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He was ready to go by the time McCoy and Harding arrived at his quarters at 0600 hours the following morning.  That is, if ready to go meant you were dressed, equipped with communicator and phaser, had ordered the shuttle readied and had even managed some sleep.  If ready to go meant you had figured out what to do when you got there and were absolutely sure you were doing the right thing – well, that was another matter.


“You look busy,” McCoy said, eyeing him up.  “Funny that.  I mean, here we are, ordered to do absolutely nothing except watch a couple of dilithium crystals talk to each other – and, incidentally, forswear violence and make damn sure we don’t get caught up in the war, and yet, here you are, some God-awful hour of the morning with a phaser and looking ready for warp speed 4.  Perhaps I missed a briefing – I must stop doing that.”


Mike Harding said:  “I must have missed the briefing, too.  Are we going somewhere, Captain?”

Kirk picked up his communicator and smiled at both of them.


We are going nowhere.  I am taking the Copernicus over to Gamma Fortuna and I am leaving you the con, Mike.  I don’t want company but I do need you to know where I’m going and why.  Just in case.”


“Just in case what?” McCoy said, suspiciously.


“What is happening on Gamma Fortuna?” asked Harding.


Kirk took a breath.


“I am going to meet a delegation from Romulan Command to try to persuade them to back down from the Klingon alliance.  Won’t take long,” he added, blithely, “be back for lunch, I expect.”


Harding said:


“Request permission to –“


“Denied,” Kirk said, flatly.  “Look, I’m only telling you where I’m going because you have to know, someone has to know.  The chances of success are low enough as it is; trust is a huge issue here; no one, absolutely no one must know or be seen to know; they are only expecting one person – in fact,” he added,  “they’re not even expecting me.”


“Then who are they expecting?” McCoy said, confused.  And then:  “Oh no.  Now wait a minute –“


“They’re expecting Spock.  That’s not possible now.  So they’ll get me instead.”


“It’s an interesting strategy, Jim, “ the doctor said, drily, “but they’re bound to notice, and you can probably figure that out yourself unless you haven’t been looking in the mirror recently.  I take it Spock is happy about this?  Oh no, wait a minute, he’s in a healing trance.  So, help me out here, how exactly did you get his permission to go?”


“Spock is not going to come out of the healing trance for at least another day,” he said, crisply.  “And after that, he’s not going to be exactly running marathons.  And there’s little enough chance that this will work, but every day – every day, Bones – people are dying.  And there are other reasons, as well, that it should be me.”


“Reasons you aren’t going to tell us, I take it,” Harding said, eyes on Kirk’s face.


“Mike, you have the con.  I’ll call in when I can.  I have left a message for Commander T’Mala – please send it over to her as soon as I have left the ship.”


“T’Mala? “  McCoy snorted.  “No bets on how she’ll take it.”


“Actually,” Kirk said, “I think she’ll understand.  On some level.   Bones, what’s the latest from the Seleya?”  He had asked the Seleya to keep McCoy posted on Spock’s progress: using medical protocol had seemed easier, somehow, than asking for the personal updates he wanted, and it gave him the reassurance that McCoy’s particular years-old knowledge of Spock would be accessible to the Seleya’s medic team, just in case. 


Everything, just now, was just in case – he couldn’t bear to finish half his sentences.


“As of two hours ago, no change, Jim,” McCoy said gently.  “And that’s a good thing, you know – the longer he stays in the trance, the better.  If anything happens, I’ll let you know.  But I’m intrigued that you are so concerned about his recovery and at the same time doing your level best to ensure that he’s not on speaking terms with you when he comes round.”


We’re not exactly on speaking terms anyway, he thought, painfully.  Mc Coy read the thought in his face without difficulty.


“Jim,” he started, awkwardly, and Kirk waved him down.


“Leave it, Bones.  It is what it is.  Just now, there are more important things going on.  I’ll be back, I promise.  In the meantime, try to stay out of trouble, both of you.”


“I only wish we had the choice,” McCoy grumbled, getting the last word, as always.  “How in God’s name could we get into trouble round here with a ship full of Vulcans for company and orders to sit on our hands for the duration?”





The truth was that you could get very used to a starship.  Sometimes, despite the fact that the Enterprise was an extension of your own body, her bulkheads and walkways, engines and bridge as much a part of you as your lungs, heart and muscles – sometimes, you could forget that, actually, you were out in space, where you were not born to be, in the midst of blackness, suspended in nothing, a long way from home.  It was why he had retained a love of shuttlecraft – why, now and again, despite the availability of other forms of transport or even countless willing pilots, Kirk would occasionally manufacture an excuse to take a shuttle out on his own.  Now, heading over to Gamma Fortuna in a small vessel carrying all the chances he knew of saving millions of lives, with his thoughts torn between the difficult encounter ahead with a woman he had duped two years earlier and the machines he left behind on the Seleya which watched over his accomplice in that act, the sleek passage through the velvet dark still had the power to soothe, if only minutely, the ache in his heart.


It was something to do with proportion.  When you stood at the controls of a shuttlecraft, there was nowhere to hide from the fact that all your medals, all your accomplishments, all the lives you held in your command and all the countless thousands of others who had heard of you, who loved you or hated you, owed you their lives or had sworn to your death – that none of this made any difference to the total insignificance of James T Kirk in relation to the universe, known and unknown, past, present and future.  Kirk had always found a satisfying simplicity in this truth – a sort of cleanliness, that took all the difficulties in life (the petty irritations, the failures, the tiredness, the mistakes) and made you realise that the only thing that would ever matter was the strength to keep going at the end of the day, to look at the stars and retain a sense of perspective.                             .  


A strange thing about loneliness was that it turned out to be more relative than Kirk had thought.  It turned out that you could stand alone in front of a galaxy of stars and feel reduced to your constituent atoms, come face to face with your own insignificance and feel a comfort in that absolute reduction, that absolute humility; but that once you added in the factor that the ship you left behind (or any other ship, or any other harbour) no longer held a Vulcan who, on some level, in some way, never quite let go of you in his thoughts – then your loneliness actually  increased exponentially and your own awareness of yourself decreased, beyond even the perspective which the stars could impose.      


En route to Gamma Fortuna, Kirk offered up the silence, the hurt and the unanswered questions Spock had left him, and the stars considered the matter but offered no consolation and no sense of perspective.


His thoughts moved ahead to the woman who waited for him and he found himself laughably unsure, given the past and the present, of where Spock’s natural sense of affinity would lie, as between the Romulan Commander and himself.   He still knew that Spock’s integrity was one of the universal constants – like gravity, like the message of the stars – but he was far from certain of whether, from his changed Vulcan perspective, Spock would feel more empathy for the Romulan or his former human friend.    And what would that mean to Spock’s ability to persuade the Romulans of the partnership between the Enterprise and the Seleya, between Vulcan and Starfleet – between Spock and Kirk?


He had taken Spock’s place because Spock was in a trance, because the conflict had escalated and every minute counted and because he had inflicted enough harm on Spock and the Romulan Commander; it would be better for everyone if he came to Gamma Fortuna himself.


Just in case.





She looked just the same.  It was very strange how so much else in the galaxy – particularly, in his own life – could have changed so dramatically, and yet this woman, whom he had never thought to see again, looked just the same.  Despite the significance of their only previous encounter - the ramifications he had known in the Federation and the greater ramifications he knew she must have suffered in the Empire - he hardly knew her.  They had spent so little time together, and almost none when he had not been acting out a part.  He had said to her, mockingly “You’ll forgive me if I put up a fight?” and she had refused to submit, to engage on his terms  - had said, austerely, when it was all over “I will take my place as your prisoner.”  It was Spock who had known her, Spock whom she had known and would remember – Spock whom she was expecting to see now.


She spoke, a single syllable:




It came to him, then, the stark irony of the situation.  The last time he had seen her, he and Spock had acted out a fictional alienation from each other.  Now, the alienation was painfully real, and yet he must pretend it was not.  Alice in Wonderland, he thought.


“Commander,” he said, bowing.


“I was expecting Captain Spock,” she said.


He said, steadily:


“Captain Spock and I sought this meeting together.  I understand that you were expecting a dialogue with Spock but I would be honoured if you would let me speak in his place.”


“What makes you think,” she said, “that I was thinking of a dialogue with Spock?”


He felt ludicrously stupid.


“I understood that...”


She interrupted.


“It is true that there are words I would like to speak to Captain Spock.   But I owe him other things, besides.”


He swallowed.  There was no doubting the menace in her voice.  They were in a room alone – she had dismissed the guards but he knew perfectly well that there would be no question of escape – also that, in terms of physical strength, there was no contest between him and the Romulans.  They had taken his phaser on arrival, and he had given it up willingly enough.  If he failed, there would be no reason to shoot his way out – to interstellar war, to face the fallout from disobeying the orders of Starfleet, the VSA and Spock – to professional and personal disaster.


Only one place to go, and that was the truth.


“Commander, the full responsibility for what happened two years ago was mine.  It is not Spock’s, was never Spock’s, and any discomfort or dishonour he caused you was at my behest and not his personal choice or preference.”


She almost spat:


“Neither of you understand honour but you least of all, and your influence over Spock epitomises everything that was rotten about the relationship between Vulcan and Starfleet.   Do not talk to me of responsibility or of orders, Captain Kirk.  I know very well that what Spock did he did at your instigation.  If Vulcan can be separated wholly from Starfleet, so much the better.  So much the better.  That is the true path for the future.”


He took a breath.


“Romulan Commander, I understand your anger and I understand your condemnation.  But your own understanding of the situation between Vulcan and Starfleet is flawed.   There is no question even of a partial separation which the Empire could somehow deepen.  There is none, there will be none, there can be none.”


“You lie, Captain Kirk.  As you have lied before.  What is the Seleya, if not a separation?”


“What is the Seleya,” he countered immediately, ”except a single ship?  A single ship, commanded by my former First Officer, long time closest colleague and dearest friend?”  (He ignored, strenuously, the words “You lie” which echoed loudly in his mind.)  “A single ship which has operated in close partnership with my own for weeks?  Come now, Commander.  The declaration of war, the fate of millions cannot depend on such slim evidence.  You cannot summon up so much as a skirmish, an exchange of blows.  We stand together, Vulcan and human.  We always will.”


"Why are you telling me this?  And why do you think for one minute I would take your word for it?"


"Because, Commander - forgive me, but you are in a position to know that my relationship with Spock is not always what it seems."  He saw her face change, pressed on regardless.  "In all this insanity, you and I may be the only ones who can talk truth to each other.  The truth is that whatever the status quo between Vulcan and Starfleet, Spock and I will always be brothers.  Siblings fight sometimes, but they are always siblings.  He will always be there if I am threatened and I will always be there if he is.  And Vulcan and Starfleet are extensions of that.  I know the ancient links between Vulcan and Romulan ancestry.   I understand about those ties and I believe that your two races should hold on to them now, that the time is right for you to remember them and build on them, but you need to understand that their source was millennia ago and that since then, Vulcans and humans have also become family.  This means you and I also, by proxy, are within reaching distance of each other.  If Romulus fails to understand that, millions will die.  Please believe me," he said, hoping he believed it himself, that any of it was still true.


There was a small silence in which a very small hope kindled within Kirk and then, abruptly, went out.


She had regained her composure; looked at him quite coolly and said:


“I find it extraordinary, and rather telling, that all Starfleet can manage is an envoy who pleads the case of the relationship between Starfleet and Vulcan based on the friendship which once forced a Vulcan to lie to me and to dishonour me.  Do you not understand, Captain, that your friendship with Spock is a pollutant to me – that it is the single flaw in an otherwise admirable being, that it has caused Spock to deviate from the natural course of a life which any Vulcan or Romulan would have honoured, that your coming here and claiming friendship with Spock is the path most likely to discredit what he might himself have said to me?”


Kirk abandoned thoughts of Alice in Wonderland and settled for Dante.  He was in some seventh circle of hell, where, having lost Spock’s friendship for good (whether or not he had lost Spock himself - and what on earth was he doing having this absurd, nightmarish conversation where he was out of reach of updates from McCoy?) he was forced endlessly to answer for that friendship - to accusations of exploitation, holding back and now pollution and deviation.  Perhaps the next suggestion would be that he – not the Empire, not the Klingon High Command, not Saredin – but he, Kirk – was responsible for interstellar war.   He was almost ready to believe it.  Perhaps he could just agree with the Commander and then he would be free to contact McCoy.


“You have no honour, Captain Kirk, and this is not limited to your transactions with Spock.  You use all relationships to political ends.  As you kindly remind me, I am one who should know.  From my understanding, the galaxy is littered with women who could bear similar witness and others, as well, too numerous to mention.  And now Spock.  Your word, based on your relationship with anyone at all but least of all with him is, to be honest, the very last reason why the Empire should back away from war with Earth and her Starfleet.  Do you have any other suggestions, or shall we conclude this conversation?  I suspect neither of us finds it very edifying.”


He took a breath.


“Then speak to someone else.”


She had already turned away; turned back, frowning.


“What are you suggesting?”


“If you do not trust me, speak to someone else.   Speak to Commander T’Mala.  She is the First Officer of the Seleya.


“Why should I do that?”


“She is not Spock and does not speak from that place of any historical connection with me, but she will speak for the Seleya  and for the mission.”


“And on what basis do you give me her name?”


“Because,” he said, having only the truth left, “because she did not raise shields when her life was at risk because peace was more important to her; because she has the integrity of the scientist who puts knowledge and truth in front of everything else, in front of diplomacy; because she was kind to a wounded young human officer.”


And the Commander said, scornfully,


“I see.  Another of your Vulcan friends.”


And he said, sadly, “No, I have not yet earned that privilege.  My hope is that you might give me the time to do so.”


He wondered whether she would kill him before he’d had a chance to hear from McCoy, wondered quite how derisory his efforts would appear to Spock (and he would trade the humiliation in a heartbeat to know the Vulcan had survived to learn about it) and to the Enterprise.  And then, to his astonishment, she seemed to reach a conclusion.


“I will speak to Commander T’Mala.  Alone.  You will wait outside.  And I would like your communicator first, Captain Kirk.”


No more updates, then.  He handed the device over to her, silently, allowing to lie implicit between them her utter lack of trust, her accusation of dishonour, wondering how different it would have been if Spock and he, in some parallel universe, had done what he wanted to do and undertaken the mission together.


As though catching the thought, she said, softly, standing very near to him,


“No, I do not trust you, Captain Kirk.  Not an inch.  I once trusted your First Officer and while that is not a mistake I would make quickly again, I know there is trust to be found there somewhere.  Not here.  Not with you.”


Kirk turned, then, and walked towards the door but hesitated just as he reached it, and turned back again for a parting shot.


“If it’s trust which concerns you, Commander, you might like to consider this, when you have spoken to T’Mala.  The reason I am here for Spock is that one of your Klingon allies fired with no provocation on a so-called friendly Vulcan ship, flying with shields down and, as a result, Spock is lying in the Seleya, fighting for his life.”


 He saw the shot go home, saw her face change completely in shock, in something else - and then he was out of the door and face to face with Sub-Commander Tal.





“I think,” he said politely, “we’ve met before.”


Last seen across the main viewing screen of the Enterprise, his face huge, taut and angry (“We have you under our weapons, Enterprise. You cannot escape”) and he had shown him his Commander on the bridge of the Enterprise, forced him to fire on his own commanding officer.  So focused on Spock, on what the encounter had meant to Spock and by proxy to the Commander, he had never really factored in the scale of that betrayal, of what it had meant to Tal.  Now, he read it in the hostile eyes, the clenched fists – the absolute loyalty to his Commander and what that meant now, for Kirk, in this small room on a remote outpost in Gamma Fortuna.


He had less than a handful of seconds to compute this before he felt the impact of what it meant in a blow to his face which sent him staggering half way across the room.  He picked himself up, slowly.


Tal said, breathing heavily


“You are scum, Kirk, you and your Vulcan friend both.  But I feel pity for him because he has had to serve under a commanding officer who does not understand what loyalty means.”


He thought: Oh God, not again.  It would be nice to think that Spock had been surrounded, for the past year, by Vulcans telling him that he had not deserved Kirk’s friendship.  Nice, but fundamentally unlikely.


He said, “Explain that to me, will you?” and another blow caught him, without warning.  He stood again, with a little more effort this time; drew a hand across his face, noted the bleeding from his mouth, and said:


“Actually, I really meant verbally.  In words, please.”


Tal said:  “With no provocation you lied to us, you deceived us and you held my commanding officer hostage against me and forced me to fire upon her.”


“I don’t think that’s entirely fair, really, for a number of reasons,” he began, and went down under another blow.


Kirk wondered if his orders of non-aggression covered getting beaten to death by the bare hands of an aggressive, vengeance-seeking Romulan.   It was a slightly moot point.  He thought, quite clearly:  Saredin was right.  I cannot hold out; at the end of the day, there is an inequality of strength, now, when it really matters.  Was it true that I depended that much, physically, on Spock?  Was I kidding myself that we had a relationship of equals?  Was I reckless, was I unfair to him, did I hold him back?  Did I get it all so badly wrong?


Did I make it all up?


As he failed to block an agonising blow to his shoulder, he said, politely if breathlessly:  “On the other hand, I am happy to admit, if it makes you and everyone else happy, that I was not fit to command Spock.  There seems, you know, to be a level of consensus here, and consensus is what I came here to look for.  I may have found it in an unexpected place, but I don’t want to appear ungrateful.  Could this be where peace starts, perhaps?”


The next blow caught him at the side of the head; he felt himself flying back against a wall, felt oddly dizzy, disorientated, wondered if this was how it was going to end, in a dark corridor on Gamma Fortuna with an admission on his lips that he had failed - failed everyone but in particular failed Spock.  And then he wondered if the dizziness were causing hallucinations because the next blow never fell - instead, frowning as he looked upwards through the giddiness and through something wet trickling into his eye, he saw someone who looked a lot like Spock, holding back both Tal’s arms, immobilising him.


And at almost the same instant, the door opened behind him and the Romulan Commander was there. 

She said: "I see that I must always expect one or the other of you to lie about the physical condition and continuous existence of the other," but her voice had altered somehow since their earlier conversation (what had T’Mala said? he wondered almost inconsequently) and Kirk saw her eyes light, where his did, on the burn marks on Spock's face and neck - and also on his hands, holding back Tal.

Kirk himself was conscious overwhelmingly of his own failures that day, of broken orders and broken ribs (several), a warm trickle of blood down the back of his neck and a struggle to breathe without a stabbing pain in his side.   None of this stopped a blazing smile painting its way across his face as a wave of relief more staggering than Tal's blows broke over him.  The smile was not returned.


He had said to the Commander: He will always be there if I am threatened and at least she could see the concrete truth of that.  As could Kirk himself.  Couldn’t he?


And then he wondered how long Spock had stood there, how much he had heard.


The Commander said to Tal:  “Leave us,” and he went, shooting Kirk a wordless glance.  Kirk dragged himself to a sitting position against the wall – didn’t think he would risk his dignity by attempting to stand – and watched as Spock and the Commander turned to each other and exchanged a long look.  Neither displayed the slightest awareness of Kirk.

She said:  “He claims that you and he are brothers.”


Spock did not spare Kirk a glance as he said, “The Commander will have understood this to be figurative,” and Kirk winced.  Why was it so much harder to hear than when the Vulcan had said to Garth:  Captain Kirk speaks somewhat figuratively and with undue emotion. Because it was not followed by What he says is logical and I do, in fact, agree with it.


Instead, Spock went on:  “It is important that you understand, however, Commander, that relationships between Vulcan and Starfleet extend considerably beyond that which exists between Captain Kirk and myself.  Consider me, Commander.  I am myself one half Vulcan and one half human.  I epitomise what you seek to establish does not exist.  I exist because of the relationship between the two societies of Vulcan and human and specifically because of the marriage of one Vulcan and one human.  But I am not so easily divided and I am who I am.”


Kirk froze.  Could Spock really mean....?  The Vulcan went on:


“You will know, Commander, that I have spent the past nine point three months in command of the VSS Seleya, just as I spent the foregoing years on the USS Enterprise.  Of all the lessons I have learned, perhaps the most valuable is to have understood how the two halves of my heritage complement each other to make a natural whole; different strengths coming together.  Not only am I not divisible, I am stronger for my two halves.”


Which is exactly how I would once have described our friendship, a part of Kirk thought, sadly.  But in large part he was riveted to Spock’s words.  Could it really be true that this was what the Vulcan had found on the Seleya – self acceptance?  Peace?  Because if so – if truly so, even at the cost of losing him, he wanted to shout, to let off fireworks, to celebrate.  It was the thing he had always wanted so badly for the Vulcan.    So odd to hear those words, finally, after all these years - I am stronger for my two halves -spoken in this room, to that woman.  Not to Kirk.


And if it were truly so, why had it been so very difficult to reach Spock’s human half, ever since he went to the Seleya?  Or was that, in itself, a necessary consequence of Spock’s discovery of himself?  How ironic, that the one thing Kirk had most passionately wished for (since somewhere around the beginning of Stage Two of his friendship with Spock) should be the means of cutting off the connection he most treasured.  Was it that the whole Spock, the unified Spock simply had no need of Kirk and was this – was this – what Saredin had meant when he had said the day before that Kirk and Spock had never had a relationship of equals Spock was dependent on you because in a human environment, he needed your support to negotiate his way around life with an alien species.”


He thought:  I can’t believe that.  I won’t believe that.


Spock was going on:


“In a more prosaic context, my own parents will always be part of that dynamic and because of their marriage, because it is a permanent and balanced bond between human and Vulcan, because of the position my father holds and the inter-planetary honour and respect which is accorded to him, the Vulcan and human communities will always be bound to each other, however far their paths may sometimes wonder.  But Commander – that bond, between Vulcan and human, whether we are referring to communal ties or those of marriage – that bond still holds between Romulus and Vulcan.  Between Romulans and Vulcans.”  He stopped speaking, standing very close to the Romulan Commander now, his eyes locked on hers, no sound of breathing from either of them.


And once again, Kirk was mesmerised.  Spock was manipulating the Commander.  He was dangling the metaphor of marriage in front of her – Spock, for whom he had apologised to the Commander, whom he admitted to having effectively forced into manipulating her two years earlier – Spock, whom he had thought days earlier had too much integrity to deceive anyone, let alone to dupe like this a woman whom Kirk knew the Vulcan had admired, to whom he had been attracted.  How wrong had he been about Spock?  This so-different Spock who, in a matter of minutes, had declared himself at ease with his divided heritage and was now reeling in his victim for the second time in as many years – this being whom he had believed incapable of the calculating, underhand aspects of diplomacy, whom he had mentored through early experiences of the more sophisticated and devious emotional intricacies of command – had he really known him?  Was this yet one more instance (Saredin’s voice in his head) of perpetually thinking of Spock as his subordinate?


And then, a different kind of shock, because the voice in which Spock continued was Kirk’s own – the very words that Kirk had offered him, days earlier, when he had faced him across the briefing room table and asked him to chance this venture, this arrow into the dark:


“Commander, you and I know that the Seleya mission is a matter of internal politics only.  Do not confuse it with anything else.   Vulcan will uphold the old allegiances but that extends to Romulus as well as Earth.   Commander – you are a leader and this is the day for you to lead.  Take your ships home.  Let the Klingons find their own way.  This is your chance, your hour, your day and you must rise to it.  The galaxy is waiting for you.”  And then, in a lowered voice, he added:


“There is no need for cloaking devices here, Commander.  There is no longer any need to hide.  The Empire should leave disguise behind and come into the light.  I once told you that you and I had exchanged something less fleeting than a military secret.  Peace could be the most permanent gift of all.”


There was a long silence.  Kirk held himself rock still.  He felt the blood and sweat trickle down, slowly.  Felt the seconds past.  And then he saw her face change and she said:


“What are you offering me, Captain Spock?” and that was when he knew Spock had won.






Listening as the two arranged for the dialogue to be taken forward in other places, at other times, Kirk found himself wondering if Spock were tempted more by T’Mala or by the Romulan Commander – who might well be available to him in a new galactic order.  None of your business, he told himself, and Spock isn’t even going to let you know.  He tried to persuade himself that he just wanted Spock’s happiness, even if it took the form of putting Spock irrevocably beyond his reach.  He failed.


The Romulan Commander drew apart from Spock and looked at him.  Very carefully, Kirk pulled himself upright and saluted.  She nodded once, very slowly, exchanged a last look with Spock and then turned and left the room as Kirk moved forward to walk with Spock to where he had left the Copernicus.  He found himself treading unaccountably close to Spock and carefully moved away, despite a horrifying temptation to lean against that solid Vulcan strength. 


He realised then that the support was not on offer.


Inside the shuttle, without asking, Spock assumed a position at the controls while Kirk sat down quickly before his legs gave way.  Spock busied himself in silence as he prepared the shuttle for lift off and then they were rising through the atmosphere with a breath of relief from Kirk as they left behind that little room, the corridor, the scene of the draining hours he had just passed.


And then, still with his back to Kirk, Spock said:


“I estimate our ETA at the rendezvous with the Enterprise at forty six point four minutes from now.  I suggest, Captain, that this might be an appropriate opportunity for you and me to conduct a review of what has transpired.”


Before Kirk could respond, he opened a channel to the Enterprise and confirmed speed and course.  Kirk could hear the relief in Harding’s voice over the distance and Spock said, coolly “It would be advisable to have a medical team standing by for our arrival, Commander.  Copernicus out,” and then finally he turned to Kirk.  He was wearing an expression which brought forcibly to Kirk’s mind the meetings of the earliest days of Stage One, Category One - I have no feelings and I do not, in fact, wish to be with you at this precise moment.  No, worse than that.  The face of a stranger, someone Kirk didn’t even know.  Behind him, Kirk could see the darkness of space and the distant glimmer of starshine which seemed to travel backwards past them as the shuttle carried them towards what had once been their home.

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