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Command of a starship.   The ship would be his in less than a week.

 

Vulcans, as Kirk had been apt to lecture new members of the Enterprise crew who found it difficult to adjust to Spock – Vulcans have emotions, they simply control them more effectively than human beings.  In terms of control, on a scale from Surak to ten, Saredin was very close to Surak and would have been proud of it, had pride not been one of the emotions from which he ruthlessly distanced himself.  If it were in him to regret, Saredin was aware that the inchoate war between the Klingon-Romulan alliance and Starfleet had claimed lives for which, if you adopted the rather tortuous logic he knew had tempted James Kirk at one stage, his own original actions were ultimately responsible.  However, also like Kirk (although he was unaware of this), Saredin knew that original causes could be hard to identify and the probabilities were high that no logical or useful purpose would be served by tracing that train of events to its source.  Overall, he had analysed the events since the Halycyon court martial and found that they had left Vulcan identity and Vulcan heritage the stronger.   This was a logical cause for satisfaction, as was his advancement to command of the Seleya.

 

He was less certain under what heading of personal or political development to file his acquaintance with Spock, let alone James Kirk himself.  Saredin’s starting point was that little of value could be learned from beings whose primary response to situations was overtly emotional, and nothing at all could be learned from a person who had allowed his Vulcan heritage to be corrupted not so much by his human ancestry (which Saredin – unlike some Vulcans – was prepared to concede might not entirely be Spock’s fault) but by his deliberate association with humans and his adoption of their customs.  It had therefore been intellectually challenging to Saredin to discover both a very reluctant sympathy with James Kirk and also a very slight reservation as to the fact of Saredin’s own imminent promotion.  Both centred on his captain.

 

The truth was that Saredin had found association with Spock to be both illuminating and edifying and viewed with some reluctance the prospect of its impending termination.  And another truth was that his sympathy with Kirk lay in Kirk’s affection and admiration for Spock.

 

What he found difficult to understand was how Kirk had understood that Saredin had arrived at this view.  Yet the proof was in the message in his personal inbox.  Because Kirk would never have written to him in those terms under any other circumstances.

 

 

***

 

 

Spock had read Kirk’s last message to him with an entirely expressionless face which, had he been human, would have masked a range of feelings. 

 

The most distinct sensation he felt was the closing of a chapter.  If Kirk were leaving the Enterprise, a door was closed for Spock, too, and an important part of his life was over.  The question he had asked in Iowa had been answered and a great many things which had once been part of the fabric of Spock’s identity would now be part of his past, including chess matches, brandy and the strange, unexpected and wholly inadmissible pleasure which could be derived from an illogical pretence not to understand human idiom.

 

It never even occurred to Spock that there were any other opportunities to return to the Enterprise once Kirk had left – just as it never occurred to him that the uncounted billions of life forms in the Federation included other chess opponents than Kirk.

 

Much of the message struck Spock with disquiet.  Like McCoy, he could not quite reconcile with the man he knew Kirk’s apparent current docility with regard to Starfleet dictates.  Spock knew – had known since the very early days of serving under his captain -  that the separation of Kirk from his ship would inflict damage from which James T Kirk would be unlikely to emerge entirely the same person.  He had always known the end of the five year mission would be something of a fight for survival.  Given the forces at play on either side he had, for once, been uncertain of the odds of success, but he had never expected Kirk to give in so easily.  This was not – at least, not absolutely - the man he knew. 

 

Of course, other than a magical evening in Iowa, an out-of-time experience which had taken place in some way outside the continuum of their friendship, he had spent virtually no time with Kirk (and absolutely none on a personal level) for eighteen months.  Could Kirk have changed that much?  The message on Spock’s computer screen had not been written by the man who had so utterly claimed Spock’s allegiance.

 

A very small voice inside Spock wondered whether Kirk would have found a different means to fight Starfleet if he had Spock’s assistance and close support.  This was an illogical and irrelevant consideration, since Kirk would be at the Mila system by now, and by the time he came back Spock would be beyond reach.

 

The request that Spock not go to Gol he read with a tolerance bordering on amusement, born of a bone-deep knowledge of the writer from whom he would certainly have expected no less.  He could read in one short paragraph a force of the equivalent strength of warp 9 which would have driven Kirk to speak and the comparative restraint of his words indicated the pressure he must have clamped down on that impulse.  It seemed that there were limits, at the end of the day, to Kirk’s trust without words but Spock could hardly blame him in this instance, because Kirk’s lack of trust in regard to Gol might well turn out to be entirely justified.

 

 

***

 

 

The Mila were taller than Kirk had expected – slightly taller than Vulcans, on average.  Bipeds, very fair and with a curious intensity about them, deriving from abnormally large eyes and thin, curved features – and the fact that the species did not smile.  It was only in total repose that their faces conveyed satisfaction or even pleasure.  Perhaps, Kirk mused, this had resulted from a history which certainly provided little to laugh about.

 

He had been taken on an extensive tour of Mila facilities and found them extraordinarily impressive – remembered the reports from HQ and his own comment to McCoy – “Don’t underestimate them - they’re not small and they’re very far from unsophisticated”.   The society was ordered and well run, with wealthy communities and the more vulnerable all properly cared for.  Offenders were few and the scientific and research facilities were considerably beyond what could be boasted in many societies of an equivalent level of development – he caught himself wishing Spock could see them, wondering what the Vulcan would make of them.

 

A habit he might have to get out of.

 

McCoy was particularly fascinated by the medical laboratories and hospitals, and Kirk listened, half with real interest and half with amused affection as McCoy enthused about the advances in understanding of xeno-epidemics. 

 

“What the Mila get which Starfleet has never had the wit to understand,” he said, eyes sparking blue, eyebrows dancing, Southern drawl all the more exaggerated, “is that in the so-called modern, inter-stellar world, xenobiology is where it starts.  On Earth, it’s still an optional extra.  Optional extra, my God - do you realise, Jim, that when I first bumped up against Spock, I had to try to figure out how to look after Vulcans?  I virtually experimented on the man till M’Benga turned up.  It’s a wonder he got through the first couple of years – having said which, of course, he’s got such a crazy anatomy it would always have been luck, one way or the other.  And he’s such a screwed-up, stubborn son of a gun, into the bargain, that before you even start factoring in the whole mind-over-matter thing, Vulcan medicine isn’t quite as relevant to Spock as you might think.  Plus, whatever he likes to believe, he’s half human physically as well as in every other way, he’s just so messed up he chooses not to accept biological evidence.”

 

“Back to xenobiology,” prompted Kirk.  He had a feeling which he couldn’t quite pin down (but Kirk had learned to trust those feelings more than any others) that he might need to know about xenobiology in his dealings with the Mila.  Besides which, he was trying his best just now not to think about Spock and what Kirk’s last message to the Seleya might mean in terms of when – if – on what basis - he might see him again.

 

“Well, with Starfleet so keen on diversity and with Spock hardly the first alien in a starship, you would have thought they could do better than tell a Georgian boy like me that one of his patients has green skin and pointed ears and you can look the rest up in the library.  I’m a doctor, not a linguist – and frankly, not a research biologist, either.  It was nothing short of iniquitous, what they did – and Spock should by rights have died a hundred times over, especially given those darn fool stunts you and he used to pull.”  Kirk bit back a smile, less at McCoy and more in ancient memory.  “But even that’s not really the point here, Jim.  What Starfleet have yet to take on board is that we don’t live in a human bubble any more.  You could argue that the very term “xeno-epidemic” is outdated, because frankly whatever the Vulcans get we’ll get in the end once it mutates.  Hence our inability to deal with large scale medical epidemics – we always think it’s the other guy’s problem.  It never is.  The Mila actually understand this.  They should talk to Nogura.”

 

It was Kirk’s job to make sure the Mila did not end up talking to Nogura, that in fact the whole Mila situation went away as quickly and as quietly as possible.   He found that he didn’t trust the Mila – there was something too advanced, too sophisticated about Mila society for him to readily understand their almost brutal hostility, their political positioning - and what Kirk didn’t understand always worried him.

 

It came as, bizarrely, something of a relief to Kirk to discover that he was not the only off-world visitor to Mila.

 

“What are the Klingons doing here?” he asked Sulu one morning, looking out of the viewer at the Bird of Prey in orbit around Mila 3, “and why haven’t HQ notified us?”

 

“They are not bound to do so under the recent treaty, Captain,” Sulu said.  He and Kirk had agreed that he should take on the role of Acting First Officer for the Mila mission.  For more reasons than Spock’s absence, and with the end of the five year mission in sight and all the uncertainties which lay ahead on the return to Earth, neither had the heart to consider a more permanent promotion. 

 

The Klingon treaty which had followed the Vulcan-Romulan-Starfleet Accords meant that there was no open hostility with the Klingon Empire but also not a lot of trust.  Kirk would expect no open act of war from a Bird of Prey in orbit around a planet in the same system he was visiting, but nor would he expect to see it without warning from Starfleet.  That could only mean that the Bird of Prey’s presence was surreptitious, to say the least.    The reason he felt relief was the reassurance of familiarity.  Kirk did not understand the Mila, but he did understand the Klingons, and if the Mila hostility could be ascribed to fraternisation with the Klingons, it was a known quantity and Kirk could deal with it.

 

Sulu was a good senior officer – more than that, Kirk corrected himself hastily, beaming down with the helmsman for another meeting with the Mila, he was an excellent senior officer.  But something about his partnership with Kirk made Kirk even less prepared to challenge the promotion he knew he faced on return to Earth.  The truth was that he had become very used to command in partnership with Spock – had never, of course, other than the interim arrangement with Mike Harding, held a permanent command under any other circumstances.  And a great deal of the command skills and persona he had developed had been both cause and effect of that, leading to the rapport which had so famously operated on the basis that their abilities dovetailed together so perfectly.  Without Spock, he felt off-balance in the place which they had shaped around themselves.  It was time for the next chapter in his life and it was time for the next chapter in the life of his ship, as well. 

 

It occurred to him, for the first time, that just as Spock’s most defining characteristic was his half human, half Vulcan ancestry, for the past five years the most salient and significant personnel factor affecting the crew of the Enterprise had been that it had been commanded by a team which was half Vulcan, half human.  The removal of the Vulcan component made a greater change to the entire ship’s personnel than he had perhaps reckoned on.  It was time for a complete change, not just an adjustment of the old set-up.

 

Sulu followed him into the Mila conference room and he came face to face with Kang.

 

 

***

 

 

Spock sat on the meditation mat in his quarters on the Seleya. 

 

His body sat, motionless, as his thoughts stilled in response to the ancient commands and began their journey inward and then out.

 

And they were followed by the thoughts of others.

 

Kirk had sat opposite him, next to the fire in Iowa and had said:  “You can’t step in the same river twice.”  And he, Spock, had pointed out that Kirk was misquoting Heraclitus, that Heraclitus had said that nothing was permanent except change and also that character was destiny.  And Kirk had poured him a brandy and they had played chess and agreed to give themselves another chance and so the moment had passed.

 

But not entirely.  Spock had gone back to the Seleya and the conversation had stayed with him.  Heraclitus had given Spock an answer but also a signpost and Spock had gone back to Heraclitus with more questions, in the off-duty hours of his last weeks of command, between the past and the future and with no more distraction than a game of chess played out over a distance of two and a half sectors with an opponent whose strategy was oddly and comfortingly identifiable without sight of face or sound of voice.

 

Breathe.  In.  Out.

 

The first thing he had found was that Heraclitus was one of a small number of philosophers who were cited as the possible author of the aphorism gnothi seauton – “know thyself”.   And it had been like a door opening.

 

Spock had last studied Greek philosophy as a young student when his ideas of self had been objective rather than subjective.  He was a Vulcan: therefore to know himself was to know the Vulcan truth.  He had admitted, then, no possibility of that sense of self encompassing either his human heritage or his subjective perspective.  Spock’s early learning had been carried out without reference to the human values of imagination and intuition and, looking back from his quarters on the Seleya, he wondered whether all his studies in the philosophy courses he had undertaken had been entirely academic.  The truth was, he could not remember a single instance of applying any of that learning in a directly personal sense to his adult self.

 

Know thyself.

 

Breathe.  Out.  In.

 

He had gone back to the ship’s library and back to the other sources. 

 

Socrates.  Socrates, whom Plato distinguished from his contemporaries on the basis of understanding his own ignorance.  It was Socrates who said that mankind does not understand what is noble or what is good; men do not know that they do not know.  Socrates knew he knew nothing noble and nothing good, and this famous and misunderstood line was not about the limitations on Socratic knowledge, still less about any lack of nobility or goodness around him, but about that very simple and all-important understanding – that he knew what he did not know.

 

And it was Socrates, according to Plato, who said that his ability to learn was curtailed by ignorance of himself; more than that, he called “irrelevant” the study of other subjects before he had achieved self knowledge.

 

And Aristotle.  Plato was the father of informal logic and Aristotle of formal logic, of syllogism and inference – Aristotle, who had been required learning before Spock, aged five, had even been allowed to read Surak.  Aristotle was interested in form over content – he taught that the logical form of an argument determined its validity rather than its conclusion or its subject matter.  Surak, on the other hand, thought that logic was an end as well a means – his most famous treatise which Earth Standard rather inadequately (in Spock’s view) translated into “Logic as journey and destination” – argued that the deployment of pure logic as a method of discourse was important not only in ensuring the proper discipline of the mind and the correct analysis and deductions in all circumstance, but also because, properly understood and applied, it would itself lead to a life without emotional perversion and sabotage.  Surak’s treatises on mathematical logic and symbolic logic had captured Spock’s fascination from youth but the comparative study of formal logic contrasting the schools of Surak and Aristotle had not been a focus for him until this point.  Now he wondered how he had possibly missed it.

 

Hylomorphism, Plato’s theory of forms.  The theory that holds that what is seen in the normal dimension is corrupted through sensation and substance, and that the pure and highest form of reality is an abstract metaphysical ideal beside which substance is only shadow and copy.  True knowledge is the ability to understand the Platonic ideal form, outside space, outside time.

 

Breathe.

 

Spock sat on the meditation mat and felt his mind empty.  And into it, unbidden, came the hypothese:

 

Knowing yourself is the start of everything.

 

Therefore he, Spock, needed to know himself before he could advance his own knowledge.

 

The main schools of philosophy and of logic were of Earth and of Vulcan.

 

He, Spock, was of Earth and of Vulcan and therefore needed to understand both.

 

Therefore he needed to return to study before he could move forward.

 

Derivative study outside the purest form would always be diluted and distorted – real learning, in the manner of the Platonic ideal, could only take place in Gol.

 

Spock considered this train of thought.  It was not a classic piece of syllogism.  But it might be his truth.

 

Breathe.

 

He had started this process of self knowledge on the Seleya, but he knew it was incomplete and knew that he had somehow overlooked the options offered of learning about himself through the journeys of others – of others who were of both the races of his heritage.

 

Could he, Spock, go to Gol not because of his Vulcan heritage but because of his human blood – could he be the first human to achieve kolinahr?  And what would that mean to the Accords, to the galaxy, to Vulcan?

 

To Kirk?

 

It was relatively clear to Spock from Kirk’s message that Kirk did not truly know himself any more than Spock did.  He, Spock, could understand quite clearly that Kirk was making a fatal error in relation to his future in the Admiralty.  However, if Socrates was correct, Spock was incapable of helping Kirk before he had completed his own learning and understood his own self and his own future.

 

Kirk had said:  The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise or Gol. 

 

Spock conjured another syllogism in his head:

 

Serving under Kirk on the Enterprise appeared to be the only way back to Kirk.

 

In Iowa, he had persuaded Kirk that his return to the ship was the logical thing to do but neither of them had necessarily believed this, at heart.

 

There was no logic in going backwards.

 

Gol was going backwards to the start of all things and that might itself provide a way forward.

 

He knew that this, too, was not a true syllogism. 

 

Breathe.  Out.

 

And then he remembered his other brush with Greek philosophy in recent years - the Platonians, Parmen, Philana, and the psychokinetic powers caused by the kironide diet.  The utter distortion of the philosophy ideal; corrupted into the infliction of pain, humiliation and unwanted emotion.  He remembered imprisonment at the side of the room, the terrible enforced weeping whilst Kirk had looked on, incapable of helping – and it somehow seemed to confirm his conclusion: that without a properly understood foundation of philosophical learning from all relevant sources and civilisations, the ability to help and support other individuals will always be limited.  He and Kirk in Iowa had only been able to compromise on finding their way back to each other and he could now only watch from a distance while Kirk made the greatest mistake of his life.

 

Plato’s stepchildren.

 

What would it mean, instead, to be a true child of Plato?

 

 

***

 

 

“Sir,” Saredin said formally.  They were facing each other, by prior agreement, on the bridge of the Seleya, surrounded by the bridge crew, all standing to attention.  The viewer showed a pattern of stars and a distant view of Vulcan – curiously apt, Spock reflected, at the moment of his departure from an adult life spent on the bridge of starships like this one.

 

“Sir, I relieve you,” Saredin said.  And Spock inclined his head.

 

“I am relieved, Captain.  You and your crew go forward with the good wishes of Vulcan, of Starfleet and of course with my own congratulations and confidence in your future success.”

 

“Sir,” Saredin said.  “It has been an honour and a privilege.”

 

Spock nodded once more, and turned to T’Mala, standing behind his shoulder.  He lifted his hand in the ta’al and said, gravely

 

“Live long and prosper, Commander.”

 

“Live long and prosper, Captain Spock,” she said.  “Your shuttle has been prepared and will be ready for departure in precisely thirty one minutes.”

 

And Spock left the bridge, Saredin at his shoulder.  The turbolift lift doors closed gently behind them and the car took them through the ship, level by level, section by section, taking Spock from his first and last command - from the bridge, where he had discovered how to lead; past Engineering, where he had nearly died; and past a hundred other milestones of a ship which had been his own and yet never – quite – home.

 

Saredin followed him into his quarters and stood, immobile, while Spock collected a small personal bag, the rest of his possessions having already been taken to the shuttle by his yeoman.  The room was entirely bare.

 

Saredin said:

 

“You have made your decision.”

 

Spock nodded.

 

“I am travelling to my parents’ house to take my leave of them for the duration.  The Masters at Gol are expecting me in three days’ time.”

 

With uncharacteristic hesitation, Saredin said, very slowly:

 

“What are you seeking at Gol, Captain?  Are you certain of what it will offer you?”

 

Spock looked at him curiously.  “We have discussed this.  I believe it holds the answers to some of my questions.  It is the logical next step on my journey.”

 

“My understanding is that the Masters will admit you to a school of learning which will impose itself over your current personal philosophy, Captain.  They are less likely to answer any particular individual questions you will bring.”

 

Spock shut down the computer in his quarters with an oddly final sound and turned to look around the room one last time.  There was nothing left, anywhere.  It would have been unexpected had this not been the case. 

 

“It will be what it will be, Captain,” he said mildly.  “I do not intend to remain at Gol forever.  I am expecting to acquire an understanding and knowledge to use as a tool going forward in other contexts, for the benefit of other purposes and other individuals.”

 

Saredin was silent. 

 

The Masters at Gol were the guardians of the heritage of Vulcan and their purpose was sacred to Saredin and all important.  Without their influence – on Vulcan culture in general, and specifically through the few individuals who studied there and returned to the open community – he and others believed that the corruption of Vulcan would be inevitable; its degeneration into yet another Federation colony with the loss of its unique traditions, nobility, logic and integrity. 

 

Nevertheless, it was the case that he had arrived at the illogical and unexpected conclusion that Spock would not be best served by study at Gol.  He had concluded, over the past eighteen point one three months, that Spock, by his mixed heritage and his own person, was a unique individual whose very dichotomy was his greatest asset and who would risk more than he knew he possessed by immersing himself in the monolithic learning that was Gol.  It was probably the only mistake he had ever known Spock to make – and he was making it in part because Saredin himself, before reaching this conclusion, had made the original suggestion.  And Saredin found himself, in this instance, not entirely comfortable with the notion of original causation.

 

However, Kirk’s message still sat, unanswered, in his inbox.

 

Kirk clearly entertained serious concerns about Spock’s personal safety.  This, in itself, was a matter of note to Saredin, who knew that most of Kirk’s relationship with Spock had been carried out within the context of a command role which had involved both of them constantly being exposed to the significant probability of a failure to return from any one of hundreds of missions.  And Kirk, given his history, was unlikely to scare easily, nor was he over-protective by nature.  He had, however, unlike Saredin, read all the briefing material on the Mila situation – both the open and the encrypted reports.  Saredin had only seen the open information.  And it was after reading the encrypted material that Kirk had written to Saredin.

 

Kirk was an expert at writing between the lines and Saredin had no difficulty in reading them.  He understood entirely that Spock might be in serious danger and that while it would be entirely clear to both Kirk and Saredin that this would not influence in the slightest (at least, not in any productive way) Spock’s own decision-making process, it might be a logical factor in the advice given by those who might be in a position to influence him.  And that advice might be unpalatable to all of them, and most of all to Kirk. (Did Kirk entirely realise, Saredin wondered, what Gol would do to Spock – what sort of Spock – if any – would ever return to Kirk?  Perhaps he did.  In which case, he must be very worried.  And it must matter to him very much.)

 

Gol might be the means of imprisoning Spock’s unique mind and of perverting him into something he was not and was not intended to be.  It was also, however, the safest place in the sector, simply by virtue of its remote location and sheer unlikeliness.  No one in their right minds would think of starting a fight at Gol.

 

Saredin’s solution to the dilemma presented to him by Spock’s choices and Kirk’s request was simply to do nothing.  Spock would go to Gol.  He, Saredin, had spent a short amount of time there himself, many years ago, and his understanding of the place therefore came from personal knowledge.  He watched Spock shoulder his possessions and leave his quarters and thought that his former captain was unlikely to find what he was looking for.

 

 

***

 

 

Kirk recovered swiftly, noting that Kang was not surprised to see him and also that Mara stood off to one side, eyeing him warily.  The Mila commander said:

 

“Captain, I believe you have met Commander Kang.”

 

“It is always a pleasure to see old friends,” Kirk said, cheerfully.  “I trust I find you well, Kang.  You are a long way from home.”

 

“Not as far as you, Captain,” Kang answered pointedly.  “I am sorry that the situation has taken you so far off course when you must be tired and looking forward to relaxing in a well-earned retirement.”

 

Kirk bristled inwardly, as he knew was intended.  Better get used to the shape of things to come.  It would not irritate if he had accepted the situation himself, he knew.  Outwardly, he said blandly

 

“And it’s good to know we have mutual friends.  How long have you known Commander Milani?”

 

“We are relatively recent acquaintances,” Kang said, grinning.  “But sometimes it’s possible for friendship to grow very rapidly.  Do you believe in love at first sight, Captain?”

 

“It’s always good to reflect at leisure on true compatibility,” Kirk said.  “Mara, it is a pleasure to see you, too,” he added, bowing.

 

Mara nodded to him, but he thought he saw a slight softening of her expression.  He thought, more than ever, that he did not entirely understand what was going on; that what danger there was did not appear to reside in any of the obvious places.  Kang and Mara could be here to make trouble, but somehow he thought not.

 

Out loud, he said:

 

“Commander Milani, I would be honoured to have a private word with you,” and again it was granted without trouble or resistance.  The Klingons bowed and took their leave and he found himself, Sulu at his shoulder, facing Milani and his second in command, Millalo, across the table.

 

“Commander,” he began, “the Klingons –“ and Milani held up his hand.

 

“Captain , please.  Perhaps I can explain.  Your friend Kang harbours certain views about you and about the Federation, as I am sure you are aware.  Please do not assume they are shared with the Mila – we may be unhappy about political developments in the light of past sufferings of our people, but we are capable of arriving at a balanced and rationale conclusion in terms of the most appropriate way forward at this point, and our discourse with you over the past days and weeks has been productive and reassuring and has aided us in this respect.”

 

“I see,” said Kirk.  Nothing about Milani’s speech came as anything but a considerable relief to him except the fact that he had made it. 

 

Or had he been too long in the job that he distrusted the ease of a quick result?  Was it arrogance for him to insist that HQ was wrong, that he was the only person in the history of Starfleet who would not benefit from the natural progression of promotion, that he knew better about himself than his superiors, that he could best serve himself and the Federation by remaining forever on the bridge of a starship?

 

He knew that increasingly a large proportion of his thinking was based on intuition as much as logical decisions extrapolated from the close analysis of data.  That was partly the way he operated but also the consequence of his relationship with Spock – certain approaches had, without speaking, been allocated between the two of them.  He also knew that a starship – let alone sensitive political and military situations – cannot be run on intuition.  Nothing about Mila 5 – no data, no reports, no consequences of a dozen meetings with senior military and civilian personnel – pointed to any serious continuing concern, and now Milani had virtually admitted to the underlying causes of the recent crisis – incitement to disaffection by the Klingons, and the Mila decision to ignore it.  It all made sense and it all added up to an easy exit and a better sleep at night, not only for Kirk but for the whole of the quadrant.

 

The only place that was unlikely to rest as well was Kirk’s conscience, the small part of him that stubbornly resisted the acceptance of what seemed universally logical to everyone else, and which (very quietly and usually when Kirk was not listening) expressed in silence inside Kirk’s head the notion that, in other circumstances, the chance to share his thinking with an absent Vulcan might have led to a more robust addressing of those concerns by Kirk.

 

He and Sulu stayed with Milani and Millalo long enough for pleasantries and for assurances of continuing goodwill, and then beamed back to the ship.  On the way back to the beam-up point, he deliberately detoured, not wanting to see Kang again and looking for every opportunity to see something different on the Mila planet – something which would solve the puzzle, relieve his worry, answer the nagging question – allow him to go home in peace.  All seemed entirely normal.  A large number of tall, fair Mila passed him with courteous nods as they went about their business.  Doors opened and closed, voices rose and fell.  Near the end, Kirk took a wrong turning and ended up back near the medical facilities he had visited earlier with McCoy and smiled to himself, remembering the doctor’s diatribe.  And then he saw the thing he had last expected.  A person’s back, turned to him, dark not fair and, without question, the back of a Vulcan male.

 

And at the same time, Milani appeared in front of him.

 

“Captain Kirk, we feared you had become lost.”

 

“And you’d be correct,” Kirk said, with a smile.  “We are glad to be rescued, but it is always worthwhile to see more of your impressive facilities.   I was unaware that you had any Vulcans on your planet.”

 

“Were you, Captain?  You should not believe all the rhetoric.  We may have political differences with the Vulcans but we are not animals.  We have worked on cultural and scientific projects with the Vulcans for many years.  This is Soltar.   He came to us from Vulcan quite recently and has been of immeasurable assistance in one of our medical research projects.”

 

A Vulcan presence on Mila 5 – nothing in the reports had led him to expect this and Kirk could only take it as confirmation that whatever the Klingons had stirred up was transitory and not of lasting concern.  Somewhere in Kirk’s mind he remembered a fragment of a recent message from Spock, something which might bear on Soltar’s presence here – but he reminded himself that intuition, without logic or data, only gets you so far.

 

They would stay at Mila 5 another month, in accordance with orders and with Kirk’s own conscience, but he was very sure he would find nothing else.

 

He dismissed Sulu, went to the bridge to receive reports, left Chekov with the con and took himself to his quarters.  And there, sitting over a late night coffee in a mood half-contemplative, half-restless, he logged on to his computer and accessed the library material on Heraclitus.

 

Know thyself.

 

With no one to watch, Kirk’s lips twisted in an ironic smile.  He would prefer not to know very much about himself just now.  And as for Spock – if this was where his quest was taking him, he wondered what answers he might find and what that would mean for the future.

 

He read on into the evening, in search partly of himself but mainly to see where Spock had gone.

 

 

***

 

Spock faced Saredin in the shuttle bay of the Seleya.

 

At a distance, the line of security guards stood respectfully to attention as their former commanding officer left the ship, eyes trained rigidly on the middle distance.  Spock reflected both on the probability that they would be unable to hear anything he said to Saredin and also on an unresolved question which lingered in his mind – born of Kirk’s message and of Saredin’s words in his quarters.  He did not entirely understand this question and, like Kirk facing a very different challenge a very long way away, he did not trust what he did not understand.  And so, as he lifted his hand to Saredin in a final ta’al, a more personal farewell than his leave-taking on the bridge, he said:

 

“I have a request to make of you, Saredin.”

 

Saredin inclined his head.  And Spock continued:

 

“If matters escalate with regard to the situation in the Mila 5 system or in any other way that may affect Vulcan in particular and perhaps affect other particular individuals in addition – if this happens, I would prefer to be contacted than left in ignorance.”

 

Saredin met Spock’s eyes and nodded again.  He would make the promise, even though it gave Kirk the worst of all worlds.  Kirk had wanted Spock safe – if absolutely necessary, at the cost of going to Gol. And Spock would go to Gol, but only until the danger came.

 

“Your request will be granted if within my power at the time,” he said.  “Live long and prosper, Spock.”

 

And Spock turned and left the stars for his home planet.

 

 

 

 

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