SAN FRANCISCO FLEET YARDS
It had been a long time since he’d seen the ship as empty as this; at least eight years, maybe more. Not since he’d first assumed command of the Enterprise after Chris Pike had James Kirk known her to be so completely devoid of life.
For some inexplicable reason the ship reminded the admiral of a once bustling family home that had long been abandoned: all its members gone, dust sheets thrown across every surface, curtains torn down.
It just felt wrong.
Kirk sighed. His mood was already foul this morning, and these kinds of thoughts only soured it further.
He stood at the port in his quarters, watching the tiny worker bee nudge itself slowly around, spinning carefully on its axis until its nose was pointing down toward the hull of the Enterprise. The maintenance craft looked so small and fragile, like a child’s toy, as it spun silently in the amber glow of the drydock’s floodlights.
Ever since his encounter with V’Ger, Kirk had found himself unable to sleep. He had tried, but the pale, sepulchral faces of Will Decker and Ilia had swum up out of the darkness the moment he closed his eyes.
The admiral had spent most of that morning pacing the deck of his quarters like a caged animal, a data card clutched in his fist.
Kirk knew it had to be from her even before he’d looked. Hanna Kirk was one of the few people he knew who still believed in the printed word.
“Subspace communications,” Hanna would say, “everyone can listen in. When I have something to say to you, Jimmy . . . Jim, I only want you to hear it.”
An image of his aunt sprang into his mind’s eye, as clear and tangible as the view outside his quarters. It is summertime—for some reason, it’s always summertime when he thinks of his aunt and uncle. Hanna is sitting in the old wooden rocker on the back porch of the farmhouse, a glass of Draylax fire tea beside her, as she enters a letter to some seldom-seen family member. After a while she looks up, giving him a sly wink. “I’m too old to change now, Jimmy.”
Kirk smiled fondly at this image, then he suddenly remembered the contents of his aunt’s letter, and the smile quickly slipped from his lips.
“It’s Peter, Jim. It’s almost like he’s slowly retreating from the world,” Hanna had written. “Abner tries to talk to him, but Peter won’t have any of it. He just clams up, won’t say a word, not to Abner, nor to me. Not that we see much of him anyhow—he spends most of his time out in the toolshed tinkering—we only really see him at mealtimes.”
The long and the short of it was, she wanted Kirk to shuttle out to the family farm, spend a few days with them, and speak to Peter, if he had a mind to.
“I remember you saying that you’ve got some shore leave coming up, and I really think it might do Peter some good if he saw his uncle Jim. It’s been such a long time, and you’re a link to his father. Abner thinks you’re the only one Peter will talk to.”
No matter how hard he tried, Kirk couldn’t think of a single thing that he might say to Peter, and certainly nothing that Abner and Hanna hadn’t probably said to him a hundred times already.
What could he say to a teenage boy who had lost everything because he had failed to get to Deneva in time? Right now the admiral wished he could shut himself away like Peter had.
Kirk knew what was causing his inability to sleep. It was not that Ilia had been killed and that Decker had sacrificed himself for the good of the Federation, but the inescapable fact that, as the captain of the Enterprise, Kirk had accepted these deaths so readily.
After all these years, why did the death of a crew member sit so easily? Were they just collateral damage, a means to ensuring the safety of the Federation?
No one joined Starfleet blind to the dangers of the service. Everyone accepted the risk. What troubled him was: When did he become immune to loss?
Kirk had known that he wanted to be the captain of his own starship from the moment he’d been posted to the Republic, all those years ago.
So why had he so foolishly accepted a promotion off the bridge? The second he’d stepped inside his office on his first day as the chief of Starfleet Operations, he realized that he had made a mistake.
As the CSO, his duties were overseeing trade routes and ambassadorial exchange programs, and dealing with entitled Federation bureaucrats. Kirk tried, but he never had the patience for stuffed shirts. He knew that his talents were wasted at Starfleet Command. He knew that he had to get back to what he did best, and that meant getting the Enterprise back.
So he’d pushed for her, and pushed hard. It had worked.
Admiral Nogura relented. Kirk would get the Enterprise and Decker would be moved to the Jerusalem. A fine ship, but she wasn’t the Enterprise, the flagship of the fleet. This way there would be no disgrace associated with Decker’s lateral move, no raised eyebrows or awkward questions. It would be seen as a routine reassignment, something common among starship commanders.
Then V’Ger came, and all of Kirk’s careful planning had gone out the window. Emergency procedures had been instigated in order to give Kirk command of the Enterprise. Starfleet Command had temporarily demoted Decker to commander and executive officer, humiliating him in front of the crew.
Was that why he had chosen to go with Ilia, to become one with the living machine entity V’Ger, despite not knowing what would happen to him?
Whatever the reason, Kirk had let him. As a Starfleet officer, it was his first duty to protect Earth.
The admiral continued for a time in this somber line of thought, making no acknowledgment when the door signal chimed. Not until it rang a second time did he call out for the person to enter.
He knew who it was, without looking. Kirk waited for the door to slide shut behind his first officer before he spoke.
“Punctual as ever, Mister Spock,” Kirk said. “It’s good to know that amidst all the chaos, there is a universal constant.”
“Chaos, Admiral?” Spock asked, a little confused. Then realization dawned. “Are you referring to the repairs of the Enterprise? I agree. It is a considerable disruption. However, the crew seem to be coping admirably.”
Kirk smiled. “I would expect nothing less.”
“As of 0700, a total of 372 personnel have disembarked, leaving a skeleton crew of fifty, consisting mostly of engineering staff, heads of departments, and a small security detail.”
“Thank you for your report, Commander. Is there anything else?” Kirk winced at the abruptness of his own words. He hadn’t meant to be curt, but he was keen to be on his own for a while.
“There was one other matter, sir,” Spock said. “I will not be on the afternoon shuttle. I will not be going to Earth.” Spock hesitated for a moment, before adding, “Instead I will be returning to Vulcan.”
Kirk finally glanced up. “I see. No problems, I hope?”
At first Spock appeared reluctant to answer. Eventually he said, “There are certain . . . personal matters that need my attention before the Enterprise departs.”
Kirk waited, but when he realized that his first officer intended to say no more on the subject, he nodded his understanding. “Will you be taking the ambassadorial shuttle?”
The Vulcan explained, “Yes. The Potemkin is currently on training exercises in the Tau Ceti system; I will rendezvous with her there. The Potemkin will take me on to Vulcan.”
“Isn’t that Syvar’s ship?” Kirk asked.
“That is correct. Although I have never met Captain Syvar, he is, by all accounts, a fascinating commander,” Spock said.
“And the fact that he’s a fellow Vulcan hasn’t colored your opinion?” Kirk teased, a smile pushing at the corners of his mouth.
If the comment offended Spock in any way, he didn’t show it. Instead he raised an eyebrow. “Not at all. My comments were not meant to be in any way boastful, but a statement of fact. I am well acquainted with the Starfleet reports on the Neutral Zone incursion by the Klingons four years ago, and with Syvar’s diplomatic efforts to stop the crisis from escalating into full-scale war.”
“I met him at a dinner last year,” Kirk told him. “He’s a most remarkable man—who spoke highly of you, as I recall.”
The compliment, Kirk noticed, had a curious effect upon Spock. The Vulcan clasped his hands somewhat fussily behind his back, then shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. He seemed to be at a loss for words.
“May I inquire as to whether you will be staying on board?” he asked at last.
The question brought Kirk’s attention back to Hanna’s letter, and once more he rolled the data card around in his hand. He caught himself and put the card down on his desk.
“You’re not the only one who’s decided to go home,” Kirk explained.
“You will be returning to San Francisco?”
This made Kirk smile. “Not at the moment. I’m going to spend some time on the family farm in Iowa. I had intended to stay and oversee the final repairs with Mister Scott, but I have been ‘advised’ by Starfleet Command to go on shore leave.”
“ ‘Advised’?” Spock asked, pronouncing the word as though it were alien to him.
Kirk thought about this for a second, then said, “Perhaps ‘encouraged’ would be a better word. Admiral Rameau thought I could do with a little R and R before the official shakedown. Scotty is quite capable of taking care of things without me looking over his shoulder.”
“Understood,” Spock said, deciding not to pursue the matter further. Instead, he changed the subject. “I will be remaining on board until the last of the crew have disembarked. Once the handover is complete, I will take the shuttle to Kaferia II.”
“Then I wish you bon voyage, Mister Spock.”
The first officer bobbed his head briefly in acknowledgment, and Kirk returned his gaze back to the scene outside his cabin port.
There was silence for a moment.
When Spock failed to either speak or exit the cabin, Kirk knew there were more than thoughts of home on the Vulcan’s mind. Yet, despite the fact that he had no stomach for any conversation, Kirk moved away from the port once more, turning his back on the maintenance pods and service craft that buzzed ceaselessly across the hull of the massive starship, and gave his first officer his full attention.
“Is there something else?” he asked, knowing full well there was.
There was a sudden, unexpected awkwardness to Spock’s demeanor that would have been amusing to Kirk had the circumstances been different.
“I have been speaking with Doctor McCoy,” Spock ventured cautiously.
“He mentioned that you seemed . . . restless of late,” Spock said. “Ever since our encounter with the V’Ger entity.”
Kirk said, “He did suggest shooting me with a dart full of Paq M, but I thought that might look undignified in front of the crew.”
Spock remained silent, the joke going over his head.
Mentioning the powerful animal tranquilizer had been Kirk’s attempt to lighten the mood, hopefully to distract his first officer enough to alter the direction of the conversation. But he knew it wasn’t going to work, so Kirk said, “That was a joke, Spock.”
The Vulcan set his head at a slight angle and peered at his friend. “Indeed,” he said at last. “The doctor also mentioned your continued failed attempts at levity.”
“It would appear that the good doctor has become quite vocal on the subject of my well-being,” said Kirk. “Remind me to have a word with him sometime about doctor-patient confidentiality.”
“I have found that it is a common practice among humans to attempt to mask one’s problems and shortcomings with humor. It is a most curious practice. American author and humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens once observed that humor is merely a—”
Kirk waved an impatient hand at the Vulcan. “I’m quite familiar with Twain’s work, thank you, Mister Spock. Please, get to the point.”
“I also have noticed your increasing restlessness,” Spock told him. “Doctor McCoy and I disagree on the cause of your anxiety. The doctor believes it to be pent-up frustration brought about by what he terms ‘the best years of your life wasted sitting behind a desk.’ I believe it to be something else.”
Kirk peered across at his friend. For a man who claimed to be in control of his emotions, to have locked away all those frivolous, distracting facets of the human side of his nature, Spock was milking this for all it was worth. He was almost as bad as McCoy.
The beginnings of a smile fluttered across Kirk’s mouth. He’d been convinced for a long time now that Spock and McCoy were two sides of the same coin: both very different men but frighteningly similar in so many ways.
What was the phrase Kirk’s mother had always used when describing her two boys? Cut from the same cloth. That was it.
“Jimmy, there’s no doubt that you and George are brothers,” she’d tell him with a smile when they both came home from swimming in the creek, their clothes crumpled and muddy, their damp hair glinting in the late afternoon sun, their shoes clutched in their hands, their socks rolled up into balls and stuffed in their shoes. “A pair of ragamuffins cut from the same cloth, you are. Just like your father at your age.”
It was also true of Spock and McCoy. Two men, born on two very different worlds, light-years apart, yet cut from the same cloth—or, at least, material so similar that the differences were only apparent upon closer scrutiny.
“And what does my first officer believe to be wrong with me?” Kirk asked with a smile.
Spock said, “Your current mood stems from the recent loss of Commander Decker and Lieutenant Ilia. Or, more specifically, you feel responsible for their deaths.”
• • •
When the call came through from Starfleet Medical, Lieutenant Commander Hikaru Sulu almost missed it.
He had quite a lot on his mind at that precise moment. It was almost the start of his shore leave and he was about to return home to San Francisco, back to Susan Ling and their unborn child, albeit very briefly.
If he managed to get a place on the 1300 shuttle he’d have almost two whole weeks to spend relaxing.
This should have made Sulu happy, but, strangely, it didn’t.
He was tired, for starters, and his head felt thick and fuzzy from the whiskey he had drunk in Commander Scott’s cabin the night before—or, rather, from the amount he’d drunk. The Scotsman could put his liquor away, no doubt about it. No matter how hard he’d tried to match the engineer glass for glass, Sulu had been unable to keep up the pace.
“Practice, laddie!” Scott had told him as he emptied his glass in one smooth motion, then reached for the bottle to pour two more generous tots. “It’s all down ta practice.”
Scott had invited Sulu to his quarters with the express purpose of “whetting the baby’s head.” And raising a toast or two to his beloved ship’s next five-year mission. The engineer was particularly happy about the latter, not least because he would be personally overseeing the forthcoming repairs and resupplies.
Not that either man had really needed an excuse to waste an hour or two over a glass of Aldebaran whiskey. There was little to do aboard ship, now that the handover was so close. All the nonessential crew sections had been powered down, including the recreation areas.
The engineer had suggested a wee dram, “To see in the new and to see out the old, in the Scottish tradition.”
“The baby’s not due for another four and a half months,” Sulu had told him. “And the Enterprise is not scheduled to launch for another four weeks.”
“Aye, but we’ll not get the chance once shore leave is over,” Scotty had said. “We’ll be too busy getting the old girl shipshape. Besides, the bairn’ll be out in the world almost six months before you’ll have another chance to stop and raise a glass to the wee one.”
That’s when it had really struck home.
Sulu had thought about it before, obviously. He was a Starfleet officer who was about to become a father for the first time. But to hear it out of the blue made it all seem . . . well, so real.
His baby, his first child, and he was about to abandon it before it was even born. Okay, maybe abandon was too harsh a word, but to an impartial observer, he seemed perfectly content to just disappear across the galaxy at a very important time. He’d be there occasionally, during the brief periods of shore leave, but he wouldn’t be there to share in all the really important stuff: feeding, tantrums, the sleepless nights, and the first tottering steps across the kitchen floor.
Weren’t the first years of a child’s life the most crucially important for bonding with its parents? Sulu was sure he’d heard that somewhere, probably from Doctor McCoy; either that or he’d read it in that book on parenting Uhura had given him. Whether it was true or not, those years were certainly crucial to him, and he was going to miss them.
Sulu rested his elbows on his desk, chin on both fists, and tried his best to tune out Pavel Chekov’s excited jabbering. The Russian had been talking virtually nonstop for the past twenty minutes. He’d appeared at Sulu’s door clutching breakfast in one hand and a data slate with a map of his beloved Russia in the other, and it was starting to make the dull, aching throb in Sulu’s head much, much worse.
An early start—that’s what Chekov had told him was needed. Get the day’s duties out of the way as swiftly and efficiently as possible. They could be down in the shuttlebay early enough to guarantee a place on the first flight to Earth.
“Of course, if we shuttle into Smolensk it would then give us enough time to take a tube across country to Podolsk, but we do run the risk of missing Uhura’s connection,” Chekov was saying, somewhere in the background. “If only she was flying out to southern Africa after our trip across Russia, as I’d originally suggested, then we would not have this problem. We could have had enough time to take the passenger express up to Tula and Ryazan first. But did she listen to me? No, of course she didn’t, no one ever listens to me.”
Sulu sighed wistfully as he gazed about his empty cabin. Every personal item that belonged to the helmsman, everything that he had hung up on the walls and arranged upon shelves to hide the bland characterlessness and uniformity of a starship cabin, was now packed carefully into three holdalls stacked neatly along the bulkhead by the door.
“Tell me again why we have to pack up every single item and cart it all down to Earth with us.”
Chekov glanced up quickly from the map. He frowned. “You know exactly why we have to take our belongings with us.”
“Because, my dear Hikaru, they need to do a sweep of the entire ship, and the equipment uses a high-frequency radiation field.”
This new voice was female and seemed to come from directly behind them, momentarily startling both men.
Nyota Uhura was standing in the open doorway of Sulu’s quarters, one hand resting lightly on the doorframe. Instead of her pastel yellow uniform she was clad in a light mauve tunic and skirt, a white silk sash tied loosely around her waist.
“Unless you want to be wearing irradiated underwear for the next five years, I’d follow orders,” she said.
“What’s with the civvies?” Sulu asked, waving a hand at her clothes. “You know, if I wasn’t such a nice person, and I didn’t have a million and one things to do, I’d put you on report.”
“Maybe some of us aren’t on duty anymore,” Uhura said. “Maybe some of us are so wonderfully efficient that they finished up all their duties last night and handed over to Yard Control, leaving them free to catch the shuttle this afternoon.”
“That is not fair,” Chekov said.
“I think someone’s a little jealous,” Uhura said, a smile on her lips.
Chekov bristled. “Pah! Not at all. Everybody knows that working in communications is child’s play. A Drac’nen tree monkey could operate that equipment with three of its six arms tied behind its back. Now, weapons, on the other hand—that is a skilled post.”
Uhura took the bait. All jocular pretenses were cast aside as she stormed into the room to confront her Russian colleague.
It was at that point that Sulu, in a moment of crystal clarity, suddenly realized how their forthcoming trip together was about to play out: Chekov and Uhura constantly baiting each other until, inevitably, one would flare up and all-out war would be declared, leaving him to play the role of peacekeeper.
He blamed Susan. It had been her idea that he go on the trip with them. At the time it had seemed like a good idea and he’d readily agreed. Now he wasn’t so sure.
“You should take Hikaru with you,” Susan had said, the last time the four of them had been together for dinner. “He’ll only be getting under my feet by the second week of shore leave.”
Sulu had almost choked on his sushi. He’d glanced across the table to find Susan smiling at him.
“It’ll be much better for you than hanging around the house,” she had told him. “You’ll have plenty of time to do that once the bump here puts in an appearance.”
Uhura and Chekov continued to bicker like little kids in a school yard, causing Sulu to throw his hands up in desperation. He really wasn’t in the mood for this, not today. The dull, throbbing pain in his head was showing the first signs of becoming a migraine, and the breakfast he’d just shared with Chekov was sitting heavily in his stomach.
For a brief second he felt like walking out and leaving them to it.
“Will you two knock it off!” Sulu shouted. “If you think for one minute that I’m going to play nursemaid to the pair of you for seven days, then you’re sadly mistaken. I’m starting to regret ever agreeing to come on this trip. You know, I just wish that I had an excuse not to—”
The communication console on the far wall trilled softly, interrupting him.
“San Francisco Yard to Lieutenant Commander Sulu.”
Instinctively Sulu straightened in his chair, snapping to attention regardless of the fact that he couldn’t be seen by the caller.
“Sir, there’s an urgent transmission for you from a Doctor Hautala at Starfleet Medical, San Francisco.”
A ripple of panic ran through Sulu’s body like an electrical charge, leaving a strange coppery taste at the back of his throat. His first thought was that something had happened to Susan: an accident, while she was out.
His second thought was: The baby!
At first Sulu was unable to speak, his mouth silently opening and closing like a landed fish. Finally he looked to Uhura for help.
“Put the doctor through, please,” Uhura said, stepping in quickly. Then, to the ship’s computer, she said, “Viewer on.”
The screen on the wall to their right sprang immediately to life. A gaunt, dark-haired woman in her mid- to late thirties was staring out at them, the hustle and bustle of hospital life going about its business behind her.
“Commander Sulu?” the doctor asked when it became apparent that none of the three officers were about to introduce themselves.
“I’m Commander Sulu,” he said, slowly climbing to his feet. His legs felt numb beneath him, so he reached out toward the desk for support.
“Doctor Linzi Hautala, Starfleet Medical, San Francisco.”
Sulu swallowed. “Is this about—Susan? I need to know, is she . . .” Here he paused, not knowing how to end the sentence. He couldn’t bring himself to say “Is she dead?” or “Is she seriously hurt?” He finally asked, “Is she okay?”
“She’s stable, Commander. She was rushed to Emergency about fifteen minutes ago with what was thought to be severe Braxton Hicks. She’s gone into labor.”
“But . . . but that’s not possible,” Sulu replied. “The baby’s not due for another four and a half months. Doctor Oliver assured Susan at her last visit . . .”
“I’m sure he did, Commander, but Susan waited too long for us to medically intervene. The baby’s on its way and you need to get yourself down here as soon as you can.”
“I’m on my way. Thank you, Doctor,” Sulu murmured. His voice now sounded odd, almost lifeless, as though a switch in his head had flipped and the words were coming from some scratchy, automatic recording.
Hautala cut the link and the screen went dead. In the silence that followed Uhura whispered, “Viewer off.”
As soon as the conversation was over, Sulu slumped back down into his chair like a marionette whose strings had been cut.
Slowly, Sulu glanced across at his friends; he felt suddenly very small and fragile.
Very carefully the helmsman cleared his throat and said, “I guess I should be careful what I wish for, huh?”
• • •
The turbolift doors slid shut with a soft whoosh of air, immediately sealing the two men within a cocoon of contemplative silence. Neither of them had spoken since leaving Kirk’s quarters, and there was a growing air of uneasiness between the two old friends.
He was not sure why, but since Spock’s return to the Enterprise, Kirk had noticed a renewed sense of awkwardness between them. Naturally, this surprised him, not least because he’d assumed that they’d put that behind them. Spock had served under Chris Pike for so long that Kirk had assumed the Vulcan would find it difficult to accept him. But Kirk had been wrong and Spock had shown nothing but unswerving loyalty to him since the first moment that Kirk had stepped onto the bridge.
He found it strange to be feeling this unease again after all these years. It was as though the two had only recently met and the V’Ger incident had been their first mission.
Yet, in a way, this was true.
Kirk had not seen his old friend since he’d left Starfleet some two and a half years before. Spock had not given him an explanation for why he had resigned his commission and returned to Vulcan. He’d mentioned something about Kolinahr, which, at the time, had meant very little to Kirk. It wasn’t until later, during his time at Starfleet Operations, that he researched the ancient Vulcan ritual.
The admiral wondered if something had gone wrong. Why else would Spock have returned to Starfleet and requested a return to active duty aboard the Enterprise? Kirk had tried to raise the subject with Spock while they were heading to Earth for repairs. He hoped that the mind-meld with V’Ger might encourage him to open up, but the Vulcan had remained adamantly tight lipped.
As the turbolift continued its ascent through the decks toward the main bridge, Spock suddenly reached forward and touched the control panel, bringing them to an abrupt halt.
“Admiral.” Spock stopped, then began again: “Jim, may I speak freely?”
“Of course,” Kirk replied warily. “What’s on your mind?”
Spock said, “I feel that I must clarify my earlier statement.”
It seemed that Spock was determined to have this conversation after all, despite his commander’s reluctance.
“I fear that I may have been somewhat tactless in regard to the deaths of Commander Decker and Lieutenant Ilia,” Spock admitted. “I believe that my attempt to engage you in a discussion on the subject may have gone slightly awry.”
Kirk stared at him for a good long while before replying. “In other words, you were only trying to help but ended up putting your foot in it?”
“A rather crude metaphor, but an apt one, nevertheless,” Spock said. “If I have upset you, then I offer my sincerest apologies. It was not my intention.”
“I know you were only trying to help, Spock. I also know that I’ve been preoccupied since the V’Ger mission.” He smiled at his friend. “It’s not been easy for any of us. A lot of water has flowed under many bridges since we last served together. I guess we’re all a little rusty at this.”
Once again Spock reached out a hand, only this time it was to clutch the admiral’s arm. The gesture was meant to be comforting, to reassure his old friend, but its execution was clumsy, the grip just that little bit too hard.
“Jim, you made the correct decision. In my opinion your judgment was sound; there was no other option open to you. Commander Decker wanted to be with Ilia, and joining with V’Ger was his only way to do so. Whether Decker is now alive or dead, it was his choice and his alone.”
“Thank you, Spock,” the admiral said. He knew now that the awkwardness between himself and Spock was his fault.
One more thing, Kirk thought
By the time the turbolift had reached the bridge, all he wanted was for the day to be over and done with, and to escape, to be as far away from the Enterprise as was possible.
Shadow of the Machine
After its recent encounter with V’ger, the U.S.S. Enterprise has returned to dry dock to finish its refit before commencing its second five-year mission. The crew has been granted a two-week period of shore leave before preparations for their next voyage begins. Shaken by their encounter with V’ger, Kirk, Spock, and Sulu travel to their respective homes and must reflect upon their lives—now forever changed.
- Pocket Books/Star Trek |
- 160 pages |
- ISBN 9781476756356 |
- March 2015