Disclaimer: ParaBorg owns 'em, I just spackle them. ParaBorg doesn't own the original content of this story.
For the history of the early Enterprise and her original crew, I have, ahem, appropriated some material from Diane Carey's The Final Frontier. Commander Shayla Ross, aka Number One, belongs to Debbie B, who made her real.
Special thanks to T'Thelaih, for fast beta-reading and scientific support.
Rating: PG, (pre)TOS, Pike, April, Spock
Summary: Just before his second trip to Talos IV, Commodore Pike remembers.
To Editrix, Rabblerser and Jungle Kitty, who wanted to know.
"Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. By God, you learn."
Chaos theory. The idea that a simple act can have larger---and seemingly unrelated---consequences. It's an idea I've come to think about, especially now, when all I can do is think. Oh, I forgot. I can blink the light, and beep too. Yes and no, but that's about it. No shades of gray, no hidden meanings are possible for me now.
"You'll like it here," they said when they brought me here, a month after the exposure to delta rays that should have killed me. What did they know? I couldn't ask for them to end my life. "Yes" and "no" don't leave much room for abstract conversation. "You'll be safe here." Safety, the one thing I never wanted as a captain, because it was always so deceptive. And then, the final statement. "We're leaving you on active duty, Commodore Pike." Active? The only thing I could actively do was blink that stupid light. Oh, and move…a little. Nothing complicated---just backwards, forwards, and side to side.
Fools, all of them. But I can't really blame them. They don't know what it's like to be walled-in like this. Trapped so the only sound you produce is the sound of your mechanical heart, beating. Walled-in, now there's a happy thought. Like the man in the Poe story, trapped in his basement….Stop it, Chris, the dreams you have are bad enough without thinking of things you can't change.
I spend a lot of my time thinking now. Phil Boyce would laugh at this, if he hadn't died a month before I should have. I was always telling him how I wished I had more time to think, instead of having to decide everything immediately. Klingons, Vegans---and Talosians too, if the truth be known---don't wait for calm contemplation. I did my best, but I wonder now if my best was even close to being good enough.
I should have stayed an engineer.
I don't know when it began, honestly. I'd always counted my real life as beginning the moment I left home for Starfleet. But no one's real life starts at eighteen. The basics, then: I was born on the Martian colony, the youngest son of an engineer and his wife, a teacher. Seems simple enough, except that nothing ever really was. By the time I was old enough to run from him, my mother's numerous bruises had earned my father an all-expenses paid trip to the local rehabilitation facility on Io. But the freighter carrying him and the other prisoners exploded shortly after takeoff, leaving my mother a grateful widow.
I don't know why she never left him. It wasn't as though there were no options for her. But she stood there, cold and silent, the only emotion the blaze in her eyes. By the time my father met his unlamented end, my mother's lesson--and perhaps, my father's--- had been impressed upon me: never, by word or deed, allow your emotions free reign. It might have been a lesson she only taught me: I had two sisters, neither of whom had the misfortune to resemble our father.
I fled, as soon as it was feasible.
Time snowballs, eventually. I remember entering Starfleet Academy in the cool rain of Earth's fall just as clearly as I remember my graduation from there four years later. I remember scanning the faces of the crowd at commencement and seeing no one there for me, and no one who ever would be.
I had gone with a couple of my Academy roommates to the local pub after commencement and was walking back to the dorms alone when I saw him. An older man, wearing a ridiculous cardigan sweater that did nothing to hide the captain's bars on his sleeves. "I say," he said in a British accent, "would you mind helping me here?"
He was kneeling on the wet pavement outside Moira's Pub, looking composed despite his bruises. "What happened?" I asked, kneeling beside the older man.
"Couple of fellows took a liking to me, they did." I smiled at the inner meaning of his words. Though Earth was virtually crime-free now, there were always exceptions to the rule. This captain, whoever he was, had apparently encountered a few of those exceptions.
"They might have been a bit more gentle about it," I replied. "Can you walk?"
The older man shook his head. "Not easily, at least not now. Took a beating a couple of weeks ago and I need my cane to walk." I looked around the wet ground. No cane in sight.
"I can't see it, Captain," I told him. "Do you want me to call the police?"
He shook his head, silver hair streaked with orange in the light of the streetlamps. "No, indeed, just take me to my wife." He smiled impishly, suddenly looking years younger than his actual age. "She's a doctor, you know."
I paid the fee for the autocab and stayed with the captain until we reached his apartment. His wife, some fifteen years younger than he, rushed out to meet him. "Robert, my god, what happened to you?"
"Nothing, m'dear, just had an encounter with a couple of thugs." He took in her anxious face. "Come now, Sarah, let's not dwell on this. I think my friend here would like a cup of tea."
Sarah raised her eyebrows. "'Nothing' he says. As if the Calani weren't enough---"
The Calani. I knew about them, everyone did. On a diplomatic mission, the Enterprise had been attacked by a squadron of Calani fighters. They had clearly expected the ship would be an easy mark, for its captain was no military man but an ambassador with captain's bars. Instead, the captain had fought back with a ferociousness that surprised everyone, defeating the Calani at nearly the cost of his own life. "You're Robert April?" I asked, stunned. The man was nearly a legend.
Captain April smiled. "Come now, Ensign, I pull my shirt on the same way you do." He looked suddenly serious. "And I don't want you calling the police, you hear?"
I opened my mouth to protest, but his wife beat me to it. "Robert, of all the insane ideas you've had, this is by far the worst. You could have been killed!"
He turned to her. "Sarah, I wasn't killed. And I don't want to get the police involved in what is really a very simple matter. I'm safe, the thugs have nothing besides a few credit chits and a couple of pass-codes for places I haven't lived at for ten years. It's not worth it."
The captain turned his attention back to me. "Now, my young friend, what's your name?"
"Ensign Christopher Pike, sir."
I didn't hear from him again for nearly five years. Oh, I heard of him: the new members of the Federation who had originally been deadly enemies of the Federation, the new discoveries made by that ship and her notoriously eccentric crew. With her keel barely six years flown, the Enterprise---and her unconventional captain---were already legend. She was an experiment, an exploration ship with phasers, and based on the unprecedented success of that ship, more ships in her Constitution class now explored space for the Federation.
I spent the five years doing what any Starfleet officer must. I served on any number of vessels, first as an engineer's mate, then as an engineer, and finally as chief of engineering. I had discovered, much to my own dismay, that I had a talent for it. and now, five years after graduation, was coming to love what I did.
I was aboard the Yorktown, perusing the new plans for the refit of that venerable---and solid---ship when the message came. "Captain April calling," the coms officer said. "He wants to speak to you."
I blinked. "Put him on, Lieutenant."
Captain April hadn't changed much in the five years since I'd seen him last. He was still wearing the cardigan sweater---and the pleasant, calm persona of an Oxford professor. "Greetings, Lieutenant, it's good to see you again."
His charm was, as usual, utterly disarming. "Thank you sir, I can say much the same."
I waited for him to get to the point, which he did. "Lieutenant, the Enterprise is in need of a Chief Engineer. Care to come aboard?"
I didn't find out, until some years later, exactly what had been behind that simple request. Fully half of the Enterprise's maverick crew was composed mainly of officers like April, civilians with a temporary---and purely honorary---military rank. Though they had acted with extreme competence, the fact remained that the "great experiment" was under the partial control of people who had no real ties to the military. Starfleet saw only too clearly that phasers and photon torpedoes made the Enterprise a military ship, and a military ship needed military personnel.
It didn't take me long to decide. Crew rotations were coming up in a couple of weeks, and it was as good a time as any to transfer.
From my first weeks aboard ship, I came to learn just how much innovation there had been. Captain April had encouraged everyone---from the lowliest ensign to the civilian contractors---to feel free to innovate. The result was a ship that ran smoother and faster than any of the other ships I'd served on. It also made for a ship that, in most cases, didn’t match the blueprints.
I spent much of those first few months aboard the Enterprise drafting a set of blueprints unique to this ship. I talked to the innovators, and found out what they had done and why. With Captain April's encouragement, I sent these innovations to the shipwrights I'd known at Starfleet Engineering. Though they were astonished to learn how far the crew of the Enterprise had advanced past the original drawings, they were excited to see the advances in the library computers, targeting systems and even such small things as the food replicators. Eccentric this crew might have been, but they knew what they were doing.
"She's a good ship," I said to Captain April one night in the observatory.
The captain smiled. "She is. But she'll be a good ship for someone else in a couple of years."
He shrugged. "Starfleet's assuming control of the Exploration Division. Effective immediately, all non-military personnel are to be gradually phased out of all exploration ships. When the crew rotates out, they are to be replaced by military personnel only." His gaze returned to the stars outside. "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't expected it."
I recalled what I'd heard through the rumor mill. The Enterprise was going to be sent on a five-year mission into unexplored spaces, not into previously surveyed areas that had already been seen by other ships. But still, it must be hard for her first captain to face the fact that he, too, was considered disposable. "What will you do?"
The captain stuffed his hands into the pockets of that ridiculous cardigan. "Go on," he said simply. "This job will eat you up if you let it, and I'm not fool enough to think that someone else couldn't do it better."
Acting with atypical efficiency, the military conversion of the Enterprise was completed well within the two-year time frame. The first officer was the first one to rotate out, two months after the notice. April turned to me and said, "You've been in Engineering, you know this ship better than anyone, including a good portion of the people who built her. If you want the position, the job's yours." He smiled and held out his hand. "I need you, Chris. Will you do this?"
The two years I spent as first officer trained me in a way that all the classes and all the simulators couldn't. I saw what it actually meant to be a captain: the way April demanded nothing of his crewmates that he wouldn't do himself, the way his easy rapport with every crewman masked a deep understanding of what it took to motivate the crew to keep going even when the odds were stacked against them, the loyalty of an eccentric crew towards their captain. I saw other things as well: the stark lines in the captain's face when a crewmember died, the way his energy faded with every new crisis that had no easy answers.
I should have known something was afoot when he came to my cabin late one evening with a bottle of Romulan ale and two glasses. "Am I disturbing you, Chris?"
In all the years of my life, he was the only one to ever call me that. "No," I said. "Come on in, Captain."
He smiled. "It's Robert." That alone should have warned me. Though he was never one to insist on titles, neither did he correct anyone when a title was used. I watched as Robert poured two glasses and held one out to me. I took it, more than a little curious about what was going on.
Robert smiled, sensing in his usual way my confusion. "It's captains' drinks, Captain."
I managed to swallow the ale before I choked on it. "What?" I couldn't have heard that right.
"I'm resigning as captain, Chris. I'm too old to do this anymore, to watch young people die because some bloody fool at Starfleet Command didn't read his survey reports."
"What happened with the V'jrelk wasn't your fault, Cap---Robert." Even as I said the words, I knew they were useless. The dead crewmen were just as dead, and nothing I could say or do would ever change that. And the ones who'd survived the initial attack were now in vegetative states in Sickbay, their minds wiped from them. And the doctors called that survival….
April took a small sip of his drink. "Everything that happens on a ship is ultimately the captain's responsibility, Chris. We lost fifteen good people because no one at Starfleet thought to wonder whether the V'jrelk's insistence on being the Chosen Ones might be the spark for a religious uprising. The survey teams told Starfleet the situation was volatile and no one listened." His voice became bitterly sarcastic, something I'd never heard from him. He continued, "We're here for glory and dilithium, don't you know? And it doesn't matter how many people have to die in the process."
I looked closely at him, wondering if the potent Romulan ale had made him drunk. I'd never heard him say anything like this. April laughed, a sound with very little humor to it. "I'm not drunk, Chris. Just an old man who's tired of waste and death and seeing the young old before their time." Carefully, he set the nearly full glass of ale on the table. "We all get to the point, Chris, where we wonder if it's worth it. I have, and I've decided it isn't." He took a deep breath. "But I can't leave the captaincy without finding someone who can do the job. If I don't make a recommendation, Starfleet will put some young phaser-toting hotshot in the seat who's never commanded anything more impressive than a freighter, and then everything we've learned will go for naught."
I heard the slow death of idealism in his voice, and it hurt. The captain had fought all these years to maintain the spirit of peaceful exploration in the midst of an expanding military, and now, he was very nearly the last of the original crew left. "I see," I said.
His eyes, green and direct, stared at me. "Do you? It's an uphill fight everyday, Chris, and there's often no one to tell you you're doing it right. You have to know it, for the sake of your crew."
I nodded, but I didn't understand.
I do now.
Gods, they were young, my first crew. Most of them were right out of the Academy, or near enough to it that it made me feel unexpectedly old. I had only graduated seven years before…was I ever that young? That certain of what I did? "Yes, sir. No, sir. Starfleet Regulations, sir." It was weeks before I could break the younger ones of the habit of saluting when I came on the bridge.
I also got some experienced officers as well, men and women who'd leaped at the chance to join the Enterprise once the slots had opened up. My First Officer, Shayla Ross, was extremely competent---even if she insisted on being referred to by the military slang for her position. "It's what I am on this ship," she added by way of explanation. "I'm your Number One." Remembering Captain April's cardigan sweater, I shrugged it off as a harmless quirk. And at a time when few women had achieved the rank of commander, I could understand her desire to reinforce the fact that she was an officer.
I didn't find out about the identity of our science officer until I saw Dr Boyce uploading medical texts on Vulcanians. Or Vulcans, depending on who you asked. Boyce had teamed with Sarah April on more than one occasion, and their partnership had produced much of the medical equipment now installed in Sickbay. "We're getting a Vulcanian onboard?" I asked.
Boyce rolled his eyes. "No, Captain, I'm uploading this because I have nothing better to do with my time. Of course we're getting a Vulcan. Haven't you read your transfer lists yet?"
I blew out my breath. Boyce was a doctor in the Starfleet Medical Corps who had chosen, at the last minute, to delay his retirement for a few more months. If he often bordered on insubordination, I couldn't argue with the man's skill. "Beware of the officer who always agrees with you," Captain April had said on more than one occasion. Boyce's prickly honesty certainly didn't fit the description. "They haven't been uploaded yet to my terminal," I replied, making a mental note to speak with the comms officer. I should have received the latest list at the same time as the doctor.
"Hmph," Boyce said. "Well, we are getting a Vulcan, a half-Vulcan if I read his records right. Name of Spock."
"Half-Vulcan?" I asked. Vulcans themselves were rare enough in Starfleet, but a half-Vulcan….
Boyce grunted again. "Mother's human. He's supposed to be arriving this afternoon, and I need to get him in here right after you finish your pep talk."
I looked at the doctor, and started laughing. "It isn't a pep talk, Boyce."
The doctor's wrinkled face crinkled in amusement. "Right, sure it isn't. I've heard it, did you ever do any adverts for Starfleet Recruitment?" He glanced at me where I sat on the biobed. "Get out of here, Captain. You're cluttering my sickbay."
It was said in mock irritation, and I couldn't help but smile as I saluted. "Yes, sir, Doctor Boyce sir."
The first thing any captain learns is to be honest with himself---or herself. There are female captains now, aren't there? I've forgotten, but I guess surviving delta rays is excuse enough for my lapse of memory. If you call this surviving.
The truth then, not that there's anyone to know or care. I don't suppose there's a single captain who likes mysteries, not in deep space where the unknown can kill. But not a month after the transfer of my Vulcan science officer, I had a mystery on my hands. And it had nothing to do with some vanished alien race, or a plague or any other of the known hazards of deep space. This one had to do with the Vulcan enigma who worked on my bridge.
I'd read Spock's personnel file of course, but there wasn't much in it. All records prior to his entrance into Starfleet Academy were sealed under privacy acts so restrictive that it would have taken the permission of the Judge Advocate General to unseal them. Spock had listed no clan name, no affiliation, only the bare biological facts necessary to the doctors at the Academy. His school records had been appended to the application, but even they had been redacted to reveal nothing of who his family was. It was as if his whole life had begun after he entered Starfleet.
I could relate.
I also began to suspect in some unnamed way that he was far too young to be out here. I don't mean in purely chronological terms. In terms of Standard years, he was twenty-two the first time he set foot on my ship. But for a Vulcan, that was still in adolescence. Spock had the makings of a fine officer, but he was jumpy as hell, and his emotional control wasn't nearly as solid as those of the other Vulcans I'd known. In short, for his own race, he was almost a child. What could drive a Vulcan, of all beings, to sever ties with his family and live on a ship full of illogical humans?
I soon found out, though in not quite the way I'd thought I would. Spock reported for his duty shift one afternoon both ten minutes late and greener than usual. This was unusual behavior for him; two months aboard ship, and barely one month after his promotion to lieutenant, he had already established a reputation for being almost irritatingly punctual. I walked up to him, and he raised one eyebrow, obviously startled. "Captain?"
"You're late, Mr Spock," I said quietly. "Any particular reason?"
"It's nothing, sir."
But there was something, a tightening around his eyes, that spoke of much he wasn't saying. Still, I didn't press. I already knew Spock was possessed of more than the usual amount of stubbornness; he would not have made it throught the Academy had it been otherwise."I accept your explanation, Lieutenant. However, if you feel the need to discuss this----"
Spock nodded, curtly. "There is no need, Captain."
I watched and waited. "If that is all, sir?" he asked softly.
I nodded. "For now, Lieutenant."
As it turned out, Spock didn't get the chance to tell me what was wrong. That was Boyce's doing, Boyce's and Number One's. The next day, the doctor called me from Sickbay. "Captain, you need to come down here now."
I glanced at the navigator. "Lieutenant, you have the conn."
I looked at the pale, still form on the bed. "What happened?"
The doctor and Number One exchanged glances. "We were eating in the Mess when Spock turned pale and started having problems breathing."
Boyce spoke, never taking his eyes off the readouts above the biobed. "What our science officer has, Captain, is the Vulcan version of anaphylactic shock." He made a notation on the padd and turned to look at me. The anger in his eyes was quite plain to see. "Caused by a severe allergic reaction to a chemical his dietary card should have prevented him from eating."
I heard what Boyce wasn't saying: that this hadn't been an accident. I stiffened. "Explain."
The doctor sat down at his desk. "Well, he has an allergy to a common Vulcan food additive called kelasti."
"Go on," I said.
Boyce snorted. "He ate something with kelasti in it today." He picked up a thin card, what I recognized as a dietary card, used on the ship for crewmembers with nutritional deficiencies or special dietary needs. "I used this to order what he had for lunch today." Boyce's mouth thinned in disgust. "It was contaminated with kelasti, not enough so he'd be able to taste it, but enough to induce the reaction. He's lucky to be here at all."
I looked at Number One. "Do you have any idea who might be behind it?"
She shrugged. "Well, it would have to be someone with a working knowledge of the food processing systems, someone who could easily bypass the safeguards and who knew enough about computers to hack into the medical records and the dietary computers. And someone who had advanced chemistry background."
I breathed out. "That doesn't exclude many people." It was an understatement; on an exploration ship, there was no shortage of computer experts, scientists, and engineers. Any one of them could have done it. But only one---or possibly two---actually had.
Number One looked across the biobed at me. "Pardon the expression, but the logical place to begin would be the people Spock bunks with. Lieutenants Fred Mizzi and Peter Hack." I tilted my head in question. I wasn't surprised that she knew who Spock roomed with---Shayla was, as I've mentioned before, extremely competent. But as far as I knew, there had been no incidents among the three men since Spock had come aboard.
I saw her reasoning, though: his roommates would be the ones most likely to know or surmise Spock's allergy. They lived with each other, practically in each other's pockets. And in such settings, how much would it have taken for one of them to have swiped Spock's dietary card and decode the information on it? "What specialties are they in?"
"I know one of them is in the Science Division," Boyce put in. "Fred Mizzi works in our labs sometimes. Pretty decent chemist. Quiet fellow."
"And the other?" I asked.
Number One chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully. "I believe Lieutenant Hack is in Engineering." She looked directly at me. "It wouldn’t take much for them to have done it, assuming they did. Permission to question them?"
I nodded. "Permission granted, Number One."
It's one thing, of course, to insist that there will be no prejudice, no xenophobia, and quite another thing to ensure that it happens. Mizzi and Hack were indeed responsible for the kelasti incident, and under Number One's distinctly unsympathetic interrogation, they admitted it was "a lesson to that uppity Vulcan." Mizzi had had a longer time in grade than Spock, and although he was, as Boyce had said, a fair chemist, he was not so adept at the other specialites in the Science Department. So when the time had come for bridge rotation, Spock had been chosen instead of Mizzi. Mizzi's antagonism towards Spock quickly escalated into outright racism when Peter Hack mentioned his own feelings about Vulcans in general and Spock in particular. It was also, as I found out, not the first time they'd hazed Spock. Yet Spock had not felt he could tell me---or anyone---about it.
I spoke to Spock, shortly after the court-martial. "Lieutenant, could I have a word with you?"
The briefing room was empty, the prisoners had been escorted out, and the recorders were silent. "What did you wish to say, Captain?"
Spock's demeanor was Vulcan proper, more impassive than usual and not a little formidable. I came to stand just in front of him. "You heard their testimony."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "I was in the room, Captain."
"Why didn't you tell anyone, Spock?" Damn, this wasn't going at all the way I'd hoped. Here I was, trying to reach out emotionally to one of my crew, to tell him that if he had spoken he would have been believed, when his very lack of expression indicated all conversation on the subject was unwelcome.
Spock folded his hands behind his back and spoke to a point on the wall behind us. "Hazing is a human military tradition, sir."
It wasn't a question. At the Academy…well, I knew he was right about that. It was allowed, but within certain limits."Not aboard this ship, it isn't."
He raised one eyebrow. "Apparently, your observation is in error," he replied dryly. "But I ask you to consider a paradigm, Captain. There are choices any person must make to survive in an alien environment."
I heard the unspoken words: to speak out is to be marked as different. For one of the few Vulcans in the Fleet, for the only alien on a human starship, being any more different wasn't desirable. I remembered his odd behavior on the bridge the day before the kelasti incident. I had asked him to tell me what had happened, but I hadn't considered all the reasons he might have had to keep silent.
I came to stand in front of him so that he had to meet my eyes. "Lieutenant, I ask you to consider another paradigm. There is no logic in remaining silent at the risk of your health. If further incidents should occur, you will report them. Is that clear?"
Apparently, what I said got through the layers of Vulcan propriety. Spock nodded, suddenly seeming as young as I knew he had to be. I might never know what had brought him out here, but he was on my ship now. Everything that happens on the ship is ultimately the captain's responsibility, Robert April had said.
I knew he wasn't wrong.
And that's how it began. Back then, I couldn't have begun to explain to myself exactly why I found that Vulcan lieutenant so interesting. But now…well, like I said, I have a lot of time to think.
Spock and I were alike, you see. If he was confused about the emotions of his crewmates and their interactions…well, I had my share of that confusion too. Starfleet trained us to be soldiers and explorers. But neither Spock nor I had much skill in personal interactions, though at least he had his Vulcan heritage as an excuse. Robert April had had the knack; he'd known every crewmember's background, their families and their dreams. A year into my captaincy of the Enterprise, I was doing good to know more than their names. I cared for them, hurt for them and their families when they were lost on one landing party or another, but I wondered if it was even good enough. I tried, though. Maybe that's the only excuse I have now. I tried.
If this was a different universe, or at least a kinder one, I might say that the job of being a captain got easier. But when a mechanical heart is the only thing between you and Eternity…truth tends to take on a different meaning. The truth, then: I should have stayed an engineer.
I can be honest now. There's no one to say that I'm wrong. Being a captain was far harder than I ever realized. It's a terrible burden, knowing that you can order men into death, that you have the power to destroy worlds, whole civilizations, and to also know that you're the one who's supposed to have all the answers. The crew follows because you're the Captain…but oh, the consequences if the answers aren't right. I remember how hard Captain April fought Starfleet over its handling of the V'jrelk incident, and now I understood why he left. I, too, was weary of seeing death and the young old before their time.
Philip Boyce sensed some of it. But there's a danger when your best friend is the bartender…and your ship's CMO. Boyce could have removed me from command, and although it was a job I no longer relished, I couldn't abandon it either. So I couldn't tell him about the nights I didn't sleep after one skirmish or another, the nights where I kept seeing the faces of the dead and dying. No, I couldn't tell him anything.
Then came the Talosians. And they knew, far more than I'd ever admitted to myself.
I didn't describe the illusions in detail when I made the report that made Talos off-limits. How could there be words enough for any experience like that? I'd seen myself as an Orion slaver, and it had been real. Too frighteningly real. With the powers they had, they could have lured the ship into the atmosphere, lowered the anti-matter containment grid, and we wouldn't have known the difference.
Phil Boyce came to my cabin the night we returned from Talos IV. I couldn't sleep, which wasn't surprising, but I also couldn't keep quiet. I told him everything, even what I'd omitted from the official report. He was silent for a long time after I'd finished. Then he looked at me over the edge of the martini glass. "Gods, Chris, what are you going to do now?"
I shrugged. "What people normally do in this situation. Go on."
He snorted into his martini. "I don't think 'normal' even applies. Be honest. They put you through the wringer, mentally and emotionally. They took desires that were meant to stay private and revealed them."
I closed my eyes, seeing Vina's face. And seeing also the faces of Yeoman Colt and Number One. Gods, all they'd been trying to do was rescue me---they hadn't deserved to have their private fantasies revealed, any more than I had. And Vina…could she be blamed for being so lonely? "Well, so what's your expert medical opinion?"
Boyce looked at the empty martini glass, and placed it back in its kit. "For this, I don't have one. Only that you should give yourself time to get over this. Get some rest, for once. Go look at the stars, do something other than be the captain." He paused and looked directly at me. "I'm putting you, Number One and Yeoman Colt on medical leave for the next forty-eight hours." His blue eyes bored into my own. "Don't even think of arguing. We're just doing a little harmless star-mapping, it's nothing Spock can't handle with both arms tied behind his back. Give yourself time to heal before you have to go through the formal debriefing."
I nodded, knowing he was right. But the next night, I still couldn't sleep. I walked down to the observation deck, and nearly bumped into Spock. "Oh, sorry," I said. He turned as if to leave. "You don't have to go, Lieutenant."
Spock looked at me and turned his gaze back to the stars. "I ask forgiveness, Captain."
"For what? You did nothing wrong." His only fault had been not having the answers, and well, I hadn't had them either.
His eyes, when he looked at me, should have been Vulcan-opaque. But they weren't: the shame in them was clear. "I am a telepath, Captain," he said softly. "I should have recognized that they were manipulating us all by telepathic means. Yet I did not."
"You can't blame yourself for that. The Talosians were manipulating you as well. Or are you going to tell me that you knew what was happening there, that the entrance to the cage was really destroyed?"
Spock shook his head. His next statement was spoken so softly that I wondered whether he even realized he'd said it. "A full Vulcan would have known."
I realized then at least some of what had brought him out here. He might have been the only alien on the Enterprise, but he was also an alien on Vulcan. I came to stand in front of him, just as I had after the court-martial of Mizzi and Hack. "Spock, the only thing I want from you on this ship is your very best effort. Maybe a full Vulcan would have seen what the Talosians were doing, but all I care about is what you did. You did everything you could. I can't ask for anything else."
When he looked at me this time, there was something in his eyes I hadn't seen before. The face of the self-assured officer I knew he would become.
Maybe my best was good enough too.
I'd known the message was going to come, eventually. Every captain knew it. After Garth's mutiny, Starfleet Command revised its policy of letting starship captains remain on their ships as long as they wanted. The new rules, created by a Starfleet reeling from the mutiny, were as explicit as they were controversial. A captain was now only going to be allowed to serve ten years on the same ship before being rotated to another ship or promoted. In either event, the ability of starship captains to choose their own staff was also severely circumscribed.
I was three years beyond the ten year limit. I'd dodged promotion a number of times, by dint of this crisis or that plague, but my time on the Enterprise was numbered. So when the message came, announcing my promotion to commodore, I knew I'd be soon be having captains' drinks with my successor. But when I saw him, fairly bustling with subdued energy, I was initially horrified. He was a child, this James Kirk. Only thirty, and now captain of the best ship in the fleet. "You're young," I said. Hardly the most diplomatic thing to say, but I didn't have much faith in diplomacy just then.
To his credit, the man didn't deny it, didn't try to justify all the reasons why he deserved the ship. And when I thought of all the other candidates he must have beaten to get this ship….it occurred to me that Nogura might have been right in his choice. Still, I had to make Kirk know just what it was he was getting when he took command of my ship. No, not my ship, not anymore. I set my glass of Vulcan brandy on a box. "I don't mean to be rude, but do you know what you have here, Captain? The best ship in the fleet. The best crew, bar none. A crew that'll follow you to hell and back."
Kirk looked at me then, and I saw he heard what I wasn't saying. He'd have to earn their trust, as I had. I told him also of where my bridge crew had gone. To a man, and a woman, they'd been denied permission to join my staff. Instead, they'd been tranferred to the far ends of the galaxy. Yet there was one officer I hadn't mentioned, but Kirk noticed the omission. "Is your science officer staying?"
I smiled slightly. "Spock? He's staying." I swallowed some of my drink.. "Only because I didn't tell him about the promotion in time for him to request a transfer."
Kirk's eyebrows rose. Good, he was intuitive enough to know that was out of character. "I'm not sure I understand," he said carefully.
I set my glass down on one of the boxes. "Spock's my friend. Do you know what that means for a Vulcan?"
Kirk seemed a little taken aback. He probably expected the standard Starfleet line of "so-and-so's an excellent officer and I expect you to take care of him." But I had no patience for lines, not anymore. Not when I was going to lose my ship because of a madman's mutiny. "It means," I continued, "that he'd kill to protect me or this ship, that he would sacrifice his own career to make a point. It means he would do any or all of these things without thinking of what he needs. And what he doesn't need is to follow his captain into exile."
I looked hard at the young man. Seeing that he was really listening to what I said, I continued, "I'm not asking you to look after this ship as I would. You will, I can see that in your eyes. But I can't watch out for her crew anymore, and I do need you to do that." Why were my eyes watering? It must have been the brandy. "At some point, Spock will come to you, in his Vulcan way, to be your friend. He'll say it's logical or that it's his duty, but he'll make your battle to keep the crew safe easier. Spock will fight for them as he fights for you, but he's not an easy man to understand.He'll push you away in the name of Vulcan propriety, but if you can get past that, you'll never lack for a truer friend."
It was all I could do for Spock, to make sure that his next captain understood his worth as I had come to.
If it was good enough…well, I never knew.
The door swishes open behind me. Probably another damned nurse or doctor, come to make sure I'm still alive. I'm breathing, if that's what they mean, and if I could speak, I could tell them that my mind is still aware. But I'm just as trapped as I was yesterday, as I have been every day since the explosion and the delta rays.
"Captain Pike," said a soft Vulcan voice, thirteen years older than when I saw him for the first time. "You must know why I have come."
Oh yes, I know, but I can't permit this. Beep-beep
Spock came closer. "It's your only chance, Captain. I would not see you like this."
Why are you here? I wanted to ask. He's risking death to help me. Why? Beep-beep
Somehow, somewhere, Spock has learned to read the nuances of expression in what's left of my face. "Will you allow me to touch your mind, so that I can show you why?"
Beep. His hands touched the uninjured side of my face, and I saw it all. The telepathic message from Talos, informing Spock that they had a place for me if I wished it. The reports of the coolant accident that left me a shell, trapped forever in a body that should have died. Spock's own resolve that I should have the means to make my choice, and the steel force of his loyalty. The intricacy of his plans, made from the moment he'd received the Talosians' message. //Why would you risk this?//
//You were the first person who gave me a chance to prove my own worth, not as the son of Sarek, but as Spock. You taught me that I could survive and succeed, even if my own culture cast me out for my choice. What I choose now is little enough against the debt I owe you. //
Beep-beep. //None of that is worth your life.//
//My life is my own, Captain. As are the choices I make. What choice do you make?//
I thought. I could see in his eyes that Spock could just as easily give me the death I'd asked for all the months since the coolant leak. But there was also the Talosians and their aid to consider. They could not heal my body, but I could live among them with Vina in illusion.
So here I am now, sitting with Vina on the edge of a blue ocean that is no more real than the feel of her arm linked with mine. Do I care? Not a chance.
"Your friend, the Vulcan," Vina asked, "will he be all right?"
I smiled. I remembered the last scene the Talosians showed just after I'd been beamed down to their planet. Spock, explaining his actions to his captain. There had been hurt in Kirk's eyes, but also a new kind of understanding. The loyalty that had brought me here to this beach was the same loyalty that guarded Kirk and his crew. "He'll be fine," I said.
And so will I.