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He must be slipping.  More than that, he must be getting old.  Dear God - had he just stopped thinking?

 

Kirk sat in the apartment in San Francisco, the screen lit in front of him and his heart-rate pretending it was still on active service.  The room around him was empty and faintly dim, Lori was out (with friends, she had said) and the very stillness seemed to accentuate the words on the screen, the walls swooping in, tunnel vision on that single word, the Vulcan name illuminated by the backlighting in the computer.

 

He sat quite still, his posture belying a brain suddenly on over-ride.

 

It wasn’t supposed to be exciting, this role.  He knew perfectly well that Komack had asked him to take it on because he had thought it would be on a level with putting HR files in alphabetical order and he had accepted it because at some point in the past six months he had given up fighting.  He thought that Komack knew that, scented blood, had forced the matter precisely because he could – and he’d been right.  In that, too, he, Kirk, seemed to have become someone entirely different. 

 

He sat at the table now, bolt upright, vibrating ever so slightly, the very adrenaline surge – the alert processing of six different thought streams simultaneously – stunningly familiar, conjuring back not only a starship bridge, a gold shirt, a view of distant stars – but his very skin, his own persona.  When had he last felt like this?

 

Before the Halcyon, before the Seleya.  Of course.

 

And after that – Gamma Fortuna and Delta Sector, Kor. 

 

And Iowa?  No, Iowa had been something entirely different.

 

Not the whole past year on Earth.  No.

 

And the Mila mission?  Not sure.  He had been worried, of course, anxious about the future – his future and Spock’s.  And the two questions had come together in that difficult decision which seemed at the time to answer his dilemma about Spock and allowed a graceful surrender for the sake of the Fleet but had closed the door on the only way of life he had ever truly wanted.  And sitting at the table, for the very first time in over eighteen months, he thought:  When did I ever give a shit about a graceful surrender for the sake of the Fleet?  He must have temporarily lost the ability to think – to question, to challenge.  And it was with that loss that he had gone to Mila 5.

 

He hadn’t pushed Milani, even though his inner instinct had been on red alert throughout the mission.

 

And he hadn’t questioned the presence of Soltar.

 

When a starship captain stops acting on instinct, it’s time to come home.  He’d been right to give in, but for all the wrong reasons; in a topsy-turvy universe, he had somehow turned into the man who had retired from space because of that transformation.

 

Know thyself.

 

With an audible groan, Kirk read back through the material on the screen, assimilating the details at lightning speed.

 

The Romulan-Vulcan Accords had brought their share, as always, of minority dissidents, ancient claims of damage or loss caused by one side against the other.  Shortly after they were signed, a Romulan family came forward with the startling claim that they were descended from one of the first clans of Vulcan and, on this basis, alleged the right to inherit a very significant part of land of considerable value, not so far (Kirk had noted) from Spock’s family’s own estate, that desolate, sun-baked spot where Kirk had once so nearly lost his life.  The claim eventually failed, but not before the actual issue of lineage had been proved – and the case had persuaded both governments to take steps to address the issue of compensation, by arranging a Commission for Claims (V/R) which, by constitution, required the membership of a flag Starfleet officer, by way of providing a neutral and balanced chair of proceedings.  Kirk had agreed to take the role at a moment of personal crisis and all of his misgivings as to how it would play out had been fulfilled.

 

He had spent the first three months on Earth unable to find anything very much which rooted him.  He had taken leave, visited family and friends, gone back to Iowa.  As always, he found that none of this held him for long, and the farmhouse, whose solitary peace had always in the past provided the most sustaining of refuges he had found the most unsettling, managing by chance to visit just before Christmas, in a frozen white landscape with vivid memories of his most recent visit there, ten months previously.  The firelit evening, chess and brandy, the aircar lifting in the snow and the never-quite settled question – had he made the right decision?  In Iowa, or afterwards at Drachos?  He knew from Saredin what had happened, knew Spock was in Gol, knew that he had nothing to offer the Vulcan here on Earth but also that, selfishly, he would have been making a better fist of adjustment with Spock at his side.  He had no idea if the Vulcan would ever leave Gol – or, if he did, whether he would allow the resumption of any sort of friendship.  There had been no communication and he had expected none – found himself hoping Spock was finding his own answers, but also fearing that it might mean a final loss for Kirk himself which was too hard to contemplate at that point.

 

He did not let himself contemplate the ironies of the past two years.  The effort to give Spock the freedom of his own command; the struggle then to allow him to take an effective and unconventional demotion in order to return to Kirk; the permanent loss of Kirk’s own command in accordance with the conventionalities of linear career advancement – and all this left both Spock and him planetside, Spock at Gol, he at HQ, the most renowned command team in Starfleet, separate and grounded.

 

He had left Iowa after two nights and gone trekking in the Himalayas with Mike Harding.

 

On return, he had tried very hard to involve himself with the re-fitting of the Enterprise.  This was bitter-sweet – his ship hung in dock, beached, dismembered – his initial feelings, on seeing her, had been less nostalgia than trauma.  But Scotty’s welcome had been a home-coming, their shared enthralment with the proposed improvements an affair of entirely mutual satisfaction – Kirk had always known that his visceral, physical identification with his ship had been shared only with Scot.  It was her deployment, her command which had brought him and Spock together.

 

He had thought that inveigling himself into the refitting process might help to shoe him into permanent involvement with what lay ahead for the Enterprise and, always in the distance ahead of him, the enticing, gossamer prospect of another term in command.  But Starfleet, of course, were having none of that – he’d been allowed six weeks (enough time for the uprooting to hurt all over again, enough time for the team to benefit from the main thrust of his views on the refitting programme – whichever view you took) and he had then been firmly assigned to the xeno-psychology department at HQ.  One of the few bright spots of his new world was working with Bob Wesley again – and Bob’s agreement with Kirk’s instinct that the Mila 5 situation had all the long term potential to present a really major threat – more serious even, in its way, than the Klingon-Romulan war.  Wesley had been comforting on the subject of what Kirk’s options had been at the time that he’d been out at the Mila system (Kirk did not allow himself to be comforted, whilst still not really knowing what else he could have done) and had introduce Kirk to Lori Ciani, who headed up the team.  Within a week, Lori had downloaded all the relevant data from the Mila 5 mission, had a team of analysts assigned to a close study of the Mila culture and psyche and had moved into Kirk’s apartment.

 

Wesley had taken them both out to a drink the first day and left himself after half an hour, with the clear look of a man who had done a good job.  And he’d been right, Kirk thought now, sitting at the table in the dark – they had been good together.  They’d had so much which was so very obvious in common – he’d loved, almost immediately, Lori’s intelligence, her quick-fire mind, her sense of humour, her drive – and that was before he’d started appreciating the physical aspects of their relationship, although if you’d blinked you have missed the gap in time between the appreciation of character and body.  They’d been inseparable, at work and off-duty, in the early weeks; it had helped Kirk over the worst of readjustment and it had helped the Mila project, as well.  He and Lori had fired off on each other in the department, seizing on each other’s ideas, building on each other’s suggestions, finishing each other’s sentences – no.  Not that, not finishing sentences.  He thought that might have been only with Spock.

 

In those first months, there had only been one false note struck – something Lori had said which had jarred horribly, disproportionately at the time, but which he had dismissed instantly, had not been prepared to discuss – had, in fact, as he remembered, simply rolled over in bed and initiated an entirely different sort of engagement with her, if rougher than usual, and she had complied more than happily, looked at him afterwards slightly differently as if enjoying the side benefits of his discomfort, and he had thought, briefly If only you knew.. and gone abruptly to sleep.

 

She’d said:  “God, aren’t we lucky, Jim?  We made it, we’re here, it’s so exciting, so good – and it’s only going to get better, all the way.  And we’ll do it together.  Aren’t we lucky? I thought I was lucky before.  But it’s so much more fun with you.”

 

To which Kirk, suddenly contemplative, with the sudden hint of a truth he’d never offered her, had replied:  “Thanks, Lori.  I know you’re right; I know there’s a lot on offer, a lot that’s really important here.  It’s not quite the Enterprise, but it’s helping.”

 

And she’d said, almost brusquely, “Come off it, Jim.  You move on, you move up.  No one with your potential stays at any stage forever.  That’s what you’d say to your team, wouldn’t it be?  Isn’t that, in fact, what you said to Commander Spock, according to Bob?  And if you really don’t agree, why the hell did you accept promotion and why did he?”

 

It was the combination of the home truths, the utter lack of sentiment or understanding and, within that context, the casual and unexpected use of Spock’s name (he’d never mentioned Spock to her, what on earth had Bob said?).  No, compassion was not Lori’s strong suit.  She’d made a bee-line for Kirk on the basis of his invincibility, his strength, his command persona.  She hadn’t bargained altogether for someone in need of healing – healing for which he had himself hated the need, healing which she was prepared to extend but which made him someone she hadn’t been expecting.  It wasn’t her fault, any more than it was his.   It took nothing away from the fact that without Lori, those early months would have been entirely unendurable.

 

To be fair to himself, he thought he had kept away from her the worst of it.  Starfleet had provided him with transition counselling, which McCoy had suggested he accept and which he had laughed off and then became angry when McCoy said he was in denial.  On one level, he knew McCoy had been right, but he could see no universe in which he was going to talk to a professional about what it had meant to him to lose his ship.  He found himself unexpectedly irritable, true, he who had always been either calm and empowered or, very occasionally in a towering rage, but not subject to more petty moods.  And he found that tranquillity eluded him completely.  He was always restless, never sufficiently tired.  He slept badly. 

 

He even, to his horror, found himself subject to feelings of vertigo – of an overpowering loss of perspective, of losing the sense of who he was, of any significance at all attached to James Kirk – supposed it was what people meant when they talked about a fear of death.  He had never understood this before – life was for living; the only important thing about death was to keep it at bay for as long as possible and give life all you had.  But this must be what other people felt, what he had always dismissed – this feeling of time passing, the adrenaline surge that accompanied every upward glance (literal and metaphorical) beyond his immediate occupation, the panic that sometimes woke him at night with the message It’s over.  It’s too late.

 

It had been too much, in the end.  His gradual awareness of being in the wrong place – things getting worse, not better; adjustment more out of reach every day.  Her poorly masked irritation with this.  And all this night and day, at home and on the project.  That was when he’d accepted Komack’s offer.  He’d remained formally assigned to the Mila project but on a much more tangential basis, and he and Lori had seen very little of each other outside the apartment – and rather less of each other anywhere.  Neither was quite prepared to call it a day, but an evening like this was not unusual; Lori out with friends, Kirk sitting working at a table and, between one sip of coffee and the next, his eyes fixed in shock on a single name.

 

Soltar.

 

It turned out that Soltar was the descendant, by two generations, of an off world liaison between a Vulcan woman of high birth and wealth and a Romulan military commander.  Kirk’s eyebrows rose, wondering how that might have happened, in the universe before the Accords, with the hatred, suspicion and bitterness of those years of mutual silence.  At the time the union supposedly took place, Vulcan was already post reform era, a beacon of civilisation and the galaxy’s leading light on learning, peace and culture.  Whereas the Romulans...

 

He was falling into the same trap of prejudice.  All that had been known of the Romulans during that time was based on prejudice and superstition – the erection of the Neutral Zone had permitted nothing else.  And suddenly he remembered their own mission on the Enterprise – the Neutral Zone outposts destroyed, the Romulan bird of prey they had tracked, Tomlinson and Martine and the extraordinary bigotry which had manifested itself on his own bridge, directed by Stiles at Spock.  Stiles – who was also carrying the anger and resentment of an ancient family loss.  Kirk and the Romulan Commander had conceived a bizarre silent mutual respect, across the barrier of an intent to kill – that Commander had been a person whom he could imagine in the context of a liaison with a Vulcan princess.  He had felt an odd loss when the bird of prey had self-destructed.  And Tomlinson had died.

 

He brought himself back to the present.  Soltar’s grandmother had been brought back to Vulcan by outraged relatives and given birth to a girl who had been rejected by Vulcan society and disinherited, along with her mother, from the family.  The mother had died young and the child had grown up in poverty to a difficult life which had resulted in Soltar’s birth, father unknown and the mother dying shortly afterwards.  Soltar had been taken into the system and repaired some of the damage of history, emerging as a leading research scientist who had graduated top of his class from the VSA. 

 

And had now submitted a claim against both governments for his lost inheritance.

 

Soltar, last seen on Mila 5.

 

Milani had said, He came to us from Vulcan quite recently and has been of immeasurable assistance in one of our medical research projects.”

 

What sort of medical research project?  Working on an instinct which had been inexplicably dormant for far too long, Kirk’s mind went further back.  He’d been teasing Spock about McCoy’s reaction to the Vulcan being reassigned to the Enterprise, and Spock had countered by suggesting that McCoy avoid him by transferring simultaneously to the Seleya.  What had he said – what had he said?  “The Chief Medical Officer of the Seleya has recently been promoted to a role at the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit.”

 

Which meant someone – someone – had left the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit eighteen months ago.  The timing would work.  Suppose Soltar, before he went to Mila, had held a role at the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit.  The question was – the question was, Kirk thought, suddenly on his feet, chair falling back behind him – what sort of medical research project could be carried out for the authorities of Mila 5 by a former leading scientist at the Vulcan Xenomedical Unit who had every cause to hate Vulcan and who had demonstrated an extremely long memory for family history?

 

Lori Ciani, suddenly penitent for leaving Kirk looking though compensation claims while she ate out with a couple of old Academy friends, cut the evening short and came home, thinking to distract Kirk with a drink and perhaps a film or an early night.  But it was clear, as soon as she entered the apartment, calling his name, that he was gone and the room was empty.

 

***

 

Sometime, Kirk thought, he would tell Bob Wesley what it had meant to him that he could burst into his apartment at 2300 hours with a wild tale about biological warfare in the Mila system and be taken seriously.

 

It wasn’t just the practicalities – that within twenty four hours a task force had been set up, Vulcan contacted, the Seleya assigned, Lori’s project absorbed into a top level, top priority military operation.  It was being trusted, being given the respect of understanding and immediate implementation.  Perhaps McCoy was right. Perhaps he should have agreed to counselling the year before.  But Bob’s terse “Shit.  How the hell did we miss that?  OK, let me get to Nogura on this,” had been worth months of therapy, and he knew it.

 

In large part, however, Kirk ‘s evidence that he was back inside his own skin was precisely that he had suddenly no time for introspection, and beyond that grateful reflection his thoughts were focused entirely on Mila.

 

A scheme which involved Soltar had to mean a long term plan that went way beyond military posturing and put Soltar’s particular expertise in the very nerve centre (Kirk grimaced to himself at the metaphor) of the operation.  It must have been put into place immediately after the peace process, before the Accords even.  And there were real odds (Spock would be able to quote them, he thought suddenly, throat tight) of it involving a biological weapon, aimed against Vulcans – against Spock.  What had Bob said, at Drachos – “Mila culture has a strong tendency to vengeance and honour-killing...  There are suggestions that they hold Spock personally responsible for what has happened.”

 

He had been right about Mila all along – his instinct had been for Spock to go to Gol because he’d recognised the danger, without understanding it.

 

He just hadn’t taken it one step further – had allowed himself to be distracted by Kang and Mara – and wondered now if Milani had deliberately arranged to have them present, as a decoy for Kirk’s attention.  Camouflage.  It was nothing to do with the Klingons, never had been.

 

Nogura should take him round the back of the building and shoot him.  What the hell had he been thinking of?

 

Oddly, the one person who appeared to agree with him was Lori.  He had suggested, kindly and firmly, that they would both need as much time as was at their disposal on the Mila operation now, and that it was probably appropriate for her to move her things out so that she could base herself somewhere independently in a way that supported her own schedule.  There had been no arguments or awkwardness but he had said, as she left,

 

“I’m sorry, Lori.  If I’d done this differently, your team would have been working on a different premise, the past year.”  And she’d looked at him straight and simply nodded in understanding.  And then she’d said

 

“The important thing is to get it right now, Jim.”  And had hesitated, and gone on “Whatever happens now, find time to work your own answer out – don’t mess it up like you did last time.”  He’d been taken aback, not expecting that from her, then leaned forward and managed a kiss on the cheek and smiled to himself.  Lori might be able to manage some unexpected understanding about his career choices, but she would never empathise with them.  By working his way back to the front line, he would forfeit her interest in him, but that was OK.  It wasn’t Lori he was supposed to be true to.

 

Know thyself.

 

And then, the thing he had never expected, certainly never asked for, never worked towards.

 

Which didn’t mean, he thought to himself in all honesty, that if it had occurred to him he would necessarily have been able to resist.

 

Day three, Wesley had turned up at his apartment when Kirk was barely out of the shower in the morning.  He accepted a coffee and sat in an easy chair, across from Kirk.  He had the look of Santa Claus giving a child a longed-for present which Santa was less than convinced the child should have – some particularly unhealthy treat, perhaps – no, something more dangerous  A chemistry experiment kit.  Or a junior high school incendiary device.

 

He came straight to the point.

 

“The Seleya has requested the assignment of the Enterprise to this mission,” he said, eyes on Kirk’s face.  Kirk looked up sharply, eyes widening.

 

“Is she ready?  Last report I had from Scotty...”

 

“... must have been yet another of those you were not supposed to receive,” Wesley said, drily.  “At what point were you planning to accept the fact that for the past twelve months or so you’ve actually been assigned somewhere else, and that you are not on the team overseeing the refit?”

 

He grinned, rather awkwardly; said nothing.

 

Wesley went on.

 

“Well, if you’ve read the report, you’ll know she’s essentially ready to go.  She could do with a bit more testing and I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend too many nights in the VIP quarters, but much of that can be fixed en route or frankly doesn’t really matter.  What do you think, Jim?”

 

“Me?  Whatever you may think, I haven’t actually seen the latest spec.  Why does the Seleya want the Enterprise?  And have you asked Scotty?”

 

“I’m asking you,” Wesley said, slowly, “because Saredin has specifically requested the Enterprise under your command.”

 

He choked on the coffee; the room stilled; his heart lurched, and he fought to keep his reaction off his face, said nothing for fear of betraying himself.

 

Wesley shook his head, half amused.

 

“You don’t fool me, Jim.  I could ask you a dozen things about whether this is sensible and whether it’s the right thing and whether you think you’re the right man for the job.  But the truth is that Saredin asked for you and that you’re married to the damn warp core, so it’s a waste of breath I may as well keep for other things.  I think you’re damn lucky, if you want to know, luckier than you deserve.  But, if you push me to it, I’ll admit to being happy for you.  Just get her out there and sort this, Jim.  I have a nasty feeling in my gut – nasty enough that, at the end of the day, I’m glad it’s you, glad you’re going.”  He drained the coffee, stood.

 

“I’ll leave you to pack, shall I?  I’ll come and see you off, later.”

 

And left, leaving Kirk still sitting in the same chair he had sat down in five minutes earlier in a different universe.

 

 

***

 

 

“I don’t have a First Officer,” Kirk said, wondering how often he’d said those words in the past eighteen months.

 

“Go with what you’ve got,” Wesley said, briefly.  “We’ve not got time to replace Sonak now.  And, in any case, Starfleet and Vulcan are both quite adamant that you should have a Vulcan on board – it’s partly a political thing and partly because of the nature of the mission.  It won’t look great for us to follow up the accident with Sonak with the immediate appointment of a human First Officer.  We’re less than an hour off scheduled departure time now, Jim.  You managed before.”

 

“Starfleet will ratify any field promotions,” Kirk quoted.

 

“You got it,” Wesley said.  They were standing in the transporter room, technicians all over them, a sombre-looking Scotty behind the console in close confabulation with Kyle.  And, even in that minute, he took time to wonder at how so many old faces had found their way back to this new Enterprise facing a new threat but with all of the old command crew.  Well, nearly all the old command crew. 

 

Someday, he would let this all sink in and add up what it meant to him.  If they all survived.

 

The wall communicator beeped; it was Uhura.


“Captain, Dr McCoy is signalling that he is ready to beam up.”

 

Kirk allowed a wave of pure pleasure to wash over him and Wesley smiled.

 

“I wouldn’t want to spoil the reunion,” he said.  “Beam me back as you pick up McCoy.  And then you’re out of time.  Good luck, Jim.  We’ll speak.”  A hand-clasp, tinged with guilt on Kirk’s part.  Where would he be without Wesley?  He had never found any way to thank him for anything.  And now he was letting him go without regret because the other side of that farewell lay McCoy and departure to the stars.  Wesley looked into his face and shook his head, ever so slightly, as if in denial of what he found there, and stepped briskly up to the transporter platform, with all the appearance of a man who had managed effortlessly to forget what had appeared on the HQ platform when what had once been Commander Sonak had been retrieved from the ill-fated attempt to beam aboard the ship.

 

There was the whine of the transporter – blessedly normal in pitch – and McCoy appeared.

 

The two looked at each other.

 

McCoy’s lips twitched.

 

“So, you ever get that therapy I suggested?”

 

“Good to see you, too” Kirk returned, blandly.

 

“That means no.  So I have to deal with an unknown xenobiological emergency, a ship that’s reputedly physically unsafe and, just to top things up, an unstable mixed-up CO.”

 

Kirk stretched out his hand and held McCoy’s between both of his.  The newly reappointed CMO leaned forward and said, very quietly,

 

“Is Spock still in Gol?”

 

Kirk stepped back and met the blue eyes.  For all the ancient crossfire between Spock and McCoy, it was only here that he found the same instinctive concern for the Vulcan’s well being that he bore himself.  After the past year on Earth, it felt like an odd relief to be with someone who understood.   He nodded.

 

“To the best of my belief.”

 

“And is that safe?”

 

“Only as safe as we can make it.  ETD twenty minutes.  Let’s go, Bones.  I have a rendezvous with the Seleya to make.”

 

 

***

 

 

Nothing brought the past back with quite so much force as the sight of the Seleya in the main viewer.  He remembered the dilithium project in Gamma Sector and wondered, suddenly, how Leo Santini was doing.

 

It was oddly pleasurable to greet Saredin in the Enterprise transporter room, and he hoped his smile said so, offering the ta’al and remembering, as he did so, that the last time he had seen the Vulcan face to face had been when Saredin had visited him in sickbay, after he and Spock had returned from Gamma Fortuna.  After the Copernicus.

 

“Captain, welcome aboard.  I hope I see you well.  And it’s good to have the opportunity to offer you belated congratulations in person on your promotion.”

 

“Captain Kirk,” Saredin nodded.  “We are grateful for your assistance in this matter – Starfleet’s and yours personally – and that it has been possible for the Enterprise to be assigned with such speed.”

 

Kirk eyed him up, wondering (as he had done several times in the past few days) what had been behind Saredin’s request for his personal assignment to the mission.  Of course, his own involvement with the Mila situation, both through the last mission of the Enterprise and through Lori Ciani’s xeno-psychology project, made him an obvious candidate and meant that he could add real value in a critical emergency.  His acquaintance with Saredin, previous partnership with the Seleya and knowledge of Vulcan also made him a natural choice on any reckoning.  He remembered, though, Saredin’s extraordinary dialogue in the sickbay of the Seleya, his deliberate strategy to attempt reconciliation between Spock and Kirk; his admission to Kirk of his motivation which had led Kirk subsequently to trust him to support Spock in a decision, after Drachos, that would mean the Vulcan’s safety – and he wondered whether an awareness of his own unhappy situation could have played a part in Saredin’s intervention.  He suspected very strongly that he would never know the answer.

 

He found himself sorry not to see T’Mala.  And thought back with wry irony to the start of the first mission with the Seleya, two and a half years previously and how improbable his current sentiments would have seemed then.

 

He took Saredin to briefing room three, pulled out a chair and said:

 

“We’ll need to ensure that we’re fully up to speed on each other’s thinking, Captain – now and going forward.  You’ll have received all the files from Admiral Ciani and we’ve downloaded what you’ve made available – my team are going through them now.  But I think we need an early opportunity to sit round the table on this.  It’s not just about data, it’s about using all the expertise we have to work out together and not separately where we are going.”

 

“Your tactics are logical and I agree would be the most effective use of resources, Captain,” Saredin said.  “My suggestion is that, while it is of the highest priority to ensure an urgent course to the Mila 5 system, it would be proportionate to delay for twenty four Earth hours by stopping at Vulcan.  It is directly in our path and would enable both of us to confer with the VSA experts and learn their views.  We would also be able, at first hand, to consider Soltar’s areas of work while he was in post at the VXU.”

 

Kirk nodded, briskly.

 

“Agreed.  It might be an opportune moment, as well, to consider the staffing of the Enterprise bridge crew.”

 

Saredin gave him an odd look.

 

“For what purpose?”

 

Kirk ran a hand through his hair.

 

“You’ll be aware of the accident we had with the ship’s transporters prior to departure.  I wrote to the VSA about Commander Sonak – I need hardly tell you, Captain, what a loss that is to us as well as to Vulcan.  I have been told, however, that Starfleet and Vulcan would both prefer the Enterprise to include at least one Vulcan crew member, and in an ideal world I would comply.  I wondered whether one of your crew might be interested in a secondment, for the duration.  There might also be someone at the VSA who might be suitable – I don’t know.”

 

Saredin steepled his fingers in a gesture oddly reminiscent of another Vulcan and was briefly silent.  He then deliberately raised his head and looked straight at Kirk.

 

“Captain, our deliberations over a conference at Vulcan would not have necessitated my presence on your ship.  It might at this stage be appropriate for me to disclose my objective in transporting here and to place at your discretion the fulfilment of an obligation into which I entered eighteen point three months previously.”

 

Kirk looked utterly blank.  He sensed that what Saredin was saying was significant, possibly even personally significant but he had no sense of what it was.  So he waited, saying nothing, and was caught unawares when Saredin, evidently realising the need for a direct approach, said:

 

“When Captain Spock departed from the Seleya for Gol, he asked that he should be informed in the event of any developments in relation to Mila 5 which might threaten the safety of Vulcan or of particular individuals.”

 

Kirk stared.

 

“Informed... which individuals?”

 

“He was not specific.”

 

He put a hand up to his forehead, rubbed it.

 

“You are suggesting that we tell Spock what is going on – to what purpose?”

 

“I am suggesting nothing.  I am informing you of a request made by Captain Spock to which I acceded.”

 

“You agreed to tell him?”

 

“Affirmative.”

 

“Then why ask me?”

 

Uncharacteristically, Saredin hesitated.

 

“The conversation with the captain took place within the context of dialogue sustained following a request you made to me to attempt to ensure his personal safety.  You might reasonably feel that this objective had not been achieved if the captain were in any way encouraged or enabled to leave Gol at this point.”

 

“Damn right,” Kirk said, without thinking.  Saredin raised an eyebrow.

 

“It is, however, nevertheless the case that I acceded to his request.”

 

Which makes it your problem not mine, thought Kirk.  But it wasn’t true.  It was both their problem and in bringing it to him Saredin had acknowledged that in a way which moved Kirk for reasons which might take him more time to unpick than he had at his disposal.

 

“Why not,” he asked, softly, “just go tell him yourself?”

 

And Saredin looked at him full in the face.  He said:

 

“There is no logic in an approach from me which suggests to Captain Spock that, should he wish it, a role exists for him in facing the Mila crisis.  No such role exists on the Seleya.  A role does exist on the Enterprise.

 

He would never take life for granted again.  A week ago, he had been grounded on Earth, frustrated, unempowered, homesick.  Now, back on the bridge of a starship – his ship – and he was facing Saredin across a briefing table with the Vulcan calmly suggesting that he invite Spock back to the Enterprise as his First Officer.  After all this time. 

 

He found himself realising that it was three years since that farewell handclasp on a distant Christmas Day – three years since Spock had left the Enterprise.  Nearly two since Iowa, when they had last met.

 

Much as he had on Iowa, but for very different reasons, he let himself taste, very briefly, what it would mean to agree, just to let it happen – and then came back to reality.

 

“But Spock has made his choice.  And safety is still an issue – more of an issue.  He is almost certainly the target of the Mila operation, whatever it is.  His presence on the Enterprise could expose him to terrible danger – and could jeopardise the mission.”

 

“Perhaps,” Saredin said. “I suggest, Captain, that while the danger remains an unknown quantity, it is illogical to speculate on the best course of action in relation to Captain Spock’s personal whereabouts.  It is conceivable that, given his significance to the Mila, his personal engagement at the heart of the operation may be to the advantage of our joint mission.  Further, Spock is ultimately responsible for his own safety and made a direct request to me in the full knowledge of the consequences of that request.  In the circumstances, I consider myself absolved from the obligation to take further action in that regard, since his deployment on this ship is not under my control and our agreement was expressed at the time to be subject to what lay within my power.  I look forward to seeing you at Vulcan, Captain, and to our future partnership.  If you are in agreement, I need no accompaniment to the transporter.”

 

And Kirk was left alone at the briefing room table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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