Jim Kirk was frustrated. During his years in space, he had become sufficiently self aware to learn that he shouldered the responsibility and loneliness of command in the same way that most people pick up a light-weight backpack, that he could become frighteningly relaxed and alert in times of great stress and that he was able to function at optimal efficiency in the face of mortal danger. None of his senior officers or closest friends would, however, willingly have spent time with Kirk at times of total inactivity. He did not handle frustration well.
He entirely understood and appreciated the need for the monitoring role which HQ had allocated to him and to his ship and while it failed to enthral his every waking moment, he constantly reminded himself that it was a considerable improvement on dilithium experiments restricted to VSA-rated scientists in Gamma Sector. Nor was he impatient for conflict - his lifelong distrust of Klingons had never made him bloodthirsty and, more than many military personnel of his peer group, he had nothing to prove in battle and was slow to yield to the dynamic of combat escalation. But he was frustrated - frustrated and anxious. He was worried about the Klingon fleet activities and far from sure that his reports were being properly considered at the right level.
He had started to spend more time off-duty trying to teach Mike Harding how to play chess, entirely undeterred by Harding’s manifest lack of interest. Kirk knew Mike would never be more than an adequate player, but part of letting go of Spock had been, for his former captain, a deliberate crossing of what had once been no-go areas. He had not played chess after Spock left because playing chess was inextricably part of him and Spock. But Spock was not coming back and playing chess was how Kirk thought, it was as simple as that.
Sitting opposite Mike now, he moved a knight and said:
“I’m thinking of seconding Leo Santini to the Seleya. What do you think?”
Harding looked up, sharply.
“Depends. Why? And what does he think?”
“I haven’t discussed it with him yet; I wondered what you thought. I think he’d be up for it, though – I don’t think it would be a problem to get him to go. He got a lot out of working on that dilithium project and it’s not finished; he could help finish off the research – that is, assuming that anyone’s still interested.”
“That doesn’t answer why.”
Kirk said: “Don’t put your bishop there, Mike - think. Look at my queen. I think Leo would learn a lot from the Seleya, actually. He’s so enormously bright and enthusiastic and dedicated, but he has a lot of growing up to do and he’d learn an edge of self-sufficiency and detachment from the Vulcans which he’d pick up from us but it would take much longer. Not to mention that the Seleya is staffed by galaxy experts in his chosen field.“
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“I’ve drafted a request which is going in the next report due in to Saredin. I’ve asked if either he or T’Mala would think of acting as a mentor to the boy. I’m hoping they’ll say yes; I think they will.”
“Can I go, too?”
That made Kirk laugh out loud. “To the Seleya? Mike, you must be desperate. Is it that bad, this business of hanging around?”
“Actually, I was thinking I could more easily transfer off the Seleya and get to my wedding on time,” Harding said drily. “But since you ask, Jim, it’s somewhere between suicidally dull and edge-of-seat nail-biting. Not what I thought I was getting into, serving with you. And it’s been going on for weeks.”
“Bluff and double bluff, that’s all it is.”
Harding scowled at the board.
“Are we talking about my bishop or the Klingons?”
“Both,” said Kirk, taking the former. “The Klingons can’t really afford to take us on without the Romulans. They’re not absolutely sure whether the Romulans are coming back to play or not. Nor are they absolutely sure whether conflict in the Delta sector will make that return more or on the other hand less likely. And they know that the peace conference means that Starfleet doesn’t want to provoke a conflagration. But they may also be figuring that all this works to their advantage and they can keep everyone tied up guessing while they launch a pre-emptive strike.”
He took a pawn, thoughtfully, and went on:
“In the meantime, this is what is going on at the peace conference, in the margins. Starfleet want to go in hard and stop the Klingons before they pick their own moment to inflict maximum damage; the Vulcans cannot be associated with any sort of major bloodshed and are therefore hoping desperately for continued stalemate until the peace process is concluded, one way or the other, and the Romulans probably want to hedge their bets, because they haven’t quite decided who they’re going home with when the party’s over and don’t want to lose leverage at the negotiating table by making it plain at this stage anyway. Plus they probably have lots of inside information on the Klingons and they will know that Starfleet will see the sharing of that information as an important gesture of good faith but they will also know that if they allow Starfleet to make use of it they’ve burnt their bridges for keeps with the Klingons.”
“And what do you think?” Harding asked, interested.
“I think,” Kirk said, slowly, taking Harding’s other bishop, “I think if we don’t make a move soon, and take them on ourselves, by pre-emptive strike, it will be very bloody. Probably by taking out the ships at the edge of the sector, those half dozen that look to be thinking about an excursion into Epsilon. That’s what I think. But we keep sending reports which show that they mean business, and HQ does nothing because of the blockage at that damn peace process.”
“Peace is worth the risk, surely.”
“Not sure,” Kirk said, meditatively. “No, I am not sure. I am not convinced that the peace conference wouldn’t be actually helped by a show of what the alternative looks like. If the peace conference itself decided, of course...”
His voice tailed off. Harding looked up, surprised.
Kirk smiled, beatifically.
“Checkmate,” he said, softly, reaching over and moving his queen. Then he stood, and moved over to his desk where he pulled up on his computer screen the latest report to HQ, not yet sent. He read it through rapidly and then, with an odd smile on his face, rapidly hit a number of keys in quick succession.
“What are you doing, Jim?” Harding asked. “Is that the report we finalised this afternoon? Are you sending it through to Starfleet?”
“Yes, done,” Kirk said, cheerfully. He had sent it through to Starfleet.
He had also simultaneously copied it through encrypted channels to the peace conference on Vulcan.
Spock was his commanding officer, after all.
Intuition is the state of being aware of or knowing something without having to discover or perceive it and intuitive knowledge is something known without actual evidence.
Spock pulled up the tactical charts of Delta Sector, and talked through with the Starfleet and Vulcan delegates the implications of Kirk’s report and of his own recommended course of action. It was a frustrating exercise – he found himself missing the ease of communicating with Kirk, of simply beginning a sentence and knowing he would be understood. Skallon, in particular, asked him several times about the rationale underpinning the particular strategy he was proposing.
“I do not understand your assumption as to the implications of Kirk’s data,” Skallon was saying, every syllable a clear and separate sign of distrust of human beings, of the so-called thought process of human beings and of the so-called conclusions of persons who professed to understand that thought process. And Spock found it oddly difficult to explain what was actually a process of intuition, of understanding Kirk’s thoughts as though they were his own and of developing his own ideas by way of building on Kirk’s. It was how he had learned to make command decisions, how he had learned to function within a command team. But it was in that very moment of trying to find other words to give Skallon what he wanted that he found himself caught up in a very different thought process.
Vulcans do not experience moments of revelation so it must have been something else entirely that overcame him, standing in a room at the VSA conference centre; Skallon’s face suddenly clear but distant from him, as though a long way away; the desert visible through the tall, high windows and the faint sound of talking audible from an adjoining room.
When Spock was nine years old, his father had attended a conference on Venta Minor, and brought back for Amanda a small blue plant with red spikes. In the native Venta vernacular, the plant was called a trallphori. All languages absorb alien words for alien concepts and objects where there is no good reason for developing native phraseology. There was, in fact, no other word in any common dialect in the system for a trallphori, simply because the plant itself was indigenous to Venta Minor and had never thrived elsewhere, so there was no reason to devise a translation, and the Vulcan word for trallphori was, in fact, accordingly, tralphori'h (just as Spock was later to discover that the Standard word was trallforry). Spock knew, however, that this was extremely unusual for a language which, with characteristics bred of the independence, pride and integrity of its speakers, rarely absorbed alien words, preferring if at all possible to develop a Vulcan equivalent. Amanda loved the trallphori and the fact that it had never previously survived outside Venta Minor became a personal challenge to her. The plant evolved into something of a feature of Spock's childhood, the memory of which was scattered with vivid cameo pictures of assisting Amanda in the plant’s painstaking care and eventual successful transplantation. When he had left to study on Earth, she had given him a seedling which he had taken to the Academy in the days when contact between him and his parents was minimal and the plant had died.
And it was at that moment, standing across the table from Skallon at the peace conference, that for the first time in his life Spock suddenly realised that there was no Vulcan native word or translation of the word intuition and he was so struck by this that he stared at Skallon for ten point five seconds, as though not understanding where he was. And heard, from a place of great unwillingness, Kirk’s words from the Copernicus: It isn't about being half human any more, is it, Spock, you've made your choice. Spock stored the thought to consider later, somewhere in his mind near the memory of the trallphori which had failed to make the transition from Vulcan to Earth, and started to explain, all over again to Skallon, who had never in his life left Vulcan, the implications of the military manoeuvres in Delta Sector.
It ought to have been easier to understand Skallon and for Skallon to understand him, given his recent internal reconciliation, his new sense of self. This self-awareness , however, he found, was entirely unreflected in any shared empathy with those around him. The Vulcans and the Romulans did not understand his humanity, any more than Starfleet – including Kirk – had understood the value of his Vulcan heritage. None of this ought to have mattered besides his own new inner perspective. But it seemed that it did.
“You do know, don’t you,” Harding said, “that I’m supposed to be getting married next week.”
They were playing chess again. Harding had begun by finding the game entertaining from the viewpoint of a complete beginner who rarely lasted five moves against Kirk; then progressed to a better understanding of the place the game held in Kirk’s thinking patterns and, accordingly, its significance to his own role in supporting Kirk’s development of strategic decisions; but finally, as both men wilted under the pressure of inactivity, degenerated into a morose fatalism which almost saw each match as a chance to underperform his previous worst score.
“And just in case you think that it will just be me in trouble, Lisa will never forgive you,” he said. Kirk smiled.
“Between Lisa and the Klingons, nowhere to hide,” he agreed. “Don’t give up, Mike. A lot can happen in a week.”
He watched his First with a level of sympathy from a standpoint of not remotely understanding Harding’s choices. He liked and respected Mike but they were cut from very different cloth and now, facing the very real prospect of war, he found that it mattered, that what had seemed an easy way out of a difficult personal choice a year ago might not have been the best appointment. It had been a very long time since Kirk had fought any conflict of any scale without Spock by his side. It felt odd, unbalanced. It was less relevant, suddenly, in what capacity that partnership were taken forward – who was in command, who was fighting, who was negotiating for peace.
At least if, as seemed very likely, none of his monitoring or analysis ever came to anything - at least Spock might appreciate the token gesture of reporting in. He found himself, mindlessly pursuing the last moves of an endgame with Mike, increasingly focused on how his report had been received, on what Spock would have made of it – on whether he would understand.
In fact, the response from Vulcan came more quickly than he expected. After the chess game with Harding, he managed four hours’ sleep and then was woken by Uhura who called to let him know that new orders had been received and were being deciphered. Kirk showered and dressed with alacrity and was sitting at his desk with Harding by the time the message was decoded and ready for downloading.
He read the orders with a broad grin. They were very specific and they were not at all what he was expecting.
Harding said, "It doesn't make sense, Jim. They’re ordering a strike, which is good news for us but odd enough, coming from Vulcan. But why here and not where we thought, over by the Epsilon border? And they're in breach of the VSA protocol, shouldn't we try to check back with HQ?”
“It doesn't have to make sense. I know where the orders come from. If we check back it'll take too long. You need a shower, Mike. I’ll see you on the bridge.”
And that was why he had found himself in hot pursuit of the largest Klingon vessel in the sector, an old style Bird of Prey which had been considerably moderated to upgrade firepower. The orders from Spock had been quite detailed and Kirk suspected they were based on intelligence from the Romulans as to the identity of the vessel carrying the Klingon sector task force commander. The Klingon fleet had circled the Bird of Prey immediately on the first shots being fired, which had led credence to what Kirk had inferred from the orders. And now the Farragut and Potemkin, backed up by three other starships which had only arrived in the sector the previous day, were holding the rest of the flotilla at bay, with reinforcements from Starfleet urgently on the way whilst the Enterprise kept the Bird of Prey in her sights.
Kirk had little trust that the reinforcements would arrive in time, and knew that if the situation became prolonged, the advantage of numbers would begin to weigh in favour of the Klingons. But, for the time being without the protection of her fleet, the Bird of Prey was no match for Starfleet’s flagship. Sulu kept up the pressure as the vessel turned, and Chekov loosed off phaser fire, following Kirk’s orders to disable where possible without destroying the ship.
“Good shooting, Chekov,” he said, punching one fist into the other in real delight, as a shot sneaked past Klingon phaser fire and disabled the Bird of Prey’s main shield support. “Uhura, signal the Bird of Prey and see if they’re prepared to be boarded.”
He waited, vibrating head to toe with suppressed excitement. He wanted badly to know if he was right – if Spock and he had been right - about the location and identity of the Klingon commander. And had little time to guess, because the screen cleared and he found himself looking into the features of Kor. Last seen on Organia. Ayelborne, the mind sifter, the war that had never been allowed. The odds that Spock had quoted on that occasion – less than 7,000 to one on the two of them getting off the planet intact. He wondered how on earth he remembered the figure, and what the Vulcan was quoting now. It was odd, what you could miss. He shook himself, and faced his opponent.
“Captain Kirk. We meet again,” Kor said. In the background, Kirk could see smoke, a burnt-out station sputtering sparks.
“Commander, you seem to be in need of help. May we beam over and assist?”
“It would be a pleasure to see you again, Captain,” Kor said, urbanely. “How many of you should we expect?”
“Just a friendly boarding party, Commander,” Kirk said, cheerfully, nodding at Harding and Chekov. “Me, two members of my bridge crew and a security detail. No tricks.”
“No tricks, Captain,” Kor said. Which should have prepared someone as experienced as Kirk, but didn’t. Scott was at the transporter controls as Kirk, Harding and Chekov beamed over with six security guards, and was therefore still there to receive Harding’s panicked call. Eight of them had arrived safely on the Bird of Prey but Kirk had vanished.
Vulcans are never astonished but it would have been very difficult to have described Spock’s reaction in any other terms when the Enterprise had carried out his orders to begin the attack. At best, he had thought that Kirk would have re-routed the orders through Starfleet (to check that the breach of the VSA protocol had been authorised and to ensure that the orders meant what they said), and that there would therefore have been a delay in implementation of several hours. He had already steeled himself for this, knowing that he would face the choice of pretending not to notice the questioning of the orders (illogical – and with serious implications for his own credibility and therefore for the progress of the peace talks) or provoking another confrontation with Kirk (unbearable – and, in fact, he did not know if he could have made himself go through with it). It had been impossible to include, through the encryption channels, the details of the Romulan intelligence or of Spock’s own thinking; he had simply sent what was possible with almost no expectations at all – even a real fear of a point blank refusal.
And now this.
The trouble was that if you were charged with moderating the dialogue at the most sensitive peace talks in living memory, with literally billions of lives dependent on success, you couldn’t really afford to take time to consider the possible meaning of issuing apparently irrational orders which were then obeyed without question or explanation by your former commanding officer, any more than you would have been able to do more than go very still when reading routine reports from the Seleya and coming across an arrangement, instigated by Kirk, to second Lieutenant Santini to the Vulcan ship, to be mentored by Saredin. You might have seen, instantly, that it would be a perfect opportunity for Santini and provide precisely the learning environment he most needed to progress to the next stage in terms of professional development – so perfect that you, who still viewed Santini as a personal protégé, suspected you should have made the suggestion yourself at a far earlier stage. What might have preoccupied you for far longer was how Kirk had seen this and what it meant in terms of Kirk’s understanding of what the Vulcans could teach his officers that he could not provide himself within a human environment. Or, indeed, what Vulcans had to offer anyone else.
But there was no time and Spock had to return to the conference. In fact, he had begun to feel as though the entire galaxy and his own life had shrunk to this suite of rooms at the VSA, these delegates, these negotiating points. He had learned a great deal about metaphor from his time among humans and was not blind to the parallels between his inner debate and the resolution of the conflicts around him. And weaving his way between wary imperviousness (the Vulcans); shrewd politicising (Starfleet) and fierce pride (the Romulans), treading with the greatest care over mantraps, minefields and quagmires, he had begun to sense, in two very different ways, something familiar in among the maze of new challenge.
It was not mediating between Starfleet and the VSA, despite clear indications that each assumed he was partisan to them.
It was certainly not working with the Romulans. He had eaten with the Romulan Commander on two occasions, and for preference would have stolen the cloaking device again, on both evenings. He both liked and admired her, but found that all his concentration was required to tread the difficult path between her obvious interest in him, his need to remain impartial for the duration of the conference and his reluctance to commit himself to anything at all (let alone the Empire) after the conference. None of this was assisted in any way by her views on Kirk. Like most conference delegates, she was aware of the change in association with his former captain and, while not being clear as to the parameters of that change (on which he was entirely unwilling to assist, not least for being less than clear himself) she appeared to believe that it would profit her both personally and in relation to the conference to denigrate humans (and particular humans) whenever the opportunity arose. And Spock found his necessary silence increasingly uncomfortable and compromising, despite his initial resolution. No trust without words.
Nor did the sense of the familiar arise from being on Vulcan. He had lived away too long. He was not accustomed to life on any planet and in particular not used to living with his family. He returned to his father’s house every night and, while the days were long and left little time to spend with his parents, he was not unaware of nor unaffected by the strangeness of returning to a house he had not slept in since before he enlisted in Starfleet.
It did not feel familiar. The house itself had not changed which meant that, logically, it was he who was different. He was different in himself and he was different in relation to his parents, and he knew that. When he had last lived at home, it had still been during the time when he was trying to comply, to please his father, to conform – all objectives predestined to fail, but of central importance in the life of a young Vulcan who saw his family as the centre of gravity. His parents no longer played that role in his life and he had come home at a time when he had never been so unsure as to what, if anything, had replaced them.
What felt familiar, Spock realised, was, in part, working with Kirk.
Kirk was not sitting round the conference table with him (which had its advantages, he reflected, given the views on Kirk held by many of the delegates and because his former captain would probably have run out of patience after about two point seven days, assuming he had lasted that long) and he was neither within sight nor communication range. But they were working together, just the same and, in a situation which Spock found fraught with tension, that partnership was one of the few satisfactory elements of the situation. It was not logical, but it was true. What was it that Kirk had said, in those words which had suddenly ended the black misery of that nightmarish shuttle journey? I was a better person with you than I have ever been or could ever be without you. He had not known that Kirk had felt that way.
It was not a partnership he had experienced with Kirk before – no words, no proximity, no real communication. No chess games, no jokes, no traded glances. None of what they had lost on his transfer to the Seleya – the absence of which, he knew, had made Kirk seriously doubt whether what remained was sustainable, without that framework of proximity. It was just his diplomacy and Kirk’s military strategy. And Kirk was on the front line – the Klingon frontline, where he had not fought without Spock for years. Spock reminded himself that he had tried to protect Kirk on Gamma Fortuna and failed, quite spectacularly. And that it was no longer his business; just as the familiarity of working with Kirk was no longer a matter of relevance.
The other thing which felt familiar to Spock was harder to recognise because it was veiled. Eventually, however, it came to him that it was the sense of excelling.
Spock knew what it was to perform well (serving under Christopher Pike; commanding the Seleya) and he knew how it felt to excel (serving under James Kirk). For the first time since he had left the Enterprise, he had the sense of being in the right place, of surpassing expectations, of delivering the impossible, and it came to him that he might have a gift for diplomacy, just as Kirk had a gift for leadership. He realised, of course, that it was also his father’s gift. After the peace conference was concluded, he would be looking for a new direction. He could not go back to the Enterprise. He did not want to continue to command. The irony was that it might be the genetic heritage from Sarek that was the first glimmer for his son of what the future might hold.
Komack was giving the conference an update on the conflict.
The Romulan Commander leaned forward.
“I think we would like to know if the attack on the flag Bird of Prey was successful. Have you heard from Kirk?”
“We are not sure, Commander,” Komack said, courteously.
“Why are you not sure? Where is the Enterprise?”
“The Enterprise is currently engaged with the Bird of Prey and reports suggest she may be boarding. But the latest information is that Jim Kirk himself is missing.”
Kirk materialised on a stretch of what looked like marsh grass on an unfamiliar planet. Instinctively, he rolled into a crouch, pulled out his phaser and communicator and looked around. But before he had even managed a single 360 degree sweep, the weapon and communicator had been kicked out of his hands, and he found himself sprawled at the ground at Kor’s feet.
I must stop doing this, he thought. He had no time for the irony, even to consider the just-healed scars from the last time he had ended up on the ground underneath alien strength and instead, lightning fast, he rolled back and jumped to his feet.
“As I think we were both saying,” he said, politely, “No tricks. One of us might have been stretching the truth a little, don’t you think? Or does Klingon for “tricks” simply not include concealed transporter relays?”
Kor grinned at him.
“This is not about the war, Captain. This is personal. To be honest, I thought you’d be pleased.”
Kirk blinked, and glanced around the bleak terrain, wondering if he’d missed something.
“Pleased? I’m delighted, Commander. I had intended to oversee the surrender of your vessel and return to the safety and comfort of mine. Instead, I seem to be stranded with you on a (forgive me if it is in any way special to you) distinctly unappealing planet with the inescapable impression that my crew do not know where I am. Is there a reason I should be pleased?”
“We have unfinished business, Captain Kirk, you and I,” came the answer.
“That was rather why I was hoping to accept the surrender of your vessel.”
“Vessel – surrender – that’s war, Captain. Politics. I am talking about something more personal. Admit it, Captain. Admit that we should have fought it out together, years ago, on Organia. Admit that it would have been glorious. Admit that you were disappointed. You can tell me, now; there are none of your peace-loving Vulcans here. I am not surrendering my vessel to a herd of sheep. I think you and I can manage things differently, no?”
“Flock,” said Kirk, automatically. “Flock of sheep. Herd of cows.”
Kor ignored him.
“Do you accept my challenge?”
Do I really have to? he thought. The Klingon was looking for a way out, he realised instantly. Kor wasn’t stupid. He had realised that the peace process was now unstoppable; that the Romulans weren’t coming back; that war without them would be lost but lost at the cost of countless lives; that deciding the matter with Kirk, in single-handed combat, was a way out without sacrificing honour or his men. In his own way, Kirk himself could understand and respect this. Out loud, he was going to suggest they sat down and talked things through like civilised beings. But found his mouth blocked by a Klingon fist before he had the chance.
He had faced easier opponents. Kor was significantly taller than he was, clearly untouched by the Federation fire his ship had drawn and, unlike Kirk, almost certainly had not recently spent a day and a half in sickbay as a result of a reunion with an unfriendly Romulan Sub-Commander. Kirk could have used Spock, that Vulcan strength – but he banished the thought, that wasn’t going to happen, not now (Spock was half way across the galaxy) not in the future, and he had to get used to it.
And in any case, he told himself, jumping sideways to dodge a crushing blow, he hadn’t wanted it when it was on offer. What was it that he had said to Spock? I don’t need your protection or anyone else’s. He grimaced to himself, wryly.
He found himself half alert, half relaxed as he adopted the fighting poses which were second nature to him. Kor’s weak points – that left arm, it moved slower than the right, his right leg, just there where Kirk had already landed a brutal kick. He shed the frustration of the past days and weeks as he focused on getting past the Klingon, on bringing him down, on winning. And found a savage satisfaction in doing so – in fighting the knots of humiliation, anger and pain out of his system. Every blow he landed on the Klingon was aimed at the obliteration of the words from the Copernicus, Spock’s remembered voice which still had the power to make him flinch at the memory, even on occasion to wake, startled and sweating, out of a nightmare.
Could you not have trusted me? A blow to that left arm.
I cannot condone nor accept what you are saying about my people. A feint to his left, a rush to Kor’s right side.
You do not accept my authority. A blow from Kor parried, a savage exchange of kicks.
You did not regard me as capable of carrying out this mission. You believed my loyalty was compromised. He launched himself at Kor, wrestled with him, and they rolled over and over on the ground.
And again – and again – and again - You did not trust me – blow for blow, as the two circled each other, neither prepared to back down.
Perhaps this was what he and Spock should have done, instead of that bitter exchange on the Copernicus. Physical wounds heal more quickly and leave fewer scars. Between McCoy and Spock’s trance, his broken ribs, cuts and bruises and Spock’s burns were all forgotten within a couple of days. But not words, not those words.
It was a good thing, though, he reflected, that it was Spock who was Vulcan and he who was human. Because he would never in a million lifetimes have made it as a pacifist. He wiped sweat and something else wet from his face, dragged his sleeve across his forehead and knew that both he and Kor, on some level, in a way he would never have been able to explain to anyone (least of all Spock), were enjoying this, were fighting perhaps at least two different fights at once (and what was Kor’s own inner struggle? he wondered, glad that he would never know). Whoever won.
And in that moment, as he saw an opening, took it, pressed Kor and suddenly, for the first time, knew he really had the advantage, pushed back, eyes always on that weak left arm – in that moment, knowing that he was going to defeat Kor, inferior human fragility against brutal Klingon aggression, without the protection of Vulcan muscle – suddenly, in the next beat, he thought – so what? He had been so angry with Saredin that he hadn’t stopped to question himself when Spock had said that going to Gamma Fortuna would have been unsafe for a human. Damn right it was unsafe, he thought to himself. What difference did it make if he defeated Kor with or without Spock? What difference did it make if Spock were stronger than he was – and if Saredin knew that? Why had it been so much harder to accept Spock’s command because of that strength? He and Spock – a hundred shared jokes, a thousand chess games, a hundred thousand moments of shared companionship – at what point had he started thinking that physical strength had any relevance to this? Had he entirely lost his mental faculties? And was that what happened to him when he had to function without Spock?
If so, he found himself thinking in complete shock, separation would be a good thing.
And, on that thought, found himself seated on Kor, the Klingon lying prone, holding his weak arm, both panting heavily.
Kor said, satisfaction in every line of his face and in his voice:
“I will surrender my ship to you. It is no dishonour.”
And Kirk leaned sideways, spat out a mouthful of blood and said:
“No, you won’t. You’ll surrender to my commanding officer.” He reached across the ground with his foot, found his communicator, kicked it backwards, picked it up and said into it
“Jim!” Mike Harding. “Did you take a wrong turning or something? Are you all right?”
“More than all right,” Kirk grinned, drawing gasping breaths of blessedly sharp, cold air. He felt drunk, felt restored. “I feel terrific. Have Uhura send a message to Spock that we are sending him some more guests; open a channel to the Farragut for me, and get Chekov to plot a course for Earth. We have a wedding to get to.”