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“It is the judgement of this Council that you be given the duties for which you have repeatedly demonstrated unswerving ability: the command of a starship.”

Words, so momentous in their significance they were almost incomprehensible, swirled in his brain.  He reached for understanding; his ears ringing with applause.  A hundred memories blurred past his eyes – the faces of Khan and of Kruge; the flames of Genesis; Morrow in the Starfleet officers’ lounge; Styles (“You’ll never sit in the Captain’s chair again”); the death fire of his ship; a moment of laughter and release in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay.  And even as the buzz of excitement swelled around him, he turned, eyes seeking the one person with whom this moment needed to be shared.

Who wasn’t there.

At least, not entirely.

***

“I am still,” he said pointedly, rather less than four days later, “on shore leave, you know.  You remember shore leave, don’t you, Commodore?”

“I remember it well,” Wesley returned, pleasantly.  “And you remember orders, right?”

I’m sure the Admiral will recognise the necessity of keeping discipline in any chain of command.

Kirk looked sideways, briefly, at the climbing equipment he had purchased and the holo of Yosemite, mentally shook himself and managed a grin.  It was, after all, what he had signed up for.  More – what he had dreamed of, longed for with a bitter-sharp yearning, those years of working a desk in the highest echelons of comfort and safety.

“I am at your command, sir,” he said, both easily and accurately.

“Just as I thought,” the other said, genially.  “We have a situation in Cochrane.”

Kirk’s eyebrows rose.  Cochrane House meant spies.  Back in the day, Starfleet used to run an interplanetary espionage division, which everyone knew was involved in interplanetary espionage because it was called IED.  As extra-terrestrial relationships developed, became more sophisticated and strengthened, the middle initial was quietly dropped, and the team was officially renamed “Intelligence Division”.  This didn’t stop everyone knowing that it was engaged in interplanetary espionage and, in addition, gave rise to a number of well-worn ‘Fleet jokes about the nature of the intelligence involved – both of the relevant personnel and of external stakeholders of varying kinds.  In the end, HQ rather forlornly decided on an official title by reference to the building in which the division was housed.  Cochrane House had actually been demolished some time previously, and in fact the operations it had housed were now masterminded from a block inside the central HQ complex, but this didn’t stop the division being referred to as “Cochrane House” and it didn’t stop everyone knowing that they ran interplanetary espionage programmes.

“Cochrane have a long term contact based in Romulus,” Wesley continued.  Kirk didn’t react.  Running spy-rings beyond the Neutral Zone was in flagrant breach of every Starfleet Treaty in the alphabet and everyone assumed it was going on.  He had known himself, of course, from his own years in the Admiralty.   He waited.

“It’s gone quiet,” Wesley said, simply. 

“For how long?”

“Six weeks, altogether.  We knew something had happened, but Cochrane wanted to make sure, and then of course we’ve had to deal with the probe.  In fact, we thought for some time that the probe’s transmissions were responsible for losing contact with Romulus – which they were, of course, but then we’ve not heard anything since and all other comparable contacts have been restored.”

Kirk digested this, and then asked the obvious question.

“And why are you telling me this?  I can’t possibly take the Enterprise to Romulus, even if she were completely fitted out and ready to go – which, I need to tell you, Bob, she’s not at all, and I was going to ask –“

Wesley waved him down.

“Of course you can’t take the ship.   No one’s suggesting that.  It’s not that kind of mission, Jim.  We want you to go yourself.”

Which put Kirk in a slightly difficult position.  After what had happened in the Council Chamber not four days earlier, he wasn’t about to start his new career as the first demoted admiral in Starfleet history by disobeying orders.  He was content with where he had ended up but had no desire to end up as second lieutenant.  On the other hand –

“Bob, I’ve not really had the training, and it might not be the best use of my time, especially given that someone needs to supervise the re-fit of the Enterprise.  On which subject –“

“Cochrane have developed a long range shuttlecraft for this sort of mission, you see,” Wesley said, as though Kirk hadn’t spoken.  “There’s only the prototype, but it’s been thoroughly tested over a long distance and rigorous conditions.  It can travel from here to Romulus and back, shielded and cloaked; it can even fire a limited number of photon torpedoes and it has transporter facilities and warp drive.”

Diverted, he said,

“That’s impressive.  How have they managed to generate sufficient power to cloak for that period of time?”

“By sacrificing space.  That’s the drawback.  It’s only big enough for three people.”

“Is that the size of the team you want to send?”

“No.  The plan was, in this instance, to send a two-man team, with room to pick up a third – if, for example, the contact needs repatriating.  And that means two people, alone and dependent on each other for a very long period of time.  Cochrane took three teams through a whole year’s training for this sort of eventuality.  All six were subject to significant screening and selection processes before they were even taken on to the training programme.  There was a very heavy emphasis on psych profile compatibility and they invested hugely in the three pairs who made it.”

“What happened?” Kirk asked.  He had a feeling about what was coming next, and didn’t like it much.

“One pair failed the training, one succeeded and is currently heavily under cover in a mission in the Delta sector.  One half of the third pair has just been seriously injured in a climbing accident at Yosemite.  Idiots.  Why they let him go after all that and why he was free-climbing, I have no idea.”

Kirk opened his mouth, thought briefly, and then shut it again.

Wesley thoughtfully studied the holo of Yosemite on Kirk’s desk and turned a bland smile on its owner.

“That’s why we came to you.”

“To catch me,” Kirk said, also looking at the holo, “before I leave for Yosemite tomorrow?”

“Because,” Wesley said, his manner suddenly deadly serious, “we need to get to Romulus immediately and there’s no longer the luxury of time to develop the sort of rapport and dependency we need in the requisite two man team.  But we don’t need to, now you and Spock are back in the fold.  The two of you invented rapport.  There is no other pairing in the quadrant to touch you and you’re even here on Earth, between missions.”

“The Enterprise –“

“- needs more work.  You said it yourself, Jim.” (“Well, I certainly tried to,” muttered Kirk).  “We rushed her out, somewhat, I’ll admit.  The Council very much wanted the grand gesture, after the business with the probe, after that ridiculous accusation by the Klingons – a show of unity and of course the most genuine of thank yous – but I’d not be surprised if you tell me there’s the odd nut that needs tightening.”

Kirk reflected that the ridiculous accusation by the Klingons might have found a rather different audience had the Bounty not diverted to twentieth century San Francisco en route to the hearing, but he thought it politic not to dwell on the point.  There was a more important issue at hand.

“Bob,” he said, very slowly, “you know – Spock and I have some adjusting to do, ourselves.  Wouldn’t exactly call either of us an odd nut, but –“

His voice tailed away.  He’d had a while to get his head round the problem – a couple of rather hazardous trips in a Klingon Bird of Prey, a stroll round Sausalito – but the truth was he hadn’t actually quite opened up to himself about it in the quiet of his own quarters.  So he wasn’t going to talk to Bob Wesley about it.

Wesley’s eyes were remarkably clear as they bent on the most recently demoted flag officer in Starfleet.  He said, reflectively,

“It was Harry’s idea, actually.”

Kirk looked up.

“Harry Morrow?  What idea?”

“Harry’s idea that you and Spock should go.  We were throwing some suggestions around, couple of days back, when we got the news about that idiot Jacobson getting multiple fractures free-climbing El Capitan.”  Kirk winced.  “At one point, we were going to pull the whole mission; then we started coming up with names of Cochrane agents who hadn’t been specifically trained but we thought could probably pull it off.  Palmer said no, she wouldn’t hear of it, it had to be a real team, two people who could operate from a place of absolute trust and knowledge and Harry just slammed his fist on the table and said “Jim Kirk”.  He said you’d gone to see him just before that little burglary business you and your crew pulled off; said that you were going after Spock.  That he was your responsibility – something like that.  You know Harry, he wouldn’t care to admit to being moved, but I think you made something of an impression.”

“Must have been why he said no,” Kirk said, very drily.

Wesley laughed.  He got up and put a hand on Kirk’s shoulder.

“I’ll see myself out, Jim.  You and Spock, in my office, tomorrow morning at 0900 hours.  Thanks for the drink.”

Alone, Kirk contemplated the holo and climbing equipment, and then got up and, with an air of some finality, stowed them in a cupboard behind his desk.  He then sent a comm to Spock, asking him for a meeting at 0830 hours, which would allow him time to break the news ahead of the briefing.  He regarded without enthusiasm the cold remains of dinner, which Wesley had interrupted, and then made himself a coffee and took it to his favourite seat, overlooking the bay.

Was he wrong to be worried?  About this mission, or any other?

Was he wrong to be worried about Spock?

He knew reassurance when he saw it, and for Wesley to have delivered that little speech meant that he had read something in Kirk’s eyes, something perhaps a little removed from the stressed encounter in the officers’ lounge when he had said to Harry Morrow – oh yes, he remembered - said with an absolute certainty and clarity now oddly missing from his dealings with his First Officer, “If Spock has an eternal soul, then it’s my responsibility.  As surely as if it were my very own.”

Where was that certainty now?

The truth was that it felt like a very long time since I have been and always shall be your friend.

The truth was that the elation which had followed Your name is Jim had faded somewhat, somewhere between the harsh dust of Vulcan and the astonishing resolution of the Council chamber.  What followed had been little more than It is the human thing to do when a rescue plan for Chekov had proved necessary, and an exchange of glances in front of a roomful of cheers and crowded chaos.  He had overheard Spock tell Sarek that the crew of the Enterprise were his friends, and he had felt warmed by it, felt for the first time that Spock had aligned himself in his old place, on the tightrope he had walked for decades with deceptive apparent ease – and occasional tragedy – between Vulcan and humanity. 

What had been almost entirely missing from the whole formula was any real resumption of what had led Wesley to say The two of you invented rapport. 

Which was cause for concern, given the mission to Romulus.  Kirk spared a thought for the weeks ahead, side by side with the person who had said In that event, the probabilities are that our mission will fail; and It would not be proper to refer to you as Jim while you are in command, Admiral. 

But it would get better.  It had to.  Spock just needed time.

What was it he had said to McCoy, on the bridge of the Bird of Prey?  It’ll come back to him.

Perhaps the mission might even help.

He finished the coffee and went to bed, though sleep eluded him for longer than usual.

***

“The best bet, according to the briefing, is this Romulan, Marillus.”

Kirk had been slightly relieved to discover that the Polaris was not – quite – as small as his imagination had led him to think.   In addition to the small flight deck, there were three cabins – admittedly, each approximately the size of the head in his quarters in the Enterprise, but comfortable enough for sleeping purposes and, given that he and Spock were alone, it was just about possible to use the third cabin to eat or work away from the flight deck, to allow for a break in proximity or simply in surroundings.

He wondered, a little, where the name had come from, and whether HQ knew that Polaris was a double star.

Spock said,

“Marillus also appears to have been in contact with Commander Colton until immediately before contact with HQ was lost.  This indicates that he will have the most recent information as to relevant developments.”

Kirk regarded the monitor in front of him without enthusiasm.

“It’s a hell of a long way to go with a lead as slim as that.”

“Starfleet is naturally anxious that an instance of unlawful personnel deployment in contravention of intergalactic treaty provisions should escape detection by the Romulan authorities.”

“It’s a needle in a haystack.”

Spock lifted an eyebrow and turned to adjust some controls, and Kirk’s heart sank.  The metaphor had been a deliberate bait, and Spock, the old familiar companion of a thousand shuttle flights, had evaded capture.  Before Genesis, the Vulcan would have said Sir, the Romulan contact is not a sewing implement and the Romulan homeworld is not a construct of dried grass and he himself would have rolled his eyes and said Come on, Spock.  You know all about needles.  They are what camels pass through when the wealthy get stuck half way, right? and Spock would have said Your introduction of a metaphor developed in mainstream Earth religious scripture is interesting but not, if you will forgive me, Captain, entirely germane to the conversation, and he would have said You know what, Spock?  Everything’s germane when you’re stuck on a shuttlecraft for six weeks without a decent drink, and Spock would have said Vulcans do not- and Kirk would have cut him off and said It’s your move, Spock.  Checkmate in five, and Spock would have failed entirely to conceal a mixture of amusement and dismay and would have pretended that his rapid re-assessment of the chess board was in reality an abstract review of biblical metaphors.

Kirk had not, so far, introduced the subject of chess.  Not on this journey across so many unknowns. 

It had been chess, after all, which had got him into this.  He had, on occasion, over the years, occasionally found himself wondering in a moment of whimsy what his life would have been like had Amanda not taught her son this quintessentially human game.  Or had he himself grown up with a preference for cards, as Sam had.  It was over black kings and white bishops that he had first, very tentatively, reached out to his First, and over a white knight holding a black king in check that he had first begun to understand how to plot the moves of Vulcan facial expression.

He looked now at Spock’s slightly averted face, as the Vulcan studied the readings on the navigation panel and felt a wash of fond nostalgia, regardless of circumstance and of his friend’s current capacity to respond - thought affectionately, You play a very irritating game of chess, Mr Spock.  And it was only in the instant of Spock turning, eyebrow on the climb, that he realised he had spoken aloud.

Kirk-like, he regained the ground immediately, thought to himself – Use it.

Spock said,

“Are you making a general reference, Captain, or are you deliberately quoting comments you have made to me in the past?”

He frowned slightly, thinking this over, and asked, curiously, venturing for the first time, very gingerly, into the place they had not yet stepped, not since Mount Seleya,

“Do you remember me doing so?”

Spock said, “In fact, you have used that expression to me on a number of different occasions, the first of which was Stardate 1312.4, seven point two light days from Delta Vega.”

Kirk caught his breath.  Gary.  A pair of silver eyes.  Pray that you die easily…  Spock was right, that was when it had all began.  Chess had started just before Delta Vega, and Gary had died and he’d promoted Spock without hesitation, and that was inextricably bound up in a Vulcan face bent over an illogical risk to a black queen.

“And you remember that, verbatim?  Spock – do you remember everything?  And if you do – how?”

It was a challenge.  Let me in, Spock, he thought, watching the closed face.  And then the Vulcan said, very levelly,

“After the fal-tor-pan, I was given assistance by the Masters to retrieve full mnemonic functionality.  I am, as you know, the sole living subject of the fal-tor-pan but the techniques involved have been handed down to students at Gol and, in every generation, the most able have been taught the ancient disciplines in order that support could be given in the eventuality of the need arising.”

Kirk ignored his reaction to the word Gol, like a light blow landing on a long healed scar which covers a wound which was never properly cleansed in the first place.  “Lucky for you that they had the foresight,” he said, feelingly.  “Lucky for me, too.”  Spock showed no reaction to the offering implicit in the second half of this remark, and Kirk continued, regardless, “So what do they involve, exactly, these techniques?”

On the Bounty, heading (had they then known it) to a park in twentieth century San Francisco, Spock had said to McCoy in response to a similar question It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame of reference.  This time, he spoke in a manner both more robust and at the same time less dismissive, as though he were granting Kirk, at least, the right to ask the question, but also allowing him the credit to be able to appreciate that true understanding was beyond his reach.

“Captain, I appreciate your interest in my well-being, but the request is illogical since experiential cognizance is impossible.”

But it was the first, small window which had opened, and Kirk pressed on with two simple words,

“Try me.”

Spock regarded him and appeared to reach an inner decision.  “Essentially, during the process of the transfer of the katra, the conscious link is suspended between the fact of memory and the ability to interpret and access empirical sensation.”

“Meaning,” Kirk ventured, “that the memory itself isn’t lost but it’s subconscious.”

Spock adjusted some controls on the panel and turned fully to face Kirk, as though resigning himself to the conversation.

“In the human race,” he said carefully, “most memory is subconscious, because your species does not have eidetic recall.  There are doubtless incidents in your own childhood, Captain, of which you are now entirely oblivious, yet if your mother were to describe them to you, you might well recall them on an empirical basis, by which I mean that you would remember, at least perhaps partially, the perspective of experience, as opposed to receiving and processing the relevant information from a witness.  There are other incidents from the past, the memory of which humans will never recover without a different type of assistance, the nature of which is beyond the capacity of members of a non-telepathic species, where memories remain inaccessible even with the prompting of a witness.  With that prompting, you would be able to learn that they took place and describe them to third parties, but you would still lack experiential, personal memory.”

Kirk nodded.

“And this is what happened when your katra was being held by McCoy – it meant he couldn’t really access who you were, despite the mind-meld.”

“That is, essentially, correct.”

“But he did – I mean, there were times…” Kirk’s voice tailed away.  He was in Spock’s quarters, that nightmare day they came back from Genesis; “Take me home, Jim”; McCoy a dead weight in his arms. 

Spock would clearly rather be calculating warp speed formulae than having this conversation.  He said, in the tone of one conjugating irregular verbs,

“In an instance of particular requirements or acute awareness, it appears possible to access critical mnemonic data or experience.”

When I really needed to reach you, I managed, somehow.

Kirk, caught between a certain acute awareness of his own and an ancient irresistible amusement, bit back a grin at Spock’s so obvious reluctance to venture on this particular conversational pathway.  But he might never have this chance again, out in the boundless quiet of space, less than a metre apart from each other, on their own particular journey, and he couldn’t afford to let the Vulcan off the hook.

“And you’re telling me that after the fal-tor-pan, that barrier was removed.”

“That is incorrect, Captain.”

Kirk let the words into his brain for several seconds before he reacted.

Incorrect?  Are you serious?  What are you saying, Spock?”

Spock steepled his fingers, another step back in time for his captain, and Kirk thought I guess that gesture crosses the mnemonic barrier but his attention was focused on what was to come.  Which was just as well, because he was braced for the truth.

“The experts at Gol who have studied the disciplines are able to reach into the mind, after the refusion, and access the memory in its entirety.  They are then able to provide access to the subject – in other words, to allow the subject to understand and re-learn what has passed.”

“Why,” Kirk asked, uncertain other than in the fact that he wouldn’t like the answer, “why is that different from what I said?”

“Captain, to understand the process it is necessary to revisit my analogy of childhood memory and the difference between experiential memory and didactic memory.”

Kirk turned and looked out of the main viewer, at the passing stars.  He remembered, suddenly, for no reason, the transformation of the Mutara Nebula when the Genesis device had been activated – one minute rainbow streams of swirling cloud, the next minute the black clarity of deep space, the familiarity of the constellations and the birth of a new planet.  He swallowed.

“You are telling me that the students at Gol accessed the memories of your entire life and re-taught them to you?”

“Essentially, yes.  I was not under the impression, Captain,” Spock added, sounding, to Kirk’s ear, for the first time, as though he understood, at least in part, the direction and bearing of the conversation, as though it mattered, as though it had any relevance to him, “that you were dissatisfied with the proficiency of that teaching.”

“No,” he said, “no, Spock.  Not dissatisfied.”  He smiled, briefly, and ran a hand over his face.  “Just going to check the readings on the power supply” and he got up and went to the back of the craft.  Spock would know it was a guise for privacy, but he didn’t care, he desperately needed space to process what he had just heard.  The fact that he now understood, that the distances of the past weeks were clear, that he had been right – all his instincts about Spock proved, once again, unerring – all this was of no comfort at all.  The Vulcan was here, physically unharmed, his future restored to him – a gift beyond what Kirk would have dreamed possible when he was looking at Spock’s burned face and blind farewell through a glass barrier in the engineering room of the ship he had now lost. But the future wasn’t the same as the past.  Kirk was very far from sure that the ancient expertise of the teachers of Gol made up for the fact that, to all intents and purposes, Spock had not manned the bridge with him for the historic five year mission of the Enterprise, had not stood with him in the basement of a twentieth century New York mission, had not wandered the tunnels of Janus VI.  He could probably quote every line he’d ever spoken, faultlessly, but he had not been there.  He had been taught his life.  He had not lived it.

What did that mean for this mission, for the ship?  What did it mean for Kirk?

Kirk found himself, after an astonishing turn of events, restored to what he had wanted most in the Universe, what he had lost and had seemed most inaccessible – his ship, Spock by his side.  But it was not the Enterprise of the past.  This was not the ship which had borne him to the Neutral Zone and back, been shelter from a thousand hostile forces, been flesh of his flesh.  She bore the same name and she beckoned him to believe in that promise, but he’d already discovered that she had more than a few loose nuts and bolts.  And now Spock.  What else, beside his first ship, lay dead on Genesis?  What did it mean, if you had to be re-taught by the Vulcan Masters everything you’d ever done – what did it mean for the remembered touch of mind on mind, the absolute knowledge of another being – for I have been and always shall be…?

Standing by the power console, figures flashing, eyes unseeing, Kirk remembered, suddenly and keenly, that he was older than the young starship captain who had once been invested with the five year mission.  That he had had precisely four days of shore leave since the Council hearing, that before that there had been the whales, Vulcan, Genesis, David – no respite.  He was so tired.  And now – this.

Behind him, Spock said,

“On Stardate 1312.4, immediately after your comment on my chess game, I suggested to you that irritation was a human emotion and therefore not one within my range of experience.”

Kirk turned and stared.  Was this Vulcan reassurance?  Was it an offer to learn, to re-visit – what had Spock called it? – experiential memory?  Was it both?  Either way, no way was he letting it pass.

“That’s only what you said, Spock.  It wasn’t what you meant.”

Spock lifted an eyebrow.

“Neither of us, Captain, is perfectly placed to know what I meant.”

Kirk let a smile develop.

“An interesting suggestion, First Officer.  I know exactly what you meant because I (not you, according to your own argument) – I’m the one who spent five years in rather close proximity to you.  I know damn well you experience irritation and what you really meant was that you were pleased I was losing the game.”  And had the satisfaction of seeing Spock actually listen, take this in, consider whether it might actually be true and if so, what inferences could be drawn – and the equal satisfaction of seeing him come back for battle, as Kirk had seen him do a thousand times before.

“It is at least possible,” Spock countered, “that if we revisited our combined memories of that period of time from this perspective that you might have to admit the occasional error in your own perspective, Captain.”

“Perhaps,” Kirk said.  “Perhaps I might.  That might be rather – illuminating.”  He was still smiling, aware of a rush of optimism which had washed him to a very different place from that moment of weariness in the back of the Polaris.  The journey might be a challenge, but he and Spock had faced worse. 

After all, he had six weeks.

And at that moment, the console beeped.  Kirk looked up sharply.  Spock said,

“We are still in Federation space.”  He nodded and Spock opened the channel and said,

Polaris here.”

Polaris, this is HQ,” said Bob Wesley’s voice.  “We’ve had a slight change of plan, gentlemen.”

Kirk’s eyes met Spock’s.  He was aware, of all contrary things, of an immediate disappointment.  Little as he wanted to take the Polaris to Romulus, he had just grasped the potential of time alone with Spock, the possibility of rediscovery – even of the chance to understand better, second time round, their own, personal two-man mission.  Even in that moment, he wondered if Spock understood, agreed even.  He wondered whether, if you lost your katra and then went through fal-tor-pan, and had your mind re-trained the Vulcan way and had to be taught that your former captain thought you played an irritating game of chess – he wondered if you could still, under those circumstances, access telepathic contact with a member of an alien species who had once been your closest friend.

“We’re sending you a ship mate.  He’s on the Columbia and will rendezvous with you this side of the Neutral Zone at 1330 hours.  I’m sending you through the coordinates now.”

“That,” said Kirk, “will make the journey decidedly cosy.  If anyone’s allowed to join the party, why did it have to be Spock and me in the first place?”

“We’re concerned about the possible situation on Romulus, Jim,” the communication console said.  “HQ have reason to suspect you may need medical back-up, and given the length of your service with McCoy, there’s no need for concern about your ability to make the trip without murdering each other.  Give the doctor my regards.  Wesley out.” 

 

 

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