“James T Kirk, by the authority vested in me by
Starfleet Command, I hereby arrest you on
charges of High Treason against the peoples of
Earth and the United Federation of Planets. All
rights, duties and privileges as a Starfleet officer are
hereby withdrawn. You are not obliged to say
anything, but anything you do say will be recorded
and may be used at your trial. Do you have anything
The huddled figure in the chair shook his head
The pitiless young voice went on, "In that case you
will be held in the secure accommodation at this
base until such time as a ship can be found to take
you to Earth where you will stand trial. Take him
As the guards came to lift him to his feet, the prisoner
raised his head for the first time since entering the
room. "Lieutenant, can you tell me where my ship
is?" he said. His voice was husky and he seemed to
be having difficulty focusing his eyes.
"You no longer have a ship, and I'm sure as hell not
going to tell you where any of the fleet are, you
treacherous bastard." The young man's professional
veneer cracked wide open. The prisoner looked at
him gravely and the lieutenant felt an unexpected
pang of shame, then the head dropped and the
prisoner allowed the guards to hustle him out of the
room and down to the cells.
Once there they began to shackle him. Technically
physical restraints were illegal but nobody was taking
any chances, his ingenuity was legendary. Nobody
spoke to him unless they had to, indeed it seemed as
though they could scarcely bear to look at him. Until
that is, the very last moment, when the humiliating
procedure was drawing to an end and the last man
in the cell was kneeling before him, checking the
locks. Suddenly the man looked round quickly, leaned
over and whispered in the prisoner's ear, "The Enterprise
The bowed head came up at that, looked the guard in the
eye and recognised a former shipmate. A smile of singular
sweetness broke over the pale face and then faded as the
prisoner rolled over to face the wall and closed his eyes
against the clean, bright, sterile light of the high security
He stayed in the cell for a week, eating the food they
gave him, taking exercise at the ordained times, submitting
to medical examination and psychological testing and
talking to no one. He was under constant watch, and
seemed to those who guarded him to have withdrawn
deep within himself; he did not even react to the
myriad tiny but stinging indignities inflicted by the
security lieutenant and one or two of the guards who
were unable to resist the temptation to let their disgust
boil over into harsh words and rough handling.
During his confinement he was not permitted to contact
service personnel and wrote only one letter, to his mother,
a cheerful message full of hope and reassurance totally
at variance with his situation and his obvious despair.
The medical examination showed signs of recent, extensive,
physical torture, hurriedly but efficiently treated. However,
in the eyes of every man and woman on this frontier
base that was no excuse. His and their duty was to die
rather than reveal what he had revealed, and when his
appearance on the Romulan civilian newsnets and his
abject, servile confession to a host of real and imaginary
'crimes' was picked up by Federation relay stations and
broadcast the length and breadth of the Galaxy, a once
more than respected name became a byword for
cowardice and treachery. There had even been calls for
the re-introduction of the death penalty for treason.
His crimes were all the more detestable because of the
current, unstable position along the Neutral Zone.
Following the first incursion, which had been halted by
the Enterprise, scientists had worked day and night to
give the Federation an edge against both the plasma
weapon and the cloaking device. They had only been
There had been enormous improvements in the motion
sensors which, together with improved tachyon detection
and communications intercept facilities, meant that it
was just about possible for highly-skilled personnel to
track a cloaked ship and lock the sophisticated weapons
targeting computers onto it. Indeed it had even proved
possible to adapt the communication sensors to execute
this function so that major refits were not required. A
crash program of training had then ensured that every
communications and science officer in the front line
fleet was instructed in the close team-work
necessary to use the new equipment.
In addition, Federation scientists working from the sensor
readings taken by the Enterprise had also come up
with greatly improved shielding for ground-based
installations. This had enabled the outposts and the
starbases immediately behind them, including 23, to
withstand the hit-and-run raids that had followed
within a matter of months.
The bad news was that they had not been nearly as
successful with ship shielding. Although some
improvement could be made, major upgrades were
impossible due to the drain on ship's power.
The effectiveness of both these developments depended
on absolute secrecy, for once the enemy knew about
either they would inevitably improve their own
techniques. In the spiralling, tit-for-tat world of military
secrets, a few months extra concealment could make the
difference between victory and defeat.
Kirk, as a trusted starship captain, had access to all
this information and more, and a frightened and angry
Starfleet Command had found itself forced to conclude
that he had sold those secrets in return for passage
back to Federation territory. Three weeks after his
shameful appearance before the Empire, his captors had
shipped him over the Neutral Zone to the remote base
under a flag of truce.
It was this remoteness which was causing the delay in
returning him to Earth. Unless they could put him on
one of the big ships, the journey would take months and
public opinion was demanding immediate action. Ever
mindful of its image, and possibly even more mindful of
the forthcoming meeting of the Federation Budgetary
Committee, Starfleet decided to dispatch a cruiser.
Which was when they met their first problem. The order
was sent to the Hood, however three hours after receiving
it, that ship suffered a sudden and catastrophic warp drive
failure. No one was hurt and little serious damage was
done but the ship was left with no alternative but to limp
into the nearest starbase for repairs. The second problem
was the only available replacement - the Enterprise.
There was consternation at Fleet HQ. The loyalty the traitor
inspired in his crew was notorious but, if there was to be a
trial before the year's end, there was no other choice and
surely no one, no matter how loyal, could wish to help
or support man like that. Even Garth's crew had mutinied
in the end when faced with conduct too appalling to be
In the Briefing Room with the command crew and Doctor
McCoy, Spock replayed the orders he had received from
Admiral Delgardo, and sat impassively while they listened
to the details of theassignment. Delgardo was angry and
embarrassed and it lent his tone an unusual and
inappropriate severity. "You understand, Commander?
You are to treat him as you would any other prisoner and
return him to Earth at a speed of not less than Warp 5.
I want your word of honour as a Vulcan and a Starfleet
officer that you will have him taken straight to the brig."
The Vulcan ignored the stifled cries of protest from the
rest of the Bridge crew and listened once more to his
own voice saying, "You have it, Sir." Shortly after that,
the Admiral signed off.
Before anyone could speak or protest, he turned to the engineer.
"Mr Scott, I would be interested to know how you
managed to disable the Hood." Mr Scott had threatened to
do ... something unspecified, and Spock had misdiagnosed
his words as mere hot air, he was conscious that he did not
usually underestimate people that badly.
There was an embarrassed harrumping noise, and when Mr Scott
finally spoke his accent was more than usually impenetrable.
"Ah well, Mr Spock did ye not know Maddie Masterson is now
Chief Engineer of th' Hood?"
"No, I did not," said Mr Spock in complete comprehension but
he let Mr Scott continue. He had learnt a lot since the Galileo
incident and he knew the others needed to understand too.
"A year an a half ago she was one o' my laddies. I only had to
ask ... she served under him an' all."
Spock spared half a second to wonder why Mr Scott referred
to someone as abundantly feminine as Engineer Masterson as
a "laddie" and then, recognising the thought as a symptom of
rising hysteria, thrust it aside and asked, "What is the engine
status, Mr Scott?"
"You name it - you got it." Was the imprecise but forceful reply.
"In that case Mr Sulu, set course for Starbase 23, Warp 8 - no
doubt, Mr Scott, you will inform us if that proves a problem.
"Eighteen hours 42.3 minutes." The helmsman had started the
calculations the second the Admiral had finished speaking.
"Mr Sulu, you have the Con, I shall be in my quarters. Anybody
who feels the need to communicate the news to the staff in their
Department has my permission to do so." He got up to leave.
"Mr Spock." As he passed her, Uhura, greatly daring, put her
hand on his arm. "You're not really going to turn him over to
them, are you?"
"I intend to follow my orders, Lieutenant," he said calmly and
with that he left the room.
A bewildered Chekov began a half-hearted complaint about this
cold-bloodedness, but Uhura was having none of this. "Pavel,"
she said gently, "whose orders do you think he was referring
Scott pushed back his chair wearily and levered himself to his
feet. "Well, I hope yon Vulcan is more careful with his tongue
in front of the crew, they're in an awfu' funny mood." He caught
Doctor McCoy's eye and the two older men exchanged a look
of understanding; they had both worked hard over the previous
weeks to maintain at least a degree of calm aboard; but they
both knew that, despite their best endeavours, that calm seemed
likely to shatter irretrievably at any moment.
Alone in the heated sanctuary of his quarters, Vulcan fists
unclenched and tense shoulders relaxed. At last, an end to
waiting. His internal clock continued to keep him accurately
informed as to the passing of the days and weeks but the last
four months had given him his first insight into the human
perception of time as something malleable and plastic, the
speed of whose passing distorted according to the events
which filled it. The whole horror of those events, from the
Captain's disappearance while on a shore visit to the order
from Admiral Delgardo, had taken only four months, two
weeks and 21.2 hours and yet Spock felt as though he had
lived a lifetime during it.
Only McCoy knew that Spock had moved heaven and earth
to remain in command of the Enterprise and had then been
obliged to do the same all over again to retain his rank. It
had taken days of delicate negotiations and political manoeuvring
and the ruthless and highly distasteful use of his personal
status as a member of one of Vulcan's most prominent families
and of his standing as one of the Federation's leading
Intellectually Spock had found the entire process grindingly
difficult, and both men had marvelled again at the Captain's
ability to ride the convoluted threads of relationships and
statuses which made up Starfleet HQ. It was a skill Kirk was
oddly ashamed of, probably because it conflicted with his
self-image as a bluff, straight-forward military man, and he
hardly ever chose to exercise it; but when he did, and it was
always for the sake of the ship or its crew, he was masterly.
Until recently the word had been that, once you were one
of 'Kirk's own', you need never worry about your career again.
It had been a status not easily won and all the more prized for it.
McCoy had been first impressed and then deeply worried by
Spock's apparently limitless faith that the Captain would return
to the Enterprise. When he had tentatively suggested that Kirk
might be dead, Spock had merely said "No" and then refused
to discuss the matter further; leaving McCoy unsure whether the
Vulcan was giving voice to that most unVulcan of all emotions
- hope – or whether he actually knew something nobody else
Even the Romulan broadcasts had not appeared to shake his
confidence. Unusually for him he had made a point of appearing
in the Mess where comments over dinner about the Captain's
"resourcefulness" and "skill at what I believe is called 'the big
bluff'," had done much to calm the situation.
Back at Starbase 23, the news that the prisoner was to be
transported to Earth on the Enterprise provoked the first real
reaction from him that anyone had seen since his arrival. He
was obviously and completely horrified. Indeed so total
was his distress, that the prison authorities sent for a doctor
to sedate him, fearing he might do himself some injury.
However when the doctor arrived he found the prisoner
lying quietly in his usual position with his face to the wall,
apparently resigned to whatever came next. His guards
noticed that he did not sleep at all that night.
Next day he was given a shower, a shave and a haircut and
issued with clean, new, prison fatigues. Then, still in
handcuffs, he was taken under guard to the base
transporter room where two guards and the security
lieutenant were waiting to beam up and formally hand him
over to the Enterprise.
During the short conversation with the ship one of the guards
saw him lift his head, suddenly alert, at the sound of the
measured tones coming from the comms panel but, when
the time came to take up position for transport, the head
fell once more and the expression became unreadable.
"Energise." The familiar tingle enveloped them all as reality
faded out and was reborn. "Lieutenant Tarsalimo and
prisoner requesting permission to come aboard."
"Permission granted." The response came from Giotto, Chief
of Security. The prisoner shuddered almost imperceptibly,
but he stepped off the platform obediently and stood on one side,
"I expected to see the C.O. - couldn't bear to be in the same
room as him I suppose."
"I couldn't say." Giotto was terse to the point of rudeness.
"Where do I sign?" The formalities were soon over and the
security detail left, glad to escape the heated atmosphere they
could feel but not decipher. All this time the prisoner stood
quietly, only the bunching of the muscles in shoulders and
neck and the tightly clenched fists betraying his tension.
"If you will come this way." The gentle words hardly seemed
to register until the older man went up to him and touched
him lightly on the arm. For a few seconds he didn't move, then
he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, lifted his head and,
face Vulcan-calm, followed Giotto towards the door.
And then his miracle happened.
As the door swept open he heard the sound of a well-known
voice. "Ship's Company 'shun!" and the muffled thud of boots
and there, lined up on either side of the corridor, in full
dress uniform, the crew of the Starship Enterprise stood to parade
attention. On either side of the door the bosuns' whistles sounded
in formal acknowledgement of a captain's arrival on board.
He swayed slightly and the voice sounded in his ear. "Just a
minute, Sirr, I'll soon have these damn things off ye." Mr Scott
in the tartan glory of his clan, wielding a pair of bolt cutters, released
him from his shackles. An honour guard from Security formed
in front of him and Mr Scott put a tactful hand under his elbow,
then they set off down the corridor. As each crew member was
passed, they saluted in the rarely-used, old-fashioned, military
manner and each of them murmured their own greeting.
"Good to have you back, sir." "Welcome home, sir."
As they turned a corner he glanced back and saw the crew racing
away and realised that they were running to relieve those on
duty so that they too could join the welcome. He pressed a
hand to his chest - the pain over his heart was scarcely bearable.
One or two of the crew were openly crying as they stood to
attention, and only by working his way through the crew list,
ticking off people in his mind as he passed them, was he able
to retain his own self-control.
They entered the security section, marched into a cell and
then without a break marched straight back out again. A brief
smile flickered, he understood perfectly.
He knew his strength was failing fast as they entered the
turbolift and swept up to the senior officers' quarters. It was
there that he found those who were closest to him - his yeoman,
Christine Chapel, Giotto, who had somehow found time to change
uniforms, the bridge crews DePaul, Kyle, Leslie, Riley,
Palmer, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura.
He paused for a moment outside the door to his quarters and
passed a wondering hand over the name plate he had thought
never to see again, then he went in alone. They were here as he
had known they would be, not stood to attention as the others
had been, just waiting for him. He opened his mouth to speak
and they had to run to catch him as he fell.
Vulcan reflexes ensured that Spock won the race. Gently he
lifted the limp and frighteningly light body onto the bed and
stood, tense but impassive, while McCoy ran a scanner over it.
The doctor had already reviewed the records sent by the prison
authorities and so he was not surprised by the readings. He
looked up at the Vulcan and smiled reassuringly. "Exhaustion
and emotional overload - I'm not even gonna take him down to
Sickbay. What he needs is quiet and a friend or two to talk to."
He saw the narrow shoulders relax and watched with some
concern as the Vulcan sat down heavily on the bed. Poor bastard,
easy to forget how hard this has been on him, he thought and then
aloud, "D'ye want me to take the first watch? There ought to be
someone here - if he wakes up alone in his condition he's liable
to think we've had second thoughts."
Spock nodded, unable to speak. He had been unutterably shocked
by the sight of the white-faced figure who had just come in. He
had seen the body relax its upright stance, the mind its strained
hold on consciousness and both surrender willingly to the dark. Jim,
who never surrendered to anything! He was horrified, both at the sight
and at its effect on himself. If he was to be of any use at all to his
friend, he must regain control, re-erect his shields against emotion
before he sat down in a corner and wept like a child. McCoy,
stronger in this if in nothing else, patted him on the shoulder.
"Off you go then, I'll call you in six hours."
Spock was turning to go when the man on the bed opened
his eyes and spoke. "Mom?"
"She sends her love, says to tell you she and Peter never
doubted you and they're both looking forward to seeing you
The eyes drifted shut and then forced themselves open.
"Moira Mitchell, will you check she's OK, please?"
"We'll see to it - don't worry, just go back to sleep." McCoy was
talking gently, in the same voice he had hushed his infant
daughter with in the years before his divorce.
"And please will you turn the lights out - I haven't had any
darkness..." His voice trailed off as Spock dimmed the light and
he slept. They noted silently that every thing he had asked
of them had been phrased as a request not an order. Although
neither man doubted him, they both realised that whatever
had happened to him and whatever they felt about it, James
Kirk no longer considered himself captain.
They went to stand over by the door to talk so they would
not disturb him. "Doctor, who is Moira Mitchell?"
"Gary Mitchell's mother, she's disabled - Almatorsi fever, Jim's
been supporting her since Gary died."
"Surely he had service insurance?"
"Young bastard hocked it as security for a loan – the money lender
called it in when he died. She thinks she's getting a 'fleet
pension, she doesn't know that if it wasn't for Jim she'd be destitute."
Spock nodded and thought how typical were both the act and the
reticence. He now had a good idea what had lured the captain
off the base without telling anybody where he was going, an
act that had raised unavoidable suspicion in several very high
places. All it would have taken would have been an invitation
to a meeting with or about Mrs Mitchell and the captain would
have been anxious to avoid discussing his destination with
anybody. Someone, somewhere had made it their business to
get to know Jim very well indeed and he reflected that it took
a particularly ugly ruthlessness to use a man's most decent
instincts to lure him to his own destruction.
He glanced towards the bed and left the room. Outside he found
Uhura waiting alone, obviously deputised as crew liaison. He
explained the position to her; repeating the doctor's diagnosis,
unaware that his reputation for truthfulness made his
reassurances more valued than McCoy's.
The news spread rapidly though the ship. Throughout the preceding
four months, faith in the captain had remained surprisingly
high. Most of the crew had served under Kirk long enough
to grow accustomed to the sight of him pulling rabbits from
hats and when he had first disappeared they had all hoped
for and even expected the best. Very few had been prepared
to believe the worst before they had to.
The broadcasts when they came had the effect of dividing the
crew into two, perhaps unexpected, groups; those who
refused to believe the captain a traitor and those who, having
seen the condition he was in, believed that he might have
talked but who nevertheless could not bring themselves to
blame him. Knowing him as they all did, they realised that
only unimaginable horrors could have reduced him to the
state they could see on their screens and they were
prepared to welcome him back on that basis.
Anyone harbouring darker suspicions kept them to
themselves especially after the lynch mob rhetoric of the
media reached the Enterprise. The resultant backlash against
"civilians", "desk jockeys", "press vultures" and outsiders
in general had generated a fierce, protective loyalty
towards "their" captain. A loyalty that had welded the
crew into a single, focused and rather terrifying unit that
was more than ready to forget recent history and remember
instead their service with him. They all owed him their
lives but for many it was the memory of a thousand
tiny courtesies and examples of consideration that
weighed more heavily upon them and they found
themselves basing loyalty on things as small as an arm
round grieving shoulders, a smile of thanks, an apology
or a letter of reassurance to an injured crewman's
Unaware as yet of the fierce emotions his return had
stirred up, Kirk slept the thin, unrestful, dream-ridden sleep
that had been his portion since the last time he had occupied
the same bed.
Kirk woke early the next morning and lay for a few
seconds luxuriating in the dark, peaceful hum of his quarters.
Then memory crashed over him like a tidal wave and he
rolled over onto his stomach, groaning. Instantly someone
was at the side of his bed and without thinking he jerked
into a foetal huddle, covering his head with his arms.
"Jim - please!"
Even above the thunderous pounding of his heart the
shocked voice of his friend penetrated, he uncurled and
looked up into Spock's openly appalled face.
He swallowed convulsively. "Sorry - force of habit," he said
awkwardly and looked away, unable to bear the sight of
the naked emotion he had forced on the Vulcan.
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed and
realised that someone had removed the fatigues while he
slept and that he was wearing only the anonymous,
starfleet issue underwear of T-shirt and shorts, the kind that
was supplied to prisoners and serving crew alike. He
wondered vaguely which of them had had the sensitivity to
realise that he wouldn't want to contaminate his quarters
with tangible reminders of his imprisonment. He shivered
slightly; the memories were not going to be that easy to
"I'm going to take a shower - you will be here when I come
out, won't you?" He was unable to look his friend in the
face and so missed the eyes widening in startled
comprehension and heard only the reassuring "Yes".
As soon as the bathroom door closed, Spock moved to the
intercom and softly alerted the doctor who arrived seconds
later. Quickly he explained the situation and watched as
McCoy reacted explosively. "Poor devil, still not sure of us!"
Furious though he was, the doctor still had the presence
of mind to keep to a whisper. He paused in his pacing to
look at the Vulcan. "What are you picking up from him?"
Although primarily a touch telepath, prolonged daily
proximity and a number of actual mind melds had left the
Spock with the ability to sense the captain's general
emotional state. He concentrated, choosing his words
carefully. "Shame, exhaustion, fear and guilt," he said
McCoy nodded. "Yeah, that's just about what I expected.
Torture's like rape and that's the classic pathology of the rape
victim - doesn't matter what they did, doesn't matter how
hard they fought, they still feel like collaborators in their
own violation." A sudden horrible thought occurred. "You
Spock did not pretend not to understand. "Possible but
unlikely, given what we know of the Romulans' warrior code."
The Vulcan was stone-faced. "I take it your medical
records." The doctor's shake of the head cut off the rest of the
sentence, and the two men settled down to wait for their
In the shower Kirk stood under the pounding water, temperature
and pressure turned up as high as the computer would allow.
Having done his best not to think about anything important
for weeks, he now found that he was incapable of rational
thought at all. The words he'd forced himself to memorise
all those weeks ago trudged through his brain, an endless,
dreary round of names and places and figures interspersed
with nauseating memories of his own voice pleading for
mercy. Wearily he leant forward and rested his forehead
against the tiled wall, hoping to drown out the noises in his
head with the drumming of the water and the far-off
throbbing of the engines.
He stayed under the water so long that McCoy was starting to
fret and when he eventually came out, naked save for the
towel round his waist, a whole new cycle of anxiety
started up. It wasn't just the all too visible rib-cage or even
the extensive scar-tissue, for by now Romulan medicine was
known to be strong on returning a man to fighting strength
and weak on the cosmetic side of surgery; it was the symbols
crudely tattooed into his chest high on the left shoulder that
shocked McCoy to the extent that, hardened as he was by
years of front-line, military medicine, he had to choke back
the vomit. There was something particularly obscene in the
sight of the alien script, the flaring orange and black colours
and the way the inflamed flesh round the edges glistened in the
subdued light. The medical records had spoken of "scarring to
the chest and abdomen"; there had been no mention of this
Kirk flushed under the scrutiny and turned away to his clothes
locker. Ignoring the drawers containing uniforms, he
rummaged around until he found an old pair of corduroy
pants and a woollen shirt, kept for the laziest of shore leaves.
Military life, with its shared facilities and communal living,
soon kills off personal modesty; however with increasing rank,
habits of privacy usually tended to re-establish themselves.
There was something curiously pathetic about the way he
neither asked nor expected to be left alone to dress. Unable
to bear the sight of the scars anymore, McCoy, forgetting
all the taboos, took Spock by one surprisingly tense arm
and led him to the opposite end of the cabin and together
they stared at the wall.
Behind them they heard the quiet sounds of dressing and
then the thud of a dropped shoe and a muffled, "I can't do this."
The strain in his voice seemed grossly disproportionate
to the difficulty disclosed when they turned to find him sitting
on his bed, struggling with the laces of a pair of old shoes.
Gracefully the Vulcan came over, knelt at his feet, and put
his hand over the trembling fingers. "You don't have to," he
said gently as he dealt deftly with the fastening.
McCoy looked over his shoulder and understood something,
there was no easy way to ask this but he had to know.
"Your motor control is damaged, isn't it?"
"Yes." The close-cropped head remained bent, revealing a
ring of scars running right round the bone-white neck.
Swiftly McCoy ran his scanner over him, how much else
had the Base medic missed? He examined the readings and
sighed with relief. "Never mind, the damage isn't
irreparable. You come down to Sickbay and I'll have you
sorted out in a couple of hours, we'll deal with that godawful
tattoo thing at the same time."
"No!" The voice was low but definite.
"It's only a coupla minor operations.."
"No! No more operations!"
The scanner in McCoy's hand began to read massive increases
in blood pressure and adrenalin and, in a sudden flare of
horror, he understood. "They didn't give you any anaesthetic
did they?" he whispered.
Kirk shook his head and then forced himself to lift it so he
could apologise to his friend face to face. "I'm sorry about
the reaction, Bones. I know it'd be different with you but
you're not allowed to treat me. My body is part of the
evidence for my trial."
The extent and vehemence of the doctor's cursing brought
the first smile they had seen to the tired face, and for a
moment they had a glimpse of the vital, living man they
had known before. Spock raised an eyebrow and essayed
a contribution to lightening the mood. "Really, Doctor, I
don't suppose Starfleet Command knows where a Falactrian
bandit keeps its hoard and I fail to see how demanding
they insert themselves in it could possibly help."
The pale face looked up at them both and smiled slightly
and then the eyes filled with tears. McCoy, who had been
waiting for this since Kirk's arrival on board, cheerfully
abandoned 40-odd years of conditioning on the
acceptability of physical contact between men and, sitting on
the bed, hauled his friend into his arms.
After a split second's hesitation Spock, who was still sitting on
his heels at Kirk's feet, knelt upright and put his arms round
both of them. Sandwiched between his two friends, his face
buried in someone's shoulder; James Kirk wept as though his
heart would break. Not quietly, as the despairing weep, but
with a sort of noisy misery that spoke of great pain and of a
strong mind still struggling to understand what had happened
When he had finished, the doctor produced a real silk
handkerchief from up his sleeve and Kirk blew his nose and
wiped his eyes. "I can't imagine why women think this such
a good idea," he said, real amusement in his voice for the
first time. "I feel terrible."
"Well, in my medical opinion, you look a whole lot more like
yourself and less like the zombie-walking-death that came
aboard yesterday," retorted the doctor, giddy with relief.
"Yes." He was surprised. "Hell, that's a first. I haven't felt
hungry since they grabbed me." He was talking to the doctor
but his eyes were on the Vulcan, who had dropped back to
sit on his heels, his face impassive save for the pulse beating
in his forehead.
"What'll you have?"
"Anything but combat rations." His eyes were still on Spock.
"They wouldn't give me anything else on 23, and I've had
enough reconstituted protein and high energy biscuit to last a
lifetime - if they ever call a war I'm taking a lunch pail."
McCoy laughed delightedly and bustled away to the intercom
to order a meal. Kirk leaned forward. "I'm sorry about that,
Spock," he said quietly. "How much of it did you take on board?"
"Very little - after the first thirty-five seconds I found it
intolerable and was obliged to choose between shielding my
mind against it and moving away."
Kirk eyed him narrowly and then relaxed at the candour of the
gaze that met his. "I thought I could feel you mentally
standing back. S'okay, I was relieved - I wasn't sure what
downloading four and a half months of grief in a few
minutes would do to you. It's bad enough for me and I'm
used to emotional loads. I don't think I could bear it if I
forced you to take it on as well."
Spock looked down quizzically as he got back to his feet,
touched by Kirk's familiar, and frequently exasperating,
willingness to deal with another's hurts before his own.
Remembering the previous night's request he said,
"About Mrs Mitchell, as of three weeks ago she was in
excellent health, indeed there has been a 4% increase in
circulatory efficiency and her doctors believe that it may
be possible to operate and give her at least assisted mobility."
Kirk stared at him open-mouthed then threw up his hands.
"That's it - I give up! You are without doubt an absolute
miracle - how the hell did you find that out all the way out
"I checked your messages, I hope you do not object - there
was one from Mrs Mitchell dated three weeks ago. She
gave you her news and assured you of her support."
Kirk smiled his thanks to them both as McCoy came back
bearing a tray loaded with the sort of breakfast he didn't
usually let anybody eat in peace. They took chairs and
watched in satisfaction as he sat down at his desk and tucked in.
Cautiously Spock tried a little morale boosting. "Jim, I
strongly recommend that you read your mail, there are
many messages of support you would no doubt find
encouraging." He still found human humour difficult but he
knew that it was based at least in part upon incongruity so
he continued, "I must confess that some of the senders are a
little unexpected. They include Mother Horta and, almost
more surprisingly, Ambassador Fox."
It must have worked because Kirk swallowed a mouthful of toast
and grinned. "I bet that's the first time those two have appeared
in the same sentence! Mother Horta?"
"Yes, apparently thanks to her contact with the miners she has
become greatly addicted to the newsnets and now that her
children are doing most of the work, she has plenty of time
in which to indulge this regrettable weakness. According
to the mining manager who sent her message, she states
that she does not believe a word of any of it because you
are far too - I believe the word she used was endoskeletal."
Kirk laughed, an oddly rusty noise. "Endoskeletal?" he said.
"I've been called a lot of things in my time but that's a new
one - anyone know what it means?"
"It means she thinks you've got too much backbone to have
done what you're accused of," said the doctor.
Kirk's smile faded. "Pity to spoil the poor creature's illusions,"
he said lightly, then shoved his plate aside. "Sorry Bones, I
can't eat any more." He grabbed and retained the coffee mug
as the doctor whisked the tray away and drank deep,
filling his senses with the unaccustomed richness. After
months of mere nutrition without taste, the flavour of the
coffee seemed to be made up of many different layers and
nuances, complex and wonderful. He looked up to see them
watching him. "I was just thinking how much we take for
granted. Even the ship's coffee tastes good."
"Captain," began Spock but was interrupted at once.
"Not 'captain'. They've taken that from me and I've got to get
used to it." His voice was light but firm. "Tell everyone to
call me Jim. I'd like that, nobody has called me that since
I was... taken."
"Jim then." Spock took a deep breath. "I would like to
apologise for yesterday's detour by way of the cells, I trust
you did not find it too distressing."
"No, I wasn't upset. Made you promise to glasshouse me
"Indeed. I was quite prepared to .... override that promise
however Mr Scott and Doctor McCoy insisted that you would
'appreciate the joke'."
Kirk smiled, savouring the complex web of loyalties involved.
Spock had been prepared to break his word but neither
McCoy nor Scotty had been prepared to let him, and both
of them had trusted their former captain enough to know that
he wouldn't want it to happen either. "They were right – besides
after that welcome how could I possibly object to anything.
Did you organise it?"
Unable to keep quiet any longer, McCoy intervened. "Nobody
organised it, it just sorta grew in the last few hours before we
got to 23. Started with Security givin' their boots an extra shine
and snowballed from there."
"So how come they sent the Enterprise to get me? I was
expecting just about any other ship." He watched in some
amusement as McCoy and Spock shared a look of uneasy
Spock looked at the wall over Kirk's head and began,
"The original intention was to send the Hood, however that
ship had ... problems so the Enterprise was given the order instead."
"What sort of problems?"
"Ah." Kirk too remembered Engineer Masterson and decided
against further enquiries. He yawned hugely. "Sorry, I've only
just got up and I'm ready for bed again."
"No, not yet - let's talk." McCoy opened his mouth to speak but
was cut off. "No, not about that, I can't – not yet anyway. Tell
me about the ship."
Spock had been wondering how long it would take him to ask
about the ship. The question of command was going to be
difficult. Jim had never before had to deal with its permanent
loss and his reaction, judging by the business at Gamma
Hydra IV, might be violent, still there was no point in trying
to hide the true position. "I am in command of the
Enterprise at this time," he said and watched in some surprise
as Kirk blew out his breath in a vast gust of relief.
"Thank heaven for that! What with the welcome committee
and you still having only two stripes up I had visions of some
poor captain, bound and gagged and stuffed in a store-room
somewhere. Why haven't they promoted you?" His pleasure
and interest were both obvious and sincere.
"As you know I have no wish to command, however Starfleet
appear to be labouring under the misconception that I can be
persuaded to take up such a position," Spock said blandly.
Kirk eyed him, unfooled. "Played Halberson off against
Fitzpatrick did you?"
McCoy was incredulous. "How the hell did you know that?"
Kirk shrugged. "It was the logical thing to do," he said with a
certain dawning mischief in his voice. "Halberson wants the
ship for that protege of his and Fitzpatrick wants anything
except what Halberson wants - they both have the power to
make the decision or to stop someone else making it. Spock
would be the ideal interim candidate for both of them while
they rally their power-bases."
Spock had the unaccustomed sensation of being out-thought;
it had taken him three days of delicate manoeuvring and
inquiries to come to the same conclusion.
Kirk leaned forward, gathering their attention into one narrow
focus. "Spock I want you to keep the ship. Accept the
promotion and captain her. You can do it, however little you think
you can, and you are the only person I can entrust her to."
Spock looked at him, his heart sinking. Kirk had obviously lost
all hope. Hope was often illogical but for this human it was
essential and it was gone. Only in that extremity would Kirk be
prepared to hand over the ship that was more to him than his own life.
He thought of his own plans. He had no desire to continue in the
service if Kirk were forced to leave it, having once known the
balance and ease of such a relationship he knew he was unwilling to
serve without it. He had been alone before and he did not relish a
further experience of it, especially not aboard the Enterprise,
especially as he knew that McCoy, that most loyal of men, had
also decided to quit the service if Jim were convicted.
He had acknowledged the unVulcan illogic of the reaction weeks
ago, but found himself both unable to suppress it and unwilling
even to try. This double self-betrayal had occupied his meditation
period for several days before he had been obliged to set it aside
as a paradox, an equation without resolution. It was his duty to
stay and yet he would go.
He had resolved to resign his commission and take up residence
and whatever research work was available near whatever prison
or rehab. colony Starfleet consigned his T'hy'la to. He could
and would offer such comfort and support as the law and his
friend's stubborn pride would allow, but he knew that he was
utterly unable to remain aboard the Enterprise alone.
He looked into the earnest face opposite and found himself
incapable of giving the assurance that was demanded of him
but equally unable to refuse. "We will speak of this another
time," he said and hurriedly continued, leaving no time for
interruption. "As for the ship's status - we are currently skirting
the Neutral Zone on course for Earth at warp 5. ETA 3 weeks
4 days ll.3 hours, the ship is in excellent condition and all
personnel are functioning to within 94% of maximum
Kirk opened his mouth to argue and then thought better of it.
Who was he to insist? The time when he could issue orders was
gone. He cast around for another topic of conversation.
"Look, I noticed yesterday you have the same crew complement
we had before I disappeared, we were due a crew rotation two
months back - what happened?"
Spock was conscious of an odd sensation, part regret and
part relief. If Kirk had been able to notice that in the condition
he had been in yesterday, then the habit of command was
by no means broken, somewhere deep inside the old
responsibilities still tugged at him. No doubt this residue of
captaincy would make relinquishing command harder but at
least it meant that there were enough of the basic building
blocks of his character left for him to rebuild himself and
He thought back to the mass refusal to leave the ship until its
captain's fate was known and phrased his answer carefully.
"No rotation was necessary, 17 people re-enlisted, 12 people
refused promotion and/or re-posting, 28 people refused to take
accumulated home leave and 2 cases of Fasothla Swamp
Disease were accidentally recorded in the Medical Log as
influenza, thereby avoiding the compulsory shore convalescence
laid down for that illness. There were therefore no crew
vacancies to be filled."
Kirk's eyes were shining: this was like all his birthdays come at
once, so much trust, so much love. "What about the 4 from
the lower decks who were due to take late entry to the
Academy last month?" he said sternly.
"Ah yes, most unfortunate. It appears that the entire pre-
Academy training group contracted chicken pox and had to
be quarantined. Their entry has therefore been postponed until
Kirk flung his head back and gave voice to the laugh that had
been building. "Chicken pox! What the devil is chicken pox?"
he yelled in delight.
"It is of course more Doctor McCoy's province than mine, but
I understand it is an ancient Terran disease hitherto believed
extinct." Kirk laughed again and half way through the laugh
became a yawn. "Jim, perhaps you should consider resting further."
"OK Spock, I'll just have another shower and then I'll have a nap."
He caught sight of McCoy and wagged a finger at him. "And you
can take that psycho-analytical expression off your face, Bones!
Being clean is another thing I've taken for granted, that's all."
McCoy was unconvinced. "Will you be OK on your own?"
"Oh yes." His voice was firm but the eyes had a strange look in
them. "In fact I think that was one of the worst things, nobody
ever left me alone." He shook himself and laid a hand on both
their shoulders, urging them towards the door, "Now off you go
- I'll see you when you come off watch."
They let themselves be persuaded. McCoy however had the
morale of the rest of the ship to worry about. "Jim, are you up to
seeing some of the others tonight? They're all real worried about
"Yeah sure. I'd like that, but not too many and.... tell them no
They left him and outside turned to look at one another. McCoy
spoke first, he was never sure how accurate the Vulcan's
diagnoses of emotion were and he was anxious that there be
no misunderstanding. "He appears to be coping with it but
he's still hurting."
"That is to be expected, under the circumstances." Spock
understood only to well. The thirty-five seconds of mental
contact he had endured had almost overwhelmed him. He
had picked up virtually nothing of the ordeal itself probably
because, even in his extremity, Kirk had sought to protect
the telepath he called T'hy'la. It would have been both
cruel and unseemly to probe further; however the torrential
flood of shame and self-loathing had been unmistakable.
Normally the insights gained in the meld were sacrosanct,
but he was conscious of his own lack of experience in the
healing of emotions and decided to confide in Jim's other,
He looked down the corridor checking for the presence of
other ears than McCoy's. "The Captain," out here he had no
intention of calling him by any other name, "is a man of
conscience." He put his hand up to halt the doctor's
explosive interruption. "He is also a man for whom it is
imperative to act in accordance with that conscience. At this
time he believes he has failed us, the ship, the crew, the service,
the Federation and himself. The memory of his tribulation
burdens him little in comparison with that."
McCoy blinked, startled at his perception. Spock was right;
Jim was a man who constantly felt the need to question his own
actions and motives. The belief that he had behaved wrongly in
a matter that so nearly touched his personal honour would
be intolerable to him - quite apart from the question of any
military secrets. He nodded and the two men separated, each
lost in his own thoughts.
Dinner that night was an unexpectedly jovial affair. Kirk was
determined to keep the occasion light and the others, Scotty,
Uhura, Chekov and Sulu took their cue from him. He had
dealt with the matter of names the moment they arrived by
the simple expedient of kissing Uhura on the cheek and
calling her by her first name. However nobody felt able to
reciprocate except Mr Scott, who had known him as a cocky
young ensign and at the time had even outranked him.
So it was Scotty who raised the question that was uppermost in
all their minds. After a long leisurely meal in which the talk
had all been about old times and as they sat over the brandy
decanter, he took his courage in both hands and asked,
"Have ye decided what ye want to do, Jim?"
Kirk's head was spinning slightly as a result of the brandy after
so long an abstinence but he did not pretend not to understand.
"I'm going back to Earth to stand trial." He waited until the
protests died down. "I know you want to arrange an escape
for me but if I'd wanted to do that I would have run from
23 - wouldn't have been that difficult to jump a ship and I
could have done it without involving anyone else."
He looked them, his face serene but still hopelessly wearied.
"I'm going back to see my family and to take what's coming to
me. I'm not as bad as I painted myself in that broadcast but
I deserve at least some what I'm going to get - so don't waste
too much pity on me." He grinned and passed his hand over
his bristling scalp. "I don't suppose they can do anything to
me much worse than this haircut - practically counts as cruel
and unusual punishment on its own."
An appalled silence formed and he hurried to fill it, "By the way,
I've got a bone to pick with you, Scotty. How could you
persuade Madeleine Masterson to risk her career like that?"
Mr Scott, like the old-fashioned officer and gentleman that
he was, accepted the decision and responded to it. "Sirr!" His
indignation was a beautifully judged parody of one of his
famous tirades in defence of his 'bairns'. "Are ye insinuatin'
that a laddie I trained couldn't disable a ship wi'out being caught?"
Kirk shook his head and hastened to deny it. "Heavens no!
I wouldn't dare! And I suppose now I'm aboard Maddie
will suddenly find a way to make repairs."
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
"Tell me, what if it hadn't been the Hood?" He was genuinely
Scott smiled affectionately; did Kirk really not know how much
loyalty he had built up over the years? He leant forward and
patted him on the arm. "Jim, between us in this room - you, me
and Nyota here - we've got laddies on every ship in the
quadrant. There was no way they were goin' to avoid sendin
' th'Enterprise." He grinned evilly. "Mind you, y'know Tom
Styles is on the Lexington now? Well, I always thought his
plan to programme the food replicators to add a huge dose of
laxative t'everything was a wee bit on the crude side."
They all laughed and the moment passed. Kirk was never
quite sure how true that last bit had been.
The meal drew to a close after that, his fatigue was obvious
and nobody wanted to tax his strength.
Uhura was the last to leave and, as she passed him in the
doorway, she put her arms round him briefly and was shocked to
feel the fine tremors running through his body. This was
more of a strain than he was letting on.
A wave of almost intolerable compassion swept over her and
she nearly offered to stay. If anybody needed someone to
hold him through the night, it was James Kirk.
There had been a physical attraction between them for years
which neither of them had ever had any intention of pursuing,
not only because service regs disapproved but also because
they were both anxious not to ruin a first class, professional
relationship. However, at this moment, she could see his
need and it over rode her scruples.
She opened her mouth, hesitated and then closed it again.
She couldn't. It was too like admitting that he would never
be captain again, too much like giving up hope. She hugged
him hard and left.
Back in her own cabin she reflected on what she had seen.
She did not believe the half-confession he had just made
for an instant, recognising in it the familiar sound of the
captain taking up responsibility for things that were not his
fault. She must remember to have a word with Chekov, he
was scarcely more than a boy, she'd better make sure he
hadn't got the wrong idea.
During the next few days the crew got used to seeing Kirk
padding round the ship in casual clothes and a pair of loafers
Spock had somehow persuaded the fabricators to disgorge.
To the crew he appeared cheerful and grateful and resigned.
The clothes, the crew-cut hair and the fact that he was a good
twenty pounds underweight made him look ridiculously
young, like somebody's kid brother, but even so hardly
anybody could bring themselves to call him by his first
name. Indeed very few of the crew could bring themselves
to talk to him at all, daunted by both the scars they could
see and the knowledge that there must be more, both
physical and mental, that they could not.
He was, however, in no danger of mistaking this for rejection
because, time and again, in corridors and lifts and Mess
queues he found himself meeting crewmen and women
unable to express their feelings except through gentle
hands which patted his shoulder or squeezed his arm or
grasped his hand.
He never went to the Bridge, preferring to spend his time
wandering round the areas of the ship a captain never gets
much time to see. He even spent an entire day up a Jeffries
tube with Mr Scott, renewing the magnetic interphase coils
for the number two impulse engine. Nobody doubted that he
was saying goodbye to his ship.
McCoy and Spock waited to be confided in but it never
happened and eventually, driven by increasing concern, the
doctor, with a somewhat reluctant Spock in tow, went in
search of him. They found him in his quarters, rubbing his
head with a towel after yet another shower.
McCoy glared at him, angry, embarrassed and afraid. He knew
damn fine that, whatever he was about to hear, he wouldn't
like it. He also knew that it needed to be said so he charged
"Jim, you have to talk to us," he said crossly, "I don't know
what you've done and I don't much care but you have to talk
to somebody about it. I got the computer to monitor the water
use in here and it's four times higher than anybody else's on
the ship. Whatever it is you're washin' off, I want to know about
it and I want to know now!"
Spock winced internally at this tone but Kirk seemed unoffended.
He merely turned away and tossed the towel into the disposal
chute. "I was wondering how long it would take you to come and
badger me," he said calmly. "I don't suppose it will do any good to
say I'd rather not talk about it?"
"Thought not. Et tu Spock?"
"If you would rather not talk in my presence I would be happy to
leave you alone with the doctor."
"Hell no - that's not what I meant and you know it. For someone who
claims to know nothing about emotions, you're getting entirely too
good at knowing which of my buttons to press. If I do talk about it –
it'll be to the both of you. I'm just not sure I want to talk to anyone."
McCoy pulled up a chair and settled down for a good argument.
"Look - what's the standard procedure following a mission with
casualties?" There was no answer so he plunged on. "You
debrief the people involved, find out what went wrong, try to
stop it happening again and try to stop them feeling responsible
for things they couldn't help - that's all I want to do now."
Kirk was not about to give in that easily. "The two situations are
hardly analogous," he said stiffly.
"Why not? You sure look like one of the walking wounded to me
and you're bleeding guilt all over the ship."
Spock felt it was time to intervene. "Might I offer an alternative
view point? We are currently skirting the Neutral Zone, Romulan
incursions along the border have been increasing over recent
months and only the Federation's enhanced shielding has
protected ground-based operations since then. Although I
estimate the chances of you actually being a traitor to be
3,589 to 1 against, the fact remains that you must have told the
Romulans something and it would greatly assist me in my
capacity as commander of this vessel if I knew precisely what."
"3,589 to 1 eh?" Kirk couldn't help but be amused. "Pretty good
odds." He looked at them with an expression that was
half-affectionate, half-angry. "You two are getting Machiavellian
in your old ages - what is this, a variation on good cop/bad cop?
Bones appeals to my emotions and you appeal to my command
instincts?" He dropped into a chair. "I don't know if I like
being that predictable. I'm sure as hell not that easy to manipulate."
McCoy could practically see the need to talk written all over the
stubborn face on the other side of the desk. "OK," he said brutally
"It's straight emotional blackmail time. Tell us because we're
your friends and we're asking you to."
An explosion of the rare but cataclysmic Kirk temper seemed
likely and Spock hurried to join in the doctor's request.
"Please Jim," he said simply and took up a chair opposite his
friend. His years with humans had taught him all about their
simple need to say out loud the things that weighed upon them.
Kirk found his objections melting. It was a simple request that
said in effect - come and be helped. His shoulders relaxed and
he sighed. "Looks like I am that easy to manipulate after all,"
he said eventually.
He ordered two mugs of coffee and one of the pungent
Vulcan brew Spock favoured from the replicator, settled back in
his chair. After a few seconds of tense silence, he began to
talk, his voice unconvincingly casual.
"OK let's start at Starbase 18. I went ashore to see the Portmaster
about those two men (Watson and Ramirez wasn't it?) who'd
gotten into a brawl shore-side. As I was leaving I got a
message that Doctor Matheus was on the base and would like
to see me. I'd been in communication with him for years about
Mrs Mitchell and the message said he had good news. I didn't
think twice about it, there was some sort of medic's conference
going on and 18 is half a galaxy away from any danger, usually
so safe it's dull. I went to the hotel room I'd been told and got
jumped. I came to on a Romulan ship, the Tar'shevek."
He paused, this was even more difficult than he had expected.
Intellectually he knew all about the psychology of trauma, he'd
been carefully trained to help anyone under his command who
found themselves in this sort of situation, but knowing he should
talk was a long way from feeling able to. The truth was
he didn't want to remember, he didn't want to have to put into
words the things that had happened to him and most of all, despite
everything they had said and done, he did not want to have to lay
his dishonour bare before his friends. The very thought of it
produced a wave of nausea and a horrible griping sensation in
the pit of his stomach.
On the other side of the table they watched him, their eyes bright
with concern. He tried to speak and couldn't. He looked down
and, when he looked up again, his face was white and strained.
"I'm not sure I can do this," he said slowly. "I know it's stupid but
you two have such a ridiculously high opinion of me ...."
McCoy leaned over the desk; his exasperation only partly feigned.
"Listen to me, Jim-boy. Me n'Spock don't care if you told the
Romulans everything from the combination of Komack's safe
to the President's inside leg measurement. We've both spent
four and half of the worst months of our lives worrying about
you - now you're back we don't give a plugged nickel about
anything else. You should tell us because it'll help you, it won't
make a blind bit of difference to us."
Kirk glanced at the Vulcan. "Colloquially expressed," began
Spock and the other two joined in the chorus, "but essentially
correct." Kirk smiled; it was good to be home, even if it
wouldn't be for long. He got himself another mug of coffee,
rapped his hands round the warmth and started again.
"OK, OK I'm convinced." He took a deep breath and deliberately
unfocussed his eyes; he couldn't do this if he had to watch
"We all know the Regs. 'Regulation 143.3.2 - It is the duty of
every captured officer to escape if possible' - well it
wasn't. They weren't the military, every military organisation
I've ever met has a moral code of some kind, even if it appears
alien to us. This was the Tal'Shiar, Imperial Intelligence and
they had no concept of the civilised treatment of prisoners.
They didn't want me to escape so they broke my legs with a
grab-handle." His voice was dispassionate, if he told the story
as though it were someone else's perhaps he could get
through it. The open indignation of the doctor and Spock's
gradually increasing rigidity of body went unseen.
He took another deep breath and started quoting again,
"'Regulation 143.3.3 In the event that escape is impossible it
shall be the duty of every officer in possession, either physically
or mentally, of classified material to ensure that such material
does not fall into the hands of the enemy' . They call that the
suicide clause, though it doesn't say that in so many words.
I could have killed myself during the journey. They never, ever
left me alone but I could have used that technique I made
you tell me about Spock, the breathing thing."
Spock suppressed his reactions. That thought had been almost
the worst thing about the whole ordeal, not knowing
whether to be glad that he had taught his friend the Vulcan
technique for painless euthanasia and had thereby given him a
way to avoid the worst, or whether to be sorry that it was he
who had shown Jim how to die.
"I couldn't do it. I don't think it was fear of dying because I already
considered myself dead. They'd question me, probably under
torture and then kill me - I knew that and I was ready for it.
I just couldn't kill myself, it was too like..." the scarred fingers
flexed as though grasping for the right words, "giving up
before I had to.
I wish I thought it was courage - I've a nasty feeling it was more
like vanity, maybe I've built my self-image up to the extent
that I'd rather betray the Federation than compromise it. 'I am
Kirk - and if I quit, I'll never hear the end of it'," he said wryly,
quoting practically the only two respectable lines of a scurrilous
lampoon which had circulated through the ship to great applause
a few months before his disappearance. He shook his head and
shrugged. "Maybe it was fear, I don't know any more."
"I think I was on the ship for about three weeks, I couldn't move.
I was dependant on them for everything." A nauseated expression
appeared briefly and was gone. "I don't know where we ended
up because we transported down at night. All I saw was a big
courtyard and a huge white building shaped a bit like the Tented
Hall on Vulcan, only larger and more flamboyant. I was expecting
something out of Edgar Alan Poe - you know, Bones – old and
dark and creepy. This was more like a hospital - light, clean, efficient."
It was getting really difficult to talk now. "The first few weeks
were taken up with the standard sort of thing. Sub-harmonics,
subliminals, hypnosis, auto-suggestion, sleep conditioning,
DPR, sensory deprivation, drugs. Surprisingly enough, the
command conditioning worked - it was all pretty horrible but none
of it was unbearable."
He paused but forced himself to continue, "Then there was a
nasty attempt at a forced mind meld, a weasily little bastard
with a flat head and eyes like a dead fish. You'd told me how
to deal with that one, Spock. I gathered up all the hate and anger
that had been building in me since they'd grabbed me, and I
rammed it down the link he built up after they'd tied me down."
He grinned wolfishly. "I don't know what it did to him but they
carried him out, bleeding from the nose and ears and I never saw
Despite himself he caught sight of McCoy's shocked expression and
became suddenly angry. "Sorry Bones - I'm afraid 'Good Ol' Jim'
is on vacation right now. Maybe next week I'll start feeling sorry for
my enemies again but for the time being you'll just have to put up
with Jim the Sonovabitch, the one who thinks the only good
Romulan is a dead one."
The anger drained away and he rubbed his eyes wearily and looked
at them both. "Do you really want to know all this?" He didn't
wait for an answer. He just started talking again and soon the
words were pouring out in a desperate, cathartic stream.
"There was a gap of about 60 hours, I think they were waiting for
some brass hat to come and decide what to do next. Then two
new people turned up, they looked like middle-ranking
bureaucrats, a man and a woman, both about the same age as
me. They looked pretty harmless but I could see everybody was shit
scared of them and I soon found out why.
They were the Imperial Examiner-General and her assistant sent
specially from the Praetor's Household, and they got down to the
good ol' fashioned, down home, physical torture. Near-drowning,
electric shocks, beatings, cold, heat, sleep deprivation, low intensity
disrupters, white noise, hanging - I've no idea how long it went on for, it
seemed to be eternal. The command conditioning crumbled. After
a while I would have killed myself if I could but by then I
lacked the physical co-ordination or the mental control to do it.
I hung on as long as I could and then I talked." He paused and
looked down at his hands; they were shaking visibly. He stared
at them for a long time until the shaking subsided. He seemed to
have run out of the strength to go on.
"What did you tell them?" asked Spock gently.
Kirk sighed. "Garbage - a useless mishmash of stuff they must
know already, stuff it doesn't matter if they know, stuff that
was out of date the second I was listed AWOL and outright
lies. I knew what they wanted and every moment of coherent
thought I had I rehearsed my answers. I invented them and I
learnt them - like an actor learning lines, like poetry learned
by rote. I thought of nothing else, literally nothing else, ever; from the first
day they grabbed me to the day I spilt my lying guts all over
the floor. Not the pain, not the ship, not my family, not home,
not you, not even my own life, just the lies. I repeated them
over and over and over again. Sometimes starting in the middle
or near the end, sometimes in a different order, now backwards,
now forwards. Every moment of my waking life, every conscious
second, even when they were beating me, even during this,"
he pointed at his shoulder.
He caught their eyes and they could see the bone-deep anger in
his. "Want to hear some?" He began to recite in a wooden
monotone, and after a few seconds Spock recognised a
description of the early tests of a force field with shipwide shielding
potential which had been the talk of Federation weapons experts
a few months earlier. Later tests had proved that the technology
did not and could not work, indeed Spock himself had been
part of the group that had found the scientific theory that lay
behind that failure. He had discussed the project with Kirk
over the chess board and Jim had evidently used those discussions
as the basis for an elaborate and elegant fraud which, if pursued by
the enemy, would entail them in months of fruitless and
highly expensive research.
The recitation continued for a few minutes, the voice getting
gradually louder and louder, and then it was cut off suddenly.
Kirk shook himself angrily. "I can't forget it even now. It
still rattles around in here." He struck his forehead with a
clenched fist. "Like an advertising jingle or a song you can't
get out of your head – only there's hours and hours of it, fake
ship movements, fake command structures, fake codes, fake
There was silence while they watched him drag himself back
under control. When he began to talk again his voice was
tight and clipped. "They taught us that concentration will help
you resist pain. The lies probably did help me hang on but it
was only a postponement of the inevitable - sooner or later
McCoy leant over. "Why are you so angry with yourself?" he
asked, perplexed. "You beat them. You told them nothing and you
Kirk looked at him coldly. "Oh I broke, don't ever doubt that," he
said bitterly. "I broke, I had no choice. These people are experts.
Eventually, despite everything I did and everything I was, they split
me open like a rotten log and I emptied out the lies I'd concocted
because, by that time, they were so much a part of me telling the
lies was easier than telling the truth. Without those lies I would
have told them everything I knew."
He seemed to be looking inwards at something only he could see,
the trembling in the hands started again and , to the fascinated
horror of his friends, he began to rock gently backwards and
forwards, hugging himself.
"I thought they'd kill me then. I was desperate for it and horrified
when they didn't. I blacked out, I think for a couple of days, and
when I came to they were re-building my face and hands,
repairing the visible damage. The governor of the prison came and
said I had to make a recording for the newsnets. I tried to think
but I didn't seem to have a mind left to do it with - I still thought
they were going to kill me and this seemed to be the only
chance I'd get of letting you two and my mother know what had
happened to me. They say not knowing is the worst. Trouble was
there was a good chance that the Tal'Shiar would rather keep it all quiet
while they exploited the information I'd given them."
He began to shiver and Spock rose, went to the locker and gave him
a woollen sweater. He tried to put it on but the trembling was so bad
eventually they had to help him with it.
When he started to speak again his voice was so low they could
hardly hear it. "I knew I had to put on a good show - make it
so 'entertaining' that they wouldn't be able to resist showing
it - so I gave them....what you saw. I tried to make some of it
sound inherently implausible but I was too far gone by then
for much fine tuning. I knew you two and Mom wouldn't
believe it and you were the only people I cared about by then,
everything else had been killed by the pain."
"Why do you think they let you go?" McCoy didn't care but he
wanted everything to come out.
Kirk shot an odd look at Spock and seemed to hesitate. "I don't
really know - I don't think there was a reason. Partly
because they thought they'd got everything I had to tell them;
partly because I was a loathsome specimen by this stage, beneath
anyone's dignity to kill, and partly because, 'though the leadership caste
are merely exploiting the Warrior Ethic, it still plays well with
the public and sending me back was a chance for a big gesture.
You know - 'The Empire will not soil its hands with the
oathbreaker - we return him to you for his punishment'."
He covered his eyes with his hand for a moment and took a
shuddering breath. "It may also have been because I begged
them not to."
"Why?" Spock was blessedly uncritical.
"Briar patch principal - I'd got to know how their minds work
by then." He smiled mirthlessly. "Nothing like a couple of
days with someone who's breaking your metacarpals one
by one for giving you cultural insight. I was forsworn in
their eyes, the lowest of the low and whatever I didn't want
was probably exactly what I ought to get. I think that's
why they fixed me up before they sent me back. So what
I'd done wouldn't be obscured by the condition I was in."
He shrugged. "I didn't really think it would work but after all
the rest I didn't feel as though I could give up without the
effort, so I grovelled and pleaded not to be sent back. I
even..." He broke off, breathing deeply through the nose.
"No." There were some things no one should burden his friends
"They started to fix me up, I thought they were just getting me
ready for another round of questioning. I forced myself to
memorise another set of lies for them. I had visions of an
endless series of questions and operations and more
questions. I could feel myself going mad. I even tried to make
it happen. Then one day they gave me a shot of something
and I woke up on 23. I'd lost all contact with reality by then, I
wasn't sure whether it was real or a Romulan fiction or a
hallucination, by that stage my dreams were often more
vivid and certainly a lot less painful than being awake. It
wasn't 'til I saw one of the guards was Jon-Jo Hasek who'd
been with me on the Republic that I realised I was back."
"I could see they all hated me. I don't blame them - stuck
out there on the edge of the Neutral Zone; front line troops
presented with a man who had sold them out for the sake
of his own miserable skin. Most of them were only kids
and at that age you always think you'd be ready to 'do or
die'. Hell, even the doctor could scarcely bring himself
to touch me." McCoy made a furious mental note to contact
the Federation Bureau of Medical Ethics; there was no
excuse for negligence on this scale.
"I didn't think like that back there of course, I'd stopped
thinking at all, I was just.... lost. Both sets of lies began to
tangle and for some reason it seemed desperately important
to try to sort them out and keep them separate. When
they said the Enterprise was coming to get me I broke
down completely - I'd become convinced that you'd
despise me too." He put up a hand to stifle the protests.
"Why shouldn't you? I despised myself. It wasn't
until I came aboard I realised..." He shied away from
putting the great gift he had received into his own words
and took refuge in quotation. "That I was not to be...
'cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and
wailing and gnashing of teeth.'."
Finished at last, he put his elbows on the desk and hid his
face in his hands, not in shame but in simple exhaustion.
Something inside Spock's chest seemed to twist at the sight.
The ordeal he had just heard described filled him with a pity
and an anger he could not even begin to control and which
he only just managed to prevent appearing in his face.
However, while he could understand Jim's anger only too
well, he was baffled by the overwhelming sense of failure he
could almost see radiating in waves from the slumped figure
on the other side of the desk. Quietly, he did his best to put
the question into words.
"Why do you blame yourself?" he asked. "The kidnap was
not of your making, you told the Romulans nothing and
you returned. I do not see that you have done anything
with which to reproach yourself."
Kirk sat upright, responding almost automatically to the
request for information. "It was only luck, Spock. If they'd
been a little better at their filthy trade I'd have been unable
to stop them finding out anything they wanted to know. I
should have killed myself in the beginning - then there'd
have been no chance of me betraying anything."
"Jim!" It was McCoy's turn now. "Stop beating yourself up
for not giving in before you had to. That's what you are and
it's saved all our lives more times than I can count. And as
for it being luck that kept you from talking - you've always
made your own luck and a dam' good job you've made of it too."
The Vulcan took up the argument. "You have always demanded
too much of yourself, you are only.."
There was a sudden flare of anger "Human? Believe me Spock,
I was only too well aware that any Vulcan could have done
better than I did."
Spock was undeterred. "I was going to say 'mortal' and as for
the rest you are incorrect. A Vulcan would have caused his
own death as soon as it became apparent that there could be
no hope of rescue. It would be illogical to suffer pain in those
circumstances." He paused and then said, "Although I regret
your pain I cannot regret the return you purchased with it; nor
do I believe that you yourself would wish to die at the hands
of your enemies if there was any method by which you could
Kirk swallowed and shook his head, ducking it to hide his face.
McCoy debated whether he had had enough but decided to let
things take their course, better get it all out while he was in the
mood to talk. It probably wouldn't last. "So why the hell are
we all acting like we're on our way to a neck-tie party? You
tell Starfleet you ran rings round the Roms, they say 'well done
Kirk, have another medal' - end of story !"
Kirk looked at his friend wearily; so passionate; so certain; so
naive. "It doesn't work like that, Bones, you ought to know that
by now. Why should they believe me? And even if they do and
I get acquitted at the court-martial, the acquittal won't be one
tenth as good a story as the sight of me on prime-time Tri-V
betraying everything I'm supposed to hold dear. The first was a
'Galactic Incident', the second will be a closing half-minute on
the late night news. Wherever I go I'll find someone who knows
the first half of the story and doesn't know the rest. Can you really
see Starfleet sending me anywhere on that basis?"
He could see his two friends loking at him with dismay; this
accurate, cynical hopelessness was so uncharacteristic neither
man knew how to deal with it.
He stretched out a hand to them. "Hey, don't look like that! After
the hell I've been in - this trip – knowing everybody aboard still
accepts me, it's more than I ever dared hope for. It's more than
enough. Until four and a half months ago I had the best life in the
known Universe, I can hardly complain about the price now."
McCoy was not convinced. He knew his friend better than he
knew himself. At the moment he believed what he was saying,
after what he had been through he was entitled to a little
resignation, a little exhaustion, but it wouldn't last. In a few weeks
or months or maybe even years the longing would come back.
The stars, the unknown, a ship to call his own, all these things were
rooted so deep within him it would take more than the Romulan
Empire's worse to dig them out. He tried a protest. "Surely you'll
get some credit for spreading - what's the jargon - black propaganda?"
Kirk smiled tiredly. "That's the real irony of it – if I'd known a little
more I could have done some real damage. As it was, most of
what I told them won't fool them for more than a few weeks or months.
They'll find out about the new sensors some other way, they'll
improve their shielding and we'll have to find something else to do
to regain the upper-hand."
He yawned and stretched. "Mind you," he said, "I'd like to be a
fly in the shuttle when they try to find the dilithium on Beratacri
III." McCoy found his hopes rising at this sign that even torture
had not entirely eradicated the schoolboy side of Kirk's sense of
humour. They had surveyed the planet over a year ago and
found nothing much except high winds, sand and a parasitic fly
with a craving for copper-based blood. The Romulans would not
enjoy the planet one little bit.
McCoy tried again, half for his friend's sake and half for his own.
"Are you sure you're not being too dam' pessimistic about this.
You got away leaving the Romulans with nothing but trash - that's
gotta be worth something!"
"Oh, it'll make no difference. I know exactly what Starfleet'll do –
I've always known. If they think I'm guilty, they'll try me and
lock me up but if they think I'm innocent, it'll be even worse."
The certainty in his voice was chilling and they were forced to
remember that here was a man who knew and understood the
inner workings of the organisation to which they all belonged
and who could predict with precision how it would react.
"They'll tell me that it's my duty to let the misinformation run
its course, causing the maximum possible disruption to the
Empire, no matter how trivial that proves to be. They will
point out regretfully but firmly that, while they of course believe
me, nobody else ever will and that, unless I join the Orions,
I'll never sit in a captain's chair again. They'll try to persuade
me that my last sacrifice for the flag and my oath should be
to let myself be tried for a crime I haven't committed.
By that time Good Ol' Jim'll probably be back and he's always
been a sucker for that sort of talk, so there'll be a show trial and
I'll be sentenced to imprisonment in exile someplace light years
away from anywhere, where no one will ever go and check.
They'll take my medals off me in public and give 'em all back
in private, probably with one or two extra. Then they'll pay me a
lot of money which they'll call a pension but which everybody
involved will know is really conscience money and ship me off
permanently to somewhere isolated but not unpleasant."
His mouth twisted bitterly. "And if I really lose all self-respect
they'll even supply me with a steady stream of women paid to
come out and spend a year or so sleeping with me."
They all sat for a long time, a deeply wronged man and his
friends. None of them wanting to believe the worst but all of them
knowing it was all too likely to happen. Kirk felt tired and
empty but at least some of the tension that had gripped him
ever since he had arrived on board had dissipated, now all
he wanted was sleep. There was only one last duty to perform
and then he could let go. He glanced at the chrono - 1.00 am
ship's time. He looked at the doctor, read his distress and knew
there was nothing he could do to alleviate it except send him to
bed, so he did.
Spock too got up to leave but caught sight of a quick shake of the
head and stayed behind. As soon as the door closed behind a
dejected McCoy, Kirk came round the desk and looked up
into the face some called impassive but which he could read
as easily as the Bridge screen. "How much?" he asked quietly.
The Vulcan did not reply; he merely raised an eyebrow.
Kirk shook his head. "C'mon Spock, scar tissue isn't the only
thing I've picked up over the last few months. My 'conversational
Romulan' improved by leaps and bounds. I'm not up to
Uhura's standard but I overheard them talking and even I can
work out what 'blood price' probably means. You're the only
person I know with the money to do it and the brains to work
out how. I wasn't sure until just now or I would have said
something sooner. So - how much did you pay for me?"
Spock could not lie but did not want to tell the whole truth.
"Considerably less than I was prepared to," he said calmly.
"Are you going to tell me how much?"
"Nor how you did it?"
"No - although in truth it was not difficult. Like all military
dictatorships the Empire is riddled with corruption and there are
always neutrals and renegades who are prepared to trade over the
Kirk smiled slightly and bowed his head in acknowledgement. "Very
well," he said gravely. "I shall not seek to devalue your gift by
inquiring further; still less by saying that you should not have made it.
You cannot hide behind the formula about 'a valuable Starfleet
officer' this time, my friend and brother, we both know my career
is over. This was for me and I'm grateful and honoured."
Spock returned the bow and stood searching for the right response.
"You are my captain and my friend," he said eventually. "All I have
ever known of friendship and community has been a gift from you.
The debt is all upon my side."
Then, before emotions got completely out of control, he changed the
subject. "Jim, I truly do not see why you are in such distress, is there
nothing I can do?"
Kirk looked him straight in the eye. "No, you can't help with this,"
he said and sighed. "I want what I can't have - I want to feel .....
decent again and I want to feel in control of my life." Anger began
to build again as he remembered his helplessness, his jaw tightened
and his voice became harsh. "And most of all, right now I want to
find a fist fight and pound three kinds of shit out of somebody."
Spock recoiled slightly from the violence in his friend's voice and
Kirk saw him do it and started to apologise. Spock's raised hand
stopped him, and when the Vulcan spoke the deep voice was solemn,
the words a benediction.
"You have no reason to feel guilt about any of this, my T'hy'la.
What you see as weakness is merely your inability to control the
uncontrollable. You are still the 'master of your fate and the captain
of your soul', " he said, paraphrasing an ancient poem they both knew,
"but you cannot command the actions of your enemies nor can
you govern the response of our superior officers. Let them react
how they will but be assured of this – to those who know you, you
are as you have always been, a man we are proud to know and would
be proud to serve under once again."
He stood for a moment as though assessing the effect of what he
had said then, once assured that he had struck home, he turned
on his heel and left. Although they never spoke of it again, Kirk
never forgot the moment and carried the words with him, like
medals, until the day he died.
First watch the next day began with Spock on the Bridge and
Kirk and McCoy in Sickbay; the doctor having finally persuaded
his friend that even Starfleet did not expect him to risk blood
poisoning from his wounds. McCoy could see there had been as
improvement, for one thing, although Kirk still insisted on his
own guilt, he had obviously had his first decent night's sleep
since he came aboard.
McCoy was just about to congratulate himself on the success of
his strategy when the shipwide speakers burst into life.
"RED ALERT! RED ALERT! ALL HANDS TO BATTLE
STATIONS! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!"
He turned. "Hey, Jim..." he began and was just in time to see
Kirk dashing out of the door, struggling back into his shirt as he
ran. "Talk about Pavlovian responses," he muttered as he joined
his staff in preparing Sickbay for the worst.
Kirk entirely forgot about his demotion until the moment he
catapulted out of the turbolift to hear the security man's delighted
yell of "Captain on the Bridge." For a split second he checked and
then the pull was too strong; Spock rising from the command
chair, relief in every line of his body; the happy grins exchanged
between Sulu and Chekov; the soft "Yes!" from Uhura; his own
rising excitement. This was where he belonged, this was something
he could do and do well. Starfleet would really have his guts for
it and he couldn't have cared less.
"OK Spock, what have we got?"
"Long range sensors have just detected signs of an on-going battle
ahead. Two Federation frigates, probably Indomitable and
Gustavus Adolphus engaged against an unknown number of Romulan
vessels of similar configuration which are flickering in and out
of a cloaked condition, firing at will. The situation is complicated
by the presence of a civilian convoy consisting of a further four
vessels, including the liner Terran Princess. The frigates are having
to extend their shields over the civilian craft."
"Civilians! What the blazes are they doing out here?"
"I believe they may be colonists taking the direct route to the
new settlement on Epsilon Decani IV."
"Hell of a dangerous short cut! Uhura, can you track the Romulans?"
"Not at this distance, sir, the other ships are masking the readings
and sir - I'm picking up a message to the Gustavus from the Hood,
it's a Code four, tight-band micro-squirt. The Romulans won't
have picked it up. Message reads, 'Hang on we're coming - ETA
Kirk bit at his knuckle in a familiar gesture that sent a warm feeling
running through her. Of all the stupid things to get emotional
about, she thought.
"They're not going to last that long. Can you find the cloaked ships
if we get closer?"
Her stomach plunged but she forced herself to consider the
problem. "Probably, given long enough - but I can't guarantee it, sir."
He smiled, a huge, charming, reassuring grin. "One of these days,
Lieutenant, you're going to realise how good you are and there'll be
no holding you back." Then he was all business again. "Get Palmer up
here, she can take comms while you're busy with Spock."
Spock came down from his station to the command chair. "Captain,"
he said carefully, "I cannot advise engaging the Romulans so close
to the civilian vessels, in the event of a matter/antimatter explosion,
it is unlikely that the frigates' shields would be sufficient to protect them."
"Then we'll have to draw them away, you two make sure you don't
lose them once you've tagged them. Scotty, I want absolutely everything
we've got to the shields as soon as we drop out of warp, including the
warp drive, the impulse engines, the phasers and every non-essential
system on board. Just leave Sulu enough to correct for drift."
"Sirr! If the shields go we'll be dead in the water!"
Kirk smiled affectionately. He knew that and he knew that Mr Scott
knew that he knew, the engineer just wanted to say it out loud.
"Noted Mr Scott, now jump to it and I want shield condition showing
on the navigator's screen where I can see it."
Mind now up to racing speed, he thumbed the intercom. "Crewman
Chakravati to the Bridge." He caught sight of Spock looking at him
with mildly bemused interest; Chakravati was a low ranking member
of the Quartermaster's Department, notable only for a completely
expressionless face which in fact belied an unusually cheerful disposition.
"Chekov, plot me an intercept course, an elliptical curve to
bring us in from 2418 mark 7. Sulu, I want one of the aft
phasers ready to fire into the shields, 10 % power and pulse it –
I want those shields to shine." They hurried to obey, an almost
tangible excitement sweeping over them, part relief, part trust
and part terror. Whatever was going to happen it surely wouldn't
Palmer arrived at a run and took up comms. Uhura moved over
to the console next to Spock's and began to set up for the search
they were about to make.
Kirk considered for a second; there was no going back now. He
threw the last of his caution to the winds, pressed a button on
the arm of his chair and spoke to the ship.
"All hands, this is the captain." In Sickbay McCoy's jubilant yell
was heard two decks away. "There's a battle going on and there are
civilians involved. I'm going to try talking so don't be surprised if
nothing much happens for a while -don't lose your edge, we could
be fighting at any second." He hesitated. What the hell, he thought,
I might never get another chance to say it. "What ever
happens I'm proud and grateful for this chance to serve with you again."
The ensuing silence was ruptured as Chakravati shot onto the Bridge,
impassive as ever with only the trembling of his hands revealing
his shock. Kirk swung the chair round to look at him. "Don't look
so worried, man; you're in no more trouble than the rest of us."
The crewman's hands stopped trembling; there was something
infectious about the captain's ferocious high spirits. "You're going
to be the Enterprise's telepathic tracker - go sit at the Environmental
Control Station. If we get on screen with the Romulans close your
eyes and look inscrutable. Every few minutes go and whisper in
Mr Sulu's ear. The Romulans think we're using specially trained
Telepaths to track them while they're cloaked."
"Why on earth would they think a thing like that?" Scott, looking
up from his station, was openly baffled.
Kirk's eyes were dancing. "Somebody must have told them - I can't
think who. If they're all wearing lead-lined helmets we'll know they
believed it. Phaser programmed?"
"And course plotted, sir"
"Then take us in Mr Sulu, Warp 6 as long as it's safe, then full impulse
to five thousand K and all stop. Then prepare some evasives. Chekov,
I want the light show as soon as we drop out of warp."
Spock looked up from his console, his eyes if not his expression
faintly alarmed. "Captain, if your intention is to make the Romulans
believe we have new shielding technology it will not take them
long to realise this is a mere ruse."
"Doesn't have to last long, Spock. Just long enough for you two to
find the ships and for me to get 'em mad enough to chase after us,
we just have to keep them on the hop 'til then. Uhura, anything yet?"
She shook her head and he swung the chair back to look at the
With the ease of long practice the unasked question was answered.
"Intercept in 2 minutes 12 seconds."
"Good. Listen up everyone. Sooner or later they're going to try and
use our old pre-fix code. Scotty, on my signal I want you to repower
the engines, Chekov, you turn out the lights and Sulu, get us the
hell out of there. Synchronise between yourselves, you'll have about
half a second to do it in."
Chekov wiped his sweating palms on the leg of his pants and tried to
cultivate some Vulcan calm. It didn't work.
On the Bridge of the Terran Princess, a terrified and exhausted Captain
Walker and his crew watched in astonishment as, like an avenging
angel, a ship coruscating in silver and blue suddenly hurtled out of
nowhere and joined the battle.
His comms officer lifted a startled head and shouted over the klaxon
blare of the red alert, "It's the Enterprise!"
He touched a button and the Bridge heard a relaxed, confident voice
say with unmistakable relish, "This is Captain James T Kirk of the
USS Enterprise. Romulan Commanders surrender or I'll blast you
out of the stars."
Captain Walker blinked and a sudden wave of hope swept over him,
he forgot recent history and remembered only the stories of victory
snatched from the jaws of defeat, the miraculous escapes, the lives
saved. "Put this out shipwide," he said, "let's give our passengers
Back on the Enterprise, Palmer was receiving. "Sir, I have a
Romulan Commander, visual." As he had hoped, the shock of
hearing who was in command had tempted someone into contact.
"Uhura, have you traced the source?"
"Not yet, sir."
"On screen then." The picture wavered and steadied, and there
was a spontaneous and utterly genuine burst of laughter; all
the Romulans they could see were indeed wearing cumbersome,
metal helmets, not the light skull caps known to be uniform for
some lower ranks but enormous clumsy artefacts with huge
earpieces to enable them to hear without loss of shielding.
Every ship in the area was picking up the transmissions from
both sides and the colonists, all twenty-three thousand of them,
were clustered round the view screens in their ships. They saw
a Romulan commander, his face contorted with fury, confronting
a casually-dressed, young human who was obviously trying
hard not to laugh. A new legend began to form.
Kirk pulled himself together. "I'm sorry," he managed eventually
when he had command of his trembling lips, "That was very rude –
private joke I'm afraid." Beneath the hectic thrum of adrenalin in
his voice was the authentic ring of amusement. Lieutenant
Commander Bailey, formerly of the Enterprise and now in command
of the Indomitable following the death of all his senior officers,
recognised a familiar note - Kirk was up to something. His heart soared.
"Now, where was I?" The question was plainly rhetorical. "Oh yes –
surrender or I'll blast you out of the stars." Kirk folded his hands
and stared at the screen with an air of cheerful expectation. A cloaked
ship shimmered into existence, let loose a shot and recloaked.
The Enterprise rocked and steadied. Kirk ignored it. "Well, come along,
I haven't got all day, are you going to surrender or aren't you?"
The Romulan Commander sneered. "I surrender to no man, least
of all you, Oathbreaker!"
"Oathbreaker!" Kirk stared at the screen as though he could not
believe his ears. Then, when he spoke, his voice was full of
amused contempt. "You poor, sad sack, son of a bitch," he said
with gentle mockery, "you really believed it all didn't you? You still do!"
He sat back, folded his arms and snorted with derision. "For
heavens sake, man, I'm a Starship captain. They don't let just
anybody drive one of these things you know. We're trained to resist
and I did. I realise people don't normally survive the Imperial
Examiner-General but then again," he said, smiling sunnily, "I'm
not normal. Have you any idea how much it costs to find and train
someone like me? Hell, with that many credits you could buy a
decent meal for everyone on your planet."
He grinned and digressed infuriatingly. "Which wouldn't be a bad
idea, you people have terrible food. Nobody expects haute cuisine in
a torture chamber, but how any sentient species can consider that
t'reff stuff edible is beyond me."
Kirk appeared irritated; he jumped to his feet. "Messhetk!" he said
harshly and the Romulan blinked at the gross obscenity. "Did you
really think all you had to do was grab a Starship captain, jump up
and down on him for a couple of months and he'd tell you everything
he knew?" The scorn was laser-edged. "I don't know which is worse,
the insult or the stupidity."
Behind him he heard Uhura's voice say softly, "One," and swept on,
warming to his subject and ignoring more hits to the deflectors.
"Think about it! If I am a traitor what am I doing sitting in this chair?"
Then, with one of the disconcerting flashes of insight that made people
wonder if his esper rating was really as low as he claimed, he seemed
to read the Romulan's mind. He leant forward, one hand on Sulu's
shoulder and half- whispered in conspiratorial fashion, "Unless this
is all a bluff to make you think the stuff I told your people was false
when in fact it's all true."
He paused for a moment's pregnant silence, then straightened up and
grinned happily. "In which case, is the fact that I've mentioned the
idea actually a cunning double bluff?" He spread his hands as though
inviting the Romulan to join in the game. "And what's more, now that
I've mentioned that I've mentioned it, does that constitute a triple bluff?"
Behind him he heard somebody giggle and had to bite his lip to prevent
himself joining in, adrenalin- fuelled hysteria was dangerously close.
The Romulan Commander, who had been wondering about the possibility
of just such a trick, was stung by both the insight and the farcical
nonsense Kirk had spun out of the idea. He launched himself into an
argument he should have ignored. "You did not resist - you proclaimed
your faithlessness before the whole Empire."
Kirk dropped back into his chair laughing. "Commander," he said,
"I don't care if the entire Romulan Empire thinks I eat babies for breakfast,
with a side order of strangled kittens. I still came out ahead of the game."
His tone was lightly taunting. "After all - your people had me, I told
them a complete load of peltri droppings and not only did they believe
me, they let me go afterwards! Pretty dumb or what?" Careful, he thought,
this is getting juvenile - you'll be sticking your tongue out next.
Juvenile or not it seemed to be working; the other enemy ships must
have been monitoring the exchange because they abandoned their
original prey and concentrated all their fire on the Enterprise. The
enhanced shields, boosted by the full power of a starship, held. On
the Federation frigates damage control parties seized the respite and
started on emergency repairs.
The Romulan Commander had the hunted look of a man who has
lost command of events. The forlorn, stuttering wreck he had seen
on the newsnets might never have existed; the man on his screen
exuded certainty, authority and the confidence that comes from having
the upper hand. Doubt began to coil in his mind. The shield
readings were so peculiar ... He started as his second in command
cut off audio, leant forward and said something.
Kirk, effortlessly reading lips with a skill born out of his terrified
captivity, answered the question before it was asked shocking the
Romulans still further. "Yes, I am out of uniform. Thanks to your
food and the Imperial Examiner-General none of mine fit any more,
I didn't expect an Admiral's inspection out here so I didn't bother
reprogramming the fabricator. Next question?"
Uhura's voice said "Two" as he grinned and launched back into
speech, no point in giving them time to catch their breaths.
"Of course," he said cheerily, leaning back in the chair and putting
his hands in his pockets, "this really could be an enormous bluff.
Perhaps I am forsworn. Perhaps it was all true - the stuff I told the
Examiner-General. Perhaps when I said just now I was lying - I was
lying. Perhaps they only let me out of the brig a few minutes ago
because I'm so dam' good at beating you people. Who knows?" He
shrugged. "Perhaps I'm not even the real Kirk."
He waited just long enough for startled speculation to creep into the
eyes on the screen then he reached up, grasped the collar of his shirt
and pulled it over his head in a single, fluid movement. "Wrong again!"
he said smugly and peered down at the tattoo, "Impressive isn't it?
I'd half a mind to keep it as a souvenir until I realised they'd spelt my
name wrong. There is no 'hir' in Kirk!"
Sulu felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end; there was
something frightening about the Captain in this mode. He knew that
Kirk was monitoring not only Chekov's but also his own display
by the way a seemingly careless hand had pressed him to one side
when he had obscured the monitor; Kirk was also listening to the
by-play between Spock and Uhura and at the same time controlling
the Romulan Commander, tantalising him with glimpses of the truth
but never giving him time to think, keeping him angry and off
balance and (most importantly of all) in communication. By flaunting
his identity, he had drawn the enemy ships away from the other
Federation vessels in the knowledge that, for the time being at least,
the Enterprise could stand it. What he was doing was insanely
dangerous, completely necessary and utterly masterful.
The soft voice said, "Three"
Kirk was still talking, constantly needling, stoking the fury he
could see in the alien face on the screen. "By the Five and the One,"
he said, using the ancient Romulan curse, his accent very nearly
perfect. "You people are such idiots! I bet you even went looking
for the Federation's secret dilithium dump on Beratacri III." His
voice laced the idea with just enough melodrama to make it totally
McCoy crowding round the view screen in Sickbay with his nurses
watched with jubilation as, wearing his mutilation with jaunty
insouciance and in dramatic pictures that were being recorded on
the liner and would soon be flashed all over the Federation, Kirk
wrote himself back into the history books on the side of the angels.
"So, Commander, what you have to ask yourself is - have we really
got enhanced shields or is this a trick? Is Kirk lying when he says he
was lying then or is he lying when he says he's telling the truth now"
He hoped the translators could keep up with this babble.
"Five and that's it." Quietly Uhura sent the final co-ordinates to helm
and weapons stations where computer target-lock was engaged. Now
everybody knew where the enemy were and, thanks to the new
equipment and the skills of those who manned it, would not lose them
when the real fighting started.
Kirk checked the shield status; they couldn't last much longer, time
to wind this up. The inane grin was starting to make his jaw ache
but he plastered it back over his face and gave the Romulans one
"Or maybe some of what I told your people was true and some of it
wasn't. After all we found you didn't we? Was that luck or was it
Chakravati here?" He waved an airy hand towards the stone-faced
crewman. "Has one of you people left his helmet off and let his
psi-waves leak out or all you all wearing tea kettles on your head
for nothing." The Romulan visibly flinched at that last crack and
turned to snarl something to a crewman standing behind him.
This was it.
"Stand by Scotty." The words were breathed just below the
chair's audio pick-up level.
Palmer spoke behind him. "Incoming pre-fix code."
"No!" Kirk leaped to his feet, terror painted all over his face.
With pre-arranged precision Mr Scott re-routed the energy
back to his engines, Chekov dropped the 'light show' and
Sulu thrust the Enterprise forwards and 'down' under the
lead Romulan ship.
Within five seconds the Enterprise was surging through
hyper-space at warp seven, the pre-set evasive course a seemingly
random trail of twists and turns; within ten seconds all the
Romulan ships were tearing after them, weapons blazing,
half-believing that the end of the coruscating corona meant that
the enemy's shields were down.
Kirk stood, mock terror gone, his attention straining as though
he could actually force himself see what was happening behind.
"Are they all following us?"
"Do we have still have lock on them?" He shifted his stance as a
glancing blow to the shields rocked the ship.
"Spock, what's the spread?"
Spock leaned over his monitor and glanced into its blue light,
effortlessly he correlated the sensor readings and the
communications traffic and produced a figure that would have
taken most humans several minutes. "Eleven point five light
"Damn, too far apart." Kirk stood for a few seconds, rapidly
running through and discarding strategies, then decided.
"Chekov, I want a cluster of torpedoes jettisoned - not fired –
from the portside bays, timed to detonate as we drop out of
warp. Sulu, throw her into a double Moebius, five million K
diameter, minus 80 degrees to the galactic plane. Signal when
ready. We jettison and drop out of warp the next near miss or
hit to the shields."
By this time the whole Bridge crew were working at
the heightened pitch that only mortal danger produces.
Swiftly the men at helm and navigation performed the
necessary operations, working together, sharing their
data with the perfect harmony formed over their weeks
and months of service, neither of them waiting to work out
what was happening, both content to trust.
The great ship tumbled into a twisting loop, regular enough
for the computer to be able to calculate the detonation time,
complex enough to evade attack and to hide its true form
from the Romulans for the few seconds necessary for the
scheme to work.
Chekov's call of "Ready" and a massive hit to the deflectors
followed close on one another. The torpedo explosion and
warp dump which ensued appeared simultaneous and the
Romulan ships, believing their enemy mortally wounded,
closed for the kill as they too dropped out of warp.
"Fire all phasers and starboard torpedoes." Spock came and
stood beside him, his presence indicative of complete
confidence in the strategy. "Portside torpedoes - stand by.
Mr Sulu continue evasives."
As he waited, Kirk felt the dawning creep of regret at the back
of his skull and realised that 'Good Ol' Jim' was back; all those
brave men and women; all those families he was about to
bereave. He knew that the choice between friend and foe was no
choice at all but still....
Watching on long range sensors the crews of the Indomitable and
the Gustavus Adolphus saw the Enterprise burst into existence,
the lancing dart of phaser fire, the comet leap of torpedoes
apparently into empty space and the obscene blossom of
antimatter explosions as the Romulan ships, cloaked but only
lightly shielded, flamed and died.
Kirk stared at the screen until he received formal confirmation of
the hits and then dropped back into his chair; the draining away
of adrenalin leaving him feeling suddenly tired and depressed. He
looked round for the shirt he'd tossed aside; it was getting chilly.
"Scan for escape pods." There was no hope but he gave the order
anyway, then, "All decks, damage control reports."
"No sign of survivors, Captain."
His lips tightened and after a few moments he asked softly, "How
many were there on those ships, Spock?"
"There is no accurate... "
"Spock." He was neither angry nor irritated; he merely insisted on knowing.
"Approximately one thousand." Diagnosing his mood with an expert
eye, the Vulcan picked up the shirt and handed it to his captain.
"There are many thousands of men, women and children on the
colonists' ships," he said, "they are the innocents."
Kirk nodded in appreciation of the thought; there would come a
time when it would help, it wasn't now. "Okay Mr Sulu take us
back to the convoy, warp one."
The Bridge crew slumped in their seats, maintaining just
sufficient attention to guard against sudden attack. Only now did
they understand what they had been doing. Sulu, clenching and
unclenching fists that had locked, so fierce had been his
concentration, knew that he had seen an artist at work. The
difference between a master craftsman and mere workmen
demonstrated on a huge canvas, millions of kilometres wide,
a feat all the more remarkable because of the hatred for death
that lay beneath it.
He glanced behind him and saw the captain, grave- faced and
shivering slightly, and noticed his whole body relax as the
"No serious casualties" report came in. Suddenly and for the
first time, Sulu appreciated the duality at the heart of command –
the drive to save life only accomplished by the risking and the
taking of it. Half appalled, half exhilarated at the prospect, he
wondered if he was fit for the responsibility.
"Go to yellow alert." Kirk rubbed his eyes with the heels of his
hands as his yeoman, realising that civilian clothes would not
be as temperature responsive as a uniform, arrived with coffee
and a warm sweater. Despite his usual dislike of "mother hens"
he was grateful for both and said so.
The next few minutes were spent reviewing the damage reports
and Scotty's repair schedule, then he took a drink of his coffee
and called, "Listen up everybody." The Bridge crew turned to the
centre chair. "Well done," he said simply and met each pair of
eyes in succession for a second of individual communication and
appreciation; spines stiffened.
Mr Scott, passing behind his chair, patted his shoulder, an
almost fatherly gesture, part congratulation, part consolation.
A few seconds later McCoy erupted into the busy quiet of the
Bridge, folded his arms and surveyed him sardonically. The
doctor knew exactly how he was feeling and set out to give his
own brand of comfort, working as ever on the counter-irritant
principle. "You read too many comic books as a kid. 'Surrender
or I'll blast you out of the stars!' indeed. I'm never gonna let you
hear the end of that one! Who do you think you are? The Last
"I was trying to get his goat." Despite his mood Kirk found himself
answering defensively. Spock opened his mouth but Kirk glared
at him. "And I don't need any 'Captain, what does a Terran animal
of the caprine variety have to do with the situation' comments from
you, Spock. Just once in a while you two might like to consider letting
me be depressed in peace."
McCoy opened his mouth to argue but they were interrupted.
"Sir, I have the Indomitable and the Gustavus calling." Uhura had
reclaimed her station.
Kirk groaned, remembering his status. "I suppose it's too late to go
to the brig?" he said ruefully.
"Almost certainly," answered Spock calmly.
"Oh well, on screen." The stars vanished and were replaced by a split
screen showing the damaged Bridges of the two frigates. Kirk flushed
as, amidst the smoke, the surviving officers could be seen standing
Captain T'sao of the Gustavus was receiving treatment to a shoulder
wound but she still managed to salute. "Captain Kirk," she began and
from that first tiny step his acceptance back amongst his peers began.
Whatever Starfleet Command itself would have done was neatly
pre-empted by a grateful Captain Walker who quickly released his
recordings of the ship to ship transmissions to the media. The irresistible
combination of victory and humour under adversity soon ensured that
they were played, replayed and played again on Tri-V and newsnet
stations all over the Federation.
As McCoy pointed out, with ego-deflating accuracy, the fact that
the entire battle could be rerun between commercial breaks probably
didn't hurt either.
As the Enterprise made its way to Earth, throughout the Federation
the engagement was being analysed in depth by public commentators
and print medium columnists, complete with diagrams and careful
explanations of exactly why the Romulans had become so enraged.
This very quickly developed into complimentary examinations of the
Enterprise's other missions; then favourable articles began to appear
in even the least intellectual sections of the press; popular comedians
wrote the events into their routines; a regrettably vulgar song about
the incident became wildly popular; books were written and politicians
queued to applaud the victor of what the media christened 'Kirk's
Second Battle of the Neutral Zone'.
Public opinion, always hungry for heroes and particularly desperate for
encouraging news from the dangerous Romulan frontier, swung back
in the captain's favour and, by the time the ship arrived in Earth orbit,
it was all over bar the shouting.
Even before then, McCoy got permission to treat his friend's remaining
scars and injuries by the simple expedient of leaking his complaint
to the Medical Ethics Bureau to the press complete with pictures.
What he caustically referred to as 'Permission to heal' came
precisely twenty- four hours after the story broke.
Hardly anybody, even among his worst enemies, could believe in
Kirk's guilt now that the military secrets he was supposed to have
betrayed were being laughed at on every planet in the Federation.
The massive publicity also ensured that there could be no question
of a show trial or indeed of any disciplinary action against the
Enterprise crew as a whole. In the face of the victory and the lives
saved who could possibly object publicly to the relinquishment of
command to the man who had won that victory and saved those lives?
There were those who ascribed his changing fortunes to outrageous
good luck or to the intervention of some deity or other; the
Communion of the Strictly Devout on Nova Sionis, who had hated
him ever since he refused to let them burn one of his crew as a witch,
even blamed the Prince of Darkness. But those who knew him
well recognised just another demonstration of his gift for exploiting
the turns of fate and were grateful that, in saving others, he had
been able to save himself.
Those who knew him very well indeed even had a sneaking suspicion
that the battle might have been deliberately fought in a way likely
to catch the public eye and thus pave the way for his return to
active duty, especially as Uhura reported a number of private conversations
between Captains Kirk and Walker. When taxed with this, during one
of the many riotous parties which the various departments on board
took turns in throwing to celebrate his re-appointment as captain,
he merely laughed and declared himself flattered by the compliment
to his intelligence. A lot of people noted that this was not actually a denial.
His court-martial was one of the shortest on record. Afterwards Starfleet
even gave him another medal, though McCoy, catching sight of the
expression on his face at the presentation ceremony, was not surprised
that he never afterwards wore it.
However, if the Board of Inquiry had been a formality; the public acclaim
was a horrible embarrassment. The day after one of the Tri-V gossip
shows discovered and announced that James T Kirk had received
proposals of marriage (or near equivalent) from 12,538 women, 2,794
men and almost 400 beings for whom the distinction was irrelevant,
Kirk decided he'd had enough.
During a hunted and desperate visit to Sickbay, McCoy was bribed
with shameless promises of improved equipment and regular and
uncomplaining attendance at physicals to issue a bulletin:
"Doctor Leonard H. McCoy MD. FGIXM,
FGIXS Chief Medical Officer USS Enterprise.
With effect from 0900 hours today Captain Kirk is
confined to his quarters under quarantine. No shore
visits will be possible and all appointments are hereby
cancelled. Quarantine will remain in effect until after
The Captain is suffering from chicken pox."