When Kirk had been at the Academy, there had been a mandatory course on command stress. “All Starfleet cadets,” the tutor had said, looking benignly over the ranks of assembled shiny brand new hopefuls, “know this course is not actually for them. It’s designed for the guy sitting next to you.” Everyone had turned automatically to look at the person sitting next to them and there had been a general ripple of laughter, with the slightest edgy undertone. A good number of the students had laughed more loudly about some of the classes afterwards, usually sitting around the Academy bar with a couple of drinks to take away the taste of the case studies. Kirk had never been quite sure what the laughter covered up and he’d never forgotten the very last class. It had been given by a man of perhaps forty with a youthful manner and gentle grey eyes, who had talked them through a case study of the commander of a two year mission, out on the Romulan border, days away from contact with HQ. Three of the senior command crew had been killed in a freak accident and although there had been promising juniors to promote to fill the bridge complement, the captain had had to support them and develop them and he’d never learned to trust them enough to relax with them; he’d got more and more used to acting on his own and not letting down his personal shields and in the end he’d lost it. “It’s a kind of God complex,” the lecturer had said, in casual, normal tones. “You get used to thinking no one can help you, it’s one short step to thinking the rules don’t apply to you and it’s up to you to save the universe your way. And then you’re no longer a starship captain and they’ll take you out of the centre seat and put you on meds for a year. I know, class,” he finished, pleasantly, turning to leave the lectern, “that man on the Romulan border with the dead senior officers was me.”
Kirk was sufficiently self-aware to know that if there were a madness to which he was vulnerable, it was this one. He didn’t think he ran much risk of stress from difficult decisions (another case study) or from crowding (a commander of one of the largest galaxy class vessels who started seeing members of his crew in his quarters, when there was no one there) but he was familiar with the point of view that said James T Kirk didn’t think the rules applied to him.
And here he was, preparing to kidnap his own nephew and breach Federation security – not only that, but to go to a man whom Kirk himself had imprisoned in the first place, against the objections of his own First Officer. Perhaps he had already lost it. Perhaps he was so far into meltdown that he simply couldn’t tell that he was being irrational.
Aurelan had wept herself into a stupor and in the end Sam had pointed out gently that Peter would need her the next day, given her a mild sedative, promised to wake her if Peter’s condition worsened, put her to bed in the other room and sat himself, stony-faced, eyes unmoving on his son’s face, the only sound in the room the shallow, almost inaudible child-breaths. It had been easy enough to suggest that Kirk took a watch. Sam had been drained before the advent of the virus to his planet, let alone to his home and, for all his focus on his son, this final disaster, the realisation of their worst fears, had somehow released the body’s vigilance, had reminded Kirk’s brother that he was, after all, human and that it had been too long since he slept. Kirk had pointed out that if shooting hoops with his uncle had been more important to Peter than human biology class, then watching over Peter was somehow part of the same dynamic and he made the same promise to Sam as Sam had made to Aurelan, that he would wake him if there were any change. And Sam had given him a measuring look, half resentful half grateful, and then had gone after his wife as though he had no choice, and Kirk had settled down to wait until he was sure both adults were asleep. He decided to give them an hour.
In the darkness, listening to the faint sound of Peter breathing, Kirk wondered how it had been for Spock. Had he simply seen that the only way out for Pike was Talos IV, had he realised that arguing with the authorities would be a waste of everyone’s time? Kirk strongly suspected that Pike and Spock had never shot hoops together, but when you’d served with someone more than eleven years (eleven years, four months, five days), there would be an equivalent, wouldn’t there? Perhaps it was the way Pike complied the captain’s log, perhaps it was just that he’d been the one who mentored Spock as a young officer, helped him to grow to what he was today. Perhaps it was the way he drank his coffee in the officer’s mess. Perhaps Spock had fabricated that message from Starbase Eleven because he’d known what Chris Pike had become and he’d known what was waiting for him on Talos IV and he could see all the reasons why not but on the other hand, there was the memory of a cup of coffee and he had no choice.
Was that so different from a game of hoops?
He lied to me, Kirk thought, but it was with less force than he had once spat out the words to McCoy. And he was lying to his own brother, wasn’t he? Sam, who had asked him to keep Sybok away from his patients and who was a research biologist, for God’s sake, and who would never have given his consent to yielding his son to the mercies of alternative new-age hypnotherapy, to this crazy night-time act of desperation. Of course, he was trying to save Sam’s son, it was for his own good. But that didn’t help. Not when he could hear Spock’s voice as clearly as if he stood in front of Peter’s bed in the little room, in the face of the threat from Mendez to his friend’s career, Captain Kirk knew nothing of this.
Kirk drew a very deep breath, and then he checked the chronometer and got to his feet. There was silence around him. It was time to go.
The apartment was small and Sam and Aurelan would know every sound, would be functioning with heightened anxiety even in sleep. But Kirk was a starship captain and had broken out of Klingon gaols with death attending every footstep, and even with the boy’s light weight in his arms, he reached the door soundlessly. Once outside, he steadied Peter gently across his shoulder and made his way at a steady run towards a small office he had been using as a base since the Enterprise left orbit. He couldn’t very well live with Sam and Aurelan, there was no room, and it had been necessary, once the first confirmed cases were reported, to minimise interaction with the Endeavour in order to limit the exposure of the crew to contagion. Kirk knew that he couldn’t take Peter to the ship; even if he’d been prepared to infect the crew, he would never have made if off the transporter room platform with a sick child in his arms.
Inside the office, he laid his nephew down gently on a sofa and tucked the blanket around him. He listened for a moment, but the breathing sounded neither stronger nor weaker. Peter hadn’t even opened his eyes. He was deadly pale. Kirk stood irresolute for a beat, and then gently tousled the blond hair and took out his communicator.
“Kirk to Endeavour. One to beam up.”
Here, too, there were lessons. It was funny how easy it was to deceive when you were trusted absolutely, without question, and he wondered if it had been like this for Spock, an odd mixture of the relief at the removal of barriers (because, after all, he was James T Kirk) and shame that he was trading on hard earned blind faith. On Starbase Eleven, he had said to McCoy, Spock stated he received a message for us to come here. That’s all the proof I require – not in Spock’s hearing, of course, but Spock would have been able to predict the exchange and Kirk’s reaction with precision. Had he, Spock, felt the same slightly sick shame, or did Vulcans not feel shame? Seemed a fair assumption that if Vulcans can break rules for a memory of a cup of coffee, they can feel shame. In any case, Spock had said When I feel friendship for you, I’m ashamed and he, Kirk, had unforgivably thrown those words back at him, having already said to him You get to bend the rules for personal loyalty, is that right, Spock? And I don’t? Although, it seemed, he had been wrong about that, as well.
Kirk walked quickly through the deck towards the brig, and Spock walked beside him all the way. Just before he reached the entrance to the secured area, he said to his First, It’s not the same, though. You broke the chain of command and you stole my ship.
As Spock wasn’t there, he didn’t reply, and Kirk went through to the brig.
He didn’t know the ensign on duty, who clearly knew him and who turned to salute smartly and who most certainly did not deserve the sharp blow as he turned back, which Kirk devoutly hoped would put him out for as long as he needed but no longer. He hoped that disillusionment with James T Kirk would be the only lasting damage. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, laying the boy out gently, “I just don’t have time to do this any other way.” He resolutely put out of mind the reports of Spock’s assault on Starbase Eleven personnel, and turned to meet Sybok’s gaze.
In that moment, even knowing that Sybok was the only hope left to the quiet little figure wrapped in a blanket in Kirk’s office, Kirk still found nothing but a vast irritation as he saw the white-robed figure register his actions. It would have been asking too much, he realised, for any sort of reaction to the unscheduled appearance of the very person who had put you in the brig, to that person knocking out the security guard and leaning in to disengage the forcefield. If you were in touch with your inner pain, there would be no reason to question the way in which the Universe chose to unfold, even if that manifested itself in a starship captain giving every appearance of totally losing the plot. What was it that the Academy lecturer had said? They’ll take you out of the centre seat and put you on meds for a year. Right. And all Sybok said, mildly, was
“My brother’s boy is sick. Can you help him?”
And Sybok said
“Yes, I think so.”
Kirk nodded, neither believing nor disbelieving. Completing an exchange which bore a significant contrast to his last conversation with Sybok in its brevity and lack of extraneous references to inner spiritual knowledge, he said,
“Follow me”, and reversed his journey to the transporter room, this time followed by Sybok and not by the shadowy memory of Sybok’s half brother. He expected to be stopped at any minute, and was not, but it was an uncomfortable feeling, none the less, to walk along the deck of a Federation starship, an environment so natural for Kirk it felt organic, like an outer skin – and to feel surreptitious, to feel guilty, to feel the hairs on the back of his neck. There are no grey areas, he discovered, in the military world. You were simply on one side or the other, and if you broke the rules, you were outside in the cold, whether or not anyone else actually yet knew. It was an inner awareness, a kind of self-knowledge, if not Sybok’s kind. And again he thought about Spock. Because hard as it was for him to place himself outside the circle, how much harder for Spock, who could quote regulations the way ministers of religion quote scripture, whose integrity was his essence and his creed? For desert-born Spock to have willingly placed himself outside in the cold, he must have been driven very hard by Talos IV, by the memory of that cup of coffee. He must have known, Kirk realised suddenly, that it was in moral terms absolutely the right thing to do, because the only thing which could have trumped law, for Spock, was morality.
He must have known something else, Spock’s captain thought, reaching the transporter room. He must have known exactly what it would be like to walk outside the law, as Kirk had just done, and he must have known how much Kirk would have loathed it. And he would have fought to find a way to protect his captain from that walk down the deck of the Endeavour.
He traded glances with Sybok, knowing the Vulcan understood what needed to happen next, and stepped out in front of the duty ensign in the transporter room, and the duty ensign saluted and made not the slightly protest as he folded under the Vulcan nerve pinch, administered from behind with silent expertise by Sybok. Kirk lowered him gently to the floor (twice in ten minutes) and banished the memory of a thousand similar stunts pulled by him and Spock. It was more than odd and less than right to be working with Sybok when he had sent Spock off with an android because he hadn’t trusted him around his brother.
He set the transporter coordinates to the deserted office where he had left a stolen child in a blanket on the sofa and stepped on to the platform with Sybok.
Spock sat in Kirk’s centre seat on the bridge of the Enterprise and watched the stars move past in the main viewer as Kirk’s ship moved swiftly through them towards Kirk.
Kirk had said, I’m leaving you the conn, and you can mind the store. Of course, leaving Spock with the conn had not been entirely a free choice of Kirk’s. It had been the hard place, and the rock had been keeping him within touching distance of Sybok. Nevertheless, Spock didn’t think that You can mind the store covered the situation when Kirk had closed the Deneva orbit and Spock was taking Kirk’s ship there on a direct course at warp 8.
By his calculation, McCoy was due to be coming on shift. He had estimated that it would take McCoy thirteen point five minutes to wake up, register the significance of the change in course and appear on the bridge and his estimation had erred by less than ten seconds.
“Why are we headed to Deneva?” the doctor said sharply, almost before the turbolift doors had closed behind him.
“There’s a state of emergency, doctor. We can’t just leave them there,” and Spock, who might in other circumstances have felt a degree of sympathy with Manoriss, lifted an eyebrow and said,
“It is correct that there is a state of emergency on Deneva. However, that is not the reason that the ship is on its current course. The ship no longer responds to my orders.”
“You said that awfully calmly, Spock,” McCoy threw at him. And then, “Oh no… Oh, let me guess. That over-developed toaster has taken over. So, what are you doing about it? Are you just going to sit there?”
“I am sitting here because I have the conn,” Spock said, evenly. “M3 is in Engineering where Mr Scott is endeavouring to ascertain how to bypass the coding which the unit has encrypted in the warp engines.”
He and Scott had spent hours working over the machines, until they had realised it was a waste of their time, and while every exploration of every cable brought them a parsec nearer to Deneva and the virus. They had considered the transporter, but as Scotty had pointed out, identifying M3’s pattern on the Enterprise was like trying to transport a bucket of salt water out of the sea. And in any case, where would they move it and how would that help? It was impossible physically to overcome M3 and, indeed, considering its total control of the ship’s engines, they could not risk destroying it. After that, Spock had asked Scott to work with M3 whilst he himself spoke to Daystrom. A logical, rational discussion with Daystrom appeared to be unattainable, but the inventor was slightly more inclined towards deference to Spock, Acting Captain and Vulcan A-7 classified computer expert, than to anyone else on board. Even so, he was of no real use. At first, he remained in total denial that M3 was malfunctioning; then, as the situation became undeniable, he appeared actually to take pride in M3’s transformation beyond the predictable and then, lastly, after closeting himself with the unit in the main briefing room, he emerged to claim defeat. In Spock’s view, those who claimed defeat were usually not entirely displeased by the turn of events. The truly defeated tended not to give up in quite so ostentatious a manner.
Spock had asked Scott to work with M3 because it was increasingly clear than his own relationship with the unit had been compromised. On the one hand, M3 obeyed the vast majority of Spock’s orders with alacrity. On the other hand, it would simply decline to carry out those instructions which, on a somewhat random basis, it believed not to serve Spock’s best interests. Spock had fully understood neither the nature of the transformation of the unit’s behaviour from computation to caprice nor his own reactions to what had transpired, and he had come to the bridge, after his latest conversation with Daystrom, to seek a clearer perspective on the situation.
He had said to M3, after the mind-meld and the discovery that the ship’s course had been altered against his orders,
“I order you to set a new course to Starbase 16. I forbid you to take this ship to Deneva.”
And M3 had said,
“I cannot comply.”
Spock had said,
“You are engineered to serve; you are the M3 multitronic unit; you are acting First Officer of the Enterprise and I am your commanding officer. You will obey my orders and you will give me an explanation.”
And M3 had said,
“I cannot comply.” And Spock had put up Vulcan shields against a wholly unbidden, unsought and unwelcome response and then he had come to the bridge after the conversation with Daystrom and found that his reaction to M3 had gone nowhere, had simply been waiting, patiently, for the first available opportunity to present itself for inspection.
He had said I order you and M3 had said I cannot comply and Spock had been visited by an unfamiliarity. Something about the stars in the main viewer had made him take it out, there on the bridge, sitting in Kirk’s seat, and he had looked at the unfamiliarity and tried to understand it.
Spock was wont to insert the word Earth or the word human in front of the word emotion. On Delta Vega, he had said to Kirk, I don’t feel. Vulcans do not lie but on occasion, for reasons of expedience, they have been known to permit themselves a linguistic approximation in translating into Standard from Vulcan, and a more accurate rendition of Spock’s meaning could have been I choose not to feel. When Mitchell and Dehner were dead, he had confessed it, had said to Kirk I felt for him. If Spock had been locked up with only himself for company for long enough, and he had finished memorising the collected works of Shakespeare, Surak and Homer and had calculated the value of pi to five thousand decimal points and had an afternoon to spare, he might have admitted (to himself) that he had originally told Kirk he did not feel for Mitchell because Kirk needed the clean, clear strength of Spock’s logic to save the Enterprise and he had eventually told Kirk he did feel because Kirk had needed reassurance that his Vulcan First Officer was human.
And, of course, there was a sense in which you could lay side by side Spock’s claim to have no emotions with McCoy’s views on transporters and even the more unorthodox of Kirk’s views on Starfleet Regulations. There was what you said and there was what you meant and while it was illogical that the two should not be identical, Spock had learned that optimal human functionality required the smallest nuanced gap between the two, and as he had agreed to accept service with human beings, it was important that he complied with native customs.
Emotions to which Spock would admit in the solitary quiet of his quarters: the profound satisfaction resulting from the production, under stress, of the correct intermix formula which allowed the ship a full power start off Psi 2000 and saved the crew – and the blinding flood of grief which had preceded it, when he had been forced to contemplate the times he had turned away from love. An extraordinary mixture of shame and compassion as he had given Kirk a rifle in the control room at Delta Vega. The briefest sensation of betrayal at the word half breed uttered by an android in orbit around Exo 3. A beat of unspeakable intensity off Alpha 177, when Kirk had finally risked the re-configured transporter, and had said Spock, if this doesn’t work and Spock had simply said Understood.
And there were others, which he preferred not to think about and had long buried under the years he had put between himself and the harsh sands of his childhood. Loneliness. Resentment. And, eventually, rebellion. (Although rebellion, he knew, was not an emotion. It was, instead, the sum product of the emotions you did not feel – because they were prohibited – about your father and his expectations for two point one three decades until you told him you were enlisting in Starfleet and learned about the emotions which resulted from no longer being your father’s son.)
And, there on the bridge, the unfamiliarity looked back at Spock and it was absolutely none of these things.
That did not mean that Spock was unable to recognise it.
It was crippling, enervating, helpless, emasculating anger. He had never felt it before in his life.
The truth was that the person who was no longer Sarek’s son had learned to be a Starfleet officer, and the Starfleet officer who had served Chris Pike (eleven years, four months, five days) and then James Kirk had come to believe in the chain of command. Spock might not want to command permanently himself, but no junior officer on the Enterprise would have mistaken his essential compassion and tolerance for weakness. Other than the captain himself, there was no other senior officer the crew would not sooner cross than Spock. And he was charged, now, with Kirk’s ship. That meant this entire metallic being, the lives of four hundred and thirty crew and the flagship of the Fleet were his responsibility.
And M3 had said, “I cannot comply.”
You went to Starfleet Academy as a young Vulcan, trying to mask your utter confusion at the behaviour of human beings around you, and you learned all about the chain of command. You learned that the crew obeyed an ensign, that an ensign obeyed a lieutenant, that a lieutenant obeyed a commander and this thing - this chain, this rope, this ideal, this faith, this living blood vessel - connected every enlisted man all the way to the captain. And you learned it along with your classmates because you were there to study human customs as well as to seek your passage to the stars, but you wondered at the time it took to teach humans what was only logical and necessary. But actually, it turned out that you had to meet a multitronic unit to understand what that learning meant. It was the difference between knowing a theory and actually instilling it somewhere deep inside you, accepting it as part of breathing, part of walking, part of wearing the uniform, to the point that it would be as unnatural to disobey an order or to have an order disobeyed as it would to open the main hatch in deep space and take a deep breath.
And this, it turned out, was why. Because you had to sit on the centre seat and know that you would be obeyed. Not hope, not expect, not believe, not think – know. Know with every fibre in your being because otherwise the limits of what you commanded would be your own green-blooded blue-clad flesh and blood. The whole construct would fall apart. Your personal allegiance might be to calculus, to quantum physics, to the power of logic, but if you lost faith in the religion of command, then there really wasn’t a prayer for the silver flagship, let alone the four hundred and thirty lives. At the end of the day, whether you were captain, acting captain or commander, the fact that you would be obeyed was all you had. And hence this illogical anger, this coruscating helplessness.
And this, he realised, in a moment of utter clarity, was what he had visited on Kirk at Starbase Eleven.
Kirk pushed open the door to the office and Sybok followed him into the darkened room. Peter lay where he had left him, with no apparent change, and Kirk realised that in fact he had put the boy on the sofa less than thirty minutes earlier. It seemed like hours.
Sam and Aurelan would be waking. He turned to Sybok, uncertain of what to say, but Sybok had already moved past him and now he was sitting himself down next to the unconscious boy and moving his hands towards Peter’s head.
Kirk stilled himself, watching, heart in mouth. This was his brother’s son, flesh of his flesh, and he had stolen him from his parents’ care and handed him over to the one person of whom Sam had said “Keep him away from my patients.” Green, alien finger tips were reaching along freckled cheeks to touch Sam’s son’s unique self. But on the other hand, mind-melds to Kirk meant Spock, and Sybok was Spock’s brother. Sybok would never be Kirk’s companion of choice in a two man shuttle in a long distance journey, but he could not conceive of a universe in which someone of Spock’s blood could deliberately set out to hurt someone of his.
Why was that thought suddenly so clear and why had it not been before?
Sybok’s fingers were moving around Peter’s forehead, now, each circling separately, as though seeking something, never losing contact with the pale skin. The Vulcan’s expression was taut, intense, inward looking, his eyes closed. Kirk found himself almost unable to breath, his whole world narrowed down to this scene, this child, those fingers. And it came to him, then, what would be the price of failure. Because it would be everything. A boy’s life, a game of hoops, a pair of blue eyes. But also everything else. Sam, Aurelan, Spock, his oath, his ship. It might just be the heaviest bet he’d ever laid, and Jim Kirk had laid a few.
Something strange had happened to his sense of time, and just as it had seemed to have taken hours to walk down the decks of the Endeavour and break into the ship’s brig, he had watched the man and the boy on the sofa for days. And then Sybok spoke, and for a minute, Kirk could not understand what he was saying, in no small part because as soon as the Vulcan mouth opened, every one of Kirk’s senses went into overdrive, waiting to hear the sounds which would mean success or failure. Life or death.
“I’m sorry?” he said. And Sybok repeated,
“His name. The boy’s name.”
“His name is Peter.”
At the same time, Sybok’s fingers, which had been so intent on Peter’s face, like a blind man reading braille, twitched slightly, and one hand actually lost contact with the child and rubbed the back of the other. Then he reached again for the boy and said, clearly and deeply,
“Peter. Wake up. Peter.”
For minute, nothing happened. And then blue eyes opened and Kirk’s heart kicked and a voice said, pale and querying and fretful but unmistakably alert small boy,
“Uncle Jim. Where’s Mom? My hands really hurt.”
“Hey,” he said, squatting by the sofa and swallowing hard, “I’ll take you to Mom. Want a ride?”
“They’re really bad. My hands are really bad,” his nephew said, fingers twisting and scratching. Kirk caught them and held hard.
“Don’t scratch, son, you’ll make them worse. Let’s take you home, huh?”
“They really hurt.”
“You know what? I bet your dad can fix them. Let’s go find out,” he said, swinging Peter into his arms. He straightened, and met Sybok’s eyes. He had no idea what the Vulcan had done; no idea whether Peter was still in danger; no idea even whether the boy was better or worse than he had been. Only that he was awake and had opened his eyes and said Uncle Jim and that his hands hurt.
“Thank you,” he said, straight into the hooded face. And Sybok nodded, and turned to follow him. In retrospect, suddenly the drama of the night seemed like the easy bit. There would be nothing straightforward about what was to come. Kirk sighed, adjusted Peter’s weight, and headed off into the night towards Sam and Aurelan.