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Kirk said into the viewer:

 

“According to the best scientific hypothesis McCoy’s team can manage, on the back of what T’Mala has fed through to him, there seems no very substantial likelihood of contamination this side of the Faltonian system.   There are no intermediary systems of significant demographics and best guess is that the Mila would not be able to transmit any virus over the distance from Faltonia to Vulcan.”  And if they can, he added silently to himself, we’re all finished anyway.  “On that basis, I think both ships can proceed best speed to Faltonia and regroup perhaps half a day shy of arrival to review the best way forward on the basis of whatever data we have at the time.  We’ll keep in hourly contact in the meantime.  Agreed?”

 

“That is logical and I concur,” Saredin’s voice came over the communication channel.  “Seleya out.”

 

Kirk leaned back in his chair and looked around the table at the faces of his officers – Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu – and Stonn.   Sulu had estimated arrival at Faltonia within three weeks.  Beyond, the sector between Faltonia and Mila 5 was populated with a large number of smaller and heavily populated planetoids and solar systems, through which, given sufficient scientific advance and sufficient perverted genocidal intent, a deadly virus could more easily be spread.  Kirk’s instinct (which, ever since Mila and the appearance on his computer in San Francisco of Soltar’s name, he was inclined to take seriously) was that the end game would come soon after Faltonia. 

 

Which was ironic, given that Faltonia was, in a way, where it had all began.  Soltar’s drive for revenge had been born out of the Vulcan-Romulan Accords, the end of a war signalled by the Vulcan-Starfleet crisis, itself brought about by the refusal of Saredin to shake the hand of a Faltonian diplomat.

 

He stole a quick look at Spock.  There was a time when he would have known without looking that Spock shared and appreciated the irony of the situation.  The Vulcan might well do so now for all he knew, he reflected wearily; nothing in his bearing gave it away.

 

“Questions, gentlemen?  Thank you.  Dismissed.”

 

The room emptied, save for McCoy whom he had expected to hang back.  He was not disappointed.  Spock was the last to leave the room and McCoy said to his departing back, in his most Southern drawl:

 

“Not joining us, Spock?”

 

The Vulcan stopped, and turned slowly.

 

“My apologies, Captain.  Have I overlooked a secondary briefing?”

 

“No, Spock,” McCoy snapped.  “It was my way of saying hello.  Call me crazy, I thought you might like to take advantage of the first opportunity the three of us have had to talk about this disaster – and, incidentally, that the three of us have to talk about anything very much for about three years.”

 

Kirk leaned his elbow on the table and propped his face in his hand, covering his eyes.  He knew what McCoy was trying to do, knew that the entire exchange was eminently predictable on all parts and would rather have been anywhere else in the sector than an unwilling audience.

 

As luck would have it, the day he had brought Spock back from Gol, McCoy had met them by chance on the deck outside the turbolift by the biological science laboratories.  With no time to waste before arranging a full briefing for Spock and, with a slightly uneasy courtesy, preferring but failing to be able to treat Spock as though the Vulcan were on his own ground, Kirk had taken Spock directly there on arrival from Vulcan - after taking in, en route, the briefest of nods to Stonn.   He had said, quietly, after the Vulcan Sub-Commissioner had passed:

 

“I’m sorry, Spock – I should have told you he was on board, I just forgot.  The VSA have asked us to take a delegate, and he was the best person for the job.”  To which Spock, predictably, had said absolutely nothing.  Kirk realised, as soon as he heard McCoy’s distinctive tones, that he should have talked to McCoy before going to Gol – not to seek the CMO’s advice, but simply because of the history that he shared with both senior officers.   It being too late, he watched with half wary, half amused speculation what would follow.  And had not been disappointed.  McCoy had actually fallen silent in mid-sentence as Spock came into view.  And then, with what looked like a powerful effort, he had said to Kirk, softly,

 

“You must be out of your mind,” and to Spock, “You almost look like someone I used to know.  Almost like a real person.  But not quite.”  And Spock had adopted his “I am actually not on this starship” expression and things had gone on from there.

 

Eyes shielded now, Kirk missed the expression on Spock’s face but the tone of voice brought no surprises.

 

“Permission to continue analysis of Vulcan Science Academy research, Captain?”

 

“Permission granted,” Kirk said to the table.

 

“Have fun,” McCoy said.  “Impressive standards of conversation and teamwork technique they teach at Gol.  The Masters would be proud of you.”

 

Bones,” he said, in an exasperated plea - and looked up.  The Vulcan had left the room.

 

“You can’t let him get away with it, Jim.”

 

Kirk stood up and walked over to the viewer.

 

“Get away with what, Bones?  He is what he is.  I really don’t think giving him a hard time is going to change anything.”

 

“Then what is?  And when?  We’re supposed to be the best Starfleet can pull together to meet the most deadly menace since the last deadly menace.  I’m a doctor, not a starship captain, but I know as well as you do we need to work together on this.  Quite apart from the risk to Spock physically – and how you square that with your conscience God only knows – I have no idea why you think it’s a good idea bringing him along.   A computer upgrade would have got us just as far, been less irritating and quite a lot more fun.”

 

Kirk turned to open his mouth but McCoy hadn’t finished.

 

“Anyway, that wasn’t actually what I wanted to talk to you about.  Or not the only thing.  What was the big idea bringing Stonn along?  Last time I saw him, you and Spock and he weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye.  Seems to me having him join the welcoming party was pretty much bound to guarantee a less than happy reunion on all fronts.”

 

“I didn’t have much choice,” Kirk said, shortly, “and I really don’t think it’s hugely relevant.  We’re all grown-ups, Bones, and it was a hell of a long time ago.”  When he came to think about it, it had been another reality.  Sometimes, he thought that lying on the sand with the world going black, Spock above him, that overwhelming heat – that it had all happened to someone else.

 

 

***

 

The shuttle journey from Vulcan to the ship had lasted less than thirty minutes by Kirk’s estimation – he knew Spock would have been able to offer a more accurate figure, but he would not have been able to bring himself to ask for one.  And during that time, despite Stages One through Four, despite the five year mission, despite chess, brandy, guava juice and the evening in Iowa, they had failed to find a single thing to say to each other.  Kirk had boarded the Enterprise entirely unable to visualise what it would be like to serve again with this unknown and unknowable Spock.  But, in fact, the strange became familiar very rapidly.

 

Spock divided his time between the bridge and the research laboratories, performing his functions in both areas with an efficiency and methodology which depressed Kirk for being, so far as he could remember, even more meticulous and precise than the Spock of the five year mission.  This was a performance which allowed no error, no vulnerability, no room for questioning or doubt.  He was respectful and proper rather than courteous and Kirk was ashamed but sufficiently honest with himself to admit that he preferred the shifts when Spock was in the labs.

 

His least favourite shifts involved a combination of Spock and McCoy.  These were frequent, due to the nature of the mission and McCoy’s close involvement with the research and strategic analytical work, in which they were essentially attempting to divine Soltar’s thinking ahead of ETA at Faltonia, which had become for all of them the focus of all thinking, an effective deadline for the thinking stage.  After that, no one thought that research and analysis would be anything other than a luxury.  Kirk reflected that McCoy and Spock between them probably possessed every necessary skill and mental aptitude to have the greatest chance of success at this particular task, if only they were anything other than permanently at loggerheads.

 

He came to revise this opinion after a particular strategic review, one week into the course to Faltonia.  The reviews were held jointly with the Seleya, with Saredin’s team linked by audio and visual channels; they were waiting for the Seleya to be put through at the pre-arranged time, sitting round the table, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, the bio research team and Stonn.

 

McCoy had been reporting on the results of the work being carried out at breakneck speed to try to identify firstly, the likely nature of any virus aimed specifically at Vulcans and, secondly, possible forms of treatment.  Which was, as he had already admitted to Kirk, a little bit like trying to work out the answer in one language to a question in another language, when all you knew about the question was the name of the person who had asked it.

 

Spock said:

 

“It may be an erroneous approach to restrict research to overt differences in Vulcan physiology.  It is self evident that Vulcans are touch telepaths and have copper-based blood; however, there are also a myriad of more subtle distinctions which could as easily be the basis of a racially-targeted virus.”

 

“First I’ve heard of it,” McCoy said, with a deliberate drawl.  “You backing away from your national heritage, Spock?  I thought the whole way you people think was the big deal, here, that it was what makes human so inferior.”

 

Kirk opened his mouth to interfere and then stopped, frozen, watching as Spock turned towards the CMO in a manner resembling nothing so much as slightly quickened glacier.

 

“Your comments, Doctor, are both irrelevant and juvenile, as well as constituting a profound waste of valuable time which could more usefully be expended in an effort to avert impending Vulcan genocide.”

 

“Is that so?” McCoy said, softly.  “If my time is so damn valuable, how come you’ve hardly exchanged half a dozen words with me since you came on board, Mr Spock?  Could be you’re shy, I thought, could be you’re too busy with VSA rated scientists with a better chance of finding the answer – but if I’m wasting valuable time, I’m forced to conclude you’re just wasting resources yourself, by not including me in your thinking.”  His voice had been growing during the last sentence and the last word came out in a loud Georgian growl.

 

Spock said, without the slightest changed of expression or tone:  “Captain, it is 1457 hours.  Would you like me to ask Lieutenant Uhura to contact the Seleya?”

 

McCoy snapped:  “Damnit, Spock, you could at least give me the courtesy of a reply!”

 

“When you have suggested something worth of one, Doctor, you can be assured that I will do so.”

 

“What’s worthy of a reply is that you do believe that Vulcans are superior because of their touch telepathy, and therefore it’s a reasonable guess from an admittedly non-VSA rated old country doctor that a random genocidal psychotic maniac might want to focus on that particular racial characteristic, and you and I should be figuring out just which subtle distinctions are gonna make that happen.”

 

There was the slightest pause – and then three things happened, almost simultaneously.

 

Kirk opened his mouth to intervene.

 

Uhura’s voice came through the intercom:  “Captain, I have the Seleya on stand-by, sir.”

 

And Spock turned and said:  “The Vulcan adrenal system is linked to the part of the cortex which controls the telepathic impulse.  It is not normally vulnerable to disease but this could alter in the face of hypothetical acute viral infection because of the connection between the same part of the cortex and the Vulcan immune system which, unlike the human equivalent, is reflexively suppressed when the telepathic instinct is in any way at risk.”

 

Kirk stared at McCoy and simultaneously realised two things.  One was that he had entirely misunderstood the dialogue between his First Officer and CMO.  The two were hardly at loggerheads, because Spock was declining at every level to enter into any form of emotional engagement with McCoy.  Further, that McCoy was, in fact, essentially correct in his approach to Spock in the post Gol universe, and that it was an effective strategy.   In a way Kirk couldn’t quite articulate, McCoy’s stubborn persistence in bringing all the old aggressive humour to his interaction with Spock, his refusal to defer to the new demeanour, meant that the two were, indeed, working in a team – rather better than Kirk was managing with his First.  And, from the look on McCoy’s face, it had produced something of an early breakthrough for the research efforts.

 

He took the realisation away to muse over in his quarters, but it failed to offer him a way forward.  He refused to yell at Spock that he wanted the courtesy of a reply.  There would have to be another way.

 

***

 

He was prepared to admit that the circumstance of substituting for Stonn in engaging Spock in mortal combat for the woman who had chosen Stonn over his friend had not been the most conducive to appreciating Stonn’s finer qualities or getting to know him properly.  Leaving the technical research to McCoy and Spock and the team, and understanding on an instinctive level that Stonn’s presence caused Spock discomfort, Kirk settled on the strategy of drawing Stonn away to give Spock space from both Stonn and himself, whilst gaining a deeper understanding of Soltar from the scientist’s erstwhile colleague.

 

He found that Stonn possessed a quick and sure mind, had an eye for relevant detail and the eidetic memory of all Vulcans.  He didn’t have Spock’s brilliance, but he conceded that T’Pring might have been motivated by other criteria in choosing a mate.  Stonn was clearly slightly wary around both Kirk and Spock, and this softened slightly what was to Kirk his least attractive quality – an arrogance which was entirely lacking in Spock despite (to Kirk’s mind) a far greater claim to it.  Aside from this, he found Stonn easy company – and, ironically, far easier to talk to than Spock.

 

Not that this was saying very much.  Kirk’s log entries were easier to talk to than Spock, just now.  And if you replayed them, they even talked back, which was more than could be said of his First.

 

He wasn’t sure whether he would get the chance to put to good use his improved understanding of Soltar, but he knew that he owed it to Stonn, which suggested that the Vulcan was more intuitive than Kirk had given him credit for.  He hoped T’Pring was happy with her choice.  And wondered, for the first time, if she knew of the strange company her bondmate was keeping on the journey towards Faltonia and beyond.

 

Once, and once only, Kirk had suggested to his First Officer a game of chess, after they were both off duty one evening.  It was not a mistake he would make again.  A long day had ended for them both on the bridge and they had left together, a silent ride in the turblolift during which Kirk came up with and rejected twenty seven conversational gambits and Spock effortlessly resembled a granite facsimile of himself. 

 

He was aware of a growing tide of anger with Spock – not an emotion of which he was particularly proud, but there it was.  He might have dealt differently with the impact of Gol on their friendship had it not been for the original Seleya mission and the war and two lessons in particular it had taught him – diversity and trust. 

 

Kirk had learned the hard way to respect the gamut of Vulcan culture – not just because the alternative was to lose Spock, but also because he had learned that it was worthy of respect, and that he diminished something in himself by being blind to that diversity.    Logically, therefore (and Kirk winced, even in this thoughts, as he applied the word) – logically, he needed to accept Gol in order to understand Spock and not forfeit the delicacy of their current pattern. 

 

The trouble was that he couldn’t.  Every part of Kirk rejected the isolationism, the severity, the de-personalisation that Gol imposed.  He couldn’t pretend otherwise, even for Spock – and knowing that Amanda agreed with him led him to hope that, were Spock ever to ease away from his current demeanour, he might be forgiven for his views.  He even found himself thinking that if Spock truly thought that Gol represented a viable personal future, they had got each other wrong all these years and that their much vaunted-rapport was fundamentally flawed.

 

Kirk’s application of the second lesson, though at greater personal cost, came with fewer questions.  Despite everything, he found he had no choice but to trust Spock; to believe that the granite surface concealed within – hidden but not gone – the friend and companion of the five year mission.   It seemed that, having learned the lesson of trust without words, it was not so easily forgotten.  And this was what made him angry.

 

Getting out of the turbolift at the deck where the command team were quartered, he gave in, both to the anger and to the trust.  Because he trusted Spock to be there, he could not continue to act as though he were not.  And because he was angry, he asked the one question which he knew would most likely discomfort Spock and would bring out into the open his own silent accusation of betrayal, his resentment of Spock for walking away from their friendship.  He said, lightly but deliberately, as though the last three years had never happened:

 

“Time for a game of chess, Commander?  Your quarters or mine?”

 

And, as he knew would happen, the Vulcan barely looked at him as he said:

 

“Thank you, Captain, but there is a report from the laboratory awaiting my review and I must then proceed to meditation.”

 

He watched him walk away, and said, in a voice which he hoped was sufficiently friendly to compensate for what he knew Spock would understand perfectly well to have been a bait, and which he hoped concealed a hurt fury which he knew would help neither of them -

 

“Good night, then, Spock,” and went into his own quarters, without waiting for a reply which he knew would not be forthcoming.

 

 

***

 

 

The review of the laboratory report took Spock rather less time than his attempts to meditate.  His session on the meditation mat took him through all the techniques he had learned at Gol, gave him a small distance from the exchange in the corridor with Kirk, but still left him light years from the peace he had known in the desert.   In Spock’s experience, where logic and instinct combined they were infallible.  Logic and instinct both told him that the gap between him and Gol would only grow from here, until the elastic which held him to the promise of kolinahr snapped entirely. 

 

He rejected that notion fiercely and chose not to acknowledge the self-contradiction which lay in defying logic to do so.

 

If he had retained complete access to the disciplines at Gol, he would have viewed his situation on the ship within the context of the mission.  Instead, in the small amount of space available to him for personal reflection, he knew that his self-perception was unarguably coloured by his experiences of other beings and that this represented a profound negation of much of what Gol had taught him, from Socrates onwards – Socrates, who had always declined to consider or learn from the external until he had completed self-study.

 

He left unanswered, in part because he knew the answer all too well, why McCoy was the only person on the ship with whom he felt at ease.

 

He could not avoid the admission, at least to himself and in the privacy of his quarters, the difficulty of facing Stonn on a regular basis on the ship he had once called home – worse, the actual physical shock of first encountering him on the hangar deck, without warning. 

 

In the immediate aftermath of his disastrous pon farr, Spock had resorted for a month to an elevated meditation schedule which allowed him to learn from and to absorb, as much as he could, the enormity of what had happened.  The two major aspects – T’Pring’s choice of another mate and the narrow margin by which Kirk had escaped death at his hands – had been in many ways the easiest to accept.  T’Pring had never been a personal choice and he had no desire for the complication of a bond with her which would have disrupted his life on the Enterprise.   And although he would never remember the koon-ut-kalifee without a subliminal horror at the memory of Kirk’s lifeless body in his hands, he knew that there had been unquantifiable gains for him and Kirk – a profoundly deepened mutual understanding and a greater confidence in what they meant to each other.

 

What had taken longer, what had played into his own personal fault line and led, in some ways, like the fissure in a rock face which will eventually lead to a split, to Gol, was Stonn – or rather what Stonn had come to represent to Spock.  Because Stonn was the full-blooded Vulcan whom T’Pring had preferred to the renegade half human Starfleet officer and Stonn was every Vulcan who had ever made Spock feel unwanted.  Inadequate.  Apart.  Until, perhaps, he found his own place on the Enterprise.  And now Stonn was even here.

 

He knew it was illogical – worse, that it was wrong.  But Stonn’s presence had such a profound impact on his desire to retrench, to be resolute in his re-alignment of himself at Gol, that it was responsible for keeping his face trained towards the desert horizons when other considerations, such as the offer of a chess game after a silent turbolift ride, might have undermined that resolution to the point of concession.

 

With a level of knowledge and affection to which he would never had admitted before or after Gol, Spock could read with accurate precision Kirk’s struggle with the irony of trust without words, the legacy of their conversation on the Copernicus two and a half years earlier, and he knew, too, what Kirk’s conclusion was, could admit to himself that this conclusion was a matter of some relief and pride to Spock.  He even understood the human’s anger.   What Spock could not do was to take the final step and acknowledge to Kirk that understanding.

 

Gnothi seauton.

 

It was beyond debate that it would be impossible to be true both to Gol and to Kirk.

 

Spock’s only possible choice was to be true to himself.

 

He was still quite sure that his only path to himself lay through Gol.

 

And that meant chess was out of the question.

 

***

 

“Captain, I have Admiral Ciani on the secure channel for you,” Uhura’s voice said, over his shoulder, in a voice he could read as being somewhere between professional and urgent.

 

“Put her on screen, Lieutenant,” he said, briefly.  Last time he had spoken to Lori, she had been moving out of his apartment and had said to him The important thing is to get it right now, Jim and she had meant more than the mission.  Just now, saving Vulcan seemed a long way from his grasp and he was no nearer to his own answers than he had been.  He had once thought that having Spock with him would help, but the Spock who had returned from Gol would only be providing professional support.  He would have to find his own way forward for other things, and he didn’t want to speak to Lori in private.  It was a relief to have the excuse to ensure their dialogue was kept in the public and professional arena.

 

The screen became Lori, a set of features which ought to have represented to him months spent in the healing of her arms but, in fact, whilst appreciating with affection that she was still the best human scenery he had seen through the Enterprise main viewer for a very long time indeed, he admitted to himself that actually he preferred the stars.  The person who had found that healing was not him.  It was inconceivable now that Jim Kirk had ever spent those eighteen months on Earth in that fog of xeno-psychology, the Commission for Claims, HQ politics and the oddity of sharing the San Francisco apartment with Lori Ciani.

 

“Jim?”  The voice was distinct, but the background was static.  They were moving towards the edge of real time communication with HQ; he would be on his own soon, and he knew it.

 

“Lori.  Can you hear me?”

 

“Just about.  We think you’ll be out of contact in the next day or two.”

 

Spock said:

 

“We will be unable to accept or transmit direct voice contact to Starfleet Command in one point three four days, Admiral.”

 

Kirk glanced at the Vulcan.   There had been a time when the absence of a calculation to two decimal places had seemed to him to encapsulate all that was wrong with the universe.  This particular instance was offered wholly devoid of humour and, from the look on Lori’s face, not entirely well judged – an error Spock would have been incapable of, pre Gol.  Lori had never understood his friendship with Spock; it didn’t look as though that was going to change any time soon.

 

“Intelligence suggests the Mila are aware of your movements and are sending a flotilla to assemble the other side of Faltonian space.”

 

His attention sharpened.

 

“How many ships?”

 

“At least three, possibly more.  We’re not sure.  And we think that one of them is a science vessel.”

 

A science vessel.  His heart kicked, and he looked again, automatically, at Spock, who did not meet his eyes. 

 

Stonn said:

 

“Admiral, Captain – if I may.  The inclusion in the Mila flotilla of a science vessel could suggest that Soltar is numbered among the personnel.  One facet of Soltar’s approach to research was a tendency to retain an engagement in developing theories and in perfecting aspects of work beyond pre-determined thresholds for results.  It is possible that Soltar continues to finesse the project on which he has been engaged and possible also that a science vessel has been included for the purpose of effective reaction and response to events.  All this indicates that the implementation of that project is imminent.”

 

“When you say project,” came McCoy’s all-too predictable growl, “You’re talking about the murder of a few billion of your fellow countrymen. Could we not be a bit more precise, here?”

 

Stonn, who was unused to McCoy, looked entirely impassive but said nothing; Kirk himself was surprised by the unprovoked attack.  And then it came to him that McCoy was, in some undefinable way, supporting Spock.  What had McCoy seen in the dynamic between Spock and Stonn that he, Kirk, had missed?  He looked over at Spock, who looked even more than usual as though he were not there.

 

Lori had clearly decided to ignore Kirk’s bridge crew, though something in her expression appeared to say to Kirk “And these are the people you chose over me?”  She said, briefly:

 

“That’s all I have for you right now, Captain, but I wanted you to have it as quickly as we could.  We’ll stay in touch over the remote channel.  Good luck, Jim.”

 

Their eyes met, briefly and he smiled into them.

 

“Thank you, Admiral” – and she was gone, back into that other world; hers, not his, and he knew, then, that nothing – not McCoy’s irascibility and tactlessness, not Stonn’s unlikely incursion into their lives, not the serious probability that they were warping towards their deaths – and not even the impassive refusal of a chess game – were enough to make him regret his choices.  This was where he was supposed to be.

 

***

 

He had called an emergency conference with the Seleya and Lori’s face had been replaced by Saredin’s, against the backdrop of the bridge of the Vulcan ship.  Kirk filled him in briefly.

 

“We are still a day away from Faltonia.  I want the Seleya to maintain position here.  We will report back once we reach Faltonian space.”

 

Saredin said:  “Captain, at this point we do not have full details of what, if anything, awaits us after Faltonia and what the nature of the risk – if any – that we face.”

 

“I agree,” he said, pleasantly.  “And if it looks safe and I think you could be useful, I’ll let you know and you can come and join the party.”

 

Saredin nodded slowly in agreement, managing to look, Kirk noticed, as though he were only agreeing to the business-like part of Kirk’s comment and had succeeded in failing to hear the less sober choices among Kirk’s vocabulary.  And then he wondered how it was that Saredin, a full Vulcan, could look like that when Spock, since his return from Gol, had never looked as though any of Kirk’s more personal dialogue was even audible to the Vulcan ear, despite the alleged superiority of Vulcan hearing over human.

 

But there was no time for this now.  He glanced sideways, taking in both Spock and Stonn and said, clearly:

 

“Captain, I think it would be appropriate if both Sub-Commissioner Stonn and Commander Spock transferred to the Seleya at this point.”

 

“Their presence would, of course, honour us,” Saredin said.

 

Stonn was speaking before Saredin had almost finished. 

 

“Captain Kirk,” he said, quickly, “I request permission to remain on board this ship.  It was Commissioner Sevonal’s understanding that I would maintain my position on board the Enterprise for the duration of this mission and it seems logical to conclude that I am more likely to be of use to you here in this capacity than at any other point in proceedings.”

 

Kirk said, crisply

 

“Sub-Commissioner, I am responsible for the safety of all hands and I do not believe that the risk to you and the Commander is justified from here on in.” 

 

“With respect, Captain, the risk to my people justifies any possible risk to my own safety.”

 

He met Stonn’s eyes with a level of respect and understanding.  And then heard Spock’s voice from over his other shoulder.

 

“Captain, I am the serving First Officer of this vessel and there could be no justification for me to leave the ship at this time or any other.  However, I submit that the Sub-Commissioner’s presence here is not vital to the mission and that he should be transferred immediately to the Seleya.  My presence here should be sufficient for the requirements of the VSA.”

 

Kirk turned, looked at Spock hard.  There was something in Spock’s words which spoke to Kirk of an intention which went beyond the conventional reluctance to allow risk to a guest on the ship – something which, uniquely since Spock left Gol, almost spoke of personal feeling.  He said – wanting to catch hold of whatever of Spock that feeling represented, and also because he meant it -

 

“Not sure I agree with you, Commander.  Sub-Commissioner Stonn understands Soltar better than all of us.  If the VSA would be content to have only one of you with us, there’s a real argument for you taking up Saredin’s invitation and not Stonn.”

 

No question, there was a reaction in Spock’s eyes.  Also, no question that he was angry – both with Kirk’s proposal and with the fact that Kirk was deliberately pushing him in front of both bridge crews.  And the shutters came down.

 

“In that case, Captain, unless you are making a direct order, I submit that the situation would be appropriate served by the continuing presence on the Enterprise of both the Sub-Commissioner and myself.”

 

Which was the conclusion he had been expecting all along.

 

Kirk nodded to Saredin.

 

“Looks like we’ll be keeping our current complement, Captain Saredin.  We’ll keep in regular contact on the secure channel, as before.  Kirk out.”

 

The image of the Seleya vanished and he was looking at the stars again, on the way to Faltonia, and whatever was waiting for them.  They were committed now, all of them and they were on their own.  He stood up and asked Sulu to take the con.

 

“Commander, please meet me in my quarters in 30 minutes,” he said to the science console, and left the bridge.

 

***

 

When was the last time Spock had been in his quarters on the Enterprise?  It must be the chess match, Christmas Day, the day before he left the ship three years ago.  Spock showed not the slightest memory or awareness of any history and Kirk certainly wasn’t going to, either.

 

He did not offer him a drink.  Stage One, Category One.  All right, Commander.

 

He did ask him to sit down.  Spock ignored him.

 

“Mind telling me, off the record, Spock, what the story is with you and Stonn?” he said, evenly.

 

“I do not understand the question,” the Vulcan said, staring rigidly out of the viewer.

 

“I think you do,” Kirk said, softly.  “Look, I’m not being obtuse.  I know the history as well as you do.  But the functioning of this ship is my top priority just now, and I need to know we are going into whatever lies ahead” – he gestured vaguely in the direction of travel – “in the best possible shape.  No distractions, no misunderstandings.  You don’t want Stonn here, that’s clear, and I would like to know if there is anything more that I don’t know about, that I don’t understand.”

 

“That question invades my personal life, Captain.”

 

He drew a deep breath and counted to three.  He knew there were what the Vulcan might have called integers of greater numerical value, but was too irritated to attempt them.

 

“Whatever you bring on my ship affects me, Commander.”

 

Spock turned to him then, face carved in stone.

 

“I do not consider the Sub-Commissioner to be essential ship’s personnel.  You appear to condone his substitution for my presence in order to protect my personal safety.  That is not the basis on which I enlisted on this mission at your behest; moreover, it is improper for you to make decisions on the deployment of personnel based on personal sentiment.”

 

Kirk’s eyes widened.  Spock must be angrier than he thought – though not, perhaps, as angry as his CO was now.

 

“Wait just a damn minute, Commander.  And don’t make any assumptions about any inappropriate motivation on my part here.  The safety of my crew is my primary responsibility.  And you may not like it but that includes yours.”

 

“At this point, Captain, it is more than arguable that your primary and overriding responsibility is, in fact, the safety of Vulcan.  That was my purpose in joining this mission and your suggestion on the bridge would have had the purpose of negating what contribution I could make.  Moreover, it is essential to the success of this mission that it is undertaken in true partnership with Vulcan and with proper regard for diversity and for cultural sensitivities and a proposal to leave behind the ship’s First Officer out of concern for his personal safety has no place in an approach which includes respect for Vulcan or that officer.”

 

Kirk sorted through this speech with growing frustration.  He opened his mouth to retort, deliberately closed it, walked to the viewer, turned and walked back again. 

 

“Look, Spock,” he said, as levelly as he could.  “You and I had this conversation once the other way round; it didn’t go well then and I’m not prepared to have it now.  For better or worse, you’re under my command now, and there is a threat out there which poses a danger to you which is immeasurably greater than for the rest of us.  I cannot but take that into account.  You’re my responsibility and yes, you are an irreplaceable asset to the mission, and I need to ensure that we take a proportionate approach to whatever risk you necessarily face, that’s all.”  He stared at the Vulcan, then let his tone soften.

 

“Spock.  Don’t ever accuse me of a lack of respect for Vulcan, let alone for you.  I’m here because Vulcan’s safety is crucial to the Federation and to the whole galaxy and I know that it is.  And you’re with me because you’re part of what makes me the best commander for the mission.  You’ve always had my respect.  And – I missed you.”

 

There was a brief pause, while Kirk wondered whether he’d really uttered the last three words, held his breath and wondered if Spock was going to ignore the appeal.  He was given little time for any uncertainty.

 

“I am wanted in the laboratory, Captain,” the Vulcan said remotely.

 

He closed his eyes, suddenly tired to the bone, even though the conversation had lasted less than five minutes.

 

“Dismissed,” he said, and when he opened his eyes again, he was alone.

 

 

 

 

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