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“Mr Sulu, ETA at Deneva.”

“Five hours and ten minutes, sir,” Sulu said.

McCoy whirled around angrily.

“Can’t believe you’re not going to stop this, Spock.  That planet is a death trap and you’re letting that contraption take us all straight there.  Jim would never just sit there and do nothing.  He may be in danger himself but you know as well as I do that the only thing which matters to him is the safety of this crew and this ship and he trusted you with them.”

“Doctor, I have analysed the range of remedial and anticipatory options and all possible methods of de-activating M3 have now been attempted.  There is no other immediately apparent course of action which would not imperil the crew of this ship.”

“Taking the crew to Deneva will do more than imperil them,” McCoy said, angrily.

“I do not believe,” Spock said, quietly, “that this crew is at risk from the virus.”

“Don’t you?  How can you possibly know that?”

Spock was silent.  He could not lay claim to actual knowledge that the crew was safe.  If he were Kirk, it would be his intuition telling him so.  As Kirk was on Deneva and as he was Vulcan, it was not a matter of intuition but of logic.  M3 appeared to be motivated entirely by what it perceived to be Spock’s welfare.  Although its understanding of command team dynamics left something to be desired, which meant that a significant proportion of such perceptions were ill-founded and therefore unpredictable, Spock suspected that M3 would readily compute that its duty would be to protect Spock and the rest of the crew from infection from a deadly virus.  Logically, therefore, the ship’s destination and positioning would be such as to minimise exposure.  Spock’s own attitude to the ship’s ETA at Deneva arose from a combination of that assumption and of the fact that it was now six point two days since cases of the virus had first been confirmed on Deneva and he had no way of knowing whether Kirk was safe.  He could not take Kirk’s ship to Deneva without breaching Kirk’s orders (more of Kirk’s orders, a voice, unbidden, said silently, in his head); he was not entirely displeased to have no choice.

What Spock found increasingly difficult was the assertion, whether implicit or explicit, concomitant with every exchange with M3, that the objective of M3’s intentions (as to the details of which Spock remained entirely uninformed) was to protect Spock.  Just before they had encountered the Valiant, Spock had put Kirk in check and had loftily referred to irritation as a human emotion but had then, watching Kirk’s bishop come out of nowhere, had come perilously close to admitting to Kirk that he was capable of feeling it.  Spock was not, of course, irritated by M3, as he was fully aware that M3 was a malfunctioning man-made unit and not a sentient being intent on professing superior knowledge and responsibilities.  It would therefore be an entirely illogical and fruitless expenditure of time and energy to protest, to argue that he, Spock, had no need of protection; that if he did, he was fully able to protect himself; and that holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander, having an A-7 computer expert classification, being twice decorated with awards of valour and being listed in the Vulcan Scientific Legion of Honour – that these would all, combined, tend to suggest that he could probably be entrusted with the knowledge of M3’s strategy for the immediate future as it applied to both Spock and to the rest of the crew under his command.  It would have been even more irrational to have informed M3 that there were aspects of its functionality which reminded Spock of members of his family.

Despite the Vulcan terrain of Spock’s childhood being filled with rocks and hard places, Sybok had been neither.  In fact, Spock’s more pleasant recollections of both rocks and hard places all involved Sybok – treks over immense, thirsty landscapes with his brother, climbing expeditions among the craggy cliffs behind Sarek’s home, even the rites of passage of Spock’s early schooling, which had required occasional night-time vigils in the huge silence of the desert, had somehow been easier to undertake when Sybok was home to take the edge off Spock’s isolation, even when not actually in sight of his brother.  Sybok’s presence in Sarek’s house had never quite felt permanent; occasional absences had gradually lengthened and then, of course, eventually become permanent, in that last, so difficult leave-taking.

Spock was not given to purposeless introspection, particularly not with regard to his own familial relationships.  However, the truth was that the total ease of his relationship with Sybok had altered before his brother left Vulcan forever.  He could not have identified when the change started, but he knew the exact point at which he had become aware of it.  It had, in fact, been after the completion of one of those early vigils, which had been a required part of training in meditation techniques, which Sarek had arranged for Spock to study closely from the age of four, believing that expertise in mediation would be a key factor for his son in learning to compensate for his human heritage.  Students who had reached the intermediate stage were expected to spend a total of seventeen nights over the course of a six month period alone in the desert, where the opening of the mind in the total black empty silence of the Vulcan night taught important skills in the discipline of true listening, both inner and outer.  Spock had returned from one such experience, aged eleven, to relate how he had been interrupted by the rare appearance of a desert wolf, who had nosed around from afar and then unexpectedly disappeared, only to have Sybok say, nonchalantly, “I stunned it.”  Spock had acknowledge his brother’s act with courtesy as he knew he must, under Sarek’s watchful eye, and knew it to be illogical to have thought that he could have taken care of the wolf, that it was axiomatic that all Vulcan boys his age were expected to be able to survive alone at night in the desert, that he had not asked Sybok to watch over him, that when Sybok was his age there had been no one else watching out for wolves, that he would never again quite be able to lose himself in the vastness of the Vulcan night without the distraction of a lurking suspicion that he was being watched.  He had said nothing, and a few minutes later, found Sybok packing a bag.  Forgetting the question of a stunned desert wolf in the immediate realisation that Sybok was embarking on his now frequent travels away from the house, he asked to know where Sybok was going, and was told,

“You don’t need to know, Spock.  It’s better that way.  I will see you when I’m back in eight weeks.”

Was it his human blood which had stopped Sarek and Sybok treating him on a par, or was it simply that he was younger?  Looking back, Spock wondered if Sarek had thought him too human to be trusted and Sybok had thought him too Vulcan. 

M3 had never been there in the desert to protect Spock from wolves and it was not Sybok who had taken over the Enterprise for Spock’s own good.  It was therefore illogical to speculate as to why M3 thought Spock did not need to know why they were going to Deneva, and irrational to reflect that being kept in ignorance, whether it was for his own sake or not - whether he was too human, too Vulcan or simply too sentient - was a corrosively effective form of subjugation.   

***

As he crossed the walkway heading towards Sam’s quarters, Kirk offered a quick prayer to the personal deity who, the last time he had been on the Enterprise, had been uninterested in how much sleep he had himself, that on this occasion his brother would still be asleep.  He knew it would only be a temporary reprieve and that the events of the night could not remain a secret, but he thought that restoring Peter to his bed and getting rid of Sybok somewhere – anywhere – would allow him to undertake an explanation at a time and at a pace of his choosing.  As on that earlier occasion, he was doomed to be disappointed.

The front room was full of sharp words and angry tears and even as Kirk nudged open the door with his shoulder, he heard “your brother” and “trusted” and “military police.”  And then the door swung open and two heads turned sharply towards him and there was complete silence.

He was aware of Aurelan running towards him, running at him, and snatching Peter away from him; aware of Sybok utterly silent behind him; aware, more than anything, of Sam’s eyes, fixed on him with a peculiar expression.

Once, when Kirk had been seven, his family had taken a vacation by the sea.  He and Sam had got up very early one morning, stole quietly out of the apartment where they were staying, picked up a bag carefully packed the night before with some chocolate and apples, and had gone for a walk on the beach.   It was a stand-out childhood memory, for Kirk – the deserted early sand, Sam’s blue shirt, the sun on the water, the salt in his hair – despite what came next.

What came next was that Kirk had tripped over Sam and gone sprawling in the surf, ruining most of the chocolate, and in the resultant scramble and accusations, he had swiftly identified and eaten the one remaining unsalty chocolate bar.  Sam had let out a roar and chased him up the beach and Kirk had taken off, climbed rapidly up the nearest cliff and gone to explore the rocks all morning on his own, pausing, when hungry, to eat the apples, onto which he had thoughtfully held during his flight from his brother.  Sometime during the middle of the day, he had fallen asleep in the sun and had eventually woken and taken himself home in the early evening, to meet exactly the same look in his brother’s eyes as he now saw in the little front room of his quarters on Deneva.  He had not seen it since in any other face and recognised it immediately after a gap of thirty years - a particular combination of a betrayed fury and a towering relief which failed to hide the even greater fear which had stood behind it.  And his own reaction, a combination of triumph and shame.

He didn’t see it coming, but he felt it, a quick blow to his cheek, and then he had caught Sam by both lower arms, imprisoning them as Sam struggled, breathing heavily, his face darkened.

“Sam –,” he said, softly and was cut off.

“I trusted you.”

“I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that I let you down, I truly am, but I think – I think Peter is going to be OK.”

“How the hell do you know?  Did you go to medical school while I wasn’t looking?  You’ve been spending too long on your starship, Jim, you’re too damn used to being in charge and not being questioned.  You took my son and you gave him to a con artist, a common fake.  I told you to keep him away.  And you lied to me – you didn’t even have the decency you ask my permission – about my own son!”

“Sam –“

“Just get out, Jim.  You’ve done enough damage,” Sam’s voice dropped, suddenly, lost some of its vehemence, and he turned away to Aurelan, who was holding Peter and stroking his hair, careless of tears cascading freely down her face.

“Someone needs to look at his hands,” Kirk began, and Sam rounded on him again.

“Not you, and not that fraud in a shroud.  I’m the only one around here who’s actually qualified to discuss his treatment.   Just go, Jim.  I can’t talk to you now.”

Kirk hesitated, then tried once more,

“I was trying to help.  I thought there was a chance -”

“You lied to me.”

And Kirk’s communicator sounded.   Sam turned away angrily and Kirk hesitated and then flipped it open and said,

“Kirk here.”

“Kirk, this is French.  I am requesting that you return to the Endeavour immediately.”  Eli sounded, if possible, even less friendly than Sam.

He looked at his brother’s back and at the rest of his family and let out a slow breath, before saying briefly, “Ready to beam up, Captain.”  No one suggested he take Sybok with him, and the Vulcan’s deepset eyes were the last thing he saw as the light shimmered around him.

***

“Sir,” Uhura said, a look of puzzlement on her face, expression tuned inward as she listened to sub-space frequencies, “Sir, the Endeavour is receiving orders to leave orbit in order to rendezvous with us.”

Spock raised an eyebrow.

“Indeed?  That is somewhat inconsistent with Starfleet closing the Deneva orbit.  To my knowledge, the Endeavour is the only ship in the sector capable of enforcing the quarantine.”  It suggested that Starfleet had worked out that something was amiss on the Enterprise.  If so, it was a positive turn of events.

Uhura swallowed.

“Sir, these orders do not come from Starfleet.”

“Elucidate,” he said.

“Sir, the orders have been sent to the Endeavour on a carrier beam which has been encoded to disguise the point of origin, but they appear to have been sent from this ship.  From the Enterprise.”

Spock looked up sharply and McCoy, standing at the back of the bridge with Manoriss, let out an oath.

“Does that mean the toaster is sending orders to Eli French?  Why?  Still no immediate course of action available to you, Captain?”

Spock said nothing, for the simple reason that he was fully occupied in experiencing what he privately admitted to himself was intuition.  Put one way, intuition (which Vulcans did not practice) was the analysis of the sum of the range of relevant factors in any one situation.  The difference, he suspected, between intuition and logical deduction was that intuition functioned in the absence of a complete set of data.  Moreover, as he now understood, despite that absence, intuition resulted in a disproportionately firm conviction that the conclusion reached was the correct one.

He hoped that he might have the opportunity, some time, to discuss the experience with Kirk and to compare the relevant human and Vulcan approaches, if only because in order for such a discussion to take place, Kirk would have had to survive the virus and Spock would have had to find an opportunity to explain to him his new understanding of Starbase Eleven and Kirk would have accepted this and M3 would have been de-activated and removed and things would have returned to the way they had been for the command team of the Enterprise

Spock lined up the facts in his mind, like the computer-simulated starships which had been the staple instruments of the Academy class in battle strategy.  Spock had not wanted to take the course but it had been mandatory for command stream cadets. 

Fact one: M3 had concealed from Spock the true situation at Deneva; had even intercepted and altered communications from Kirk in order to prevent the Enterprise learning about the spread of the epidemic.

Fact two: after the mind-meld with Spock, on assimilating Spock’s memories of Talos IV, M3 had taken the Enterprise on a course setting to Deneva in breach of orders.

Fact three: M3 had now ordered the Endeavour to intercept the Enterprise.

This was the difference between deduction and intuition.  Deduction told Spock quite clearly that it had been simplistic to assume that because the navigation instruments of the Enterprise had been set for Deneva meant that the planet was the intended destination of the M3.  The intended destination of M3 could logically now be deduced to be a rendezvous with the Endeavour.  Logic, however, would go no further than that.

Intuition took account of the mind-meld in Spock’s quarters, the cold memory of an invasive metallic presence in his mind, the inherent wrongness of a mind-meld where the only sentient consciousness was his.  (Like a night time solitary vigil in the desert, he thought, randomly, when in fact you were not alone at all.  Except that there was no similarity, really.)

What had M3 said? “I must protect my commanding officer.  Captain French has damaged former Commander Manoriss…  You have been and continue to be at risk of damage from Captain Kirk.”

M3 was on a mission to protect Spock from Kirk, and M3 was on a course to rendezvous with the Endeavour, which was Eli French’s ship and was where Kirk was temporarily assigned. 

Like a student learning a new language or idiom, Spock was uncertain of the exact parametres of intuition, but he suspected it meant that M3 had to be stopped by whatever means lay to hand.

***

Kirk materialised in the transporter room of the Endeavour and found himself looking into Eli French’s eyes.  Reading in them, as he had expected, a complete, unedited and hostile history of Kirk’s actions on the last occasion he had been abroad French’s ship, he said, immediately,

“Eli, I apologise unreservedly.  You have every right-“

“Save it, Kirk,” French said, brusquely.  “Save it for Wesley, save it for the hearing and save it for the families of those two ensigns you knocked out.”

“I’d still like to explain to you-“

“Damn it, Jim, I said save it.  How come you couldn’t take the trouble to talk to me when you should have, and now that it’s too late and I’ve asked you to do so through the proper channels, you’re falling over yourself to get it off your chest?  I’m not interested in easing your conscience; it’s not my job.  If you want a father confessor, your best bet is that crazy guy in a sheet you sprung from my brig behind my back.”

Kirk took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Am I under arrest?”

“Not yet,” French said shortly, with every appearance of regret, in a reply which Kirk failed to find entirely reassuring.  “You haven’t heard the last of this, Kirk, by a very long shot, and don’t waste your time thinking I won’t take this all the way.  Yes, that means a court-martial, and yes, that’ll be my second this year.  I can’t believe – I just can’t believe you’ve done this to me.  You sat there, and you made me tell you about Manoriss – and now this!  Have you lost your mind?”

Of course.  He hadn’t made the connection, but of course French would see it like that.   The guilt grew, like a shadow on a summer’s evening, and he opened his mouth, but French cut across him, a new and very odd expression on his face.  His features showed clearly a combination of two completely disparate considerations, exactly as if Kirk were annoying the other patients in a medical facility and the discipline that needed to be administered was being compromised by having simultaneously to inform Kirk that one of his limbs would have to be amputated.

“Like I said, I’ve not discussed it with HQ yet.  There’s something else.  We’ve been ordered to intercept the Enterprise.” 

“We’ve been what?”  It had taken Kirk less than half a nanosecond to morph from conscience stricken betrayal to a whiplash response, no less acute for being entirely wrong-footed, without any understanding whatsoever of French’s words.

“I’ve been specifically requested to take you with me, and of course I would in any event have asked you, but –“

“Why is anyone intercepting the Enterprise?  She’s on the border with the Delta sector.  What’s happened, Eli?  What haven’t I been told?  Have you spoken to Spock?”

French’s tone of voice was still conflicted, an undercurrent of anger clearly overlaid now by a robust sympathy, the sound of a message which its deliverer knows will hit hard but where respect for the recipient inhibits any sort of softening or camouflage.

“Kirk, no one can speak to Spock.  Starfleet have not been able to contact the Enterprise.”

Kirk stared, his mind racing, thoughts in overdrive.

“I’ve had a daily report from the ship ever since the M3 mission began.”

“When was the last time you heard from him?”

“Yesterday.”

“Interesting,” French said, diverted.  “Starfleet will want to see the text.  Are you sure it came from Spock?”

“Am I sure – Eli, what the hell is going on?”

French gestured with his chin and Kirk followed him out of the transporter room into a nearby briefing room. 

“Sit down, Jim, and don’t think for a minute that you’re off the hook.  You broke every rule in the book and a load which aren’t in the book and you owed me more than that – not just me, those boys you laid out, Carter and Fenwright.  We’ll deal with the Enterprise and then I’ll hold you accountable, because you are accountable, right?”

Eli’s eyes gave no quarter, and Kirk gave him the respect of a nod and a beat of time before he said, doggedly,

“What is going on with my ship?”

“Starfleet is concerned about the M3 experiment.”

“The M3 – what do you mean, concerned?  They let a machine loose on my ship and now they’re concerned?  I was told Daystrom had tested it from here to the Neutral Zone, it was supposed to be a walk in the park for Spock – what do you mean, concerned?”

“HQ say that the reports being filed by Spock and Daystrom do not, for a range of reasons, appear to have been written by them.  Originally, they were authentic, but there was a change in some of the tone and detail and contextual references at exactly the time the Enterprise made an unexpected and unauthorised change of course.”

“What change of course?”

“She’s on her way here at warp eight, Jim.  She’s only a few hours away.”

“This is quarantined space,” Kirk said, sharply.  “I told Spock to stay away.  He knows the orbit is closed.”

“Exactly the point,” French said, levelly.

He had said to Spock that the Deneva orbit was closed and that Spock should stay away and Spock was headed here at warp eight.  What did that mean?

He had let Spock take a multitronic unit out on his ship because he hadn’t trusted him around his brother.  He hadn’t had a lot of choice, as it happened, but nevertheless, he realised in a rush of understanding, he had entirely forgotten, in the process of ordering Spock to take the M3 mission, that he and Spock always worked best together.  That he would be dealing with Sybok and the virus better, now, if Spock were here, just as Spock and he, together, would have found a way of containing a malfunctioning robotic First Officer.  Strange how quickly fractured trust allowed the most fundamental of assumptions to unravel.  Although, of course, Kirk realised, in a moment of the utmost clarity, the trust between Spock and him had not been fractured at all.  Bruised, at most.  Why had he so easily adopted that phrase?  It was Eli’s; not his.  And Manoriss was Eli’s tragedy; not his and not Spock’s.  He should have realised that a lot sooner, instead of asking Spock to speak to Manoriss.

And, of course, it had turned out that Kirk was rather less trustworthy round Sybok than Spock might have been.

If the Enterprise were headed to Deneva, it either meant that Spock were breaking his orders at warp eight or it meant that Spock was no longer in charge of the ship.

It came to Kirk with utter certainty that Spock would not have broken his orders, even with Kirk himself in danger, and that was not because Spock did not value the bond but because he did.

He said,

“These orders –“

“Apparently, HQ have been monitoring the last couple of days; it was previously only a matter of suspicion rather than certainty.  They seem to have made up their minds, though, with this incursion into quarantined space – they sent a sub-space as soon as they crossed the line and got no reply. I’m to take the Endeavour to meet the Enterprise before she reaches orbit and I’m to stop her.”

“M3 doesn’t seem to be listening to Spock.  What makes you think he’ll listen to us?”

“Jim – my orders are not confined to listening.  I’m to use force, if necessary.  I have 107 orders.”

Regulation 107, used only twice before in the history of Starfleet.  Orders to fire on a sister ship.  Kirk met French’s eyes and would have found, for the first time that night, a glimmer of fellow feeling, had he been looking.  But Kirk’s own eyes were fixed a few hours’ away, at warp eight.

Regulation 107 orders.  Just how many orders could Kirk break in 24 hours?  How many should he?

“Your men,” he said, suddenly.  “Carter, and – the other one.  They’re OK, right?”

“Physically, they’re fine.  Of course, they’re also the ones who allowed a top security prisoner to escape from the Endeavour brig for the first time since the ship was commissioned.”

“To escape – but Eli, it wasn’t their fault.  They did nothing wrong. You said it yourself.  I’m accountable.”

“You are.  But it’s not that simple, is it, Jim?  There are always consequences.”

French got to his feet, hesitated and then nodded at the door.  Wordlessly, Kirk followed him.  It was as the doors closed behind him that he stretched out a hand, impulsively, to the other captain.  He was not at all sure if Eli was ready for it, but in the event, he wasn’t put to the test.  Moving on down the corridor ahead of Kirk, he didn’t see the gesture and didn’t see it aborted as Kirk caught sight of the scales forming on the back of his own right hand, froze momentarily, and then pulled it back.

***

“Sir, the Endeavour is leaving orbit to intercept us.”  Uhura’s face was tuned inwardly, listening to sub-space.  Then her face altered, imperceptibly, and she looked up, eyes seeking Spock’s and holding them.

“Mr Spock - the Endeavour has received 107 orders.”

Sharp movements, exclamations and shocked expressions all the way round the bridge.  Spock ignored all of them.

“Where do these orders originate, Lieutenant?”    

“Sir – from the same carrier beam as before.  They are coming from this ship.”

“Damnit, Spock, are you going to let that thing kill us all?”  This from McCoy.  “Find the switch and turn it off.”

Spock said, quietly,

“It is not this ship which is at risk, Doctor.”

“That wasn’t the way I heard it, Captain.  I’m nothing like as good at regulations as you are, but I can hear an order to shoot from an awfully long way away.  Jim left you this ship to look after.  What are you going to do?”

“The Endeavour won’t stand a chance.  That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it, Spock?”  It was Manoriss, the Rigellian, his voice clear from the back of the bridge, his eyes fixed on Spock, who nodded slowly in complete understanding.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

“Why the Endeavour?” McCoy asked, his tone less sharp, his expression uncertain.  Then it cleared.  “Now, wait just a damned minute…”

“M3 has given the Endeavour orders to fire on this ship,” Spock said, his eyes once more on the main viewer.  “That will justify its own use of photon torpedoes in defence and, since Starfleet has in fact issued no 107 orders to the Endeavour, there will be no question as to responsibility.  The Endeavour is no match for a firing sequence operated by a multitronic system, which will be able to react more quickly and more accurately than any human being, as well as being unhampered by feelings of compassion or concern.”

“I can’t believe that with all this going on, and we’re being taken to war against one of our own ships by an overgrown toaster, you’re sitting there trying to claim superiority of machines over human beings,” said McCoy, angrily.

“I am arguing nothing, Doctor,” Spock said.  “I am merely stating a fact.” 

“And where’s Jim?”

“I have no knowledge of where Captain Kirk is, but I strongly suspect that he is on board the Endeavour with Captain French.”

“And why do you strongly suspect?”

“Because this is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Manoriss said, somewhere between impatience and despair.  Spock eyed him without sympathy.  It had occurred to him that the fact that the ship on which Manoriss was travelling was now the potential instrument of the destruction of his former ship and the death of his former captain was, in fact, a direct consequence of Manoriss’ intervention in the first place, because without his various interactions with Spock, the M3 would not have formed an erroneous view of Spock’s relationship with his own captain.  Spock was not overly prone to philosophising on original causation in his day to day life – he had acquired and retained a scholarly interest and expertise in Vulcan, Greek and Roman philosophy and he was the First Officer of the Enterprise and he kept the two very separate.  However, it had occurred to him that four months earlier the command team of the Endeavour had unravelled and that unravelling had reached out over a period of sixteen weeks and over half a sector to threaten his own captain, and that he himself had opened the window to that vulnerability on Starbase Eleven. 

All of which provided an excellent reason to avoid abstract speculation on original causation.

“I concur,” he said now, to Manoriss.  “The true objective of M3 is the destruction of Captain Kirk and, incidentally, Captain French and the most effective way to achieve that objective is the destruction of the Endeavour.

“And what are you planning to do about it, Spock?” asked McCoy, the dangerous note back in his voice.  “You going to let it take pot shots at Jim and compliment it on its speed and accuracy?  Are you even going to try to warn Jim?”

Spock’s eyes moved to McCoy and he stilled, abruptly, then rose to his feet.

“Where are you going now?”

“Sulu, you have the conn.  I will be with Dr Daystrom and the M3 unit,” he said briefly, and left the bridge.

The way to reach Kirk, he had suddenly understood, started with M3. 

***

It was a strange experience to stand on the bridge of a ship readying for action and not be in the centre seat.

Kirk paced, very slowly, on the upper bridge behind Eli, hoping that it would not distract and irritate.  He knew himself to be at liberty on parole only and on the bridge on sufferance.  He had made himself meet some curious glances as he had followed Eli through the lower decks; here, there was more overt professionalism but discomfort lingered.  Even at the best of times, Kirk found it easier to analyse a mission plan in the Neutral Zone than stand still; here, on this bridge, his own ship only minutes away and on the wrong side of a photon torpedo, it was impossible.

Something else, too.  He could conceal his hands better if he moved, and he had stolen a surreptitious look in the turbolift and confirmed his suspicions.   The skin was swollen, discoloured and flaking, and there was only one possible reason.  Oddly, he felt no pain or discomfort, as Peter had, and he wondered whether this was significant.  Peter – he spared a thought for the boy, and wondered how he was, whether in fact he had made things better or worse.  It didn’t look as though he would ever know.  In that context, the skin on his hands seemed rather irrelevant.

He felt a little dizzy, as well, slightly disorientated, and held on furtively to the railing, hoping that no one would notice either his hands or the need for support.  But no one showed the slightest interest in him.

If he died, on this ship, as seemed likely, between his own photon torpedoes and the virus (and if he had been right, if Sybok could have saved him, it was unlikely that he would find a way back to Deneva in time, even if the Endeavour survived what was coming) – if he died, he would be leaving two huge question marks, one for Sam and one for Spock.  He was less worried about his own death – he’d faced it too often, somehow, it felt almost familiar, almost part of life – but it seemed unfair that it might happen now, at odds with his closest friend and his brother, with both of whom he had co-existed in total amity up until now.  And he wondered, then, as he saw the relationships side-by-side in his mind’s eye, whether it was easier to steal something you had never had.

Sam had said You took my son and a few days earlier he had said Tell me about parenting when you have any sort of qualification to do so.  He had never told Sam (or any one else) about Carol’s child, but it would have made no difference if he had, because it wasn’t the same, and he knew it.  He saw again Sam’s blind fury and Aurelan’s tears, and he thought, for the first time, that he might not have been able to take Peter in the way he had if he and Carol had stayed together, if Carol’s child had come truly to be his.  Sam was right, he knew nothing about parenting.  He just knew how to play a game of hoops and how to steal a child because you thought you knew better.  He knew nothing of the agony which he had seen in Aurelan’s eyes.

Could you argue that Carol had stolen his child?  Not really, because he had given up too easily.  You can’t steal from someone who gives to you, who gives up.  Perhaps he’d been wrong.  Perhaps he should have put up a fight.  Perhaps he should have looked like Aurelan had looked, and Carol would have realised then, that it was stealing.

But she had said, instead You’re married to your ship and he had known even then, in his heart, that she had been right, and that if he were bound in the way that Sam and Aurelan were bound to Peter, it was to bridge not to blood.  And that brought him back to Spock.

Was stealing someone’s son as bad as stealing their ship?  Was that what it had been like for Sam and Aurelan?  Worse, even?  And Kirk had never really had a son, but then Spock had never really had his own ship, either, had he?  So the Vulcan would have known that he was breaking orders, known that he was breaking the chain of command, known all about every regulation he had laid waste from Starbase Eleven to Talos IV – but he hadn’t really understood, had he?  He hadn’t known that when it was your own ship it was flesh and blood.  (What had he said to Spock?   I give, she takes; she won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.)  Spock would have had no way truly to understand that - even if he’d heard Kirk on Psi 2000, they’d both been in altered states, he could hardly have computed from that just how it had felt to have it suddenly taken away.  Like an amputation.

Why hadn’t he spoken to Spock?  McCoy had been right.  He should have taken any one of a thousand opportunities since Talos IV to ask, to explain, and every time he’d just found another excuse.  Just one more – he’d take the photon torpedoes or the virus, but he’d like just one more chance to talk to Spock first. 

And at that precise moment, the communications officer of the Endeavour said to French,

“Sir, I have Commander Manorissfor you, on the Enterprise.”

 

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