“Well, isn’t this fun?” McCoy said, leaning back in his chair.
He’s going to say it, Kirk thought.
“Just like old times.”
He’s said it.
Why was it that both his senior officers were so predictable? McCoy was so stubbornly himself, and Spock so stubbornly someone else. It was as though they were doing it on purpose. Although, to be fair, it was hard to criticise McCoy, under the circumstances. Not for being himself, and not for realising that being stuck on the Polaris with someone who looked just like his First Officer, while a ship which bore his own ship’s name hung in orbit with doors which failed to open – that nothing about this was the slightest bit like old times.
Shortly after the rendezvous with the Columbia, Spock had requested time for meditation and Kirk had agreed, suggesting that he also took the opportunity to sleep, which they would have to do in shifts. He had a suspicion that, as they got further into Romulan space and their journey became more hazardous, he would hear more about the Vulcan capacity to manage without sleep, and he was determined that, at least at this stage of the mission, Spock was properly rested. He thought that the limited resources of the shuttle could best be managed by a rota, in any case.
He had every intention of continuing his conversation with Spock. McCoy was a doctor, not a Vulcan, and he was banking on the CMO’s very human need for sleep.
The blue Georgian eyes were missing little.
“So, Jim, how’s it going, second time around?”
“Second time around?” Kirk was genuinely puzzled.
“Not much different from the rapturous welcome he gave us after that brainwashing he bought into at Gol,” McCoy said, causing Kirk to shoot a rapid glance towards the back of the shuttle, the spec of the sound-proofing and his knowledge of Vulcan hearing equally at the forefront of his mind.
“Bones, for God’s sake...”
“Same disciplines, same cult, same old warped approach to life,” McCoy continued, without lowering his voice, entirely unperturbed. “That’s where he was being looked after, you know, after that refusion business on Seleya. Stands to reason, you’d get the same result. Oh, not that I’d trade, you understand. Better running around in a white robe talking to five decimal points than stuck inside my head, thank you very much. And if you swear not to let on, I’ll admit to preferring the quadratic equations he calls conversation to – well, to the alternative. But what are you going to do now, Jim, without VGer to shock him back to what Vulcans have the nerve to call normal?”
Kirk looked at McCoy and then back at the viewer.
“It’s not quite the same. He just needs time. It’ll come back to him.”
“That’s what you said on the ship.” McCoy’s eyes were suddenly very blue, focusing on his captain. “Jim – did you and he ever talk about Gol, anyway?”
Kirk said shortly, “He moved on, Bones, you saw it yourself.”
“You got something to say, doctor, this is as good a time as any. Till Spock comes out of meditation, it’s just you and me and the Neutral Zone.”
“That’s what worries me,” McCoy grumbled, “damn fool mission. Whose brilliant idea was it to start running spy rings in Romulus, who thought it was a good idea to get a few more people killed on top of whatever fiasco we’ll find when we get there, and what the hell happened to my shore leave?”
“That all you have to say?”
“No, actually,” McCoy’s tone changed, and he looked directly at his captain. “Don’t you think it’s time you and Spock started actually talking to each other, instead of you just hoping to God that half of what he says isn’t what he actually means? It’s an odd sort of basis for a friendship, if you ask me, let alone running a ship or even a shuttle, and frankly, unless and until he gets his head round what happened in Gol, he’s always going to get tugged back, when the going gets tough, like he is now, to being a high functioning library database.”
Kirk was silent. If you had asked him, he might have said that what made Spock Spock was the inherent contradiction of his two halves, that it wasn’t something you could label in a convenient box, that if you sorted it all out and added it all up and divided it by two, it wouldn’t capture the unique essence which was his First Officer. That sometimes, you managed very well on hoping to God that half of what he said wasn’t actually what he meant. On the other hand, this might just the journey he was planning to embark on with Spock. When McCoy was asleep, of course.
McCoy case another shrewd look at Kirk and said, “And since we’ve got a few minutes…” and started a rather long-winded description of his abortive plans for shore leave, which seemed to have involved the ship’s chief engineer, a trip to the Scottish Highlands and an improbable amount of alcohol. Kirk made a mental note to himself to ensure that Scotty was in a fit state to ensure that the Enterprise was in a fit state, and started to consider what he was actually going to say to Spock.
Some of the things he was not going to say passed through his mind.
“Spock, do you remember meeting me in sickbay after your pon farr?” Not a good place to start.
“Spock, can we talk about what you meant when you said that you felt ashamed when you felt friendship for me?” Perhaps later in the journey for that one, too.
“Spock, could I have stopped you going to Gol? Should I have stopped you going to Gol? Why did you go, really? And why did you leave? Do you remember?”
McCoy was right; they had never talked about it. How much more chance was there now, here on this shuttle, hurtling through Romulan space, undetectable by any Romulan eye, with an even more impenetrable cloak obscuring his friend?
He refocused his mind, caught a mention of “Romulan ale” and smiled slightly. Perhaps McCoy was right, after all – it was good to remember the things in life which didn’t change.
There was, of course, no question of any alcoholic souvenirs making the return journey on the Polaris.
Four and a half hours later, McCoy had retired to one of the cabins and given them the benefit of a not inconsiderable monologue on the subject of its inadequacies. Spock had looked to all intents and purposes as if McCoy were not, in fact, on the Polaris at all, and Kirk bit back a grin and edged a small distance back to old times. It seemed fair to assume that sleep had come, fifteen minutes after the last colourful epithet, and he turned to Spock, with an air of one who had decided what to say and who wanted to make the most of the time he had. Both of which would have been accurate descriptions.
“Spock,” he said, carefully, noting that the Vulcan had stilled, had clearly been expecting this, but having little energy to spare just then from making sure he got the words right, “Spock, let’s start with where we were. I said you played an irritating game of chess and you said I first made that comment just before Delta Vega.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow and nodded.
“Well, if your teachers at - at Mount Seleya” – his voice stuck at the word Gol – later for that – “have earned their stripes, then you’ll remember – well, everything. I’ll confess I don’t, verbatim, but I do remember talking to you in the Delta Vega control room. You were disagreeing with Liz Dehner’s prognosis. She thought Gary wouldn’t hurt us; you thought he would; I asked how you knew, when she didn’t. You said something, something like –“
“Because she feels. I don’t. All I know is logic. In my opinion, we’ll be lucky if we can repair this ship and get away in time.”
Kirk stared. Even if he hadn’t trusted absolutely in Spock’s assurances of perfect recall, he would have known that the line was word perfect. On the one hand, he was back there, standing in the planet’s control room, Spock with a rifle in his hand, himself resentful, torn between terror for Gary and the threat to his ship, unaccepting of Spock’s solution. On the other hand, they were words spoken in another man’s voice. He could see it, in Spock’s eyes – the very act of calling up the memory somehow meant he knew it wasn’t his. His determination faltered. But only momentarily. He was committed to this – was somehow convinced that it was the best thing for Spock, as well as for himself.
“Yes, that’s what you said. But it wasn’t true, was it?”
“Captain.” Spock spoke in a tone part warning, part a Vulcan version of frustration which almost raised a smile from Kirk. “This will be a futile exercise if you persist in approaching all past interactions with me from an anthropomorphic perspective. I am not Terran. I do not have human feelings. I said that I do not feel and that all I know is logic because that is the case.”
“Spock, this is an easy one. I know you didn’t mean it because you told me so. Afterwards. After Gary died, you told me that you felt for him. I remember it quite clearly. And so, presumably, do you.”
Spock was quiet for a minute. Then, as if making his captain an offer, he said,
“Captain, there are times when, if one lives with members of another species, it is necessary to adopt certain cultural and linguistic mores.”
“You’re not another species, Spock. You’re half human.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“My mother is human and I am of human descent. But my upbringing, my education, my home planet and my perspective are all Vulcan. Can you not accept that?”
Kirk wanted to say, “And the bullying, the rejection, the loneliness – also Vulcan?” but he didn’t. Instead, he feinted back.
“Then tell me about the adoption of certain cultural and linguistic mores.”
“I would argue that it is the responsibility of the alien, in any culturally mixed community or circumstance, to attempt a form of discourse where there is an approximation to a mutual philosophical framework.”
Kirk considered this.
“Define approximation, First Officer. If you said you felt for Gary and you now say that was not strictly accurate, what did you actually mean?”
Spock looked back at him, almost out of another man’s eyes, a look of kings in check and bishops in peril. Kirk stared back, willing there to be something more behind the eyes, looking for a distant movement of surrender. The Vulcan said, quite gently,
“I was able to appreciate the situation in which Lieutenant-Commander Mitchell found himself. I was able to understand the challenges he faced after the mutation took place and although my preference and inclination would be to believe that his choices would not have been mine, it was evident that his mental faculties were insufficient to resist. The fact of his different heritage was not a matter for blame.”
“In other words,” Kirk said, focusing on the face opposite him and not allowing Spock’s words to sweep him back to another loss, the remembered pain for another friend, “in other words, you felt for him.”
“That is not actually the case, sir,” Spock said, and Kirk thought, is the return to the language of command an emphasis on denial? Or a distancing, a signal of discomfort with the conversation? “You are associating the phrase with an emotional reaction. It is entirely possible to acquire an understanding and appreciation of beings and circumstances without the intrusion of sentiment, and in fact this is a common development for those living in extra-terrestrial communities. It is not necessary to rely on parallels to my own situation. Dr McCoy’s predilection for emotional reaction is a phenomenon familiar to us both. Yet Dr McCoy is capable of observing, understanding and analysing the behaviour of bacteria, animal and alien species without overtly sentimentalising the situation. It is, however, the case,” he added, “that this is not, unfortunately, invariably so with regard to the doctor, and another example might have been more apt. I apologise.”
The appalled realisation that Spock was likening his sympathy for Mitchell to McCoy’s observations on bacillus subtilis was tempered by the unexpected humour of Spock’s final interpolation, but even then, Kirk wondered, eyes searching Vulcan features for a sign, could the comment simply be intended to be taken at face value?
What made a person who they were, anyway? Once you took away memory, and then you taught a person what had happened to them and overlaid the experience with your own interpretation (that time the ship’s First Officer died, that would have been interesting to you in the same way that the ship’s CMO would have been fascinated by observing bacterial laboratory experiments) – who were you, really? Was there such a thing as the essence of a being? Kirk supposed he had always thought that he was the product of his experiences and his memories. Suppose he didn’t actually have any – suppose, in fact, he had someone else’s. Or someone else’s ideas of his own. Would he still be himself? Or someone completely different?
Playing for time, he said,
“Still as plotted, Captain,” Spock said, promptly. “ETA forty eight point three five standard days.”
Something about his train of thought prompted another mental picture. Would he still be himself? Or someone completely different? Green skin, a girl dancing.
“Spock. Do you remember Elba Two?”
“Certainly. The Enterprise made standard orbit there on stardate 5718.3, with a delivery of new medication for the treatment of the criminally insane. Our mission was ultimately successful.”
“On occasion, Mr Spock, you display an impressive economy of language,” he said drily. Garth of Izar, a deranged grin, Daniel Cory in the cells, the ultrasonic wave torture, the cruel and mindless explosion which wiped out Marta on the unhospitable surface of a pitiless mad planet. He brought himself back to the present, eyed his First Officer, who had survived a lot worse in the intervening time, and smiled slightly.
“Do you remember discussing Garth en route to Elba Two?”
“Indeed. You provided an enthusiastic commentary of significant length on his victory at Axanar, amongst other things. You referred to details of his life with which I had not previously been familiar.”
“True,” Kirk said, interested. “Does that mean your knowledge of Garth depends, now, on secondary learning from me on the Enterprise at the start of that particular mission? That the re-training on Mount Seleya involved teaching you what I had told you?”
“Oh?” Kirk was surprised. No point in letting his own feelings about Gol stop him from pushing Spock, from understanding better what exactly had happened on Mount Seleya. If Spock had memories other than those taught to him after the refusion, Kirk needed to be clear about that now. “So what have I got wrong?”
“My understanding of the events at Axanar and the military tactics deployed by Captain Garth derives in large part from a study I independently undertook after the events on Elba Two, Captain.”
Mind focused on his own tactics, on the best strategy to deploy in relation to their joint memories of the Elba Two mission, Kirk was entirely disconcerted. “After Elba Two? I never knew you did that. You didn’t tell me. Care to say why, Spock?”
There was a slight pause and Kirk looked up, enquiring, to see Spock clearly considering the reason for a number of evenings, now long passed, spent at the library computer in his quarters on the Enterprise. It was clearly important for Kirk to understand the rationale for his actions, and Spock, who was able quite clearly to remember one particularly long evening absorbing a number of scholarly texts on the subject of “Garth: The foundation of military tactics in the space age”, found himself uncertain both of what Kirk was asking for and what he, Spock, should say. Was the memory accurate? He could think of no reason to doubt it. He remembered learning about Garth’s upbringing, the early loss of his father, Garth’s youthful innovations in the avant-garde development of military partnerships with alien civilisations, but knew that Kirk’s question was nothing to do with these details and more about the reason for their very clear recording in Spock’s memory. Why had Spock become so absorbed in Garth’s childhood and, above all, in the former commander’s interest in alien life forms? And what, truly, was Kirk asking him now?
He looked at his captain and reached out, less methodically than usual, for a reply.
“Sir, you told that he was required reading at the Academy.”
“Yes,” Kirk said, not really understanding, “but by that token, you would have learned about him then. Not afterwards, on the Enterprise, after Elba Two. What made you look him up? We would have had some time, I guess, en route to the next mission, you were entitled, of course, but why – was it curiosity, after what happened, after meeting him?”
Because if it was, Kirk thought, there might be some mileage in asking Spock whether curiosity was an emotion, whether Vulcans were allowed to exhibit random interest in the histories of people they met around the galaxy.
But Spock had found the answer. He was unsure of its significance, he was unsure what to do with the memory, lying there quite clearly, somewhere between Axanar and the memory of Garth morphing into a facsimile of Kirk on the colony, but he knew, all the same, that it was the answer and in the spirit of the exercise being undertaken between them, he offered it to Kirk.
“In fact, you also gave some indication of the more immediately subjective significance of Captain Garth in terms of your own perspective, Captain.”
He must be getting old. He still didn’t understand. What was Spock trying to say? Only one way to find out.
“I’m sorry, Spock, you’ll have to do better than that. Firstly, I only speak Standard, and secondly, no one has recently re-taught me my life’s memories. What exactly did I say?”
And was completely unprepared for the reply.
“You said, sir, that he had been your hero.”
The two stared at each other. Kirk recovered swiftly, said casually, “Quite right,” and turned to pretend to check some readings on the console. He knew he was passing up on a highly promising opportunity, knew that his self-imposed mission demanded that he follow up the comment, probe Spock about the connection between that throwaway personal aside on the way into the asylum (oh yes, he remembered saying it, that slight feeling of exposure which came with letting down his guard, even in front of Spock) and the Vulcan reading up on Axanar, on a reputation for military strategy renowned the galaxy over and the road to Antos Four. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
He felt as though he’d been given a present from the past, as though Spock, his old, undamaged companion, had reached out from light years away and from half a lifetime ago to give him a piece of their life together he’d never known about at the time. He had told Spock that Garth had been his hero and this, apparently, had been sufficient for the Vulcan to go and study the man who had inspired Kirk, sent him out to space in the first place, been a role model for the person whom Spock himself had chosen to follow. What makes a Vulcan decide to study the life of a Starfleet legend, just because a clue is given that the legend in question holds a key to the emotional dynamic which is his own captain?
Kirk had a nasty feeling that if he pressed Spock now, he would be told that studying the career of a former Starfleet officer who had been influential in the progression of his own commanding officer was a logical step for any dutiful First Officer. Even if there were, instead, a chance for real progress, he preferred to keep the gift he’d just received, untarnished. What were the chances he might actually, some day, get Spock to admit what he’d just said?
He shook himself, slightly, and got back on track.
“Do you remember talking to Garth, at the asylum, about the ethos of the Federation? About the difference between military command and peaceful scientific exploration?”
“Indeed.” Spock sounded as though he were on safer ground. Just wait, thought Kirk, and then regretted the silent taunt, though not entirely. It was, after all, only an exaggerated version of the game he’d been playing with Spock ever since they’d first met. He felt better, suddenly. “Due to his illness, Captain Garth expressed difficulties in understanding the evolution undertaken by Starfleet into its current governance and objectives.”
“That’s right.” He took a breath, saw Spock’s posture alter suddenly, knew that he’d realised what was coming. “I talked about the dream of the early ‘Fleet pioneers. I said that dream made you and me brothers – that was the word I used. Garth challenged you on it and you agreed.”
“My observation at the time was that you spoke figuratively and with undue emotion.”
“Nothing new there, Commander. You always think I speak figuratively and with undue emotion. But you didn’t say that I was wrong. In fact, you agreed with me. I remember you doing so.”
“Captain – I am unsure of the purpose of this conversation. You spoke to Captain Garth of the common purpose which had motivated each of us in service, and I agreed.”
“More to it than that, Spock. In fact, so far as I can remember, Garth told you off – he said you were just my subordinate officer, that there was no place for speaking of a bond beyond that. You’re not going to tell me otherwise. Are you?”
Spock said, mildly,
“In that exchange, Captain Garth also offered me the command of a starship in his own fleet – a fleet, naturally, which had no foundation in reality. As you are aware, he was at the time detained under legislation for the protection of the criminally insane. Are his words relevant to any continuing dynamic or conversation, Captain?”
Hazel eyes met dark opaqueness. The window which had opened up with the unprecedented singularity of You said that he had been your hero was closed tight shut. Fair enough, Spock. Time for a strategic retreat, perhaps, in order for an advance, another day. Forty-eight point three five standard days left, after all. He wasn’t quite ready to let Spock off the hook for the day, though. If he were going to surrender on the question of whether the two of them were brothers, there would be a trade-off or he would go down fighting. Something less edgy. He smiled to himself.
“I’ve got some reading to do on Marillus, Commander, so I’ll give you a rest for a bit. Just one more question, though, before that. Sigma Iotia Two.”
“Stardate 4598.0,” Spock said, promptly, as if relieved to be on safer ground. “A society contaminated by premature contact with the USS Horizon.”
“Do you remember Bela Oxmys, Jojo Krako?”
“Of course. So you remember going to see Jojo Krako with me?”
“You utilised an antique vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.”
“I did, indeed,” Kirk sat back, satisfied. He had got where he wanted to be. “And you hated it. You hated it and you laughed at me.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“That is an unduly emotive description, if you will allow, sir. I admit to having described your handling of the vehicle in critical terms. It did appear, at the time, that you were less than expert. However, given the development of modern transport systems and the nature of your own career – indeed, given your prowess as a pilot before you entered command stream – there is no ignominy in this.”
“No doubt,” Kirk’s smile broadened. “That’s not really the point, though, is it?”
“Mr Spock, I have known you face with equanimity a range of alien beings whose physical powers, general appearance and aggressive hostility would have shattered the courage of lesser men. I have seen you overpowered by force, badly hurt and fighting to the last breath. I have also,” he swallowed, but kept going, “forgive me, viewed a recording of you walking fearlessly into the reactor room in the engineering room of the Enterprise in order to restore the mains engine manually because annihilation imminently threatened the ship and the crew and you saw no other solution but to expose yourself selflessly to an appallingly painful, lonely death.”
Spock gazed back at him, one eyebrow slightly raised, neither admitting nor challenging the accolades, waiting for what was coming.
“So – what was so damn scary about my driving, then?”
“I did not and have not described it in those terms, sir.”
“No? I think, if I remember, that I asked you if you were afraid of cars and you said no, that it was my driving which alarmed you.”
“I believe I indicated that walking would have been preferable. That was an eminently logical suggestion, Captain.”
“Perhaps, if you ignore issues of speed and if you’re prepared to admit to being a nervous passenger. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that you were enjoying telling me that I could do with some driving tuition.”
Spock gave him a level look.
“I think I can tell you exactly what you said,” Kirk said. For the first time in the conversation, he was sure of himself, relaxed in the memory. It occurred to him, then, that it was the equivalent of Spock’s confession about Garth. Before Genesis, Spock had never told him that he had spent hours studying Garth, just because Garth had been Kirk’s hero. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to construct a future out of the past. Because, before Genesis, he had never told Spock how much he had treasured that exchange in a cream-coloured sedan car on a bullet-sprayed street in Sigma Iotia Two. “You said I was an excellent starship commander but as a taxi driver I left much to be desired.”
He looked at Spock and smiled again, quietly.
“Mr Spock, we obey our commanding officers and where appropriate we may even adopt certain cultural and linguistic mores. Would you accept that commenting on my potential as a taxi driver falls into neither behavioural category?” He lifted a hand. “Don’t answer the question. It’s not fair and I don’t need an answer. I just need you to know that I know. And I want to tell you that it’s a good memory. One of my best. I’m glad you still have it, whatever it means to you, and that I got to tell you. That’s all.”
He bent to the monitor in front of him and punched up the report he had been looking for on the Romulan contact. After a while, however, he stole another look at Spock. The Vulcan was studying the readings from the console but he looked up and caught Kirk’s glance and then looked down again. He hadn’t commented on the Sigma Iotia Two memory, had neither agreed nor disagreed, but it didn’t take someone who had shared command with Spock over several galaxies and countless crises to know that the course heading would not be demanding the Vulcan’s full attention. If Spock had been given cause to think, that could only be a good thing. Kirk considered the gains of the day and was just about to chalk it up as a win (Delta Vega had been a resounding defeat but Sigma Iotia Two had been an advance and Elba Two better than a draw) when, almost as though he could hear the human’s thoughts (could he? Kirk wondered) Spock’s head came up again.
“Sir, I appreciate the intent behind these discussions and am fully prepared to continue, it being of clear benefit to me and apparently a welcome use of time from your own perspective. I do have two conditions, though.”
“Proceed,” Kirk said, curiously.
“Firstly, if this is making you uncomfortable in any way, I am content that the conversation should cease.”
“That works both ways, Commander. What was your other point?”
“I suggested before Dr McCoy came on board that the exercise of revisiting former episodes might assist each of us in understanding the other better. I hope that you are retaining this as an objective and not seeing an opportunity only to assist me in re-engaging with my own memories.”
“Would you care to be specific, Spock?”
Spock looked at him squarely.
“I believe that your own attitude to diversity tends to allow you too easily to impute human reactions to those from alien cultures, Captain. You are my commanding officer and it would be illogical not to benefit from your experience of me to understand better my own former interactions and development. However, your perspective is likely to be coloured by your own cultural norms. You might like to consider viewing the adoption of common cultural and linguistic mores as a positive, without prejudicing the integrity of either person’s heritage. That would seem to me a legitimate and appropriate objective.”
You may help me to be Spock, but I will still be Vulcan. Don’t assume you can unpick the past and wash the green blood out of every memory.
If I learn, you learn.
A hundred objections rose to Kirk’s lips and, because justice demanded he accepted Spock’s point, he quieted them.
“You have a deal, Commander. I’m going to wake McCoy.”