”
“Hey,” he said, squatting by the sofa and swallowing hard, “I’ll take you to Mom. Want a ride?”
“They’re really bad. My hands are really bad,” his nephew said, fingers twisting and scratching. Kirk caught them and held hard.
“Don’t scratch, son, you’ll make them worse. Let’s take you home, huh?”
“They really hurt.”
“You know what? I bet your dad can fix them. Let’s go find out,” he said, swinging Peter into his arms. He straightened, and met Sybok’s eyes. He had no idea what the Vulcan had done; no idea whether Peter was still in danger; no idea even whether the boy was better or worse than he had been. Only that he was awake and had opened his eyes and said Uncle Jim and that his hands hurt.
“Thank you,” he said, straight into the hooded face. And Sybok nodded, and turned to follow him. In retrospect, suddenly the drama of the night seemed like the easy bit. There would be nothing straightforward about what was to come. Kirk sighed, adjusted Peter’s weight, and headed off into the night towards Sam and Aurelan.
“Mr Sulu, ETA at Deneva.”
“Five hours and ten minutes, sir,” Sulu said.
McCoy whirled around angrily.
“Can’t believe you’re not going to stop this, Spock. That planet is a death trap and you’re letting that contraption take us all straight there. Jim would never just sit there and do nothing. He may be in danger himself but you know as well as I do that the only thing which matters to him is the safety of this crew and this ship and he trusted you with them.”
“Doctor, I have analysed the range of remedial and anticipatory options and all possible methods of de-activating M3 have now been attempted. There is no other immediately apparent course of action which would not imperil the crew of this ship.”
“Taking the crew to Deneva will do more than imperil them,” McCoy said, angrily.
“I do not believe,” Spock said, quietly, “that this crew is at risk from the virus.”
“Don’t you? How can you possibly know that?”
Spock was silent. He could not lay claim to actual knowledge that the crew was safe. If he were Kirk, it would be his intuition telling him so. As Kirk was on Deneva and as he was Vulcan, it was not a matter of intuition but of logic. M3 appeared to be motivated entirely by what it perceived to be Spock’s welfare. Although its understanding of command team dynamics left something to be desired, which meant that a significant proportion of such perceptions were ill-founded and therefore unpredictable, Spock suspected that M3 would readily compute that its duty would be to protect Spock and the rest of the crew from infection from a deadly virus. Logically, therefore, the ship’s destination and positioning would be such as to minimise exposure. Spock’s own attitude to the ship’s ETA at Deneva arose from a combination of that assumption and of the fact that it was now six point two days since cases of the virus had first been confirmed on Deneva and he had no way of knowing whether Kirk was safe. He could not take Kirk’s ship to Deneva without breaching Kirk’s orders (more of Kirk’s orders, a voice, unbidden, said silently, in his head); he was not entirely displeased to have no choice.
What Spock found increasingly difficult was the assertion, whether implicit or explicit, concomitant with every exchange with M3, that the objective of M3’s intentions (as to the details of which Spock remained entirely uninformed) was to protect Spock. Just before they had encountered the Valiant, Spock had put Kirk in check and had loftily referred to irritation as a human emotion but had then, watching Kirk’s bishop come out of nowhere, had come perilously close to admitting to Kirk that he was capable of feeling it. Spock was not, of course, irritated by M3, as he was fully aware that M3 was a malfunctioning man-made unit and not a sentient being intent on professing superior knowledge and responsibilities. It would therefore be an entirely illogical and fruitless expenditure of time and energy to protest, to argue that he, Spock, had no need of protection; that if he did, he was fully able to protect himself; and that holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander, having an A-7 computer expert classification, being twice decorated with awards of valour and being listed in the Vulcan Scientific Legion of Honour – that these would all, combined, tend to suggest that he could probably be entrusted with the knowledge of M3’s strategy for the immediate future as it applied to both Spock and to the rest of the crew under his command. It would have been even more irrational to have informed M3 that there were aspects of its functionality which reminded Spock of members of his family.
Despite the Vulcan terrain of Spock’s childhood being filled with rocks and hard places, Sybok had been neither. In fact, Spock’s more pleasant recollections of both rocks and hard places all involved Sybok – treks over immense, thirsty landscapes with his brother, climbing expeditions among the craggy cliffs behind Sarek’s home, even the rites of passage of Spock’s early schooling, which had required occasional night-time vigils in the huge silence of the desert, had somehow been easier to undertake when Sybok was home to take the edge off Spock’s isolation, even when not actually in sight of his brother. Sybok’s presence in Sarek’s house had never quite felt permanent; occasional absences had gradually lengthened and then, of course, eventually become permanent, in that last, so difficult leave-taking.
Spock was not given to purposeless introspection, particularly not with regard to his own familial relationships. However, the truth was that the total ease of his relationship with Sybok had altered before his brother left Vulcan forever. He could not have identified when the change started, but he knew the exact point at which he had become aware of it. It had, in fact, been after the completion of one of those early vigils, which had been a required part of training in meditation techniques, which Sarek had arranged for Spock to study closely from the age of four, believing that expertise in mediation would be a key factor for his son in learning to compensate for his human heritage. Students who had reached the intermediate stage were expected to spend a total of seventeen nights over the course of a six month period alone in the desert, where the opening of the mind in the total black empty silence of the Vulcan night taught important skills in the discipline of true listening, both inner and outer. Spock had returned from one such experience, aged eleven, to relate how he had been interrupted by the rare appearance of a desert wolf, who had nosed around from afar and then unexpectedly disappeared, only to have Sybok say, nonchalantly, “I stunned it.” Spock had acknowledge his brother’s act with courtesy as he knew he must, under Sarek’s watchful eye, and knew it to be illogical to have thought that he could have taken care of the wolf, that it was axiomatic that all Vulcan boys his age were expected to be able to survive alone at night in the desert, that he had not asked Sybok to watch over him, that when Sybok was his age there had been no one else watching out for wolves, that he would never again quite be able to lose himself in the vastness of the Vulcan night without the distraction of a lurking suspicion that he was being watched. He had said nothing, and a few minutes later, found Sybok packing a bag. Forgetting the question of a stunned desert wolf in the immediate realisation that Sybok was embarking on his now frequent travels away from the house, he asked to know where Sybok was going, and was told,
“You don’t need to know, Spock. It’s better that way. I will see you when I’m back in eight weeks.”
Was it his human blood which had stopped Sarek and Sybok treating him on a par, or was it simply that he was younger? Looking back, Spock wondered if Sarek had thought him too human to be trusted and Sybok had thought him too Vulcan.
M3 had never been there in the desert to protect Spock from wolves and it was not Sybok who had taken over the Enterprise for Spock’s own good. It was therefore illogical to speculate as to why M3 thought Spock did not need to know why they were going to Deneva, and irrational to reflect that being kept in ignorance, whether it was for his own sake or not - whether he was too human, too Vulcan or simply too sentient - was a corrosively effective form of subjugation.
As he crossed the walkway heading towards Sam’s quarters, Kirk offered a quick prayer to the personal deity who, the last time he had been on the Enterprise, had been uninterested in how much sleep he had himself, that on this occasion his brother would still be asleep. He knew it would only be a temporary reprieve and that the events of the night could not remain a secret, but he thought that restoring Peter to his bed and getting rid of Sybok somewhere – anywhere – would allow him to undertake an explanation at a time and at a pace of his choosing. As on that earlier occasion, he was doomed to be disappointed.
The front room was full of sharp words and angry tears and even as Kirk nudged open the door with his shoulder, he heard “your brother” and “trusted” and “military police.” And then the door swung open and two heads turned sharply towards him and there was complete silence.
He was aware of Aurelan running towards him, running at him, and snatching Peter away from him; aware of Sybok utterly silent behind him; aware, more than anything, of Sam’s eyes, fixed on him with a peculiar expression.
Once, when Kirk had been seven, his family had taken a vacation by the sea. He and Sam had got up very early one morning, stole quietly out of the apartment where they were staying, picked up a bag carefully packed the night before with some chocolate and apples, and had gone for a walk on the beach. It was a stand-out childhood memory, for Kirk – the deserted early sand, Sam’s blue shirt, the sun on the water, the salt in his hair – despite what came next.
What came next was that Kirk had tripped over Sam and gone sprawling in the surf, ruining most of the chocolate, and in the resultant scramble and accusations, he had swiftly identified and eaten the one remaining unsalty chocolate bar. Sam had let out a roar and chased him up the beach and Kirk had taken off, climbed rapidly up the nearest cliff and gone to explore the rocks all morning on his own, pausing, when hungry, to eat the apples, onto which he had thoughtfully held during his flight from his brother. Sometime during the middle of the day, he had fallen asleep in the sun and had eventually woken and taken himself home in the early evening, to meet exactly the same look in his brother’s eyes as he now saw in the little front room of his quarters on Deneva. He had not seen it since in any other face and recognised it immediately after a gap of thirty years - a particular combination of a betrayed fury and a towering relief which failed to hide the even greater fear which had stood behind it. And his own reaction, a combination of triumph and shame.
He didn’t see it coming, but he felt it, a quick blow to his cheek, and then he had caught Sam by both lower arms, imprisoning them as Sam struggled, breathing heavily, his face darkened.
“Sam –,” he said, softly and was cut off.
“I trusted you.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I let you down, I truly am, but I think – I think Peter is going to be OK.”
“How the hell do you know? Did you go to medical school while I wasn’t looking? You’ve been spending too long on your starship, Jim, you’re too damn used to being in charge and not being questioned. You took my son and you gave him to a con artist, a common fake. I told you to keep him away. And you lied to me – you didn’t even have the decency you ask my permission – about my own son!”
“Just get out, Jim. You’ve done enough damage,” Sam’s voice dropped, suddenly, lost some of its vehemence, and he turned away to Aurelan, who was holding Peter and stroking his hair, careless of tears cascading freely down her face.
“Someone needs to look at his hands,” Kirk began, and Sam rounded on him again.
“Not you, and not that fraud in a shroud. I’m the only one around here who’s actually qualified to discuss his treatment. Just go, Jim. I can’t talk to you now.”
Kirk hesitated, then tried once more,
“I was trying to help. I thought there was a chance -”
“You lied to me.”
And Kirk’s communicator sounded. Sam turned away angrily and Kirk hesitated and then flipped it open and said,
“Kirk, this is French. I am requesting that you return to the Endeavour immediately.” Eli sounded, if possible, even less friendly than Sam.
He looked at his brother’s back and at the rest of his family and let out a slow breath, before saying briefly, “Ready to beam up, Captain.” No one suggested he take Sybok with him, and the Vulcan’s deepset eyes were the last thing he saw as the light shimmered around him.
“Sir,” Uhura said, a look of puzzlement on her face, expression tuned inward as she listened to sub-space frequencies, “Sir, the Endeavour is receiving orders to leave orbit in order to rendezvous with us.”
Spock raised an eyebrow.
“Indeed? That is somewhat inconsistent with Starfleet closing the Deneva orbit. To my knowledge, the Endeavour is the only ship in the sector capable of enforcing the quarantine.” It suggested that Starfleet had worked out that something was amiss on the Enterprise. If so, it was a positive turn of events.
“Sir, these orders do not come from Starfleet.”
“Elucidate,” he said.
“Sir, the orders have been sent to the Endeavour on a carrier beam which has been encoded to disguise the point of origin, but they appear to have been sent from this ship. From the Enterprise.”
Spock looked up sharply and McCoy, standing at the back of the bridge with Manoriss, let out an oath.
“Does that mean the toaster is sending orders to Eli French? Why? Still no immediate course of action available to you, Captain?”
Spock said nothing, for the simple reason that he was fully occupied in experiencing what he privately admitted to himself was intuition. Put one way, intuition (which Vulcans did not practice) was the analysis of the sum of the range of relevant factors in any one situation. The difference, he suspected, between intuition and logical deduction was that intuition functioned in the absence of a complete set of data. Moreover, as he now understood, despite that absence, intuition resulted in a disproportionately firm conviction that the conclusion reached was the correct one.
He hoped that he might have the opportunity, some time, to discuss the experience with Kirk and to compare the relevant human and Vulcan approaches, if only because in order for such a discussion to take place, Kirk would have had to survive the virus and Spock would have had to find an opportunity to explain to him his new understanding of Starbase Eleven and Kirk would have accepted this and M3 would have been de-activated and removed and things would have returned to the way they had been for the command team of the Enterprise.
Spock lined up the facts in his mind, like the computer-simulated starships which had been the staple instruments of the Academy class in battle strategy. Spock had not wanted to take the course but it had been mandatory for command stream cadets.
Fact one: M3 had concealed from Spock the true situation at Deneva; had even intercepted and altered communications from Kirk in order to prevent the Enterprise learning about the spread of the epidemic.
Fact two: after the mind-meld with Spock, on assimilating Spock’s memories of Talos IV, M3 had taken the Enterprise on a course setting to Deneva in breach of orders.
Fact three: M3 had now ordered the Endeavour to intercept the Enterprise.
This was the difference between deduction and intuition. Deduction told Spock quite clearly that it had been simplistic to assume that because the navigation instruments of the Enterprise had been set for Deneva meant that the planet was the intended destination of the M3. The intended destination of M3 could logically now be deduced to be a rendezvous with the Endeavour. Logic, however, would go no further than that.
Intuition took account of the mind-meld in Spock’s quarters, the cold memory of an invasive metallic presence in his mind, the inherent wrongness of a mind-meld where the only sentient consciousness was his. (Like a night time solitary vigil in the desert, he thought, randomly, when in fact you were not alone at all. Except that there was no similarity, really.)
What had M3 said? “I must protect my commanding officer. Captain French has damaged former Commander Manoriss… You have been and continue to be at risk of damage from Captain Kirk.”
M3 was on a mission to protect Spock from Kirk, and M3 was on a course to rendezvous with the Endeavour, which was Eli French’s ship and was where Kirk was temporarily assigned.
Like a student learning a new language or idiom, Spock was uncertain of the exact parametres of intuition, but he suspected it meant that M3 had to be stopped by whatever means lay to hand.
Kirk materialised in the transporter room of the Endeavour and found himself looking into Eli French’s eyes. Reading in them, as he had expected, a complete, unedited and hostile history of Kirk’s actions on the last occasion he had been abroad French’s ship, he said, immediately,
“Eli, I apologise unreservedly. You have every right-“
“Save it, Kirk,” French said, brusquely. “Save it for Wesley, save it for the hearing and save it for the families of those two ensigns you knocked out.”
“I’d still like to explain to you-“
“Damn it, Jim, I said save it. How come you couldn’t take the trouble to talk to me when you should have, and now that it’s too late and I’ve asked you to do so through the proper channels, you’re falling over yourself to get it off your chest? I’m not interested in easing your conscience; it’s not my job. If you want a father confessor, your best bet is that crazy guy in a sheet you sprung from my brig behind my back.”
Kirk took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Am I under arrest?”
“Not yet,” French said shortly, with every appearance of regret, in a reply which Kirk failed to find entirely reassuring. “You haven’t heard the last of this, Kirk, by a very long shot, and don’t waste your time thinking I won’t take this all the way. Yes, that means a court-martial, and yes, that’ll be my second this year. I can’t believe – I just can’t believe you’ve done this to me. You sat there, and you made me tell you about Manoriss – and now this! Have you lost your mind?”
Of course. He hadn’t made the connection, but of course French would see it like that. The guilt grew, like a shadow on a summer’s evening, and he opened his mouth, but French cut across him, a new and very odd expression on his face. His features showed clearly a combination of two completely disparate considerations, exactly as if Kirk were annoying the other patients in a medical facility and the discipline that needed to be administered was being compromised by having simultaneously to inform Kirk that one of his limbs would have to be amputated.
“Like I said, I’ve not discussed it with HQ yet. There’s something else. We’ve been ordered to intercept the Enterprise.”
“We’ve been what?” It had taken Kirk less than half a nanosecond to morph from conscience stricken betrayal to a whiplash response, no less acute for being entirely wrong-footed, without any understanding whatsoever of French’s words.
“I’ve been specifically requested to take you with me, and of course I would in any event have asked you, but –“
“Why is anyone intercepting the Enterprise? She’s on the border with the Delta sector. What’s happened, Eli? What haven’t I been told? Have you spoken to Spock?”
French’s tone of voice was still conflicted, an undercurrent of anger clearly overlaid now by a robust sympathy, the sound of a message which its deliverer knows will hit hard but where respect for the recipient inhibits any sort of softening or camouflage.
“Kirk, no one can speak to Spock. Starfleet have not been able to contact the Enterprise.”
Kirk stared, his mind racing, thoughts in overdrive.
“I’ve had a daily report from the ship ever since the M3 mission began.”
“When was the last time you heard from him?”
“Interesting,” French said, diverted. “Starfleet will want to see the text. Are you sure it came from Spock?”
“Am I sure – Eli, what the hell is going on?”
French gestured with his chin and Kirk followed him out of the transporter room into a nearby briefing room.
“Sit down, Jim, and don’t think for a minute that you’re off the hook. You broke every rule in the book and a load which aren’t in the book and you owed me more than that – not just me, those boys you laid out, Carter and Fenwright. We’ll deal with the Enterprise and then I’ll hold you accountable, because you are accountable, right?”
Eli’s eyes gave no quarter, and Kirk gave him the respect of a nod and a beat of time before he said, doggedly,
“What is going on with my ship?”
“Starfleet is concerned about the M3 experiment.”
“The M3 – what do you mean, concerned? They let a machine loose on my ship and now they’re concerned? I was told Daystrom had tested it from here to the Neutral Zone, it was supposed to be a walk in the park for Spock – what do you mean, concerned?”
“HQ say that the reports being filed by Spock and Daystrom do not, for a range of reasons, appear to have been written by them. Originally, they were authentic, but there was a change in some of the tone and detail and contextual references at exactly the time the Enterprise made an unexpected and unauthorised change of course.”
“What change of course?”
“She’s on her way here at warp eight, Jim. She’s only a few hours away.”
“This is quarantined space,” Kirk said, sharply. “I told Spock to stay away. He knows the orbit is closed.”
“Exactly the point,” French said, levelly.
He had said to Spock that the Deneva orbit was closed and that Spock should stay away and Spock was headed here at warp eight. What did that mean?
He had let Spock take a multitronic unit out on his ship because he hadn’t trusted him around his brother. He hadn’t had a lot of choice, as it happened, but nevertheless, he realised in a rush of understanding, he had entirely forgotten, in the process of ordering Spock to take the M3 mission, that he and Spock always worked best together. That he would be dealing with Sybok and the virus better, now, if Spock were here, just as Spock and he, together, would have found a way of containing a malfunctioning robotic First Officer. Strange how quickly fractured trust allowed the most fundamental of assumptions to unravel. Although, of course, Kirk realised, in a moment of the utmost clarity, the trust between Spock and him had not been fractured at all. Bruised, at most. Why had he so easily adopted that phrase? It was Eli’s; not his. And Manoriss was Eli’s tragedy; not his and not Spock’s. He should have realised that a lot sooner, instead of asking Spock to speak to Manoriss.
And, of course, it had turned out that Kirk was rather less trustworthy round Sybok than Spock might have been.
If the Enterprise were headed to Deneva, it either meant that Spock were breaking his orders at warp eight or it meant that Spock was no longer in charge of the ship.
It came to Kirk with utter certainty that Spock would not have broken his orders, even with Kirk himself in danger, and that was not because Spock did not value the bond but because he did.
“These orders –“
“Apparently, HQ have been monitoring the last couple of days; it was previously only a matter of suspicion rather than certainty. They seem to have made up their minds, though, with this incursion into quarantined space – they sent a sub-space as soon as they crossed the line and got no reply. I’m to take the Endeavour to meet the Enterprise before she reaches orbit and I’m to stop her.”
“M3 doesn’t seem to be listening to Spock. What makes you think he’ll listen to us?”
“Jim – my orders are not confined to listening. I’m to use force, if necessary. I have 107 orders.”
Regulation 107, used only twice before in the history of Starfleet. Orders to fire on a sister ship. Kirk met French’s eyes and would have found, for the first time that night, a glimmer of fellow feeling, had he been looking. But Kirk’s own eyes were fixed a few hours’ away, at warp eight.
Regulation 107 orders. Just how many orders could Kirk break in 24 hours? How many should he?
“Your men,” he said, suddenly. “Carter, and – the other one. They’re OK, right?”
“Physically, they’re fine. Of course, they’re also the ones who allowed a top security prisoner to escape from the Endeavour brig for the first time since the ship was commissioned.”
“To escape – but Eli, it wasn’t their fault. They did nothing wrong. You said it yourself. I’m accountable.”
“You are. But it’s not that simple, is it, Jim? There are always consequences.”
French got to his feet, hesitated and then nodded at the door. Wordlessly, Kirk followed him. It was as the doors closed behind him that he stretched out a hand, impulsively, to the other captain. He was not at all sure if Eli was ready for it, but in the event, he wasn’t put to the test. Moving on down the corridor ahead of Kirk, he didn’t see the gesture and didn’t see it aborted as Kirk caught sight of the scales forming on the back of his own right hand, froze momentarily, and then pulled it back.
“Sir, the Endeavour is leaving orbit to intercept us.” Uhura’s face was tuned inwardly, listening to sub-space. Then her face altered, imperceptibly, and she looked up, eyes seeking Spock’s and holding them.
“Mr Spock - the Endeavour has received 107 orders.”
Sharp movements, exclamations and shocked expressions all the way round the bridge. Spock ignored all of them.
“Where do these orders originate, Lieutenant?”
“Sir – from the same carrier beam as before. They are coming from this ship.”
“Damnit, Spock, are you going to let that thing kill us all?” This from McCoy. “Find the switch and turn it off.”
Spock said, quietly,
“It is not this ship which is at risk, Doctor.”
“That wasn’t the way I heard it, Captain. I’m nothing like as good at regulations as you are, but I can hear an order to shoot from an awfully long way away. Jim left you this ship to look after. What are you going to do?”
“The Endeavour won’t stand a chance. That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it, Spock?” It was Manoriss, the Rigellian, his voice clear from the back of the bridge, his eyes fixed on Spock, who nodded slowly in complete understanding.
“Why the Endeavour?” McCoy asked, his tone less sharp, his expression uncertain. Then it cleared. “Now, wait just a damned minute…”
“M3 has given the Endeavour orders to fire on this ship,” Spock said, his eyes once more on the main viewer. “That will justify its own use of photon torpedoes in defence and, since Starfleet has in fact issued no 107 orders to the Endeavour, there will be no question as to responsibility. The Endeavour is no match for a firing sequence operated by a multitronic system, which will be able to react more quickly and more accurately than any human being, as well as being unhampered by feelings of compassion or concern.”
“I can’t believe that with all this going on, and we’re being taken to war against one of our own ships by an overgrown toaster, you’re sitting there trying to claim superiority of machines over human beings,” said McCoy, angrily.
“I am arguing nothing, Doctor,” Spock said. “I am merely stating a fact.”
“And where’s Jim?”
“I have no knowledge of where Captain Kirk is, but I strongly suspect that he is on board the Endeavour with Captain French.”
“And why do you strongly suspect?”
“Because this is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Manoriss said, somewhere between impatience and despair. Spock eyed him without sympathy. It had occurred to him that the fact that the ship on which Manoriss was travelling was now the potential instrument of the destruction of his former ship and the death of his former captain was, in fact, a direct consequence of Manoriss’ intervention in the first place, because without his various interactions with Spock, the M3 would not have formed an erroneous view of Spock’s relationship with his own captain. Spock was not overly prone to philosophising on original causation in his day to day life – he had acquired and retained a scholarly interest and expertise in Vulcan, Greek and Roman philosophy and he was the First Officer of the Enterprise and he kept the two very separate. However, it had occurred to him that four months earlier the command team of the Endeavour had unravelled and that unravelling had reached out over a period of sixteen weeks and over half a sector to threaten his own captain, and that he himself had opened the window to that vulnerability on Starbase Eleven.
All of which provided an excellent reason to avoid abstract speculation on original causation.
“I concur,” he said now, to Manoriss. “The true objective of M3 is the destruction of Captain Kirk and, incidentally, Captain French and the most effective way to achieve that objective is the destruction of the Endeavour.”
“And what are you planning to do about it, Spock?” asked McCoy, the dangerous note back in his voice. “You going to let it take pot shots at Jim and compliment it on its speed and accuracy? Are you even going to try to warn Jim?”
Spock’s eyes moved to McCoy and he stilled, abruptly, then rose to his feet.
“Where are you going now?”
“Sulu, you have the conn. I will be with Dr Daystrom and the M3 unit,” he said briefly, and left the bridge.
The way to reach Kirk, he had suddenly understood, started with M3.
It was a strange experience to stand on the bridge of a ship readying for action and not be in the centre seat.
Kirk paced, very slowly, on the upper bridge behind Eli, hoping that it would not distract and irritate. He knew himself to be at liberty on parole only and on the bridge on sufferance. He had made himself meet some curious glances as he had followed Eli through the lower decks; here, there was more overt professionalism but discomfort lingered. Even at the best of times, Kirk found it easier to analyse a mission plan in the Neutral Zone than stand still; here, on this bridge, his own ship only minutes away and on the wrong side of a photon torpedo, it was impossible.
Something else, too. He could conceal his hands better if he moved, and he had stolen a surreptitious look in the turbolift and confirmed his suspicions. The skin was swollen, discoloured and flaking, and there was only one possible reason. Oddly, he felt no pain or discomfort, as Peter had, and he wondered whether this was significant. Peter – he spared a thought for the boy, and wondered how he was, whether in fact he had made things better or worse. It didn’t look as though he would ever know. In that context, the skin on his hands seemed rather irrelevant.
He felt a little dizzy, as well, slightly disorientated, and held on furtively to the railing, hoping that no one would notice either his hands or the need for support. But no one showed the slightest interest in him.
If he died, on this ship, as seemed likely, between his own photon torpedoes and the virus (and if he had been right, if Sybok could have saved him, it was unlikely that he would find a way back to Deneva in time, even if the Endeavour survived what was coming) – if he died, he would be leaving two huge question marks, one for Sam and one for Spock. He was less worried about his own death – he’d faced it too often, somehow, it felt almost familiar, almost part of life – but it seemed unfair that it might happen now, at odds with his closest friend and his brother, with both of whom he had co-existed in total amity up until now. And he wondered, then, as he saw the relationships side-by-side in his mind’s eye, whether it was easier to steal something you had never had.
Sam had said You took my son and a few days earlier he had said Tell me about parenting when you have any sort of qualification to do so. He had never told Sam (or any one else) about Carol’s child, but it would have made no difference if he had, because it wasn’t the same, and he knew it. He saw again Sam’s blind fury and Aurelan’s tears, and he thought, for the first time, that he might not have been able to take Peter in the way he had if he and Carol had stayed together, if Carol’s child had come truly to be his. Sam was right, he knew nothing about parenting. He just knew how to play a game of hoops and how to steal a child because you thought you knew better. He knew nothing of the agony which he had seen in Aurelan’s eyes.
Could you argue that Carol had stolen his child? Not really, because he had given up too easily. You can’t steal from someone who gives to you, who gives up. Perhaps he’d been wrong. Perhaps he should have put up a fight. Perhaps he should have looked like Aurelan had looked, and Carol would have realised then, that it was stealing.
But she had said, instead You’re married to your ship and he had known even then, in his heart, that she had been right, and that if he were bound in the way that Sam and Aurelan were bound to Peter, it was to bridge not to blood. And that brought him back to Spock.
Was stealing someone’s son as bad as stealing their ship? Was that what it had been like for Sam and Aurelan? Worse, even? And Kirk had never really had a son, but then Spock had never really had his own ship, either, had he? So the Vulcan would have known that he was breaking orders, known that he was breaking the chain of command, known all about every regulation he had laid waste from Starbase Eleven to Talos IV – but he hadn’t really understood, had he? He hadn’t known that when it was your own ship it was flesh and blood. (What had he said to Spock? I give, she takes; she won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.) Spock would have had no way truly to understand that - even if he’d heard Kirk on Psi 2000, they’d both been in altered states, he could hardly have computed from that just how it had felt to have it suddenly taken away. Like an amputation.
Why hadn’t he spoken to Spock? McCoy had been right. He should have taken any one of a thousand opportunities since Talos IV to ask, to explain, and every time he’d just found another excuse. Just one more – he’d take the photon torpedoes or the virus, but he’d like just one more chance to talk to Spock first.
And at that precise moment, the communications officer of the Endeavour said to French,
“Sir, I have Commander Manorissfor you, on the Enterprise.”
For Spock, it had been, in the end, the most basic of logical deductions.
Use your opponent’s weaknesses, do not play to his strengths.
Not sheer force, nor firepower, nor engineering capability was going to defeat M3.
M3 excelled in all areas and was simply, in those fields, superior to humanity, regardless of McCoy’s views on the subject.
M3’s weakness, the faultline which had started with the mind-meld in Spock’s quarters and led to them facing the Endeavour with a ship’s complement of photon torpedoes, was in engaging with and understanding human dialogue.
Consequently, the most effective strategy to try to save the lives of those aboard both ships must be through communication.
He had held a private briefing with Scott and Uhura and given them very clear orders. Scotty had been shocked.
“You’re not serious, sir! We know the Endeavour has 107 orders; you know that thing’s planning on throwing everything we’ve got at her, and it doesn’t take much to figure she’ll fight back – she’ll have no choice. I’ll need all the help I can get to try to divert power from the torpedoes and focus on shields. One’s as important as the other. It’s our only chance.”
“It is no chance at all, Mr Scott. What you are suggesting will, at the most, delay the inevitable outcome; it will not avert serious casualties. As soon as we rendezvous with the Endeavour, I require all your efforts and all the power you can access to be focused on keeping communication channels open. If M3 succeeds in closing a channel down, Lieutenant, I need you to open another immediately. That means that alternative connectivity options will have to be identified in advance and be in place before dialogue starts. Thereafter, you will have to be constantly monitoring sub-space activity and ensuring that we do not lose connection.”
Uhura said, “Understood, sir” with crisp professionalism, and that was all. Scott still looked unhappy, but Spock suspect that this was in large part due to the exposure of the ship’s engines to attack and to Scott’s highly regrettable tendency towards anthropomorphism in relation to the mechanical components of the vessel on which he served. Spock knew that the engineering chief would do what had to be done. He was back again in the familiarity of giving orders and having them obeyed, but he had seen what lay the further side of that dynamic, and thought that perhaps the command team of the Enterprise could only be stronger for that understanding. It was illogical, but he was certain he could now explain Starbase Eleven to Kirk, certain he could restore their mutual understanding and that certainty gave him the confidence that he could defeat M3, because Daystrom’s creation would have to be neutralised in order for him to restore Kirk to where he ought to be.
He had sat on the bridge with M3 and the senior crew and waited deliberately until they were within communication range of the Endeavour. A human opponent would have been suspicious of an apparently casual order given too long in advance – would have assumed a significance beyond the obvious and would have declined. Spock was uncertain whether it was logical to impute the same reasoning in a malfunctioning multitronic unit, but concluded easily enough that it was safest to make no assumptions. He had waited till the last minute, and then said,
“Lieutenant Uhura, open hailing frequencies to the Endeavour,” with no reference to the fact that the communication channels had been for some time blocked by M3 and noted Uhura’s half-questioning response even as M3 said,
“Specify purpose of communication with the Endeavour, Captain.”
Spock ignored the title, and said, levelly
“The Endeavour will be expecting to be hailed by the Enterprise. There is no reason not to do so, no possible negative consequences for this ship. If anything, an absence of communication will alert the Endeavour to potential irregularities and raise concerns. Specifically, in any case, it is necessary for Commander Manoriss to report to Captain French.”
He was aware of the Rigellian listening intently. He had deliberately not made Manoriss aware of his plans in advance.
“Elucidate, Captain. Why is it necessary for Commander Manoriss to speak to Captain French?”
“Commander Manoriss was Captain French’s First Officer.”
“Captain French is no longer Commander Manoriss’ commanding officer.”
“That is correct,” Spock said, very carefully. “However, Commander Manoriss retains an allegiance to Captain French. He must protect his commanding officer. He cannot allow damage to his commanding officer. The M3 unit has learned this directly from Commander Manoriss. For that learning to continue, the M3 unit must facilitate the continuation of the dialogue.”
And M3’s response:
“Captain French has damaged former Commander Manoriss.”
With the Enterprise facing a fully-armed sister ship, no control over his torpedoes and no real certainty as to the whereabouts and condition of Kirk, Spock nevertheless allowed himself to be fascinated. The M3 unit was actually debating human (or Rigellian) motivation and relationship dynamics as though they could be computed in a logical assessment of the situation – a step which Spock himself had often found somewhat beyond his own capabilities, or at least so he professed. Moreover, he realised instantly, with the eidetic recall of his species, that the M3 was repeating verbatim its comments from a previous discussion. It was as though some malfunction had led the unit to assume a role for itself within the dynamics of sentient relationships, but within the parameters of thinking limited to a finite number of considerations and arguments. This would be logical, Spock reflected, as Daystrom would be unlikely to have programmed his creation with the tools to understand fully the matrix of human behaviour. He found himself wondering, were such programming available, if he might benefit from it himself.
He said out loud,
“Captain French will not further damage Commander Manoriss. The intention is only to communicate on ship-to-ship frequencies. Lieutenant Uhura, please comply,” and it seemed that the indirect assumption that M3 would permit Uhura to carry out her orders was the correct tactic, as Uhura said, her tone belying a suppressed surprise, said,
“Hailing frequencies open, sir. Endeavour, I have Commander Manoriss for Captain French.”
“On main viewer,” said Spock swiftly, and the screen filled with people – an almost mirror image. Another bridge; another senior crew; Eli French, caught with an expression on his face which almost instantly shut down.
The captain of the Endeavour said, wariness clearly vying with an astonished recognition,
“Manoriss, what the hell are you doing on the Enterprise?”
The Rigellian stared straight at the screen, at his former ship and former commanding officer and said,
“They were going my way, Captain.”
“You were in the Delta sector.”
“I heard about the virus.” It was a bald statement of loyalty, of concern. Uhura, watching French’s face, saw the Endeavour’s captain reach out to accept what was being offered to him before he retreated back into official command, features ironing out into the bland and she thought – Poor Manoriss – before realising swiftly that the channel had been cut, and immediately transferring to a back-up. Spock’s warning had been entirely well founded; she would be technician, not audience. Voices continued and Uhura’s fingers danced at her station.
On screen, French glanced to his left and then addressed the Vulcan directly.
“Spock, do you have no power over your weaponry? Our scanners show that you are preparing to fire.”
Sulu nodded confirmation and Spock said,
“We have no control over the ship’s weapons. Is Captain Kirk on board?”
It was only at that point that a familiar figure came forward from the back of the Endeavour bridge, walking somewhat deliberately towards the left of French’s centre seat, hands held behind his back. Spock frowned very slightly but the rest of the bridge of the Enterprise visibly relaxed. Kirk was on the bridge of a ship facing them with 107 orders and the fact of those orders and of M3’s current status raised the odds against the survival of any of the crew of the Endeavour, but Kirk was the captain of the Enterprise and there was a visceral reaction to knowing that he was there, that their commanding officer was with them again. Other than a small discomfort about Kirk’s actual appearance which Spock had not yet analysed, he shared the view entirely.
He focused on the task.
“Captain. Do you have any orders?”
Another channel shut down and Uhura kept moving.
“Spock, what power do you have? Can you divert to shields? Is there anything you can do about the torpedoes?”
“I have seen no immediate logic in such measures,” Spock said. His eyes met Kirk’s, across two starships and a few thousand metres of emptiness. He willed Kirk to understand; wondered if the aftermath of Talos IV meant that the old silent understanding had been compromised. Kirk seemed to be struggling, and into the pause, Manoriss said,
“If we’re all going to die anyway, Eli, I wanted to die on my own ship with you.”
Uhura winced and refused to allow herself to listen. She had seen nothing in the Endeavour captain’s face that would allow anyone to die with him.
“This ship is quarantined,” French said, coolly.
“Perhaps that’s less than relevant under the circumstances,” the Rigellian said, stubbornly.
French’s face shifted suddenly, and he said,
“You forfeited those rights, Man. Why did you do it?”
Manoriss started to say, “I was trying to help you. You were my commanding officer and that was my duty,” and M3 said, almost at the same time,
“Targeting left engine,” and Spock saw the other bridge shake, saw the crew spring into movement and noise behind French and Kirk, saw French receiving reports from a presence off-screen.
He saw, then, that Kirk alone was unmoving, almost unmoved, in the centre of the bridge, saw that some inner dynamic was keeping him exactly where he was, eyes trained on Spock as though he were not on the Endeavour at all but back on his own ship. And Spock thought, Now. It must be now, and said, deliberately,
“I lied to you in relation to a message allegedly received from Starbase Eleven,” and saw Kirk’s head go up, knew that his captain was with him, even if Kirk might not know why.
“Spock, I know why you did that. I understand better now, I think, but even before, I should never have told you that you were the only one who got to break the rules. You’re the one who is my conscience, you’re the one who keeps me on the straight and narrow, you’re more to be trusted than I am, by a very long shot. I’ve broken more rules than you’ve lost chess games.”
“An interesting statistic, Captain,” he said, diverted. “However, you first invited me to play chess on the fifth week of the mission, and since then we have played an average of three point two games a week, of which-“
“Spock,” Kirk said, patiently. “I am trying to apologise.”
“No apology is necessary, Captain. You did nothing wrong. It was I who transgressed.”
“Not true,” Kirk said, and hesitated. Was he really going to say this, in front of French and the crew of the Endeavour, in front of Sulu, Chekhov, Uhura? Not what he had planned, exactly, when he had promised himself that he would speak to Spock. Had this particular scenario been on the cards, perhaps even McCoy would not have had to ask Why are you so afraid of talking to him? But he could still feel his hands, where he kept them behind his back, out of sight, and the rough feel of the inflammation told him he was on borrowed time. He would not go with that vast question mark between him and Spock. There was nothing he could do about Sam, but this debt he could redeem.
“I know,” he said, looking straight into Spock’s face, as though they were within touching distance, trusting that Spock would hear the echo in his words, would know what he was apologising for, “I know that you have no cause to feel shame for anything you have done or felt in your life. And I don’t have doubts about our friendship, Spock. I trust you, I trust it. I always have.”
“This communication serves no purpose.” There was a quick movement from Uhura’s station and the picture of the bridge of the Endeavour flickered, and then steadied. Spock noticed a number of things – that Kirk still stood with his hands behind his back, that the pitch of M3’s mechanised voice had altered by the fraction of a degree, audible perhaps only to Vulcan ears, and that the Enterprise had ceased firing torpedoes. All these facts went through Spock’s head in less than half a nanosecond, and he said, direct to Kirk,
“Captain. I am aware that Captain French has received specific orders regarding this mission. They should be implemented immediately.”
Kirk met his eyes. French, who had been talking to the Endeavour medics about casualties from the last strike, said,
“We may have no choice, Jim. Does he know what he’s saying?”
A wave of dizziness swept over Kirk, and he thought, grimly, Is this the virus, the end stage? Or is it just about ordering a strike on my own ship, that my body is staging a physical revolt? Out loud, he said,
“I think you can assume Spock knows exactly what he’s doing. Keep it tactical, Eli. See if you can give M3 a fright without hurting anyone.”
“I am not sure that multitronic units take fright,” French said, drily, but he laid a hand on Kirk’s arm as he passed him on the way to the centre seat.
“Arming torpedoes, Enterprise,” he said, coolly, and heard M3’s filtered order,
“Divert all power to shields,” and the other bridge crew pictured in the main viewer came into clearer focus. French started, and turned to Kirk, waving a hand to mute the communication channel and speaking with his back to the viewer,
“When we fire, there’s less interference with the frequency. The torpedoes must be a distraction for M3, must prevent him from blocking the communication channel. And Spock seems to want us to keep talking.”
“Yes,” Kirk said, eyes still on his bridge. “Yes. I don’t know why but Spock knows what he’s doing and I trust him.”
French hesitated, and turned round.
“Man,” he said, and there was the sound of two Starfleet bridge crews pretending as hard as they could not to hear a word, nor the tone in which French spoke, “Man, you were never supposed to be helping me, not like that. You were supposed to be obeying orders and we were supposed to be a team. And I was supposed to be able to trust every word you said.”
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Manoriss took half a step forward.
“I wasn’t just your First Officer. I was your friend. I did it in friendship.”
French said, in the tone of a farewell, as though somehow knowing that Manoriss was on yet another bridge, not even the Enterprise but a different ship, a point of departure, as though he could see what would happen next,
“You were more than my friend. You were my fellow officer and my brother. As my First Officer, you owed me the truth. As my friend, you owed me equality. There’s no real friendship where you can’t trust someone with the truth, Manoriss. You should have given me the respect of making the choice for myself, however hard that was for either of us.”
As he finished speaking, he nodded to the weapons station, and the Endeavour fired. Kirk jolted forward as if in instinctive physical defence of his ship, as though feeling the blow; blue lightning ran all over the hull of the Enterprise, and then cleared. On the bridge of the other ship, what happened next seemed to Kirk to be played out in slow motion, although he never knew, afterwards, if this was due to the significance of the moment or due to the gradual distancing from him of both bridges, as his breath shortened and his vision slowly began to blur. He could see M3 turn to the weapons console on the Enterprise, saw Manoriss come up to see the trajectory M3 was plotting for the next torpedo round, saw Spock raise a hand to stop the Rigellian – just too late – and saw Manoriss launch himself at M3, in instinctive and protective fury.
“Not my ship and not my Captain, you piece of –“
And saw a rapid movement from M3, a bright yellow light emitted straight at Manoriss, and then the light disappeared and Manoriss with it.
“No!” French was on his feet, and Kirk moved to him, then, thinking that French would allow it now, a hand laid on the other captain’s back, still keeping it out of sight of the viewer,
French turned away, face set, and Kirk looked up into Spock’s face. The Vulcan said,
“My condolences to Captain French.”
Kirk said, quietly,
“What Eli said, Spock. If I’m honest, that was what I wanted from you. I know you kept me out of Starbase Eleven for my own protection. I’ve had time to think about it and I know in one way it speaks to the strength of our friendship and not to the opposite. But friends means equals, Spock. Once you keep someone ignorant for their own protection, you let go of respect and equality. Do you understand why I was angry?”
Spock took a step away from the centre seat, as if moving towards Kirk. He remembered the desert wolf and the knowledge that Sybok thought he needed protection for his own good; thought perhaps he could tell Kirk the story now, that there might finally be someone who would understand what it had been like not to be trusted to be alone with yourself. At the same time, he realised, quite suddenly and clearly, that Kirk’s constant presence in his life (even felt subliminally, as it was, across the bulkheads which separated their quarters) had never intruded in the way Sybok’s had, that his friendship with Kirk had been entirely compatible with any solitary quiet he had sought for himself. He wondered whether, if he told Kirk this, it might somehow help Kirk to understand Starbase Eleven. M3 said,
“Commander Spock had to protect his commanding officer,” but the difference in the unit’s diction was as clear as a cracked note in a concerto. Spock also noticed that his title had reverted. He effortlessly categorised desert wolves and associated personal revelations into a class of information which duty, even under these unique circumstances, did not require to be shared with Eli French, Sulu and Chekhov and said, instead, to Kirk, pressing home the point to M3
“Is it not a parallel that you asked me to work with the M3 unit because you believed it would be easier for me not to be part of a mission which involved keeping my brother in secure facilities?”
Kirk blinked slightly.
“Did you think I didn’t trust you?”
“I believe you thought you were protecting me, Captain,” he said, carefully. Kirk smiled, half at himself,
“Well, you’re right on both counts. I did think it would be easier for you and I didn’t entirely trust you, but I must have been off my head. As it happens, I myself arranged your brother’s freedom in somewhat unorthodox circumstances.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow, but could spare no time for Sybok at that point.
“Had I told you my plans in advance of Starbase Eleven, you would have been complicit and you might well have stopped me.”
“If you had really told me everything, Spock, I might have helped you, had you considered that?” Kirk asked, softly.
“We will never know, Captain,” Spock said. “In any event, it was my debt, not yours, and mine to pay. That had and could have no bearing on my duty or loyalty to you. Nothing could,” he added, quietly but quite clearly.
“You’re saying that because it was Chris, it had to be your neck on the line?”
“Figuratively put, Captain, but in essence I concur. Further, because you are my captain, I could not allow the risk to you.”
“Well, that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Does what you think is the right thing to do trump obeying orders, Commander?”
The use of Spock’s title was deliberate. Kirk knew now what Spock was doing, and he saw M3 move slightly, rather jerkily, as if focusing alternately on the two bridges, the two points of dialogue. Both bridges otherwise were entirely silent, other than reports still coming into the Endeavour communications officer of casualties on lower decks. Kirk hoped devoutly that both senior crews had been simultaneously afflicted with temporary, complete and painless deafness.
Spock looked straight at him.
“I cannot give you the guarantee that I will never believe so, Captain. I do not believe that you think so, either. It would be a matter of very considerable regret to me were you to compute this as a reason not to trust me in future.”
Kirk gave a tiny smile, a small shrug.
“You know damn well what my record is, Spock. I’m not so hypocritical as to pretend otherwise. It’s just…” his voice tailed away and then he looked up.
“OK, I’ll be honest. You and I have disobeyed other orders before, where we thought it was the right thing to do. But you’ve never disobeyed mine. And you stole my ship.”
The words were out there, finally, lying in the empty space between the two bridges. Another wave of tiredness swept over Kirk, but he knew this time it wasn’t the virus, it was the exhaustion of letting go, of putting down the burden, of finally saying the thing he had carried around since Talos IV. It was out, like poison from a sting. He had given it to Spock, and Spock would give him the answer he needed. He waited, expectantly.
And Spock said it, speaking directly to the machine at his side, but his words were for the man on the other bridge.
“Captain, I understand fully, now if not formerly, what it means to lose control of your ship and the significance of my conduct at Starbase Eleven. This is your ship and will always be your ship and will answer to no other person. It cannot run through mechanical competence alone and it cannot run without trust. It is not for me to compromise that knowledge and you must know that our respective missions, choices and responsibilities both present and previous have no bearing on that certainty. Any orders, sir?”
He saw Kirk’s whole face lighten, as though in recognition of an old friend, saw him take a step forward and open his mouth but, before he could speak, M3 moved again, and this time it was more than random, it was disjointed, the uncoordinated movements of a much less advanced device.
A filtered mechanical vocal unit said, with no inflection whatsoever,
“This is your ship. This is your ship. This is your ship. This is...” and Spock said, sharply,
“Dr Daystrom. Please attend the M3 unit now and disable it,” and Daystrom came forward. Before he got near enough to do anything, however, M3 moved again. It was right up against the navigation unit now, and it extended an arm into the console and said, simply,
“This is your ship. We are your ship. We are your ship…” and abruptly went silent.
Spock was on his feet and over by the unit, but needed no confirmation from Daystrom that the unit was deactivated. He hit the communicator switch.
“Bridge to Scott. Report on engineering status.”
“The whole lot just went dead, sir. Whatever happened up there, the coding sequence has been shut down and everything else with it.”
“How long to repair and start up the engines, Mr Scott?”
“That I don’t know. Give me a few minutes, sir.”
“Mr Chekhov, assist Mr Scott,” Spock ordered, and as the navigator exited the bridge, he looked back at the Endeavour.
“Sir, the M3 unit has now been disengaged,” he reported.
“Congratulations, Mr Spock,” Kirk said. “Would you call that defeating logic with emotion?”
He had the pleasure of watching Spock caught off-guard, a beat while he was either lost for a response or perhaps reluctant to speak in front of the combined senior crews of both ships, and then before Spock could say anything, the bridge swam in front of him and he staggered and put a hand out to the back of Eli’s seat to steady himself.
French looked round, and in that minute, Spock saw it, clear over the distance, the discolouration and the swelling of the hand and the sum total of factors – Kirk’s strange posture, his stillness under fire, his hesitancy – all came together in the worst of all possible calculations. Without knowing it, he was on his feet.
“Permission to beam aboard, Captain French.”
“Permission denied, Commander. This ship is quarantined.” French had got to his feet, caught Kirk and lowered the other man into the centre seat. Kirk was still just conscious, eyes seeking his own ship.
“Permission to beam Captain Kirk to the Enterprise,” Spock said, but he knew it was hopeless.
“Permission denied, Commander.”
Kirk’s eyes closed and the sound of his struggle to breath was audible to his own officers, over the frequency.
Spock gazed at the screen. His face was entirely impassive, his mind evaluating options at warp speed. McCoy, entering the bridge through the turbolift doors like a cork out of a bottle, snapped,
“I heard. Let me beam over. I’m his doctor, dammnit. The quarantine can’t apply to me,” and French shook his head, said over his shoulder,
“A quarantined maintained to orthodox standards means exactly that, doctor, especially when any treatment you could offer has been tried to no avail. I’m sorry, but the Enterprise crew will need its medical team intact,” and a fragment of speech drifted into Spock’s mind. What had Kirk said?
As it happens, I myself arranged your brother’s freedom in somewhat unorthodox circumstances.
“Captain French,” he said, ignoring McCoy and everyone else around him, “what happened to Sybok?”
French turned around. His expression was unfathomable.
“Your captain took it upon himself to spring him out of the brig,” he said.
“Presumably,” Spock said, carefully, “there was a reason.”
The other shrugged.
“His nephew caught the virus. I gather Jim wanted Sybok to take a look at him.”
Spock thought this over.
“Was Sybok’s treatment successful?”
French said, “I have no idea,” and the Endeavour medical team came on to the bridge and put Kirk on a stretcher. Spock watched them for a minute and then said to Uhura,
“Please open a channel to George Kirk on Deneva immediately, Lieutenant.”
Uhura turned to her station and busied herself. Spock found it interesting that a task performed efficiently by a consummate professional in a short space of time could still illogically appear to take longer to complete (by a significant multiple) than was in reality the case. In fact it was less than thirty seconds before Sam’s voice could be heard on the bridge.
“Mr Kirk, this is Commander Spock, on the Enterprise.”
“Is my brother with you, Spock?”
“Not on this ship, no,” he answered precisely. “May I enquire after the health of your son?”
Sam’s voice was an odd mixture of exhaustion and relief, a note of joy singing through it like a rainbow in a storm.
“It’s the most extraordinary thing. He’s good – he’s going to make it. Thanks, I must say, to your brother.”
“Is Sybok with you?”
“He’s talking to the lab team at the moment. We think we have a breakthrough.”
“Please put me through to him urgently, Mr Kirk. Your brother has been infected with the virus.”
The rainbow stilled, suddenly, as if the news were a tangible thing, travelling between the Enterprise and Deneva. And then Sam said,
“Putting you through now, Spock. Hurry. And, if you can – tell Jim I said thank you, OK?”
Spock had no time to reply before his own brother said,
“Captain Kirk has been infected with the virus. Explain how you were able to assist his nephew.”
“Are his hands affected?”
“Yes; in addition, he has breathing difficulties and has collapsed. From my recollection of the disease, it is in its end stages.”
“I agree. But it’s not an oxygen problem, it’s his hands.”
“The disease attacks the mind, not the respiratory system. In essence, it was once a simple virus, causing swelling and dermatitis to the hands. However, it has mutated, so that, at the same time, it infects the mind, causing a belief that what the body is really suffering is oxygen starvation. So the body starts to fail, because it cannot survive without oxygen, and the hands go untreated, because the victims feel no discomfort in that region. Treatment of respiratory distress is ineffective, because until the hands are healed, the body will continue to demonstrate the symptoms of oxygen starvation. Kirk’s nephew’s hands were badly affected, but he only felt pain for the first time after he was able to understand the true nature of the affliction. At that point, treating the hands was relatively straightforward and he is now free of the virus and recovering his strength.”
Spock listened, digesting the words, and asked the obvious question.
“How was he able to understand the nature of the affliction?”
“Through a mind meld. It would otherwise be beyond the capacity of a human being.”
Spock turned back to the viewer and met Eli French’s eyes. The captain of the Endeavour had listened throughout. He looked back at Spock. Perhaps it was because he had seen Manoriss evaporated in a yellow light on the bridge of the Enterprise after saying to him You were more than my friend. Or perhaps it was because his own most recent mission had been directed under Regulation 107. Perhaps he, too, had learned that there was always a time to break orders. Either way, he nodded, slowly, and said,
“Preparing to receive you, Commander,” and that was when Spock knew that it might not be too late.
Spock lowered himself to sit on the biobed where Kirk lay motionless. He had undertaken hundreds of mind-melds in his life, but never without permission and never on Kirk. He had only once performed one on a human, on Simon Van Gelder, and that had been because Kirk had been away from the ship and in trouble. There was no permission here, where there was no ability to speak, and Spock somehow said it for both of them, in one word,
“Jim.” He stretched out his hands; fingers touched temples, sought a purchase, his mind went deliberately blank, searching, listening – and there it was. The faintest echo of a mind never experienced from within, but utterly familiar for all that. Kirk.
It was like seeing through a window in the rain, a deeply unpleasant subjection for any desert race, once experienced by Spock when visiting his Earth cousins as a child, having gone for a walk and got caught in the rain. He had noticed, on returning to his aunt’s house, that the interior scene, his aunt and uncle sitting and talking in the front room, was visible through the rain but that the rain water, running in rivulets down the panes, distorted their faces. He had the same irrational desire now to wipe the pane and to see clearly within. But he knew it was not water in between him and Kirk, but the virus.
He went in deeper, past the effort Kirk was putting into the rusty breathing noise, and suddenly he was in a place beyond. Regardless of whatever shielding he could muster, his desire not to intrude, to respect Kirk’s privacy, he could see laid out of him and all around him Kirk’s journey from the Enterprise to the Endeavour; his initial anger and sense of betrayal; his gradual understanding; his footsteps from his brother’s quarters to the brig; his silent, unilateral conversations with Spock. He saw it all and put it to one side. It was history, it was of no significance. Not now, not in the future - provided there was a future.
Jim, he said. Jim, can you hear me?
And Kirk was with him. A deeper and yet fainter echo of the dynamic presence Spock knew, but still Kirk, the Kirk who would salute death with his own brand of humour.
Are you sure you’re not breaking any orders, Mr Spock?
And Spock, with all the urgency of Kirk’s struggle for breath, with all his hard-wired need for privacy, hesitated, on the brink of reaching. After all, it might not work. And there was one thing he needed Kirk to know, whatever happened. More than that, Kirk had to know, because if Kirk could not trust him absolutely, he could not save his captain’s life. Deliberately, he let go of everything, let down his own shields, and let Kirk see the counterpart of his own journey; his dialogue with M3 and with Manoriss; his deeper awareness of the significance of both Delta Vega and Talos IV; his moment of helpless anger when M3 had refused to obey him; own final understanding of what stealing the Enterprise had meant to Kirk.
Kirk said, silently, in his mind,
Thank you, Spock. But I didn’t need to see that. I know. I know it all.
The body under his hands shivered suddenly, and a bead of Kirk’s sweat ran over Spock’s hand, reminding him that time was short.
Jim, I have come to bring you back to the Enterprise. Let me explain the virus to you. I promise you that you will be restored if you believe me. You will recover and you will come back to your own ship, where you belong. All you need to do is believe me, however hard it sounds. Do you trust me?
And he knew it was over when, at the same time as Kirk’s mind voice sounded inside his own consciousness, the face under his hands smiled and the eyes opened.
“How come they’ve lifted the quarantine so quickly?” Uhura asked. Scotty had reported that the engines had been recalibrated and regenerated and the ship had full power. Kirk and Spock had beamed back from the Endeavour and Starfleet, having received a full report, had ordered the ship to head immediately to Starbase 16 to drop off Daystrom and the remains of the M3 unit. (Do we really have to keep it on board that long? Scott had asked. Handy if the food replicators break down, McCoy had suggested.)
The Endeavour was preparing to return to Deneva to oversee containment of the virus.
“I guess they know how to deal with cases now, so it’s no longer a threat,” Sulu offered.
“But they can’t provide sufficient Vulcans to give the entire population mind-melds,” Uhura pointed out, at the same time as the turbolift doors opened to discharge Spock, McCoy and the most recent victim of the virus. Chekhov stood up, delight all over his face.
“Captain on the bridge!”
“Thank you, Mr Chekhov,” Kirk said, smiling.
“Enjoy it while you can, Pavel,” growled McCoy. “He’s allowed a quick look around because he’s too stubborn to relax until he’s seen that you’re all managing fine without him, and then he’s going back to sickbay for the duration.”
“As to your question, Lieutenant,” Spock said, “there will be no requirement for mind-melds unless the virus is allowed to develop. Before symptoms become severe, all that is necessary is thorough treatment of the hands. This was never provided formerly, simply because the victims felt no discomfort in their hands and did not seek appropriate remedies in time. A simple preventative medication is being distributed all over Deneva as we speak, and members of this crew and of the crew of the Endeavour will also be treated.”
“Just as well,” McCoy said. “Can you imagine? A planet over-run with Vulcans. And a mind-meld? I think I’d prefer the virus. Talking of Vulcans, what happened to Sybok?”
“He is staying on Deneva for a brief period of time, to assist with any cases which advance too rapidly before medication can be accessed,” Spock said. Sybok had said, I see that your captain is healed and that you are where you need to be, Spock, and he had heard in this both the reminder that Spock owed Kirk’s life to his brother and, at the same time, a first acknowledgement that Spock had his own place in the universe, after all. The desert wolf was long dead; Spock could serve on the Enterprise without feeling Sybok’s presence from afar. And if he had to remember, whenever he saw his brother in the future, that he owed to him that moment when Kirk had opened his eyes in the Endeavour sickbay and breathed easily and said “God, my hands are really bad” – well, Spock could accept that as a small price to pay.
“Are we returning to Deneva, sir? After Starbase 16?”
“I think not, Ensign,” Kirk said. He had spoken to Sam, briefly, from the Endeavour, and had been unutterably relieved to hear that Peter was safe. He had heard Sam’s contrition and gratitude, and could only think that he had deserved neither, that he had taken a risk which was not his to take. Understanding Spock’s point of view had changed nothing in that regard, or perhaps it was that both of them had learned the consequences of breaking the rules, and of stealing. It wasn’t exactly that you couldn’t end up winning, that way, even that it might be the right thing to do, but that things got damaged and broken, and you had to make allowances for that, to take it into account, and not assume that when you had taken the mission home and saved the universe (again) that everything was necessarily all right. It might be, but you had to take time to go back and pick up the pieces; to explain, and to learn to be open about what you felt. And learn to listen, as well. He thought he and Sam still had some work to do before he could play hoops with Peter again, and in any case, Peter was still convalescent. He would go back to Deneva when he and Peter were both properly on their feet again. There would be time, then, for him and Sam.
He had spoken to Eli, as well: Eli, who would not forget in a hurry that moment on the bridge of the Enterprise, the final dissolution of his friendship with the Rigellian. Kirk knew that Spock did not regard Man’s actions off Rigel 7 as in the same league as his own at Starbase Eleven, but he himself thought that, even so, French and Manoriss’ friendship would not have ended in tragedy had they learned to talk it through properly. He was desperately sorry for French, but only with the small part of himself which had energy to spare from his own overwhelming gratitude that he had been so much luckier, that Spock had survived M3 and its yellow light, that the two of them had won another chance, who might so easily have walked down a very different road.
He stole a look at Spock, who stood beside him, looking entirely serene and relaxed, their partnership restored to a place even stronger, he knew, than it had been before Talos IV. He would not forget for a long time the feel of Spock’s mind in his, the sensation of falling and knowing he would be caught. It came to him, then, that he trusted Spock more, not less, because of Starbase Eleven. He opened his mouth impulsively to say so, and then thought better of it. Spock had appeared to accept with remarkable adaptability the need to discuss the most personal aspects of their friendship in front of the collective senior crew of both vessels, but you could push a person too far. Besides, he suspected Spock knew what he had been going to say.
Chekhov was still waiting.
“No orders at present, Mr Chekhov,” he started to say, and was interrupted by McCoy.
“Wrong, Captain. There are my orders. And you are in flagrant breach of them. My sickbay awaits you.”
He looked at his CMO, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“You might, Captain,” Spock said, very quietly, “be well advised to consider the doctor’s orders to be among those which should under no circumstances be broken, whether or not there exist any overriding extraneous considerations of any kind.”
His eyes met the Vulcan’s. It was one of those times when he knew Spock was smiling, even when he wasn’t at all.
“Commander,” he said, “the ship is yours.”
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