You can do quite a lot in three point two seconds. Swallow a mouthful, make a simple calculation, tip over a king in defeat. Give an order to fire.
During the first second of the period during which he met and held McCoy’s eyes in the isolation chamber, Spock had conducted a rapid review of the options available to him which would both protect the Enterprise from Mila fire and also save Kirk. He concluded that the combination of interference to the transporter caused by the Mila emission, the restriction on manoeuvrability resulting from the remaining strands of the gaseous belt, the margin of time left to him as a result of the reduction in shield efficacy and the lack of immediate back up from other vessels meant that no effective or responsible starship commander would deploy further time in considering possible strategies to achieve both objectives. He would have to choose and there was only one choice open to him.
He spent the next second reaching the decision to give the order to fire. It turned out that being certain as to the logical course of action in any one scenario did not necessarily mean that immediate implementation was without effort. This was new learning for Spock. He had no doubt at all that he would turn to the intercom channel to speak to Chekhov but had not expected a sudden increase in awareness of each nanosecond between the formulation of the thought and opening his mouth. He knew that time was of the essence and, in the second following his decision, he reached for the disciplines of Gol to ensure that any irrational and irrelevant thoughts on the subject were kept to a minimum and not allowed to interfere with the performance of his duties. He spent nine tenths of that second in his first ever experience of what humans call double take – a phenomenon in which Spock had never truly previously believed. This lack of belief made no difference to the fact that he squandered essential nanoseconds remembering that the disciplines of Gol were, in fact, no longer available to him. He spent the last tenth of the second recognising that this was incorrect. He was without Vulcan mental control but the strength and focus he had learned at Gol were still there, still accessible to him, still retained in what was left of what he perceived as his inner self.
He spent the third second reaching for that strength with all he had, both in recognition of a part of himself he had thought lost and in the knowledge that he would need all he had to speak to Chekhov with the equanimity required. In that brief moment in time, he remembered the faces of the Masters, the weight of Vulcan history on the shoulders of their hybrid descendant, the victory Vulcans had won over the pain of the past through sacrifice of the self. Know thyself. It turned out that even when you thought that you had lost a significant part of what made you an individual being, it was still possible to understand who you truly were at the very point of making the decision to destroy something - or someone - else which had, in some indefinable way, become a part of you.
In the last one fifth of a second, Spock said a silent goodbye to Kirk. He knew the waste of time was unforgivable and, worse, that without any form of telepathy it was illogical, since Kirk would never hear him. There were words he was not prepared to speak aloud in front of the audience in the isolation chamber, possibly not even to Kirk, and in any case they would further delay the order he had to give.
And then he gave the order.
“Mr Spock, the commander of the second Mila ship is surrendering, sir. He wishes to speak to you. And I have Captain Marsh calling from the Republic.”
That was Uhura. And McCoy, looking indescribably older, moving a little disjointedly as though in shock but focusing on the business in hand:
“Spock, we’ve got the first batch of the vaccination for the B strain prepared and ready to go. We need to start giving it to anyone who might be exposed to that cloud out there. Still far too much of it drifting around for my liking and the ship’s been comprised by that little exchange of pleasantries you had with Milani.”
“Mr Spock, I’ll need to take the mains off-line for maybe half an hour, she took a packing that last hit. You’ll have impulse power in the meantime and I’ll go check on the transporter room at the same time – it should be up and running now, sir, if you need to beam over or have those Mila gentlemen round for coffee.”
They would, of course, still need the transporter, even if it was illogical to remember another human idiom about horses and stable doors. Spock wondered if losing Vulcan mental controls meant he was more susceptible to thinking in terms of human idiom. He also reflected that he would never again have to pretend ignorance of certain aspects of Standard speech. He found this of no comfort whatsoever, any more than he could reasonably have explained the rationale behind the original compulsion to do so.
And then it was Uhura again:
“Sir, the Seleya is holding a position two thousand metres off at point zero five degrees. Captain Saredin is asking to speak to you in person.”
The Seleya was supposed to be a day’s travel away. He ignored the other voices around him and focused, as always, on the anomaly.
“Put him through, Lieutenant-Commander.”
Spock was, of course, in no need of consolation but had he been he would have found reassurance in Saredin’s calm tones as they filtered through the sickbay intercom.
“Captain Saredin. I was not expecting to hear from you on this channel. I was present when Captain Kirk gave you specific orders to maintain your position the other side of Faltonian space.”
“I am aware of that, Commander,” Saredin said, levelly.
“In bringing the Seleya to these coordinates in breach of those orders you have exposed your crew to considerable risk. This is not conduct that I would have expected of a Vulcan commander, Captain.”
There was an infinitesimal pause, and then Saredin spoke, in a tone which was altered from his normal pitch by so slight a margin only Vulcan ears could have noted it – and Spock found, at this point, that his hearing was undamaged by the A strain virus.
“Commander, you might wish to reflect that even a Vulcan commander may find, in the final analysis, that a threat to the lives of his people means that the logic of Gol is not the only way.” Saredin left a slight pause, and then continued. “And if you do not find that argument persuasive, you might be interested to learn that I have your commanding officer on board.”
There was a silence during which Spock lost a battle to convince himself as to certain realities in relation to his reaction to Saredin’s words – and then McCoy broke in, his face manifestly torn between overwhelming relief and urgency:
“Captain, if you are able to beam Jim over, I need to give him a vaccination yesterday.”
“Understood, Doctor. We are transporting now.”
McCoy picked up a hypo and disappeared, just as Uhura came back on the intercom.
“Sir, what would you like me to say to Commander Milallo and to Captain Marsh?”
“Please tell them,” Spock said, discovering a disproportionate satisfaction in so doing, “that Captain Kirk will be able to confer with them shortly.”
Kirk had gone straight to the bridge from the transporter room. He spoke to Ray Marsh and formally accepted Millalo’s surrender. He also spoke to Saredin and authorised him to open communications with the Mila science vessel and to place Soltar under arrest. It gave him no little pleasure to delegate this to the Seleya.
“I’ll leave you the task force as back-up, Captain, but I imagine you’ll be fine. I don’t expect Soltar is looking forward to having to deal with you. And my advice to you is run what you can through Milallo. I remember him from when we were out in Mila 5. I think he’s got some sense, something you can reach out to. The less aggressive the settlement, the more easily we can move to a sustainable peace – you don’t need me to tell you that.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Saredin said. “You are aware, of course, that the preference of the Mila would not be to negotiate with a Vulcan commander?”
“Entirely aware, Captain,” Kirk said, in friendly tones. “That’s only one of my two reasons for leaving you in charge.”
“May I enquire as to the other?”
Kirk got up. He wouldn’t admit it to McCoy but he had had enough. By the time the CMO had reached him with the hypo, he had been starting to find breathing difficult, had wondered if he was running out of time. McCoy had ordered him straight to sickbay, but he had gone to the bridge first. And now he had one last thing to do before the haven of his bed, which had never seemed so alluring. On his way to the isolation room, he smiled at the intercom and said to the Seleya’s captain:
“Because you’ll do such a good job. Thank you again, Captain. It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
As he entered the isolation room, the last of the extra comms units were being dismantled and removed. The room had lost some of its earlier energy and now resembled once more a limb of sickbay, evidently much to McCoy’s satisfaction. He was studying some readings on the monitor by Spock’s biobed and turned as Kirk walked in.
“How is your patient, Bones?” he asked.
“Which one?” McCoy grumbled. “Just because you’re waltzing around sorting out galactic peace doesn’t mean you don’t belong in bed.”
“I’ll grab some rest but I’ll do it in the privacy of my own quarters, thanks,” Kirk said.
“Jim, want me to pull medical rank on you? We don’t even know the full effect of the B strain at this point.”
“May I enquire, Captain,” Spock asked, “as to the reason that you are permitted to ignore medical protocol while I am obliged to spend valuable time subjected to the doctor’s antediluvian so-called professional administrations?”
“As McCoy says, I have to sort out galactic peace, that’s why. It has its privileges. You had your turn.” His voice was mild, though something in the delivery warned McCoy not to push the point. Kirk’s eyes, though, moving from Spock to McCoy in celebration of a ritual he had doubted he would ever see again, told a different story. Then they moved back to Spock in a private message.
“Captain,” Spock began, “I am gratified –“
“So am I,” Kirk said. He reached over and sat down gingerly on the empty biobed, hoping that McCoy would fail to notice the additional force of gravity which seemed to be operating to pull him down to a sitting position, and hoping he would be able to get up again afterwards. He went on, “Thank you, Commander. And tell me something.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“How much easier was it to give that order – since Gol?”
Spock looked at his CO.
“That’s what I thought,” Kirk said. He waved irritably at McCoy, who was scowling at a scanner angled towards him.
“Take that damn thing away and let me talk to Spock in peace.”
“Five minutes, Jim. If you’re still here after that, you’re spending the night.” The CMO withdrew to the far side of the room and started to enter some data into a log, his face turned slightly towards the two officers on the biobeds. Kirk smiled after him, briefly, and then turned back to the Vulcan.
“Perhaps we were both wrong, Spock. Care to accept that as a compromise?”
Spock looked at him warily.
“I would be slow to accept such a suggestion in relation to either of us, Captain. I am considering the possibility that you are attempting to take advantage of my current incapacity and this may present grounds for official proceedings.”
Kirk laughed out loud. He couldn’t remember feeling this way since Iowa – no, before that, before the Seleya.
“Are you proposing to elucidate?” Spock asked. It was necessary to encourage the captain on a logical course of dialogue and it was in no sense the case that the tactic of asking a possibly redundant question was assisting Spock in ensuring that his facial muscles betrayed no response to Kirk’s amusement.
Kirk lifted an eyebrow at the Vulcan.
“I would be prepared to accept,” he said softly “that Gol has given you more of value than I previously understood, provided you are prepared to admit that you are still Spock.”
Before Spock could reply, the intercom sounded.
“Bridge here, Captain,” said Sulu’s voice. “Mr Scott reports main engines on-line and fully functional. Requesting course and speed, sir, as ordered.”
“Thank you, Mr Sulu,” Kirk said, cheerfully. With a barely concealed sideways glance at Spock, he said, “Best speed to Vulcan. Kirk out.” And sat back and looked at his First Officer.
Across the room, McCoy worked out the time which had elapsed since he had threatened Kirk with confinement to sickbay, opened his mouth, and then decided to keep quiet.
“Captain,” said Spock carefully, “might I suggest that the fastest method to ensure effective widespread vaccination on Vulcan would be to communicate the formula on a secure channel rather than physically transport the sample on board the Enterprise, whatever the warp speed?”
“I agree entirely,” Kirk said. “That’s not actually why we’re going to Vulcan.” He paused, and then went on. “Saredin thinks the Vulcan Masters will have an answer for you – that they will be able to help you regain what you lost to the virus. He thinks you should go back to Gol.”
There was a brief silence in the room while Kirk concluded that Spock might need some time alone and McCoy’s head jerked up sharply. Kirk caught the movement. He turned round and lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“All right, I’m out of here. Spock, think it over. We’re headed to Vulcan anyway. I’ll come back for that game of chess in the morning. Sleep well.”
McCoy followed him out of the door. Eyes not missing any part of Kirk’s rather careful posture, he walked a little closer to him in silence for a few paces, and then said, quietly
“You sure you know what you’re doing, Jim?”
“Am I sure about what the Masters can do for Spock? Haven’t a clue, Bones; it’s hardly my area of expertise. I’m only repeating Saredin’s advice. He asked me to speak to Spock. But it must be his best chance, surely.”
They entered the turbolift together and Kirk said “Officer’s quarters” and reached to steady himself.
“And in terms of how he’ll be afterwards? Have you thought of that?”
Kirk reached up to his neck with his free hand and stretched. It was a rare sign of physical stress, a sign that the captain of the Enterprise was preparing to let go, and McCoy stood back as the turbolift doors opened again. Kirk walked through them, and said, over his shoulder,
“Yes, I have. Goodnight, Bones. And thank you.”
The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise and Gol.
Funny that, Kirk mused, watching Vulcan come into sight in the main viewer. Nothing in Spock’s recent history suggested anything else.
“Captain, I have Ambassador Sarek. Sir, he asks me to inform you that he will meet you and Mr Spock at the entrance to Gol.”
Kirk nodded, and then swung to his right to meet Spock’s eyes.
“Uhura, ask Scotty to have the Copernicus ready. Mr Spock and I will be taking her down as soon as we make orbit. And Sulu – have a course plotted for Earth and stand by. I have a meeting with Commissioner Sevonal after I leave Gol, and after I’ve finished we’ll be on our way.”
It had been a tranquil three weeks, the journey back to Vulcan from Faltonia. It felt as though he had filed three hundred reports, but on the other hand it also felt as though the galaxy around them was settling into a more familiar pattern, that the stars no longer concealed a hidden menace, that the alliances were holding and that the accords which had been Spock’s great triumph two years earlier had real meaning, real future.
It also felt like a lull, like a brief period of respite, like time suspended. Another Iowa.
Four days after they had left Faltonian space, McCoy had grudgingly certified Spock fit to return to duty. After using the entire ship’s reserves of Vulcan blood banks and after using knowledge gained from the A strain vaccination to work around Spock’s unique physiology, approaching the damage inflicted by the Mila virus with his own stubborn determination and innovation, the CMO had reported to both commanding officers that Spock was as good as new, with two caveats.
The first caveat was that, in his view, Spock had never been that good, new or not.
The second caveat was what they had all already known – that returning Spock to the physical status quo before the Mila attack was one thing; Spock learning to access his mental controls and telepathy appeared to be quite another.
Spock had made a number of caustic comments about McCoy’s professionalism and the fact that in an unknown medical environment he had been inventing diagnosis, prognosis and treatment on an hourly if not daily basis. However, none of this prevented Spock understanding what he owed to McCoy – or even ensuring the doctor knew of this understanding, in a way Kirk could not quite define. And Kirk had watched the eternal battle of wits between his two officers and given silent, profound thanks.
No one had any other suggestions to help Spock, other than where they were heading.
After their initial conversation, the day that he had returned from the Seleya, Kirk had never mentioned the word Gol to Spock; he had waited for the Vulcan to bring up the topic but this never happened. Spock returned to duty and, to all intents and purposes, to the Spock of the five year mission. Evenings had resumed, without either of them saying a word, a pattern of chess games and brandy and the companionship of Stage Four, Category Four (Kirk having decided they could cavalierly skip through Stages One to Three) with all the added satisfaction of regaining something of great value once thought lost forever.
Kirk was only aware of two differences. There was no guava juice on board the ship. And Spock won most of their chess games.
He let this fact go largely without comment, though he wondered to himself whether he was out of practice, or whether Spock, without the barrier of Vulcan mental discipline which shut out as much as it shut in was somehow more susceptible to empathy, to understanding his captain’s frame of mind. Only once did he say anything, at a point when, having thought he was poised for victory, he lost to an unsuspected manoeuvre from Spock’s bishop and was provoked into muttering:
“I have not the slightest idea how you managed that one, Spock, but I suppose your current condition absolves you from the charge of cheating by telepathy.”
He instantly regretted it, cursed himself silently for making the one reference which could have been calculated to destroy the balance between them. Looking up, however, his lips framing an apology, he caught the look on Spock’s face, which was an odd mixture of amusement and relief, and understood immediately and profoundly. Somehow, by some miracle of luck and judgement, they had restored the trust, tease and counter-tease which had always been their foundation. And, in that space, he had ceased treading on egg-shells, had resumed treating Spock naturally as he always had and this had been what Spock needed. Kirk had wiped the apology from his lips, set up the pieces for a new game and poured them both another drink.
“I owe you some guava juice,” he said, without thinking. “It’ll have to wait till we get to Earth.”
And Spock had said, in entirely normal tones, “Your intention in this regard is appreciated as far as my own preferences are concerned, though you should be aware that the tactic may be inadequate in terms of any attempt to improve on your chess score.“ But of course when they got to Earth, Spock would have been left behind at Gol and there would be little point in buying stocks of guava juice.
It all looked exactly the same as it had seven weeks previously. He remembered his musings about Vulcan weather – Today it will be 45 degrees and cloudless. Tomorrow, too. Not much had changed.
On Vulcan, that was. Everything else was so different as to belong to another universe.
Seven weeks ago he had climbed 400 metres in unbearable heat and discomfort towards an uncertain answer from a man he had not seen in eighteen months and a journey fraught with danger for both of them and all of Vulcan. This time, he walked with Spock at his side, friendship restored, on his way to return his companion to health – and to the austere inaccessibility of the Masters.
Sarek stood above them, waiting, outside the gates. And Kirk remembered, with a characteristic spurt of humour, Amanda’s request to him to take Spock out of Gol. He wondered what she thought of what he was doing now.
He remembered, then, that he had never told Spock about his conversation with his mother. He opened his mouth - and then closed it. This might be the last time he ever walked in the silent companionship which had come to be the most effective and important form of communication in his life and he was not going to interrupt it. Besides, something inside him knew (trust without words) that Spock, if the truth ever emerged, would understand.
Last time Spock had gone to Gol, he had extracted a promise of return when he was needed. Kirk didn’t think Spock was going to ask of him what he had asked of Saredin. And the danger was over, so there was no need – was there?
They reached the level ground and Sarek lifted his hand in the ta’al salute.
“The High Master awaits,” Spock’s father said, addressing the first words to his son since his son’s near death, loss of telepathy and his saving of the Vulcan people - causing Kirk privately to resolve never again to accuse Sarek’s son of being over-economical in his use of language. He wondered if he would ever have the chance. And he followed the two Vulcans through the great doorway into the hall where he had said to Spock There is real danger here... most of all for you. It was good to know he hadn’t lost his acumen. This time, though, the next set of doors were already open, and he passed behind Spock and Sarek (doggedly resolved to keep going without asking permission unless forcibly excluded from proceedings) until he found himself in a large stone chamber deep within the recesses of the cliff. It was blessedly cool, and Kirk drew a deep breath and looked around him.
Sarek and Spock had come to a halt side by side, as if by a secret signal, a few paces inside the room. Across from where they stood, six stone pillars towered, dwarfing both Vulcans and also two attendants who waited at the back of the chamber. And dwarfing the woman who stood at the centre of the pillars.
Kirk revised this impression. No, not dwarfed. She was not the kind of woman who would be dwarfed by anything.
For a split second, he had thought – T’Pau! – been back again in that day in the desert which seemed to haunt him at every turn the past two months. It was not T’Pau. It was a woman of far greater majesty, far more remote power. This person, he reflected grimly, would not be calling Starfleet Command to get Kirk off the hook for any unauthorised diversions, nor would she be grieving with Spock should anything happen to Kirk. He could only hope his visit to Gol would be brief and incident free. The slight tightening in his abdomen told him it would be. He thought there was only one way this could go and that he would not like it very much. But that was what he had signed up for and that was the only thing, now, he could truly want for Spock.
“Sarek.” A single word, no movement even of the stately head.
“High Master,” Sarek answered, on a similar note.
“And a human.” No inflexion whatsoever.
Neither of the Vulcans moved an inch. Kirk, owner of a name famed throughout the galaxy, fully aware that he sounded as though he were registering for an Academy class and that Standard idiom, nomenclature and tone were woefully inadequate for the occasion, said in friendly tones
“James T Kirk, High Master.”
There was a barely noticeable pause, and then the voice went on:
“Spock, thee comes to us for healing who left the path to kolinahr to travel with outworlders.”
Kirk clenched his hands. He would keep silence, for Spock’s sake – he would keep silence.
Spock’s voice, then, his face invisible from where Kirk stood,
“High Master, I travelled with outworlders to save Vulcan from danger.”
That was that, then, Kirk thought. Six years ago, the response had been They are not outworlders. They are my friends.
“Spock, what does thee seek?”
“High Master, I seek myself.”
“Spock, does thee know that which thee seeks?”
The barest hesitation, and then Spock spoke:
“High Master, I travel on the road of Surak which has logic as journey and destination. I have not arrived but I have passed the turning to other destinations and I have not turned aside. I know what I know. And I know what I do not know. It is that with which I seek thy help.”
There was a silence during which Kirk sensed that Spock’s words – and more – were being weighed in the balance and then T’Sai spoke again, her voice taking on a very slightly different timbre. In another context, it might have been encouraging, but Kirk only heard a message of warning – primarily directed at Spock himself, and then, inexplicably, at Kirk.
“Spock, thee has human blood in thyself which might have stood between thee and true learning. But thee has proved that thee can talk and walk with the true Masters. If thee had stayed thee would have had it in thyself to reach kolinahr. This stands once more within thy sights. But thee must not leave this journey again. We cannot and we must not permit it. If we heal thee and if we walk with thee on thy journey to kolinahr, thee will rise high among the disciples and the thinking at Gol but thee will not leave this place again.”
And only then – as though wanting Kirk to understand, as though this ultimatum were directed as much at Kirk as at Spock – did she turn and, in her words, take Kirk back six years again, once more:
“Spock, Sarek, are our deliberations for outworlders? I will speak in the words of the Masters and in the tongue of our people and I will do so where all who hear my words can hear my meaning.”
Sarek turned. His words to Kirk were oddly gentle but they were final.
“Please leave, Captain. I will return shortly and speak with you outside.”
Spock’s eyes were trained unblinking on T’Sai; he did not turn and Kirk thought, briefly and with a lurch to the heart – Is this goodbye? – but there was nothing he could do, and he knew it. It was funny where trust took you, trust without words. On the Enterprise, Spock had spent the entire journey from Vulcan to Faltonia effectively sequestered in the lab, and Kirk had said Permission granted. Now, Kirk looked at the back of his friend’s head, heard the same, unspoken request, and said silently, again, Permission granted. For the briefest moment in time he let a nanosecond of imagery wash over him – Spock on the bridge, making up some entirely mythological set of odds; Spock, holding him in sickbay and smiling after the pon farr; Spock, tipping over his king in defeat; Spock, amusement deliberately ill-concealed at one of Kirk’s wilder flights of diplomatic advocacy on some remote planet; Spock in Iowa “I understand that you are looking for a science officer”. He thought Live long and prosper, Commander – and then he nodded to Sarek, turned and left without a word.
And Spock said:
“High Master, what thee describes would take a lifetime to achieve.”
“That is what we seek, Spock, son of Sarek. It is what thee must give if this is thy answer.”
Spock said, very quietly,
“High Master, I do not have a lifetime to give.”
There was a silence in which Spock speculated briefly on the nature of time. It had once taken him 3.2 seconds to give the order which destroyed the Columbus. It had only taken him 2.1 seconds to abandon the path to kolinahr and, quite possibly, any true healing which would have given back the life he had lost.
During the three weeks on the Enterprise, he had considered endlessly what his answer would be to the question he had known perfectly well was waiting for him here. He had very seriously considered accepting. He had even contemplated the possibility that T’Sai would not make the offer, that his time at Gol had not proved to the Masters that he could achieve kolinahr, that after Airlock Four he would be found still more wanting. He had not been entirely sure what he would feel about this or of his decision until he had stood before T’Sai by his father’s side. No, perhaps not even then; not until Kirk left without a word.
He had not once discussed Gol with Kirk for the entirety of the journey from Faltonia. For all that, he knew that there had been a profound shift in their views on the one topic which had so divided the two who, coming from such different worlds, had in most other things found so complementary a balance. He had seen Gol as a haven and as an answer; Kirk had distrusted it and found it fundamentally flawed. He had seen it as an intellectual and emotional solution; Kirk had seen it as both anti-intellect and anti-emotion. After the incident with the Columbus, both had realised that they had seen Gol from only one dimension. Kirk had understood that it afforded great strengths. And Spock had understood that it allowed no flexibility. Saredin had said The logic of Gol is not the only way and Spock had not forgotten – was unlikely to forget, eidetic memory or not - that if Saredin had been an adherent of Gol, he would not have disobeyed Kirk’s orders and would not have arrived in time to beam Kirk out of the Columbus. And the Mila ship would still have been destroyed and he would still have come to Gol, but without Kirk.
He wondered what a friendship with Kirk would feel like, without that subliminal sense he had always had of Kirk’s thoughts. And it came to him that it would feel the same.
T’Sai’s voice was toneless, as ever, but he heard in it a thousand voices – family, teachers, childhood peers - which had echoed in his mind all his life and were as familiar as his own thoughts.
“Spock, thee faces a choice. Thee travels one way or another but thee will not stand before this turning again. If thee turns away, thee will never learn what it is truly to heal, to bridge the division of the spirit and the mind, not just what stands now between thee and the ways of thinking of thy Vulcan fathers but what has always stood between thy human and thy Vulcan halves. If thee leaves, thee will remain two people all thy life.”
He took a breath.
Know thyself. This is what it came down to, in the end, for him and also for Kirk. But Kirk had pulled himself out of San Francisco without the disciplines of Gol – he had learned about himself by doing. And that was the option which would remain for Spock.
“High Master,” he said, tasting in his words a hundred moments of rejection and isolation but also another hundred of insight and colour and friendship, “High Master, it is the differences within me which make me who I am. It is only my two halves which have the potential to let me become perhaps even more than one single individual. It is not logical but it is what I have learned, including here at Gol with you.”
In Iowa, he had told Kirk that Heraclitus had said that character was destiny.
He had known what the next words would be, but they fell hard, for all that.
“Then thy answer lies elsewhere, Spock.”
And then, before Spock had even begun to envisage what elsewhere might look like, begun the struggle of a lifetime not to regret what he had so casually declined, the thing which he had least expected, the voice from his right.
“High Master. I ask for healing for my son. Spock has chosen not to seek kolinahr with the Masters. He goes, instead, in his own way, to heal the Vulcan people and to add his strength to the work towards peace and a better way for all. I ask that you give him the tools he needs for this journey. I ask that you help him to reach his own thoughts and to think again in the Vulcan way.”
“What you ask, Sarek, is not logical.”
“Forgive me, T’Sai. My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned.”
Today it will be 45 degrees and cloudless.
Kirk had been sitting by the window in the hallway, letting his eyes drift over the landscape, his thoughts deliberately unfocused. He wondered what was waiting for him on Earth, whether Wesley would advocate on his behalf to Nogura, whether a return to permanent command might really be on the cards. Whether he could make it happen, whether he should make it happen. He wondered about Lori Ciani, whether she would think – what had she said to him? – Find time to work your own answer out – don’t mess it up like you did last time... But she had also said You move on, you move up. No one with your potential stays at any stage forever. Would he be more interesting, now that he was the man who had saved Vulcan? (Although he knew perfectly well who had truly earned that particular epithet.) But that wasn’t fair and he knew it. Lori, for all her faults, was not swayed by the nonsense of fame. She might be more interested in him because he was healed, because he was no longer in need. He let himself wonder, briefly, whether she would be waiting for him, expecting... But he knew in his heart that the very part of him which had healed up was the only part which would have opened the door to Lori or any other partner – the vulnerable bit, the part in need. To be a starship captain was to be self sufficient, and there was no room in that picture for sharing an apartment in San Francisco. If Nogura said no, he thought he might do something very different, but it would be about going forward and not backwards. And he remembered, with a sudden smile, McCoy’s ambition to tell Nogura the facts of life about xeno-epidemics. Perhaps he would. Perhaps Nogura would listen now. If he listened to McCoy, there was always the chance he would listen to Kirk.
The previous day, he’d received a report from HQ that the dilithium deposits on Drachos had been found to include cadmium compounds, rendering them unsafe for use in starships. This meant, he knew, that Starfleet would attempt to back itself out of the mining agreements, on the basis of material non-disclosure, and he suspected that his receipt of the report signified that if he were given permanent command of the Enterprise, his first mission would be to head straight back to Drachos. He thought he could live with that, if he had to.
He thought about the ships he had left behind beyond Faltonia, and smiled again. For his money, Soltar was in for a rough time. He was very fortunate that the Vulcan views on judicial punishment were the most humane in the galaxy. But Millalo and Saredin – he thought that Saredin had it in him to work with Millalo to make a lasting peace, to bring an edge of concession, a softness, to the harsh sophistication of Mila society. And Saredin himself, he thought, would be one of those who made a different in his generation to Vulcan, and to the sector. He wondered how perturbed Saredin would be if he, Kirk, ever told him that he considered him a friend – a good one.
In a minute, he would beam up to the ship. He didn’t know what shortly meant to Sarek. (Seven weeks ago, Spock had said, almost on this very spot “I will return very shortly” and that had meant back to the Enterprise with Kirk, but that was another day, another journey.) He was less sure of Sarek - he had told himself that he would wait an hour and the time was almost up. He would take the ship back to Earth and see whether he needed to find a new job or just a new First Officer. But before he left orbit, he would do one more thing. He would go and find T’Pring, and tell her how Stonn had met his death and the contribution he had made to the mission. It might be the strangest thing he had ever done, but he owed it to Stonn and it was not a task he could reasonably leave for Spock, even if Spock had not been staying at Gol. There was an irony in this decision, reached just minutes after concluding that his relationship with Lori had no future. Conventional happy endings did not seem to be on the table for either him or Spock.
Not just T’Pring. He would go and see Sonak’s family, too. And hope that they would fail to see the other irony - that both he and Sonak had been left to die by an Enterprise transporter malfunction, and that a Vulcan ship had been there to save him but not their son.
He stood up and, at exactly that moment, the door behind him opened and Spock and Sarek were in front of him.
His eyes went from one to the other. Sarek spoke first.
“Captain, I have not had the opportunity to thank you for your efforts on behalf of our planet. Vulcan owes you its gratitude.”
Kirk said, levelly,
“To your son, Ambassador, as much as to anyone else.”
Sarek inclined his head in a gesture which reminded Kirk forcibly that he was Spock’s father, and said:
“Master T’Sai has agreed to provide Spock with healing treatment which will re-educate his mind in the Vulcan disciplines. She is confident that telepathic faculties and mental controls will return.”
Aware of a rush of conflicting feelings, of which relief was predominant, Kirk shot a smile at Spock and asked,
“And how long will this treatment last?”
“Only time will tell,” Sarek said. “Come, Spock. It is time to begin. Live long and prosper, Kirk.”
He turned and left the room, even as Kirk lifted a hand in the ta’al. Spock turned to follow his father and Kirk thought, in a rush – that’s that, then – and then the Vulcan hesitated and turned back.
They were back on the Enterprise, a full three years ago, Christmas Day, the day that Kirk had rescued Spock from the crew party and they had played chess – badly – and Kirk had won and had said “You are permanently irreplaceable” and Spock had left the ship for three years. Kirk had gone back to say goodbye a second time, had defied galactic politics and Starfleet regulations to take his First Officer by the hand, but now it was Spock coming for a second goodbye and something told Kirk that, illogical though it might be, without touch telepathy and in the doorway – literal and metaphorical – to Gol, Spock needed more space, not less. He stood his distance and waited.
Spock said: “Jim, over the past three point two weeks I have come to the conclusion that re-engagement in high-calibre competitive chess matches may be a productive developmental strategy for you at this point.”
Kirk stared, stunned - for a brief second aware of absolutely nothing but sheer shock, like taking a steep step up and being wrong-footed by finding the gradient is inexplicably downhill, after all. And then, with a halogen grin and a feeling of every tension he had ever carried rolling off his back like water cascading from a swimmer emerging from the shallows, he said:
“I’m taking the Enterprise back to HQ for debriefing.”
“Indeed,” Spock said, gravely.
“The crew are scheduled for a fortnight’s R&R while repairs are undertaken.”
“That seems appropriate and well earned.”
“That means we’ll be ready to leave Earth’s orbit in about three weeks’ time.”
“Your calculations appear broadly accurate.”
“Would you like me to come and pick you up or might you be able to travel to Earth by then?”
Their eyes met. And Spock said,
“I will let you know.” And then, as though wanting to be clear, as though Kirk had finally earned the accolade of trust with words, he added “No uncertainty at this point as to the method by which I will be re-joining the ship should present any obstacle to measures you may be considering adopting in relation to the re-stocking of certain items on the ship’s inventory of beverages.”
Kirk thought this through and allowed himself a brief moment to internalise the sheer joy of Make sure there’s enough guava juice on board, before deciding that he had been wrong about Spock’s need for privacy. He took a quick step forward and reached for Spock’s hand, in the same gesture with which he had said goodbye three years earlier.
“If we do this again,” he said, “you’re back under my command permanently.”
Gamma Fortuna and the Copernicus came to Spock’s mind, but before he could gauge what Kirk was saying and react, Kirk continued pleasantly, “That means that I will expect you to obey the odd order, you know.”
Gamma Fortuna again, and Airlock Four, and a number of other occasions on which the chain of command which had bound them and separated them had been tested – shaped and beaten and worked under fire into its own unique shape - but never quite broken. In the isolation chamber of the Enterprise, Spock had called it balance.
“That would be traditional,” he said now, gravely. He reached over with his free hand to hold Kirk’s, exactly as he had done on that earlier occasion.
“Thank you, Jim,” he said, quietly, “for everything”, and Kirk stepped back, lifted his hand in the ta’al and turned away. Below him was the Copernicus and, above him, his ship was waiting.