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Author's Chapter Notes:

To anyone who liked the ending of Common Touch and would prefer not to read a sequel, I apologise for having been flattered into starting this and you are, of course, at liberty not to read it and to decide on your own ending to Common Touch.  The fact that I am even contemplating writing another piece here is entirely the fault of the reviewers of Common Touch, one in particular (mentioning no names), and if you enjoy this one at all, please thank her.  Any imperfections or failings are, of course, my own fault.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kirk, Enterprise to Spock, Seleya:

 

Well, you were right and you were wrong, Spock.  You were wrong that I wouldn’t write to you, and you were right that my chess game has suffered the last year or so.  So I’m sending you the log-in details for a match, and you’ll find I’ve made the first move. 

 

I hope you got back to the Seleya without mishap.  I had another few days in Iowa, which I admit to having enjoyed the more for having deleted the entirety of my reading assignments on aspiring science officers.  And now I’m back on the ship and we’re about to leave orbit, heading over towards the Drachos system to check on some new mining initiative.  I’m keeping our conversation between ourselves for the moment, but I’ve relayed the news to McCoy, as we agreed, and he is horrified at the idea of having you back here.  He says he’s got used to the peace and quiet and that you’ve set back by at least five years all the progress he made during your therapy and he’s not sure he even has the expertise to cope with you after what’s happened.  I told him that every word was contrary to the new Starfleet/Vulcan Accords, that he was probably due at least seven court martials with no mitigating circumstances and I promised him I wouldn’t tell you what he’d said.

 

Congratulations on the Accords, by the way.  I saw you were absent from the signing ceremony last week but, like everyone else, I know who was truly responsible for what happened.  I suspect you might find it harder than you realise, after this, to escape the pressure of a more public role, but I am not reopening the subject now and we’ll see what happens.

 

You know I’m only writing to you because you threatened to quote the odds against it, and I know you know that but, nevertheless, it would be good to hear from you, when you aren’t saving the universe.  Stay in touch – JTK.

 

 

***

 

 

Spock, Seleya, to Kirk, Enterprise:

 

Captain, you will recall that at our parting I sought an indication of your interest in the odds against you writing to me and that you declined to hear them.  Had you requested an assessment, I would have cited the probability as 7.85 to 1 in favour of you initiating some form of written communication during the period until Saredin is given command of this vessel.  On that basis, you may wish to reconsider the opening lines of your message and your suggestion that I was in error in implying that you would fail to undertake any form of personal contact during this time.

 

I have responded to your chess move and I agree that re-engagement in high-calibre competitive matches may be a productive developmental strategy for you at this point.

 

The signing of the Accords was the result of a significant effort on the part of a large number of people, not excluding you, and the part I played was no more important than that of many others.  It is nevertheless my hope that they may signal the start of an era of greater understanding, at least between the Romulans and Starfleet.  I fear that arrangements with the Klingons still indicate that a longer and harder journey lies ahead.

 

I wish you a successful mission to Drachos. If my understanding is correct, the mineral discoveries indicate the presence of an element which may share certain properties with dilithium and would therefore be of considerable potential commercial interest to Starfleet; however, if my recollection of the Drachos culture is also correct, extracting and exporting the products of any large scale operation may not be without challenge. 

 

If Dr McCoy is seriously concerned at my impending return to the ship, he might like to consider the fact that the Chief Medical Officer of the Seleya has recently been promoted to a role at the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit and the ship is therefore seeking a new appointment to that position. 

 

Live long and prosper.

 

***

 

 

Kirk, Enterprise to Spock, Seleya:

 

I know where you’re going with the bishop and it’s not going to help you.

 

I won’t give you McCoy’s reply to your suggestion about the Seleya posting; I am not sure the communications system can handle it and you know what it was, anyway.

 

And you were right about the Drachos government, as well as everything else.  We may be here a while.  If it gets dragged out for long enough, you’ll be leaving the Seleya and you can come and deal with Drachos for me.   It’s frustrating.  Write to me and distract me from the swamplands of bureaucracy.  Anything will do – JTK.

 

***

 

 

Spock, Seleya to Kirk, Enterprise:

 

Captain,

 

Check.

 

You will recall that when we last met you referred to the teachings of Heraclitus.   I have been spending a significant part of my leisure time during the past five weeks re-acquainting myself with the Greek philosophers as a result.  As I mentioned to you, the study of Greek and Roman philosophy was a mandatory subject for all Vulcan students and it has been instructive to have the opportunity to build on the knowledge and understanding I acquired during my earlier studies.  In addition to Heraclitus, I have also taken the opportunity to download the works of Socrates, Solon of Athens, Aristotle and Diogenes.  Further, I have accessed the major treatises of Seneca and Cicero, but time is inevitably limited and it is reasonable to prioritise the study of the Greeks on the basis that much of the Roman school was, at least to an extent, derivative.

 

I would be gratified to be of some small assistance to you in providing you with distracting and educational reading material during your negotiations with the Drachos government.  Please indicate if there is a particular philosopher whose works you would like me to summarise or, indeed, forward to you.

 

I look forward to further reports of progress in relation to Drachos and am confident of your early success.

 

Live long and prosper.

 

***

 

 

Kirk, Enterprise to Spock, Seleya

 

Checkmate.

 

 

***

 

 

Original causes are not always easy to identify.  Kirk was apt to think that it was all the fault of the Mila.  But had it not been for the delays at Drachos, the Enterprise would never have been sent to the Mila system so, arguably, the team who discovered the dilithium traces on Drachos might therefore reasonably be considered to blame.  Alternatively, responsibility could have been laid squarely with the inability of their government to spend less than six months in reaching a decision on a proposed mining licence and associated trade agreement.  But, then again, there were other forces engaged besides the movements of the Enterprise and export licences with Drachos, and Kirk knew that, too – had known it sitting in front of the fire in Iowa, and even before that.

 

He blinked a few times at the image of Wesley, looking tersely out of the screen on Kirk’s desk, in reality several days’ travel away.  And he reached up a hand to rub his forehead.  It wasn’t that he didn’t understand.  He understood absolutely everything, and none of it was good and none of it gave him any choice at all.

 

He cleared his throat.

 

“I can leave for Mila immediately, of course.  What about Drachos, though?  We’ve made some significant progress here, and –“

 

“We’ll pick it up, Jim,” Wesley cut in.  “The Republic is only about 8 days out from Drachos and we’ll put Marsh and his team in direct communication with the Drachos government immediately.”

 

“I see,” he said.  He knew there was no way out of this, absolutely none, but he still went on, in order at least to articulate the thoughts chasing around his head.  “We’ll be out of contact for at least six months out there and in fact we’ll over-run the scheduled end of the mission.”

 

“Yes,” Wesley’s image said, leaving no pause for sympathy or discretion.

 

“The crew is expecting to come home,” he said.  “And some of them have arrangements, post-mission – even other postings.”

 

“We’re aware of that, Jim,” the screen said, briskly.  “All other postings will be held, where possible of course.  And this is an emergency.”

 

“And,” he came to it last, “I don’t have a First Officer.  I sent you a communiqué about this a few weeks ago.  I had arranged to rendezvous with the Seleya next month, but I can’t possibly reach her before I go to Mila, and once I’ve gone –“

 

“Once you’ve gone, she won’t be able to reach you at all, it’s too far out.  Jim, you said it.  If I’m honest with you, this arrangement you came to with Spock – well, it wasn’t exactly what we had in mind for either of you.  And, in any case, Spock wouldn’t be our first choice for the Mila mission, it’s too sensitive to include a Vulcan, possibly even unsafe, particularly for Spock and particularly on the command team.”

 

He frowned:  “Why unsafe particularly for Spock?”

 

“Think it through, Jim.  Mila culture has a strong tendency to vengeance and honour-killings – it’s not on the Romulan border for nothing.  There are suggestions that they hold Spock personally responsible for what has happened.”

 

Kirk filed the information away under worry about it when the conversation is over and said

“Six months out of communication with HQ and without a First Officer?”

 

“You’ll manage, Jim.  Starfleet will sanction any field promotions, you know that.  It’s only till the end of the mission.”

 

“And then what?” he made himself ask.  It was clumsy, he knew it; it was hardly the way he had planned to open the dialogue about afterwards, but afterwards seemed to be something of a moveable feast just now, plus it was looking more like famine than feast and was, in any event, clearly going to be preceded by a very long silence.   It was either broach the subject now, or worry about it for six months.  He had planned to discuss it with Spock at his side, but that wasn’t going to happen either.  This was a battle he would have to fight alone.

 

Wesley’s face changed.  He said, very gently

 

“Jim, you know that’s not a conversation for now.  And you also know what the answer is going to be, although I’ll shoot you if you ever tell Nogura I said that.  He is planning a long man-to-man chat with you when you get back.   Several chats, I should think.  You’ll get some very good meals out of it.”

 

He ignored the invitation to a lighter conversation.

 

“Bob, when the Enterprise has been refitted –“

 

“She’ll be given to someone else.  Come on, Jim.  You’ve been around for long enough and you know how it works.  Look – I didn’t say any of this – any of it – but I don’t think they’re even thinking of Commodore, I think they’re thinking Admiral and probably a very high level appointment at that.  You’ll outrank me, if that makes you happy.  And you’ll have more impact, you’ll make more of a difference, all the things which matter to you.  People like you don’t stay on the bridge of a starship, and you know it.  You knew it before you asked the question.”

 

“The bridge of the Enterprise is actually where I want to be, Bob,” he said, very quietly.  “But more importantly, to use your own argument, it’s where I can make the biggest difference.  It’s who I am.”

 

“They won’t buy it, Jim,” Wesley’s voice carried clear sympathy but absolutely no hint of waver.  “And nor do I, frankly.  They want you on the big stage.  You can’t spend the rest of your life running round the galaxy chasing Klingons.  Look – I understand.  You know I understand.  I’ve stood on that bridge, I’ve looked at those stars.  But it’s a phase of life, Jim.  You of all people should be up for embracing change.  It’s just the unknown – God knows you’ve faced it enough times from that bridge of yours.  Face it in your own life, accept it and you’ll be fine.”

 

He thought, with a gallows humour born out of desperation, of Spock’s philosophers, because Wesley might as well have been speaking Greek to him.  He thought of the San Francisco HQ complex, of Nogura, of Komack, of seeing the same sky, night after night after night the same star systems – and, without warning, claustrophobia rose inside him, with an edge of panic. 

 

He forced it down.

 

“This is where I’ve proved myself, though, Bob.  The Admiralty is an utterly unknown quantity as far as I’m concerned.  You have not the slightest piece of evidence for thinking I’ll add any value whatsoever.  Whereas on the Enterprise – look, of course it wasn’t just me, it’s been teamwork, but if you just look at what Spock and I have managed, over the years –“

 

“Well, and that’s another thing entirely, Jim,” Wesley said.  His voice changed.  “Is anyone with you at the moment?”

 

“What do you take me for?  No, I’m alone.  Why?”

 

“Some friendly advice.  This notion of Spock rejoining your crew – it was never going to work and, to be honest, I was slightly surprised that you suggested it.  It’s hardly what he should be doing next and it’s hardly what we want to suggest to Vulcan that we think he should be doing next.”

 

An opinion which was difficult to argue against, since Kirk agreed with it entirely, had articulated it himself to Spock in Iowa.   Forcing himself to remember now the firelight, the snow outside, that feeling of rightness, the Vulcan’s determination, he said, squarely,

 

“It was his application by his own request and my decision to appoint.”

 

“Don’t be stupid, Jim, of course it was,” Wesley said, with surprising understanding, “I could ask, in return, what do you take me for?  I’ve a pretty good idea what went on.  But you know as well as I do it’s not right, any more than Starfleet is in a position to override the appointment, however embarrassing it is.  And my point is that once you’re at HQ you will have no First Officer to appointHe’ll be free to move on, to make his own future and to make a difference in the best way for him.”

 

 He looked at Wesley, stunned.

 

“Don’t tell me this is what’s behind the plan to promote me.”

 

Wesley said, impatiently,

 

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jim, you’re not thinking straight.  Been staring at the stars too long, you’re space happy, good thing you’re coming back planetside.  That was always going to happen, you never had any choice and if you accept that, it will make you feel better about dealing with the inevitable.  But my point is that it will be easier on Spock, as well, this way.  Think about it.”

 

He stared.  Well, he wouldn’t have much choice, would he – six months to think about very little else.  About losing both Spock and his ship, on the basis of Wesley’s bizarre argument that losing both arms somehow made it better. 

 

The trouble was, he understood what Wesley was saying  - understood it and, on some very profound level, agreed with it.  Wesley saw this in his face, and nodded slightly.

 

“And I won’t say I told you so,” Wesley’s face softened slightly, “but I will say good luck.   See it as an extension, a reprieve.  Six more months than you might otherwise have had.  Make the most of them.  Wesley out.”

 

Kirk looked at the empty screen, took a very deep breath and let it out very slowly.  He sat very still for a period of time which an absent Vulcan would have calculated at 34.5 seconds, and then abruptly put his hand out to the comm switch.

 

“Uhura, this is the captain.   Please have the senior team meet me in briefing room 3 in ten minutes.  Kirk out.”

 

***

 

He looked around the familiar faces with deep affection.   Scott, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov.    His last pre-mission briefing with them, out of hundreds just like this.  He could see them mulling over his words, knew questions were about to come and knew also that, whatever he said, they would follow him anywhere, to the ends of the galaxy - which happened to be exactly where they were headed.  Whom would they be following, this time next year?  He forced himself back to the present.

 

“I have a question, Jim,” McCoy said, with his customary drawl.  “It’s a hell of a long way to go, if you ask me (which you didn’t).  My math may be rusty, but I can add six months to the current date and come up with a figure way over five years.  This crew is due to move on, and you know as well as I do that people have plans.  Hell, I have plans, thought I wouldn’t expect a little R&R and a lot of Romulan ale to get in the way of Starfleet’s thinking.  Why the Mila system, why us – why can’t someone else go?”

 

“It’s the threat to Vulcan and the Accords, Bones,” he said, patiently.  “Mila 5 is right on the edge of the Neutral Zone in the farthest quadrant of the sector.  The very remoteness of the system means that Starfleet probably hasn’t been as vigilant as they should have been in safeguarding the Mila over the years – not because of any callousness, but because of resourcing issues.  Anyway, as a result, certainly before the modern era, they’ve been completely vulnerable to Romulan attack – in fact, they seem to have been invaded by the Romulans rather more times than you have managed to get to your stash of Romulan ale, even counting the whole five year mission.  Anyway, the point is that they’ve been badly victimised, and this includes during passages in history when the Romulan fleet was frankly pretty brutal – if you want the details, it’s in the report, but it’s not pretty reading.”

 

“And this is our problem because...?”

 

“Because they are up in arms about the Accords.  Literally up in arms.  Because they say Vulcan has betrayed them, Starfleet has betrayed them but, in particular, that if the Accords are based on an ancient blood-tie between Vulcan and the Romulan Empire they, the Mila, are cutting all political and economic relationships with Vulcan and declaring war on them.  And we can’t afford that.  Not ever but particularly not now.”

 

“Some small system in a God-forsaken corner of nowhere?  Can they really do anything, if it comes to that?”

 

“Possibly, yes.  They may be far away, but don’t underestimate them - they’re not small and they’re very far from unsophisticated.  We’ve simply never had to worry about them before because they’ve been far-off allies.  And the political implications are dire even if just ends up being a trade war or a war of words.  Those border systems all play into very sensitive dialogue – you know that, Bones.  Plus the fact that Starfleet cannot afford Vulcan to be weakened or upset just now.  Be flattered:  HQ are sending us because they think it’ll send the right signal.”

 

“Let someone else be flattered.  Jim, could I have a word, if we’re done?”

 

No prizes for guessing what that would be about.

 

“Gentlemen, Uhura, any more questions?”  Silence.  “Thank you.  Uhura, please signal the Drachos President and ask him for an audience at his earliest convenience; Chekov, plot a course for Mila 5 and hold for as soon as I beam up; Sulu, ready the crew for departure.  Dismissed.”

 

The team filed out and the door closed behind Chekov as McCoy raised an eyebrow at Kirk and said:

 

“Where does this leave the hobgoblin, Jim?”

 

Kirk did not meet his eyes.   He stood to collect the data chip he had used for the briefing and busied himself shutting down the computer terminal, before standing by the viewer with his back to the room.

 

“On the Seleya, Bones, exactly where he is right now.  We don’t have time to collect him – even if we could, he’s not due to transfer for another two or three weeks.  There’s no way round it.”

 

McCoy watched his captain’s back, thoughtfully.

 

“Does that mean he’ll be coming out to join the party half-way through?”

 

“No, it doesn’t.  Without a Constitution Class ship, it would take the most ridiculous amount of time to get there; no other such vessel is being deployed and, in any event – well, in any event, Starfleet aren’t overly keen on any Vulcan officer involvement in the mission, and I can see their reasoning, if I’m honest.”

 

“Is that all?”

 

Kirk turned, genuinely mystified.

 

“What do you mean, is that all?  I’ve just gone through the laws of physics and direct orders from HQ – is there anything I’ve missed out?”

 

“Just you, Jim.  Just you.  Was a time, someone suggested you take a six-month mission without Spock – your last, too, I figure – and you’d have found a way to wriggle round the laws of physics, let alone HQ.  You’re taking this pretty easy, seems to me.  Look – I’m not objecting to having a peaceful last mission without having every decent conversation reduced to three decimal places and none of my jokes appreciated.  Just curious, is all.”

 

His blue eyes dwelt on Kirk’s, and Kirk deliberately looked away.

 

“All things end, Doctor.”

 

“Now I know something’s wrong.  You’re talking Vulcan.”  There was a pause, which Kirk declined to fill.  McCoy went on, in a tone Kirk had rarely heard from him, “Jim – for what it’s worth, and aside from the fact that I’d be prepared to admit to missing the pointy-eared son of a gun if I were only sure no one would ever tell him I said so – well, for what it’s worth, I think you’re doing the right thing.”

 

Kirk made himself smile, touched McCoy lightly on the arm as he walked past him toward the door.

 

“Where are you going, Jim?”

 

“I have to beam down to Drachos.  And then I have a message to write.”

 

***

 

 

Dear Spock.

 

He deleted the words, then re-typed them, then sat and looked at the screen.  The screen looked back at him, expectantly.

 

Kirk got up and walked over to the sideboard to pour himself a drink, resolutely ignoring every memory of every drink he’d ever poured for himself and Spock in this very room.  He took a large swallow, set the glass down firmly next to the keyboard and made himself go on.

 

Dear Spock

 

By the time you get this, the Enterprise will be en route to Mila 5.  You’ll have seen the same reports which we have received, you know what’s going on out there and you may even already know that we’ve been detailed to head over there at top speed.  And you’ll understand why we’re going and also what this means to our plans – to yours and mine, to your proposed re-assignment to the Enterprise.

 

So I’m not writing to tell you something you know already.  I’m writing to tell you that when we come back from Mila, the Enterprise is going into dock and I’m heading planetside.  It might not be what I had hoped in the past and it might not even be what you and I had discussed, but it’s what it is.  At the end of the day, I gave my oath to Starfleet and that has to come first, even above the ship.  And if that sounds too much like an agreed line, if you’re wondering about the reason for the change of heart – well, I’ve done a lot of thinking.  (Not much else to do in between bouts of negotiation over putative Drachos dilithium mines, given the only alternative you could come up with was Aristotle.)   Yes, it’s promotion, and I don’t have to tell you what I think about that – what’s more relevant is that there will be important work to do.  It might not be the life on the Enterprise, but you’re the one who tells me all things change - you and Heraclitus.  This has been coming a long time, and if I’ve refused to see the signs, I can’t miss them from this close up.  I’ll have the chance to make an impact, to change thinking, to make a difference – all those directions and orders you and I used to find so frustrating, the lack of perspective, of understanding; well, this is my chance to help HQ really appreciate how things are, out on the front line.  That’s got to be worth some time away from the stars.  And I’m hoping it’s not forever.

 

So, this is to say that you’ll need to find another way forward.  I know your only problem will be to make a choice: you have so many options now, all so well deserved.  

 

He stopped writing.  He’d written up until this point in a blur of throwing words on to the screen, not thinking and not checking or editing, just writing as in another context he would have blurted out the words face to face.  He checked now at the difficult point: the thing he really wanted to say; the reason for agreeing to Spock’s suggestion in the first place and the reason why, even today, he had tried to persuade Wesley to let him take Spock to Mila.   The thing Spock had told him not to question – Spock, who wanted trust without words. 

 

But it was not in Kirk to be silent, not on this.  And so he took another swallow of brandy, and went on writing:

 

Look, Spock.  I know that I don’t have the right to ask this.  And I know you won’t like me asking, either.  So I’ve hesitated but this is all the chance I have.  I am writing to ask you not to go to Gol.  I know I can’t offer you an alternative – at least, I can’t at the moment and, to be honest, I probably can’t ever offer you a suitable alternative, one that would be what you deserve.  But you’re the one who says that there are always possibilities.  The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise or Gol.  Don’t close off other choices.  You have so many other gifts to offer. 

 

Sorry about the chess match; I didn’t think you’d fall for that move, actually - perhaps re-engagement in high-calibre competitive matches may be a productive developmental strategy for you at this point.  I’m sorry that those matches won’t be against me.

 

I’ll be out of communication for the duration.  I’ll be in touch when I’m back.

 

Stay safe till then – JTK.

 

It wasn’t even close to what he wanted to say; he could count the gaps, the inadequacies, more easily than he could count the words.  But it was all there was; he couldn’t bear to make himself go over it, and besides, he had a mission to prepare for, a ship to command.  He sent the message and closed the computer station down.

 

***

 

Milallo turned away from the monitoring screen and met his commander’s eyes.

 

“It is as you predicted, sir.  They are sending the Enterprise.”

 

The other nodded, fiercely.

 

“And the Vulcan?”

 

“He is not on board.”

 

The Mila leader scowled, and then his face cleared.  McCoy, had he been present, might have struggled to understand the play of emotions against features not designed for human intuitive understanding.

 

“No matter.  His time will come.  Slowly is better, Milallo.  And when it does, he is mine.”

 

 

***

 

Illogical though it was – and Kirk was perfectly well aware of how illogical from having had Spock point it out to him frequently over the years – Kirk always thought he could feel his ship move under his feet, could sense her direction as an extension of his own body, and this feeling extended to wherever he happened to be on the ship.  When the Enterprise left orbit around Drachos on her last mission (not her last mission, just her last mission under his command, Kirk reminded himself), he marked the moment but was not on the bridge to see it.   He had left Sulu with the conn and was in his quarters, seated at the computer terminal.  Something in his gut had felt superstitious about watching this last departure; something else had wanted to give the moment to the young helmsman about whom he still nurtured a level of guilt for having not promoted him the previous year when Spock first left the Enterprise. 

 

In any case, he had a message to write to Saredin while there was still time.

 

 

 

 

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