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By the time the M3 mission was an hour old, the entire bridge crew and medical department, together with a significant number of the engineering team, were aware of McCoy’s views on the situation.  Which were, loosely speaking, that, given that the Enterprise was leaving orbit with a crew complement which was less one captain and increased by one android, the wrong senior officer was being substituted.

Spock’s own views were more complicated than he would have cared to admit to a passing Vulcan Master (not that there were any Masters in the vicinity or likely to be on the bridge of the Enterprise as he watched M3 carrying out routine procedures to effect departure from orbit).

An illogically feigned ignorance of Standard idiom had never prevented Spock understanding very clearly what a rock and a hard place looked like.  If you had grown up on Vulcan, you had simply come across rather too many rocks and even more hard places not be very well acquainted with both.  So it was manifestly clear to Spock that Kirk would have had a difficult time making a choice between leaving Spock with the Enterprise and reassigning him to a mission which took him back to Sybok, still within the echo of Kirk saying “You of all people need no lectures from me, Spock, on the need to put duty above personal loyalty.”

A piece of idiom which had always seemed more oblique to the ship’s First Officer was about burying yourself in work.  Spock had always struggled with this one.  The act of work, of the performance of ones allocated tasks, was a function, and it is not possible physically to entomb a person inside the carrying out of a professional function.  Moreover, had this not been the case, it would remain true that it was illogical under any circumstances unnecessarily to deploy valuable mental resources in the pursuit of emotional concerns.  And even if that were not the case, it would still be true that if you were the only Vulcan commander in Starfleet, you could easily undertake both the responsibilities of the Science Officer and the First Officer of the Enterprise whilst retaining ample excess cranial capacity to consider extraneous matters.

Particularly if you were not, in fact, undertaking either such function but were Acting Captain for the sole purpose of supervising an android with enhanced multitronic functionality who was undertaking those tasks for you.

Commodore Wesley had said, with easily geniality,

“Just let the thing do its job, Spock.  Should be an easy ride for you, and you’re exactly the right person to be in charge while the test is being carried out and exactly the right person to give us the most helpful feedback afterwards.”

Dr Daystrom had said, as though not really seeing him,

“Thank you, Commander, but I won’t be needing any assistance.”

Scotty had said, suspiciously,

“You’re never letting that thing loose on my engines, are you now?”

McCoy had said, sardonically

“God help us all.  An entire senior command team without a sense of humour.  At least you’ll not be needing any help with teambuilding, Spock, you and your First Officer will be natural together.”

In fact, the extraneous matters concerning Spock centred on that very fact.  Were, indeed, he and M3 natural together?

A part of what he and Kirk were, of what was beginning to be spoken about in Starfleet as a renowned rapport, of what Kirk seemed to think was the same as Eli-French-and-Commander-Manoriss and what Spock refused to define – a part of that had always been that Spock was not human, or at least not wholly so.  Spock knew that – had occasionally wondered if the very fact of Spock’s origin had somehow given Kirk the permission he needed to let down barriers with Spock which the Vulcan knew stayed firmly in place otherwise.  Or perhaps it was simply that their very differences, bred in such different worlds, had somehow created an exact complement, that together they fitted around each other like one of the three dimensional puzzles Spock’s Earth cousins had played with as children.  Spock had always seen, instantly, how to assemble the pieces; his learning had been less about which pieces had to be put in place first and more about how long to wait to inform his cousins.  Not, he learned through experience, in the first five seconds; nor a full twenty-four hour period later.

Odd, really, that the skill of assembling diverse pieces should be what eluded him now.

They laid themselves out in front of Spock, a whole cast of characters, like mathematical formulae in a warp calculation.

The humans – Kirk, Eli French, Gary-Mitchell-that-was.

The non-humans – Manoriss, what-Gary-Mitchell-turned-into, M3.  And, of course, Spock himself.

(How, he found himself wondering, in a moment of whimsy with which McCoy would never have credited him – how would you classify what-Chris-Pike-had-turned-into?  Was he in the same category as Gary Mitchell, in terms of before and after?)

What did it mean, to be natural together?

It was the differences between Kirk and him which somehow made them what they were.   While he resisted what he thought Kirk was imputing about the parallel with French and Manoriss, he suspected that the same dynamic might have contributed towards their own command rapport.  He knew without conceit that, while the manner of Mitchell’s death might still haunt Kirk and while Kirk might still grieve for an old friend, his own relationship with his captain had come to dwarf the easy dynamic which had sat between Kirk and Mitchell.  But when Mitchell himself had ceased to be human, far from becoming closer to Kirk, he had become a threat to the Enterprise.  What did that say about M3?  What did it say about Spock?

After they had encountered the recorder left by the Valiant, Kirk had been the last person to accept the implications of the changes to Mitchell.  Spock had seen it instantly, long before Kirk – Is that Gary Mitchell, the one you used to know? – and Mitchell himself had agreed – Probably just what Mr Spock is thinking now.  Kill me while you can.  But not Kirk.  Kirk had clung to the allegiance of friendship, of the past, despite Mitchell himself calling him a fool for doing so.  Was he?  Was Kirk a fool in this?

Kirk always thought that the answer to diversity was somehow to bring it into the human race.  That those with differences can live together, but perhaps at the cost of the differences.  Mitchell could only have stayed on the ship if he had stopped being an esper.   Eli French’s relationship with Manoriss had tripped over Man’s adherence to his own cultural norms.  And – Spock forced his thoughts to the point at which they had continuously shied away – Kirk’s affection for and trust in him had tripped at Starbase Eleven, and Starbase Eleven constituted a Vulcan-human divide.  Was that not what had happened?  He, Spock, had done the logical thing at Starbase Eleven, to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and Kirk had translated that into a breach of trust.  It was Spock’s divided humanity which lay the foundation for his friendship with Kirk, but the ground rules seemed to be that he should act as a human.  Was this Starfleet inclusivism?  Was it Kirk’s fault?  Was it Spock’s?

Seen one way, Kirk’s entire friendship for Spock could be viewed as based on a denial of Spock’s Vulcan blood.   When they had finally left Delta Vega, Spock had said I felt for him, and Kirk had said, I believe there’s some hope for you after all.  Which might have been a tease, or it might have fallen into that category of truths which Spock had observed that humans like to present wrapped up in humour, apparently acting under the curious assumption that the covering conceals what lay within.

It was interesting to consider what superior meant.  More than interesting, it was fascinating.  Arguably, Mitchell, M3 and Spock himself were all superior to humans.  In Mitchell’s case, that classified him instantly as a threat, but the opposite appeared to be true of M3.   At least, according to Daystrom and Starfleet.  He, Spock, was reserving his judgement on the android, so far.  Its performance to date indicated both a level of efficiency and accuracy which he would have found lacking in any sentient being and at the same time a notable lack of meaningful interaction.  M3 was able to ascertain the most effective way forward in any scenario and therefore offered a more restricted range of recommendations or options than any person, human or otherwise, would have done.  He, Spock, was in the habit of offering Kirk three options, in any given scenario.  Option One was the recommendation Spock believed they should adopt; Option Two was the one that he knew Kirk would favour and Option Three was the one which he suspected would constitute the eventual compromise between the two.  In general, he found, the statistics had supported his analysis, but there had been enough occasions when Kirk had gone straight for Option Two and could not be moved.  Kirk had never gone immediately for Option One, which had mainly served the purpose of ballast.

All of which meant that there was significantly less dialogue in a mission comprised of commanding M3.

Uncharacteristically, Spock was uncertain of the detail, but he sensed that somewhere in all of this was the answer to “Anything else you don’t know Spock?” – the answer to Talos IV, for him and for Kirk.

***

The next round of hoops was less an ask and more a clear and confident direction from the freckles and blue eyes.  Kirk was neatly ambushed on the way into Sam’s quarters and allowed himself to be marshalled into thirty minutes of passionate competition masked by deference and hero-worship.  Kirk had first thought he would pay Peter the respect of a straight contest; then found himself unable, somehow, to defeat the freckles; then finally found himself losing without meaning to, and wondering whether he had lost to Peter’s skill, to his youth and energy, or to his own sentiment.  Laughing and slightly breathless, he walked into the house with his hand tousling his nephew’s hair and thought that this – this – was what he had given up, this was what Carol had meant, this was the other choice, the one he hadn’t made.  Had he been wrong?  Too late to worry about that now.

Sam’s face lightened, slightly, at the sight of his brother and son, which made Kirk realise how worried it had been looking beforehand. 

“Tell me,” he said, sliding into a seat opposite his brother.

Sam ran a hand through his hair in a shared gesture.

“Nothing good, Jim.  We’re not really getting anywhere.  And – there have been two cases on Deneva.”

“Are you sure?” he said sharply.  “What are the symptoms?”

“Inconsistent, which is one of the reasons it’s been so damn difficult to research and analysis.  Headache, breathlessness; in fact, the most common presenting symptom is a scaly dermatitis covering the hands.  That’s what’s raised a concern with these cases – the hands.  We’ve isolated the patients and we’re still not 100% certain it’s the virus.  But for my money, it is.  It’s here and we have absolutely nothing.  We’re just not ready.”

Kirk’s heart kicked, the way it did at abrupt bad news, in a way which normally heralded an adrenaline surge, the start of accelerated thinking.  He knew that it was what he was paid for, that there was something about the way events moved into crisis which triggered a whole different way of seeing, for him – a way of rapidly and accurately assessing, quantifying, qualifying and mapping different options going forward, out of all the obvious and less obvious factors in play.  He wondered if a higher rate of functioning would result from constantly existing in a state of crisis, knowing that if this adrenaline resource were always accessible, the contribution he made would be beyond the human norm.  It was an abstract question, as the function was an automatic reflex which couldn’t be simulated, but, in a way which unknowingly echoed Spock’s thoughts, half a sector away, he did wonder if this was what it meant to function on non-human lines.  Like Gary had, just before he died.

The thought led him, obscurely, to the seed of an idea.  Abruptly, he pushed his chair back, and said,

“I’m going up to the Endeavour.

“Why?” Sam asked, tiredly.  “French has got no more ideas that I have, Jim.  I know you both mean well, but there’s nothing either of you can do.  What we really need is more labs working on this, but to be honest, even if we had two or three Starbases at our disposal, we’ve just got nothing.  Maybe there is nothing.  Maybe we just have to sit back and let people die.”  He paused, slightly, and then said “When the Enterprise comes back, I want you to take Peter.  Will you?”

Kirk looked at his brother, noting the lines, the greyness under his eyes, and said, gently,

“When did you last get a decent night’s sleep?”

“Don’t dodge the question, Jim.  Will you?”

“Let’s focus on a way out for everyone,” he said, knowing Sam would hear the evasion.  “And it’s not Eli I’m going to see, it’s Sybok.  I’ll catch you later, Sam.  Say hi to Aurelan.”

The truth was that you couldn’t start giving relatives lifts out of medical emergencies – not when you were in charge and when everyone else was being left behind.  Sam should have got Peter out months ago and sent him to Iowa.  God knows why he hadn’t (although Kirk, on the basis of a couple of games of hoops, had begun to understand the part that sentiment could play in saying goodbye for an uncertain period of many months to a pair of blue eyes and freckles).   When you got to the point that everyone was going to die and you didn’t have a feasible evacuation plan that would meet the crisis, you couldn’t just choose your nephew and put him in guest quarters on the Enterprise.  That was the line of thinking which ultimately left you lying to your fellow officers and stealing your ship in order to restore your former CO to the life you thought he should have.  It was a messy business, the conflict between love and duty.

***

He nodded to the guard on duty.

“I’d like to talk to Sybok.  Release the forcefield, ensign.”

The guard said, respectfully,

“Captain French’s standing orders, sir.  No one is to be allowed inside the brig.   I can provide you with somewhere to sit and privacy if you would like to interview Sybok from here.”

Slightly taken aback, Kirk nodded again.  Eli was being entirely sensible, given concerns about Sybok’s beliefs and mental techniques, but it still seemed strange that Spock’s brother was held in maximum security.  But then, it still seemed strange that Spock had a brother.  He spared a thought for his Vulcan First Officer, out there running Kirk’s ship with M3, and was glad that he’d made the choice to take Spock off the Deneva mission. 

Alone, he cleared his throat, and said bluntly,

“There are unconfirmed cases of contagion on Deneva.”

Sybok moved quickly, as though in reflex to Kirk’s words, as though he had forgotten the forcefield, stopped, and said,

“Captain, please listen to me.  Let me explain my understanding about the epidemic.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” he said.  “Let’s have it.”

Sybok paused, and then started to speak, with a kind of slow intensity, an urgency which was no less apparent for measured cadences and small pauses for emphasis.

“First, I have to explain to you how we live, my community and I.  It’s what holds us together, it’s what took me from Vulcan, from the teachings of Vulcan.”

“Spock said,” he said, remembering, “that you were very highly regarded, that you were very learned in the Vulcan disciplines.”

Sybok’s expression was indescribable – part arrogance, part acknowledgement, part regret, part bitterness.

“What Vulcan refuses to acknowledge,” he said, slowly, “what my father denies, even Spock – is that I have not left that learning behind.  Yes,” he said, an odd kind of pride clear in the set of his head, “I excelled.  I drank deep from the knowledge I was offered and I gave back as much as I received – it transformed me and I transformed it.”  Not exactly what Spock had said, Spock’s captain reflected, but close enough.  Sybok was going on, in an intense tone.

“Never make the mistake, Captain, of thinking I left all that behind.  I took it all with me, all of it.  My passion was to build on it, to take it to the heights of understanding and (above all) to the application that my fathers and brothers deny.”  Kirk noted that whereas Spock only had one half-brother and – presumably – one father, Sybok seemed to have multiple blessings.  Perhaps he had been unfair to Spock.  Perhaps the intricacies of Vulcan family relationships just didn’t translate into Standard.  “The Vulcan way is to betray the past.  They have inherited a wealth of learning – an outstanding legacy of knowledge and understanding and sheer erudition, rightly renowned across the galaxy – and they put it in a library and made up rules about its application.  About what you can and cannot do with it.  Captain, that is intellectual vandalism and you know it.  It is narrow minded and it is deeply, deeply wrong.”

Kirk listened without commenting, summoning up the strength to be objective.  He needed, desperately needed, for the sake of the freckles on an upturned face, and for all the other nephews and sons and families on Deneva, to understand Sybok, to weigh up his credibility and to analyse what contribution the Vulcan could truly make to the crisis.  In coming to the Endeavour, he had done his best to leave behind his instinctive prejudice against Sybok.  Now, in listening to him, he felt an unwilling sympathy, and that felt disloyal to Spock.  His thoughts, once more, went to the faultline of loyalty, like a dog worrying on a bone.  And then he shook himself, slightly, and was once more the starship captain, listening, alert.

“And what does that mean?  To build on Vulcan knowledge, in the way that you aspire?”

“It meant to be outward facing, not inward facing,” Spock’s brother said.  “It means to think about the future, not the past.  To think about what can be done and not what cannot be done.  Above all, Captain, it means to take what Vulcan has learned about the powers and the intricacies of the mind and to apply them to the spirit.  Vulcan – and I know you know this, Captain – Vulcan believes that there is intellect and there is emotion and the two are antithetical.  I know – and you will acknowledge the force of what I say – that this is illogical.  They are both part of one being.  It is precisely this sort of thinking which led to the upbringing of a child, part-human part-Vulcan, who was taught to believe that one part of his legacy must be subordinate to the other.  Captain, I know you agree with me about this.”

Kirk closed his mind, again, against the appeal for partisanship, and focused on the question.

“Keep going, Sybok.  What does that mean?”

“It means,” Sybok said, apparently not in the slightest perturbed by Kirk’s lack of response, “that we –“, and again, Kirk noticed the lapse into the plural – “- that we believe that the mental disciplines of Vulcan can be used to free the mind, not to enchain it.  To release emotion.  To rid ourselves of the snare of emotional dysfunction and allow positive emotion the capacity to work together with the intellect, to the benefit of both.”

Kirk tried to sort this through in his mind, more than ever aware of the passing of time and the arrival of the epidemic on Deneva, the two unconfirmed cases, Sam’s face (“maybe we just have to sit back and let people die”).  And here he was, seeking an answer from a man in a white robe who was about to tell him that if he truly knew his own mind, he would be inviolable from disease.  His heart sank.  How could this be Spock’s brother – half or whole, any kind of brother?  Where was Spock’s intellectual fastidiousness, his ability to prioritise and to focus on the urgent, on human life?  And on non-human life?

“And what does that mean, exactly?” he repeated, knowing his tone was sharp.

“Captain, we all allow ourselves to be distracted and held back by our mistakes.  You know this.  We all have a seam of pain running through our psyche which saps our energy and our strength, which prevents us seeing properly.  We-“

Kirk held a hand up.  He knew he was being curt, but his tone was edged by disappointment and frustration, by anxiety and by anger.  The anger was directed at himself, for having wasted time on this conversation.

“Sybok, please.  This is cant.  And we don’t have time for it.”

“Do you have time for anything else, Captain?” Sybok countered.  “None of us have time – the virus must be stopped, and stopped quickly, or millions will die.”

“And in your view, we will be immune if we have come to terms with our inner pain?”  He knew his tone was incredulous, was mocking.  So much for objective dispassion.

“Essentially, yes,” Sybok said, unruffled.  “Captain, have you ever known a person die of an allergic reaction?”

“I’ve known it to happen,” Kirk said, slightly thrown by the change in topic.  “I’ve not actually witnessed it.  Once, on an unchartered planet.  There was a security guard – he was taken prisoner by the locals; we had to be cautious in the rescue mission, because of the Prime Directive, and we were too late.  He had reacted to an indigenous plant.  Or that’s what McCoy’s view was, from the autopsy.”  He turned away, slightly; never comfortable confronting his failures, counting his dead.

“It hurts, then,” Sybok said, in a different tone of voice.  Kirk glanced up, instinctively drawing back from what Sybok was offering. 

“You learn to live with it.”

“Why, Captain,” the white robe in the brig said, mockingly, “you’d make a good Vulcan.”

Kirk thought of Spock, and laughed out loud, naturally, for the first time in a while.

“I think my First Officer might hold other views.”

“He might.  But I could help you, Captain.  I could help you make that grief into a strength.”

“Thank you,” Kirk said tightly.  “As I said, you learn to live with it.  It was a little plant with red flowers, they were everywhere.”  Sybok looked blank, and Kirk said, impatiently, “The security guard.  You asked what he died of.  It was a plant with red flowers.  His throat swelled up.  He died of asphyxiation.”

“No, Captain,” Sybok said, with deadly earnest.  “He died because he believed that the red flowers were harmful to his well-being.  His mind killed him.”

“The virus has been tested,” Kirk said, with great clarity, “for every known allergic reaction.”

“That’s not my point, Captain.  I’m simply pointing out that it is the mind which decides.  Every time.”

The ensign behind him said,

“Do you need more time, Captain?  I’m about to be relieved, and –“

“No,” said Kirk, swiftly.  “No, I’m finished.”

“Captain –“ said Sybok, urgently.  Kirk looked back.

“Tell me one thing, Sybok.  Are you seriously suggesting that you can hypnotise every individual on Deneva to withstand the effects of the virus?”

“No,” said Sybok.  He spread his hands, displaying the first signs of uncertainty since Kirk had entered the cell.  Kirk found himself thinking that a little bit of self-doubt earlier might have allowed Kirk to take him more seriously.  “But it’s a start, do you not see?  If you accept that this is the way to understand the virus, it’s how you’ll find the answer, how you’ll find the place where the mind focuses, at the point when the virus kills.”

“I have to get back to Deneva,” he said.  “Thank you for your time, Sybok.”

The ensign saluted and he walked out of the room, not too quickly to hear what Sybok threw after him.

“Captain.  You missed out a rather important question.  Aren’t you interested in the fact that none of my community has contracted the disease?  Not one.”

***

Spock chose a time when their course was likely to take them into contact with no one and nothing for two hours, before he assigned the conn to Sulu and went to his quarters to contact Manoriss.  He was still unsure of Kirk’s motivation in asking him to do this and even less sure that he wanted to comply.  But Kirk’s request was the only lead he had, just now, and Spock was in the habit of doing what his captain asked, anyway.

Somewhat to his surprise, he reached Manoriss immediately.  Manoriss must have travelled some distance since that last email, to be within direct subspace reach; moreover, Manoriss must be in a different frame of mind from that which Spock had expected, in order to be amenable to talking to Spock.

In fact, listening to his former fellow-officer with an attempt at neutrality and without, indeed, much opportunity to speak himself at all, Spock realised even more the gulf between him and Man.  Kirk had clearly thought there were parallels, resonances.  He, Spock, had spoken to no one about Talos IV except Kirk – and that rather unsuccessfully.  Man’s words came pouring out, as if undammed.  Spock could imagine no universe in which he would have unburdened himself the way Man was, across the sub-space.  But then, increasingly, as he listened to Man, he found that he could imagine no universe in which he would have made Man’s choices.

“We are supposed to protect our commanding officers, right, Spock?  There was just no need for him to know,” Man’s words, as over a distant connection, and Spock suddenly, vividly, illogically, had M3 in mind – M3 and Option One, which was the limitation on M3’s ability to discuss any strategy.  Of course, this meant that Spock and M3 would never arrive at Option 3, the compromise option.  And it occurred to Spock, then, for the very first time since he had started serving under Kirk, that Option 3 might, in most situations, have simply been the best choice all along.  And he wondered why that should be so.

Had he adopted Man’s approach, on Starbase Eleven?  Spock thought not.  He had not gratuitously concealed information from Kirk.  He had adopted a course of action towards and for the benefit of a third party which would have seriously damaged Kirk had Kirk been an accessory before the fact and he had therefore chosen to ensure Kirk’s ignorance of the situation.  He could not imagine being in Man’s situation, and making a distinctly arbitrary choice in terms of selecting relevant information to conceal from his commanding officer for no very obvious reason.  Keeping Kirk in ignorance of the situation had not been the salient or presenting issue in relation to the events at Starbase Eleven.  Starbase Eleven had been about Pike, not Kirk.  Spock stored away the comparison to consider at a later date, aware that if the comparison was irrelevant, the deferment was illogical.

Man had loved Eli French.  The Rigellians, Spock knew, were intense and passionate by culture and inclination, and French and Man had found something of immense significance in each other.  Perhaps something neither believed he would find elsewhere.  Manoriss said,

“He owed me more than that.  He could have understood, should have understood.  I would do it again, in the same circumstances.  If Starfleet doesn’t have the flexibility to deal with that, I’ll find another way forward.  But Eli didn’t need to feel let down by me.  I was always there for him.”

Again, that feeling of detachment, of distance.  Spock listened to the words, and part of him wondered why Kirk had wanted him to.  He could feel no real understanding of Man’s position.  He had not spoken to French and had no perspective on what French’s emotional reaction would have been to Man’s actions off Rigel 7.  Manoriss seemed to be imputing hurt on French’s part, inferring that Man’s decision to withhold key information would have indicated to French a lessening of loyalty, of affection.

Spock listened to Manoriss for a total of fifteen point two minutes, understanding that it was helpful for Man to speak, that his silent, remote participation in the conversation this was all he could do for the former Endeavour officer.  During all that time, however, and for some time afterwards, as he made his way back to the bridge and the mission, his thoughts revolved around Man’s perspective, on his words:  Eli didn’t need to feel let down by me.

Kirk would not have seen Spock’s actions as in any way a lessening of their friendship.  This was the difference between the two situations. 

Spock had not expected any sort of personal relationship to evolve between him and the commanding officer of the Enterprise and, at least in the early months, he had been continuously surprised by the ease and confidence with which he had come to expect the invitations to chess games; by the implicit understanding in those swift glances traded across the bridge in the face of the unknown or the unfriendly; by the knowledge that had governed every planetside mission – that Kirk’s awareness of his support was somehow bedrock, that he would stand by Kirk’s shoulder and that Kirk would know it without turning round, that it was a thing of substance between them, an almost tangible bond.  He did not credit Kirk with any similar surprise at the evolution of this bilateral understanding.  It had always been apparent to Spock that Kirk accepted the gift of friendship as something which had been offered to him easily all his life, from a number of quarters, and he could see no reason for Kirk, of all people, to entertain doubts on the subject, to lose confidence in the regard held for him by another.  Not James T Kirk.

And he, Spock, had given Kirk evidence of that regard which he had offered to no other person.  He had used a familiar abbreviation of the forename of his superior officer without invitation and on more than one occasion, including when on duty.  He had allowed Kirk to tease him – he had teased back.  He had stepped between Kirk and danger and not always in the line of duty.  And he had acknowledged it, too, had not always hidden behind the shield of Vulcan subterfuge, particularly when rocks and hard places had been in immediate proximity.  He knew Kirk could have cited a dozen moments of near-miss, of uncertainty, of the unknown, when Spock’s behaviour might not have met the exacting standards of Surak.  And Spock had never found it in himself to regret the lapse, even when Kirk had been back in the centre seat and the moment had passed.

No, Kirk would need no reassurance.  Talos IV would have made no difference to that.  Manoriss was over-personalising the situation, which was inevitable, given that he was Rigellian.

It was only as he relieved Sulu and sat in the centre seat, swiftly analysing M3’s latest report and asking Uhura to forward it to Wesley at HQ, that he remembered Kirk’s voice, that late night conversation, in orbit around Deneva.  You’re the one who feels ashamed when you feel friendship for me.

It didn’t make sense, though.  He and Kirk had played a total of one hundred and thirteen games of chess, including one which had once continued for two and a half days.  And Kirk had said of their dialogue, just before their encounter with Balok, “It gives me emotional security”.  He did not think that Talos IV would cause Kirk to question that.  His actions, after all, had been entirely logical.  And designed to safeguard his captain.

 

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