“What Saluk meant is, it is hard to believe that you will become the next prime minister, Zan. What about Coltan?” McCoy tried to soothe.
“I am clever. I brought you here, didn’t I? And I will be prime minister,” Zan had caught himself, and was know aiming the phaser directly at McCoy.
“You brought us here?” McCoy repeated.
“Did you also set up this laboratory?” Saluk gestured towards the table.
“No, that was me, captain.”
Velal had appeared from behind the curtain, wearing a loose lab coat, but McCoy could see her slightly arched belly under it.
“Velal!” Zan turned towards her, but did not lower his phaser.
“It is alright, Zan. They are friends,” Velal said, taking a step closer.
“Doctor,” Saluk greeted Velal, “I see you have not been as unsuccessful as you made me believe.”
She bowed her head. “Doctor McCoy’s formula works very well, Zan is the living example.”
“I see. He is your test person,” Saluk stated.
It seemed to anger Zan, he gritted his teeth and McCoy could see his eyes darken. Vulcan emotions pose a great danger and must be contained, he recalled Saluk’s statement from earlier. The Vulcan seemed to have forgotten that fact , or he would have been a bit more sensitve in what he said. Angering the person who is aiming a phaser at you was never a good idea. But Zan especially seemed quite … unstable.
“He is my friend,” Velal answered, warmly, trying to soothe, “he helps me. He delivers the supplies I need for my work, and he did some other errants for me in the capital.”
“We’re partners,” Zan stated, not taking his eyes off them, “When I’m prime minister, she’ll be my queen.”
“Prime ministers don’t have queens, Zan,” Velal chided, talking to him like one would to a child, “The serum worked on him, and it will work on the rest of the people of Meriah. It’s already taking effect in the capital. I distributed it into the water and the air, it should spread over the whole planet within the next week.”
Zan frowned, obviously feeling a bit snubbed.
“If everything goes as planned, why did you ask for our help?” Saluk asked, completely ignoring the Meriahn.
Velal briefly studied the floor, before taking a step towards McCoy.
“I apologize. But it was the only way I could think of to see you again.”
He didn’t know what to think. She seemed sincere, however, she was a Tal Shiar agent whose job was to deceive, lie, and betray. There was so much he wanted to ask her, but then, the very instant her eyes met his, all hell broke loose. Even years later he saw those eyes looking at him in his dreams, as if this very moment had been frozen, preserved for eterinity, for him to analyze again and again. In his dreams he could see different futures. Sometimes he, Velal and their son lived as a family on Meriah, helping to build a functioning society. Sometimes, they’d move to the Mars colony, or even Earth, or Romulus. Those were the good dreams, in others, Velal suddenly pulled a knife, a disruptor, or something similar. He knew there existed infinite parallel universes, he’d been to one of them, and for long he found comfort in the fact that in some of these universes he’d see his son grow up, somewhere, but not in this existence.
Two Meriahns in some sort of uniform and armed with phasers, or disruptors had suddenly stormed the room. McCoy instinctively sought for cover by toppling over the table and ducking behind, Velal did the same, she was unarmed and apparently just as surprised as he was. Saluk also threw himself on the floor, but to McCoy’s surprise, he suddenly had a phaser in his right hand which he must have had hidden somewhere in his clothes, two fast and precise shots were fired, and the two Meriahni guards fell to the floor. McCoy was about to leave his cover to check if they were dead, when Zan also aimed his phaser and shot. Saluk fell to the floor, with an expression of surprise, then glowed red, and disappeared(11)
McCoy sought Velal’s face, trying to gauge if she had any clue about what was going on, but she too, seemed surprised, shocked, even. Then, another Meriahn, who looked vaguely familiar to McCoy, entered the room.
He reached for the phaser Zan still held aimed at the place where the Vulcan had stood only seconds before, and took it from him. The stooped Meriahn was obviously shocked at what he had done.
“Give me the weapon, slave,” the man said, and with hearing his voice, McCoy recognised him. It was Prime Minister Coltan. He took the phaser from Zan, and bent to retrieve the disruptor the guard closest to him had dropped. At the same moment Velal reacted from beside McCoy, throwing herself over to where the other disruptor lay on the floor, but before she reached it, Coltan had kicked it away, and then aimed his disruptor at her head.
“Retrieve the other weapon, slave,” he commanded, and Zan who had regained some of his composure walked over to where it had fallen, picked it up and walked back to stand beside Coltan who never faltered in his aiming at Velal.
Now would be a good time, Jim, McCoy thought, catching a glimpse of Velal’s expression: fear.
“My name is Zan,” the older man said, but handed the disrupter to him.
Coltan took it with the hand that was not aiming at Velal, and, without even looking at the former slave, pressed the disruptor against his chest and fired.
Zan fell backwards with a choked sound, not dying instantly as he would have, had Coltan used the phaser. It was too much for McCoy to endure. He left his cover from behind the table, it didn’t help him much anyway, and he crawled over to where Zan had fallen, maybe he could help him, if only by giving him a reassuring smile. Coltan must have tricked Zan into telling him about Velal, her plan, and her hideout. He had probably lured him with the promise of making him the next prime minister. And poor Zan, with the cognitive abilities and experiences of a child had believed him.
“Doctor McCoy!” Coltan greeted him, calmly, now aiming one disruptor at him, the other at Velal.
“Let me help him,” McCoy tried, knowing that there was little chance Coltan would let him.
“He’s just a slave,” Coltan replied, swiftly turned and fired again, killing the Meriahn.
McCoy stopped breathing. This man was cold-blooded and cruel, … or insane.
From her position on the floor Velal hissed: “What do you want?”
“I want you to reverse what you have done! Give me the remedy to that illness you have spread amongst my people!” Coltan spat.
McCoy snorted. “What you ask for is impossible. The “illness” as you call it, is the normal condition.”
“What is normal? Meriah is drowning in chaos. Slaves are looting, and killing my people. This scum is gushing out from every crack in the walls, from under the earth, the drains ...”
“They are your people, too,” McCoy almost shouted. But he held himself back. He had to be careful, Coltan had obviously lost everything, his title, his home, his control.
“YOU WILL REVERSE WHAT YOU’VE DONE!” Coltan screamed, and the knuckles of his hands that still held the two disruptors turned white.
McCoy exchanged a look with Velal who had climbed to her feet again.
“No,” McCoy simply said.
Captain’s Log, stardate 6082,8: The Enterprise has arrived in orbit of Meriah Five. We were not contacted by Prime Minister Coltan, nor any other member of the Meriahni government, and communications officer Uhura could not reach anyone via the official channels, which was surprising, since Prime Minister Coltan was expecting our arrival. We picked up several messages over private channels, allowing only one conclusion; Meriah Five is drowning in chaos. The government has been overthrown, all public authorities have retreated. It seems that the former slaves of Meriah Five, which made up about 80 % of the whole population, have started a revolution. Mr Spock and myself are beaming down to the surface to examine the situation. Our mission is to help the Meriahni government fight a disease, and I intend to find out if our medical team can be of use. If that is not the case, we will leave, since the Prime Directive forbids any intervention in political affairs of independent planets, and we have to be careful to stay neutral.
After having recorded the log book entry. Kirk had smiled to himself. These past five years, the Prime Directive had often been quite inconvenient, however now, it just came in handy. All he really wanted to do on Meriah Five, was find Bones and see what Saluk had wanted. Then he’d beam them all aboard and leave. Spock had easily picked up the Nieminen rays and they followed their trail to Meriah Five. It had been more difficult to pinpoint them on the planet’s surface, since they were refracted by some debris. However, they would be able to find McCoy once they were on the surface, given the fact that Bones was still carrying the source of those rays, of course.
Once they had beamed onto the surface, Spock lead the way and they soon found the staircase that lead them below the surface. The metal door they found at the foot of the stairs was slightly ajar, and they could hear voices behind it.
“YOU HAD NO RIGHT!” somebody shouted, Kirk could not be sure, but thought it could be Coltan. What was the prime minister doing here? Carefully, he pushed the door a bit more open, so they could peer inside.
“Who gives you the right to nullify the lives of millions of people?” McCoy said.
Spock and Kirk exchanged a look. The good news was that they’d found McCoy, the bad news was that Coltan was aiming a disruptor at him and another disruptor at somebody else, whom Kirk could not see. Two dead people lay on the floor.
“YOU KNOW NOTHING. YOU RED-BLOODED QUACK!”
Spock arched an eyebrow and Kirk almost smiled, thinking it was funny that McCoy got some of the insults he alwas threw at Spock back. But he knew that they only were an essential part of the weird relationship between his two best friends and harmless, whereas he wasn’t sure if Coltan was about to shoot or not. Spock was thinking the same, so they each drew their phasers and Kirk made a gesture that told Spock to wait for his signal to storm the room.
“If you want to re-establish your system, you need him, Coltan, you know that,” it was Velal’s voice, as Kirk recognised. So she was the other person Coltan was aiming at.
Kirk waited another second and then caught McCoy’s eyes to see surprise, relief and comprehension in them. He held up three fingers and counted backwards silently. The moment he had reached “zero”, holding up only a fist, Spock kicked the door open with such force that it smashed against the wall, making a loud noise. He and Kirk stormed the room, their phasers drawn, and McCoy used the moment to kick the disruptor from Coltan’s right hand.
However, Coltan managed to fling himself over to where Velal was standing and came to stand behind her, using her as a shield, pressing his remainig disruptor against her neck.
“GET OUT; OR I’LL KILL HER!” he shouted.
Velal stood perfecctly still, and argued calmly: “I’m Romulan. They’re Federation. They don’t care if I die, Coltan.”
“Maybe not,” he sneered, then shifted his disruptor to her belly, “but that little monstrosity in your belly, is not Romulan, is it?”
Kirk heard a hiss from behind him. Spock?
Coltan had lost it, so much was clear. He had to come up with a plan.
"He is half-Romulan,” Velal said, and her voice was slightly shaking, she was angry.
“You are very sentimental for a Romulan, a Tal Shiar agent, even,” Coltan continued, still pressing the disrupter against Velal, “I don’t understand why you did not abort th ...”
Kirk considered shooting. If Coltan and Velal did not move, he could probably take out Coltan without hurting Velal. But he hesitated a bit too long. Before Coltan could finish his sentence, she had kicked him into his shin. There was a short struggle and before he could react it had happened. Kirk never really forgave himself for missing the right moment to act, and although he knew, Bones was not blaming him, it took him long before he got over his own guilt.
Somebody screamed as Coltan pulled the trigger of the disruptor he held pressed against Velal’s belly. The Romulan toppled over, almost into the Meriahn’s arms, with an agonized gurgling sound. She hadn’t screamed, she was already incapable of producing that kind of sound, Kirk realized. It hadn’t been a female scream either.
Bones was instantly at Velal’s side preventing her to fall into the arms of her murderer, catching her, lowering her onto the ground with gentleness. His blue uniform was already soaking up the dark green blood as he was tenderly cradling the dying woman in his arms. He didn’t even try to press down on the wound to keep Velal from bleeding out. It was hopeless.
Kirk would not forget that eerie scene before him for a long time. In spite of Bones’ reputation as an irascible and overly emotional man, he could be surprisingly cool, professional, even emotionally detached when the circumstances dictated it. As a doctor, he knew the limits of medicine. A disruptor shot like this would kill. Always. All he could do, was to give Velal a moment of calm and peace before death claimed her. And so, that’s what he would do. To cry or scream would not help the situation. Bones hadn’t screamed, either.
Never would Kirk have thought that the death of a Romulan, a hostile spy, that had infiltrated the Federation, would touch him as deeply as it did this very moment. Of course, it was not only Velal’s death, but it was the death of that unborn, innocent child that had constricted his throat. That, and the knowledge that these deaths would break his friend’s heart. Kirk had to swallow several times around the tight lump in his throat. No scream had escaped it either, he was sure.
But then, who had screamed? He looked around, spotting his first officer.
Spock had kicked the disruptor from Coltan’s hand and was now aiming his phaser at the former prime minister. Good. Spock would keep that bastard in check. After a moment of uncharacteristic hesitance, he finally brought himself to move over to where Bones was kneeling, now reaching a bloody hand towards Velal’s face, closing her eyes.
When he saw Bones blankly stare at the gaping wound in the Romulan’s abdomen, he quickly brought one knee down to get to McCoy’s level, then, almost gruffly, he put an arm around his friend’s torso, under his arm, and pulled them both up to stand again. He turned, so that the doctor was facing the wall instead of the gory sight of the corpses on the ground.
The position brought Kirk face to face with Coltan who was grinning at Spock who was standing with his back to Kirk, still holding his phaser. Kirk felt pure rage at the man, and he was thankful that he wasn’t in Spock’s place, or he would have probably shot Coltan right there and then.
“I just corrected an error of nature. That deficient half-blood in ...”
Kirk’s arms tightened around McCoy who struggled to move out of his embrace at the hateful words which were suddenly halted by the sound of a phaser going off.
Coltan fell to the floor. Dead.
There was a moment of shock in which Kirk stared at the back of Spock’s head, while still holding McCoy tightly against him.
“It’s alright, Jim. Let me go,” McCoy said, in that strange, calm voice that he used when talking to traumatized patients.
“Spock!” Kirk gasped, ignoring McCoy’s request, and only tightening his embrace once again.
Spock had shot Coltan. Not that Kirk regretted his death, hell, it was very possible that he would have shot him himself had roles been reversed. But, to think Spock had lost his Vulcan control, had acted on raw emotion, was unexpected. Losing control was one of the few things that his Vulcan friend truely feared.
“Jim,” Bones said again, a hint of panic in his voice now, “Please … I may be able to help.”
“I’m alright, doctor,” Spock answered, but the slight tremble in his voice belied that statement.
Kirk suddenly realized that Bones hadn’t seen what had happened. He could have come to the conclusion that Coltan had shot Spock, instead of the other way round. Kirk had to admit that it would have been the conclusion he would have drawn. As he loosened his grip on McCoy, the doctor hastily pulled away, stopping in his movements as he saw Spock standing there, upright, not with a deadly phaser wound in him, as he’d feared.
However, his concern for the Vulcan did not dissipate completely. Spock’s expression wasn’t the normal expression of Vulcan impassiveness, nor was it one of calm compassion that McCoy had come to see in the first officer’s face on rare occasions.
What he saw on Spock’s face was shock. And fear. As McCoy stepped closer to him, he caught the glimpse of a man lying on the ground behind Spock. Coltan. And it suddenly hit McCoy. Spock had shot Coltan, not out of self-defense. It had been an act born out of rage, out of pure wrath at Coltan’s actions and words.
A glance at Kirk, frozen in his place, his eyes locked on Spock, just confirmed his conclusion. He quickly stepped around Spock to kneel down beside the Meriahn. Maybe he wasn’tdead, yet. As he checked for a pulse by pressing two fingers to the man’s carotid artery, while his other hand was carefully inspecting the ugly phaser wound, Kirk rested a supportive hand on his shoulder.
“He’s dead,” he finally announced, briefly looking up. Kirk pushed away the feeling of satisfaction he got in reaction, and tightened his grip on his friend’s shoulder. It suddenly struck him that although he attempted to comfort McCoy, it was McCoy who anchored him. The doctor reached out a steady hand smeared with green, Romulan blood towards the Meriahn’s face, and closed the dead man’s eyes with a gentleness that physically hurt Kirk. He let his hand fall off McCoy’s shoulder with a sudden intake of breath and balled it into a fist.
The sight of the doctor’s respectful gesture also brought an onslaught of emotions to Spock: shame, envy, admiration, and, once again, wrath. He gasped, swayed, and would have fallen, had Kirk not reached out to steady him.
He needed to get them all out of here, the captain decided, suddenly believing that otherwise they’d all be doomed. Maybe it was already too late. Since the day they’d first set foot on this planet of Vulcan apostates, a chain reaction had been set into motion that had tried everything to cruelly destroy them.
“Bones, Spock!” he whispered, his voice rough with emotion, “Let’s go home.”
He waited for McCoy to stand, and then gave both, Bones and Spock who was still slightly leaning on him, a firm push towards the door. Before McCoy could turn to look at the other corpses lying on the floor for a last time, Kirk had propelled the three of them out.
As they reached Enterprise’s transporter room, even before the last tingles of the transport beam had completely dissipated, Spock swiftly left the room without a comment.
“Spock! Wait!” Kirk shouted after him and started to follow. A brief check over his shoulder, however, showed him McCoy sinking down onto the edge of the transporter platform, doubling over, putting his head between his knees, and folding his arms over it.
He froze in mid-step, then turned around, focussing his attention on the doctor.
“Should I call the medics down here, sir?” the transporter engineer asked, uncertain.
“No, ensign. That’s all,” Kirk answered brusquely, and waited until the young man had left, before he sat down next to the doctor.
“Bones …,” he tried again, unsure as to what to say.
“Jim,” he whispered, and it was a relief to Kirk, since he’d feared McCoy would never call him by his first name again, and would distance himself from him, forever.
Kirk waited. There was really nothing to say, so he just sat there, his thigh touching McCoy’s, but otherwise he tried to be unintrusive.
Patience wasn’t one of Captain James T. Kirk’s virtues. His mind was reeling. He needed to fix this. He knew his ship wasn’t in any danger, his crew was safe, Starfleet Command was happy for they could establish an alliance with a new civilization now, since the former leaders that had opposed any contact with the Federation had been deposed, and the new ones would need probably turn to them for technical, medical and agricultural support. Seen from the outside, all was well. They’d all be back on earth in a few days, and they’d receive a heroes’ welcome. After days and weeks of celebration and relaxation with friends and family, he would be able to choose whatever assignment he wanted, since everyone believed he was some sort of superhero, strong, cunning, smart, charming, and overall invincible.
He was proud of his achievements, yes, and he wasn’t the type to fake modesty, yet, he knew, and would tell everyone who’d listen that the legend that was Captain James T. Kirk was not only he, Jim Kirk from Riverside, Iowa, but to the same parts also Spock and McCoy. Without them, he was an overly ambitious, arrogant, easy-to-provoke, ruthless, macho, space-cowboy. They were the key to his success, the elements that kept him in balance, that prevented him from becoming an arrogant bastard, an asshole of a captain, someone who would sooner or later kill himself and his crew in an act of idiotic overestimation of his bloated self.
“You’re not omnipotent, Jim,” McCoy said quietly. His head was still buried in his lap, under his arms, “and sometimes, you just can’t fix it.”
Despite the hopeless resignation in McCoy’s words, Kirk chuckled. “You know, Bones, you’re the most talented telepath I know.”
McCoy tried to shrug, and almost fell forward at the movement. He straightened apruptly to regain his balance. As he glanced down at his hands in his lap afterwards, he saw they were crusted with coagulated green blood.
“I need to clean my hands,” he said.
“Bones,” Kirk started again, turning towards him, gripping the doctor’s forearms, on the one hand to get his attention, on the other hand to cover his bloody hands with his own forearms, “I,” he paused, momentarily at a loss of words, “I’m really sorry.”
He felt McCoy’s hands grip him lightly in response. “Jim, you didn’t do anything wrong. I, however, I shouldn’t have said that … you know, in your quarters. I didn’t mean it.”
Kirk searched his friend’s eyes that seemed to be too big, and too bright. When Bones had accused him of having willingly abandoned his own son, David, in order to pursue his career, it had hurt. And it had, because Kirk wasn’t sure if Bones had actually hit the nail on the head. He was good at analysing people, and he was certainly good at analysing him, Jim Kirk. That statement still hurt a little, to be honest.
“Forget it, Bones,” he said after a pause, “even though I may not be responsible for this whole mess, I still want to help. Tell me what you need.”
McCoy stared back at the captain of the Enterprise who no doubt in a few weeks would be awarded yet another medal of valor to add to his collection, and who looked at him with a mixture of uncertainty and worry that was completely uncharacteristic for Jim Kirk. It was because of him, old Lenny McCoy who accidentally had ended up thousands of lightyears away from earth, serving on Starfleet’s flagship, alongside the bravest men and women the universe had ever seen. How in the heavens had he ended up here? And how had he managed to befriend someone like James T. Kirk?
It had been the result of an act of cowardice, nothing more. He’d run away from his old life, and the people he’d disappointed. He hadn’t wanted to hurt those that meant the most to him, by burdening them with his problems. So, after his father’s death, a death he had caused, he had shut out his wife and child. To be honest, it had been his own fault that Jocelyn had turned away from his then cold, detached, unemotional self, and into the arms of another man.
He’d joined Starfleet after that, thinking he could be of some use there. And for a while it had worked. He’d managed to become CMO of Starfleet’s flagship, simply by doing what he did best: Being a doctor. People thought of him as a selfless, devoted person who honored his oath: Never do harm. That’s what Spock had told Mrs Tarses and Brent on Fvillhail Three.
And now, look what he’d done, what he was doing. Spock had shot Coltan, because of him, and Kirk was now worried about them both, unsure and hurting himself. He would not be able to enjoy his well deserved welcome on earth, would hesitate taking on the exciting new assignments he was sure to be offered, because he’d worry about him, and Spock. Spock would probably want to face a court-martial, it could destroy his career. And for all of this, he, McCoy, was the reason. He’d managed to harm the people closest to him, again.
He noticed Kirk had put an arm around his shoulder, and shrugged out of the half-embrace. He couldn’t bear it, didn’t deserve it.
Jim blinked, and McCoy was sure, he’d hurt him again, by making him think that their friendship meant nothing to him. But it did, it meant the world, actually. Yet here he was, shying away from it.
“I need time,” he answered bowing his head, so as not to see the disappointment in Jim’s eyes, “just leave me alone. Please.” It was best that way.
Kirk watched him. He wasn’t sure what to do, but he was almost certain that leaving Bones alone now, wasn’t what his friend needed, at all. Yet, it was the only thing he asked for.
“Bones, I will, if it really is what you want, but ...”
“I’m a doctor, I know what’s good for me. Spock on the other hand, … Jim, I think you really need to talk to him.”
Kirk sighed. It was true, he was worried as hell about Spock. That Vulcan would torture himself for pulling the trigger on Coltan. He’d call himself a murderer, a Vulcan psychopath, file an exaggerated official report against himself, resign, admit himself to a Vulcan mental asylum, … Kirk was already on his feet.
“Bones. … Promise me something,” he said, waiting until the doctor had met his eyes.
“Don’t leave me.”
McCoy stopped breathing, shocked. Jim understood more about how his mind worked than anyone else, he realized, startled. But didn’t Jim understand that it would be best for all, if he just ... disappeared? He became aware of the fact that Jim was still looking at him, waiting for an answer.
“I’ll always be there when you need me,” McCoy finally said.
It wasn’t the simple ‘I won’t leave you, Jim’ that he had hoped to hear, but Kirk felt he had gotten enough. Bones kept his promises.
The last day of the Enterprise’s five year mission was ending. Kirk had given a speech in the mess hall, at the official farewell party which everyone who did not have to be on duty, had attended. The captain had stayed at the party only so long as he had to, to not be considered rude. He shook a few hands and exchanged a few words with his officers, but left as soon as everyone seemed occupied enough to not immediately notice his leaving. Spock had left some time earlier, right after the applause to Kirk’s speech had abated.
“Well, at least Spock was there,” Uhura said, sitting on the couch in Scott’s quarters, where she, Chekov, Sulu, and Christine Chapel had had a glass of Scotty’s best scotch after the party in the mess hall had become depressing. All the “good bye”s and “let’s stay in touch”es had just too much after a while.
“Yeah, Leonard was doing inventory in sickbay. He said he’d come later if his work allowed it,” Christine nodded.
“Inventory? He’d had better excuses in the past,” Scotty shook his head sadly.
“Something must have happened on Meriah Five,” Chekov said, and added after a pause, “Again.”
“Well, all three returned uninjured this time,” Christine murmured. She did not know what had happened, but she probably had the best idea of them about what might have happened. She was the only person who knew about Velal’s pregnancy and about her mission on Meriah Five. That, and the blank stare on Leonard’s face were enough to come to the conclusion that something had happened to Velal or her child and McCoy had been there to see it. He probably also felt responsible, as he always did. He hadn’t wanted to talk of course, and had buried himself in his office, had finished some paperwork, and then he had started this inventory which he had insisted on doing alone, so that all the other staff could go to the farewell party. She did not know what had happened to Spock, though, but had heard from Nyota that he too had not been the same since their return.
“Are you sure?” Uhura asked, “The captain must have gone to sickbay over a dozen times since we left Meriah. And Doctor McCoy practically never left sickbay, only two or three times to visit Spock in his quarters.”
“How do you know?” Sulu was surprised.
“Sweetie, I’m a communications officer. It’s my job to know where people are, so that I can find them when they’re needed.”
Sulu raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“Yes. I even know, when you’re sitting on the toilet, honey.”
They laughed and Scotty raised his glass towards Uhura. “To the most powerful person on Enterprise!”
“I think the most powerful person on Enterprise is you, Scotty,” Sulu answered, chuckling. “You know the Enterprise better than anyone. I bet you could steer the ship from your computer in your quarters to the Neutral Zone, while keeping us all locked away someplace. And then you could sell the ship, and us to the Romulans. if you wanted to, that is.”
“Och, never! The poor ship!” Scott laughed.
“I think Mister Spock is the most powerful,” Chekov chimed in, “He is certainly the most intelligent person, and the captain listens to him. If he wanted to, he could manipulate the Enterprise and her captain into anything.”
“But Vulcans don’t lie. Plus, Kirk is not exactly stupid either,” Sulu answered, “He knows Spock well, too. He’d probably find out Spock was up to something, before anything happened.”
“Kirk intuition,” Uhura nodded, “better than any female intuition could ever get.”
“He erred at times,” Scott chipped in, “even if his errors are rare and never that serious. Tell you what, no one is omnipotent, not even Kirk, although he’s got the reputation.”
“It’s true. If I wanted to rob the captain and the Enterprise of their reputation,” Uhura made a dramatic pause, until everyone looked at her, “I’d have McCoy transferred to another ship.”
They all smiled and chuckled in agreement. “He keeps them out of trouble,” Scott nodded.
“True. However, sometimes, things became uncomfortable on the bridge, because he was there,” Chekov said.
“You mean all those arguments, the criticism, that unqualified bitching about?” Uhura smiled.
“Yes, that,” Chekov nodded, grinning.
“But it was seldom unjustified,” Sulu said, “He always vocalized what we all thought, but didn’t have the nerve to say, didn’t he?”
“And more,” Uhura agreed, “the first year, I always wondered when Kirk would throw him off the bridge, or into the brigg for insubordination.”
“Or when Spock would do it,” Sulu laughed.
“From what Leonard told me, I think Spock came close to that, once or twice,” Christine nodded.
Uhura shook her head still smiling, “I don’t think so. That was just Leonard’s wishful thinking If Spock had thrown him into the brigg, it would have meant that the doctor had evoked an emotional reaction from Spock, and Spock would never give him that satisfaction.”
Chapel shrugged. “You know, I can’t understand how Kirk can stand the two of them at the same time. Their arguments are fun to witness for a little while, I admit, but this constant teasing, and quarelling gets to you sooner or later.”
“It’s just what Kirk needs. He’d get bored out of hell if there were peace and harmony around him all the time, he always needs some action,” Scott said.
“I agree. And that’s why I’m sure he’ll decline the promotion to admiral,” Uhura bit her lip. She probably shouldn’t have mentioned what she’d heard over her channels. She hadn’t meant to snoop, but as communications officer you sometimes couldn’t help it, and so she had found out about the promotion when she had gotten a message from Starfleet Command.
“Admiral Kirk.” Chekov sounded proud.
“Well, it’s not so unexpected,” Scott said, “although I think he should decline. What do admirals do? They’re bureaucrats, sit behind fancy desks, and decide about people’s lives from far away.”
“That’s nothing Kirk would like to do, I guess,” Sulu nodded, “Well, I for one hope, he’ll get another command. I’m planning on staying with him.”
“Well, I’m leaving. My courses at medschool will start in a month. If I ever return to the Enterprise, it’ll be as a doctor,” Christine raised her glass and the others followed her example, giving her an encouraging smile. She thanked them with a bow of her head, then sobered. “Leonard, however, will probably leave Starfleet.”
“What? Is that what he told you?” Chekov asked, surprised.
“Not in so many words,” Chapel shrugged, “But I’ve come to know him quite well. He’s fed up with the whole circus.”
“I hope you’re wrong. As Nyota said, if he leaves, Kirk won’t be the same,” Scott shook his head.
“What about Spock? He’s earned himself a promotion as well, don’t you think?” Sulu asked.
Uhura breathed as if to say something, but bit her lip again. She really should stop drawing conclusions from the messages she receives. Or at least should stop talking about them.
“What is it Nyota?” Christine had noticed. Okay, what the heck, they’re not going to gossip, she thought, and blamed it on the scotch that she told them what she thought about Spock’s future in the fleet.
“There have been many messages from Vulcan for Spock. And he’s made arrangements to get a transport to Vulcan, it will leave almost as soon as we’ll arrive on Earth.”
“You mean he’s going back to Vulcan?” Chekov asked, surprised, “Maybe only to visit his parents?”
Uhura shrugged. “It seems he’s planning on taking a lot of luggage with him. I don’t think he’d take as much if he just wanted to visit someone for a few days, or even for a few weeks. Also, haven’t you noticed, how … nervous he’s been these past few days?”
“Nervous?” Christine hadn’t seen Spock after his return from the planet. She wondered what a nervous Spock would look like. Was he ready to throw a bowl of soup at people again?
“Well, the Vulcan version of nervous. Believe me, something must have happened on that cursed planet. The captain is also quite on edge. At first I thought it had something to do with the end of our mission, but I’m not sure now,” Uhura said.
“He came back from Starbase 3 with a small box, did you see that?” Scott asked. They had made a short stop at the Starbase to pick up M’Benga and finish a minor repair. They hadn’t stayed long though, and Scott had been surprised that Kirk had left the ship at all.
“A small box.” Chekov stated, sounding bored.
“Well, a tiny cube formed box in red, looking like a jewel box for a ring.”
“A ring? Maybe he’s planning on getting married?” Sulu grinned.
“Well, the strange thing is that Spock showed up in engineering two hours later, carrying the same box.” Scotty continued.
“What did he do with it?”
“I don’t know. I was stuck to my elbows in a plasma conduit, so I couldn’t follow, or ask any questions.”
“You were cleaning the plasma conduits? Whatever for? The Enterprise will be completely overhauled when we’re back on Earth,” Chekov shook his head in disbelief.
“Aye, and those engineers will find her in perfect shape.”
“Sure, Scotty. So, where did Spock go with this box?” Chapel urged him to continue.
“As I said, I don’t know. Somewhere behind plasma conduits A and B.”
“And there is … what?” Sulu prompted.
“Plasma conduits C and D, I would guess,” Chekov answered, Somehow he did not share the other’s interest for this ominous red box.
“Aye. And Lieutenant Susan Barry was cleaning them,” Scott said with a meaningful look.
“NO! Come on that’s hard to believe. And Susie’s engaged,” Uhura answered.
“Exactly. About twenty minutes later, I saw Spock leaving, carrying the box again,” Scotty nodded, then looked at each of them, before continuing: “And he looked somehow … sad.”
“Sad?” Chapel asked, “How sad?”
“Or, maybe just lost in thought. Somehow, … doleful. He stumbled when he went past me.”
“He stumbled?” Chekov asked, not quite believing.
They all looked at each other then laughed, dismissing their thoughts. The next hour they spent with sharing their memories of their time together. It was only six hours until the beginning of their very last shift onbaord the Enterprise, when they finally raised their glasses for a last time, before turning in.
“To the current crew of the Enterprise. The best composition there ever was, and ever will be.”
In the past five years Kirk had managed one crisis after another. He’d prevented an open war with the Romulans by repelling a new Romulan incursion into the Neutral Zone, he’d even got a hold of their cloaking device for Starfleet Intelligence. He’d survived being split into two halves, rapidly ageing, and being hyper-accelerated to another level of physical existence. He’d saved Spock’s brain, Bones’ short-term wife, and all of their pasts, presents and futures by travelling back in time. He had to smile to himself; it had been one hell of a ride. However, all of these heroics, all that experience, his natural and acquired coolness, his reputation of being invincible, did not help him now. The time of playing hero was coming to an end, the Enterprise would be in Earth’s orbit, back home, in a few hours, and life as he knew it, and so dearly loved, would come to an end. It wasn’t death, of course, it was just the end of a mission, but still Kirk felt like mourning.
Also, this very last misssion, although even that one had been successful in Starfleet Command’s eyes, had been a complete disaster. His two closest friends were both still suffering badly, even though they had tried to hide their pain in front of Kirk, just as he himself had put on a show of cheerfulness in the two hours, when they had “celebrated” the end of their long journey in Kirk’s quarters together. The atmosphere was strange, uncomfortable, fake. Still, they had bravely managed to share a few laughs, some memories, and a drink.
Kirk stifled a yawn, but could not surpress the small shudder that followed. It felt cold in here. Spock and Bones had exchanged some polite “smalltalk” about the weather in San Francisco while Kirk had left the room to retreive the thing that he had bought on Starbase 3 on their very last stop. When he faced his CMO and first officer again, they all stared at each other for a moment, all thinking that somehow they had lost something.
Kirk coughed. How he wished Spock would make a comment about how illogical it was to complain about the cool temperatures in San Francisco at the moment. And how he wished Bones would bitch about how Spock was a social analphabet, or something like that.
It was Bones who broke the silence.
“Well, Jim? What have you got there?” he pointed at the little box in his hand.
Kirk smiled. “It’s yours. Something you’ve lost.” With a small nod, he gave it to McCoy who raised his brows in surprise.
“I never lose anything,” he said taking it with curiosity.
“Well,” Kirk conceded. “let’s say, you gave it away. But I think, you want it back.”
McCoy squinted at Kirk, before he opened the small cube. Something in blue and gold sparkled at him. He felt his heart lurched. His old ring! How?
“My god, Jim. How did you...? It was impossible to find the guy who … I tried,” McCoy whispered. He’d missed the old ring, hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself, but it was true. He took the ring out of the box and held it against the light. It really was his ring, wasn’t it?
“Hey, I’m Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation Starship Enterprise. Nothing is impossible,” Kirk grinned at him. The gift had been a success.
McCoy rolled his eyes. “Now, I finally believe it.”
“It’s never too late,” Kirk’s grin grew wider, “it is your ring, but Spock engraved something into it.”
McCoy’s eyes went to the Vulcan who had been silent all along. “Engraved?”
“Yes. As a … reminder.”
“Bones..., why don’t you read what it says?”
McCoy turned the ring and saw the engraved letters. It was one word. What did it say?
“He was a Greek philosopher, one that you humans tend to describe as obscure.”
“We humans? You mean you Vulcans understand our own, human, philosophers better?”
“No. But, as a half-human and half-Vulcan, I do understand Heraclitus’ philosophy better than someone who is only human.”
McCoy let out a snort. “Then why did you have it engraved into my ring? I’m only human, Spock. I’m too dumb to understand.”
“Now, Bones. Be nice!” Jim intervened, but had to admit, he was releived to find some of the old dynamics returning. “What Spock meant is that someone who experiences two philosophies, as opposite as the Vulcan and the human temperament on a daily basis will be able to appreciate Heraclitus’ philosophy better than anyone who only knows one side, be it human or Vulcan.”
McCoy scrunched up his face in annoyance and impatience at Spock. “So, Spock, will you tell me what this Heraclitus said?”
“I’m certain he said many things during his lifetime,” Spock answered, and McCoy was sure he only said it to annoy him further, but he was determined to not give him the satisfaction of seeing his exasperation in his face, so he just waited as calmly as he could for Spock to continue: “One of his most noted quotes, translated into English, is: “There is harmony in the tension of opposites, as in case of the bow and lyre”.”
McCoy thought about it for a moment. If one looked up the word “opposites” in the computer databanks, a picture of himself and Spock would appear on the screen. There was constant tension between them: bickering, quarrelling, arguments. Only Jim kept them focussed and prevented them from strangling each other, still, on all occasions when Jim had not been there, they had managed nonetheless. More than that. They were friends. Good friends. This was nothing new. But, that Spock had thought of this quote that described their relationship so well and had had it engraved into his ring, was a gesture, he hadn’t expected from Spock, and it touched him.
“Thank you,” he said simply, then cleared his throat, “well, Spock, what are we then - the bow or the lyre?”
Spock inclined his head briefly, when his eyes met his again, his left eyebrow was arched. “That is only a comparison, doctor, a figure of speech.”
“Oh, thanks for clarifying that, Spock. ...” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Kirk chuckled. Finally, this was going into the right direction again. “Gentlemen, I think it’s time to bury the hatchet, just for a few hours. Admiral Westervliet will soon be ready for the inspection. Let’s show him how well we work together. I don’t want to give him reason to think I need another CMO or first officer on my next assignment,” he winked at them in good nature and started for the door. A hestiant cough stopped him. As he turned around, he saw that both, McCoy and Spock, had something to say to him.
“Yes?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow, looking from McCoy to Spock and back again.
“Jim. I thought you already suspected something. I mean, I’m not …,” he stopped, looking away.
“You’re not …,” he prompted impatiently. Of course he had suspected it, still, he hadn’t asked, dreading the answer, not wanting to push. And Bones had promised, after all.
McCoy decided to reformulate. “I resigned.”
Kirk just looked at him, breathing once, twice. Then he turned wordlessly to look at his first officer.
The Vulcan seemed to be surprised by McCoy’s announcement. “Doctor, may I ask why?” his question sounded sincere. Kirk on the other hand thought he knew the reasons behind his friend’s decision. He knew Bones had been hurt at least one time too many these past weeks. He was emotionally worn out. Also, some part of his weird mind blamed himself for the emotional turmoil Spock had to go through at the moment, and he believed it was best for all of them, if he just ran away. He’d suspected for a while now that McCoy planned on leaving Starfleet after the end of their five year mission, still, when he’d promised to always be there when Kirk needed him, he’d hoped McCoy had changed his mind.
“Taking the easy way out?” Kirk asked bitterly. He felt abandoned and betrayed.
“I’m not killing myself, Jim. I don’t know if you know, but: There is a life outside of Starfleet. There are people out there that actually do not wear uniforms, that don’t care about ranks, that breathe fresh air and have water showers. People who know and meet people who aren’t their colleagues, who eat real food ...”
“You knew that life, and chose to leave it for Starfleet, thirteen years ago,” Kirk pointed out.
“Yes. But now, I want to go back. Our mission is over. I’m not abandoning my duty, and I’m still your friend. So, don’t sulk.” As if to make a point, McCoy out on the ring in a hasty movement looking at it on his hand for a moment, then letting his hand fall.
Kirk grimaced. He could understand Bones. Yet, he didn’t have to like it.
“Captain, I too, have decided to leave Starfleet,” Spock said evenly, but not quite meeting Kirk’s eyes.
It came as a shock. To both, McCoy and Kirk. The captain had always known that his CMO was not the man who was born to be out here, in space. He also had had some serious problems with authorities before he’d come aboard the Enterprise - and even after that, on occasions. Despite the fact that Kirk wanted him on his next assignment, his decision to resign hadn’t been such a great surprise. McCoy constantly complained about the uniforms, the transporters, the admiralty, diplomats, Starfleet protocols, the food on Starships, the sonic showers, artificial lights, and what not. In a way, McCoy made up an odd appearance in space and in uniform. But Spock? He’d make up an odd appearance anywhere else. He belonged on the bridge of a starship, and what was more, he belonged at Kirk’s side. Even Edith Keeler, a 20th century woman who had never heard about starships, Vulcans, or half-Vulcans had told him that.(21)
“Now, Spock, don’t be an idiot!” McCoy interrupted Kirk’s train of thought.
“I am not “an idiot”, as you call it, doctor,” Spock answered and sounded so much like himself that McCoy almost believed him, “I am drawing the consequences of my behaviour on Meriah Five.”
“Spock, I told you, no one blames you for that, I understand. Had I been in your position, I may have done the same,” Kirk had been over this issue with Spock a thousand times. But he’d make it a thousand and one, if he had to.
“But you weren’t in my position, captain, and what is more, you are human. What I did was unforgiveable.”
“Even Starfleet Command doesn’t care. There won’t even be a mentioning in your personal file!”
“That is true. I believe it is partly due to your … benevolent report, and partly because Starfleet Command hasn’t got the understanding of Vulcan psyche.”
At that McCoy had to snort, “I didn’t know Vulcans had a psyche.”
Kirk turned to McCoy with an angry glare, but Spock remained controlled.
“Just because you do not understand something, doctor, does not mean it does not exist.”
McCoy smiled sarcastically as a response. This exchange between them was almost normal, only it was probably one of the last conversations he’d have with Spock in a while, and he didn’t want to let it escalate into another quarrel. Also, he felt sorry, even a bit concerned for Jim. For some reason he did not understand, Jim seemed to think that he could not do what he was doing, namely being the best captain in the whole damn fleet, without them. He’d learn to do without him as a CMO, he’d figured, but now, Spock was leaving too, and it would shake Jim.
“I lost control over my emotions back on Meriah Five. As a consequence somebody died. That I must improve my ability to control my emotions is the logical consequence. And I intend to seek guidance on Vulcan.”
McCoy almost exploded. “Dammit, Spock! That’s ridiculous. It’s humanly impossible to be more emotionally controlled than you are.”
Both, Spock as well as Kirk quirked an eyebrow at him. And McCoy went on in a rush:
“And don’t tell me you’re not human! You are half human, why do you always forget that?”
“I’m not forgetting that, doctor. However, you seem to always forget that I’m half-Vulcan.”
“Oh, cut it!” McCoy shouted. “You are ruining a brilliant career, Spock.”
“The same is true for yourself, isn’t it, doctor?”
“NO! I’m a doctor. My career isn’t over just because I’m not cruising through the galaxy in this tin can anymore.”
“You’ve become an outstanding authority in the field of exobiology. Outside of Starfleet you won’t be able to utilize your knowledge and abilities.”
“I was merely stating a fact.”
“Of course, I’m sorry I thought you were giving me a compliment.”
“Understandable, since you’re human.”
Kirk coughed. He felt a smile tug at his lips. This was what he had wanted the past two hours, and the past few days. And it was what he wanted, needed, for the next … 5 years. Was it to much to ask?
“Yes,” McCoy said, as if answering Kirk’s question to himself, “I’m human. Very human, the most human human in the galaxy. And therefore, I need a break. I need some time at home.”
“The very same is true for me, doctor,” Spock said quietly.
They both looked at him in surprise. On the one hand the tone had been one of utter exhaustion that it made both Spock’s friends ache for him, on the other hand, they were surprised about the slip of syntax in Spock’s statement. The most human ... well, one shouldn’t be a bean counter, not even with Spock.
Kirk exhaled. Another crisis. Well, he could handle it. Couldn’t he?
“Bridge to Captain Kirk,” Uhura’s voice interrupted.
“We’re about to dock at Starbase One. Admiral Westervliet is ready to come aboard.”
“Understood.” With a forced smile and a nod at his two friends. Kirk lead the way out of his quarters.
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